Understanding the Big Picture and Connecting Dots

Author of Humanitarian Local and Regional Development, Mustafa Dinc, critically reviews the factors that disrupt local and regional development.

We frequently fail to see the big picture and understand what it entails. Consequently, we miss the connection between various elements of the big picture and their interaction with each other, how they influence others and are influenced by them at the same time. We tend to see everything in frames of a film rather than as a long movie that is still running. As Imad A. Moosa aptly stated we talk about puzzles that are not really puzzles and create or promote myths to justify policies and actions that may otherwise be refused.

One of the major reasons behind this failing is the lack of critical thinking because throughout our upbringing we have been conditioned to accept things as they are presented to us by our parents in the family, by our teachers in schools, our bosses at the workplaces, by mass media and finally by our governments. One may also reasonably argue that this is the result of long-lasting influence of metaphysical view of the world in our thinking and philosophies. In other words, if we can see the world from a dialectical perspective instead of metaphysics, we would be able to see the whole picture and make connections between its various elements.

The concept of development is one those puzzles that is not really a puzzle. It is true that development is inherently a complicated and multi-faceted phenomenon. However, if we can put it in the right context and identify all relevant elements that affect the development process, we will see that it is not a puzzle after all. One may begin with a review and understanding of the world in which this phenomenon takes place that would reveal the power structures and socio-economic relations that offer information about the production of goods and services, allocation of resources, distribution of wealth and income in a society. The role and place of individual and interaction between individual and society are also important to understand their role in the development process. Once we put all these together and identify major disruptions that affect the development process and the resulting problems in the development process, we can clearly see the way forward solving this non-puzzle. The same principle applies to local and regional uneven development.

The information and technological revolutions have been changing all aspects of our daily life, how we learn, work, shop and interact with each other…

In the process, we create and widely promote myths that support our misunderstandings and/or misuse of the development concept. One such myth is about the concept of sustainability. It is obvious that in its environmental, social and economic dimensions, sustainability is extremely important for the future of our planet and humanity, and yet often it is misunderstood, misused or even abused with the support of these myths. Take, for example, the view that the economic growth is the engine of development. This view conveniently ignores the fact that economic growth needs a steady flow of energy and raw material for production and constant (in fact, increasing) demand for produced goods and services. It also ignores the fundamental contradiction between economic growth and environmental sustainability due to the limits of the material basis of the planet to support such continuous growth.

Another non-puzzle we have been trying to solve is about the technological revolutions and development. We are currently living in a world where computing power is growing exponentially; artificial intelligence (AI) is now part of daily life and getting better every day; robots are replacing labor on a scale not previously observed; and, finally, new manufacturing techniques such as additive manufacturing are disrupting traditional production methods. The information and technological revolutions have been changing all aspects of our daily life, how we learn, work, shop and interact with each other, and hence become vital elements of the development process.

The technological revolution created a spread by favoring the better educated and skilled over unskilled workers, capital owners over labor, and superstars over everybody else. The result is a growing difference in almost every area that is important for people, such as income, living conditions, health, education and opportunities for advancement. The major concern is whether the current social structure could survive such massive reductions in jobs coupled with the unequal distribution of wealth and income. This seemingly complex puzzle is indeed one of these non-puzzles. It is possible to solve this non-puzzle and realize the full potential of the information and technological revolution through well-organized collective action and active participation of people around the world that could emancipate humans from most forms of enforced work and allow them to live the good life they deserve. What is important is to protect and strengthen the foundations of social justice and equity to maintain the cohesion and harmony in society.

Do we want to bequeath this messy world to our children and grandchildren? The choice is ours to make.

Conflict is everywhere and if managed properly could be the driver of new innovations. Some conflicts could help create a productive force to promote social change and could be instrumental in addressing social injustices. Uneven geographical development and inequality in people’s income, wealth and well-being inevitably produce conflict between the haves and have nots, dominating groups and dominated ones (ethnic, religious, racial or gender), and the forces of capitalism and labor, in various forms and intensity, ranging from peaceful demonstrations to violent confrontation, even armed conflict and civil war. Today, we live in a messy and unstable world where localized wars and violent conflicts have become daily occurrences in many parts of the globe. The prospect of a peaceful and harmonious world seems elusive. If we can properly understand the human dimension in social conflict and thoroughly examine the root causes of social conflict such as needs-based, and identity-based conflicts, globalization related conflicts and economic causes or incentives of conflict, then we can find a solution to this non-puzzle and refute the associating myths.

Over the past sixty years, we have failed to reconcile various essential components and elements of the development process and generally neglected human needs and values. We are now faced with the harsh reality that the disruptive factors could cause unprecedented threats to our future, while providing us with great opportunities to make substantial improvements and positive changes in the world we live in. As the creators of all the inventions, innovations and advancements, as well as all the manmade disasters and miseries, we, as individuals, must think hard and ask ourselves, is this the world we wanted to create and wish to be living in for the rest of our lives? Do we want to bequeath this messy world to our children and grandchildren? The choice is ours to make. Are we going to keep making the same mistakes of the past? Or are we going to restore hope and confidence for a harmonious, peaceful and just society where the true flourishing of individuals and the construction of a good life are possible?

Our first step, then, will be to challenge the perceived wisdom, abandon our prejudices and more importantly, be open to dialogue with all and welcome new, sometimes radical, ideas. Otherwise, the already deteriorated political and social fabric of society will be further harmed, and it may not be possible to repair the resulting structural damage. If we can succeed in developing our reason and love further than we have done so far, build a world based on human solidarity and justice, appreciate the experience of universal brotherliness, then we will be able to transform this world into a truly human home.

*Cover Image – Humanitarian Local and Regional Development: Sustainability and Conflict Prevention in the Information Age by Mustafa Dinc

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