Discussion: Technological and Social Change
Thus late-stage development is no more free of challenges than early-stage development. The challenges are different, but no less daunting. Overdeveloped countries—where development has outrun society’s capacity to deal with undesirable side effects of rapidly accelerating technological and social change—might do well to focus more attention on solving the problems they face and less on telling so-called underdeveloped countries what to do and how to do it.
In the West, politicians and scholars alike often uncritically accept the proposition that development is the answer to all the world’s problems. Sometimes, in an effort to be politically correct, political scientists use the term premodern to describe societies in an early stage of development. Development theory often assumes development is good—always and everywhere—and that tradition and superstition, the “dead hand of the past,” are impediments to progress. Critics argue that musings on development often amount to little more than praise for all things Western, and that Western experts on the subject are guilty of ethnocentrism.
In 1750, the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau observed, “Our souls have been corrupted in proportion to the movement of our sciences and arts towards perfection.”* Rousseau’s political philosophy sprang from the notion that science and technology were eroding, rather than enhancing, our humanity. Overstated? Perhaps, but there’s no denying that development—what we often equate with the greatest advances in modern civilization—can be a double-edged sword.
The least developed countries (LDCs) are so named because they are poor and lack basic feature of modern postindustrial states. Although generalizations and clichés are common (for example, rural poverty and urban crowding), these nations are highly diverse. The enduring legacy of European colonialism is a political map that makes little sense: borders that do not reflect indigenous ethnic, religious, and tribal patterns. The upshot in many cases is chronic instability: social unrest, rebellions, civil wars, and even genocide.
State building requires leaders that effectively unify the population (nation building), political institutions that respond to people’s needs and encourage citizen participation, and an honest government that can transfer power smoothly.
Democracy correlates with the existence of certain identifiable economic, political, social, and attitudinal variables. In most LDCs, the failure of democracy and development have gone hand in hand.
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