I’m happy to share a guest post today by Jap Hastings from his blog Zenducation. Jap is a writer, poet, songwriter, and Zen practitioner living in Pittsburgh, PA.
The Two-Thirds World
by Jap Hastings
The terms “Third World” and “developing country” are ripe with notions of inferiority. They imply that every country with a low gross domestic product (GDP) wishes to adopt Western models of economic development, which simply isn’t the case. For instance, Cuba has chosen not to adopt Western economics, and despite being labeled “a developing country” due to a low gross national income, has a lower infant mortality rate than the United States. Another example is Bhutan, which despite having the lowest per capita household income in the world has the eighth highest gross national happiness (GNH). The United States ranks twenty-third. Bhutan’s leaders achieve such high levels of citizen happiness not by focusing their policies on achieving GDP, but by following “the four pillars of GNH: promotion of equitable and sustainable socioeconomic development; preservation and promotion of cultural values; conservation of the natural environment; and establishment of good governance.”
Because so-called “developing countries” are often rich in local knowledge, systems of compassionate justice, cultural diversity, and preservation of the natural world—practices which are vital for sustainability—I propose using Madhu Prakash and Gustavo Esteva’s non-ethnocentric terminology of these countries as The Two-Thirds World. These countries, after all, compose the majority of the world’s population. We must rid ourselves of notions of superiority and realize that we have more to learn from many of these cultures than we have to teach them. It is for this reason that Prakash and Esteva argue for an initiative of:
creating solidarities with communities and groups suffering the most marked and vicious discrimination of our times—imposed by the educated as professional assistance, aid, or help upon the three contemporary [lower] castes: the miseducated, the undereducated or the noneducated, who constitute the majority of people on earth, the Two-Thirds World.
They argue in their book Escaping Education: Living as Learning within Grassroots Cultures that Western education and promises of professionalism destroy communities and local knowledge. This occurs by imposing the employment, high mobility, and economic growth of Western life. These pro-education Westerners, despite often having good intentions, neglect the fact that if everyone on the planet lived like an American, we would need five earths to sustain us.
Furthermore, Prakash and Esteva assert that human rights activists, supporting “the universal human right to health, employment, modern medicine, sewage, roads, and other social services” impose unneeded Western values on a people deemed inferior due to their non-modern lifestyles. Those who are well-informed about the twin crises of global warming and peak oil know that our modern life as we now know it is coming to an end. As we look to our post-carbon future—what some call our ancient future—the lessons we have to learn from The Two-Thirds World are infinite. Unfortunately, our industrial society is not only trying to convert The Two-Thirds World to our way of life, we are destroying the last surviving indigenous cultures. Driven by blind desire for natural resources, industrial multinational corporations are consuming what remains of the natural world and the people who inhabit it.
Luckily there are activist groups, such as Survival International, working to save Indigenous cultures by educating Westerners about the relevance and need for their cultures, notifying struggling tribes of the survival tactics of other tribes, and campaigning to governments, banks, and corporations to protect indigenous homelands. The importance of tribal cultures will become more evident to the masses as the effects of global warming and peak oil are apparent in the collective consciousness, but it will take the foresight of ecologically-concerned Westerners to support tribal people while we still can.