Wednesday, July 13, 2005


Open letter to a discouraged friend

Many thanks to my friend, who allowed me to post this letter

Hang in there, we're with you!

You're right: The Occidental likes to think as a mechanic. Remember Descartes' example of the clock. If it has a problem, if it stops without apparent cause, the clockmaker will seek the cause of the breakdown, he'll find the defective wheel, and he'll replace it. Problem, cause, solution, and there you have it! It is this way of thinking which brought us the ZOP, PIPO and other more or less complex logical framework planning. They are efficient when the model is relevant as in science, though only to a certain point. In physics it only applies to relatively large objects such as atoms but in the analysis of infinitely small phenomena the model suddenly ceases to work. Such was renowned physician Fritjof Capra's interrogation in "The Turning Point". While the model is useful in pharmacological research (such as for antiretroviral drugs), does it enable us to understand the pandemic and the answers to this pandemic?

A Thai professor at the university of Chulalongkorn shared with me his frustration of seeing the “factory model” dominate considerations on development. Like the clock, the factory is a mechanical representation of the world: inputs allow a process that determines a product. The product then determines a result. Experts are at ease with this model because it comforts their paternalism, a remnant of old colonial thinking. The expert wants what's good for the poor. Recruited by a "developed" country or an international organisation (which is the same thing but only more pernicious) the expert pretends he knows the processes that lead to "development". Consequently he feels empowered to impose these processes as a condition to supplying some inputs. This model inspires the multi-sectoral approach of national strategic plans. AIDS would then regress after the elaboration of products and services by the different sectors of development. The progress indicators decided on at the United Nations special session on AIDS comfort this view. But how does this production turn itself into progress? The mystery remains...

When faced with the challenges imposed by AIDS, the failure of this model is clear. The countries that have encountered progress didn't apply it: neither Uganda, Thailand, or Brazil followed what the expert mechanics ordered. And the countries that have applied the model haven't made progress. Where are alternative models to be found? In his book "Development as Freedom" Sen speaks of autonomy. Fritjof Capra proposes that we inspire ourselves from living phenomena. An Indian epidemiology professor at Karolinska described horizontal thought to me last week: "In every situation, I think about my relations, my family, my friends, my colleagues..." On the African continent, "Muntu" means person-in-relations. When at a meeting we are asked to share our personal ambitions, a South-African friend told me "I can't see myself from such an individualistic point of view, I exist only through my relations with others..." Book after book Thich Nhat Hahn teaches happiness in the moment, when by feeling deeply connected to others and the universe we discover the relative character of time and space.

Our model is that of life. That is why the Constellation for AIDS Competence presents an exciting and viable alternative model. We know the stirring power of respect for each person because we experience it. Because we seek to learn rather then impose our own knowledge, we increase people's autonomy to make their own choices. Because we've tasted the profound joy of learning as a team, we encourage others to learn together and to share their experience.

So is social immunity constructed and will be constructed: by the birth and spread of millions of cells acting locally and connected through billions of relationships. They exchange hope, wisdom and experience. From their interactions a new intelligence is being born, inspired by the discovery of context-independent progress factors. Progressively, patiently, the breath of life animates the development of a virtual cortex which inductively develops new ways of dealing with new challenges. An aware decision maker would have at his disposal the intelligence emerging from billions of interactions between millions of learning teams.

This would mean the demise of the concept of "developed countries". Obviously there are rich and poor countries but all aspire to development or rather happiness. And if we all respect each other's experience and especially that of the poor because they have to live efficiently daily, we will prevail. We're all in a quest for the meaning of life. And it's by listening to life that together we'll learn to respect it, give it , and preserve it .

You are not alone. We are here with you. You are here with us. Your courage inspires us. So hold on. We will soon have the pleasure of working together and learning from all the people who are impatient to share their treasure.

Best regards

Fritjof Capra: The Turning Point (…), Bantam Books (1984) ISBN : 0553345729
Amartya Sen: Development as Freedom, Anchor Books ( 2000) ISBN : 0385720270
Fritjof Capra: The Web of Life, Flamingo (1997) ISBN : 0006547516
Thich Nhat Hahn: Il n'y a ni mort ni peur Éditeur, Pocket (4 mai 2005) ISBN : 2266149105
Christian de Duve: A l’écoute de la Vie, Odile Jacob (13 mai 2005) ISBN : 2738116299

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