The Case for Undevelopment

Perhaps some of the energy exerted on developing poor countries would be better spent encouraging developed countries to de-grow. I’ve been stumbling across subtle advocates for such an idea lately, from a number of different, and somewhat unlikely, professions: a (famous) farmer, an MIT-educated inventor and architects, respectively:

The nearly intolerable irony in our dissatisfaction is that we have removed pleasure from our work in order to remove “drudgery” from our lives. if I could pick any rule of industrial economics to receive a thorough re-examination by our people, it would be the one that says all hard physical work is “drudgery” and not worth doing.
What Are People For? Wendell Berry, 1990

The real problem with cell phones isn’t technological; it’s cultural. Coveting slightly fancier models, we abandon flawlessly functioning devices after just a year or two… “It’s not enough to say that we need some nerds to invent a new energy source and some other nerds to figure out a carbon-sequestration technology… We’ve been working on energy for a few thousand years, so we’ve already turned over most of the stones…There are enormous clues about efficiency to be found in the way we used to do things, before energy was essential free.”… [Now] Griffith’s focus is on ways in which affluent societies can make dramatic reductions in energy use without reducing their perceived quality of life.”“The Inventor’s Dilemma”, The New Yorker, May 17, 2010

Montreal has tried to recreate the neighborhood by decentralizing its government somewhat and having neighborhood-level governments. [They] try to recreate that pre-industrial sense that you had a neighborhood, you controlled things… That’s one option-breaking it down, creating some kind of neighborhood-level jurisdiction.“The Urbanist”, Urbanite magazine, June 2010

I was in Peru and visited a building near Lima built by the Incas. It was low in height, with no windows at all, but all the way in the back there was air movement. And I couldn’t figure out how they’d done it, it was incredible. So there’s a lot of primitive stuff that’s been done that doesn’t require advanced technologies that we should focus on. And when we do focus on technology it should be with an aesthetic sensibility. And above all we need to take the issue seriously so that our clients and our partners in the construction industry become aware of the possibilities. – Architect Frank Gehry, Need to Know

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