How to change the world (but the one of others)

Two years ago I had written a post (in French) on Coursera’s class How to change the world from Michael S. Roth (Wesleyan University); this review is a bit late, but I wanted to clarify what I am thinking of this course. I was really enthusiastic about this course after reading the outline and watching the first videos. But I have quickly started to be disappointed during week 2, and I finally stopped enrolling in this course (this is the only course I have quit for another reason than lacking time). It was simply too much disgusting to listen to the arguments and propositions to « help » developing countries; this just looked like a modern colonialist and paternalist discourse. The course ran only a second time at the end of 2014, but I feel that this review is still necessary because other courses like this could appear, and such point of views seem well spreaded.

The main proposition is that the only way to help the poor and to erase poverty (including improving food, water, health, hygienic, education, etc. conditions) is to transform their societies into the same model as our societies. The implicit view (that is considered as a certainty in view of the lecturers and the invited speakers) is that our society is far superior to their, and also manage to bring a higher level of comfort. On one hand it is clear that we have at our disposal very good life conditions, but there exists societies where the life also provided correct conditions (according to different criteria), even if they might appear hard to us in comparison to what we are accustomed to. One should remember that the colonialism has largely increased many of the poverty problems in the developing countries. An example of proposition is that one should build very big techno-megalopolis because these are better jobs and produce more than working in the fields.

The course featured many « invited » speakers in the form of talks taken from the Social Good Summit. There rich people could come and explain how great they were doing in developing countries to help poor people. Hence we could listen to heads from some of the companies (for example representing the Gates foundation) – that are polluting without limit and using children as employees in developing countries – explaining us how much money they spend to improve life of these people. It featured also people like the daughter of G. Bush, who was very proud to present her « feed bag » (the same name as what one uses to feed horses when they travel – write these words in Google image), which are bags that you can use in the everyday life to show proudly how much you have given to feed a poor. In any case they were also acting as if they knew much better than anyone else (and in particular than the people in developing countries) what is good for them and what they should do – colonialism, you say? I really don’t understand how these people can speak about these topics without experiencing deep cognitive dissonance. But what is really strange is how an academics (and president of a university) can believe such things.

Finally I strongly believe that alternatives are possible to our current (western) society, or at least that not everything should be taken from it. In particular it is clear that most people in the western societies are not happy, and that our current model gives incentives to consume, not to look for what makes us human. And from a pragmatical point of view the Earth will not be able to sustend such a rythm in production for a long term, without speaking from an increased one coming from the demand of developing countries. Resources are limited and environment is showing its limit. About this topic I really liked the book of Pierre Rabi, « Vers la sobriété heureuse » (Towards happy sobriety).