Nonsense words in development

The Guardian just published a fantastic piece on Rory Stewart.  While I don’t agree completely with his total pessimism about aid work, it was a real pleasure to read about someone in politics who is intelligent, open-minded, and thoughtful.  I only wish we had someone remotely like him as a representative in Oklahoma.

I’d highly recommend reading the whole piece because it is chock full of some great nuggets.  For instance, you know you’ve lived an interesting life when Brad Pitt buys the rights to a biopic of your life when you’re 35 (or any age for that matter).

Here are how some of his views have changed on aid and development in the last decade:

“Ten years ago he would have listed 10 things Afghanistan needed to build a new state: rule of law, financial administration, civil administration and so on. “And, then you would say, well, how do you do that? Well, I’d say, by a mapping of internal and external stakeholders, definition of critical tasks – all this jargon talk. And I’ve only now just begun to realise these words are nonsense words. They are nothing more, Stewart now acknowledges, than tautologies. “They pretend to be a plan, but they’re actually just a description of an absence. Saying ‘What we need is security, and what we need to do is eliminate corruption’ is just another way of saying: ‘It’s really dangerous and corrupt.’ None of that actually tells you how it’s done.”

He goes on: “Our entire conceptual framework was mad. All these theories – counterinsurgency warfare, state building – were actually complete abstract madness. They were like very weird religious systems, because they always break down into three principles, 10 functions, seven this or that. So they’re reminiscent of Buddhists who say: ‘These are the four paths’, or of Christians who say: ‘These are the seven deadly sins.’ 

He’s quite funny in a self-deprecating, British sort of way.  It was apparently rumored that Orlando Bloom was going to play him in the movie of his life.  Asked if the movie project was still on, he answers I think becoming a Tory here didn’t help.” The author asks “Did that spell curtains for the project?” and he bursts out laughing. “Yes, I think it’s just a phenomenally bad end to a film.”  So funny and so true.


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