By Susan L. Robertson
I am sitting here in the first Presidential Panel address for the CIES 2018, given by the activist and founder of the Universidad de la Tierra, Professor Gustavo Esteva. This is a profoundly moving and confronting speech; Professor Esteva points to those around the world who have been dispossessed of their cultures and economies as a result of the ways in which the Empires of the North historically spread out, and absorbed, all of the diversity of the world into the promise of freedom through northern modern capitalist development,
Professor Esteva asked the CIES audience to engage with him in a dialogue about the failed promise of development, and what this then might mean for a different kind of education. This challenge of the promise of development began with peoples around the world, from Gandhi to Mao to Castro, who sought to claim a path forward for the sovereignty of their peoples. This meant shaking off the shackles of Empire to enable a way forward for those populations whose oppression and exploitation of their resources has been central to the development of the north.
In describing the deep violence of the colonising North for those being colonised, Professor Estevea stated, “You cannot begin to have your own dreams; they have already been dreamt’.
What was this new dream? This new dream was now that of capitalism, getting on in life, science and reason. Professor Esteva went on to point out that the promise of the colonisers was that they would; “.share with you all of the scientific knowledge so you can catch up with the developed world”. This promise was to drag whole populations into the modern world; into a programme of development that was always characterised by a population who would be left behind.
To what extent, now, does post-modernity offer a release from this promise? In Professor Esteva’s words: “Post modernity should not be misunderstood as the phase beyond modernity. It refers to the dissolution phase of modernity”. More and more, he argued, peoples are becoming aware of the truths of the period of modernity; that there cannot be one truth.
But as he argues, we have now entered into a phase of radical pluralism, on the one hand, and anomie on the other. Radical pluralism, if it ignores hospitality, it generates perverse outcomes, such as anomie. In this case radical pluralism now feeds xenophobic populist movements who reinforce their commitment to nation and to capitalism, generating a path that leads to new forms of destruction.
What role might education play? Professor Esteva reflected on the purpose and curriculum of his own university, which offers a different path to development based on the idea of hospitality. This recognises that others exist; so that they can reveal their own dreams at a time that the world is falling apart.