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writing for godot


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Friday, 20 September 2019 21:48
-The difficulty in people’s work lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ideas. (John Maynard Keynes) Will we be able to advance in our quest for human rights? 1. Dominant narratives tend to close down alternative choices affecting the directions of change within a system. Markedly alternative or radical views will be easily discarded by the dominant mainstream by labeling them utopian, naïve or, even worse in our times, communist (before a challenging political ideology and nowadays just a mere insult for the mainstream bullies). (Jose Luis Vivero) 2. Paradigms-we-live-by make scientific inquiry prone to the eternal rules of its guardians, namely giving deference-to-the-charismatic, herding-towards-majority-opinion, punishing-for-deviance, and causing intense-discomfort-with-admitting-to-error. Of course, such tendencies are precisely what the scientific method was invented to correct-for and, over the long run, it has done a so-so job of it. But paradigmatic logic can be circular and is symptomatic of a field with an unusually high propensity for ignoring evidence that does not fit its conventional wisdom. We fortunately no longer live in a world in which elites or accredited experts are able to dominate conversations about complex or contested matters with impunity. But in areas where experts have a track record of getting it wrong, it is hard to see how it could be worse. If ever there was a case in which an information democracy, even a very messy one, can be achieved, it is preferable to an information oligarchy. Will we then have good science that can be relied on? (Ian Leslie) …and will we be able to advance in our quest for human rights? If you are seeking to protect your authority, why draw attention to evidence that seems to contradict the assertions on which that authority is founded? 3. In a 2015 paper titled ‘Does Science Advance One Funeral at a Time?’, a team of scholars at the US National Bureau of Economic Research sought an empirical basis for a remark made by the physicist Max Planck: “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather it triumphs because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it”. A scientist is thus part of what the Polish philosopher of science Ludwik Fleck called a ‘thought collective’: a group of people exchanging ideas in a mutually comprehensible idiom. The group, suggested Fleck, inevitably develops a mind of its own, as the individuals in it converge on a way of communicating, thinking and feeling. For us, this allows a deep paradox to continue, namely conservative politics getting the upper hand over human rights (HR). There are no good projects in a bad society. Period. (Reinhard Thiel, D+C) -Due to their need to stay financially viable, international NGOs (INGOs) too often are de–facto defenders of the paradigm. They have, by far, become more bureaucratic than charismatic. (Samuel Moyn) 4. It is frequent for INGOs to get involved in projects that are really fragmented (paradigm-mediated technocratic) traps and do not look at problems holistically. Here again, this can be attributed to the fact that they are caught up in sustaining themselves financially. What to do then? It becomes clearer and clearer that beneficiary (claim holder) communities ought to have influence (control?) over INGOs programs and staff so as to localize accountability. 5. Agendas of these NGOs can simply no longer be apolitical. They have to be beyond just being ‘politically smart in their everyday work’. INGOs are thus to be judged by their politics. They must openly speak up on how they interpret what they see and feel are constraints. They need to bring all their members to a common political platform. The misplaced faith that ‘doing-something-is-better-than-doing-nothing-at-all’ has to be dispelled. Latching into only a hope of structural change, regardless how far fetched it is, is simply not enough. “Whatever cakes we bake are the ones we will have to eat” fits well with the situation here discussed. INGO projects end up being islands of excellence in an ocean of under-provision dominated by professional outsiders. (D+C Vol.30 No 5 May 2003) 6. This said, let us be clear: Charitable humanitarianism and enthusiasm are neither the basis for policy nor a solution. As one of its objectives, each development organization is thus to organize and to mobilize claim holders in the community to stake their claims in HR terms under what international HR law clearly provides for. 7. If, as the prevailing development paradigm prefers, development funders are service-oriented providers, they will find it almost impossible to alter/change power relations in the places they work. But changing these relations is a must for a HR-based approach. INGOs primarily providing services have much knowledge of what is going on, but do not deeply enough act on that knowledge to really serve the people they work with long term.* (Lawrence Haddad) *: Note that doubting-what-your-brain-is-fed is the inseparable part of gaining true knowledge. (Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim). 8. International NGOs need to re-focus their vision and mission; re-train their staff to get involved in truly HR-grounded work. They must further share the new mission with their constituents (mostly claim holders, but also duty bearers) for inputs and feedback; they will have to change their internal organizational structure accordingly; and will have to start denouncing their funders (philanthropic donors and/or donor governments) where it is due --an almost impossible task of shooting themselves in the foot... 9. The same globalization trends that support the reign of the current development paradigm and the rise of civil society organizations around the world, now threaten its existence. At the national level, governments are rolling out new policy initiatives that restrict foreign donor (charitable?) funding to local public interest civil society, and are keeping a closer eye on international South-South networking. Meanwhile, pushers of new trends in technology, philanthropic organizations, and transnational businesses pretend they are presenting the international community new opportunities to improve human rights in novel ways. But beware of the wolf dressed in sheep’s skins… 10. Given this reality, what alternatives should HR groups engage-in? The current organizational model for most HR outfits in low- and middle-income countries is to set up as a non-profit entities that are financed primarily through foreign grants. How can, then, genuine non-governmental HR activities be developed outside this prevailing framework --embedded in the dominant paradigm? What is the scope for needed local fundraising for them to wean themselves from this dependency? (Open Global Rights) 11. Note that I have no answers to the questions above, but much will depend on who is invited to join the panels discussing them --and where they are coming from politically! This Reader has variously given many hints… I am aware that, by opposing the ruling paradigm, HR activists will automatically pick up yet new strategic enemies. A luta continua. Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City Your comments are welcome at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it All Readers up to 490+ are available at your social media marketing partner
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