Hivos International

Development cooperation, humanism, crisis: Where to from here?

Aiding populations of remote, poor countries is increasingly seen as a neglect of 'our own people'. The arts are perceived as a 'left-wing hobby'; the costly recreation of misguided idealists. And caring for the environment? This is no longer seen as self-evident, but as open for re-interpretation. 

Dutch essayist Bas Heijne has written a new Think Piece for the Future Calling programme, in which he argues that the domains of development aid, arts, culture and the environment, together with the great twentieth century emancipation movements, make up the pillars of what he calls 'postwar humanism'. This type of humanism, characterized by its keywords 'sympathy' and 'empathy', is subject to poignant attacks from the tax payer: "Why should we pay for others, while we themselves are increasingly abused and neglected?" It is emotions like this, that lead Heijne to argue that in fact we witness a social strife, in which the administrative elite finds itself under fire. 

Strained rhetoric - often denoted as 'populism' - versus immaterial values such as humanity, solidarity and care for future generations, evokes aversion and misunderstanding in the domains that see themselves threatened by austerity measures. However, Heijne notes that the representatives of agencies in the developmental, cultural and environmental sector alike, are all too busy with their own problems. We see no cross-sectoral engagement, and if there is in fact a debate at all, it is one between the deaf. A mistake, he states, since in fact these seemingly different debates can all be seen as the symptoms of one single phenomenon: a deeply rooted sense of disregard and alienation.

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