Reply To: 26.5.2014 Ancient Futures

Author Replies # Posted on May 27, 2014 at 12:00

My question from Maria was “Helena advocates decentralization, but today there are ideas that regard bringing people from a variety of disciplines and cultures together will lead to new initiatives of how to solve known environmental problems, like water, energy, and management, in a more sustainable and efficient way? What is your opinion?”
Certainly Norberg-Hodge seems to be against a lot of forces of globalization and modernization and the growing domination of science and technology, but at the same time is involved in implementing economically, environmentally, and culturally appropriate technological “updates”. It is a bit of a contradiction that Norberg-Hodge, a so-called ‘Westerner’, is so actively influencing development initiatives in Ladakh, while simultaneously decrying the arrogance of Western mainstream culture. It seems Norberg-Hodge believes the industrialized Western mono-culture development trajectory is very harmful, but some Western influences can be integrated into Ladakh life for the better.
This contradiction is at the center of NGO’s and development organizations, as they meant to be ‘for the people’ but are subject to the behavioral norms of the institutions from which they proceed. Norberg-Hodge, as the founder and director of the NGO International Society for Ecology and Culture, has to navigate these largely moralistic issues of which direction their development initiatives take.
I don’t really have a problem with Norberg-Hodge’s flexibility in ideology, it would be impossibly dogmatic of her to demand that no external influences be allowed to infiltrate Ladakh, and the only development trajectory should be complete stasis. It would also be very alien with respect to the history of Ladakh where people have continuously embraced ‘foreign technologies’ for some time (for instance the potato, a South American domesticate).
I wonder perhaps Marie if the contradictions you are noting in your question stem more from Norberg-Hodge’s quite generalized critique of the West and romantic portrayal of Ladakh. Norberg-Hodge’s writing over-simplifies a great deal and plays to the reader’s emotions as I think she is trying to reach a very wide public audience. I suppose Ancient Futures should be viewed as less of an academic text and more of an action based NGO manifesto.
Perhaps I would have felt more comfortable reading Ancient Futures if Norberg-Hodge were a bit more open about the contradictions, difficulties, and likely failures of development initiatives she has been involved in. Also if there were a bit more graphs and figures and ‘scientific data’ to support her ideological agenda.
In conclusion, I agree with a lot of things Norberg-Hodge says. Would I donate resources to her NGO? It’s difficult to say based on Ancient Futures, as it is a pretty superficial account of her experiences in Ladakh and reflecting on social issues. Perhaps that superficiality is the result of the realities of operating an NGO.