Monday, June 29, 2009

Books I've Been Reading

Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh
by Helena Norberg-Hodge

Helena is the director of the International Society for Ecology and Culture. I was lucky enough to attend a lecture she gave about a month ago organized by the Sopris Foundation. She had an incredible presence and interesting take on the ways that development have influenced "third-world" cultures.
"Development is all too often a euphemism for exploitation, a new colonialism. The forces of development and modernization have pulled most people away from a sure subsistence and got them to chase after an illusion, only to fall flat on their faces, materially impoverished and psychologically disoriented."

Ironically, her personal experience has been very geographically and culturally diverse. Helena was born and raised in Europe, did her studies abroad, followed by research in Little Tibet, and now lives in Australia. This international and globalized lifestyle has yielded a staunch proponent of localization, both of economies and culture.

What I found most striking was her assessment of Gross National Product. GNP is not something I have given much thought to, and like many, I have followed the logic that higher GNP meant higher standard of living. It had never occurred to me that actions like growing your own food, which I support, actually reduce GNP. If something as simple as growing and consuming your own vegetables acts negatively upon GNP, how can we possibly use this statistic to compare developed and undeveloped countries?