From the Archives: The following was written by Francis E. Dart, associate professor of physics at the University of Oregon, and first published in in the January 1963 issue of Foreign Affairs by the Council of Foreign Relations. It was reprinted with special permission in Volume XIV, No. 8 of the NAFSA Newsletter from April 15, 1963.
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The thoughts that I record here began to take shape three years ago in a small mountain town in Nepal where my trip was interrupted by a three-day festival to Laksmi. I had been walking for eight days and was to walk nearly twenty more without once meeting a wheeled vehicle or any other evidence of mechanized civilization. Through dense tropical forests of sal a hundred feet above sea level, up steep slopes thick with rhododendron trees, along great cedared ridges cool even in the sun at 12,000 feet, I had been traveling in the only way one can in Nepal, on foot trails that are sometimes deserted, sometimes thronged with heavily burdened men and women moving in unison, their baskets weighted with new potatoes or ghee. Occasionally the trail would thread a village animated with the play of naked brown-skinned children, with cheerful old men in woolen shawls and shy dark-eyed girls carrying jars of water from the well-an irregular patch of mud-colored houses on the gold of ripening rice paddies surrounding it. With all its beauty and poverty and its growing desire for new ways, in the familiar jargon of our time, this was the underdeveloped country
I had been asked to go to Nepal in order to teach science and to introduce new methods and equipment to the science teachers there. Soon after my arrival, however, and before I had started my project, it became clear that this was not really wanted, at any rate not by the teachers who would be most affected by my work. Equipment would certainly be acceptable, but not new methods and certainly not any direct teaching. I soon became convinced that the objections were not directed at me personally nor at American assistance and yet ran very much deeper than mere misunderstanding of words. It was more a matter of the social structure of a Nepalese college, which does not permit a professor to admit that there is anything more for him to learn, and of unwillingness to accept the changes that might result from a different sort of teaching. As a scientist or science teacher I would be very welcome, provided I did not do anything. In growing consternation, I began to see that I was to be more of a symbol than an active scientist-a sort of offering to be laid like a flower at the shrine of a modern city. I was pretty sure I would wilt.
In the end I found many things to do, most of them inoffensive and some of them useful. During two years in this delightful country, I learned much about it and its people, but I learned on my own with practically no professional assistance. I was there as one member of a three-man team sent by the University of Oregon under contract with the International Cooperation Administration (the "point four" program of technical and economic assistance). At that time, the total American assistance to Nepal amounted to approximately $3,000,000 per year, about one tenth of which was spent through the University of Oregon contract. The contract achieved its objectives of establishing a college of education, training Nepalese educators, setting up a press for textbook preparation, etc., and according to both Nepalese and American authorities it was among the best of all American-sponsored projects in Nepal. Notwithstanding this, it was beset as were the other projects with much waste and delay and with much uncertainty as to its long-range effectiveness largely because of discrepancies between American and Asian ways of doing things, and because neither side could easily understand and communicate with the other.
I recount all this because it is substantially the situation in a great many of the underdeveloped countries. American aid is offered and accepted at top government levels and then met with resistance or polite evasion when it is delivered. Particularly is this true when the aid involves changes in old ways or ideas. Yet these very countries are asking for assistance because they want to change. We, in our turn, are puzzled and exasperated, yet in our puzzlement we ourselves doubt the relevance or competence of our own social science. The very development of Western science which should help us the most we are unwilling to use. Bravely we struggle ahead without it, as though to show the world that we can do it anyway-even with half our brains tied behind us.
Asia today is a scene of intense and rapid change. Strong winds of economic, political and social innovation are sweeping through every corner of the continent, bringing in new institutions, new industries and technologies and a whole new attitude toward Asia's part in the world ahead. Taken together, these add up to a revolution to compare with any the world has seen. Beneath all the turmoil, however, there lies a vast inertia, a great ocean of people and tradition, slow to respond to the storm at the surface, yet moving with deep and powerful currents that are hardly noticed above. The immediate revolution, one which will in time reach down to stir even these depths, is basically the same over all of Asia and is, or will be, in most of Africa too. One might almost say that it started with Marco Polo or Saint Paul; with the Western merchants and the colonial governments that followed them to exploit the rich resources of the East; or with the Christian missionaries who brought with them schools and medicine and a new concept of individual worth. Together, they sowed their seeds of resentment and hope and new knowledge, unable, surely, to guess what might be the harvest of so mixed a planting.
After World War II, these elements exploded into a drive for independence and for living standards comparable, if possible, to those in the Western world. The people of the hitherto underdeveloped countries determined now to have food enough and medicines, and yes, airplanes and wrist watches and nuclear reactors, too, and to have them on their own terms, free from Western exploitation. They wanted, also, to find and somehow adopt the concepts of equal justice, equal dignity, equal cosmic importance for all concepts that the Westerner enjoys but has been unable to share. It is perhaps well to mention here that, in Asia at least, these things are wanted without Western religion, which is viewed with deep distrust. This is a fact of great significance, because in Asia religion is a vital and necessary part of living which, unlike Christianity, offers no strong motivation toward social change.
Not only are changes desired, they are desired in a great hurry. Generations of Western progress are to be absorbed -in a decade or two and it is useless to suggest a slower, sounder pace, for the very continued existence of most political regimes depends upon their delivery of an almost impossible rate of progress; for them the fastest pace is the soundest. Many among their citizens know about higher standards and are unwilling to wait longer; and many of us who would help know what is possible (in a way that our forebears did not know for us), and we are eager to urge them forward. Moreover, now that a start has been made, it may well be that a rapid pace has to be maintained just to stay ahead of the expanding population. Thus, while I was in Nepal, the literacy rate was less than 5 percent and yet, with all the nation's efforts to provide more schools and teachers, literacy was decreasing each year.
One is tempted, nevertheless, to question the wisdom and even sometimes the safety of proceeding so rapidly. The whole thing suggests to me an attempt to present the Bonneville Power System to St. Thomas Aquinas. One wonders just what will come of it. Yet I am sure that there is no practical use in asking whether this is good or safe. These questions are not only very complicated, but also irrelevant. It is not necessary to look very far even in Nepal (which has been isolated until very recently) in order to find convincing evidence that there is no possible turning back. People who have once learned of moden1 antibiotics will not be willing to go back to the "unspoiled past" with its high infant mortality. The mountain villager who showed me his new kerosene lantern with pride and asked if we had anything as good as that in America will neve1· go back to using pine torches. The man or woman who has once attended a modern school will not be the same again, nor will his village. I met a Gurung woman who knows this. She cannot read or write two words, but she contributed three thousand rupees to her village to build a school and then herself walked five days from her village to meet me and ask if we would train teachers for the school. Shall we tell her it was only an old woman's mistaken dream? Can we refuse to train teachers for her school?
No, the revolution will not be stopped. It is of no use to ask whether it should ever have started or who started it. With or without our help it will come, and it is better by far that America should be involved, for we have much of value to offer. Better to ask how we can be a constructive force in it, how we can help make of it a renaissance instead of a new enslavement. Better for them and also better for us.
It is the fruits of Western technology that are most of all wanted. Everything else from America, our literature, art or "culture," could be dispensed with except only these precious apples so long forbidden. It is jeeps and tractors, hospitals and antibiotics, hydroelectric plants and refrigerators that represent the new order of civilization. It is industry (meaning wealth) and education (meaning training) which are to transform life. It is modern weapons which are to ensure national liberty and perhaps even allow a part in bigger games among the nations. Modern technology is seen as the liberator of the Western world now coming to liberate the Eastern. To be sure, there is criticism of nuclear bombs and bomb tests and a good deal of apprehension about them, but hardly anyone doubts that the less awesome products of a technological age are primary and indeed are the only primary things to be had from us. (Our interests in Asia and Africa and our fears for them are somewhat different from this view, and it is important therefore that we understand theirs.)
The costs, however, turn out to be unexpectedly high. Capital is a scarce item where the average annual income is less than $100 and the few who are wealthy would rather visit the West than bring it to the East. Where tens of millions do not have enough capital to own a pair of shoes, it is hard to promote investment, whether public or private, in expensive progress. Furthermore, the progress does not run itself and technicians brought from abroad or trained abroad are both scarce and exceedingly expensive. Fortunately, various of the more developed or most developed nations are willing "for certain reasons" (as the Indian says when he does not wish to expand on a matter) to give substantial amounts of capital and equipment and even to send trained technicians and provide training for others. Thus a start can be made.
However, this turns out to be only a beginning, a down payment, as it were, with the real and continuing payments yet to be made. Once the start has been made, of course it is hoped that the normal processes of capital accumulation and development of human resources will follow, and doubtless they will, although there is some reason to be concerned about the time required for this and also about the disruption that would attend any serious international strife. But the most serious and unexpected costs are to be measured in terms of change ; the very changes that are so much desired have negative as well as positive aspects.
The introduction of new techniques, new industries and new education into a community is certain to bring far-reaching and often unforeseen changes in working habits, in work hours, in the status within the community of new sorts of workers, and in the distribution of money and power. These soon begin to affect social structures and institutions, family patterns, leadership patterns, etc. Before long, the very cultural foundation of the community may seem to be threatened, its religion called into question, its most basic philosophies of man's relation to nature and to God, of the status of women or the training of children, altered and forced to accommodate to new pressures. Of course, such changes took place in Western culture too under the impact there of the industrial-technological revolution, and, even spread over generations, they seemed to be very drastic. One can only imagine what their impact must be, crowded into a few years in an Indian or African village. This is the real cost of the revolution.
It sometimes happens that the changes come too quickly for even superficial accommodation. The failures that then occur seem to be superficial or even trivial, yet they can serve to indicate the difficulty with which innovation comes. In one country steel plows are introduced where previously a pointed stick had served. The farmers accept them with polite gratitude and use them as ornaments but not for plowing. Why? These plows require two hands and the farmers are accustomed to using only one, the other being used to guide the bullock. A more productive variety of rice cannot be introduced in part of Nepal where it is needed and very well suited to climate and soil because the grains cling a bit more to the stalk and a new threshing technique would need to be used. But threshing is a family or community undertaking involving social and ritual as well as mechanical activities. Running water in people's houses is not accepted because the village well is the social center as well as a source of water. Cook stoves designed to conduct smoke out of the house through a chimney are not acceptable to Hindu housewives in place of the open smoky chula now in use because religion requires that all parts of the stove (including the chimney if there is one) be cleaned after each meal. It would not be difficult to put together a large list of such minor failures nor to include in it some major ones. If these seem improbable or easily overcome, the reader might review the introduction of an innovation, say the fluoridation of water, into our own technologically highly sophisticated society. He might also consider the willingness with which Christians, out of Christian motives, will help to reduce infant mortality and disease in a distant non-Christian country and how unwilling they may then be to help control the population explosion that inevitably results.
The whole process abroad is like an attempt to transplant cut flowers. Surely the changes to be introduced need to have roots in an indigenous technological revolution that will give them continuity and relationship to a whole. In the end this means that the developing nations need to have their own scientific revolutions.
Far back in the hills of Nepal, seven or eight days' walk from any contact with the modern world, iron is mined and smelted and fabricated into tools. The inhabitants of the village of Those who do this use almost exactly the same process of ore-smelting which is employed in similarly remote Chokwe villages in Angola, where, as a boy, I used to admire the native-made hunting knives and arrow points. It is, in fact, the same smelting process which in ancient Greece led to the development of metallurgy and eventually to the science of chemistry. The Nepalese and the Angolans have used the process for generations, perhaps for many centuries, yet there is no hint of chemistry in Those. The men and women who operate the smelter know what to do, but they are not curious about the transformation that converts stone into metal. They do not depend upon any understanding of it in order to keep it going or possibly improve it. For such purposes, they use a different device; into the wall of the clay smelter is molded a small image of a deity who oversees the process and to whom deference is paid before each run.
Technology is not science. Tools and the skill to make and use them are found everywhere, but science is a unique development limited almost entirely to the Western world where it has played an essential part - perhaps the most essential part-in making possible the enormous variety of innovations that collectively make up the industrial- technological revolution. Not only has the scientific revolution given the Western world the fundamental understanding of nature that makes these innovations technically feasible, but it has also fostered an attitude toward nature and natural forces that allows for their manipulation and control. The importance of this latter condition is not often appreciated, for we live and grow up from childhood in an atmosphere saturated with science. Before entering kindergarten, our children play with "scientific" toys, hear about germs, watch television and know all about automobiles and airplanes. Third graders do "research" and their parents can scarcely buy a tube of toothpaste without resort to science. As a result, we accept a scientific, a rational view of nature without question. We take it for granted that things which are not understood will some day be understood and that in understanding natural phenomena lies the way to a better life.
Such is not the case everywhere. In Nepal, as in most of Asia and Africa, children grow to adulthood in a world that is saturated not with science but with non-science-with a deep running view of nature that is essentially non-rational, non-objective. It is a world where a cholera epidemic calls for special prayer-flags no less and no more than for immunization; where a new diesel generator for the college cannot be started after installation until a blood sacrifice has rendered it safe; where only a fool would operate a bicycle or jeep without a similar ceremonial sacrifice once each year; where the timing and conduct of every new undertaking is controlled more by astrology than by technology. The important distinction here is not one of religion as such. In both East and West religion may be a mature expression of man's search to know "that of God" in his being. It is rather a question of one's view of nature, a question as to whether nature is subject to rational understanding or not. Across the street from the principal college in Kathmandu is a wall into which is built a narrow triangular window neatly framed and decorated and provided with a small shelf of flowers. One of the professors explained to me that there is a goddess living in the field beyond the wall who likes sometimes to cross the street, and it would have been discourteous to build the wall without providing a passage for her convenience. Any Westerner visiting Kathmandu who is unable to accept this goddess as a real and influential member of the community should, in my judgment, think of himself only as a tourist.
Science in such a setting is likely to be considered as a charm, practiced by the Westerner, but essentially qualitatively like the many older charms used to ward off misfortune or ensure good. The acceptance of science as a charm is clearly illustrated in medicine, where drugs and doctors are eagerly accepted, whereas public health measures are met with great reluctance and little if any understanding. The purifying of drinking water by boiling is more likely to be understood as a ritual purification than as biological. Once the ceremony is performed it may be considered as unimportant what happens thereafter to the water-what may be added, whether clean containers are used, etc. Thus our cook learned quickly that dishes were to be washed and rinsed in boiled water and he faithfully complied with this instruction. However, he saw nothing wrong with drying the dishes with a cloth he had just used to mop the floor and he could not understand my wife's distress when she discovered this. Even the native-born scientist frequently finds himself a practitioner of an alien cult uncomfortably suspended between two worlds and not fully accepted into either.
A true scientific revolution which could support technology would profoundly affect the cultures of the underdeveloped nations in their deepest traditions and not merely in the obvious things of roads and tractors and the like. It would be certain to bring about major changes in religious philosophy, ethics and social structure. Surely this is playing with fire. Surely we should stop to consider before undertaking any such program.
Yet, in fact, there is little choice, for events have moved so far and so fast that some kind of technological change is now inevitable. The real questions left are only how it will come and how much disruption can be avoided. Moreover, in the change that is surely coming, very much that is good and needed can be included. If we cannot and would not prevent the growth of science in the developing nations, we can certainly help to better its coming.
In doing so, we might well allow ourselves the luxury of good planning. For reasons of our own that few thoughtful observers would defend, we have for years limited ourselves to a one-year-at- a-time program that had to be concerned primarily with the more superficial aspects of the total revolution. Now we shall soon find that five years' planning is hardly too much, as we help the developing nations with longer-range preparation for wise introduction and use of new things. We should be even more concerned than we are to help them in the improvement and development of education in all its aspects, as distinguished from simple training for specific jobs. Training will not stand long as a substitute for education. We should help, for instance, in the introduction of science in the education of children, whose fresh curiosity and unselfconscious willingness to experiment is the same the world over. We have recently developed in America new and vital approaches to secondary school science teaching which could be of enormous significance abroad. We should urge their trial and help in the considerable work of adapting them.
There is a very great opportunity to help with good science films and other teaching aids, an opportunity we have been slow to take up in our foreign aid programs. The techniques of "programmed instruction," still in the process of development in this country, might prove to have important uses in countries where there are not enough teachers and many of the existing teachers have very little training, for these techniques might speed up teacher training and can make it possible for poorly trained teachers to do a much better job than would otherwise be likely. Adaptation of these programs to children and teachers in another culture will involve much more than simple translation and in some cases they will be initially too expensive. Nevertheless, it would be worthwhile to initiate pilot studies, for the potential benefits are quite large.
At a much higher level of scientific development, while continuing and expanding the educational exchanges that have proved so valuable, we should help the developing nations solve what has become a difficult problem to many of them. This is the loss of scientists who go abroad for advanced training-often to the United States-only to find that when they have completed their degree or a period of postdoctoral study they do not wish to return to their home country, or if they do return they do not wish to stay. The research equipment back home does not compare well with what they have been using; there are few qualified scientists there with whom to collaborate; the atmosphere of the country is not conducive to scientific research; international contacts are few; publication is difficult ; governments are unsympathetic; and so on. The net effect is that the less developed countries are exporting scientists to the better developed. It will take a considerable measure of international cooperation and investment to find a satisfactory solution to this problem, which, understandably enough, has not disturbed us who gain by it as much as it might.
Many proposals of specific foreign aid projects are being made by people who have the detailed information that is necessary for this. I do not intend here a criticism of these projects. My purpose rather is to insist that our assistance to the developing nations, whatever its final form, must originate in clear understanding and genuine commitment. We need to have considerable understanding of ourselves as a scientifically oriented culture and of the nature of our science. We need to understand the non-scientific culture of our neighbors and to appreciate better than we now do the interaction of the two. To do so, we must place much greater reliance on our own social sciences in which we have so little faith, at least when it comes to foreign aid. It is silly for us as a scientifically mature nation to ignore our own science at just the point where it is most relevant, and we do so at our peril.
In recent months some concern for this problem has been felt by what is now named the Agency for International Development, and a small amount of research has been started to learn more about the problems connected with the introduction of change. It is to be hoped that this effort will be supported and even expanded into a serious study involving both the social and natural sciences.
When it comes to the day-to-day business of offering assistance, we should insist upon considerable skill in communication, an indispensable attribute of the good foreign technician as of any good teacher and one which we do not emphasize enough. It is never easy to be sure one understands another exactly and is exactly understood; across real barriers of language and culture, this is exceedingly difficult and requires much sensitivity and patience. When we remember that the useful foreign aid technician is not simply an observer, but a participant who must be able to teach and to criticize, with tact certainly, but without equivocation, we cannot be surprised that he sometimes fails; but we must demand a high standard of performance and we should provide him with a high quality of training.
Anyone who has traveled into a country of unfamiliar language and culture has experienced the difficulty and frustration of partial communication and has, no doubt, seen some of the attempts at escape. Many American representatives try to escape by walling themselves off and dealing with the other country only through "official" channels. They thus limit communication to what all parties are willing to have put on the record, and that is likely to be pretty thin fare. All too often those who venture farther can deal only with people who speak English and who may then be a rather special and unrepresentative group. On the other hand, to speak and hear through an interpreter puts one at the mercy not only of his but also of his understanding and good will. I spent two exhausting days once walking in the wrong direction because an interpreter correctly translated the words but not the context of my inquiry about the trail to a certain village. (It was really my fault, for I had unknowingly stated my question in such a way that the reply had to transgress either the facts or local rules of courtesy. In that country courtesy takes precedence over facts.) At another extreme are those who try to escape by "doing in Rome as the Romans do," trying thereby to demonstrate their faith in the principles of equality and brotherhood. They want to dress as the native does, eat only what the poorest peasant eats and generally live at the lowest standard that the country and their stamina permit. I respect the motive behind this, but not the judgment. To dress and live like the outcast does not make us like him in anyone's sight, nor do we thus share his joys and his sorrows. It is like limping before the crippled. No, it is better to be what we are without fraud, showing from that position that we can meet, as equal:'l before God, all men whether high or low who share with us something of His divine spirit. I do not suppose this to be always easy to do, but it is possible.
In fact, the whole undertaking is anything but easy, and, like the other great cultural revolutions, only the future can give a true measure of its cost and significance. We who are involved in it, like climbers still ascending the mountain, find that the trail is often enough steep and that perspective has its cost. Yet the effort is necessary to our future welfare as well as to that of ou1 neighbors and we need to give it the best that we can. In the long run, wise and effective ssistance to nations that are trying to develop their own scientific revolutions may be no less important than making our peace with automation or being first to reach the moon, for, in the long run, space-age nations and bullock-age nations make uncertain partners. In this century, even the "long run" is over before we know it.
Find more selections from NAFSA's history on the From the Archives page