The Return Home
My return home from Honduras was as much a part of my experience this summer as my time in Honduras, and it particularly influenced my thoughts on development. One morning in particular stands out in my mind. That morning I had to drive my mom to her work, a high school about a half-hour away from my house. Now, I’m from Los Angeles, and I love the city so much, that when I’m gone for too long, I get nostalgic for LA traffic. Traffic. Freeways six lanes wide, stuffed with cars bumper to bumper in both directions. I miss that. I feel uncomfortable on two lane freeways with no traffic. But this time, when I was driving back home from my mom’s work, my mind stopped and realized that, at that moment, I probably had more cars in my vision than I saw in my entire time in Honduras. My entire time back at home, I began to notice moulding on walls, trim around building facades, islands in between roads, and concrete. Concrete and pavement for as far as the eye can see. There is one interchange that I used to take on my way home from high school. This interchange makes a huge sweeping arc from one freeway to the next, rising up to a point, where, if you look to your left, you have a clear shot of Downtown LA and the surrounding area, if there isn’t too much smog. I used to love this sight, and would try to sneak a peak at it even as I was speeding across the bank at 70 mp/h. But when I saw this sight when I came back from Honduras, all I could see was the stuff. Just so much stuff. I still don’t know if there is anything wrong about stuff, and I still love LA––it is my home––but I couldn’t help but ask myself, “Is this what I want for my kids at the Finca?”
Freedom to Pursue What?
A quick glance at our lives in the United States makes clear one consequence of nearly unlimited capability: nearly unlimited consumption. Like much of the developed world, we have used our expanded freedoms to consume more. This correlation between development and excessive consumption begs the question that with their newfound freedoms, would a developing country pursue consumption with the same gusto as the United States? While I would love everybody in the world to live like we do, it is physically impossible for the whole world to live like we do in the United States. It's impossible. There is a finite amount of resources in our world and an infinite capacity to consume, therefore consumption should be checked within the limits of our resources.
This principle of sustainability is nothing new. Thomas Robert Malthus observed such a principle in his classic An Essay on the Principle of Population, writing in 1798, "By that law of our nature which makes food necessary to the life of man, the effects of these two unequal powers [of population and substance] must be kept equal" (Malthus 19).  Although Malthus is here talking about the resource of food and the effect of population upon consumption, the principle still remains the same––humans cannot live outside of their means.
Such thinking is contrary to our everyday experience here in the United States. As a person who has grown up with magically refilling supermarket shelves, how can I ever doubt that these magical shelves will ever stop refilling? Even if our capacities to consume were to push the physical limits of our world, wouldn't technology be there to make up the difference? Such logic is called weak sustainability, as it anticipates technological progress to remedy increased consumption. However, as the Human Development Report 2011 notes, "How can we be sure of finding ways to offset the damage caused by current and future production and consumption? The answer is that we cannot be certain." This kind of faith in progress is, as Wendell Berry observes, a modern mindset, "For a long time we knew that we were not, and could never be, 'as gods.' We knew, or retained the capacity to learn, that our intelligence could get us into trouble that it could not get us out of… But beginning in science and engineering, and continuing, by imitation, into other disciplines, we have progressed to the belief that humans are intelligent enough, or soon will be, to transcend all limits and to forestall or correct all bad results of the misuse of intelligence." Recognition of these facts of our human limitations necessitate the embracing of a version of strong sustainability, which according to the Human Development Report 2011, holds "that some basic natural assets have no real substitutes and thus must be preserved. These assets are fundamental not only to our capacity to produce goods and services but also to human life."
To his credit, Sen recognizes the necessity of sustainability. In a paper written in conjunction with Sudhir Anand, the Sen and Anand write, "We cannot abuse and plunder our common stock of natural assets and resources leaving the future generations unable to enjoy the opportunities we take for granted today." Note how this argument for sustainability is still based in the idea of freedom as the ends of development. The logic is that because our impact on our resources and environment will limit the capacities of future generations, we must voluntarily limit our capacities today out of responsibility to them. It seems contradictory that in order to pursue the end of freedom, we must voluntarily limit our freedom. While on the basis of justice this reasoning cannot be doubted, it does call into doubt whether or not freedom is truly the end of development.
What I Do I Want for My Kids at the Finca?
I still suffer from bouts of nostalgia for the Finca, even though I'm four months removed from my time there. Whether it is a song, a picture, or a random tangential thought that floats through my head, sometimes my memories strike me and I’m transported back to Honduras. I find myself walking across the campo to the colegio, going over lesson plans in my head and wondering what would be the best way to pound graphing lines into the thick skulls of my eighth graders. I find myself sharing a topoyiyo with the tías and some of the boys out by the fogón behind House 4. I even find myself in the chapel sitting with the kids and praying with their out-of-tune sining and purposefully off-beat clapping.
I still care for those kids a lot. During these bouts of nostalgia, the emotions I feel for the kids are still so intense, it is as if I was still there. But I’m not, and instead I’m here at Notre Dame trying to make sense of this physical distance but emotional immediacy. One thing that I have realized through this paradox is that I can still care for the kids at the Finca while I’m here in the States. This desire to care for the kids at the Finca as spurred my interest in development practices, in order to see what may be the best way of aiding the my kids at the Finca. This really best describes my perspective when approaching development: I want what is best for my kids at the Finca. Whatever the answer is to that desire is, for me, what development is.
When applied to the conception of development as freedom, this desire is unsatisfied. Yes, of course I want my kids to be free, but I want more than that for them. I want them to be happy. I want them to live good, fulfilling lives. This for me is the end of development. (1) And from my time at the Finca, it seems to me that it is in community that we find this end.
(1) This conception of development leads us to ask the daunting question of, "What makes humans happy?" People are understandably loathe to undertake this question, for the obvious reason that it has not been definitively answered in 10,000 years of human existence. However, if we are to have an honest discussion as to the ends of development, this is where we will be lead. Allow me to repeat that freedom is not something intrinsically desirable. Rather, it is only desirable for what it can provide. So far as ends go, this clearly indicates that freedom, and by extension development, aim at some greater object.