[Ambassador] What is good?

Alice Ebeyer, McGill University

Being a student, I have to go through a series of hopes, uncertainties and disappointments regarding the future of our planet (and mine). I am halfway through my international development studies as an undergraduate, and if I have solved some of the questions that the academy has posed to me, I confess to always being confused about the professional prospects that the development field has to offer. This tenacious feeling of having to help the so-called developing countries, tinged with a persistent post-colonial shadow. Today, the education we receive through this program urges us not to reproduce past mistakes. Yet new ones are committed; a clumsiness that reflects an ideology falsely focused on the common interest.

The realities within the university are contradictory, promoting an ideal of development that remains, in my opinion, a projection of capitalism in its entirety and its implementation. These economic ideologies are contingent to the power imbalance across the world: they imply an exponential enrichment which I believe can only be achieved by the relative impoverishment of an opposite. University then becomes a place where the distinction between professional aspirations and the idea of development aid fades. The personal interest is merged with the common interest, for better and for worse. Ideas are fusing: would I be a leader, what can I undertake, how can I participate in achieving the new goals of the United Nations? In a sense, this program conditions us and makes us want to achieve goals, to do good because we have been taught to do so. It is an automated form of applying knowledge that is not necessarily motivated by a genuine sense of spreading good around oneself. What is good? In my opinion, everything that minimizes the malaise of others. Everything is relative of course, but if these inter-relational fundamentals were re-examined in teaching, perhaps our vision of interculturality and co-working would be thorough and the need to be attentive to the people’s input would be further highlighted.

The result of these observations leads me to some form of confusion on the field. There is a somewhat hypocritical sentiment that knots my stomach when I think of the enthusiasm provoked by international studies. It has become so easy to volunteer, to travel with a purpose, to do Voluntourism or simply apply abroad for any kind of job. As a fashion, an ephemeral passion for the meaning of life that the journey grants. Opportunities to work in an organization that offers dialogue and connaissance as key principles are becoming scarce. They stress the complexity of reality: one that takes time, perseverance, strength but also a lot of love and humility to realize every new step. The ability of students to go around the world and/or work for this or that organization – for sometimes exorbitant amounts – in order to gain experience contradicts itself. We are offered a form of privilege of helping, to meet our personal needs. I finally come back to this vision of international development as a hand of post-colonialism, a rejuvenated version of the white man’s burden. To stem the yoke that the countries of the ‘South’ suffer subjectively, I think it would be a good idea to authentically support local organizations that encourage the participation of all groups concerned; no more no less. Clearly, if international studies are today quite trendy, I do not think they are reprehensible: simply flawed.

I find my international development program very complete in that it draws from various subjects and different disciplines. This allows us to learn a great deal and to absorb varied perspectives on development. Subjects such as sociology or anthropology offer a holistic view of global thought while economics or geography, among others, represent the development sector and the power gaps between countries in a more pragmatic way. We feel a deep criticism of Western ethnocentrism, the white man’s burden, or late twentieth-century development models that have contributed to the spread of neoliberalism. Theoretically, the focus is on our ability to know more about what is best for others or condemn invasive methods observed in research  as well as in development projects themselves.

The aim of future generations would be to find a balance, which will be done with time, education and the strengthening of collective consciousness. Do not misunderstand my criticism: I deeply believe that the involvement of institutions in promoting international development is a good thing. It shows that people are pacifying themselves, that new generations are adopting a different definition of happiness, including its global aspect. We must continue to spread the desire to improve human kind, in spite of its intricacy. I simply question the conflict of interest that development missions and the role of institutions bring to light: I am uncertain of their significant scope. We must continue to move forward and perpetually challenge ourselves so as to soften past tensions and, perhaps one day, offer a fair present.