Thursday, July 09, 2009

Conservation Law

One of the big temptations when digging through this kind of a document is to put in big block quotes to react to instead of sending people back to the text. I will give into that temptation from time to time, like today.

Chapter 1 is titled The Message of Populorum Progressio presenting the case for continuity between that letter and Vatican II as well as other teachings from Pope Paul VI. There has been a great deal of comment concerning the direct links Benedict describes between Populorum Progresso and Humanae Vitae. Linking these two letters is not as novel as some commenters seem to think.

Some years ago I studied public administration and policy, and often encountered programs that were very effective in their original or pilot form, but much less effective when scaled up. In particular, a small project in one city would be much less sucessful when either scaled up to a large project, or scaled out to many cities. Sometimes this is just regression to the mean -- the pilots or experiments that seem to work out tend to be picked to scale up, and somtimes the early good results are dumb luck, results that aren't likely to be repeated. Another problem is that poor results in later efforts is likely to be seen as bad compliance with program guidelines or bad management. Translation: "If you only did this exactly the way we told you, it would have worked!"

We Americans like to trust in process -- if you just do the right things in the right order, things will work out. If we properly set up the office or program or agency or volunteer group, results are guaranteed. Sometimes we would really like a good franchise approach to social action. We like a kind of automatic development or justice. Benedict agrees with Paul -- this is a fallacy.

from § 11

In the course of history, it was often maintained that the creation of institutions was sufficient to guarantee the fulfilment of humanity's right to development. Unfortunately, too much confidence was placed in those institutions, as if they were able to deliver the desired objective automatically. In reality, institutions by themselves are not enough, because integral human development is primarily a vocation, and therefore it involves a free assumption of responsibility in solidarity on the part of everyone. Moreover, such development requires a transcendent vision of the person, it needs God: without him, development is either denied, or entrusted exclusively to man, who falls into the trap of thinking he can bring about his own salvation, and ends up promoting a dehumanized form of development. Only through an encounter with God are we able to see in the other something more than just another creature, to recognize the divine image in the other, thus truly coming to discover him or her and to mature in a love that “becomes concern and care for the other.”

When I studied these social programs, I wondered if there was some kind of basic principle to be discovered, something like the Law of Conservation of Mass/Energy, or perhaps the venerable geek expression, "Garbage in, Garbage out." If you want justice, peace, and human development to be the output, love and sacrifice must be the imput. Technical or managerial competence is not enough. The founders of programs or movements often act from personal conviction and love for who they serve, and are willing to sacrifice time, talent, and security to see it happen. Sometimes this disapears with time and expansion.

Now institutions, even bureaucratic institutions are needed. If you don't think so, consider the private and public organizations here in the U.S. that ensure that we have power, and clean water and sanitation. Very routine stuff, but try to keep a modern society together without them. These are difficult institutions to get going from scratch and that lack is often the main barrier to economic and social development. But again the point is that is not enough for the full development of human persons:
§19. Finally, the vision of development as a vocation brings with it the central place of charity within that development. Paul VI, in his Encyclical Letter Populorum Progressio, pointed out that the causes of underdevelopment are not primarily of the material order. He invited us to search for them in other dimensions of the human person: first of all, in the will, which often neglects the duties of solidarity; secondly in thinking, which does not always give proper direction to the will. Hence, in the pursuit of development, there is a need for “the deep thought and reflection of wise men in search of a new humanism which will enable modern man to find himself anew”. But that is not all. Underdevelopment has an even more important cause than lack of deep thought: it is “the lack of brotherhood among individuals and peoples”. Will it ever be possible to obtain this brotherhood by human effort alone? As society becomes ever more globalized, it makes us neighbours but does not make us brothers. Reason, by itself, is capable of grasping the equality between men and of giving stability to their civic coexistence, but it cannot establish fraternity. This originates in a transcendent vocation from God the Father, who loved us first, teaching us through the Son what fraternal charity is. Paul VI, presenting the various levels in the process of human development, placed at the summit, after mentioning faith, “unity in the charity of Christ who calls us all to share as sons in the life of the living God, the Father of all”.

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