Before the 1920s, change in American agriculture was slow. Silent films of the time wonderfully record the dusty dirt roads, farm wagons and Model-T Fords passing by, threshers in overalls pitching bundles, small family farms with cows, pigs and chickens, and the speed and power of a rural way of life set by the three-mile-an-hour gait of the horse. By 1940, as highly mechanized, highly capitalized farming took over, this way of life was just a nostalgic memory. Since 1940 the number of Americans who farm has dropped from about 30 percent to less than three percent.1 This is probably the most fundamental change in modern American history. Its cultural consequences have still to be calculated.

If the 1920s and 1930s brought decisive change to American agriculture, the decade of the 1970s now is likely to be seen, if at a much lower level of technology, as the start of a similar turning point for many of the people of the Third World, particularly the Asians. These were the years when contraceptive devices-the Pill and IUD, not widely available until the mid-1960s-first reached the villages. Scientific agriculture did not fully win acceptance by Third World governments until the successful application of breakthroughs in tropical plant genetics in the late 1960s (and not until the late 1970s in China, where dwarf, fast-maturing, short-stemmed grain had to be crossed with local colder-climate varieties). The postcolonial expansion of primary education and the training abroad of large numbers of students in Western technology did not begin to pay off until the 1970s. Transistor radios came in early, but television did not reach substantial numbers of villages in China, India, Indonesia, Egypt, Mexico and elsewhere until the end of the decade.

The change that really mattered came in the mentality of the villagers once they saw concrete evidence of how Western technology could improve their lives. To try and date this more precisely: In 1978, after a five-year absence in Africa and Latin America, this writer returned to a number of Asian villages, from India to Indonesia, where I had lived for months on end in the late 1960s and early 1970s and several times revisited, most recently in 1973. Among all the village people I knew personally, there was a marked difference: somehow, in those five years, something had happened in their minds. They felt that the future would no longer simply repeat the past, as it had always done, but could be radically improved by all the new Western technology. As I reported to The Economist in an article headlined "A great change has started," published on March 9, 1979, "Times change and men, once they have the technological means and enough years to culturally adjust, change with them."

The pace of this change has steadily quickened. One can now confidently say that a quiet agricultural revolution has begun in the Third World that is likely to have more dramatic effects on more human beings than any revolution that has gone before. This agricultural revolution differs from our own in three fundamental ways:

First, it is coming 50 years later. During these 50 years, man's control over matter and energy, particularly in physics and biology, and his ability to process and distribute this knowledge, has grown enormously. As Vernon Ruttan and other agricultural economists have pointed out, the biggest gains in American farm production have come from oil-based mechanical technology, or advances in output per worker. Between 1920 and 1940, horses were quite suddenly replaced by tractors, combines and other machines, with new investment also in fertilizer, electricity, prepared feeds, pesticides and other nonfarm inputs. In the Third World, starting about 1967-68, the biggest gains in farm production have come from biological technology, advances in output per unit of land. The numbers of draft animals-about 75 million in India, 50 million in China2 (which uses more river junks)-are not declining, but growing with official encouragement. Biotechnology, unlike mechanical technology, does not demand the same substitution of capital for labor. Experience in Asia during the 1970s shows it is more labor intensive, not less.

Second, peasants are involved, that is, subsistence cultivators within ancient civilizations. Their culture is highly dependent upon a village, the basic economic unit. There are about two million of these villages left, a third of them still pretty much intact in post-Mao China, another third in what was pre-1947 India-India, Pakistan and Bangladesh-and the rest scattered among the other 130 or so nations of Asia, Africa and Latin America, plus some islands. North America, unlike Europe or Russia, never had a peasant society. The uprooted European peasant immigrants, who mostly settled America's post-frontier rural society, found themselves in scattered, individual farms surrounding a small town usually dominated by a Yankee commercial and professional class. Peasant tradition was discouraged; farming was seen as a business for profit, with land, rent and labor looked upon as capital and commodity. As post-1940 agriculture industrialized and farms got ever bigger and fewer, thousands of small farm communities died or moved toward extinction, and with them their churches and schools. Despite pro-rural feelings among presidents from Thomas Jefferson to Theodore Roosevelt to John F. Kennedy, the economic basis of American culture, never having been a village, shifted from small town to city. This has meant a weakening of church, family, the work ethic and the small town's sense of community. It suggests the American model is not one the Third World can or should follow.

Third, the staggeringly big populations involved are way beyond our own experience. Village populations have been doubling every 30 years, though, since contraceptives started to catch on, that interval has grown slightly to 34 years.3 In a few places-the Nile Valley, the Mexican central highlands, the island of Java-absolute population growth has already overshot the available land and water even with the maximum application of known biotechnology. Here an alternative to agriculture must be found, probably in decentralized industry. Japan offers the best model; it industrialized through a system of small village-based engineering workships which made components for a central core factory (as American bomber pilots discovered during World War II). At the Indonesian government's request, the Japanese are now trying to transplant their system to Java as a way of keeping people on the land.

The hope must be that a village-based agrarian civilization, with man's oldest cultures adapting to his newest scientific knowledge and expanded population, could offer an attractive and attainable future for the Third World.

In any case, during the 1970s, so much peasant energy was released, so much élan and dynamism, that this agricultural revolution is now unstoppable. The crucial transfer of scientific knowledge, and its application as technology, has already been made. Even if we unwisely reduced our technical assistance and expertise, somebody else could now supply it (most probably the Japanese).


In framing American policy toward this totally different Third World of the 1980s, it may help us to picture it, not in the conventional terms of a devitalized fixed state, as statistics and even factual evidence are likely to suggest, but rather as a kind of vast, ongoing revolutionary drama in perpetual kaleidoscopic movement, in which countless individual actors-the villagers-make choices and take actions to learn, adjust, develop and survive. Increasingly, we will take on the role of spectators, while continuing to lead in the supply of technology and advice.

If one assumes that the resources and science are there, as it will be argued they are, the Third World can look to a much brighter future if each of its dominant cultures adapts in its own way, preserving what is most valuable in its particular culture. This means it must preserve the village, the economic basis of every single Third World culture. We cannot say that this will happen; some cultures may not adapt, in some societies villages may not survive. But cultural adaptation and the survival of the village are what we, as Americans, should be looking for, and trying if possible to assist.

In such a situation, optimism and pessimism become largely irrelevant. It is like watching a play; as a theater-goer you are neither optimistic nor pessimistic about the outcome; you simply wait to see how it comes out. If others in the audience loudly proclaim that the play will end badly, you naturally have to disagree with them on the grounds that no one knows. I will say one thing: none of the villagers that I have known personally since the late 1960s or early 1970s is worse off today than he or she was a decade ago; most of them are a little better off and a few are substantially better off. Also, I have confidence that when the time comes, these people, as individual villagers, will make the right choices.

It is in these individual terms that we somehow need to perceive them. Traveling in the United States, after spending half a lifetime in the Third World, one finds most Americans can fix most of these countries on a map. A good many are knowledgeable about their current political and economic situations. In their minds, as in their newspaper headlines, they keep up with the Third World's wars, revolutions, coups, famines, gluts, slumps and booms. Yet, unless they've been there themselves, many Americans tend to people these countries with dark and faceless mobs. Our geography and history help to explain this. So does television. The popular image of what are now about three-fourths of the people alive is distinctly blurred. Television brings these people into our living rooms when they revolt, riot or starve, but rarely when they are just going about their daily lives, steadily trying to improve them. This may explain why Americans tend to perceive the Third World's villagers as more miserable than they actually are and as somehow inert-or as objects, statistics, things to be manipulated.

This depersonalization may be inescapable, but it does reinforce the American habit of looking at problems in terms of the politics of the surface, instead of the economic and cultural trends beneath the surface. This makes us slow to recognize long-term economic changes (the rapid economic growth of East Asia) or cultural changes (Islam's counterreformation), which require changes in policy. Examples closer to home, aside from the decline of rural-based values, would be the social isolation, in the cities of the North and West, of the American black, or the way we unintentionally played into Hanoi's strategy in Vietnam of eroding the Confucian ethical system that was, and still is, communism's central adversary. In the Midwest last summer I found farmers deeply concerned about export markets (now 40 percent of annual American grain production) but somehow unable to make that leap of the imagination that would relate their own well-being with what happens to distant peasants of another race and culture.

Despite a true sense of nationhood in much of the Third World, politics there too often tends to be a private game played by a small, educated elite of Westernized businessmen, soldiers and urban intellectuals who are often more in tune with Washington or London than with some village ten miles down the road. (India's former Prime Minister Morarji Desai was amazed during a 1978 interview when I described what was going on in villages outside Delhi.) A good many of the smaller Third World nations do not even qualify as whole societies but are rather arbitrarily detached fragments of them, notably in Africa. Too many of these are run by men whose primary concern is not to get murdered in their successor's coup d'état. Villagers tend to identify themselves primarily with a historically enduring culture; they are Punjabis not Indians, Javanese not Indonesians; not Sudanese or Kenyans but members of the Dinka or Kamba tribes.

Purely economic lenses can also distort. A good many economic statistics ultimately depend on a village peasant providing accurate information to a local government official, something few of them, in their own self-interest, are going to do. What we know of crop production, for example, is usually based upon what comes into the market; there is no way to tell if peasants are eating or storing more. Economic facts seem mathematical and scientific, but what does it mean to the average American that average life expectancy in the Third World last year was 58 years and per capita GNP $560?4

The average, moreover, is almost nowhere typical. Anyone who goes to enough villages is constantly journeying back and forth through time, as if in some Jules Verne contraption. You can visit the Stone Age with Sudan's Dinka tribe, live in Old Testament days with desert Bedouins, glimpse the Middle Ages in old Cairo or Fez (or, until the mid-1970s, in any one of a million villages), or see something like Europe's agricultural revolution conveniently telescoped in India's Punjab. Most of the villagers, while still relatively poor, are starting to lead healthier, longer lives, with higher rates of literacy and a wider range of information than any generation that has gone before.

We can no longer treat the Third World as something static, as if we were biologists dissecting a frog. Rather, if we are to look beneath the political surface and grasp the causes for what is going on, we are required to consider the Third World's people in individual terms and in a new, essentially anthropological way.


No culture is ever static, but usually there is time to gradually adjust to change. The West, well before the post-1800 industrial revolution, had centuries in which to evolve. Most critically, the Protestant Reformation emphatically transformed Christian culture from the world-rejection of the historical Jesus to a world-affirming religion of the urban middle class, with philosophical motivations for seeking salvation primarily through hard work and a more rational control of life.

When technological change comes too fast, age-old beliefs can become incoherent. Among some deeply religious, illiterate peasants, the universe can become utterly incomprehensible. Such personal crises, if enough people suffer them, can produce such political eruptions as Iran's revolution, Anwar Sadat's murder, peasant uprisings in Central America or growing caste violence and lawlessness in India.

V.S. Naipaul, a gloomy but astute observer of change in Africa, India, the West Indies and within Islam, has attributed "all the trouble in the world" to the need of all of its people to adapt to the West and its ways.5 "Not adapting to its tools," he said in a Washington Post interview last year, "but trying to fit in with its ideas."

This writer would agree with Naipaul, except that an anthropologist might argue that you can't separate the ideas from the tools: all culture has an economic basis. In the anthropological definition, culture is a set of rules or solutions to problems, handed down from father to son (or, more often, mother to son) so that each new generation does not have to start out from scratch. It is kind of a ready-made design for living.

In Africa last fall I questioned Richard Leakey about early agriculture. Leakey, who has traced man's origins back two million years from fossil finds at Olduvai Gorge and Lake Turkana, takes the view that man is not innately anything but is capable of anything. Leakey has written, "Human beings are cultural animals and each one is the product of his particular culture." Leakey argues that man evolved a cooperative society because his hunting-collecting economy required it and this same ethic was carried on for the same reason after the invention of agriculture in the Middle East area 10,000 to 15,000 years ago.

Aristotle reached much the same conclusion from his study of animals and humans 2,300 years ago; he wrote that every creature's mode of living is decided by how he obtains his food. If you change agriculture, you change culture. Aristotle also offered an explanation for human fertility declines; he said that the more highly developed any species or individual becomes, the smaller will be his number of offspring. Common sense, yet the Third World delegates at the 1974 World Population Conference in Bucharest had to keep hammering the point in: increase human productivity (or the value of time) and fertility decreases.

If one can condense human history into a paragraph: Something like a man hunted and collected for two million years, slowly migrating up from Africa, into Europe and South Asia, down to Indonesia and Australia and up to Siberia and across into the Americas. Neolithic woman, as the collector of berries, roots and wild grain, invented agriculture 10,000 to 15,000 years ago. Man, the hunter-herder, followed draft animals into the fields as the inventions of irrigation and the plow led to the rise of civilization about 6,000 to 7,000 years ago. The invention of the heavy moldboard plow and the dryland manorial farming it made possible led to the rise of Europe, starting about 1,500 years ago. This was followed by the industrial revolution 200 years ago and the West's present global technological domination.6

From the day man followed his cattle down from Central Asia and up from Africa into the Fertile Crescent and Egypt and invented the plow, wheel, sail and irrigation, nothing really big affected the peasant villager-aside from the invention of the moldboard plow and gunpowder-until about 1800. During these 6,000 to 7,000 years, there were great nonfarming advances, such as the Gutenberg printing press, and techniques of seafaring and navigation, but agriculture experienced relative technological stagnation. The peasant of A.D. 1800, whether in Europe, India, China or the New World, used about the same energy resources as the 5000-B.C. cultivator did (animal power, wind, water, sun and his own muscles); he could travel much the same tiny maximum distance per day; he used much the same materials for tools (iron and wood) and fuel (firewood and forage for draft animals); and had much the same life expectancy (to his late thirties and early forties). When I first visited Asia in the late 1950s, the tools and fuel of most villagers were still fixed at this level.

But for those of us in the West, after 1800 everything suddenly went whoosh. Today, thanks to Western technology, in the reckoning of The Economist's deputy editor, Norman Macrae, world population has risen sixfold; real gross world product has risen eightyfold; the distance a person can travel in a day has gone up between a hundredfold and a thousandfold; the killing area of the most effective megadeath weapon a millionfold or more; the amount of energy that can be released from a pound of matter over 50 millionfold; and the range and volume of information technology (computers, chips, telecommunications) several billionfold.7 The West, in this sense, now includes small enclaves in most of the Third World's great cities, part of the same jet-and-electronics network we belong to. Beyond are the two million villagers where a very sudden closing of the 5000 B.C.-1980s A.D. technology gap should now be possible.


Plato, in his critique of reason, contrasted the "inflamed society" of the city with the "simple society," of which the most universal form has always been the village. Interestingly, almost all of the great religions have rural origins while almost all the great political ideologies came from cities. These include Western industrial capitalism and communist collectivism, another Western export, the two main development choices offered the postcolonial Third World. But capitalism has failed to supply sufficient jobs and income, and communism, by denying villagers privately owned land, has failed to provide sufficient incentives.

To Aristotle, the three basic institutions of the village were property, marriage and the family. To him, communism broke down because humans need the stimulus of gain and private ownership for hard work and husbandry. Aristotle believed the power of habit, or "second nature," was enough to defeat revolutions.

In China, with a billion of the Third World's people, about 80 percent of them still rural, recent anthropological studies suggest this to be true.8 On a 1980 visit to the North China Plains, I found that once you stepped inside a village family's household walls, property, marriage and the family mattered just as much as in any other village culture. There were the same ubiquitous, proudly displayed family photographs, the same complaints about the expense of weddings, the same deference shown to old people, even the same mind-numbing liquor that is, alas, the gesture of having broken the social ice from Africa to India. Unlike city workers, Chinese peasants own their own household land and get no pensions, looking after the elderly at home. Garden plots, where vegetables can be grown for sale, are usually allocated and detached, but every family raises a pig or two at home for cash income. (This was done with Mao Zedong's blessing; he even coined a maxim: "The pig is a fertilizer factory with four legs.") Unlike the gross neglect of public property in China, the flowers, fruit trees and humble houses within private courtyard walls are well maintained. Far from being the robots one might expect, the rural Chinese seem supremely individualistic, Confucian and civilized. Mao must have had culture in mind when he told Nixon, "I have only been able to change a few places in the vicinity of Peking."

American agricultural scientists, who have traveled in the rural Soviet Union, confirm it is much the same there. Something that can be called a village exists and the Russian peasant clings to his private plot just as tenaciously as the Chinese does to his family household.

A universal village culture does exist. It seems likely to survive any ephemeral and short-lived political system arbitrarily imposed on it from cities. Technology can revolutionize human behavior permanently because it transforms the economic determinants of that behavior. There is no historical evidence that any political ideology has ever been able to do this in any lasting way. Even Maoism.


One finds six main cultural variations in the rural Third World: Confucian, Malay-Javanese, Hindu, Christian, Islamic and African. They do much to explain why villagers culturally adjust to Western ideas and technology in such different ways.

All contemporary village society has something generic about it. A group of families occupying a rural place and engaged in farming inherits similar ways and customs quite naturally evolved over centuries from a simple agricultural economy. These have to do with the concrete aspects of ordinary daily life. Village cultures strikingly differ only when it comes to the attempts by their early ancestors to provide life and the world of their times with metaphysical meaning. What is something of a universal village culture in other key respects stops somewhat short of the realm of abstract ideas, or religion-though even in religion the appeal of magic and miraculous deliverance has great universality in villages. This writer, since the late 1960s, has lived in 21 villages for months on end, three of them for over a year, and visited villages in 52 countries altogether. The religious interpretations that follow are not based upon formal scholarship, but rather upon villagers' own presentations of their beliefs. I have excluded Buddhism because, though it decides village behavior in Thailand, Burma and among Tibetans, it is outweighed by either Confucian or Hindu ethics in daily village life in countries like Vietnam, Sri Lanka or Nepal. Judaism in the Third World, of course, influences only the rural Israelis.

Confucianism, or, more accurately, post-Confucianism, embraces East Asia-China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, Hong Kong and Singapore. As British sinologist Roderick MacFarquhar pointed out in an essay in The Economist in early 1980, "Confucianism is as important to the rise of the East Asian hyper-growth economies as the conjunction of Protestantism and the rise of capitalism in the West."9

Village Confucianism is basically a system of harmonious, subordinate relationships stemming from the fundamental adage that "Filial piety is the basis of all social conduct."10 The son obeys the father, the younger brother the older brother, the wife the husband, the worker the employer, the subject the state. Its great advantage in adapting to technology lies in its subordination of individual interest to group interest (just as the unrestricted freedom of individual choice and substitution of chosen "life styles" for inherited culture seems to have weakened our own adaptive capacity).

Rural South Korea, especially among the older people, seems to have preserved traditional Confucian behavior in its purest state; in Taiwan it is more obscured by Taoist and Buddhist influences. But faith in social harmony achieved through subordination to one's group is a common thread running through every East Asian village society, including that of post-Mao China.

The Japanese practice what is perhaps the prime example of biological technology in agriculture compared to our mechanical technology. It is true the Japanese grow rice with an amazing variety of mini-machines, including mechanical rice transplanters, and employ helicopter spraying, along with vinyl sheeting, concrete-banked paddies and massive use of chemical fertilizer. But Japanese farm machinery is designed for a part-time cultivator with two or three acres. The ordinary Japanese may work in a factory, but he feels deep ties to his small plot of ancestral land and holds on to it. Similarly, he manages to preserve something close to a village in his modern urban setting; almost every Japanese belongs to a small community with the same system of mutual rights and obligations one finds in villages. And so far Japan's main emphasis in agriculture has been on biological advance; there has been no significant movement toward big farms and big machines as in this country.

Japanese rice technology has rapidly spread to South Korea and Taiwan, where conditions also exist to make it work: decent farm prices, land holdings of similar size (though all three countries may lift land ceilings), educated women, irrigation and up-to-date water management, and opportunity for all villagers to learn the new biotechnology and get the credit to try it out. Vietnam cannot catch up until it abandons its totalitarian politics; agricultural advance depends too much on adequate incentives and the stimulus of gain and private ownership.

China, with its common Confucian culture, remains, of course, the big question mark. Mao Zedong's legacy to Chinese agriculture is very mixed; on the one hand, in his later years he gave farming and the Chinese peasantry top priority in investment, something few leaders of other developing countries have done. On the other, the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution set back Chinese biological science and its application to agriculture at least a generation. Whether the pragmatists who succeeded Mao can provide sufficient incentives and ownership to the Chinese peasantry without the whole communist system coming apart will take years to resolve. Most hopeful is the way traditional Confucian values have survived since 1949 in the Chinese villages.

Malay-Javanese culture embraces Malaysia, Indonesia and a few smaller neighbors. Its heartland is the crowded island of Java, where two-thirds of the world's fifth most populous nation live. Uniquely syncretic, the Javanese have historically been able to take what they wanted from other peoples while keeping their own central values, so that they are nominally Muslim, Hindu in many of their deepest values, and also animist and mystical. With its wayang kulit, or shadow play, gamelan orchestras and all-night dance and drama performances, this is the most artistic and theatrical of all village cultures.

Javanese especially, but all Malays, possess a distinctive mentality that first fiercely resisted Western ideas (the anti-communist bloodbath of the late 1960s virtually wiped out village modernizers too) and then Western technology until the mid-1970s when scientific rice farming and contraceptives rather suddenly won general acceptance. Since 1973-74, according to the American Embassy in Djakarta, the rice crop has jumped from 12 million to 22 million tons and the annual population growth rate in East Java and Bali has dropped from 2.4 percent in 1977 to an astonishing one percent-a change which, if it stands up, will represent one of the fastest fertility declines ever.11

Javanese village culture's gift of graceful survival seems to come from a readiness to accept the necessary new, once it is somehow collectively felt to be the only way to preserve the desirable old. In seven visits to Java between 1967 and 1981, this writer witnessed this unusual adaptation to change.

Hinduism, the third main culture, affects most of South Asia, including not just India but Muslim Pakistan and Bangladesh and Buddhist Nepal and Sri Lanka; all villages in the region have some important vestige of the Hindu caste system. Caste is highly complex, but in villages it can be fairly simply seen as a contemporary relic of the ancient system, common to all early civilizations, whereby cultivator classes exchanged their labor and subservience for a share of the harvest and paternalist welfare provided by a rural overseer class. This system breaks down once rent, land and labor are commercialized; caste is incompatible with modern farming.

India has enormous untapped resources of land, climate, water, natural gas and hydroelectric potential, yet it remains desperately poor. The country's fundamental dilemma, as caste erodes and in some regions disintegrates, is how to bring into its economic and social system the 60 percent of rural families who are landless or nearly landless low-caste or outcaste laborers. Until and unless this disenfranchised absolute majority of the Indian people get purchasing power and lead more productive lives, India's industrialization and population control efforts are stymied. Willy-nilly, India has to grow more food and modernize farming as fast as it can. The men and women who run India (and much of it is run, as in China, by state governments) have become acutely aware of their dilemma in recent years, and a start has been made in what will have to be a massive shift of income and wealth through land reform, public work programs and decentralized industry.

As Nobel laureate economist Theodore Schultz has argued, aside from sensible programs and policies there are real limitations to what a government can do when social disequilibrium, caused by economic and technological change, reaches such huge proportions. Historically, Schultz has said, people rather than governments tend to work things out. This seems most likely to happen in India, at the cost of a good deal of violence and suffering along the way.

Individual Indian villagers, caught in the caste breakdown, react in many ways. Punjabi Sikh untouchable laborers, whom I have known since 1969, tend to regard themselves as better off. Many, while keeping their village homes, bicycle to town jobs, get more money than they did as field laborers and work only eight hours. As one expressed the most common sentiment, "We're free. The landlords can no longer rule over us in their fields and treat us like animals." (Which, as late as the early 1970s, they did; Sikh untouchables were forced to sit on the ground and use no utensils or water vessels in a landlord's house; there were constant humiliations and intermarriage was unthinkable although to an outsider upper and lower caste looked and dressed pretty much alike.)

Yet caste always held the Indian village together and provided the rural social order. Rural crime, long rare, has risen sharply and the old sense of community is gone. Caste was never the unmitigated evil Mahatma Gandhi said it was. In the Punjab one can still find older landlords who feel a strong sense of traditional obligation to feed and look after the wants of the village low-caste poor (and who expect the old show of respect in return). Just a decade ago in northern India a harvest (mowed by hand with sickles) or a bullock cart race could be a heartwarming spectacle with men of all castes working together to get the wheat in before a storm or cheering for the cart of a fellow villager. Such scenes have vanished now; everything is done on a contractual, money basis and youngsters from different castes often do not even know each other's names.

Much of what happens in India will depend on the sum of small choices taken by hundreds of millions of obscure individual peasants. Most authorities agree that India has the resources and scientific knowledge that, combined, could eradicate poverty. Many blame the managerial capacity of India's political leadership for the failure to use them. But this overlooks the deeper cultural issue: how to replace archaic beliefs that have outlived their economic relevance?

One thing India has going for it is its democratic political system. The poor absolute majority has the controlling vote. If democracy survives, India seems likely to have frequent changes of government, exemplified by Indira Gandhi's remarkable comeback. The minority "haves" in India's 570,000 villages inevitably benefit sooner from agricultural modernization than the majority "have-nots." Yet any New Delhi government has to push food production. This means the opposition-any opposition-steadily grows more popular with the "have-nots" than whoever is in power. This is India's crucial safety valve. But it means the Indian elite has to show a new political maturity by starting to build up constructive alternatives to India's post-independence leadership. Democracy is not a luxury in India; it is an absolute necessity. With it, the Indians may have the political resilience, during this trying period of cultural adjustment, to muddle through.

Despite such complex problems, the three purely Asian cultures are adapting to Western techniques more easily than Christian, Islamic or African villages.

In the rural Third World, Christianity tends to mean Roman Catholicism, brought to Latin America and the Philippines by Spanish colonialists, to Brazil by the Portuguese and, in much smaller numbers, to a few places like Vietnam, by the French. Protestant peasant villages are almost nonexistent outside Africa, where they are a relatively new phenomenon and the main cultural adjustment is with tribalism.

Latin postcolonial society, with its feudal past, tolerates a greater degree of social inequity than one finds in Asia and Africa. This is evidenced by landownership patterns, the region's chronic vulnerability to peasant uprisings and to military juntas which prop up hereditary landowning minorities, and the vast contrast which exists between the modern glitter of cities like Rio de Janeiro, Mexico City and Manila and the often gross neglect of peasant villages in the hinterland. Among Latins (and one must culturally include the Philippine people among them), the bright lights are always in the city, whereas in Java, Egypt or Bangladesh, villages enjoy a superior cultural life and an urban migrant worker's "real life" only begins on visits home. This may help explain why six out of ten Latins live in cities, often crowded into terrible slums, compared to just two to three out often Asians or Africans.

Latin villagers are broadly of two kinds: descendants of transplanted European peasantry or African slaves; or, as in Mexico and Peru, Indian peoples influenced by pre-Columbian civilization and then Spanish culture who are still in an incompletely developed relationship with their urban centers of intellectual thought. The dual culture of the latter group, part-Western, part-primitive, complicates adjustment.

So does the Latin macho ethic of ostentatious male virility. Women, as the prime teachers of small children, are the custodians of culture in any society. If women are kept too subordinate, as they often are in Latin villages, the entire society suffers. Latin villages are also held back, of course, by the Vatican's continued opposition to artificial contraception, itself a lag in cultural adjustment to a changed world. Most Catholic villagers are as conservative as Pope John Paul except when it comes to birth control, which most women seem to favor.

If something as big and complex as the Third World could be seen as a picture, black Africa would stand out as something different, as something out of the drawing. Africa's comparative isolation until the late nineteenth century kept its population stable and in check by malaria, smallpox and periodic epidemics of other diseases. Man was able to evolve gradually from a hunter and collector (still found among Botswana's quaintly named !Kung and other tribes) into a hunter, herder and primitive slash-and-burn cultivator, because population density rarely exceeded 250 persons per square mile. The arrival of modern medicine-first with the colonial memsaabs with their Epsom salts and sanitation, then with doctors and hospitals, but most crucially with sulfa drugs and antibiotics-doomed the old way of life.

The past half-century has seen a mass migration toward small settled farms, or shambas, on ground high enough, wet enough and cold enough to grow corn. Corn has rather quickly become the main diet of black Africa. Eventually a hybrid maize belt irrigated with presently untapped rivers could transform Africa into a major food producer.

The most pressing problem of cultural adjustment is that too few African rural men regard agriculture as the key to development and village income. Growing food is often still seen as the woman's task. Elsewhere in the world, as mentioned earlier, man the hunter and then the herder entered agriculture with draft animals, in Asia about 6,000 years ago and in Latin America 5,000 years ago. In much of black Africa this is only now starting to happen.

In Kenya, where the oxen-driven plow has only recently replaced the digging stick and hoe, women often even do the plowing (sometimes with a burly husband walking alongside shouting commands). The hunter-warrior is no more; the settled male farmer is not yet. As my interpreter in Kenya, a woman, put it, "This is the problem we face here in Africa. You see these women working hard in the fields? They suffer. Their husbands may be working in town, drinking beer, spending their wages, enjoying themselves." Women still produce 80 percent of the corn that comes to market and even more of what is eaten at home in Kenya, perhaps black Africa's most modern country. In West Africa, older men will farm but again there is a mass exodus of young males into the towns and cities seeking jobs; few make a go of it.

Black Africa is the last place left in the world where population growth shows no sign of slowing down. Rather Africa's growth rate is going up, from 2.5 percent a year in the 1960s, to 2.9 percent last year. (In Kenya, it is 3.9 percent, the world record; the average woman has 8.3 live children, compared to the African average of 6.6.) Africa is also the only place left where food output is growing more slowly than population. The yearly growth rate in farm production has dropped from 2.3 percent in the 1960s, to about 1.3 percent now.12

Africa needs more time to adjust its culture to a changed economic basis. One can find men in their seventies who fought tribal wars, hunted elephants and other game with spears and traps, recall their parents' tales of Arab slavers and English ivory traders, and saw the first missionary schools and white settlers come. In Nairobi, a modern city of skyscrapers, jets and heavy traffic, you still see barefoot Masai, naked under their blankets, and realize the whole transformation has come in just two or so generations; recombinant DNA, for instance, is already being used there in the search for vaccines against cattle disease. The key to a prosperous and stable village-based African agricultural future lies in male cultural adaptation. Can these rural people leap over the long centuries this process took elsewhere?

Islam differs from the other five village cultures in two essential ways. First, unlike the Confucian, Malay-Javanese, Hindu and African cultures, Islam is geographically dispersed. So is Christianity in terms of cities, though most Christian villagers are concentrated in Latin America. One of every six of the earth's inhabitants is a Muslim; they live in 70 countries and there are huge Muslim populations in both Russia and China. Second, within Islam, a movement has arisen in reaction to the spread of Western ideas and technology that is specifically anti-Western, anti-technology.

One possible explanation for this, suggested to me by living in seven Muslim villages-one, in Egypt, for over a year-is that Islam is the most living religion. Muslim village men and women take the admonitions of the Koran seriously, even literally, and try to obey them in their daily lives. Since the Prophet Mohammed lived in the late sixth and early seventh centuries and was a cultural product of the Arabia of his time, this imposes an almost impossible social code in a modernizing world. It creates unusual stress and confusion in the Muslim villager's mind.

It is rather as if we tried to literally follow the teachings of the historical Jesus of Nazareth in modern society. Islam has never had its Protestant Reformation, which provided the philosophical underpinning for the industrial revolution by transforming Christianity into a rational, ethical, world-affirming religion, assuring an urban middle class that it could seek salvation through hard work and a more scientific control over matter and energy.

As in the world-rejection voiced by Jesus in the Gospels, there is a deeply held Islamic belief that order and reason are limited and no scientific or technological progress can enlarge them. Faith is what counts. As Shahhat, an Egyptian fellah whom I've written a book about, keeps telling me, "Everything is from Allah. We cannot decide anything. Everything we are is from God."13 Moreover, despite its new oil riches, the Islamic heartland in the Middle East is almost as embattled today as it was during the Crusades; from its once proud and commanding position, Islam descended to years of subordination, and in the Middle East a few centuries of outright Western domination.

Muslims can really go one of two ways. They can partly deny the laws of Islam and adapt to such necessary changes as birth control, scientific agriculture and more rights and education for women. The Westernized elites who run most Muslim countries see no other choice. Most Muslim villagers want better lives and they're now aware that they'll get them from such new things as improved seeds, fertilizer, irrigation and knowing how to use them, and not from a lot of bloody upheaval. But others will persist in the probably futile task of remaining a true Islamic society, as Khomeini has attempted in Iran and Sadat's assassins would have tried in Egypt.

All Muslim villagers are torn between wanting technological advance and longing for the imagined purity of the Islamic past. In a few, as we have seen, it can produce an irrational revolutionary rage. The challenge of the Muslim revival seems certain to grow as Western technology penetrates ever deeper into the rural villages. Arnold Toynbee, who regarded the West's failure to spread Christianity universally as fundamental, interestingly suggested as far back as 1946 that should the world ever become deeply enough divided between its rich, white north and its poor black, brown and yellow south, Islam could rise again.

More likely, of course, the Muslim revival is just a futile reaction. Yet, especially as seen in the villages, it does compel a certain admiration. With the exceptions of Confucianism and Protestant Christianity, all of the great religions have their origins in pastoral or village culture. Islam alone, of these, has chosen sometimes to give battle, rather than reach an accommodation, in an increasingly urban, secular, scientific, post-religious age.14


Agriculture is the basis of everything else. Industrialization has taken hold when agriculture was reformed and supported (Japan, South Korea, Taiwan), but failed when agriculture was neglected (Iran) or faltered when it was not first put on a sound basis (India). Civilization, as in the six cultures above, is rooted in agriculture. When farming methods are revolutionized with Western technology, the survival and cultural adaptation of the village holds the key to all our futures.

Not everyone shares this central emphasis on culture. Lester R. Brown of the Worldwatch Institute, for example, has written to me, "I realize you emphasize the need to take cultural factors into account. Nonetheless, it is my conclusion that the era of cheap food is past and the real cost of expanding food production will rise, making it extremely difficult to eliminate hunger and malnutrition." As perhaps the most effective and energetic publicist of the dangers of overpopulation, overuse of resources and overpollution, Brown, reinforced by those with similar views, has strongly influenced debate on development issues in Washington, New York and on university campuses. In 1980 this essentially gloomy and alarmist interpretation received the Carter Administration's imprimatur in the Global 2000 Report to the President. This school of thought focuses almost entirely on material resources and reflects what seems to be a post-Vietnam loss of faith among many American intellectuals that history is the actions of men. Human skill has its champions, of course, but a recent one, Julian L. Simon, in his book, The Ultimate Resource, badly undermined his credibility by flatly asserting that population growth was an absolute good and that we should prefer a growing population to one that is stationary or declining.15 (Let the punishment fit the crime; Professor Simon ought to be sentenced to 30 days penance in Calcutta's worst slum.)

Predictions that "people will get poorer" and of "increasing illness and misery"16 might be harmless as purely academic issues to be chewed over at endless seminars; they become fundamentally insensitive when they blunt our ability to know what is actually going on. During a nationwide university tour last spring, I found students almost totally uninformed about agricultural developments in China and India during the past decade.

There is not necessarily a contradiction between Brown's position and the argument set down in this essay. To rephrase his, Brown argues that even if cultural adaptation matters, the physical elements of development have now become so enormously difficult that in the short term even if villagers adapt they may not, in many cases, achieve progress. This could be, but let us not prejudge the outcome.

The challenge is of great magnitude. Demographers currently project world population to stabilize in the twenty-first century at ten billion people, or somewhere around two and a quarter times the 4.5 billion we have now.17 Moreover, world demand for grain is growing, not just from more mouths to feed, but from very rapidly rising demand for more animal feed-a major U.S. agricultural strongpoint-as prospering middle income nations shift from grain to meat and milk diets. (South Korea and Taiwan, both able to feed their relatively small populations, have become huge feed grain importers.) Further down the line is a new source of demand should enough grain be converted into fuel (principally gasohol). In Brown's words, things could get "pretty panicky." Howard W. Hjort, the Department of Agriculture's chief economist under Carter, predicts that if American farmers were to meet projected food, feed and fuel demand by themselves by 1990, they would have to produce almost half again as much each year as they are producing now. Although the chief problem of American agriculture since 1920 has been chronic excess production, which deflates foreign prices, Brown is probably right when he says that such enormous production increases would be too expensive with oil-based mechanical technology.

But biological technology is a chapter just begun. The best-informed sources on the Third World in the 1980s, I find, are agricultural scientists-the agronomists, plant breeders, soil men and such who have been quietly changing the face of world agriculture the past 15 years. Most of them are connected with the new international network linking 13 agricultural research centers, eight of them set up since 1971. Scientists in national programs in 130 developing countries are participating. Since the Chinese became actively involved during the late 1970s, this network has been pooling knowledge and genetic material on every crop grown on the planet, plus livestock breeding, plant and animal diseases and cropping systems.

These scientists know what is happening because they are making it happen; many are confident that if fertility rates continue to decline, the Third World's agricultural revolution can succeed. They explain that biotechnology works best where there is year-round warmth, sun and controlled water, i.e., irrigation. The United States has about 38 to 39 million acres of irrigated land. According to Norman E. Borlaug, Gurdev S. Khush and other eminent agricultural scientists who make frequent visits there, China has 116 million irrigated acres, can expand this, and may be able to divert some of the Yangtze River's waters to the North China Plain. India, they report, irrigates 135 million acres, is trying to add another six to seven million acres every year, and has the potential to irrigate as much as 275 million acres. Dr. Borlaug points out that as much as 80 percent of the Ganges and Brahmaputra waters flow wasted into the Bay of Bengal.18 With sufficient irrigation and farming year-round in its warm climate, India could have a terrific land-use rate. Moreover, the most authoritative current projections on climate change suggest that rising CO2 in the atmosphere might benefit, rather than harm, Third World agriculture. While the American and Russian grain-producing regions are predicted to grow hotter and drier (with all the dust, grasshopper and thistle plagues this can mean), India, China and northern Africa are forecast to grow just slightly warmer, but with greater, more reliable rainfall.19

Look at the figures which emerged in the country reports at last year's U.N. energy conference in Nairobi: China, which used no chemical fertilizer before 1960, applies only 14 million tons annually now. India applies only six million tons, not much more than the five million tons Egypt uses, though Egypt farms less than one-fiftieth as much land. The entire Third World uses just eight percent of its hydroelectrical potential, China only three percent of an estimated 370,000 megawatts. India uses only 11 percent of 75,400 megawatts available in the Indian Himalayas and virtually none of the 83,000-megawatt potential in the central Himalayas of Nepal. (And most experts put this official Nepalese estimate as far too low.) China and India have more solar potential than the United States (a lot more sunshine). Aside from the previously mentioned draft animals, both countries have huge numbers of fertilizer-producing livestock, India a cow for every two and a half persons and China more than 300 million pigs.20

During the Nairobi conference, it came out that the entire Third World-now just under 75 percent of the people alive-consumes just eight percent of the world's oil supply and of that eight percent, only a twentieth is going to agriculture. Despite this, India, according to Dr. Borlaug, has tripled wheat production since 1967 and China, getting its late start, increased wheat output 50 percent in just the three years from 1977 to 1979. In 1979-80 and 1980-81, according to Ann Crittenden, The New York Times' specialist on Third World development, India increased its total grain output still another 15 percent and 2.3 percent respectively, Indonesia 13 percent and 9 percent and Pakistan 4 percent and 8 percent.21

Aside from the Nile (where the adverse environmental impact of the Aswan Dam has been exaggerated), few of the Third World's great rivers have yet been fully harnessed for irrigation and hydroelectric power.22 Nor, in Dr. Borlaug's view, have more than 30 to 40 percent of the villagers yet fully been reached with the new technology. Dr. Khush, the chief plant breeder at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines, estimates the Chinese could easily feed their projected ultimate population of 1.5 billion simply by applying the same amount of chemical fertilizer to rice that American farmers do. That would solve one-third of the problem right there.

Just in the past two years, mostly by accident, I have come across researchers in California seeking to enhance photosynthetic efficiency, "non-till" farming in Iowa (using herbicides instead of the plow and cultivator), sugar growers in Hawaii using drip irrigation and computer farming, Chinese (in cooperation with the University of Alabama) breeding new hybrid rice, Kenyans developing drought-resistant sorghum and other crops, and, in India, growing use of solar pumps, new 60-day nitrogen-fixing pulses and underground canals to prevent evaporation. There has been such an explosion of scientific knowledge and its application to farming that few but the agricultural scientists now seem able to keep up with it.

The comprehension of American policymakers of such technological change is starting to lag behind. This was evident at the Nairobi energy conference, where China, India and others proposed the creation of a new international network of energy research centers modeled after the agricultural research one. This would not cost much; the entire budget for all 13 agricultural centers is only $145 million, of which the United States pays only about one-third. The delegation from the United States, which seemed chiefly concerned to oppose funding any sort of new institution, including a World Bank energy affiliate, apparently missed the central point: what the major Third World nations were seeking was not essentially money but commonsense help to set up a modest and more rational system to process and distribute all the new knowledge on energy technology.


While America's farming population declined steadily from 80 percent of total population in 1860 to 2.7 percent in 1982, it can be argued that the critical decades in that trend came between 1920 and 1940, when the farm sector still employed 30 percent of all Americans, and the apparently irreversible commitment to mechanical technology was made.23 The comparable critical period for the Third World is likely to have started in the 1970s. Although the American role is limited by the central requirement that the villagers themselves culturally adapt, and is contingent upon our empathy and understanding of this process, the Third World's agricultural revolution is, in the main, an outward movement of specifically American scientific farming knowledge; the United States is deeply involved.

As argued earlier, a village-based agrarian civilization must be the most attractive possibility that lies ahead. What can we do to help bring this about?

First, our guiding principle should be the preservation of the village, a small rural grouping of about 1,000 to 2,000 people in families, as the continued basic economic unit of about two-thirds of mankind. This means American technical assistance should go only to the spread of such science and technology as enables small cultivators to stay on the land. Labor-saving mechanical technology, provided it is designed to relieve individuals of back-breaking drudgery, should be supported, but not large tractors, combines or other machines which substitute capital for labor and serve to industrialize agriculture. Northern India has already gone too far in this direction.

American experience and advice is so valuable to Third World policymakers precisely because they are trying to avoid our rural depopulation and the weakening of rural-based values. They need to profit from our mistakes.

The village-preservation principle needs to be applied pragmatically in concrete situations, following something like Aristotle's golden mean that right is what works best. Congressional mandates, such as requirements to "help the poorest of the poor," are awkward to apply. For example, in 1979 this mandate led Senator Daniel Inouye to insist that the Agency for International Development assist only primary education in Indonesia, the world's fifth largest nation which at the time had less than 300 Ph.Ds. Technical advisers on the scene should be given maximum latitude.

Second, priority should be given to the transfer of the most sophisticated Western science. This means all the training we can afford to provide in the most advanced plant genetics, agronomy, soil science and chemistry (in fertilization, pesticides and insecticides), as well as in modern irrigation engineering (few villagers irrigate properly) and the application of this chemical, technological and genetic knowledge to new cropping systems. It also means applying the latest biological science to livestock breeding and the control of animal and plant disease.

At the same time, we should be wary of "appropriate technology," if that is narrowly defined, as it so often is, to mean the kind of rudimentary, Tinker Toy farm equipment that simply represents some half-baked step in the evolution of our own mechanical technology. Some appropriate technology is practical and beneficial, but far too much of what has been offered the Third World suggests it is designed to keep the backward backward. As UNICEF official Tarzie Vitachi and others have pointed out, villagers sensibly reject it.

Third, the emphasis in energy research should be on ways to harness the villager's oldest resources: animal power, wind, water and sun. An example is research to bring down the cost of photovoltaic cells to a price a village cooperative could afford (and if we don't do it, the Japanese probably will, and benefit accordingly). Experience in West Africa, where the French have taken the lead in supplying villages with solar units to provide refrigerated antibiotics, telephone communications to summon emergency help, and a community television set, demonstrates how such basic amenities can reduce urban migration.

Americans have the managerial and technical skill to speed the spread of rural electrification, a vital component in any strategy to preserve the village as an economic unit. Hydroelectric power is the Third World's greatest untapped resource; the very rapid spread of mini-hydropower projects designed for a single village is an encouraging current development. (American academics who argue, as some do, that villages do not need electricity have evidently never spent time in one without a flashlight.)

In Nairobi, energy officials attending the U.N. conference stressed in interviews their interest in conserving oil that is either domestically produced or expensively imported for use in industry, transport and urban consumption. This new emphasis on finding non-oil energy sources for agriculture should also help to preserve the village.

The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, formed in 1978 to run the new global scientific network from offices in the World Bank, in 1980 presented a heavily documented case that the spread of biotechnology increases rural employment and that land size limitations need not prevent adoption of the most sophisticated new crops.

Taiwan perhaps offers the best example of this. Its villages are 100-percent literate, 100-percent electrified, grow the most scientifically advanced rice on small two- to three-acre farms and yet still retain strong traditional customs and values. Enter a village home, and the family altar, with its ancestral tablets, joss sticks and scroll with its Buddhist fertility goddess, goes right along with the sewing machine, refrigerator, television set and the sacks of chemical fertilizer and high-yield seeds, the mini-tractor and mechanical rice transplanter.

This shows what can be done once land holdings are of equitable size, women are given fairly equal rights to work and education, land is farmed by the family which owns it, and attention is given to better seeds, good water management, multiple cropping and hydroelectric power. The Taiwan example also suggests how far most Third World governments have to go. Lester Brown is right when he argues that we ought to tie our technical assistance to needed reforms so that political leaders feel compelled to do the things they need to do to make the new biotechnology work.

The question remains whether Americans will look beneath the politics of the surface and recognize these long-term economic and cultural changes in time to provide constructive leadership.

The question will be asked: why us? It is the villagers who have to adapt. True, yet strictly in terms of technological leadership, there are at least two, and maybe three, good reasons. First, it is primarily the transfer of American agricultural science in the 1960s and 1970s which has touched this revolution off. Virtually the entire scientific agricultural establishments of countries like India and South Korea are American-trained. We have the most familiarity with the probable economic and social effects of this science. To abandon the enterprise now would be like leading someone halfway across a flooded stream and then letting them find their own way, sink or swim. Look at what happened in Nairobi last year; with a little American leadership the Third World might now have a sensible way to pool energy information.

Second, the much-discussed start of the decline of American global power in the 1970s is now accomplished fact in East Asia, where Japan has already assumed the predominant role in trade, investment and technical assistance. In Indonesia, for example, Japan's economic presence, and corresponding influence, is now five or six times greater than our own.24 A journalist visiting Djakarta today, who wants to know what is going on, may skip interviews with American officials, but not with the Japanese. Mexico provides another example: illegal immigration can only be solved in the villages of the central highlands, where the poorest 60 percent of the rural Mexicans live. Instead of anti-wetback outcries, the United States needs to help Mexico with education, organization and management to establish small-scale, agriculture-based, rural industry. If it does not, the Japanese Ministry of International Trade and Industry-drawing upon the pathfinding effort in Indonesia today-may soon loom rather large south of the border.

Indeed, future American technological assistance should be concentrated in Latin American countries like Mexico, as well as in Africa and the Muslim world, where cultural adjustment is coming most slowly. We can expect the Confucians to roar ahead, followed more hesitatingly by the Malay-Javanese, with the Hindus in doubt but probably trailing behind. India, aside from its need for solar, hydroelectric and other energy technology, has the agricultural science; the Indian people inescapably have to solve the Hindu caste problem by themselves. If they do so and pragmatic policies succeed in transforming China and India over the next several decades, America and the West may be challenged to maintain the leadership they won 200 years ago by harnessing technology first.

The third reason has to do with our own cultural adaptation to technology, or lack of it. As Ayatollah Khomeini and others have shrewdly seen, Western civilization has evident and exploitable racial and spiritual weaknesses. As our technological supremacy diminishes-as it has, for example with regard to Japan-we find ourselves dealing with non-Western cultures in a new spirit of equality.

The deeply religious Muslim, afraid as he is of the secular late twentieth century, or the African trying to work out a new role for himself, or the agnostic, group-directed Confucian, does not, as long as he stays a villager, really aspire to be like us. True, if we think of villagers as poorer and more miserable than most of them actually are, they tend to see us as richer and happier than we are. To a typical villager, America is a kind of star-spangled wonderland of untold wealth and the good life, of oomph and vitality, freedom and fun.

Yet they do not relate this fantasy to their own daily reality, nor, I suspect, are they ever likely to. Somehow, instinctively or intuitively, villagers suspect that any society with such a tiny minority of farmers must be very fragile; some Americans share this suspicion. We go back to Aristotle, Leakey and the anthropologists, to the idea that a man's culture is ultimately decided by the way he gets his food. We may be no exception. Nobody will ever again repeat our kind of oil-based mechanized agricultural revolution. Even with cheap oil, which is gone, we might feel culturally compelled to retreat from it ourselves.

The villagers are not moving from their (A) to our (B). Rather we are all moving toward (C), a wholly new kind of society based upon biotechnology, electronics, new energy sources and all the other scientific advances.

For the Third World's agricultural revolution is coming just as millions of Americans are struggling to reconcile industrialized agriculture and its effect on rural society with emotions and values that lie deep in our past. A reruralization of America cannot, in itself, restore lost values. This would require a probably unacceptable economic return to something like the pre-1920 subsistence family farm.

But science itself might provide a new high-technology economic basis to allow small groups of Americans to live comfortably and productively on the land. Our predicament is like that of the villagers: they have to find ways to keep their values; we have to find ways to restore ours. The villagers and ourselves all exist in the same continuum stretching unbroken through time. We stand at one end, the most technologically advanced society ever. But what we find most culturally meaningful is deeply rooted in the distant past. Let us look back, past the decaying cities, past the probably failed experiment of suburbia, past the dying small towns, past the vanished pioneer settlements, to the living source of all human culture-the agricultural village. By helping its ancient civilizations adapt to our most advanced scientific techniques, we just could be exploring our own way toward a more civilized American living pattern.

1 Gilbert C. Fite, American Farmers: The New Minority, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1981, p. 234.

2 Report (A/CONF.100/11), United Nations Conference on New and Renewable Sources of Energy, Nairobi, Kenya, August 10-21, 1981.

3 World Population Data Sheet, Washington: Population Reference Bureau, Inc., 1981.

4 Ibid.

5 See V.S. Naipaul, A House for Mr. Biswas, New York: Penguin Books, 1976; India: A Wounded Civilization, New York: Knopf, 1977; A Bend in the River, New York: Knopf, 1979; Among the Believers: An Islamic Journey, New York: Knopf, 1981.

6 See William H. McNeill, The Rise of the West, New York: New American Library, 1964.

7 Norman Macrae, "America's third century," The Economist, October 25, 1975.

8 See, for one example, Molly G. Schuchat and James D. Jordan, "Continuities and Discontinuities in China: The Natural Villages and the Production Brigade," in Village Viability in Contemporary Society, eds. Priscilla Reining and Barbara Lenkerd, Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1980.

9 Roderick MacFarquhar, "The post-Confucian challenge," The Economist, February 9, 1980.

10 D. Howard Smith, Confucius, London: Paladin, 1974.

11 Interview, Edward Masters, former U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia, March 1982.

12 The Economist research staff.

13 See author's Shahhat, an Egyptian, Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1979; New York: Avon Books, 1980, p. 219.

14 For detailed portraits of village cultures see Richard Critchfield, Papers, 1970-71, Alicia Patterson Fund (India, Indonesia, Iran, Mauritius and Morocco) and Field Staff Reports, 1976-82, Universities Field Staff International (formerly American Universities Field Staff) (Egypt, Brazil, Mexico, South Korea, Indonesia, India, Philippines, Mauritius, Morocco, Tibet, Sudan and Kenya). Also, Villages, New York: Doubleday, 1981, and The Golden Bowl Be Broken, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1974. For Vietnamese culture, see The Long Charade, New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1968.

15 Julian L. Simon, The Ultimate Resource, Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1981.

16 U.S. Council on Environmental Quality and U.S. Department of State, The Global 2000 Report to the President: Entering the Twenty-First Century, Washington: GPO, 1980.

17 Population Reference Bureau, op. cit.

18 Personal correspondence.

20 United Nations Conference on New and Renewable Sources of Energy, op. cit.

21 Interview, Ann Crittenden, The New York Times, March 1982.

22 For further discussion of the Aswan case, see Integrated Studies of Water Quality in the Nile River and Lake Nasser, a project undertaken by the Egyptian Academy of Scientific Research and Technology, Cairo, in collaboration with the Environmental Science Program, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

24 Interview, Edward Masters, op. cit.



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  • Richard Critchfield has reported rural development in the Third World for nearly a quarter century, during the 1970s as a regular contributor to The Economist and other journals. He is the author of Villages, Shahhat, The Golden Bowl Be Broken, The Long Charade and other works. He has lectured at many universities and been a consultant to the Agency for International Development, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Rockefeller Foundation. He is currently a MacArthur Foundation Prize Fellow and is working on a comparative study of rural change in America and in the Third World.
  • More By Richard Critchfield