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Dehumanization in Fact and Theory: Processes of Modernization and the Social Sciences
G. N. Appell
Brandeis University


With the demise of colonialism in Insular Southeast Asia and the development of representative governments and locally-controlled economies, it was thought that this would be the end of authoritarianism and economic exploitation. However, it has not worked out that way for the indigenous, tribal peoples of the island of Borneo. Instead there has been not only a continuation of the processes that were set in motion by the colonial governments but also an intensification of them with the growing power of the new states and with the expansion of the world economy. Casanova (1965) in looking at this process in various Third World countries refers to it as “internal colonialism.”

For example, in both Indonesian and Malaysian Borneo the land rights of indigenous villages are still being ignored and overridden. A number of development policies have been set in motion to take native land for the use of the state or commercial interests (see Appell 1975a, Appell, ed., n.d.). In Indonesian Borneo there has been an explicit policy of removal of the indigenous peoples from their traditional areas to resettlement centers where the economic base is inadequate for them to continue their traditional economies or to develop new economies (see Appell, 1985b, Appell, ed., 1985, L. Appell-Warren 1985). This has freed up the traditional village land areas for both forest and mineral exploitation. In addition, the indigenous peoples have been forced to give up their traditional religious beliefs for conversion to a world religion and forced to give up their traditional dress for “modern” dress.

Much of this authoritarian behavior towards indigenous peoples is nationally and locally justified on the basis that the government is providing them with the “modern” advantages. Schooling is instituted and medical facilities are provided. Health services are a vital part of becoming a modern state, and schooling is necessary for a people to participate in representative government, so the argument of modernization goes.

The schooling provided has three critical goals: (1) cultural indoctrination into the central values of the state by teaching the students the symbols and habits believed necessary for being members of the modern state, such as sewing classes so that the students can make the national style of clothes; (2) teaching modern life ways, such as the baking of bread and cakes, hair styling, etc.; and (3) the training of students so that they are sufficiently literate and skilled in the management of their labor service to enter the lower echelons of government and commerce. It is of some interest that the schooling is, in general, inappropriate to the economy of peasant farmers.

Charles Brooke, the Second Rajah of Sarawak, clearly saw the nature of the problem when he wrote with great foresight in 1907:

We stuff natives with a lot of subjects that they don’t require to know, and try to teach them to become like ourselves, treating them as if they had not an original idea in their possession [Quoted in Pringle 1970:139].

The medical services provided are based on a form of syncretic medicine, a practice that includes an incomplete understanding of western medical knowledge and a number of procedures that are clearly health threatening, such as reusing needles for injections without proper sterilization.
Similar processes have been at work also in Brunei and Malaysian Borneo, although not to the same extent. There are resettlement projects, but the social boundaries are not as rigid. On the other hand, the intrusion of the plantation economy on a peasant economy and the conversion of entrepreneurial agriculturalists into agricultural labor is widely occurring. This proletarianization of independent farmers makes them subject to market forces beyond their control (i.e., Appell 1975a). And, as in Indonesian Borneo, those customary behaviors that help the indigenous people define their social identity are attacked and discouraged.
One of the more important consequences of these forces of social change is to detach meaning from work. As Marglin (1984, p. 43) writes in his review of theories of economic development and their impact on peasants:

Lacking control over the work process and its product, many of us derive no more meaning from the work we do than a paycheck at the end of the week. In our society work for the most part stands outside the satisfactions of life, opposed to pleasure.... Even fewer of us would claim to find transcendent social meaning in collective labor, as even the most humble worker might once have done when the medieval cathedrals were taking shape, or as the “primitive” does regularly in day-to-day activities.

To be fully human is to be enmeshed in a context of meaning to our lives, to our work. And so the forces of development that are destroying the world of meaning of indigenous peoples are in a very real sense dehumanizing them. But this process also produces health impairment, for loss of meaning has been found associated with psychiatric disorders (see Frankl, 1973).

In sum, throughout Borneo, the indigenous, tribal peoples are under threat. They are losing control over their lands, over their economy, over their housing, over their dress, over their children, over their religious beliefs, over the way that they define themselves as social persons, and over their history; in a word, over their culture. But, as many of us argue, economic and social development can proceed without the wholesale destruction of cultures and the proletarianization of the peasant farmer (see Appell, n.d.). It can proceed leaving a healthy social identity. There are other models for development that build on, rather than destroy, functioning communities, as for example the Hutterites. While such communities within the larger western political economy are considered deviant, being based on a form of communalism but not communism, they are in many cases more productive than the nucleated family farm. So why has it been otherwise? How do we begin to explain the forces that have created these problems? Why have not these other models been used?


One of the persistent but covert themes, both in the processes of modernization and the social science theory that is advanced to guide and justify it, is that of dehumanization. It has been characteristic of the contact of all western societies, or their derivatives with indigenous peoples. And change agents still frequently denigrate and belittle the members of a population and their sociocultural system to achieve their change goals. Usually the very act of development itself is phrased in terms that implicitly, if not explicitly, devalue the culture of the indigenous population and its members (see Appell, 1975a, 1975b, 1975c, 1980a). What is surprising is that dehumanization still finds expression in the social sciences in various forms and in the attitudes of westernized indigenous elites. It is important to define the nature of dehumanization before we proceed.

Bernard, Ottenberg, and Redl (1971, p. 102) define “dehumanization” as a defense against painful and overwhelming emotions that entails a decrease in a person’s sense of his own individuality and in his perception of the humanness of others. They view dehumanization “not as a wholly new mental mechanism but rather a composite psychological defence which draws selectively on other well known defenses, including unconscious denial, repression, depersonalization, isolation of affect and compartmentalization ...” (1971, p. 103).

There are both adaptive and maladaptive functions of dehumanization. The surgeon uses a form of dehumanization so that he can perform without emotional involvement. Bernard and colleagues divide maladaptive dehumanization into two processes: self-directed dehumanization, which relates to self-image and indicates a diminution of an individual’s sense of his own humanness; and object-directed dehumanization which refers to perceiving others as lacking in those attributes that are considered to be most human. The important point is that these two forms are mutually reinforcing.

Bernard and colleagues further divide object-directed dehumanization into two forms: partial and complete.

Partial dehumanization includes the misperceiving of members of “out-groups”, en masse, as subhuman, bad human, or superhuman; as such, it is related to group prejudice. It protects the individual from the guilt and shame he would otherwise feel from primitive or antisocial attitudes, impulses, and actions that he directs — or allows others to direct — toward those he manages to see in these categories: if they are subhumans they have not yet reached full human status on the evolutionary ladder and, therefore, do not merit being treated as human; if they are bad humans, their maltreatment is justified since their defects in human qualities are their own fault ... The main conscious emotional concomitants ... are hostility and fear [1971, p. 105].

The more complete form of object-directed dehumanization “entails a perception of other people as nonhumans — as statistics, commodities, or interchangeable pieces in a vast ‘numbers game’. Its predominant emotional tone is that of indifference ... together with a sense of noninvolvement in the actual or foreseeable vicissitudes of others” (1971, 105-6).

Dehumanization has been a dominant theme in western tradition with the application of the metaphor of the machine to humans and human activities and the use of natural science models in the social sciences (Randall, 1976; Rifkin, 1980). And dehumanization has deep historical roots in the response of western culture to native peoples (Appell, 1975b).


The post-colonial elites that have taken power in insular Southeast Asia have been trained in the West or at institutions in their own countries that have been staffed by westerners or by western-trained nationals. As a result, they carry many of the assumptions as to the nature of the good society that are current in western thought, which involve many of the aspects of dehumanization characterized previously, and they have been exposed to social science thinking in which there has been a growing objectification of persons. These reeducated elites then carry these ideas back to their own society and apply them in a context which is not entirely appropriate.

Furthermore, many of these individuals have themselves been torn out of a small community social matrix and now move in an urban environment, or are second and third generation urbanites. One of the consequences of this form of social reorganization is the development of disorders of affiliation (Appell n.d.). These are encouraged by the growth of individualism in the West. Such processes lead to a lowered capacity of individuals to identify with others, and as a result, dehumanization of others becomes a dominant part of their psychological make up.1

In addition, the returning elites bring back a a thought, which may usefully be termed “economic fundamentalism.” In economic fundamentalism there is the underlying assumption that “economic considerations constitute the primary force which shapes the basic ideas and attitudes of man” (Connor 1972, p. 342), and this belief is held with similar emotional saliency as are beliefs held in religious fundamentalism.2 In unpacking this concept we can discover the following themes:

1. The belief that the value of everything is determined by its price in the marketplace rather than in religious, social, or aesthetic terms.3

2. An acceptance of the decadent version of individualism, which Tocqueville warned about. The individual becomes highly self-interested, acquisitive, and with a sense of responsibility to no individual or institution but himself to the degree that social institutions, such as government, are to be used for individual benefit and profit.4

3. The view that tradition is a hindrance to economic opportunity and personal growth.

4. The belief that progress, particularly economic progress, is both natural and one of the greatest goods.

5. The belief that economic growth is the solution to human ills and discontents.

6. The assumption that economic growth and development can be planned and regulated, in other words the belief that a political economy can be managed.

7. An acceptance of the Calvinistic view, and its final effluvium, that man is measured by his economic status and not by his character.

8. The use of the metaphor of the machine for various social purposes but most perniciously for man and his work.

9. The acceptance of the proposition that labor is a commodity.

10. The belief in the importance of private property and that indigenous societies do not have this concept.

11. The belief that the legal vehicle of the business corporation is the best means by which communal interests in property may be managed.

One of the interesting cultural themes that persists in western thought, but which appears to be missing in the education of the elite, is the belief that the rural life is morally superior to the urban, industrial life. It is interesting in terms of nation building that this value is absent, for many early writers on democracy, such as Thomas Jefferson, argued that the independent farmer was the foundation of a stable state.

Instead, the new elites seem to have become in the first few generations what Gladwin (1980) has called “slaves of the white myth.” They have identified with their colonialist forbears and accepted the view that the rural, traditional populations of their countries are backward, unsophisticated, dirty, savage.5

The new elites have also not been sufficiently exposed to the contemporary skepticism towards progress, which views the advances in technology and science not as having brought social and moral progress, but worse as having unleashed destructive forces that threaten the health and even the survival of mankind.

What the elites also did not learn was the history of the industrial revolution in the west along with its social dislocations. It is not surprising that this is not a subject of great interest and perceived relevance, for most social scientists appear to suffer from historical amnesia in this regard. Seldom in the discussions and theories of development does one find any use of the industrialization of the west as a model, except with regard to the economic changes. And these ignore for the most part the social consequences, the social impact, that industrialization had on human beings, which illustrates the dehumanized nature of the discipline of economics. For industrialization in the West produced massive social dislocations that involved agrarian movements of various strengths, revolutions, and the migration of peoples from the rural areas, flooding the cities or moving to the New World, and the costs of these should have and could have been included in the economic assessment of industrialization. Whatever, in those days the problem of dislocated populations could be solved by usurping the lands of the American Indians.

But as boundaries have closed, this process of usurpation of the lands of others to solve the social dislocations and economic problems of the cosmopolitan sector can now primarily be done only internally within the state. Thus, the resettlement of the indigenous peoples of the interior of Borneo has similarities to the development of reservations for the North American Indians in the latter half of the nineteenth century (see Appell 1985a, 1985b), and transmigration of Javanese, while only within Indonesia, nevertheless has historical similarities to the development of settlements in Canada by Scottish noblemen for the dispossessed Scots.6


Economic development of the new states also furthers the personal interests of the new elite. With the growth of the country’s economy, the elites are better able to increase their own economic wealth. This can occur in acceptable ways, as with an increased need for their services as administrators, lawyers, or other professionals, and so forth. But the elites can increase their economic wealth in illegal ways through taking bribes from those wanting to make a profit from some development scheme, or by getting control of an asset, such as a plantation, and then selling it to the government board that manages such agricultural activities at a considerable profit. Frequently, seeing that their country may not be as stable as others, these elites buy homes in Europe or Australia and bank their money there. Incredible fortunes have been amassed by various members of the elite which appear to be out of proportion to the economies of their countries.


Politics abhors differentiation. The work of the politician is made easier when the interests of his constituency are homogeneous rather than disparate and potentially conflicting. And the larger the group you can build with shared interests, the stronger your political position is. Therefore, there are advantages in leveling ethnic differentiation. But the costs of this are externalized to the larger society, when at a later date the repression of identity returns in violence, apathy, or other diseases of personality identity (see Appell 1980a, n.d.).
The work of government administration is also made easier if there is a homogeneous population in well regulated, easily accessible villages. The costs of this to the population are not considered in the analysis of the benefits in such moves. It is rather interesting that in both Australia and Canada. institutions other than resettlement have been devised to provide both education and medical services to scattered populations so that their economy is not destroyed. (Canada uses these techniques only in limited instances and frequently simply relocates a population, such as has happened to the fishing villages of the outer islands of Newfoundland with considerable social impact on them.)


The growing authoritarianism in these new states is also related to changes in the conceptions of the powers and capacities of governments in the last 100 years in the West. With the liberal revolution came the idea that governments were to be for the benefit of the governed and under the control of the governed. And they were not to be intrusive into the lives of citizens. However, as the discipline of economics has matured there has grown the belief that governments can manipulate the country’s economy so as to stimulate economic growth and prevent the downward swings of the business cycle. Thus government has become no longer simply a matter of defense and maintaining internal harmony.

As the techniques have grown to control state economies and plan their future, states have become similar to large corporations. They have become concerned with their national balance sheet and operating statements, with the growth of gross national product and the balance of trade. Government, rather than being a service to the population, has turned the relationship on its head, and a population now provides services to the betterment of the state economy. The people become rather like workers in a multifaceted factory. So the unintended outcome of the growth of economic theory is, instead of the betterment of the individual, the growth of dehumanization and authoritarianism.


Social scientists have accepted the authoritarianism that is a consequence of managing economies in the Third World with little questioning, and have even contributed to it through theories that are dehumanizing. One of these theories is that of rural underemployment, or “disguised unemployment” (see Lewis, 1960; for a critical analysis see Hirschman, 1981 and Arrighi, 1970). I am sure in certain circumstances this does represent some germ of truth. But in most indigenous societies in Southeast Asia, there is no underemployment, unless one destroys their cultural economy. However, as a result of this and similar theories that dehumanize the peasant, there has grown the idea that labor service is available from such societies, and it can be forced out in the open by various techniques without the consultation of the governed. The point I am trying to make here is that there is a world of difference in situations where people want employment from situations where people are employed sufficiently in the pursuit of their own interests and do not want someone else to tell them what their interests should be. Theories such as these do not sufficiently consider the interests of the people to whom they are being applied. It is as if the over rational economists and political scientists could not abide the rural populations working to the glory of their own gods.

Part of the problem contributing to the growth of dehumanized and authoritarian development theories is that the academic disciplines have gone too far in this direction within their own sociocultural environment, although in such familiar grounds their theories tend to fit better than in foreign cultural environments. Such theories translate poorly to these other cultural environments, which do not share the same assumptions. In addition many scholars have a peculiarly biased view of the peasant, never having soiled their hands in such labor, much less lived for any length of time in farming villages. Thus, Hoben (1980, p. 341) writes: “Until recently, development planners and a majority of scholars concerned with development assumed that the agricultural practices of low-income rural people are governed by tradition, change only slowly, and are often poorly adapted to local conditions. Moreover, it was assumed that traditional rural societies were more or less static, and that their institutions must be broken down or greatly modified because they were constraints on more rational development.” Johnson (1980:37-38) also points out the dangers of formal economic theories in development. He writes:

The decision whether to rely on our ready-made formal theories or to turn to new empirical descriptions for guidance is not simply a scientific question, but also a political one ... What makes this a political assumption is that it joins formal economists with change agents as allies convinced of their superior knowledge and engaged in an effort to bring enlightenment to the less informed. It is also a political fact that “ignorant” populations are often poorly controlled by the central governments trying to change them, and that the likely outcome of “successful” change is increased central political and economic control. The assumption that our models are more correct than those of the actors they refer to can be taken as a license to introduce economic change even against the wishes of the local populations, on the grounds that the people “do not know what is good for them.”

In sum, the peasant has been viewed as not being rational or maximizing his economic decisions. Yet, as Johnson and other contributors to Bartlett (1980) point out, this is hardly the case. The problem lies with the present approach of economics to development in the agricultural sector which does not fully incorporate or comprehend the context of decision making behavior at the village level. As a result, Johnson argues (1980:41) economists or government officials are mystified and frustrated “when confronted with the behavior of particular farmers,” adding,

In fact, what is actually surprising is that anyone would think that an abstract theory, operationalized with reference to an industrial firm or similar limited frame, could prescribe behavior for farmers who have lived in an environment their entire lives, observed countless details about its soils, crops, weather, labor supply, market prices, and government intervention, and have integrated these experiences with cultural “rules of thumb” into a total understanding that all our research methods in combination can hardly fathom.”

As a result, the developer in such situations falls back on the stereotypic explanation that the people are tradition-bound rather than realizing that the peasant is making good economic decisions given his decision making context. Even where, more recently, planners recognize that the peasant is an economic maximizer, they fail to consider the whole local context in which the decision is being made (Hoben, 1982, p. 368), and that includes values which are not determined by price alone. Another example of the dehumanizing aspects of development social science is the handling of ethnicity in political science. Connor writes (1972, p.319): “Scholars associated with theories of ‘nation-building’ have tended either to ignore the question of ethnic diversity or treat the matter of ethnic identity superficially as merely one of the number of minor impediments to effective state-integration.”7

Yet one’s social identity is a critical resource to the individual in his adapting to his social world (see Appell, 1975a, 1980a, n.d.). Without it one is hardly human. As Bedlington, a more perspicacious political scientist, puts it (1968, p. 564): “Ethnicity needs to be recognized for what it is, not as a threat but a legitimate human condition.”

The only scholar I am aware of who is fighting the dehumanization of economics and economic planning by looking at the human costs involved is Harvey Brenner, of The Johns Hopkins University. He has conducted a number of studies showing how increased rates of mental health, mortality, fetal, infant, and maternal mortality, heart disease mortality, alcohol consumption and associated illnesses, and various other health impairments are a consequence of unemployment and economic recessions (see Brenner, 1971, 1973a, 1973b, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1979). And he concludes (1977, p. 581) that “actions which influence national economic policy — especially the unemployment rate — have a substantial bearing on the physical health, mental health, and criminal aggression.” Therefore, for example, economic policies that deal with inflation through increasing unemployment have unintended but pernicious human consequences.

Anthropological Theory

American anthropology developed the concept of culture both as an analytical tool and an explanatory concept. It provided a variety of intellectual services to the discipline and to those who became convinced of the usefulness of this approach. And many thought that one of the services to the larger society of the concept would be to lessen both partial and complete dehumanization. It would provide a scientific and understandable explanation to the behaviors of indigenous peoples that had been typified as “savage,” “dirty,” “wicked,” “childish,” “immoral” “irrational,” “unpredictable.”

Yet in doing this, it also provided the practicing social scientist and developer with a new club, a new form of dehumanization. For the concept of culture is without people. In development projects the culture then becomes a manageable problem, and the consequences to the peoples are ignored. The culture may be inefficient, precapitalist, a subsistence one, or some other form that requires adjustment so that new, modern ideas in agriculture, labor service, family planning, and village improvement can be instituted. As the locus of the problem lies with the culture, as culture is merely learned, it can be modified with little cost, it can be easily unlearned. What is missing is a concept of the investment that an individual and society make in the operation of their sociocultural system and the cost of adaptation to new ideas, new economies, new social relations.

The concept of cultural relativism, contrary to expectations, also may be more dehumanizing than humanizing. It ignores the biosocial energetics (Appell, 1984) that are involved in the practice of any cultural trait, equating all alike. Thus, septum piercing has no different value than subincision, yet to the individual, one requires considerably more energy expenditure than the other both during the procedure and afterwards.

Finally, in the concept of role, anthropological theory has not invested it with a critical human component — again its biosocial energetics. Some roles require greater energy output to occupy them to such a degree that the occupants have greater health impairments or shorter lives.


We have looked at some of the ideas and beliefs that have led to a growing authoritarianism of central governments in development planning and a growing dehumanization of populations. And we have sketched out the impact that this has had on the indigenous tribal peoples of Borneo. I have also indicated that the discipline of anthropology has not responded to this challenge, but may have unwittingly added to the problem through the concepts of culture, cultural relativism, role, and perhaps other concepts. How can a better theory be devised that is not dehumanizing or authoritarian? I believe that there are three directions that anthropological inquiry might go to solve this problem: decision making approaches; biosocial energetics, which I have adumbrated in my discussion of cultural investments and adaptation; and finally ethnography in the service of tribal peoples.

Desicion Making

Hoben (1980, p. 341-2) in contrasting the older view of development planners and the majority of scholars, in which the peasant was believed to be bound in tradition and making decisions on non-rational grounds, writes:

Today, by contrast, leading scholars in diverse disciplines, including agricultural and developmental economics, anthropology, economic history, human geography, and rural sociology recognize that low-income producers’ behavior must be understood as the result of recurrent decisions about the use of productive assets, the organization of labor, marketing, saving, and investment; ... that experimentation with new crops and crop mixes is commonplace and attempts to introduce major technological innovations is not unusual, even in communities beyond the reach of extension services; ... and that many indigenous small-scale farming systems are sensitively adjusted to local ecological, economic, and political conditions--and their fluctuations.

Thus, decision making approaches to development build on the resources of the local community and bring those who are being developed back into more appropriate control over the processes. As Gladwin and Murtaugh (1980) have shown, the local farmer has a better knowledge of the factors that impinge on his success in agriculture than agricultural change agents. Therefore, in planning any development project investigating the decision-making process of the local farmer and bringing those factors into the development process ensures more successful development.

Biosocial Energetics

Investments in a Sociocultural System. What is missing in anthropological theory is a consideration of the psychobiological investment that a culture-bearing individual has in his cultural system. It takes time, effort, and economic support for an individual to learn his cultural system, and this investment we will refer to as the “enculturation investment.”

A second investment that an individual has in his social world is the time, effort, and economic support that has gone into his learning how to operate within a specific group. For example when an individual moves to a new village, it takes time and effort to learn the operational culture and social relations of that village. I will refer to this as the “social role learning investment.” And the third investment is that which the group has incurred in creating a functioning organization. Anyone who has led a military unit or economic enterprise knows the time and effort that is invested in developing the right organizational culture so that the group operates efficiently in the pursuit of its goals. I refer to this as the “organizational investment.”

As long as anthropological theory ignores these investments, it cannot deal with the full human costs of social change. For on social change these investments are lost.

Adaptation Costs. In my study of the health consequences of social change, I presented a number of postulates (Appell n.d.). Postulate Nine states: “Social change produces psychological loss, which, if not managed properly can result in various dysfunctional reactions.” I refer to these processes of adapting to the loss of a sociocultural system as the “social bereavement syndrome.” Postulate Ten states that “Social change of necessity creates role conflict and ambiguity, and role conflict and ambiguity can produce health impairment.” Postulate Eleven states: “Social change can produce disturbances of social identity, threats to self-esteem, and a growing aspiration-achievement gap, all of which can precipitate health and behavioral impairments.”

I have referred to the processes set in motion by the social change indicated in these three postulates as the “social separation syndrome” (Appell 1980a, n.d.). And the social separation syndrome represents the cost of extinguishing the sociocultural investments of enculturation investment, the social role investment, and the organizational investment.

The processes of adaptation to development involve not only the social separation syndrome but a number of other stresses, which precipitate psychological, physiological, and behavioral impairments. These also have their costs both to the population and to the individual. It is critical for anthropology to develop a better grip on these and quantify them so that we can bring back the individual into the central focus of our concern and prevent the continuing dehumanization that is occurring. As it now stands the larger society benefits from the resources of the tribal peoples and externalizes the costs of removing the tribal group from its resources largely to the members of the tribal group itself (Appell, 1975a, n.d.).

Ethnography in the Service of Tribal Peoples

Change brings loss, and this precipitates social bereavement. Ethnography and its related disciplines are of critical importance to societies being forced into rapid change, as having access to one’s culture through ethnographic research mitigates the worst aspects of the social bereavement syndrome (see Appell, 1980a, n.d.).8

Ethnography, just as importantly, gives the society being studied some sense of its own sociocultural system so that it can objectify it and be in a better position of control, rather than leaving the objectification of the sociocultural system only in the hands of the developers for purposes of manipulation (see Appell, 1977, 1978).

Finally, anthropologists must generate alternative models for development than that based on the industrialization of the agricultural sector, with excess rural population flooding the cities, which seems to always include either plantation agriculture or the nuclear family farm in a single family dwelling resident on its own plot of land. There are other models, some more productive, which need to be explored in the context of planning for development.


It is hard to be optimistic in my conclusions. Change could become development rather than merely change (see Nicolaise, 1983) and development could proceed without the stresses and strains that now accompany it, if development were from the bottom up, if development were less authoritarian and dehumanizing. But what chance is there for this to happen? The variety of dehumanization and authoritarianism that is prevalent in the larger society occurs as well in the University and is seldom challenged. So I suspect that there will be little change here. New theories and techniques will be developed to manipulate people, to objectify them, to control them, without the development of adequate controls for the protection of human interests. I am not advocating forming a society of intellectual luddites. We must proceed, but we must become more self-conscious of the implications of our work. And we must develop better controls to prevent dehumanization and better theories that rehumanize man.

I do not see in the future that the indigenous societies of the world will be put under any less pressure of survival. The economic interests are there to dispossess them of their inheritance and the ideas are there to justify this. The rule of law seems to be a casualty of economic development. And I constantly ask myself why this must be so when there are other approaches that produce equivalent economic gain. The new millennium either in the practice of political economy or the theory building of the social sciences is not about to happen. But not to fight this great injustice that is going on today is to surrender to it.

One concluding thought, Rawls writes in his A Theory of Justice (1971, p. 61): “These principles are to be arranged in a serial order with the first principle prior to the second. This ordering means that a departure from the institutions of equal liberty required by the first principle cannot be justified by, or compensated for, by greater social and economic advantages.”


1. “By and large, a child develops such capacity [for identification] in direct proportion to the stability and depth of interpersonal relations to which he is exposed” (Diamond, 197, p. 129).

2. Van Nieuwenhuijze (1984b) has reached a similar conclusion about the dominant theme in western culture which he terms “economism.” He writes (1984b, p. 17): “The entire syndrome is symbolized in the nature and status of the discipline of economics, as the privileged handmaiden of the prevailing lifestyle. The modern West is economistic if anything. It perceives the full round of life through the economic–if you prefer, economic-political–optique.

“Note what we are discussing here is culture, nothing else. The term ‘economism’ provides a valid description of Western civilization [in]... the modern period.”

3. The economists’ overdependence on price and insensitivity to value was nicely illustrated several years ago on a Public Broadcasting System radio program in which an economist compared the cost of raising a child with the cost of owning a boat, framing this in terms of an economic choice!

4. Individualism... “disposes each citizen to isolate himself from the mass of his fellows and to draw apart with his family and friends”; it “at first saps only the virtues of public life, but, in the long run, ... attacks and destroys all the others and is eventually absorbed into pure egoism” (Tocqueville, De la democratie en Amerique [1835], Bk.II, Pt. II, Ch.II; quoted in Lukes 1973, p. 595).

5. The response of Indonesians to the wearing of loincloths by the indigenous peoples of Kalimantan is incredible. They view these as symbols of licensed savagery, incredible backwardness, and force the locals to change their dress, and even give them shorts, some of which are more sexually indecorous than loincloths (see Appell, 1985b).

6. One wonders about the source of the highly self-interested personality that is sometimes found among the elites of new states, which seems to contribute to growing corruption. Is it a product of faulty child-rearing in which the individual’s conscience has not been fully developed; the acceptance of economic fundamentalism without the internal controls that one might have gotten as a child growing up in western culture; the over recruitment of opportunists when the opportunity structure opened up at the end of colonialism (see Appell, 1980b); and/or a faulty administrative system that has not had sufficient controls built in to it, and which were perhaps not needed when administrators were trained in the later stages of colonialism for service to others?

7. Van Nieuwenhuijze (1984a, p. 8) writes with regard to the problem of ethnic identity that “the standing perception of development happens to have a blind eye” to the cultural dimension of collective identity.

8. The Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Center in the Northwest Territories of Canada, under the directorship of Dr. Robert Janes, is a critically important illustration of what can be done to mitigate the impact of social bereavement through the creative involvement of indigenous peoples in their ethnography, history, and archaeology and in the development of indigenously controlled local museums (see Janes, 1982). In my judgment the social turmoil arising from social change in Third World countries might be mitigated if similar approaches were used.


Appell, G. N.
1975a The Pernicious Effects of Development. Fields Within Fields No. 14, pp. 31-41.

1975b Indigenous Man: Creator, Inventor, Discoverer. News from Survival International 9:10-12.

1975c Indigenous Man: Chemotherapeutic Explorations. News from Survival International 10:7-10.

1977 The Plight of Indigenous Peoples: Issues and Dilemmas. Survival International Review 2, 3:11-16.

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