Monday, October 03, 2005

Reflections on social change evoked by my recycled shopping cart

One of the least pleasant tasks of my three plus year Anderson Hall residence has been the task of lugging groceries in from the closest unloading area, in back of McKinley Hall, to my apartment. Occasionally a student would offer to help, but this has been backbreaking work, especially on dinner nights or when I had loaded up on sale items – sparkling cider, Klondike bars, cokes and Mountain Dew, etc. Often, there have been six to eight mesh recyclable bags full.

Then, a few weeks ago, my good karma was working. A resident left a large, slightly broken shopping cart – the sort my age-contemporaries sometimes pull behind them in the supermarket – by the trash. After a couple of days, I appropriated it and made the necessary repairs. Problem solved! The cart held virtually all my groceries and, last night, I was able to glide them into room 101 with no strain at all.

But this raises the following question: why did dormgrandpop, a person of reasonable intelligence make himself miserable lugging groceries for three years when all I needed to do was buy a shopping cart. I simply continued to follow the same arduous, taxing practice when a solution was readily at hand. It gives one pause. I didn’t consider – seriously – alternatives to ease my burden, though one was readily and inexpensively available.

In international development, my rule of thumb for the duration of a successful project that requires social change is twenty years. Neither Iraq nor Afghanistan have ever had a functioning democracy; never had popular means for resolving differences without violence or authoritarianism. And democratic institutions are going to take hold in these settings within a couple of years? I applaud the resilience and courage of Afgan and Iraqi citizens who have participated in elections – but optimistic Administration projections of “mission accomplished” before the next US Presidential election do give one pause.


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