The Lost History of Helmand

( – promoted by buhdydharma )

Kabul, 2005

Modernization Theory was invented by an ambitious academic at Harvard called Walt Whitman Rostow. He said that if you put the right technologies in place and educated key elites then the countries would inevitably develop into advanced capitalist societies. They would go through a series of logical stages (there were five) until you got what he modestly called “Rostovian Lift-off”.

Rostow laid out his theory in a book he called “The Stages of Economic Growth: A Non-Communist Manifesto”.

Rostow’s theories obsessed the American development agencies and they came up with all sorts of ideas about how to turn countries like Afghanistan into modern democracies.

One of the oddest was the belief that it was possible to scientifically discover who the crucial “transitional personalities” were in the society. These were people who had underlying “capitalist personalities” that they were unaware of. A psychologist called David McClelland invented a way of discovering who had these traits – and techniques to then develop what he called “the need to achieve”. He was convinced you could use behavioural psychology to turn people throughout the world into model Americans.

McClelland worked tirelessly to prove his case. Here is one of his diagrams that shows that the frequency of achievement imagery in children’s books in the late 19th century leads inevitably to a rise in inventions in America as they grow up – as shown by the number of patented inventions.



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  1. to cognitivists and AI-associated wonks, mathematical, full of assumptions, and not ethologically-minded, really, which is virtually always the big failure of psychologists.  Cart-before-the-horse, if ever that cart and horse existed, which it does.  such people pretend to be the “NASA” of animal behavior without caring about actual animal behavior, actual physiology, or actual neuroscience, much like BF Skinner.

    • banger on November 27, 2010 at 3:21 pm

    very much akin to Francis Fukuyama’s and ideas about “the end of history.” One of the interesting features of American thought is the rise of “thinkers” who are, essentially, “born yesterday.” In other words they write as if there were no such thing as history.

    Really, it is a systemic problem that involves a lack of debate within intellectual circles in America. People don’t engage in conversation and open their theories and ideas to refutation because they don’t have to. Rostow, Fukuyama don’t have to really defend their ideas intellectually because the oligarchy will “promote” any thinker if they promote the oligarch’s privileges and authority. Thus Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck can spread their ideas everywhere and are immune to being refuted because they ignore opposition since opposition barely gets published anywhere.

    Any young scholar is well-served by entering a right-wing think-tank where, if he or she has half-a-brain, will quickly go up the ladder and become a major personality within a decade. A real scholar will find it hard to get a job anywhere in today’s intellectual world–particularly if like Norm Finklestein, you happen to be both honest and brilliant and write critically about such sacrosanct topics as the Israeli state.  

    • Edger on November 28, 2010 at 2:06 am

    the best ways to kill enough of them to make them love the idea of becoming American, too?

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