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Narcissism vs. People-Led Development

Heather's picture

This week I have been enjoying a few days off by reading about Community Led Development, sending out emails to try to get people interested in something like community led development within Occupy, and listening to Slavoj Zizek. I like the juxtaposition of the three and thought I would share them.

First some snippets from MISEREOR booklet on people led development in India:

These are organisations which had been working with the local
population for many years, and had been following participatory approaches. Yet they all felt that they were not being as successful as they
had expected to be. An analysis of their work showed that, in spite of their interest and commitment, their efforts to “be participatory” were
limited to getting people on board of a project designed and approved. Not surprisingly, they were unable to get the results and impact they


Naturally, the following pages only show a small part of all the activities which took place during the past few years in different countries and districts, with different local groups and on different topics. Yet they all show how,
in different locations and under different situations, development organisations can be more effective. They show the advantages of having a team that facilitates a process, or of organising farmer-to-farmer exchanges. They show that a people-led development process does not only help increase yields or conserve the local biodiversity; it can also help farmers to get access to the resources they need, and can contribute to strengthening local organisations, networks and alliances (as shown, for example, by Barik on p. 40). Most important of all, the work of the
Indian and Bangladeshi organisations, and all of those who were part of these processes, has shown that it leads to empowerment.


What we learnt during the process
-Always think of people’s priorities. Do not go by
what you think is feasible and needs to be done.
-Build capacities of people on issues and let them
take ownership for pursuing them on their own.
-Strengthen the hamlet and village level people’s
institutions and limit yourself to facilitate their
work. This results in collective ownership and
responsibility. People also feel accountable to
each other.

Now some snippets from emails from people responding to my request to try out a more people led approach to Occupy


I agree that it's good to be open to listening to people, including non-activist ones. But there's a limit to how much you can do that way -- non-activist people still have to eventually take some initiative on their own, not just wait to be interviewed about their idle viewpoints. The Occupy movement did in fact inspire many people to take such initiatives. But note that in that case people were inspired because they saw other people doing something, and they felt like checking out the scene and maybe joining in. Just "seeking out ideas" from passive people is unlikely to stir up much interest, or many useful ideas. Precisely because most people are passive (made that way and encouraged to stay that way by what the situationists call "the society of the spectacle"), the "ideas" they come up with are not likely to be very original, but rather just a few obvious things that everyone is already aware of. ("Right on! I just talked with John Doe and he says that rich people should pay more taxes! And Jane Doe would like to see an end to the wars in Iran and Afghanistan!")


most activists I know have little patience for long meetings but, instead, want to be organizing and participating in actions that could make a difference in pulling us back from the brink re climate chaos, nuke dangers, economic collapse etc.

Lastly, two interesting Zizek quotes:


The big demonstrations in London and Washington against the US attack on Iraq a few years ago offer an exemplary case of this strange symbiotic relationship between power and resistance. Their paradoxical outcome was that both sides were satisfied. The protesters saved their beautiful souls: they made it clear that they don’t agree with the government’s policy on Iraq. Those in power calmly accepted it, even profited from it: not only did the protests in no way prevent the already-made decision to attack Iraq; they also served to legitimise it. Thus George Bush’s reaction to mass demonstrations protesting his visit to London, in effect: ‘You see, this is what we are fighting for, so that what people are doing here – protesting against their government policy – will be possible also in Iraq!’


The pressure “to do something” is here like the superstitious compulsion to do some gesture when we are observing a process on which we have no real influence. Are our acts not often such gestures? The old saying “Don’t just talk, do something!” is one of the most stupid things one can say, even measured by the low standards of common wisdoms. Perhaps, we were lately doing too much, intervening, destroying environment… and it’s time to step back, think and say the right thing. True, we often talk about something instead of doing it – but sometimes we also do things in order to avoid talking and thinking about them. Like quickly throwing 700 billions at a problem instead of reflecting on how it arose .


Submitted by lambert on

i thought this was worth a post. I like the research but what is the connection to narcissism?

Heather's picture
Submitted by Heather on

Thanks, Lambert! I hate to put well meaning people down, but
the idea that one's own conspicuous expressions of one's beliefs,
undertaken without the input of the supposed beneficiaries,
the idea that such action can change the world seems narcissistic to me.
It seems even more narcissistic to believe that this action is so important that engaging with others who share common goals to come to a consensus is a waste of time.
Even more narcissistic is the idea other people have nothing to say worth listening to anyway. The people-led development approach is at the other end of the activist spectrum.

malagodi's picture
Submitted by malagodi on

Narcissism, by definition, is the preoccupation of the self with itself. That is very different than the difficult self-discovery involved in the drawn-out anarchic process. Long meetings are a given. I worked for a time in a small organization in Zimbabwe run on an anarchist model. Everybody hated the long meetings, but agreed the alternatives were unacceptable. It worked very well in practice.

I think your issue is the difference between symbolic action - like talking, discussing, writing, posturing and pushing 'like' buttons on FaceBook (this again is different than self-discovery) - and physical action; actual manifestations of power.

RanDomino's picture
Submitted by RanDomino on

Anyone else automatically read Zizek's quotes in his voice? "Zeh preschure 'to do zsomeszching' izsh here like the zschuperzsischiouzsch compoolschion..."