Development, as in Third World Development, is a debauched word, a whore of a word. Its users can’t look you in the eye. Among biologists, the word means progress, the realization of an innate potential. The word is good, incontestable, a cause for celebration. In the mouths of politicians, economists and development experts like myself, it claims the same approval, but means nothing. There are no genes governing the shape of human society. No one can say of a society, as a gardener can of a flower, that it has become what it should be. It is an empty word which can be filled by any user to conceal any hidden intention, a Trojan horse of a word. It implies that what is done to people by those more powerful than themselves is their fate, their potential, their fault. A useful word, a bland word, a wicked word, a whore of a word. ‘Development’ in the mouths of Americans has a lot in common with ‘psychotherapy’ in the mouths of Russians.

No. This is nonsense. There is nothing sinister about ‘development’. It is simply a useful word to describe the achievement of desirable goals: higher incomes, better nutrition and so on. There are no serious disagreements about what is desirable, and by repeated use the word has achieved a validity of shared understanding. That is all.

I’m happy. I’m alone. I am sitting on a balcony with my feet up, perfectly relaxed. My left arm grills in the sun; my right, in the shade, is still cold from the night. Up here, there is not enough air to filter the light from the sun nor enough to store its heat. I am crossed by a sharp diagonal shadow, happily divided. On a low table by my elbow is a pot of green tea, brought to me by a slavish servant. Next to it are papers and an unopened report. Beyond this rest house are mountains: mountainsides, mountain valleys, mountain peaks, snow, high passes, the Himalayas, the roof of the world.

A Journey into Afghanistan