The Avant Garde of Western Civ. By David Holdridge. Los Angeles: Press Americana, 2017.
Usually, when I start to read an autobiography, I anticipate dramatic stories about glory days. But this new book by David Holdridge is unusual in combining autobiography with philosophy about humanitarian aid while also offering practical advice. It is a critique of humanitarian aid provided by Western governments and of "big charity" that follows in its wake.
Holdridge has thirty-five years of humanitarian experience working in the Middle East, Africa, Eastern Europe, and Haiti. From his seven years in Iraq following the 2003 invasion, he distills the West's theory of change, reflecting a post-Enlightenment naivete defined by such terms as "rationality, secular, and modern" that inform projects aimed at an eventual "assimilation into a Western-inspired global order" (p. 65). Aid workers "were being indulged by a culture much older than ours" (p. 33).
Practical advice is woven throughout the book. For example, when a host seems nervous, leave. Don't automatically call factional fighting "terrorism" in locations in which nations have been inappropriately bundled together as states. Find staff members who will stick with you over the long run.
Arguably, the most insightful part of the book is on migration. Holdridge argues that development has been driven by migration throughout human history, which brings new talent to where workers get paid enough to send money back home. Expatriate...