Wednesday, 8 August 2007


Re-reading the post on India's economic issues , I felt inclined to follow it up with a few thoughts. I referred in that piece to the 'superior standard of living' enjoyed by the West. I also mentioned how life in the villages, however poor materially, seemed superior to a life lived, poor, in city squalor. My point, I think, was that it was better to live a different sort of life than strive in vain in pursuit of Western economic standards.

Romanticising the poor? Maybe, but that's not what I had intended. Rather, that quality of life and economic gain are not necessarily commensurate. It is possible to have less and live better than a slum dweller on a dollar a day. Unfortunately that is not how statistics encourage us to view the world. Their definition of 'standard of living' is fairly rigid. It consists of biens materiels, of economic measures, of GDP, Of GNP, of percentage annual national growth. It's enshrined in laws and parliamentary resolutions around the world. In UN declarations, even.

But this definition - however widespread - is not without its flaws. Its economic take on human existence can only allow materialist conclusions. However it has nothing to say about the other great sustaining factors in our lives: family, love, beauty, society, belonging, fulfillment. Such definitions cannot promote these except by economic means. Therein lies the flaw.

We need something else. Or just as well. And that demands the economic system adapt and learn from other considerations. Particularly human ones. As the anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko once said "The West has maybe contributed a great deal in giving the world a more industrial face. But the real task still has to come from Africa: to give the world a more human face.” Indeed, this is the face of most radical political and religious critiques of western 'values', boosting both anti-capitalism and Islamism, to name but a few.

I can't speak for Africa. But I did visit a village in Uttarranchal where the Van Gujjar people - recently evicted nomads from the national park, rehoused to let the animals roam in front of tourist lenses) - eked out an existence selling buffalo milk. They were happier in the forest, they said. There, their primary considerations were not to survive making (bad) money and live on the fringes of society but to be at the centre of their own priorities and pursue them at will. How could their new life compare to that freedom?

The West is blind at times. It sees everything through the economic microscope that our thought has become. As such, we often fail to see our own shortcomings. I am always interested to hear others' views on the West, as a result. So if you have any comments in this regard, please do put pen to paper.
Where is the work and family balance that characterises other cultures? Where is the emphasis on balancing the different aspects of our lives? We, who work 12 hour days at times, enclosed in our offices, stressed, with strained relationships and fatigue and cynicism. We who want more 'time to ourselves', with our families, or just relaxing rather than trapped behind a desk. But who won't do anything about it.

The truth is that these are futile dreams, dreams whose reality we have already renounced. We have become deaf to ways of rebalancing our situation. Worse, we have accepted negative aspects of our modern capitalist culture, passively, as natural without sufficiently interrogating their cause. This is an age where all thought, even that which is technically anti-establishment, takes place within the parameters late capitalist culture has set out. There is no real challenge to its hegemony. And that, more than anything else, is what should worry us.

Perhaps rapid globalisation and urbanisation will shake this anomie. Two major truths are emerging: that there will always be losers from the global market (however many people are pulled out of poverty, the gap between haves and have-nots is still increasing) and that we cannot all consume at the same rate. They say that if everyone in China owned a car the human race would expire from lack of oxygen immediately. Current patters of development are killing the environment. As such, all of us (starting from the developed world) will have to change our patterns of consumption and invest in greener alternatives. That may hurt. But it may also be the push we have been waiting for, to reprioritise and reorder our collective consciousness.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice fill someone in on and this fill someone in on helped me alot in my college assignement. Thanks you seeking your information.