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Mainstream, VOL LII No 29, July 12, 2014

Core Values can Hold the Centre Together

Monday 14 July 2014, by Uttam Sen

The quality of our expectations is being perpetually set off by contrasting categories. The definitions are relative but even in their breach (or incompleteness) contain tangible difference. Thus, for instance, industrial society, classically underpinned by the division of labour in the use of technology for mass production, is defined by one unified purpose of material betterment while the post-industrial community demonstrates greater heterogeneity in occupation and values. Agrarian society grounded in agriculture has fewer choices and simpler standards. Their overlap can create a hybrid of technology and plainness of behavioural codes and outlooks, mixed with extreme diversity of thought and endeavour. In India we have agrarian, industrial and post-industrial society playing out simultaneously, which sometimes appears to be the case elsewhere as well.

They are noticeable in the single-minded pursuit of technology and latter day skills in the “developing world”, raising output and national power to (notionally) globally competitive levels. Sections of the Western intelligentsia assume a universal template for the distribution of finite resources. In semantic terms, the juxtapositions can be found internally in the liberal empathy of fragments of post-industrial society with the plight of the peasant, to the annoyance of the industrial community in a hurry to urbanise. The homogeneity and single-mindedness of incipient industrial society are to be found in the burgeoning new class that is flooding the towns and cities from the periphery. The approximations of post-industrial society sometimes brim with approaches analogous to Thomas Piketty’s formulation of an equitable world order.

This is the stage where the provision of services famously outstrips the production of goods. Human capital, including knowledge and ideas, become the grist of human aspiration. Aspects of the Indian persona (seldom the whole) are attuned to the most contemporary global standards in intellect and culture. The idea is partially hypothetical because there is no clear-cut division between rich and poor (nations), refined and unrefined, that paradoxically underline 19th century balance of power concepts with cross-cutting interests and arrangements. They tend to transcend the conceptual limitations of a construct like the nation-state (again strictly non-indigenous), unless qualified by indigenous insights.

For example, agrarian society in India does not start from scratch as sociological locations of structure and organisation have borne out. Colonial and other incursions have diminished some vital apparatuses of perception and awareness, marking a legacy that is reflected in worlds seemingly apart. The meshing with an industrial or post-industrial culture is, however, not always far-fetched as, for example, attitudes guiding principles of behaviour found in the epics. The critical contents of Hindu philosophy in the Vedanta, or the invaluable substance of other systems of faith and worship which came later, are more accessible today than earlier, digitalisation being one among several temporal factors responsible for the occasional resurgence. They have been variously disseminated through institutionalised religion (a Western concept) and latter-day Seekers who speak the contem-porary idiom.

The discourse between Lord Krishna and Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita is quoted almost universally on dharma (the correct life) and moksha (liberation). It has been a reference point in commentaries on disarmament! The revival and use of ancient frameworks of yoga, science and medicine are germane as well. India’s forays into space are identified with assorted associations with a seemingly lost horizon. Unquestionably, powerful and influential groups have dominated the means of production and discourse, as is generally the case, but even the humblest, symbolised by the small holder, agricultural labourer and peasant, has not been denied the memory or wisdom of the epics, when not served up for cushioning existential adversity. Political mobilisation through scriptural representation has stood the test of time, though not the rationale for stratification which is being constantly questioned and reinterpreted.

But a pressing problematique is contrarily presenting itself today in the form of instant problem solving. The proliferation of machinery for working parts (mechanics) is everywhere in evidence and new appliances are sprouting on a daily basis. However, even the most techno-logically savvy person is not abreast of all of them. The second richest man on the planet is professedly averse even to a mechanical device like the personal computer. Proficiency does not necessarily suffer if the tape is in not exhibitively breasted. An appreciation of the whole and the interdependence of its parts is as much the cutting edge as the latest in any development. But for the vast majority, the kneejerk technological makeover is more often than not made to look the norm.

The collateral of perfunctory conventional wisdom also had to surface, encapsulating and merging evolutionary processes in such a way that the fine point is lost. For example, the perception had to unfold that the West Asians are a primordial lot not amenable to reason when war, rather than peace, has been moving the goal-posts for them since the First World War. A semblance of defensible method and self-determination in their transition would have moulded a functional scenario. The analogy with us is not entirely remote, except for the absence in our midst of the single natural resource that has muddled world affairs from the Persian Gulf for almost a century. But there are several others, to include strategic locations, across the subcontinent.

We as a nation-state have well considered calculi to engage with most of the world to mutual benefit and have reached the techno-logical starting-point for attaining the comm-anding heights. But it is more than commonplace that worlds within us will check and balance each other if a system of government by the whole population has to have meaning. Information-gathering and surveillance have their place, particularly in volatile situations, but practical principles are more directly expressed than moral or ideological considerations. The right chemistry between the two can make them complementary rather than conflicting, a dialectical process which is at times occurring in our internal discourse. The centre may not hold when natural law is violated and “things fall apart”, but not when a reigning disposition seeks to recover its core values.

The author is a Bengaluru-based journalist.

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