Monday, August 23, 2021

Arundhati Roy on Gandhi - 8e

Modernity has a rhetoric of justice and equality but its basic dynamic ensures that these things cannot be achieved. On the contrary, its primary commitment to money through control of the market (‘Money is their God’) ensures that large numbers of people are kept in poverty. The English ‘hold whatever dominions they have for the sake of their commerce…. They wish to convert the whole world into a vast market for their goods’. In the long run, the traits of the conqueror are inherited by the conquered.

In an article in Young India in Dec 1928, Gandhi had pointed out the unsustainability of the Western model of economic development. ‘God forbid, he wrote, ‘that India should ever take to industrialization after the manner of the West. The economic imperialism of a single tiny island kingdom (England) is today keeping the world in chains. If an entire nation of 300 million took to similar economic exploitation, it would strip the world bare like locusts’.

Two years earlier in Oct.1926, Gandhi had written in Young India that 'to make India like England and America is to find some other races and places of the earth for exploitation’. As it appeared 'that the Western nations have divided all the known races outside Europe for exploitation and there are no new worlds to discover’, he asked: ‘What can be the fate of India trying to ape the West?’ . He was not saying that all amenities should not be provided to people. He was saying that if these amenities are provided by using the same economic model as the modern West, then colonization of some group of people is inevitable. 

And of course that is exactly what has transpired. Without the access to resources and markets that the West had when it began its march towards modernity, India has had no choice, once it decided to "ape the West", but to rely on the exploitation of its own people and environment. For eg., it has been estimated that twenty million Indians (a conservative estimate) have been uprooted by steel mills, dams etc. 

He asserted, “I do not draw a sharp or any distinction between economics and ethics. Economics that hurt the moral well-being of an individual or a nation are immoral and, therefore, sinful. Thus the economics that permit one country to prey upon another are immoral…". If you thought that colonialism ended more than 50 years ago, you are mistaken. It is covert now rather than overt as in the past which makes it more dangerous because it passes unnoticed. Gandhi saw more clearly than anyone else that modern Western civilization must inevitably result in colonialism. 

Colonialism is not so much the relationship between two countries as an attitude of exploitation – it is the control of a nation’s resources, and not necessarily its other affairs, by and for some other power and not for its own people. The idea of colonialism is kept alive by systematic development – or ‘underdevelopment’ – of poorer nations as cheap sources of raw materials and vast markets for finished goods. Corporations are much more than purveyors of the products we all want; they are also the most powerful political forces of our time. 

The methods by which global corporations control land, labour and raw materials are a lot like the methods of the colonial government. Current multinationals differ only in their inability to marshal their own armies. It would be na├»ve to believe that Western consumers haven't continued profiting from these methods. It is said that the Third World has always existed for the comfort of the First. It was true in the time of colonialism and it is true now. 

This is seen in the unbranded points of origin of brand-name goods. The manufacturers of Nike sneakers have been traced back to the sweatshops of Vietnam, Barbie's little outfits back to the child labourers of Sumatra, Starbucks' lattes to the coffee fields of Guatemala. Many governments in the developing world protect lucrative investments by multinationals — mines, dams, oil fields, power plants and export processing zones — by deliberately turning a blind eye to rights violations by them. 

Foreign corporations were found to be soliciting, even directly contracting, the local police and military to perform such unsavory tasks as evicting peasants and tribes people from their land; cracking down on striking factory workers; and arresting and killing peaceful protestors. All this would be done in the name of safeguarding the smooth flow of trade. 

The developed countries, where these corporations are based, are unwilling to risk their own global competitiveness for some other country's problems. Corporations, in other words, were stunting human development, rather than contributing to it. The result is that in parts of Asia, Central and South America and Africa, the promise that investment would bring greater freedom and democracy is starting to look like a cruel hoax. Rather than improved human rights flowing from increased trade, governments ignore human rights in favour of perceived trade advantages. 

In The Great Derangement, Amitav Ghosh points out that carbon emissions had always been correlated to power in all its aspects. British imperial officials understood perfectly well that maintenance of military dominance was of great importance to the empire. In all the long sorry annals of national hubris and imperial greed, it was military dominance that enabled Western capital to prevail over indigenous commerce. Ghosh writes:

The Opium War of 1839-42 was the first important conflict to be fought in the name of free trade and unfettered markets, yet, ironically, the most obvious lesson of this period is that capitalist trade and industry cannot thrive without access to military and political power.

Martha Nussbaum has talked about “leaching away sovereignty” of smaller nations in the modern world. Suppose a poor nation, country A, wishes to provide a certain level of labor support for the working poor and a certain level of environmental protection for all. But a rich nation comes along and says that they want to set up a factory in that nation but the protections are too expensive and if they are not relaxed, they will move to country B which has more lax regulations. The resultant forced changes will be called 'improving the investment climate'. So the rich nation dictates the choices and rights of the poor nation. The latter is free in name only. 

Western values like democracy, freedom, free speech, human rights, etc. are just glossy masks for corruption, intimidation and violence. (Ironically, the leaders who have rediscovered this truth and have realized that the West can be bought are Putin and Xi.) That 'free markets' are actually based on brute force is shown in a passage from The Lotus and the Olive Tree by Thomas Friedman, who is a cheerleader of the American economic model (quoted in The Web of Freedom: J. C. Kumarappa and Gandhi’s Struggle for Economic Justice):

The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist . . . McDonald's cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the US Air Force F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley's technologies to flourish is called the US Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Arundhati Roy on Gandhi - 8d

According to the utilitarian philosophy, one should promote “the greatest good of the greatest number”. Happiness is taken to mean material happiness exclusively, that is, economic prosperity. If, in the pursuit of this happiness, moral laws are violated, it does not matter much. Gandhi opposed it on moral grounds. Like Ruskin, he criticized the construction of a “science” of economics on the Newtonain model from which “social affections” had been wholly abstracted. Gandhi challenged the European claim that they alone valued truth and Indians did not. He launched a counter-critique by asserting that the European Enlightenment, by emphasizing pure reason, self-interest and the utilitarian calculus had in fact dethroned truth and morality. 

Gandhi disliked the utilitarian principle because it reduces justice to arithmetic calculations. For eg., it presumes that for the benefit of 51%, the misery of 49% is justified. It will always demand that some minority pays the price of progress. It is illustrative of an objection to modernity that Gandhi had - it reduces wisdom to instrumental rationality thereby reducing morality to self interest. This kind of thinking is shown by a policy-maker of the 1950s in a plan document. He commented that India's 'tribal brethren' were expected to make the necessary sacrifices for the future prosperity and happiness of the country (mentioned in Bonfire of Creeds). 

People just give a superficial reading of his extreme statements and conclude that he was a  Luddite or traditionalist out to preserve dying techniques at any cost. He  recognized that machinery in India was inevitable. He said in 1946, 'Today there is such an onslaught on India of Western machinery that for India to withstand it successfully would be nothing short of a miracle.' He deeply appreciated any machine which eliminated drudgery and enhanced human creativity. 'The saving of labor of the individual should be the object' of the mechanized society. (Young India, Nov. 13, 1924) Machines, he argued, become a problem when they encroach upon a person's individuality and 'cripple the limbs of man'. 

He wrote that he had a problem with the craze behind machines. It mechanized production without any regard for its wider moral and cultural consequences. He argued that it had a tendency to displace labour rather than supplement it or increase its efficiency. Another problem was that it had no internal principle of self-limit and therefore made endless growth seem possible. He could imagine a time when 'machinery' (which stood for 'technology') would 'engulf civilization'. Instead of humans controlling it, it would control humans. Thus 'machinery' was for him both a 'grand' and an 'awful' invention. It all depended on putting limits to its use so that it benefited humanity. 

As long as one's gain is limited by the effort one makes, his desire is limited. If, on the other hand, one's income is not in proportion to one's effort, there are no limitations to one's desires, since their fulfillment is a matter of opportunities offered by certain market situations, and not dependent on one's own capacities. In contrast are  those which are not rooted in bodily needs. Ambition, lust for power, and so on, which are not rooted in physiological needs of the organism have no such self-regulating mechanisms, and that is the reason why they are ever increasing and so dangerous.

Innovations in Silicon Valley trigger mass layoffs elsewhere. Kodak, in the late 1980s had 145,000 people on its payroll. In 2012, it filed for bankruptcy, while Instagram – the free online mobile photo service staffed by 13 people at the time – was sold to Facebook for $1 billion. In one sector after another the giants have grown even as the world has shrunk.  Economists call this phenomenon the “winner-take-all society.” It takes fewer and fewer people to create a successful business, meaning that when a business succeeds, fewer and fewer people benefit.

Over the course of the 20th century, productivity growth and job growth ran more or less parallel. Now, the robots have suddenly picked up the pace. It began around the year 2000, with what two MIT economists called “the great decoupling.” “It’s the great paradox of our era,” said one. “Productivity is at record levels, innovation has never been faster, and yet at the same time, we have a falling median income and we have fewer jobs.”

“We have to save capitalism from the capitalists,” Thomas Pickety wrote. This paradox is neatly summed up by an anecdote from the 1960s that I saw in Utopia for Realists by Rutger Bregman. When Henry Ford’s grandson gave labor union leader Walter Reuther a tour of the company’s new, automated factory, he jokingly asked, “Walter, how are you going to get those robots to pay your union dues?” Without missing a beat, Reuther answered, “Henry, how are you going to get them to buy your cars?”

Gandhi saw three dangers if the role of technology is not limited in modern economics: 1) The economic exploitation of the technically less advanced nations by the technically more advanced nations. 2) An economy reliant on unrestrained use of modern technology and profit motive would have an adverse effect on the environment. 3) There was a potential threat to human freedom hidden in expanding consumer choice. Instead of promotion of real freedom of choice, unrestrained use of technology was encouraging compulsive consumption of unnecessary goods. A joking US bumper sticker, ‘He who dies with the most toys wins’. He says that ‘multiplicity of material wants’ adds to the complexity of modern society. 

Gandhi was not opposed to technology per se, but believed that it should be applied to absorb labour and not produce new unemployment. He believed that the ends, as profitability from technology, cannot justify the means, as unemployment to attain prosperity; he understood that moral values must first triumph, as the ends cannot substantiate disreputable means, no matter how good the ends are. As Kurt Vonnegut says, 'A sane person to an insane society must appear insane.' Ronald Tercheck writes in Gandhi: Struggling for Autonomy:

His responsibility, as he sees it, is to teach [people] to be suspicious of some of the things they sincerely want. By exposing the costs of the new technologies, he hopes to remind his readers what they risk losing and show them that the alternatives they are ready to discard are better defenders of their autonomy.