A Critique of Modern Civilisation and Globalisation (original text of the talk delivered on 13th April 2017 at RMRL, Chennai)
Roja Muthiah Library, Chennai
Professor Ananda Krishnan Special Endowment Lecture
‘A CRITIQUE OF MODERN CIVILISATION AND GLOBALISATION’*
Address delivered by
On 13th April 2017 at Roja Muthiah Library
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Scholars, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is great privilege for me to talk at Professor Ananda Krishnan’s special endowment lecture, organized by the Roja Muthiah Library, Chennai. I intend to make use of this opportunity to critique what is today known as the modern or western civilization. This civilization and its system of power had spread across the world in a big way since the sixteenth century. Today, much of the world has in one way or the other adopted many features of this civilization or are moving towards it.
The Portuguese were the first to take this civilization across the seas. They were followed by the Dutch, Danes, English and the French. Wherever they went they also took Christianity with them. European priests and missionaries went hand in hand with the colonizers and invaders, sponsored by the western monarchs and the Pope. During the period of colonization of the world by the western States, capitalism saw its birth when the industrial revolution was taking place in Europe some two centuries ago. Capitalism is not the invention of the Indians or the Chinese or the Africans or the Red Indians. We have had capitalism and capitalists with us for the past two centuries or so. They have shaped and influenced modern civilization to a great extent. Both capitalism and Christianity and its relationship with the State are fundamental to western civilization. The later reactions to Christianity and to capitalism in the west are also parts of western civilization or an emanation of it.
Western civilization has a long past. It did not come about all of a sudden. It had undergone many influences. Many historians and philosophers think that the ancient Greek and Roman civilizations were the progenitors of western civilization. Westerners think that Greece was the cradle of democracy, which is a core political value or idea of western or modern civilization today. But Greek civilization is also known for the brutal wars in which thousands were killed. Their mythologies and history are a reflection of that.
The Greek city-states were annexed by the Romans in the course of time. They too had some great writers and thinkers like Cicero. They spawned the idea of the Republic. Rome is however known to us for its force and power.
Rome seems to be the birthplace of the ‘Coliseum’ culture. Coliseum was the arena in Rome where animals fought each other ferociously until death. Later humans fought each other as well as ferocious animals until death, while the plebeians and the powerful watched the fight with glee. The Roman competitive spirit seems to have very much permeated European mind and western culture, to the point that competition has become a core value of western and modern civilization in every field.
In the beginning Romans and Greeks were idolaters. But later they succumbed to Christianity, a faith initially founded by Jews, in the name of Jesus Christ. In the fourth century A.D. the Roman Emperor Constantine waged a war against his enemies in which thousands were slaughtered. Constantine won the war, thanks to Jesus Christ’s intervention in Constantine’s dream. He converted immediately to Christianity. Following him the whole of Europe and Byzantine converted to Christianity. The foundation for Christianity in Europe has been laid on the blood of the ‘pagans’, slaughtered by Constantine’s forces, though Jesus Christ himself in whose name Christianity was founded had never resorted to violence and killing as far as we know. Force and violence, war and killing had played a fundamental role in the expansion of Christianity from the period of Constantine onwards. This is a historical fact. Since then Christianity and its ideas, beliefs and values which are not facts like the law of gravity, became part and parcel of western civilization.
But in the seventh century Arab/Islamic armies overran territories to the east and west of the Middle-East, with great ferocity. Persia was subjugated. Muslim armies reached India and China in the east. In the west, they conquered the whole of North Africa and made their entry into Portugal and Spain. Christianity lost much ground during this period onwards.
However, the capture of Constantinople, the seat of the Byzantine Empire by the Islamised Turks in 1453 sent panic waves into Europe once again. This was a traumatic event for the European monarchs, the Pope and the Roman Catholic establishment. This event signaled the beginning of a new age in Europe called Renaissance. It was during this period that a conspicuous trading class was fast emerging in Western Europe, though the dominance of the landed aristocracy and the clergy was still the norm.
Muslims were pushed out of Western Europe by the end of the fifteenth century. The monarchs of Portugal and Spain realised nevertheless that they were not in position to take on the Turks and the Arabs who still controlled the land route to India and the East. This naturally pushed them into the ocean to find a sea route to India. The Pope became very much enthusiastic about the ventures of Portugal and Spain. Through a series of papal bulls, the Pope assumed the sovereignty of the earth. The papal bull of 1452 granted the King of Portugal the right to attack, conquer, convert or subdue the Moors, pagans and other unbelievers, to capture their goods and territories, to reduce their persons to perpetual slavery and to transfer their lands and properties to the king of Portugal. The Portuguese thus became the first European nation to indulge in the ignominious slave trade, with the sanction of the Pope and the royalty. Other Europeans like the French too indulged in it.
At the same time, Christopher Columbus sponsored by the Spanish king to find a sea route to India stumbled upon America in 1492. He indulged in some of the most heinous crimes against the indigenous peoples of America. Subsequently the Pope promulgated another Bull by which he divided the non-Christian world between the Portuguese and the Spaniards. The former was to have Brazil and Africa and all lands in the east, while the latter would have the lands in the west, except Brazil.
At this juncture, it is worthwhile to note that the Indian Ocean region and generally the East was a region where free trade was the norm, subject to the payment of some duties, and where peace prevailed to a great extent since several centuries.
The expedition of Vasco da Gama to India was a well-planned one. In this venture he had the full backing of the Portuguese royalty, the Pope and the Roman Catholic establishment. Out of the four ships in which Vasco da Gama and his men travelled in July 1997, three were actually sloops of war, built with iron nails and bolts, with at least twenty guns mounted on them. There were only about 170 men in these ships.
Vasco da Gama himself had taken the solemn oath before King Manuel of Portugal that they would proclaim the faith in Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God and wrest wealth and fame by the force of arms from the hands of the ‘barbarians, Moors, pagans and other races.’ Armed with the Papal Bulls and the sanction of the royalty, Vasco da Gama and his men set out from Lisbon in a completely religious atmosphere, with the intention to vanquish and conquer. Thus it is quite obvious that Vasco da Gama’s ‘holy’ expedition to India was never intended to be a peaceful mission. Besides, the entire expedition had a strong religious, racial and civilisational dimension. The Portuguese were civilised while the others - non-Europeans like the Africans, Indians and Arabs were ‘barbarians’, who needed to be subjected by the force of their arms.
When Vasco da Gama arrived in India, he went straight to Calicut, the leading port and trade Centre on the Malabar Coast. The King of Calicut welcomed Vasco da Gama and his men with open arms in great pomp and splendour and paid the usual courtesies due to a foreign dignitary. But Vasco da Gama suspicious and over-cautious right from the beginning very soon ended up committing a diplomatic blunder of the first order when he gave the king who was used to receiving costly gifts like gold and silk from foreign dignitaries like the Chinese Cheng Ho and the Persian ambassador Abd-er-Razak, some cheap gifts consisting of hats, hoods, striped cloth, some sugar, oil and honey, which could be had from the local market itself. The Zamorin as well as his principal merchants who were Muslims were highly displeased with the condescending attitude of Vasco Da Gama.
On his return to Portugal, Vasco da Gama relayed all information concerning Malabar and the influence of the Muslim merchants in the region to the Portuguese king and the Roman Catholic Church. We know the consequences that followed, which had been fairly well documented.
The Portuguese king sent fleet after fleet into the Indian Ocean and to Malabar. Thus the Indian Ocean and the Eastern waters which was a zone of free trade and peace since several centuries, became an arena of conflict, tension and violence, within a few years after the Portuguese reached Malabar by the Oceanic route. This had a telling effect on the political and economic power of the Asians. Goa became the headquarters of the Portuguese in India and Asia.
The Portuguese did not have the numbers and material means to invade and acquire more territories in India. But they had sufficient means to hold on to their coastal forts and territories. Besides with superior arms and ships at their disposal, they exercised a certain dominance of the high seas, which was enough to bring down Asian trade in the Indian Ocean region. The Portuguese actually utilised local rivalries to their advantage. Other Europeans followed the Portuguese in this respect.
In order to offset their numerical disadvantage, it was also the policy of the Portuguese to resort to ‘calculated racial cross-breeding or ‘deliberate miscegenation’ all along the African and Indian coasts and create Christian populations of mixed descent, who were expected to be loyal to the Portuguese, Christian and Western values. Miscegenation was not a Portuguese monopoly. The Spanish and later the French were great adepts of it.
They have created races of mixed breed all over in their colonies the world over so that they can be mobilized easily to toe their own way of life, values and notions of progress. They were (and probably still are) past masters in destroying the racial and cultural identities of whole peoples, in order to uphold their own superiority and the superiority of their own values and cultures. All this heralded the colonial subjugation of India and much of the eastern and western worlds. The Roman Catholic Church and the Portuguese royal establishment, not to speak of the Spanish, English and the French monarchs were the prime inspirers, instigators and initiators of this subjugation. Men like Vasco da Gama and Dupleix, Pizarro and Robert Clive were tools in their hands. Unlike the Chinese, the Portuguese, the Spanish, the French and other Europeans had a different agenda, which involved not just colonisation of other people’s lands by the force of their arms, but also impose their values, ideologies, religion and civilisation upon others of darker races in the course of time and monopolise trade in the region, without ever snapping their ties with their original homelands from where they were remote-controlled.
The violence unleashed by the Portuguese, the Spaniards and the other Europeans who followed them had no parallel in the eastern and western oceans and coasts. Vasco da Gama and Columbus had personally indulged in some of the most heinous violence and atrocities against the indigenous peoples in Asia and the Americas. These are all recorded facts of history and were the foundation stones of western colonization and civilization.
In the light of these facts, Vasco da Gama and Columbus can be rightly deemed as the inaugurators of the gun-boat trade and politics in the world. They and their successors used unbridled violence to terrorise the Asians as well as the Red Indians to enslave them and make them bend to their wishes. The heinous crimes committed by Vasco da Gama, Columbus and their successors were clearly cases of crime against humanity, due to the number of people they have massacred, subjugated and eliminated. The Portuguese and Spanish royal establishments especially and the Roman Catholic church need to bear responsibility for these crimes, for it was they who had sponsored Vasco Da Gama, Colombus and their men. Even early French thinkers and humanists like Montaigne regretted the atrocities committed by the Europeans in the Americas, robbing the Red Indians of their wealth, natural resources and country.
Apart from tending to monopolise trade in the region, the Portuguese and the Spaniards had also been vested by the Pope with the mission to propagate Christianity, which was a central part of European or western civilisation. This they did to the best of their ability by using all means including persuasion and violence and mass killings.
Scholars and specialists of the expansion of Christianity like D’Sa and KS.Latourette, and others like F.C. Danver and C.R.Boxer have documented in their works many details of the Portuguese and Spanish atrocities around the world. K.S.Latourette concluded that the Portuguese were ‘guilty of unspeakable acts of cruelty and barbarism’.
The Indian Malabar historian, Sheikh Zainuddin of the sixteenth century, accused the Portuguese of great moral depravity and irreligiousness, indulging in things contrary to the Christian values and religion. He had also documented in detail Portuguese atrocities in India. The situation was no different in the Americas where the Spanish colonisers and missionaries demolished the temples of the Red Indians and imposed their own culture and religion and even language on the hapless people in the most brutal manner.
The other Europeans like the Dutch, English and the French who came to Asia, Africa and the Americas after the Portuguese and the Spaniards actually followed the footsteps of the latter in their dealings with the Asians and the Red Indians and colonised the whole Indian sub-continent and much of the eastern world and the Americas by the end of the eighteenth century. These atrocities and colonization occurred when the industrial revolution was taking place in Europe and capitalism and the machine-based economy together with a rising bourgeoisie was gaining more and more ground in Europe in the political and economic fields, at the expense of the feudal aristocracy and the clergy. Naturally, they gradually imposed their new values, ideas and ideologies which saw the light due to industrialization and capitalism, on the colonized people.
Besides, scholars should also think about the atrocities perpetrated by the Portuguese, Spaniards, English and the French in Africa due to the discovery of the Red Indian continent. Millions of Africans were transported as slaves across the Atlantic to America to toil in the lands plundered from the Red Indians. Many thousands or millions died on account of this. It is not right on the part of scholars to gloss over these atrocities, which are irrefutable historical facts and not some mechanistic forms of comparative history or cultural exoticism. They were the outcome of Vasco da Gama coming to India and Columbus discovering America. In the face of these facts, it is completely out of step to talk about “connected histories” like Sanjay Subrahmanyam when it is clear as crystal that the history of colonisation and European expansion in the world had all the trappings of “confrontational history”, which inaugurated a new era of clash of civilisations. The Europeans had laid the foundation for this confrontation, which resulted in a violent and unequal relationship between the Europeans and the peoples of India, Asia, Africa and the Americas right from the beginning.
This confrontational culture and clash of civilizations even gained a certain dubious scientific and philosophical legitimacy in the year 1859, with the publication of Charles Darwin’s highly controversial speculative theory of evolution related to the origin of life and the human species from some primordial chemical soup through a struggle for existence and the survival of the fittest. Darwin seems to have even thought that the ‘civilised’ Europeans were the fittest of all to survive and the ‘uncivilised’ and ‘savage’ races were bound to vanish in the struggle for life probably in some strange contrived post-modern chemical ‘melting pot’. Some thought that slavery and colonialism that started with the Portuguese were parts of this struggle and therefore justified. Many European philosophers, anthropologists and ethnologists like Levi Strauss found Darwin’s assertions as scientific and more or less followed Darwin’s way of thinking and philosophy. If we follow Darwin’s logics, European civilisation and values, which are considered as modern, has to triumph ultimately at the expense of all other civilisations and values. This was even considered as inevitable to the progress of humanity by many European thinkers. It is therefore not surprising to note today some scholars like Francis Fukuyama asserting that man has already reached the end of history and the final destiny of man has already arrived. In other words, it is the culmination of an era that was inaugurated by Vasco da Gama and Columbus in the fifteenth century.
Recently, the noted American political scientist Samuel Huntington had put forward the theory that the world had entered into an era of ‘Clash of Civilisations’ with the demise of the Soviet Union. He asserted that future conflicts will be cultural and ethnic and not ideological as according to him capitalism which is an intrinsic part of western civilization had triumphed over Communism, which was also born in the west, as a reaction to capitalism. But in the light of what I have pointed out, the world had entered a new era of ‘Clash of Civilisations’ right from the time Vasco da Gama stepped into India and Columbus discovered America. This clash continued during the colonial period when the civilisation of the coloniser had the upper hand over the civilisation of the colonised and the values and ideologies of the coloniser in the political, economic and cultural fields were imposed upon the colonised. Samuel Huntington has failed to recognise adequately the fact that this new era of Clash of Civilisations had its origin long before in the fifteenth century. The word ‘civilisation’ in my opinion involves all aspects of life and existence of a particular group of people at the political, religious, economic, cultural and ideological levels, unlike Huntington who tends to give it a cultural and ethnic meaning.
Generally the western colonisers acquired an upper hand on the colonised, as far as I could see not because of their values or way of life, which they nevertheless sought to impose on others, but because of the sophisticated and superior arms and ammunitions that they possessed, especially in the form of guns and cannons. This has also been noted by Irfan habib. If they acquired a foothold in Asia and in the Americas, in spite of their limited numbers, it was solely because of the arms that they had at their disposal and the better developed navigation vessels which were literally warships, fitted with bronze cannons and guns with which they could dominate ruthlessly the high seas and with which they could bombard and raze to the ground any coastal town, as it was the case with Calicut in 1502. It was this domination and power by the force of superior arms, capable of exterminating hundreds of people in one blow, which accounts largely for the greatness of Vasco da Gama, Columbus, Dupleix, Clive and their successors and not because of their values or their intentions to trade or their navigational exploits, as it is made out to be generally by many modern historians.
No other nation before the Portuguese and Spaniards had disrupted trade or had monopolised trade or had tried to monopolise trade in the Indian Ocean region and the Pacific region. The Portuguese and Spaniards were followed by other west European nations like Denmark, Holland, England and France, who too had acquired more and more sophisticated arms and ammunitions and ocean-going vessels and warships. By the force of their arms and warships, they were powerful, though their nations were limited in size and numbers. With the help of their arms and warships they could impose their will not only in the Indian Ocean region and the Americas and colonise and subjugate various and vast parts of the world and its people. Samuel Huntington himself had admitted that the west won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion, but rather by its superiority in applying organised violence. It would be ridiculous to maintain that the Europeans conquered and subjugated the world with their values and ideas. These values and ideas, which are not absolute scientific facts, came later. The arms, the cannonading and bombardment, the killing and the massacres came first. The values and ideas came later to justify their actions and prolong their power and domination.
Colonisation had actually and literally become a dignified term for ‘slavery’, after the abolition of slavery. Colonisation itself possessed all the traits of globalization at the economic and political levels, of which capitalism is an intrinsic part.
Capitalism is actually a dominant part of western civilization and culture as it was born in Western Europe where the capitalists by first controlling the means of production and the produce reduced a vast number of people to the status of workers. This civilization had naturally spread to India or struck root in India and the rest of the world during the colonial period. The colonizers with the concurrence of their capitalists exploited the natural resources and raw materials of the colonized countries which in turn became a steady market for the goods industrially produced in Europe.
Capitalism is not just an economic phenomenon. It has also a political and cultural side to it, in which it thrives. It generates its own permissive culture, in the place of other cultures or in opposition to other cultures. It is actually a whole way of life which is the western or modern way of life. This way of life is fundamentally violent and aggressive as it is based on Darwinian theories of competition and the selection of the fittest in every field.
Western culture and capitalism is almost inseparable. It is sheer naivety to oppose western culture without first getting rid of capitalism, which is in essence the concentration of power in the hands of the few and their political allies and the subordination of the vast mass of people to them, on a hierarchical and unequal basis. This subordination which is another improved version of slavery, as coercion and compulsion is involved in it, is generally masked or hidden by the general term ‘progress’ as well as by the massive entertainment industry like television, internet, sports, cinema, art and culture, which lulls the people into complacency and divert their attention from the prevailing inequalities and injustices.
Even sex, which is the fountain-head of life, has been reduced to a pleasure industry and entertainment by the capitalists and their protagonists in the western countries, in the name of freedom, art and so on. Many others have also taken to viewing sex as an instrument of pleasure above all under western influence. Sex and women especially had been vulgarized and downgraded to the status of a commercial commodity by the capitalists so that a good number of people have found an outlet in it to give vent to their desires and frustrations, while many others resort to traditional outlets like religion.
It is quite astonishing to note that the Asian historian Sheikh Zainuddin living in the late sixteenth century had understood perfectly well the inseparability of European culture and their monopolist economics when he chose to oppose both tooth and nail in his Arabic work. He condemned not only European permissiveness and moral depravity, under cover of Christianity, but also their extremely violent and inhuman streak in order to impose their economic and political domination over the people of Asia. He was the first to envisage through his work a clash of civilizations unfolding between the Europeans or westerners and the rest of the world.
In 1909 in Hind Swaraj, Mahatma Gandhi using the words of Prophet Mohammad called this civilisation as the ‘Satanic Civilisation’. But this ‘Satanic civilisation’ of Gandhi, where people were divided hierarchically on class lines, did not end with the departure of the colonialists from India and elsewhere as we know. Even Gandhi who qualified the western civilization as the ‘Satanic civilization’, never opposed the capitalist system and the power structure or the State put in place by the colonisers, though he pointed out some of its defects and misdeeds. He was glad even to take the support of ‘brown’ capitalists in his quest for Indian independence. As a result, though political freedom has been won from the ‘white’ colonizers in India and in many other countries of the world, it is quite clear that people have not won freedom from class divisions, poverty and inequality, the divisions between the haves and have-nots, the divisions between the workers and the industrialists/capitalists and the injustices arising out of these divisions. The western or home-grown capitalists play a crucial role in fostering these unnatural divisions and inequality between human beings in India and all over the world.
The present ‘globalisation’ offensive, launched mainly by capitalist interests of the west and their power-wielding allies, associates and protagonists around the world, is a sequel to the colonialist offensive of yesteryears. This western offensive is not just economic, but also political and cultural. The launchers, driven most certainly by the pathology of the urge to dominate, seem to assume that they know better than the vast diverse multitude of more than seven billion human beings about what is good for every single man or woman on this earth and how they should behave or evolve. They go about preaching or imposing their values, way of life and ideas, which they think is right and reasonable on the others who do not share their views, through propaganda, persuasion, arguments, force, coercion, technology, economic power, legislation, international organisations and the numbers game, destroying in the process all individual and collective creativity, intelligence and freedom as well as the natural diversity of the human race and wisdom, in favour of a single, monotonous, narrow and coercive political, economic and cultural system. This strait-jacket system, fashioned by power-hungry megalomaniacs, has reduced humanity into just two blatantly and profoundly unequal categories viz., a handful of capitalists and their powerful elite allies on the top and an overwhelming huge mass of graded salaried and toiling classes below them, both held together by the same coercive political ideology. This is considered by the globalists, who aim for indefinite global control over the lives of all human beings, as the ultimate ‘progress’ that man can achieve, beyond which they believe that there is nothing, except probably going to the moon and other planets.
The capitalist idea and the democratic system of power by its very nature and competitive structure is the generator of inequality, corruption and unethical behavior. Both are inseparable. They do not care if one believes in One God or in ten thousand gods. They do not care if one sleeps with one woman or man or with ten women or men or with no one. Capitalism like colonization earlier is commerce. In commerce, you do not generally worry about the identity, history, religion or tradition of those with whom you are dealing with, except in some individual cases. Your only objective is to make profits and extract the maximum advantage for yourself in any transaction.
There is no capitalism without industrialisation. But it is a historical fact that capitalism and mindless industrialization has caused the destruction of the environment in just about two hundred years of its existence. It has wiped out forests from the face of this earth to a great extent. It has exterminated plant species more than ever before. Bees and insects are disappearing. Animals which roamed the forests freely since time immemorial have been enclosed in sanctuaries and zoos to protect them from human predators. Many animal species have been wiped out or are on the verge of extinction. Elephants are hunted and massacred for their ivory. Rhinoceroses are killed for their horns. Birds are unable to live their normal lives. Concrete cities have driven the birds out and many bird species have ceased to exist or are on the way out. Sparrows are becoming rarer. The oceans are polluted. Fishes can no more survive in freedom in the polluted ocean waters and due to excessive fishing. Half of the aquatic species have already disappeared and others are on the way of extinction. All this terrible destruction has taken place within a space of just two centuries or so of the existence of capitalism and industrialization and the modern life style generated by them.
Industrialization has caused immense pollution of the air. It is no more possible to breathe a healthy air in cities. People go about in cities wearing masks to protect themselves from pollution. The river waters and the very soil of the earth are polluted, with chemicals and pesticides. Water levels of the oceans are rising and swallowing many low lying lands around the earth. Islands and coastal areas are disappearing. Glaciers that have never melted for more than two thousand years are melting now due to climatic change caused by the capitalists and the capitalistic life style induced by them and the heating up of the earth’s atmosphere due to mindless industrialization. The Poles are losing their ice mass, threatening the very existence of species that had lived there since the beginning of times like the polar bears. There are more and more droughts and forest fires in various parts of the world. On the other hand floods are devastating more than ever before the lives of the people and their properties the world over. The heat on the surface of the earth has become more and more unbearable. The rivers that are fed by glaciers run the risk of going dry due to excessive heat that can result in acute water scarcity in many parts of the world. Capitalists, industrialists and their protagonists are responsible for all this devastation and continuous destruction. The price which we are paying for man’s progress, is apparently much more than the so-called technological ‘progress’ that we have achieved since the past two hundred years. Why should all other living beings sacrifice their lives for the so-called ‘progress’ of man? Why should nature be violated constantly for man to progress?
‘Progress’ and science which were supposed to cure all diseases have ended up in the multiplication of diseases. In spite of more and more sophisticated instruments and medicines, doctors are unable to stop diseases, old age and death. Hospitals are overflowing with sick people. The scientists have no answer to diseases, old age and death, which are still the fundamental problems of man. They and their sponsors promise heaven in a distant future in the planets like Mars and so on. But down upon earth, they have made human beings live in over-crowded often polluted cities, while the vast countryside is short of people or empty of them. They call this over-crowding in cities as ‘progress’. From the cities they think of moving human beings to distant planets, as they say there is not enough place for all human beings on this earth. Therefore they assert they have to colonise other planets and they spend billions over it. Here once again they are in competition with one another and they call it the space race. They are even militarizing space, with their bombs and missiles. They have even converted space as a garbage dump where debris keeps floating dangerously with no end in sight. There is great potential for conflict with one another in space that can end up in more killings and deaths. They do not have the heart to feed the hungry man in Africa or anywhere else upon this earth and treat them as their equals, but they want to spend billions to go to other planets for the benefit of the entire humanity, they say.
The modern scientists cannot solve the fundamental problems of man. Neither can the politicians, who function with ideas, that are associated with power, do it. The priests, who too function with ideas associated with power, have not done it either. Living some years more than before with medicinal help is good. Living a life with more comforts is also good. Modern technology provides for that. But this has not solved the fundamental human problems. Inequality between human beings has widened more than ever before. Poverty is rampant even in the ‘so-called- most advanced capitalist countries. Some live in huge palaces while many others live in cramped dwellings and tenements and spend their entire lives in one or two rooms or huts. Millions have become refugees due to the capitalist way of life. They drown by thousands in the oceans trying to cross over to the so-called rich nations.
But the hollow talk on equality and human rights is kept up. All talks on equality are just diversions that mask the fundamental inequality prevailing in the society at the economic level between human beings. Whole mass of people are condemned to work forty or fifty years of their life to bring about the so-called ‘progress’ of man and sustain the unequal hierarchical social system put in place by the capitalists and their political protagonists.
Where there is compulsion and coercion to work in any form, labour can only be viewed as the clanking of chains singing the grim song of ‘progress’, though the worker might derive certain meagre benefits and comforts out of it. We know that slavery in whatever form was not human at all. But at least before the period of colonization we knew what slavery was for it was a recognized institution. But today the power system in place have condemned and compelled a great majority of the mankind, except for some privileged, to work in one way or the other from morning till evening all their lives for their livelihood until they can no more work or they are worn out or dead. The protagonists of the idea of ‘progress’ call this as ‘liberty’ and ‘liberty to work’. They do not think that it is a form of slavery or rather paid slavery, as coercion and compulsion and the domination of one by the other is involved in it.
But capitalism and capitalists and their protagonists do not care. Their overriding interest is to make profits, with the intention of dominating the other. It is sheer naivety and ignorance and a monstrous lie to think or continue to think and make others think that one can reform the capitalist system and make it more human and egalitarian. It has not happened anywhere in the world since the birth and evolution of capitalism as the core of western or modern culture and civilization some two hundred years ago.
The capitalist system is a violent system. Any other system born out of it or as a reaction to it must also be violent. Marx has rightly foreseen it. It cannot be otherwise, as power is concentrated in the hands of a few in all cases. There is no such thing as a peaceful system because of the prevalence of coercion and compulsion at various levels in the structure of these systems. That is why there is so much tension within the societies operating within these systems and also between the nations which have adopted these systems in one way or the other.
If one takes a look back into history since the fifteenth century i.e. since the expansion of west Europeans across the world, it is quite easy to notice for even a casual observer, the innumerable wars and conflicts in which they were embroiled since then and also since the birth and expansion of industrialization and capitalism in Europe. They had most certainly killed, subjugated colonized and conquered more people around the world than any other people since the beginning of times. The capitalist ideas, values and systems, centred on the notion of private property and the political and ideological frameworks within which they function needs force to sustain it, as they have been by and large imposed upon the society through force and coercion or persuasion by powerful elite people. They are not the result of a natural flowering or something born out of genuine mutual cooperation and understanding between human beings.
As noted earlier by Samuel Huntington and as pointed out by me with regard to the Portuguese and Spaniards, the expansion of Europeans and western civilization across the world was not just due to their values, ideologies, beliefs, or laws, but it was because of their superiority in applying organized violence upon others with the help of their sophisticated arms and ammunitions which were and are being constantly updated with the purpose of killing maximum number of people. Today the situation is not very different.
They still want to maintain, spread and propagate their values, beliefs and ideologies in the political, cultural, economic and religious fields over the rest of the world. The modern values, beliefs, ideas and ideologies are generally not based on scientific verifiable facts like the law of gravity. They are actually non-factual. They are built upon non-facts like the notion of private property or the nation, which does not actually exist factually like the sun and the moon.
We cannot clash over facts like the law of gravity, unless we are totally ignorant or mentally deficient. But clashes have been happening since the beginning of times on the basis of abstract non-facts or ideas. This is not my invention. Anybody can notice this if he takes the care to look back into the past. As long as we deal with abstract non-facts, there is bound to be contradiction, tension and conflict in our lives. Modern values and ideas are mostly and essentially based on abstract non-facts or ideas.
A fact like the law of gravity is independent of the opinions of people. One cannot change this scientific fact through the numbers game or the notion of liberty or the democratic circus. It is not subject to any such human notions. If the law of gravity takes the liberty not to function according to the law, we may not exist. But abstract non-facts like the belief in monarchy or private property or in capitalism, based on competition or in nation or caste or democracy are not independent of opinions. That is why there is never-ending contradiction, tension and conflict in our lives because we deal most of the time with non-facts, which are nothing but abstract ideas born out of our minds, which can never be translated into concrete observable scientific realities like the law of gravity. We can never solve human problems with abstract ideas. The notions of private property, nation, caste and so on have never solved any fundamental human problems. They have caused the death of millions of people and have created perpetual tensions and conflicts. But our modern civilization and capitalistic way of life are mostly based on such abstract notions.
The human brain knows how to deal with facts. But it is in a quandary when it has to deal with non-facts and ideas, not rooted in reality. The result of all this is never-ending confusion and conflict since the past two thousand years or more. As our modern globalized civilization and ideas are essentially based on non-facts, one can be sure that this conflict and confusion will continue for another two thousand years and more.
A Critique of Modern Civilisation and Globalisation (original text of the talk delivered on 13th April 2017 at RMRL, Chennai)
Roja Muthiah Library, ChennaiProfessor Ananda Krishnan Special Endowment Lecture ‘A CRITIQUE OF MODERN CIVILISATION