The book is a collection of essays evolved during 1978-84 and carries a Foreword by Roger Garaudy. Garaudy says science has been separated from wisdom and means have become independent of concern for the ends. There has been hypertrophy in the use of reason in relation to cause and effect, and atrophy in its use ‘from ends to ends, from intermediate ends to higher ends’ which gave direction to life. Both aberrations have led to destruction of nature and mankind. He also says that there are no developed or undeveloped countries—these are only the sick societies and the deceived societies: and there can be no new world economic order without a new cultural order.
The author in his preface says that during his self exploration while working on seemingly unconnected areas of political psychology and culture of science, he was led from science of politics to the politics of science and from the culture of science to the global politics of cultures, within which the culture of modern science provides the very basic format of domination.
This also led him to the awareness that what we do to others, we do the same ourselves in our cognitive ventures and that part of the drive for power (over others) has to be power over self, particularly the unacceptable parts of the self.
The author’s persistent aim has been to show that the so-called real power of real-politik) is not so real power after all and that so-called unreal, inner power is not so unreal after all. In the book under review, he has endeavoured to advance the view that a theory of freedom must seriously consider and build upon the civilizational perspectives of those who, even in their defeat—have dared (i) to reject the values of masculine (i.e. power-oriented) achievement, technocratic expertise and (ii) to protect and nurture the alternative concepts of compassion, freedom, justice and dissent. The essays articulate the belief that all man-made sufferings are linked. When the victims suffer, those who impose the unjust order—the temporary winners of the world— themselves disintegrate culturally and personally.
The book consists of six essays. In the first essay on ‘Evaluating Utopias’, the author says that overly determined Utopias often yield opposite results: humanistic Utopias result in violence. Christianity, Islam, Marxism, one-world concept have all met this fate. Yet, the Utopias are essential because no culture can live with a present that does not include ‘some intimation of a vision of an ideal society mirroring a cluster of hopes and values’ and also because the gaps between the reality amid the hopes created by the vision have to become the source of cultural criticism. Each Utopia must, however, know how to have dialogues with others to enrich itself as well as others.
The author however lays down certain guidelines and conditions. There can be no question of combining the best elements of different Utopias because ‘no Utopia can integrate modules borrowed from outside its boundaries’: such integration cannot be done on purely intellectual grounds. His conditions for fruitful dialogues are as follows:
(1) Since all visions are struggling for survival, there should be an assurance from the very beginning that the purpose of dialogue is not to secure uniformity.
(2) None should claim monopoly on compassion or social realism. (3) A Utopia should be able to take criticism from other Utopias. (4) A Utopia must have the courage to liberate the Utopians from its own straitjacket (The reviewer has changed the order of conditions in his own light). It is only such dialogues that can help assessment by the Utopians themselves and give depths to their lives.
Nandy, however, warns that unless utmost care is taken the culture of the Weak often tends to be undervalued, and the culture with a developed, assertive language may dominate. As an example, he cites the dialogues between the Indian and the western worldview initiated in the nineteenth century by well intentioned Indologists. These only helped to inte¬grate India into the western worldview so much so that it became more difficult even for Indians to evaluate their own civilization in terms of an enriched Indianness. This was because the evaluation was always in terms of the political, social, intellectual and aesthetic norms of West Europe. In order to prevent such unin¬tended results, the participants must develop the capacity to listen ‘with the third ear’. The reviewer is completely in accord with these formulations.
The second essay ‘Towards A Third World Utopia’ deals with questions concerning the so-called Third World’s concepts of a decent society. In this reviewer’s opinion, the questions that come up in outlining such a concept are: What would be the social structuring? Do we want to catch up with the West and build replicas of western society? In the West’s pattern, ‘progress’ required such deployment of resources as could be met only by the pillage of three-fourths of the world: whom will the Third World countries exploit to sustain the same pat¬tern of development? Will this not mean increasing impoverishment (marginalization) of the larger number of our people? Can we ever be free from oppression from outside if we fellow the same pattern of development, which is bound to keep the larger part of ourselves oppressed? What value do we put to efficiency and immediate work productivity vis-a-vis integrity, simplicity, spontaneity and innocence (i.e, to the attributes of adulthood vis-a-vis childhood)? What value do we give to power vis-a-vis love (i.e, masculinity vis-a-vis femininity)? What would be the goal and methods of science? What would be the man-nature relationship? Would the pursuit of science be divorced from ethical considerations? Would technology continue to have absolute autonomy at the cost of man’s humanism? Should violence be met with violence? In the pursuit of truth, should reason be separated from emotions?
The author has not listed these questions but he has these in mind. In addressing these questions, he emphasizes that the oppression outside and oppression within are inseparable. Violence on others and brutalization within, too, are directly related. This is why bloody revolutions always devour their children. The ‘values’ of dictatorship get internalized, creating dictatorships within the power structures, victimizing their families and parts of themselves. The author makes the valuable point that the Third World, in its vision of liberation, must recognize ‘the oppressed and marginalized selves of the first and the second worlds as civilizational allies in the battle against institutionalized sufferings’. This is why ‘Gandhi sought to free the British as much as the Indians from the clutches of imperialism, the caste Hindu as much as the untouchables from untouchability’.
This observation can be extended to mean that the fanatics would have to be saved from the self-brutalization caused by religious hatred: and the exploiters of all shades, the practitioners of nature destructive technologies, the scientists in pursuit of Rakshasi Vidya (demonaic knowledge) have all to be saved from self brutalization. This has to be a civilizing mission. It cannot be done by national hatred, class hatred, and hatred of religions and the like. If the combat has to be real and effective, it has to be not merely on the level of economics and politics but also on the level of psychology and culture (which includes science and technology) and life style. Implicit in this is the message about Lenin’s error in seeking to catch up with the West in the latter’s life style and standard of living and about Nehru’s error in the later period in seeking ‘modernism’ the western way, which can only lead to ‘tragi-comic version’ of the western society with its cluster values.
Ashis Nandy has discussed in depth three processes which give ‘structured oppression its resilience’. This reviewer would like to make reference to only one—the process which turns the victims into ‘willing participants in the oppressive system’. The victims internalize the norms and worldview of the oppressor. The internees in extermination camps—and the ranks of the police and the army who are tantalized to ‘willingly socialize themselves into a violent, empty life style’—all fall under this process. This process has not only its declared targets but also its dehumanized cogs.
Despite these processes which tend to prolong oppression, there is a redeeming feature, the author points out. Many major civilizations in the Third World have protected a culture which has refused to think in terms of clearly dichotomous terms. It was this trait which was once a source of cultural embarrassment to the western and their imitating modernists in the neo-colonies, ‘may have already been a reason for hope’. The author has just mentioned this though there was need and scope for its exposition at much greater length.
Civilizations whose accent is on power would no doubt view masculinity as superior to feminity, opt for hard (nature conquering) technology and put a premium on efficiency and immediate work productivity. Seduced by their current economic, military and political powers, many elements in postcolonial India and elsewhere, have been laying lopsided emphasis on hyper-masculinity (martial ardour) as the core value. The author has pointed to the superiority of Gandhian response. To see masculinity (power drive) at par with feminity (love instinct) and to transcend both by ‘bi-sexuality’ or ‘trans-sexuality’ which corresponds to the Ardhanarishwar concept in the Hindu mythology. Or to view feminity (love element) as superior to masculinity. Males, capable of loving as .mothers, can subvert the values of rapacious civilizations. Women, too, would need to develop the qualities of trans-sexuality by combining love and strength. But if they merely fight for equality with males in terms of power, work productivity, control, etc., they would be paying ‘homage to masculinity principle’ and perpetuate its dominance.
The author points out rightly so that the deterministic concept of history (i.e., unalterable past moving inexorably to a definite kind of future) too, can be oppressive. Even though this came to be popularized to strengthen humanistic hopes, it can also be a tyranny. It hinders people with visions of new patterns of society which have no precedent in history.
The author is at his perceptive best when he says that there can be different patterns of civilizations but each has to be authentic to itself and that this authenticity depends on (i) the ability to interpret and re-interpret one’s own tradition; (ii) the ability to involve the off-recessive elements of other civilizations as allies in one’s struggle for cultural self-discovery; (iii) the willingness to become allies to other civilizations trying to discover their other faces: and (iv) the skills to give more centrality to the new readings of civilizations and civilizational concerns. The author would have, however, done well to elaborate how vastly different the new readings could be from the old readings of civilizational concerns and what great difference it could make to the opening up of new vistas.
It also needs to be noted that the statement on page 52 that ‘the gaps between privileged and the underprivileged of the world are mostly notional’ is a misleading expression. Although it is true that many of the materially poor in the Third World countries enjoy blisses which are the envy of the rich in the so-called first and second worlds, the advantages and disadvantages of both groups are of different kinds. Without specifying who is better placed in what respect, just to use a blanket expression that ‘the gaps are notional’ is erroneous.
In the chapter on ‘Reconstructing children’ the central theme is that childhood needs to be viewed as a wholeness in itself and not inferior to a mere preparation for adulthood. The author points out, correctly, that a child is appreciated when he or she is least genuinely a child, i.e, when he or she meets the adults’ concept of a good child, and (ii) that the children become guinea-pigs for the adults’ experimentation for a compromise with the cultures that have encroached upon the traditional life-style. Then, the author proceeds to say that the children are made to satisfy the elders’ needs for achievement, power and self esteem. Undoubtedly, such phenomena are visible. But it is possibly not correct to treat it as a near-universal phenomenon. More often, the parent, in his or her concern for the future of the child in material terms, seeks to give the child western type of education and grafts the child to the values of the dominant culture. In which case, the child becomes ignorant in everything except the three ‘Rs. And the more education a youth receives, the more ignorant he or she becomes about most things. For education today means utmost information in a narrow specialty and blankness in everything else. The greater cause of child or youth dissipation lies here.
The two chapters on ‘the traditions of technology’ and science, authoritarianism and culture’ arc interconnected. Many people believe that more of ‘modern’ science and technology will bring prosperity. These chapters seek to prove that these are disastrous. The reviewer agrees with the author. Traditional technology, which is in harmony with the environment and is embedded in the psycho-ecology of the community gives a better base to build upon. The so-called modern technology is inherently ‘over organized, exploitative, regimenting, dependency promoting’. It promotes hegemonism. Its cultural implication is that a particular type of ‘rationality’ trust have primacy over compassion, freedom and participating democracy’ and. yet it has become a major bastion of irrationality. The author has dealt with the issues on a quasi-theoretical plane. It requires copious examples from each aspect of life to prove its disastrous consequences. This reviewer, during his long wanderings through the high energy, high tech fields, came to be convinced that the so-called modern technology can never and nowhere liberate the masses. It is only through technologies based on renewable energies and biological resources which nobody can corner that people can find their freedom. The reviewer is aware that in Karl Marx’s life time, the destructive potential of modern science and modern technology was not discernible: only its progressive anti-theological potential could be seen. That is why Marx while challenging the concepts of philosophy, history and economics, did not challenge the ruling philosophy and methods of science and technology. This created a blind spot in his followers which prevents mankind from realizing his dreams of ‘leaping into freedom’.
Modern science is guided by the philosophy of mechanomorphism. For every problem it seeks a mechanical solution. Its very method obliges it to this approach. The mechanistic solution is accessible to only the rich. It dislodges increasingly large parts of the population from opportunities. Hence it is loaded with elitist values. The author did well to point out that there are many who cling to the erroneous belief that the context of science is wrong but the text is right (i.e. the application and the applier are wrong but the content is right). Such notions need to be dispelled for modern science leads to the suppression of biological sciences and environmental resources oft which depends the welfare of mankind.
Then, modern science separates emotions and makes instrumental use of isolated rationality. The blindness that this creates has been admirably explained by the author and it bears quotation: ‘As a corrective, he (Bertrand Russell) wanted reason and love, not isolated reason. Yet, in his system, reason had intrinsic legitimacy, love had not. Love had to be reasoned love; reason did not have to be feeling reason. He wanted love and reason, not love in reason.’
The author has done well to point out that it is sheer hypocrisy to pretend that ‘modern’ science and ‘modern’ technology are ill-suited for the Third World countries but not so far other countries. These are disastrous for all. The reviewer would like to add that the temperate countries have much greater cushion; hence it took a much longer time to reveal their destructive character there.
The last essay ‘From Outside the Imperium: Gandhi’s Cultural Critique of the West’ is brilliant. Space does not permit a reference to its salient points. I would recommend its widest possible reading.
In spite of its many merits, the last part of the book may remain incomprehensible to the reader. There are numerous words which are familiar to only trained psychologists. A glossary should have been added for the readers’ convenience. There are numerous references to other writers, with footnotes about the title of the book, page numbers, etc., but a few lines about the referee’ premises or conclusions could have been helpful. In scholarly treatises, short-hand expressions are unavoidable but when the author goes on a spree in its unbridled use it be¬comes heavily taxing. The author has, throughout the book, given a higher value to love. I suggest that he should make a choice between abstruse, overly scholastic language and love for the reader. The book has many valuable messages. He would have been more successful if he had cultivated the language of the heart and given yet more attention to analyses and example from life and the non-specialist reader than to bare facts.
S.N. Ghosh is a former Director, Bureau of Petroleum and Chemical Studies, New Delhi; a pioneering specialist in environment and energy studies.