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|Cultures and Development
There are more than three hundred anthropological definitions of culture referring to various aspects of human life. Development originally stood for lineal progress, growth, advancement, increase of income and a right to gain it or an improvement in the quality of life as a consequence of one’s achievement. Unesco has redefined both terms to provide the framework for the concept of the cultural dimension of development.1
Along with development the word ‘culture’ is used in several different connections such as cultural development, cultural dimension of development, and culture and development. Each of these expressions has a different ideological implication. Unesco was the first to link the terms culture and development, and again the first to raise the question of the cultural dimension of development.2
Ideologically, the modern concept of development emerged during that epoch in the Western intellectual tradition known as the Enlightenment — the period between the late 17th century and the French Revolution. The rationalists of this age gave the first formal definition of culture as an instrument evolved by man. The Enlightenment filled man with the presumptuous idea that he himself was the creator of his cultural destiny and that his cultural progress was dependent upon his rational efforts to perfect himself and his institutions.
The anthropological definitions of culture and the Western concept of development are totally irrelevant for the living traditional cultures of any part of the world. In the Sanskritic tradition of India, the term culture is contested by sanskrti (divine process of body cleansing, moral ordering), and development signifies vikrti (distortion) or hrasa (degeneration).
To take refuge in an alien definition of development is quite absurd. It is not the private sensation of the intellectual definition, unshared by the rest, that can demonstrate to another what it signifies in the real life situation.
The five parts of this presentation form a pattern of thought in regard to cultural freedom, that is swaraj (self-rule) in development.
Denying the dilemma of development
Modern man is dazzled and blinded by the image of development as something inherited from advancing technology. Development is more or less a separate construct, governed by its own laws, a sanctifier, a cultural marker. For the so-called technologically backward countries, it is a new culture, a new spirituality, a new path to salvation.
Man today is no longer Earth-bound. His aspiration to conquer the Sky, the City of God, does not seem to be far from realization. But where is he really going? There is a Zen story about a monk who was galloping down the road with his robes flapping in the wind. An old farmer, sitting on the gate, yelled out as the monk clattered by: ‘Sir, where are you going?’ The monk shouted back: ‘Don’t ask me, ask the horse!’ Development culture rides a lion, not a horse.
What does the contemporary celebration of Project Global 2000 show? Is it the hope of an evolutionary leap, the new man, the new age, the new space, the new culture? Or is it the fear of a holocaust, depression, world wars, the arsenal of nuclear weaponry, widespread pollution, acid rain, toxic waste, and deforestation? Or is it a prayer to protect us from the horrors of hunger, broken homes, ethnic cleansings, apartheid, genocide, ecocides, and other threats to human security? Or is it the propitiation of Mother Earth, who is becoming tired and exhausted? Is this a celebration of progress or a terminal crisis?
Technological advance is taking a certain direction in which we acquire superior power of disorder over order. Can the bhasmasur3 technology build a normal civilization? It may be that the rest of mankind is not aware that Technology (with a capital T) has brought the world to a deadly point from where there is possibly no return. But why can’t scientists and intellectuals understand this plain truth? Do they think that the death of human civilization is inevitable? Are they aware in what sense man is progressing, and what sort of cultural death he is facing? Do they hide a deep inner terror of death? Why do they deny the dilemma of development?
Defining culture in terms of man in nature
To make sense of this dilemma it is important to understand the true nature of human culture.
The Western definitions of culture centre around an interminable debate on cultura ex natura and cultura ex cultura. Theoretically, the main contention lies between the organic and the superorganic views of culture. The organicists claim that culture consists in the forms and processes of behaviour which man acquires through his innate potentialities. And hence it is a subjective or personal attribute — a state, or quality, attributed to an organism. The superorganicists, on the other hand, hold that culture is the objective product of man’s cultivation of the natural objects of his environment. And as objects or artifacts exist independently of the organism, they are described as superorganic. It is also claimed that the superorganic products are endowed with efficient power, that is, they make or develop themselves according to their own natural laws.
No one would suppose that either of these two views would be common to all human beings. Yet these are after all man’s own explanations of himself. Can one rule out the possibility of discovering non-human views about humans in the future? The idea seems ridiculous. But it is against the spirit of science to deny such a possibility. However, relying on the human perception of reality, we may ask: Is biological man alone by himself and with himself? Is he a cultural being of a single form? Is he the creator of culture in the true sense? Can object be detached from subject? Is art independent of the artist? How do humans apply art to nature?
Creativity has a wide range. Culture as a kind of creativity is dependent on its ‘maker’, who turns towards it in many ways. Hence there are several different forms of culture. These can be broadly grouped as:
Of these the first three forms maintain that life and culture originate dependently in the total context of divine nature, which is changing and yet not changing. The path of human perfection lies within it: man living in harmony with nature. In the other two forms of culture there is a built environment, disconnected with nature, where the system of man and the system of machine are in conflict. In a chaotic system, any small difference between two identical systems will grow rapidly. The hallmark of chaos is that two motions diverge exponentially. If the superorganic products are endowed with efficient power, what would safeguard human life? If the system of the machine develops itself, by its own laws, how can a technocentric man set his choice between good and evil? How can he be the measure of all? Wouldn’t it be illusion?
Determining the nature of social truth
Biological truth is universal. The difference between the quick and the dead is self-evident. Hence it is relatively easy to comprehend.
Social truth is far more complex. It is essentially a model or a description of reality rather than reality. The relationship between the social description of reality and the real system it purports to represent raises deep issues. For instance, with the power of the machine and all the wisdom of science, half of the world’s scientists are currently in war-related industries. Every minute two million dollars are spent on the production and use of armaments. Resources are being squandered, while millions of children die of malnutrition. The theory of parallel worlds — the world of man and the world of the machine — as stated before, has developed out of the psychical peculiarity of human actors. Modern man talks about lineal development but moves in the opposite direction. He preaches democracy and practises domination and discrimination. Lying is peculiar to man.
Turning to chaos and uncertainty, the following kinds of questions can be raised: Was the original relation between biological and social laws benign? If so, what makes modern man destroy the web of natural relationships? If not, what is that which has so far sustained the human world? The question before humanity today is not whether life will survive. Rather, it is what kind of life that will be. Is it not true that as a citizen of Earth modern man has become dysfunctional? Does this truth apply to all living societies? Is human nature the same everywhere? Do all humans perceive ugliness and beauty, good and evil the same way? Is there nothing other than the beautiful and the good that they love?
There is no ready answer to any of these questions other than one based on the diversity of human nature and culture.
Demanding a preferred world
Based upon a social truth, each human group forms a preferred world shaped by its own imagination and values. This preferred world is determined by the alteration of state caused by internal and external forces.
How can one comprehend the complexity of the preferred world of a self-organizing culture that coexists with nature? Considering the global concern and various development strategies, to what extent have traditional cultures the freedom to form a preferred world?
By contrast, how can one trust a parasitic culture with citycraft (of which warcraft is a part) that builds on advancing technology and affluence-servicing science? How can a moral order be established by other than moral restraints? How can a sane social order operate without strict preliminary discipline? How can there be peace in the world so long as even one man is violent?
Modern science and technology have generated an intense interest in a global perspective. But what does this globalization aim at? Can one become national without being local, international without being national, universal without being global, and again global without being local? How can one talk about a global ethic without having concern for the man suffering next door? What kind of global vision is that which enforces a dominant techno-economic system which reduces people to the status of disposable economic units?
The preferred world of modern man is woven by the technocentric system. Is there no alternative to this system? If there is none, how can it be said without qualification that we live in a preferred world at all? Can one grow in this system without losing one’s original identity? Is the system of the machine capable of giving birth to a just and humane civilization? Why do we call it a preferred world? What determines the preference? Is it the consideration of the good and the beautiful? Does it mean that whatever is not beautiful and good must necessarily be ugly and bad? Or is there something in between? Can these questions be correctly answered by mere intelligence without the language of the heart?
Developing without a centre
Human cultures are situated today in a technocentric framework of global interdependence created by a new kind of state system with multinational organizations. This engenders an uneasy feeling. The moot questions are: What will be the structure of the global village? Who will be the controller? Can the inherent conflict between an exploitative Western and a harmonious Eastern approach to nature and culture be resolved by the promise of a shared global ethic and the prospect of a developed techno-economic system? If humans are themselves controlled by technology, who will fulfil the promise?
In its 1993 report,5 Unesco made several pertinent observations on the problems of development. Briefly, it says: Development is not a neutral concept capable of universal application. Its proclaimed intentions are only very partially translated into actual projects. Development is technically characterized by limited duration, global objectives, predominance of economics, fragmentation of action, and the reduction of cultural aspects to education and the elimination of illiteracy. Development documents are based on a macro-economic or macro-social scale of observation which presupposes a search for regularity rather than diversity in every field. It follows classical methods of planning and data qualification, and stresses activities that can easily be audited. The distance between the decision-makers and the population concerned determines the nature and content of development programmes. The participation of the population in its own development never extends beyond purely local limits, the ‘vertical’ or institutional channels of communication, either distorting some of the data from the field or watering it down en route. The decision-makers consult their peers, not the ‘field’, before determining their broad programme of future action.
Following on this there arise two sets of questions. The first set highlights further the ugly and unjust state-centric development. In matters of modern development what is true and what is false? Is development a flagrant mistake? Is the rhetoric of development nothing but a tool of persuasion for those intent on deception? Why does the state make a fetish of literacy? As Gandhi said, ‘what better book can there be than the book of humanity?’6 Is it not true that foreign languages in education have caused incalculable intellectual and moral injury to Asian and African cultures? Is it not unnatural to cultivate intellectuals in the garden of another culture? Can true development come through the state department of numerology? If decision-makers sit in an ivory tower and distort the facts of development, what empowers them to impose on the common man an insufferable interference with the freedom of culture? Must we seek to get the better of state-centric development, which is by nature hurtful? Or should we tell the emperor that he has no clothes?
Swaraj in development
What is manifest in the Unesco document makes it plain that the greatest need of our times is swaraj in development. The second set of questions relates to the guiding principle which makes development profitable. Is it sensible to speak of a single world order based on state-centric technology? Is it not more realistic to develop endogenously, slowly and independently without a centre? Isn’t small beautiful? Aren’t self-organizing cultures the noblest and the best? Is it not amazing today that the ‘elephant’ is asking the ‘ant’ for food? Is there nothing in traditional culture that can play a positive role in an alternative type of development? Is it possible in a technocentric system of development to safeguard distinctly defined cultural identities? Is industrialization necessary? Can a nation be called developed where the rich have a store of things which they do not need, while millions are starved to death? Have the developing countries the freedom to choose between the traditional moral order and the modern technical order? Can cultures be created without freedom of choice? Can swaraj in development come about through untruthful and violent means?
For our guidance, then, let us make use of Gandhi’s concept of swaraj: ‘To get Swaraj then is to get rid of our helplessness. The problem is no doubt stupendous even as it is for the fabled lion who having been brought up in the company of goats found it impossible to feel that he was a lion’.7 Such is the state of the ancient cultures with great traditions which are now condemned as ‘developing countries’.
Gandhi defined swaraj as the essence of man: ‘So far as we are removed from swaraj we are removed from manhood. A proper manifestation of all our powers is not possible without swaraj’.8 ‘Swaraj is not meant for cowards, but for those who would mount smilingly to the gallows, and refuse even to allow their eyes to be bandaged’.9 ‘Swaraj is for the awakened, not for the sleepy and the ignorant’.10 ‘Swaraj is our birthright. No one can deprive us of it, unless we forfeit it ourselves’.11
For Gandhi swaraj means a just society and an all-round development: ‘Swaraj means ability to regard everyone as our brother and sister’.12 ‘Do not talk of winning Swaraj without making a fair return to the villager for the daily exploitation to which you subject him’.13 ‘There can be no Swaraj by non-violent means without communal unity’.14 ‘Swaraj is not absence of rule’.15 ‘Swaraj is complete independence of alien control and complete economic independence. It has two other ends. One of them is truth (dharma, religion), the other is non-violence (moral and social upliftment). Let us call this the square of Swaraj, which will be out of shape if any of its angles is untrue’.16
If we aspire to swaraj in development, we must strive for swadesi development. If we aspire to a global village, we must first set our house in order.
©1997 Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi