INTERFACE OF CULTURAL
CAN a particular life-style be superior to, or more satisfying than, another? Can the life-style of another culture (in its widest anthropological sense) be adopted without disturbing one’s own cultural identity? Can a people’s cultural identity remain absolute, independent and eternally valid? Can a true assessment of the human world be made without examining its internal realities? If the answer to all these is in the negative, then there emerges the need and possibility of a paradigm shift in development ideology.
The twenty-two essays collected here are based on a Unesco-sponsored meeting of experts on ‘Interface of Cultural Identity and Development’ held at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi, on 19-23 April 1993. The meeting aimed at: (a) rethinking universality in modern sciences and the mutually differentiating epistemologies or world-views; (b) examining cultural identity, touching upon aspects from grassroots sociology and cosmology to the philosophers’ metaphysics; (c) evaluating development ideologies and the crises of creative individuals in a changing techno-cultural order, arising from the imposition of alien paradigms on social reality; (d) identifying development processes, forms of modernisation and methods of restoration of the moral order in relation to ecology, economy and society; and (e) considering endogenic development models, mainly with reference to traditional visions of one’s own cultures.
Can human imagination grasp the technical mystery of the universe?
To what extent does the Upanisadic concept of the universe relate itself to other traditions?
This picture of the universe is different from that of the Semitic traditions. But it does not seem to be much at variance with modern theories in science.
The Upanisadic sages have shown that ‘One is many and many are One’, that every part of the universe contains the whole and the whole all the parts. In such a world-view there is no place for the notion of a universality that claims to be exclusive, unique and chosen.
The concept of universality is not universal. The universality of Western science and civilisation is not a factual consensus of opinion. Yet, as S.C. Malik in his paper on ‘Interface of Science Consciousness and Identity’ points out, what is considered universal today usually implies a dominant Western world-view – whatever way one may define it – and all other categories have to be subsumed within it in the name of universalism. The questioning of the Western notion of universality is exemplified by the essay of Anisuzzaman. It contends what whatever the West has produced in the last five hundred years is universal and modern, the thing to emulate, that other world-views are traditional as opposed to the modern and thus obsolete, and that the Western world-view is not only the dominant one but also the only universal one.
We are concerned here with the problem of a universal doctrine of development. The development strategies which have so long been framed by the Western world need to be modified and indigenised. Happily, the possibility of building endogenic models of development has increased with the redefinition of ‘culture’ and ‘development’ adopted at the 1982 Mexico Conference and followed by Unesco’s World Decade for Cultural Development. Taking cultural factors into development does not mean that development is restricted to cultural products. Unesco’s endeavour has been to make culture and development compatible. However, our problem still remains.
There are many forms of culture, each valid in its own framework, but no single chosen culture can claim universality. Regrettably, most developing countries, rich in cultural heritage, aspire for the type of universality which Western cultures claim. If the traditional vision were to work, every culture would develop a sense of self-identity, and collectively all cultures would realise that any chosen universality is neither a right nor a justification but simply a way of understanding one’s own identity.
Examining Cultural Identity
Rarely the identity- question is raised in as straightforward a manner as in the following example.
Chandogya Upanisad, 4.4.1-5
This is how identity with the infinite Real was the ultimate identity. Satyakama Jabala later became famous as one of the Upanisadic sages.
Identity with the Self. What is suggested in this example of Satyakama Jabala is the essential oneness of the individual self and the universal Self. The sages asked questions at the dawn of human consciousness.
An Upanisad describes the beginning of identity in these terms:
Brhadaranyaka Upanisad, 1.4.1
The unitary principle has been explained:
Katha Upanisad, 5.10
Here in the Upanisads are set forth the theory of the absolute dimension of the Self, which claims that it is precisely the primordial oneness that makes differentiation intrinsically possible. It shows that the individual self is also valuable as itself, because all generic and ontic differences are included in One, the universal Self.
As Malik explains, the inner psyche is still looking for ‘Who am I’? but in the present trance-like conditioning one continues to grope in the hope of ‘tomorrow and tomorrow’, little realizing that mirages continuously recede and the goal will never be realized. In his paper on ‘Identity, Tribesman and Development’, Mrinal Miri also mentions the question ‘Who am I’? or ‘What am I’? but does not pursue it further because, in his opinion, it is not about the mundane or the earthly but about the metaphysical or the transcendent and its answer is something that is ultimately a matter of mystical realisation. He, however, clarifies his position, saying that it is not because he thinks the mystical is erroneous or illusory but simply because he feels more at home with the non-mystical mode of thinking.
Multiple identities. Moving on to the mundane approach to the question of the human sense of identity, it is soon realised that one lives in the world of others. It is in relation to ‘others’ – to the society and the environment in which one lives – that one’s own identity is formed. Generally, identity is characterised by function – husband, wife, parent, child, teacher, student and so on – in a relative way. There are other relative characterisations, dependent and temporal, such as rich and poor, tall and short, male and female, foreigner and national – each having a counterpart.
From both mystical and mundane approaches, Man is not an isolated being but a constitutive relationship. He is related not only with the universal Self but with the selves of his fellow-men. He is not an individual but a person. Considering this relatedness, personal identity may be defined as a shared totality -- an awareness that one is connected with others at various levels of interaction. In short, each person plays multiple roles in multiple ways in multiple contexts, and thus each individual self has multiple identities. Problems arise when any single identity is focused to the exclusion of the others.
Identity with space. Leah Lui of Australia illustrates how the open ocean is central to her sense of identity, having determined her way of life, subsistence practices, ceremonies, songs and stories. Otgonbayar of Mongolia describes the early history of Central Asia that bears witness to the formation of nomadic identity of the tribes of Mongol and Turk origin and their coexistence and struggle for dominance over the region. The question of 'national identity', which also relates to space and draws considerable attention in recent years, has been raised at some length in respect of Turkey (Bozkurt Guvenc), Indonesia (S. Buddhisantoso), Nepal (D.R. Dahal), India (A.R. Momin), and Bangladesh (Anisuzzaman).
Religious identity. One of the essential and existential engimas of modern nations is religion. Wit Wisadavet considers Buddhism as one of the pillars of Thai cultural identity, and equates Thainess with Buddhism. Otgonbayar points out that Buddhism has become one of the most important criteria of Mongolian nomadic identity. Guvenc has observed that while well educated and well-to-do citizens with status may lean towards Turkish national identity and see themselves as Turks, private citizens of varied ethnic origins may prefer their Muslim heritage. This basic dichotomy, he points out, brews two intermediary identities like Muslim Turks and Turkish Muslims. Momin draws attention to the Hindutva syndrome in contemporary India and its misplaced identification between Hinduism and nationalism.
Ethnic identity. Lui defines her aboriginal sense of identity in terms of her extended families, within which respect for elders is preserved, obligations to kin are met, resources are shared, and emotional and spiritual support is given. Also what makes her a Torres Strait Islander are her language, her language, her dances, her songs, her myths and legends and ceremonies. Miri refers to tribal identity in the sense of its being determined by 'strong evaluation' -- evaluation in terms of a value such as 'allegiance to the tribe' -- such that this value overrides other values in a fundamental way. Although L.M. Khubchandani finds apparent ambiguities in defining the concept of mother tongue, post-Independence India reorganized its territories on the basis of language and linguistic identities continues to be strong in the political context.
Identity crisis. Dahal cites several examples of ethnic tensions in Nepal, arising between hillmen and plainsmen, between high-caste Hindu groups and the socalled indigenous groups, and even between the Brahman and the Newar. Ethnic problems in India are far more complex and violent. Miri's philosophical explanation of ethnic violence is noteworthy. He argues that violence to oneself as well as to another is the result of darkness and fragmentation rather than motivated by the illumination and integration of successful 'strong evaluation'. In his view, terrorism in the cause of tribal identity may quite likely be an expression of a profound sense of emptiness and impending moral fragmentation rather than a genuine part of the articulation of tribal identity.
Identity in time. It may be said that the concept of identity changes and, perhaps, yet does not change. Modern thinking about relativity appears opposed to the Upanisadic vision at first, because it does not see the Self established in his own glory. The contributors to this volume have tried to capture the various expressions ofidentity which may be taken as relative descriptions of the absolute reality of another kind. Here the reality is seen in terms of Man as material, as a thing. The essential point in modern thinking is that Man exists in his own glory and absoluteness, and holds literally to the dictum 'Man is the measure of all'.
Evaluating Development Ideology
The attitude of the Vedic sages towards the world was essentially a religious one.
Rgveda II, 21
Atharvaveda, XIX.9, 1-2
The ancient people lived in the agricultural golden age of human civilization. They glorified the forest and lived in positive symbiosis with the animal world. They built houses by worship, prayed for increase of wealth and the joy of fearlessness, and desired to attain the span of a hundred winters. They knew that human fullness is incomplete without peace.
This is true even today for most traditional societies which build a structure of ideology around and in relation to peace and harmony. Wisadavet demonstrates in his short paper that the Thai Buddhists do not have a negative attitude towards science and technology and there is little or no conflict between the modern way of development and the Buddhist cultural identity. Otgonbayer gives another example of the Buddhist way of developing a nomadic Mongolian society with distinct characteristics. Dawa Norbu's paper on 'Cultural Preconditions for Development' also brings into relief how and why Buddhism, Confucianism and Hinduism have provided some of the necessary favourable cultural preconditions for development in most of the industrialising Asian societies.
Nevertheless, in a very real sense virtually all developing countries to varying degrees feel a deep sense of loss. This is often expressed in such terms as: 'development is a trap designed by Western powers to perpetuate colonialism', 'development as transformative interventions', 'the evangelists of development secularizing the message of salvation', 'development ruining the intellectual landscape' (Khubchandani); 'thrusting Western ideology of capitalism', 'loss of right to control one's own means of production' (Lui), and so forth. Khubchandani specifically refers to the 'imposition of metropolitan values' of affluent countries leading to the 'homogenization of cultures'. He points out further how development planning in India has constructed change as the 'replacement of values', instead of as an increment in the existing order. Paying little regard to the language assets in traditional speech communities, equating traditional knowledge with primitiveness and backwardness, and the elitist orientation of Indian academia are examples. In her paper on 'Popular Culture and Arabesque Music in Turkey', Meral Ozbek speaks of the 'aesthetic crisis' created by high culture. All such expressions are perception of facts, not figments of imagination.
Now an increasing number of thinkers in both East and West are coming to realise the inner contradictions and limits of development. If development is a human project, then surely the one-pointed concern for the material self is not enough. There is the primordial human aspiration -- the realisation of the social and the spiritual selves -- the neglect of which entails struggle, strife and antagonistic dynamisms. Modern epistemology that determines development ideology has certain fundamental features that separate it from most of the traditional systems of knowledge to an extent that makes holistic thinking highly problematic. Its domination has now been called into question. Unesco's role in rethinking the development ideology has been pervasively influential.
Identifying Development Process
Isa Upanisad, 14
The concept of development is bound up with a number of key terms such as modernisation, nationalisation, pluralisation, Westernisation, globalisation, and so forth. These terms epitomise a certain positive force of becoming. Cultural destruction is another important aspect that figures in the contemporary discourse on development.
Anisuzzaman challenges the definition of modernisation as the process of social change whereby less developed societies acquire characteristics common to more developed societies. His contention is that this definition is heavily loaded in favour of the cultural dimension of the Western world and this is where modernisation and development become synonymous with Westernisation. Otgonbayer points out that modernisation with the increasing effect of Westernisation or Europeanisation has eroded traditional values in many eastern societies. Premasiri refers to the production of modern science and technology having the veritable effect of dehumanising development. On the interface between tradition and modernity, Norbu claims that nowhere in the Third World does modernisation bring all societies to a level of cultural homogeneity washing their cultural identities. Contrary to this claim, Olga Gostin presents a case of Australia. Examining the aspects of aboriginal Australian experience in tertiary education, she draws attention to the fact that the threat of homogenisation and Westernisation of distinctive aboriginal programmes is very real in Australia today.
There appears to exist a deep dilemma over the transfer of modern Western science and technology to traditional non-Western societies. As Norbu has observed, there is today hardly any country in world that does not want to embrace science and technology for their sheer utility, even though many have serious reservations about 'modernising' the superstructure of their societies. Appropriate technology has often been suggested as the middle path. Examining the case of tribal society, Miri realises that the epistemological and moral assumptions implicit in the contemporary discourse on appropriate technology is far from being self-luminously valid. In his essay on 'Technology, Man and Spirituality', Mohammed Reza Rikhtegaran pleads for a union between the technocentric West and the spiritual East, and stresses the point that the world today requires a different kind of spirituality which is not purely Eastern. He sounds a somewhat optimistic note concerning the emergence of a new culture of technology. In his opinion, mastery of technology today has taken such a shape that Being has unconcealed a new spirituality, and hence 'sanctifying technology through sacrifice' is of crucial importance. Fatemah Farahani also takes a positive attitude toward the 'culture of technology'. Arguing that technology is a means in the service of a superior objective that is the better recognition of nature and a more suitable utilisation of nature, she claims that the best technology is not the most modern technology.
Today we are witnessing in many parts of Asia, Africa, and Europe the prominent upsurge of a number of ethno-nationalist movement as a reaction against the excessive or centralising and homogenising policies of the nation or nation-state. As Dahal points out, it becomes an immensely difficult task to define a national culture or the cultural identity of a nation, especially when a nation is composed of diverse ethnic/ caste groups with differences in race, language, religion and culture. However, in considering the present changing socio-political context, he suggests that the government must adopt cultural policies to develop Nepal as a multi-cultural nation. Examining the interface of development and cultural identity in the Indian context, Momin points out that it has two interrelated dimensions: pan-Indian civilizational on the one hand, and regional culture on the other. At both the macro and micro levels, he thinks, the development process needs to be informed and guided by the pluralistic and composite ethos of Indian society. On Turkish national unity or historical diversities and continuities, Guvenc concludes that the unity -- diversity paradigm has been one of the guidelines of Western democracies and also one of the landmarks of Eastern wisdom. Ravindra K. Jain, in his paper on 'Civilizations and Settlement Societies', deals with the decentralised paradigm of unity in diversity. He recalls the issues raised in the process of nation-building (namely, clash and diversity of religion with its twin faces of communalism and the partition of the country into India and Pakistan) and the cultural problems in the functioning of a federal state structure (namely, the formation of linguistic states) in India. Khubchandani looks at the Indian reality differently. He refers to India's organic pluralism by which different groups attempt to retain and preserve their unique cultural attributes (language or religion) while developing common institutional participation at the national level. Such a situation, he says, can be regarded as being quite distinct from the structural pluralism found in some European countries.
We live in an age of nationalism. Experience shows that the achievement of true cultural pluralism and of national integration is particularly problematic. The problem looms large with the acceleration of the technocentric process which creates conditions of homogeneity within cultural units. To maintain a monolithic national identity, it is almost inevitable to have one kind of culture, one style of communication, and a centralised educational system. The emphasis of the developing nations, therefore, has been largely on the unconditional adoption of a development process based on technology transfer and mass industralisation.
Considering Endogenic Development
While evaluating the modern idea of development in social, economic, political, religious, aesthetic or yet other terms, one is struck by the thrust toward uniformisation of cultural groups. There is something about this phenomenon that needs explanation. Combative arguments of several authors of this volume are that the fundamental ideology of development is based on a particular world-view claiming to possess a universally acceptable message, ignoring all other world-views or taking only a part of the whole. The basic assumption in this theory is that only a certain type of nationality or a certain order of life is relevant, and if somethings is not addressed from this viewpoint, it is not really valid. There is a challenge to this notion of universality. If a particular order of thought and behaviour is not acceptable or intelligible to people outside the modern milieu, how can it be universal? Why should rationality of other kinds and other world-views be necessarily false? Must all cultures be reduced to a single pattern of development to suit a particular culture's claim to universality? Uniformity versus unity, homogenisation versus heterogenisation, universality versus specificity, centralisation versus decentralisation are the discordant voices of human traditions. Do we reduce them to a single voice? Despite the implications of the modern milieu, there is a search for inner harmony from within. The most critical and contentious challenge is posed by the Third World countries.
Drawing attention to the increasing dependence on the West, Anisuzzaman makes a clarion call: We would like to be universal, but not uniform; we would like to develop our specificity without restricting ourselves to narrow fields or ideas. However, the problem does not end by doing away with Western thought. The crucial factors involved in the re-making of the multicultural Third World countries are: (a) centralised control. (b) national identity, and (c) technocentric culture. Consider the illusive democracy and bureaucratisation of development policies, with a distinction between the power-holdres and the common man. Consider the dominance of monolithic national identity as opened to multicultural identities. Consider the tyranny of technocentric culture demanding standardised technical education, mass media of communication and uniform life-styles. Consider the transition from a rural culture to a modern urban one being treated as the inevitable destiny of all Third World nations. Nationalism has done much of its work in the making of a national industrial high culture. The role of the naitonalbureaucracy in people's welfare has been questioned in bold, powerful, and creative ways.
In his paper on 'Secular Sovereign and Artha', Parthasarthi Banerjee takes the position that welfare is not possible without a sovereign. Theories of development, he says, very often either deny or disregard such a supremacy of the sovereign authority in development. He goes further to show that the secularisation of development is not only misconceived but also that an autonomous development is actually in a certain sense morally purposive. Drawing upon India's exegetic tradition he takes care to point out that this supremacy of the sovereign should not be confounded with secularism as is done by Western interpreters of Indian society. It is obvious from B. D. Sharma's case study of a tribal village in Central India that the problems of development are far more complex than theoretical frameworks with which to address development ideology and process. In his paper on 'Taming Structural Transformation', he presents the story of the people's struggle against an authoritarian State and insidious money-power. As a social activist he present the experiential reality of development, pointing out the myriad difficulties facing a non-violent people with the greatest natural resources. Bunker Roy, another social activist, reflects upon the flurorescense of 'Development Activism: The Importance of Being Voluntary'. Major issues that he highlights in his paper are 'development has to be slow', 'literate Man the most formidable obstacle to development', 'looking down on one's own culture', 'lack of space for individual growth', 'lack of self-respect', and so forth. All these flaws in the development process, he points out, are linked to flaws in the human beings implementing the programmes in the field. Obviously the solution lies in the integral action. Baidyanath Saraswati's paper on 'Freedom to Grow and Growing into One' prepares the ground for a swadeshi (endogenic) model of development. He brings into focus the insight of the great genial master and mahatma, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. To evolve a swadeshi model, he suggests, a five-fold programme must begin with redefining 'development' as a human project, rethinking universality in terms of the cosmological principle, restrengthening swadeshi with the eternal rule of life, resanctifying human creativity and interpersonal relationships, and rededicating oneself to the laws of moral advancement with minimum material.
©1996 Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi