By Sajeeva Samaranayake –
We are all familiar with this archetype – the infernal ‘busybody’ who runs around raking rubbish dumps becoming a hero and public nuisance. Mankind has always had these characters and of course the world would be a rather boring place without them.
However the world itself changed as Europe transformed its economic outlook in the 18th and 19th centuries and started casting its predatory eyes all over the world for profit and limitless wealth. Karl Marx has described what happened very well as the new bourgeoisie became our driving force. They tore up all bonds and relationships the people had to their religions, history and lands. In those countries where their writ had absolute force (including the colonies) they sought to accomplish 3 things:
1. Turn all productive lands into saleable commodities. This deprived the peasantry of their ancestral rights, livelihoods and natural economy. In fact it destroyed their very identity so that they were forced to create new ones.
2. These lands had to be placed in the hands of new entrepreneurs who would make them efficient and productive with new agricultural and industrial technology
3. The people who were turned out of their lands had to be converted to cheap wage labour and those who could not fit in were accommodated in the new institutions – the prison, lunatic asylum, workhouse or orphanage.
Thus the people were made to fit into the new economic order. Their freedoms were taken away. To compensate for what they lost they were offered and promised the crumbs off the table of the new rich and powerful who exercised and enjoyed their ‘human rights’ in full measure. In Europe where the French Revolution and its ideals were spread by Napoleon until the British defeated him in 1815 the ideal of political freedom had a ring of truth about it and the people actually understood some of these ideals of “liberty, equality and fraternity” so that they participated to some degree in creating the new institutions of their societies.
In the colonies the people lost their liberty to the foreigner and lost their fraternity with their own native superiors who based their new power on social distance and a superficial paternalism based on forms of cultural dependency both western and eastern. They were educated in stages to become peaceful and law abiding subjects of a top down society which offered formal equality but little else. The actual relationships however were not based on equality but the more familiar patronage system that would be exploited by the middle classes. These educated leaders of society would satisfy their foreign masters that they followed the western norms; and they would also use appropriate devices like the national dress and expensive merit making ceremonies to keep the locals happy about their allegiance to native traditions. In truth they subscribed to neither: simply to the overriding ideal of self advancement which the West legitimized through its transformation of economics in the 19th century.
The sales pitch of both ‘new economics’ and ‘new politics’ followed the same logic. “You will no longer go hungry. There will be enough food for all of us when we use these new methods. We can ALL be very happy and we will not need to lead a life of drudgery. With rights we will all be EQUALS. You will not have to grovel before your superiors. Ours systems and laws will administer justice fairly. You will be the sovereigns…..”
In reality what happened was that this smart middle class deprived the freedom of the people and wrote up a deed promising all kinds of conditional rights. On the one hand they would accumulate untold power and wealth by robbing and plundering the poor. On the other they would create institutions headed by their own kind to ‘dispense justice.’ Both the problem and solution sides would be ‘growth industries’. We have seen how many young professionals have benefited with their ‘careers in human rights.’ The UN in particular has been a glorified foreign employment agency for the children of the rich countries to go around the world minding the business of other people and looking after them.
As is obvious the new economics and new politics created a whole lot of useless junk in the form of goods and services and also professions. The profession of politics is another good example. These pseudo professions exploit the people mercilessly with a benevolent justification to boot.
Where then does mankind go from here? What is required is not another revolution; not another system. In fact all religions, philosophies and traditions including the capitalist system have been true and good. Only the human being with his/her ignorance, greed and hatred has failed them. There is something of value to be learned from every branch of learning. What we lack is humility and also moderation. We must start moderating the sales pitch of both problems and solutions. A public praxis is not enough. There must at the bottom be a personal praxis to help us achieve integrity as human beings, as mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers. We can then live the dream of fraternity of the French Revolution.
It is very important to mind our own business.