I am a retired engineer living on Long Island, New York. I have the habit of believing in a better way of life. The following link takes you to an essay titled: "Home of the Brave?" which I wrote and appeared in the Athenaeum Library of Philosophy:
Home of the Brave?
A thought-provoking "utopian" article,entitled "Home of the Brave?" which appeared in the American Daily which was published in Phoenix, Arizona on March 14, 2006.
Economists concede that economics is an inexact science.What does that mean? Perhaps it means their economic forecast is better than yours or mine. Recently, economic indicators have been rising and people have their fingers crossed. Economists have given us reason to hope that the job market will improve and that the stock market will continue on a steady climb. Yet, the newspapers continue to report more layoffs and more jobs going overseas.
Meanwhile, our economy is getting more and more complex.We associate complexity with progress for some ungodly reason. The following problems, however, have become inherent in our economy. What does that mean? It means they will be around for a while:
Needless poverty,unemployment, inflation, the threat of depression, taxes, crimes related to profit (sale of illicit drugs, stolen IDs, muggings, bribery, con artists, etc.), conflict of interest, endless red tape, a staggering national debt plus a widening budget deficit, 48 out of 50 states in debt, cities in debt, counties in debt, skyrocketing personal debts, 50% of Americans unhappy at their work, saving for retirement and our children's education, health being a matter of wealth, competing in the "rat race", the need for insurance, being a nation of litigation, being subject to the tremors on Wall Street, fear of downsizing and automation, fear of more Enrons, outsourcing, bankruptcies, crippling strikes, materialism, corruption, welfare, social security, sacrificing quality and safety in our products for the sake of profit, the social problem of the "haves" vs. the "havenots" and the inevitable family quarrels over money.
Have we become gluttons for punishment?My college professor once said, "You can get used to hanging if you live long enough!"
We Americans love our freedom; yet,we have allowed the use of money to completely dominate our way of life. Indeed, we are no longer a free people. We are 7.4 trillion dollars in debt. We live in fear of depression, inflation, inadequate medical coverage and losing our jobs. Our freedom is at stake if not our very survival. Yet, we put our collective heads in the sand.
Yes, there is something we can do.We can look into ourselves for an answer. We may find that we have the strength to carry out our internal economic affairs without the need to use money. Yes, we will still need to use money when dealing with other countries.
There is no question that a way of life without money will alleviate if not completely eliminate all of the previously mentioned problems.Yet, we scoff at the idea. We are totally convinced that money is a necessity. We cannot imagine life without money. Perhaps the time has come to think otherwise. It is completely obvious our present economy no longer satisfies our present day needs.
As individuals, we will gain complete economic freedom.In return, a way of life without money demands only that we, as individuals, do the work we love to do. It is a win/win situation. Let us consider the following arguments:
Can we learn to distribute our goods and services according to need(on an ongoing basis) rather than by the ability to pay? Why not? Poverty and materialism will be eliminated! Our sense of value will change. Wealth will no longer be a status symbol. A man will be judged by what he is; not by what he has. He will be judged by his achievements, leadership, ideas, artistic endeavours or athletic prowess; not by the size of his wallet.
Yes, everything will be free according to need.All the necessities and common luxuries will be available on a help yourself basis at the local store. Surely, this country is capable of supplying the necessities and common luxuries for everyone in this country many times over.
The more "expensive" items,such as housing, cars, boats, etc. would be provided for on a priority basis. For example, the homeless would be given housing ahead of those living in crowded quarters. How will this priority be established? Perhaps a local board elected by the people in the neighborhood such as a school board. Or perhaps the school boards could absorb this responsibility in addition to their present duties.
Since cooperation will replace competition,can government, industry and the people learn to work together as a team to meet the economic needs of our nation as well as each individual? Again, why not? Yes, competition is great; but cooperation is even better. Cooperation avoids duplication of effort. Wouldn't it be more efficient to have everybody freely working together, sharing ideas, thoughts and technical knowledge? Patents and industrial secrets would be a thing of the past. Competition, however, will still be around. Individuals will still compete with their co-workers in ideas, achievements, leadership and getting promotions.
For example,Ford, Chrysler & GM would work together to build automobiles that are truly safe and efficient and environmentally friendly. Perhaps, with everyone working together, we can invent a car engine that would eliminate the need to import oil from the Middle East. (Note: Ford, Chrysler & GM would gradually become one entity.)
Unfortunately,what immediately jumps into the minds of most people is: "It simply won't work!" The idea of a way of life without money is then dismissed without further thought. After all, what motivation is there for people to work if there is no paycheck? How can we possibly satisfy the labor needs of our nation? The following reasons are offered why people would be completely happy working in a way of life without money:
Today, only 50% of Americans enjoy their work.That will change. In a way of life without money, we will all be free to do the work we want to do or even love to do without any economic fear. We will be free to pursue our passion or as Joseph Campbell suggests we "follow our bliss".
Cooperation will replace wasteful competition.We will all work together as a team. Work will become a way to help people, to meet people or to be part of something meaningful. It is a proven fact that people like to help one another. An esprit de corps will naturally build up and make work more enjoyable. Even the most menial task becomes easier when people work together. Yes, work will become more of a "togetherness" thing.
The profit motive will no longer be a hindrance to efficiency.There will be no need to sacrifice quality and safety in our products for the sake of profit. We will, like in the olden days, take pride in our work.
Yes,there is very likely to be a shortage of people volunteering to do the more menial tasks. One option is to offer "perks". A perk can be of various forms such as front row season tickets to the opera or to his or her favorite sports team. Can you imagine an NBA basketball game where the celebrities are sitting in the back rows while the dishwashers and janitors are at courtside? (My apologies to Spike Lee & Jack Nicholson!) Or the perk could be the latest model boat or sports car which would not be immediately available to the public. Another option is to draft everyone once in their lifetime, to do a half year or so stint at a menial task. Perhaps a humbling experience is in order for all of us. It might serve us well in the area of character building.
Also,consider the fact that perhaps millions of people will be freed from jobs associated with the use of money. Millions more that are now unemployed or on welfare will also be available to help fill the labor needs of our country. Thus, we will have the work force necessary to do the work which is not economically feasible in our present economy such as cleaning our environment (land, sea & air), conservation, recycling, humanitarian work, research in medicine, education, science & space and now we can include national security.
Perhaps the most difficult problem is in the administration of a way of life without money.Can we learn to determine our economic needs, allocate our resources from the federal on down to the neighborhood levels? Perhaps some sort of economic bodies must be created to coordinate, monitor and carryout our economic needs. These economic bodies would exist similar to our governments, one for the federal, one for each state and one for each local level.
Yes, in order to administrate a way of life without money,economic bodies, boards or councils or whatever you wish to call them would be created to absorb economic responsibility from our various governments. They will interact and cooperate with one another to meet the economic needs of our country and of each individual. They will be empowered by Congress to tend to the economic needs of its constituents. Thus, a balance of power will be safely maintained.
Our federal needs,which would be similar to the federal budget we have today, will be resolved by an economic body comprised of representatives of the various branches of government, our industrial & labor resources, research (in medicine, education, science & space), our environment, conservation, importing & exporting, and now, national security and whatever facet of our way of life should be represented. This economic body will arrange for the labor and material resources necessary to meet the economic needs of our nation.
Similarly,the same will occur at the state and local levels. The economic body at the local levels will be responsible for providing services to the people in the neighborhood. If the labor needs cannot be met with volunteer workers, "perks" must be offered. Also, the economic body at the local levels will be responsible for keeping the stores stocked with food, clothing and the common luxuries which will be available free. Thus, the economic needs of the nation right on down to the neighborhood levels would be determined and satisfied by these economic bodies.
How much economic responsibility will these new bodies absorb from our federal,state and local governments? How much will be shared? Can a balance of power be maintained? At any rate, our federal, state and local governments will be relieved of considerable amount of economic responsibility. Thus, our various governments will be free to catch up on all the other domestic and foreign issues that face us.
Yes, we will still import and export goods with foreign countries as our needs dictate;but what money will be used in place of the almighty dollar? Would the dollar have any value if everything is free in the USA? Would that be a problem? We would, however, still be able to use the currency of the country we are doing business with. For example, if we export goods to Germany, we would accept marks or euros in payment. The euros would then be deposited in our national treasury for future use. The money could then be used to import goods or perhaps send Americans overseas on vacation.
Yes, a way of life without money could be compared to the kibbutz which now exist in Israel.Can you picture the USA as one big kibbutz? However, ownership of property will remain the same as it is today. Our government will remain the same. Our free enterprise system will remain in place as it is today. There will be no need for money or any substitute for money since everything will be free.
The advantages of a way of life without money stagger the imagination;but they are real and cannot be disputed. Perhaps it is time for us to grab the brass ring?
"The Human Race has improved everything except the Human Race.“
While we're still arguing about whether there's life after death, can we add another question to the cart? Is there life after democracy? What sort of life will it be? By "democracy" I don't mean democracy as an ideal or an aspiration. I mean the working model: Western liberal democracy, and its variants, such as they are.
So, is there life after democracy?
Attempts to answer this question often turn intoa comparison of different systems of governance, and end with a somewhat prickly, combative defense of democracy. It's flawed, we say. It isn't perfect, but it's better than everything else that's on offer. Inevitably, someone in the room will say: "Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia... is that what you would prefer?"
Whether democracyshould be the utopia that all "developing" societies aspire to is a separate question altogether. (I think it should. The early, idealistic phase can be quite heady.) The question about life after democracy is addressed to those of us who already live in democracies, or in countries that pretend to be democracies. It isn't meant to suggest that we lapse into older, discredited models of totalitarian or authoritarian governance. It's meant to suggest that the system of representative democracy -- too much representation, too little democracy -- needs some structural adjustment.
The question here,really, is what have we done to democracy? What have we turned it into? What happens once democracy has been used up? When it has been hollowed out and emptied of meaning? What happens when each of its institutions has metastasized into something dangerous? What happens now that democracy and the free market have fused into a single predatory organism with a thin, constricted imagination that revolves almost entirely around the idea of maximizing profit?
Is it possible to reverse this process?Can something that has mutated go back to being what it used to be? What we need today, for the sake of the survival of this planet, is long-term vision. Can governments whose very survival depends on immediate, extractive, short-term gain provide this? Could it be that democracy, the sacred answer to our short-term hopes and prayers, the protector of our individual freedoms and nurturer of our avaricious dreams, will turn out to be the endgame for the human race? Could it be that democracy is such a hit with modern humans precisely because it mirrors our greatest folly -- our nearsightedness?
Our inability to live entirely in the present (like most animals do),combined with our inability to see very far into the future, makes us strange in-between creatures, neither beast nor prophet. Our amazing intelligence seems to have outstripped our instinct for survival. We plunder the earth hoping that accumulating material surplus will make up for the profound, unfathomable thing that we have lost. It would be conceit to pretend I have the answers to any of these questions. But it does look as if the beacon could be failing and democracy can perhaps no longer be relied upon to deliver the justice and stability we once dreamed it would.
A Clerk of Resistance
As a writer, a fiction writer,I have often wondered whether the attempt to always be precise, to try and get it all factually right somehow reduces the epic scale of what is really going on. Does it eventually mask a larger truth? I worry that I am allowing myself to be railroaded into offering prosaic, factual precision when maybe what we need is a feral howl, or the transformative power and real precision of poetry.
Something about the cunning,Brahmanical, intricate, bureaucratic, file-bound, "apply-through-proper-channels" nature of governance and subjugation in India seems to have made a clerk out of me. My only excuse is to say that it takes odd tools to uncover the maze of subterfuge and hypocrisy that cloaks the callousness and the cold, calculated violence of the world's favorite new superpower. Repression "through proper channels" sometimes engenders resistance "through proper channels." As resistance goes this isn't enough, I know. But for now, it's all I have. Perhaps someday it will become the underpinning for poetry and for the feral howl.
Today,words like "progress" and "development" have become interchangeable with economic "reforms," "deregulation," and "privatization." Freedom has come to mean choice. It has less to do with the human spirit than with different brands of deodorant. Market no longer means a place where you buy provisions. The "market" is a de-territorialized space where faceless corporations do business, including buying and selling "futures." Justice has come to mean human rights (and of those, as they say, "a few will do").
This theft of language,this technique of usurping words and deploying them like weapons, of using them to mask intent and to mean exactly the opposite of what they have traditionally meant, has been one of the most brilliant strategic victories of the tsars of the new dispensation. It has allowed them to marginalize their detractors, deprive them of a language to voice their critique and dismiss them as being "anti-progress," "anti-development," "anti-reform," and of course "anti-national" -- negativists of the worst sort.
Talk about saving a river or protecting a forest and they say,"Don't you believe in progress?" To people whose land is being submerged by dam reservoirs, and whose homes are being bulldozed, they say, "Do you have an alternative development model?" To those who believe that a government is duty bound to provide people with basic education, health care, and social security, they say, "You're against the market." And who except a cretin could be against markets?
To reclaim these stolen wordsrequires explanations that are too tedious for a world with a short attention span, and too expensive in an era when Free Speech has become unaffordable for the poor. This language heist may prove to be the keystone of our undoing.
Two decades of "Progress" inIndia has created a vast middle class punch-drunk on sudden wealth and the sudden respect that comes with it -- and a much, much vaster, desperate underclass. Tens of millions of people have been dispossessed and displaced from their land by floods, droughts, and desertification caused by indiscriminate environmental engineering and massive infrastructural projects, dams, mines, and Special Economic Zones. All developed in the name of the poor, but really meant to service the rising demands of the new aristocracy.
The hoary institutions of Indian democracy -- the judiciary,the police, the "free" press, and, of course, elections -- far from working as a system of checks and balances, quite often do the opposite. They provide each other cover to promote the larger interests of Union and Progress. In the process, they generate such confusion, such a cacophony, that voices raised in warning just become part of the noise. And that only helps to enhance the image of the tolerant, lumbering, colorful, somewhat chaotic democracy. The chaos is real. But so is the consensus.
A New Cold War in Kashmir
Speaking of consensus,there's the small and ever-present matter of Kashmir. When it comes to Kashmir the consensus in India is hard core. It cuts across every section of the establishment -- including the media, the bureaucracy, the intelligentsia, and even Bollywood.
The war in the Kashmir valley is almost 20 years old now,and has claimed about 70,000 lives. Tens of thousands have been tortured, several thousand have "disappeared," women have been raped, tens of thousands widowed. Half a million Indian troops patrol the Kashmir valley, making it the most militarized zone in the world. (The United States had about 165,000 active-duty troops in Iraq at the height of its occupation.) The Indian Army now claims that it has, for the most part, crushed militancy in Kashmir. Perhaps that's true. But does military domination mean victory?
How does a government that claims to be a democracy justify a military occupation?By holding regular elections, of course. Elections in Kashmir have had a long and fascinating past. The blatantly rigged state election of 1987 was the immediate provocation for the armed uprising that began in 1990. Since then elections have become a finely honed instrument of the military occupation, a sinister playground for India's deep state. Intelligence agencies have created political parties and decoy politicians, they have constructed and destroyed political careers at will. It is they more than anyone else who decide what the outcome of each election will be. After every election, the Indian establishment declares that India has won a popular mandate from the people of Kashmir.
In the summer of 2008,a dispute over land being allotted to the Amarnath Shrine Board coalesced into a massive, nonviolent uprising. Day after day, hundreds of thousands of people defied soldiers and policemen -- who fired straight into the crowds, killing scores of people -- and thronged the streets. From early morning to late in the night, the city reverberated to chants of "Azadi! Azadi!" (Freedom! Freedom!). Fruit sellers weighed fruit chanting "Azadi! Azadi!" Shopkeepers, doctors, houseboat owners, guides, weavers, carpet sellers -- everybody was out with placards, everybody shouted "Azadi! Azadi!" The protests went on for several days.
The protests were massive.They were democratic, and they were nonviolent. For the first time in decades fissures appeared in mainstream public opinion in India. The Indian state panicked. Unsure of how to deal with this mass civil disobedience, it ordered a crackdown. It enforced the harshest curfew in recent memory with shoot-on-sight orders. In effect, for days on end, it virtually caged millions of people. The major pro-freedom leaders were placed under house arrest, several others were jailed. House-to-house searches culminated in the arrests of hundreds of people.
Once the rebellion was brought under control,the government did something extraordinary -- it announced elections in the state. Pro-independence leaders called for a boycott. They were rearrested. Almost everybody believed the elections would become a huge embarrassment for the Indian government. The security establishment was convulsed with paranoia. Its elaborate network of spies, renegades, and embedded journalists began to buzz with renewed energy. No chances were taken. (Even I, who had nothing to do with any of what was going on, was put under house arrest in Srinagar for two days.)
Calling for elections was a huge risk.But the gamble paid off. People turned out to vote in droves. It was the biggest voter turnout since the armed struggle began. It helped that the polls were scheduled so that the first districts to vote were the most militarized districts even within the Kashmir valley.
None of India's analysts,journalists, and psephologists cared to ask why people who had only weeks ago risked everything, including bullets and shoot-on-sight orders, should have suddenly changed their minds. None of the high-profile scholars of the great festival of democracy -- who practically live in TV studios when there are elections in mainland India, picking apart every forecast and exit poll and every minor percentile swing in the vote count -- talked about what elections mean in the presence of such a massive, year-round troop deployment (an armed soldier for every 20 civilians).
No one speculated about the mystery of hundredsof unknown candidates who materialized out of nowhere to represent political parties that had no previous presence in the Kashmir valley. Where had they come from? Who was financing them? No one was curious. No one spoke about the curfew, the mass arrests, the lockdown of constituencies that were going to the polls.
Not many talked about the fact thatcampaigning politicians went out of their way to de-link Azadi and the Kashmir dispute from elections, which they insisted were only about municipal issues -- roads, water, electricity. No one talked about why people who have lived under a military occupation for decades -- where soldiers could barge into homes and whisk away people at any time of the day or night -- might need someone to listen to them, to take up their cases, to represent them.
The minute elections were over,the establishment and the mainstream press declared victory (for India) once again. The most worrying fallout was that in Kashmir, people began to parrot their colonizers' view of themselves as a somewhat pathetic people who deserved what they got. "Never trust a Kashmiri," several Kashmiris said to me. "We're fickle and unreliable." Psychological warfare, technically known as psy-ops, has been an instrument of official policy in Kashmir. Its depredations over decades -- its attempt to destroy people's self-esteem -- are arguably the worst aspect of the occupation. It's enough to make you wonder whether there is any connection at all between elections and democracy.
The trouble is that Kashmir sitson the fault lines of a region that is awash in weapons and sliding into chaos. The Kashmiri freedom struggle, with its crystal clear sentiment but fuzzy outlines, is caught in the vortex of several dangerous and conflicting ideologies -- Indian nationalism (corporate as well as "Hindu," shading into imperialism), Pakistani nationalism (breaking down under the burden of its own contradictions), U.S. imperialism (made impatient by a tanking economy), and a resurgent medieval-Islamist Taliban (fast gaining legitimacy, despite its insane brutality, because it is seen to be resisting an occupation). Each of these ideologies is capable of a ruthlessness that can range from genocide to nuclear war. Add Chinese imperial ambitions, an aggressive, reincarnated Russia, and the huge reserves of natural gas in the Caspian region and persistent whispers about natural gas, oil, and uranium reserves in Kashmir and Ladakh, and you have the recipe for a new Cold War (which, like the last one, is cold for some and hot for others).
In the midst of all this,Kashmir is set to become the conduit through which the mayhem unfolding in Afghanistan and Pakistan spills into India, where it will find purchase in the anger of the young among India's 150 million Muslims who have been brutalized, humiliated, and marginalized. Notice has been given by the series of terrorist strikes that culminated in the Mumbai attacks of 2008.
There is no doubt that theKashmir dispute ranks right up there, along with Palestine, as one of the oldest, most intractable disputes in the world. That does not mean that it cannot be resolved. Only that the solution will not be completely to the satisfaction of any one party, one country, or one ideology. Negotiators will have to be prepared to deviate from the "party line."
Of course, we haven't yet reached the stage where the government ofIndia is even prepared to admit that there's a problem, let alone negotiate a solution. Right now it has no reason to. Internationally, its stocks are soaring. And while its neighbors deal with bloodshed, civil war, concentration camps, refugees, and army mutinies, India has just concluded a beautiful election. However, "demon-crazy" can't fool all the people all the time. India's temporary, shotgun solutions to the unrest in Kashmir (pardon the pun), have magnified the problem and driven it deep into a place where it is poisoning the aquifers.
Is Democracy Melting?
Perhaps the story of the Siachen Glacier,the highest battlefield in the world, is the most appropriate metaphor for the insanity of our times. Thousands of Indian and Pakistani soldiers have been deployed there, enduring chill winds and temperatures that dip to minus 40 degrees Celsius. Of the hundreds who have died there, many have died just from the elements.
The glacier has become a garbage dump now,littered with the detritus of war -- thousands of empty artillery shells, empty fuel drums, ice axes, old boots, tents, and every other kind of waste that thousands of warring human beings generate. The garbage remains intact, perfectly preserved at those icy temperatures, a pristine monument to human folly.
While the Indian and Pakistani governments spend billions of dollars onweapons and the logistics of high-altitude warfare, the battlefield has begun to melt. Right now, it has shrunk to about half its size. The melting has less to do with the military standoff than with people far away, on the other side of the world, living the good life. They're good people who believe in peace, free speech, and in human rights. They live in thriving democracies whose governments sit on the U.N. Security Council and whose economies depend heavily on the export of war and the sale of weapons to countries like India and Pakistan. (And Rwanda, Sudan, Somalia, the Republic of Congo, Iraq, Afghanistan... it's a long list.)
The glacial melt will cause severe floods on the subcontinent,and eventually severe drought that will affect the lives of millions of people. That will give us even more reasons to fight. We'll need more weapons. Who knows? That sort of consumer confidence may be just what the world needs to get over the current recession. Then everyone in the thriving democracies will have an even better life -- and the glaciers will melt even faster.
Copyright 2009 Arundhati Roy
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:Arundhati Roy was born in 1959 in Shillong, India. She studied architecture in New Delhi, where she now lives. She has worked as a film designer and screenplay writer in India. Roy is the author of the novel The God of Small Things, for which she received the 1997 Booker Prize. Her new book, just published by Haymarket Books, is Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers. This post is adapted from the introduction to that book.