Observations & Comments

Observations, Comments, and Lessons

 By Nadarajah, Gautam and Team

Xavier University Bhubaneswar

October 2018


Searching for the ‘Human’ in Human-ities

1st of October 2018

From the Floor, From Students

1) The central and most persistent question seems to be about self-reliance. Students contextualised the notion in the present national and international economic development scenario and wanted to know whether it is relevant for us. They also expressed concern over the scale at which self-reliance can be applicable, be it individual, community, or national level.

2) There was also a strain of thinking that seems to be governed by a subtle agenda of the status quo — “There is No Alternative” i.e. what is called a TINA mentality. This also speaks of the assumption that under the given socioeconomic structures there is no other way to break-free other than what the incumbent predominant structures can/will permit, which again needs to be judged by pre-existing standards.

From Speakers and Performance

1) The historicity of Development is a reality. It is not something static, unchanging, a reified reality. It has been growing, challenged, re-defined, re-invented in relation to different times and contexts. This also means that the focus today on ‘Development that is sustainable’ may be replaced by other concerns or concepts. There is no ground to believe that sustainable Development is the last expression of what Development can be. Though it is being presented as the ‘final alternative’, they are also many other growing alternatives.   Although this was not spelled out explicitly, but speakers referred to what is now being considered as the “de-growth” paradigm. De-growth is challenging the very idea of enhancing the pie, or in other words, explicitly asserting radical constraints on production, consumption and distribution. And, this is very much compatible with the Gandhian idea of responsible consumption.

2) Gandhian notion, as captured by the idea of Swadeshi, cannot be inserted into the discourse of mainstream west-influenced Development. It is not something that can added in bits and pieces to rationalise or humanise mainstream Development. It is important that we understand that it is altogether another discourse of knowing, feeling, being as well as doing, applicable to self, community, nation and the globe.

3) We can only attempt a dialogue between ‘Developmentalism’ (west centric) and ‘Gandhism’. The heart of one is ‘violence’ and the other, ‘compassion’.

4) Mainstream Development has been growing an arrogant ‘Self’. It is all too sure of its rightness and necessity that it imposes itself on the ‘Other’. In this, it takes an authoritarian view and does not engage with the wisdom of the “Other”. The State, as the guardian of the Development, simply marginalises, oppresses, imposes or takes. It has no way or tools to understand the pain and suffering of the Other.

5) We have to understand that the practice of Development, and/or research around it, does not seek to engage with the Other to make sense of it either by encouraging empathy or compassion. We do not live through the pain and suffering of the Other. And as long as Development, or the social sciences it practices, does not engage with or experiences pain and suffering (empathetically or compassionately) there is no way it can understand or create a space for compassion or compassion studies. It will fall back on computing statistics and presenting trends (techno-managerial solutions), governed by a warped notion of objectivity.

6) The West-centric practice of Development is at the heart a hyper-masculine violent process that commodifies, marketises everything in its path and creates a “self” as the unit of participation in the market. It removes or destroys any resistance or human obstacles. It looks like it is on the path to liquidate Earth and turn everything into material profit by structured, large-scale destruction in the name of economic growth. This is presented as success or achievement. That is its character, its nature. It takes on everything and structures our emotions and our thinking with pre-established hegemonic patterns that provide legitimacy to mainstream Development. It establishes a community of ‘one-dimensional men’ in which the world and Development are presented as unchanging, reified with absolutely no alternatives. Violent development is the only way. Some will have to suffer. Some will have to die. And the ideal of not leaving anyone behind remains hypocritical.

7) No measure of tinkering will help in really humanising mainstream Development if the underlying assumptions remain the same. For instance, we have been having all kinds of more benign adjustment to the mainstream violent Development pathway. We have even introduced human development, green development…sustainable development, etc. But if one evaluates the human society on a global scale today, we are in far greater danger of collective self, other and ecological destruction. Pockets of goodness cannot save us when the whole is threatening to sink us.

8) As individuals, we must learn from Gandhi. First, we must get out of that hidden agenda of the status quo — There Is No Alternative (TINA) mentality/mindset. There are alternatives that are parallel to what mainstream Development has to offer. As Gandhi engages with the challenges and problems of the Indian society, he braves to take forth what is right and humane in a non-violent way, even if his chosen way puts him into great personal, professional and political difficulties. He works from his ‘soul force’ and nothing can sway him from his non-violent path that engages the Other, understands the pain and suffering of the Other and works towards alleviating the pain and suffering of the Other. It is a soul force that contribute to self and community to ensures that no one is left behind…to suffer.

9) Would we really like to be non-self-reliant?  This is not just about economics. It is a larger notion that Gandhi wants us to engage with. Do we want our food to come from our neighbour’s home? Do we want our thinking to be done by others or the state? Don’t we want to think for ourselves? If we extend this way of thinking and practice about self-reliance to our neighbourhood, to our community and to our nation, then how can self-reliance be not relevant today? The question really is: Can we re-imagine self-reliance in the context of the global localisation movement that contributes to reducing our unsustainable global footprint? Can we really go beyond self-reliance and still talk about global sustainability? Should we not talk about self-reliance as a process as opposed to an achieved result?

10) On the Performance by Students: The performance by student on ecology, compassion and Gandhi was very impressive given the short period they had to conceptualise and rehearse their play. The most learningful value of the performance was the realisation of the impact on our ‘biological body’ and its emotional expressions and gestures. The mainstream violent Development process impacts and shapes it aggressively to face a violent world. It speaks the language of over or covert violence, articulated through many expressions and gestures. The ‘biological body’ in the Gandhian world undergoes a humanising process and reveals a very different quality — empathic compassion. Emotions and expressions are qualitatively different They form the core of a different way of Being and of structuring society.

Xavier Centre for Humanities and Compassion Studies

Xavier University Bhubaneswar, Oct 2018


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