Baidyanath Saraswati On Culture and Development

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Shisya Guru
How long, Ovenerable Sir, how long we have to suffer the tyranny of our tribal identity? So long as India remains separated by a wide gulf from those of Europe and North America.


That is, until the Day the Earth goes through another continental drift and magnetism in which India, Europe and America will be tightly clustered, forming a continuous land mass.


Oh no, my child. It does not mean that. We cannot return to Gondwanaland, the original geological formulation.
I am afraid, Sir, I don’t understand. Well, what I mean is this. Coming close to the cultural standards of Europe and North America, forming the web of such a thing as development, and raising to such a status as "developed" country.


What is culture? Who is it? There are on record more than three hundred anthropolgical definitions of culture referring to various aspects of human life. But the most comprehensive definition which Unesco gave at the 1982 Mexico conference, and which is relevant to what we are discussing, reads as follows: "Culture comprises the whole complex of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features that characterize a society or social group. It includes not only the arts and letters, but also modes of life, the fundamental rights of the human being, value systems, traditions and beliefs".


Who is Unesco? It is the United Naitons educational, scientific and cultural organization with Headquarters in Paris. One of its current concerns is to promote the programme of the World Decade for Cultural Development proclaimed by the United Nations for the period from 1988 to 1997.


What is development? Who is it? Development originally stood for lineal progress, growth, advancement, increase of and right to gain income or improvement in the quality of life as a consequence of one’s achievement. Unesco has redefined the term to suit the present context: "Development is a complex, comprehensive and multidimensional process which extend beyond mere economic growth, to incorporate all dimensions of life and all the energies of a community, all of whose members are called upon to make a contribution and expect to share in the benefits. Development should be based on the will of each society and should express its fundamental identity".


Are the two terms–culture and development linked meaningfully? 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.


Defining Culture and Development in Terms of Man in Nature
In what way the modern definition of culture and development is ideologically fitting to our own thinking? Oh, in no way. And yet it has some explanation and a prodigious history. It emerged during that epoch in Western intellectual tradition known as Enlightenment – the period beginning from the late seventeenth century to the outbreak of 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 idea that he himself is the creator of his cultural destiny and that his cultural progress is dependent upon his rational efforts to perfect himself and his institutions.


Is this acceptable to any of the living traditional cultures of any part of the world? I am not canvassing the modern view. This is a contradiction of the other view. In Sanskrit, the English term "culture" is contested by sanskriti, which refers to a divine process of body cleansing and moral ordering, and "development" in modern sense signifies vikrti (distortion) or hrasa (degeneration) not vikasa (growth).


Sir, isn’t it something quite absurd to take refuge with an alien definition of cultural development? Yes, you’re right. It is not the private sensation of an intellectual definition, unshared by the rest, that can demonstrate to the others what it signifies in their real life situation.
Now, is there a way to understand the true nature of human culture? The anthropological definition of culture centres 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 the forms and processes of behaviour which man acquires through his innate potentialities. And hence it is a subjective or personal attribute – a state of quality attributed to an organism. The superorganicists, on the other hand, hold that culture is the subjective product of man’s cultivation of the natural objects of his environment. And as objects for 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.
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 true sense? Can object be detached from the subject? Is art independent of the artist? How do humans apply art to nature?


Man is a part of nature. Creativity has a wide range. Culture as creativity is dependent on its "maker" who turns toward it in many different forms of culture.
What are those forms? Broadly speaking: (a) dreamtime culture, which has acquired the spiritual understanding and awareness of nature through "dreaming", the most expressive ancient mode of knowing the language of nature; (b) cosmocentric culture, which recognizes the vital significance of the cosmic elements in the making of biological and cultural man; (c) theocentric culture, which considers dissociation from the phenomenal world in favour of the divine eternal world as human perfection; (d) anthropocentric culture, which makes man the measure of all and teaches a path to progress which is external to nature; and (e) technocentric culture, which holds the belief that higher possibilities of man lie in affluence which is largely and necessarily a funtion of an advancing technology.


Sir, can it be that the truth of natural philosphy and social science are set forth in your classification? I quite agree. Of these forms,the first three maintain that the life and culture originate dependently in the total context of the divine nature which is changing and yet not changing; and that the path of human perfection is lain 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. The two realms might not appear harmonious to "modern" intellectuals but could not fail to reveal itself to traditional thinkers.


But does it not appear strange that the two realms converge at a certain level of awareness? Think of a chaotic system where any small difference between two identical systems grow rapidly. The hallmark of chaos is that the two notions diverge exponentially fast.


If the superorganic produces are endowed with efficient power, what would safeguard the human life? If the system of machine develops itself, by its own laws, how can a technocentric man sets his choice between good and evil? How can he be the measure of all? Wouldn’t it be an illusion? We have to leave behind all theories of culture and dvelopment that come along arrogance and false sense of superiority. We have to seek a fresh understanding of the social world.


Determining the Nature of Social Truth
How do we determine the truth of the social world? Biological truth is universal. The difference between the quick and the dead is self-evident. Hence relatively easy to comprehend. But social truth is far more complex. It is essentially the human understanding of reality rather than the reality itself.


In that case there is no necessary correlation between the social description of reality and the real system it purports to represent.


Very true.
And thus it raises deep issues: How is it that with the power of machine and all the wisdom of science, half of the world scientists are currently engaged in war-related industries? How is it that with all wisdom and compassion, every minute two million dollars are spent on the production and use of armaments, while millions of children die of malnutrition? How is it that modern man talks about lineal development and morally moves into the opposite direction? How is it that he preaches democracy and practices domination and discrimination?


The theory of parallel worlds—the world of man and the world of machine—has developed out of the psychical peculiarity of human actors.
Was the original relation between biological and social laws abundant and benign? If so, what makes modern man destroy the web of the natural relationship? If not, what is that which has so far sustained the human world? The question before humanity today is not whether life would survive. Rather is what kind of life? Isn’t it true that as a citizen of the earth, modern man has become destroyer and dysfunctional? Does this truth apply to all living societies? Is human nature the same every where? Do all humans conceive ugliness and beauty the same way? Is there nothing other than the beautiful and the good that they love?


There is no easy answer to any of these questions. But what you must keep in mind is the diversity of human nature and culture. In general, all that man does under the guidance of truth, ends in goodness, but when he is under the guidance of opposite, it ends in folly. Depends on what one prefers to do.




Demanding a Preferred World
What is that which modern man is looking for? A new culture, a new world order, a new humanity.


What is new and what is old?

The new and the old and the new can be seen in terms of a continunm where one strifes for a preferred world.


What is a preferred world? Based upon its social truth, each human group forms a preferred world shaped by its own imaginations and value system. The preferred world is determined by the alteration of state caused by the internal and external forces.


Then teach me, Sir: How can one comprehend the complexity of the new preferred world? To what extent has a self-organizing traditional culture the freedom to live in their preferred world? By contrast, how can one trust the new preferred world with a parasitic culture of citycraft 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? Your words are like the words of a philosopher. Apparently, my child, the preferred world of the modern man is woven by technology which provides the colour, the texture, the weave, and the strength of that world.




Is there an alternative to this world? Those who live in that world think there is none.


If it is so, then, how can it be said unqualifiedly that they live in a preferred world?


Because their technocentric lifestyle is in preference to the traditional cosmocentric life.


What works behind the preference? Is it the consideration of the good and the beautiful? Naturally so.


Does it mean that there is no good and beauty in traditional cultures? Every culture has its own consideration of the good and the beautiful.


Does it mean that whatever is not good and beautiful must necessarily be bad and ugly? No. There is something in between which provides a necessary precondition for imaginative evaluation.
Can one find a middle path in the preferred technocentric culture? I think so.


Denying the Dilemma of Development
If Technology (with capital ‘T’) is the parameter of Development (with capital ‘D’), then apparently cultures with small ‘t’ are not ‘developed’. Is it true? No man with good sense would affirm this. But, as I had spoken before, this is true to the extent that there are ‘developed’ countries and ‘developing’ countries.


If the ‘developed’ countries have reached to the penacle of development, then the downward movement must follow naturally. Is this so? I am not quite sure of this. But so long as we think that man’s intellectual capacity is unlimited, the question of the optimum growth does not arise.


It is true that man today is no longer Earth-bound. His aspiration of conquering 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!"


Then, let us ask the horse of Technology. Can Technology build a normal civilization? Man is a born tool-maker. He cannot do away with technology. But he does not know what to do now. Technological advance has taken a certain direction in which it acquires superior power of disorder over order. Man is left unfurnished, so he is perplexed.


What then is the future of mankind? I think, to restore cultural confidence in technology, it will be good if I tell you a Pauranic story: Once a demon went on performing penance for a thousand years. Pleased by his act, the God Siva appeared before him and said, "Ask a boon!" the demon replied, "Lord! if you are so pleased, kindly grant that I may be endowed with the power of reducing anyone to ashes merely by putting my hand on his head." Siva spoke, "May it be so!" Now the demon wanted to test the efficacy of the boon forthwith. And as he was about to swoop down on his benefactor standing right before him, Siva, the God of Death, took to his heels in utter desperation. The demon started chasing him. Eventually, filled with fright, Siva approached Vishnu for protection. Thereupon Visnu the God of Preservation, assumed the form of Mohini, a charming woman, and sat under a tree where the demon Bhasmasur (named so, for having the power to reduce any one to ashes) eventually came in search of his prey. Infatuated by Mohini’s beauty and charm, he proposed to her, to make love. Mohini replied, "I am a dancer; you can get my hand only if you match me in the dance." Bhasmasur agreed and began dancing in great excitement. Following Mohini’s dancing gesture, he uplifted his hand higher and higher until it touched his head and reduced him to ashes instantly.


Strange! Instead of asking for beneficence such as deathless existence for himself, why did the demon pray for a boon that can only destroy? Indeed, it is not so strange. Because by asking such a boon the demon has virtually usurped Siva’s greatest power. And thus when the boon was given out the Great God of Death himself became utterly helpless and miserable.


What does the story of Bhasmasur point out. It is a pointer to the human conditions of our time when man has already granted the boon to technology. The Bhasmasur syndrome signifies a state where technology is chasing man and man is no longer controlling technology. The climax of the story presents a second view: the hope for the men to make such changes as may bring technology within his reach.


Now, Sir, 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 the holocaust, the depression, the world wars, the arsenal of nuclear weaponary, the widespread pollution, acid rain, toxic waste, and deforestation? Or is it a prayer to protect from the horror of hunger, broken homes, ethnic cleansings, apartheids, genocides, ecosides, and other threats of human security? Or is it the propitiation of the Mother Earth who is becoming tired and exhausted? Is this a celebration of progress or a cry of terminal crisis in life?


Truly speaking, the celebration is confined to city man. The rest of mankind is not aware that technology 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 is he facing? Do they hide a deep inner terror of death? Why do they deny the dilemma of development? There is definitely much truth in it that modern man is dazzled and blinded by the image of development as something inherited from the advancing technology. He takes delight in what might be called "development culture", which is more or less a separate construct governed by its own laws, a sanctifier, a cultural marker. For many of the so-called developing countries, it is a new culture, a new spirituality, and a new path of salvation.

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