Menace on the Menu: Development and the Globalization of Servitude (Part 2)
Thu 18th Dec 2014
Hostage to ideology
Me-first acquisitiveness is now pervasive throughout the upper strata of society. Run out and buy some useless product because Kareena, Priyanka or another icon of deception says ‘because you’re worth it’… but never ever let this narcissism give way to contemplate why the rivers and soils have been poisoned and people are being been made ill in places like Punjab, agriculture is being hijacked by powerful agritech concerns, land is being grabbed on behalf of any number of corporations or why ordinary people are violently opposing state-corporate power.
Much of this acceptance results from deals hammered out behind closed doors. Much of it results because too many are conditioned to be ignorant of the facts or to accept that all of the above is necessary for ‘growth’.
This is a country where the majority sanctifies certain animals, places, rivers and mountains for being representations of god or for being somehow touched by the hand of god. It’s also a country run by Wall Street sanctioned politicians who convince people to accept or be oblivious to the destruction of the same.
Many are working strenuously to challenge the selling of the heart and soul of India. Yet how easy will it be for them to be swept aside by officialdom which seeks to cast them as ‘subversive’ . How easy it will be for the corrosive impacts of a rapacious capitalism to take hold and for hugely powerful corporations to colonise almost every area of social, cultural and economic life and encourage greed, selfishness, apathy, irretrievable materialism and acquisitive individualism, as well as the ignorance of reality ‘out there’ – what lies beyond the narrow concerns of spend and buy affluent India.
Consumerism’s conspicuous purchasing and consumption draws on and manipulates the pre-existing tendency to buy favour, the perceived self importance deriving from caste, the sense of entitlement due to patronage, the desire nurtured over the centuries to lord it over and seek tributes from whoever happens to be on the next rung down in the pecking order. Lavish, conspicuous
displays of status to reinforce difference and hierarchy have always been important for cementing social status. Now icons of capitalism, whether renowned brand products, labels or product endorsing celebrities, have also taken their place in the pantheon of Indian deities to be listen to, worshipped and acquiesced to.
And the corporations behind it all achieve hegemony by altering mindsets via advertising, clever PR or by sponsoring (hijacking) major events, by funding research in public institutes and thus slanting findings and the knowledge paradigm in their favour or by securing key positions in international trade negotiations in an attempt to structurally readjust retail, food production and agriculture. They do it by many methods and means.
Before you realise it, culture, politics and the economy have become colonised by powerful private interests and the world is cast in their image. The prevailing economic system soon becomes cloaked with an aura of matter of factuality, an air of naturalness, which is never to be viewed for the controlling hegemonic culture or power play that it really is.
Seeds, mountains, water, forests and biodiversity are being sold off. The farmers and tribals are being sold out. And the more that gets sold off, the more who get sold out, the greater the amount of cash that changes hands, the easier it is for the misinformed to swallow the lie of Wall Street’s bogus notion of ‘growth’ – GDP. And India suddenly becomes capitalism’s poster boy ‘economic miracle’.
If anyone perceives the type of ‘development’ being sold to the masses is actually possible in the first instance, they should note that ‘developing’ nations account for more than 80% of world population, but consume only about a third of the world’s energy. US citizens constitute 5% of the world’s population, but consume 24% of the world’s energy. On average, one American consumes as much energy as two Japanese, six Mexicans, 13 Chinese, 31 Indians, 128 Bangladeshis, 307 Tanzanians and 370 Ethiopians .
The Earth is 4.6 billion years old and if you scale this to 46 years then humans have been here for just four hours. The Industrial Revolution began just one minute ago, and in that time, 50% of the Earth’s forests have been destroyed . Forests are just part of the problem. We are using up oil, water and other resources much faster than they can ever be regenerated. We have also poisoned the rivers, destroyed natural habitats, driven some wildlife species to extinction and altered the chemical composition of the atmosphere – among many other things.
Levels of consumption were unsustainable, long before India and other countries began striving to emulate a bogus notion of ‘development’. The West continues to live way beyond its (environmental) limits. The current model of development is moreover based on a deceitful ideology that attempts to justify and sell a system that is designed to fail the majority of the global population and benefit the relative few.
This wasteful, high-energy model is tied to what ultimately constitutes the plundering of peoples and the planet by powerful transnational corporations. And, as we see all around us, the outcome is endless conflicts over fewer and fewer resources. Such conflicts are likely to gather pace as wars are not only fought to grab resources, but are also manufactured in order to destroy states from within by fomenting civil wars and thus destabilize economies and reduce demand for resources .
The outcome is also environmental destruction and an elitist agenda being forwarded by rich eugenicists , who voice concerns over there being ‘simply too many mouths’: those mouths would only take food from their rich bellies – bellies that long ago became bloated from the fat of the land, lucrative wars and the misery brought about by economic exploitation. The super rich who currently run the world regard most of humanity as a problem to be ‘dealt with’.
The type of ‘progress and development’ on offer makes any beneficiaries of it blind to the misery and plight of the hundreds of millions who are deprived them of their lands and livelihoods. If people cannot be removed from their land via making it economically non-viable to continue farming, tens of thousands of militia into the tribal areas to displace 300,000 people, place 50,000 in camps and carry out rapes and various human rights abuses .
In ‘The Greater Common Good’, Arundhati Roy writes about the thousands of tribal people displaced by the Narmada Sarovar Dam:
“Many of those who have been resettled are people who have lived all their lives deep in the forest… Suddenly they find themselves left with the option of starving to death or walking several kilometers to the nearest town, sitting in the marketplace offering themselves as wage labour, like goods on sale… Instead of a forest from which they gathered everything they needed – food, fuel, fodder, rope, gum, tobacco, tooth powder, medicinal herbs, housing materials – they earn between ten and twenty rupees a day… In Vadaj, the man who was talking to me rocked his sick baby in his arms… Children collected around us, taking care not to burn their bare skin on the scorching tin walls of the shed they call a home. The man’s mind was far away from the troubles of his sick baby. He was making me a list of fruits he used to pick in the forest. He counted forty-eight kinds. He told me that he didn’t think he or his children would ever be able to afford to eat any fruit again…I asked him what was wrong with his baby. He said it would be better for the baby to die than live like this.” 
The type of development that we are seeing is legitimised by a certain mindset and ideology. Vandana Shiva sums it up as follows:
“People are perceived as ‘poor’ if they eat food they have grown rather than commercially distributed junk foods sold by global agri-business. They are seen as poor if they live in self-built housing made from ecologically well-adapted materials like bamboo and mud rather than in cinder block or cement houses. They are seen as poor if they wear garments manufactured from handmade natural fibres rather than synthetics.” 
The ‘poor’ must therefore be helped out of their awful ‘backwardness’ by the West and its powerful corporations and billionaire ‘philanthropists’. As with Monsanto and the Gates Foundation in Africa and the ‘helping’ of Africans by imposing a highly profitable (for the corporations) and controlling system of agriculture, the underlying premise harks back to colonialism and an imperialist mindset. What some might regard as ‘backward’ stems from an ethnocentric ideology, which is used to legitimise the destruction of communities and economies that were once locally based and self sufficient. The disease if offered as the cure.
Sudhansu R Das, who was mentioned at the start of this article, argues that reweaving the Indian village economy lies in the ability of the leadership to revert the change in societal behaviour that lets villagers prefer unnecessary consumer items to real economic assets.
Das argues that the young generation in villages today prefers fast food to homemade nutritious food. Similarly many biodegradable, handcrafted, daily use items give way to plastic and synthetic products. People give up many climate friendly traditional dresses, footwear and a wide range of homemade eatables for no convincing reason but for the influence of ‘the market’ and advertising. People are persuaded to borrow and live beyond their means. The mad craze for status symbol has indebted millions of people. Pursuit of consumer comfort and decay in social value have broken the joint family system in villages which once provided safety to old people and saved family expenditure. Das calls for reinvigorating entrepreneurship in villages.
However, instead of this government after government aggravates the problems by creating an impression that the villagers are a backward, inefficient and unproductive lot who can survive only on relief. Das argues that with proper investment and appropriate policies, India’s rural economy could once again thrive. Bringing back Indian villages into shape needs honest and committed leaders at the helm, he argues.
If what is set out above tells us anything, it that India and other regions of the world are suffering from internal hemorrhaging. They are being bled dry from both within and without.
“Look at species destruction. It is estimated to be at about the level of 65 million years ago when an asteroid hit the earth, ended the period of the dinosaurs and wiped out a huge number of species. It is the same level today. And we are the asteroid… There are sectors of the global population trying to impede the global catastrophe. There are other sectors trying to accelerate it. Take a look at whom they are. Those who are trying to impede it are the ones we call backward, indigenous populations – the First Nations in Canada , the aboriginals in Australia , the tribal people in India . Who is accelerating it? The most privileged, so-called advanced, educated populations of the world.” - Noam Chomsky .
Underpinning the arrogance of such a mindset is what Vandana Shiva calls a view of the world which encourages humans to regard man as conqueror and owner of the Earth. This has led that the technological hubris of geo-engineering, genetic engineering, and nuclear energy. Shiva argues that it has led to the
ethical outrage of owning life forms through patents, water through privatization, the air through carbon trading. It is leading to appropriation of the biodiversity that serves the poor .
And therein lies the true enemy of development: a system that facilitates such plunder, which is presided over by well-funded and influential foreign foundations and powerful financial-corporate entities and their handmaidens in the IMF, World Bank and WTO.
Yet it is activists like Shiva herself and NGOs which advocate a different path that are attacked and smeared by officaldom. To open economies to private concerns, proponents of economic neoliberalism are always fond of stating that ‘regulatory blockages’ must be removed. If particular ‘blockages’ stemming from legitimate protest and dissent cannot be dealt with by peaceful means, other methods will be used. When increasing mass surveillance or widespread ideological attempts to discredit and smear do not secure compliance or dilute the power of protest, beefed up ‘homeland security’ and paramilitary force is an ever-present option.
Across the globe, powerful corporations and their compliant politicians seek to sweep away peoples and their indigenous knowledge and culture in the chase for profit and control. They call this ‘development’.
Is the narrative set out here to be dismissed because it is deemed too extreme and based on dogma? Tell that to the 340 million destitute that make up over half of India’s poor in 2014. Tell that also to millions around the world, from Greece to the US and beyond, who are bearing the brunt of ‘globalisation’.
If you are looking for extremism and dogma, look elsewhere. Look towards those whose unimaginable wealth feeds off and fuels a system of exploitation and conflict that is designed to benefit the few. That’s the nature of the model of development that is depicted as anything but. Nonetheless, it is the reality of the development we have.
12] Robert Brenner (1976), “Agrarian Class Structure and Economic Development in Pre-industrial Europe”.Past and Present 70
13] Barrington Moore (1993) [First published 1966]. Social origins of dictatorship and democracy: lord and peasant in the making of the modern world (with a new foreword by Edward Friedman and James C. Scott ed.). Boston: Beacon Press.