Fwd: [karmayog] After creating wealth, we now manufacture happiness
---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Wednesday, July 24, 2013
Subject: [karmayog] After creating wealth, we now manufacture happiness
How deciding what is good for others comes to us naturallyThese are the new creation theories. Well, not so new really, at least not the one about wealth creation. For a long time, economists have wanted us to believe that human enterprise creates assets. All through this pursuit, we have been asked to overlook the fact that material wealth is finite in nature. No business, industry or economy can create wealth out of thin air. It needs resources such as water, land, minerals and so on. Yet, we pompously claim the process of converting and exhausting natural wealth into tradable commodities, and thereby exhausting the resources, as creation of wealth.In India, the lament over GDP growth rate is a call to extract more coal and minerals, harnessing more rivers for power, sucking out more groundwater for cash crops or gobbling up more land to accommodate growing infrastructure facilities. All of these are part of the grand alchemy of wealth creation that promises us a better life. No matter the simple arithmetic that estimates a requirement of four times the earth’s resources if everyone were to live the American middle class life so many of us aspire to. Naturally, the big majority must live in different layers of poverty so that a few can have that life of wasteful opulence. Yet, the poor are to blame for not being enterprising enough to ‘create wealth’.If that was not enough balderdash, the neo-creation theory has further evolved. Having learnt to create wealth, now it wants to ‘create’ happiness. Yes, the same happiness we all feel every now and then for reasons we often don’t even remember; and that that eludes so many of us, often for no apparent reason and despite many sessions with psychologists. It is what Hawthorne described as “a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you”.But when a company with a proven record of ‘creating wealth’ takes it upon itself to manufacture happiness, it becomes a tradable commodity offered to buy consent from a community fiercely opposed to let anyone rip open a patch of green earth they call home. The Dongriya Kondhs of Odisha’s Niyamgiri hills who have been resolutely fighting Vedanta’s plans to mine their homeland for bauxite, have no roads, health centres, schools, nothing. They live on 35 kg of rice that the government provides each family every month and the fruits of the mountain. The effortlessly organic mangoes, pineapples, jackfruits, bananas and turmeric they sell make no blip on the GDP radar. They drink a lot, take life easy and die young. Yet, they look and sound happier than most I have met in life.This can be puzzling to us. But instead of trying to understand what keeps these hill people content, we promptly conclude that they don’t feel wretched because they don’t know better. Over the last decade, the debate over Niyamgiri has exposed a few interesting positions. The rabid claims that the opinion or even the wellbeing of a few cannot undermine our national interest. Since the primitive tribes have little or no idea of the Indian nationhood, why not annex their homes as enemy land? The liberal wonders if the government has done enough to educate the tribals about the benefits of mining, implying that such an effort would have surely ended their opposition. After all, how can a bunch of have-nothings resist the lure of the good life? The democrat agrees that the tribal’s have the right to decide but question if their decision was an informed one. Really, should we abandon the Dongria Kondhs who clearly do not know what is good for them?These are not rants of hair-brained intellectuals. And it is not only the tribal who inspires such condescension. In 2007, for example, when the Left Front government sent armed cadres and police forces to demolish local resistance to development at Nandigram, quite a few jumped in defence of then chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. Among them was the mighty editor of a national daily. In a crafty masterpiece, he did not say a word against the state terror but attacked the Left's narrow politics. He had to devote so many words on the obvious self-destructiveness of the CPI-M only to distinguish between the hackneyed Left and its reformist chief minister.Soon, he delivered the chilling clincher: the Left must back Buddha, even and particularly after Nandigram, and his economy and if Buddha won, it would have changed the Left, and Bengal, forever. Readers were told that any condemnation of the state terror at Nandigram should also be considered a verdict on Buddha's economics. Expanded, the logic read: Buddha's economics was the only hope for Bengal and he should not be censored for sending armed cops and party cadres to kill and rape at will. The bottomline: the ‘unreasonable’ multitudes are dispensable and it does not matter how they are dispensed with if it is in national interest.Nobody knows if the state and the company are done with their machinations at Niyamgiri yet or if exposure to modern education or gadgets will change the young Dongriya Kondhs who so resolutely stand by their elders. But, since last week, three village palli sabhas have unanimously rejected the mining proposal. While nobody expects advocates of big development to suddenly welcome the people’s verdict, there is no reason why most pro-business reactions should be so angry and condescending.In a democracy, it is only fair that different interest groups pursue and stand for different agendas. It is no shame that many of us have our crosses to carry. But we better save those they-know-not-what-they-do lines and let history judge who really needs absolution. Sadly, like wealth and happiness, humility cannot be created.