IT all began with great hopes. Never in the history of man were conditions so favourable. The Reformation, the Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution all these gave men an opportunity to chart a new history.
It was really an age of reason. But it was also an age of hubris. There was loss of faith in God. God is dead, declared Nietzsche. Man was on his own.
Tagore was inspired by what he saw. He hoped that an ideal civilisation would issue out of the heart of Europe. But, alas, what came out of the heart of Europe were monstrosities – Fascism, Nazism and Communism. Together, they almost destroyed the world. Who is to blame? The western man. Because he was never Christianised or civilised. He remained the beast that he was.
It was the claim of the west that it was going out into the wide world “to civilise the barbarians.” But what did the colonialist and missionaries achieve? Disorder. Albert Schweitzer, the Swiss Christian leader says: “Western civilisation still acts as a powerful agent of disorder and oppression throughout the world.” The western mission in the world was a failure.
What do the victims say? Tagore says: “It has been increasingly planned that beyond the bound of the empire the torch of western civilisation was not meant to give light, but to start fires.” The fires are still burning in the world. Some, never to be extinguished.
And this is how Aurobindo describes European industrialism: “terrible, monstrous and asuric (demonish)” Aurobindo feared that the West would transmit its social plagues to the rest of the world. He was right.
What do western men say of their own civilisation? Thomas Berry, a historian, says that “this destructive force (European industrialism) rising out of the west and spreading all over the world is imperilling the entire human venture.” This is exactly what it is doing.
The West took away all that was valuable in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Back home, the bricks were giving way to marble.
But what did industrialism do to the men? Made them more selfish and greedy. Prof JP Galbraith, the famous economist, says that selfishness has been the dominant motive of the men behind the industrial revolution. It is even so today. Remember JRD Tata’s judgement on Indian industry and trade? He said greed was what was driving them forward.
Where did the greed take them to? Literally, to damnation. Prof. Samuel Huntington has drawn the finest picture of the western crisis. Of the western maladies he has listed, here are a few: weakening of power, growth of anti-social behaviour, drug abuse, violence, decay of family ties, high divorce rates, illegal babies, teenage pregnancies, weakening of the work culture, growth of strange cults, decreasing commitment to learning and intellectual life. Is there a remedy? Not with the west. There is no exit from the trauma of history, says Huntington.
Can the East offer a remedy? It can. Parkinson says: “If the West wants to survive, it must absorb what is best in the East.”
And what is best in the East? Moderation, tolerance and abhorance to violence. The Buddha says: “Sorrow is the lot of man.” What is his remedy? “Reduce your wants”, he says. But capitalism promotes unlimited desires. And consumerism turns men and women into zombies of the western system.
The West has monotised everything except light, air and soil. I am sure that these will appear in the markets wrapped in beautiful packages.
There was a time when the West used to boast that it has answers to all questions. But the answers have turned out to be false. Niels Bohr, the scientist, says that recent developments have brought to light the insufficiency of western thought. It has shaken the foundations on which the customary interpretations were based, he says.
The West has made far too many mistakes in history. It has not been able to create a better world. We can no more put our trust on the West. But do we want to put our trust on the Chinese or the Japanese? No. The Chinese are a race which has cared for itself throughout their long history. And I am afraid the Japanese are not out of their military psychosis.
The United Nations was a nice idea. But it is dominated by the powerful nations. India has a vested interest in making the UN truly democratic. I am sure India’s voice will be heard attentively.