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Friday, December 27, 2013

Elitism

Dear readers who are not on facebook, This post is a continuation of a dialogue that was started on facebook. If you would like more background to it, please write to me! Thanks!

Forms of elitism
Firstly to clarify, I am talking about economic elitism here. And since friends have talked about spiritual, intellectual, nutritional, emotional and other forms of elitism, let me explain why I see economic elitism as fundamentally different from all others. In our current capitalistic society, being an economic elite means that we figure in the top 10-30% of the population that controls 70-80% of the world's resources. So being an economic-elite today means that one has unbridled access to and control over resources, which becomes possible ONLY BY forcing the rest of the population to lose their control over these resources. To give you a very simple example, Britannia (a leading biscuit company in India) was able to grow only through planned and systematic destruction of numerous small local biscuit making enterprises (driving people to poverty), by the admission of a senior marketing manager of the company known to me. 

Manish Gupta has quoted so many apt examples to demonstrate this. “I live in an apartment with running water, decent electricity availability, both these resources come at a premium to me. These are diverted to me as I am willing to pay the price (high rent, cost of electricity, etc). Many non-elites do not have ready access to these, and at least partially the reason for this is my being extravagant with these resources. When I run an AC, it consumes enough electricity that could provide fans to several small houses. My long showers or washing machine eat up the cooking water of 'non elites'. When I drive a car in the morning rush traffic, it is eating up a 40 square feet or more of road space for one person, whereas 'non elites' take a fraction of that space in a bus or train, but have to go through delays of traffic and its inconvenience, because of many elites like me taking up the limited road space.”    

But all other forms of elitism are different. It may be true that currently only a small percentage of the world population is elite nutritionally, spiritually and so on. But their perceived elitism does not practically impede anyone else's ability to become elite. It, in fact, can catalyse the process of everyone being able to rise. And so, theoretically 100% of the population can be intellectually, nutritionally and spiritually elite, attaining the true goal of sarvodaya (Universal Uplift / Progress for all)

Since Sainath is one of the most adept at articulating issues around 'inequality', here are links to two news articles that have some statistics and imageries useful for our dialogue. Like Manish Gupta has said, I think elitism also has many degrees to it, with people making different levels of allowances for themselves. While this might be on one end of the spectrum, it gives us a good idea to see where in the spectrum we each are for our own personal knowledge!  

A hoarding for a gated community which promises private swimming pools near Pune, Maharashtra State.
A well surrounded by villagers for water in the same state of Maharashtra     


Equal opportunity?
Within a fundamentally unequal society i.e. economic order (since, these days, our societies are embedded in our economies!), we can say for the sake of argument that everybody has an equal opportunity to get to the top 10% and get access to resources by marginalizing others. But I am interested in a different kind of an ‘equal opportunity’. The kind where we say ‘Every single life form has equitable access to resources to satisfy their material needs in order to thrive!’ Sarvodaya! 

"The economically rich person has the same challenge as one who is economically challenged: how does she/he create a meaningful life?"
I would word it differently. “Some challenges are same for everyone, either economically rich or poor. The challenge around ‘how to create a meaningful life’ for instance.” If I were an adivasi (aborigine), when a mining company comes and sweet-talks me into giving up my ancestral land, employs police force to shoot my family members down to silence protest, and when I finally find refuge in a city slum, sends a bulldozer to raze my home down without notice to expand the road or whatever, I wouldn’t think that my challenges are the same as those of an economically rich person! 

Swadharma / Yugadharma or Personal Resolution / Social Responsibility 
Many of you have talked about how you personally resolve the fact that you are an elite. "I don't categorise my experience as elite...." "I don't relate to others through my elite lens..." In the spiritual life of an economic elite, it is of course absolutely essential to find peace in the moment with what is, treat everyone kindly, etc. This is the easy part of the answer. But it does not absolve us of our responsibility to finding the answer to the more difficult part of the question. It is one comment that says "I don't have to deal with my own elitism. Others do!" Now, what responsibility would we like to take for others experience of my elitism? Especially if our economic elitism comes at the cost of their mere survival?

If we connect to the idea of THE FLAME OF DISCONTENT, then the question becomes whether we are finding peace while stoking the fire or by putting it off. In our quest for peace, have we pegged the line of action around us, or do we have an unpegged line that is drifting. The latter requires a willingness to continuously question the world around, understand our relationship and interface with it and an ability to make peace with the answers we find, from one moment to the next. This is where we enter the arena of 'dharma' and 'dharmic action'. Interestingly, the word 'dharma' means 'that which holds together' or 'the universal law which holds all life together in unity'. In today's world where everything is falling apart and disintegrating - from our own health to the ozone layer to glaciers to forests to families to communities to wildlife, a world which is stricken with widespread adharma, a constructive and holistic dialogue about dharma becomes extremely important and urgent.

The fact that we are all making ourselves accountable to this question I posted shows that we are all people continuously striving to live with integrity and awareness. But our lives are being controlled by a system that has completely lost its integrity. The question is “Can we live a dharmic life, entrenched in a fundamentally adharmic society?” It is interestingly closely related to another post I made “Of what use is it to be a good citizen, live a life where all our undertakings are ‘legal’, if we are living in a country whose laws are framed and controlled by a completely wrong set of values?”

If swadharma is one's own chosen personal life path based on her understanding of her tendencies, assets, liabilities, duties, etc. and yugadharma is the dharma of our times (which depends on the kind of crises that the civilization is facing in that particular yuga / period of time), my personal understanding is that one needs to constantly strive to align swadharma with yugadharma. Here's an analogy of the human body. Though the swadharma of the brain is different from that of the kidney, they still need to align with the larger functioning of the human body in order to keep it together. If the larger system disintegrates, the organ becomes dead and irrelevant. The individual organ and the body are interdependent.

From my understanding and experience, there is always bound to be a conflict (dharma-sankata) between our swadharma and yugadharma, because we all operate from a certain level of personal desire, the basis of which is fear. But this is ok and is a part of a natural evolutionary process. Through spiritual practice, as we keep the fire stoked and practice awareness, the more we are free from our personal fears and desires, the more our swadharma and the yugadharma will converge. Since every action of ours has an impact on life around (on the world), dharmic action can be born only out of deep enquiry into and understanding of the yuga-adharma.

What is the root cause of all suffering in this world? In what and how many ways has it manifested? What physical systems and structures has the conflicted and fear-ridden mind created? How do we dismantle it to enable the flow of life? We need to sincerely enquire into what is action of punya (that which enables the flow of life) and what is apunya (that which obstructs the flow of life) of our times!

A wonderful analogy is that of large dams. The modern mind came up with the idea of blocking the flow of rivers through large concrete structures (dams) to exploit it. We have collectively paid a very heavy price for it! Now large dams are being decommissioned (i.e. removed through explosion) across the world to let the rivers flow again. In a mad race to ape the west and "develop", India is building more large dams. But that's another story. 

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