Immunity

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All of last week anyone passing by the Symbiosis Institute of Business Management (SIMB) would have seen more than the global map with the brand statement, “Building global business leaders since 1978.” For just to the left of the entrance was a rather conspicuous apology to Al Gore.  

On this Earth Day, I am thinking about an opinion piece in the Times a few weeks ago with the title “We Do things Differently.” The author, Dipankar Gupta, argued that the conspicuous discontinuity between bodily purity and dirty city streets is attributable to the Hindu idea of dirt. “A soiled handkerchief in the pocket is dirt, but not garbage outside one’s door,” Gupta writes. He concludes with the argument that Hindus have a different understanding of dirt, and that caste ideology perpetuates the apparent indifference to the dirty conditions of India’s urban areas. “A Hindu would be amused at how frivolous politics can be in the West,” he writes, perfectly happy to conclude with the pernicious and for me offensive alignment of the Hindu majority with all of India. “What, after all, does dirt outside one’s home have to do with a good life?”

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Gupta’s glib and selfish conclusion, as well as his ethnocentric notion of what he calls “a good life,” neither represents the religious tradition of Hinduism nor does it capture the perspectives of other citizens in this multifaceted secular democracy. It does suggest a more common feeling among Indians that the views of US political leaders and pundits should be at the very least skeptically considered. The fact remains that Gupta’s claims appear naïve or offensive only if one ignores the legacy of economic and ecological imperialism that lurks behind such expressions. For it is not only George Bush that has dismantled our standing abroad-though according to my Indian friends he could not have done any better destroying the credibility and standing of the US on the subcontinent.

 
I was reading up on comparative carbon outputs the other day. It turns out that in 1996, the year for which I could find reliable figures, the average person in the US produced twenty tons of carbon per year. Germans produce twelve tons, Japanese nine tons, and Indians one ton per person. While I am sure the numbers have changed a bit, I am confident that the radical differences persist. That the US continues to use more than its share of the world’ natural resources, and the ways of living its citizens have come to consider inalienable, are widely accepted facts. Indeed a number of commentators have linked the American consumer economy with an insatiable greed for resources extracted from other places in the world.

The German philosopher Rudolf Bahro pointed out in a 1984 interview that “what made poverty bearable in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Europe was the prospect of escaping it through exploitation of the periphery. ” His point is simply that such omnivorous exploitation is not available for developing countries of the twentieth century. So how does one champion the benefits of democratic freedoms, industrialization and economic development at the same time one advocates for changing such exploitative practices? . Living in India it is difficult to see how the American style of consumption can become a model for the global free-market given the limited natural resources that would be necessary to sustain such a future. It is difficult to see (or perhaps it is easier to see living in India or China) that there are reasons for the people of the United States to take stock of their lifestyles and the entitlements they accept without thinking about their consequences. Not a single one of us is immune. And the longer we persist in thinking that we are, the more vulnerable we become.  

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