Guiding Light of The Month

O Lord, how ardently do I call and implore Thy love! Grant that my aspiration may be intense enough to awaken the same aspiration everywhere: oh, may good- ness, justice and peace reign as supreme masters, may ignorant egoism be overcome, darkness be suddenly illu- minated by Thy pure Light; may the blind see, the deaf hear, may Thy law be proclaimed in every place and, in a constantly progressive union, in an ever more perfect harmony, may all, like one single being, stretch out their arms towards Thee to identify themselves with Thee and manifest Thee upon earth. - The Mother

Economic Barbarism: “It’s culmination and it’s close”

We present below an article by the late Mr. C.V. Devan Nair, former President of Singapore, and former Chairman of the Sri Aurobindo Society, Singapore. The article was written in the aftermath of the East Asian financial crisis of 1997-98 and the Russian debt default of 1998-99. It was first published in the February-March issue of the 'Mother India Journal' in 1999. In this article Mr. Nair explores the flaws inherent in the Western capitalistic system, or the "Washington Consensus", as it is exported to countries around the world. Quoting Sri Aurobindo's prescient words in 'The Human Cycle' and 'Synthesis of Yoga', apart from his poems and The Mother's words, Mr. Nair makes the case for how a flawed capitalistic system results in the economic resources of a nation being cornered by Big Business and it's affiliates in political power, and thus becoming what Sri Aurobindo calls the "occult rulers of its society". The article assumes significance in light of the crisis of confidence plaguing several economies around the world today, with frustration against the corrupt nexus between Big Business and lawmakers spilling into street protests in many countries. The way out, Mr. Nair points out through the words of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, is for the economic activity of society to be influenced and governed through a higher state of consciousness - "the human condition without is very much the result of the human condition within.", as Mr. Nair says in the article. Unpleasant though the consequences of the crisis that started in 2008 has been, one hopes this opportunity would be taken by nations around the world to effect the necessary changes to bring about a more inclusive and holistic world order - a world of compassion, peace and enlightenment that Sri Aurobindo and The Mother sacrificed so much for.

Some seventy years ago, Sri Aurobindo foresaw the end of the era of what he called "economic barbarism." A brief quote from a chapter in ‘The Human Cycle’ may suffice here:

“But if Science has thus prepared us for an age of wider and deeper culture and if in spite of and even partly by its materialism it has rendered impossible the return of the true materialism, that of the barbarian mentality, it has encouraged more or less indirectly both by its attitude to life and its discoveries another kind of barbarism,—for it can be called by no other name,—What of the industrial, the commercial, the economic age which is now progressing to its culmination and its close. This economic barbarism is essentially that of the vital man who mistakes the vital being for the self and accepts its satisfaction as the first aim of life.... The opulent plutocrat and the successful mammoth capitalist and organiser of industry are the supermen of the commercial age and the true, if often occult rulers of its society.”1

Voters in democratic nations often fall prey to the delusion that the governments they elect will faithfully fulfil their aspirations. But it is an open secret that Big Business interests—the occult rulers of society— have systematically achieved a stranglehold on the economic agendas which, in large part, several governments, especially those in the advanced industrialised nations, pursue.

I remember the day when a euphoric Wall Street Journal carried the banner headline on its front page: "Socialism Collapses. Capitalism Triumphs." Poor benighted souls! It was not socialism that had collapsed, but the tyranny of the communist systems devised by Stalin and his ilk. Little did they realise then that the moment of Truth for the fiercely competitive free market capitalist system was not long in the future.

That brutal awakening may be more visible in process now. In October last year a singularly perceptive French analyst, Philip S. Golub, writing in Le Monde Diplomatique, commented: "Before the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis, most economists believed that the collapse of statist development models would usher in the 'the second great age of global capitalism since the end of the 19th century' —an age of sustained growth, free trade and world economic integration. The East Asian miracle was held to be a landmark of globalisation and a singular example of the efficacy and power of American-styled market liberalisation and deregulation policies. Asia's precipitous plunge into depression has greatly undermined this Utopian vision. Brought on by massive and rapid capital outflows, the Asian crisis has revealed the destructiveness and basic irrationality of unregulated collective market behaviour. In little over a year, the crisis has wrecked the economic and social prospects of emerging Asian countries, contaminated Russia, Eastern Europe and Latin America, and spread deflation to the international commodity markets."

Mr. Golub went on to reveal what the western media in general, largely owned or funded as they are by Big Business, have chosen to overlook as not being of sufficient "news value": "The scale of the disaster is more apparent in the social sphere. In the downward spiral of depression, the middle classes are being proletarianised while the proletariat sinks into absolute poverty. The post-crisis social stratification in East Asia is a throwback to the feudal order which existed before the miracle years: a pyramid with, at its top, a small cast of the super-rich protected by the armed forces; at its bottom an ocean of voiceless poor. The economic contraction is accompanied everywhere by an explosion of unemployment in countries which, for the most part, lack even elementary social safety nets."

However things may actually turn out, the all too patent failure of the free market gospel in large parts of Asia, ominously extended now to Russia and Eastern Europe and already threatening the economies of Latin America, have brought fears of a global recession and the incalculable social and political consequences that must inevitably follow to the capitals of North America and the European Union, even if they have thus far emerged relatively unscathed by the economic meltdown elsewhere. The fears are amply justified, considering that the world is a single organism, and it is clearly inconceivable that if three continents are already seized by creeping economic paralysis, the others can remain healthy.

Right now they nervously watch Russia paying a very heavy price for having rashly imported American style capitalism into a country clearly not prepared by its history, culture and innate national genius for so hazardous an experiment. That price is paid in terms of near-total bankruptcy, unpaid wages, massive unemployment and chronic undernourishment at near-starvation levels for millions of Russians. The powers-that-be in India too, if with a degree of ambivalence these days, have undertaken a similar experiment against which Sri Aurobindo had warned long ago. As early as August 1915 he had written: "That stupendous effort of Western materialism and civilisation is over; it has not yet frankly declared its bankruptcy, but it is bankrupt. It is sinking in a cataclysm as gigantic and as unnatural as the attempt which gave it birth. On the other hand, the exaggerated spirituality of the Indian effort has also registered a bankruptcy; we have seen how high individuals can rise by it, but we have seen also how low a race can fall which in its eagerness to seek after God ignores His intention in humanity. Both the European and the Indian attempts were admirable, the Indian by its absolute spiritual sincerity, the European by its severe intellectual honesty and ardour for the truth; both have accomplished miracles; but in the end God and Nature have been too strong for the Titanism of the human spirit and for the Titanism of the human intellect."2

Again, more pointedly, in 1920 he had cautioned: "The scientific, rationalistic, industrial, pseudo-democratic civilisation of the West is now in process of dissolution and it would be a lunatic absurdity for us at this moment to build blindly on that sinking foundation. When the most advanced minds of the occident are beginning to turn in this red evening of the West for the hope of a new and more spiritual civilisation to the genius of Asia, it would be strange if we could think of nothing better than to cast away our own self and potentialities and put our trust in the dissolving and moribund past of Europe." 3

Alas, that is precisely what India did and continues to do, with all too deplorable consequences that the best Indian minds and spirits have become painfully aware of.

Giant multinational conglomerates which, in Sri Aurobindo's words, "are the supermen of the commercial age and the true, if often occult, rulers of its society" use a casuistic catchword to mislead the unwary: globalisation. What they have in mind is certainly not the globalisation of the highest attained values and perceptions of human consciousness in all continents. Far from it. They only mean the globalisation of unfettered monetary greed—an ideology that serves the interests of those with money at the expense of those without. "Moneytheism" is the name of the religion rigorously practised by these behemoths. In truth, the much-prated globalisation process has really been in the spheres of Big Money operating mainly via border-spanning multinationals and reckless hedge funds and currency speculators out to ceaselessly augment their ill-gotten billions. In this sense, "globalisation" really means Westernisation, not the emergence of any living sense of human unity and transnational values.

On the contrary, we might with more justification speak of the globalisation of degenerate tastes and appetites as evidenced, to give just one instance, by the unprecedented vulgarity of most of the film productions from Hollywood in America to Bollywood in India, of quick-fix techniques and electronic wizardries. The great majority of Internet junkies, for instance, are addicts of things like pornography, political (even terrorist) propaganda, and hooked to the not-so-hidden persuaders of dubious products and services: precisely why Sri Aurobindo called it the Age of the vital man (he was referring to the lower vital).

In this general darkness that threatens to engulf humanity, one discerns a promising flowering among some international Sri Aurobindo circles who have embarked on attempts, not merely in theory, but to consciously work towards the initiation of successful practical demonstrations of alternative systems of wealth creation, production, exchange and dispensation; and of life-styles. The mind-boggling accelerations in all fields of life we witness today are not in the least surprising in the light of the Mother's message of 24th April 1956:

“The manifestation of the Supramental upon earth is no more a promise but a living fact, a reality.

It is at work here, and one day will come when the most blind, the most unconscious, even the most unwilling shall be obliged to recognize it.”

The minority of mankind spread over all climes which has already begun experimenting with different life-style alternatives to economic barbarism are inspired pioneers who have dared to venture outside the beaten tracks of current scientific and economic paradigms in order to take a leap towards the Future. And we recall the Mother's New Year message of 1971: "Blessed are those who take a leap towards the Future."

The Future the Mother had in view was not just patched-up human institutions with new-fangled political, social, economic and technological notions and nostrums for an "improved" human world. The Future she envisaged was a more than human consciousness, divinely impelled, that would lead the world to something else altogether.

Human deprivation is no stranger to the richest country in the world. We also know that multiple barbarisms like fiercely politicised ethnic and religious differences and the conflicts arising from them have resulted in several killing-fields in our benighted world. Such happen to be some of the charming offspring of human civilisation.

But more and more people the world over are awakening to the sombre realisation that mental man has reached the end of his tether, and have become increasingly receptive to the liberating messages of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. The most fascinating question for awakened souls these days is not the next ideological revolution but what lies beyond the human species on our planet.

However, let us not commit the meretricious folly of altogether denigrating the achievements of mental man. Mental development was a very necessary and important prelude to a vaster evolutionary scheme. Sri Aurobindo confirmed this, as did the Mother, on several occasions. One such cautionary note was sounded in ‘The Human Cycle’: "Even in its negative work the materialism of Science had a task to perform which will be useful in the end to the human mind in its exceeding of materialism."4

We might also recall the marvellous concluding lines of his sonnet The Greater Plan:

There is a need within the soul of man

The splendours of the surface never sate;

For life and mind and their glory and debate

Are the slow prelude of a vaster theme,

A sketch confused of a supernal plan,

A preface to the epic of the Supreme.5

By the same token, no rung of the evolutionary ladder up which we have climbed deserves opprobrium. Nothing has to be either cancelled or escaped from. There are no escape routes available anyway for men or nations, for the good reason that nobody is saved unless all are saved. Whether consciously or unconsciously, all things move towards a great denouement—the most potent transmutation of consciousness in evolutionary history.

Mental men (including this writer) have often behaved like lemmings. The vast majority of us still do. I once came across a "profound" doggerel (in the open pages of The Wall Street Journal of all places) that went:

Lemmings are a strange species

That suffer from an illusion.

They've never learned the fallacy

Of jumping to a conclusion.

Unlike lemmings, the mental conclusions we jump to are not always immediately fatal. More often than not, we merely end up nursing bruised egos or bumps on our heads. For instance, several western economic whiz-kids believe that the leaks the global economic boat has sprung can be plugged with some ingenuity and eventually all things will revert to status quo ante. What they fail to appreciate is that they deal with a no longer serviceable boat that has already sprung multiple leaks and is destined to sink into merciful oblivion in the depths. For, evolutionary pressures keep mounting to oblige the race to get into a new and altogether different boat.

Many economists and government leaders, especially in America, still entertain the delusions of Mr. Fukuyama, who a few years ago wrote an enthusiastically reviewed best-seller with the fatuous title: ‘The End of History’, in which he made the case that the age of recessions and depressions was over, and globalised capitalism would bring about unending progress. It is a wonder that so many westerners (as well as gullible easterners) had only the day before yesterday, so to speak, readily swallowed such a highly dubious thesis.

In truth, the growing suspicion these days is that what we are really tuned in to today are the death rattles of prehistory. History has yet to begin. Indeed, it may already have tentatively begun in the increasing number of men and women who experience unaccustomed stirrings in their souls prompted by a Divine Consciousness, which willy-nilly impel them to stop treading the ever circling tracks of mind and to explore vast inner dimensions of consciousness instead. This minority of mankind scattered all over the world is probably more than we think, but let us hope not less than the critical number of awakened humans required to preclude purgation by "Kalki's Sword."

Such an outcome cannot be altogether discounted, in the light of two of the Mother's messages. One was her grim warning in 1967:

“Men, countries, continents!

The choice is imperative:

Truth or the abyss.”

Even earlier came a statement she made in 1963:

“I cannot promise you that the Divine’s will is to preserve the present human civilization.”

Whether it's worth preserving is not a moot issue with many, including this writer. The Future the Mother would have us leap towards lies above and beyond the achievements of mental humanity, for it would be a leap into a suprahuman dimension of consciousness. Sri Aurobindo and the Mother had seen and experienced that mentally inconceivable Future right down to their bodies, and the integral Yoga they offer is an effective way to attempt that leap, not up to heavens beyond, but here, in life on earth.

Our psychic being is the launching pad for that take-off into the multiple infinitudes of the Supreme Mediatrix. The few who have taken that leap towards the Future dedicate their lives and aspirations, thoughts and actions, towards manifesting, in whatever field of activity they may find themselves in, something of the power, light, harmony and beauty they have experienced or have had glimpses of. Willy-nilly, we are obliged to radiate what we are within ourselves to our surroundings, to the human beings we relate to or to the kind of work we do in our separate fields, whether these be individual, collective, social, national or international ones. No domain of human life or activity is foreign to the Divine labour in mankind On the contrary, all domains of human endeavour on our planet need to be annexed to the new consciousness that presses to be born. In all circumstances we need to be guided by the infallible axiom that the human condition without is very much the result of the human condition within.

There can be no better introduction to the global reversal of consciousness that the Mother and Sri Aurobindo called for than the following glowing paragraph culled from the Synthesis of Yoga:

“The Divine that we adore is not only a remote extra-cosmic Reality, but a half-veiled Manifestation present and near to us here in the universe. Life is the field of a divine manifestation not yet complete: here, in life, on earth, in the body, — ihaiva, as the Upanishads insist,—we have to unveil the Godhead; here we must make its transcendent greatness, light and sweetness real to our consciousness, here possess and, as far as may be, express it. Life then we must accept in our Yoga in order utterly to transmute it; we are forbidden to shrink from the difficulties that this acceptance may add to our struggle. Our compensation is that even if the path is more rugged, the effort more complex and bafflingly arduous, yet after a point we gain an immense advantage. For once our minds are reasonably fixed in the central vision and our wills are on the whole converted to the single pursuit, Life becomes our helper. Intent, vigilant, integrally conscious, we can take every detail of its forms and every incident of its movements as food for the sacrificial Fire within us. Victorious in the struggle, we can compel Earth herself to be an aid towards our perfection and can enrich our realisation with the booty torn from the powers that oppose us.”6

Are there enough intrepid souls on our planet to accept that challenging invitation? It would be a messy affair if there weren't. But we have the high assurance that the transformation will be, whether the culmination of the mental human prelude proves messy or propitious.

In any case, all speculation on the subject falls silent as we listen to Sri Aurobindo's words in ‘The Hour of God’: "Nor let worldly prudence whisper too closely in thy ear; for it is the hour of the unexpected."

- C. V. Devan Nair


1. SABCL, Vol. 15, pp. 72-3.

2. SABCL, Vol. 16, p. 311.

3. SABCL, Vol. 17, p. 196.

4. SABCL, Vol. 15, p. 71.

5. SABCL, Vol. 5, p. 137.

6. SABCL, Vol. 20, p. 68.

(Article Courtesy: ‘Mother India Journal’, February-March 1999)

1 comment:

kuru said...

Devan Nair thoughts and language was indeed recast by his close readings of Sri aurobindoo's works. This article reflects that immersion and his ability to relate to everyday issuses and not quotes from historical refrences.
This is delighting article, the graphic depiction of the vital barbarian, the end of tethered mental rope and the possibiities of integral approach, remains unknown mystery.