Preface to the Indian Edition
During British colonization, India was confronted with a new vision of the world. The new masters professed a faith very much different from the ones India had been acquainted with. Their energies were directed to indefinitely improving the material environment of man. The Industrial Revolution seemed to promise a future of more and more power for man, who would enjoy a progressively more comfortable life: 'Progress'. This conception of an increasingly brilliant future was at odds with Hindu mentality, which considered history as a progressive decadence from the Satya Yuga, an age of spiritual fullness when man was close to his divine source, to the present age of spiritual darkness, the Kali Yuga. Islam also believed that the course of history from the days of Mohammad until the end of time would suffer a progressive decline. Indeed, all previous civilizations considered decadence, and not progress, to be the normal course of the history and nature of man on earth.
In contradiction with its promises of progress, British colonization turned a prosperous country into a deeply impoverished one. But it also produced an elite of Indians who, educated in the Western ideas and conceptions, assumed the new ideal of progress. The people who captured power at the time of independence and ruled the country thereafter belonged, with few exceptions, to this elite. Ignoring and forgetting the old 'dharma', they directed the new country along the same path trod by the ancient colonizers and the other Western powers that, with the instruments provided by the new techniques and the way of life that these implied, dominated the world militarily, politically and economically.
So-called 'progress' and the radical new orientation that it entailed is in the West the result of a long evolution metaphysical, mental and material that was in great part a reaction against the totalitarian and irrational form that religion and the human institutions that supported it had taken. "What has been happening since the Renaissance (although few admit it openly) is the replacement of Christianity by modernism as the creed of the West. As a result of this, mechanization has been achieved; and India is now exhorted to do the same, to make its religion merely nominal and ineffective", says Arthur Osborne in his small book The Question of Progress, published in India in 1966.
During the decades after independence and especially over the last fifteen years, there has been a huge development of economic possibilities, and India is now well established on the track of development and 'progress'. The official slogan is now that, after a few more decades of progress, India will become a world superpower with the same advantages (but, it is never mentioned, also with the same problems) as the 'advanced' nations. In this hurried and compulsive race, India (though it has a completely different human and social environment) follows the same urban economic model as the West, and is failing miserably to avoid the traps and errors into which the West has fallen.
Paradoxically, in the Western countries very few people still believe in the theoretical conception of progress, and the enormous problems and 'side-effects' (spiritual, social, psychological, ecological, etc) that it brings in its wake are becoming increasingly evident. Still, the official political and economic world appears completely blind to these facts, and the 'economic machine' continues to advance relentlessly, destroying everything in its way and even putting in danger the health of our planet and maybe the survival of human beings, to produce more and still more of everything without any purpose but its own continuation ("more seems the keyword of our culture, the cure for every malady, the solution for every problem
", as the Manifesto says). But perhaps one cannot blame the men who are apparently in control of these forces, for the reality might well be that they are not their masters but their slaves, and that by now the 'machine' is in reality as autonomous as a Frankenstein monster and cannot but run amok.
At this point it has to be clearly stated that the West is no more a geographical concept in today's world. Its culture and vision have spread throughout most of the world, and especially among the elite that govern almost every country and control the larger economic forces: it can thus be said without much exaggeration that the West is at the government practically everywhere.
Indian ancient tradition did not at all despise economic well-being; on the contrary, prosperity was considered one of the four aims of life (purusharthas) under the form of artha. But artha was only one among the four aims of life. The old economic forces and ways of production were confined within strict limits and did not pretend to take the entire place or to be the only worthwhile goals. They were very much compatible with a spiritual vision, and provided the ground for a civilization that produced a refined art, philosophy and culture and that considered the highest aim of man to be spiritual. This does not seem to be the case with the economic model that was paroxysm in the last decades of neo-capitalism. The new vision is extremely totalitarian and devours everything to maintain itself alive. The economy has to grow permanently and indefinitely, and for this the highest values, and the ways of life that sustained them, are mercilessly destroyed. Modern prosperity seems to imply the destruction of all that was valuable in the old cultures, and above all the destruction of the spiritual vision of man. As the author of the Manifesto says. "Indeed, at a certain point, material growth can only be promoted at the expense of mental and spiritual growth".
India has a good deal of extreme poverty, which should be indeed eliminated, as the dignity of human beings needs a minimum of economic ease. But one thing is to combat poverty, and another to produce an immense quantity of utterly unnecessary objects, under the excuse that the wealth and squander of a privileged few will in the end, by a process of slow trickling, ultimately also benefit the poorest, Arthur Osborne (op. cit.) states in simple words this profound truth that should sound familiar to Indians: "There are two kinds of prosperity: that which Gandhi advocated, of having few wants, and that which modernism advocates, of having a vast supply. The former kind produces contentment, the latter more often leads to frustration since new needs arise as fast as the old ones are met."
At the same time, the modern media and foremost among them television (soon followed by internet), which have found their way into almost every home, feed the minds of people with their vulgar and unreal visions, amusements and news, and present them with a false world of hollow glamour, wealth, consumption and ever-renewed needs. Caught in this mirage, people forget their traditional ways now considered back ward and fill their minds with 'modern' frivolous preoccupations, running after the many 'toys' for adults that the modern industry fabricates; the more or less immediate result is an enormous growth of people's greed, a resulting sense of permanent dissatisfaction and a thorough loss of the sense of the sacredness of life. Instead of dharma, as previously believed, it is now economic and social 'success' that has become to a large extent the main purpose of life for the people affected by the modern outlook. In the words of the author: "There is no cultural identity that can withstand the diabolic seduction of television, computers and consumption".
But this destruction of culture and its progressive and continuous homogenization after the Western pattern is not done, as sometime happened in the past, by force and compulsion, but with people's consent, by feeding them pleasant and sugar-coated poison in small but regular doses. Modern technology, often considered neutral, is in fact one of the most destructive enemies faced by every traditional culture. As the Indo-Spanish philosopher Raimon Panikkar puts it: "The dharma of Hinduism is very flexible, and throughout its long history it has adapted to the incursions of other religions, as Islam, and other cultures, such as the British. But the play was clear; accommodation was free or compulsory, but it was conscious. Modern technology, on the other hand, presents itself as a simple instrument to improve life, without any ideological pretension, and besides, without one's being aware of being imposed a new religion or a 'more advanced' culture. A deeper reflection is needed to realize, against a superficial opinion, that technology, inseparable from modern science, it not neutral nor able to be universalized without breaking the rhythms of the traditional culture for good or for bad."
India identifies the West with the idea of progress. From the West came indeed the idea of progress, but from the West come also a few voices like the one contained in this book. The Manifesto against Progress follows the trail of the far-sighted and profound essay The Crisis of the Modern World, published as early as 1927 by the French traditionalist Rene Guenon, a remarkable thinker who gave birth to a committed 'counter-progressive' movement that laboured to recover the spiritual tradition already lost in the West. Having trod the path; before, it is but natural that reactions to it should also come sooner from the West.
But in India also some voices raised very soon against the Western conception of progress. In his book Hindu Culture: An Exposition and a Vindication, K.S. Ramaswami Sastry writes: "But science must not be allowed to delude us into the belief that the world is a mere self-propelled mechanism. Industry should not be allowed to enslave and degrade human nature. Co-operation must supplant competition. The ascetic ideal must duly balance the ideal of multiplication of wants. Industry should not be treated as the mere fulfillment of contracts but as a service to humanity and as a form of worship of God. Politics should be realized as a fragment of life and not the whole of life. The modern era is certainly not great in art or philosophy or religion. It is only ignorance of the real nature of progress that is responsible for the deification of modern progress as something unparalleled, unique and supreme." Real progress, on the other hand, "is simply the dominance of the sattwic over the tamasic and rajasic impulses. Decay is simply the dominance of the latter over the former".
Agustin Lopez Tobajas, a Spanish professional translator who practices what he preaches, presents in this small book a strong case to dismiss so-called progress and to cut asunder the allurement that it still may have for many of us. Some readers may feel annoyed to see that the author avoids nuances in his ruthless and abrupt one-sided criticism of progress and refuses to argue for any benefit or virtue in its favour. But, as the author himself points out in the Introduction, the nature of a manifesto is to create a direct impact on the reader by ushering in clear and forceful ideas without diluting them with secondary considerations. Moreover, the verdict on any question depends primarily on the point of view from whence one speaks. In this short but incisive, discerning, sarcastic, radical and uncompromising text, Agustin searches for the real face of modernity and progress behind its gleaming make-up and dares to declare for all that would hear that "the king is naked". His judgement is clear-cut and categorical: from the spiritual point of view, which sees man as God-bound, so-called 'progress' is an unmitigated disaster. As a definite if unusual proof of his statement, the author, following A.K. Coomaraswamy, declares that, in contrast with the beauty that all traditional civilizations never failed to produce, the modern world is ugly, and that all it produces is radically and overwhelmingly ugly.
In his book Kritias or Atlantis, the great Greek philosopher Plato wrote about the fall of the ancient continent Atlantis: "
the divine essence began to alter in them due to its repeated association with human nature, and when this one finally raised to predominance, they degenerated. And then, those who had discerning eyes could recognize their misery, as they had lost whatever was most valuable; whereas those incapable to appreciate what in truth constitutes happiness thought, on the contrary, that they had attained the apex of glory and fortune.
In the last decades, India is undergoing tremendous changes. The idea of 'progress' is gaining ground by the day, and seems to be the nation's elite motto Economic benefits seem to be the only consideration worth while. Prosperity is indeed reaching a portion of the population (but, at least for the moment, only a portion); still, as Baudouin de Bodinat said, as quoted in the book, "In order to judge progress, it is not enough to know what it gives us; one must also know what it takes away from us".
And what has been taken away and is being lost day by day is indeed enormous. The classical culture of India with all its far-from-negligible values, dharma as the main aim of the human being and the conception of his ultimate divine destiny, the integration of the individual in extended family and social groups, as well as other organic and cooperative ways of social organization and interaction, the feeling of contentment with one's own situation, the slow pace of life, peaceful and tranquil even if austere lives for most men, the symbiotic relation with nature. So many things that, if not yet completely lost, are well on their way to disappearing, and are quickly forgotten by the individualistic modern urban culture which believes that man can live by bread alone and wants India to conform to the Western pattern as soon as possible. The old values and ways of life are labeled as primitive or backward out of ignorance, but their loss is nonetheless felt in his soul by the modern man without roots.
As a clear and more visible sign of what is happening, the physical environment of India is being shamelessly neglected, raped and exploited ("a savage violation of the Temple of God", in the words of the author), a reflection of the strong weakening of the sense of the sacredness of nature, in the past so evident in Indian culture. As a significant example, the present condition of the river Ganga, the river-goddess revered throughout Indian history, whom all Hindus consider as Mother and who has even come to be identified with Indian civilization, is suffering an appalling pollution, and its waters, subject to dams and canals, are, at least from the official point of view, exclusively considered as source of economic profit.
However, India is still far behind the developed countries of the West in matters of 'progress'. Even now, and unlike the West, India preserves a huge treasury of traditional culture and spiritual knowledge that, though in a state of profound decay after decades of neglect, is still far from dead. Few countries have at this stage the cultural and spiritual weapons that India still possesses to effectively resist and fight the destructive (asuric) forces that hide under the name of 'progress'. It is hoped that, after a few years or decades of more 'progress', the hunger of India after a long period of deprivation and poverty will be satiated, and she will again turn her attention to the spiritual riches of her ancient culture. Progress is able to produce no more than brightly coloured and glossy plastic. Recognising its real nature and not letting themselves be deluded by its shiny colours, the wise ones will start on their search for hidden gold, which, even after centuries of being covered by layers of dust, by its very incorruptible nature can never be tarnished and is as precious now as it has been for thousands of years.
Born with the Industrial Revolution, the idea of 'Progress' is a basic dogma in the ideology of modernity. Despising old religions as superstitions, worship of material 'progress' has become the new religion of the world. But, behind its bright face, so called 'progress' and what came in its wake has thrust humanity into the core of a deep crisis. Science and technology continuously devise new ways of destruction that keep the world in a state of permanent danger; economic development condemns whole countries to utter poverty; art has renounced any search for meaning; ecologic catastrophes are a matter of routine; violence increases everywhere and human beings feel a growing dissatisfaction and emptiness in their lives. Where then is progress?
The nature of a manifesto is to create a direct impact on the reader by ushering in clear and forceful ideas without diluting them with secondary considerations. The author presents here a strong case to dismiss so-called progress and to cut asunder the allurement that it still may have for many of us. In this short but incisive, discerning, sarcastic, caustic, radical and uncompromising text, the author searches for the real face of modernity and progress behind its gleaming make-up and dares to declare for all that would hear that "the king is naked". His judgement is clear-cut and categorical: from the spiritual point of view, which sees man as God-bound, so-called 'progress' is an unmitigated disaster.
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