Sep 21, 2016
Society at large today, is caught up with too many ideas. Confusion and complexity are part of any diverse society like India, as someone said, as long as there is confusion and complexity we debate, we evolve and we are democratic. But what worries one is the process of isolation.
Democracy in itself as an idea was built on the foundational premise of breaking this process of isolation, where one could converse with different epistemologies. But today the monopoly over undemocratic ideas that are operating in societies has become the fate of the very foundational premise of this democracy itself. An electoral democracy is a classic example based on the idea of majority and minority which undermines the true essence of different epistemologies that once co-existed together.
Ideas philosophically, are metaphors which capture the way of thinking in a society. In that sense, if one had to re-look the history of ideas, one would say that if anything, threatens democracy, it is our way of thinking which has resulted in a series of undemocratic ideas. In fact it raises a fundamental question whether if our thinking is democratic enough to sustain democracy? By connecting history of ideas to way of thinking. One of the classic examples of any such undemocratic idea is the idea of development.
Let us begin with examining the ironies attached within the idea of development. In the year 1949,
President Truman initiated development as a program labelling west as developed and the rest as underdeveloped. In creating this dichotomy between developed and underdeveloped Truman collectivized more than half of the world as redundant and obsolescent. It appeared as if he was making a fair deal for the entire world, but little did he know that the idea of fairness is dealt differently in different epistemologies. In a way his attempt at creating a fair deal with the world reflected the idea of development to hegemonize one form of fairness. The politics of this fairness represented development as industrial and material progress as the only possibility ahead.
One has to understand that development is an epistemological construct of west which outplayed all other notions of knowledge systems, culture, lifestyle, livelihood and ways of life, particularly in countries like India and Africa. As a result development as an idea became the second colonizer. If anything has developed as an idea since development, it’s the new subtle ways in which various epistems are colonized in the name of progress. Most severely affected due to this subtle way of shaping ideas and thoughts are the adivasis.
During one of the protest against mining recently at Khandadhar (Odisha), I met a group of adivasis from the PaudiBhuyian tribe, who are actually designated as the most vulnerable primitive tribal group by the state. In fact, one of the tribesmen jokingly said “what use is your idea of development to us, when there is no more soul left within us to live?” This question in fact raised two other questions in my mind. One is development a collective idea? If so, who is the collective?
Because any collective idea would evolve out of democratic process and more would simulate itself with the ethical framework of cognitive justice which connects different epistemologies. The second question in fact points towards the tribesmen’s reference to the soul as nature. Nature in fact can’t be understood within the experimental framework of modern science which substitutes forest as real estate and mountain as resource. The language of development has created a deep rooted isolation within one’s own epistemic understanding if one had to look at the influence of west on the rest of the world.
This hegemonic single fair idea of development has not only destroyed many life systems and knowledges but has also contributed in a great deal in influencing how we think about the idea of education today. If one had to do a critical analysis of the idea of education within the frame work of development, education historically has displaced millions and millions of people compared to any other modes of displacement. Displacement in that sense has to be looked in a variety of ways. The schooling model of the adivasis is a classic example of not only uprooting them from their epistemic self but also is based on the premise of creating a new self within the larger identity politics of the state which threatens them today.
It is in this context that one has to critically analyze the politics of modern education systems which is based on the premise of displacement and isolation from one’s own epistemic understanding of the world. The Brazilian educator and philosopher, Paulo Freire rightly said that ‘Education either functions as an instrument which facilitates the integration of younger generation into the logic of present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world’. What worries about the idea of education within the context of development is the way in which the idea of development is shaping the idea of education.
One would conclude by saying the isolation quotient of the developmental regime needs to be confronted before it contaminates the idea of democracy itself.