To Raze a Village
The Modernization of a Thousand-Year-Old Culture
by Helena Norberg-Hodge
"The Case Against the Global Economy"
An anthology of 40 essays published by Sierra Club Books
edited by Jerry Mander and Edward Goldsmith.
Ladakh is a high-altitude desert on the Tibetan Plateau in
northernmost India. To all outward appearances, it is a wild and
inhospitable place...Yet here, in one of the highest, driest, coldest
inhabited places on earth, the Ladakhis have for a thousand years not only
survived but prospered. Out of barren desert they have carved verdant
oases --- terraced fields of barley, wheat, apples, apricots, and
vegetables, irrigated with glacial meltwater brought many miles through
stone-lined channels. Using little more than Stone Age technologies and
the scant resources at hand, the Ladakhis have established a remarkably
rich culture, one that has met not only their material wants but their
psychological and spiritual needs as well.
Until 1962, Ladakh, or "Little Tibet" remained almost totally
isolated from the forces of modernization. That year, in response to the
conflict in Tibet, the Indian Army built a road to link the region with
the rest of the country. With the road came not only new consumer items
and government bureaucracy but a misleading impression of the outside
world. Then, in 1975, the region was opened up to foreign tourists, and
the process of "development" began in earnest.
During almost two decades of close contact with the Ladakhi
people, I have been able to observe almost as an insider the effect of
these changes on the Ladakhis' perception of themselves. Within little
more than a decade, feelings of pride gave way to what can best be
described as a cultural inferiority complex. Today, most young Ladakhis --
teenage boys in particular -- are ashamed of their cultural roots and
desperate to appear modern.
When tourism first began in Ladakh, it was as though people from
another planet had suddenly descended on the region. Looking at
the modern world from something of a Ladakhi perspective, I
became aware of how much more successful our culture looks from
the outside than form the inside.
Each day, many tourists would spend as much as a hundred dollars --
roughly equivalent to someone spending fifty thousand dollars per
day in America. In the traditional subsistence economy, money
played a minor role and was used primarily for luxuries: jewels, silver,
and gold. Basic necessities -- food, clothing, and shelter -- were
provided for no money. The labor one needed was free of charge,
part of an intricate web of human relationships. Ladakhis did not
realize that money meant something very different to the foreigners;
that back home foreigners needed it to survive; that for them food,
clothing, and shelter all cost money -- a lot of money. Compared to
these strangers, the ladakhis suddenly felt poor.
This new attitude contrasted dramatically with the Ladakhis'
earlier self-confidence. In 1975, I was shown around the remote village
of Hemis Shukpachan by a young ladakhi named Tsewang. It seemed
to me that all the houses were especially large and beautiful. I asked
Tsewang to show me where the poor people lived. He looked perplexed
for a moment, then responded, "We don't have any poor people here."
Eight years later, I overheard Tsewang talking to some tourists. "If you
could only help us Ladakhis," he said. "We're so poor."
Besides giving the illusion that all Westerners are multimillionaires,
tourism and Western media images help perpetuateanother myth about
modern life: that we never work. It looks as though our technologies do
the work for us. In industrial society today, we actually spend more hours
working than do people in rural, agrarian economies, but that is not how
it looks to the Ladakhis. (Alan A. --- In a recent study, it was revealed that
modern Americans spend more time "doing the wash" than tribal/peasant
women at riverside.) For Ladakhis, work is physical work: plowing, walking, carrying things. A person sitting behind the wheel of a car, or punching keys on a typewriter doesn't appear to be working.
Development has brought not only tourism but also Western and
Indian films and, more recently, television. Together, they provide
overwhelming images of luxury and power. There are countless tools,
magical gadgets, and machines... Machines can do everything; it's no
wonder the tourists look so clean and have such soft, white hands. Media
images focus on the rich, beautiful, and mobile, whose lives are endless
action and glamour. (Alan A. --- In the traditional Easter Vigil liturgy,
Christians are asked to re-new their baptismal vows by answering the
question: "Do you reject the glamour of Satan?") For young Ladakhis, the
picture is irresistible, an overwhelmingly exciting version of the American
Dream, with an emphasis on speed, youthfulness, supercleanliness,
beauty, fashion, and competitiveness. "Progress" is also stressed: humans dominate nature, and embrace technological change at all costs.
In contrast to these utopian images from another culture, village
life seems primitive, silly, and inefficient. The one-dimensional picture
of modern life becomes a slap in the face. Young Ladakhis...feel ashamed
of their own culture. Traditional Ladakh seems absurd compared with the
world of the tourists and film heroes.
The same pattern is being repeated in rural areas all over the
less-developed Third World, where millions of young people believe
contemporary Western culture to be far superior to their own. This is not
surprising: looking as they do from the outside, all they can see is the
material side of the modern world -- the side in which Western culture
excels. They cannot so readily see the social or psychological dimensions:
the stress, the loneliness, the fear of growing old (and the denial of
death A.A.). Nor can they see the environmental decay... or unemployment.
This leads young Ladakhis to develop feelings of inferiority, to reject
their own culture wholesale, and at the same time to eagerly embrace the
global monoculture. They rush after the sunglasses, Walkmans, and
bluejeans --- not because they find those jeans, for example, more
attractive or comfortable, but because they are a symbol of modern life.
Modern symbols have also contributed to an increase in aggression
in Ladakh. Young boys now see violence glamorized on the screen... and
get the impression that if they want to be modern, they should smoke one
cigarette after another, get a fast car, and race through the countryside
shooting people right and left.
No one can deny the value of real education -- the widening and
enrichment of knowledge -- but in the Third World today, education has
become something quite different. It isolates children from their culture
and from nature, training them instead to become narrow specialists in a
Westernized urban environment. This process has been particularly striking in Ladakh, where modern schooling acts almost as a blindfold, preventing children from seeing the very context in which they live. They leave school unable to use their own resources, unable to function in their own world.
With the exception of religious training in the monasteries, Ladakh's
traditional culture had no separate process called education. Education
was the product of a person's intimate relationship with the community
and the environment. Children learned from grandparents, family and
friends, and from the natural world... From their own experience, children
would come to distinguish different strains of barley and the specific
growing conditions each strain preferred. They would learn how to
recognize and use even the tiniest wild plant... They would learn about
connection, process, and change, about the intricate web of fluctuating
relationships in the natural world around them.
For generation after generation, Ladakhis grew up learning how to
provide themselves with clothing and shelter: how to make shoes out of
yak skin and robes from the wool of sheep; how to build houses out of mud
and stone. Education was location-specific and nurtured an intimate
relationship with the living world. It gave children an intuitive awareness
that allowed them, as they grew older, to use resources in an effective and
None of that knowledge is provided in the modern school. Children are
trained to become specialists in a technological rather than an ecological
society. School is a place to forget traditional skills and, worse, to look down on them. (Alan A. --- In the 1950s, America's evolving technocracy began to dismiss so-called "useless knowledge." In secondary and post-secondary education, "dumb" courses were called "Basket-weaving 101". How deep does our disdain for traditional culture run? How many of us know anyone who can weave a basket?)
Western education first came to Ladakhi villages in the 1970s. Today there are about two hundred schools. The basic curriculum is a poor imitation of that taught in other parts of India, which itself is an imitation of British education. There is almost nothing Ladakhi about it. Once, while visiting a classroom in Leh, the capital, I saw in a textbook a drawing of a child's bedroom that could have been in London or New York. It showed a pile of neatly folded handkerchiefs on a four-poster bed and explained in which drawer of the vanity to keep them. Many other schoolbooks were equally absurd and inappropriate. For homework in one class, pupils were supposed to figure out the angle of incidence that the Leaning Tower of Pisa makes with the ground. In another, they were struggling with an English translation of the Iliad.
Most of the skills Ladakhi children learn in school will never be
of real use to them. In essence, they receive an inferior version of an
education appropriate for a New Yorker, Parisian, or Berliner. They learn
from books written by people who have never set foot in Ladakh, who know
nothing about growing barley at 12,000 feet or about making houses out of
This situation is not unique to Ladakh. In every corner of the
world today, the process called education is based on the same
assumptions... The focus is on faraway facts and figures, on "universal"
knowledge. The books propagate information that is believed to be
appropriate for the entire planet. But since the only knowledge that can
be universally applicable is far removed from specific environments and
cultures, what children learn is essentially synthetic, divorced from its
living context. If they go on to higher education, they may learn about
building houses, but these houses will be universal boxes of concrete and
steel. So, too, if they study agriculture, they will learn about
industrial farming: chemical fertilizers and pesticides; large machinery
and hybrid seeds. The Western educational system is making us all poorer
by teaching people around the world to use the same global resources,
ignoring those that their immediate environments naturally provide. In
this way, Western-style education creates artificial scarcity and induces
In Ladakh and elsewhere, modern education not only ignores local
resources, but, worse still, robs children of their self-esteem.
Everything in school promotes the Western model and, as a direct
consequence, makes children think themselves and their traditions
Western-style education pulls people out of agriculture and into
the city, where they become dependent on the money economy. Traditionally in Ladakh, there was no such thing as unemployment. But now there is intense competition for a very limited number of paying jobs, principally in the government. As a result, unemployment is already a serious problem.
Modern education has brought some obvious benefits, such as
improvement in the literacy rate. It has also enabled the Ladakhis to be
more informed about the forces at work in the world outside. In so doing,
however, it has separated Ladakhis from each other and the land, and put
them on the lowest rung of the global economic ladder.
When I first came to Ladakh, the Western macroeconomy had not yet
arrived, and the local, community-based economy was still rooted in its
own soil. Producers and consumers were closely linked. Two decades of
development in Ladakh, however, has led to a number of fundamental
changes, perhaps the most important of which is the new dependence on food
and energy from thousands of miles away.
The path toward globalization depends upon continuous government
investments, including roads, mass-communications facilities, energy
installations, and schools for specialized education. Among other things,
this heavily subsidized infrastructure allows goods produced on a large
scale and transported long distances to be sold at artificially low prices
--- in many cases at lower prices than goods produced locally.
In Ladakh, the Indian government is not only paying for roads,
schools, and energy installations but is also bringing in subsidized food
from India's breadbasket, the Punjab. Ladakh's local economy --- which
has provided enough food for its people for a thousand years --- is now
being invaded by produce from industrial farms located on the other side
of the Himalayas. The food arriving by the ton in trucks is cheaper in the
local bazaar than food grown a five-minute walk away. For many Ladakhis,
it is no longer worthwhile to continue farming.
In Ladakh this same process affects not just food but a whole
range of goods, from clothes to household utensils to building materials.
Imports from distant parts of India can often be produced and distributed
at lower prices than goods produced locally --- again, because of a
heavily subsidized industrial infrastructure. The end result of the
long-distance transport of subsidized goods is that Ladakh's local economy is being steadily dismantled, and with it the local community once tied together by bonds of interdependence.
Conventional economists, of course, would dismiss these negative
impacts, which cannot be quantified as easily as the monetary transactions
that are the goal of economic development. They would also say that
regions such as the Punjab enjoy "comparative advantage" over Ladakh in
food production, and therefore it makes economic sense for the Punjab to
specialize in growing food, while Ladakh specializes in some other
product, and for each to trade with the other. But when distantly produced
goods are heavily subsidized, often in hidden ways, one cannot really talk
about comparative advantage or, for that matter, "free markets," "open
competition in the setting of prices," or any of the other principles by
which economists and planners rationalize the changes they advocate. In
fact, one should instead talk about the unfair advantage that industrial
producers enjoy, thanks to a heavily subsidized infrastructure geared
toward large-scale, centralized production.
In the past, individual Ladakhis had real power, since political
and economic units were small, and each person was able to deal directly
with the other members of the community. Today, "development" is hooking people into ever-larger political and economic units. In political terms, each Ladakhi has become one in a national economy of 800 million, and one in a global economy of about 6 billion
In the traditional economy, everyone had to depend directly on
family, friends, and neighbors. But in the new system, political and
economic interactions take a detour via an anonymous bureaucracy. The
fabric of local interdependence is disintegrating as the distance between
people increases. So, too, are traditional levels of tolerance and
cooperation. This is particularly true in the villages near Leh, where
disputes and acrimony within close-knit communities, and even families,
have dramatically increased in the last few years. I have even see heated
arguments over the allocation of irrigation water, a procedure that
previously was managed smoothly within a cooperative framework.
As mutual aid is replaced by dependence on faraway forces, people
begin to feel powerless to make decisions over their own lives. At all
levels, passivity, even apathy, is setting in; people are abdicating
personal responsibility. In the traditional village, for example,
repairing irrigation channels was a task shared by the whole community. As
soon as a channel developed a leak, groups of people would start shoveling
away to patch it up. Now people see this work as the government's
responsibility and will let a channel go on leaking until the job is done
for them. The more the government does for the villagers, the less the
villagers feel inclined to help themselves.
In the process, Ladakhis are starting to change their perception
of the past. In my early days in Ladakh, people would tell me there had
never been hunger. I kept hearing the expression tungbos zabos: "enough to
drink, enough to eat." Now, particularly in the modern sector, people can
be heard saying, "Development is essential. In the past we couldn't
manage; we didn't have enough."
Cultural centralization through the media is also contributing to
this passivity, and to a growing insecurity. Traditionally, village life
included lots of dancing, singing, and theater. People of all ages joined
in. In a group sitting around a fire, even toddlers would dance, with the
help of older siblings or friends. Everyone knew how to sing, act, and
play music. Now that the radio has come to Ladakh, people do not need to
sing their own songs or tell their own stories. Instead, they can sit and
listen to the best singer, the best storyteller. As a result, people
become inhibited and self-conscious. They never feel themselves to be as
good as the stars on the radio. Community ties are also broken when people
sit down passively listening to the very best, rather than making music or
Before the changes brought by tourism and modernization, the
Ladakhis were self-sufficient, both psychologically and materially. There
was no desire for the sort of development that later would be seen as a
"need." Time and again, when I asked people about the changes that were
coming, they showed no great interest in being modernized; sometimes they
were even suspicious. In remote areas, when a road was about to be built,
people felt, at best, ambivalent about the prospect. The same was true of
electricity. I remember distinctly how, in 1975, people in the village of
Stagmo laughed about the fuss that was being made to bring electric lights
to neighboring villages. They thought it was a joke that so much effort
and money was spent on what they took to be a ludicrous gain: "Is it worth
all that bother just to have that thing dangling from your ceiling?"
More recently, when I returned to the same village to meet the
council, the first thing they said to me was "Why do you bother to come to
our backward village, where we live in the dark?" They said it jokingly,
but it was obvious they were ashamed not to have electricity.
Before people's self-respect and self-worth had been shaken, they
did not need electricity to prove they were civilized. But within a short
period the forces of development have so undermined peoples' self-esteem
that not only electricity but Punjabi rice and plastic have become needs.
I have seen people proudly wear wristwatches they cannot read and for
which they have no use. And as the desire to appear modern grows, people
are rejecting their own culture. Even the traditional foods are no longer
a source of pride. Now when I'm a guest in a village, people apologize if
they serve the traditional roasted barley, called ngamphe, instead of
Surprisingly, perhaps, modernization in Ladakh is also leading to
a loss of individuality. As people become self-conscious and insecure,
they feel pressured to conform, to live up to the idealized images --- to
the American Dream. By contrast, in the traditional village, where
everyone wears the same clothes and looks the same to the casual observer,
there seems to be more freedom to relax, and villagers can be who they
really are. As part of a close-knit community, people feel secure enough
to be themselves.
Perhaps the most tragic of all the changes I have observed in
Ladakh is the vicious circle in which individual insecurity contributes to
a weakening of family and community ties, which in turn further shakes
individual self-esteem. Consumerism plays a central role in this whole
process, since emotional insecurity generates hunger for material status
symbols. The need for recognition and acceptance fuels the drive to
acquire possessions that will presumable make you somebody. Ultimately,
this is a far more important motivating force than a fascination for the
things themselves. It is heartbreaking to see people buying things in
order to be admired, respected, and ultimately loved, when in fact the
effect is almost always the opposite. The individual with the new shiny
car is set apart, and this increases the need to be accepted. A cycle is
set in motion in which people become more and more separated from
themselves and from one another.
I've seen many other similar divisions. Gaps are developing
between young and old, make and female, rich and poor, Buddhist and
Muslim. The newly created division between the modern, educated expert and
the illiterate, "backward" farmer is perhaps the biggest of all.
Modernized inhabitants of Leh have more in common with someone from Delhi or Calcutta than they do with their own relatives who have remained on the land, and they tend to look down on anyone less modern. Some children
living in the modern sector are now so distanced from their parents and
grandparents that they don't even speak the same language. Educated in
Urdu and English, they are losing mastery of their native tongue.
Around the world, another consequence of development is that the
men leave their families in the rural sector to earn money in the modern
economy. The men become part of the technologically based life outside the
home and are seen as the only productive members of society. Women do not
earn money for their work, so they are no longer seen as "productive."
Their work is not included as part of the gross national product. In
government statistics, the 10 percent or so of Ladakhis who work in the
modern sector are listed according to their occupations; the other 90
percent - housewives and traditional farmers - are lumped together as
"nonworkers." Farmers and women are coming to be viewed as inferior, and
they themselves are developing feelings of insecurity and inadequacy.
Over the years I have seen the strong, outgoing women of Ladakh
replaced by a new generation of women who are unsure of themselves and
extremely concerned with their appearance. Traditionally, the way a woman
looked was important, but her capabilities - including tolerance and
social skills - were much more appreciated.
Despite their new dominant role, men also clearly suffer as a
result of the breakdown of family and community ties. Among other things,
they are deprived of contact with children When men are young, the new
macho image prevents them from showing any affection; later in life, when
they are fathers, their work keeps them away from home.
In the traditional culture, children benefited not only from
continuous contact with both mother and father but also from constant
interaction with different age groups. It was quite natural for older
children to feel a sense of responsibility for the younger ones. Younger
children in turn looked up to the older ones with respect and admiration
and sought to be like them. Growing up was a natural, noncompetitive
Now children are split into separate age groups at school. This
sort of leveling has a very destructive effect: by artificially creating
social units in which everyone is the same age, the ability of children to
help and to learn from each other is greatly reduced, while competition is
automatically increased, because each child is put under pressure to be
just as good as the next one. In a group of ten children of quite
different ages, there will naturally be much more cooperation than in a
group of ten 12 year olds.
The division into separate age groups is not limited to school.
Now there is a tendency to spend leisure time exclusively with one's
peers. As a result, a mutual intolerance between young and old has
emerged. Young children nowadays have less and less contact with their
grandparents, who often remain behind in the village. Living with many
traditional families over the years, I have witnessed the depth of the
bond between children and their grandparents. It is clearly a relationship
that has a very different dimension from that between parent and child.
The severing of this connection is a profound tragedy.
Similar pressures contribute to the breakdown of the traditional
family. The Western model of the nuclear family is now seen as the norm,
and Ladakhis are beginning to feel ashamed of their traditional practice
of polyandry, one of the cultural controls on population growth. As young
people reject the old family structure in favor of monogamy, the
population is increasing significantly. At the same time, monastic life is
losing its status, and the number of celibate monks and nuns is
decreasing. This, too, contributes to population increase.
Interestingly, a number of Ladakhis have linked the rise in birth
rates to the advent of modern democracy. "Power is a question of votes" is
a current slogan, meaning that, in the modern sector, the larger your
group, the greater your access to power. Competition for jobs and
political representation within the new centralized structures is
increasingly dividing Ladakhis. Ethnic and religious differences have
taken on a political dimension, causing bitterness and envy on a scale
This new rivalry is one of the most painful divisions I have seen
in Ladakh. Ironically, it has grown in proportion to the decline of
traditional religious devotions.
When I first arrived, I was struck by the mutual respect and
cooperation between Buddhists and Muslims. But in the last decade, growing
competition has actually culminated in violence. Earlier there had been
individual cases of friction, but the first time I noticed any signs of
group tension was in 1986, when I heard Ladakhi friends starting to define
people according to whether they were Buddhist or Muslim. In the following
years, there were signs here and there that all was not well, but no one
was prepared for what happened in the summer of 1989, when fighting
suddenly broke out between the two groups. There were major disturbances
in the Leh bazaar, four people were shot dead by police, and much of
Ladakh was placed under curfew.
Since then, open confrontation has died down, but mistrust and
prejudice on both sides continue to mar relations. For a people
unaccustomed to violence and discord, this has been a traumatic
experience. One Muslim woman could have been speaking for all Ladakhis
when she tearfully told me, "These events have torn my family apart. Some
of them are Buddhists, some are Muslims, and now they are not talking to
The immediate cause of the disturbances was the growing perception
among the Buddhists that the Muslim-dominated state government was
discriminating against them in favor of the local Muslim population. As a
minority group, the Muslims were anxious about defending their interests
in the face of political assertiveness by the Buddhist majority. The
underlying reasons for the violence, however, are much more far-reaching.
What is happening in Ladakh is not an isolated phenomenon. The tensions
between Muslims of Kashmir and the Hindhu-dominated central government in Delhi, between the Hindus and the Buddhist government in Bhutan, and
between the Buddhists and the Hindu government in Nepal --- along with
countless similar disturbances around the world --- are, I believe, all
connected to the same underlying cause: the intense centralizing force of
the present global development model, which is pulling diverse peoples
from rural areas to large urban centers and placing power and decision
making in the hands of a few. In these centers, job opportunities are
scarce, community ties are broken, and competition increases dramatically.
In particular, young men who have been educated for jobs in the modern
sector find themselves engaged in a struggle for survival. In this
situation, any religious or ethnic differences quite naturally become
exaggerated and distorted, and the group in power inevitably tends to
favor its own kind, while the rest often suffer discrimination.
Most people believe that ethnic conflict is an inevitable
consequence of differing cultural and religious traditions. In the
less-developed third world, there is an awareness that modernization is
exacerbating tensions, but people generally conclude that this is a
temporary phase on the road of "progress," a phase that will end once
development has erased cultural differences and created a totally secular
society. On the other hand, Westerners attribute overt religious and
ethnic strife to the liberating influence of democracy. Conflict, they
assume, always smoldered beneath the surface, and only government
repression kept it from bursting into flames.
It is easy to understand why people lay the blame at the feet of
tradition rather than modernity. Certainly, ethnic friction predates
colonialism, modernization, and globalization. But after more than 2
decades of firsthand experience on the Indian subcontinent, I am convinced
that "development" not only exacerbates tensions but actually creates
them. As I have pointed out, development causes artificial
scarcity, which inevitably leads to greater competition. Just as
importantly, it puts pressure on people to conform to a standard Western
ideal --- blond, blue-eyed, "beautiful", and "rich" --- that is impossibly
out of reach. Striving for such an ideal means rejecting one's own culture
and roots --- in effect, denying one's own identity. The inevitable result
is alienation, resentment, and anger.
I am convinced that much of the violence and fundamentalism in the
world today is a product of this process. In the industrialized world, we
are becoming increasingly aware of the impact of glamorous media and
advertising images on individual self-esteem: problems that range from
eating disorders to violence over high-priced sneakers and other
"prestigious" articles of clothing. In the Third World, where the gulf
between reality and the Western ideal is so much wider, the psychological
impacts are that much more severe.
There were many real problems in the traditional society, and
development does bring some improvements. However, when one examines the fundamentally important relationships -- to the land, to other people, and
to oneself --- one sees development in a different light. Viewed from this
perspective, the differences between the old and the new become stark and
disturbing. It becomes clear that the traditional nature-based society,
with all its flaws and limitations, was more sustainable, both socially
and environmentally. It was the result of a dialogue between human beings
and their surroundings, a continuing coevolution that involved a thousand
years of trial and error. During that time, the culture kept changing ---
Ladakh's traditional Buddhist worldview emphasized change --- but that
change occurred within a framework of compassion and a profound
understanding of the interconnectedness of all things.
The old culture reflected fundamental human needs while respecting
natural limits. And it worked. It worked for nature, and it worked for
people. The various connecting relationships in the traditional system
were mutually reinforcing and encouraged harmony and stability. Most
importantly, having seen my Ladakhi friends change so dramatically, I have
no doubt that the bonds and responsibilities of the traditional society,
far from being a burden, offered a profound sense of security, which seems
to be a prerequisite for inner peace and contentment. I am convinced that
people were significantly happier before development and globalism than
they are today. The people were cared for, and the environment was well
sustained. What could be more important?
The following comments are by Alan Archibald
Comment: Ever since NAFTA tariff reductions, the artificially low price of imported mid-West grain has so eroded Chiapas' corn prices that indigenous farmers have been driven out of the market. Since Native Americans are "inefficient" producers, their inability to "compete" is - in the "objective" view of the globalized economy - "just" cause for their demise: they competed and they lost. To what extent does Social Darwinism impart the belief that electronic technology should (and must) supersede traditional ways? Is it possible that high technology - by its nature - concentrates wealth in the hands of the intellectually endowed, simultaneously justifying the denigration/destruction of those less cerebrally-oriented individuals who don't (or won't) take advantage of "job training" and other forms of technocratic largesse? No matter how one answers these question, a stark fact remains: unemployment in traditional societies is non-existent. In traditional societies, everyone has a meaningful role in the management of daily affairs. By comparison, the unemployment rate in present-day Nicaragua is 70%. Imagine, 150 years ago every Nicaraguan had important work to do.
Comment: "An American is someone who spends money he doesn't have, to buy things he doesn't need, to impress people he doesn't like." Now Ladakhis and other third world people feel pressure to throw themselves - and their cultures - on "the bonfire of the vanities."
Comment: (A.A. --- Ivan Illich details the replacement of value by price. This
ongoing substitution means that integral functions of daily life -- which
were formerly highly-valued (but un-remunerated) services -- are
transformed by the mechanisms of modernity into fee-for-service
marketplace exchanges. Propelled by the depersonalizing mechanisms of
modernization - and the creation of so-called "dynamic" economies - most
economic functions undergo a secondary process of "professionalization."
Recently, "creeping professionalization" (in New York, California, Texas
and Ohio) has resulted in legislation that obliges Afro-American
hair-braiders to undergo sixteen hundred (1600) hours of cosmetology
training! Only by participating in this costly certification process can
hair-braiders secure the credential which legalizes their craft.
"Training" and "certification" -- along with the generalized
commodification of instruction -- have transformed the
"military-industrial complex" into the "military-industrial-educational
complex." Whereas adults in traditional societies are as comprehensively
competent as our own nation's Amish -- building, farming, marketing,
weaving, healing, sewing, cooking, baking, preserving, birthing, burying,
and perhaps most importantly, child-rearing -- the specialist orientation
of The Modern World transforms (and reduces) each of us into "monocrop"
functionaries who routinely perform tedious, meaningless, or maddening jobs. Simultaneously, the System extrudes "professional societies" that
sequester large sums for "the certified few", while economically
dispossessing most of the rest. This replacement of value by money/price
is akin to Oscar Wilde's observation that "a cynic is someone who knows
the price of everything and the value of nothing." Whatever the cynical
processes of modernity may have achieved, it is also true that the
relentless machinations of modernization disdain marginal peoples, who -
according to the received wisdom - are daft enough to resist
modernization. Such people are viewed ill-informed, stupid or even bestial
for refusing to exchange their universally-distributed "values" for the
purchasable blandishments of a fixed-price marketplace based on
fee-for-service, pay-as-you-go, highly-individualistic economics. Economic
globalization further dispossesses all those already marginalized by
development schemes whose basic thrust is to replace traditional "values"
with the alleged "superiority" of price. While non-industrial peoples
continue to lose their land (and consequently the groundedness of their
ancient cultures), they are offered educational "opportunities" that will
transform "a lucky few" into "successful" managers of the global economy.
These lucky few then become the envy of the majority made culturally
homeless by the destruction of traditional folkways. As Wendell Berry
noted: "The only escape from the destiny of victimization has been to
"succeed" -- that is, to "make it" into the class of exploiters, and then
to remain so specialized and so "mobile" as to be unconscious of the
effects of one's life or livelihood." Berry also notes that if we consider
"living in the world by one's own will and skill, (then) the stupidest
peasant or tribesman is more competent than the most intelligent worker,
technician or intellectual in a society of specialists." In related
vein, Ivan Illich observes that "in a consumer society, there are
inevitably two kinds of slaves, the prisoners of addiction and the
prisoners of envy."
Comment: Martin Luther King Jr's civil rights movement - particularly when contrasted to the subsequent Black Power movement - is a case in point. King's conscious religious grounding enabled him to improve race relations, whereas the Black Power upheaval that supplanted King - despite its justifiable outrage - created a very mixed bag of results... not least of which is its endorsement of violence as a desirable means to achieve ends. One may argue that the degradation of inner city Afro-American life in the wake of King's death arose from Black Power's substitution of value by the supremacy of price. In King's time, no one would have conceived killing another human being over fashionable jackets and athletic shoes. However, with the ascendancy of price-predicated political economics, it has become "reasonable" to kill for trivial motivation.
Comment: Toward the end of her essay, Helena Norberg performs a subtle analysis of the relationship between mounting political divisions and "the decline in traditional religious devotions." I understand why Norberg uses the word "ironically." However, the situation is inappropriately categorized as "ironic." In fact, it is a "reasonable" outcome.
Carl Jung noted that the 20th century has witnessed the usurpation of the religious instinct by the political instinct. In Jung's view, it is "natural" that religious sentiment run deeper than political sentiment. Therefore, because politics is a vehicle that cannot - by its nature - contain the depth and breadth
of religious sentiment, politics can neither contain nor channel these
deeper feelings. As a result, unacknowledged religious passions are
constantly overflowing into this century's public sphere. I would add
that all value systems adopt poses that are functionally religious. This
is to say that all value systems (whether they are based on "spirit", sex,
sports, politics or golden calves) seek to "re-ligare"-- or, to "re-ligature"
the existential split that cleaves the human psyche.
Since value systems based on "price only" do not attempt
alignment with any intrinsic value system (i.e., a system of values
embedded in "the nature of universe," thus serving as an external
touchstone of value regardless an individual's shifting "feelings"), the radical
subjectivity of the twentieth century has created a charnel house of
In the last 85 years we have witnessed two world wars, Stalin, Pol
Pot, Idi Amin, Central America's agony, Africa's turmoil, Sendero
Luminoso, Osama Bin Lama and the slow exsanguination of the Third World
through economic globalization. To name a few.
Nominal religious practitioners play an essential role in these unfolding calamities. However, it is difficult for many moderns -- particularly agnostics and "atheists" -- to recognize that "nominalists" partake of authentic religiosity to the same extent that Political Action Committees foster "government of the people, by the people and for the people."
As horrifying as religious abuse of power has been, the Inquisition and Crusades pale in contrast to the ghoulishness of the twentieth century. In the last 100 years, we have witnessed the futile attempt to refill an unprecedented religious void with abject adulation of "markets." The upshot of this radical trans-valuation -- the replacement of the invisible hand of God by the invisible hand of the marketplace -- has evoked unprecedented violence and a collapse of personal meaningfulness that is -- in large part -- attributable to the "default" canonization of "the govern-ness," that fused impulse of government and business whose only interest in the Common Good is to strategize the prevention of open revolt.
Martin Luther King Jr. believed that the political purpose of religion was to provide conscionable counterpoint and meaningful resistance to the inevitable enormities perpetrated by "the principalities of the world." With the canonization of the World's "governess" - the ongoing fusion of "government and business" - this indispensable polarity has been lost.
Aymará Indian women from Peruvian highland villages near Juli gather once a week to talk and work. They have formed an artisans' association that enables them to increase their earnings by directly marketing their own products. Two women sit side by side embroidering a large wall hanging. Others spin thread and work on smaller projects. The same cooperative spirit that fills the air as they work prevails at lunch. Each woman takes out a cloth filled with something she brought for the noon meal and places her contribution on a large colorful cloth known as an aguayo. Then the women seat themselves on the ground in a circle around the cloth and share the food: chunno (freeze dried potatoes), puffed corn, and patties made from quinoa, a high-protein grain. The women discuss events in their villages as they eat. Not long ago a food aid program offering milk powder, flour, and oil began in their region. Some women have stopped coming to the cooperative gatherings so they can attend the day-long meetings that are required to receive the food aid. The women gathered around the aguayo spread with traditional foods lament the absence of these women and quickly agree they do not want these new foods. "We're happy with the food we and our ancestors have always eaten," comments one. "We do not want aid," concludes another. "All we want are markets in which to sell our embroidery so we can keep growing our own food."
Linda Shelly, La Esperanza, Honduras. Excerpted from: "Extending the Table... A World Community Cookbook" by Joetta Handrich Schlabach.
It was wants that made man poor. E. F. Schumacher
It is the greatest of all advantages to enjoy no advantage at all. I found it invariably true, the poorer I am the richer I am. Thoreau
He who dies wealthy dies shamed. Andrew Carnegie
Poverty is not the problem.
Wealth is the problem.
Poverty is the solution. Satish Kumar
Not he who has little, but he who wishes for more is poor. Latin Proverb
A full stomach doesn't believe in hunger. Italian Proverb
More than you need is never enough. Alan Archibald
No man should praise poverty but he who is poor. St. Bernard of Clairvaux
It is not progress
if the absence of "an improvement"
results in envy, despair or denigration.
Similarly, it is not progress if the improvement itself
fosters these characteristics.
Humankind does not live by bread alone.