"The penalty good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men." attributed to Plato

"Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing." attributed to Edmund Burke

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Saturday, 22 October 2011

Occupy London Stock Exchange - and Ancient Futures

So the Wall Street demonstration has gone global. In London we have the Anti-capitalist demonstrators from Occupy London Stock Exchange camping in the churchyard surrounding St Paul's Cathedral. Today the huge main doors have been closed to the public because of health and safety issues surrounding the demonstration. I have to say I am in some sympathy with the demonstrators. I have joined other commentators for years in lamenting the unsustainable economic system that we have across the world, based as it is on growth, debt and spending. I’ve blogged about this quite a few times, even have a chapter about it in Healing….with suggestions for change. But even now, when we seem to be a crisis point, what do the governments continue to urge? Spending!! And I have seen very little to indicate that the powers that be may be considering any of the other ideas that have been floated for a sustainable economy. It seems that the answer may have to come from ourselves at local level – with our own currencies for example - small, after all, is beautiful.
But all this reminded me of a wonderful book that I reviewed for Amazon quite a while back. It’s called Ancient Futures: Lessons from Ladakh for a Globalizing World, and it is by Helena Norberg-Hodge , an analyst, it says on her Amazon bio, “of the impact of the global economy on cultures and agriculture worldwide and a pioneer of the “localization movement”. So she is clearly on my side in the debate. Her book is an urgent call to foster ancient values of compassion and wisdom before Western values of consumerism and growth.

This is what I said in my review:
“Ladakh (part of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir), is a beautiful part of the Western Himalayas. It used to be a synergistic society. That is, the economy was shaped by mutual aid or co-operation, not competition. This concept of sharing everything was seen in the conduct of all aspects of the people’s lives, from farm work to funerals, animal herding to partying. There was no waste; everything had a further use, all was recycled. Even human waste, mixed with ashes and earth, was spread annually on the fields. Money was scarcely needed, only being used for a few luxuries such as jewellery, salt, tea and a few metals for cooking pots. Otherwise the people were self sufficient, living a life of frugality in the true sense of the word, not being mean or stingy, but rather using scarce resources in a careful way, getting more out of little, being “fruitful.”
And most important of all, the people were really and truly happy. They shared a deep contentment, a strong self- respect and sense of their own individual values. Women had equal status and respect with the men, the old people had active and respected roles in their extended families, even the boys were brought up to help with the nurturing and compassionate care of the young and old alike, and this was in no way deemed to be “sissy” or unmanly.
Then in the mid 1970’s the Indian government opened the region up to Western tourism.
Over the preceding centuries changes had occurred, but at a pace whereby they could be absorbed into a gently adapting culture. Now the changes were rapid. The people were exposed to money and a seeming Western wealth that they could not comprehend; but of course they were tempted by what they saw. The youngsters saw the fun their Western counterparts were apparently having, with cars and consumerism. The adults saw technology they could not have dreamed of. And a “need” developed that they never knew they had before! And with that need came greed, and all the inevitable trappings of a global economy that relies on continuing growth and consumerism for its furtherance.
The problem was that neither side really understood the other side. The Western tourists only saw what they perceived as poverty, deprivation, lack of education, lack of “basic” conveniences. The Ladakh did not see the darker side of Western society, the aggression and stress, the cancers and heart disease, the pollution, the lack of respect for many of our old folk, left to stare at walls in nursing homes, unloved and lonely.
The author is well qualified to write of this. She has spent much time with the people of Ladakh, since the mid 70’s just as these changes were beginning to happen, to the present day. She speaks their language and has many friends amongst them. She can therefore readily observe and understand both sides of the equation.
In Part One she writes with sensitivity and with first hand knowledge of the traditions and ancient wisdom of the people, witnessed in time before they became tarnished by Western values. In Part Two she charts the changes she saw over the ensuing years not only on their material culture, but more worryingly on their minds, as their lives were significantly and substantially changed, their culture severely damaged. And of course many of those Western societal afflictions came to Ladakh.
In Part Three the author then writes of the lessons to be learnt, and how we should react and behave to limit the evident damage brought by Westernization.
How long is it going to be, she asks us, before we sit up and take notice of the damage inflicted on our world by our global economy, based as it is on unsustainable consumerism and material growth.

We can learn so much from the Ladakh story. When will we listen to our hearts not our minds?”
Norberg – Hodge makes an urgent and vital call to us all to challenge our assumptions that economic growth is good. Influenced by Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful, her work continues within the International Society for Ecology and Culture, promoting locally based alternatives to the global consumer culture, and “a non-profit organization dedicated to the revitalization of cultural and biological diversity, and the strengthening of local communities and economies worldwide.”

I am with Norberg-Hodge all the way on this one. This has to be the way forward. We cannot go on in the same unsustainable ways. And that is pretty much what the demonstrations are about I guess.

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