By Sachidananda Mohanty April 2004 strong>Globalisation undermines our individual and collective existence. According to Sri Aurobindo, true exchange and assimilation of ideas and energies involves exchange of cultural influences rather than slavish imitation There are many ways in which globalisation and hegemony intersect with contemporary culture. Indeed, so potent, widespread and insidious seems to be the influence of globalisation that many doubt whether one could avoid the common fate of cultural servility. Advocates and acolytes of globalisation in world bodies insist that satellite TV, information technology and the internet are agents of democratic change and will eventually serve the interest of poor ‘third world’ countries; that far from swamping indigenous industry, Pepsi, Coke, Nike and Benetton will promote quality and offer greater choice to consumers in so-called backward nations. In many post-colonial societies like India, debates over globalisation are dramatically projected in dualistic terms—are you for big dams or are you for smaller check dams? Are you for market-driven transnational capitalism or do you stand for protectionist trade and tariff barriers? Do you uphold the virtue of public television, supported by people’s movements, public trusts and philanthropic groups that, you claim, promote individual choice and public welfare? Or do you support global media conglomerates? Is your hero Rupert Murdoch or a grassroots activist? In many post-colonial societies, again like India, globalisation spawns xenophobia and fundamentalism of different kinds. As the dispossessed become rootless, incapable of coping with newer forms of social behaviour and patterns of consumption, earlier loyalties, tribal and ethnic, some of them atavistic, step in. The asymmetry in culture and economy that globalisation brings in is compounded by the revival of conflicts from our tribal past. Many societies ban ‘foreign’ influences to preserve cultural purity. Khomeini’s Iran blocked satellite TV invoking the greatness of the Babylonian empire, just as the late Shah of Iran harked back to the grandeur of the Persian dynasty. The Basques, Corsicans, Scots and the Welsh, or the Tamils in Sri Lanka, fight for cultural sub-nationalism. Although these movements of resistance are not directed specifically at globalised culture, some of these often target the advanced West especially the US, which is seen as the fountainhead of many of such trends. It is futile to expect cultures to remain untouched by ‘alien’ influences. Nor is it possible to take the good and leave out the bad of the West. Imitation may be necessary, but as Sri Aurobindo says in his Foundations of Indian Culture, it has to be a creative imitation, not a mechanical one. For instance, due to contact with the West, it was possible to borrow literary forms like the novel, as also scientific discoveries, the press, the public platform, and trade union movements. Sri Aurobindo maintains that taking over the form was not the main issue. Assimilation requires inclusion of certain vital ideas, influences and energies. Every individual, argues Sri Aurobindo, has to go through a double movement—self-development from within and reception from outside. These movements are not mutually exclusive. Swaraj (mastery over oneself) leads to samarajya (mastery over the world). Swadharma is the first necessity, but not to be able to make use of the external world can spell decay and death. As in individuals, so also among cultures, there is no escape from global intersections and collisions. For each situation of asymmetry, there will always be appropriate strategies of resistance. The West precipitates cultural hegemony. But by no means is this hegemony a unique attribute of the West or of the US alone. Power structures and hierarchies existed even prior to the British presence in India. Villains might change but the villainy of hegemony is a trans-historical reality. Globalisation signals uniformity in cultural and economic practice. It militates against the truth of our individual and collective existence. Such a model kills freedom and self-determination. As Sri Aurobindo says in War and Self Determination: “The principle of self-determination really, means this that within every living creature…and equally within every distinct human collectivity, growing or grown, half-developed or adult, there is a self, a being which has a right to grow in its own way to find itself, to make its life a full and satisfied instruments and image of its being. This is the first principle which must contain and overtop all others. “The rest is a question of conditions, means, expedience, accommodations, opportunities, capacities, limitations, none of which must be allowed to abrogate the sovereignty of the first essential principle. But it can only prevail if it is understood with a right idea of the self and its needs and claims.” Clearly, there are no simple solutions to challenges posed by globalisation. Each culture must find its own answer. Sadly, our approach so far has been West-inspired. It is time we brought in insights and perspectives from societies and cultures closer to our own. Perhaps only then can we replace the current model of globalisation with true internationalism, as advocated by Sri Aurobindo. Sachidananda Mohanty is professor of English literature at the University of Hyderabad. He is a former Fulbright Scholar at Texas, Austin, a Salzburg Fellow, Austria, and winner of the Katha Award for outstanding translation from the President of India. Author of ten books, he had his early education at the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education in Pondicherry.
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