First things first
Prioritise life over the economy, urges Suma Varughese
There once was a time when we had fresh air and water, when the food we ate was not poisoned, and we could trust that the products we bought would not give us death or disease. Today, the air we breathe is so polluted that millions are dying or falling ill, and not only is our water running out, but what we have is also heavily doctored. We are eating food laced with poisonous pesticides and fertilisers, buying packaged foods filled with dangerous chemicals, eating chickens pumped with hormones, and drinking milk similarly juiced up.
Our air conditioners and refrigerators are endangering the ozone layer, microwaves are shifting the molecular structure of the food we eat, and mobiles and Internet connectivity are causing grave damage, not just to us users but to the environment in general. We are destroying ourselves, our environment, all the animal species we share the planet with, and finally, Planet Earth itself.
How has this happened? Maybe it was something as basic as not knowing what matters and what does not.
What matters most of all? Surely life? By this, I mean life in general: our lives, the lives of our animal, plant, and mineral co-habitants and the life of the Planet. Ask economists and politicians the same question, and they will say that the most important thing is the economy. Why is the economy considered crucial? Because unless there are enough jobs, no one will have the money to buy the goods and services on sale, which would mean a vicious cycle of spiralling job losses and factory closures. A serious issue, no doubt. But can it compare with the death of so many species? Or the devastation of the environment? Or the destruction of our Mother Planet?
India has been a spiritual culture since recorded history. Its civilization has lasted for over 5000 years. Considering that our way of life has survived the long term, how about comparing the consumerist philosophy with our own?
All spiritual texts and masters, whether from Vedanta, Buddhism, Jainism, or Sikhism will tell you that desire is the root of evil and that our primary focus should be on reducing the hold of desire. The consumerist philosophy, on the contrary, encourages us to give in more and more to desire.
While Vedanta affirms that the less our desires, the greater our happiness, the consumerist philosophy points to the fulfilment of endless desires as the pathway to happiness.
And finally, while spirituality testifies that Oneness is the central truth of life, and, therefore, only a holistic perspective of life will ensure the welfare of the Whole, the consumerist philosophy embraces an extremely narrow and fragmentary perspective that sees Nature as only a resource and mankind as labour.
Common sense will also tell you that you cannot have a model of infinite growth premised on a planet with finite resources. The consumerist philosophy ignores this entirely, except to retort that once this planet is used up, we can always shift to a new one!
Consumerism’s two guiding principles—spend, don’t save, and use and throw—are ethically and spiritually unsound. Spending without limits brings ruin and degradation in its wake, while using and throwing has converted the Planet into a giant garbage bin.
The writing on the wall is loud and clear. We need to wake up. We need to stop. We need to turn back. We need to be willing to let our jobs go. To let the economy tank. We will all suffer for a while. Maybe even a long while. But maybe we will eventually get back our water, our air, our soil, our wholesome food, and our animal and plant brothers and sisters. Letting go of our obsession with the economy may actually augur the spiritual age that alone can deliver us.
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