By Suma Varughese October 2010Why worshipping the economy is not in our best interests Do you recall Clinton’s election credo? ‘It’s the economy, stupid.’ For several years now he and other world leaders including our own Manmohan Singh have been pandering to the Eeconomy as if our lives depended on it. This leads to almost insane conclusions. Recently, I read an article in Newsweek that trotted out weighty evidence to prove that beyond a point, money really has little to do with happiness. (Something almost any person with his feet on the ground could have told us, but in this mad era unless scientists and other experts conduct lengthy surveys and studies, we are apparently incapable of accepting and believing self-evident truths). But what really got my goat and stretched my credulity is the conclusion the writer reached. Although at the individual level buying stuff was not adding to gratification, nevertheless for the sake of the economy we must continue to buy, said he. A few days later, a facebook crony pasted a link on his page reporting that the Russian finance minister had urged his countrymen to drink more and smoke more cigarettes so that the country could benefit from the tax levied. Whaaat! Have we all taken leave of our senses? Is this for real? If something like this had been published in a satire or farce, readers would have considered it too farfetched. But this is real time! There are some obvious flaws of logic here that are worth pointing out, because most of us buy into these ideas. Can harmful means ever lead to benevolent ends? Can an economy step into any kind of happiness and harmony over the bodies of its drunken and cancer-struck citizens? Can an economy that demands its citizens to sacrifice individual well-being as well as societal and environmental welfare just so that it can exist really be in our best interests? Over the years the economy has assumed the status of a god who must be propitiated at any cost. Just like the tribals of yore, blood sacrifices apparently are not too costly a price to keep it going. The question that is begging to be asked is this: is the economy for us or are we for the economy? Christ had posed a similar question once when hypocritical priests tried to prevent him from healing people on Sabbath. “Is the Sabbath for man or man for the Sabbath?” he had asked then. Look at the cost we are paying to prop up the economy. The environment is one of the earliest casualties – the air is polluted beyond belief thanks to industry, vehicular traffic and frenzied construction. Water is scarcer than it ever was, rains are drying up and what little water we have has been polluted by industry, oil spillage and so on. The soil has been ravaged and destroyed by industry once again, construction, non degradable waste and so many other things. Competition and one-upmanship have shattered domestic peace and contentment and set families adrift. Illnesses and epidemics are rampaging across the world. Unrest and violence are exploding everywhere. Our world is in terrible shape and almost all of it can be laid at the doors of the unbridled growth of the economy. Why are we doing this? Why are we hellbent on this self-destructive path? Why can’t we just turn back to face sanity? What is the worst that will happen if this behemoth called economy falls apart? We will lose our jobs, right? We may go through poverty for a while, right? There may be social and political turbulence, perhaps? But are we not facing these anyway? The recession has deprived millions of jobs across the globe, while social and political turbulence are growing by the hour. At least if we were to face these difficulties because of a brighter and saner future it would be worth it. All we need is the courage to admit to ourselves and others that we have been wrong. The economy is not and must not be the be-all and end-all of our lives. As a people we must recognise higher priorities – like the welfare of the whole, like the peace and harmony of the human family, like the fulfillment of our potential as human beings. Every spiritual teacher and teaching from time immemorial has emphasised the role of desire in keeping us enslaved to the cycle of birth and death. Each has further stated that freedom, happiness and peace of mind can only be ours to the extent that we transcend desire. The priests of the economy god, on the other hand, urge us to consume and cultivate desire almost as if it were a sacred task. Who is more likely to be right? Those whose peaceful visage and benign life history bear witness to their declaration or the merchants of commerce whose prescription has already laid waste our lives? And if you still have doubts I encourage you to test out these prescriptions for yourself and discover which is more conducive to your well-being and happiness. How much longer do we need to awaken to the truth that stuff only fastens the chains of our own enslavement? It is because these chains are so soldered already that we are flinching at the thought of doing without. Luxury has become as necessary for us as dope for an addict and we would rather go on and risk planetary destruction than call a halt to our present way of life. As Swami Vivekananda once thundered, Awake, Arise! For too long the economy has had us grazing like cattle. It is time to shake off this degrading dependence on materialism and declare our spiritual nature. Jesus Christ had said centuries ago, “Man does not live by bread alone.” Can we not explore that possibility?
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