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(The Original Multiversity Proposal, September 2001)
Claude Alvares (Other India Press, Goa, India)
For a period of approximately around two hundred years now, the societies of Western Europe, America, Australia and New Zealand (predominantly white) have been able to portray themselves as an extremely successful population sub-group, a First World high up in the scale of being, compared with other sub-groups. Other sub-groups, howsoever vast, have been seen as defeated segments, unable to do anything worthwhile with their lives except in so far as they closely model these on the Western pattern.
The processes of human history across this period have resulted in the creation of a grotesque and overpowering myth whose narratives simply assume the superior intellect quality and intellectual output of human beings from Western societies and of their institutions as well. Their ethical standards, when compared with what is available to the rest of the planet, are allegedly so advanced they obviously provide them with a certain righteousness with which to berate the rest.
These Western narratives have resulted in giving unwarranted acclaim, dominance and extension to a number of features of Western society ranging from its technology to various aspects of its culture -- including music, books and toys -- over the artifacts of the rest of humankind.
The most significant part of the myth has been the alacrity with which it has been swallowed by people from the so-called Third World. Several of them, principally their intellectuals, have come to believe that unless their societies adopt Western technology and ways of thinking and mimic the behavioural patterns of Euro-American society -- howsoever unacceptable and ludicrous these may be -- they cannot consider themselves living valid human lives. We are all painfully aware of the mimic factor and of the phenomenon of mimic men and mimic women.
In this not entirely desirable state of affairs, one of the foremost tasks of intellectuals from the South is to invent creative mechanisms for dismantling this myth or undermining it in different ways and to recapture the unique and irreplaceable destinies, ideals and objectives of their own societies and traditions and fight to give these political space.
There are several projects that can be carried out with this objective in mind. They would include, for example:
1. A total critique of Western science, the emphasis to be on demonstrating how Western science cannot operate in universalist terms but must always act as an ethnoscience, fulfilling the political and cultural goals of the culture in which it was born in its present form. If Western science is shown to be a particularistic enterprise -- which it is -- it is bound to emerge more clearly as the product of its culture's own peculiar vested (power) interests. The resultant suspicion is bound to erode and destabilise the modern science myth. It would also reinforce the significance of indigenous science traditions and popular knowledge.
2. There must be an attempt at a fundamental critique of what passes today as "modern knowledge", particularly in the humanities. The project should attempt to examine the assumptions on which sciences like psychology, history, anthropology, sociology, economics etc are based and to discuss whether such assumptions are acceptable, and can be indeed form the basis for undistorted human intellectual discourse.
3. A comprehensive critique must emerge of the quality of Western academia which is today highly overrated and often execrable. Too many texts from the "centre" are automatically taught in the "periphery" simply because they originate in the "centre" and not because of any inherent quality of the texts or originality of the authors, or their relevance to our part of the world. A South-located review journal which lampoons and also critically analyses and debunks much pedantic academic output from the West would also be appreciated and also give writers and intellectuals in the South a much needed shot in the arm and confidence in their own insights gained from direct experience.
4. Since the societies of the West comprise large numbers of basically anomic, psychologically traumatised and otherwise disoriented individuals, the most stinging critique of the West would be enabled by a bare empirical description (through travelogues) of some Western societies and the manner in which they are organised or function (and which is repugnant to the experience of normal human beings from societies like ours).
While such a description could be constructed from extant and contemporary literature on these themes and from analysis of other intellect products of western society -- including films etc. it should be followed up and grounded in a reverse Naipaul-type of journey into the heart of these societies. Literary analysis and description must be corroborated with pictures. This was done effectively by Nsekuye Bizimana in his frank account of Germany society.
The general idea is to conduct a reverse anthropology or Europology which would examine the West and its intellect products in a wholly clinical manner, just as a modern day pathologist would examine malignant tissue. For we are in fact dealing with a species of human beings that has become a cancer on the planet. The nature of the illness must be bluntly told so that in place of admiration one is left with compassion instead. Orientalism ought not to be substituted by occidentalism, since both are distorted positions on human beings. What we need is an elaborate histopathology that might see Western individuals at best as infected by the disease of "occidentosis", a cultural variant of the plague.
For instance, one may examine the totalitarian nature of practically all Western societies reflected in the predominance given to the rights of the market to which the rights of human beings are made subordinate. The reality today is that from their youngest years, people in the West must gear themselves to be incorporated with little questioning within the economic system. Misfits are tolerated, not loved. The individual is milked for his or her worth for around 40 years of their life, after which they are relegated to institutions which readily look after their bodily needs but which abuse their soul.
In such a situation, it is an abuse of language to talk of human freedoms and liberal democracy since there is in reality no liberty to opt out of the system of production into which the society has mired itself. In fact, I would go so far as to say that greater freedoms are available to the poorest people in our areas of the planet despite the fact that they remain without all the paraphernalia of modernity and its artificially scented devices.
Attack, ultimately, is the best form of defence. Offence is the most effective form of undermining illegitimate pride and assumptions of being superior. A couple of films, books, comics, exhibitions in which the Westerner comes to eventually recognise what a pain he has become for the rest of all living beings might be bitter medicine for him but it would also be a fairly good elixir for those who had had to submit to become his involuntary and voluntary victims.
For making some impact on the situation described above, the following specific projects are recommended:
1. Academic Studies:
A radical questioning of faculties and disciplines in use (and taught) in universities and institutes today, which would include examination of their assumptions and relevance, whether some could be discarded, whether new ones may be added. University traditions in Asia do not commence merely with the Europeans: Taxila and Nalanda, for example, were two extremely well-known ancient Indian universities. The following predominant Western intellectual disciplines could be tortured: psychology, history, sociology, anthropology, economics and political science.
2. Modern Science Criticism:
This project would take over and expand on the themes discussed at the CAP World Conference on Modern Science in Crisis (1987). What should be seriously undertaken is a cost benefit analysis of modern science; an examination of its cultural origins and aspirations and the form and content of its influence in our societies, as the science done here appears to be nothing more than repetition of what is occurring at the "centres". Review must be made of scientific journals.
Over the past 500 years, a huge volume of literature -- some of its quite racist and appalling --has been generated by Western intellectuals about people from the South. The ludicrous aspect of this dominance is that even texts originating in our societies and translated by Europeans have become the basis for the involvement or engagement of many intellectuals with their own societies. There are scarcely a handful of studies available about industrialised societies written explicitly by people from the South. This is unacceptable and calls for a sustained effort to conduct and create a distinct Europology.
4. Colonial Structures and Laws:
Almost all societies in the South continue to be governed by administrative and judicial structures imposed on their societies by their colonisers. Colonial influence is deep and pervasive and often not even recognised. Documentation and analysis of such deep-rooted dependence on colonial modes of thinking and practice is essential if we are to dismantle such structures and replace them with those of our own.
5. The West and Violence:
A single project is required in order to document and display the intimate association of Western societies, their philosophies and violence, often facilitated through modern science and other Western institutions. A graphic exhibition of such themes is already prepared and was used on the occasion of protests against celebrations of the arrival of Vasco da Gama in India. Such an exhibit may be used as a basis for an expanded project.
6. Relinking the Countries Around the Indian Ocean
Dharampal, noted Indian historian, has proposed a research project involving Asians including those Asians with a knowledge of European languages, to uncover the links that have existed up to the arrival of the colonial powers, between the countries adjoining the Indian subcontinent and the Indian Ocean. The eventual objective is that these countries form a separate operative world distinct from the European world, with its own ideals, objectives and sphere of influence.
7. Investigating Western Societies
Well-established writers from the South who have demonstrated an acute ability for observation and recording should be invited to travel to Western societies, reside there for a few months, and report on the manner in which these societies function. These reports should be published by the agency. Arrangements should also be made to have these re-published in some form in the West.
At a Glance: