Speaking notes from the talk given by me on the 14th of June 2016 at the inaugural Horasis Global Meeting, in Liverpool, UK
I have three questions that I wish to raise with you for discussion:
- What is causing freedom and democracy to decline – in the West, and in the Rest of the World?
- What caused freedom and democracy to flourish increasingly in the world from the 16th century to the 1980s?
- What can you and I do about it?
But, before I start, so that you know where I am coming from, allow me to tell you:
I was born and grew up in Independent India and did not know (let alone understand!) where the values of Independent India came from. So when freedom and democracy starting falling apart in only the 2nd generation after Independence, and I was kicked out of the country by a certain rather powerful lady because I disagreed, I was puzzled at what I saw around me in the UK, where I arrived first, and then in Continental Europe, where I have lived since 1995. From Europe, work has taken me around the world, not only to the so-called developed countries and the big cities, but also to some of the economically poorest countries and most remote areas of the world.
Over the years, I have begun to put the puzzles together – and they do require putting together, because very few people see the whole picture, and most of the elite actually don’t want anyone to see it. Naturally we in this room may or may not be the elite, but we are not quite “the public” either. So I expect that we have all at least begun to put the puzzles together in our own ways. I am only sharing things that you know, but am putting them in my own words because that is my role here today. And I am sharing the headlines only, due to the limited time –we can of course take any of these points up during the discussion time.
So here’s the first puzzle:
What is causing freedom and democracy in the West to decline?: let me make what I have learnt easy for us to discuss by putting it in a short word, PIS.
in the West, it is PIS that is responsible for the decline of freedom and democracy: PIS: Political correctness, indecision, and spinelessness. As far as I can see, all three are rooted in the rejection, by the West’s elites, of the values that made the West great. No doubt you will want to debate all that. But let’s complete my first point by mentioning what’s causing the decline of freedom and democracy in the Rest of the World. Here, to make it easy to remember, I have the word TOIL.
In the Rest of the World, there is:
- little freedom of thought (formal and/or informal censorship as by tribal societies, or by the Roman Catholic Church or by ISIS/ Taliban, or the Communist Party of China, or the Hindu ruling party in my own country, India)
- heavy structures of oppression such as the neoliberal ideology which now rules the West and has infected also the ruling elites of the Rest of the World, or different kinds of racism (its finest and most sophisticated systematised expression being India’s caste system)
- declining freedom of Information – for example in China and India.
- not even the freedom to be literate (many countries have moved and are moving from complete illiteracy – lacking ABC – to the modern form of illiteracy – produced by a narrow and individualist or selfishness-producing educational agenda, followed by the rat race – accumulate as much as possible, I don’t know why or what for).
Now, to come to my second point, if we want to move beyond PIS and TOIL, we need to understand: What values *did* enable free and democratic societies to flourish increasingly from the 16th century to the 1980s?:
Here I have four words all beginning with the letter “L”:
- Or increasing acceptance of the Rule of Law (which is neither the rule of the majority, nor the rule of the mob nor the rule of an individual such as a king or queen, nor the rule of a clique or elite group – rather, the Rule of God or Love or natural or human values – or some reaching after higher values.
- LIFESTYLE: or The Protestant Lifestyle (work as hard and as perfectly as possible for six days, rest on the seventh; enjoy holidays; live as simply and modestly as possible so as to have enough to look after friends, relatives, and other poor people, and be responsible for nature)
- LITERACY: or the duty of reading, learning, understanding, thinking, debating, coming to your own conclusions (that’s what the Protestant Reformation was about, versus what the authorities in every traditional society taught and still teach – blind obedience to authority)
- LOVE: or the command to love your enemies – in other words: debate, dialogue, discuss – not dismiss – and not DISMISS FROM THIS LIFE either!! Democracy, a civil public square, is impossible without loving your political enemies.
So I come to my last point: what can you and I do about the decline of freedom and democracy in our time. Two things, at least:
1st: let’s follow in the footsteps of the Protestant Reformers: Let’s read! Think! Learn! Understand! Debate! Make up our own minds! Come to well-founded conclusions!
Well, WHAT shall we read, you ask? You no doubt have books and other resources that you find valuable, stimulating, challenging. I will be happy to receive the references from you. And I will be very happy to return the favour. But if you would like to have one just one recommendation from my side, you might like to start with a book written by the Indian writer, Vishal Mangalwadi, titled “The Book that Made your World”.
2nd: Join in a movement such as Relational Thinking (www.relationalthinking.net). Though historically and even today the strongest support has come from people of Jewish and Protestant heritage, nowadays most modern people support these values, because modernity itself was and is the fruit of these values. So we may be modern Hindus (such as myself), or other Christians or atheists, agnostics, Buddhists, Muslims, Confucians, or whatever – we can and should all be more active in supporting the values I’ve mentioned (the four “L”s).
The best way that I have found to do this is through the Relational Thinking movement, simply because it tries to link together all individuals and organisations that are committed to these values.
So, dear colleagues, Mr Chairman, I have shared my understanding of what is causing the decline of freedom and democracy – in the West (because of PIS), and in the Rest of the World (because of TOIL); I have shared my understanding of what caused freedom and democracy to flourish increasingly for some 500 years till the 1980s; and I have mentioned what I think you and I can do about it.
And the most important thing is what you and I choose to do.