As Arun Maira sets the narrative frame with the significant turn of the events in the first decade of the twenty first century which led him to write "Transforming Capitalism: Improving the world for everyone", he reassures the prospective reader, the social-media savvy generation habituated to small but titillating information doses, of his intent to keep each pieces "short enough to read during a brief plane ride". My mind went back to those words. It was long enough to make me feel disoriented, groggy and mildly irritable. Possible symptoms for jet-lag before I could aboard his plane of thoughts. The jet-lagged mind began to wonder: Is it possible to reflect on transforming the institutions of capitalism within the cosy confines of an airplane, the ungrounded symbol of capitalism, the maharajah of India's long, malodorous affair with subsidies?
While flying above the air at an average speed of 600mph, will it be possible to reflect upon our addiction to speed which has satiated our desire to move faster and faster, blinding us from seeing its pernicious costs on the environment and eventually on our quality of life?
While the author's genuine concerns over the breakdown of trust in corporations and questioning of the conscience of corporation allayed my doubts for a while, I realized upon reading further that his views are safely ensconced perspectives from airport lounges(which he casually mentions in one article). How else could you explain the author writing a book on "transforming capitalism", as he admits, with no qualms, at being called a capitalist, given the stigma attached to this once innocuous word?If only a priest could talk about atheism without sounding blasphemous.
Lest you mistake my views for prejudice, as a moral argument which abhors anything to do with riches and their indulgence, let me explain the airport lounge view.
"If a path to the better be, it begins with a full look at the worst" - Thomas Hardy
Have you ever felt what it is to look at the world around while you are sitting inside the airport lounge? The plush interiors create a soothing sense of comfort inside its sterilized interiors, letting you conveniently mull over the state of affairs, safely quarantined from toxic, discomforting questions like overflowing garbage bins packed in neatly sealed, black plastic bags, far 'away' from human sight.
Feeble voices of truth, capturing the truth like distantly familiar tunes to the travelling ear, before they could give the reader the space to reflect, are turned into saccharine moralist lines which talk of change in superlative terms( changing the world, anyone?)
Having spent good amount of hours at the garbage grounds myself,(which is the best place, if you ask me, to start our investigations into the crisis of capitalism), I can comfortably scavenge the garbage bin to shatter few airport lounge myths. Feel free to cover your mouth if you cannot stand the stench!.
Airport Lounge View Myth: Sustainable Capitalism
In meaningful conferences held on topics such as Climate change or Sustainability, global leaders and CEOs, sitting inside air-conditioned rooms, talk often about transforming capitalism to make it more inclusive and sustainable. They stress that the business of business is definitely not business alone. Edelman Trust Barometer survey results are showcased and they lament over the loss of trust in business. They stress the need to adopt environment-friendly practices( to offset the risk of future growth of their business), and end their presentation with a quote from Gandhi or Nehru.
While sustainable capitalism may lead to favorable green pastures,(depending on which green you subscribe to), the reality shows up fairly disturbing sights of desperation in trying to ensure that the creaky, noisy engine of capitalism runs again with newly fitted wheels(Think about alternative energies!).
If we wish to hold serious discussions about sustainability, we will have to begin from the obvious yet less understood fact that that nature operates under certain limits. How can we begin any meaningful discussion about sustainable capitalism, if capital, by its very nature, cannot abide by any limits?
"Anyone who believes in indefinite growth of anything physical on a physically finite planet is either a madman or an economist."
Much like the myths our parents told us about our lives to stay on course as we grew up, our society grew up with its unwavering devotion to "Infinite Growth myth", to perpetuate itself. We were told that it would do us good in the long run. Economics spoke convincingly about cumulative causation and trickle down. Evangelists(Read as Neo-liberals) equated economic freedom with peace and every other phrase/imagery that appealed to our subconscious about "good life". If that weren't enough, media, for its self-perpetuating reasons, often reminded us to kowtow our lives in the altar of this myth so that we may "make it large".
In the ground-breaking documentary, "The Century of the Self", Adam Curtis traces the beginnings of consumerism with a rare address made by American President Hoover after winning the elections to a group of advertisers and public relations men,
"You Have taken over the job of creating desire and have transformed people into constantly moving happiness machines. Machines which have become the key to economic progress."
P.S: If you wish to explore deeper into our obsession with infinite growth and what it beholds for us and our planet, I strongly recommend this brilliant video talk by Mansoor Khan