Positivity and Structural Violence

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It is generally easy to take sides, or sometimes take action, when we see direct physical violence being perpetrated. We see it every day in family squabbles and in the millions of cases pending in our courts. The world witnessed it on a massive scale when President Bush attacked Iraq, and the whole world seemed divided into those who supported him and those who did not.

But the greater continuing violence today seems to be structural violence which is difficult to see – violence embedded in the things we buy, the vehicles we use, the food we eat, in the processes by which they were made. Even the schools and other educational institutions which are supposed to exist for our wellbeing are encouraging violence through fostering competition and mindless learning. Hospitals and the medical system encourage corruption through excessive profiteering, cruel lab testing and more.

An even more invisible kind of structural violence is our economic system that makes equity and justice impossible for most of the world population. While the poor remain poor and the rich 10% use 80% of the world’s resources, the violence of the economic system is by and large, neither comprehended nor objected to by even its victims. Such structural violence is hidden – we do not see the children suffering in sweat shops when we are buying a smart dress. We may even justify it saying that at least it is giving the child some money. To dig deeper and know the truth is not something that most of society would like to do. Why should we dwell on so much gloom and doom? Why be so negative? The problem is too big and complex, what can we do… so business as usual is fine. These are sometimes the honest reactions we have received to many of the articles in this and other issues of Bhoomi. Also, once the enormity of what our modern civilization does to the world hits us, it is often difficult to believe in engaging in positive action. We feel all too small and helpless.

In this issue, as we complete 5 years of the Bhoomi magazine, we felt the need to look at the challenge of holding on to positivity as we witness the violence – a theme to honour the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. Professor Sue McGregor, in the opening article of this issue, spells out the ways in which consumerism is inflicting violence on us; but also points out the hope with which a growing movement of people are challenging consumerism and advocating ethical and non-violent consumption.

The Vietnamese monk, Thich Naht Hanh, predicts the possible collapse of our modern civilization within 100 years as a result of runaway climate change. Since it is difficult to change the behaviour of those with vested interests, he says a grassroots movement is essential; and that we need mindfulness and compassion to mobilize ourselves for positive action. Satish Kumar, the eco-philosopher and editor of Resurgence magazine is a tireless promoter of organisations and groups who are working for sustainable living. Again he believes there may be a civilisational collapse, but we need many life-boats then, to move ahead with the skills and wisdom needed in the future – and hence it is important for us to be positive, become ‘eco-literate’ and work together for sustainability in our own ways.

In India, it is only a miniscule percentage of people who are not enamoured by the goodies of the globalised economic system. There seems to be an irreversibly strong wave of psychological, social and political sentiment that is crying for western style ‘development’ no matter what the cost. Can we stop for a moment and realize that we are actually demanding violence in this land of Buddha and Gandhi?