Thursday, July 14, 2011

Bottom line mentality: shift in values towards materialism

Bottom line mentality of governments and people: Shift in values towards materialism:

When I was a student of the Bangalore University doing Masters in Psychology in the late 80s, I observed that the dept of Philosophy hardly had any students. ( I think there were 2 or 3 students and the staff were in higher numbers than the students in that particular department!).

I always believed that Philosophy is a very interesting and ‘tough’ subject; I was interested in studying it but as it was not offered in combination with my other favourite subjects i.e. English and Psychology, I did not opt for it in under graduate studies.

For mankind to progress, science and technology which better our lives by providing physical comforts, health and entertainment  are not enough; Mankind’s progress also requires contributions from the fields which influence our spiritual, social, ethical well being such as inputs from the fields of Philosophy, Ethics, Sociology, the Arts, etc.

To me subjects like Philosophy, are highly abstract. I strongly believe that only the best brains should work in fields such as Philosophy;  I also believe that a person who opts to work in this field should have a high level of abstract thinking, intelligence, creativity and should be open minded. And for the best brains in the world to be attracted to these fields, there should be lures such as well paid jobs at the end of the course, etc.

People who study or work in areas such as Philosophy should be free from any constraints in order to be able to focus better; When one is working under constraints such as economic constraints, time constraints, etc, one’s thinking may become focussed on solving immediate problems; speed of resolving may trump accuracy or pursuit of truth; one may come down to practicality than try to remain at the highest abstract levels, and so on.

As I already mentioned, for subjects such as Philosophy, Ethics, Sociology, Political Science, Anthropology, etc to progress, the best brains are needed. However in third world countries like India, the best brains are gravitating towards fields offering greater job opportunities, money and success such as the applied disciplines such as engineering, medicine, business, finance, etc.
 Fields such as Philosophy, Sociology, etc offer limited job opportunities, money and knowledge contributions from these fields are not even recognized and used by the government especially in countries like India. The knowledge obtained through research, theories, observations, etc   may be published or discussed at the department level but are hardly ever practically applied or used.

For a society to progress, it is necessary that the people, progress in all areas such as ethically, spiritually, aesthetically, develop better attitudes, tolerance, be open minded to other cultures, religions, develop questioning, give up dogmas, etc. A society can transform and move in the right direction only if fields such as Philosophy, Sociology, Political Science, Anthropology, etc flourish and their contributions are accepted and put into practice. If this does not happen, the citizens will tend to develop a bottom line mentality, will forego ethical behaviours, will have narrow mentalities, will be filled with dogmas, suspicions of ‘all other’ cultures, religions, etc.

Unfortunately, in third world countries like India and Pakistan, the government and people are showing extreme bias for different areas. Fields which are contributing to the economy are the only ones receiving encouragement while fields perceived as ‘not useful for economic development’ or perceived as ‘not useful’ are being neglected. This leads to skewed development for different areas. Areas like the science and technology fields (medicine, engineering, finance, etc) receive a lot of encouragement both from the government and private sector and attract the best brains. While disciplines as such as Philosophy, Ethics, Anthropology, and any field which has slim job opportunities have no takers.  For an over-all healthy society, we need to have decent citizens who are not only physically healthy and enjoying the comforts which technology brings,  but we need citizens who are doing well mentally and spiritually too, who have tolerance, an open and questioning mind, who are as interested in aesthetics, justice, etc as they are in good health, comfort and money .
Unfortunately, in third world countries like India,  subjects such as Philosophy have no takers in the universities! I remember that Philosophy was a subject offered at the under grad level in Maharani’s Arts College of Bangalore. And no one would opt for this subject as it was perceived as one with no or less job opportunities. People would even mock the ones who opted for this subject; those who opted for this subject opted for it as they did not have a choice, or opted for it by choice but with a lot of trepidation!
Each year, students who did not get a seat in their chosen subjects were offered Philosophy and were asked to leave if they did not want to take Philosophy! Instead of the best and brightest, Philosophy got students who had got low marks and hence could not get into the ‘Hot’ subjects! And the Philosophy department at the university, offering Masters level courses, was practically empty each year! The staff outnumbered the students!
It was and is a real sad state of affairs, not just for the Philosophy department but for India too. Neglect of subjects such as Philosophy and Sociology reflects the direction India is heading. When a country/government, pursues only economically and practically useful fields and neglects other areas; justifies this neglect by stating they are ‘too poor’ to spend on ‘useless’ subjects, it is the beginning of the end. This will lead to a corrosion of values in society and once a corrosion of values happens, it is extremely difficult to pull the country from the brink of  ?ignorance, ? concreteness of mind and thinking.

I can already see the effects of this pursuit of ‘practical and useful things’ on the people of India. The effects I have observed in my relatives, friends, colleagues and neighbours; the vast difference I am seeing even between my generation and the next is alarming and depressing. I am not sure if I am imagining but there seems to be a greater consideration of what is

*While in the past, people and children respected ( Respect is evident in people’s politeness and displays of respect by bowing, greeting, listening to, offering hospitality, help, etc) ‘learned’ people such as school teachers and priests, today, there is a subtle lack of respect. People seem to have shifted their display of ‘respect’ to people they perceive as successful, economically well off, ‘powerful’ or ‘with connections’.
* When I was a kid, about 30-35 years ago, children would say they want to become a teacher, policeman, engine driver, pilot, engineer, doctor. Today the kids, as young as 5 say  I want to be an engineer or I want to be a  doctor though they do not know what being an engineer/doctor means! They simply seem to associate it with money and success maybe.
* All teenagers (of my Bangalore, middle class circle), when asked about their future plans reveal that they want to study, engineering, medicine or become a CA. Of the million professions that exist in the world today, all these teens opt only for these three! Forget Philosophy or Sociology. Their perception of all other subjects is so ‘not positive’, ergo they do not even want to consider studying even ‘money making subjects such as dental or nursing, pharmacy or statistics!
* Everything should have a goal these days. Gone are the days when we could play what we enjoyed or ‘simply be’. Today all time spent and activities done are “goal oriented”. There is simply no time to think, be idle and do nothing.  People today are focussed on making their children ‘do’ or ‘learn’ something ‘useful’ or ‘which is useful in future’. There is practically no free time for kids and all are made to be engaged in activities with a purpose. Even playing is supposed to have a purpose these days! Swim to grow taller, learn to play chess to improve your brain, play computer games to improve your skills, etc. If a kid plays something for enjoyment today, he may be asked what’s the use of playing that game !
* Some people even go to the extent of ‘making or building useful contacts’ by becoming members in certain clubs, playing games such as golf even if they don’t enjoy golf, attending parties or functions in order to get to rub shoulders with ‘powerful’ or ‘useful’ people! Even the people they invite or mingle with are chosen from some practical consideration! Inviting mere acquaintances for intimate parties as they are highly connected and not inviting close relatives who are perceived as not really ‘important’ is another hurtful behaviour I am seeing in many people these days.
*Kids are encouraged to develop hobbies more for their usefulness than for the kids enjoyment! I know of a kid who loved collecting stamps. But his dad flooded him with stamps in order to make him win at Philately competitions! I do not know if the kid still enjoyed, but I sure lost interest when I saw the massive flood of stamps, bought with money in an instant, than collected slowly with excitement and joy. Another developed a hobby merely to be able to put it on her resume and to talk if the need arose in a job interview! The planning and goals of the hobbies were anything but pleasure for these practical people.
*Neglecting social get togethers and being completely focussed on ‘children’s studies’ and ‘husband’s business’ is another feature I am seeing in some family members. These people are so focussed on the kids education and their careers that they completely avoid the social aspects of life, which makes life interesting and fun. I know of many families who no longer socialize, visit temples, attend weddings, birthdays, death ceremonies, visit a sick friend to look in, take time off to help a friend or relative in distress. They excuse themselves stating that kids have exams and refuse to participate in most activities which take them away form their pursuit of career and education.
Not only do most people pursue ‘useful’, ‘economically viable careers’, they also butt into the lives of the few people who don’t, and demand to know why they are throwing away their lives in pursuit of a useless career or useless goals!  Why are you studying that ? You will not get a job! OR Why cant you keep it (‘it’ maybe music, drawing& painting or some sports,)  as a hobby and pursue it later, when you finish your studies?
*About 30 years ago or more, I would see people of my dad’s generation, get together in a friend’s house and debate politics, religion, the events of the day reported in the newspapers, for hours over coffee and roasted peanuts. The discussions did not lead to any changes in the world but were interesting and informative. People had such different viewpoints though they were from similar backgrounds. Today, people hardly step out of their houses (also due to reasons like difficult traffic, television-watching taking over socializing, parents being more involved in their kids lives than before)and there are hardly any debates or discussions unless it is with family. I believe that these discussions and debates are a goldmine for the participants. People enjoy talking, get to know different viewpoints, may get emotional and nasty but get back on track. There is no agenda and that is the most important thing for me. I remember reading in some book that in the 18th and 19th centuries, Europeans from different fields got together in the evenings and had discussions. Thus Philosophers, musicians, literary giants got together and exchanged ideas and many contributions came out of these stimulating discussions. Today, people seem to get chance to interact mostly with people of their fields and not much with others…unless they work with people from other disciplines or personally know them. With these narrow ranges of interactions with a narrow range of people, it is difficult to grow mentally and spiritually.
*Another sad feature I am observing today is the lack of romance, ‘falling in love’. Youth today are less romantic and more ‘savvy’ when it comes to getting into a relations ship. The spontaneity is gone and there is a long process of checking for suitability based on certain criteria. The criteria is pretty materialistic, at least in my eyes.  
* Lack of ideals in youth is another sad feature today. When I was a kid, me and other kids had foolish but very idealistic goals. Kids wanted to become police officers and fight crime; kids wanted to become astronauts; become pilots; become sailors. Now youth state they want to get into say IAS (Indian Administrative Service) or similar courses so that they can make a lot of money! I know that government servants in India are pretty corrupt, but in the past, they would have some ideals and honesty at the beginning of their careers at least and lose it over time. Now they seem to be corrupt right from the beginning!
There is a lack of practice of ethics even by the so called, ‘middle-class and decent’ people. Values such as chivalry, altruism, selflessness, aiding the weak, etc standing up to crime, etc are disappearing completely. If  a woman is being bullied in public, people watch but do not go to help; “they do not want to get involved”; if an old person is standing in a crowded bus, the young and healthy who are sitting, do not offer their seat; when a government official blatantly violates rules, no one protests; If they see an injured person or animal on the road, no one helps as they ‘do not want to be late for work’; the list goes on and on. This erosion of values in society would not happen if the people gave importance to values instead of developing a bottom line mentality where all are involved in gain of material wealth.
By stating Material wealth, I mean it in very broad terms. By material wealth, I am also referring to physical comforts, luxuries, lack of any sort of discomfort; pursuit of name and fame; ‘having good connections’ and so on.

I am very very fortunate that I know several people who are idealistic and who have great integrity, and strong values. But the number of such people seems to be declining at least in India. I always believe that the youth are more idealistic than the old but now-a-days, youth seems to be developing this bottom line mentality at very young ages, thanks to the values imparted by their parents!
Here are some behaviours I have seen which support my statements about today’s youth’s values. A child being advised by the parent not to help a fellow student as it will decrease the time he spends on his studies. A child subtly encouraged to be polite to well to do relatives and rude to the less well to do ones. Children made to focus on studies to the extent that they are excused for not participating in house work; not expected to pull their weight if they get ‘good marks’, a child’s or parent’s entertainment and studies and career take precedence  over taking care of old people at home.

My dad who visits villages regularly reports that the erosion of values is much higher in the villages than in the cities. While my sister argues with him that that it is not really the fault of the villagers as they are subject to brute forces such as lack of timely rains leading to crop failure, unpaid debts, poverty, my dad is heart-broken by the deteriorating values in villages, He sees the old people being brutally treated ( yelled at, not fed properly, not taken to hospitals when needed)by their sons and daughters-in-laws or relatives; he sees rise in thefts, he sees fighting and court cases between brothers over property. While these problems have existed for centuries in our village, it has become much worse now. What is the most disgusting for me is to see the politicians from the city, come to these villages before elections, hand over thousand rupee notes toe the people and buy the votes! The villagers now refuse to vote to the honest politician who does not give them money! The politicians never step into the villages again, till the next round of elections! The money sent by the government for village development i.e. money to repair roads, put street lights, etc is completely swallowed by the Panchayat members! The village continues to have the same problems they had 50 years ago as the money sent for the development is abused in this way by generations of Panchayat members! In the past, at least something like ‘fear’ or ‘respect’ for God and ‘priests’ had kept the area surrounding our village temple safe. A few years ago, the temple lad was taken over by the farmer who had the next plot and now he owns the temple lands, the lands where people were buried and even the vacant forest-land sort of areas! No one in the village dare protests his take over! The increase in crime rate also reflects how rapidly and completely the value systems in Indian villages is breaking down. In the past, ‘obedience to elders’, ‘obedience to and respect for parents helped to maintain some semblance of an organized society. But today, with the breakdown of the old system such as joint family system and old values, and the absence of development of a new strong value system based on democracy, gender equality, education., etc, it seems to the development of a jungle law of ‘survival of the fittest’ in my village today.

I hope that this deterioration in values and ethics in India (and other places too) is arrested immediately and a shift towards a strong ethical value system in the society develops. As far as I am concerned Ethics seems to be disconnected to education: I have seen both educated and illiterate crooks. One is not less or better than the other.
When I examine, what drives the breakdown of values the most, I find that the answer is greed. I know there are a lot of other evils too such as those listed in Bible, Bhagwad Gita, Koran, etc but Greed seems to take the cake.
If scientists could somehow eliminate the greed gene at birth, would it help? If greed, isdealt with, from childhood, would it help?

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