Saturday, November 7, 2009

Feelbad Journalism

In a piece titled "Superpoor India" DNA columnist Venkatesan Vembu writes pompously about the "triumphalist chest-thumping" in Indian newspapers about the country’s ranking in the recently published "Prosperity Index."

He thinks that is “solely” because “India came in at 45th place, whereas China -- our civilizational "twin brother" who (we fear) has made good and moved out of our league in the past 30 years -- came in at a distant 75th place.”

He dismisses that as an editorial attempt “to lace your morning cup of filter coffee with a healthy dose of feel-good decoction” and an adolescent "mine's bigger than yours" response to an ideologically biased analysis. The Prosperity Index, he informs us, “has been devised in such a manner as to balance a country's economic prosperity with "political and individual liberty". And that, in his eyes, reduces the measure to irrelevance.

“India's aspirations of becoming a superpower will never be realized unless we can look ourselves in the unflattering mirror of reality” Vembu writes, quoting a book by an American to assert that the Chinese don’t think of themselves as a Super Power.

“Similarly with India, only if we begin with an honest appraisal of ourselves and work earnestly to remedy our failings that make us seem 'superpoor' can we over time become a genuine superpower -- one that doesn't have to claim it is one, and, or seek validation and solace in pseudo-scientific indices of prosperity.”

Vembu is typical of the Feelbad school of Indian journalism, which specializes in compounding insecurity with ignorance and passing it off as fair and balanced.

The article makes it clear that he doesn't have a clue about how India can make an "honest appraisal" of itself. The tip-off on that comes in his reference to China as "our civilizational twin brother."

China is not India's civilizational twin. Except for a variety of technological innovations China as a civilization has been creatively sterile. It has nothing to compare to the Ramayana and Mahabharatha, no cosmology comparable to India’s, no mathematical tradition such as ours. Compared to India's monumentally influential international role in matters ranging from the conceptualization of God to Non Alignment, it has been a an insular, inward-looking, oppressive society throughout history.

Nowhere are our national differences more apparent than in the different response of the two countries to European domination. India reached into its spiritual core and produced Gandhi. China produced Mao, who made his grisly way to power only because another great tyrant, Stalin, provided him with the means to do so.

The poor Chinese people were made to give up the only source of spiritual comfort they ever had, Buddhism imported from India. (Confucianism is little more than an elaboration of good manners.) In return they were forced to pretend that the insane theory of a distant German intellectual, Marx, was a credible guide to their future.

Mao killed some 40 to 50 million people in the effort to make Marxism work, while we built up a democratic system that has slowly but steadily attacked the massive iniquities of our society and empowered the least among us.

China has staggered from Marxism into an obscene "capitalism" dominated by foreign corporations that works only because its people have been enslaved to the global market. But that is effective only if the global market is functioning well, which it is not. Unless the world economy picks up very soon, China will face a major internal crisis.

That will not be pretty to watch, especially from our front-row seats; but while waiting for the coming troubles, let's at least get our strategic thinking right.

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