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Development Interrupted

The Second Childhood

by NIRANJAN RAMAKRISHNAN

After months of pointing out — first the shortsightedness and then the criminality of the Bush Administration — columnist Paul Craig Roberts has now begun to confront a deeper malaise, the idiocy of the populace. If true, this is a glacial problem and presages a catastrophe far worse than Bush’s eight years. After all, leaders come and go, but the people remain. And Roberts has a point: there seems no bar to a coexistence between intelligence, education and knowledge on the one hand and complete idiocy on the other. But ‘idiocy’ is a harsh word. Perhaps childhood, or more properly, second childhood, is better.

Let me illustrate with an example.

The other evening I saw a movie, "Paul Jacobs and the Nuclear Gang". It was about the how the US government had hidden information about low-level radiation arising from its nuclear tests in the Nevada desert, and the corresponding rise in cancer incidences among those living in the vincinity. There was a brief Q and A session after the talk. Saul Landau, the brilliant author and filmmaker whose gentle but perceptive answers were as educational as the film itself, was asked the following question: What are the rulers thinking when they engage in this kind of cover up? And why would anyone invest in a technology where the waste material is so hazaradous that it renders places unsafe for tens of thousands of years? [1]

Landau’s answer (paraphrased) was that powerful people seldom admit mistakes. We tried to identify a few who did — I mentioned Richard Clarke ("Sorry Spectacle") and he mentioned Cy Vance. We did not waste time on the likes of Colin Powell and Robert McNamara, mute time servers when they could have done something, compulsive hand-wringers after their moment had passed. But the question goes deeper than that: Where do people who start wars, poison the environment for immediate gain and gratification, hock their country to keep interest rates low, plan to move? Mars? Unless that is their plan, their actions make no sense. American administrations may be beholden to Israel, but I don’t think either nuclear radiation or global warming believes in the passover. Prophet and plebian are imperiled alike and with certainty.

Yet, we have Tony Blair proclaiming a fast push toward nuclear energy, and Iran insisting on its rights (to cancer?) Where does such idiocy spring from? Perhaps from an addiction to the mantra of growth, and development. "To scatter plenty o’er a smiling land, and read their history in a nation’s eyes", has this not been the dream of every leader in history?

And in the last half-century, the nation’s eyes have become key – "But it wasn’t on TV, was it?" Hence the difficulty. Radiation, like global warming or disinformation, is a peril without a face. And in our image-driven times, something does not exist if it doesn’t have pictures. Hence the insistence on Bush’s photographs with Abramoff, as though that would somehow prove something that Abramoff’s being on the transition team would not. This is perfect for a ruler. So, development. Make sure they everyone gets a TV.

The second is to keep them shopping, so their minds quit working. How else do you explain the poll in which, asked if domestic spying without a warrant was ok, there was such an equivocal response? Freedom to shop is all we care about (see Open your Wallets, not your Mouths).

The third is perhaps the result of the first two, the blithe unawareness of the addict to the non-obvious: Let me buy at Wal Mart, even if it is means my own job going to China tomorrow.

These are signs regressions to childhood. It takes children a few years before they learn the connection between cause and effect when the two are not in close proximity. It takes them some time to understand non-visual cues. And they need instant gratification. What Roberts sees is the fact that all three components seem present in large measure in America.

Fifty years of growth, development, unimaginable technological progress, all have led to a state where people are willing to surrender their rights.

Gandhi (whose death anniversary falls today) alone, among the leaders of the 20th century, saw the perils of mad devotion to economic progress.

"…Hinduism, Islam, Zorastrianism, Christianity and all other religions teach that we should remain passive about worldly pursuits, that we should set a limit to our worldly ambitions and that our religious ambition should be illimitable. Our activity should be directed into the latter channel…" (Hind Swaraj, 1909).

Gandhi saw the plunge into consumer comfort as the inevitable first step towards the loss of freedom.

Yatha Raja, Tatha Praja (as the king goes, so go the people), went the old Sanskrit saying. Since this was before the Age of Democracy, we should transpose it : "as the people go, so goes the leader". Hence the trend — whether it is Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush (or even Gore or Kerry, algthough the former may now be revising his opinions) in America, or whether it is Narasimha Rao, Vajpayee or Manmohan Singh in India, the mantra of growth and development has us — and them — by the neck.

"I can promise you nothing but blood, toil, sweat and tears" said another wartime leader, a real one. Ours promises low interest rates and personal savings accounts. What happened in between? We were watching television.

NIRANJAN RAMAKRISHNAN is a writer living on the West Coast. He can be reached at njn_2003@yahoo.com.



[1] "The radiological half life of plutonium is about 24,000 years and the biological half life is about 20 years for liver and 50 years for skeleton. The effective half life of plutonium deposited in the liver is 20 years and 50 years for plutonium deposited in the skeleton[1]. Plutonium deposited in the gonadal tissue is assumed to be permanently retained. See full essay "Plutonium" by Gary Masters.

[2] More quotations of Gandhi are available at http://www.hindswaraj.com