Revised rules in /r/Europe prohibit "suggest[ing] that members of different cultures or races are incapable of cohabiting" and "that some races or cultures are inherently better than others."

[Today], much of the emerging world now stands to repeat, on an ominously larger scale, the West’s own tortured and often tragic experience of modern development. In India and China, the pursuit of economic growth at all costs has created a gaudy elite, but it has also widened already alarming social and economic disparities. It has become clear that development, whether undertaken by colonial masters or sovereign nation-states, doesn’t benefit people evenly within a single territory, not to mention across larger regions.

Certainly China’s and India’s new middle classes have done very well out of two decades of capitalism, and their ruling elites can strut across the world stage like never before. But this apparently wildly successful culmination to the anti-colonial revolution has coincided with a veritable counter-revolution presided over by political and business elites across the world: the privatization and truncation of public services, de-unionization, the fragments and lumpenization of urban working classes, and the ruthless suppression of the rural poor.

As instructed by the Chinese premier, Mao’s son may well rest in peace in North Korea since his father’s great dream of national regeneration has been fulfilled. But there is no doubt that not just Mao but all the leaders of the Chinese Revolution would have rejected this strange denouement to their great venture, in which some Chinese people stand up while most others are forced to stand down, and the privileged Chinese minority aspire to nothing higher than the conveniences and gadgets of their Western consumer counterparts.>

Sixty years after independence, India, with its stable and formally democratic institutions and processes, seems to have come closer to fulfilling the nationalist project of the first postcolonial elites. The Indian nation-state has grown stronger, with a voice in the international arena. It is an increasingly attractive place for Western corporate and speculative capital. Indian elites, like their Asian counterparts in Japan, are still content to make themselves a junior partner to the United States, implicitly affirming that the post-war international order will survive.

These Asian beneficiaries of globalization project an image of a confident and self-aware people moving as one toward material fulfillment and international prominence. But India displays even more garishly than China the odd discontinuities induced by economic globalization: how by fostering rapid growth in some sectors of the economy it raises expectations everywhere, but by distributing its benefits narrowly, it expands the numbers of the disenchanted and the frustrated, often making them vulnerable to populist and ethnocratic politicians. At the same time the biggest beneficiaries of globalization find shelter in such aggressive ideologies as Hindu nationalism.

The feeling of hopelessness and despair, especially about landless peasants, has led to militant communist movements of unprecedented vigour and scale—the Indian prime minister describes them as the greatest internal security threat faced by India since independence. These Mao-inspired communists, who have their own systems of tax collection and justice, now dominate large parts of central and northern India, particularly in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, Bihar, Chhattisgarh and Orissa. Their informal secessionism has its counterpart among the Indian rich.

Gated communities grow in Indian cities and suburbs. The elite itself seems to have mutinied, its members retreating into exclusive enclaves where they can withdraw from the social and political complications of the country they live in. This is deeply troubling as up to a third of Indians live in conditions of extreme poverty and deprivation. More than half the children under the age of five in India are malnourished; failed crops and spiralling debt drove more than a hundred farmers to suicide in the past decade.

As India and China rise with their consumerist middle classes in a world of finite energy resources, it is easy to imagine that this century will be ravaged by the kind of economic rivalries and military conflicts that made the last century so violent.

The war on terror has already blighted the first decade. In retrospect, however, it may seem a mere prelude to greater and bloodier conflicts over precious resources and commodities that modernizing as well as already modern economies need.

The hope that fuels the pursuit of endless economic growth—that billions of consumers in India and China will one day enjoy the lifestyles of Europeans and Americans—is as absurd and dangerous a fantasy as anything dreamt up by Al Qaeda. It condemns the global environment to early destruction, and looks set to create reservoirs of nihilistic rage and disappointment among hundreds of millions of have-nots—the bitter outcome of the universal triumph of Western modernity, which turns the revenge of the East into something darkly ambiguous, and all its victories truly Pyrrhic.

  • From The Ruins of Empire
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