It’s only about word play

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It’s only about word play

Monday, 08 July 2019 | Vinayshil Gautam

For a solution to be effective, it doesn’t have to be new. It may be buried in some past practice. Discovering that is not innovation

The world of social movements is full of clichés. Every self-proclaimed thinker (or otherwise), takes it upon himself/herself to coin a few phrases and add that to a growing stream of cacophony. Consider phrases like “caring liberalism”, “mainstreaming” and “people-centric solutions” and the list can go on. Of course, these phrases can be defended and they should be. Question, however, is a matter apart. Have such phrases produced any evidence of making human life more bearable, if not liveable?

The current era is of capitalism. Hence, any movement for a minority alternative will pitch for the opposite. Consequently, it can be fashionable to posit capitalism versus whatever else, asking for space for compassion. One should pause to ask how capitalism becomes the opposite of compassion or indeed vice versa? When some thinkers from the US talk of “aggressive competitiveness”, it becomes fashionable to start talking about “cooperation.” The simple proposition is, in this circular planet, examples can be found for anything.

Even that can be overlooked. The tragedy is a whole template is created pleading for the opposite of what is perceived to be the dominant stream. So, if the dominant stream is of competitiveness, capitalism, globalisation and cross-border transfer of technology, the opposite template is already crafted. The “template of challenge” will talk of collaborative, holistic and contextualised geographies. Of course, both sides will claim to be “innovative.” Innovation as a buzz word has become so universal that it has become common to claim it to be a prefix or suffix of any thought. A buzz phrase going around in the last few years is “social innovation.”

Harvard University’s Kennedy School has even instituted a Chair for that. Now, what more evidence is needed about the thought having arrived and accepted? Quickly, social innovation got hitched to the concept of sustainable development. Numerous international organisations as also research communities are busy propagating  social innovations as an antidote to problems arising out of developmental interventions. Some old phrases haven’t died either. There is the global north and the global south. There is the first world, the second world and the third would. Anthropologically and otherwise, the third world is the first. But each serenade has its time and life.

Since what is stated above is so, there is little virtue in arguing about it. The larger question remains where it was. The question is of involuntary deprivation to acknowledged standards of living. Whereas bottom of the pyramid continues to be an attractive topic of discussion, the usual locale of conversation is mostly sumptuous, enticingly gorgeous and usually peppered by the presence of some successful politician/tycoon/media person/whatever else. There, the international goal posts are discussed and solutions sought. It would be in such places, commonplace, to keep repeating the 17 sustainable development goals. Yes, they were adopted by the United Nations in 2015 and were supposed to be fulfilled by 2030. The slogan of SDGs is to work directly with the people and, of course, talk about social norms and cultural elements.

In this select list of about 30 odd words and phrases, the entire intellectual world is cocooned. The search is forever for the new and different. New sanctimonious phrases are chanted over and over again. To question them evokes sneers. Among them are a number of slogans such as social justice, social equity, health for all, gender parity, inclusive growth and the new kid on the block pride parade. Before one is condemned of being ancient, conservative, pig-headed and worse, this writer will hasten to add that he has nothing against any of these movements. The theme of this text is simple: To establish how the crescendo of phraseology crowds vision of clarity. Chants do not deliver results. At their best, they create an environment. That, too, can become counter-productive when the chant becomes too long, too mundane and repetitive.

A solution to be effective doesn’t have to be new. It may be buried in some past practice, which somewhere got lost, burnt, destroyed or simply forgotten. Discovering that is not innovation. It is simple discovery. When the tribal collective believes that modes of production are common, nature is sacrosanct and lifestyles don’t get stratified by conspicuous consumption, then they don’t send emissaries to seminars to present their worldview. Tribals don’t have to discover their own lifestyle. They have lived with it. In fact, it is plausible to argue that people set about evangelising in tribal areas because one wishes them to think like us and not because there is an urge to find alternatives to one’s own existence. Essential is the need to recognise, how in attempting to help others, one is only trying to justify ones vantage point of perception. There is little respect for or interest in the other party. This approach needs a re-look.

(The writer is a well-known management consultant)

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