Reflections of Humanity, By: Ali Shariati / part II
Posted by Parsin on April 18, 2008
The machine emerged and developed during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries in Europe in the hands of the capitalists and the rich. The machine has the characteristic of the need for constant increase in production when it is working. This is the machine’s coercion. If it does not increase its production with 10 or 11 years, it will die out, it cannot continue to function and cannot compete with other machines. Why? Because if it does not increase its production, other machines, producing the same merchandise on a larger scale, can sell it cheaper. Therefore, the production of the obsolete machine stagnates. The machine must produce more and more to be able to pay more to labor and to put products in the market more cheaply than its competitors. Science and technology have contributed to the development of the machine and improved its efficiency. This development has changed the face of humanity today. We should not consider it as one of the problems emerging in the world today; rather, strictly speaking, there is no other problem but this, which has been before us for the last two centuries. From it grow all the other problems facing the world today.
The machine must increase its production progressively each year. Therefore,to avoid stock-piling, it must also progressively create the necessity of continuous consumption. However people’s consumption does not increase at the same rate as does production. A certain society may have 30% increase in its paper consumption in 10 years and 300%, or tripling, of its paper production. Ten years ago machines produced 5 kilometers of paper per hour andtoday produce 50 kilometers per hour, while paper consumption has not risen and cannot rise to that extent.
So what is to be done about excess production or surplus? What is to be done with the extra piles of paper? New fields of consumption must be provided. Each European country has a special and particular taste and a fixed consumption; their populations do not exceed 40 to 60 million.The frantic production rate, rising constantly, exceeds the desires of people to consume. They can’t keep up! Thus since the machine has compulsively produced excess goods, it must step over it’s national boundary and push goods into foreign markets. When the capitalists gained control of machinery, technology and science in the 18th century, humanity’s destiny was determined. Every single human on the face of the earth would be coerced into becoming a consumer for the produced merchandise. European markets became saturated rapidly; consequently the surplus goods had to go to Asia and Africa. Asians and Africans had to consume the surplus European products.
Can these products actually be taken to the East, whose pattern of life does not require them, and force their consumption? Impossible! When you enter an Asian society you notice that the Asian’s clothing is made by his wife or in a native workshop. They wear traditional garments. There is no demand here for the products of factories which make machines, or “high fashion” clothes, or the “modern” fabrics of Europe. In an African society we will notice that their desires, interests and joys are confined to horse-riding and appreciation of the grace of their horses. They lack highways, drivers, ideas of machines, and the need for any of these. In their style of life their production is equal to their consumption, which is consistent with their traditions, tastes and necessities. For them, therefore, an automobile, as any other European product, is entirely redundant.
European factories produced an ever-increasing quantity of luxury goods and sought for them a market in Asian and African countries. It was out of the question to expect Asian and African men and women to use these products in the 18th century or even the 19th even if the products had been furnished free. They had other enjoyments; they had their own special native adornments. An African or Asian woman had no need for European cosmetics and no need for trinkets to beautify herself and dress up. She already had her own cosmetics, her own materials and make-up. She would use them and all would admire her. Nor would she feel any need for a change.
As a result of her attitude, the capitalist’s merchandise remained unsold. People with this way of thinking, with unique necessities and tastes, who have their own life style and produce their own necessities, were not the type of people who would consume the products of 18th century European capitalists. So what to do? The problem was to make people in Asia and Africa consumers of European products. Their societies must be structured so they would buy European products. That meant changing a nation literally. They had to change the nation, and they had to transform a man in order to change his clothing, his consumption pattern, his adornment, his abode and his city. What part of him to change first? His morale and his thinking. Who could change the spirit of a society, the morale of a society and the way of thinking of a nation? In this respect, there was little the European capitalist, engineer or producer could do. Rather, it was the business of the enlightened European intellectuals to plan a special method of perverting the mind, the taste and lifestyle of the non-European, not in a way that he himself chooses, – since the change he desires might not necessitate the consumption of European products – rather his desires, his choices, his suffering, his sorrow, his tastes, his ideals, his sense of beauty, his tradition, his social relations, his amusements – all must be changed so that he is coerced into becoming a consumer of European industrial products. So the big producers and big European capitalists of the 18th and 19th centuries let the intellectuals handle this project.
This was the project: all the people of the world must become uniform. They must live alike.They must think alike. Practically, it is impossible for all the nations to think in the same way. What structural elements go into the personality and spirit of a man and nation? Religion, history, culture, past civilization, education and tradition. All of these mentioned are the structural elements of a man’s personality and spirit and, in its general term, of a nation. These elements differ from one society to another. They result in one form in Europe, another in Asia and in Africa. They all have to become the same. The differences in thinking and spirits of the nations of the world must be destroyed in order for men to become uniform.They must conform, wherever they are, to a single pattern. What is this pattern? The pattern is provided by Europe: it shows all Easterners, Asians, Africans, how to think, how to dress, how to desire, how to grieve, how to build their houses, how to establish their social relations, how to consume, how to express their view, and finally how to like and what to like. Soon it is realized that a new culture called “modernization” was presented to the whole world.
Modernity was the best method of diverting the non-European world, from whatever form and mould of thinking, from their own mould, thought and personality. It became the sole task of Europeans to place the temptation of “modernization” before the non-European societies of any complexion. The Europeans realized that by tempting the inhabitant of the East with a compulsive desire for “modernization”, he would cooperate with them to deny his own past and desecrate and destroy with his own hands the constituents of his own unique culture, religion and personality. So the temptation and longing for “modernization” prevailed all across the Far East, Middle East, Near East and in Islamic and Black countries – and to become modernized was regarded as becoming like the Europeans.
Strictly speaking, “modernized” means modernized in consumption. One who becomes modernized is one whose tastes now desire “modern” items to satisfy his wants. In other words, he imports from Europe new forms of living and modern products, and he does not use new types of products and a lifestyle developed from his own original and national past. Non-Europeans are modernized for the sake of consumption. Westerners, however, could not just tell others they were going to reshape their intellect, mind and personality for fear of awakening resistance. Therefore, the Europeans had to make non-Europeans equate “modernization” with “civilization” to impose the new consumption pattern upon them, since everyone has a desire for civilization. “Modernization” was defined as “civilization” and thus people cooperated with the European plans to modernize. Even more than the bourgeois and capitalist, the non-European intellectual labored mightily to change consumption patterns and lifestyles in their societies. Since the non-Europeans could not produce the new products, they became automatically dependant upon the technology which produces for them and expects them to buy whatever it produces.
While studying in Europe, I heard of an automobile factory that advertised high-paying jobs for sociologists and psychologists. I was looking for a job, and besides I became very interested in knowing why a car factory needed sociologists and psychologists. So I went there for a job interview with the man in the public relations department. He asked me, “Perhaps you are wondering why we are recruiting sociologists while we usually hire mechanical engineers and the like?” I said yes. He brought out a map of all of Asia and Africa and pointed to some cities, telling me that in some there was a great demand for the cars and many customers but that in others there was no demand. He continued:”We can’t find out why there is no demand from engineers. It is the sociologists’ task to find out what these people like and why they don’t buy cars, so we can change the color or design of the cars, if possible, and if not, make them change their taste.” Then he gave me an example of European sociologists’ success in modernizing a certain tribe.
He showed me a wooded and mountainous area on the bank of the Chad River in Africa where many long-nomadic tribes lived. People there did not wear clothes and kept cattle for a living. He pointed out some areas where a group of people lived around the tribal chief’s castle. They had no schools, no roads or highways, no clothes and no houses. They lived in tents. Then he told me that the chief of this semi-wild village had parked two modern Renaults with gold trim in front of his palace.
“These natives were only interested in horses originally. The person who possessed the best horse was the most well-known and envied. Everyone tried to raise the best horse as a means of self-glorification and achieving dominance. As long as this kind of consciousness predominated in the tribe,” the car employer told me, “no-one would buy a car. Rather, all of them would continue to buy horses, and we do not produce any horses. So we tried to think of a way to make the natives buy the automobiles we produce in Europe.”
“The women of the tribe make themselves up attractively with preparations made of gum and sap from the forest, and everyone likes their style. Happy with their local culture, folk dance and native food, it is obvious that no women in the tribe will buy Christian Dior cosmetics nor would the men buy Renaults. Europeans never even tried to sell them anything. But eventually a development allowed the European sociologists an opportunity to change the taste of the natives. The chief of the tribe used to tie two beautiful horses with his best hunting dog in front of his headquarters, and now we have changed his taste. We have modernized him: instead of tying up his horses in front of his place, now, he takes pride in parking there the two Renaults with golden trim.”
I asked him with surprise: ” But they don’t have any roads?” “They have built a temporary 8 kilometer road,” he said.
“When the chief of the tribe first bought the car, every morning he would take a ride and all the people of the tribe would gather and watch the car. He did not know how to drive, so he hired one from here. The driver worked for him eight months and received a handsome salary. There were no gas stations near the tribe, so the gas was bought from far distances by boat.”
So the goal of the capitalist was not really to civilize this tribe but to modernize it. The chief who was proud of his horse and was a horse rider is now proud of his car and enjoys driving it. The chief of the tribe, like many other Asians or non-Europeans, has become modernized but one must really be naive to judge superficially that he has become civilised as well.
Modernization is changing traditions, mode of consumption and material life from old to new. People made the old ways; machines produce the new. To make all the non-Europeans modernized, they first had to overcome the influence of religion, since religion causes any society to feel a distinctive individuality. Religion postulates an exalted intellectuality to which everyone relates intellectually. If this intellect is crushed and humiliated, the one who identifies himself with it feels also crushed and humiliated. So native intellectuals began a movement against “fanaticism”. As Franz Fanon says: “Europe intended to captivate the non-European by the machine. Can a human or society be enslaved by a machine or certain European product without taking away or depriving him of his personality?” No, it can not. The personality must be wiped out first.
Since religion, history, culture, as a totality of intellect, thought, amassed art and literature give personality to a society, they all have to be destroyed, too. In the 19th century I would feel as an Iranian that I was attached to a great civilization of the 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th centuries of Islam which was unparallelled in the world and had the whole world under its influence. I would feel that I was attached to a culture, more than 2000 years old, which in various forms and shapes, had created new intellectualism, new art and literature in the world of humanity. I would feel that I was attached to the Islam that was the newest, the most sublime and the most universal religion, creating all those intellectualities and dissolving all those different civilizations in itself to create a greater civilization. I would feel attached to the Islam which created the most beautiful spirit and the most sublime face of humanity, and I could also feel, as a human, that I had a unique personality in the eyes of the world and every person in it. So how could they convert such an “I” into a gadget whose only function is to consume new products?
They would deprive him of his personality. He must be dispossessed of all the “I’s” he feels within. He must be forced to believe himself related to a humbler civilization, a humbler social order, and accept that European civilization, Western civilization and the Western race are superior. Africa must believe that an African is a savage, so that he is tempted to become “civilized” and put himself readily into the hands of the Europeans who will determine his fate. The poor man does not realize that he is being modernized instead of being civilized. That is why we see that all of a sudden in the 18th and 19th centuries the Africans were described as savages and cannibals. Those Africans who had dealt with the Islamic civilisation for centuries were never known as cannibals. Suddenly the Black African becomes a cannibal, has a special smell, has a special race. The grey part of his brain does not work, and the forepart of his brain, like the Asian’s, is shorter compared to the Westerner’s!
Even their doctors and biologists have ‘proven’ (!) that the Westerner’s brain has an extra gray peel, which Easterners and Blacks lack!! They also have ‘proven’ that the Westerner’s brain has an additional length to the genes in the brain cells which allows him to think better than a non-Westerner! Then we see that a new culture was built on a basis of “Western superiority” and “the superiority of its civilization and its people”. They made us and the world believe that the European was exceptionally talented mentally and technically, whereas the Easterner had strange emotional and gnostic talents and the Negro was only good for dancing, singing, painting and sculpture.
Consequently, the world was divided into three distinct races: one which can think, that is, the European(!) (right from the days of ancient Greece up to now!) and the one which can only feel or make poetry, the Easterner, who has only mystical and gnostic feelings, and the Black, who can dance, sing and play good jazz.
Then this very way of thinking, which was introduced to the world to justify the need for modernizing the non-European nations, became the basis of thought for the non-European elites as well. We see how they created a conflict between the “modernized” and the “old-fashioned” in non-European societies for 100 years; a conflict which was, and still is, the most senseless fight one has ever seen.
Modernization in what? In consumption, not in mind. Old fashioned in what? In the form of consumption. It was natural that the fight ended in favor of modernization, and even if it had ended otherwise, it would not have been to the benefit of the masses. In this fight, the fight between the modernized and civilized, the European was the leader. In the name of civilization, the campaign for modernization was carried on, and then for 100 years, for more than 100 years, the non-European societies themselves strove to become modernized under the leadership of their sophisticated intellectuals.
Let us consider the genesis and composition of this class of intellectuals. Jean Paul Sartre in the preface to “The Wretched of the Earth” points out: “We would bring a group of African or Asian youth to Amsterdam, Paris, London……for a few months, take them around, change their clothes and adornments, teach them etiquette and social manners as well as some fragment of language. In short, we would empty them of their own cultural values and then send them back to their own countries. They would no longer be the kind of person to speak their own mind; rather they would be our mouthpieces. We would cry the slogans of humanity and equality and then they would echo our voice in Africa and Asia, “-manity”,”-quality.”
These were the persons who convinced people to lay aside their orthodoxy, discard their religion, get rid of native culture (as these had kept them behind the modern European societies) and become westernized from the tip of the toe to the top of the head!
How is it possible to become Europeanized through export and exchange? Is civilization a product that one can export and import from one place to another? Of course not ; but modernity is the collection of modern products which can be imported by a society within a period of 1,2 or 5 years. A certain society can be completely modernized within a few years. Likewise an individual could also become throughly modernized, even more modernized than the European himself. You can change his mode of consumption and he becomes modernized. That is exactly what the Europeans were expecting.
But it is not so simple to civilise a nation or a society. Civilization and culture are not European-made products whose ownership makes anyone civilized. But they made us believe that all modernization nonsense was a manifestation of civilization! And we eagerly threw away everything we had, even our social prestige, morality and intellect, to become thirsty suckers of what Europe was eager to trickle into our mouths. This is what modernity really means.
Thus a being was created devoid of any background, alienated from his history and religion, and a stranger to whatever his race, his history and his forefathers had built in this world; alienated from his own human characteristics, a second-hand personality whose mode of consumption had been changed, whose mind has been changed, who had lost his old precious thoughts, his glorious past and intellectual qualities and has now become empty within. As Jean Paul Sartre puts it: “In these societies an “assimilae”- meaning a quasi-thinker and quasi-educated person – was created, not a real thinker or intellectual.”
A real intellectual is one who knows his society, is aware of it’s problems, can determine its fate, is knowledgeable about its past and who can decide for himself. These quasi-intellectuals, however, succeeded in influencing the people. Who were these quasi-intellectuals in non-European societies? They were intermediaries between those who had the products and those who had to consume the products. A mediator who, aquainted both with the Europeans and with his own people, eased the way of colonization and exploitation.
That was why they created native intellectuals who did not dare to choose for themselves, who don’t have the courage to maintain their own opinions and who cannot decide for themselves. Such persons came to be deemed mean and inferior to the extent that when asked about the flavor of their food, the music they listen to, the clothes they wear, they do not have the conviction to say whether they like or dislike them. This is because it is no longer they who decide. They have to be told that such and such a dress is worn in Europe, and so they can like it. They are told that a particularly bitter food, which to them tastes like poison, is eaten in Europe and, therefore, they can eat it, even if it does not suit their taste. They eat it anyway because the Europeans eat it; they lack the courage and assurance to say they dislike it.
In Europe and America, when people go to a place where jazz is being played and they don’t like it, they just say so bluntly, and loudly. But in Eastern countries no one can be brave enough to say “Jazz is bad and I do not like it.” Why? Because they have not left him enough personality and human value to let him choose the color of his dress and the flavor of his food. As Fanon says: “In order for Eastern countries to be the followers of Europe and imitate her like a monkey, they should have proven to the non-Europeans that they do not possess the same quality of human values as the Europeans do. They should have belittled their history, literature, religion and art to make them alienated from all of it. We can see that the Europeans did just that.”
They have created a people who do not know their own culture, but still are ready to despise it. They know nothing about Islam but say bad things about it. They cannot understand a simple poem but criticize it with poorly chosen words. They do not understand their history but are ready to condemn it. On the other hand, without reservation they admire all that is imported from Europe. Consequently, a being was created who, first became alienated from his religion, culture, history and background, and then came to despise them. He was convinced he was inferior to the European. And when such a belief took root in him, he tried and wished to refute himself, to sever his connections with all the objects attached to him and somehow make himself like a European, who was not despised and looked down upon, and at least be able to say, “Thank God I am not an Easterner since I modernized myself sufficiently to reach the level of a European.”
And while the non-European is happy with the idea that he has been modernized, the European capitalist and bourgeois laugh at their success in converting him into a consumer of their surplus production.
Revision by: Dr. Bartlett M.D.