Forecasts and Alternative Futures
February 19, 2002 by Sohail Inayatullah
This third chapter from Situating Sarkar:Tantra, Macrohistory and Alternative Futures explores non-Western future visions, where progress can be seen in a more spiritual than materialistic light, through the eyes of poet and visionary Prabhat Rainjan Sarkar.
Originally published 1999 in Situating Sarkar:Tantra, Macrohistory and Alternative Futures (Maleny and Ananda Nagar, Gurukul Publications, 1999). Published on KurzweilAI.net February 19, 2002.
Prabhat Rainjan Sarkar is well known as a social philosopher, political revolutionary, poet, and linguist. He has also been described as the complete renaissance man.1 These descriptions come as a result of his numerous books and articles in the fields of natural sciences, world history, art, health, and political-economy, his creation of the Progressive Utilization Theory (PROUT) and his role as spiritual teacher of the social service, spiritual movement Ananda Marga.2
While these accomplishments are in themselves important, in this article we discuss his contribution to futures studies and his vision of the future. We can divide his futures oriented work into four areas: the first are forecasts based on theory of the social cycle (world government, a spiritual-led polity, and the end of capitalism and communism), the second are forecasts that predict new developments in the potential for spiritual development (the theory of microvita, the shift of the earth’s poles and the ice age), the third are specific technological forecasts (longevity, mind and space travel); and the fourth are warnings (water shortage, a global depression). The overall context to his interest in the future, however, is not prediction, but inspiration–the creation of a new vision for humanity.
Like Sarkar, many futurists3 believe that we may be undergoing technological, political, and economic revolutions far more significant than the industrial revolution and possibly more dramatic than any other transitional period in human history. In addition, some futurists argue that we are on the threshold of global governance, interplanetary travel, artificial intelligence, and at the end of the world run by the nation-states of Atlantic-Western civilization. However, although, this transition promises a bright future, the present is one of unprecedented suffering; for we are on the brink of nuclear disaster and in the midst of widespread state terrorism: we face regional famines, desertification, water crisis, and unprecedented environmental pollution.
THE STUDY OF THE FUTURE
Futurists not only place the present in a larger perspective, they also attempt to design novel solutions, alternatives to the present. They ask: What are our possible, probable and preferred short and long range futures? While most futurists use quantitative data to make their predictions: others deduce probable events and trends from social change theories such as dialectics, and a few intuit their forecasts. In addition, some futurists are concerned with utopia, a perfect place; others about eutopia, a good place; while many about dystopia, a place of horror.
Professional futurists are concerned with the prevalence of suffering in human society, the failure of imagination of governments and businesses, and the inability of individuals to think intelligently about the future. Futurists hope to extend our understanding, our willingness to consider the legitimacy of what is possible, what can be real and what might occur. The field thus hopes to broaden the scope of what constitutes reality.
Notwithstanding the above general goals and concerns of many futurists, by and large futures studies, as developed in the West, has been concerned with forecasting the preturbations of capitalism and its ideological underpinnings: materialism, individuality and technology. It has also had a narrow empirical methodological orientation primarily concerned with refining forecasting techniques. However, the study of the future can never be fundamentally quantitative, exact, as the future does not yet exist. It must largely be interpretative. It must be visionary. It must, in the words of Elise Boulding paraphrasing Fred Polak from his seminal work Image of the Future, include the “eschatological or transcendent, … that element which enables the visionary to breach the bonds of the cultural present and mentally encompass the possibility of a totally other type of society, not dependent on what human beings are capable of realizing.”4
While Sarkar may not see himself as a futurist, an analysis of his works clearly show that they are futuristic in orientation as he is concerned with critiquing the present, with developing an alternative vision of the future, a eutopia, as well as with predicting new technologies and ways of life. Of course, the purpose of Sarkar’s analysis is not simply theory building. He is a social revolutionary. His works are also intended to persuade, to envision the world anew–to transform oppressive social and political structures.
However, he constitutes the future in a manner alien to most empiricist oriented futures studies: substantively and methodologically. For Sarkar, history and future are dialectical; progress is only possible in the spiritual realm; individual rights are only possible in the context of collective responsibilities; and democracy can only exist when education and ethics are universal. His vision of the future is fundamentally different from the predominant Western epistemological (linear, secular, empirical, individualistic, and liberal-democratic) tradition.
To understand Sarkar as a futurist, we must first understand his sense of mythos: of who we are, where we are going. We must understand his sense of the ultimate meaning of the present. We gain insight from his language.5
Human civilization now faces the final moment of a critical juncture. The dawn of a glorious new era is one side and the worn-out skeleton of the past on the other. Humanity has to adopt either one or the other.
Thus, for Sarkar, humankind is at a mythic transition; a transition that calls upon humanity to awake, to act.6
Just as the advent of the crimson dawn is inevitable at the end of cimmerian darkness of the interlunar night, exactly in the same way I know that a gloriously brilliant chapter will also come after the endless reproach and humiliation of the neglected humanity of today. Those who love humanity, those who desire the welfare of all living being should be vigorously active from this very moment after shaking off all lethargy and sloth so that the most auspicious hour arrives at the earliest.
However, although, Sarkar writes that humanity’s future is inevitably bright, revolution of any sort–spiritual, economic, cultural, political–is an arduous task. Revolutionaries who desire to transform the numerous pathologies of the present must prepare their minds and bodies, they must be ready to suffer hardships. They must also undergo spiritual transformation: they must suffuse their minds with love, with selflessness. Thus when Sarkar writes that “the future of humanity is
not dark…human beings will seek and one day realize the inextinguishable flame that remains ever-burning behind the veil of darkness,”7 he is at one time affirming his faith in the power of men and women to radically transform the suffering on this planet, yet reminds us that the “path is hard,” that it is “strewn with obstacles.”
In addition, his use of mythic language transforms events from the purely immediate and rational–that is, from problems that can be analyzed and solved by short term technological solutions–to the holistic, to the mystic; that is, to problems that can be solved through changes in how we see ourselves and how we see the world.
THE GOOD SOCIETY
The future then for Sarkar is part of the larger human story, part of humanity’s evolutionary development. Evolution for Sarkar is the constant effort of the mind to bridge the gap between the finite and the infinite; it is in the deepest sense of the word, the eventual mystical union between the soul and Supreme Consciousness. This is fundamentally different from many futurists who see progress primarily as increased economic productivity, a better standard of living; that is, more goods and services and the satisfaction of material needs for a large part of the global population.
Certainly, economic growth is important from Sarkar’s perspective. However his vision of the good society is premised on individuals being guaranteed the basic requirements of life: food, clothes, shelter, education, and health. The ultimate purpose of economic growth, however, is to provide physical security such that women and men can pursue intellectual and spiritual development.
The principles of Sarkar’s good society are developed in his comprehensive theory: the Progressive Utilization Theory or PROUT.8 It is a global, a global vision of the future which intends to challenge both corporate and state capitalism, as well as various forms of communism.
PROUT attempts to balance the need for societies to create wealth and grow as well the requirements for distribution. To achieve this, an integral part of the PROUTist vision is to create income floors and ceilings progressively indexed to aggregate economic growth. Thus wealth will not be hoarded and thereby underutilized or misutilized as in the case of global stock markets. However, unlike Marxism which argues for equality, PROUT accepts individual differences and the desire of individuals to own limited property and goods as well as the key role of incentives in spurring technological innovation and economic growth. For Sarkar, individual good and collective good are symbiotic: neither one is more important; both find their apex through their interrelationship. It is the unabated accumulation and misuse of wealth that is the central problem. The primary economic entity within the ideal PROUT society would be worker-owned and managed cooperatives. These would include producer, banking, legal, health and other types of cooperatives. However, because of economies of scale there would remain local small businesses as well as large regional socialized industries run by quasi-governmental appointed boards. There would thus be three sectors: a government sector, a private sector and a people’s sector.
In Sarkar’s eutopia, good society, he sees a more united globally-oriented human society. He hopes that temporary unifying sentiments such as nationalism, provincialism, and religion transplanted by universalism. In this global society, although he believes there will be a world government with centralized powers, he does not believe one world culture will develop. In fact the key long term trend will be the decentralization of culture and thus the flourishing of local cultures–languages and economies–a possibility only once global capitalism and its necessity to homogenize, commodify, and proleterianize everything has been eradicated. It is noteworthy that unlike most futurists who argue for a decentralized economy and polity, Sarkar believes that without a centralized polity, capitalistic exploitation will continue. For Sarkar, there must be a strong polity structurally constitutive of separate executive, judicial and legislative powers within the larger context of a spiritual society.
The primary social strategy for “transforming” the capitalist system is the development of regional self-reliant cultural movements based on local languages, local economies and local geography. For Sarkar, individual spiritual development must precede any systemic, societal change. In addition, cultural revolution must precede economic change, for capitalism works by creating a structure of cultural and economic dependency between centers and peripheries, between empires and colonies. Communism, which is also based on the materialistic industrial model characterized by centralization of wealth and homogenization of culture, creates similar oppressive structures.
Among the movements that are presently active are Kasama 9 in the Philippines and Amra Bengali in India.10 Both are active in organizing women, students, workers, farmers, professionals as well as other groups and classes against the injustices and inequities of the present system. Their demands, for example, include 100% employment for local people; laws against the export of local raw materials; laws against the import of manufactured goods which can be produced locally; primacy of local languages in offices and schools; land reforms; rights for animals as well as concern for the long term care of the environment; and support for local music, writing, art and dance. In addition, Kasama participated in the ouster of Marcos and in the removal of foreign bases from the Philippines. Amra Bengali has contested various local elections and has established cooperatives throughout the region. It is now considered the third political force after the Central government and the Communist party in Bengal.
Thus through the creation and legitimation of globally-oriented yet regionally-based spiritual, cultural and economic movements and the ensuing dialectical conflict that these anti-systemic movements will engender as they reconceptualize polities and economies, Sarkar sees the eventual demise of capitalism and communism, with communism is already in its final days (a perfectly accurate forecast as it has turned out). This demise, of course, as Sarkar’s methodology will illustrate, is also a part of the natural dialectical transformation of the present world system.
His vision of the future is partly based on intuition and partly based on his analysis of history. Sarkar argues that most of us use very little of our mind, geniuses perhaps 1%, while others not even .0001%.11 We remain bounded in the body and the conscious, analytic mind. However Sarkar believes that through meditation, through the exploration of the deeper layers of the mind, we can develop our creativity and realize perennial truths. For the seer, past, present and future become known in these deeper layers. Reality is directly perceived. In addition, in the higher states of consciousness, time and space are no longer constraining dimensions, they reveal themselves to the knower of the Self.
Although Sarkar enters this discussion as a mystic–much in the tradition of Tagore or Aurobindo, as a guru–many academics in the futures field are echoing his perspective. David Loye’s The Sphinx and the Rainbow, William Irwin Thompson’s Evil and World Order and The Pacific Shift as well as the perspective developed by Marilyn Ferguson in Brain-Mind Bulletin all argue for the integration of the rational and the intuitive, as well as the use of the intuitive–the deeper layers of the mind–in truly understanding the mythic nature of the present and the coming of the sacred, the communal, and the transcendent.
However, equally important in Sarkar’s contribution to the futures field is his theory of the social cycle. Whereas Marx argued that society moved through ages of precommunism, to feudalism, to capitalism, to socialism and eventually to a classless communism, and whereas many academic futurists argue that we have moved from an agricultural to an industrial era and that we now stand on the threshold of a historical shift to a post-industrial Information society centered around the Pacific Rim,12 Sarkar sees society as moving cyclically through four ages. The motivity of this movement is not the forces of production impacting the relations of production as in Marxism, or new technologies impacting society as in the writing of futurists such as Toffler, but dialectics.13 Instead of social change caused by the actions of the Great leader, for Sarkar it is physical struggle (the battle with the environment), mental struggle (the battle between new and old ideologies) and the spiritual attraction of the Great (that force which leads women and men toward the Infinite).
However, Sarkar believes that not only is societal movement dialectical, it is also pulsative; like breathing it starts, rests, and starts. Similarly, societies have periods of rapid progress, of movement. Following their peak, a phase of exploitation sets in and then societies decline. In addition, there are periods where there is sudden and dramatic change, what Sarkar calls “galloping time.”
THE SOCIAL CYCLE
What then are the different ages? Very briefly and certainly simplifying Sarkar’s complex yet elegant analysis, humans originally were in the Worker era (precommunism for Marx and the age of chaos for Thompson). Here, humans were controlled by their environment. The next phase was the Martial era. In this age, the age of heros as William Irwin Thompson has written14 (feudalism for Marx) various clans fought for power. Empires were built by the strongest and the most courageous. During the exploitive phase of this era, empires grew through military colonization and through exploiting laborers and appropriating the wealth of others. The next historical phase was the intellectual era. It was brought about by those who controlled the environment not through physical strength but through strategy, through political strength, through ideology. This was the age of priests, of patriarchy and of civil society. Power was wrested away from kings by their ministers through the power of the written word. Political writers, for example, during the Renaissance movement in Europe, redefined the power of the King and developed arguments for individual rights and government by social contract. The intellectual era, as evidenced by the relationship between the Protestant ethic in Europe and the rise of capitalism, was also the base for the era of the capitalists. Most Western nations are currently in the capitalist era, while the former communist countries have already passed out of the second martial era and now have entered into a new intellectual era. Third world countries, who still are in terms of their “internal cycle” in the Martial era (due to underdevelopment from colonialism), it is capitalism that is the dominant ideology.
In addition, each era flourishes in its thesis phase: human rights, political participation, economic productivity and scientific development increase. During the decline phase, the creative abilities and work opportunities of the classes not in power are stifled. Peripheries are exploited and the ruling class controls the other classes either through military force, cultural-intellectual force, economic force or a combination thereof, depending on the era. During the era of the accumulators of capital, all these forces are used in a particularly brutal manner. 15
REVOLUTION AND EVOLUTION
What then after a complete round of the cycle? According to Sarkar, the cycle continues although in a dialectical spiral, wherein each phase evolves from the previous phase and is at a qualitatively “higher” level. However at transitional points, there are variations. A counter-revolution can emerge, as in the case of Iran where the clergy now run the polity, although it is not clear what the collective psychology is. Collective psychology or the larger social paradign, episteme, instead of control of polity or the relations of production, is considered the true “empirical” indicator of a people’s place-time in the social cycle, according to Sarkar.
Another alternative to counter-revolution is counter-evolution, a slower move to a previous phase in the cycle. Both of these counter phases are short-lived, however, as they are movements against the “natural flow of the cycle.” The third and fourth alternatives are evolution and revolution, that is, slow or rapid movement into the next phase. The Soviet and Chinese revolutions are examples of workers’ revolutions followed by new Martial eras (socialism in Marx’s language or totalitarianism in the language of liberals and conservatives). Democratic socialism, then, is an effort to move to a Martial era through a gradual evolutionary process.
Sarkar, thus, believes major revolutions will occur throughout the world shortly. This is largely because in late capitalistic society exploitation, especially of women, is particularly brutal. In order to accumulate more and more in their houses they torture others to starvation; and to impress the glamour of their garments, they force others to put on rags. …[t]hey suck the very living plasm of others to enrich their living capabilities.”16 In addition, intellectuals and martial-minded individuals cannot express their tendencies and potentials. Some become servants of the ruling class–the “boot lickers of capitalists”17–while others remain unemployed.
It is these disgruntled intellectuals and martial-minded individuals who will bring on the next cycle.18 The level of violence during transitions between eras is determined by the aggregate ratio of intellectuals to the martial-minded and the timing of the revolution is a correlate of the increasing population of these two classes. The question for Sarkar is can humans fundamentally alter the cycle? His conclusion is that although the social cycle follows a natural law and thus will continue, humans can reduce the exploitive phase of the cycle by bringing on the next era. The next turn of the cycle then becomes a spiral, with each new phase bringing on progressively higher levels of human development. Thus, the new Martial era, although structurally similar to the historic one, will be qualitatively at a higher level. In addition, the in-between anarchic workers’ stage will be shortlived as power will quickly centralize among the intellectual or martial-minded leaders of the workers’ movement.
To reduce the exploitive phase of each era, he argues for the development of de-classed individuals who in a “well thought, preplanned basis “19 predict the movements of the cycle and then through their revolutionary efforts–if necessary–bring on the next era. However, unlike present power elites such as corporate executives or state bureaucrats who are part of the dominant class and ideology that “run the planet,” these individuals must be de-classed and have value structures based on love and neo-humanism.20
Thus, while Marxists see the next phase as that of world socialism and while spiritual visionaries believe the next phase will be the Age of Aquarius, and futurists, in general, believe we are entering the age of technology and science, Sarkar believes it will be a global martial era, although some regions will have moved to a new intellectual era. Describing this era, this new future, is difficult; however, we can postulate that government will be centralized, while the world-economy will be highly decentralized and cooperative/socialist in nature. Although, the world government structure initially will be strengthened by law-framing international agencies, eventually a world polity will develop with executive, legislative and judicial functions. There will also exist constitutional rights for workers, guaranteed basic necessities for all, as well as rights such as world citizenship. Sarkar’s has also called for a neo-magna carta in which rights for plants and animals are to be guaranteed, spiritual freedom upheld, and linguistic choice honored.
Economic growth will come from ending the global exploitation of workers and others peripheral to the world capitalist system. Through maximum-minimum wealth laws, the world surplus will be redistributed. Through worker involvement in business and through the end of stock markets, labor and capital will become more productive. Intellectual and spiritual resources presently being wasted will become valuable inputs into economic development. In addition, PROUT writer Michael Towsey believes that there exists a gender dialectic as well such that the breakdown of the patriarchal nature of capitalist society will lead to the incorporation of the mythic “feminine” in the emerging Martial era. Neither gender will then be commodified.21
SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
This new era, however, for Sarkar is not one that pits spirituality against science. Sarkar believes that technological development controlled by non-capitalists, by humanists, will lead to increased economic growth, intellectual development and social equality. Sarkar, in fact, sees the development of technology that will have “mind” in it, that is, technology that will have some level of self-awareness. Most likely this will result from developments in artificial intelligence. Sarkar also forecasts that once full employment is reached, and once the untapped potential of humans, individually and collectively, is increasingly realized, instead of massive unemployment because of productivity gains from robotics, we will simply reduce our work week, such that “one day, we may only work five minutes a week. Being not always engrossed in the anxiety about grains and clothes, there will be no misuse of mental and spiritual wealth. [We] will be able to devote more time to sports, literary discourses and spiritual pursuits.”22 Struggle then will largely be in intellectual and spiritual realms; in the constant effort to reduce the gap between the finite and the infinite, between the present and the ideal future.
Sarkar sees the problem of food solved primarily through the cooperative economic structure. Each region will utilize its own raw materials and develop industries appropriate to the local environment. By encouraging self-sufficiency and self-reliance, some of the advantages of global trade will be lost in the short run–the North in particular will face a reduction in its standard of living–however as regions develop and as economic gains are redistributed, then trade between different regions will flourish. Trade then will be between equals, not centers and peripheries, not the powerful and the emaciated. Sarkar also forecasts that food tablets will be invented to deal with any temporary food shortages that may arise. In addition, “medical science will increase longevity”23 to perhaps to 150 years, and “in certain fields (we) will even be able to infuse life in the dead.”24 Sarkar also predicts that by “changing individual glands, a dishonest man may become an honest man.”25 However, glandular changes will not be able to transform root behavior structures; only spiritual practices, according to Sarkar, can fundamentally transform the structure of the human mind. However, he, unlike some futurists such as F.M. Esfandiary, who predict that we are on the threshold of immortality and that we may soon uncover “an aging gene,”26 believes that death cannot be escaped as brain decay cannot be postponed.
Sarkar also forecasts that children will be born in “human reproduction laboratories,”27 and parents will choose the characteristics of their children. Sarkar forecasts that in the long term future we will become thin beings with large heads and will lose our physical reproductive facilities. We will become primarily intellectual/psychic beings. According to Sarkar, we will gradually take on the functions now done by Cosmic Mind (loosely “Nature”): we will in mythic language become as “Gods.” This image should be contrasted with that of other spiritual visionaries and futurists who believe that technological development should be severely limited and that we should not tamper with “Nature.”28
Sarkar has developed a new theory of information transfer based on the existence of microvita. These “entities” can be used to transfer ideas and viruses throughout the planet. There are positive microvita which increase feelings of well being and negative microvita which lead to individual and social sickness. Microvita are also responsible for the creation of life and its evolutionary development. Their evolutionary energy can be harnessed by humans thus increasing the speed of human and planetary evolution. However, this harnessing cannot be done through physical technological means but through the use of intellectual and spiritual resources of humans.
Along with microvita changing human development, there will be other gigantic changes. Richard Gauthier in the article, “The Greenhouse Effect, Ice Ages, and Evolution,” presents some of Sarkar’s future-oriented scientific thinking. “In 1986 Sarkar indicated that major pole shifts of the Earth are generally associated with ice ages. More recently he emphasized that there will be an ice age with the coming polar shift. There will be major biological, historical, agricultural and human psychic changes both before and after the ice age 29.”
In addition, as mentioned earlier, while for Sarkar, history moves in structured patterns, on occasion there are galloping jumps. According to Gauthier: “A pole shift is such a jump. History moves into a new era at this time. The threshold of the new era has already been crossed. Before the ice age here will be big intellectual and biological changes in human beings, animals and plants.”30
In the long term future, we will become an increasingly technologically developed society with spirituality as the base and the goal of life. We will look back at the days of the nation-state and the great capitalist and totalitarian communist empires and wonder why it was ever doubted that they could not be transformed. And eventually, we will become primarily psychic beings travelling to other planets through space technology (the conquest of space will be in the forefront given the upcoming Martial Era)31, and even through our minds, that is, we will be able to leave our bodies in one place and travel with our minds. The stars will eventually become our home. We will have granted legal rights to all humans as well as plants. What of the threat of nuclear war? For Sarkar, mind remains more powerful than matter and nuclear weapons are fundamentally matter. Thus, he believes that we will discover ways to counter nuclear devices, especially with the end of the arms race and the military-industrial complex that capitalist and communist poles have created.
The problem of power and exploitation will not go away, of course. Most likely it will be fought at the mental realm, between ideologies and perhaps even at the level of psychic warfare. The martial era will then naturally develop its own contradictions as the centralization of the polity may eventually lead to oppression. New visions of the future will then emerge.
Sarkar’s vision of the future is also a program for spiritual, economic and political change. He, along with others, has initiated PROUT movements throughout the world. Although the self-reliant, cultural people’s movements are still small, Sarkar believes that eventually they will reach a critical size and then pose a significant challenge to the present world system.
While the vision above presents Sarkar’s thinking, it does not place it in the context of other images of the future. By placing Sarkar’s vision in the context of other images we will better be able compare his thought. We use as our points of comparison, the images developed by futurist James Dator. 32
He has attempted to identify compelling images and visions of the future. The first image is that of Continued Growth (progress and developmentalism, capitalist and socialist). The second is the Steady State image (no or slow growth, environmentally conscious, beta in structure, largely the Gandhian image). The third image is that of the Collapse of civilization (either through external factors such as the environment or internal social factors such as depressions), and finally the last is that of Transformation (new technologies changing the very nature of nature, and thus leading to an anarchic, individualistic, but gentle world). These images begin the process of comparison and to some extent they include action-commitment given that they are empirically and historically derived images of the future held by various actors, movements, and peoples.
This image assumes that what worked in the past will continue to succeed albeit with minor adjustments. Politically this is liberal pluralism, that is, the liberal democratic party system works fine, we just need better leaders, or less political action committees, or more watchdog groups. Capitalism, in this image of the future, is the provider of goods and freedom. Through the market, needs can be met and wealth accumulated. The problems with capitalism can be handled through government intervention, global economic summits, the coordination of exchange rates, or through various fiscal and monetary policies; in general, “muddling through.” In this image the US is seen as the home of the entrepreneur (“if we can just free up regulations, the US can continue its march forward”).
The previous communist nations even with their many recent dramatic changes too can be categorized as “continued growth” given that their assumptions of reality are similar to capitalist states; they too are concerned with nationalism and economic growth. Their methods are simply state (party/military) bureaucratic, not state corporate. Thus, even as they attempt changes they remain within the growth model.
The image of humans in this scenario is that of industrial man with work as the prime motivation; females, the elderly, and the other races (the internal as well as external third world) are seen as secondary. The self in this image is determined by matter, that is, it is constituted by the brain and knowledge is understood by reason. Science, then, is the primary explainer of human phenomena and the harbinger of increasing levels of progress. Progress and knowledge are linear and cumulative with clear stages, such that the West is on top and the rest of the world on bottom. The process of the transformation of the rest of the world into the image of the West is often called technology transfer, modernity, or in the language of critics, colonialism.
This model has been increasingly hampered in the past few decades with the decline of the US, the increasing instability of the world economy, the environmental crises, the rise of Islam, and the development and growth of alternative visions of tomorrow. However, a new variant of this model which does offer promise to the system as whole is that of the Pacific Shift or Pacific Co-Prosperity. In this, the problems of the US (and Western) debt, consumerism, alienation and declining wage rates are resolved through the Pacific Rim countries. Thus, there is a shift in world culture, polity and economy from Atlantic to Pacific, with the Pacific providing the goods and the US consuming them, both in desperate need of each other and both committed to capitalism. The system continues; it is only who runs it that changes. In addition, this new form of capitalism manages to coordinate labor/management, government/business, and labor intensive/capital intensive.
Sarkar, of course, rejects the corporate, state and Pacific variants of this model. Sarkar defines progress quite differently (for him, only spiritual progress is real progress, and the goal of society is not profit, but closeness to the Great). Economic development exists so that people can develop themselves spiritually and intellectually. And obviously the Self is not constituted apurposefully, nor materialistically; rather the self is spiritual, part of the larger mystery of the Cosmos; the self’s existence is teleological–that of enlightenment, a return to the timeless Source.
From the Continued Growth perspective, movements like PROUT should not given much official attention, but secretly watched very carefully in case they begin to grow and are able to implement their policies against the overconcentration of wealth. In any case in the long run, by and large, the onward march of capital continues, and all ideologies eventually must deal with the bottom line, and there is only one system that can deliver that promise: capitalism. And as long as they remain non-violent, they can be left alone. If they become violent, there are ways to repress them, and if that is problematic, in the long run, rational self-interest will lead to cooption.
Critics of the Growth model, however, have been active in developing a new model, which in recent history is closely related to the Environmental movement. This model is interested in steady-state economics. Zero population growth and the development of economies that exist with nature and do not exploit the elderly, females and the third world. The key words in this image are stability, conservation and predictability–”we are going too fast, there is too much growth, we need to slow down technological development so as to determine its impact on humans,” it is said. This vision of the future is strongly anti-nuclear and anti-genetic engineering. The preferred economy is small scale, based on self-sufficiency in the context of decentralized bio-regions. Politically, this model is committed to local community-level democracy, to negotiation, that is, a process where the means are far more important than the ends. The present day Green movement is perhaps the best example of this image. This perspective is also largely concerned with expanding the isolated self/family to include the community. Recent efforts have included plants and animals as well. This model is resistant to consumerism, professionalism, and bureaucratization.
Obviously, one can see many strands of Sarkar’s thought in this vision. However, there are some serious areas of difference that should be mentioned. First, for Sarkar the debate should not be constituted as between high-tech and low-tech, that is, as between types of technology, but with the ownership of technology and the cultural and political messages embedded in any technology. That is, although technology is a culture in itself, it is because we are in the declining phase of capitalism that technology aids the wealthy and impoverishes the already poor. In an alternative polity, for example, the green revolution would not have had to result in the landless becoming laborless as well. Instead in a cooperative economic structure, there could be range of alternatives that would be progressive–such as reduced working days or employee ownership.
Furthermore, while various conservation groups and Greens prefer a decentralized polity, PROUT, like various socialist movements, acknowledges that capitalists will not give up power unless one takes power. A decentralized polity will easily be controlled by those with the greatest wealth. Thus Sarkar argues for a centralized polity although with strong civilian, populist overtones provided through the emergence of spiritual leadership.
Finally PROUT aims at the maximum utilization of resources (although in the context of equitable distribution, the needs of plants and animals, and the larger collective good) and thus is pro-economic growth, however economic development is defined as increases in purchasing capacity, not gross national product. While both PROUT and the Green perspective see the basic problem as the maldistribution and idleness of wealth; PROUT, however, emphasizes growth as well as the role individual initiatives can play in increasing economic development. Moreover, the Conserver image sees work as an integral part of human development; while PROUT sees employment as only an intermediate state, the final goal is full unemployment, the creation of a society where material needs are fulfilled so our intellectual and spiritual selves can be cultivated. Finally, PROUT does not locate the present global crisis in the population discourse, thus it rejects zero population efforts.
Instead of an expanding population, it is the values embedded in materialism and capitalism that PROUT believes to be the key problems. Moreover, PROUT is committed to the nuclear family, while the Conserver image tends to be more inclined toward alternative forms of the family (communes, gay families, for example). Finally PROUT does not totally reject nuclear power; it is cautiously open, believing that the solution to the nuclear crisis is political and technological.
All in all while PROUT shares some key similarities with this vision of the future and with various strategies to realize it, PROUT remains significantly different in key areas.
The next image of the future which is increasingly gaining adherents is that of global collapse. This image is constituted in various discourses. The first is the economic. In this perspective, the world economic system’s inability to deal with increasing levels of inequity (within nations and between nations), the international debt load, and rising speculation in the global stock markets will lead to a global collapse of epic proportions. Areas integrated into the world capitalist system will be particularly hard hit; those areas that are self-reliant will manage, though. This image is also constituted in the language of the return of the Vengeful God. Because Man has tampered with nature (through technological development–genetic engineering, space exploration, overindustrialization), nature is now striking back–we can’t escape our collective karma. What will result is environmental catastrophes such as the Greenhouse effect, earthquakes, nuclear meltdowns, water shortages, and other wonderful things one can ponder while one falls asleep at night. Religious groups, in particular, are eagerly awaiting this event, or series of events. For many it is the Armageddon, the return of Christ, the Madhi, or Amita Buddha. It is the collapse of the hope and promise of the science and technology revolution, of the rationality of the enlightenment, and of liberal democracy. While some imagine this collapse as leading to the arrival of heaven on earth, most see this world as that of the rise of the worst of humans, a post-nuclear society ruled by the mighty.
The PROUT perspective, first of all, is not focused on the collapse (although Sarkar has predicted a depression this century), but on ways to avoid collapse, on ways to transform society so as to reduce human suffering. How can PROUT prevent the collapse is an appropriate question? This is quite different from the view that basically says: “I can’t wait for the collapse, so all the greedy capitalists will get their due; or California should be punished for its sins.” In fact, Sarkar sees these efforts as similar to blaming the victim ideologies historically perpetuated by fundamentalist priests and currently perpetuated by right wing developmentalists. For example, developmentalists often believe that the third world is poor because something it has done, that people in Bangladesh suffer because they don’t have Protestant or Japanese values. These assertions forget colonialism and the larger world economy, and the concept of imposed karma. Here it is noteworthy that PROUTist thinking differs from traditional Hindusim, for Sarkar argues that while causality exists, it is not so simple to determine clear cut, single variable reasons for human suffering and pleasure. In additon, one’s own suffering could be a result of imposition from outside, from structural imperialism, for example.
Moreover, as mentioned earlier, Sarkar’s image is that humans have not exceeded their boundaries; in fact, the process of evolution entails humans becoming as gods, gradually taking on the powers of Cosmic Mind. This is not to say that science and technology have not been guilty of hubris; the problem however is in the development of a science that is valueless, that is divorced from various spiritual traditions and from nature. Of course, we can argue that it is the epistemology of science that has resulted in the above, but that is a different historical discourse itself.
Finally, while for collapse and self-sufficiency proponents, nature is absolute; from the PROUT perspective, nature is relative, it is problematic and ever changing; it is who we are, the Noumena, that is eternal. From the collapse perspective, the PROUT movement remains too committed to the present system and the various attempts to salvage and manage the crises; nothing really can be done, except preparing for the crash.
There are other visions of the future as well. There is that of the transformationalists, who, like Sarkar, too, see humankind on the verge of an incredible revolution, but for them this is technological such that changes in technology will fundamentally change who we are. Computers will lead to true democracy, advances in health will reduce suffering, and death will be beaten back–it will be the death of death. It is argued that in the next twenty years we will see more change then what we have seen in the last two thousand. We will soon be in space, living a life of leisure surrounded by robot slaves. The problem of scarcity will be solved; the real question will then be those of a philosophical nature. We are presently, it is argued, in the midst of the third wave. The first was the agricultural revolution, the second the industrial revolution and the present is the computer/information revolution. What will result will be a high-tech, individualized and highly decentralized society. Moreover, the human of the future may be unrecognizable to us today; instead of a divine being as Sarkar might posit, he or she will be half-human and half robot–a cyborg. In any case, we will soon be able to do what we desire to do: play, love, and search for new challenges and understandings.
In contrast to the technological orientation of this image is the spiritual New Age movement which too sees this as a time of fundamental change–it is the age of Aquarius, a time of global peace and love, of meditation and the development of a world consciousness. “If we all just think of peace, everything will be all right, smile and the world will smile at you,” it is commonly thought. The real changes are not technological but personal and psychic; through unity and through the expansion of our minds, the impossible will become possible; people will become rational and lay down their weapons, all for the greater good. “Even the arms merchants will decide that they would rather be working in a health cooperative, after all didn’t a channeled message from the Masters of the MX Zone tell them to do so,” it is believed. It is the beginning to the era of the “Eternal Hug.” In general, the argument is that capitalism has solved most of humanity’s problems, except that of meaning. Traditional religions, East and West, are too hierarchal and bureaucratic and thus the need for a new individual orientated spirituality; one that incorporates the best of the ancient (yoga, visualization) with the best of the new (biofeedback, bodywork, and therapy). The goal of the New Age movement is that of developing one’s inner potential so “one can be all that one can be.” From the New Age perspective, Sarkar is far too hierarchal, disciplined and political to be of any socially or personally interest. While Sarkar’s PROUT movement shares in many ways the spirit of these two transformational visions of the future, Sarkar reminds us of the way that power and struggle is constituted in who we are. Even in the high-tech transformational world, there will emerge an elite. While we may not phrase this elite in terms of the non-productive parasites or 14th century social philosopher Ibn Khaldun’s virile Bedouins turned lethargic by luxury, there will still be difference in the apprpropriation of value. Sarkar’s vision is not a utopia, it does not predict the end of exploitation and struggle; rather it is a eutopia, a good place, where not only will there be good forces, but evil forces as well, thus requiring structures and safeguards to the amassing of power and wealth. Moreover, it is not technological revolutions that will lead to the death of death, but spiritual practices. And these spiritual practices must be based on rigor, discipline, and selfless service to the Other, not solely on good feelings and the search for spiritual pleasure.
The New Age movement from the PROUT perspective is overly concerned with the psychic model of human development and its adherents tend to be first world, middle class oriented, often concerned more with their own development, than with the suffering of humanity. It is naively apolitical. For Sarkar love is important–in fact it is the ground of any lasting social change–but so is the struggle involved in challenging the assumptions and ideas that govern present-day institutions. There exist real global problems that neither a new computer nor a hug from a friend can solve. Centuries of the misappropriation of wealth are not solved by wishes or creative visualization only. Sarkar’s new era, sadvipra samaj then is about spiritual progress, but also about hard thinking, and hard work. Antonio Gramsci said it well. In his Prison Notebooks he wrote: “It is necessary to create sober, patient women and men who do not lose hope before the worst horrors and who are not excited by rubbish.” 33
Of course, Sarkar’s vision of the future, his idea of the good society and his predictions can be critiqued forcefully from a variety of perspectives. Very briefly, as the purpose of this paper is the presentation–not systematic critique–of an unconventional view of the future. First of all, the maxi/mini limits on land and wealth run counter to the liberal-democratic ownership principles of capitalism. The spiritual basis of PROUT also contradicts the laissez faire ideology of self-interest leading to harmony for all. PROUT movements, thus, as they gain support, will be severly challenged by the world capitalist system. As the history of anti-systemic movements such as the International Socialist movement has shown, we should not discount the ability of the capitalist system, on the world and national level, to stifle and coopt anti-systemic movements. In addition, instead of transforming capitalism and communism, Sarkar’s cultural/ethnic movements may lead to various forms of ethnocide and race wars. He also appears to discount the possibility of nuclear holocausts. All in all, his vision appears overly idealistic.
PROUT’s concept of leadership is also problematic. Sarkar’s spiritual leadership, although obviously necessary to transform capitalism and to ensure the humanistic applications of technology, does the raise the possibility of an authoriatarian religious leadership developing over time. Finally, neither his view of history, nor his predictions of the future, at present, have any “empirical” basis. For example, how can we reliably deduce which regions are in which era of the social cycle? In addition, will all regions be in one global Martial era, or will some have their own internal cycles.
Of course, for all these critiques Sarkar does have responses. Again, very briefly, for him the world capitalist system will transform due to its own contradictions. The cultural movements will primarily emphasize spiritual unity and universality and secondly attempt to polarize the ruling class and the exploited classes. The development of a populist spiritual leadership will be balanced by increased educational development among the public and by strengthened judicial institutions. Finally for Sarkar, his theory of history and his forecasts are intentionally interpretive and intuitional. Although empirical validation is important to him, transforming the world is more so.
THE NEW HUMAN IN THE NEW WORLD
Although Sarkar is idealistic, he does emphasize the precarious struggle ahead for humanity. He warns us of the possibility of a world destroyed by pollution and ravaged by human greed and evil. Yet his vision remains optimistic. But we should not be surprised as Sarkar has written: “I am an incorrigible optimist, for optimism is the essence of life.”34 Sarkar’s vision is a global vision, and although he develops a partially deterministic theory of history, it is women and men who still must courageously act, who must bring about preferred visions, who must with their intellect develop new scientific possibilities and societal futures, and thus develop the new Human in the new World. As Sarkar states in his classic mythic language:35
Let the cimmerian darkness of the interlunar night disappear. Let humanity of the new day of the new sunrise wake up in the new world.
1. P. R. Sarkar, born in 1921, resided in Calcutta until his death in October 1990. He developed the Progressive Utilization Theory in 1959. He also started the Renaissance Universal Movement–an association of spiritual/socialist oriented intellectuals–that year. He has written in diverse fields such as health, ethics, devotional literature, fiction, history, political-economy, biology, linguistics, and philosophy. PROUT’s opposition to the Indira Ghandi’s government lead to Sarkar’s being jailed in 1971. He was released in 1978 when the Janata government created the conditions for an impartial Judiciary. See Prabhat Rainjan Sarkar, Poet, Author, Philosopher. Vermont, USA, Ananda Marga Publications, 1986.
2. Ananda Marga is a social service, spiritual movement with centers throughout the world. It teaches meditation and other spiritual practices. The organization is involved in community health and educational development projects. Although, its cultural roots are Indian, it is universal in its approach.
3. Throughout this essay, I use the terms futures studies and futurists in a general sense. Although there are numerous difference between futurists, there is an emerging futures field, which in general accepts the liberal-democratic secular-capitalist tradition, although many do believe this system will undergo massive shocks in the near and long range future, primarily due to technological changes. This “Continued Growth” view is best characterized by the Washington D.C. based World Futures Society and developed in its journal The Futurist. Herman Khan is perhaps the most famous writer in this genre of futures studies. In contrast is the Hawaii and Europe based World Future Studies Federation which is critical of the present global system: its structure and its ideological underpinnings. Johan Galtung’s writings best characterize this perspective.
4. Elise Boulding, “The Imaging Capacity of the West,” in Magoroh Maruyama and James Dator, eds., Human Futuristics. Hawaii, University of Hawaii, SSRI, 1971, 30.
5. P.R. Sarkar, The Supreme Expression. Vol. II. Netherlands, Nirvikalpa Press, 1978, 161.
6. ibid., 164.
7. P.R. Sarkar, Light Comes. Calcutta, India, Ananda Marga Publications, 1986, 21.
8. Books about PROUT by Sarkar’s students include the following: Ravi Batra, The Downfall of Capitalism and Communism. London, Macmillan Press, 1978; Ravi Batra, Regular Cycles of Money, Inflation, Regulation, and Depression. Texas, Venus Books, 1985; and Gary Coyle, Progressive Socialism. Sidney, Proutist Universal Publication, 1984. Also see, Acarya Krtashivananda Avadhuta, PROUT Manifesto. Copenhagen, Denmark, PROUT Publications, 1981; and Acarya Tadbhavananda Avadhuta, Samaj. Calcutta, India: Proutist Universal Publications, 1985.
9. Kasama USA, Kasama: Six Demands to Strengthen Democracy in the Philippines. Washington D.C., Kasama USA Support Comittee, 1986.
10. See Acarya Tadbhavananda Avadhuta and Jayanta Kumar, The New Wave. Calcutta, India, Proutist Universal Publications, 1985, 135.
For example, Amra Bengali’s demands include:
- (1) The abolition of non-Bengali domination of industries;
- (2) Preferential employment of local population;
- (3) Use of Bengali in official work;
- (4) Termination of Hindi linguistic domination;
- (5) Eradication of materialistic pseudo-culture;
- (6) Halting the drainage of Bengal’s economic wealth to other parts of India.
11. P.R. Sarkar, The Supreme Expression, 80.
12. See Sohail Inayatullah, “The Concept of the Pacific Shift, ” Futures (December, 1985); Johan Galtung, “World Conflict Formation Processes in the 1980′s.” United Nations University Paper, 1981. See also for books on the Post-Industrial Era, Alvin Toffler, The Third Wave; Daniel Bell, The Post-Industrial Society; and Ed. Cornish, The Study of the Future.
13. P.R. Sarkar, The Human Society. Calcutta, India, Ananda Marga Publications, 1984) and Abhimata. Ananda Nagar, India, Ananda Marga Publications, 1973.
14. See William Irwin Thompson, Darkness and Scattered Light, Passages About Earth, and Evil and World Order.
15. See also Immanuel Wallerstein, The Politics of the World Economy. London, Cambridge University Press, 1985.
16. P.R. Sarkar, Problem of the Day. Ananda Nagar, India, Ananda Marga Publications, 1959, 3.
17. P.R. Sarkar, The Human Society, 97.
18. Tim Anderson, The Liberation of Class: P.R. Sarkar’s Theory of Class and History. Calcutta, India, Proutist Universal Publication, 1985, 14-15. These ages are also related to different distinct mentalities. “Firstly, the worker …seeks employment through simple physical or mental skills; secondly, is the martial type, where greater physical capacities are developed along with the thought of domination, courage, honor, prestige and discipline; thirdly, the intellectual where greater psychic abilities are developed and utilized in the process of gaining objects of existence and enjoyment; and, fourthly, the commercialist or capitalist where mental abilities specifically aimed at the acquisition and manipulation of physical wealth are developed.”
The worker is dominated by the environment; the martial type attempts to dominate the environment and the other classes through physical strength; the intellectual attempts to control the environment and the other classes through the mind/ideology and the capitalist attempts to control the environment and the other classes through the ownership of the means of production.
Very importantly, Anderson warns us not to confuse these categories with the old Indian caste system. These “are purely psychological types interacting with the existing social condition to create the particular objective class relationships of the era.”
19. P.R. Sarkar, Idea and Ideology. Ananda Nagar, India, Ananda Marga Publications, 1967, 85.
20 P. R. Sarkar, The Liberation of Intellect–Neo Humanism. Calcutta, India, Ananda Marga Publications, 1982.
21. Michael Towsey, Eternal Dance of Macrocosm. Copenhagen, Denmark, Proutist Publications, 1986.
22. P.R. Sarkar, Problem of the Day, 13.
23. ibid., 40.
25. P.R. Sarkar, Abhimata, 130-131.
26. See F.M. Esfandiary, Optimism One; also see Sohail Inayatullah, “The Future of Death and Dying,” in Futurics .Vol. 5, #2, 1981).
27. P.R. Sarkar, Problem of the Day, 40.
28. See for example, Jeremy Rifken, Declaration of a Heretic. He is the best critic of the New Biology (genetic engineering, Brain Drugs, and the host of other emerging fields which promise to radically change human “nature”).
29. Richard Gauthier, “The Greenhouse Effect, Ice Ages and Evolution,” New Renaissance (Summer 1990), 16.
30. ibid., 17.
31. In the USA, for example, indicators of the emerging Martial era include the changing structure of the corporation toward increased employee rights and ownership. These are especially prevalent in the new high-tech centers in California. The desire for exploration in outer space, although presently certainly an outgrowth of the capitalist class’ attempt to colonize the future, could become a part of the new era as the first colonists break away from Earth and establish their own polities and cultures. The desire for an increased centralized polity, although here again a desire of the capitalist class to control value oriented intellectuals, may lead to this class’ demise, as advanced capitalism works best in a decentralized weak democratic system. Thus, a centralized system can be authoritarian, yet it can also liberate the exploited classes.
Finally, although new eras lead to class change, Sarkar argues that inevitable the revolutionaries become exploiters and suppress the potentials of the other classes. Thus, the emerging Martial era may not be the glorious New Age that some futurists envision. Sarkar, however, does believe that this New Age is possible, yet it will take radical changes in how we see the world, and how power, wealth, and knowledge are constituted and distributed.
32. See James Dator, “The Futures of Cultures or Cultures of the Future,” in Perspectives on Cross Cultural Psychology, ed. Anthony Marsella. New York, Academic Press, 1979, 376-388.
33. Antonio Gramsci, Prison Notebooks quoted in Noel Kent, Islands Under the Influence. New York, Monthly Review Press, 1983, 186.
34. P.R. Sarkar, Light Comes, 241.
35. P.R. Sarkar, Human Society . Vol. II. Calcutta, Ananda Marga Publications, 1984, 135.
Read other articles by Sohail Inayatullah at metafuture.org