Recently in Mother Pious Lady Category

santosh_desai.jpgIn the last month, I've spoken with Tanzanians about their frustration with the rate of economic growth in Tanzania relative to Kenya (typically traced back to Julius Nyerere's collectivization experiments), and I've also talked with Indians about India's pace of development relative to China (typically attributed to China's embrace of foreign direct investment, which India has strictly limited).  In both instances, I have felt that focusing on the economic indicators was too short-sighted.

More important than quarterly earnings reports and stock market performance, in my view, are indicators like the ability to change leaders without killing people and the degree of social tolerance for different groups.  These indicators necessarily signal a positive and deep-seated assimilation of modern governance and social norms; and these norms, in turn, lay the institutional foundation for modern economies.  Economic prosperity, on the other hand, can readily be achieved (but not sustained) without any such foundation and, as we have seen even in the U.S., can be the result, not of productivity, but of chicanery.

From this perspective, the good news is that "late bloomers" like Tanzania and India may actually be better off in the long run; the bad news, of course, is that they're poor(er) now, with all the ramifications (lack of international respect, shorter life spans, etc.) that poverty entails. 

Personally, I believe that these costs are worth the benefits.  Modernization is a slow process, and developing countries that allow it time are (in my opinion) better off than those that rush the process.  That said, I'm not from a developing country, and obviously perspectives can differ.  Therefore, I was interested to read, in Santosh Desai's recently published - and excellent book - Mother Pious Lady, an affirmation of my perspective.

Mother Pious Lady is a collection of essays about India's middle class.  In a selection called "The Power of the Imperfect Solution," Desai argues that:

India understands time.  It understands the transience of all things, including solutions.  It understands that there are no final solutions to problems [hear that "End of History" wallas?]; at best there is a temporary equilibrium that must eventually get destabilized and give way to a new equilibrium. . . . The desire for lasting solutions is nothing but a desire to freeze time.
(p. 135.)  This understanding leads Desai to advocate as follows:

[While] Western analysis operates by reducing a problem to its components and freezing it in time . . . [t]hings are classified, labelled, put in boxes . . . . Perhaps a good place to start would be to stop labelling situations and conditions indiscriminately as problems.  Moving beyond the simplistic problem/solution mode into the process/time mode will allow for a much more realistic understanding of how things change and how little they do.  That we [Indians] understand this is a huge advantage; let us not take to the flashy shallowness of other modes of thinking in our quest to be seen as successful in the short run.
(p. 139.)

At the risk of being accused of "flashy shallowness" for praising a commentator with whom I agree, I think Desai's perspective is immensely valuable.  All countries - the so-called "developed," as much as the "developing" - are currently trying to strike the right balance between communal and individual, traditional and modern, indigenous and foreign.  Desai's explication of value in India's communal, traditional, indigenous views has done a great service to Indians . . . and to anyone interested in achieving balance in their own lives and countries.

(Image of Santosh Desai from Times of India)    

About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries in the Mother Pious Lady category.

Memoir: A History is the previous category.

Orality & Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word is the next category.

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