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ARTICLES > RELEVANCE OF GANDHI > The effect of Mass Production and Consumerism - A Gandhian Approach

 

The effect of Mass Production and Consumerism - A Gandhian Approach

By Ashok Bhise

Abstract:

This paper makes an attempt to study and understand Gandhian approach to mass production and consumerism.

It is the western culture of materialism based on maximum production and maximum consumption which affects human life and our scarce natural resources. Our insatiable desires to have more and more have accelerated the process of depletion of natural resources. In this article, we have tried to analyse Gandhian approach more exactly, 'containment of lust', and 'wants to a limit.' The M.K. Gandhi once said: "The Earth provides-enough to satisfy everyone's needs but not any one's greed."1 The consumerism leads to mass production, use of heavy machinery, procurement of raw material in large quantity, use of excessive energy, bulk production, transportation, storage and creation of huge wastage leads to environmental degradation. We shall find that Gandhian call to curtailment of wants is relevant in the rapidly depleting natural resources, bio­diversity and eco-system and its contemporary relevance. The independent similar views of great thinkers are also enumerated in the   III rd section.  The article is based on literature review.  

It is concluded with Gandhian solution for curbing multiple wants. This is possible only when individual completely change from inside out and take non violent path for which human beings should be spiritual.


Introduction:

The effect of environmental degradation is now well felt globally one of the factor responsible is consumerism. We have accepted our approaches to life as western style and materialism. The western materialism is based on maximum production and maximum consumption. This attitude to life leads to consumerism that is the maximum utilisation and utmost consumption of the resources available. In this article, while discussing consumerism, we have tried to analyse its basic principles, its effects on human life and on our scarce natural resources. Our insatiable desires to have more and more have accelerated the process of depletion of natural resources. More over we have tried to understand Gandhian approach more exactly, 'containment of lust', and 'wants to a limit.' The M. K. Gandhi once quoted that the production should be by masses and not mass production. We shall find that Gandhian call to containment of wants is relevant in the rapidly depleting natural resources, bio­diversity and eco-system. There should be judicious shift from a consumer society to conserver society appears to be the demand of modern age. Gandhiji foresee a direct chain of among lust-materialism-production-consumption-exploitation-war. He has given solutions to break this vicious circle of consumerism. The Gandhian views are independently seconded by the  great thinkers are also enumerated in the III rd section.

The problems and relevant Gandhian solution are divided into two parts in finding and results. The section I indicates Problems, section  II gives Gandhian Solution, section III thought of other great Thinkers, section IV Final verdict of Gandhiji.

The Problems cropped up due to the consumerism are - mass production, use of heavy machinery and modern technology, procurement of raw material in large quantity, use of excessive energy and bulk finish production, transportation, storage involves large ware houses and creation of huge wastage. This will leads to environmental degradation.

The causes for the consumerism are – a) multiplicity of needs and wants. The human needs are proliferated. Needs are ever increasing. b) The cravings and lust which are tormenting elements of human soul. c) The propensity to accumulate commodities cramp the soul and degenerate into the morbid desire to make a fetish of external goods of life. d) Human desires to over power the nature. This will alienate the man from nature.

It is ended with the conclusion of Gandhian solution for curbing multiple wants. This is possible only when individual completely change from inside out and take non violent path for which human beings should be spiritual.

There may be repetition of certain points and quotations at more than one place because of their relevance.


Findings and Results:

There are two well known approaches to life. One is embodied in the well-known dictum of the German Professor William Roscher, "Every advance in culture made by man finds expression in an increase in the number and in the keenness of his rational wants."2

The other is summed up in the Indian spiritual ideal of a watchful restraint.  The nature sets limits. It requires a person to contain himself within its capacity. Thus, the emphasis is on self-control and limitation of wants. Mechanised Industry knows no such limitation. Its law is one of progressive increase. Those who laid down the pattern of India's ancient culture could not accept the notion that culture increases with the increase in the number of man's wants and their satisfaction. Before explaining Gandhian concept of attitude to life, it is necessary to explain the western modern life style, more exactly consumerism."

Thus, consumerism aims at having more and more of everything. This is the stage where distinction between real and unreal is blurred, more correctly, it gets diminished. It is here, we find the validity of Gandhian spiritual, ethical and moral teachings which get the utmost significance. The reckless exploitation of natural resources will endanger the coming generation on this earth. During that period of Gandhi, the exploitation of mineral resources was on rising trend. He thought that the planned or inefficient management will damage the earth’s environment due to rapacious greed of the humanity. He had in his mind that optimal resource utilisation will alter the earth's environment.

Gandhi attempting to explained the phenomena of exploitation of natural resources through alienation also. He was of the opinion that the more nature was over-powered, the more alienated man will become from nature. He simultaneously wanted to focus on the relationship between man and his natural environment which would end exploitation. But this alienation of man from nature has also paved the way of alienation from himself also. His true self is what man can discover through the search of truth following the path of non-violence. Gandhi has full view of man, his spiritual, cultural and social aspects as much as his economic needs. This led him to advocate that man must adjust himself to nature and not the other way round. He would not permit imbalance to be created between man and his environment.

The problem is the propensity to accumulate commodities cramp the soul and degenerate into the morbid desire to make a fetish of external goods of life. It gives rise to monopolies. The accumulation is condemnable because it is not possible to be practiced by all. Gandhiji proposed that the nature produces enough for our wants for day to day needs and if only everybody took enough for himself and nothing more, there would be no pauperism in this world. He did not want to dispossess any body. It is then departing from the rule of Ahimsa.

Moreover, according to Gandhiji to accumulate more than requirement is sort of a theft.


Theory of Consumerism: Meaning, Nature and Principle

The theory of consumerism is an "ism" based on "maximum utilisation and utmost consumption of available resources" —material, physical, geo-biological, etc. It is a state of tempera­ment and mental inclination. It gives maximum emphasis on optimum utilisation of available resources both natural and man-made. It is a craze against preservation or gradual use of available resources. We know that natural resources such as—air, water, soil, minerals are scare. They are not to last for all the times to come. But in consumerism, this hard reality is not kept into account. This is due to insatiable desire to have more and more, hard realities of the prevailing environment are ignored. This negligence, in a long-run, proves to be hazardous for the human beings residing on this planet. Scientists, economists and other specialists are warning us against the rapidly diminishing reserves of minerals, decreasing areas of forests, flora and fauna and many endangered species, global warming, depletion of ozone layer, increasing temperature of earth and other alarming dangers. But despite their warnings, there is going to be alarm­ing hap hazardous utilisation of nature and natural resources. It is a great predicament for humanity. 


Section I

Problems:

The consumerism leads to -

  Mass production

  Use of heavy machinery and modern technology

  Procurement of raw material in large quantity

  Use of excessive energy and

  Bulk finish production

  Transportation

  Storage involves large ware houses and creation of huge wastage.

  Leads to environmental degradation

Causes:

The causes for the consumerism are-

  The basic problem is multiplicity of needs and wants. The human needs are proliferated. One cannot distinguish between real needs and created needs. Needs are ever increasing.

  Second one is cravings and lust which are tormenting elements of human soul.

  Third problem is the propensity to accumulate commodities cramp the soul and degenerate into the morbid desire to make a fetish of external goods of life. 

  Fourth Man is over powering the nature. This will alienate the man from nature 


Section II 

Gandhian Solution:

1. Gandhiji said that mind is like restless bird; more it gets more it wants and still it will remain unsatisfied. The more we indulge our passions, more unbridled they became. Gandhi’s solution to this problem is to voluntarily reduce our wants to a genuine level.  Professor J. K. Vfehta, a distinguished economist has suggested a process of ailing wants.5

Wants can be killed by wants only.  The stronger wants be employed to kill ill the weaker wants. This process goes on till human mind is left with most superior or genuine wants only remained to be satisfied. Gandhiji advocated that we should set limit to our indulgence. Our forefather knew that if we set our hearts after such things we would be slaves and loose our moral fibre. They realised that our real happiness and health consisted in a proper use of hand and feet.6

If we follow this it can be conserved a lot of natural resources for us which will be sufficient for generations to come.

Gandhiji was staunch critics of unchecked industrialisation and modern civilization which dehumanises the individual and puts premium on body comforts and acquire all luxuries of life that money can buy and fails measurably in doing so. This is due to man’s insatiable greed for earthy material. Gandhiji said that the true test of civilisation is the people living in it make bodily welfare the object of life.

2. Second one is cravings and lust which are tormenting elements of human soul. One has to renounce his cravings and desires his contentment from within himself is said to be Samthistha or Sthitiprajana.  He called such person “unruffled in adversity” and unaffected by worldly desire.  Thus according to Gandhiji “one who abandons all desire is free from the pride and selfishness and behaves as one part finds peace.”

3. Third problem is the propensity to accumulate commodities cramp the soul and degenerate into the morbid desire to make a fetish of external goods of life. 3. Third problem is the propensity to accumulate commodities cramp the soul and degenerate into the morbid desire to make a fetish of external goods of life. It gives rise to monopolies. The accumulation is condemnable because it is not possible to be practiced by all. Gandhiji proposed that the nature produces enough for our wants for day to day needs and if only everybody took enough for himself and nothing more, there would be no pauperism in this world. He did not want to dispossess any body. It is then departing from the rule of Ahimsa.

We do not have any right to any thing until millions of the people are clothed and fed better. So, we have to adjust our wants and even undergo voluntary starvation to feed under fed millions. Man due to his thrust for accumulation made hell of this planet. This has effect on increasing ecological imbalance, environmental degradation, vanishing flora and fauna, unhampered population explosion and deteriorating human values, all are the outcome of the greed of modern homo-sapiens.

Moreover, according to Gandhiji to accumulate more than requirement is sort of a theft.

4. Man is over powering the nature. This will alienate the man from nature. Gandhi without consciously attempting at a systematic theory explained the phenomenon of exploitation of natural resources throuth alienation also. He was of the opinion that the more man over powered the nature more he will be alienated from the nature.   But alienation of man from nature also paved the way of alienation. His true self is what man can discover through the search of truth following the path of non-violence. Gaandhi has full view of man, his spiritual, cultural and social aspect as much as his economic need. This led him to advice that man must adjust himself to nature and not the other way round. He would not permit imbalance to be created between and his environment. 


Section III

Thought of other great Thinkers

1. The dictum of German Professor William Roscher, “Every advance in culture made by man finds expression in an increase in number and in keenness of his rational wants.”2

2. Professor J. K. Vfehta, a distinguished economist has suggested a process of ailing wants.5.   So, wants can be killed by wants only.  The stronger wants be employed to kill the weaker wants. This process goes on till human mind is left with most superior or genuine wants only remained to be satisfied.

3. Professor E.F. Schumacher gives the world a timely warn­ing of the three crises engulfing the world. They are: the crisis of resources, the crisis of ecology and a very deep human crisis of alienation and disorientation.10 E.F. Schumacher says that this crisis occurred because every body strives hard to have more and more. He further added: "An attitude of life which seeks fulfilment in the single minded pursuit of wealth in short, materialism does not fit into this world, because it contains within itself no longer principle, while the environment in which it is placed is strictly limited. Already, the environment is trying to tell us that certain stresses are becoming excessive. As some problems are being solved then new problems arise. As Professor Barry Commener emphasises, the new problems are not the consequences of incidental failure but of technological success.11 In this way, the findings of Professor Schumacher and a host of other technologists and ecologists were choked emphatically by Gandhi nearly fifty years ago.

"Gandhi, regarded the ideal of creating an unlimited number of wants and satisfying them to be a delusion and a snare’.” According to him, unlimited lust for physical needs, degenerates into "Physical and intellectual voluptuousness". He detested desire and called them as "animal appetites." Once, he said, "If modern civilisation stands for all this, and I have under­stood it to do so, I call if satanic."12

Gandhi regarded that western materialism has a limit. Material enjoyment and accomplishment can not and do not give us sublime peace and pleasure. There comes a moment when a man gets perturbed or enchanted with the aggrandisement and consumption-culture. There comes the need of moral enlighten­ment which gives solace to the tormented soul. It was Gandhi who proved to be prophetic and path-finder. In western world, we today find inclination towards religiosity, Adhyatama, and meditation. The people from all the concerns of the world throng to India to get calm, tranquillity and mental peace. It shows that materialism and consumerism have their limitations.

4. Scholars and thinkers in industrially advanced country are slowly realising that consumptions should be severely regulated. "Materialism should not be the common philosophy but the common enemy.24 Many western thinkers, like Gandhi, are advocating restraint consumption. Prof. Gunnar Myrdal observed:  We shall invite catastrophic developments unless we are prepared how to enforce various restraints on and deflections of production and consumption, and, indeed, our ways of life."25 Gandhi disapproves expansive conspicuous public consumption. Consumption should be need determined. Gandhian Society will be "need satisfying society." He used to say that if our wants are restrained, the basic needs of the commonest people would be guaranteed. He observed: accord­ing to me the economic Constitution of India and for that matter that of the world should be such that no one under it should suffer from want of food and clothing. This ideal can be universally realised only if the means of production of elementary necessities of life remain in the control of the masses.26

Gandhi made efforts to educate the consumer as well. He laid emphasis that the consumer also owes responsibility towards society. While buying articles of consumption, the consumer should take into account several consideration, e.g. where the articles come from; what conditions do the workers work and live; what proportion of final price do they get as wages; how is the rest of money distributed; how is the article produced; how does the industries fit into the natural economy and what relation does it have with other nation.

5. In an interesting article entitled, "when pursuit of surplus Ends" published in the spring 1999 issue of the Indian Inter­national Centre Quarterly, Professor Hans W. Singer, the world renowned economist, shows how Lord Keynes had developed ideas on want satisfaction which, according to him, were similar to the well-known postulate of want limitation developed by Mahatma Gandhi. Speculating on the future after one hundred years, Keynes visualised the possibility of satisfying all reason­able or essential wants and thereafter of enjoying leisure and facilities for cultivating the arts and other aspects of life.

This view point is reiterated in the preface to Lord Keynes's book 'Essays in Persuasion.' According to him, the day is not far-off when the routine problem of making a living which takes most of our time, will take a back seat where it belongs and that the arena of the heart and head will be occupied, or reoccupied, by our real problems—the problem of life and of human relations, of creation and behaviour, and relation.

Professor Singer regards this stand as similar to the well known Gandhian view that the purpose of society is to satisfy basic needs and that there are more important goals than the limitless accumulation of capital and economy. As Gandhi wrote: I do not believe that multiplication of wants and machinery contrived to supply them is taking the world a single step nearer its own.27

But the process of attainment of this goal of life as visualised by the two great thinkers is different. The continua­tion of economic growth according to Keynes, would usher in a stage when all reasonable material wants would be satisfied. In other words, the point of saturation is reached automatically. Hence, there was no need for deliberate want limitation. Gandhi, on the other hand, felt that this saturation point would not be reached automatically even at higher and higher level of income. He pointed out: "The mind is a restless bird, the more it gets the more it wants and still remain unsatisfied. Therefore, the idea of creating an unlimited number of wants and satisfying them seems to be a delusion". (M.K. Gandhi, Hind Swaraj). He therefore made a plea for "deliberate want limitation".

Keynes is a great economist; Gandhi is not, atleast not in the traditional sense. But with respect to want saturation, economists today would agree more with Gandhi than with Keynes. Given a rising income, Keynes would be right if the number or nature of commodities remain more or less the same. Rising income and consumption would then lead to decreasing marginal utility of the given set of commodities. This process may continue until a stage is reached when the want for a given set of commodities might get completely saturated. Perhaps Keynes has this situation in mind when he predicted his concept of 'saturation of wants.1 It is, however, known that economic growth implies an increase not only in the output of existing commodities but also in the production of new commodities. The producers in advanced countries are busy with developing new products or new model of the existing products and creat­ing demand for them through intensive advertisement. Product development in the case of consumer durables has become an instrument for the survival of firms. Take the case of the United States, for example, where every family has got all martial goods like cars, telephones, refrigerators, etc. The producers, however, go on making modifications in the existing models. The consumers are then persuaded through advertisement to discard the old models buy the new ones.

Thus wants keep on multiplying. The question of saturation does not arise in a world where materialism has become the opium of people's mind. 


Section IV 

The Final Verdict of Gandhiji 

Crisis of Survival: A Gandhian Solution 

Thus we see that Gandhi's ideas about consumption were prophetic. He knew that problem was within man, not outside him. To quote Gandhi, "The world will live in peace only when the individual composing it make up their mind to do so." A way of life that depletes available resources will generate problems for the coming generations. It is to get the secured future and the maximum welfare of the maximum people, the need of the hour is to check our 'lust' and 'cravings'. We shall have to follow a non-violent way of life for this purpose.  This concept is to be widened while dealing with living nature and limited and finite resources of the earth. There is a need of unending commitment to ensure that man will survive without falling into a state of worthless existence.

Today, we are facing the crisis of survival. Gandhian path and philosophy have answers to all the worries and anxieties of the modern world. The philosophy of Gandhi has been summarised beautifully by professor Schumacher in the following lines:

“Towards smallness rather than gigantism; towards simplification rather than growing complexity; towards capital saving rather than labour saving; and towards non-violence, in a rather generalised sense."28

The continuing multiplication of want associated with the spread of materialistic philosophy of life has brought the world to the brink of a major disaster. This is reflected in the ecological crisis, the ramifications of which are becoming clearer. Natural resources are being depleted at a faster rate. An economy based on the foundation of endless wants  would not last long. It is in this context, that Gandhian doctrine of want limita­tion (which should be better understood as want regulation or moderation) becomes extremely significant for the survival of mankind.

Conclusion: In conclusion Gandhian solution for this ailing world appears to be relevant.  The problem of Consumerism is now well felt globally.  It may invade future generation. Gandhiji always suggest that man should change from inside out to solve the problem of environmental degradation. Such type of change is possible only when the individual becomes spiritual that is God believing.

Thus we find that Gandhiji’s idea about the consumption was prophetic and practical. He new that problem was within the man. To quote Gandhi “The world will live in peace only when individual composing it make up their mind to do so.”  Away of life that deplete available resources will generate problems for coming generations. It is necessary to get secured future and maximum welfare of maximum people and need of the hour is to check the lust and cravings. For this purpose we shall have to follow a non violent way of lied to economic activities. This concept is to be widened while deal with living nature and limited and finites sources of the earth.  There is a need of unending commitment to ensure that man will survive without falling to a state of worthless existence.

Today we are facing problems of survival. Gandhian path and philosophy have answers to all the worriers and anxieties of the modern world. The philosophy of Gandhiji have been beautifully summarised by professor Schumacher in the following lines. “Towards smallness rather than gigantism; towards simplification rather than growing complexities; towards capital saving rather than labour savings; and towards non violence in a rather generalised sense.” 28

The continuing multiplicity of want associated with the spread of materialistic philosophy of life has brought the world to the brink of a materialistic disaster. This is reflected in the ecological crisis, the ramification of which becoming clearer. Natural resources are being depleted at the faster rate. An economy based on the foundation of endless wants would therefore not last long.  It is in this context that Gandian doctrine of want limitation (which should be better understood as want regulation or moderation) becomes extremely significant for the survival of mankind. 


Notes and References 

1. Gandhi, M. K., Quoted in Dr. Baidyanath Mishra's Man at the Centre of Development', Yojana, Oct. 1998, p. 34.

2. Roscher, William, Quoted in Pyarelal's Mahatma Gandhi, 'The Last Phase', Vol. II, op. cit.f 603.

3. Pathak,  Abhijit, "Thoughts on Cultural Invasion," Mainstream, Vol. 32, No. 12, Feb. 11,1995, p, 234.

4. Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. 10 (The Publication Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India), New Delhi, p. 139.

5. Mehta, J. K., A Philosophical Interpretation of Economics (London, George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1962), p. 67.

6. Gandhi, M. K., 'Hind Swaraj', op. cit,, 61-62.

7. Ibid., p. 67.

8. C.W.M.G., Vol. XIII, p. 231.

9. S.W.M.G., Vol. 6, 'The Voice of Truth' (ed., 1997) p. 145.

10. Schumacher,  E. F.,   'Future  is Manageable'  (New Delhi,  Impex India, 1978, p. 30.

11. Ibid., p. 23.

12. Young India, 17.3.27, p. 85, Quoted in S.WM.G., Vol. 6, p. 327.

13. Mahatma, Vol. Ill, 1952, p. 157.

14. Harijan, 24.2.1946, p. 19.

15. Quoted   in   Dr.   Baidyanath  Mishra's   'Man  at   the   Centre   of Development', op. cit., 20.

16. Ibid.,p. 23.

17. Ibid., p. 24.

18. Ibid.,p.23.

19. Ibid.,p. 21.

20. Ibid.,p. 21.

21. Mathurs(ed.),ETMG,p.461.

22. Ibid.,p. 480.

23. Ibid., p. 585.

24. Lean, Geoffrey, 'Rich World Poor World 1, p. 319.

25. Mydral,   Gunnar,   'Against   the   Stream:   Critical   Essays   on Economies', p. 20.

26. Mathurs(ed.),£TMG,p.551.

27. Young India, 17 March, 1927, p. 23.

28. Schumacher, E.F., 'Future is Manageable', op. cit., 13.