Can we be modern without being western?

Prof Elangbam Bijoykumar *

Nozomi Shinkansen or 'Bullet Train' at Tokyo Station Nozomi Shinkansen or 'Bullet Train' at Tokyo Station " - Pix : wikipedia

For me, a new year's day has always been a day of contemplation. My current obsession is thinking of the many drivers of growth of this region. I always wonder whether we are trying to understand the process of change from a wrong perspective by using wrong and highly inappropriate framework.

It is common to ask what the north east can export when we talk about export led growth. Do we ask a sick man what he can do? Let him be alright and then the question is sensible.

On my way to Mumbai recently to attend the Golden jubilee celebration of the Indian Econometric society of which I am an executive committee member I was reading Martin Jacques' "When China rules the world" and there was one chapter about Japan with an intriguing title " Japan - Modern but hardly western".

We all know what Japan has achieved and more than anything, the commitment of the ruling elite to simultaneously change and preserve their culture against the western onslaught was responsible for transformation of japan at a breakneck speed. It is said in lighter vein that Japan after surpassing all its goals has now lost the purpose of existence.

The question is in her quest for development, has Japan become as westernized? What remnants of the old japan still play an important role? If such remnants have survived in japan, they need to be understood for replicability and perhaps under a different framework.

The desire to preserve the Japanese essence their customs, institutions and values and the willingness to absorb foreign elements as and when these are required have been the building blocks for modern Japan.

If japan could have developed with the Japanese essence, could we also have developed in a similar manner? Then many of the perennial questions would have been answered. What we consider wrong from the western perspective could have been right from the indigenous perspective.

The Japanese are averse to the use of law and avoid the process of litigation. Virtually all cases are settled by conciliation. The results of a survey show that 46% Japanese respondents felt that gender roles should be determined freely as against 81% of Americans and 92% of French respondents.

42% of Japanese respondents considered work to be very important as against 9% of American and 7% of English respondents. Japanese expectations of the workplace are also very different.

Most of us would rate opportunities for promotion as a very important factor in our workplace. We may not be interested in joining any work where there is no opportunity for promotion.

However, only 6% of the Japanese respondents considered opportunities for promotion to be important as against 66% of American respondents. 70% of Japanese respondents gave high importance to good interpersonal relations at work.

We love breaking rules. If we follow the rules much of our problems would have been very different.46% of the Japanese respondents felt that established rules should always be followed. Only 15% endorsed the view that it was alright to break the rules depending on circumstances.

Unlike the American or European civilizations which claim to be universal, the Japanese defined themselves to be on the periphery of these civilizations. The Japanese had persistently affirmed their difference from the Chinese and westerners.

Some serious contemplation is called for to identify the dynamic elements of change. There must be something to support a thriving civilization in an inhospitable region for thousands of years. It is hard to believe that sixty years have demolished the essence of a 2000 years old civilization.

The relationship has been such that instead of making us self-reliant we have been led to a path of dependency. The growing dependency syndrome is strategically used to show how backward we are. The tragedy is - we have come to believe this. What we need to do is to learn to think independently using the logic of Japan and other East Asian tigers. To me the intangibles of India's Look East policy far outweigh the tangibles at least for the north east.

One of the most important intangible benefits of the policy is the regaining of self-confidence. When we come face to face with the entrepreneurs of the east, imagining ourselves to be on the top just like them is much easier.

It enhances belief in the self. I always remember the bumblebee whose body structure is not for flight. It does not know it and flies all the way. Self-confidence is a very strong factor for growth not only for the individual but for the entire society.

Chainarol, the rules of combat exemplifies the confidence and sacrifice of the warriors. Our society had it and misplaced it. Sometimes the difficulties one faces make one a more complete person enriched with the multitude of experience.

The strength of our society is the willingness to learn from others. We have successfully enriched India by our contributions. Unlearning is the other side of the coin. We can also unlearn the lessons that have outlived their utility.

What is the use of carrying a baggage of such lessons? To be modern is not necessarily being western. One can be modern as uniquely as Japan.

When we grow on our own on a solid foundation, the emerging scenario is very different from where we have been led to by our growth. Our culture, our ethos, I believe, holds the key to our rebirth.

* Prof E. Bijoykumar Singh wrote this article for Hueiyen Lanpao (English Edition)
The writer is from Economics Department, Manipur University
This article was posted on January 04, 2014.

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