|Barack Obama talking to students in Mumbai. Photo: outlookindia.com|
"...I don't want any person here to be dismissive of a healthy materialism because in a country like India, there's still a lot of people trapped in poverty. And you should be working to try to lift folks out of poverty, and companies and businesses have a huge role in making that happen."Absolutely correct. There couldn't have been a more correct message about how India should view materialism. But let's examine American materialism for a change: is it healthy? Is America setting the right example for the world to follow?
First of all, what is the definition of healthy? How many dollars of consumption per head is healthy? We intuitively know Indian materialism is too short of the optimum, but is American materialism healthy today?
Having seen the United States from up close, and having lived there for a while, and having read and understood how that country works in general, I don't think so.
It is only religion which provides a definition of "healthy" which remains acceptable in the ultimate analysis. At one place, Krishna tells Arjuna in the Bhagavadgita:
Yajńaṣiśṭāṣinaḥ santō mucyantē sarva kilbiśaiḥ |That is, those who eat the leftovers of sacrifice are freed of all their defects, whereas those who cook only for their own consumption verily consume sin itself. Note that Krishna is not asking the performer of the sacrifice to go hungry; he's asking him to eat what's left after the sacrifice. What if nothing is left after the sacrifice? That situation need not arise, since one can keep what's absolutely required for oneself and simultaneously offer it to the Infinite Being himself in sacrifice.
Bhunjatē tē tvaghaṃ pāpā yē pacantyātmakāraṇāt ||
Unless a healthy definition of "healthy", such as Krishna's, is adopted, it becomes easy to justify the reckless massacre of innocent lives in wars which America fights for material gain. Not knowing what healthy materialism is, one can justify the slapping of things like population control and carbon emission restrictions on the third world. Not understanding the difference between healthy and unhealthy materialism, America can relieve billions of people across the globe of their natural resources - be it oil, minerals, or whatever.
Whichever way I look at it, American materialism is a classic case of "cooking only for one's own consumption". Must this not be reformed? Isn't it time America realized that its materialism is way, way, unhealthy?
Barack Obama seems to be tending atleast a little towards answering this question with a 'yes', for he said as part of the same reply:
Now, having said that, if all you're thinking about is material wealth, then I think that shows a poverty of ambition.The problem is, it's not just a poverty of ambition. It's a poverty of ambition which has a very negative impact on the lives of people all over the world since it is supported by the American State. Sure, as Obama himself pointed out,
it's hard to preach to an empty stomach.But why is it so hard to preach to a full stomach, a stomach with an ugly and unhealthy bulge filled with material wealth from all over the world, acquired by hook, crook, and war, and which is looking for further expansion? Why doesn't the American State refuse to aid those diseased stomachs? Why, instead, does the American State accelerate further expansion of that bulge by devising every conceivable method of world domination?
Is there any answer to this question, other than insatiable greed, Mr. Obama? If there isn't, how do you propose to fix this?