Vimukt Shiksha - September 2001

Learning to Challenge the Global Economy


Editors' Note

The Continuum - Colonialism-Development-Globalization

What Makes Globalization Different from Its Predecessors

Simple Questions

Globalization as 'McDonaldization'          

' Free' Trade in the WTO?

Global Rhetoric vs. Reality         

Case Study: Capturing the Classroom

Big Business of Education

Buying and Selling Knowledge               

Behind Closed Doors: Business Plans    

There's No Bang in the Buck      

Why We All Lose in the Race to Win      

Exposing the IT Revolution

Case Study: Universalizing Consumer Culture

Myth of Microcredit       

Great Debt Dilemma

Rethinking Swadeshi During the Great Indian Sell-Out

Is Socialism the Answer?

Why It's Time to Stop 'Leaving it to the Experts'

Why Bigger Is Not Better: Making Way for the Small

Freeing Our Expressions

A Turn Towards the Local

Redefining Progress

The Resistance of the Zapatistas

Voluntary Simplicity

From the Four Directions

Closer to Home... IDSP

Further Resources


Special Insert: The Political Economy of War

The Algebra of Infinite Justice

Saving the American Way of Life

Is It All about Oil?

The US and the Middle East: Why Do They Hate Us?

Thoughts in the Presence of Fear

A Letter from Parents

A Letter from Pakistan

* * * * * *


Editors' Note

“Even if the cargo on a boat is distributed evenly, the boat will inevitably sink under too much weight even though it may sink optimally.”

- Herman Daly


What is the global economy? How does the global economy impact/reshape the purpose, content and pedagogy of education? How does factory-schooling strengthen the global economy? How can we (re)generate diverse spaces and learning processes for challenging the global economy?


In education circles around the world, educators are being told that they must overhaul their education systems to help their citizens compete in the Global Economy. The World Education Forum’s Dakar Framework for Action describes the benefits that are waiting to be reaped by All: “Globalization is generating new wealth and resulting in greater interconnectedness and interdependence of economies and societies.” Those of us who are somehow not convinced by all this hype are told that nothing can be done to stop the Global Economy. We just have to squeeze out a place for ourselves in it.


Sadly, most educators know very little about the Global Economy: how it is shaping them or how they can re-shape it, or its many implications for education. First, the Global Economy seeks to remake us All into ‘Global-Citizen-Consumers’ — competent in consuming what we do not need, consuming what we cannot afford, consuming ourselves into oblivion.  Second, new education models are busy converting diverse learning spaces into marketplaces/malls: by bringing products directly to children in their schools and homes, and by commodifying and re-selling the common gifts of humanity — knowledge, intelligences, creativity, spirituality, Nature, etc.  Third, custodianship over people’s learning processes is being transferred from the inefficient/insensitive Welfare State to greedy, unaccountable Corporations.  Lastly, diverse modes of human expression, reflection and dialogue are being colonized by new technologies.  In the sterile virtual world, people’s minds are not only being overwhelmed with decontextualized information, they are being ‘rewired’.


Educators should be concerned that the Global Economy not only impacts education but threatens what it means to be human. Fitting into the Global Economy means adopting the value system of the ‘bottom line’: efficiency, profits, foreign investment and competition. Any crime against humanity — ecological destruction; cultural and linguistic homogenization; massive social displacement, the illegitimate concentration of power; the manipulation of genetic codes; brutal violence; genocide — can be morally rationalized on the basis of this bottom line. While some may appear to benefit from this economy in the short-term, the long-term consequences for life on this planet will be disastrous.


The fatal attraction of the Global Economy lies both in the unfulfilled promises of Development (good health, democratic and peaceful relationships, greater leisure time, less poverty) and in the achievements of Development (massive, unsustainable infrastructure that, to maintain itself, continuously needs new resources — which it doesn’t have and must take from others). The culture of schooling has also brainwashed us into believing several tantalizing myths of Progress: bigger is always better; science and technology can solve all our problems; survival of the fittest is the natural law; economic growth trickles down to the poor, etc.  Even worse, it has manufactured inferiority, selfish individualism, and impatience which has made us lose faith in ourselves and in our local communities.  We are forced to spend our time watching the Left and Right publicly debate whether State vs. Market institutions should have more power (i.e., who will be better at distributing the weight on the sinking boat?). 


Luckily, globalization is not an irreversible or unstoppable process.  As the Global Economy spreads around the world, so do the pockets of dissent.  The vast majority of people in the world are still not part of the Global Economy; nor, despite what the mainstream media propaganda tells us, do they want to be.  Many groups are struggling to regenerate ‘the local’: to reclaim their whole Selves and their communities from the myths of Progress and dependency on the State/Market; and, to replenish their own wells of practical knowledge, wisdom, love, interdependence, creative expression of life-affirming living.  New possibilities for unlearning and re-learning for challenging the Global Economy eagerly await to be created.  We invite you to join us in this process.




Despite different names, the cultural, psychological and economic forces that have shaped the last 500 years of human history are closely linked to each other.  From the European ‘discovery’ of the New World(s), through years of imperialism and colonialism, from the post-War Development decades (1950s-80s), to today’s era of globalization. Together, all of these time periods constitute a continuum, defined by the similarity in their goals, processes and outcomes. 


For example, a desire for gold and natural resources, upon which to build empires, motivated the Europeans to colonize the rest of the world. Similarly, in the last several decades, the pursuit of profits, of markets and commodities, has driven both the Development and the Globalization agendas.  Some would add that these periods also share an ‘altruistic’ agenda: to civilize, develop, or protect the Other (i.e., those peoples with languages, cultures, histories, values, etc. different from the elite Euro-American white male).  That is, pillage has been justified on ‘moral’ grounds of “making the world safe for democracy”, “reducing poverty”, or “enduring freedom”.


Terrorism and genocide have been the main processes used in the continuum.  In the first 450 years, physical/military prowess was a decisive factor; in the last 50 years, more subtle tools of domination have emerged (the United Nations, free trade, universal schooling, mass media, Human Rights, Science/Technology).  But regardless of the tool, all of the processes devalue the Other in order to manipulate/manage Them.  This manifests not only in the language used to describe common people (from “wild”/”primitive”, to “backward”/”undeveloped”, to “technologically deprived”), but also through the violent elimination of knowledges, languages, and other living traditions.


Such processes have led to similar outcomes.  Colonialism, Development, and Globalization have all resulted in the exploitation of people and of natural resources, brutal oppression, and widespread injustice.  The psycho-cultural internalization of the West is another common effect in the continuum.  Each period has undertaken measures to ensure that the Other consider the West to be progressive, advanced, and living the future of their dreams.  Those who most successfully internalize this ‘truth’ (i.e., the babus) are then used to manage the exploitation process from within.  What this leads to is a ‘mono-culture’: the destruction of diversity in favor of homogenization, and the concentration and control of raw materials in the hands of an elite few.

Sources: Z. Sardar, et al. The Blinded Eye: 500 years of Christopher Columbus. Goa: Other India Press, 1993.

V. Shiva. Biopiracy: The Plunder of Nature and Knowledge Boston: South End Press, 1997.



What Makes Globalization Different from Its Predecessors

New Actors (More Powerful and Unaccountable to the Public)

Transnational Corporations (TNCs) (or Multinational Corporations, MNCs) are businesses that seek to increase their profits by expanding their operations across country borders.  They invest their capital where there are the least restrictions, and where they can pay the least amount possible in taxes, for raw materials, for labor, for ‘acceptable’ working conditions, for environmental clean-up/responsibility.  By moving across borders, not only do they reduce production costs, but they also find new markets for their products.  From both angles, they make higher profits.

Transnational Institutions (the United Nations, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund-IMF, and the World Trade Organization-WTO) are international bodies that empower TNCs by prescribing certain policies to developing countries (see below).  They are able to force these policies on countries, by either threatening economic sanctions, or by promising debt relief to countries and/or granting them new loans. The powers/policies of these institutions transcend those of national authorities (like the Parliament). They also lack any ‘democratic’ input (that is, any input from experts or citizens who do not represent corporate interests).


New Processes and Policies (Forcing a Race towards the Bottom)

Structural Adjustment Program-SAP is a package of conditions that the IMF and World Bank dictate to developing countries with high debts or in macro-economic crisis.  These conditionalities include raising interest rates, devaluing currency, privatizing public investments, opening economies to unlimited foreign entry/ownership, cutting social welfare, and rewriting labor laws to eliminate workers’ rights.

Free Trade Agreements/Liberalization are policies to open countries’ national borders to unrestricted foreign investment and trade.  Free Trade implies a reciprocal agreement between countries (i.e., Canada-US-Mexico’s NAFTA), while liberalization is one-way opening to outsiders (what India did in 1991 and again in 2000).

Privatization is a process by which government-owned industries and public resources are sold to private corporations, who then manage them for their own profits.

Intellectual Property Rights (patents, copyrights) give legal ownership of knowledge, biodiversity, creative products, methods, etc. to individuals and corporations.


New Speed, Scale and Intensity (Everywhere, All the Time, and Fast!)

Information and Communication Technologies-ICTs (computers, the Internet, satellite TVs, cellular telephones) have accelerated the speed and scope of the new policies/processes/actors.  ICTs enable TNCs to expand into new markets and to move very large amounts of capital quickly across the world. ICTs also allow commercialization to enter into all aspects of our life, i.e., the bedroom, festivals, classrooms, religious places, clothing, folk music, etc.

Source: J. Brecher & T. Costello. Global Village or Global Pillage. Cambridge:South End Press, 1998.



Simple Questions by Non-Pompous People

This is an excerpt from “Globalization: The Myth That Rules and Ruins Our Lives” (2000) by Dr. M. O. Arigbede <>:

-  If we say we are trading and development partners with the people of Europe and America, why are we always having to buy more and more expensively what they make with their machines, while selling them in return, more and more cheaply, only those products that we harvest from the land?

-  Why are our rulers pretending to rule or have power when it is becoming ever clearer daily that the policies they enforce on us are made outside this country and rammed down our throats?

-  We do not understand the meaning of ‘National External Debt’.  There is no time when the people, that is us, gathered and instructed our leaders to go borrow such huge amounts of monies that we are now alleged to be owing... Should we really be repaying such ‘corrupt’ loans forever at the cost of our national livelihood?

-  If two financial organizations (the World Bank and IMF) can dictate to the rest of the world and make decisions for us all without our participation, what is the meaning of the democracy that these organizations recommend to us?



Globalization as 'McDonaldization'

With 25,000 outlets in 115 countries, the American fast food restaurant, McDonald’s, is ubiquitous.  In The McDonaldization of Society (New Delhi: Sage, 2000), George Ritzer introduces a management process-model called McDonaldization, which is sweeping over countries and societies.  He defines this model by four dimensions:

1. Efficiency – optimum (fastest) method for getting from one point to another;

2. Calculability – emphasis on quantitative aspects (time/money) of product/service;

3. Predictability – assurance that product/service will be same over time, in all locations;

4. Control – over both the consumers’ and the employees’ experience; heavy use of technology to limit human error.


Ritzer’s argument is that McDonaldization has infiltrated almost all aspects of modern society, from travel to healthcare to language.  In education, this process is unfolding in many ways.  Multiple choice exams replace creative essays and projects (efficiency in grading); quantity (of students, hours in class, in test scores, etc.) takes priority over quality; teaching, curriculum and textbooks all conform to predicable routines; and children are increasingly controlled through rigid structures, rote memorization and external discipline. Such mass production is also evident in the proliferation of ‘designer’ school franchises, like Delhi Public School (DPS) and Egmont’s “Euro Kids” preschools.


Some see McDonaldization as positive: “It brings ‘quality’ products/services equally to all consumers,” they say. But they seem to have confused equality with ‘sameness’, and quality with ‘bland-ness’. Indeed, most who experience the monotony of McDonaldization feel disconnected from their unique selves, diverse societies, and from nature.  Such alienation, dehumanization and boredom only appear to increase over time.



'Free' Trade in the WTO?

Since joining the World Trade Organization (WTO)  last year, India has begun to implement the transnational institution’s policy prescriptions. In April 2001, quantitative restrictions on 700 consumer goods were lifted, causing a  flood of imports to dominate the domestic market.  Indian consumers can find anything from Chinese watches to German milk at cheaper prices.


In theory, everyone benefits from free trade.  The WTO website <> explains: the best quality products become available at the lowest prices, the cost of living drops, incomes rise, economies grow, life is more efficient, global inequality is reduced.  Why then, in the 5 years since the policies of the WTO have taken effect worldwide, has the opposite occurred?  Why, for the majority of peoples, are wages decreasing and the cost of living increasing?  Why has inequality between the North and South and within countries increased sharply?  And who benefits if free trade ignores public health issues (such as food safety standards), undermines working conditions and accelerates environmental degradation and biopiracy?


Originally conceived in 1821 by David Ricardo, the free trade theory was based on the assumption that capital is immobile and that production stays within a country’s borders.  Today, however, this is clearly not the case.  Employers can instantly move their operations to countries where production and labor are cheaper, and where there are minimal restrictions on environmentally harmful processes.  Workers around the world thus compete with each other for lower wages and worsening working conditions.  Meanwhile the lion’s share of benefits goes to the North, to the world’s largest corporate and financial institutions.


In addition, WTO exercises authority on issues such as the use of pesticides or biotech materials in foods, and the public’s access to local medicine (which corporations are rapidly claiming ownership of through patents).  WTO policies and processes are not democratically accountable; rather decisions are made behind closed doors and enforced with the threat of economic sanctioning.  As a member of the WTO, the Indian government makes its population vulnerable to policies that are not aimed at improving equality or well being, but toward increasing short-term profits for corporations.  Thus, before supporting prescriptions to increase economic growth, it is crucial to ask the questions that the elite and experts refuse to ask: “Growth of what?  Free for whom?  Who wins and who loses?”  

Sources: K. Danaher and K. Burbach (Eds), Globalize This!, Maine: Common Courage Press, 2000; R. Hahnel, Panic Rules. Cambridge: South End Press, 1999; L. Wallach and M. Sforza, Who’s Trade Organization?, Washington: Public Citizen, 1999.



Global Rhetoric vs. Global Reality

“Free trade enhances standards of living through the effects of competition on productivity.”                

— Alan Greenspan, Chairman, Federal Reserve Bank

The world’s richest fifth receives 82.7% of the world’s income and resources, the poorest fifth receives 1.4%. 

The assets of the three richest people in the world between 1994-1998 were more than the combined GNP of 48 least developed countries. 

 The UN Human Development Report states that per capita incomes in 80 countries are lower than they were a decade ago. 

 UNDP reports that US$50 billion in “aid” flows annually from the North to the South.  The South loses US$500 billion every year in interest payments on debts and from the loss of fair prices for commodities due to unequal terms of trade.


Sustainable Development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

— World Commission for Environment & Development

Tropical forests are disappearing at the rate of 100+ acres per minute. 

 Between 150 and 200 species of life become extinct every 24 hours.

President Bush announced that the US, which produces 25% of the world’s carbon dioxide, will not honor the 1997 Kyoto Protocol to reduce greenhouse gases, and thereby prevent global warming.


“By expanding trade, we can advance the cause of freedom and democracy around the world.”  

— Bill Clinton, 1997

The WTO has the right to overturn any health, safety, or environmental laws (local, state or national) which are perceived by other nations to be unfair barriers to trade.

Since the implementation of SAP in 1991, the World Bank has ‘monitored’ India’s macro-economic policies (foreign investment, balance of payments, money supply, etc.) — all functions which were formerly held by the Government of India. 

In 1997-98 U.S. elections, corporations contributed US$460 million to politicians, compared to US$39 million spent by labor (the main opposition to free trade).



A Case Study: Capturing the Classroom

Lifetime Learning Systems (LLS) is a marketing service that specializes in producing and distributing corporate-sponsored ‘educational programs’ that promote companies’ products or general views.  Its materials especially target under-funded schools, which are eager to obtain new resources.  Examples of LLS’s clients and products include:

- Lederle Laboratories, which produces Centrum Jr. multivitamins, hired LLS to make a teaching kit to introduce 4th, 5th, 6th grade children to the importance of using vitamins to maintain good health.

- For General Mills, Inc., LLS created a “Grow-Up!” teaching kit on fruit and nutrition for preschool children.  Each kit contained certificates, growth charts, booklets for parents, & 96 ‘candy’ product samples.

- Northeast Utilities hired LLS to distribute films, booklets, teaching kits, board games to local schools, with the objective of “re-educating consumers about the energy crisis and increasing public support for nuclear power development”. Northeast later conducted a survey, which found that public opinion had shifted 20% in its favor.


LLS says its materials are reviewed by educators and textbook publishers and have received “consistently positive responses” from teachers. But those representing environmental and consumer concerns stress that these materials offer biased mis-information.  They say that most teachers are unaware of corporate promotion techniques and “do not recognize propaganda when they see it.”

· Would you accept corporate-sponsored materials into your classrooms?  What are the trade-offs?

· How can we recognize and counter such corporate manipulation in classrooms and, as importantly, in our daily lives?



The Big Business of Education

In the US, the education industry is estimated at US$630 billion (nearly Rs.30,00,000 crore). The following table estimates the current size of the primary education market in India, as well as the potential size of the market, should Universal Elementary Education be implemented.  Although only preliminary rough calculations, these figures should leave no doubt of the intense corporate interest in controlling education. They should encourage us to question the motives behind those who seek to influence and manage education policy and programs. 














Calculations are based on the following assumptions:

20 crore children, age 6-14, will all be enrolled in school with UEE.

Annual student costs include uniform, shoes, stationary, textbooks, bag.

All children will take additional tuition at the rate of Rs.200/month.

Teachers supplied at ratio of 40 students: 1 teacher.

200 children/school in rural areas; 300 children/school in urban areas.

Schools built/year at 1980-1995 rate.

Computer/printer: school; rural = 1; urban = 5.



The Buying and Selling of Knowledge

The Knowledge Economy is considered to be the most evolved phase of the global economy.  Its cornerstones are the same as the industrial-technology economies: private ownership, production and consumption, for the highest profit.  Once considered the collective domain of humanity (shared with all for the benefit of all), today intellectual resources are marketed as ‘products’, to be bought by and sold to the highest bidder.


The commodification of knowledge occurs in several ways.  For example, we ‘pay’ for knowledge when we send our children to private schools or tuitions, or when we ourselves attend special workshops and courses.  In doing so, we affirm two ideas: (1) information can be given a price, and (2) the ‘quality’ of information you access will vary, depending on the amount of money you have.  In other words, the knowledge economy follows the rest of global economy; it increases levels of inequality by linking participation to a price.


Knowledge is also being bought and sold through patents and copyrights. Laws are used to declare ideas, products, and even living things, to be the ‘intellectual property’ of individuals or corporations.  But although one might want credit for his/her contributions, patenting prevents the general public from using creations without permission and payment — which again means that only those who can afford to pay, get to use it.  Ironically, many of the people who acquire patents steal and manipulate knowledge to claim it as their own.  For example, in India, genetic-engineering companies have recently attempted to patent neem and basmati rice in order to control and profit from them. Pharmaceutical companies are trying to collect indigenous knowledge about medicinal plants to create and patent their own drugs.  While peoples’ movements are resisting these efforts, should they fail and the patents be given, then these staple necessities will only be available for use at a heavy price.


Buying and selling knowledge is a growing epidemic in universities around the world as well.  In the guise of donations, private companies give equipment, buildings, facilities, professorships, research grants, etc. to universities.  In exchange, the university provides them with exclusive rights to the research produced. “Commercially-sponsored research” means that companies’ interests are dominating the research agenda — which could seriously limit which questions are asked, which are not, and how the studies are designed.  For example, many universities only put their money into commercially lucrative disciplines (science/technology) and stop funding humanities and social sciences, which do not yield profits in the global market.  Further, many privately-funded studies are biased; professors receive additional monies from the companies that fund their research and so, not surprisingly, end up giving conclusions that endorse corporate interests.  More and more it seems research is done for private gain (profit) rather than for public good.


Members of a learning community can reflect on the following questions:

  -  How can we credit inventors/creators for their work and encourage new creations, in the absence of patents or copyrights?

- How can we draw upon other understandings of knowledge (as shared wisdom, for example) to begin to de-link it from the market economy and profit motives?

Source: E. Press and J. Washburn, “The Kept University” in The Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 285, No. 3, March 2000.



Behind Closed Doors: Business Plans

In April 2000, the Prime Minister’s Advisory Council on Trade and Industry produced “A Policy Framework for Reforms in Education”. Co-authored by M. Ambani and K. Birla, the report articulates a contradictory vision for education in India: “to create a competitive, yet cooperative, knowledge-based society.” For this to happen, they argue that the education system must become market-oriented and privatized.  The report strongly recommends that the Government:

- expand private and community-supported schools;

- allow foreign direct investment in education;

- form partnerships between industries and universities;

- use computer technology to establish education networks in villages;

- diversify revenue sources (private financing in school/universities);

- develop student loan and credit markets for higher education;

- keep the economy free from controls to foster a market for education.


For these traders and industrialists, education means big money. For example, the report anticipates recurring expenditures on all three tiers of the education industry to be Rs.1,80,000 crores by 2015, and capital expenditures to be Rs.89,000 crores. Learning communities must ask themselves: (1) do these businessmen really have the best interests of our children and society in mind?; and (2) will spending more money solve the deep crises facing education?



There's No Bang in the Buck

In this excerpt from “Beyond Money: Deschooling and a New Society” <>, John Taylor Gatto discusses how the abstraction of money and of schooling have devalued social relationships and real learning processes:

“At the turn of the 20th century, a profound social thinker in France named George Simmel wrote a remarkable book called The Philosophy of Money. In it, Simmel said that money contained a powerful internal contradiction built into the foundations of its abstract existence: by robbing things of their innate identity and replacing that core identity with a money identity… money often cheapened things and removed their significance!  Simmel said that whenever genuine personal qualities like services were offered for money, [they] tended to gradually become degraded, to lose distinction… The sale of compassion, the sale of concern, even the sale of a helping hand in many instances, lead to the same destination. At some point, pricing eats away the intangible quality of service and the central value of what is offered will be destroyed…


I mean [this point] to be a lesson for our schools too… Experts who are the sellers of school services to the government have consistently misdiagnosed and misdefined the problem of schooling… Our cultural dilemma has nothing to do with children who don’t read very well. It lies instead in the difficulty of finding a way to restore meaning and purpose to modern life. There is no point in reading if it seems to lead nowhere. We have progressively stripped children of the primary experience base they need to grow up sound and whole by pricing abstract study higher… When we fail to take into account how most children, rich or poor, really learn – by involvement, by doing, by independent risk-taking, by shouldering responsibility, by intermingling intimately into the real world of adults in all its manifestations – when we set up a laboratory universe in which all are confined with anonymous strangers, then we have created in advance a world of failing families, wrecked cities, and blasted individuals...”



Why We All Lose in the Race to Win

Competition is glorified in today’s world.  Companies are incited to compete in the global economy, to make competitive products and services and to have a competitive workforce.  Similarly, every aspect of schooling trains children to compete — if not in formal contests and exams, then for grades, ranks, labels, teacher approval, etc.  But just as only a few employees are given bonuses, so do only a few children receive prizes, certificates or other rewards.  The rest are declared losers; their failure is explained by either a lack of hard work or a lack of ability.  Although the situation may seem unfair, we are all told that, in the ‘survival of the fittest’, competition is the only way to motivate us to be productive and to do our best.


In No Contest: The Case Against Competition (1992), Alfie Kohn refutes this myth, as well as three additional myths about competition: that it is part of human nature; that it is the only/best way to have fun; and that it builds character and confidence.  He explains that those who are pro-competition subscribe to a win-lose view of the world.  Both the dominant economic structure and the school deliberately make ‘success’ scarce, by creating unnatural situations where only a few can win and the rest must lose.  They then use these ‘successes’ as evidence to promote more cutthroat competition.  Kohn cleverly elaborates, “Capitalism works on the same principle as a glass company, whose employees spend their nights breaking people’s windows and their days boasting of the public service they provide.”


And far from making us do our best, competition actually inhibits us.  Kohn cites multiple studies that show that in competitive atmospheres, people produce less spontaneous, less complex, less diverse, and less creative products; while the reverse holds true in cooperative atmospheres.  This ‘paradox’ happens for several reasons.  First, competition restricts our vision; it makes us narrowly focus on ‘winning’ the reward, so that we neither use our time or our resources well.  At the same time, it breeds hostility, anxiety, fear of failure, and fear of risk-taking/exploring, which further constrains our creativity and performance.  Lastly, competition results in a “loss of community and sociability and a heightening of selfishness.”  It prevents us from working together or caring about each other.  These outcomes of competition not only affect the losers, but also the winners.


Those who advocate competition fail to see the fundamental difference between ‘learning’ and ‘competing’.  With learning, we give attention to accomplishing the task, the skill, or the goal, because we value the effort itself. With competition, we focus on defeating others; the quality of our work is only important insofar as it wins us the reward.

Kohn makes strong recommendations to abandon this competitive ethic and adopt a vision of cooperative learning, so each of us can achieve our full potential in ways that are beneficial to the whole community.  The “enormous potential of mutual benefit (cooperative) strategies will not be tapped — or even understood — until we broaden our perspective beyond the narrow prejudice that we always do best by trying to beat others.” 

Please discuss with your family, friends and colleagues:

How is competition promoted in your community?

What are spaces/opportunities for promoting cooperation instead?

What are some strategies for challenging competition and ensuring everyone’s success in learning and growing?



Exposing the Information Technology Revolution

“What I object to is the craze for machinery, not machinery as such. The craze is for what they call labour-saving machinery. Men go on ‘saving labour’ till thousands are without work and thrown on the open streets to die of starvation. . .Today machinery merely helps a few to ride on the backs of millions. The impetus behind it all is not the philanthropy to save labour, but greed.”  - M.K. Gandhi


The increase in information and communication technologies (ICTs) is seen as a major contribution from the global economy.  Educators favor ICTs for connecting learners of all ages and for bringing them more information. With Bangalore and ‘Cyber-abad’ as model Silicon Valleys in the South, we are being urged to ‘bridge the digital divide’ in order to ‘leapfrog’ development.  Governments are being pressured to prioritize computer equipment and computer education courses in their budgets.


But serious reality checks are in order before we swallow the ICT hype. For one, there is very little research to prove that ICTs actually enhance human learning. In fact, several researchers now argue that ICTs damage many natural learning processes. They limit children’s creativity and imagination; diminish self-motivation and attention spans; and reduce risk-taking ability. They also distort the brain’s growth, motor skills, depth perception, and hand-eye coordination. ICTs also take time away from other learning opportunities and relationships. Instead of playing, pursuing arts, strengthening different relationships, or participating in real work/home activities, children are sitting in front of computers. An entire generation may be growing up anti-social, impatient, withdrawn.


Advocates suggest that ICTs increase communication among people from all corners of the world, thus bringing us together in a ‘global village’. While one may ‘connect’ with the less than 10% of the world that has real access to ICTs, the nature of such interactions is usually superficial. The medium is inherently limiting to many forms of human expression, dialogue and ways of knowing. Info-glut is also becoming a huge problem as we are bombarded with more (irrelevant) information than we can digest. In addition to this are all the cyber-village horror stories: viruses, pornography, credit card scams, hacking, stalking, and even serial killers.


It is also questionable whether ICTs really save us time. We are continuously faced with a paradox: with more technologies in our lives, we have less and less time to reflect deeply on or dialogue about who we are and where we are going; we must spend all of our free time attending to the technologies. As Eduardo Galeano describes, “The car, the television set, the video, the personal computer, the portable telephone and other pass-cards to happiness, which were developed to ‘save time’ or to ‘pass the time’, have actually taken time over.”


Nor do ICTs really democratize society. Unjust and illegitimate institutions of authority use ICTs to dominate with greater force and sophistication.  Public funds are being diverted to subsidize ICT infrastructure, which is primarily utilized by private companies, while public services like post offices and libraries decline due to lack of funds. Plus, information is not freeit requires money to access most interesting content on the world wide web as well as to make/maintain web sites. We also remain totally dependent on product obsolescence cycles (which force us to buy new hardware/software every 3-4 years).


Lastly, while ICT professionals in the ‘new economy’ might sound appealing, one should note that this economy is already over-saturated and has begun to down-size itself.


Today, ICTs largely remain a ‘solution’ in search of a problem. Many of the so-called sucess stories, particularly those concerning rural areas, must be more critically looked at.  ICTs can play a role in society but we must be careful not to let ourselves get swept away by the hype. Learning communities should reflect carefully on:

- How are ICTs reshaping/controlling our minds, our lives and our relationships?

- In what situations are ICTs useful tools?

- What are the trade-offs that come with making ICTs a development priority?

- Who actively pushing for more ICTs? Why?


Too many people spend money

they haven’t earned,

to buy things they don’t want,

to impress people they don’t like.

                                    - Will Rogers




Case Study: Universalizing Consumer Culture

On August 2, 1994, the show TV Nation documented the campaign by Avon to win new customers among dirt-poor campesinas in the Amazon basin of Brazil, where 70,000 Avon saleswomen take the Avon message to every rural doorstep.  Ademar Serodio, president of Avon Brazil, explained, “Instead of asking people to buy more from us, we start discovering people who never bought from us before.”  As revealed in footage of Avon saleswomen making door-to-door house calls in the remote village of Santarem, many of these new customers are thin, aging, wrinkled women living with their barefoot children in shacks with dirt floors.  Most people in Santarem don’t read or write, and the average household income is $3 per day.


Hundreds of Avon saleswomen were fielded in Santarem to follow up on TV advertising showing romantic scenes of sensuous, young, light-skinned women with dashingly handsome young men.  They tell the aged women, broken by years of childbearing and toil in the sun, that they can be beautiful if they use Avon products.  A major promotion centers on a skin-renewal product called Renew – costing US$40 a jar – which works by burning off the top layer of the user’s skin.  A TV ad uses special effects to create the image of a woman peeling away years of aging from her face to appear magically younger.  According to Rosa Alegria, communications director for Avon Brazil, “Women do everything to buy it. They stop buying other things like clothes, like shoes.  If they feel good with their skin they prefer to stop buying clothes and buy something that is on the television.  People think it is a real miracle.”      

— In D. Korten, When Corporations Rule the World, 1995


- Do you feel that Avon should carry out such advertising campaigns? Why or why not?

- Are their any links between NGOs, development projects and building rural markets?

- In what specific ways can people be prepared so that they are not manipulated by such campaigns?



The Myth of Microcredit

Microcredit is the extension of small loans to those without access to lending institutions or too poor to qualify for traditional bank loans (mostly women). It allows them to borrow money at bank rates and start small businesses.  Microcredit advocates say it encourages a savings habit, gives women seed capital to generate an independent source of income and thereby empowers them, both in their families and in the larger political economy.  Microcredit is thus presented as a way to ‘flatten’ the economic hierarchy, to reduce poverty and ensure that people have more choices.


However, there are several flaws in the microcredit solution — including the fact that it does not question the institutions/values of this system, which manufacture greed and exploit people and resources to make profits.  Rather, it subscribes to the belief that poverty can be alleviated if people simply get money, work hard, change their consumption patterns, and try to fit in the System.  Studies also show that it undermines culturally-specific roles and relationships.


The second problem with microcredit is who controls and benefits from it.  The Consultative Group to Assist the Poorest (CGAP), which was set up by the World Bank and is composed of OECD countries, co-ordinates microcredit operations worldwide.  In its first 2½ years, CGAP provided about US$18 million in grants to microfinance institutions and US$400 million for microfinance activities.  In India, the World Bank, through the national banking system and NGOs, finances self-help microcredit groups in 7 states.  These highly centralized institutions dictate the terms by which loan money is spent.  Loans are usually tied to agriculture, infrastructure and education schemes, which means most microcredit operations are linked with national/international corporate agendas.  Indeed, much of microcredit income is spent on consumer products and medicine.  In this way, microcredit strengthens and expands corporate markets (and corporate profits), both for existing products and for new financial and non-financial services. 


But what of ‘successful’ microcredit programs?  Paradoxically, it seems they have created a new breed of institutions, laws and regulations, which seem to reduce the self-sufficiency and independence of ‘beneficiaries’.  One loanee from Bangladesh’s Grameen Bank explains: “We don’t move up like the NGOs promise.  Microcredit keeps us going in circles. But no one wants us to say that.  All they care is that we make our repayments and follow their rules.” 


As the “Report to the Secretary-General of the United Nations on the Role of Microcredit in the Eradication of Poverty” acknowledges, most of the ‘success stories’ are isolated cases.  It further explains that donors do not have the money to sustain poverty eradication worldwide through microcredit, and that microcredit does not address root causes of poverty.  It also shows no conclusive evidence that microcredit really empowers its beneficiaries, as loanees require profit margins of 30-50% to get out of the loan-debt cycle.  But the report does clarify the real goals of microcredit schemes: to create deeper and more widespread financial markets in developing countries, by using the small enterprise sector to strengthen the private sector and by promoting sustained linkages to commercial capital. In light of this, learning communities need to think about how to reduce, not expand, peoples’ dependency on cash and the Market economy.

Sources: The Virtual Library on Microcredit; A Report to the Secretary-General of the United Nations on the Role of Microcredit in the Eradication of Poverty; Sarah Blackstone, “Bandaid Bandwagon,” in The New Internationalist, July 1999; John Samuel, “The Holy Cow of Microcredit,” in Butterfly Futures, October 1999.



The Great Debt Dilemma

An international campaign, Jubilee 2000 calls upon creditors — individual country governments, the World Bank, IMF, and private banks — to cancel the unpayable debt owed to them by the world’s poorest countries. (Unpayable debt is that which either cannot be paid, or can be paid only with enormous human suffering.) Jubilee 2000 explains that developing countries’ trillion-dollar debt has had a number of serious consequences in both the North and the South.  It has invoked large-scale environmental distress.  Developing countries are growing cash crops, using chemical fertilizers, over-fishing their waters, engaging in the ‘garbage trade’, and selling off natural resources (particularly forests) to obtain the foreign currency to pay back their debt.  In addition, flooding the international market with their exports has lowered prices and led to unemployment and lower standards of living in these countries.  And the SAPs of the World Bank and IMF have made governments reduce spending on social services (like education and health care), cut back on food and other subsidies, privatize public industries, and replace small farms with large-scale cash crop farming.


UNICEF and Oxfam add to Jubilee 2000’s efforts with the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative. They ask countries to prepare Debt-for-Development plans, which revise public spending, poverty reduction, and macro-economic strategies. If approved by donors and the IMF, HIPCs will receive debt relief and increased aid to help them in achieving Education For All (among other goals).


Why Canceling Unpayable Debt Alone Is Not a Viable Solution

Despite the validity of the criticisms and the simplicity of the plan, Susan George, one of the pre-eminent authorities on Third World debt, offers several reasons to explain why debt cancellation is not a solution.  First, it rewards developing country elites, who have personally swallowed most of the money loaned. This is because debt cancellation fails to address or regain capital flight (the money extracted by elites and MNCs and sent to foreign banks). 


Also, one cannot assume that this process will help the poor.  If the loan money/projects did not trickle-down to these communities, it is unlikely that the savings of debt cancellation will.  Moreover, 100% of debts must be cancelled, not just unpayable debt.  As it is, most countries are only servicing 50% or less of their debts, which means the so-called ‘payable’ debt will still remain.  In addition, all countries must have their debt cancelled simultaneously.  If only a few countries’ debts are cancelled, they will become isolated by the global market, since no one will want to provide them with fresh loans or import their goods out of fear of future cancellation.  This ‘all-or-nothing’ scenario makes it unlikely for Jubilee 2000 and HIPC to succeed.


Most importantly, George explains, “The debt crisis is a symptom – one among many – of an increasingly polarized world organized for the benefit of a minority that will stop at nothing to maintain and strengthen its control and its privilege.”  Although debt harms the world’s social majorities — who were not even consulted by the elite who took and benefited from the loans — the root of the crisis is a particular model of Development, which requires large amounts of capital and global market-related strategies.  Therefore, even if some debts are cancelled now, so long as the elite of the South (now supported by an ‘educated’ middle class) pursue this kind of Development, debts will continue to accumulate, and all of the problems described will continue to occur even more violently.

Sources:  Susan George, A Fate Worse Than Debt, London: Penguin Books, 1994 ed; <>; <>.



Rethinking Swadeshi during the Great Indian Sell-Out

In Inviting the “Invaders”: India, Inc. – for Sale (Jaipur, 1998), Dharmendra Bhandari describes how the Government of India is selling off its industries, assets and resources to private companies, in order to service its massive debt.  Following the World Bank and IMF’s Structural Adjustment Program, Indian banks have been taken over by foreign interests; TNCs have swept in and destroyed local industries; and each Indian man, woman and child bears a Rs.10,000 debt on their heads. Calling for swadeshi, Bhandari asks the Government to impose stricter financial controls on corruption and to give preference to Indian companies over foreign ones. 


Swadeshi has re-emerged in the age of globalization.  For many Indian industrialists, it means protection from TNCs, until they are able to create their own to compete in the global marketplace.  For others, it means ‘India-First’; they encourage people to buy only those products made in India.  Others view swadeshi as xenophobic and ‘backward’ and condemn it in favor of free markets.  Even more confusing is the stance of the current BJP government, who preaches swadeshi while simultaneously removing restrictions on imports, adhering to WTO guidelines, and begging for foreign direct investment.


These understandings of swadeshi greatly contrast with those of Gandhi and Ananda Coomaraswamy.  For Gandhiji, swadeshi was a spirit of selfless service, conscious self-denial and simplicity; that is, “the Swadeshist will learn to do without hundreds of things which today he considers necessary.”  Swadeshi means living within the local – supporting our localities by encouraging our neighbors to take up healthy occupations, by seeking interdependent solutions to local problems, and by creating self-supporting villages, who exchange only the necessities that cannot be produced locally.


Ananda Coomaraswamy added another dimension to swadeshi: valuing the creative and aesthetic elements of the local.  He was concerned that Swadeshi literature seemed to emphasize India-based production of European things.  In the process, local arts and crafts were destroyed and the status of artisans degraded, in order to produce cheap imitations of European-type luxuries and styles.  Coomaraswamy called upon Indians to stop the Indian boycott of the Indian craftsman; he explained that “imitations, whether in [made in] Swadeshi factories or in our lives, of things European are, and must always be, for ourselves socially and industrially disintegrating, and for the rest of the world wholly valueless.”


Coomaraswamy also distinguished between true and false swadeshi.  True swadeshi posits that human beings are more important than products and profits.  It respects the dignity of labor and is therefore opposed to mass production, mechanization, dehumanizing working conditions, and other aspects of industrialization.  “True Swadeshi should be to restore, not destroy, the organic life of the village communities.”  False swadeshi, on the other hand, “does not object to crowding craftsmen into factories, where drunkenness, physical degeneration, [psychological impotence] and all other natural results of the factory system follow.”  Coomaraswamy felt strongly that if India were to adopt swadeshi, it would have to be true in its purpose, values, and processes.


Taken together, these visions demonstrate that swadeshi can be self-organizing, regenerative and rejuvenating. It can challenge the brutality and exploitation occurring in Indian villages by the hands of Indian industries and Multi-National Companies, which seek to suck the village dry to increase their revenues. A true sense of swadeshi can also lead us to question the cheap imitations of Euro-American culture/values that many of the so-called educated are currently engaging in.


Members of a learning community can discuss the following questions to explore swadeshi:

- How would concepts of freedom, diversity, and creativity manifest themselves in a swadeshi economy?

- In what ways could Big Business, consumer culture, speed, profit, efficiency and free trade be resisted through swadeshi?

Sources: M. K. Gandhi, Village Swaraj. Ahmedabad: Navajivan Publishing, 1996 ed.; A. Coomaraswamy, Art and Swadeshi. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers, 1994 ed.



Is Socialism the Answer?

“During the Cold War, the operating principle was that capitalism and socialism were competing ideologies.  In truth, they were two sides of the same coin.  Both view human beings as purely economic creatures and are based on the worldview that the world is secular and materialist, that there is nothing sacred about anything.  Both agree that men and women pursue mainly economic prosperity and nothing else; both rule out the existence of God except as a personal view of the believer.  Both regard human beings as essentially atomized individuals and do not recognize any natural, cultural, and social human collectivities having common faiths, ideals, goals, or way of life.  Capitalism believes in sharing the burden of the state with the market, and trusts the market more than it believes in the state as the delivery mechanism.  But socialism does not believe in the market and believes only in the state.  This is the sole difference.  Thus, capitalism and socialism are the same content in two different containers.  And yet the world for almost the whole of the 20th century believed that they represented conflicting ideologies.”       

— S. Gurumurthy, “Swadeshi and Nationalism”



Why It's Time to Stop 'Leaving It to the Experts'

The global economy is inundated with experts, ‘dispassionate, objective, rational’ technocrats who claim to be able to solve all our problems.  In Trust Us, We’re Experts (New York: Putnam, 2001), S. Rampton and J. Stauber unmask this misconception by showing how the public is continuously being manipulated, how consent/disapproval is being created, through the Public Relations (PR) industry. It uses strategies like the “third party technique” (where ‘independent’ experts reassure consumers about producers’ services/products) and “information glut” (where the public is jammed with so many statistics and information that it gives up trying to sort it all out). Indeed, the bulk of research studies published, opinions in the newspaper, and the interviews given on TV are produced by ‘experts’ hired by companies who need to sell a product (chemical pollutants, cigarettes, ‘wonder’ drugs, etc.) or to generate a good public image.


We need to support learners in unlearning this ‘cult of expertism’ as it undermines our ability to make good decisions for our lives and our communities. Our blind trust in and reliance on experts also guarantees that corporations/institutions can get away with dangerous practices. Rampton and Stauber encourage us to question/rethink our relationships to authority and the information they spread.  We can reclaim control over our decision-making by: (1) exposing word games and propaganda, (2) recognizing science’s uncertainties and limitations, (3) paying attention to nuances and details, (4) tracing the sources of experts’ funding, (5) seeking out more perspectives, and (6) following our feelings and recovering faith in our own capacities to know, learn and understand.



Why Bigger Is Not Better: Making Way for the Small

“We have to support our small heroes… Who knows, perhaps that’s what the twenty-first century has in store for us.  The dismantling of the Big.  Big bombs, big dams, big ideologies, big contradictions, big countries, big wars, big heroes, big mistakes.  Perhaps it will be the Century of the Small.  Perhaps right now, this very minute, there’s a small god up in heaven readying herself for us…”

Arundhati Roy, The Greater Common Good, 1999


Several decades ago, E.F. Schumacher declared that “small is beautiful.”  Last year, Arundhati Roy championed the small in her opposition to the Sardar Sarovar Dam (a.k.a. the struggle in the Narmada Valley) and Big Development. In an age when the trend is towards the Big (big corporations, big machines, big projects, big loans, etc.), it seems apt to reconsider the question of scale (both in terms of size and amount) when thinking about how to challenge the Global Economy.


Schumacher offered at least three reasons for why small is beautiful.  First, he said that when things are kept small, they become more accessible to everyone.  That is, while the Big is narrow and exclusive (one needs large amounts of money, power, status, degrees to participate in it), the small is open, inviting, and available for all to engage with.  Second, in contrast with the sweeping and destructive effects of Big industries that use Big machines to produce Big products, there is less impact and strain on the earth’s ecologies when production and consumption are carried out on a small scale.  Unlike the Big, which inflicts irreversible environmental, personal, and social damage, the small gives the earth and all its life forms time to replenish themselves in ecologically balanced and compassionate ways. 


Thirdly, the small ensures spaces for human creativity and meaning-making.  It refuses to operate in accordance with the assembly lines, efficiency, homogeneity, and standardization that govern the Big.  Instead, it sees diversity, aesthetics, expression and sensitivity as crucial elements of humanity, which deserve far greater recognition and appreciation than they are afforded in the current global economic framework.  In this way, the small does not dismiss pilot activities or individual experimentation for not being ‘up-to-scale’.  Unlike schools or the global market economy, the small does not present itself as appropriate for 300 million children or for every country in the world.  Rather, it understands that micro-level innovation can inform and alter the macro-level in deep and meaningful ways, simply because it comprehends and cherishes the uniqueness of contexts, communities, and cultures as the sources of real transformation and serious change.


Today, we suffer from what Schumacher terms ‘giant-ism’ — a philosophy that assumes that Bigger is not only better, it is the best.  However, valuing the small is not to say that there is no place for the big.  What is needed are open opportunities to determine the appropriateness of scale.  To decide when big (with a small ‘b’) is necessary or when small makes more sense, we need to first understand what our goals are: human dignity, social justice, interdependence, the production of wealth, or something else altogether.  Once we acknowledge our goals, we can reconsider scale accordingly.  For example, if we begin to articulate what constitutes our ‘needs’ vs. what constitutes our ‘wants’, then we can begin to understand what kinds of consumption and production are appropriate for meeting these (and how much waste we can avoid).  Similarly, we can reflect on our definitions of ‘rich’ and ‘poor’, ‘prosperity’ and ‘disparity’, and ‘success’ and ‘failure’ in light of scale.  In carrying out such dialogues, it becomes clear that bigger is not always best and that small can be very beautiful.



Freeing Our Expressions

Each one of us is an intricate web/history of experiences, stories and relationships, which forms our ‘essence’ and the basis of our learning. This web is never stagnant or final; it changes with new experiences/stories. Expressions are integral to these webs.  They are the ways by which we understand, nurture and share our relationships with nature, with cultures, with our wisdom traditions and languages, and with each other.  Expressions foster vital social linkages of trust, love, and interdependence, and also utilize and enhance individuals’ diverse learning styles, wisdoms, intelligences, and talents.  Examples of expressions include paintings, team games, music, planting and harvesting, embroidery, poetry, pottery, dance, nature walks, weaving, festivals, drama…


Expressions are fundamentally different from hobby classes, child-centered schooling, or cultural program-competitions. First, there is no method of comparison in expressions.  This means no labels, no ranks, no tests, no grades, no measures, no punishments, no rewards — in short, no mechanism for distinguishing between ‘better’ and ‘worse’, and no incentive for fear and dishonesty.  Because no one individual or institution controls expressions or their value, each of us can contribute to conversations about our and others’ expressions. The bases of such dynamic, ongoing conversations are genuine caring, diversity, respect, and a desire to learn and grow together and to enrich each other’s expressions. 


Second, expressions have no spatial or temporal limitations.  They do not have to occur in schools, under the authority of an expert/professional, in a fixed amount of time.  And they cannot be manipulated to teach addition, spelling, chemistry. Third, expressions are honest, they come from the heart.  They are faithful to one’s experiences and convictions — in short, to one’s life and inner self. What takes priority in expressions is not the technical product (the play, the poem, the pot, etc.), but rather people and their processes of creation and discovery—whenever, wherever or however they happen.


Regenerating our expressions challenges the commodification of living creativity the mindless, soulless consumption of readymade products, ideas and actions in today’s global economy.  Reconnecting with our expressions, our selves, contexts and communities, can begin by:

-     Working together in small groups to explore dancing and drumming, or similar dynamic, whole-body, multi-sensory movement-expressions, which interest us and which connect to our specific places. 

-     Participating in individual and group apprenticeships with local community members, such as farmers, woodworkers, ironsmiths, potters, weavers, etc.

-     Facilitating unlearning workshops with teachers, parents, and administrators, particularly in current urban settings, to overcome the fear of ‘vulnerability’ and to uncover and rediscover one’s own expressions.

Contact Munir Fasheh <> of the Arab Education Forum (Harvard University) if you are interested in learning more about expressions.



A Turn Towards the Local

To counter some of the effects of globalization (unemployment, pollution, waste), people worldwide are regenerating their localities.  They are undertaking experiments to reconnect to each other, to their places and ways of living, and at the same time, to challenge globalization, which extracts and exploits Nature’s gifts, individual people, their knowledges and community ties.  These initiatives, which keep wealth circulating within the locality, should not be seen as ‘models’ but as experiences to inspire further discussion/creation:


Local Exchange Trading Systems (LETS): LETS is a system of community exchange, in which individuals ‘trade’ their skills, creativity, productivity, services, ideas in the absence of money.  Those who participate in LETS offer their services/products and are credited with a unit of exchange.  This unit replaces money; it is a symbol, noted on paper or in a computer database, which can be ‘spent’ on other services/products in the locality as needed.  Members of a community — businesses, industries, individuals — utilize this unit to generate jobs and opportunities while, at the same time, ensuring that resources and services stay local.  LETS also eliminate the wage inequality associated with paid work.  For example, in LETS, a welder, a doctor, and a gardener can all participate together in a community of exchange, where the value of their work is judged by each another, not by an external market. Originating in Canada, LETS now exists in several countries, including US, UK, and Australia.


Local Currency: As more and more local banks are being taken over by outside holding companies, some businesses and communities have responded by issuing their own currency.  For example, in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, USA, a restaurant owner decided to issue its own currency when he was unable to secure a new loan.  He sold each ‘note’ for US$ 9 and made them redeemable later for US$ 10 worth of food at his restaurant.  In this way, the owner was able to raise the money he needed; his customers essentially had given him small, short-term loans.  The success of these ‘Deli-Dollars’ inspired other businesses to do the same.  These currencies demonstrate that wealth can be locally generated, maintained and used, and that small businesses can function without dependency on banks. 


Community Supported Agriculture (CSA): Local food production for local consumption is the basis of the CSA movement.  Localities in a number of countries, like Japan, UK and US, are experimenting with this new form of eco-friendly agriculture.  CSA eliminates the expensive and wasteful processes of production, packaging, transport, refrigeration, and distribution that govern the modern food market, by linking local farmers directly with food consumers to create markets for “reasonably priced, pesticide- and chemical-free, seasonal foods.”  Customers provide farmers with an early advance (to help them meet the costs of operation) and also assist in farm work (harvesting, weeding, distributing).  In return, they receive a variety of organically grown vegetables, herbs, cut flowers, fruit, honey, milk, and eggs.  Not only have CSAs been good for local health and environments, but they also enable small farmers to be dynamic parts of the local economy, instead of being submerged by a vicious cycle of debt and dependency on the global Market. 


Community Sharing: People around the world are also challenging private ownership by collectively sharing their commodities and resources.  They are striving to de-link social status from private ownership of products, like cars, houses, electronics, appliances, etc., as they see that this ‘cult of privacy’ has led to pollution, waste, personal frustration, social discontent, and a strain on resources.  In working towards collective collaboration, individuals are experimenting with carpooling, car-sharing, and car-free days (thus reducing the number of cars that are purchased and/or driven daily). Others are trying co-housing (living in housing communities with common spaces/facilities and shared responsibilities).  New kinds of ‘libraries’ are also being developed, where tools, appliances, technologies and electronics are donated, along with books, music and videos, to be borrowed, used and returned by different members of the community.  These different sharings enhance community interdependency and also reduce levels of private consumption/expenditure and garbage.

Sources: S. Meeker-Lowry, “Community Money,” and D. Imhoff, “Community Supported Agriculture” in The Case Against the Global Economy. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1996; G. Gardner, “Shared Destines” in UTNE Reader 96, Nov-Dec 1999. See also <> and <>



Redefining Progress

Established in 1995, Redefining Progress is a public policy organization that seeks to ensure a more sustainable and socially equitable world by generating and refining innovative policies that balance economic well-being, the environment, and social equity issues.  It uses research, the media and other tools to transform conventional economic thinking in public dialogue, policy discourse, and individual decision-making. 


For example, to encourage debate about the true meaning of progress, one of their main efforts is creating and sharing a more accurate measure of progress: the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI).  Unlike the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) — the economists’ traditional measure of ‘success’ (the amount of money transferring hands in an economic year) — Redefining Progress uses the GPI to offer a more meaningful accounting framework.  It starts with the GDP but then adds in unrecognized non-monetary contributions (household and volunteer work) and subtracts crime, debts, family breakdown, unequal distribution, depletion of natural resources, pollution, and the other negative ‘externalities’ that accompany economic growth. It created the GPI because it feels that any model that considers terrorist bombings, a high divorce rate, and natural disasters to be ‘economic benefits’ — as the GDP does — is truly absurd.


Redefining Progress also uses two other tools to reconsider the relationship between people and resources: The Ecological Footprint records consumption of food, housing, transportation, goods, services, and waste. It determines how many acres of productive land and water one occupies, to account for his/her production, consumption and waste.  The average American occupies 24 acres, while the average Indian occupies 2 acres; but the Earth can only offer 1.06 acres per person, if 80% is left to the 25 million other species that live on it. The Satisfaction Barometer is a ‘subjective’ measure to assess peoples’ degree of contentment with their personal, social, civic lives. It asks the questions about progress that are often ignored by the media and education system, such as:  “Do you have time to focus on what is important to you? Do you feel you can make a contribution to the world? Do you live in a community that you love and that loves you? Are you in control of your life or is your life controlling you?”


Contact:            Redefining Progress

1904 Franklin Street, 6th Floor, Oakland, CA 94612 USA

E-mail:, Web:



The Resistance of the Zapatistas

“We have nothing to lose, absolutely nothing, no decent roof over our heads, no land, no work, poor health, no food, no education, no right to freely and democratically choose our leaders, no independence from foreign interests, and no justice for ourselves or our children. But we say enough is enough!  Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle, 1993


On January 1, 1994, just as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) came into existence, thousands of men, women and children, dressed in neatly pressed khaki uniforms and carrying weapons, took over four provinces in the state of Chiapas, in southeast Mexico.  They were protesting, not against the lack of Development in their state, but against over-Development and neo-colonialism.  The indigenous people of Mexico were demanding lives of dignity.  They were forced to take to guerilla warfare, because every legal means of registering their abject misery had gone unrecognized in the last ten years.


The Chiapas uprising marked the end of silence from Mexico’s social majorities. 500 years of Colonisation, 50 years of Development, and now NAFTA had systematically stripped them of their lands, their livelihoods, their cultures and their commons. As Mayor Ana Maria explained, “Down there in the cities and haciendas [large farms], we did not exist. Our lives had less value than their machines or animals.  We were like stones, like weeds growing by the side of the road. We had no word. We had no face. We had no name. We had no tomorrow. We did not exist. For the Power, that Power now clothing itself all across the world with the name of ‘neo-liberalism’, we did not count, we did not produce, we did not buy, we did not sell. We were a useless number in the accounts of big capital.”


What sets the Zapatista Movement apart is not the revolt per se (for there have been many), but rather the nature of the struggle against neo-liberalism. It grows out of profound reflections on life, values, possibilities, desires, and human dignity.  It has sustained because the peoples involved know what they are fighting for — not just an end to overt policies that kill them, but to nurture the processes/values they want to live by.  The Zapatistas are also aware of the nature of co-optation — of how easy it is to become that which you resist.  So they have consciously decided not to form a political party, nor to seek power within the Mexican government.  Instead, they demand an end to oppressive political regimes and conventional ‘democracy’.  In its place, the Zapatistas seek to catalyze dialogues, through which the peoples of Mexico will recognize their own strengths and create new political spaces from below. 


The EZLN already uses such dialogues in its working relations within communities.  It believes in “leading by obeying”; the leaders are not heroes to be worshipped, but men and women who see as their duty to obey the commands of their communities.  Every proposal is shared and discussed first within communities; the leaders serve more as messengers than directors.  When they are not working for the Movement, the leaders live among the people they serve. Indeed, the Zapatistas are completely rooted in the local and do not claim to represent more than themselves — even though their concerns resonate with social majorities, both in Mexico and around the world. 


Notably, the people actively committed to the Movement come from diverse indigenous tribes; all together they speak more than 50 languages.  But EZLN does not prescribe or impose a set way of living and organizing.  For them, unity does not require eroding individual tribes’ identities, nor their traditional meanings of life and its links to the universe, the sacred and nature. Instead, the Movement respects and values differences, pluralism and diversity; it sees these values as essential for preserving and promoting human dignity.


In addition to actively opposing the liberal economic policies of Mexico, the EZLN has been creating an inter-continental web of movements of resistance.  This web seeks to strengthen communities in their contexts, keeping the focus on local struggles that are occurring around the world.  The Zapatistas signal a wider movement, steered by “coalitions of discontent, [which] deliberately open and allow for the participation of different ideologies and classes; distrust leaders and centralized political direction; consciously avoid any temptation to lead or control the social forces they activate” (Esteva 1997).  These coalitions do not seek divisive, power-grabbing political solutions, competition or homogenization, but rather hope to catalyze a search for collaborative and liberating ideas and directions.

Source: G. Estava, “Basta! Mexican Indians Say ‘Enough’!” in The Post-Development Reader, London: Zed Books, 1997. See also <> for an index of English materials on the Zapatistas.



Voluntary Simplicity

Today, all over the world, there exists a movement to reintegrate the outward and inward aspects of our lives.  According to Duane Elgin in Voluntary Simplicity (New York: William Morrow, 1993), individuals and groups are making conscious decisions to live more voluntarily and more simply.  “To live voluntarily is to live more deliberately, intentionally, and purposefully… to be aware of ourselves as we move through life.”  To live more simply is “to establish a more decent, unpretentious, and unencumbered relationship with all aspects of our lives: the things we consume, the work we do, our relationships with others, and our connections with nature and the cosmos.”  Taken together, voluntary simplicity is when “our most authentic and alive self is brought into direct and conscious contact with living,” in which we actively seek out and create balance, purpose, and meaning in our lives.


People who have chosen voluntary simplicity tend to make a lot of changes in their own lives. They create spaces to discover their full potentials; spend more time/energy with family, friends, community; and seriously alter their consumption habits, in terms of food, clothing, transport, waste.  But they also connect their personal experiences to larger institutions.  For example, they challenge the market economy’s push for “identity consumption” – which is based on the advertiser’s fiction, ‘you are what you consume’   and the role of the mass media in promoting a “cultural hypnosis of consumerism”, particularly through television.  They also raise questions about the brutal exploitation of Nature, the perpetuation of injustice, and the current attitudes of the mainstream (denial, helplessness, blame, and escape).  Those who apply voluntary simplicity believe it can help us to confront the crises before us, both on personal and societal levels. It has the capacity to strengthen the compassion, consciousness, and ingenuity we need to creatively envision new possibilities for humanity’s future.  Many communities in India are being created to put voluntary simplicity into practice.



“What prevents school reform from happening isn’t bad people, I think, but a strange economy that renders many lives absurd... Think of the economic tragedy that would occur if schools taught critical thinking. If they encouraged individuals to be strong and think original thoughts. If they taught the philosopher’s secret that nothing important can be bought... If they nourished a love of quality. Who would crave the mountains of junk our mass-production economy distributes? Who would eat the processed food? Who would wear the plastic shoes? ...How could the mass economy survive without the ‘training’ schools provide?”   — John Taylor Gatto, A Different Kind of Teacher, 2001




From the Four Directions

From the Four Directions believes that how we organize our communities and organizations — the values and practices we use — will determine whether we create a world that affirms and nourishes humans and all life. However, the dominant management model (which is being spread into corporations, government institutions, NGOs, universities, etc.all over the world) is destructive, for it privileges efficiency, growth and profit above everything else. From the Four Directions seeks to organize people at the grassroots level to challenge the inherent values of this management model by supporting life-affirming leaders of all ages.  It defines leaders as “anyone who wants to help at this time” and seeks to weave together a worldwide network, by making visible their common concerns and dreams, through continuous dialogue.


From the Four Directions creates local leadership circles, based on the principles of diversity, interdependence and human goodness, around the world.  In these circles, leaders have the opportunity to think and reflect with others, to develop new, life-affirming practices, and to support each other’s courageous acts to change their world.  These leaders together become a community of practice that work to nourish and sustain the human spirit.  For more information on From the Four Directions, contact:

Margaret Wheatley, President, The Berkana Institute

P.O. Box 1407, Provo, Utah, USA  84603  Tel: (1) 801 377 2996      Web:   or



And Closer to Home… IDSP

The Institute for Development Studies and Practices (IDSP) in Quetta, Balochistan, Pakistan, was created as a space in which groups of local community leaders would come together to share in processes of generative learning around issues of development.  Over the course of six months, participants in IDSP work to unravel the complexity of Development and Globalization and to deconstruct the myths of indoctrination about Education, the State, Progress, and Modernization.  IDSP seeks to expose the critical role that community activists/workers play, as confused accomplices, by problematizing and deepening the individual participants’ understandings of these myths/processes, their underlying assumptions, and the actors involved in them.


IDSP then works on developing local contexts and applications to counter dominant institutions and systems.  For example, IDSP learners are engaging their communities to revive spaces for collective dialogue, cultural production and cooperation for collective learning.  Such dialogues include the discussion on common practices, on Development and Globalization, and their merits or demerits, purely on the bases of morality and spiritual traditions. There are also efforts to revive rich local literary and language traditions. Groups are engaged in bringing young people together to understand and value their local and regional masterpieces of articulation and expression, which combine the rhythms of language and sound with the profound messages of human dignity and social justice. For more information on IDSP, contact:                         

Dr. Qurat-ul-Ain Bakhteari, Director, IDSP

C-54 Railway Housing Society Joint Road, P.O. Box No. 85 GPO Quetta/

Quetta, Pakistan   Tel: (92) 2181 443 554

Email:;    Web:



Further Reading and Resources —


Z Magazine:      <>

Global Issues:   <>

CorpWatch:       <>

Third World Network:      <>

Center for Popular Economics:    <>


Articles and Books

Please stop by 21 Fatehpura at your convenience to check out the books, articles, newsletters, and original research in our Resource Center.

Anderson, S., et al. Field Guide to the Global Economy. New York: The New Press, 2000.

Chomsky, N. Profit Over People. New York: Seven Stories Press, 1999.

Gupta, S., et al. The ‘APPEAL’ Handbook for Field Activists. New Delhi: PEACE. 1999.

Hoogvelt, A. Globalization and the Postcolonial World. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1997.

Mander, J., et al. The Case Against the Global Economy. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1996.

Robins, K., et al. Times of the Technoculture: From the Information Society to the Virtual Life. London: Routledge, 1999.




This insert offers a few insights around the events of September 11, 2001, in the US and the current war being waged on Afghanistan. Using the following excerpts as starting points, members of learning communities can discuss: How are these perspectives different from those presented in the mainstream media? What new understandings of ‘freedom’, ‘justice’, ‘democracy’ do you gain from these views? Who wins and who loses in the world from the ‘American Way of Life’? What other agendas are involved in this ‘war on terrorism’ and how do they influence decision-making?



The Algebra of Infinite Justice

...In his September 20 address to the US Congress, President Bush called the enemies of America ‘enemies of freedom’. Americans are asking, ‘Why do they hate us?’ he said. ‘They hate our freedoms our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.’ ...For strategic, military and economic reasons, it is vital for the US government to persuade its public that their commitment to freedom and democracy and the American Way of Life is under attack. In the current atmosphere of grief, outrage and anger, it’s an easy notion to peddle. However, if that were true, it’s reasonable to wonder why the symbols of America’s economic and military dominance, the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, were chosen as the targets of the attacks. Why not the Statue of Liberty? Could it be that the stygian anger that led to the attacks has its taproot not in American freedom and democracy, but in the US government’s record of commitment and support to exactly the opposite things: to military and economic terrorism, insurgency, military dictatorship, religious bigotry and unimaginable genocide (outside America)?

- Arundhati Roy, September 29, 2001, The Guardian



Saving the American Way of Life

For all the claims of sorrow and sympathy, there could not have been a more timely or fortuitous event for the Bush administration than the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. When George W. Bush awoke on September 11, he presided over an administration in deep crisis... Unable to advance any solution to the growth of unemployment and catastrophic losses on the stock market, facing criticism over the evaporation of the budget surplus and the reversal of its pledge not to spend Social Security funds, the administration was showing signs of internal dissension and disarray... On August 20, the New York Times wrote: “The world economy, which grew at a raging pace just last year, has slowed to a crawl as the United States, Europe, Japan and some major developing countries undergo a simultaneous slump... The economic crisis compounded a host of foreign policy dilemmas confronting Bush’s administration... On a whole host of issues — [sanctions on Iraq], missile defense, global warming, an international criminal court — the U.S. was in open conflict with most of its nominal allies.” 


But after the September 11 terror attack, the Bush administration, aided by a cynical, sophisticated media campaign, has been working to whip up a patriotic war fever that will enable it to overcome, at least temporarily, its immediate problems… In the name of national unity, the Democratic Party has given Bush a blank check to wage war, increase military spending and curtail civil liberties…Tens of billions of dollars will be pumped into the economy in the form of military and security spending, and to rebuild the devastated sections of New York City… Every restriction on US military might and on counterrevolutionary activities of the CIA will be lifted... Can there be any doubt that this crusade for ‘peace’ and ‘stability’ will [enable] the US to tighten its grip over the oil and natural gas resources of the Middle East, Persian Gulf & Caspian? - WSWS Editorial Board, <>



Is It All About Oil?

“A recent study for the World Bank states that the proposed pipeline from Central Asia across Afghanistan and Pakistan to the Arabian Sea would provide favorable netbacks to oil producers... The impact of [Central Asian/Caspian oil and gas] resources on US commerical interests and foreign policy is significant and intertwined. Without peaceful settlement of conflicts in the region, cross-border oil and gas pipelines are not likely to be built.”

- Testimonial of John Maresca, Unocal Oil Co., before the US Senate, 1998



The United States and Middle East:

“Why Do They Hate Us?”

This list presents [selected] specific incidents of U.S. sponsored terrorism. It excludes long-standing policies, such as the U.S. backing of authoritarian regimes (Saudi Arabia, Iran under the Shah, Turkey’s attacks on Kurdish villages, etc.). The list also excludes actions of Israel, the leading recipient of U.S. aid, weapons and vetos in the UN Security Council for many years. (see full reference:

1949: CIA backs military coup deposing elected government of Syria.

1953: CIA helps to overthrow the elected Mossadeq government in Iran (which had nationalized the British oil company) leading to a 25 years of dictatorial rule by the Shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlevi.

1958: U.S. troops land in Lebanon to preserve “stability.”

1960s: U.S. unsuccessfully attempts assassination of Iraqi leader, Abdul Qassim.

1967- : U.S. blocks any effort in the UN that calls for Israeli withdrawal from territories occupied in the 1967 war.

1979-88: U.S. covertly gives a total of US$ 3 billion in arms/aid to Afghanistan’s Mujahideen, starting before Soviets invade.

1980-88: Iran-Iraq war. When Iraq invades Iran, the U.S. opposes any Security Council action to condemn invasion. U.S. removes Iraq from its list of terrorist nations and allows U.S. arms to be transferred to Iraq. U.S. lets Israel provide arms to Iran and in 1985 U.S. provides arms secretly to Iran.

1982: U.S. gives “green light” to Israeli invasion of Lebanon, where more than 10,000 civilians were killed.

1984: U.S.-backed rebels in Afghanistan fire on civilian airliner.

1988: Saddam Hussein kills many thousands of his own Kurdish population and uses chemical weapons against them. The U.S. increases its economic ties to Iraq.

1990-91: U.S. leads war against Iraq. Devastating economic sanctions imposed on Iraq. U.S. and Britain block all attempts to lift them. Hundreds of thousands die.

1998: U.S. destroys factory producing half of Sudan’s pharmaceutical supply, claiming retaliation for attacks on U.S. embassies in Tanzania & Kenya. Later acknowledge no evidence for the charge of chemical warfare.

[Note: One could prepare a similar list for U.S. terrorist actions in Latin America (El Salvador, Nicaragua...), sub-Saharan Africa (Zaire, S. Africa, Rwanda...), southeast Asia (Indonesia, Phillipines, Vietnam...).]



Members of learning communities can draw from this page to discuss: What are at the roots of the conflict?  What genuine spaces for expressing dissent exist (beyond voting, law suits, and UN declarations) for those being oppressed in today’s society?  What do you think should be done in order to generate new and lasting possibilities for peace and social justice?



Thoughts in the Presence of Fear

I. The time will soon come when we will not be able to remember the horrors of September 11 without remembering also the unquestioning technological and economic optimism that ended on that day.

II. This optimism rested on the proposition that we were living in a ‘new world order’ and a ‘new economy’ that would ‘grow’ on and on, bringing a prosperity of which every new increment would be ‘unprecedented’.

III. The dominant politicians, corporate officers, and investors who believed this proposition did not acknowledge that the prosperity was limited to a tiny percent of the world’s people, and to an ever smaller number of people even in the United States; that it was founded upon the oppressive labor of poor people all over the world; and that its ecological costs increasingly threatened all life, including the lives of the supposedly prosperous.

IV. The ‘developed’ nations had given to the ‘free market’ the status of a god, and were sacrificing to it their farmers, farmlands, and communities, their forests, wetlands, and prairies, their ecosystems and watersheds. They had accepted universal pollution and global warming as normal costs of doing business.

V. There was, as a consequence, a growing worldwide effort on behalf of economic decentralization, economic justice, and ecological responsibility. We must recognize that the events of September 11 make this effort more necessary than ever. We citizens of the industrial countries must continue the labor of self-criticism and self-correction. We must recognize our mistakes…


XIII. One of the gravest dangers to us now, second only to further terrorist attacks against our people, is that we will attempt to go on as before with the corporate program of global ‘free trade’, whatever the cost in freedom and civil rights, without self-questioning or self-criticism or public debate…


XXVI. The complexity of our present trouble suggests as never before that we need to change our present concept of education. Education is not properly an industry, and its proper use in not to serve industries, neither by job-training nor by industry-subsidized research. It’s proper use is to enable citizens to live lives that are economically, politically, socially, and culturally responsible. This cannot be done by gathering or ‘accessing’ what we now call ‘information’ - which is to say facts without context and therefore without priority. A proper education enables young people to put their lives in order, which means knowing what things are more important than other things; it means putting first things first.

XXVII. The first thing we must begin to teach our children (and learn ourselves) is that we cannot spend and consume endlessly. We have got to learn to save and conserve. We do need a ‘new economy’, but one that is founded on thrift and care, on saving and conserving, not on excess and waste. An economy based on waste is inherently and hopelessly violent, and war is its inevitable by-product. We need a peaceable economy.

- Wendell Berry, 2001 Full article available on <>


A Letter from Parents

Dear President Bush:

Our son is one of the victims of Tuesday’s attack on the World Trade Center. We read about your response in the last few days and about the resolutions from both Houses, giving you undefined power to respond to the terror attacks.


Your response to this attack does not make us feel better about our son’s death. It makes us feel worse. It makes us feel that our government is using our son’s memory as a justification to cause suffering for other sons and parents in other lands.


It is not the first time that a person in your position has been given unlimited power and came to regret it. This is not the time for empty gestures to make us feel better. It is not the time to act like bullies. We urge you to think about how our government can develop peaceful, rational solutions to terrorism, solutions that do not sink us to the inhuman level of terrorists.

Sincerely, Phyllis and Orlando Rodriguez


A Letter From Pakistan

“To: Matthew Rothschild, Editor, The Progressive Magazine

... You asked me what it’s like to be in a Muslim nation when the bombs are falling nearby?  I do not doubt your intentions, but under the current circumstances your query struck me like a brutal threat. As if you were trying to tell me that it is now our turn to face the music. Such is the gravity of the situation here. Such is the level of hatred we somehow see targeted towards us — the Muslims.


I wish I could tell you that I feel horrified; I wish I could tell you that I feel terrified and petrified. I wish.  All I can tell you is that I only feel convinced. I feel convinced that if we, as humans, continue to refuse to recognize the appalling consequences of oppression, fundamentalism, and social control, we will be faced with an irreversible destruction scenario before we know it.


I can always try and emulate Mr. John Pilger [journalist and author of Hidden Agendas (New Press, 1998)] and remind the U.S. of being ‘allegedly’ the root cause of innumerable ongoing injustices in the world. I can always refer to Lebanon and Palestine.  I can always debate the CIA’s involvement in Afghanistan.  I can go into the depths of the genocide of Iraqi children...


As a civilian of a ‘Third World’ nation, I can feel disgruntled… But I choose not to not because it is not about settling the score. Because it is not about who can kill more with greater sophistication and coordination. I choose not to because I fear that it will only take us toward a bloody war that will have no ‘winner’. In solving social problems, we must not think of the shortest way, rather we must think of the best way that will lead us to our collective objective - creating a just world…”

- Mashhood Rizvi <>

Mashhood is Editor-in-Chief of EDucate!, a magazine based in Karachi, Pakistan, committed to educating for social change.


“You can’t beat cancer by killing every cell in the body — or you could, I guess, but the point would be lost. This is a war of who can hate the most. There is no limit to that escalation. It will only end when we have the guts to say it really doesn’t matter who started it, and begin to try and understand, then alter, the forces that generate hatred.” 

- Barbara Kingsolver (American author), October 14, 2001



Visit the following websites for more provocative articles on the conflict: <> and <>