Prof. Subas KC, Kathmandu University School of Management
At the time of major national crises, we have been witnessing two regular trends – almost always. The first one is the emergence of inevitable tidal wave of “nationalism”, which is good to see happening (even though it recedes as fast as it rises, true to the nature of a tide!). The other one is much stronger and long enduring avalanche of “prolific profiteerism” that hits most of us harder than the crisis itself and washes away much of what we try to preserve after the trauma (again as avalanche faithfully does!).
What is surprising is the scale of both enterprises. There is always wider participation in them from multiple sections of the society, and surely there is always the much stretched “creative ingenuity” that is visible in their design and delivery. One would not expect the magnitude, intensity and novelty with which they emerge in the immediate aftermath of catastrophes that interrupt the rhythm of life and often threaten life itself. But they do emerge and exceed expectations (or fears).
Similarities between them, though, end here. If the “nationalism” helps little except perhaps some feel-good effect, it does not harm much either. I have little problem with it, though I wish our emotional arousal at such times resulted in a slightly more productive actions from each one of us contributing to the nation in whose name we go on our psychedelic rampage. I also wish it did not ebb out so quickly! It is in the very nature of a psychological escape route that it changes little of the reality but it does not make it worse either. Our nationalism is our psychological coping mechanism, an instrument that helps us redeem from collective guilt conscience. To that extent, I welcome the eruption of ‘in-crisis nationalism’.
I cannot, though, say the same about the other ‘inevitable’ of crisis that wrecks life and makes it wretched. It works with a wicked design, even worse than the crisis itself. Profiteerism perfects its art in our land at the time of national crisis, as we are witnessing now and as we did not so long ago. This indeed happens with almost religious rituality -and regularity!
What is happening now is no exception, or perhaps a better (or rather bitter?) version of the regularity. When a large number of people are reeling under acute scarcity of life-sustaining materials and over-supply of political bullyism along and across the border, the usual – and not-so-usual – “profit-multiplying” enterprises have sprung up more swiftly and severely than the onslaught of the crisis. One is astounded as much by the intensity of this entrepreneurial zeal as by the extension of its scope. It seems profiteerism is currently the most inclusive ideology and instrument allowing wider partnership and engagement of diverse individuals and institutions across regions, communities, religions, cultures, social hierarchies, and intellectual labels. A model of “successful inclusion” indeed! Diversity of shapes and sizes of the actors, but the unity of purpose! The single motivation is making money out of misery. Misery of millions but Millions for few!
I would have almost inclined to forget, if not forgive, this ‘evil enterprise’, consoling myself, though painfully, that it is the extreme extension of greed psychology some people always give in to, if it was not for the absolute absence of shame in running it. The art of shamelessness – and meanness – has perfected in their acts. No moral qualms whatsoever, no guilt feeling however little, and not even a faded trace of apologetic attitude! The money machine and the mean motivation are on a long over-drive without any feeling of repent or regret but, on the contrary, with a sense of rightful action. This is seriously objectionable. Right to reject others’ rights is as much preposterous in its logic as it is dangerous. And we know history has always been darkened when some people did exercise their rights to reject the rights of others. And this is exactly what we are witnessing in full version. Many, many rights of many, many people are being wrongly – and wrongfully – written off. No one has this right; no one should have.
In its proliferation drive, profiteerism has grown out of its individual enterprise status into a state of institutionalized ideology. It has always been there in some way but what we have seen lately is an unprecedented upsurge of the psychology and the corresponding practices of private gain at the cost of public pain by those who are there to protect people from such wicked designs. A case of the protector being a perpetrator himself! Indulgence in insatiable greed by public institutions, particularly at the time of crises, is an evidence of how much frail is our society in its constitution and how much uncivilized are we in our conducts. This is a risk from within, and this is a proof of social shallowness and hollowness. Borrowing from V. S. Naipaul, I would say ours is a “wounded civilization”. How else one can explain the gleeful gratification by one member of society in sucking the blood of another fellow sharing the same fate down to the last drop in the name of profit, be it economic, social, political or psychological?
And the mother of all wonders is our meek-to-enthusiastic participation in profiteerism by letting its entrepreneurs exploit us to their capacity and inclination. It takes place under various pretexts – from necessity to compulsion, and from optionlessness to helplessness. We are prepared to pay the highest price, even beyond our means, but not to accept even the lowest pain by avoiding the consumption of the “merchandises” of profiteers. By not being prepared for suffering a little – or even a lot, if it comes to that – with less than what we are used to in our consumption of the merchandises in the profit-multiplying markets at the time of crisis, we are becoming good partners of bad profiteerism. And this way we are giving legitimization to it.
I am not talking here about those among us who see their “social power and prestige” multiplied many times over and think their “psychological aggrandizement” is infinitely intensified by showing their “purchasing power and prowess” in becoming more than willing consumers and the highest bidders of in the market of profiteerism. To me, this is sheer vulgarism and third-degree vanity but, for reasons I cannot understand let alone explain, they perceive it as their verve or even virtue. May God bless their lost souls! But even most commoners like us fall prey to this temptation of giving in to the profiteers’ ill-designs but not to give up our consumption. Unless we are prepared to suffer a little now we will continue suffering a lot for ever. Sooner we understand this reality, the better off we will be.
A crisis shakes us all; it is in its very nature. But it becomes worse when a crisis also brings out the worst in us. It is a painful irony. One would naturally expect that we garner our best at these times of troubles but some or many of us seem to give our worst. In-crisis nationalism diverts us from facing the real issue, and proliferated profiteerism makes the real issue really bad rendering life to more miseries than by the crisis itself. We would do well to understand them for their worth (or rather lack of it!) and find alternative psychological and practical approaches to coping with post-crisis situation. A crisis always inflicts wound to us all, like it has done recently, but let us not make ourselves a “wounded civilization” by our own post-crisis actions.