Sunday, 15 August 2010

Change of Perspective

Ever since I can remember the Indian common people have had a great admiration for USA.

I remember when American President Bill Clinton and Microsoft CEO Bill Gates first arrived in India. Both of them were greeted with great fervour. Bill Clinton was mobbed wherever he went (all out of admiration). They had never done any wrong and they could do no wrong. Mostly that was the attitude.

When I used to think of America, the picture would be that of a rich, developed nation. Which had some problems in the past, but most of them were solved. 

Who hasn't the heard the line "This is India not America", when you complained about the roads, the traffic; when you had to wait 3 months for your passport to get issued; when there was a power-cut or water shortage, etc? Or the fact that in a lot of our advertisements, the word of the American expert is taken to be the truth. Or when we see American expert teams come to India, to coach Indians about Indian problems. Or when students go to America to gain a better education. American superiority is taken for granted in all fields.

But at the same time, some men (I have never heard women say this) feel that there are some problems being in America. You lose some freedom, they say. The loss being that one can't urinate, spit and dump garbage in the open. A great loss indeed.

But what is the USA? Is it a piece of land in Northern America? Is it the people living there? Is it the government of that land mass? Or is it a combination of all of the above?

And why is America admired? Does it truly have no problems?

Over the past months I have read multiple books and documentaries on America, its history. The books, the movies have all been made by dissenting voices. They don't paint a rosy picture.

Here are a few points which I gleaned from them:

  1. America has the largest military budget in the world. It has got military bases all over the world. It has been involved in numerous wars. A number of which have been fought for reasons which were later proven to be untrue. It has also been pointed out that on repeated occasions the American governments have preferred military intervention over diplomatic settlement. 
  2. In spite of being the richest country in the world, USA still has 13.2 percent (39.8 million people) of its population living in poverty. The top 1% of the population own 33% of America's wealth. In fact some believe that both the Democratic and Republican parties largely represent US corporate power (top 1%) than people's interests.
  3. The US health care industry is largely privatized and quite expensive. Unlike other developed countries (Canda, UK, France) it doesn't have universal health care. India, by the way, does have universal health care. Even the private medical expenses are far cheaper here than the USA.
  4. The US food industry is in control of a few corporations. Most of the food industry is corn based. A number of food products are genetically engineered and patented. This includes seed and livestock. There have been cases when regular farmers have been prosecuted for patent infringement. The corporation, Monsanto, which was behind the farmers' prosecution in the US also has a branch in India. If you remember the BT-Brinjal case -- that was Monsanto.
  5. USA is a large consumer of plastics. Petroleum based plastics are not bio-degradable, which means that unless they are recycled they either end up in a landfill or end up polluting the land and the seas. The rate of recycling plastics in the US is 28%, whereas that in India is estimated to be 60%
My latest fascination with America has got less to do with the fact that I might end up going there in a month's time, but more with the increasing pervasiveness of American corporations and the influence of the US government on India.

Picture a person working in Bangalore, wearing a Levi's jeans, sipping on diet Coke, eating at McDonald's, working for a US based corporation. That's what we all want to become when we graduate from college. It's approved by everyone and is equated with success and well-being. 

Well actually the pervasiveness and the influence of American corporations and governments on India has been there for quite some time now. It's just that my eyes have opened up and the perspective has been changed.

From admirer, I have become an observer, maybe even a critic.


If you are interested in the literature which will help you understand this, here are some references. The list includes books and movies.
  1. Hegemony or Survival, Noam Chomsky.
  2. Manufacturing Consent, Noam Chomsky.
  3. Hopes and Prospects, Noam Chomsky.
  4. A People's History of the United States, Howard Zinn.
  5. The Responsibility of Intellectuals, Noam Chomsky
  6. Food Inc, Robert Kenner
  7. Fahrenheit 9/11, Michael Moore
  8. Addicted to Plastic, Ian Connacher
  9. Bowling for Columbine, Michael Moore
  10. Sicko, Michael Moore
  11. Capitalism: A love story, Michael Moore
  12. Taxi Ride to the Dark Side, Alex Gibney
  13. The Corporation, Mark Achbar