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Home > News > Columnists > Rajeev Srinivasan

Civilizational failure

September 26, 2003

When was the last time a natural calamity claimed more lives in Europe, yes, rich Europe, than in poor India?

That must have been roughly 1750 CE, before the colonial assault, because at that time India was considerably more prosperous than Europe. But this happened just these last few weeks, and it is possible to extrapolate from this that Europe's civilization is showing cracks.

The summer of 2003 CE has been especially hot, and as usual, there were a lot of deaths in India, especially in Andhra Pradesh and Orissa -- and the media made the usual disparaging comments about India.

But the fact is that India cannot yet deal with staggering temperatures like 120 degrees Fahrenheit or 50 degrees Centigrade. In fact nobody can: this is close to the hottest temperatures recorded at Death Valley and other deserts. Global warming may be contributing to the recent excessive heat, but that is another story.

But I was startled when, in the dog days of August, thousands of French people began dying. The numbers kept going up, and in the end, it appears as though almost 15,000 people have died.

I am amazed: it happened in a rich country; and in my experience, rich countries such as the US go to great lengths -- sometimes unnecessary lengths -- to save the lives of even the terminally ill.

So what happened? Lots of fingers are being pointed: at the excessive bureaucratisation of the French public health system; at the lack of well-defined responsibility so that everyone was able to pass the buck; at the virtual standstill in the country as everyone goes away on their precious vacations; at the reduction in the number of hours in the work-week to 35; at the fact that more and more elderly people are living on their own.

But perhaps the real reason is something more substantial: an erosion in values. It hurts me to say this, because the French have always struck me as refreshingly unhypocritical as compared to, say, the British.

But it appears to me that they have lost their way as a civilization. It must be a combination of socialist/Old Left brainwashing, the sloth brought on by idleness, and a lack of recognition of the importance of family values.

The numbers are dramatic: three times as many French people died as the number in the World Trade Center bombings, the benchmark of tragedy in the West these days.

Given the valuation of white lives in vogue that amounts to a gigantic sum of $150 billion. (Recently, the Libyan government agreed to pay $2.7 billion for the Lockerbie airline bombing which killed 270 white Americans, thus the value of a white person's life is $10 million.)

What is the reason for the neglect of elders? I think it is the loss of something 'less civilized' people in Asia and Africa still hold on to: family values. The belief that blood is thicker than water; that there is a code of ethics about the obligations between generations; that it is the duty of the young to look after their old, just as it is the duty of parents to look after their children.

In India, with the advent of the nuclear family, there is a rapid rise in the number of old people living in what are euphemistically called 'homes' for the elderly. While the numbers are minuscule as compared to the US and Europe, this is a disturbing trend.

With all its faults, the old-fashioned joint family had a great virtue that there would always be people, mostly blood relatives, to help each other out.

My mother speaks fondly of the matrilineal Kerala taravad, manor-house, in which she grew up surrounded by cousins and aunts. Around a huge nalukettu, a courtyard open to the heavens, were the bedrooms of her aunts' and uncles' families; and they shared a common kitchen and living areas; the children played on the giant verandahs or in the yard. There were always old people: my mother remembers the aged matriarch who ruled the household with an iron hand; she was certainly not old and useless.

In my mother's generation, though, as a result of people moving away for jobs not related to the land, the age of the inevitable nuclear family had begun, and my parents had a little house in town where my sister and I grew up; and we visited our aunts and uncles and cousins in their own little houses.

But I remember my grandfather, whose village home I used to go to when I was little, and it was in his lap that I first heard the stories from the great epics. He died decades ago, but I still remember with great fondness.

For, old people are not useless. They may have their aches and pains, but there's nothing better than an elder to pass on family and cultural values to the little ones. And there's a lot that all of us can learn from someone who has weathered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

It is a great loss to Europeans and their culture that they treat their aged as a burden, to rot in some 'home', at the tender mercies of some semi-trained, often brutal, attendant.

The French, and Europeans in general, have become Lotus-eaters, hedonists, whose one thought is their own comfort and luxury. They are tired and decadent, no longer the hungry world-beating imperialists of old times. They have become soft. They are fiddling while their continent burns, metaphorically speaking.

I noticed that the Indian English media, so quick to point fingers at any cultural failing in Indian society, did not take note of this apparent civilizational failure on the part of Europeans. But then this is par for the course.

The failure on the part of Europeans actually goes one step further. Their current state is comparable to the Roman Empire in its degenerate later stages. For they have civilizational foes at their gates, yet they wring their hands, unsure of what to do, emasculated by multiculturalism.

I speak of their Muslim populations, which are increasingly conscious of their separateness, and which have no use for nationalism.

Just as the Romans failed to protect their glittering civilization against barbarians, Europeans are failing to counter the assaults of radicalized Muslims. Europe is a tired civilization, ripe for the taking. Whereas Muslims have a sense of purpose: the Islamization of the European landmass. They have never forgotten their unceremonious ejection from Spain a thousand years ago.

Today, there are hundreds of no-go areas in France, in housing estates, where the French Republic doesn't exist, and Islamic Sharia rules. The French police are afraid to go into these dense warrens where Algerians and other French citizens of Arab/Muslim origin rule the roost. With its Muslims at roughly 10 per cent of the population, France is likely to face a protracted period of religious and ethnic strife.

Similarly, over in the United Kingdom, there are reportsof so-called 'Asian' youth (actually Pakistani-British Muslims) targeting white schoolgirls as young as 13 years old and luring them into sex, drugs and prostitution.

Suffused with multiculturalism, the ruling Labor Party refuses to do anything about it. The parents of the affected girls are terrorized into silence by threats that their homes will be firebombed.

These are Europeans who once were warriors: they fought the Crusades, they roamed the world with imperialistic fervour; they fought Great Wars.

Now, they neglect their elders, and they are unable to protect themselves. What else could it mean other than that European civilization is doomed?

But then, I read about Swedish foreign minister and putative candidate for the prime ministership, Anna Lindh, being stabbed to death while she was shopping, alone, without a bodyguard. Accustomed as I am to the elaborate security arrangements made by American and Indian politicians, with no regard to the inconvenience to ordinary citizens, I am startled.

A continent in which leaders mingle fearlessly with the public, maybe their civilization is not totally hopeless? At least not yet?

Comments welcome at rajeevs@rediff.co.in

Rajeev Srinivasan


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Number of User Comments: 36




Sub: Indian media has its limitations

Rajeev's civilizational failure for the heat wave deaths reported in France makes an astounding reading - no doubt erosion of values and loss of ethical ...


Posted by Vir Panai





Sub: Do not agree

Of late, I see too much of generalization based on a few facts by Rajeev. For example, in UK are crimes by Asians happening everywhere ...


Posted by ramprasad





Sub: Economic/Political perspective

The author has genuine sympathy for the elderly people. Isnt he trying to pick only on Europeans? What about the affluent westerners like US, Canada ...


Posted by Vishnu





Sub: RE: civilizational failure

i couldn't disagree with the author's tunnel vision and speculation more. it takes quite a bit of arrogant conviction (the kind we see in osama ...


Posted by mohan srinivas





Sub: reg. Article

(contd.) But we need our Rajeev Srinivasans. And the stories about Ayurveda & meditation and Hinduism & Buddhism being popular in the West, and the ...


Posted by PM Sukumaran




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