Dr. Sohail Inayatullah
Forecasting the future of any movement is by definition problematic. The future, for one, does not yet exist (except from perhaps an absolute spiritual perspective wherein past, present and future exist simultaneously). Yet it is possible to identify certain patterns within all movements. Charles Paprocki has analysed the rise and fall of social movements based on Sarkar’s wave theory. He argues that new movements appear once old movements (cosmologies, ideologies and the institutions that support them) cannot sustain legitimacy. The old movement dies because of its own internal contradictions; that is, its inability to maintain agreement or belief. By providing a more coherent analysis and explanation of reality, the new movement challenges the past and, if it is successful, becomes the new thesis.
Richard Slaughter, another eminent in the field of future studies, calls this the “Transformative Cycle”. In phase one of this cycle, traditional meanings break down and are referred to as problems. In phase two, new ideas emerge that reconceptualise or renew meanings. In phase three, there is conflict between the new and old meanings. Out of this conflict, a few proposals, new ideas, and new movements gain legitimation. This is the fourth phase. These new ideas then become the lens from which we view the world.
PROUT asserts that we are at a transition from an old paradigm to a new one. Recent intellectual history has attempted to explain the world from the position of mechanistic Newtonian physics and materialistic liberal capitalism. While the world has numerous specific problems, many of these are a result of the larger paradigms that we use to explain the world. For example, the breakdown of the family, crime, and desertification appear to be unrelated problems. But, in fact, they are outcomes of a materialistic worldview that places the individual first and society second. It is the false atomised approach, rather the whole or universal and integrated approach. Moreover, social divisions are blamed on the individual and the family instead of the inequitable structure of the economy. This worldview is also short-term oriented, mortgaging the future for present gains.
The PROUT movement may be at the same stage in many parts of the world as the ecological movement was a generation ago. It is an emerging intellectual force. Like the ecological movement, it will become quickly popular. It will then possibly become a trend and eventually a movement that will have to be grappled with by academia, civil society, business and government.
At present, in any discussion of the future of humanity, the Green alternative is always brought up. In the near future, through publications, movements and social service, PROUT too may be in that position. Once movements started by Sarkar enter the mainstream press, it will challenge old movements. Then there will be a battle, a debate, for legitimacy. Proutists, like the Greens, or the socialists of the past, will argue that their image of the world and future is more compelling, elegant and realisable in the real world of unemployment, starvation and emotional suffering. At this stage, then the strength of PROUT will be tested. Can it provide a new paradigm surpassing liberal capitalism or totalitarian socialism? Can its image of the world provide new meanings to individuals?
In India, however, the PROUT movement is at a different stage. Using Slaughter’s language, they are in the final stages of the conflict phase. There are few educated Indians who do not know of Sarkar or PROUT. However, as an academic movement it is still relatively unknown. Few know of Sarkar’s comprehensive alternative discourse. Most merely view him as a controversial figure. PROUT is just now beginning to provide new ideas, a new paradigm for the Indian economy and polity.
Although given the paucity of academic and public discussion of PROUT, it may appear that legitimacy is far off. However the analogy of the lily pond is instructive. The question is that if on the 30th day the pond is full of lily pods, which double every day, on which day will it be half-full? The answer is, surprisingly, on the 29th day.
Sarkar has said (and this is very important): “Even a half-hour before your success you will not know it”. Thus, although writing an article here and there on PROUT, starting and maintaining a newsletter/journal, or initiating a co-operative may seem quite insignificant when seen from the perspective of a particular movement worker, given the geometric nature of growth trends, those articles could suddenly enlarge exponentially such that in a very short time, PROUT will become a legitimate discourse in any academic, public or legal discussion. In this context of legitimacy, it will be able to challenge laws and change the way we think and constitute our economies and polities.
This is especially so as there are PROUT newsletters, meetings and meditation classes throughout world. While each individual project might appear not directly interlinked except by Sarkar’s theories and workers, as they become more popular we can easily imagine a network developing throughout the world of PROUT activities, of ecological projects, of spiritual centres. But unlike many other similar efforts where we can point to a success story here and there (the co-operative movement in Mondragon in Spain, for example, Akhtar Hameed Khan’s urban development project in Karachi, or the Grameen development bank in Bangladesh), there will be a thousand successful projects to point to: in India, in the Philippines, in African nations, in Russia, in Brazil and in the United States of America, to mention a few. Their replicability – being local and global simultaneously – will make their growth quicker.
Copyright The author 2011
Pakistani-born, Sohail Inayatullah is an author and political scientist who has written on P. R. Sarkar and PROUT for more than 25 years. A pioneer in the emerging field of Futures Studies, he is a Fellow of the World Futures Studies Federation and the World Academy of Art and Science. He is a much sought-after speaker at international conferences, an author/editor of a dozen books and has authored over 200 articles in journals and magazines. He is professor at Tamkang University, Taiwan and Sunshine Coast University, Australia. His most recent books include: Understanding Sarkar; Transforming Communication; Questioning the Future; and Youth Futures.