Why has the idea of civilisation become a battle between the West and the rest?

“Behind the idea of civilisation we can see the emergence of a new historical process of domination of the Other.”

The process of “civilising” was not only a manner of adopting new modes of behaving, but also a mode of accepting and internalising security and order. The backdrop for this was, once again, the imposition of a standard of “civilisation” on those who were considered “uncivilised’. This standard of “civilisation” was conceived by referring to what was accepted as norms of civility.

“Just as civilisé was often used synonymously with words like cultivé, poli, or policé to designate certain social manners, so civilisation and police were often used synonymously in the same way to designate a certain kind of order.” As Foucault shows us in his work, this process of “polishing’, “disciplining” and “civilising” was considered a principle of thermodynamics of punishment with no humanitarian goals. As a result, the modern crusade for civility generated a range of mechanisms that shaped human subjectivity, but also “extended it to the international realm, becoming the ordering category of international power”.

This ordering implied a process of pacifying and taming rather than peacemaking and interconnecting. Thus, central to the idea of peacemaking at home and abroad was the defeat and destruction of the otherness of the Other. In other words, behind the idea of civilisation we can see the emergence of a new historical process of domination of the Other.

Although the concept of civility takes us back to the idea of refinement, there is no doubt that the reference here is the idea of “order” more than “education”.

“Likewise, in a text such as Adam Ferguson’s Principles of Moral and Political Science, civilisation connotes the basic ideas associated with police: ‘peace and good order’, ‘security of the person and property’, ‘good order and justice’.”

What then of the problems of progress? In truth, as Robert Nisbet argues, “From at least the early nineteenth century until a few decades ago, belief in the progress of mankind, with Western civilisation in the vanguard, was virtually a universal religion on both sides of the Atlantic.” As such, civilisation becomes a central element in the universal project of bringing “civility” to the “uncivil”. The civilising crusade of the modern world in the name of progress is a reflection of the self-consciousness and self-pride of the Western world in its own sense of “civility”.

But as Starobinski says, “the moment that Western civilisation becomes aware of itself reflectively, it sees itself as one civilisation among others. Having achieved self-consciousness, civilisation immediately discovers civilisations.”

Throughout their close relation with the idea of progress, the concepts of civilisation and civility were closely entwined with the evolution of Western civilisation, obscuring any other culture or tradition of thought.

The idea of civilisation, then, is widely accepted to be a product of nineteenth-century developments in the concept of civilisation and the widening of the net of international law. There was widespread agreement that “the general principles of law” were those “recognised by civilised nations”, with implicit or explicit assumptions about the rule of law, respect for fundamental liberties including the right to property, and the possibility of diplomatic exchange and communication. Within this, the distinction between “civilised” and “uncivilised” was simply assumed to be acceptable.

While sceptics may see this imperial truth as a conspiracy theory against the West, those who believe that the essence of humanity is dispersed in the form of cultures and traditions do not locate the ideal of humankind in only one civilisation. As Brett Bowden remarks in his book, Empire of Civilisation: The Evolution of an Imperial Idea:

“Ultimately, the endeavour to expand the empire of civilisation based largely on uniquely Western values and institutions via the extension of some form of imperial-like civilising missions to the unenlightened reaches of our world is doomed to fail, in no small part because of the violence generated by the civilised centre in the name of civilisation.”

As a result, the major driving force behind the ideal of civilising others and the idea of progress has been, the centuries, an ideal of uniformisation of mankind through violence.

As the past six hundred-plus years of Western history have demonstrated, the sacralisation of the idea of civilisation and its enforcement beyond the borders of the West was accompanied by a decivilising zeal which dismissed other perspectives and visions of the world through conquest and domination. As a result, the project of unique civilisation has brought us to its opposite: a decivilising society, where violence, fear and the logic of bellicose truth have the last word.

Today, unfortunately, we are closer to a one-dimensional idea of civilisation, expressed in decivilising terms, rather than to a genuine inter-civilisational humanity with a shared understanding. The violent fabrication of universal civilisation, therefore, takes us away from the original idea of civilisation as empathy, dialogue and coexistence among human beings.

The unjustifiable sense of superiority of the West against the Rest has many violent and decivilising consequences that must be taken into account.

As we engage in this process of decivilisation, exemplified by the first two decades of our century through subsequent acts of violence, war and terrorism since that fateful day of 9/11, we would do well to keep in mind that

“...while the project of universal civilisation is unlikely to reach the destination it seeks, serious damage can be done by continuing to pursue this goal at any cost, as we are now seeing.... The extent of what is at stake cannot be understated or underemphasised; it is nothing less than the continued suppression of ways of life that are thought of as belonging to another time, which ultimately results in the further diminution of social, political, legal, economic, and most importantly, cultural pluralism.”

The mode of existence that modern civilisation foists on us today has ironically ended up creating a decivilising society which has caused much harm to other modes of living and thinking, much of it under the pretext of civilisation and progress. Nothing indicates that these ideas will provide us a better future.

The thoughtlessness and meaninglessness manifested by this process, the rise of conformism and complacency in contemporary societies, along with the power and efficiency of “universal civilisation”, constrain people from understanding and confronting the irrational and non-empathic elements of the decivilising society. This is the setting which humanity finds itself in today.

Excerpted with permission from The Decline of Civilization: Why We Need to Return to Gandhi and Tagore, Ramin Jahanbegloo, foreword by Romila Thapar, Aleph Book Company.

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Behind the garb of wealth and success, white collar criminals are hiding in plain sight

Understanding the forces that motivate leaders to become fraudsters.

Most con artists are very easy to like; the ones that belong to the corporate society, even more so. The Jordan Belforts of the world are confident, sharp and can smooth-talk their way into convincing people to bend at their will. For years, Harshad Mehta, a practiced con-artist, employed all-of-the-above to earn the sobriquet “big bull” on Dalaal Street. In 1992, the stockbroker used the pump and dump technique, explained later, to falsely inflate the Sensex from 1,194 points to 4,467. It was only after the scam that journalist Sucheta Dalal, acting on a tip-off, broke the story exposing how he fraudulently dipped into the banking system to finance a boom that manipulated the stock market.


In her book ‘The confidence game’, Maria Konnikova observes that con artists are expert storytellers - “When a story is plausible, we often assume it’s true.” Harshad Mehta’s story was an endearing rags-to-riches tale in which an insurance agent turned stockbroker flourished based on his skill and knowledge of the market. For years, he gave hope to marketmen that they too could one day live in a 15,000 sq.ft. posh apartment with a swimming pool in upmarket Worli.

One such marketman was Ketan Parekh who took over Dalaal Street after the arrest of Harshad Mehta. Ketan Parekh kept a low profile and broke character only to celebrate milestones such as reaching Rs. 100 crore in net worth, for which he threw a lavish bash with a star-studded guest-list to show off his wealth and connections. Ketan Parekh, a trainee in Harshad Mehta’s company, used the same infamous pump-and-dump scheme to make his riches. In that, he first used false bank documents to buy high stakes in shares that would inflate the stock prices of certain companies. The rise in stock prices lured in other institutional investors, further increasing the price of the stock. Once the price was high, Ketan dumped these stocks making huge profits and causing the stock market to take a tumble since it was propped up on misleading share prices. Ketan Parekh was later implicated in the 2001 securities scam and is serving a 14-years SEBI ban. The tactics employed by Harshad Mehta and Ketan Parekh were similar, in that they found a loophole in the system and took advantage of it to accumulate an obscene amount of wealth.


Call it greed, addiction or smarts, the 1992 and 2001 Securities Scams, for the first time, revealed the magnitude of white collar crimes in India. To fill the gaps exposed through these scams, the Securities Laws Act 1995 widened SEBI’s jurisdiction and allowed it to regulate depositories, FIIs, venture capital funds and credit-rating agencies. SEBI further received greater autonomy to penalise capital market violations with a fine of Rs 10 lakhs.

Despite an empowered regulatory body, the next white-collar crime struck India’s capital market with a massive blow. In a confession letter, Ramalinga Raju, ex-chairman of Satyam Computers convicted of criminal conspiracy and financial fraud, disclosed that Satyam’s balance sheets were cooked up to show an excess of revenues amounting to Rs. 7,000 crore. This accounting fraud allowed the chairman to keep the share prices of the company high. The deception, once revealed to unsuspecting board members and shareholders, made the company’s stock prices crash, with the investors losing as much as Rs. 14,000 crores. The crash of India’s fourth largest software services company is often likened to the bankruptcy of Enron - both companies achieved dizzying heights but collapsed to the ground taking their shareholders with them. Ramalinga Raju wrote in his letter “it was like riding a tiger, not knowing how to get off without being eaten”, implying that even after the realisation of consequences of the crime, it was impossible for him to rectify it.

It is theorised that white-collar crimes like these are highly rationalised. The motivation for the crime can be linked to the strain theory developed by Robert K Merton who stated that society puts pressure on individuals to achieve socially accepted goals (the importance of money, social status etc.). Not having the means to achieve those goals leads individuals to commit crimes.

Take the case of the executive who spent nine years in McKinsey as managing director and thereafter on the corporate and non-profit boards of Goldman Sachs, Procter & Gamble, American Airlines, and Harvard Business School. Rajat Gupta was a figure of success. Furthermore, his commitment to philanthropy added an additional layer of credibility to his image. He created the American India Foundation which brought in millions of dollars in philanthropic contributions from NRIs to development programs across the country. Rajat Gupta’s descent started during the investigation on Raj Rajaratnam, a Sri-Lankan hedge fund manager accused of insider trading. Convicted for leaking confidential information about Warren Buffet’s sizeable investment plans for Goldman Sachs to Raj Rajaratnam, Rajat Gupta was found guilty of conspiracy and three counts of securities fraud. Safe to say, Mr. Gupta’s philanthropic work did not sway the jury.


The people discussed above have one thing in common - each one of them was well respected and celebrated for their industry prowess and social standing, but got sucked down a path of non-violent crime. The question remains - Why are individuals at successful positions willing to risk it all? The book Why They Do It: Inside the mind of the White-Collar Criminal based on a research by Eugene Soltes reveals a startling insight. Soltes spoke to fifty white collar criminals to understand their motivations behind the crimes. Like most of us, Soltes expected the workings of a calculated and greedy mind behind the crimes, something that could separate them from regular people. However, the results were surprisingly unnerving. According to the research, most of the executives who committed crimes made decisions the way we all do–on the basis of their intuitions and gut feelings. They often didn’t realise the consequences of their action and got caught in the flow of making more money.


The arena of white collar crimes is full of commanding players with large and complex personalities. Billions, starring Damien Lewis and Paul Giamatti, captures the undercurrents of Wall Street and delivers a high-octane ‘ruthless attorney vs wealthy kingpin’ drama. The show looks at the fine line between success and fraud in the stock market. Bobby Axelrod, the hedge fund kingpin, skilfully walks on this fine line like a tightrope walker, making it difficult for Chuck Rhoades, a US attorney, to build a case against him.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hotstar and not by the Scroll editorial team.