THE IMPACT OF INDUSTRIALIZATION ON A CHANGING SOCIETY*
At the close of the twentieth century we find ourselves in the midst of a profound world wide crisis on a scale and urgency unrecorded in human history. Many of the problems of this crisis – the degradation of the natural environment, the depletion of natural resources, the maldistribution of income between the rich and the poor, and the mounting debt crisis in the Third World – are linked to the present industrial order. It may no longer be timely to speak of the impact of industrialization upon our changing societies since the changes we are now undergoing require that if we are to survive we must direct ourselves toward a new civilization beyond the present industrial system. Perhaps it world be more appropriate to speak of the “post-industrial” order instead.
Alvin Toffler has coined the term “the super industrial stage” to describe the new phase we are now entering. The term “super” may be an unfortunate designation since our present crisis would seem to require less and not more of the present industrial system. But he is certainly right in suggesting that we must move into a stage of greater eco-technological harmony if we are to survive. Nonetheless, his comments seem to apply more aptly to the Western World at this time which is feeling more acutely the impact of disintegration of the old system. The Third World countries are still struggling to catch up with the First World’s level of development and industrialization. However, the importation of the Western model of development into the Third World has had dramatic and ruthless effects. Because of this it remains highly appropriate to reflect upon the impact of this system upon our societies as we seek to move beyond the present system into a more harmonious and equitable world order.
Without question the phenomenon of industrialization which broke upon the world scene in the nineteenth century has been a revolution in every sense of the word witness the shattering of institutions and power relationships and cultural values. And the industrialization process continues to do the same in the countries of Asia and the Third World with a speed and thoroughness that surpass anything which occurred in Europe and the West.
On the positive side, this revolution brought with it a sense of exhilaration and newness and unlimited possibilities. It seemed to reflect the best of humanity’s heroic aspirations toward independence and mastery of the environment. Humanity seemed to be pushing against the boundaries of knowledge and technical mastery with its noblest and most courageous human qualities. As it did so, it swept aside the agricultural-intensive civilization which proceeded it the First Wave of civilization, bringing in its wake the promise of eliminating poverty and disease and squalor from the face of the earth.
Speaking of this dramatic movement of civilization Alvin Toffler says:
As Second Wave civilization pushed its tentacles across the planet, transforming everything with which it came in contact, it carried with it more than technology or trade. Colliding with First Wave Civilization, the Second Wave created not only a new reality for millions but a new way of thinking about reality.
Clashing at a thousand points with the values, concepts, myths and morals of agricultural society, the Second Wave brought with it a redefinition of God.... of justice.... of love.... of power.... of beauty. It stirred up new ideas, attitudes and analogies. It subverted and superseded ancient assumptions about time, space matter and causality. A powerful, coherent world view emerged that not only explained but justified Second Wave reality.
The romantic poets of the nineteenth century, however, warned us of the devastating human consequences of the industrial revolution, whose influence has now spread throughout every portion of the world. Thomas Berry, geologist and theologian, offers a sober assessment of this revolution:
"Progress" is the central word of modern civilization. It's the central word of the industrial order - an order that did not come through spiritual means. In the seventeenth century the Western World decided, "We'll do it with technology, with science. We'll do it by taking control of the natural world, we'll make the natural world yield up its abundance for our use; we're going to create Wonder world". But we don't get Wonder world, we get Waste world. We're trashing the wonderful, ever-renewing natural systems in order to produce - junk! The industrial world is just too devastating to endure and it must be radically revised!
For more than a century, our industrial culture has been dominated not only by advances in science and technological, but also by the development of new forms of capitalist organization: the growth of finance capitalism; the domination of industry by investment institutions; the separation of ownership from management; the rise of the free market economy. The momentous changes that herald the arrival of the Third Wave of civilization are calling into question many of these forms of economic organization.
During this same period of time, the world has seen the creation of a multitude of conflicting and contrasting ideologies: the rise of individualism and free enterprise had been accompanied by the growth of collectivism and socialism. At the same time totalitarian states have competed with liberal democracies in relationships of extreme tension and peril. The result of which has been the darkest side of the technological venture - the creation of the nuclear arms race. There are now heartening signs that some of these tensions are being reduced, though the world continues to spend over one billion dollars a day on armaments, while fifteen million people a year – most of them children – continue to die of starvation because our present order cannot provide for an equitable distribution of food. However, advancements in medical science have resulted in the elimination of disease in many parts of the world and in increased longevity that has led to a staggering increase in the human population. Yet close to 40% of the world’s population does not have access to professional health services.
Closely related to the growth in population has been the increase in urbanization. The factory system has enlarged the opportunities for working away from the soil and many have migrated to the cities. As a result, the artificial conditions of city life have come to be the accepted norm for a large percentage of the inhabitants of the industrialized nations. In the Third World, however, it has been largely the rural poor who have migrated into the cities and the result has been conditions of chaotic urbanization.
The technological venture which gave birth to our present industrial order seemed to reflect the noblest and most courageous qualities of humankind. But this longing to explore and master the known world and improve the material environment needed to be governed by a moral sense that would take into account the consequences of the many risks required by technological and industrial advances. As we survey the multitude of problems bequeathed us by the industrial and technological revolution, we must conclude that our material advances and our scientific adventures have not been accompanied by the necessary wisdom, care and reverence.
Fritjof Capra, one of the leading interpreters of the paradigm shift we are now undergoing, comments upon our lack of wisdom from the perspective of American society:
Our progress, then, has been largely a rational and intellectual affair, and this one-sided evolution has now reached a highly alarming stage, a situation so paradoxical that it borders on insanity. We can control soft landings of space craft on distant planets, but we are unable to control the polluting fumes emanating from our cars and factories. We propose Utopian communities in gigantic space colonies, but cannot manage our cities. The business world makes us believe that huge industries producing pet foods and cosmetics are a sign of our high standard of living, while economists try to tell us we cannot "afford" adequate health care, education, or public transport. Medical science and pharmacology are endangering our health and the Defense Department has become the greatest threat to our national security. Those are the results of overemphasizing our masculine, rational knowledge and neglecting our feminine, intuitive wisdom and ecological awareness.
It is because of this multifaceted crisis in the countries of the Northern Hemisphere that many leaders of the Third World are looking more critically at the efforts of the industrialized world to export its problems into the nations of the Southern hemisphere. Some leaders are discussing ways of developing their own indigenous technologies and economic patterns, independent of the developed world. And spiritual leaders throughout Asia are seeking to redefine the term development, shifting the meaning away from industrial production and distribution of material goods to the whole development of the human being.
The end result of all of these developments and their attendant problems is that humanity is being compelled to undergo a momentous paradigm shift in which the world view of the Second Wave of civilization is giving way to a more holistic view of life. We are leaving behind the belief in scientific method as the only valid approach to knowledge, the view of society as a competitive struggle for existence and the belief in unlimited material progress to be achieved through economic and technological growth.
In place of these Second Wave values, we are moving toward E.F. Schumacher's conception of "Small is Beautiful", of small scale enterprises and institutions which do not overwhelm our societies and the natural environment. We are moving away from an attitude of unbridled natural consumption to one of voluntary simplicity and we are moving away from an uncritical adulation of economic and technological growth toward an appreciation of inner growth and spiritual development. Of course, the early indications of this major paradigm shift are making themselves felt in the industrialized nations first.
The reverberations, however, are being felt even now in the Third World. Nonetheless, the Third World countries cannot yet afford the luxury of looking beyond the immediate requirements of economic and social betterment for the whole of their populations. But the system of industrialization and development which they employ must ensure an equitable distribution of income across all levels of the population without destroying the natural environment that sustains us and without bringing in its wake the many social pathologies that are now troubling the Western World. Development should not mean the undermining of our traditional spiritualities and cultures, and its end effects should not lead to increased materialism and greed but to an enhanced sense of harmony, selflessness and cooperation.
These are the ideals we should strive for, of course, but the present reality in Thailand presents a far different picture as we struggle with the effects of the upheaval brought to our society by industrialization. As Alvin Toffler says, the process of industrialization transforms a traditional agricultural society based on the production of goods for the producer's own use to an industrial society based on production for exchange, a shift from the producer to the consumer.
Nowhere is this process more apparent than in the traditional village community production system of Thailand. The self-sufficiency of our village communities was gradually destroyed by the buying and selling of commodities at the village level as well as the establishment of agricultural export markets. Traditional village handicrafts declined and the production of agriculture for self-consumption within the village gradually shifted toward production for national and world markets. As a result, our farmers are now totally dependent upon market forces beyond their control, forces which not only determine the prices for their produce but which also provide them with the clothing, electricity, fuel and fertilizers upon which they have now become dependent. This is an enormously complex process which I can only touch upon here, but the simple fact is that greater and greater quantities of rice are needed for export in order to provide the foreign exchange whereby the urban population can avail themselves of greater amounts of imported consumer goods and luxury items. The economy of the country may be growing at an impressive rate, to judge by the GNP, and urban people may be highly excited about the prospect of becoming a NIC which seems just around the corner for Thailand. However, the farmers and the rural population, who are providing the agricultural produce for export, are being left behind, a fact which is not adequately reflected by the rising GNP.
While the country's economy has grown by 10 to 11% per year in recent years, the income gap between the agricultural sector and other sectors has widened. According to Thailand's Midyear 1990 Report, people in the highest income group in 1986 earned 49% of the gross national income while the lowest income group, mainly our grassroots farmers, shared only2%, which made a 47% difference. But in 1989, the highest income group accounted for 53% of the gross national income, whereas the lowest income group partook of only 1.8%, which accounted for a 51.2% difference - an increase of 4.2%.
The Midyear Report concludes: The paltry income brought in by agriculture together with soaring land prices has convinced farmers to sell their farm lands and leave the unstable and climate-dependent agriculture sector for the more reliable and higher paid labor market.
Even this conclusion, like the GNP itself, can be deceptive. The so-called "higher paid labor market” provides an unskilled laborer from upcountry less than 3,000 baht per month and the living conditions he will find for himself are on the level of the Klong Toey slums. In the past, the “paltry income” brought in by agriculture would not have been a significant factor, because the village economy was self-sufficient and cash in the hand was not a necessity. But under the present system, the farmers must increase their production in order to survive. To increase this production they must rely upon expensive modern technology that they cannot afford and for which they must go into debt to acquire. The end result of this vicious circle is the ironic situation that the farmers are finding it increasingly difficult to obtain food for their own subsistence, since they must sell their produce at the market price in order to service their debts and then must borrow again to buy food for their own consumption. This may be an extreme case, but it is not at all uncommon and helps to account for the great numbers of poor farmers who are migrating to Bangkok to find work in the “so-called higher paid labor market”. Of course, it is a sad fact that if the laborers were paid a higher wage, foreign investors would no longer be attracted to Thailand, but would take their industries and their investments to countries like India. But such are the consequences of relying upon a system of industrialization and development that is linked with the world capitalist economy.
This situation of our farmers and our workers only underscores the well-known fact that conspicuous consumption aggravates the gap between the rich and the poor. Yet this is the result of trying to industrialize too quickly, a mistake that is committed by many Third World governments. The financiers, technocrats and generals who run the governments conceive of development as an economic process whose success can be adequately measured by the rise in GNP. So it is felt that the more consumer goods increase the better, with the least outside interference. The profits must be kept in the hands of the few investors who can make even larger investments in order to produce more things, while advertising through the mass media encourages the general populace to buy and consume in order to keep the whole process going. But until the take-off point of self-sustaining growth is reached, there cannot be an equitable distribution of wealth, such is the rationale of this system. It is hoped that profits and benefits will in time “trickle down” to those in the lower income brackets.
Certain well-known economists and social scientists have proposed some drastic measures for the purpose of distributing income more equitably - such as controlling the means of production and even value added taxation. And recently, a Social Welfare Act has been promulgated by the parliament - after more than twenty years of serious debates and reflections !
It remains to be seen how effective any of these measures will be. For the time being, the fundamental question that must be asked is who benefits the most from industrialization in a Third World country, the rich or the poor? And is the “trickle-down theory” simply a rationalization on the part of the rich to justify the exploitation of the poor for the sake of a life-style of conspicuous consumption?
The farmers of Thailand still comprise over 75% of the population of the country and they form the traditional backbone of the nation. A process of development that leaves their well-being out of accounting equation needs to be seriously rethought.
The conspicuous consumption that characterizes the life-style of our urban population is everywhere in evidence throughout Bangkok today. From the luxurious shopping malls to the fast-food chains that have invaded the country. Consumerism and materialism are the vogue and frugality and simplicity are out. But this is the result of the free market economy and the free movement of goods and services. McDonald’s, Burger King, A & W, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Shakey’s Pizza and other fast-food outlets can be found easily all over Bangkok, as well as in the capitals of other Asian nations on the road to industrialization. Foreigners find this amusing, but there is something disturbing about the easy way in which we have allowed our traditional culture to be replaced by this plastic artificiality. McDonald’s has come to Paris, as well, but at least the French expressed their outrage at the opening of McDonald’s on the Champs Elysee! One foreign professor recently asked me, “Has the culture of Thailand been reduced to Mahbunkrong”?
What must a poor Northeastern farmer or a call girl from Chiengmai think of our malls and supermarkets, if they have the courage to enter such places. In one supermarket alone 37 varieties of women’s shampoo were counted, together with 28 different kinds of roll-on anti-perspirants, 22 kinds of sanitary napkins and 46 kinds of soap (not counting the liquid kind). The urge to buy, buy, buy is in the atmosphere we breath and it is very difficult to resist. If we don’t have the cash, we can buy on credit. And after a tiring day of shopping, we can restore our energy with a quick bite to eat at McDonald’s, where the average price for a meal for one can cost over 70 baht. The laborers and the poor must wait, of course, until the benefits of the growing economy “trickle down” to them before being able to afford a “Big-Mac”, In the meantime, they must remain satisfied with eating at roadside food stalls, where the food is actually more nutritious!
Judging by the hundreds of TV antennas rising up over the roofs of slum dwellings, every household, even the poorest, has its TV and this is also true of the upcountry villages. People are daily bombarded by ads and fads encouraging them to have a good time and go on a spending spree and sexuality is manipulated to entice people to buy, suggesting to them that they can increase their attractiveness (and thereby their sexual pleasure) by the purchase of certain products. What must a poor farming family think, after a grueling day in the fields, at the commercialized sight of a group of sophisticated Thai urbanites enjoying their Johnny Walker Blacks? Certainly the impression conveyed by such ads is that the people portrayed therein are oblivious to any realities outside of their narrow urban pleasures. But Johnny Walker has even come to the villages, at least a rare bottle or two to be used on only the greatest of occasions. In the same manner, the poor are being encouraged to buy many things which they really do not need and certainly cannot afford.
It is no surprise that older people wonder where our moral standards and sense of decency have disappeared to, in the face of such massive advertising and consumerism. A recent study conducted by Mahidol University has found that while most people in Bangkok profess a belief in morality, in practice they are obsessed with money and believe they have to cheat in order to survive. As reported in the Bangkok Post, many of the people in the study felt that “only foolish people do not know how to cheat and only those who cheat can get rich”. The study concluded that people in Bangkok are becoming more selfish and more willing to overlook dishonesty and indecency on their way to an easy and wealthy life. Similar research conducted by Dr. Suntaree on the Thai value system indicates that Thais place more value on external form than content, and she concludes that this is “Why we Thais are so fast at catching up with fashion and fads from abroad”. In other words, we are adept at very quick and superficial adoption of cultural trends from outside the country, partly because we do not have sufficient respect and appreciation for the authentic content of our own cultural heritage. We imitate too quickly and too uncritically and this assessment applies to the whole process of industrialization.
There is a great irony in our adaptability, however, in that we are acquiring some of the worst habits and qualities of Western culture when what we most need are some of its greatest strengths. This applies most of all to Western civilization’s appreciation of critical reason and its great sense of human dignity.
Today in Thailand, entire village communities have erected phallic objects to ward off the mysterious spirits who, they believe, are killing our workers in their sleep in Singapore. This kind of superstitious fear of evil spirits who can be placated by bizarre rituals and offerings is a mark of human enslavement and highly destructive of that personal dignity that is ours by virtue of our human reason. Even some of our university students continue to believe in the bad spirits, at least in moments of crisis, and will rush to the local city shrines to make the necessary offerings, just to be on the safe side. At the same time, belief in magic, sorcery and fortunetelling are flourishing as never before, while the more authentic roots of deep spirituality are withering in the face of the rising materialism.
The same critical rationality that would enable us to elevate and purify our spirituality would also equip us to discriminate between various models of development and industrialization and to assess more judiciously their impact upon our society and culture. But before such judgments can be made we must possess the fundamental self-respect and confidence in our cultural heritage and in our identity as Thais.
Perhaps if we possessed more of this fundamental self-respect we would not permit the degradation of so many of our young women in the prostitution industry, a sad phenomenon that is also linked to the process of industrialization. The prostitution industry brings in enoumous amounts of foreign currency which is vital to Thailand’s foreign exchange. This seems to account for the toleration of this industry on the part of the authorities.
A recent documentary broadcast on American television portrayed the tragic situation of child prostitution in Thailand, particularly the plight of young girls from Northern Thailand who are sold into virtual slavery and subjected to years of misery and degradation without hope of escape. The documentary asserted through interviews with Northern Thai families that young girls were pushed into this way of life because their families wished to acquire luxury consumer goods and to imitate the lifestyles they saw portrayed on TV – and not because the families were living in abject poverty. Of course such things occur in America as well, especially in the lives of very young Hispanic girls in the major cities of California, but so far such matters have not been documented on American TV. Nonetheless, the fact of this tragedy in Thailand is a serious blight on our nation’s conscience. While in Thailand, women are becoming liberated in many ways and assuming leadership roles yet, we can see that other groups of unscrupulous persons are enslaving thousands of young women and subjecting them to deep personal degradation, and this entire phenomenon reflects the impact of industrialization.
In light of these many problems, the future of our society lies in humanistic development and change and democracy. Our people must feel within themselves that basic sense of moral self-worth that impels them to take responsibility for the well-being of the nation. They must be able to curb their care-free spirit and undisciplined life-style in order to make the hard sacrifices that are required to develop the nation along a path that is just and decent for all its members, and not just a minority of conspicuous consumers in the urban centers, with the villagers trailing behind in envious anticipation.
While all societies must train their peoples for democracy, humanistic development and change, these are not elements that are the common heritage of all societies and which can be taken for granted. They do not come about automatically. Democracy must blaze a path through a multitude of obstacles and snares and development does not come about in a day. Even Britain and France took a hundred years to reach industrial maturity. This does not mean that other developing nations must of necessity take as long to develop, especially if they can avoid the pitfalls of the developing nations and learn from their mistakes, above all the fundamental mistake of defining development solely in materialistic terms.
The most effective agency to accomplish the task of equipping a nation’s peoples for democracy and development should be formal schooling. The original meaning of the word “University” was a place where one went to discover one’s place in the universe, in other words it was a place for the acquisition of wisdom and for the discerning judgment necessary to apply that wisdom in one’s everyday life. It was not a place where one went simply to learn how to acquire a job or to become a functionary in an elitist system that kept the lower classes in their place.
Unfortunately, the formal school system that has so far been recommended by most educators and is prevalent in almost all Third World countries is patterned on the Western model. When the colonial powers introduced formal education into Africa, India and other parts of the agricultural world, they either transplanted factory-style schools or they set up miniature, second-rate imitations of their own elite schools. The end result has been a Western style system which naturally generates a Western cultural influence. It creates obedient and punctual functionaries who are suitably trained and prepared to serve the capitalist organizations of Western industry that are proliferating throughout the developing nations. It does not create individuals who are vitally engaged in issues and ideas beyond the question of their immediate employment and who have the necessary detachment to step back from the system into which they are about to enter and to critically assess its impact upon the overall well-being of the nation. If such persons of rare commitment and wisdom do arise within the educational system it is almost entirely by accident, and they quickly discover how difficult it is to survive in the system outside the school if they seek to challenge in any way the status quo.
Of course our ideal should be to create an abundance of such idealistically motivated and committed students. But I am becoming increasingly convinced that the only way to do this is to do away with formal education altogether. By this I mean the formal system whereby students gather in the class room to be subjected to the will and caprice of the teacher according to a pre-arranged curriculum which offers little freedom of choice and which inculcates in students an obsession with grades and marks. The wave of the future may be for the university without walls, the open university whereby students can shop for knowledge, can experiment with their tastes and special interests and can thereby develop a genuine thirst for knowledge and personal development. Simply the use of TV instruction has already begun to revolutionize education in Thailand. Students find they can video tape such lectures and play back parts they have not clearly understood. They may also discover that in some cases the quality of instruction on TV surpasses that which they encounter in the classroom. In any case, new techniques and methods need to be developed in order to break through the stultifying restraints of our present system.
However, as events in Eastern Europe have demonstrated so dramatically, you cannot fetter the human spirit indefinitely. Some mysterious power of truth and personal dignity will sooner or later burst through the bonds of enslavement. As the old adage says, the truth will make you free. This must be an encouragement to all of us who are educators and who feel ourselves restrained by the systems we serve. We must find a way to communicate the full truth of the human condition and its supreme dignity to our students, we must make them care about the quality of their lives and the lives of those around them and we must create in them a love for learning and for the fruits of civilization which transcends the merely utilitarian. In this way we will have done our part in equipping our students for their own necessary role in the development of democracy and humanistic values within the nation.
*ABAC Journal Vol. 10 No. 3 (September - December 1990).
*ครู อาจารย์ นักบริหารการศึกษา และนักบริหารการพัฒนา : ภราดา ดร. ประทีป ม.โกมลมาศ