Cultural Development As Seen Through the Lens of the Commercialist Priorities of the Modern Society

As a commercial mind-set has permeated society, it has dramatically changed the way humanity, in general, looks at the development of capabilities that are not strictly commercial in their application.  In the past, we have prized art, music, science, religious practice, education for the ways that they have enhanced the individual’s inner growth and attainments.  The ideal of the Renaissance Man, who developed capacities in these various ranges, and who attained knowledge and proficiency across a wide spectrum of development, was considered to be an ideal for Western man to attain to.  In the East, similar respect was afforded to those who developed their mental and spiritual-religious faculties without a specific economic motive.  In today’s world, such a concept has, however, faded away.  There are even universities in the United States that are proposing to dispense with majors in English, Philosophy or History in favor of “useful” subjects that have a specific economic value in modern society.  We are thus dispensing with the idea of a “liberal education in the humanities” in favor of utilitarian pursuits.  We are doing away with any concept of a higher purpose to human life.  The result of course will be the weakening of our adherence to values beyond a pure commercial view, and thus, reduce all of human achievement to some kind of numerical value on an economic scale.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “For the modern economic view of life, culture and its products have chiefly a decorative view; they are costly and desirable luxuries, not at all indispensable necessities.  Religion is in this view a by-product of the human mind with a very restricted utility — if indeed it is not a waste and a hindrance.  Education has a recognised importance but its object and form are no longer so much cultural as scientific, utilitarian and economic, its value the preparation of the efficient individual unit to take his place in the body of the economic organism.  Science is of immense importance not because it discovers the secrets of Nature for the advancement of knowledge, but because it utilises them for the creation of machinery and develops and organises the economic resources of the community.  The thought-power of the society, almost its soul-power — if it has any longer so unsubstantial and unproductive a thing as a soul — is not in its religion or its literature, although the former drags on a feeble existence and the latter teems and spawns, but in the daily Press primarily an instrument of commercialism and governed by the political and commercial spirit and not like literature a direct instrument of culture.”

“Free thought and culture remain on the surface of this great increasing mass of commercialism and influence and modify it, but are themselves more and more influenced, penetrated, coloured, subjugated by the economic, commercial and industrial view of human life.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 25, War and the Need of Economic Unity, pg. 217


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