Prout Introduction

Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar propounded the Progressive Utilization Theory (Prout) in 1959 as an alternative to capitalism and communism. His ideas on this subject are enunciated in “Proutist Economics”, “Prout in a Nutshell”, “Neo-Humanism in a Nutshell”, “Human Society, Part One”, “Human Society, Part Two”, and “A Few Problems Solved”.
The experience of contemporary history has exposed the fallacies of cherished social, political and economic ideas, classical as well as revolutionary. The world is full of opportunities – material, mental and spiritual – and so to build a better and freer society is a practical possibility. Yet we are observing a process of social decadence, moral degeneration and the collapse of values which is corroding the springs of human action and corrupting the ideals of a civilized life. Failure and disappointment are bound to follow from attempts to solve the problems of our time with the ideas of previous centuries. These ideas emphasized material progress and scientific development. However, the mental makeup and moral standard of the civilized community have not matched the level of material progress. In other words, the development of civilization – refined cultural progress – has proven far slower than scientific development.
Communism, which promised material well-being and security in an atheistic and socially regimented life has collapsed, creating disillusionment about revolutionary ideals. The great promise of the industrial nations has also remained unfulfilled despite enormous accumulation of wealth, because of the underlying psychology of individualistic hedonism. This radical hedonism postulates that happiness can be achieved by the fulfilment of any material or sensual desire whatsoever, and that in order to fulfil these desires, egotism, greed and selfishness have to be encouraged. The achievement of sensory pleasure has been sold as the achievement of harmony and peace. Radical hedonism, it should be known, is the philosophy of rich people.
The ideals of intellectual liberalism and intellectual refinement have also failed us. The cherished belief that the spread of reason would abolish our irrational outbursts toward each other has all but disappeared. Antagonism between ethnic, racial, and religious groups has become the fundamental reality of the nation-state. When human security becomes threatened, social, ethical and religious energies get expressed through unprecedented oppression, violence and enmity. The disconcerting experiences of the contemporary world compel thoughtful people to reconsider the fundamental philosophical principles from which different political theories – of the Right and the justify, conservative and liberal, reactionary and revolutionary – are alike deduced.
The capture of power, irrespective of the diversity of the means that are advocated, is the common postulate of all political theories. Today, the so-called free world heralds the victory of liberal democracy and its corollary the capitalist economic system. Through modern liberalism the individual has become ‘economic man’, — lured by the glittering projections of a consumer psychology. In the context of capitalist society, people exist mainly as units in the work force, with our thoughts, feelings and tastes manipulated by the government and industry and the mass communications they control.
Simultaneously, gaining momentum among the poor and disenfranchised is a tendency to relapse into medieval obscurantism in search of an illusory safety in the backwaters of dogmatic faith. With the collapse of the Soviet Empire, movements for self-reliance are being sentimentalized with slogans from religious fundamentalism, slogans presented to the innocent man as an antithesis to pseudo-culture, economic domination and Western values.
This represents a new flare-up in the age-old struggle between religion and science – between faith and reason, and between mystic agnosticism and empirical knowledge. Probably the last gasp of a life and death struggle, it has lasted long, and has always placed civilized humanity in the breach.
The scientific mode of thought, having driven religion from pillar to post over a period of several centuries, is meeting the final assault of a hitherto vanquished adversary. Denying humans the possibility of ever knowing reality through experience, religions preach a neo-mysticism and a teleological view of life, which is the expression of humanity’s loss of faith in itself. This is in contradiction to spiritual enlightenment, which leads the human mind to experience the real essence of freedom and the organic wholeness of creation.
Science, attempting to free the mind from the shackles of dogma, emphasized that truth is contained only in that which can be recognized clearly and distinctively. Knowledge is defined as the result of the intellectual analysis of our sense experience. In this way, however, science created a new barrier beyond which the mind could not elevate itself to higher levels of consciousness. Hence, science could not prevent the emergence of a materialistic dogma that devalues human potential, encourages the mechanization of life, and curtails freedom of thought.
The quest for freedom is much more ancient than either religion or science and can be referred back to our earliest struggle for existence. This quest accounts for the human triumph over nature in the course of efforts to satisfy biological needs. It provides the basis for the constant search for knowledge, and it enables us to progressively free ourselves from the tyranny of natural phenomena and social environments. If we are to be guided by this deep human longing, the philosophy of the future should judge the merit of any social organization or political institution by the actual measure of freedom it affords the individual in the physical, mental and spiritual spheres.
Spiritual Humanism
Sarkar’s philosophy is founded on the assumption that matter is not separate from consciousness but is rather a metamorphosed form of it. Similarly, consciousness, is not the result of mental activity but rather thought is also a form of consciousness. It is Consciousness that underlies psycho-physical reality and provides the inspiration for a rational view of life, moral integrity, and spiritual wisdom.
Spirituality and morality should not be equated with religious dogma and faith in God. All religions are frank dualist systems that separate humans from their creator and the creation. The rationalist rebels against theology – Descartes, Leibnitz, and Kant – also failed to escape the vicious circle of dualism. To offer security, religion impressed upon people the need to submit before the imaginary will of God or a theological ethical code, sanctioned by the scriptures and defined by religious institutions. Morality in this sense, however, is the absence of freedom.
A philosophy based on spiritual and moral values, on the other hand, is able to explain human existence – including desire, emotion, instincts, intuition, will and reason – as an integrated framework and do so in a way that is accessible to human comprehension. Such a philosophy is required to build the new social organism and political institutions that can foster not only the harmonious relations of all races and cultural groups, but also the harmonious relation of human beings with all animate and inanimate objects.
For Sarkar, human existence is physical, mental and spiritual. He defined progress as evolution to higher consciousness and ultimately to the state of absolute freedom. Simultaneously, he explained that “spiritual progress can only be attained on a firm physical and mental base. …[T]his physical and intellectual base has to be progressively adjusted to changing conditions of time and space.” The natural human aspiration is to achieve freedom in all three spheres.
In our march towards freedom we cannot neglect other living beings. We have to develop a social system where all living beings can live securely, and where people can move towards emancipation by freeing their minds from superstition and dogma. This universalistic spirit is Neo-Humanism or Spiritual Humanism. Human history thus far is a story of ruling classes trying to enhance their own social and material wealth at the cost of human values. This is why temples, churches, scriptures, laws, constitutions, corporations and international trade agreements have become more important than human beings. To confront this, Sarkar maintains that a fundamental human philosophy is required to cement a new social system and not the changing social values based on self-interest that are embodied in ruling institutions.
Human values find their root in spirituality. Spirituality is not mystic speculation of life after death, but is realized in relation to the manifest universe. The philosophy of monism, which postulates the self to be in union with the rest of the universe and responsible for its well-being, is the essence of spiritual humanism. Sarkar wrote in his book Neo-Humanism in a Nutshell: Part 1: “What does the state stand for, what is the use of these regulations, and what is the march of civilization for, if human beings don’t get a chance to build a good physical well-being, to invigorate their intelligence with knowledge, and to broaden their hearts with love and compassion? Instead of leading humanity to the goal of life, if the State stands in the way, then it cannot command loyalty, because humanity is superior to the State.”
Society and State
In Human Society: Part 2, Sarkar described the inner spirit of ‘society’ as to “move together.” Society originated as a family in the early phase, and was strengthened subsequently under the guidance of group mothers and group fathers. Later, with growing social complexity, group leaders emerged as queens and kings during the age of empires. The emergence of classical religion strengthened political power and under the dominance of the priest class the Church State arose.
In modern times, under the rise of the capitalist class, the Nation State has become the norm. In this proces, Society itself has lost its identity and importance, and social laws, norms and values possess little meaning. All social structures have been politicized both in democratic countries and totalitarian countries. Nevertheless, realistic relations between society and State could be formulated to create a congenial atmosphere for security and freedom.
Sarkar’s main goal was to revitalize society, and through his writings and action he clearly demonstrated that he wanted to establish a ‘moral society’ which he termed ‘Sadvipra Samaj’. He was not so concerned with the political structure because he concluded that it will continue to evolve and change its character in different phases of history. On the other hand, he felt that in the absence of a strong society, neither moral standards nor strong social relations could be realized or maintained. He also believed that a strong society would balance the power of the political structure. He considered human society to be one and indivisible; hence, he emphasized the formation of a social structure from the village to the global level.
When he laid the foundation of his own organisation, for example, he set up a structure that consists of 35 branches, each extending from the village to the global level. This means that each locality should have at least 35 persons to take decisions on multifarious activities without being dependent on the dictates of the political structure.
Considering the above, the relation between Society and State can be defined as follows:
Society has a wider scope than the State. As an assemblage of human beings, society should be considered one and indivisible without any boundaries of race, religion or nation. The State is a political machinery within society to maintain law and order and other co-related functions delegated by society.
The State refers only to the politically organized portion of society.Society takes priority over the State. A sense of collective living creates society, and society in turn creates the State.
The State needs an organized government to enforce its will. Society also needs a structure to regenerate moral and social values and maintain social cohesiveness free from the influence of the State machinery.
Society is universal and without any boundaries. But the State may have specific boundaries flexible enough to be changed when there is need.
It is necessary to define the relation between the two structures in the clearest language to be able to set goals and coordinate between the two. Ultimately, however, the success of socially benevolent institutions will depend on the evolution of a proper social culture based on the values of spiritual humanism. The materialistic orientation of life and the marketing character of modern industrial religion has created extreme forms of alienation, isolation and identity crisis in the affluent Western world. Third World countries, besides suffering economic crisis, carry the psychological burdens of passive psychology, inferiority complex, religious dogma and other group sentiments. These narrow and stagnant ideas damage social integration.
The creation of social institutions on the world level with organs on the lower levels can eliminate threats from political and economic oligarchies and religious fanatics. Members of the social institutions should be established in the spirit of universalism. Sarkar explained that to be established in cardinal moral principles is essential for the qualitative transformation of the personality as well as society. He frequently used the term ‘sadvipra’ in this regard. Value-oriented intellectuals and spiritually free persons, who have moral integrity and are not motivated by self-interest, are the best persons to organize themselves to form the new social structure. Their leadership is vital in creating social unity.
PROUT’S Political Objectives
Security for all members of society must be ensured, without depending on the bureaucratic structure. Security includes not only a guarantee of food, clothes, housing, health care, education and other minimum requirements of life, but also security in the psychological sense. In Third World countries, the cause of insecurity is the economy. Western countries face a sense of psychic insecurity due to the influence of a quantitative, materialistic monoculture. Overemphasis on materialistic values has created an identity crisis. Extremely alienated, an individual standing before the high wall of organized power structures feels helpless. To eradicate this sense of insecurity and alienation, spiritual awakening of the self is essential. Human beings must restore the sense of unity with their fellow beings, other living beings, nature, society etc. Secondly, the bureaucratic power structure should be replaced by humanistic management.
The basic human urge for freedom is the motivating force behind social evolution and progress. Freedom should be considered in the physico-psycho-spiritual sense. Physical freedom means the guarantee of the minimum requirements of life, and it cannot be unlimited. Intellectual freedom implies an arrangement for the development of intellect that can overcome environmental and pseudo-cultural influences. Freedom of thought is more important than freedom of expression. In every society, education, culture, religious institutions and the mass media manipulate the collective mind. Human values are distorted and pseudo-values are imposed. To ensure real freedom in the intellectual realm, the education system should be reoriented to develop intuitional and creative consciousness. ‘Freedom from’ hunger, poverty, exploitation, oppression, superstition,
dogma, etc. is not enough to guarantee freedom. There must be an idea of ‘freedom to’.
Spiritual liberation is a state where the individual mind realizes the sense of unity and harmony with the entire universe. The awakening of this consciousness is the goal of freedom, not the expression of unbridled passion and any demand whatsoever of the limited ego. It is the responsibility of society to create opportunities for every member to pursue their spiritual goal without hindrance. In this regard Sarkar wrote, “I want that every person should be guaranteed the minimum physical requirements of life, every person should get scope for full exploitation of psychic potentiality, every person should get equal opportunity to attain absolute truth, and endowed with all the glories and achievements of the world, every person should march towards the Absolute.” The ‘Absolute’, in a spiritual sense, is the state of total liberation.
PROUT’S Economic Development
The idea that maximum consumption will create happiness has been challenged before. Economist E. F. Schumacher states in his book Small is Beautiful: “Economy as the content of life is a deadly illness, because infinite growth does not fit into a finite world. That economy should not be the content of life, has been told to mankind (sic) by all its great teachers; that it cannot be, is evident today. If one wants to describe the deadly illness in more detail, one can say that it is similar to addiction, like alcoholism or drug addiction. It does not matter too much whether this addiction appears in more egotistical, or more altruistic form, whether it seeks its satisfaction only in a crude materialistic way or also in an artistically, culturally or scientifically refined way. Poison is poison, even if wrapped in a silver paper. … If the spiritual value of inner man (sic) is neglected, then selfishness, like capitalism, fits the orientation better than a system of love for one’s fellow beings.”
Sarkar asserted that economic development is only a means for survival and the fulfilment of physical needs. The economy must maintain balance with nature and other aspects of social and cultural development. The spirit of all-round collective welfare, not limitless profit, should guide future economic development.
Considering the above, Sarkar’s guidelines and goals for economic development are as follows:
The minimum requirements of all should be guaranteed.
Economic power should be decentralized and economic democracy should be introduced.
Production should be designed for meaningful consumption, not profit.
The gap between rich and poor nations should be narrowed.
Production should serve the real needs of people and not the demands of the economic system.
Harmonious relations of cooperation with nature should be established.
The psychology of competition must be replaced by a psychology of cooperation.
It should be accepted that economic fulfilment cannot satisfy the infinite desire for happiness.
Supramundane and spiritual potentialities should be explored and utilized to balance the mundane, finite character of the economy.
Psycho-economy, which aims at neutralizing dehumanization by the economic system and effecting the progressive expansion of the individual and collective minds, should develop as a branch of the economy.
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