Thousands of Nepali students go to study abroad each year, in countries like the UK, Australia, the US, and others. These countries are known not just for their high living standards but also their perceived superiority in the sciences. Families sell their ancestral lands and homes in order to fund their children’s education because they believe what their children will learn abroad will be far superior to what they can learn in Nepal.
But is that necessarily true? In the past decade or two, the planet has warmed to unsustainable levels due to the residues of Western scientific inventions, including fossil fuels and toxic emissions from incineration of plastics. Chemical fertilizers and insecticides have devastated large swathes of fertile agricultural land, leaving wastelands of monoculture that can be wiped out with a single insect attack. Antibiotics, a seemingly benign pharmacological invention, now runs off into rivers and water-bodies at such high levels that they are decimating aquatic life. They also kill the good bacteria in human guts, altering the microbiome and bringing about a host of unspecified diseases to the weakened human body.
All of these Western scientific marvels are working in concert to bring about a genocidal end to all life on the planet. A recent report by IPBES has stated that one million species of insects, animals and birds are at risk of going extinct.
In the North and South poles, which store thousands of cubits of water in the form of Arctic and Antarctic ice, temperatures are soaring to such extremes (32 degree centigrade was recorded in 2017) that the poles are hotter than some European countries in peak summer. As the permafrost melts, the rising waters are bringing about coastal flooding, hurricanes and cyclones on a scale not recorded before. Environmentalists warn that thousands of coastal cities are in danger of being inundated and made uninhabitable.
Despite all these warnings, we continue with our daily life, as if nothing is at stake. In Kathmandu, we get in our cars and motorbikes, fire up the ignition and expel some more toxic pollutants from petrol and diesel in the air. Despite hazardous levels of PM2 particles in the air, we assume this is a minor inconvenience, or an unavoidable hazard we have to endure in our drive for Western-style modernity. To walk would be embarrassing and show poverty, although Nepalis have always walked everywhere since they settled on this mountainous land.
When I asked the young women who help me with my housework to carry cotton bags when going shopping, they unanimously refuse. It’s embarrassing to carry a reusable bag, they say. Single-use plastic is smart and fashionable. They don’t want to look dumpy carrying a cotton bag to market. Even when I explain how plastic is entering every nook and cranny of our waterways, and how it never degrades but only gets smaller and smaller into particles known as microplastics which enter our bloodstream, they still refuse. To them, I am a quaint and impractical woman living a strange life, who mops her floors with soapnuts and orange peel instead of using the smart new gadgets which exude a stream of high quality cleaning chemicals, like in the homes of the people who they’ve worked for in the past.
In the vegetable market, I get into daily battles with vendors who want to be kind and hand me my dirty vegetables in clean plastic, and I have to insist that potatoes or tomatoes will do just fine in my cotton bag, and I don’t need the plastic, thank you.
Herein lies the crux of the matter: everything Western Civilization told us was “dirty” is in fact ecologically clean, whereas everything they’ve told us is clean is in fact highly toxic. Take cowdung, used for millennia to clean floors. It provides a sparkling clean floor (for those who haven’t seen a cowdung and red earth painted floor, I’d highly recommend checking out how beautiful it can be). Yet Western science insists it is dirty. Take cleaning chemicals invented in the laboratories of Western science, which are marketed as purveyors of cleanliness. New research now says this hysterical push toward a sterile environment has caused an epidemic of allergies in Western societies, with people dying if they even so much as come into contact with something as ordinary as peanut or milk.If something as simple as what is clean and what is dirty has been inverted, does it mean that other things have been too? What about right and wrong? What about good and bad?
We can’t ask these questions, though, because the unstated assumption is that Western civilization can never be questioned. To use a recent analogy—like the jailing of comedian Pranesh Gautam for his critique of a bad film, anybody daring to critique the “bad film” of Western Civilization will end up in the punitive jail of ostracization, with jobs, contracts, grants, networks being closed off with a clang. Since Western societies control all the sources of financial currency, without which human life cannot sustain, the critique of this system will never come out. It’s a water-tight system of self-regulating approval and self-evident truth.
Why doesn’t Western science ask this question before it starts creating a new invention: Will this new invention cause harm to any form of life? If so, should we cease and desist? If it had started from this ethical basis, the even more toxic pharmacological products and toxic chemicals which threaten to crash all of life would never have come into existence. But science nowadays is fueled by the need to make profit, and these questions are merely silly rhetorical questions asked only by philosophers of the Eastern kind. But perhaps the time has come for people from the periphery to start asking these questions. Is the self-perceived truth of Western science and its superiority over all other epistemological systems simply a sham?