BBC Radio 4 - Thought for the Day
2nd May 2000
As a vegetarian, I can’t count myself as one of McDonald’s more frequent customers, but neither can I support damage to one of its outlets – for any cause. Yet again, a militant minority has hi-jacked a protest demonstration and focused the news on the confrontation with police rather than on the issues.
The opportunity to protest is an important right in a democratic society. It offers an alternative view and can often help in addressing imbalances and injustice. But, just as important as freedom of expression is the freedom to do business and to profit from effort, investment and risk. If the protestors are hoping for a world without capitalism, the Vedic scriptures of Hinduism warn that they are likely to be disappointed. Even its most ancient texts glorify businessmen as one of the key roles of human society - having the vital responsibility for the efficient production and distribution of all material goods.
But the “guerrilla gardeners” are probably not alone in worrying about the effects of unfettered capitalism. These days, multi-national corporations wield greater power and have far greater impact on the world than many small countries. If bottom-line profits are the only guiding principle for businesses, then other human considerations can be eclipsed … at the expense of employees, consumers, and, regularly, the environment.
Here there is agreement with the Vedic texts. Capitalism though necessary, must be kept in check, and the Vedas recommend two forms of regulation. The first is by the government to control excess profiteering, and hoarding of crucial supplies and, also, to ensure the welfare of employees.
The second form of regulation stems from the spiritual dimension. The Isa Upanishad begins, “everything within the universe is owned and controlled by God”. Never mind Microsoft, there’s a case for the Monopolies Commission. The Upanishad continues that each of us should accept only those things which are necessary and specifically set aside as our personal quota.
The Mayday Celebration protestors may argue that many fat-cat businessmen have well exceeded that provision. Indeed, it is difficult to determine what is an individual’s quota, because it is not simply a question of equal distribution to everyone. Rather, quota depends on ability, effort, circumstances and Providence.
As a rough guide, the Vedas suggest that one’s personal quota is what is received from a responsible endeavour at work to which we are suited, and which has been carried out as a service to society without exploitation of people, animals or Mother Nature. And, if that makes you a millionaire, then there is no scope for protest.
© BBC This script was commissioned by the BBC for broadcast as “Thought for the Day” on the Today programme Radio 4.