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Ricki Levi, Jindal School of Environment and Sustainability, O.P. Jindal Global University, Sonipat, India
Daniel Mishori, Porter School of the Environment and Earth Sciences, Tel Aviv University, Israel
The “Rule of Experts: Egypt, Techno-Politics, Modernity” (Mitchel, 2002) describes how Egypt underwent four significant transformations in the twentieth century, which included massive construction projects that changed the flow of the Nile and new irrigation schemes, such as mega water-projects, besides an increased use of synthetic chemicals and massive population movements. The Rule of Experts is Mitchell’s critique of modernization in the “developing” world, the idea that predict how the rest of the world will adopt and use European and North American technologies, that one part of the world could help another through transfer of Technology.
Mitchel suggested that the powers of global capitalism and techno-science tend to reproduce their own understanding of the world. According to Vandana Shiva (1999), such science and technology use IPRs (e.g., patents) as tools of economic, corporate and political hierarchies, enforcing neo-colonial paradigms which erase former native agro-ecological notions of human-nature interdependencies, including cultural and social significance of practices such as resources harvesting, management and preservation. According to Shiva, the agro-ecological paradigm might serve better society and the environment than “modern” materials and concepts which tend to bias for global standards, large-scale projects (ideal for corporate/technocracy cooperation) and judgments of Experts, which tend to overrule so-called “primitive” concepts, know-how and other local predicaments. Anupam Mishra (1948-2016) remarkably demonstrates such criticisms in the field of water, and enables us to develop a broad concept of water ethics, broader than narrow engineers/experts’ professional ethics.
Mishra was an Indian social and environmental activist, author and researcher who single-handedly helped to revive traditional Indian water systems, including efficient methods of water harvesting and storage. By the time of his death, his work was already an official Indian government policy, and there were thousands of such projects stretching from Rajasthan (his original place of work and research) to other similar projects in India and abroad (Levi & Mishori, 2015, 2017).
Mishra describes these traditions as rooted in Gandhian values of simplicity, solidarity, mutual-dependence, TEK (traditional ecological knowledge), and commons-based resource management, exposing a holistic ethical perspective of water. He depicted water as craftsmanship requiring moral and spiritual virtues at both the individual and the collective levels and as inviting contemplation on human-nature relationships and interdependencies. Managing water as commons was done in a decentralized model managed by local communities, proving they could sustainably conserve water, often better than the government or the “market” (private- sector).
His work reveals intricate interfaces between culture, technology, language and religion. By chance, Mishra stumbled upon a culture that created in Rajasthan the world’s best water harvesters and keepers, which nearly disappeared due to pressures from the British colonial Department of Public Works, which preferred “modern” materials (e.g., concrete, ill-suited for desert conditions) and top-down centralized policies. Rediscovering native better (ecological) technologies was an act of local empowerment and of challenging the dominant role of modern science and technology, suggesting a reformed concept of science which is more pluralistic, adhering to local circumstances and insights. In this Mishra contributed to the criticism against the dominant Western worldview, which praises corporate-based globalization, Neo-liberal strategies of natural resources management, growth economy, top-down management, centralized technocracy and preference for reductionist science and technologies. Mishra gave cardinal importance to architecture and the gazdhars, the water architects, starting from the construction of the most little well to the gigantic, breathtaking, and sophisticated stepwells (baoris), unparalleled in beauty and efficiency by Modern constructions (Levi & Mishori, 2015, 2017). In this manner, Mishra’s work in discussions on architecture and water ethics presents a unique Indian example, expanding the scope of discussion far beyond that of a ‘professional’ debate on architecture. It illustrates how architecture can create and reflect resilience and social cohesion, as part of a broad philosophy of life in which Water is of prime significance (Levi, forthcoming).
Abaneri Chand Baori, 9th century AD. Located between Jaipur and Agra.
Source: Ricki Levi, 2017.
Mishra’s seminal work serves as a starting point of a broader and enlightened water ethics which was primarily understood in a narrow professional/engineers’ sense, regarding distributive justice (ramifications of water projects such as damning reavers, allocation of water rights and/or irrigation projects), procedural justice (concerns regarding the ways decisions are being taken, e.g., with or without consulting local inhabitants and authorities), with fashionable concerns to technocratic (oxymoronic) “sustainable development”. Often, such “narrow” professional water ethics is unaware and often biased of established disciplinary premises and presumptions regarding Reality and Nature, as well as Human-Nature relationship, exemplifying professional conservative (group-thinking) ways of doing, born out of the academic system of disciplinary science, which presumes to be superior over other systems of knowledge and technologies (Mishori, 2019), in ways which nowadays are relevant to the controversies regarding “experts” management of the Covid challenge (Mishori, 2020).
Mishra introduced a new water ethics, which emphasize ecological, spiritual and social significance and virtues of water professionals and practices (water “virtue” ethics, Mishori & Levi, 2017). He showed that the water-culture of Rajasthan is embedded in broad water philosophy and ethics, and thus substantiated the Gandhian claims regarding the superiority of local knowledge and skills over modern foreign methods. In this, Mishra contributes to the criticism of dominant worldview, which substantiates corporate-based globalization, growth economy, top-down management, and preference for Western reductionist science and technologies.
To conclude, Mishra’s significance lies in depicting a “broader” alternative to prevalent “narrow” professional water ethics, which is rooted in localism, non-materialist values, indigenous knowledge, commons-based management and unity which between different aspects of local communities (religion, technology, culture, language, spirituality, and ethics) and the forms and methods for managing and sustaining water as a commons, beyond current dominant view of water as a “commodity” or “resource”.
Levi R. & Mishori D. (2015). Water, the Sacred and the Commons of Rajasthan: A Review of Anupam Mishra’s Philosophy of Water. Transcience: A Journal of Global Studies 6 (2): 1-25.
Levi R. & Mishori D. (2017). Water, Virtue Ethics and TEK in Rajasthan: Anupam Mishra and the Rediscovery of Water Traditions. In: R. Ziegler & D. Groenfeldt (eds.), Global Water Ethics: Towards a Water Ethics Charter, Routledge: London, 2017: 197-214.
Levi R. (forthcoming). The ‘Sacred’ Architecture of Anupam Mishra’s Water Culture. In Geva, A, (ed.). Water and Sacred Architecture. Routledge 2022.
Mishori D. & Levi R. (2017). The Hydro-Ecological Self and the Community of Water: Anupam Mishra and the Epistemological Foundation of Water Traditions in Rajasthan. In: Baghel, R.; Stepan, L & Hill, J. (eds), Water, Knowledge and the Environment in Asia: Epistemologies, Practices and Locales, Routledge: London, 2017: 125-141.
Mishori, D. (2019). The Rule of Experts: Academic Freedom, Professional/Academic Ethics and Disciplinary Science. Social Ethics Society Journal of Applied Philosophy 5 (2): 23-62.
Mishori, D. (2020). Medical Technocracy, Extreme BioPower and Human Rights: Heretic Criticism of “Public Health” Authoritarian Corona Policies. Social Ethics Society Journal of Applied Philosophy; Special Issue on COVID-19, July 2020: 230-266.
Mitchell, T. (2002). Rule of Experts: Egypt, Techno-Politics, Modernity. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Shiva V. (1999). Biopiracy: The Plunder of Nature and Knowledge. South End Press.