The Case of Cultural Destruction

This is a complicated crime: A culture that existed in relative peace and harmony for generations is in the process of being destroyed. Greed has replaced cooperation; pollution has replaced care for the earth; insecurity has replaced security; “look out for number one” has replaced family and community. If this process continues it will destroy a viable, ecologically responsible culture. The people there will be the big losers, but everyone in the world is harmed at least indirectly when we lose a culture like this.

That’s the crime. But who or what is to blame?

All of the following defendants are charged with the crime of cultural destruction.

1. U.S. and European Tourists

  • You came to Ladakh thoughtlessly, never asking what effect your presence would have on the Ladakh culture.
  • You spent more money in a day than the average Ladakhi family makes in a year. By example, you taught the people that West is Best: in America and Europe everyone is rich, has easy lives, and is superior to “poor” Ladakhis.
  • By introducing so much money, you turned everything topsy-turvy. Before in Ladakh, everyone was relatively equal. Equality was the invisible ingredient that kept everyone together. Suddenly, you come along and whoever you drop your dollars on has more privileges than their neighbors. Of course, you were only thinking about yourselves.
  • You humiliated the people by taking pictures of them as if they were animals in a zoo. “Here, Marge, look at this one.”

2. The Indian Government

  • You wanted Ladakh to “develop” so you built roads to Ladakh so trucks could come in and out; new stores could be built in Leh, the capital; foreign tourists could come in; cheap wheat and barley could be trucked in, etc.
  • Who knows why you did all this. Perhaps to benefit large Indian farmers who needed places to sell surplus grain. Perhaps to benefit trucking companies and road building companies, who would make lots of money by opening up new “markets.” Or perhaps because you sincerely believed that Ladakh was poor and needed to be “developed.” Whatever the reason, the effect was to devastate the Ladakhi culture.
  • Your permission was needed for any tourists to come, for any stores to be built, for any factories to be built. Apparently, you didn’t consider the impact that this would have on Ladakh.
  • You also ruined Ladakhi indigenous education by forcing young people to attend schools that taught them to feel inferior to “developed” cultures that had dams and industry and huge plantations and big cities and cars and . . . .
  • There may be others who are guilty, but without you, none of the bad stuff happens.

3. The Ladakhis

  • Yes, you had a wonderful culture in many ways, but ironically it was the weakness of that culture that is leading to its decline. Your leading philosopher, Tashi Rapkis, says, “We should not fight.” If you can’t fight, then how can you save your culture? You needed to organize to stop development, to stop the roads, to stop tourism, to stop movie theaters from being built, to stop the factories. Unless you can fight there is no way to preserve your way of life.
  • We can blame all kinds of outside influences, but ultimately it was the Ladakhis yourselves who went to work in the city, who sent your kids to schools, who sold stuff to tourists, and who began to pollute your communities and lose your old ways of life.
  • You should have seen what was happening. You should have sat down and talked about it and have been able to predict what would happen. Either you didn’t or you wouldn’t.
  • No one can make you feel inferior. Helena Norberg-Hodge tells the story about the Ladakhi man who, years ago, didn’t think there were any poor in Ladakh, but after 8 years of development, thought that all Ladakh was poor. That’s his problem. He should have had more confidence in his own culture. If we show a movie in Los Angeles about people who hunt wild monkeys in the rainforests, it doesn’t mean that everyone who watches it will give up their own culture. So why should tourists and movies affect your culture?

4. The Global Capitalist Economy/the System of Profit

  • Obviously, no one person, group, or government can be blamed for what is occurring in Ladakh. It’s a much larger process, that at its root is economic. Capitalism is an economic system where the sole aim is to make a profit — it might be from selling guns, selling bubblegum, or selling wheat. The nature of capitalism is to grow, to expand. Capitalists in one country will naturally try to make a profit in other countries. No place in the world is safe from cultural destruction so long as capitalism is the global economic system.
  • In the case of Ladakh, capitalists came in to make a profit from selling cheap wheat and barley. Capitalist tourist agencies advertised “the idyllic, isolated communities of Ladakh.” Why? Because they wanted to help Ladakh? No. Because they wanted to make a profit. Merchants came in because they believed that they could exploit this “emerging market” and to take advantage of Ladakh’s “cheap labor.”
  • There are no evil people who are consciously trying to destroy Ladakh’s culture. What is destroying the culture is simply the natural workings of the capitalist economic system that looks all around the world in order to ask, “How can a profit be made here?” The system requires that you apply for work individually, that you work not for each other but for the capitalist. Gradually, people stop thinking in terms of “we” and begin thinking in terms of “me.”
  • Cultures like Ladakh’s are the enemy of capitalism. People who are self-sufficient, who work cooperatively together, who do not buy a lot of stuff, threaten capitalism. They are “bad for business.” And because of that, capitalism is bad for indigenous cultures like Ladakh.

5. “Modern” ideas

  • It’s too easy to blame the decline of Ladakh on particular groups of people or even on the global capitalist economic system. The real culprit is the terrible bunch of ideas that infected Ladakh: bigger is better, rich means making money and having lots of things, machines are good, industry is good, electricity is good, “development” is good. These are the ideas that like a virus have infected the world and have now infected Ladakh.
  • You have little Ladakhi kids parroting nonsense about big dams and “development,” as the salvation for “poor” countries like Ladakh. Modern ideas have taught Ladakhis to have an inferiority complex about their own culture. These ideas are committing the crime against the Ladakhi culture.
  • The economic system may be important, but it is people’s ideas that make them believe that they should get more money to get ahead, that they should give up their traditions as “old fashioned,” that they should allow things like movies and tourism into their country.
  • Think about what the movies have taught the Ladakhi teenagers: that their old ways are bad, blowing up stuff is good, being macho and sexist is good, being an “individual” is good, etc. As Helena Norberg-Hodge said, teenagers are the weak link. The reason is because the young are not yet integrated into the traditional culture, and are being pulled into the orbit of modern ideas. You can’t blame this on just the economic system, it’s bigger than that.

6. People in the United States

  • Alright, you probably have never even been to Ladakh, but you are the ones who are really responsible for the gradual destruction of Ladakhi culture. Why? Because your society is the model of “development” — the model that Ladakh is moving toward.
  • It’s in your power to build a better culture — a more cooperative, more ecological, less violent culture. But instead, you go home, flip on the TV and do nothing. Or you go to McDonald’s to eat a burger (which uses up tremendous amounts of water and grain to produce) or drive to the mall in your car (using precious resources and polluting the air), to shop for things you don’t need. A few of you work for change, but the vast majority don’t.
  • Sure, the world economic system may be to blame, or modern ideas — but where are both of these headquartered? That’s right: here in the US. Hollywood movies that will end up hurting the Ladakhi culture start here. The tourists that invade Ladakh were born and raised here. The corporations that direct the global economic system are based here.
  • This society is the source of the evil that is destroying Ladakhi culture. Therefore, you in the US are the most guilty for the crime.


1. Read the indictment against you. Talk amongst yourselves to come up with the best defense. You know the saying, “the best offense is a good defense.” Well, sometimes the best defense is a good offense. Think about using some of the indictments against other groups to defend your group.

2. Write-up your defense. Be eloquent. Try to involve as many people as you can in giving the defense.