Clash of civilisation and clash of classes

This piece on Islamic terrorism had been in my in-box for nearly two months. Finally, I got around to reading it.

For some reason, the piece by Ms. Giovanna Jacob made me think about my own position on a couple of current issues, to clarify and re-confirm them. After the exercise, I felt more reassured about my own positions. So, here is a ‘Question & Answer’ that I conducted with my own conscience.

(1) The root-cause theory

(a) The case of Donald Trump

I examined the root-cause theory advanced by apologists for Marxism and/or Islamic terrorism. I wondered if I too had not advocated a variant of the ‘root cause’ theory for the Trump phenomenon.

My answer to my own question: Yes and no. The causes of any phenomenon are many and complex. Financial globalisation, asset bubbles and economic inequality are, undoubtedly, few of the causes behind the rise of Donald Trump. There are other factors too. Disgust with political correctness and hypocrisy. Mistakes made by Republicans and neo-cons among them in shutting down government, shutting down dialogue on things like gun-control, on deficits, on undermining Social Security, on reforms to Wall Street, etc.

Second, the resort to a ‘root cause’ argument can never be an excuse to avoid action in the here and present. That is the message of the quote from the article: “If someone is trying to kill you, you do not start listing up your sins in thought, word, deed and omission from your childhood to the present day: you just try to stop the assassin.” In the case of Donald Trump, there is nothing illegal about what he is doing or saying. Hence, there is no need to contemplate taking action against him even while addressing the root cause.

Indeed, if we have to take action in the present and address root causes of a problem at the same time, one has to remember two things:

(i) The action itself should not exacerbate or enhance the complexity of the problem. For instance, in the case of Donald Trump, if the Republican Party were to thwart his nomination through questionable and unfair means, will the backlash it produces be worse than or better than a Trump candidacy and eventual victory?

(ii) That we had correctly identified the root causes of the problem and not just the one that is convenient to us and one that shoves the blame on the ‘other side’. For example, Western oppression and exploitation are routinely cited as justifications (not explanations) for Islamic terrorism now. Even if one were to accept that argument for the sake of advancing the discussion, it is important to think about other root causes. Muslims have to introspect and reflect on those.

The author alludes to the weak and often silent responses of the moderates among Muslims. There are others too. Historian Bernard Lewis refers to many of them in his book ‘What went wrong?’ written immediately after 9/11. So, a discussion of root causes – even if it is not at the exclusion of immediate actions – has to be comprehensive and not shy away from turning the gaze and the spotlight on oneself and one’s groups and other affiliations.

(b) War reparations, hyperinflation and the Great Depression and the Nazis and Hitler:

Then, there was the discussion on German, Nazis and the emergence of Hitler. Ms. Giovanna Jacob points to the fact that many countries suffered from hyperinflation and the Great Depression. But, not all of them saw an emergence of a ‘Hitler’ in their countries. This is similar to the argument that is advanced against Islamic terrorism. Not all poor and exploited countries take to terrorism to settle scores and, second, those among Muslims who have taken up violence have not necessarily come impoverished families.

This argument too is linked in some respect to the ‘root cause’ issue. That made me think of whether my argument that economic (income and wealth) inequality and diminishing economic opportunities are one of the causes behind the Trump phenomenon was correct.

After my own reflection, I came away satisfied that it was not wrong, for the following reasons:

(i) There are necessary and there are sufficient conditions. I did not and do not think that economic causes are the sole factors. Causal factors in complex phenomenon are usually not simple. Simple and single explanations might be too simplistic.

(ii) There may be other factors too at work. But, sometimes, a spark is needed to light the fire. Hitler got that spark from the economic misery of Germany. So, one cannot rule out a role for German’s economic misery in the rise of Hitler nor can one rely on it for explanation to the exclusion of other factors.

This response might disappoint those who look for neat and black or white explanations. But, the world is not neat nor do simple explanations suffice at all times.

[Parenthetically, I must add here that Jared Bernstein, former Chief Economist to American VP Joe Biden thinks that stagnation in real wages is the reason behind the real anger among American voters that are propelling them towards Donald Trump or, for that matter, Bernie Sanders, I must add.]

(2) Two wrongs not making it right

We know that and often use it with our own children that one mistake does not justify another and that two wrongs do not make a right. There too, it is not clear that we apply the principle at all times evenly.

Trump, again

For example, the question can be raised on the Donald Trump phenomenon too:

“Yes, we agree with you, Nageswaran, that financialisation, financial globalisation, central bank hubris and consequent asset bubbles are all deeply wrong and need to be addressed. But, is Donald Trump the answer? You cannot solve one wrong or mistake with another.”

My response:

(i) We do not know if Donald Trump will be the answer. He may not be elected as US President in November 2016. Second, he has not been foisted or thrust by anyone unfairly. The democratic process that we commit to, has thrown him up. Do we want to complicate the situation by abandoning our core principle of democracy by sabotaging his nomination? Second, what guarantee can we give that the situation would not become worse if one unfairly and undemocratically ejected him? As a tactic too, it might backfire making many consider him an underdog and more sinned against than sinned and rallying around him.

(ii) There is also a need for humility on our part. We do not know if Donald Trump is the answer to the problem. That lies in the future. For now, that he would be a disaster is a view. We should be humble about our certitudes because we did not know or anticipate many things. There are counter-arguments at the practical level too:

(a) Campaign utterances usually do not form the basis for governance. In mature and stable democracies, governance happens at the middle, for better or worse. Campaigns in democracies are often extreme these days but governance, more often than not, is not so, fortunately.

(b)  In the past, the same was said of Ronald Reagan. But, he remains one of the most popular President in many polls in America. Further, although there are debates on the long-term consequences of some of his actions (in Afghanistan, his support for Pakistan, his deficit spending, etc.), for the US, he restored its primacy, dominance and cemented its status by destroying Soviet Union. Importantly, he restored the faith of American people in their own country and in themselves. These too are undeniable.

(c) Finally, shall we also pause and think about the responsible and sober people that brought the world to the brink of collapse in 2008 and have again done so, with their post-2008 policies? Robbing the savers and pensioners and engineering transfer of wealth from them to debtors, through negative interest rates, is an extreme form of redistribution. What yardstick allows us to look benignly upon such actions? Can Trump really do worse than them?

Babri Masjid 1992

Another issue that came to my mind is the issue of the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992 in India.

The question/argument can run as follows: “Yes, the demolition of Hindu temples was wrong. But, did the demolition of the Masjid there help to solve or complicate the situation in India? Was one wrong the right way to correct another wrong?”

My response:

(i) It is a convention that has evolved through usage that one wrong is not the answer to another wrong.

(ii) But, it is an eternal principle or Dharma of nature that all actions have consequences. That overrides (i) above because that is more powerful. Hence, actions will always have consequences. Unfortunately, we cannot determine the form and the timing of the consequences occurring. There is no expiration date for the consequences. Nature determines that. It is, indeed, inevitable.

(iii) Further, the nature and severity of the original action, as perceived by the victims, make reactions and responses of an equally violent magnitude, inevitable. It can and will have to be tackled as a ‘Law and Order’ matter at the specific instance but it cannot be judged unfair or unreasonable, from other planes.

(3) The dharma of ‘Actions have consequences’

This dharma caused another question to pop up in my head. If actions have consequences and if one cannot determine the nature, the form and the timing of those consequences, perhaps, Western nations are simply reaping the consequences of their sins against natives, colonies and others over the years or centuries. Can that be a basis for understanding Islamic terrorism, philosophically?

My response: It is true that the West is indeed reaping its own consequences. However, it can only be a philosophical explanation but it becomes problematic as a practical explanation for several reasons:

(i) The natives or the blacks or slaves or citizens of former colonies are not retaliating or rebelling against the West or Christian Whites. Do Islamists have really a grievance against the West?

Question: Didn’t you say that one couldn’t predict or dictate the form that consequences would take?

My response: Yes, true but that brings me to the second part of my response which has three parts, in turn!

(ii(a)) Islamic nations and citizens have received assistance from the West economically and militarily. They have been squandered by their own rulers and further, their religious heads have kept the societies chained to dogmas. Hence, they have battles to wage internally with their rulers and with their religious dogmas first.

Indeed, that leads us to another important dharma that is hard to practice: we cleanse ourselves before we point out the dirt in others.

(ii(b)) If you are still not convinced that you should condemn Islamic terrorism, here is my final answer: please remember that all actions have consequences. Just as the West is experiencing the consequences for its actions, the ‘consequent’ action of Islamic terrorists is the first link in the next chain of ‘action-consequence’ cycle. Islamists too will face the consequences of their actions now. Indeed, just as the Western societies face the consequences for the mistakes their governments have committed in their name, Muslims too would face the consequences for the acts of terrorism committed in their name. That is why it is a cycle of retribution.  It is permanent.

(ii(c)) Finally, you have no idea whether Islamic terrorism is about securing justice or about dominance and re-fashioning of the world.

(4) Conclusions form the ‘interview’

Balance and fairness is hard work

I realise that how complex and difficult these questions are. It is possible to conflate and confuse people who have no time (not as jobless as I am) nor inclination to delve deeper into these issues. Achieving consistency with dharmic principles, balance in thoughts, fairness in arguments, improving one’s situation and achieving dominance over the other are not only difficult but also incompatible.

Therefore, it should not come as a surprise that most of them are taken in by the proximate, most insistent and most persistently repeated explanations no matter it is mostly misleading and incorrect. Cognitive biases that we are born with, virtually guarantee such an outcome. That too is in the nature of things.

These situations easily lend themselves to selective interpretation and selective application of logic and principles. It is easy to be seduced by the certitude of one’s own logic without realising that one is merely applying it selectively and conveniently. Reasoned and reasonable thinking is just a lot of hard work. That is why achieving the right balance in our thoughts and actions consistently is not easy at all.

That is why, much as we can and do debate the action-reaction cycles, the fairness and unfairness of them all, most of the cycles are inevitable and indeed, Nature ordains them. There is no getting away from it.

Nature restores balance from imbalance

If individually, all of us, are balanced, fair and truthful in our own judgements, there is a greater chance of the collective will being balanced, fair and truthful. Otherwise, nature will find its own way of imposing that balance. That won’t be pleasant. Indeed, the longer the imbalance continues in our thinking and the more pervasive it is, the bigger will be the shock that Nature would administer to remove the imbalance and restore balance.

Currently, there are so many imbalances within societies, nations and in the wider world that have accumulated over the last two to four decades, that a great upheaval awaits us. Three decades of debt-driven economic growth has created a class of rich and a class of indebted poor. The middle class is either hollowed out or thinning in several Western countries. Then, there is the scourge of Islamic terrorism. The backlash from Europe towards refugees is only its most recent manifestation. Therefore, there is a simultaneous clash of classes and clash of civilisations. Worse, the warring parties in each clash collide and collude with the parties in the other clash resulting in a clash between the clashes too!

Virat Kohli

There are occasions when it sinks slowly into our consciousness that we are watching something special, something that happens rarely, extraordinary and beyond normal human effort and that we are simply lucky to be watching it.

Those who watched Virat Kohli carry India to victory, almost single-handedly, on Sunday night at Mohali would have had that feeling.

At the end of fifteen overs, the match was as good as last because the ‘asking rate’ had climbed to two runs off every ball. I remember seeing on the screen that the quotient was 55 runs off 27 balls.

At that time, it appeared that India’s generosity with wides (eleven of them) and the last two balls would prove decisive.

How he managed to tame both James Faulkner and Nathan Coulter-Nile in two overs with mostly cricketing shots would be talked about for a very long time. He almost made them bowl where and how he wanted them to and he found gaps in the field at will. It was almost as though Australian players had vacated the arena leaving an empty ground for Virat to score at will, which he did.

His self-belief was staggering and frightening.

Shikhar Dhawan had perished to a pre-determined shot. He wanted to hit another six in the square-leg region regardless of the ball. Rohit’s dismissal was a consequence of a pre-meditated charge down the wicket. Suresh Raina succumbed to his old weakness. Yuvraj hobbled and that must have been both a distracting influence and a negative influence on energy levels.

It did appear that Kohli would suffer a lapse in concentration in his Thirties and perish. He appeared frustrated and distracted then. Luckily for him and for India, he regrouped and how!

Amidst all the well-deserved praise being heaped on Virat Kohli, we should not forget the excellent bowling spell by Ashish Nehra and by Ravinder Jadeja until his last over. Nehra delivered just when his captain desperately needed him, he kept his cool when all those around him were losing theirs. He is 37. He bent his back. Ravi Jadeja stands and delivers. It would be nice if he did bend his back, at least once in a while.

As Steve Smith told Sanjay Manjrekar, 160 was a par total although Australia looked set for bigger things at the beginning. It was a good last match for Shane Watson. He would have been happier with a better finish to his international career but one diminutive man stood in the way.

The professional satisfaction that comes from your adversaries’ acknowledgement is something special. Virat will savour some of these tweets for a long time.

T-20 World Cup – some personal reflections

The sixth edition of the T-20 Cricket World Cup Tournament is underway in India. I did not expect to be watching this tournament. I had lost interest in following all cricket there is, simply because there is too much of it.

But, because this one is beamed late in the night into Singapore homes and a good way to unwind somewhat mindlessly, I decided to follow them. I must happily concede that I have been enjoying the matches.

First, I loved Chris Gayle’s 11 sixes against England and their new dance of celebration.

Then, came the low-scoring nail-biter between Australia and New Zealand. Happy to see NZ win, no doubt.

I am not a big fan of England. I do not root (pun intended) for them. I am being polite here. But, the way they beat South Africa by scoring 237 runs was truly magnificent. Joe Root was special. They thoroughly deserved it.

As I was watching this match, my mind wandered back to 2005, the year of a memorable Ashes Cricket Series between Australia and England. I could not immediately recall the names of the English pacers including that of their famous all-rounder at that time. Thanks to the Internet, it was no issue. I was struggling to recall the names of Andrew Flintoff and Steve Harmison.

I then came across as the series of articles ‘Daily Mail’ had done on Flintoff last October. I read only one of them. I found it fascinating. Here are some sentences from that:

‘When you search for things you are not always happy with what you find,’ he said. ‘In the early years of retirement that was what drove me. It was escapism. 

‘The mask became the man and it was exhausting,’ he writes. 

The India-Pakistan match was, well, the show of the tournament for India. Mamata Banerjee’s screaming at the top of her voice, as she opened the match, in her own English was somewhat hard to take.

Quite why and how Afridi let the pressure slip after having India reeling at 23/3 is somewhat hard to explain.

On that day, Kohli was in a different zone. That should have helped him to erase the memories of his 11-ball inglorious stay at the crease in the World Cup ODI finals in Melbourne last year.

Sri Lanka – West Indies match was a bummer. Sri Lanka was way below par. They are missing good leadership, perhaps. Something is missing.

New Zealand vs. Pakistan – it was a match that I could not complete watching. When I went to sleep, Pakistan were, in reply to NZ, at 24/0 in two overs. Good start. But, they had gone on to lose the match. If Australia beat them, they are out of the tournament. Then, it will be up to Australia and India to slug it out for the second spot. Hard to pick the eventual winner of that contest. Both teams are playing below par.

In a way, the slower pitches that this tournament has featured are useful for the game of cricket. They have elevated the status of the bowlers from being mere whipping boys for the batsmen. They are no longer passengers. They have played a key role in matches.

The ‘dumbification’ of cricket with too much pre-eminence and leeway given to batsmen is par for the course in modern times where anything is nothing if it is not a viewing spectacle that provides cheap thrills.

These times are about superficial over the subliminal in everything we so. There should be no surprises that cricket has not been exempt from this trend.

Was at a book launch function last evening in Singapore. A research fellow at ISAS, Ronojoy Sen, was releasing his book, ‘A Nation at Play – India’s sporting history’. He came across as an unassuming, thoughtful and a good researcher.

One Mr. Manu Sawhney formerly of ESPN-Star, current CEO of Singapore Sports Hub, was the keynote speaker. It was interesting to listen to him about how the fees had changed. From USD8mn for a four-year right in the early 1990s, now it is USD17mn per match, regardless of the form of cricket – test, 50-over ODI or T-20.

No surprises that TV, instead of telecasting the cricket that is played, dictates how the game should be played. We, humans, are always good at elevating the ‘means’ to ‘ends’ and reducing the ‘ends’ to irrelevance. These are, btw, not comments on him. Perhaps, it is not just cricket that has been afflicted.

Of course, while I view IPL T-20 cricket league phenomenon with disdain, I must concede that the copycats it has spawned in other sports in India has been welcome. Many livelihoods have been improved beyond imagination and a sporting culture is taking root in the country. Whether it is Kabaddi, Badminton, Football or Hockey league, all these games have been granted new leases of life in India. Especially, Kabaddi. Very welcome indeed.

In this context, I came across this wonderful article from ‘The Week’ on the revival of board games in India. These are subtle but extremely effective ways to maintain and preserve our traditions and civilisations. When we play these games with children, we bond and we share other stories about age-old customs, practices and other Puranic stories too.

Pl. read the article and support those who have found a way to pursue these besides their other avocations. My Namaskarams to them.

Now, we come to the final (as of now) match that I watched: India vs. Bangladesh. Quite how and why Bangladesh lost the match would take some explanation. They had done everything right even right into the last over of their innings. They never allowed any Indian batsman to get away with the game. They took a stunning catch when Pandya looked like he would take India beyond 160.

Then, they chased well. What was the turning point? Was it Bumrah’s comeback overs? Should Bumrah have been named the ‘Man of The Match’? Or, was it Dhoni’s lightning stumping? Or, was it the masterstroke that made him keep a slip fielder for Ashwin? Was it Yuvraj’s save of a certain four? For my money, the player of the match should have been Ravinder Jadeja or Dhoni. Jadeja scored 12 runs, took two wickets and took a very good catch in the final over.

It was hard not to feel for Bangladesh. They had played very well, planned and executed well. They deserved to win. It was sad to see some spectators crying and one player too, as he walked off the field. Could the Indian players have commiserated more with them? I do not know. I think they should have tried.

Perhaps, this comment in Cricinfo reflects some justifiable frustration at their loss.

Two days later, I watched the South Africa – West Indies match. West Indies made heavy weather of the modest target that South Africa had set. In fact, they made such a meal of it that the equation came down to 20 runs off the last two overs. South Africa could not contain the West Indies. The latter won. As I watched the final overs of the West Indies batting, a thought came to my head. Do these tense situations help to bring out the worst or the best in players?

Very few appear capable of handling the pressure without losing their intrinsic composure. Others want to brazen it out by closing their eyes to the situation and simply lashing out at the ball, hoping that it would somehow connect and relieve them of their troubles. There is hope and denial in that; not so much planning. Joe Root, Virat Kohli and M.S. Dhoni seem the honourable exceptions. Of course, AB de Villiers is one of them too. When he was around, Steve Waugh of Australia was another. In the past, Australian Michael Bevan stood out for his calmness in challenging circumstances. I would reckon that it played a big role in him helping Australia win out of impossible situations.

Lest someone think a cool and collected head writes these lines, perish the thought. It is easier to be a critic than a doer.

Enjoy the rest of the tournament.

Ordinary and original

You could say that this post is a follow-up to the one on the virtues of staying ordinary. But, chronologically, this one should have appeared earlier. The article by Simon Kuper was published in January. My good friend, Rajeev Mantri, had forwarded it a while ago. But, I just managed to read it last night. It resonates rather well with the message of the post I had done on the virtues of being ordinary.

This is the comment I posted on the article:

May be, the reason why most of the comments focused on Arsène Wenger is that the author keeps coming back to him, as though he was the prime example of what he was trying to convey – that original thinkers simply are at ‘it’ for its own sake.  In the process, he appears to have lost some of his readers, if the comments are any indication. That is a pity. The article makes an important point.

The choice between ‘original thinking’ and ‘winning’ finds its echo in other situations.

For example, one can extend the logic of the article to business situations. It could be about choosing to grow big or stay small. Think of Google or Apple today and what they stand for and the compromises they have made along the way and contrast them with the high values they espoused and got us excited about them.

Or, it is also the choice between quantity and quality. Both may and can co-exist in commerce but not so in creative arts, culture, thought and communication.

Also, staying ‘original’ is also about staying true to one’s values and not having to compromise one’s integrity by showing some ‘flexibility’ to grow richer and bigger.

Thus, there is more than one dimension to the central message of this piece.

It is all about the courage to resist the temptation to seek fame and wealth at the expense of values and principles. That is the advantage of staying ordinary and original.

For better or worse, this is the message (from the Bhagavad Gita) that the partner of Charles Assisi had told him:

When your ambitions and values come into conflict, the onus is on you
to decide what side of the fence you want to stand on. [Link]

 

Virtues of staying ordinary

I had a problem choosing the title for this blog post. Initially, I wanted to say, ‘The morality of being small’. It could be misconstrued. I discarded it because it was not a romantic, activist view of all things small and a scornful view of all that was big. I also realised that ‘infamous’ is not quite the opposite of ‘being famous’. So, that ruled out the title, ‘The virtues of being infamous’.

What is this preamble about? This morning, I read the article, ‘The New Mind Control’ written by Robert Epstein and circulated to his readers by John Mauldin. I was excited after I read it. It had multiple messages for me.

I shared it with nine friends. Six did not respond. Two thought that it was no big deal. One said that it confirmed what we knew already. Well, I felt that the article was more than these.

The article is about how Internet Search Engines present results in a way that could influence your preferences for candidates in elections. Specifically, it was about Google and in the light of the support extended Hillary Clinton by Eric Schmidt. Apparently, he had financed a start-upthat is helping Ms. Hillary Clinton with her campaign. The company has only one web page and no other links. It is called ‘The Groundwork’.

The article had much interesting content:

An unsettling quote from the British economist Kenneth Boulding: ‘A world of unseen dictatorship is conceivable, still using the forms of democratic government.’ Could this really happen, and, if so, how would it work?

Most of the vacuous thoughts and intense feelings our teenagers experience from morning till night are carefully orchestrated by highly skilled marketing professionals working in our fashion and entertainment industries.

Google, for all intents and purposes, has no competition, and people trust its search results implicitly, assuming that the company’s mysterious search algorithm is entirely objective and unbiased.

Some courts have even ruled that Google’s right to rank-order search results as it pleases is protected as a form of free speech.

In the 2012 US presidential election, Google and its top executives donated more than $800,000 to President Barack Obama and just $37,000 to his opponent, Mitt Romney. And in 2015, a team of researchers from the University of Maryland and elsewhere showed that Google’s search results routinely favoured Democratic candidates.

We published a detailed report about our first five experiments on SEME in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) in August 2015.

In our PNAS article, Robertson and I calculated that Google now has the power to flip upwards of 25 per cent of the national elections in the world with no one knowing this is occurring.

Gmail users are generally oblivious to the fact that Google stores and analyses every email they write, even the drafts they never send – as well as all the incoming email they receive from both Gmail and non-Gmail users.

Google can share the information it collects about you with almost anyone, including government agencies. But never with you. Google’s privacy is sacrosanct; yours is nonexistent.

By 2020, China will have put in place the most ambitious government monitoring system ever created – a single database called the Social Credit System, in which multiple ratings and records for all of its 1.3 billion citizens are recorded for easy access by officials and bureaucrats.

We now have evidence suggesting that on virtually all issues where people are initially undecided, search rankings are impacting almost every decision that people make.

In one of our recent experiments, biased search results shifted people’s opinions about the value of fracking by 33.9 per cent.

In April 2015, Clinton hired Stephanie Hannon away from Google to be her chief
technology officer and, a few months ago, Eric Schmidt, chairman of the holding company that controls Google, set up a semi-secret company – The Groundwork – for the specific purpose of putting Clinton in office. The formation of The Groundwork prompted Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, to dub Google Clinton’s ‘secret weapon’ in her quest for the US presidency.

We now estimate that Hannon’s old friends have the power to drive between 2.6 and 10.4 million votes to Clinton on election day with no one knowing that this is occurring and without leaving a paper trail.

What were my take-aways?:

(1) Many strongly and sincerely believe that they we are rational, logical and are in control their preferences and decisions. Indeed, it is only a belief system. But, it is worse than religious beliefs that such people usually despise and hold in contempt. It is actually funny that such people mock those who hold religious beliefs. The latter at least seem aware of their limitations and realise that they need a higher power to guide and support them.

(2) It is one thing to manipulate our minds and tastes to sell products. But, it is another thing to manipulate us into choosing a leader who would alter destinies of millions for better or worse.

(3) There is utter lack of accountability to the individual human being from the companies with the Search Engines (Google is the daddy ’em of all) and from the State that has winked at this lack of accountability.

(4) Mr. Eric Schmidt, Chairman of Alphabet, supports Hillary Clinton. Perhaps, Google has donated more to her than to other candidates in this election. In a sense, she represents continuity in a world that probably is actively seeking discontinuity and is ready for it in more way than one.  A detailed article in Washington Post on her backers from the financial services community here.

(5) I doubt if Eric Schmidt and Larry Page wanted to influence and shape the world in this manner when they were a start-up in a garage from whom some venture capital funds ran away. But, here they are: largely unaccountable and unanswerable to those who are providing them their revenues and manipulating them, using humans’ inherent and intrinsic cognitive limitations, for other ends, whose morality is hard to define and, perhaps, equally hard to defend. How to interpret, ‘Don’t be evil’, in the light of this?

(6) That brings me to the final point. This applies to individuals and institutions. Perhaps, there is some deeper purpose and good in remaining ordinary as opposed to being or becoming big, famous, influential and powerful. As the latter happens, morality and values are either re-interpreted or abandoned and newer identities are acquired. Even if they are for a larger purpose, who is judge if the larger purpose is noble and for the greatest common good?

In the Mahabharata, Kunti, the mother of the five Pandava brothers, is said to prayed to Lord Krishna that life should always be full of difficulties and worries for her so that she would never forget him.

I can understand the meaning behind that prayer.

If one wishes this life to be a journey to non-identity, then there is virtue in being ordinary and staying ordinary. There are fewer reasons, excuses and opportunities to abandon one’s values and cross moral and ethical boundaries.

Finally, it is important to be happy and content about being ordinary.

[Cross-posted here]

Hinduism Lite

Thanks to an email from good friend Harikiran Vadlamani, I caught up with R. Jagannathan’s article on developing ‘Hinduism lite’. I liked it very much. Some specific comments and then a general comment follows:

they have a greater need for intellectual stimulation that takes you beyond narrow religious dogma

Jaggi is talking about Westerners here. Yes. In addition, there is also a sense of vacuum – more existential questions that suggest the need for spiritual fulfilment as much as for intellectual stimulation.

If Hinduism Lite (or a new form of Hindutva) is to succeed, it needs to be more radical on the social messaging, and more simple in terms of the expected spirituality of its target audience, which is still at survival or basic needs stage.

He touched upon three specific examples of ‘being radical on the social messaging’ – caste discrimination, women empowerment and social welfare.

Indeed he is right. The vocal Religious Right has somehow failed, so far, to convince the vast numbers out there that it champions an end to caste discrimination by standing in the forefront of the battle against it.

My column in MINT today is somewhat related to this. Actually, it complements his piece. If his piece made a case for ‘Hinduism lite’, I was making a case for ‘Economic Liberalism Lite’. My piece was about the need for ‘Economic Right’ to get its messaging right. He had spoken of the work that still awaits the ‘Religious Right’. I did that with respect to the ‘Economic Right’.

‘Economic Right’ has to think of its philosophy as one of ‘Heart for Ends and Head for Means’. I just did a blog post with that header.

This means they have to become proselytising faiths themselves. A new, improved “Ghar Wapsi” product is needed back home.

Wow! That is quite direct, bold and good too. I love it because it is not apologetic. Indeed, it is worth holding a weekend workshop just to get the specifics of the ‘call for action’ embedded in these two sentences.

 The problem is we want to see greatness only in our past, whereas greatness lies in what you do now.

Hear, hear!

 We are proud of what we achieved in the past. But will our ancestors be proud of what we are doing now?

Just thought of another line for this:

 “We are proud of what our ancestors achieved.  But, will our children be proud of us?”

Besides these specific thoughts, I left the following comment on the article in ‘Swarajya’:

“Easily one of your best, Jaggi. Not that this piece does not have competition from many of your pieces from the past – not just on religion but on other topics too. But, this is a strong contender for the top honours because of its very pragmatic, action-oriented and contemporary message.”

Letter to American Lawmakers – a guest post

Open letter to American lawmakers

(Mayuresh Didolkar)

Dear American Lawmakers,

As a constitution-abiding Indian citizen, I was quite delighted to find that you chose to write a letter to my country’s PM Mr. Narendra Modi and voiced your concerns about the status of minorities in India. I think it is vital that as world’s most vibrant democracies, India and USA have such exchanges and criticisms periodically.

Your letter ends with a statement that you will wait for the PM’s response. Since he is working 18 hours a day solving real problems facing my nation, allow me to answer on his behalf.

The first thing I noticed while going through the list of signatories to the letter is the almost equal participation of lawmakers from Republican (18) and Democrats (16) among the 34 signatories. This piece of bipartisan statesmanship is highly unusual in a democracy with a history of complete absence of bipartisanship on most governance issues. From letting your government shut down for 16 days in 2013 to locking horns over President Obama nominating a Supreme Court Justice to fill the seat vacant after Justice Scalia’s death, the history of USA democracy is the one full of grandstanding and open hostilities. The only area where both parties have kept their differences aside to join hands, has, invariably, been international matters, especially of the hostile kind. We all remember how your parties joined hands to vote for America to go to war against Iraq in 2003 over the 9/11, an attack carried out by Saudi hijackers and one that Iraq played no part in. Considering your country’s history of active interventions in countries with publicly elected governments, I am sure you will excuse us for taking this letter as an act of micro aggression.

Let me come to the content of the letter now. A point-by-point rebuttal of the many allegations is not the intention of this letter since I feel you are way out of your jurisdiction on all of them. However, when we take the issues you have raised through your missive and juxtapose it to the positions you had taken in your country’s politics and policies, several interesting contradictions stand out.

Your letter makes a mention of the beef ban enacted by the government in several parts of the country. It just goes to show how poorly researched your letter is. Beef ban is a state subject in India and no state made a new law to ban beef in the year 2014 or 2015 since Modi came to power. The oldest Act banning beef became law in 1950 and offhand I don’t remember President Eisenhower’s lawmakers writing to Pandit Nehru about it. Interestingly, I found that, among the 34 lawmakers who signed this letter, as many as 11 have voted in the past to ban stem cell research or embryonic cell research. The opposition to this research is purely on religious grounds. Opponents of stem cell research adhere to the absurd and unscientific (in my opinion) idea of “life begins at conception/fertilization” and hence stem cell research requires destruction of life. Research on stem cell can provide cure of diseases such as cancer and yet thanks to your religious beliefs a third of you have chosen to block federal funding to this. . It seems a little ironical that the 11 lawmakers who sided with ban on stem cell research fail to grasp the religious grounds on which beef ban was enacted.

Your letter makes an impassioned case for rights of minority Christians in India. In that light I find it nearly incomprehensible that 18 out of 34 people on this list have held the unscientific and irrational belief (mostly based on literal reading of religious books than any rational evidence) that “life begins at conception/fertilization” and therefore abortion is anti-life. The list of laws you voted for to deny women the right over their own reproductive systems go from efforts to defund “planned parenthood”, a non-profit organization that supports women’s right to choose to enforce laws that make it illegal to transport minors to states where the abortion laws are more pro women. Sirs and Madams, women make nearly half of our planet’s population.

To deny this half a right over their own bodies (even in cases of abuse through incest or rape) due to some religious belief is a dereliction of your duties as lawmakers. Lawmakers are not merely tools of public opinion but the shapers of them. The fact that over half of you as a group have repeatedly bent to public opinion rather than standing for human rights makes your credentials as champions of civil liberties suspect at best.

I also could not help but marvel at your nerve to speak about violence in the Bastar region while 31000 gun related deaths occur in the USA every year and yet 17 out of 34 of you have long been fighting attempts to regulate gun ownership in USA. Actually, Mr. Pitts and Mr. Franks, who figure in the list of signatories, have the dubious distinction of being rated A (indicating staunch support for the right to bear arms) by NRA, a special interest group that has the mistaken belief that taking assault rifles that can fire 100 rounds per minutes out of the hands of bank clerks and Walmart ushers is somehow an encroachment on their fundamental rights. How can you worry about violence taking place a hemisphere away while in your own backyards high school students regularly convert their classrooms into morgues using weapons that we the Indians only see in Hollywood movies?

As for the village councils voting to ban all “non-Hindu religious propaganda, prayers and speeches in their communities”, please stop projecting this as a minority persecution issue. This measure was specifically adopted to stop the aggressive practices used by evangelicals to convert uneducated tribal to Christianity. The members of evangelical churches in India may be few in number but they are by no stretch of imagination underdogs. They are representatives of a power-hungry and aggressive branch of Christianity with budgets running into billions of dollars. Faced with this threat, the local communities had no choice but to adopt the aforementioned resolution. As for the reports of assaults and denial of basic services, we have acted on it whenever a genuine case of such persecution has presented itself. But, just as you correctly believe that various acts of vandalism and bombing of abortion clinics in USA do not take away the legitimacy of your pro-life movement, a few random acts of violence committed against the missionaries do not take away Indian society’s legitimate concerns over predatory conversion practices. That, for a group that has a 50% (17/34) record of opposing all efforts to integrate immigrants in your society, should not be difficult to understand.

Your off-the-cuff allegations against RSS are a point of concern too, since RSS is essentially a social service organization and its members have rendered invaluable support to the various rescue and relief operations on Indian sub continents in case of natural calamities such as Nepal Earthquake and the recent floods in Chennai, India. Unlike the misguided members of the evangelical church who were allegedly distributing bibles to the victims of Nepal earthquake, RSS volunteers have helped those who needed help, irrespective of their caste, religion and political affiliations. Your effort to undermine RSS, can be seen as an effort to undermine our organic disaster relief system itself that has witnessed, time and again, benefactors and victims of calamities tackling their consequences peacefully unlike, say, what happens in your country.

You see, ladies and gentlemen, we made a law legalizing abortion and giving the unconditional right to the woman in the Seventies. As a country, we have always fought to bring scientific temper to our citizens and eradicate superstitions and blind beliefs wherever possible. We are open to suggestion/criticisms from external parties at all times. It is just that we are not sure lawmakers, who (in American political commentator Bill Maher’s words) think “life begins when you are just thinking about having sex” or use terms like “legitimate rape” (Todd Aikin) and feel that growing a stem cell in a petri dish is an attack on human life are the ideal role models for us.

As for the other 50 % pro rights, anti-guns advocate- your support to this letter seems contradictory to your own stances within your country. Circling back to the Iraq war vote, dare I ask if your support to your republican colleague is a case of political expediency in an election year to demonstrate your Christian values to the evangelical/radicalised base within your constituencies? Do you find it morally consistent that the positions that you hold dear to your heart at home, may be abandoned when it comes to foreign countries? Evidence suggests some truth in this since, for a group that is so staunchly pro-individual liberties, 12 of you have supported wiretapping overseas in some or the other format. I guess this is part of your “some animals ought to have more right to privacy than others”.

I wish to close by reminding you of a  quote from the great American journalist late Edward R Murrow “We proclaim ourselves, as indeed we are, the defenders of freedom, wherever it continues to exist in the world, but we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.”

I find it no coincidence that Mr. Murrow said these words while protesting the actions of an overzealous lawmaker.

I rest my case.

Jai Hind!!

(This is a slightly modified version of the original that appeared in ‘IndiaFacts’. You can find it here)