Why do you want to become an ‘insider’?

I had long wanted to write a detailed review of Yanis Varoufakis’ book, ‘Adults in the Room’ which I finished reading some six months ago. But, never got around to doing it. I shall post separately a long review of ‘Adults in the Room’ – a simplified and shorter version of which appeared as a MINT column. It appeared in MINT in April 2018.

As my good friend Gulzar Natarajan remarked recently, the drawback of YV seems to be that he does not seem to admit to any mistakes or frailties or failures on his part.  In fact, some in Europe have claimed that he failed not so much because the ‘Troika’ (European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund) did not agree with him but that his personality was abrasive and somewhat insufferable. We will not know which version is true.

But, one of the first things that strikes you from the book is the question that Larry Summers poses to YV:

There are two kinds of politicians: insiders and outsiders. The outsiders prioritise their freedom to speak their version of the truth. The price of their freedom is that they are ignored by the insiders, who make the important decisions. The insiders, for their part, follow a sacrosanct rule: never turn against other insiders and never talk to outsiders about what insiders say or do. Their reward? Access to inside information and a chance, though no guarantee, of influencing powerful people and outcomes. So Yanis, which of the two are you?

This is a very profound statement. In the context of Greece, both Alex Tsipras and Varoufakis were outsiders who became insiders. But, Alex internalised his ‘insider’ role too much while YV retained his ‘outsider’ spirit and could not continue and came out to become an outsider, again. That Alex Tsipras chose to agree to the demands of the Troika after the referendum he called gave him the mandate to reject the EU conditions was a dramatic about-face. Notwithstanding everything that must have gone on before, including possibly YV’s personality playing a role in the debacle of negotiations with Europe,  this must be a sad moment for all those who harbour romantic notions of challenging power and coming out the better for it.

Actually, Larry Summers’ quote above might sound utterly cynical but is very close to the truth. All change agents succeed only when insiders permit them to. Otherwise, most end up as rebellions without success. Even if they succeed in overthrowing a particular regime and come to office and then turn into ‘insiders’ themselves, did their cause or the ordinary citizens who trusted them succeed?

‘Insiders’ are those who control the discourse, the narrative, wield power, influence and usually benefit smaller power centres and narrow interests than serve large interests. ‘Outsiders’ are like Don Quixote tilting at the windmills.

If you become an ‘insider’ by accident as YV did and if the ‘insiders’ already inside permit you – assuming that you retain the spirit of the ‘outsider’ in you, you may be able to achieve a few things that are consistent with your ideals. That is the bitter reality of the balance of power. All democracy in that sense is a fig leaf for the balance of power that rests firmly with the powerful. The power of power is powerful!

A rising tide might turn some boats into giant steamers andin the process may lift some boats. But, we mistake it for the power of our ideas, power of our persuasion and the triumph of the underdog, etc. It might simply be the case that you were allowed to succeed for various reasons.

The question, at a personal level, is whether one wishes to remain an outsider or an insider. IF one wanted to become an insider for the sake of ‘doing good’, then it is important to remember Summers’ advice. IT is sound, practical and true. The risk is that one might become a quintessential ‘insider’ oneself. The system digests you completely.

Or, one retains the spirit or remains loyal to it, remains untouched by the trappings of becoming an insider and achieves whatever possible. At the margin, he or she would have made the world a better place. It is possible theoretically but happens relatively rarely or to a few. It is possible for policy advisors and some technocrats but less so for politicians and for those who hold political office.

Or, one comes out; becomes an outsider again and remains true and loyal to one’s beliefs and values and sleeps soundly. If one were lucky, a crisis occurs and one’s ideas are sought and one pushes them through in a crisis. Otherwise, insiders would never permit them. One’s ideas see the light of the day and make a positive impact and one remains an outsider. That is the ultimate success story. But, it needs a lot of luck or divine will.

In India, many political parties started out as outsiders. The DMK in the South, the All Assam Students’ Union come to mind. Laloo Prasad Yadav started out as a Lohia-ite socialist. Tamil movie, ‘Achamillai, Achamillai’, is the story of how the insiders turned an outsider into one of them – a school teacher who joined politics to do good; becomes a politician, engineers a caste conflict and killings. His wife does not ‘recognise’ him any more and kills him in the end.

Tamil Novel, ‘Mayaman Vettai’ by Indira Parthasarathy is another tragic tale of a returning non-resident Indian becoming an insider – part of the system that he sets out to change.

Just right now, notice how in the tragic turn of events in Sri Lanka, Arjuna Ranatunga, the hero of their World Cup victory in 1996, has been arrested as his bodyguards fired at demonstrators or opposition supporters. He was the leader of the underdog team – an outsider – that challenged  ‘status quo’ powers.

One of the most brilliant articles I had read this year was about the current Pakistan Prime Minister and the brilliant cricketer cum captain, Imran Khan, who led his team to victory in 1992 World Cup. The story is that of an outsider for whom becoming the insider became an end in itself.

Very few remember why they became insiders in the first place. IF they do not truly become insiders – at least, they forget their original ideals and settle for their personal career advancement. That is, becoming part of the system becomes an end in itself. They may not be as harmful as true insiders usually are but they drift far away from their ‘outsider’ spirit. Very little of it stays with them. There is little public welfare gain from them becoming insiders. There are many in this category.

Personally, I feel very comfortable imagining myself as an outsider. I must consider myself lucky that, in my corporate career, I was allowed free reign of my ‘outsider’ spirit. That was partly a matter of luck for my role never really threatened the insiders and my research calls, predictions and views – out of consensu as they were – did not turn out to be systematically and persistently wrong. In fact, they were right, for the most part. It was a lucky confluence of many things that helped me remain an ‘outsider’ for most of my corporate innings.

Things became difficult in more ways than one, after 2009, with the engineered economic recovery. I never could come to terms with it, until today. No wonder I quit in 2011, feeling confused about many things! I still am.

[Cross-posted in http://thegoldstandardsite.wordpress.com]

It is ok for leaders to be human

There was some hullabaloo about the remarks that Rajiv Kumar, vice-chairman of NITI Aayog, made about the causes of the growth slowdown in 2016 and 2017. Some say that he blamed Raghuram Rajan and some, like yours truly, think that the evidence was not clear-cut. He called the former Reserve Bank of India governor’s attempt to make banks come clean about the extent of bad loans they were carrying in their books heroic and, in another place, he appears to have likened Rajan’s approach to administering an overdose of Crocin. Perhaps, he was both conflicted and confused. It does not matter. The interesting lesson here is how governments react to economic growth slowdowns.

They claim credit for accelerating economic growth and cast their net wide to find someone to blame for growth deceleration. The reality, when it comes to economic growth, is the opposite. Governments are seldom responsible for positive growth surprises and certainly not in real time. They are more likely responsible for negative growth outcomes. Government actions and outcomes are often asymmetric in nature. Governments carry more power and ability to hurt than to help. That is why their controlling instincts hurt more than their liberating instincts. For the latter to succeed, non-government actors have to do their bit. The former succeeds because it influences behaviour and attitudes of non-government actors more easily. The asymmetry is evident there, too. Most politicians do not get it.

That is why they want guaranteed outcomes, whether it is in the economy or in elections. They deal in certainties and certitudes, no matter how often they fall flat on their faces. With respect to India’s growth outcomes in 2016 and in 2017, both deleveraging—triggered by low credit demand and supply—and demonetization played their part. The government should have owned both as deliberate efforts on its part to cleanse the system with a clear recognition that the efforts would hurt economic growth in the short-term. Instead of being defensive, it should have paraded its decisiveness.

When I shared these thoughts with a friend, he wrote to me: “Governments prefer to be hated for the wrong reasons than speak the wholesome truth, which admits errors of judgement in good faith and they will never understand that people value honesty so much that they forgive honest mistakes!” Beautifully put.

However, if we think that only politicians suffer from this affliction, we will be wrong. Business leaders offer plenty of company. They want guaranteed successful outcomes. When employees offer “under-promise and overachievement”, they raise their eyebrows. They see that as an effort to game the system and garner more rewards for exceeding targets. However, not in all cases, such employee attitudes are driven either by incentives or by the fear of failure and the consequences it entails. Possibly, it is the recognition that there are very few certainties and certitudes in life. Leaders must demand over-performance in effort and employees must offer it. However, demanding guarantees with respect to outcomes and offering it are both signs of hubris. There are other problems, too, with such an attitude.

Such leaders usually come with high self-belief and proud ownership of their missions. Up to a point, these are desirable qualities in missionary leaders. However, they have their downsides. Such missionary leaders are human and humans, without exception, have limitations and are prone to fail from time to time. Such leaders run the risk of being undemocratic, of being untrusting of others to deliver on their tasks, of excessive interference and of second-guessing their employees.

An episode involving two gifted artists, Sivaji Ganesan and Manorama, in the Tamil film, Thillana Mohanaambaal, serves up these messages beautifully. Manorama asks Ganesan to play a note on her Nagaswaram, the wind instrument familiar to most south Indians. After he plays a note, she asks him how he could produce such wonderful music; he replies that it depended on one’s effort and divine grace. Later, in the same episode, she wistfully wonders why such a gifted artist (Sivaji Ganesan) was short-tempered and prone to bursts of anger. He answers that there was no human without blemish. Not only was that scene marked by spontaneous and brilliant acting, but it contained such obvious, yet profound, truths.

In the Bhagawad Gita, Lord Krishna says that for any effort to succeed, there must be a goal, a doer, skills and instruments. However, above all, he says there must be his support and blessing. It is natural to forget it when we pursue a project or a goal with zeal and sincerity, trusting in our efforts. They are necessary, but not sufficient. Of course, if one does not believe in the existence of a God, one can replace “divine blessing” with “chance”. However, it is there.

Recognizing that, and displaying frailty, is not a sign of weakness but to be human. Mostly, employees will not turn shirkers or slackers because of that, but would relate to their bosses better for being human. Mutual trust will emerge. To be able to balance being a normal human and being a leader is the challenge of leadership. To fail in that challenge is to risk becoming ineffective and unsuccessful. Above all, they risk being lonely in their most vulnerable moments.

This was the text of my column in MINT on Tuesday.

[cross-posted here]

What is prayer for?

Karma as Uncertainty

News of the passing away of a young life always brings out one’s innermost fears, questions and uncertainties to the surface. This blog post was triggered by one such news I received recently. First, it brings one down to earth. The thought that arises in one’s head is that it is so unfair. Then, the thought repeats itself. That is a fear-proxy and is an outcome of our confronting the uncertainty that life is. Through practised indifference, humans seek to deny the presence of uncertainty in their lives. News such as these remove the veil on reality.

Sudden and tragic deaths disorient the living. The Goddess of Dharma rushed to the Kurukshetra battlefield upon learning that her ‘son’ Karna had been slayed. She berated Krishna. The overarching logic and the duties of the universal ring master eluded her too. He reminded her. But, macro logic is too big for humans to comprehend.

For some, they disrupt the journey to equanimity. Yudhistra, an evolved human being who answers all the questions of a Yakshan and brings back from death, his brothers, is stuck with grief after the war. Sage Vyas, Lord Krishna and Vithura were all available to him for real-time counselling. Dronacharya, on hearing the news of the ‘death’ of Aswathama, put down his weapons and starts to meditate. Arjuna was not able to come to terms with the death of Abhimanyu. He had listened to the Gita from the Lord himself. In other words, humans can claim to understand intellectually the ‘truth’ of uncertainty and the inherent unknowability of how human life on earth unfolds but accepting that truth emotionally is a different matter.

For ordinary mortals, unexpected sad events shatter the illusion of certainty and they bring uncertainty and fear to the front and centre. Paradoxically, the illusion of certainty is what helps people cope. Sudden tragedies do shatter that illusion and reveal humans’ powerlessness but ego is powerful and is a great survivor. So is ‘Maya’. They regroup and together, they help humans bounce back and carry on living.

On the other hand, if the state of being awakened to the truth – induced by tragedies – stays, humans would lose the motivation to get back to living normally, as before. That is the message of a somewhat morbid and sad novel written by Tamil writer, ‘Sujatha’ (Rangarajan). The ‘hero’ in that work of fiction loses his wife and child in an accident. The novel is about his attempts to cope with it. He is unable to, in the end.

Poet Bharati took another route than the character in the novel by ‘Sujatha’. He demanded that he be spared the uncertainty and there was no quid pro quo from his side. He said, ‘பொன்னை, பொருளை, உயர்வை விரும்பும் என்னை கவலைகள் தீண்டத்தகாது’. I like that. But, there is a problem with such a prayer. It would negate the law of ‘Cause and Effect’ that most humans can intellectually subscribe to it.

Causes will have effects. The problem is that humans do not know what they caused and when. Hence, they do not know when would they reap the effect and what would that effect be.  That is the uncertainty, in a nutshell, in human lives.

How to deal with it?

The flawed prayer of Kunti

In this context, some scholars hail Kunti’s prayer to the Lord that he should always ‘bless’ or ‘shower’ her with setbacks and sorrows that she never forgets HIM. Allegedly, that is an answer to be freed of the trappings of ego, the delusion of control or of the illusion of certainty. That is a wrong and even ignorant prayer, in my view.

First, it is not right to be in a permanent state of fear or despondency to have faith in a transcendental Shakti and look up to that Shakti for guidance. That is not a healthy relationship with the Divine.

Second, disappointments and sorrows do bring humans down to earth and keep their egos in check from time to time. So, they are levellers. However, it makes no sense to pray for them so that one remains level-headed. Far better to pray for a state of mind that is freed of the dependency on sorrows and disappointments to level itself.

Third, Kunti’s prayer is a confession that if one got only good tidings one would become a victim of ego and megalomania. Therefore, the right prayer is to seek a cure to that malady and not ask for sorrows.

Fourth, to ask for something is to be inconsistent with the iron-clad and inviolable law of Karma – you reap what you had sown – joys or/and sorrows.

What else DOES one pray for, then?

If ‘Maya’ or the illusion, even after being shattered by tragedies, can regroup itself and help the human to pick himself or herself up and carry on living, then is that what one prays for? To be in a state of ‘Maya’ or in an ‘illusory state’ always?

May Divinity or Shakti keep my ‘Maya’ alive, strong and healthy because that is what keeps me living happily?

Well, that sounds as stupid as Kunti’s prayer because, once humans glimpse the truth, no matter how brief it is, they cannot escape feeling silly about their illusions and their attachments to them, in those rarer moments of solitude when truth penetrates human conscience and allows it to be revealed to the individual.

So, what SHOULD one pray for?

  • It is to learn to live life with the awareness of uncertainty, with feet on the ground; with humility; with the realisation that humans are powerless before the uncertainty that their own Karma has created;
  • It is to ask for the capacity to accept the fruits of Karma with equanimity;
  • It is to ask for the ability to live life in such a way that one’s Karma does not generate too much uncertainties in this life or in the lives ahead;
  • It is to ask for the realisation and the acceptance that such a prayer is an exercise spread over multiple or countless lives before it bears fruit and to keep at it.

This model of ‘Karma as uncertainty’ is consistent with science for life’s uncertainties is beyond science. Second, even science accepts that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. ‘Cause and effect’ is central to science.

Nor it is a problem if one were faithless. Accepting that Karma – our past words and deeds – manifests itself as uncertainty does not require faith. It is logical. Dealing with that in any manner that one finds comfortable is an individual prerogative.

Lastly, humans now know what to seek of their spiritual gurus. Not riches. Not short-cuts and no boons and bounties. Gurus have to help their followers in the above prayer. Period. Anything else prolongs the cycle of Karma and hence, uncertainties in human lives.

An important lesson from Dr. Y.V. Reddy

Among many lessons that I learnt is one from Governor Narasimham who
was my boss. One day he showed me a draft letter that he was writing to Robert
McNamara. He asked my frank comments. I promptly did. He walked across to
my room and told me. “I wanted you to be frank; but not brutal”.

In substantive terms I learnt that for good negotiations, we should start with
what we agree. That makes a pleasant beginning and positive start. Then, we
discuss only what can be negotiated. If we cannot negotiate something, we take it
to the end. Most of the time, the negotiators have to help each other in public
policy matters, to please their bosses. [Link]

The Zuckerberg dilemma

From a NYT interview with Mark Zuckerberg:

Roose: Adam Mosseri, Facebook’s head of News Feed, recently said he had lost some sleep over Facebook’s role in the violence in Myanmar. You’ve said you’re “outraged” about what happened with Cambridge Analytica, but when you think about the many things that are happening with Facebook all over the world, are you losing any sleep? Do you feel any guilt about the role Facebook is playing in the world?

Zuckerberg: That’s a good question. I think, you know, we’re doing something here which is unprecedented, in terms of building a community for people all over the world to be able to share what matters to them, and connect across boundaries. I think what we’re seeing is, there are new challenges that I don’t think anyone had anticipated before.

If you had asked me, when I got started with Facebook, if one of the central things I’d need to work on now is preventing governments from interfering in each other’s elections, there’s no way I thought that’s what I’d be doing, if we talked in 2004 in my dorm room.

Overall, he had handled the interview well. He came across as honest and sincere. That is important.

But, what set me thinking was the portion highlighted. Most of the time – or all the time – we have no idea of what we are unleashing, when we set out on a path. What we are unleashing for ourselves, for people around us and in the larger world. With many of us, the consequences are limited to a smaller circle of family, friends and colleagues. We do not cause much damage or good. In the process, we will never know whether we helped someone realise their potential for the greater good or limit theirs from doing good.

But, some of us have the ability to influence events far bigger and wider than in our immediate circle. Zuckerberg’ FB is an example. It takes on shapes and forms that one could have hardly visualised at conception. That is what he is admitting.

That is not a reason not to try. Human beings will always not know what is coming next. That is no reason not to try. But, it should inform how we try and, at what point, we stop ‘trying’ and ‘surrender’ to the larger force or wisdom.

At a somewhat more mundane level, does it set limits on growth? I had written on this earlier too. FB’s impact and the situations it keeps throwing up make me keep revisiting these issues. When do we completely lose control of the forces that we unleash? At that point, do we simply admit and walk away that we had created a Frankenstein monster rather than being a force for good?

Can we even anticipate that moment and stop ourselves a moment or two before that? Is it even possible?

I do not have answers to these questions. But, I find these questions fascinating and posing these questions repeatedly to myself and others might help me discover some answers which, again, have to keep evolving. Not easy.

Need for luck and learning: constant and continuous

Last week was rich pickings for insightful stories, for me. I still remain captivated by the story, ‘The case against Google’. I blogged on it here.

The next story that I liked immensely was the story in Wall Street Journal on GE under Jeff Immelt.

I like such stories not for the reason that they vindicate my priors (I remind myself not to hold too many of them!) but because they make me think.

This one short paragraph summed up the story rather well:

But Mr. Immelt didn’t like hearing bad news, said several executives who worked with him, and didn’t like delivering bad news, either. He wanted people to make their sales and financial targets and thought he could make the numbers, too, they said. [Link]

Jena McGregor in Washington Post has a good follow-on article on this story. She writes,

The article puts GE well out of its usual role as management exemplar. And it shines a light on a problem endemic to corporate America, leadership experts say. People naturally avoid conflict and fear delivering bad news. But in professional workplaces where a can-do attitude is valued above all else, and fears about job security remain common, getting unvarnished feedback and speaking candidly can be especially hard.

There was an added complication for Jeff Immelt. He was a celebrity CEO. No matter how hard he tried, people would hesitate to share bad news.

From Jane McGregor’s article:

Being led by a celebrity CEO who succeeded a man once named “manager of the century” probably doesn’t help either. Immelt, who rose through GE’s sales and marketing ranks before leading its plastics and health care divisions, became CEO after a high-profile horse race to succeed Jack Welch that catapulted him into the spotlight. One of the most recognized faces of corporate America for the 16 years he held the job (he stepped down last year) Immelt led President Obama’s jobs council and was considered as a veteran corporate hand to replace Uber CEO Travis Kalanick.

Leadership experts say such prestige can create a “social distance” between the CEO and direct reports, even if they make efforts to improve personal relationships. (Immelt, for instance, was known to host dinners with one of the top 185 officers of the company each month at his home and reconvene for a few hours the next morning to talk about their careers and their performance.)

“People tend to not want to tell them the bad stuff,” said Tim Pollock, a professor of business at Penn State University who has studied celebrity CEOs. “They become starstruck; they’re less likely to want to speak up and say negative things.”

As with most things in life, this too could go wrong. You could create an organisation culture where everyone only brings up bad news and uses them as an excuse not to perform or deliver. There is a fine line and no one knows where it is drawn.

It requires repeated experimentation, trial and error, learning by trying and, above all, good luck, to figure out the right balance between fostering a culture of frankness, honesty and of positivism; right balance between awareness of limitations and of strengths too.

In general, today’s world is a high pressure world – not just in jobs or in businesses but in just about everything. From parenting to maintaining social networks, friendships, from pursuing multiple interests. The culture is one of doing so much in so short a time. Efficiency and scale, even in personal lives, pursuits and social interactions, are privileged. They used to be expected only in business organisations.

When people are running everywhere and in every place with no place to rest, pause and reflect, anyone who allows them to step back, reflect and question these will actually be deemed a saviour! People feel grateful to be allowed to voice their self-doubts and inner doubts, their anxieties and frustrations once in a while and feel connected with those who do not hesitate to let them know that they share these too!

Therefore, that CEO or leader who allows his lieutenants the odd opportunity to step back, to say NO and to warn him of over-reaching, should be received with gratefulness and will be reciprocated with trust, commitment and higher motivation actually. That is my guess.

Not without dangers. Someone might take advantage and someone might embarrass the leader publicly about this. Some one in the media might say that the leader is a shirker and the share price might nosedive! The leader will be out of his or her job soon.

It is not that easy to swim against the prevailing currents even if you are convinced that the current will eventually plunge into a ravine. Given time, it will be right. The GE story is an example. The company went with the social norms and ethos of the times – good news, optimism, success, high performance, not taking NO for answers and deadlines are yesterday, etc. Indeed, it defined the ethos and norms of the times. Has it succeeded? Now, we know that it has not.

But, it takes time to know that it does not work. Not many have that luxury of time or luck to take a bet against consensus norms and ethos and succeed. They have to live in a society and be part of it. Humans are social animals. They need to belong. Some of us actually come to like it. It is seductive. It is lonely to be not part of it. Not easy.

The best we can do is to be aware of how excessive any organisational culture can become and modulate it from time to time. No one size fits all and no one culture works in all situations.

Let us also not forget that these articles are appearing with the benefit of hindsight. Note this paragraph in the WSJ story:

Former GE Chief Financial Officer Keith Sherin, who worked alongside Mr. Immelt during challenges such as the financial crisis, said the CEO would methodically approach a problem with his team, consider multiple viewpoints and communicate regularly with the board, making sure executives stayed focused on the most important issues. “I never found him to be overly optimistic,” said Mr. Sherin, who retired in 2016.

To his credit, Jeff Immelt did not preach one thing and practise another. He believed in his model:

At a conference hosted by Axios in November, the month after he stepped down as chairman ahead of schedule, Mr. Immelt noted that GE is “125 years old; we go through cycles,” and said he was “fully confident that this company is going to thrive in the future.”

A spokesman for the former CEO pointed to his decision to purchase $8 million worth of GE shares in 2016 and 2017. That included 100,000 shares in mid-May at a price roughly twice today’s.

The only enduring lesson in all this is that in business as elsewhere, the need for luck and learning is constant and continuous.

Are we ‘inevitably’ evil? – the story of the year

NY Times magazine published a very long piece titled, ‘The case against Google’. It will probably be the article of the year for me. It is a business case study, a public policy case study and a business ethics case study – all rolled into one. All of these are interwoven into the personal story of two small entrepreneurs whose search engine proved more powerful than Google for certain types of queries and how they paid for it!

Public policy students and analysts will appreciate the spirit behind ‘anti-trust’. In the process, you learn the story of Standard Oil, the story of Microsoft. Microsoft did win its appeal against anti-Trust decisions. It did not have to break up. But, the legal challenges – even though they failed – made the company a lot more sensitive and allowed an upstart (called Google) to emerge.

Google’s behaviour may not have been against consumer interests but was it simply fair?

One can also reflect on the spiritual and philosophical lessons of this. When Google was formed, it took on the motto, ‘Don’t be evil’. Has it lived up to it? Or, as one grows big, powerful and influential, does it become part of the DNA or almost inevitable to become ‘evil’? Is that true, almost without exception, for individuals, institutions, corporations and sovereigns?

[Note: Google’s new parent Alphabet abandoned that motto and took up, ‘Do the right thing’, circa 2015. Don’t be evil is simple and absolute. ‘Doing the right thing’ is relative, can be subject to interpretation and it can be bent. The yardsticks are malleable.]

Then, does it follow that if you are self-aware, you limit your own growth and stay small, lest you become inevitably evil?

Do we realise that, once we start rationalising, we are no longer wedded (but already divorced) to our values? In fact, the rationalisation is merely a confirmation of the divorce that would have happened some time earlier.

Is there no better way at all than to become inevitably evil? What is that ‘better way’ if there is one? What does it take to traverse down that path? Do the modern society and its organising principles militate against individuals, institutions and businesses walking down that path?

Or, is that question too a form of rationalisation? Isn’t it implicit in the question that we have simply re-arranged our priorities?

How do we stop rationalising or, better, realise that we have started rationalising?

Is it about having fearless upstarts and advisors telling us that? Does it work? In the Indian epic Ramayana, Kumbakarnan warns Ravana eloquently of the doom that he was courting by having brought Sita forcibly to his kingdom. It did not work. It was too late.

In Mahabharat, Vithurar was the voice of wise counsel in the Kaurava court. Even Vikarnan warns his brother, Duryodhana of the destruction that awaits in the path that he had chosen to walk on. No avail.

Indeed, even the wise ones and the exalted souls are not exempt. The illusion of size, power and influence shrouds their intellect. Knowledge, spirituality and reason retreat.

Therefore, ‘are we doomed to end up like this only?

Utterly fascinating, utterly educative and utterly and ultimately sobering, about us. [Link]