India, Know your Misalignments

That’s the core and urgent message of Pratap Bhanu Mehta’s brilliant op-ed in the Indian Express on the unacknowledged root of our present-day ills. It’s not lack of governance, development per se, or even corruption. Its a poverty of self knowledge.

Pratap Bhanu Mehta’s must-read essay is available here. The FirstPost overview of the essay is here.

“Indian society, with all its changes, is fast becoming a tale of misalignment: its self-understanding and its realities pulling in different directions. The social self-knowledge, the process by which society acquires an insight into its own workings and acts on it, lags behind its material capabilities,” writes Pratap Bhanu Mehta.

We are unable to speak or think about our nation, our politics or our problems in constructive, creative and imaginative ways. And nowhere is this more apparent, according to Mehta, than in the debate over the tradeoff between development and the environment.

Technology: Its ‘doing’ something to us.

Really interesting quote from a Vanity Fair write-up of the ‘New Aesthetic’ – a British  ‘Art Movement-but-its-ridiculous-to-call-anything-that-these-days’. The idea is quite pertinent given the headlines these days. Its core artistic symbol is the unmanned robotic Drone.

“We always think that, as Orwell said, Fascism cannot succeed in Britain because it would be laughed at. I think that what terrifies us about some of the technological implications is that a machine can’t be laughed at. You can’t satirize Google. That’s what spawns new expressions like some of James’s work. It is a very particularly British reaction to the new American century of technology”: technology is something Americans do to us.

Drone Shadow 002 photographed in Istanbul, by James Bridle / BOOKTWO.ORG.
Drone Shadow 002 photographed in Istanbul, by James Bridle / BOOKTWO.ORG.

What the New Aesthetic is —

“It’s just me, looking at this stuff, and going, ‘Have you seen this [the new networked society and technologies]? Have you actually seen it? Have you really paid attention and thought this stuff through? Because I’m trying to, and it’s amazing!’” — James Bridle

The importance of thinking two steps ahead

A short rant on the importance of thinking two steps ahead…and the dilemma of ‘national security’ for citizens in todays world.

Many people think its ok for the govt to monitor *everyones* email, tap *everyones* phones without warrants – to protect us from ‘terrorists’ – because YOU have nothing to hide, you’re a law-abiding citizen.

But what do you do when the govt calls you an ‘enemy of the state’ for protesting a local park from being made into a mall, like in Turkey? or calls journalists a threat to security for reporting govt violations of the law, like in the US?

By watching emails, and listening to phones – something getting easier and automatic due to computers – they can watch you organise a protest, know where you’re going to be, and stop you. This has happened.

The ‘terrorist’ can be *anyone* the govt agency wants it to be. Whats to stop them from planting information in your email inbox?

For those already in power, a good citizen is one who keeps shut.

Heres an Iranian citizen talking about what happened in 2008:

The post-election Iranian uprising in 2008 did not succeed mostly because it was impossible for the people to organize. All communication was being monitored. Phone calls, texts messages, facebook, twitter, everything. All signs of dissent were immediately dealt with harshly. The state crushed the movement, even though there were literally millions of people out on the streets protesting. They just couldn’t get organized. People would agree to assemble the next day at a certain city square, and immediately riot police and pro-government militia would be deployed to exactly that spot, waiting for the crowds. The government had bought a sophisticated surveillance system from Nokia-Siemens that let them collect and mine an immense amount of personal data. I imagine PRISM is infinitely more powerful.
Stop this before it’s too late. You may think your country is immune to the kind of savage insanity that rules the Middle East now, but so did the Iranians in the 1970s.

A much more detailed description here… 

Field Testing

“There are many exciting things you could do that are illegal or not allowed by regulation,” Page said. “And that’s good, we don’t want to change the world. But maybe we can set aside a part of the world.”
Larry Page at Google I/O

Newsflash – Pharmaceutical companies have been doing this for decades in Africa and Asia, Larry. Its called field testing on illiterate human subjects. There is a large part of the world that is already ‘set aside’.

Funnily enough there’s a movie coming out about what happens when you take this thinking to its logical extreme. — ‘Elysium’

Where the planet is ‘set aside’ for the poor to have things tested on, and the rich live separately, with all the good stuff.

The slow march to Unconditional Basic Income

The future is Unconditional basic Income, whether we can imagine it or not. Technological automation is going to leave fewer people with jobs and skills, and money is going to have to change its meaning, and work will have to change its purpose.

We can get there kicking and screaming, or prepare for it. These studies are invaluable data points on how behavior changes with access to free money, and helps move the economy and keep activity going….which after all, is the whole point of the economy.

“They told us the men would use the money to get drunk, and the women to buy jewellery and saris,” said Dewala. “But it’s a middle-class prejudice  — The study showed that a regular income allows people to act responsibly.”

An experiment in paying villagers in one of India’s poorest states an unconditional basic income has been successful enough to change the government’s thinking. The village of Panthbadodiya lies 30km south of Indore, in Madhya Pradesh.
The Unconditional Basic Income Study –
Le Monde diplomatique – English edition

Change & Preservation

I saw these two stories and found it very interesting reading them both one after another.

A Punjabi Show Draws New Canadian Ice-Hockey Fans –

“I wore hockey shirts,” Singh said, “because then I didn’t have to answer, ‘What is that thing on your head?’ ”

(From the video: “Chak de phatte goooaaalll Joffrey Lupul! Torrronto Maple Putayyy!”)

For every Sikh religious figure on the walls of the Singh home, there is an equivalent picture of (Canadian Ice-Hockey legend) Wayne Gretzky nearby.


In Rural Georgia, Black and White Students organise Integrated High-School Prom for the first time –
(Proms are not official school events, it seems)

But locally, the separate proms have defenders. White residents said members of the two races had different tastes in music and dancing, and different traditions: the junior class plans the white prom, and the senior class plans the black prom.They do not reflect racism, he said, but simply different traditions and tastes.

When he was a senior in high school, in the 1970s, he said, there were separate proms for those who liked rock music and country music.

The question that occurs to me is that when its about changing a culture, adopting a culture, and also preserving a culture – how can one draw the line to separate the three?

All three happen simultaneously, and some people focus only on part of it.
Adapting your culture means expanding it to include.
Adopting a culture means expanding your own to include.
Preserving a culture also means including more to keep it relevant, which is coming a full circle and also Adapting it.

Attempts at self-preservation without inclusion and adaptation = extinction, isolation, or war. It explains a lot.

A Rotten ‘Misadventure’

Savita Halappanavar’s widower condemns ‘barbaric and inhuman care’, and says ‘she was just left there to die’

I cant help but think that if she had been Irish, instead of a foreigner, the jury wouldn’t have labelled it a ‘Misadventure’ – a term that sounds clinically casual – it would have been called  ‘Malpractice’ or ‘Negligent Homicide’.

The nurse said a life-saving abortion wasn’t possible for her since ‘this is a catholic country’. The doctors obviously agreed. She wasn’t Catholic or even Irish.

So they let her die, while waiting to see if the baby was ‘acceptably’ dead first inside her.

As Indians we’re not in a great position to criticize medical care in other countries – our own hospitals have much lacking, and i’m sure there’s plenty that happens which isn’t even reported, But that’s not the point.

Its holding people to the same standard they espouse – and the application of which becomes easily loose with loopholes, when it shows themselves in a bad light.


Russell Brand on Margaret Thatcher

The always interesting Russel Brand, on the impact Thatcher had on the Britain he grew up in, and the world she helped shape. Quite insightful  sobering and damning, really, especially coming from a comedian…

Perhaps my early apathy and indifference are a result of what Thatcher deliberately engendered, the idea that “there is no such thing as society”, that we are alone on our journey through life, solitary atoms of consciousness.

Barack Obama, interestingly, said in his statement that she had “broken the glass ceiling for other women”. Only in the sense that all the women beneath her were blinded by falling shards. She is an icon of individualism, not of feminism.

I hope I’m not being reductive but it seems Thatcher’s time in power was solely spent diminishing the resources of those who had least for the advancement of those who had most. I know from my own indulgence in selfish behaviour that it’s much easier to get what you want if you remove from consideration the effect your actions will have on others.

The blunt, pathetic reality today is that a little old lady has died, who in the winter of her life had to water roses alone under police supervision. If you behave like there’s no such thing as society, in the end there isn’t. Her death must be sad for the handful of people she was nice to and the rich people who got richer under her stewardship. It isn’t sad for anyone else.

What is more troubling is my inability to ascertain where my own selfishness ends and her neo-liberal inculcation begins. All of us that grew up under Thatcher were taught that it is good to be selfish, that other people’s pain is not your problem, that pain is in fact a weakness and suffering is deserved and shameful.

In the end he accuses her of the biggest crime – not being quite British:

I can’t articulate with the skill of either of “the Marks” – Steel or Thomas – why Thatcher and Thatcherism were so bad for Britain but I do recall that even to a child her demeanour and every discernible action seemed to be to the detriment of our national spirit and identity. Her refusal to stand against apartheid, her civil war against the unions, her aggression towards our neighbours in Ireland and a taxation system that was devised in the dark ages, the bombing of a retreating ship – it’s just not British.

via Russell Brand on Margaret Thatcher: I always felt sorry for her children | Comment is free | The Guardian.

The Difference between Science Fiction and Fantasy

They should never have been sharing a section in bookstores…

David Brin weighs in.

NOTHING EVER CHANGES in fantasy novels!
Aragorn may be a better king than Sauron would have been. Hurray. Fine. But he’s still a freaking king. And the peasants remain peasants…Science fiction, in sharp contrast, considers the possibility of learning and change.

— The Difference between Science Fiction and Fantasy