Thursday, December 08, 2016

Dharnas, Bandhs, and the State

Exhibit A

From The Tribune
“Today she was standing in the queue since morning. There was a huge rush outside the bank. The bank guard allegedly pushed her when she tried to enter the bank. She fell down near the main door of the bank and fell unconscious,” Parvinder said.
He said that all family members immediately reached the spot and rushed her to a nearby private hospital where doctors refused to admit her, citing her serious condition. She was later rushed to the CMC Hospital where doctors declared her brought dead.
Following her death, her kin brought her body back outside the bank and blocked the Shingar cinema road.
Protest was on outside the bank for over two hours.
I used to consider such public protests a nuisance.  And they are.  In many cases, the demands are unjust and the costs are imposed on unsuspecting, innocent third parties.  If the road is blocked, or if there is a Bandh (a city shut-down), suffering is inflicted on many who had nothing to do with the initial provocation.  Sometimes, they are little different from a blackmail.

But if we consider the lack of effective institutions and processes in India to redress a grievance, these protests are more understandable.  If the police and the judiciary acted quickly and efficiently against an unjust act, and if there were effective mechanisms to resolve disputes between two parties, people would feel much less inclined to take to the road to voice their frustration.

During the so-called freedom struggle, Gandhi was well-known to go on hunger-strikes against the British or against a rioting populace.  He claimed it was a penance and not a blackmail, but obviously a penance could (and should) have been done in private without it becoming a public show.  It was a coercive gesture against a regime which was considered unjust and cruel, or against a circumstance which was too hard to address through law or debate.

I fear that though India is supposedly free from the British, our judiciary and police is still essentially of a colonial nature.  It is inaccessible to the common individual.  The police routinely regard a common man and his grievance as a nuisance rather than a call to duty.  The judiciary is impenetrable and takes ages to make any decision which can be easily and routinely reversed in a higher court.

In short, the common individual has little recourse when there is a severe injustice.  For common injustices and humiliations, Indians just take it in their stride.  It is not that we are genetically servile, but our institutions are designed for servility.  We are supposed to beg for favors rather than be assured of a process that works.  That is also why Indians are so loath to pay taxes.

The fundamental, essential duty of a modern state is to dispense safety and justice between disarmed individuals.  Other public services like roads, infrastructure, healthcare, are important but secondary to the primary objective of providing law-enforcement fairly and effectively.  If that is absent, citizens lose faith in the state and we drift toward anarchy.  If there is no faith in the state, there is thereby little motivation to contribute one's fair share in the form of taxes.

Tax-evasion is breaking a law.  But when all other laws are being broken, how and why can you expect a citizen to follow the tax laws specifically?  As a country, we must strengthen the law-making and the law-enforcement mechanisms in general.  Any specific strengthening (the promulgation of a draconian new law) is only going to be a further injustice.  Selective law-enforcement is synonymous with injustice.

Hence, these protests and public blockades are an expression of the frustration boiling over.  It is when the ordinary humiliations give way to extraordinary ones that people take to the road and start screaming and crying.  If the relatives of the dead woman were assured that the law was on their side, they would not resort to exhibiting the dead body in the middle of the road.

As it is, they were subjected to at least three severe injustices, all in the course of a day:
  1. The draconian demonetization of 86% of Indian currency in circulation, and the necessity of standing in a queue for days to get one's own hard-earned money.
  2. The alleged manhandling by the bank's guard and lack of immediate medical attention.
  3. The refusal of the hospital to treat the woman.
I can imagine their anguish.  In a failed state, nothing is off the table.

Exhibit B

From the "Enforcing Contracts" statistics on World Bank's Ease of Doing Business  around the world:
Average length time to enforce a contract in the CAPITAL of India is 1420 days: almost 4 years.
One can imagine the plight of people in a town or village.  And these are for civil wrongs.  One can imagine the glacial pace of correcting a criminal wrong.  In my estimation, criminal cases drag along usually for two decades.

One can either wait for two decades, or take to the streets.  What would you do?

Friday, November 11, 2016

Why Trump Won

Leftists tend to hate anything that has an image of being strong, good and successful. They hate America, they hate Western civilization, they hate white males, they hate rationality. The reasons that leftists give for hating the West, etc. clearly do not correspond with their real motives. They SAY they hate the West because it is warlike, imperialistic, sexist, ethnocentric and so forth, but where these same faults appear in socialist countries or in primitive cultures, the leftist finds excuses for them, or at best he GRUDGINGLY admits that they exist; whereas he ENTHUSIASTICALLY points out (and often greatly exaggerates) these faults where they appear in Western civilization. Thus it is clear that these faults are not the leftist's real motive for hating America and the West. He hates America and the West because they are strong and successful.
(Industrial Society and its Future, Ted Kaczynski)

There are patterns in human history which briefly trend, then reverse.

Humanity likes to experiment, or to manipulate existing social and thought patterns.  But our success as a species is because if a social pattern or a way of thinking is not working, we change course.  Sometimes not so quickly, but eventually.

What is the historical pattern which has trended for the last few decades and which is now reversing all over the world?  The reversal may again be temporary, but the signs are there.  And my bet on Trump was a bet on the strengthening of this reversal.

The Trump victory must be studied across disciplines.  The margin of victory was small, and it could have easily gone the other way.  But remember the passion at Trump's rallies, the extraordinary support for Trump on social media, and the massive assault on Trump from the entire establishment.

The denigration of Trump and his supporters was brutal, unrelenting and widespread.

Why was the opposition to Trump so vicious?  And why was his support so passionate?  I have some thoughts on this.

This was a war between two narratives.

I recognized this early on, in late 2015.  It was unimportant to note the specifics of Trump's policies.  It was only important to understand where he was in the narrative; it was only essential to note who was for him and who was against him.

Welfare recipients.  Against.
Leftist commentators.  Against.
Advertising-based media.  Against.
New-age spirituality.  Against.
Feminists.  Against.
Beta males.  Against.
Multiculturalists.  Against.
Globalists.  Against.
Interventionists.  Against.
Atheists.  Against.
Urban millennials.  Against.
Vacuous Hollywood (Seth Rogen, Amy Schumer, Madonna, etc.).  Against.
Saudi Arabia.  Against.
Established politicians.  Against.
Intellectual Yet Idiot class. Against.
Establishment Economists. Against.

Since I was operating at the level of narratives, I had to seek who all were against the narratives peddled by the group above (let's call the above Group A).  I realized that in time all those against Group A would unite.

Jailed or exiled Hackers.  Against A.
Heretic Thinkers (Taleb, Thiel, etc.).  Against A.
The Manosphere. Against A.
Modern horseback riders (Bikers). Against A.
Self-Reliant Romantics (Gun owners). Against A.
Habitual Skeptics (Conspiracy Theorists). Against A.
The so-called "Alt-Right".  Against A.
The Heavy Lifters (Firemen, Police, Border Patrol). Against A.
The Brexit advocates.  Against A.
Those proud of their cultures.  Againat A.
Alpha/Masculine figures (Clint Eastwood, Join Voight, Hulk Hogan, Mike Tyson, James Woods): Against A.

The first narrative is that of socialization, institutionalization and alienation.  The second narrative is that of autonomy, individualism and identity.

The first narrative is that of relativism (situational ethics).  The second narrative is that of absolutes (moral imperatives).

For the last few decades, the first narrative has been pushed down the throats of unwilling people.  People are living emotionally vacuous lives, alienated, without a sense of purpose or meaning.  Long-existing structures of family, religion and self-reliance have been slowly losing out to consumption, superficiality and powerlessness.

It has become fashionable to criticize the old structures.  TV ads and movies pooh-pooh father figures.  There is all the talk of the corruption of religion without any commentary on its benefits.  Fashion is promoted endlessly over frugality.  Consumerism and Media and Fiat money and Bernanke/Fed believers and Big Bang orthodoxy and Feminism and String Theory fanaticism and Global Warming clique are sometimes contradictory but entirely understandable partners in this cultural warfare.  They may not be wrong, but they are smug and they are bullies.

This was a cultural bubble getting ready to pop.

In the last decade, a counter-culture has arisen to defend itself from the mainstream narrative.  And I have been (and continue to be) part of that movement.  That counter-culture is against the dogmas of group A.

The second group is that of the counter-culture.

So, when Trump entered the fray in 2015, I realized that this counter-culture had (unwittingly) joined hands with middle America, which had been systematically exploited and bankrupted, I knew it was only a matter of time before this union of insulted and the humiliated (the poor middle America) and the counter-culture would gather enough momentum to achieve at least some victories on Group A.

It was possible that Trump could have lost.  But I had, and continue to have, faith in the momentum of the counter-culture.  The viciousness of the media against him, and against the counter-culture, only solidified my resolve.

Both the powerless and the cultural warriors were needed for victory: the middle America was needed for the numbers on election day.  The counter-culture was needed to provide hope and cultural ammunition against group A.  I wasn't part of the middle America.  I don't even have a vote yet.  But my sympathies were completely with them.  And I reveled in the counter-attacks at the front lines of culture.



This was guerrilla warfare to defend poor "uneducated" natives from a pillaging post-colonial army.

Trump was/is the symbolic leader the guerrilla cultural warriors and the natives needed.  He may or may not be able to fulfill all his promises.  But my bet was only on the strength of this movement.  What the movement is able to achieve via Trump remains to be seen.

I knew that people defending are always more passionate than those attacking.  The attackers were in many cases professional, paid-for employees.  The defenders were working to save their way of life.  The attackers (not knowing what they were fighting for) lost enthusiasm and many stayed home on election day.

That difference in passion was enough.  And Trump won.

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

What Donald Trump's Campaign Taught Me

Today is election day in the United States.  Since November of last year, I have supported Donald J Trump to become the next President of the United States.

I believe he will win.  But no matter what the result of this election, men and women around the world have witnessed a historic and remarkable election campaign.  It has been an experience the likes of which may never come again in our lifetime.

The media, all around the world, has been massively prejudiced against Donald Trump.  And only those who could sift through and put aside the hysterical opinion pieces, the biased TV coverage, the corrupt headlines, the false labels, the rigged debates and the skewed opinion polls could even begin to have a perspective on the elections which they could call their own.

I am naturally distrustful of mainstream media, and many Americans are aware that media houses are just corporations seeking their own profits and having their own motives.  But even I was shocked to see the extent of media bias.  I no longer expect to get true and correct information from TV and newspapers.  It is hard work to do one's own research and to understand the context of a quote or a gesture, but it's worth it.

I am a permanent resident in this country and am not yet eligible to vote.  But I have followed this election almost every day for the last one year.  And this election, but especially the campaign of Donald J Trump, has made me realize some very important things:

1. Purpose is Energy.  Millions across the country, and millions more around the world, have been energized to believe that the world can change.  That the problems that we face might be complex and troubling, but are not insurmountable.  A leader gives hope to his people.  And hope makes people face every new day with strength and a feeling that they matter.  And that things can change.  The passion behind the campaigns of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders has been the passion to change the world's most powerful center.  Trump supporters have poured in countless hours to support their leader, to design art and viral memes, to laugh and cry together, to make fun of others and to be made fun of, to passionately appeal for their candidate online, to volunteer as citizen-journalists, to stand for hours in a line to a rally, ... All because they feel energized.  And all because they again feel hope.  Hope matters.

2. Heroism is alive.  In the face of heavy odds, when everybody is predicting your defeat, and nobody comes to your side, the hero continues to believe in his destiny, and in his battle, and continues to fight.  It was a privilege to watch a modern figure fight against the whole world, and not give up despite being wounded again and again.  Many times Trump's campaign was predicted to be dead, and he was expected to throw in the towel.  But he fought till the very last day.  This fight will be studied in the history books.

3. People have awakened.  The campaigns for Brexit in UK, and of both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump in the US, have shown the world that no amount of media propaganda, money power and elites siding with something can guarantee its victory.  Brits turned up, and voted UK out of EU.  Bernie Sanders gave jitters to the Democrat establishment in the US.  Trump won the Republican nomination and is only a step away from being the "leader of the free world".

4. Loyalty makes a man.  When a friend, or a family member, or your leader is caught on the wrong side, or makes a mistake, stand with him.  Admonish him, make him be a better man, pray for him, but stand with him.  There is no one among us who is flawless, but honor and loyalty is to stand with someone when that stand is no longer beneficial to yourself.  Turncoats are never respected, and are never remembered by history.  If your support and loyalty is calculated, it will go away when the calculation is no longer in your favor.  And that is a terrible way to live.  The joys of family, friendship and community are meaningful because we forgive each other and stand with each other in trouble.  When you are part of something, or have chosen a side, stand resolute.  Do not be easily swayed.

5. Heresy is man's sacred duty.  From the days of the apocryphal story of the Emperor having no clothes, heresy, and political incorrectness is the true duty of a man who values truth.  To say as one sees things, and not care about public opinion, is a rare virtue today.  It requires courage, conviction, and a certain authenticity of spirit.  To live truly is to be true to oneself.  You will sometimes make mistakes.  But it is no life to only be a sheep in the herd and always act safe.  Be bold.  Be true to yourself.  Live.

Today is election day in the United States.  And I want the people's candidate, the energetic, anti-establishment, populist, brave heretic to win.

May the force be with Donald J Trump.

Sunday, September 04, 2016

The Ugly House

It was an ugly house.

The old house, and old it was, was an unsightly mess.  Chipped off paint, mold and seeping water, poorly designed pillars, broken steps, overflowing septic tank, a "garden" full of weeds and insects, garbage strewn around, decomposing left-over food, ...

People who had seen other houses passed by this house and cursed loudly at it.  "What a horrible ungodly pigsty it is."  "It should just be razed to the ground."  "What an eyesore." "Don't the people who live here have any sensitivity?" "Are they even human?"

An old man lived in that house.  Nobody had bothered to ask him why his home was the way it was.  And he was too old, and too frail, and too naive, and perhaps even too ignorant, to explain it.

But if you looked closely, and carefully, it was apparent that he had lived an irregular life.  His right arm, amputated, was just a stump.  He had a hunchback, it seemed he had carried heavy burdens.  There were concussion marks on his head, and marks of lashings on his back.  Who had tortured him so brutally?  It was a miracle that he was even surviving.  It was said that he was a slave for many decades, but after his masters set him free, his own brothers enslaved him and tortured him even more.

There was no supply of water to his home, even though he paid his monthly bill.  He was unwashed and so was his house.

He had tried to go to a hospital once.  He was abused and chased out.

At the end of his tether and teetering at the brink of giving up and dying, he was so scared, so scarred, so witless and so inward-looking that notions of beauty, aesthetics and even good health were meaningless to him.

When I see my fellow countrymen and countrywomen, the easy option is to deride them for their underdevelopment and unwholesomeness.  But when I see the scars of their history, the unwritten history, and believe me it is unwritten as yet, of their brutal oppression by their tyrannical masters, and the fear in their eyes, and also the hope that their children will win an Olympic medal, have better hair and a good haircut and will read books not just in the syllabus, I see them not as flawless vessels of glass but as sometimes ashen embers in a clay oven burning so that the jade that comes out of the hearth will be more beautiful and will reflect the sun's rays with more fierceness than the dull deathly despondence of their fathers and forefathers who lived in ugly houses because all the beauty and truth and hope and songs of gaiety and freedom had been robbed from them.

The Rat Race

The two rats were lounging back, engaged in discussion.

The first rat exclaimed: "But what's the point of racing our fellow rats?  At the end of the race, whether we win or lose, eventually a cat will swallow us anyway."

The second rat retorted: "But a cat might pounce on us here too.  So what is to be done?"

They both started pondering over this predicament, and became silent.

It was a grave impasse.  How, indeed, to live if death anyway was going to end it all?

Zorba the third rat joined them after having stolen some cheese and brought some for them too.  He asked them why they were so sullen?  Both the rats explained their quandary.

Zorba laughed.

He asked them: "Are you trying to avoid the cat while going about your daily life?"  Both of them nodded yes.

He asked them: "Why? Why not give up and offer yourself to the cat right now?"

Both the rats loudly proclaimed: "Because we want to live, Zorba!"

"But why do you want to live, my brothers?", continued Zorba.

They had no answer.  They just wanted to live, because that was their nature: to live and not to invite death.

Then Zorba sat down in front of them, and said, "Remember what I am going to tell you now."

"Whether you live this way or that way, death will overtake you.  Therefore death is irrelevant.  It is not a factor in how you should want to live your life.  If you win the rat race, the cat will devour you.  But if you don't join the rat race, the cat will still devour you.  Therefore, the cat is only an excuse for you to not do anything, anything at all.  There might be other reasons why you are not interested in this particular race: perhaps because you want something different."

"But never, ever blame the cat.  The cat is a constant, an invariant in whatever you do.  Therefore the cat is to be disregarded.  Completely, utterly, absolutely."

"If you live bemoaning the impermanence of life, it is perhaps that someone has told you that there is something other than this impermanence, which makes you want THAT and not THIS."

"Beware of those false prophets.  They will bring you nothing but misery."

And then he gave them some bits of cheese.  Impermanent though the sensation of taste was, the rats were thankful.  And hopeful.