Sunday, April 30, 2017

A Definition of An Evolving State

I am not sure if this idea has ever been stated in these terms, but it just occurred to me today morning.

This came to me while reflecting on the two first amendments in the two largest democracies in the world: India and the United States.

The First Amendment to the constitution of the United States guarantees free speech:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The first amendment to the constitution of India restricts free speech:
Nothing ... shall affect the operation of any existing law, or prevent the State from making any law, in so far as such law imposes reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by the said sub-clause in the interests of the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.
As is obvious, the first amendment to the US constitution radically curtails the power of the state, while in case of India, the first amendment radically expands the power of the state.

And it is equally clear that the right to free speech in the United States is more libertarian than the one in India.  There is a sound reason why people flee oppressive regions and regimes and want to migrate to United States.  It is partly to have a "better life" in terms of prosperity, but it is also indubitably to live a life of more dignity and freedom.  Many sociologists would contend that the two are inextricably related.

Especially when it comes to intellectual creativity, scientific and ideological progress, and a critique of prevailing paradigms, the protection of free speech can be easily seen as the fundamental building block of a society.

Hence, this definition:
The evolution of a nation-state can be measured by the limits it places on its powers, and by the powers and protections it thereby guarantees to its citizenry against its own government.
By this measure, there is only one significant progressive event in India in the seventy years since its independence, which is the passage of the Right to Information Act.  This was enacted by the Parliament of India in 2005.  It is not ideal, and it has many loopholes.  But in a rare deviation from India's legislative narrative, it places a burden on the state.  It confers a new right to its citizens, and prohibits the state from infringing on that right by prescribing penalties on the state in case of such infringement.  It also sets up a somewhat independent body to handle disputes about the execution of this right.

I fail to find any other significant law in India which similarly, and more to the point, effectively limits the power of the state.  It is one thing to blithely state some new right, but it is an entirely different matter to guarantee that right by a quick process of redress.

I am at a loss to find a right in India which can be enforced effectively by its citizens.  This is somewhat due to the dysfunctional courts, but even the intent seems to be missing from the statement of these rights.  The intent is to pay lip-service to a right, while keeping the right ambiguous enough to grant a lot of leeway to the state and others to come after you if you truly exercise that right to their consternation.

There have been many laws passed for the benefit of minorities, or of women, but most such laws confer a right to one section of the population to the detriment of another.  Such laws seek to re-balance power, for better or worse, between two sections of the population, not between the state and the citizenry.  In no way does do these laws confer a right to the citizenry while taking a power away from the state.

For example, the SC/ST atrocities act, which among other things makes it a crime to use a pejorative or expletive when addressing people from certain tribes obviously grants a right to those tribes, but inhibits the liberty of others.  Similarly, the Domestic Violence act which tries to guarantee domestic peace and happiness to women does a flagrant disservice to men.  Not just because men are seen to be never the victims and always the aggressors, but also because the state confers this right on women and thereby imposes a duty on men and their families (e.g. of maintenance, and of keeping their wives or daughters-in-law in good humor, et al).

Leaving aside the fact that it was already a crime to intimidate anyone, be it a minority community member or one's domestic partner, these laws are regressive according to my definition.

In fact, such laws make the state more and more powerful by bringing hitherto unaddressed activities within the purview of its powers.  They further limit the acts of its citizenry and further empower the state to go after and prosecute its population.

A truly progressive law, under my definition, would be to guarantee something to the citizenry and making the state not just the guarantor, but also the party liable to be punished in case of the infringement of that right.

Now one may ask: "What about subsidies and largesse?"  Aren't they a right conferred on the citizens making the state liable?  Not at all.  The state is not a generator of wealth, so to begin with it had no right to confer that wealth on an individual or community of its choosing.  In such cases, the state is using the wealth of one section of the population to benefit another.  In fact if a state uses this kind of "right" too often, it is usually a sign of corruption, nepotism and cronyism.

If we agree that a progressive state is one that is a freer state, and if we regard liberty as the fundamental measure of human progress, it stands to reason that India has a long, long way to go.  Not just that, but India has been regressing by passing more and more laws to empower the state.

True progress is that which promotes liberty, and on that measure, India is not significantly better today than it was in British times, and quite likely worse.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Change or Accept, part 2

First part.

The general approach to solving anything is to identify the problem, figure out possible approaches to solve it, and evaluate the approaches on their (a) risk-vs-reward, (b) effort-vs-results or (c) competence-vs-weakness-of-the-individual factors.

Our evaluation of ourselves is necessarily tinged by how others see us.  The evaluating part of us is a product of our environment.  And surprisingly, our desires too are in many cases the effect of influence.  We see others, we see them happy or sad, and we want the things happy people have and we reflect on others' sadness, somewhat gratefully, as lessons on what to avoid.

What we want first must be validated as something that we really want, and not something that we think we want.  What is the difference?  What we want must resonate with what we are, and not how we want to be perceived.  What we are is found by going back to our childhood, before puberty (because that is when society starts exerting itself), and reflecting on our in-born traits.

"Am I true to my ten-year old self?"

Once we have some confidence in our desires and ambitions (even if it is the ambition to live peacefully, somewhat off the beaten track), we must:

(a) Understand what changes in direction that desire will require.  The change will be painful, and risky.  Is the desire strong enough for us to bear that pain?  The path to wealth, for example, is a path of many failures before any kind of success, and we might have to give up the certainty of our daily existence to reach for something that currently seems out of reach.

(b) Understand what it takes to achieve our desires.  Are we ready for that effort?  Given our history of effort and persistence, does it seem like we will be able to pull through the effort?  Sustaining a family requires adjustments and tenacity which a restless nature might find impossible to bear.

(c) Understand whether that desire is realizable, given our limits and circumstances.  A 45-year old woman may want to be a mother, and it may not be easy to accept that her time has passed.  But without that acceptance, one is destined to a life of futility and bitterness.


When trying to understand a human being and his situation, we have to bear in mind that the totality of his life is reflected in his present.

There are in-born traits, there are patterns established by experience, and there are situations which present themselves to a human.

Truthfully, I am yet to come across an individual who has radically changed himself as an adult and lived effortlessly thereafter as a transformed man.

Those who understand addictions know that an addiction lies dormant, and is never extinguished.  It has to be overcome again and again by power of will and with the help and support of external angels.

A relapse almost always results in the addiction or the habit pattern being fully established all over again.  It is not that the relapsed individual is more capable of understanding and restraint.  The patterns of behavior that one finds, and resists, in oneself are deeper than the force of will and awareness.

At some point in one's life, one has to accept that "this is what I am".  If "this is what I am" is not going to lead to "what I want", then a struggle is inevitable and there will be a life-long inner conflict.  That is by no means a negative.  It just means that one has to live with all three: "what I am", "what I want to be" and conflict.

Giving up on "what I am" is impossible and is a denial of reality.  Beware of those paths which make you doubt and deny yourself.

Giving up on "what I want" is resignation.  Beware of those who decry desire as evil.

Wanting to avoid conflict, or in other words, suffering, is delusion.  Beware of those who peddle the snake oil of a life free of suffering.

An adult lives in internal conflict between various drives, some of the past, some looking forward into the future.  Shyness versus loneliness, lack of ambition versus insecurity, misanthropy versus the desire to be liked and admired, laziness versus the desire to be athletic, ...

Self-acceptance does not mean that one stops improving.  It only means that improvement will also have to be accepted as a life-long struggle.  Perhaps the process of improvement can be so sustained and persistent that it becomes a habit, but the unimproved self lies in abeyance, un-extinguished.  Watchfulness will be forever necessary.

As we age, it requires more and more energy to take new paths and to take new risks.  But it is by no means impossible.

As long as you are alive, you can choose.  Radical choices in later life require more courage than those in youth.

But there comes a time, when after having analyzed ad-nauseum, and when fear is the only obstacle, one must take the plunge.

While failure might await those who do, regret definitely awaits those who don't.