Saturday, December 14, 2019

Objective science and its human consequences - II

The reactions of the scientists were conflicted after the explosion of the atom bomb. There were “shouts of joy” at the success of the bombing.  There were simultaneous feelings of pride and shame.  As the radiation effects were learned, General Groves reassured a Congressional hearing that he’d heard that death from radiation was “very pleasant”. Robert Erode, one of the American physicists, tried to describe his own feelings and those of some of his companions at Los Alamos at that time in the following terms:
We were naturally shocked by the effect our weapon had produced, and in particular because the bomb had not been aimed, as we had assumed, specifically at the military establishments in Hiroshima, but dropped in the centre of the town. But if I am to tell the whole truth I must confess that our relief was really greater than our horror. For at last our families and friends in other cities and countries knew why we had disappeared for years on end. They had now realized that we, too, had been doing our duty. Finally we ourselves also learned that our work had not been in vain. Speaking for myself, I can say that I had no feelings of guilt. 
The sufferings and recovery of Hiroshima after a handful of scientists and technicians had vaporised 150,000 people in the blink of an eye (Fermi’s ‘superb physics') is detailed in Jungk’s Children of the Ashes. After the bomb was dropped, a wall of secrecy was clamped around Hiroshima, while the soldiers and the experts moved in uneasily to find out what they had wrought. The memory of the destruction has been erased from the  public mind to such an extent that the atoll where the atom bombs were tested, Bikini, has become the name years later of a beachwear of fun and frolic. The much-reproduced photographs usually depict Hiroshima after the disaster as a desert of ruins, without human beings. But, Jungk writes:
. . . it was no quick and total death, no heart attack of a whole city, no sudden, agonizing ending that struck Hiroshima. A mercifully quick release, such as is granted even to the vilest criminals, was denied to the men, women and children of Hiroshima. They were condemned to long-drawn-out agonies, to mutilation, to endless sickness. No, neither during the first hours nor the days that followed was Hiroshima a "silent graveyard", filled solely with the mute protest of the ruins, as the misleading photographs imply; rather it was the site of movements repeated a hundred thousand times, of a million agonies that filled morning, noon and night with groans, screams, whimpering, and crowds of cripples.
The irony was that the bomb was never required to defeat Germany. It was used instead to defeat Japan, when it was already well known that Japan was on the verge of collapse. And no attempt was made to show the Japanese what sort of weapon was going to be dropped.. It was then that Einstein, and many other scientists who had made this weapon possible, felt they had been betrayed. Einstein said, with deep regret, after the war: 'If I had known that the Germans would not succeed in constructing the atom bomb, I would never have lifted a finger.'

Oppenheimer knew that the bombing was not the end of the nuclear project, but the start of a nuclear arms race between USA and Russia.  Now nuclear science came fully under military influence. Edward Teller now came into the picture, and the race for the hydrogen bomb was on. Still there were some that rebelled, but by 1947, these had lost out.  Einstein said, :“In the end, there beckons, more and more clearly, general annihilation”. When Oppenheimer was defeated in the struggle to control the hydrogen bomb, he mused:
I find myself in profound anguish over the fact that no ethical discussion of any weight or nobility has been addressed to the problem of atomic weapons.... What are we to think of such a civilization which has not been able to talk of the prospect of killing everyone except in game theoretic terms?
Edward Teller is often described as the ‘father’ of the hydrogen bomb. He was a good example of a highly educated and intelligent person who was not bothered by morals. He used politics to further his scientific research. He contended that hydrogen bombs keep the peace, or at least prevent thermonuclear war, because the consequences of warfare between nuclear powers are now too dangerous. In The Demon-Haunted World, Carl Sagan writes of Teller's way of thinking:
Teller advocated exploding nuclear weapons from Alaska to South Africa, to dredge harbours and canals, to obliterate troublesome mountains, to do heavy earth-moving. When he proposed such a scheme to Queen Frederika of Greece, she is said to have responded, 'Thank you, Dr Teller, but Greece has enough quaint ruins already.' Want to test Einstein's general relativity? Then explode a nuclear weapon on the far side of the Sun, Teller proposed. Want to understand the chemical composition of the Moon? Then fly a hydrogen bomb to the Moon, explode it, and examine the spectrum of the flash and fireball.
The new instruments were naturally expensive. Funds had formerly been provided annually by wealthy individuals for the growing expenses of the laboratories but they were now insufficient. State intervention was found more and more necessary. Early on, it never occurred to the scientists that their new patron, the state, might one day say: 'He who pays the piper calls the tune. ‘ The universities during the war had found a new and extremely wealthy patron in the Armed Forces which continued their funding after the war. As early as the end of October 1946, Philip Morrison indicated his anxiety about the situation during the annual forum on public affairs conducted by the New York Herald Tribune:
At the last Berkeley meeting of the American Physical Society just half the delivered papers ... were supported in whole or in part by one of the services ... some schools derive 90 per cent of their research support from Navy funds ... the Navy contracts are catholic. They are written for all kinds of work ... some of the apprehension that workers in science feel about this war-born inflation comes from their fear of its collapse. They fear these things: the backers - Army and Navy - will go along for a while. Results, in the shape of new and fearful weapons, will not justify the expenses and their own funds will begin to dwindle. The now amicable contracts will tighten up and the fine print will start to contain talk about results and specific weapon problems. And science itself will have been bought by war on the instalment plan. 
The situation foreseen by Morrison came about more swiftly than expected with secrecy and safeguards being erected in areas which were formerly homes of free speech. Only a minority of American atomic scientists were perfectly free agents in deciding to resume participation in government-sponsored research. Most were compelled to take this step, because they would have had no choice, otherwise, but to change their profession. From 1947 on, the atmosphere in which the Western scientists lived became more and more oppressive. Even in the laboratories of the Western world people started whispering to one another anxiously on the watch for the state's long ears, as had been true before only in totalitarian countries.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Objective science and its human consequences - I

Many scientists think of their work as purely mathematical and technical.  The human results of their research are none of their business.  Hence for von Neumann’s computer, the end of the world was only one more question to be answered by calculation. But the political neutrality of of scientists, their moral innocence and notion of ‘value-free’ science are not as scientists are wont to say. In Brighter Than A Thousand Suns, Robert Jungk relates the story of many of the scientists of the early days of atomic research, and through until 1954.  It is the story of the moral and political temptations of the first atomic  scientists like Rutherford, Bohr, Gamov, Dirac, Pauli, Oppenheimer, etc.

Jungk writes of a brilliant mathematician whom he saw walking along the street during his last visit to Los Alamos, where the atom bomb was developed, in 1956. The mathematician’s face was wreathed in a beautiful smile because he said that he was thinking about a mathematical problem whose solution was essential to the construction of a new type of H-bomb. To him, research for nuclear weapons was just pure higher mathematics, untrammelled by blood, poison, and destruction. All that, he said, was none of his business. This kind of thinking has been the norm ever since the scientific academies of the seventeenth century determined that no discussions of political, moral, or theological problems should be allowed at their meetings. The reasons for this ostrich-like policy were clearly analyzed by a scientist in 1947 when he told the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists:
It is a custom in science - and perhaps a principle - to select from the  infinite reservoir of unsolved problems only those simple ones the solution  of which seems possible in terms of available knowledge and skills. We are trained to subject our results to the most severe criticism. Adherence to these two principles results in our knowing very little, but on the other hand being very certain that we know this little. 
We scientists seem to be unable to apply these principles to the immensely complex problems of the political world and its social order. In general we are cautious and therefore tolerant and disinclined to accept total solutions. Our very objectivity prevents us from taking a strong stand in political differences, in which the right is never on one side. So we took the easiest way out and hid in our ivory tower. We felt that neither the good nor the evil applications were our responsibility. 
Jungk mentions a conversation between Niels Bohr and Winston Churchill which showed how closely connected science and politics are. Bohr hoped to use the internationalism of science to bridge the hostility between nations, particularly between the USA and USSR. Towards achieving this goal, he had a meeting with Churchill. Churchill listened to the physicist for half an hour in silence and then turned around to his scientific adviser and asked, ’What is he really talking about? Politics or physics?’

In the early 1940s, American nuclear scientists raced to construct the atom bomb because they feared that the Germans might get there first, an expectation that later turned out to be exaggerated. This was a turning point, a time when the scientists could have turned away from developing the bomb.  Leo Szilard and Albert Einstein, who both later fought against the bomb project, called on the USA to forward it, believing that USA would never actually use the bomb. It was also a turning point in that the more light-hearted, youthful co-operation of scientists gradually changed in America under the secretive and authoritarian regime  of Manhattan Project in 1942.

Colonel Leslie Groves was given the rank of General and put in charge of the project. He is described as "being obsessed by one intense fear, that the war would be finished before 'his' bomb could be". He was clearly determined at all costs to use this instrument, over which he had laboured so long, and his voice was an influential one in Government circles. Robert Oppenheimer, Director at Los Alamos, had a willingness to kow-tow to the military establishment (but for all that, he was charged with treason because he expressed concerns about the Hydrogen bomb project which was planned later). After the atom bomb had been developed but before it was used, it became clear that its use was not required to defeat Japan.

Szilard and Einstein now  wrote to President Roosevelt urging against the atomic bombing of Japanese cities. But Roosevelt died suddenly.  The new President Truman wasn’t interested – setting up scientific panels, and an ”Interim Committee” who would “play ball” with the military. The scientific panel was not called upon to decide whether the bomb should be used, but only how it should be used. In spite of seven of the scientists writing to the Secretary of War, opposing  use of the bomb, the Interim Committee (Oppenheimer, Fermi, Compton and Lawrence) recommended the bombing. Enrico Fermi commented “Don’t bother me with your conscientious scruples! After all, the thing is superb physics!”

The outcome of the discussion was a victory for General Groves. The Committee recommended that: 1, the bomb should be used against Japan; 2, it should be used on both military and civil targets; 3, it should be used "without prior warning of the nature of the weapon". When the news of these recommendations leaked out, a counter committee was formed at Chicago University to fight these proposals, and they issued a memorandum urging the Government merely to demonstrate the weapon on a barren island.

This appeal was forwarded to the scientific panel of the "Interim Committee" and once more they evaded their responsibilities. "We said", states Oppenheimer, "that we didn't think that being scientists especially qualified us as to how to answer this question of how the bombs should be used or not". Oppenheimer explained later that his  Interim Committee’s  recommendation was “a technical opinion”. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Aldous Huxley on loss of individuality

The obsession with efficiency has displaced other higher ideals. New technologies promise democratization but instead give rise to new monopolies that are more powerful and sophisticated than the ones before. The current phase of homogenization gives the illusion of personal control and personal liberty. Instead the algorithms of a few tech companies determine what we read, what we buy, what we see etc. The attitude of many big tech firms towards competition is that Competition is for Losers (pdf). Monopoly and homogenization are two sides of the same coin. In Brave New World Revisited, Aldous Huxley writes:
. . . modern technology has led to the concentration of economic and political power, and to the development of a society controlled (ruthlessly in the totalitarian states, politely and inconspicuously in the democracies) by Big Business and Big Government. But societies are composed of individuals and are good only insofar as they help individuals to realize their potentialities and to lead a happy and creative life. 
The wish to impose order upon confusion, to bring harmony out of dissonance and unity out of multiplicity is a kind of intellectual instinct, a primary and fundamental urge of the mind. Within the realms of science, art and philosophy the workings of what I may call this "Will to Order" are mainly beneficent. True, the Will to Order has produced many premature syntheses based upon insufficient evidence . . . But these errors, however regrettable, do not do much harm, at any rate directly -- though it sometimes happens that a bad philosophical system may do harm indirectly, by being used as a justification for senseless and inhuman actions. It is in the social sphere, in the realm of politics and economics, that the Will to Order becomes really dangerous. 
Here the theoretical reduction of unmanageable multiplicity to comprehensible unity becomes the practical reduction of human diversity to subhuman uniformity, of freedom to servitude. In politics the equivalent of a fully developed scientific theory or philosophical system is a totalitarian dictatorship. In economics, the equivalent of a beautifully composed work of art is the smoothly running factory in which the workers are perfectly adjusted to the machines. The Will to Order can make tyrants out of those who merely aspire to clear up a mess. The beauty of tidiness is used as a justification for despotism. 
Organization is indispensable; for liberty arises and has meaning only within a self-regulating community of freely cooperating individuals. But, though indispensable, organization can also be fatal. Too much organization transforms men and women into automata, suffocates the creative spirit and abolishes the very possibility of freedom. As usual, the only safe course is in the middle, between the extremes of laissez-faire at one end of the scale and of total control at the other. 
During the past century the successive advances in technology have been accompanied by corresponding advances in organization. Complicated machinery has had to be matched by complicated social arrangements, designed to work as smoothly and efficiently as the new instruments of production. In order to fit into these organizations, individuals have had to deindividualize themselves, have had to deny their native diversity and conform to a standard pattern, have had to do their best to become automata. 
Brave New World presents a fanciful and somewhat ribald picture of a society, in which the attempt to re­create human beings in the likeness of termites has been pushed almost to the limits of the possible. That we are being propelled in the direction of Brave New World is obvious. But no less obvious is the fact that we can, if we so desire, refuse to co-operate with the blind forces that are propelling us. For the moment, however, the wish to resist does not seem to be very strong or very widespread. 
As Mr. William Whyte has shown in his remarkable book, The Organization Man, a new Social Ethic is replacing our traditional ethical system -- the system in which the individual is primary. The key words in this Social Ethic are "adjustment," "adaptation," "socially orientated behavior," "belongingness," "acquisition of social skills," "team work," "group living," "group loyalty," "group dynamics," "group thinking," "group creativity." Its basic assumption is that the social whole has greater worth and significance than its individual parts, that inborn biological differences should be sac­rificed to cultural uniformity, that the rights of the collectivity take precedence over what the eighteenth century called the Rights of Man. 
According to the Social Ethic, Jesus was completely wrong in asserting that the Sabbath was made for man. On the contrary, man was made for the Sabbath, and must sacrifice his inherited idiosyncrasies and pretend to be the kind of standardized good mixer that organizers of group activity regard as ideal for their purposes. This ideal man is the man who displays "dynamic conformity" (delicious phrase!) and an intense loyalty to the group, an unflagging desire to subordinate himself, to belong. And the ideal man must have an ideal wife, highly gregarious, infinitely adaptable and not merely re­signed to the fact that her husband's first loyalty is to the Corporation, but actively loyal on her own account.  

The current Social Ethic, it is obvious, is merely a justification after the fact of the less desirable consequences of over-organization. It represents a pathetic attempt to make a virtue of necessity, to extract a positive value from an unpleasant datum. It is a very unrealistic, and therefore very dangerous, system of morality. The social whole, whose value is assumed to be greater than that of its component parts, is not an organism in the sense that a hive or a termitary may be thought of as an organism. It is merely an organization, a piece of social machinery. There can be no value except in relation to life and awareness. 
An organization is neither conscious nor alive. Its value is instrumental and derivative. It is not good in itself; it is good only to the extent that it promotes the good of the individuals who are the parts of the collective whole. To give organizations precedence over persons is to subordinate ends to means. What happens when ends are subordinated to means was clearly demonstrated by Hitler and Stalin. Under their hideous rule personal ends were subordinated to organizational means by a mixture of violence and propaganda, systematic terror and the systematic manipulation of minds. In the more efficient dictatorships of tomorrow there will probably be much less violence than under Hitler and Stalin. 
The future dictator's subjects will be painlessly regimented by a corps of highly trained social engineers.  . . .  To the question quis custodiet custodes -- Who will mount guard over our guardians, who will engineer the engineers? -- the answer is a bland denial that they need any supervision. There seems to be a touching belief among certain Ph.D.'s in sociology that Ph.D.'s in sociology will never be corrupted by power. Like Sir Galahad's, their strength is as the strength of ten because their heart is pure -- and their heart is pure because they are scientists and have taken six thousand hours of social studies. 

Alas, higher education is not necessarily a guarantee of higher virtue, or higher political wisdom.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Erosion of individual autonomy- X

In the modern mechanistic and rationalistic society individual freedom stands for an abstract individualism. Here liberty means absence of every kind of social or traditional restraints. The modern portrayal of social systems as the sum of the interactions of autonomous individuals responding to their individual values ignores interconnections between people and nature.  As Ashis Nandy says in Traditions, Tyranny and Utopias, ‘In an interdependent world, total autonomy for one means the reduction of the autonomy of others.’ A society will be but an abstract concept if we do not think in terms of the individuals who form it. An individual is equally an abstract entity without a society to live in. 

Gandhi appreciated individual freedom and individual autonomy but his celebration of freedom is very different from the conventional liberal ones. Although Gandhi has been called “as one of the most revolutionary of individuals and one of the most individualistic of revolutionaries in the world today” he was against unrestricted individualism. (Nehru once declared he wanted revolution and Gandhi replied: “When your exuberance has subsided and your lungs are exhausted, you will come to me, if you are really serious about making a revolution.”)  His individualism does not call for the inflation of the individual's ego. He recognized the importance of preserving social institutions that put limits on that ego. He encumbers agents with duties and assigns them responsibilities to lead a moral life and attend to the good of their community.

While it is the duty and responsibility of society to plan for the fullest possible development of the best in every individual, it is equally necessary that the individual render back unto society what he, in fact, owes to society. Thus there has to be a balancing of rights and obligations between the individuals and the society which they compose. Gandhi therefore gave the greatest importance to the flowering of the individual in a properly ordered society, and not merely to organization and systems. Man must learn he said, “to strike the mean between individual freedom and social restraint. Willing submission to social restraint for the sake of the well-being of the whole society, enriches both the individual and the society of which one is a member.' (Harijan, 27-5-1939)

Gandhi once said that if we are not careful, then seven “deadly sins” will destroy us. They are: a) Wealth Without Work; b) Pleasure Without Conscience; c) Knowledge Without Character; d) Commerce (Business) Without Morality (Ethics); e) Science Without Humanity; f) Religion Without Sacrifice; g) Politics Without Principle. All of them have to do with social and political conditions. We can see around us the result of the nations/people revelling in these “sins”. Gandhi thinks that modernity makes people 'morally numb 'because of their exclusive focus on production and consumption for satisfying their material needs.

In Finite and Infinite Games, James Carse describes two types of games people play during social interactions. Finite games are played within set rules, or boundaries, have a clear beginning and a clear end and are played for the purpose of ending the game and declaring a winner and a loser. Infinite games have no beginning and no end. Infinite players play with the rules and the boundaries of the game, not within them and it has no winners and losers. Infinite play is played for the sake of continued play. Carse describes infinite gamers as people who think beyond the artificial constructs of our lives (nations, societies, possessions, etc.)

To play the infinite game is to choose to play WITH the limitations imposed by the game rather than WITHIN these limitations. Infinite players expect to be surprised.  “Surprise causes finite play to end; it is the reason for infinite play to continue.” A finite player is trained not only to anticipate every future possibility, but to control the future.  “To be prepared against surprise is to be trained. To be prepared for surprise is to be educated.” Because infinite players prepare themselves to be surprised by the future, they play in complete openness. It is not an openness as in candor, but an openness as in vulnerability.

Gandhi was the quintessential infinite player. He regarded each interaction among humans and between humans and nature as one small part of an an infinite series of interactions. For the moderns, each such interaction is a finite one whose benefits have to be maximized in their favour. They are the familiar contests in everyday life in business and politics. Infinite players have little interest in such politics, since they are not concerned to find how much freedom is available within the given realities. They want to show how freely we have decided to place these particular boundaries around our finite play.

The gains in finite games are more in the short term but their costs are greater in the long term and remain hidden for quite a while.  By the time these costs become visible, it is too late to do anything about them. Gandhi thinks that modernity does nothing to rein in the dark side of humans which always lurks beneath the surface even in best of human beings and this progressively reduces their ability to take care of their lives. He continually points out the long-term cost on various social goods when focus is on short-term gains by chasing abstract measures like growth, productivity and efficiency. As Kurt Vonnegut says, 'A sane person to an insane society must appear insane.'

Gandhi should not be interpreted literally but should be read hermetically. He frequently observed that his guiding principles were far more important than his specific proposals, and that others who shared the former might legitimately disagree with the latter. He constantly challenges modern assumptions that many take to be certain like the power of reason or the inevitability of progress. He does not offer final solutions that are frozen for all time but rather tries to enlarge the debate that many thought was already settled. He thinks that no solution can be accepted as final because all such solutions are capable of being abused necessitating continued struggle against whatever is the dominant ideology. As the British conservative Michael Joseph Oakeshott  said, 'The conjunction of ruling and dreaming generates tyranny.'

Gandhi made a sharp distinction between the Dharma of the common man or the masses and that of the power elite. He said that although “primary virtues” can be cultivated by “the meanest of the human species,” the more austere ones were to be followed by the elite. The more power a person had the greater the demand that Gandhi made on him which is the opposite of what happens today. He said in Young India on 15-10-1931, 'It is good enough to talk of God whilst we are sitting here after a nice breakfast and looking forward to a nicer luncheon. But how am I to talk of God to the millions who have to go without two meals a day? To them God can only appear as bread and butter.'

If the idealism preached by Gandhi appear to be impracticable, it is because we fail to make a distinction between the two different sets of norms that Gandhi set for the masses and the elite. About the outlandishness of his ideas, he said in Harijan, 28-7-1946: 'I may be taunted with the retort that this is all Utopian and, therefore, not worth a single thought. If Euclid's point, though incapable of being drawn by human agency, has an imperishable value, my picture has its own for mankind to live. Let India live for this true picture, though never realizable in its completeness. We must have a proper picture of what we want, before we can have something approaching it.'

With Gandhi’s death India lost its strongest voice for intellectual autonomy who was less taken in by the intellectual fashions of the day than others. In an age when the spectre of mass control raises its head everywhere, he insisted that freedom and intellectual integrity were values worth defending even when faced with death. Toward the end of his tenure Nehru wrote: “When many years ago, most of us…..were participating in the struggle for freedom under the leadership of Gandhiji, we had that larger vision all the time — not only of freedom but of something more. There was a social objective, a vision of the future which we were going to build, and that gave us a certain vitality, a certain measure of a crusading spirit. Now most of us are perhaps lost….” In the introduction to a collection of essays by Ashis Nandy, Bonfire of Creeds,  Gustavo Esteva and Madhu Suri Prakash write:
Venerated as the saintly Father of independent India, a new national state, Gandhi was summarily dismissed as a political thinker. It was assumed that he had no role to play in the development of the new state, busy ‘catching up’ in the global race defined and initiated by the industrial mode of production. The meaning and depth of Gandhi’s revolutionary ideas were either not understood or, worse, distorted and mutilated by India’s western-educated elites. 
For that matter, his ideas were radically rejected even by those who called themselves his heirs and brain-children and were leading the new India towards its ‘tryst with destiny’. Few cared to see how and why Gandhi, looking ahead, sought to bypass the industrial revotion. They re-read Gandhi’s non-cooperation as a means of keeping them behind in the race set up by the western industrial project.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Erosion of individual autonomy- IX

In The Origins of Non-violence: Tolstoy and Gandhi in Their Historical Settings, Martin Green says about Gandhi's impression of London, 'London was to Gandhi rather a land of Brobdingnag, in which he moved between the legs of men and institutions that towered above him like colossi and trembled at bellowing voices far above.' He was extremely suspicious of the power vested in politicians and legislatures that had the power to control peoples' lives. A few days before his assassination, he said, 'I wonder if we can remain free from the fever of power politics  or the bid for power, which afflicts the political world in the East and the West.'

Gandhi feels that conventional discussions about power reveal our ‘hallucination about titles, law courts, schools and councils’ . This invests an unreal aura in them and results in concealing other sites of power distributed throughout society. This conceals the way in which these hidden power centres direct supposedly ‘free choice’. He was very skeptical of the notion that ensuring political equality would automatically grant everyone equal voice in the public space or that it would hold power accountable.

Those in power use imposing rituals to impress people into quiet conformity. The state-sponsored spectacle is a diversion from the realities of domestic stigmas such as poverty, unemployment, racial inequalities, health care, or welfare. Leaders have often maintained a supportive following by focusing attention on foreign threats that divert concern from unsolved domestic troubles. For Gandhi, such humanization of the state by means of rituals is a matter of horror because this tends to hide its essentially coercive character.

Gandhi thinks that the modern state has become too complex for people to understand. This produces in them a feeling of helplessness, The complexity also means that bureaucrats tend to rely on experts who impose their solutions on communities. This was unacceptable to Gandhi whose view that anybody can have access to only partial truth meant that experts were viewing their partial truth as the full truth. These experts tend to be ignorant about any matter not directly related to their specialized area but  they claim dominion not only over technical matters but also over social, psychological, and moral affairs.

Gandhi believed that simplification comes only from decentralization. When political power is widely dispersed, ‘the interference with the freedom of the people is reduced to a minimum.’ He thought that human beings gained their full moral stature only in small, relaxed, and interdependent communities. He subscribed to the thesis that power corrupts but he also stressed the fact that powerlessness corrupts even more. He argued that production should be decentralized and that each community should become relatively self-sufficient in its basic needs.

There are two facets of the Enlightenment — the one emphasizing the sovereignty of the individual and his interests, the other emphasizing the rational authority of experts. As it has turned out, it was the second facet that appealed to rulers who wanted their “backward" states to catch up. Ernest Gellner says that Enlightenment proved to be a "centralizing rather than a liberating force.” Various steps like standardization of weights and measures, making population registers, the standardization of language and legal discourse, etc. can be viewed as attempts at legibility and simplification.

In each case, very complex, illegible, and local social practises are transformed into a standard grid whereby it could be centrally recorded and monitored. This made Proudhon say, “To be ruled is to be kept an eye on, inspected, spied on, regulated, indoctrinated, sermonized, listed and checked off, estimated, appraised, censured, ordered about. . . . To be ruled is at every operation, transaction, movement, to be noted, registered, counted, priced, admonished, prevented, reformed, redressed, corrected.” James Scott writes in Seeing like a State:
The aspiration to such uniformity and order alerts us to the fact that modern statecraft is largely a project of internal colonization, often glossed, as it is in imperial rhetoric, as a “civilizing mission." The builders of the modern nation-state do not merely describe, observe, and map; they strive to shape a people and landscape that will fit their techniques of observation.
Gandhi insisted that citizens can be free only if they and not external actors control their government. But what he feared has become a reality. The process of economic globalization along with telecommunication and computer networks have changed the accountability structure of governments.  The power to hold governments accountable does not now belong to citizens. It belongs to firms and markets i.e. it is located not in individuals, not in citizens, but in mostly corporate global economic actors.

Among globalized corporations, there is growth in central functions like the top-level financial, legal, accounting, managerial, executive, and planning functions necessary to run a corporate organization operating in several countries.  These central functions are disproportionately concentrated in the national territories of the highly developed countries no matter how high the costs. Similarly, the global financial markets are located in particular cities in the highly developed countries like the United States, the U.K., Germany, and Luxembourg.

The participation of the state in international systems like the World Trade Organization and and the World Bank imposes restrictions on the political autonomy of the national state by placing the principle of free trade above all other considerations. Some fear that it will be used to enforce their trade regulations to the point of overturning federal, state, and local laws. This is then seen as jeopardizing a nation's right to enact its own consumer, labor, and environmental laws.

Another private regulatory system is represented by the debt security or bond-rating agencies that have come to play an increasingly important role in the global economy. Two agencies dominate the market in ratings: Moody's and Standard and Poor. They have leverage because of their distinct gate-keeping functions for investment funds sought by corporations and governments. Also, a huge number of economic activities take place in electronic space, especially in finance, which  overrides all existing territorial jurisdiction. The speed made possible by the new technologies escape the governing capacities of private and government entities.

All these regimes and institutions are creating systems that strengthen the claims of certain actors (corporations, the large multinational legal firms) and correspondingly weaken the positions of states and smaller players. All these institutions constrain the autonomy of national states; states operating under the rule of law are caught in a web of obligations they cannot disregard easily. Thus decisions that affect local communities are made by others located far away. “Glocalization” means the problems produced globally are attempted to  be solved locally which is a vain pursuit because the sources that produce these problems are outside local instruments of control.

Local communities serve nowadays as dumping grounds for problems generated globally without their consultation, let alone agreement. For eg. pollution of water supplies or air might be because of practise in other regions or in distant countries, but it is up to local authorities to clean up the pollution ; the rising costs of medical service might be results of the marketing policies of extraterritorial pharmaceutical companies, but it falls to the local authorities to assure affordable health care. As the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman said, ‘Power has been globalized, but politics is as local as before. Politics has had its hands cut off. . . . Our democratic institutions were not designed for dealing with situations of interdependence.’

Probably the biggest obstacle to dealing with situations of interdependence is the growth of nationalism. Nation and nationalism presume that you homogenize the population and gives them specified enemies and friends, allies and detractors. In prescient words written more than hundred years ago, Tagore depicts the reality of the politicians of the "nation": ". .  the idea of the Nation is one of the most powerful anaesthetics that man has invented. Under the influence of its fumes the whole people can carry out its systematic programme of the most virulent self-seeking without being in the least aware of its moral perversion - in fact, feeling most dangerously resentful if it is pointed out." In The Origins of Non-violence, Martin Green says about Gandhi and Tolstoy:
They wanted to diminish the importance of state authority, with all its allies, like big business, big cities, big banks, and big bangs; high explosives, high culture, tall buildings; orchestras, armies, and novels. Both knew very well out of how widespread and valuable human propensities all these things developed, and how unlikely was their renunciation. But they felt it their calling to tell men that they should renounce them, could renounce them, and must renounce them or die. This is a teaching directed against common sense, against probability, against our knowledge of what human nature is and what our history has been. 

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Erosion of individual autonomy- VIII

It is wrong to believe, as often people do, that Gandhi was against political power. Gandhi was a very power conscious man. What he was against was the concentration of total power in the hands of the State only or in the hands of a few individuals. He said in Harijan on 18-01-1948, ' True democracy cannot be worked by twenty men sitting at the centre. It has to be worked from below by the people of every village.' He believed that in modern politics, the term ‘people’ is a mere abstraction. He felt that democracy lessened but did not solve the problem of power. He did not think that merely holding elections and voting ensured democracy and people's autonomy. He said on 4-8-1920:
During my long experience, I also noticed that those who complain of others of being ambitious of holding power are no less ambitions themselves, and when it is a question of distinguishing between half a dozen and six, it becomes a thankless task. 
Though he had plenty of criticisms of modern political institutions, Gandhi never advocated total segregation of politics from political institutions. He very much understood the perpetual need for political institutions. Politics of refusal does not mean refusal of politics. He felt that the modern state coersively extends state power into realms which were once regarded as private. So you are caught up in politics whether you like it or not. He said in 1920: 'If I seem to take part in politics, it is only because politics encircle us today like the coil of a snake from which one cannot get out, no matter how much one tries. I wish therefore to wrestle with the snake.'

He thought that leading a quiet, contemplative life eschewing politics is a dangerous tactic in the modern era because it leaves the field open for unscrupulous characters to use it for their own benefit. Although the split between ethics, on the one hand, and economics and politics, on the other, accompanies a tremendous economic growth,  now both the economic system and the political system, whether democratic or authoritarian, are pressing heavily against an individual. For Gandhi, freedom came from within and therefore his inherent distrust of the state. He said on 13-10-1921, 'Possession of power makes men blind and deaf, they cannot see things which are under their very nose and cannot hear things which invade their ears.'

Modern states try to claim legitimacy by claiming that they work for the benefit of the people. The difference between ancient kings and modern kings is that modern kings keep saying that they are servants of the people. In both capitalist and communist countries the worker does not have much say with the decision making machine. The fact that peoples' circumstances compel them forever to be thinking about the increase of earnings, dulls their interest in public affairs. He said on 2-3-1922, 'Democracy is not a state in which people act like sheep. Under democracy, individual liberty of opinion and action is jealously guarded.'

In a democracy the people rule, in principle. But decision-making power over central areas of life resides in a few public and private hands. The state has a vested interest in monopolizing all initiative and fostering a state-centred political culture. The more its citizens became ‘addicted’ to it and the more they felt helpless without it, the safer it felt. Gandhi rebelled against such a state of affairs. He said on 6-8-1925, 'Self-government means, continuous effort to be independent of government control, whether it is foreign government or whether it is national. Swaraj government will be a sorry affair if people look up to it for the regulation of every detail of life.'

The state systematically nurtured the illusion that the problems of society were too complex and intractable to be solved by ordinary citizens acting on their own and was best left to the state and its official agencies. It felt threatened by active and independent-minded citizens determined to participate in the conduct of their affairs. The institutions of the state thus keep thought and attitudes within acceptable bounds, deflecting any potential challenge to established privilege and authority before it can take form and gather strength. Gandhi said in an interview in November 1934:
I look upon an increase of the power of the State with the greatest fear, because although while apparently doing good by minimizing exploitation, it does the greatest harm to mankind by destroying individuality, which lies at the root of all progress. 
He held the view that without non-violence on a national scale there is no such thing as a constitutional or democratic government.  In a society based on non-violence, the smallest person will feel as tall as the tallest person. With violence the victorious group will always reduce the autonomy of the people in the losing group. But he recognized that a Government cannot succeed in becoming entirely non-violent, because it represents all the people. ‘I do not today conceive of such a golden age. ‘ Since an entirely non-violent state is impossible, Gandhi wants people to be vigilant and keep it in check. He said in  Harijan on 7-5-1931:
There is no human institution but has its dangers. The greater the institution the greater the chances of abuse. Democracy is a great institution and therefore it is liable to be greatly abused. The remedy, therefore, is not avoidance of democracy but reduction of possibility of abuse to a minimum. 
Gandhi took the position that an individual must be a morally responsible citizen. On the one hand, “he must assist an administration most effectively by obeying its orders and decrees”; on the other hand, he affirmed that “it is the inherent right of the subject to refuse to assist a government that does not listen to him.” Indeed, if the state is oppressive, corrupt and inhuman, then the individual must rebel even though this has severe consequences. (See Democracy: Real and Deceptive) This subversive element in Gandhi's thought is what makes the state extremely uncomfortable and convinces one that he would have been the the government's most formidable critic if he had lived for long after independence. Ashis Nandy writes in Bonfire of Creeds:
. . . while leading a freedom struggle against a foreign power, he could get away with his antipathy to the state.  . . His very success dug the grave of his ideology; his anti-statist stance quickly went into recession after Independence. . . . national leaders not only began to look with suspicion at the Gandhian emphasis on cultural traditions, they also began to to encourage political interpretations of Gandhi which fitted him into the state-oriented frame of politics, neutralizing or ignoring his culture-oriented self as irrelevant saintliness or eccentricity.  
On this ideological issue, they were in perfect agreement with Gandhi's assassin Nathuram Godse, an avowed statist. It was no accident that Godse, though called an ultra-conservative, felt threatened not by modernists like Jawaharlal Nehru, but by Gandhi. 

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Erosion of individual autonomy- VII

The good of the few that depended on the degradation of the many that appalled Gandhi also animated Hannah Arendt. In The Human Condition, she highlights the paradox she finds in the economy of ancient Athens. At the time she finds Athenian citizens (who form only a small part of the population) most advanced and creative, they make women and slaves do all the work to produce all the items that are required for daily life.  She feels that even though slavery has now been abolished, it is delusional to think that the same conditions do not exist today. According to her, the burden of household consumption that the ancient slaves had is now transferred to the labourers of the industrial economy who ‘produce for society at large’. As Ambedkar says in Annihilation of Caste:
. . . slavery does not merely mean a legalized form of subjection. It means a state of society in which some men are forced to accept from others the purposes which control their conduct. This condition obtains even where there is no slavery in the legal sense. It is found where, as in the caste system, some persons are compelled to carry on certain prescribed callings which are not of their choice.
In The Origins of Non-violence: Tolstoy and Gandhi in Their Historical Settings, Martin Green says, ‘Socrates called abstinence the first virtue; but nowadays we think we can and must develop our passions, and so become dependent on hundreds of habits.’ Workers are seduced into slavery by the artificially increased needs that they feel forced to adopt because they feel the need to conform with the habits of the majority in their group. Arendt thinks that 'our whole economy has become a waste economy, in which things must be almost as quickly devoured and discarded as they have appeared in the world, if the process itself is not to come to sudden catastrophic end.' She further writes:
The last stage of the laboring society, the society of jobholders, demands of its members a sheer automatic functioning, as though individual life had actually been submerged in the over-all life process of the species and the only active decision still required of the individual were to let go, so to speak, to abandon his individuality, the still individually sensed pain and trouble of living, and acquiesce in a dazed, "tranquilized," functional type of behavior. 
Einstein believed that capitalism was incompatible with individualism, because of the stress it places on students preparing to enter the workforce. His 1949 Monthly Review article “Why Socialism?” he wrote, “This crippling of individuals I consider the worst evil of capitalism. Our whole educational system suffers from this evil. An exaggerated competitive attitude is inculcated into the student, who is trained to worship acquisitive success as a preparation for his future career.” But he had more faith than Gandhi did that Socialism would be able to solve this problem.

Gandhi viewed both modern capitalism and the various varieties of communism as twin children of modernity that will ultimately produce a pyramidal structure where a few at the top will live on the labor of many at the bottom. It has turned out that efficiency has grown more important in the working world than freedom. As Herbert Marcuse says, ‘The enslavement of man by the instruments of his labor continues in a highly rationalized and vastly efficient and promising form.‘ The price that one-dimensional man pays for satisfaction is to surrender the ability to dissent and to control one's own destiny.'  Aldous Huxley says in Brave New World Revisited:
. . . the progress of technology has led and is still leading to just such a concentration and centralization of power. As the machinery of mass production is made more efficient it tends to become more complex and more expensive -- and so less available to the enterprise of limited means. Moreover, mass production cannot work without mass distribution; but mass distribution raises problems which only the largest producers can satisfactorily solve. 
In a world of mass production and mass distribution the Little Man, with his inadequate stock of working capital, is at a grave disadvantage. In competition with the Big Man, he loses his money and finally his very existence as an independent producer; the Big Man has gobbled him up. As the Little Men disappear, more and more economic power comes to be wielded by fewer and fewer people. Under a dictatorship the Big Business, made possible by advancing technology and the consequent ruin of Little Business, is controlled by the State -- that is to say, by a small group of party leaders and the soldiers, police­men and civil servants who carry out their orders. 
In a capitalist democracy, such as the United States, it is controlled by what Professor C. Wright Mills has called the Power Elite. This Power Elite directly employs several millions of the country's working force in its factories, offices and stores, controls many millions more by lending them the money to buy its products, and, through its ownership of the media of mass communication, influences the thoughts, the feelings and the actions of virtually everybody. To parody the words of Winston Churchill, never have so many been manipulated so much by so few. 
It is claimed that modernization reduces dependence on traditional tyrannies. Ironically, trapped in the endless chain of production and consumption, people become more dependant on distant, unseen actors to whom they are not bound by community ties.  Gandhi is concerned that in modern life people develop a tendency to value the goods they buy only in economic terms and not in social terms. He emphasises that individuals should be in-charge of their lives and this is possible only in cooperative, participatory lives.

An example is the mining of cobalt which is an essential input for making smart phones, and firms like Apple are scrambling to secure supplies. It is found in only a few places in the world and most of the known supply is in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Many of the mines there are controlled by warlords, being mined, in many cases, by young children working in horrific conditions. Even if you know this reality, you are not likely to spend much time thinking about it since they are distant people with whom you have no emotional connect.

In personal life, the increasing dependence on others is apparent from personal experience. Till about the age of 20, whenever I was in Kerala, I used a home-made, coarse, black powder called 'mukkeri' to clean my teeth. It was a daily ritual: a group of us would walk towards a nearby river or temple pond for a bath, all the while chatting and cleaning our teeth with 'mukkeri' using a finger. Towards the late 80's / early 90's, 'mukkeri' disappeared and was replaced by toothpaste and toothbrush. Now people became more dependent on manufacturers, distributors and shops. The same may be the case with the neem twig used in North India for cleaning teeth.

The same increase in dependency on other people and things can be seen in other activities like cooking or washing and ironing one's clothes.  People in cities now go to hotels more often or order food home using various delivery services. This dependency increases your need for money to procure the necessary services which makes you more dependent on your job. This increases your vulnerability to external shocks which forces you to be more compliant to orders.  These are again examples of developments that are good for the GDP but bad for the individual.  They indicate the surface gloss of modernity which Gandhi was afraid would seduce people and make them blind to the costs which will remain invisible.

Gandhi knew that the overwhelming majority were opposed to his view of industrialization but he was prepared to wage a lone struggle. He believed that when a person was convinced of his views, he should act in his small way without waiting for the rest of the world to adopt his views. On 28-1-1939, Harijan published an interview with Maurice Frydman in which Gandhi was asked, 'What attitude should I, as a realist, adopt with regard to the tide of industrialization that is sweeping over the world?. . . Is it not waste of energy merely to oppose it? Would it not be better to try to change its direction?' He replied:
You are an engineer. You will therefore appreciate an illustration from mechanics. You know the parallelogram of forces. There the forces do not neutralize each other. Each force acts freely along its own line and we get the resultant which indicates the final direction of motion. It is the same with the problem you have mentioned. As I look at Russia where the apotheosis of industrialization has been reached, the life there does not appeal to me. To use the language of the Bible, “What shall it avail a man if he gain the whole world and lose his soul?”  
In modern terms, it is beneath human dignity to lose one’s individuality and become a mere cog in the machine. I want every individual to become a full-blooded, fully developed member of society. . .I work with all my being for my conviction. The process of adjustment goes on all the time. I do not know what the outcome of it will be. But whatever it is, it will be to the good.
Gandhi was an eternal optimist who was not fazed by any situation so he could say 'whatever it is, it will be to the good'. But I wonder. . .

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Erosion of individual autonomy- VI

Gandhi divided human needs into those which are natural, though they keep changing, and others whom only social relations and social preferences determine. There is equality in the former and inequality in the latter. Unless you are able to have control over the socially created needs, no matter what the structure of society, it will lead towards inequality. In the words of Lewis Mumford,  " We have reached a point in history where man has become his most dangerous enemy.......Today it is man's higher functions that have become automatic and constricted and his lower ones that have become spontaneous and irrepressible."

For Gandhi, people have to wage two types of struggle to gain autonomy - one external and one internal. The external struggle is waged against institutional practises which lead to their degradation. The internal struggle is against one's own senses and passions. For Gandhi, people who always give in to temptations are not autonomous. He thinks that we can be slaves to our own passions and desires and not just to other people. He distinguishes between liberty and licence with the latter representing for him a lack of discipline and self-awareness. He felt that modernity increased the difficulty of both struggles. Gandhi's internal autonomy was what made him a problematic opponent as Gilbert Murray recognized in an essay, The Soul As It Is, And How To Deal With It:
Persons in power should be very careful how they deal with a man who cares nothing for sensual pleasure, nothing for riches, nothing for comfort or praise or promotion, but is simply determined to do what he believes to be right. He is a dangerous and uncomfortable enemy – because his body, which you can always conquer, gives you so little purchase upon his soul.
Gandhi said in Young India on June 2, 1927, 'The distinguishing characteristic of modern civilization is an infinite multiplicity of human wants.' According to him, modern civilization was controlled by ‘a few capitalist owners’ who had only one aim, to make profit, and only one means to do so, to produce goods that satisfied people’s wants. They had a vital vested interest in constantly whetting jaded appetites, planting new wants and creating a moral climate in which not to want the goods daily pumped into the market and to keep pace with the latest fashions was to be abnormal and archaic. The hidden hand of the market can be almost as potent an instrument of control as the iron fist of the state.

Gandhi observes that modernity brings its own forms of degradation and enslavement. He said in Hind Swaraj, 'We notice that the mind is a restless bird; the more it gets the more it wants, and still remains unsatisfied. The more we indulge our passions, the more unbridled they become.' And elsewhere in Hind Swaraj, 'Formerly, men were made slaves under physical compulsion. Now they are enslaved by temptation of money and of the luxuries that money can buy.' He believed that they who have failed to attain swaraj within themselves must lose it in the outside world too. This is is not an empty statement. For example, take the changing attitude towards debt. When I was young, all elders used to caution against borrowing.  Now not to postpone the satisfaction of any desire has became the main tendency. All material consumption and borrowing is encouraged.

The leveraging trends reflect the aspirational lifestyles of consumers who are accessing cheap loans to buy products. In 2017-18, household debt almost doubled. Lenders push pre-approved credit cards and short-term loans. They promise fast disbursal and minimal paperwork. Customers having more than one credit card whose bills are still outstanding are digging themselves even deeper in the debt trap. Many are unable to postpone gratification even when they know that many private firms employ goondas (euphemistically called ‘collection agents’) to collect dues. All this is great for the GDP but not for the individual. The pressure to pay off the debt makes it more important for people to cling to their jobs which makes them more pliant and more vulnerable to illegal inducements.

In One-dimensional Man, Herbert Marcuse distinguishes between true and false needs. True needs are the basic, biological needs that are required for a person to live. "False” are those which are superimposed upon the individual by particular social interests which perpetuate toil, aggressiveness, misery, and injustice. Most of the prevailing needs to relax, to have fun, to behave and consume in accordance with the advertisements, to love and hate what others love and hate, belong to this category of false needs. He says that social control is anchored in the new needs which the society has produced. He writes:
Here, the social controls exact the overwhelming need for the production and consumption of waste; the need for stupefying work where it is no longer a real necessity; the need for modes of relaxation which soothe and prolong this stupefaction; the need for maintaining such deceptive liberties as free competition at administered prices, a free press which censors itself, free choice between brands and gadgets . . . liberty can be made into a powerful instrument of domination. 
The range of choice open to the individual is not the decisive factor in determining the degree of human freedom, but what can be chosen and what is chosen by the individual. . . Free election of masters does not abolish the masters or the slaves. Free choice among a wide variety of goods and services does not signify freedom if these goods and services sustain social controls over a life of toil and fear . . . And the spontaneous reproduction of superimposed needs by the individual does not establish autonomy; it only testifies to the efficacy of the controls. 
In Gandhi's view, many diseases arise because of  indulgence. He says,'I overeat, I have indigestion, I go to a doctor, he gives me medicine. I am cured. I overeat again, I take his pills again. Had I not taken the pills in the first instance, I would have suffered the punishment deserved by me and I would not have overeaten again. The doctor intervened and helped me to indulge myself. My body thereby certainly felt more at ease; but my mind was weakened. A continuance of a course of medicine must, therefore, result in loss of control over the mind.'

He tolerated hospitals as a 'necessary evil'; 'necessary' because they did some good things for people, 'evil' because their presence encouraged people to over-indulge. Gandhi feels that people think now that they can buy what once required self-discipline viz good health. It is another instance of certain actions being good for GDP but bad for the individual. Shiv Visvanathan says in his essay Reinventing Gandhi, ‘He returned the responsibility of the body back to the victim showing how it was uncontrolled desire that allowed the invasion of the disease and the expert that followed .’

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Erosion of individual autonomy- V

Modern society is an expert society since functional specialization is a prominent feature. Nobody dares to tread into the periphery of the other’s job since everyone has been trained in a specific way. The training of doctors, lawyers, academicians, politicians, spiritual teachers and others makes them know more and more about less and less. In an article he wrote for the New York Times in 1952, Einstein compared any person instructed only in “specialized knowledge” to a “well-trained dog.” Modern men are very circumscribed men who have become very dependant on others. Their rationality has become an instrument of their self-degradation. They all are seeing life in parts.

Gandhi had a problem with the narrow and limited nature of these professions. He says in Ethical Religion, 'It is our task to analyze and explore the body, the brain and the mind of man separately; but if we stop here, we derive no benefit despite our scientific knowledge. It is necessary to know about the evil effects of injustice, wickedness, vanity and the like, and the disaster they spell where the three are found together. And mere knowledge is not enough, it should be followed by appropriate action.' Ronald Terchek says in Gandhi: Struggling for Autonomy:
Today, we do not talk much about wisdom or even knowledge but rather about information. For someone like Gandhi, this last term epitomizes much of what is wrong today. He sees people eagerly acquiring fragments of information, as kings once collected conscripts, and in each case the purpose is much the same: to master new territory.
Take the institution of law. For Gandhi it is only an external institution to settle the dispute but the ultimate aim is to change the heart. The modern legal system has done little to develop and mobilize man’s moral sensibilities and capacities for reflection and introspection. Instead, it requires him to transfer them to a central agency telling him how to run his life and conduct his relations with others, including his own neighbours, wife, and children. Gandhi found it surprising that the modern man, who talked so much about his self-respect and dignity, did not find all this deeply humiliating.

Functional specialization makes it easier to replace humans with computer algorithms. Ancient hunter-gatherers had to master a large variety of skills and getting algorithms to perform them is not easy. But as humans became more specialized, they no longer required most human skills to perform their jobs. An algorithm now only had to perform a bit better the narrow spectrum of human skills required for a job for humans to be replaced. So now algorithms can invade territories occupied by taxi drivers, lawyers, doctors, etc.

Some months ago, Arun Jaitley brushed aside a report that suggested a four-decade high in unemployment rate under the Narendra Modi government. He stated a few numbers to drive home his point. "If 7.5% is the real growth in Gross Domestic Product, and inflation is at 3-4%, the nominal growth needs to be around 11-12%. It would be absurd to say that there are no jobs in such a scenario.' It is telling that a Finance Minister thinks that economic growth automatically translates into job creation. Some call this the 'growth paradox'.

Nitin Gadkari said in an interview that BJP didn't create unemployment, it's been a problem since 1947. (Apparently it wasn't a problem before 1947!) A Gandhian reading of the report would suggest that there is nothing surprising about the report and there is no 'growth paradox'. It is along expected lines and the long term trend will get worse. Gandhi said in Harijan, 4-1-1935, 'Whatever the machine age may do, it will never give employment to the millions whom the wholesale introduction of power machinery must displace.' He said in Young India, 13-11-1924:
What I object to, is the craze for machinery, not machinery as such. The craze is for what they call labour-saving machinery. Men go on 'saving labour', till thousands are without work and thrown on the open streets to die of starvation. I want to save time and labour, not for a fraction of mankind, but for all. 
The opposition parties made a lot of noise suggesting that the job situation will be better if they were in power but that is hot air. For an industrialist the ideal situation is a completely automated factory with no labour. Then he will not have to worry about absenteeism, strikes, training costs, poaching of employees by competitors, providing facilities like canteen and creche, people getting sick, demanding respect, fretting about the terrible working conditions and other such messy human issues. Then predictability, efficiency and productivity will be very high. So long as this is the logic that informs industrialists, 'rationalisation' of the workforce will continue. (Like the permanently unemployed working class, dispossessed by managerial engineers and automation in Kurt Vonnegut's Player Piano.). For the most glaring example of technological innovation ‘creating’ jobs, take Amazon.

In The Four, Scot Galloway writes that you will see very few pictures of the inside of an Amazon warehouse.  Why? This is because you will find robots and not people inside. When asked about the destruction of jobs, Jeff Bezos suggested a universal income guarantee or a negative income tax so that every citizen has a guaranteed income for staying above the poverty line. People will say that he is a great man who cares for the little guy. The fact is that he knows that this ‘creative destruction’ will create jobs for robots and drones and destroy jobs for humans. Galloway writes, 'Entrepreneurs create jobs, right? No, they don't. Most entrepreneurs, at least in tech, leverage processing power and bandwidth to destroy jobs by offering more for less.'

Modi said that the 4th Industrial revolution will create jobs. It will, but only at the higher end for highly educated people, the engineers, the software programmers. People had been transferred from agriculture to industry and then from industry to service. With the takeover of service industries by automation, there are simply no further transfers possible.No area is safe from automation, not even writing or music. Even a 40 year old lawyer or doctor who loses his job because of automation will not be able to reinvent himself as a software programmer and stay relevant in the new job market. So there will be nett job losses. But one has to sympathize a bit with the politicians - they have to keep making outlandish promises in order to win elections. Nobody has the guts to speak the truth and take the consequences.

Due to fear of losing their jobs, people will be more willing to do what their superiors tell them to do. The conduct certificate is a good way to keep people in check. If anyone dissents, he can be dubbed a deviant, a trouble maker, get a black mark on his conduct certificate and find it difficult to get another job in the industry. Unquestioned obedience had its ultimate expression in Adolf Eichmann for whom industrial scale murder was a problem in logistics, violence transformed into a question of productivity and technique. For Gandhi, fascism and Nazism were not evil aberrations but natural consequences of modernity's unquestioned acceptance of Enlightenment values. From Aldous Huxley's essay Brave New World Revisited, I got this quote by Hitler's Minister for Armaments, Albert Speer at his trial after the Second World War:
Hitler's dictatorship differed in one fundamental point from all its predecessors in history. It was the first dictatorship in the present period of modern technical development, a dictatorship which made complete use of all technical means for the domination of its own country. Through technical devices like the radio and the loud-speaker, eighty million people were deprived of independent thought. 
It was thereby possible to subject them to the will of one man. . . . Earlier dictators needed highly qualified assistants even at the lowest level -- men who could think and act independently. The totalitarian system in the period of modern technical development can dispense with such men; thanks to modern methods of communication, it is possible to mechanize the lower leadership. As a result of this there has arisen the new type of the uncritical recipient of orders. 
When faced with the charge of crimes against humanity, Eichmann argued that he had no part in the formulation of Nazi political or sociological theory; he dealt only with the technical problems of moving vast numbers of people from one place to another. Why they were being moved and what would happen to them when they arrived at their destination were not relevant to his job. Eichmann-like responses are common in any organization, public or private. The worker is encouraged to consider the implications of a decision only to the extent that it will affect the efficient operations of the firm, and takes no responsibility for its human consequences.

The myth that humans are biased while machines are unbiased has been spread by technocrats. People are encouraged to surrender their individual judgments to the outputs of systems, processes and machines. It is hard to disagree with Neil Postman in Technopoly, ‘We cannot dismiss the possibility that, if Adolf Eichmann had been able to say that it was not he but a battery of computers that directed the Jews to the appropriate crematoria, he might never have been asked to answer for his actions.‘

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Erosion of individual autonomy- IV

Rationalism, the organizing principle of modernity, has a tendency to universalize i.e. it set up identical ideals for all human beings, held up only one kind of life as the highest or truly human, and expected all to conform to more or less the same norms of conduct. Gandhi believed that rationalism was a false and pernicious doctrine. He thought that each individual had his own distinct identity, and was rooted in a specific cultural tradition. What was good for others was not necessarily good for him. Gandhi  was against such a centralized tendency which not only kills an individual’s  initiative to do something new in a different manner, but it also enhances the tendency of centralization and hegemony. 

In some areas of human experience such as morality and politics, reason was inherently inadequate and needed to be guided by wisdom, tradition, conscience, intuition, and moral insight. Rationalism constructs a realm of Reason purged from empirical contingency. It constructs a reality based on abstract generalizations from which all particulars are removed. In this formal logic, thought is indifferent toward its objects. They become subject to the same general laws of organization, calculation, and conclusion. As Herbert Marcus says in One Dimensional Man, 'This general quality (quantitative quality) is the precondition of law and order — in logic as well as in society — the price of universal control.'

Gandhi criticized the universalizing tendency of modernism which he sees as anti-plurality. In their search for general rules, distant, neutral strangers seek to identify relevant characteristics and discards superfluous ones that cannot be verified as unimportant. All are living a similar kind of life-style and they cannot keep their individuality, their uniqueness alive as it will not be welcomed.  An example of such a universalizing tendency is the realization now that most psychological studies have been done on a population of WIERDs - their participants are overwhelmingly Western, educated, and from industrialized, rich, and democratic countries.

WEIRD subjects, from countries that represent only about 12 percent of the world’s population, differ from other populations in moral decision making, reasoning style, fairness, etc. This is because a lot of these behaviors and perceptions are culturally inherited. Not only are the subjects  WEIRD, they are overwhelmingly college students in the United States participating in studies for class credit. Western college students are not the best representatives of human emotion, behavior, and sexuality. It also means that many subjects are teens whose behaviour differs from that of adults.

Almost everything experimental psychologists believe about the human mind comes from studies of the Weird. Behavioral science (including the behavioral sub-fields in economics) overly focused on WEIRD subjects to the detriment of a broader understanding of human behavior. These study subjects are not only unrepresentative of humans as a species, but on many measures they’re outliers. Yet while the study samples have been consistently particular, the inferences made from these studies typically strive for universality.

Another common universalizing tendency is to apply in developing countries economic models that have been successful in developed countries.  There are massive international and domestic pressures on them to follow those paths of development that have been traversed by the developed world. The choice of parameters, major interactions and feedback loops, the use of global averages and the non-probabilistic nature of predictions, etc., are all made from the vantage points of the developed world. To impose one centralized formula over others meant ignoring what is distinctive in each country. Gandhi consistently criticized such a 'one size fits all' policy that ignores local conditions:
Young India, 6-8-1925 - European writers are handicapped for want of experience and accurate information. They cannot guide us beyond a certain measure if they have to generalize from European examples which cannot be on all fours with Indian conditions, because in Europe they have nothing like the conditions of India, not even excluding Russia. What may be, therefore, true of Europe is not necessarily true of India. We know, too, that each nation has its own characteristics and individuality. India has her own; and if we are to find out a true solution for her many ills, we shall have to take all the idiosyncrasies of her constitution into account, and then prescribe a remedy. I claim that to industrialize India in the same sense as Europe is to attempt the impossible.
Young India, 2-7-1931 - Western observers hastily argue from Western conditions that what may be true of them must be true of India where conditions are different in so many material respects. Application of the laws of economics must vary with varying conditions.
Harijan, 11-5-1935 - There is a difference between the civilization of the East . . .and that of the West. . . . Our geography is different, our history is different and our ways of living are different. . .the economics and civilization of a country where the pressure of population on land is greatest are and must be different from those of a country where the pressure is least.
Young India, 25-7-1929 - The Western civilization is urban. Small countries like England or Italy may afford to urbanize their systems. A big country like America with a very sparse population, perhaps, cannot do otherwise. But one would think that a big country, with a teeming population . . must not copy the Western model. What is good for one nation situated in one condition is not necessarily good enough for another differently situated. One man's food is often another man's poison. Physical geography of a country has a predominant share in determining its culture. 

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Erosion of individual autonomy- III

Gandhi insisted that in any economic arrangement, safeguarding individual autonomy was paramount. He therefore wanted the control of the productive process to be in the hands of the individual because whoever controlled the productive process had the power. He realized that the important question was not about whether the market or the State allocated goods but about how the goods were produced in the first place. Both capitalism and communism share a deep commitment to the centralized, urban industrial model as the the solution to all economic  ills – only the power-wielders change and most people are reduced to being mere cogs in the wheel in both systems. Both result in what Max Weber calls the 'separation of the worker from his means of production' – the worker is dependent upon the implements that the state or a few individuals put at his disposal.

Gandhi viewed the process of modernization as increasing unemployment and reducing the autonomy of people. For him, any economic activity has to be for the benefit of human beings and not for the benefit of firms. When abstract quantities like 'economic growth' become the obsession of governments, people become expendable means  for achieving some glorious end which remains elusive. Spokesmen of modernization view this as expendable costs to be paid for securing its benefits. This was unacceptable to Gandhi who viewed people as ends in themselves and not as means to some future end.

His greatest fear in the modern economy is not that goods are becoming obsolete but that people are becoming obsolete in a society where the good is judged in terms of its economic contribution. The present-day worker has to work hard for his living, and the desire for an increasingly higher standard of living makes his work harder and harder in spite of his abhorrence for his work. This feeling is further increased by the fact that work and routine are controlled by others who pay them wages. It is sometimes helpful to focus on what is right or wrong and not just on what is most efficient.

A technique which tends to make man a robot, robs his independence and makes an all-out invasion on his political, economic and social liberties (like Chaplin in Modern Times) was not acceptable to Gandhi. In an interview in September, 1940, he said, 'Pandit Nehru wants industrialization because he thinks that, if it is socialized, it would be free from the evils of capitalism. My own view is that evils are inherent in industrialism, and no amount of socialization can eradicate them.' He realized that the drive for power is innate in people and that power corrupts. So the only way to tame power seemed to be to have it distributed as widely as possible in the society . As Aldous Huxley writes in Brave New World Revisited:
. . . the nature of power is such that even those who have not sought it, but have had it forced upon them, tend to acquire a taste for more. "Lead us not into temptation," we pray -- and with good reason; for when human beings are tempted too enticingly or too long, they generally yield. A democratic constitution is a device for preventing the local rulers from yielding to those particularly dangerous temptations that arise when too much power is concentrated in too few hands.
This led Gandhi to propose a decentralized mode of production which seemed to be the only way to preserve individual autonomy while promoting social and economic justice. But this did not mean that villages have to produce everything. He said in Harijan., 30-11-1935 (in Industrialize and Perish), 'My idea of self-sufficiency is that villages must be self-sufficient in regard to food, cloth and other basic necessities. But even this can be overdone.. . Self-sufficiency does not mean narrowness. To be self-sufficient is not to be altogether self-contained. In no circumstances would we be able to produce all the things we need.'

It was hoped the new technologies of modernity would free people from drudgery and monotonous work. However what has replaced it is a compulsive consumerist society which is dehumanizing in new ways. Gandhi’s critique was a condemnation of the ethic of the profit motive which brings about such dehumanization.  Moreover, technology has its own intrinsic logic that instrumentalises our world and inevitably leads to a disenchantment that bring us to the ‘iron cage’, as Weber warned long ago. Robert Jungk says in Tomorrow is Already Here:   
Every specialist tends to overvalue his own significance in the joint undertaking. In a period which drives the individual back into the role of a little wheel among a million little wheels a person is apt to ascribe to himself the role of the decisive little wheel, on whose right functioning the fate of the whole machinery hangs. This feeling of the importance of his personal function is to many a man a substitute for his lost freedom. 
Weber wrote that the "iron cage" traps individuals in systems based on rational calculation, efficiency and bureaucratic control. If you are born into a society organized this way, with the division of labor and hierarchical social structure that comes with it, you can't help but live within this system. One's life and worldview are shaped by it to such an extent that one probably can't even imagine what an alternative way of life would look like. Goethe says, 'Specialists without spirit, sensualists without heart; this nullity imagines that it has attained a level of civilization never before achieved.’

The celebration of the mundane and the routine that he thought central to modern culture, Weber believed, stemmed from the expectations and hopes of the Enlightenment thinkers who felt that science and rationality helped mankind to climb up the ladder of history towards what was assumed to be greater wisdom, more freedom and emancipation. But Weber realized that this was an illusion that trapped individuals in actions more based on rationality than being based on their values. Ronald Terchek writes in Gandhi: Struggling for Autonomy:
Weber finds that the freedom from tradition promised by the modernized economy turns hollow as it replaces old forms of dominance and drudgery with new ones. The new order requires its own forms of discipline, predictability and routinization, and Weber sees this producing bureaucrats, "men who need order and nothing but order". The great danger is that "the world could one day be filled with nothing but those little cogs, little men clinging to little jobs and striving towards bigger ones".
For Weber,"the central question is . . . what we can oppose to this machinery, in order to keep a portion of humanity free from this parcelling out of the soul, from this total dominance of the bureaucratic ideal of life". Gandhi takes it as one of his principal tasks to resist such an "iron cage" and encouraged the struggle that Weber later takes to be essential for freedom. But Gandhi goes further than Weber and seeks autonomy, not for "a portion of humanity" but for humanity at large. 

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Erosion of individual autonomy- II

Modernity  is characterized by such features as rationalism, secularization, industrialization, the scientific culture, individualism, technological mastery of nature and the drive towards globalization. Gandhi thought that modern civilization did the opposite of what a proper civilization is supposed to do. Instead of producing people who have self-determination, autonomy, self-knowledge, self-discipline and social cooperation, modern civilization did the opposite. By encouraging people to subject their powers to large organizations run by experts, it rendered men passive, helpless and heteronomous.

The impersonal institutions of modernity make some actions costly and others more welcome. They thus direct people towards certain choices but all the while pretend that people are free to make any choice they want. With their inducements to rivalry and ambition modern society forces men to put on a mask to hide the contradiction in their actions between their deepest convictions and the considerations upon which these institutions are founded and maintained. Instead of treating humans as autonomous agents, humans are treated as programmed robots who cannot deviate from the instruction of their operating systems.

What makes modernity especially dangerous according to Gandhi is that this constraining of available choices comes with a surface gloss which makes people blind to the costs that they are obliged to pay.  The modern industrial economy is engaged in an endless process of  producing  cheap consumer goods and maximizing profit. He argued that modern economic life reduced men to its helpless and passive victim and represented a new form of slavery, more comfortable and invidious and hence more dangerous than the earlier ones.  (To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism by Evgeny Morozov describes the lives of such 'over-sized ants' who are content to let institutions automate virtues for them.)

Gandhi resisted the idea that those who subscribe to these norms felt it their duty to impose these views on the the rest of the world. He attacked the idea that every technological and scientific advance implied ‘progress’. That doesn’t mean that he was anti-science.  He said in 1925, ‘I think that we cannot live without science, as long as we keep it within its limits.’ For Gandhi, ‘its limits’ were to keep it within his ethical norms and to ensure that its fruits are not enjoyed only by a minority. When the fruits of science are confined to a minority, they tend to dominate others and erode their autonomy.

It is not that he only criticized modernity and left traditions untouched. With traditions the problem was in ancient texts which people followed blindly and with  modernity the problem was its focus on production and efficiency. The problem was not about choosing one or the other but about taming the excesses of each. He said in Harijan, January 13, 1940, 'There is nothing to prevent me from profiting by the light that may come from the West. Only I must take care that I am not overpowered by the glamour of the West. I must not mistake the glamour for true light. The latter gives life, the former brings death.'

It is true that we do not have any definite philosophical scheme evolved by Gandhi which can be described as Gandhian Philosophy. He had his general philosophy of life; they are reflected in his writings and speeches, mixed up with other related topics. They have to be discerned more in his actions, which must be viewed in their entirety not merely in an isolated way. He lived day in and day out open to public view and none in history has left behind so much of documentation and direct evidence concerning everything he thought and did. Ronald Tercheck writes in Gandhi: Struggling for Autonomy:
If Gandhi is to have a voice in the twenty-first century, then not all of his texts can be approached literally. Texts do not entirely speak for themselves, particularly those that teach and admonish, often by reaching to practises, problems and opportunities whose original home is much different than that of later readers. . . Anyone in the late modern world who is interested in addressing the issues Gandhi raises about autonomy and non-violence needs to interrogate him to understand how his commitments are transported to a different world and translated into their own idiom. 
The ideal society about which Gandhi is discussing is the society where the individual is of supreme consideration and all the other aspects of the society, either machine, industry, production or distribution, revolve around him. For him, an action had moral worth only if it was voluntary, was a product of one’s own thought and not done because of some external force. So if an individual loses his freedom, as happens inexorably in the above-mentioned products of human ingenuity, the person becomes an automaton, an ‘over-sized ant’.

Gandhi's defence of individual autonomy is due to his conviction that every human being has only a partial conception of the truth. For him, any conception of the truth will include a commitment to autonomy.  He rejects all claims to certainty and does not accept the contention that it is ok to inflict pain on a person for some future good. Compelling a person to live by the moral standards determined by others implies believing in one’s infallibility which was not acceptable to him. He said on 17-4-1924, 'I have repeatedly observed that no school of thought can claim a monopoly of right judgment. We are all liable to err and are often obliged to revise our judgments.'

For Gandhi the case for freedom was simple and the same as that for truthfulness. Respect for truth implied respect for human beings as they were constituted at a given point in time. It ruled out all attempts to ‘force them to be free’ or sacrifice them at the altar of an abstract and impersonal ideal. For him a person is not moral if he is good because of the fear of getting caught. As he understands it, one can only have a good society if all individuals in it are free.

If any group dominates the other, the society cannot be good. He said in Harijan on September 29, 1946, ‘The mind of a man who is good   under compulsion cannot be good; in fact it gets worse. And when compulsion is removed all the defects well up to the surface with even greater force. ‘ Although theoretically it is possible for a person to be fearless and resist domination (as he himself did), he recognized that it is not possible for most people to bear the costs of such resistance.