Category Archives: freedom

2014 elections: the death of decency

The ordeal is finally over. After more than a year of having to endure twitter/facebook posts on economics, history, politics, ethics and conspiracy theories by people whose only information came from a couple of books and random websites, one hopes things might cool down a little (for now at least). We have a new government, and its immediate effect should be the suspension of catfights on social media. The social media websites must have been banging their heads about using precious hardware to store the crap generated by Indians over the past year, all of which pointed to the same thing: the death of decency within Indian society.

It may matter who holds power at the centre, or it may not. But one thing is certain: to call ourselves citizens of one nation, members of one civilisation or simply human beings requires traits that have been completely abandoned over the past year. Mutual respect, restraint in thought and action, tolerance of opposing world-views, attempts to put oneself in the other’s shoes — all these are vitally important as we Indians march towards a future where each and every individual has the capacity to hurt many people, both physically and psychologically. Like someone once said, it is foolish to expect that leaders will be good or even decent; It is upto the people to provide the counterbalance to the inevitable abuse of power by political leaders. This is possible only when we embody the traits mentioned above, among others. Without these, we become susceptible to manipulation and eventual physical or mental slavery.

Before going ahead, one thing must be acknowledged: Politics, however practiced, is a dirty game: one cannot sip tea in elegant settings and talk high-minded philosophy in the process of engaging in politics. Politics is a game to garner as much power to oneself within the framework of certain rules (which are rarely followed, unfortunately). It is unlikely that someone indulging in politics, for however noble a cause, will come out of it more emancipated than before he entered it (There are exceptions to this rule, but that’s what they are: exceptions). The only hope is to emerge out of politicking with at least the same amount of dignity that one went in with. It is by this metric that the ‘politically awakened middle class facebook user’ has miserably failed.

I mention Facebook simply because that is the one medium to which I have been exposed (not fatally, one hopes), dinosaur that I am. But without doubt, this has been the case with every medium out there, web-based or otherwise. Long-term friendships have broken apart. Prejudices in the form of ideals have hardened due to the incessant brainwashing. Respectful dialogue has been replaced by invective. Personal identities have been drowned by the mob identity. Self-criticism and introspection has given way to a smug self assurance typical of morons, even among otherwise discerning people. All this in the name of getting this or that crook into power.

This is one fact that all of us must agree upon: politicians, regardless of their place in the spectrum, are crooks. And all we have achieved is break bonds and burn bridges in the name of one or the other, arguing that this or that crook is less crookish than the other and therefore a great hope for the nation. The politicians, party workers and other assorted hired guns have always been hungry for power, regardless of what they tell themselves or others. It has been justified by various means: For a United and Strong India. For a Corruption-Free India. For a Secular India. For the Dalits. For the Muslims. For the Hindus. No matter what the justification, all one wants is the means to power. I am not being cynical, but merely stating a matter of fact. What one does with power is normally secondary during elections to the actual acquisition of power. In the song-and-dance sequence that is the Indian elections, any and all means to attract attention is used, and most of them have the unfortunate consequence of dividing people. What the British taught us over a hundred years ago, we have learnt well. Probably, too well.

About the elections themselves, one thing was certain: the Congress Party was going to lose, and lose spectacularly. This was obvious for a very long time. Even if there were no scams, the sheer force of anti-incumbency would have removed them from power. The scams and the global recession/volatility (which was not under their control) helped a great deal, no doubt. The same thing happened in Karnataka, when the extremely corrupt BJP government was overthrown and power was handed over in a platter to the only alternative by the people. This would have happened even if the Karnataka Congress Party had sleepwalked through the elections.

The reason I brought this up is to underline the fact that the Indian voter is not stupid, and not insulated from the happenings on the ground (unless he is posting photos of what he ate on Facebook). The spectacular fall of the BJP in Karnataka happened without major drama in the social media and without the spewing of venom at all and sundry. This begs the question why this was the case in the national elections.

Though religious missionaries are always in the news for almost always the wrong reasons, we have seen the emergence of multiple missionary orders during this elections. Facebook Missionaries of BJP, AAP and INC were of course the most vociferous,  but others were present too. Their activity was the source of both amusement and concern. They ensured that our elections became Americanised, with cults of personality taking prominence over ground realities. It was sad and shocking to see one politician’s ‘undeclared’ wife being subjected to a media circus. Another politician being slapped or having a shoe thrown at him was celebrated with glee. ‘Friends’ on Facebook were calling each other Fascists, Naxalites and AAPtards (whatever that means). Caricatures were no longer for irony, but for vicious attack. One conspiracy theory video on Youtube was answered using another video, left-leaning articles being shown as the reply to right-leaning articles. A sad way to expend the enormous energy and creativity India today radiates, to the whole world’s envy. Like all missionaries, the desire to impose one’s world view on others at all costs has disabled the lifeblood of Indian civilisation, that which has kept her alive for thousands of years: the capacity to understand, assimilate and create.

All in all, India now has a poisonous, divisive and menacing air about it. Of course, this is not the product of one elections, but a progressive trend caused by the systematic application of the tactics of the British Raj by all the political parties with the hope of ‘harvesting our souls’, as someone put it. With the polity in tatters and hopelessly divided, no counterbalance exists to keep our leaders in check. That, to me is the greatest contribution of the BJP, INC and AAP in this election. Congrats, and all the best!

Being useless

First of all, something from XKCD that echoes my sentiments:

The mouse-over text for this panel goes like this: “The only things you HAVE to know are how to make enough of a living to stay alive and how to get your taxes done. All the fun parts of life are optional.” For some reason, this part of life is completely overlooked when trying to describe what makes an ideal human being. We seem to have internalized a fact of dubious validity that if one is useless, then it is a bad thing. Good is equated with useful (to someone/thing) and bad with useless.

It is undoubtedly true that since we live in the company of other humans, and all of us are trying to prop up a gigantic structure called society, that we need to work with each other, and for each other. It is therefore only fair that we are rewarded when we do our part, and are useful to others. Only thieves and politicians seem to think otherwise, and also those who beg and borrow without ever trying to find something useful to do. But somehow, somewhere, the fact “you need to be useful to survive” gets transformed into “you survive to be useful”.

As a personal ethic, to live in the service of others is undoubtedly a very noble thing. But problems arise when everything is judged by its utility to yourself or to society. By this standard, bureaucrats (the earnest ones anyway) are useful and painters useless. Farmers are useful and folk singers useless. If we keep eliminating useless people and things from society, then, like the cartoon says, life would not be very much fun indeed. Also, it is very easy to apply double standards: A sports person who has spent his entire life thinking about himself, his body and his technique becomes a hero if he wins a medal, though his actual contribution to society is similar to that of an orchid to a forest.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the word ‘useful’ itself has different meanings at different points in history. It is socially defined and it defines ‘The Box’ within which society operates. People of science were not only considered useless but even dangerous a few hundred years ago. Nowadays they are worshipped as saviours of humanity. Therefore, some who is very useful and maybe even invaluable at a particular point in history is so because she operates completely within ‘The Box’, and is happy doing so. If everyone thinking outside ‘The Box’  are eliminated, civilisations will stagnate and die out.

It is therefore important that society tolerates useless elements like beggars and philosophers. They may be parasites, but as long as they don’t suck the life-blood out of the society, like politicians, they should be allowed to survive and persist. They may harbour ideas or examples of ways of living that may lead the way for future generations, or their ideas may be eternally useless. But being different, being useless requires conviction and courage (however misplaced), both of which are rare qualities in society.

At a more personal level, being useful implies leading a life that is mainly governed by the needs of others. As experience will inevitably show, the ‘others’ are a mix of deserving and undeserving people, and you have no control over which kind you end up serving. It a very rare set of people who can truthfully say that they serve only deserving people. Also, people and things have values that are not included in their utility: beauty, inspiration, serenity — these are also things that we as a society must value, and seeing how things are progressing, maybe value more that brute utility. Being useless is something that is brainwashed out of us very early on, maybe it is time we re-learn what it feels like!

Life at 8 kmph – A Walker’s Manifesto

Whether on four limbs or two, we and our ancestors have been walking for millenia. It is in our DNA, and we still rely on it from time to time when our cars break down, just like our ancestors relied on it when their donkeys suddenly died. In fact, we have been walking for longer than we have been thinking, which explains why the average human walks far better the she can think – If everybody walked as well as they thought, the world would be a very dizzy place for most of us.

Here, no attempt is made to outline the physical importance of walking – This every IT professional or MBA knows and no farmer or street vendor needs to know – this is an attempt to delineate the cosmology of the walker. Also, it is an attempt to understand how man’s relationship with his walk changed after cataclysms like the invention of the wheel and the iPod. However, technical questions like how much to walk, at what intensity, with whom, how can one associate a real number with a certain kind of walk and other publishable questions are left to future theoreticians from some Institutes of Science.

A walker is a peaceful animal. She knows that she cannot walk faster than some 10 kmph regardless of what happens, therefore is content with her lot. Running is possible, but not for long distances – walking is the only way to ensure that one can transport oneself daily from point A to B without dying at a very early age. A walker is also a very careful animal. He is at his most vulnerable when not protected by his home and family. Thorns, predators, snakes, stones, pretty much everything in his path is potentially fatal. For example, if people only knew how to walk, then people would not have such a problem with night traffic being banned in Bandipur. Instead, they would request that such a ban be enforced in the interest of the walking public. For the walker, time is not composed of discrete intervals determined by some cesium atom. One does not have to reach some place at some time, one reaches a place when one reaches the place (preferably before sunset, when we are even more vulnerable).

A walker is learning and playing all the time, unlike those who need specialized locations for both. Learning about what to eat, where to stop, how much to talk are all part of the curriculum. At the same time, listening to the wind rustling through the leaves, the robin announcing the arrival of spring with interesting lectures from the tree tops, watching the trees burst into bloom and the grass drying out are all part of the small pleasures that come by the walker’s way. A walker can stand and stare for as long as she wants, an ability that is slowly dying out. Staring is a very important part of both the intellectual and aesthetic development of the walker, though nowadays she would be accused of sexual harassment or mental illness for doing the same.

A walker does not go visit point B alone, but an infinite number of places along the way. People coming to Mysore complain that they only have around 10 places to visit, boring place. Maybe a walk around will change their mind. Thus, for a walker space is not composed of finite points connected by finite curves, but a continuum of points from here to everywhere. It is therefore not surprising that walkers know more about a place than anyone else. Nothing is boring because nothing is static, space in a walker’s view is always fluid, just like time, and both are in consonance – more the space in front of you, the more the time you will have.

And then comes the wheel. Nowadays, everybody wants their own wheels, depending on what they can afford. Thus, an American rides a Harley, an Indian rides a Hero Honda and an IIScian rides a cycle. For some strange reasons not well understood, from where they come (point A) and where they go (point B) suddenly are given undue importance. Another strange concept called ‘saving time’ also gets introduced, which justifies riding wheels that rotate faster than ever. Time cannot be stored for a rainy day, nor does it need saving from anything, thus this saving business seems to be mere wordplay rather than a concrete concept. Space and time are now quantities that are opposed to each other – farther means you ‘save less time’. The harmony between space and time is destroyed in this process.

Now everybody has ‘saved’ time, and therefore has plenty of time to ‘spare’. Since it cannot be lent to others, it must be used by its owner in the best manner possible – parties, philosophy, defence policy, business expansion and the like. Unfortunately, as was noted before, man does not think as well as he walks. Thus, it is not surprising that most of the problems in the world today are caused by the ‘savers’ – animals with too much time and too little brains. If they only had less time to plot jihads or search for cheap labor markets, we might have been better off. Simply put, walking naturally leads to world peace!

Earplugs which deliver music right to your eardrum is another invention that is killing the pleasure of walking. Like all good earplugs, they cutoff the walker from his surroundings, surrounding him with badly composed notes which are not even infinite like the ones he is cutoff from. Thus, his concept of space and time are completely dictated by another person (sometimes rightly called the ‘conductor’). Since the walker no longer pays attention to his surroundings, all the dangers that he faces are thus to be paved over by roads, killed or put into National Parks. Thus, not only does he affect himself, but everything around him as well.

These and other pernicious inventions have relegated the walker from being the centre of her universe to a small, sometimes irritating, part of someone else’s universe. It is high time we discover the walker in ourselves, before we evolve to a stage where we do not know what to do when our donkey dies.

Wilde, Chaplin and being ‘Modern’

Coincidentally, read a book of Oscar Wilde’s plays and viewed Chaplin’s ‘Modern Times’ the same week. Both give an interesting picture of the society in which they lived and how these great artists viewed modernity. Both are criticizing the audiences of their art – Wilde would make lot of allusions to places and situations which only a ‘cultured’ audience would appreciate, Chaplin’s movie was unlikely to have been seen by many of the poor, considering that it was released just after the Great Depression.

It is quite remarkable that both were darlings of a society that they treated with disrespect in their respective arts. They did not get away with it completely, however – Wilde was jailed for being a homosexual and died very young (his leftist leanings would have caught up with him sooner or later anyways), Chaplin was driven out of the USA during the McCarthy Inquisitions for his strong leftist inclinations.

Wilde uses his sharp wit to expose the moral hypocrisy of the elite in Victorian England who loved a scandal, as long as it was not in their homes. The public moralising, commodification of women, gender discrimination (“Women must be pure, unlike men…” kind of moral policing of women by women) are all themes he touches upon many times in his plays. Some of his characters are nervous about the wave of  ‘modern decadence’ in Europe (apparently French novels were banned in England at that time), whereas others embrace modernity. But regardless of their standing in the modern-Victorian divide, Wilde shows that the same hypocrisy persists – some of the characters, whether modern or not are shown to be morally corrupt and reprehensible at the end. In the same way, other characters, modern or not, are shown to be upright and honest. Thus, one can infer that Modernity by itself cannot be playing a crucial role in determining a person’s character, there are values that can withstand the ravages of change in social and personal life. Thus, the Victorian anxiety about the profound change that Modernity promised to bring seems unfounded.

Chaplin’s film, on the other hand, depicts the profound changes that ‘Modern Times’ has wrought upon the poor. The opening scene of the assembly line is to me as good a description of the change in the value of human life in the age of the machine as any. The movie has some remarkable scenes depicting the relation of man and machine, which is probably why it is considered one of Chaplin’s greatest films. It shows how it was impossible for the poor to make a decent living and people trying to satiate their hunger were called thieves, while opulent luxury (very well shown in the department store where Chaplin gets a job as a night watchman) was still available to those who could afford it. Almost a century down the line, USA (along with other countries now!) still does not seem to have learnt its lessons. Communism was not attractive to the poor for its intellectual value, but just that it promised them relief from hunger.

Chaplin shows us how things have changed, and Wilde shows us the more things change, the more they remain the same. There were (are!) many that place hope in the ingenuity of man to eradicate his less desirable creations like poverty and exploitation, when the fact remains that the problem is not material or technological, but mainly moral.This transference of moral problems to technological ones is not very rare: you have automatic light systems because people don’t want to switch them off themselves, police since we are incapable of ruling ourselves, carbon credits to enjoy cars without guilt and taxes to help our fellow human beings.

Coming back to the artists themselves, both delivered strong social messages through their work though art for art’s sake was the mantra to most artists – Wilde himself was a passionate supporter of freedom of art from shackles of morality. This seems to point to the transcendent quality of art – an artist with all her prejudices is capable of creating something that is very little touched by the same prejudice. Literary and artistic pieces, which embedded within their own time, are still appreciated centuries later even though the original context is completely lost. This to me is the true measure of great art.

Sociable sociopaths – is it the system ?

System Analysis is simply another way of looking at the world, trying to look at the structure and composition of an aggregate of anything from computer code to people to machines.

For those unaware of terminology (which would be anyone who has not taken a systems course), a system is an entity with certain inputs and outputs, and which converts inputs to outputs through a certain mechanism. It can be completely defined by its inputs, outputs, external limits and feedback systems. Limits determine the boundaries within which the system must operate, like the size of our parliament is limited by the number of rich and powerful idiots in the country. Feedback systems determine the response of the system to changes in its output or environment, like the elections are a feedback in a democracy.

Another factor which determines the performance of the system is delay in the feedback systems. Scientists have been telling economists to change developmental objectives to include climate change issues for many decades and yet it has come into focus only very recently. Even today, development does not include many environmental issues like deforestation and toxic dumps and species extinction. This can be called as a large delay between output changes and the attendant change in system performance.

Why is systems thinking important ? From a business perspective, it can help analyse the people and objects that determine how a system (company) behaves, and how certain kinds of behavior of these ‘components’ can affect overall system output. For example, car manufacturers should change the specifications of their car according to general consumer tastes. Therefore, there must be some system feature that links car specification with consumer taste. If the person who is in charge of implementing this feature in this system fails to do her job well, system output (which is cars) will fail to make the desired impact.

Therefore, most social systems – religion, corporation, state – come up with a set of desired behaviors that the components that make up the system should have, and this is inculcated by various mechanisms – schools, corporate orientation, religious instruction and so on.

One can, if one has considerable amount of time to burn, apply systems principles to the present situation in India. First, a look at the state. The state is a glorified watchman of sorts, taking money from us taxpayers and giving political, social and economic protection. The recent spate of terrorist attacks have underlined the fact that it is unable to deal with the phenomenon of terrorism which is structurally very different from the normal antisocial elements that it is used to dealing with. Highly motivated individuals, working in small groups, from varied backgrounds, with no monetary motivation causing mayhem is something no state can cope with: it was simply not designed for such a task. And there goes physical safety that we were supposed to have.

Next thing to go was religious tolerance. Talking to random people on the train shows that the average Hindu looks at his Christian neighbor with suspicion and will be more hesitant than before to attend religious festivals. This is due to the sensationalist feedback systems which have been set in place called the media and no doubt supported by a political party that wants to expel Pakistani and Bangladeshi nationals (only those with expired visas, of course, preferably Muslims) since they might be terrorists. Never mind the fact that terrorists will go to great lengths to see that their papers are in order, and are not stupid enough to be in a place where checks are taking place. A system is only as good as the people that make it up, and this is shown well in Karnataka now and Gujarat before.

Before these was, of course, financial security. A global economic system needs global  regulatory agencies, a role which the IMF and World Bank ostensibly play. The present crisis shows that a system designed around rational ordering and behavior of individuals completely fails when greed, fear and panic are the inputs. The subprime crisis surfaced around this time last year and its effects are showing now, a huge delay between input and output. This kind of behavior can only mean worse things in the coming year. IMF and the World Bank probably should stick to bullying third world nations.

All these developments are having interesting effects – terrorism has made grassroot level spying a noble duty in service of the state (Orwellian nightmare!), people belonging to different religious groups are eyeing each other with suspicion, and people with money to lose are running around like headless chickens. If people are taken as a system, and if insecurity is an input, the system moves towards whatever promises stability. Therefore, unfortunately, the State and religious organizations are going to be more powerful than before when the dust settles. The last bastion of reliable information feedback, the internet, is now becoming more prone to State intervention. Wonder what the status of the people will be after this – are we going to be sociable components of sociopathic systems ?

Melkote: Reflections – 1

The students of our course in ICT4D and others from the MSW(Master’s in Social Work) had been for a 1.5 day workshop on Development in Melkote, near Mysore. An extremely beautiful place, we were situated in a place called Hosa Jeevana Dhari, which is one of the last remaining places where the ‘Sarvodaya‘ principle of Gandhi is being kept alive. It was run by a Gandhian named Surendra Kaulagi, and now by his son Santhosh Kaulagi. Surendra was a close associate of Jayaprakash Narayan and one of few surviving people who has actually interacted with J. C. Kumarappa.

Surendra Kaulagi and Ashok Rao

Surendra Kaulagi and Ashok Rao

Ashok Rao (to the right) is the professor and head of the ICT4D program we study in. The program started with Ashok Rao introducing the issue, which is the need to deliberate on the much maligned word called ‘development’ which causes chills to run down the spines of tribals and the underprivileged classes, and discuss alternate sustainable paths. Unlike the IIM workshop, this one actually managed to answer some of the questions posed on the first day.

The starting talk, which Kaulagi delivered, talked about the two paradigms which are in front of us today: one is Manmohanomics and the other Kumarappa’s view of the same subject. No one disagrees with the fact that mainstream development which is represented by Manmohan Singh today is unsustainable, if nothing atleast because it is over-reliant on natural resources (there is also the issue of what individuals contribute to this, but that is for later). Nature is seen as something to be exploited for human welfare. Kumarappa proposed a radically different view, which placed nature at the centre of all development, and which allowed people who were closest to nature (agriculturists and the like) to live in dignity without having to bow down to the dictates of an insensitive market.

Kumarappa’s and Gandhi’s vision were ridiculed and eventually replaced by Western ideologies like socialism and liberalism, but Kaulagi mentioned that neither Gandhi nor Kumarappa were shakeable in their vision, and always maintained until the end that this was the correct way to get things done. The main take-away for me from this talk was the answer to the following question: why did Gandhi and Kumarappa hold so firm to what they believed in ? Did not J. S. Mill state that we don’t know the entire truth, and therefore should not impose our beliefs elsewhere? Kaulagi mentioned that this steadfastness comes from an intimate understanding of the empirical facts: Gandhi and Kumarappa had spent many a year roaming about India to understand it from a ‘earthworm view’, so to speak. Kaulagi is a living example of such a breed, and holds those views with clarity that a professor from Columbia had to make clear for the academic world, that too from India: Be an example while holding on steadfastly to your principles.

But if you notice, there is hardly any part of our academia or education which stresses the importance of this perspective. Professors of development would never have spent years understanding people by interacting with them, nor does our education make us understand things by making us do things with our hands. Development occurs with people stating facts and figures and surveys, not stating what the people who are the eventual ‘beneficiaries’ think or know or care about. In fact, there is an entire legion of academicians who think that they can athoritatively speak about subjects, especially those as sensitive as development without ever being close to their objects of study, and interacting with them only as statistics (Planning Commission and Montek Singh Ahluwalia, anyone ?).

This kind of ‘study’ can be justified when we look at people in terms of compartments: material and normative. The material well-being can hardly have much correlation with the normative space. However, if we are convinced that development in material well-being (however that may happen) is most important and forget that people also require a certain set of values (especially considering that we are social in nature) to live a good life, then we can do Manmohanomics without much ado. If we are to widen our epistemic scope, then things look different. If we say that human welfare is intimately related to money and more of it means better, then Bangalore is a shining example of perfect development. If we say that people need more than material well-being to lead a good life, then Timbaktu is a better example.

The values that economics holds is still the utilitarian type, which is extremely different from what other people hold. Therefore, when the fundamental reasons for material well-being ( fulfillment of higher needs) are different, it can hardly be the case that one can hold with conviction to his/her values when all initiatives seem to mysteriously not work as planned. It is like teaching programming to someone who wants to learn MS-Office because you are a passionate programmer. All your efforts at making your students excellent programmers will fail, and you begin to wonder whether programming is for everyone. If you had bothered to spend some time with your students, then you would have understood that they hold music and dance or something else more dear than learning C and C++.

People in academia shape policy by their grandiose pronouncements on society and individuals. Therefore, it is imperative that they spend enough time in the right places to gain the conviction that their approach and views are correct, rather than vacillating knowing that the only thing you know are numbers.

What is freedom ?

Statutory Warning: Content that follows may be unsuitable for science, math, engineering majors, and similar juveniles.

Was reading (yet!) another book, this one is named Political Ideas in the Romantic Age by Isaiah Berlin. Halfway through, and there is definitely no way I will review this book, being far too philosophical in content. So, thought I’ll just write a few words about the central theme of the book, or rather set of lectures compiled into a book.

Berlin was a professional philosopher and became interested in politics (like most people in his time, living through two world wars). The idea that Berlin explores is that any work of a (wo)man is only understood fully with reference to the context of the time that (s)he lived in. Hence, he explores the history of the political ideas of the most turbulent times in recent European history in terms of conflicting views, opinions and philosophies, the 18th and 19th centuries. He does not delve into deep analysis of each and every philosopher (Hobbes, Hume, Locke, Helvetius, Bentham, Adam Smith, Rousseau ……), rather, he tries to capture the spirit of the age, or as is popularly known, the zeitgeist.

For Berlin, the central question of political philosophy is “Why should one man obey another ?” and from here flows the logical successors : “What is more important, obedience to the State or personal liberty ?”; “Can a person be subservient and still claim to be free?” . Taking this as the starting point, the solutions proposed by various stalwarts of the Enlightenment and beyond are explored, will not go into the details, as promised.

The central talking point of the presently read 100-odd pages are two words : does and should. The question is not why does a man obey, but rather, why should a man obey. The first question can be answered by empirical data, the second question is far more difficult to answer. If someone can write 250+ pages showing how people confused does and should, or even took does and should to be identical, it no doubt will not be easy reading :D

On a more earthly level, the questions posed are quite interesting even to the non-professional (and hence more creative) philosophers, which consists of most of the humans on this planet. What does it mean to be free ? Why should we bow down before a King or a Prime Minister ? Can duty toward a State be consistent with the idea of personal freedom ? Does being free necessarily imply that you are happy ? Take the case of Singapore. Quite a wealthy state, but absolutely no freedom. Take the case of some Sub-Saharan nomadic tribe : not wealthy by any stretch of the imagination, but as much freedom as the breadth of the Sahara (barring visa restrictions ;). What relation exists between money and freedom ? Does one increase proportionally with the other ? Or upto a certain limit ? Can we say Anil Ambani is more free than a naked wandering Jain monk ? If yes, why ? If no, why ? Can there be singular answers to such questions ?

Yup, the spectrum over which we can analyse is huge and very interesting. Most of these will at the end turn out to be subjective issues. But are there objective metrics which we can use, if not to answer all questions, atleast to serve as indicators ? Can social policy be formulated with regard to such parameters ? How easy or difficult will it be to empirically measure these parameters to ascertain the progress of an implemented policy ? What can be considered as a viable endpoint in development programmes which involve such parameters ? Most of the questions in this paragraph were raised in class today by Ashok Rao, and most of this semester will go into trying to answer such things, if possible.

The approach to development lies in these questions, one intuitively feels. One can approach development from the pseudo(or quasi?)-scientific outlook of the social sciences like economics or sociology, or from the (more pseudo?) philosophical/empirical basis delineated above, in a highly nebulous form. This course is turning out to be fun :D