Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Getting Rich is a Moral and Social Imperative

Yesterday found me in Cafe Coffee Day, Koramangala, sitting with my partners and discussing some changes in our proposed B-plan. Caffeine can work miracles with your thought process.

As is usual with such hangouts, a boisterous group of PYTs walked in and plonked themselves on the sofa. We tried drowning out the background chatter and concentrating on what needed to be done with The Plan, but it was pretty tough sledding.

And then the PYT Chat converged on to the latest movie that they had watched: "Gandhi My Father". My ears pricked up as one of them simpered - "Y'know, I never liked that guy anyway. He looked so funny when he walked and all." Giggles. Followed by - "Seriously. Duuuude. What's with that damn stick anyway?" Laughter.


Here's to a happy 60th Year of Independence, ladies and gentlemen.

This reminds me of a chat I had had with one of my friends the other day, when he had awkwardly suggested that "Gandhi was never a saint". In my admittedly biased vision, though, sainthood has been conferred upon far too many people for far less reasons. If anyone deserves to be called a saint, it's Gandhi.

Don't get me wrong. I strongly believe that the nation-state is, at best, an awkward construct, having painfully taken birth alongside modern liberalism as a political philosophy. In most cases, it plays a somewhat useful role in nurturing a consensus approach to matters that affect those rational beings that exist within its stated borders. I refer, obviously enough, to Western liberal democracies. North Korea barely fits my self-serving definition above.

I am all for freedom of expression. The PYTs mentioned in the blog have every right to laugh at Gandhi, for asserting these rights are the fruits of liberal thought. For all those of you who are horrified at the thought, remember, Gandhi himself would have laughed alongside the PYTs. Similarly, I'm all for those of us who believe that all of human life is infinitely precious, and that India has no business killing people, be it Kashmir or Mizoram. Again, I'm fully supportive of those who want to leave India and go abroad, because "dude, life in India sucks".

Liberty cannot be chained and put behind bars. This is what freedom means, even if it means you want to burn your nation's flag as a mark of protest.

What scares me the most, though, is when emerging nation-states such as India fail in providing support to those very people who comprise its raison d'etre, its very basis of existence.

I refer, gentle reader, to the fact that all Indians are uneducated.

You see, there is no educated soul in the country, you and me included.

Of course, we can each trot out statistics which state that 2 out of 3 Indians are literate.

There is, however, a vast gulf between literacy and education. The PYTs in the cafe were literate. You and me are literate (hopefully, or you wouldn't be reading this nor I writing this). The very fact that more than 65% of India is literate is a mind-boggling achievement.

However, none of us are educated.

A solid system of education ought to travel way beyond the traditional cognitive skills of reading, writing, and numeracy, the troika which makes up modern literacy initiatives in this country. To be educated should mean much more than the capability of surviving in a modern society.

To be educated should imply the ability to think and reason, to understand social, historical and cultural contexts. It should inculcate the sturdy habits of self-reliance, especially in the crucial domain of thinking for oneself.

Having outsourced all else, we simply cannot afford to outsource our reasoning and our brains.

To be educated should imply a deeper understanding of humanity's precarious state of existence, and to glory in its achievements, miniscule though they may be when measured with scales grander than those we are used to.

A true education would embrace aesthetics and ethics, the scientific method and history, a knowledge of the world we are living in as well as our place in the greater scheme of things.

We should be able to appreciate the magic of Ghalib as well as the poetry of Blake, and understand why we do so.
We should be able to weep equally when faced with the grandeur of the Notre Dame or the Taj.
We should be able to follow the convoluted logic of Aquinas with the same rigour as we follow that of Godel.
We should not be afraid to analyze organized religion as a human construct, and explore its flaws as well as its fragile beauty.

In the end, a truly educated being would be fully equipped to hold its own in the world, to create wonders of the mind and of the senses, and to mould reality as it deems fit.

We Indians have been badly equipped for this difficult journey, having been shoe-horned into accepting the consensus doctrines of society as to what to do with our lives. That, however, in no way stops any of us from going forth and learning things on our own, and of trying to change our country in whatever way we can.

I am fully aware of the fact that most of you reading this are puzzled as to what any of this has to do with being rich.

To educate a nation of the size of India of course needs wealth on a massive scale, but, more than anything else, it also requires the intellect which has the capacity to create wealth. As the future leaders of this nation, it is not only our duty, but our responsibility to be wealthy, to ensure that we fulfil our primary function as catalysts of wealth concentration and diffusion.

Our generation is uniquely placed to both gather wealth by virtue of our brains, and to utilize the capital thus accumulated in optimal ways to conjure into existence an educated, civilized, cultured and confident mass of people. Whether unconsciously or with due deliberation, this ought to be the single leitmotif of our existence. This is also why I have never been comfortable with the idea of communism - it is a sub-optimal appoach that tends to drag down all of society to a miserable state of forced equality, it tends to rub out important differences which are to be cherished and preserved, and in doing so it ensures that all that is good in humanity is to be stamped upon and reduced to the rubble of empty rhetoric and the bleak nihilism of a beehive. (The pseudo-intellectual theory of dialectical materialism comes to mind.)

A truly capitalist endeavour, on the other hand, with a vigorous free market, would optimally ensure, as Henry Ford and others realized in the early 20th century, the creation of an educated, innovative and entrepreneurial mass of people which can set off an unparalleled chain reaction of technological development and cultural achievement, in the case of the United States having continued unabated for nearly a century now.

It took just one generation of American effort to achieve all of this.

All it takes is a single generation to come together and challenge the status quo, to gather wealth on an unimaginable scale, to use that wealth to seed out providers of education across the nation.

All it takes is a single generation to create a sustainable movement of truly educated people, with a rich cultural, social and scientific context in which they can work their magic.

All it takes is a single generation to realize and internalize the fact that they have the ability as well as the means to do what Archimedes had dreamt of, and move the Earth.

I urge all of you who are reading this, to go forth and create wealth, accumulate riches, and to leave a mark upon history.

Never be ashamed of chasing wealth. Remember this, and remember it well. Being rich is your duty to society, and the one morally upright thing to do.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your article amply proves the age old saying of "Little Knowledge is Dangerous".
1. Accepted - nation state was a specific European creation created during those turbulent days of 18th and 19th centuries, under the guise of western liberalism - although I doubt to what extent nation states had anything to do with the core liberal ideas of Kant, Adam Smith, etc.

2. What do you mean by this fanatical belief in "Liberty"? Have you ever thought about whether you are really "FREE" in any philosophical sense of the word? If I may use John Stuart Mill's words, it is basically the freedom to do whatever one wants without impinging on others' ability to do the same. Do you in anyway fulfill these definitions ? I am not talking about petty day to day activities but more systemic things. This brings us to the title of your essay. Are you willing to enshrine it as the foundation of our society? Are you willing to make the freedom to make money as the only real "freedom" and reduce the populace into dumb consumerist monsters devouring the world's resources - at least that is what one generation of Americans have been able to do quite efficiently. This paramount freedom of the market necessarily undermines all other freedoms - making people like you fanatical adherents to this get rich mantra. I am not suggesting that you cannot think, rather that the whole logic is so compelling that most people fall for it and become willing slaves.

3. I don't fault you very much for this essay. Lots of countries have gone through the same phase as India is going through. Look at Latin America - it was once the most radical adherents to neoliberal policies and look what happened to them - a fact that people in that part of the world are quickly realizing. I am sorry to say this, but India seems to be going towards the same direction - 20-30% rich and the rest poor. Only, the misery will be much more with such a large population.

4. On a more philosophical note, I would like you to think about this - the tremendous fragmentation that we suffer from, do you think we can be really free with this kind of segmentation? we are constantly torn apart by all kinds of stimuli, essentially becoming slaves of our mind. I somewhat agree with your prescription of an educated person, but I think it lacks a deeper understanding of how our mind works and hence how to "educate" it.

5. Finally, regarding the optimality of free market capitalism, you have got it badly wrong. When you give the example of Henry Ford, remember his continued success was mainly due to his monopoly in the car market. This is precisely what laissez faire economists would despise. And what is this optimal thing? can you be more concrete? does it really lead to happier people? or is it just pareto optimality you are talking about? what about wastage, over-production, exploitation, ecological destruction? what about the marketplace destroying all semblances of diversity?

more later