Dear FB activist, you are a tool!

It’s good when people raise genuine issues on social networks. The junta finally has a voice, however insignificant. It doesn’t always work, but still helps. But, can people get over with the NaMo sycophancy already? What makes you think that crimes can be hidden but a false good image cannot be created? Did you check all the facts yourself? Do you think that our soulless media can be trusted with facts about any of them? Do you have any idea how PR firms work?

Ok, let’s say some oracle from a different dimension has assured you that all of Modi’s claims are correct. Let’s say, this NaMo dude shits rainbows and pisses unicorn tears. Still, you need to consider that government is not run by a handful of people. It is run by a system which has to be supported by the governed; both hopeless in our case. The system is corrupt and we love lawlessness and are used to indiscipline. Yes, this is the ground reality. Wishing for change and actually accepting it are two different things.

Moreover, you think ranting about all this on Facebook will help your cause? Seriously? Are you an NRI who has not lived in India for more than a month in the last decade? Facebook has 82 million Indians; less than 7% of India’s population. You know the ugly truth. You know how and where the actual voting is done. It is done by the truckloads for money, for alcohol, in the name of caste and god or out of fear for life. If you want to support or oppose someone, go to the streets and villages. Act where the activity is really needed. Nobody is taking inspiration from your facebook feed to oust one corrupt government and install another. Your unsolicited opinions are only fueling an ugly mass social-networking hysteria.

I don’t support any of the two parties. Frankly, I don’t give a plagued rat’s ass about who captures the centre next year. Because I know one fundamental truth. They are all politicians. They are in the business of fooling people and fulfilling their own desires for wealth, fame and power. Only faces and apparent mandates change. The people who are doing good, will keep at it. The people who need help, will stay stuck in their rut. If you want to see a change, log out of facebook and create a better society. Otherwise, shut up and stop silly meme-style “pappu” jokes and zombie-like NaMo worship.

The Real Casualties

[This, is a rant.]

You had to hang him, I thought. I do not sympathize with Afzal and the people he stood for. I do not support their struggle. I believe they are fighting for a chance to jump into a dark chasm they neither understand nor have the capacity to deal with. I abhor them for inflicting pain at my countrymen and I feel quite righteous. But the death penalty was not only unjust, it was damaging for the integrity of this nation. That much I understand. So I winced in disbelief when he was executed. You want us to pay for your stupidities, I thought.

We are caught in a circle of a need that arises due to rampant insurgency and the corruption resulting from the power we have to wield to control it. The media is hand in glove with the government to create a haze of misinformation and bias. The end result is a collective conscience that tears apart this people into blind factions mumbling rhetoric. Or, so I thought.

How easy it is to blame it on “them”, as long as we are excluded. Media hides facts. Government does not act. Security forces misuse their power. What about us? We do nothing. Never in the history of this world has doing nothing felt more powerful. We ride these moral rocking horses, blindfolded, ear reverberating with reasoning and anecdotes that we take at face value, our mouths duct-taped to a continuous supply of intellectual faeces that bloats our minds, leaving it capable of only rousing into murderous rage for frequent but short-lived moments, whence we denounce the world for its mere existence, propounding our self-righteousness in the same breath, eventually subsiding into a state of greater incapacity than furniture. We are not even ornamental.

It does not matter what colour the terror is, because the colour of the blood it spills is always red. It does not matter if your loved ones are safe, because the survivors of a blast are those who get killed, the real casualties (of any terrorism) are the people who witness the massacre and (decide to) live in a world where another blast has been accepted and swept off as that dull, annoying, pestering thing called reality. It does not matter if and when are the terrorists brought to justice, because we, and our inaction, are creating them.

How Not To Bring A Change

How do you feel when you witness the most resilient civil forces of your country doing something utterly stupid? What do you do when the people you trust, respect and look up to, prepare to give up their lives for an impractical whim? Do you forgive yourself for not standing by them because you know they are wrong? How do you cope with the frustration that piles up in your mind when they apply massive will and force for a selfless cause in a completely wrong direction?

Misguided Heroes?!

I have always been in awe of the key members of the India Against Corruption, from even before the movement started. They are the kind of people I would like to be led by. Smart, educated, motivated, selfless, patriotic, resourceful and stubborn; they are everything our leaders should be. So it hurts, unbearably, when I see them making an obvious mistake. A mistake? Boy, they are trying to rid the country of one of its many banes! Yes, I know their intention is honourable, but what is their plan to root out corruption? Reforms to the anti-corruption laws and institutions!! How so? By establishing a new, strong, efficient and autonomous investigative and judicial institution which is free of political influence, a sort of CBI on patriotic steroids!!

So, they want to create more laws and appoint more authorities to enforce those laws to ensure that the people of India behave. Well, that sounds reasonable, but only until you question why are the current laws and their enforcement agencies ineffective in culling corruption? This group of visionaries believes and wants us to believe that the laws are archaic and toothless, and the law enforcers are either corrupt themselves or are controlled by the politicians who have, to put it mildly, a conflict of interest with the delivery of justice (after all, who is interested in going to prison?). Now, they are correct in their causal analysis, but they could not be more wrong in suggesting that the solution they propose will work any better.

How can we be sure that the criminals will not find loopholes through the new laws? Or that the people who are selected for the enforcement will not be corrupt or, if not already, get corrupted with the new found power? What is the guarantee that this system will be more managed, efficient and responsive? Are we going to import the people who will be running the show? If we ourselves, the people of the Republic of India, are going to constitute the proposed Jan-Lokpal system, why does the IAC team think we’ll do it better this time around?

This conviction is a result of alienating the corrupt from the society and the governed from the government; a false perception that a handful of corrupt people are responsible; a simplistic view which projects that bribes are always asked for and never willingly or unwillingly offered. The government of India is a true representation of the people it rules. We are as immoral as every single politician sitting in the Parliament. Did the earth split open and spew these rascals one wretched day? No! They are from amongst us. A common Indian citizen does not hesitate to offer a petty bribe when the traffic constable stops him for an infraction; What makes the IAC brigade believe that the same man will blink twice before accepting a bribe if he holds a post of Authority?

Employing more law enforcement is not going to work until being corrupt is socially unacceptable. Do we marry our daughters to murderers? Then why do we marry them to Government officials with “extra” incomes. We don’t even pretend; bribing is not mentioned in hushed tones and whispers, it is flaunted. The problem with this nation is its moral bankruptcy. As I have said before, we Indians are integrally challenged. What we need is a grassroots program to weed out immorality. May be a five year plan focused on making sure every kid develops the senses [and balls] to stand up to his/her parents and question a corrupt act [be it rigging the electricity meter for minimal bills or driving on the wrong side to avoid going all the way to the next pass in the divider].

So, do we keep watching as they loot and plunder? Should the IAC team retire and go home? Is sitting and waiting for a moral renaissance the only option we have at our hands? No! The least we, the normal citizens, could do is adhere to a strict code of morality and teach our kids to follow, even at a cost. We can contribute more by asking our politicians and bureaucrats the same. The IAC has a huge list of tasks at hand. Use of RTI, Social Media and the power of like minded and motivated citizens to keep a check on the people in power. Spearheading NGOs which focus on corruption related injustice. Attacking preparators of major scams using the existing judicial processes. Working with children to uplift the moral index of this nation. Creating an environment of awareness of duties and intolerance to corruption.

This direction leads to a long way of perseverance and hard work, and that’s exactly how great nations are made. Not by walking down the road to arrive at a dead end of our own social values, and then marching on stubbornly and expecting the problems to yield, rather, by gradually and persistently laying the foundation for a new path that raises our standards above and beyond our handicaps.

Update [3rd of Aug, 2012]

The IAC team finally took a much awaited decision. This is the single most effective step the team could take to help the citizen bring a change. I never listed this as an option earlier, because the team has so far been vehemently opposed to any suggestions of having political ambitions. The country welcomes your decision. Please ignore people who think you’ve thrown away the cause, on the contrary, you have just picked it up. You can’t stand outside a system and change it, you have to enter and get your hands dirty to clean it up. All the very best!!

Bill Me Later

Bill Me Later, one of eBay’s fastest-growing businesses, offers credit to online shoppers, letting them pay a few months after purchases. Now, from a business point of view this is a fairly exciting update. The service will not only help eBay grow its sales, it will also help Pay-Pal evolve from a mere transactional service to a financial product. Though valid credit-risk issues exist. [Source]

But from a social perspective, it is a development which invokes two very different emotions within me. Firstly, I find it dull because it is nothing new; It is simply another way of offering credit to a hyper-consumerist society. Secondly, and for the same reason, I find it utterly disgusting; It gives us one more reason to consume beyond our economic and ecological limits.

India, traditionally, has not been a country where consumption is appreciated. Our religions, and ideologies, demand self control and discipline in the use of not just tangible material goods, but also intangibles like emotions and senses. Most of us, while growing up, observed our parents making the most of their money, running the household as efficiently as they could, yet spending adequately for important stuff like education or health, and still ending up with a handful of saving at the end of the month.

Why is it then, that despite such an upbringing, this generation, collectively, not only exhausts its entire income in the very first week of the month, but also has virtually zero savings. The situation would look normal, if our lifestyles were mundane. But on the contrary, we dabble in luxury; Everything about us (clothes, gadgets, entertainment, etc.) is branded and expensive. The reason why we do it can be explored upon. But, I want to focus on facilities and social artifacts like Bill Me Later which make it easier and “cooler” to spend more than we should.

The exhibit of desire!! Isn’t it weird that, unlike our parents, we never actually have a list of all the stuff we need when we leave our homes for shopping. We saunter into air-conditioned malls, pick a cart and walk like zombies along the aisles lined with stuff on both sides, filling our carts with not just things we need, but with also a lot of stuff we do not require. Even small shopkeepers have started opening up their display areas to invite customers in, enabling them to pick what they need. And here lies the first problem; The exhibition of stuff appeals to a mysteriously instinctual and very strong urge in human beings to hoard. It makes you believe in needs that you never knew even existed. Retailers are rapidly replicating this experience online, luring us by offering economically unviable rebates (Flipkart, we know what you are doing.). The ease of selection, payment & delivery makes it a better experience, and hence a larger threat.

The death of cash!! Now that you have filled your enormous carts upto the brim, it is time to pay. But you do not need a stash of currency, you just need to swipe your card [and in very near future, may be just tap your smartphone]. The absence of actual currency notes from our transactions numbs our sense of judgement regarding the amount of money we are spending. The use of credit cards worsens the situation as it makes our ability to shop agnostic to our liquidity, making debt an increasingly acceptable option.

The lure of approval!! Annie Leonard’s story of stuff [Link] is probably the best demonstration of the way the businesses use planned and perceived obsolescence to promote more consumption. But are we less responsible? Don’t we try to project ourselves through our snazzy gadgets to hide our imperfections and idiosyncrasies, substituting faster processors for slower wits and sharper displays for blunt manners. Do I really need to buy this thing? Can I find an alternate? Can I borrow it from someone? These are valid questions and we should ask them more frequently. Just because you can afford it doesn’t mean you should.

I am not advocating that buying groceries from small local stores, paying in cash, abandoning credit cards and justifying gadget purchases will magically rid us of our economic troubles. I am assuring that these steps point to a direction that leads to a debt and regret free future.

Russian Economy and the Indian Kids of the 80s

Crude might have showed just a slight decline (thanks to a slowing economy), but leaders at IMF and World Bank are already losing sleep over the petroleum dependent economy of Russia. It seems, for a fall of every one dollar in the price of oil, the Russian government loses around 1.65 billion dollar in oil-related taxes over the course of a year. Though, the cash reserves Russia has amassed [$185 billion] should help it sustain through a 2009 like $60-per-barrel period for two years.

Witnessing the events in and around Russia in the last decade, one can’t help but recall Friedman‘s first law of petropolitics. He states, and I quote, “Price of oil and the pace of freedom always move in opposite directions in oil-rich petrolist states. The higher the average global crude oil price rises, the more free speech, free press, free and fair elections, an independent judiciary, the rule of law, and independent political parties are eroded. And these negative trends are reinforced by the fact that the higher the price goes, the less petrolist leaders are sensitive to what the world thinks or says about them”.

This could easily be seen in Putin’s dealings with dissidence, both internal and external, in the recent past. But what really represents and helps understand the economic decisions of Russia’s leadership is the phenomenon of Dutch Disease or the more generic Resource Curse, in simple words, the tendency of an entity to mis-manage its finances and underperform when there is an abundance of resources. Russia saw a surge in its oil output in the early 2000’s, attributed to privatization and import of technology. A simultaneous increase in the oil demand, and thereby prices, globally, helped Russia in revitalizing its economy. But it failed to take a leaf from the world’s collective history and became increasingly dependent on Oil.

Now, Russia’s fate will be decided by its political will and social conscience. They might understand the importance of diversifying their windfall, or ignore the history lessons and delay reforms until it’s too late. But, the fact that the learning applies equally well to not just other countries, but organizations, people and even processes, should not be lost on any one of us. Scarcity not only promotes judicious use of resources, it also encourages creative ideas for increasing efficiency. Abundance, on the other hand, leads to mis-use and deters growth. This does not imply that abundance is bad; It implies that abundance of any resource comes with an inherent tendency of it being mismanaged and undervalued. Be it the abundance of time, as on a long break between two exams, or money, or even friends (Am kidding!! :D), on a personal level, the effects of “too much” can be easily seen.

I believe Indians (and Asians in general) who were born in the 80’s to middle or higher class parents, can actually look at their entire lives and blame the abundance they witnessed in the upbringing they received, from their parents in specific and the society in general, for a chronic sense of impatience, dissatisfaction and lack of confidence. There was no struggle for basics at home, or vacancies and facilities in public schools. There were plenty colleges where they could graduate when they needed to, and a booming IT, ITeS industry ready to employ them by the time they graduated. A generation which was served everything on a platter not only lost the art of evaluation but also the ability to persevere and face adversity with poise. This I think should be called the “Curse of the Blessed”.