Thursday, November 28, 2013

I support AAP

On a recent Delhi trip, the following comments were heard repeatedly - 

"Politics is a dirty game played by dirty people"

"Yeh saari parties ek hi jaisi hain, imaandaari se yahan kuch bhi nahin ho sakta" (On the sting operation against AAP before EC gave the clean chit) 

"You are a fool if you believe that yeh saare ke saare honest hai"

Yes, i am a fool. I am an optimist, a romantic and a person who has not given up.  Politics is a crooked game has become the tautology of our times. AAP has taken this challenge to counter this statement If you ask me name just one reason why support AAP, it is going to be this one. 

A few months ago, a lot of people including me would not even dare to enter politics, leave alone the case for running as a candidate. From the economic angle, it seemed that one must be atleast a crorepati to run for an election. From a social standpoint, this mere thought was a nightmare primarily because of its security concerns. Harassment calls, death threats are a norm. One can prepare for a security threat against oneself but when it happens against your near and dear ones, one begins to question everything. For those few who are able to brave the social and economic fronts, the third dimension, the most fundamental one, the ideological dimension is the most complex one to choose. To a wanna-be volunteer or candidate, there is no hope here. 

The Pragmatic Reality
The days of ideological politics are long gone. There are no more debates on right vs left wing, no more arguments on big vs small government. The mantra has changed to - "Whatever it takes for us to get reelected". This short sightedness and inability to make the tough decisions has brought a sense of resignation. It is amidst this backdrop of faithlessness that AAP offers a solace. I am tired of choosing lesser of the two devils. I abhor the fact that it has come to this choice in the first place. The ideology of AAP does not fit the classical definition either. As the postmodern philosophy movement is evolving to a more pragmatic and action oriented one (see Pragmatism) , AAP is following a similar trajectory. AAP understands that no matter what ideology you adhere to, corruption does not fit in it. Infact, to put it the other way around, as long as there is corruption, there can not be any ideology. We can no longer side-step this menace and hope that over time it will go away. This is the pragmatic reality of our times. 

Democracy is an experiment and it always will be. It lies on an assumption that people know what is best for them and they will participate together to decide on their future. But, this assumption is no longer true for the times that we live in. Politics and our value system are at opposite ends. The quotes above tell a tale of the level of distrust that we have towards our institutions. The irony that it is these institutions who govern us is lost on us. Over time, our repeated disillusionment has turned into a silent resignation. 

Trial and Error
AAP is challenging this thought. It has taken decades to reach this pessimist conclusion, it will take more decades to get out of it.  AAP provides a viable alternative, a way back to reclaim how things should be. To bring back the notion of trial and error in this experiment called democracy.  Is AAP perfect? Is it going to succeed? What if it fails? What if these candidates succumb to power and the temptation of greed? These are all valid concerns and the answer to all this is there is no other way to know than trying. But we must try. If it fails, it will be demoralizing, but then we would have learnt one more mistake to not repeat. The cost of not doing anything is too high. It has always been and it has its own inflation rate.

In this process of trying, we should do our best to avoid repeating known mistakes. We should create institutions and processes that provide the necessary checks and balances. We must be self critical. We should open the doors of transparency, of open civilized debates. We need to change the dialog from a negative, criticizing our opponents, to a constructive one wherein we do not discuss problems, we discuss solutions. It is our thinking that has to change. We should stop glorifying, our "sone-ki-chidiya" past and we should stop crying over the "all-corrupt" present. Our discussion should take the form of "is this the best that we can do?" 

Why AAP?
I support AAP because i agree to what it stands for, for the most part. I agree with its principles of no corruption and decentralization. I like the way candidates are chosen to run from a constituency. I felt delighted when i heard that they are asking people to not contribute any more money once their desired figure was reached. They disowned a candidate when he failed to openly disclose known pending cases against him. The concept of Mohalla Sabhas and letting people decide what is best is something that i believe in. I had also reached a similar conclusion through my own academic readings and research. I respect people who are in the core committee and i have a fair amount of trust that these are sincere honest people who want to do good. I feel the same enthusiasm that Indians felt when they asked people Nehru, Patel and Gandhi to decide our fate in days leading up to our freedom. AAP's motto of 'Swaraj' feels apt again.  Lastly, i genuinely believe on these two lines of Dushyant Kumar, which AAP has rightly chosen to be its anthem - 

सिर्फ हंगामा खड़ा करना मेरा मकसद नहीं,
सारी कोशिश है कि ये सूरत बदलनी चाहिए

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Bad Samaritans

Bad Samarians: The myth of free trade and the secret history of capitalism
Author: Ha Joon Chang
Meetup link -

Once at a meetup, I met this person who claimed that it must be better for those Bangladeshi laborers to work in those shoddy, lethal conditions than to do anything else. Being a strong believer in free market, he claimed that  these people are free to choose what they want to do and this is a choice that they had made. To him, it was not coerced, not an imposition but rather a natural outcome of this theory. He didn't bat an eyelid, argued all the time by looking straight into my eyes and asked me to prove with some data that why is this wrong. How does one counter the idea of free choice? Argue with proof, with data, with not just anecdotal cases but rather a framework that explains the macro phenomenon. It was not the first time i was having such a discussion. Previously, i had met at least two other gentlemen with whom i had a similar discussion and in all these times, the burden to prove them wrong was upon me and i did not had any idea how to do so. It is with these questions in mind, i began reading this book - Bad Samaritans - The myth of Free Trade.

The book begins with a few positive anecdotal cases, some  highlight the evils of capitalism while others show the success of state owned enterprises. If mere existence would have proven universality, then our logic will be doomed. But pleasantly, and indeed surprisingly, Ha-Hoon Chang manages to provide a theory that binds these examples. He comes up with a framework for which he discusses its advantages, its soundness and how it has been so commonly used in past yet we have not paid attention to it. He calls it namely Infant Protection.

Infant protection says that as nations or societies are growing up, it makes complete sense to avoid free trade. Using the analogy of children, Ha-Joon Chang argues, that as it makes complete sense to shield children from the scary adult world, protect them and gradually introduce them to bigger themes as they develop maturity, a similar approach should be followed with industries as well. When a country is developing, its industries do not have the technical expertise to compete with global economy. Their products are bound to be expensive to manufacture, less efficient and may be of sub-standard quality when compared with competition.  By allowing free trade and competition, it is surest thing that the industry will fail. But if the industry was protected, if the government shielded the industry by imposting imports, or subsidies, it gives that  industry some time to evolve and in the process it allows the industry to reach a point that it can compete with competition. Infant protectionism provides a gap to make sure the playing field is leveled for all industries.

Ha-Joon Chang argues that the current developed nations, be it UK or USA, in their developing years were extremely protectionist towards their respective domestic industries. He cites several examples in the book to make his case. He argues that these free-trade arguing nations are forgetting their own past and are acting as Bad Samaritans. He is quite critical of the policies of IMF, WTO and other such global organizations. He urges these countries to walk a tight rope of balancing protectionism and liberalization.

While the book shines in its early pages to elicit this theory and argues it rather convincingly, it becomes quite a drag in later pages. The book becomes repetitive as Chang applies protectionism over and over again to other areas. Later, in order to provide other perspectives, Chang devotes a chapter each on piracy, democracy and culture which are all claimed to be side-effects of free trade. In each one Chang fails to comprehensively articulate his position or defend his ideas.

But, with just over 200 pages, it is a worthy read. The chapter that goes into FDI does a great job in explaining alternatives of FDI and along with its pros and cons at a macro level. Chang is quite critical of people in his profession, economists, as he believes that they are acting in an acute self-interest. Unfortunately, critical reviews of this book has been generally ignored by the popular press or academia.


The meetup discussion in this book was quite interesting. It attracted couple of folks who were quite Leftists in their  views. Sadly, none of the proponents of free market came. People want to hear what they believe.  But, it was a nice discussion in the end. The issue of piracy was at the center and attracted a lot of diverse view points.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Bangalore Ultra - 25K

The race was tough but so was I,
Twenty five kms in three o five,
In the end, it was, yet another Runner's High

Firstly, I would like to thank Vishwa, Adarsh and all my carpool junta. Thank you for waiting, and carrying me to and from the race.  And as always, thanks to Santosh, HSR coaches and the Dream runners for making all this so natural and ordinary. While in reality, it is a tremendous achievement to train a person like myself to run 25K.

Race Report:
It was little foggy and mildly cold as we queued up near the starting point. The Sun was yet to rise and waiting amongst fellow runners, it felt quite peaceful. My run started quite nicely. The group for Ultra must have been mostly "proper" runners as the aid station at 1K mark was almost empty when i crossed. Typically, 1K point is over-crowded.

For the first 4K, it felt that i had pushed myself too much and was running faster than i should be. But it was all looking good and i thought that i could continue. I kept the tempo higher than usual and it was all going well until i hit 9.5K. That's when i had a sharp pain around my right ribs area and i instantly knew i had pushed myself too much. It was getting difficult to breathe. I slowed my pace but now i was finding it difficult to run, every hand movement was coming with a sigh. I walked for a minute hoping the pain would go but it didn't and was now having all sorts of doubts in my mind.  Part of me was like - so this is a true runner's test - to run in pain and finish it. The more sensible part said that this pain will only get worse with time and then what would I do?  I was disappointed at myself for not reading the rabbit-tortoise story properly. Finally, in desperation, at the 11.5K point, i applied the pain spray in the ribs area and it felt little better.

It was heartening to see familiar faces at the 12.5/start point. The cheering did bring smiles back. Thank you for being there, just being there and clapping. I turned back from 12.5 and was determined to carry on at a regular pace for the next 6K. By the time i reached 13.5K, the pain spray had worked and i was feeling ok. At around 14K, someone called my name, i was trying to look who it was and in the process didn't see a small tree stub in front of me and fell down. Luckily, the fall was not lethal and i was on my feet the next instant. Save!

There is a thrill in running on a new trail. There are many aspects that defines a trail. Is it road, concrete or ground and even in ground, is it rocky, muddy or soft sand. Then there is the inclination, a runner can feel those tiny less than 5 degree angle if present (I feel it even in Cubbon Park!  ) . There is also elevation but it was not to be a concern in Bangalore. Tree cover, proximity to water, visible greenery, remoteness, natural or city-like, birds, animals, a trail has million features. To run on a new trail is a chance to examine each one of these attributes, and you discover more as you go along. This one will be remembered for its tree cover, bends every 250m (yes, i am exaggerating :)  ) and soft ground trail.

It was at a steady pace till 20K and that's when i started feeling tired and by the time i reached 22K, i was exhausted. I slowly walked to the aid station there, filled my bottle and walked the next 10 meters and poured water on my head. Wow! What a feeling. The cold water took all my exhaustion along with it. It was sheer magic. 2 mins ago, i was not able to walk and now it felt all fresh. I chuckled as i remembered the quote from Chariots of Fire - "Where does the power come from, to see the race to its end? ".  22 quickly became 23. At 23.5 i met Mitul, i don't know who he is , he was slowly walking and seeing me, he said lets run together. Delighted to have company we talked and ran and within no time we were at 24.5. At this point he said that lets sprint and he then just zipped past. I was sprinting the best i could and then at 24.8 came Sunanda to push me and she really meant sprinting. Thanks Sunanda!  I was out of all my breath when i finished 25K.

Overall, it was a strong finish, 3 hrs 4 mins and 51 seconds. Little lucky with the pain and a good lesson learnt in the end.  Each race is different and teaches us something about ourselves. The trail with all its bends and turns was pretty good with a lot of tree cover.  This was the longest distance covered by me in a race. Next is Auroville Half and hopefully a full marathon next year.

Race Training:
After finishing KTM, i missed the next three weeks of training, first out of laziness and next two as i was out for my trek. After that i attended the Wed workouts religiously and did 18K and 22K as part of Saturday runs. For the 25K mock run, it was our turn to volunteer for the water station, so i ran 25K on my own on the streets of Koramangala. A very interesting experience and it took me 3 hrs 25 mins to do so. I guess you don't push yourself when you run alone. Volunteering was great fun and a good experience. It provide a glimpse of amount of preparation needed behind an aid station and on how so many things that we take for granted come at an effort, and looking at it week over week, it appears easy but it is not. It was the first time i had made peanut butter and jam sandwiches and that too on two loaves of bread.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Cornel West, Anthony Appiah on Traditions and Human Responsibility

Let It Be: How Anthony Appiah and Cornel West view the need of ahistorical (traditional) criteria for deciding human responsibility.
We are the sum total of our experiences. To blindly look away from our traditions would mean to ignore who we really are. To just live inside them would mean no progress. We need to accept us as who we are and should strive to make it better. In this essay, I argue how both Cornel West and Anthony Appiah put forth this perspective and ask us to understand human responsibility by keeping an ambivalent attitude towards our traditions.
In the chapter, Prophetic Pragmatisms [1], Cornel West argues for a new for a pragmatist philosophy, namely Prophetic Pragmatism. He writes - “Prophetic Pragmatism conceives of philosophy as historically circumscribed quest for wisdom that puts forward new interpretations of the world based on past traditions in order to promote existential sustenance and political relevance.” He argues that while traditions may be burdensome, prejudiced, and dogmatic, they can also be identified with rationality, critique and resistance. He further adds that traditions are also malleable and dynamic. The progress that we see around us has happened within notions of our traditions. Traditions that were in path of progress were first questioned and later circumvented creating way for new traditions. In West's words - “Innovation presupposes some tradition and inaugurates another tradition”. Critique and self-criticism are vital to the concept of prophetic pragmatism. Cornel West writes - “The mark of the prophet is to speak the truth in love with courage – come what may”. Thus, as we must listen, we must question as well.
Anthony Appiah looks at the phenomenon of globalization and argues against the argument that it is a threat to homogeneity. He argues - “Cultures are made of continuities and changes, and the identity of a society can survive through these changes, just as individual survives the alterations of Jacques's 'seven ages of man'”. Calling cultural purity to be an oxymoron, he argues that since the invention of trade, our societies have always been impacted by each other. Trade of spices invented new forms of cooking, silk trade route changed how people dress. So, McDonalds and Levis are just new products of trade and hence we should not treat them as threats to homogeneity. He argues further - “... you already live a cosmopolitan life, enriched by literature, art, and film that come from many places, and contain influences from many more”. Thus, we are already impacted by traditions surrounding us. To stop changing would mean stop being who we really are.
Cornel West and Anthony Appiah are standing together in the middle, arguing against the ends of a rope. Cornel West wants us to shun the Emersonian principle of breaking all traditions and past activities, the one extreme. Similarly, Anthony Appiah cautions us against the other extreme view taken by cultural purists who argue to “Don't ever change”. Together they, ask for a balanced, middle ground approach, a “let-it-be” solution wherein you accept the good, and strive to better things that are not so good.

[1] Pragmatism: A Reader. Pg 401.
[2] Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a world of strangers. By Kwame Anthony Appiah.

Butler, Emerson on Improvisation, Creativity and Self-Invention

Comparing Judith Butler and Ralph Waldo Emerson on : Improvisation, Creativity and Self-Invention.
Judith Butler in Undoing Gender [1], writes “[Gender] is a practice of improvisation within a scene of constraint.” Judith elaborates her argument by giving examples from different movements, such as feminism and queer theory, and argues how one is an improvisation of the other. She elaborates on how these movements while working under the norms of society have pushed society's boundaries, in particular its understanding of the gender. In this essay, i argue how Judith's views of these gender movements and their evolution are actually an application of Emerson's ideas of non-conformity.
Emerson, in his essay on Self Reliance [2], brings up the notion of improvisation and creativity from the perspective of an individual. According to Emerson, the constraint to improvisation comes through society's need to conform to its practices. He writes - “Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of everyone of its members. Society is a joint stock company, in which the members agree, for the better securing of his bread to each shareholder, to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater. The virtue in most request is conformity.”
Emerson goes on further and argues - “Whoso should be a man, must be a nonconformist. ... Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind”. One can only be great if he practices what he truly believes in and does so without any fear or guilt. According to Emerson, this is the only way man should exist. He writes - “Speak what you think now in hard words and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again, though it i contradict everything you said to-day. - 'Ah, so you shall be misunderstood.' - Is it so bad then to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood and Socrates and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood”.
Today's gender movements can be seen as an application of non-conformity to the current society's norms with respect to gender, sex and human anatomy. In [1], Judith argues that earlier, till at-least a couple of decades ago, application of gender discrimination was limited to discrimination against women. But over time, gender discrimination has evolved to include various other problems such as gender identity, queer theory, gay rights and many other forms of discrimination, each trying to correct a very niche convention. Furthermore, she claims that it is not that we have solved the problem of discrimination against women and have now moved to other forms of discriminations. She writes that “... these stories [different gender discriminations] are continuing to happen in simultaneous and overlapping ways as we tell them. They happen, in part, through the complex ways they are taken up by each of these movements and theoretical practices”.
These gender movements are built on their own self-reliance and hence may not agree with each other. These movements, sometimes, are at odds in their principles, such as between queer theory and intersex activism on categorization of gender, or they may not see eye to eye on instruments of improvisation, for example – in usage of technology in reproduction or sex change, but at their core they have a common mission. Judith writes - “The task of all of these movements seems to me to be about distinguishing among the norms and conventions that permit people to breathe, to desire, to love, and to live, and those norms and conventions that restrict or eviscerate the conditions of life itself.” Thus, Judith argues on how these gender movements question and push society's conventions while strivings for freedoms to live and love.
In conclusion, Judith's views on improvisation of gender movements through history is an application of Emerson's philosophy of Self-Reliance in the context of Gender. Judith's analysis of these different gender movements can be seen as each being non-conformist to its past and each at the risk of being misunderstood, is trying to fight for society's freedom to live.

[1] Undoing Gender, 2004, Judith Butler.
[2]Essays: First Series, Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Nietzsche, Horkheimer and Adorno: Illusion of progress

In this essay, i compare Horkheimer and Adorno's views on progress as a trap with Nietzsche's essays. I argue that while the two views do conclude that the progress is indeed an illusion, and also argue that the cause behind such entrapment is indeed systemic, however the rationality behind their arguments is quite different.
In Dialectic of Enlightenment[1], Horkheimer and Adorno wrote - “The curse of irresistible progress is irresistible regression”. According to them, freedom and justice, the two intended outcomes of progress, are actually dialectical concepts. In [2], Horkheimer says “The more freedom, the less justice and the more justice, the less freedom”. In [1], they argue that justice, which eventually gives way to law, uses equivalence as an instrument to ensure fairness. This equivalence or conformity, imposes restrictions on our behavior and thus limiting our freedoms.
Nietzsche, in his second essay in Genealogy of morals [3], argues similarly. He writes - “The size of a 'step forward' can even be estimated by a measure of everything that had to be sacrificed to it” According to him, every progressive action is accompanied with a loss of utility and purpose. With every progress, humanity sacrifices something from its past. He argues that this sacrifice further estranges us from what we truly are and thus progress is actually regressive.
However, the two sources differ in the cause of this entrapment of progress. According to Horkheimer and Adorno, the cause lies in our complete reliance on enlightenment. They argue that enlightenment, by connecting every existing thing to every other thing, in other words by including everything under its umbrella, takes mythical proportions and thus blinds itself to its own pitfalls. For example, in an industry, division of labor, a direct consequence of enlightenment rationale to increase production, forces fixation of skill-set of its workers and hence limiting their development.
However, for Nietzsche, the reasons are altogether different. He argues that the essence of life is 'its will to power' [3]. Progress is regressive in Nietzsche's world as progress tries to negate man's ability to wield power. Aggression is the fundamental behavior of mankind. Progress, especially progress in the field of law and justice, denies mankind the ability to freely exercise his aggression. To elaborate more on this point, Nietzsche writes “If the power and the self-confidence of a community keeps growing, the criminal law also grows constantly milder. Every weakening and deeper jeopardizing of the community brings its harsher forms of criminal law to light once again”. We can see its echoes in our current legal system which has evolved to safeguard the weaker community against the stronger one.
Thus, even though both Horkheimer and Adorno, and Nietzsche do agree that progress is indeed regressive, their rationale is entirely different. For Nietzsche, the regressiveness comes because progress imposes limitation on our instincts; our failure to properly discharge our instincts internalizes this guilt into bad conscience which ultimately slows down our progress. Thus the root cause for the progress trap is its failure in understanding what our true instincts are. Horkheimer and Adorno instead puts the blame on our blind obedience to enlightenment which, similar to mythology, does not leave any room for any other school of thought. In the absence of any self-evaluating or self-corrective measures, progress under enlightenment goes unchecked and eventually is regressive.

[1] Dialectic of Enlightenment, Max Horkheimer and Adorno
[3] Genealogy of Morals, Friedrich Nietzsche.  

Freud, Woolf: Art as a palliative measure

In this essay, i discuss Freud's notion of art as a “palliative measure” and examine it along with Virgina Woolf's writing. I argue that while i am in agreement that art is indeed palliative, however, it serves various other purposes, some of them go beyond mere pain relief, even help us in being more civilized.

Sigmund Freud in Civilization and its discontents [1] claims that “The life imposed on us is too hard for us to bear: it brings too much pain, too many disappointments...”. He claims that arts offers a means to make life more bearable. Arts provide a mental and intellectual stimulation that we forego our inherent suffering associated with our existence.

According to Freud, art plays different roles in alleviating us from our pain. In the hands of the artist, creator of the art, art makes one discover the joy in the process of invention, to create something anew, to reach to boundaries previously unknown. However, Freud writes -”The weakness of this method, however, lies in the fact that it can not be employed universally, as it is accessible only to the few”. But Freud addresses this limitation, by highlighting another aspect of art wherein the viewer, audience of the artwork, can still derive satisfaction using his own imagination. The artwork allows him to escape the quotidian reality and provides a sensory illusion making him forget the perennially existential pain.

Virginia Woolf faced a lot of suffering in her early life. When she was only a teenager, she had to deal with loss of her mother and half-sister causing her nervous breakdowns and depression [2]. For her, writing, her art, was definitely palliative. Her stream-of-consciousness style of narration is highly inventive. Writing helped her cope up with her bouts of illnesses. As readers of her work, we are all drawn towards the tiny delightful observations, the innocence and clarity of her characters, the charm and ease in her depiction of complex relationships, that we forget ourselves.  Hence, Woolf's art aligns with Freud's view – Both the artist and its audience are transported to a completely different world thus serving the “palliative effect”.

However, Freud does not go in depth on the artwork itself or about the nature of the art. In addition to forgetting pain, art can be used to explain our origins, to understand who we are and where do we come from like in the case of Darwin. Art could be used to put forth a new model of society or it can serve a means to raise awareness about various political and social issues.

For example, in To The Lighthouse, Virgina Woolf uses her novel to comment about the Victorian prejudice prevalent in her time, where women were considered inferior to men. Mr. Tansley, a self-made man from humble beginnings, remarks to Lily in [3] “... women can't paint can't write”. Later in the novel, at the dinner table, he thinks to himself - “They never got anything worth having from one year's end to another. They did nothing but talk, talk, talk, eat, eat, eat. It was the women's fault”. Virgina through Mr. Tansley is critiquing this condescending attitude that men had at her time. Being a women herself, she had to overcome such biases. By writing about it, she is raising the social consciousness of her readers, a notion not everybody will find inviting. She is using her art as means to depict inherent inequalities in our society and hence contributing, in her own way, in shaping up what kind of civilization we want to be.
In summary, while art indeed offers us an immediate solace against a cynical world, its impact is not merely limited to it. Sometimes, the artwork can also cause pain, to few, for a short while, but in the grand scheme it has the potential to shape what we want to be, thereby making us better. 

[1] Civilization And Its Discontents, Sigmund Freud, 1930
[3] To The Lighthouse, Virgina Woolf

Darwin, Nietzsche: Utilitarianism and Romanticism

Darwin and Nietzsche : Influence of Utilitarianism and Romanticism in their works

In this essay, I will highlight how both Darwin and Nietzsche rejected the ideas of Utilitarianism in their works and how they evolved Romanticism into a philosophy of existentialism and nature.

Utilitarianism is defined as “Developing a rational scheme for evaluating all practices and beliefs without recourse to any essences or substances, avoiding as scrupulously as possible all those things that cannot be measured” [1]. Charles Darwin, a biologist by profession, draws his thesis of Natural Selection [2] based on his observations of nature. Darwin argues that progress is possible due to slow, tiny developments happening everywhere around us and at all times. In [2], he further argues that natural selection is constantly biasing itself towards that is good, rejecting what is bad and at all times it is striving for its own existence. However, he writes - “We see nothing of these slow changes in progress, until the hand of time has marked the long lapse of ages, and then so imperfect is our view into long past geological ages, that we only see that the forms of life are now different from what they formerly were”. Darwin is making a case that both humanity and nature is guided by the principles of “Struggle for Existence” and “Natural Selection”, and it is quite impossible to measure either of them. In its implicit connotations, Darwin is thus discarding the utilitarianism theory.

Nietzsche also draws his thesis based on observations but instead of focussing on nature, like Darwin, he looks back into man's past and observes the pattern of development that has happened so far. In his essay on guilt and bad conscience [3], Nietzsche rejects that the notion of punishment to a culprit was conceived as an act of repayment. He also rejects that punishment was created to prevent the “criminal” from further such actions or to protect the society. Nietzsche rejects all these rational ideas by distinguishing the origin of punishment and the purpose of punishment. Utilitarianism often treats both of them in togetherness and applies the rational scheme retroactively, thereby misleading the purpose to be its origin.
Nietzsche instead argues for a more existential approach and based on how history has unfolded, he writes - “Watching suffering makes people feel good; creating suffering makes them feel even better—that’s a harsh principle, but an old, powerful, and human, all-too-human major principle” . Nietzsche is thus in agreement with the ideas of Romanticism which places emotion, feeling and spontaneous reactions at the center of our progress. Romanticism criticizes the over-indulgence of “rationality” in our day to day flow of human life. Nietzsche even goes one step further and claims - “Only something which has no history is capable of being defined.”
Similarly, Darwin also places more emphasis on man's feelings. Darwin claims that the rational thought itself has evolved from man's conscience and habitual convictions. In the Descent of Man [4], he argues - “Nevertheless, the first foundation or origin of the moral sense lies in the social instincts, including sympathy; and these instincts no doubt were primarily gained, as in the case of lower animals, through natural selection”.
Both, Darwin and Neitzsche, thus, strongly believed that the evolution of humanity and nature has been a process, a series of developments. One can only look at and observe the patterns that could have resulted in the change but it is almost impossible to measure them. Both expanded the view of Romanticism by looking underneath man's moral choices; In Darwin's case it was the principle natural selection while in Nietzsche it was tracing man's transition starting from its origins. Both the thinkers advocated for a more observation based approach – in other words an existential approach.

[1] Prof. Roth, Lecture – ReImagining the World.
[2] Charles Dawin, On the Origin of Species.
[3] Friedrich Nietzsche, Guilt, Bad Conscience, and Related Matters, Genealogy of Morals
[4] Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man.

Marx, Flaubert and Historical Progress

Comparison of Role of Historical Progress in the ideas of Marx and Flaubert
Flaubert and Marx were very much cognizant of historical progress during their time; they were both a child of the age of enlightenment. However, their works show a stark difference in how each one of them interpreted the historical progress. Flaubert, through his novel, Madame Bovary [1], shows the danger in taking any philosophy, in particular Romanticism, to its extreme. Flaubert warns that be it enlightenment or romanticism, when taken up by ordinary people, it can have unintended catastrophic consequences if they do not understand the ideology correctly. Karl Marx, on the other hand, in his essay The Communist Manifesto [2], believes that enlightenment by the masses can only be achieved through an extreme, in this case, the abolition of private property; he argues that a revolutionary struggle which results in giving equal power to everyone is the only way to achieve freedom for all.
In Madame Bovary, Flaubert shows how ordinary people practice enlightenment through Monsieur Homais. In Chapter 11, section II [2], Mosnieur Homais, who is by law not allowed to sell drugs as he does not has the correct license, and Charles Bovary, who is a dull, average doctor, convince Hippolyte that they will straighten his club foot but the operation goes horribly wrong. To prevent Hippolyte from dying,  Dr Canivet is called who scolds Charles and says “These are the inventions of Paris! These are the ideas of those gentry of the capital! It is like strabismus, chloroform, lithotrity, a heap of monstrosities that the Government ought to prohibit. But they want to do the clever, and they cram you with remedies without troubling about the consequences. We are not so clever, not we! We are not savants, coxcombs, fops! “. Thus, through this whole Hippolyte sub-plot, Flaubert is drawing attention that these inventions of enlightened people  when applied by masses can lead to disastrous results.
Flaubert also warns about the extremism of Romanticism through the novel's central protagonist, Madame Bovary.  Emma Bovary is blinded by the idea of romanticism, in section III, she becomes a reckless spendthrift, greedy and develops a possessive attitude of Leon. She is negligent of her duties especially to her daughter. Being unable to separate fantasy from reality, she becomes too much in debt that she finally forces herself to commit suicide. Through the novel Madame Bovary, Flaubert, shows a step by step deconstruction of an extremist romanticist; the novel is actually a social commentary on the deluded personal culture prevalent in Flaubert's period.
In contrast, Karl Marx, argues for an extremist response to achieve true enlightenment. Having witnessed the abolition of Feudal property by the bourgeoise, the French revolution had failed to provide any power to proletariat. The bourgeoise had merely replaced feudal powers, the labor class continued to be exploited. Marx through his study, goes back into the history, and argues [2] that “The history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggles.” To abolish all class struggles, Marx advocates an extremist viewpoint to abolish all forms of private property. He proposes Communism as the answer and writes “There are, besides, eternal truths, such as Freedom, Justice, etc. that are common to all states of society. But Communism abolishes eternal truths, it abolishes all religion, and all morality, instead of constituting them on a new basis; it therefore acts in contradiction to all past historical experience.".
Marx further argues that no matter how one sees history, there is one common thread to our entire existence - “... the exploitation of one part of society by the other.” He advocates for a revolutionary measure, he writes - “The Communist revolution is the most radical rupture with traditional property relations; no wonder that its development involves the most radical rupture with traditional ideas.”
Thus, Marx uses historical developments as a vehicle to make his case for an extremist action to solve class struggle problems. While, Flaubert uses real, the then prevalent, developments to highlight ill-effects if any one ideology, be enlightenment or romanticism is taken to an extreme.

  1. Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert
  2. The  Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels

Kant, Karl and Enlightenment

Kant in “What is Enlightenment” [1] defines Enlightenment as man’s application of himself, of his own understanding, without the guidance of another. Kant does not define the nature of this application or if it has positive or negative outcomes; according to him a man’s actions has to be based on his own reasons and he should have the freedom to do so; as long as these conditions are met, as per Kant, rest everything would fall in place. 
Karl Marx is a figure of Enlightenment as he is able to derive at his political thought based on his own understanding and rationale.  In the Communist Manifesto [2], before stating the 10 generally applicable measures in the second section, Marx explains the rationale on why he believes in those measures. In the first section of [2], titled “Bourgeois and Proletarians”, Marx gives an historical account on bourgeois has reached the current state and dissects the motives behind previous revolutions. Marx digs deep into the thesis of “free competition” and “capital”, he reflects on their origins and their consequences and he ties them to the notion of “private property” through his own rationale.
Even in Estranged Labor [3], Marx skillfully links how if we work (labor) for an output that we ourselves can’t relate to, cant feel proud about it or if we can’t enjoy it, we are loosing part of ourselves. Marx argues -  “… estranged labor makes man’s species-life a means to his physical existence”.  Marx was one of the first to reason that both the act of production and the output of production is fundamentally linked to our humanly existence which is much more than a mere physical (animal) existence. Thus, even though you and I may not agree with Marx’s ideologies and his calls to action but Marx still is definitely a figure of Enlightenment as he has to come to his conclusions based on his own reason.

However, there does exist some key fundamental differences between Kant and Marx about the process of enlightenment. According to Kant, few individuals can behave passively while they are employed under the government and their obedience in this situation is imperative. Kant also argues that it is in the interest of the commonwealth [1]. Such a notion is fundamentally opposed by Karl Marx. According to Marx, such form of obedience constitutes estranged labor and is unacceptable. 
Furthermore, there is no public-private dichotomy in Marx’s ideology. In The private realm will always instill a subservient attitude and it imposes restrictions on man’s freedom. In Kant’s views, it is acceptable if the ruling class, like the prince, grants freedom to its subjects in public sphere. Kant writes in [1], “A prince who does not regard it as beneath him to say that he considers it his duty, in religious matters, not to prescribe anything to his people, but to allow them complete freedom, a prince who thus even declines to accept the presumptuous title of tolerant, is himself enlightened”. Marx who came in a much later time than Kant has already witnessed that the bourgeois has already thrown out the feudal class and has replaced them. Marx argues that such a model is impractical because as long as there is concentration of power in the hands of few, as long as there exists private property, a man’s greed will not allow space for such public freedom. There will always be a suppression of such freedom and hence would prevent mankind to become enlightened.
Thus, both Kant and Marx agree that man must apply his own reason and should be free to do so. However, they differ in the process of going about it. Kant’s is a slow progressive model which allows for both ruling class and common men to co-exist while Marx is a more revolutionary model which realizes that the co-existence will never result in complete enlightenment. 


[1] An Answer to the Question: "What is Enlightenment?" by Immanuel Kant.
[2] The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.
[3] Estranged Labour, Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 by Karl Marx

Monday, November 4, 2013

Life In : Sept 21 - Nov 4

A vey eventful time period with lots of very good things happening and finally a lot of closures as well.

~ Finished Modern and Post Modern philosophy course. Detailed report here

~ Goechala trek - My annual trek trip was another unique experience. Trek summary here

~ Movies -
Gravity : Saw it on Imax, Liked it a lot. 4/5
Lunch Box - 3.5/5  A good one, but with a predictable ending
World war Z - average. 2.5/5
Captain Phillips - 3/5

~ TV shows -
Watching new seasons of Person of Interest (going good) and White collar (not so good)

~ Books -
To The Lighthouse. By Virginia Woolf. Highly recommended
Fun Home. By Alison Bechdel. Very interesting.
And many more readings as part of the MPM course.
The Zen of Steve Jobs By Caleb Melby : A very short graphic novel on one part of Steve Jobs's life. ok-ok read.

~ Attended book launch of Gandhi before India by Ramachandra Guha. Guha was his usual self. The book is yet to be read.

~ New cafes/restaurants tried -
Coffee on Canvas at Koramangala. Good ambience and like the height of tables. Perfect for playing board games.
Leaping woods at Indiranagar. It is a cafe and a comics library. Good coffee and the decor is pretty interesting.
Chianti - Italian place in Koramangala. Bread was very good.
Cafe Terra - Nice breakfast place.

~Running: All set for Bangalore Ultra on 10th. Ran 25K alone on the streets of Koramangala.  Also volunteered for the water stops as part of our turn. Good experience.

~ At Ranchi now. This post is being written from Ranchi. Celebrated Diwali at home after about 10 years.  Good times!

Book Review : In Custody by Anita Desai

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