Dividing the World in One

Warning: N-bombs below.

On Sat, Jun 18, 2011 at 14:37, Satish Jha <satish.jha@gmail.com> wrote:
The article [quoted below] is a testament to the causes of India’s poverty on every front, including IT. However, India seemingly has a much better information and communication infrastructure than its roads, power, water, sanitation, education, health.. and you can go on naming them and you will find India way behind…including on morality, ethics and what have you.

Those who believe that India will learn to communicate by putting the names of villages on the web are the real Indians. Those who work as technical skills at $100 a month a little less real and those further up the food chain are increasingly less of Indians in more ways than one.

The fundamental issue in poverty is political will. Are we willing to spend the money to lift the poor out of poverty? It is complicated by those who have an interest in denying that such a program is possible, usually on the claimed but nonsensical grounds that the poor are incapable of doing better, no matter how much help the rest of us give them.

The question of politics comes down to this: Do you divide people into two or more groups, either yourself and everybody else, or We and several kinds of Them, or do you divide people into one group, all sharing the same biological and divine nature? Every country has this issue in some degree. The worst are those with particularly strong hereditary class and, as in India, caste systems, or strong remnants of previous systems.

The standard text on this issue is Thorstein Veblen, The Theory of the Leisure Class. The rich, as Veblen showed with many and varied examples, have two particularly strong motivations that override everything else.

  1. You must be made aware at every opportunity that they are rich, which they accomplish by Conspicuous Consumption, as in Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. It is also desirable that the wealthy be thought to be wiser and more moral than the rest of us.
  2. Nothing must threaten their wealth and position. It is not absolutely required that their wealth grow. What is utterly unacceptable is for the gap between them and the rest of us to shrink

It is not enough to prosper. The goal is to be richer than other people, and to rub their faces in it. Others must fail.

This notion was not, of course, original with Veblen.

Everything for ourselves, and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind.

Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations

But Veblen put more passion and more scholarly effort into documenting the problem than anyone else.

The principal fault line in the United States is over the legacy of slavery, the Jim Crow system of legal segregation that followed, enforced further by extrajudicial killings and intimidation, and the  Republican Southern Strategy, expressed in Dog Whistle code, that followed the undoing of Jim Crow. The name refers to whistles pitched so high that humans cannot hear them, even though dogs can. The concept is to talk in terms that have a normal meaning, which one can pretend to be using, while to those on the inside they have en entirely different meaning. I have been collecting examples.

The clearest statement of the principle is due to Republican political strategist Lee Atwater.

You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger” — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I’m not saying that. But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”

Or “Dalit, dalit”.

All of this is directly connected to the arguments over slavery in the US Constitutional Convention, continuing down to and through the Civil War, then the Civil Rights movement, right to today.

Examples: Original Intent of the Founders and Constitutional Originalism. The Confederate Constitution, which was almost identical to the US constitution except that it expressly included slavery, state’s rights, and religion, and rejected the Declaration of independence. “We hold these truths to be self-evident…that all men are  created equal.” Modern versions of these theories include rejection of the Reconstruction Amendments abolishing slavery (though not out loud) and guaranteeing citizenship to everybody born in the US (explicitly and loudly) and equal protection to all.

So when you hear Republicans talk about cutting taxes and spending, they mean spending that helps African-Americans in any way, but more generally any form of spending that helps the poor or any other disadvantaged group (immigrants, labor, students, women, gays, and now the retired), and any form of taxation or regulation that keeps the rich from getting richer as fast as possible. Also any form of spending or even lending that helps developing countries develop.

India’s historic issue is the Hindu caste system, which has been challenged from without by Buddhism, Islam, Sikhism, and Christianity, among others, and from within by Gandhi, among others. Gandhi was assassinated for his trouble, apparently for much the same reasons as Martin Luther King in the US for his.

The Hindutva movement in India is very much like the Religious Right in the US in its principles of self-righteousness and nationalism, although many details differ. The Sinhalatva Buddhist movement in Sri Lanka is equally racist. Both Indian Exceptionalism and Sri Lankan Exceptionalism are quite comparable to American Exceptionalism, all three taking off from some supposedly divine will granting one group or another essentially exclusive access to ultimate truth, and to political and economic power. (Although in Hinduism truth was accorded to the Brahmin caste, political power to the Kshatriyas, and economic power to the Vaishyas. Shudras have much inferior positions and rights, Dalits/Untouchables traditionally have none, and everybody else, from India’s scheduled tribes to rich Westerners and to Africans and so on, tend to be treated according to their average wealth and power.) Things have changed somewhat, but at a glacial pace.

I could go on at much greater length, but this is enough to begin with.

Let us return to the problem at hand, which is creating political will to spend money on education and infrastructure for the poorest of the poor and put an end to poverty and its multitudinous ills. In actual fact, now that computers with Free Software and Free/Open Education Resources cost less than printed textbooks meeting minimum curriculum standards, we have the opportunity to improve education greatly while saving money (in areas where decent textbooks are currently provided) or at much less expense than the alternative of printing and distributing the books.

Viewed in this way, we are not talking about an expense, but about an investment, and not merely an investment with a high return, but about a negative investment, which therefore has an infinite return, once the pump is primed. (According to the notions of economics and finance publicly put about by Market Fundamentalists, that means that this situation does not in fact exist. If it did, somebody would have taken the opportunity already.)

But it is just those Market Fundamentalists who are allied with the Right, who speak in the code discussed above.

And for all of their prating about the Magic of the Free Market, it is a fact that the market cannot handle this problem. Private schools need their fees paid every year, not twenty years later when graduates have good jobs. Only governments with good credit ratings can issue education bonds to be paid off in twenty or thirty years out of the taxes collected from the newly employed and the businesses that many of them start.

Other countries have to do it out of other current revenue, or must beg or borrow enough to get started. I cannot get into the dismal record of development loans that were aimed at making elites and multinational corporations richer, not at helping the poor. Suffice it to say that we cannot do education by such means, and we will have to be creative and determined to find other means, and to keep them on track.

There are two points of code here.

  • One is the pretense that the market can do anything, when in fact there are public goods that can only be provided by governments, if at all. In the US this has led to the pseudo-privatization of education in charter schools, which are paid for by government but do not have to obey much of education law, including hiring union teachers.
  • The other is the pretense that we don’t have to help the poor in any way, because the market will solve their problems by providing jobs, even if we rig the economy to prevent it. Such is the case with the US Federal Reserve, chartered by law with the responsibility to keep down inflation and ensure full employment. However, the Fed under Ayn Rand Objectivist Alan Greenspan defined rising wages to be inflation, to be prevented at all costs, and ignored asset price bubbles, including the dot-com bubble of the 90s and the more recent housing bubble.

Anti-union laws are another major factor in this. Again, we must put this interesting and important but too large subject aside. I do not know much about the corresponding institutions in India, but I know that they are equally broken.

Returning yet again to the main issue, the question is how to generate political will. In the last two centuries, under favorable circumstances, a new political idea has been able to grow to a mass movement and be enacted into law in about 50 years. This was the case for the abolition of slavery in the British Empire (long after abolition in the UK), for Women’s Suffrage in the US and elsewhere, for Indian independence, and many other issues. Religion and ideology can sometimes delay such results. The Soviet Union lasted more than 70 years. Full equality for African-Americans in the US has not occurred a century and a half after the Civil War.

Religions can be particularly tenacious in opposition to doing God’s will, as in the case of the Dutch Reformed Church, former bastion of Apartheid in South Africa. However, the Southern Baptist churches that originally declared slavery to be the Will of God have been very gradually shrinking since slavery’s defeat in the Civil War, and this trend has recently accelerated to thousands of members leaving daily, millions annually. See, for example, The Incredible Shrinking Church, by a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Statistical analysis of trends in demographics, membership in opposition churches, and the like shows that the current combination of racism, bigotry, and kleptocracy (ruling by stealing from the public) will lose its electoral majorities in every US state where they still have control in the next two decades, and that the US Senate will no longer be hostage to its current ruling minorities well before that.

We know how to generate political will. We know the techniques pioneered in the campaigns against slavery, such as fliers, posters, campaign buttons, protest songs, and mass meetings, and the techniques of the digital age on social media, blogs, fundraising sites and the rest. Are you ready to help divide the world into one?

Here is more of the original post from Satish, in reply to Frederick Noronha of BytesForAll.org in Goa, India, that set me off, and also the promised article.

India is firmly generations behind in thinking about technology and that has little to do with a few who contribute at par globally. As once Pramod Mahajan glibly quipped, Indians are doing fine overseas, can we translate that to India doing fine as well?

But India cannot do fine with the serious thinking deficit it has. Just imagine the power of entrepreneurship unleashed in the past couple of decades and go back to the debates of the 1980s. In terms of aging of debate, India’s relative position has not changed much. It was arguing for policies designed to keep it generations behind then. It is doing so now.

The challenge is that those making decisions on policy matters have to do so under prevailing conditions. They are way down on the learning curve. Some people (who have little understanding of information technologies got created, how they have evolved, how they work and how the visionaries continue to create ever newer solutions while the rest of the world tries following all this with multi-generational lag) continue to make prescriptions that firmly keep India behind.

But what is happening on IT is not as visible to these folks as may be in some manufacturing areas. Some may recall how India continued to produce a British car 6 generations after it had been junked. The design is still a toast of the bureaucrats eyes.. Not until Suzuki was accepted by India as a partner that India began appreciating the virtues of contemporary technologies. But asking Suzuki to bring the latest rather than “Indify” their technologies paid its dividends to make India a major player in the OEM market and helped create conditions for several manufacturers to come to India.

Though India produces automotive parts, it is in aligning with the global market that it derives maximum value. On the other India, creating a Nano symbolizes what is wrong with India’s thinking about becoming an honorable member of the global economic order. Those who talk about websites being the starting point are akin to be the shepherds of the ancient times of information technologies and light years behind where technologies stand today.

In the world of mobility, websites, the way they are recommended in the article in Mint, are to where technologies are today in the land where they are created as a stationary one wheel cycle is to an Airbus. Pretty close, though even further behind from where the technology policy planners may be.

On Sat, Jun 18, 2011 at 3:20 AM, Frederick FN Noronha फ्रेडरिक नोरोन्या *فريدريك نورونيا fredericknoronha@gmail.com wrote:

India’s poverty in the virtual world

It is the world’s largest democracy and has the world’s second largest population, but its Internet population is one of the lowest. It is a global leader in information technology , but has an extremely poor information and communication technology infrastructure

Digital World | Osama Manzar

Let’s suppose Facebook is a nation. It is then the world’s third most populous nation, after China and India. It is perhaps the only nation whose citizens come from all parts of the world—where everyone lives harmoniously, meets and corresponds with each other seamlessly, shares information, thoughts and ideas openly.

Everyone wants to be in this virtual nation. Here, you do not have to pay for your space, as you have to in your real country of domicile.

No country gives you free space, free art and photo gallery, free postal service, free parking area, free entertainment and free space for a business office. Facebook does all of these.

It has almost become an imperative of life today to be on Facebook. If you aren’t already there, better to hurry up, acquire your space and, if you want, create your own estate, business or community.

The popularity of Facebook leads me to believe that the future of any nation will depend on how much digital content it produces and makes available on the Internet— particularly in oral form.

While India’s standing among digital content producers is abysmally low, the good news is that India has one of the highest penetrations of mobile devices, enabling the country to go beyond the literacy barrier and create more oral digital content. There is a caveat though: we need the Internet on all devices, preferably broadband.

As is well known, India is a country of extremes, with the best of certain things and the worst of others.

It is the world’s largest democracy and has the world’s second largest population, but its Internet population is one of the lowest. It is a global leader in information technology (IT), but has an extremely poor information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructure.

Let’s look at some more paradoxes.

India has almost 1.6 million schools, mostly located in rural areas, but not more than 100,000 schools have computer centres or labs.

Internet connectivity would be in less than 0.5% schools, and not more than 10% have websites. If every school was to have its own website, we would not only have so many .in domains, but would also enrich the cyberspace with multilingual content, localized culture and creative content produced by children and teachers.

India also has more than 26 million registered micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) employing over 60 million people. But not more than 30% of these MSMEs are online.

Ours is primarily a producers’ country and our economy thrives at the grassroots level. Websites would give our MSMEs national and global reach; their absence means foreign products find it easier to enter the local market than vice versa.

Like MSMEs, cooperatives are a great means of conducting business at the bottom of the pyramid. There are more than 500,000 cooperatives in India, most of which deal in products and services relating to rural areas, such as agriculture, dairy farming and so on.

When I tried to find out the level of digital inclusion among the cooperatives, the National Cooperative Union of India could not come up with a definite number. All they said was that there would be no more than few thousand online.

We are a country of more than 3.3 million non-governmental organisations, or NGOs. But 70% of them have no web presence.

Most of them are located at the grassroots level. At the Digital Empowerment Foundation, we have created 500 individual websites for such organisations in the last two years, an exercise that has made us realise that each NGO is a well of information and knowledge. But they need to share this knowledge, and the Web is the best means of doing so.

If we look at elective governance, we have 245,445 panchayatconstituencies, 4,011 assembly constituencies and 543 parliamentary constituencies.

Barring the panchayats in Kerala and a couple of hundred panchayatwebsites that we have created at http://epanchayat.in, there are no official websites for any elected constituency. But the Right To Information Act says all elected members of the government should furnish relevant information to citizens—and once again the Web could be the best platform for them to share information about their activities and responsibilities.

In all, we are short of some 23 million business, organizational, educational and governmental websites, and therefore, as many domain names.

Considering that there are around 255 million websites worldwide, India’s presence on the Web would significantly increase if all these institutions go online.

This would not only make the country digitally enriched, but it would also attract markets to India and allow Indian producers to go global. Moreover, it will help achieve transparency and a networked knowledge society.


About mokurai

Generalist; End poverty at a profit for all
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