Friday, 23 January 2009

On Politics.

When I say "politics", I mean it in the broadest and loftiest possible sense of the word, not the petty machinations of lying knaves which is what it has come to mean to most people in India. A prosaic working definition could be "The process by which groups make decisions.". I will start by defining what I consider to be the "National Interest" and by 'national' I do not mean 'Indian' but more generally, the interest of whatever interconnected and interdependent human society we happen to be considering. I will outline a goal of sorts - what I think we ought to try and achieve - and then I will give my thoughts about how/why it might or might not be attained and then Ill conclude with a few remarks about India.

The Magic Carpet.

The aim should be a society which carries every member on a 'magic carpet' and does not allow any of its members to fall below a certain standard of living. This magic carpet is something that the society as a whole provides to every one of its members - each of whome contributes to its upkeep. The following ought to be guaranteed -
1> Security. Everyone should be free to conduct their lives without fear of death or material disruption. This includes protection from severe weather etc. The basic resources necessary to exist.
2> Food. Everyone should have ample access to varied and wholesome food.
3> Healthcare. Everyone should have access to medical facilities.
4> Education. Everyone should have the chance to attend university level education.
5> Opportunity and Freedom.
6> Leisure. Yes, leisure. Each and every person in society should have the time, the resources, and the security needed to indulge in leisure activities, because it is from these that human happiness most often flows. Everyone should have time in which they are free to do whatever they like, it is such activity that most often leads to the breakthroughs that take our civilization forward.

Is it Possible ?

From a purely engineering point of view, the answer would be a definite Yes. The resources and the technology needed to bring this about exist. I might even go so far as to say, it has been technically possible for a long time now. The real problem is an economic one - How to allocate resources and lay down norms to create and sustain this sort of system. An ideal society has many other characteristics of course, like sustainability, but we will not go into those at the moment.

The State.

The state is the agent through which a society carries out its collective responsibilities (such as security, health, education, law and order etc) and regulates itself. For example, if a society collectively decides that "stealing is bad, and those who steal must be put in prison", then it is the responsibility of the state to conceive and enforce this law. This is of course, in theory. In reality, the state - whatever its origins, history or ideology - consists of a ruling elite which looks after its own interests rather than those of the society it rules. Laws in this situation, are a tool to manipulate and regulate society in order to enable the ruling elite to pursue their aims. All too often, their interests are divergent from the interests of the society, and this is illustrated by human history which is filled with rich aristocrats ruling for millennia over impoverished and helpless populations.

Again and again, civilizations and societies have come to grief because the short term interests of the elite did not coincide with the long term interests of the people. Again and again, the existence of an unchallenged ruling elite has inevitably led to suffering, poverty and eventually, to collapse. This is precisely the issue that Democracy attempts to address. By making the ruling class dependent on the people to continue in power, it forces the elite to factor into its calculations the interests of the masses. If the elite wants to continue to rule, they must be seen to be looking after the interests of the majority of the population. A fairly good solution one might say, though of course, whether the elite is taking care of the long term interests of the society or not is entirely a dependent on how demanding and perceptive the masses are. Which also seems fair, they get what they deserve. There are many other institutions that a democracy needs in order to function, but those will be considered to be implicit when we use the word 'democracy'.

The subversion of Democracy

As one can see, for a democracy to function - i.e. for the ruling elite to feel the imperative need to look after the interests of the masses - there needs to be choice. There needs to be an option that the people can vote for, an alternate set of people who promise and can deliver what the current ruling elite have failed to do. And if such an alternative does not exist, then a democracy (a good one) provides people with every reason to jump into the fray and provide the alternative themselves. This is crucial - for a democracy to be properly functional, common people should be able to contest elections and provide the alternative to the ruling elite that has not delivered. It is here that most large democracies - and especially India - fail.

The bane of Indian Democracy is the rise of a political class with very high barriers of entry implemented through a multi-layered system. Basic neccessities of Indian politics such as vast quantities of (black) money, availability of street muscle and so on, ensure that the vast majority of Indians cannot venture into politics. Thus, the Indian political elite remains - to a large extent - unchallenged. They swap power among themselves, and the elections are bitterly contested, but they all belong to a class who have broadly common interests. None of them want an enlightened, educated and empowered population. None of them want fair and effective law enforcement agencies or an efficient judiciary. None of them are interested in cracking down on organized crime, enforcing financial laws or cleaning up hooligans from the street. All for the simple reason that even though these things are obviously desirable for society at large, they are not in the interest of the Indian ruling elite and it is these interests which the Indian state - as of now - most closely defends and promotes.

Fundamentally, the Indian political class is not interested in removing the socio-economic conditions that ail our people and cripple our country. And they can get away with it because they have ensured - as a collective - that Indian Democracy cannot throw up a credible alternative that better looks after the interests of its people. Thus, it is the high barriers for entry into politics that most subvert our democracy. They maintain their power in the crudest possible manner, by beating up the new comer who dares to stand for election, by threatening his family, by buying him out. And anyone who 'makes it' in indian politics, is forced by the political class to become one of them - he needs the hooligans, he needs the money, and thus, he needs the political class and cannot rebel.

To sum it up -

Low barrier for entry into politics => Choice => state protecting interests of the people and a mature evolving functional democracy => evolution towards a better society with less suffering and more enlightenment and peace, thus freeing up more resources for endeavors of vision and courage such as the exploration of space, the quest for longevity and the search for truth and meaning.


Karmasura said...

Great one.. nothing left to debate.. or discuss..

Keep it goin bro!

Shoesmith said...

im with u on lowering barriers for entry into politics.. and also for providing protection to the brave souls that choose to enter where angels fear to tread.

i have thot reforms in education must be given first priority..and not just on paper. think about it - if an effective system (both qualitatively and quantitatively) can be put in place.. an entire generation can be moulded in the matter of a short 15-20yrs.

it happens that im trying to understand international relations and foreign policy better. would u have any suggestions on what books/authors i could pick up?

Psmith said...

Subscribe to stratfor
if you're a student, mail them and tell them so, you'll get a discount. Its an excellent starting point. also, the book "Second World" by Parag Khanna is an entertaining and informative read. and Im sure with the broad overview those things give, you'll know what to read next.

what areas of the world are you particularly interested in ? and, do I know you ?

If you're interested ion ideologial foundations of international relations etc, I would not know where to start.

and yes, educational reform....shaping the minds of the future.....fair enough. I expect the right kind of politician will do I pointed out, the current crop dont want a freethinking aware public.

Shoesmith said...

Thank You, I will try those. I'm just starting out on the subject of int'l relations with the hope of affecting policy at home (India) or abroad someday soon.

So,answering your question, while peace-keeping and reforms in education interest me,Im not quite there yet there wrt clarity on what area Id like to work in.

:) take care! I dont think there's anythign even remotely funny about anonymity, but opting to stay that way! thanks again for ur time, gday!

Nirmalya said...

What, no practical socialism? What kind of Psmith are you?

Seriously, good post.

But I will argue that the barrier for entering politics is a good thing at the moment. The problems facing anyone wishing to enter politics can be overcome, if you can build a large enough support base first. If you have a good number of people with you already, you can take donations from them and help with the rough stuff as well.

But this will mean if you have to spend a lot of time with people, doing 'social work' or something, before you enter politics. And to my mind, that is the best grooming you can get if you wish to enter politics.

I think I see at least one flaw in the above argument, but I will talk of that some other time perhaps.

Also, if we there is universal agreement that there are certain things that should be done ( food for all, education etc.) why can't we set up some objective way of evaluating governments? For example if a government has failed to attain some minimum objective, they would forfeit the chance to contest in the next elections.