I was in the United States when the news of US Supreme Court disallowing gay marriage bans hit the wire. I did not follow all the developments, but picked up the news dinnertime while looking at the TV in the dinner hall of the hotel. Delighted, I turned to colleagues sitting at the dinner table and declared my joy at such a landmark judgement. The two other non-Americans present at the table obviously agreed, but only American colleague present shook his head in dismay - I am shocked! he said. In the ensuing discussion, I picked up the reasons for his objection, stemming from his belief, some perfectly justifiable ones once you accept the basis - the religious belief - to be valid. And, I do, as I am aware that my delight is also informed by my own preference (and belief) that people should be free to choose who they want to marry! The fact that I continue to believe my colleague is a perfectly decent, rational and reasonable individual, even if he disagrees with what I think one of the most fundamental liberties human beings should have, disqualifies me from being a cause-warrior!
This is important, because I am asked to participate in one cause or another all the time. One could possibly pick up the hint from my blog that while I may not have participated in institutional politics, I have a politics. The person I idolise, though I have never met him, is my uncle, gave his life to revolutionary cause, shot by the police in his sleep! I am an idealist, often chasing goals beyond the norms and requirements of my middle class life, and my reading list is full of books by idealists talking about a better world.So, it is indeed natural to expect me to participate in various protests and struggles, 99% against 1%, Gay Rights, Gender Equality, Atheists against religion, Environment Protection, Animal Rights, Privacy so on and so forth. And, indeed, in most cases, I sympathise, for reasons ranging from general preference of the underdog, to moral outrage in marginalisation of legitimate voice.
However, I have not become a cause-warrior of one kind or another, because I have developed a certain view of any kind of causes. First, I have come to realise that the case for any kind of cause is almost always overblown. This is not because the cause may not be worth giving attention to, but because of the nature of attention in our age, fragmented, momentary and shallow. To attract attention, one must shout - and overstate their case. So, the cause-warriorship is rarely about truth and consideration, and mostly about shouting the hardest.
Second, the underlying assumption behind cause-warriorship is often that there is one correct answer to most moral dilemmas. So, for each group, there is an ideal world, a Nirvana, worth fighting for. But, if one has taken lessons from history, this is rarely the case, and while many prophets have promised us many different paths, we always found out that human life is an imperfect one, with approximate moral answers, which vary in space and time. This does not mean that we should not have desirable standards, but the point is that we would always have many such standards, and the ideal would have to be achieved through negotiations, trade-offs and engagements, and not through breaking down and fighting everyone else.
Third, the business of cause-warriorship is a business, and often, though not always, driven by self-serving interests of the few leading men. While the cause may indeed matter, but the structure of institutional cause-war revolves around the visibility, fame and often money for some interested parties. In that way, it is not unlike usual businesses, and is about turning other peoples surplus time into the service of ego and prosperity of some.
So, the question for me is what else is there other than the bystander option? There is indeed nothing moral in being a bystander in a highly imperfect world, and while there may be no perfect solution, the need for engagement is still there - and in fact, more necessary - in the absence of such. Everyone, seen that way, has an obligation to have a stance on these causes, though, unrecognised by the cause-warriors, this includes being silent about some of them.
Besides this, there is one other thing. No cause should be big enough to incite hatred and violence, because those things are inherent markers of power, the same oppressive power that these movements are designed to resist. There is indeed great temptation to imitate the ways of the powerful, because the powerless often form their ideas of power around those tools and methods, but it is self-defeating, because, any fight worth fighting is about removing the oppression that those tools bring about. This whole idea that if-you-are-not-with-us-then-you-are-against-us is one of the tools of oppression, often used by cause-warriors, and one of their biggest mistakes. Causes can unite as well as divide, and instead of a pure solution (which is, by any means, undefinable), one should perhaps look for causes that unite. This can work - indeed worked for the Civil Rights movement in the US - where appealing to good nature of human beings worked wonders rather than the aggressive divisiveness that many of the activists now display.
Let me illustrate this point. When arguing for tolerance and diversity, as in cases of gay or minority rights, if one is intolerant and allow no shades of opinion, they undermine the same values they want to promote. When campaigning for a voice, when activists try to gag any dissent! they defeat themselves. Animal rights warriors scarcely believe that their fellow human beings, who have a different opinion or do not consider their causes highest priority, deserve the same decent treatment and respect they want to win for the animals. Each in its own bubble, many activists disengage from the wider world in search of pure opinion, and undermine the very values they seek to promote.
This, then, sums up my attitude towards causes. Yes, I am an idealist and believe in human capacity to change. I believe that we are capable of building a more just and inclusive world. However, we may not build it by being in our cocoons and seek pure solutions - there will never be heaven on earth - but rather by expanding our capacity to be human, to include, engage and listen to each other, by building capabilities to reconcile our imperfect abilities with goodness of our intent. This we do by connecting, engaging and including, not by fighting and being angry, not by rejecting or excluding. My work is on causes that connect, and it is informed by the variety of causes, and diversity of opinions, that we must live with. I am not the worm in horseradish for whom the world is a horseradish, but a human being with frailty, imagination and aspiration. And, this - looking for causes that connect - is indeed a cause by itself.
Popular posts from this blog
A friend has recently forwarded me a quote from Lord Macaulay's speech in the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835. I reproduce the quote below: "I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation." The email requested me to forward me to every indian I know. I was tempted, but there were two oddities about this quote. First, the language, which
Introduction : The Business of Gift Giving Business gift giving has always been common and contentious at the same time. Business gifts are usually seen as an ‘advertising, sales promotion and marketing communication medium’ (Cooper et al , 1991). Arunthanes et al (1994) points out that such gifting is practised usually for three reasons: (a) in appreciation for past client relationships, placing a new order, referrals to other clients, etc.; (b) in the hopes of creating a positive, first impression which might help to establish an initial business relationship; and (c) giving may be perceived as a quid Pro quo (i.e. returning a favour or expecting a favour in return for something). The practitioners of gift-giving generally argue that doing business is often an aggregation of personal interactions and relationships, and gift-giving should be seen as a natural way of maintaining and enhancing these relationships. ‘Business gifts, especially one given in the course of the festive s
In most societies today, making profits are accepted as moral, if not especially praiseworthy. This was not as obvious as it appears today – people used to be embarrassed about making a profit not so long ago. Crazy as it seems today, it is worth thinking why it was so. Profits, as economists will put it, is the reward for risk-taking, for putting a business enterprise together in the pursuit of an objective. In this definition, remember, profits are not what it is commonly understood to be – the gross middle-line towards the bottom – but a figure net of entrepreneur’s earning [wages for his labour], dividends and interests on borrowed capital, and provisions for building and other physical assets [a sort of rent, offsetting what these assets could have earned if leased out]. This pure profit – surplus – accrues to a business as a reward to its organisation, for the act of entrepreneurship itself. Economists were divided on how this surplus comes about. The conventional wisdom was,
Buzzwords have disadvantages. Right now, experiential learning is one, and that means we put the label on everything and it stops to mean anything. Also, this means reasonable conversation about experiential learning becomes difficult - at times such as this, either you preach experiential learning or you are traditional, antiquarian and hopelessly out of touch. But, overlooking the limitations of experiential learning can cause big problems. Experiential Learning does many things - putting practice at the heart of learning is an important paradigm shift - but not everything, and it is important to be aware what it does not do. Usually, we equate the terms Project-based Learning (the method) with Experiential Learning (the idea) and Learning from Experience (the ideal), treating them as one and the same and using the terms interchangeably. Any talk about distinctive meaning of these terms is usually seen as pedantic, but really represent very different ideas about education.
Introduction Erna Petri née Kürbs, a farmer’s daughter from Herressen in Thuringia, arrived in Ukraine with her three year old son to join her husband Horst in June 1942. Horst, an SS leader inspired by Nazi ideologue Dr Richard Walter Darré, settled in the plantation of Grzenda, just outside today’s Lviv, to become a German Gentleman-Farmer. Erna saw Horst beating and abusing the workers in the plantation within two days of arriving there, which was, as Horst explained, necessary for establishing authority. Erna joined in enthusiastically, settling into a combination of roles of ‘plantation mistress, prairie Madonna in apron-covered dress lording over slave labourers, infant-carrying, gun-wielding Hausfrau.’  However, there were clear rules in the plantation, and Erna was very much expected to play the woman’s role of being a Cake-and-Coffee hostess. When four Jews were caught in the estate while trying to escape from a transport to a death camp, Horst told Erna and her female
Today, Helen Goddard, 26, a highly popular music teacher of a City School for Girls, has been sentenced to 15 months in prison. Her crime was to carry out a year long lesbian affair with one of her pupils, who appeared in the court and admitted that the affair was consensual and it was she who pressured Helen into the affair. For Helen, a bright musician and a devout Chistian, this is an extraordinary lapse of judgement. Also, she was teaching in the £13,000 private girls only school in London. She was surely aware what the consequences of her action will be. The fact that she still could not stop herself tells us that lovers do not always act rationally, something we always knew. There is more in this affair than personal tragedies. For a start, this has all the dramatic elements: a bright, beautiful teacher more in Julia Roberts mould [as in Mona Lisa Smile], a stiff upper lip school [not unlike Wellesley] and a story like Notes On A Scandal with an added twist. Indeed, Helen
A week into lockdown and things are beginning to change. Mornings are late, afternoons are lazier and evenings never end; meditations are filling out the time for Yoga routines and Netflix profiles are strewn with half-finished movies. This state-mandated, state-funded period of idleness is being likened to being called up to serve, but is nothing like that: Such a comparison is really an affront to the idea of service. Instead, this is just one long streak of panic; of the centre not holding and life not going on as usual. With the usual patterns and rules in suspended animation and business talk - and business - being rendered meaningless, space is opening up for unusual questions: Is Capitalism about to end? Is this the death of globalisation? Does it get uglier from here? My grandfather's generation would have scoffed at us. They saw through wars and pandemics. But, in fairness, we haven't had a life-ending crisis of our own. Notwithstanding the experiences of th
The ‘Why’ Question? Adolf Hitler was appointed the German Chancellor by President Von Hindenburg on 30th January 1933. This was an extraordinary turn of events. Previously, President Von Hindenburg consistently refused to appoint Hitler the Chancellor, despite the impressive electoral performance of NSDAP in July 1932, Hitler’s uncompromising demand of the Chancellor’s post and a repeat election in November 1932 which failed to break the deadlock. Explaining his refusal, Hindenburg wrote in a letter on 24th November, “a presidential cabinet led by you would develop necessarily into a party dictatorship with all its consequences for an extraordinary accentuation of the conflicts in the German people.” The question ‘why’ Hitler was appointed Chancellor, despite the President being acutely aware of what might follow, is therefore a significant one. The NSDAP had election successes throughout 1932, and was already the biggest single party in the Reichstag and various Landtags acros
I wrote a note on Kolkata, the city I come from and would always belong to, in July 2010. Since then, the post attracted many visitors and comments, mostly critical, as most people, including those from Kolkata, couldn't see any future for the city. My current effort, some 18 months down the line, is also prompted by a recent article in The Economist, The City That Got Left Behind , which echo the pessimism somewhat. I, at least emotionally, disagree to all the pessimism: After all Kolkata is home and I live in the hope of an eventual return. Indeed, some change has happened since I wrote my earlier post: The geriatric Leftist government that ruled the state for more than 30 years was summarily dispatched, and was replaced by a lumpen-capitalist populist government. Kolkata looked without a future with the clueless leftists at the helm; it now looks without hope. However, apart from bad governance, there is no reason why Kolkata had to be poor and hopeless. It sits right
The Creativity Imperative Businesses today consider creativity of their staff as a critical, possibly the most critical, factor for their ongoing survival. This is because the environment, political, social and commercial, has become so fluid; as Yogi Berra put it, “the future isn’t what it used to be”. Constant change, demanding and more aware customers and citizens, rapid information dissemination through new technologies of information and communication, and intense competitive and regulatory pressures, are pushing companies and people who work for them to innovate and adapt continuously. Set in this context, employee creativity has a whole new meaning. It is traditionally understood as people thinking about products and services, which did not exist before, or tweaking and improving the existing ones. Competitive pressures add to this creativity imperative. Information is fast and cheap, and communication technology is driving the costs of production and distribution
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.