Minds Without Fear

The Atlantic Monthly recently published a list of The Top 100 most influential Americans. Arguably, many on that list would also make it into a list called “The Top 100 Most Influential People” as well. Indeed, the modern world is defined and shaped by many on that Atlantic Monthly list. It is remarkable how much the world of today (both good and bad) owes to those who were, and are, Americans. In every broad area of human endeavor—science, technology, politics, economics, law, medicine, education, literature, architecture—Americans have made seminal contributions.

My personal sub-list of people from that list whom I particularly admire would include Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison, James Madison, Mark Twain, Thomas Paine, Andrew Carnegie, Walt Whitman, the Wright Brothers, Alexander Graham Bell, John Adams, Albert Einstein (naturalized American), Ralph Waldo Emerson, Jonas Salk, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Robert Oppenheimer (the father of the deadly toy), William James, Henry David Thoreau, James Watson (the discoverer of the double-helix), Frank Lloyd Wright, Thurgood Marshall, and Enrico Fermi.

How many Americans have ever lived? I would estimate that less than a billion Americans have every existed. After all, the nation is just a couple of hundred years old. How did such a small population – relative to the larger global population of humans – ever get to have such a disproportionate influence on the world by producing such a large number of amazing individuals? What is the secret of their success?

I believe that the answer is summed up in one word: FREEDOM. The Americans have enjoyed freedom and upon that fertile ground have grown up mighty oaks. The lesson is simple and striking: if a population enjoys freedom, it naturally produces phenomenally successful, amazingly creative individuals. The freedom to think, the freedom to speak, the freedom to write, the freedom to investigate the natural world, the freedom to act and create, and a large number of other freedoms — these form the environment which allows the human mind and spirit to flourish. America has truly been the home of the free. The country after all was founded on the fundamental urge to be politically and economically free.

I believe any collection of humans can produce the sort of super humans that America has done in its brief history if – and that is a big IF – the collection enjoys freedom.

Americans have created and lived in the land which Rabindranath Tagore prayed for when he wrote “Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high, Where knowledge is free. . .”

India too, I am sure, will produce fearless minds when India becomes free. The challenge is making India free. Will it be in my lifetime?

Author: Atanu Dey


12 thoughts on “Minds Without Fear”

  1. Atanu,

    Will produce fearless minds when India becomes free. The challenge is making India free.

    Fearless minds are a prerequisite for free India. Free India will happen only when we have at least a critical mass of fearless minds. Our society is hell-bent on producing very insecure people who are extremely risk-averse. As long as we don’t have sufficient people taking enough risks, we can’t innovate. Which is not going to happen anytime soon with our madness with jobs, job security and such.

    India has produced a significant number of some of the greatest people that have ever walked on this earth. However, all these are in another sphere. Swami Vivekananda says..

    This is the ancient land where wisdom made its home before it went into any other country, the same India whose influx of spirituality is represented, as it were on the material plane, by rolling rivers like oceans, where the eternal Himalayas, rising tier above tier with their snow-caps, looks as it were into the very mysteries of heaven. Here is the same India whose soil has been trodden by the feet of the greatest sages that ever lived. Here first sprang up inquiries into the nature of man and into the internal world. Here first arose the doctrines of the immortality of the soul, the existence of a supervising God, an immanent God in nature and in man, and here the highest ideals of religion and philosophy have attained their culminating points.

    This is the land from whence, like tidal waves, spirituality and philosophy have again and again rushed out and deluged the world, and this is the land from whence once more such tides must proceed in order to bring life and vigor into the decaying races of mankind. It is the same India which has withstood the shocks of centuries, of hundreds of foreign invasions, of hundreds of upheavals of manners and customs. It is the same land which stands firmer than any rock in the world, with its undying vigor, indestructible life. Its life is of the same nature as the soul, without beginning and without end, immortal; and we are the children of such a country.

    Children of India, I am here to speak to you today about some practical things, and my object in reminding you about the glories of past is simply this. Many times have I been told that looking into the past only degenerates and leads to nothing, and that we should look to the future. That is true. But out of the past is built the future. Look back, therefore, as far as you can, drink deep of the eternal fountains that are behind, and after that look forward, march forward and make India brighter, greater, much higher than she ever was. Our ancestors were great. We must first recall that. We must learn the elements of our being, the blood that courses in our veins; we must have faith in that blood and what it did in the past; and out of that faith and consciousness of past greatness, we must build an India yet greater than what she has been. There have been periods of decay and degradation. I do not attach much importance to them; we all know that. Such periods have been necessary. A mighty tree produces a beautiful ripe fruit. That fruit falls on the ground, it decays and rots, and out of that decay springs the root and the future tree, perhaps mightier than the first one. This period of decay through which we have passed was all the more necessary. Out of this decay is coming the India of the future; it is sprouting, its first leaves are already out; and a mighty, gigantic tree, the Urdhvamula, is here, already beginning to appear; and it is about that that I am going to speak to you.(Vol III, 285 – 286)


  2. Pingback: Myke's Weblog

    I think we need to solve “desperation” among people living in India.

    85% of people in India are desperate working slaves in an informal economy and their lives oscillate between fear and frustration.

    The remaining well to do people in India are always in search of collusion mostly in the form of caste to enhance their wealth.

    The Solution:
    A credible basic “minimum” income guaranteed system for every one whether they work or not will bring in “dignity” instead of “desperation” in the working poor and “inheritance taxes” will stimulate “compassion” instead of “collusion”.

    Such system will prevent all socioeconomic issues in India viz farmer suicides, dowry deaths, child labor, corruption, bribery, etc.

    In Portugal, Brazil, USA, Belgium, UK etc this system is implemented.


  4. Atanu,

    While I would never think of removing your blog from my reading list (like a previous commenter said), I must say that this post has disappointed me.

    True, USA is a great country, and the preeminent civilisational force of our time.But the reasons for that are not as simple (simplistic?) as you mention.

    IMHO, it is really not a useful way to spend our time creating lists of influential people (too subjective) and analyzing the merits and demerits of populations.

    100 years from now, if China becomes the sole or preeminent super power of the world, the Beijing Quarterly could come up with a similar list.


  5. The order needs to be reversed. We need to start producing fearless minds who will eventually free Indian. For that we need to build the Intellectual Pillars that will nurture young minds and set them free.

    We need to find passionate men who can build Universities such as CalTech. Caltech has 31 Nobel laureates to its name.

    Our premier institutes generate copy paste coders (IITs); hell-bent on getting a clerkship at a big financial company (IIMs), and copious amounts of junk in various other sundry colleges.


  6. Kumar,

    You say “But the reasons for that are not as simple (simplistic?) as you mention.”

    However, neither do you suggest where your disagreement lies (except that you don’t think it is useful) nor do you propose an alternative hypothesis.

    India and China can come up with a list even now. But when we compare the lists, we’ll notice some difference in achievements (lets take # of nobel prizes). And Atanu is saying that degree(s) of freedom account for the difference.

    Also, this is a blog post and not a thesis paper. Atanu has already covered a wide-ground earlier, you need to read all the previous posts to see how rigorously everything is covered. Allow me to point out a few ..

    Education: http://www.deeshaa.org/2006/12/06/desperately-seeking-indias-google/


    And thousands of others.


  7. JP,

    I have been reading Atanu’s posts for a long time now.Thank you.

    The reasons I did not go into the details of why I thought it was/is a simplistic statement are two fold: 1.It will take too long a post for me to explain my thoughts ( and I can not do it as well as some of you) and even if I take out the time, I might as well post it on my blog and post the link here 2.It should be obvious (I could be wrong here) for many people, especially some one like Atanu, that when some one calls a statement simplistic, it means there are more complex factors at play than the one mentioned.Moreover, as I said, I really don’t think its a useful way to spend any one’s time(analyzing lists generated through subjective judgement).

    My take: I would rather prefer to read or reread posts of Atanu (or any one else) on education, infrastructure, social entrepreneurship etc., than the one here.
    Just my personal opinion.Hope we can agree to disagree and move on to other topics.


  8. Atanu,
    I may not agree with you on many specifics but I admire your attitude of exploring any topic without fear.
    One thing that strikes one immediately about USA is immigration; with many early immigrants being dissidents in their original countries.
    Many scientists have been telling us ( and I ‘feel’ that there may be some truth in this) that the two of the incentives which drive human beings most are finding a mate and status. These have been given freer rein in US than most other countries in the recent past. Indians with arranged marriages and caste system acquire these automatically to some extent. That may be theproblem. There are signs of decline in USA; it is possible that India may catch up in some decades; but I doubt it unless USA collapses under more Bushes.
    Of course, I may be wrong. Just like you, I am also trying to think aloud. Regards,


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