Ask me Anything — the Hayek Edition

Gandhi First IgnoreHere’s the last bit from Hayek’s Dec 11 1974 Nobel Prize lecture:

If man is not to do more harm than good in his efforts to improve the social order, he will have to learn that in this, as in all other fields where essential complexity of an organized kind prevails, he cannot acquire the full knowledge which would make mastery of the events possible. He will therefore have to use what knowledge he can achieve, not to shape the results as the craftsman shapes his handiwork, but rather to cultivate a growth by providing the appropriate environment, in the manner in which the gardener does this for his plants. There is danger in the exuberant feeling of ever growing power which the advance of the physical sciences has engendered and which tempts man to try, “dizzy with success”, to use a characteristic phrase of early communism, to subject not only our natural but also our human environment to the control of a human will. The recognition of the insuperable limits to his knowledge ought indeed to teach the student of society a lesson of humility which should guard him against becoming an accomplice in men’s fatal striving to control society – a striving which makes him not only a tyrant over his fellows, but which may well make him the destroyer of a civilization which no brain has designed but which has grown from the free efforts of millions of individuals.

One of the recurring themes of Hayek’s was the idea that social engineering is quite distinct from engineering of the natural world. With the appropriate technology and scientific knowledge it is possible to engineer machines and use them to control the world of objects, perhaps for the better, but human beings are not objects without volition. Humans have a will of their own and they pursue ends that are dictated by their desires and preferences which are neither fixed nor can be known by others. Social engineering always fails and makes a bad situation worse. Continue reading

“An Eye for an Eye” is Deterrence Against Violence

The concept of deterrence is the credible commitment to retaliation by one party to convince another party to not initiate force. If one party can convincingly persuade another party that any act of unprovoked violence will be met with equal or greater violence, that would constitute effective deterrence. The assumption is that both parties are rational. Here rational is defined as apprehending a situation accurately and acting in one’s own self-interest. Gandhi did not understand this simple idea, being blinded by his admiration of the Christian bilge about “turning the other cheek”.

Gayatri Jayaraman (‏@Gayatri__J) wrote this on twitter:

“an eye for an eye will leave the world blind” – Mahatma Gandhi. Why ahimsa is the only force that can win us our wars

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All That is Good and Living in Us

Nirad C Chaudhuri (1897 – 1999) dedicated his book, The Autobiography of an Unknown Indian (1951), to the British Empire.

To the memory of the British Empire in India,
Which conferred subjecthood upon us,
But withheld citizenship.
To which yet every one of us threw out the challenge:
“Civis Britannicus sum”
Because all that was good and living within us
Was made, shaped and quickened
By the same British rule.

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Criticizing Modern Indian Holy Cows Considered Dangerous

A little while ago, I saw this tweet — which I append below. It relates to the mainstream media’s response to Shri Mohan Bhagwat’s comment that “Mother” Teresa was motivated by her desire to convert people to Christianity. That seems really odd to me. I would have surmised that the fact that Teresa was basically in the business of proselytizing and converting would be as unremarkable as the fact that the Pope is a Catholic. Whatever she did — and she was remarkably candid about it — she maintained was because she was serving her lord and savior Jesus Christ. Christ wanted everyone to be saved through him. So what’s so bloody remarkable about noting that she was primarily motivated by what she admitted to: saving souls?

Anyway, here’s the tweet by @rvaidya2000:
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Happy Gandhi Jayanti

Shri Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, also known as the “mahatma,” was born on this day October 2nd in 1869. Popular opinion associates Gandhi with non-violence. I differ. I believe that poverty engenders more violence against innocent humans than any other single cause or condition. Perhaps he genuinely was against violence but what Gandhi achieved resulted in unimaginable violence.
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The Resurrection of Gandhi

Arvind Lavakare in an article titled The Myth of Mahatma Gandhi notes that the Gandhi icon had been losing its sheen for years until the present government began giving it a nice new varnish. Maybe it is an attempt to “to fuse the original Gandhi image with the Italian one” he hints. I am convinced of that, however. Reading the comments on that article is instructive. Many of them are the equivalent of sticking one’s fingers in one’s ears and loudly repeating “I am not listening. nana nana nana.” If people who are literate and supposedly educated are brainwashed enough to not even entertain an argument supported by evidence, what hope is there for the vast majority who have no access to alternative viewpoints to ever recover from the effects of the constant barrage of images promoting Gandhi as the sole savior of India?

If I were an illiterate person, I would be convinced that Gandhi is goodness personified. After all, doesn’t Indian money carry his image? Isn’t he the father of the nation? And should I not vote for Gandhi’s children — Rajiv, Sonia, Rahul, whoever? And should I not vote for the party that Gandhi founded? And should I not believe everything from a person who says he is a Gandhian?

Anyway, I must admit that the Congress party of India has a winning formula and they know it. Gandhi is the biggest brand name in the world — forget Coca Cola and McDonalds. Mera Bharat Mahan!

On Unwashed Masses and Idol-worshipping

When confronted by a human being who impresses us as truly great, should we not be moved rather than chilled by the knowledge that he might have attained his greatness only through his frailties?
— Lou Andreas-Salome – Biographer of Freud

The notion that one’s weaknesses could be the fountainhead of one’s accomplishments is certainly intriguing and counter-intuitive. At least on one occasion I have seen that up close and personal. A certain friend of mine was driven to become an over-achiever because at a deeper level he suffered from an inferiority complex.
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Idol-worshipping gone haywire

This is a followup to the comments on my post on Gandhian Self-sufficiency.

It is more than a bit unfortunate that we have a tendency to immediately label any criticism of any person as a sign of disrespect. Any person whose image cannot withstand the harsh glare of honest criticism says something about the fragility of that image. The image takes on a aura of such holiness and awe that any hint of possible flaws is taken as sacrilegious. Taken to an extreme, this sort of idol-worshipping ends up with the worshippers lynching anyone daring to profane the sacred image.

For the record, I do believe that Gandhi was a giant of a man. But for all his greatness, he was still cut from the same cloth as you and I. The same human frailties, the same hopes and ambitions and fears. The difference between a Gandhi and one of us is one of size, not of substance. If we keep that in mind — not just about Gandhi but everyone — I do believe that we would have a useful working hypothesis. Those great big people are magnified images of ourselves. And that which magnifies the virtues, magnifies the flaws as well. An old Chinese saying says that the bigger the front-side, the larger the back-side. Continue reading

On Gandhian Self-sufficiency

I am somewhat familiar with the concepts of Satyagraha and non-violence that Gandhi preached and sometimes practiced. They are interesting tools and can be employed effectively in some circumstances. But, like all tools, they too can’t be employed in every case; they are not easy for mere mortals to employ even under favorable circumstances. In fact, they have severe limitations in that they are not general purpose tools but are rather special purpose tools. The interesting thing is irrespective of whether they work or not, the user gets to occupy the moral high ground.

Occupying moral high ground is well and good if that is one’s objective. But one could be very dead at the end of the day — on high ground but still dead.

Those tools elevate the user in the user’s estimation at least. But the sad fact of this world is that it does not work in those cases where you most desperately want it to work. One needs an effective tool against mass murderers more urgently than against robbers. The former could not care less whether you have an elevated opinion of your own moral standing. Hitler, for instance, would have slaughtered without compunction those who responded to his aggression with non-violence; it would have eased the realization of his megalomanical dreams of world domination. Continue reading