Democracy: The way ahead


Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

Rabindranath Tagore
Gitanjali, 1912

 

I sit comfortably ensconced, watching disparate events in News Top 20.

From Arab spring incidents to the Euro zone crisis. From dissent against health care reforms in the USto sit-in dharnas against nuclear power plants inIndia. From strident social activism against corruption by Anna Hazare and his citizen group to Wall Street protests.

The kaleidoscope and colour of humanity, its endeavours and its challenges are so very dynamic, it never ceases to fascinate. But could there be a common thread through all this? Are these seemingly unconnected events but symptoms of some deeper unified malaise?

As I set about making sense of it all, I am confronted with myriad aspects. Those that range from democratic yearnings of the disenfranchised. To anger against increasing disparity.  To democracy itself struggling to sustain itself in the face of a fast changing twenty first century world.

But is Democracy the ultimate panacea to deliver quickly on all things desired for the new aspirants in the Arab world? And as the  fiscal deficits start biting, would the much vaunted democratic freedom of the  developed world  in fact allow it to climb down to the economic and social levels of the developing world? Or would democracy be hijacked by activist groups to further fuel unrests and force Governments to hold onto status quo which they can ill afford? Are we not seeing this happening in the recent political developments inGreece,Italyand elsewhere? I reflect on all such and other questions.

Thoughts flit through my mind. Could our challenges be stemming from a democratic deficit? The issues are many. First and foremost, is Democracy in a position to cope with technology empowered individualism of this century? How do we sustain democracy when people lose contact with their elected representatives? What can make-up for Governments’ loss of control and decision making in the face of Globalisation? And how can Governments come to terms with the increasingly powerful role that media can play?

I am no political pundit but nonetheless would risk offering the following “helicopter view” recipe.

  • Get back to the roots of Governance and face to face      interactions with people. Be it through panchayat empowerment, community      hall meetings or tribal jirgas.      We need to recognize one size or shape does not fit all.

 

  • Foster values to re-connect people to Democracy and      the political process. And how does one do that? By giving equal standing      to Citizen groups for proposing policy options and shaping dialogue. We      need to create those spaces which would allow people to get fearlessly involved      and know that their thoughts are respected.

 

  • Shift our perspective of Media from its perceived      “Government challenge” role to that of a democracy enabler facilitating      information availability and public involvement in policy making.

 

  • Inculcate attitude in the Government to actively      listen to and acknowledge the individual. The challenge is huge but encouraging      online communities may be a way forward.

 

At this point in History, a millennium beyond the Magna Carta, can we provide the next scallop by accepting the paradigm that Democracy continues to be a work in process?  Until we are able to awaken ourselves in Tagore’s “heaven of freedom… where the mind is without fear and the head is held high”?

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

A World of Tweeple


Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

You may say that I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

 

                                                                                                                                          John Lennon, 1971

 

 

The other day I watched Barkha Dutt’s,“We the Tweeple” on NDTV. While the debate centered on the significant spread of positivity and assertiveness that twitter in particular and social media in general have created amongst common folk, one could still sense disquiet amongst a section of the participants. I was left wondering whether there remained concerns unsaid and unanswered.

It is often remarked that the anarchism the internet and its various appendages have come to signify, holds out the promise of societal empowerment for the first time in the history of mankind. The eighteenth century English philosopher William Godwin believed that the ‘Euthanasia of authority” would need to be achieved through individual reformation. As the tweeple inheriting today’s world, have we taken the onus of reforming ourselves and creating an existence on our own terms, bereft of any Governmental and organisational controls?

So can the social media revolution be viewed as a way forward? A concern that is often voiced is that it is fragmenting society and breaking down societal bonds. But as I ponder, I realise that such shifts in society and its perspectives have occurred many times in the past. Be it the massive changes in the socio-economic structure, culture and customs wrought when we moved from a predominantly agrarian to an industrialised society. Or the relatively lesser breakdown of our sense of neighbourhood and community which the Television brought about. So why this rising shrillness and uncertainty about the negative impact of Twitter, Facebook, SMSs etc?

As I ponder some more, I become aware of a more fundamental shift. A shift that is taking human society away from ethnic, religious and community groupings to connectivities at the individual level. We, the technologically empowered tweeple, are no longer willing to accept family and community pressures to “belong” to specified groups. We would rather prefer to tap into diverse networks that meet our emotional or social needs.

Which brings us to the disturbing aspect of this electronic invasion of social media into our lives viz. the blurring between our inner private space and our outside social footprint. This has major implications on our “thinking out of the box” creativity, our behaviour and even our inner values. As we continue to lose more and more of our inner selves, would we not be losing out on our individualism, our inner peace- which is the reason why we were attracted to be a tweeple and its empowerment in the first place? Therein lies the dilemma and its irony.

So what happens as we move forward a few decades or centuries down the curve?

Would we become a wired node to an omniscient society with the capacity to access information at will, anywhere, any time? In return our innermost thoughts and beliefs on display for all to see and examine? Would those frightening visions of The Matrix, of Morpheus welcoming Neo “to the real world” where all people are wired to a central intelligence, come true in this fashion?

Or would social media become the enabler for our heightened individualism as we use its networked capability to achieve John Lennon’s utopia of “joining in and making the world as one?

In Learning……………………..

Shakti Ghosal

Acknowledgement:

  • Living Networked in a Wired World- by Barry Wellman & Keith Hampton.

We need a second planet by 2030!


A Vedic Hymn to the Goddess Earth

                                                                                                                                                                             Atharva-Veda, XII,I

 Truth, greatness, universal order (rita), strength, consecration,creative fervour (tapas), spiritual exaltation (Brahman),the sacrifice, support the earth. May this earth, the mistress of that which was and shall be, prepare for us a broad domain!

 The earth that has heights, and slopes, and great plains, that supports the plants of manifold virtue, free from the pressure that comes from the midst of men, she shall spread out for us, and fit herself for us!

 The earth upon which the sea, and the rivers and the waters, upon which food and the tribes of men have arisen, upon which this breathing, moving life exists, shall afford us precedence ……….

                                                                               

The independent think tank,Global Footprint Network (GFN), insists that humanity is operating on an overdraft, having surpassed nature’s budget. According to its calculations,mankind would need a second planet to satisfy its hunger and dispose of the waste, as early as 2030.

I time travel back fifteen years to that weekend show of “Independence Day”, of that opening panorama of the low flying alien ship blotting the sun out, a technologically empowered species waiting to unleash, invade and take over our world and its resources. Are we also destined to venture out of our earth cradle on a similar mission?

As we welcome the seven billionth newborn into our midst this week, as our planet strains to host this level of humanity,many of us are left wondering whether doomsday predictions may yet come to haunt us. When Thomas Malthus forecast in the eighteenth century that our propensity to reproduce would outstrip our ability to sustain food and other resources,could it be that he was right after all and simply a few centuries ahead of the curve? While we might be able to stabilise the world population sometime in the  future, would the strain not become unbearable in the poverty stricken regions of Asia and Africa which face the fastest population growth?

Some of the red flags are already up. As Mathias Wackernagel of GFN says, “From food prices to the crippling effects of climate change, our economies are now confronting the reality of years of spending beyond our means”. Many may see this to be uncalled for scare-mongering and would repose faith in technology and Man’s creativity to provide the necessary scallop. Similar to the way Industrial and Green revolutions proved the Malthusian doomsayers wrong in the last two centuries.

But as I reflect on all of this,I wonder whether we are not missing the woods for the trees. Is this devouring of the planet’s bounty, from forests, fisheries, fresh water to minerals and oil,due to the population getting added?  Or is it more due to the ravenous greed of the existing one?

Is the “flattening of the world” as Thomas Friedman aptly puts it, bringing those additional billions of the developing world onto that level playing field? And what happens when these billions start aspiring for the materialism of the west, for that “great American dream”? Kamla Chowdhury, Professor, IIM Ahmedabad, in her Earth Charter theme provides an answer, “We live in a world which has an obsessive preoccupation with growth and unlimited confidence in new developments. We have pursued the philosophy of cancer which grows and expands on its host, eventually killing it. We are behaving like the cancer cell, killing earth by using it ruthlessly and unsustainably.”

So what is the way forward? To heal the earth, I believe we need to heal the individual. The post industrial era ushered in a societal belief of the supremacy of Science and Technology and these became the only approach to knowledge and power. In the process we have become rewired towards greed, aggrandizement and become spiritually contaminated.Methinks we need to regain the moral and ethical values to take a holistic view.

  • Perspective shift towards technologies and innovation with a human face.
  • Societal values and Economics that would cooperate with our world and its ecology rather than exploiting it.
  • Spiritual positivity and sustainability in our thinking and actions.

Can we empower ourselves to adopt a new paradigm for development based on the above values? That surely would be the biggest turning point in human history.

“The world has enough to fulfill all our needs but not our greed.”

Mahatma Gandhi

In Learning………………                                                                                                                                                  Shakti Ghosal

Acknowledgements:

  1. Global footprint Network : http://www.footprintnetwork.org/
  2. The World is flat A brief history of the  twenty-first century : Thomas L. Friedman
  3. The Earth Charter: Kamla Chowdhry.