Brief reflection on this NYT article

Some of the sharpest conflicts arise when dominant groups face demands for equality from those previously under them. Lynchings became a terror tactic during reconstruction, not slavery.

Gender inequality is the oldest form of inequality there is, and a great deal of violence throughout the world is triggered by male anxiety over their changing status and competition for women when there's an imbalance in the population.

One of the causes of China's recent assertiveness and soft colonization of parts of Africa is the surplus male population due to selective abortion. What better way to solve it than to ship some of them overseas and to ramp up the nationalist rhetoric back home.

Feminism taught us that the personal is political, but we now have to modify that to “the personal is geopolitical”

#Geopolitics #Gender

Every day we hear about how Republicans deny climate change and how their racism drives their immigration policies.

What if the two were one and the same? After all, since they are in power, they are privy to national security assessments of climate change related impacts – more so than the opposition – and shooting at caravans is a rational response for racists under such circumstances.

I find the division between climate deniers and science backed progressives useless at best and dangerous at worst.

A historical comparison shows why. A hundred years ago, as it became clear that industrial capitalism was here to stay and it was changing societies at breakneck speed, workers started organizing for their share of the new wealth.

At that time too, there were “deniers,” i.e., people who denied the rights of workers to organize and protest. In other words, unionize. The deniers weren't really denying the truth of the new system that had come into being; instead, their denial was really an assent of a vicious response to the needs of workers.

To be a denier in 1918 (give or take a few years) was to be a backer of fascism via Mussolini and Hitler. Why do we expect this time to be any different? Anyone who sees the world clearly recognizes that massive changes are afoot. The only question is how to react to these changes.

The election of Bolsonaro & Trump, the ubiquity of surveillance, the demonization of immigration and minorities and so on are better read as the conservative response to climate change – and world change more broadly – than as a return to some medieval or tribal values.

They are reading history as well or better than progressives are; it's just that they're choosing to respond differently.


The latest IPCC report confirms what many of us have believed for awhile: Even 1.5° warming will be hard on India and anything higher will be catastrophic. I just don’t see how we are going to stop that from happening. The west is developing systems that will help it respond to the climate crisis – and in my opinion, much of it will be shirking its responsibility for the crisis and militarizing climate response so that they can keep people who are trying to escape calamities out of their borders.

There isn’t much I can do about that right now, so I am going to be silent on that issue. However, where I believe we can do something is in imagining, implementing and scaling an Indian response to this emergency. We are ramping up a consumption driven fossil fuel economy just when it’s unsustainable and unjust everywhere and simply suicidal for us.

Historically, we are a forest and farm civilization, with reverence towards the non-human world and kindness towards all its creatures. That's one of our great achievements. Yet, here we are ripping open the earth for what, ten more packets of kurkure? This madness has brought us within a stroke of midnight with Pralaya around the corner.

If that's not a wake up call, I don't know what is.

#ClimateChange #India

I bet Anil Ambani didn't get the Rafale deal because he submitted his tender in triplicate. Nevertheless, while the Rafale story is – inevitably – about corruption, I want to point out an even more dangerous trend towards monumental development.

Consider the high speed rail (HSR) deal. We have known for a while that the current prime minister has had a long and fruitful relationship with Japan. One might even go so far as saying that the deal was handed over to Japan because they wanted to prevent corruption in the wake of this deal.

As a result, Indian railway train drivers will be trained in Japanese and will have to learn Japanese as a prerequisite for being a driver on these HSR lines.

That's not the only problem. The line will be built in standard guage (because that's how the Japanese run their Shinkansen lines), which means that these HSR trains are incompatible with the existing broad guage system.

Which means that new and expensive infrastructure such as platforms and junctions will have to built for multiple gauges and therefore fewer of those will be built. Which, in turn, will make it hard to make HSR stations hubs for people who might want to travel from their smaller town to a bigger city with an HSR compatible station.

Then there's the final and most important question of cost: this HSR line is being built at about \$30,000,000 (thirty million!) per kilometre – \$15 billion for a 508 km line from Ahmedabad to Mumbai. Meanwhile, Indian railways builds its new electrified lines at \$123,000 per km, i.e., about 240 times cheape

In other words, instead of making in India for X we are taking a loan to make in Japan at 240X. Why?

I don't think it's corruption. It's because our idea of development is about monumental dreams, of creating Singapores and Shanghais and Spaceships. A future which has to privatised because public sector enterprises like the Railways (or HAL in the case of Rafale) can't be trusted with this new ambition.

Even that would be understandable if it was a future facing dream. Instead it's a dream from the New York world fair of 1964 being passed off as 21st century Mera Bharat Mahaan. Back to the Future indeed.

#India #Development

Most people I know have a whatsapp story to tell of that deranged uncle or classmate who simultaneously believes that Hinduism is the religion of peace and nonviolence and that Muslims and other interlopers have to dealt with severely, i.e., anywhere between abjection and annihilation.

It seems we are soft laddoos who need to become hard laddoos ASAP, but good news is at hand; if press reports are to be believed we are recovering our wilted hardon after thousands of years of softness. Jai ho. Of course, that hardness comes with 56 inch chests, virulent patriarchy and unconcern for anyone whose lot in life is worse than yours.

Let's say 10% of the population (an underestimate) has swallowed this viagra of history. Surely the richest 1% is overrepresented in the list of viagra poppers. They own all the tv stations and run all the corporations, so their class interests and their psychological biases reinforce each other.

The only things they don't own yet is the state and civil society – I mean they own most of it, but there are still some institutions that continue to protect the subsistence farmer and the migrant labourer.

Which is why the subversion of democracy is of paramount importance. Which is why you need to create a surveillance state and invent new categories of treason. Note how both of these are advanced in the name of development.

The easy answer is to label these developments as fascism. I don't think so – what we are seeing is an entirely new phenomenon of concentrated control in the age of rapid flows of capital and information.

It needs a new name. Meanwhile, Hail Viagra!

#India #Development

I can imagine an alternate universe where Indians are like Swedes, stopping at red lights even when there's no one else at the traffic light, keeping passwords to oneself like a bag of Frito-Lays instead of sharing them with family and friends.

Unfortunately, we get paid a measly Rs 30 a pop to keep that password secret. Fortunately, 30*N is bigger than any number that god might imagine, so we have been busy sharing that password with anyone who's willing to sit in front of a computer while another person scans their vitals in front of you.

Plus, why blame the poor kirana aadhar operator when the masters of aadhar universe think designing a hyper-secure system for a billion plus people is like selling Y2K patches to cost-cutting Amriki companies.

Aadhar security problems

The good news is that it's a win-win for the masters of the masters of aadhar. Either:

  1. The commotion will subside and they will keep collecting more compromised data (in any case, it's a system built to spy on our restive populace than to keep fake outsiders out). Even better, no one will care.
  2. Or people start getting upset, in which case the babus and netas can clamour for even more intrusive biometrics – gee, your iris scan and fingerprints are easy to fake, so we are gonna start collecting everyone's DNA from now on.

In fact, let me propose Aadhar 2.0, Geneaadhar, where we will collect and store the DNA of every Indian resident and the only way you can get water at the local dhaba is by having your thumb pricked and the blood tested for authenticity.

What a great boost that will be to the Indian biotech industry. Plus, it will help us identify all those suspect people whose blood comes from somewhere else in the world.

What an idea sirji.

#India #Surveillance

Here's why I am deeply skeptical of the moral compass of the climate movement.

First order of business: ban the use of the phrases “saving the planet/good for the planet.”

Consider how the latter is used in this article (all quotes below are from the article):

“Years ago, we observed that people didn’t just want food that’s good for them, they also wanted food that’s good for the planet.”

This by a man who runs a dairy monster – 37000 cows housed in one massive five star hotel – just kidding, 37000 cows housed in god knows what circumstances though I fear the worst since their website has everything else besides the conditions of the cows themselves.

So one might ask: what does the term “good for the planet” mean when it comes with torture and slaughter. We will let that question warm some of the gas that's coming out of some human behinds.

Then comes this major vote of thanks:

“We owe much of it to our 37,000 cows. Three times a day, we collect their manure and deliver it to sealed chambers called anaerobic digesters. They effectively serve as a cow’s fifth stomach, where bacteria continue to digest the organic matter left in the cows’ waste and turn it into methane. The gas is captured and used to power the farm and fuel the trucks that take our milk to market.”

Yeah, but what happens to the cows? They have cleverly recognized that the climate first crowd cares about reducing methane emissions from cattle but don't care much about how. Here's how:

“Through gene mapping, editing and breeding, we can further improve the efficiency with which cows turn feed into milk with fewer emissions. Automation and robotics are generating billions of pieces of data that enable us to improve diets and care based on each cow’s consumption, weight, and other indicators of health and growth. Armed with these innovations, producers can increase yields and resource efficiency, build healthier and more resilient soil, shrink our carbon footprint, and measure and verify that these improvements are happening.”


“we produced a billion gallons of milk with 21 percent of the animals, 23 percent of the feed, 35 percent of the water, and only 10 percent of the land, while generating only 24 percent of the manure and 37 percent of the carbon emissions. We achieved these efficiencies before we were even measuring them. Imagine what we can do with measurable targets, financial incentives, and technological innovations.”

The headline says “cows are leading the way.” Do they have any choice in the matter? What kind of leading involves increasing the control over your body? We are just solving a problem of (rich) human making by increasing the suffering of animals you already treat as machines.

That's just intensifying the anthropocene not resisting it.

#ClimateChange #AnimalRights

End Live Exports

By Shpernik088 CC BY-SA 4.0, from Wikimedia Commons

Yes, I know human rights are under threat all over the world and we need to do whatever we can to end exploitation, racism, casteism, communalism etc etc.

Nevertheless nothing else comes even remotely close to what we do to our fellow creatures day in and day out, 24/7 365 days every year, year after year.


Consider live export. It happens across state and national borders everywhere in the world.

Imagine being crowded into a truck with fifty of your peers and driven for days on end as you puke and shit on each other. Then left to broil in the humid heat that's the new normal in the climate changed summer. Or the freezing cold of liberal Canada if you prefer your hell frozen over.

If someone tries to rescue or free these victims, they will be arrested on the spot in places where the police oversee this terror or assaulted by one of your own where it's a private matter. Forget rescue, you can get arrested for offering water to one of them.

This is what we are. And as long as this is what we are, the world would be better without us.


Bullshit is Bullshit Source: Doug Becker on Flickr

It's always gratifying when one of your terms becomes a meme. It's much easier to become a meme coiner if you're smart, carry an air of radical chic while enjoying a tenured position in a well known imperial institution. Like David Graeber. I remember reading his article on Bullshit Jobs and not being convinced by its overall argument even as I agreed with the individual examples.

That article has become a book now, but importantly, it's become a meme. Here's a person turning that vague argument about bullshit jobs into another vague argument about bullshit websites. Yes, websites are bloated just as our economies are bloated. Let me also add that for the first time in human history, there are more obese people than there are underweight people. So our bodies are bloated too. And don't forget: our air is bloated with carbon, in fact, more of it than any time in recorded history.

There's bullshit in the air, bullshit in our food and bullshit on our desks. What are we going to do? Who's to blame?

Behind all of these bloated tragedies is another vague claim: that capitalism is the root of all these evils. I am usually the first person in the room to point the finger at our our greed for profit, but such vague claims have no explanatory value and worse, they do not help us change the world in a better direction.

Consider the idea of a bullshit job: management consultants, brand strategists, deans for academic planning etc etc, i.e., paper pushers the world over. They don't make shoes but tell other people which shoes to wear. It's a romantic position that unifies the left and the right, that there are honest toilers at the bottom, greedy capitalists at the top and the middle of the sandwich is occupied by legions of bureaucrats who create work where there's none so that the masses are kept occupied instead of occupying Zuccotti park or whatever.

Honestly, all of these accusations are true, but they're besides the point. Let's take the jobs for example: what's the opposite of a bullshit job? Graeber gives us a clue: “Over the course of the last century, the number of workers employed as domestic servants, in industry, and in the farm sector has collapsed dramatically. At the same time, ‘professional, managerial, clerical, sales, and service workers’ tripled, growing ‘from one-quarter to three-quarters of total employment.’”

If you're an oil rig worker extracting black gold out of the earth, you're a full-on productive genius. So is the slaughterhouse throat-slitter, the gun assembler, and the tree logger. In fact, every extractive industry in the world is a good thing cuz it's not a bullshit job.

Here's my problem with this argument: the non-bullshit job (should we call it the bullsteak job?) is arguably worse for us than its paper pushing counterpart. Do we need a new shoe line every year? Or a new model of whatever car you're going to trade in this year? A great deal of production is as unnecessary as the unproductive administrator who oversees the assembly line. Actually, it's worse, for the bullshitter only produces bullshit, i.e., documents – while the productive worker produces cars and plastic bags and cute little dolls handed out to kids after birthday parties only to end up in a landfill.

The problem isn't one of bullshit jobs. It's all jobs. The machine needs jobs (until yours is automated away) and the very nature of a job is to expand until it occupies the time available for its completion. That's Parkinson's law. There's no returning to an industrial utopia.

Preschooling Society Sharon McCutcheon

Everyone says we live in a knowledge society. What they really mean is we live in a knowledge economy, where knowledge is a source of profit.

You can see the workings of the knowledge economy in the ubiquity of two terms: innovation and intellectual property.

What does it even mean when someone says XX is the most innovative company in YY industry? Do they stack the brains of the employees and see which one is highest? How can knowledge even qualify as property? Isn't that term restricted to resources like land or water or basmati rice that can be used by only one person or group at a time and often never again?

Preschooling Knowledge Societies Tobias Fischer

Fair enough, but you're naive to the ways of capital if you succumb to these doubts. The magic of capitalism is in changing the ways of the world first and then giving it a name. Property expands to include algorithms and experiences while lexicographers and lawmakers struggle to catch up. That's why companies and countries protect their IP ferociously, for everything from war to surveillance to profit depends on restricting access to their epistemic possessions.

The robots are coming

The Robots are Coming Daniel Cheung

Like it or not, this new era of knowledge is here to stay; our current worries about robots taking our jobs is only the tip of the knowledge iceberg. Of course we should worry about robots taking our jobs, just as the weavers of Dhaka worried about the mills in Manchester taking their jobs with good reason and the state will support the usurpers this time around too.

However, in the long run, the impact of manufacturing based capitalism was much bigger than the pre-industrial economies it disrupted – it's impact includes everything from the colonization of Asia and Africa to the communist revolutions to the great depression, the rise of fascism and the two world wars all the way to climate change and the potential end of human life on earth as we know it.

Not that I know what knowledge based capital will do, but if it's impact is even 10% of manufacturing based capital we need to pay close attention to it.

But how?


Preschool Everyone Mike Fox

I am not advocating a utopia, not yet anyway; adults need to contribute to society but what do we do when all our current contributions are commodities? Of course we need a new politics for this new era, but I have a counterintuitive suggestion: set aside mass protests, labor regulations and progressive political parties for a moment and pay attention to kindergarten.

Why kindergarten?

Because it's not school. School is where we are disciplined into responsible citizens, people who know how to read and write and solve equations and set one widget on top of another until it's ready to roll down the line to the next widget stacker.

Everything a responsible citizen can do, a robot can do better. If not now, five years from now.

Kindergarten (assuming you went to a decent one – not guaranteed by any stretch of the imagination) is the last time that we weren't “schooled,” when learning and play merge into an experience that teaches you without teaching you. After that it's a lifetime of monitoring, tests and judgment.

If we extend school and college to a lifetime of getting degrees and certificates, we are only going to extend the surveillance society to every corner of our lives. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if educational metrics became the liberal way of discipling society.

Surveillance fascism is easy to understand: every move you make I am watching you but surveillance liberalism is about self-disciplining: notice how some of the most privileged kids in the world in liberal enclaves accumulate social work opportunities, internships and SAT scores as if their life depended on it – and it does!

It's easy to imagine a future in which continuous scoring is the norm – why wouldn't it be? After all, if you are going to be a knowledge laborer when you're 60, why would I believe a certificate you received when you were 22?

The brave new world of EdX and Coursera and other venues for lifelong learning is a market driven response to a knowledge economy; it works well enough for someone like me but it also prepares the ground for lifelong disciplining.

What's the alternative?

As I said: preschool everyone. Give people a space to play without judgment, where exploration is more important than achievement.


Enter your email to subscribe to updates.