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Next week, we will celebrate yet another independence day. Yet another independence day with fighter planes whirring, tanks roaring, military bands playing and prime minister speaking. We celebrate this independence day with many uncertain dark clouds.

Economy

The second economic survey tabled by Ministry of Finance paints a gloomy picture on the economy and almost neglecting any numbers on employment position in India.

War

After few decades, we are, to put it lightly, in a delicate situation with China. No one knows the end game. All it takes is one man’s anger in Delhi or Beijing or one soldier’s trigger finger to what could not be but called catastrophe.

Divisive forces

What we are witnessing is a propaganda machinery being run over India. Last year I wrote on various methods of propaganda and provided examples to reconcile those methods. It has only grown further.

Surveillance

What we are also seeing is a surveillance state in the making. To crudely translate an old Tamil adage, “In overdose, even the elixir becomes poison.” This touted elixir is Aadhaar. And this has crept up from birth to death, trying to enslave us without our consent.

We cannot much do about economy and war, except to work hard, pay taxes and morally support our valiant soldiers.

But on propaganda and Aadhaar, we, as individuals, as friends, as family, as colleagues, as strangers meeting on social media, we have immense responsibilities. Responsibility to know, responsibility to question, responsibility to agree or disagree, responsibility to keep guard, stay vigilant and thus responsibility to protect our liberty.

On forces dividing us:

One important aspect of liberty is freedom of thought and expression. This expression, invariably will consist of opinions of others which we may never agree. But how do we manage these opinions? There is a long line of tradition in India where very divergent and diverse opinions were accommodated and respected. A very stark case in point. Adi Shankara, in a debate, was challenged in the art of love, by a woman. He was a saint, a celibate, a Brahmachari. But this did happen in our own country. Don’t believe me? Take a look here.

How are differences of opinions handled these days with respect anything that the government does? We can distil it down to “you vs I” theme, or “us vs them” theme.

This ‘us vs them’ theme is identity based. It asks the question ‘are you with us or against us.’ This starts with knowingly false assumptions used to manipulate our innermost identity, here the innermost identity is being a Hindu. You can see the list of propaganda techniques in this post.

This ‘us vs them’ game is called as Hindutva, a political ideology which has to be differentiated from my morning Surya Namaskar, prayer before a meal, festivals, rituals and our temple visits. It can be argued by many that these are one and the same. Don’t trust me. Few sentences will help understand what it is.

“Thus, the seeds of today’s Hindu Jagriti, awakening, were created the very instance that an invader threatened the fabric of Hindu society which was religious tolerance. The vibrancy of Hindu society was noticeable at all times in that despite such barbarism from the Islamic hordes of central Asia and Turkey, Hindus never played with the same rules that Muslims did. The communist and Muslim intelligentsia, led by Nehruvian ideologists who are never short of distorted history, have been unable to show that any Hindu ruler ever matched the cruelty of even a ‘moderate’ Muslim ruler.

It is these characteristics of Hindu society and the Muslim psyche that remain today. Hindus never lost their tolerance and willingness to change. However, Muslims, led by the Islamic clergy and Islamic society’s innate unwillingness to change, did not notice the scars that Hindus felt from the Indian past. It is admirable that Hindus never took advantage of the debt Muslims owed Hindus for their tolerance and non-vengefulness.”

Do you want to know where this is quoted from? Contact me separately.

It cunningly links Mughals of centuries ago with Muslims of today. I am sure each of us have Muslim friends and if you really think that above paragraphs are correct, pick up the phone and read it aloud and say to him or her that you believe in this. Most of us wont. Because, we don’t believe that we must hold our fellow Muslim friends responsible for an act which was committed centuries ago. So here, we take the easy route of placing the crime on some unknown, that is, ‘them.’

Alternatively, how many of our parents worked in government institutions? Do we say that they are corrupt? No. But generalise that ‘government is corrupt.’ This is another example of ‘us vs them.’ We ignore our immediate surrounding and generalise the fault on unknown ‘them.’

This hate is poisonous. It has become so poisonous that we attribute meanings only after we know the speaker or author of a particular opinion. Even in this example, if I say that I have written it, I will be called a Congi, slave and what not. If I say that this was written by my fellow Muslim friend, well, there are stereotypes for him as well, readymade and ready to fire venom. Or if I say that these are the words of disgruntled supporter of current government, there are other stereotypes for them as well. Is this not right? Have we not seen such instances?

So what this ‘us vs them’ identity based on fake whatsapp messages, fake images, fake quotes, fake testimonials, fake inventions have done is, to either use our existing prejudice or try to create that prejudice in first place.

When Amir Khan felt growing intolerance, I opposed him. I still stand by it. We, as general citizens are extremely tolerant. But this ‘us vs them’ division can co-exist with tolerance and just divides us without us knowing it and we play an unsuspecting target in this con game.

This ‘us vs them’ also sees every issue through this prism. If you have ever disagreed on policies, you would have noticed. Thus, this ‘us vs them’ scheme reduces our freedom of expression, because, it makes the dissenter think twice before what she or he wants to speak. That is not the state of liberty which our independence was supposed to mean.

So this independence day, lets not give into this ‘us vs them’ manipulation of clever propagandists. Its in our hands. No one can come into our brain and take a decision or create that prejudice if we do not allow them to.

On Aadhaar:

This was created for a specific purpose. That purpose was to check the leaks which occur in government bureaucracy and target the rightful recipients. And it was supposed to be of choice. How righteous the cause!

In 2017, this righteous cause has become mandatory. To be a citizen of India, you have to have Aadhaar. Now the immediate question that I had in my mind is, what about the tribes in Nicobar Islands? Are we going to mandate Aadhaar? Or are they not Indians? Never mind. The learned counsels of government will come up with some spin.

This unique identity, which is now mandated, was questioned in the supreme court of India. Government went ahead and said citizens do not have rights over their bodies. If we don’t have right over our bodies, then who does? At this point, we have to be very clear.

THE GOVERNMENT IS FOR US. WE ARE NOT FOR GOVERNMENT.

Why would any government go to such an extent in defence of a scheme whose benefits have been disproved time and again? There is no other answer but the foundations of a surveillance state.

An innocent question posed to us is – “what have you got to hide?” The answer to this is – by liberty, I choose to reveal what I want to reveal. That is what freedom is. Don’t confuse this with income and crime which we have to disclose by duty. There is an interesting question before our supreme court now which asks “is privacy a fundamental right?” We don’t have an answer yet. But the government states that it is not.

An example of surveillance state goes back to World War II and its aftermath. The dreaded Nazi spies and post war Soviet spying on citizens in an era of less technology must deter us from going in that direction. But we are assured. Assured that no, its not. Assured that, this is in best hands with no motive. It says, “trust us.”

It is worth remembering John Stuart Mill on this day. He wrote ‘On Liberty,’ which is a must read for any person who wishes to understand what freedom means.

“…if by momentary discouragement, or temporary panic, or a fit of enthusiasm for an individual, they can be induced to lay their liberties at the feet even of a great man, or trust him with powers which enable him to subvert their institutions; in all these cases they are more or less unfit for liberty: and though it may be for their good to have had it even for a short time, they are unlikely long to enjoy it.”

Person that we must infer here is Aadhaar. We are allowing this to subvert all our institutions. We are allowing this to spread its tentacles to all walks of life. We are allowing to surrender our liberty to this master.

By now, most of us have Aadhaar and must have linked it t our bank accounts or PAN. If you haven’t, continue your resistance. If you have, lets us pray that this monster will be slayed by some government in the future, for we must demand it.

I will end by quoting Mill again, for even after many days I could not think of a better sentence to convey.

“There is a limit to the legitimate interference of collective opinion with individual independence: and to find that limit, and maintain it against encroachment, is as indispensable to a good condition of human affairs, as protection against political despotism.”

Happy Independence day!!

Originally published here.

1

In 1865, a child was born in Madras, India. Her parents named her Lucy Deane. As destiny would have it, in 1893, Kensington Vestry (UK) wanted to hire women Inspectors where, at that time all inspectors were men. Lucy Deane was hired and was a factory inspector. In 1898, she cautioned the authorities that asbestos was causing lung disease. The report collected dust. It took a century and in 1998, EU and France banned all forms of asbestos. (1)

As we stand today, Government of India has approved the use of GM Mustard for use in India. Like all throughout the world, there is a pro-GM and anti-GM groups in India. There have been spate of articles and influential voices who are supporting GM Mustard and its widespread use, without knowing the ramifications. Those who are against it are being labelled Luddites, risk averse, unscientific, elites and hypocrites. With government approving this, we know where the government stands.

Comparing the incomparable:

In a recent article in Indian Express(2), an author compares Viagra, Insulin and cell-phone towers and makes a point whether the elites sought zero risk proof for these products. First it pitches the GM crop as pro-poor and pro-farmer and insinuates all others as elites who swallow Viagra and go out to protest. Let me not rebut on this clever ploy of making this about one man versus the other.

The larger stupidity of this is the comparison of risks of Viagra against the risks arising out of a GM Crop. Though it is appealing to the common sense and immediately identifiable, its conceptually flawed from the first word. Viagra is a thin tailed risk and GM is a fat tailed risk. Thin tailed risks are common sense probabilistic and form the majority of Risk Management. The world as we see, revolves around with the use of such risk.

Insurance, the business which completely relies on risk had a seminal paper by Filip Lundberg in 1903 which formed the basis of what risk managers and many insurance actuaries know as Ruin Theory. Ruin is “the physical destruction or disintegration” which has no chance of recovery. There cannot be an un-ruin. Rebuilding is not bringing back the same structure which was there. By ruin, in this context, we mean the ruin of the complete system. This is not fear mongering and is grounded on sound logic and evidence.

The system here is the nature. This system is so complex that we cannot predict the weather pattern for the next month. The complexity of the system also makes the impact of GM crops unquantifiable. In 2005, UNESCO with its advisory body World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology (COMEST), released a paper called as “The Precautionary Principle.”(8) It states:

“The emergence of increasingly unpredictable, uncertain, and unquantifiable but possibly catastrophic risks such as those associated with Genetically Modified Organisms, climate change etc., has confronted societies with the need to develop a third, anticipatory model to protect humans and the environment against uncertain risks of human action: The Precautionary Principle (PP).”

What it states is essentially this: lets protect before something bad occurs and not get into the damage control where we may not have any chance. This paper also puts forth when we need to apply this principle. Just by quoting this, we cannot stop the human progress.

Conditions to satisfy are:

  1. Complexity of the system
  2. Unquantifiable scientific uncertainty

If we look at GM Crops, it is a tailor case to apply this principle.

One, interaction of GM Crops with nature cannot be ascertained because nature is highly complex system and it is non-localised. Two, the impact is unquantifiable. Applying the risk of ruin, which essentially states that the impact cost will be infinity, and any non-zero probability will make the overall risk as infinity.

This is not same as one crore road accidents nor losing Titanic nor losing MH370. These are localised risks. Or the aforementioned opinion item provocatively mentions – Viagra.

Anyone who states that GM is completely safe is fooling us and fooling themselves. A recent study has revealed unintended mutations were induced in mice by a genome editing technique. And we are not sure how that will affect GM Crops.(3)

Thus we can safely conclude, that this is a system which must be seen from the Precautionary Principle and Ruin Theory view.

For detailed study of these risks, please read the books The Black Swan and Antifragile by Nicholas Taleb.  Also, he, along with many has authored a paper on GMO based on Precautionary Principle.(7)

Anti GM is essentially anti-corporates:

This is another lie that is being spread against the principled, theory and research oriented stand against GM Crops. What this essentially states are that since the anti-GM group, doesn’t like profits, are somehow socialists or communists and hence hate corporate profits. The same author(2)chides us for being perfectly fine with the duopoly of only Boeing and Airbus for travel and iOS and Android for mobile. Be that as it may, let me not address the trap again but the logic why this is wrong.

Nature provides biodiversity. What we essentially see in GM crops are close to monoculture. The single minded approach to GM crops as espoused by the pro-GM side is productivity. More, for less. More, for less land. More, for less water. More, for less pesticide. More for less, insecticide. More, for less fertilizer. Even our love of our own mother has some negatives but nowhere will you find any negatives that the pro-GM lobby presents with us. This is logical.

Let me present you another evidentiary proof. Between, 1845 and 1852, more than 10 lakh people died of famine in Ireland, also known as Great Famine of Ireland or Potato Famine. The root cause of this is a blight had wiped out the entire crop in Ireland.  What is also said and repeated many times, which we tend to forget is that the entire population was dependent on just one or two varieties of potato.

Now, you can see that why one loss of MH370 is not as same as a crop failure.

Now, you can see why the risk is unquantifiable and the losses in this case is near infinity or what we call as ruin.

With our single minded aim to improve productivity, we are laying the foundation for the unknown. Again, this is not fear mongering to be ignored, this is rooted in risk theories and in history.

Recent studies have also shown that GM crops may not be as insect resistance as we might have thought.(4)(5) This states that there is an evolutionary resistance to the GM crop. Again, we do not understand the nature as much as we think we do. And as stated above, nature is complex.

Mankind has always tampered with crops:

This is another half-truth that is being peddled by the lobby. For example, we are shown a black rose which is not available in nature but has been modified by the influence of mankind.

In 1865, Gregor Mendel, gave a speech on his experiments on peapods. The translated title of that speech stands “Experiments in Plant Hybridisation.”(6) This is essentially wrong comparison, again. Methodologies, processes and techniques were human but the ‘law of selection’ was left to nature. But, in present GM crops, we tend to select on behalf of nature. And herein lies the greatest issue we have.

Mankind have played with crops and animals. All the dogs that we see are examples. The interracial kids that we see are examples. We, you and I are examples of this selection. But nowhere but in GM crops have we altered at this micro level, the DNA.

The march of technology is inevitable. The advancement of science is unstoppable. But what can be and must be done is to make these crops into more and more trials till we are near certain that there won’t be any systemic impact of ruin.

The Precautionary Principle also states that the burden of proof does lies with the entity which brings into the system the GM crops.

To borrow Sun Tzu, “it’s a matter of life and death. A road either to safety or to ruin. Hence it is a subject of inquiry, which can on no account be neglected.”

  1. http://www.wilpf.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Streatfeild-Lucy-Deane.pdf
  2. http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/gm-mustard-us-them-the-farmers-4683373/
  3. http://www.gmwatch.org/en/news/latest-news/17657-crispr-induced-mutations-what-do-they-mean-for-food-safety
  4. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/carey-gillam/new-research-shows-failin_b_14003604.html
  5. http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0169115
  6. https://archive.org/details/mendelsprinciple00bate – Page 317.
  7. http://www.fooledbyrandomness.com/pp2
  8. http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0013/001395/139578e.pdf

This post was originally published here.