Monday, February 27, 2006

How much is "enough"?

Having listened to me on PBS, a listener wrote:

"I am an Educator, of Young Adults and of Parents, helping families to teach a responsible relationship with money. I was grateful to listen to your ideas on the Feb 26 broadcast in the series "Speaking of Faith"; you speak with clarity and insight. Where can I learn more, particularly expanding on your mention of 'Enough'?"

My reply:

"Enough" is as difficult to measure or define as is "poverty".

Here are some preliminary thoughts:

The concept of "enough" is essentially related to CONTENTMENT and PHILANTHROPY - and those are driven by a load of spiritual, cultural, economic and physical factors.

Let's start with the economic/physical ones as these are the easiest to relate to:

1. "Enough" for a poor person is obviously different from what might be "enough" for a rich person (whatever may be the definition of "poor" and "rich" in any particular society)

2. "Enough" is obviously dependent to a certain extent on whether one has dependents (parents, spouse, kids...)

3. "Enough" is obviously related to a certain extent on one's state of health

4. "Enough" is obviously tied to one's metabolic rate (people who are highly active, mentally and/or physically, need more calories!)

5. "Enough" is obviously dependent to a certain extent on one's physical characteristics (a tall, heavily-built person usually needs more food compared to a short and slightly-built person, allowing for the metabolic rate, hormonal imbalances, and so on)

6. "Enough" for poor person "A" may be different from "enough" for poor person "B", depending on whether and what sort of roof/ clothes/ job s/he already has

7. "Enough" for rich person "X" may be different from "enough" for rich person "Y", depending on their social and professional and business responsibilities – e.g. some people are required by their job or social roles to have a bigger house then they would really wish to have, as the wining and dining of guests may be part of their job. Other people may like to have a larger home because they enjoy offering hospitality to friends, relatives and strangers.

8. All the research shows that, for most people (whether rich or poor), "enough" is about 10% more than they have currently!

Spiritual/cultural factors clearly influence one's concept of enough:

A. Most pre-modern cultures (i.e. pre-Reformation ones) emphasised being comfortable with the socio-political status quo, so the perception of what was "enough" was naturally influenced by the level of prosperity of any particular society (in addition to considerations 1-7 above)

B. Reformed or "Modern" cultures (starting with the European and American, but then spreading through globalisation to many other parts of the world), both democratised individual ambition and made rapid progress possible, and insisted that, because wealth is a gift from God, it has to be used responsibly as humans have to give account to God someday of how they have spent their life and resources. As modernity spread through other parts of the world, it planted some seeds of discontent with the status quo there, by enabling people to see that it is possible to have a higher level of income and quality of life, if one adopts specific values/ attitudes/ practices. However, modernity added, to the cultural norms that existed in these areas (regarding care for family and the immediate community, some seeds regarding "responsibility" so that, as the older cultural norms faded, in most cases, these were replaced at least to a certain extent by the Protestant concept of "responsibility". The difference between the Protestant view of "responsibility" and the pre-Protestant view is basically that the pre-Protestant focused on care for family and immediate community. The Protestant version looked well beyond it, so that at least 10% of one's income has to be given away to people who should not normally expect any help from you – this derives of course from Jesus' teaching in answer to the famous question "And who is my neighbour?".

C. Post-modern cultures may be considered to have started around the 1980s with the re-emergence of the notion of the lack of objective truth. Post-modern culture is at present confined to the intellectual elite levels (e.g. university professors, post-grads, and artists) but is rapidly spreading into the rest of the population. Post-modern attitudes split into two:
(a) "if you have it, flaunt it", and
(b) "I only have it because of luck, and I should be responsible in my use of wealth" (though people who hold the latter have, in light of their own worldview, no one to be responsible to, and no particular reason to be "responsible", beyond parental/cultural conditioning; they therefore have very little to say, objectively, to anyone who takes view (a) – because people who take view (a) presumably take it because of THEIR parental/cultural conditioning).

Implications for today:

Whatever the history and the reasons, people in developed countries (such as the USA) who wish to take seriously the concept of "enough" today, may wish to ask themselves the following questions:

i. Can I be considered to have internalised the concept of "enough" if I don't give away at least 10% of my income? (NOTE: in the past, really rich people have given away up to 99% of their income – e.g. the Barclay, Rowntree and Cadbury families in the UK, and families such as Colgate and Palmolive in the USA..... There is one such person who I know personally – though only a little! ).

ii. Are the goods in my house, the size of my house, the quality of my house, the location of my house, the holidays that I take, the car that I drive (you can extend the list for yourself) at the same level as they are for those who are earning what I am earning? How can I live on less than I do live on, so that I can give away more than I do? (of course, in some matters you may want to have MORE than the average for your income-level because you want to share them with others – but beware! the human heart is highly deceptive and many people use this argument to have, say, a large house, but rarely do the sharing!)

So here's my summary: If you have three square meals a day, two pairs of clothes and some sort of roof over your head, what is "enough" is a matter of what is going on in your head and your heart.

Perhaps this will become clearer if you will allow me to conclude by telling you a short story. There was a time when we were relatively poor and living in a rather small house. A relative came to visit and, at the end of his visit that evening, I expressed my ambivalence about the visit as it had been lovely to see him but the visit had been rather short. My child innocently asked me "But, Taji (that's what the children call me), if he had wanted to stay, where would we have put him up?". My answer was the simple and traditional answer: "Dearest one, if there is space in your heart there will always be enough space in your home, however small the house may be. But if you don't have space in your heart, then there will never be enough space in your home, however large the house may be".

BTW, if you don't know the Tolstoy story, "How much land does a man need?", it is a riveting exploration of exactly the same subject, and far easier to use in teaching!

Warm regards, prayers and blessings for your important work


, , , , , , , ,
, , , , , , , , , , , Sphere: Related Content

Monday, February 20, 2006

Disruptive Innovations and Technologies

There is a fascinating discussion taking place on a particular list, which prompts the following thoughts:

Every new technology is disruptive, though some new technologies are more disruptive than others

The degree to which any particular technology is disruptive depends not only on its inherent disruptiveness (technologically and socially) but also on the degree to which it is allowed to develop its own momentum in the marketplace

Today, the technologies that are being released into society are more and more disruptive – e.g. in nano, bio, info, and robotics.

The world is divided between those who are blithely ignorant about the potential impact of these technologies, and those who are aware of it.

Those who are aware are divided between unfettered market-believers who think that all new technologies are eventually beneficial even if temporarily disruptive, and market-skeptics who think that technology-induced disruptions are not always beneficial, or might need to have their disruptiveness moderated for a while in order to have a better balance of disadvantage and benefit.

Market-skeptics are further divided between those who are principally concerned for the welfare of society as a whole, and those who are simply trying to protect vested interests – though it may be difficult to distinguish between these two groups.

For a variety of reasons, market-believers tend to focus on the upside and underplay the downside; conversely, also for a variety of reasons, market-skeptics tend to focus on the down-side and underplay the upside.

Generally, the principal and undisputed beneficiaries from the introduction of any technology tend to be the owners of that technology, though some benefit (nowadays less and less) goes to employees, suppliers and customers.

Society benefits in terms of increased "wealth-creation" but suffers in terms of the disruptive effect of the new technology. Till recently, the social benefit was large: technology tended to enlarge the middle class, principally because of new employment opportunities. But, nowadays, technology (combined with financial and other economic and political factors) is doing the opposite: technological advances are reducing the size of the middle class in Europe, America and other developed countries.

The result (well documented by any number of economists in any number of developed countries) is that the decreasing middle class is tending to splinter into a smaller fraction becoming richer and a larger fraction becoming poorer. This trend towards the decline of the middle class is offset by two developments:
(a) an increase in the size of the middle-class in "currently successful" countries such as China and India; and,
(b) greater mobility across classes, upwards as barriers to entry are lowered and new opportunities are presented by technological disruption in society, and downwards, because investment is not without its risks and hardly anyone understands the financial world as it is now (even the Fed has admitted that it does not understand all that is going on in the US, let alone the global, economy).

However, due to continued technological advances, the size of the middle classes in "currently successful" countries such as China and India is also going to decline (even without taking demographic factors into account).

Increasing social instability is therefore evident both in the developing and in the developed worlds.

It is easy to see why technologists and entrepreneurs are market-believers, and call for faster introduction of innovative (and disruptive) technology.

It is also clear why those who are not technologists, and those who are entrepreneurial and innovative in other areas than technology, wish to question whether further disruption of society is necessarily a good thing right now, or whether the introduction of socially-disruptive technologies might not usefully be slowed: if there is such a thing as a metabolic rate in society, is it possible that the metabolic rate was possibly too slow for the period preceding say the nineteenth century, but is becoming too fast in the twenty-first century?

When I raise points such as the above, market-believers tend to say "Nothing can stop the onward march of technology!".

However, they forget that money is what enables technological innovation to take place. Starve certain kinds of science/technology of money and that sort of science/tech tends to slow down. Improve the input of money into a particular area of science/technology, and the development of that kind of science/technology tends to speed up.

The question therefore is WHAT KIND OF TECHNOLOGICAL INNOVATIONS DOES GLOBAL SOCIETY MOST NEED AT PRESENT? Certainly we most need technologies that reduce our consumption of fossil fuels such as oil and gas, technologies that enable the environment to be healthier, technologies that improve family life, technologies that enhance the quality of life of the poorest and most disadvantaged. Regrettably, in spite of the self-serving publicity given to financing of technologies for these purposes, the proportion of money spent on these is actually declining. Compare, for example the amount of money spent on research into drugs for the diseases of the rich versus the amount of money spent on diseases for the poor.

ENDS Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Understanding "Islamic rage"

My last blog ended by challenging the Muslim world to make up its mind regarding whether it belongs in the modern world or whether it wants to continue to belong to the pre-modern parts of the world.

On reflection, however, I am now convinced that the reaction to the Danish cartoons is being framed the wrong way around the world.

The matter has little to do with the issue of freedom of speech or the freedom of the Press, whether in the West, or internationally. The rules for that are more or less well settled in each Western country, as well as in the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights– even if those documents are not followed in many countries who are members of the UN, such as China and most so-called Islamic countries.

As we should all know by now, unlike Judaism and Christianity, the Koran does NOT forbid representations of the Prophet (PBUH), though some schools of thought among Muslims do so. There are images of the Prophet (PBUH) in a pulpit in Medina itself, in the Topkapi in Istanbul, and in museums in Bokhara, Samarkand and Isfahan itself. Most European museums have miniatures and book illuminations depicting Muhammad, at times wearing his Meccan burqa (cover) or his Medinan niqab (mask). There have even been statues of Muhammad, and several Iranian and Arab contemporary sculptors have produced busts of the prophet. One statue of Muhammad can be seen at the the U.S. Supreme Court, where the prophet is honoured as one of the great "lawgivers" of mankind. The Janissaries -- the elite of the Ottoman army – used to carry into battle a medallion stamped with the Prophet's head (sabz qaba). As for images of other Muslim prophets, they run into millions. Two years ago, the Islamic Republic of Iran honoured the painter Kamal-al-Mulk, who is famous for having painted a portrait of the Prophet (PBUH)showing him holding the Koran in one hand while the index finger of the other hand points to the Oneness of God. The rulers of Islam probably did this only because Kamal-ul-Mulk had been exiled by King Reza Shah in 1940!
Therefore, logically, the Muslims who claim to be so upset about the Danish cartoons should not burn the Danish flag, but the Iranian one!

In any case, the matter has little to do with asking people around the world to be "sensitive" to the religious concerns of their Muslim neighbours – or, for that matter, other religious neighbours: some people are sensitive, and so much the better for them; some are insensitive and so much the worse for them.

The matter has to do primarily with the need for Muslim fundamentalists to "mobilise and motivate" the Muslim masses in relation to their cause. And if they don't find Danish cartoonists and newspapermen to use for this purpose, it is clear that they will find something else to do so.

Witness the fact that "in retaliation" for the Danish ones, some Muslim leaders have come up with use of anti-Jewish cartoons - not anti-Christian cartoons or anti-modern cartoons or anti-liberal cartoons! As if Jyllens-Post, the Danish newspaper which published the cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH), or its editor or the people or government of Denmark had anything particular or special to do with Zionism! In any case, Zionism (as Muslims understand it today) was a bogey inherited from Hitler's fascists and their campaign to take over power in Germany and has little to do with the real issues facing a resolution of the problems in the Middle East today.

I don't deny that understanding the Danish cartoons as a "Zionist plot" is a remarkable bit of self-delusion on the part of individuals.

However, for the key instigators of the protests - the Muslim Brotherhood, Hizb al-Tahrir al-Islami (Islamic Liberation Party) and the Movement of the Exiles (Ghuraba) – it is merely cynical manipulation of any fact or incident or idea that might somehow be possibly twisted to suit their purposes.

The modern world should expect such tactics from such organisations.

What is worrying is when entire States get in on the act, such as Iran's cessation of trade relations with Denmark.

Why ever would any country want to do so, when it should be clear at least to the rulers of such countries that there is a completely different political and cultural context in the West, where political parties do not control the Press and Media either formally or informally?

Well the answer to that question is simple. The ruling elite in Iran too needs to use religious hysteria to continue to keep its people in thrall, at a time when the people are becoming restive, as they see through the religious masks used by their rulers to conceal their greed and corruption.

Increasing recognition of the true nature of their rulers is spreading in the Muslim world, along with a recognition of the material and civilisational benefits of the modern world, so the rulers need to find ways of distracting the populace with "threats" in order to "justify" putting in place ever more draconian measures to keep the population under their control.

If the leaders of the Muslim world really believed, for example, in the Palestinian cause, they would not have stopped funding the Palestinians simply because their then-leaderYasser Arafat supported Saddam Hussein's attack on Kuwait. The claim of Muslim leaders to genuinely support the Palistinian people would have been easier to accept if they had created ways of continuing to support the Palestinian people while trying to influence Yasser Arafat.

Instead, for years and years, the ONLY people around the world supporting the Palestinians financially were the European Union!!!

So it should be clear at least to the Palestinian people, who are their true friends and who are simply using their cause for their own nefarious purposes.

Similarly, it should be clear to Muslims who their true friends are in the current clashes and who are simply manufacturing and using "Islamic rage" for their own purposes.

ENDS Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

On the cafuffle regarding the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH)

It may be instructive to recollect the history of the relationship between blasphemy (lack of religious "correctness") and state power in the West, something that most Westerners forget, having been secularised for two or three generations.

Representations of God are forbidden in both the Jewish and Christian scriptures. However, the Christian West, from the time of the adoption of Christianity as the state religion by the Emperor Constantine in the 3rd/4th Century, started accepting representations of God and of Jesus, though various reformers tried to get the churches to go back to the original ban, with some success from the time of the Reformation (sixteenth century) onwards. One of the main differences between the Reformed (Protestant) churches and the Roman Catholic and Orthodox ones (with Anglican/Episcopal ones falling somewhere in the middle as they are not "properly Reformed" but only "half-Reformed") is that the Radically Reformed ones do not accept representations of God.

It is necessary to make a distinction between, on the one hand, the Magisterial Reformation of reformers such as Luther, which entered into collaboration with state power and do accept representations of God and, on the other hand, the Radical Reformation which does not accept representations of God, and moreover drew a sharp separation between religion and state e.g. in the USA.

Since the Catholics, Orthodox and Anglicans were integrally connected to state power, they were more interested in the concept of blasphemy, so that blasphemy laws were put in place more in such countries than in Protestant ones, which pioneered religious liberty, and were therefore more open to discussion of religion from all sorts of perspectives, including attitudes ranging from "merely negative" to that of scoffing and ridicule.

Not only were and are the Protestant areas of the world more economically successful, they were responsible for all the developments that broke the mould of the pre-modern world and created the modern world. These developments include, inter alia, universal literacy, freedom to debate and therefore free thought, the birth of modern science and technology, economic progress and political liberty. It is no exaggeration to say that, in terms of the history of ideas, what we call globalisation is simply Protestant culture without any necessary allegiance to Protestantism (with a still unresolved battle between individualistic greed and communal/global responsibility). That is why the attitude of the Protestantism (lack of interest in the concept of blasphemy) has come to mark the modern world more than the attitude of the Orthodox/ Catholics/Anglicans (and Muslims).

Gradually, the Protestant attitude has come to erode, in this as in other areas, the attitudes of the Orthodox/Catholic/Anglicans, so that such countries have gradually relaxed their blasphemy laws till these are now a dead letter (though the space previously occupied by them is now sought to be filled by laws such as the recent Racial Hatred Bill passed last week in the UK).

India is a special case, where the ruling powers have only rarely (e.g. under the Emperor Aurangzeb in the 17th century) attempted to use state power to enforce a particular religious line. That is, till recently, when the Hindu fascist parties, such as the BJP and its allies in the Vishwa Hindu Parishad) under the previous government of Mr Vajpayee tried to do so (and will no doubt do so again if they come back into power). A similar story could be told of Buddhist countries, where traditional tolerance has been replaced by militant Buddhism at the same time as the populations of the countries concerned have largely moved to modern tolerance or even indifference regarding such questions.

My own view is that one cannot have a progressive society, characterised by free markets in goods and services, without an equally free marketplace in religious ideas – because it is impossible to distinguish religious ideas from non-religious ones, or to distinguish ideologies from non-ideologies (the connection between "science" and state power has recently been documented by Philip Mirowski, _The Effortless Economy of Science?_ Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004. v + 463 pp. $25 (paperback), ISBN: 0-8223-3322-8). Capitalism itself is an ideology after all and its religion-like qualities have been documented in a spate of books.

So what bearing does all this have on the matter in hand? Briefly, that in a free world, people have the right to express their opinions, including the right to make cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, of Jesus the Lord, of the Buddha, or of any other leader, religious or secular. Equally, individuals and groups (whether Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu or owing allegiance to any other ideology/religion), have the right to be offended, to withdraw their custom/patronage and to express their outrage in any form – except violence.

Of course whenever one takes that view, one has to be aware that one is taking the view that was pioneered by the Radical Reformation and is what distinguishes the modern world from the Islamic world.

Islam has to decide whether it belongs in the modern world pioneered by Protestantism, or whether it will continue to belong to the mental world of the pre-Protestant (that is, pre-modern) parts of the world.

yours sincerely

Prabhu Guptara Sphere: Related Content