Thursday, 23 June 2011

Left or Right? Which way ahead?

A friend said, "Right is always Right and Left is what is leftover." Again, the chants of  "El Peublo Unido Jamas Sara Vencido" rattle through my memories. Two different universes. Two mutually exclusive and exhaustive worlds(to borrow from the language of set theory).And it is also not as if it is a binary choice whereby one could choose between the two. The spectrum of political ideologies is a vast and varied one. There are those who are to the left or to the right of the centre. And there are also the extremists of far right and far left.

As a student who was closely influenced by both ideologies, I often wondered why one has to necessarily make a choice? Why is it important to identify oneself with an established stream of thought? And why is it important to subscribe to a monolithic ideology? Academic traditions demand that we borrow liberally from the ideologies and synthesize the same. It is not necessary for the emergence of  a 'synthesis', that there be an 'antithesis' to every 'thesis' and this 'thesis' essentially be replaced to make way for a 'synthesis'.

Economic ideologies do not operate in a political and social vacuum. While pure sciences like chemistry, physics etc yield predictable results for a function of given set of variables, the social science are evolutionary by their very nature. Unlike pure sciences where the variables can be predicted by their physical and chemical properties, in social sciences the variables are the human beings themselves. There is nothing in the genesis of the world to ensure that two human beings (even twins) would respond to a given situation in the same manner. Statisticians have invented 'the law of large numbers' to estimate the average response with a certain degree of accuracy (probability) but then why do the poll results repeatedly throw up surprises which could not be gauged by the exit-polls. And even further, how come different channels show different predictions based on exit polls based on a sample of the same electorate?

The socialists believe that the community ownership and a stateless society are the ultimate paradigms of society's evolution and something we must continuously strive for. The experiments in Israel and erstwhile USSR though did  not yield very encouraging results. As I have explained above, humans differ by their very genetic make-up. A system based on collective rewards and punishments would thus, inevitable kill any incentive to work harder, to improve, to innovate and any feeling of entrepreneurship. At the same time, such a system would promote inefficiencies and it partially explains the typical government servant's lackadaisical attitude towards work.

Yet the very fact that the society as a whole could come together in the pursuit of  a larger goal and could take responsibility for the common assets is a very noble one. It is this very mantra which forms the basis of RWAs (resident welfare associations), management of village commons, decentralization of power to the local bodies and the more ritzy 'PPP' (public private partnership). Similarly, the leftist concern for the poor and their belief in the dignity of labour can not be rubbished by sheer indifference that characterizes our society today.

Marx, however, on the other hand believed that the capitalist system of production is beset by inherent contradictions and would not be sustainable in the 'longer' run. The chief contradiction amongst these being the alienation of the workers from the surplus(profit) produced by them. And once the resentment which stems from this sense of alienation reaches epic proportions, the capitalist means of production would be overthrown by means of a revolution and replaced by an egalitarian socialist society. History however does not corroborate the same. While there  have been 'velvet' revolutions and coups around the world and we still continue to witness the same, capitalism as a system of production has managed to entrench itself well since its humble beginnings in the Medieval Ages. The reason, in the words of Schumpeter, are the "Creative gales of Destruction" which wreck havoc for the capitalist economy. But each gale of destruction leaves the economy more resilient and better equipped to face the impending crises. At the same time it doesn't at all imply that capitalism as a mode of production is the best and is just on the verge of attaining perfection.

The silent revolutions in the rural hinterlands over land acquisition and alienation of tribal from their ancestral forests are but tiny impotent gales of destruction which are portents of the impending doom. While the capitalist India moves ahead to take on the challenges of development and considers these silent revolutions an inevitable trade-off, the voiceless, un-unionised and unacknowledged denizens of the lesser Bharat find it difficult to partake the fruits of 'inclusive growth'. Writers, critics and candle-light vigils try to keep the flame of revolution burning but one wonders again if anyone speaks the whole truth and whether there is a selfless champion of the real cause. Can the real cause itself be defined? Do we go by the larger good or a future unseen good?

Our thoughts and beliefs are often shaped and influenced by our immediate surroundings and most of us choose to ignore what goes on outside our comfort zones. As they say people who look through keyholes are apt to get the idea that most things are keyhole shaped. Nowhere is the Einstein's Theory of Relativity as relevant as it is in describing one's perspective at a particular juncture in our lives. What we perceive is conditioned by the our 'frame of reference'. As Pascal puts it, "There are truths on this side of the Pyrenees, which are falsehoods on the other".

Expectant of greater things,
We try climbing -
And Higher;
An effort that costs us much,
Leaving us short of breath
To find only
The ground below is much prettier.
~Phillip Pulfrey, "Mountains" 

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