Capitalism’s Standards of Success

Once you hear the details of victory, it is hard to distinguish it from a defeat.

—Jean-Paul Sartre

I apologize for the delay in posting this entry, but I guess I had to wait till the mainstream media no more confused readers with the “hot topic” any longer. I had to wait until after they would have well done away with the headlines and sensations and the matter were allowed to be relegated to backburner. And I realize now is such a time when suddenly the matter of “Reservation” is not being brought about any longer. Its no more being contextualized, as yet again a socio-economic defeat on part of the lower class struggle of India.

However, I will begin with the comment of a long standing reader of this blog. In my last post, Friend Sanjay has kindly posted a comment worth introspecting over. I will do it here.

While thanking him for his continuous critical appraisals for posts here, let it be stated that despite staunch opposition to some of his views, I have always held them with utmost respect. Many a times I have felt like some views that are reactionary to the point of resulting in further ambiguity in progressive views must be discouraged. But truthfully, I have never “censored” a single view so far.

There are certain difficulties in indulging in intellectual discourses when one relates to the self. While walking down the less taken roads, one always feels tempted to stop by more often, and ask the critical questions, “Could I have been wrong throughout the trip? How come the journey is so lonesome? Is it because this road is not going to provide any solution? Am I merely dreaming that things would take place, whereas in reality the road that most people have already taken is the one which is fulfilling dreams every passing moment? People are making records, breaking records, appearing on prime time shows, winning applauds, gold medals and Hollywood breaks. And I am here philosophizing against the notion of success and dream of a society sans “individual successes”. But then how is it logical to state that “their” dreams are any inferior to my own? Am I the sole custodian of notion of what constitutes “societal good”? Where do I intersect, accept, and carry on, because if the struggle is for all, at least majority needs to approve me at some point.”

I am not indifferent towards these series of questions which challenge the roots of my thoughts, opinions, views, and actions. I have known all the while, that in fact, views that are opposing one’s own are the only views that have any intrinsic values worth cherishing. Only through opposing tooth and nail most existing views, have I learnt anything in life. And now why the resistance to be opposed, when it comes to my own worldviews?

Sanjay provides the answer already: He says, “As you are not part of the society which is opposing reservation, I too refuse to belong to a society which develops selective amnesia in attributing traits.” It merely implies that in the nature and process of forming views, we choose sides. At times we are flexible in the face of new facts to change our views. At times we are not. Personally for me, I have changed many of my views (on God, on Salman Khan or on Indian Cricket team) several times in life basing on newer facts or facets. I am sure all of us do the same too.

Then is the struggle to impose (or you may say, influence) views a struggle to win non-members into one’s side? For a professional politician it is a desirable thing to do (hence I have problems with people who think ‘vote bank politics’ is a bad thing. I mean that’s the whole point of politics in a democracy). But for those, including myself, who do not aspire to be political candidates, what sort of struggle would that be? A struggle, which Sanjay refuses to be with me in?

This is a struggle to ‘understand’ opposing viewpoints. Now the word ‘understanding’ is more complex than it looks like. We need to give time to, contextualize, empathize, agree with reason, disagree with justification—all of these and more, in order to merely understand someone or someone’s views.

On a public forum like this, the purpose is just this: to understand each other and each other’s views depending on where we come from.

Sanjay’s concerns are obviously genuine. Are reservations going to be the solution?

A right-wing political solution?

The answer is, I do not know. But the only alternative which nays the reservations has at least proven that it would mean further systematic marginalization of the dispossessed. When reservation proposal was being discussed, I was not exulted either. I knew for certain that it is a move to pacify, not to agitate. It was a step to bow down to reactionaries, not to give vent to the oppressed. It was actually so reactionary a step that all we found out after the bill being tabled was an unforeseen unity among the upper castes, a unanimous media support to their causes, a never-before-seen coverage of their strikes, and most importantly an organized efforts by the opportunistic elites in such an organized fashion, that it must have put the neo-nazis to shame. Reservations debates, if at all helped the elites to recognize each others’ needs all the more and made them get united so much that right wing parties gaped. What BJP could never achieve in terms of uniting the upper castes (since half of them did not want any of Advani yatras anyway), the Congress at the center had achieved: notwithstanding their party affiliations, in fact notwithstanding their political standpoints or lack thereof, irrespective of the states they came from (not Gujarat or UP, but entire India, South and the North, East and the West), upper caste peoples showed solidarity with each other that must have prided the supremacists. Clearly BJP is going to win the next poll. Thank the communists for that this time!

myWPEditImage Image(Racists of India, Unite?)

Whose Identity?

It is important to understand that the contemporary history of India is not that of a struggle for Individual rights or liberty. It is struggle for group rights. This is a slightly different scenario than ever in the past. The group identity struggle that the SC/ST/OBCs are going through is because of their conferred identity. They are being discriminated against, not because they are merely poor, not because they are merely uneducated, not merely because they overwhelmingly reside in states of India which are sidelined, BUT because of their caste status. It’s an identity struggle. It’s going on not just in India today, but all over the world. Indigenous people are fighting to reclaim their lands. To reclaim their lost dignity. There is a heartening gesture here, though. The demand to ‘reclaim’ is a demand that should have been logically bloody. Simply because their loss of land at the first place was done at the cost of bloody dominations of oppressors. But unlike the oppressor classes, the indigenous people are not predisposed to violence (else they would win hands down any day in organizing efforts at dethroning the minority upper castes). Secondly, they have proved to be more law-abiding than the oppressor classes themselves. Let me elucidate.

Its only natural for the society ruled by oppressor class, to already frame certain laws to rule out any bloody struggle as ‘illegal’ because the ‘evolution’ of the oppressor classes have metamorphosed into a consensual class. Consequently, this society to garner its position of power, takes onto itself the mammoth sense of generosity to either ‘grant’ or ‘dispel’ the need to let its prisoners-0f-wars a chance to compete with itself. When it finds, as in areas of agriculture that the lower class people cannot stake claim to superiority in face of industrial society, it makes no issues. When it finds, as in areas of primary education or adult education, where the lower class can learn how to get empowered, (but in reality are never so…its like knowing how to draw rockets does not land one in the moon…one needs to be part of a multi-billion dollar industry for that actualization), there is no problem either. Only when the matter is evaluated at par with elite positions (medical or physical science as education or administrator and priest as profession), that there seems to be unwavering difficulties.

All’s well that ends well?

Reservation will never be the solution. But it is a definite challenge to the status quo thought process of taking the majority of people for granted. And that is why it’s important to revisit the issue of reservation. At the core of it, some of my friends are absolutely right about the upper-caste students. Sure, they do not think like the politicians. They do not think in terms of castes. Students in the classroom today do not consider any group as untouchables. Quite accurate in some cities of India.

But the grim reality is that it breeds something more dangerous. At least where untouchability is practiced, there is a caste consciousness that translates into class struggles or similar identity struggles. As we know from experience that opposite of love is not hate, but indifference; what happens among the highbrows is that they profess a caste-blindness that’s so indifferent to caste issues that it glorifies the oppressor class as the egalitarian tolerant group!

While practicing the caste-blindness, the issue of historical oppression is bid goodbye. Essentially whole generations of students are going to graduate (and their children in future) from schools and colleges without an iota of knowledge in field of caste struggles in India (except those who are interested in studying Sociology or History as subjects—that too if the Saffronites don’t take over NCERT). Rest of the students are not going to be studying the unique tribal history, the unique Dravidian struggle, the unique struggles of the OBCs, who are at times depicted as part of the Dalitbahujans. The struggle that is not religious, but caste-based. A history where people still do not think they are Hindus, only that they think they are Kurumaas, and Chakaali in the South India or Bhandari, and Goudaa in East India.

Caste-denial: In whose interest?

Although Hindus would love to include all these peoples as belonging to the most “ancient” religion, and although the Brahmins and upper caste people do not go around talking about their castes, there is need for a complex understanding here. Upper caste people of India need to realize that the caste-structure had been shaped by the upper castes themselves for “their” own convenience. And hence they take it quite for granted without having to feel burdened by the weight of caste on them. By actually not talking about their castes, they absolve themselves of their well-deserved “guilt”. For the Dalitbahujans, however, it’s quite a different type of struggle. This struggle for caste assertion is one of an identity, not one that they can take for granted. This is one that’s not going to make them live easily. It’s a painful daily reminder, and they have no other course except to assert their snatched rights. The surnames are their characters. They have to live upto them, and yet surpass them. It’s not a privilege, but a burden. Like a wealthy person taking money for granted, the upper caste people carry their surnames without having to think about it twice. But like a poor person valuing the small thatched cottage, the lower caste people even will look at universal wind as enemy to their rooftops.

In India or elsewhere, there needs to be more studies of caste and race, precisely because the oppressor classes have almost taken it for granted. In America, Critical Whiteness Studies need to take place more vigorously to make most white students realize the invisible burden they have imposed on the people of color by means of color discrimination. In India, the Critical Brahmin Studies need to be institutionalized for the upper caste people to understand complexities of caste and socio-economic well being that are influenced by their stoic silences, if not outright display of prejudices. Minority studies are fine to “understand” a differential culture (Asian-American Studies, or Black Cultural Studies), but what we need also is the Brahmin Studies or White Studies, just to “teach” the history of their oppressive culture.

Currently to the powerful White males of the world, there is just a big fuss about need for affirmative action or of assertion of rights of colored people, because according to them, most of the issues have been resolved, now that “marginalized” people have attained “success” already in many spheres. Likewise the Brahmins or upper castes of India think there is no need for reservation because so many Dalit and OBC people are becoming successful. They cite the incidents of chief ministers, sportspersons and plain rich men among “lower castes” who have rode the ladder as examples to justify doing away with any proactive reservation policy.

What, then, is the picture? Have these traditionally marginalized people not attained success enough so as not to need any more reservation or affirmative policies in place? The mainstream answer is yes. Alternative cries are no. What’s the deal?

                                                      <strong>Part II</strong>

The anti-reservation lobby cites success of lower caste people as examples to denounce reservations. If the progress is being done anyway, what is the need of further reservation? The initial period when lower caste people should have been given a chance, has passed already. So there should be no more extension of such scope, let alone any proliferation of further reservations. Such run few arguments on the right.

On the left front, some even justify reservation as means to attain more success just as a form of ripple effect. Some arguments favor reservations because it will alone let the lower caste people to become successful in life, because the competition is indeed tough otherwise. We must build more access to the people with disabilities, after all.

Although I would still support the Left mainstream argument, I tend to think both core arguments primarily are dealing with the same question. And once the question is pre-determined, we are not going to find a radical solution to that. After all, as Audre Lorde had so rightly said, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”

I think the question needs to be reassessed entirely. The alternative question I pose about this whole issue (and thereby my peripheral arguments) is about the concept of “Success” itself. As we know already, success in capitalistic society is not just determined, or competed for, but also ‘defined’ by owners of means of production. This is because Capitalism is that phase of human history which aims to suit the least number of people. Prior to capitalism, there were phases of history, possibly more draconic: that of kings and slaveowners and feudal lords. But there were constant competitions, and rivalry among them. Some kind of ‘balance of power’ was always being maintained. There was no clear cut class division on a world scale. The working class and the ruling class were ill-defined.

But with Capitalism, arrived Monopoly. Only a few hundreds of people in the entire world ruled over the rest of us. They own not just wealth, but also own the yardstick to value the wealth. They not just own the knowledge economy, they also own the yardstick to value what passes on as knowledge. They don’t just own managers, they own the philosophy behind creating managers. Not just doctors, but also the rationale behind entrance tests to medical profession.

Capitalism, unlike every other previous stages of human societal development established the yardsticks, which we shall call here as Standards. Earlier there were hundreds of Emperors. With Capitalism, it had to be just one! Earlier there were hundreds of kingdoms. With Capitalism, it was reduced to just a G-7. Earlier there were skilled people respected in every corner of the world. With Capitalism, they began to be respected only in certain professions at certain corners while working for certain sectors. Earlier phases of history were horribly bad. Capitalism became merely grotesquely inhuman.

What are the Standards?

Let’s begin with Gods. After all, Capitalism thrives on the belief that God created the universe and made it a standard assumption. The biggest testimony of that can be found on every dollar bill. “In God We Trust” is the single most famous used slogan in everyday exchanges of capitalism. But with thousands of tribal gods, nature gods and no gods, there used to appear quite a competition. And with majority of people either not believing in a single God or believing in their personal Gods, it had invariably become difficult to conquer the lands populated by such unrestricted folks. God needed to be standardized. In name of spiritualism or in name of organized religions, godmen and gods had to be proclaimed on ranks. Consequently what happened were multi-fold. One Christianity spread throughout the globe as it had been hijacked into becoming the religion of the oppressing White man. “Missionaries” were established in most parts of the world to propagate this religion. Based on Biblical myths, a religion which had absolutely no cultural commonality with indigenous peoples (in terms of names of characters or nature of redemption), this soon emerged as the standard religion. Two, basing on it, other oppressive religions (according to geographical peculiarities) also took charge in their lands to standardize beliefs. Hence for example, in India, when it’s about Gods, the standardized Gods stand out everywhere. They are themes for mythological television programs. They are Gods after whom national holidays are observed. They are the designated Gods. Brahma, Vishnu, Laxmi, Parvati, Shiv, Ganesh: these dominant Hindu Gods were used in the process to kill the Other or Lesser Gods. Gods worshipped by lower caste people in India (who the Census includes as Hindus) are entirely different, unwept, unsung and almost condemned by the general society (that make up the law, media, schools and parliament).

Kancha Ilaiah, a Dalitbahujan activist says in his book “Why I am not a Hindu” (Samya, 1996),

“Even a Brahmin family might talk about Pochamma, Maisamma or Ellemma, but not with the same respect as they would about Brahma, Vishnu, Maheswara. For them Pochamma and Maisamma are ‘Sudra’ Goddesses and supposed to be powerful but in bad, negative ways. A Pochamma according to them does not demand the respect that Lakshmi or Saraswathi do, because Lakshmi and Saraswathi are supposed to be ideal wives of ideal husbands, whereas no one knows who Pochamma’s husband is, any more than they can name Maisamma’s husband. This is the reason why no Brahmin or Baniya child bears the name of Pochamma, Maisamma or Ellamma, whereas in our families these are revered names and we name our children after these Goddesses…. It does not strike an average Dalitbahujan consciousness that these Goddesses do not have husbands and hence need not be spoken of derogatorily. This is because there are many widows in our villages who are highly respected whose stature is based on their skills at work and their approach towards fellow human beings…”

After establishing a standard in religion, and the icons representing the ‘legitimate’ religions (the history of Native-American experience should not be lost on us either, where they were on gun points forced to convert to Christianity, in their very own lands), the religious principles themselves are standardized. The hierarchy of families, the sanctity of marriage, the importance on child-bearing might all seem as comfortable as the essence of any religion or God. But just like the religions, these “value systems” help perpetuate the male dominance of women, in which male property ownership becomes the key. Single or divorced women, unwed mothers, and people of alternative sexual orientations are systematically exploited on economic grounds and the laws to that effect are set on the justice walls even to this day. Conservation of traditional hierarchy, male supremacy, Christian ‘family values’ etc continue to dictate the value system.

In such conservation movement, God (or the justices or president’s addresses) becomes pretty much irrefutable. A former president of Harvard (who stepped down recently) University whose tenure saw the reactionary findings on affirmative action, and whose personal understanding of causes behind women’s underrepresentation in Math and Sciences echoed that of many elite professors of India who attribute similar causes behind lower caste peoples’ ‘failure’ in technical field, also found need to conserve the conservative thoughts around the issues. Lawrence H Summers said to his defense, “My point was simply that the field of behavioral genetics had a revolution in the last fifteen years, and the principal thrust of that revolution was the discovery that a large number of things that people thought were due to socialization weren’t, and were in fact due to more intrinsic human nature, and that set of discoveries, it seemed to me, ought to influence the way one thought about other areas where there was a perception of the importance of socialization.”

“Intrinsic human nature”? Summers thinks it was a recent scientific discovery. Perhaps true. But it is so recent because the community of those elite scientists themselves could have been driven by agendas, their research funding agencies more so, and people like Summers for believing in them and citing these studies, even more so. The agenda is simple: to not diversify the field of science and engineering in order for women to come and shake the male hardcore foundation. Similar cases exist exactly in India where upper castes have had problems with lower caste people rising up from shining shoes to claim that given better climate to make up for their social loss, they can challenge the ‘scientists’ off their mindsets.

Capitalism while working on the superstructure of culture, politics and society takes help of first ‘Standardizing’ even before influencing. Standardization helps in dispelling any authoritarian tactics. It works smoothly and creates necessary illusions that are comforting and numbing at the same time.

Hence when the standards of beauty are envisaged, Capitalism dictates the norms of blue-eyes, 36-24-36 vitals, the designer clothes. So much so that the terms it devises to further normalize thought process are “Fashion”, “Model” etc. Model is a term that goes unquestioned. I mean in a way, everyone wants to be a Model to others. Or for that matter no one wants to be “unfashionable”. Standards of ‘good’ and ‘desirable’ are carefully orchestrated, pretty much like the way the term “Black” connotes everything negative (Black days, Black march, Black-out, Blackmail, Dark Age) etc., as opposed to White which denotes ‘fair’ness.

In terms of country, it’s the Western Europe and the US which become the Standards. From Greenwich Mean Time where world begins at London, to the ‘Super Power’ of the US, the notion so pervades minds that they become a standard. It becomes difficult to pursue the US as a country having poverty or illiteracy or exploitation. Hence more often than not, it’s the people who are brought to task for being ill-informed than the system of governance which has somewhat made a mark at keeping people ill-informed.

And this system of governance, the western Democracy model which is infamous for promoting ignorance by emphasizing on monoculture, single language, single god, unitary value system, disproportionately high ownership of things by a single race, religion and gender, a citizen privilege syndrome etc has also been made a standard in governance. Based on ballot box competition, driven by high fund-raising efforts by the old Men networks, so-called democracy rules. to the extent that any country that does not practice western democracy, is offered strange looks and armed intrusions.

Capitalism, which works as the seed for corporate sector to prosper, demands that human labor be mindlessly replaced by machines and turn both against each other. It thrives on breeding alienation, creating divisions among workers by refusing unions any intrinsic power to organize and call off work. It promotes certain brands of education that supports its machinery. Professionals from technical background become the only ones who are needed to run capitalism, since labor force becomes the most dispensable factor. Efficiency becomes the key word and it merely goes unquestioned since it basically means that the bosses need to get most out of the workers by making them work for as less as possible so as to make higher profits. In such a setup, the workers tend to think of the welfare of the company bosses (‘we should work even harder because if the company goes on loss then boss will fire us’). The bosses accordingly do not give any two hoots to workers’ welfare. Because apparently, the workers are less educated and hence they are dispensable. Education becomes a promoter of class society, not an instrument to bridge the access and control gap.

Class society in turn preaches the idol god, but in reality worships only one God, universally seen. The Money God. Success is calculated in terms of money. Achievements in life are translated in terms of recognition by money (after all, what is Nobel Prize, if not a committee of Trust money?), parameters of in-group and out-group status are financially drawn. Money determines who will be in politics, who will hog limelights, who will be on television, who will have luxury to watch television. That’s the reason why Indian reactionaries cite Dalits are successful when they become politicians, or corrupt bureaucrats, because they understand their own language of what constitutes success. Success then means one’s access to money, one’s ability to worship money and one’s capacity to overcome monetary needs. Being rich becomes being successful becomes worthy of being emulated. Being a celebrity, a politician, a TV star. “Hot Happenin n Rockin”.

This entire discourse rests on economic systems of capitalism where capital, not community, becomes paramount to judge standards of society, culture and politics. And that’s why everytime we indulge in “Merit”, and “Success”, and “Achievement”, and “Ability”, we are basically using the words that help the capitalism’s arguments stronger.

For one, let’s change the question. Rather, let’s turn it upside down. And we will see the need to revisit our privileges and celebrate the “failures” as treasures that keep the world from getting reduced to a competitive turf of mindless warfare. And when it comes to give back to them for their great tolerance and display of peaceful silence, Reservation needs to be just a primary offering.