inequality

The bang & the buck

A decade ago, while working with a newspaper group where our small team managed three brands, we had an interesting situation. One of the brands, a vernacular broadsheet, was at an advanced stage in its lifecycle where it had to be made relevant and exciting for a newer set of readers who were native to the region. Another brand, an English compact daily (we didn’t like to be called a tabloid!), was an absolute newbie aimed at what could broadly be called an ‘immigrant’ audience. This was made interesting because research showed that the ‘triggers’ for the two sets of readers were quite at odds with each other. To elaborate, but without nuances, the positioning of the vernacular brand would be around showcasing pride in local language and culture, laced with jingoism, and that of the English brand would be around a cosmopolitan outlook. Holding both these diametrically different ideologies and doing justice to both was quite an exciting experience.

That nostalgia bout was triggered because I’m increasingly seeing this friction between different parts of the population escalate. A certain angst that seems to flare up on various seemingly unconnected issues. So here’s a thought. I am not really a Javed Akhtar fan, and a lot of people dissed him when he connected the Bangalore New Year molestation incident to social segregation and economic divide, but I strongly believe that many of the horrors we witness today – from terrorism to road rage – have economic disparity at its heart. I had written about this in the context of our convenience attitude towards injustice during the Nirbhaya incident. To note, this is not a right-wrong commentary, because I also strongly believe that moral objectivity is an oxymoron. More

Dealing with the revolution

At the end of last week’s post “Understanding the revolution“, one of the points I wanted to emphasise was our individual role in dealing with it. I had mentioned two factors that I believe have led us to this point – rising inequality, and intersubjective realities. An attempt to fix also needs to begin here.

When demonetisation first hit us, I tweeted this


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Understanding the revolution

No, I don’t think I am exaggerating when I call it a revolution. Relatively, it’s not a bloody one yet, but we’ve only begun. As individuals who are part of it, it is difficult for us to acknowledge, let alone grasp its consequences now. (read for perspective)

To deal with something, I first need to make an attempt to understand it, and this post is just that. To begin with, I have noticed at least two parallel forces that have worked to get us to this point. The first is privilege and increasing inequalities in society, on which I have written quite a few posts. The second is a subject on which I’ve only written a couple of posts – intersubjective reality, but its influence is equally important. Let me elaborate.

“But that’s the truth!”, I often hear, and for a while now, my response has been “Whose truth?”  For an absolutely mind bending perspective on it, read The Case Against Reality. (thanks Gautam) To massively paraphrase, we build “realities” based on the stories we tell ourselves, and this is completely shaped by our perceptions and biases. Everything we perceive is a mental representation and there is nothing objective about it. The closest we get to reality is by experiencing something ourselves, and that is inherently subjective. As Scott Adams brutally but succinctly put it, “Humans did not evolve with the capability to understand their reality because it was not important to survival. Any illusion that keeps us alive long enough to procreate is good enough.More

The divide and the rules

It has been just over a year since I wrote “A responsible meritocracy“. My view was that meritocracy had indeed played a huge role in dislodging systemic inequalities (e.g. ethnicity, religion, even economic background) but not only is it not an ideal system, it is now widening the gulf between the haves and have-nots, and even creating entry barriers to prosperity. To use an adage from pop culture, it’s a hero which has lived long enough to see itself become a villain. Arguable, yes.

Every system is bound to create two sets of people – those who benefit from it, and those who do not. I’d rate the success of a system on two counts – the ability of its beneficiaries to see the other side, and what they do about it.  The merit in a meritocracy is accrued courtesy intelligence/smartness. Intelligence is a means to creating the universally acknowledged currency – money. In that respect, I’d say that Silicon Valley has been a big beneficiary, and probably the most visible. More

A new kind of privilege

A couple of weeks ago, we visited a newly opened eatery in Bangalore. Something about the crowd made me observe it more. It seemed like this was a set completely different from the kinds I usually see during restaurant visits. It took me a little while to understand why I felt so, and when I did, I remembered the nuance I had discovered only a year ago.

In the restaurants/pubs I visit, I usually see people like me. The ones who, irrespective of career highs they might have scaled, have to go at it daily with the business of life. They are curious for new experiences and/or are eager to climb a rung or two, and see such places through these frames. In both cases, they are ‘visitors’. But there is a different crowd I saw here –  a set of people whose body language – a certain kind of composed languor, and the way they behaved with each  other, reflected a sense of belonging. I consider them privileged. More

Inequality & Technology

A few weeks ago, I’d written about inequality and the role of meritocracy in shaping its future. Another related force, whose influence has been rising rapidly, is technology. I had written about it earlier in a post – Algorithms of Wealth – and my thoughts ended in at least three directions! At least two are relevant here. In the post, I had mentioned the abundance that The Second Machine Age promises and whether the disparity we see now is an inevitable step towards that. But I had also wondered whether any notion of sustained reduced disparity is a lost cause and that as we advance further, the gaps will keep widening.

A recent HBR article titled The Great Decoupling, based on an interview with the authors of The Second Machine Age, indicates that the authors themselves now believe in the second path – while digital technologies will help economies grow faster, not everyone will benefit equally. In my earlier post I had also brought up how I had hoped that the internet would be the great leveller, and my disillusionment since then when I realised that it created its own hierarchies. (on a related note, read) More