On Sneering

Praful Bidwai has said something. ?lt;br />IT experts or cyber-coolies?

Perhaps it is a sensible point. Perhaps not. Or perhaps, as usual it is a muddle. But he insists on sneering at everything he finds; and I don’t consider sneering a valid argument.

Anyway the purpose of this post is to point out that I can sneer back, and sneer better. I am reminded of an email exchange I had long back

This was sent by a friend:

In the midst of all this hype and hoopla surrounding India’s ‘explosive’ entry into the IT world, we need to really assess the pros and cons of IT. First I’ll clarify something The Indian IT field has two basic characters. One , it thrives to a large extent on hype (the Y2K ‘ Crisis ‘ is proof enough) and two it is elitist.

In a country like India where millions lack the basic necessities of life, giving increasing importance to IT is a proof of the lopsided developmental priorities of the Indian government. A typical example would be a cartoon which came in a daily. The cartoon shows a old villager in a remote Indian hamlet going to the nearest Internet browsing centre and trying to go to the site www.water.com and trying to download it.

Information Technology is of the elite , for the elite and by the elite. Maybe a section of the economy may have received a boost because of IT but whether the benefits of this economic progress has/will percolate to the masses is a big question. I think we, as IT professionals are living a rarefied air-conditioned ambience , insulated from all the harsh material realities in India. The field is breeding a host of pampered technocrats aping the West , whose get satisfied by writing a good piece of code and whose ambition is to get a US green card or maybe start a dotcom.

I’m not trying to advocate a return to the stone age by being against the software field per se. But any progress in technology should result in a change for the better for the majority of the people and if that is not happening , we need to critically examine that technology itself.

And here is my response

Before we discuss the pros and cons of the IT issue, we need to debate over an even more basic technology which has harmed the lives of billions of people – Agriculture. Historians believe that man took to agriculture around 8000 BC. Assuming that they are right, we are now observing the 10000th anniversary of this destructive technology. I think 10000 years is a sufficiently long period and we need to take stock now whether agriculture has really benefited us in any way.

Before man took to agriculture, he used to make a living as a hunter-gatherer. Even 10000 years after some men first took to agriculture, millions of people still live as hunter-gatherers. Obviously, even after 10,000 years, the fruits of this new technology haven’t percolated to the poorest of the poor. We need to re-examine whether such technological progress is really necessary.

The introduction of agriculture caused a major disruption in the lives of people. Before this new technology was introduced, all human beings used to be self-sufficient. All of us used to hunt our own food and stitch our own clothes (if we wore any, that is). When man took to farming, for the first time in history, surplus food started getting produced. Obviously, when one man could produce food enough for ten, the other nine must have suffered severe unemployment.

To dispose of his surplus stock of food, this rich farmer invented trade, which as we know is a tool for exploitation of the weak by the strong. Money, wh?se primary use is for the rich to rob the poor of their hard-earned wealth, had to be used. In order to have something to trade, some people were forced to work under others for wages, and the seeds of wage-slavery were sown.

Besides, due to this surplus food, there was a huge increase in the population. As we know, population growth is the biggest cause of poverty. But of course, rich farmers were very happy because more people meant more workers on their farms, and wages would be pushed even lower. So they invented the myth that population growth is a result of prosperity. In fact, in Urdu, the word for population is the same as that for prosperity – ‘Abadi’. This clearly points to a conspiracy by the rich and the educated to provoke the people to produce more children.

With the development of the plough and other tools, environmental degradation, over-exploitation of water-resources, etc. started. The genesis of the present exploitative form of government can also be traced to the advent of agriculture. When people worked as hunter-gatherers, they lived from day-to-day. The question of protecting the wealth of the rich did not arise as no one accumulated any wealth. But when people started farming the land, production began to be a long-drawn affair. Property rights over land had to be defined and the accumulated surplus wealth in the form of food-grain, live-stock, etc. had to be protected. To this end, the rich people started maintaining armed gangs of people. The head of this armed gang called himself the king.

Unfortunately, there were no progressive governments at that time. If there was one, it would have nipped the growth of this dangerous technology in the bud. No government at that time had the guts to:

  1. Set up a department of agriculture to plan what crops should be produced when
  2. Impose punitive taxes on agricultural produce, as they were luxury commodities then.
  3. Set limits on how much any farmer could produce.
  4. Confiscate the produce for distribution among the poor.

In fact, the very techniques by which modern governments ensure balanced growth and redistribute poverty were not available then. The present disastrous state of the world, with its overpopulation, environmental degradation, poverty and inequality is a consequence of the lopsided developmental priorities of the then governments.
To correct these imbalances, we need to go back to the basics and question the technological edifice on which our society is built – agriculture.

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