Sunday, February 20, 2011

Arguments with Myself: Bystander's Options

There are three wars of civilization in play last week.

First, let's call it the war of St Valentine. If we thought the debate was settled, on the eve of Valentine's Day, the discussion how romantic love undermines a society resurfaced. For example, Malaysian police monitored the hotels in provinces to ensure that nothing wrong is going on. In the extreme form, in India, a young boy of seventeen got killed because he was seen walking with a girl, his sister, on the the day. Young versus the old, it seems to be the theme. The conservatives of various hues usually portray their action as a fight against Western cultural imperialism, but increasingly, this has a local flavour. The women who sent out undergarments to the home of a Hindu fundamentalist leader after he instigated violence against couples seen in the parks etc, were not prompted by Western media of any sort, but their own sense of dignity and freedom.

Second, let's call it the end of Caliphets of Mubarak and Ben Ali, with more to come. Arab street is out in the squares, suddenly. At the time of this post, two mighty dictators have fallen, and governments across the region are shaking in fear. Western channels are playing up Libya and playing down Bahrain, but the story is somewhat similar everywhere: Young versus the Old. The masses of young men, without job and increasingly without hope, are demanding a change. The problem is acute in Middle East, as their rulers are old and disconnected, and were keeping the job with Oil money and Cold War loyalties. Religion, in this limited context, playing a progressive role and the people on the street are finding hope in religious faith than anything else.

Finally, in other parts of the world, the ongoing recession started getting ugly because of a different young versus the old war. The food prices are rising, the inflation is rising, despite most of the governments cutting spending and raising interest rates. But, cutting spending comes at an enormous social cost: In Britain, this will mean excluding a generation of people from university education, for example. The priorities are yet very clear: By refusing to raise interest rates last week, the Bank of England clearly indicated that they don't care about inflation, which is extremely high by developed country standards, but only the plight of banks and mortgage owners. On the other hand, Barclays shocked everyone by indicating how little corporate tax they actually pay, though they feel no qualms about taking public money when needed.

This third strand is as much part of the wars of civilization and ideas as this is again about status quo and moving forward. The old money versus the enterprise spirit, which is hindered not helped by the reign of banks (banks, indeed, lend you money if you can prove you don't need it).

For me, trained to think in dialectical terms and to believe in the idea of progress, all these little conflicts are indicators of a dying time and the marching song of the army of future. My own life, a bit disarrayed at this time, has always been a bit of a waiting game for an exciting future. Despite the current mess, further aggravated as I, rather unwisely, committed myself to a house move, I am still excited and very much in look out for a part to change the world. As always.

I am, therefore, on the verge of another 100 day plan of sorts. We are in the middle of moving our college campus to new premises, and I am hopeful of making a fresh start. I am rather dismayed by the way private enterprise is seen in Britain, particularly in the education sector, where the public sector mindset reigns supreme. I am amazed, after interactions with many of my colleagues, business partners and collaborators, by how unreal a world they live in. For example, the talk about private money will undermine the quality of education in the universities sound so pompous, when most British universities (not all) have nothing much to offer to their unsuspecting students other than the same ivory tower mindset that has brought them to the brink in the first place.

So, my options in this big, bad, uncertain world is rather clear: To keep doing what I am doing. I have started believing that Education is the killer app (whoever said it) and progress, from this point, will greatly depend on the spread of education of a liberal (in the wide sense of the word) sort. I would very much like to see rest of my life committed to this goal, of spreading education internationally, and once this view emerges, all the other disturbances seem rather trivial.

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