Weekend Special: Is midlife crisis for real?

Yes, Midlife Crises is real! Midlife crisis is a catastrophe, which arrives at a phase of life, where everything turns out completely different. Miles have been walked, toiled hard, put your sweat and blood; but suddenly you start encountering strange feelings. You start having an outlook to the other side of your story, which remains not so bright and unsettling. This creates a hindrance in your current lifestyle.

The occurrence of midlife crisis, also termed as psychological crises, in which a transition of identity and self-confidence takes place, when a person confronts various drastic changes to their current lifestyle, brought by certain episodes in life. This adversely affects the present self-reflection in a person which is unanticipated or despairing. There are leftovers from the chapter of life which couldn’t be finished due to varied circumstances.

This looming phenomenon occurs mostly in the midpoint of human lifespans ideally around 30 to 50 of age. According to a recent survey, men and women during their midlife suffer the most traumatic events. There are many grounds of disappointment in life and if it occurs in midlife, then you are facing ‘Midlife Crisis’.

Midlife Crisis Examples/Symptoms:
Everyone goes through it and it happens in reality and is not a myth. Factors which influence midlife crisis are listed below:

Disturbing Mental Health: Self-sabotage behaviours can make us encounter massive level of depression or anxiety due to a failure or having a fear of facing failures in life. We subconsciously undermine our own ability to avoid possibilities of failures. This can also lead us to face big disappointments in midlife.

Emotional Crisis: Emotion or behavioural disorders, emotional disturbances with onset usually occurring in childhood or adolescences due to biological abnormality, an underdeveloped kid mentally or physically or adults who didn’t pursue their education wisely.
Life in Auto-pilot Mode: Putting yourself into an auto-pilot mode throughout your life due to low self-esteem and low self-confidence.

  • Drastic changes in habits and impulsive decision making
  • Shifting of sleep habits, due to depression
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Changing jobs and careers
  • Less interactive and not being conscious about realistic activities of life
  • If you find yourself spacing out while performing any task
  • Boredom
  • Less productivity
  • You are very, very comfortable

Difficult to Bounce Back to Resilience: Facing difficulties to bounce back from the disappointments, traumatic and painful events occurred before midlife.

  • Difficult to overcome the death of loved ones
  • Dealing with divorce or break-up
  • Sold your favourite car or flat due to financial losses
  • Wife/husbands having extramarital affairs
  • Abortion
  • Lack of good funding in child’s education
  • Loss of job
  • Environmental traumatic events
  • Unable to get back those beautiful emotions which were connected to place, person, thing or animal.

Amateurish about new approaches: Not willing to take up any new projects for rejuvenating current positions in life
Behaving cowardly to get themselves off from the situation

How to turn Midlife Crisis into Wisdom

A person can always turn their life from crisis to opportunities. Let us see how to combat the crisis:

Say hello to crisis: To acknowledge your crisis you must first learn to accept the reality of your current circumstances, try analysing your habits which are making things personally and professionally more worse and complicated
Try solving bit-by bit – Chart out your problems and address them one by one with careful consideration and determination
Declutter negative/unwanted thoughts – Unnecessary thoughts are just a waste of time. Embrace yourself with positive approach and attitude in life, helps you stops dwelling into vague fear and refocus on your mind
Designing a positive affirmation is a powerful tool that can be used in different ways. As soon as you get a negative thought, you might say an affirmation to make you feel strong and think wise. A positive affirmation can also be recited standing in front of the mirror, looking at yourself, so design your affirmations carefully
Sense of gratitude: Nothing of me and everything of you should be the prayer offered to the divine. Be thankful for the life and the daily bread you receive
Be thankful for:

  • Three steady meals a day
  • A roof over your head during the dark cold night and rainy and windy days
  • Drinking clean water every day
  • Having loved ones around you

Write it and destroy it: If your negative thoughts are linked with specific strong emotions like fear, anger, jealousy, sadness etc, jot it down in a piece of paper and burn it
Meditational practices: Start your morning with a positive note, practice meditation and concentration exercises to help you focus more on the good side of your story
Holistic approach to life: Holistic approach heals your body with natural remedies. Practice meditation and yoga which help balancing 7 chakras in your body to rejuvenate yourself as whole
Comfort zone: Dare to become adventurous! Yes, explore new things in life, moving out from your comfort level, create new goals, try new activities, enhance a base of knowledge and travelling can also push you to keep going and mastering your targets. It’s never too late to freshly adopt creative things in life because knowledge makes a man wise
Talk and motivate yourself: If you work on being a compassionate listener, then it will definitely work wonders for you. It helps you placing in a right direction. Listen or read stories of successful people who have come across several hardships. The best is always to get an expert advice by a midlife coach or a lifestyle coach.
Have faith: Start believing, it is possible! Should be your daily dose to life.
Think again: Major decisions in life for marriage, relationships, divorce, funding, investment planning, parenting, career planning and opportunities should be taken with a quite careful consideration. Think several times before you take any crucial decisions in life.

The cheerleaders for Nobel prize winners aren’t noble at all

Remember the war against Franco?
That’s the kind where each of us belongs.
Though he may have won all the battles,
We had all the good songs!
—Tom Lehrer, American folk singer.

Winning a Nobel Prize is no small achievement. Over the years, it has also come to be regarded as a national achievement. It is, therefore, entirely in order that the award of the Nobel Prize for economics to Abhijit Vinayak Banerjee, now a professor in the US, has been accompanied by an explosion of pride, particularly in his home town Kolkata. Banerjee joins the long list of people beginning from Rabindranath Tagore and extending to Mother Teresa and Amartya Sen who have secured this important international recognition for both the city and West Bengal. Being a rooted Bengali, Banerjee’s achievement is also great solace to a community that, over the years, nurtures a feeling of having been bypassed. This week, Kolkata resonates with the elation, sometimes verging on smugness, that when it comes to matters of the mind, Bengalis are world class.

Every event, however, has unintended consequences. Since Banerjee was associated with the formulation of the Congress Party’s NYAY commitment in the 2019 general election — a commitment that some feel was singularly responsible for driving the middle classes away from Gandhi family-led outfit — the Swedish award has also been taken to be a snub to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Certainly, the fact that Banerjee read for his master’s degree in Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, an institution the saffron ecosystem places high on its list of pet hates, is being accorded significance. Along with Amartya Sen who has never concealed his disagreements with Modi and the BJP, Banerjee has now been elevated to the pantheon of towering intellectuals raising their voices against the supposed desecration of the Idea of India since 2014.

The belief that India is being run by a cluster of cretins blessed with bigotry, narrow-mindedness and a lack of education is a recurrent belief among the dissidents. Many of them believe they are waging the good fight for liberalism, Enlightenment values and the ‘scientific temper’, not to mention secularism.

The belief that lofty principles are involved in otherwise mundane competitive politics has often served to keep intellectuals in the ring. This is more so when the fight is perceived to be against the populist rabble, often driven by xenophobia. In the US, the East and West coast establishments and the campuses are outraged that Donald Trump is in the White House. They are also aesthetically offended that he enjoys large public support. Likewise in Britain, there is a fierce determination in the establishment to ensure that the verdict of the 2016 referendum is set aside and Brexit subverted. In both cases, intellectual activism is governed by the feeling that the people are gripped by what Marxists call ‘false consciousness’ and must be guided to the right path, even if it means puncturing the popular will.

This sense of entitlement — once the hallmark of the feudal order — is often compounded by sneering contempt for the other side. Sen and Banerjee, for example, are economists — notorious for routinely getting it all wrong. Their prescriptions for tackling poverty are essentially welfarist. This approach has been marked by both failure and modest success, just as the dependence on the market and belief in entrepreneurship has. Some economists advocate high personal taxes to sustain a welfare state, while others feel that giving individuals and families more money to either accumulate or spend generates productive forces. These are divergent approaches, as are multiple strategies of fostering community and nationhood. Exercising political choices doesn’t make the other side either more enlightened or philistine.

The belief in different paths to dharma and salvation has defined Hindu traditions. This world view has nurtured modesty and is so unlike the certitudes that govern some Western thought. Unfortunately, it is the latter — embellished with ‘group think’ — that is moulding contemporary intellectual discourse. What we are witnessing in the guise of liberalism are intellectuals who are not only convinced of their own infallibility but make a virtue of debunking those they disagree with, both for being wrong and for being culturally challenged. Ironically for scholars who explore the dynamics of poverty and accord weight to the experiences of people at the bottom of the pile, there is a marked tendency to debunk the preferences of ordinary voters as being uninformed. This amounts to condescension, if not arrogance.

The Nobel Prize winners aren’t guilty of these transgressions; their cheerleaders are.

The Cog and the Wheel

I remember reading an essay when I was in seventh grade. It was an essay by George Bernard Shaw and it made me wonder as to how Shaw could have foreseen what we call, our life today. His essay is called “How Wealth Accumulates and Men Decay” which in very simple and compelling terms criticises the age of the machine and clearly laments the old world order evident in his nostalgic description of the community life and the individual’s intimate and holistic association with their occupation.

Shaw’s argument is simple. He describes a man in the age of machine as someone who is deeply alienated from the experience called life because he no longer knows why he is doing what he is doing. Simply put, the man who runs the machine does not own it, the man who owns it does not run it, the man who invented the machine does not run the machine, the man who sells the products the machine gives knows nothing about the machine. And so on. It evoked almost a Chaplinesque image of a man in the assembly line doing the same thing for what seems like eternity except that he disrupts it to cause humour. And the phrase that came to me was a cog in a wheel, a very small nondescript entity in a large scheme of things: a grain or a speck of dust, not a seed or an atom because those have momentum and agency and the potential to assert and manifest as cognizable entities. 

Now what is a cog in a wheel? A cog is someone who simply cannot imagine the wheel, let alone its functioning. A cog is someone who doesn’t know the purpose of the wheel since s/he does not know the wheel. A cog is something that is identical to all other cogs and has nothing distinct about it. And finally a cog is easily dispensable and conveniently replaceable. But mostly, a cog cannot be a wheel. 

 “Are we cogs”? Is there one simple answer? I’d say most of us are. A lot of us are engaged in pursuits which we either haven’t stopped to think about or just vaguely understand. We were raised and in turn raise our children to top in class, to ace the competitive exams, to nail the interview, and to land that dream job. Now, coming to think of it, what is so dreamy about that dream job? The package of course. Never mind that one ends up working 12 hours a day and binges on web series and fast food over the weekend. 

No don’t get me wrong, I am not some old world romantic or idealist. I like Netflix and Prime and a burger now and then. And in fact, I am one of the luckier ones since I have somehow managed to escape the corporate grind by the skin of my teeth. I belong to academia. Very nice working hours. Five or seven with the rest of the time for research and writing papers and articles which are meant to set people thinking, break new grounds, etc. etc., and yet, there’s a part of me that feels like a cog. And when I look around me I find more cogs. People who are alienated at the workplace. Who is doing what they are doing because it’s the best thing they could be doing at this moment considering all odds. 

So what’s in it for us? It’s mostly the package for men and the timings and flexibility for women and that’s why it’s mostly the CEO and VP jobs for men and the consultant and freelancer and teacher jobs for women. Because the men have to pay the EMIs and the women have to work the double shift. In fact, I am amazed at the uniform response that I get when I ask a woman why she chose to teach (especially those who teach in school). It will be a variation of one of these: “Well a teaching job has a lot of holidays and I can be home by afternoon.” If the woman is candid and “Oh I love being with children. That’s absolutely my space” if she is guilt-ridden and considers it the moral responsibility of her flock to display maternal instincts to all and sundry. 

So apparently, no one seems to be doing what they are doing because they love to do what they do. Oh I mean there will always be exceptions but I am just talking about the pattern, and I did say ‘most of us’ not ‘all of us’. You will always have an Indra Nooyee in the corporate world and lots of men in the academia and teaching profession but like I said…the pattern. So the cog Speaking of myself, I am a cog – I don’t work with a machine but I am part of a machinery, the education system. I teach, a lot of things because they are a part of the curriculum not because I’d like to bring them to the classroom. The curriculum is pretty much like the nation state: it has defined borders, includes certain people, beliefs, theories and ideas by virtue of excluding certain other people, beliefs, theories and ideas. So the person who designs the curriculum is not the one who is teaching it and the one who is studying the curriculum has no stake in it. The management that runs the college does not teach or design the curriculum and the curriculum designers certainly do not run the college. No wonder I feel like a cog in the wheel except for the times when I get to engage occasionally with something like what Shaw wrote. So there’s that. But who can deny the benefits of being a cog. You get to binge and indulge and buy stuff and go to exotic holidays and have a lifestyle which I guess is much better and more fashionable in any case than having a real lif

Epidemic of Mass Protests: Will They Make the World More Just?

In the streets throughout nations across Asia, Europe, South America, the Middle East and elsewhere, mobs are demanding change. Will they get it? Mass protests are filling city streets in Hong Kong and Cairo, Santiago and St. Petersburg, Bratislava, Barcelona and Beirut—in Asia, in Europe, in South America, in the Caribbean, in the Middle East. “2019 has become the year of the street protester,” the Washington Post says.

The specific reasons for the protests are as varied as the locations. But among these disparate rallies, there are some fundamental similarities that enable us to draw some larger lessons.

“In Hong Kong, it was a complicated extradition dispute involving a murder suspect. In Beirut, it was a proposed tax on the popular WhatsApp messenger service. In Chile, it was a 4-cent hike in subway fares,” Associated Press reported. “Recent weeks have seen mass protests and clashes erupt in far-flung places triggered by seemingly minor actions that each came to be seen as the final straw. The demonstrations are fueled by local grievances, but reflect worldwide frustration at growing inequality, corrupt elites and broken promises” (October 26).

“Where past waves of protests, like the 2011 Arab Spring or the rallies that accelerated the breakup of the Soviet Union, took aim at dictatorships, the latest demonstrations are rattling elected governments. The unrest on three continents, coupled with the toxic dysfunction in Washington and London, raises fresh concerns over whether the liberal international order, with free elections and free markets, can still deliver on its promises”. Compounding those concerns, this is all occurring alongside major political instability that has undermined the ability of the Americans and the British to govern themselves.

Let’s take a whirlwind trip:

  • In Hong Kong, massive protests have been occurring since June. They sparked when the city government passed a bill that would subject Hong Kong residents to mainland China’s judicial system. Authorities dropped that bill, but the protests have continued, now demanding greater autonomy, democracy and freedoms.
  • In Lebanon, people are protesting a government that is subjecting them to cutbacks and austerity measures even while corrupt officials are rewarded for perpetuating the regime.
  • In Iraq, financial mismanagement and government corruption are impoverishing many people while public services and infrastructure fall into ruin, yet leaders bicker and squander the nation’s oil wealth. Iraqi security forces have recently intensified measures against protesters, and almost 200 Iraqis have been killed.
  • In Spain, after years of peaceful protests by Catalan separatists, the movement turned violent last week over the imprisonment of separatist leaders. New activist leaders are calling for civil disobedience. One group, Tsunami Democratic, “has borrowed some of its tactics and rhetoric from the Hong Kong protesters, and protesters in both places have staged demonstrations in support of one another …. That one movement is struggling against domination by one-party China while the other is rising up against a European democracy is a distinction that has been lost in the tear gas” (ibid).
  • In Bolivia, many dispute the results of an October 20 election that awarded Evo Morales a fourth presidential term. On October 23, protesting workers launched a general strike, and violence has erupted in several regions. Clashes between Morales supporters and opponents have injured many.
  • In Ecuador, the government ended fuel subsidies, sparking 12 days of protests this month that killed eight people and injured 1,340. The president and demonstration leaders reached an agreement, and the government reinstated fuel subsidies.
  • In Chile, protests have been growing over an increase in subway fares and over economic inequalities. The president canceled the fare increase and made other concessions, yet protests continued. Last Friday, an estimated 1.2 million Chileans protested in the capital of Santiago. Some burned dozens of subway stations and clashed with police. More than 7,000 people were arrested, hundreds were injured, and at least 19 were killed. This in one of Latin America’s wealthiest countries, where the poverty rate over the last generation has fallen from almost 50 percent to 6 percent.

Why is all this happening now, all at once? These disparate situations have a couple of factors in common. One of the most powerful is young people.

In an October 26 article, the Guardian noted that in most of these upheavals, “younger people are at the forefront of calls for change.” And there are more young people today than ever: About 41 percent of the global population is age 24 or under, the Guardian notes. In Africa, 41 percent are under age 15.

A great many of these youths are growing up in nations whose governments are grappling with recessions and stagnant or falling living standards, and subsequent austerity. “As a result, many current protests are rooted in shared grievances about economic inequality and jobs,” the Guardian wrote. “In Tunisia, birthplace of the failed 2011 Arab Spring, and more recently in neighboring Algeria, street protests were led by unemployed young people and students angry about price and tax rises—and, more broadly, about broken reform promises. Chile and Iraq faced similar upheavals last week.

“This global phenomenon of unfulfilled youthful aspirations is producing political time bombs. Each month in India, 1 million people turn 18 and can register to vote. In the Middle East and North Africa, an estimated 27 million youngsters will enter the workforce in the next five years. Any government, elected or not, that fails to provide jobs, decent wages and housing faces big trouble.”

Intensifying these trends is a powerful mix of other potent factors. “Numbers aside, the younger generations have something else that their elders lacked: They’re connected. More people than ever before have access to education. They are healthier. They appear less bound by social conventions and religion. They are mutually aware. And their expectations are higher.

“That’s because, thanks to social media, the ubiquity of English as a common tongue, and the Internet’s globalization and democratization of information, younger people from all backgrounds and locations are more open to alternative life choices, more attuned to ‘universal’ rights and norms such as free speech or a living wage—and less prepared to accept their denial.”

Read those last two paragraphs again. Think about these ingredients stirring young people to rise up in protest.

Then put it in historical context. Inequality is endemic in the human experience—every people, in every generation (though general standards of living today are far higher than they have been for billions of people throughout history). For thousands of years, generations have submitted to governments at least as corrupt as those today. Many had little choice, but at the same time it was obvious that deeply flawed government was better than no government at all.

Today’s generation, though, has far higher expectations. And so, many people who are by historical comparisons quite well off are dissatisfied and angry.

“Hong Kong and Egypt, Chile and Lebanon have two things in common: pervasive social media and a rising generation of discontented youth who are masters of it,” the Washington Post wrote. “The combination of the two has changed the balance of power between government and society in both democratic and authoritarian states” (October 27).

“Chile’s protests began not with unions or opposition parties but with middle and high school students, who used social media to call on riders to jump subway turnstiles in protest of a fare hike. … Similarly, Lebanon’s unrest began with young people outraged over a tax on phone calls made on WhatsApp,” the Post continued. “In Egypt, thousands of mostly young, male soccer fans took to the streets of Cairo in response to a call from a previously unknown businessman who posted videos on YouTube denouncing corruption.” In a nation with considerable opposition, this was “an entirely new channel of discontent.” In Hong Kong, activists have skillfully used technology to coordinate demonstrations and avoid police. “As elsewhere, the backbone of the movement is young people, including teenagers.”

“This is a motivated generation, pushing for dramatic change in the political status quo,” the Post wrote. “In that sense, the youth of 2019 are a little like those of 1968. Their command of new communications technologies makes it easy for them to attract followers, circumvent the usual channels of public debate, and blindside governments. They are able to mobilize large numbers on small issues, such as fare increases, and tap into general discontent that otherwise might have remained unexpressed.”

These technologies, and the way that young people in particular are using them, are disrupting our world in unforeseeable, potent ways. Some governments are taking draconian measures to silence them and shut them down. China in particular is using technological measures straight out of Orwell’s 1984. Yet the protesters are savvy, and these technologies can be very difficult to contain once they’ve escaped the box.

The reality is, we are feeling the birth pangs of a new era of political upheaval. The factors described above will not go away, certainly not without drastic, radical authoritarianism. They are certain to create far more disruption, on a wider scale than we have yet witnessed.

Some people are applauding this trend. And it is natural to root for courageous people defying genuine tyranny. But there are fundamental aspects of it that should give us pause.

“Perhaps these protests will one day merge into a joined-up global revolt against injustice, inequality, environmental ruin and oppressive powers-that-be,” the Guardian author wrote, apparently convinced this would be a positive development.

However, history has little good to say about the wisdom of the mob. A “global revolt against injustice and inequality” would be based on some deeply dangerous assumptions. What is justice and equality?—everyone has different ideas. And past efforts to implement those different ideas have time and time again spawned more injustice and greater inequality.

The Guardian concluded, “The stifling silence that hangs over North Korea’s gulag, China’s Xinjiang and Tibet regions, and dark, hidden places inside Syria, Eritrea, Iran and Azerbaijan could yet descend on us all. What helps protect us is the noisy, life-affirming dissent of the young.” Intellectuals always seem to deeply trust the inherent wisdom of youthful anger.

This is a complicated trend, involving people in wildly different circumstances among nations sprawling across the globe. But there are similarities with the trend in the United States and Britain—nations that are creating millions of cynical, angry, disenfranchised young people. More and more of these youths have no grounding in family, no positive mentors, nobody to teach them. They lack the moral underpinning of sound religion. They inhabit a godless, amoral universe. They’re not learning history, except as something to criticize. They have no respect for institutions, hence no continuity. They mistrust authority and consider everyone with privilege to be corrupt and illegitimate. They are being methodically taught to manufacture grievances and summon the moral indignation of victimhood. They recognize problems, and instinctively judge and condemn—often using digital megaphones. They demand changes and feel the heady rush of revolution.

This is fertile soil for the devil to nurture toxic emotion and nation-shattering dissatisfaction, anger and rage. And this is a project he is undertaking with fervor.

For clear perspective on the surge of the angry mob, look at history. It is littered with examples of peoples rising up and defying the existing order because of injustice and inequality. Peoples seeking to destroy the status quo. In case after case, they were superb at identifying troubles, errors and mistakes. But where they have failed, time after time after time, is in solving the problems. With nauseating uniformity, they prove unable to replace the current system with something better.

Mobs and mass movements can destroy, but they have a dismal record of building. Revolutionaries know what angers them but are oblivious to the impossibility of implementing genuine improvements. “The reformer is always right about what is wrong,” G. K. Chesterson said, “he is also usually wrong about what is right.”

“Does history justify revolutions?” Will and Ariel Durant ask in their superb book The Lessons of History. They give several examples of historical figures who took the route of radical change, versus others who defended “patient and orderly reform”—or continuity. “In some cases, outworn and inflexible institutions seem to require violent overthrow, as in Russia in 1917. But in most instances the effects achieved by the revolution would apparently have come without it through the gradual compulsion of economic developments. … To break sharply with the past is to court the madness that may follow the shock of sudden blows or mutilations.” This is a truth taught by countless painful, bloody events across nations and millennia.

As the sanity of the individual lies in the continuity of his memories, so the sanity of a group lies in the continuity of its traditions; in either case a break in the chain invites a neurotic reaction, as in the Paris massacres of September 1792.

Many of these protesters are reacting against legitimate problems. But they are mistaken to assume that whatever fills the void will be an improvement. They are mistaken to think the violence of resistance is virtuous. They are mistaken to believe the results it brings will be worth the cost—if they are thinking that far ahead at all.

The Durants made this sage observation: “Violent revolutions do not so much redistribute wealth as destroy it. There may be a redivision of the land, but the natural inequality of men soon re-creates an inequality of possessions and privileges and raises to power a new minority with essentially the same instincts as in the old.”

In historical example after example, upheavals such as those we see today actually lead to greater tyranny. Where governments can, they squash them. Where they cannot, disorder gives rise to new tyrants. Anarchy is insufferable, and people get their fill of it very quickly. Soon someone steps in to reestablish order, often at even higher cost and greater suffering.

The instability rolling through country after country today augurs far more serious troubles to come.

Picking sides between governments and protesters misses the bigger lesson we must take from these events: This world desperately needs perfect governance, established by the only Source of genuine solutions to its injustices and problems.

The Trust Factor of Blockchain

Blockchain is not a magic bullet for security. Can it be trusted? Bitcoin’s vulnerabilities have already been successfully exploited in significant hacks.

Up to 10% of global GDP could be stored on blockchains by 2025, according to the World Economic Forum. From product identifiers, medical records to land registries, academic degrees and insurance contracts, blockchain and distributed ledger technologies (DLTs) are already functioning in many sectors.

What blockchain promises is no less than the technological backbone of the 21st century’s renaissance of the social commons, giving back power to the people. In this century more than ever, power comes from data. Blockchain promises to give control of data back to the people. But this requires one element: trust in the technology, trust that it does what it’s supposed to do.

The paradox here is that blockchain removes the need to trust the intermediary – i.e., notaries, insurers and bankers – by requiring us to trust the technology. But how likely are we to trust the technology if it is breached repeatedly?

Imagine the possibilities by 2050 when not 10%, but 50% of global GDP is on blockchain. Beyond the material consequences, what kind of societies will we live in, if we are devoid of trust the technology on which it is founded? It could be argued that if the technology proves too difficult to secure, blockchain will disappear into a digital abyss. But recent history tells us that poor security is no barrier to adoption.

A reputation to fix

In the famous Bitcoin hack in 2010, while only a happy few had invested in Bitcoin, a vulnerability in the code allowed someone to generate 184 billion bitcoins in one transaction, out of thin air. How? A vulnerability in the code, not in the logic of blockchain. The problem was quickly fixed.

In 2016, someone temporarily seized $75 million out of the DAO, leveraging yet again a vulnerability in the code, that time in a smart contract. Again, the logic of the underlying DLT was intact.

More recently, in 2019, the CEO of a crypto-asset management fund passed away, and with him the credentials to access the cryptocurrencies he was managing, worth over $150 million. Impossible to retrieve. Was blockchain at fault? No, the company failed to implement proper checks and balances to prevent such a scenario. It also turns out that the CEO had stolen the funds before passing.

Blockchain is a new technology and not the simplest one. It could take years for the blockchain community to converge on security standards that will reduce the frequency of breaches. Nevertheless, with the accelerating pace of these disruptions, does blockchain really have years to fix its reputation?

Is blockchain actually safe?

Blockchain as a conceptual technology is safe. That’s what MIT says. But blockchain on paper serves little purpose.

1. As with any technology, security issues arise when developers program requirements into products and services. The lines of code, consensus mechanisms, communication protocols, etc., all have the potential to host vulnerabilities that can be exploited for malicious use. But blockchain at the moment remains a divergent technology: multiple protocols and programming languages are being developed in parallel. As a result, it is difficult for developers to acquire the experience needed to secure their code, while most are under stringent time pressure to deliver.

2. Because blockchain relies heavily on cryptography, the practice of secure communication, it gives many the impression that it’s a self-secured technology. This could not be further from the truth, as blockchains are built on top of communication networks and equipment that need to be secured. Traditional information security challenges apply to blockchain, too. Furthermore, cryptography is, like any other security discipline, a changing field: quantum computers are already expected to break a number of cryptographic algorithms.

3. Third and last, poor security practices around key management, wallet hosting and node patching, among others, all lead to potential security issues that cast a shadow on the technology, when educating system managers and users would solve the grand majority of security issues.

So what can we do today?

1. First, we need to develop the workforce of security-minded blockchain developers. This will require education curricula starting with programming classes in secondary schools, up to university degrees with mandatory blockchain-secure coding courses. At the time of writing, the University of Nicosia in Cyprus is the only university in the world to offer a MSc in blockchain, in particular in digital currencies. These degrees will need to be complemented by recognised blockchain security professional certifications like CBSP, but also with the inclusion of blockchain as a topic in cybersecurity certifications like CISSP.

2. Second, we need to educate users about the security risks they are taking and how to mitigate these effectively at low cost. That will take awareness-raising campaigns and public-private cooperation accompanying people transitioning to blockchain. Permissioned blockchains, albeit somewhat contrary to the original decentralized vision of Satoshi Nakamoto, could well be the smooth transition blockchain needs to prove its worth, just like the 1980s intranets proved the internet’s worth to the world. In that sense, blockchain adoption by industry giants like Facebook, with its cryptocurrency Libra, provide welcome opportunities to educate the public on what it takes to use blockchain, provided there are no breaches. While securing permissioned blockchains may prove easier due to their reduced exposure, conversely, less pressure to do so could lead to digital breaches.

3. Third, we need public and private leaders to understand that blockchain is no silver bullet to security. In other words, we need to demystify blockchain security and make it clear that while the technology offers advantages in terms of availability and integrity, the latter do not improve the quality of the information they hold: garbage in, garbage out. Securely deploying a blockchain solution will require time and integration into the wider security ecosystem, made of traditional networking equipment that requires traditional information security.

For incumbents, that starts with educating boards and the C-suite on what blockchain is and is not, and what are the inherent risks. It will also require CISOs to integrate blockchain into their incident-management plans and procedures, and start considering the impact of decentralised business models in the security domain.

For start-ups, 92% of blockchain projects still fail and have an average lifespan of about 15 months. With such short life cycles, time to market almost always has priority over security: this needs to change, and the best way to do that is through investors, as recommended by the World Economic Forum.

Standards are underway and will undoubtedly help blockchain technology converge, reducing its complexity, a known enemy of security.

But standards alone cannot do much, for humans are still the guardians of technology: we need to build blockchain security skills today. If not, tomorrow won’t be the renaissance, but the epilogue of the social commons.

Brexit is not wannabe-Churchill Boris Johnson’s finest hour, thanks to JIT

British prime minister Boris Johnson was not even born when Winston Churchill inspired his country to resist Nazi Germany’s attempt to conquer Europe. In the face of Hitler’s blitzkrieg at the onset of World War Two, Churchill rallied his countrymen with some of the most inspirational speeches ever heard.

After the fall of France, Churchill called upon his countrymen to fight on. “So that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men may say, ‘This was their finest hour’.” And then he went on to add, “We shall fight them on the beaches. We shall fight them on the landing grounds. We shall never surrender.”

And during the Battle of Britain when the fighter-pilots of the Royal Air Force turned the tide against the all-conquering Luftwaffe which had conquered the skies over Poland, Denmark, Norway, Holland, Belgium and France, Churchill said, “Never was so much owed by so many to so few.”

Hundreds of books have been written on how Churchill helped shape Britain’s finest hour. Churchill’s own voluminous account saw him being awarded the 1953 Nobel Prize in Literature “for his mastery of historical and biographical description, as well as for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values”. . Churchill was both a performer and an observer of heroic deeds, especially those where he himself played a leading role.

In his youth, Churchill was a journalist. He not just fought in but covered the late nineteenth century Boer War, the conflict between Britain and her colonialists in South Africa where Churchill’s escape from captivity and his reportage from the front inspired poetic verse like “You have heard of Winston Churchill, I have no need to say/He’s the latest and the greatest correspondent of today.”

The Oxford-educated Boris Johnson was a fervent admirer of Churchill. So much so that in the decades after coming down from Oxford, even while dabbling in both politics and journalism like his hero, he wrote a book, titled “The Churchill Factor”. However, he initially never came anywhere close to filling his hero’s shoes, missing the bus time and time again when it came to securing the number-one job in British politics, that of the prime minister.

In the British general elections of 2015, when David Cameron retained power by leading the Conservative Party (Tories) to not just a victory but a majority in the House of Commons, it looked as if Johnson would have to settle for the political role of an also-ran. However, when Cameron succumbed to the pressure of the back-benchers and called for a referendum on whether the United Kingdom (UK) should continue to remain in the European Union (EU) or leave, Johnson sensed an opportunity.

Those in favour of continuing to stay in the EU were known as the Remainers. Those for the UK leaving the EU were termed as the Brexiters. The story goes that Boris Johnson wrote two speeches, one for continuing in the EU, the other for leaving the EU. With Cameron for staying in the EU, Johnson decided that the only way to stand out was to leave the EU. And so Johnson delivered an inspiring speech for leaving the EU and led the campaign for Brexit in the weeks before the countrywide referendum on June 23, 2016.

With the motion to leave the EU scraping through with a narrow margin in the nationwide referendum (58 to 42 per cent), Cameron resigned and Johnson felt his time had come to lead the party and the country. However, with the Tory MPs being sharply polarized, Cameron’s loyal deputy Theresa May was elected as the Conservative Party leader.

However, leaving the EU was easier said than done. The UK could not leave the EU without securing a deal to protect British interests. The British Parliament (specifically the House of Commons) appears to have tied itself in knots over the last three years, with repeated attempts to strike a deal with the EU not being approved even in the face of a looming deadline.for leaving.

The UK cannot afford to leave the EU without a deal. During the decades when the UK had been a member of the EU, British business had developed not just close but indispensable links with manufacturers and services in other member-states.

For instance, leading British car-manufacturers were sourcing the bulk of their component-parts from ancillaries in other member states and without having to pay any duty, as per EU norms. To ensure that British car manufacturers remained competitive without having to pile on the costs of maintaining an inventory, these parts were being sourced JIT (meaning Just-In-Time). For instance, the Honda assembly plant at Swindon in the UK maintains just an hour’s inventory and relies so heavily on the JIT process that it is estimated that just a 15-minute delay at the Customs could cost as much as 850,000 pound-sterling a year. Under the JIT system, labour, material and goods are scheduled to arrive exactly when needed in the manufacturing process.

If the UK left the EU without a deal, the entire JIT system for thousands of British manufacturers could collapse. Likewise, the supply to supermarkets in the UK of pharmaceuticals and many foods and beverages could be affected to an extent where there is even official speculation of a nationwide consumer crisis leading to riots.

Hence, the CBI (Confederation of British Industry) was and is keen on a deal being worked out before Britain leaves the EU. The other problem is that London will no longer be the financial capital of the EU once the UK leaves. Even leading Indian investors like the Tatas will be affected. During the first decade of the 21st century, the Tatas had taken over both Europe’s second largest steel manufacturer (the Corus Group, headquartered in London) and the leading car manufacturer Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) Ltd (headquartered in Coventry in the UK). JLR also relies heavily on the JIT process, with the lifeline being the cross-border supply-chain network linking it with hundreds of component parts-manufacturers in other EU member-countries.

During the campaign for the 2016 Brexit referendum, when asked about the commercial impact of Britain leaving the EU without a deal, Boris Johnson is famously said to have used the four-letter F-word and replied, “F–k business!”. Ironically, the worst impact of a collapse of the JIT could be on northern England and the Midlands which voted overwhelmingly for Brexit.

Brexit history may have been different if Boris Johnson had studied economics and not the classics at Balliol College in Oxford University from 1983 to 1987. A grounding in economics would have helped him better understand the importance of JIT and he would not have had to follow in the academic footsteps of an earlier generation of elitists like Lord Curzon who, before he became the Viceroy of India from 1899 to 1905, went (like Boris Johnson) to Eton, and Balliol College, Oxford, where he (like Boris) not only studied the Classics but likewise became president of the Oxford Union, the university’s debating society.

Like Boris, Curzon was so self-assured an elitist that he inspired his colleagues to write Balliol doggerel (comic verse) about him, which went, “My name is George Nathaniel Curzon/I am a most superior person/My cheeks are pink, my hair is sleek/I dine at Blenheim once a week.” The ever-so-assured Boris Johnson would be photographed reciting the doggerel verse about Curzon.

The one consolation for Boris Johnson is that even if he is not in the Churchill class, he can still go down in history as a 21st-century Curzon.

Terror after Baghdadi: Was he Islamic State’s end run, or is a sequel in the offing?

The daring raid by American special forces in northwestern Syria to take out the leader and self-declared ‘Caliph’ of the Islamic State (IS), Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was a phenomenal military achievement made possible by crucial multilateral cooperation. It was not only one of the finest hours in the history of US commando missions but also a rare moment of hope that the world can band together to counter the menace of terrorism.

For a unilateralist ‘America First’ president like Donald Trump, who habitually blames other countries for not picking up the tab, to acknowledge that the operation to decapitate the IS’s head was accomplished through “certain support” from Russia, Turkey, Iraq, Syria and the Syrian Kurds, underlined the salience of unity.

The intense geopolitical rivalries among fractious regional powers of the Middle East, plus the broader hostility between the US and Russia, had created the fertile environment in which Baghdadi’s brutal IS climbed to its pinnacle. By the time Baghdadi proclaimed in 2014 that he was the new ruler of the entire Muslim world, it was obvious that proxy wars fuelled by outside powers had paved the way for the monstrous IS phenomenon.

For a ‘Caliphate’ crisscrossing Syria and Iraq to once control 88,000 square km and govern 12 million people, the main causal factor was divisions among the various Arab, Turkish, Persian and Jewish states, overlaid by the calamitous US invasion of Iraq in 2003.

IS exploited the ‘Sunni versus Shia’, ‘Muslim versus non-Muslim’, ‘pious versus unbeliever’, ‘ruler versus ruled’ and ‘masculine versus feminine’ dichotomies in the context of vested power plays. That it took so long to nail Baghdadi (he was wanted by the US since at least 2009) shows how narrow turf wars made extreme jihadist violence a permanent feature.

Baghdadi’s good riddance was made possible because, at least temporarily, everyone agreed that he had to be dispatched. What happens next is the crucial question now, because Baghdadi was a symptom of the malaise and not the malaise per se.

The fatal temptation of using Syria and Iraq, not to mention Yemen, Somalia and Libya, as proxy battlegrounds to settle scores and gain leverage over one another, remains among the region’s unreformed potentates and their extra-regional patrons.

Baghdadi may be gone but fears of an IS resurgence in northeastern Syria due to Trump’s troop withdrawal and Turkey’s invasion are well founded. The lack of reconstruction in war devastated Sunni inhabited parts of Iraq and Syria, as well as the mutual obsession of Saudi Arabia and Iran to wage an eternal struggle for supremacy, mean that some sequel to IS will linger to keep the pot boiling.

Globally, the death of Baghdadi will demoralise affiliates from far-flung parts of Asia and Africa which swore allegiance to the ‘Caliph’. But Baghdadi was actually the fourth in a sequence of leaders of IS and its previous avatars (‘Al-Qaida in Mesopotamia’ and ‘Islamic State of Iraq’) who have all been killed.

His successor too will be named and the ideological venom of wiping out ‘infidels’ and ‘apostates’ will not cease as long as the systematic misgovernance and skullduggery of the authoritarian ruling classes in the Middle East continue unchecked.

Baghdadi’s appeal was, of course, not limited to the Middle East. At its peak, IS had attracted over 40,000 foreign fighters from 110 countries. Propaganda-fed redemption seeking Sunni youth from far-flung corners flocked to Baghdadi’s call to wage holy war in Syria and Iraq. Those who could not reach the ‘Caliphate’ carried out terrible atrocities in their home countries and surrounding areas in the name of IS.

Trump’s rhetorical flourish that “the world is now a much safer place” after Baghdadi belies the reality that the deadly mix of local grievances and online radicalisation will keep spurring IS and al-Qaida inspired hatred and martyrdom culture. Regulating internet and social media-based communications is as urgent a task today as providing inclusive governance and social structures wherever purposeless youth are at risk of gravitating into radical traps.

Baghdadi was the product of a grand failure of the international community. History could repeat itself if all concerned, including the principals in the Middle East, do not reflect upon and correct their multiple mistakes.

Toxic Political Environment Promotes Hate

When lives are tragically cut short, it is generally easier to explain the “how” than the “why”. This dark reality is all the more felt when tragedy comes at the hands of murderous intent. Explaining how 50 people came to be killed, and almost as many badly injured, in Christchurch’s double massacre of Muslims at prayer is heartbreaking but relatively straightforward.

As with so many mass murders in recent years, the use of an assault rifle, the ubiquitous AR15, oxymoronically referred to as “the civilian M-16”, explains how one cowardly killer could be so lethal.

It was much the same in the Pulse nightclub in Orlando three years ago, when one gunman shot dead 49 people in a crowded space and, though the motive appears very different, the same sort of military instrument of death lies behind the 58 deaths in Las Vegas a year later. An AR15 was used to shoot dead 11 worshippers in Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue last October and a similar weapon was used to kill six people in a Quebec City mosque in January 2017.

It is a credit to the peaceful nature of New Zealand society that, despite the open availability of weapons like the AR15, the last time there was a mass shooting was in 1997. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern rightly identified reform of gun laws as one of the immediate outcomes required in response to this tragedy.

But lax gun laws are arguably the only area in which blame can be laid in New Zealand. Ardern, together with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, was also right to refer to this barbaric act of cold-blooded murder of people in prayer as right wing extremist terrorism driven by Islamophobic hatred.

State and federal police in Australia have long warned that, next to the immediate threat posed by Salafi jihadi terrorism, they are most concerned about the steady rise of right-wing extremism. There has been some comfort in the recognition that the most active right wing extremist groups, and there are many, are disorganised, poorly led, and attract but small crowds.

On the face of it, then, right wing extremism in Australia is nowhere near as serious as the neo-Nazi movements of Europe or the various permutations of white supremacy and toxic nationalism that bedevil American politics. In America, it is conservatively estimated that there were 50 deaths due to terrorist attacks in 2018, almost all linked to right-wing extremism.

In 2017, it is calculated that there were 950 attacks on Muslims and mosques in Germany alone. Many of last year’s attacks in America involved a common right wing extremist hatred of Islam, and a targeting of Muslims, joining a long-standing enmity towards Jews.

Almost all recent terrorist attacks have been lone-actor attacks. They are notoriously difficult to predict. Whether inspired by Salafi jihadi Islamist extremism or right wing extremism, lone-actor attacks commonly feature individuals fixated on the deluded dream of going from “zero to hero”.

One of the main reasons authorities struggle with identifying right wing extremist “nobodies” who post online, before they turn to violence, is that it’s difficult to pick up a clear signal in the noise of a national discourse increasingly dominated by exactly the same narrative elements of mistrust, anxiety, and a blaming of the other.

In Australia, as in Europe and America, mainstream politicians and mainstream media commentators have increasingly toyed with extremist ideas in the pursuit of popularity. Many have openly brandished outrageous ideas that in previous years would have been unsayable in mainstream political discourse or commentary.

Donald Trump can be deservedly singled out for making the unspeakable the new normal in mainstream right wing politics, but he is hardly alone in this. And sadly, for all of the relative civility and stability of Australian politics, we too have now come to normalise the toxic politics of fear.

No-one put it better than The Project host Waleed Aly in saying that Friday’s terrorist attacks, although profoundly disturbing, did not come as a shocking surprise. Anyone who has been paying attention and who really cares about the well-being and security of Australian society has observed the steady growth of right wing extremist and right supremacist ideas in general, and Islamophobia particular.

They have seen the numerous attacks on Muslims and Jews at prayer and worried about the day when the murderous violence that has plagued the northern hemisphere will visit the southern hemisphere. But more than that, they have worried about the singling-out of migrants, and in particular asylum seekers, African youth and Muslims as pawns to be played with in the cynical politics of fear.

Scott Morrison is right to say these problems have been with us for many years. But he would do better to point out that our downward trajectory sharply accelerated after John Howard’s “dark victory” of 2001. The unwinnable election was won on the back of the arrival of asylum seekers on the MV Tampa in August followed by the September 11 attacks, and at the price of John Howard and the Liberal party embracing the white supremacist extremist politics of Pauline Hanson.

Both major parties, it must be said, succumbed to the lure of giving focus groups and pollsters the tough language and inhumane policies the public appeared to demand and reward. We are now beginning to see the true price that we have paid with the demonising of those arriving by boat seeking asylum, or looking too dark-skinned, or appearing too religious.

The result has been such a cacophony of hateful rhetoric that it has been hard for those tasked with spotting the emergence of violent extremism to separate it from all the background noise of extremism.

There are, of course lessons to be learned. Authorities need to do better. We can begin with a national database of hate crimes, with standard definitions and robust data collection. Clearly, we need to pay attention to hateful extremism if we are to prevent violent extremism.

But ultimately, we need to address the permissive political environment that allows such hateful extremism to be promulgated so openly. The onus is on commentators and political leaders alike. They cannot change the past, but they will determine the future.

The Land of the Morning Calm Intensifying Efforts to Go Nuclear

On the Korean Peninsula, trends are aligning in a way that could prompt South Korea to develop nuclear weapons, according to an analysis by Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists published on October 23.

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is the organization that operates the famous “Doomsday Clock,” a symbolic measurement of the likelihood that mankind will begin nuclear war, with midnight representing the zero hour—global destruction. In its analysis of South Korea, the organization points out that Seoul’s calculus about whether it should develop nuclear weapons is driven by two primary factors: the likelihood that North Korea will surrender its nuclear arms voluntarily, and the reliability of the United States’ extended deterrence were a nuclear conflict to erupt on the Peninsula.

“Both,” the Bulletin wrote, “are trending in the wrong direction.”

In the case of North Korea, during the first two years of Donald Trump’s presidency hope abounded that America would reach a deal to denuclearize the country’s military in exchange for lifting sanctions imposed upon it. But those talks between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un collapsed in February, and another round of negotiations failed earlier this month. Meanwhile, the North resumed tests of short-range nuclear-capable missiles in May. President Trump has responded to the tests basically with a shrug, counterbalancing them with endearing letters he receives from Kim and stressing that the shorter-range weapons cannot reach the U.S. mainland or many overseas American assets. But the missiles are fully capable of striking anywhere inside of South Korea.

In the case of the United States, South Korea is a treaty ally, which would obligate America to protect it in the event of an attack. The U.S. would also be expected to deter such attacks before they occur with the 28,000 troops, Thaad systems and other weaponry it has stationed in South Korea. But since the early days of his presidency, Trump has bristled at America’s burden-sharing arrangement with the South. He has renegotiated the terms to increase the amount South Korea pays and argues Seoul should still be paying more.

The administration’s “disregard for the traditional alliance undermines the credibility of extended deterrence and has made South Koreans pessimistic about their continued dependence upon the United States,” the Bulletin wrote. “The more Trump brags about the letters from Kim Jong-un, the more he alienates an ally.”  The organization added: “If these trends continue, a nuclear South Korea is a question of ‘when,’ not ‘if.’”

Some in America’s leadership recognize the logical outcome of these trends. Last month, Stephen Biegun, the U.S.’s special representative for North Korea, asked rhetorically, “At what point will voices in South Korea or Japan and elsewhere in Asia begin to ask if they need to be considering their own nuclear capabilities?”

The Bulletin was careful to note that even if the South Korean people and leadership decided to go nuclear, they would be restrained by treaties the South has signed. “Global and bilateral nonproliferation instruments, such as the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons,” it wrote, “strictly prevent the Seoul government from going nuclear.” And South Korea would also be restrained “by the International Atomic Energy Agency’s watertight monitoring presence.”

But both North Korea and Iran also signed the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. And though the International Atomic Energy Agency routinely sounds the alarms about both, its “watertight monitoring presence” has barely slowed either nation’s drive toward developing nuclear weapons.

None of man’s various treaties, monitoring schemes and peace plans are able to secure peace. In all such ideas, there is nothing to forcibly prevent unfathomably destructive weapons from being built and used. And there is no true cause for hope.

Renaissance Reshaped European Society 5 Centuries Back. Is it Recurring?

Some 500 years ago, Johannes Gutenberg, Nicolaus Copernicus, Michelangelo and others were part of the Renaissance, a time of significant cultural change. Now we are entering the era that I would like to call ‘Age of Discovery’. and it is our introduction to the advent of a New Renaissance.

What are some of the key ingredients that you think indicate we could be headed for a second Renaissance? In the big picture, we boil it down to three things: new maps, new media, and a new human condition, which are the three very broad parallels that reshaped the European society 500 years ago and are reshaping our world today. Five hundred years ago a man named Johannes Gutenberg brings the printing press to Europe. It suddenly flips the economics of information exchange and knowledge creation, and that had enormous implications — not only to accelerate science and technology, but also to give new power to extremist movements, like the Bonfire of the Vanities that a man named [Girolamo] Savonarola ignited to rip control of Florence from the establishment, the Medici, and put his own populist agenda in power.

When there is widespread social discontent and a new technology available to give that discontent a powerful voice and bind together the people who feel the same way, we just can’t take the status quo for granted anymore.

As you look at the history of the first Renaissance, one of the famous people who really had the best grasp of what was happening in the time he lived in was Machiavelli [Niccolo Machiavelli of Florence, author ofThe Prince, published in 1513]. Today, Machiavelli gets a bad wrap because he’s seen as Machiavellian. Historians themselves nowadays debate whether Machiavelli really was all that Machiavellian. But that conversation aside, he too said that we live in a moment of contest. One of his pieces of wisdom, of advice, to his contemporaries, which included DaVinci and Michelangelo, is that in a time of rapid upheaval, “It is better to be impetuous than cautious. We’ve got to continue to take risks.”

It was a very strange thing to say because it seemed very counter-intuitive. The more fraught with risk our environment becomes, the more we want to hesitate, to press pause, to wait and see how things are going to fall out. Machiavelli told all of his peers, “No, no, no, that instinct is exactly backward.” Because in a time of rapid change, whatever our present habits are, they are rapidly becoming outdated, ill-suited to the time we live in, even dangerous to maintain. It’s bold action, it’s impetuous action, that shows the rest of us, what’s the new way of doing things, right? What’s the new wisdom that operates better in the time we live in?

And so we need to continue to take risks, to reset our expectations, and reset our basic habits of action so that we don’t just get left behind by the world that is changing around us. It is better to be impetuous than cautious. We’ve got to continue to take risks.

The reality is that the digital realm has come in so fast and so strong that a lot of people don’t even remember what it was like before.  That is a perfect example that we are not in an ordinary time. We are living in extraordinary times. Within 25 years, the basic structure of our global economy, our politics — you think of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of the Cold War, the reintroduction of China into a global economic system — has reshaped the world. So those are the new maps.

But also the new media, computers, digitization, social media, have so completely reshaped the world that we live in. Can you remember a time when if you wanted to share your photographs from the vacation with your friends, that the only way to do that was to order a second set of prints, and mail them? I do remember that, but very vaguely. Or that I had to go to the public library to look up the capital of a country I didn’t know. More than half of us remember that time very well, but that world is gone, and it’s never coming back.

Just imagine that till recently the concept of the scrapbook was very popular.  But now, probably nobody under the age of 30 understands what a scrapbook is today. In 15 years, it’s going to be the biggest thing. Something else that is interesting and maybe comforting to older generations is that while technologies change, and circumstances change, human nature actually remains pretty stable through the generations.

That’s partly why it is possible to look back 500 years, understand how people dealt with the time they lived in then, and bring some reliable wisdom forward. Although the technology environment has completely changed, humans, our nature, our interests, what deeply drives us, still more or less the same. So things like scrapbooking, the nostalgia for the past, the joy of collecting pieces together and putting them into some tangible forms, there’s something deep within us that enjoys that. In 20 or 30 years, when everyone is diffused in this digital age, there’s going to be some trend that says, look at how they used to do this, and wasn’t this amazing? People are going to start to pick it up and realize that there are some deep things that are satisfying and valuable about interacting with physical stuff, objects, and suddenly it will become a trend again. Obviously that is a very important piece to where we’re going to go over the next 50 years.

In the big picture, now is the best time in history to be alive. This is basically an assertion based on the big macro-stats of health, wealth, but also education. Because of the enormous expansion of higher education in places like China and India, there are more people alive right now with a higher education degree than all university degrees awarded in history prior to 1980. It is extraordinary. There are 3.5 billion more literate people alive today than 25 years ago. Virtually the incoming generation of adults is going to be literate, which means 90% of humanity is going to be able to plug into the new knowledge and information networks that we’ve created. Throughout human history, information has always been our most precious resource, always. It always comes down to information in the end.

Civilizational Chennai Connect: Can the past point the way to the future?

If the first informal summit meeting at Wuhan between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping, held in April 2018, was to showcase the industrial hubs in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, the second such meeting at an Unesco heritage site will go down in history to remind China of not only the continuous civilizational resilience of India but also a shift in geo-political and geo-economic activity towards the Indo-Pacific region.

Firstly, Modi was sending a subtle message to Xi at the Mamallapuram temple complex. The Pallavas and Cholas who ruled the area, expanded their empires into Southeast Asia, refined the cultural traditions and enhanced trade. No land in the region was ever claimed by Indian rulers, unlike the 3.5 million sq km of South China Sea now under intense militarisation by China citing “historical claims”.

Secondly, Modi was highlighting the long tradition of literature, culture and trade exchanges between Indian civilisation with those of the east, living in harmony for centuries, unlike China that is not only occupying a portion of Kashmir but dividing India’s civilizational map through its “all weather” ties to Pakistan. As Pakistan gets sucked increasingly into the vortex of China’s “community of common destiny”, the Mamallapuram outing offers some issues to ponder.

It’s only recently that China’s leaders claimed that the country’s rise is not intended to acquire hegemony, that they will not acquire bases abroad nor keep their armed boots abroad. On the other hand, China began its operations at Djibouti base, even as it began refurbishing Hambantota and Gwadar ports. Hambantota was taken away from debt stricken Sri Lanka on a 99 year lease, reminiscent of the Hong Kong lease to Britain at the end of the Opium Wars.

Thirdly, on an “internal matter” of India, only a few days and weeks ago, China had gone to the United Nations Security Council for “back door negotiations” on how India is handling the Kashmir issue. Nothing came of it. Foreign Minister Wang Yi went to the UN General Assembly stating China’s new found mantra on not changing the “status quo” in Kashmir, forgetting that China’s $62 billion in investments and positioning of security guards in Pakistan occupied Kashmir are transforming the ground reality substantially.

During Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to China a day before Xi travelled to Chennai, both again reiterated that bonhomie. Surprisingly, as Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale stated after the informal summit meeting, Kashmir issue was never raised by the Chinese side in the talks. Instead, both reiterated their opposition to all forms of terrorism.

Fourthly, choosing the southern Indian maritime city on the shores of Bay of Bengal as the venue and the “Chennai connect” is in line with the Act East policy launched in 2015. Modi’s speech at Shangri-La dialogue in June 2018 set the tone for an “inclusive” architecture for the Indo-Pacific region, provided aspirant countries uphold openness, rule of law, freedom of navigation and overflight.

The Modi-Xi meeting decided to further the maritime links between the two countries, without endorsing China’s Maritime Silk Road. As the Indian statement, issued at the end of the meeting, stated, Tamil Nadu and Fujian province are chosen for sister state links, in addition to establishing an academy to study links between Mamallapuram and Fujian.

Quanzhou city in Fujian boasts of such links with a thriving community of sea-farers, temple architecture with granite rock imported lock, stock barrel from south India. The maritime museum at Quanzhou has replicas of ships used by Ming dynasty eunuch Zheng He who led seven expeditions as far as Africa and made Ceylon, among others, a tributary. Instead of an abrupt and aggressive posturing through Chinese submarine visits to the Indian Ocean, the second informal summit meeting provides scope for a gradualist step-by-step exploration of the maritime domains.

Fifthly, while China has been put on notice by Trump administration official Kiron Skinner on a possible “clash of civilisations” India, on the other hand, has been comfortable in projecting its cultural heritage abroad. The cultural shows at Houston, C3 (commerce, connect and culture) as a part of the Act East policy towards Southeast Asia, and renewing cultural linkages with the Indian Ocean states under Project Mausam are gaining ground. These will be further strengthened as a part of the Sagarmala initiative.

Sixthly, relative decline in growth rates in China as a result of the on-going and stifling tariff wars with the United States has led to a gradual re-location of manufacturing units to other regions in the Indo-Pacific taking advantage of labour wage differentials. Southeast Asian countries like Vietnam and Indonesia are the initial beneficiaries of these relocations. But there are also prospects for India in the coming years. The declaration from foreign secretary Gokhale that a high-level committee under finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Vice Premier Hu Chunhua to look into trade and investments is in this direction as well. We will have to wait and see what happens as previous promises from China for $20 billion investment in India never materialised.

Charity for business

Allowing religious trusts to invest in startups could catalyse the ecosystem.

Religious trusts have been historically known to be repositories of wealth donated by disciples and followers.

“Jiska koi nahin, uska toh khuda hai yaaron,” (he who has no one, has God, my friends) was a hit song from the 1981 film, Laawaris. Its lyrics are as relevant for today’s budding entrepreneurs.

For most founders who have struggled through uncertainty, all that separates those who will succeed from the ones who won’t, is the power of self-belief and prayer. Sometimes this prayer is directed at investors who can be their saviours, while sometimes it’s a plea to the divine. Whichever god one believes in, or does not, the fact is that founders will try everything they can to make it work, and for them investors can be gods.

Religious trusts have been historically known to be repositories of wealth donated by disciples and followers. However, this opaque world has opened up in recent times with the income and profitability of some of the well-known trusts now available with credit rating agencies as well.

Globally, the Vatican is reported to be worth $10 billion or more, while the Mormon Church in the US is estimated to be worth four times more. In 2015, the Islamic Development Bank estimated that Muslims donated “Zakat” worth $262-560 billion, of which a sizeable share would have been to religious organisations. Various media reports indicate that the richest temple trust in the world — the Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram — is, even by conservative estimates, valued at approximately $17 billion. Combine the value of antiques accumulated over centuries and this amount could be 10 times or $170 billion. That’s equivalent to the GDP of oil-rich Qatar. Many similar temple trusts like those of Tirupati Balaji, Shirdi Sai Baba, Vaishno Devi, Siddhi Vinayak and Golden Temple are known for holding onto their wealth or investing it in government securities alone. Almost all of them reportedly saw huge spikes in “donations” immediately after demonetisation in 2016.

This raises a question of national priorities and liquidity: A government that has aggressively championed and executed projects to reform and bolster almost all the sectors of the economy, must focus on this locked-in wealth. While prevailing rules prevent charitable institutions from deploying these contributions in anything that is not specifically mentioned, is it not the time to question this logic? Is it not the time to consider a change in policy that could potentially go a long way in bringing in wider funding options to India’s deserving entrepreneurs and startups who need continuity and stability, in planning as well as in execution at the policy level, along with the involvement of key stakeholders in the entire decision-making process?

In 2018, India turned out to be the world’s third-largest startup ecosystem, with $38 billion in foreign direct investment. Imagine the multiplier effect on employment generation if thousands of genuine startups start seeing capital inflows through these religious institutions. At present, the wealth in funds/trusts is mandated to be invested/deposited as per their respective guidelines and there is no provision for investments in alternate investment funds (AIFs). Even if these trusts/funds invest 5-10 per cent towards entrepreneurship or venture capital, it will facilitate the creation of the largest pool of capital for venture capitalists in the next decade.

Consider the cascading effect: This can trigger a fresh new wave of entrepreneurship and job creation, one that will make the world sit up and take notice of India in a new light. If the policies pertaining to investment/deposit of such trusts/funds are amended to include investment in AIFs Category-I, then, by further investment in startups, they can generate direct and indirect employment in huge numbers, giving a fillip to the economy.

The evidence of employment generation exists from our own experience wherein YourNest Venture Capital (AIF Category-I) has generated 820 direct and many more indirect jobs from just 14 startups, most of whom are enterprise-driven, B2B (business to business) firms. A B2C (business to consumer) startup such as PayTM is believed to employ over 13,000 people and has over three million merchants on its platform. Reportedly, Flipkart has over 30,000 employees, Zomato has around 4,300. In addition, these startups have also generated innumerable employment opportunities indirectly through their partners.

Such precedents exist in the global scenario: The institutions equivalent to charitable trusts are endowment funds, which are allowed to invest in Indian small and medium enterprises and startups, and are being rewarded for their proactive investments. Early-stage businesses offer attractive returns whereas India’s own long-term funds are not participating in this asset class.

If India’s aim is to be a more efficient economy, policy-makers must allow our charitable/religious trusts to invest/deposit part of their corpus into the startup eco-system. This can be achieved by amending Section 11(5) of the Income Tax Act, 1961 which pertains to modes of investments/deposits made by charitable/religious trust. This section can include “Investment by acquiring of units of SEBI registered AIF (Category I & II)”.

Ambitious, as it may be, there will certainly be many arguments opposing this move. But, if we remain focused on the fact that idle wealth should be unlocked for the benefit of the economy, then employment generation will get an actual boost leading towards a positive rush in the Indian economy.

Economics of Sanyasi

As I have dared question wisdom of those educated in Ivy League, it obviously meant by liberal count an absolute proof that I am a rabid Hindu Sanghi and more!

I now stand educated that the reason of Indian poverty has been Indian traditions and not Western exploitation.

Thus chastised by some highly educated Indians, I am forced to explain that nobody educated in medium English wants to believe, and that is that India (well before our JNU/BHU/IIT kids went to Ivy League to discover it) had its own economic theories and practices.

While I would love my convent-Ed friends to provide me a good translation of the word “Aparigrah” (Don’t Google it as it is also being educated by the educated, it will translate it as “Imperfection”, may be as a proof how well the west, and now educated Indians understand India) I want all the young Indians out there to try and imagine the kind of society that came out with an economic concept like Sanyasi and Sanyasthashram.

If I ask any young Indian today what he thinks is a Sanyasi, thanks to various Gurus (best looked-at as construction contractors making money by claiming to build an imaginary bridge between western sciences that they can’t understand and Indian philosophies that they don’t know) it is almost an abuse.

But, there is a faint memory now in public mind (but fast-fading thanks to alien green G63 AGM Mercedes, Honda VFR X and Ducati scrambler desert sleds) that a Sanyasi is a person who has left/renounced the society.

So, an Indian Sanyasi is a man who is portrayed as an ascetic who wanders aimlessly in the forests away from humanity, and hence he has nothing to do with the society.

This is a picture of a man fabricated to explain the inexplicable to the west, and hence it is never understood as an economic idea, an idea of a human being who has reached a stage of life or mind to be able to trust the society completely and totally.

The idea of “Sanyasthashram”, a phase of life when a human being is expected to become a Sanyasi, is the essence of how India understood society, ownership, economics and human life.

A Sanyasi is not the man who has renounced the society, he is exactly opposite to it.

It may sound strange, but if renouncing the society was the qualification of being a Sanyasi, we, the modern west-influenced citizens of the world should be called Sanyasi because we have completely renounced the society.

We own things and we hoard things. This means that we have absolutely no trust in humanity or human society.

A Sanyasi, on the other hand, has given up the idea of owning and hence he has to fully and completely trust the society for his existence.

So, before we were reformed and enlightened by the idea of virtue of selfishness that we imported from west and are now celebrating, we had an economic model for the society.

Through four phases of life, we were expected to enjoy all the pleasures of life but in the last phase, we were expected to let go of the wealth creation, of ownership, of hoarding, and move to becoming trustees and mentors of the generations coming in.

It was a simple idea that not only accepted realities of human life, or rather death, but also prevented the damage we can do to the planet by losing sight of the temporariness of our existence.

Though it may look philosophical, it is nothing but a practical economics in action.

An economics that has to be in place on a finite planet inhabited by an animal with infinite imagination and hence potential to be infinitely greedy.

While I am a bit over-critical about the Ivy League thinkers, deep within me I know that they are also thinking the same. It is obvious to anyone who is thinking today that we are heading for a meltdown and a new way of life has to be found.

My only lament is that we have cluttered Indian thinking a bit too much now and mindless critique of ancient Indian ideas is fashion of the season amongst even educated Indians.

This is disallowing us to use our inheritance that is mostly intellectual and our own intellectuals are not ready to give it even a cursory look out of fear of the peer pressure of the west-educated elites that have filled Indian intellectual space.

My only humble request is that we have a culture that lasted for almost five thousand year and the one we have imported seems to be falling apart in less than five hundred.

There must be something worth learning from India.

The importance of Sultanpur Lodhi in the life & work of Guru Nanak Dev

A sleepy town in Punjab’s Kapurthala district, Sultanpur Lodhi, is at the centre stage of the 550th birth anniversary celebrations of Guru Nanak Dev, founder of the Sikh religion. It is here that the main anniversary programme will be held on November 12, with the Prime Minister expected to attend.

The Guru Nanak Dev link

It was in Sultanpur Lodhi that the Sikhism founder is believed to have attained enlightenment. The janamsakhis — birth stories or biographies of Guru Nanak Dev written towards the end of the 16th century — say he was a changed man after he took a dip in the rivulet Kali Bein that flowed through the middle of the town, and disappeared for three days.

Prof J S Grewal, historian and former vice-chancellor of Guru Nanak Dev University, said when the Guru resurfaced after three days, he uttered the seminal words, “Na koi Hindu, Na koi Mussalman (People are neither Hindu nor Muslim)’’.

“He declared his own way. He had his own views about liberation. And it was after this that he started his mission.’’

The Guru also said he had seen the “navkhand”. “Those days, geographers had divided the earth into nine continents. It is after this episode in Kali Bein that Guru Nanak said he had seen all the nine continents,’’ Grewal said.

The duration of his stay

Guru Nanak was born at Rai-Bhoi-Di Talwandi in Sheikhupura district (now in Pakistan) in 1469. His father Mehta Kalyan Das is variously described as a revenue officer (patwari) or a chief accountant.

He moved to Sultanpur Lodhi between late 1480 and 1490 at the invitation of his elder sister Nanaki and her husband Jai Ram, who was in charge of the grain storage depot (Modikhana) of Daulat Khan Lodhi, the then shiqqdar (commissioner) of Sultanpur Lodhi, who later rose to become the governor of Lahore.

There are conflicting accounts of the duration of his stay at Sultanpur Lodhi. While historian Dr Ganda Singh writes he was there for 10 years between the ages of 18 and 27, Dr Hari Ram Gupta, another scholar, claims he was here from the ages of 16 to 30. But most scholars agree that he lived in the town for around a decade until 1500, when he decided to undertake his travels, called udasis.

Since the revenue from 40-odd villages in Daulat Khan’s jagir was collected in the form of grains, Modikhana was akin to a treasury. Nanak also started working there.

Legacy of Sultanpur Lodhi

Historians say it was in Sultanpur Lodhi that Guru Nanak came into intimate contact with Islam.

The janamsakhis depict the tension between a section of the clergy and Guru Nanak following his enlightenment. His utterances were not received kindly by the qazi. He complained to Daulat Khan Lodhi that Nanak was being blasphemous. Prof Grewal said Daulat Khan Lodhi also challenged Guru Nanak Dev to say the namaaz with him. “Lore has it that after the namaaz, Nanak told him your prayers will not be accepted because all along you were worried about your foal falling into an open well in your courtyard.’’

It is here that he said what you say is not as important as what you do.

Janamsakhis claim Daulat Khan Lodhi became very fond of Nanak and defended him against critics. When Nanak decided to leave the town in 1500, he is said to have urged him to stay. But Nanak said it was a call from the supreme being and not his decision. Over time, Bhai Mardana, who accompanied Nanak on all his travels, and Daulat Khan, came to be considered among his two principal Muslim followers.

Today the town is home to several gurdwaras in the memory of Guru Nanak. Most of them were commissioned during the Khalsa empire when the Sikh rulers staked out the places associated with Guru Nanak and built gurdwaras there. Gurdwara Ber Sahib, built by the side of an old ber tree that is believed to be the one under which Guru Nanak would sit in meditation along the Kali Bein, was commissioned by Maharaja Jagatjit Singh of Kapurthala. The cornerstone was laid by Bhai Arjan Singh of Bagarian in 1937, and Maharaja Yadavinder Singh of Patiala presided over its completion in 1941.

Architectural history

Vikas Chand Sharma, an assistant professor of architecture at Chandigarh University, who has researched the architectural history of Sultanpur Lodhi, said it was a major centre of Buddhism from the first century to the sixth century when it was called Sarwmanpur.

In the 11th century, the town was founded by Sultan Khan Lodhi, a general of Mohammad Ghaznavi. Sikander Lodhi, assigned the construction of Sultanpur to Daulat Khan in the 15th century. It was the central point in the trade route between Delhi and Lahore. Grewal said a footnote in Babarnama, the autobiography of Mughal emperor Babur, mentions Daulat Khan Lodhi as the founder of the town. And the rest follows.

Invading Vietnam’s Waters

Relentless Chinese pressure may be forcing Vietnam to consider the hitherto unthinkable – an alliance with the US. While growing public anger about Hanoi’s restrained response to Chinese maritime aggression is pushing the government to take China to the international court, for the first time an influential voice has publicly called for alliance with the United States.

The latest turn has come as since July, Chinese oil survey ships accompanied by armed vessels have defiantly sailed up and down Vietnam’s Exclusive Economic Zone. They have flouted Vietnamese sovereignty and harassed oil drilling in Vietnamese waters. China considers its foray “legitimate and reasonable”, arguing that joint Vietnamese-foreign oil operations in Vanguard Bank reef violated China’s interests (one such joint operation involves Vietnamese state oil company and Russian Rosneft with 5% shares held by India’s ONGC). China has demanded Vietnam “immediately stop its unilateral infringement activities and restore tranquillity to the waters concerned”.

In May 2014, when China first sent its drilling platform into Vietnamese waters, spontaneous public protests broke out leading to violence against Chinese and Taiwanese businesses. It was not the image of stability Vietnam wanted to present to foreign investors. Although the government has so far been successful in containing smouldering public resentment, on a visit to Vietnam I was struck by the widespread expressions of anger against China. In a privately organised meeting in Hanoi just ahead of an important Party conclave, a number of senior former officials and academics denounced Chinese aggression and rebuked the government’s weak-kneed response.

Popular anger after three months of tensions seems to have led Vietnam’s president and party secretary general to publicly pledge “tenacious defence” of its sovereignty and preparedness to tackle “challenges and opportunities”. Sources said that while militarily confronting the vastly superior Chinese navy was not an option, the government may decide to seek international support by taking China to the international court in The Hague for violation of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Vietnamese officials view the Chinese action of virtually stationing its survey ship and a fleet of coast guard and naval vessels within its EEZ and continental shelf as an attempt to test Vietnamese and international response. In 2016, when Beijing ignored the ruling of the international court that its expansive claims in the South China Sea were illegal, the international response was muted. If China is allowed to continue flouting Vietnamese sovereignty it would completely lose its claim to the waters it so long strenuously defended. Vietnam fears the ultimate goal of the Chinese operation is to coerce claimant countries like Vietnam to become junior partners, by accepting joint explorations with China in all of the South China Sea.

In a recently published article Vu Ngoc Hoang, a former senior official of the Party who is said to remain influential with top leadership, strongly urged the government to sue China. “We need to use the law to take a stance against China. If we do not persist, we risk losing our East Sea. And losing the East Sea means losing our country.”

Marking a stunning departure from the traditional approach, Hoang writes that in order to protect Vietnam’s sovereignty it should consider a military alliance. “Of all Vietnam’s strategic partners, one has already exposed itself as the very aggressor that plots to take over our East Sea,” he notes referring to China. China is always termed Vietnam’s “comprehensive strategic partner” whereas the US is called just a “comprehensive partner”. Now, alluding to the US, Hoang writes, “another country, though not yet a strategic partner, has already spoken out early and strongly in support of our sovereignty. In my opinion, given that reality, the latter country deserves to be our strategic partner – even if it had done us wrong before.”

Hanoi may be far from contemplating such a move but the fact that such views are being aired might give Beijing pause.

Many don’t understand what it means to be racist

In the wake of recent events during the federal election, it seems to me that if Canadians are to address the continuing significance of race and racism, we had better make up our minds to do so head-on.

When images surfaced of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in blackface and brownface, many Canadians wondered why that was an act of racism. And then NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh was told by a white Montréal man that he “should cut your turban off…. You’ll look like a Canadian.” The man then said he hoped Singh would win the election.

Why aren’t Canadians better at making sense of what racism is?

What we need — besides action and good policies — is a good, hard-nosed theory of racism. It should be a theory with interesting and useful metaphors. It should be a theory folks can grab hold of. It should be a theory that has the capacity to make sense to white nationalists and white supremacists.

Right now we use concepts like “white privilege” and “implicit racism.” These can be useful ways to quickly explain white racism in non-threatening ways in everyday life. They also include an understanding of the history and politics of racism. But they may also be too easy and too superficial and so they also also nurture white complacency.

We need to find ways to articulate the phenomenon of racism and the intricate ways it is experienced, observed, measured, practised and resisted.

What is racism?

Let’s start with a brief definition of racism. First, it consists of prejudice as values — when one holds positive self-perception and negative attitudes and stereotypes of others: one cannot exist without the other. This is true even if that prejudice is expressed in positive terms, such as “Chinese are good at math” or “Africans are great athletes.”

Second, prejudice is mobilized through power — the coercive power of state and cultural violence. This power manifests itself as discrimination that benefits one group at the expense of others.

In Toward the African Revolution, 20th-century philosopher Frantz Fanon argued that there are “cultures with racism and cultures without racism” and so “the racist in a culture with racism is therefore normal.”

But not all racist cultures are created equal.

Pierre Van Den Berghe, sociologist and author of Race and Racism, explains that despite the independent discovery of racism in a number of societies, the western strain of the virus has eclipsed all others. Through the colonial expansion of Europe, racism spread over the world. He also explains that culture should not be an excuse for individuals to absolve themselves from the responsibility of white racism.

Therefore, we need a theory that brings together the interplay of cultural permissiveness with individual responsibility to resist the racism in one’s culture.

Racism is in our cellular memory

One suggestion I have is to borrow from scientist Rupert Sheldrake’s unconventional theory of what’s known as morphic resonance. The idea of morphic resonance is that habits of self-organization are learned and transmitted across time, place and space. These habits are then built up as inherited memory.

Applied to the social context, what this means is that racism is a habit of mind and concrete practice in cultural organization.

Maybe the theory of morphic resonance can help us understand how racism is produced and reproduced through social forces. That is, as Fanon explained in Black Skin, White Masks, racism is sociogenic: it is literally and metaphorically learned behaviour that becomes engrained as a cultural imperative.

Real people are racist, not institutions or systems. Thus racism is relationally “contagious” within and across generations through cultural memory in aphorisms, stories, ideas and ideologies.

Racism is not only learned, it is experienced as pleasurable, is materially rewarding and is passed on in the nurture of culture where it deceives its perpetrators by appealing to the worst elements of human nature.

Racism is a habitual way of thinking and practising power that circulates among living members of a culture and is bequeathed to future generations. It is epigenetic — meaning it influences our genes. But genes are no more destiny than culture. Both can be altered, if not transcended, through fostering alternative habits of thought and behaviour.

For anti-racist cultural transformation to take place, a critical mass needs to commit to policy, politics and good faith to create a cascade of changed hearts, minds and behaviour. Given the deep and learned habit of racism, this is no easy task.

Here is the rub: racism, for all its utility to individuals and groups who wield it, is in fact self-defeating and socially dangerous.

The latter is evident in Nazi-ism, nativism and totalitarianism. Even aside from the fact that negatively racialized groups are terrorized, racism doesn’t stop there. Berlin journalist Charlotte Beradt’s gathering of anxiety dreams experienced by ordinary Germans after Adolf Hitler came to power tells us that racism is a chicken that, sooner or later, comes home to roost.

This self-defeating nature of racism is too easily concealed by the elites it principally serves, as the authors of Boomerang Ethics: How Racism Affects Us All explain.

Dig in for the long haul

I believe Trudeau played racial politics with his apology. The prime minister confused his personal misdeeds as solely his wrong, and wilfully missed the point of his conduct.

Second World War-era philosopher Hannah Arendt, in her essay “Responsibility and Judgement Under Dictatorship”, demanded that we strike a discerning balance between the culpability of a mass group and the responsibility of leaders:

“…it is obvious that every generation, by virtue of being born into a historical continuum, is burdened by the sins of the fathers as it is blessed with the deeds of the ancestors.”

Looking at Trudeau exercising the manifest power of state and the latent power of white Canadian culture, it is vital that the conversation moves beyond good versus bad, guilt versus innocence and indifference versus intent. These stark oppositions tilt too far into the subjective experience of individual responsibility to offer much analytical value.

The emphasis ought to lay with the reality that anti-Blackness and white racism is a group dynamic shaping the conduct of individuals and groups.

Can white Canadians bring themselves to radically theorize and dig in for the long haul to meet the challenge of eradicating white racism and nationalism?

Which white political leader living in the fragile glass house of whiteness will have the courage to throw the first stone? Leaders need to lead, sometimes ahead of the lowest common denominator they too often follow.

The Untalked Burnout Pandemic

 A growing share of younger workers are starting to run out of steam, amid growing workloads, long hours and inadequate support, CNBC reports. The stress is exacting a hefty toll, with half of the millennials and 75% of Gen Zers saying that they have left a job due to mental health reasons.

Stress – from the Latin “stringere”, to squeeze tight, touch or injure – is not bad, per se. Positive stress and adrenaline in the right circumstances can make us stronger, happier and healthier. Yet, in certain work environments, chronic stress provokes anxiety, detachment and fatigue that can lead to burnout.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that nearly every fifth child or teenager and every fourth adult will be affected by burnout at some point in his or her active life. The situation is so widespread in developed countries that the WHO has added burnout to its list of globally recognized diseases, defining it as a syndrome of “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed” which “includes feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion, results in increased mental distance from one’s job and reduced professional efficacy.” 

A Gallup poll of 7,500 full-time employees indicates that one in four employees feel burned out at work very often or always, while nearly half report feeling it sometimes. The trend seems particularly acute amongst the young. A Deloitte study on workplace health in the US suggests that 84% of millennials have experienced burnout in their current job. Women are more likely to suffer from the disease than their male counterparts.

Although the global economic burden of burnout has not been calculated, it is estimated that the global cost of mental illness will grow to $16 trillion by 2030, in part, owing to the increase in burnout.

As we celebrate World Mental Health Day, let’s take a look at the drivers of burnout.

Burnout: a disease of the 21st century

We live in a high-speed world, where digital interconnection, sophisticated technology and social media purportedly make us smarter, faster and more effective. But greater digitization is also causing acute isolation; our connection to other humans and to nature is quietly superseded by FOMO (“fear of missing out”) and social media angst.

Medical research indicates that our connection with ourselves, other humans and with our natural world improves our sense of health and happiness. Conversely, when we lose our sense of connection, anxiety, depression and burnout are all too frequent.

As the pace of change increases, so organizations are asked to produce more with fewer resources. This is perhaps where the squeeze of burnout is most keenly felt. Year-on-year the bar gets raised, without the requisite reflection on human costs.

Gallup’s study of the primary causes of employee burnout found that the main factors have less to do with expectations for hard work and high performance, but are more closely associated with the management and treatment of an individual.

Oversized workloads, unreasonable time pressures, lack of role clarity, lack of communication and support from management and unfair treatment at work correlated most with incidents of burnout. When employees say they often or always have enough time to do all of their work, they are 70% less likely to experience high burnout. Similarly, when employees strongly agree that they are often treated unfairly at work, they are 2.3 times more likely to experience burnout.

Work environments are the least equipped of all support networks to respond constructively to burnout with just 27% of supervisors responding positively to incidents of burnout and only one in three colleagues offering the support needed.

Women are more likely to experience burnout in part because of factors outside an employer’s control such as low self-esteem and poor division of labour outside of the workplace. A significant contributor, however, is unfavourable working conditions that hit women harder than their male counterparts, including fewer professional advancement opportunities and more frequent occupation of low-authority roles.

Countering a culture of fear

Standard protocols for addressing burnout in the workplace are starkly nascent. Those affected by the disease tend not to speak out for fear of reprimand or out of shame. This culture of fear inhibits the early identification of the disease and makes reintegration into the workplace more challenging.

If you are feeling emotional, mental or physical exhaustion, or if you are demotivated, frustrated, cynical or anxious at work, it may be time to ask yourself some hard questions. If burnout goes unaddressed, it can translate into panic attacks, digestive issues, heart disease, immune disorders, migraines, depression and – in the most extreme cases – could lead to suicide.

As we move towards a fast-paced technological age, where we pride ourselves on equality of opportunity and efficiency, let us not forget the importance of being human-centred at work. Once we recognize burnout for the pandemic it is, we can begin the journey towards healthier and happier lives and work.

US Presidential election and Hinduphobia

Ever since Tulsi Gabbard announced her intentions to run for the top US office, she has been subjected to some of the most vicious smear campaigns by the ultra left and Jihadi groups from both within and outside of the Democratic Party. Gabbard, the Democratic Congresswoman from the 2 nd district of Hawaii, was back in the Democratic Presidential Debate after missing the last one. Many, including Gabbard, had blamed this omission to the ‘non-transparent’ qualifying rules of the Democratic Party.

On the debate stage last night, Gabbard specifically called out CNN and The New York Times, the two hosts of the debate, for their ‘smear campaign’ against her. She called it ‘despicable’. The allegation against Gabbard were so vile and personal that it made even New Gingrich, the former US House Speaker and a Republican, question them. He tweeted “Why is left so afraid of Tulsi Gabbard? I don’t understand the viciousness of the attack on her by NY Times and others.”

One of the main reasons Tulsi Gabbard gets attacked so viciously is because of her faith. Gabbard is a practicing Vaishnava Hindu and a follower of the Hare Krishna movement of AC Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. She is also the first Hindu ever to be elected to the US Congress and the first Hindu to run for US President. A vegetarian, Gabbard took her oath of office on the Bhagwad Gita. She has released year after year her now famous Diwali greetings videos and she was instrumental in getting the stamps released by the US Postal Service in recognition of Diwali. She also has a good working relationship with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In fact on one her visits to Delhi, she gifted the copy of the Gita she took her oath of office on to PM Modi.

In an interview with TOI’s Chidanand Rajghatta, Gabbard called such attacks on her “Hinduphobic”. While talking about her faith doesn’t bother her, she said, but what concerns her is that “it may discourage other Hindu Americans from running for office. It discourages them from being able to celebrate being who they are – a part of a beautiful unique fabric of diversity that is the United States of America.”

Hinduphobia in the society, media, and academia has more that 200-year old legacy in the West. It is, like any phobia according to Jeffry Long, a Professor of Religion and Asian Studies at the Elizabethtown College in the USA, “an intense and deeply rooted aversion – a fear and hatred – in this case, of Hindu and Hinduism.” This Hinduphobia, writes Long in his paper ‘Reflections on Hinduphobia: A Perspective from a Scholar-Practitioner’, “as a set of intellectual claims that portray Hindus and Hinduism in a negative light.” One of the salient features of a Hinduphobic discourse, writes Long, is that any positive and progressive aspects of Hindu faith and society are either ignored or attributed to outside, non-Hindu influences.

During the last 200 years or so, foreigners and the Marxists have dominated the study of India, its culture, traditions, texts, religions, etc. For example, the emergence of Indology as a field of study of India can be traced back to neo-Protestant theology and their debates over scriptures as well as its anti-clerical prejudices. These prejudices over time, but consciously, were applied to the Indian texts where one can easily trace the antecedents of anti-Brahmanism. These Indologists, according to Vishwa Adluri, a Professor at Hunter College of the City University of New York, USA, held the belief that “Indians lacked access to the “true” meaning of their texts… for Indians never developed scientific critical thinking.” The University College Chapel, Oxford monument of Sir William Jones is a prime example of this attitude. The monument shows Sir Jones comfortably sitting on a chair and writing something on a desk while three Indians squatting in front of him. The inscription underneath the monument reads, “He formed the digest of Hindu and Mohammedan Laws.”

Similarly, Hinduphobia has deep roots in the centers/departments of South Asian Studies across the globe. In the US universities, the emergence of the departments of South Asian Studies as the powerhouse of academic activities related to India is purely a result of the political and strategic exigencies of the US government during and after the WWII. One of the main objectives of such Centers was intelligence gathering in the South Asian region. Many of the stalwarts of these South Asian centers, according to Nicholas Dirks, a South Asia expert and the Chancellor of the University of California, Berkley, were spies of the US working undercover in India. The struggles of the Hindu-Americans in fighting the biases and inaccuracies in the California high school history textbooks is testimony to the Hinduphobia perpetuated by these South Asian centers.

In the later part of the 20th century, Marxists consciously hid and denied any reference to India’s past achievements. They also picked up from where the colonialists and missionaries left in demonizing almost each and every facet of the Hindu society. Much of it is reflected in the Indian textbooks as well as in the media coverage. The recent Hinduphobic social media post of a journalist of the National Public Radio (NPR) is a case in point. That journalist had to resign after intense pressure from the Hindu-American community.

While concerns about Hindu-Americans testing the political waters in the US are genuine, the real concern lies in their safety. The recent hate crime data released in 2018 by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) shows that the number of Hindu victims of hate crimes has tripled since 2015. Some, if not all, of this uptick, can be attributed to Hinduphobia as well.

Sunday Special: Visualization & Mental Imagery Can Make You Better at Life

Improve your precision skills, achieve your goals, and optimize your health by visualizing desired outcomes. Visualization is simply a mental practice of imagining or meditating, with a particular focus on imagery.

As opposed to silent meditation, where you let go and don’t intentionally guide your thoughts, visualization is about consciously creating mental images. Our minds can treat visualized experiences and real experiences as much the same when it comes to practice and learning. This effect is so profound that visualization has been scientifically proven to benefit the development of fine motor skills, such as hitting a golf ball or shooting a target.

The benefits of a visualization practice can apply to health and business, too. How you see yourself and how you imagine your desired future can improve blood markers and may make you more capable of achieving your goals.

In this article, we are going to dive into the science-backed benefits of visualization, and then I’m going to share the specific mental imagery practices I use to optimize my life and that you can use in yours.

Plastic Surgeons, Self-Help, & Science

My first major introduction to visualization came in the form of a powerful book called Psycho-Cybernetics by Dr. Maxwell Maltz. Though few today have heard of this work, it was once known as “the bible of self-help” and has been changing lives since the 1960s.

Despite having been written over 50 years ago, I found the book to be positively fascinating and surprisingly scientific. Maltz was a prominent plastic surgeon, whose most common service was to give people new faces by correcting abnormalities. He quickly noticed that his clients often became whole new people after the surgery, finally freed from this-or-that blemish or scar.

To Maltz, however, it wasn’t these incredible success stories that caught his attention, but the failures. Though most people came out of the surgery feeling like a brand new human being, others would feel that nothing had changed, and even accused Maltz of doing no surgery despite the obvious changes to their face. Family and friends could see the obvious differences, but the client denied it vehemently.

Maltz developed a theory that physical changes to one’s image only matter if they cause a simultaneous change to one’s internal “self-image.”

Our self-image is, simply put, the way we see ourselves — not just physically, but also the many talents, traits, strengths, and weaknesses we believe ourselves to have.

If the image we see in the mirror and the image we have in our head does not align, we will deny the evidence in front of our face in favor of our mental visualization of reality. Maltz felt that people were not capable of doing something that contradicted their self-image without also changing that image.

For example, if you believe strongly that you are incapable of making a basketball three-pointer, and then you make one, you change your self-image.

Some people hold so tightly to their self-image that even proof that it’s false will not get them to change. If you’ve ever seen someone like this, it feels like witnessing a person with short-term memory loss.

I used the three-pointer as evidence for a reason. When I was a kid, one of our basketball team members, Jacob, was absolutely convinced he couldn’t make a three-pointer. We spent a whole practice making him shoot for a three to (hopefully) prove him wrong and get him out of his funk.

First, we could tell he was shooting badly on purpose, trying to get out of it. When he realized our resolve to make him shoot for the whole hour, he began trying. Eventually, perhaps purely from the pressure of being singled out, he made a three.

Of course, we all celebrated, but Jacob didn’t react to it. It isn’t that he tried to deny it or be humble, or even sulk. He just went back to the rest of practice and continued to insist he couldn’t shoot threes.

This is similar to what Dr. Maltz experienced with clients who claimed he had skipped performing surgery on them, and that they couldn’t see any changes even when it was obvious to everyone else. Their self-images were stubbornly rooted, and physical evidence alone wasn’t enough to change them.

Wanting to solve his client’s problems, Maltz began to explore the deep realms of psychology, and soon having clients who he’d council and help to change their self-image without ever going under the knife.

Maltz coined this field “psycho-cybernetics.” Psycho refers to the mind, and cybernetics refers to the feedback-based system of the self-image. Like a thermostat, your self-image is a feedback-based machine. You feed it images and experience, and it aligns with reality based on that.

Another great metaphor is the homing missile. Homing missiles don’t just go straight to their target. They are actually making slight mistakes on their flight path and making constant slight corrections the whole time. They operate by having an aim and correct themselves along the way to reach that aim.

Maltz believes this is how your self-image operates. You supply an aim, like the missile’s target, and then your self-image edits itself over time to reach that aim.

I know this may seem like a lot to wrap your head around, but it will become more clear once we look at some research.

The Science

Maltz’ concepts sound great in theory, but in the modern era, they’d be worthless without science to back them. Fortunately, science we have.

One of the easiest ways to see the benefit of visualization is to observe it’s use in physical skill, such as improving one’s golf game or improving one’s basketball shot. In this study by the Department of Justice at The University of Lewisville, visualization was used to improve firearm capability as a way of aiding in police training.

72 student volunteers were grouped into visualization and control groups to test the efficacy of visualization. All students practiced their marksmanship physically, but those who also made use of visualization improved an average 32.86 points higher than those who simply practiced physically.

In psycho-cybernetics terms, these students improved their shot by providing their mind with a target to aim at. Just like the homing missile described earlier, the students aimed mentally at their target, and visualized themselves successfully shooting.

This process helped tune their self-image to see themselves as capable of shooting well, and then their shots improved more than if they had simply practiced physically.

I have a personal story that convinced me of the power of tuning your self-image for success, especially with motor skills.

One of the most famous, yet most difficult movements in CrossFit is the Ring Muscle-Up. To perform this move, one must grab onto a pair of gymnastics rings hanging high above the ground.

Then, you must find a way to get the rings under your shoulders so that your torso is above and between them. Then, you do a tricep press. The total sum of this movement looks something like swinging your body to gain momentum, jerking your body up towards the rings at the top of the swing by using your arms, and then engaging your core like you’re doing a sit-up to swing your torso above the rings and “catch” yourself in the upright position.

Despite watching several technique videos, I could not for the life of me finish the movement. I knew I had the strength, and my technique was great, but I just couldn’t get my torso to pull upright over the rings.

But this whole previous year I’d been using Maltz’ techniques to optimize my life across multiple spectrums, so I decided to apply a little self-image tuning to the muscle-up.

I sat down, and first visualized myself performing the muscle-ups in the third person. I saw myself doing the entire movement smoothly and perfectly. Then, more importantly, I visualized myself in the first person, as though I were actually doing it in real life.

When I stopped visualizing, and got on the rings, I did my first muscle up like it was easy, and went on to perform the move regularly.

The biggest change I noticed had nothing to do with technique. It’s that when I tried to do a muscle-up this time, I felt like someone who already knew how to do muscle-ups. Before, I felt like someone who had never performed a muscle-up, so I wasn’t confident.

By behaving as though I’d already performed muscle-ups, even if it was only true in my mind, I blasted through the movement with no issue. The biggest barrier was confidence, not technique or strength.

Visualization can heal the body

Before we move into the visualization techniques, I want to discuss one last thing.

Visualization can literally heal you.

Consciousness is one of the least understood realms of study. We know that our biology houses consciousness, but so far, it is impossible to tell where physical body ends and consciousness begins. Sure, the brain is the primary engine for consciousness, but the brain and mind affect the function of the body.

With regard to visualization, a meta-analysis of 15 studies by Peter R. Giaccobi et al. found that guided imagery, aka visualization, appears to be beneficial for improving arthritis in afflicted patients.

Guided imagery lowered the stress hormone cortisol, which is often implicated in inflammation, and patients reported reductions in their arthritis symptoms.

Now, I don’t want to over-hype that power of visualization. If you have cancer, don’t try to solve it using visualization only. But the fact that there is some influence on health markers is mind-blowing in its own right.

Visualizations for Life, Goals, & Skills

While the implications of visualization for sport are obvious and studied, one of the most common uses for visualization is for long-term goals and business.

When it comes to life goals, rather than tuning a fine motor skill such as shooting a target or performing ring muscle ups, visualizing is about tuning your confidence and “alignment with opportunity.”

A huge component of achieving major life goals is the confidence and belief in oneself that you are capable of achieving them. That sounds like common sense, but think about it.

How often have you stressed over a major goal and caught yourself worrying whether you have what it takes? Then, when you finally achieve it, you realize it was easy.

For my part, I used to feel major stress about the idea of walking into a business and pitching a product back when I was affiliated with a credit card processing company.

Even though my company offered the lowest card processing rates, and had an amazing track record of saving businesses money, I was mortified by the idea of going into a business and asking if they would be interested in more information.

The first business I walked into rejected my offer, but I was ecstatic! The pitch went smoothly, and when I admitted it was my first pitch and more for practice, the owners warmed up to me and accepted some pamphlets.

From that point forward, pitching was easy, and I had no problem walking into multiple stores a day. It took me months of thinking and worrying to pitch to one store, yet I turned around and pitched to 20 more in the first week after that.

This is just an example of how our beliefs about ourselves limit achievement, and a visualization is an amazing tool for rectifying these limiting beliefs.

I use two types of visualizations for pursuing life goals and business targets.

First and foremost is something called a “future me” visualization. I learned this from the book Way of the SEAL by Mark Divine. Mark is a former Navy Seal commander who served for 20 years, as well as a master of karate and a yogi. On top of his military and fitness accolades, Mark has also started 6 multi-million dollar businesses since he retired from the Navy — and he attributes a huge component of his success to visualization and meditation.

“Future me” is a practice Mark uses to keep his aims clear and his life-path consistently in his mind, as well as to identify limiting beliefs that may stop him from achieving his goals.

The Future Me visualization for life goals

To do the future me meditation, start by taking deep breaths through your nose for 5 minutes.

If you get impatient, try putting on a calming musical track like The Mighty Rio Grande by the artist This Will Destroy You.

After 5 minutes of deep breathing, begin a visualization.

3 months: Imagine your ideal self in 3 months, having achieved your most immediate goals and in perfect health. Try to conjure up as much detail as possible. See yourself working in an ideal, happy, and diligent manner, as well as participating in activities with good friends, or doing things you haven’t done yet but want to do. Try to see color, and even bring smells into your visualization.

The more detail, the better. If you can, try to visualize the highlights of a whole day playing out as though watching a movie. What time are you getting up? When and where are you working, and with whom? What leisure activities are you involved in? etc.

1 year: Now take the visualization out even further, and see yourself living your ideal life a year from today. What are you doing? How is your work? How fit/healthy are you? Really get into it and see yourself living ideally in a year.

3 year: Lastly, paint yourself a picture of your ideal life as it is happening in 3 years. This is often where I visualize myself doing very difficult things I have always dreamed of, such as doing Kokoro camp, an event that allows civilians to experience 48 hours of Navy Seal Hell Week training. This is also where I imagine myself living in the cities I’ve always wanted to live in, having a kid on the way, or things of that nature.

You want things to still be realistic. You should have some goals you are still pursuing, even in the 3-year meditation. Maybe you’ve achieved all the goals you have now but are pursuing something new, like another degree or an independent business.

Merge: The final part of this meditation is the most important. Visualize each of these future versions of you, and collapse them into the you that exists now. See yourself as already being the person who has done the things in your visualization, so that you see yourself as someone capable of such goals.

Fantasize with purpose

Fantasize with purpose is another visualization I learned from Mark Divine’s Way of the Seal. This one is similar to Future Me in that it focuses on a desired future, but is instead focused on a specific goal.

To perform fantasize with purpose, pick a major goal you are pursuing. For my part, my goal is to have Keenan Eriksson Fitness become a powerful hub for online courses, one on one coaching, and to have a physical location in San Diego where I can train clients and run my business with a team.

Once you’ve picked a goal, again begin by performing deep breathing for 5 minutes.

Now, imagine your goal either as you are fulfilling it, or after it has already been fulfilled and you are maintaining it.

For example, if you have a goal that involves a one-time achievement, such as making a big sale or climbing a mountain, then visualize yourself training for it and then performing this achievement perfectly.

See yourself doing the prep necessary, such as reading books like Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, or doing hikes around your neighborhood with a heavy backpack.

If your goal is something that will fundamentally change your day-to-day life, then you also want to include visualizations of that life.

For example, with my goal to house Keenan Eriksson Fitness in a physical facility in San Diego, I both visualize the training and steps to make that goal a reality as well as the day to day life after I have achieved it.

I see myself and my training team working at the facility and teaching clients, and living this ideal life.

Batten down the hatches

Once you start visualizing achieving goals, you will likely notice areas of your mental practice that seem more important. For example, you may notice that future version of you has a set of skills that you lack, but are crucial for making your goal a reality.

This is where you want to identify a piece of your visualization to practice daily.

You can still explore your fantasize with purpose visualization by adding new things, but make sure to repeat your visualizations of things you find difficult. This is akin to the students who used visualization to improve their shooting, but instead you are practicing the most difficult steps of your future goals.

Now, not everything can be practiced in your head. Some of these steps will be less like skill-practice, and more like advertisements for things you need to do in real life.

An example would be seeing that you need to read a book about marketing or buy a backpack for hiking. For these types of visualizations, I still suggest repeating them daily, but you should buy these tools or start doing it in real life within a week.

If you still haven’t bought a backpack in a week, put a pin in it and visualize something else. Otherwise, the backpack visualization will simply be noise and time you could spend identifying other important tasks. It will come back up when and if it is important enough.

The key to fantasizing with purpose is repetition. This is the kind of practice you want to perform daily until you achieve your goal.

Mark Divine used a mix of Future Me and fantasize with purpose to blast through BUD/S, the section of Navy Seal training that includes Hell Week, which is considered by many the hardest military training in the world.

Mark not only became a Seal, but also a Seal officer and the honor man of his Bud/s class, which is a distinction given to the person considered the best among a Seal graduating class by his peers and instructors alike.

Mark attributes his success to a visualization he started performing in the year leading up to his joining the Navy. Mark would watch a popular TV advertisement for the Navy Seals at the time, and then visualize himself in the ad. He’d see himself performing drills, doing log PT, and getting “wet and sandy” with “his” crewmates. Mark would visualize himself not just surviving, but thriving through navy seal training, and that’s exactly what he did when the day came.

Skill practice visualization

Last but not least is skill practice. This is actually the first visualization we discussed, as it is the act of practicing a skill in your head to improve in real life.

This one is pretty simple. Start by taking 3 large abdominal breaths, relaxing with each exhale. Ease your mind and come to a place of stillness.

Now, imagine yourself performing a skill you are aiming to improve, perfectly. This is easiest to imagine with sport skills, but it’s also incredible for things like music or preparing for an event.

First, see yourself in the third person as though on video. See yourself perform the skill a few times perfectly, as though you were a world-class expert.

Now, move to the first person, and feel yourself performing the skill perfectly a few times. Notice how your body is moving, how it feels, and really get into the visualization physically.

I use this meditation often in fitness or sports. I’ve used this to improve in martial arts, dance, olympic lifting, swimming, and even to exert more strength during exercise.

A great way to boost the power of this visualization is to record yourself performing a skill on video and watch technique videos before visualizing. This will arm you both with the knowledge of what perfect looks like (the technique video) as well as what you look like.

Many of you will find this visualization more useful in business or general life. Use it to “rehearse” before an event or anything that intimidates you.

Giving a speech? Practice it in your head. Going bungee-jumping and feeling nervous? Practice doing it calmly in your mind. I used this meditation before doing door-to-door sales for the first time.

Virtually anything that can be practiced can be used in this meditation. Don’t limit yourself. It’s incredible how much you can improve by taking a few minutes to visualize detailed success before going to perform in real life.

Bonus: Freestyle visualization

Though I’ve outlined 3 specific visualization tools you can use, you can expand on them to develop your own. If possible, begin with at least 3 deep breaths, and ideally 5 minutes of deep breathing for more powerful visualization.

Then simply visualize desired outcomes. Don’t be afraid to visualize things you may think are beyond your control.

When I was sick, I would visualize myself healing. Meditation has been shown to lower inflammation, and it’s possible that visualizing yourself healing can actually “heal” you, to some extent.

In the realm of chronic disease and functional medicine, it is a common experience that people will not heal until they address their emotional state. Even though they’ve done all the supplements and have their body should have the resources to heal, they stay sick until they go deep and see themselves as a healthy person instead of a broken one.

We don’t fully understand the mechanisms of how consciousness affects the physical body, so don’t underestimate the power of getting your head in the right place.

Other forms of freestyle visualization are to see yourself in a loving relationship or having a family. This isn’t about making things happen for you without doing the work. I don’t think of these practices as magical or that they get the universe to give you what you want. However, I do think they prime you to believe in yourself, and see yourself as someone who could confidently get the things you desire in life by doing the work.

Some of the most difficult problems can be at least aided with these practices.

For example, perhaps you have infertility issues, which are all too common among both men and women these days. I know of people who have solved their infertility with lifestyle and dietary changes. Visualizing yourself as fertile and conceiving a child probably won’t make it happen on its own, but it can prime you to be more receptive to solutions—and then follow through with action.

Remember, the main purpose of visualization is to set your aim both consciously and subconsciously. The better you have aimed your mind at a goal, the easier it will be to take the needed action to pursue and achieve it.

My main point is to say: don’t limit yourself. If you want something in life, no matter how out-of-control it may seem, apply your visualization process to it and truly imagine it becoming a reality.

It Works

My own story is actually one you are witnessing right now. I had health problems for about a year and a half, and I was determined to make an income despite being unable to work classical jobs.

I also realized I had a huge tome of powerful health and fitness information in my head that could help others. There were many things I had tried that helped, and I had deeply researched many others.

I re-read Mark’s book, as well as Side Hustle by Chris Guillebeau (which is about turning an idea into income in 5 weeks) and within a month created a website where I wrote health and fitness articles. Within 4 months, I was writing for Better Humans.

Without my visualizations, I would not have believed myself to be skilled or knowledgeable enough to write for this publisher, but in my head, I saw myself as a true expert and leader in this field during my “fantasize with purpose” drills.

A year ago today, I couldn’t work out and I had bad mental and physical fatigue. Today, as I type, I can feel the soreness of yesterday’s kettlebell workout, and later tonight I’ll go two-stepping with some coworkers from my part-time job at a dog training facility.

Anyone who is familiar with chronic fatigue syndrome, thyroid disease, adrenal problems, or other chronic disease knows that these conditions often plague an individual for decades, if not for the rest of their life.

I employed many tactics to overcome my health issues, but the bedrock was my aim to heal and belief in myself. I learned to do this by practicing visualization, and even when I was too mentally frayed to meditate, I would write down my fantasize with purpose and future me exercises as stories in a journal.

The result? I healed from a chronic condition in two years, instead of the 15 or more years that it often takes others.

Visualization is a free and easy practice that can have magnificent results for your life.

From improving motor skills such as shooting a target or perform sport skills, to pursuing goals, and even becoming your ideal version of yourself, use of mental imagery is a powerful way to optimize your life

As ever, thank you for reading and good luck on your life journey.

Civilisation States

Since the Second World War, the dominant global political idea is of equal nation-states living under globally shared democratic institutions that emphasise peaceful interaction and negotiation. While the actual practice has fallen short, few have rejected the ideal till recently.

The two key components of this ideal are nation-states and global institutions. Nation-states ideally refer to developed states like Japan and Germany whose populace largely belongs to one race, faith, and ethnicity. Multi-ethnic states like Switzerland were also accepted as nation-states where people with different identities voluntarily live together due to its perceived benefits. Finally, newly decolonised states were treated as nation-states though most of them were heterogeneous and their borders had been created by colonial powers. With increased immigration, nationhood in even developed states became defined less in terms of identity and more in terms of citizenship.

These nation-states are bound together by evolving global political institutions built on the liberal ideas of democracy, rule of law and human rights. Though these ideals matured in the West, their inherent rationality and utility made them universal ideals. They are seen as ideals for both global and national politics. So while each nation-state may have its own unique history and culture, it is not those but these global ideas which serve as the basis for even their domestic politics.

While the evolution of this global system was incomplete, the idea of civilisation states has challenged it in the last few decades. Civilisation is an ill-defined concept. But one can distill a definition from the traits of great civilisations such as Rome, Egypt, and China. They were all large, complex and long-duration societies with unique social, economic and political institutions that produced significant scholarly and material outputs to benefit humanity at large.

There is a desire to buck democratic accountability.

Many states today claim to be successors to a historical civilisation and aim to reclaim its lost greatness. Such states invoke not current global political norms but their own imagined or real civilisational history in crafting their domestic political norms. They also oppose global political norms that may police their domestic politics and interaction with other states. The number of such states is still small but they include key ones. They include the three largest states population-wise (Trump’s US, China and Modi’s India) and other large ones like Pakistan, Russia, and even Brazil. They include six of the world’s eight nuclear states and a wannabe one, Iran. And the idea is spreading.

But in no state has civilisational reawakening produced novel ideas that improve over western liberal democracy. In fact, a closer look reveals that this move represents a desire to buck global democratic accountability and achieve a majoritarian dominance domestically, e.g., of whites in the US and Jews in Israel. Unsurprisingly, the movement is usually led by populist demagogues who appeal to crude emotions and not refined ideals.

Nor do they present novel ideas that could lay the foundations of truly unique civilisations. Samuel Huntington had identified nine current civilisations in his ‘clash of civilisation’ theory, i.e. Western, Christian Orthodox, Islamic, Chinese, India, African, Buddhist, Latin, and Japanese. Most of them fall short of the definition by not possessing unique social, political or economic institutions and/or not producing significant scholarly and material outputs that benefits humanity.

In some of these societies, there isn’t even much civilisational rhetoric. In India and Pakistan, the religion-civilisational rhetoric is vacuous. The political and economic institutions in all these societies derive from Wes­tern ones without reaching their quality. Only the Chinese political system is unique and, to date, successful but its economic system is not uniquely different from Western capitalism. Nor does it challenge Western civilisation. The Soviet system was unique in both ways and aimed to end Western civilisation, but it failed.

While I reject the clash of civilisation theory, I also reject Fukuyama’s opposing theory about the ‘end of history’ and the triumph of Western liberal democracy and capitalism. While liberal democracy is good, capitalism is not. Unluckily, all these new ideas oppose the strong point of Western civilisation, i.e. liberal democracy, but not its weak suit, i.e. capitalism. But while the challenge to capitalism is not emerging at the state level, it is emerging at the civil society level. Such social forces provide the hope for an alternative civilisation that combines social plurality and economic and political egalitarianism.

Between Wuhan and Chennai

The Chinese are inscrutable in the nuanced practice of diplomacy, and utterly ferocious when their core interests are challenged, a potent blend of Marx and Confucius. The Dalai Lama, Taiwan, the Spratly Islands are non-negotiable and evidently Ladakh too. They plan decades in advance and are mostly brilliant in anticipating the rival’s responses.

The Chinese plan for the worst that could come their way in pursuit of critical objectives. Mao Zedong famously said that China would lose a huge chunk of its population if nuked by either of the two superpowers it was playing off against each other, but the survivors would go to the mountains and have many more babies. He was being naïve, of course, as nuclear scientists would warn today, but that’s what he and his country believed then, and perhaps still do.

The Chinese can send a message in a subtle way, but can be absolutely rude if needed. That’s what they did with Nehru who they had begun to see as a collaborator with their imperialist bête noires, precisely choosing to strike at a time when the world was riveted to the Cuban missile crisis. There was no time for the Soviets or the Americans to respond to the short but bloody incursion.

In a subtler reproach, Mao invited Nikita Khrushchev to Beijing after being insulted in Moscow. His Soviet hosts had apparently made him wait inordinately for an audience with their leader. Khrushchev now desperately needed to meet Mao over fears of China courting the Americans, so he came calling. But he couldn’t swim or was bad at it, and Mao was the Great Helmsman, remember, who had crossed the Yangtze River in a legendary show of physical strength, and, as some fans believe, of spiritual prowess too. Mao invited the visitor to meet him in his swimming pool. In the book On China, Henry Kissinger describes with a chuckle the story of Khrushchev wearing protective armbands to stay afloat while struggling to keep pace with Mao at the deep end of the pool.

During a trip to Beijing with then Indian prime minister Narasimha Rao in 1993, I asked the local minders on the way from the airport if the buntings with Chinese inscriptions and colourful flags were set up to welcome the Indian leader? They replied with an emphatic no. The placards on display were to cheer the country’s bid to stage the 2000 Olympics. The event went to Sydney albeit under disputed circumstances. When their turn finally came in 2008, the Chinese built the fabulous Bird’s Nest Olympic stadium with iron ore bought from Bellary in India in a deal that erupted into corruption charges against Indian politicians, chiefly of the Bharatiya Janata Party.

On that particular visit, Rao and his counterpart Li Peng signed a landmark agreement for maintaining “peace and tranquillity” on their Himalayan borders, a suspiciously Chinese turn of phrase. Li was a celebrated premier at home but reviled abroad for his tough actions in the Tiananmen Square deaths of protesting civilians.

Mani Dixit was foreign secretary travelling with Rao. After his late night media durbar in Beijing, he told me what at first seemed like a funny story. Along with the peace agreement the two had signed, the Chinese had requisitioned 24 Indian buffaloes. It turned out to be a critical input into their Olympic planning. With little or no dairy culture, the Chinese were preparing 15 years before the event to offer milk, yoghurt and butter to international sportspersons and foreign spectators. The buffaloes were part of their early experiment and planning.

It is not quite clear why Chennai was chosen as a venue for the informal summit between Xi Jinping and Narendra Modi on Saturday. Varanasi and Udaipur were ruled out for some inexplicable reason and the air in Delhi was too polluted.

True, Chennai was part of an old India-China trade connection. But the Chinese fishing nets and the martial art of Kerala — kalaripayattu, replete with features of ‘crouching tiger, hidden dragon’ callisthenics — offer equal if not greater evidence of an old connection. However, Kerala is ruled by Marxists, anathema to Modi. Yet, the mandatory serving of warm water with meals is a uniquely Kerala tradition that is shared by the Chinese but not elsewhere in India, barring perhaps the north-east.

The fact that Modi was filmed picking up rubbish from the beach at the temple town of Mahabalipuram spoke also of the lack of preparation in detail that usually goes with high-level visits. Be that as it may, the ‘Wuhan Spirit’ assumed the avatar of ‘Chennai Connect’. Wuhan was where Mao performed the famous swimming feat, and it was where Xi won his communist epaulets as a formidable leader.

Another thought. Chennai faces the waterways that trouble India with an increased traffic of Chinese warships. But it also hugs the waters where Nixon sent the Seventh Fleet to threaten India in 1971. Why is one memory tardier than the other?

It is difficult to hazard a guess about the discussions. There was no joint statement, only individual summaries of the event from both. The best practice by astute journalists under the circumstances is to compare the notes — be they official or ascribed to unnamed sources — between as many sides as there are in a conversation. References to improved trade, and their emerging power status in Asia were common. Abiding with UN principles and international rule of law could be interpreted both ways — reference to Kashmir as well as the South China Sea.

India said Xi briefed Modi about Imran Khan’s visit to Beijing but denied Kashmir was raised or discussed. Imran was mentioned and not Kashmir? We will need to read tea leaves, an early Chinese export to India, to figure that out. Or perhaps wait, in Confucian contemplation for the truth to fall from heaven.

Bojo Brexit Travails Not Over

Against all odds and despite all the rude remarks about EU leaders, Boris Johnson, the British prime minister, has struck a “deal” on the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union, well in time before the October 31 deadline. It looked highly unlikely just three months ago when Johnson became prime minister in July and promised to exit by October 31, deal or no deal or die in the ditch in the process.

Johnson hasn’t had much luck with the British House of Commons since he became prime minister and suffered serial defeats. He managed to antagonise the Opposition and even his own party when he expelled 21 MPs who had voted against him. As such, he had inherited a party with no majority and the expulsions and other departures reduced his numbers in Parliament. He prorogued Parliament three weeks ahead of schedule which was appealed against in the courts. The Supreme Court declared it illegal and ordered Parliament to be resumed.

His prorogation united the Opposition. In order to forestall a possible departure on October 31 without a deal, Parliament passed an act asking him to come back with a signed deal by October 19, the day after a summit meeting of the European Union, and the last day for getting an agreement signed by the EU and the UK before the October 31.

If he had failed, then in that case, he had to ask for an extension of the departure date. Just seven days ago it looked likely that Johnson will not succeed in getting a deal signed by October 19. But, he also threatened not to obey Parliament and ask for an extension in the departure date till January 31, 2020.

The principal obstacle to the deal was the “Irish Backstop”. Northern Ireland is a devolved part of the UK which shares the island territory with the Republic of Ireland, from which it was partitioned a century ago. The republic is a member of the EU. If the UK was to exit the EU Customs Union, then any goods lorry going from Northern Ireland to the Republic would need to be inspected and would have to pay a tariff.

However, in 1998, a treaty was signed by the UK and the Republic, with the USA being the broker, declaring that the border between the north and the south would be free. Thus the departure of the UK from the EU would be impossible as customs inspection and a free border would be incompatible.

Theresa May had got a deal in which it was promised that the entire UK would stay in the customs union even after Brexit until the EU and the UK had negotiated a free trade treaty. This deal was rejected by the House of Commons four times. Northern Ireland rejected the option of being separately treated from the rest of UK for the purpose of the customs union.

Theresa May was asked to resign by her party and Boris Johnson was elected leader by the Conservative Party. He promised to exit by October 31 — deal or no deal. It looked like he preferred a no deal which would have brought all trade between the UK and the EU, especially between North Ireland and the Republic to a halt and cause severe damage to all economies.

In a meeting with the Irish Taoiseach (the prime minister) Leo Varadkar, Johnson made a breakthrough. It was proposed that Northern Ireland would remain in the single market (enforcing common standards of health and safety and environment in production of goods traded) which would avoid health inspection. As to customs union, Johnson proposed inspections not at any spot but electronically and at random locations. This was not enough, but provided ground for further negotiations. October 16 and 17 being the summit dates for the EU, day and night negotiations followed over the last weekend and well into this week.

The objections were formidable. Northern Ireland insisted on coming out with the rest of the UK from the EU. The compromise is that in law, all UK will exit together. But a free economic zone would be declared for Northern Ireland which will admit goods from mainland UK. These goods will be taxed if they go south to the Republic but not if they stay north. To ease the burden, all goods will be taxed as they cross the Irish sea but those staying within the north would be granted a rebate.

To ease trade between the north and south Ireland, as before, it is agreed that the rules of the common market would apply. But, to make it more effective, the UK has promised to obey common market regulations when it negotiates a free trade treaty with the EU. Thus, the border between the EU and the UK is in the Irish Sea which was originally rejected by Northern Ireland. Now, that has been agreed on. Northern Ireland will, de jure, leave with Great Britain but, de facto, be a free economic zone permitting trade across the customs union.

Johnson’s troubles are not over yet. He has to bring the deal to the House of Commons which will meet on a Saturday for the first time in 40 years. He will have to persuade Parliament to support it. With reduced numbers, he has to take back his expelled colleagues, keep the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MPs supporting the deal and win over about 20 more votes from the Opposition benches. MPs who want Brexit but with a deal may vote with Boris.

It has been a tense few days and the coming days will be even more so. I put the probability of success no more than 65 per cent. Johnson would be hailed as a great prime minister if he delivers a Brexit with a deal by October 31. If he wins, he will call for an election which he will win handsomely.

If he loses the vote, there may be a second referendum putting his deal to a vote or he may face a no-confidence vote. If he loses that vote, an interim government would take over, get an extension, and start negotiations all over again

Saturday Special: Technology to Make You a Better Meditator

I was trying technological progress. When I focus on my breath, on the methodical inhale and exhale, and the movement of my stomach, the storm sounds calm down. Occasionally, when I’m feeling very calm, I even hear birds.

After my 10-minute meditation session is over, the Muse brain-sensing headband (I’m using the most updated model, the Muse 2) delivers a report to my phone, detailing my meditation experience with a series of graphs and data points. According to the report, I was calm for 17% of that first session, equaling a grand total of one minute and 44 seconds. I spent about six minutes in a neutral state and nearly two minutes in an active state, and I “recovered” (meaning that I went from active to neutral, or active to calm) a whopping 39 times during the 10-minute session.

I think it could be useful to beginners as “training wheels” to get the hang of meditation.

Muse’s new meditation headband is just one device in a collection of new solutions that measure the effectiveness of your meditation sessions with data. As the mindfulness industry grows (it was reported to be worth $134 million in 2018, according to a report from Fact.MR, with projected 7% year-over-year growth), entrepreneurs are trying to find new ways to capitalize on the public’s increased interest in the ancient practice. Technology seems like the perfect way to get people hooked.

But there are still a lot of questions about these devices, as they’re fairly new to the market and many don’t have solid research behind them. First, do the devices actually “work?” Meaning: Do they really teach you to meditate? Second, do you actually need a device to get at meditation’s overarching benefits? Finally, and perhaps most controversially, do technological devices like these sully the generations-old tradition of meditation in an irreparable way, or do they help introduce more people to a practice that could benefit them long-term?

A new focus on mindfulness

Mindfulness is a decades-old practice based on ancient Buddhist and Hindu traditions; it often includes yoga and meditation, among other things, and it typically involves bringing your attention to the present moment over and over again. During the past few decades, scientific research about mindfulness meditation has taken off. Research, much of it funded by the NIH, shows that even short, 10-minute mindfulness meditation sessions can help people control and manage their pain, especially chronic pain; lower blood pressure; improve anxiety and depression symptoms; and assist with smoking cessation, among other things.

As more people learn about and embrace the benefits of meditation, brick-and-mortar studios and meditation apps are popping up everywhere. At the time of this writing, there were over 1,000 meditation-related apps available on iTunes and a 2018 study from the CDC found that more than 14% of American adults had meditated in the past year. (That number is a big increase from 2012, when only 4% of adults reported engaging in any kind of meditation practice.)

Harvard Medical School professor and Massachusetts General Hospital researcher Sara Lazar has been studying meditation’s positive effects for decades, and she believes the practice is becoming more widespread largely because it’s an effective balm for stress. Studies confirm that stress levels are increasing: In a 2018 APA study, 39% of Americans reported being more anxious than they were in 2017. American teenagers are also showing a steady rise in mood disorders and suicide-related outcomes, according to a 2019 study. (For example, rates of major depressive episodes in American teens increased by over 50% between 2009 and 2017.) Meditation is known to improve anxiety and depressive symptoms, especially for people who develop regular meditation practices.

All of these factors have led some experts to say that meditation will soon be one of the three pillars of wellness in western society: diet, exercise, and meditation.

Where technology comes in

It can be hard to get used to sitting still when you’re a beginner. Without instruction, the basic directions of meditation (which often involve “sitting with yourself” and “coming back to your breath”) can feel confusing. Muse co-founder Ariel Garten says that when she was running a private psychotherapy practice, her big secret was that even though she recommended meditation to her clients, she couldn’t do it herself.

“I thought I sucked at it,” she says. “My brain bounced around a lot.”

Many entrepreneurs, Garten included, believe that this basic problem can be solved with technology. Founded in 2007, Muse (developed by scientists who formed a company known as InteraXon) was one of the first user-friendly, consumer-focused EEG technologies to hit the market. Garten says the idea for the headband originally came out of Steven Mann’s wearable computing lab at MIT, where they were using brain-sensing computers to do simple tasks with their minds.

“We recognized that while we were teaching people to control the world outside with their minds, like turning on the lights, we were also teaching them how to meditate,” she says. “And it’s perhaps more valuable, even, to be able to control the world inside of you. We could give them real-time feedback and a window into their own minds. This made the intangible mind tangible.”

There are several other devices on the market with similar aims: One is the France-based myBrain Technologies, which developed a solution called melomind that offers biofeedback through EEG sensors. According to Sophie Squillaci, the company’s Marketing Manager, their target audience is people who want to train their brains to calm down and activate on command, rather than just learning to meditate.

WAVE, a music-based meditation service, was released several months ago to the tune of a nearly $6 million investment. The program allows users to meditate along to music by sitting on a yoga bolster (which you purchase and use at home) that vibrates in time with curated playlists, some of which also contain guided meditation sessions from popular teachers. Spire Health offers remote respiratory monitoring, claiming to track your breath and, by proxy, your stress levels. And Thync’s bioelectronic therapies track your brain activity during daily routines, when you’re at work or at home, to help you “achieve calm or increase your energy levels,” according to a 2015 press release.

To use the Muse 2 headband, you slip on the device over your ears and match the sensors to key points behind your ears and on your forehead. The Muse 2 offers several meditation methods: mind, heart, breath, and body. Garten says the “mind” track is the most popular; as experienced when I used this setting, the device translates the sound of your mind into the sound of weather. “You quiet the storm when you bring your mind back.”

Muse relies on EEG technology to track your brain activity. “It’s the same tech you see in a hospital or a lab,” Garten explains, “but instead of sensors being goo-ed onto your head with wires, it’s a slim device with a dry sensor.” According to Garten, the Muse headband reads your EEG, or the electrical sum total of activity in your head. “What we have is an algorithm that looks at whether you’re in focused attention or if your mind is wandering.”

She says that the Muse headband tracks a “unique and complex combination of various brainwaves” to define three states: active (when your attention is fluctuating and your mind is wandering), neutral (which is your natural resting state — not focused, but not fluctuating), and calm (when you have a deep, restful focus on your breath). The latest model offers a built-in pulse oximeter to measure your heartbeat, an accelerometer to track movement, and a gyroscope to check in on your breath. Whenever your mind is wandering and you notice, then try to bring your attention back to your breath, you get rewarded with a “recovery” stamp on your final report. (for example, it’ll say “10 recoveries!” when it lists your accomplishments). This “recovery” is one of the hallmarks of Buddhist mindfulness meditation and appears, based on research, to be one of the aspects that helps people have a beneficial meditative experience.

Does Muse accurately measure your brain activity? Preliminary studies say yes: One, published in 2017 with the less-updated Muse 1, found that the device’s at-home, basic EEG sensors track sleep states with 87% accuracy, just like EEGs you’d find in a hospital or lab setting. Another, published in 2016, showed that Muse accurately allowed scientists to track participants’ enjoyment based on frontal theta activity. A 2018 report published in the journal Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics classified Muse as “recommended for exploratory use and supportive data, [with] more validation data and experience needed.” (Most sleep monitors and gait monitors also received this designation.)

But on the flip side, some scientists feel that Muse’s usefulness is “extremely limited in non-laboratory conditions.” Meaning, the EEG sensors in these devices appear to work just about as well as the ones you’d find in labs, but human error outside the lab may make the devices less effective overall when people are using them at home, without supervision.

How effective is the current technology?

The research around these devices and their impact on one’s meditation experience is still quite thin. One study, conducted at the Catholic University of Milan, asked people to wear the Muse headband daily for four weeks. They found that users who practiced meditation with the headband on showed reduced stress and improved emotion regulation compared to their normal state. Garten says the device is also being used in clinical trials at the Mayo Clinic — for example, to help calm down breast cancer patients while they’re waiting to undergo procedures.

The technology appears to be well-suited for teaching beginning meditators how to stay focused. Jon Krop, the owner of a meditation-training company for corporate entities called Mindfulness for Lawyersand an experienced meditator himself, says he has tried Muse in the past, simply out of curiosity.

“I think it could be useful to beginners as ‘training wheels’ to get the hang of meditation,” he says. “Beginners will tend to spend a lot of time during their meditation sessions in oblivious mind wandering, having gotten distracted and basically forgotten what they’re doing. Muse will cut that off before too long by giving them external feedback that they’ve become distracted.”

Krop notes that after a while, however, people should “work their way out” of needing this kind of help; eventually, you’ll want to be able to refocus your attention on your own, without a headset.

These devices also seem to have promise outside of meditation, in labs. The Muse’s EEG sensors, specifically, can look at brain function and activity at home, making it easier for people to participate in clinical neuroscience studies on a daily basis. The company is currently working with researchers at the University of Toronto on a project that measures improvements in attention, with scientists at McMaster University to look at brain data related to aging, and with the Rotman Research Institute to look at how we can improve the speed of learning.

Ethical dilemmas

Despite generally positive research, members of the meditation community give the devices mixed reviews. One of the biggest debates goes beyond the actual technology: Whether or not the commercialization of meditation — which some people have titled “McMindfulness” — corrupts a decades-old practice that doesn’t need to be messed with.

In a 2015 piece for The Guardian, well-known meditation teacher and practitioner Jon Kabat-Zinn writes: “As critics are correct to point out, a real understanding of the subtlety of mindfulness is required if it is to be taught effectively: it can never be a quick fix. Some have expressed concerns that a sort of superficial ‘McMindfulness’ is taking over which ignores the ethical foundations of the meditative practices and traditions from which mindfulness has emerged, and divorces it from its profoundly transformative potential.”

In traditional Buddhist meditation practices, there is no way to “do it right” because the meditation process isn’t something you judge. Of course, the point of meditation is to sit with your feelings and bring your attention back to your breath — but Buddhist monks definitely didn’t receive “badges” for completing 10 days of meditation in a row. What’s more, meditation practices are traditionally offered for free, which presents an interesting market tension.

For Krop, this popularizing of an ancient practice isn’t too much of a concern, though. He thinks more meditation is always better, no matter the form.

“A rising tide lifts all ships,” he says. “More ‘lightweight’ meditation practice should also lead to more deep meditation practice. If deep, transformative meditation practice one day becomes mainstream, which is what I want, it will only be because more casual meditation practice became mainstream first. So I’m grateful for the apps, the studios, and all the rest.”

The question remains: Do people need these devices to meditate well? The answer, according to most researchers, is still a resounding no. After all, most existing studies on the benefits of meditation focus on in-person meditation sessions with teachers or listening to guided sessions via an app or audio clip.

“People like toys,” Harvard’s Sara Lazar says. “There’s always the question of ‘Am I doing it right?’ and these devices can tell you. I have mixed feelings about that but I think [tech-inspired meditation is] the next big area for commercialization.”

Read These Great Books to Get Ahead in Life

When you read non-fiction penned by smart people who’ve learned important lessons you can accelerate your own path to wisdom and success.

The habit of reading books is like a workout for the mind. Researchers have found that it engages all the major areas of the brain and builds proficiency in the language, the ability to pay attention, cognition and creativity. Not only that, when you read non-fiction penned by smart people who’ve learned important lessons you can accelerate your own path to wisdom and success. Here are the titles more than a dozen highly successful individuals recommend.

A Simple Plan by Scott Smith

This is the one book I always recommend and have for many years. The characters in the book are perfectly normal people, the type you meet every day in your personal and business life, acting in perfectly normal ways. But then the opportunity to reap a tremendous amount of money by just breaking a few laws that will hurt nobody appears, and the novel becomes a darker tome on human nature as everything spirals out of control. What will otherwise law-abiding honest people actually do to get very, very rich? The point of Smith’s book is you may think you know the answer–but perhaps you don’t.

The Technology of Being Human byDr. Bikram Lamba

This collection of essays is designed to enable human beings think for themselves, rather than be confined to stereotypes being good or bad. It is an exhortation to make readers think as alive, pulsating, rational and logical human beings; as individuals having their own peculiar characteristics, rather than think as a part of the herd. The human beings are suggested ways and appropriate means to start coming out of the rut that is created by irrational thoughts and beliefs. The centuries-old concepts have no validity and need to either discarded or adapted to make individuals representative of what are really destined to be. The book also has some essays that are in fact a step-by-step guide. The purpose is to ensure that once you start the process of mental regeneration in a disciplined and definitive manner, then it is possible and probable for you to emerge as a being whose personality is not circumscribed, but is in full bloom.

Leadership in Digital Age by Dr. Bikram Lamba

This collection of essays by Dr.Lamba is an in-depth analysis of the changing more of leadership and takes into consideration the socio-economic, cultural and inter-cultural parameters. The changing paradigm present a new slant and then there are ways and means of developing the requisite qualities of a leader in the changed times. A multi-faced leadership with vision is helped to develop.

The Darkside of the Lightchasers by Debbie Ford

The book is based around the premise of us as individuals diving into ourselves to face and listen to our shadows, meaning those different aspects of ourselves that make us uncomfortable and in turn are aspects in other people that make us uncomfortable. It was life-changing for me personally. Through facing and exploring our shadows, we not only open up understanding about our own lives, we open up understanding of the people and world that surrounds us. In the book she says, ‘When we come face-to-face with our dark side our first instinct is to turn away, and our second is to bargain with it to leave us alone. Ironically, it’s these hidden aspects we’ve rejected that need the most attention.’ I first read this book when going through my recovery from anorexia nervosa, but have recently reread it due to everything going on in our nation today. I feel everyone in the U.S. should read this book together at this time to work on ourselves, each other and our communities.

 Creative Selection: Inside Apple’s Design Process During the Golden Age of Steve Jobs by Ken Kocienda

This book gives a fascinating peek into the work behind creating the device that has gone on to define the 2010s. It was an extremely important read for me as a startup founder to see how one of the world’s most innovative companies sets goals and delivers a great user experience when there is no preset benchmark. For example, how did they describe or know what a ‘good enough’ keyboardless keyboard experience was when they didn’t have anything that predates it to compare it to? I found this to be a thought-provoking read

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni

In this parable of a VC-backed Silicon Valley tech company, [the author] lays out a model for diagnosing and combating organizational dysfunction. The storytelling style employed allows the reader to draw strong parallels to real life career moments and apply the concepts to one’s day-to-day. I found the material instrumental in how I think about my executive team and how we imprint the organization as a whole with a strong operating philosophy.

The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership by Jim Dethmer, Kaley Klemp and Diana Chapman

Conscious leaders are present and intentional, emotionally intelligent, and genuinely open to alternative interpretations of challenges; they take personal accountability for company outcomes and embrace each challenge as a learning opportunity. In contrast, unconscious leaders lack personal accountability, cling to old models or past experiences, and see themselves as victims of their circumstances. These 15 commitments have inspired our team to think openly and creatively as we continue to grow rapidly, and have really helped me to set a tone of flexibility, agility, and curiosity throughout our organization.

Good to Great by Jim Collins

The ‘Flywheel Effect’ concept within [this book] was one of the biggest influences while starting my company. Collins asks the reader to picture a 5,000-pound, 30-foot wide wheel. The task is to roll the flywheel on its axle as fast and for as long as possible. It takes a lot of effort to roll the wheel even an inch. But as you push, the wheel continues to move, until it has built enough momentum to complete a full rotation. The lesson is this: a good-to-great transformation doesn’t happen overnight, or with a single action. For Kissflow, gaining our first 100 customers was like a team moving the flywheel one inch at a time. You have to keep pushing it in an incremental effort to move the wheel faster.

 The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle

This book answered a lot of questions about my thoughts, the past and my worries about the future. I found it to be quite enlightening and spiritual at the same time with many aha moments. Being a self-critiquing, type A personality type who drives myself to be the best at what it is I do, this book explains why the past is the past and the future is the future and there is nothing I can do about either other than take a new perspective on what my thoughts and worries really mean. This book really drives home the fact that worrying about the future or agonizing over the past is just wasted time and causes distraction from what you can achieve now.

Being Peace by Thich Nhat Hanh

When working with employees and customers, it’s important to have patience and an open mind because you work with a wide range of personalities, backgrounds and traditions. [The author’s] experience and take on the world has really helped me see the world differently. I immediately became aware of how little I understand about the people and the world around me. As a result, I have more compassion for myself and others and I am less quick to judge and jump to conclusions. These traits have helped me professionally when communicating with partners and growing [my company] globally with customers all around the world.

Outsizing by Steve Coughran

Strategy is always easy to talk about but can be much more difficult to execute in practice. [This book] offers a great perspective on how to drive strategic thinking, strategic planning, and most importantly strategic actions across all areas of a business, from startups to established organizations… [It’s] a great playbook for any growth-focused team in an evolving industry.

Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang

No book makes imagining the future more fun, alarming, delightful, and wonderful all at the same time. This collection of short stories is really a collection of thought experiments played out in narrative form: ‘What would happen, if in the near future…’ Not only is this sci-fi at its best, but it inspires us to give thought to where we are headed as a civilization, giving us permission to both imagine what is next and be proactive in designing new products, spaces and experiences. In addition to being a go-to, Chiang’s eponymous short story inspired the film ‘Arrival’ which is also one of my favorites in the genre

The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff

My journey into a healthy lifestyle came from the 80s aerobics movement. When studying to become a certified instructor, I became grounded in how proper exercise and eating fueled a healthy body and lifestyle. I would say mindfulness was a different story. I began to learn mindfulness from reading and studying the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi in grad school for their non-violent approach to social change that was deeply grounded in Buddhist teachings. The Tao of Pooh was the book that opened up a gateway to other writings about mindfulness, and I return to it as a reminder to stay present, happy and calm.

Lone Soldier by Alex Gordon

This soon-to-be published book by Alex Gordon, details the experience of a ‘lone soldier,’ which is a term given men and women from all over the world who voluntarily choose to join the Israeli army. For me, Alex’s story exemplifies selflessness and how the act of giving can actually be receiving. After experiencing the profound loss of his mother when he was a teenager, he embarks on a journey of self-discovery, first to darkness and then on to find that serving others can bring purpose and fulfillment. His journey as a troubled teen from the streets of Manhattan to the role of an elite Israeli paratrooper in the mountains of Lebanon is an inspiring celebration of love for family, heritage and self-worth. [This book] reminds me that even through the day-to-day hustle of the world it’s important to give back to not only our loved ones but also to humankind, as with servitude comes great self-joy.

Legacy by James Kerr

The book is about how the most successful sports team in the world, the All Blacks, can teach us how to be better business leaders. The book gave an insight on tactics and psychology that could be used in a business environment to improve performance. A typical takeaway from the book, for example, is about embracing expectation, rather than being intimidated by it. By embracing expectation, you learn to thrive under the challenge, to aim higher, and to avoid crumbling under pressure and delivering a mediocre outcome. Business is a game just like Rugby, and it is all about winning and beating your competition.

Brave, Not Perfect: Fear Less, Fail More and Live Bolder by Reshma Saujani

I recently read this book after watching Reshma Saujani’s TED Talk. It has inspired me to change how I approach various daily interactions in my life, from tough contract negotiations to family conversations. It’s a great reminder that ‘perfect is boring’ and that in order to grow, you must take risks and learn from your failures. I get a little less perfect and a little braver every day.

The Peregrine by J.A. Baker

On the surface it’s a field study on falcons, but almost immediately the author immerses you in the lives and environment of his subject matter. You feel every little detail and appreciate the smallest nuance. I read it as a reminder that everyone I interact with — customers, family members, people I pass on the street — are all the leading characters in their own books, with stories that are full of detail, nuance, happiness, tragedy, complexity and everything else, and certainly worth taking the time to appreciate.

Pitch Anything by Orin Klaff

This is an exceptionally daring look at owning the frame in any meeting. What I love about this book, is that Orin teaches and prepares the person walking into the room with the exact behavior that will get a yes every time. And what he has tested and proven over and over is that when you learn how to pitch anything, the CEOs, Netflix executives and bosses end up pitching you, because the delivery of what you have to offer becomes irresistible.

Gandhi for Today & Tomorrow

His vision of a liberal, non-violent society can save humanity from ecological and other disasters. I need Gandhi today for three reasons. First and foremost, I need him for self-development. The most important lesson that I have learned from him is how he was eternally vigilant about himself and went on correcting and developing his inner self. Ignorance and intellectual arrogance have made many reject him and as a result, invite disaster in their personal lives. Honesty and integrity are at stake in personal and public life. The Western libertarian thesis promised that the virtue of civil society, if left to its own devices, would include good character, honesty, duty, self-sacrifice, honour, service, self-discipline, toleration, respect, justice, civility, fortitude, courage, integrity, diligence, patriotism, consideration for others, thrift and reverence. Unfortunately, gluttony, pride, selfishness, and greed have become prominent. It has permitted permissive behaviour and left the aberrant behaviour to be corrected by systemic checks loaded with ever new technologies.

Gandhi, too, was a strong votary of individual liberty. But he differed from Mill and Spencer. His concept of liberty for vyakti (individual) arose from the individual’s responsibility for self-regulation. He practised and subscribed to 11 vows. Satya (truth), ahimsa (non-violence), brahmacharya (self-control), aparigraha (non-possession), asteya (non-stealing), abhaya (fearlessness), asvaad (palate), shareer shram (bread-labour) were eight vows for self-regulation, and swadeshi (local), sprushya bhavna (removal of untouchability)and sarva dharma sama bhava (tolerance or equal respect for all religions) were for bringing back rural, decentralised economy and bringing harmony among castes and religion. This has to be woven in education and practice.

The second reason I need Gandhi is to work toward peace among warring sections of humanity. Samashti or humanity as a whole is at war. Caste, race and religion are a political façade and a socio-cultural menace. Gandhi had sensed this in South Africa and came up with ahimsa or love force. It was not only a strategic alliance of Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Parsis, but of all castes and creeds that lived in South Africa and suffered the humiliation and violation of human rights. He earnestly wanted humanity to live together in peace and harmony. He was “Gandhibhai” for all and he was fearless in facing any brute force. After his return to India in 1915, he could touch the hearts of all and identified himself with all. He carried them and led them to swaraj, although conceding that it would only be political freedom, to begin with. His message reached the world’s humanity and people saw new hope amidst two world wars. As India reached political freedom, he was betrayed by leaders and not by people, and hunger for power and hatred speared him. He was down but not out. He walked alone in Noakhali to wipe tears and apply the love force which he had expressed in Hind Swaraj quoting Tulsidas: Of religion, pity, or love, is the root, as egotism of the body/Therefore, we should not abandon pity, so long as we are alive.

Gandhi’s faith in daya or love force was so deep and he practised it with such passion that during the communal riots before and after Independence, then Governor-General Lord Mountbatten famously said, “In Punjab, we have 55,000 soldiers, and large-scale rioting on our hands. In Bengal, our forces consist of one man, and there is no rioting.”

Unfortunately, it is not only hatred that is back with a vengeance, it is deeply tempered by control over natural resources and concentration of economic power among communities and nation states. In our own country, newly defined nationalism has become hyper and is threatening to tear apart the finely woven socio-cultural fabric of the country. It is not incidental that after struggling for more than 60 years, the UN declared in 2007 Gandhi’s birthday as the day of non-violence. Humanity has to embrace all those who have been hurt intentionally or unintentionally and heal the injury with love.

The third reason I need Gandhi today is that his vision of non-violent society will save humanity from ecological disaster that seems to be looming large. Our relation with prakruti (nature) has to significantly alter. Humanity in general has been optimistic and so it should be. But, business as usual approach can, and has, landed the humanity in deep crisis. In recent times, however, many of the crises are manmade. Gandhi had sensed it and voiced in 1909 in Hind Swaraj: “Let us first consider what state of things is described by the word ‘civilisation’. Its true test lies in the fact that people living in it make bodily welfare the object of life.”

He questioned whether big houses, many clothes, big cars, fancy food, globe destructing war material and luxuriant indulgence and leisure, was modern civilisation. In the 1930s, he wrote that if India wanted to ape the British standard of living then, it would require resources equivalent of three earths. How prophetic! The market is not innocently responding to price signals. It is manipulating tastes and preferences in favour of a particular self-indulgent life style and converting them into demand

Gandhi talked about local first and global later. Swadeshi is promoting a decentralised economy that is mainly rural. Gandhi does not deny the relevance and use of technology for survival. But he called for political, social and individual behaviour to become self-aware and to substantially change.

Gandhi offered to India and the world a wise and compassionate vision of harmony between vyakti, samashti and prakruti.

Germany Takes on More Responsibilities in NATO

American President Donald Trump has long criticized Germany’s contributions to NATO for being insufficient. However, the two countries have found a compromise whereby Germany will take on more responsibility. The deal will increasingly place Europe’s security in Germany’s hands.

In a series of steps, Germany, is taking control of NATO’s European branch.

America still expects Germany to increase its own military budget, and soon Germany will provide as much to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s community budget as the United States does. In the meantime, Germany will accept more responsibility for the alliance’s management.

On October 3, on the sidelines of celebrations for the Day of German Unification in Kiel, German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer announced that a reform on how to better distribute costs of the alliance has been agreed on.

The German Press Agency reported that staring in 2020 the Federal Republic will contribute as much money as the U.S to the alliance community cost. The U.S. share will drop from the current 22.1 percent to 15.9 percent while the German share will grow from 14.8 percent to 15.9 percent.

Contributions to the community costs are used to finance the alliance headquarters in Brussels and other military headquarters, among other things.

But while the U.S. saves costs, it also leaves security alliance increasingly in the hands of a former enemy.

Germany is by far Europe’s strongest economy, and it has the largest military budget. Germany is also assuming more control of NATO’s European forces in other ways. A new naval headquarters in the Baltic allows Germany to lead European navies in a possible confrontation with Russia. Germany is also establishing a NATO command center that focuses on rapid troop movement across Europe. As Deutsche Welle noted, the new headquarters “will not be integrated into the current NATO command structure.” Instead, it will be established under German sovereignty.

Since the beginning of 2019, German forces took the lead of NATO’s Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF), which includes thousands of soldiers ready to deploy within days. In 2018, Germany was at the heart of nato’s largest military exercise since the Cold War. We can expect Germany to take even more responsibility.

The Bundeswehr currently has 24 training facilities that are open to soldiers from other European Union member states. German soldiers are visiting 55 training facilities of other armies across Europe, from Albania to Spain, Spiegel Online reported in December 2017.

The training facilities lay the groundwork for larger-scale cooperation that has already begun under German leadership. Various European battalions and brigades are merging multinational troops under German command. The New York Times wrote on February 20:

In a former Cold War base, German and Dutch soldiers, serving together in one tank battalion, stood to attention one recent morning and shouted their battle cry in both languages.

“We fight—,” their commander bellowed.

“—for Germany!” the battalion replied in unison.

“We fight—,” the commander shouted.

“—for the Netherlands!” his soldiers yelled back.

They are not shouting “for Europe.” Not yet.

Germany holds similar exercises with France, Czechia and Romania. (Read more about this development in “German Army Continues to Swallow Its Neighbors.”) In 2016, the German newspaper Die Welt noted: “The Bundeswehr Is a Laboratory for an EU Army.”

But as Germany uses the NATO security umbrella to build a European army, nato’s original purpose is forgotten.

NATO’s first secretary general, Lord Hastings Ismay, described NATO’s goals as, “Keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.” Part of the reason NATO was founded in 1949 was to prevent Germany from remilitarizing and starting another major war.

Contrary to this original pledge, many countries in Europe today rely on Germany for security. Germany’s arms industry, its military schools and leadership are in high demand.

This is not a new trend provoked by President Trump. Germany’s second defense minister after World War II, Franz Josef Strauss, wrote in his book The Grand Design: A European Solution to German Reunification that he opposed NATO’s structure as “an American protective alliance for free European countries”; he wanted it transformed into “an American-European Alliance of Equals.” In other words, he wanted Europe to be able to defend itself and cooperate with America on equal terms.

At the time, Strauss’s plea was rejected. But today, Germany is leading a European military alliance increasingly independent from the U.S.

Many no longer see it necessary to prevent Germany from rising and dominating militarily. Decades have passed since World War II, and history seems forgotten. Even many who do remember history see a totally changed Germany that imposes no threat to humanity.

Weekend Special: Why science keeps overturning what we thought we knew

Meat is unhealthy, meat is okay: Why science keeps overturning what we thought we knew. For years, health experts have been saying that to decrease the risk of heart attacks and cancer, it’s wise to cut back on red meat, and especially processed red meat, like bacon.

A couple of weeks back, that conventional wisdom was upended. Five systematic reviews, published Monday in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, found that the unhealthful effects of regular meat consumption are negligible. (There remains a strong environmental, and ethical, case for reducing meat consumption — that’s just not what these reviews looked at.)

But while the new red meat decree might feel jarring, it’s not actually a bad thing for nutrition — or even science generally. In fact, this is how science is supposed to work.

The real story behind the meat news is that a widespread understanding about nutrition was changed by better science and stronger methodology. And it’s not just nutrition science that’s experiencing this kind of reckoning.

Other influential research in psychology has also been toppled by more refined scientific methods lately — that’s what the “replication crisis” is all about. It’s a big deal, and a pattern worth looking at if we want to understand why the things we thought we knew keep turning out to be wrong.

Why nutrition science is getting better

A growing chorus of critics has been pointing out that the bedrock of nutrition science — large, observational studies — are often hopelessly limited in their ability to give us clear answers about which foods are beneficial for health.

For example, with case-control studies — a type of observational research — researchers start with an endpoint (for example, people who already have cancer). For each person with a disease (a case), they find a match (a control) — or someone who doesn’t have the disease. They then look backward in time and try to determine if any patterns of exposure (in this case, eating meat) differed in those with cancer compared to those who don’t have cancer.

But since meat eaters differ so fundamentally from those who don’t eat meat, as we’ve explained, the reasons the two groups have varying health outcomes could have nothing to do with eating meat. Researchers try to control for “confounding factors,” the unmeasured variables that may lead to one person getting cancer, and another staying healthy. But they can’t capture all of them.

So these relatively weak study designs are not meant to be a source for definitive statements about how a single food or nutrient increased or decreased the risk of a disease by a specific percentage.

Why have so many of these studies been done? Because they can give nutrition researchers a sense of what they might study in a more rigorous (and expensive) randomized trial. One observational study can’t tell you much. But if many of the best quality observational studies (such as cohort studies) find a large effect on a disease in the data, they’re probably pointing to something real.

Yet guidelines in the past haven’t taken a nuanced approach to evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of different types of nutrition studies.

Instead, they’ve relied on a broad range of research, including animal evidence and case-control studies. Just four years ago, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancerannounced that people should cut back on processed meats if they wanted to avoid certain types of cancer. The American Heart Association and the US government’s dietary guidelines panel, meanwhile, have been beating the drum about a plant-rich diet for years.

The new meat studies attempted to hold nutrition research to a higher standard. The 14 researchers behind the papers sorted through the noise of observational studies — picking out only the strongest among them (i.e. the large cohort studies), while also relying on higher quality evidence from randomized controlled trials to draw their conclusions. The authors were making a deliberate effort to ensure nutrition advice is based on only the best-available research, with conclusions that are more reliable.

The result isn’t perfect. One can argue that nutrition science is so flawed, perhaps we shouldn’t be making guidelines at all. Or that people need guidance about what to eat, and reviews like the meat studies at least show the holes in our knowledge, what studies we need to make even stronger guidelines.

Nutrition science crusaders haven’t just been picking on weak observational studies. They’ve also been challenging some of the most respected randomized trials in nutrition by looking back at trial data using sophisticated statistical tests to pick out flaws.

The PREDIMED study was one target. Conducted in Spain, it tracked more than 7,400 people at high risk of cardiovascular disease. And the researchers stopped the trial early, after they found the Mediterranean diet, when supplemented with lots of olive oil or nuts, could cut a person’s risk of cardiovascular disease byathird. A recent review of the data showed the trial was poorly run, and PREDIMED’s conclusions have since been called into question.

Ideas in social science are being overturned and debated, too

That nutrition science is updating old findings with new evidence does not mean the science is fatally flawed. Science moves along incrementally. It’s a long, grinding process involving false starts, dead ends, and studies that in hindsight may turn out to be poorly executed. If anything, the meat studies remind us the science is getting better.

A similar trend can be seen in social science, where researchers have been reevaluating classic textbook findings with more rigorous methodology, and discovering many are flawed.

The “replication crisis” in psychology started around 2010, when a paper using completely accepted experimental methods was published purporting to find evidence that people were capable of perceiving the future, which is impossible. This prompted a reckoning: Common practices like drawing on small samples of college students were found to be insufficient to find true experimental effects.

Scientists thought if you could find an effect in a small number of people, that effect must be robust. But often, significant results from small samples turn out to be statistical flukes.

The crisis intensified in 2015 when a group of psychologists, which included Nosek, published a report in Science with evidence of an overarching problem: When 270 psychologists tried to replicate 100 experiments published in top journals, only around 40 percent of the studies held up. The remainder either failed or yielded inconclusive data. The replications that did work showed weaker effects than the original papers. (The “crisis” has also inspired investigations revealing outright scientific malpractice, and not just methodological errors.)

  • There are so many textbook psychology findings that have either not been replicated, or are currently in the midst of a serious reevaluation. Like:
  • Social priming: People who read “old”-sounding words (like “nursing home”) were more likely to walk slowly — showing how our brains can be subtly “primed” with thoughts and actions.
  • The facial feedback hypothesis: Merely activating muscles around the mouth caused people to become happier — demonstrating how our bodies tell our brains what emotions to feel.
  • Stereotype threat: Minorities and maligned social groups didn’t perform as well on tests due to anxieties about becoming a stereotype themselves.
  • Ego depletion: the idea that willpower is a finite mental resource
  • The “marshmallow test,” a series of studies from the early ’90s that suggested the ability to delay gratification at a young age is correlated with success later in life. New research finds that if the original marshmallow test authors had a larger sample size, and greater research controls, their results would not have been the showstoppers they were in the ’90s.
  • The Stanford Prison Experiment: Recent investigations into the experiment’s archive greatly undermine the experiment’s conclusion — that bad behavior is the result of environments. It turns out many people involved in the experiment were coached into being cruel while working in a simulated prison, and the prisoners acted out, in part, because they simply wanted to leave the experiment.

Again, these reevaluations aren’t evidence that science is doomed. They can be seen as a sign of progress (and like everything in science, even the severity of the replication crisis is hotly debated.) It’s also not the case that we should doubt every single scientific finding that’s out there in the public. Certainly, scientists have put in the painstaking work to prove that climate change is caused by humans. This conclusion is certainly not the result of a single study: It’s the result of thousands of good studies.

A part of this reckoning is recognizing that evidence can be strong or weak. And not all published findings should be treated as equal. In a lot of ways, human beings are a lot harder to study than other natural phenomena.

In science, too often, the first demonstration of an idea becomes the lasting one — in both pop culture and academia. But this isn’t how science is supposed to work at all.

So next time you read about some kernel of conventional wisdom being questioned, know there’s a reason: It’s probably part of the quest to make science better. 

Use technology end currency wars?

The terrible experience of the 1930s should remind us that trade and currency wars go together like a horse and carriage. Now that US President Donald Trump’s administration is fully implementing his protectionist “America First” agenda, it is only a matter of time before a currency conflict erupts.

There has not been a full-scale currency war in quite some time, though the world came close after the 2008 financial crisis when then-Brazilian Finance Minister Guido Mantega used the term to describe America’s extraordinarily low-interest rates. Following the United States, Japan and Europe seemed to adopt similar strategies of export promotion, and a depreciated exchange rate became an unheralded but central feature of economic recovery in advanced economies.

Similarly, after 2012, the euro crisis started to look more manageable only after the euro began depreciating against the dollar. And as many economists in the United Kingdom had already pointed out, a flexible exchange rate had given the UK, in contrast to the eurozone countries, a uniquely effective tool for managing the shocks of the period.

At any rate, the post-crisis currency concerns soon faded, owing largely to the major central banks’ simultaneous pursuit of quantitative easing (QE), which just so happened to affect exchange rates. The first potential currency war of the twenty-first century gave way to an indecisive and fragile truce. But if any major economy were to adopt protectionism to gain an advantage over others, the currency question would come back to the fore.

After all, in the hands of policymakers so inclined, national currencies are an obvious economic weapon. That is why the 44 countries that participated in the 1944 Bretton Woods Conference agreed on a framework to ensure stable exchange rates. The US held the dominant negotiating position, and it was committed to establishing an open international order free of tariffs and trade wars. For every other country, there was no real choice but to settle on an exchange rate that would allow it to maintain a roughly balanced external account.

Since then, the threat of a trade war has always implied the return of the currency debate. In today’s escalating conflict, it was inevitable that Trump would eventually focus on other countries’ monetary policies. He has long accused China of undervaluing its currency (even when it has been doing precisely the opposite). And in response to European Central Bank President Mario Draghi’s recent announcement of a new round of QE, Trump tweeted, “They have been getting away with this for years, along with China and others.”

As in the 1930s, currency warfare is attractive to those who view geopolitics as a zero-sum game. Trump’s attacks on the ECB are partly about trade, but they are also meant to drive a wedge between EU member states. As critics of the European monetary regime have long complained, Germany enjoys a lower external exchange rate with the euro than it would have had with the Deutschmark. And in Trump’s view, Germany maintains a mercantilist policy to favor its own exporters, although the US-led Bretton Woods order was designed precisely to prevent mercantilism and its attendant competitive devaluations.

Still, in the view of John Maynard Keynes, one of the architects of Bretton Woods, the postwar arrangement should have gone much further, by including institutional checks to penalize countries with large surpluses or deficits. Penalizing trade imbalances would have gone hand in hand with his plan for a new global monetary system, which would have been based on a universal synthetic currency called “bancor” (a French compound word for bank-created gold).

As Draghi pointed out in the speech that attracted Trump’s ire, the euro was originally framed as a mechanism for eliminating competitive devaluations. Ever since Keynes, efforts to revive the idea of a non-national general currency – such as that by the economist Robert A. Mundell in the 1960s – had been constant and futile.

But now, new technology has brought the possibility of a global currency within reach. Just last month, Facebook unveiled its plans for a digital coin, Libra, which will be pegged to a basket of government-issued currencies. According to Facebook, the initiative is designed to reach the world’s poorest people, including many of the 1.7 billion without a bank account.

A broad user base is essential to ensure that Libra serves primarily as a means of exchange, not as a tool of financial speculation. That makes it the antithesis of first-generation blockchain currencies such as Bitcoin, which is subject to artificial scarcity maintained through the process of “mining.” To be sure, the overwhelmingly negative reaction to Facebook’s Libra announcement has been discouraging. And yet, were an alternative currency based on multiple assets broadly adopted, it would not be as destabilizing as its critics claim.

With a truly universal currency, users would both buy and sell goods and services, including labor, which means that wages would have to be set in a non-national currency. The new dispensation would make the existence of multiple currencies in one territory look like a throwback to the pre-modern world when gold and silver coins fluctuated in value against each other. And that might not be a bad outcome.

The fluctuation in the value of gold and silver, it is worth remembering, allowed for greater wage flexibility, and thus less unemployment. And the wider the use of a global currency (or multiple global currencies), the less viable a currency war becomes. Technology is reviving the twentieth-century dream of a global monetary system free of the disruptions caused by economic nationalism. The key to realizing it is to sever the link – as the euro has begun to do – between money and the nation-state.

Evaluating Xi’s 100-year promise

Every prime minister of India since Rajiv Gandhi has tried to bridge the trust deficit between India and China first created by the 1962 war. No one has had to do this more than Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the era of not just 24×7 television but instant social media coverage. Diplomatic engagement of this sort in these times has perforce to be a spectacle. If the Howdy Modi “walkaround” with United States President Donald Trump was one kind of spectacle, the “talkathon” at Mahabalipuram with Chinese President Xi Jinping was of another kind. However, it would be mistaken and churlish to view these events as mere spectacles. Prime Minister Modi has mastered the art of in-your-face diplomatic engagement not just in the world of new and instant media, but one that is increasingly characterised by a multipolar balance of power.

The 1962 war was caused in part by differences over delineating the border between two newly created republics. It was also occasioned by Jawaharlal Nehru’s hubris and Mao Zedong’s desire to show India its place. Resolving the border issue is key to bridging the trust deficit. However, over the years, two other issues have come up — China’s relations with Pakistan and the large deficit in bilateral trade.

Responding to India’s closer relations with the US, at a time when US-China relations have deteriorated, China has developed its own risk-mitigation strategy by strengthening its partnership with Pakistan. While India does not appreciate the China-Pakistan nexus, it also recognises the fact that China is not the only country that uses Pakistan to keep India off balance. All major powers have done so, and continue to do so.

If India can warm up to a Trump who is willing to chat up Imran Khan and flirt with the Taliban, why should it get all shirty with a Xi who does the same? Pakistan offers itself willingly to the highest bidder. No one will help India remove Pakistan from its equation with the world if India itself will not do enough to achieve that objective.

A second factor that added to the trust deficit has been the trade deficit. While India supported China’s membership of the World Trade Organisation, it feels China used the multilateral trade regime to acquire access to the Indian market without providing equal access to China’s. This is only partly correct. India’s inability to export more to China is part of an overall lack of global competitiveness that requires solutions at home. However, by erecting non-tariff barriers in products where India has a competitive edge, China has contributed to a view in India that it seeks to “de-industrialise” India. In contributing to this view, China has politicised an essentially economic issue. The new high-level bilateral economic and trade dialogue agreed to at Mahabalipuram should help bridge this deficit.

India’s priority in seeking good relations with China is no different from her interest in seeking good relations with other global powers — to secure a global and regional environment conducive to India’s own economic development.

When Chinese interlocutors have sought my explanation for closer US-India relations I have always insisted that India seeks the same level of engagement with the US that China already has — given the US’s more developed business-to-business and people-to-people relations with China.

Despite the trade war, the US still buys more from China than from India. Better US-India government-to-government relations are a more recent phenomenon triggered by China’s rise, the challenge of jihadi extremism and the prosperity of Indian Americans in the US. It remains to be seen how invested the US would be in India’s long-term rise. 

Over the past decade, India has slowly come to terms with the widening power differential with China and is building defences to deal with it. The best defence remains a stronger, more productive and competitive economy built on the foundations of a better educated and skilled people. While India does its homework, stable and predictable relations with China would help. Through the Wuhan and Mahabalipuram conversations, and others that will follow, India seeks precisely this objective.

Many Indian analysts object to China’s unhelpful role in India’s desire to seek membership of the United Nations Security Council and the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group.

But China is not the only major power that likes to keep the door to exclusive clubs closed to aspiring members. As for India’s membership of NSG and the nuclear deal, US support was entirely due to President George W Bush Jr who over-ruled naysayers within his own administration and the US Congress to favour India.

If Modi can turn Xi into a friend, like Manmohan Singh turned Bush around, China too may change its stance. Which is why the new informal format for the Modi-Xi dialogue is important. It is President Bush who wiped out decades of distrust between India and the US.

Can Xi do that for India-China relations? Trust between nations must begin at the very top.

By speaking of a “hundred year plan” for cementing relations between two ancient civilisations, Chinese President Xi Jinping has made two points. First, he situated the current phase within the long history of our civilisational engagement. Second, he made the important point that it would take time for a more balanced relationship to get established between China and India given the extant power differential caused by China’s spectacular rise since the beginning of this century.

The next decade is, therefore, crucial for India. It has to regain economic momentum and strengthen its own human and strategic capabilities as a modern, knowledge-based nation. China’s power flows precisely from these attributes.

The Modi-Xi engagement must be viewed as part of a multi-polar engagement with all major powers — including the US, European Union, Russia and Japan — aimed at enabling India’s resurgence. Given Xi’s 100-year perspective, both countries have to learn to live with year-to-year bumps while journeying together towards a new Asian Century.

Dragon landed in EU

ohnny Johnny? Yes, Daddy. Want some sugar? Yes, Daddy. Well, Johnny sure was a gullible kid as he did not see this carb induced catastrophe coming his way. “You know nothing, Johnny! “, smirked Daddy.

When Chinese President Xi Jinping announced the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ (BRI) in 2013; popularly also referred to as: ‘One Belt One Road’ (OBOR) – now a six-year-old pullulating project. It spread like wildfire and marked a fervour of dialogue and deliberation across the globe. This $1 trillion investment programme has congregated a consensus of more than 65 countries that account collectively for over 30 per cent of global GDP, 62 per cent of the population and 75 per cent of known energy reserves. Bifurcated into- Silk Road Economic Belt and New Maritime Silk Road; President Xi’s vision through the State’s eyes apropos of infrastructure connectivity, unimpeded trade and financial integration. Gluten is easier to digest, I reckon!

The largesse of the project is seen from Xi’an to Duisburg and Quanzhou to Port Piraeus. High-end highways, Railroads, Gas pipeline and Telecommunication towers as alluring as a Lotus with Chinese texts printed all over is hard to miss. But what really makes my mind ponder and my soul quizzy is the presence of Military Port in Gwadar, Pakistan and Naval Base in Djibouti under the pretext of a tangible economic trade. Moreover, the insolvent nations like Sri Lanka, Venezuela and Pakistan are easy preys of the ‘Sugar-Daddy-Diplomacy’; emancipated only to be shackled right in the foot!

Much like the Lannisters credo; China strikes when the iron is hot and the Italian anti-establishment coalition government with a melting economy was a bull’s eye. Now that the dragon has entered the heart of Europe, there is a discordant redundancy in other EU nations and the US, Russia and India; needless to say.

Not concurring with Italy’s Lone Wolf stunt, French President Emmanuel Macron urged China; “respect the unity of the European Union and the values it carries in the world.” That is some solemn swear!

Words like ‘Superpower’ or ‘Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, Protector of the Realm’; bring a sense of disparity in the characteristics of the characters, while only the free folks or the commoners get crushed under the wheel.

Whether China’s BRI is a quintessential paradigm of unified earth in the future or it really is about ‘The Throne’ after all is a big question. But, one thing is for sure; winter is here and Elephants are really not gonna help win the war against the dead, Cersei!

Ethics for a transforming world

The world is today facing three big challenges.

The first is the threat of climate change; an unintended consequence of the rapid advances in technology and faster economic growth. Alarm bells have been raised as the evidence of inexorable warming of the planet points to the possibility of the destruction of earth and its systems that nurture human existence if we continue the way we live now. This basically means that businesses, governments, and cities need to rapidly decarbonize. Also, the trend of increasing consumerism and the obsession for endless growth without factoring in consequences needs a close hard look.

The second big challenge is the one being raised by today’s rapidly digitising world. Intelligent machines are now taking decisions for us and are only getting stronger in their ability. The benefits of Artificial Intelligence(AI) are many – rapid diagnosis of problems and solutions, ability to analyze large amounts of data to reduce wastage and optimize outcomes. But at the same time, AI is only as good as the people who design it and human bias can be greatly exacerbated and scaled with AI systems. This is only one of the issues, there are several others – such as how much control will we allow machines to have on us? How do we manage data and privacy issues? And more.

The third issue is that we are living within interconnected systems. Earth is a system that functions in a particular way. Similarly, the financial markets, social media platforms, and global supply chains are all systems. And sometimes several of these systems could be interconnected in ways that are not apparent till much later. For instance, excessive social media usage is linked increasingly to poor mental health and impacts human wellbeing; and, financial systems are needing to factor in the risks of climate change. Now that all these big issues such as climate change and digital threats are occurring within these interconnected systems, a huge shift is emergent. This, therefore, implies that structural shifts are taking place which businesses, governments and civil society need to tackle together.

The world needs to look at tackling the big changes by explaining the basics of ethical leadership and the methods needed for transformative thinking. There are three orientations required for anyone aspiring to make the world better: Systems thinking, Ethics of citizenship, and, Deep listening.

The golden rule of human civilization, taught by all religions, is to do unto others as you would have done unto yourself. Modern economic principles on the other hand run counter to this, where they teach, profit above everything else. Going so far as to say that human beings must pursue their self-interests and that it is ‘rational’ to do so. The belief is that if everyone looks after himself then some ‘invisible hand’ will ensure that everyone will be better off. So, it is good to be selfish.

This is the fundamental paradigm that must change. The governance of companies and countries needs a new model of ethical reasoning. Ethics is all about doing the right thing. But, right and wrong, is also a matter of opinion and time. For instance, in a rapidly warming world petrol is bad as it releases carbon, but many years ago, petrol was good. It transformed the largely agrarian world into a manufacturing powerhouse with many benefits such as higher incomes, advances in transportation, access to education and improvements in health and longevity. Humans are driven by higher-order needs, beliefs, and ambition. ‘Who am I?’ and ‘What is my role in the world which I am a part of?’ are existential questions that often arise in human minds. Human beings live, along with other humans and species, within a complex world composed of many natural and social systems. While other animals seem satisfied to ‘live and die and never question why’, such profound questions arise only in human minds. Every human is a story, and, an interesting one. And the big questions we need to be asking are, “Will we allow algorithms to write our stories? And Will we allow climate change to destroy them?

We are losing our abilities to listen deeply to others, especially to people not like us. Social media algorithms herd us into communities of people like us whom we follow and like. Therefore we are not listening to other points of view, and cannot fully comprehend the whole system of which we are all only small parts, and in which we have to live together. Thus our collective human story is at risk of collapsing, with divisions within societies, and with rapid environmental degradation.

Prancing tiger, coiled dragon at Mamallapuram

Mamallapuram celebrates the well-earned sobriquet Mamallan, meaning Great Wrestler, of the Seventh Century Pallava king Narasimhavarman 1. So, it might seem appropriate as a venue for leaders of Asia’s biggest two powers to grapple with their mutual problems. However, in modern diplomacy, national leaders scarcely address, when they meet at the summit level, issues on which their subordinates have already not performed the requisite wrestling to thrash out agreement. No concrete outcome was expected from Mamallapuram, besides continuation of the multifaceted Indo-Chinese dialogue at the highest level.

So it was no surprise that Kashmir, or rather, the Chinese assistance to Pakistan’s attempt to rake up the matter at every global forum possible, was not even discussed. The decision to set up a mechanism, led by the Chinese vice-president and India’s finance minister, to address the huge imbalance in favour of China in bilateral trade might seem like a concrete step. But trade was one of the things that had been raised at previous formal and informal summits between India and China without any concrete outcome that would raise India’s exports to China as a proportion of its imports from that country. The simple reality is that large swathes of Indian business make too much money from gaming the banks or other parts of the system to seriously focus on doing efficient business, while the Chinese manufacturing juggernaut has been playing a major role in keeping inflation supine in industrial output at the global level. India would like to complain that it is deliberate denial of market access that keeps Indian exports to China low, but the fact remains that there are very few areas in which India has a genuine edge over China in manufacturing. So, correcting the bilateral trade imbalance would take time, the time it takes for Indian business to focus on doing efficient business, instead of milking the banking system, government incentives and import protection.

Nor does the bilateral deficit matter much, except in emotive terms. What matters for the economy is the overall current account deficit, not even the overall trade deficit. China’s imports of commodities from Africa and South America create new purchasing power in these regions, and a part of it is used to purchase additional Indian produce, boosting India’s global exports, not just of goods but also of services, including information technology services. This makes China’s global trade beneficial for us. India needs to keep its current account deficit within manageable limits, that is all. And India has been doing it quite well, except in the few years when Pranab Mukherjee, as finance minister, kept India’s fiscal deficit exceptionally high.

The Mamallapuram summit does not end at Mamallapuram, however. Xi Jinping has travelled to Kathmandu from Chennai. There, he is expected to kick off the process of entangling one of India’s closest neighbours into the Chinese dragon’s ever-lengthening coils, with a new trans-Himalayan railway that would connect Kathmandu to Lhasa, in Tibet, and has the potential to bring a flood of Chinese goods into Nepal and, thereon, into India across India’s open land border with Nepal. That connectivity would also reduce Nepal’s dependence on India and give sections of Nepal’s anti-India elites new airs of autonomy and assertion. Indian diplomacy will have to become more sophisticated in India’s neighbourhood, abandoning smug reliance on size and the nostrum that landlocked geography is destiny.

Another immediate test of Chinese conduct that has a major bearing on India is how it behaves at the meeting of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) when it carries out a review, tomorrow onwards, of Pakistan’s progress in complying with 40 action points to avoid being blacklisted as a country that helps in money laundering and terror funding. FATF’s Asia-Pacific Group has found that Pakistan has made satisfactory progress only on 10 out of the 40 points of action, and that out of 11 substantive measures, the country has made progress on just one. Beijing would be loath to let down its premier client state and is expected to help Pakistan avoid being put on the black list.

On the border, on which India and China has been holding talks, ever since Rajiv Gandhi visited China in 1988 and agreed to settle the border through negotiations, instead of through war, the progress is best described as Ho-Hum. That is fine, and need not deter either friendly relations between India and China or flourishing bilateral trade. India can safely make concessions in the west while securing its interests in the east on Arunanchal Pradesh. India has no strategic stakes in Aksai Chin, whereas for China, that place is key in relation to Xin Jiang: an all-season road from Tibet to Xin Jiang runs through it. But Aksai Chin forms a part of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir occupied by Pakistan and includes the Trans-Karakoram tract ceded by Pakistan to China in 1963, totally illegally from India’s perspective. Settling India’s border with China involves settling India’s dispute with Pakistan over what that country considers to be its existential core. That would take time, and India and Beijing have to go ahead on other fronts without waiting for settling the border.

Summits between India and China will continue like this. What counts is India finding the political courage to fix structural problems that hold up our economic growth. That is a tough job. Putting on a veshti, shirt and a male chunni like a well-dressed Tamil gentleman is relatively easy and could win over some Tamil appreciation as well. That, of course, is politics.

Philosopher Of The Future

September 26 marked the 130th birth anniversary of the German philosopher Martin Heidegger. More than 40 years after his death, the influence of Heidegger’s work on different fields of thought is overwhelming. He is not only the most influential philosopher of modernity but also its most controversial thinker. His best-known work, Being and Time (Sein und Zeit), although notoriously difficult and complex, is generally considered to be the most important philosophical work of the 20th century. Heidegger is hailed today by many as a groundbreaking thinker whose work in ontology and metaphysics determined the course of 20th century philosophy and exerted a seminal influence on the development of contemporary thought including theology, architectural theory, psychology, literary criticism, cognitive science and political theory.

Heidegger has attracted the most attention worldwide in the past 30 years. Part of this has also to do with the controversy around his politics and his Nazi connections in the 1930s, when he was the rector of the University of Freiburg. Heidegger’s post-war silence about the Holocaust and his evasive interview with Der Spiegel in 1966, published posthumously, added to what is known today as the “Heidegger Affair”. But it was Victor Farias’s Heidegger and Nazism that unleashed a series of articles, special issues of journals and books on Heidegger. Many of Heidegger’s critics tried to establish a link between the ontological foundations of Being and Time and Heidegger’s membership of the Nazi party.

All this criticism came down to one notorious phrase by Heidegger where he equated the phenomenon of concentration camp with the practice of mechanised agriculture and the nuclear threat. According to Heidegger, “Agriculture is today a motorised food industry, in essence the same as the manufacture of corpses in gas chambers and extermination camps, the same as the blockade and starvation of countries, the same as the manufacture of atomic bombs.” What is shocking in Heidegger’s observation is his fundamental incapacity for moral discernment. As George Steiner writes, “Like so many other intellectuals, Heidegger was manifestly caught up in the brutal, festive inebriation which swept across Germany after some 15 years of national humiliation and despair.

As we know from the Spiegel interview, he was preparing a peculiarly mendacious posthumous apologia for his own role in the 19302 and 40s. But the thinker of being found nothing to say of the Holocaust and the death-camps”. Heidegger’s silence on Auschwitz was the sign of a terrible truth which was never articulated by him in his phenomenology of the existential. As pointed out by many philosophers, including Paul Ricoeur and Emmanuel Levinas, Heidegger’s ontology overlooks or ignores the ethical relation between dasein (the state of being) and the other. We can also point to Hannah Arendt’s analysis of Heidegger as a fundamentally un-political philosopher, one whose post-rectorial career was marked by total withdrawal from the public space.

Many of us might not consider Heidegger as an ethical person, but his philosophy continues to have the spiritual power of helping us raise questions about the destiny of humanity and the world. Some interpreters still regard him as a prophet who can show us a way out of modernity’s dilemmas.

Generations to come might not spend more time than our contemporaries to savour the full body of Heidegger’s writings, but they will certainly continue to relate to his mode of thinking through other fields of knowledge. This could even be easier when the missionary period of Heidegger studies is over. Heidegger offered us a way of thinking about fundamental human concerns that makes it difficult to pigeonhole him. To understand how thoughts come to us is, as Heidegger says, is to learn to think of every other instance of living. Thus we can say, with Heidegger, that the only thing essential to thinking is thinking. If there is some truth to this claim, then the philosophy of Heidegger will belong to our future.Though controversial, Martin Heidegger offers clues to understanding modernity.

Breaking down the 10 need-to-know emerging technologies

To keep up with the rapid innovation and disruption happening across all industries and stay ahead of their competition, CIOs and technology leaders should assess and effectively leverage emerging technologies for their net-new values.

The world of emerging tech by nature is fast-moving and ever-changing, and consequently, it’s difficult to get a handle on the state of the various markets, not to mention leveraging them in driving business innovation. Forrester’s emerging tech spotlights have previously identified and characterized the various emerging technologies that are worth your time.

These are three key takeaways:

  • Don’t assume your business can’t be enhanced by the technologies covered. From healthcare to manufacturing and construction to higher education, adopters of emerging technologies are finding new and innovative ways to enhance what their companies can do. Don’t immediately write off using emerging technologies in your organization because you’re unsure of how they can fit.
  • Open source is accelerating, but some technologies are far more proprietary than others. From providing a larger, more engaged development base to enabling deployment flexibility, open-source is ever-growing in popularity, and for good reason. Today, it’s far more prevalent in some technologies than others, and vendors are increasingly embracing this trend. Open-source technologies that are currently explicitly proprietary will not only drive innovation but likely adoption, as well.
  • Breadth and strength of services is defining the next wave of cloud competition, and vendors know it. While infrastructure-as-a-service is still a growth market, a status quo has already arisen, one that is unlikely to change rapidly. As such, vendors have realized that next-generation services are their next avenue for net-new competition and are now being fiercely pursued by every vendor covered. This change is rapidly shifting the established market dynamics of the cloud, further contributing to the multi-cloud reality.

The breakdown of the various solutions/services offered by the major cloud providers (Alibaba, Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Platform, IBM, Microsoft Azure, Oracle, and Salesforce) for the following 10 technologies:

  • Computer vision refers to a family of tools and technologies used to analyze images and video to understand the objects and features of objects contained in said images.
  • Deep learning is a rapidly evolving machine-learning technique to build, train, and test neural networks that can build probabilistic models to predict outcomes or help identify patterns in data.
  • Natural language generation refers to a family of technologies that work together based on a set of rules, templates, and machine learning to generate language in an emergent, real-time fashion — from conversations to reports.
  • Distributed ledger technology, often referred to as blockchain, is a software architecture supporting collaborative processes around a trusted data set that is shared and distributed, using consensus algorithms to maintain data integrity.
  • Edge computing is a family of technologies that distribute application data and services to where they can best optimize outcomes in networks of connected assets.
  • Augmented, virtual, and mixed reality technologies are helping merge the digital and physical worlds around us, either through an overlay, the ability to introduce digital elements into your surrounding environment, or the creation of virtual worlds.
  • Additive manufacturing, sometimes known as 3D printing, is an industrial process that allows for the digital design and physical production of components or items with 3D printers.
  • Digital twins allow the creation of digital models marrying physical and digital data to provide a better understanding of an object’s performance or to provide a better end-user experience.
  • Serverless computing is a form of server architecture designed to further abstract development, compute, and run resources from servers — an evolution beyond virtualization — further removing the need for the infrastructure management and maintenance of servers and instances.
  • Quantum computing is an emerging computing paradigm and very much still in the R&D stage — we’ve yet to see the creation of a true quantum computer, but the technology is one that promises to rapidly increase computing power and efficiency.

Memory of Pak’s Last Murder of Democracy

Twenty years ( Just three days back) ago democracy was derailedin Pakistan and the awe of military rule holds sway even today.For Pakistanis who had lived a large part of their lives under the shadow of military rule, it was a feeling of déjà vu when, on October 12, 1999, the generals once again seized power, ousting an elected civilian government. The coup was yet another episode in the seemingly never-ending Pakistani soap opera, marked by alternating ineffectual rule by an elected government and authoritarian rule by a self-appointed leader from the army.

It has been 20 years since October 12, 1999, when Pakistan witnessed its last formal military coup. With many, including those in government, still enamoured of the achievements of military rule, it is worth looking back at how well the last coup-makers delivered on the promises they made when they took over.

The October 12 coup — or what the generals liked to describe as a ‘counter coup’ — marked the reappearance on the political stage of the military, which has controlled power, directly or indirectly, for much of Pakistan’s history. The military regime led by General Pervez Musharraf was the fourth such regime in Pakistan’s history. Two of the previous three had lasted for more than a decade and General Musharraf’s junta also didn’t have any desire to cede power.

Although initially given three years to ‘set things right’ by a pliant Supreme Court stripped of dissenting judges, the end of the regime only came about nine years later, after a popular movement forced it to cede power back to the civilians.

At a time when many of those who were part of Gen Musharraf’s regime find themselves back in positions of power, when the military is widely perceived to be calling the shots on a number of matters outside their domain and there are, once again, calls for quick-fix solutions to long-standing problems, it is worth looking at the record of the military’s direct involvement in running the state.

How much of the agenda set by General Musharraf upon taking power in 1999 was actually realised? What became of the seven priority goals identified by the last great reformer with near-absolute powers?

Pakistan’s short flirtation with democracy since the death of Gen Ziaul Haq had been a story of unfulfilled dreams and deception. The transition from military rule to democracy in 1988 remained a delusion. During 11 years of de jure democracy, power alternated between two young leaders of the post-Partition generation. Both Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif came to power twice but failed to complete full terms in office as they were ousted unceremoniously halfway through their term each time.

Long periods of military rule had stunted democratic institutions and prevented the development of a democratic culture. The ineptitude of the political leadership, their disregard for democratic institutions and their lust for absolute power also contributed to the weakening of the very basis of liberal democracy. But more than anything, the powerful military continued to cast its shadow over the political scene, as the country struggled for stability.

The circumstances in which the October 12 coup occurred might have been different from earlier military takeovers, but the objectives were largely the same. On the surface, however, it was a military takeover with a difference. General Musharraf appeared like a ‘benevolent dictator’, allowing both a free press and political freedom, though limited. He did not impose martial law and called himself the ‘Chief Executive.’ Most Pakistanis, disillusioned with the ineptitude of successive civilian leaders, also welcomed the return of military rule, though warily.

An admirer of the father of the modern secular state of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Gen Musharraf presented himself as a reformist, promising to take Pakistan on a liberal course. The general appeared more in the mould of Pakistan’s first military ruler, Field Marshal Ayub Khan, than the last before him, General Ziaul Haq.

The liberal profile of his cabinet, comprising Western-educated professionals, had also raised hopes for better governance and a clean administration. The liberal image was also necessary to win the support of the international community, wary of the spread of Islamic extremism in the region. Yet the eventual outcome was not very different from the previous military rules.

The military regime led by General Pervez Musharraf was the fourth such regime in Pakistan’s history. Two of the previous three had lasted for more than a decade and General Musharraf’s junta also didn’t have any desire to cede power.

THE AGENDA

General Musharraf set a long policy agenda for himself. He received widespread approbation when, in his first major policy speech five days after the coup, he announced his seven-point agenda.

“My dear countrymen,” he stated on national television on October 17, 1999, “our aims and objectives shall be:

·        “Rebuild national confidence and morale.

·        “Strengthen the federation, remove inter-provincial disharmony and restore national cohesion.

·        “Revive the economy and restore investor confidence.

·        “Ensure law and order and dispense speedy justice.

·        “Depoliticise state institutions.

·        “Devolution of power to the grass-roots level.

·        “Ensure swift and across the board accountability.”

He also promised eradication of Islamic extremism and sectarianism. In subsequent statements, he pledged to undo General Zia’s radical legacy by transforming Pakistan into a moderate Muslim state.

But General Musharraf’s policies were full of paradoxes. Those solemn pledges raised questions as to how the military, which itself had been a major cause of many of the crises for the Pakistani state, could midwife a healthy economy and a well-governed polity. In fact, in many ways, Musharraf’s first policy speech was not very different from those of previous military rulers — promising to fix everything that had gone wrong with the country under civilian rule.

It may be true that Musharraf had stepped into a situation that had not been faced by past military rulers. For example, worsening ethnic and sectarian violence had caused a breakdown of law and order. Years of financial mismanagement had pushed the country to the brink of bankruptcy. Multiple sanctions imposed by the United States had also affected the economy which depended on foreign aid.

Musharraf’s support for the US-led ‘war on terror’, his tactical cooperation with certain militant groups and his refusal to embed a culture of democracy and accountability widened the fault lines that had long plagued the country.

THE ECONOMY

The revival of the economy thus became the top priority set by the military junta. New US sanctions after the coup had, in fact, increased problems for the military regime. It may be recalled that US President Bill Clinton had given a rather stern lecture to Pakistan when he came to Islamabad for a few hours, after a few days in India. Pakistan had also been suspended from the Commonwealth in the wake of the coup. Fortuitously, the situation changed completely after 9/11 when Pakistan entered into a new alliance with the US for the so-called ‘war on terror’. That also brought Pakistan back to the centre stage of regional geopolitics.

Although the military government did not negotiate any economic aid package in return for its cooperation, the economic aid and concessions from the US and other Western countries to Pakistan increased considerably. These included a $1 billion loan write-off, $600 million in budgetary support and debt rescheduling. Such a rescheduling had taken place many times in the past, but the scale of concession allowed in the post-9/11 period was extraordinary. The $12.5 billion debt rescheduling was not only far larger than any in the past, but the terms of the agreement were also much more favourable.

Basically, the entire bilateral debt of the ‘war on terror’ consortium countries was rescheduled for a far greater period than in the past. The lifting of sanctions and direct economic support from the US also helped ease Pakistan’s financial difficulties. For Pakistan, it was almost a return to the 1980s, when massive Western aid had poured into the country following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Pakistan was repaid handsomely as a consequence of its role as the frontline state in the US war on terror. The World Bank, the IMF and numerous other donors were back to help out Pakistan. Even USAID, which had pulled out almost a decade ago after the US had enforced nuclear-related sanctions in 1990, returned to Pakistan.

All those factors led to a turnaround for the Pakistani economy, which had been in dire straits before Pakistan returned to the US embrace. A measure of “economic stability” was indeed ensured and investors were encouraged. Not surprisingly, the economy under Musharraf saw impressive growth, although later reckoning by economists attributed it primarily to consumptive patterns rather than production. More importantly, the general’s promise to bring structural and institutional reform in the economy, through “increasing domestic savings”, “pragmatic tax reforms”, “turning around state enterprises towards profitability”, “boosting agriculture and reviving industry” and “strict austerity measures”, remained unfulfilled.

Tellingly, we still hear the same prescriptions to this day, evidence that none of this was achieved under Gen Musharraf.

ACCOUNTABILITY

With the economy out of critical care, Musharraf turned his focus on other points on his agenda. As in previous military regimes, accountability became a buzzword for the new military regime too. Similar to the refrain we currently hear, he promised to get back “looted money”. Just one month after the coup, Musharraf set up the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to investigate and prosecute officials involved in corruption.

Under its charter, NAB was supposed to be an autonomous body. But it was largely staffed by serving and retired military officials. The heads of NAB under Musharraf were all serving generals. The paramilitary Rangers, military personnel and the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) supported it. In this situation, its independence and autonomy remained questionable. “The process of accountability is being directed especially towards those guilty of plundering and looting the national wealth and tax evaders,” Gen Musharraf had declared in his October 17 speech. “It is also directed towards loan defaulters and those who have had their loans re-scheduled or condoned. The process of accountability will be transparent for the public to see.” Soon it became apparent, however, that the so-called anti-corruption drive was effectively a tool for the military to control politicians.

The NAB ordinance granted the anti-graft body sweeping powers of investigation and arrest. It denied detainees due process of law. People arrested under the accountability ordinance could be detained for up to 90 days without charge. The ordinance also prohibited courts from granting bail and gave the NAB chairman sole power to decide if and when to release detainees — a provision that clearly contravened the principle of the separation of powers.

The ordinance also established special accountability courts that were required to conduct trials within 30 days of charges being filed and automatically barred those convicted under the ordinance from holding public office for 21 years. NAB also shifted the burden of proof at trial to the defendant. These draconian laws were conveniently used against the political opposition. By policy, serving judges and senior officials of the armed forces remained outside NAB’s jurisdiction.

Familiarly, national and international human rights groups often accused NAB of only going after those who either opposed the government or refrained from cooperating with it. NAB was also blamed for safeguarding political, instead of national, interests. In its October 2002 report on Pakistan’s transition to democracy, the International Crisis Group (ICG) described the Musharraf government’s accountability process as being “marred” by NAB’s selective “targeting of the government’s civilian opposition.”

Furthermore, the accountability courts were blamed for being used to debar politicians from participating in the October 2002 polls. The threat of investigation by NAB was also used to pressure politicians into joining pro-government parties and electoral alliances. Some NAB cases were withdrawn after the accused agreed to join the government. For example, the corruption cases against Aftab Sherpao and Faisal Saleh Hayat, two prominent Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leaders, were withdrawn when they changed their loyalties and joined the coalition government led by the then prime minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali after the 2002 elections. Both were given key cabinet positions.

Among those disqualified from holding public office were six former chief ministers, one former senator, 20 former members of the provincial assemblies, seven former members of the National Assembly and two former prime ministers. So Musharraf’s anti-corruption drive, which was one of the key seven points on his agenda, simply became a handy tool to tame political leaders and cobble together support for the regime.

One step forward and one step back became a characteristic of Musharraf’s approach while dealing with the issue of religious extremism and militancy.

DEVOLUTION, STRENGTHENING FEDERATION

The devolution of power to the grass-roots level was another point that was actively pursued by Gen Musharraf’s government. Soon after seizing power, Musharraf formed the National Reconstruction Bureau (NRB) for the development of the local government system and to generate fundamental thought on promoting good governance through the reconstruction of state institutions. It was an ambitious project, headed by a retired general, to change the administrative structure at the local level.

Musharraf’s Local Government Ordinance (LGO) 2001 was quite ambitious in scope. In an effort to devolve power, local government elections were held on a non-party basis. District and sub-district governments were installed in 101 districts, including four cities. Under the new local government system, a nazim/mayor headed elected councils and administrations.

The new system not only gave constitutional cover to local governments, it reserved a significant proportion of local government seats for women (33 percent). It also proposed the direct involvement of citizens in the process of social service delivery, through the creation of citizen community boards which worked with local governments to implement community development projects.

The new system provided substantial autonomy for elected local officials and, most notably, placed an elected official as overall head of district administration, management and deve­­lopment, replacing a century-old system enforced under British colonial rule that had subordinated elected politicians to bureaucrats. Two rounds of local government elections were held under the LGO 2001 (in 2001 and in 2005).

General Musharraf’s reforms, seemingly aimed at establishing a genuine local democracy, ended up further strengthening centralised state power, however. Devolution from the centre directly to the local levels negated the normal concept of decentralisation since provinces were completely bypassed. The federal system was further weakened because power was not devolved from provinces to the lower levels. Like in previous military regimes, the local governments were primarily instituted to create a pliant political elite in order to legitimise military rule. Instead of removing the friction between the federating units and “restoring national cohesion”, as promised, the new system widened the gap between the centre and the provinces. The conflict only intensified after the 2002 elections.

One major reason for the failure of the local government system was the manner in which the devolution plan had been devised and implemented in the absence of elected officials, and against the strong opposition of the major political parties. Instead of empowering people, the system virtually became a tool for political re-engineering. The elected governments that followed Musharraf’s military regime abolished the NRB and wound up his local government system, indicating the lade of buy-in from them.

DEPOLITISING INSTITUTIONS

Musharraf’s seven-point agenda had also promised to depoliticise state institutions and the bureaucracy. Instead, eight years of Musharraf’s rule, in fact, militarised state institutions, with the security agencies acquiring greater space than they ever had before. At one point the army was even pressed into reading electricity meters. Political engineering further weakened institutions. Like other military rulers before him, Musharraf also tried to establish a hybrid political system with the help of a ‘king’s party’. The military created a pliant faction, splitting the Pakistan Muslim League led by ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif. Known as PML(Quaid), the party became the civilian front of the military regime. But this too mostly disintegrated the moment military rule was replaced.

In an effort to legitimise military rule, Gen Musharraf co-opted politicians, further corrupting the political culture. He strengthened the system of patronage that he had pledged to eliminate. Following in the footsteps of other authoritarian regimes, he also tried to curtail the independence of the judiciary. Eventually, it was this confrontation with the judiciary that finally cost him his power.

The militarisation of state institutions carries long-term implications for the country and the political process. At the end of the day, it prevents any serious effort to bring any structural reform that can help the country shed its economic dependence. For example, the impressive economic growth witnessed during the eight-year military rule was largely driven by the flow of foreign aid as a payoff for Pakistan’s support for the US ‘war on terror’, which evaporated the moment international circumstances changed.

To this day, the term ‘NRO’ (National Reconciliation Ordinance, which Musharraf promulgated) is used as a slur.

RELIGIOUS EXTREMISM

The inconsistencies of Gen Musharraf’s position were further revealed in his dealing with religious extremism and militancy. His actions against militant and Islamic extremist groups were mostly cosmetic and mainly done under foreign pressure. Despite ostensible bans, extremist and militant groups continued to operate with impunity. One step forward and one step back became a characteristic of Musharraf’s approach while dealing with the issue of religious extremism and militancy. In 2002, under external pressure, Musharraf outlawed five main militant and sectarian groups, but the administration looked on the other side when they resurfaced under new banners. The military government’s defensive attitude further emboldened religious extremists. The country continues to face the repercussions of this strategy to this day.

Musharraf’s support for the US-led ‘war on terror’, his tactical cooperation with certain militant groups and his refusal to embed a culture of democracy and accountability widened the fault lines that had long plagued the country.

NATIONAL CONFIDENCE

There is no doubt about the fact that, during the initial period, Musharraf did stabilise the political and economic situation, restoring public confidence in the government. The military government comprising technocrats looked more efficient and capable of providing better governance. But, alas, this perception was short-lived. It started changing as soon as Gen Musharraf tried to legitimise his military rule by relying on patronage. The same old faces, who he had once accused of corruption and ineptitude, were co-opted. Eventually, the backlash to this became evident in the popular movement against Gen Musharraf. To this day, the term ‘NRO’ (National Reconciliation Ordinance, which Musharraf promulgated) is used as a slur.

LAW AND JUSTICE

While law and order did show some signs of improvement, the military badly failed in delivering on its promise to improve the system of justice. In fact, the regime curtailed the independence of the judiciary. Soon after seizing power Gem Musharraf removed the chief justice and some other senior judges who refused to take oath under the Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO). The process was again attempted, with disastrous consequences for the regime, in 2007. Meanwhile, the backlog of cases in the courts continued to pile up as before while citizens continued to fear abuse from the police. None of that changed.

When assessing democratic governments, we often look back at broken campaign promises and aims and agendas that were never met. While not a campaign speech, on October 17, 1999, Gen Musharraf sat in front of a portrait of Muhammad Ali Jinnah and the Pakistani flag, and made many similarly tall claims that never materialised. His promises to strengthen institutions, establish rule of law, bring structural reforms in the economy, cleanse the country of corruption and devolve power to the grassroots level, remained unfulfilled. In fact, the political engineering, carried out with the help of the intelligence agencies, further weakened the political process in the country, which could ostensibly address these issues, and the perpetuation of the system of patronage only further strengthened dynastic politics.

Those yearning for greater powers to effect quick-fix reforms would be well advised to ponder what not-so-distant history teaches us.

Tackle These Food Myths

Today’s food system produces millions of tiny miracles every day. Never before has food been so plentiful, hunger been so limited and choice been so broad.

While many worry about how our planet will feed the growing human population, at the current rate of consumption, the world’s food supply will be capable of doing just that until 2040.

But stop to consider the undesirable outcomes from historical and current practices in the food system. An estimated 820 million people are still under-nourished while almost 2 billion adults are overweight or obese, creating a range of health problems governments and citizens can ill afford.

There is over-exploitation of land and water resources, excessive carbon emissions and an extensive loss of biodiversity. Increasing food prices and low self-sufficiency continue to threaten food security, especially for low-income countries. And imbalanced development of different communities involved in the food system reinforces global inequality. Without action, these outcomes will only get worse.

We work with a diverse set of stakeholders ranging from large entities such as growers, traders, consumer goods companies and food retailers to smallholder farmer communities and enabling agents in emerging and frontier markets. Through this experience, we have identified a number of myths in the current food system:

Myth 1: there is not enough food to currently feed everyone on Earth.

Reality: while hunger is a way of life in many countries, reducing the surplus of calories in over-consuming countries can eliminate undernourishment and feed an additional 760 million people, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization.

Myth 2: we’re going to run out of resources to produce food for the future.

Reality: different foods have very different resource footprints; only if we don’t optimize usage will we run out of resources.

Myth 3: eating healthily costs more.

Reality: in most developed countries, reducing food consumption to guidelines on calorie intake would allow for healthy eating within current spending levels.

Myth 4: environmental health and nutritional health are at odds with each other.

Reality: taking the US as an example, several foods such as grains, starches, beans, nuts and seeds can improve both environmental and nutritional health. Also, if Americans ate a diet in line with government guidelines, they would, by some estimates, use roughly 50% less land and emit about 50% less greenhouse gases from agriculture than they currently do. Consider that red meat, dairy and pork produce over 70% of agriculture’s greenhouse gases while contributing just over 10% of calories.

The UN’s Strategic Development Goals and the Paris Agreement provide the architecture for resolving many of these challenges. But to achieve this, we need to change the patterns of production, operation and consumption.

The World Economic Forum’s work is key, with the summit offering the opportunity to debate, discuss and engage on these issues at a global policy level.

The food system needs a critical transformation based not on the myths but on the realities of the situation.

For example, while we have until 2040 before running out of total calories to feed the growing human population, that window is shrinking when we account for the fact that the human body needs a combination of calorie types such as protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Consider protein production levels. They are dropping to the point that production per-capita will fall below the recommended daily intake by 2034.

Compounding the situation, the decline in protein supply coincides with a boom in demand fuelled by increasing disposable income. What makes it even more concerning, is that those sinking production levels may be further reduced by the effects of climate change, aging farmer population, and crop concentration risk.

Globally, the average age of a farmer is 60 years old, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization, and by some reports, about two-thirds of the world’s food supply comes from just four crops. 

The need for women’s fairer participation in the military, as in the workforce

The Montane Spine Race, coursing 268 miles along the central hilly spine of England tests, not just physical fitness, but mental toughness as well. The 126 participants in 2019 were both men and women and the winner of the winter race, Jasmin Paris, beat her male competitor by a full 15 hours, and the course record by 12 hours. Shelli Gordon, the second female, was 17th. Last year, Carol Morgan came 8th, and the year before that she clocked 6th.

In the Moab 240, another well-known endurance event, last year the top woman was 9th and there were 4 women in the top 20 in a field of 111 finishers, mostly males. The year before, in 2017, the winner was a woman, Courtney Dauwalter. Recall, till 1972 women were not even allowed to officially compete in the Boston Marathon.

Science does not yet have clear answers, but there does seem to be something about the inherent ability of women to resist fatigue. Endurance events require both mental fortitude and physical fitness and women have been making a surprise showing in races and distance swimming activity.

You do not have to look at exotic sports to understand the basic point about the inherent toughness of women. Look at any nearby worksite and you will see female workers doing exactly the same work as the males – using the spade and shovel, hoisting bricks and so on. Sometimes they are nursing a child. When you are indigent you tend to worry less about gender roles and more about where your next meal comes from.

In the farm or the factory, women often do the same jobs as men, but without being given either credit or the salary for it, even as they shoulder the “double burden” of being the caregiver of their family.

Women make up 48% of the Indian population, but only 65% of them are literate as compared to 82% men. Female labour force participation in India is not only among the lowest in the world, at around 27%, but has actually declined in the last two decades even as the country registered impressive economic growth.

Remarkably, some of the biggest resistance to female participation in the workforce comes in better-educated families. A 2018 Icrier study by Surbhi Ghai says that at the bottom of this conundrum is “patriarchy” – a collection of attitudes that insist that women’s roles are secondary to those of men – which the study quantified in an index.

Women, in turn, are battering against those attitudes, sometimes frontally, such as when they insist on not only joining the military but insisting that they should serve in the combat arms. Participation in such arms is a new metric of the status of women in society. Across the world, the barriers have fallen and in most developed countries, their role has become crucial to the combat capabilities of their forces.

The status of women in the Indian military is spotty. IAF has begun inducting them as fighter pilots, but the navy does not allow them seagoing roles. As for the army, they are permitted in non-combat arms only. Last year Army chief Bipin Rawat made all the classically patriarchal arguments to argue that women cannot be given combat roles, the most obvious and facetious ones being that they would find it difficult to exercise authority over soldiers with a rural background and may claim maternal leave.

Women’s participation in the military, as in the workforce, is not a vanity project to display your progressive credentials. At its heart lies the need for their training and skills, and numbers, in one case to maintain a combat capability and in the other to lubricate a growing economy. It most certainly requires a sharp understanding of what patriarchy is all about and the ways in which society can, and should, remove the social and cultural disabilities that have hobbled women through the age

France: The Citadel Of Free Speech Becoming Its Mausoleum

The country that gave the concept of Liberty, Equality & Freedom is changing beyond recognition. Freedom of speech is a sine qua non of these ideas, and in France, these concepts of freedom of speech are being eroded.

On September 28, a “Convention of the Right” took place in Paris, organized by Marion Marechal, a former member of the French parliament and now director of France’s Institute of Social, Economic and Political Sciences. The purpose of the convention was to unite France’s right-wing political factions. In a keynote speech, the journalist Éric Zemmour harshly criticized Islam and the Islamization of France. He described the country’s “no-go zones” (Zones Urbaines Sensibles; Sensitive Urban Zones) as “foreign enclaves” in French territory and depicted, as a process of “colonization”, the growing presence in France of Muslims who do not integrate.

Zemmour quoted the Algerian writer Boualem Sansal, who said that the no-go zones are “small Islamic Republics in the making”. Zemmour said that a few decades ago, the French could talk freely about Islam but that today it is impossible, and he denounced the use of the “hazy concept of Islamophobia to make it impossible to criticize Islam, to reestablish the notion of blasphemy to the benefit of the Muslim religion alone…”

“All our problems are worsened by Islam. It is double jeopardy…. Will young French people be willing to live as a minority on the land of their ancestors? If so, they deserve to be colonized. If not, they will have to fight … [T]he old words of the Republic, secularism, integration, republican order, no longer mean anything … Everything has been overturned, perverted, emptied of meaning.”

Zemmour’s speech was broadcast live on LCI television. Journalists on other channels immediately accused LCI of contributing to “hate propaganda”. Some said that LCI should lose its broadcasting license. One journalist, Memona Hinterman-Affegee, a former member of France’s High Council of Audiovisual Media (Conseil supérieur de l’audiovisuel), the body that regulates electronic media in France, wrote in the newspaper Le Monde:

“LCI uses a frequency which is part of the public domain and thus belongs to the entire nation … LCI has failed in its mission and lost control of its program, and must be sanctioned in an exemplary manner”.

The journalists of Le Figaro, the newspaper employing Zemmour, wrote a press release demanding his immediate dismissal. Calls heard on most radio and television stations for a total boycott of Zemmour stressed that he had been condemned several times for “Islamophobic racism”.

Alexis Brézet, the managing editor of Le Figaro, said that he expressed his “disapproval” to Zemmour and reminded him of the need for “strict compliance with the law”, but did not fire him. SOS Racisme, a left-wing movement created in 1984 to fight racism, launched a campaign to boycott companies publishing advertisements in Le Figaro and said that its aim was to coerce the management of the newspaper to fire Zemmour. The mainstream RTL radio station that employed Zemmour decided to terminate him immediately, saying that his presence on the air was “incompatible” with the spirit of living together “that characterizes the station”.

A journalist working for RTL and LCI, Jean-Michel Aphatie, said that Zemmour was a “repeat offender” who should not be able to speak anywhere and compared him to the anti-Semitic Holocaust denier Dieudonné Mbala Mbala:

“Dieudonné is not allowed to speak in France. He must hide. That is fine, since he wants to spread hatred. Éric Zemmour should be treated the same way.”

Caricatures were published depicting Zemmour in a Waffen SS uniform. Another journalist, Dominique Jamet, apparently not seeing any problem comparing a Jew to a Nazi, said that Zemmour reminded him of Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels. On the internet, death threats against Zemmour multiplied. Some posted the times Zemmour takes the subway, what stations, and suggested that someone push him under a train.

The French government officially filed a complaint against Zemmour for “public insults” and “public provocation to discrimination, hatred or violence”. The investigation was handed over to the police. Someone in France accused of “public provocation to discrimination, hatred or violence” can face a sentence of one year in prison and a fine of 45,000 euros ($50,000).

Whoever reads the text of Zemmour’s speech on September 28 can see that the speech does not incite discrimination, hatred or violence, and does not make a single racist statement: Islam is not a race, it is a religion.

Zemmour’s speech describes a situation already discussed by various writers. Zemmour is not the first to say that the no-go zones are dangerous areas the police can no longer enter, or that they are under the control of radical imams and Muslim gangs who assault and drive out non-Muslims. Zemmour is not the only writer to describe the consequences of the mass-immigration of Muslims who do not integrate into French society. The pollster Jerome Fourquet, in his recent book, The French Archipelago, points out that France today is a country where Muslims and non-Muslims live in separate societies “hostile to each other”. Fourquet also emphasizes that a growing number of Muslims living in France say they want to live according sharia law and place sharia law above French law. Fourquet notes that 26% of French Muslims born in France want to obey only Sharia; for French Muslims born abroad, the figure rises to 46%. Zemmour merely added that what was happening is a “colonization”.

Zemmour had been hauled into court many times in the recent past and has had to pay heavy fines. On September 19, he was fined 3,000 euros ($3,300) for “incitement to racial hatred” and “incitement to discrimination”, for having said in 2015 that “in countless French suburbs where many young girls are veiled, a struggle to Islamize territories is taking place”.

In a society where freedom of speech exists, it would be possible to discuss the use of these statements, but in France today, freedom of speech has been almost completely destroyed.

Writers other than Zemmour have been hauled into court and totally excluded from all media, simply for describing reality. In 2017, the great historian Georges Bensoussan published a book, A Submissive France, as alarming as what Zemmour said a few days ago. Bensoussan, in an interview, quoted an Algerian sociologist, Smaïn Laacher, who had said that “in Arab families, children suckle anti-Semitism with their mother’s milk”. Laacher was never indicted. Bensoussan, however, had to go to criminal court. Although he was acquitted, he was fired by the Paris Holocaust Memorial, which until then had employed him.

In 2011, another author, Renaud Camus, published a book, The Great Replacement. In it, he talked about the decline of Western culture in France and its gradual replacement by Islamic culture. He also noted the growing presence in France of a Muslim population that refuses to integrate, and added that demographic studies show a birth rate higher in Muslim families than in non-Muslim ones.

Immediately, commentators in the media accused Camus of “anti-Muslim racism” and called him a “conspiracy theorist”. His demographic studies were omitted. He had never mentioned either race or ethnicity, yet was nonetheless described as a defender of “white supremacism” and instantly excluded from radio and television. He can no longer publish anything in a French newspaper or magazine. In fact, he has no publisher at all anymore; he has to self-publish. In debates in France, he is referred to as a “racist extremist,” and credited with saying things he never said. He is then denied the possibility of answering.

The difference between Eric Zemmour and Georges Bensoussan or Renaud Camus is that Zemmour had published books that became best sellers before he talked explicitly about the Islamization of France.

Those who have destroyed the careers of other writers for stating unfashionable facts have been doing their best to condemn Zemmour to the same fate. So far, they have not succeeded, so they have now decided to launch a major offensive against him. What they clearly want his personal destruction.

Zemmour is not only risking a professional ban; like many other writers being silenced by an intolerant “lynch mob”, he is risking his life.

Almost no one shows any interest in defending him, just as no one defended Georges Bensoussan or Renaud Camus. Defending someone accused of being a “racist” implies the risk of being accused of being a “racist” too. Intellectual terror now reigns in France.

A few days ago, the writer and philosopher Alain Finkielkraut said that suggesting that “Islamophobia is the equivalent of yesterday’s anti-Semitism” is scandalous. He said that “Muslims do not risk extermination” and that no one should “deny that today’s anti-Semitism is Arab Muslim anti-Semitism.” He added that France is moving from a “muzzled press to a muzzling press that destroys free speech”.

France, wrote Ghislain Benhessa, a professor at the University of Strasbourg, is no longer a democratic country and gradually become something very different:

“Our democratic model which was based on the free expression of opinions and the confrontation of ideas is giving way to something else … Relentless moral condemnations infect the debates and dissenting opinions are constantly deemed ‘nauseating’, ‘dangerous’, ‘deviant’ or ‘retrograde’, and therefore the elements of language repeated ad nauseam by official communicators will soon be the last words deemed acceptable. Lawsuits, charges of indignity and proclamations of openness are about to give birth to the evil twin of openness: a closed society.”

On October 3, five days after Zemmour’s speech, four police employees were murdered in Paris police headquarters by a man who had converted to Islam. The murderer, Mickaël Harpon, had gone every week to a mosque where an imam, who lives in a no-go zone ten miles north of Paris, made radical remarks. Harpon had been working at police headquarters for 16 years. He had recently shared on social networks a video showing an imam calling for jihad, and saying that “the most important thing for a Muslim is to die as a Muslim”.

Harpon’s colleagues said that he had been delighted by the 2015 jihadist attacks in France in 2015, and said they had reported “signs of radicalization” to no avail. The government’s first reaction had been to say that the murderer was “mentally disturbed” and that the attack had no connection with Islam. French Minister of the Interior Christophe Castaner simply stated that there had been “administrative dysfunctions,” and acknowledged that the killer had access to files classified “secret”.

A month before that, on September 2, an Afghan man who had the status in France of a political refugee, slit the throat of a young man and injured several other people in a street in Villeurbanne, a suburb of Lyon. He announced that the fault of those he killed or injured was that they did “not read the Koran”. The police immediately stated that he was mentally ill and that his attack had nothing to do with Islam.

Soon in France, no one will dare to say that any attack openly inspired by Islam has any connection with Islam.

Today, there are more than 600 no-go zones in France. Every year, hundreds of thousands immigrants coming mainly from Muslim countries, settle in France and add to the country’s Muslim population. Most of those who preceded them have not integrated.

Since January 2012, more than 260 people in France have been murdered in terrorist attacks, and more than a thousand wounded. The numbers may increase in the coming months. The authorities will still call the attackers “mentally ill”.

The Fabulous Fifties

Checking out at the store, the young cashier suggested to the much older lady that she should bring her own grocery bags, because plastic bags are not good for the environment,.
The woman apologized to the young girl and explained, “We didn’t have this ‘green thing’ back in my earlier days.”
The young clerk responded, “That’s our problem today. Your generation did not care enough to save our environment for future generations.”
The older lady said that she was right our generation didn’t have the “green thing” in its day. The older lady went on toexplain: Back then, we returned milk bottles, soda bottles and beer bottles to the store. The store sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, so it could use the same bottles over and over. So they really were recycled.
But we didn’t have the “green thing” back in our day. Grocery stores bagged our groceries in brown paper bags that we reused for numerous things. Most memorable besides household garbage bags was the use of brown paper bags as book covers for our school books. This was to ensure that public property (the books provided for our use by the school) was not defaced by our scribblings. Then we were able to personalize our books on the brown paper bags.
But, too bad we didn’t do the “green thing” back then. We walked up stairs because we didn’t have an escalator in every store and office building. We walked to the grocery store and didn’t climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time we had to go two blocks. But she was right. We didn’t have the “green thing” in our day.
Back then we washed the baby’s diapers because we didn’t have the throw away kind. We dried clothes on a line, not in an energy-gobbling machine burning up 220 volts. Wind and solar power really did dry our clothes back in our early days.
Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing. But that young lady is right; we didn’t have the “green thing” back in our day.
Back then we had one TV, or radio, in the house — not a TV in every room. And the TV had a small screen the size of a handkerchief (remember them?), not a screen the size of the state of Montana.
In the kitchen we blended and stirred by hand because we didn’t have electric machines to do everything for us.
When we packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, we used wadded up old newspapers to cushion it, not Styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap.
Back then, we didn’t fire up an engine and burn gasoline just to cut the lawn. We used a push mower that ran on human power.
We exercised by working so we didn’t need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity. But she’s right; we didn’t have the “green thing” back then.
We drank from a fountain when we were thirsty instead of using a cup or a plastic bottle every time we had a drink of water. We refilled writing pens with ink instead of buying a new pen, and we replaced the razor blade in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull. But we didn’t have the “green thing” back then.
Back then, people took the streetcar or a bus and kids rode their bikes to school or walked instead of turning their moms into a 24-hour taxi service in the family’s $45,000 SUV or van, which cost what a whole house did before the “green thing.”
We had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances. And we didn’t need a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 23,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest burger joint.
But isn’t it sad the current generation laments how wasteful we old folks were just because we didn’t have the “green thing” back then?
Please forward this on to another selfish old person who needs a lesson in conservation from a smart ass young person. We don’t like being old in the first place, so it doesn’t take much to piss us off… Especially from a tattooed, multiple pierced smartass who can’t make change without the cash register telling them how much.

Neurodiversity is Next Talent Opportunity for the Digital Workplace

We all carry with us a wealth of life experience, a kind of book of stories, which we consult to make sense of the world. Our identity (gender, race, age, origin), neurological differences, our studies, and our experiences influence the content of that book directly and, therefore, the way we reason.

Neurodiversity is the word term that describes those neurological differences. The books of neurodiverse people contain unique information that makes them see the world from a different perspective. It is manifested in conditions such as autism, ADHD or dyslexia.

In the digital workplace and specifically in the tech industry, we need to solve complex problems, constantly innovate and think creatively to face our next cybersecurity or artificial intelligence (AI) challenge. We need more people who reason differently because this is the way to come up with new ideas and overcome biases. Neurodiverse colleagues provide a unique set of skills. Unfortunately, as was the case with my conversation with Alex, the emphasis is usually on their challenges. It’s time to change this; let’s talk about the unique contributions they can make.

The competitive advantage of neurodiversity

Looking into it from a general perspective, neurodiverse people are gifted in some skills that are essential in the digital age, for example:

  • Autistic brains are said to be highly creative with exceptional concentration, logic, imagination and visual thought. They also tend to be systematic, meticulous and detailed. Besides, they share unique insights and perspectives in problem-solving.
  • ADHD people also have great imagination and score higher on creativity tests than non-ADHD people. ADHD people can hyperfocus, which means that while they generally have an attention deficit, they do have a high focus on their area of interest. For example, it takes them less effort to play videogames.
  • Dyslexic people have demonstrated the ability to think outside the box: 84% of dyslexic people are above average in reasoning, understanding patterns, evaluating possibilities and making decisions. Their competencies are invaluable when it comes to viewing aspects from a broader perspective and assessing situations from multiple views.

These conditions also bring an added value to the digital workplace. While most of us are easily distracted by constant digital interruptions (emails, instant messages, notifications), neurodiverse brains are better at maintaining focus on a task. They are also, in general, more keen on holding on routine tasks, which can also be very valuable in our environment where we tend to jump from one assignment to the next too quickly. Those traits make those people with such brains a very productive workforce.

I have talked with such people about their capabilities and how those unique gifts are not only invisible, but often obscured by a misperception by other colleagues who expect another kind of interaction via email. This could result in a loss of productivity and capabilities. How can organizations attract and retain this untapped talent instead?

Empowering neurodiversity in the digital workplace

A recent study of neurodiversity in the workforce gives us guidance on how to support these workers:

1. A flexible workplace so that each person can play to their strengths. Neurodiverse people have special needs that have to be addressed to boost their productivity. Autistic employees may need specific equipment, such as headphones to reduce auditory overstimulation. ADHD people may also require minor adjustments to their work environment in terms of having quiet places to work and flexibility in their work schedules. Standard good practices, such as a written agenda and minutes for meetings, would also support them.

2. Train managers to recognize, facilitate and support strengths to achieve greater organizational and individual productivity. Plan unconscious bias and awareness campaigns for colleagues to help them understand how to work better together. For example, better awareness around dyslexia would help staff understand how to improve email communication with colleagues.

3. Reconsider the interview process. Ambiguous and too broad questions are a disadvantage for neurodiverse talent and can discard great employees. It is much more appropriate to give them a task to perform. Not all the roles may be optimal for people on the neurodiverse spectrum, but in our digital age, with new careers in data and in IT, there are more and more opportunities where their skills are needed.

4. Other ways to empower these workers is through advocacy and policy. It is a good idea to set up employee groups. Role models, like Richard Branson, who is open about his dyslexia, are needed. This way, neurodiverse people may be more comfortable sharing their perspectives and feel confident that the organization will not look down on them.

While these approaches are similar to other diversity programmes, they are still not as common as, for example, gender initiatives. Fortunately, some of the big IT corporations are taking the lead in attracting neurodiverse talent: Microsoft has been the first company to sign a global pledge to help people with dyslexia and has an autism hiring programme; SAP also has an Autism at Work programme. Earlier this month, The Wall Street Journal reported that more and more companies are looking for people on the autism spectrum to grow their AI talent pool. We are just at the beginning of the neurodiversity revolution.

Organizations in the digital age have a talent challenge, and neurodiversity provides a new perspective and an untapped set of skills. With more cognitive diversity in our lives and workplaces, we want organizations to successfully face new challenges and become more creative and competitive.