Sunday Special: The Process of Learning Needs to Adapt to Build the Workforce of the Future

With the advent of massive open online courses (MOOCs) almost a decade ago, learning entered its own period of digital disruption. Digital Learning 1.0 (the age of the MOOCs) catalyzed the democratization of learning by providing digital access to content that had previously been limited to face-to-face. Coursera, Udemy and Udacity were the early pioneers in digitalizing content and making it accessible to millions around the world. 

However, learning objectives have evolved. It’s no longer just about knowledge and access. Skills are the new currency. We can’t learn soft skills by merely watching videos and taking quizzes; instead, it’s time to move beyond those traditional approaches towards a new digital learning paradigm.

Four major trends defining that new paradigm: Digital Learning 2.0. 

1) The rapid growth of the mobile workforce. According to market intelligence firm IDC, there were over 1.3 billion mobile workers globally in 2015 and PWC forecasts over 1 billion mobile workers in Asia alone by 2020. As more workers are mobile and work remotely, the demand for mobile solutions that can deliver quality content anytime, anywhere, will continue to increase. 

2) Smartphone penetration rates have already surpassed 30% globally and research indicates that by 2021, there will be more people with smartphones than have access to clean water. Given cell network advances and the rapid adoption of 4G+, more than half of the world’s population is now connected to the internet via a mobile phone. 

The convergence of smartphone technology, broadband speeds and the rise of a mobile workforce are leading to the emergence of mobile microlearning as a key driver for Digital Learning 2.0. 

3) Learning is no longer just about content and knowledge. Learning is about experience and application, because the new currency is skills. Experts and practitioners recognize that learning overall is not just about formal training, but about learning with others and practical on-the-job experiences – as is described simply in the 70-20-10 model. This trend is based heavily on andragogy (the science of adult learning), transformative learning theory and experiential learning (which says that adults learn through reflection, peer dialogue and application). Project-based work and hands-on experiences are all ways of bringing these principles to life. When adults practice what they have learned, retention and ownership of the content increases significantly. In a corporate environment, this is the holy grail of learning – encouraging people to own, retain and apply what they have learned. 

4) By 2022, businesses will require a proactive and inventive workplace strategy to help the 54% of the workforce who will require upskilling or reskilling. Artificial intelligence and machine learning will allow for better forecasting, and employers will be quick to anticipate and map out emerging job categories, redundancies and inefficiencies in processes – as well as the changing skills requirements – in response to the continuous disruption of the modern workforce.

It is time for a rise in stronger, more collaborative learning ecosystems in which data is used to spot talent trends and skills gaps. This will align talent management strategies across businesses, governments and training providers to maximize the available opportunities for capitalizing on the transformational trends of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. 

So if Digital Learning 1.0 was focused on scaling knowledge, Digital Learning 2.0 is about building skills through application of knowledge. Digital Learning 2.0 is about what we call MPPG – which stands for mobile micro-learning in participatory, personalized ways in groups. It’s about engaging the learner anytime, anywhere. Learners who experience Digital Learning 2.0 will need to rethink how they learn: from a passive experience of primarily reading, watching or listening to experts to a more active, participatory role in asking questions, reflecting on the answers and sharing points of view with other learners. 

Why does this matter? 

We have entered the Fourth Industrial Revolution. We are living in a world in which it is predicted that 20-50% of tasks will be replaced by machines and AI. At global meetings around the world from Davos to the World Bank, skills development and job creation are among the top items on the agenda. Unemployment rates are rising, and if we do nothing, they will only continue to skyrocket as our jobs are replaced by machines. 

Digital Learning 2.0 solutions will need to be designed to not just deliver content, but to catalyze people to think critically and collaborate to develop the top 10 skills as identified in the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report. 

It will need to prepare billions for the future of work. It will need to embrace the ‘many to many’ philosophy of learning, in which there is not one single expert but a community of people who can learn from one another’s experiences and knowledge. It will need to foster creative expressions of learning, from visualization to role-playing to sharing new ideas. And most importantly, it will have to embrace a strong mobile strategy (preferably mobile-first, not mobile-responsive) to meet the growing needs of billions of people. 

Digital Learning 2.0 will need to be MPPG – mobile-first, participatory, personalized and group-based. This is a new and emerging space, so it’s time to redefine how we learn and reteach how we teach in order embrace the participatory, mobile, micro-learning era that will enable us to reach billions as fast as we can.

Free Speech Fast Becoming Hate Speech

Twitter recently suspended journalist Andy Ngo for tweeting facts about murders of black transgender women. Social media giants are no longer even pretending to allow anything that violates their own politics. If the facts tell politically incorrect truths, then the facts are labeled hate speech, and their speakers convicted of hate offences and disciplined. I was permanently banned by Twitter on grounds of Hate Speech for saying that Pakistan is running a Jihad against India that benefits from efforts to alienate Sikhs from Hindus.

Its an interesting experience to be unpersoned in the modern world by being expelled from the Global Public Square. I’ve been asked to create a fake handle so that I can be present and participating even if from the shadows. It’s like sneaking back into the crowd, wearing a cloak and hiding in the alleys, because you can’t change the reality that you, personally, are no longer allowed to continue to speak as yourself and be seen in the Global Public Square.

I am not going to do that. But it did cause some soul-searching. Am I really hateful? Have I been brainwashed and twisting into supporting everything that I hated? It is deeply troubling to be confronted with the possibility. 

But even if I allow every possibility that I have been twisted from genuine Liberal into a hateful bigot, I can still see that those who are fighting my sort of “hate speech” are the ones dictating what is hate speech and who’s speech is hate speech. Moreover, they are not obeying the rules of Liberalism, and they are not upholding liberalism, in how they are deciding what and whose speech is hate speech.

When I identified with the Left, over and above my opposition to Zionism, the religious right, war mongering nationalists, and my support for immigration, women, people of color, gays, was my commitment to Freedom of Speech, Free Thought, Free Inquiry, rationalism. 

It was these ideals that allowed people to think freely and to say what they thought, to ask the hard questions and seek the truth because the search for truth was the most righteous path. The Truth, sought out and disseminated, destroys the power of Theocracy, Monarchy, Tyranny, Dictators, and Totalitarians by liberating the minds of the people.

To me, Liberalism was, above all, the pursuit of Free thought and Free Speech in the arts, in the sciences, in the press, in philosophy, in literature, in politics. This is the very foundation of Liberalism. This is what lead to the Scientific Enlightenment, the Renaissance, The American Republic, Civil Rights, Women’s rights and Modern Democracy itself. 

But the “Liberals” of today are not for Free Speech. They are not for the seeking and telling of blunt Truths. They don’t want people exercising Free Speech to have a conversation about the state of the world today. Having achieved their Liberal Utopia, they are now for the shutting down of minds and mouths that have hard questions to ask and difficult things to say.

After a youth spent hectoring everyone who’d listen about the Evils of the Right and Progressive Values of the Left, it dawns on me to pause and reflect what I believed. In the 170 years since Marx published The Communist Manifesto, The Left has overwritten the entire systems of social values and culture of every society that has adopted Marxist “Liberalism”. The traditions, culture and social make up of British, Russian, Chinese, and Hindu societies is no longer what it was before The Left had its way with them.

Till recently, I believed that it was right and proper and necessary for progress. I never stopped to think about the arrogance presumed by people who think that they, of all people who have ever lived, have the wisdom and understanding, to rewrite the nature of human society and do well, discarding all of its ancient truths and replacing them with new “Better” truths.

The Left is, in fact, the politics of claiming the exclusive moral high ground, the same as any religious or political ideology in history which claimed that only it was right, demonized everything opposed to it, and erased pre-existing cultures and value systems by reprogramming society with its own DNA. The Left is a Godless Religion. It is not Liberal at all.

True Liberals, the ones who seek and promote freedom of speech and freedom of thought for all, are all being labled hatemongers today and being de-platformed on grounds of “hate speech”. “Hate Speech is not Free speech”, they say.

So what a Free Speech Liberal to do? There are only two choices. Shut up and disappear. Or continue to speak, and invite amplified hate, censorship and persecution.

It might be liberating to choose the latter. For 170 years, the Left has told us how to think and what to think and what must never be said because its wrong. We’ve accepted most or all of it. Now we can ask some hard questions. Questions to which the Left has no answers except to scream “bigot!”.

I’ve always summarized the value of Free Speech as the only tool that we have to challenge the power orthodoxies that rule society and keep us ignorant and unfree. In my mind, I always had the persecution of Galileo, and persecutions by Stalin and Mao, when I said this. It was logical to me that authoritarian rulers, ideologies and states never allow Free Speech, indeed cannot allow it. 

It is ironic to realize that now Free Speech challenges the Power Orthodoxy of The Left, that exercising free speech brings persecution and censorship from the phoney liberals, just as it did in the past from the Catholic Church or the Soviet State.

The Church called it Heresy, Apostasy, Blasphemy. In the language of the Soviets and Communist Chinese, its “Treason against the State”. The Left calls it “Hate Speech”. In each case, it was a violation of the “Truths” Imposed upon the minds and lives of the subjects.

As Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, the BBC, the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, MSNBC and others amplify their control over what can and cannot be said, there will be more and more people insisting on having their say on what they think is true, regardless of whether it passes the corporate political correctness filters of the Silicon Valley Tech Giants, the Left News Media establishment, and the bureaucrats and humanities professors at Universities.

The discourse will get bolder and more blunt on a variety of issues that have been Holy Cows of the Left, including immigration, multiculturalism, Islam in liberal democracies, Feminism, the patriarchy, class equality, secular values, imperialism, the welfare state and so on. 

Those daring to speak up will come expecting to have the Global Left fall upon them, knives drawn and screaming about hate speech. It will extract a huge toll from their personal lives. But so long as they treat the search for truth as sacred, without regard to whether anyone likes the truth, they will be heard. 

Economy Being Redefined by The Fourth Industrial Revolution

The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) upends current economic frameworks. Who makes money – and how – has changed. Demographics have changed. Even the skills that brought our society to where we are today have changed. Leaders must account for these transformations or risk leaving behind their companies, their customers and their constituents.

The top three economic frameworks in most urgent need of a 4IR overhaul include income generation, labour force participation and gross domestic product (GDP) measures. Let’s unpack these concepts one at a time and redefine what they mean as we advance bravely into the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Making money in a world of increased automation

The global middle class will play an influential role in how we make money in the future. Today, more than 50% of the world’s 7.7 billion people live in middle-class households.

Wealth divisions and rates of middle-class growth differ from region to region. More advanced economies such as Europe and Japan see their middle-class markets growing by 0.5% each year. Rising economies, namely China and India, are expanding their middle classes at 6% each year. Perhaps most striking, however, will be the maturity of Asia’s middle class, which will soon constitute 88% of the world’s entire middle class.

The implications of these changes mark an inflection point in world history: no longer do the poor make up the majority of the world population. That title now belongs to the middle class – who also provide

Despite the anticipated disruption and uncertainty of workers of nearly all skill levels, one thing remains clear: Workers are increasingly turning to alternative work arrangements like side hustles, freelancing, independent contracting and gigging.

In monetary terms, the size of the world’s gig economy exceeds $200 billion in gross volume, an amount that’s expected to more than double to approximately $455 billion by 2023.

The majority (more than 75%) of those currently generating income through alternative work arrangements do so by choice. For 86% of females in the gig economy, freelancing provides more than an opportunity to make a living – it’s an opportunity to receive equal pay.

Only 41% of female freelancers believe traditional work arrangements would offer them pay equity. This finding presents massive potential as the average gender pay gap is 16% at the global level; closing it and moving towards gender parity could unlock $12 trillion from the world’s economy.

What’s fuelling the global gig economy?

A host of factors contribute to the rise of the gig economy, including increased globalization, advancements in technology and static educational and institutional inertia that can’t keep pace with changing workforce demands.

It’s not only the alternative workforce that is impacted by these factors. Workers in every industry – women and men – will experience the transformation brought about by the 4IR, if they haven’t already.

Approximately 50% of companies worldwide predict that automation will trim their current full-time workforce by 2022. And, by that same year, researchers expect at least 54% of employees will need re-skilling and upskilling to complete their jobs.

The future economy cuts straight through the heart of gender equity

We cannot deny the role technology will play in the future of work. Indeed, the future of work is technology. However, no conversation would be complete without addressing how technology and the future of work affect half of the world’s population: women.

Never mind issues of fairness, or the fact that women make up 39% of the labour force and are the majority of university students in 97 countries. Failure to view the future of work in tandem with gender equity compromises the efforts of businesses and governments to prepare for the dynamic new economy.

Automation will replace 11% of the female labour force but only 9% of the male labour force over the next two decades. The explanation is simple: despite their making up less than half of the global labour force, many jobs often held by women (secretaries, cashiers, and fast-food workers) are 70% more likely to be replaced by automation.

These data contrast narratives put forth by the media that tend to portray technology and robots as overtaking “men’s work”.

In addition to “high risk” jobs, high paying jobs in technology are leaving women behind in the future of work. Information and communication technology (ICT) specialists are four times more likely to be male than female, and only 24% of ICT graduates in 2015 were women. An analysis of companies working with open-source software, for example, found that only 15% of their software authors are women.

Women are the majority of university students in 50% of the world’s countries at a time when we are experiencing a global labour force shortage of 40 million workers.

Considering the changing workforce and the advancement of technology, gender gaps in technology fields should send a signal to leaders. It doesn’t help that men earn higher returns on their digital skills than women, either. Something needs to change.

Measuring success in the fourth industrial revolution’s digital economy

As we examine how the Fourth Industrial Revolution will transform the global economy, it’s important to consider how we measure its success. We currently rely on GDP as an indicator of economic growth. GDP calculates a country’s production of physical goods, and policymakers use it to inform decision-making.

GDP works well as a performance indicator in a manufacturing society, but in a world of increased reliance on services and technologies, GDP fails to accurately capture the intricacy of the economy.

In the past 30 years, $1 put towards digital technology investment increased GDP by $20, whereas $1 put towards non-digital investment increased GDP by only $3. By 2025, nearly a quarter (24.3%) of global GDP will come from digital technologies such as artificial intelligence and cloud computing. But how accurate are these estimates if they fail to capture the value of intangible assets such as networks, data, services and intelligence?

Depending on GDP as a measure of success in the Fourth Industrial Revolution will adversely affect policy decisions because technology as a product has a deflationary effect.

Instead of GDP, we should measure the health of our economy by what MIT calls GDP-B, where B estimates the benefits we obtain from digital goods and services. Analysts can calculate the value of B by determining how much money people are willing to pay to use zero-price digital services (such as Wikipedia, Instagram or Google Maps).

And just as the UN provides a gender lens to its global measurements (the Gender Development Index and the Gender Inequality Index), so too should we add the gender lens to the digital economy’s GDP-B. After all, if 50% of our population is thriving while the other 50% is struggling, can we call that progress?

The Fourth Industrial Revolution for leaders

To adapt to the wave of changes that are transforming our economy, policy and business leaders should consider the following guidelines to ensure no one, male or female, is left behind.

First, we need to redefine work in the context of the digital economy. What constitutes work in an expanding gig economy? What social protections are in place to keep workers healthy? What about keeping them safe as they work from remote and informal environments?

Second, we must remember the changing labour force demographics and create solutions to support the workforce of the future.

Third, governments and businesses must take action now to proactively retrain their workforce. For example, the US government could re-skill more than three-quarters of its technology-displaced workforce with a $19.9 billion investment and generate a positive return via taxes and lower welfare costs.

Finally, we must apply the gender lens to all decision-making going forward – and not only because it’s the right thing to do. Gender equity is a $12 trillion global economic opportunity. So when we collect data, let’s gender-disaggregate it. And when we train and re-skill workers, let’s ensure women and girls aren’t being left behind.

The challenges of the Fourth Industrial Revolution have the potential to expand the economic pie for all and bend the arc of history toward inclusion. We have the choice to be stronger because of it. 

Saturday Special: Impact of Social Media On Loneliness

Technology doesn’t have to be lonely Does Social Media Make You Lonely, Asking if social media makes you lonely and depressed is a little like asking if eating makes you fat. The answer is yes, absolutely, but not always, not in everyone, and not forever.

Social media use is fine in moderation. But as with any diet that tilts heavily toward foods that lack nutritional value, an excessive intake of social media may be bad for your health.

When it comes to social media, think snack-sized portions Social Media Maybe harming Young Minds The latest research suggests that limiting social media use to 30 minutes a day “may lead to significant improvement in well-being,” according to a widely publicized University of Pennsylvania study published in the December 2018 issue of the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology.

Working with 143 undergraduates, researchers found that students who limited their use of Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat to 30 minutes a day for three weeks had significant reductions in loneliness and depression as compared to a control group that made no changes to their social media diet.

Researchers noticed something else that happened when students self monitored their time on social media. Just being mindful of screen time usage turned out to be beneficial. Students showed “significant decreases in anxiety and fear of missing out,” a side effect of increased self-monitoring, noted researchers. As one study participant put it, “I ended up using [social media] less and felt happier… I could focus on school and not [be as] interested in what everyone is up to.” Successful strategies for a social media diet Excited student reading good news online in a smartphone in the street with the university building in the background

The lesson from this new research is to be more mindful of how we use social media and the role it plays in our lives. It’s fine to do a quick check on what other people are doing or to keep track of social events to attend. It is less healthy to monitor social media for what we’re missing out on. Be mindful of how — and how much — you use social media.

Being mindful means asking ourselves honestly why we are checking in on Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat. Is this a replacement for something else you could be doing IRL (in real life)? Healthier substitute activities might include visiting with friends, reading a book, taking a contemplative walk in nature, or participating in arts such as photography, writing, or creative cookery. Be aware of what’s driving you to snack on social media. There are healthier options to satisfy that cravings.-

Note also that not all social media is created equal. By its very nature, Facebook posts are highly comparative and may have a “showoff” character that can’t help but make us compare our life with others. Instagram allows a bit more creative expression, especially for images. Twitter can be devastating when we are trolled by negative commenters, and yet it is also more conversational.

Dating apps can be a gateway to a meaningful romantic relationship — or leave us reeling from too many swipe-left rejections. Choose a social media platform carefully. Stick to a social media outlet that helps develop authentic social connections and pulls you into a welcoming community. That is what social media was meant to do in the first place.

Finally, be mindful of who you are before reaching for that social media snack. Some populations, such as college students, are more vulnerable to loneliness. The stress of college can weigh heavily on students who lack a social network to help them battle negative thoughts. According to a 2017 survey of nearly 48,000 college students, some 64% said they had felt “very lonely” in the previous 12 months. If engaging in social media does not leave you with warm feelings, dial down usage.

That University of Pennsylvania study established a clear causal link between less social media use and improvements in loneliness and depression. But researchers also had this to say about social media: “It is ironic, but perhaps not surprising, that reducing social media, which promised to help us connect with others, actually helps people feel less lonely and depressed.”

Liberals and Modern Conservatives Have Marginal Difference

Is Liberal Party the obverse of Conservative- both being essentially the two sides of a coin? Are differences between the two essentially difference between Tweedle-dee and Tweedledum? The latest action of Andrew Scheer gives some credence to this hypothesis. 

Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer has chosen Leona Alleslev, a former Liberal MP, to be the party’s new deputy leader. She is turncoat, who opposed Stephen Harper and now leaves the Liberal Party, where she did not get any position. What does this show? Also note that in the recent elections, Trudeau’s Liberals and Scheer’s Conservatives aggressively clashed in an effort to win over Canadian voters.

They got about a third of the popular vote each, with the Liberals forming a minority government. Conservatives went into an uproar, some calling for the removal of Scheer as party leader and others calling for the separation of western Canada into its own sovereignty.

Despite this perceived clash of parties who apparently represent two sides of a political spectrum, when you look at the actual politics of the two parties, there is much more in common than there is difference.

The difference is in rhetoric, not in substance.

Under the hood, the Liberals and the Conservatives are fundamentally the same. Where they differ is in the values they performatively signal to voters–Liberals portray themselves as social justice progressives while Conservatives prefer to espouse more traditional values.

Unfortunately for voters and for our democracy, these differences are merely surface level. When Canadians vote, they are mostly voting against something rather than for something. They tend not to vote for policies but rather against Trudeau or against Scheer. In this way, politics gets reduced to a spectacle worthy only of reality television, not of civil discourse.

On actual important political issues, the two parties are essentially the same–they both serve the rich and the corporate class while throwing bones to the rest of us.

Let’s take a look at the policies. I’ll start with what is perceived to be one of the big differences between the two parties–the carbon tax. Both parties agree that climate change is an issue, but the Liberals are in favour of a carbon tax while the Conservatives are not.

But what do the Conservatives want instead? Their recent platform promises investments in companies pursuing green technologies and it calls for new environmental standards, with fines for businesses that don’t meet them.

So, essentially, Conservatives want to use public money to subsidize private industries that they deem “green” and they want to fine businesses that are not “green.” This subsidization of government-approved businesses opens the door to corruption and backroom deals, while the fines only serve to hurt small businesses who can’t afford them rather than going after heavy polluters, who will be more than happy to pay the paltry fines.

The Conservatives have criticized the Liberals for their corporate welfare, but their “green” subsidization plans call for more of the same.

And this is not to defend the Liberal’s carbon tax, which is also a poor policy. The carbon tax will mostly affect poorer folks and small businesses who can’t afford additional expenses. The big businesses that do most of the polluting can easily afford to pay the tax and benefit from their smaller competitors going out of business.

Both parties’ policies strengthen big business while hurting small businesses and doing little for the average Canadian. While Conservatives want to repeal the carbon tax, their environmental fines would work in much the same way.

Staying on the topic of climate, both parties have committed to the Paris Climate Agreement and both acknowledge that climate change is a reality. They both want to use public money to subsidize private industries pursuing clean energy. And, most strikingly of all, they are both champions of the Trans Mountain Pipeline, although the Conservatives wave their flag a little higher. On environmental issues, the choice between the Liberals and the Conservatives can be decided with a coin flip.

When it comes to the deficit, the Liberals have shifted their goal to balance the budget from 2019 to 2040. The Conservatives vowed to erase the deficit by cutting $1.5 billion in “corporate welfare” and by selling federally owned buildings. However, judging by their pledge to give handouts to clean energy companies, it is unclear if the cuts to corporate welfare would be actual cuts or more of a redirection to other private industries. It is also important to note that, historically, the Conservatives have contributed to debt rather than alleviating it.

As for the Conservative’s plan to sell federally owned buildings to private owners, this is a potentially disastrous act of privatization that seeks a short-term gain in exchange for long-term prosperity. Real estate is a great asset to have and selling it off for what are likely to be garage sale prices to private hands could prove extremely costly in the long run. Not to mention the huge risk of corruption involved in privatization.

And sure, Trudeau’s deficit spending has gotten out of control, but redirecting corporate handouts, cutting public services, and selling federally owned real estate to private companies is not the answer. And judging by the Conservative’s history of debt accumulation, it is hard to believe that they would reverse the trend on the deficit.

On other issues like childcare, education, Indigenous rights, and housing, neither party really distinguishes itself from the other. Both parties are severely lacking on Indigenous issues, both support the Canada Child Benefit–which does little to alleviate the soaring costs of childcare in big cities, neither party offers any solutions to student debt, and both parties offer meagre home buyer benefits while doing nothing to help renters.

On healthcare, Liberals plan to take “next steps” towards pharmacare while effectively doing nothing to pursue those next steps. The Conservatives are a little more honest and dismiss pharmacare entirely. Both parties want to increase spending on mental health through health transfer payments, a meagre solution for a growing problem. Again, more of the same from the allegedly vastly different parties.

With regards to immigration, both parties want to increase the number of immigrants to 350,000 by 2021, with most of those being economic immigrants, and both want to crack down on “asylum shopping” and illegal border crossings. If immigration is your issue, Scheer and Trudeau are interchangeable.

Another big issue for a lot of Conservative voters is taxes. Both parties promise to lower taxes for the middle class, but they do this within Trojan horse policies that overwhelmingly benefit the rich. The Liberals are reducing taxes through an extension of the Basic Personal Amount (BPA) exemption while the Conservatives propose a universal tax cut.

For those of us making less than six figures annually, the Liberal plan provides a slight advantage in savings. But for those lucky few making more, both parties plan to fill your pockets, with the Conservatives being a little more generous towards the rich. It’s no wonder that wealthy donors often choose to max out donations to both parties.

Andrew Scheer and Justin Trudeau lead parties that serve the interests of the rich and of Canada’s corporate oligarchy. While they paint themselves as different–Trudeau, in the past, opting to literally paint himself–they are depressingly similar. Both are dishonest in their messaging and try to win over average Canadians while pushing policies that overwhelmingly benefit the rich and powerful. But since Trudeau is actually running the country, he deserves more criticism.

Trudeau is a perfect con artist, depicting himself as a progressive champion of the people in speeches and then turning around and going back on his word behind closed doors. This was never more perfectly displayed than in the climate march where Trudeau took to the streets to march against the actions of his own government.

Trudeau has turned his back on our Indigenous population, he turned his back on electoral reform, and he expanded the oil and gas sector after running on a promise to transition to clean energy. From 2015-19, he could’ve easily upheld his promises with a majority government and NDP support for his progressive proposals. He chose not to.

Instead, he did mass infrastructure privatization, he weakened Canada’s access-to-information system and muzzled journalists and scientists in the process, he sold arms to Saudi Arabia who then used them to commit genocide in Yemen, and he signed the CETA, giving foreign companies the right to sue our government for introducing laws that might cut into their future profits.

Trudeau positions himself as the “woke” candidate, but the fact of the matter is if you’re running the government for the benefit of the rich, Canadians could care less if you have a diverse cabinet. When it comes to corruption, it doesn’t matter if it’s being done by an ethnically diverse and gender-balanced cabinet or a cabinet full of white men–the results are the same.

However, as I’ve laid out here, Scheer and the Conservatives are no better for the average Canadian. When political campaigns are run on empty rhetoric, performative wokeness, divisive attacks, and fear-mongering, voters don’t get to engage with actual policy proposals and the end up voting emotionally rather than logically.

When we vote against a character like Trudeau or Scheer instead of voting for popular policy proposals being pushed by other parties, we end up going back and forth between two parties who both serve the interests of the elite and the ruling class.

Is it’s time to dump our two-party system, which is, in reality, a one-party oligarchy?

The Moral Promise of 1989 Velvet Revolution

The world seems to have forgotten the much-hyped, at that time, a revolution that convulsed Europe, and sent vibrations across the world. It was Velvet Revolution  and it created waves as embraced the Gandhian ethics of responsibility and commitment to human dignity. It had far-reaching consequences. November 17 marked the 30th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution organised by the Czech Civic Forum and the Slovak public against one of the last Soviet-orbit regimes. The Velvet Revolution (sametová revoluce) was a non-violent transition of power in what was then Czechoslovakia. The Czech and Polish experiences of democracy have shown that democratisation in Eastern Europe took place less within the framework of the existing state systems than at the level of civil societies. When the Czech and Polish dissidents of the 1980s were struggling against their communist authoritarian regimes, they returned to the concept of civil society. What Eastern European intellectuals and civic actors understood by civil society was not just the 18th century concept of the rule of law, but also the notion of horizontal self-organised groups and institutions in the public sphere that could limit the power of the state by constructing a democratic space separate from state and its ideological institutions.

Before 1989 and the rise of liberal values in Eastern Europe, many observers argued about the weakness of the civil societies in the region. This perspective forgot two things. First, the sheer ruthlessness of communist regimes that refused civic dissent any room to manoeuvre: No free trade unions, no real opposition, no free press, no tolerance of even a hint of dissidence. Second, the miracle that stubborn civil societies did persist in countries like Poland and Czechoslovakia — even after decades of Stalinist rule, students, intellectuals and artists continued their work and helped to lay the ground for the democratic revolt.

Moreover, the Czech experience showed us that even within a totalitarian society, a basis for “civic pluralism” can be created. Although other forms of civility existed in East European societies, this civic pluralism — with roots in a philosophical reading of pluralism, in opposition to ideological “monism” — offered a rich model for those dissidents seeking to make democratic change sustainable. Not surprisingly, dissidents like Adam Michnik in Poland and Vaclav Havel in Czechoslovakia opened spaces for new civil and democratic politics in Eastern Europe. Charter 77, the Czechoslovak manifesto for human rights, issued in January 1977 by Havel, Jan Patocka and Jiri Hájek, paved the way to the events of the “Velvet Revolution” of November 17, 1989. Havel’s political philosophy was marked by notions such as “truth”, “conscience”, “responsibility” and “civility”. His emphasis on the acknowledgment of truth as an essential value arose from his concern with what he called “living in truth” in a post-totalitarian state. Havel insisted in his writings that, “Individuals. need not accept the lie. It is enough for them to have accepted their life with it and in it.” So, the problem for Havel was to confront political power by inviting people to live in truth and justice, and for decency.

As such, Havel showed brilliantly how the system successfully captures the lived experience of individuals in a post-totalitarian state by giving them the illusion of being part of a silent contract. That is why, for Havel, not becoming a player in the game of a post-totalitarian state was an embryonic act of dissent. What was important was defending one’s dignity and regaining one’s sense of responsibility. This was clearly a moral act, which was defined by Havel as “living within truth”. Havel analysed the essence of living within truth while examining the various dimensions of what he called “the power of the powerless”. He affirmed: “When I speak of living within truth, I naturally do not have in mind only products of conceptual thought, such as a protest or a letter written by a group of intellectuals. It can be any means by which a person or a group revolts against manipulation: Anything from a letter by intellectuals to a workers’ strike, from a rock concert to a student demonstration, from refusing to vote in the farcical elections, to making an open speech at some official congress, or even a hunger strike.”

In thinking about the Velvet Revolution of 1989, one wonders whether existing paradigms are even adequate, or if new ones are required to make sense of this landmark event. Thirty years later, we still need to ask about the nature of its vision and the scope of its demands. Was it reformist or revolutionary, or perhaps “refolutionary” as Timothy Garton Ash had suggested. The truth is that Havel and all those involved in the movement of 1989 did not aim to neutralise communist power with a new autocratic power but absorbed the violence of the regime, and then redirected that energy against it.

The Czech protestors of 1989 resuscitated the technique of “political jiu-jitsu”, a gentle art of subtleness, which was first popularised by Gene Sharp, an American theorist of nonviolent activism, who was influenced by the Gandhian satyagraha. Regardless of whether Havel got this tactic from Sharp or directly from the Asian martial art, or invented it on his own, he was very creative in his use of a new grammar of politics.

Let us not forget that the strategies of non-violent resistance, dissent and non-cooperation suggested by Havel were presented by him as different ontological modes of living within truth. They became successful in 1989 by echoing an ethical dimension of politics in all of Eastern Europe. Havel’s call to concepts such as conscience and civility, attributed a more ethical foundation to the civic humanist movement of 1989. Though very European in essence, it is undeniable that the democratic movement envisaged by Havel and the members of Charter 77 was born out of a Gandhian grammar of “ethicalisation of politics”.

The Velvet Revolution of 1989 embraced the Gandhian ethics of responsibility and his commitment to human dignity, while insisting on the inherent fragility of human existence and the frailty of the human political condition. Therein lies the originality of the Velvet Revolution of 1989 and the work of its moral leaders, both in confronting the realism of political power and speaking the truth beyond the national and the cultural frontiers by picking the right moral and political alternative.

Weekend Special: Evolution is not Linear

It doesn’t proceed in a straight line—so why do we keep drawing it that way? Evolution doesn’t follow a preordained, straight path. Yet images abound that suggest otherwise. From museum displays to editorial cartoons, evolution is depicted as a linear progression from primitive to advanced.

You’ve certainly seen the pictures of a chimpanzee gradually straightening up and progressing through various hominids all the way to a modern human being. Yes, they can be humorous. But these kinds of popular representations about evolution get it all wrong.

These images bother us because they misrepresent how the process of evolution really works—and run the risk of reinforcing the public’s misconceptions.

Climbing a ladder to perfection

This misunderstanding is a holdover from before 1859, the year Charles Darwin first published his scientific theory of evolution via natural selection.

Until then, the traditional view of how the world was organized was through a “progression in perfection.” This concept is explicit in the idea of the “great chain of being,” or “scala naturae” in Latin: All beings on Earth, animate and inanimate, could be organized according to an increasing scale of perfection from, say, mushrooms at the bottom, up through lobsters and rabbits, all the way to human beings at the top.

Originating with Plato and Aristotle, this view gets three main things wrong.

First, it holds that nature is organized hierarchically. It is not a random assortment of beings.

Secondly, it envisions two organizing criteria: things progress from simple to perfect and from primitive to modern.

And thirdly, it supposes there are no intermediary stages between levels in this hierarchy. Each level is a watertight compartment of similar complexity—a barnacle and a coral reef on the same rung are equally complex. No one is halfway between two steps.

In the 1960s a variation of the scala naturae conceived by Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin became popular. His idea was that, although life is somewhat branched, there is direction in evolution, a progression toward greater cognitive complexity and, ultimately, to identification with the divine (God).

Gradual changes, in every direction

At least since Darwin, though, scientists’ idea of the world is organized through transitions—from inanimate molecules to life, from earlier organisms to different kinds of plants and animals, and so on. All life on Earth is the product of gradual transformations, which diversified and gave rise to the exuberance of organisms that we know today.

Two transitions are of particular interest to evolutionary biologists. There’s the jump from the inanimate to the animate: the origin of life. And there’s the appearance of the human species from a monkey ancestor.

The most popular way to represent the emergence of human beings is as linear and progressive. You’ve probably seen images, logos, and political and social propaganda that draw on this representation.

But none of these representations capture the dynamics of Darwin’s theory. The one image he included in his book “On the Origin of Species” is a tree diagram, the branching of which is a metaphor for the way species originate—by splitting. The absence of an absolute time scale in the image is an acknowledgment that gradual change happens at a rate that vary from organism to organism based on the length of a generation.

According to Darwin, all current organisms are equally evolved and are all still affected by natural selection. So, a starfish and a person, for example, are both at the forefront of the evolution of their particular building plans. And they happen to share a common ancestor that lived about 580 million years ago.

Darwin’s theory doesn’t presuppose any special direction in evolution. It assumes gradual change and diversification. And, as evolution is still operating today, all present organisms are the most evolved of their kind.

An enduring misconception

Having been around nearly 2,000 years, the idea of the scala naturae did not disappear during Darwin’s time. It might actually have been reinforced by something so unexpected as a cartoon. Illustrator Edward Linley Sambourne’s immensely popular caricature of evolution “Man Is But a Worm,” published in Punch’s Almanack for 1882, combined two concepts that were never linked in Darwin’s mind: gradualism and linearity.

Given centuries of religious belief in a “great chain of being,” the idea of linearity was an easy sell. The iconic version of this concept is, of course, the depiction of a supposed ape-to-human “progression.” Variations of all kinds have been made of this depiction, some with a humorous spirit, but most to ridicule the monkey-to-man theory.

A linear depiction of evolution may, consciously or not, confirm false preconceptions about evolution, such as intelligent design—the idea that life has an intelligent creator behind it. Historians can work to unravel how such a simple caricature could have helped distort Darwin’s theory. Meanwhile, science writers and educators face the challenge of explaining the gradual branching processes that explain the diversity of life.

While less pithy, it might be better for the public’s knowledge of science if these T-shirts and bumper stickers ditch the step by step images and use branching diagrams to make a more nuanced and correct point about evolution. Contrary to the Sambourne picture, evolution is better represented as a process producing continuous branching and divergence of populations of organisms.

Five Steps to Become a Moral Leader

Moral leaders provide values and meaning for people to live by. Moral leadership is providing values or meaning for people to live by, inspiration to act and motivation to hold oneself accountable. When you don’t see someone stepping up to provide purpose and doing what is best for the greater good, step up.

Leadership is a responsibility. It’s also a power, not to be taken for granted. The late author Toni Morrison said, “If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else.” Your best self is when you use your power to lead others. Here are five ways to develop moral leadership:

1. Identity a set of values

Moral leaders guide themselves with values and ethics that they develop over time and with experience. Examples of values include integrity, respect, accountability, community, inclusion, fairness and service.

What experiences have shaped your thoughts and views? Be introspective. Think about the principles by which you live your life.

2. Manage your ego

Moral leaders have a sense of self and are not threatened by others. But they also recognize that their self is not the most important thing and that leadership is not about them. Leadership is about serving others. It is not about you or your interests. True leaders value other people and put the interest of others first.

3. Consider diverse groups of people, and include their views

Leaders do not impose their values on others. They consider other people’s values. They interact with and understand others. The combination of their values and the values of diverse groups inform a vision for a better future.

4. Embrace change

People seek moral leadership when they want change. Leaders don’t fear change. They have the courage and conviction to share a vision to try and bring about positive change.

5. Build consensus, and establish unity

It is rare that everyone will be on board with your opinion or views (learn about the 20-60-20 rule). A leader listens to people with different views. A leader knows not to try and win everyone over.

Leaders also know not to create divisions. Moral leaders do their best to communicate a purpose that can inspire as many people as possible to want to take part in enacting positive change for the greater good.

Moral leadership is something everyone can strive for. It can be difficult to attain, but it is worth the challenge for yourself and those around you. Know your values, check your ego at the door, embrace others, be transformative and seek unity. Take responsibility to build a better world for all.

Shades of Grey About Secularism in India

India is secular. However, its unique history and its inextricable links and unique position with respect to Hinduism cannot and should not be ignored. New Delhi is not New York, Varanasi is not Washington and Ajmer is not Alabama. Don’t copy-paste Western constructs to be cool. Apply them to specific settings and situations. That’s real education, and if I may say so, presuming myself being a real intellectual.

The more progressive and intellectual variety of English speaking Indians often seem to be quite concerned about growing majoritarian behaviour in the country. They believe the following: 1) independent institutions are being undermined; 2) a Hindu agenda is being imposed on the people of a secular nation; 3) minorities are being treated as second class citizens; 4) crimes are being committed against Muslims without any consequences; 5) the RSS wants to turn India into a Hindu country; and 6) the government is supporting Hindu supremacists.

The recent Ayodhya judgment allowing the construction of the temple, even though it came from the SC, is also seen in the same light. What else did you expect in these times, is the common refrain.

In the minds of these liberals, the majority Hindus are the oppressors; the minority Muslims are the oppressed. Hence, it is Muslims who are being wronged, Muslims who need extra protection and rights and it is Hindus who are going out of control.

In all this, they forget the complicated nature of Hindu-Muslim history in our nation. What this elite set often tries to do in their writings and opinions, is to emulate certain Western liberal publications aspirational to them. Copying the West is a common Indian habit.

To our elite set, the liberal journalists in New York and Washington are always right. They follow such publications in their social media feeds, share articles from them with their like-minded friends and generally form a world view highly influenced by current Western values.

Except, they don’t just get influenced. They blindly copy them. There is no application to specific situations. If the West is talking about minority rights for blacks and how the white majority is a privileged oppressor, our liberals slap the same theory on Hindus and Muslims. Hindus are in majority, Muslims are in minority. So, Hindus, like whites, are the privileged class treating Muslims badly.

Except, the Hindu-Muslim situation in India is not like the white-black scenario of America at all. In America, there is a clear history of one-sided oppression. Blacks were brought as slaves, to be bought, sold and ill-treated by whites. This legacy is not easy to wipe out, and the country is dealing with it even today.

India, on the other hand, had it quite different. One, Muslim rulers oppressed largely Hindu subjects for centuries. Thousands of India’s mosques were built on temples that were destroyed. Is that completely irrelevant when we understand Hindu-Muslim dynamics in our country?

Two, when India became independent, a separate country (now two countries – Pakistan and Bangladesh) was created for the specific purpose of being a safe haven for Muslims. Pakistan did not allow Hindus to live there in large numbers. India did, and millions of Muslims continued to live here peacefully, progressing over generations. Is that not relevant to the dynamics between the two communities too?

Some say why rake up the past, as it is not relevant today. Well, the same logic is not applied when it comes to reservation. The upper caste but lower-middle class Indian kid can work hard and yet not get the college admission he or she wants. The reason: Historical wrongs. He or she is simply supposed to accept that half the seats are not on merit, because centuries ago, upper caste people oppressed lower caste people.

Of course, we are in 2019 now, and we cannot obsess about Hindu-Muslim history all the time. To move ahead, we have to bury some differences. However, to say that being secular means disregarding our culture, traditions, values and sufferings that are attributable to Hinduism also doesn’t seem right. It doesn’t seem right that asking for land for a shrine for one of Hinduism’s major gods is majoritarianism.

Neither is fixing things in Kashmir majoritarianism. The day Hindus were thrown out of Kashmir, Article 370 should have been revoked and all bets should have been off. If at all, we are three decades too late in correcting that wrong.

India is practically the only nation on earth that houses so many Hindus. If we don’t protect this religion and project it as inferior, or bullying and regressive in nature, shame on us. For Hinduism is not just a religion for most Indians, it is also a part of the culture for all Indians.

Instead, if you really care about secularism in India, understand both sides. Accept that wrongs were done on both sides. Realise that Hindus have suffered as much if not more. Hindus being in a majority today doesn’t take away their right to feel that pain or amend a few wrongs. Only once we do that, we can reinforce our secular principles.

Of course, it is wrong to lynch a person on the street. It is also wrong to attack a specific community in a mob. These are all blatant crimes. We also cannot change the secular fabric of our nation or impose religious beliefs on anyone. But the rules apply to both sides. Painting a community as intolerant will only undermine your chance of connecting with them and effecting any change.

China Economic Colossus With Clay Feet

The world is amazed at the economic progress of China. In a short span of time, it has exceeded all forecast and is poised to be the top economic power. China’s spectacular economic rise over the past 30 years has generated fear in the United States that its economy will soon be eclipsed as the world’s largest. This has motivated the Trump administration to see China more as a strategic economic threat than as an economic partner.  It is also one of the key reasons why the administration is engaging in a trade war with Beijing.

Yet this is hardly the first time that the US has felt economically threatened. In the 1960s, it worried that the Soviet Union’s supposedly rapid economic growth portended a real economic challenge to the United States. Then, in the 1970s, it worried that Japan’s very strong economic performance was the forerunner of our relative economic decline.

It would be an understatement to say that itsfears about Soviet and Japanese economic domination proved to be ill-founded. The unshakable stagnation of the Soviet Union in the 1980s paved the way for the empire’s break-up in the early 1990s. Meanwhile, the erstwhile Japanese economic miracle gave way to the bursting of its credit and housing market bubbles, followed by two lost economic decades .

In much the same way as its fears about Soviet and Japanese economic dominance proved to be illusory, there is good reason to think that China’s rapid economic rise will prove to be another paper tiger. Indeed, there is every reason to think that the Chinese economy will follow the Japanese path toward a few decades of virtual economic stagnation. 

One factor likely to sap China’s economic growth in the years ahead is its very poor demographics. Largely as a result of its one-child policy, the Chinese labor force is expected to decline by some 25 percent over the next 30 years. This has prompted the demographer Nick Eberstadt to observe that China is set to become old before it becomes rich.

Another factor that does not bode well for China’s future economic performance is President Xi’s apparent intention to destroy the foundation on which China’s economic miracle rested. He is reversing the economic reforms introduced by Deng Xiaoping in 1979, aimed at giving the private sector increased room to breathe dynamism into the Chinese economy. Fearful of the challenge that a thriving Chinese private sector might pose to the Communist Party’s political hold on the country, President Xi is now reestablishing party discipline and increasing the role of China’s state enterprises.

Even more troubling for China’s long-run economic outlook are its highly unbalanced economy and it’s gargantuan credit bubble.

According to the IMF, Chinese investment still accounts for more than 45 percent of the country’s GDP. Meanwhile, over the past decade, credit to China’s non-public sector has increased by around 100 percent of GDP, which the Chinese government itself recognizes is an unsustainable situation. This rate of credit expansion exceeds that in Japan prior to its bubble bursting  in the 1980s. It has also given rise to a situation where China has a massive amount of unused industrial capacity and an enormous overhang of unoccupied housing and commercial property.

Past experience with the bursting of outsized credit bubbles does not portend well for China’s long-run economic performance. In the best of circumstances, China, like Japan before it, is likely to experience a prolonged period of relative economic stagnation. It will do so at a time that its banks’ balance sheets will be clogged with non-performing loans, and the need to prop up zombie enterprises will preclude the flow of credit to the more dynamic sectors of its economy.

All of this is not to say that the Trump administration is mistaken to exert pressure on China to level the trade playing field and to have China desist from intellectual property theft and forced technology transfer. Rather, it is to say that in formulating its international economic policy, the administration should not exaggerate China’s long-run economic challenge to the United States.

Leadership Mindsets Driving The New Economy

Successful companies are passionate about fostering a community of leaders with new mindsets.

“Organizations need to completely rethink what they are about and what it means to lead. It’s not about one person or even those residing at the top anymore. In today’s world, everyone has to adopt a leadership mindset. We have to think of ourselves as members of a leadership community.”

—— Patty McCord, former chief talent officer, Netflix

Are you able to change the culture of your organization? It’s possible, perhaps, if you can articulate what your culture is or if you are a CEO or C-suite executive. But let me ask a different question: Are you able to set a new tone and mindset for how your team, your project members, or your function work together and with others, both inside and outside your organization? The answer, in this case, is most likely to be a resounding yes.

For the past decade, I have asked these two questions to thousands of managers and leaders from around the world. With the first question, few raise their hands — even when the group comprises senior leaders. But when I ask about their capacity to set a new tone or mindset in their organizations, virtually everyone feels it’s within their scope and mandate, and the hands fly up in the air.

Why not bring about culture change by challenging leaders to adopt a new mindset that shows tangible progress toward achieving what is perceived by most to be the more elusive goal? What would that look like in practice? Suppose you are the leader of the retail division of a 170-year-old bank with a deeply risk-averse culture. The following passage, based on a real-life example, illustrates how to challenge your leadership to adopt a new mindset:

“We’re losing business to our upstart competitors. Our customers think we are too slow and unimaginative. I think we can do much, much better. If I have been clipping your wings, then that’s on me, and I want you to tell us at the leadership-team level what we can do to change how we operate. Let’s start changing how we’ve been working with our customers and clients. Enhancing customer value has been central to our core purpose for a long time. Let’s rededicate ourselves to that mission. Let’s find new, creative solutions to solving our customers’ challenges together this year in every facet of our retail operations. I promise — no blame game or adverse consequences for experiments that don’t make it. Then let’s share those learnings, successes, and failures, first across retail and then across the entire bank. I need your help, but I know we can make this happen together.”

This statement embodies the leadership mindsets that are driving the new economy: leaders who passionately state that they are a community of leaders dedicated to being customer obsessed, purpose-driven, highly networked, and curiosity-driven.

Affecting large-scale culture change is perceived as above most people’s pay grades. Rather, virtually all of them stressed the importance of adopting new mindsets and behaviors, as well as the importance of finding approaches that would reinforce and embed these mindsets and behaviors as the new hallmarks of leadership. But what new mindsets do leaders need to adopt?

Mindsets are mental maps that reflect and guide how people behave in organizations. They signal how people operate and what they are about. So, what leadership mindsets did respondents and interviewees feel were critical to winning in the digital economy? After analyzing our survey data and conducting a sentiment and heat map analysis of the interviews we conducted, we identified four: producers, investors, connectors, and explorers.

Producers. The producers’ mindset combines an obsession for producing customer value with a focus on analytics, digital savviness, execution, and outcomes. Producers use analytics to accelerate innovation that addresses shifts in customer preferences and improves customer and user experiences.

Brian Halligan, cofounder and CEO of HubSpot, explains the producers’ mindset:

“When I was in business school at MIT Sloan, the mantra was that your product needed to be 10 times better than the competition’s. That made sense then, but today the new mantra is that your customers’ customer experience needs to be 10 times better. Companies need to examine every touch point they have with customers and operationalize ways to make all of them delightful.”

Investors. Leaders with an investors’ mindset pursue an organizational purpose beyond increasing shareholder returns. They are dedicated to growth, but in a sustainable fashion. They care about the communities in which they operate and the welfare and continuous development of their employees. They invest in enhancing the value of their customers rather than viewing them as streams of revenue.

Susan Sobbott, former CEO and president of American Express Global Commercial Services, expresses what having an investors’ mentality means to her:

“One of the things I struggled with when I talked about our goals for the organization was this notion of aligning purpose, principles, and profits. Based on corporate imperatives, I found myself talking about achieving a 15% growth rate or a 20% reduction in costs. To be honest, even I wasn’t motivated by that. So I began talking about how we could change the lives of millions of customers, and how those customers could change their communities and the economy, through our work together as a team. It was like turning on a switch. We started to see motivation and teamwork grow significantly because we had a higher purpose. That purpose led us to the numbers. The growth was an outcome rather than an intent.”

Connectors. Leaders with a connectors’ mindset understand that mastering relationships and networks is the new currency that drives organizational effectiveness in the new economy. Connectors get this at their core. It’s how they operate. They regularly bring together diverse stakeholders from both inside the company and with ecosystem partners. Connectors understand the power of creating a sense of community and belonging, so important in today’s fast-paced, breakneck-speed world where it’s easy to lose the human touch.

Here’s how Lori Beer, global CIO of JPMorgan Chase, explains why having a connectors’ mindset is so important:

“As the corporate world becomes more virtual and business models more digital, the key determinant of sustainable success is less about the power of a company’s algorithms than it is about the efficacy of the relationships we forge.”

Explorers. Leaders with an explorers’ mindset are curious and creative, and operate well in the fog of ambiguity. They engage in continuous experimentation and learn by listening to many varied voices. Strong indications of an explorers’ mindset include establishing behavioral norms that tolerate and indeed encourage risk-taking and even failure, reverse mentoring, and a deep curiosity about how new forces are shaping the competitive environment.

Dan Shapero, vice president of global solutions at LinkedIn, explains what having an explorers’ mindset means to him:

“I don’t know where curiosity comes from, but if you could bottle it, I’d buy it. It’s so valuable, when things are changing so quickly, to have people on your team who are trying every day to better understand the world around them.”

In the new economy, leaders who set a tone with these new mindsets signal that they aspire to reimagine what effective leadership should be. They are less fixated on the image of leader-as-hero than they are on building an amazing community of leaders at every level in their organizations. By doing so, they drive home the narrative that building a collective leadership capability is the strongest route to competitive advantage in today’s fast-paced world.

A Humanist Above All Guru Nanak’s message transcends time and space

Guru Nanak’s message transcends time and space. Guru Nanak (1469-1539), whose 550th birth anniversary is being celebrated this year, is the greatest thinker, philosopher, poet, traveller, political rebel, social leveller, mass communicator and spiritual master the land of Punjab has produced. He was born in a village, Talwandi Rai Bhoe, near Lahore which was renamed later as Nankana Sahib. The room in which he was born constitutes the inner sanctum of the Gurdwara Nankana Sahib.

There are fairly reliable accounts about Guru Nanak’s life. His was an upper caste Khatri Hindu family and his father was an administrative official in the office of a local Muslim chieftain. In his youth, he used the medium of music, poetry, song and speech to preach the love of God and to attack the politically oppressive policies of the Mughal regime and the socially oppressive practices of casteism of the orthodox Brahminical Hindu religion. He also attacked the wealthy and spoke in favour of an equitable social status for women.

He used the language of the masses, Punjabi, to preach his ideas. This was in sharp contrast to that of the Hindu priests and the Muslim clergy, who used Sanskrit and Arabic respectively. Rejecting Sanskrit (which was called dev bhasha, the language of the gods), Guru Nanak used Punjabi (lok bhasha, people’s language) to communicate his egalitarian teachings. He attracted a following among the lower castes, mainly Hindus but also some converts to Islam.

His followers came to be known as Sikhs; sikh, a Punjabi word, means a learner or a disciple and is a variant of the Sanskrit word shishya. Some of his early followers came from his own Khatri caste. However, for the large mass of Punjabis who were attracted to Guru Nanak’s teachings, it was the content of his teachings (equality), the medium of his communication (Punjabi) and the form of his communication (poetry, song and music), which attracted them to Sikhism. He can, therefore, be legitimately characterised as the founder and articulator of a truly Punjabi religion which attracted followers from all caste groups in Punjabi society but predominantly from peasant and artisanal classes.

The time when Guru Nanak was born was a period of great strife in Indian society, especially in the Punjab region. Guru Nanak responded — as all great thinkers, philosophers and those whom we call prophets respond — to the historical crisis of the society in which he was born. However, it is also vital to grasp how he transcended the limitations of geographical space and historical time in delivering a message that had universal relevance. The fact that in his own lifetime, communities of his followers had emerged in what are today India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Nepal, Tibet and Sri Lanka — and even in Iraq and Iran — illustrates that his message had transcended the geographical boundaries of Punjab. He consciously went on long journeys (called uddasian) to far off places along with his two companions Bhai Bala, a Hindu, and Bhai Mardana, a Muslim, to hold dialogues with many saints and Sufis — even, some charlatans who claimed some spiritual powers and had some social following.

His written compositions were included in the Adi Granth compiled by Guru Arjan (1563-1606), the fifth Sikh guru. This came to be known as Guru Granth Sahib after the additions made by the 10th guru Guru Gobind Singh (1666-1708). In compiling the Adi Granth, Guru Arjan showed a remarkable commitment to pluralism while retaining the unity of thought initiated by Guru Nanak. He included in the Granth the teachings and writings of all the five Sikh gurus but also the contributions made between the 12th and 16th centuries by many Hindu bhakts and Sufi saints such as Baba Farid, Sant Kabir, Guru Ravi Das and Sant Namdev.

The best way of understanding Guru Nanak’s universal vision is to read the Guru Granth Sahib. The ecological message of his teachings, which has strong relevance for our times, is perhaps, the best illustration of the universalism of his teachings.

In the last phase of his life that Guru Nanak spent at Kartarpur Sahib, he provided a practical demonstration of building a community based on strong egalitarian values of cooperative agricultural work and innovative social institutions of langar (collective cooking and sharing of food) pangat (partaking food without distinctions of high and low) and sangat (collective decision making).

The Paradox of Green Growth

American economist Kenneth Boulding famously quipped, “Anyone who believes that exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist”. He was giving evidence to the U.S. Congress in 1973, in the wake of the Club of Rome’s first, enormously influential and provocative report, The Limits to Growth. The remark has survived to this day as a somewhat satirical comment on the economics profession, but it also has a certain internal logic and provides a useful starting point for thinking about the “decoupling wars” that tend to be fought around the compatibility between economic growth and environmental limits.

When economists contend that growth can continue indefinitely, it is because in their view, growth is something measured in terms of economic value rather than material throughput. The preferred measure of output for economists—the gross domestic product (GDP)—is denominated in monetary value rather than in material weight. These things, they argue, are separable: By decoupling one from the other, economies ought to be able to escape the dominion of finite limits at least to any relevant degree (if not literally forever)

Nobel laureate Paul Krugman goes as far as to suggest that physical scientists simply have a false conception of economic growth: “They think of it as a crude, physical thing, a matter simply of producing more stuff, and don’t take into account the many choices—about what to consume, about which technologies to use—that go into producing a dollar’s worth of GDP”. His conviction that these “many choices” will allow for even the most stringent ecological goals to be achieved without ever compromising economic growth leads him to denounce growth skeptics as “prophets of despair.”

Krugman’s argument is essentially an appeal to technology: more efficient processes, lighter and less polluting products, or a structural shift from materially intensive goods to materially light services, for instance. The importance of this kind of decoupling is not disputed, even by those who maintain that growth may not be feasible nor even necessarily desirable on a finite planet. What divides opinion, rather, is the question of whether a continuous decoupling might allow economic expansion to go on indefinitely.

It is useful to clearly distinguish between relative decoupling and absolute decoupling. The former refers to a decline in resource (or environmental) intensities, whereas the latter refers to an absolute fall in consumption or emissions. Put very simply, relative decoupling is about doing things more efficiently; because efficiency is one of the things that modern economies are supposed to be good at, decoupling has a familiar logic and a clear appeal to those who hope that growth can continue indefinitely. It isn’t hard to find evidence for relative decoupling, even at the global level. For example, the carbon dioxide intensity of the global economy fell from about 760 g of carbon dioxide per dollar (g CO2/$) in 1965 to less than 500 g CO2/$ today, a decline of almost 35% in half a century.

But relative decoupling is barely half the story. An improvement in the emissions intensity of economic output does not necessarily mean that emissions themselves are falling. For this, absolute decoupling needs to occur, where emissions fall over time, even as economic output continues to rise. For relative decoupling to lead to absolute decoupling, the emissions (or resource) intensity must decline at least as fast as economic output rises. If the rate of decline in emissions intensity is greater than the rate of economic growth, then the level of emissions will decline. If not, then it won’t.

It is not impossible to find some partial evidence for absolute decoupling over specific time periods, particularly when looking at data on a national or regional level. For instance, across the European Union, between 1990 and 2017, carbon emissions fell by 22% even as the economy grew by 58%, as measured on a territorial basis. Similar evidence can be found of both relative and absolute declines at the regional level in relation to material resource consumption.

One problem with this “partial” evidence is the porous nature of national and regional trade boundaries. In a globalized economy, territorial accounts of production-based emissions fail to take adequate account of a region’s “footprint”—that is, the carbon emissions associated with a region’s consumption patterns. The carbon footprint of the EU, for example, has fallen considerably more slowly, and remains 20% higher, than territorial emissions.

Such findings emphasize that, for a pollutant like carbon and for resources generally, it is what happens at the global level that counts; and here, there is no evidence of absolute decoupling at all. The amount of carbon dioxide going into the atmosphere today is more than 60% greater than the amount in 1990, despite the best efforts of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Since the global financial crisis of 2008, the rate of growth in carbon dioxide emissions worldwide has slowed somewhat. Between 2014 and 2016, total global emissions seemed momentarily to have stabilized. But they rose again by 1.6% in 2017 and are estimated to have risen by a further 2.7% in 2018.

There is another crucially important point here: Even absolute decoupling is not enough to ensure sustainability. Neither a stabilization in carbon emissions, nor a moderate decline in emissions, is enough to avoid a climate breakdown. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has estimated that to have a 66% chance of remaining below a 1.5°C temperature rise, there is a maximum available global carbon budget of 420 Gt of CO2 that can be emitted into the atmosphere. At the current rate of emissions, this carbon budget would be exhausted within a decade.

In other words, decoupling GDP from the flow of emissions is not the same as decoupling economic activity from the stocks of environmental and material resources on which future prosperity depends. To achieve the latter, sufficient or strong absolute decoupling is needed. At the global level, sufficient absolute decoupling to prevent climate breakdown would require an average annual decline in the carbon intensity of global economic output of around 14% every year for the next three decades. The highest rate of decoupling ever achieved by the world’s advanced economies was a little under 3%, in the years immediately following the oil crises of the 1970s. The average rate of decline across the world at the moment is less than 1%. In the case of a rich country like the United Kingdom, sufficient absolute decoupling would mean a decline in the nation’s carbon footprint at a rate in excess of 20% each year, with a net zero target that might need to be as early as 2030.

Proponents of so-called green growth—economic growth that uses natural resources in a sustainable manner—must show that it is possible to effectively eliminate carbon emissions from developed economies in the space of little more than a decade with no impact at all on economic expansion. This challenge cannot be answered solely by an appeal to technology. The question is not whether technological measures such as energy efficiency and solar power are possible (they clearly are); nor whether, in the past, countries have managed to harness these technologies sufficiently (they clearly haven’t); but rather, whether countries can now achieve sufficient gains in a short enough time to allow the pursuit of economic growth indefinitely, while still remaining within the safe operating space of the planet.

In a sense, this once again raises the question of whether economic value is something completely separate from—or at least separable from—physical and material flows. Certainly, in the past, the two things have gone hand in hand. According to economics, monetary value surely has something to do with activity. According to physics, activity is impossible without the expenditure of energy. There may well be efficiencies to be had, but these will ultimately be constrained by thermodynamic limits, as all activity is. Those who believe that this is not a constraint on expansion typically appeal to the massive quantities of solar energy that flood Earth. But it remains true that these flows are diffuse (rather than concentrated, as fossil fuels are) and must be captured using material devices.

It still is not clear that this immediately rules out some form of growth. But it is clear that the larger the economy becomes, the more difficult it is to decouple that growth from its material impacts. One doesn’t need thermodynamics to make this point. A bigger economy implies a bigger capital stock. A bigger capital stock means higher depreciation. An infinite economy (the ultimate outcome from eternal growth) means infinite depreciation and infinite maintenance costs. The only alternative would seem to be to begin assigning economic values to increasingly immaterial exchanges—love, friendship, the spoken word, perhaps—which seems both abusive and inflationary.

None of this is to suggest that decoupling itself is either unnecessary or impossible. On the contrary, decoupling well-being from material throughput is vital if societies are to deliver a more sustainable prosperity—for people and for the planet.

Relevance of Latin Expressions In US: Quid Pro Quo to In Flagrante Delicto

All Latin expressions gathered at the Taverna to discuss Quid Pro Quo’s phenomenal rise in popularity thanks to impeachment hearings in the United States. A wave of resentment ran through Ad Hoc, Pro Bono, Vice Versa, Et Cetera, etc who considered themselves frontrunners in Latinism sweepstakes before Quid Pro Quo had sprinted ahead in recent weeks.

“Well, let’s get real,” said Bona Fide, who was always truthful. “Quid Pro Quo is being promoted by no less a person than the US President, even though Pro Bono is available for free.” Hearing this, Pro Bono, who was selfless and always unquestioningly volunteering herself, asked Prime Facie if this was indeed the case. “On the face of it, yes,” confirmed Prima Facie. “Although the President likes Ad Hoc, Quid Pro Quo is his current favourite.”

“What about me? I am always bringing up the rear … though I am used so often,” complained Et Cetera. “At least you and your comrades Nota Bene and Post Script are made of two words, unlike that useless Addendum,” consoled Alter Ego, looking over his shoulder at his shadow. “But Quid Pro Quo is made of three words!” pointed out Carpe Diem, groaning, “I should have seized the moment when the poet Horace wrote me into his Odes!”

“Actually, we should have all gone to war!” yelled Casus Belli, who was always in a confrontational mood. “We would have backed you!” shouted twins De Facto and De Jure. “Hear! Hear!” roared Vox Populi.

Et Cetera was comforted, but he knew he could never become the favourite; he’d always be an afterthought. “Well, fair is foul and foul is fair,” explained Vice Versa, an opportunist who flip-flopped often. “Indeed, I am sorry about our fate. If y’all want I am happy to take the blame,” offered the always-apologetic Mea Culpa. “Let’s just stay rooted to the ground. Our day will come!” advised Terra Firma. “No, let’s keep on rolling and rolling and …” pressed Ad Infinitum. “The bird walked to the toy store,” said Non Sequitur.

Alma Mater, who was nourishing her children Alumnus and Alumna, watched the agitated Latinisms with Sotto Voce, who was usually quiet and spoke only occasionally in a low voice. “Too bad everyone thinks the President has flipped for Quid Pro Quo,” she whispered. “No one believes me but I’ve seen him canoodling with that sexy wench In Flagrante Delicto.” Suddenly they heard someone chuckling in the shadows. It was Non Compos Mentis, giggling with the knowledge that she, not In Flagrante Delicto, was the President’s first love.

Hey Canadians Leaders, Did You Get The Subtle Message in Chinese Ambassador’s Sartorial Choice

 It’s a notorious fact of life in politics: women are judged on what they wear and men (mostly) are not. For men, after all, the western business suit is the uniform of the diplomatic class the world over, and a symbol of power. With a few exceptions (India’s “Congress suit”, the thawb and keffiyeh in the Arabian peninsula), leaders tend to prefer the nondescript suit and tie.

But the clothing worn by China’s new ambassador to Canada, Cong Peiwu, at Rideau Hall on Friday said quite a lot about the man and the country he represents.

When former Chinese ambassador Lu Shaye presented his credentials to then governor general David Johnston in March 2017, the dapper diplomat opted for a dark grey western business suit with a pink tie.

His replacement, Cong Peiwu, met Gov. Gen. Julie Payette wearing an austere black Mao suit. It’s an outfit similar to the one worn by China’s supreme leader Xi Jinping recently to mark the 70th anniversary of Communist Party rule in China.

“Symbolically, it represents something that is uniquely China, but also uniquely Maoist China,” said Lynette Ong, an expert on China at the University of Toronto’s Asian Institute and Munk School.

“It says we’re returning to Mao-era politics.”

Other Chinese diplomats have worn variants of the Mao suit on occasion over the years; mostly they’ve stuck to western dress. But those who have presented their credentials in recent weeks, in places as far apart as India and Denmark, have done so wearing black Mao suits.

Diplomats and bureaucrats in China are trained to take subtle cues from the top about speech, dress and behaviour. They seem to have received the message that the Mao suit is back.

Guy St-Jacques, a former Canadian ambassador to China, describes Cong Peiwu as a man cast in the Xi mould — and not just in the way he dresses.

“I dealt with him, he is a tough negotiator. I had to deal with him to secure the release of Kevin Garrett,” St-Jacques told CBC News, citing the case of a Canadian civilian detained in China for almost two years before his release in 2016. “He can be ideological at times. He is somewhat of an introvert.”

The uniform of the CCP

The Mao suit was invented not by Chairman Mao, but rather by nationalist leader Sun Yat-Sen. In China, it’s known as the “Sun Yat-Sen suit”.

But Mao popularized it, making it the uniform of Chinese Communist Party officials and, ultimately, most male Chinese. From the 1950s to the 1980s, variants of the suit became de rigueur for most Chinese males; some versions were suited to the fields and factories, while others were made for the office.

The first Chinese leader to start leaving the Mao suit in the closet was Hu Yaobang, who became general secretary of the Communist Party in 1982. He and his successor Zhao Ziyang, both seen as liberal reformers, began to make more use of suits and ties.

Zhao Ziyang was sidelined following the Tiananmen Square massacre, when more authoritarian leaders retook control of the party. He would spend the rest of his life under house arrest. But his preference for western dress was established and, by the 1990s, the Mao suit was clearly out of style.

Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, who were at the top of the Chinese system from 1989 to 2012, wore western suits as they oversaw the country’s transformation from socialism to capitalism and its rapid rise to economic powerhouse status. (Elder statesman Deng Xiaoping never made the change.)

At the time, many in the West assumed that China’s pursuit of economic reforms would put it firmly on the road to a more open and less authoritarian future.

Then along came Xi.

The Great Leap Backward

By 2018, when President Xi Jinping had a tame party congress abolish term limits and effectively set him up as leader-for-life, the Communist Party’s tradition of collective leadership was well and truly dead.

But even as Xi killed off one party tradition, he was trying to resurrect others. One of them was that symbol of conformity and austerity — the Mao suit.

The Mao suit consciously dispenses with frivolous western adornments like neckties, and represents the kind of ideal Communist Party official that Chinese propaganda likes to portray: someone incorruptible, with simple tastes, close to the people and impervious to seduction by foreign ideas or trends.

It has re-emerged together with other throwbacks to the Mao era. Xi Jinping’s pronouncements on various topics are compiled in a little tome that students and officials are now expected to study, much as they once quoted Mao’s “Little Red Book”.

Since 2017, “Xi Jinping Thought for the New Era of Socialism With Chinese Special Characteristics” has been part of the Party’s constitution — a fourth pillar of its belief system alongside Marxism-Leninism, “Mao Zedong Thought” and “Deng Xiaoping Theory”

Lynette Ong said the rise of Xi as a Mao-style leader represents a reversal of a trend toward stronger institutions in China, and contradicts the country’s claim that it is advancing toward the rule of law. She describes it as a process of “de-institutionalization.”

“Bypassing the institutions in getting things done, meaning the bureaucracy, the court system, institutions that Deng Xiaoping had so painstakingly built in the ’80s and early ’90s,” she said. “It’s not that the institutions are gone, but their primacy has been subverted.”

Ong said many of Beijing’s policies, such as the government’s new push for poverty alleviation, bypass the bureaucracy and are run though “campaign-style” efforts that “seek to motivate people by sheer ideology, almost like the Great Leap Forward.”

‘Ideology doesn’t work anymore’

But “ideology doesn’t work anymore,” said Ong. She said that China’s official media outlets have tried to frame Xi as “the people’s leader” and suggest that his one-man rule is guided by his superior understanding of, and concern for, the average citizen.

China’s Communist Party faces a stark problem following its embrace of state capitalism. How can it maintain loyalty to a party that clearly has no intention of putting its stated program — communism — into practice?

“Xi Jinping Thought” calls on people to remember the party’s socialist ideals, and to live out the socialist virtues of sharing and sacrifice — all while living in thoroughly capitalist modern China. The message is inherently contradictory — which probably explains why Xi’s official ideology revolves around national unity and national strength rather than any economic program.

Xi’s government has turned more and more to stoking nationalism and fear of outside enemies to encourage obedience and stifle dissent. But loyalty to the nation isn’t necessarily the same as loyalty to the Communist Party. Hence the return of party-specific symbols (such as Mao suits), old-style propaganda posters and slogans, and the creation of new revolutionary hero figures for Chinese citizens to model themselves upon.

A strong China

Xi Jinping’s nostalgia for old-style messaging may be inherited from his father, who was Chairman Mao’s national director of propaganda. It certainly suits his modern quest to maintain absolute power and generate a cult of personality.

Giant propaganda posters have started appearing in public in China again, exhorting Chinese to, for instance, “unite more closely around the party centre with Comrade Xi Jinping at the core,” or to “painstakingly strive for the grand victory of socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new era.”

At the heart of “Xi Jinping Thought’ is a simple, familiar appeal: Make China Strong Again.

Xi describes his place in Chinese history in simple terms: Mao freed China from the foreigners, Deng set it on the road to prosperity, and Xi will now see it take its rightful place in the world as a nation that is strong and respected.

Unity is everything to the Communist Party, and the party believes that unity is threatened by dissidence and ethnic tensions in regions like Tibet, Xinjiang and Hong Kong. The Mao suit represents uniformity and obedience — a couture symbol of Xi’s one-size-fits-all vision of China.

The party also seeks to crush rivals for the public’s allegiance. Xi has waged a fierce campaign of persecution against both Christianity and Islam in China, knocking crosses off churches, demolishing mosques and minarets and turning Islamic cemeteries into parking lots.

In the majority-Muslim Xinjiang region, Xi’s government has interned many hundreds of thousands of people in re-education camps.

Lessons for Canada

Ong said foreign governments that deal with China, and foreigners who visit or work in the country, should be aware that — notwithstanding the claims of Chinese officials that the country is becoming more rules-based and transparent — China is actually becoming more arbitrary and opaque.

“A lesser role for institutions could mean the institutions do not follow rules as they are known, or the formal institutional figures may not be the people wielding real power,” she said. “Decisions could be made on an informal basis that it becomes challenging for outsiders to discern what the procedures are, or the locus of power is.

‘The implication for Canada is to know elite politics in China well, very well — the informal rules of the game, who may be wielding power though not carrying any formal title, and knowing how to ‘get things done’ in the Chinese idiosyncratic way. It involves high learning costs, but it is also inevitable for us to deal with a rising — and belligerent — power.”

Welcome to Ensuing America’s Ugly Election & Faltering Global Economy

The year ahead will be dominated by America’s presidential election and a global slowdown, says Zanny Minton Beddoes. And these two subjects will hog headlines around the world in 2020: America’s presidential-election campaign and the weakness of the global economy. Both will induce anxiety and each will influence the other. It will be a volatile year, characterised by unstable, angry and polarised politics, and an enfeebled economic outlook for the world, regardless of who wins on November 3rd, when American voters go to the polls.

Many elements of the election remain uncertain, from the impact of the impeachment trial that is all but certain to precede the head-t0-head presidential battle, to who will be the Democratic nominee to challenge President Donald Trump. But there seems little doubt that the tenor of the 2020 campaign will be uglier than any in modern American history. In 2016, already a notably nasty contest, a Trump presidency was a pinch-me prospect that too many people discounted; in 2020 millions of voters, on both sides, will feel the very fabric of their country’s democracy to be at stake. Outside America many more millions will wonder if an extraordinary four-year interlude is about to end, and whether the country that has been the anchor of the post-war world order has been irrevocably transformed.

Thanks to the American president’s ability to make policy by executive action and the reach of his Twitter feed, Mr Trump will be the impresario of the election show, setting the terms on which the contest is fought and the tone with which it is conducted. He will brand whoever is his challenger as a dangerous socialist, bent on flooding America with immigrants and embarking on a radical far-left agenda that will enfeeble the country. The trope will seem more plausible if his opponent is Elizabeth Warren, the senator for Massachusetts and former law professor whose plan to remake ­Am­erican capitalism is genuinely radical. But the rhetoric will be similar even if the Democrats choose a more centrist candidate, such as the former vice-president, Joe Biden, or just possibly Pete Buttigieg, the newly prominent mayor of South Bend, Indiana, who did a tour of duty in Afghanistan and will turn 38 in ­January.

Unfortunately for Mr Trump, a noticeable cooling of the American economy will challenge his claim to have made America great again. Global growth has already slowed in 2019, as damage from the Sino-American trade war accumulates, hitting manufacturing and trade flows, and denting business confidence. America itself has hitherto been least affected. Buoyed by rising wages, a lingering boost from tax cuts Mr Trump introduced in 2017 and the lowest jobless rate in half a century, consumers will end 2019 still confident and keen to spend.

But that confidence will start to ebb in 2020, as the stockmarket wobbles, the fiscal boost disappears and the jobless rate inches upwards. America will escape a formal recession, particularly since the Federal Reserve, which cut interest rates in July, September and October 2019, will act promptly to reduce rates yet further. But the mood will be one of growing gloom that the country’s longest expansion on record is coming to an end.

Vicious cycles

The political maelstrom will make things worse. Mr Trump will search for scapegoats. His attacks on the Federal Reserve and its chair, Jerome Powell, will intensify. The president will vilify any firms that lay off workers. He will demand more tax cuts and then denounce a do-nothing Congress for failing to pass them. Ironically, politics will constrain the most sensible route to supporting growth: an end to the economic confrontation with China. Although Mr Trump will succeed in signing a mini-deal with President Xi Jinping, the bulk of America’s levies on Chinese goods and its growing determination to limit China’s access to American technology will continue. That is because Mr Trump cannot afford to be branded “soft on China” by his Democratic challenger. No Democratic candidate will run a campaign championing a more co-operative strategic relationship with China. If anything, the pressure to be more aggressive will grow, as Democrats lambast Mr Trump’s tolerance of China’s human-rights abuses in Xinjiang and his failure to support pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.

If the Democrats choose a more left-wing candidate—Ms Warren or Bernie Sanders, the 78-year-old senator for Vermont—a second, destabilising link between politics and economics could kick in. Fearful of a radical overhaul of swathes of American business (Ms Warren’s plans, for instance, would transform industries from health care to finance to technology), financial markets may stumble further if, as could well be the case, the election seems close. Mr Trump will be quick to blame any stockmarket weakness on the spectre of socialism. But as consumers’ confidence falls it will get harder for the president to base his campaign on the idea that, thanks to him, America’s economy is strong.

Worries around the world

Wobbles in the world’s biggest economy will compound weakness elsewhere. China’s economy will slow further, though gradually, as its government strains to provide enough stimulus to keep its growth targets in sight. Yet in doing so it will have to balance its need to make up for the loss of trade and its fear of letting loose another surge in excess credit.

Europe will face a particularly difficult year. ­Because of its reliance on foreign demand, especially from China, Germany will begin 2020 close to recession and with the grand coalition under the chancellor, Angela Merkel, looking more fragile than ever. Political para­lysis in the waning days of the Merkel era, alongside a cultural aversion to deficit spending, will prevent Germany from grasping the obvious policy response: a ­fiscal stimulus focused on domestic public investment. France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, will try to ­galvanise a bolder approach at the European level, but it will founder on petulant arguments about how to make up for the shortfall Brexit will leave in the European Union’s seven-year budget. That means the burden of propping up European demand will, yet again, be left to the European Central Bank (ECB), even as that inst­itution adjusts to its change of leadership and reaches the limits of what its rules allow.

And in 2020 reliance on the ECB may bring a new danger, as Mr Trump, in search of scapegoats for America’s economic slowdown, points to the ECB’s negative rates as an unfair trade advantage. His campaign speeches could be peppered with the threat of tariffs on European goods frequently enough to unnerve investors. The stockmarket gyrations that this would cause might perhaps be sufficiently alarming to discourage Mr Trump from opening up a major second front in the trade war.

Climate of discontent

Nonetheless, the more Mr Trump indulges in tariff threats, the more that approach will appeal to others. In the run-up to a big climate summit in Glasgow in November 2020, the coming year may well be when European politicians start seriously to discuss carbon tariffs (which they will call “border adjustment taxes”). Though the rationale has some legitimacy, the prospect of adding tariffs to the climate-fighting arsenal will add a further, unnerving risk to global trade.

All these factors form multiple feedback loops between wild politics and a weakening economy. Whatever their outcome, it will mark a big change. For the past few years the global expansion has seemed all but impervious to political shocks. Financial markets have shrugged off angry and polarised politics. In 2020 the opposite will be true.

Such volatility will not be confined to the economy. A similar dynamic will be at work in geopolitics, too. A more inward-looking America has widened the scope for disruptive behaviour around the world. Recent examples range from Turkey’s move into northern Syria to Iranian mischief-making against Gulf shipping and Saudi oil facilities to an outbreak of trade hostilities ­between Japan and South Korea.

With America’s politicians distracted by electoral rivalry at home, opportunists elsewhere will be tempted to try their luck. If that exposes the ­superpower’s weakness, the embarrassment could in turn push an argument over America’s role in the world to the heart of the election campaign­—potentially precipitating an international crisis as the president feels himself compelled to react decisively.

Such a crisis is the last thing a faltering economy needs. But America’s febrile politics of 2020 make one likelier than usual. Get ready for a wild ride.

Pak’s Religious Diplomacy Has Disruptive Overtones

Religion and theology, though used in an interchangeable manner, are seldom analysed for their nuances. The religion (dharma) is more about practices of a particular faith, while theology (dharma shastra) encompasses analytics. Religion and faith have always been potent drivers in international diplomacy and politics. The United States of America created a special office with the designated ambassador at large for ‘International Religious Freedom’ in 1999. Out of five incumbents, only one has been non-Christian, a Rabbi.  The current ambassador, Senator Sam Brownback, was appointed after casting vote by vice-president reflecting the ironic polarisation in an appointment mandated to promote consensus. He recently visited Dharamshala for parleys with the Dalai Lama.

The biggest theological challenge is to evolve a more moderate form of Islam, containing designs of caliphates and groups like Al-Qaeda and ISIS. King of Jordan and Saudi royalty are also engaged in this effort, without much success. It appears that the outsourcing of Wahhabism and Salafi strains to the extended neighbourhood, especially the Indian subcontinent, has run its course and radicalism is already back in the Middle East. Hence, it is more of a compulsion to roll-back radicalisation.

India has been at the receiving end of malevolent forays of Pakistan religious diplomacy, which has acquired ‘fasaadi’ overtones. The use of term fasaad in preference to incorrectly used ‘jihad’ is theologically validated. Pakistan army chose to call its anti-terror operations as Raad-ul-Fasaad. It is hardly logical to have different terms for indigenous and exported versions. Pakistan army’s hypocrisy was first seen in the early 1950s, when it colluded with Naga militant groups, openly striving for Nagaland for Christ. Its army under Tikka Khan indulged in rape and massacre of fellow Bengali Muslims leading to East Pakistan breaking away. The same trend is currently seen in silence on rampant persecution of Uighurs in Xinjiang by Chinese.

Pakistan, created as a homeland for Muslims, got initial thumbs down when 35 million Muslims chose to cast their lot with secular India despite partition riots. Compared with this, Hindus and Sikhs deserted Pakistan in droves despite Jinnah’s assurance that a new nation will be inclusive, allowing minorities their fair share. Soon after Jinnah’s death, an Islamic nation, which had Karachi as capital, chose to make Islamabad, a suburb of Rawalpindi as the new seat of power. With this naming, it also chose to carry the cross  — or crescent, if you may — of Islam.

Manifestations were already seen in Qabayali lashkars in Kashmir under Colonel Akbar Khan (anointed as General Tariq) and Razakars in Hyderabad, albeit religious aspect was subdued. More sinister was contrived misplacing of ‘Moi-e-Muqqadas’ (holy hair relic of the Prophet) to whip up emotions in the valley in 1963. Despite the failure to achieve diabolic designs, Operation Gibralter was launched in 1965.  Mujahideen infiltration task forces were organised under General Musa Khan, named after mostly infamous Muslim raiders   — Salahuddin, Ghaznavi, Tariq, Babur, Qasim, Khalid, Nursat and Khilzi. Provocative tendency continues in the naming of missiles as Ghaznavi, Babur and Ghauri.

In this dangerous lurch from subcontinental Sufi/Barelvi to Deobandi, Wahhabi and Salafi forms of Islam, Khuda Hafiz has become Allah Hafiz and Ramazan replaced by Arabic Ramadhan. Another major milestone was Bhutto’s articulation of resolve to manufacture an Islamic bomb. Sadly, competitive radicalism under Zia-ul-Haq and later Taliban accounted for both Zulifkar, his daughter Benazir and probably even Zia. The very dream of an Islamic bomb is getting reduced to Sunni bomb because Shia Iran doesn’t trust Sunnis. In Talibanised Pakistan, Jinnah’s Shias and Nobel physicist Abdus Salaam’s Ahmediyas are being targeted and eliminated. The former chief, General Raheel Sharif is now leading a coalition of Sunni forces against Shia Houthi rebels.

This dangerous course has been defined by Zia’s decade of 1978 to 1988, which catalysed Pakistan army’s Sharization, committing itself to Nizam-e-Mustafa (rule of the Prophet) and taking upon itself to be guardians of ideological frontiers. The traditional motto of ‘ittehad, yaqeen, tanzeem’ (unity, faith, and discipline) was changed to ‘imaan, taqwa, jihad-fi-sabilillah’ (faith, righteous and holy war in path of Allah). How do minorities reconcile to such exhortation? Zia also made ‘The Quranic Concept of War’ by Brigadier S K Malik, which legitimises the use of terror a mandatory text for forces.  An interesting quote from the Pakistan army’s official website (reading like the objective of extremist groups),  states that “the mission and aim of momin is martyrdom”.

ISI having probably realised that Kashmir is proving to be a case of diminishing marginal returns has come up with diabolic K2 plan to exploit latent sub-nationalism of Sikhs. The timing of the Kartarpur corridor, initially offered by General Bajwa, anchoring of construction by Field Works Organisation and timing with ‘SFJ 2020’ are all ominous indicators of the shape of things to come. While nobody doubts the loyalty of Sikhs, yet fringe groups can be potential prey. It is also pertinent that Punjabis defeated extremism and are cognisant of the state of the Valley being put back by a couple of decades. Nobody is even remotely suggesting that Sikhs are so naive that they will be brainwashed by a couple of posters and displays of shell. Yet, it does open up possibilities for profiling and long-drawn psychological warfare. Combating Pakistan-aided ‘druggistan’ designs remains a major challenge for Punjabis.

The near-complete disregard of Kashmir rhetoric by Ummah has resulted in Pakistan blaming fellow Islamic nations for according market-driven compulsions and preferences over religious issues. The crying need of inter-faith diplomacy is a collective endeavour, for theological correction to evolve a moderate religion. Pakistan needs to demonstrate sincerity by dismantling export-oriented, ‘fasaadi’ assembly lines and detoxing its army.

Who Terms BBC & European Media Honest?

Politics in Western European countries these days is hopelessly divided and poisonously partisan. However, under no circumstances, is it advisable to resort to an ad hominem response to populist politics. It often backfires.

First, constant criticism of Donald Trump as a person, instead of expanding the debate and discussion on policy-related matters, seems biased to observers of politics, who are not even sympathetic to Trump’s views. Why has the Trump administration decided to rely more on Saudi Arabia and less on a Turkey, even though Turkey is a member of NATO? This and many such questions need more coverage than the constant smear campaign against the Trump administration. After all, there are many things that his political base views as positive, and on the contrary, there are policy-oriented issues raised by democrats that need scrutiny. For example, it is pertinent to ask why Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a leading Democratic presidential candidate, wants to break up major tech firms such as Facebook. What about the advantage that Facebook offers and would that benefit USA or China?

A second example can be given from U.K. where the unsolvable Brexit dilemma has resulted in overemphasis on Boris Johnson’s hair style instead of staying focused on the stark choices facing the British society.

Donald Trump stays remarkably popular despite attempts to ridicule him and his political base. His base is still loyal to him and according to recent polls, his popularity is likely to remain more or less stable till the 2020 elections. Trump’s approval among his loyal supporters jumped to 49 percent, its highest mark this year. The nationwide survey was conducted on Sept. 28 and 29, less than a week after House Democrats launched a formal impeachment inquiry. These are domestic issues. When it comes to coverage of foreign policy and and international relations, the credibility of especially the British media, which has enjoyed a status as unbiased, is also found dilapidated. BBC is now jokingly referred to as Biased Broadcasting Corporation because of its biased and neocolonial coverage of the abrogation of article 370 in Kashmir. They constantly invite guests who are left-leaning liberals, unable to understand the quagmire of nuclear brinkmanship played by Pakistan. Even other Muslim countries have stopped paying attention to the Pakistani tribal dance of nuclear threat, but not Britain.

Britain’s credibility as a nation is threatened by the never-ending Brexit melodrama, while the British media like The Guardian and BBC are still acting as if they were spokespersons for their colonial masters. Their inability to understand the geopolitical changes taking place in South Asia has created a vacuum and need of an unbiased media channel in Europe, which can give an unbiased report on the region.

India is itself to blame for its treatment. Instead of putting all its eggs in the British basket, we could have easily bifurcated our attention to other European countries and established stronger ties with them. The dynamics of European politics is experiencing a tectonic shift and India’s fixation on U.K., politically speaking, can be compared to the proverbial tail wagging the dog. Let’s give the British news media a break and let them realize that they are no longer the colonial masters who are invited to interfere in India’s internal matters.

The Anti-India, Anti-Sikh Bigotry of the BBC

Sikhs are nothing if not a race of people who stood up to defy the brutality and intolerance of Islam. Now 21 st century political correctness and the Liberal desperation to appease Muslims attempts to deprive the Sikhs of their truth and their identity.

Indarjit Singh, Lord Singh of Wimbledon, recently left the BBC Radio’s Today program’s Thought of the Day feature after 35 years. He claimed that the BBC had tried to prevent him from broadcasting an item about commemorating Guru Tegh Bahadur ji, who was tortured and executed by Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb for opposing the forced conversion of Kashmiri Pandits to Islam and refusing to convert to Islam himself. The BBC objected on the grounds that it would offend Muslims. It was not the first time that Lord Singh had been prevented by the BBC from expressing Sikh beliefs in order to prevent offence to Muslims. This craven anti-Sikh bigotry must not go unchallenged. 

Sikhs were originally a sect of Hindus. Sikhi was an attempt initially at setting aside the complexities of doctrine and ritual that were the monopoly of the Hindu clergy, to focus purely on the quintessential Indic doctrine of Karma and Dharma. There are many traditions within the Indian system of spiritual and religious thought that are focused on Karma and Dharma, including Buddhism and Jainism.

Anyone who knows anything about Sikhism understands that the fundamental spiritual doctrine was laid down by Guru Nanak, and expanded upon by 9 further Gurus. Their writings, and those of many of their Hindu and Muslim companions, make up the Sikh scripture which was sanctified and anointed the final and eternal Guru of the Sikhs by the 10 th Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, as Guru Granth Sahib. In that journey from the first to the tenth Guru, and beyond, is the story of how the devotional Bhakti movement, starting in the 8 th century in South India, was transformed by the intolerance and brutality of Islam, to create the ferocious, warlike Sikhs.

The Mughal Emperor Jahangir wrote in his autobiography, Tuzk-e-Jahangiri, that too many people were being persuaded by the message of the Sikh movement and its Guru, Arjan, who was the 5 th guru of the Sikhs, and that if Guru Arjan did not stop his religious preaching and become a Muslim, the Sikh movement would have to be wiped out by force. Guru Arjan dev ji was arrested, imprisoned and tortured to renounce his teachings, and executed when he refused.

His son, Guru Hargobind responded by calling upon Sikhs to arm themselves, and introduced the concept of Miri-Piri to Sikhism, carrying two swords, one signifying authority in the material realm, the other in the spiritual realm. Thence began the armed battles between the Sikhs and Muslims, starting with the Battle of Amritsar in 1634. In 1675, Aurangzeb executed the 9th Guru of the Sikhs, Guru Tegh Bahadur.

Kashmiri Pandits, the original inhabitants of Kashmir, faced intense religious persecution from Muslim rulers. Under pressure to convert to Islam, they approached Guru Tegh Bahadur for help. The Guru challenged Aurangzeb and was arrested, tortured and pressured to convert to Islam. He refused to convert. His companions who had been arrested with him were tortured and killed in front of his eyes, even as his own torture to pressure him to convert continued. But he continued to refuse to convert and was publicly beheaded in Delhi on Aurangzeb’s orders.

His son, Guru Gobind Singh, took his place. He raised the Khalsa, the community of Sikh warriors, identified by the visible markers of Sikh Identity: Unshorn Hair and beards, kirpans, metal bracelet. His objective in this was to make the Sikhs bound by honor to valor and justice, to stand and fight against unbearable odds, to defend the weak and fight the unjust, to be known by all for that character, and to never be able to refuse or hide, for the honor of the Sikh roop could never be besmirched.

Till today, Sikhs live and die by honor and cannot bear the shame of running from a fight, cannot bear accusations of injustice or brutality against the weak, of not having stood up for those who needed them. It is their honor, their duty, their spirit. It is their eternal obligation and honor bestowed upon them by Dasve Patshah (the 10 th Guru), to give them character, strength, purpose, resolution in the face of the unending, implacable hostility of Islam and its offer of conversion or death to infidels.

Guru Gobind Singh’s two older sons were slain in battle against Aurangeb’s forces. His younger two sons, just children, were captured and bricked alive into walls by the governor of Sirhind. Sikhs till today feel agony at the cruelty of the Mughals that spared not even the young children of the Guru. The Guru himself died from wounds received from a Muslim assassin’s blade. Muslims ended the line of the Sikh’s living Gurus.

Banda Singh Bahadur, a disciple of Guru Gobind Singh, led a fearsome campaign of retribution and struck terror in the hearts of the Mughals, until he too was captured and taken to Delhi with thousands of decapitated Sikh heads on spears and in carts. In prison, he was pressured to convert to Islam. He refused, and over a period of days his men were slaughtered in public. Eventually, his eyed were gouged out, his limbs cut off, and he was skinned alive.

In 1947, Muslims slaughtered the inhabitants of Sikh villages in what is now Pakistan, triggering the worst civil bloodletting in human history. The Sikhs, outnumbered by Muslims by perhaps 4 to 1, none the less reacted with a horrifying ferocity that left the number of dead greater on the Muslim side.

These are just the highlights. In every gurudwara around the world, every day, at every wedding, at every funeral, during the Ardas, the recitation of hymns, Sikhs remember their martyrs, recounting those who endured torture, having their bodies torn apart, were beheaded but did not give up their faith.

The journey of Sikhs from peaceable devotees who sang hymns, to the martial race they became and remain, is the story of Sikhs refusing to convert to Islam, fighting as ferociously as necessary and against all odds, and in peace directing that power towards justice, humility and service of humanity.

But this narrative does not suit anyone who seeks to appease Muslims. Nehru and Maulana Azad left the entire history between Sikhs and Muslims out of the textbooks of newly independent India. Hardly anyone one in India is aware of the fight that Sikhs put up against Muslims determined to convert Indic peoples to Islam, the consequences of it for the preservation of Indic religions, and the religious freedoms we enjoy today. Hardly anyone knows that Kashmir, so precious to India, would have been in Afghanistan not India, were it not for Maharaja Ranjit Singh having captured it from the Durani Afghans in 1819 and included it into his empire. Virtually no Indian knew till recently of the Battle of Saragarhi, or any others like it, won or lost, in which Sikh valor proved decisive against Muslim armies.

And now, the BBC is found to be censoring Sikh history. Because Muslims would be offended by their history being told. What is this nonsense? Liberals are always going on and on about the guilt of the white imperialists, and making white people today face the history of imperialism. So why are they trying to bury the history of Islamic Imperialism? Why are they trying to deny the victims of Islamic Imperialism and the heroism of those who fought against it?

Why are they trying to hide the history of peoples who have faced the brutality and intolerance of Islam? Iran was Zoroastrian. Afghanistan was Buddhist. Both were exterminated. The History of Islam has been violent totalitarianism. The conquest of infidels, their conversion to Islam on pain of death, and in tolerance for coexistence with infidels except in utterly reduced, near slave conditions, has been the experience of all races and religions that encountered Islam.

Nor is this ancient past. Did the destruction by the Taliban of the Bamyan Buddhas for offending against Islam not wake up the BBC? Did the horror of naked Yazidi girls having their throats slit and their blood collected in buckets, not wake up the BBC? Does the presence of thousands of ISIS fighters in British towns not worry the BBC? Has the horror of Pakistani Muslim gangs serial raping female Christian and Sikh children not woken up the BBC?

No, it hasn’t. The BBC reflects the British surrender to Jihad. UK Police let the rape of children go on, lest Muslims be offended. MPs didn’t speak up, lest Muslims be offended. Britain refused asylum to Asiya Bibi, lest Muslims be offended.

And now the BBC is censoring the Sikhs, their history, their identity, lest Muslims be offended. But Sikhs are not going to take it. Islam has a history of brutality and intolerance against the infidels, it’s the history of all those who were wiped out and no longer exist. It’s the history of those who stood and fought and became legends that Islam could not take down.

From Sikh Gurus who were executed for offending against Islam, to the case of Rangeela Rasool which caused the British to pass draconian anti-free speech laws in India to prevent offence to Muslims, to Salman Rushdie, Jyllands-Posten, and Charlie Hebdo, the world is held hostage in perpetuity and forced into silence by the Muslim propensity to take offence and the ever present threat of violence against the offence givers. And now the BBC is acting as agent.

France is proving to be a better ally. French people understand the dilemma of urgency to fight Islamic radicalism. Why have we never given attention to Greece and Cyprus? The city of Athens is often referred to as the cradle of Western civilization. Democracy in ancient Greece served as one of the first forms of self-rule government in the ancient world. The original ideas implemented by the ancient Greeks had profound influence on the emerging democracies of the world. Students in Scandinavia have to compulsorily learn Latin and ancient history, which is more about Greece and less about Britain.

Germany is economically far more powerful and far more receptive to the idea of alternative medicine whose origins lie in India. News about India in German, French and Scandinavian media is becoming far more nuanced and balanced. Despite the fact that Indians now constitute the largest immigrant group in U.K., BBC’s coverage of India disappointingly remains biased.

I am reiterating, it is a price Indians are paying because of overemphasizing the importance of Britain as if India is still tied to the umbilical cord of its colonial past. It’s time for India to grow up. Let us see how they sort out their Brexit mess. Until then, India could use this golden opportunity to initiate good contact with rest of the European countries, which need skilled labor, are friendly towards India, and understand India’s position on Kashmir.

If India improves its ties with European countries such as Germany and France, their media could serve as a source of counter-narrative to the monopolized narrative of India being hatched from London. Let’s visit Hamburg, Berlin, Paris, Athens and Nicosia.
Let’s give the option of learning French, German, Norwegian, Greek and Italian in higher secondary schools of India. We are after all masters in learning multiple languages in India. Federico Fellini, an Italian film director and screenwriter once said, “ A different language is a different vision of life.” English has had a monopoly on the narrative of India’s political vision, it is time to give other European languages a chance now.

It’s the politics, stupid: Why climate protests are not transforming policy in either rich or poor countries

Is it time to panic? The natural environment and ecological systems that sustain all forms of life are collapsing, say recent reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, Climate Central, and Institute for Public Policy Research. We face crisscrossing crises of climate change, mass loss of species, topsoil erosion, forest felling and acidifying oceans. Global warming threatens more and worse cyclones, droughts, forest fires, floods and climatic shifts, with catastrophic consequences for food, water, livelihoods, housing, and health.

To limit global heating on 2010 levels to 1.5°C (ideal) or 2°C (minimum) by 2030, anthropogenic emissions must decline by 45%/ 25% before 2030 and reach zero by 2050/ 2070 respectively. The actual trajectories are in the opposite direction. Despite all the attention, promises and action, global carbon emissions climbed to a record high last year; 136 of the 184 Paris Pact climate commitments are insufficient to meet either 1.5°C/ 2°C goal. Efforts must increase threefold to meet the 2°C target, and fivefold for 1.5°C.

The poorest people and countries will be hit hardest, with millions locked in a downward spiral of malnutrition, water scarcity and loss of livelihoods. In Asia 237m people, including 36m in India, could face annual coastal flooding threats by 2050. In 2015 pollution killed 2.5m Indians. This month, while the “gas chamber” Delhi experienced a public health emergency, Australia witnessed unseasonably early killer forest fires.

The need is for transformative action but governments remain trapped in incremental reforms. Because the sacrifices demanded are immediate, real and substantial but the gains are projected, future, generalised and diffused, the logic of individual costs and benefits clashes with the logic of collective action, for citizens and countries. The brutal reality is that the only pathway to reduce emissions on the scale demanded is for poor countries to remain mired in poverty and, in shades of eugenics, to stop breeding, and for sizeable numbers of working and middle-class people in rich countries to fall into poverty. In a vicious circle, poor countries lack social security, which makes poor families look to more children as old-age insurance, and the growing population exacerbates every dimension of the climate crisis.

The domestic politics of persuading citizens in rich and poor to cut or abandon living standards, and the global politics of financial and technology transfers in pursuit of convergence, are fearsomely challenging. Most people fear climate change and want something done – so long as it has no major impact on their lives. In a Washington Post poll, four-fifths accepted climate change is man-made, half agreed that urgent action is needed, but only 40% would make ‘major sacrifices’. Only those whose present is assured will concern themselves more with the future. In conditions of mass Asiatic poverty, climbing out of life-killing conditions now is of higher priority than ensuring a future for succeeding generations. Elevating climate change to the topmost priority is a luxury that countries can afford only after they have climbed the per capita income ladder.

In this present-vs-future tussle, no political party is going to win majority support in India by promising to end poverty alleviation in favour of slowing climate change. But equally, leaders in northern countries – who have far deeper carbon footprints and greater financial and technological capabilities to undertake the necessary action – will face political extinction if they commit to drastic income reductions for their citizens in order to assist poor countries to cope with the transition to a decarbonised economy.

Effective action means job losses and a major drop in lifestyles for Australians when the big current emitters are China, India and the US, and Australian action will make only a minuscule contribution to reducing the risk of climate catastrophe. Neither equation computes in the real world of politics and that – not the ignorance or venality of political leaders – is the primary explanation for lack of effective action. That is the real policy challenge and haranguing, disruptive protests and slogans are no substitute for policy action.

Is it time to panic? The natural environment and ecological systems that sustain all forms of life are collapsing, say recent reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, Climate Central, and Institute for Public Policy Research. We face criss-crossing crises of climate change, mass loss of species, topsoil erosion, forest felling and acidifying oceans. Global warming threatens more and worse cyclones, droughts, forest fires, floods and climatic shifts, with catastrophic consequences for food, water, livelihoods, housing and health.
To limit global heating on 2010 levels to 1.5°C (ideal) or 2°C (minimum) by 2030, anthropogenic emissions must decline by 45%/ 25% before 2030 and reach zero by 2050/ 2070 respectively. The actual trajectories are in the opposite direction. Despite all the attention, promises and action, global carbon emissions climbed to a record high last year; 136 of the 184 Paris Pact climate commitments are insufficient to meet either 1.5°C/ 2°C goal. Efforts must increase threefold to meet the 2°C target, and fivefold for 1.5°C.
The poorest people and countries will be hit hardest, with millions locked in a downward spiral of malnutrition, water scarcity and loss of livelihoods. In Asia 237m people, including 36m in India, could face annual coastal flooding threats by 2050. In 2015 pollution killed 2.5m Indians. This month, while “gas chamber” Delhi experienced a public health emergency, Australia witnessed unseasonably early killer forest fires.
The need is for transformative action but governments remain trapped in incremental reforms. Because the sacrifices demanded are immediate, real and substantial but the gains are projected, future, generalised and diffused, the logic of individual costs and benefits clashes with the logic of collective action, for citizens and countries. The brutal reality is that the only pathway to reduce emissions on the scale demanded is for poor countries to remain mired in poverty and, in shades of eugenics, to stop breeding; and for sizeable numbers of working and middle class people in rich countries to fall into poverty. In a vicious circle, poor countries lack social security, which makes poor families look to more children as old age insurance, and the growing population exacerbates every dimension of the climate crisis.
The domestic politics of persuading citizens in rich and poor to cut or abandon living standards, and the global politics of financial and technology transfers in pursuit of convergence, are fearsomely challenging. Most people fear climate change and want something done – so long as it has no major impact on their lives. In a Washington Post poll, four-fifths accepted climate change is man-made, half agreed that urgent action is needed, but only 40% would make ‘major sacrifices’. Only those whose present is assured will concern themselves more with the future. In conditions of mass Asiatic poverty, climbing out of life-killing conditions now is of higher priority than ensuring a future for succeeding generations. Elevating climate change to the topmost priority is a luxury that countries can afford only after they have climbed the per capita income ladder.
In this present-vs-future tussle, no political party is going to win majority support in India by promising to end poverty alleviation in favour of slowing climate change. But equally, leaders in northern countries – who have far deeper carbon footprints and greater financial and technological capabilities to undertake the necessary action – will face political extinction if they commit to drastic income reductions for their citizens in order to assist poor countries cope with the transition to a decarbonised economy.
Effective action means job losses and major drop in lifestyles for Australians, when the big current emitters are China, India and the US, and Australian action will make only a miniscule contribution to reducing the risk of climate catastrophe. Neither equation computes in the real world of politics and that – not the ignorance or venality of political leaders – is the primary explanation for lack of effective action. That is the real policy challenge and haranguing, disruptive protests and slogans are no substitute for policy action.

Quran doesn’t discriminate against women, men do

Quran does not discriminate against women. Wherever Quran talks of establishing prayer, it addresses both men and women. At 59 places, Quran asks men and women to establish prayer. The Prophet instructed men not to stop women from going to mosques. Quran says prayer can be offered in private but it can only be established (and perfected) in a group, in a congregation. The situation at the ground level in our country is totally different.

Mosques have been reduced to a male monopoly. It stems both from lack of understanding of Islamic principles and well-entrenched patriarchal forces. Indian men forget that when the azaan (prayer call) is pronounced from mosque, both men and women are invited. How can you turn down somebody after extending an invitation? And when it comes to Hadiths (record of Prophet’s sayings and traditions), they pick and choose according to their convenience. The men remind women that the best prayer for them is offered at home, but forget that the Prophet never stopped women from going to a mosque for prayers.

There is no contradiction. No commentator of Quran, be it Abul Ala Mawdudi, or Israr Ahmed, or contemporaries like Yasir Qadhi and Nouman Ali Khan have ever asked women not to go to a mosque. In fact, in Delhi, at the headquarters of Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, founded by Mawdudi, there is a separate section for women. Every Friday, one can see women going for prayer there.

The problem lies with the local maulanas who understand little of Quran. In fact, most Indian Muslims do not understand Quran in Arabic and do not read the translation. In Kerala where more Muslims know Arabic than in north India things are different. Hundreds of mosques make provision for women in Kerala.

Historical trajectory of Muslim women’s rights in India

The condition of Muslim women was much better in medieval India. During the Sultanate age there were hundreds of madrassas where girls were educated. Even many slave girls had become Quran haafiz – one who had memorised Quran.

In the Mughal age we have evidence of women building madrassas and mosques. At the time of nikaah, many women put terms and conditions in the nikaahnama. Like the marriage won’t end via instant triple talaq and the husband won’t marry again without her permission. In post-Independence India, religion has become a monopoly of men. There are much fewer Islamic seminaries for women. Triple talaq came to be accepted and women began to be kept out of mosques. No longer do we see women dictating nikaahnamas.

I see this huge dichotomy between what Islam preached and what many of our maulanas and other men practised. For instance, when a Muslim man goes for Hajj or Umrah, he takes his wife, mother or daughter along. They perform the pilgrimage together in Mecca. They go to the Prophet’s mosque in Medina where both men and women have clearly marked halls. They worship together at the same time. But when the same man comes back to India, he leaves his wife and mother behind at home when he goes to a local mosque for prayer. What is applicable to mosques across West Asia is applicable here too.

Islam was a reformation of Arab society.

When the Prophet came, the girl child used to be buried alive in the Arab world, much like we have female infanticide in the form of termination of the female child in the womb. Similarly, men used to have endless number of wives and divorces at that time. Islam put an end to it by limiting the number of divorces to three, the third one being irrevocable. It also put the ceiling at four wives with clear terms and conditions. It does not mean that every man has to have four wives. The permission granted came with a rider: be equitable and just between them. That is a tall order for any man.

What prevents Muslim community from making more space for women?

The problem is more structural. The mosques are designed by men, for men. When mosques are built, women do not figure in the scheme of things. At some places, where women do come for prayers, the section is well removed from the main hall, often with faulty audio system. It has zero provision for ablution, etc. Fortunately, women, who had been indoctrinated for long, are beginning to speak up. We have the case of woman scholar Farhat Hashmi giving her own independent commentary of Quran. Initially, she was criticised by maulanas. As she gained her voice, they fell silent!

 The fact is women have not been denied by religion. Who are men to deny? If the court takes a decision based on Quran, the women will be on a sound footing. If it takes it with the Constitution in mind, they will still be well placed. I do not foresee any stalemate.

Beheading of Guru Tegh Bahadur embodies simplification of Sikh-Mughal history

Today is the day when the 9th Guru of the Sikhs, Guru Tegh Bahadur was beheaded, along with inhuman sawing in two of Bhai Mati Das and the cruel killing of hundreds of his other followers who were killed by being skinned alive, their joints cut one by one. Tegh Bahadur was the second Sikh guru to be assassinated at the hands of a Mughal emperor. Almost 70 years earlier, in 1606, Guru Arjan, the fifth Sikh guru, was killed by the banks of the river Ravi, facing the Lahore fort, on the orders of Jahangir. His assassination was a turning point in the history of the guruhood, triggering the transformation of the institution from a non-violent spiritual movement to the militarised religious movement of Guru Hargobind, the son of Guru Arjan and his spiritual successor. It laid the seeds for the Khalsa that gives the Sikh community its current form, institutionalised by Guru Gobind Singh, the son and successor of Guru Tegh Bahadur.

The emperor Aurangzeb had forbidden anyone from removing the decapitated head and body of the ninth Sikh guru, Tegh Bahadur. The residents of Delhi, who had just witnessed the guru’s assassination, were struck with fear. Many among them were devotees of Tegh Bahadur, the eighth spiritual descendant of Guru Nanak. The Sikh spiritual movement that had centered around Kartarpur Sahib (now in Pakistan) at the death of Guru Nanak had by then spread to far-flung regions of Punjab and beyond. His followers came from all backgrounds, bringing their material as well as human resources.

Official Mughal records, describing the reasons for the assassination of Guru Tegh Bahadur in 1675, state that he moved around with several thousand followers. With the rise in the political and material influence of the institution of guruhood, the Sikh gurus were increasingly seen as political rivals by petty kingdoms of the Mughal empire. Their influence and strength was also visible to the Mughal emperor. The days of political obscurity under Guru Nanak were long gone.

There are several accounts explaining the motive behind the assassination of Guru Tegh Bahadur on Aurangzeb’s orders. Sikh tradition states that the guru stood up for the rights of Kashmiri Pandits who approached him (see image above) to intercede on their behalf with the emperor and ask him to revoke a recently imposed jizya (tax).

Convinced by his son, Gobind Rai, who later became Guru Gobind Singh, to stand up for the protection of the Kashmiri Pandits, Guru Tegh Bahadur traveled to Delhi. Here, at the Mughal court, he was mocked and asked to prove his guruhood by performing a miracle. He wrote a magic spell on a piece of paper and tied it around his neck with a thread. He told the Mughal authorities that as long as the spell remained tied to him, his head would not be separated from his body even if the blade of the executioner fell on his neck.

But when the blade struck the guru’s neck, it severed his head. Later, when the Mughal authorities opened the magic spell that the guru had written, it read, “He gave his head, not his secret.”

Transformation of Sikhism

Colonial historians, like Joseph Davey Cunningham, however, present a different explanation for the guru’s assassination. In order to understand the political motive behind the event, one needs to first take into account the historical framework under which Tegh Bahadur was appointed a Sikh guru. Earlier bypassed by his father, Guru Hargobind, Tegh Bahadur was appointed head of the Sikh community after the death of seven-year-old Guru Har Krishan.

During the short tenure of Har Krishan, his older brother, Ram Rai, who wanted the guruhood for himself, plotted incessantly against him, lobbying with a few prominent Sikh leaders and trying to convince the Sikh community that he was, in fact, the rightful spiritual descant of Nanak’s Sikhism. On his deathbed, Guru Har Krishan left a rather elusive command that was interpreted as Guru Tegh Bahadur’s appointment as the next guru.

Immediately taking charge of the situation, Guru Tegh Bahadur set out to form new political alliances and to increase his revenue base so that he could compete with the contesting claims to the guruhood. According to Cunningham, the guru and his disciples “subsisted by plunder between the wastes of Hansi and Sutlej rendering them unpopular with the peasantry”. He also “leagued with a Muslim zealot, Adam Hafiz, and levied contributions upon rich Hindus and Muslims”.

The historian further noted that the guru gave asylum to fugitives. Another complaint against him that reached the ear of the emperor was made by Ram Rai. Like Guru Har Krishan before him, Guru Tegh Bahadur was accused of being a “pretender to power”.

Simplistic narratives

Both these unjust assassinations became a symbolic rallying point for their devotees. The perpetual battle that had continued for several generations with the mighty Mughal empire, ruled by bigots bent on destroying the fragile Sikh community, acquired eschatological tones as a final showdown between good and evil. Gradually, as these historical events acquired religious undertones, they were stripped of their political realities. They were reduced to simplistic explanations that did not require a nuanced reading. The complexity of the Mughal-Sikh relationship was lost.

While on the one hand Guru Hargobind was presented as a valiant hero – which no doubt he was – who militarised the Sikh community for their protection and was penalised by Jahangir, stories of his other, more complex, relationship with the Mughal emperor were lost. His ties with Jahangir eventually warmed up and he, at one point, even helped the emperor curb a rebellion within his empire, with the help of his forces.

Similarly, Guru Arjan’s assassination is explained through Jahangir’s bigotry but not through the guru’s cordial relationship with the emperor’s rebellious son, Prince Khusrau, who waged a battle against his father and lost. Neatly placed within the same framework is the image of intolerant Aurangzeb, who summoned Guru Har Krishan and Guru Tegh Bahadur to Delhi.

However, the story of Guru Har Rai, the father of Guru Har Krishan, promising to help Dara Shikoh against his brother Aurangzeb, doesn’t suit this simplistic construction of history. Immediately after defeating his brother, Aurangzeb summoned Guru Har Rai to Delhi to explain his role in the civil war. The arrival of Guru Har Krishan and even Guru Tegh Bahadur is connected with the same historical event.

Part of the same narrative is the encounter of Guru Nanak with Babur, founder of the Mughal empire. The story acquired a prophetic significance, giving clues to the relationships between their respective successors. In the story, Babur, initially unaware of the spiritual prowess of the guru, had him incarcerated. However, he soon realised the genius of the saint and let him go, but not before being rebuked by Nanak at his court.

This was the significant moment that was to represent the true nature of the interaction between Sikh gurus and Mughal emperors. No matter how much political strength the emperor possessed, the final power resided with the true king, the guru.

Visible But Ignored, Imminent Danger to Canadian Polity

Now that Liberal government is in the saddle, let us review what happened in recent elections. The open, detestable and nauseating interference by Obama is too well known to make a comment. The recent elections in Canada should be an eye-opener for any honest person, but I find it so disconcerting that almost all political leaders tend to gloss over the facts. Some purposely do so, since they gained by this clear violation of the basic code of conduct and others since they are afraid of the onslaught by the perpetrators and their cohorts. A most telling comment came from a Punjabi radio station in Oakville, Ontario, where host Kamandeep Singh Gill saw the Liberal win as an answer to prayer: “People outside Canada, especially Punjab, were praying for a Trudeau win. Their prayers and phone calls have been answered.”

How positively fascinating. Now, why would non-Canadians in the Punjab region in India so thrilled by their gods answering their prayers by the re-election of Justin Trudeau as prime minister?

Obviously, for this to be the case, there must be, at least a hope, some tangible or intagible benefit for the Sikhs in Punjab. What is the benefit? The source article, taken from Liberal-Globalist media publication, New Canadian Media, refrains from spelling out what the exact benefit is for Punjab, and it’s 16 million Sikh citizens.

Therefore, one is forced to guess. This is our thinking: The reason Punjab is thrilled is that Canada is being set-up to become a diaspora “mini-state” for the Sikhs of the world.

This is the reason why Justin Trudeau and family sported South Asian Silk outfits while prancing around at the Taj Mahal. It is the reason Trudeau danced a mean “Bollywood Shuffle” while visiting India. Justin’s ubiquitous dedication to all-things-Sikh informs he is aware–as well as fully on board–with the transformation of Brampton and additional ridings into a monolithic Sikh geographic entity.

What evidence do we have of such a thing? A look at the results is a piece of sufficient evidence. Taking a look at the five Brampton, Ontario ridings in 2019, here are the results–

Brampton West: Liberal Kamal Khera

Brampton South: Liberal Sonia Sidhu

Brampton North: Liberal Ruby Sahota

Brampton Centre: Liberal Ramesh Sangha

Brampton East: Liberal Maninder Sidhu

In the adjoining city of Mississauga, the results are equally telling:

Mississauga-Streetsville: Liberal Gagan Sikand

Mississauga-Erin Mills: Liberal Iqra Khalid

Mississauga-Lakeshore: Liberal Sven Spengemann

Mississauga Centre: Liberal Omar Alghabra

Mississauga East-Cooksville: Liberal Peter Fonseca

Mississauga-Malton: Liberal Navdeep Bains

The two wins by non-South Asian are offset by the win in nest door Oakville where first Hindu candidate won- Anita Anand

How subtle a hint is it that, in fact, Brampton today exists as a monolithic Sikh-Canadian political stronghold, while Mississauga ios dominated by the Muslim majority. Why will this phenomenon decrease, rather than increase, over the next few decades? Answer–it won’t. Rather, it does appear some vocal and assertive communities in Canada are headed for giant success within Canadian politics, as well as society as a whole. I am afraid we are building an enclave of a couple of communities- and these two communities have a history of acrimony, and that is the antithesis of our total integrated Canadian identity. Honestly, I am tempted to term it as the beginning of the process of a political phenomenon called “Balkanization.” Balkanization is a derogatory geopolitical term for the process of fragmentation or division of a region or state into smaller regions or states that are often hostile or uncooperative with one another.

And, this is true not only of Brampton and Mississauga but of other places as well.

In modern times, this term is most often associated with the former European nation of Yugoslavia. What transpired as a result? The break up of their country into different nations-Croatia, Serbia, Kosovo, Slovenia, Bosnia, Macedonia.

Hopefully, this never happens in Canada, and I am sure, sane elements shall prevail and this fearful eventuality shall never come to pass. If this were to occur within Canada it would look something like this– separate countries of Quebec, Alberta or Western Canada, Sikh Canada, Chinese Canada, Muslim Canada. 

Is this why Punjab are so damn thrilled with King Justin? There is a reasonable chance this is the case.

How “post-modern” Canada is this? Only 100%. Remember–Justin Trudeau killed Canada’s identity with his “No Core Identity” proclamation. Not a single citizen approved this— an entirely unilateral decision–just as Papa Pierre did with official “multiculturalism.”

So–are PM Trudeau and backroom European-derived advisor Gerald Butts working toward the break up of Canada? Is there something to be learned from the fact that every riding in the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan went Conservative(save one NDP riding).

Yes, there is–thanks to hare-brained policies and so-called political correctness. Canadians are more divided than at any point in modern history. Eastern Canada liberalism versus Western Canada nationalism.

Clearly, a political fissure of the highest order. Clearly defined “battle lines.” Media say not a word. Is Canada headed for a geographic break-up, Balkanization-style? As I said hopefully not. But let us not forget that even the talk of such an eventuality is full of potential danger. The recent victory for PM Trudeau was, in fact, a giant victory for 3rd World Canada- the very reason why biased media- both print and electronic- has buried the entire phenomenon.

According to Canadian ethnic media, “Liberals were trying to “relax” immigration rules so that more permanent residents could become citizens and thus avail voting rights. The Conservatives, they said, are seen as champions of English and French-speaking Canadians, while being less friendly to refugees, immigrants, and minorities.”

Total division. Third World on one side, white Canada on the other. This raises a very pertinent question: How are democratic nations–as well as those of history– generally destroyed? History tells us that it is done in two ways. It can be by a war against foreign nations, and war within the country. The war against Canada is a “post-modern” battle to divide and conquer the fading “Great White North.”

I strongly believe that this nation has hundreds and thousands of patriots- including a large number from the pampered communities as well-who have the national interest at heart and want a strong, dominant, prosperous Canada of their dreams and a fragmented nation likely to degenerate into a third world country of warring groups like Somalia.

Ways to Rid Boardrooms of Ego

It’s difficult to lead in 2019, and the task is going to be more difficult in coming years. Leaders are under scrutiny like never before. As a society, we are sceptical of leaders’ motives and competence. Why do they want to lead? Are they up to the job? It is not a radical idea to suggest leaders are no longer as powerful as they once seemed. 

A recent study by the Pew Research Center found that young Americans are less likely than older adults to say they have a great deal or fair amount of confidence in religious leaders, police officers and business leaders. In Australia, Swinburne University’s Australian Leadership Index highlights a declining faith in political parties to provide real leadership. 

Talk to leaders today, and they will tell you their roles are constrained, and at the same time undermined; they feel exposed as they are increasingly held accountable for results, yet not really in control of them.

Across the board(room), we have heard leaders say that, for organizations to succeed, there must be a shift: away from “heroic”, individualistic leadership, or “ego”, towards a leadership that recognizes internal and external ecosystems, or “eco”.

We are not suggesting that the more traditional methods of leadership are entirely outmoded. However, the skills and leadership traits with which many leaders have grown up will no longer be sufficient for effective leadership today.

Here are five things leaders can do today to successfully lead their organizations into tomorrow – and move from “ego” to “eco”.

1. Cultivate loyalty through accountability and transparency 

Leaders tell us the traditional, hierarchical power structure has faded away. They can no longer rely on rank or position to command loyalty from and action by members. Instead, leaders must cultivate loyalty through accountability and transparency.

“These days, you have to learn to reach out to the opposition in the organization. In the past, you would oppose them, or could ignore them. That’s no longer possible – you have to work with them as part of the context,” one local government leader said “There is very little I can do unilaterally, it’s really only possible to be successful in a highly contested environment like local government by working together with others. With one project, there was a lot of resistance, and we couldn’t understand it, I couldn’t get this guy to agree. I realised I would have to invest a lot of time in that relationship, that something we are not always very good at, finding time for people outside of formal meetings, we had leadership development sessions but that’s not the same thing as building a relationship. I think he saw the world in a very different way to me. Previously I would just have overruled him, but today you have to work with ‘the enemy’. The power of social media means they are potentially more influential than you are.”

The ideal of organizational loyalty and unity around shared values is more precarious in this contested world. Leaders are no longer guaranteed deference and respect; dissent and conflict are the new norm. Commitment, loyalty and trust tend to be short-term, and relationships are more transactional, reducing the levers of influence. Leaders must get used to working with people with a plurality of viewpoints. (More on diversity in #5.)

To work with this plurality, or even with “the enemy”, transparency is critical. “Everyone has access. You have to expect people will sooner or later know most things, and particularly the things you don’t want them to know about,” one law firm head told us. 

Leaders need to get used to being under 24/7 scrutiny in the age of social media. They have to accept they have vulnerabilities, and they have to get comfortable learning in public. Leadership is a public conversation in which you have to acknowledge mistakes and ignorance.

The leader’s office, it seems, has glass walls and a transparent door – generally a good thing, if sometimes uncomfortable. 

2. Shape the narrative, shape the context 

Leaders are like farmers. Farmers don’t grow crops; farmers create the conditions for crops to grow. Likewise, leaders must shape the narrative and context in which their organizations operate, or the organizations don’t survive.

First, leaders must ask whether they are helping the organization tell its own story, or whether they are acting out somebody else’s script. “Leaders need to get out and shape the story rather than work within the one you’ve inherited,” one school head told us. “I need to understand and connect with my students’ view of the world first, before trying to influence them.”

Second, leaders must foster purpose. Increasingly, employees are demanding meaningful work. They want to feel their organization is contributing positively to society, above and beyond shareholder value or government policy.

Third, leaders need to get comfortable with unpredictability, with ambiguity, with paradox. In a world of radical uncertainty, it’s risky to focus on what’s “known” and comfortable. “If it were ever possible to predict the future, it certainly isn’t now!” said the head of an advertising agency. “If I’m feeling comfortable making decisions about a topic, then it generally means I am doing someone else’s job, I’ve stopped being a leader and become a manager”.

To do this, understand leadership is a conversation. When a leader speaks, they should not only describe a given reality, but also aim to change perceptions. Leaders shape and develop an organization by deliberately addressing the conversations that are going on in an organization, as well as making sure that the right conversations are happening between the right people, in the right way.

3. Liberate the organization’s collective intelligence 

Knowledge exists in networks and collective capabilities as much as in individuals. Leadership is less about providing the answer, and more about releasing collective intelligence within the organization.

A good leader should foster and grow the internal connection and collaboration within an organization’s ecosystem to liberate this collective intelligence. Likewise, a leader should view leadership as an emergent and shared property of the system and encourage conditions in which others can take up leadership roles, too.

4. Allow structures to evolve, with input from members 

There is no “perfect structure” for an organization. It’s better to think of structure as something that needs to evolve, with input from leaders and members.

As soon as an organizational structure is created, it has the tendency to accumulate power – and risks becoming a constraint on further development. When determining structure, leaders should focus on a minimum of structure and rules – and challenge power bases.

In addition, leaders should create structures that enable agency and participation by members, allowing competence (rather than reputation and status) to solve problems and determine organizational influence.

5. Embrace diversity 

“Connecting is as important as directing,” said one interviewee, a hospital chief executive. “The hospital is run by a leadership team of 30 people which I chair who meet weekly, the maximum size that felt manageable, which can really represent and connect with the diversity of views amongst the staff”. 

Your organization is not a culture – it’s a multi-culture. The workplace is now diverse beyond the capacity of any individual to comprehend all of its variations – and good ideas can come from anywhere.

Leaders must get comfortable with diversity, recognize their assumptions and prejudices, and demonstrate openness to different points of view within the organization. They should recognize, too, that people have multiple identities – home, community, work – and make better use of this plurality.

Successful leaders work to increase participation from diverse members, especially to solve complex problems, and often, must be prepared to work with conflicting value systems. By excluding people from analysing and solving problems, organizations are deprived of different perspectives and sources of creativity. And by allowing members to bring more of their external identities into the organization, leaders will foster more innovative solutions to challenges.

Human beings will always look for charismatic, heroic leaders when they are facing significant adversity. But leaders today must resist the pull to be saviours, and instead, work to enable the conditions in which their people can participate in the process of organizational leadership, too. 

Tipu Fought The British, But Wasn’t A Freedom Fighter As His Register Shows

Tipu Sultan, the Muslim Ruler of Indian princely state Mysore, was the rare ruler who documented his subconscious. What does his register of dreams say about the king and those he considered his enemies?

Tipu Sultan is in the news again. For some years now, the BJP in Karnataka has made it an annual ritual to generate a heatwave against him in the rather pleasant winter month of November. This time, there is an extra force to it because the BJP is in power, and the crown sits uneasily on chief minister BS Yediyurappa’s head. The wave is calibrating itself to the fever pitch of elections that may unsuspectingly visit the shores of the state. Therefore, the BJP government is threatening to remove the 18th century Mysore king from textbooks.

Tipu Sultan, like many other historical figures, displaced in time, detached from the context and cartographic lines of the past to suit the wretchedness of today, appears a controversial figure. To retrace this narrative of contestation is tiring and repetitive. The one thing that needs to be emphasised is that the deliberate propaganda unleashed by the officers and quasi-historians of the East India Company against Tipu has persisted for over 200 years. There are missteps of nationalist history, of course, but propaganda has played an unfair role in deepening the ambiguity of his personality.

In The Anarchy (2019), William Dalrymple writes: “In a process of vilification familiar from more recent Western confrontations with assertive Muslim leaders, Wellesley [the Governor-General who provoked the last war against Tipu in 1799] now stepped up his propaganda against Tipu, who he depicted as ‘a cruel and relentless enemy’, ‘a beast of the jungle’, an ‘intolerant bigot’ with a ‘rooted hatred of Europeans’ who had ‘perpetually on his tongue the projects of jihad’. This tyrant was also deemed to be an ‘oppressive and unjust ruler… a ‘sanguinary tyrant, a perfidious negociator’, and above all, a ‘furious fanatic’.” Now we know where the adjectives and abuse of today are mostly borrowed from.

Tipu did have severe flaws. He used excessive violence even by the standards of his time, but only against his adversaries and those he defeated, not his subjects: “Allied to this often counter-productive aggression and megalomania was a fatal lack of diplomatic skills,” writes Dalrymple. But the day after his death, the British were surprised to discover how much his people “both Hindu and Muslim clearly loved him, just as they had been surprised to see how prosperous his kingdom was,” notes Dalrymple.

We know how the English viewed Tipu, but a fascinating exercise would be to look at how he viewed himself, or what he wrote about himself, and through that gauge the sensitivity and complexity of his mind, and its perennially embattled existence. He didn’t write an autobiography, or keep a war journal, but left behind a “register” of 37 dreams in Persian: “The dreams I have had and am having are being written in this register.” It was discovered in the bed chamber of the Sultan after the fall of Srirangapatnam in May 1799. Habibullah, the munshi of Tipu, is said to have been present when it was discovered by one Colonel Kirkpatrick. The sultan “always manifested peculiar anxiety to hide it from the view of any who happened to approach while he was either reading or writing it,” Mahmud Husain, the translator of the dream register, quotes a British source in his introduction.

In fact, in Girish Karnad’s Kannada play Tipu Sultan Kanda Kanasu (The Dreams of Tipu Sultan, 1997) Kirmani, the narrator, is angered that Habibullah did not destroy the dream register: “That idiot instead of throwing it to the fire handed it over to the English. It had the imprint of the Sultan’s soul,” he laments. The register was in 1800 gifted to Hugh Inglis, the chairman of the East India Company, by — who else but — Wellesley.

There is, perhaps, no other ruler in the world who ever thought he should keep a secret compendium of his subconscious. Why Tipu Sultan did it is a question that can generate many exegeses. The objects and scenes in his dreams may signify one thing to a psychoanalyst and transform themselves into glowing metaphors for a poet. However, an indisputable consensus would be that Tipu Sultan had a singular approach to his inner and outer life. They were also seamless in some ways. Karnad’s Tipu slips in a sheet with his very last dream to Kirmani, before he jumps into his final battle. Perhaps, a symbolic way of saying he ended the secrecy of his private indulgence, and also ended the spell of dreams with death.

Anyway, Tipu, in his dreams, was always the chosen one, generously blessed and divinely ordained to rule. The images of old, holy men with white beards serenade his dreams and give him special gifts. In Dream 8, besides “sugar-candy”, he receives a copy of the holy Quran: “Both the holy persons said to me that this copy had been written by several saints and calligraphists and that Hadrat Bandah-nawaz used to recite constantly from this copy.” In Dream 31: “I saw Hadrat Muhammad, the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him), bestowing upon me a green turban and asking me to bind it on my head.” He goes on to interpret this dream: “God almighty and Our Prophet have conferred the empire of the seven climes upon me.” In Dream 37, the last one, a holy man pointing to the boy who was the sultan said: “Daimun, qaimun and qaimun, daimun,” meaning his reign would be “durable and perpetual”. It is not just god and holy men; in Dream 9, even the Chinese emperor sends him a white elephant, 4,000 years after he had sent a similar gift to Alexander.

How Tipu characterises his enemies in his dreams, primarily a triangle of three (the British, the Marhattas or Marathas and the Nizam of Hyderabad), also tells a good deal about him. His father Hyder Ali had a triple alliance with the Marathas and the Nizam to keep the English away, but Nana Phadnavis is persuaded by Cornwallis to break the agreement, which first leads to Tipu losing half his kingdom in 1792, and eventually to his death in 1799.

The opening dream is itself about killing three officers of the Maratha army. But deeper contempt towards the Marathas is expressed in Dream 8. He sees a handsome young man: “Shortly thereafter the youth rose, and walking a few paces returned to loosen his hair from beneath his turban, and opening the fastenings of his robe, displayed his bosom, and I saw it was a woman.” In his waking hour, he tried to make sense of the dream: “Those Marhattas have put on the clothes of men, but in fact will prove to be women”.

The Nizam is termed a kafir (infidel, unbeliever) by Tipu in Dream 28. According to him, those who sided with the kafirs was a kafir, and the kafirs were the British. All through the register the English are referred to as either “Nazarenes”, meaning Christians, or “unbelievers” or “irreligious”. But, in Dream 26, Raghunath Rao, the Maratha agent is depicted addressing them as “the English”. When Tipu switches to his own voice he says: “If God wills, the Nazarenes will be expelled from India.” The distinction is very clear. This becomes more apparent when he refers to the French without a hint of abuse: “A Frenchman of standing had arrived… I rose and embraced him”. Where his sympathies lie were unclouded even in his dream sequences.

In his play, Karnad creates a new dream, in which an embattled Tipu is speaking to his father, Hyder Ali, who appears without limbs. A shocked Tipu asks: “Abba jaan, what happened?” The voice responds by saying “you have done this to me”. The father discusses the son’s failures in battle strategy. He accuses him of becoming a better scholar than a soldier. The play brilliantly mixes Tipu’s stupendous visions in his waking hours and those from his sleep.

There may be delicious irony in the fact that this play of Karnad was commissioned by the BBC, a venerable British institution, in 1997, in the golden jubilee year of India’s Independence. He fought the British, but was not a freedom fighter.

Sunday Special: Reason for Education & Governance failing to Create the ‘Shrestha’

The Indian word ‘Shrestha’s commonly perceived to mean the best. But it is something more, it is not only being the epitome of goodness, integrity but also, includes physical and mental prowess. It denotes the acme of human beings. So, instead of using the other terms, I shall use Shrestha as it is.

Where are we going wrong? Our basic stupidity is to glibly believe ‘all people are equal’ and ‘a person is ‘good’ and ‘right’ for leadership, merely because more people voted for him or he got more marks in exams!

Today, our pillars of education, democracy, and governance are based on these false premises. We have ignored the age-old and time-tested wisdom of Bharat that ‘people are not equal’ and that literally, a ‘good’ person, a Shrestha, a Bharati is clearly defined as all those, workers or leaders, who are in “sur”, i.e. in harmony, because they are all “striving to become good, better, best, in and thru’ their daily vocation and life, by ethically working for good of society”. Only such a ‘good’ person as a leader, will ‘know’ and be ‘interested’ in working for good of society as a whole

Thus, education and governance must inspire us to ‘know’ and help ‘build our ability’, to strive for the ‘best’, by choosing an appropriate ‘vocation’, where we can excel and work for good of society. And, the process of schooling must be different for different people so as to identify and prepare us for different vocations in harmony with our inherent tendencies, character, competence.

We must recognize that there are very, very few ‘good’ persons, men of wisdom fit to make long-term policies for the sustainable good of a nation. Society has to discover a ‘good’ system to identify such persons and request them to be our guides, acharyas, mentors. And, we know from actual experience that the modern ideas of democracy or teacher-education is not at all the appropriate system to choose and create ‘good’ leaders who have the character to work for good of society.

So, Academia and Governance, supported by spiritually enlightened leaders of faith-groups, and sincere NGO’s working in the field of value education, etc. must take this responsibility for character-building and identifying ‘good’ persons to be our leaders, professionals, teachers, etc. and putting them in policy and decision-making positions.

The problems that Democracy creates: Since, quantity and not quality matters in democracy, we’re too obsessed with talking, thinking and planning schemes for servicing the poor, the illiterate, the villagers, the workers, just because they are the largest majority and our vote banks! The reality is that the more our political leaders and bureaucracy talk and plan for upliftment of the poor, the more the poor remain poor and miserable – “Garibi hatao”( remove poerty) has been the slogan for half a century, but garibi remains. Education and literacy for all is our slogan, we push everyone into learning the 3R’s; but not only does illiteracy remain, but we also produce unlimited numbers of unemployable graduates who have no ability or skill to stand on their own feet. So, they remain clerical job-seekers. Education, training, governance, have no focus on making us ‘good’ citizens or making us job-creators, not mere job-seekers’.

Modern systems are not creating the Shrestha: We forget that only a ‘good’ person and a leader will have spontaneous feelings of love, care, concern for all equally and the spirit of working for good of others. But our 3 R’s education and governance have had no plans and have failed miserably to create the ‘good’. In their absence, we have self-centered leaders who feel great by giving freebies and subsidies, instead of educating and equipping the vast masses, to be able to stand on their feet.

Schooling focuses on ‘information’ not on absorbing & assimilating ‘knowledge’: Education today doesn’t focus on ‘character-building’ and ‘nation-building’ assimilation of ideas, values, ideals. Moreover, the same ‘content’, which has no direct contribution towards becoming ‘good’, is taught and communicated as information to everyone, irrespective of the fact that people are unequal and therefore need different ‘content’ for their different vocations. The result is we get self-centered politicians and citizens, focused on personal growth, by hook or crook!

People aren’t Equal: We believe in a democracy that believes that people are equal and so, everyone is free to do and be whatever he wishes to be, irrespective of their inherent character, tendencies, competence. Not all of us are equal in character and competence, and the proportion of our selfishness and unselfishness differs widely. I may be an unskilled laborer but could be a very good and unselfish leader; I may be very good in learning but I could be very selfish, and so on. Ultimately, a Shrestha, the elite and role model for society, is he who is striving to move from selfishness to unselfishness, in and through’ his daily vocation and life. Of course, not all are equipped to be fair and just and only those who have the spirit of unselfishness more than selfishness should be nurtured as Srestha, leaders of society, in their respective vocation.

Whatever be our competencies and skills, teaching or farming, leader or worker, the common focus of schooling must be to educate and train us all to be enlightened citizens, the Shrestha, in our respective vocation, having the spirit of work as worship and spirit of love, care, and concern for all.

Since people are not equal, a common general education, bereft of character-building, cannot create the Shrestha. Schooling must recognize differences in students and allow them to learn and grow in their respective areas of interest, and nurture and educate them differently, to find an appropriate vocation or meaningful occupation, e.g.

  • A very few are good in learning so they should be trained to be in research, innovation, design, long-term planning, problem-solving, academia, teaching, etc.
  • Some have good leadership qualities and can be good at administering and managing.
  • Some are good in sports, computers, music, drama, communication, and various new opportunities now opening-up
  • Some are good as Result-producers – entrepreneurs, businesses, traders, farmers.
  • The vast majority are good as skilled and unskilled workforce, etc.

 Knowing this reality, we have to think of education, training, etc. in a way where education helps us to grow into a vocation in harmony with our respective inherent characteristics. Education merely for ‘information’, which Google can now provide if at all it is of any relevance, merely to get a certificate, degrees, etc. is no longer needed. Schooling must now recognize the different needs of people and focus on knowledge that can be assimilated and applied for nation-building and creating enlightened citizens and leaders, the Shrestha.

Conclusion: We seem to have forgotten a basic principle, ‘whatever the leaders do, that people follow’! No organization or nation can be ethical, efficient and effective, until and unless the top leader and leadership are Shrestha. Schooling must identify and nurture those who are fit to be the Shrestha, i.e. those who strive for becoming more and more unselfish, who strive for continuous improvement in character, in quality at work, and have intellectual honesty, openness, self-control, and have the willingness to work for good of society.

Those were the days: Airmail letters, fountain pens, & clackety-clack typewriters

Nostalgia sloshing like the milk of human kindness. Miss the pleasure of buying a film and manually loading it onto a camera till ‘1’ came up in black and red and sometimes missing it and ending up with ‘2’ then unloading it in a darkened room and sending it for developing. Ten days later that yellow and brown envelope arriving to much excitement and of the 32 shots six were blank, five were blurred, one had a thumb obliterating half the photograph but the others were worthy of rescue and each was unique and you put those black flower shaped adhesive corners on them and stuck them in albums with tracing paper after each page and each had a story to tell. Rare moments captured. Now you take 37 shots in 3.7 seconds, soulless and perfect and identical and on your phone.

Past perfect: Many things which we earlier took for granted we now invest with glamour

I recently came across a word I’d never heard of before: glamping. It turned out that glamping stood for ‘glamorous camping’.

When I was a kid, camping – spending a night or two in a tent in the countryside – was a rough and ready sort of business, meant to toughen you up.  Not so any more, thanks to glamping, which involves living in a 5 star tent with air-conditioning, attached loos, TVs, and all the mod cons. Unlike camping, which was inexpensive, glamping costs an arm and two legs.

Or take the clothes we wear.  In the past khadi and cotton were the poor cousins of man-made fibers like nylon.  Today, such man-made cloth is scorned as down market, while khadi and cotton – particularly organically grown and very expensive cotton – represent fashionable ethnic chic.

It’s much the same with the foods we eat.  Previously, exotic edibles – fruit, or vegetables, or whatever – which came from far-off lands and distant climes were greatly sought after.

Now, because of increasing environment consciousness, it’s local and seasonal produce – preferably grown without the aid of pesticides and chemical fertilisers – which commands a premium.  We take pride in the fact that the ingredients of the food we eat leave behind the most minimal of carbon footprints.

Earlier, people – even urban, relatively affluent people – took in a lot of physical exercise in their day to day lives, by walking or doing manual housework, all of which kept them reasonably fit.

Today – what with an increasing reliance on motorised transport which minimises walking, and with labour-saving devices which take the effort out of domestic chores – we live more sedentary lives and run the risk of becoming physically unfit.

So we join a state of the art gym and seek the expensive services of a personal trainer to tone up our bodies and help make us stress-free.

Glamping is only the tip of the iceberg of a past, which we are now beginning to realise might have been more perfect than our present, tense.

Like the airmail letter with that blue grey distinctive colour and the yellow postcard that the postman read first, the gaily coloured birthday telegram and the scary fear scorching pink one that meant bad news with the taped message stuck inside. And writing in every conceivable corner of the airmail all the way to PPPPS and maybe PPPPPS and turning the badly ripped letter east and west to get in every written word.

The fun of opening the door and mail scattered on the floor, Reader’s Digest delivered, bills with windows on the cover, little rakhis inside thicker envelopes, crossed cheques in registered mails, postal orders, the fleeting sadness of receiving no letters and then a bonanza. Letters from girlfriends and first loves, cute and coy and handwritten with a little doodle only you understood, what price cold and clinical emails and infatuation by emojee.

The fun of filling a fountain pen with ink from a well on your desk and staining your fingers and blobbing your test paper and the pen leaking copiously on the top pocket of your shirt looking like the map of Sri Lanka. The carbon paper smudge as you made copies and the sharp tang of the ribbon on the clackety clack typewriter so the whole household knew you were working and the triple space and the xxxxxxxxx to remove errors till the whiteout came and you invariably spilled it on your clothes. And the miracle of red and black double ribbon as if we had won the world. Wet Blanco on PT shoes (that is what we called them) holdalls to spread on the train bunk, transistor radios covered in leather, peanuts in paper cones for 10 paise at the Rs 3 dress circle movies, rosewood spinning tops and opaque marbles, stamp collections with triangles from San Marino, where did it all go.

Artificial Intelligence Redefining the Role of Manager

Artificial intelligence (AI) will impact every job, in every industry and every country. There are significant fears that AI will eliminate jobs altogether. Many reports have exposed the harsh realities of workforce automation, especially for certain types of jobs and demographics. For instance, the Brookings Institution found that automation threatens 25% of all US jobs, with an emphasis on low-wage earners in positions where tasks are routine-based. A separate study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that women comprise 58% of jobs at highest risk of automation.

Yet despite these realities, we are beginning to accept our new AI world and adopt these technologies as we see the potential new opportunities. Other studies emphasize how AI will create more jobs or just remove tasks within jobs. A new global study by Oracle and Future Workplace of 8,370 employees, managers and HR leaders across 10 countries, found that almost two-thirds of workers are optimistic, excited and grateful about AI and robot co-workers. Nearly one-quarter went as far as saying they have a loving and gratifying relationship with AI at work, showing an appreciation for how it simplifies and streamlines their lives.

Surprisingly, last year, we discovered that the majority of workers would trust orders from a robot. This year, almost two-thirds of workers said they would trust orders from a robot over their manager, and half have already turned to a robot instead of their manager for advice. At American Express, decisions like figuring out what product offer is most relevant to different customer segments are now handled by AI, eliminating the need for managers and employees to discuss these tasks.

Now that AI is removing many of the administrative tasks typically handled by managers, their roles are evolving to focus more on soft over hard skills. The survey found that workers believe robots are better than their managers at providing unbiased information, maintaining work schedules, problem-solving and budget management, while managers are better at empathy, coaching and creating a work culture.

Anthony Mavromatis, vice-president of customer data science and platforms at American Express, points out another way that AI is changing the manager’s role: “AI is increasingly freeing up their time and allowing them to focus on the essence of their job. Going forward, what really matters is the very human skill of being able to be creative and innovate – something that AI isn’t good at yet.” By cutting them loose from tasks traditionally expected of them, AI allows managers to focus on forging stronger relationships with their teammates and having a greater impact in their roles.

Companies such as Hilton that were early in using AI to simplify their recruiting process are now expanding their use to other applications, like digital assistants, for certain processes including feedback and performance reviews. They envision that digital assistants will allow employees to say something like, “I want to take next Friday off, please schedule”, and the necessary HR steps are taken. The digital assistant will be able to be used from a mobile device or a desktop; whenever is most convenient. “When you think about the number of hotel employees who work throughout our hotels serving guests with limited or no time on a computer, and the time constraints we all face, this mobile capability will be a game-changer,” says Kellie Romack, Hilton’s vice-president of digital HR and strategic planning. The company is primed to use AI to help it focus on the needs of both employees and guests.

AI won’t be replacing a manager’s job; it will be supplementing it. The future of work is one where robots and humans will be working side by side, helping each other get work done faster and more efficient than ever before. As Mavromatis puts it: “AI plus human equals the future. It’s not one or the other.

Birth Pangs of World’s Newest Country Blooming Out of Repressive Mining

Today is the day when approximately 30 years after a decade-long brutal civil war in Bougainville, a tiny island in the Pacific, is going to the polls to vote on its independence from Papua New Guinea. The conflict in Bougainville and the desire of Bougainvillean people for independence is rooted in the historic plunder of the resource-rich island that has large deposits of copper and the unequal distribution of wealth that followed. If Bougainville’s people vote for its independence in the historic referendum, the world will get its newest and possibly smallest nation.

This historic referendum is a result of one of the three provisions of the Bougainville Peace Agreement, signed in 2001 and enacted through an amendment of the Papua New Guinea Constitution, the other two provisions being weapons disposal and autonomy, says Wolfers. The peace agreement of 2001 brought an end to the violent conflict between the people of Bougainville and the government of Papua New Guinea.

Bougainvillean Referendum for total or Partial Independance

Between 1988-1998, political factions in Bougainville were involved in an armed conflict with the government of Papua New Guinea, in an attempt to force Papua New Guinea to divest control of the resource-rich island. According to Edward P. Wolfers, Foundation Professor Emeritus of Politics, University of Wollongong, Australia, who has conducted long-term research on Bougainville politics and history, the civil war was the “most destructive and deadly conflict in the Pacific since World War II.”

Voters in Bougainville get to choose between ‘greater autonomy’—a greater degree of autonomy than current arrangements within the framework of the Papua New Guinea Constitution—or independence for Bougainville from Papua New Guinea control, explains Wolfers. However, the referendum is not binding and would still have to be passed by the Government and the Parliament of Papua New Guinea, in consultation with the Autonomous Bougainville Government, before a final decision is made.

Historical Background of Bougainville as an autonomous region of Papua New Guinea

To understand Bougainville’s links with Papua New Guinea, some historical context is required. Although the island’s indigenous population had inhabited it for centuries, it got its name after French colonizer Louis-Antoine de Bougainville, a scientist who undertook sea voyages, particularly to the Pacific in 1776, to colonise new territory for France. Interestingly, despite having the island named after him, Bougainville never actually set foot upon it. According to some resources that deal with Bougainville’s history, the nomenclature for the tropical flower Bougainvillea can also be attributed to Louis-Antoine de Bougainville.

In 1885, during Germany’s period of colonisation, the island of Bougainville came under the German protectorate of German New Guinea. The outbreak of WWI changed the power structure in the Pacific and in 1914, Bougainville and other islands nearby, including what is now Papua New Guinea, fell under the control of Australian forces. The League of Nations controlled the island till 1942 when during WWII, American, Australian, New Zealand and Japanese military forces battled for its control. The battle resulted in the Japanese withdrawing from the island and Australia taking over its administration.

This arrangement lasted till 1975, ending with Papua New Guinea gaining independence. “There have been previous attempts to declare Bougainville independent—when Papua New Guinea became an independent country in 1975, and again in 1990,” says Wolfers.

In the late 1970s, a decentralised system of provincial government was introduced in Bougainville and the current autonomy arrangements were implemented following the constitutional enactment of the Bougainville Peace Agreement in 2001.

Bougainville wants complete independence

There has subsequently been dissatisfaction among Bougainvilleans over implementation of the agreed arrangements for Bougainville autonomy, particularly in regard to the constitutionally guaranteed financial grants to which the Autonomy Bougainville Government (ABG) is legally entitled, but which the (Papua New Guinea) National Government has not provided in accordance with the ABG’s calculations.

The conflict in Bougainville and the desire of Bougainvillean people for independence is rooted in the historic plunder of the resource-rich island that has large deposits of copper and the unequal distribution of wealth that followed. After the discovery of copper during the 1960s deep in the Crown Prince Ranges in the center of the island, mining conglomerate Rio Tinto’s Australia subsidiary, Conzinc Rio Tinto, set up the Panguna mine, also known as the Bougainville Copper Mine, that holds some of the world’s largest reserves of copper and is the world’s largest open cut copper mine. Extraction of the resource in the Panguna mine began in 1972 under the management of the Bougainville Copper Limited, controlled by Conzinc Rio Tinto that lasted till 1989. The Bougainville Copper Limited was partly owned by Conzinc Rio Tinto that controlled 56 per cent of stake while the Papua New Guinea government owned 20 per cent, till Conzinc Rio Tinto divested its control in 1989.

According to various data sources, the export of copper extracted from the Panguna mine contributed significantly to Papua New Guinea’s economy, with some figures estimating its contribution upto 45 per cent of the country’s export revenue.

Researchers say the protests that later inflated into a civil war were started by a local leader named Francis Ona who had witnessed foreign interests engage in wide-scale plunder of indigenous lands. Ona went on to become the leader of the Bougainville Revolutionary Army, a secessionist group that waged war against the Papuan New Guinea Defence Forces during the civil war. The mine created job opportunities for people from Papua New Guinea and Australia seeking their own fortunes, leading to conflicts with Bougainvillean locals who also reported discrimination and racism at the hands of foreigner mine workers. Mining activities over the years also caused environmental degradation of Bougainville’s lands and water.

The bloody civil war that followed, resulted in the deaths of thousands of people along with displacement, disease and starvation. In the aftermath of the civil war, the Panguna mine was closed in May 1989, with the total withdrawal of Bougainville Copper Limited employees by the following year.

The long-drawn civil war in Bougainville was brought to a halt only due to the Bougainville Peace Agreement. “In short, the referendum was not prompted by (dis)satisfaction with current autonomy arrangements, though the choices on offer in the referendum and the way that Bougainvilleans vote have obviously been influenced by experience of current autonomy arrangements,” Wolfers explains.

Likely Outcome of the Referendum

Papua Guinea has much to lose if Bougainville gains independence, especially in terms of access to Bougainville’s natural resources. However, a lesser known consequences of Bougainville gaining independence would be the impact it may have on Papua New Guinea’s territories. “Another sensitive issue is the implications that the eventual outcome of the referendum process might have for other provinces in Papua New Guinea—particularly, but not only, in the Islands Region—where support for greater autonomy, in particular, and possible a separate independence is quite strong,” explains Wolfers.

According to Wolfers, there is a consensus among observers of Bougainville and Papua New Guinea that full independence will receive very strong majority support. “Though in this regard it is important to note that the previous conflict included armed conflict between Bougainvilleans who preferred to remain with Papua New Guinea and supporters of secession,” adds Wolfers.

Papua New Guinea’s stance on the independence referendum

The current National Government is committed to holding the referendum. Prime Minister James Marape has said publicly that he believes that Papua New Guinea will be stronger if Bougainville remains part of Papua New Guinea. Marape’s comments is less about Bougainville’s contribution to the national economy and is more about Bougainvilleans who have formed part of Papua New Guinea’s educated elite, administration, and have contributed to other aspects of public life.

While the current (Papua New Guinea) government can be expected to respect the process and the result of the vote, it seems unlikely that a separate independence will receive overwhelming public support elsewhere in Papua New Guinea and that the National Parliament will simply agree. What will possibly follow are multi-level discussions about ongoing areas of co-operation. Such as are common in relations between former colonial powers and neighbouring countries on the one hand and

The precise scope of the option of greater autonomy has still to be defined. Clear arrangements would need to be negotiated to provide adequate funds, administrative support and policy-making capacity for the Bougainville Government. So further negotiations and arrangements for ongoing cooperation would need to be defined, agreed, and put in place.

Stake of Australia, China, the United States

Due to shifting powers, diplomacy and developing military and economic interests in the Asia-Pacific, the Bougainville referendum is going to have consequences not just for immediate neighbours. The stability of the region of which Bougainville is part is clearly important to Australia – and by virtue of the relationship with other ANZUS members (Australia, New Zealand), with the USA. There are certainly prominent Bougainvilleans who see a great deal of unrealised potential in developing relations with China.

The voting in the Bougainville referendum that begins on November 23 will proceed over the next two weeks, due to the challenging nature of the terrain. The result of the referendum, likely to become known later in December, will either give the world its newest nation or will present a new challenge for Bougainvillea’s leaders who will have to ensure that their homeland doesn’t fall prey to conflict once more. It isn’t immediately clear whether the results of the referendum will lead to the reopening of the Panguna copper mine that started it all. It would be however, in the best interests of Bougainvilleans, if this time around, they get to have a say in their own future.

Saturday Special: Whither Religion

When someone tries to start a new religion, it is often dismissed as a cult. When we recognise a faith, we treat its teachings and traditions as timeless and sacrosanct. And when a religion dies, it becomes a myth, and its claim to sacred truth expires. Tales of the Egyptian, Greek and Norse pantheons are now considered legends, not holy writ.

Even today’s dominant religions have continually evolved throughout history. Early Christianity, for example, was a truly broad church: ancient documents include yarns about Jesus’ family life and testaments to the nobility of Judas. It took three centuries for the Christian church to consolidate around a canon of scriptures – and then in 1054 it split into the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic churches. Since then, Christianity has continued both to grow and to splinter into ever more disparate groups, from silent Quakers to snake-handling Pentecostalists.

If you believe your faith has arrived at ultimate truth, you might reject the idea that it will change at all. But if history is any guide, no matter how deeply held our beliefs may be today, they are likely in time to be transformed or transferred as they pass to our descendants – or simply to fade away.

Throughout history, people’s faith and their attachments to religious institutions have transformed. So what’s next? We take it for granted that religions are born, grow then die but rarely – but we are also oddly blind to that reality.

Before Mohammed, before Jesus, before Buddha, there was Zoroaster. Some 3,500 years ago, in Bronze Age Iran, he had a vision of the one supreme God. A thousand years later, Zoroastrianism, the world’s first great monotheistic religion, was the official faith of the mighty Persian Empire, its fire temples attended by millions of adherents. A thousand years after that, the empire collapsed, and the followers of Zoroaster were persecuted and converted to the new faith of their conquerors, Islam.

Another 1,500 years later – today – Zoroastrianism is a dying faith, its sacred flames tended by ever fewer worshippers.

If religions have changed so dramatically in the past, how might they change in the future? Is there any substance to the claim that belief in gods and deities will die out altogether? And as our civilisation and its technologies become increasingly complex, could entirely new forms of worship emerge?

To answer these questions, a good starting point is to ask: why do we have religion in the first place?

Reason to believe

One notorious answer comes from Voltaire, the 18th Century French polymath, who wrote: “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.”Because Voltaire was a trenchant critic of organised religion, this quip is often quoted cynically. But in fact, he was being perfectly sincere. He was arguing that belief in God is necessary for society to function, even if he didn’t approve of the monopoly the church held over that belief.

Many modern students of religion agree. The broad idea that a shared faith serves the needs of a society is known as the functionalist view of religion. There are many functionalist hypotheses, from the idea that religion is the “opium of the masses”, used by the powerful to control the poor, to the proposal that faith supports the abstract intellectualism required for science and law. One recurring theme is social cohesion: religion brings together a community, who might then form a hunting party, raise a temple or support a political party.

One recurring theme is social cohesion: religion brings together a community

Those faiths that endure are “the long-term products of extraordinarily complex cultural pressures, selection processes, and evolution”, writes Connor Wood of the Center for Mind and Culture in Boston, Massachusetts on the religious reference website Patheos, where he blogs about the scientific study of religion. New religious movements are born all the time, but most don’t survive long. They must compete with other faiths for followers and survive potentially hostile social and political environments.

Under this argument, any religion that does endure has to offer its adherents tangible benefits. Christianity, for example, was just one of many religious movements that came and mostly went during the course of the Roman Empire. According to Wood, it was set apart by its ethos of caring for the sick – meaning more Christians survived outbreaks of disease than pagan Romans. Islam, too, initially attracted followers by emphasising honour, humility and charity – qualities which were not endemic in turbulent 7th-Century Arabia.

Given this, we might expect the form that religion takes to follow the function it plays in a particular society – or as Voltaire might have put it, that different societies will invent the particular gods they need. Conversely, we might expect similar societies to have similar religions, even if they have developed in isolation. And there is some evidence for that – although when it comes to religion, there are always exceptions to any rule.

Hunter-gatherers, for example, tend to believe that all objects – whether animal, vegetable or mineral – have supernatural aspects (animism) and that the world is imbued with supernatural forces (animatism). These must be understood and respected; human morality generally doesn’t figure significantly. This worldview makes sense for groups too small to need abstract codes of conduct, but who must know their environment intimately. (An exception: Shinto, an ancient animist religion, is still widely practised in hyper-modern Japan.)

At the other end of the spectrum, the teeming societies of the West are at least nominally faithful to religions in which a single watchful, all-powerful god lays down, and sometimes enforces, moral instructions: Yahweh, Christ and Allah. The psychologist Ara Norenzayan argues it was belief in these “Big Gods” that allowed the formation of societies made up of large numbers of strangers. Whether that belief constitutes cause or effect has recently been disputed, but the upshot is that sharing a faith allows people to co-exist (relatively) peacefully. The knowledge that Big God is watching makes sure we behave ourselves.

Or at least, it did. Today, many of our societies are huge and multicultural: adherents of many faiths co-exist with each other – and with a growing number of people who say they have no religion at all. We obey laws made and enforced by governments, not by God. Secularism is on the rise, with science providing tools to understand and shape the world.

Given all that, there’s a growing consensus that the future of religion is that it has no future.

Imagine there’s no heaven

Powerful intellectual and political currents have driven this proposition since the early 20th Century. Sociologists argued that the march of science was leading to the disenchantment” of society: supernatural answers to the big questions were no longer felt to be needed. Communist states like Soviet Russia and China adopted atheism as state policy and frowned on even private religious expression. In 1968, the eminent sociologist Peter Berger told the New York Times that by “the 21st Century, religious believers are likely to be found only in small sects, huddled together to resist a worldwide secular culture”.

Now that we’re actually in the 21st Century, Berger’s view remains an article of faith for many secularists – although Berger himself recanted in the 1990s. His successors are emboldened by surveys showing that in many countries, increasing numbers of people are saying they have no religion. That’s most true in rich, stable countries like Sweden and Japan, but also, perhaps more surprisingly, in places like Latin America and the Arab world. Even in the US, long a conspicuous exception to the axiom that richer countries are more secular, the number of “nones” has been rising sharply. In the 2018 General Social Survey of US attitudes, “no religion” became the single largest group, edging out evangelical Christians.

Despite this, religion is not disappearing on a global scale – at least in terms of numbers. In 2015, the Pew Research Center modelled the future of the world’s great religions based on demographics, migration and conversion. Far from a precipitous decline in religiosity, it predicted a modest increase in believers, from 84% of the world’s population today to 87% in 2050. Muslims would grow in number to match Christians, while the number unaffiliated with any religion would decline slightly.

The pattern Pew predicted was of “the secularising West and the rapidlygrowing rest”. Religion will continue to grow in economically and socially insecure places like much of sub-Saharan Africa – and to decline where they are stable. That chimes with what we know about the deep-seated psychological and neurological drivers of belief. When life is tough or disaster strikes, religion seems to provide a bulwark of psychological (and sometimes practical) support. In a landmark study, people directly affected by the 2011 earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand became significantly more religious than other New Zealanders, who became marginally less religious.

People affected by the 2011 earthquake in New Zealand became significantly more religious than other New Zealanders

We also need to be careful when interpreting what people mean by “no religion”. “Nones” may be disinterested in organised religion, but that doesn’t mean they are militantly atheist. In 1994, the sociologist Grace Davie classified peopleaccording to whether they belonged to a religious group and/or believed in a religious position. The traditionally religious both belonged and believed; hardcore atheists did neither. Then there are those who belong but don’t believe – parents attending church to get a place for their child at a faith school, perhaps. And, finally, there are those who believe in something, but don’t belong to any group.

The research suggests that the last two groups are significant. The Understanding Unbelief project at the University of Kent in the UK is conducting a three-year, six-nation survey of attitudes among those who say they don’t believe God exists (“atheists”) and those who don’t think it’s possible to know if God exists (“agnostics”). In interim results released in May 2019, the researchers found that few unbelievers actually identify themselves by these labels, with significant minorities opting for a religious identity.

What’s more, around three-quarters of atheists and nine out of 10 agnostics are open to the existence of supernatural phenomena, including everything from astrology to supernatural beings and life after death. Unbelievers “exhibit significant diversity both within, and between, different countries.

Accordingly, there are very many ways of being an unbeliever”, the report concluded – including, notably, the dating-website cliche “spiritual, but not religious”. Like many cliches, it’s rooted in truth. But what does it actually mean?

The old gods return

In 2005, Linda Woodhead wrote The Spiritual Revolution, in which she described an intensive study of belief in the British town of Kendal. Woodhead and her co-author found that people were rapidly turning away from organised religion, with its emphasis on fitting into an established order of things, towards practices designed to accentuate and foster individuals’ own sense of who they are. If the town’s Christian churches did not embrace this shift, they concluded, congregations would dwindle into irrelevance while self-guided practices would become the mainstream in a “spiritual revolution”.

Today, Woodhead says that revolution has taken place – and not just in Kendal. Organised religion is waning in the UK, with no real end in sight. “Religions do well, and always have done, when they are subjectively convincing – when you have the sense that God is working for you,” says Woodhead, now professor of sociology of religion at the University of Lancaster in the UK.

In poorer societies, you might pray for good fortune or a stable job. The “prosperity gospel” is central to several of America’s megachurches, whose congregations are often dominated by economically insecure congregations. But if your basic needs are well catered for, you are more likely to be seeking fulfilment and meaning. Traditional religion is failing to deliver on this, particularly where doctrine clashes with moral convictions that arise from secular society – on gender equality, say.

In response, people have started constructing faiths of their own.

What do these self-directed religions look like? One approach is syncretism, the “pick and mix” approach of combining traditions and practices that often results from the mixing of cultures. Many religions have syncretistic elements, although over time they are assimilated and become unremarkable. Festivals like Christmas and Easter, for example, have archaic pagan elements, while daily practice for many people in China involves a mixture of Mahayana Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. The joins are easier to see in relatively young religions, such as Vodoun or Rastafarianism.

Syncretism is the “pick and mix” approach of combining religious traditions and practices

An alternative is to streamline. New religious movements often seek to preserve the central tenets of an older religion while stripping it of trappings that may have become stifling or old-fashioned. In the West, one form this takes is for humanists to rework religious motifs: there have been attempts to rewrite the Bible without any supernatural elements, calls for the construction of “atheist temples” dedicated to contemplation. And the “Sunday Assembly” aims to recreate the atmosphere of a lively church service without reference to God. But without the deep roots of traditional religions, these can struggle: the Sunday Assembly, after initial rapid expansion, is now reportedly struggling to keep up its momentum.

But Woodhead thinks the religions that might emerge from the current turmoil will have much deeper roots. The first generation of spiritual revolutionaries, coming of age in the 1960s and 1970s, were optimistic and universalist in outlook, happy to take inspiration from faiths around the world. Their grandchildren, however, are growing up in a world of geopolitical stresses and socioeconomic angst; they are more likely to hark back to supposedly simpler times. “There is a pull away from global universality to local identities,” says Woodhead. “It’s really important that they’re your gods, they weren’t just made up.”

In the European context, this sets the stage for a resurgence of interest in paganism. Reinventing half-forgotten “native” traditions allows the expression of modern concerns while retaining the patina of age. Paganism also often features divinities that are more like diffuse forces than anthropomorphic gods; that allows people to focus on issues they feel sympathetic towards without having to make a leap of faith to supernatural deities.

In Iceland, for example, the small but fast-growing Ásatrú faith has no particular doctrine beyond somewhat arch celebrations of Old Norse customs and mythology, but has been active on social and ecological issues. Similar movements exist across Europe, such as Druidry in the UK. Not all are liberally inclined. Some are motivated by a desire to return to what they see as conservative “traditional” values – leading in some cases to clashes over the validity of opposing beliefs.

These are niche activities at the moment, and might sometimes be more about playing with symbolism than heartfelt spiritual practice. But over time, they canevolve into more heartfelt and coherent belief systems: Woodhead points to the robust adoption of Rodnovery– an often conservative and patriarchal pagan faith based around the reconstructed beliefs and traditions of the ancient Slavs – in the former Soviet Union as a potential exemplar of things to come.

So the nones mostly represent not atheists, nor even secularists, but a mixture of “apatheists” – people who simply don’t care about religion – and practitioners of what you might call “disorganised religion”. While the world religions are likely to persist and evolve for the foreseeable future, we might for the rest of this century see an efflorescence of relatively small religions jostling to break out among these groups. But if Big Gods and shared faiths are key to social cohesion, what happens without them?

One nation under Mammon

One answer, of course, is that we simply get on with our lives. Munificent economies, good government, solid education and effective rule of law can ensure that we rub along happily without any kind of religious framework. And indeed, some of the societies with the highest proportions of non-believers are among the most secure and harmonious on Earth.

The ‘invisible hand’ of the market almost seems like a supernatural entity – Connor Wood

What remains debatable, however, is whether they can afford to be irreligious because they have strong secular institutions – or whether being secular has helped them achieve social stability. Religionists say even secular institutions have religious roots: civil legal systems, for example, codify ideas about justice based on social norms established by religions. The likes of the New Atheists, on the other hand, argue that religion amounts to little more than superstition, and abandoning it will enable societies to improve their lot more effectively.

Deep Civilization

Modern society is suffering from “temporal exhaustion”, the sociologist Elise Boulding once said. “If one is mentally out of breath all the time from dealing with the present, there is no energy left for imagining the future,” she wrote.

That’s why the Deep Civilisation season is exploring what really matters in the broader arc of human history and what it means for us and our descendants.

Connor Wood is not so sure. He contends that a strong, stable society like Sweden’s is both extremely complex and very expensive to run in terms of labour, money and energy – and that might not be sustainable even in the short term. “I think it’s pretty clear that we’re entering into a period of non-linear change in social systems,” he says. “The Western consensus on a combination of market capitalism and democracy can’t be taken for granted.”

That’s a problem, since that combination has radically transformed the social environment from the one in which the world religions evolved – and has to some extent supplanted them.

“I’d be careful about calling capitalism a religion, but a lot of its institutions have religious elements, as in all spheres of human institutional life,” says Wood. “The ‘invisible hand’ of the market almost seems like a supernatural entity.”

Financial exchanges, where people meet to conduct highly ritualised trading activity, seem quite like temples to Mammon, too. In fact, religions, even the defunct ones, can provide uncannily appropriate metaphors for many of the more intractable features of modern life.

The pseudo-religious social order might work well when times are good. But when the social contract becomes stressed – through identity politics, culture wars or economic instability – Wood suggests the consequence is what we see today: the rise of authoritarians in country after country. He cites research showing that people ignore authoritarian pitches until they sense a deterioration of social norms.

“This is the human animal looking around and saying we don’t agree how we should behave,” Wood says. “And we need authority to tell us.” It’s suggestive that political strongmen are often hand in glove with religious fundamentalists: Hindu nationalists in India, say, or Christian evangelicals in the US. That’s a potent combination for believers and an unsettling one for secularists: can anything bridge the gap between them?

Mind the gap

Perhaps one of the major religions might change its form enough to win back non-believers in significant numbers. There is precedent for this: in the 1700s, Christianity was ailing in the US, having become dull and formal even as the Age of Reason saw secular rationalism in the ascendant. A new guard of travelling fire-and-brimstone preachers successfully reinvigorated the faith, setting the tone for centuries to come – an event called the “Great Awakenings”.

The parallels with today are easy to draw, but Woodhead is sceptical that Christianity or other world religions can make up the ground they have lost, in the long term. Once the founders of libraries and universities, they are no longer the key sponsors of intellectual thought. Social change undermines religions which don’t accommodate it: earlier this year, Pope Francis warned that if the Catholic Church didn’t acknowledge its history of male domination and sexual abuse it risked becoming “a museum”. And their tendency to claim we sit at the pinnacle of creation is undermined by a growing sense that humans are not so very significant in the grand scheme of things.

Historically, what makes religions rise or fall is political support – Linda Woodhead

Perhaps a new religion will emerge to fill the void? Again, Woodhead is sceptical. “Historically, what makes religions rise or fall is political support,” she says, “and all religions are transient unless they get imperial support.” Zoroastrianism benefited from its adoption by the successive Persian dynasties; the turning point for Christianity came when it was adopted by the Roman Empire. In the secular West, such support is unlikely to be forthcoming, with the possible exception of the US. In Russia, by contrast, the nationalistic overtones of both Rodnovery and the Orthodox church wins them tacit political backing.

But today, there’s another possible source of support: the internet.

Online movements gain followers at rates unimaginable in the past. The Silicon Valley mantra of “move fast and break things” has become a self-evident truth for many technologists and plutocrats. #MeToo started out as a hashtag expressing anger and solidarity but now stands for real changes to long-standing social norms. And Extinction Rebellion has striven, with considerable success, to trigger a radical shift in attitudes to the crises in climate change and biodiversity.

None of these are religions, of course, but they do share parallels with nascent belief systems – particularly that key functionalist objective of fostering a sense of community and shared purpose. Some have confessional and sacrificial elements, too. So, given time and motivation, could something more explicitly religious grow out of an online community? What new forms of religion might these online “congregations” come up with?

We already have some idea.

Deus ex machina

A few years ago, members of the self-declared “Rationalist” community website LessWrong began discussing a thought experiment about an omnipotent, super-intelligent machine – with many of the qualities of a deity and something of the Old Testament God’s vengeful nature.

It was called Roko’s Basilisk. The full proposition is a complicated logic puzzle, but crudely put, it goes that when a benevolent super-intelligence emerges, it will want to do as much good as possible – and the earlier it comes into existence, the more good it will be able to do. So to encourage everyone to do everything possible to help to bring into existence, it will perpetually and retroactively torture those who don’t – including anyone who so much as learns of its potential existence. (If this is the first you’ve heard of it: sorry!)

Outlandish though it might seem, Roko’s Basilisk caused quite a stir when it was first suggested on LessWrong – enough for discussion of it to be banned by the site’s creator. Predictably, that only made the idea explode across the internet – or at least the geekier parts of it – with references to the Basilisk popping up everywhere from news sites to Doctor Who, despite protestations from some Rationalists that no-one really took it seriously. Their case was not helped by the fact that many Rationalists are strongly committed to other startling ideas about artificial intelligence, ranging from AIs that destroy the world by accident to human-machine hybrids that would transcend all mortal limitations.

Such esoteric beliefs have arisen throughout history, but the ease with which we can now build a community around them is new. “We’ve always had new forms of religiosity, but we haven’t always had enabling spaces for them,” says Beth Singler, who studies the social, philosophical and religious implications of AI at the University of Cambridge. “Going out into a medieval town square and shouting out your unorthodox beliefs was going to get you labelled a heretic, not win converts to your cause.”

The mechanism may be new, but the message isn’t. The Basilisk argument is in much the same spirit as Pascal’s Wager. The 17th-Century French mathematician suggested non-believers should nonetheless go through the motions of religious observance, just in case a vengeful God does turn out to exist. The idea of punishment as an imperative to cooperate is reminiscent of Norenzayan’s “Big Gods”. And arguments over ways to evade the Basilisk’s gaze are every bit as convoluted as the medieval Scholastics’ attempts to square human freedom with divine oversight.

A supercomputer is turned on and asked: is there a God? Now there is, comes the reply

Even the technological trappings aren’t new. In 1954, Fredric Brown wrote a (very) short story called “Answer”, in which a galaxy-spanning supercomputer is turned on and asked: is there a God? Nowthere is, comes the reply.

And some people, like AI entrepreneur Anthony Levandowski, think their holy objective is to build a super-machine that will one day answer just as Brown’s fictional machine did. Levandowski, who made a fortune through self-driving cars, hit the headlines in 2017 when it became public knowledge that he had founded a church, Way of the Future, dedicated to bringing about a peaceful transition to a world mostly run by super-intelligent machines. While his vision sounds more benevolent than Roko’s Basilisk, the church’s creed still includes the ominous lines: “We believe it may be important for machines to see who is friendly to their cause and who is not. We plan on doing so by keeping track of who has done what (and for how long) to help the peaceful and respectful transition.”

“There are many ways people think of God, and thousands of flavours of Christianity, Judaism, Islam,” Levandowski told Wired. “But they’re always looking at something that’s not measurable or you can’t really see or control. This time it’s different. This time you will be able to talk to God, literally, and know that it’s listening.”

Reality bites

Levandowski is not alone. In his bestselling book Homo Deus, Yuval Noah Harari argues that the foundations of modern civilisation are eroding in the face of an emergent religion he calls “dataism”, which holds that by giving ourselves over to information flows, we can transcend our earthly concerns and ties. Other fledgling transhumanist religious movements focus on immortality – a new spin on the promise of eternal life. Still others ally themselves with older faiths, notably Mormonism.

Are these movements for real? Some groups are performing or “hacking” religion to win support for transhumanist ideas, says Singler. “Unreligions” seek to dispense with the supposedly unpopular strictures or irrational doctrines of conventional religion, and so might appeal to the irreligious. The Turing Church, founded in 2011, has a range of cosmic tenets – “We will go to the stars and find Gods, build Gods, become Gods, and resurrect the dead” – but no hierarchy, rituals or proscribed activities and only one ethical maxim: “Try to act with love and compassion toward other sentient beings.”

But as missionary religions know, what begins as a mere flirtation or idle curiosity – perhaps piqued by a resonant statement or appealing ceremony – can end in a sincere search for truth.

The 2001 UK census found that Jediism, the fictional faith observed by the good guys in Star Wars, was the fourth largest religion: nearly 400,000 people had been inspired to claim it, initially by a tongue-in-cheek online campaign. Ten years later, it had dropped to seventh place, leading many to dismiss it as a prank. But as Singler notes, that is still an awful lot of people – and a lot longer than most viral campaigns endure.

Some branches of Jediism remain jokey, but others take themselves more seriously: the Temple of the Jedi Order claims its members are “real people that live or lived their lives according to the principles of Jediism” – inspired by the fiction, but based on the real-life philosophies that informed it.

With those sorts of numbers, Jediism “should” have been recognised as a religion in the UK. But officials who apparently assumed it was not a genuine census answer did not record it as such. “A lot is measured against the Western Anglophone tradition of religion,” says Singler. Scientology was barred from recognition as a religion for many years in the UK because it did not have a Supreme Being – something that could also be said of Buddhism.

In fact, recognition is a complex issue worldwide, particularly since that there is no widely accepted definition of religion even in academic circles. Communist Vietnam, for example, is officially atheist and often cited as one of the world’s most irreligious countries – but sceptics say this is really because official surveys don’t capture the huge proportion of the population who practice folk religion. On the other hand, official recognition of Ásatrú, the Icelandic pagan faith, meant it was entitled to its share of a “faith tax”; as a result, it is building the country’s first pagan temple for nearly 1,000 years.

Scepticism about practitioners’ motives impedes many new movements from being recognised as genuine religions, whether by officialdom or by the public at large. But ultimately the question of sincerity is a red herring, Singler says: “Whenever someone tells you their worldview, you have to take them at face value”. The acid test, as true for neopagans as for transhumanists, is whether people make significant changes to their lives consistent with their stated faith.

And such changes are exactly what the founders of some new religious movements want. Official status is irrelevant if you can win thousands or even millions of followers to your cause.

Consider the “Witnesses of Climatology”, a fledgling “religion” invented to foster greater commitment to action on climate change. After a decade spent working on engineering solutions to climate change, its founder Olya Irzak came to the conclusion that the real problem lay not some much in finding technical solutions, but in winning social support for them. “What’s a multi-generational social construct that organises people around shared morals?” she asks. “The stickiest is religion.”

So three years ago, Irzak and some friends set about building one. They didn’t see any need to bring God into it – Irzak was brought up an atheist – but did start running regular “services”, including introductions, a sermon eulogising the awesomeness of nature and education on aspects of environmentalism. Periodically they include rituals, particularly at traditional holidays. At Reverse Christmas, the Witnesses plant a tree rather than cutting one down; on Glacier Memorial Day, they watch blocks of ice melt in the California sun.

As these examples suggest, Witnesses of Climatology has a parodic feel to it – light-heartedness helps novices get over any initial awkwardness – but Irzak’s underlying intent is quite serious.

“We hope people get real value from this and are encouraged to work on climate change,” she says, rather than despairing about the state of the world. The congregation numbers a few hundred, but Irzak, as a good engineer, is committed to testing out ways to grow that number. Among other things, she is considering a Sunday School to teach children ways of thinking about how complex systems work.

Recently, the Witnesses have been looking further afield, including to a ceremony conducted across the Middle East and central Asia just before the spring equinox: purification by throwing something unwanted into a fire – a written wish, or an actual object – and then jumping over it. Recast as an effort to rid the world of environmental ills, it proved a popular addition to the liturgy. This might have been expected, because it’s been practised for thousands of years as part of Nowruz, the Iranian New Year – whose origins lie in part with the Zoroastrians.

Transhumanism, Jediism, the Witnesses of Climatology and the myriad of other new religious movements may never amount to much. But perhaps the same could have been said for the small groups of believers who gathered around a sacred flame in ancient Iran, three millennia ago, and whose fledgling belief grew into one of the largest, most powerful and enduring religions the world has ever seen – and which is still inspiring people today.

Perhaps religions never do really die. Perhaps the religions that span the world today are less durable than we think. And perhaps the next great faith is just getting started.

Canada Is Hurt by Green Obsession

The latest numbers on economic productivity in Canada are extremely disappointing. And with the Liberals back in power, the numbers are about to get worse, especially considering that the Trudeau government is now held in office by three anti-development parties — the NDP, Greens and Bloc Quebecois.

Even our “have” provinces fall far behind the top American states. And Canada’s poorest — the three Maritime provinces — are at or below the lowest state, Mississippi.

According to work done by Trevor Tombe, a University of Calgary economist, Alberta is Canada’s wealthiest province with a per capita GDP of $64,000 US. Yet that is behind 16 American states. Indeed, Alberta is a full 25% below the richest American jurisdiction — New York state at $86,000.

Perhaps more concerning, though, is the plight of Ontario. Once the economic engine of the country and home to 40% of our national population, Ontario’s annual, per capita GDP is just $48,000 US. That’s only $1,000 better than Kentucky and just 12% above West Virginia — coal-mining, mountain-people West Virginia!

Ontario is producing only slightly more than half the per capital GDP of New York. Indeed, our heartland is closer to Mississippi than to California, Washington state, Alaska and North Dakota.

This is largely the result of the Liberals “green” obsession — first in Ontario under premiers McGuinty and Wynne and now federally under Justin Trudeau. This should surprise no one since many of the same people who thought up Ontario’s “green” energy strategy are now devising federal policy.

And it matters far less to these eco-zealots what happens to people’s jobs and standard of living than making expensive, symbolic, useless environmental gestures.

For instance, Ontario Liberal policies gave that province the highest electricity costs on the continent, which contributed to the loss of 200,000 manufacturing jobs in the past 15 years. That should make the architects of Ontario’s “green” energy policies contrite and apologetic. Instead, they are now trying to duplicate their disaster on a national scale.

Instead of trying to revive our economy with more pipelines and manufacturing plants, attracted by loosened regulations and lower taxes, the Liberals in Ottawa are giving every indication of going the opposite direction — more “green” impediments to growth, plus even higher taxes and bigger deficits.

Consider that half a dozen years ago, Alberta was one of the top five jurisdictions in North America for attractiveness to international oil and gas investors. Now, thanks to the Liberal-government’s WWGD (What Would Greta Do?) mentality, Alberta is 16 out of 20 according to the latest survey by Vancouver’s Fraser Institute.

Since the Liberals came to office in 2015, over $100 billion in energy-sector investment has been lost.

And the decline of our energy sector is not geological, it’s political. The oil is there. We know how to extract it. Yet, thanks to our “green” federal government, there is inadequate ability to get that oil to market, so investors now see Canada as one of the least reliable places to put their money.

And the indications are the Trudeau Liberals will be even more anti-oil in their second term. They wouldn’t stand up to the B.C. provincial NDP’s obstructionism on Trans Mountain during their first term. What do you think the chances are they will stand up to the Bloc (or Greens or NDP) this term, when they need those parties’ votes in the Commons and they hope to steal their voters in the next election?

On Thursday, the Montreal Economic Institute estimated that interprovincial trade barriers cost the national economy between $50 billion and $130 billion a year. That’s between $1,400 and $3,700 per person.

Will the Trudeau government then try to solve its economic and fiscal problems by, among other things, breaking down internal trade barriers and unleashing the oil industry? Unlikely. Quebec is the most protectionist of the provinces and the most anti-oil.

Passwords Are Passé

Password-based authentication has become unwieldy, insecure and is the cause of most data breaches. When the man who invented passwords says it’s time to move on, it probably is. Four years ago, Fernando Corbato, who invented the first computer password in the 1960s, said that passwords had become “a nightmare”. Considering that his creation was not intended for the web, how data breaches have shaped the digital era, and the rise of privacy-awareness, it’s clear that things need to change.

Passwords were once one of our most trusted security measures, but over the past decade, the average person’s digital footprint has been exposed to increasing numbers of third parties. Now the average consumer manages over 191 pairs of usernames and passwords. It is almost guaranteed that people reuse the same passwords or tactics to authenticate across various services.

What’s wrong with passwords?

Most of the recent data breaches stem from stolen passwords. As digital platforms pile up gigabytes of data, including personal information and the credentials we use to get access to their digital services, the cost of attacks for hackers has decreased significantly. You can now buy login credentials to someone’s bank or Uber account on the dark web for as little as $7. Knowledge-based authentication, whether with PINs, passwords, passphrases, or whatever we need to remember, are not only a major headache for users – they cost a lot of money to maintain. Without even looking at the costs of a cyberattack, the mere costs of password management, of time lost by employees typing passwords and chasing the IT department when they fail, can climb up to $70 per incident. And with up to 50% of all help-desk calls being password resets, the costs can mount up quickly.

Passwords aren’t just difficult to manage, they are inconvenient, insecure and expensive. Gartner predicts that by 2022, 60% of large businesses and all medium-sized companies will have cut their dependence on passwords by half. How?

Privacy-enhancing authentication technologies

Several trends have begun to enable the market to go passwordless and users to finally have control of their data. The first major government push has come with GDPR in Europe and the California Privacy Rights and Enforcement Act.

Consumers have become accustomed to having ‘free’ services, which are ultimately paid for from the sale of their data and without their explicit consent or knowledge – but users are starting to resist. Examples include the class action lawsuit filed against Facebook in Illinois and the Swedish data protection authority issuing its first fine under GDPR to a school for its improper use of facial recognition technology.

To meet the requirements established by these new laws, products and services must be designed with privacy at their core and provide complete transparency to their users. If services are built in this manner, we will be able to build biometrics in a trusted manner, which leaves only the question of whether companies can verify the information being submitted by their applicants. One way to solve this is with a scan of a person’s government-issued ID and a facial similarity check in combination with verified attributes.

A multistakeholder challenge that requires a multistakeholder approach

Both governments and private industry have a critical role to play in providing access to verified attributes. In 2018, the Better Identity Coalition released a report that calls for trusted government sources to open up access to the attributes they hold. Many governments have looked to help solve the problem of how to verify who someone says they are in a remote setting, with initiatives such as eIDAS in the EU, the Pan-Canadian Trust Framework, and Australia’s Trusted Digital Identity Framework.

For the world to become passwordless, we need to put users in control of their own data. This will allow the work of bodies such as the World Wide Web Consortium, which develops global standards for the web, and the Fido Alliance – an industry association dedicated to replacing passwords as our means of digital authentication – to rely on our devices and real-time attributes, so that users can verify themselves remotely and more securely.

The passwordless future is close. We will continue to see progress in 2020, but we need to act now to close the gap between trusting real-time verifications and ending our dependency on passwords. This can be done by providing a more trusted, secure, and convenient user experience, one which helps people protect how their data is being used while at the same time providing companies with access to a decentralized network to trust digital identities at scale. It will allow digital platforms to more easily onboard users between different digital services in real time, providing a trusted level of interoperability for an unparalleled user experience. Managing 191 digital accounts will become a breeze, and people will win back control of their identity. Consign Passwords to Garbage Bin.

Narrowing differences on approaches to Pakistan key to boosting India-China ties

One of the biggest impediments to India-China relations today is Beijing’s perceived support for Islamabad at the cost of New Delhi. There is a perception within Indian circles that China’s support for Pakistan is meant to strategically contain India. This is perhaps the sharp point of what some Indian commentators describe as China’s overall containment policy whereby it seeks to surround India with Chinese bases and assets across South Asia. But is China really using Pakistan as a strategic hedge against India? After all, an unstable Pakistan is a problem for both India and China as all three have common borders.  

Let’s face it, Pakistan is a nuclear weapon state. So it is dangerous for both India and China if Pakistan implodes. And of course there is a history to how Pakistan got here. After it lost its eastern wing in 1971, the Pakistani establishment started concertedly cultivating extremist groups for strategic depth. It did this vis-a-vis Afghanistan with active support of the US and sheltered and trained the Afghan mujahideen. It then deployed a similar strategy vis-a-vis Kashmir to carry out an asymmetric war against India. But this strategy has had its own costs for Pakistan. It depleted Pakistan’s productive resources, greatly Islamised Pakistani society, weakened Pakistani institutions – on top of pre-existing constitutional infirmities – and created a radicalism monster that can’t be fully controlled by Pakistani authorities.  

This is why Pakistan today is a crumbling state. Now there are two approaches to deal with the situation. Either Pakistan can be helped onto a path of stability or it can be isolated and punished for harbouring terrorists. The latter approach assumes that if enough pressure is brought to bear on Islamabad and Rawalpindi GHQ, then the Pakistani civilian and military leaderships will be forced to change things and turn off the terror tap. But what if the Pakistani establishment is not fully in control of things over there? That’s part of the reason why Pakistan is a failing state.  

It is here that China has a different approach to Pakistan. Beijing believes that helping Islamabad with economic development and creating jobs for Pakistanis will lead to stability and diminish the impetus for extremism. In fact, during a recent interaction with a visiting Chinese think tank delegation – comprising Zhang Weiwei, director of the China Institute, Fudan University; Zhu Caihua, professor in economics and deputy director of Institute of International Trade Studies; Fan Yongpeng, deputy director of the China Institute, Fudan University; and Lin Minwang, professor at Institute of International Studies, Fudan University – to New Delhi this view was reaffirmed. The delegation mentioned that Beijing is actually trying to promote New Delhi-Islamabad ties and that former Chinese president Jiang Zemin had clearly stated that India-China ties were independent of Pakistan.  

On being asked what are China’s long-term plans for Pakistan, the delegation affirmed that Beijing firmly believed in the economic way to resolve Pakistan’s issues, particularly through infrastructure development. This is where the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor comes in. Thus, China believes that economic stability in Pakistan can be a game-changer for peace in the region. So it can be said that New Delhi and Beijing have different views on how to deal with Islamabad. But it is important to remember that both agree that an unstable Pakistan is bad for the whole region. Perhaps it would be helpful for India-China ties if New Delhi and Beijing start narrowing their differences on Pakistan and together find a comprehensive solution to the issue. After all, India-China working together to resolve regional problems is critical to ushering in an Asian century.     

Weekend Special: Reason & Process of Evolution of Religion

If we are to understand religion, then, we first need to look back into our deep history to understand how human ancestors evolved to live in groups in the first place.

We are, after all, descended from a long line of ancestral hominoids with “weak social ties and no permanent group structures”, says Jonathan Turner, author of The Emergence and Evolution of Religion. That leads Turner to what he considers the million-dollar question: “How did Darwinian selection work on the neuroanatomy of hominins to make them more social so they could generate cohesive social bonds to form primary groups?” he asked me on the phone. “That’s not a natural thing for apes.”

Our ape line evolved from our last common ancestor around 19 million years ago. Orangutans broke away about 13-16 million years ago, while the gorilla line branched away about 8-9 million years ago. The hominin line then branched into two about 5-7 million years ago, with one line leading to the chimpanzees and bonobos, and the other leading to us. We modern humans share 99% of our genes with living chimpanzees – which means we’re the two most closely related apes in the whole line.

Human religion emerges out of our increased capacity for sociality. The similarities between humans and chimps are well known, but one important difference has to do with group size. Chimpanzees, on average, can maintain a group size of about 45, says Dunbar. “This appears to be the largest group size that can be maintained through grooming alone,” he says. In contrast, the average human group is about 150, known as Dunbar’s Number. The reason for this, says Dunbar, is that humans have the capacity to reach three times as many social contacts as chimps for a given amount of social effort. Human religion emerges out of this increased capacity for sociality.

How come? As our ape ancestors moved from receding forest habitats to more open environments, like the savannahs of eastern and southern Africa, Darwinian pressures acted on them to make them more social for increased protection from predators and better access to food; it also made it easier to find a mateWithout the ability to maintain new structures – like small groups of five or six so-called nuclear families, says Turner – these apes wouldn’t have been able to survive.

So how did nature achieve this socialisation process? Turner says the key isn’t with what we typically think of as intelligence, but rather with the emotions, which was accompanied by some important changes to our brain structure. Although the neocortex figures prominently in many theories of the evolution of religion, Turner says the more important alterations concerned the subcortical parts of the brain, which gave hominins the capacity to experience a broader range of emotions. These enhanced emotions promoted bonding, a crucial achievement for the development of religion.

The process of subcortical enhancement Turner refers to dates to about 4.5 million years ago, when the first Australopithecine emerged. Initially, says Turner, selection increased the size of their brains about 100 cubic centimetres (cc) beyond that of chimpanzees, to about 450 cc (in Australopithecus afarensis). For the sake of comparison, this is smaller than later hominins – Homo habilis had a cranial capacity of 775 cc, while Homo erectus was slightly larger at 800-850. Modern humans, in contrast, boast a brain size much bigger than any of these, with a cranial capacity of up to 1,400 cc.

It is in the story of how these [subcortical] mechanisms evolved that, ultimately, the origins of religion are to be discovered – Jonathan Turner

But the comparably smaller brain size doesn’t mean that nothing was happening to the hominin brain. Brain size is measured by an endocast, but Turner says these do not reflect the subcortical enhancement that was occurring between the emergence of Australopiths (around 4 million years ago) and Homo erectus (1.8 million years ago). “It is in the story of how these [subcortical] mechanisms evolved that, ultimately, the origins of religion are to be discovered.”

Although the neocortex of humans is three times the size of apes’, the subcortex is only twice as big – which leads Turner to believe that the enhancement of hominin emotion was well underway before the neocortex began to grow to its current human size.

Here’s how nature pulled it off. You’ve probably heard talk of the so-called four primary emotions: aggression, fear, sadness, and happiness. Notice anything about that list? Three of the emotions are negative. But the promotion of solidarity requires positive emotions – so natural selection had to find a way to mute the negative emotions and enhance the positive ones, Turner says. The emotional capacities of great apes (particularly chimpanzees) were already more elaborate than many other mammals, so selection had something to work with.

At this point in his argument, Turner introduces the concept of first- and second-order elaborations, which are emotions that are the result of a combinations of two or more primary emotions. So, for example, the combination of happiness and anger generates vengeance, while jealousy is the result of combining anger and fear. Awe, which figures majorly in religion, is the combination of fear and happiness. Second-order elaborations are even more complex, and occurred in the evolution from Homo erectus (1.8 million years ago) to Homo sapiens (about 200,000 years ago). Guilt and shame, for example, two crucial emotions for the development of religion, are the combination of sadness, fear, and anger.

It’s difficult to imagine religion without the capacity to experience these emotional elaborations for the same reason it’s difficult to imagine close social groups without them: such an emotional palette binds us to one another at a visceral level. “Human solidarities are only possible by emotional arousal revolving around positive emotions – love, happiness, satisfaction, caring, loyalty – and the mitigation of the power of negative emotions, or at least some negative emotions,” says Turner. “And once these new valences of positive emotions are neurologically possible, they can become entwined with rituals and other emotion-arousing behaviours to enhance solidarities and, eventually, produce notions of power gods and supernatural forces.”

Not to jump ahead too far, but it’s important to understand how pivotal feeling is in the evolution of religion. As far as Darwin was convinced, there wasn’t any difference between religious feeling and any other feeling. “It is an argument for materialism,” he wrote in a journal entry, “that cold water brings on suddenly in head, a frame of mind, analogous to those feelings, which may be considered as truly spiritual.” If this is true, then that means the causes of religious feelings can be pinpointed and studied just like any other feeling.


As selection worked on existing brain structures, enhancing emotional and interpersonal capacities, certain behavioural propensities of apes began to evolve. Some of the propensities that Turner lists as already present in apes include: the ability to read eyes and faces and to imitate facial gestures; various capacities for empathy; the ability to become emotionally aroused in social settings; the capacity to perform rituals; a sense of reciprocity and justice; and the ability to see the self as an object in an environment. An increase in the emotional palette available to apes would, according to Turner, result in an increase in all of these behavioural capacities.

Though many if not all of these behaviours have been documented in apes, I want to concentrate on two of them – ritual and empathy – without which religion would be unthinkable.

In archival footage, primatologist and anthropologist Jane Goodall describes the well-known waterfall dance which has been widely observed in chimpanzees. Her comments are worth quoting at length:

When the chimpanzees approach, they hear this roaring sound, and you see their hair stands a little on end and then they move a bit quicker. When they get here, they’ll rhythmically sway, often upright, picking up big rocks and throwing them for maybe 10 minutes. Sometimes climbing up the vines at the side and swinging out into the spray, and they’re right down in the water which normally they avoid. Afterwards you’ll see them sitting on a rock, actually in the stream, looking up, watching the water with their eyes as it falls down, and then watching it going away. I can’t help feeling that this waterfall display or dance is perhaps triggered by feelings awe, wonder that we feel.

The chimpanzee’s brain is so like ours: they have emotions that are clearly similar to or the same as those that we call happiness, sad, fear, despair, and so forth – the incredible intellectual abilities that we used to think unique to us. So why wouldn’t they also have feelings of some kind of spirituality, which is really being amazed at things outside yourself?

Goodall has observed a similar phenomenon happen during a heavy rain. These observations have led her to conclude that chimpanzees are as spiritual as we are. “They can’t analyse it, they don’t talk about it, they can’t describe what they feel. But you get the feeling that it’s all locked up inside them and the only way they can express it is through this fantastic rhythmic dance.” In addition to the displays that Goodall describes, others have observed various carnivalesque displays, drumming sessions, and various hooting rituals.

The roots of ritual are in what Bellah calls “serious play” – activities done for their own sake, which may not serve an immediate survival capacity, but which have “a very large potentiality of developing more capacities”. This view fits with various theories in developmental science, showing that playful activities are often crucial for developing important abilities like theory of mind and counterfactual thinking.

Play, in this evolutionary sense, has many unique characteristics: it must be performed “in a relaxed field” – when the animal is fed and healthy and stress-free (which is why it is most common in species with extended parental care). Play also occurs in bouts: it has a clear beginning and ending. In dogs, for example, play is initiated with a “bow”. Play involves a sense of justice, or at least equanimity: big animals need to self-handicap in order to not hurt smaller animals. And it might go without saying, but play is embodied.

Now compare that to ritual, which is enacted, which is embodied. Rituals begin and end. They require both shared intention and shared attention. There are norms involved. They take place in a time within time – beyond the time of the everyday. (Think, for example, of a football game in which balls can be caught “out of bounds” and time can be paused. We regularly participate in modes of reality in which we willingly bracket out “the real world”. Play allows us to do this.) Most important of all, says Bellah, play is a practice in itself, and “not something with an external end”.

Bellah calls ritual “the primordial form of serious play in human evolutionary history”, which means that ritual is an enhancement of the capacities that make play first possible in the mammalian line. There is a continuity between the two. And while Turner acknowledges it might be pushing it to refer to a chimpanzee waterfall dance or carnival as Ritual with a capital R, it is possible to affirm that “these ritual-like behavioural propensities suggest that some of what is needed for religious behaviour is part of the genome of chimpanzees, and hence, hominins”.


The second trait we must consider is empathy. Empathy is not primarily in the head. It’s in the body – at least that’s how it started. It began, writes de Waal, “with the synchronisation of bodies, running when others run, laughing when others laugh, crying when others cry, or yawning when others yawn”.

Empathy is absolutely central to what we call morality, says de Waal. “Without empathy, you can’t get human morality. It makes us interested in others. It makes us have an emotional stake in them.” If religion, according to our definition, is a way of being together, then morality, which instructs us as to the best ways to be together, is an inextricable part of that.

De Waal has been criticised over the years for offering a rose-coloured interpretation of animal behaviour. Rather than view animal behaviour as altruistic, and therefore springing from a sense of empathy, we should, these wise scientists tell us, see this behaviour for what it is: selfishness. Animals want to survive. Period. Any action they take needs to be interpreted within that matrix.

But this is a misguided way of talking about altruism, de Waal says.

“We see animals want to share food even though it costs them. We do experiments on them and the general conclusion is that many animals’ first tendency is to be altruistic and cooperative. Altruistic tendencies come very naturally to many mammals.”

But isn’t this just self-preservation? Aren’t the animals just acting in their own best interests? If they behave in a way that appears altruistic, aren’t they just preparing (so to speak) for a time when they will need help? “To call that selfish,” says an incredulous de Waal, “because in the end of course these pro-social tendencies have benefits?” To do that, he says, is to define words into meaninglessness.

Yes, of course there are pleasurable sensations associated with the action of giving to others. But evolution has produced pleasurable sensations for behaviours we need to perform, like sex and eating and female-nursing. The same is true for altruism, says de Waal. That does not fundamentally alter what the behaviour is.

Such a hard and fast line between altruism and selfishness, then, is naive at best and deceptive at worst. And we can see the same with discussions of social norms. Philosophers such as David Hume have made the distinction between what a behaviour “is” and what it “ought” to be, which is a staple of ethical deliberation. An animal may perform the behaviour X, but does it do so because it feels it should do so – thanks to an appreciation of a norm?

This distinction is one that de Waal has run into from philosophers who say that any of his observations of empathy or morality in animals can’t possibly tell him about whether or not they have norms. De Waal disagrees, pointing out that animals do recognise norms:

The simplest example is a spider web or nest. If you disturb it, the animal’s going to repair that right away because they have a norm for how it should look and function. They either abandon it, or start over and repair it. Animals are capable of having goals and striving towards them. In the social world, if they have a fight, they come together and try to repair damage. They try to get back to an ought state. They have norm of how this distribution should be. The idea that normativity is [restricted to] humans is not correct.

In the Bonobo and the Atheist, de Waal argues that animals seem to possess a mechanism for social repair. “About 30 different primate species reconcile after fights, and that reconciliation is not limited to the primates. There is evidence for this mechanism in hyenas, dolphins, wolves, domestic goats.”

He also finds evidence that animals “actively try to preserve harmony within their social network … by reconciling after conflict, protesting against unequal divisions, and breaking up fights among others. They behave normatively in the sense of correcting, or trying to correct, deviations from an ideal state. They also show emotional self-control and anticipatory conflict resolution in order to prevent such deviations. This makes moving from primate behaviour to human moral norms less of a leap than commonly thought.”

There’s obviously a gap between primate social repair and the institutionalisation of moral codes that lie at the heart of modern human societies. Still, says de Waal, all of these “human moral systems make use of primate tendencies”.

How far back to these tendencies go? Probably, like those capacities that allowed for play (and ultimately ritual), to the advent of parental care. “During 200 million years of mammalian evolution, females sensitive to their offspring out-reproduced those who were cold and distant,” says de Waal. Of course, nurturing is arguably seen in species of fish, crocodiles, and snakes, but the nurturing capabilities of mammals is really a giant leap forward in the evolutionary story.

The early dawn of religion

Our religious services of today may seem worlds away from the mammalian play and empathy that emerged in our deep past, and indeed institutionalised religion is much more advanced than a so-called waterfall dance. But evolution teaches us that complex, advanced phenomena develop from simple beginnings. As Bellah reminds us, we don’t come from nowhere. “We are embedded in a deep biological and cosmological history.”

As the ape line evolved from our last common ancestor in more open environments, it was necessary to pressure apes, who prefer to go it alone, to form more lasting social structures. Natural selection was able to accomplish this astonishing feat by enhancing the emotional palettes available that had long been available to our ancestors. With a broader set of emotions, the hominin brain was then able to enhance some of its capabilities, some of which quite naturally lent themselves a religious way of being. As these capacities got more acutely enhanced with the growth of the Homo brain and the development of the neocortex, behaviours such as play and ritual entered a new phase in hominin development, becoming the raw materials out of which cultural evolution would begin to institutionalise religion.

And though this history doesn’t determine us – for with each new phase in life’s story comes greater power of agency – this bio-cosmological history influences everything we do and are. Even the most seemingly autonomous human decision is made from within history. That’s the big picture here. That’s what we’ve been keeping in mind as we made our way back in time to the evolutionary seeds that would eventually – and quite slowly – blossom into human religion.

“This is my body.” These words, recorded in the Gospels as being spoken by Jesus during the Last Supper, are said daily at Church services around the world before the communion meal is eaten. When Christians hear these words spoken in the present, we’re reminded of the past, which is always with us, which never goes away.

Though I often think theologically about the words “This is my body,” I shouldn’t overlook the basic fact that communion is about bodies – mine, yours, ours. Religion is an embodied phenomenon because the human religious way of being has evolved for millions of years as the bodies of our ancestors interacted with the other bodies around them. Whether or not one takes communion or even feels religious, we are at all times navigating our social worlds with our evolved capacities to play, to empathise, and to celebrate rituals with each other. 

Just how much past are Christians reminded of? Certainly the last two millennia, which, in addition to devout celebrations of the Eucharist, are rife with doctrinal disputes, church splits, episodes of violence, excommunications, papal pronouncements, and various metaphysical debates, all revolving around the communion meal.

But we can rewind further back, to the development of the oral traditions that got fixed into texts that were incorporated into the canonical New Testament. We can also wonder about the historical meal on which the various Last Supper texts are based.

We can travel further back still, long before even the emergence of Christianity. After all, Jesus was a Jew, and so his act of breaking bread with the disciples reminds us of the entire history of the Jewish people, including their harrowing escape from Egyptian slavery and their receiving of the Torah at Sinai.

But we can go back even further. Any religious meal is, before it is anything else, a meal. It is an act of table-sharing, certainly an important ritual in the ancient Near East. Seder, and later communion, were “taken up” theologically and liturgically, but the positive feelings around table-sharing were already in place. They’d already been in place since the emergence of modern humans, about 200,000 years ago.

And yet – Homo sapiens wasn’t the only species to discover the benefits of food-sharing. Neanderthals certainly pooled their resources, as did the several other Homo species dating back two million years.

“Think of uber pro-social hunter-gatherers having a meal,” one of my theology professors told me when I wondered about the deep evolutionary history behind the Eucharist. “The hunters feel proud to have done well and shared with their family; those who prepared the food are recognised and appreciated; everyone’s belly is getting filled and feeling good; and so many positive social interactions are taking place. No wonder so much mythological content is built up around the meal.”

But food-sharing even predates our Homo ancestors, and is currently observed in chimpanzees and bonobos. In fact, one recent paper even documented research of bonobos sharing food with bonobos outside of their own social group. Barbara Fruth, one of the study’s authors, told the digital magazine Sapiens that meal-sharing “must have its roots in our last common ancestor”. Based on the molecular clock, the last common ancestor, or LCA, of humans and Great Apes lived about 19 million years ago.

When I hear the words “This is my Body,” then, my mind immediately launches into a race to the evolutionary starting line, if you will.

Deep religion

I begin with a discussion of the Eucharist because my particular religious tradition is Christian. But the point I’m making – that religious experiences emerge from very specific, very long histories – could be made with most religious phenomena. That’s because, in the words of the late sociologist Robert Bellah, “Nothing is ever lost.” History goes all the way back, and who and how and where we are now is the result of its winding forward. Any human phenomenon that exists is a human phenomenon that became what it is. This is no less true of religion.

If we’re going to think about the deep history of religion, then we need to be clear about what religion is. In his book The Bonobo and the Atheist, the primatologist Frans de Waal shares a funny story about participating in a panel hosted by the American Academy of Religion. When one participant suggested they start with defining religion, someone was quick to note that last time they tried to do that, “half the audience had angrily stomped out of the room”. Quipped de Waal: “And this in an academy named after the topic!”

Still, we need to start somewhere, so de Waal suggests this definition: religion is “the shared reverence for the supernatural, sacred, or spiritual as well as the symbols, rituals, and worship that are associated with it”. De Waal’s definition echoes one given by sociologist Émile Durkheim, who also emphasised the importance of shared experiences that “unite into one single moral community”.

The importance of shared experience can’t be overstated since, in the story we’re telling, the evolution of human religion is inseparable from the ever-increasing sociality of the hominin line. As Bellah points out, religion is as a way of being. We might also view it as a way of feeling, as a way of feeling together.

While much of the scientific study of religion is on theology-based doctrinal religions, the evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar thinks this is a narrow way of studying the phenomenon because it “completely ignores the fact that for most of human history religions have had a very different shamanic-like form that lacks gods and moral codes”. (By shamanic, Dunbar means religions of experience that commonly involve trance and travel in spirit worlds.) While the theology-based forms are only a few thousand years old and characteristic of post-agricultural societies, Dunbar argues that the shamanic forms date back 500,000 years. These, he claims, are characteristic of hunter-gatherers.

If we want to understand how and why religion evolved, Dunbar says we need to start out by examining religions “with the cultural accretions stripped away”. We need to focus less on questions about Big Gods and creeds, and more on questions about the capacities that emerged in our ancient ancestors that allowed them to achieve a religious way of being together.

Adaptation or by-product?

All societies, after all, seem to have religions of some sort. “There are no exceptions to this,” de Waal told me over the phone. If all societies have religion, it must have a social purpose – Frans de Waal

There are two major perspectives on why this might be. One is called functionalism or adaptationism: the idea that religion brings positive evolutionary benefits, which are most often framed in terms of its contribution to group living. As de Waal puts it: “If all societies have [religion], it must have a social purpose.” 

Others take the view that religion is a spandrel, or by-product of evolutionary processes. The word spandrel refers to an architectural shape that emerges as a by-product between arches and ceiling. Religion, on this interpretation, is akin to a vestigial organ. Perhaps it was adaptive in the environments it originally evolved in, but in this environment it’s maladaptive. Or perhaps religious beliefs are the result of psychological mechanisms that evolved to solve ecological problems unrelated to religion. Either way, evolution didn’t “aim” at religion; religion just emerged as evolution “aimed” at other things.

While folks on both sides of this debate have their reasons, it seems unhelpful to frame the evolution of religion in such either/or terms. Something that was merely a by-product of a blind evolutionary process could well be taken up by human beings to perform a specific function or solve a specific problem.

This can be true for many behaviours – including music – but religion presents a particular puzzle, since it often involves extremely costly behaviours, such as altruism and, at times, even self-sacrifice.

For this reason, some theorists such as Dunbar argue that we should also look beyond the individual to the survival of the group.

This is known as multilevel selection, which “recognises that fitness benefits can sometimes accrue to individuals through group-level effects, rather than always being the direct product of the individual’s own actions”, as Dunbar defines it.

An example is cooperative hunting, which enables groups to catch bigger prey than any members could catch as individuals. Bigger prey means more for me, even if I have to share the meat (since the animal being shared is already larger than anything I could catch alone). Such group-level processes “require the individual to be sensitive to the needs of other members of the group”, says Dunbar.

There is no history of the religion of an individual creature. Our story is about us.

Technology Shaping India’s Workforce

Recently, an online food aggregator made news in India for laying off around 10% of its staff. Immediately the question arose: was this a sign of a slowing economy or the cascading effect of technology? When the company confirmed that it had, indeed, automated processes and hence rationalized staff, it brought into stark reality the impacts of a fast-changing technology landscape.

Adapting to this kind of change is critical to the future of work. In my career, I have personally witnessed the tectonic shift as we moved from the age of the fixed-line telephone to the smartphone. Voice ruled then; data rules now. But what will rule in the future — and what will it look like?

Extending the technology opportunity

Even as the blistering pace of technology pushed the boundaries of the telecommunications industry a decade ago, it simultaneously gave India a huge opportunity in the offshore revolution. As technology and connectivity has advanced further, so has the ability to do more work from offshore locations. GCCs (Global Capability Centers) are cases in point. They have evolved their proposition from being labour arbitrage to truly providing a range of advanced capabilities to their parent organizations.

Historically, companies have used the GCC model to deliver business processes and IT services. These were delivered onshore and in many cases, offshore. However, as the model matures and incremental demand for these services declines, enterprises are increasingly looking to their GCCs to build more strategic and value-added capabilities such as research and development (R&D), digital and analytics. The GCCs not only deliver processes but drive innovation and focus more on higher-end services. In other words, companies want their GCCs to be capability centres, not just delivery centres.

The march of today’s technology is mirrored in these organizations. From call centres 10 to 15 years ago, GCCs have now become pioneers in implementing AI, machine learning, and robotic process automation. In the process of this evolution, thousands of young Indians have been trained in new technologies and processes and workforce transformation is unfolding before our eyes.

But the pressure to keep this workforce transformation going is growing. India now has close to 5 million people entering the workforce every year — intensifying the need to harness this talent, adapt organizations to the new age and train these people in suitable skills so that they are relevant for a technology-enabled work environment.

This is especially true for women. As per World Bank data, women account for 48% of the Indian population but have not benefitted equally from India’s rapid economic growth. Less than a third of women are working or actively looking for a job. It is critical to enhance their skillsets so they may thrive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Building quality alongside quantity

The sheer quantity of the employable and the technology that is rapidly developing can often dominate the discourse around the future of work in India. As business evolves and adapts to address this quantity, words like Fourth Industrial Revolution, artificial intelligence, cloud computing, bots and robotic process automation (RPA), among many others, pepper our presentations and conversations. They are no longer jargon but have moved from the periphery of the future to become our daily reality, to be accepted, embraced and used to improve and scale businesses.

But what about quality? Are we all living better as a result of this evolution of work? Do we have more or less time today? Even though we are admittedly addicted to our various devices, we need to step back and assess if they make our work more efficient – and if we are spending less time on work and more on achieving a better work-life balance?

Technology has brought us to the edge of tomorrow, blurring the boundaries between the needs of today and the demands of the future. Yet, empathy for our fellow humans remains the one thing machines cannot provide. This is relevant as we increasingly invest more and more in devices that reduce the time for interpersonal connections and conversations — the very things that build empathy.

In India, shifting consumer attitudes may reflect a renewed value of the interpersonal. Take the changing expectations and aspirations associated with inheritance. We are already observing an erosion of the value of material inheritance as intangibles take precedence. Handing down a handcrafted watch or heritage property will, in time, have no value while access in its multiple forms may become more aspirational. This could range from an aspired-to club membership to access to people, or even information.

We live in interesting times. There are both promises and fears surrounding the expectations of a future fuelled by technology. Losing sight of the quality of interactions in the midst of the number of devices is a real concern. In the rush to increase the skills of a population, it may be important to remember that as the basic automation and machine learning move towards becoming commodities, uniquely human skills will become more valuable.

What After The End of the American International Order

Mikhail Gorbachev said: ‘In 1989 the World Chose Peace; We Need That Vision Today”, But today is the time of transformation and uncertainty. In much of the world, the lightning-fast, cross-border flows of ideas, information, people, money, goods, and services—the same forces that have created so much opportunity and prosperity—also generate fear. Fear that the world now becomes more complicated and more dangerous in real-time. Fear that the world we knew is gone for good, and fear that no one is willing and able to do anything about it.

China has made its decision. Beijing is building a separate system of Chinese technology—its own standards, infrastructure, and supply chains—to compete with the West. This is the single most consequential geopolitical decision taken in the last three decades. It’s also the greatest threat to globalization since the end of World War II. The million-dollar facing the world today is: At this moment in history, why is there so much alarm?

Japan is both blessed and burdened by its unique place in this G-Zero world. Japan has the political stability, the foresight, and the technological talent to help lead the world into a brighter future than the one we currently face. We all have reason to hope that Japan’s leaders, its companies, its political will, and its people will help lead the transition toward a new order, one in which human ingenuity, moral imagination, and courage can help all of us meet the challenges to come.

 The Geopolitical Recession

An emerging market can be defined as any country where politics matters at least as much as economic fundamentals for market outcomes. Countries like Japan, the United States, Canada, and the leading nations of Western Europe offered a much more stable and predictable political landscape, but more modest opportunities for growth.

Those days are gone. The financial crisis of 2008 and the turmoil that followed have brought politics directly into the performance of economies and markets in even the world’s richest countries.

We also face a growing number of transnational threats. The U.S.-led global order is finished. So many of the dark clouds now hanging over us—from climate change to cyber-conflict, from terrorism to the post-industrial revolution—move unchecked across borders, leaving national governments much less able to meet the needs of their citizens.

Today, it is not economics but geopolitics that has become the main driver of global economic uncertainty. The world has entered a “geopolitical recession,” a bust cycle for the international system and relations among governments. It’s a time when alliances, institutions, and the values that bind them together are all coming apart. From an historical perspective, geopolitical recessions are both rarer than economic recessions and longer-lasting. We’ll be living in this geopolitical recession for at least a decade to come.

How did we get here?

Economists tell us that the process of “creative destruction” fuels the engine of growth that builds the future, and history says that’s true. But lives and livelihoods are destroyed in the process, and growing numbers of people say their government is either powerless to help them manage or doesn’t care what happens to them. Resentment of elites is on the rise in every region of the world. The system is rigged against them, they believe; it’s increasingly hard to argue they’re wrong.

This creates opportunities for a new breed of populist who offers scapegoats and promises of protection. These politicians did not invent this problem. They’re just profiting from it.And the greatest worry is this: All this anger is building in good economic times. What happens when economies start to slow?

History shows that governments that are unpopular at home are more likely to make trouble abroad, especially with their neighbors, to rally public support and divert attention from domestic troubles. That breeds less trust among governments. The risk of misunderstanding rises. Accidents are more likely—and more likely to escalate toward conflict.

The Implications

The first centers on “tail risks,” the low-likelihood-but-high-impact events that have become commonplace in a world reshaped by China’s rise, Middle East turmoil, populist Europe, revanchist Russia, divided America, a world-record 71 million displaced people, and the destabilizing effects of technological and climate changes.

Imagine a military accident in the South China Sea, at a time when the U.S. and Chinese presidents are locked in a war of wills over trade and technology, and determined to project strength at home, that spirals out of control.

Turn to the Middle East—the U.S. has confronted Iran. Since President Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Iran nuclear deal and then re-imposed sanctions, Iran has taken bold military action—including a strike on the heart of Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure. Washington responded by sending troops to Saudi Arabia, a move which, you might recall, sharply increased the risk of terrorism in the U.S. a generation ago.

What if President Trump is defeated for re-election next year, and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un discovers the next U.S. president won’t accept his phone calls? What provocative action might he take? What accidents might he risk?

What if a debt crisis hits Italy, created when a future Italian government defies EU budget rules and inadvertently creates a financial crisis too large for lenders to manage? Or a miscalculation in Ukraine pulls Russia into a shooting war? Or a US-Russia cyber confrontation hits critical infrastructure, creating a humanitarian crisis inside an American city?

The lack of coordinated leadership in today’s world, our G-zero world, makes all of these crises both more likely to happen and more difficult to manage when they do. Individually, they are long-shots. Collectively, they pose unprecedented danger.

The second implication of the geopolitical recession is the breakdown of international institutions. The tens of millions of displaced people around the world today create one of the most urgent and expensive problems that the United Nations has to cope with. Yet, even as national governments are less willing to welcome big numbers of refugees, even fewer are willing to invest more to support the UN Refugee Agency.

We also see fragmentation of European institutions as voters send growing numbers of anti-EU politicians to serve in the European parliament. There is no longer consensus among Europeans on the free movement of EU citizens across borders, on how to manage immigrants from outside the EU, or on important questions like how best to manage relations with Russia.

The Trump administration has threatened the coherence of NATO, the most successful military alliance in history (French President Macron certainly seems to agree), and has withdrawn the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty with Russia, the UN Human Rights Council, and the Paris Climate Accord, to name only a few.

The inevitable consequence of all this is a world that has become more unpredictable and much less safe. There is little chance in this environment to establish new agreements and new institutions to help manage tomorrow’s crises.Instead, individual governments will adopt their own rules in an attempt to contain challenges that don’t respect borders. They will threaten economic penalties and military retaliation in a world with fewer institutions able to enforce generally accepted rules and practices.

The third implication of the geopolitical recession: The weakness of today’s international system not only leaves the world more vulnerable to crisis, but less resilient when crisis comes. In recent years, we’ve avoided a major international crisis. We’ve seen Brexit, the election of Donald Trump, the growth of populism across Europe, Russia’s bid to undermine Ukraine’s independence, Xi Jinping’s consolidation of power in China, a meltdown in Venezuela, and plenty of individual fires in the Middle East and in democracies across the world. But we have not yet experienced anything during this period that poses a challenge to the entire international system, and the global economy has remained relatively strong. There is one superpower in today’s world, one country that can project political, economic, and military power into every region. That superpower is still the United States.

That’s why it matters so much that Americans themselves no longer agree on what role their country should play in the world. But step back a dozen years and think about why Barack Obama was elected president. After eight years of George W. Bush’s war on terror, it was Obama who promised to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—and not to start new ones. Other Democrats, including Hillary Clinton, were tainted in the minds of many Americans by their support for the war on Saddam Hussein. In 1992, Bill Clinton promised that the end of the Cold War meant the end of Cold War burdens. He promised a “peace dividend,” money no longer needed to defeat the Soviets that could instead be invested in strengthening America at home.

Americans don’t want to run the world. They haven’t for a long time. And with each passing year, there are fewer Americans old enough to remember the Cold War, to say nothing of World War II. In fact, there are now American soldiers on the ground in Afghanistan who were not yet born on September 11, 2001.

The reluctance of the United States as a superpower creates a global vacuum of leadership. But no one is stepping up to take that role in the way that, more than a century ago, America emerged just as the sun began to set on the British Empire.

Europe remains profoundly preoccupied, particularly over economic issues dividing north and south and political issues dividing east and west. And while President Xi Jinping has declared a new era for China in the world, China’s leadership remains fundamentally cautious when it comes to accepting heavy international burdens. That’s why, when it comes to international leadership, Beijing will not soon become any more reliable a provider of public goods than Washington.

And why a future crisis will be so hard to manage. 

Fallout for globalization

Then there is the impact of geopolitical recession on globalization itself. Globalization has changed our understanding of how things are made and how we might live. Around the world, we celebrate our national holidays with fireworks made in China. The customer service calls we make to fix our computers are answered in India. Our cars are made from parts that come from dozens of countries. We are all globally integrated. It is no longer meaningful to say where our products are produced. And, until recently, politics hasn’t played a big part in these processes. That’s no longer true.

There is no longer a global free market. China, soon to be the world’s largest economy, practices state capitalism, a system that allows government officials to ensure that economic growth ultimately serves political and national interests.

China’s state-capitalist system distorts the traditional workings of a market-driven economy by relying heavily on state-owned enterprises and state-backed national champions to ensure economic—and therefore political—stability. It depends on state subsidies that allow political officials to direct enormous amounts of capital and other resources as they choose. The government picks winners and losers.

The success of this system for China and the Chinese Communist Party is undeniable. The good news for the rest of us is that Chinese growth has supported global growth. Crucially, the hybrid global economy it has created does not end globalization. Both free market and state-capitalist systems still enable goods and capital to move around the world.

But the future of globalization is not so simple. Different parts of the global economy are adapting to the end of the US-led global order in different ways. The marketplace for commodities—especially food, metals, and energy—indeed is only becoming more globalized. US and Chinese tariffs dominate the news, for as long as they last, but the bigger story is the expansion of global commodity markets.

New technologies are making energy production more efficient and lowering costs at a faster pace than politics can drive them higher. That’s why, even after a dramatic missile strike earlier this year at the heart of Saudi oil infrastructure knocked half of Saudi oil production offline, the resulting jump in oil prices left them at levels just half of what they were in 2008.

With more than a billion people entering a global middle class over the past two generations, and the pace of that growth increasing, the globalization of the commodities market will continue.

The market for goods and services, on the other hand, will become less global. That’s in part because the role of labor in production is shrinking dramatically as new technologies bring automation and machine learning into the workplace. Manufacturers want to produce where production is least expensive. That won’t change. What has changed is the search for cheap labor, because the rise of middle classes in China, India, Southeast Asia, Latin America, and sub-Saharan Africa has increased wages everywhere, giving producers good reason to automate production.

Further, the growth in populism we’ve seen in so many countries is driven in part by anger over job losses. That means that political officials are more likely to build barriers designed to protect local jobs than to restrict the flow of trade.

These trends will shorten global supply chains for goods and services as each country or company works to reduce its vulnerability to disruption in countries involved in trade disputes. It won’t happen immediately, because CEOs don’t want to make difficult decisions until they believe they have to. But as the global economy tightens, those executives will increasingly produce goods and services where the customers are.

Finally, there is the global market for data and information. This market is breaking in two. It is no longer global. In the beginning, the internet—the Worldwide Web—was driven by a single set of standards and rules. With very few exceptions, one consumer had virtually the same access as another. No longer.

Today, China and the United States are building two distinct online ecosystems. That’s true for the transformation of today’s internet, but also for the construction of the new internet of things. The American tech ecosystem, with all its strengths and shortcomings, is built by the private sector and (loosely) regulated by the government. The Chinese system is dominated by the state. That’s also true for big data collection, for development of artificial intelligence, for the rollout of 5G cellular network technology, and for defense and retaliation against cyberattacks.

This leaves us with a big question: Where exactly will the new Berlin Wall stand? Where will we find the boundary between one technological system and the other? Will Europe align with the United States? Or will the EU fragment into individual decisions within individual European countries? How will India position itself? And South Korea? And Brazil? What pressures will even Japan face?

There is another fundamental question: Will the US-led data and information model continue to be driven by the private sector? Or will future fears for national security allow for the creation of a “tech-based military industrial complex” in the US?

The answers to these questions carry profound implications. In the markets for commodities, goods, and services, global players are both competitors and (potential) partners. Each player wants more market-share, but everyone benefits from an open trading system that creates opportunities for all. Trade wars may be launched to achieve specific goals, but this isn’t a zero-sum competition. Business as usual promises something for everyone. That’s a critical support for global peace and prosperity.

This is no longer true in the data and information economy. Here, much as in the US-Soviet Cold War, the existence of two competing systems limits commercial opportunities and threatens national security. Each side’s hoped-for outcome is elimination of the other system.

 America and China

We now need to talk about China and the United States. What should the rest of the world want from China? We should want it to succeed. The world needs China to remain stable, productive, and increasingly prosperous to fuel global growth. We need China to play a constructive international role, even if only a limited one. To work with other governments to meet the challenges posed by poverty, conflict, public health risks, lack of education, lack of infrastructure, climate change, and the advance of disruptive new technologies. And, of course, we need these things from the United States too.

The threat China poses to the US is smaller than many in Washington believe. China has even less interest in going to war with the US than the US has in going to war with China. China is a regional, but not a global, military power. Economic interdependence will continue, despite concerted efforts on both sides to reduce economic vulnerabilities.

The greatest source of US-China conflict comes from technology. Here, China is, today, a true superpower. Here, there is a Cold War structure to the relationship that will affect every region of the world. Here, the US does have an interest in seeing China fail, because China’s technological development poses a foundational challenge to the values on which global stability and prosperity depend.

The stakes are real. The idea of a Splinternet, the creation of parallel technology ecosystems, isn’t just a threat to globalization. It’s a competition that those who believe in political freedoms might lose.

What should we do?

Allow me to offer two proposals. The first is the creation of an organization equivalent to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the body that’s responsible for objectively assessing the world’s vulnerability and responses to climate change. We need a similar group to establish ground rules for our digital world, the data and artificial intelligence that fuel it, and its future development.

My second proposal is this—the world needs a digital WTO, a World Data Organization. As with the WTO, uniting governments that believe in online openness and transparency in an organization that China will ultimately have an economic and security incentive to want to join, especially if it’s the only way Beijing can secure access to developed markets. Carrots will work better than sticks.

America, Europe, Japan, and like-minded willing-and-able partners must work together to set future standards for artificial intelligence, data, privacy, citizens’ rights, and intellectual property. Develop a permanent secretariat to determine these digital norms together, and a judiciary mechanism to enforce them. The Americans have the innovative capacity and startups. The Europeans are the regulatory superpower. Japan is the principle laboratory for a world that needs to see how AI can improve people’s lives.

That’s how we can address the U.S.-China technology cold war.

There is, however, an area where Chinese cooperation with the West is both critical and entirely feasible right now. To combat the advance of climate change and its worst effects, we need to build a “Green Marshall Plan,” a mainly Western-funded project that includes the best ideas of private sector thinkers and state-funded scientists from the West and China on how best to make the policy changes and invent the technologies to clean the world’s air and water and limit the damage inflicted by climate change.

The so-called “Green New Deal” now under scrutiny in the US presupposes that Americans can solve their own climate problems. They can’t. China is now the world’s #1 carbon-emitter, by a wide margin, and China shares an interest with the rest of the world in fighting climate change. It isn’t just New York and Tokyo that face the coming storms and rising seas. It’s Shanghai too.

The End of the American Order

As we look toward the future of relations among nations, there is one prediction we can make with certainty: No matter what happens in next year’s U.S. elections, no matter who is president or which party is in power, the American-led international order is finished. It is not coming back.

But it’s just as important to recognize that the aspirations that this order represents for many people remain.

These aspirations, these values, were not invented in the United States. They are not “Western.” They are not simply the product of Europe’s Enlightenment. The drive for liberty, fairness, rule of law, freedom of expression, and the undeniable human drive for openness and exploration are universal.

America can no longer claim to be the primary driving force in defense of these values. Americans have our role to play. So do Europeans. So do the people of Japan. And inside China, Russia, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, inside countries large and small, there are people hungry for the chance to become captains of their fate.

Competition and conflict among nations are inevitable. The warming of the planet and the rise of artificial intelligence will bring existential challenges. But we live in a G-zero world, a world without leadership that people can trust and count on. It’s up to all of us to fill that void.

Innovative technologies about to transform our infrastructure

Stewing in a traffic jam, huffing over a late train or waiting out a delayed flight at an overburdened airport, one can be forgiven for feeling frustrated by creaking infrastructure.

When New Yorkers finally welcomed the opening of the Second Avenue Subway in 2017, they had been waiting nearly 100 years from the project’s conception to completion of its first phase. Beleaguered Berliners are still waiting on Brandenburg airport – scheduled to open in 2011 – to start accepting passengers. Over-budget and over-deadline projects too often seem the norm, all while innovation is flourishing in the rest of the economy.

However, appearances can be deceptive; innovation is actually thriving at all stages of infrastructure development. Exciting new ideas are being generated around the world and have the potential to change the field.

1. BIM: design that keeps tabs

Observing a construction site from afar, one can be forgiven for thinking not much has changed. Yet, a closer look will reveal advances that are changing the way infrastructure projects are designed. Building Information Modeling (BIM) software programs grant the ability to digitally design a construction project that moves beyond two-dimensional technical drawings and Computer Aided Design. BIM allows professionals at all stages, from the architects to the engineers to the building managers, to collaborate on a construction project.

It not only enables three-dimensional computer-generated design, but can also provide insights into functional considerations like time and cost, and even environmental impact. Will floor-to-ceiling windows increase the energy bill? The architect wants to add a new wall: How does this affect the engineering requirements? BIM can answer all these in real time and give access to all necessary parties on multiple platforms. This, among other things, optimises design, decreases errors and gives greater cost predictability, which help to deliver projects that are on time and on budget.

2. 3D printing: taking the strain of construction

While on-screen advancements like BIM are increasing collaboration to improve infrastructure design, on-site technological advances are changing the way infrastructure is physically constructed. 3D printing is poised to totally disrupt the construction site. MX3D, a Dutch 3D printing company, attempted to design and built the world’s first 3D printed steel bridge – all in mid-air. The project involved constructing a special six-axis robot that could create weight-bearing structures beneath it, which it could slide forward upon to continue the project as the building material set. The 12.5-metre span is due to be installed over a canal in central Amsterdam this year after safety testing and will include sensors to gather insights on how the bridge reacts over time. The technology holds the potential to increase the efficiency of infrastructure mega-projects, while reducing the cost and safety concerns of operating in sprawling, chaotic construction sites.

3. Mass Timber: the era of wooden skyscrapers

The brave new world of infrastructure development isn’t confined to new designing and building technologies – new materials are also leading the field. The centuries-long reign of concrete as a primary building material may be coming to an end, as the use of various Mass Timber alternatives continues to become more mainstream. Mass Timber is increasingly replacing other building materials like cement and steel, and new products like CLT (cross-laminated timber, formed by stacking and gluing perpendicular layers of wood) and Glulam (glue-laminated timber, formed by stacking and gluing layers of wood directly on top of each other) are allowing for even higher and stronger wood buildings.

Vienna’s HoHo tower is set to be 24 storeys and 84 metres tall, and Norway’s recently completed 85.4 metre, 18-storey Mjøsa Tower is now the tallest timber tower in the world. The Fort McMurray International Airport Terminal in Canada was the largest cross-laminated timber building in North America at the time it was built in 2012. Using CLT in the terminal’s construction to cut building time was ideal given Fort McMurray’s small labour force, its remote location in Canada’s northern Alberta province and its harsh seasonal weather conditions.

Using Mass Timber can reduce construction time up to 25% and use up to one-third the energy production of steel and one-fifth of concrete in addition to using significantly less carbon-intensive production methods. The airport terminals and train stations of tomorrow could be built faster and cleaner using Mass Timber, as builders tackle taller and larger projects with materials like CLT and Glulam.

4. Plastic roads: recycling under our wheels

This disruption of traditional building materials continues with efforts to replace asphalt as a primary material in road construction with plastic. Dutch engineering firm KWS has developed a lightweight, prefabricated, modular road made with recycled plastic waste. Advantages over asphalt include a quicker installation time, triple the service life and introducing an effective way to recycle the plastic that ends up in our oceans and landfills. The road is hollow to allow room for utility pipe placement and rainwater drainage. It is also covered in a special coating to prevent the release of microplastics, which often end up our food supply. Though the pilot project has been a 30-metre bike path made from the equivalent of 218,000 plastic cups in the Dutch city of Zwolle, sensors imbedded in the road are helping the team capture insights that can be used to develop plastic roads, plastic highways – perhaps even plastic airport runways. Plastic roads not only have the potential to take plastic waste out of the environment, but to introduce savings through faster installation and less disruptive maintenance.

5. Blockchain: streamlining contracts

Improved design technologies and new building materials are positive steps, but a transformation-ripe area of infrastructure development lies long before the first blueprints are drawn. Moribund contracting and procurement processes dramatically slow down projects before they even begin. Blockchain is one such technology that can eliminate the many layers of contracts and middlemen that sit between the conception and delivery of an infrastructure project. Blockchain’s potential to undergird smart contracts can be used to pay for important aspects of an infrastructure asset (for example, a subway car or important parts of an ventilation system) by releasing direct payments over time to the supplier, the shipping company or the installer without a web of separate contracts and intermediate parties.

Additionally, it provides full traceability. Its identity certification applications could reduce issues around finding workers or firms with the right construction certification or security clearances. Indeed, leveraging Blockchain’s use of digital IDs could lead to automation of contract and sub-contract administration making for more direct agreements and less confusion. Using blockchain throughout the project life cycle, particularly in conjunction with BIM, could significantly cut down on time, cost and fraud.

6. Replica: making passengers count

In addition to having a plan for procurement, designers need to understand the best way to plan for a new system. For mass transportation infrastructure projects, this means knowing where the people are and where they need to go. Misunderstanding passenger demand can lead to costly missteps like Montreal’s abandoned Mirabel airport, once projected to be among the busiest in the world, or the Jacksonville Skyway operating at 10% of projected daily ridership (though the city has interesting plans to revitalise the system).

When planning new rapid transit routes, urban planners often rely on inefficient household surveys, limiting trip counters or data quality-plagued modeling software. Sidewalk Labs endeavours to solve this problem with Replica, a software that can use real-time location data to plan mass transportation systems. The program de-identifies mobile location data from smartphones and apps, combines it with aggregate demographic information, and gives planning agencies information on how, when and why people travel in urban areas. Replica can help planners decide where to build a new subway line or widen a street, or when to plan repairs on utility lines when they are the least disruptive. It is a tool that could improve the speed and efficacy with which infrastructure is planned and maintained, avoiding the potential for bridges to nowhere.

Clearly, there are many exciting things going on in a field that can appear staid to the uninitiated. The technological transformation sweeping the rest of society is indeed primed to revolutionise infrastructure. However, decision-makers, for a variety of reasons, are still hesitant to create the kind of enabling environment necessary for widespread embrace of these emerging technologies.

The technological advances rising for infrastructure have the potential to change the way we live, work and play in an increasingly interconnected world. If we can create the environment where the Fourth Industrial Revolution spurs the infrastructure technology revolution, the prosperous, dynamic and inclusive societies the world needs are only a short ride away.

Ramayana Inspires & Fires Imagination of Urdu Poets

The recent happening in BHU (Banaras Hindu University) of stupidity running amuck, made me think: Is culture and history handmaiden of any sect, any group or any one single community. The case of students agitating against a Muslim being appointed a professor shows that they are ignorant of Rahim and Kabir whose poetry is replete with reference to Gopal and Ram. And when I see the work of Urdu poets, I am overwhelmed by their devotion and love for The Ramayana and The Mahabharata. I am overcome by the beauty of Hafeez Jalandhari’s Krishn Kanhaiya. Hafeez- the Urdu poet most well-known for composing the lyrics to Pakistan’s national anthem, the Qaumi Tarana- wrote Krishn Kanhaiya which is a poem about the Hindu god Krishna. Today, the mere idea of a Muslim poet writing about a Hindu deity raises all sorts of emotions among different groups in South Asia: surprise, joy, curiosity, suspicion, anger. But the way Ramayana has fired the imagination of Muslim and Urdu poets is beyond any imagination.

Epics allow themselves to be read at multiple levels; the many stories contained within an epic can be ‘broken down’ and interpreted in different ways, to suit a variety of purposes while maintaining the over-arching, all-embracing integrity of the larger poetic story.

Classical and sacred Sanskrit texts are a part of world heritage. We take great pride when Europeans take an interest in them. There is a glorious tradition of Muslim musicians’ respect for and contributions to Hindu temple traditions. Such respect and contribution should be welcomed and encouraged in scholarly studies as well.

In the case of the Ramayana, while it is primarily a religious text depicting the life of Ram, the Prince of the Kosalas, his 14-year exile, the various dramatis personae he meets during his stay in the jungles, his journey to distant Lanka in pursuit of his wife who has been abducted by Ravana, and his eventual, triumphant return to his home in Ayodhya, the story and the very persona of Ram are brimful with meanings and significance.

Laying claim to Ram

As much a religious figure as an icon of morality, the character of Maryada Purushottam Ram, the so-called ‘perfect’ man, the embodiment of goodness and ‘manliness’ and everything that symbolises honour, chivalry and kindness, has seized the imagination of the poet and creative writer from different Indian languages for millennia. His story has been told and retold in different ways, in multiple languages and dialects.

The Urdu poet and writer is no exception. While large numbers of the Ramayana itself have been written in Urdu, both in verse and prose, a vast amount of Urdu poetry exists on the various incidents mentioned in the epic, first said to have been written by Valmiki, the principal characters mentioned in the story as well as several that deal specifically with Shri Ram himself.

Of the many poems on the chief protagonist of the many Ram Kathas that have sprouted over the centuries, ‘Ram’ by Dr Muhammad Iqbal is remarkable. Brimming over with love and respect for ‘Ram-e Hind’, whose very name is a badge of honour for the people of Hind, it lays claim to Ram in unequivocal terms, as someone that every Indian is proud of:

Labrez hai sharaab-e haqiqat se jaam-e Hind

Sab falsafi hain khitta-e maghrib ke Ram-e Hind

(The goblet of Hind is brimful with the wine of reality

All the philosophers of the west are taken in by Ram of Hind)

Similarly, Saghar Nizami’s ‘Ram’ stakes his claim to honouring and loving the legacy of Ram, making no distinction between the followers of Hinduism and the people of Hind who have the same reasons to love and respect him:

Zindagi ki rooh thha roohaniyat ki sham thha

Woh mujassam roop mein insaan ke irfaan thha

(He was the spirit of Life and the candle of spirituality

In the form of a human he was Knowledge incarnate)

‘Culture’ of Hind is embodied in Sita, Lakshman & Ram

Then there’s ‘Sri Ram Chandar’ by Zafar Ali Khan, a prolific poet now lost in the veils of time, but in his age had his finger on the nation’s pulse, wrote on a range of subjects, and was an influential editor of an Urdu newspaper. Here, in waxing eloquent on the many sterling qualities of Shri Ram Chandar, and the message embodied in his life, he makes the telling point that the ‘culture’ of Hind is embodied in Sita, Lakshman and Ram:

Naqsh-e tehzeeb-e Hunood abhi numaya hai agar

To woh Sita se hai Lachman se hai aur Ram se hai

(If there are any signs of the culture of Hinduism

Then they are because of Sita, Lachman and Ram)

Ramayan ka eik Scene by Brij Narain Chakbast is one of the best-loved and oft-quoted pieces of Urdu poetry. This long poem depicts Raja Ram Chandar taking leave from his parents, especially the poignant moment of leaving his mother, Kaushalya.

Inspired as much by the soz and marsiya tradition that had flowered in the Awadh region as by the many retellings of the Ram Katha in the folk tradition, the poem is full of poetic imagery of a son — a much-loved ‘ideal’ son — taking leave of his mother as he embarks on a journey of honour and commitment, taking with him nothing from his princely home save his mother’s blessings and the assurance that as long as he has the grace and favour of the Almighty, even the wilderness can be as favourable as a mother’s presence.

Uska karam shareek hai to gham nahii

Daamaan-e dasht daaman-e maadar se kam nahii

(If one has His divine blessings one can know no sorrow

The hem of wilderness is no less than a mother’s hem)

A non-judgmental account of ‘Sita-Haran’

Certain incidents from the Ramayana fired the imagination of the poet and the creative writer more than others. Just as the exile and stay in the jungle or ban-bas (variously spelt as banwas) became a metaphor for all sorts of wanderings in strange lands and all manner of hardship, so too did Sita’s abduction by Raavan, her crossing of the ‘Lakshman Rekha’ and the notion of ‘a stain upon a woman’s honour’ that abduction has always meant for a woman.

In ‘Sita Haran’ by Munshi Banwari Lal Shola we see a fairly conventional narration of events:

  • of Sita spotting the golden deer
  • of becoming enamoured by its beauty (its magnificent horns and hooves) that is narrated in great detail
  • of the entrapment planned by the wily Raavan
  • of Lakshman first telling Sita that no harm can come to Ram, but eventually going off in pursuit of his brother after instructing Sita to stay safe within the confines of the marital home
  • of Raavan appearing in the guise of a hungry Brahman seeking alms
  • and the simple, kind-hearted Sita stepping out of the boundary drawn by Lakshman to feed the hungry fakir.

The poem is remarkable for its completely non-judgmental tone and a sequential, though poetic, narration of events.

Bahar jo kundli se chaliin dhoka khaa gayii

Raavan ke chhal mein hai maharani aa gayii

(The moment she stepped out of the circle she was entrapped

Hai, the queen was beguiled by the deception of Raavan)

We know about Sita. What about Urmila?

Yet another poem, entitled ‘Ram’ by Rahbar Jaunpuri, while enumerating the many good qualities including his love for peace, harmony and truth, tells us why the land of Hindustan is proud of him.

In walking the path of loyalty, Ram has become an enduring symbol of self-sacrifice just as Raavan has come to embody the ‘shar-pasand’, those who like evil.

Rasm-o-rivaaj-e Ram se aari hain shar-pasand

Raavan ki nitiyon ke pujari hain shar-pasand

(Those who like evil are bereft of the traditions of Ram

They are the worshippers of the practices of Raavan)

Occasionally, it’s the ‘smaller’ stories of the lesser-known characters that seize the poetic imagination. Sita, who accompanied her husband and brother-in-law in exile, forsaking the luxuries of the royal palace, is one of the principal dramatis personae, but what of Urmila — the wife of Lakshman and younger sister of Sita?

Like Sita, she too wanted to accompany her husband, but Lakshman asked her to stay back and look after his ageing parents. She agreed, but at what cost? ‘Urmila’ by a contemporary poet, Tripurari, tells this unsung story, and asks if Urmila’s sacrifice was any less?

Using a modern, everyday idiom, and a natural, unaffected, enquiring tone, he seems to be wondering how this flesh-and-blood young woman, prone to the body’s human urges, would have coped in those barren 14 years of enforced separation from her husband?

… Magar woh Urmila ko chhod kar bhai ke pichhe chal pade

Koi tadapti aarzu si

Urmila ke honth se gir kar

Kai tukdon mein niche farsh par bikhri hui thi …

An elegy for the ‘death’ of the India that was

That epics can be read at multiple levels, including the political, is evident in the sorrowful, poignant, yet profoundly political Doosra Banwas by Kaifi Azmi, as much an elegy for the death of an India that was — an India that always allowed differences to co-exist, but one that was dealt a body blow on 6 December 1992.

The nazm depicts Lord Ram, coming home from exile in the jungle, to find the raqs-e divangi (the dance of madness) in the courtyard of his home in Ayodhya, the stains of blood on the banks of the Sarju river and his reaction to the demolition of the masjid that would —according to the poet — have been unequivocal. He would have felt as though he had been banished for a second time, for such a city — filled with hate — could not have been his home.

Ram banbaas se jab lautke ghar men aaye

Yaad jangal bahut aaya jo nagar men aaye

Raqs-e-divangi aangan mein jo dekha hoga

Chhe December ko Shri Ram ne socha hoga

Itne divane kahan se mire ghar men aaye

Jagmagate thhe jahaan Ram ke qadmon ke nishan

Pyaar ki kahkashan leti thi angdaii jahaan

Morh nafrat ke usi rahguzar men aaye

Dharm kya un ka thaa, kya zaat thii, ye jaanta kaun

Ghar na jalta to unhein raat men pahchanta kaun

ghar jalane ko mira log jo ghar men aa.e

Shakahari thhe mere dost tumhare ḳhanjar

Tum ne Babar ki taraf phenke thhe saare patthar

Hai mire sar ki ḳhata, zaḳhm jo sar mein aaye

Paanv Sarju mein abhi Ram ne dhoye bhi naa thhe

Ki nazar aaye vahan ḳhuun ke gahre dhabbe

Paanv dhoye bina Sarju ke kinare se uthe

Ram ye kahte hue apne dvare se uthe

Rajdhani ki faza aaii nahin raas mujhe

Chhe December ko mila doosra banbas mujhe

Defining a Kafir-An Object of Hatred for Fanatics

On October 25, a leader of a NATO member nation openly incited violence against non-Muslims.  On that day, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attended the Friday prayers at the Great Çamlıca Mosque in Istanbul. He was accompanied by Istanbul’s governor Ali Yerlikaya, mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu, Istanbul’s chief of police Mustafa Çalışkan and the head of the Istanbul branch of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), Bayram Şenocak.  

After the prayers, the hafiz of the mosque recited the Koranic Verse Al-Fath, which means “victory, triumph, conquest” in English. Then Erdogan took the microphone, reciting a part of the verse in Arabic and then in Turkish. He told the congregants:

“Our God commands us to be violent towards the kuffar (infidels). Who are we? The ummah [nation] of Mohammed. So [God] also commands us to be merciful to each other. So we will be merciful to each other. And we will be violent to the kuffar. Like in Syria.

AT the magnificent St Peter’s Square in Rome recently, Pope Francis welcomed a group of unusual guests: members of Nahdlatul Ulema (NU) from the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country, Indonesia. The head of the delegation, Sheikh Yahya Cholil Staquf, gave the pontiff documents outlining the vision of a “humanitarian Islam” his organisation has been promoting.

The tenets of this vision reject Islamism — the politicised version of Islam that aims to establish the caliphate as a political system, and to make Sharia the law of the land, despite the diversity in modern societies. It also includes a proposal that is quite new and ambitious: that Muslims should stop calling non-Muslims ‘kafirs’. This is necessary, the Indonesian Sheikh Staquf said, so that Muslims can “view others as a fellow human beings, fellow brothers in humanity”.

But coming back to Erdogan what is Kafi.‘Kafir’ is an Arabic word that comes from the root K-F-R, which means to ‘cover’ something. The implied meaning is that a kafir sees the truth of Islam, but still ‘covers’ it. Moreover, kafirs are seen as the sworn enemies of Islam and Muslims. That is why God will punish them by putting them into eternal hellfire.

Islam divides the world into Muslims and unbelievers, kafirs. Political Islam always has two different ways to treat kafirs—dualistic ethics. Kafirs can be abused in the worst ways or they can be treated like a good neighbor. Kafirs must submit to Islam in all politics and public life. Every aspect of kafir civilization must submit to political Islam.

Political Islam is the doctrine that relates to the unbeliever, the kafir….The Trilogy [The Koran, Sira (Mohammed’s biography) and Hadith (the traditions of Mohammed)] not only advocates a religious superiority over the kafir—the kafirs go to Hell whereas Muslims go to Paradise—but also its doctrine demands that Muslims dominate the kafir in all politics and culture. This domination is political, not religious.

The language of Islam is dualistic. As an example, there is never any reference to humanity as a unified whole. Instead there is a division into believer and kafir (unbeliever). Humanity is not seen as one body, but is divided into whether the person believes Mohammed is the prophet of Allah or not.

The Koran defines the kafir and says that the kafir is hated (40:35), mocked (83:34), punished (25:77), beheaded (47:4), confused (6:25), plotted against (86:15), terrorized (8:12), annihilated (6:45), killed (4:91), crucified (5:33), made war on (9:29), ignorant (6:111), evil (23:97), disgraced (37:18), cursed (33:60), stolen from (Bukhari 5,59,537), raped (Ishaq 759) and a Muslim is not the friend of a kafir (3:28). 

Christians and Jews are infidels, but infidels are kafirs, too. Polytheists are Hindus, but they are also kafirs. The terms infidel and polytheist are religious words. Only the word “kafir” shows the common political treatment of Christian, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, animist, atheist and humanist.

“The word kafir should be used instead of ‘unbeliever’, the standard word. Unbeliever is a neutral term. The Koran defines the kafir and kafir is not a neutral word. A kafir is not merely someone who does not agree with Islam, but a kafir is evil, disgusting, the lowest form of life. Kafirs can be tortured, killed, lied to and cheated. So the usual word ‘unbeliever’ does not reflect the political reality of Islam.

It appears that one major reason behind the continued, severe persecution against and – in many cases – the complete destruction of non-Muslim lives and civilizations in what is today called “the Muslim world” is this intense hatred for and dehumanization of the kafir.

As noted above, all these themes can be found in the Quran, but we should not miss that there was a context to these verses. The Quran’s kafirs were mainly polytheists who persecuted early Muslims and came close to assassinating the Prophet (PBUH) as well. While condemning these kafirs the Quran urged Muslims to see nuances between them and other non-Muslims that are not hostile. “God does not forbid you to deal kindly and justly with anyone who has not fought you for your faith or driven you out of your homes,” a verse notes.

What is at stake is not just social harmony, but also sensible theology.

Other verses honoured Jews and Christians as fellow monotheists — the “People of the Book” — and even promised salvation for them in the afterlife. The Quran also embraces some religious pluralism, noting, “If God had so willed, He would have made you one community.”

As Muslims built empires, the tolerant verses of the Quran were ignored, kafirs became the common term for all non-Muslims and the rest of humanity was seen as in sheer darkness.

This worldview is still influential in Muslim societies. Aan Anshori, a coordinator of the Islamic Network against Discrimination in Indonesia, and a supporter of NU’s call to disuse the term ‘kafir’, says “we are taught that non-Muslims are different from us and also aim to put Muslims worldwide in misery. Their appearance as upstanding individuals, we are taught, masks their actual desire to conquer Islam and Muslims”.

When non-Muslims are seen in such terrible light, a Muslim who joins them is seen as an unforgivable traitor. That is why such murtads, (apostates) are given the death penalty in classical Islamic law — although it has no basis in the Quran. Meanwhile, terrorist groups like IS or Al Qaeda target fellow Muslims by using these labels.

Such enmity towards kafirs or murtads is a serious obstacle to human rights in Muslim-majority societies. They are also an obstacle to cordial, egalitarian relations between Muslims and others. The problem was noted as early as the mid-19th century by the Ottoman Empire, the seat of the Sunni caliphate. Hence came the famous 1856 Reform Edict, declared by Sultan Abdul Mejid I. It abolished “every distinction or designation tending to make any class whatever of the subjects of my Empire inferior to another class, on account of their religion, language, or race”. One of the banned terms was ‘gavur’, which is a Turkish equivalent of ‘kafir’.

What is at stake here is not just social harmony, but also sensible theology. Non-Muslims are non-Muslim for the very same reason that most Muslims are Muslim: they are following the tradition of the families and communities into which they were born. To say that God has cursed them for this is to postulate an unjust God. This really would not be the compassionate God of humanity that the Quran introduces.

Indonesia’s NU, whose very name means “the awakening of scholars”, deserves praise for addressing this deep-seated problem in the Muslim tradition. Their notion of a ‘humanitarian Islam’ reminds of ‘Christian humanism’ — the intellectual movement that underpinned the European Renaissance. Its proponents, such as the 14th-century Italian poet Francesco Petrarca, argued that moral virtue could be attained “not only by Christians … but rather by all humans and all nations”. A very novel idea then, it allowed the rise of free and pluralist societies of the West.

When that humanist idea is challenged at the expense of Muslims, we Muslims rightly complain about ‘Islamophobia’. But we should also challenge the non-Muslimophobia in our ranks. The NU deserves praise for addressing this deep-seated problem in the Muslim tradition.

Authoritative Koranic commentaries—classical and modern—as well as canonical hadith, traditions of Islam’s prophet Muhammad, support Erdogan’s hateful and predatory views toward non-Muslims. Thus, not only do Erdogan’s Koranic invocations sanctioning harshness towards non-Muslims and their jihad conquest, comport with their authoritative glosses, the Turkish President himself is revered by the mainstream. Global Muslim Umma.

Despite all great work done by NU,the fact that these words were uttered by the president of a nation that is an ostensible NATO ally and a candidate for the European Union membership is a major warning to all non-Muslim nations as well as to Muslims who disagree with Erdogan’s worldview. 

Guru Nanak & Stories About Hasan Abdal Getting Water

There are at least three stories that describe the origin of the pond next to Gurdwara Panja Sahib.

Overshadowing the vast complex gurdwara of Panja Sahib, one of the most popular Sikh shrines, associated with Guru Nanak and located in the city of Hasan Abdal in Pakistan, is the tallest mound in the region, rising high above its other shorter cousins.

The entire city of Hasan Abdal is this interaction between mounds and planes, the narrow alleys with their wooden jharokas, abandoned Hindu temples, tall minarets of mosques and some recently constructed plazas, rising and falling as the earth beneath them breathes in and out. However, there is something spectacular about this mountain. The scatter of the city, its ancientness, pales in comparison with the permanence of this mound.

The focal point of this historical city is the shrine of Guru Nanak, a vast complex protected by tall walls. Every year, hundreds of pilgrims descend upon this gurdwara from all over the world to celebrate different religious festivals including Baisakhi and Guru Nanak Gurpurab, the birth anniversary of the founder of Sikhism. This year as well, when Sikh and other devotees of Nanak come to Pakistan to participate in his birthday celebrations, Gurdwara Panja Sahib will be one of the places pilgrims will be allowed to visit by the Pakistani state. No Muslim, besides representatives of the state, will be allowed within the premise of the gurdwara.

The legend

Right next to the main entrance of the gurdwara manned by police officials, a tiny stream flows into the shrine. The legend goes that the stream once flowed from a spring on top of the hill, near which lived a local religious figure named Wali Qandhari. This spring was the only source of water for the inhabitants of Hasan Abdal.

But once Nanak arrived and started gathering a congregation around him, Qandhari felt jealous and angry as his popularity declined. It is believed that Qandhari stopped the flow of water downstream. Needing water, the people appealed to Qandhari to let the water flow as before. “Go to your Guru, the one you visit everyday now and ask him for water,” he is supposed to have responded angrily.

The inhabitants of Hasan Abdal went to Nanak, who sent Bhai Mardana, his disciple and companion, to plead with Qandhari, who in turn is said to have refused angrily and turned him away with the same response. Nanak sent him again, and then again, but to each time come back with the same response. Eventually, Guru Nanak is said to have removed a stone from the ground under his feet, making a stream of water gush out of the earth.

Qandhari’s spring, as per the legend, is said to have dried up because all of its water had come gushing out from under Nanak’s feet. In his wrath, Qandhari is supposed to have hurled a boulder towards Nanak, which he is said to have stopped with his right hand, leaving a permanent mark on the rock, thus lending this gurdwara its name – Panja Sahib.

It now rests in the sacred pond created from this stream of water, facing the main shrine, as pilgrims form a long queue to place their hand where once Nanak is said to have rested his fingers.

Many festivals

The climb up the mountain, which Bhai Mardana is believed to have undertaken thrice to plead with Qandhari, is arduous. On a barren mountain interspersed with a few trees, the authorities have in the past few years constructed a pathway. Many Sikh and Hindu devotees who come to visit the shrine of Nanak also sometimes travel up this mountain. At the time of Baisakhi when the courtyard of Nanak’s gurdwara is swarming with pilgrims, there is a festival arranged here as well. There is a separate date for another festival at the shrine which is unique to it.

Graffiti on some of the rocks on this mound present another form of religiosity. “Allah O Akbar”, it says. On a cool morning a few years ago when I undertook this trek, there were several people whom I saw on their way to the lone shrine at the top of the mound. These were young students in school and college uniforms, families with picnic baskets, a few devotional pilgrims carrying their slippers in their hands, intentionally attempting to make this spiritual journey more difficult for themselves. Midway, there was a small bazaar, while there was another one right outside the shrine, selling not only religious paraphernalia but also refreshments.

In an empty ground behind the shrine, there were a few dervish preparing a hashish cigarette, with the panorama of the world with its people engaged in their daily grind at their feet. Standing at the edge of the cliff, the gurdwara seemed far away, beautiful with its white dome and a green pool.

Many stories

In the Sikh tradition, Wali Qandhari is an arrogant saint who refused Mardana water and then hurled a rock towards Nanak, for his Muslim devotees he is Baba Hasan Abdal, who lends this city its name.

There are several stories associated with the saint. Some suggest that he prayed on the top of this mountain and then mysteriously disappeared, which is why he is also referred to as the Zinda Pir. There is no grave inside the shrine, but a green box has been put up by the authorities to collect donations made by the pilgrims.

Another narrative suggests that the saint was responsible for extracting two streams from these mountains that now flow through the city. In this version, he was not the jealous or arrogant saint who refused Mardana water, but rather the benefactor who gave the city the gift of water.

There is yet another story associated with the pond at Hasan Abdal which recalls its reverence in the Buddhist tradition. Hasan Abdal happens to be approximately 20 kms from Taxila and the Chinese Buddhist traveller Hiuen Tsang, who travelled to India in the 7th century CE provides a detailed description of his trip to a place about the same distance from Taxila, with an ancient tank covered with lotus flowers, where devotees would come to pray for fine weather and rain. The pond, according to Hiuen Tsang, had become sacred because of a boon bestowed on a Buddhist king, Elapatra, by the gods. With relics of ancient Buddhist cities and stupas in all directions around the town, Hassan Abdal in ancient India fell within the geographical location of the famed Gandharan civilization.

While there are three stories that describe the origin of this pond, there is only one thing common in all of them – its sacredness.

Peril of Biased Media

When the press deliberately hides the news, it can be deadly. Abiased media is a deadly threat to any free nation. Sound extreme? Alarmist? Sure, the media has its slant, but deadly? History shows us that it is.

“Fake news” has become a major topic of conversation. This is not a subject to take lightly. The survival of our freedom is at stake. Is “fake news” really that bad? Several recent stories show that it is.

There’s a growing trend in biased media to hide news—to refuse to carry people or messages they don’t like. Just to show the bias let us take Attorney General William Barr’s speech at Notre Dame University on October 11, for example. It was a powerful message to the American people—a warning that immorality will cause the nation’s downfall. In a clear, logical, almost unarguable way, Mr. Barr laid out the connection between national immorality and national decline.

America’s founders knew that “if you rely on the coercive power of government to impose restraints, this will inevitably lead to a government that is too controlling, and you will end up with no liberty, just tyranny,” said Mr. Barr. “On the other hand, unless you have some effective restraint, you end up with something equally dangerous—licentiousness—the unbridled pursuit of personal appetites at the expense of the common good. This is just another form of tyranny—where the individual is enslaved by his appetites, and the possibility of any healthy community life crumbles.”

Instead, America’s Founding Fathers took a gamble. “They would leave ‘the people’ broad liberty, limit the coercive power of the government, and place their trust in self-discipline and the virtue of the American people,” he continued.

There is a lot more great material in Barr’s speech; it’s worth a watch or a read. He showed clearly how the nation’s moral decline puts it in danger of tyranny. His message would do a lot of good if people received it. It reminded me of Abraham Lincoln’s calls to national repentance during America’s Civil War.

But how did the media respond? Did the various news outlets report on the speech, summarizing it for their audience? If they disagreed, did they state the speech’s main points and then outline their arguments against them?

They did neither. Not only did they not accurately report on the speech, but they launched a smear campaign against it—discouraging anyone from reading it.

New York Times’ columnist Paul Krugman said Barr gave a “pogrom-type speech” full of “religious bigotry.” Retired Army Col. Lawrence Wilkerson appeared on MSNBC to compare Barr’s speech to the Spanish Inquisition. Law professor Richard Painter said it was “vintage Goebbels.” Even the National Catholic Reporter said “his talk was ridiculously stupid.”

His speech was built around quotes from America’s Founding Fathers. But if you bring those quotes to the public’s attention, the modern media will brand you a Nazi! Consider another way the media has worked to bury the news in recent weeks.

On October 31, Real Clear Investigations (RCI) revealed the name of the “whistleblower” whose accusations against President Donald Trump started the impeachment proceedings.

Get to know Eric Ciaramella and you have a very different picture of this whistleblower than the one presented in the press. This man has been out to get Trump from day one. In 2017, conservative journalist Mike Cernovich wrote, “In fall of 2016, as Obama’s director for Ukraine on the NSC [National Security Council], Ciaramella was the main force pushing Trump-Russia conspiracy theories. Some suspect Ciaramella was one of the original leakers who told the media about classified conversations Trump had with Russian diplomat Sergei Lavrov.”

Ciaramella played a major role in the inception of the Mueller investigation. He wrote an e-mail accusing Trump of firing former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation James Comey at the behest of Russia. Content from the e-mail was leaked to the press and helped start the now-defunct investigation.

A former NSC official told Real Clear Investigations that Ciaramella “was accused of working against Trump and leaking against Trump.” He was finally kicked out of the White House in the summer of 2017 “amid concerns about negative leaks to the media,” according to RCI and sent back to work at CIA headquarters in Langley.

This is not some neutral bystander who happened to spot something that concerned him. This is someone who had already swung at Trump and missed—a man with a clear vendetta.

This is crucial background to the impeachment investigation. Even if you believe Donald Trump should be impeached, surely in the interests of seeing justice done and the full facts released, as a reporter, you would work to get this information out there.

Instead, the mainstream press have refused to mentioned Ciaramella’s name, citing concern for the man’s safety. (They showed no similar concern when they published the name of a high school student caught up in a chant in Washington, D.C.) If they’re really concerned about Ciaramella’s safety, they could report all this background without mentioning him by name. But instead, they reported nothing. Some of the most important facts of the impeachment inquiry are hidden from the public’s view.

My final example is much less significant than these earlier ones, but it still highlights a deadly trend. Earlier this month, the Daily Beast published an article titled “Bill Maher’s Show Has Gone Completely Off the Rails.” I’m not a Bill Maher fan—he’s pretty far left and his language is obscene. But he is one of the few left-wing hosts who will invite right-wing personalities to his show. He argues with them. And, as host, he has the last word. The audience is generally hostile to anyone on the right. But he lets them on the show and gives them time to talk. That’s what the Daily Beast had a problem with.

A few weeks ago, Bill Maher hosted Dennis Prager, a well-known, right-wing news commentator. The two argued. Maher called Prager’s argument dumb; he said Prager was talking “nonsense.” The audience shouted at Prager. But for the Daily Beast, that wasn’t good enough. Prager simply should not be on air. Any media personality—even if he is left wing and even if he argues with Prager—has gone “off the rails” if he gives him any publicity.

The attempt to shut down news the left doesn’t like has a deadly history.

During the 1930s, most of the British media worked hard to silence Winston Churchill. Churchill biographer Henry Pelling wrote that “the BBC had kept him off the air on controversial questions in the 1930s”—these controversial questions included the rise of Nazi Germany. Britain was facing its worst crisis ever, and this state-funded corporation rejected his strong warning about Germany. The BBC worked hard to stop his message to save the Western world!

But it wasn’t just the BBC. The Times, then Britain’s leading and most prestigious newspaper, gave a distorted picture of the rise of the Nazis, repeatedly lulling its readers to sleep. It refused to publish Churchill’s complaints and rebuttals.

Times’ editor Geoffery Dawson wrote in 1937, “I spend my nights in taking out anything” that could offend Germany. Instead, he was “dropping little things which are intended to soothe them.”

The Times newspaper now had a shameful history to remember—and perhaps try to forget! Not only did it distort the available facts, it refused to print Churchill’s view! And his view had been amazingly accurate for years. It had a blatant bias visible to the whole world. This was no small crime by the prestigious Times. Its supposed purpose was, and is, to print the truth—and the spirit of truth.

As the ’30s dragged on and war became more imminent, fewer and fewer papers would publish Churchill’s warnings. The press demonized Churchill as a warmonger. In 1938, the Evening Standard canceled his fortnightly column. This column had gone out in over 50 newspapers around the world. But the Standard disagreed with his views on Germany.

Churchill was able to get another contract, this time with the Telegraph, but the articles reached a smaller audience. If Churchill’s warnings had been heeded, World War II could have been avoided.

In a democracy, the people choose the leaders and, by extension, set policy. The people are informed and guided by the media. Throughout most of the ’30s the British public supported appeasement with Adolf Hitler. The result was disastrous. But the media deserves a lot of the blame for misleading the public and hiding the truth.

CBC and CTV , along with Toronto Star are just mouth pieces of the Liberal party and would either ignore or distort news not favourable to the party.

The press was a close community, where people generally thought alike. If someone brought a message they didn’t like, they didn’t just cover their own ears—they covered that nation’s as well.

Media conglomerates are extremely powerful. They are becoming too powerful for politicians to challenge. To directly challenge the mega-media often leads to political death. The media frequently have more power with the people than the politicians do.

Look at the showdown between President Trump and the media. Look how much damage the press can do. Would a man like Trump have been able to even become president before the Internet and social media gave him an alternative way to get his message out? No wonder so many in the press are pushing for Facebook and Google to censor right-wing messages.

In India TV channels like NDTV and news papers like The Hindu and The National Herald adopt visible anti-Modi program, and yet they call themselves independent, unbiased and objective. All these free democratic countries today face a multitude of threats: their own moral decline, a radical left that would tear the nation apart to get power, threats from abroad, and more. All of these threats are as deadly as Hitler and the Nazis. But so few are concerned about them because their media is not giving them the truth. And if you speak out about any of these threats, the media will demonize you the way they once demonized Churchill.

Why have our press been so consistently bad? Why are they pushing so much deceit? “The habit of saying smooth things and uttering pious platitudes and sentiments to gain applause, without relation to the underlying facts, is more pronounced now than it has ever been in my experience,” Churchill lamented. He was citing Isaiah 30:9-10, where the people “say to the seers, See not; and to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits.”

Naturally, people want to take the easier route and speak and hear smooth things—things agreeable to those in the media bubble. That is the easy way to receive applause and promotion. The passage in Isaiah continues: “Get you out of the way, turn aside out of the path, cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from before us” (verse 11). This passage is describing a people with built-in resistance to truth, to anything upsetting or that would cause us to want to change. They are ultimately against God.

The passage goes on to warn: “Calamity will come upon you suddenly—like a bulging wall that bursts and falls. In an instant, it will collapse and come crashing down” (verse 13). This is where the “smooth things” approach leads. When problems are ignored and sins go unconfronted, the end result is a problem of catastrophic proportions.

This is the scale of the danger posed by the “fake news” media. Sixty million people died in World War II—a war the media failed to warn about until it was too late. How many more would die in a modern collapse?

This is an imminent danger you need to understand. But there is more to the story. There is a hidden, unseen reason why deceit and lies are so common in today’s media—a hidden factor that is bringing the nations down.