The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli (Wikisource) is part of a series of books that I need to read before I can read Collective Choice and Social Welfare. The book started with a promising letter that made me think that the rest is going to be about good governance from a common person’s perspective.
Just as artists who draw landscapes get down in the valley to study the mountains and go up to the mountains to look down on the valley, so one has to be a prince to get to know the character of a people and a man of the people to know the character of a prince.
Reading on, I was a bit disappointed when the author decided to not consider republics. I would have recovered from the disappointment, if things hadn’t taken such a violent turn:
…especially if its people are not used to the freedom of self-government. In that case all you have to do is eliminate the family of the previous ruler and your hold on power is guaranteed.
…in general you must either pamper people or destroy them; harm them just a little and they’ll hit back; harm them seriously and they won’t be able to.
Now I was confused, I had completely misunderstood the motivation of the author. So, I looked up Wikipedia, and for the first time learnt the meaning of Machiavellianism (I remember having ignored this word several times while reading other books and blog posts).
I did not know how to make notes from a book written by someone with such cynical disregard for morality. So, after some thought, I decided to take notes as the prince himself, notes for a violent king.
The Pocket Emma Goldman is a collection of Goldman’s writing taken from the Anarchist Library. You can read it in full — online for free — and I’d highly recommend it. Each sentence in this book is full of truth and power.
Goldman sees the world with utter clarity. When I am thinking about the world I stop myself when I see a structural barrier, thinking that it can’t be overcome. Goldman examines every barrier and sees it for what it really is, an artificially created human structure that can and should be taken down:
When, in the course of human development, existing institutions prove inadequate to the needs of man, when they serve merely to enslave, rob, and oppress mankind, the people have the eternal right to rebel against, and overthrow, these institutions.
The mere fact that these forces — inimical to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness — are legalized by statute laws, sanctified by divine rights, and enforced by political power, in no way justifies their continued existence.
Care is the foundation of society. It goes unrecognized and is undervalued. It is crucial for the maintenance of the personal, as well as the maintenance of infrastructures and institutions. Without it there would be no economy, culture, or politics.
Care goes beyond the logic of capitalism:
Value as defined by capitalism is quantifiable through economic measures
Values like caring on the other hand are cultural, ethical, and qualitative, and are thus hard to measure
There are places where radical care isbeingdemonstrated. Sociologists can enable Popular Education, a process that connects people’s experiences with critical theories. This helps people place their problems in a historical and political context and use the knowledge to develop strategies for change.
A historic look at the Gujarat and Kerala development models, separated from political biases. The two models have evolved over the last two centuries, and even have some commonalities.
Known to have a market-friendly, growth first approach that aims to raise incomes that would lead to trickle down.
The trading communities in Gujarat — Parsis, Bohras etc — weren’t evangelical and there were fewer Christians here. Thus, there wasn’t much focus on education or health.
The route to prosperity was through business and commerce, not education.
The freedom movement was strong in Gujarat with many important figures coming from here. The people were politically aware, but it didn’t lead to any significant social reforms.
Presently, the citizens who’ve left the state have set up businesses and developed roots in other places. The remittances contribute to ~1% of the state’s GDP.
Known to have a state-led focus on human development parameters like health and education, creating a foundation for economic growth.
Princely states of Travancore and Kochi and the british controlled the region of present day Kerala in the 1800’s. When the Christian missionaries arriived they opened up schools. Seeing this the princely states followed suit and started providing free education. They also focussed on public health and vaccinations.
Travancore introduced private property rights to increase incentive for farming productivity. This led to a budget surplus which was invested in education and health.
Since the royal families were focussed on taking care of their subjects the freedom movement didn’t get a stronghold here. However, there was a focus on social reform for civil rights of the lower castes that was led by the non-varna Hindus.
Presently, even with high HDI scores, citizens leave the state to find opportunities elsewhere, but remittances from them contribute to ~14% of the state’s GDP.
There is a principle of Defensive Decentralization: when besieged, a well constructed decentralized system will further decentralize.
The corollary of which is: A well constructed decentralized system will identify & attack emergent centralization.
There has been a tendency for some decentralized systems to move towards centralization, even in non-adversarial conditions — most email going through Google servers, or a few Mastadon servers hosting a bulk of the users. The centralization isn’t always in-protocol, sometimes it can be political, in code, or in design — as seen in many blockchain projects. Designing systems that defend against this is an open problem.
I didn’t pay attention to Civics class in school, so it was time I revisited the syllabus and found out how the Indian government worked. This interest was triggered by the Aadhaar case, and also by my attempt to understand where the ISRO WikiProject lies in the larger Indian government system. I decided to get Indian Government and Politics from SAGE publishing because I read somewhere that it was a textbook for UPSC exams (of which I learnt more in the book). I supplemented my reading with an entertaining YouTube series called Consti-tuition hosted by Meghnad. I even got a subscription to Newslaundry to access the bonus content.
The video series and the book covered what the constitution said, and what reality is like. This was important for me as it helped me learn where the system fails and what kind of structures are made ad-hoc to deal with it. As Dan Kaminsky points out, this part of my learning will go on for much longer, maybe forever.
I’m increasingly thinking that every functioning system has two forms: The abstraction that outsiders are led to believe, and the reality that insiders actually and carefully operate.
You don’t incrementally learn a system. You eventually unlearn its necessary lies.
It also gave me a lot of new WikiData projects ideas. The first one being to visualize the national political parties and their ideologies. I’ll be working on more as time permits. Click image below for the Wikidata query.
This book was a good first step to learn the system and it’s lies. It seems pretty complex, and I know I’ve only scratched the surface, but at least I’ve begun to understand something… the me in school would have understood nothing, even if he did pay attention.