Peace loving humans

I held a very traditional view of human ethics and values. I believed:

Throughout history human life did not have any value. The armies and neighboring tribes used to raid, pillage and ransack anybody who could be subdued and without any repercussions. Capturing the weak and exploitation of slaves was rampant. Even the church used to glorify it by labeling it with “White Man’s burden” or “Holy Crusade”. Great Saga on conquests and battles were written with gory details on the pain, suffering and carnage these resulted in.

All these indicate the value of a human life that was not a kin was little (if not zero). However today when education has helped people identify & relate to others. Also the macho charm associated with killing has vanished because swords & horseback charges have replaced themselves with much easier to operate guns, ammo and explosives.

However recently I was challenged and presented with a few facts that made me question these beliefs. The consensus was that causing suffering and taking human life was only a means to achieve the ambition of a few generals. The common soldier (irrespective of whether from the winning or the losing side) would prefer not to kill even at the cost of their own death.

Firstly, the famous story of unfired muskets of Gettysburg (American Civil war, 1863). Of the 27,000 muskets that were recovered, 24,000 were loaded. Considering that it took between 30-90 seconds for a trained soldier to load a musket and pull of trigger to fire it, the fact points that many soldiers was reluctant to shoot/kill. To discount the theory that soldiers were incapacitated before he had a chance to discharge, then one should remember that 12,000 were loaded multiple times and amongst them 6,000 were loaded between three to 10 times. There is one famous musket that was loaded 23 times indicating that the soldier had infinite time and no intention what so ever to fire.

Secondly, a famous book “Men against fire” by General S.L.A. Marshall highlights the fact that during world war 2 only 15-20% of the soldiers actually discharged their weapons. Maximum carnage was a result of an artillery fire or long distance shooting where the soldiers could not see their enemy.

Thirdly there has been no historian or military general who has not ridiculed the green soldiers. The civilians (as many would mock them as) were often compared with mannequins and props whose only purpose seem to be to boost the morale of the enemy through getting killed, desertion or fleeing the battlefield. In the Battle of Cannae 216BC, Rome had amazed the largest army it had. Not only they outnumbered Hannibal 2:1 but also was better fed, trained and had the home territory advantage. Yet Hannibal Barca’s battle hardened army managed to surround them and massacred 75,000 of the green Roman Army in a direct hand to hand combat, while taking minimal losses himself.

The point being that history is glorified and often exaggerated accounts of a few men with the intention to inspire the masses; rally the troop and create lasting memories/impression. Like Bollywood movies they need to be larger than life and might not be the true reflection of cruelty in the society at large.

Evolution of “Per Capita Income”

Traditionally men (women rarely had any value) were viewed more as a silver earned by selling them as slaves or how large an army could be drafted from the region. The value of human life was so low in the medieval ages that people stopped buying slaves (you could inherit a fief and its serfs for free so why pay). Go East for riches campaigns during Crusades (and later go west during settlement of America) was probably the only historic references where establishments tried to place a value to a free-man’s life.
Simply put if human life had any value, you would have emigration checks and not immigration checks. Till recently many middle east regimes did not encourage university education because graduate students would destabilize the regime. (much like early industrial age governments saw factory workers as a threat). So development of human capital was always a private endeavor and only recently has it been institutionalized.
Similarly land traditionally used to be viewed in terms of how much taxes it could yield (cities, ports) or how much grain/men/resource it could produce. A land surveryer Sir William Petty in early 17th century tried to resolve this by coming up with GDP, a unifying parameter to place the value of the land & tax it aptly.
Now the question is how did the concept of per-capita income evolved and why? Except for the first half of 1940s (towards the end of of 2nd world war) there has never been a global shortage of manpower, but the earliest references date back to 1934… at that time the world still was recovering from great depression and had double digit urban unemployment (rural unemployment was never measured and is hard to compute even today)
Also what is the relevance of per-capita income? Given a choice between 2 regions both producing the same GDP, would a statesman/politician prefer a larger population base or a smaller? (smaller or larger per capita?)

Bastards rule the world

Adversity has a huge role to play in shaping the person. Most people bow down and back off when faced with adversity, but some of those who don’t accept the marginal existence rise to the top. History is filled with examples of illegitimate, outcastes & disowned children rising up as powerful tycoons, rulers and generals. Few of the names are:
1. Mahabharat: Karan was a bastard, Krishna was not raised by his parents, Dhritrastra & Pandu did not have even an ounce of the royal blood, Pandu was impotent yet he had 5 sons.
2. Ramayana: Sita was found abandoned in the fields, Ram was not supposed to be the legitimate ruler.
3. Ashoka was neither the eldest, nor was he born to the queen.
4. Aurangzeb was the 6th child of his father and had to resort to Fratricide to consolidate power (he arrested his father and hence did not have to indulge in Patricide)
5. Rome was founded by 2 abandoned orphans (sulking on the wolves milk)
6. Alexander was born out of wedlock and had to resort to Patricide the moment the crown prince was born (he was the head of the royal bodyguards and the king dies under his guard paving way for his rise to the throne)
7. Nobody knows who Jesus Christ’s father was
8. Hitler stepfather Johann Georg Hiedler was recognized as the birth-father only 20 years after his death (and 30 years after the death of Hitler’s mother)
The list goes on: Confucius (ca. 551–479 BCE), St. Vladimir the Great, Grand Prince of Kiev (980–1015), William the Conqueror (1028–87), King Joao I of Portugal (1358–1433), Leone Battista Alberti (1404–72), Antoine, bastard of Burgundy (1421–1504), Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519), Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466–1536), Ferdinand Columbus (1488–1539), Queen Elizabeth I of England (1533–1603), Jean le Rond d’Alembert (1717–83), Alexander Hamilton (1755–1804), James Smithson (1764 – 1829), Alexandre Dumas, fils (1824 – 95) etc.

Some say that one needs ruthlessness to succeed and bastards are born with it. However many of them were kind and gentle. What they had was an obsession, the passion to succeed against all odds. The world was not handed to them on a silver platter, but that never scared them. The out of the box thinking and challenging the status quo. While the common man lives to collect his inheritance, these guys go out of the way to create theirs.

 

Book Review: Guns Germs and Steel

To most people history is about stats, dates, events, and how individuals achieved glory and defied the odds. However history is a lot more than that.

Recently I read a book by Jared M. Diamond who tries to capture exactly this. Much like the older article published by him, I don’t fully agree with him and find his research to be too generic and non-comprehensive. The book’s coverage about India is very sketchy, which is true with almost all all western literature. Isn’t it surprising that the Europeans were once so desperate to discover India that they labeled civilizations even at the other end of the globe as Indians. Yet India, which is one of the oldest civilization and accounts for 1/6 of mankind, covers so little space in the history books.

Yet one should give him credit for scientifically breaching a subject that is not talked about by most. “Why did Europeans conquer the world and not the other way around?” “Why Africa, the so called cradle of human civilization fell so behind in the development tree?” “Why did the history of mankind revolved around Mediterranean sea? (Egypt, Greek, Rome, Persia, Italy, Spain)”

The book essentially argues that geographical and environmental factors shaped the modern world. It highlights the GDP Density theory saying that flux (movement of ideas, people, goods and technology) and competition hardens the civilization and propels them to dominate the world.

The start of the book highlights the importance of domesticated (not tamed) animals & agriculture in dominant cultures. ( a complete U turn for someone who wrote that agriculture is the worst mistake by human race). He then highlights that germs & diseases were bred in tightly packed cities & villages that were possible due to domestication. Eurasia could develop immunity towards them due to long exposure but people in the new world (North & south America & Australia) were doomed. Infact more people were killed due to germs than in warfare.

 

Downsides:

 

The cost of governance

History has taught us that the more the lands, resources and trade routes a regime controls the richer the state is. Wars traditionally were a very profitable empire bringing loot and access to resources which could fill the state’s coffers for ages. All this was true till about the early 20th century (First World War to be precise). I wonder what has happened since because today:
1. The richer and more advanced the country is, the more debt laden it is. Poor and developing countries are bailing out the rich, while the rich are unable to muster enough currency to every pay the interest on these debts.
2. It does not matter who wins the war, the participating nations are never able to recover its cost. I might be wrong but the reason why there are so few wars in recent history is because no country thinks they can afford one.

The question is till how long will China & Africa continue to fund the prolerific

Update: Right from the ancient time to Great War (world war 1, 1914), the army was under Ministry of War. People never talked about percentage of GDP that was being spend on army, navy or airforce. Instead each army was like a business enterprise. The loot & plunder or protection taxes always exceeded the expense to train & equip an army. Also after a elongated long conquest, the army general usually paid tribute to the emperor (often as Spanish Steps, Colosseum and glorious building). As mentioned in this post, only in the recent time has the defense being shown as a cost center.

Origin of the word India

2 days ago when I was asking about “what keeps the country together” only one thought came to my mind:Indians don’t even have a name for their country, religion or region.

There was a river flowing at the Eastern Boundary of the Persian Empire which the Indians called Sindh. The Muslims called it Hind (and hence the name Hindu (which is the name of the main religion of India) and Hindustan (which is what the Indians call their country). The Europeans (esp. the French) pronounced this region Inde which the British called as India and the river as Indus.

Incidentally no portion of the river Indus flows in India anymore. When the Europeans took to the sea, they started labeling almost every new culture as Indians, irrespective of whether they had any ties with India or not. So now many races in Northern and Southern America are also called Indians even though they bear no resemblance.

Did Indian education system exist?

Was there ever a glorious education system which India always boasts about?

Well ever wondered why we always mention about the glorious past, well agreed that the Vedas and Upanishads were master pieces at their time, but those were written in the early age of Aryan culture what was there after that? Takshila and Nalanda lay as ruins soon.

Dark Age of Indian education!

Propagators of Gurukul system seem to be very sure that teachers selected were of high caliber in knowledge and character. Well the reality is that there was no central authority controlling the appointment of teachers. There was no fixed syllabus.

Each and every person by virtue of being born as a Brahmin had an inherent right to be a teacher. He could open an ashram and take pupils as and when he likes, and he could give certificate of completion of studies as and when he chooses. He was not bound by any law of land nor any convention of teachers’ body. There used to be guilds and bodies of merchants and craftsmen, but I am unaware if some institution was established to supervise the teaching and conduct of the teacher in such gurukuls. Most of the gurukuls were single teacher residential ones free from any royal or academic control. What was the guarantee of quality under these circumstances? It is a matter of egotism, vanity and conceit to think of quality in such teaching institutions. These gurukuls had no respect in foreign lands and never attracted any foreign students.

Course Content

There seems to be misconceived idea that a student coming out from such a school had all the requisite qualities of a good citizen. This is far from the truth. He used to have learned by heart the Brahmanic sastras, which hardly make him versatile. He could never think of outside matters. What is not in his books does not exist for him. Al Biruni, for example, mentioned that Indian scholars have no knowledge of civilization abroad, and they disbelieve if somebody tells them about it. Their thought process centered on the rituals, vratas and ceremonies.

The Brahmanic knowledge consisted of recital of Vedas, without understanding the meaning of what is being recited, and was miles away from the actual life of productive castes. As a matter of fact, it was enjoined that the recites must not try to understand the meaning of what he reads.

The education was more centered around training some parrots who could sing than create some educated civilized citizens. Writing new books or literary texts, doing scientific study was never encouraged. The medium of instruction was Sanskrit which is a dead language of any value for the community.

Infact, there was no medium for scientific study till the 18th century. The educated class predominately used Sanskrit and Farsi. ( Haath kangan ko aarsi kya, padhe likhe ko farsi kya… meaning like you are not expected to need a mirror for the ornaments in your forearm, you are expected to know farsi if you call yourself educated)

Sanskrit was constructed in the poetic lines (where the stanzas need to by rhyming) which makes it tough for any recording work. The Hindi which we very proudly say as ours was never a written language. It was first written in a paragraph form ( like it is today) by British scholars in the 18th century.

And we blame British to ruin our education system.

One cannot stick for a couple of centuries with the same book in hand and say it is the ultimate source of all knowledge and is written by god himself. Like civilization even books need to evolve. Saying that this scientific discovery was already mentioned in so and so stanza of this ancient book is ridiculous. If you already knew about it then I would say… shame on you Vedic scholars. You are sitting on a gold mine of knowledge and have gained nothing from it.

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Chanakya’s views (Now writing as DeadManWalking)

I have heard about the glory of the upinishads and vedas since I was born. Everything we have now is already in the vedas. Recently a girl told me that we have had no progress in the field of medicines new in medicine thats not in ayurveda or ancient Chinese medicine! were her exact words. I dont know much but i definitely don’t think this is correct. I don’t believe penicillin is mentioned in the vedas is it ? Coming to the vedas its all about interpretation isn’t it. A shlok praising the sun god calculates the value of pi to huge number of decimal places. I don’t know Sanskrit but i found that to be awesome (i am not being sarcastic here).

Between Chinese and Indian aurveda a huge amount of knowledge is covered. However one still has to remember that we still have no cures for a huge number of diseases and we seem to be very apt at finding new ones. diseases which were not even there in ancient times definitely have no cure today. Oh yhea and cancer and radiology and tumors. Let me see the ancient method for tumor in the brain was to remove a part of the skull so that the pressure on the brain decreases (practiced in very few places most places would just kill off the person calling him crazy) . Nowadays i can choose to have my brain fried in case of tumor.

But medicine has not improved much over the ages. However the others parts of the medical world has improved. Surgery for example. We are so intent on glorifying our past that we tend to forget the present. the past is always perfect isn’t it? We keep on hearing about the great things being found in the vedas. The design of an aircraft for example, however within a few months of the claim there was no longer any more information about it. If the vedas are such a huge storehouse of knowledge then why hasn’t it all been brought out?? just random parts from people who disappear over the horizon.

The vedas have information there is no doubt about it. but what i don’t know and as far as i see no1 else really does except that they know its there.

As far as the ancient education system goes which denied every person the right to study. The immorality of it all is still beheld as being a great system by a majority of the country. Considering that even today the caste system is so prevalent in India i find it absolutely ridiculous. Not that our present system is any better, if you can afford it u can get education. What was initially being denied by virtue of caste is now being denied by virtue of cash. and lets not talk about the government mid day meal programs and its education effort. when the process will be able to lift a person from the downtrodden to reach one of the premier institutes of the country without reservations then ill say it has succeeded.

while i cannot comment about the course content of the gurukul system especially since i wasn’t there nor have i really seen anything other than in the serials and movies. If the vedas were that good i believe then all those stuff must have been imparted into the disciples by the gurus. But somehow it doesn’t look like it happened did it? were the teachers so righteous that they forgot to impart knowledge written in books ? or did the books come to be written at a time when all knowledge had been forgotten. But one thing is guaranteed the aim of an education system such that the knowledge is limited to a particular caste is bound to fail in one way or the another. if education in those times was how and why we are better than the person whom we have conquered in the past then no thanks i say. i cannot believe that we can stil think about that as being a great system of education