Sunday, March 31, 2013

Abundance : The Future is Better than You think - Peter H Diamandis & Steven Kotler

The world economy is at a stand still, and many countries are struggling to stay afloat, marred with economic turmoil. The terrorism continue to be a major cause of concern around the globe. The prices of essential commodities are raising, the oil price is at a high never before with no signs of easing. The doomsday predictors are on the prowl , as every news that comes out  are of cynical in nature. The population is increasing and after all these years, there are many around the globe who continue to live in pitiable conditions, and in poverty.

Among these disturbing news, here is a book comes with "abundance" of positive news. Peter Diamandis along with Steven Kotler, brings out a book, dedicated to the technical advancement of the world over the last few decades and predicts that these advancements will help us to see through the explosion of population and the ever increasing demand for resources. He starts his book with the tale of Aluminum. In the early days of Roman empire, guests were honoured by serving them food in vessels and plates made by Aluminum, while the hosts were to be content with golden or silver plates. Aluminum 3rd largest element in the crust of earth was one metal extremely difficult to extract, well, until late 19th century, until the electrolysis process was developed. Look at the Multi fold in reduction in cost of production, supported with its availability, making it one of the cheapest metal in less than 100 years.  He cites many such examples, in cost of communication by the exponential growth in mobile communications technologies, the spread of electricity, the overall reduction in poverty in the world, with enough data to prove his point.

Instead of getting bogged down with the negative thoughts and the propaganda, he urge us to look at the possibilities of creating a time of abundance. Abundance is not an idea, but a way of moving forward.  Discussing the concept of his idea of abundance and the exponential growth experienced in technologies post the second world war, he set the discussion to the future . In a model of "Abundance Pyramid"  he puts "Food, Water and Shelter" as the basic needs. While this is obvious and looks like an election propaganda of the political parties, he gives us some direction in achieving 'abundance' in these areas. The second tier is build with "energy, Education and ICT(information and communication technologies)" and the top of the pyramid consists of "Health Care and Freedom".

Only 3% of the water available in this planet is usable by humans. The vast sea covers a large part of them and many are hidden in large glaciers of the poles. The available water is not safe enough to drink. With the improvement in technologies and the continuous campaign by environmentalist, we have started showing progress towards improving the quality of water and develop newer and cheaper methods of desalination of sea water. It is also important to note that water related health issues causes deaths of large number of human apart from the amount of money spent on medical expenses. An improvement in the water distribution will not only reduce the health risks, but will also ensure these money can spend for other welfare measures.
On feeding 9 Billion ( expected population by year 2050), he put forward many advanced technologies in farming, including vertical farming, use of genetically modified crops , cultured meat, synthetic biotechnology, poly culture, new modes of aquaculture and many similar ideas.  How will all these be possible, and what drive these changes ? He cast his bets on two parameters , one on Do it Yourself Innovation or on the power of small groups and the second on the new breed of 'techno-philanthropists'. The strong social movements, the emergence of small groups of individuals all around the world, speeding up these movements and on the other hand, the financial and moral support provided by the newly wealthy individuals ( Bill Gates and co..) pumping the financial power need for such an endeavor.

The energy needs are also discussed at length, but largely around the renewable energy. The amount of solar energy that earth receive is good enough to supply enough energy for the entire world. One of the issue still holding this explosion of energy abundance, is the restraint with regards to storage of these energy. With the newer technology emerging in the battery like flywheel should bring the much needed improvement in this area. Education is the next agenda, which empower the populace and thus reduce the explosion of  population and in the need for the additional healthcare need.

While all these looks possible and very much within reach, what they do not cover is the limitation of these technologies. His bet on technology advancement to come to the rescue, is too optimistic and single focused. Some of the other aspect of this he does not discuss or avoid discussing. One of the key issue of the imbalance of the living conditions can be attributed to the greed of select people. The entire wealth of the world is controlled by 1% or less of the world. Thus creating a huge imbalance in the distribution. A better distribution of the resources among the world is one of the first step towards self sufficiency.  The greed for control, to have single ownership of the entire resources of the universe. The entire book only discuss the increase of production of essential commodities for a burgeoning population, but no discussion in reduction in consumption. One part of the world continue to consume everything with abandon, while the other side of the planet struggle for the essentials of life.

To his credit, the book gives some key thought on the repercussion of these technologies falling in the hands of the criminals. For every positive development in the innovation, there is a dark side of it being used for activities of sabotage.  In an ever increasingly interconnected world, it is much more simple to access any data, any device, any individual by hackers. There is already existing worries about the leakage of nuclear secrets being available with the terrorists.  Cyber Crime, Bio-terrorism, the increasing dependency on the AI/Robotics making human redundant and unemployed etc are some of the possible outcome of these technological advancements in the coming decades.

In general, what this book achieve is to give us a different perspective, a perspective that tells us that while the future looks bleak supported by data and analysis, it is possible to turn the course and direction. All it takes is a bit more planning and focus. The universe provide us with enough and more. The language is positive and full of energy, it also propagate the confidence that the book stands for. Thus it is a fast and engaging read. Most of the data and analysis moved to the end of the book in the form of appendix , thus not hampering with the flow of the reading.
Abundance - The Future is Better than You Think (2012)

Peter H Diamandis & Steven Kotler

Free Press

400 Pages
 NY Times, Wall Street JournalWiki Entry, Official Page

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Art & Lies - Jeanette Winterson

"There's no such thing as autobiography, there's only art and lies,"

Three individuals, carrying the name of more famous ancestors Handel  ( George Frideric Handel -18th century Composer), Picasso ( of Guernica fame) and Sappho ( the Greek Poet from Lesbos lived around 600 BC) are destined to meet in a train compartment.  Handel is a priest turned Doctor, Picasso, a young painter escaping her family, and the omnipresent poetess beyond the time and era. Adding to them is the presence of a forth person, in the form of a book being read, possibly a prostitute. Each of them are fighting their own past and their own future. The journey is only an escape to the unknown, there is no destination.

Handel, a surgeon, specialised in cancer, had an error in judgement. He operated the right breast , a wrong breast, instead of the left breast which was the right breast. But that wasn't the only reason, he is running away from all that is tormenting him. His troubled past, the images of his childhood at the seminary, in the protective hands of a Vatican priest, who used the young boy to his pleasure while imbibing him with the knowledge of the divine.  Picasso, on her part was abused since childhood by her brother, and after attempted suicide ( or was it attempted murder by her father) and many years in the mental asylum, did not make her life easier at home.  Sappho, has to bear the brunt of the entire womanhood for generations.

The book transcends time and place, though it is largely happens in the modern day London. On a alternating narratives, Winterson, weaves the story of the past or the present or the future in her rich prose.  The abstract nature of the narration, makes it harder to decipher, but I guess, that was the point. Often sounds forced and pretentious, may not be appealing as her other books to many readers. The writing is very moving at many places, but this is more of a structural novel, with less importance to plot. However, as is believed in these part of the world, there is a an old connect between the participants. The doctor was involved in denying an abortion, and later delivery of the same kid.

The books is about art.  "Two things significantly distinguish human beings from other animals; an interest in the past and the possibility of language. Brought together they make a third: Art." says Winterson. The names of the characters Handel, Picasso, and Sappho represent three forms of art ; music, painting and poetry.

Despite some moving narration, this book still sounds too clever and forced at times. Her strength is in her prose. While the general consensus on this book isn't all that great ( as I gathe from online reviews), I fairly liked the book in the end. Attempt was bold and different.

Art & Lies(1994)

Jeanette Winterson

Vintage Books

294 pages
Independent, Complete Review

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Woes of the True Policeman - Roberto Bolaño

"According to Padilla, remembered Amalfitano, all literature could be classified as heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual. Novels, in general, were heterosexual. Poetry, on the other hand, was completely homosexual. Within that vast ocean of poetry he identified various currents: faggots, queers, sissies, freaks, butches, fairies, nymphs, and philenes."

When Chilean writer Roberto Bolano died, he left us with a large treasure of manuscripts , including the magnum opus 2666, which was published posthumously. The 5 part novel, which was complete in all sense, was rumored to have an unfinished part 6. Hence, when this manuscript of "The Woes of a True Policeman" was received, it was largely speculated as the part 6 of the 2666. The similarity in names and the province, added to the speculation. However, this book, published 7 years after his death is not a sequel to the 2666, but read more like a parallel story, or a book which was in preparation, in line with the 2666 theme, as if filling the gaps of the narrative in 2666. This book will be delicious for the Bolano fans, as it repeats his characters and places from the magnum opus 2666.

Amalfitano, 50, literature professor at the University in Barcelona, "for the first time, slept with a man".  "I am not a man" said Padilla, "I am your Angel". That relationship, however did cost him the job, yet again. While he lost his previous teaching assignments for across various countries, starting from his homeland Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Canada, Germany, France etc for political reasons, this time was for his personality issues.  He , a widower, is now staying with his 17 yr old daughter, has to now find a new job.  It is thus, he was offered a job, back in Mexico, with the help of one of his early student ( who had a crush on him) , and herself a professor at the Santa Teresa University. 

The location of the plot, now shifts back to Santa Teresa, the fictional town famous by the book 2666. The bordering town near the US, the town notorious for the death of young girls, is a continuation of where 2666 left us with.  Finding his foothold in the new place, he continue to find people of his choice,  including a art forger selling his forged paintings of Larry Rivers to wealthy Texans,  while continuing his correspondence with his love Padilla in Barcelona, who interestingly in the process of writing a novel titled "The God of Homosexuals", while staying with a local drug dealer and an AIDS victim, which he himself get diagnosed with.  The only continuity in this kaleidoscopic book is through the letters of Padilla and Amalfitano.

The fourth part of the book is a detailed study on the fictitious French write JMG Arcimboldi. Boleno spends a lot of pages and energy on the works and the reviews of the books of Arcimboldi. Unlike the 2666, the writer Arcimboldi here is a French writer ( also note the change in spelling) and is not as profound as we see the writer in 2666. 

This book, to me was intended to be another huge work in the likes of 2666, which was cut short due to his untimely death. This leave you with a feeling of incompleteness. Most of the subplots are fragmented and inconclusive, be it the Padilla , his daughter who in line with the reputation of the town, disappeared mysteriously.  Though the editors say, it was at different stages of completion, and the book was originaly started in 1980s continued to write and modify by Bolano, until 2003, it still seems to be incomplete to me.  The title of the book itself, shows that the intent was different from being a story of a homosexual professor, which it turned out to be, in the end.

However, the book has some brilliant writings, in the typical Bolano style. The long sentences-paragraphs, the cross references,  to me it was a smooth read. This book will appeal to a die hard fan of Bolano, but leave a lot to be desired for the rest.  But one can see a masterpiece in the making. Interestingly, the book is dedicated to Philip K Dick and Manuel Puig, the Argentine writer, whom he admire ( so do I, after reading "Kiss of the Spider Woman", and "Eternal Curse on the readers of these pages").
Woes of the True Policeman ( 2010 -posthumous )

Roberto Bolaño ( translated from Spanish by Laura Healy 2012 )


290 pages
NY Times, Wall Street Journal, A V Club

A History of the World in 10½ Chapters - Julian Barnes

''I don't know how best to break this to you, but Noah was not a nice man. I realize this idea is embarrassing, since you are all descended from him; still, there it is. He was a monster, a puffed-up patriarch who spent half his day grovelling to his God and the other half taking it out on us.''

I dont know if this is considered a novel or a collection of stories. While each chapter may have a correlation with an incident in history, these are mostly read as independent stories than a full length novel.  But, what is important is its quality, and not the form. On that ground, this book was very impressive. What did I like the most is his control over the language the way he formulate the sentence and paragraphs, the way he mixes things up from one story to other by varying the style and the method of delivery. I was also impressed with the deep sensitivity with which he dealt with the subject, even in those satirical chapters, retaining the sublime humour through out..

10½ Chapters, starting with Noah's arc and ending with a dream the new heaven, are in one way or other had a stream of similarity and connection. The first chapter, where a wood worn recollect his life in the Arc, with which Noah was entrusted to save one 'breeding pair' of every specimen of the living creatures on the land ( was it applicable to the marine species, I have no idea), the wood worms manages to sneak in (despite being rejected) in slightly large quantities( 7 of them). He recounts the events and the aftermath, being critical to the Noah for his capabilities, his behaviour ( he ask why dos GOD choose a drunkard to save the living from the apocalypse), and the aftermath.  The worms comes back in another tale of a mock trail in which the reverend of the church had a severe fall from his chair, which was alleged to have been eaten by these worms, causing the legs to givaway. The argument for and against the accused,  often citing GOD as the witness, is another hilarious reading. The Visitor, is based on the hijacking of a cruise liner by the Palestine Liberation Movement,  the Shipwreck , a critical study of the the painting of Theodore  Géricault  ( the raft of Medusa) before returning to the theme of the Noah's arc ( in one journey of an Irish women in search of the Noah's Mountain in the Armenia/Turkish mountains to pay homage to her father and the other 'project ararat' where a celebrated astronaut , Spike Tiggler ( based on James Irwin) set about to find the remains of the Noah's Arc in the Ararat mountains).  In  the half chapter ( between 8 and 9) we read a serious' meditations about the authors impressions on 'Love',

Except for a couple of chapters ( especially towards the end, where the command and intensity was some what lacking), the rest of them were brilliant. He has a way with his words which was captivating.  It was often funny, and often philosophical without being judgmental.  Even with a highly politicized subject of the hijack, or with the religious aspects of the Noah or the whale,  or the fictional recounting of the shipwreck of Medusa ( French ship Medusa, sank in the Atlantic in 1816 and the famous painting by  Géricault in the year 1819) his prose is controlled and detached from the sentimental aspect of the issue.

The ship is often repeated through out the book. As Noah's arc, of survival, or in the form of disaster ( shipwreck or hijack). The quest for the Arc ( may be as a saviour of the mankind in an abstract way) and the omnipresence of 'woodworm' depicting' the decay or disaster is intentional ( or may be I am making it up, trying find some connection between the chapters). "We make up a story to cover the facts we don't know or can't accept, we keep a few true facts and spin a new story round them. Our panic and our pain are only eased by soothing fabulation; we call it history." , said Barnes.   But what is important at the end I liked the book. I haven't read any other book, but will seek out a couple more soon.

A History of the World in 10½ Chapters(1989)

Julian Barnes


309 pages
NY Times, Wiki

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Re-Envisioning Socialism - Prabhat Patnaik

Capitalism, considered to be a 'self-driven, self-managed, self-acting  economic order as envisaged or described since the time of Adam Smitth, and spontaneous , as added later by Oscar Lange. However, the recent incidents seems to have been shaking the fundamentals of this belief as the leading capitalist economies of the world are witnessing stagnation and many are struggling.  The question has been "What next?'.This had been the leading economic  system of the world since the end of Feudal days, notwithstanding the attack for a short period in the form of Socialism. However, the future is gloomy and the quest for alternate has to begin.

This book, a collections of essays published between 2005 - 2008 , by Prabhat Patnaik, a left thinker and political economist, looks at the topics concerned to the contemporary Capitalism and the relevance of 'Socialism' in the future. Though it seems prophetic ( these papers were all written before the sub-prime crisis and the recession that shook the world), it does look at some of the issues of the world of capitalism, through the eye of a leftist -economics. It, there fore, has a pessimistic view of the current economic world, and trying to find an answer through the envisaged 'new world order' driven by the principles of Socialism.

His argument centered around two major factors. One is on the 'Capital' itself. He calls this as the "International Finance Capital' which through the controlling hands of the neo-colonising powers, try to decide on every socio-economical and political transactions of the world.  To its credit, Capitalism triggered giant leaps in productivity and the progress of society post the second world war, where the measures like labour productivity, employment rates, welfare measures were at the best. This period called "Golden Age of Capitalism" continued over two and half decades, attracting lot more economists in favour of this system.
"The boost to demand created a strong inducement to invest and hence rate of growth unprecedented in the history of capitalism. These were accompanied by high rates of labour productivity growth, resulting in high rates of growth of real wages. These together with social security measures induced by few Social Democratic Governments, made capitalism appear as a humane system."
The contradiction within the system, soon become evident as the period of de-colonisation  ( large number of countries sought independence from the European colonial powers post the second world war) is paved way to the globalisation and the new phase of imperialism( he seems to have meant no political or military control, but control through economical order) order for the control of natural resources.
"Emergence of the globally mobile, international finance capital, there comes into being a 'global financial community'. This community, presiding over vast amount of money capital through its control over banks, and using the capital for diverse purposes as industry, speculation, real-estate business, and buying bonds, including foreign governments. "
"The process of capital accumulation can be conceptually envisaged as occurring in two distinct and alternate ways" a) Accumulation through expansion  b) accumulation through encroachment.


One of the key aspect of the modern capitalism is about the freedom of individual and the democratic order , that is the political choice. Patnaik, argues that ( repeatedly through out the book) that under the capitalism, the individual is treated as an 'object' or as a resource. The 'objectivisation' of the individual according to him is one of the perils of the capitalists order.

The basic point is the incompatibility of authentic democracy where the people are the political 'subjects' with capitalism where they are the object.

It is interesting to note observe the aspect of democracy in this light. As may be noted, the electoral choices in many advanced countries tend to limit the option to a few streams or to two in the case of US. More so, it was known that the democratically elected representative in general are 'the representatives of corporates ( read 'International Finance Capital') in most of the capitalist countries. The case of India is no different, where 80% of the post independent India was ruled by a single family, albeit democratically elected. It is said about the newly liberated or de-colonised countries in Asia and Africa, it was the bourgeois elite, who filled in for the evacuating European power, and not the representatives of the people.  On the other side, we see the individuals in  political power ( in the communist countries, especially China),  gets into the area of industry and business, a 180 deg shift from the capitalist democracy. 
"All the traditional virtues assigned to the bourgeois order, namely democracy, political choice, individual subjectivity and hence freedom, paradoxically, are conspicuous by their absence within this order. And the basic reason for this lies in the fact that in bourgeois societies economics drives politics, and that economics is marked by spontaneity rooted in 'objectification' of the individual."
and elsewhere he quote:
 "The phenomenon of globalization, which many have seen as a means of expansion of freedom and democracy, has the exactly opposite effect, at least in countries like India with functioning democratic institutions in the post colonial era : of constricting the democratic gains already made by the people." 

He summarises :
"The mans of attenuation of democracy in a bourgeois society are several :
1. Ossification of state where the bureaucracy and the standing army become the core of the state apparatus
2. Fragmentation of people into ethnic, linguistic or religious groups
3. Denial of meaningful choices to the electorate
4. Inculcation of insecurity among people
5. Deliberate promotion of the mindlessness among the people by the media and the peddlers of popular culture

"Ideological projection has the advantage that it can use the already existing, substantial racist prejudices in the metropolitan countries. Racism has always been a part of imperialism, Even when it has been driven underground under the weight of democratic assertiveness."


Rooting for a new world order, he says it is time for an order in line with the socialistic thinking. Notwithstanding the earlier experiments and its deduced failure, the situation which the world is today and the future of capitalism, does demand a new deliberation on the possible new thinking in this direction. He says,  "the prospect of such a deepening associated with a transition to socialism are much brighter in todays context, even as the material condition for such a transition are becoming more favorable because of the very phenomenon of globalisation".
"The theory of socialism however grew out of the philosophic, historical and economic theories elaborated by the educated representatives of the propertied classes, by intellectuals. Since the theory of socialism stands on its own; since the class analysis upon which it is based has a general ( though concrete) applicability not circumscribed by the class configurations of a particular society or set of societies ; in short, since it constitutes a method of scientific analysis of any society, it has a universal applicability, irrespective of how close the societies in question are to a socialist revolution."
If the demise of capitalism will be triggered by its own internal contradictions, whose signs are already seen,  there has to be a few changes that is witnessed within the same system. He says , most of the ""working class struggles within capitalism could at the best produce trade union consciousness among the workers but not revolutionary class consciousness."

 "The case for a revolution in 'modern times arises from the fact that capitalism as a mode of production is not only based on exploitation, but in also a spontaneous, non-malleable, non-reformable system."
According to him a failure of finding an alternate political and economical order which will grow out of the current capitalism, will yield to the strengthening of the destructive elements in the society, thrived and fuelled by anti-capitalist sentiments, taking shapes in the form of terrorism.

"The question may well be asked: why should we bother about these issues which were debated so long ago by people long dead and gone ? ".....  "But if these issues are shut out of the terrain of discourse , then anti-imperialist praxis will continue to take the destructive and unproductive forms, such as terrorism, that we see before us today."


His points on higher education is something worth considering in the Indian Context.   According to him the current higher education system in the country is aimed at producing what he called 'organic intellectuals'.  It is known that " global capital, after all, is keen to employ Indian skilled labour not out of charity, but out of hard economic calculation.
Ways of producing  Organic Intellectuals of the people can be undermined by the context of globalisation, via the overwhelming need for, and the apparently tempting prospects of, producing what can almost exclusively be called skilled foot soldier for global capitalism."
While it is essential to have a state control on higher educations, the ability and capacity of state to make this large transition in short time is now exploited by the business, giving way to a large number of private institutions to come up, only filling in the demand for quantity, compromising heavily on quality, for lack of trained and skilled teachers. This in turn, is justified by the demand and the reputation of  the State run/managed higher education institutes. On the other hand, even these institute, ended up producing highly skilled 'organic intellectuals' for the world market, seldom being available for the need of the country.  Thus he says, the higher education agenda should have a strong Indian reality .

 "Modelling our institutions after Harvard and Cambridge, which would entail copying their curricula and syllabi, would there fore necessarily means sacrifying to our great cost, the conceptual frame work and the perspective . Quality does not come from aping others. Some of our finest institutions, which indeed have acquired global attention, have done so because of their systematic refusal to ape others, and their strong connection with the Indian Reality.................
The argument for capitalist economy also comes from the argument on the overall improvement of the life, measured by the absolute GDP and eradication of poverty. It is now been clear that despite all these years, we are far from achieving these objectives.

"Even when the rate of growth of output gets pushed up, as in India and China, the rate of growth of labour productivity gets pushed up as well, so that labour reserves remain unexhausted and income distribution continue to worsen.
We also see continued systematical destruction of he peasantry in the under developed countries, mostly driven with a propaganda of improving efficiency and competitiveness in the world market.  On one side, the ever increasing 'urbanisation' takes away large areas of cultivation, converting them in to urban land for housing and industries.

"What is remarkable about the new phase of imperialism is that it justifies the adoption of neoliberal policies, which is a euphemism for bringing countries under the hegemony of international finance capital in the name of 'eliminating poverty'. State-sector assets are privatised in the name of improving efficiency, which is supposed to usher in faster growth and eliminate poverty; state assistance to peasantry is done away with in the name of making peasantry adjust better to the market opportunities opening up, so that it can experience higher growth and hence reduce poverty...."
These steps in countries like India seems ot have produced an opposite effect. "In fact income deflation has taken its toll on the peasantry to a point where even simple reproduction of peasant economy is no longer possible in countries like India, as is evident from mass suicide of peasants." . The statistics put the count of peasant suicide near 200000 over last 10 years..

On his arguments for the new order he says, "The tendency of capitalism as a social system is to dispossess the vast mass of the peasantry. The alternative social system that a transcendence of capitalism must bring about , should be one that defends and promote the peasantry instead of making it destitute."


As the growth in the traditional capitalist world slackens the 'Financial Capital' has to look at other ways of survival. Hence, the need for looking at other frontiers towards accumulation of resources ( capital enhancement through encroachment)  and business.  Which saw the raise of new type of colonisation, by finance capital themselves, or by capitalist states sponsored by the finance capital.

"As the Golden Age of Capitalism passed, not only did the growth rates of the world capitalism plummet, unemployment in the advanced capitalist countries approached double digit figures and remain stuck there, the absolute real wage rate shown a virtual stagnation, the tendency towards decolonisation got reversed, with imperialism making a determined attempt to reappropriate the worlds natural resources, especially oil, for itself.
These expansion of the capital, often called as globalisation, interestingly had gathers a lot of support around the under developed world. On one hand, it gave a momentary increase in the flow of capital, technology and reduction in unemployment, despite the real increase in wages. However, in this excitement to attract capital and creating job opportunities, each of the under developed economy compete with each other, thus constantly bringing down the wages, even if the productivity is increased

In summary the aspect of Capitalism can be made under these seven features

a) International Finance Capital
b) The capitalist state
c) Curtailment of public investment
d) Slowing down of growth in the capitalist world
e) Crisis of petty production
f) Expropriation of land from peasants
g) Systematic attempt at recolonization of the world

The case for Socialism is explained under these lights focusing on the aspect "International Finance Capital" and the 'Objectification of Individuals" and 'true democracy'. He re-iterates,
"The case for socialism is that it alone creates the condition for human freedom by overcoming this objectification, for which a necessary condition is social ownership of the means of production."
"On the contrary, socialism, which aims to overcome the objectification of the people in bourgeois society, is alone compatible with democracy; it alone can create the conditions for the full flowering of democracy".
However, this subject is often dealt with taboo by all. For the capitalist thinkers and supporters any discussion in these lines of social and individual aspect or about humanisation , is immediately identified and associated as communist or leftist thinking. Once marginalised as leftist, it is easy to discount its effectiveness and its open discussion in public. The effective use of religion and race add to the alienation of these thoughts. On the other hand, the 'traditional leftist' ( there are exceptions, Of course) refuses to look at the past and make the necessary changes in the ideology with the new world realities and the potential hazard in terms of destructive tendencies.
"Devalues the theoretical endeavour on the left and discourages creativity. The attitude becomes : Since Marx has said everything of importance that is there to say, what more can I say except finding more evidence of his correctness."
As a social order, one need to see what drives the people to work ?  " In feudal society, people work because of the pressure of customs and tradition, backed by force ( punishment or starvation). In the capitalist society, people work because of the existence of the reserver army of labour, which acts as a coercive disciplining device. If you are not measuring up to the expectation, you are dismissed and someone else takes your place." Patnaik gives the example of the old Yugoslavian method, which work around the peer pressure, which is far from convincing.

"The socialist agenda therefore remains as relevant today as ever. The choice before us today, is between socialism and barbarism, between a solution where the predatory imperialism remain locked in perennial combat with equally ruthless groups of terrorists, thus threatening the very survival of our civilization."
The essay on "Destruction of thought", which might stand on its own in this collection is one which need a lot more discussion. One of the aspect of the modern living, with the overdose of information, which is controlled and manipulated, has its direct impact on free thinking.

"Thought in my view, is informed by social energy and is meant to stimulate social energy aimed at changing the human conditions. Thought is not routine ; thought is context-transcending. Submergence within the empirical reality is the denial of thought.
My knowledge in economics and politics is zilch. Hence, my understanding of these subjects discussed at greater length is constrained by my incompetence. While, he dwelt in detail about the current scenario of the Capitalist Economy and its internal conflict ( lack of growth, the need of survival, the competition within) making it no more an attractive regime with longevity, I for one do agree with him on finding the next alternate. However, I did not find his arguments for the socialist society as attractive and convincing.  What was impressive was the prophetic nature of the book. Very intense book, demands a lot more attention to the aspect and points of discussions. Though I am not in agreement with all his arguments, I found them very informative. Despite it's left leaning ideology, one must read this book, for the shear power of its arguments.


Re-Envisioning Socialism ( 2010)

Prabhat Patnaik

Thulika Books

271 pages

Sunday, March 03, 2013

the map and the territory - Michel Houellebecq

Jed Martin, is an average photographer earning his living from taking the photographs of industrial artifacts, living alone in a Paris sub-urban apartment, bought by his father. The only time he meet his widowed father is for the Christmas eve dinner. His mother is apparently committed suicide when Jed was small, for reasons not known to him, and his businessman father, does not give him any details of the age old story. The father as is the case with the son, lives a solitary life. It is in one of such rendezvous, Jed had his first stroke of intuition. Inspired by the Michelin product, he started taking pictures of the roadmaps. The Michelin executive, and young Olga a Russian working in Paris, had different idea with these. A clever management and the use of the press, she manages to get sufficient attention to his work, making his rich immediately, while helping her own company to increase its sale. As is his wont, the course is changed again, now turning into painting, he did a series of works on a variety of occupation, which includes a meeting between Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, and his retired father leaving office among others. This series , again with clever marketing help, had tremendous success making him ultra rich instantly. It was for this exhibition, he was introduced to the celebrated writer Michel Houellebecq, for an article to be printed in the catalogue. Apart from the agreed payment, he had offered to to a portrait of the writer, which Houellebecq reluctantly accepted. In the third and final phase of the book Jed Martin, involved in solving the murder mystery of the celebrated writer Michel Houellebecq , who was found brutally murders in his ancestral home in the French province, after returning from Ireland, and living in isolation. This is in short the story, of the latest novel from this writer.

For those familiar with his works, this is another in the same line, the middle aged urban man living a solitary life, occasional encounter with the opposite sex, fairly away from the family and social connections. The usual straight forwards narrative, rather thin. Few provocative social observations or comments. But this time, with no overdose of sex. The novelty factor may be the writer himself being a character in the novel ( not in the usual first person narrative style), and see himself murdered. At many places he reiterates himself as the authour of "atomised" or the author of "platform", trying to get a legitimacy of the fictional character to the real writer. Not sure, if this was called for as any fictional writer would have made a similar impact.

The book had its own controversies, with alleged plagiarism. Apparently, the French original has some adapted parts from the Wikipedia entry. However, in this edition in English, the author acknowledges the support from Wikipedia foundation. Beginning his acknowledgement with a denial as "I don't normally thank anyone, because I gather little information..", he makes amends with the Wiki with a "I also thank Wikipedia) and its contributors whose entries I have occasionally used as a source of inspiration..".

I am not greatly impressed with this book. For that matter, I haven't liked any book other than 'Atomised' ( or Elementary Particles as the version I have is called). While reading this book, I had the strange comparison with Haruki Murakami. May be its their outlook of the society, the style of writing, which is of no real depth and their way of treating sex in their books. A satire on art and literature, trying to play with some self parody , I'm not sure if he pulled it off. To me, it did not.
the map and the territory ( 2010)

Michel Houellebecq ( translated from French by Gavin Bowd 2011)

Vintage Books

291 Pages
NY Books, Guardian, NY Times, Book Slut