That Sinking Feeling

Below are some thoughts I had on Yogendra Yadav’s analysis of the Grand Alliance victory in the 2015 Bihar Assembly electoins. This victory has become a historical artifact ever since Nitish Kumar defected from the Alliance into the BJP camp, eliciting much national outrage and fears of the BJP juggernaut.

Note that Mr. Yadav’s assertion that the Bihar defeat shows up BJP’s myth of invincibility hasn’t aged well, given its victory in the UP elections without having fielded a single Muslim candidate. However, he presciently foresaw the Grand Alliance victory as a fragile one based entirely on communal/caste-based electoral math and “vacuous anti-BJP-ism” which would collapse if not supported by a substantive politics of social justice and good governance. The outcome, then, was entirely expected.

I am afraid that those most interested in progressive values are those least equipped/most unwilling to actually defend them. If as Mr. Yadav says (in an otherwise incisive piece) that “It is left to writers and intellectuals to take on the most organised attack on the idea of a diverse India” then we must question why others aren’t so interested in defending such a supposedly universally beloved value. I am tired of the emotive pleas for the nation to return to some imagined Nehruvian paradise that we see in the Hindu so often – it shows a lack of forward thinking and a comfortable regression. What needs to be challenged is the entire narrative of a Hindutva-driven “Aspirational India” where anyone can succeed if they fall in line with the BJP – but in a way that doesn’t harken back to a past which today is remembered (in the popular imagination) largely for its broken promises and false dawns.

A majority of today’s voting population was born in the 80s with no direct experience of the Nehru era but having lived through the globalization and “next-superpower” phase. They also grew up at a time when the Congress lost its National Struggle credentials, when the BJP rose as a political force having shed its Independence-era notoriety, when mobilization along religious, ethnic, regional and caste lines became a common political strategy (even for the nominally secular Congress), when public corruption attained a hitherto unheard-of place in the public discourse, and when various anti-colonial/nationalist/socialist movements dissipated against the rise of neoliberalism and the power of international finance.

Somehow the BJP positioned itself favorably in relation to these developments and reaped the political harvest. The BJP’s rise cannot be understood without accounting for these broader trends that have shifted the contours of Indian political economy as we know it. Things are made worse by the way history is told and taught as a linear progression from Independence to today, with the Nehru, Indira Gandhi, and Rajiv Gandhi governments as intermediate stages in a process that is still unfolding. We aren’t presented with Nehru’s anti-colonialism and non-alignment as a genuine alternative to the present, but as a well-intentioned policy that was logically superseded by the present paradigm – “learning from the failures of the past”. It doesn’t help that leaders of the present can so skillfully manipulate leaders of the past – who had substantively different politics – to lend legitimacy to their policies.

The biggest aspect of BJP rule that I fear the most is the slow percolation of international finance into every crevice of our economy, life, and society. The gradual neoliberalization of India, the lionization of international investment, and the increased pride in India’s enhanced position in global geopolitics smacks of a slave’s delight at playing the master’s game. This paradigm will run into its own constraints – unemployment, unsustainable inequality and climate change being the primary – but by then it might be too late to productively change course.


An Extended (Not Indefinite) Hiatus

It has been a long time since I last posted, that too with the promise of an article*, and I thought I should account for this prolonged absence – at least for those few who I can see check this blog regularly for updates.

I have realized that although Permanent Settlement was a loose platform for me to write weekly about things that most concerned me – rationalism, neoliberalism, and energy policy – there was no coherent thread running through the articles. Things I wanted to investigate in detail would be shelved for later so I could focus on a new interesting thing that I wanted to write about.

If there is an underlying theme to this blog, it is to unravel how the world that I hitherto took for granted (and I believe many others do too) was intentionally constructed and marketed as the most superior option available to us to exist and participate in. I have explored in some articles how its claim to bettering our lives can only sustained by a deliberate obscuring of the true costs of this system, which given its immense complexity and size, aren’t obvious to the average individual.

This is an incredibly stimulating subject for me, but I have realized that I need a deeper, more fundamental understanding of key events and topics to take up one strand and

pursue it doggedly to the very logical end or to place my misgivings in a self-generating, coherent context. It is encouraging that ad-hoc pieces such as India’s Energy Policy and To Hell with Environmental Neoliberalism were picked up by Naked Capitalism and subsequently, circulated widely – pushing my readership to more than a hundred times the average. This has made me want to learn as much as I can about specific topics like economic theory and 21st century politics so these analyses become part of an ongoing critique of ideas, both present and past, that affect us profoundly in ways we might be unaware of.

Tl;dr: This hiatus is a phase of learning and grounding myself better in political, historical, and economic context so that posts on this site are analytically richer and part of a more coherent whole.

*I have more than 2000 words written of the article in question, but as events have shifted, so have my interests (which, as I wrote above, is the problem). I intend on posting it in the future, but for now, learning is priority.

Understanding the Rationalist Failure to Predict Trump – A Precursor

Update: The follow-up to this must unfortunately be deferred to next Monday. This is a complex subject that may need to be broken up into multiple articles.

This is a precursor to an article that I will publish on Wednesday on the failure of established, rationalistic and even ‘scientific’ techniques to predict Donald Trump’s victory in the US Presidential election. Consider it a rough sketch of ideas that I intend to flesh out in more detail on Wednesday.

I will try to understand the failure of conventional wisdom as espoused by data journalism sites like FiveThirtyEight and the mass media in general by comparing their methods to those used by the small minority that called the election in Trump’s favor on the basis of consistent and well-founded principles. Since it is true that there will always be a minority that will successfully predict a highly unlikely outcome as long as it has some chance of happening, it is important that the members of this minority be both significantly dissimilar in their worldview and base their predictions on sound assumptions and analysis for their success to be more than an instance of chance validating ideology.

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You Can’t Make Lenin-ade Without …

Length estimate: Long (words > 1000)

’Tis almost the centenary of the Russian Revolution and hence, the perfect occasion to revisit that most momentous occasion of the modern era. Whatever you may believe about how history reproduces itself – that it merely rhymes, repeats or is repeated by those who fail to learn from it – there is little doubt that it creates brief space of opportunity – tiny, fleeting vacuums bereft of logic and continuity – where the wedge of human will can be driven in. This wedge can occasionally force the course of history onto a new, unforeseen path; it forecloses the possibility of continuity and leads inexorably towards an unfathomable future. The Russian Revolution of 1917 was just such a wedge and its relevance to the present era has never been greater.

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New Year Blues

Sorry for the absence last week – it was the product of a combination of holidaying and internet malfunction.

I will be writing again from next Monday onward and hopefully more frequently than once a week. It is fortunate that this blog began with a exasperated critique of the Establishment Left response to Brexit and the rapidly spreading repudiation of neoliberalism – this seems to be a theme that will persist well into the near future. 2017 should not leave me short of content.

The purpose of Permanent Settlement has evolved to critically explore present paradigms of thinking that are demonstrably false and ahistorical and yet continue to drive policies and decisions that are ruining our economies, environment and social relations. Escalation of geopolitical tensions and climate change are existential threats that have made this confrontation unavoidable. As much as we are, in my opinion, living in a golden age of civilization and the ecological factors that support it, we must recognize that this too will end and try our best – while we can – to avoid a free fall.

On that happy note, I wish you all a pleasant 2017.


The Material Basis of Right-Wing Populism in 500 Words

Globalization and its Discontents: Explaining Brexit* (below) is a thing I wrote about Brexit for an essay contest in the Undergraduate Berkeley Economics Review. The essay  had to account for the economic factors that have driven the rise of right-wing populism*, a subject that kicked off this blog, in 500 words. The analysis turned out to be worth $50 in Amazon credit, so it may be worth your time.

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The State of Surveillance

The UK is about to wield unprecedented surveillance powers. So runs the headline of a Verge article detailing the new Investigatory Powers Bill that was recently passed in the British parliament and is awaiting royal assent. A short summary of the bill’s salient features:

The bill will legalize the UK’s global surveillance program, which scoops up communications data from around the world, but it will also introduce new domestic powers, including a government database that stores the web history of every citizen in the country. UK spies will be empowered to hack individuals, internet infrastructure, and even whole towns — if the government deems it necessary.

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The Sycophantic Belief in the Actions of “Great Leaders”

Length Estimate: Long (words > 1000)

As Indian parliamentary democracy approaches the seventieth year of its existence, it has come to be typified by two dominant motifs that are reflective of a deep malaise in its relationship with its constituents. The first is an enduring faith of the voting public in the actions of the mythical “Great Leaders” – defined as those at the apex of the political hierarchy either at the local or national level. The second is a vague but persistent dissatisfaction that manifests as inchoate calls for “changing” the “system”. The linking together of these two sentiments – especially by the advanced, politically conscious part of the public – is at best a misguided articulation of good intentions and at worst a sycophantic excuse for inaction.

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