Three Ways To Understand Power in The Digital Age

VIDEO: Danah Boyd on Our Broken Information Ecosystem (CNN) 

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I’m most likely going to write a full piece on this topic. In my view it’s the most fundamental and pressing question of our time. Whatever the problem; Climate collapse, rising authoritarianism or wealth inequality how can we solve anything until we address the fact that we are consuming and exchanging information online in a way that is fundamentally incompatible with coming to compromise, cooperation or a common good?

Until information is liberated from the attention economy then our problems and divides will surely only continue to deepen? Emotion is far more attentive than reason. And as long as information continues to be valued by the attention it can extract rather than the substantive value of what is being said then politics will continue its dark descent into a shouting match of anger and fear.

Anyway – enough ranting. This interview with Danah Boyd does a much better job than I in explaining the information ecosystem’s breakdown and the possible paths to a better future:

Danah Boyd on the Spread of Conspiracies and Hate Online

COLUMN: Lessons From History on Corporate Power:

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Give this excerpt from William Dalrymple’s new book ten minutes of your time. You won’t regret it. A fascinating look at the violence of the East India Company and how we often neglect the role of private companies in colonialism. We still think the British government invaded India when in reality it was an unbridled corporate entity that:

” The East India Company began seizing chunks of India in the mid-18th century, a dangerously unregulated private company headquartered in one small office, five windows wide, in London, and managed in India by a violent, ruthless and mentally unstable corporate predator — Robert Clive. India’s transition to colonialism, in other words, took place under a for-profit corporation, which existed entirely for the purpose of enriching its investors..” 

https://www.ft.com/content/0f1ec9da-c9a6-11e9-af46-b09e8bfe60c0

PODCAST: Surveillance Capital: Are We Just Raw Material? 

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Shoshanna Zuboff is a writer we should all be listening to right now. Why does it matter that our data is being captured? How is our behaviour being monitored and modified by tech companies? And how do we reclaim privacy rights as citizens in the digital age? The author of the mammoth book “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism” sits down with Roz Urwin here to answer these questions and more:

https://play.acast.com/s/intelligencesquared/942b5c25-afe0-4c65-9e34-3f5462338065

 

Also because this is my website and there’s no rules, here’s a tiny desk concert I’ve been listening to this week that’s fucking amazing:

 

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Homi Baba: Why We are Still Afflicted by Colonialism Everyday

Author: Anand Bose

Homi Baba is one of the foremost thinkers of Post Colonial Criticism and belongs to the school of thought known as Post Structuralism.

Homi Baba has made intrusions into the philosophy of language where texts become constructs for post colonial criticism. For Baba Colonialism has not been a straight forward clique between the oppressed and the oppressors but an evolving semantic machine marked by psychological anxiety and tension between the oppressor and the oppressor.

Here in this article I would like to articulate some ideas of Homi Baba on Post Colonial Criticism. They are hybridization, mimicry, uncanny, doubling, difference, ambivalence and anxiety. For Baba, a nation is always in the process of evolution and a nation is not a fixed entity.

Hybridization is a process through which cultures interact, mix and develop new cultural and evolutionary tendencies. A common example can be taken is that of the English language. For example Black English has evolved by fusing many dialects of the native black with the colonizer’s English. Indian English has absorbed native English words and has also adopted words borrowed from Indian Language. British English consists of many Gaelic and Latin and French words and therefore if we look at English, it is always going through a process of change or hybridization. Hybrid English is a transnational language and is always adopting new vocabularies into its lexicon. Another common example would be that of Dance and Music. Dance and Music have fused various elements of the Orient and the Occident.

Mimicry refers to the process through which the colonized mimic the language and culture of the Colonialist. Mimicry is a powerful tool, a coping mechanism of the colonized to resist the rule of the colonizer. The white other becomes the subject of my gaze and I adumbrate his or her cultural moorings into my possessive outlook. For the white, the discourse of the Orient has been a fragmented one, a one of bitter misunderstanding. According to Edward Said, the discourse of the orient has been a philosophical and intellectual construct drawn out from occidental narcissism and fantasy.

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A lexical meaning of the word uncanny would be something strange, mysterious in an unsettling way. For the white, oriental culture and religion has been marked by the strange or the uncanny. Baba also discusses the problem of migrant cultures. Migrant cultures to the Occident bring into it uncanny elements. Uncanny also represents a misunderstanding of the mass psyche of the colonized. For example let’s take the Blues. Blues a form of Black Music emerged as an uncanny one, a one to show solidarity and protest against the whites. Mahatma Gandhi’s behaviour as a political protester of the English rule was an uncanny one. The British simply could not understand and tolerate the half naked fakir. The occult aspects of the Australian aborigines were ostracised and many were made converts into Christianity.

Doubling as used by Homi Baba refers to the process in which duplicates of the Colonized were created. The colonized were trained in the language and culture of the Colonizer, mainly to suit them for administrative purposes. For example India as a British colony needed a large army of clerks to run their administrative regime. Doubling became a headache for the Colonizer as these doubles soon realized their self worth and started protesting against colonial rule.

Difference is a term taken from Derrida’s Deconstruction. The term incorporates the understanding of semantic binary divide by differing and deferring. Colonialism has marginalized the brown and the black by privileging of the white. This marginalization has been violent and autocratic. There is a conflict between the racially superior self and the racially inferior other. The White self’s Christianity is a racially superior religion than the religion of the Red Indians, Africans and Aborigines. Language has bifurcated texts into binary divides of the self and racial other. For me Colonialism is still an ongoing process. For example let’s look at Native Speakers of English being imported into South East Asian Countries to teach English. A native speaker of English is privileged over whites and browns who are adept in English.

Anxiety as a term used in postcolonial criticism referring to the tension of the colonizer when he is dealing with the colonized. We can use the example of Non Violent struggle against British rule espoused by Mahatma Gandhi. The British simply could not understand what the principle Ahimsa (non-violence) was and used ruthless force to subjugate the peace movement. Their ambivalence and complete lack of understanding of the native people, only strengthened the struggle for independence. Colonial domination was not straight forward but was clearly marked by anxiety and ambivalence.

Anand is a blogger from India who’s blog explores, philosophy, fiction and poetry. You can visit his excellent blog here: 

A Very Nuclear Future: Friend or Foe?

 by Sujitha Parshi

 

“So much potential in that boy. I’ll tell you now, in fifty years if he isn’t at the top of his class, there really is no hope for humanity.”

Atom had felt proud. With gleaming eyes and a gap-toothed smile, he’d looked at his teacher, grateful for the compliment. It was a kind of proud he’d least expected from someone as flustered as Mr. E, what with him looking too tired to care all the time (having to deal with rowdy toddlers and even more aggravating parents will do that to you). It was the kind of proud he hadn’t felt in…well, ever. He had made an effort that day, well-groomed with hair slicked back, polished black shoes and even so far as getting his mom to match his tie with his loafers. Looking back on all the energy he’d spent into looking his ‘best’, he felt he got back his effort’s worth. After all, Atom was nothing if not thorough.

Which is why, seventy-one years later, he found himself bruised and confused and smack in the middle of a paranoid quarter of humans who wanted nothing more than to bury all mentions of him deep, deep underground (sure, he had his moments of puberty-driven insanity, but who didn’t). It was disconcerting. Atom split up his soul for them.

“Then why? They have to know; I am their best hope.”

The answer, dear Atom, is quite complicated. Let me start off with a few motivational statements (as motivating as I can manage).

In this age, when safe, clean oxygen needs to be imported from the smallest corners of a rapidly depleting safe-space, protesting clean, efficient nuclear energy is an exercise in self-destruction. Where, like most, this paranoia arises from popular, or rather, populous opinion, we have arrived at a point beyond which return is uncertain. It’s time we shed the cover of blind belief and think of the best way forward.

Now, here’s your reply.

At the moment, the world is powered by little more than environmentally-cancerous coal and dwindling reserves of oil, natural gas and combined efforts of renewable sources (You come a lagging last!) While the case against nuclear energy gets worse as days pass, the reality lies in the small but forgotten art of deep thought.

What makes nuclear energy efficient and reliable? Why, nature, of course. During meiosis, the cells in our frame split to form more cells, and then split again, and keep splitting to fuel the reactor that is our body. Similarly, nuclear energy is generated by the fission of enriched uranium-235 atoms.

2.8 million kilograms of coal is used to do the work of 1 kilogram of enriched uranium-235. If that doesn’t talk about waste of resources, then I don’t know what does. Considering the rate at which we are heating the very core of our planet, it won’t be long now for us to reach another catastrophe even Noah can’t survive. It also happens to generate the least amount of waste.

“Then what seems to be the problem?”

The problem, dear Atom, is that you’ve had a troubled life (Yes, people care enough).

The problem here is containment. When talking about nuclear energy, the first ping in your brain probably was Chernobyl, or quite recently, Fukushima. It’s a valid concern. Why would you trust something so evidently damning? The answer lies within yourself. For the same reason you’d trust the puppy that bit you while she was teething; it was young and we didn’t know how to contain it safely. It’s a mistake we have learnt extensively from. All energy sources rose up the ranks through trial and error.

Fukushima was a one-time thing. While a high magnitude seismic event affects any energy (source) reactor, nuclear reactors in particular are somewhat safer, after the Fukushima leak, in comparison. For one, other energy plants experience instant reactions while nuclear is more gradual. After the leak, there have been so many regulations and precautions taken, sleeping easy next to a nuclear power plant is more possible than any other energy source. For one, most, if not all, nuclear power plants have an automatic shut-down process that has succeeded the manual shut-down. Secondly, several layers of cooling systems encompass a nuclear reactor to ensure the rapid cooling of the atomic pile. Last, and at the very least, it is all a controlled process. Rest assured, they know what they are doing. (Also, this is where the scary part of the ‘gradual’ is eliminated since there is little space for a leak.)

“Hmm, so does this mean the protests outside my house will stop? I really need to get saving (the world won’t pause any longer without permanent damage). I’ve had to wait seventy-one years too long.”

Not so fast. There’s a long way to go, Atom, a very long way.

You are an expensive, little brat. Thanks to the general dislike and less-than-optimal production and usage. But once you match, or even surpass, the level of your coal compatriot, we can get around to calling you ‘cheap’ like we ache to. Even then, popular mentality isn’t changed so easy. It needs to start at the grass-root, with explaining what-the-eff energy production and consumption entails without mainstream media bias. Remember, Atom, the more neutral you are in your approach, the better you can expect people to think for themselves.

Anyway, that’s just some of the things that make you special. Don’t let it get to your head, though.

Besides, you are seventy-one years old, barely out of your diapers. Live a little (without killing and maiming others, of course). You can expect more than your share of presidential duties in the very Nuclear future.

“Yeah, yeah, you say that like it’s so easy. We’re living in 2016! For now, I have more than my share of activists to dodge.”

 

Sujitha is an Indian Student, Blogger & Contributing Writer to The Conversation Room.

You can visit her excellent blog here:

https://pompeiiresurget.wordpress.com/

Bhagavan Must Have Made Something?!

Author: Rabia Khan

My mother teaches Kindergarten kids; almost every day she will tell us some interesting thing that happened in her class. One of my favorites is when she was taking an Islamiat (Islamic studies) class

Under the Constitution of Pakistan it is compulsory for schools to teach Islamiat to Muslim students, no special programs are made for non-Muslim students who most of the time have to take, or sit through these classes.

There are a few Hindu and Christian kids in my mother’s class, and as she was teaching Islamiat, she started listing down all the things Allah made- the moon, sun, stars, the world, animals etc; Most of the time she tries to include God and Bhagavan in the discussions too, but I guess this one time she forgot. As she was listing down all of Allah’s creations, a Hindu kid burst out with, “Bhagavan nay bhi to kuch banaya hoga!” (Bhaqavan must have made something too)

Coming from a 5 year old kid this seems amusing when you first hear it, but you have to wonder what he must have been feeling at that time for him to have burst out with such a frustrated and desperate plea. All the beliefs that he has grown up with; challenged in that one instance, when all the credit for Creation goes to a God he doesn’t believe in, and knows next to nothing about.

There is a huge difference between learning about a religion and religious preaching; schools in Pakistan do the latter. Asking students to memorize verses from the Quran, testing them on how well they can recite the Quran and how well they remember its translations, is nothing short of forcing Islam on students, whether they be Muslims or Non-Muslims.

A 5 year old child doesn’t even know what religion is, he doesn’t understand it, then what is the purpose of teaching him religious injunctions? Isn’t it basically just institutionalized brainwashing? Force religion down a child’s throat at such a young age that by the time he grows up he doesn’t even bother to discover religion, instead just follows what he has been taught without any understanding of what he ‘believes’ in. And the worst part is when that child is forced to learn about a religion, which his background doesn’t even correspond with. This is just another aspect of minority marginalization in Pakistan.

Teaching kids about religion in this way at such a young age only breeds hatred and discrimination. Especially since no one can teach religion impartially, the teacher’s bias always comes through, and at an older age that may be fine because students know better, but what about a 6 year old being told that she shouldn’t be friends with Christians by a teacher whom she is told to obey and respect?

When I was around 7, my Islamiat teacher was a bit of an extremist (understatement); she would openly condemn Hindus and Christians in class and say that friendships with them were Haram (forbidden) in Islam. And because I was a naïve 7 year old like the rest of the children in my class, I believed her, and just like the rest of the class I broke off being friends with all the Hindu kids in my class. To this day, I cannot explain how disgusted I feel with myself when I remember what I did, and if could, I would find those people and apologize to them.

Quite a few years later when I realized what I had done, I told my mother and I could see the shock in her eyes, because she never taught me this. She never taught me to hate other religions or discriminate between them, my Islamiat teacher did. Even when I was in 9th Grade and around 15 years old, my Islamiat teacher had a major problem with Shia Muslims, so most of the time she would mention their teachings in a mocking tone or other times she would just flat out refuse to acknowledge them, adding into the cycle of hatred that we have been taught since we were 4.

Religion is a personal matter, over which institutions should have no influence. A perfect example of why religion and institutions should not mix is: Pakistan, which is plagued by Islamic extremism, practiced by the State, which always gives into pressure by extremist Muslim groups as in the case of openly declaring Ahmadis as non-Muslims and limiting their religious freedoms in an amendment to the constitution in 1974. One would think that by now Pakistan would have realized that state and religion is a terrible combo, but alas here we are, in 2016, still forcing Islamiat down students’ throats and breeding bigotry in our future generations.

Rabia is a Pakistani Student, Blogger & Contributing Writer to The Conversation Room.

You can visit her excellent blog here: 

https://rabianajmkhan.wordpress.com/

The Fight for Fairness

Author: Revels

Once upon a very British time, when the crown ruled quite a lot of the world, there lay in Asia, a country famous for its heat and spices – India, a majestic land with a thrilling history of battle, love and trade. At one time or another, the different groups that resided within or without it had ruled India, although usually partially, some factions had managed to make almost all of it a part of their little empire.

Now was the turn of the British Raj.

With their posh accents and fine manners they invaded, using the clever front of trade. Slowly but surely they gained stability, till they were able to officially state their hold. The Indians had new rulers after the 800 year rule of the Mughals, more outsiders – the British.

The British gave to the subcontinent some impressive things when they left; infrastructure, education systems, government and more. But they took something greater; they took with them the superiority, the contentment that the people had felt in being just themselves.

These white people had such dashing dresses, such delicate ways, such pretty skin! They had been proud and civilized, they had ruled in ways as to show the general population that they – the British – were better, they knew better and lived better.

That is when the inferiority complex began, that is when our people starting comparing themselves to their former rulers in hopes of somehow attaining their perfection.

Since then, our people have ingrained in themselves this thinking that somehow imitating the west is what would give them respect and a higher status. People who wear western clothing, people with lighter skin or anyone with a better English accent are considered more civilized or of the better class.

Of these three, the colour complex has been most widespread. This does not exclude our intellectuals, even they, the ‘educated’ and ‘enlightened’ part of our society, seem to strive to attain that lighter colour and scoff at the sight of dark skin. Knowing that this senseless discrimination only disturbs the female population – which is always in the search for things to make them prettier – has no effect; your skin is something you will be judged by.

In school, girls are made fun of for their dark skin, at times families point it out in the most horrible fashions, marriage proposals are rejected – there are countless examples of how darker skinned girls have to endure gross discrimination.

Some of our models and actresses have had to bear indecent remarks because they weren’t fair enough! In a country where the sun reigns, one would expect dark skin to be the norm and not the exception, and hence accepted. But this is not the case! We are obsessed with the fairer tones. Although we have had famous individuals speaking out against this irrational infatuation, we still have countless companies promoting their ‘fairness creams’ and ‘recipes to get lighter’ through TV, billboards and campaigning in different institutions. Our grandmothers will whip up organic pastes to somehow make that tan go away; they will try out new methods just to make sure the girls of the family are fair and so ‘pretty’.

So that sums it up: being fair means you’re prettier than the darker girl sitting next to you on the bus. Being fair means you’ll have lots of admirers and friends. Being fair means you’re blessed with beauty.

Revels is a Pakistani student, blogger and contributing writer at The Conversation Room 

You can visit her excellent blog here:

https://identity17.wordpress.com/

What Should Indian Feminism Look Like?

Author: K. Phani Krishna

The following article is divided into 4 points. This article is my take on what feminism should be in India right now. Feminism much like the word politics has been misused and misinterpreted a lot nowadays and it’s not a good thing.

What is Feminism?

According to google, Feminism is the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes. Nothing more, nothing less. Feminism is the fight for equal rights, equal pay, equal opportunities and equal social norms and acceptance for both men and women. A lot of people consider feminism the fight against atrocities against women. It is not. You don’t have to be a feminist to condemn rape. You don’t have to be a feminist to realize if a woman is raped every 30 minutes in India, it’s the man’s fault. Feminism and fight against rape are two different movements. One is moral while the other is both moral and legal. One aims to bring about a change in the thought process, the other aims to bring about a change in actions. The whole of India condemns rape and is furious about the rapes but that doesn’t make us feminists. It just makes us human. It is essential for us to not associate feminism with fight against rape.

Why do we need Feminism?

We need feminism because its 2016. Gender should not be a factor in judging one’s abilities or talents. There is nothing a woman cannot do that a man can. This includes both good and bad. PV Sindhu, Priyanka Chopra, Dipa Karmakar and many other women over the last few years have shown us that given the same facilities and opportunities, women can do as good as men. We need feminism because its high time we left the medieval principles of a patriarchal society and moved towards being a more modern and accepting society.

The two sides of the coin 

Just like any other issue in India, even Feminism is highly polarized and the state of feminism is completely different in urban and rural India. In rural India where people still are skeptical about sending their daughters to schools. Where people prefer to educate their son over the daughter. Where young girls are denied access to education and are forced into other activities or even marriage. These are the places where reservations for women and aid for education of girls are required. In urban areas, not so much. In urban areas where girls have access to the same schools and same facilities as the boys, there is no need for reservations or aid. What was intended as aid ends up becoming privilege and in a way hinders further growth.

However in urban areas we need to ensure at a higher level, women are paid as well as men provided they do the job as well as the men, if they do it better, pay them better. Serena Williams raised an issue in tennis. She said the prize money for the ATP (men) and WTA (women) tours was different. To which she got a reply stating the moment WTA tours attracted the kind of crowd and viewership ATP tours did, the prize money would be equal. There was widespread debate on this topic. My personal view is that it’s fair enough. You cannot expect the organizers to pay you more even though their investment recovery is generally less, just because the men are paid more. So my point here is we obviously need to pay both men and women on the basis of the merit of their work and the number of hours they have put in for work and not gender. If a woman is better than a man at a job, you pay her better. If she works much harder, pay her better. The most important point here is that the converse also has to be accepted. If a man is better at his job than a woman and if he is putting in more hours, he deserved to be paid more. If we understand this logic, we are good to go as far as feminism is concerned.

Solution

The most important role in this fight for feminism is of the urban women. The uplifted women. Women who have rational parents. Women who are educated. Women who can stand up for themselves. You need to let go of these privileges. You will have to stand up for yourselves. If we scrap all the reservations or aid for women after a certain economic level of their parents. We can channel all that money into the upliftment of women in rural India. We can build more girls schools and colleges. We can bridge the gap between an urban girl and a rural girl. If we manage to accomplish this, we have won half our battle.

The men have to realize that women are no less. We must respect them, treat them equally and most importantly not discriminate them because of their gender. We must not let their gender be a factor in determining their abilities nor their worth (salaries).

Together we need to educate our future generations about equality and we must ensure we leave the world to be a better place than when we inherited it from our ancestors. There is change coming up slowly. Its high time we accelerated the pace.

The most important point I’d like to make is India has so many issues like Gender discrimination, communal violence, violation of freedom of speech. There is only one common solution to these problems and that is rational thinking. If each and every Indian develops rational thinking right from their childhood, feminism, gender equality, communal harmony and freedom of speech will be eventualities.

Phani is a Mechanical Engineering student writing on a variety of important political & social issues.

You can visit his blog here:

https://phaniwritesblog.wordpress.com/

I Began to Succeed Once I Stopped Thinking

Varun Agarwal was a typical young adult. Relatively smart in school and pushed by his family to study at university “a degree that will get you a high paying job”. He studied engineering yet hated it and eventually started failing in University.

Here, Varun shares his fascinating story of freeing himself from the anguish of over thinking everything that could possibly go wrong if he took a leap of faith and followed his own path to success.  He discusses how he developed the mantra “don’t think”, defied his family wishes and started his own journey to founding India’s largest college merchandise company and becoming a bestselling author.