Socially unacceptable behavior

Does anyone remember when Indira Gandhi declared an emergency ? And because there was a food shortage at that time, she forbade any party of more than 50 people if food was being served. Is it time to do that again ? In this lopsided world where some people fly private jets all over the world for fun, regardless of the shortage of aviation fuel, and the number of cars that cost 1 crore and above, which are the greatest gas guzzlers in the world snail through the Mumbai traffic, is it time for us to sit back and actually make it socially unacceptable to indulge in such consumption ? Instead f admiring their wealth and aspiring to do the same ? How can one talk about food riots, the economy on the brink of bankruptcy, and yet all over the world the very people that cause such shortages in the world through speculation and economic manipulation for their own profit, continue to act and live as if these problems do not exist ? And why do we, our press, our aspirations encourage such behavior by making such consumption socially acceptable ?

29 Responses to “Socially unacceptable behavior”

  1. Himanshu says:

    Dear Shekahr,
    You are essentially making a socialist arguement here that the uber rich should not be allowed to indluge till everyone has the basics but capitalism does not look at it this way. Capitalism, the only system based on rational self-interest, allows men to create as much wealth as their minds and creativity allows and they are free to spend it anyway they like with least interference from the state.
    The fall of communism states that more people are unhappy when they state tries to force equality or rations things as compared to when they are free to create their own destiny. Yes, it should be the responsibity of the govt to provide enough food for it’s citizens, keep prices in check and create more jobs so that people can earn well. But this does not mean capping the wealth of the super rich as the poor also have those aspirations and are inherently capitalistic.
    I will give a small example. Let’s say there are 3 best friends who live in Dharavi, all very poor who share all there resources like wheat, water, oil to get by and swear by to help each other lifelong. Now if one of these persons meets a rich businessman at Nariman point and he tells him the sad story of the 3 of them. The benevolent rich man gives him 1 Lakh rupees and tells him to divide it equally between the three friends. What do think is the probability that our “Dharavi man 1” will go back and give 33k to each of his friends, the ones he swears by for life? The answer is zero, he’ll give nothing – because he is a capitalist and all those unity in poverty are fake statements made in difficult circumstances. So the truth is that even the poor don’t care about their fellow poor, so why would anyone else?
    It is the responsibility of every individual to make his own life, the basic tenet of capitalism, and if any state tries to cap wealth it’ll see the exodus of the wealthly (who are as such so mobile) to better lands, where they can enjoy wealth without guilt.
    You can tax them more or ask them to give more to charity but don’t tell them that their is a cap of their wealth.
    The govt’s job is to keep it’s rich happy, who are also the biggest contributors to their parties, for it takes them 1 day to dispose off one of their 9 homes and never come to that country again.
    Best Regards,
    Himanshu

  2. :) says:

    hi shekhar !
    i agree with you entirely, coz, a country cannot exist only by its fat cats ! it is the labour of the poor that got them there in the 1st place.
    also it is extremely narrow vision for the rich to overlook the growth of the poor coz its like the brain showing off to the feet how great it is while the feet are lowly down there touching the ground ! it is the same body…..at the end of the day ! let the feet get tired carrying your ever increasing bulk and then see how far you can move without them !!
    for the balancing factor immense strength of a body of people is required……..and as we have been lamenting in several posts before…….who will do it ??!
    emergency itself was declared as a desperate measure in desperate times………and yet, look at the flak it gathered !
    a democracy with crores of different mind sets is really a tough call is’nt it ?

  3. Jimmy Cosmos says:

    Dear Shekhar,
    Psychotherapy of Earth as an individual-
    Concept/Premise:
    Since it is the mind that needs psychotherapy-“psychotherapy of Earth” would mean psychotherapy of the collective human mind or collective consciousness so to say.Today it is in a phase of pschizophrenia-Poor&Rich,Religious&Athiest,Mystic&Scientist,Man&Womanm,Black&White,EAST&WEST,terrorists&civilians etc. etc. etc.
    Film&TV has been known to give vent to the pent up/suppressed feelings, desires(sex,violence,love etc.)But time is now ripe for it to shoulder the responsibility of psychotherapy of the highest kind-of the’global political mind’
    Action to be taken:
    Collect the best/adequate people (storytellers) each nation/region has produced around neutral coordination.
    Evolving/unfolding the blockbuster script rather than writing it.
    -hear out each sides story
    -Tell each sides story to the sides satisfacion.
    -Do not conclude forcefully or guide a “moral of the story”.
    -Pre-empt Faith(Lets try to see the holistic story from Gods/Universe’s point of view in all that happened)
    Jimmy Cosmos.

  4. :) says:

    shekhar………it really looks like people today just dont get a sense of security no matter HOW MUCH wealth they make !
    the spirit of tata when he decided to build the taj for the indian people in the face of british hostility ( mark that he did not think to build an ‘antilla’ for himself !there was no need ! he knew his worth even without it ! )……..or the birla charities…..or the scores of lesser known people who had hearts as big as their wealth and gave anonymously to charitable causes………those were times where people looked out for one another and it was considered noble to extend yourself for others. in contrast, today it is considered very smart and clever to manage the lion’s share for yourself and show the gullible guy you hood winked that you are so much smarter than he is ! that is hardly the mindset of nation builders…..more like pirates !
    yet, i am amazed at their stupidity verses their cleverness, that they breathe the same air as the rest ! drink the same water ! set home (even 1 of the 9 !)in the same space…….and yet are unconcerned with the basic health of their OWN ENVIRONMENT ! how dumb is that ?

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  6. shekhar says:

    himanshu, You are talking of creation of wealth, investment and the stimulation of economic growth. Which is very healthy economic activity. I am talking about an irresponsible use of scarce resources. I am not really arguing against the idea of profitable enterprise, but over consumption. But the arguments for capitalism stop at other points to, for example at :
    a. The creation of huge corporate payouts to their CEO’s at the cost of investors and their pension funds.
    b. The creation of extraordinary debt instruments, the profits from which puts billions of dollars in the hands of a few, but put the world economy at risk through the subprime crisis.
    c. The speculation in currency that brought the so called ‘tiger economies’ to their knees and destroyed millions of jobs in the Asian countries.
    d. The extraordinary consumption of scarce resources like Oil and the speculation in Oil and food, that is leading to the current rise and food shortages in the world.
    e. I am in Goa right now, and can see the havoc being created by unfettered building activity by builders that actually are never going to live there, but are merely going to profit from the enterprise. I jsut read that the incidence of malaria is rising dramatically in the areas where Goa is being built up.
    shekhar

  7. ajayprabhu says:

    Hi,shekhar
    You are right when you say over consumption should be monitored or cause of concern for many problems.One person have everything at the cost of many like CEO’s salary thats why I got inspired when I first heared stories about Narayan Murthy’s company where their peon too was crorepati by esop scheme.But ,I think as Fredric Nietzese says individual happiness is paramount and being motivated by self-interest is nothing wrong because thats how normal ordinary human civilization works but being GREEDY OR OVER CONSUMING at the cost of others should be unacceptable..We are still civilization in progresss maybe in near future we would be able to control or would be able to create new order which I call justicim,sense of justice for all…
    P.s
    Openfilm.com is a brand new community and video sharing site for serious filmmakers and those who seek the best videos on the web. It is a library of high quality, entertaining content as well as a forum between creators and their audience.

  8. Horst Vollmann says:

    Dear Shekhar:
    You speak from my heart and you are certainly not making a socialist argument by berating the obscenity of the haves who unashamedly, unabashedly and should I say stupidly, flaunt their wealth, recklessly and disproportionately using up resources that are meant for all and not just a few chosen ones. There is a cynicism that comes into play when a Machiavellian argument is made that places at its center the philosophy that the poor can also get rich if only they try hard enough. This is a bit in the vein of Marie Antoinette of France responding to the bitter outcry of the starving masses to have more bread with “let them eat cake”.
    I have in the past responded to a number of entries on your blog most of which had to do with the lack of our social conscience and the mindless, headlong rush towards fattening our bank accounts. I would like to quote a few of my responses:
    “Ultimately, we cannot survive as a species unless our uncontrolled drive to consume is brought in line with the harsh reality of some day having to sit at an empty table. There will have to come some defining moment when the leaders of our societies and the multi-national corporations have a collective epiphany that humanity’s moral justification for survival hinges on the premise that there is either food for everybody or for nobody.”
    “I am trying to take a realistic view of the facts as they exist rather than buying into the theory that all could be well if the disenfranchised masses would only understand to assert themselves, get a decent education, acquire some entrepreneurial finesse, kick ass and finally join the happy fraternity of the world’s affluent by having learned the simple art of making money. It is wishful thinking to expect the poor to create wealth for themselves without the haves trying to prevent such ill-conceived concepts.”
    “Do we acquiescently want to live in a world in which the rich get richer and the middle class gets leaner and the underclass is bulging out of its seams and just accept it as collateral damage in our rush towards an out-of-control capitalism, a free for all to be the richest in the land?”
    “I cannot possibly think that all is well when $ 3 trillion are in the hands of less than 200 people, many of whom are from the U.S. Since I am not one of the rich my social conscience does not need to stir but can we really afford to let our societies be so terribly distorted by these inequities and not cry out in indignation?”
    “I am a great admirer of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, they are light years ahead in their display of social conscience and vision of a capitalism with a human face but infinitely more could be done by many of the other financial giants.”
    Shekhar, I don’t see myself as a socialist zealot, I have always been a great admirer of the eternal human endeavor to reach for the stars, to forever search for the answers to all the questions we should never cease to ask. Live is meant to be a struggle and I believe that in the end this is what truly enriches us rather than the accumulation of material wealth.
    With kind regards.
    Horst

  9. Himanshu says:

    Dear Shekhar,
    All the points that you have mentioned are totally valid. Just like any other system setup to exchange goods and services in this world, capitalism has its inherent flaws and people in positions of power will always push the envelope and are going to exploit it for maximum gain. All those issues withstanding, it is still the most transparent system which motivates you to work in your own interest and make the most for yourself, and that’s why it has succeeded.
    It is a game where if you don’t mind your own interests the big money will take you over, like we saw with P-notes last year in the Indian market. That’s why India did not open for so many years, and I believe our finance ministry has done a great job, for our currency never crashed in the Asian economic crisis, our reserves have gone up every year and the GDP is growing year on year. It is ultimately a game at the international level and the one who plays it the best ends up becoming a superpower.
    This is one of the greatest books written about international speculation in the last 20 yrs which is on my reading list in about 2 months and highly recommended to anyone who does not dislike money.
    Inside the House of Money: Top Hedge Fund Traders on Profiting in the Global Markets (Hardcover) by Steven Drobny
    Right now I am just feeling totally creative reading Ravi Shankar’s autobiography and his wonderful life with the Sitar – the concerts, the mesmerized audiences, the applause – I can hear it as I read the book. Feels great!
    Best Regards,
    Himanshu

  10. Chethan says:

    Hi Shekhar, no comments… just examples…
    In Delhi, i guess each house has atleast one car per person living there! and sometimes more! More the cars, more high is your head! Forget the feet, who cares anyways?
    Bently sells atleast 12 to 15 cars every month!
    Ducati has been launched in India last month!
    Yamaha racer machines will be launched on June 12th!
    Heard of Mukesh Ambani’s under construction house?

  11. Himanshu says:

    Dear Horst,
    Thanks for the post and it is great to see you concern for the humanity. The person who cares most about the humanity is not one that has good feelings for them but one that creates wealth not just for himself but also from them. The 200 people you mention who hold $3 trillion have about a 100,000 people each living a good life because of their efforts. All these people have jobs because one entrepreneur took it upon himself to create a big productive organization, for his own interest, and created a living for so many.
    These are some quotes which I like and some on which I base my position, the first one is a rather funny one by Mark Twain. The last quote was written in 1750 and see how true it is even today. Hope you like them:
    I am opposed to millionaires, but it would be dangerous to offer me the position. Mark Twain US humorist, novelist, short story author, & wit (1835 – 1910)
    “But you say that money is made by the strong at the expense of the weak? What strength do you mean? It is not the strength of guns or muscles. Wealth is the product of man’s capacity to think. Then is money made by the man who invents a motor at the expense of those who did not invent it? Is money made by the intelligent at the expense of the fools? By the able at the expense of the incompetent? By the ambitious at the expense of the lazy? Money is made – before it can be looted or mooched – made by the effort of every honest man, each to the extent of his ability. An honest man is one who knows that he can’t consume more than he has produced. – Ayn Rand
    “To the glory of mankind, there was, for the first and only time in history, a country of money – and I have no higher, more reverent tribute to pay to America, for this means: a country of reason, justice, freedom, production, achievement. For the first time, man’s mind and money were set free, and there were no fortunes-by-conquest, but only fortunes-by-work, and instead of swordsmen and slaves, there appeared the real maker of wealth, the greatest worker, the highest type of human being – the self-made man – the American industrialist. – Ayn Rand
    “It is true … that many have neglected opportunities of raising themselves to honour and to wealth, and rejected the kindest offers of fortune; but, however their moderation may be boasted by themselves, or admired by such as only view them at a distance, it will be, perhaps, seldom found that they value riches less, but they dread labour or danger more than others; they are unable to rouse themselves to action, to strain in the race of competition, or to stand the shock of conquest; but though they, therefore, decline the toil of climbing, they nevertheless wish themselves aloft, and would willingly enjoy what they dare not seize.”Johnson: Rambler #58 (October 6, 1750)
    Best Regards,
    Himanshu

  12. Sid Singh says:

    Shekhar, do you mean to make this behaviour “unacceptable” by imposing it through new laws and regulations? Or do you propose we just somehow shame people into consuming less when the social and environmental cost is too huge?

  13. Shekarji, the topic of this particular blog reminds me of two distinct things:
    First, the dystopian society represented ever so effectively in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and Ridley Scott’s Bladerunner, both all-time favorites in the sci-fi genre. Considering Metropolis was set in the not so distant 2026, and Bladerunner in a closer 2019, I couldn’t agree more that the divide between the privileged, and the not-so-privileged – those who live underground toiling for the former – is so obvious in considering the present-day scenario.
    Second, it has always reminded me of Paani, your theme for the struggle for water in the near future, the essence of which is so immortalized in both the above films. Did we get closer to the themes in Metropolis, Bladerunner and movies like Day After Tomorrow (note the drastic climate change) faster than we imagined..?
    That said, your thoughts also set me thinking if there were ever a proper definition or rules to “Socially acceptable or unacceptable behavior” in the history of mankind. If the Pharaohs sat on gold-encrusted thrones there were the slaves who labored to build the Pyramids. If 2000-year old temple architecture represents human form in all its natural glory, there are the so called law-makers and moralists who scream foul for every little thing they get to perceive as progressive. And finally, there are Ambanis, Murthys, and Mittals who may have worked all their lives to achieve varying measures of success – why can’t they be eligible to fly in private jets, own billion dollar homes, or drive around in gas-guzzling Bentleys? Even our “liberated” Swamijis drive around in luxury vehicles, don’t they? 🙂
    There are after all no rules to define if their lifestyle falls under socially acceptable/unacceptable behavior! I don’t think a socially homogenized society can ever exist as long as there exist human beings and societies. Thoughts..?

  14. shekhar says:

    raja, i have nothing against creation of wealth. But when the earth’s resources are at stake, we cannot accept an aspiration to over consumptiveness as a measure of success. Recently in Delhi farmers attacked a a very succesful bussinesman’s farm house over the water in his swimming pool, at a time when the afrmlands were going dry due to loss of ground water. Even though the owner f the pool was filling it with tankers of water that he purchased.
    It’s really like the Americans now worrying about every Indian and Chinese owning a car and what that wil do to emission of green house gases and global warming – without thinking twice of owning the biggest gas guzzling SUV’s they themselves buy.
    So let me throw a question to you. If water becomes scarce, do you believe that it should be distributed on the basis of who can afford it ?
    shekhar

  15. shekhar says:

    no sid, not laws, for they will never work – just a society that looks upon the misuse of scarce resources as a crime against our planet, shekhar

  16. M.S.Sahni says:

    Dear Shekhar ji,
    I am writing you for the first time,though I was looking for your email address,which I lost.I met you in Ginza when you came for promotion of your movie,may be 6 or 7 years ago.Do you remember?.We had lunch together in Ashoka the Indian rest.
    It was my pleasure to talk to you on various subjects and I was really impressed by your gentle and soft nature.Recently I came to know about your blog and I have read most of it,I am impressed by your poetry,short stories and anything you write.I am still living in Japan and next year my company will be 20 years old.
    I go to India very often and whenever I go I feel really pity for the common man as he is deprived of the facilities which state has to provide him.
    I am also disturbed when I see the showing off of rich people, whereas so many people are suffering and having very hard time. I think media is to be blamed also because they glorify the people who have lots of money,property and cars.
    When I go to Delhi these days,whom so ever I meet the starting of conversation will be that I bought that land for 5 lakhs and now it is 5 crores. For me it is too vulgar to talk about money because after living 25 years in Jepan I donot recall even a one incident where my Japanese friend would have asked how much is your salary etc. I like Japan because here you will not find a very poor or a very rich person,everybody looks same and everybody can access to anything,which is avaialble.
    I know I cannot write good and I am sorry for the mistakes but I really wanted to communicate with you and whenever you come to Tokyo again,please inform me,I would love to meet you again with my family and friends.
    With Best Rgds,
    Sahni.

  17. shekhar says:

    yes i remember you well mr sahni, and glad to know you are still in touch, i have been back to japan often since and really enjoy my trips there, shekhar

  18. M.S.Sahni says:

    Dear Shekhar ji,
    Thanks for your prompt reply and I am really
    glad to receive it.Please do let me know,when
    ever you are in Tokyo again.I will be in touch
    also.
    Sahni.

  19. Horst Vollmann says:

    Dear Himanshu,
    thank you for the quotations which are obviously directed at those in whose vocabulary the term entrepreneurship does not exist. If you see in me a person who sits on the sideline munching on sour grapes and tossing barbs at the concept of capitalism think again.
    All my life I have aspired to reach for the brass ring and have always been an entrepreneur, never working for anybody but myself. To make a living and accumulate wealth when such independence is desired requires the kind of creativity your quotes are hinting at. I had come to America many years ago since I had seen it as the country that would open its arms to afford me the opportunities I could not see at the place of my birth. The people who had worked in my company all had received salaries that gave them a decent standard of living. They all had been part of a health program at a time when the corporate world was very reluctant to even think about such ill-conceived ideas, only providing these perks for top executives. Did it cut into my profits, could I have driven a bigger car, built a more glamorous house and visited more gorgeous places if the accumulation of wealth had been my highest mantra? I sure would have to answer in the affirmative. Above all my desire to attain affluence and become financially independent and secure was something I would call social conscience. Does this diminish my credibility to believe in capitalism and see it as the only true workable system in any society, does this make me an obstructionist to the concept of rewarding those who are willing to take risks and work harder than others? Certainly and emphatically not.
    I have always despised conspicuous consumption and have seen it as an outgrowth of less than enlightened people’s materialistic urges. To make a lot of money does not in itself ennoble those who accomplish that feat nor does it necessarily reduce their humanity. I wouldn’t dream looking upon Mr. Gates with anything but admiration. What irks me are people with unfettered and unbridled drives towards amassing ever more money at the exclusion of almost any decency as long as such twinges of conscience represent an impediment to their compulsions. It reminds me of Michael Douglas who so famously had extolled the virtues of greed in the movie “Wall Street” by saying that “greed – for lack of a better word – is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms – greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge – has marked the upward surge of mankind.” It sounds impressive, almost seductive, but only in the movie. In real life the ugly reality paints a different picture.
    Best regards.
    Horst

  20. Himanshu says:

    Dear Horst,
    it’s great that you quoted Michael Douglas at Gordan Gekko from Wall Street which is like my most favorite film ever, made right around the Leverage Buyout (LBO) boom of the 80s as well as the crash in 87. What he mentions as greed is what every CEO in America is motivated by. The Board tells them that this quarter if you can do 5% year on year you get $3m and if you can do 7% year on year you get $6m so the entire corporate system is driven by the desires to create and amass wealth, and it is totally fine.
    It is just considered impolite to talk about it, as money is a sensitive issue for a lot of people and even though they like the word they call it ambition, goals or desires in life (which are definitely far more than greed but never exclude greed), so greed is just the right word for the desire that leads to material creation and growth. This quote is the main reason while most people can’t seem to stop acquiring wealth, for ultimately they are doing it for happiness (Help them).
    No man is happy but by comparison.
    Thomas Shadwell
    This is true for all things – money, intelligence, knowledge, morality, experiences, satisfaction, peace, religiousness – people look for different ways to find their superiority and money leads the pack as it is the most universally accepted measure of success that is not open to debate. But the question is whether greed is really ugly or bad – the answer is that it is not, it really liberates, creates value for companies. Ask the people like Carl Icahn and Kirk Kerkorian whether they have not been motivated by personal greed to buy, often drastically change/making shocking changes in the company, and unlock massive value. They have created wealth for themselves as well as for others, so they need to be admired for that.
    And what exactly is conspicuous consumption. Should Larry Ellison’s “Rising Sun” yacht which is 452 feet long and cost him $200m have to necessarily qualify as conspicuous consumption. Or we’ll have to put a benchmark that yachts over 100ft are conspicuous consumption and less than that are okay to own without guilt. It is less than the daily cost of the war in Iraq which is costing $100bn/yr or $2bn per week. And Larry even gets to keep his boat and will sell it for a profit someday.
    Some people/friends will tell me that a small amount of $8k that I spent for a 10 day trip to France recently was conspicuous consumption – so how low or how high do we go to decide what is conspicuous consumption. The socialists (most of whom don’t believe what they say) immediately start giving examples of people living under $1 or $2 per day which might mean that everything that almost all of us are doing everyday will appear to be conspicuous consumption for a poor man sitting in Myanmar who lost everything in the recent cyclone. He has $1 for the whole day and you spoilt person, shamelessly eating a $15 breakfast at the courtyard without thinking about us. So who sets the rules?
    I am really happy that you have been an entrepreneur and you have lead with a conscience by often earning less than you could but that may also have some long term reason for stability, employee retention and not just your disdain for conspicuous consumption. And did this change of viewpoint happen after you made money or did you always dislike people who had lunch at four seasons for $100?
    Will look forwrad to your reply.
    Best Regards,
    Himanshu

  21. Shekarji, appreciate the response. In reciprocation to the question if Water should be distributed on basis of those who can afford it – the answer is obvious, and out there already.
    Don’t most of us in cities pay for water tankers, nose-out money for digging bore-wells, or even purchase “Bisleri” the ubiquitous name for bottled water in the country? In my home town of Hyderabad, and as I’ve observed in several other places, there are GOVT-REGULATED schemes where one can avail a tanker of water (3000 lt.) by remitting Rs. 500 (approx. $11). Does that mean the Govt. is committing a crime by selling water to people who can pay for it, or, is it that the people who are willing to pay for it are guilty? We purchase Water because we are not left with a choice, in other words we are getting it only because we are able to pay for it.
    On the other hand, you might have noticed that a tanker of similar capacity is made available free of charge to an entire Basti, a very common sight in every corner of India especially in summers – this comes with the price that they have to wait for days on an end to get a free bucket of water from a tanker that visits their localities once a week.
    Water is as much a commodity today as are other things that are required by us to conduct our lives (milk, gas, so forth). And anything that is a commodity helps someone make a profit somewhere… if there is no demand then why would there be a supply at all? As much as I would hate admitting it, water is already being distributed to those who can afford it… unfortunate but true.

  22. Shekarji, not to digress from the topic of conversation, I came across this beautiful book, which I though would interest you as reference for your film Paani. If you haven’t heard about it already, the title of the book is “City of Darkness – Life In Kowloon City” by Ian Lambot and Greg Girard (Available on Amazon). This book serves as de-facto standard of reference for most concept designers in Hollywood, especially those who require reference for non post-apocalyptic (realistic) future-scapes. One of the aspects of the book that I found interesting, and much-relevant to this topic was about the entire evolution of Kowloon-folk and their sub-culture, owing to their tendency to adapt in extreme settings (a la Dharavi in Mumbai). City of Darkness is sprinkled with nuggets of information and pictures of trivia such as plumbing and water supply systems that existed in walled city, and even details their schools and education systems.
    Having said that, I hope you can recollect our meeting, and our interesting conversation over a cup of coffee regarding Paani, and your projects with Mr. John Mhyre – I’d the distinct pleasure of meeting with you in Santa Monica, along with Bala and Kanika, when you had come down to LA for the screening of Hari Om (2005). Wishing you the very best for all your upcoming projects.

  23. shekhar says:

    thank u Raja Ramadorai, shekhar

  24. Horst Vollmann says:

    Dear Himanshu:
    It is fine for the corporate system to amass wealth only in as much as the countless and nameless contributors to their success receive their proper dues. Simply put: pay them wages that allow them to eat a portion of the big cake rather than having to jostle for the crumbs that reluctantly find their way to them. There is this great temptation of the purveyors of news to ascribe the rise or fall of corporations to their CEOs. Curious formulations abound: Mr. XYZ made the ABC bank to the largest in the world, Mr. ZYX increased sales for the DEF Corp. two-fold. Bertolt Brecht in his great poem set the record straight: “Young Alexander conquered India. He alone? Caesar beat the Gauls. Was there not even a cook in his army? Phillip of Spain wept as his fleet was sunk and destroyed. Were there no other tears? Frederick the Great triumphed in the Seven Years War. Who triumphed with him? Who built the seven gates of Thebes? The books are filled with names of kings. Was it the kings who hauled the craggy blocks of stone?”
    The measure for conspicuous consumption lies in the heart of a man rather than in the scale of his ship, his car or his house. What counts is his ability to tread gingerly on the sensitivities of those who cannot share his riches. Driving with a brand new car through the slums of this world is conspicuous consumption. Eating good food at a vacation spot in a third world country while hungry children watch is conspicuous consumption. The guy who drives to the Jersey Shore once a year with his entire family and stays in a cheap motel may look upon you with a jaundiced eye if you insouciantly tell him that you spent the pittance of $ 8K for 10 days in France. He may not want to have another drink with you anytime soon. Conspicuous consumption does not start or end with rattling off the size of a capitalistic toy it rather has to do with the willingness of people to abstain from showing off their good fortune against the sad and limited lives too many are forced to live. To find the fine line between decency and obscenity is often not part of the talents the affluent are endowed with.
    I consider wealth as something everybody should strive for but I abhor the practice to consider money as the dominant yardstick to measure a person’s worth and importance in this world. The meaning of wealth infinitely transcends the concept of keeping large bank accounts. Wealth can much more be found in the heart of a man, in the form of his daily struggle to meet the standards he has set for himself.
    The premise of your direct question at which point I started disliking people who eat $ 100 lunches is flawed. I could not care less if they spend $ 1,000. As long as they keep it to themselves rather than regale society at large with their boring tale making the less fortunate among us feel inadequate in the knowledge that it takes them many an hour of work to buy groceries for their families for the same amount of money. As long as I can think back I have never liked people whose lack of sensitivity has assaulted my interpretation of propriety and simple human decency. I also have never been impressed with people who have amassed material wealth and in one smooth linear progression have become billionaires. The assertion that they have created decent lives for thousands of others is unproven. Yes, it is true that many jobs were created but their quality, their earning potential are rather dubious at best.
    Your Myanmar example has a disingenuous ring that I am sure you did not mean to create. The hideousness of conspicuous consumption lies in the unthinking ways of people to flaunt their good fortune in the face of abject misery and the silent but dignified suffering of those who cannot avail themselves of the capitalistic tools that are so readily available to us who by a quirk of destiny have been given that chance. No matter how many arguments you might want to make about every one having the opportunity to “make” it in life if the willingness for hard work is there you sure cannot convince me.
    Best regards.
    Horst

  25. Himanshu says:

    Dear Horst,
    Your note above gives me the kind of feeling that I got when I lived in South Africa for 6 months in 2003 and I really saw disparity. The rich there live in gated and extremely protected communities and are scared to say a word about their conspicuous consumption, because the population of have nots is quite violent (mainly because of the history) and muggings and car jacking even murders are common. Maybe in that case the rich don’t speak a word out of fear.
    On the other hand in America everyone is free and don’t you think you should be allowed to spend your wealth anyway you please without having to worry what people will think about it, for you have earned it? And secondly when you become big financially a lot fo things about your consumption are reported in papers & online when you never wanted to speak it out loud and that creates unrest in the minds of the people who read it.
    Like Bill Gates’ home using 4.5 million gallons of water per year and the huge amount of electricity that Al Gore’s 20 room house uses were things that they’d have never spoken out openly. In fact most exremely wealthy people hardly reveal much about their big expenses, barring a few like Donald Trump, but the tabloids and papers stop at nothing to report their consumption. A lot of them, like the Walton family, would like to live in anonymity but the society doesn’t afford them to do so.
    Like the Forbes article where we talked about the praise for inequality which motivates the have-nots to get there, don’t you think it will be advisable to some extenet that they saw what people who have created fortunes do with it, for unless they know what wealth can do for them they may not be sufficiently motivated. You are essentailly not allowing them to see how the haves are living and spending. This will not give them much comfort for when they sell hot dogs on 5th ave, they also see the Prada, De Beers and Cartier stores, they too can see the prices through the window, and they also see some people going in there to shop. They may not know these people but they know that some are buying small things at prices they can’t dream of, when the wealthy person did nothing to flaunt his/her purchase. They see the huge trump tower and know that each apartment is many millions of dollars there.
    What do you think can be done when the conspicuous consumption is openly visible to people? Should we have open visible capitalism or should we stay scared inside three barricades in our South African home?
    Best Regards,
    Himanshu

  26. Horst Vollmann says:

    Dear Himanshu:
    It is curious that you should use South Africa as example of conspicuous consumption having to go into hiding. When the shame of Apartheid, the culmination of centuries of racial segregation and colonialism, was soiling the reputation of a beautiful country, when the 20 million black citizens were treated by a white minority with disdain, hate and contempt, when they were exploited and humiliated as badly as the slaves in the U.S. in those dark and horrible times, when their humanity was not even acknowledged and white South Africa collectively failed to show as much as an iota of compassion or some civil courage to cry out over this enormity of human cruelty, where were the people who are now in a humongous huff over the fact that they have to live in fear behind the guarded gates of their elite communities. My compassion for them is clearly muted. White South Africa had accepted a morally indefensible law for more than 40 years by looking the other way, had vastly benefited from it and must now face a stark reality they have little justification to complain about.
    It would be redundant to state my position on conspicuous consumption. I agree, it is vastly preferable to live in a free society. But freedom comes with a responsibility. Yes, we should be allowed to live according to our tastes, convictions, social and financial status and should not have to answer to moralizing voices. However, there should be a moral narrative that resides within our hearts that ought to make superfluous any debate about the demarcation lines of conspicuous consumption.
    Best regards.
    Horst

  27. neha says:

    All thoughts are good specially when blogged.
    But Shekhar, I would like to know?
    Do you serve yourself food only to realise you dont like it and throw it away? Which car do you use?
    You dont throw parties? or attend ?
    Sab bolne ki baatein hain. Karke dikhayiye!

  28. Sats Harry says:

    Dear shekar, i appreciate your concern for the world , to pen down beautiful thoughts is so much easier cause it shifts us to an ideal world where everything seems to be so rosy & fairy tale like. Yes we all would have been better off there. Now i request you to bounce back to reality , ever thought when relishing your favourite delicacy that the same could feed a one time meal to ten other hungry down there. Forget those you sholuld also realize the world is designed to be progressive in nature, hence from stone age to today we see a huge difference and years to come if human brain is any superior it should progress in a much faster pace , in the course there are good effects and ill effects. If today my fastest way of trasportation is taking me an hour to get to a place i would still be greedy to know of something or invent something which might take me there in less than a minute, and it doesnt end there , yes thats how it is designed and that how it is better. It doesnt take much effort or pain to lead a simple life ,its just like you playing a game in which you ae going to win anyways. Anytime given a thought of what this money is, and how did it come into existence? The problem is not someone using an expensive car or george bush deciding to burn out the oil reserves. Neither is the prolem with the concious use of plastics when you already know those are harmful for the generations to come. Overcome your guilt feeling that your using a car is depriving million others, understand your insignificance just as any other life on earth, earthquake or a tsunami victim could be me or could be you , for mother nature doesnt make any difference. Yes your contribution or for that matter anyone else’s would certainly make a difference to mankind. Florence Nightingale was there in flesh & bone not because the situation demanded her of, but her intentions of unconditional service. Everyone knows that we need a place on earth where atleast the basic necessities like food , clothe, shelter & medication in not deprived. Do you think in a mature world there would be any meaning to abundence & scarcity, developed or under devloped country, rich & poor. Rational thinking & unconditional action is the need of the hour rather than just enjoying the thrill of instigating or provoking your thought pattern. The world should progress if given a chance maybe out of proportion. With all the technology advances , mass destruction weapons, pollution etc etc making the planet the most dangerous place to live , yet wouldnt trade for a simple life on earth. If you believe in God , the maker of all life forms even he should get perplexed that he made us to live on earth , we with whatever little knowledge given by him is all out to complicate our lives , not sure if its exciting. Hey listen that sip of water when you are thirsty is so relishing.

  29. Hassan says:

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