Our Activities

Dr Robin Abraham


Health and medicine             Agriculture                  Governance               Internet Activism     


12th July 2013

 

The philosophy behind our activity is that it should be low cost, labour intensive and, last but not the least, useful. There is a sizable section of our population who feels that change is needed and want to work for it, but they feel directionless. The greatest problem is that there is a loss of trust, at least that is true of India. In India, people  feel that everyone  is corrupt. Politicians, bureaucrats, doctors etc etc. So the overwhelming feeling is that no matter what anyone does, nothing fruitful will happen. I want to work to break this cycle of thought. It is time  to work on an activist strategy that works and is feasible to do part-time.  

Before activism starts, it is always best to understand how the world actually works and why is it so screwed up. I want to share my understanding of how the world works with everyone through this website and my rationale for my strategy.

The fundamental problem facing this world, in my view, is public apathy. We, humans, essentially do not like to think. We want entertainment, the small pleasures of life and be happy. Nothing wrong with that per se, but when we translate this attitude on the macro scale, you have a recipe for exploitation of the poor by the rich, plunder of the environment, widespread corruption etc etc. The Marxist will have you believe that class conflict is a one way street of rich exploiting the poor and the way out of this is armed rebellion. This simple narration fails because it fails to see that poor are complicit in their exploitation due to apathy. The armed rebellion which the Marxist promised result in formation of a new class of exploiters and then we go back  to square one.  The founding fathers of India believed that democracy is the answer. It is painful to see the reality in India where democracy, which is great in theory, works so poorly in practice. You want proof, just go through the villages of north India. I am not saying everything is bad in our villages but whatever progress we made is too less considering what could have been done. Democracy should have worked far better than it has. Why has that not happened? The answer is Human apathy.


Fig: Plato

Indian democracy shows quite clearly that the public is not the ideal custodian of democracy. Plato’s criticism of democracy seems so accurate when we study India. Plato held that democracy was bound to fail because public always likes the best speaker and not necessarily the most capable. If a person who is an expert in rhetorical speeches comes, the public falls for that (Barrack Obama is a good example). Plato gives the example of electing the captain of a ship by sailors and says that invariably the sailors will elect a person who is great at making speeches rather than the person who knows the sea and the art of navigation. The person with real captain material will be sidelined. What happens to such a ship is the question Plato asks. I agree with Plato till this point, but the solution he gives is clearly unworkable in my view. He believes that Philosophers should rule the world by becoming the guardian class. In other words, people with insight and compassion should govern public policy. But the practical problem in my view is how do you objectively define a philosopher and what guarantees do we have that power will not corrupt the philosophers. He talks also of giving special education to the children of the philosophers so as to make them rulers of the future. All this is clearly unworkable in my view as can be gleaned by studying history of the millennia after Plato’s death. (I will be discussing on philosophers in greater detail here)

My take on Plato's ideas is that he is correct on issue of democracy being hijacked by the rhetoricians, but his solutions seem a clear non-starter. I believe the way forward is to build a network of philosophers who do not take power but talk truth to power in a democratic setup. Democracy is still the best political system made by humans, it just needs to be fine tuned. Philosophers would be people who are capable of deep thought and action. In other words we need activists who make it their business to take public issues and bring it to the sleeping public's notice. If and when this happens I believe it will be get the support of the public as it is in its own self interest. Public generally does not like to come out of its comfort zone, but does support those who sweat it out for them.


Fig: Buddha

Volunteers can clean up the system if they are motivated, persistent and strategic. Just imagine a band of volunteers using the right to information act effectively, would it not bring down corruption in India to a great extent? I think it will. What if volunteers raised awareness about the importance of social audit? What if they demanded accountability from our elected representatives? The crucial question is how do we build this volunteer base and give it spiritual, social and economic sustenance. How do you motivate people to volunteer, when you see that most of the world is busy enjoying Bigg Boss, reality shows and indulging in mindless religious rituals? This is where Indian Philosophical insight comes handy. Indian philosophical thought gave focus on the individual and the importance of personal purity. In the Baghvad Gita Krishna talks about action(Karma) as inevitable part of life. Krishna advices about the importance of renouncing the fruit of action (Nishkama Karma). All suffering in this world comes from desire and renunciation of desire is seen as the mantra of salvation in Indian philosophical context, a theme repeated in the Baghvad Gita(Krishna), teachings of Buddha and reiterated by scores of philosophers throughout the history of India by the likes of teachers like Guru Nanak, Sree Narayana Guru, Kabir, Ramana Maharshi, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Sirdi Sai Baba etc etc.

I have traveled extensively through India and what has struck me is the religiosity of the country. The country is studded with Ashrams and scores of monks, and nuns of various denominations. I met scores of swamis and visited numerous ashrams and my dominant feeling was that there is huge waste of talent in India. The numerous monks and nuns spend so much time in prayer, why is it that they are not motivated to clean up the political system in India. Why do they not educate the public about governance, corruption free politics? Why don’t the monks learn about the Right to Information Act and educate the public? The emphasis in Indian thought is on Individual salvation and not social justice or governance. It is an anomaly that needs to be corrected. Why don’t we talk and motivate our brothers and sisters in numerous ashrams about the importance of focusing on the social rather than the personal. Why don’t we initiate a diologue to integrate the insights of Western Philosophers like Socrates, Plato, Karl Marx, French Revolution philosophers etc with their emphasis on the Social justice and good governance with the Philosophical insights of Indian Philosophers like Buddha, Adi Shankara, Sree Narayana Guru on personal purity and Karma. I will discuss this in greater detail in this link on Philosophers.

It is for this reason I want our activities to first focus on Governance

Management of Natural Resources

Natural resources goes to the heart of the issues governing any society. As Karl Marx argues that society is in a state of perennial conflict over resources with the ruling class taking the lion share and keeping the working class in chains. Noam Chomsky in his numerous books makes the class conflict so clear with enormous display of facts and figures. Before going into conflicts about natural resources, I think it would be useful to see what Natural Resources are. In today’s world, the top Natural resource in my view is Fossil fuels like Oil, Coal and Natural Gas. This is not to say that the traditional resources like Land, Water are not important. Land and water are the basic resource which keeps us alive. Fossil fuel allowed humans to expand its numbers from 500million in 1500 AD to almost 7 billion today. This is an unprecedented jump made possible by release of excess energy from fossil fuels. Our food production increased, we started sucking water out of our aquifers, transporting perishable food through insane number of miles. It is possible for total deserts like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Las Vagus etc to build thriving cities. These deserts clearly cannot support such huge numbers of human population. What fossil fuel has given us is massive power. The power to expand our numbers to levels never before witnessed in human history, the power to start a mass extinction (we destroyed around 30% of plant and animal species), the power to build massive military with global reach etc etc. I tend to agree with the Peak Oil pessimists that our civilisation faces collapse due to the impending oil shock. (Visit this excellent website for more details).

Watch this video on Peak Oil

So in short we have the problem of overpopulation, overconsumption, degradation of environment and depletion of fossil fuels, which I call the Four Mega Crisis. Now comes the crucial question of what we can do about it? This is a difficult challenge, but my "solution" is the same: Volunteerism. My strategy goes like this: we use science and technology to harness natural resources in a sustainable way and motivate the hidden "philosophers" in our society to volunteer to organise and arouse people power. 

(Watch this video on Peak Oil, Fiat money and its economic consequences from www.peakprosperty.com)

Harness natural resources in a sustainable way certainly sounds good but how do we do it practically. Any village in India (or world) would have land, rain, sunlight, plants and animals. The most efficient use of this resource needs scientific knowledge. Volunteer action can be strategised  to bring this knowledge to all. Any village would benefit from low cost agricultural methods like Zero budget farming, agroforestry which relies on natures method of high Biodiversity and balance. This makes it possible for farmers to move away from increasingly expensive fertilizers and pesticides. We are planning to show videos of successful farmers  who use this method to others on picoprojectors. Other technologies like rainwater harvesting, biogas etc can also be propagated. Use  of picoprojectors has been done quite successfully by digitalgreen in India. In order to sum up, we can say that the strategy is twofold, to increase awareness on critical technologies and methods which are environmentally friendly and pro poor and secondly, to encourage volunteerism. (See more on this page on agriculture for details about our activities)

Health

Health is an area which is full of action for a volunteer. Volunteers must focus on preventive health. Schools are the ideal place to start. Anthropometric surveys using WHO charts can be used to access the nutrition status of children. If malnutrition is found to be high, we can use picoprojectors to show video of low cost easily available food stuffs in villages. For example, moringa is a tree which grows in the desert but is power packed with Iron, high quality proteins and minerals. This could go a long way in meeting nutrition needs of our people. Similarly schools can be meeting place for adults to discuss and see lots of educative videos on health related issues. (Visit this page on health for details)

Volunteersim and Social capital

In this page, I have just given an outline of my strategy for volunteerism. So next question is, who will volunteer? Volunteers can be of 3 types

-           Full time volunteers: This is difficult to build. Only large organizations like mainstream religious organizations and political parties have the financial resources and assets to keep full time volunteers.

-           Part time volunteers: This is my focus. I am thinking of organizing activity which can be done 0nce a week /fortnightly/month and would have positive impact. Also the activities planned must be low cost as the volunteers must pay for it from their own pockets.

                 -           Donors: Those who no time to give can help other volunteers with money. 

Social capital is an interesting concept. It means the relationships you have are an asset. It is the measure of our social connections which we all use to get things done. A society which has a rich tradition of volunteerism will make lot of connections with each other which will be based on trust, which results in overall improvement for all. (For a more detailed discussion visit here)

Conclusion

To conclude, I will say that we cannot let the degradation of the environment, social injustice, widespread corruption happen without a fight. The fight we can give is volunteering, which means giving a part of our time for building relationships, raising issues, starting a dialogue etc. One person cannot change the world but if we organize ourselves we can be a force. Please join me in my efforts and be part of the action. I will be posting videos and links here as and when they happen. Please join my facebook group “Innovative Action Group” for discussions.