Atanu Dey On India's Development

The Government as the Big Daddy

I am surprised that the simple point I attempted to make in the post called Drinking and Democracy about adult universal franchise being inconsistent with treating adults like irresponsible children provoked so much controversy. Call me dense but I am at a loss figuring out what exactly the objections are.

One person said that prohibiting drinking is good because drinking leads to problems. I am sorry but I don’t understand the logic of prohibiting an action which in the normal course of events is not harmful to the person, and more importantly it does not harm those uninvolved in the activity. Drinking, in the normal course of events, does no harm to the person drinking nor to others. Of course, a drunk often harms others as well as himself. So drunk driving should be prohibited, not drinking per se. That drinking engaged in excess leads to harm is no reason to prohibit drinking and the government that gets into the business of prohibiting normally harmless activities is a government which I would not submit to.

A government’s job is to protect people from other people, and does not extend to protecting a person from himself. If a person is a minor, that is the job of the parents or the guardians of the minor. If an adult is incompetent in some regard—for instance if the person is mentally retarded or addicted—then the government may intervene. But government interference in the lives of normal competent adults is extremely pernicious. Sure alcohol is harmful when ingested in large quantities over long periods of time. So is fat. And so are sugars. When will the benevolent government tell you how much and when you are allowed to eat? And where do you draw the line? You want the government to dictate what you should read? Who you should sleep with? You want the government to tell you what to think or better yet do your thinking for you?

I think that overall we Indians are brainwashed into thinking that it is alright for the government to control, having grown up in the benevolent shadow of the paternalistic government of Cha-cha Nehru and his feudalistic socialism and its oh-so-wonderful command control license permit quota raj. We don’t question the intrusion of the government in every aspect of our social and economic lives, in our private and public lives. Not having lived in a truly free society, we even lack the imagination to consider what a free society is like.

Let me hasten to say that anyone who pipes up at this point and says, “Yabbut the US is not free either, by this definition of yours,” will be taken out and shot at dawn. I am not arguing that US or any other society is free or not. I am saying that we should live in free society. And to do so, we have to make our society free. And to make a free society, we have to be able to imagine what a free society is. The evidence so far about our ability to conceive of a free society is not very encouraging. We don’t live in a free society primarily because we appear to lack imagination.

So ladies and gentlemen, I wish you a good life under the caring clutches of a benevolent and interfering government which will tell you what you should do, how you should live, what thoughts you should think, and most importantly who you should vote for.

  • http://khavis.blogspot.com salil wagh

    Well said Atanu.
    we as indians have often ridiculed the consequences than the reasons.I guess these sort knee jerk reactions are result of our habit to apply blanket solutions to every problem.
    salil

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  • http://www.broadbandblog.in Abhishek

    Atanu, you have indeed made your point well. It’s because of the “gullibility factor” coupled with lack of information, that provokes these reactions.

    It’s like in the flick, “The Matrix”. I would take the red pill, become”free” and learn the action stimulation programmes and start fighting those agents from day one itself.

    However, the fact is that Indian populace is stoned and wrecked in mediocrity. If, as you mentioned, we give references to our “glorious past”- Nehru and his ilk- surely there is something fundamentally wrong somewhere.

    In the final analysis, its the education system coupled with apathy thats the root cause of this mess.

  • Pardeshi

    Atanu,
    My two cents about the controversy;ignorance is the root of all our problems
    - as most Indians ignore the art of drinking, they are afraid of getting drunk
    - prohibition supporters must also consider banning obesity ; a recent post in Sepia mutiny refers to statistics saying one kid in two under five in India is suffering from malnutrition
    Pardeshi

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  • Nitin DB

    Hi,

    By this rationale, would you consider it o.k for individuals in society to commit suicide; it doesn’t cause any harm to others, so is that o.k?
    Personal freedom is great, but some freedoms do have a negative impact on society even if we don’t immediately realise it.

    Atanu’s response: My position is that a person “owns” himself. He is part of society but society does not own him. So yes, a person is free to live and die as he pleases, again with the requirement that he does not harm others in the process. Suicide is OK but suicide bombing is not.

    I disagree with you that “some freedoms do have a negative impact on society.” No freedom has a negative impact on a society based on freedom and justice. In a totalitarian prison state, freedoms are against the basis of the state. But in a free society, every freedom only enhances the society. Yes, every freedom will have its share of abuses but those are the exceptions whose costs will be negligible compared to the loss of benefit that would result from the denial of the freedom entirely.

    To take a trivial example: driving. You are free to drive around the country. But driving also kills and maims. No one in his right mind would prohibit driving. Take a non-trivial example: free speech. Some speech will be unpleasant to those in high places. In a free society, the fact that the interests of some will be hurt does not argue for the prohibition of free speech.

    Why suicide is not a social bad is left as an exercise for the interested reader.

  • http://chocolateandgoldcoins.blogspot.com/ Michael H.

    Atanu
    It is interesting how many people are willing to accept and encourage a “nanny state”. Why would anyone want the government to tell them what they could or could not do if it doesn’t harm others?

    Nitin: What do you suggest should be the punishment for people who commit suicide?

    Atanu’s response:I suppose for attempted suicide the punishment would be capital punishment. Not all but some of the policies of the government is as asinine as that.

  • http://projectoutsourced.com Krishnan

    “punishment for people who commit suicide?”

    heh heh

    good one, michael!

  • http://slashdot.org Sudeep

    Theres a very striking passage in the novel “English August”, where the protagonist describes a Mahatma Gandhi statue built by a PWD engineer in Satna. Nobody in Satna likes the ugly statue, but they have to put it in the town square because it was built by the government, so to speak, and they wanted to be polite. Since it was built by a PWD engineer, he got it wrong – The statue was too fat and too short to be Gandhi, and so imbalanced that it could not stand on its own. So they stick a pole behind the status to prop it up.

    That pretty much describes the state of Gandhian thought in India today – imposed on an increasingly resentful populace by the government, so bloated, so short, that it doesnt resemble Gandhi at all, and so awkward that it needs to be propped up with a pole stuck up its arse. :-D

    Gandhi ji disapproved of the havoc alcoholism (distinct from alcohol) wrought in destitute, disempowered societies without any other channel of entertainment. It was also a personal quirk among many others, that he detested alcohol. To honour this, the government decided to ban alcohol on “Gandhi Jayanti” – Since Gandhi ji did not approve of sex without a higher purpose of pro-creation, I am waiting for the day they will ban sex.

    Atanu’s response: Sudeep, thanks very much for the comment. “Fat, short and a pole stuck up the arse” would be the perfect title of a book looking into the sordid Indian political class. Mind if I steal that?

  • Nitin

    Well, the idea of the ‘Nanny State’ – is it really so outrageous? Much of mainland Europe prescribes to the Nanny State mentality, and although economically it is not quite up to the mark these days, socially it is obviously doing very well. A quick glance at any of the quality of life surveys floating around and not even one American or British city is in the top 20. In Europe you’d probably get taxed if you sneezed…but they accept interference from their governments as a way of life and it seems to do them a whole lot of good. However, I guess this can only work in a society with a strong democracy and low levels of corruption. Moreover the problem with India is that the governments focus too much of their attention on banning things which they see as morally corrupt (pornography, dance bars, alchohol etc).

    Where suicide is concerned, the point I am trying to make is that if someone wanted to commit suicide, isn’t it our duty to make sure that this is something that isn’t ‘easy’ to do? Often these people are not thinking straight and are highly depressed or suffering from some mental problem. Is it o.k. to allow these people to go ahead with killing themselves, or do we intervene in some way?

    We elect governments to make decisions on our behalf and if we don’t like their decisions, we can always vote them out of office. If we don’t like this system, then we’ll just have to accept it until we can think of a better way to organise society. We have to find the right balance between complete ‘anarchism’ and total ‘authoritarianism’. Either way, society has to deal with the consequences; you can’t do away with the idea of society altogether. There are always social consequences to individual actions even if these are not immediately visible.

    “kuch pane ke liye kuch khona padta hai” (to gain something, we have to lose something)

    Just out of curiosity, which country on this planet fits closest to your idea of a ‘free’ society?

    Atanu’s response: Nitin, glad you brought up the nanny state. We need to distinguish between the nanny state and an interfering state. A nanny state is that which says, “here, let me help you with food and medicine since you are unable to fend for yourself.” That is not incompatible with the state not dictating to the person what he should do and what he should not. An interfering state, on the other hand, says, “Hey you! Yes you over there. Don’t speak out of turn. And don’t drink on Sunday. And go to church and wear your hair this short and keep your skirt this long.” That interfering state does not help out a person when he is down and out by giving him the basic necessities of living. It just dictates silly stuff and thinks it is doing it for your own good, but does no good.

    So yes, I would rather have a nanny state which gives me not only help when I need it but also does not intrude in my life (the Scandinavian countries) instead of a state which does not help the needy but restricts freedoms for all and sundry (the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, for instance.) And India is closer to Pakistan both physically and psychically. I want India to get as far away from the Islamic paradise of Pakistan as possible.

  • http://jyote.blogspot.com Jyoti Iyer

    Hi Atanu,

    The Americans actually went to great lenghts to fight British imperialistic structures and this condescending atttitute towards the people, once they got a sense of their own identity.I see the reverse trend in India – people are not really unified and organised to revolt against silly stuff like that – even 50 years after “Independence”.

    Cheers

    Jyoti

    Jyoti, slavery is a state of mind and while the masters may have gone, the slavish mentality will take a while to change. Old habits die hard.

    Atanu

  • http://chennaikaran.blogspot.com plus ultra

    Atanu,in a post on Singapore,a country which even bans chewing gums, you had said something entirely different. You had argued that in a third world country,it is desirable that a certain degree of individual freedom is sacrificed on the altar of overall development of the nation. Your concluding remarks were :

    “I am sure there are those who will immediately retort that the Singaporeans don’t have the freedoms that are normally associated with a liberal democracy. And I am also sure that the person making that statement is sitting comfortably well-fed in his nice office or home accessing the world wide web for knowledge and entertainment. For the average schmuck in a third world country, he would any day trade in his imaginary freedoms for a decent shot at a full stomach, a roof over his head, and a chance to get his children educated. After the average schmuck has achieved those basic necessities, he would ask for all sorts of goodies that a liberal democracy provides. And that is when the society should become a liberal democracy.

    The sequence is important”

    Probably, we are at such a stage where dicipline has to be enforced by an external agency, the Govt in this instance, till we become a mature democracy and would have earned our liberty.

    Atanu’s response: Plus Ultra, I was waiting for someone to point out the apparent contradiction in my position. Glad you to go into it but not right now since I am up to my neck in stuff. In a few days time I will continue with a post laying out my position in greater detail.

  • Uday

    Drawing off Nitin’s comment, what would constitute a truly free *and* enlightened state? My 86 paise:

    1. Social umbrella (‘nannying’): Universal health care, free quality primary education opportunities, robust vacation policies, appreciable benefits for parents on the birth of a child, special cognizance of the retired and elderly, generous short-term unemployment benefits. All this without stifling tax rates so entrepreneurship remains financially attractive.

    2. Outstanding personal liberties: Ethnicity and gender blind, complete sexual liberty between two consenting adults, freedom to practice any religion, total and honest decoupling of state policy from religion, no moral policing regarding time-tested activities such as abortions, alcohol, smoking, lighter recreational drugs like cannabis, prostitution (with pandering prohibited) and pornography as long as these activities are restricted to fully cognizant and consenting adults.

    3. Policies: Pacifist philosophy and transparent foreign policy, structured non-xenophobic immigration and citizenship law, heightened environmental sensitivity, constitutional guarantees of protection from arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, and correspondence.

    Canada, New Zealand, Norway, Denmark and Sweden do well on most counts. Immigration leading to citizenship is still a challenge in Scandinavia, I believe. The tax rate is lowest in New Zealand. Atanu visited New Zealand recently: if you find the time and inclination, I hope you can share more thoughts about what you gathered.

    Atanu’s response:
    Uday, excellent points. It would be good to discuss NZ in the context of the present discussion. Thanks.

  • http://25worldcountry.blogspot.com TTG

    Ah at last, somebody FINALLY noticed the contradiction. I was waiting for somebody to notice it. Well done ultra. 100 points for actually absorbing what you read, but minus 100 points for not pointing that that statement is in direct contradiction to what Atanu is saying here. Well Atanu? Which is it? An authoritarian state or a free-for-all democracy? I think you had better sort of out your confusion. Almost back-to-back posts saying opposite things tend to cause people to laugh at you, not with you.

    A word to Nitin, nanny state or laissez-faire, it all works fine when 1) your neighbours don’t want to kill you, and 2) your country’s total population is only half of New Delhi’s

    Atanu’s response: TTG, someone noticed an apparent contradiction. There is no contradiction if you follow my argument a bit more closely. Read hastily it appears so but it ain’t so. I was afraid that my explaining such a trivial point would be gratuitously insulting the intelligence of my readers. But I am persuaded that an explanation is warranted given your comment. However, it will have to wait because business calls and I am also traveling during Puja. Bengalis are duty bound to head home during Puja.

  • http://25worldcountry.blogspot.com TTG

    Atanu
    1) have a good Puja
    2) *rubs hands with glee*. Awaiting your defence and a spirited dialogue in the comments section post-post.

  • Shashikiran

    There is a difference between prohibiting Sugar and prohibiting alcohol on lets say Ganeshutsav day. Latter creates law and order problems. Generally sale of liquor should on any day of mass celebration, religious or secular (on India Pak cricket match for eg.) b’coz people are never emotionally stable on such days

  • AMD

    Does the effectiveness or lack of effectiveness have nothing to do with the discussion? On Ganesh Visarjan..a dry day…I spent half an hour waking up a guy who had passed out on the hood of my car. This was at about midnight no Peddar Road, a major thouroughfare, with a large polic presence on that day. On Gandhi Jayanti I went out for dinner to a upscale restaurant that served me all alcohol but whiskey, cause whiskeys color is distinctive, no issues with a rum and coke or vodka tonic.

  • ms

    Dear Atanu,

    Drinking is a personal issue, until you are all alone.
    Please look it from this perspective.
    You & me know that to stop after 5 pegs (Sorry, me a teetotaller)

    But, we have hords of men through-out the country who just can’t stop drinking, until either their pocket empties or their senses loose the sense.

    It was this aspect of drinking that causes great sorrow to families and this was why M K Gandhi opposed drinking.

    What I understand is Oct2 is just one-day after the pay-day & liqour is banned, so as to save some cents for the family.

  • http://constructal.blogspot.com Sameer

    Nashaa sharaab mein hota to nachati bottle-Amitabh in Sharaabi

    Your points in this and the previous (Democracy and Drinking) post are very good. I think that a part of the problem is our culture and the way we think about morality. Aren’t politicians and government simply playing to the “janata”?

    We (the Indian people) tend to blame alcohol(the substance) for the problems it causes, rather than blaming the subtler things which are real reasons which cause problems such as addiction and DUI. So instead of giving the freedom to consume alcohol and providing education about consumption, addiction, DUI etc. we simply ban the substance. Same goes for “gutka” ban in Maharashtra. Its probably the same reason why we have a censor board (instead of simply a rating system which puts the responsibility on people).

    I think it works the other way too. E.g. the helmet compulsion in Pune and Mumbai. It’s as if “the helmet” is going to solve all the problems related to two-wheeler traffic. We tend to ignore subtler things like developing a traffic sense, education and improved testing before issuing a driver’s permit etc. Instead we feel “the helmet” will solve the problem.

    I think the problem is our “perception of problem”. It’s not because we are brainwashed but I think it is deeply ingrained in our culture. So its not surprising that it is reflected in our government!

  • sunil

    Atanu,
    Look at “dry day” from another point of view at least that of 2nd oct.If MKGandhi is ok to be called “father of Nation” and majorty of Indians remember him as one, “dry day” is like paying tribute to him the way you will pay tribute to your father on his birthday by doing something that he thought right.

  • Vivek S

    Simple and clear, Sunil.

    Now on free society..

    From Atanu’s archive:
    “I must hasten to add that satyagraha and non-violence is a “first-best” tool. And that is precisely the trouble, ironically. First-best tools work in “first-best” worlds. A bit of reflection will convince most people that the world we live in is a “second-best” world.

    Second best worlds are not perfect and indeed have multiple distortions. Employing tools that are meant for first best worlds could lead one to make a situation worse.”

    So, whatever some folks here were talking on free society.. “i can drink any time, any day” etc.. all those apply to you because you think you can control and not harm others. Not all Indians are like that. The coolies who earn a little end up beating their wife and children for want of more money for drinking.

    If you try and apply the concept of free society in the current Indian context, you will end up messing it up.

    1. Prevent the alchohol from poor or whatever that hinders growth.
    2. Give education to all and make them atleast half fit to think and write a blog like “deeshaa.org” :-)
    3. Then think about making it a free society.

    So, again it all boils down to education. A free or a good society is one which evolves through right thinking of all concerned and “The purpose of education is to train the mind to think” – Einstein.

    I am not saying that the Govt should control everything all the time. The timing is very important!

  • http://dipanjanc.blogspot.com Dipanjan

    Laws and regulations interfering with alcohol consumption are popular in India because people feel helpless in stopping the havoc abusers can cause on others. The real problem is this sense of helplessness, not the access to the substance. Any government with any sense should focus on the real problem, not on prohibition which helps black-marketeers and curtails freedom.

    There are two distinct aspects of this sense of powerlessness.

    The dangers of substance abuse that show up in the public space, namely drunk driving, violence, assaults and other related crimes, are simple law and order issues and should be ruthlessly dealt with as such. It should not be too hard to just copy what countries like USA have done to reduce drunk driving and enforce the laws without exceptions. We can take the framework and do even better.

    Then there is the private face of the abuse – wife and child beating, failure to show up for work and alcohol-related expenses. I find it extremely insulting to the family members to take the position that preventing access makes them feel safer. Let’s put ourselves in the position of that poor wife and the kid. Thank government that my husband/father can’t find alcohol tonight, or he would beat the crap out of me! What pathetic economic and social circumstances would compel someone to marry and live with such an alcoholic?

    Let’s focus on fixing those circumstances, shall we?. Let’s also start holding our governments accountable for failing to do that. Them staying out of the way for almost everything other than primary education, health, defense and law-and-order is a start.

    A personal anecdote is probably not entirely inappropriate here. Tonight we had a Durgapuja-related party at a friend’s house here in bay area. Of course I ended up drinking enough Scotch to put me over BAC threshold. My wife had just one cocktail and she safely drove us home. I have enough respect for US law and order and have enough at stake not to risk a DUI. Also my wife is neither going to tolerate drunk driving nor a drunk’s boorish behavior. So that keeps me beyond BAC threshold but below the obnoxious and out-of-control drunk threshold. However, we both enjoed the party and the alcohol.

    What’s good for me is good for everyone else as well. We have had enough mahatmas and enough fathers of nation. We need leaders who treat ALL Indians as responsible citizens and equals to them.

  • Manoj

    I agree with you atanu. The attitude of following a higher authority is very deeply ingrained in us. I must say the parents share a part of blame. I saw many of them trying to control the lives of their adult children, and rarely encourage independent thought and judgement