In a comment to the post on political parties launched by entrepreneurs, “Seven Times Six” wrote:
I don’t think renunciation and self-sacrifice is necessary for a nation to prosper. What is required is the exact opposite — a strong avarice and ambition to promote one’s well-being.
India’s problems are not due a lack of “leaders”. It is due to a lack of people not being allowed to lead themselves. For all your insightful thoughts, you do not seem to be cognizant of this.
I think the comment was in response to the quote from Swami Vivekanand which said:
“Even the least work done for others awakens the power within; even thinking the least good of others gradually instills into the heart the strength of a lion. As you have come into this world, leave some mark behind. Otherwise, what is the difference between you and the trees and stones ? What our country needs are some young men who will renounce everything and sacrifice their lives for their country’s sake. Only such men can do some real work. I too believe that India will awake again, if anyone could love with all his heart the people of the country – bereft of the grace of affluence, of blasted fortune, their discretion totally lost, downtrodden, ever-starved, quarrelsome, and envious. Then only will India awake, when hundreds of large-hearted men and women, giving up all desires of enjoying the luxuries of life, will long and exert themselves to their utmost for the well-being of the millions of their countrymen who are gradually sinking lower and lower in the vortex of destitution and ignorance.”
Swami Vivekanand was no idealistic fool. I think it is worthwhile to read what he actually says very carefully. He is not saying that every person renounce everything. He is not advocating communism. He says that some need to sacrifice for the society as a whole to awake. He says we need hundreds of large-hearted men, not hundreds of millions in a country of hundreds of millions. I will argue here why I agree with Swamiji.
Let me start by asking how many brilliant scientists does a nation need? A few hundred in a nation of a few hundred million would suffice. You really don’t need millions brilliant scientists to meet the needs of the society. Would it not be great if the society of a few hundred million people had a hundred million brilliant scientists? Not necessarily, because a society needs other sorts of people, not just brilliant scientists. Besides brilliant scientists an economy needs brilliant engineers, doctors, business people, actors, authors, programmers, poets, authors, artists, … the list goes on.
A society which consists of millions of poets would be as impoverished as a society of millions of scientists. It is the mix of a lot of small numbers of people brilliant in their respective fields producing whatever that they are good at producing that makes a good society. It is the work of the relatively few brilliant people in their fields that makes the labor of the rest of us non-brilliant people more productive.
Which brings me to the point that Swamiji was making. He says that for the awakening of India, what we need is a few hundred leaders who could dedicate their lives to doing what leaders are supposed to do – to inspire and lead by example. Everyone does not have to be a leader, any more than everyone has to be a programmer. But we do need a bunch of programmers who are so dedicated that they would do what mere mortal programmers cannot do. So also, we need a bunch of leaders that would be capable of doing what thousands of run-of-the-mill leaders cannot do.
It would be silly to advocate a nation full of self-denying ascetics. No one with any bit of sense would do so. But while the vast majority of the citizens should be concerned with their own narrow self-interest, society still needs those handful of men and women who would excel beyond the capacity of the average. And in all fields we need these exceptional people, not the least of which is the field of political leadership.
The works of geniuses in every field – especially in science and engineering – is very useful because the benefit of their work can be widely disseminated through the economy. You do not have to invent the laser or the microprocessor to enjoy their benefits. In a similar sort of way, what a genuine leader does is to inspire people in ways that ultimately benefit the society as a whole. By example, they raise the moral fiber of the people. All else being the same, a society that is composed of ethically handicapped people will fare much worse compared to a society of people who have values that go beyond narrowly selfish goals. A finite multi-person prisoner’s dilemma game’s outcome can lead to a very sorry outcome.
I totally subscribe to the proposition that if everyone of us looked out for our own interests and did so without harming others or preventing others from looking out for themselves, the system will work out what is called a Pareto optimum. But I also believe that it is possible to transcend that if there were a few who were not so narrowly selfish and set an example for others to aspire towards.
India’s leadership sucks. That is not a very sophisticated analysis of Indian leadership but I am sure that it is succinct and accurate. A bunch of narrow-minded bigoted corrupt idiotic people at the top does not inspire very much good in the hundreds of millions of grunts to push themselves. The corruption at the top inspires pervasive petty corruption at the lower levels. This impoverishes the economy. Conversely, a bunch of obviously principled scrupulously honest totally dedicated leaders would inspire us to put in a little more effort, all of which would add up to something good.
Where are they who would inspire? Where are they that when we hear of what they have achieved, we feel a surge of inspiration and become resolved to be better than we are? Where are they that when we hear of their sacrifice and their nobility, we ourselves become more of what we are ourselves capable of?
I long to hear of a story regarding our so-called leaders that would send a chill down my spine and exclaim, “Wow, how amazing that this should happen in my own land and time?” What I read about in the press, instead, is yet another story of unspeakable corruption and moral depravity of our political bosses. I have not come across a single uplifting incident associated with the leaders of this country. Please tell me it ain’t so.
Let me tell you one that is unfortunately not of this place, and more unfortunately, not of this time. It relates to the 30th President of the United States of America, Mr Calvin Coolidge (1923-29). Here is an excerpt from his autobiography:
My own participation [in the campaign] was delayed by the death of my son Calvin, which occurred on the seventh of July. He was a boy of much promise, proficient in his studies, with a scholarly mind, who had just turned sixteen.
He had a remarkable insight into things.
The day I became President he had just started to work in a tobacco field. When one of his fellow laborers said to him, “if my father was President I would not work in a tobacco field,” Calvin replied, “If my father were your father, you would.”…
We do not know what might have happened to him under other circumstances, but if I had not been President, he would not have raised a blister on his toe, which resulted in blood poisoning, playing lawn tennis in the South Grounds.
In his suffering he was asking me to make him well. I could not.
When he went the power and the glory of the Presidency went with him.
The ways of Providence are often beyond our understanding. It seemed to me that the world had need of the work that it was probable he could do.
I do not know why such a price was exacted for occupying the White House.
The fruit does not fall too far from the tree. Calvin junior’s statement tells you who Calvin senior was parsimoniously. Every time I re-read that passage, I can feel the pain of a father who has lost a son who he cared so deeply about and yet is beset with doubt that perhaps if he had not been elected president, his son would have been alive.
President Coolidge inspired more than just his son, I am sure. Read what he has to say about persistence:
“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “press on” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”
I want to read about the amazing sacrifices that our leaders have done, about the valuable thoughts that they have penned. Instead we have uninspired uninspiring mediocre people making insipid statements and acting like the petty money-grubbing power-hungry morons they are. These are the leaders we have and it is their names that are plastered on every institution and landmark. It is more than a little dispiriting when the person who is the chair of the National Commission on Higher Education is one who did not attend college even. Let’s just go the whole hog and make an illiterate idiot the chair of the National Commission for Nuclear Power Research.
Yes, Seven Times Six, people need to lead themselves. But they also need a few guiding stars to navigate by. And that, dear ladies and gentlemen, is what in our case we have not got.
Goodnight, thank you, and may your god go with you.