Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Amway... No Way!

Lo: "Bakwaas.. have you decided to be an IBO?"

Bakwaas: "I don't know yaar"

Bewars: "I think I'll be an Independent Business Owner. I don't think I will use a lot of their products, but I can recruit others. My path to financial independence. Come on guys, be enthusiastic, haven't you seen all the millionaires at the meeting?"

Lo, Bewars and Bakwaas just arrived in US. Plenty of dreams. And lots of loans. When they landed, at the airport, the promised Indian Student Association pickup did not arrive. They were afraid. Tears welled up in Bewars' eyes. They waited. All of 20 mins. None of them jotted down the seniors numbers. It was written down, somewhere, but miraculously disappeared, just like the slight rattling sound in your vehicle which disappears when taken to a mechanic. Looking around, they spot a brown man, middle-aged, perhaps of Indian origin, talking on his cell phone.

Bakwaas: "Lets talk to that uncle. He might help us."
Lo: "But.. but.. how can we approach strangers? My parents told me not to talk to strangers."

Bewars was about to start wailing, any moment now. The brown man smiled at them. Bewars beams. Brown man approaches the group. With a disarming smile. Made them feel at home. Finds about about the pick-up issue. Offers to take them home. Tells them that he has a wife and a kid. That he loves to interact with young people from India. That he has been out of India for so long and wants to catch up on things back home. He was charming. Persuasive. Helpful. Takes them home, hosts them for the night. Entertains. Next day, drops them off at the presorting facility for arriving desi students.

Bakwaas Singh is assigned to Mohan Singh, a PhD candidate in Economics. Bewars is going to stay temporarily with a gang of Telugu chaps and Lo with a gang of Telugu girls. All of them in the same apartment complex.

For a few days, Lo, Bewars and Bakwaas were busy. Getting their ID cards done and such. One evening, they catch up at Bewars'. That is where Idler overhears the conversation.

Idler: "What is this IBO thing that you guys are talking about?"

Bewars was in two minds, whether to tell or evade the topic until he becomes an IBO and recruit Idler. Lo was not that thoughtful. She blurts out. Rewinds the reel and visualizes their arrival fiasco. In HDTV format.

Lo: "This kind gentleman made a compelling presentation.. on financial independence. Yesterday, we attended a meeting. We saw opulence all around. People are becoming rich. Quickly."

Bakwaas: "The assistantship and on-campus scenario isn't rosy. We are considering becoming IBOs. Who knows, we may be rich so quick that we might have to drop college. Like Bill. Steve. Larry. Zuckerman."

Bewars: "I want to retire in Hawaii. In 2 years time. I will be on MTV Grind."

Idler: "I'm interested. Tell me more about this."

Bewars: "On one condition. If we become IBOs, you have to join one of us."

Idler: "Sure."

35 mins break. The gory details of 'business'.

Idler: "Hmm."

Bakwaas: You don't sound convinced.

Idler: Well.... erm.

Idler: I am not so sure of the efficiency of this business.

Bewars: Matlab?

Idler: A business is supposed to solve a problem more efficiently than existing businesses. I don't think this one fits under my definition of business.

Idler: How is this business more efficient than other retailing chains, which deliver products to consumers? Such as Walmart, etc.

Lo: Well.. its a different delivery mechanism. Walmart makes a lot of money on products they sell. When we become IBOs, we make money. Instead of making Walmart richer, we make everyone rich.


There are fundamental differences between these two delivery mechanisms. Before Walmart, the distribution system was similar to what we have in India. There were a few layers between producer and consumer. The price of products increases 3x by the time it reaches consumer. Sam Walton thought that this is inefficient (which is quite obvious), and decided to be the one link between producer and consumer. The layers just sit there. Taking advantage of information asymmetry to do 'business'.

Lets do some arithmetic.

For 2006, On a revenue of $315bn, Walmart's profits are $11bn. About 3.5%.

Quixtar, over a period of 8 years, generated a revenue of $6.8bn. This generated bonuses of $2.2bn for the IBOs. An overhead of 30%. Since this is privately held, we don't know what profit margins they have on 'products'. Most of their products are about 4x similar ones. My wild guess is that their markup (product, bonuses, etc) is between 60 - 80%. About 20 - 25 times as much as Walmart. Clearly, it is not efficient. Almost as bad as the Govt of India, where 15 paisa is delivered for every Rs. 1/- spent.

Bakwaas: They sell products of a much better quality.

Idler: By whose standards? Anything to substantiate their claims?

Besides, if their products are of a much better quality, why don't they sell in open market? Most of these chemicals have simple formulae. Anyone can manufacture them. Betterness can't be measured. Reminds me of religion. My God is better than yours. My God is the True God, rest all are False gods.

Bewars: They don't want others to control their products.

Companies focus on what they can do best. If they can build better products, they should concentrate on that. Instead of worrying about who is going to sell their products. If the products are good, the market forces ensure their success.

Of course, this does not hold true for those who build super efficient systems. Walmart has an efficient distribution system. It can distribute most products in a cost efficient manner. Once that system is mastered, it can get into products. Lets take Salt. Sugar. Or Washing Powder. Things of this sort, don't need tremendous intelligence, they have fixed molecular signature/properties and when done in large scale, are economic. Walmart has its own brand, Great Value.

Lets take a look at Google. They have a built a cost efficient distributed OS. They can distribute data efficiently. First, they concentrated on the data and made it easier for people to find information. A few years back, we all had to spend an hour every day deleting mails. The email limit was 6MB. Along comes Google with an innovative GMail. And 1 GB space. How did they do that? They have mastered how to store and distribute data. Right now, Microsoft Exchange is on Google's crosshairs. Google can deliver a wide range of services using this distribution mechanism. But I digress.

Bewars: But my cousin does this back home. He has a PhD.

Idler: Is this his area of expertise? Look up appeal to authority under logical fallacies.

There are always X number of people with Y qualifications doing Z number of things. This doesn't make Z valid.

Lets take a PhD who smokes. Does that mean that we should all smoke?

Amrith Khanna, has a PhD and he cheats on his wife. Does the PhD lend legitimacy?

Note that I'm not saying smoking and cheating on wife are bad. I'm bringing in analogies to point out invalid arguments.

Bakwaas: I always wanted to be an businessman. This is my chance to become an enterpreneur. My path to financial freedom.

Idler: A business solves a problem. Takes up a complex process and makes life easier for people. A business solves others problem. If you are thinking about your problems, your business will not sustain. You would be better off in a job.

The class of problems that Walmart or Google are trying to solve: Distributional Inefficiency. Which class of problems are you trying to solve?

Bewars: He is a nice guy. Has wife and kids.

Politicians wives and kids. But it is universally agreed that politicians are vile and decadent creatures.

Idler: Here is a summary

Amway, Quixtar - are insidious.

Inefficient: May not be as insidious as Govt's, but can be classified as scams. They add an infinite number of layers between producer and consumer. Efficiency is inversely proportional to the number of layers. Of course, there are exceptions. But, those don't apply here.

Loss of Relationships.. and respect: You will be risking most of your relationships, relationships that you've carefully built over a period of few decades. Which you will need later on. You friends will shun you. You will not be kindly spoken of.

Monetary Loss: An average IBO makes $115/month. Since the hierarchy is a pyramid and not an equitable distribution, people at the top make money and people at the bottom LOSE money. That averages out to $115/month. The majority make money by selling sales materials and in the name of seminars. You would have to shell a lot of money for that.

Elimination from Gene Pool: In the past, in match-making, people used to look at the hierarchies of families on both sides, traversing up to seven levels (parents, grand parents, great ...). This is to find out to if there are any mental deficiencies in the family and if so, avoid the match. However, most of these are addressed by the tremendous advances in medicine. But, there is no excuse for numerical illiteracy. Especially, when people keep flaunting their degrees. These deficiencies in education are noted. In the not so distant future, we will be able to track amway people, matchmakers would lookup (just like credit checks), leading to the gradual and eventual elimination of quixtarians.

Lo: He is a nice guy. He loves India and all Indians.

Idler: Ever heard politicians speak? Those words.. mean nothing. Its just a play on emotions. Vulnerable people are affected.

It does not matter one bit whether someone loves (or claims to) or not. Efficiency is the key. Politicians have been claiming that they love India for more than half a century.

If he loves India, ask him to pay back the cost of his education first. India spent about $100,000 for his 'education'.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Our call is to young India. It is the young who must be the builders of the new world - not those who accept the competitive individualism, the capitalism or the materialistic communism of the West as India’s future ideal, not those who are enslaved to old religious formulas and cannot believe in the acceptance and transformation of life by the spirit, but all who are free in mind and heart to accept a completer truth and labour for a greater ideal

In India, the students generally have great capacities, but the system of education represses and destroys these capacities.The greatest knowledge and the greatest riches man can possess are [India’s] by inheritance ; she has that for which all mankind is waiting. [...] But the full soul rich with the inheritance of the past, the widening gains of the present, and the large po tentiality of the future, can come only by a system of National Education. It cannot come by any extension or imitation of the system of the existing universities with its radically false principles, its vicious and mechanical methods, its dead-alive rout ine tradition and its narrow and sightless spirit. Only a new spirit and a new body born from the heart of the Nation and full of the light and hope of its resurgence can create it

I believe that the main cause of India’s weakness, is not subjection, nor poverty, nor a lack of spirituality or Dharma, but a diminution of thought-power, the spread of ignorance in the motherland of Knowledge. Everywhere I see an inability or unwillingness to think.

It would be a tragic irony of fate if India were to throw away her spiritual heritage at the very moment when in the rest of the world there is more and more a turning towards her for spiritual help and a saving Light. This must not and will surely not ha ppen ; but it cannot be said that the danger is not there. There are indeed other numerous and difficult problems that face this country or will very soon face it. No doubt we will win through, but we must not disguise from ourselves the fact that after t hese long years of subjection and its cramping and impairing effects a great inner as well as outer liberation and change, a vast inner and outer progress is needed if we are to fulfil India’s true destiny { in his message to andhra university, 1948}

If the physical training it [the Indian University system] provides is contemptible and the moral training nil, the mental training is also meagre in quantity and worthless in quality.... In order for a student to get a degree let us make it absolutely necessary that he shall have a good education. If a worthless education is sufficient in order to secure this object and a good education quite unessential, it is obvious that the student will not incur great trouble and diversion of energy in order to acquire what he feels to be unnecessary. But change this state of things, make culture and true science essential and the same interested motive which now makes him content with a bad education will then compel him to strive after culture and true science.... We in India have become so barbarous that we send our children to school with the grossest utilitarian motive unmixed with any disinterested desire for knowledge; but the education we receive is itself responsible for this....

We need a nucleus of men in whom the Shakti is developed to its uttermost extent ......

Our actual enemy is not any force exterior to ourselves, but our own crying weaknesses, our cowardice, our selfishness, our hypocrisy, our purblind sentimentalism.

India, the ancient Mother, is indeed striving to be reborn, striving with agony and tears, but she strives in vain. What ails her, she who is after all so vast and might be so strong? There is surely some enormous defect, something vital is wanting in us, nor is it difficult to lay our finger on the spot. We have all things else, but we are empty of strength, void of energy. We have abandoned Shakti and are therefore abandoned by Shakti. The Mother is not in our hearts, in our brains, in our arms.

The wish to be reborn we have in abundance, there is no deficiency there. How many attempts have been made, how many movements have been begun, in religion, in society, in politics! But the same fate has overtaken or is preparing to overtake them all. They flourish for a moment, then the impulse wanes, the fire dies out, and if they endure, it is only as empty shells, forms from which the Brahma has gone or in which it lies overpowered with Tamas and inert. Our beginnings are mighty, but they have neither sequel nor fruit.

Is it knowledge that is wanting? We Indians, born and bred in a country where Jnana has been stored and accumulated since the race began, bear about in us the inherited gains of many thousands of years.... But it is a dead knowledge, a burden under which we are bowed, a poison which is corroding us, rather than as it should be a staff to support our feet and a weapon in our hands; for this is the nature of all great things that when they are not used or are ill used, they turn upon the bearer and destroy him....

We have to create strength where it did not exist before; we have to change our natures, and become new men with new hearts, to be born again.... We need a nucleus of men in whom the Shakti is developed to its uttermost extent, in whom it fills every corner of the personality and overflows to fertilise the earth. These, having the fire of Bhawani in their hearts and brains, will go forth and carry the flame to every nook and cranny of our land

What India needs especially at this moment is the aggressive virtues, the spirit of soaring idealism, bold creation, fearless resistance, courageous attack; of the passive tamasic spirit of inertia we have already too much. We need to cultivate another training and temperament, another habit of mind. We would apply to the present situation the vigorous motto of Danton, that what we need, what we should learn above all things is to dare and again to dare and still to dare.

Regeneration is literally re-birth, and re-birth comes not by the intellect, not by the fullness of the purse, not by policy, not by change of machinery, but by the getting of a new heart, by throwing away all that we were into the fire of sacrifice and being reborn in the Mother. Self-abandonment is the demand made upon us. She asks of us, “How many will live for me? How many will die for me?” and awaits our answer.

We of today have been overpowered by the European tradition as interpreted by the English, the least artistic of civilised nations. We have therefore come to make on a picture the same demand as on a photograph,—the reproduction of the thing as the eye sees it.... The conception that Art exists not to copy, but for the sake of a deeper truth and vision, and we must seek in it not the object but God in the object, not things but the soul of things, seems to have vanished for a while from the Indian consciousness....


Sunday, July 09, 2006

Calculus, Newton and Columbus

So I guess what I'm trying to say is that the solution to the problem isn't that you abandon rationality but that you expand the nature of rationality so that it's capable of coming up with a solution."

"I guess I don't know what you mean," Gennie says.

"Well, it's quite a bootstrap operation. It's analogous to the kind of hang-up Sir Isaac Newton had when he wanted to solve problems of instantaneous rates of change. It was unreasonable in his time to think of anything changing within a zero amount of time. Yet it's almost necessary mathematically to work with other zero quantities, such as points in space and time that no one thought were unreasonable at all, although there was no real difference. So what Newton did was say, in effect, `We're going to presume there's such a thing as instantaneous change, and see if we can find ways of determining what it is in various applications.' The result of this presumption is the branch of mathematics known as the calculus, which every engineer uses today. Newton invented a new form of reason. He expanded reason to handle infinitesimal changes and I think what is needed now is a similar expansion of reason to handle technological ugliness. The trouble is that the expansion has to be made at the roots, not at the branches, and that's what makes it hard to see.

"We're living in topsy-turvy times, and I think that what causes the topsy-turvy feeling is inadequacy of old forms of thought to deal with new experiences. I've heard it said that the only real learning results from hang-ups, where instead of expanding the branches of what you already know, you have to stop and drift laterally for a while until you come across something that allows you to expand the roots of what you already know. Everyone's familiar with that. I think the same thing occurs with whole civilizations when expansion's needed at the roots.

"You look back at the last three thousand years and with hindsight you think you see neat patterns and chains of cause and effect that have made things the way they are. But if you go back to original sources, the literature of any particular era, you find that these causes were never apparent at the time they were supposed to be operating. During periods of root expansion things have always looked as confused and topsy-turvy and purposeless as they do now. The whole Renaissance is supposed to have resulted from the topsy-turvy feeling caused by Columbus' discovery of a new world. It just shook people up. The topsy-turviness of that time is recorded everywhere. There was nothing in the flat-earth views of the Old and New Testaments that predicted it. Yet people couldn't deny it. The only way they could assimilate it was to abandon the entire medieval outlook and enter into a new expansion of reason.

"Columbus has become such a schoolbook stereotype it's almost impossible to imagine him as a living human being anymore. But if you really try to hold back your present knowledge about the consequences of his trip and project yourself into his situation, then sometimes you can begin to see that our present moon exploration must be like a tea party compared to what he went through. Moon exploration doesn't involve real root expansions of thought. We've no reason to doubt that existing forms of thought are adequate to handle it. It's really just a branch extension of what Columbus did. A really new exploration, one that would look to us today the way the world looked to Columbus, would have to be in an entirely new direction."

itsy-bitsy rules for itsy-bitsy people

Another thing that depressed him was prescriptive rhetoric, which supposedly had been done away with but was stull around. This was the old slap-on-the-fingers-if-your-modifiers-were-caught-dangling stuff. Correct spelling, correct punctuation, correct grammar. Hundreds of itsy-bitsy rules for itsy-bitsy people. No one could remember all that stuff and concentrate on what he was trying to write about. It was all table manners, not derived from any sense of kindness or decency or humanity, but originally from an egotistic desire to look like gentlemen and ladies. Gentlemen and ladies had good table manners and spoke and wrote grammatically. It was what identified with the upper classes.


Calculated mimicry

What you're supposed to do in most freshman-rhetoric courses is to read a little essay or short story, discuss how the writer has done certain little things to achieve certain little effects, and then have the students write an imitative little essay or short story to see if they can do the same little things. He tried this over and over again but it never jelled. The students seldom achieved anything, as a result of this calculated mimicry, that was remotely close to the models he'd given them. More often their writing got worse. It seemed as though every rule he honestly tried to discover with them and learn with them was so full of exceptinos and contradictions and qualifications and confusions that he wished he'd never come across the rule in the first place.


And what he really thought was that the rule was pasted on to the writing after the writing was all done. It was post hoc, after the fact, instead of prior to the fact. P. 156

Parents only know that it will help the boy to earn money. And this satisfies them.

I find daily proof of the increasing and continuing wrong being done to the millions by our false de-Indianizing education. These graduates who are my valued associates themselves flounder when they have to give expression to their innermost thoughts. They are strangers in their own homes.

Parents only know that it will help the boy to earn money. And this satisfies them. If this situation lasts long, we might all become foreigners! What is worse even the Swaraj for which we are struggling may become foreign in character when we finally get it, with the result that the very burden under which we are crushed today may continue even after Swaraj. There is only one way to escape this danger. It is to change and overhaul our system of education. In the national education to be evolved.

It is my firm opinion that no culture has treasures so rich as ours has.

Mahatma Gandhi.

Of all Indian problems the educational is the most difficult and most tragic

One of the most remarkable features of British rule in India has been the fact that the greatest injuries done to the people of India have taken the form of blessings. Of this, Education is a striking example; for no more crushing blows have ever been struck at the roots of Indian National evolution than those which have been struck, often with other, and the best intentions, in the name of Education.... The most crushing indictment of this Education is the fact that it destroys, in the great majority of those upon whom it is inflicted, all capacity for the appreciation of Indian culture. Speak to the ordinary graduate of an Indian University, or a student from Ceylon, of the ideals of the Mahabharata¾he will hasten to display his knowledge of Shakespeare; talk to him of religious philosophy¾you find that he is an atheist of the crude type common in Europe a generation ago, and that not only has he no religion, but he is as lacking in philosophy as the average Englishman; talk to him of Indian music¾he will produce a gramophone or a harmonium, and inflict upon you one or both; talk to him of Indian dress and jewellery¾he will tell you that they are uncivilized and barbaric; talk to him of Indian art¾it is news to him that such a thing exists; ask him to translate for you a letter written in his own mother-tongue¾he does not know it. He is indeed a stranger on his own land.

It is hard to realize how completely the continuity of Indian life has been severed. A single generation of English education suffices to break the threads of tradition and to create a nondescript and superficial being deprived of all roots — a sort of intellectual pariah who does not belong to the East or the West, the past or the future. The greatest danger for India is the loss of her spiritual integrity. Of all Indian problems the educational is the most difficult and most tragic.

The two great Indian epics have been the great medium of Indian education, the most evident vehicle of the transmission of the national culture from each generation to the next. The national heroic literature is always and everywhere the true basis of a real education in the formation of character.

A great and real responsibility rests upon those who control education in the East, to preserve in their systems the fundamental principles of memory-training and mental concentration which are the great excellence of the old culture.

Ananda Coomaraswamy

It has been wholly ignored that we have a mind of our own

All over India, there is a vague feeling of discontent in the air about our prevalent system of education.

The mind of our educated community has been brought up within the enclosure of the modern Indian educational system. It has grown as familiar to us as our own physical body, unconsciously giving rise in our mind to the belief that it can never be changed. Our imagination dare not soar beyond its limits; we are unable to see it and judge it from outside. We neither have the courage nor the heart to say that it has to be replaced by something else....

They [Indian students] never have intellectual courage, because they never see the process and the environment of those thoughts which they are compelled to learn ¾ and thus they lose the historical sense of all ideas, never knowing the perspective of their growth.... They not only borrow a foreign culture, but also a foreign standard of judgement; and thus, not only is the money not theirs, but not even the pocket. Their education is a chariot that does not carry them in it, but drags them behind it. The sight is pitiful and very often comic.

The education which we receive from our universities takes it for granted that it is for cultivating a hopeless desert, and that not only the mental outlook and the knowledge, but also the whole language must bodily be imported from across the sea. And this makes our education so nebulously distant and unreal, so detached from all our associations of life, so terribly costly to us in time, health and means, and yet so meagre of results.

We must know that this concentration of intellectual forces of the country is the most important mission of a University, for it is like the nucleus of a living cell, the centre of creative life of the national mind.

The same thing happens in the case of our Indian culture. Because of the want of opportunity in our course of study, we take it for granted that India had no culture, or next to none. Then, when we hear from foreign pundits some echo of the praises of India’s culture, we can contain ourselves no longer and rend the sky with the shout that all other cultures are merely human, but ours is divine¾a special creation of Brahma! And this leads us to that moral dipsomania, which is the hankering after the continual stimulation of self-flattery.

... The inner spirit of India is calling to us to establish in this land great centres, where all her intellectual forces will gather for the purpose of creation, and all her resources of knowledge and thought, Eastern and Western, will unite in perfect harmony. She is seeking for herself her modern Brahmavarta, her Mithila, of Janaka’s time, her Ujjaini, of the time of Vikramaditya. She is seeking for the glorious opportunity when she will know her mind, and give her mind to the world, to help it in its progress; when she will be released from the chaos of scattered powers and the inertness of borrowed acquisition.

What I object to is the artificial arrangement by which this foreign education tends to occupy all the space of our national mind and thus kills, or hampers, the great opportunity for the creation of a new thought power by a new combination of truths. It is this which makes me urge that all the elements in our own culture have to be strengthened, not to resist the Western culture, but truly to accept and assimilate it, and use it for our food and not as our burden; to get mastery over this culture, and not to live at its outskirts as the hewers of texts and drawers of book-learning.

My suggestion is that we should generate somewhere a centripetal force, which will attract and group together from different parts of our land and different ages all our own materials of learning and thus create a complete and moving orb of Indian culture.

The main river of Indian culture has flowed in four streams¾the Vedic, the Puranic, the Buddhist, and the Jain. It had its source in the heights of the Indian consciousness.

... Our mind is not in our studies. In fact, it has been wholly ignored that we have a mind of our own.

India has proved that it has its own mind, which has deeply thought and felt and tried to solve according to its light the problems of existence. The education of India is to enable this mind of India to find out truth, to make this truth its own wherever found and to give expression to it in such a manner as only it can do.

Rabindranath Tagore

Beginning of irretrievable degradation and final extinction

We in India have become so barbarous that we send our children to school with the grossest utilitarian motive unmixed with any disinterested desire for knowledge; but the education we receive is itself responsible for this.... The easy assumption of our educationists that we have only to supply the mind with a smattering of facts in each department of knowledge and the mind can be trusted to develop itself and take its own suitable road is contrary to science, contrary to human experience.... Much as we have lost as a nation, we have always preserved our intellectual alertness, quickness and originality; but even this last gift is threatened by our University system, and if it goes, it will be the beginning of irretrievable degradation and final extinction. The very first step in reform must therefore be to revolutionise the whole aim and method of our education.

When confronted with the truths of Hinduism, the experience of deep thinkers and the choice spirits of the race through thousands of years, [the rationalist] shouts “Mysticism, mysticism!” and thinks he has conquered. To him there is order, development, progress, evolution, enlightenment in the history of Europe, but the past of India is an unsightly mass of superstition and ignorance best torn out of the book of human life. These thousands of years of our thought and aspiration are a period of the least importance to us and the true history of our progress only begins with the advent of European education!

In India ... we have been cut off by a mercenary and soulless education from all our ancient roots of culture and tradition.... The value attached by ancients to music, art and poetry has become almost unintelligible to an age bent on depriving life of its meaning by turning earth into a sort of glorified ant-heap or beehive.

National education cannot be defined briefly in one or two sentences, but we may describe it tentatively as the education which starting with the past and making full use of the present builds up a great nation. Whoever wishes to cut off the nation from its past is no friend of our national growth. Whoever fails to take advantage of the present is losing us the battle of life. We must therefore save for India all that she has stored up of knowledge, character and noble thought in her immemorial past. We must acquire for her the best knowledge that Europe can give her and assimilate it to her own peculiar type of national temperament. We must introduce the best methods of teaching humanity has developed, whether modern or ancient. And all these we must harmonise into a system which will be impregnated with the spirit of self-reliance so as to build up men and not machines.

The greatest knowledge and the greatest riches man can possess are [India's] by inheritance; she has that for which all mankind is waiting.... But the full soul rich with the inheritance of the past, the widening gains of the present, and the large potentiality of the future, can come only by a system of National Education. It cannot come by any extension or imitation of the system of the existing universities with its radically false principles, its vicious and mechanical methods, its dead-alive routine tradition and its narrow and sightless spirit. Only a new spirit and a new body born from the heart of the Nation and full of the light and hope of its resurgence can create it.... The new education will open careers which will be at once ways of honourable sufficiency, dignity and affluence to the individual, and paths of service to the country. For the men who come out equipped in every way from its institutions will be those who will give that impetus to the economic life and effort of the country without which it cannot survive in the press of the world, much less attain its high legitimate position. Individual interest and National interest are the same and call in the same direction.

A language, Sanskrit or another, should be acquired by whatever method is most natural, efficient and stimulating to the mind and we need not cling there to any past or present manner of teaching: but the vital question is how we are to learn and make use of Sanskrit and the indigenous languages so as to get to the heart and intimate sense of our own culture and establish a vivid continuity between the still living power of our past and the yet uncreated power of our future, and how we are to learn and use English or any other foreign tongue so as to know helpfully the life, ideas and culture of other countries and establish our right relations with the world around us. This is the aim and principle of a true national education, not, certainly, to ignore modern truth and knowledge, but to take our foundation on our own being, our own mind, our own spirit.

The living spirit of the demand for national education no more requires a return to the astronomy and mathematics of Bhaskara or the forms of the system of Nalanda than the living spirit of Swadeshi a return from railway and motor traction to the ancient chariot and the bullock-cart.... It is the spirit, the living and vital issue that we have to do with, and there the question is not between modernism and antiquity, but between an imported civilisation and the greater possibilities of the Indian mind and nature, not between the present and the past, but between the present and the future. It is not a return to the fifth century but an initiation of the centuries to come, not a reversion but a break forward away from a present artificial falsity to her own greater innate potentialities that is demanded by the soul, by the Shakti of India.

Sri Aurobindo

Education-excited youth

A reserve of the mighty power that calmness contains still exists in Bharatavarsha; we do not know it ourselves. With our love for pleasure, our lack of faith, our lack of conduct, our imitativeness, a handful of us, the education-excited youth, have not yet been able to drive away from Bharatavarsha the rugged strength of poverty, the stilled emotion of the silent, the sturdy calm of deep commitment, the magnanimous solemnity of detachment. Through restraint, through faith, through meditation, Bharatavarsha has obtained the self-sufficient power that does not suffer from the fear of death. And this has given tenderness to her countenance, toughness to the marrow in her bones, softness to her social dealings and resoluteness to the performance of social obligations.

We have to feel this enormous strength residing in the heart of peace; we have to understand this rock-solidity lying at the base of tranquillity. Amidst many difficulties over centuries, it has been this unwavering inner strength of Bharatavarsha that has been guarding us. And when the occasion would arise again, it would be this power, firm in its commitment, this power emanating from the Bharatavarsha that is poor, that is ill-clad, without adornment, without words, that would rise again and extend its reassuring hand to Bharatavarsha.

Nababarsha (The New Year), Read at Santiniketana Asrama, Vaisakha 1309, Bengal Era (April 1903) - http://www.geocities.com/ifihhome/articles/nababarsha.html

repeating undigested stray bits of European brainwork

The education that you are getting now is not a man-making education, it is merely and entirely a negative education. A negative education, or any training that is based on negation is worse than death. The child is taken to school, and the first thing he learns is that his father is a fool, the second thing that his grandfather is a lunatic, the third thing that all his teachers are hypocrites, the fourth that all the sacred books are lies. By the time he is sixteen, he is a mass of negation, lifeless and boneless. And the result is that fifty years of such education have not produced one original man in the three Presidencies. Every man of originality that has been produced has been educated elsewhere, and not in this country, or they have gone to the old universities once more to cleanse themselves of superstitions. Education is not the amount of information that is put into your brain and runs riot there, undigested, all your life. We must have life-building, man-making, character-making assimilation of ideas. If you have assimilated five ideas and made them your life and character, you have more education than any man who has got by heart a whole library.... If education is identical with information, the libraries are the greatest sages in the world, and encyclopaedias are the Rishis. (III. 301 - 2)

The present system of education is all wrong. The mind is crammed with facts before it knows how to think. (VIII. 280).

Sitting down these hundreds of years with an ever increasing load of crystallized superstition on your heads, .... what are you? And what are you doing now? ... promenading the sea-shores with books in your hands - repeating undigested stray bits of European brainwork, and the whole soul bent upon getting a thirty-rupee clerkship, or at best becoming a lawyer - the height of young India's ambition... Is there not water enough in the sea to drown you, books, gowns, university diplomas, and all? (V. 10)

If you are to live at all, you must adjust yourself to the times. If we are to live at all, we must be a scientific nation. (VI. 113)

A lot more gems like this in - Proletariat! Win Equal Rights!

A tragicomic situation

We are Martians from a billion-year-old civilization

  • We studied Earthlings intensively and found that they have a staggeringly complex cortex, with a wide range of advanced mental skills, an infinite associative capacity, a virtually limitless storage capacity, and a similarly limitless ability to generate new ideas and associations. In addition, these Earthlings have a magnificently complex and physical body to support and transport this intelligence, the psychological ability to enhance their own skills, and an inbuilt curiosity that drives them to explore all aspects of the universe.
  • We next observed that, in attempting to gain access to their vast mental capabilities, the members of this race are squeezing their intelligences out only through the incredibly narrow and restrictive channel of language. As a result, many of them experience actual nausea at the mere prospect of learning, and in the millions of learning institutions dotted around the planet most of the students are either sleeping or trying to get out!
  • Moved by this tragicomic situation, we decided to give you humans a set of Mind Mapping laws to help you release your incredible capabilities. These laws must be valid from any academic perspective to which you humans may choose to apply them – semantics, neurophysiology, information processing theory, cortical hemisphere theory, physics, psychology, philosophy, memory research or learning theory. No problem, on to Creativity! (Reference: Buzan, pg. 92)

Knowledge motivated person

So, he would come back to our degreeless and gradeless school, but with a difference. He'd no longer be a grade-motivated person. He'd be a knowledge-motivated person. He would need no external pushing to learn. His push would come from inside. He'd be a free man. He wouldn't need a lot of discipline to shape him up. In fact, if the instructors assigned him were slacking on the job he would be likely to shape them up by asking rude questions. He'd been there to learn something, would be paying to learn something and they'd better come up with it.

Motivation of this sort, once it catches hold, is a ferocious force, and in the gradeless, degreeless institution where our student would find himself, he wouldn't stop with rote engineering information. Physics and mathematics were going to come within his sphere of interest because he'd see he needed them. Metallurgy and electrical engineering would come up for his attention. And, in the process of intellectual maturing that these abstract studies gave him, he woudlbe likely to branch out into other theoretical areas that weren't directly related to machines but had become a part of a newer larger goal. This larger goal wouldn't be the imitation of education in Universities today, glossed over and concealed by grades and degrees that give the appearance of something happening when, in fact, almost nothing is going on. It would be the real thing.


Sinister aspect of Grading

Grades really cover up failure to teach. A bad instructor can go through an entire quarter leaving absolutely nothing memorable in the minds of his class, curve out the scores on an irrelevant test, and leave the impression that some have learned and some have not. But if the grades are removed the class is forced to wonder each day what it's really learning. The questions, What's being taught? What's the goal? How do the lectures and assignments accomplish the goal? become ominious. The removal of grades exposes a huge and frightening vacuum.


Source left to the reader as an exercise.

Who is a traitor?

I call him a traitor who, having been educated, nursed in the luxury by the heart's blood of the downtrodden millions of toiling poor, never even takes a thought for them (VIII. 329 - 30). So long as the millions live in hunger and ignorance, I hold every man traitor who, having been educated at their expense, pays not the least heed to them! I call those men who strut about in their finery, having got all their money by grinding the poor, wretches, so long as they do not do anything for those two hundred millions who are now no better than hungry savages! (V. 58).

Education and Discipline - Bertrand Russell

The submissive lose initiative, both in thought and action; moreover, the anger generated by the feeling of being thwarted tends to find an outlet in bullying those who are weaker. That is why tyrannical institutions are self-perpetuating: what a man has suffered from his father he inflicts upon his son, and the humiliations which he remembers having endured at his public school he passes on to Ònatives" when he becomes an empire-builder. Thus an unduly authoritative education turns the pupils into timid tyrants, incapable of either claiming or tolerating originality in word or deed. The effect upon the educators is even worse: they tend to become sadistic disciplinarians, glad to inspire terror, and content to inspire nothing else. As these men represent knowledge, the pupils acquire a horror of knowledge, which, among the English upper-class, is supposed to be part of human nature, but is really part of the well-grounded hatred of the authoritarian pedagogue.

And, in teaching, every attempt should be made to cause the pupil to feel that it is worth his while to know what is being taught-at least when this is true. When the pupil co-operates willingly, he learns twice as fast and with half the fatigue. All these are valid reasons for a very great degree of freedom.

Consideration for others, not only in great matters, but also in little everyday things, is an essential element in civilization, without which social life would be intolerable. I am not thinking of mere forms of politeness, such as saying "please" and "thank you": formal manners are most fully developed among barbarians, and diminish with every advance in culture. I am thinking rather of willingness to take a fair share of necessary work, to be obliging in small ways that save trouble on the balance. Sanity itself is a form of politeness and it is not desirable to give a child a sense of omnipotence, or a belief that adults exist only to minister to the pleasures of the young. And those who disapprove of the existence of the idle rich are hardly consistent if they bring up their children without any sense that work is necessary, and without the habits that make continuous application possible.

In a community of children which is left without adult interference there is a tyranny of the stronger, which is likely to be far more brutal than most adult tyranny. If two children of two or three years old are left to play together, they will, after a few fights, discover which is bound to be the victor, and the other will then become a slave. Where the number of children is larger, one or two acquire complete mastery, and the others have far less liberty than they would have if the adults interfered to protect the weaker and less pugnacious. Consideration for others does not, with most children, arise spontaneously, but has to be taught, and can hardly be taught except by the exercise of authority. This is perhaps the most important argument against the abdication of the adults.

The desirable sort of interest is that which consists in spontaneous pleasure in the presence of children, without any ulterior purpose. Teachers who have this quality will seldom need to interfere with children's freedom, but will be able to do so, when necessary, without causing psychological damage.

I do not think that education ought to be anyone's whole profession: it should be undertaken for at most two hours a day by people whose remaining hours are spent away from children. The society of the young is fatiguing, especially when strict discipline is avoided. Fatigue, in the end, produces irritation, which is likely to express itself somehow, whatever theories the harassed teacher may have taught himself or herself to believe. The necessary friendliness cannot be preserved by self-control alone. But where it exists, it should be unnecessary to have rules in advance as to how "naughty" children are to be treated, since impulse is likely to lead to the right decision, and almost any decision will be right if the child feels that you like him. No rules, however wise, are a substitute for affection and tact.


The Future of Humanity - Isaac Asimov

Excerpts on learning and education from Isaac Asimov's lecture on The Future of Humanity, Newark College of Engineering, November 8, 1974

Well men have to learn the process, which is something we are adapted for, is pleasurable...unless the pleasure is beaten out of us in childhood...very carefully and very doggedly!!! Give mankind half a chance!! And learning is a delightful process that he will do all his lifelong! In fact people do do it. Even those who are most dead-set against book learning will learn things that they like; the best way to bowl, the latest baseball scores, who knows what! What they want to learn, they learn with great facility.

And the thing is in the 21st century, if we survive, we can imagine that our technological society will advance even further. There will be even more computerization and automation. The dull work of the world will be done by machines. Men and women themselves will be able to do the kind of work they want to do. Undoubtedly, some of them will want to be research scientists, or symphony conductors, or they will want to be great artists, or writers, who knows! There will be enough people who will want to be that, and there will be people who will want to learn how to bowl perfectly, or how to collect leaves, or how to build battleships out of toothpicks. What's the difference? Whatever it is you do that makes you happy, and adds to the joyousness of the world, is justified. And there will be room for everything. And in an extended life span, if say when you are forty, you decide to start all over again and study Greek, and become a big expert in Greek literature, who's to stop you? I foresee a 21st century in which the educational process will be organized so that every human being has a right to institutional help for education in any field he wishes, in any direction he wishes, at any age he wishes. Education and learning will be the name of the game.And when that happens, I'm sure it will be surprising how completely useful people can be throughout their lives, until actual physical senility hits.

I was asked a few days ago...really was, I'm not making this up...whether I didn't think an intellectual elite ought to run the world. And I said, by an intellectual elite, you mean people like me? Because I didn't know what he meant by an intellectual elite. I thought maybe it might mean people like him, in which case no!And he said: "Yes, people like you". And I said no, that would be no good because I'm only smart in certain ways, and very stupid in other ways. And if everybody was like me, and we were running the world, we'd all be smart in the same way, and all be stupid in the same way, and it's the stupidness that's going to kill us. I said, what we need are people of all kinds running the world! Some of whom are smart in one way, and some of whom are smart in the other way, and with everyone's smartness in different directions, so that they can sort of cancel out; so that everybody's stupidity can be caught by someone else's smartness in the same direction.

In the same way, that's what we want. The greatest...the greatest gift that mankind has is it's vast gene pool. All the different genes it has. All the different characteristics; the smart and the stupid, the strong and the weak. Because it's the variety that makes it possible for us to meet different emergencies, and what is weak under one set of conditions might be strong under another, what is stupid at one time is smart at another, and so on. We can't throw out anything for fear that that's exactly what we'll need someday.

The way I like to put it is, naturally we all think it's much better to be a brilliant nuclear physicist, than to just be a plumber. But, who would you rather live next door to, brilliant nuclear physicist or a plumber? And unless you're married to one, think: how often would you wake up in the middle of the night badly needing a nuclear physicist?


Science can be introduced to children well or poorly. If poorly, children can be turned away from science; they can develop a lifelong antipathy; they will be in a far worse condition than if they had never been introduced to science at all. - Isaac Asimov