In mid 2013, on the occasion of “Gujarat day”, then Chief Minister Narendra Modi was supposed to address non-resident Gujaratis in the United States. There was only one problem : Modi did not have a US visa (yeah…remember that? LOL!)
What visa? Narendra Modi “visited” the USA and addressed his US audience right from his home in Gandhinagar. In fact, he saved himself the time, energy and expense of a long haul flight halfway across the world.
Let us ask : what is the purpose of the whole regulatory regime of visas and passports? It’s easy : sovereign governments want to exercise control over activities that happen inside their borders. But the system of visas put in place for exercising this control has an inherent weakness : it is built tightly around the notion of physical presence. Once video conferencing became available, this system of control through passports and visas was found dead as a doornail. The internet made it possible for everyone from politicians to activists to terrorists to common citizens to solicit support seamlessly across national borders.
The important thing to realize is that the same goes for ANY system. Because every system is built on choices and assumptions. And these assumptions lead to inherent weaknesses. Notions of “good system” and “bad system” are mostly nebulous because it is always about trade-offs. Which are the issues that we value above others? Once we make that choice and we have to make those choices, we leave weaknesses. And if someone were to understand those weaknesses and how to exploit them, they could take us down. We would get “hacked”.
In this post, I just want to apply the same thinking to the setup of modern society. Let us isolate the assumptions and choices that we make in modern democracies. And I will explain to you how modern society is getting “hacked”. This is not to say I am objecting to the values of modern democracies (god..I love modern democracies!), I am only acknowledging the existence of the weaknesses. And I feel it would do us a world of good to talk about these weaknesses.
Let’s see. Modern society is based around the individual. We talk about individual rights, about individual freedoms, individual choices, individual property and so on. In matters of obeying laws, paying taxes, etc, we talk of individual responsibility.
Individual, individual, individual …
But people exhibit two different kinds of behaviors : individual behavior and group behavior. But laws in modern societies across the world generally don’t see groups : there is hardly any notion of “group rights”, “group property” or “group responsibilities”. Unless the group in question is a very narrowly defined bunch of individuals who have voluntarily entered into explicit legal contracts with each other, such as a corporation. But there are many other groups : racial, linguistic, religious, etc.
And such groups influence behavior of people and the fate of societies in very significant ways. But our system is simply not set up to regulate them, in the same way as visa systems are simply not set up to control the flow of ideas around the internet.
And there’s the weakness! That’s how modern civilization is getting hacked and primarily by Islam.
Look around the world. Muslims are a minority is nearly every democracy. And you will notice that in these countries, the Muslim minority speaks the language of individual choice. In France, the burqa is all about choice. Muslim minorities in India, in the United States, in Europe, in Australia and Canada, are deeply obsessed with religious and cultural freedom. However, this obsession with religious and cultural freedom is magically absent in most countries where Muslims are a majority.
The same religion whose followers are most vocal about individual liberty in one part of the world are the least bothered about individual liberty in another part of the world. Instead of treating this as an amazing coincidence, it is clearly more useful to explain it as strategic behavior by Muslims as a group.
Islam has spotted the weakness in the modern democratic system and hacked it. Our laws simply do not see group behavior. Demographic and cultural invasion is a real thing, but our laws are not set up to address it or even see it. Quite simply, because we cannot blame one individual for the acts of another. That’s just how we have agreed that modern civilization should be.
For example, Durgapuja, Diwali, Dahi Handi and Jallikattu are all cultural treasures. When rising populations of certain groups threaten the observance of any of these, or an imperious judiciary imposes curbs on them, something has been lost for sure. Except, we cannot call the cops because no one individual owns Bengal’s Durgapuja or Tamil Nadu’s Jallikattu. These cultural treasures are group property and that simply doesn’t exist on paper.
So, we see that Hindus were violently expelled from Kashmir, the only large Muslim majority region in India. And we also see Muslim leaders on TV every day explaining the importance of tolerance to the Hindu majority in all the other states of India. We understand the hypocrisy. We see that there is a connection there. But there is nothing we can do about it. Because it’s group behavior. And we cannot blame a person in say Maharashtra for what a different person did in Kashmir.
This is not to say we should do away with individual freedom. I’m a big fan of individual freedom : I am strongly in favor of total religious freedom, near absolute freedom of speech (except specific and plausible threats of violence), robust individual property rights and the like. I want government to be as small as possible and not interfere in individual choices (whether personal or economic) except as an absolutely last resort.
Let me give one last example. What if I told you that we as a society have all agreed that we are okay with lots of murderers and rapists roaming freely on the streets? You’ve agreed to it too!
You are probably asking : huh, when? No way…
Yes way! You probably believe in the legal standard of “innocent until proven guilty”. The burden of proof is upon the state to prove the accused person guilty “beyond all reasonable doubt”. Otherwise, the accused walks free. Naturally, this means that a lot of criminals will go free because we can’t find the evidence against them. We never actively chose to let the guilty walk free. It just follows as a logical consequence of the basic choice we made in the legal system. We have made a choice that it is better to let a guilty person walk free than let an innocent person suffer in jail. Of course, I support this choice and I think you support it too. But we have to be aware of the trade-off that exists in making that choice.
All I am saying is that we should be aware of the trade-offs we make in choosing our modern democratic values. As a modern society, we have chosen to make it all about the individual and rarely about the group. It’s a weakness that will be exploited. We are being hacked … and we better be aware of it.