Archive for » April, 2013 «

The world of Bill Gates and Vandana Shiva

Should the quality of our lives, and indeed the fate of our world, depend upon the passing whims of a few hundred men, we deserve at least to know their names. (Okay, okay there is possibly one woman and maybe even two in the club – there always have to be accidental exceptions, don’t there?) One name that got connected to what I wrote last – on 13 April – was ‘Bill Gates’.  And I did meet with quite a few disagreements to my preceding post, about the wealthiest few who control the world’s seemingly most ‘powerful’ politicians. Among these was the question, ‘Do you mean people like Bill Gates?’, followed by, ‘But surely he doesn’t wield anywhere near the clout of Obama!’ or ‘Come on, he’s not a control freak.’

No, I did not have Bill Gates in mind. At the time of writing, that is. All of the supra rich aren’t preoccupied with controlling the world’s economic policies. Not only Bill Gates but also the Mittals, the Slims, the Ambanis and Buffetts are probably happy to let others on earth also get on with it – in the realms somewhere down below. One or two of the wealthiest may even feel they inhabit the same planet as the rest of us. These characters though are unlikely to be members of the mindless brigade I was alluding to. That brigade consists of the few who want to render 90% of humanity increasingly powerless and exploitable. It matters no more to them whether those who eventually suffer come from Athens, Boston or Chittagong. And they march on, amid cheers from the adjacent 10% who do not realize that they are next in line (if not already well and truly tamed). Maybe some of the 10% were already milked through the neat bank account ploy in Cyprus.

Why then does Bill Gates always spring to mind, as the example of the supra stratum – and as proof of its enlightened philanthropy? Is it that he is indeed exceptional or that the others prefer not to be seen or noticed at all? Atypical though he may be, he certainly is a valuable advertisement for the class: one who got there through diligence and intelligence, rather than through luck, chicanery or extortion – and now eager to alleviate the ravages of malnutrition and AIDS, to boot. A great front behind which the real bosses can merrily do their anonymous thing.

Gates may be loaded but he did not appear to me to hold membership in the amorphous supra national confederation that is willing to sacrifice whole populations in the mindless pastime of acquiring an ever increasing share of the world’s resources.  Oh no. He was not in my list of people semi-responsible for deliberately stoked wars and conflicts, starvation visited on whole regions and the cavalier annihilation of living and non-living things I hold of inestimable value. Nor was he part of the drive to nudge legislatures, executives and courts globally to toe its preferred line.

Exposure to an article by the exceptional Vandana Shiva titled, Tackling ‘Monoculture of the Mind’   (  makes me wonder whether I was wrong about this seemingly unusual man. Is he really no different from the other mega rich, and in his own way happy to trample underfoot things whose value he does not comprehend?  Is the only real difference between him and supra wealthy others the good fortune of having married a Melinda? We cannot ever know. But anyone who uses his boundless wealth to replace our diverse sustenance with a hyped up monolithic GM banana ‘solution’ to iron deficiency is either blind or vicious.

I find it heartening, in these bleak times, to discover admirable individuals who work hard to mitigate the harm caused by the marching colossus. (Coincidentally, the Sinhalese meaning of the name ‘Vandana’, suggests someone deserving of veneration.)  I recommend to all that they access what she writes and says – and examine carefully the layers of causation laid bare, beneath events we may naively have imagined to be spontaneous or chance happenings. And, having learnt, to respond appropriately.

Gifted, insightful and compassionate in the most admirably no-nonsense way, Vandana Shiva, along with that powerful representative of small things,  hold out hope for the relegated populace locked down in Manmohan-Sonia land. And for other vulnerable beings outside it.


The UNHRC – fostering rights or festering strife?

All proper citizens must do their best to discern the forces that control their country’s destiny. These nowadays lie mostly beyond the visible structures of government and power – whether the country be the United States or Zimbabwe. The difference is only one of degree.

What can we learn about various global forces from the recent UNHRC vote on Sri Lanka? The most superficial and cheerful reading is that it reflects the world moving, however imperfectly, towards respect for justice and ensuring rights for everybody. After all, that is the goal of the recent resolution on Sri Lanka in that UN forum – the desire to establish equal rights, irrespective of ethnic and religious difference. It is to be seen as part of the effort by concerned and upright big powers, supported by sincere and incisive high officials of the UN, to establish the rule of law universally. I am disappointed that I did not come across so far a word, spoken or written, in support of this optimistic interpretation. People may be ascribing undue importance to trivial breaches such as the fate of Chagos Islanders or of assorted ‘aborigine’ groups still surviving in the powerful nations.

Some folks offer explanations in terms of global big power games.  Several competing theories are put forward. The UNHRC vote is seen, in these, as an attempt by the US and ‘the West’ to crush the emergence of even the tiniest hint of independent decision making by any country, however trivial its impact on their bottom lines. Or it is part of a plan eventually to destabilize India – and Sri Lanka is only an intermediate step. That Sri Lanka is targeted as part of a broader attack on China’s maritime operations is another view. We hear a new theory every day. Some cast India as the major mover – working through its new friends in the West. Any of these can be presented as more plausible than the idea that the UNHRC vote was a genuine push for the rights of a marginalized ethnic group.

The idea that the UN vote is the result of the lobbying and financial clout of the ‘LTTE diaspora’ appears to carry more adherents. Pro-LTTE expatriate Tamil voters in national elections in western countries are believed capable of influencing the foreign policy agendas of these nations – leading to motions to censure Sri Lanka. Others claim that many in this diaspora are keen to portray the country as too perilous to be deported to. All of these fancy accounts still sound less unreal than the idea that powerful nations are moved by love, to help a sub-group of Tamil people realize their aspirations for nationhood. But these alternative ideas aren’t very convincing either. The diaspora may raise a tidy sum but surely not enough to bribe or otherwise influence a sufficient number of key persons in powerful media and political establishments worldwide? The power of pro-LTTE votes in marginal western constituencies is likely too feeble a force, as well.  And Western politicians must also be aware that captive immigrant groups need not obey their handlers when allowed to cast ballots in secret.

We must look for other possible reasons.

Many potential motivations, no less likely than the preceding, come to mind.  Here is one: these Sri Lanka happenings and a host of other tensions and conflicts worldwide exist mainly to capture our attention and energies. Sure, they do serve some interests of some big countries and help them increase power and consolidate influence. They may also help minority groups feeling aggrieved. But feeding scattered conflicts and struggles may primarily be useful as distractions.

And what do the world’s citizens have to be distracted from? Many issues jostle for mention here.

Global climate rape, what the tobacco trade does to humanity, the callous levels of starvation created by controllers of grain markets, astronomical CEO salaries and murderous inequity, profits for arms manufacturers.. well, you name it, and it figures. Those who want attention diverted from such issues are not nations. They are the controllers of nations – big and small – and operate beyond politics and laws. Politicians must subserviently deliver (think: Obama, Blair, Clinton, Thatcher, Manmohan) or be quite lacking in depth and insight (namely, be of the Bush, Cameron, Reagan, Zuma, Harper tribe) to remain unmolested.  Media must steer clear of ‘sensitive’ areas. Law enforcers and courts must focus diligently on physical violence and petty theft.

Media today have so many no-go areas that they need incessant manufactured strife, as fodder. Sports events, celebrity doings, interminable US elections and similar inconsequential productions aren’t enough. Troops of monkeys going for each other in murderous fury are necessary added entertainment. Is the ‘LTTE diaspora’ funding various western media persons and politicians or are sources well above them funding the LTTE diaspora? It helps keep some part of the world distracted, at little cost – though nowhere near the scale of Afghanistan, Iran and the Korean dramas, of course. But it’s all such good fun, from the right distance. Monkeys goaded to engage in internecine contests for entertainment on global TV-screen amphitheatres.  This take appears to me no less likely than the stories we’ve heard so far.

And by the way, the monkeys of today aren’t only those black or brown. Americans, Greeks and Koreans, Israelis and genteel Germans are surely sub-human as well – if they aren’t in the top hundred club. The wealthiest Sri Lankans are monkeys quite tiny, though the Clintons they imagine are buddies. For the Clintons too, and Blairs, and the Zumas and Gillards are as well in our simian set – together with the Bushes, other gorillas and us. Don’t they harbor a need to be widely perceived as great pals of the likes of Murdochs -  (on ‘Yo, Rupert’ terms so to speak).

The worst droughts for decades affect swathes – in Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia – where people already suffering are further scorched. But we must pay attention only to the armed rivalries in Mali. That one in five children under the age of five die in Niger cannot draw attention, in competition. Beneath each of those deaths lies an interminable horror story. We have to be kept elsewhere entertained while whole countries shrivel scorched and others slowly submerge. Vanuatu must be left to its own devices, just as Male and New York in their turn also must. We should dismiss assorted pessimists until the surges reach our own doorsteps.

Most of the pain may still be circumvented – were we were allowed to put our minds to it, though late. But can we tear our eyes off the games?

We, the monkeys excluded, must at least now begin to notice the tectonic plates on which little stages are set up for us to do battle. In the meantime the plates too sink but nothing will change until the mighty too begin to see their grand theatres submerge. It will be way too late then, for the top few will keep moving until the last of the monkeys have drowned. The elite hundred or so reside globally – and can survive until all lower beings are gone.

Let the games stop.