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The natural order of things!

I just finished watching all 4 seasons of Mr. Robot - the cyberpunk TV/Web Series about a fictional sequence of events where a vigilante hacker group fsociety (styled on the Anonymous group) attacks E-Corp, the world's largest conglomerate (think GE + JP Morgan) and brings them down through a Ransomware attack. 
The objective of the attack is to free millions of people from massive debt which they are running - the fountainhead of debt across the US being E-Corp. With the hack, millions of loans become unserviceable because data for them is no longer available, but it also leads to E-corp being unable to dispense cash to its depositors and freezing of further lending, ultimately the entire hacking episode leads to an economic collapse!

While my initial interest in the series arose due to its cyberpunk lineage, my interest post Season 1 was retained more because of its depiction of the interplay between epochal events and the nature of human society. Eliot / Mr Robot's original intention in the ransomware attack is to bring down E-Corp and the entire 'elite society' which runs around it. But when the economic meltdown transpires, the exact opposite happens - credit freeze and restrictions on deposit withdrawals hit the poor the most, millions lose livelihoods, homes and relations go sour. The rich, on the other hand, do get impacted but only in losing the sheen of their lifestyles or social stature.

This made me think back of the various other such epochal events we have noticed in past several years - the 2008 economic collapse, some electoral changes in various countries, and most recent Covid-19. Just like the fictional Five/Nine hack in Mr Robot, most of these events haven't impacted 'natural order of human society'. The rich are still rich, the poor even poorer, the middle classes remain locked in a constant graze to crack the glass ceiling to become the rich.

This does not mean that the natural order never changes. For example, Independent India's most revolutionary land policy was the abolition of the Zamindari system (feudal landholding practices).  Another such change was the 'The Protection Of Civil Rights Act, 1955' which abolished the practice of untouchability in India. The American Civil War which abolished Slavery was another such epoch event globally, as was the Civil Rights movement led by Martin Luther King Jr and the Civil Rights Act of 1968 which followed his assassination. The 1994 South African general election which led to the abolishment of Apartheid in South Africa is another such epoch event which changed the social order.

However, while all these legislative events might have aimed at bringing instant changes to social order, their success has been excruciatingly slow at best. Casteism is still rampant in rural India, even though it may not take the extreme form of Untouchability. The recent Black Lives Matter campaign in the United States illustrates that African Americans still face discrimination in American society. Housing and economic differences are still quite pronounced between Whites and Blacks in South Africa. For this reason, such legislative changes are often not acceptable to 'revolutionaries' like Che Guevara or hackers of the Anonymous group or the fictional Eliot Anderson. They prefer a more radical approach, which often involves eliminating the privileged. 

At the same time, it is interesting to note that instead of revolutionary epochal events, the real march of civilisation towards being more egalitarian and impacting social order has been littered with technological progress of the human society. Industrialisation, for example, led to the formation of cities and as people moved to cities, it led to their intermingling and weakening of casteist structures among them. Another wave of awakening against casteism was a result of Indians travelling overseas for education and trade. Gandhi himself travelled to South Africa to set up a new legal practice and Ambedkar, while he was an anti-casteism torch bearer early on, strengthened his ideology while studying in London and the US. 

The American Civil war also has an interesting relationship with Industrialisation; while the key reason for Civil War was disagreement over the abolition of slavery, the reason why this became an issue was because of the economic makeup of the US circa 1860s. The Northern States were largely Industrialised while the Southern States more agrarian. Slavery was critical to the South mainly because it allowed them to remain economically competitive in spite of being agrarian, against the onslaught of industrialisation the world over. Slave labour was virtually free and hence the South could produce raw agricultural produce much cheaper than the rest of America or Europe. Europeans imported heavily from the Southern States and in turn, exported finished goods to America which were cheaper than finished goods produced by the Northern States themselves. This led the Northern States to propose the Tariffs of 1828 against cheap European imports, and the opposition of such Tariff by Southern states came in form of the Nullification Crisis. These two initial sparks ultimately spiralled slowly into the Civil War.

The 21st century has been different however. Industrialisation in the 19th century paved way for changes to social order in the 20th century. Laws and reforms mentioned above all belong to the early/mid 20th century. However, even though the Internet brought about massive changes in the way we live towards the end of the 20th century and early decade of the 21st, we haven't had any laws, regulations or revolutions challenging the social order for almost 50 years now. The Internet has changed a lot for humanity, and while millions are now getting educated on their own through the web, they haven't been able to uproot themselves from the social order they are born into. 

The continuance of caste mindset in Rural India or the police atrocities on African Americans which came to light following the killing of George Floyd only indicates the need for Social reforms across the globe, because of exactly what the fictional events in Mr Robot show, any form of a frontal attack on the social order has the exact opposite effect. 

The Internet was supposed to not just lift millions out of poverty but also transfer wealth from the rich to the poor. However, the Fed expanding its balance sheet following the collapse of 2008, and other such schemes have ensured that the rich are insulated from the downsides of wealth erosion at the cost of the tax-payer; these bail-outs also have robbed the poor of the welfare funds meant for social upliftment. At the same time, the gains from the massive wealth generation - whether it is the Silicon Valley growth or that from cheap Chinese labour - are well protected in coffers of the rich. 

The entire world today is moving towards a 'Zamindari system' where massive wealth is locked in hands of the top 1%, who also control governments, central bankers, mainstream media and through them, even the electorate. They use this power to secure the continuance of wealth in their hands. We've tried hacking the social order by revealing how the rich do what they do [WikiLeaks, Inside Job] - the manipulation of elections, media and people is virtually public information. With Social Media, social atrocities too are no longer hidden in plain sight. We've had epochal events - from 9/11 to 2008 crash to Covid-19. None of these have managed to dent the natural order of things!

What is lacking I believe is laws and regulations same as the abolition of the Zamindari system to uproot these inequalities and to give a fillip to the furtherance of equality for all of mankind. In India, the Modi govt has enacted a few laws in its first term such as the IBC which prevents large corporate borrowers turning into 'wilful defaulters', and forcing govt and regulators to rely on bailouts from Depositor's / Taxpayers money to keep Banks afloat. 

But there's much more to be done here - recently Modi's own party has been a part of political shenanigans where lawmakers were traded from one party to the other to topple and form new state governments. It may be unconfirmed, but public perception is that massive money exchanged hands - allegations and accusations may not have been proven, but then how does one explain a series of such events happening across states? And where does the money used for horsetrading lawmakers come from? It comes from businesses, who then surely would expect qui-pro-quo from the Chief Minister who's government was saved or formed. Such events only make the inequalities persist longer because it necessitates the nexus between politicians and the rich and prevents creation of laws or policies to counter inequality.  

And India is just about a sixth of the world's population - what about Canada, the US, Europe, China, Russia, Far East, Africa and South America? The problem of inequality is global and the rich are one-force globally. Globalisation means that rich investors own corporations (or parts of corporations) which span across nations and continents. Bailouts in the US have a massive impact on Indian markets and vice-versa. Until there are reforms globally, we will not be able to reduce or even prevent inequality from rising as it has, in the past several decades.

Yes, the problem of inequality is as old as human civilisation itself - and inequalities will exist until there is a human society. It isn't inequality but the unfairness of inequality which we need to fight. The phenomenon where the privileged remaining privileged for generations, while the poor suffer - the sterilisation of social structure from technological progress, is what we need to fight. As mankind progresses, we must make our social structures more malleable where it should become increasingly easier for the underprivileged to rise up and difficult for the privileged to protect their turf.

Global laws need to change for this to happen and this possibly is the biggest challenge that the post-knowledge-economy / post-globalisation generation faces.  


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