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Sunday, 8 March 2015

Impact of Technology on Norms and Dharma

In conversation with Prof. Satish Kumar Jain, economist and philosopher: his arguments without my comments

1) Different persons have different objectives. It is alright if some have no use of academicians, but nothing is wrong in a dialogue. Of course, a yogi in the Himalayas may be an exception.

2) Technology is not value neutral. Refrigeration has made fresh milk unavailable in urban markets. Even if someone wants to consume fresh milk in Delhi, he will never find it. So, drinking processed milk has become a unalterable norm. Earlier, milk was not available to most people, but at least a few had access to pure milk, while now anyone can buy milk but without its best qualities. 

3) Iodine salt has been universalised by the Indian government, no alternative is available and so, if it was found that iodine salt causes a serious disease, the entire population would be affected. These types of technologies that create norms that destroy all alternatives are predatory technologies. The best situation is when traditional alternatives to technologies co-exist with the latter, so that the negative effects are reversible or at least, some can be saved. 

4) According to Charak, eating processed food or reheated food produces toxins in our bodies. It is not possible to provide direct evidence because it is a long process. If look at the medical data of the US, the cases of cancer have increased, the US being the country where most processed food is consumed. We cannot prove that the cause is processed food, but for someone who has faith in the wisdom of Vedic sages, the evidence is sufficient.

5) Technology invades our privacy. Government agencies already track our lives through our use of mobile phones, internet, credit cards, etc. In future, they can enter our homes through cameras in our devices and drones flying around the cities.

6) Technology destroys employment in all sectors. It is leading to a situation when a few thousand people can control an entire economy. This will render billions of people unproductive and alienated. 

7) Technology also endangers species. For instance, many kinds of birds are becoming extinct due to the almost universal use of mobile phones.

8) Technology also eliminates varieties. There used to be hundred varieties of mangoes, there used to be so many food items that are no longer available in the market. We have to do with the few standard items like apple and banana.

9) The modern technological civilisation contains seeds of its own destruction. So, we must preserve whatever remains of our Indian heritage. We must begin with our books and use technology to scan and upload them online, so that they are available to the public at large.

10) As far as dissemination of knowledge is concerned, the best thing is to have an open and free institution. Instead of having formal courses, it is better to have seminars and conferences with a panel of lecturers.

11) Although both ancient India and modern Europe had multiple states and developed inter-state jurisprudence, there are core differences. In India, religion was always independent of the state, i.e., state had no control over religious sects nor religious sects tried to take over a state. Then the king was never a sovereign, law was never based on his whims and people exercised power through panchayats. A bad king was constantly fearful of the emigration of his subjects. Law was based on custom and social consensus. Renunciation was considered the highest virtue, so great emperors like Chandragupta Maurya became monks after fulfiling their earthly duties. 

12) Dharma is not based on any book but on individual insight and spiritual attainment. Scriptures are shared wisdom of sages and we must read them to derive dharmic principles according to our circumstances. But we cannot take them as the literal words of God as done by the Abrahamic traditions.

13) Many of the statements of the Dharma shastras are later interpolations. If you read the entire Ramayana and Mahabharata, you cannot find a single instance of child marriage. Polygamy runs contrary to the principle of renunciation and it may have been adopted in a situation of unavailable matches. But in a situation of such low female ratio as in the Indian population now, it is undesirable to re-introduce it. There is not single instance of pre-Islamic feminine sculpture with a veil. All these were introduced due to Islamic influence. 

14) The four varna divisions can be changed into none, one or ten. It is not a central tenet of our civilisation.

15) Cats are not mentioned in the Mahabharata. They were discovered in the lower Nile basin when the Pharaohs conquered it. It was observed that an increasing number of cats led to preservation of food-grains and so, an edict was issued prohibiting the killing of cats and they came to be worshipped in Egypt. The tradition seems to have spread to different parts of the world including India as cats are mentioned in the Dharma shastras. 

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