Tuesday, November 30, 2010
This work was done in 1864.
This is not a book to be reviewed but a book to be revered. A book that one should make special effort to understand in its context and time, especially because of the wide chasm that separates today and the author’s period and the differences in social, political, economic, religious and other conditions that make the two worlds seem universes apart.
Ruskin attacked the current political economy.
It is very easy to read a few pages and then think the ideas anachronistic but it is difficult and important to understand the spirit underlying the words and to figure out how they can be applied to today’s life and situations.
The two lectures expound the subject of books & reading and the education of women.
The usefulness of the ideas of the author in today’s world lies in our ability to appreciate the following essence of the ideas.
The lecture on ‘books’ emphasizes the importance of reading and the necessity to assess a book’s worth before reading it.
The second lecture, on the education of women, though not very agreeable, provokes women to enquire into their role in the society, in this world and educate themselves to become equal to their roles.
The role of women as I observe has become more important in today’s time where there is a profusion of radical feminists revolting with a vengeance and creating imbalance and disharmony rather than helping women to lead lives in accordance with their true essence.
The language is of a high standard. Puritanical as the author himself is, needless to say, his writing is impeccable. Such is the standard, that each line could be a quotation in itself.
The interesting trivia about this book is that the cover, a moss green velvet gives the book an antique feel and makes my bookshelf look awe inspiring and its owner erudite. I picked it up at Select Bookshop upon Mr. Murthy's suggestion.
Ruskin was born in the middle of the industrial revolution which wrought changes in the lives of people. The salient features of this revolution were power driven machinery and the growth of large factories. Common land was put to private use. People had to sell their farms and become hired labourers at very low wages. Bulk of rural population was now a class without property and dependent upon an employing class. People drifted to the towns. Skilled craftsmen became 'hands' in a factory.
In 1825, 3 million of wage earners were children earning very low wages. Combination laws prevented formation of trade unions or participation in strikes. Most of the necessities of life were heavily taxed. There was no state education and the hours of work made it impossible for parents to hand down traditional knowledge.
Slums were built for workers. England was the richest country in the world but at the cost of 1000's of children worked or starved to death.
Ruskin, influenced by Thomas Carlyle, the great political prophet of his age, opposed this worship of greed on moral grounds and set himself to work out a saner political economy which should recognize that self interest is only one of the motives that move men; that the only true wealth of a nation is healthy happy citizens who have as far as possible, developed their faculties, are satisfying their creative and artistic instead of merely their acquisitive instincts.
The 2 lectures in this book were delivered at Manchester in 1864 and published the next year. Together they form a small tractate on education - education from books and the proper education of women.
He considers novels as books of the hour - 'strictly speaking, not books at all'. Later he banned from his ideal library, many of the world's greatest literary treasures.
He was too much influenced by his over-puritanical upbringing and judged all books by the extent to which they included morality.
The second lecture too reads a little oddly these days since the position of women has completely changed. But it must be remembered that Ruskin wrote for the well to do women of his time who lived sheltered lives in dependence upon their parents and husbands and especially for young unmarried women who normally spent all time in pleasure. He regards women as created solely for the benefit of men and does nothing to support the pioneers of his day who were pressing for woman suffrage.
Although he himself denounced the economic evils of her age, his ideal woman is not expected to question the source of the wealth provided by her father/husband.
His ideal woman has to cook for the sick poor, sew garments for poor children and all.
Yet there remains in these lectures much that is of value in our own age.
His method was always trenchant, his language often violent; but a prophet inspired by indignation and pity does not speak comfortable words.
Notes I made from the book.
1st Lecture – King’s Treasures
…We fancy glamour and riches, celebrities and ignore the genuine commoners around us all the time.
…Definition of a book - A book is written not to multiply the voice merely, not to carry it merely, but to preserve it. The author has something to say which he perceives to be true and useful, or helpfully beautiful. So far as he knows, no one has yet said it; so far as he knows, no one else can say it. He is bound to say it, clearly and melodiously if he may; clearly at all events. In the sum of his life, he finds this to be the thing, or group of things, manifest to him; - this is the piece of true knowledge, or sight, which his share of sunshine and earth has permitted him to seize. He would fain set it down forever; engrave it on rock, if he could; saying, "this is the best of me; for the rest, I ate, and drank, and slept, loved and hated, like another; my life was as the vapour, and is not; but this I saw and knew: this, if anything of mine, is worth your memory." That is his "writing"; it is, in his small human way, and with whatever degree of true inspiration is in him, his inscription or scripture. That is a 'Book'.
Though many of us will not agree to his definition especially in today's time when all kinds of ramblings and musings see print and sell like hot cakes. - this work definitely gives an understanding of the standards and outlook of people at that time (another era). This book surely draws our attention to the necessity of assessing the true worth and value add of books before reading them.
…Speaking of our approach towards a book the author says the following. You should rise to the level of the author, he will not stoop to you. You must have a true desire to be taught by them (book writers) and to enter into their thoughts. To enter into theirs, observe; not to find your own expressed by them.
Very ready we are to say of a book "how good this is – that’s exactly what I think" But the right feeling is "How strange that is! I never thought of that before, and yet I see it is true; or if I do not now, I hope I shall someday." Go to the author to get at his meaning, not to find yours. Step into the author's shoes. Annihilate yourself.
…Good and bad words - puritanical ideas
A well educated gentleman may not know many languages, may have read very few books. But whatever language he knows, he knows precisely; whatever word he pronounces, he pronounces rightly; above all, he is learned in the peerage of words; knows the words of true descent and ancient blood, at a glance, from words of modern canaille; remembers all their ancestry - their inter-marriages, distantest relationships, and the extent to which they were admitted, and offices they held, among the national noblesse of words at any time, and in any country. The accent, or turn of expression of a single sentence will at once mark a scholar. And this is so strongly felt, so conclusively admitted, by educated persons, that a false accent or a mistaken syllable is enough in the parliament of any civilized nation, to assign to a man a certain degree of inferior standing forever.
The book is full of absolutes. There is hardly anything left to relativity.
This aspect of writing - the stark classification the author makes of almost everything into good and bad, right and wrong, do’s and don’ts, reflects one aspect of those times – all was either black or white and greys were not very popular in contrast with the situation of today, a time when there are more grey shades than have ever been at any time in the past.
In fact, greys have become the only legitimate shades and anyone who thinks, sees black and white is termed fanatic.
We call them all judgmental and narrow in outlook.
…Most men's minds are indeed little better than rough heath wilderness, neglected and stubborn, partly barren, partly overgrown with pestilent brakes and venomous wind sown herbage of evil surmise; that the first thing you have to do for them, and yourself, is eagerly and scornfully to set fire to this; burn all the jungle into wholesome ash-heaps, and then plough and sow. All the true literary work before you, for life, must begin with obedience to that order, "Break up your fallow ground, and sow not among thorns."
Interesting definition of vulgarity
…The ennobling difference between one man and another, and between one animal and another is precisely in this, that one feels more than another. If we were sponges, sensation might not be easily got for us; if we were earthworms, liable every instant to be cut in two by the spade, too much sensation might not be good for us. But being human creatures, it is good for us; we are only human in so far as we are sensitive, and our honour is precisely in proportion to our passion.
…The essence of all vulgarity lies in want of sensation; simple and innocent vulgarity is merely an untrained and undeveloped bluntness of body and mind; but in true inbred vulgarity, there is a deathful callousness, which, in extremity, becomes capable of every sort of bestial habit and crime, without fear, without pleasure, without horror and without pity. It is in the blunt hand and the dead heart, in the diseased habit, in the hardened conscience, that men become vulgar.
…True passion is disciplined and tested passion, not the first passion that comes. The first that come are the vain, the false, the treacherous; if you yield to them, they will lead you wildly and far, in vain pursuit, in hollow enthusiasm, till you have no true purpose and no true passion left.
Any feeling possible to humanity is in itself not wrong, but only wrong when undisciplined.
…We are furious at a small private wrong while we are polite to a boundless public one: we are still brave to death, though incapable of discerning true cause for battle…
…Taking the example of the Swiss vintagers of Zurich expressing their Christian thanks for the gift of the vine, by assembling in knots in the 'tower of the vineyards', and slowly loading and firing horse pistols from morning till evening, the author says “it is pitiful to have dim conceptions of duty; more pitiful to have conceptions like these, of mirth.”
…The justice we do not execute, we mimic in the novel and on the stage; for the beauty we destroy in nature, we substitute the metamorphosis of the pantomime, and (the human nature of us imperatively requiring awe and sorrow of some kind) for the noble grief we should have borne with our fellows, and the pure tears we should have wept with them, we gloat over the pathos of the police court, and gather the night due of the grave.
…We are still kind at heart; still capable of virtue, but only as children are. Chalmers, at the end of his long life, having had much power with the public, being plagued in some serious matter by a reference to "public opinion", uttered the impatient exclamation, "The public is just a great baby". the reason I have allowed all these graver subjects of thought to mix themselves up with an enquiry into methods of reading, is that, the more I see of our national faults or miseries, the more they resolve themselves into conditions of childish illiterateness, and want of education in the most ordinary habits of thought. It is, I repeat, not vice, not selfishness, not dullness of brain, which we have to lament; but an unreachable schoolboy's recklessness, only differing from the true schoolboy's in its incapacity of being helped, because it acknowledges no master.
…Scythia was the old name of southern Russia…
Kings and how they should rule
…Enlargement of a king's dominion meant the same thing as the increase of a private man's estate. Kings who think so, however powerful can no more be the true kings of the nation than gad flies are the kings of a horse; they suck it, and may drive it wild, but do not guide it. The true kings rule quietly, if at all, and hate ruling.
…Estimate your dominion by the force of it, not geographical boundaries.
It matters very little whether Trent cuts you a cantel out here, or Rhine round you a castle less there. It does matter to you whether you can turn your people as you can Trent. Whether your people hate you and die by you or love you and live by you. You may measure your dominion by multitudes, better than by miles.
…Very few kings have ever laid up treasures that need no guarding - treasures of which, the more the thieves there were, the better! Broidered robe only to be rent-helm and sword only to be dimmed, jewel and gold only to be scattered-there have been 3 kinds of kings who have gathered these. The fourth kind of treasure - wisdom- and the fourth kind of king?
…We should bring up our peasants to a book exercise instead of a bayonet exercise, organized drill maintained with pay, and good generalship, armies of thinkers instead of armies of stabbers! - find national amusement in reading rooms as well as rifle grounds; give prizes for a fair shot at a fact, as well as for a leaden splash on a target.
…French and England- France and England literally buy panic of each other; they pay, each of them, for ten thousand thousand pounds worth of terror a year. Now suppose, instead of buying these, 10 millions’ worth of panic annually, they made up their minds to be at peace with each other - and buy 10 millions' worth of knowledge annually; founding royal libraries, royal art galleries, royal museums, royal gardens and places of rest. Might it not be better for them?
2nd lecture – Queen’s gardens
…There are no heroes in Shakespeare's plays. Shakespeare has no heroes, he has only heroines. The catastrophe of every play is caused always by the folly of a man; the redemption, if there be any, is by the wisdom and virtue of a woman.
Women redeem men.
…Exceptions in Shakespeare's play. There is only one weak woman - Ophelia; and it is because she fails Hamlet at the critical moment, and is not, and cannot in her nature be a guide to him when he needs her most. Such in broad light, is Shakespeare's testimony to the position and character of women in human life.
…Walter Scott, Dante. With Walter Scott too, it is the woman who watches over, teaches and guides the youth; it is never, by any chance, the youth who watches over or educates his mistress.
(All the above reminds me of Tagore’ ideal woman.)
…We are foolish and without excuse foolish, in speaking of the 'superiority' of one sex to the other, as if they could be compared in similar things. Each has what the other has not; each completes the other, and is completed by the other; they are in nothing alike, and the happiness and perfection of both depends on each asking and receiving from the other what the other only can give.
…The best romance becomes dangerous, if, by its excitement, it renders the ordinary course of life uninteresting, and increases the morbid thirst for useless acquaintance with scenes in which we shall never be called upon to act.
…Each will gather from the novel, food for their disposition. Those who are naturally proud and envious will learn from Thackeray to despise humanity; those who are naturally gentle, to pity it; those who are naturally shallow, to laugh at it. So, also, there might be a serviceable power in novels to bring before us, in vividness, a human truth which we had before dimly conceived;
…Observe the word 'state' - we have got into a loose way of using it. It means literally the standing and stability of a thing; and you have the full force of it in the derived word 'statue' - ' the immovable thing'. A king's majesty or state then, and the right of a kingdom to be called a state, depends on the movelessness of both: - without tremor, without quiver of balance; established and enthroned upon a foundation of eternal law which nothing can alter nor overthrow.
Good art was possible only in a nation morally sound...
Thursday, November 25, 2010
It was a full moon. In a clear sky. I wondered if he was looking at the moon too. Did he even remember his promise, made 10 years ago?
On the quiet road that leads to Chamundi hills, I would go for my evening walk. It was a narrow road flanked by tamarind trees on both sides. A lone road like a ‘Sphagetti dropped from heaven’. Beyond the trees were stretches of open fields and farms. On one side was Lalitha Mahal, white and majestic. On the other, was the Chamundi hill. And beyond all, in the west was the setting sun.
Retired men, young men and women and home makers, walked this road in the evening. But there weren’t too many of them.
Cyclists peddled to nearby villages. An occasional lorry passed, shearing the stillness of the atmosphere and sending the walkers to the mud trail off the gravel. For a while. After which they hopped back to the road which was all theirs, until the next lorry. City buses with people visiting Chamundi hills passed up and down, now and then, but not too often.
On the whole, it was serene and charming.
That was Mysore, ten years ago. It remains the same to this day. More or less.
A little after two kilometers of walking on this stretch, just before the uphill climb began, there was the Indus Valley Ayurvedic Centre on my right (IVAC). This was my stop. My only one. I would walk up to this, sit in front of its entrance for a while and start my march homewards.
By the way, this was part of my weight gaining program. It was meant to improve my appetite.
When I became conscious of the fact that I wasn’t drinking any water during this hour long walk, I made a slight change to my routine.
I would walk to the security boy guarding the entrance to IVAC and ask him for water.
He was a boy. Perhaps 18. Or 19. But no more than 20. He had Mongoloid features. I thought he was either from the North east or Tibet. I even asked him but I don’t remember now what he said. He was ebullient and talkative.
He would hand me a bottle. I would drink a little and return it with a ‘thanks’.
For the first few days, that was all; I would drink from the bottle, say thanks and return.
After this went on for a few days, we started talking. He asked me what I did, where I lived, and so on.
I asked him where he was from, how often he visited home and so on. We conversed in Hindi.
Once I became conscious of hygiene after some provocation from my father and asked the boy if the water was not 'jhootha' (had they drunk from the same bottle touching it to their mouth?) And I was assured it was not 'jhootha', with a smile. So I continued drinking his water.
Every day, I would find him at the entrance with the water bottle ready. He knew the usual time when I reached that spot and he was there to greet me.
If I did not go for my walk someday, he would ask me the next day where I had been and if all was well.
On certain days, when I did not find him at the gate, my eyes would search for him. Another guard would hand me the bottle and when I asked where this boy was, he would tell me that he had not come to work or something.
One fine day, I was invited for a tour of the campus by the security people. This was not the usual for them but since they saw me regularly, I became their chosen one.
I don’t remember if the boy was there at that time or not.
I went to the place in the next few days however, taking care to wear a proper dress and not my walking pyjamas. I had a tour of the campus, learnt that it was an exotic place with all kinds of Ayurvedic treatments. It was an expensive place. Someday, I thought, I would go back, when I could afford it all.
I shared a particular matter with the boy.
There had been this guy who had been following me on his bike everyday during my evening walk. He had never tried to talk to me, nor was he menacing. But he followed me nevertheless. He would slow down enough so I would take notice, so he could give me a knowing look and smile a half smile. And then he was gone.
On my return journey homeward, the same would happen.
Once in a way, I would find him sitting on a bench where the road turned, where I turned towards my stop. I knew he was looking at me and I would turn my head the other way.
I am not a person who shares my personal matters with people readily. And very seldom, I seek advice. But I know not why, I shared this incident with the boy and also asked him what I should do. To my surprise, the boy happened to be very thoughtful.
He said that the guy had shown definite interest in me but he had kept his distance and never come too close. He had not transgressed the limits of propriety and therefore I should not do anything yet.
Days passed. One day, when it was getting dark, the boy offered to walk with me some distance as it was not very safe. I agreed. As we walked, we chatted about this and that. And then when I said he should return to his post, he left reluctantly.
After that day, once in a way he would walk with me.
One fine day, he told me he was leaving. To his home town. Once for all.
On the last day, our last meeting, he gave me a letter, which he said I should open only after reaching home. Handing the letter to me, he said, "Whenever you want to meet me, look at the moon. I shall look at the moon too, and there, on the moon, our eyes will meet'. That’s how we will keep in touch.” And I agreed, smiling at his innocence.
I was touched to know such innocence still existed, unaffected by the 'practical ideas of communication and correspondence' of the modern day.
I walked home and put the letter on my wardrobe shelf. I did not open it for several days. It was there in front of me peering from the midst of papers, textbooks, clothes... I would think... tomorrow. I shall read it tomorrow. I don’t remember now whether I read it later at all or it remains unread to this day. I don’t know why I put it away... and if I have read it, I don’t remember the contents of it.
I never really looked at the moon after that day, intending to meet him.
He was just a security guard who gave me water to drink, whom I got used to, whom I liked as long as it lasted. And whom I forgot after a few days.
But today, as I look at the moon, I think of him and wonder if he remembers his promise, made in all sincerity and solemnity that evening. Is he still innocent like he was that day? Does he look at the moon, think of me and smile?
Friday, November 19, 2010
Wish there were orchards and orchards of it. Mango. Come summer. And you find golden, pink, peach tender blossom on Mango trees obscuring its leaves and branches from view. The colour of the blossom depends on sunlight, and the stage of the blossoming – just blossomed, turning into fruit…
The otherwise quiet inconspicuous mango tree suddenly becomes the most special tree.
In an urban surrounding full of glass finished buildings, the lone mango tree seems to assert that ‘this is still India’.
It brings fond memories of your grandmother’s ancestral house, the backyard of which had a mango tree. Essentially. During festivities, when you needed mango leaves to make festoons to embellish the entrance to your home, you didn’t have to go far in search of the mango tree unlike today. You just had to go to your backyard.
Those afternoons spent in its cool shades! You did not count those afternoons. Who knew they were numbered?
You suddenly miss the cuckoo. When you heard its calls as you ambled in the garden, you craned your neck and searched the mango tree’s branches and leaves to see where it was. You returned the call of the cuckoo, trying your best to imitate it, to hear it coo once more, so you could locate it. The thick foliage made it so difficult.
It’s been so long since you heard the call of the cuckoo. Now you will have to travel several miles, away from the city, to find the cuckoo.
The mango tree. It fills you with anticipation. Anticipation of the mango fruit. The flavor, the colour, the taste. Such an exotic fruit. The fruit of summer.
Yes. The fruit is the redemption of summer.
Ah! The untimely rain that destroys mango crop!
Whatever happened to ‘Prakriti Dharma’? We have lost the right to ask that question now.
I pray anyway. May it not rain…not now…
These were pictures taken at work.
These were pictures taken on the way to work. I got down from the cab, took pictures from different angles even as passersby looked at me askance. And then I walked to the nearby bus stop, boarded the bus to office.
Tuesday, November 09, 2010
You could be talking, you could be reading, you could be writing, travelling, walking or sitting on the couch doing nothing. You could be cooking, listening to music, lying down. You could be concentrating on work on a busy day. You could be doing anything, but all throughout, a part of you remains riveted to that impertinent intruder that came at an inopportune moment without invitation and now refuses to leave. And before you know, beyond your control, your tongue is caressing and stroking him without a moment’s interlude.
That is, if you have a mango hair stuck between your molars.
Your tongue simply does not rest. It attends to that annoying thing between your teeth. It stops tired and begins anew after a while. It pretends to give up but it does not.
You don’t know how and when it got there.
You knew there was a chance of this happening and you still let it happen.
You know you can simply ignore it. It will be gone soon and yet you continue stroking it, caressing it.
You know you can force it out with the stroke of a brush; but you won’t do it.
The mango hair between molars. The lover who does not requite your love but tantalizes.
The fruit that gave you fulfillment glided down your throat – like the lover who reciprocated. The one that got caught between your molars was unrequited love, neither gliding down nor dislodging himself to be spat out. But there to simply enjoy the caresses.
Its not his fault. The connection was surely there. But the context was a cruel act of destiny.
The mango hair between molars. You don’t know how and when it got there.
A wretched moment. Only for a fraction of a second, your eyes met. Not more. But that was all it needed.
How long does it take to die? A moment.
And how long does it take to fall in love? A moment.
How long did it take the mango hair? A moment.
Your life became anchored to him since that moment. As days turned into weeks and weeks into months, a feeble, imperceptible, small love turned into a banyan tree with many deep roots.
You think ‘if only that one wretched moment hadn’t happened…you would be saved’, But then you know, a connection as strong and as fundamental as the umbilical cord would have asserted itself sooner or later. For the connection was surely there. Divine. Only the context was a cruel act of destiny.
The mango hair between molars. You knew there was a chance of this happening and you still let it happen.
You were careless.
When the first time your heart missed a beat, you knew you were standing on the edge of a precipice.
You could have turned around and run to safety. And yet, you jumped.
You could have resolved not to look in his direction again. But you allowed yourself to be carried away. You let your eyes search for him. You let your eyes find him in a crowd.
You let your eyes meet his. You told a tale. In just a moment. He understood. His glance told the same tale. And you understood. The clandestine conversation had begun.
When you take sweet poison, sweetness spreads first. You enjoy it and let it spread further.
Poison comes afterward.
When months later, you did resolve not to look at him, it was too late. All self control was mere ostentatious display; the internal suffering did not stop.
The mango hair between molars. You know you can simply ignore it. It will be gone soon and yet you continue stroking it, caressing it.
You remember what happened last time. You thought you would die. But you didn’t. Life moved on.
It is just a matter of time. Because nothing lasts forever.
And yet, you cannot ignore it. Because this moment is the one that has to be lived now. Relief may come later. But until then, this excruciating pain has to be borne. This love has to be lived.
He is your first waking thought. In fact, he is simply your waking thought. Every minute you are awake he is there in the background of all your thoughts. And as if that’s not enough you see him in your dreams too.
The mango hair between molars. You resolve to give up but you don’t.
You try to get close to him. You burn your fingers. Your ego is hurt. You hate him. You resolve never to try again. And after sometime, after your burns have healed, you are looking in his direction again.
The mango hair between molars. You know you can force it out with the stroke of a brush; but you won’t do it.
For all your determination and power of will, you can remove his thought from your mind like you would a weed. Jolt yourself out of this impossible fantasy. Uproot the banyan tree. But you won’t; because though love is its own punishment, love is also its own reward. You savour it even as it kills you. It is sweetness though it is of poison.
The only consolation is knowing that nothing is forever.
Each time, the relief came unexpectedly. When you had given up or gotten used to the pain of the intruder, he dislodged himself from between your molars, sometimes suddenly, sometimes quietly, and it was over.
Thursday, November 04, 2010
Having read ‘Small Is Beautiful’, it was impossible for me not to read all of this author’s works. This is the second work of his that I read. There is one more of his works “A Guide for the Perplexed’ that I will read in the next few months.
I am putting this up on my blog long after I have read the book. So I had forgotten most of what I had read and only a vague idea remained. The good part however is that I had to go through the whole book once again, and it refreshed my memory.
This is not a book to be reviewed but to be read and reread, digested and imbibed and absorbed. All I have to say is that it served to verify several of my preconceptions and made me feel proud of the fact that my fundamentals are perfect. And I am delighted to know that my thoughts are similar to those of great visionaries such as Schumacher : - )
Good Work is all about the distinction between and good and bad work and the necessity for people, society, nations and the world to make that distinction.
It was written in 1979 and as one reads it becomes obvious that it was written long ago. But the points are as relevant today as they were before. In fact with most of the people today having no education, no clarity about fundamentals at all, this book is most relevant.
Following is notes taken from the book. It is not very well structured as it requires too much effort. These points are in the same order in which they appear in the book.
Read if you have patience and courage. And read if you want a whole new perspective.
Blurb - "In good work, the author addresses a question which is central to most of us and one which is all too often ignored by the economic structure of the western world. He maintains that the purpose of man's work is threefold: to produce necessary, useful goods and services; to enable us to use and perfect our gifts and kills and finally, to collaborate with other people in order to liberate ourselves from inbuilt egocentricity. A job in which one finds no personal satisfaction destroys the soul. With sanity and sensitivity, the author offers important and thought provoking alternatives which point the way to mankind's physical and mental liberation.”
Introduction & Preface - The critical role of technology in economic development was first brought into perspective by Schumacher in a report prepared in 1962 for the government of India.
Tools and equipment deliberately designed to be relatively small, simple, capital saving and environmentally non-violent - That was Schumacher's idea known by the term 'Intermediate Technology'. This book is complied mainly from a series of lectures he gave in the United States during mid-1970's, a tour during which some 60000 people heard him speak, and which culminated in a meeting at the white house with President Carter. 3 chapters are based on earlier written essays: they have been included for their relevance to the subject of good work.
As part of establishing the premises for his argument he says that the way humans view work - the less work you can get away with, the better, that money is the sole reason for working - is a fundamentally morbid view.
This book is an exploration of the political, managerial, social, and economic consequences of conventional technology (and values) and of alternatives.
A person's work is undoubtedly one of the most decisive formative influences on his character and personality. It is work which occupies most of the energies of the human race and what people actually do is more important than what they say, what they own, or how they vote.
We need to adapt the work to the needs of the worker rather than demand that the worker adapt himself to the needs of the work-which means of course primarily to the needs of the machine.
The book is organized into six chapters as follows.
The End of an Era:
In this chapter, the author relates the story of oil.
Although the US was richly endowed with oil, due to continuous exploitation, it was necessary to dig deeper and deeper, whereas Middle East oil wells were new and one had only to dig a hole to find oil. So Middle Eastern oil was flowing to the US. But when US put a control on this in order to avoid dependence on the Middle East that was close to Russia, the oil companies had to sell in the European market. There they had to compete with coal and had to lower their prices in order to capture the market.
Previously oil exporting countries had nothing to do with this business that was run by oil companies. In 1960, they set up OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries). By 1965 the exporting countries realized that oil is a diminishing asset. Going by the projection of requirements made by oil consuming countries they would have sold all oil in the next 20-30 years. And after that, they would have nothing to sell!
The Shah of Iran was most greedy to increase oil output.
In Libya, Colonel Qaddafi chucked out the old king and became head of state at 28 and enquired how long the bonanza would last.
He asked the companies to throttle output, marginally. He nationalized these companies so he would have control. The effect of marginally reducing crude oil output in 1970 was a 50% increase in world's level of crude oil prices. The less you produce the richer you become! Because the demand is inelastic; it remains the same!
Colonel Qaddafi became the most hated man in the world and other Arabs and oil producers were reluctant to be in his position as they feared the powerful oil importing countries that were capable of violence.
So they sent the general secretary of OPEC around who went to all oil importing countries making speeches asking them to mitigate their requirements, saying 'What will become of us after we have sold all oil? The fact that you are paying for it does not make a difference and in 25 years we cannot build an alternate livelihood’.
6th October 1973 - 4th Arab Israeli war started.
To the consternation of Washington, the friend of the US, King Faisal (Arab) said 'We will use oil as a political weapon against Israel.
As long as the war goes on we reduce oil output. When the prices went really high, the exporting countries saw what their product was worth and made the hiked price the official price.
US proposed to buy huge quantities of oil to meet its requirements (based on projections). When Yamani, the oil minister of King Faisal, the friend agreeing to expand oil output asked the US how they would pay; the US offered shares or ownership of the American industry. But King Faisal understood how easy it was to expropriate the foreign capitalist (one stroke of pen by Congress) and decided the best course was to leave oil in the ground.
So the 6th October triggered this irreversible lowering of oil output and an increase in price.
From now on, oil will be dearer and scarce. The question to ask is this: during that short and unique period in world history, of cheap and plentiful oil, what happened as a result of cheapness and plenty of oil?
How did it crystallize out in our economic life? all those thing that have happened as a direct result of cheap and plentiful oil now will be in great danger - of collapse or disappearance when that economic base is gradually withdrawn.
The modern system of agriculture, for instance, that consumes a lot of oil; we must find an organic system.
The monster cities of today – that have huge energy requirements and exploit oil.
A big city doesn’t live on itself, it lives on the land, it lives off the land. An inland city lives off the circle of land around it to be provisioned. Cities on seashore could be provisioned by ships…in olden days. Transportation was a concern hence land growing food and city couldn’t be far apart. There was a limit to the size of a city. There had to be small cities surrounded by lands to feed them.
Today with exploitation of fossil fuels, transportation is no longer a concern. And therefore there is no limit to the growth of cities.
This situation in big cities of majority of people living in the cities and a minority on the land made it necessary to have immense increase in productivity.
With the new development of oil (major source of energy) becoming scarce, what is to happen to these cities?
Competition between peoples has resulted in unnecessary transportation and a criminal waste of oil. There are a lot of Japanese cars flitting about in Detroit. These cars have to be transported from Japan to Detroit. England also has Japanese cars.
A huge fleet of Lorries carry biscuits from London to Glasgow. And across the other motorway, an equally huge fleet of Lorries carry biscuits from Glasgow to London. Any impartial observer from another planet looking on would come to the conclusion that biscuits have to be transported at least six hundred miles before they reach their proper quality.
Large scale production, arising from one unit, is the reason behind businessmen wanting to invade faraway markets.
Instead of large scale highly complex and highly capital intensive production, we should have small units that ipso facto wouldn’t be so complex.
Toward a Human scale Technology:
The end products should be persons and not puppets.
Modern industrial society is immensely complicated, immensely involved, making immense claims on man’s time and attention. This is its greatest evil.
The amount of genuine leisure available in a society is generally In inverse proportion to the amount of labour-saving machinery it employs.
Adopt only those things from western industrialism that really facilitate and enrich life while rejecting frills and harmful elaborations.
What is the great bulk of advertising other than stimulation of greed, envy and avarice?
Industrialism in its capitalist form openly employs human feelings of greed, envy and avarice as its very motive force.
Whether these evils are the result of industrialism as such or of the particular capitalist form in which it has made its appearance in the west is debatable.
Basic aim of modern industrialism is not to make work satisfying but to raise productivity and labour saving whereby labour is stamped with the mark of undesirability.
Autocratic management treats men as factors of production instead of responsible human persons in a grave evil leading to innumerable stunted or wasted lives.
Infinite decentralization of authority and responsibility would be good - this requires small structures and not superstructures.
The exhibition of reading matter on most of the bookstalls is the worst indictment of present day society. To claim this is what people want is merely adding insult to injury. It is not what they want but what they are being tempted to demand by their fellow men who will commit any crime of degradation to make a dishonest penny.
To insist that reckless waste of natural resources is crime does not sound cooperative to those who think that the highest possible rate of consumption is the only worthwhile pursuit of mortal man.
Once a process of technological development has been set in motion it proceeds largely by its own momentum, irrespective of the intentions of its originators. Whoever created modern technology, for whatever purpose, these modes of production demand a system that suits it.
Prime minister of Iran – ‘there are many aspects of the west that we particularly wish to avoid in the industrialization of Iran. We seek the west's technology only, not its ideology. What we wish to avoid is the ideological transplant.’
The implicit assumption that you can have a technological transplant without getting at the same time an ideological transplant; that technology is ideologically neutral; that you can acquire the hardware without the software behind; is a bit like saying - I want to import eggs for hatching but I don’t want chicks from them but mice or kangaroos.
Important questions to ask about workers;
How they produce, what they produce?
Where they work? Where they live? Whom they meet?
How they relax or recreate themselves? What they eat, breathe, see?
What they think?
The subdivision of labour is the assassination of a people.
The system we have is the inevitable product of technology.
When you compare different societies with different systems, where they employ the same technology, they act very much the same and become more alike every day. So technology dictates.
Those who want to promote a better society, achieve a better system, must not confine their activities to attempts to change the superstructure - laws, rules, agreements, taxes, welfare, education, health services etc., if there is no change in the base, which is technology, there is unlikely to be any real change in the superstructure.
Initially technology was the outgrowth of science. Today’s its primary derivation is from science. In fact, science is today mainly valued for its technological fruits. What determines the course of science? There is always more that could be studied than can be studied. So how is the choice made?
Interests of scientists? Yes. Interests of big business and governments? Yes. Interests of people? No. Perhaps an entirely different kind of science would really benefit people.
New technologies are developed only when people of power and wealth back the development. New technologies will be in the image of the system that brings them forth and they will reinforce the system.
US: 5-6% of world population uses something like 35% of world’s output of raw materials! As of 1979.
Three important questions need to be asked about technological development.
What does it do in terms of resource usage? What does it do to the environment? What is its socio-political relevance?
Effect of modern technology on the pattern of human settlement - a monstrous and a highly pathological polarization of the pattern of settlements. In the US they have coined the term megalopolis - Bowash - Boston to Washington, Chicpitts - Chicago to Pittsburgh, Sansan – San Francisco to San Diego
More than half the area (central US) is grossly under populated and large parts of the other half are madly congested.
It’s not enough to know about making shoes. You also have to know about feet. The shoe made for the big fellow does not fit the foot of the little fellow. Small foot needs a different shoe; not an inferior one, but one of the right size. Modern technology makes good shoes only for big fellows.
If you want to create technologies that fit the given conditions of development areas, people accuse you of wanting to take them back into middle ages. The problem with these ideas is they sound revivalist (going back to ancient times) and anachronistic and not progressive. the challenge is to make it sound progressive.
Technology has taken a wrong turn in 4 directions.
1. It is becoming bigger and bigger.
2. It is becoming more and more complex. The ingenuity invested in quite bumble things is fantastic
A tube of toothpaste - you squeeze it and toothpaste comes out in three different luscious colours. So clever, they don’t even get mixed up; it’s like a flag coming out.
Another example; so that you may not be subjected to the indignity of having to turn a handle to wind the car window up or down they have invented a button which you simply press.
When they find something that can actually be done, no matter how futile or dangerous it may be, such as Concorde, they just do it.
3. It is capital-intensive. More and more people are excluded.
4. It is becoming violent. (You have to widen the concept of violence beyond human warfare) They are dumping poisons in ever increasing quantities.
Take medicine. The whole direction is wrong - curative medicine is more and more researched, complex, and expensive. Preventive medicine is virtually neglected. Instead of producing more skilled dentists, can we ask, why are our teeth so rotten?
Not all things can be done on a smaller scale (Boeing, for example) but all those regarding basic human requirements can be.
Any 3rd rate engineer can make a complicated apparatus but it takes a touch of genius to find one’s way back to basic principles. Which are normally fairly simple.
We need to distinguish what is essential and what are almost cancerous growths.
We must learn to distinguish between tool and machine tool. A tool is operated by a man, a machine is operated by a mindless mechanism.
Smallness, simplicity, capital cheapness, non-violence are key.
Author illustrates with an example of the problem in Zambia, how ludicrous big businesses and technologies can get and how he worked around the problem to find a solution in intermediate technology.
To solve the problem of malnutrition of protein gap, Zambian government came up with a program with a slogan “one egg a day for every Zambian’. While egg production was successful, the supply of egg trays coming from South Africa, Britain and America had stopped for some reason. Without packaging material in which to take these to the market, the eggs were rotting.
Schumacher said “why don’t you make egg trays in Zambia?
Nobody there knew how to do it. They investigated and found out that virtually all egg trays in the world were made by one multinational company.
When the company was contacted, they first agreed to build a factory in Lusaka, but refused later because the quantity required there (a million a year) was much less than the capacity of the smallest machine (a million a month). The MNC demanded that they organize an all African common market for egg trays, build roads for lorries all coming out of Lusaka to distribute egg trays to rural areas…., but this was the opposite of development - to refer them to foreign trade, to import…’Our engineers say, small units are uneconomic’, came the response.
So the author and team got a fellow to redesign the egg tray which was badly designed by the MNC. This job was taken to Royal College of Art in London and within six weeks, they had the perfect design.
The second thing to do was to create a mini plant - done with the engineering department of the University of Reading. They found a small manufacturer.
The plant has 2% of capacity of hitherto smallest plant and 2% of capital cost.
As I have already discerned from Small Is Beautiful, Schumacher is a Gandhi fan.
He mentions in this book too - ‘Gandhi came to England in 1930. He disembarked in Southampton and on the gangway he was already overwhelmed by journalists asking questions. One of them asked ‘What do you think of modern civilization?’ and he replied ‘That would be a good idea’. Schumacher says, the time has come to implement the good idea.
With modern agriculture, fertilizers, insecticides, herbicides (to kill weeds) man has lost knowledge of traditional farming. How to cooperate with soil - is largely lost.
A Viable Future Visible in the Present:
Where you have lots of small businesses fitting all sorts of demands, the best organization for them is private enterprise. Where the person (the employer) who is responsible for the assets is identified, there is a real existential relationship between man and matter, material.
Socializing or nationalizing such small businesses doesn’t work.
In case of huge companies/factories, private ownership is a pretense. The owner has no relationship with the assets. State ownership too isn’t an alternative because government and businesses do not mix. But that doesn’t mean one can’t bring a social interest in. Schumacher further explains how this can be done using an example where he describes concepts such as a board, trustees, etc. which are all well known by now.
The best administration adheres to what I call negative theory of administration; strive to find structures which need minimum administration. Very Small structures administer themselves.
Schumacher gives the example of a man holding a hundred strings with a balloon at the end of each string. Each balloon has its own buoyancy and is limited. That’s the ideal structure in a large organization. The one holding it all together is not a star at the top but a man underneath.
Simply to break up and decentralize is not an option, you should find out what activities can be separated out without paralyzing things.
Schumacher was involved with the soil association - organize training for organic farmers, set up a marketing company to market organic produce, organize organic farmers’ cooperative.
There is the example of a certain body (Scott Bader) that imposed self denying ordinances on itself - we will not knowingly sell any of our products if we have reason to believe it will be used for armaments. A sort of parliament of workers is the sovereign body and not the board of directors. We have settled the maximum spread between the highest paid and the lowest paid. We are determined not to grow beyond the size of four hundred. The primary concern is to keep the human touch.
In 1965, Schumacher started the Intermediate Technology Development Group. Wholly owned by the Charitable organization works with commercial discipline.
If one wants to maintain a sort of non-commercial virginity, one cannot become really fertile.
One of the machines developed under guidance was the walking mini-tractor. It was meaningless to send a two ton expensive tractor back and forth on a field, compacting soil and making life troublesome for the soil bacteria. They can’t breathe properly. All this for pulling a curved knife called the plough. The machine designed as a result was called the Snail - to suit the problem in developing countries of 3, 5, 7 acre farms for which the tractor is a nuisance. Tractor may suit fast ploughing on a 2000 acre farm in the US. Snail had a fuel cost and capital cost that was 1/100 that of tractor.
Before we publish an invention, we must study its social acceptability. Here, he tells the story of the horse coach introduced to carry mail in Burma. The British authorities agreed to pay the coachman partial costs asking him to recover the remaining by escorting passengers who were on foot or slow oxcarts along that route in plenty. It didn’t work. Why? Coach is convenient, plenty of people, price is reasonable… when they asked the consumer, he said “horses shouldn’t be pulling a coach, they should be grazing. We should not demean ourselves to travel behind horses that are so ill kept. We’d rather walk.”
The appropriate technology development association in India is in Lucknow.
On appropriate forms of ownership and action:
An illusion against all laws of nature is that infinite growth in a finite environment is possible.
By a strange law of nature, there is an unlimited supply of people who are prepared to do mindless repetitive work for modest remuneration.
The third illusion is that, science can solve all problems.
But as it solves one problem, it creates a whole host of new problems.
One type of economics says, “You must not produce anything unless you are quite sure you couldn’t buy it cheaper from outside.”
In Puerto Rico, a luscious island, carrots were imported from Texas.
The Chinese, who went through miraculous transformation, turned this around “You mustn’t buy anything from outside unless you are quite sure you can’t make it yourself”
In the former case, you impede development. In the latter case, economically speaking, everybody is challenged, everybody is busy.
Chinese have worked out that it takes thirty peasant work-years to keep a young person at university for one year. Instead of going to a fashionable district in Shanghai, he should go to a remote village and give something back to the peasants out of what he has learned. But what the guy had learnt at the university was totally irrelevant to the peasant so the young guy had nothing to give. This had effect on the curriculum.
The next step was to work and study together - in accordance with Mao’s teaching that the manager or the intellectual has to go and learn from the workers. And from that learning, he should make a theory and that should be taught.
To all people who dismiss alternate systems/technologies calling them uneconomic, Schumacher says “We need to make up our minds whether we want to die economically or survive uneconomically“.
Education for Good Work:
In this chapter Schumacher discusses questions like what is man, what is his purpose, what is good work, and therefore, what is good education.
He says - there are 3 things healthy people most need to do and education ought to prepare them for these things.
1. To act as spiritual beings, in accordance with their moral impulses - man as a divine being.
2. To act as neighbours, to render service to his fellows - man as a social being
3. To act as persons, as autonomous centres of power and responsibility, that is, to be creatively engaged, using and developing the gifts that we have been blessed with - man himself and herself.
In the fulfillment of these 3 basic needs lies his happiness.
Schumacher comes back to what he said in his introduction “The purpose of man's work is threefold: to produce necessary, useful goods and services; to enable us to use and perfect our gifts and kills and, finally, to collaborate with other people in order to liberate ourselves from inbuilt egocentricity.” and education must teach him to do this.
Current education system is not education for work but education for leisure.
There can be no joy of life without the joy of work. A thinker said, if you get too many useful machines you will get too many useful people.
How do we prepare young people for the future world of work?
We should prepare them to be able to distinguish between good work and bad work and encourage them not to accept the latter. They should be encouraged to reject meaningless, boring, stultifying, nerve racking work in which man or woman is made servant of a machine or a system.
Industry without art is brutality, said Ananda Coomaraswammry, because it damages the soul and spirit of the worker. It is not as if the artist were a special kind of man. Every man is a special kind of artist. That’s the metaphysics of good work. Materialistic metaphysics or the metaphysics of the doctrine of mindless evolution does not attribute reality to anything but the physical body. It recognizes that work is an unpleasant fact and automation will soon abolish it.
To have education for good work, we should have to alter the metaphysical basis from which we proceed. (Figs cannot grow on thistles. Good work cannot grow out of bad metaphysics) If we teach that human being is nothing but the outcome of a mindless, meaningless, purposeless process of evolution, a process of selection for survival, that is to say, the outcome of nothing but utilitarianism, we only come to a utilitarian idea of work; that work is nothing but an unpleasant necessity, the less the better.
We only create an apparent conflict between science and religion causing untold confusion.
Education for good work should begin with a systematic study of traditional wisdom - where answers are to be found for questions like - what is man, where does he come from, his purpose in life, goal to be reached and path to that goal.
The only skills worth acquiring in modern days are those which the system demands, and they are worthless outside the system. They have no survival value outside the system and therefore do not even confer the spirit of self reliance. What does a machine winder do when energy shortage stops his machine or a computer programmer without a computer?
The most urgent need of our time is and remains the need for metaphysical reconstruction.
The Party’s Over:
The concept of GNP - gross national product means nothing at all. As a measurement of any kind of achievement it is meaningless, because it’s a purely quantitative concept. Statistics don’t have to be accurate, they have to be significant. Figures don’t mean anything if you can’t make them sing. How can anyone assert that growth is a good thing? ‘If my children grow, it is good. If I suddenly start growing, it would be a disaster’ he says. Therefore qualitative discrimination is the main thing.
Is there another pattern that would make life really worth living? A distinction between two categories of goods is - ephemeral goods and eternal goods. In all real cultures, eternal goods were outside economic cultures.
The moment we allow economic calculus to invade everything, then nothing becomes worthwhile anymore.
There are 3 ways to develop a new intermediate technology.
1. Take the existing very low level technology and upgrade it with no capital investment. Upward.
2. Downgrade to fit it into the condition of the developing country.
3. Conceive it anew, lay on design studies after conceiving the right question
Survey the world and see what already exists, evaluate it, test it - Filipinos have some absolutely excellent very simple equipment for rice culture and so have the Japanese. If it is suitable for other conditions, make it available.
The word, the concept which is merely a label attached to some intuition, some knowledge, then becomes the thing itself. The Buddhists have a nice expression, that Buddhism is the finger pointing at the moon. The moon is the thing, Buddhism simply directs your attention to it. So a phrase like ‘appropriate technology’ or ‘intermediate technology’ is simply a finger pointing at the moon. The moon can’t be fully described. It can be pointed out in terms of specific situations.
Don’t be misled by the marvellous things we do; do the necessary things.
Build underground rainwater tanks all over instead of one desalination plant in one place.
Efficient oxcarts ought to have wheels with steel rims. For that we go to big machines in Pittsburgh and Sheffield. We have forgotten how to do this in rural community. They found an ingenious tool in a French village, more than 200 years old, brilliantly conceived, clumsily made. They took it to the national college of agricultural engineering in England to upgrade it. The smallest instrument to do this bending job in the modern world would cost 700 pounds, outside power and electricity. This tool can now be made by the village blacksmith at 7 pounds and doesn’t require electricity.
Thomas Aquinas said “Justice, untempered by mercy is brutality. Mercy, uncontrolled by justice is the mother of dissolution.
Everything is just a matter of the carrying capacity of this earth.
Fanaticism has been defined as redoubling one’s efforts when one knows one is on the wrong track.
For all his prophecies about oil lasting the next 30 years, hazards of nuclear energy, technological advancement coming to an end and all, I think we are doing quite OK today. I mean, the doom hasn’t come yet, as it did seem certain to Schumacher then. I really hope we figure out a way out of this mess we have gotten into.