Quote of the day : the folly of money as language

This post is a bit of a start towards thinking about things. The two things do not immediately connect, but they are both in my mind.

We have chosen the wrong weapon for our struggle, because we chose money as our weapon. We are trying to overcome our economic weakness by using the weapons of the economically strong – weapons which in fact we do not possess. By our thoughts, words and actions it appears as if we have come to the conclusion that without money we cannot bring about the revolution we are aiming at. It is as if we have said, “Money is the basis of development. Without money, there can be no development.”

Arusha Declaration (1967)

The president of the World Bank, James Wolfensohn, was the speaker at my commencement at MIT in 2002. While it poured rain upon us, he basically said “we messed up the world, it’s your job to fix it.” (I am paraphrasing). It was a non-startling abdication of responsibility, but it has stuck with me since.

Yesterday I marched in common cause (the meaning of the word “solidarity”) with a few thousand others against the militarization represented by NATO and its presence in Chicago. The Chicago media and the city have, through repetition, convinced many in the city that the protest is primarily a disruption of their lives. It’s like the snow, only one can blame someone for it. This media campaign is aimed so that people will not ask the questions. Why are people are protesting? What does NATO represent? What actions are being taken in out name? The city asks us to not think. It analogizes as animals — sheep who meekly follow, parrots who unthinkingly repeat soundbites : “the protesters are scary, I am afraid of being hurt,” “why do they have to come here and disrupt our city?”

Don’t be sheep or parrots. Be humans. Think and listen and try to understand. If you disagree with the message of the protest, take the effort to actually disagree. Don’t fall back on the petty concerns of how you are inconvenienced.

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8 thoughts on “Quote of the day : the folly of money as language

  1. Anand,

    Respectfully, this post is disappointing: too many feel-good platitudes.

    Sometimes it is better to abstain from political statements until one’s political education (which is not the same as one’s technical education) is solid enough. I speak from personal experience.

    Given your ancestry, it would be nicer to see some ancient Vedic thought in a political post, instead of this distasteful French crypto-anarchic mental virus.

    Don’t fall back on the petty concerns of how you are inconvenienced.

    If protesters block streets and an ambulance is delayed for 10 minutes, and as a result someone in urgent need of medical care dies, you ideologues are guilty of manslaughter. Consequences matter more than lofty intentions sometimes…

    • Sometimes it is better to abstain from political statements until one’s political education (which is not the same as one’s technical education) is solid enough.

      I disagree — express your views vociferously, and when you later change your mind, denounce your previous position as vociferously. To wait, as you suggest, is to disengage.

      Given your ancestry, — You speak of platitudes and switch to orientalism. Here is some ancient Vedic thought (Atharva Veda I.21) : “Indra, subdue our enemies, lay low the men who fight with us: Down into nether darkness send the man who shows us enmity.” One might as well quote the Bible.

      you ideologues are guilty of manslaughter : this is absurd. Why were roads blocked? Because NATO wanted security — they would have wanted it regardless of a few protestors. If an ambulance couldn’t have made it up Lake Shore Drive, it’s because of the conference, not because of the protest. By your logic, I should call those citizens who tacitly support NATO accessories to the murder of civilians.

      The point is not that everyone should be out protesting (that’s a different argument) — the point is that the city had a choice to host this conference, and blames the protestors for the inconvenience caused to its citizens. Blocking the highway for a motorcade to to the airport was incredibly annoying to the people of Chicago and had 0% to do with the existence of a (completely legal) protest march.

      • I do agree with most of your points, although my appetite for changing my opinions in public is much lower than yours. I disagree with the “our country”, though, for de facto ownership and de jure ownership are not the same thing (obviously).

        You do have to concede that ancient Vedic “platitudes” are much more colorful and amusing than the present ones. From an information-theoretic viewpoint, one could perhaps argue that they convey more information. At least, they do deliver more entertainment. Echo chambers certainly are not sources of new knowledge.

        Lastly, NATO is just a PC name for “American Empire”. The rulers do what they want, the ruled do what they must.

  2. IMO, Money is like friction: a necessary evil. I think it’s an individual choice to whether rub against it, generate heat and burn or to use it to propel.

  3. What was the protest about? (In your words; otherwise I could google easily enough.) It’s hard to argue that, e.g., Bosnia, Kosovo, Libya, or even Afghanistan are worse places today because of NATO’s intervention.

    Full disclosure: I served my NATO-member country in uniform.

    • Let me preface this by saying that I have no expectation that others will agree with me. I myself used to be a supporter of military intervention under appropriate circumstances.

      I think that people were there for different reasons. For myself, I think that NATO primarily exists to serve NATO’s own strategic interests — if those interests correspond with human rights issues, then fine, but that is not their primary concern.

      For myself, I was there for a number of reasons, but to pick one — I view NATO as part of an overall system of state-sponsored non-state actors engaged in a neo-colonial enterprise. Most of this is economic : the IMF insists on structural readjustment as part of aid to a former colonial nation, the resulting burden crushes the local economy, the state collapses, and if that region is strategically important, NATO or others might intervene physically. I was there because I view the current system as flawed, and NATO is just a part of it.

      To say that Kosovo is better for NATO intervention is like saying the ends justify the means — it’s hard to say that the civilians killed as ancillaries to NATO actions are better off today because of NATO’s intervention. Both of these are beside the point. The actions and results of military engagements are not transparent, and as scandals periodically arise and are forgotten, I have have become more and more uncomfortable with supporting or trusting the better judgement of the leaders of NATO and other military organizations.

      At the end of the protest, we listened to a number of short speeches by veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars as they told of how they felt that they were deceived by the US military and NATO. They had all received medals for their service and they returned them because they felt their actions had not been worthy of honor. It’s a certain kind of bravery to do that, and I went to hear them speak because I wanted to support them in that act.

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