In comments on a previous post on discrimination against Muslims in Mumbai, Krishnamurthy asks

…suppose you have a “weak” government, which does not run schools, provide health care, etc.

What’s to prevent the “majority”– “those in power” — from denying education and other resources to the “minority”?

The concern is that a section of people who possess “power” – political and/or economic – engage in irrational discriminatory behavior to the detriment of certain other sections of people. The Indian caste system is a case in point. The issue is whether this concern should be addressed by political measures such as laws against discrimination, affirmative action, reservations etc.

It is clear that political measures against irrational discrimination necessarily infringe on the freedom of the individual to act according to his own judgement and therefore are unjust. On the other hand, the discrimination is also clearly unjust. This is seemingly a moral dilemma. This dilemma must be resolved before one can evaluate the practicality of political measures.

The first step in resolving the dilemma is to distinguish the concept of justice from the concept of fairness.

Fairness (in its most plausible form) is the idea that people are entitled to benefits that are in line with their capabilities – commonly referred to as equality of opportunity. Consider the question: Is it fair that some people are born rich and some are born poor? If it is unfair, who is responsible for it? Next consider the question: Is it fair that some people are tall and some are short? If it is unfair, who is responsible for it? It should now be clear that whether one is born rich or poor, tall or short is a metaphysical fact. It is neither good nor bad, neither right nor wrong, neither fair nor unfair. It simply is. Metaphysical facts are not subject to normative judgement. A person’s genetic makeup, his family, his attributes are part of his identity. Different people will necessarily have different identities. To hold that this is unfair is absurd. The concept of fairness has no basis in reality.

What about justice? What facts of reality is the concept of justice based on?

What fact of reality gave rise to the concept “justice”? The fact that man must draw conclusions about the things, people and events around him, i.e., must judge and evaluate them.

Justice is the recognition of the fact that you cannot fake the character of men as you cannot fake the character of nature, that you must judge all men as conscientiously as you judge inanimate objects, with the same respect for truth, with the same incorruptible vision, by as pure and as rational a process of identification—that every man must be judged for what he is and treated accordingly,…

                  — Ayn Rand

The concept of justice arises from the individual’s need to judge people. Justice pertains to the mental process by which an individual judges others. A mental process cannot be forced. The injustice in discrimination lies in the fact that the person making judgements includes considerations that are not relevant to the judgement. The only way to correct this injustice is to make him realize the error in his judgement. The appropriate tool for this is arguement and persuasion, not coercion. Judgement cannot be forced. When one attempts to correct the injustice in discrimination by coercive measures, one is severing the concept of justice from the facts that give rise to it. The motivation for making good judgements is to be able to act on them. Forcing a man to act against the judgement of his mind is the worst imaginable way of improving his judgement. One cannot achieve justice by destroying the need for it. Man must be left free to act on his own judgement as long as he allows others to do so.

The potential for injustice is inherent in the fact that man is neither infallible nor omniscient. As such his judgements will not always be right. It is not possible to eliminate injustice. One can try to reduce its consequences when it is in one’s own interest to do so. That is what proper charity should be about. This is the resolution to the dilemma. As long as the injustice in question does not involve coercion, such injustice cannot be criminalized. It should be worked around by charity.

Now that the moral questions are resolved, one can address the practicality of political measures against discrimination. As the history of caste based reservations in India shows, these reservations do not work. 50 years after they were instituted, political parties continue to call for increasing their scope. If there could be a plainer indication that they do not work, I don’t see what it might be. What does work is just plain self-interest and appropriate charity. Those who see the injustice of discrimination stand to benefit. They get to work with a larger pool of deserving people. Those who engage in discrimination lose out. The free market at work. It takes its time – changing people’s ideas always does – but it is the only thing that works.

As with any idea, one of the most effective ways of determining its truth is to examine all of its logical implications. If it can be beneficial to abolish discrimination in education and employment decisions, why stop there? Why not go further and abolish discrimination in friendships? Why not abolish discrimination in marriage? Surely these would have a greater effect? Most people would shudder at this suggestion. Yet this is just one of the implications of the same idea. This absurd suggestion only makes plain what is a little more difficult to see when one is merely looking at economic effects. Economic judgement cannot be forced just as personal judgement cannot be forced. There is no such thing as forced justice.

Macaulay’s speech in the House of Commons in 1833

I came upon this speech delivered by Thomas Macaulay in the House of Commons in 1833 via this post on Sanjeev Sabhlok’s blog. I have only read the extract in Sabhlok’s blog so far. It is interesting enough that I will read the whole thing and more about the history of the British Empire when I find time. Some excerpts follow:

“We come then to the great question. Is it desirable to retain the Company as an organ of government for India?

“In India you cannot have representative institutions. Of all the innumerable speculators who have offered their suggestions on Indian politics, not a single one, as far as I know, however democratical his opinions may be, has ever maintained the possibility of giving, at the present time, such institutions to India. One gentleman, extremely well acquainted with the affairs of our Eastern Empire … was examined on this point. That gentleman … a very bold and uncompromising politician … has written strongly, far too strongly I think, in favour of pure democracy. He has gone so far as to maintain that no nation which has not a representative legislature, chosen by universal suffrage, enjoys security against oppression. But when he was asked before the Committee of last year, whether he thought representative government practicable in India, his answer was, “utterly out of the question.”

 “This, then, is the state in which we are. We have to frame a good government for a country into which, by universal acknowledgment, we cannot introduce those institutions which all our habits, which all the reasonings of European philosophers, which all the history of our own part of the world would lead us to consider as the one great security for good government. We have to engraft on despotism those blessings which are the natural fruits of liberty. In these circumstances, Sir, it behoves us to be cautious, even to the verge of timidity. The light of political science and of history are withdrawn: we are walking in darkness: we do not distinctly see whither we are going. It is the wisdom of a man, so situated, to feel his way, and not to plant his foot till he is well assured that the ground before him is firm.”

Do I call the government of India a perfect government? Very far from it. No nation can be perfectly well governed till it is competent to govern itself. I compare the Indian government with other governments of the same class, with despotisms, with military despotisms, with foreign military despotisms; and I find none that approaches it in excellence. I compare it with the government of the Roman provinces, with the government of the Spanish colonies; and I am proud of my country and my age.

“It is scarcely possible to calculate the benefits which we might derive from the diffusion of European civilisation among the vast population of the East. It would be, on the most selfish view of the case, far better for us that the people of India were well governed and independent of us, than ill governed and subject to us; that they were ruled by their own kings, but wearing our broadcloth, and working with our cutlery, than that they were performing their salams to English collectors and English magistrates, but were too ignorant to value, or too poor to buy, English manufactures. To trade with civilised men is infinitely more profitable than to govern savages. That would, indeed, be a doting wisdom, which, in order that India might remain a dependency, would make it an useless and costly dependency, which would keep a hundred millions of men from being our customers in order that they might continue to be our slaves.

“It may be that the public mind of India may expand under our system till it has outgrown that system; that by good government we may educate our subjects into a capacity for better government; that, having become instructed in European knowledge, they may, in some future age, demand European institutions. Whether such a day will ever come I know not. But never will I attempt to avert or to retard it. Whenever it comes, it will be the proudest day in English history. To have found a great people sunk in the lowest depths of slavery and superstition, to have so ruled them as to have made them desirous and capable of all the privileges of citizens, would indeed be a title to glory all our own.

“The sceptre may pass away from us. But there are triumphs which are followed by no reverse. There is an empire exempt from all natural causes of decay. Those triumphs are the pacific triumphs of reason over barbarism; that empire is the imperishable empire of our arts and our morals, our literature and our laws.

It was only as I read this that I realized that in all the history taught in school, this period of the empire was never covered – atleast as far as I can remember. Hastings and Clive – whom Macaulay condemns as corrupt – were covered in school history but Elphinstone and Munro – whom Macaulay calls spotless – were not. School history as it was taught jumps from Clive and Hastings in the 1770s to Dalhousie and the “First war of Independence” in the 1850s to the 1920s and beyond. And of course it is completely silent on what happened after 1947.


Ishaan: Aaj tak koi bhi faisla mera apna nahin tha. Kuch faisle mujhe virasat mein mile. Kuch kartavya ke naam pe liye gaye. Aur baki mere mahol ne kar diye. Aaj tak koi bhi faisla sahi ya galat ka farak dekh ke nahin kiya gaya. Mere mahol ne jo mujhe diya main leta gaya, jo mujhse maanga main deta gaya. Suman, tumse milne ke baad mujhe ehsaas hua ki is daayre ke bahar bhi kuch hai.

Suman: Ishaan, tumhare saamne do hi raaste hain. Sachai chupao, ek khuni ko azaad phirne do aur apne dost se wafadaar raho. Ya sach ka saath do. Sachai ko saamne la kar us khuni ko uski saza dilao. Aur insaniyat ke naate jo hamaara farz banta hai, use poora karo. Ishaan, mere liye ye farz, apne kisi bhi niji faisle ya shapath se bahut bada hai.

— From the Hindi movie Thakshak by Govind Nihalani


Ishaan: “Not a single decision so far has been mine. Some decisions, I inherited. Some were made in the name of duty. And the rest were made by my circumstances. Not a single decision was made by considering whether it was right or wrong. Whatever my circumstances gave me, I accepted. Whatever they demanded from me, I submitted. Suman, after meeting you, I realized that there is something beyond this.”

Suman: “Ishaan, you have only two roads ahead of you. Hide the truth, let a murderer roam free, and remain loyal to your friend. Or, support the truth. Bring the truth into the open and punish that murderer. And fulfil the duty that is ours through our humanity. Ishaan, for me this duty is much bigger than any personal decision or promise.”

This is one of the very rare moments when – briefly and inconsistently, in a raw, sense of life form – Hindi Cinema comes close to a proper understanding of morality. And then immediately afterwards it returns to the tired old cliches of duty to humanity and sacrifice of personal values.

Interesting observations from my attempt at translation.

“Sach ka saath do” : “Support the truth”. That’s the best I can think of. Not something one says in English.

Is there a word in Hindi/Urdu that means obligation as against duty. “Kartavya” and “farz” both mean duty. Or is the difference not expressible in Hindi?

Extract from Discovery of Freedom

Here is a fascinating extract from Rose Wilder Lane’s Discovery of Freedom

The bows of ships had always been bowls. They floated, they rose to the tops of waves; they stayed on the surface of water. They were safe. The Rainbow’s bow curved inward; the prow was as sharp as a knife. It would cut into the water; with wind in the sails it would drive headlong to the bottom of the sea. Sailors looked, and backed away. Sail, on a thing like that? straight to Davy Jones’s locker?
Griffiths did not intend this ship to rise on the waves. Every rise and fall was a loss of speed. He designed the Rainbow to slice straight through the waves and keep going, fast.
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