20 December 2010

Modern Technology, Economic, Political and Social Systems

Reference: Modernity - The Modern or Industrial Age

Agricultural Age
Industrial Age
Economic system
Political system
Social system

*By technology I mean the production system.

13 December 2010

The Techno-Economic Foundation of Society

Reference: "Technology, Economy, Politics, Culture"

1. Human society has, broadly speaking, five main aspects:
a) Society itself (the social system)
b) Technology
c) Economy
d) Politics
e) Culture

2. The nature of the society is determined by the technology and the economy.

3. Politics and culture are determined by the society, the economy and the technology.

This can be illustrated as:

4. Politics and culture form the top layer.

5. Society forms the middle layer (or the core).

6. Technology and economy form the bottom layer.

In other words,

7. Technology and economy determine the nature of the society.

8. Technology, economy and society determine politics and culture.

That is,

9. Technology and economy form the foundation of society.

10. Or, we can say that society has a techno-economic foundation.

See Karl Marx's base-superstructure theory.

07 December 2010

India, the Caste System, and the Urban Middle Class

1. The caste system is bad/evil.
2. The caste system is backward (medieval/feudal).

These two statements sum up the views of (urban) middle class Indians about the caste system. Other adjectives like 'shocking', 'disgraceful' and 'shameful' can also be used.

The central truth about India's urban middle class (especially its upper caste Hindus) vis-a-vis the caste system is the deep sense of shame and guilt it has about the latter. And the most profound effect of this shame and guilt is the state of denial it has produced among them. (Urban) middle class Indians believe:
3. "The caste system does not exist."
4. "Even if the caste system exists, it is not important."

1 and 2 are correct. 3 and 4 are wrong. But 1 and 2 do not imply 3 and 4. The caste system does exist. And it is important.

But in a limited sense, the (urban) middle class is right. Caste does not exist in their world. Firstly, they go to school/college, play, study, make friends, work, eat and drink freely with people of other castes – regardless of "higher" or "lower" caste. Sometimes they even marry outside their caste. Secondly, they also see all people as equals ("equal in the eyes of God and the law"). They don't judge people by their birth, but instead by their qualities (character, honesty, hard work, manners, etc). On both these counts they are correct.

But it is one thing to say that caste doesn't matter to you, and another thing to say that caste doesn't matter to the country. The urban middle class makes up only 5% of India. But the majority of the country is rural and agricultural (70%). And here, caste doesn't merely exist; it is everything.

If you are born in a village, your caste decides what work you do, who you play, study, make friends, eat and drink with. It also decided which candidate or party you vote for. Therefore, the caste system does exist. And it is important.

Then what is the solution? The solution is not to pretend that caste doesn't exist, or that it is not important. The solution is to confront it, understand it and come to terms with it. Trying to understand something doesn't mean one is trying to justify or defend it. And understanding the caste system is a must if we want to understand India completely. Especially if we are interested in the problems of rural India – where caste is the dominant reality.

The caste system is deeply unequal and unjust. Some of its worst excesses – like untouchability – are cruel and inhuman. Nobody can justify or defend this system. But just as nothing is completely good, nothing is completely evil either. The caste system was a social system that evolved under certain conditions to meet certain needs. With all its failings and drawbacks, we must remember a few things:

1. The caste system helped the Indian civilisation to survive for 5000 years. (Where are Sumeria and ancient Egypt today?)

2. It helped India to survive 2500 years of foreign invasions – including 1000 years of foreign rule. (Where are Persia and Babylonia today?)

3. It maintained social order, stability and peace. India is perhaps the only major country never to have had a social revolution (France/Europe 1789, Russia 1917, China 1949) or a civil war (America 1861).

4. It preserved our culture and our way of life. (Where are ancient Greece and the Roman Empire today?)

5. Most importantly, the worst excesses of the caste system began during – and due to – the period of foreign rule: Turkish, Mughal and British.

In conclusion, caste was the social system of an agricultural society (as against an industrial society). The caste system has served its purpose. It has now reached its expiry date. As India industrialises and urbanises, the caste system will fade and eventually disappear.

The paradox is: How did such a liberal and tolerant way of life as Hinduism produce such an unjust and unequal social system?

05 December 2010

Society, Social System and Social Groups

Q: What is society?
A: Society is a group of people living together.
(This is the simplest/crudest possible definition)

How did society begin? What was society like in the beginning?

Initially man was a hunter-gatherer. He lived in small groups and always kept moving around, looking for food. So initially there was only one task or role: hunting and gathering (or at most two: men hunters and women gatherers). This situation continued for most of man's 2,00,000 years of existence.

Then, 12000 years ago (in 10,000 BC) man invented agriculture. He could now produce food. This brought about three revolutionary changes. One, he could now produce food in one place, instead of moving around all the time. So he started living in one place. Thus villages were born. Two, he could now produce food in a large quantity. So the group no longer needed to be small; it could now be big. Thus the size of the group (that is, village) increased. Three, the new system of food production was efficient. That is, if n people needed to be fed (the size of the group), all the n people did not need to work in food production. Only m (<n) people needed to produce food. The remaining n–m people could do other work. Thus other work (non-food-production) became possible. It also became necessary.

Because, as the size of the group increased, other tasks/roles became necessary. The group had to be defended from the attacks of other groups. The people also had to settle disputes that arose within the group. Meanwhile, man was at the mercy of the forces of nature, and he tried to placate these forces. He started seeing these forces as living beings (that is, gods) and worshipping them. Thus religion was born. These religious activities had to be carried out. Also, as man gained knowledge about the world, this knowledge had to be given to the next generation. Thus two new tasks – defence-law&order and religion-education – were born. The people who handled these tasks were the warriors and priests respectively.

So society now consisted of three groups: priests, warriors and the common people (engaged in food production). Even food production became split into two tasks: owning the land and running the activity, and actually doing the work. So the common people were now split into two groups: farmers and labourers. Thus society now consisted of four groups: priests, warriors, farmers and labourers.

Other things than food also needed to be produced: clothing, houses, tools, etc. The people who made these – the artisans – were manual workers, like the farm labourers. Thus non-food-production activities increased, and the people engaged in these activities also increased. For the sake of efficiency, these non-food-producers started concentrating in a few villages, which became larger. Thus were cities born. And also civilisation (from Latin 'civitas' = "city"). A region now consisted of many villages and a few cities. The different cities and villages started producing different goods, and exchanging them with the goods produced by other cities and villages. Thus was trade born. The people who carried out this activity – the merchants – were wealth creators, like the farmers.

Thus society was now divided into four groups: priests-scholars, warriors-rulers, farmers-merchants and labourers-artisans. (In ancient India they were called Brahmanas, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras respectively.)


1. As society became more complex, the number of tasks/roles increased.

2. Efficiency can be achieved by division of labour and specialisation.

3. So each task/role was assigned to a different group, and each group performed its own task/role.

4. Thus society was divided into different functional groups, and these functional groups made up society.

Therefore society can be seen as a system that consists of different (functional) groups. And these groups form the units of the social system.

Thus 'society' is not a single homogeneous entity. Society (and civilisation) is all about complexity, division of labour and specialisation. Society is made up of social groups. Wishing that these different groups did not exist is as good as wishing that society itself (that is, civilisation) did not exist.

My earlier post on the Varna system had talked about this in brief.