The state of Himachal Pradesh is environmentally fragile and ecologically vulnerable to the occurrence of natural hazards emanating from the effects of climatological variations.
So, what is success in today’s world and who are the successful people according to you? Sounds so arcane and philosophical, even a waste of time. Yet, how we define this single word has, more than any other dimension, impacted the course of our development as a society. Let us start by looking at ourselves. Do we know what success means to us? Do we know what we want to achieve in life? What is it that will give us contentment and satisfaction? Money ~ that’s a fair goal. But then we must know how much? There has to be a count. Saying ‘lots’ is a poor choice ~ it leads to a sick mind and endless craving for more, ensuring a life of dissatisfaction and perpetual discontent. Let’s also remember that when we keep craving for more as an objective of life, we start making compromises and, without exception, we start angling for what actually should belong to someone else.
Soon it turns in to stealing someone else’s due. So, wanting to earn money is not bad, but we must try and decide on a limit. This limit cannot be in terms of millions or crores only, it has to be in terms of ~ am I getting fair compensation for my labour and contribution and is it enough to meet a fair and appropriate standard of living? Talking of intelligent and hard-working people, who earn more than subsistence wages, most if not all can come to some idea of what all they would like to have to feel comfortable ~ a house, a car ~ maybe two, money for education of their children, some medical cover and a retirement plan. How big should the house be, or which make of car? Which school or college the kids will attend and what kind of retired life you look forward to will vary from person to person. It doesn’t matter, as long as you can take a decision.
And, take the decision yourself without comparing with the aspirations of others ~ their goals do not have to be your goals. Talking of how high, or how low if you like, one could aspire for, how about a 1955 MercedesBenz auctioned recently for a whopping $143 million, making it the most expensive car ever sold. Or partaking water from a 750ml bottle of Acqua di Cristallo Tributo a Modigliani water selling for $55,000. You could even crave for houses costing upwards of $2 billion, a mind-numbing Rupees 16,000 crore. Perhaps you are not drooling, but what if some of our brethren are? Why is it wrong to earn wealth if you can, they would ask. True, it is important to have a desire to move ahead, to reach the top of the pyramid, but why in terms of money alone.
Remember Maslow’s Theory of Motivation or Herzberg’s Hygiene Factors? It was postulated that after achieving a certain standard of living, success would be defined by self-actualisation, i.e. a drive to improve yourself, to be of use to others, to build institutions and the societies we are a part of. What happens when the fire in the belly, for materialistic goods, is insatiable? Well, people lose their way. Ethics and morality take a back seat when the sole objective is to succeed in monetary terms. People then start looking for justifications for their immoral conduct by cooking up false narratives of superior minds and hard work for philanthropic objectives.
Have you ever wondered why expatriate technocrats are increasingly picked up for heading multinational corporations and IT giants in the West? That they are technically outstanding could well be true, but does that mean that there are no other equally competent American or European nationals? Think about it. Could it have something to do with a thirst to prove their worth, in a milieu where many of them might have experienced some form of discrimination in their adopted countries?
At the highest levels of corporate positions, one must presume that the thirst for money, even if it is a factor, cannot be the only mover. Most emerging technology, especially in the realm of IT and AI, is toxic ~ it works against human rights, privacy and egalitarianism ~ and is socially disruptive. Most business models in these sectors are based on stealing data, the new gold for commercial and militaristic exploitation. There have been many instances of employees of major IT companies protesting against development of technologies for military use and senior executives refusing to be part of such undeclared and nefarious objectives. Does the quest to succeed numb the moral compass of those who stay back? How often have you heard corporate leaders extolling young managers to embrace the “animal spirit”.
Is the choice of this phrase a classic Freudian slip? Are we celebrating the predatory habits of animals or justifying annihilation of competition, a la Darwin’s survival of the fittest? Do we really want that? Whatever happened to the fair market, perfect competition and so on, which were supposed to be the bedrock of a capitalist system? Significantly, an animal kills only to feed itself or its brood and kills no further. Certainly not for its future progeny. Does that in any way look like how corporates behave? Or how the very rich behave? Certainly not.
Remember animals don’t steal or keep their kill in offshore havens. They don’t buy luxury goods, nor do they go on expensive foreign holidays. So let us stop crediting our predatory businessmen for their animal spirit ~ it is a sacrilege to nature. Meritocracy ~ howsoever good we might be, disproportionate privileges become available only when someone is denied their fair wages and rightful dues. The man who clears the sewer line is probably doing a more critical job than your ‘meritocrat’. If this wizard doesn’t go to work for a couple of days, things don’t fall apart. Imagine if the sewer man does not clear a choked sewer for even half a day.
Not only will we find filth all around us but the community will be visited by all manner of disease. So where is meritocracy and indispensability? Even if both jobs are important in their own right, why is there such a huge disparity in the compensation we give to people at the two ends of this spectrum? Perfect Market ~ Those who swear by it are the ones who pull out all the stops to control the markets. You will see them running around politicians and bureaucrats to formulate policies which will give them monopolistic advantages, at least till they themselves are in position to dictate public policy to the elected leaders.
The financial institutions, chartered accountancy firms, rating agencies etc. are all part of this racket. They create illusions, hiding reality under opaque veils of audit and fiscal accountability. So, do these mighty and rich people lead a happy life? This is not an irrelevant question. If you can access it, listen to what Apple founder, Steve Jobs had to say about his wealth before he died at the young age of fifty-six of a rare form of pancreatic cancer. Apart from the philosophical message in his last words, the fact remains that when you take more than you deserve and refuse to share the country’s wealth in a fair manner, you invariably feel threatened. You slowly start mistrusting people and start hiring security to protect yourself and your families.
The reality, however, does not go away. A gated community is useless if it is surrounded by disgruntled people. So, we now have mounting numbers of high net worth individuals fleeing their countries after carting off their ill-earned wealth to tax havens. This situation is a ticking bomb – a fool’s paradise waiting to be blown away. Jeff Bezos can offer to colonise space as the ultimate form of escapism, but till then they must live in fear of dismounting the tiger. So what is the way out? We must redefine success. Can we decide that henceforth only those who are educated, hard-working, respect nature, seek truth and create social harmony are to be regarded as successful in life.
Call it a new universal faith if you like. It can provide the vision and direction to steer back our countries to a more egalitarian and functional social system, which will draw tremendous strength by learning to survive within the laws of nature. While it may not be easy to change the false narratives overnight, each one of us can create small islands of scientific inquiry, respect for nature and moral excellence, wherever we are ~ at home or at the workplace. The goodness and wholesomeness will surely radiate from these moral havens, and as the value system and scientific temper permeates our education, we can look forward to a new kind of human existence; a ‘civilizational’ change. We cannot leave it to today’s successful people to guide our destiny. We must redefine ‘Success’.
A version of this story appears in the print edition of the August 31, 2022, issue.