Are Journalists Above Law?

Shared lineage, heritage, possessions, religion, scriptures, faiths, beliefs, customs, social behaviour, language, literature, and cuisines interconnect people. These elements of bonding therefore are sources for an individual’s pride and vanity.  Essence of decorum of a civilised society is both tolerance and vanity of people. Any act including a threat to commit that act, which hurts the vanity of an individual is as serious as outraging the modesty of a woman. While free speech is a virtue of a tolerant society, hurting the vanity of someone under the pretext of free speech is anarchy. Physical wounds may heal but hurt caused to vanity is rarely forgotten or forgiven.

Synchronous or asynchronous utterances in media of all kinds and public gatherings need to be within reasonable restraints so as not to hurt the vanity of anyone.

The rights (a) to freedom of speech and expression (b) to assemble peaceably and without arms (c) to form associations or unions (d) to move freely throughout the territory of India (e) to reside and settle in any part of the territory of India and (f) to practise any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business, all are subject to restraints imposed for preventing anarchy.

“I think, first of all, in any place around the world, it is very important that people be allowed to express themselves freely, journalists be allowed to express themselves freely and without the threat of any harassment,” Stephane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General, said. (Quoted from https://www.financialexpress.com/india-news/journalists-should-not-be-jailed-for-what-they-write-tweet-and-say-un-spokesperson-on-zubairs-arrest/2576406/). He is wrong in advocating that the journalists are more than equal when it comes to legal, moral, social and cultural restraints.

Whenever a politician, journalist, lawyer, Chartered Accountant, Doctor or other professional is summoned by the law enforcement agencies for questioning, or detained by the Police for any inquiry, the representative clan and some of the non-representative elements of the so called civil society start making loud noises alleging falsehood and malice. While the officials unfailingly but eagerly apply their rules but rarely apply their minds, there are others in the government who rarely care for rules but aggressively apply their minds. Minds can be prejudicial. That investigators exceed their remit in the pursuit of justice or the orders of their masters is not an impossibility, but who are we to judge?

Are we willing to wait for the evidence to be presented before the judges and let the judge pass the verdict or are we going to initiate a parallel trial on social media sites and TV shows and Twitter? Are we going to support a system in which thousands of amateur judges oversee parallel trials and pronounce verdict months and even years before the real judges catch up?

Whatever the truth, most of us are not legal experts and it is beyond us to debate whether the process is fair or not. What we can and should debate is how ready we are to believe that every man and woman is fallible irrespective of his or her credentials. Are we ready to stop putting the suspect and the accused on a pedestal? Are we willing to suspend the purposive disparaging of the system of law by lobbyists?

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Honesty Is The Best Even Though It Doesn’t Pay!

“Famed Duke expert on human dishonesty suspected of fraud. Manipulated data in study of truth and behaviour threatens career of popular TED Talk star Dan Ariely” this news headline hit me like a bolt from the blue. (https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/famed-duke-expert-human-dishonesty-suspected-fraud) Dan Ariely (https://danariely.com/) is a Duke University professor of psychology and behavioural economics and author of best-selling books including “The Honest Truth about Dishonesty.” Another headline screamed at me – Israeli-American academic Ariely is under renewed scrutiny for his role in research found to be based on falsified data. (https://www.timesofisrael.com/claims-swirl-around-academic-ariely-after-honesty-study-found-to-be-dishonest/). With age, I have learnt to expect the unexpected, but this news hit me hard because I am an ardent fan of the works of Dan and also because he is married to one Sumedha Gupta, a person of Indian Extraction, who is an accomplished academic in her field.

From fixing the traffic-rules violations on the roadside with the police to CAT-score scandals in admissions to IIMs, cheating and dishonesty are ever-present parts of our national news cycle and unavoidable parts of the human condition. Call it rational or call it irrational, the honest truth is that dishonesty is entirely human. We are dishonestly honest or even honestly dishonest.

Our teachers, parents and family elders always taught us to be honest. Later on, during the course of our higher education and learning, we were persuaded by the economists, ethicists, and business sages that honesty is the best policy. But when we hit the streets living our lives, to our surprise, our pet theories failed to stand up. Treachery, we found, can pay. There is no compelling economic reason to tell the truth or keep one’s word—punishment for the treacherous in the real world is neither swift nor sure.

Economists tell us that trust is enforced in the marketplace through retaliation and reputation. If you violate a trust, your victim is apt to seek revenge and others are likely to stop doing business with you, at least under favourable terms. Sounds logical but is unreal. Cases that apparently demonstrate the awful consequences of abusing trust turn out to be few and weak, while evidence that treachery can pay seems compelling. Compared with the few ambiguous tales of treachery punished, we can find numerous stories in which deceit was unquestionably rewarded.

What do professional athletes, football players do? They sign a long-term contract and after one good year, they threaten to quit unless the contract’s renegotiated. The stupidity of it all is that they get their way.

Does treachery eventually get punished in the long term? Nothing in the record suggests it does. Men seldom rise from low condition to high rank without employing either force or fraud. Power can be an effective substitute for trust. Power, the ability to do others great harm or great good, can induce widespread amnesia. Switching loyalties to contrary political ideologies works around power. Sometimes the powerful leave no other choice. Babus and bureaucrats have to play ball with the politicians in power, no matter how badly they were treated in the past or expect to be treated in the future. Usually, though, power is not that absolute, and some degree of trust is a necessary ingredient in their working relationships.

Powerful people and business-people do not stand on principle when it comes to dealing with abusers of power and trust. When the expected reward is substantial and avoidance becomes really strong, reference checking goes out the window. In the eyes of people blinded by greed, the most tarnished reputations shine brightly. Even with a fully disclosed public record of bad faith, hard-nosed people will still try to find reasons to trust. Trust breakers are not only unhindered by bad reputations, they are also usually spared retaliation by parties they injure. The difference between the right and the wrong evaporates as ‘MIGHT’ becomes ‘RIGHT.”

Mistrust can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. People aren’t exclusively saints or sinners; few adhere to an absolute moral code. Most respond to circumstances, and their integrity and trustworthiness can depend as much on how they are treated as on their basic character. Initiating a relationship assuming that the other party is going to try to get you may induce him or her to do exactly that.

By and large, most people are intrinsically honest. It’s just the tails, the ends of the bell-shaped curve, which are dishonest in any industry, in any area. So it’s just a question of tolerating them.

Honesty is, in fact, primarily a moral choice, but there is little factual or logical basis for this conviction. Without values, without a basic preference for right over wrong, trust based on such self-delusion would crumble in the face of temptation. It is also true however that by and large, most people are neither powerful nor power-seekers. For such people, honesty is the most logical policy for leading a contented life.

Most of us choose virtue because we want to believe in ourselves and have others respect and believe in us. And for this, we should be happy. We can be proud of a system in which people are honest because they want to be, not because they have to be. Materially, too, trust based on morality provides great advantages. It allows us to join in great and exciting enterprises that we could never undertake if we relied on economic incentives alone.

Dishonesty and mistrust are as rational or irrational as is greed or deceit. Forgiving past lapses can make a righteous and godly sense. People do change. After all Ratnakar, a dacoit, did become a Maharshi Valmiki; so we are told!

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First published 25 Aug 2021

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Business of Education

Education dates back to the very first humans ever to inhabit Earth. Why? To survive, every generation has found it necessary to pass on its accumulated knowledge, skills, values, and traditions to the next generation. How can they do this? Education! Each subsequent generation must be taught these things. Stretching the idea wider, even animals educate their off springs in matters of safety, food-gathering and survival in some ways.

Education is a Human Right and ‘Education in human rights’ is itself a fundamental human right. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms that education is a fundamental human right for everyone and this right was further detailed in the Convention against Discrimination in Education. Right to education entails

  1. Primary education that is free, compulsory and universal
  2. Secondary education, including technical and vocational, that is generally available, accessible to all and progressively free and
  3. Higher education, accessible to all on the basis of individual capacity and progressively free.

The Right to Education Act 2009 describes modalities of the importance of free and compulsory education for children aged between 6-14 years in India under Article 21 (A) of the Constitution of India. Compulsory means no child can refuse to be educated.

This act has made education a fundamental right for every child. Delivery of Fundamental Rights would not be a business even if the government were to entrust it to any of its instrumentality, agency or authority.

Any business has customers who have the right to accept or reject the products or services offered to them by the business entity. By this definition, at least education for children aged between 6-14 years cannot be a business.

The history of formal education extends at least as far back as the first written records recovered from ancient civilizations. India had the good fortune of having institutions of Higher Education, Takshshila and Nalanda, even before the 5th century B.C. Education in India was always focussed on careers – Scriptures for Brahmins, battle-science and governance for Kshatriyas, and crafts for others. The Muslim invaders and the Christian Missionaries influenced the education system to a large extent, former using force while the latter using demonstration. Macaulay destroyed the system nearly fully though Swamy Dayanand and his contemporaries tried to preserve it.

Horace Mann, credited with creating the foundation of American modern public education system, saw that the industrializing world demanded different skills than its agricultural predecessor. He prioritizes certain aspects over others. For example, lumping students into groups rather than treating them as individuals. This made “education” much easier, even if it did nothing for the individual student who didn’t adapt well to this new system. It’s worth reminding ourselves now about the key characteristics of the industrial era, and how we can see them manifested in the education system that continues to be emulated in India to this day:

  • Schools focus on respecting authority
  • Schools focus on punctuality
  • Schools focus on measurement
  • Schools focus on basic literacy
  • Schools focus on basic arithmetic

Notice how these reinforce each other. You enter the system one way, and are crammed through an extended moulding process. The result? A “good enough” cog to jam into an industrial machine.

The higher education institutions are plagued by the erosion of academic integrity, corrosion of standards in the curriculum, the oversimplification of admission standards without understanding the importance of true preparation for higher education, and the rise of economic self-interest in both institutions and faculty, places the teaching of classes much lower on their priority.

Even the school education is equally diseased. Government schools face a social burden placed on them by poverty and hopelessness. Troubled children carry the ills of their homes and neighbourhoods into their classrooms every day. In many schools, teachers must feed the bodies and souls of their students before they can even begin to feed their minds. These schools face inflexible bureaucracies, inane regulations, and incompetent administrators and their teachers being called upon to run every chore for the government outside the school other than teaching in the school. High school drop-out rates and students whose performance on maths and science tests puts them at or near the very bottom of their cohorts elsewhere in the world.

It is this set of facts that has provided legitimacy to the private enterprise in education and has sparked business-of-education initiatives.

The business-of-education thrives on the logic: If you can compete, you will be hired for a job. If you are hired, your virtuous habits would eventually lead to your promotion. As promotions accumulate, your pay increases and eventually you reach financial comfort. Or perhaps even significant wealth!

Is this logic responsible for accelerating the acceptance of education as business?

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First published 02 Aug 2021

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If Managers desire to be respected, they must first make their work virtuous

Every discipline or profession has its own self-glorifying vocabulary. It is how its proponents justify themselves, sell themselves, and think of themselves and what they do.

Professors arrogantly celebrate what they do in the noble semantics of truth and knowledge even when they spend most of their time and energy battling one another for position in superbly trivial but venomous campus politics and plagiarising to publish to escape perishing. But who would question their commitment to the truth, to illuminating young minds, and to protecting the values of civilization?

Politicians spread out in the concept of public service even while they pursue personal power and abuse the fears and prejudices of their voters. But who would question their virtue of devoting oneself to public service and public welfare?

Eminent ethical doctors feel terribly upset that the doctors, long known as saviours, play a key role in promoting kickbacks and bribes that oil every part of the healthcare machinery. Who would question the value of human life and well-being and Doctors as the angel-guardians who heal and save lives, an undeniably noble cause?

In the case of business, however, the language of self-description is hardly noble or self-glorifying. The simple phrase ‘the bottom line’ and the vulgar verb ‘making money’ summarize a one-dimensional image of business that is disgracefully uncomplimentary and, in the public perception, extremely negative.

We can readily understand why we should applaud people who devote themselves to public service, or search for truth and knowledge or cure illness and save lives. It is not so easy to understand why we should cheer for those who, as they themselves seem to claim, are out only for material gain for themselves. In many ways, business is an exemplary human activity, involving as it does mutual attention to needs, desires and demands, creative and productive activity, face-to-face negotiation, acknowledgment of certain rules of fair play, and the importance of trust and keeping one’s word. When we talk about business as something less than fully human, or as degrading, then these virtues and concerns are lost from view and may even seem irrelevant. There is more than enough cynicism in the world about the callous attitudes in business. We reveal ourselves in the metaphors we choose. The business world is heavily influenced by images and metaphors that shape the strategies, structures and processes of organizations.

Robert C. Solomon (A Better Way to Think About Business: How Personal Integrity Leads to Corporate Success, New York: Oxford University Press, 1999) lists some common metaphors used by business that he considers inappropriate to think about business.

Again and again we hear business described as a jungle, a fight for survival, a dog-eat-dog world, a game defined by its so-called winners and losers. “It’s a jungle out there” is one of the most pervasive metaphors that brings into business the classical Darwinian view of the survival of the fittest where the rule is kill or be killed. But this metaphor is grounded on fundamentally wrong scientific premises. Evolutionary systems theory shows that cooperation is an essential strategy in nature, and the jungle metaphor completely ignores this fact. Of course, some of the animal metaphors are charming: A nice boss is a “teddy bear” and a tough negotiator is a “tiger,” but most of them are demeaning. Employees, executives, and competitors are described as snakes in the grass, rats and a wide variety of other rodents, and insects and arachnids. Corporations in turn are described as fish tanks, shark-infested waters, and snake pits, as well as the botanical image of the jungle.

Closely related to the jungle metaphor is the conception of business as war and the marketplace as the battlefield. War, a familiar metaphor in so many corporate boardrooms (“the war room”), conjures up more bloody imagery than Darwinian Theory. The war metaphor feeds on our collective insecurity. Few of us as individuals would initiate a violent conflict.

Self-proclaimed realists will tell you that the world is a rough place, that life is unfair, and that only the ruthless survive. But what they call “real” is only the projection of their own bad faith. Why are hostile takeovers considered good business, whereas taking care of employees is considered soft-hearted and un-business-like? Military metaphors are intrinsically nationalistic, alarmist, pessimistic, conservative, and authoritarian. This has grim implications for the mental health of a productive organization. Paranoia is not usually conducive to creativity or competitiveness.

Just as every discipline has its own self-glorifying vocabulary, it also has its heroes, its role models, those who are admired from afar, looked up to and emulated. University professors sing the praises of Socrates, Newton, Einstein, Vishwamitra, Tagore, Ramanujam and Raman. But in popular culture and films, managers are stereotyped as masculine, selfish, mercenary, conscienceless, greedy, fixers, or out an out idiots. In business, we have a cascade of best-selling books lauding the management secrets of Attila the Hun (a major tribal military ruler in 5th-century Europe, best known for his savage fighting) and Machiavelli (connotes political deceit, deviousness, sneaky, cunning, and lacking a moral code). They are full of enthusiasm for “Sun-Tzu” (the art of war), but they neglect his compatriots Confucius and Kautilya, who know the real “secret” of Asian prosperity: virtue, integrity, and a real sense of community. Now, what does all this say of a civilized modern executive that he should take such characters as a guide to business strategy? And what does it say about business, that it honours such “heroes”?

Less violent but as dehumanizing as the jungle and war metaphors is the idea of business as a money-making machine. The machine metaphor transforms everything human into something cold and mechanical. Emotions, affections, and relationships disappear, to be replaced by mere causes and effects. Corporations are no longer to be identified with the people and personalities that make them up but with the system in which people are replaceable parts and in which personality serves as a lubricant or as grist and inefficiency. The business world as a whole ceases to become a matter of human aspiration and is reduced to market mechanisms. The notion of “reengineering,” for example, captures in a word what is wrong with so much of our current thinking about business. Employees and managers are, after all, “human resources,” to be replenished as needed. Do we expect the carburettor to be loyal to the engine? And what does the engine owe to the carburettor in return?

The sad truth is that the image of materialistic selfishness easily eclipses the many virtues of business and people in business, their dedication to their work and their companies, their surprising selflessness in facing the job to be done, their pride in their products and services, and their relationships with colleagues and customers. People do not just serve purposes; they first of all have purposes and personalities of their own. It is the “art of the deal” that gets celebrated, not the production and distribution of quality (even lifesaving) goods and services. It is the windfall profit, the “killing” in the market, the outfoxing of the competition, the cost-cutting and axe-to-the-max downsizing that make reputations and headlines, not the routine addition of jobs, the satisfaction of jobs well done, the camaraderie within the corporation, the unpaid (but not unrewarded) compensations of integrity.

Competition is extremely valuable and often necessary in business, but it is not as such the purpose or goal of business life. There is healthy competition, and there is sick, debilitating, depraved competition. There is constructive, positive, even inspiring competition, and there is mutually destructive, negative, inhibiting competition. War and jungle metaphors give us the latter, along with all zero-sum games whose point is to punch out your opponent, debilitate the competition, and win at his or her expense. Business competition, by contrast, offers us the best example of the former, in which competition serves as a spur to one’s own excellence and productivity. It provides incentives to improve, creating new heroes, ideals, and possibilities.

How we do business, and what business does to us, has everything to do with how we think about business, talk about business, conceive of business, practice business. If we think, talk, conceive, and practice business as a ruthless, cutthroat, dog-eat-dog activity, then that, of course, is what it will become. And so, too, it is what we will become, no matter how often, in our off hours and personal lives, we insist otherwise.

If, on the other hand, business is conceived, as it has often been conceived, as an enterprise based on trust and mutual benefits, an enterprise for civilized, virtuous people, then that, in turn, will be equally self-fulfilling. It will also be much more amiable, secure, enjoyable, and, last but not least, profitable.

Unless we transcend the dominator paradigm (to control, govern, or rule by superior authority or power), which seems to permeate the thinking and actions of people in Western civilizations, it will be difficult to come up with alternative metaphors and new visions like ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (वसुधैव कुटुम्बकम् the world is one family)’ to guide the evolution of the business world and the emergence of evolutionary corporations. Let us be reminded of Trimurti or Trideva (त्रिमूर्ति trimūrti, “three forms” or “trinity”), the triple deity of supreme divinity in Hinduism, in which the cosmic functions of creation, maintenance, and destruction are personified as a triad of deities, typically Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver, and Shiva the destroyer. Let us not forget that the Supreme-Manager is Bhagwan Vishnu and let us draw out the symbolic and inner meaning of each of His incarnations (https://www.amrita.edu/news/inner-significance-dashavatars).

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First Published 28 Jul 21

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Who Failed Afghanistan? Who will help it to succeed?

The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was a multinational military mission in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2014. It was established by United Nations Security Council Resolution 1386 pursuant to the Bonn Agreement, which outlined the establishment of a permanent Afghan government following the U.S. invasion in October 2001. ISAF’s primary goal was to train the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and assist Afghanistan in rebuilding key government institutions, though it gradually took part in the broader war in Afghanistan against the Taliban insurgency.

ISAF’s initial mandate was to secure the Afghan capital of Kabul and its surrounding area against opposition forces to facilitate the formation of the Afghan Transitional Administration headed by Hamid Karzai. In 2003, NATO took command of the mission at the request of the UN and Afghan government, marking its first deployment outside Europe and North America. Shortly thereafter the UN Security Council expanded ISAF’s mission to provide and maintain security beyond the capital region. It gradually broadened its operations in four stages, and by 2006 took responsibility for the entire country; ISAF subsequently engaged in more intensive combat in southern and eastern Afghanistan.

From 2006 until 2014, NATO debate on ISAF centred around means instead of ends: how the burden of fighting should be equally distributed among the member states; what operational concepts like the “comprehensive approach” or “counterinsurgency”—often wrongly termed “strategies”—should be followed, or how to “transition” to Afghan responsibility. Pursuant to its ultimate aim of transitioning security responsibilities to Afghan forces, ISAF ceased combat operations and was disbanded in December 2014. A number of troops remained to serve a supporting and advisory role as part of its successor organization, the Resolute Support Mission.

The decision to launch a follow-on, NATO-led non-combat mission to continue supporting the development of the Afghan security forces after the end of ISAF’s mission in December 2014 was jointly agreed between Allies and partners with the Afghan government at the NATO Summit in Chicago in 2012. This commitment was reaffirmed at the Wales Summit in 2014.

Resolute Support was a NATO-led, non-combat mission. The mission was established at the invitation of the Afghan government and in accordance with United Nations (UN) Security Council Resolution 2189 of 2014. Its purpose was to help the Afghan security forces and institutions develop the capacity to defend Afghanistan and protect its citizens in the long term. 38 Countries (Albania, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Mongolia, Netherlands, New Zealand, North Macedonia, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom an United States) had posted their personnel to the mission in Afghanistan at different points in time.

In February 2020, the United States and the Taliban signed an agreement on the withdrawal of international forces from Afghanistan by May 2021.

On 14 April 2021, recognising that there is no military solution to the challenges Afghanistan faces, the Allies decided to start the withdrawal of RSM forces by 1 May 2021.

NATO’s assumption of ISAF command on the one hand, and ISAF expansion on the other did not go hand in hand with a total revision of the DOD’s (US Department of Defence) position. Not only the sentiments of the “unilateralist” major US but the emotions of the non-Muslim world post “9/11”, which pushed NATO to be engaged in Afghanistan as intensely as possible − even without clearly defined political goals. This was not a conscious project but an unintended result of the colluding interests of the political masters in NATO countries with those of their administrative cadres. UN was made the Accidental Front.

The Afghans now have suffered generation after generation of not just continuous warfare but humanitarian crises, one after the other, and the world has to remember that this is not a civil war that the Afghans started among themselves that the rest of the world got sucked into. This situation was triggered by an outside invasion, initially by the Soviet Union, during the Cold War, and since then the country has been a battleground for regional and global powers seeking their own security by trying to militarily intervene in Afghanistan, whether it be the United States after 2001, the C.I.A. in the nineteen-eighties, Pakistan through its support first for the Mujahedeen and later the Taliban, or Iran and its clients. To blame Afghans for not getting their act together in light of that history is just wrong.

In the nineteen-nineties, there were only three governments in the world that recognized the Taliban: Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. And this time around, too, Pakistan will be one of them. It isn’t the nineties, but Pakistan is still in the same awkward place that it was last time around. The Saudis and the Emiratis have a new geopolitical outlook. But China is not the same country that it was in the nineties. How will China support Pakistan in trying to manage a second Taliban regime, especially one that may attract sanctions or other kinds of pressure from the United States and its allies is something to be watched? Flirting with Taliban will blow back on Pakistan in one way or another, be that in the form of international pressure or instability.

Biden Administration is unlikely to change its policy. US cannot reverse the Taliban’s momentum without bombing Afghanistan to shards. US can certainly take responsibility for the lion’s share of the response to this unfolding humanitarian crisis to arrest the setting in of another massive refugee flow, which could certainly have political consequences.

US does what it likes – be it in Korea, Vietnam, Persian Gulf, Iraq or Afghanistan – the rest of the countries either support or keep quiet, few feeble voices of dissent are barely audible noises.

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First posted on 28 Aug 2021

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B-Schools Gone Adrift

Harvard Business School defines its mission as “(t)o educate leaders who make a difference in the world.” Tuck School of Business states its mission as, “Tuck develops wise, decisive leaders who better the world through business.” Stanford Graduate School of Business aims to “(c)reate ideas that deepen and advance our understanding of management and with those ideas to develop innovative, principled, and insightful leaders who change the world,” and MIT’s Sloan School of Management says “(t)o develop principled, innovative leaders who improve the world and to generate ideas that advance management practice.”  INSEAD, the business school for the world, has the mission: “We bring together people, cultures and ideas to develop responsible leaders who transform business and society”

IIMA aims “(t)o continue to be recognized as a premier global management school operating at the frontiers of management education and practice while creating a progressive and sustainable impact on society.” IIMB has an elaborate mission statement, “Nurture innovative global business leaders, entrepreneurs, policy-makers and social change agents through holistic and transformative education – Provide thought leadership that is contextually embedded and socially relevant and makes positive impact – Pursue excellence in education and thought leadership simultaneously without making any trade-offs.” IIM Kolkata states its mission as, “(t)o develop innovative and ethical future leaders capable of managing change and transformation in a globally competitive environment and to advance the theory and practice of management.”

It is clearly discernible from the above that the top-ranked Business Schools of the world are now about ‘leaders’ and ‘leadership’ where ‘management’ is sometimes mentioned in the passing and ‘business’ is practically absent. Some scholars argue that although management and leadership overlap, the two activities are not synonymous. Furthermore, the degree of overlap is a point of disagreement. In fact, some individual see them as extreme opposites, and they believe that good leader cannot be a good manager and the opposite is true.

It is also clear that business schools have substituted leadership paradigm for the managerial one in stating their mission or purpose. The consequential question that emerges is whether the leadership paradigm constitutes an adequate foundation for a professional business school. One of the central features of a bona fide profession is possession of a coherent body of expert knowledge erected on a well-developed theoretical foundation.

Despite tens of thousands of studies and writings on leadership since the days of the Ohio State Leadership Studies, several scholarly reviews of the literature on leadership have found little progress in the field. Most studies failed to even define the terms ‘leader’ and ‘leadership.’ There are almost as many definitions of leadership as there are persons who have attempted to define the concept. Competing theories abound. We find great men theories, trait theories, environmental theories, person-situation theories, interaction-expectation theories, humanistic theories, exchange theories, behavioural theories and perceptual and cognitive theories. The dynamics of leadership have remained very much a puzzle. We still know little about what makes a good leader. Research that aims to decipher intrapsychic thought processes and resulting actions involves the study of “psycho-political drama” that relates managerial personality both to role behaviour and to the administrative setting.

In business schools in India, leadership is possibly being taught, using an ad hoc, convenience based amalgam of any of three distinctly different approaches, each of which possesses a certain validity but no one of which in whole or in part, make up for an element of a genuinely professional education. The first approach focuses on content and the transmission of explicit knowledge derived from academic theories in the fields of psychology, sociology, and economics. A second approach focuses on the development of interpersonal skills and their application to small-group situations. In this approach, leadership is conceptualized as tacit knowledge that must be mastered through hands-on practice rather than as a matter of explicit knowledge or content. A third approach associates leadership with personal growth and self-discovery and focuses on giving students opportunities for personal development. This approach gives students a great deal of freedom to explore personal values and use a variety of exercises and self-assessments, such as the MBTI, in an attempt to help students integrate discoveries about themselves into their career choices and professional lives.

Thoughts of leaders and leadership bring a wide array of images to mind, often conveying emotional reactions. Some leaders elicit thoughts of strength, power, and care; others recall the forces of terror, malevolence, and destructiveness. Our pervasive judgments of a leader’s degree of goodness or evil are reflected in epithets such as Ashoka the Great, Alexander the Great or Akbar the Great yet not everyone agrees that they were all great. For some, they were ‘the terrible.’

Our most secret desire, the one that inspires all our deeds and designs, is “to be praised.” Yet we never confess this because to announce such a pitiful and humiliating weakness arising from a sense of loneliness and insecurity, a feeling that afflicts both the fortunate and the unfortunate with equal intensity, seems dishonourable. We are not sure of who we are or what do we do. Full as we may be of our own worth, we are distressed by anxiety and long to receive approval from no matter where or no matter whom. Evidence shows that because narcissistic personalities are often driven by intense needs for power and prestige to assume positions of authority and leadership, individuals with such characteristics are found rather frequently in top leadership positions.

All people show signs of narcissistic behaviour, albeit of differing magnitudes. Among individuals who possess only limited narcissistic tendencies, there are those who are very talented and capable of making great contributions to society. Those who incline toward the extremes, however, give narcissism its negative reputation. Excesses of rigidity, narrowness, resistance, and discomfort in dealing with the external environment is very evident in those cases. The managerial implications of narcissism can be both dramatic and crucial.

Leaders may thus be seen to occupy different positions on a spectrum ranging from healthy narcissism to pathology. These are not distinct categories. These are factors that distinguish between health and dysfunction of the leader. To understand the different types of narcissistic orientations beginning with the most unreasonable and proceeding toward the more functional, it is easier to look at three sets (black, grey and white), which could be referred to as reactive, self-deceptive and constructive (adaptive). In practice, however, a distinction may be more difficult to make. The influence of each of these configuration on interpersonal relations and decision making in a managerial context are different. Does an MBA degree programme add to or mellow down the degree of narcissism amongst the graduates? 

Not having answers to the dilemmas that are described above does not prevent me from raising some questions, though I am not sure, to whom these be addressed to – leaders or managers, of business or business schools:

  • Is it time to stop referring to MBA schools as Business Schools and rechristen them as LEADERSHIP SCHOOLS?
  • Since the focus has shifted to Leadership, is it leadership in any specific walk of life, some limited facets of life or in every walk of life? Are politics, diplomacy, government, security included?
  • Is crisis leadership (response in emergency and unforeseen situations like Mumbai terrorist attacks or shut-downs due to COVID-19) included or is immaterial being no different?
  • Since the words ‘business’ and ‘administration’ are now out from the mission statements of these schools, should an MBA degree be rechristened as an ML (Leadership) in its most expansive form or MBL (Business Leadership) in its most narrow orientation or something in between?

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First published 11 Aug 21

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Entrepreneurship Development– But where are the Potential Entrepreneurs?

The underlying metaphor of so much of our thinking, though we rarely think of it as a metaphor, is our much celebrated idea of ‘the individual’ and, in business especially, ‘the self-made man or woman.’ But even a genius has to be sufficiently steeped in the culture that makes his or her invention possible. We will never understand the world of business, or for that matter any other human world, unless we begin with human interrelations and how people fit into cultures, organizations, and institutions.

One business hero of particular interest, especially in light of current corporate uncertainty, is the entrepreneur. The entrepreneur, according to the familiar John Wayne imagery (John Wayne was a legendary American cowboy hero of numerous epic Western films), is the lone frontiersman who single-handedly sets up an industry or perhaps establishes a whole new world. The myth is part and parcel of a much older American myth, the myth of individualism, the myth of the solitary hero. The entrepreneur simply brings John Wayne up-to-date and puts him firmly at the centre of the business world.

Loosely put, the world of business is made possible through an established set of practices, in which implicit rules, tacit knowledge, and collective values, needs, and understandings are the principal structure. It is not the individual motives and attributes or individual personalities that make the world of business. It may be true that behind every successful business is some entrepreneur, that is, one of those relatively rare individuals who is both creative and business-minded, who is willing to take considerable risks and work single-mindedly to turn a dream into a marketable reality. But corporations, once formed, do not operate on the same risk-prone, creative principles that motivated the originator of the business, and the corporate world could not possibly function if, as we so often hear, everyone were to aspire to be an entrepreneur.

Who is an entrepreneur and what is entrepreneurship? We probably think that the answer is obvious, but like the buzz-words and other fads being doled out in the quest for ‘intellectualisation of the domain of management,’ expressions like strategy, business-model and entrepreneurship are all pliant. Managers describe entrepreneurship with such terms as innovative, flexible, dynamic, risk taking, creative, and growth oriented. The popular press, on the other hand, often defines the term as starting and operating new ventures. For some, it refers to venture capital-backed start-ups and their kin; for others, to any small business. For some, corporate-entrepreneurship is a rallying cry while others consider it as an oxymoron.  Some people think of entrepreneurship as a specific stage in an organization’s life cycle (i.e., start-up), a specific role for an individual (i.e., founder), or a constellation of personality attributes (e.g., predisposition for risk taking; preference for independence). People have different perceptions of an entrepreneur – an Inventor or discoverer or innovator or an upstart in business clamouring and struggling for survival of his start-up and dreaming for growth through scaling-up and scoping-up to a successful and stable enterprise or simply selling off the start-up at a premium.

The continuing corporate obsession with the almost mythological character called the entrepreneur is both unrealistic and, if taken seriously, counterproductive. Most people are not entrepreneurial. Cheapening the word by taking any initiative or innovation as entrepreneurship only fogs our understanding about what this phenomenon really is. Entrepreneurship is itself a social practice, and it consists, in part, of appreciating marginal or neglected aspects of more general social practices.

The history of the word “entrepreneurship” is fascinating. Without getting into those details and controversies, whether entrepreneurship is an inborn personality-trait or a learned behaviour, let us focus on the definition formulated by Professor Howard Stevenson, the Godfather of entrepreneurship studies. For Stevenson, entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity beyond resources controlled. Entrepreneurship is thus a distinctive approach to managing.

To simplify this understanding, it is useful to view managerial behaviour in terms of extremes. At one extreme is what might be called the promoter type of manager, who feels confident of his or her ability to seize opportunity. This manager expects surprises and expects not only to adjust to change but also to capitalise on it and make things happen. At the other extreme is the trustee type, who feels threatened by change and the unknown and whose inclination is to rely on the status quo. To the trustee type, predictability fosters effective management of existing resources while unpredictability endangers them. Most people, of course, fall somewhere between the extremes. But it’s safe to say that as managers move closer to the promoter end of the scale they become more entrepreneurial, and as they move toward the trustee end of the scale they become less so (or, perhaps, more administrative).

Relentless focus with a sense of urgency in pursuit of a break, the opportunity may entail:

  1. Pioneering a truly innovative product;
  2. Devising a new business model;
  3. Creating a better or cheaper version of an existing product; or
  4. Targeting an existing product to new sets of customers.

These opportunity types are not mutually exclusive. For example, a new venture might employ a new business model for an innovative product. Likewise, the list above is not the collectively exhaustive set of opportunities available to organizations.

Many profit improvement opportunities are not novel, and thus are not entrepreneurial, for example, raising the price of a product or, hiring more field-sales-reps once a firm has a scalable sales strategy.

Before there can be entrepreneurship there must be the potential for entrepreneurship, whether in a community seeking to develop or in a large organization seeking to innovate. Entrepreneurial potential, however, requires potential entrepreneurs. Opportunities are seized by those who are prepared to seize them. Entrepreneurial activity does not occur in a vacuum. Instead, it is deeply embedded in a cultural and social context, often amid a web of human networks that are both social and economic. A group, an organization or a community could be entrepreneurial without necessarily having any discernible entrepreneurs per se. The group, organization, or community need not be already rich in entrepreneurs, but should have the potential for increasing entrepreneurial activity. Such potential exists in economically self-renewing communities and organizations. Regardless of the existing level of entrepreneurial activity, such “seedbeds” establish fertile ground for potential entrepreneurs when and where they perceive a personally viable opportunity.

Any agenda for developing Entrepreneurship and birthing Entrepreneurs rests on the basic understanding of the following very minimum requirements:

  • Identifying and establishing policies that increase both their perceived feasibility and their perceived desirability.

Creating social perceptions that entrepreneurial activity is both desirable and feasible.

Entrepreneurs prefer being seen as benefiting their communities, not as exploiting them.

  • Providing a “nutrient-rich” environment for potential entrepreneurs.

Credible information, credible role models, along with emotional and psychological support as well as more tangible resources

Opportunities to attempt innovative things at relatively low risk, e.g., trying and failing can be OK.

Training interested people in critical competencies, raising their self-efficacy at key entrepreneurial tasks. We must also make resources both available and visible.

Increasing the diversity of possible opportunities

  • For developing Intrapreneurship and Intrapreneurs (Entrepreneurship and Entrepreneurs within the Corporate Ventures)

Increasing perceptions of positive outcomes for internal venturing, including intrinsic rewards such as a supportive culture

Providing opportunities for managers to run an independent project or any of the existing entrepreneurial vehicles for channelling innovation and entrepreneurship.

Innovation in most organizations is inherently “illegitimate” as it unavoidably disrupts the status quo. Downsizing typically leads to less innovation. Stability, not innovation alone, makes companies and their people secure and successful.

Educators can help to increase perceptions of feasibility of entrepreneurship and desirability, not just for prospective entrepreneurs but also for community and its institutional leaders.

Globalisation has erased the line between business and International Business. Opportunities, all over the Globe, can now be pursued from anywhere in the world. India is parroting the western practice of introducing Entrepreneurship related courses in business schools, launching skills-universities, promoting Incubation Centres (New Enterprise Development Centres) and financing Entrepreneurship Development Centres (Training). Surely, there can be no single-universal prescription to such large initiatives. There is no visible evidence however, if these efforts have even considered the very basics of segmenting the target beneficiaries or customers for such relentless efforts. To illustrate the point, there are no noticeable signs of entrepreneurship education providers segmenting their market using any of the simple Segmentation bases (there are many more) for targeting their efforts:

DEMOGRAPHICS

  • Gender: women
  • Age: youth/young age
  • Minorities

DELIVERY PREFERENCES

  • Classroom, on-line, interactive

INDUSTRIES

  • Technology
  • Music/Leisure
  • Medical services
  • Others

STAGE OF ENTREPRENEUR/BUSINESS LIFECYCLE

  • Pre-start-up decision entrepreneurs
  • Nascent/intention entrepreneurs
  • Start-up entrepreneurs
  • Early growth: consolidation
  • Growth entrepreneurs
  • Corporate entrepreneurs
  • Cashed out entrepreneurs
  • Serial entrepreneurs

PSYCHOGRAPHICS

  • Activities, interests, attitudes, beliefs, opinions

The intent is honourable. One does not know though, the depth and width of thought going into designing and executing the effort.  Developing Entrepreneurship in India requires Entrepreneurs not Administrators.

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First Published 07 Aug 21

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Do You Trust NAAC Accreditation?

As per the University Grants Commission, https://www.ugc.ac.in/oldpdf/consolidated%20list%20of%20all%20universities.pdf , there are 988 universities comprising of 54 central universities, 429 state universities, 380 private universities and 125 deemed to be universities in India as on 18 June 2021.

Of the 318 Universities shown as having valid accreditation by the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC), 9 universities are graded as A++ (the highest possible grade), 36 are graded as A+ and 147 are graded as A. This means 192 universities are ‘A’ Grade and only 126 universities are ‘B’ or ‘C’ Grade universities. Clearly, 68% of the universities are either unworthy of accreditation or they do not give a damn about NAAC.

This information is gleamed from the Microsoft Excel file named ‘Institutions-accredited-by-NAAC-whose-accreditation-period-is-valid.xls, downloaded from the link titled ‘Institutions with valid accreditation’ from the site http://www.naac.gov.in/2-uncategorised/32-accreditation-status accessed on 29 June 2021.

The National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC), established in 1994 for addressing concern on the quality and relevance of the higher education, is an autonomous institution of the University Grants Commission (UGC).

QS World University Rankings 2022 seems to have failed in capturing such excellence of Indian Universities since they do not rank even one University from India in the top-500 in the World. Institutions ranked lower than 500 are those, which do not score even 30% marks on cumulative ratings. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/see-behind-curtain-qs-world-university-rankings-2022-mukul-gupta

What is the likelihood that QS World University Rankings are anti-India? Is there any possibility that we have designed NAAC as a system of self-adulation for concealing the fault line within? Or is it merely coincidental that NAAC is happy to accredit and certify mediocrity as excellence? Is NAAC happy crowning a meagre figure among cyphers as enormous? Is NAAC failing in its purpose?

Most scholars in higher education system and administrators in the Education Ministry know the truth about NAAC. Keeping their mouths shut and feigning ignorance of such academic malpractices is not anything surprising amongst Indian academia. Remaining miser in allowing excellence and becoming benevolent in tolerating ordinariness is the hallmark of academics in higher education, may be because of their personal inadequacies and self-doubts.

‘You scratch my back and I scratch yours’ seems to define the peer-relationships amongst Indian academics where they work for selfish mutual benefits rather than the glory of education. Being a defiant juvenile in the Indian Education system, I am unable to forget a Sanskrit subhashit taught to me by my teacher Shri Chandra Shekhar Dwivedi;

उष्ट्राणां च गृहे लग्नं गीतं गायन्ति गर्दभा: परस्परं प्रशंसन्ति अहो रूपं अहो ध्वनि:

The government needs to wake up to the deep divide between the goals and virtues that NAAC is advocating (कथनी) and what NAAC is doing (करनी).  One who cares for the Indian Education would expose rather than cover such hypocrisy (मिथ्‍याचार) of NAAC.

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First Published 30 June 2021

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COVID-19 – Lessons so far

Corona Virus pandemic has taught us a complex and contradictory set of lessons. On the positive side, the pandemic confirmed the importance of droplet and contact infection. The pandemic travelled as fast as the modern transportation could take it around, confirming that it was human bodies that spread it. 

On the negative side of the lessons from the pandemic is that it is exceedingly difficult to get an urban population to stay at home. People need to work so they can eat; parents want their children to go to school; businesses dependent on customers, whether department stores or movie theatre operators, do not want to close down.

Hence, the most practical strategy in dealing with COVID-19 is been: move quickly to isolate the acutely ill in hospital wards or at home, under professional care and roll-out an intensive public education effort about personal hygiene to everyone else.

It is learned that it is not easy to get the public to practice the rules of modern nose/ mouth/ hand hygiene. Even at the height of the pandemic, educated and well informed people broke the rules. It appears that COVID-19 has been a ‘simple to understand, but difficult to control’ pandemic. Perhaps the most demonstrably useful methods of protection are certain forms of quarantine and isolation but, under conditions of modern life these are not readily applicable. In spite of being difficult to apply and uncertain of success as it may be, the minimizing of contact seems at present to offer the best chance we have of controlling the ravages of covid-19. Our response to the next wave of pandemic COVID-19 will likely confirm these lessons.

This odd combination of futility and certainty would continue to characterize summaries of the ‘lessons learned’ from the pandemic. In the field of prevention little real progress has been made. It will therefore be justifiable to increase the emphasis already placed on the COVID-19 patient as a definite focus of infection and to adopt reasonable measures to reduce crowding and direct contact to a minimum during a period of epidemic prevalence.

The opportunities for self-protection by individuals lie along the same line: avoidance of crowds and of direct contact with COVID patients and with people suffering from the infection; rigorous avoidance of the use of common drinking glasses, common towels and the like; and scrupulous hand washing before eating. Techniques of safe coughing and sneezing should be taught to people. A careless sneeze from an infected person without a mask or a face-cover is a super-spreader.

Vaccination is a saviour but not a licence to break the discipline of personal and social hygiene.

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First published 14 Aug 21

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Politics of Commotion: Superficial Dialogue through Digital and Social Media

Over the last several years, we are witnessing, may be not perceiving it seriously, that political discourse in India is now getting confined to TV and Social Media and is commandeered by the scheduling consideration of these media options.

To enable the TV editors to gather participants for the debates and encapsulate content for prime time viewing, the messages are created no later than 5:00 pm. Likewise, to ensure proper rest for the media persons and the message sources, political activities, agitations, rallies, sloganeering, press-conferences, are all usually held after 10:00 am but before 2:00 pm.

The use and proliferation of digital and social media has radically changed both the way we are using language and the way we are ‘doing politics’ these days. Virtual space has now become the ‘natural habitat’ of an increasing number of individuals around the world; a space where they engage in discussions, work, shop, bank, hangout, relax, vote, find love partners, conduct their day-to-day activities, and so forth. A large proportion of day-to-day verbal and visual communication has migrated to various participatory web platforms. Social media have been hailed as either emancipatory tools contributing to a more participatory democracy, creating instant awareness about different social issues, a new public space of sorts (‘Arab Spring’ and the ‘Occupy’ movement are two widely cited examples).

A public sphere is a space of political communication and access to resources that allow citizens to participate in it. In this sense, given the exclusionary and commodified character of digital and social media, they cannot be considered as public spheres nor should they raise our hopes that revolution will be tweeted. Social and digital Media is dominated by corporations that make money by exploiting and commodifying users and this is why they can never be truly participatory. On a serious consideration, digital and social media are just another tool of control and containment, a profoundly depoliticising arena that fetishizes technology leading to a denial of a more fundamental political disempowerment.

One can realize the magnitude and impact of the medium if they consider that in the famous ‘Russia meddling,’ posts from a Russian company had reached the newsfeeds of 126 million users on Facebook during the 2016 US election and hundreds of thousands of bots posted political messages during the election on Twitter alone.

Digital and Social media is a new kind of an effective political instrument that, in the context of advanced capitalism, both dehumanizes politics and struggles and absolves people from the guilt of inertia in the face of major social and economic crises. It serves as an escape from the stress of intelligence, the pain and tension which accompany autonomous mental activity. Social Media is actually an effective anaesthesia against the mind in its socially disturbing, critical functions – leading to the knocking out of the mental agitation. Social media, as tools for producing and consuming different kinds of texts promotes a one-dimensional discourse. Consider the characteristics of Twitter’s one-dimensional discourse:

Language used in Twitter is short, fragmented and decontextualized: it is a language that tends to express and promote the immediate identification of reason and fact, truth and established truth, essence and existence, the thing and its function leaving no room for a dialogue and counter-reason. Twitter demands simplicity, promotes impulsivity, and fosters incivility.

Digital media takes the pedestal of instrumental and technological rationality and reduce audiences to the status of commodities and consumers of advertisements.  Such audience commodities that the media consumers become themselves are than sold as an audience to the advertising clients of the media.

Face-book, Twitter and other sites serve as an escape from the mechanised work process, and a breather to muster strength in order to be able to cope with the next round of work again. This allows social media to be marketed as entertainment – an entertainment that is accessible, on demand, any time and every time. For this entertainment to remain as a pleasure, it must not demand any effort of independent thinking from the audience. This constructs an involvement through inertia that creates a false sense of participation, security, homogeneity and consensus. Everyone is presumed to be a producer as well as a consumer of content, and the meaning of the messages get lost.

While there is around-the-clock exposure, constant access, and immediacy (all content is immediately available for reading and commenting), the message in the digital and social media is often decontextualized. The context is always that of-the-moment, limiting broader interpretations, connections and exploration of ramifications. Such content have a planned obsolescence, as the next programme or tweet will draw even more attention, commentary, visibility, and currency. The contents history is the here and now, as an ongoing critique of reality. Meaning loses history.

It comes, then, as no surprise that digital and social media have been serving as the ideal medium for populist parties and their leaders promoting the Politics of Commotion.  Digital and social media constitute an alternative to the mainstream media. Political campaigns started using social media as early as 2009, but it was with the 2019 General Elections that their use was taken to the next level.

Today, most political figures and parties use digital and social media platforms to disseminate their agendas and this has largely changed the way politics is conducted. This is a time when politics is ‘branded’ through social media. While democracies need liberation of the individuals from politics over which they have no effective control,  it seems that digital and social media have a firm grip on a large percentage of the our population, while people, in turn, have no control over digital and social media.

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First published 05 Aug 21

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