Ethics in Tangents: Part 1 – Lessons on Inequity of Risks and Benefits

In a lecture on radiation safety, the teacher had veered a bit into the ethics of peaceful uses of nuclear energy. He explained that it has to be ensured that those working at nuclear establishments for larger good of the society (e.g., energy production, diagnosis & treatment in medicine) despite facing risks to health & life, must be adequately compensated as not all the benefits that arise off their work go to those working. A logic similar in line has been laid out by the International Commission on Radiological Protection (IRCP) [click] in their (PDF) document on their History, Policies, Principles (click to download):

For equity reasons (because those who are exposed are not necessarily those who gain by a practice) some dose or risk limitation is necessary to prevent the optimised situation from being one where a few individuals receive inappropriately high doses.

It was agreed between the teacher and the students that that compensation to the workers is in the form of the salary they draw. But that got me thinking: is that really so, more so in the government-controlled nuclear establishments in India? Do those working at high-risk places get higher pay as compared to those doing the same work in low-risk environments? Does for instance, an office clerk working in precincts of a nuclear establishment draw a larger salary than one working in a college administrative office? Answer, as of now is “no”. Why is that so?

My above thoughts were tangential to what was being discussed in the class (though, I would return to them later). The teacher went on to assert that if nuclear establishment worker gets monetarily compensated for the risk he/she takes, then the converse must also hold true, i.e., all those who derive benefit from existence of such establishments must face a non-zero quantum of risk. Well, that made perfect sense to me. And that is how he justified the risks posed to the general public by the operation of facilities with radioinuclides [click] (those forms of elements that emit ionizing radiation, which have potential for health hazards). As an aside, I came across this (click) blog post, which explains how risks posed by waste routinely generated from nuclear power plants have been overestimated by many [note: the article does not cite many sources, moreover, it does not cover risks posed by nuclear accidents, but to the best of my knowledge is quite correct].

Later, the teacher also explained how the principle of ALARA (click)As Low As Reasonably Achievable that the ICRP uses for (radiation) dose-optimization has a flaw. Why what risk (radiation dose) I find reasonable for the benefits I derive, should also be reasonable to my neighbor? What alternative does one who applies most stringent threshold for radiation exposure have if the majority in an area consent to a higher dose? This led me to think about the representative form of governance. It allows a small number of people to take decisions on behalf of a very large number of people who ironically would be influenced much greatly by such decisions. So possibly, not just a minority, but even the majority in a constituency could be opposed to construction and operation of nuclear establishment in their vicinity, and yet the government (small number of individuals) would have the legitimate authority to overrule such a wish. But this ethical predicament is taken care of by the assumption that the electorate would choose with greatest conviction (and hence, numbers) a person they trust the most to take decisions in their best interest. This was just an offshoot of thoughts in my mind, and I would not like to comment any further on this aspect of representative form of democracy.

Returning to one of the original predicaments: why would a clerk working for a nuclear establishment in India not be paid more than another clerk working in an administrative office of a college despite the former facing a greater risk to health and life? It is not difficult to answer – unemployment. Of course, there could be other reasons too for the said clerk not demanding a higher pay, e.g., ignorance of the risks posed by working there. But yet, I believe the biggest reason is unemployment. The state of employment market, even in government sector, whether we realize or not, is greatly influenced by demand-supply factors. The said clerk does not have any bargaining power. The moment he would say, “I want higher pay for the additional risk I would be facing”, the government would tell, “fuck off! Next!”. So obviously, our clerk is not going to make such a plea. Because he would know that there are many people with his kind of abilities seeking livelihood. If not him, someone else would take his place. This brings us to a somewhat intuitively obvious inference – the money that can be earned from doing a job is a function of:

1. Number of people wanting a job done. Greater the demand for a job, greater would be the pay.

2. Number of people willing to do that job. More the number of people willing to do the job, greater would be the bargaining power of those wanting the job done. Thus lesser would be the amount paid.

3. Number of people capable of doing that job. Greater the skill/training/experience a particular job requires, fewer would be the people capable of doing that job.

While, I had been vaguely aware of above factors, I was made to think more about them during one of my train journeys from Delhi to Mumbai. I had a very heavy luggage with me, mostly consisting of books – could have exceeded 100 kg. Whatever be the exact weight, I had to engage a porter to carry my luggage to the platform. I had another friend with me, and what the porters had demanded was exorbitant amount – to the tune of Rs. 800 for all the luggage. Seeing the weight of luggage, I was alright with that amount, but my friend was not. So, we engaged only two porters instead of three or four that would have been required. The arrangement obviously required us to carry quite a bit of luggage ourselves – covering a distance of about 300 m. By the time we had accomplished the task we were totally exhausted, and needless to say, a few of our muscles must have got pulled. But for me, the ordeal was not over yet! My train was scheduled to depart a couple of hours after my friend’s – and from a different platform! Basically, I had accompanied him from the hostel for the sake of keeping him company. Before he boarded his train, we had engaged another porter to shift my luggage to the platform where my train was to arrive. He and I had carried some luggage so that only one porter would be required. But it so turned out that my train coach was to stop at a faraway point from where we had parked my luggage. So, I had no option but to ask yet another porter to carry my luggage from the original position to the appropriate spot on the platform – this time, just to transfer the luggage form one segment of the platform to another. Weirdly, there were no trolleys at the New Delhi railway station. I suspect, it could be because of the lobbying by porters’ association as that would increase their earning. But that is besides the point. The third (and the last time) I had required porter’s service, I was so exhausted (and also in pain), that how much I was paying was least of my concerns! It could be pointed out that I could have better planned the whole thing, and saved some odd hundred or so rupees, but again that is besides the point. The incident brought one thing to my attention. Whatever amount one pays the porter, it is basically less than what he ‘deserves’. You might ask how?

My inference follows from one assumption, i.e., “no one likes to part with the money they have”. So, if you pay amount ‘x’ to the porter, you’ve the option of not giving that money. How? By carrying your luggage yourself. Carrying luggage is a very simple job – it does not require much specialized skill. Yes, if you are alone, then you might not be able to carry the luggage yourself, as you might have to make more than one round to carry all of it. But in most cases, people hire a porter’s service because they are uncomfortable doing the job themselves. It is to avoid exhaustion and pain that carrying the luggage would cause. So, if despite having the option to carry the luggage yourself, and not lose the amount x in the process, that you agree to lose it only proves that you would have not carried that much luggage for someone else to earn amount x. Now just pause for a moment and think:

For what amount of money would you be ready to carry for someone else the same luggage that you ask the porter to carry?

I believe, some of the middle class/upper middle class or upper class persons would feel offended at being asked such a question. But that is not totally besides the point. Just kindly note the contempt some might feel for the job of carrying others’ luggage or for the persons doing so, so much so that this question itself would lead to perceived offense. Anyway, returning to the point. For instance, on that day I had to pay up around Rs. 300 to the porters. Would I carry that much luggage as the porters did for me for someone else for Rs. 300? No, I will not. Yet, I felt the porters had charged me pretty steeply! Is that not weird? How much would I charge to carry that much luggage? I indeed thought about it. Not less than Rs. 2000!

My current income is stipendiary. In not very distant future, I would get to earn at least Rs. 2000 per day, doing almost totally sedentary work. Would I like to earn my livelihood the way those porters do? Definitely not. Would the porter like to earn his livelihood the way I would get to do? Almost certainly yes. Which means, the work he is doing is much more difficult than what I would be doing to earn, yet he earns significantly less than what I would. And as obvious corollary, I would earn much better than him despite doing a more pleasant and less painful job. Is something not strange about this equation?

Of course, it is not difficult to figure out that this situation has come about because relatively fewer people would have gained my kind of knowledge and training as compared to the bare minimum ‘skills’ required to carry heavy luggage. But at least in countries like India, do all people really get the opportunity, and subsequent choice of how to earn their livelihood? So though we do largely have free job market as far as influence that demand and supply exercise on amounts paid by people in return of services is concerned, but it has got highly monopolized. It has got monopolized because acquisition of those skills that enable earning relatively easily are beyond reach of the majority of population. The porters who had carried my luggage must have never got the opportunity to acquire those skills. Their children are unlikely to get opportunity to get the education to escape out of what has almost become a vicious cycle.

The realization of this inequity of opportunities is not new for me. Apart from movies, TV programs and short stories in textbooks that had sensitized me to these harsh realities, what had brought me face-to-face with them was my stay in a hostel during my graduation. There in the mess, as helps we used to have boys – some of them could have been below the age of 14 years (which would qualify as “child labour” in India, and is illegal). That it was illegal was the least of the problems with the situation. Those who are aware of the ground realities in India would appreciate that there is no infrastructure to support such children. Their parents are usually so poor that despite government (claiming to) provide free education and mid-day meal, etc., children who do not start working are seen as liabilities by parents. It is also possible that a few of them could be orphans.

A vast majority of students (the GenNext, if you may) were so comfortable with ordering them around. Scolding them for food badly prepared by the cook. Some of the angry students would not shy from using incestual expletives (“mother fucker”, e.g.). I am not saying, ”Haww, students were so indecent as to use ‘bad words’”, but what had always shocked me was the comfort and the authority with which that contempt was held. The acceptance of master-slave relationship was mutual and apparent on both sides. The idea that one set of human beings were “first class”, and another set were “second class” was so strongly ingrained in the collective psyche that I used to find the environment nauseating. I am not a very intrusive person by nature. So I hardly said anything to anyone. Yet, to some of the closer friends, I used to point out if they were to get rude in terms of ”what is his fault”? Since they were close to me, my friends would apologize to me, and correct their behavior for some time. However, what I could invariably notice was that they would do so because they would feel their behavior had not been ‘proper’, or because they should be ‘nice’ to people. In other words, even the courtesy shown (upon prompting) was an outcome of self-serving narcissism. The very fundamental idea of egalitarianism never occurred to them. It never occurred to them that the people they were putting in a mental effort to be ‘nice’ with, were just as much humans as them, and that they had as much right as them to live, to breath the same air as them, to just be happy! Just because they were bringing food from the kitchen for them, and carrying their plates back after they would have finished their meal does not in any way push them to a lower stratum. The work they were doing was a service, for which they were being paid. Seeing those children, some of who were only a few years younger than me (I had entered the hostel at the age of 17), I used to remain in a state of perennial guilt:

As compared to them, what different have I done to deserve these opportunities in life? How are the ways of the world such that these children are seen as inferior beings as compared to me? What is their fault? How in the scheme of things of the world, they had become the lower stratum of the society, the secondary citizens? Whatever I am today or I will be in future, as compared to these kids, would always remain undeserved – however ‘hard’ I work towards it.

Somewhere down the line, I had happened to read Ayn Rand’s (click) two novels – ‘The Fountainhead’ and ‘Atlas shrugged’. I had become (and still am) quite impressed with the philosophy contained therein. But I realized two things about the main characters in the novels:

1. All of them might have had to struggle, but yet the society was never such that they would be deprived of basic education. Probably, the poorest of them all – Gail Waynand and Howard Roark (both found in The Fountainhead) had at least basic education [latter, in fact, had brought such circumstances upon himself that he was expelled from one of the better American architecture schools].

2. None of the major characters themselves had children. Only one of the somewhat prominent characters – Jed Starnes had children. He had died suddenly and hence had not had the opportunity to prepare his will (recalling from memory).

Despite the fact that Ayn Rand had spent her childhood in the erstwhile USSR, it seems she had not come across the kind of poverty and utter lack of opportunities to even study and gain knowledge to become ’employable’ with some bargaining power – that are seen in India. The reason perhaps her characters did not have children was because she might have not wanted them to face the ethical dilemma of how much time, money and emotions to invest in the children in case they would not turn out to be with same value system as their own. The central theme of her novels, as far as I could make out was: to value people in proportion to their attributes that could be objectively adjudged as ‘valuable’. Thus, children pose unique ethical predicament. On one hand parents owe them their nurture (investment of time, effort and emotions) because, children are never party to the decision of bringing them to life, i.e., children’s consent as to whether they would like to live and risk being unhappy or in pain, is never sought, which makes it obligatory on parents to try to provide them with such resources that children do not regret their parents’ unilateral (parents as one party) of bringing them to life. But on the other hand, objectivist philosophy would demand that one devote one’s time, money and emotions in persons only in proportion to their worth as determined by their attributes. However, children either do not possess any pervasive attributes, or if those attributes make them disfavored candidates to receive nurture, then what to do? I can imagine, Rand’s characters would bequeath their property and money, not to family members, but to some capable employee or colleague. But that is so unusual in our society! Perhaps to escape this dilemma Rand’s major characters did not have any children! I have not read the other works of Ayn Rand, so it is possible she might have dealt with this issue elsewhere, though I find it hard to understand how she could have resolved such a complex problem (perhaps she did not have any child despite being married for over 50 years to the same person).

The reason I discussed the above concept was to explain, how the concept of inheritance is ethically flawed. And it is inheritance of parents’ nurture (and the opportunities that come with it), affluence, social status, etc. that basically leads to monopolization of resources to acquire ‘higher-order’ skills that are required to gain greater bargaining skills in the employment market (education and vocational training). This concept of inheritance brings with it a strange condition, wherein, whether a person will die of hunger before turning five, or would struggle as a child laborer, or enjoy a middle class education and opportunities for ‘upward mobility’ through the social and economic strata, or would be born at the very top with the proverbial silver spoon in the mouth – are determined to a very great degree and in current Indian economic situation irreversibly so by just one factor – PURE CHANCE. In absolute terms, a child before even getting to commit any acts so as to display recognizable traits, which in turn would be required to determine ‘what’ the child deserves as a person (‘good’ v/s ‘bad’ things), becomes largely destined to one or the other social and economic stratum. All this happens without the humanity getting an opportunity to determine how ‘deserving’ the child is and of what!

The situation is so bad in India possibly because means to basic survival are much more difficult to acquire here than in the Western countries, which in turn, I feel are because of India’s high fertility rate and population density.

Now, trying to apply all that I had inferred and speculated in this free-wheeling write up up till now, let us assume India’s population density would have been less than what it is now:

1. The porter who carried my luggage would have had access to much better education. This because, the overall production of goods (needed for basic survival) would remain the same (most of the rural population currently is afflicted with high degree of disguised unemployment), but would be distributed among much fewer people. Hence, the porter’s parents would not be worried about having their household income augmented by making their son work.

2. He might have become a teacher or a clerk or a doctor or an engineer.

3. There would have been much fewer porters at the New Delhi railway station.

4. Whoever would now be the porter at the railway station would have had much better bargaining power. Possibly, he would have earned more than Rs. 5000 a day instead of Rs. 500 that he currently might be earning.

5. His children would also get to study in schools and be at par with ‘middle class’ as far as opportunities for skill acquisition would be concerned.

6. Because there would be a paucity of porters, coupled with his good income, he would be respected.

Almost the same analysis as above could be applied to helps in the hostel mess. Likewise, those working at nuclear establishments would be able to realistically demand a higher pay for risking their lives and health.

Those who manage to read this post till the end might be wondering, what is the big deal?! Meaning, everyone knows that India’s large population (density) is a liability. Apart from delineating the inferences I could draw from mundane experiences, and discussing broadly their ramifications in the field of ethics (something that we understand intuitively, but never get into the details of), one of the goals was to show how India’s large population density is has implications in areas as seemingly unrelated as nature of interpersonal relationships. It is not difficult to understand that with such acute differences in rights and opportunities that arise with economic disparities, friction amongst various classes is imminent. The incentive to move to the higher strata is much stronger. The idea of social hierarchy is so very deeply ingrained in our collective psyche that we never realize that it represents something very wrong! E.g., an educated (and higher earning) boss would be entitled to humiliate a comparably educated subordinate only because we love hierarchies! So, likewise the disincentive to stay in one’s socioeconomic strata is also very strong. No wonder, the worst target of these prevailing factors is ethics. Everything becomes fair in love and war. And everything becomes love and war. Upward mobilization is what counts.

To summarize:

1. Less desirable jobs should be high paying.

2. India’s overwhelming population density and accompanying poverty and paucity of material resources leads children into child labor. This pushes basic education and skill acquisition beyond reach of many children.

3. These children even after growing up remain poor bargainers when it comes to compensation for the extremely physically challenging and monotonous work they do (despite the fact that I proved above that they automatically deserve much more than what they get – from the porter’s example).

4. People with only very basic skills are held in contempt because of their poverty and abundance of such persons. As a consequence, sharp socioeconomic stratification emerges.

5. The sharpness of this stratification leads to abandoning of ethicality in one conducts in favor of practices that can earn one money. E.g., this leads to ills like nepotism, corruption and other crimes.

6. Children of deprived parents enter the same cycle as above and produce more children, who in turn enter the same cycle.

7. This cycle can be broken! Not so much by providing more universal schooling, but by decreasing the population density, for which fertility rates will have to come down, for which in turn better education and awareness need to be created! Ah, so it might not be that easy to break the cycle, after all.

My pessimism in this regard had been broken only once by Atanu Dey in his blog post – There’s only so Much that Needs to Get Done (click).

A small note: Given India’s energy crisis, I find nuclear energy a very good means of energy production. I find the fears instilled by some environmental pressure groups to be exaggerated greatly. The solution lies not in shunning nuclear energy as an option altogether, but to improve the levels of professionalism across the populations and vocations. Directly or indirectly the high cost of energy (whether required to run automobiles and locomotives or to light our houses) is a strong contributing factor to India’s being behind in manufacturing sector, and also for high inflation. Latter further perpetuates the vicious cycle of poverty.

Possible conflict of interest: Area of my work is going to involve nuclear technology. But which also means, I am better aware of the risks posed by radiation exposure vis-a-vis other losses that not using this technology would entail.

12 thoughts on “Ethics in Tangents: Part 1 – Lessons on Inequity of Risks and Benefits

  1. ketan liked the post and perspective.

    density can be no excuse for lack of humanity.
    it was very tough for me to read after reading the plight of the children working at hostels. even i was stupid and immature, but i would die than be insensitive like that. i don’t know what makes its so common and ok.

    we just don’t care. there is no national pride, no all for one spirit.

    doctors comparitively enjoy higher respect in society, if these medical students can’t be human, i don’t know what to say..(ok i know its not exclusively medical students..)

    i read a Grisham book on farmer’s plight. Painted house Somehow it stuck with me. when the floods come, they suffer a loss obviously. but when the floods don’t come, they still suffer a loss due to abundance of the crop. i don’t know if the analogy is right, but it just reminded me.

    on the porter, actually i would do it for less or free depending on the situation. perhaps we should have more shramdam taught at school. i still remember the pride in carrying the bricks for someone else. even though i didnt go to a fancy school, i am greatful for the social service camps.

  2. if you want freedom and fairness, it exists in the scandinavian nations. i personally know about sweden, where access to healthcare is not on who you know and can afford but on need.
    you have a decent job security and paternity (not maternity leave ) i think combined 18months.
    a great daycare system.
    but the best thing, there wouldnt be much difference between a net of taxi driver and a software engineer, (not obviously in everycase but definitely not a gross parity).

    why it can’t be followed everywhere, the tax culture. (thats why the ikea boss and edbergs prefer other countries to sweden).

    if we try to bring something like that in India, the priveileged would start screaming about fairness.
    they won’t be able to tolerate their “servants’s” children going to the same school as their children.

    very few would want to get out of the “maharaja syndrome”.

    but a day will come, when the masses en masse would get fed up. that doesn’t mean that they will come up with a better solution, just that this cannot go on and on.

    PS : no other comments!

  3. Hello, WDM!

    Quite honestly, I have a huge backlog of comments to respond to, but I had to respond to yours considering how much emotions and typing effort alike you’ve poured in them. 🙂

    I’ll respond to each points separately.

    1. “density can be no excuse for lack of humanity.”

    Perhaps, you missed the point. The people I mentioned, who in my observation happen to be quite numerous, do not use population density as a conscious excuse, but the Indian society gives so much importance to the concept of hierarchy, that they take such stratification of humans and assigned worth as something natural to go by. This acceptance of stratification is so commonplace that it can be seen everywhere – right in my house, possibly even you or I might have indulged in it on occasions. Of course, the basis of such stratification is different always. E.g., my mom always complains about the quality of work done by the house maid. The conversation had gone something like this:

    I: Why do you expect he help to work sincerely? After all, this is not her house!
    She: But I’m paying her for it. Besides, I treat her well. I never shout at her, am never impolite. I never cut her pay if she remains absent for a few days without notice.
    I: So what if you’re paying her? Would you work with the same sincerity that you expect of her had you been in her place?
    She: So, am I a maid? How do you compare me with her?
    I: Why, what’s wrong with comparing? She’s a human just like you. It’s just her bad luck that she was born in that family. How’s it her fault?
    She: I want our house to be cleaned properly. That’s all!

    My mom was upset with my asking her that hypothetical question, but in all honesty, I was quite surprised, because I’ve not been able to relate with this sentiment of how can you compare me with him/her? at least when it comes to perceived socioeconomic status….

  4. …The point I was trying to make is, despite my mom being clear that she herself was being ‘good’, the idea of disparity of status had been quite ingrained in her mind – by social conditioning. I was quite surprised, nobody must have questioned her that way in her life earlier, and she had incidentally never thought on these lines. Yet, I can assure you that my mom is one of the much better behaved persons when it comes to dealing with those from lower socioeconomic strata as compared to many other people. But, what I wanted to highlight from the examples of both the mess and my mom’s was not the ill behavior, but the underlying sentiment. For, behavior can be modulated to be patronizing, or to serve one’s narcissism of being ‘good’. What still does not cease to surprise me is: how do we come to accept such social stratification? It’s not that people accept them only when they are in position of advantage, but even one’s disadvantaged position is accepted with equal ease and eagerness. In a hospital, a ward boy would accept subordination by the nurse; nurse by the junior resident; junior resident by the consultant; consultant by the hospital trustees; hospital trustees by a politician; that politician, by a stronger politician or an industrialist! I would like to point out that in quite a few youngster’s day-to-day, words like ‘madarchod’ (mother fucker), ‘bhenchod’ (‘sister-fucker’), ‘bhosadi ke’ (don’t know what it means – literally translates as someone born off a roomy uterus!), etc., are quite common, so much so that good friends might not even take them as offense. In fact, those mess workers greet each other thus! So as I see it, the bad thing about that behavior was not the words involved, but the sense of authority, of owning of another human being, which was. One of my seniors from a different college (in Nagpur) had told me that they even used to slap the workers in the mess if the rotis would not be good. I’m guilty of not expressing my strong disapproval on that instance. But he had recounted that to me in Delhi (he was from Jharkhand). Surprisingly, I realized this idea of ‘ownership’ of another human being seems to operate much more strongly in the north. Of course, I could be wrong, but that’s the impression I could gather.

    2. “we just don’t care. there is no national pride, no all for one spirit.”

    I’ve come to recognize national pride as a philosophical pitfall. If one can be proud of one’s nation, why not be proud of one’s state or city? If we call Bangladeshis as intruders, why are north Indians not intruders in Mumbai? Moreover, why be proud of things one never got to choose? If you’d have been born in some other country, you’d have been proud of that country, right? So, where’s the objectivity in such pride? Moreover, “all for one” is one of the most evil philosophies meant to rob us of our joys and has been used by religionists and altruists to emotionally blackmail people. Yes, if we’re nice to one another as a matter of pragmatism or because it would make us feel good (serving our narcissism), then it’s an acceptable thing. But when such altruism enjoys a status of virtue, it becomes near-obligation. I’m sorry for such strong words in this matter, for something seemingly very innocuous you said, but well that’s what I feel….

  5. 3. “doctors comparitively enjoy higher respect in society, if these medical students can’t be human, i don’t know what to say..(ok i know its not exclusively medical students..)”

    Another of those ideas that has been set into motion by social conditioning. Why specifically doctors should shoulder greater burden to be nice? Why should a doctor’s being inhuman be any worse than a lawyer’s or engineer’s or accountant’s being thus? Of course, I strongly disapprove of such ill behavior, but not because it was by medical students. Person of any profession doing that would be bad, in my opinion.

    4. “i read a Grisham book on farmer’s plight. Painted house Somehow it stuck with me. when the floods come, they suffer a loss obviously. but when the floods don’t come, they still suffer a loss due to abundance of the crop. i don’t know if the analogy is right, but it just reminded me.”

    Sorry, I could not quite get the analogy. 🙂 You were talking of fertility v/s infertility? Yes sadly, both are problems – depending upon whether you take a larger perspective of things, or an individual one.

    5. “on the porter, actually i would do it for less or free depending on the situation. perhaps we should have more shramdam taught at school. i still remember the pride in carrying the bricks for someone else. even though i didnt go to a fancy school, i am greatful for the social service camps.”

    I’m surprised by what you say! It truly never occurred to me that I should help someone just like that. I would not ordinarily mind helping random strangers, but probably you do not realize how painful the entire thing is! I could not carry my own luggage! Yes, I engaged a porter to do something that I found too painful to do myself (though arguably, it was not humanly possible to carry all that luggage myself), and I cannot remove the guilt out of my mind that I abused another person’s helplessness. As I said, I wouldn’t have carried that load for less than Rs. 2000, yet, that’s not what I shelled out. I shelled out much less. I know it is not enough, but my guilt is the only punishment I incurred for abusing my ‘position’. Yet, whatever I did was perfectly legal! However, what makes it worse is that I did all of that while still experiencing that guilt. I had it in me to silence my conscience! It would be so difficult to explain to others, how what I did was grossly wrong (unethical/immoral/inhuman)!But I trust you to understand my emotion on this….

  6. 6. On Sweden:

    I’m no economist, and I could be wrong. But the advantages they enjoy are not because the service is need-based, but because the nation as a whole can afford to pay. This, in turn could be because the size of their work-force is optimum. Exactly as much people are part of the work-force as are required to produce all the goods and services in that country. I believe, even if not need-based, the service would have been able to reach most, because of their baseline prosperity.

    7. ” there wouldnt be much difference between a net of taxi driver and a software engineer”

    Yes, that’s something that’s true of the Western society. They seem to realize the value of each human being. They know all jobs after all need to be done. So all kinds of works are respected. One of the possible reasons could be, whatever vocation one takes up in the western countries, it’s more out of choice as compared to in India. It becomes easy to hold contempt for someone who could not do something else despite desperately wanting as compared to someone who does the same thing out of choice. My dad had told me that the university in which he had been to the US for a year, even the department head would greet the sweeper just like he would greet any other colleague; he was surprised and impressed at the same time. Though, my dad is quite disapproving of the US-kind of lifestyle, he always gives the society credit for their inclusiveness, work ethics, sincerity towards one’s vocation and respect for one another.

    8.“if we try to bring something like that in India, the priveileged would start screaming about fairness. they won’t be able to tolerate their “servants’s” children going to the same school as their children.”

    Perhaps, yes. But honestly, even I would be opposed to such tax regimes. I would call such a government Robin Hood. Stealing from one’s pocket to give it away to someone else. But yes, I would also hastily add that the current Indian society makes it exceptionally difficult for a certain class of people to earn what they truly deserve. That needs to change. E.g., why should the porters get only Rs. 300 to 400 for doing a work that I feel deserves Rs. 2000? If exploitation out of helplessness ceases, then most of the people would be quite easily be able to afford most amenities, goods and services required for leading fulfilling life. But this is not possible, because we have too many porters (who compete with each other) and hence get paid less. It’s for this reason that I stress so much on excessive population density and high fertility rate of India….

  7. 9. “very few would want to get out of the “maharaja syndrome”.”

    Yes, I would quite agree with this. Someone had pointed out that the privileged class had great benefit in keeping the masses uneducated and keeping the fertility rate high. So that they would keep on getting easy supply of cheap labor. That privileged class had happened to be the ‘freedom fighters’ who after Brits’ leaving got to govern India. So they did not improve the education situation or try to control the population despite the obvious advantages of both.

    Of course, I have no idea if those people were indeed so foresighted! 😉 But ironically, many of their progeny are still the ‘princes’ and ‘princesses’ of India! 😀

    10. “but a day will come, when the masses en masse would get fed up. that doesn’t mean that they will come up with a better solution, just that this cannot go on and on.”

    But masses would get fed up of what? You think the disadvantaged class is much better? No, their condition is pitiable, but they’re not any better human beings! What do you think, the mess boys on growing up, would they be exemplars of empathy and proper behavior? Is each of those mess boys likely to treat his wife as his equal OR more likely to abuse her (with same sense of authority and ownership with which the medical students had behaved with them)? Would that wife, knowing how it feels to be abused treat her daughter in law with respect or with contempt and cruelty? Forget decidedly disparate positions of power. If one of the mess boys ends up being quite lucky and becomes a rich man, would he treat his friend from the mess days with respect or exploit him by giving him employment at a low wage? After getting used to this ‘higher status’ would he treat his old friend like a friend or with the same contempt that the medical students had reserved for him? I’m afraid no such mass movement is to occur in foreseeable future. Because it is a hierarchy, after all! One who gets to abuse is abused by someone else; one who is abused, gets to abuse someone else. Everyone is trying to reach a position where they can abuse maximum number of people and be abused by least number of people. A mass movement directed at egalitarianism would be antithetical to such hierarchy, and as I said, we love hierarchies!…

  8. 11. “no other comments!”

    No, in fact I am very grateful to you. What I wrote in this post is something I had always wanted to tell people, to make them understand. I’m very grateful because you read such a long post (though I must confess, I could not convey what I had exactly wanted to convey; and as a corollary you could not understand what I wanted to convey! 😉 ), and commented. I very much appreciate the fact that whatever you write is backed by your sincerity and honesty. That I happen (this once) pales as a fact in comparison. Truly, when I had started commenting, I had no idea I would end up disagreeing with so many points, but I guess, that’s acceptable between you and me. 🙂

    I would certainly look forward to your responding to my points.

    Thanks a lot!

    Take care.

  9. ketan i am soooooo sorry that i am not able to respond to your points.

    perhaps i am not able to respond, because i cant see the other point of view, like that of your mom. i am not judging her. i have seen so many households with similar situation, who would have the same attitude.

    but somehow i always remember that i wasn’t perfect at work. even when i worked hard, there were days when i was just too tired lazy or distracted and so can relate that emotion with anyone, maid or a minister. i dont know why, probably my spirituality:D

    on sweden, i agree there is a difference . but i think Indians just dont try. they give up too easily. hey japan could rise after the war. its just we are too emotional, with too many holy cows.

    it was lovely to read ur response, even if i might have some differences, i think there are many posts of mine, where i have highlighted the same points u mention. for eg when u say the mess boys and their future wives. (i wrote a post on just because you bring in the money..)

    really sorry once again. son is important:)

  10. Hi Ketan,

    this is Jai from Dilip’s blog. It seemed churlish not to comment here after you asked a couple of times. I read your, um, not-very-short post and dont particularly disagree much.

    I got the ALARA concept and your point with the porters. I once tried cleaning crowshit from my balcony on the theory that if I ask and pay somebody to do it, it should be something I’d do myself. I couldnt take the stink and found it a fairly revolting experience but completed it somehow. I didnt bargain too hard with the manservant who cleaned it next time!

    Some free advice 🙂 hope you dont mind. The stuff about radio nuclides and nuclear energy and that part about students using abusive language could easily have been dropped or put into another post?


  11. Jai,

    Welcome to the blog!

    The reason I’d requested you to read this post was because, I’d used my system of logic to reach conclusions in ethics. And from our interaction, I find your analysis of issues quite meticulous (just like Sapathan’s!).

    Sorry, about making you go through that letter on my other blog! 🙂 I know, my writing is quite labored (and am not being modest here).

    The reason I’d discussed so many issues in blog post lies in its title. I was recounting my tangential sequence of thoughts & how they were related to field of ethics, rather than trying to deal specifically with ethics through examples.

    The example of mess boys finds mention because I found in it parallels with nuclear establishment workers who don’t get additional monetary compensation owing to unemployment & consequent lack of alternatives.

    You might’ve missed the point in ‘bad language part’. Issues is not that the language was bad, but the sense of authority & entitlement with which they were treated as inferiors, just like how a porter would be automatically treated as inferior by most passengers simply because he’d be not having better alternatives in terms of career & his helplessness.

    The ‘risk’ part in the post did not refer to risk to life & health at nuclear establishments, but to the pain & discomfort experienced in our society by people in ‘lowly’ occupations in our society.

    Through radionuclides, I wanted to point out one of the limitations of representative democracy. 🙂

    Thanks for your effort & inputs!

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