Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Live to die

If we all know that we are to die one day, then why do we live? This is a basic question which has its manifestations throughout the history of mankind where time and again we do things which comes back to us in the negative way. This reminds me of the negative-feedback systems I learnt in my undergraduate. I wondered, why on earth, do we have negative feedback system given the fact that it reduces the output. The answer mentioned in the standard text-books was that negative feedback gives stability to the system. It corrects the un-reined growth of the output. If positive feedback is given to the system, it starts oscillating with its output going out of bound. This same principle applies in a lot of contexts.


The concept of outsourcing is very old – though it was not known by that name. The East India Company for decades had not brought in English language with them. They had kept the language to themselves and hence kept all the higher-echelon-work with themselves. But, around 1828, with the Company’s finances looking bleak they resorted to, what is now a buzzword, cost cutting. They "outsourced" the government posts to Indians. To make the Indians capable of doing the job, they committed the biggest mistake – they brought in English education. The English language brought with it the access to English press. Indians became aware of European Nationalism, the protests the other colonies were doing and the scientific advancement. Apart from the tyranny, if there was any one thing which led the Indians to drive the British out of India, it was English. English, which the Company brought in for their own profit turned out to be their biggest enemy. BTW, are you thinking about English as a negative feedback?


The USA is said to have backed Al Queda as a means to counter Russia. In the Soviet war in Afghanistan, the USA provided support to the Afghan Mujahideens (Al Qaeda) through Pakistan’s Intelligence service to outdo Soviet in the Cold War. USA thus outsourced a part of its "Cold War Business" to the mujahideens. But little did the US knew that the same Al Qaeda, which it used against the Soviets, would carve one of the biggest “man-made” catastrophes in the USA.

The same principle goes for outsourcing. The western companies outsourced their work to India primarily because it was cheaper. However, the Indians (and other Asians) developed their skills to the extent they they started getting preferred. Their western counterparts fear loss of job to the same people they trained. A saying goes that westerner, in the mid 20th century used to tell their kids to eat their food else Indians would have it - Now they are telling their kids to do their homework else Indians would steal their jobs!

Nuclear weapons are another example. We are making nuclear weapons, basically, to defend ourselves from our "enemies". With these deadly weapons,we may be able to bargain our lives today but the same nuclear weapon are, sooner or later, going to kill. They are made to kill.

Doesn't the same go with Recession? As the companies compete to lay people off, more and more people's buying power decreases. So, the demand decreases which in-turn leads to further down size of companies. The vicious cycle,thus, continues. Companies lay people off to save cost today. This then becomes, as they say, a necessary evil.

Meri billi mujh se hi miyao miyao
Ulta Chor Kotwaal ko daante



These are a few proverbs which come to my mind right now. If your “billi” is going to mew against you then why have a billi? In some cases it’s necessary evil and in other cases it can be avoided. The Britishers could not but outsource their work to Indians if they had to maintain their hold on India. If they wouldn’t have taught Indians English, they would have had to quit a century too earlier. Similarly, if the Western companies wouldn’t have outsourced they wouldn’t have attained the kind of productivity they did. In these cases, “outsourcing” was a necessity. But was it also a necessity in other cases? I don’t think so – nor do I think, the proponents would have thought that it would take such a shape. However, there are certain things you know are going to come back to you – but still you do it. This is negative feedback - sometimes it becomes so large as to stall the system, sometimes it brings balance to it.

Do we, then, live to die? Did the British bring in English education to get driven out of India and be jobless a century later? Did the US fund the Al Qaeda to get hit where it hurts the most? I ask again, do we, then, live to die?

- Think ...

PS: I know there are tons of other ways to explain the above. I have chosen this one to draw parallels

10 comments:

Lavanya March 10, 2009 at 4:13 PM  

Great post! I liked the way you connected entirely different issues to similar/same route cause!
However, I couldn't appreciate the title so much :)

Anonymous March 10, 2009 at 4:19 PM  

A control system called life, with a feedback called death. Calling it a negative feedback system is not justified.
First of all, as mentioned negative feedback system tends to stabilize the output.But, even with deaths happening, the populations is still growing faster and not stabilizing. Maybe a saturation point is yet to be reached.
Secondly, with the rapid increase in the number of lives, the feedback should increase. Evidently this is not happening.
Moreover, with every death humanity is learning....learning to tackle it next time. Just like we have learned to tackle malaria,dengu or chicken pox...and maybe some day cancer and HIV.
Adding to this, maybe we are oscillating. We are approaching an extreme where a calamity (global warming or nuclear war) can only correct this un-reined growth. If mythological books are to be believed this is in fact the case. Our epic Mahabharatha, has quoted the world population to be around 14 billion people at the begining of the 18 day war.
To conclude, life and death is not that simple to be put to words by couple of control system concepts. [:)]

caneo March 10, 2009 at 6:21 PM  

you shd check out Charlie Wilson's War (2007) it is on the same lines.

Aritra March 10, 2009 at 10:18 PM  

Well written Prashant... it was in all a fantastic read... at least the examples given...

Sadly, I wasn't able to connect the examples (e.g. outsourcing) given to the main theme of the blog (live to die)... why do you think death is like a negative feedback (except if its some form of suicide)... ppl do not necessarily take actions in life to improve it which eventually brings about their death (which is the case in the outsourcing examples)... they just live life and die when their time is over...

I believe u are not talking abt life 4m such a narrow perspective... but, unfortunately I am unable to get the concept - could u plz explain a bit more on this?

raj87 March 13, 2009 at 9:40 AM  

Never thought Of things in this manner.May be it is because of lose of vision,in the last two cases & again if u do things to create problems u;ll end up urself neck deep in them...

ain't it??

nice post...

Saurabh March 13, 2009 at 3:07 PM  

A very well written essay Prashant....
I parallels drawn are very much thought provoking....

Tejaswy March 17, 2009 at 6:57 PM  

Well i really liked the line where it said eat your food or the Indians will have it and now do your home work or else Indians will get your job.

Very well thought

I mean yes, India's oil and energy consumption is driving the world hungry and well we all know what the situation of jobs is.

Anything which goes around...comes around,

You go into my RSS :D

Anitha March 19, 2009 at 1:57 PM  

Very well written Prashant.
I liked the way you correlated the things happened around the world with negative feedback system.
Comparison of life with negative feedback system is really thought provoking.
Well Analysed.
Good work.

Biswajit Biswas March 29, 2009 at 4:23 PM  

Good job prashant, really a thought provoking one. But I think the proverbs you have given does not connect to the topic.

abhishek poddar April 23, 2009 at 11:15 AM  

ya thats really true almost all the things in this world have their good as well as bad part.
like u have ppl who praise ur views while there r others who act as critics

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