Thursday, 12 September 2013

The Pitfalls of Modern Democracy

While penning this blog, I am frequently reminded of my school days, when in one of the chapters of my social science textbooks, I came across a description of the different forms of government in a country, which, quite succinctly referred to democracy as a form of governance, that is ‘of the people, by the people and for the people’. That was almost three decades ago. A lot of things on the global socio-political landscape have transpired since then, making the above definition obsolete, by making it synonymous with a form of government that is only ‘of and by the people’, and definitely not ‘for the people’. In between, the world has witnessed the World Trade Center attacks of 2001, the Gujarat massacre of 2002, the Iraq War of 2003, the global financial meltdown of 2008-2009, the frequently happening Israel-Palestine face-offs and the recent social unrest in Libya and Syria. Even though, out of all the countries involved in these world transforming developments, only a few of them are pure democracies, still, the concerned incidents have been triggered by eminent policy and decision-makers occupying responsible positions as part of the new world order in these economies. This state of affairs persuades us to question the safety and appropriateness of democracy, or ‘peoples’ rule’ in countries where it prevails for the benefit of the society at large, The current blog tries arguing, why democracy may not be the most suitable form of government, by throwing light upon some of its deep-rooted ills and vices.   
One of the most self-damaging and inseparable features of modern day democracy is ‘populism’, which is derived from the Latin term ‘populus’, that means ‘people’. Hence, it is strongly connected to democracy which, as mentioned earlier is all about peoples’ rule. Though, present in all democratic systems worldwide, it wields its most profound influence on those political systems which undergo an institutional transition, with some of its anti-democratic and salient features being, “hostility to representative democracy, lack of core values, chameleonic tendencies, reactive rather than a proactive approach towards extreme crisis, and a self-limiting quality” (Populism – a threat 2009). The viciousness of this political ideology is visible as a “wavelike diffusion of political-regime contention across European and Latin American countries” (Weyland, 2013), where the populist leaders like Carlos Saul Menem, Alberto Fujimori and the late Venezualan President Hugo Chavez, smitten by the desire to win by establishing direct face-to-face contact with the public - a populist modus operandi of displaying “personalistic charismatic leadership that thrives on quasi-direct links to a loosely organized mass of heterogenous followers” (Weyland, 2013) often exerted state power through the propagation of “pluralism, open debate and fair competition” (Weyland 2013, 20), and in the process bypassed intermediate institutions like firmly organised parties. Consequently, their unsatiated political ambitions ended up weakening constitutional checks, while undermining the institutional protections against the misuse of power and led to political hegemony.
Another weakness of the contemporary democratic setup lies in its inability to combat the deep and inerasable racial, ethnic, religious and linguistic social divisions examined by Glazer (2010) in a comparative study of India, United States and Canada. These fractions take different forms in all these countries, with India jaundiced by grave levels of casteism, and communal frenzy rife with language differences, the United States often globally criticised for not being able to guarantee equal rights for Blacks and Whites, and Canada popular for its “Francophonic and Anglophonic divisions” (Glazer, 2010). The results of the investigation reveal that out of all the three nations only Canadian democracy has been mostly successful in dealing with its great social divide given an improved socio-economic equality attained by the French-speaking Quebec population and a decline in violence between the Francophines and Anglophones. On the other hand, despite being the world’s two largest democracies, both India and United States have failed miserably in attaining the desired democratic success. While the United States still bears the deep scars of the history’s biggest traumatic event it underwent in the form of a Civil War that, after a great deal of bloodshed could only achieve institutional and not economic equality for African-Americans, India, on the other hand, is still reeling under the age-old casteism, especially in remote rural areas, despite an official constitutional ban on it. Finally, the country continues struggling with low education, high unemployment and low income rates among Muslims, “along with a constantly looming  threat of mass assualt on their communities” (Glazer, 2010), as already proved in the recent past by the infamous Godhra riots of Gujarat in 2002.

The above discussion reveals the over-ambitious nature of man, and the havoc it can play when combined with unlimited power and authority, in the form of selfish behavior and actions purely driven by his fancies and whims. It also portrays how a democratic setup, though, initially conceptualised as a form of government to put the interests of people - the building blocks of any nation over everything else, can add fuel to the fire, if it falls into the wrong hands. Thus, putting a big question mark on the overall effectiveness of democracy as a form of government.              

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Deep down we are all MARKETERS!!

Wondering why? Well, before I feed you with an answer and the logic behind it, let us all try recalling the following incidents which made me think on these lines and ultimately move my fingers into writing this blog. Remember the first time we asked our parents for pocket money, or even a raise in the same; the first time we asked the most beautiful girl in our college out for a date and later on proposed her for marriage; the first time we participated in the case discussion and final interview selection round of our graduate school; and finally, our first job interview where we battled our way out to work in our dream company.

Apart from the fact that they depict the different phases of our lives, another common thread running through all these examples is that they make use of “persuasion”. Yes, you heard that right. And we all know that “persuasion” is not alien to the world of marketing. But still, how does that tie them up together? In fact, before we even answer that question, we need to know first of all what “marketing” means? My professor once gave me one of the simplest definitions of “marketing”. He said that when you make a horse terribly thirsty by making him run non-stop in a field for a very long time, that’s “marketing”, however, when you provide him with food and water that is “selling”. Confused? To make it more understandable, let’s look at it this way, “marketing” refers to the generation of needs for a product or service, and is different from “selling”, which refers to the satisfaction of those needs. It means the needs generated may either be non-existent, as in the case of the pocket money example, where the parents might not at all feel the need to raise the amount, not because they have carefully pondered over it and then decided no!, but because the thought never even crossed their mind, or they may be latent, as in the case of your prospective girlfriend who may be on a lookout for a suitable boyfriend who would not only flatter her but also take good care of her, both emotionally and physically (but she won’t announce it on a loudspeaker). Further, the needs may also be existent and clearly communicated too, as in the case of the hiring company which openly announces its need for fresh manpower through its recruitment advertisements or when political leaders during election campaigns, give long, emotionally-charged speeches, openly asking for votes. Moreover, every first party in these situations is trying to persuade the other party to empathize with them and fulfill their demands. The logic behind this process traces itself to the human psychological and physiological architecture which biologically wires man to put his best foot forward in whatever he/she does in order to form an exceedingly positive first impression, so as to avoid risking leaving any stone unturned in case of a half-baked effort which might leave the other party unimpressed, hence, lowering the probability of successfully convincing them (second party) to fulfill their (first party) demands.

This does not come easy, since the second party has an abundance of options to choose from. Hence, you might be the most handsome and stinking rich hunk around, but your prospective girlfriend has no dearth of boys to choose from. Similarly, even your immaculate demeanor doesn’t single you out as the most obvious and the only choice for the coveted job especially with the ever increasing global unemployment rates that have made other candidates knock the same office for the interview. Also, even your parents need a convincing answer to justify your pocket money raise as compared to your elder brother or sister (sorry, equal treatment as part of parental upbringing is just not acceptable, you need a more logical explanation…J).

To be heard across impact fully, in all these examples, we need to “market” ourselves successfully by cleverly trying to highlight our positives while underplaying the negatives. So, despite being younger to your sibling, you can cite examples of how much of a judicious spender are you in comparison to his/her prodigal acts. Similarly, apart from being opulent you can count on your social reputation (by the way it needs homework in advance) of not being a Casanova who keeps on changing girlfriends every two weeks, and in fact, not having even a single girlfriend throughout except her (your neighborhood verification proves it).   

Coming back to our analogy, we, upon close scrutiny, find that most marketing efforts, including advertising and other promotional techniques also function on the same dynamics of human behavior, aimed primarily to ignite your all sorts of covert, overt and even non-existent needs, and then persuade you to buy the advertised products and services with their own sets of uniquely distinctive and positive features, as a satisfactory solution. Thus, an advertisement about Coke or Pepsi may instantly target the youth in you, immediately triggering the need to look super cool by gulping down a bottle even if it contains caffeine which is bad for your health or a Volkswagen advertisement may instantly help you recall the previously existing need for safety of your family to be considered while going for the right vehicle, even if it means ending up paying a higher price for it. Moreover, their target audiences also have a variety of brands and products (read ‘options’) to choose from, thereby, making this analogy converge somewhere, hence, proving it to be true.

I am not trying to encourage you to be distrustful of what others say, but only suggesting you to read between the spoken lines and sniff the hidden marketing intention, the next time someone asks you for something.

Do you agree or disagree? Let me know.