“How are we collectively creating a world that none of us wants, individually”Daniel Christian Wahl
“We are approaching the power of Gods, without the wisdom of Gods”Daniel Schmartenberger
Culture Compatible Public Policy
Our global institutions are no longer congruent with global well-being. Dani Rodik locates the root of this problem in what he calls the ‘inescapable trilemma of the world economy’ i.e. the mutual incompatibility between democracy, national sovereignty and globalization.
Our problems at planetary scale require us to engineer massive, global scale collaboration but the frameworks that inform public choices and governance, optimize for transience.
Universalizing theologies and the attendant political philosophies invariably generate conflicts with local cultures, particularities and ways of life. At a fundamental level, the problems of global commons are essentially the challenges of ‘collaboration’.
The Hindu civilization stands as a grand testimony for the power of a system that can collaborate at scale. The distinguishing factor that lends this civilization its power to sustain is that it wasn’t built on a political or a social philosophy. Its foundational architecture is a spiritual vision – An immaculate ontology about the essential reality of cosmos and all life. Purnam.
Drawing from this vision of sacred and fullness, the entire civilization evolved on the principle of a full life for the individual (purushartas), made possible by a network of inter-dependent and mutually reinforcing communities. The link between individual action and community response, between community purpose and security were made explicit through immersive, aesthetic and performative acts of communal engagement.
Pavan Varma called this ‘the audacity of thought’. We call it ‘Culture’.
Despite this unparalleled inheritance of both ideas and empirical experience of continuous communal living, we are currently unable to exert the full power of our civilizational thought and offer solutions to the challenges of our global commons due to a combination of historical exigencies and missing strategic nous.
The challenges we face of modernity fueled by a liberal atheistic global culture, techno-capital impulses sans the grounding in yogic philosophy, Abrahamic aggression and dwindling planetary resources require urgent but deliberative focus.
Our biggest opportunity and requirement to address these existential issues we face is to reorient our State to operate on the basis of indigenous knowledge systems.
In other words, we need Culture compatible Public Policy.
Public Policy Today – The Liberal backdrop:
The recent surge in Nationalist politics across the world has been hailed as the twilight of Liberalism by both proponents and opponents. This might be a consideration but the fact remains that the operating currency of the global world order i.e. democracy, free markets, individual rights, liberty etc are still seen as being supplied by Liberalism and it is likely to remain that way.
Fukuyama might have been premature in calling for ‘end of history’ but he wasn’t entirely incorrect either. It is therefore important to understand the liberal landscape that informs and influences policy.
Liberalism derives its power from a combination of high-impact networks and incentives. We can trace 6 powerful actors and their organic incentive structure that yields the power of compounding to the Liberal worldview.
Simply put, the liberal worldview provides an accessible, repeatable and shareable identity that can be distilled into a simple equation in the minds of current and prospective practitioners.
Liberal = Modern = Progressive = Humanist = Fun.
It meets the 2 most fundamental needs for humans to subscribe to an ideology and stick with it:
- Engage in desires without the burden of guilt
- A moral arc that satisfies the need to belong to larger groups without sacrificing individuality
Form, process and matter are in consonance to generate a very simple and powerful cognitive image that can be shared by people across the world to constantly expand and find new ‘markets’.
Public Policy Paradigms
The evolution of Public Policy can be traced through 3 distinct paradigms. Each new paradigm originates from contestations around the perceived shortcomings of the previous one and combines new forms of knowledge from different fields.
- Weberian Bureaucracy model that separates politics from administration with a focus on administrator as a competent, neutral entity located within a hierarchical structure.
- The paradigm of ‘New Public Management’ with an impetus on efficiency, drawing from a fusion of economic theories and techniques of management.
- The ‘Good governance’ paradigm which aims at increased ‘stake-holder’ participation as defined by a neo-liberal consensus on the constraints of State ambit along with a belief in free market efficacy.
Regardless of the differences, all the paradigms originate from and are a result of the western historical experience and from within the Liberal worldview. The differences are ‘legible’ only within the backdrop of the political philosophy contestations of the western world. Even more fundamentally, they represent the journey of Christian theology and its encounters with science and modernity.
There is an inextricable link between a Nation’s culture, politics and resultant policy. Much of public policy analysis in India ignores or undermines this fundamental Truth. Analysts adopt either a technocratic stance under the rubric of ‘Economic Development’ or we see a pronounced cultural activist streak that seeks to weld the cultural attitudes of a billion plus Indians to make us fit enough to participate in and partake the benefits of the ‘liberal world order’.
The contestations between those who espouse constitutional patriotism, civic nationalism, secularism etc collectively called the ‘Idea of India’ and the others who seek to provide an indigenous thrust to State design and actions essentially boil down to the ‘stories of Identity’ we give ourselves.
The Cultural Nationalists or Civilizational worldview advocates are at a structural disadvantage in this contest. Conceptual thought of the kind that establishes ‘identity’ is an outcome or function of cognitive processes that is linked to form, process and matter. The incentive structures of the global capital class, western Nation-States, artists, technologists are bound together in the liberal order.
The civilizational worldview does not have this power, yet.
Our work at the intersection of Culture, Public Policy and Leadership Development is an attempt to accrue and advance this power to the civilizational worldview. There are 3 vectors:
This is an attempt to articulate the redemptive force of our culture in empathetic, personal ways via story-telling. The luminosity and grandeur of the Indian civilizational knowledge can also be intimidating for the English educated youth of India. We need means for them to experience Culture as their ally, as something that cushions them in deeply personal ways.
It is only when people experience culture in such intimate way that they would resonate with the broader civilizational struggle and the lend support to efforts that seek to institutionalize cultural protection via policy. In other words, this is demand curation for cultural policy. This is a creative activity that needs artistic, story-telling and dialogic competencies.
Public Policy Research
If cultural immersion is the way for demand generation, the culmination of that consciousness into an institutional form requires specific policy recommendations. This is a highly focused, specialized activity that needs a long gestation but the outcomes have inter-generational impact.
Beyond a point, all institutions and efforts at culture building boil down to embodied cognition. Individuals who embody and live that culture and inspire others. Our third vector is the cultivation of such leadership. People who understand the civilizational frameworks and can creatively synthesize them for contemporary contexts to solve problems that matter.