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Lineage Bill Amendment: An Attempt to fix politics?

Patricia Mukhim

Books are a great repository of knowledge because most of them are written after years of research. Reading Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari taught me a lot about the modern God called Dataism and how it could possibly fix our elections henceforth because our algorithms are so well understood by the Internet of Things and how it guides us better than our emotions. Harari says, Dataism offers groundbreaking technologies and immense new powers for politicians, business people and ordinary consumers. Dataism inverts the traditional pyramid of learning. Hitherto data was seen as only the first step in a long chain of intellectual activity. Humans were supposed to distil data into information, information into knowledge and knowledge into wisdom. But Dataists now believe that humans can no longer cope with the immense flow of data hence they cannot distil data into information, let alone knowledge into wisdom. The work of processing data should therefore be entrusted to electronic algorithms whose capacity far exceeds that of the human brain. In practice this means that Dataists are sceptical about human knowledge and wisdom and prefer to put their trust in Big Data and computer algorithms.

Dataism is the result of a wedlock between computer science and biology. Harari says it was biology’s embrace of Dataism that turned a limited breakthrough in computer science into a world shattering cataclysm that may completely transform the very nature of life. The rapid change in data processing conditions could lead to the decline and even disappearance of democracy. With the volume and speed of data increase, venerable institutions like elections, political parties and parliaments might become obsolete not because they are unethical but because they cannot process data efficiently enough. Let’s not kid ourselves that Dataism does not control our lives yet. Look around and we will see every young person standing alone and looking at his/her smart-phone checking out what the internet is telling him/her. They are so inclined to believe what they see and read that even before processing the information they have quickly forwarded it to friends because information sharing, even if that information is skewed or false has become the order of the day. Filing FIRs with the police against those who spread lies and falsehoods is only one small step. I don’t like to say this but in the world ruled by Dataism even the police are not on top of things. And we cannot blame them because Dataism is far ahead of the human mind.

The coming decades might see more internet revolutions where technology will steal a march over politics. Then there’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) and biotechnology which could overhaul not only our societies and economies but our bodies and minds too. We just need to look at our choices today and how they are dictated by what we read online about food, books, holidays, lifestyles, health choices et al. We are creatures dictated by the Internet.

According to Harari, present day democratic structures are unable to collect and process data fast enough and most voters don’t understand biology and cybernetics well enough to make informed choices. Hence traditional democratic politics is losing control of events and is failing to present us with meaningful visions of the future. Even ordinary voters can sense that the democratic mechanisms no longer empower them. They see the world changing all around them and don’t understand how or why things change so rapidly. What they clearly understand is that Power has shifted away from them; they are not in control and their votes hardly matter but they don’t know where that Power has shifted. The example of Britain is exemplary. Voters thought that power had shifted to the European Union so they voted for Brexit. Now they find things are not much better than it was pre-Brexit. In the US the perception that the ‘establishment’ monopolises all power prompted voters to go for the anti-establishment Donald Trump who castigates and pulverises all institutions that the Americans have learnt to trust. But what voters learnt to their dismay is despite all these changes Power will not shift back to them. But because the Power vacuum will not last long it is possible that far more complex yet efficient structures will evolve to take their place. The tough question is who will build and control these structures if humans are no longer up to the task. Is this then where AI will step in? It sounds ominous and somewhat Sci-fi but it seems that that’s the trajectory we are moving towards.

To understand our own predicament and how politics has divided us it is important to understand what helps us form bonds. Healthy societies are defined by their ability to find galaxies of warm, non-threatening spaces within which they move and interact such as families, friends, hobby groups, neighbourhoods, faith organisations or even cultural or civil society groups. But politics has driven a wedge and disrupted such groups. Today we are talking at each other; not to one another and whoever uses vulgar, provocative speech rules the roost. All that mushy mushy “Tip Briew Tip Blei” is replaced by a robust masochistic bellicosity. The roots of political dysfunction lie deep in society. If we are disrupted by politics and political rhetoric and we now take positions that are outright pugnacious, then perhaps our own social bonds and networks were never strong enough. As David Brooks so cogently stated in one of his articles, “People put politics at the centre of their psychological, emotional and even spiritual life. This is asking too much of politics. Once politics becomes your ethnic and moral identity it becomes impossible to compromise because it becomes ‘dishonour.’ If you put politics at the centre of identity you end up asking the state to eclipse every social authority but itself.”

Durkheim the father of Sociology was very sceptical of the power of unaided reason to penetrate the complexities of social and moral reality. But if politics with its unaided reason enters into the galaxy of this already complex moral and social reality we can imagine the contortions we will pass through. This is exactly what we see in Khasi society today. It is an attempt by politics (KHADC) with its limited exposure to the world beyond it, to fix the social and moral norms of society that is already beset by the myriad complexities of cybernetics. So many young people today meet their prospective brides and grooms on the internet. Did we visualise that such a thing would come to pass? We have friends who pledge their affection on Facebook but who we have never met. Business transactions are no longer all in the physical domain; they happen over cyberspace. Meetings happen over skype. No wonder physical interface between the Kur (clan) members is also dwindling because time has become a constraint. And yet we know that the Kur is the bedrock of Khasi society because it is there when we need it; at times of joys and sorrows or just to stand by us. In that sense a Khasi is never alone.

A law therefore that seeks to isolate a Khasi woman and her children from her clan for transgressing the KHADC strictures, (marrying a non-Khasi) actually hits at this bedrock of Khasi society. It is the clan that has the right to decide whether to accept or reject any member. So far, incest (marrying within the clan) is the only reason that clan heads use to ostracise its members as this is considered a taboo.

As far as the Sixth Schedule status is concerned, perhaps the jurors advising the Council had failed to point out to the CEM, KHADC what Mr Toki Blah had recently cited. Article 342 (1) says, ‘The President may with respect to any State or Union Territory and where it is a State, after consultation with the Governor thereof by public notification, specify the tribes or tribal communities or parts of or groups within tribes or tribal communities which shall for the purpose of this Constitution be deemed to be Scheduled Tribes in relation to that State or Union Territory, as the case may be.

(2) Parliament may by law include in or exclude from the list of Scheduled Tribes specified in a notification issued under clause (1) any tribe or tribal community or part of or group within any tribe or tribal community, but save as aforesaid a notification issued under ‘the said clause shall not be varied by any subsequent notification.’

In other words the District Councils have no power whatsoever to de-classify any member of the Schedule Tribe because that power rests with Parliament. And to de-notify a member of a Scheduled Tribe only on the basis of marriage is something that no court of law would ever uphold because that is pure and simple “injustice” with no legal merit. Besides, laws made by Parliament apply across District Councils. Some food for thought perhaps!

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