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Sunday, February 20, 2005

Kautilyan Society

I am taking this knockout class called Voluntary Social Systems (MSE 299), taught by the grand-old-philosopher of this century - Ronald Howard. I've always romanticized being taught by a man of a Socratic stature, holding dialogues much like Socrates and his detractor Thrasymachus in The Republic (Plato). That desire has been fulfilled by Prof. Howard.

He radiates wisdom, and I highly recommend his classes. In this particular class, we're examining what a society would look like if there were no government (and no taxes!), and he's convinced me so far that it would be pretty darn good!

Some of my work in this class:
1. Mini Case Studies on successful voluntary systems in India
2. Presentation on Kautilyan Society - medieval Indian around 4th Century BC, with the data coming from Kautilya's, "The Arthashastra." It was a good deal of fun and I've learnt some startling facts about India's past.

For one, men had to pay women dowry to marry them. If the wife wanted to divorce, she would have to return the dowry. If the husband wanted to divorce, he couldn't get his money back (this was to ensure that there was no economic motive behind a divorce). Drop me a line if Kautilyan Society interests you and we can have a nice chat.

14 Comments:

Accidental Fame Junkie said...

Hi Somik, men paying bride price is an old concept that still is practiced in Africa. Unfortunately, that was corrupted to the present dowry form in our Indian soceity. You have reminded me of that classic "The Wonder That was India" by A.L. Basham. You get to learn some other interesting facts like the freedom that women enjoyed during that time.

10:45 PM  
Somik Raha said...

Interesting. Kautilya also says, "A wife shall be taught proper behavior... Physical punishment shall be [limited to] slapping her on her behind three times with the hand, a rope or a bamboo cane. Any beating exceeding this shall be a punishable offence." -- {3.3.7 - 11}

He does not clarify if this is a daily, weekly, monthly or lifetime limit.

4:16 PM  
Accidental Fame Junkie said...

Hmm... what is "proper behavior?" What is the "transgression" that merited such punishment? Kautilya was evidently not a champion of equal rights. I wonder what punishment the men got....

3:54 AM  
Somik Raha said...

Kautilya said men who were cruel to women would recieve the same treatment that they meted out. I suppose anything beyond three slappings is cruelty.

To truly appreciate the workings of Kautilyan society, one has to remember that it was more voluntary than dictatorial. The king was an upholder of the moral code. Which means, he didn't have to do anything in general to uphold the law. It was only when there were violations that people would ask for justice. That is when the code would kick in.

This form of society is very different from the interfering nature of many present governments, like the US and India, where govt is too concerned about all kinds of issues (economics, abortion, etc.) Actually, India is way too liberal on abortion (perhaps the most).

6:02 PM  
Accidental Fame Junkie said...

That's good. Sow as you reap! 3 slappings? hmm.... I kinda thought that 1 was cruel enough! It seems like the Kautilyan code was not as much as an external code as a way of life. If it was ingrained enough, there would be no transgressors (or criminals) thereby effectively reducing crime both domestic and public. Am I right?

You bet that kind of society is different from ours (in India and out)! If I'm not mistaken, the interfering government is a very recent phenomenon, from the perspective of history i.e. Weren't all non-organized "governments" in ancient civilizations code-oriented rather than policy-oriented?

About abortion, shouldn't people have some right over their bodies?

3:08 AM  
Somik Raha said...

You are right - self-regulation is much better than government regulation. I find it hard to justify government regulation in just about any domain.

Ancient India was indeed code-oriented. Kings were expected to physically protect "subjects," and step in only when violations occurred.

Economics was entirely handled by the Vaishya (trading) community, with no interference from the Kshatriyas.

Finally, about abortion, yes, a woman does have the right to decide to keep a baby or not. But she has no right to take a life. The problem comes when these two rights are mixed up. Once you separate them, you realize that there is tremendous scope for innovation to separate the child from the womb without endangering either one's life.

5:26 PM  
Accidental Fame Junkie said...

I pretty much agreed with you till I came down to the abortion bit. I'm not for indiscriminate taking of life. But I'm curious: isn't the fact that abortion is a very complicated (not complex) issue is because these 2 rights are entangled, not because it's confusing but because of their very nature? It's easy to say that the child should be separated from the mother's womb without endangering either one's life. What if the mother doesn't want the child at the early stanges when the child is not formed yet?

I'm reminded of one of the anti-abortion posters I saw back in my Catholic convent college. It said "Abortion does not make you an unwed mother; it makes you the mother of a dead child." I shiver whenever I read it.

10:54 PM  
Somik Raha said...

There is not much consensus on when the child is formed. Currently, it is not easy to separate the child. However, if the two rights are separated, then it will spark entreprenurship and research, and a solution may be found.

At the same time, given the present situation, we could adopt the model of leaving the child at the Church steps. When a mother did not want a child, she would drop the baby in a basket on the church footsteps. If people cared, the baby would be adopted by someone. The mother here relinquished her guardianship rights, and let others know.

Now, applying this in modern times, a mother can announce that she is not interested in the child. If people don't care, then thats the end of it. However, if they do, then someone or some group can offer to accept guardianship. They will then be responsible for transferring the child. If current technology does not permit a feasible transfer until the baby is born, the interested party may offer the mother compensation for the trouble she goes through - usually lost income ability and a little more. In return, she promises to safeguard the child until delivery.

That would work, wouldn't it? No point having the moral brigade only talk.

9:39 PM  
Accidental Fame Junkie said...

hey Somik, it looks like you got it all figured out! Somehow I get a feeling that this ain't that easy. This looks like a 10 step plan to me... Hmmm but you know me, I'm the sceptic. Plans are all fine. Methinks ideally, if it's possible, we shouldn't need to go through any plan at all. A baby is a baby. Why not accept it? Why not create a condusive atmosphere where mothers don't have to think of abortion at all. This I know is far fetched....what do you think?
PS: I got ur offlines on yahoo. If anyone posts a messege on my blog I get a mail. But I don't know (as of now) any way in which I or you get to know (via a mail maybe?) once one of us posts a messege. Will look around though for a solution...Would you happen to know of a way?

7:56 AM  
Somik Raha said...

Looks like we have similar interests - in creating conditions so people would not want to abort. When lower-income groups go in for abortion, it is usually to avoid losing valuable work time. Then, it should be possible for caring citizens or organizations to step in and compensate, transferring guardianship rights.

However, if you do not do anything and hope children won't be aborted, ...

5:20 PM  
Accidental Fame Junkie said...

Hi Somik, yup, we do have similar interests here. I suppose not being pro-active is not an option now. What I was talking about is that the larger picture should be about creating such an atmosphere, not merely in coming up damage-control measures. I'm not shooting down damage-control measures; they're important too. I guess I was on the plane of ideas. And you were talking hard core practical stuff. Both are quite relevant and required.

9:28 AM  
Somik Raha said...

I agree with your comment. Bytway, I'd be curious to hear your views on my latest blurb.

10:45 AM  
Accidental Fame Junkie said...

Heyy Somik, first of all im stupendously sorry for being this late. I will definetly comment on your new post.:) Btw, do you write anything else besides your classes? Because it would be great to know your opinions on other things as well.

PS: I do know this is the learning section of your homepage :)

11:09 PM  
Somik Raha said...

No problem. I do write on other topics. Check: http://www.stanford.edu/~somik/

8:48 PM  

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