Tuesdays with a farmer - The death of surrogates- Part I

Farmer: What is a surrogate?

Student: That which takes the place of another. 

Farmer: Surrogacy is an interesting phenomenon very much prevalent during the Old era. Surrogate is simply a substitute. It is not the real thing. It is quite similar to the concept of Mithya in Hinduism where what you see is not real. Let us take an example. The Industrial Revolution was the first time when humans stopped using animal or human labor to create work. They used energy which wasn’t even there.  Instead of using their own energy, they used Oil,a substitute, which funded the changes that were happening across the world. 

 Broadcast is another example of a surrogate. It was one of the pillars of the last era. It is essentially no one talking to no one. The communication seems to be real. It is unidirectional,as it substitutes the real. 

Mass manufacture is another example of surrogates where somebody intervenes and creates a process such that the stuff you need is kind-of made  very efficiently. Machines substituted humans to create service which never came directly. It came through a mechanism which created the service. 
What was the real reason behind doing this? Paucity of information. Somebody had information which others didn’t. You ensured that you gave just enough information that ensured that you could keep leveraging it over and over again. You don’t give the real thing. You give something instead of that.


Education is a great example of how surrogacy was done in the previous era.
If you are graduate in arts, it stood for your learning. It’s a symbol of learning. You had to be a graduate to be considered a learned person. If you think about it, there is no connection between learning and degree.  

The truth was that you went far away from learning. Degree simply became a surrogate for learning.  How many times you've seen somebody who doesn't know a thing and yet has a degree in it.

How will you measure anyone’s learning? Ask him what he studied?  We have now created this whole bubble around learning as symbolized by degree. Haven't we seen amazing engineers who have never gone to engineering college.? Amazing literateurs who have never gone to arts college? We have seen whole range of several learned men who have never gone to school. 

However, for the society at large, the connection between learning was a symbol called degree.

Student: Weren't they created with an intent to tangiblize something as intangible as learning something? When I say I am learned, isn't it something intangible?


Farmer: What does tangibilize mean? You tangibilize as much as you learn. But this enables you to quickly slot somebody . It makes the system look at you very easily because it doesn't need to go into the  details of you in multi-dimensions. It is part of the whole mass manufacture philosophy where I don't need to deal with you as a person. I can deal with you as an object symbolized by a surrogate. Education began as a series of steps in surrogates. You kept going up the ladder, and there is a whole hierarchy to that, and each time you went higher ,you were considered more learned than the one lower, and the truth is, well, everybody knows what the truth is!



It was also true that it could have been difficult otherwise. You don't get a job if you are not a graduate. You couldn't  really practise art/craft if you were not qualified/certified in it. The processes were designed so that you have no choice but to follow its regime and get to that level which is acceptable by the standard. 

But it was a surrogate. It had nothing to do with real learning. The problem with surrogate is, as it matures, you tend to forget  what it was really for.


You tend to look at the surrogate as if it was really the cause for all of this. It was supposed to be resting on  something else, which really was, in essence, what was required. 


If you look at the social statuses, the three Cs, Class, Clique, Community, or, Club, Cars, Clothes, they were social surrogates employed to ensure that everybody had to measure up. If you didn't measure up, you were never counted. But it was a surrogate. It ensured one more thing. Only those who came from the higher class got its benefits. Everybody wanted to be part of that, whether they were worthy of  any good class or not. At one time there was real aristocracy. There were others who wanted to overtake the aristocracy and establish themselves in that place so that they could get its benefits. 


I'm just trying to show you that it was an era of surrogates.  Over the last two hundred years, everything that could be recognized was done in terms of a surrogate rather than something real.  Once we bought into these surrogates, we began building more and more structures which spawned even more surrogates.  At one point they become bigger than the system.  


Student: As you talk about surrogates, it seems that the traditional Indian caste system is perhaps an example of surrogates. Profession was a substitute for an identity. Brahmins who were doing the work of a priest were called Brahmins.  


Farmer: If you are doing the work of a priest, you are called a priest and you get its due honor. Tomorrow, if your son is called a priest, that is a surrogate.  He gets the same honor  you get!  Now you are sitting in this table. You are Venky. After you walk out of this class, somebody else comes in and sits here. Will I call him Venky just because he sat in the same place? Till you are sitting, the name is meaningful. The moment this becomes more important than the person sitting here, we then have a problem!


Student: Let's say the other person who sat here also did the same thing Venky did. We might still consider calling him Venky. 


Farmer: But that's not how it ended right? Let's say Brahmins were doing the role of priests for twelve generations. What happened to the  thirteenth generation? He was having a business. But he is continued to be called a Brahmin because he had twelve generations of Brahmin history.  We didn't keep refreshing this and ask again, Can we call him Brahmin now? That's the truth of any system. Once you put the system in the job, the sail is in the ground and everybody is rotating around the sail. 

6 comments:

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Priyanka said...

Well, the truth remains we got to focus on "unlearning" instead of our constant pursuit for fancy degrees ( however preposterous that may sound) !! the concept of surrogates as you succinctly put it, compartmentalizes us for the world to differentiate us and then "deal" us accordingly! In a nutshell, a very provocative piece. Good discussion you have captured!

Venkataraman said...

thank you priyanka for your comments! unlearning seems to be lifetime
process for me:) work in progress:)

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