FF Daily #391: Power dynamics

June 7, 2021: Bertrand Russell on love of power; Covid lessons India failed to learn; Tracing the virus; [Music] Performing Conversations

Founding Fuel

[By rachaelvoorhees, CC BY 2.0, via Flickr]

Good morning,

We spent time over the weekend browsing the archives of the Nobel Prize Foundation. It is full of gems. One that got us thinking was Bertrand Russell’s lecture from December 1950 on What Desires are Politically Important?  

“Love of power is closely akin to vanity, but it is not by any means the same thing. What vanity needs for its satisfaction is glory, and it is easy to have glory without power. The people who enjoy the greatest glory in the United States are film stars, but they can be put in their place by the Committee for Un-American Activities, which enjoys no glory whatever. In England, the King has more glory than the Prime Minister, but the Prime Minister has more power than the King. Many people prefer glory to power, but on the whole these people have less effect upon the course of events than those who prefer power to glory. When Blucher, in 1814, saw Napoleon’s palaces, he said, ‘Wasn’t he a fool to have all this and to go running after Moscow.’ Napoleon, who certainly was not destitute of vanity, preferred power when he had to choose. To Blucher, this choice seemed foolish. Power, like vanity, is insatiable. Nothing short of omnipotence could satisfy it completely. And as it is especially the vice of energetic men, the causal efficacy of love of power is out of all proportion to its frequency. It is, indeed, by far the strongest motive in the lives of important men.

“Love of power is greatly increased by the experience of power, and this applies to petty power as well as to that of potentates. In the happy days before 1914, when well-to-do ladies could acquire a host of servants, their pleasure in exercising power over the domestics steadily increased with age. Similarly, in any autocratic regime, the holders of power become increasingly tyrannical with experience of the delights that power can afford. Since power over human beings is shown in making them do what they would rather not do, the man who is actuated by love of power is more apt to inflict pain than to permit pleasure.”

Indeed! The quest for power does strange things to people.

Stay safe and have a good week.

In this issue

  • Covid lessons India failed to learn
  • Tracing the virus
  • [Music] Performing Conversations

Covid lessons India failed to learn

Last Monday, we carried a snippet from Chinmay Tumbe’s book Age of Pandemics. His book had hit the shelves around a year ago. Much water has passed under the bridge since then. Our colleague Charles Assisi reached out to Tumbe, an economic historian who teaches at IIM Ahmedabad. Charles tells us his original plan was to engage with Chinmay for about an hour or so. But as Chinmay started to speak, he didn’t want to stop listening because there was much Chinmay had to share around his learnings from history and India’s response to the pandemic. 

It includes 

  • why a lack of consensus on Covid protocols among the medical fraternity is not necessarily a negative thing.
  • why public policy lags behind science (it’s about demand and supply)
  • how pandemics impact labour migration—and what is different today. And also what it means for urban centres, the rural economy and urbanisation. 
  • the political fallout and how this will lead to a new crop of political leaders at the grassroots—who may well emerge on the national stage in a few years.

Be assured the time invested in listening to this conversation is worth every minute.

Dig deeper

Tracing the virus     

While on the pandemic, a question that remains unanswered to this day is the origins of the virus. The idea that it may have leaked from a lab was dismissed as a conspiracy theory last year. A dogged bunch of people hadn’t given up scrutinizing the hypothesis though, including the Pune-based Dr Monali Rahalkar and Dr Rahul Bahulikar. They were at work to collect data in an alliance with other researchers spread globally. Dr Bahulikar was posting all of it from his Twitter handle @TheSeeker268    

[Image by PIRO4D from Pixabay] 

“As months go by without a host animal that proves the natural theory, the questions from credible doubters have gained in urgency.”

The theory gained traction when people such as science writer Matt Ridley came out in the open to point out the lab leak theory looks increasingly plausible. And last week, Vanity Fair magazine published a detailed account of their investigations.    

“The idea of a lab leak first came to NSC officials not from hawkish Trumpists but from Chinese social media users, who began sharing their suspicions as early as January 2020. Then, in February, a research paper co-authored by two Chinese scientists, based at separate Wuhan universities, appeared online as a preprint. It tackled a fundamental question: How did a novel bat coronavirus get to a major metropolis of 11 million people in central China, in the dead of winter when most bats were hibernating, and turn a market where bats weren’t sold into the epicenter of an outbreak?

“The paper offered an answer: ‘We screened the area around the seafood market and identified two laboratories conducting research on bat coronavirus.’ The first was the Wuhan Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which sat just 280 meters from the Huanan market and had been known to collect hundreds of bat samples. The second, the researchers wrote, was the Wuhan Institute of Virology.”

Dig deeper

[Music] Performing Conversations

On listening to the jugalbandi between Zakir Hussain and Rakesh Chaurasia on Friday, KL Mukesh was reminded of Dr L Subramaniam live in concert with Jean Luc Ponty and Billy Cobham back in 2003. Based in Bengaluru, Mukesh is an advisor to the Global Alliance for Mass Entrepreneurship and dropped us a message asking that we listen to this. We enjoyed every minute of it.

What’s helping you get through these tough times? Send us the song, poem, quote that is your balm now. And we will share it through this newsletter.

And if you missed previous editions of this newsletter, they’re all archived here.

Bookmark Founding Fuel’s special section on Thriving in Volatile Times. All our stories on how individuals and businesses are responding to the pandemic until now are posted there.

Warm regards,

Team Founding Fuel

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