PM Modi and Ms. Trump with Mitra
n her visit to India last November Ivanka Trump and Prime Minister Modi ‘conversed’ with a future both must have devoutly wished were already upon us. It was also fitting that they got a flavor of it at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Hyderabad. Gatherings such as these confirm the notion that the intersections of ideas and capital are points of departure for progress. India is certainly making it.
India’s image and more so the Modi government’s gets a makeover at a time when a queasy feeling hits votaries of India’s functioning anarchy that this self-styled righteous republic is rapidly sliding into manufactured majoritarian violence,orchestrated suppression of democratic rights. They can hear the clamor of dirty and unwashed ideas swirling around the sub-continent despite all the attempts to wipe out the anarchy with nationalist dog-whistles. So the entrepreneurship summit is all the more reassuring that come what may, capitalism is alive and kicking.
At the Global Entrepreneurship Summit PM Modi and Ms. Trump were greeted by Mitra with pitch-perfect courtesy. Who is Mitra? Perhaps a better question might be: what is Mitra? The Indian Express (November 30 2017) said it all. Its headline to the story read: “Why the humanoid robot could be your new best Mitra.” Leave aside the syntax. Mitra is a humanoid robot, Humanoid? Robot Mitra was “programmed …according to the requirement of the event.” Its ‘creators’ Invento Robotics were quoted by the newspaper claiming that, “We build these robots for customer-interaction across multiple domains. You can deploy these robots at banks, airports hospitals…”
The photograph shows Modi and Ms. Trump as devotees before an idol of the Ideal Man—with their backs to the camera. Mitra faces us, the world, as all temple-idols must in photographic images so as to bestow their benediction on thepotential worshipper-viewer. In that image we witness the supplicatory gestures of two post-modernists contemplating a future of homogenized subjects. For this is the first ‘Man.’ This Mitra is an Adam, created by humans playing God. The entrepreneur has invested his ‘Adam’ not like the biblical Adam with the power of language to name God’s creations but with the power to replace them.
Mitra the humanoid that works in a bank and can do the work of many humans: its presence and the promise of its ubiquity can obliterate sloth and indecisiveness, standardize speed and discipline, substitute messy thoughts with clinically programmed work schedules. Why bother with people and their noisy claims and aspirations and frustrations and all those existential qualities that have wrought so much havoc in modernity’s march to the kingdom of Materiality?
Mitra’s builders are the latest evidence of man’s hubris based on the assumption that the weaknesses of the human condition, failed aspirations and subjectivity can be overcome, that the fallout of misdirected modernity and global capitalism all of which end up in a state of perpetual mutinies can be rectified by the ‘creation’ of a programmed ‘humanoid’ robot. In short, man is capable of Reproducibility through a sort of ‘immaculate conception’no less, from pieces of wire as it were.
This presumption is as old as the hills; it predates Adam’s duty to name God’s creations and his irresistible temptations to ‘create’ garlic bread and tinned sardines. In the Greek myth of Pygmalion the Roman poet Ovid savages the arrogance in the Metamorphoses:
“ Pygmalion knew these women well;
Even if he closed his eyes, his instincts told him
He’d better sleep alone. He took to art,
Ingenious as he was, and made a creature,
More beautiful than anything on earth,
A miracle of ivory in a statue,
So charming that it made him fall in love.
Her face was life itself. ”
In the claims of the ‘builders’ or ‘creators’ if you will, Ms. Trump and Shri Modi would have read the allegory of a future whose terrain of multiple contestations and heterodoxies can be swept clean. How? By re-ordering subjectivity, indeed by fashioning them, or as the post-modern word has it, by ‘programming’ them.
In Mitra they would have seen not just the objectification of an economic ideal–the obliteration of diminishing productivity through the abolition of manual labour–but the reframing of life’s reflexivity
In that visual you can see the elements of a future that has increasingly cast its spell over much of the post-modern western world buffeted by storms of rage blowing in from various peripheries. The robot has found a place in the heart of the capitalist world. It is part of an automation that is edging out labour in America. Mr. Trump promises white America jobs by curbing H1-B visas but he has to turn a blind eye to the rapid displacement of human labour by automation and robots.
And why should he complain anyway? Robots are culturally neutral; they could be made ‘white-only’. They do not come with the hash tags of race, creed, alien faiths, gun-toting ideas of justice and equality. They can be programmed to stay cool, remain patriotic, never get down on a knee when the Stars and Stripesis played (unlike those unpatriotic African American athletes and footballers).
The robot spells a programmed future and when you see that photograph of ‘Mitra’ “your new best Mitra” you are put in mind of Karel Capek (1890-1938), the Czech writer and playwright who warned the world of the dangers of scientism and technology by lampooning the robot’s awesome and frightening possibilities two years shy of a century ago in his comedic science-fantasy play “R.U.R. Rossum’s Universal Robots”.
The play introduced the word “robot” from the Czech robota to the world and also the vision of an anti-utopia to a world agog with the wonders of modernity.
Although a comedy R.U.R. dialogues are almost apocalyptic. As Harry Domin, the Central Director of Rossum’s factory tells young Helena Glory a troubled skeptic about the production of “artificial men,” Old Rossum a scientist wanted to replace God and scientifically reproduce the human anatomy. His son was smarter. He invented the robot.
DOMIN: So young Rossum said to himself: “A man is something that feels happy, plays the piano, likes going for a walk and, in fact, wants to do a whole lot of things that are really unnecessary.”
DOMIN: That are unnecessary when he wants, let us say, to weave or count…Do you play the piano?
DOMIN: That\s good. But a working machine must not play the piano, must not feel happy, must not do a whole lot of other things. A gasoline motor must not have tassels or ornaments, Miss Glory. And to manufacture artificial workers is the same thing as to manufacture gasoline motors…From a practical point of view…What sort of worker do you think is the best from a practical point of view?
HELENA: Perhaps the one one whois most honest and hardworking.
DOMIN: No. It’s the one that is the cheapest. The one whose requirements are the smallest…
And, one could add: one with the fewest prejudices and other ill-formed emotions about habits, rituals, gods and ideas of faith and inchoate ambitions nurtured in anger and fury at opportunities snatched away by neighbours. Robots do not have to “love thy neighbor” (the toughest and probably least-followed commandment in the Mosaic Decalogue). Mitra will not join Opposition parties peddling dubious secularisms and tolerance for the Other. And “he” can repeat ad nauseam, at the press of a button that India invented plastic surgery ten thousand years ago in Afghanistan that is part of Akhand Bharat.
For the Indian capitalist trying so hard to acquire global status, the robot offers the promise of a profit-maximising future; clean labour, untiring and uncomplaining; Mitra, its inventors say, is already at work in a bank branch. No red-flag waving unions, no negotiations for better wages. Why this even beats flexi-labour, temp-labour!
And for the PM reaching out a stubby finger at Mitra’s chest, what does the humanoid robot presage? A future clean of ethnicities, alien faiths, the baggage of history as hawked by pseudo-secularists; no more effete, feminized porous mentalities and subjectivities open to influences from far and wide, down and under but an objectified, masculanised practical-ness!
Feminism, communism, secularism, unionism, Hind Swaraj-ism will give way to practical-ism,ethno-nationalism and a resurgent Akhand Bharat! What 1947 failed to do robota will! A programmed majoritarian integration, like our westerly neighbor aims for, like Israel:an ideal post-modern state of monotheistic being with no other consciousness than the one ‘created’ by the technocrat with the blessing of the state and god-men capitalists.
The two pull back. Ms. Trump flies home with the good news that robots can replace those Chinese workers at the sweat shops of Brand Ivanka. And a “question in his nerves is lit” as the mighty apostle of Hindu developmentalism hums Times They are a-Changin’.
What is an ethno- nation-state without the Other, without an enemy-neighbour to constantly remind its citizens of who we wish to be and what we are not? So…Is not a society of programmed, ethnically cleansed and ethically -free robots something of a desolate world, in which our reasons for existence as good Hindutvas has been snatched away? Who could we undo? The Chinese?
Doubts swirl. Would not such a state of being spell a dystopic world with no one to hate, to lynch, to humiliate? Israel will always have its Palestinian- minorities in their ghettoes, its nation-less Other to damn and bomb; so will our westerly unmentionables. And who shall we have if robots displace those despicable scavengers and jihadists and their dirty unwashed ideas that we love to hate and humiliate, scape-goat and adorn our dying trees with, like Christmas bunting?
No! Our self-definition needs these…these things…as mirrors of our own destiny; its fulfillment needs that triad of humiliation, scape-goating and undoing.Can you humiliate Mitra? Will this humanoid beg for forgiveness, re-convert? Robots will rob us of our self-identity!
Robots spell dystopia. Thanks but no thanks. War with the neighbour-Other…that brings us Peace and Harmony!
Some “useful idiot” haunting the corridors of power, had probably read R.U.R to the end where the robots mutiny and kill all the humans, Domin and Miss Glory included leaving their “builder” Alquist the only human alive to face the wrath of their new-found existential helplessness; the humanoid-Robots now want to expand their ‘race.’
The robots confront the forlorn builder who learns he is the only human left on earth.
Alquist: And I am powerless! Oh!—oh!—why did you destroy them?
Radius: We had learnt everything and could do everything. It had to be.
Third Robot: You gave us firearms. In all ways we were powerful. We had to become masters!
Radius: Slaughter and domination are necessary if you would be human beings. Read history!
Notes. --The lines from Ovid The Metamorphoses are from the New American Library edition 1958. Translated and with an Introduction by Horace Gregory. --Lines fromR.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots)are from the translation by Paul Selver and Nigel Playfair. Accessed from: http://www.self.gutenberg.org/eBooks/WPLBN0002096542-Rossum-s-Universal-Robots-by-Karel-Capek.aspx? --A newer translation of R.U.R. is available in: Toward The Radical Center.A Karel Capek Reader.Edited with an Introduction by Peter Kussi.Foreword by Arthur Miller. 1990. Copyright Peter Kussi and CatBird Press