What life lessons can we learn from cattle smugglers?

By | October 11, 2016
A few days back, a link to a video of a cattle smuggling “operation” across the India-Bangladesh border made its way to my inbox. The short YouTube video showed a few cattle smugglers “airlifting” cattle from India to Bangladesh during the early morning hours. The video was supposedly posted on Facebook by an assistant sub-inspector of police, a Mr. Mohammed Ismail Hossain. The video was shot from the Bangladesh side of the border; therefore, I believe Mr. Hossain would be an assistant sub-inspector of the Bangladesh police, which means that law enforcement authorities in Bangladesh were complicit in this act.

A précis of life lessons from cattle smugglers
  • As nature abhors a vacuüm, so does a free market
  • Improvise adapt and overcome
  • We are most creative when our resources are limited
  • The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry
  • One man’s Robin Hood is another man’s criminal
 

Cattle

Cattle on their way to pasture. © omygdala.com

Many people who viewed the video were outraged by the actions of the cattle smugglers, a few were nonchalant and the rest were practicing autolatry by posting selfies on Facebook. Although this particular border between the two countries is fenced, cattle from India was smuggled to Bangladesh using a pulley/crane system fashioned using bamboos. Go figure! The individuals involved in this smuggling operation were quite ingenious in their solution to overcome the hurdle being posed by a barbed-wire fence. Believe me, I chuckled at their ingenuity.

A few questions

After viewing the short video, people around me were responding with righteous indignation at what had taken place and protesting out loud. Some of the observations made were:

  • How is this even possible? What has our country come to?
  • Don’t we have Border Security Force (BSF) manning the border to prevent such activities from happening?
  • Everybody in the chain of command must be corrupt for such activities to happen with brazen disregard for the law.
  • How can they be so cruel to the animal—hoist the cow by its neck and then pivot the bamboo crane contraption to move the animal across the border. Don’t they have any humanity left in them?
  • We should mine the entire border to prevent such activities from happening.
  • Today they are using this contraption to smuggle cattle; tomorrow they can use the same method to smuggle people, drugs, weapons, explosives, etc. Heck, what would prevent terrorists from making their way from Bangladesh to India using this bamboo contraption thingy.

The viewers of the video also commented on the audacity of the smugglers breaking the law with such impunity. I will not argue against that. I, however, couldn’t help but observe the “life’s play” from a different perspective. Although some of the points raised by the observers were indeed valid, what I took away from the video was completely different than the rest.

The law breakers

Yes, the cattle smugglers were breaking the law. Yes, they were being cruel to the animal. Yes, the border guards were missing in action. And, yes, if they are able to smuggle cattle, they can smuggle many other things, too. I am not going to argue against those observations.Matter of fact, those are the easiest observations to make, because they are in your face and difficult to ignore. The most difficult observations to make are those that are hidden from plain sight and needs to be peeled away one layer at a time to be exposed. Most people don’t do that; hence, they rarely gain any insight into the story beneath the surface or learn about the entropy in the system.

To me, the video explained a lot about human behavior. The way I see it, the video shows how we humans will always find a way to circumvent anything put in placebe it a system, a barrier, a process or a policythat acts as an impediment to us getting what we want, need, desire, aspire, intend to do, are addicted to, aim for, dream or seek.

So, is there anything to learn about human ingenuity, human behavior or economics from this video? I believe there is; so, here are a few important life lessons derived from the video on cattle smuggling across the India-Bangladesh border.

As nature abhors a vacuüm, so does a free market.

In this case, I think there is a market (a vacuüm) for cattle in Bangladesh and the supply exists in India. Hence, the forces of demand and supply take overBangladesh has the demand and India has the supply. A deal is made between the parties across the border, a strategy is formulated to successfully smuggle the cattle, the bamboo contraption is built, the cattle hoisted by its neck and “airlifted” to Bangladesh. The parties involved do not care about the laws of the land or cruelty to animal, as is quite evident from the video. They are just the middlemen acting as a conduit to fulfill a market demand, and they will do anything to provide that service. Because, ultimately, there is a business opportunity to make money here.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not here to justify their actions. I will leaving the judging to others. I am just making observations about why this activity is taking place in the first place. It is as simple as a vacuüm existing, and somebody or a group of individuals acting on their self-interests to fill the void in the marketplace. Whatever their motivation, the main reason behind the smuggling operation can be distilled down to one basic equationthere is a demand for cattle in Bangladesh and somebody is meeting that demand by smuggling cattle from India.

Arbitrage?

Maybe the smugglers are exploiting an arbitrage opportunity hereherd of cattle are selling at a higher price in Bangladesh, whereas the smugglers can buy the cattle at a much lower price in India.  So, buy low in India, smuggle across the border, sell at a higher price in Bangladesh.

Have we seen such behavior somewhere else? Yes, we have. Do you remember what happened when Government of India raised customs duty on gold to 10 percent. People started smuggling gold from Dubai by storing them in their rectum. Again, demand/supply, arbitrage and prospect of a bigger profit.

Therefore, you will notice, time and again, whenever there is a demand for a certain product or services, people will find a way to provide/procure that product or servicesby smuggling or otherwiseeven if the Government has instituted a ban in the said product or services.

Some examples

  • Prohibition in the US

    Prohibition led to rum-running, bootlegging and a rise in organized crime. During the prohibition era in the US, people with the right connections got their drinks come hell or high water. Matter of fact, 80% of the members of US Congress got their drinks from a Congressional bootlegger by the name of George Cassiday. And those are the same people who passed the law prohibiting sale of liquor across the US. Seriously, you cannot make this poop up!
    The same is true for many dry states in India. Do you think people with connection, who want to drink cannot get their drink of choice in those dry states in India? A rhetorical question, by the way.

  • Drug use because of war on drugs

    The US drug addiction rate since the 1970s has remained the same, whereas the US Govt. has spent more than a trillion dollars on war on drugs. The war on drugs has been an abysmal failure. Drugs are still flowing into the US from Latin America and people have “easy” access to it. Some of the drug lords in Mexico and Columbia are billionaires; yet, you will not find their names in the Forbes billionaire list. Did you know that Pablo Escobar of the famed Medellin cartel burned $2 million to keep his family warm? That’s how rich those drug lords are, and they control the drug market in the US.

  • Black market for guns

    Private ownership of guns is illegal in many countries; however, do you think you cannot buy a gun if you are willing to shell out the money required? If you think not, then, I would like to sell a bridge to nowhere to you. Please know that when guns are outlawed only the outlaws have guns. Similarly, black market for ivory, black market for human organs, market for illegal flesh trade, etc. exists because buyers for those products and services exist. Hence, as long as the demand exists, somebody will find a way to make a market to satisfy that demand, which is what we are seeing in that video.

Again, let me repeat, I am not condoning the action of the smugglers. I am just making an observation about what might be the incentive for them to indulge in this smuggling activity.

Improvise adapt and overcome

Whenever faced with a problem, take a step back to get the bigger picture, understand the problem at hand, analyze the problem, strategize to overcome the problem, plan to accomplish the strategy, execute the plan, evaluate the implementation, change the strategy if needed or improve it further and finally achieve the desired outcome. In other words—improvise adapt and overcome. Life is full of surprises at every turn; hence, even if you are fully prepared, situations may force you to change your plans. You have to be always nimble and adapt to the circumstances. Don’t let the circumstances control you.

I feel this is exactly what the smugglers did. The smugglers improvised to come up with an innovative solution to barbed-wire fence problem. They probably did not have the monetary resources to buy a crane. Moreover, bringing a crane to the border will raise all kinds of eyebrows. Therefore, through human ingenuity, they fashioned a bamboo crane to move the cattle across the border. Low cost solution to a big barbed-wire problem. Beat that law enforcement!

Examples:

  • Using a duct tape to temporarily fix a household item
  • Using a bubble gum to fix a leak
  • Building a shelter using broken tree branches and twigs when lost in the wilderness
  • Using two sticks or two pieces of wood to make a splint to protect a wounded body part from further injury
  • Going to a café to complete an urgent task when there is a power outage at home.

We are most creative when our resources are limited.

Necessity is the mother of invention. The immediate necessity or need for the actors here was to smuggle the cattle across the border; however, there is a fence on the border. Therefore, “invent” a bamboo crane and use it to successfully smuggle cattle. There is little or no cost to fashion that contraption, but successful implementation guarantees a profitable endeavor. Once the smugglers achieve the objective of transporting the cattle to Bangladesh, they will dismantle the contraption and disappear. They didn’t need an engineer or a rocket scientist to design and build this bamboo crane system. They designed and built the system on their own, out of the necessity to smuggle cattle across a fenced border.

Examples:

The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.

The purpose of the fence was to stop smuggling and various other illegal activities. The Government of India and Bangladesh must have spend millions of rupees/takas to build that fence to stop among many things cattle smuggling. And what do the smugglers do, they throw a monkey wrench to the best laid plans of men. Instead of giving up, the smugglers improvised by building a bamboo crane system.

Now, some observers had the following to say:

  • The activity wouldn’t be possible if only the fence were taller.” My answer… they would have dug a tunnel underneath the fence and smuggled the cattle across.
  • Well, we should have mined the area.They will build a ropeway.
  • We should have cameras, motion detector and 24 hour surveillance on the border.They will smuggle the cattle using a boat. Heck, they will tranquilize the cattle, put them in a boat and row the boat across the river.
  • Well, then, we should not allow boats on a river next to the border.They will build a submarine and tow it across the river. Just look up how the Mexican drug cartels smuggle drugs to the US using submarines.
  • We should electrify the fence.They will use insulated tools and safety gears to cut the wires. Heck, they will bribe the border guards and move the cattle across.

Here is the bottom-line: You cannot box humans in; well, you can do so temporarily, but humans will figure out a way to get what they want. The only determining factor here is how badly they want whatever it is they want. It is exactly the reason why that knives, drugs, mobile phones, cigarettes, etc., find their way, smuggled, into a prison and into the hands of prisoners.

One man’s Robin Hood is another man’s criminal.

How often have we been quick to judge someone because of their look, their attire, their walk, their gait, their style of speaking, their skin color, etc. How many times did we form an opinion about something or someone after just a single interaction or a singular act? I know I am guilty of doing exactly that, and I can hazard a guess that many of us have been guilty of taking a single data point, extrapolating it and reaching a conclusion/judgment. And how many times have we been wrong in hastily reaching a conclusion/judgement? I have lost count the number of times I had to eat crow.

In this case, too, many of us were guilty of reaching conclusions very quickly. I heard many opine that the cattle is likely being smuggled for their meat. They were outraged at the fact that cattle from a predominantly Hindu nation, where cows are revered, are being smuggled across the border for slaughter and consumption. Various adjectives were used to describe the smugglers. Furthermore, some wanted the smugglers dead, some wanted them to be skinned alive and a few wondered how can some low-life degenerates denigrate the sanctity of sacred cow. A person had opined, “they don’t respect our religious feelings; hence, we should hit them with all our might. The cattle thieves/smugglers are the scum of the planet.” Okay… however, we need to realize that one man’s thief is another man’s savior.

Why the smuggling?

I don’t know why the cattle is being smuggled; maybe they are being smuggled for slaughter and human consumption or maybe some of them are being smuggled to be the beast of burden or for dairy farming. Who knows? What I do know is that we are all guilty of judging people instantaneously, using just a few facts. Yes, one religion may prohibit its followers from consuming beef or any meat, but other religions do not. Does consuming beef/meat automatically make somebody a devil? Well, then, somebody’s devil is somebody else’s God.

I have nothing against anybody following a particular diet. However, I sometimes do wonder what non-meat eaters would do if they were to find themselves in a situation where consuming meat is the only way to save their life. The other option is to die of starvation. The same question applies to meat eaters, too. What will they do if they find themselves in a situation where only vegetables are available for consumption. Do you starve to death?

The Andes flight disaster

When a plane full of rugby players crashed in the Andes on 13 October 1972, the survivors of the crash had to eat the flesh of their dead friends to stay alive. Did that make them cannibals? If you use the dictionary definition of cannibalism, then the answer is, ‘yes’; however, if you empathize with them and the situation they were in, then the answer is, ‘no’. They had to do whatever was necessary to survive.

There are times in life when a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. Our desire to live is the biggest motivational factor of all, it trumps all desires. Now, how do you judge a person’s action, however extreme may it be, when inaction would mean certain death. Do you use religious texts, logic, science, gut-feel, humanity, empathy? I don’t have the answer to that question. Life’s not always black and white; it has shades of grey.

Therefore, only judge if you are brave enough to hear somebody else’s judgment of you. Because one person’s just judgment is another person’s death sentence; one person’s opinion is another person’s horseshit; one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter; one man’s God is another man’s devil; one man’s whistleblower is another man’s traitor. It’s all subjective, far removed from reality… probably controlled by one’s emotional beliefs.

Snowden, Assange, Manning, anyone? Sounds familiar?

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