Monday, October 14, 2019

Money and Happiness

"You know, you suffer from the wrong notion that money is enough to be happy."

As usual. Here is another friend who knows exactly what is wrong with me. If ever the day came when a friend found something right with me, I'd probably die of the shock.

"Whoever said money can buy happiness just did not know where to shop", I said triumphantly. It is not often that I can remember the right quote at the right time, so I was understandably thrilled to be able to do it once.

"Yeah. Trust you to remember all the pithy sayings that sound clever but mean shit. So, you think if you have the money to go to the finest concerts, your tone-deaf ears will learn to enjoy music? If you can buy the finest wines, you will acquire the palate to enjoy them?"

It NEVER works for me, does it? I mean, quotes like this from others shuts off the contempt. For me, it only seems to convert a trickle to a Niagara.

"So, you mean that you can do without money and be happy?"

"If a doctor cautions you against over-eating does it mean he wants you to starve?"

"Exactly what is your point, then?"

"That money is a tool which can get you what you want. You need to count the cost of getting the money, though, otherwise..."

"What cost? If I am GETTING money, then..."

"See what I mean? You think all cost is measured in money?"

What the hell else do you measure cost in? Marbles? What an idiot.

"So, what do you mean by cost?"

"Well, assume that you are working day and night to be able to hike up all the mountains in the world. And, when you have enough money, what if you can hardly climb a flight of stairs without fearing a heart attack? Your money has cost you your ability to pursue what you wanted, hasn't it?"

Hmmm. Not so much of an idiot, perhaps but...

"The guy who works 24x7 all his life in order to be able to smell the roses after retirement. And, after retiring, makes a project out of smelling all varieties of roses, rushing from one to the other, muttering things like 'Ugh! This is the same rose I smelled two months and 4 days back. What a waste of time.' A lifetime of chasing money can mold attitudes which makes you incapable of enjoying leisure, can it not?"

"Well, all I can say is I'd rather be unhappy with money than without", I said gleefully. Twice in one day, I got the quote for the occasion! Yippee!

"Well, if you are resigned to being unhappy..."

Huh! This chap was too much for me.

"So you will say that pleasure and happiness is different and all that spiritual guff."

"Well, they ARE different. Pleasure is a temporary high caused by your senses. Happiness is a state of mind. But I would not waste my time talking of that to you. Why, I will not even bother to talk of relationships or love or compassion or charity. You'd only have called that sentimental guff."

"So, exactly are you talking about?"

"Remember, even your 'wise saying' says you can't do with money alone. You also need to know where to shop for happiness. I'd add a couple more things. You need to know WHAT to shop for and you need to keep alive the ability to USE and ENJOY what you buy."

These guys! They have to complicate everything!

Monday, October 7, 2019

Progress

"It's difficult to say when a Society is progressing."

"What's so difficult about that?" I could have bitten my tongue almost as soon as I said this. When will I learn that opening my mouth when in the company of friends, especially when it's a group of them like today, is a sure recipe for disaster?

"Ah! So what IS progress, O wise one?"

"Well...I suppose if success is achieving your goals, then progress is when you advance towards your goals."

"Ah! So easy, is it not? Tell me, does improving security in a Society count as a goal? That when Society advances towards lesser possibility of riots or terrorist activity, it's progress?"

"Of course it is." Was this guy an idiot? Who wants a Society where you are afraid to go out for fear of being beaten up or blown to bits?

"So, increasing security is progress? Even if that means security agencies monitoring all your conversations, your financial transactions, your social media interactions? After all, better information helps to nip terrorist activities in the bud. Even if it means that the Government restricts what you can say and where you can say it? So that hate speech does not lead to riots?"

Huh? Now what? I mean, yeah, security is great but...

"I think you are being unfair there. Of course there is need to balance..."

"And exactly what is the right balance? Ask the guys who want security and they will want to ensure absolute security and, after that, if there is some leeway for privacy and freedom of speech, they may grant that. The other guys would want personal liberties inviolate and the Government should somehow find a way to also ensure security without compromising on that. So, exactly where is the consensus?"

I interjected. "Forget that, politics is always messy. In economics and business there must be real clarity."

THAT was like throwing a stone into a hornets' nest.

"Yeah, right! If business finds it more efficient to use robots or AI, or outsource, is that progress?"

"Course it is."

"So, it is Ok if people get thrown out of jobs and starve? Nice."

"Of course not! But why are you assuming that..."

"I am NOT assuming. The point is YOU are assuming that improved efficiency of business will happen without any distress. That there is no choice being made there."

Another guy chimes in.

"Where do you deploy resources? To produce goods and services that people with money want, or to produce food for starving people who cannot pay for it?"

This was nonsense. I mean morbid speculation of this sort. I said as much. THAT set off a perfect cacophony of voices. Everyone screaming at once.

"Really? Tell me, do you know of any system, yet, where a minimal level of food, clothing, shelter, medicare and education has been guaranteed to every citizen regardless of their earning ability? To ensure that resources do not get diverted away from satisfying the minimal needs?"

"Yeah! But that would need, then, population control. If you guarantee all the basic needs to everyone, without limiting family sizes...And mandatory population control? That opens out a whole new can of worms."

"Every time anyone speaks of possibilities, people cry it down as dystopian speculation. Which is why nothing gets done till it becomes a crisis. Take climate change for example..."

"That's another thing. Leave it to business chasing profits, and you will soon have a desert for a planet."

"The market economy will take care..." I interjected, weakly.

"Yeah! Once we said God will take care. NOW we say the markets will take care of it. As though the Market is some sort of fairy godmother..."

"The only thing markets do is take care of goods and services. Not of the environment."

"Not even that. It is a long time since we had that so-called perfect competition that is supposed to make markets work. If it ever existed. Pharma carves out monopolies with its patents. Most business is turning big business, oligopolies if not monopolies. And now you have the e-business guys who seem intent on becoming monopsonies as well as monopolies - a combination that Adam Smith may not even have dreamed of..."

I was feeling dizzy. What was all this? I mean, one doomsday theorist was enough to keep me in nightmares for months. And here was a total army of them.

Looked like this social progress thing was too messy. Too many conflicting goals, no real agreement on any non-negotiable minimal levels for each of those goals, everyone wanting the maximum possible for their own goals and the devil take the hindmost...in short, humans behaving like humans, irrational and grasping.  And, in all probability, the rich and powerful getting their way as they always do. But there was that one thing that would be rational...

"Forget all that, guys." I said. "Scientific progress..."

Again that nasty chorus. Really!

"Nonsense.  The research that gets paid for gets done. From all reports, especially in medicine, the results that get paid for get reported."

"What scientific progress? Are our most important goals in Science to find out the origin of life or the Universe? Finding out habitable planets in our galaxy? Of determining the right Grand Unification Theory?"

What was all this gobbledygook? Of course, I was thinking about important scientific progress in AI/ML, even perhaps, you know, those space habitats around the sun when Earth gets too difficult to breathe in...

"Of course, he is thinking about scientific goals like innovations that will slash the price of his smartphone in half, get him Netflix for free...important things like that."

"I'm sure that, for him, society is certainly progressing and fast. After all, we certainly are progressing towards the day when you can get all your needs satisfied without getting out of bed. That would suit him absolutely."

Should I be happy? I don't know. I would have been, but for that crack about 'monopsony and monopoly'. I mean, if the same guy ends up being the only guy suppliers can trade through and customers can buy from, even if he delivers everything to my bed, will he deliver it to me at prices I can afford?

I sure hope so. These guys, though...they have given me enough nightmares to last me years!

Monday, September 30, 2019

The power of headlines

You know, one of the things I realized very late in life is the power of headlines in news of all sorts. If you, like me, are the sort to just generally browse the headlines - or what now flashes in 'Breaking news' - without bothering to go through all the fine print, you could end up getting a totally erroneous idea of what is happening in the world. Of course it is all to the good since everyone does the same and, after all, what everyone knows IS the truth regardless of what some strange people think is the 'real truth'.

You know, though, this is one of those things that we invented way back in the past and forgot to claim the credit for. I mean, this use of headlines to manufacture the truth hails back to the ancient Indian history (or myth, for all those who are now called pseudo-sickular or some such quaint name.)

Aswatthama Dead

Now that was the headline Yudhishtir flashed and Drona, like us modern folks, did not go beyond the headline and chose to abandon the battle and got killed. Of course he can claim that he had a legit excuse. That when the fine print about 'Was it the man or was it the elephant?' was being said by Yudhishtir, Krishna and the other Pandavas blew their conches and drowned it out. But then, hey, for us too, the fine print is all drowned out by the pinging of various notifications from our multiple social media sites, not to mention the fact that the phone goes around in circles trying to locate the fine print.

Really, though, it is not like we were all waiting for the modern folks and appliances to create the impression we wanted to create, regardless of the 'real' news. I mean, yeah, there were even those guys who read a few paragraphs of the news before jumping over to the next and, for them, we were prepared. So, the Aswatthama news would have been played out like this in the old days.

"The valiant Bhima picked up his mace and answered the challenge of the mighty Aswathhama. Twirling his mace with wonderful dexterity, he deflected every attack. The mighty blows of Bhima seemed to have little impact on his courageous opponent. Undaunted the son of Pandu pressed his attack on his invincible foe."

And so on and so forth, for five to six paras till at the last, we would end with

"And then fell the mighty Aswatthama to the valorous Pandava. When the dying breath of the mammoth elephant gusted out, the Pandava army roared with victory and praised the second son of Kunti, 'Hail, Bhima! Slayer of the great Aswatthama!"'

And there you were. The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth...except that the 'elephant' has a 'blink and you miss it' reference. It has been statistically proven 999 out of a 1000 people would come out convinced that Bhima had killed Drona's son. (AND the thousandth? HE would yawn and say, 'Did you say something?')

Knowing this, and being such wonderful people in the PR department, it surprised me that the Finance Minister should have been talking of Auto sector job losses and said something like 'Millenials using Uber and Ola is also a reason for reduced demand'. Of course the headlines were 'Nirmala Sitharaman blames millenials for job losses in auto sector'. Naturally, no-one likes being blamed for anything and, if someone blames you, the mature mind always reacts by blaming that someone for everything from the great flood onward, doesn't it?

Now if only she had said something like "Millenials are environment conscious and, so, prefer ride sharing services in order to reduce their carbon footprint. Good though this is, it does have the effect of depressing demand for cars." That, at least, would have opened out the possibility of a headline like "FM praises millenials for environment consciousness." Now, you really cannot troll someone who is busy praising you, can you? (You can? THAT is probably an ability that they forgot to install in us older models!)

Anyway, this long an acquaintance with how a journalist can write ANY news so as to convey the message HE/SHE wants has left me in the 'No news is good news' frame of mind, where the 'good' is indicative of the quality of the news and not the nature of the news. This, even in the days when only the viewpoint was manufactured not the news itself.

But the one indelible impression I want to leave in your minds is that

HEADLINES ARE POWERFUL

Monday, September 23, 2019

Judgmental

I don't know exactly when I started getting judgmental about people. It probably started way back in school. You know how it is - every class has this irritating bunch of people who seem to think that marks below 90% (grades, these days, I suppose but it was all about marks then) do not exist and take it as a personal insult if they score less than 100%. It is too much to expect the rest of us to go around with hangdog expressions, looking up in awe at these lofty people. So, naturally, we judged them to be the sort who 'mugged up and vomited' (Memorized without understanding, for the uninitiated) and not really intelligent at all. We, the truly intelligent, could not stoop to such degraded practices even if we were inclined to drop playing hooky and spend time with books.

After that promising start, it is but natural that I scaled new heights. In office, the chap who ascended the ladder was, of course, invariably the boss' pet. I mean, not as in 'pet' because he was good at his work and, thus, ascended the ladder but ascended the ladder because he was the 'pet'. Sometimes, yes, it became difficult to not accept that the chap WAS good at his work but, then, hey the chap had such awful haircut, or had such terrible table manners or...well, usually there WAS something about him which was so rank terrible that he did not deserve to be where he was. Such a pity that such undeserving people got ahead in life. Life is so unfair.

The biggest problem, though, was with those people who are held up as examples. I mean, uncomfortable chaps like, say, Mahatma Gandhi or Nelson Mandela. Those character elements and those achievements for which they are known and you are exhorted to try to live up to...very irritating. So, yeah, what would you do? Try to find if there is reason to believe that they did NOT do what they are said to have done, right? If you cannot find that, then go searching for SOME reason to pull them down, so that you can say they are not great idols to follow, right? After all, they are human, they must have SOME flaws. Precisely what I do. And if they are long dead, so much the better, since they are not going to be around to take you to court for slander or libel. Naturally, I did not rest till I found feet of clay in ANY idol. It is SO irksome to think that they can be, or become, better humans than me.

Do I judge myself, you ask? What nonsense. Why do you think I go around judging other people, if not to avoid judging myself? If I started down that slippery slope, then I would have to feel that I needed to improve myself or some such shit.

Such an uncomfortable thing to do!