Monday, December 5, 2016

Outdated lessons

When, like me, you learn anything at all under protest and with much grief at being put through the torture, it is heartbreaking to find that you have spent all that effort in learning the wrong lessons. It is not even as if it was all because of this irritating technological advances - like the way it rendered my learning of how to use the log tables irrelevant. THESE lessons I could have learned properly anyway and, instead, messed up.

I had always been told that, when discussing something, argue or oppose the point that is being said. It is not merely bad manners but also useless to be criticizing the person saying it. It also shows an intellectual lack in you that you are unable to assess and counter a point and choose to call the other person names, instead. (You see what I meant in one of my earlier posts about not knowing the right words? I could have said 'ad hominem' and made myself sound SO erudite)

I adopted that as my norm for behavior and, consequently, have converted myself into a figure of fun. True, one always expects blind believers to end up calling you names instead of arguing the logic but I did expect that I would find some acceptance with the ones with some intelligence and an open mind. That lot used to be called liberals and there were a few of them loitering around Society when I started out.

Now, though, I find that I was all wrong about the idea of who is a liberal. If you argue against a blind believer, he would call you an idiot at best and an anti-national, anti-motherhood, anti-religious, anti-... at worst. THAT I knew. What I did not know was that if someone said, "Tell me, do you also believe that pigs have wings?" instead of outright calling me a fool, it was liberal of him. To think that I had not realized that an ability to insult without having to resort to crude name-calling was so necessary to being intellectual! To further think that I even lack the ability to see that they are different! And the crowning blow is that fact that I still do not realize completely that only the wimps and wusses still argued the issue, instead of insulting the person espousing them.

I should have known better. I never SAW the people, who advised me, actually arguing the issue. It was almost always,"What can I expect from you? Your reading is still at the picture-book stage" and things like that when they are opposed by anyone. The thing was that they told me,"Do as I say; not as I do" and I followed THAT instruction blindly.

NOW, I hear people say how the world is becoming intolerant of other opinions and how the need of the hour is for more tolerance and all that. I am wise to it, albeit belatedly. What they really mean is that those other idiots who do not agree with them need their minds opened, by surgery if necessary. Not that THEY should also become tolerant of other opinions. How can they even entertain the thought, anyway, since that other chap is merely an ill-educated, unthinking bigot or an anti-national Presstitute?

After all, we now live in times when, if he is MY Mahatma, he can do no wrong and, if he is MY Hitler, he can do no right. If there are any left in the world, who still do not believe in 'If you are not for me, you are against me' with no neutral ground permitted, they are probably still in Kindergarten.

Like me, mentally. No wonder people refuse to treat me as an adult. Thankfully, though, there seem to be a few more like me - even if they do not always agree with my own opinions - and we grown-up kids can hold requiems in our own social media echo chambers.

While the world at large screams intolerantly for more tolerance.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Choice confusion

Everyone seems to love the idea of having choices. I, though, have always been frightened of them. I mean, it is alright to have a choice between going to school and playing all day - it is a no-brainer there, you would elect to play. Or, say, between having to write an exam or not as a prerequisite to pass on to the next grade. Unfortunately, those are not the choices that you generally get faced with. In fact, those occasions do not even seem like making choices - it is obvious what you want to do, the other thing does not even seem like a legitimate choice.

The problem, more often than not, is that you either get faced with a set of unpalatable choices or a set of palatable choices. I mean, what sort of choice is studying Engineering or studying Medicine with goofing off not even one of the options? It is like asking 'Would you prefer being stretched on a rack or lying on a bed of nails?'

Otherwise, you get faced with, "Would you like an Alistair McLean or a Agatha Christie?" with 'Both' not an option. When I have read neither book, how do I balance a gripping thriller against an intriguing whodunit and come up with one answer? I am more like "Umm...McLean...no...Christie...hmm...maybe, McLean..." Whatever decision I eventually make,  I end up regretting it as soon as I make it. The moment I have one book, the wonders of the other book shine forth in psychedelic splendor and the one I DO have dulls in comparison.

And, then, I enter the era of entrance examinations with those abominable multiple choice questions. I mean, all those exams that I HAD written, you could sort of disguise your ignorance of the answer with a deluge of words. These Multiple Choice Questions leave you no option but to hang out your ignorance in all its naked glory - except, of course, where your "Inky, Pinky, Ponky" happens to light upon the right answer.

More problematic is the ability of these questions to confuse you on even those little tit-bits where you have some shaky knowledge of the answer. I mean if the question was "What is the capital of India?" and I were one of those who was this "I know it sort of starts with 'D'. The name is on the tip of my tongue but...', then these are a huge help. "Ah! Delhi, it is", you can say, unless one of the other options is 'Dehradun'. But, take a guy like me, who sort of thinks that the answer is 'Delhi' but would not bet his life on it. Without any choices on offer, I'd probably put in 'Delhi' and breeze through. With choices, though...'Hmm! Could it be 'Mumbai', after all? Or, perhaps, 'Kolkotta'?' and, after messing around with it, select 'Varanasi', if only for the fact that THAT was the only choice which did not confuse you.

Having done with education - and even working - I thought I was, at last, free of the tyranny of choices. No more juggling this against that, those against these and going dizzy for me.

Alas! NOW is when I face the most problems...

"If you slip in the bathroom and dive head-first into a bucket, THIS the phone that will allow you to take the best selfie..."

"The phone which will dance a tango on your chest to wake you up (it takes two to tango, so dual SIM) and will shift to the tandav if you do not wake up soon enough..."

"The phone that will sing 'Happy Birthday' on your birthday and a Requiem when you slip and fall off a cliff..."

Ye Gods!

Monday, November 21, 2016

Justifications

I have always wished that I had this ability to think on my feet. It comes in rather handy, you know, especially when, say, you have just broken Mommy's favorite china cup. If only I could say, "But, when my brother broke my toy, you said I should not get angry because he did it by accident. So why are you picking up that stick and eyeing my bottom like that?" Unfortunately for me, I can only think of the fact that she had expressly forbidden us children to even lay hands on the cups and I had done so, regardless, and broken it in the process.

This acceptance of your own guilt is a grave issue, I tell you. If you, yourself, accept that you were wrong, you do not have a snowball's chance in Hell of convincing others that you were not. It gravely hampers your ability to think up reasons to explain either why you were not at fault or why you should not be punished even if you are.

The movies did their very best to educate me but, alas, I am thick-headed enough to make my brain totally sound-proof. Like the pickpocket telling the cop who nabs him,"You will let all the big thieves, who steal crores, get away but nab little guys like me", in almost every other movie I used to see in those days. The most famous one, of course, is where the Big B rants, "Tell the man who tattooed me thus to surrender to the police and I will surrender" and so on and so forth. It was no help that the movies did not show either the cop relenting OR the mother relenting in the latter case, so I probably had reason to doubt the efficacy of the method. The problem, though, is that it is THAT attitude which is all-important to find these justifications. It could well have proved effective outside the movies, as indeed I have witnessed many a time.

Maybe if it had worked in the movies, it may have helped me. Like the cop saying, "You are right! Since I cannot nab all thieves, I shall stop nabbing any thieves" and helping the pickpocket board the next bus where he could ply his trade. Or the mother saying,"Quite right, son! Let us have all the criminals, from historical times to now, pilloried for their crimes and then talk of you." THEN I may have well learned the valuable lesson of how effective this ability to justify myself could prove in life. Alas...the way to Hell is paved with ifs and buts!

The easiest thing to do is the flipping Income Tax. I mean, you are almost always considered an idiot if you did not evade tax on at least a small portion of your income. It is like...like you are somehow a low IQ chap, sort of a Neanderthal posing as Homo Sapiens, if you fail in doing this. And I...ashamed though I am of confessing it...just could not JUSTIFY it to myself.

Even when the chap, who advised me, said, "Everyone does it." Maybe it was spoiled by the fact that, on other occasions when I had used the argument, he had said,"So, if everyone jumps into a well, you will follow suit?" Strangely, though, the fact that everyone does it is so convincing an argument in the case of evading IT that no-one ever springs that jumping-into-the-well riposte.

Then, I tell myself, "I worked so hard for it and why should I give away 30% of it?"and it sounds hollow. I scream into the mirror,"Come on! I am getting nothing more out of the government than those other guys, so why should I pay more?" and it is still no help.

For me, the fact that I live in this Society means the tacit acceptance that I live by its rules...and I cannot justify breaking those rules, even to myself. Crazy, you say? Not something that I have not told myself repeatedly, especially when even telling myself that I am only giving the money over so that some politico will take it away does not help me do it. Stupid...but there it is. For me to break a rule seems like my approving of everyone else doing it, including that politico. Like I had chosen to join them instead of opposing them, even if it is only in my mind. Is it a wonder then that I can never justify myself on anything to anybody else, when I cannot even avoid feeling guilty myself?

It is a wondrous ability, this finding justifications. The thing, though, is that it starts with the ability to convincingly lie to yourself first. Once you convince yourself that you are right, it is a cake-walk to convince others.

Alas...yes, you guessed it...I never learned that art of lying to myself convincingly!

Monday, November 14, 2016

The Demonetization Derby

It is tough on us bloggers. If you ignore current happenings, especially when they are on top of everyone's mind, you are being not being socially conscious. If you do write on them, you are hungry to ride the current fad. Hitherto I have done the former and been the chap who is utterly self-centered. This once, maybe, I should try the other one and ride my horse into the demonetization derby, alongside all those other opinions. The advantage is that there is this serious possibility that the one side that I decide to favor would share the post and the other side with all sorts of name-calling will make it go viral. (Yes! Negative publicity IS the best publicity on social media)

Unfortunately, though, I am a middle-of-the-roader - a vanishing species that still believes that one should make up your mind on an action based on the merits of the action and not based on who is doing it. Once upon a time, it was called a neutral view and lauded for its impartiality. NOW it is mere fence-sitting causing that unpleasant feeling in the crotch. The problem is that to assess any action on its merits you need to get neutral information and THAT is rarer than a unicorn's horn.

I cannot even make up my mind entirely on whether demonetization is good or bad. It is easy to dress up a thing as being necessary for things like fighting corruption or terrorism and get people to feel good about it. It is as easy to oppose it, since no action is a magic wand that will make problems go away, and, thus, there is enough scope to attack it on the basis of those portions of a problem that it will not tackle.

I see these views about how it did not work before - in 1978, most recently - and I think 'Hey! It is a bad move. Why don't people learn from History?' Then I remember that, in 1978, there really was no IT sector and no means of really tracking who exchanged how much, at least to the extent of identifying who is worth pursuing with raids and who is not. Now, since such tracking is possible, the lessons of History are not all that clear. AND no-one tells me exactly WHY it will not work NOW or, indeed, HOW they will make it work.

I see views about how black money is mainly stashed in Real Estate, Gold and foreign accounts. Sounds rather stupid to be attacking it with demonetizing currency notes. But if someone HAS bought Real Estate and Gold with cash, then THAT cash would still be lying around somewhere - with that seller, perhaps. I mean, I do know that the recipients COULD have brought it back into the so-called 'White Economy' but could they have brought it ALL back? Maybe they could, maybe not, but no-one is really telling me about that. No-one is really claiming that ALL the cash transactions currently happening are NOT the so-called 'black economy' transactions and no-one is also making ANY legitimate statement of HOW much of that cash would BE unclaimed because it IS black. AND no-one is also saying how likely is it that the people from WHOM this real estate WAS/IS bought by the big sharks would willingly deal in cash going forth - after all, not ALL of them are seasoned black money operators. OR what would be in place to track gold sales/purchases going forth.

Everyone talks about Hawala transactions as a modus operandi for getting money in and out of the country and claim that the big sharks would not be holding cash. But, exactly how much money do the Hawala dealers actually have to keep for operational requirements in order to do these transactions? No-one speaks about that or about what would happen to that money, now. The Hawala dealers will now approach a super-Hawala dealer or what?

But, really, it HAS got to be a political conspiracy since this move has served to destroy the campaign money of opposition parties. But...tell me, please, HOW much money has it destroyed? I mean, yes it is political and all that, but THAT money would still count as black money, would it not? If it can somehow be converted, please let me know how and how much is practically possible, and not things like 'They will find a way somehow' which any idiot can say, while sitting in a tea-shop, to his cronies. I don't need an 'expert' opinion in order to get THAT piece of wisdom.

It is quite possible that ALL this money would amount to a pittance and hardly worth the trouble. AND, even where there ARE benefits of a move, it has to be set off against the costs of the move. AND the costs - financial, social and economic - can be very high. The pain of transition is something everyone IS facing now, some far more than others, obviously. But where is any neutral stance on whether the transition is worth it? I do know that it probably is not ALL good but, unfortunately, any opposing view portrays it as ALL bad and THAT is not something that I can accept either.

If someone would ADMIT to the good AND the bad, weigh both without being dismissive about either side of the coin, then I may be able to believe him. Unfortunately, even where someone is willing to admit the good (or the bad) it is on the lines of 'Yes, this may happen but...' You can dismiss anything that way. I mean I could say, "Yes, studying at IIT may give you a great job and prospects but imagine having to spend almost all the year away from home for four years, facing the pressures of a competitive academic environment etc etc" and make it sound like it is totally worthless to do it...to those who know not much about it. AND, of course, do it in the reverse, "Yes, you may have to starve for a few months but at the end of it you will be a millionaire." AND ALL opinions are patterned after this sort of one-sided crap, if not outright ignoring anything that is seen to favor the 'other side'.

The issue is that there is NO way of assessing the benefits and the costs, from any of the current reports/opinions. Rhetoric is merely mud-slinging unless when backed by facts; and, in cases of finance, facts are important only based on numbers. Every move has its pros and cons. Thus the mere existence of the cons cannot create the idea of the inadvisability of a move AND, of course, the mere existence of the pros does not make a move advisable. Any opinion on any action can only be made by weighing the pros against the cons and 'weighing' implies that you need to be able to put numbers to them.

Otherwise, it is like that hoary old question in probabilities - "The fan above your head can fall or not fall. Considering the risk, how can you sit beneath the fan?" The risk, in this case, is in the probability of the fan falling - which would be less than one-in-a-million, say. The question, though, asks you to implicitly assume that it is 50:50.

THAT about sums up the way people, on all sides of a debate with no exceptions, seem to discuss anything these days. Which is what makes the middle-of-the-roader throw up his hands, take up gardening, and leave all these socially relevant write-ups to other hands.