Monday, May 3, 2021

Identical opposites?

 People have been telling me that the way to a better world is in trying to find commonalities among various people rather than in concentrating on the differences. Easy for them to say, really. I mean, come on, do you really think that this idiot who does not agree with me on the deliciousness of an idli-chutney can really have anything in common with me? But I have never been one to shy away from challenges, especially when it does not involve my having to do any work or face any danger, so here goes.

Actually, this got set off by a conversation I had with a friend. Having been asked about why I quit early, and being a bachelor, I replied,"I think any money that I have not spent by the time I die, is so much wasted time - the time I spent to earn it. Of course, I'm a bachelor and you guys have children for whom the money may be useful." That chap replied, "It should not be any different really. After all, if the children are good, they'll earn themselves and not need my money. If they are bad, they'll blow the money up, so why not blow it up myself?" There you go...you may choose to become a father or not, your children may be good or bad but the net conclusion is the same. Any money you leave behind when you die is so much wasted time. Unless, of course, you enjoyed yourself doing what you did and, incidentally, also earned the money.

Then, there was the day when I had a point to make. (A very rare day, of course. Thinking up a point all by myself happens as frequently as a pig flying, but then...pigs do fly as often as I drink myself silly.) I had all sorts of rationale to back up my point but, would you believe it, nobody really wanted to listen. The chap who agreed with my point said that listening to the reasons was a waste of time because he was anyway in agreement. The chap who opposed my point refused to believe that there could be ANY rationale supporting it. Net result, people on opposite sides of a view have this commonality. Neither wants to listen to reasons.

Of course there are those times when the other chap really does not already have a view on an issue. At least then, I thought, all these facts and reasons would come in handy. But no! The chap who liked me accepted my viewpoint and did not want to bother with facts and reasons. The chap who disliked me had no inclination to listen to facts and reasons supporting a view which would be obviously wrong if only because I supported it. Net result - whether they liked me or disliked me, they still did not want to listen to facts and reasons. So, there...commonality!

I think it sort of goes with a conversation I overheard. A few youngsters were chatting in the tea-shop where I was having my tea. So, one of those guys says, "My Dad keeps telling me that I should avoid Social media. The way it works, it will keep me in an echo chamber...as though it is something undesirable. It never crossed his mind that an echo chamber is exactly where I want to be."

The kid was joking then, I think. But I'm surprised that this truth never really struck me, having been the uncle who keeps preaching against the echo-chamber nature of social media algorithms.

I mean, come on, is it not pleasant to have people around you who invariably agree with you? People who disagree...aren't they...err...disagreeable? So, young or old, belonging to any nook and cranny of the ideological spectrum, there is that one commonality. We all LOVE being in echo chambers!

What?? The world is not divided in Black and White? That, between a good son and a bad son, there can be a son who is good but not very capable? Between someone who agrees with you and disagrees with you, there may be someone who is ambivalent? Between someone who likes you and dislikes you, there may be someone who is indifferent? Between black and white, there is always grey?

Nonsense! Don't you know we have decided to cancel grey? 

Monday, April 19, 2021

The fuel of social progress

"Can you guys tell me which is the most important fuel of social progress?"

That was thrown into a gathering of friends, thank god! With me alone, I KNEW that any question would only be a prelude to dissecting my shortcomings. As it was, all I had to do was keep silent and I would escape unscathed.

There was a silence for a bit and then people started talking all at once.

"Innovation. It's..."

"Creativity..."

"Work..."

"The pursuit of happiness..."

"Making the world a fair place for all to thrive in..."

As is usual, the person who asked the question sits on judgment on all offerings. AND this one smiled smugly shaking his head at everyone.

"What is it in your most exalted opinion?" asked a friend, sarcastically.

"Hatred," said the sage.

I knew I should have kept my mouth shut but...

"Hatred? Say love, instead," I yelped, before caution asserted itself.

Immediately, everyone was looking at me condescendingly.

"Love?" said the sage. "I know that the first time you ever thought to wash your clothing was when you thought you were in love. THAT is individual progress. When was the last time any Society moved forward impelled by love...for anything?"

"Love, compassion, empathy...call it what you will," I said, stung by the insulting tone. "Why, Mahatma Gandhi, Buddha, Jesus..."

"Ye gods! The man is a moron," he said, and the others nodded. "Tell me, has Society become more non-violent, less greedy, started loving its neighbors or whatever? From those times to now? Yet, Gandhi propagated non-violence, the Buddha prescribed freedom from expectations and Jesus..."

"Yeah, yeah, love thy neighbor! But you cannot say..."

"Oh! Can't I? Listen, extraordinary people, prophets can sway a populace in their times towards being a more loving, empathetic people. Unfortunately, the human animal is so constructed that their impact barely outlives their lifetime."

"But, hate? How can hate cause progress?"

"What unifies people more than a common enemy? Pushes them to greater efforts than they ever conceived possible? Take World War I and II. When did science and technology ever move that fast? What started as useful to the war effort is what lead to nuclear power plants, and decision theory. Why, even the Internet owes its origins to the armed forces. Progress fueled by hate, all of it."

"Yeah, fine! In Economics, though..."

"Competition is but diluted hatred, much like the Olympics was a substitute for war. But for laws, so-called unhealthy competition would be the norm - in other words defeat the other guy by any means. The fact that you provide a socially acceptable outlet for hate, for going one up on your opponents, does not mean that the milk of human kindness is fueling progress."

These guys beat me every time. I mean, when they talk it all sounds plausible. When I say what I think are convincing arguments, they make it sound like the babbling of a baby.

I was not willing to give up...yet.

"You cannot say the same thing about social progress. Human rights, the move towards egalitarian societies, even climate change..."

"AND those ideas are propagated how? By praising those who practice those values, highlighting the achievements in those areas..."

"Are they not?"

"Are they? What do you always hear...the war against inequality, the battle against patriarchy etc. What gets the most support - praise for those who do the right thing or diatribes against those who do not? What constitutes the bulk of all ideological posts of any sort? Insults against those who do not agree or heartwarming stories about those who work for it? How do you get people to unite - by asking them to work FOR something or fight AGAINST something?"

"You are playing with semantics. The hatred there is for those ideas, not for people. If THAT sort of hatred is what you mean..."

"Nope! Look, when do people scream on Social media and on the streets? Merely for the idea? Nah! It is when you can give a FACE to that idea. A person, a government, whatever who is seen to stand for that idea. It is hatred for that person, that government, which galvanizes people to concerted action."

"Your point is? That it is bad?"

"Nope! Just that humanity is a strange species which needs to hate in order to progress!"

Ye Gods!

Monday, April 12, 2021

Time and Tide

"Time and Tide wait for none", they scream. By and large, they mean only that 'Time is Money' and any time which is not spent in the pursuit of earning money, or equipping yourself to earn more money, is wasted. Why, even Billy, the immortal Bard of Avon, says "There is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune." There ye go. Where we only considered time as money, the Bard had to bring in Tide also to lead you to money...err...fortune, not just your itty-bitty few thousand bucks.

I used to think that I did understand the importance of timeliness when I was a child. Like, if I am late reaching home when the tiffin of the day was masala dosa, the odds of getting more dosa than masala, so to speak, were very high. It is one of the tougher things in resource management to identify the exact quantity of masala for all the dosas that will be consumed by the family in the day. Especially because it is impossible to precisely estimate the number of dosas each person would consume on any given day. Likewise, going late to class when some birthday boy was distributing chocolates was a good way to ensure you maintained your hourglass figure - because, of chocolates, you will see none except in other people's mouths.

And, then, I see all this 'Time is money' and all that rot and realize that I had got it all wrong. Like my parents were quick to let me know. Apparently, at school, I was supposed to get the maximum marks. Learning was incidental, though it was sort of assumed that marks meant learning but, more importantly, marks meant engineering or medical seats which meant that I could make money when I grew up. And on to college where, again, I had to concentrate on marks because marks meant a better job (Or even job, since not all of us end up in IIT where a job was a given and it was only a battle for the best job). And onwards to seeking 'marks', though it was called a good Confidential Report, at the job so that you got promoted. And so on and so on. Time and Tide are relentless, I tell you.

Me, I was born kinky. (You know that? Good for you but why are you assuming that I am interested in the extent of your General Knowledge? Do I look like a quiz master to you?) I mean, the way I saw it, school was the only time when I could be carefree, making friends and hanging out with them without worrying about who was trying to take advantage of me. When I neither had to bother about earning money or about where my next meal was coming from. College was the only time I had money that I could spend by my wish, without the bother of having to earn it, independently travel and have fun with friends, though, yes, the Damocles' sword of having to get a job at the end of it hung above the head.

The early days of work, though you did have to earn the money, was the period when you felt the richest (unless, of course, you had a rich father showering money like confetti while at college - which I did not) since you had no responsibilities making calls on your money. (Though, of course, admittedly I lived at a time when there were no personal loans on offer at all and, thus, I did not HAVE to buy a motorbike or a car and suffer through EMIs. After all, when NOBODY could do it, there is no peer pressure pushing you).

The early days of your marriage are the only time you get to feel romantic. For, after all, once it becomes routine, it ceases to be fun and devolves into perpetual wrangles about who does the dishes and who washes the curtains. It is only when your children are young that they are the most fun to be with. Once they hit their teens, you stop being their hero and start becoming the stupid heartless dictator against whom they are in perpetual revolt. By the time you guys sign the peace accord, they vamoose to college or work.

Time also sets limits on what you can do. You cannot mountaineer if you try starting on it when you are 40. Even if you are physically able to, your job will not permit long holidays and you will not want to risk the even longer ones if you happen to get injured. What will happen to those EMIs, then? It is a rare person who starts learning to fiddle after 50. When your co-students are in their twenties and you have become unaccustomed to being laughed at for fumbling attempts at a new skill...

When, with age, your ability to enjoy new things - food or whatever - has declined and you seek the comfort of the familiar, you are unlikely to love the idea of world travel. Oh, it's grand to put out the pics on Instagram and start every conversation with "When I was in Vienna..." but the only way you are actually going to enjoy the travel itself is if you have done it before and are familiar with it, not if you are doing it for the first time at 60. At 60, your reaction is more likely to be, "Kya Vienna-Shienna! Dang ka daal-chawal bhi nahin milta", if you are inclined to be truthful about how you feel.

Yeah, Time and Tide wait for none. And that is as true about all the experiences of life, not just for making money. If you keep taking tide after tide only to ensure that it leads you to fortune, you'll probably drown in wealth that you have no use for.

Or just drown your chance of LIVING in the humdrum of mere existence.

Monday, April 5, 2021

Relativities

Relatives? Nah! Read the title properly, willya? Relativities, it says. Einstein and all that? You must be new to this blog if you really think that I have the brains to talk of the theory of relativity.

Though, come to think of it, the theory of relativity could well be a breeze compared to what I am about to rant against. I mean, this Einstein chappie, he sort of had mathematical formulae to determine how relative time was or distance was or whatever...the speed of light comes into it somewhere, I know, but mathematical formulae and I...we sort of do not get along. Anyway, if there is a formula, someone can reliably predict this type of relativity. I daresay even Einstein gave up on being able to predict this thing. (He probably said so in so many words, if I remember right. He did say something like "There are only two infinite things - the universe and human stupidity. And I am not sure about the universe")

So, there it is...I am perpetually bamboozled with the relativities of human nature. Renders me unfit company for man or beast, I know. I ought to know, considering the speed with which people drop me. Hot potatoes cannot beat my record in the speed of getting dropped.

Anyway, it started off with 'Drop in any time', which people who have been masochists enough to frequent this blog will remember. Sometimes it means 'Ideally when we are not at home'; sometimes it means 'No guarantee about us welcoming you in, though'; sometimes it means 'You may even be welcome if we are really bored and cannot think of anything better to do'; sometimes it may even really mean that you can drop in any time and find a welcome. The thing is when is it which. I bet Einstein will confess himself defeated if he had to find a formula for it. The meaning certainly is relative but is it predictable? I think not.

Sort of floating on the fringes of any discussion is an education in relativity of the human sort, really. I mean the way people react to the same action is also...err...relative. Though, in this case, it does have something to do with their relations with the guy who does it or the guy who is the victim of the deed or both. If you like the doer but would not normally like the deed, you go "Yeah, that was bad but what could the poor chap do. The other guy forced him to extremes." If you like the victim of the deed, "No matter the provocation this is just not done." If you do not like either chap, "Of course this chap is just the sort to do such heinous things but the other chap deserved it." If you like both and you are a conciliator type you try to convince each guy about the validity of the other guy's actions and reactions and earn both their enmity. If you are not into conciliation, you just think they will sort it out themselves and studiously avoid the topic. With so many variations, it is rather tough to puzzle out which of the relativities obtain in a given case. (Esp in social media. You see what you think is an obnoxious comment, jump in with spiked boots expecting to earn brownie points and end up stomped on yourself by the very people you try to impress. How are you to know that the commenter is a dear friend of your target audience and, therefore, what seems obnoxious to you at first sight is not really obnoxious after all? These human relativities, I tell you!)

Despite all this, I still retained a child-like faith in the idea that there was something called the real truth. I mean, the WAY people see a thing may differ but there IS such a thing as how it really happened...or should be, no? I mean, a comment may seem racist, say, to one recipient; seem like something just in bad taste to another; seem like an innocent comment to a third. All of these are true only to the extent of the IMPACT the comment made on the respective recipients. The truth about the comment is the INTENT of the person who made it, right? Whether it is racist, in bad taste or innocent or whatever? Whether the truth can be ascertained or not may be moot. But there IS a truth there...or so I thought.

But, apparently, there is no such thing called the REAL truth. Anyone who is not directly emotionally involved on any side of the discussion and attempts to seek the real truth is merely a fence-sitter who'd have whitewashed the Nazis. Someone who is just unwilling to pillory possibly innocent people and is all for safeguarding possible victims - No such being can exist!

So, now, apparently there is 'my truth' or 'your truth' but nothing called the real truth. AND we have also canceled lies...err...absolute lies, I mean. They just do not exist. What it means, of course, is that 'your truth' is 'my lies' and 'my truth' is 'your lies'.

Relativities! BAH!