Monday, April 29, 2019

The value of scarcity

You know, I find myself at odds with what most people seem to think. ('So what else is new?' you ask? It never strikes you to ask yourself that when you trot out your political or social views ad nauseam, does it? So, why me?) I mean, people seem to feel that more of anything is a good thing and scarcity is some sort of evil plague to be rid off...and I, somehow, do not completely agree.

A part of the problem is this pesky education which pushed my face into some truly odd stories. Like this one which was excerpted in my English lessons.

Tom Sawyer is asked to whitewash the fence as a punishment. When his friends come around, Tom acts as though he loved the idea of whitewashing the fence and was granted the privilege by his aunt with great difficulty. And was pestered by his friends to allow them to do a bit of whitewashing, which he reluctantly grants after being bribed by them with apples, marbles and what have you.

By which, Mark Twain actually seems to indicate that making something appear scarce is the best way to make it seem desirable. And, of course, he is right. Go around checking for all the products which are sold at ludicrously high prices and if you do not see an the aura of 'exclusive' hanging around it, I'll eat my hat. (I don't have one, yes, so what, you literal *#$@). And 'exclusive' is just another way of saying 'scarce' cos it essentially means 'not everyone can lay hands on this'.

Yeah, true, most of such products essentially are as desirable as getting to whitewash a fence though, in real life, you 'whitewash fences' in a different place in order to be able to afford these 'scarce goods',  but if the same thing were freely available to everyone, you may not even want the dratted thing. In other words, in quite a lot of these things you pay through the nose for the 'scarcity' and not the product or service itself, because THAT is what makes it seem worth that astronomical price.

Not to mention that, even where you work, you are lead by the nose by the same 'scarcity' thing. As in, they say "These meetings are highly confidential and only select people can attend" and you bust your ass working fifteen hour days, weekends thrown in, so that you can be one of those 'select' people...and then earn the privilege of working eighteen hour days with the annual vacation gone bust as well. (No? I mean, I did put it rather crassly but what exactly is a Board, a Cabinet, whatever, but a talk-fest which has 'scarcity' value?)

Plenty is all too nice to contemplate but it is scarcity that really has value. If everyone had everything, nobody would really appreciate anything. And then you feel the need to keep running after pie in the sky because the pie on the table seems so boring. You need to be deprived of something before you see value in it. If pie on the table were relatively scarce, you will not get a crick in the neck drooling at that pie you think is there in the sky. 

Let there be scarcity, then. Not so much that you starve, but enough so you appreciate what you get.

Monday, April 22, 2019

A reasonable contempt?

 "You know, you are a very reasonable chap."

I was surprised and a shade apprehensive. Yeah, by now you guys know why I would be apprehensive. It is quite unusual for any friend of mine to be complimentary to me so, like me, you are also wondering what is the 'but' that is coming next.

"Which, essentially, means that you will always be held in contempt."

Ah! I knew it. There had to be an insult hanging on to the coat-tails of that apparent compliment. But...

"I don't get it. Why should my being reasonable make me an object of contempt?"

"Of course you don't get it. If you did, would you be such a wuss?"


"What did you say the other day? That this chap was a great manager even if his poetry is pathetic?"

"Yeah, so?"

"From sunshine to moonshine
I will be fine
Because, my dear
You are near", he sneered. "The guy writes three pages of things like this and calls it poetry. How do you expect him to be able to run a company?"

Uh? Put like that, it seemed silly of me to think that the guy who could write bilge like this could even run a tea-shop. I shook that dizzy feeling and said, "But, come on, since when does one need to write or even know good poetry in order to make and sell potato chips?"

"Yeah? Then, this chap manages a nation-wide company with a turnover of a couple of thousand crores...and you think you know better than him about what is good poetry?"

Ooooh! I never thought of it like that. I mean, it is sheer hubris on my part to think...hey, but wait a minute. If I started thinking like that, Gates, Zuckerberg, Bezos et al should be considered a Shelley or Byron if they spouted anything and called it poetry.

"This is nonsense, you know! Just because a guy is a good businessman it does not mean he is a great poet."

"Really?  You think so? So, then why do you think that people are always asking Film Stars about solutions to social problems? If they thought being good at one thing does not automatically make them good at others? Or for that matter Cricketers about Kashmir, say? Of course, if you can tonk balls over the boundary line repeatedly, you would obviously be good at sorting out boundary problems."

"That...that's kinda stupid, you know."

"Really? Well, we are talking of respect, which is not something you assume for yourself. Others have to give you that. So, who is going to respect you for your opinion? The guys who hate your man will sneer at you for considering him a good manager. The guys who love him will consider you a pathetic specimen for not understanding the true beauty of his poetry."

Sheeit! I never thought of it that way. Time to take some lessons in getting respect. Thankfully, my friend was in an obliging mood.

"See, let us say you have a politician and people are talking about his hairstyle. If you want the respect of those who support him, and his hairstyle is truly beyond defense, you say, "What is important is what is IN the head not what is ON the head.  He is a man who would rather care for the welfare of a billion citizens than these others who care only for the welfare of their hair'. That proves how good a leader he is."

"And if it is the other lot..."

"Well, if you want the respect of those who oppose him then you say, 'Do we really want a man, who goes around like rats had nibbled at his hair at night, representing the country internationally?' There, THAT will prove how unfit he is as a leader."

" mean that I can admit no wrong in the person of my choice. AND no right in the person I oppose?"

My friend smiled encouragingly.

"Yes, yes!" he said, enthusiastically. "You get the point."

"Then...that's why no politician ever admits to making any mistake, is it? I mean, he would get all this 'Do you want a man who failed his Maths paper in the 7th grade running the Commerce Ministry?' and things like that."

"Quite! Of course, every action sets off a series of consequences, some desirable, some not..."

"But all this...hairstyle, school leaving certificate...I mean, instead of discussing the issues at hand, are we not attacking the person. What they logic?"

There was a look of utter despair on my friend's face. He buried his face in his hands. A mumble came from the bowed head.

"And I thought that, at last, I had managed the impossible. To drive in a concept into this head of solid ivory..."

"What's the matter? I..."

He lifted his face with such a look of wrath on it that my words dried up.

"You IDIOT! You do not know even the first thing about it. You DESERVE contempt."

"But, why...what..."

"Don't you understand? It is ad hominem ONLY when the other guy does it."

Monday, April 15, 2019

The Listicle menace

"Tell me, what are the top ten things you like about me?"

Ye Gods! Here I am, wondering about how I ever managed to get a girl to be interested in me. Where was the time to think about what I liked in her when I was spending all the time bemused about what she could have found to like in me?

Telling that to her, I have discovered, is a sure recipe for disaster. You think you will be patted on your back for your self deprecation or, at least, earn brownie points for humility and...

"So, you think I cannot get a better boyfriend than a wuss like you?"

Well, after THAT finished off one relationship, I did manage to take the time to list 'all the things I loved' in the next one. Didn't work either. I had either left out what I should have said ('So, you don't appreciate my sense of humor' when that sort of got left out in the top 10) and said what I should have left out ('You men! There is only one thing that you are interested in', all because five of those 10 had been about how she looked).

But I really don't get it. When I was at school, I used to hate these 'Top eight things...', 'Six important differences...' and things like that. I mean, you could write pages of answers for general questions and come out feeling you had done the exam well. Keeps you happy...till the results come out, that is. But with these lists, as with mathematics, you are stressed out all the way. Like, if you could only think of three where the examiner will not be satisfied with less than ten, it is tough to fool yourself that you have done a great job of the exam.

So, I developed a pathological hatred of lists of any sort, broke out into a cold sweat every time I was faced with one, and thought that the rest of the world reacted the same way. Till Social Media upped and proved me wrong. Now it is all 'Top ten reasons why you should not eat rice', 'Six important reasons why Dhoni is a great captain' and so on and so on. (WHAT? You mean that lists are not as intimidating when you know that you will not have to write an exam on the subject? Maybe, but why should it turn into such an attraction?)

Though, yeah, when someone puts a number to it, it sort of gives an impression that the chappie has put in thought into it, collected a vast amount of knowledge on the subject and culled out the most important things for you to be enlightened by. Yes, when you get to the sixth reason for Dhoni being a great captain and have '6. Dimples! Because...DIMPLES', you have sleepless nights wondering what the rest of the world finds so obvious as to require no explanation about how dimples contribute to cricketing success.  Of course, it could just have been bunged in to make up six. (Not that I even know if the chap HAS dimples, you know, but...)

True, it was tough to find that the rest of the world was so different from you as to be mad after listicles, but I could have lived with, indeed, I have learned to live with the fact that people seem to think it necessary to have brains when I have pulled along for so long happily unaware of the need. But, then, that was when these listicles STAYED in social media and did not enter my so-called real life with all this 'top ten things you like about me' business.

At that, I am happy that I was not asked the three things I disliked about her. Now THAT would have been the path to perdition without an escape. You say 'Nothing', then you do not take her seriously. You start citing things, you will get scorched with the top 100 things that she never liked about you and, mind, it is only the TOP 100, so there is a lot more that has just not made the cut. Who was it who said, 'Marriage: A process of finding out what sort of person your spouse would have preferred to marry'? Rem acu tetigisti, old chap, you hit the bally nail on its bally head! And it applies to girl-friends too.

Maybe I could say, "Just the fact that you are not always with me" and get away with it. The problem is that the right things never strike me at the right time. (AND, of course, THAT could well lead to a listing of all the times when YOU were not around her, so it is not like it is a panacea.)

Perhaps it is time to look up that 'Top 21 things women like men to tell them'! May help, provided I can remember them all.

Alas, I never managed to remember them even in exams, when I had all 3 hours to try and recollect AND without someone glaring at me all the while.

These listicles...they are still a menace, I tell you.

Monday, April 8, 2019


Kedum perukkamum illalla nenjatthu kodaamai saanrorkkani - Tirukkural

Losses and gain come and go; to remain steadfast in principles is the hallmark of the wise - Loose Translation

Of all the things that Tiru said, this one must rank very high as being totally impractical. I mean, come on, the chap really thinks that my own value systems should be unchanged regardless of what happens to me in life? Really?

But, then, what exactly are principles? That, of itself, is a big question. AND, being analytical, I have always managed to find that principles are as elastic as I need them to be. Like, say, this honesty thing. I mean, come on, if I made a muck-up of a computation by mistyping some figures, and the decision turns wrong thanks to that, who does it injure if I merely blame the change in some circumstances instead of admitting my error? Well, even if I DO blame the guy who gave me the figures, what of it? HE can always blame the telephone system for my mishearing him.

Or, take compassion. I mean, this neighbor of mine created such a ruckus when I parked my car in his spot by mistake. Why the hell should I drive him down to hospital in the middle of the night, because he had a heart attack. Am I my brother's keeper? It is not as though I am the only neighbor, there are others. So why is it my responsibility?

You get the point. Principles are easier to alter to suit, somewhat like sizing down clothing. To keep steadfast in them, regardless of loss or THAT is like trying to size UP clothing. You run out of material sooner or later.

Tiru, though, would want you to disregard the cost to you and remain steadfast. He also probably means that you should not use the losses or gains in life as an excuse to abandon your principles OR to blame your principles for those losses and gains. Somewhat like the devotee blaming God for not ensuring that his life is a path of roses, despite his devotion.

In one way, Tiru's advice can make things easy. You do not have the stress of identifying what your current principles are, every now and then. Somewhat like the way you feel when you get back to math after a day of trying to figure out how to use your new mobile. You know the feeling of 'Thank God there is something I do not have to relearn every time. 2+2 is still 4!'

But the real comfort of Tiru's advice comes when everyone around you is 'wise' in his terms. THEN you can be sure of them for their principles would be unchanging, making it easy to trust them.

To paraphrase Julius Caesar

'Let me have about me men and women who are wise in the way Tiru defines it!'

Monday, April 1, 2019


Samanseidhu seerthookkumkol pol amaindhorupaal kodamai saanrorukkani - Tirukkural

Like the needle of a balance, the wise should be impartial in judgment - Loose translation

The thing about Tiru is that he expects the impossible from people. Well, in this case he probably is right to expect the impossible. After all, to expect wisdom from an outright irrational species like humans IS to expect miracles.

There was some chap whom I read recently who sort of claimed that objectivity is impossible for humans - or did he go so far as to say that it was not even desirable? Yet, THAT is precisely what Tiru says is the hallmark of wisdom. That a wise man assesses things impartially without regard to his own biases.

The problem, though, with people like that chap is that they tend to mix up things. I mean, yeah, it is sort of impossible for you to disregard all your biases in setting up the standards for assessment. Like, given two courses of action, one of which would decimate the human population but would be greatly to the benefit of cockroaches, and the other that would benefit humanity at the cost of our unwelcome multi-legged house-guests, a human being is bound to be unable to see that the Universe could well be better off with more roaches than more humans. THAT, though, is a bias inherent in setting up desirable GOALS based on which you intend assessing options.

Bias in setting up the yardsticks based on which you evaluate different courses of action is, probably, impossible to eliminate. So, yes, someone may feel that losing Freedom of Expression in pursuit of a Society aligned with the morality of the past is worthwhile; someone else may feel that the morality of the past needs to be modified to suit the present; and a third person may see FOE as a prime constituent of any morality.

Your personal belief system could well be the reason for a bias in determining the desirability and priority of goals. THAT is a given and that is not even due to the irrationality of the species. It is precisely those differences in individual value systems which make humanity so creative though, yes, the creativity can sometimes be cruel.

But to confuse bias in setting yardsticks  and bias in assessing options even by your own yardsticks, and to consider the latter impossible or undesirable to aspire for - that is stupidity. I mean, it is one thing to say that a course of action is incorrect because it sacrifices right to property in pursuit of economic growth (when the other may feel it is worth it because such is HIS yardstick). It is quite another to say that the course of action is incorrect merely because so-and-so proposes it without even bothering to assess it by your own yardsticks OR despite the fact that it serves the purpose for a goal that you yourself find desirable. THAT is not even worth calling a biased analysis, it is just knee-jerk reaction.

The Tiru-style wise man would probably go a step further in his impartiality. He would say, 'I assess it this way BECAUSE my yardsticks are such. Others may see the priorities differently and, for them, this would seem a good option.' But, then, as I have often said, Tiru is possibly dated. AND, of course, he was setting up a standard to shoot for, a standard which people could aspire to reach even if there were none who had actually reached it.

But, then, 'Nobody can be like that' was probably not a statement which excused people from not even trying to reach those standards in his day. Thank God we live in more lax days. It would be SO difficult to outrage on Social Media otherwise!