Monday, June 24, 2019

Selfish altruism?

"People think just because someone is doing something altruistic that person is noble. Nonsense", I burst out.

My friend looked up with that expression that I knew so well. The one that said that, before the conversation was over, I would be feeling six nano-meters tall and crawl out vanquished. Not this time, by God, I had impeccable logic on my side.

"I'm sure you have a strong reason for saying so", he said, in a tone that indicated that he was sure of the exact opposite.

"Well, if someone is, say, feeding the poor, obviously he is doing it because it makes him happy. So, he is doing what makes him happy and I am doing what makes me happy. So what is the big difference?"

"Hmmm! So, essentially, you are saying you are as good as he is, even if what you are doing is drinking yourself silly and what he is..."

"Hey! Listen! Let us not get into what benefits society and all, here. We are only talking of whether there is any nobility in it. Just because what makes him happy happens to benefit society, HE is not being any more noble than me."

"Ah! So, by the same logic, you are as good as the chap who abducts and rapes women. He will also claim he is doing what makes him happy, just like you and, if what makes him happy happens to be to the detriment of society, by your logic, it should not matter in judging him."

I should have known! Every time I step in, armored in confidence with my reasoning, one of these chaps pokes a needle into it.

This chap was not done with me, yet.

"You seem to think that nobility means that the person who is considered noble should be unhappy doing it. Can't you understand that it is not whether he is happy or not but WHAT makes him happy which makes a person selfless or noble? Is getting rich quick your route to happiness, or creating an institution, or molding young minds - WHAT satisfies you to do defines you as a person. Whether you need to hurt others to feel happy; whether you seek only to satisfy your own desires to feel happy, even at the cost of others; whether you find happiness in giving succor to others - it is WHAT makes you happy that defines you as a person."

"Come on! If so, then why do these guys get called self-sacrificing? They are not sacrificing their happiness, are they?" I said triumphantly. There. Let us see him answer that.

"You truly belong in this digital generation. Are all choices either-or? As in, you feel happy eating your cake OR you feel happy giving it to the beggar. And, in the latter case, you have no desire at all to eat it, ONLY the desire to give it away?"

Shucks! This chap was too slippery. I should have known! I should have known! I have had enough experience of him after all.

"You do not always choose between options where you dislike one and like the other. Mostly, in life, you may like even ALL the options and still have to pick one. To pick one IS to sacrifice the others, in a lot of cases. And where one sacrifices his personal pleasures in order to benefit others, he would be considered self-sacrificing. Even if doing so also makes him happy."

Punctured again. I would have been better off keeping my opinions to myself and saying it in safe echo-chambers on Facebook.

"But then, what is the point explaining all this to you. You lack the equipment to understand - Brains."

"Say, why do you keep insulting me..." I whined.

"Because, on occasions like this, it makes me happy."

Monday, June 17, 2019

A human resource

The sort of things which make people happy leave me stumped. Especially when it comes to the corporate world. No wonder my managers found me impossible to manage.

Like, take this 'Human Resources' for example. Employees of an organisation were dealt with by what used to be called the 'Personnel Department'. I never had realized that to consider people as 'Personnel' made them inferior to the machinery or raw materials or finances. (I should have, perhaps, going by Bollywood movies where the rich boss would find a worker had lost his hand in an accident and would scream about the damage caused to the machine.)

Till, one day, someone realized that such was indeed the case and decided to redress it - by renaming it as the 'Human Resources Department'. I suppose there were celebrations and parties for days on end with all the erstwhile 'personnel' dancing in the streets exclaiming, 'At last! I am the equal of the water cooler and the diesel genset! Yippeee!"

Now, I really could not see that I had great reason for joy to be considered at par with, say, a bank loan or a bale of cotton. As a 'resource', in short, instead of a person. Which explains why I never really fit into the corporate structure with any degree of comfort.

As in, the managers of human resources were the ones who had to 'oil the squeaking wheels'. The problem, though, was that it could well be that the resource is a 'square peg in a round hole', which is why the friction was causing it to squeal. So, they either chose to 'oil' or chose to switch it around or, if they thought it was faulty, chuck it out with that kiss of death - 'You are not a team-player'. As an employee I was sort of like Hamlet, always wondering 'To squeak or not to squeak, that is the question' because a quest for oil may get me the oil, get me tossed around or even tossed out.

You see, I just could not see how to be seen as a sort of motor which had to finds its right function for the greater purpose of turning out more potato chips, say, was such an elevation from being considered mere 'personnel'. You could be a wonderful party companion ('Employee has great PR skills') or a great father ('Employee could make a good mentor') but, as far as the company was concerned, you are a resource to be used for improving the bottom-line. (What was that? As far as children went you were only an animated ATM machine, with the disadvantage that, when they swiped the card, you first spouted advice before spouting the money? That is as may be. I wouldn't know about that.)

Yeah, I know, a company is not a club or a group of friends, it is a commercial organization and, so, your ability to do card tricks or mimic Amitabh Bacchan is irrelevant to them. The point is that I could not see how calling me a resource makes me happier than calling me 'personnel'. It made me feel that all the difference between me and the coffee vending machine was the same as the difference between an android and a robot - I was biological, the machine was electro-mechanical and that was all the difference there was. (Yeah, yeah, you also consider that the coffee vending machine was far more useful than I could ever be. So?)

Anyway, given that I never could fathom human beings, it is no wonder that the esoteric joys and sorrow of Genus Corporatis evade me totally. It was with a great sigh of relief that I quit the world and, I am sure, that the sigh was echoed by a storm of relief from my organization.

Seemed to me like I had reclaimed being a person. Human, even if not a resource, at last.

Monday, June 10, 2019

I am illiberal?

You know how it goes when you are in your teens and tweens. You just love the idea of labeling yourself - atheist, cynic, what have you. More often than not, it is a label that is the in-thing for the day, for what is the point in troubling to label yourself only to be a rank outsider for all your peers? And, in my time, liberal was the thing to be and, so, I counted myself a liberal.

Generally, once you label yourself, you tend to stick to the damn thing like Fevikwik, because it is normally too much trouble to change labels. The fact, though, is that I never ever felt the NEED to change it, for I liked liberalism and would have been a closet liberal if it had not been the in-thing of the day. (Yeah, right, I never did have the guts to wear an unpopular opinion on my sleeve, so?)

To my utter and complete surprise, I am now discovering that I really am no liberal nor can ever be one. A few run-ins on social media and I find that I had been duping myself all along thinking that I was a liberal when I was no such thing after all.

I mean, there was this Sabarimala issue and I venture an opinion saying that I really did not see where 'Right to Worship' was such a huge thing there. I probably lack imagination but the way I saw it was this. You are a person who believes that your benefits - spiritual, material or whatever - derive from worshiping ONE specific deity out of all the multifarious deities which have temples in this land (It is not like this country is stingy with its deities, nothing like the only ONE which other religions have to make do with. You even have some who admit devotion only by women.) AND that there are certain specific benefits conferred by the deity when you worship THAT deity in THAT specific temple and not in the other ones where you are not prohibited from entering. So, you have belief in that deity's powers to confer benefits on you but NOT in its powers or intent to punish you for breaking a prohibition which is supposedly put in place by the wishes of that deity. An atheist would believe in neither and, thus, dare to enter but an atheist really does not want to worship so no right to worship is involved, is there? But someone devout and, yet, believes in the benefits and not the negative consequences? How many such people can there really be, whose right to worship is affected? And, so, I said that the brouhaha about it probably cost far more in the antipathy it generated about feminism, even among women, compared to the benefits that it could give.

You know what, the very people who scream 'ad hominem' (attacking the person instead of attacking only his ideas), when it is practiced on them, started calling me male chauvinist and bhakt and what have you. I mean, even when you say I am 'mansplaining' what you actually mean is that I am the sort who mansplains, which is a personal attack and not an explanation of WHY what I am saying is mansplaining. (Not that I may not be mansplaining but, if I am, I really do NOT know where I am wrong nor was I enlightened by the responses I got.) If I had only been vituperative or dismissive, if I had offered no argument of my own, I can understand the reaction but not when I had some reason to offer. THEN I expect my reasons to be demolished, not my character.

And then there was the time I took the stance in favor of capital punishment. For me, it was more a discussion of the pros and cons and, in my opinion, the pros outweighed the cons, which may only mean that the importance I give to the pros may be more than what others did. And, then, I was called a 'bloodbayer' and such, to my total consternation. (Well, as it turned out, comes Nirbhaya case, a lot of those who did not favor capital punishment turned 'bloodbayers' too, which just goes to show that the weights we assign to the pros and cons of any social idea CAN change with circumstances.)

There was this other time when, again, I offered a contra-view to what was being postulated by someone. That person, apparently, periodically checks for whether India is still a democracy and kindly made me privy to the fact that the last he checked it still was. And that it conferred a Freedom of Expression which I had no right to interfere with. Strangely, though, when they offer a contra opinion on MY posts, and I even just argue against it, AGAIN it is THEIR freedom of expression that is under threat. After long exposure to Social Media, I have had to conclude that EVERYONE ELSE has freedom of expression except me.

Quite possibly true that. I have gone dizzy tracking the terms of liberalism, which keep sprouting every other day, and I tick all the wrong boxes. There is cis (I thought I had left it behind in college, where cis-isomers and trans-isomers were one of my banes in Organic Chemistry. Never realized that they would use 'cis' to indicate those who are not transsexuals), there is 'het' (heterosexual, I think), then there is male, and there is Savarna - and I tick ALL those boxes, the wrong ones. So, yes, I probably am disqualified by my birth from being a liberal and probably also from being allowed freedom of expression.

So, now, I need to be silent and watch for what the general consensus is about any issue and carefully nod assent to them. OR just remain silent. With all those strikes against me, thanks to my birth, my membership in a liberal club is perpetually at risk. A slight misjudgment and I will be a Savarna privilegist or a male chauvinist or a cishet or whatever, ad hominem or no ad hominem.

Par for the course for someone who totally misunderstood liberalism and probably really does not belong in that club. From where I came, liberalism was not a dogma with laid out acceptable beliefs to be followed. It was the idea that one should be open to ALL opinions on ANY sociological phenomenon, assess them on their merits, without regard to or taking recourse to ANY dogma. It is that OPENNESS which formed the basis of liberal THINKING. Liberal IDEAS are a shade different, they are a consensus of what is right (which, again, can be debatable. For example, which side would you take - sanctity of life or the right of a woman over her body, when discussing abortion rights?) If they are not to become just another dogma, then the openness to question them MUST continue to exist.

THAT, unfortunately, has been my downfall, this mistaken idea of what liberalism is all about. For, you see, the way I think of liberalism is impossible to practice. Most ideas and opinions of people are a consequence of ingrained conscious or unconscious biases, and most people are seduced by the idea that they deserve the privileges that society confers on them by birth. So, it means that it is necessary to change the way people THINK and not merely to enforce IDEAS.

To propagate liberal thinking and, thereafter, liberal ideas is a hard grind, patiently explaining their errors to the well-meaning, whose unconscious biases will cause them to make many missteps, and slowly grinding away at the systems that confer unearned privileges depending on birth. If, at the first sight of a misstep or even a different opinion from the well-meaning, you call them a right-wing fanatic, you may as well try to teach a child mathematics by calling it a brainless idiot every time it makes a mistake. All you will cause is, at best, a silent resentment.

The worst, of course, is what is called a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Just like the child would come to believe that it lacks brains, these people would BECOME what you call them - right-wing fanatics.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Unreasonably reasonable

Maybe it is only me (I KNOW this is usually used as a euphemism for 'Of course if you do not agree, YOU must be crazy' but I REALLY mean it at face value, believe me) but I find that most of the so-called virtues, when practised by others end up being vices as far as I am concerned. (Yes, of course, virtues are defined as what does good to me and vices are those that do not)

You know, like the honesty my brother used to practise invariably ended up with my having to admit that I broke that glass, with the consequences attendant upon such...err...damaging admissions. Or the professionalism shown by my school Cricket captain resulting in my doing fielding...outside the boundary line. Things like that.

Take this being reasonable thingy for example. Everyone loves a reasonable person...or so they claim. Perhaps they really do and, maybe, it is only me...

But take this for example.

Me: "Damn Rohit! I thought he was a friend and he just rudely refused to lend me his assignment to copy"

Friend: "Maybe he was just in a bad mood."

Me: "Yeah, he was happily laughing till then, and the bad mood struck him just the second before I asked him..."

Friend:  "Perhaps, he had not completed the assignment, yet."

Me: "Then he would have said so. Instead of just yelling 'No'"

Friend: "Anyway, you ought to do your own assignments. He is right if he thought he should not help you copy."

There! This chap was a reasonable guy, according to my parents and all, but he is reasonable only about others, as far as I can see. This brand of reasonableness made him widely disliked in class, so maybe it is not only me.

You know, this writing books comes with its own set of problems. Like someone thinks your book is garbage and you can only take solace from the fact that she also thinks that Cervantes' 'Don Quixote' stinks only slightly lesser than yours. If I did not like a genre, I generally give a wide berth to it (like my striking off any Booker Prize winner from my read list, as I have had occasion to mention before), so I do find it tough to understand why someone would read parody after parody when they have no taste for it. But, as they say, it takes all kinds...

Anyway, to get back to the point, a writer has to be this Buddha-like serene guy who can take any criticism on his chin and thank the critic for helping him learn his craft. Well, turning the other cheek I find impossible and, having only one chin, I really do not have any other chin to turn, so...

Anyway, taking a leaf from the politicos, writers too end up having a public persona and a private persona. In public, they are forced to be all honey, saying things like, "Every reader is entitled to express his opinion. As for me, I try to take it in the right spirit and learn from it." In private and especially in the right 'spirits', the reactions generally tend to be, shall we say, unprintable. (THIS is, of course, NOT about those who get thousands of reactions and have time only to look up the overall ratings, if that)

Anyway, I too have learned to zip my lips in public, but there are times I am fit to burst and have to let off steam. And who can you do it with, if not a friend? Social media is ruled out, of course, because it is as public as it can get and you can do irreparable damage to that Buddha image you are trying to establish there.

Me: 'I write a pulp fiction action tale and people diss it for not being Lit Fic. What nonsense"

Friend: 'They are only giving their honest opinion. If they did not like it, do they not have a right to say it?"

Yeah! Like I did not know it. Come on, when a chap is blowing off steam, is it too much to ask for you to keep your comments down to 'Hmmm' and 'Aaaah'. As if you never got all butt-hurt and angry when someone criticized you, even legitimately, and had to cry (and the male version of 'cry' seems, unfortunately, to have been defined as acceptable only if it is shouting and screaming, and not going 'Boohooohoo') on someone else's shoulder? Just to get your emotions under control? So, I come to let off steam and you sit firmly on the lid and refuse to allow me to let off pressure? Is THAT reasonable?

I have said all this before? Or some such equivalent thing? Perhaps, but then I am nearly at an age where repeating myself is almost a sine qua non, failing which you will believe that my birth certificate is a fake. (Google that 'sine qua non', don't complain about Tharoorisms. I, as I have just told, do not even have a friend to help me let off pressure with, if you start criticizing my language).

Anyway, THAT for reasonable people. Their idea of reasonable seems to always be reasonable about the other chap's actions, never about mine. Unreasonably reasonable the whole goddamn lot of them.