Monday, October 26, 2020

Arguing and Convincing

 "You wrote a series on logical fallacies some time back, didn't you?"

"Hmmm...", I said, apprehensively. This sort of start to a conversation almost always boded ill for me. Now, what fault was this guy going to find with that series?

"You do know that most logical fallacies are used, mostly knowingly, in arguments between people, don't you?"

"Of course I do. So?"

"Tell me, what is the difference between arguing and convincing?"

Yuck! What do these guys think, I am some sort contestant in quiz contest? And, all of you must be familiar with the fact that if someone asks another person a question like this, it is NEVER to learn anything. It is, almost invariably, to prove that the other fellow is stupid. Which means that, whatever you say, the other guy is going to find a way to prove it wrong.

"Arguing is the process and convincing is the end result," I said.

"Yeah, right! How many arguments have you seen where either guy has been convinced that the other fellow is right?"

What did I tell you just now? There he goes, out to prove I was wrong.

"Well, I should say convincing is the desired end result of an argument."

"Really? You know, I think you are mixing up discussions and arguments. When you are discussing something, you are still trying to convince the other guy. The moment you stop discussing and start arguing with him...that's when you have given up on convincing him that you are right."

"Oh! Yeah? So then why would I continue to be talking about that subject at all?"

"Because you either want to establish that he is stupid...or that you are not. Or both. Especially when you have an audience. The only point in an argument between two people is one of these."

"Does that ever get established?" I said with a sneer.

"Of course both parties will not agree on that either. You only try to silence the other guy, which is all you can do by arguing. You can never convince him. And how handy all these logical fallacies are to silence people! Ad Hominem, False equivalence, Straw Man, you name it."

"Is it at all possible to convince people?"

"Not by calling them names, no. Not by trying to change ALL their ideas in one go, no, not even when those ideas are ALL wrong. You have to pick on one thing you want them to reconsider and work within THEIR view of the world to make them see the issue your way. If you try to impose YOUR view of the world in toto on them, depending on your arguing ability, you can only silence them. Never convince them."

"What if their view of the world is itself the problem? That it obviates the possibility of even entertaining the idea of change?"

"Well, then, do you think arguing is going to help convince them? Or only give you the pleasure of telling them off? You don't waste time with those, only the others who may differ with you on various issues but are still flexible enough to possibly change."

"So, you'd have me singing and dancing to other people's tunes..."

"Well, just make up your mind about what you want. Whether you only want to win arguments and feel superior or whether you want to bring about change."

Eeeks! I WANT neither. I just want to keep writing my blog without people jumping on me. Just give me peace, Lord!

Monday, October 19, 2020

Conditional Happiness

You know, this happiness thing is really strange. Most things in life that you truly want, you are willing to bend over backwards to get them. Comes to happiness, though, it is funny how we seem to be so reluctant to invite the dratted thing in.

Like, yes, when you are a child, you are happy unless something actively makes you unhappy. Like a pain in the tummy, be it because of hunger or indigestion, or a mosquito bite or some such. I mean, you need an active cause for unhappiness to take you away from happiness.

The process of growing up - of 'maturing' as someone with a really nasty sense of humor named it - seems to primarily be a process of setting up a lot of conditions which have to be fulfilled before you will let happiness into your life. It starts at school where, in order to allow happiness a place in your life, you set the condition that your performance at school should meet the expectations of your parents and teachers. At that stage it is probably not you who are to blame for setting up the conditions. It is the adults around you who do and you, perforce, cannot be happy unless THEY are satisfied. Because they will ensure that what YOU consider legitimate reason for unhappiness will happen in your life as a consequence of not meeting THEIR expectations.

But, then, you have not matured yet. The process of maturity is where others do not need to give you a bad time. When you do it to yourself, end up giving yourself hell for not meeting those expectations...well, THEN you are mature. So, when happiness comes knocking, you say, "Till I buy a house of my own and have a car, I have no time for you."

Then you get the house and car and happiness comes over again and you say, "Ah! Well! What about my EMIs? I need to pay those off before I can let you in."

You pay them off and poor happiness comes again and knocks and you go, "Call THIS a house? A 2 BHK in THIS locality? Besides, the most I can do on a holiday is go to Manali. When I can afford to go to Switzerland..."

And so it goes.

It is not like you never get down to situations where you do not revert to the lower expectations of childhood. Break a bone and you feel, "If only I can get back to using this limb as usual, I'll be happy." Get gastroenteritis and spew noxious fluids from both ends and happiness seems only as far away as the day when your alimentary canal stops behaving like a leaky tap at both ends. And, once you are back in shape, poor happiness comes along and knocks timidly at the door and you snap, "What did I tell you? Don't bother me till I get my bungalow on Marine Drive!"

And, yet, ask anyone and he will claim that he wishes for happiness most ardently. After treating the poor thing like an unwanted relative who keeps popping up at the door-step to trouble you!

Till, finally, the time comes when your joints creak, your digestion gives way, your muscles never cease aching and you say, "If only I recover my health, I'll be happy."

Which is when Happiness completely gives up on you. For, this time, your wish can never come true.

Monday, October 12, 2020

Multi-purpose tasking?

"I read your blog about what this chap was saying," said a friend, gesturing to the other chap in the room, "about purposes and all."

I actually did not hear much after 'read your blog'. Someone actually READ my blog. Yippee Yay!!

"Provided, of course, what you wrote is actually what he told."

Yeah! Right! I should have expected that to come. My balloon of happiness hardly starts inflating before they poke a needle to puncture it. Every. Time.

"Broadly speaking he did," said the other guy.

"Hmmm! You know, I thought you guys were over-simplifying it. Like everyone seems to do these days. I mean, yes, it all sounds nice and clinical when you speak of a man's purpose and all that. But, really, does a man have only one purpose in life?"

"Why not? It's possible that a person does not recognize what his purpose is, yes. But most people really do not chase after too many rainbows."

"Oh, Come on! Can anyone say that he wants social respect, say, and is fine if he gets only enough money to eat? Or that the intellectual stimulation of chasing after dark matter suffices for him that he cares nothing for social respect OR a comfortable living?"

"Perhaps not. But then does every man want to work towards a Presidential breakfast invitation AND calling Zuckerberg and Musk by their first names? OR hungers for a private aircraft and a yacht?"

Ah! This was more like it. I should always have multiple friends around me. THAT way, they can tear at each other and I can get my bhel-puri and enjoy the fun.

"Your point being?"

"Yes, everyone needs a bit of everything. And there is a certain minimal level that he has to have of everything, failing which achieving THAT becomes the purpose for that time. But there is, by and large, only ONE thing that a man cannot have enough of. Be it social respect or money or intellectual stimulation or the satisfaction of serving others. Whichever THAT is, THAT is the purpose of that man's life."

"You will find it difficult to get anyone to say that he can ever have enough money."

"Really? Yes, people WOULD say that, yes, but largely they say that with the tacit assumption that they would not have to sacrifice anything for it. They even sacrifice things to chase it when they do not realize what they are losing. IF, however, they are asked whether they would care to live a solitary life for untold wealth OR a life surrounded by friends and family with just adequate money...THEN you will know whose purpose is wealth and whose is social respect."

"You mean, like those genies granting wishes..."

"Precisely! IF a genie were to give the options and the person KNOWS it will come true...then you will know about them. Though, yes, people CAN be fool enough not to even know what they want."

"Oh! Well! Maybe you have a point there. About people being fool enough not to know what they really want. And then moaning about what they missed on their death-beds!"

"Which was what I was trying to tell this chap here."

Back to me? Why can they NEVER leave me alone?

"But why did you bother? HE can never have enough of only one thing. Lolling around in his bed. Which he is anyway doing."

They say it is a pleasing thing to make others happy. Oxytocin, Serotonin or some such thing. I NEVER found it so, though I seemed to make people laugh around me all the time. Maybe because they, invariably, are laughing AT me.

"That's better than running around all your life and realizing on your death-bed that you failed to chase what is most important to you," I said peevishly.

A red letter day for me! I had the last word for once!

Monday, October 5, 2020


 "So, what did you understand from what I said the other day about ambition and purpose?"

Huh! So, now I have to pass an exam on what I thought was an idle conversation? With an external examiner, no less, what with another friend looking on with that usual sneer on his face, expecting me to make a fool of myself like always.

"Um...that I should not be aiming to write if I want to eat."

"What did I tell you?" said the chap, indignantly, to the other guy. "If I use an analogy, the most I can hope is that this idiot will assume it is only about the analogy and will not even try to understand the underlying idea. Though, I did not expect he would make a hash of understanding even the analogy."

You know, it is dratted irritating when people talk about you in your presence as though you do not exist. Especially because it is invariably uncomplimentary to you.

"What the hell else did you mean then?" I asked.

"If I stick only to the analogy, I meant that there is a difference between wanting to be a successful writer and wanting to be a success and choosing to write as the means to that end."

There was a difference? Really?

My face must be very eloquent, indeed, considering that he seemed to get my doubt. Far more eloquent than my words had ever been.

"Oh, yes, it IS different. If you want to be a successful writer, then your purpose IS to write. You get satisfaction out of writing. Of course, you want to be good at what you are doing, get better at it and, so, you want to be successful AS a writer."

"So what's with the other thing?"

"There you have defined success for yourself - in terms of money, fame, whatever. Your purpose is to get THAT and you think that writing will get you what you want. If you want to be a successful writer, you keep plugging at it even when you do not get this money etc. If you only want to be a success, you try to write so you get what you really want OR you abandon writing for something else. YOU, of course, would only keep moaning about it."

The other chap interrupted and said, "In general, you were saying that his purpose may be either to be a writer OR to be a success. His ambition, in either case, would be a bestselling author, say, but his purpose would be different. To be a successful author OR to be rich and famous."

"Yes! And the same applies whether he wants to be a corporate hotshot or an entrepreneur or whatever. Plus, of course, the definition of success itself may vary. One may see the respect of his friends as success, another may see it as wealth, for example. And BOTH may choose to chase wealth because the former sees wealth as the means to the respect of his friends. So, for that guy, his PURPOSE is social respect but his AMBITION is wealth; for the latter both his purpose and ambition are wealth. Though, yes, progress in what he chooses to DO to get that wealth will seem like his ambition to him."

My head was swimming. I mean, I just sat at my laptop and went pitter-patter on the keyboard. These guys...I mean, come on, if I started splitting hairs on all these things, I'd never get anything else done. Not I anyway got anything is the principle of the thing.

"Why didn't you say it like this the other day?" I asked. Not that I understood things any better but...

"My fault! I overestimated your intelligence."

I like that! Overestimate MY intelligence! THIS, coming from the guy who thinks my brain is so small that he actually tries to hear it rattling in my skull every time I shake my head!

The other chap - the external examiner - now intervened.

"You are underestimating the role of milestones here. See, most of these PURPOSES are such that you cannot handily measure progress. Social respect for example. How do you measure in how many people wished you a good morning today and how many more did it tomorrow?"

Aha! The external examiner was now targeting the lecturer. Now was my chance.

"Or happiness, for that matter. On the basis of how many times you laughed yesterday and how many more times you laughed today?"

"Yes! So, naturally, you decide on some measurable means to achieve your purpose. Ambitions provide you with milestones that help assess your progress, a feedback system to know whether you are progressing in achieving your purpose."

"Quite," said the other guy calmly. "That, indeed, IS the purpose of ambitions. The point is that, unless you are clear about your purpose, you end up picking the wrong ambitions. OR, even, mix up your purposes and ambitions and chase ambitions even when it takes you away from your purpose. Like the man, who slaves day and night to make money for his family, only to have his spouse divorce him and take his children away because he hardly spends time with them! Which is what I was trying to tell this idiot the other day."

They both laughed. 

"You know, I don't know WHY you were telling him. If your purpose was only to expound your idea, fine. But this ambition of making this guy UNDERSTAND it...THAT is where you made your mistake."

The duo literally fell off their chairs laughing.

I really did not see what was SO funny about that!