Saturday, January 23, 2021

Virtue is all in the mind?

Manaththukkan Maasilan Aadhal Anaiththu Aran; Aaakula Neera Pira - Thirukkural

 A spotless mind is the only virtue; all else is valueless - Loose Translation

I am back to Thiruvalluvar (hereinafter to be called 'Tiru' to save myself some typing), the man who tweeted, prolifically, more than a millenium before Twitter was ever conceived. The only reason why the chap has not been ubiquitous in memes, apart from the fact that he wrote in Tamil and not English, is because he failed on the main criterion for his 'tweets' to go viral. He seems to have had an aversion to vituperation which, as everyone knows, is the only way to thrive on social media.

Look, for instance, at this particular saying from his book of 'tweets'. According to him, what is important is a virtuous mind. If your mind is virtuous, then you are to be considered a good person. If not, not. I suppose that the assumption is that if you have no vice in your mind then your actions would naturally not be vicious. Quite likely, isn't it?

But, come on, is it all that easy? I mean like, yeah, I may still think of women as inferior, or the differently-abled as lesser mortals than me or some such but can be politically correct about it. Should I not get some pass-marks for that? What does he mean saying that it is totally valueless? 

What was that? It is precisely because the mindset has not changed that they have to keep updating the politically correct terms? Because every new term keeps getting the contemptuous connotation that was attached to the old one? So, if the mindset HAD been changed, the words may never have needed to be changed? Hmmm! You guys never appreciate the trouble we guys go you think it is easy to keep updating yourself on the latest terms?

But, yeah, it looks like there are some people, at least, who think that, unless the mind is virtuous, the person cannot be considered to be virtuous simply based on his behavior. Fine, but what about those people whose MINDS are spotless but whose actions become debatable. You know, like a Vibishan who deserts his brother because to side him was not virtuous in his mind; or a Kumbhakarn who sides the non-virtuous Ravan because he saw HIS virtue in not abandoning his brother. What about them, then?

According to Tiru, BOTH would count as virtuous, won't they? I mean, their actions were not driven by any personal benefit or fear for themselves but by what they saw as their duty. If that is not contradiction, what is? I mean, two people taking diametrically opposite decisions and BOTH count as virtuous?

What do you mean there is no contradiction? That, basically, both of them are doing their duty without regard to any self-interest. In that they are the same? It is just a difference in how they SEE their duties? That Kumbhakarn may have not sided with Ravan in abducting Sita but saw his duty in defending him from being killed whereas Vibishan saw siding Ravan in the war as tantamount to supporting the abduction?

Yeah, that's all fine, laddie, but how the hell am I to KNOW who is a virtuous person and who is not, if I cannot judge them by their actions. If I could read minds, it would be OK. But I cannot, can I?

Huh? You mean that Tiru was talking about how I should assess MY own virtue; how I should go about leading MY life, what sort of character I should build? So, this whole thing is NOT about how I go about judging how virtuous other people are, then?

Hmmm! The thought of judging your own self! Nonsense! Isn't the whole point of discussions on virtue all about judging other people?

I tell you, this Tiru really seems to have no idea of how humanity works!

Monday, January 18, 2021

A conforming world

You know the biggest problem with the world is the fact that people do not always agree with each other. It's such an irritating thing to be find someone giving you the horse's laugh just as you are getting into your stride, pontificating about something which you are sure that nobody can disagree with. Of course, you tend to avoid that chap, walking the high road if he takes the low road, finding something important to do on the other side of the room if you spot him, and so on.

But there has always been a niggling sensation in me. This, I must admit, has been my bane all my life. I mean, what sort of idiot wants to know WHY the other person differs from you? To see if, perhaps, you are missing out something in coming to your conclusion or not seeing the impact of your conclusions on other people? If you want to succeed, you just forge ahead, KNOWING you are right and anyone who does not agree is either a fool or a knave or both. After all, people follow a person who is confident about his actions. Someone who dithers and says, 'Maybe the other guy has a point. But, still, all said and done...', well, he seems just like me, unsure and indecisive, so what's the point following him? Might as well follow myself.

Anyway, where was I? Oh, yeah, that niggling sensation. This wanting to know how the world looks to the other guy. (You know how it is. The view, wherever you are, gets monotonous over a period. The active guys TRAVEL to get to see a different view. Being a lazy bum, I try to find a different WAY of looking at the same thing.) It's all very well to think of it, to think that you need to also stay around people with different points of view just to widen your horizons, but the reality of it is VERY uncomfortable. I mean, it's very nice in your day-dreams where this other chap will say, "You have a valid point. But, from my pov..." and politely explain his differences. Out here in the real world, what's likely to happen is that he'll say, "Well, what can I expect from an idiot like you", and descend to further depths of vituperation. Not for me, thank you.

When Social media came around, I was thrilled. Now HERE I could listen to differing voices, differing opinions, without the problem of getting castigated for my own views. Especially, if I did not put up my own views as posts. That would invite a lot of people to come to tell me how much more intelligent they were as compared to me, and why their views were the only right views for people who even had only two brain cells to rub together. (Yeah, yeah, I know you think that I have a lone brain cell sentenced to solitary confinement in my skull, going slowly insane. Who asked you for your opinion, anyway? When I said 'differing opinions' I did not mean YOU.)

It started out very well. I got some differing opinions which made me feel that, perhaps,...well, not that I was exactly wrong, of course not, but that there may be some need to reassess my own thinking. And times when I had maybe not taken into account everything while I came to my conclusions. And, all that without anyone calling me a nut for not having thought of all that. It helped, of course, that I was careful not to leave any comment or any trace of the fact that I had even READ those opinions. Quite naturally, one can only 'Like' those opinions which jibe with one's own.

Over a period I found that I was right ALL the time. ALL the opinions and views which appeared to me were opinions almost exactly in line with my own. The world was coming to recognize that my way of thinking was the only right way, after all! So much for all those 'friends' of my real life who thought of me as someone who was mistakenly born human.

Till the day I read the comments on the views. To my surprise, I found that there were still people who disagreed with the only right way to think, though they were not foolish enough to put it up themselves as posts. They restricted themselves to making fun of others. THAT shows what sort of people they are...the sort who only pull down others.

I said as much to a friend and...oh, well, I should not have done it in real life. Back I was to hearing about how the lone brain cell in my skull was rattling around, about how I would breeze through to the Guinness Book of World Records for the lowest IQ in all history and the rest of that rot. At the end of which he says that the algorithms of social media ensure that they show me only those things which I have displayed interest in...which means that all I see is echoes of myself.

Ye Gods! So much for Social media widening my horizons with all the disparity of opinions of the human race. Is it going to end up in only totally sound-proofing my comfort zone - my echo chamber if you will?

Marching to the same beat can get monotonous as well, even if you find that you have a lot of company in doing so.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Quotation bias

Way back in school, I was taught to pepper any speech with quotes to lend weight to whatever I was speaking about, especially when it came to public speaking. Which essentially put paid to my career as a public speaker. I mean, if you start off with "As Shakespeare said, 'Neither a lender...', blink owlishly, swallow, and start again, 'Neither a...', look piteously at the audience and, then, find that, leave alone the quotation, you have totally forgotten what your speech was supposed to be about. No wonder I never set the audience on fire, except the once when they had rotten tomatoes at hand.

Later in life, I came across this logical fallacy called 'Authority bias'. Apparently, to assume something is right, because someone who you consider is an authority said it, is a logical fallacy. Fat chance that people are going to be convinced about it considering that, since childhood, they have been trained to quote authorities to strengthen their arguments.

The funny thing is that you need not even be an authority on the subject matter at hand. I mean, like, it's enough that you are a movie star for people to quote your words on politics or, even, black holes. Or, indeed, a physicist for your opinions about any given movie to be solemnly quoted. All that is needed is that your opinion should validate the opinion of the one doing the quoting.

The strangest thing is the way you can become an authority merely by being in the opposite camp. You may be the nut to end all nuts, and be called out for your extreme nuttiness. But the moment you say something that opposes the prevalent opinion of 'your side', you'll be raised to instant authorityhood, if I may coin a word. Suddenly, everyone in the opposite camp will start saying, "Even he said....". There. You can continue to be as stupid as you ever were.  To change your reputation from 'nut' to 'authority' all you need to do is reverse the direction of your nuttiness.

Knowing all that never helped me become a public speaker of note. I'd either forget the quotation, or the person who said that quotable thing, or...You get what I mean. Now that I have given up on the dratted thing, people have made it easy. Just my luck.

NOW, all you have to do is remember the quote. You can always attribute it to the most impressive name that you can remember offhand.

Talk about putting words in people's mouths!

Tuesday, January 5, 2021


This new year 2021 comes around in strange circumstances. Up to now, by and large, wishing for a happy new year came tripping off the tongue. Optimism never had to excuse itself, never like this time. Thanks to the fact that 2020 has not exactly been a glorious year which encouraged optimism. One is almost tempted to put in a disclaimer that the wishes are only expressions of goodwill and not a promissory note.

Nor, indeed, has health been such a predominant note in the wishes as it is now. Till before 2020, one almost took health for granted, except when addressed to those who were already known to be in poor health. 2020 has taught that health is not a birthright, not something that you can safely assume to be in your possession. And, so, almost all wishes for the new year seem to include 'healthy' in addition to the customary 'happy' and 'prosperous'.

2020 has been the year that pushed 'social distancing' and 'masks' into the popular lexicon as very frequently used words. (One hesitates to use the adjective 'popular' - I mean, yes, that is the customary thing to use for over-used words but, really, can one think of distancing and masks as 'popular', no matter how designer the masks are?) But, yet, I'd have thought that distancing and masks have been in vogue for quite some time now in the metaphorical sense. It's only in the physical sense that they have recently barged in, thanks to Covid.

For quite some time, now, social distancing, I thought, was the norm. At the drop of a differing opinion, we have distanced ourselves from others, considered them the 'other' and not one of us. And masked them in the guise of a 'fool' or a 'blind follower' or a 'villain' and refused to see beyond the mask to the complete persons that they are. The Covid physical distancing and the masks seemed more a physical manifestation of the underlying reality to me. And that the underlying reality is a lot more permanent that the physical distancing and masks will be.

And, yet, this is one of the strange times when I ran counter to my norm. In the usual circumstances, I wish that my own opinions are right and am afraid that I will be proved wrong. In this, I wish my own opinions are wrong and am afraid that I will be proved right.

Yet, perhaps, I am guilty of the same thing...of putting masks on to others and failing to see beyond the mask to the person. Perhaps, what I see on social media and what I think is happening - of people dividing themselves into 'we' and 'they' and seeing each other only as masks - is because I am putting on masks on those others and refusing to see through them. That the real interactions are more complex and nuanced than what they appear like to me. My optimism would have it so and I'd be happy to be proved wrong in this.

With that optimism, I wish the speedy removal of all distancing and masks for all humanity.

And a very happy, healthy and prosperous new year 2021 to you all.