Monday, May 31, 2021

What you do not have

You know, life runs on what you do not have and not on what you do. (Maybe I have said this before but then I am at an age where I am EXPECTED to repeat myself.) You know that thing called 'motivation' which is about the ONLY thing in behavioral sciences which the corporate world cares about? What else is it but about dangling the carrot of what you do not have in front of you so that you run in the direction that THEY want you to run?

You know, there are those things which you do not even notice having till you do not have it. Health, for example. If a company promises you good health (or even better health) do you feel thrilled at the prospect of working for it? Or food? I mean, yeah, if you are starving, yes, which IS the point...that you notice it only when you do NOT have it. But do you jump with joy at the prospect of a meal if you are used to eating thrice a day (and popping antacids because of your tendency to overeat?)

Some chappie, meddling with how to get employees to work better for companies, called these 'health factors'. You know, the things that you COMPLAIN about if you do not have them but are not going to run after if you are used to having them.

What is important is what you wish to have but feel that you do not have. THAT's  what allows people to lead you by the nose. You can more readily see it in advertisements. You know, the shirt which will allow you to command a group of experienced businessmen; the soft drink which will make you adventurous enough to leap mountains; the deodorant that will draw women to you like flies; yada yada.

And therein lies the rub. Beyond a point, you actually spend money to fill in perceived holes in your personality - the confidence to command, charm, sense of adventure, a carefree attitude, what have you. (OR, perhaps more to the point, you want people to SEE you as possessing such attributes. You could well be perfectly content to curl up in your couch eating popcorn and watching Netflix; but you want people to see you as the sort who likes nothing better than to jump on his bike and ride off into the wilderness on a whim.) In advertisements, when they stop talking of how good their product is - washes whiter etc etc - and start on how it will make you feel, you know what they are selling. Packaged personality, so to speak.

The thing that had always surprised me is how come trust and friendship in fiction SELL books. I mean, going by the philosophy that what you have you take for granted, they should feel boring, right? I mean, you read books about how ill people feel and cope, never about how healthy people feel, right? Does that mean that people find most others in their life untrustworthy; most friendships shallow? Is that why they seek them in fiction at least?

What?? You ask me what I think about love? Do I mean to say that the fact that people love reading about love means either that THEY wish they could really love OR that they think there is nobody who really loves them?

Are you trying to get me lynched?

Monday, May 24, 2021

I don't know

Is it only me or is it everyone who finds that "I don't know" is the toughest thing to say? Oh, I mean, yes, if someone asked you to explain the different String theories, 'I don't know' comes tripping off your tongue like greased lightning. Probably laced with that 'What sort of idiot expects people to know such things?' tone. Unless, of course, you are a theoretical physicist.

No, I do not mean that it is difficult when you do not know things where you are sure that nobody in your circles is expected to know. It is easy enough then. The difficulty arises when either you think people like you are expected to know such things OR when people around you expect YOU to know such things. Then, those words sort of stick in your throat, like a vehicle in a pre-Covid Bangalore traffic jam, and refuse to come out.

Generally, what does come out morphs into something that tries to avoid that fatal admission. How it is avoided depends on the sort of person.

Let us say that the question is about what an important celebrity said about something of topical interest. You know, the sort of thing which everyone is supposed to be interested in, failing which people start turning over stones to see if you are living under it. And you have no clue that the said celebrity had any pearls of wisdom to cast on that issue.

If you are an unusually diffident person, you end up saying, "I know...but I am not sure if I understood exactly what he had to say. What did he mean to say?" Not that it improves your stock with your only exchanged the tag of an ignorant person for one of a stupid one. Strange how people seem to prefer the latter to the former.

The aggressive person has a different approach. He'd say, "Of course I know. Do you? Remember the time when you..." and talks of a past occurrence when the questioner had failed to know what he was expected to know. So there, the conversation is deflected from the ignorance of the questionee to the ignorance of the questioner.

Then there are the canny diplomatic types. They evade the question by saying, "You know, I think that we should not be giving any importance to what any and every celebrity says. It is more important to listen to the subject matter experts..." And, there, the problem chap is the celebrity for having voiced ANYTHING at all about the issue and exactly WHAT he said is a proven irrelevancy. No ill-feelings among those present and the dread phrase 'I don't know' avoided elegantly.

There are alternative diplomatic evasions. (I mean, there may be only ONE truth but there can be a thousand lies, no?) Like, "In my opinion, this issue should be seen like this..." where you divert the conversation entirely to what your opinion is rather than admit that you do not know what the celebrity's opinion was supposed to be.

Talking of opinions, there is always an issue with opinions which depend on facts. Like opinions about the economic performance of a government can be disproved by published data. Which is why you see that, when people have 'reason to know', arguments do not flourish. (Though, yes, we are making giant strides in making that possible by being 'creative' about facts, as I have had reason to say before.)

The most confident, and thus most virulent, opinions exist in areas where you are sure that nobody has real reason to KNOW. Where everyone actually doesn't know and still refuse to say 'I don't know'. You have no idea what a boost to the confidence it is to know for sure that no inconvenient fact is going to pop up and burst the balloon of your confidence in your own opinion. You know, in things like the nature, existence and attitude of God; whether a mythological figure was good, bad or merely human; things like that.

When adults give advice to children, they say that knowing that you do not know is the first step to wisdom. As for when adults will themselves learn to admit 'I don't know'...

Err...I don't know!

Monday, May 17, 2021

The Good Guys

It must the books I am reading, of late, I am sure, this obsession with the statement, "We are the good guys here." I cannot blame the authors, I suppose, because that's probably the phrase their characters would legitimately use. But I would be hard put to imagine a more inane statement than that.

I mean, really, does that sentence really convince anyone? Does anyone really expect even a villain to honestly admit, 'Look, I am the bad guy here'? Yeah, it happens in Bollywood movies where the chap actually revels in screaming, "I am a BAD man" at every opportunity. But, in real life...I mean, come on, villains possess such unshakable integrity that they will admit to their villainy?

Leave alone saying it, do people even really THINK that they are bad or are convinced that they are good? Just take a look around at all the Mafia movies all over the world. Does a Don Corleone or a Sarkar even SEEM like a bad man to you, the way they are portrayed, leave alone giving you the impression that THEY think that they are the bad guys? Is it not just as likely that they really think that they are the 'good guys' forced by an evil society to do what people call bad things in order to further their own 'good' cause?

I rather think that even a Hitler probably thought of himself as the 'good guy' though megalomaniacs seldom bother to try to convince lesser mortals about their motives. But the fact remains that if there is one thing certain about most of humanity it is their own conviction in their goodness. So what's the value of someone calling himself the 'good guy'?

What is a 'good guy' really? You could be a good head of the family but your very pursuit of providing for your family the best that you can could make you a scheming and manipulative colleague. You could be a good colleague but that could very well make you the bad guy for other departments in your own company. You could be a good employee get the drift. Goodness is a concept related to the circle you associate with, for most of us.

Your goals, therefore, cannot define your goodness because the goals which do good to those you support need not necessarily be good for others in society. Barring a few, most goals are good or bad depending on which side you are on. And, even when they may be wholly good, the extent to which the followers are willing to go in pursuit of the goal can taint them. In fact, it is exactly those who are absolutely sure of the rightness of their own goals who cause the most misery, spawn the most evil. For, when a person moves from wanting to be in the right to being self-righteous, he finds it easy to think that ANY means to achieve those goals are moral; that anyone who opposes those goals are spawns of Satan and deserve to be destroyed.

It is what you feel for those not of your persuasion, or your identified circle, which ought to define your goodness. Do you feel that they are blind and misguided; or selfish; or satanically evil? Do you get irritated with them, dislike them or outright hate them? What are you willing to do to them? Convince them, ignore them or destroy them?

The touchstone of your 'goodness' is not how you deal with the people whom you support or the goals that you espouse. The touchstone is how you act towards the people who you disagree with. You can hardly claim to be the 'good guy' when you are propagating hate against people who do not belong to your own persuasion. Not that it has stopped people from doing so, throughout history.

In fact, come to think of it, 'We are the good guys here' is not such an inane statement after all. I mean, actually when do people say that? Generally it is when they have either done, or are planning to do, something 'bad'. It is more of a self-serving statement or a justification rather than an inanity.

More evil in the world has been done by people who thought of themselves as the 'good guys', and in the name of worthy goals, than has been done by those who were truly evil or immoral. It goes to show that cliches become cliches because they have a strong core of truth.

The way to Hell is indeed paved with good intentions!

Monday, May 10, 2021


When the whole world is agonizing about Me-Too, I wax eloquent on my kitchen debacles. Comes the time when Covid wracks the world, and everyone is an instant doctor or virus-researcher, I prate of how I first learned to swim (or drown, which is the more appropriate term for what I do in water.) This singular tendency to be 'frivolous' has earned me a lot of 'fans', who see me as a cross between a court jester and a self-centered privileged ass.

The problem is that whatever I have to say has generally been said already on those subjects. Couple that with the fact that I have an unnatural objection to speaking of things that I do not know enough about. I mean, yeah, I'm still human enough to hold opinions based even on total ignorance but very reluctant to share them unless it is based in some knowledge. (Complete knowledge, ideally, but you know what happens to ideals in the hands of humanity). Failing that, I prefer to be silent. And, since silence is not an option if you want to keep a blog running, I turn to other topics.

But, for the life of me, I cannot see why being a 'court jester' is such a bad thing to be, so contemptible. I mean, yes, if you were the 'fiddling while Rome burns' sort, you could be seen as frivolous. But, even there, I can hardly see that the person, who runs around screaming, 'Doomsday is here', has done anything more than the 'fiddler'. Though, yes, to be seen as taking things seriously seems to be enough to humanity, generally.

Like, when I see people who scream against cricketers for playing IPL when the world is suffering from a Pandemic, I really cannot get the point. Not getting crowds into stadiums, yes. The risk to players and staff, yes. But what was that about screaming at them for 'ignoring the pandemic and indulging in frivolity/chasing money'?

It is one thing for people to not want distractions when they are fighting an emergency over a short period of time. Like, say, putting out a fire. But it is not in human nature to keep moping, worrying or even working to solve a serious problem 24x7 for long stretches of time. For months on end as has been the case with Covid.

So, when the pressure gets to people, they need something to take their minds off the situation. To relax, rejuvenate and get back to handling the situation. Which is why the corporate world has realized the importance of vacations. AND, in the current circumstances, quite obviously, it is not like you are likely to go off to the nearest Hill station and jostle around in the crowds on the Mall Road before you get back to the daily grind of your office.

What does that leave you? Sitting at home, your options to take your mind of the stress are limited. Not everyone can gaze at his navel for days on end; music may not suffice to shut out the constant chatter in your mind for all; not everyone can lose himself in books, like me; movies ditto...Sports IS one of the options to people.

The problem is that people conflate entertainment with frivolity and think that anyone entertaining people in the middle of a pandemic is being frivolous. In this world of packaging being more important than product, it would probably help if the mental health profession re-labeled entertainment as therapy.

Oh, and by the way, I have not heard the same sort of screaming about movie/serial shootings, though all and sundry DO mention their latest favorites on OTT. Nor, indeed, do they call actors/producers as money-grubbers for taking part in them. Maybe, cos the shooting IS not visible and only the end product is, they assume that all of those OTT programs were created digitally in home garages by lone and properly socially-distanced geniuses. Or, perhaps, Sports are more 'frivolous' than movies.

No, I am not ranting about the IPL being halted. Of course you cannot have it running when Covid has started infecting the players and support staff despite the bio-bubble. Nor would I rant if there had been objections to the manner in which it was held - IF due precautions had not been taken, for example. I am only ranting about the hate that some people have spewed against players and the BCCI for holding it at all.

You see, as far as I am concerned, only morons would think that all entertainment is frivolous. Even in a pandemic. For, if your mind was forced to dwell on the pandemic all the time for months on end, there is only one end to that process.


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 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 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?