Monday, December 20, 2021

Swag vs Sense

Nostalgia caused me to re-watch an old Rajinikanth movie - Priya - after seeing a reference to it on Facebook. There is this scene near the climax where Rajinikanth - essaying the role of Sujatha's lawyer-detective Ganesh - is in a quadrangle of high rise buildings in one flat of which his client - Priya - is held captive. Trying to locate exactly which flat she is in, he disguises himself as a beggar and breaks out into song, calling for her to give some sign of where she was held so that he could rescue her.

Now, singing so the song can reach some 15 stories above and penetrate through soundproofing is something every movie hero can do. Expecting Priya (Sridevi, if you are THAT interested), who he had seen - about an hour ago - trussed up like a chicken and gagged to boot, to somehow signal him AND to expect that he would looking in the right direction to see that signal is all in a day's work. These things do not need a Rajinikanth. There is no special Rajini swag in all this, any common or garden-variety hero could do the same.

The thing is that the kidnap gang sends a couple of members to find who was caterwauling Priya's name on the streets. AND they look at Rajini and pass him by as a non-entity. Whereupon, he smirks and swirls his cane victoriously and the entire theater erupts in whistles and applause. Thereafter, he takes up singing again for a sign from the heroine.

You smirk, showing that you KNOW that these guys are the gang members but it does not cross your mind that following them will lead you more certainly to Priya than to sing for the poor woman to show you the sign? But, then, had he done that, do you think that these whistles and applause would have happened? Rajini swag beats commonsense and the director knows it!

It is not just with Rajinikanth. Swag invariably not only beats sense, it totally obscures commonsense. Take the way you vote, for example. I mean, if a guy says he will make the corrupt destitute and put lakhs into each of your accounts and another says he will work to eradicate poverty, who gets your vote? YOU want swag, no matter how irrational it is, and THEN you complain that people make wild promises which they never intend to keep. If you let swag beats sense, what do you expect? People WILL try to outdo each other in swag...if they can.

Now, we management guys are a lot more savvy. I mean, we do not let swag get in the way of commonsense. We rename it things like 'Executive Presence', 'Leadership' etc and let THAT get in the way of commonsense. Catch us letting a lowly thing like swag get in the way!

But get this one thing very clear...NEVER let Sense get in the way of Swag if you want to get ahead in life!

Monday, December 13, 2021

Tenacious beliefs?

Beliefs are inevitable. You can KNOW things only if you know all the facts and have the ability as well as the knowledge to derive the right conclusions from the facts. Humanity itself does not yet have complete knowledge and you, yourself, do not even have all the facts which humanity has accumulated. And when you consider things as true, you are only believing them or believing those who say such things are true - scientists, economists, whoever. (Belief in the physical sciences was a lot more dependable in the past, when false facts and scientists who work to prove the point of their paymasters were a lot less prevalent. The social sciences, though...Show me a social scientist - economist, sociologist, whoever - who claims that his view is the incontrovertible truth and I will know where to go when I want an idiot OR a barefaced liar or both.)

Beliefs come in all flavors. Some are proven wrong with near-certainty. Some are not yet conclusively proven wrong but the preponderance of available evidence suggests that they may possibly be wrong. Some are the sort where you could pick any side and have an almost equal probability of being wrong.

It is the tenacity of beliefs, though, that is astounding. I mean, you could possibly overturn a lot of FACTS and not elicit more than 'Ho, Hum' from most people. But touch upon a social belief...

You see, the first thing about social beliefs is that they provide an instruction manual for your life. If you want to be seen as good - dress like this, talk like this, act like this. And by the same token, you know what sort of people others are by taking one look at their dress, the way they speak or act. It is even easier when they come from elsewhere - if he is from that region, he is false, if he is from that region, he is rude...Avoids all this messy business of having to understand them and assessing their character. Who does not understand the importance of an Instruction manual? Now to change beliefs is to junk that oh-so-useful manual and open myself to the idea of assessing each person all by my lonesome. Have a heart!

Like it or lump it, Society works on a pecking order. Equality is for dummies. (Right-wing fascist? Me? Yeah, Right! Even liberals only want equal OPPORTUNITIES, you know. Opportunities to do what? To rise to any level in that pecking order. So, there!) Hierarchical organisations have a defined pecking order and a defined mechanism for rising up that pecking order.

The problem is, as usual, in informal situations which means home and society at large. Social beliefs define that for you rather conveniently. It does not matter what sort of person you are - you are above some and below some. It gives you a nice feeling of stability about life. Touch upon those beliefs and you mess up the stability in my life. Even those who are at the bottom - if you leave it to individual ability to stay there or move up...well, how many are confident of moving up and how many are afraid that the others will leave them behind? It is better if you are fighting to move up as a whole and push some other group of people below you. Otherwise...Change, you see, is always welcome ONLY when it is others who need to change OR when YOUR situation will only change for the better.

Beliefs are also an all-important crutch. Especially religious beliefs. Let us say that someone has a parent with an incurable disease. It is likely that he keeps his hope up believing that prayers to a deity will set things right for him. When rationality ceases to offer hope, people WILL lean on beliefs. Would you, then, find them open to have their beliefs questioned? (Well, IF it is possibly curable and they are refusing to take the rational option what do you think will work best? To tell them that this is nonsense and they should go to a doctor OR to tell them to pray but also go to a doctor?)

So, comes to those who have no reason for rational hope that their lives will become better in the future - due to poverty or lack of options or lack of options due to poverty - belief in a god who will set things right for them is all that would keep them going. And that belief is so tenacious that it will be vigorously defended.

Uprooting social beliefs or modifying them is what all change is about. You need to pick your battles, though, and pick your arguments so that it seeks to change only what needs to change in the better interest of society and not to try to remake the entire world in your image.

To dash around like a bull in a china shop, regardless of consequences, trying to destroy beliefs that you consider irrational is like...

Don Quixote tilting at windmills.

Monday, December 6, 2021

Making people laugh

You know how much I have lamented the fact that people seem disinclined to laughing, going by how little they care for humor books. (Mine? Yeah, sure, of course that is why I am lamenting. When is the last that YOU lamented about something that did not affect you directly? There!) I mean, there is hardly any argument that a humorist to beat PG Wodehouse was never born but let us have you tell me about all the literary awards that he won. The indisputable GOAT (Ah, how this thing has changed. Greatest of ALL times? In my day, if I made a goat of someone...leave it!) in this genre and...

Anyway, that's not what I intend talking about now. I mean, yeah, I do wish that people cared a bit more about those who make them laugh but I can hardly say that any way of making people laugh is welcome and utterly harmless. I mean, there was a time when making fun of 'challenged' people was not a thing and, if you hark back to the movies of those times, nine out of ten movies 'made people laugh' by making fun of the aurally challenged or people who stuttered or people who were keratin-challenged. (Yeah, why should I not find a politically correct way of referring to people like me whose scalp is exposed to the elements?) Well, they were all making people laugh but the question is whether opposing their 'fun' is bad.

What was that? All ways of making people laugh are not necessarily good? Especially if you are laughing AT other people? Well, go back to your favorite jokes and list out the jokes that are NOT making fun of other people. From where I stand, those are the ONLY sort of jokes that make people laugh. I mean, I sit around trying to write what is called 'dry humor' and the most I can evoke is a smile that seems more like a grimace. If only I found it comfortable to make fun of other people instead of making fun of circumstances and the ironies of life...The problem with making fun of people is that you can make all people laugh, perhaps, with the exception of the chap who is being made fun of. Except, of course, if the joke is seen as being complimentary to him by that person. Like the ones about the vocabulary of Tharoor or the all-powerful nature of Rajinikant...

And when it comes to making fun of groups of about that? Nice way to make people laugh? All those Sardarji jokes, jokes about are really taken by that sense of humor, right? If you are not, you must be in a minority OR a Sardar OR a Woman as the case may be. Trawl for the most popular jokes and what do you find? Exactly!

You know, the funniest thing in the world is other people's beliefs. Beliefs, by definition, are things that are not facts. You do not just believe that if you jump off a building, you will fall down; you KNOW it. Now, yes, there are beliefs which are outright disproved by facts and making fun of someone who continues to hold to that belief is probably a favor to the world. Taking him seriously is to validate an incorrect belief. There are those, though, which have not been conclusively disproved. So, why not make fun of those?

Yeah, why not? I mean, what with this being politically incorrect and that being hurtful and all, it is rather tough to find what you CAN joke about. So, I was rather glad to find that there were some people, at least, who thought that even the icons of other people's faiths - gods, more often than not - should not be above humor. I had always thought of my own god as someone who would have a wonderful sense of humor and can take a joke on himself. The problem is that followers of icons tend to be humorless when it comes to the icons they follow. THAT was proved to me when I made a harmless joke about the coiffure of one of the atheistic icons and found a staunch supporter of 'making people laugh' jumping on me with spiked boots. Ye Gods!

I lament about it to another person and he tells me 'punching down' is in bad taste. Hmmm! By punching down, I thought he meant that that the more powerful should not misuse their power to make fun of the less powerful. Somewhat like a boss making fun of your English, the entire crowd laughing and you having to act as though you find it funny. But, 'punching down' is a strange beast. If a crowd of those who belong to historically under-privileged classes gang up to make fun of a lone member of the historically privileged class, it is 'punching up' and, therefore, not bullying. Me, I am myopic and can only see that in THOSE specific circumstances, THAT person is the one who is powerless. What is true in societal terms is not the same in individual terms. And, thus, when I make fun of someone else for his beliefs, I may perhaps BE punching down. Simply because HE may not have the privilege of the education that I have had.

That essentially leaves me with very few choices to make people laugh. I mean, I find MOST of the options to make people laugh are either odious to others or to me. So, the only safe subject to make fun of seems to!

That shall probably always be the case. A joke is funny only as long as YOU are not the butt of it. Alas! Humor, like beauty, lies in the eye of the beholder!