Monday, February 28, 2022

High Ground

"I don't understand why people get so worked up about what celebrities say or do?"

"When have you understood anything?"

There...the stage was set as usual! Things have come to such a pass that I'm actually happy when the first insult has been hurled my way. Otherwise, it is like that Chinese torture where the victim suffers the torment of not knowing when the next drop of water will fall on him. I am so on tenterhooks about when I am going to be insulted that it is actually a relief to hear the insult.

"That's all very well," I said, "but why do people do that?"

"Well, you mutt!" said my friend cordially. "People like feeling that they are important. Unfortunately, most of us are not and, what's more, we know it."

Well, so what's new? Not all of us can be moving and shaking the world. The world will shake to pieces if we did that, considering how little consensus there is about what direction to move and shake it in.


"The next best thing is to feel superior to someone who you think has become important, no?"

"To do that, you would have become important yourself. If you can..."

"Not really! To become SOCIALLY important, yes, you need to be more rich or more famous or both in order to feel superior. Anyway, pulling celebrities down on social media is not going to make you socially important...unless you already have some element of celebrity already. THEN you can use this to build on your existing celebrity."

"But I'm not talking of..."

"...existing lesser celebrities but of ordinary folks, I know. The point is that, if you cannot claim the social high ground, you can claim the intellectual high ground, perhaps."

"Become a scientist or..."

"Huh! Nonsense! Start making fun of a Alia Bhat for not knowing the PM of India, say. For as long as it lasts, you can feel comfortably superior to a celebrity."

"But...but...she probably knows now..."

"Idiot! I am not giving you guidance on how to do it now. Only an example of how it works. You can make fun of Shilpa Shetty, say, trying to learn how to treat a pet dog by reading Orwell's 'Animal Farm'; or Tom Cruise's scientology beliefs...anything that makes you feel that you are more intelligent, more knowledgeable, more rational than these celebrities. Makes you feel a warm sense of importance which you probably do not feel by showing up the same lack of knowledge in, say, your nephew."

"Hmmm!" This was intriguing. I mean, I was sort of resigned to feeling unimportant in the general scheme of things but it looks like I was missing a bet. I really was, you know. I mean, why did it not strike me that I knew of these people and their comments because THEY got publicity by criticizing celebrities. There...this was interesting!

"Any other way?"

"The thing that most people find the easiest. Take the moral high ground!"

"Moral high ground? That's tough, no? I mean, I have got to be moral myself..."

My friend started laughing hysterically. When he was done, he said,"Are you the celebrity? Who knows anything about you?"

You know, that never struck me! What would anyone know about me? There was no way they could call me out for hypocrisy. This moral high ground business would be a piece of cake, really!

"How do I..."

"Simple! Any celebrity will have character quirks - rude, arrogant, wishy-washy, you name it! Otherwise, you have the lifestyle things - anti-climate change for using cars, not being vegan, say...things like that. The easiest is language...almost all may end up using some words that can be racist, sexist, whatever..."

"Those are all real issues, no?"

"They are, yes! But do not confuse morality with the moral high ground. All of us have moral imperatives but almost all of us fail them in some form or the other. Do all of us do nothing that adversely affect climate? Are we all conscious of all the words and metaphors which may have originally been racist, that we never use them? To lack moral intentions makes you immoral. But to look around to judge and criticize people based on such things, whether they intended it immorally or not, is to try to seize the moral high ground."

Aha! Now I knew what to do. But...

"Does this work only on celebrities?"

"Haven't you see it used daily? It works on anyone and people tend to use it on almost everyone who they see as better than them. That way, they can keep up a semblance of personal superiority."

He looked at me speculatively.

"Well, as far as you are concerned, you can use it on everyone. Hard to see you being able to consider anyone as being inferior to you."

"Oh, Yeah? Then why is it that you are always trying to seize the intellectual high ground on me?"

"Touche," he said.

YAY! For once I had the last word in an argument!

Monday, February 21, 2022


So, there is this game 'Wordle' which has become a rage on Social media. I suppose you know how it goes but, just in case you time-traveled from the medieval ages, you are supposed to find out a 5 letter word in six guesses. When you type in your first guess, you'll get to know which of the letters in that word are also there in the word you are supposed to guess; and the letters which are also in the same POSITION will be specifically indicated in green. So, you keep typing further words till you hit on the right word. IF you can do it within 6 guesses.

Now, on one occasion, I type in my first guess, that IS the right word and I am hailed a 'Genius' by the app. Genius? I just started out on a happy dance and faltered after a couple of steps. No, not just because I dance like a hippo with two...err...four left feet, true though that is. It is just that an awkward thought crossed my mind.

Exactly what was the nature of my genius? I mean, really, had I used some extraordinary analytical skills or some creative out-of-the-box thinking to get an unknown 5-letter word right with my very first guess? In which case, could I do it over and over again? Seemed to me that my genius was about the same as the genius of the guy who won a lottery the first time he bought a ticket...unless the App thought I had a genius for mind-reading.

But, then, when you judge by results alone, caring two hoots for the process...Well, you know that every winner won exclusively because of his ability and effort; and every loser lost only because of bad luck. About the first thing to eliminate in your lexicon, once you are a winner, is the word 'luck'. And, perhaps, substitute it with 'genius' as the App did for me.

But, then, assuming genius based on results is not the only thing in which we misjudge. Take that hoary old joke.

"He became a millionaire in two years."

"How did he manage that?"

"Two years back he inherited a billion when his father died."

It takes a rare kind of...err...genius to consider it an achievement on the part of the person to reduce a billion to a million in two years. But what we readily understand about money we cannot as easily understand about abilities. (Which is probably why we find it so easy to assess success only based on wealth but that is a topic for another day.)

I mean, take a person with natural talent or ability, genius if you will, for something. If he does something that most people cannot do but, for him, it comes naturally. You hail him for his achievement. In the context of society as a whole, it IS, perhaps. But is it a personal achievement? Or is it like being a millionaire when you started out with a billion, just because YOU yourself cannot think of becoming a millionaire?

A personal achievement is something that you DO with your talent - by honing it, applying it and stretching its uses beyond what you originally thought you could do with it. If, say, you started out being able to run a 100m race in, say, 9.5 seconds, doing just that is not a personal achievement. Paring that time down...THAT is!

Do achievements automatically make your character great? Perhaps...but more often than not, not! Character lies in how you handle your achievements and the results thereof. How grounded you remain, how determined in the face of obstacles and the ups and downs of life, how empathetic. It is easier to keep honing your talent when you continue to succeed; to keep doing that when failure dogs you...THAT is tough! For THAT is when the word 'luck' enters your lexicon and you start feeling that there is no point persisting because 'luck is against you'.

I will take that 'genius' from that App, though. I mean, like most of us who neither have that 1% inspiration nor are willing to shed that 99% perspiration, this is about the ONLY way I'm going to get called a genius.

Monday, February 14, 2022

Monkey Memes

I don't know where I came across this meme because it would probably stretch out even a supercomputer to keep track of the origins of all the memes that an ordinary person comes across in a few hours on social media. The meme said, "You cannot get a monkey to give up the banana in its paws by promising limitless bananas in the after-life" or something similar attributed to Yuval Noah Harari. Comments ranging from 'Profound' to 'Even animals are wiser' to 'Yuval Noah Harari' surrounded by love and fire emojis deluged that post.

Now, it is quite possible that the chap said it...or not. Quite possible that it made sense in the context in which he said it. So, I do not intend ANY comments on this Yuval chap or about what he said. But, for the life of me, I cannot see that this meme, BY ITSELF, proves the profound wisdom of monkeys over humans. Which may not even BE the message that the author intended but seems to have been the message that people took away from it.

Ever tried telling a monkey to eat bitter-gourd instead of bananas because it was heading towards a diabetic future, otherwise? Or to limit its eating to lesser bananas than it has at hand, for fear of obesity and its related health issues? If you did, what lessons did the profound wisdom of the monkeys hold for humanity? (Ah! Well! It does not work very well with humans either, not till you actually HAVE diabetes or high BP or whatever but THAT is because, in that, we have imbibed the profound wisdom of the monkeys!)

You see, the issue in all this is the same. Monkey do not believe in 'postponement of gratification' for a future good. It is just that, and NOT any rational lack of belief in the after-life, which makes them eat the banana at hand rather than hope for a la-la land of infinite bananas after death.

Have you ever tried to teach a monkey to be compassionate to a weaker monkey? Tried to teach them that 'Might is NOT right' and convinced them on the virtues of democracy? Or to not bully and drive out, if not kill, any monkey with different features and color than that of its tribe? Or did the profoundly wise monkeys already have all those attributes? No?

The hatred of what is different IS one of the instincts that carries forth from the basic animal nature of human beings. We have only ADDED elements of difference, beyond just the apparent physical differences, but the basic instinct is something we share with...err...the monkeys! The whole moral progression of humanity - almost all of what we call HUMANE characteristics - is a bid to rise above those instincts, not revert back to them.

Fight for change where change is needed, by all means. But do not invite the wisdom of the animals to bolster your point. As it is, humanity seems to be reverting back to basic animal instincts all too fast even without being egged on to do so by these monkey memes!

Monday, February 7, 2022

Useless learning?

 Pagaiyakatthup pedikai olvaal avaiyagatthu anjumavan katra nool - Thirukkural

The wisdom of he who fears his audience is as useful as the shining sword in the hands of a coward in battle - Loose translation

Tiru makes me happy about my ignorance. I mean, first you need to learn, understand and be able to speak the proper words; then you also need to have the courage to face an audience and speak without stuttering and fearing ridicule. Yuck! Far easier to be ignorant! Being learned is a perilous exercise if you have to adhere to all the dos and donts prescribed by our Tiru.

I mean, assume that you are sitting in one of those meetings that executives feel important about. You know, the 'I am in an important meeting' sort of ones which make everyone around you feel that your company would go down in rack and ruin if you do not contribute your pearls of wisdom right then and there. The reality is that you are there to take notes for your boss who is too busy sniping at his competitors to do it for himself. What do you do there if you know that there is something wrong in the proposal?

It's all too easy for Tiru to say that, now that you have the shining sword in your hand and you are in the battlefield, you should fearlessly sally forth and annihilate the enemy. Or, in more mundane terms, what is the use of your knowledge of what is wrong in the proposal if you will not say it in the meeting because you fear the consequences of rubbing powerful people wrong? (Looks, though, like this idea of using blood-and-thunder military metaphors for dusty paperwork is not merely a recent fetish by management gurus. Even Tiru does that...YAY! We had THIS from way back in history!)

What is wrong? EVERYTHING! Firstly, do you guys realize that ANY proposal is invariably someone's brainchild and that person is probably more protective of it than a mother with her child? Also, YOU are there, like little children of yore, to be seen and to hear but not be heard, and for YOU to oppose the proposal is like the water-jug pouring...errr...water over the proposal. In other words, if proposals are opposed, they need to be opposed by someone superior to the proposer or else the consequences for the one who opposes are unlikely to be enjoyable. And, lastly, what if YOU are wrong? It is far easier to allow the proposal to go through, let it go smash, and THEN say, "I knew this would happen back then but no-one would listen!" (No-one listened because you never spoke, yes, but who can prove it?)

Or, take a situation where something is happening in Society which you know is terrible. Tiru would want you to sally forth telling the world the truth. Regardless of consequences! Choosing the words that make your message palatable, yes, but there are some truths where no amount of sugarcoating can conceal the bitterness. Come now, what use is it to me to do that?

Even in Social media. I mean, you may have a different opinion from even those who are staunch believers in freedom of expression; those with whom you agreed on most things but not on this. Tiru would want you to express chapter and verse of your opposition. What does he expect? That, being supporters of FoE and all, they would laud my courage or listen to my points? Nonsense! Overnight, I'd be 'Canceled', labeled the worst names they can think of, and treated as an outcast. Far safer to remain silent in such a case than to wave my shining sword in defiance on that battlefield.

But, then, I suppose the problem is not with Tiru, it is with the times he lived in. More to the point, it is the strange meaning that they seem to have attributed to that word 'useful' in his times.

When THEY said 'useful', they seem to assume that 'useful' only means 'useful to society'. Things have progressed a long way since then.

NOW, we know that 'useful' only means 'What is in it for me"!