Monday, January 30, 2023

Expectations and morals

There are rules, there are laws and then there are these unwritten mores of conduct. You sort of expect that the laws and rules exist to ensure that everyone behaves in a manner that is considered acceptable behavior by Society but that is not exactly the case.

Sometimes law-makers set ideals for society to live by, even if what is considered acceptable behavior by Society is different. Take for example the system of was in practice much after the law of the land declared it illegal.

Sometimes what Society considers unacceptable is not proscribed by the law. Expectations of how women should dress, for example, has, rightly, been a minefield that the law refused to enter definitively. Of course, sometimes it is difficult to legislate for all possibilities leaving a lot of room for interpretation. And, thus, the rules and laws can and will vary from the expectations of Society about the behavior of people.

Therein comes about the peculiar behavior whereby breaking a rule or a law is seen as excusable. Break the law, it may be condoned but bely the expectations of Society and it evokes tremendous outrage. Take for example the reaction to inter-caste marriages in rural India, the so-called honor killings. To marry inter-caste runs counter to expected behavior; the law against murder is a mere inconvenience which the State has erected as a hindrance against the legitimate quest of Society to enforce its behavioral norms. THAT is the attitude, THAT is the power of Social expectations. Social expectations are seen to be 'moral imperatives' and the laws are merely nuisances set up by the Government which have to be adhered to, if possible.

Lest we all look down our superior noses on all these people who will not abide by the 'rule of law', let me give you an example closer to home. In most offices, there are these reimbursements given on certification - vehicle allowance, lunch allowance yada yada. (Or, they used to be, since I'm out of touch with current practice). These were 'reimbursements' because reimbursements were not taxable as income. Well, the LAW says that they have to be spent by the employee for that purpose and in the course of carrying out the job for it to count as legitimate reimbursement. Society, as represented by the employer, cares two hoots. So what do you think - does the rule of law obtain here?

Or take the case of this 'Mankading' in Cricket. The law says the bowler can run out the batsman if he is out of the crease before the time when he can legitimately expect the ball to be bowled. Yet, expectations so far have been that the worst he will face is a warning for backing up too far. And guess what happens? A storm of outrage falls on the head of the bowler who so runs out a batsman. As for the batsman who is actually in breach of the law, the poor chap either was not warned  or was tricked by the wily bowler or should not have been run out come what may. Rule of law or expectations?

Social expectations, no matter what the issue, rises to the level of moral imperative whether you can it 'spirit of the game' or 'anti-cultural' or whatever. The sort of outrage that a breach provokes will never be provoked by a mere breach of the law.

It is THAT which needs to be changed by anyone who wishes to change Society for the better. It is not just legislating to make dowry illegal which eradicates the practice. It is also needful to make society change its expectations.

To think that outraging on Social media and screaming for new laws will bring about a Utopian society is to assume that Social reform can be brought about by moving a petition on!

Monday, January 23, 2023


Virtue always seems to exist in only the most difficult things to do. Anything easy to do is very seldom accepted as virtuous much like anything good to eat is automatically classified unhealthy. It automatically raises the question whether it is difficult because it is virtuous or is it considered virtuous only because it is difficult.

Akazhvaarai thaangum nilam pola thannai igazhvaarai poruththal thalai - Tirukkural

Like the Earth that bears even those who dig it, the virtuous man bears with those who revile him - Loose Translation

And THAT is Tiru's idea of virtue. And I challenge any of you to say it is easy to do that. When someone keeps trolling you, do you want to let loose on him with your choicest accumulation of abuses or do you rejoice in smiling it away?

One can sort of see that it is tough to be a virtuous man (Yeah, Yeah, PERSON! It is not always chauvinistic, you know. It is just that old age means that you have become used to writing things a certain way for too long for you to change easily. And, yes, the practice was to use 'him' and 'man' in these circumstances). If you cannot bear trolls with a grin and start raging and hating the trolls, sooner or later you will get to the point where any criticism automatically seems like trolling and evokes hatred. Which essentially means that you only become self-righteous instead of being righteous.

So, Tiru does have a point when he says that a virtuous man should be able to grin and bear it when he gets trolled. Failing which he shall, sooner or later, cease to be virtuous.

The problem is that it is just too much trouble to be a virtuous man. It is always easier to expect virtue of other people than to be virtuous yourself!

Monday, January 16, 2023

The greatest wealth?

The quest for wealth is never-ending for us humans but, you know, we depend of others to tell us what IS wealth. I mean, there would have been a time when a soldier thought that 'salt' was wealth considering that he was paid in it. Can you think of anyone hoarding salt and gloating over how much salt he has, these days? So, yeah, once others tell us what counts as wealth, we'll rush after it.

Well, our man Tiru has his own ideas about what is the best wealth.

Selvatthul selvam sevicchelvam; achchelvam selvatthul ellam thalai - Tirukkural

Of all wealth, the wealth of knowledge earned by listening is the best; it is the foremost of all wealth - Loose Translation.

There he goes again! Proving all over that he is dated. In his times, people were taught by lectures and, therefore, knowledge was acquired almost exclusively by listening. Paper, you see, did not exist in his times and, thus, books as we know them did not exist. So, when he talks of the wealth acquired by listening, we need to understand that what he means is knowledge, no matter how acquired.

But THAT is not what I mean when I call him dated. We live in times when people talk of employ-ability as soon as you talk of education. If the knowledge imparted by education cannot be parlayed into a job thereby earning wealth for you, it is considered useless. So, knowledge is ONLY a means to acquiring wealth, in other words. How, then, can it be equated to wealth itself...and the supremo among all items of wealth, no less?

Those were ideas of his times, which is why I think he is dated. I mean, in his days, they considered knowledge as making you wise in your choices. In what you chose to do with your life, in how you decided between options, in the way you judged people, even in your ability to enjoy the arts. They considered knowledge as molding your character - in the way you dealt with adversity, in the way you dealt with prosperity, in the way you dealt with people around you - both those better off than you and those worse of, and so on.

So, essentially, the problem reduces itself to what Tiru thinks is knowledge and what we understand as knowledge these days. I mean, I hardly think that he would consider that knowing to write code in Java or whatever is this 'sevicchelvam' that he prates of in this Kural. So...

We can get to a meeting point with Tiru, though. I mean, like, KNOWING not to share your OTP and the likes over phone...THAT is wealth, indeed, because you'll cease to remain wealthy if you fail to know that!

Monday, January 9, 2023

Joy and Desire

You know, these philosophers must be nuts. I mean, all of us understand that what we call joy is the satisfaction of our desires. But what these chaps say is that the absence of desire is the primary prerequisite for joy. What rubbish.

Well, Tiru belongs in the same bandwagon. Here he goes

Inbam idaiyaraa theendum avaavennum thunbatthul thunbam kedin - Tirukkural.

You will perpetually be joyous if you are rid of desire which is the worst of sorrows - Loose Translation.

Well, well, well! Far from joy being a successful achievement of your desires, desires are the worst of sorrows! According to Tiru. But, then, he is not alone in saying that. The Buddha said it for one. As did almost any Indian philosophy, I think.

That, then, accounts for why we guys keep pursuing happiness but never really seem to achieve it. Cos, the WAY we pursue happiness is by pursuing satisfaction of our desires. Like, "Once I get a seat in IIT, I'll be happy"; then "Once I get a MS with assistantship in the US, I'll be happy"; then "Once is get into Microsoft (or whatever), I'll be happy" and on and on. You can change it to suit your own paths but, roughly, the way it works is that you find a new thing to pursue in case you achieve the previous one; OR you keep moping about not achieving the previous one!

And, thus...desires are the root of all pain. Failing to achieve it leaves you moping; succeeding only leaves you dissatisfied cos you are still not happy and, thus, you search for a new pursuit. Which is why retirement is such a difficult pill to swallow. For now, your pursuit has officially ceased and happiness has not been achieved, yet!

So, maybe Tiru has it right after all. To shed desire need not mean that you cease doing things. What's that other thing we all keep spouting and nobody really bothers to understand? Ah! 'Do your duty, lay not claim to the fruits thereof!' Desires are generally related to the 'fruits' thereof, no? I mean, for me writing blog posts is, say, my 'duty'. Appreciation for what I write, posts becoming 'viral' etc are the 'fruits'. Wanting that appreciation etc IS a desire which, as per Tiru, will be the root of sorrow to me. To shed that desire and to keep writing is, per Tiru, the route to permanent joy!

Ahem! I sure hope you'll make this post go viral!