Monday, May 20, 2019

Thrashed?

"PM thrashes journalist in TV interview"

I had heard that news on television had become very interesting but I had not realized that it had become as good as a Jackie Chan movie. So, when the link to a Youtube clipping popped up on my Timeline, I leapt up with a 'Yippie' and hastily grabbed some popcorn before clicking on the video. Time for an action reality show - The Prime Minister and the Press.

Yeah, I know, all you know-it-alls, who are glued to news channels all day long, are sneering right now. Of course, it was a damp squib, mainly a short chat-fest with nary a blow or a kick. AND what sort of climax is it to a show, billed as a thrashing, to end with 'Dosti bani rahe'? Like one of those erstwhile MGR movies where, at the end, the villain suffers a change of heart (Of course 'suffers' is the right word! If you saw the look on his face in that scene, you would not doubt it) and becomes the hero's best friend.

"Trolls ask actress to go to Pakistan. Check out how she shuts them up. Epic!"

The visual media let me down. Words, now...they are more reliable. I'm sure that the actress must have said something pithy in response to strangers trying to reorganize her travel plans.

Maybe on the lines of what Disraeli did when Gladstone tried his hand at fortune-telling? Gladstone apparently forecast to Disraeli that "You will either die of syphilis or be hanged for treason." In response Disraeli said, "That, sir, will depend on whether I embrace your mistress or your principles." or some such.

Or, perhaps, like Churchill purportedly responded to George Bernard Shaw? Shaw, apparently, sent a couple of tickets to the opening show of his play but was then plagued by a serious doubt. He enclosed a note saying, "Use one of them for yourself. Bring along a friend, if you have one." Churchill, could not attend the the opening and, while RSVPing, was plagued by a doubt in his turn. So he, apparently, sent a note saying, "Unable to make it to the opening show. Shall attend the second, if there is one."

An epic put down would be like that, no? Not like that dumb 'thrashing' show. I eagerly look up that epic riposte.

"Breaking News: I am going nowhere. Last I checked, India is still a democracy."

Epic? Ah, well! I am too old, my definitions of what is epic and what is not is probably totally out of date.

Sickened by this let down of all my hopes, I am about to shutdown when this headline catches my eye.

"Journalist thrashes nervous PM"

Maybe I should not be hasty. These bhakts cannot be relied upon, they will say anything, but the other guys...they are dependable, are they not? I seize the popcorn again with renewed enthusiasm and click on the link.

Ye Gods! It is the SAME damn clipping. The same 'Dosti bani rahe' climax. Shucks!

It looks like thrashing, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Even unto who is the thrasher and who is the thrashee, if I may coin a word. And, I...where these guys SEE a thrashing - except a minor disagreement about who thrashed who - I find myself still looking around desperately trying to locate the thrashing. Much like I was desperately searching for the tiger which everyone except me could see in Bandipur.

But, going by what appears in the headlines on my timeline, Jackie Chan and Jet Li have a lot of competitors on the Net. Everyone is thrashing everyone else, shutting down others, kicking ass and what not.

All the World is a battleground and all the men and women epic tweeters!

Monday, May 13, 2019

The biggest sin?

I was engrossed in my book when a voice spoke from behind me, "You cannot stop a man who knows he is right and keeps-a-coming? What rubbish."

If you read books, you will know that rush of anger which sweeps through you when someone trashes your favorite author's words. The same thing rushed through my veins but, unfortunately, all I could manage was to bleat, "Why do you say so?"

"Of course, you believe it. You are the sort who would believe a Hitler is a saint if he had a way with words or a sense of humor or both. 'Where there is the gift of the gab, there can be no sin' is how your pea-sized brain thinks."

"What's with the insults? Why don't you just explain why you think it is rubbish?"

"Oh! I am sure that, in the story, that heroic dude is really in the right and you can jump in your seat with excitement as he keeps-a-coming, without any guilt. In real life, though...tell me, how often have you KNOWN that you are in the right? And how often have you really been in the wrong when you thought you KNEW you were right?"

These are generally vexing questions for me. I mean, perhaps there are people who archive every single second of their lives in their minds and can readily retrieve data as necessary. In fact, I am sure most people can do it, as witness the readiness with which they can recollect every single time I messed up in life. But, I...a sieve is no competition to my memory, the way everything just seems to slither off and vanish into the dark unknown.

"See. How difficult it is to even remember when you were last sure that you were right?"

Well, my problem was just that it was difficult to remember. But why admit to more incapacity than the guy was granting me?

"Looks like you have some redeeming qualities, after all", he continued. "Otherwise, you would be sure you are in the right...oh, in maybe your ideas of what one can eat, or what way people should dress, or how it is righteous to clamor for freedom of expression in one thing and silence it in another or whatever."

"So...so people should not have opinions? Is that what you mean?"

"Opinions...they are fine. If you only had an opinion about dietary practices, you would not lynch someone for differing with you. AND will even feel furious at someone who does."

"So, what's your point, then?"

"A man who knows he is right and keeps-a-coming? THAT's a self-righteous man. A man who thinks he is fighting for truth and justice. On the side of the angels, against the evil whelps of Satan. THAT's a man who will say anything, do anything and not even feel remorse. For if what he is fighting for is right, anything he does in the process is righteous, isn't it?"

"You mean...somewhat like the Crusades? Like, supposedly, the Crusaders were immune to sin, even if they pillaged and raped, as long as they were fighting to reclaim Jerusalem?"

"Ah!" he said approvingly. "You probably do have a brain, much though I have doubted its existence so far. Yes! Every religious war - crusades, jihad, call it what you will - is fought by tapping into that vein of self-righteousness which exists in every human. There is nothing like it to convert an ordinary human being into a monster from the pits of Hell. Especially if you can also encourage him to think of those who oppose him as imps of Satan."

"But in ordinary life..."

"Hmmm! What made you, the other day, yell rudely at that chap who dropped a bit of plastic on the pavement? Self righteousness. In the normal course, you would have said the same thing politely."

See what I mean? These chaps can just pull out things like this. And I...

He went on, in a musing tone.

"I suppose it is the biggest sin, this self righteousness. All the other ones...when you sin, you know you are doing wrong, your conscience probably keeps nagging you. There is a possibility that you will change. This, though. When you KNOW you are right, you keep-a-coming. You do things that you would never do otherwise. Your conscience falls in line right behind your every action, and you feel a glow of satisfaction at the end of it. There is no redemption because you do not even think that you need to be redeemed."

"Ah! I get it! So, THAT's why people started saying 'Greed is good' and all that. Convert the sins themselves into righteousness and..."

He looked at me in shocked wonder. "Well! Well! Well! You are positively scintillating today."

"Anyway, you cannot blame me of self righteousness. My ideas are ratified by most people on my timeline..."

"Just as I thought you were halfway human. You live in an echo chamber, which parrots the ideas of whichever leaders, and trot along behind, bleating 'Baa! Baa!", and think you are not being self-righteous."

I cleared my throat to put in an 'Objection, your honor!' but he just steamrollered on.

"If you refuse to consider the possibility that you may be wrong, and refuse to even hear any argument against your views, you are self-righteous. If you think that the pursuit of what you feel is right absolves you of all normal human considerations - be it politeness or respect for life or whatever, you are self-righteous. And, if you are self-righteous, you have the seeds of the same sin in you that made the Nazis what they were."

"Say, why do you keep insulting me?"

"Because I am RIGHT!"

Monday, May 6, 2019

Neo-Scientific thinking

This thinking thing, apparently, is not merely sitting in your armchair and musing about the thusness of things. It is supposed to be used to come to conclusions about all sorts of things. Including, but not limited to, what you should have for lunch.

In the initial days, when people had not gotten around to complicating things, conclusions were derived based on 'Oh! That is what it says in the Holy Book' or, even, 'My grandfather says so' or some such thing. If there was any dispute about the correct conclusion it was resolved on the basis of whose grandfather was more respected. Failing that, the conclusion depended on who was better at fisticuffs. (Why not based on which of the disputants was more powerful, without dragging in grandfathers? Ah! Well! If one the the two was himself more powerful, would there even BE a dispute?)

That, apparently, was not the scientific way of doing things because the science of fist-fighting was not acceptable as the correct science for these purposes. So, then, people started looking down upon coming to conclusions without the facts. The right way, apparently, was to collect and analyze the facts and allow them to lead to a conclusion. If there were insufficient facts, as normally proves to be the case, you were allowed to form a tentative conclusion - called a hypothesis. The funny thing was that they insisted that you should discard the conclusion/hypothesis if a fact does not agree with it where the natural thing is to discard the damn fact.

I mean, come on, if a brick sticks out of a building do you discard the damn brick or the building? But, no, scientific thinking says that it is the building that is wrong, not the brick! And, you know what, the number of metaphorical buildings that have turned out to be wrong, or not completely right, because a brick would not fall into place is truly astounding.

There are always people, though, who do not like being lead. So, of course, this idea of facts leading them by the nose to whatever conclusion they chose was very irksome for them. This scientific thinking was too raw, too tame, and needed refining. So, they decided to improve the method.

You know, facts can be interpreted multiple ways. Like, the soup can be too salty OR the eater can be the one who likes lesser salt in his soup. So, at first, the easiest way to stick to scientific thinking, and still not allow the facts to dictate the conclusions, was to simply reinterpret the facts.

That did not suffice. Some solution had to be found for those stick-out bricks which brought down buildings. You know, those inconvenient facts that did not fit your conclusions. So, the next step of refining, obviously, had to address them. A twofold approach of refinement was added to the process.

The first thing was to ensure that you never did anything that could locate such a fact. You know, like you never do a study that checks for the impact of sugar intake on health but concentrated on what fats do. The second thing, of course, was that if you DO stumble on such a fact, you ignore it totally. Over a period, you could become such an expert that no such fact intrudes itself on your attention even if it bit you in the ass.

That worked for quite a while but, when everyone wanted to come to their own conclusions without waiting for experts to lead them, it became a problem. It took long practice, from childhood in some cases, to become an expert at selectively noticing and interpreting facts in a truly refined scientific manner. Not something everyone could do, so...

Neo-scientific thinking was born. The hegemony of facts was done with. Why should we allow conclusions to be the slaves of facts? From now on, facts shall be the product of conclusions. We will CREATE the facts that suit our conclusions. (Somewhat like my practicals at engineering college. I KNEW what the results ought to be, thanks to ten bucks to the lab attender, but I could never get the experimental readings that would allow me to get those results. So, I used to work out what the experimental data should be, based on the results, and voila...)

What do you mean that it is old wine in a new bottle? That, in all probability, those original guys who said it was in the Holy Book had probably not even laid their eyes on that tome, even if they knew how to read, and were only creating their facts? Or that their grandfathers' only communication with them was a kick on their backside, so all that rot about what the venerable gentlemen said was a fact created to support their conclusion? That there is nothing new or scientific about 'Neo-Scientific thinking'?

Isn't that precisely the point, you dolts? If it is not there in the content, at least put it in the label!

Monday, April 29, 2019

The value of scarcity

You know, I find myself at odds with what most people seem to think. ('So what else is new?' you ask? It never strikes you to ask yourself that when you trot out your political or social views ad nauseam, does it? So, why me?) I mean, people seem to feel that more of anything is a good thing and scarcity is some sort of evil plague to be rid off...and I, somehow, do not completely agree.

A part of the problem is this pesky education which pushed my face into some truly odd stories. Like this one which was excerpted in my English lessons.

Tom Sawyer is asked to whitewash the fence as a punishment. When his friends come around, Tom acts as though he loved the idea of whitewashing the fence and was granted the privilege by his aunt with great difficulty. And was pestered by his friends to allow them to do a bit of whitewashing, which he reluctantly grants after being bribed by them with apples, marbles and what have you.

By which, Mark Twain actually seems to indicate that making something appear scarce is the best way to make it seem desirable. And, of course, he is right. Go around checking for all the products which are sold at ludicrously high prices and if you do not see an the aura of 'exclusive' hanging around it, I'll eat my hat. (I don't have one, yes, so what, you literal *#$@). And 'exclusive' is just another way of saying 'scarce' cos it essentially means 'not everyone can lay hands on this'.

Yeah, true, most of such products essentially are as desirable as getting to whitewash a fence though, in real life, you 'whitewash fences' in a different place in order to be able to afford these 'scarce goods',  but if the same thing were freely available to everyone, you may not even want the dratted thing. In other words, in quite a lot of these things you pay through the nose for the 'scarcity' and not the product or service itself, because THAT is what makes it seem worth that astronomical price.

Not to mention that, even where you work, you are lead by the nose by the same 'scarcity' thing. As in, they say "These meetings are highly confidential and only select people can attend" and you bust your ass working fifteen hour days, weekends thrown in, so that you can be one of those 'select' people...and then earn the privilege of working eighteen hour days with the annual vacation gone bust as well. (No? I mean, I did put it rather crassly but what exactly is a Board, a Cabinet, whatever, but a talk-fest which has 'scarcity' value?)

Plenty is all too nice to contemplate but it is scarcity that really has value. If everyone had everything, nobody would really appreciate anything. And then you feel the need to keep running after pie in the sky because the pie on the table seems so boring. You need to be deprived of something before you see value in it. If pie on the table were relatively scarce, you will not get a crick in the neck drooling at that pie you think is there in the sky. 

Let there be scarcity, then. Not so much that you starve, but enough so you appreciate what you get.