Suu-K-Mi ‘s Obituary

” We are gathered here, way into the future, for the funeral of Suu-K-Mi, the world’s oldest man. He died suddenly in bed, according to his wife Miss France.

No one is really sure how old Suu-K-Mi was, but some think he may have even lived in the twentieth century. He passed away after a long and courageous battle with death.

Even though Suu-K-Mi died a very old man, he was amazingly healthy right up to the end. He attributed this to frequent blogging for friends, relatives and people waiting at bus-stops with smartphones. All agreed that his posts were the most hilarious thing they read. And not at all stupid or annoying.

Suu-K-Mi’s death has thrown the whole wide world into mourning, and not in a fakey sarcastic way. He was admired by people of all ages and stripes,  people with or without facial hair, and all animals, including zebras. Even monsters liked him. He had a playful side, a serious side, but also a “normal side”. He loved triangles, including love triangles.

He started out life as a baby and worked his way up to an adult. But he never forgot that he was a baby. His philosophy in life was a simple one — “Don’t die before your enemies do.” He was quick with a laugh, but just as quick to point at what he was laughing at. Children loved him, but not in the way his teenage niece claimed. Suu-K-Mi was always thinking of ways to help people and was wondering how he might do some of those things when he died.

Suu-K-Mi was good at so many things — it was hard to point out what he was best at. The arts, the sciences, business ?  As hard as it is to believe, he never sold a single painting in his lifetime, or even painted one. Some of the greatest advances in medicine, sciences, engineering, communications were not opposed by him and he did little to sabotage them.

Although he lived in a villa in the south of France, he was proud to be an Indian of Korean descent. But he was deeply ashamed of being an Earthling. He was fabulously rich, but pretended to be broke and would often borrow cigarettes from friends. Little did they know that they would be awarded with the deathly hallows in his will. Women who refused to have sex with him, are wishing now that they could turn the clock back and say yes. He wanted depth in his women, and not just in their decolletage.

He has asked no shrines to be built in his honour. But he still likes Shriners. According to famed government scientist Yama from Kazakhstan, Suu-K-Mi  is in Heaven — and not just any heaven which some jerk can get into, secret Heaven where angels fear to tread!

So let us celebrate his death, and not mourn. However those who appear to be too happy will be asked to leave. Perhaps the greatest tragedy is that a lot of things Suu-K-Mi said and did seemed wrong at the time, but it turns out that we were wrong. Let us hope that we don’t make the same mistake with his clones.

In closing, it is unfortunate that Suu-K-Mi’s friend Phu-K-Mi could not be here. Phu-K-Mi died many years ago of a horrible, venereal fungus.

And now, Lady Gaga will play ” Time of your life “.    ”

———————————————

 

— Funeral address by Suu-K-Mi’s clone.

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Arrant Nonsense

I don’t make jokes. I just observe governments and report facts.  — Will Rogers.

Laughter is supposed to be contagious. But I don’t see too many people guffawing at the world’s jokes. So, I shall try to spread the cheer.  (if you don’t find this funny, pretend this post is your lover’s text message and reply with ROTFL!)

ACT 1. Mirror, Mirror on the Wall,  Who’s the Second Greatest Indian of them all ?

Anil Ambani, CNN-IBN and History Channel did us a great service recently. An issue which was keeping me up at nights, gnawing at my insides like a claustrophobic termite trapped in me, has been resolved. Aah, the relief.

B.R. Ambedkar is the 2nd greatest Indian after Mahatma Gandhi .  How Ambedkar will be chuffed with himself !

Of course, the Greatness Pageant was decided by an online poll of young India. And Gandhi was excluded from the list of venerable nominees. Lest the world suddenly find out how much the Indian masses care for Gandhi today. Instead Ambedkar had to fight off stiff competition from stalwarts like Sachin Tendulkar, APJ Abdul Kalam, Jawaharlal Nehru, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Lata Mangeshkar. Such august company for the man, who drafted the constitution, fought a lone battle against caste in India, revived Buddhism among other things.

Subplot 1. Obviously Gandhi is the greatest Indian mortal ever. Gandhi and Ambedkar cannot be mentioned in the same breath.

Even though, I actually agree with the first position – I find the fake idolization of Gandhi abhorrent and another reminder that we, as a society, are more in thrall of hero-worship than the ideas which the heroes represent.

Subplot 2. Since young India has voted Ambedkar to be the greatest Indian after Gandhi. It is clear that caste is dead. Let us forget the fact that dalit oppression, injustices and caste-violence continues unabated. Let us pretend that we have slain this evil. We, young India! Congratulations to ourselves.

This happy occasion gives me ideas for resolving one of my long-standing issues. So here it goes —

Issue-of-Grave-Importance :   Who is the second most Arrogant Indian alive ?

Yours truly, of course, takes the cake! My friends circle is also disqualified from the competition. (they are drooling at the prospect of winning this coveted prize. But this is a contest for human beings. Tanmai can scarcely be confused as one. Prasant is disqualified on account of being-in-a-relationship and getting all his arrogance squashed by his girlfriend. Amrita – not Indian!)

So, is it Narendra Modi, of the “hang me if I am guilty” fame ?  Is it Manmohan Singh for his arrogant silence and not deigning to even oblige us with a word or two in his entire term ? Or is it someone’s anonymous pet blind cat ?

You, young India, can now decide!

ACT 2.  Tweeting for Freedom of Misinformation.

Recent ethnic violence in Assam triggered a unique sequence of events. Social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter were used malevolently to spread rumours about grisly communal attacks against Muslims and a threatened backlash against people from the region. There was a mass exodus from major cities in India.

Which brings us to the Government’s considered, deliberate and astute response —

1.  It restricted text messaging and blocked around 300 webpages.

2.  It even blocked pages of newspapers like the Independent ! On account of the Independent carrying political caricature, which is such a crime.

3.  The government tried blocking twitter accounts of 300 malicious fellows. Unfortunately, it did not succeed in this endeavour in time. The accounts continued to operate for a day, spewing misinformation like a politician at an election rally.

4.  The Government however succeeded in blocking the twitter account of one prime suspect — (wait for it… ) Mr. Sachin Pilot — the Union Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting !   For a day, Mr. Pilot was tweet-less!  I am still speechless at our bureaucrats’  marvellous sense of humour.

5.  The Government also succeeded in breaking its own laws. It had laid down norms that blocked accounts will be listed online and a webpage with appropriate reasons shall be made public. None of this happened. I guess, breaking rules is just too much fun. Especially when the rules are your own.

Subplot 1. The new rules for governing the internet gives the government unacceptable and draconian powers. It is a curtailment of fundamental rights.

Subplot 2. Hate speech and deliberate dissemination of disinformation cannot be a right. There has to be a sustained debate on the checks and balances needed to monitor social media.

Subplot 3. Online media has given a powerful tool to the masses. It provides the individual with so much information that it is difficult to “manufacture consent”. But there is also a threat, that with ubiquitous communication, it is also very easy for malafide interests to wreak havoc with impunity and anonymity.

ACT 3.   Agricultural Imperialism and Special Exploitation Zones (SEZs).

In 1991, Meles Zenawi came to power in Ethiopia after a long civil war, in which he was backed by the United States. He recently died in August. He left behind an autocratic state where there is a single party, tight state control, where the ruling party has a direct stake in the economy through a business conglomerate. And he left behind a legacy of large-scale land acquisition by foreign investors.

Over the next 3 years, the Ethiopian Government plans to identify , prepare and transfer 3.3 million hectares of land, under the ironically named Growth and Transformation Plan, to foreign agricultural investors. Despite food scarcity in the country, the government offers these investors incentives for using the land for export crops. The resources granted to them include not just land but water resources.

There has been no consultation with local communities while giving away their land. There is a desperate threat to peasant agriculture, deprivation of pasture lands and lack of access to water resources for the people of the region. People are being displaced and resettled to provide the investors with “unencumbered access” to resources. Any additional employment generated is likely to be short-term, seasonal and low wage unskilled labour. The investors are under no contractual obligation to do something about the food security of Ethiopia.

Indian and American companies are in a mad rush to acquire lands, some of which are as large as the Delhi-NCR region!

But all this is not funny. Here is what is funny —

Nobel Peace Prize Winner and US President Barack Obama has hailed Zenawi’sunyielding commitment to Ethiopia’s poor .. his desire to lift millions of Ethiopians out of poverty through his drive for food security.

Unyielding commitment, desire, drive for food security indeed.   Quelle Horreur !!

ACT 4.  Searching for “sense” in Libya.  (Beware,  boring final Act alert.)

Last week, four American diplomats were killed when armed men attacked the US consulate in Benghazi. The attackers’ apparent motivation was that someone, apparently American but with an uncertain identity, posted a video on YouTube several months ago that deliberately defamed the Prophet. The attack in Benghazi was portrayed as retribution for the defamation, with the attackers holding all Americans equally guilty for the video, though it was likely a pretext for deeper grievances.

In order to make sense of these attacks, one must observe that they took place in Benghazi, the city that had been most opposed to Muammar Gadhafi.  The intervention occurred because it was believed that Gadhafi would carry out his threats in Benghazi and because it was assumed that he would quickly capitulate in the face of NATO air power, opening the door to democracy.

That Gadhafi was capable of mass murder was certainly correct.

The idea that Gadhafi would quickly fall proved incorrect.

That a democracy would result after the intervention proved the most dubious assumption of them all.

What emerged in Libya is what you would expect when a foreign power overthrows an existing government, however thuggish, and does not impose its own imperial state: ongoing instability and chaos. The opposition was a chaotic collection of tribes, factions and ideologies sharing little beyond their opposition to Gadhafi.

Opponents of tyranny assume that deposing a tyrant will improve the lives of his victims. This is sometimes true, but only occasionally. The czar of Russia was clearly a tyrant, but it is difficult to argue that the Leninist-Stalinist regime that ultimately replaced him was an improvement. Similarly, the Shah of Iran was repressive and brutal. It is difficult to argue that the regime that replaced him was an improvement. There is no assurance that opponents of a tyrant will not abuse human rights just like the tyrant did. There is even less assurance that an opposition too weak and divided to overthrow a tyrant will coalesce into a government when an outside power destroys the tyrant. The outcome is more likely to be chaos, and the winner will likely be the most organized and well-armed faction with the most ruthless clarity about the future. There is no promise that it will constitute a majority or that it will be gentle with its critics.

The alternative to one thug may simply be another thug. This is a matter of power and will, not of political philosophy. Utter chaos, an ongoing struggle that leads nowhere but to misery, also could ensue. But the most important reason Western human rights activists might see their hopes dashed is due to a principled rejection of Western liberal democracy on the part of the newly liberated. To be more precise, the opposition might embrace the doctrine of national self-determination, and even of democracy, but go on to select a regime that is in principle seriously opposed to Western notions of individual rights and freedom.

While some tyrants simply seek power, other regimes that appear to Westerners to be tyrannies actually are rather carefully considered moral systems that see themselves as superior ways of life. There is a paradox in the principle of respect for foreign cultures followed by demands that foreigners adhere to basic Western principles. It is necessary to pick one approach or the other. At the same time, it is necessary to understand that someone can have very distinct moral principles, be respected, and yet be an enemy of liberal democracy. Respecting another moral system does not mean simply abdicating your own interests. The Japanese had a complex moral system that was very different from Western principles. The two did not have to be enemies, but circumstances caused them to collide.

The NATO approach in Libya assumed that the removal of a tyrant would somehow inevitably lead to a liberal democracy. Indeed, this was the assumption about the Arab Spring in the West, where it was thought that that corrupt and tyrannical regimes would fall and that regimes that embraced Western principles would sprout up in their place.

Implicit in this was a profound lack of understanding of the strength of the regimes, of the diversity of the opposition and of the likely forces that would emerge from it.  What took Gadhafi’s place was ongoing warfare between clans, tribes and ideologies. From this chaos, Libyan Islamists of various stripes have emerged to exploit the power vacuum.

The desire to overthrow Gadhafi came from two impulses.

The first was to rid the world of a tyrant.

The second was to give the Libyans the right to national self-determination.

Not carefully considered were two other issues: whether simply overthrowing Gadhafi would yield the conditions for determining the national will, and whether the national will actually would mirror NATO’s values and, one should add, interests.

Unintended Consequences

The events of last week represent unintended and indirect consequences of the removal of Gadhafi. Gadhafi ruthlessly suppressed radical Islam. In the absence of his suppression, the radical Islamist faction appears to have carefully planned the assault on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi. The attack was timed for when the U.S. ambassador would be present. The mob was armed with a variety of weapons. The public justification was a little-known video on YouTube that sparked anti-American unrest throughout the Arab world.

For the Libyan jihadists, tapping into anger over the video was a brilliant stroke. Having been in decline, they reasserted themselves well beyond the boundaries of Libya. In Libya itself, they showed themselves as a force to be reckoned with — at least to the extent that they could organize a successful attack on the Americans. The four Americans who were killed might have been killed in other circumstances, but they died in this one: Gadhafi was eliminated, no coherent regime took his place, no one suppressed the radical Islamists, and the Islamists could therefore act. How far their power will grow is not known, but certainly they acted effectively to achieve their ends. It is not clear what force there is to suppress them. It is also not clear what momentum this has created for jihadists in the region, but it will put NATO, and more precisely the United States, in the position either of engaging in another war in the Arab world at a time and place not of its choosing, or allowing the process to go forward and hoping for the best.

A distinction is frequently drawn between the idealist and realist position. Libya is a case in which the incoherence of the distinction can be seen. If the idealist position is concerned with outcomes that are moral from its point of view, then simply advocating the death of a tyrant is insufficient. To guarantee the outcome requires that the country be occupied and pacified, as was Germany or Japan. But the idealist would regard this act of imperialism as impermissible, violating the doctrine of national sovereignty. More to the point, the United States is not militarily in a position to occupy or pacify Libya, nor would this be a national priority justifying war. The unwillingness of the idealist to draw the logical conclusion from their position, which is that simply removing the tyrant is not the end but only the beginning, is compounded by the realist’s willingness to undertake military action insufficient for the political end. Moral ends and military means must mesh.

Removing Gadhafi was morally defensible but not by itself. Having removed him, NATO had now adopted a responsibility that it shifted to a Libyan public unequipped to manage it. But more to the point, no allowance had been made for the possibility that what might emerge as the national will of Libya would be a movement that represented a threat to the principles and interests of the NATO members. The problem of Libya was not that it did not understand Western values, but that a significant part of its population rejected those values on moral grounds and a segment of the population with battle-hardened fighters regarded them as inferior to its own Islamic values. Somewhere between hatred of tyranny and national self-determination, NATO’s commitment to liberty as it understood it, became lost.

….

Epilogue.  Why the boring final Act ?

Those who skipped Act 4 will be tried for sedition. It is the new rage.)  

I have always believed that things must even out in the end.  Religion, people say, has caused wars and bloodshed. Yes, but isn’t it boring to sit through a church service or a Hindu ceremony ? So it evens out.

Your doctor warns you about alcoholism and you are depressed. But then you go home and find your secret vodka stash, and you are happy. Things just even out. Let’s say you have a nice cupcake. You are happy and then you eat it. Cupcake is not there anymore! Or you are holding french fries and they seem to be not so hot. Then you put them in your mouth, and it is really hot.

You call your friend who is hosting a party, and he says that the party is cancelled. You call, in a different voice, and suddenly, there is a party.  You send someone a death threat and then the police come to your home, mysteriously, and threaten you. You notice an ant drifting away on a leaf in the water. Then you notice your aunt drifting away in life. Eventually, things must even out.

One day you ask someone to look at your skin rashes. Then the next day you are looking at their rashes. You see a pebble on a river bank, throw it across the water. It skips several times. Then the next pebble you cannot even pry it loose, because of this glue-mud!

Hence I write a few paragraphs and you laugh. And by the end of the post, you are crying and muttering for me to stop. Things even out in the end.

Musings

I have been called arrogant, patronizing, condescending and labelled with various similar epithets in connection to my last post. It is quite rewarding – this recognition of your foibles. After all, if not for this subliminal (or sometimes quite overt) posturing in my posts, would they be interesting ?

But now some would clamour and say — Well, your posts are not interesting anyways. So you might as well eat the humble pie, abandon all your pretensions, get off that “fucking pedestal” from which you seem to radiate such banality-couched-as-wisdom . I would reply to these detractors with .. wait, I wouldn’t deign to reply to these detractors. Arrogant already, see!

Let me begin with a short recapitulation of events that have captured attention .. and some which have not.

India is on the “reforms path” again. Manmohan Singh has announced FDI in retail and aviation, disinvestment of public sector entities, significant deregulation of fuel prices over the last 2 days. While the timing puts a question-mark on the process (deflecting attention from the surfeit of corruption scams), most of these are much-needed steps. While proper regulation and delicate balancing of public interests is needed with all these measures, the industry and “big economy” needed such a fillip.

ECB (European Central Bank) has come to the rescue of crisis-torn European states with its renewed and conditional entry into the government-bonds market. Spain, Italy can breathe a sigh of relief. But that sigh, will remain a painful one, because they now have to contend with fiscal reorganization under ECB rules. ECB is now financing governments, something which goes against its philosophy — but is the need of the hour. The euro might be saved yet growth prospects in the near future look grim.

Libya has had a violent week. And the US is rushing its military assets in that region after the assassination of the US ambassador over Quran-desecration, via a youtube video! This incident gives further ammunition to Pentagon hawks to assert more military control in the Middle-East.

Syria continues to burn. The new UN peace envoy Brahimi has very few viable ideas to bring the conflict to an end. The world continues to watch.The saber-rattling by Israel against Iran has become too boring to comment on. Just move on, guys.

Japan bought the Diayou islands, completely heedless of the violent keyboard-thumping by gazillions of Chinese micro-bloggers. The islands are a bone of contention between China and Japan. Japan is looking to re-assert itself in the international waters. The US watches in anticipation. Sustained diplomatic hostilities between China and Japan will mean a more militarized Japan and the likelihood of the US-Japan-South Korea coming together in a more explicit arrangement to curtail China’s growing clout.

On to more important matters, I am still single. Surprising, right ? Given that I continue to share such pearls on my blog. Girls, do your homework. Find me.

Addition and Subtraction  Some people try to identify their real self through a process of addition, some by subtraction.

I look in the mirror, marvel at my face — then realize that this is not me. At some point in my early childhood, I convinced myself that my face was me. Imagine a world without mirrors. What horror, if a grown-up adult in this fantasy world, were shown his face in a newly invented mirror, and then told — This is You ! He must have such a refined, long-pondered over understanding of himself. An abstract idea of his various eccentricities, his strengths and weaknesses, his existential crisis and its resolution. How petty the notion that your visage determines you ? How delusional ?

So some people go through this long, systematic stripping-away of delusions, until they either come to grasp their essence — the core of their being. Or find themselves close to nothingness, turn into raving lunatics and live a contented life ever after.

Au contraire, some people just keep piling on accoutrements to their self, seldom satisfied with what they are. They keep adding to their self. I am a writer. I am also a connoisseur of music and wine. I am an idealist who wants to change the world. I am also a philosopher. I am more. Always more. The threat, in this case, lies in losing a sense of perspective about what you really want or who you are. And this drive to be more, this eternal avarice, might just be a cover for that goading fear that “you are mediocre. you are less.”

Personally, I don’t know if I fall into this neat categorization. I keep flitting sides. I am a fence-sitter, I think. The view is great, though!

On Love

I feel that I am terribly inexperienced. I think my definitions of love have ranged from “cognitive empathy” to just an excess of respect. What I am mortally afraid of, is this process that I cannot quite seem to control … I call it — “ The Construction “. So what happens when you meet someone, prepare to fall in love, you begin this transcendental mental computation — where you Construct. You imagine this person, build on his/her strengths, blatantly ignore anything that annoys you, heedless of all sage warnings from your closest friends, you build this image. Such a captivating image.

Reality seldom fails to disappoint.

You either deny reality and delude yourself further or you proceed with caution. With disastrous consequences in either case. Caution means you are always too late. “Early birds catch the worm”, you are left lurching in the wind. And reckless abandon in pursuit of  “Constructed Love” means a fatal denouement on the first winding of the path.

What does a young boy do ?  I fear that my amygdala plays tricks with me. I hope that this profound respect that I have, this “right feeling”, is not just a mirage. Just infatuation running around in circles, making faces at my ego, teasing, mocking and forever out-of-reach for my intellect. If only I could grasp this state-of-mind, where dreams take a whole, new meaning — leaving you far too vulnerable, I would understand myself so much better. The feeling is its own reward though, excitement, anticipation, dread (sometimes!) all intertwined and misunderstood. I love the human brain.

But what do I mean by love ? I don’t know yet.

Knowledge and Fear

What do we mean when we say we want knowledge ? Nothing more than this : something unfamiliar is traced back to something familiar. We are used to the familiar, we no longer marvel at it, it is commonplace. It makes us feel at home. And isn’t our thirst for knowledge precisely this need for the familiar, the will to uncover among everything strange, unusual and doubtful something which no longer unsettles us ? Is it not the instinct of fear that bids us to know ? And isn’t the rejoicing of someone who has attained knowledge, the rejoicing from a new-found sense of security ?

People think that the familiar is known. What error!  The familiar is what we are used to, and it is often the most difficult to know, the most difficult to view as a problem, as something “outside us”. The great success of science, in contrast to the efforts of understanding consciousness, rests on the fact that they take something strange as their object.

Things closer to us are harder to see. Consider, as an example, the problem of “Being” ? What is the meaning of being ? I am. Understanding the question itself, grasping that it is not merely a linguistic question, is difficult. Our understanding of our own existence is so implicit, so ontologically close to us, it is hard to even question it or begin to understand it. Martin Heidegger claims that all our understanding of being rests on Time. Time is the horizon of our being. What exists ? Something that is here, and remains here in the next moment. This temporal substantiality is the only way we recognize our existence. But more on “Being and Time” later.

On how I writ

I must confess I do not want to be understood when I write. Not always. Everyone wants to select audiences when one talks or writes, and in selecting audiences, one makes “others”, those who are kept at a distance. All subtle laws of style do that, in music, art, writing, they create a simultaneous barrier, which only the targeted audience can climb.  And let me say this, I let neither my ignorance or impatience come in the way of understanding for my audience (however small). I try to approach philosophical issues, with brevity and levity (which I cannot manage most of the time).

I try to approach deep problems like I approach cold showers : fast in, fast out.  Those who say that  this is not the way are the enemies of water, the enemies of cold water. It is the great cold, that makes me fast! Does something stay unrecognized only because it has been touched in flight ? Does one absolutely have to sit on a problem, mull over it, chew your fingernails, twiddle thumbs, ponder, deliberate, and then realize something ? Some truths might be shy or ticklish, which have to be caught unawares, like in flight ! And my brevity has an added value — I say things briefly, so that I am heard even more briefly. As an amoral being, I would like to avoid corrupting innocence. It will be a funny sight indeed if some innocent gets inspired by something I write. Hence the brevity.

Also, things are worse with my ignorance. I am deeply ashamed about it, I spend precious minutes regretting it. Then I spend more minutes ashamed of my shame. I know too little. But then I wonder, it would be even worse, if I knew too much. Imagine the heights of my arrogance and the depths of my pity for the rest of humanity. That would have led to such condescending prose! There is no formula for how much knowledge makes for a good writer. I want to have a taste for independence, for quick coming and going, for wandering, for adventures which only the swiftest are capable of. The soul of my writing would rather live free with less knowledge than be stuffed and bound. Like a good dancer, who wants suppleness and nourishment and not fat from his food.

And what I want, foremost with my writing, is to be a good dancer.

 

Turbid Peregrinations

“Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” — Ludwig  Wittgenstein, in the Tractatus .

A note about the title of this post would be illuminating. I came across the unusually alluring phrase “the turbid peregrinations” in “Shame” by Salman Rushdie. It has stuck to me ever since. Rushdie was describing, in his inimitable style, the haphazard wanderings of a lunatic’s mind. And that vagabond-like quality to the insane mind, constantly flitting through images, unusual thoughts, unrealistic fantasies — that feeling of chaos, is what I mean to capture in this post.

Hence, the two guidelines for reading it are as mentioned below —

1. The purpose of this post is a transcendental one. It has little to do with reality, objects, people or events. Just thought.

2. There are two parts to the post — the part that you are reading. And the part that I have not written. The more essential part is the latter. But it is an ineffable, unspeakable thing. Thereof, I am silent.

On Action-at-a-Distance and Women :

When he stand amidst the cacophony, the noise of his ideas, his projects — he yearns for the stately, beautiful and happy seclusion of those silent, magical creatures – Women.

He believes that just their company shall reward him with calm, an end to this droning anxiety of existence.

He forgets that on that most-sought chateau of female company — that fantastical , idyllic place — there is still so much small, petty noise.

He resigns himself to the conclusion that the phenomenon of Action-at-a-Distance, so deftly orchestrated by Women, sadly needs Distance !

The animal with a good conscience :  The vulgar element in everything that Times of India (as a microcosm of our society) offers us does not escape me. Yet it has stopped offending me. Why is this ? Well, animals have their own rights — and we aim to be refined animals. Bad taste has its rights as well. I would rather say that Bad Taste has a superior right – since it answers to a great need, provides guaranteed satisfaction (like pornography) and is a universal language – an unconditionally intelligible mask for all the depravity that lurks within us. Good Taste, on the other hand, is searching, deliberate, not sure how it is to be interpreted and seldom popular. What is popular is the mask. For animals with a good conscience. So let bad taste go unpunished and let us revel in the feeling of elitist superiority.

A conversation :

A :– I do not want to write. I am annoyed and ashamed that I am typing this out right now. Doing this is repugnant — to look for approval through the lens of verbosity.

B :– But then why do you write ?

A :– I say this in confidence, I have found no other way of getting rid of my thoughts!

B :– But why do you want to get rid of your thoughts ?

A :– Why ? Why, indeed ? Because I have to! It is quite like nature’s call.

B :– Disgusting!

A (sighs) :– I know.

Religious Wars : The greatest progress of the masses till now has been the rise of communalism and religious wars, for it proves that the masses have begun treating concepts with respect. When does a religious war start ? When the finer concepts of two sects have refined common reason so that even the mob becomes subtle! It takes trifles seriously, and considers it possible that the “ultimate salvation of the soul” rests upon slight variations in concepts !

Colourless green ideas sleep furiously.  — Noam Chomsky.

Ideas that are furiously sleeping, or dormant, can have terrifying implications for humans. They can make you green or colourless. (depending on whether you feel envy or just hopelessly scared)

One such idea is the prospect of being alone. While the rest of humanity revels in hedonistic delights, you are alone. Just you, your plans and your work. What if it all comes to naught ? And you are not good enough ? How would you resign yourself to a life of mediocrity, of pale insignificance, in light of the grandiose dreams of your idle moments ? How would you confront yourself – that harshest of critics ? These dormant fears, can make anyone colourless. And they make me green as I look at the millions around me, stolid in their indifference and insignificance. Such calmness, such sangfroid, in the face of such a dire state of affairs. Ignorance and its bliss!

And to drown out those fears, I plunge myself into the thoughts of others.  “Being and Time”, “Critique of Pure Reason”, the Tractatus, the “Idea of Justice”, and “Immortality”. And it is not nearly enough. What I crave is the future, the prospect of intimacy, and an end to eternal ennui.

Where is my last cigarette ?

On the paucity of Heroes.

When Zhou-en-Lai was asked about the impact of the French Revolution on the modern world, he remarked “It’s too early to tell”. This was in the 1970s, a good 200 years after the event itself. The import of the statement is that social and political change can be felt centuries after a significant event. Most of us would concur with this claim. But how does a cataclysmic, transformational event like the French Revolution happen in the first place? Is it an incremental, slow build-up of social, economic and political deprivations that inexorably leads to rebellion ? Or are there other more vital, precipitating factors ? In direct terms, would the Revolution have happened without the generation of Rousseau and his like? Would China be on the cusp of greatness, without the sagacious leadership of Deng-Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin and others ? What would the United States of America look like without Lincoln? How would the Blacks in America, the widows in nineteenth century India and the women all over the Western world fare, were it not for the ceaseless ministrations of heroes like Martin Luther King, Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Alice Paul and Lucy Burns?

Not very well, one would think.

Would change have happened eventually? Is societal change a process that must always take a tortuous path through history? History offers us alternatives.
Post-war Japan and Germany redefined the term “economic miracle”, their whirlwind rise being the inspiration for South Korea and several other east-Asian economies. China seems to have accomplished more in the last thirty years, than any country has ever done in such a short period of time. The common thread running through all these historical events, right from the French Revolution to China’s modernization, is the fact that transformational change was achieved within a span of one or two generations ? The other glaring connect is the presence of individuals who proactively changed their societies’ ideals — the presence of heroes.

Some time back, I was listening to a satire routine by the uniquely talented Stephen Colbert. It was the White House Correspondent’s dinner in 2006, where he spoke in the presence of the President of the US, Mr. George Bush, the Chiefs of Staff, the judges of the US Supreme Court and the entire Washington media.
At various points in his speech — he called Mr. Bush — “not-some-brainiac (read stupid) , a guy who makes decisions with his gut, a person who doesn’t let “reality” bother him, a guy who gets repeatedly punched in the face and never learns, someone whose opinions remain set in stone despite cataclysmic events” and so on.  He goes on to mock the Air Force Chief of Staff, the Chief Justice Scallia, Donald Rumsfield, the entire media, NSA, ex-CIA spies et al. When I got past the humour and the entertainment, I could not help but wonder at the kind of society that can foster such a tremendous amount of freedom in public discourse. This was pure, unadulterated “freedom-of-speech”, and it was inspiring.

Would this have been possible in any other nation, any other society? I doubt it. The United States was founded on dissent and free speech. The individual was given rights over and above general society and government. The logic was that success occurs at the level of the individual and he must not have to fight for his rights. Some of the other core founding principles of the American society were — common standards for success which was the accumulation of wealth, power and influence, accepting that change is inevitable and is good for society, ensuring equality for all, rewarding effort and never-give-up spirit, focusing on the solution more than the ideology, and a puritanical streak where the world is hued in black and white and there can be no middle ground. (You are with us or against us)

Let us look at certain other societies and the kinds of ideals that they cherish. The Japanese and other Asian societies generally lay a strong emphasis on an individual as a cog in the larger social machine.
What is different from American Society is not that the Japanese have no sense of self but rather that the self is seen as defined through its interaction with others and not merely through the force of individual personality. The cooperative, relativistic Japanese is not thought of as the bland product of a social conditioning that has worn off all individualistic corners, but rather as the product of firm inner self-control that has made him master of his… anti-social instincts… Social conformity… is no sign of weakness but rather the proud, tempered product of inner strength.” This mastery is achieved by overcoming hardship, through self-discipline, and through personal striving for a perfection that one knows is not possible but remains a worthy goal.

Compare this to the European societies and we can see notable differences from both American and Asian ideals. The rule of law is of paramount importance here, no less vital is the quest for individual freedom (almost to the point of lunacy if it does not harm anyone). There is a greater sense of history and tradition in Europe than in America and the typical British character can be summed up as “stubborn, stoical and indignant at injustice”. Like Asian societies, the family unit is highly valued.

Gert Hofstede, a Dutch researcher found 4 key dimensions of cultural differences —

  • Individualism versus Collectivism : To what extent do people believe in individual responsibility and reward rather than having these measures aimed at the larger group?  Contrary to the stereotype, Japan actually ranks in the middle of this dimension, while Indonesia and West Africa rank toward the collectivistic side.  The U.S., Britain, and the Netherlands rate toward individualism.

 

  • Power distance:  To what extent is there a strong separation of individuals based on rank?  Power distance tends to be particularly high in Arab countries and some Latin American ones, while it is more modest in Northern Europe and the U.S.

 

  • Masculinity vs. femininity involves a somewhat more nebulous concept.   “Masculine”  values involve competition and “conquering” nature by means such as large construction projects, while “feminine” values involve harmony and environmental protection.   Japan is one of the more masculine countries, while the Netherlands rank relatively low.  The U.S. is close to the middle, slightly toward the masculine side.

 

  • Uncertainty avoidance involves the extent to which a “structured” situation with clear rules is preferred to a more ambiguous one; in general, countries with lower uncertainty avoidance tend to be more tolerant of risk.  Japan ranks very high.  Few countries are very low in any absolute sense, but relatively speaking, Britain and Hong Kong are lower, and the U.S. is in the lower range of the distribution.

It is a reasonable assumption that the values that any society aspires to broadly influence the decision making at various levels — from the leaders taking policy decisions to the smallest individual following acceptable social norms in his daily existence. Over a long period of time, the cumulative choices of these individuals decide the course that the nation shall take. It is imperative then that the society chooses the “right set of ideals”, the norms that best fit its unique station in history and its position in the world-order. Only then can we hope to see long-term change.

So lets get back to our own nation. What are our ideals? What are the values that the common people here aspire for? What belief-systems does our media propagate? What do we celebrate and which ideas do we denounce? All of this is relevant when we discuss the collective vision for a nation ? Do we have any at all ?

It is difficult to be categorical about this. What is clear is that we are clearly not the most vibrant, inclusive and progressive society in the world. We do not value change so much. We do not encourage innovation, we are not the benchmark that other nations aspire to.
When did we begin to lose the romanticism and idealism in our society? Was it after the death of Gandhi and the end of our freedom struggle? Having been at the receiving end of the “imperialist stick” for over two centuries, did we unwittingly and gradually lose our sense of self-esteem ? We have been a civilisational state for a couple of millenia, was the sudden transformation into a modern nation-state too abrupt ? The aping of Western institutions was fine as long as it was limited to the peculiar needs of modernity, but I feel we took it too far. The colonial mindset prevailed and we started judging the inherent worth of any idea from the lens of the West. We have not yet woken from the colonial stupor. The mature understanding of our own society, its strengths and weaknesses, its concept of the individual in relation to the state, has yet to evolve. That is, in part, the reason for the failures in our attempts to rapidly modernize. Unless we contextualize modern solutions to our largely-medieval social milieu, our efforts shall be met with modest results at best.

What this “Hindu” rate of growth/modernization has engendered is a sense of resignation and disillusionment with the nation and society in general ? A laissez-faire attitude and a distinct lack of motivation to solve real problems characterize our society. Perhaps it is a defence mechanism for people. When people realize that they cannot do anything to change the big picture, they stop caring and save themselves the pain. It is much easier to get drowned in the hum-drum routine of daily existence, much more painful to worry about the seemingly intractable problems that we face. Perhaps they are right.

But what if they are wrong ? What if the challenges are not really insurmountable ? History is replete with examples of  a few men accomplishing Herculean tasks. The comfort zone of stasis can only be punctured if people realize that off-beat, unorthodox solutions are the only way out of the quagmire that we find ourselves in. Strait-jacketed thinking from orthodox, “proper” leaders might not work in the rapidly evolving scenarios of today.  We need massively scaled, transformative top-down solutions from bold thinkers.

Where are our heroes ?
It will be appropriate to close with anthropologist Margaret Mead’s evocative lines,
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”