On why left-liberals are more mean

I am a recovering left-liberal. I would like to believe to have fully recovered from the fundamental defects within the broad spectrum of liberal and leftist political thought; especially the contradictions that provoked me to leave the camp for good. But my belief could very well be a self serving defense mechanism and only time will tell. The immediate consequence of these defects appears in a subscriber’s behavior — you are more prone to be mean. Now there is a very specific reason and context why I harp this point. The #metoo campaign and the latest cacophony created by waring tribes of left-leaning feminists (the liberals vs identity politics wing) over the list of alleged perpetrators of sexual misconduct from academia would have been funny, if not for being tragic. The list does include very important names, and I for one do not find it shocking that a substantial number of them are self-proclaimed left-liberals. But the conversation that goes on has the trademark meanness. And hence my point — left liberals are more likely to be mean to each other and outsiders, than right wingers.

Let us look at the crux of the current issue. Make no mistake, I am noway suggesting that sexual misconduct of various degrees is not a serious problem to be tackled. I am willing to believe that a huge majority of people in that allegation list could be simply guilty as charged.  But what I am unwilling to concede is that there is absolutely no chance that at least one of the people in the list might be innocent of the alleged crime and was in fact a victim of a vendetta of some sort. The fact that 60 out of 61 being guilty does not exonerate the makers and its supporters, from the most heinous crime one can perpetuate by insinuating an innocent person. You can shout a lot about media trials by unscrupulous journalists and conveniently forget what you are doing by claiming a moral high ground.  Now, I can bet a substantial sum that the first reaction from the more mean tribe in this battle for this logical suggestion will be that this is a privileged savarna/male/ liberal (which I very doubt to be) or in worst case a Sanghi (you have to be one if you cannot be even called a liberal) mindset. The most unscrupulous would also suggest that any one questioning their methods is a rape apologist or even a rapist. I will not be surprised at the irony of tremendously powerful men and women with a huge social media following, sitting in safe havens of a first world country, pointing fingers at anyone who believes in having a conscience, and be responsible for own actions.

Why do they behave so? A left liberal mindset, in my opinion and experience, has a shocking aversion towards philosophical consistency. I do not claim that there are entirely consistent political philosophies.  Other major schools more often acknowledges their inconsistency on matters, and at least do not moralize their particular stands to the extend left leaning political entities do. They thrive on an uncontested belief on moral superiority, and insinuates any doctrinal disagreement as sign of moral unworthiness. To put it simple, somebody who takes a principled different view on an important matter does not do so for a mistaken belief, logic or fact, but necessarily because they are evil. In this particular case, every woman who believes that this kind of naming and shaming is principally wrong is a morally bereft female, who is therefore necessarily a white feminist (or it’s Indian counterpart — savarna), whose only reason for challenging the same is her identity consciousness and prejudice. If it were a man, there is not even a question that such a person has to be a rape apologist! The funny thing is that there is absolutely no reason to believe that if a list containing non upper caste sounding names were to come up, there would not have been enough people, including the ones who objects now, who would raise the same principled objection. No! That burden of proof is not up on them.

Nothing could be more Catholic than a left-liberal’s obsession with people being evil and sinners. Some of them honestly believe that they follow the holy gospel of some high volume activists or overrated academics, aimed at cleansing the world of sins. All political groupings without exception behave like tribes. Left-liberals in general and  the identity politics champions in particular are classic cases of cannibalistic tribes.  The fundamental difference between a garden variety tribe and a cannibalistic tribe is their penchant for annihilation and consumption of the erred tribe that lives around them. Their basic belief system is derived from a notion of pure and victimized self, against a hostile and vile group of others who are better, wealthier, more powerful and so on because they are evil.  It is their fundamental belief that in a fair world everybody would think like them, but then they stand for pluralism and all such fantastic ideas!!

An interesting aspect of the left-liberal attitude is extreme territoriality in an anthropological sense. The nearer others are to their beliefs, the more hostile they are for their differences in beliefs. One should not be surprised in knowing about the countless factions of Maoists who are at war with each other, the LTTE who systematically murdered other revolutionary liberation organizations for the same cause (or simply put terrorists), the identity politics groups who want every self-serving aspect of liberalism and some variant of socialism but are at constant war with the mainstream socialists and liberals etc. This attitude also is so universal among all left-liberals. Monty Python’s ‘Life of Brian’ got it on dot with the  People’s Front of Judea.

My point is that a mean behavior derives directly from a left-liberal mindset. In contrast to this, right wingers are often more prone to be violent, obnoxious and  dumb. But their territoriality is much less.  When was the last time that you heard about a clash — ideological or fist fight — between a Sangh outfit and another ultra Hindu right wing sena?

Why there are very few popular books on advanced sociology topics?

I want to leave this post open ended and relatively short. So let me state my proposition straight away.

In my opinion several aspects of modern sociology along with a good part of gender studies put forward political propositions that are either utterly vague and non-committal, or when they do commit turns out  to be unprovable and non-falsifiable claims. This apparent behaviour is  not primarily because of the complexity of the subject, but for its inherently shaky foundations and vacuous content.

A statement has explanatory power only if it reduces the complexity by a good deal. Therefore any stream of knowledge that attempts to explain the world or parts of it, should necessarily explain itself first. The order of complexity in explaining itself should be lower than what it intends to explain. Your experiences prevent you from knowing this ultimate truth is not a good argument; far from it, it exposes the proposer’s lack of depth. In practical terms, this would mean that a well founded knowledge stream should produce accessible books and/or other resources, that are intended for a lay audience. The shock value or non-intuitive nature of an idea is not a deterrent to its accessibility. Consider quantum mechanics, string theory or evolutionary biology. They are as non-intuitive as it can get. Any 9th standard kid can read and get the flavour of these “complex” ideas. But why not Derrida’s deconstruction, Foucault’s discourses on power or Third wave Feminist theory?

sociology-physics

Source : https://datausa.io/profile/cip/4511/?compare=4008 (as on 30th September 2017)

Sociology departments award three times more number of degrees than physics departments in USA (data from 2015). Now compare this with economics departments, and we see thus:

sociology-economics

Source : https://datausa.io/profile/cip/4511/?compare=4506 (as on 30th September 2017)

For a comprehensive comparison, let me add on biology departments too where women makes up almost 60% of the graduates and is easily close to the statistics in sociology.

Sociology-biology

Source : https://datausa.io/profile/cip/4511/?compare=4506 (as on 30th September 2017)

Now, let me tell you a little bit as to where this comes from. As a school kid in late 80’s and early 90’s, I was into quizzing among other extra curricular activities. It is not that I was a well known whiz kid among the quizzing circle, but I could dabble. My memorising ability was not exceptional, but curiosity made up for it. For that very reason, I did not miss any chance to explore ideas, the cool sciency, mathsy, literature fancy stuff and a few lesser ones too in  the old fashioned way — books, newspapers, magazines and TV documentaries. Through this way, I already had an introduction to  a lot of history, classic fiction, science and mathematics that I came to learn afterwards. There was however a huge exception to this rule — social sciences excluding economics and psychology. Looking back, it makes me wonder that even in this era of wikipedia, there are very few books if any, or a new form of presentation, accessible to an school kid when it comes to many advanced social sciences. Think about it; you can get dazzled reading introduction to relativity, quantum mechanics, genetics, number theory, calculus, geography, economics, philosophy, statistics and even evolutionary psychology, but very little of gender theory or modern sociology.

Well many people might not be convinced. So let us look at some proxy evidences. Here is a good list of popular (layman) books in quantum mechanics (643), cosmology (201), number theory (104), biology (1182) and economics (173) books from one of the most active book review sites, goodreads. The listed number of books, as of 30th September 2017, is given in brackets. The number of books in popular sociology section is 245, of which many falls into popular economics, anthropology, psychology and brain sciences categories too.  In my view, many are wrongly categorized. Even if we take things as granted, very few down to earth books on the advanced topics that sociology deals with such as gender, race, power and privilege, exist in that list. Why is this so?

Now here are a few plausible explanations, I could think of. More ideas are welcome.

  1. Lack of patronage.
  2. Lack of enthusiasm by the proponents of the discipline to communicate to a larger audience, or a form of concealed elitism.
  3. Lack of interest as far as lay audiences are concerned.
  4. Inability to make a clear, concise and simple communication, or shaky foundations.

I will rule out 1 and 3 immediately. The number of students who opt for these courses in developed nations is good enough an indicator for the patronage and interest aspect. I will definitely argue that 2 exist, and this is very much visible as against scientists working at the highest levels who want to reach out to high school students in their language. My thesis however shall be that 4 is the most accurate explanation. When you make it clear and simple, you have to answer some difficult questions. If you fail there, the whole edifice will get exposed. Or am I wrong?

 

Analytical thinking and understanding Indian society

Let me shoot this straight. Serious hobbyists and professional social scientists from India should learn and follow modern developments in psychology, economics  and game theory, if they really want to make sense of the society. There is far too much insularity and special pleading when it comes to our understanding of the social dynamics at play. Our modern contribution to knowledge at large, and specifically to the study of our society, is marred by the sloppy thinking prevalent in the orient.
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Image Source: Amazon

Most people might find my initial remarks something very drastic. More over, people have every right to question my competence to make such an opinion. I won’t be offended if that is the case. Call me a Macaulayist for this crime if you must, but do hear me out. I opine that if we want to understand our social dynamics and contribute to knowledge pool of the world, the volumes on history, mythology, literature, art and modern sociology are only going to be of help as footnotes. They can utmost provide details of individual tiles in a jigsaw puzzle. But we won’t be able to view the shape from the angle we are viewing. We are not using the right tools or developing them, as far as one can see. For somebody who has more than working knowledge on the cultural history of ‘Indian society’ (or some aspect of it), I believe that reading modern psychologists like Richard E. Nisbett and Daniel Kahneman (Nobel laureate in economics, the author of “Thinking fast and slow”), mathematician cum financial analyst Nicholas Taleb (author of “Black Swan“, “Fooled by Randomness“) etc. will be more beneficial. Social psychology, economics, logic and mathematics (especially for game theory) should be a must read for budding social scientists and even historians. We need to nurture analytical ability, a pathetically under appreciated skill in Indian social science research landscape, as far as I have seen.

Let me give some context to this. Although formally trained in engineering/physical sciences, on the hobby side, I have always been a history buff. This probably started from the childhood days when collecting stamps, and later coins, was the cool hobby. It was indeed a curious thing to speculate, then find out from a library or GK books as to what a particular cultural artifact from a country’s stamp meant to them. Presence of a parent and relatives who had had many anecdotes and stories to tell about places and people outside the country where they worked, possibly catalyzed it. Most importantly, the anecdotal historical gyan always came handy in extempore speech and essay writing competitions. Browsing through the random pages of wikipedia remained as the favourite time killing exercise for quite some time until recently. Today the enthusiasm to read and amass details has waned a bit in favour of understanding and quantifying the nature of events. And this is because I have come to identify a fundamental shortcoming found in most oriental minds developed in its native cultural environment — it has a typical two scale dynamics.
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What is this two scale dynamics? We work, and indeed very well, at the level of micro scale. We appreciating and often encourage diversities to a mind boggling level. Then we switch on to a macro scale where life is seen as a cycle of repetitions, be it karma or some mystic sense of timelessness. At best, we try to fit it to an already known theory. The problem however is that we are culturally untrained to work with the middle scale where the majority of knowledge production happens. This is where you connect dots and model. This is where you develop tools to quantify and analyze. The western mind, from the books I have read, works very well in this area. We are told not to venture much into this area because it is risky.
Ren

Image source: Amazon

Allow me to elaborate this point. It is well recognized that oriental people, including Indians of all ethnicity and religions, have a problem in understanding categories. We are culturally trained to see a continuum, which is possibly good for social cohesion, but certainly a handicap in dealing with concrete objects and ideas. In fact, we hate concrete ideas with sharp boundaries and are afraid of making the distinctions. In my opinion, this has consequences in our social outlook. Risk aversion is the motto of Indian society. ‘Sharmaji ka beta‘ meme did not come as an accident. In our society, the ‘ideal person’ is a weighted golden mean. The weight varies from place to place. It is a Master moshai — the upper caste, lower middle class, nominally irreligious (and yet culturally Hindu), sacrificing Bengali school teacher with calm mannerism — in Bengali society, while a Deenanath Babu — upper caste, pious, slightly wealthy, Ramayan chanting, Mukhiya type, Sarkari officer — in the Hindi heartland. All communities have such stereotypes, but in western societies these golden means only have a symbolic value, as a pillar of stability; you have to surpass them and are encouraged to do so. But in our oriental societies deviation from this golden mean are not generally considered as positive. The weights and values change only when there is an external pressure on the community. In short, in our societies failure is looked down than success is valued.

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Image source: Amazon

Now the above said social dynamics has direct impact on the way we think. It discourages bold analyses, even in the academic disciplines where it is expected. As a result, we value getting along than pursuit of truth or bettering our understanding. I believe that even persistence of caste in urban spaces in this modern age has something to do with this attitude. Society believes that an inter-caste marriage implies a lowering of value from the ideal mean for the privileged spouse and hence failure. But then, for the less privileged spouse, it is again a digression from the mean which might award better mobility or success (for lack of a better word). A risk averse society does not value success to the extend it abhors “failures”. Hence even progressive values does not catch up fast. The general hatred towards wealthy capitalists, even in societies with no left wing roots, again is a permanent feature of this risk averse society. It happens in rich countries too, and higher in poorer societies. Yet in India we have it more as disdain,  than just anger. To top it all, our cultural discouragement for thinking in the middle scale, i.e weaving the observed diversity into a theory with ample explanatory power and without bothering whether it upsets the current notions, is really poor.

So here is my suggestion. Our problems cannot be understood, let alone solved, if we look them as diverse pieces arising from historical accidents. Neither will the ideologically motivated grand narratives help beyond a point. We need modern evidence based science and analytical tools. We need to learn to work in the middle scale.  Above all, enthusiasts of social sciences (other than economics) should broaden their outlook by learning economics, psychology and mathematics. The patterns are much more clear once you equipped with the details and stand above quantitative reasoning processes.

 

Menstrual leave debate: premise and a few numbers

The one interesting thing about taboos is that in effect they are universal. There are the social taboos and for people who have very few of those, often there are ideological taboos. Discussions on menstruation is, and have been, a social taboo. In India, this is linked to the ideas of purity and in ways remain more intense. A biological phenomena which is as natural as the word can defined to be, has historically been used as an excuse to exclude women from education, religious centers and even work places. The ‘Hindu culture’, or at least the dominant upper caste dogmas in this regard have been particularly vehement in restricting woman from participating in the public sphere citing menstrual  impurity.  The orthodoxy prevalent in other religions  and cultural groups too make similar restrictions though citing different reasons. In such a society, one might imagine that breaking the menstrual taboo is the radical thing. Perhaps not according to some women who endorses the idea of menstrual leave, as two Indian companies have introduced them.   Now there are debates raging on in the mainstream as well as social media. My short answer to the question is no, and  here I am opining about this idea as a man, very likely to be accused of mansplaining. At the very least this identity factor will not bode well with a certain section of left wing or liberal feminist ideologues unless I start with the mandatory confession on privileges. This is the perfect example for an ideological taboo — an onlooker whose experiences are different should have no right to comment, even if the ideas (s)he present are relevant, logical or simply indisputable.

There is no way to break out of this new left and liberal clap trap, though I do believe that supporters of first and second wave feminism (though not always the third wave) still has enough maturity and patience to tolerate and consider opinions on such issues which  incidentally might be coming from men too. The good news is that are quite a lot of women professionals, including those who consider to be feminists, completely opposed the move for same or similar reasons that I have in mind. This has not got into a gender war kind of situation so far, as there are as many articulate women on both sides of the argument. Now, I do not want to focus on the question whether menstrual leave is necessary,  as that is not something a person of another biological sex can address. The tragedy of today’s discourse culture is that even women who have argued this to  be unnecessary from a biological point of view have been accused of being ableists without engaging with the thread of their arguments. I want to look at the logical premise of this demand and its potential economic consequences.
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Logical premise of the argument for menstrual leave

Here is how I understand the question.

Fact 1: A certain section of the work force undergoes severe to manageable discomfort on a periodic basis, which is part of a natural process.

Fact 2: Because of fact 1, their general productivity is some times affected, in addition to the work related stress.

Argument A: It is in the interest of employers to give paid or otherwise leave to those people affected for better and sustainable productivity.

Argument B: It is in the interest of society (and therefore to be enforced by the state) to grant paid leave to them during the period to remain anti-discriminatory since the ones who do not suffer are privileged and should not have a say in this.

There could be other formulations of argument B, but the crux remains the same.

In my opinion, one could make a case for argument A, provided it is left voluntary for the employee as well as the organization.  Any firm that wants to give a welcome signal to its employees, and is confident to meet the ends despite loss of a few (wo)man hours would naturally go for it. No law prevents a company from doing so. Therefore, there is nothing to debate about the argument as such.

Argument B is highly problematic. I can imagine people already beginning to point out the principle behind affirmative actions. In my view, this cannot be justified with the same principle. Consider caste reservation. The argument in favour of caste based reservation is that structural inequalities and social discrimination hinters the access to employment opportunity and education. The blame is on social prejudices and to a certain extend, its history. Reservation is a provision to set a level play until such prejudices vanish. In fact, the very key argument that many Dalit activists make is that it is not because we are less able, but larger society has not given us equal opportunity to compete at the same level. Nobody but nature can be blamed in this case, if at all. A good section of women argue that periods do not significantly affect their ability to work. In their view such moves will be considered as doles and concessions out of pity, which will only perpetuate more discrimination. I completely agree with them on that part, especially in the Indian context. This cannot be called positive discrimination since it does not address the taboos or social conditions which have restricted women’s access to employment. On the other hand, this cannot be compared with reservations for the differently abled people, as those provisions are made only in desk jobs or places where their disabilities do not hurt functionality. The present debate is about an across the broad law applicable to 47.15% of the population (sex ratio of 943) or more precisely 34.67% of the current work force (2014 estimate) and all future employees.

Economic impact

Consider the scenario in which a law demanding companies to grant menstrual leave is in effect. How would it work?

My prediction is that it would only benefit a very small percentage of urban and already empowered women in office jobs and will do much more harm to women at large. For one thing, it is not practical to demand firms that are involved in emergency services to adhere to this rule. A female surgeon, lawyer, site engineer  or even a nurse won’t be able to take advantage of it. If they do, this will automatically lead to significant reduction in recruitment of women. And at least in such cases, you cannot blame the employer as these jobs demand skilled people who should be present at crucial moments. Women involved in physically demanding jobs again will not be able to take advantage for the same reason, unless they are willing to work for a lower pay. Regular clerical jobs, certain kinds of sales jobs, back office jobs in media or advertisements, service sectors like call centers, teaching and software companies might be able to cope, if they want to. But even there, competition can create a dynamics in which an upper ceiling to the number of women to be recruited will come up and/or a reduction in pay or perks. It is estimated that only 13.4% of working women have regular salaried jobs. Out of this, the jobs which can cope with the rule in the best case scenario will be not be more than half. The one day paid leave will thus get reflected as a reduction by  equal or more amount of money in net Indian female workforce’s income. One might call this heartless or very inconsiderate. This happens not because of patriarchy but human self interest. I’m sure that even women bosses who have stake in their companies will take a decision to reduce or not increase the percentage of women employees for market reasons.

What are the numbers?

Let us consider a job which pays Rs. 25,000/- per month. Assuming 25 working days, in monetary terms this translates to a demand to raise salary by Rs. 1000/- or 4%. Busy firms will have to recruit more people above the current optimal number. This new recruitments will be proportional to the number of female employees. The actual cost could even be more than the 4% increase in salary per female employee. Now, in a competitive market businesses cannot run unless this is strictly reflected by an increase in productivity. And not all jobs can contribute equally towards improving the bottom line. So they will be forced to optimize. This could happen through an unofficial cut in net pay or through recruiting less women.

In my experience, one factor that many ideologues who argue that politics should always triumph economics (there are ethical reasons why some modes of economizing should not be encouraged) is their aversion or disability to understand numbers. Having a good quantitative insight about the situation at hand is not heartlessness. I want to point out an interesting, albeit a simplistic,  figure comparison to establish why such a rule can make smaller firms with significant women employee presence nonviable. Those who have taken a first course on probability might remember the birthday problem.

In probability theory, the birthday problem or birthday paradox concerns the probability that, in a set of randomly chosen people, some pair of them will have the same birthday.

If you have a legally guaranteed menstrual leave, in a firm with n female employees, what is the probability that two people will be on leave on the same day in a month availing the provision? This is not silly, as some people might imagine. Two guaranteed absentees few days a month, in a consistent manner can really create a big difference.

Let A be the event that two female employees out of n total number of them, take menstrual leave on the same day. P(A) is the probability that event A happens. Here again P(A) = 1 – P(A‘).   Assuming 30 days a month, we find that for  n = 7, the probability is more than half (53.08%). If n = 16, the probability is more than 99% (99.29). I shall consider the n = 7 case.

Let me try to put this in a plainer language. This means for a firm with 7 female employees — assuming that all does similar jobs, have similar abilities and that the natural cycles of potential employees are uniformly distributed — the chance that two women take leave on the same day in a month is more than 50%. This is given by probability theory and I did not make up this number. India’s mean female job participation ratio is approximately one third. Therefore 7 female employees doing similar job means a firm with around 28 employees in that horizontal would represents an average Indian firm. Obviously we are talking about a small firm here. Unless they consistently make a good enough profit with less hectic work load, they too will be highly constrained. This configuration implies it has 53.08% chance that on one particular day every month the strength will be 26 (instead of 28). Then there is 29.63% chance for the another 2 people  to be absent on some other day,  and 9.7% chance for yet another pair.  Apart from these chances, there are also a few 27 employee strength working days per month.

Now, let us consider a more progressive firm with equal gender participation and competence. We can assume the total number of people in this firm to be 28 (female : 14, male : 14).  With 14 women employees, the probability of two people being absent on the same day is 97.39%. In addition there is a 92.2% chance that on another day, other 2 women might be absent availing this provision, 81.54% chance that another 2 people are absent on  some other day, and 64.03% chance that this repeats once again on a different day. Further this probability series for pairs continues as 41.36%, 18.8% and 3.3% . Apart from these cases, there shall be days when office will work with 27 people.  Let me present to you a rough estimate of what these probabilities mean.

Sex ratio
No of two absentee working days/year
No of one absentee working days/year
Firm 1

07:21

11

62

Firm 2

14:14

48

84

Please remember that all these are apart from the regular leaves or sick leaves that people avail. There is no reason to believe that just because you have a paid leave per month , you won’t fall sick for some other reason. The competence of a firm which has to run 48 out of 300 working days (16%) with 26 employees  by default should  be much lower than one which runs 11 out of 300 working days (3.67%) under the same condition. If you were an employer, would you choose the second or might be inclined to reduce the number of women employees to the few who are indispensable? I bet even a woman entrepreneur will consider these figures seriously given that they might be up against firms with higher percentage of male employees.

On the advent of internet ‘ammavans’!

The good old ‘uncles’ or ammavans (അമ്മാവൻ) as we call in Malayalam, are back. This time with a vengeance, crawling all over the social media. I am not referring to people who might be on the wrong side of thirty and higher here, as it will be clear. I am every bit spooked! It feels like watching that Sherlock trailer where Jim Moriarty with his brooding eyes asks you “did you miss me?”. Well, it is not a folly to award Moriarty an honorary ammavan title for being obnoxious and positively spooky. It is his higher IQ and ambition that stands in the way.  Our ammavans are so boringly mundane, with a world view that has never crossed the boundaries of their eternal village. But beware my friends, with one twist of their acerbic tongues they can melt rocks of ages; these people are quite easily our own undetectable weapons of mass destruction! At least they remain so for families and personal relationships.

How I used to miss this adorable bunch of people ever since the early 2000’s or so, when the stay at my home town became intermittent. Let us be clear, I am not talking about relative uncles in general. Some older gentlemen belonging to the broad class of relative uncles could still qualify to be the ammavans in question.  Most of my close relative uncles are fortunately a far cry from this category. The ammavans I refer to are not defined by the relationship as such, but characteristics. So, what are these people any way, and what do they do?

For one thing, these people are quite literally joblessness personified. Not all of them need be perceptually unemployed or retired. Some of them do, but as a rule their favourite pass time is poking their fine noses into other people’s affairs. It all starts with an innocuous sounding concern for the younger generation. Imagine the horror of misguided youths not fed with enough diet of our best of the world culture and traditions! And this reminds me the conversation from the first Malayalam novel published in 1889— Indulekha. A quintessential middle aged comic character laments how ‘the youth these days have no respect for elders and do not read any of our great classics‘, ironically which they themselves have not read.  The noble intention of giving free (and every bit useless) advises to the youth, even if most of these gentlemen are far from being exemplars, is the first item in their agenda. Most poor souls will be terrified and De-motivated to a level of high self pity after listening to them enough times. As far as the few brave warriors who do succeed to march ahead, the game has only began.

Pleasing an ammavan does no good other than you loosing  time and self respect. But try being cross with him, and he will make your life hell to such an extend that you’ll regret being born. They achieve these remarkable feats through the local rumor service that they control, run and exploit. If you happened to be one of those traditional guy or girl who could not act on finding a mate, perhaps because you are boring, busy or simply afraid, and hence is looking forward for an arranged marriage, this is a person whose bad book should have no trace of your name.

If you thought things are bad so far, you know nothing John Snow. And that is probably because you are a guy! You haven’t seen the kind of terror these ammavans are capable of unleashing until you ask any young woman living in close proximity with this species. The very first difference is that the dosage of daughterly advises suddenly gets five fold. He will stalk you, taking stock of the friends and boy friend(s) if any, purely out of 916 parental concern. Many of them works as part time marriage brokers, and hence they are driven by a mix of virtuous care and quality concern.  After all, they are performing the arduous duty of supplying certified chaste women of the same caste and religion to men whose quality parameters can be more lenient and open to interpretations, isn’t it?

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The poster of a Malayalam film from late 80’s, featuring three stereotypical ammavan – Pappu, Jagathy and Innocent. Source : YouTube

This lovely species was well represented in the popular culture of Kerala. Actors like Innocent, Kuthiravattam Pappu, Jagathy Sreekumar and Shankaradi, were among the stereotypical ammavans portrayed in Malayalam films through out the 80’s and 90’s. I’m sure that all other regions from India will have their equivalents as this is a pan South Asia phenomena. But then these species, though never extinct, were on a slight decline path for some time. I cannot say for sure the reasons. It is suspected that real job market in small towns had a slight boost for a brief period and hence some ammavans thought of opting work for a change. Perhaps because of the financial crisis and slowing down of economy, they have come back. However, this time they are into a totally unsuspected arena — Facebook advisory councils and whatzapp heroism!

InternetUncles2

I have often wondered about the psychological make up of a person who visits the social media page of a younger acquaintance, relative or often a stranger, only to lament how wrong the youth these days are, out of nowhere. These are real people and that is what makes them scary. Though their mental ability and comprehension capacities are often found not rising above the mandatory 10+2 level requirements by any Indian board, the pretense of infinite wisdom will certainly give the seers from Ramanand Sagar’s puranic serials a run for their money. Make no mistake, many of them have noteworthy degrees including PhD’s, and that does tell us a lot about education in general. It is not surprising that they have penetrated social media, given that you meet so many such people with varying degree of toxicity every day. And I mean, they include professors at places no less than IIT’s. The moment I meet an indulgent free advise distributor inside campus, I chant “I will not turn into this grumpy middle aged man” ten times inside my head.  What has fundamentally changed in the past few years is their visibility and domain of attack.

Nowadays a lot of internet ammavans are into fan clubs; not the mundane film or sport star variety, but larger than all of them and you know who I mean. He is the avatar of Voldemort and really shall not be named. And if you got what I mean do not say that in public; at least not in plain English.  Try it and ammavans and their friends will accuse you of being biased, politically motivated (as if they are not), confused, anti-national liberal, communist and jihadist. By the time irony dies a thousand deaths, you would have received a thousand whatsapp messages proscribing such behavior from other ammavans. Perhaps, by the looks of it, the dads (not literally) of these paragons of virtue were into the fan club of Ma Durga’s alleged human avatar in India during 70’s. So basically it is  déjà vu, the rekindling of a nostalgia, or living the lives of own parents. May be this is how karma actually work and I’m an atheist! But whether into the fan club or not, the line of complaint and advise have seldom changed from the old world ammavans. That include the five fold penalty, if you happen to be a woman. Girl, you are done for your life!

So, what can we do about ammavans? My honest opinion is nothing can be done! These people have beaten nature to be present in the cyber world, and so we should be expecting internet ammavan viruses in coming years.  Stalk bots will register the activities of women, and they will get an occasional dosage of quotes from virtuous woman training manual, and don’t be surprised if some are lifted from Durga Vahini’s own publications. Men generally will be abused if you have any strong opinions on political matters. Expect lectures on humility, by people who proudly flaunts ignorance as a virtue. It is possible that in 5 -10 years he who shall not be named might be replaced by another star, but the kind of activity will remain the same. Whatsapp and its future version will have spontaneous artificial intelligence driven believe it or not news (actually rumor) service. NASA will continue to validate everything that is there, or allegedly there, in Vedas, Upanishads and Puranas, though surprisingly it would still take them to do it and our own desi sanskari Sanskrit pundits cannot. And by the way, our secular credentials are impeccable even there. All these and more, are not and shall not be, limited to any Hindu world views. The equivalents with equal degree of toxicity exists and and shall exist, from the Christian, Muslim and Sikh backgrounds.  As they say, phir bhi dil hai Hindustani! In short, we are doomed in the cyber world too.

The neutrality charade

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.
~ Desmond Tutu

I have been wanting to write about the prevalence of muddled thinking among both left and right from the political spectrum for quite some time. The theme of ‘neutrality’ as employed by people, is a classic example of muddled thinking. Neutrality works like a rubber band— immensely stretchable, and extremely convenient. The right, including those who are not so rabid, have a completely mistaken idea regarding this. The radical left on the other hand, uses the negation of the concept (i.e. there is no neutrality) to justify their preferences.

As I write this, an incident involving mob violence led by an individual with a very shady history, against another student whom I know personally — R. Sooraj — is the talk of the town at IIT Madras where I do research. Now let me make clear that, this was not a ‘fist fight’ between two as is being said in some media or by individuals who know nothing better. I have personally verified so much with trustworthy sources with no particular affiliations. It was a case of attack from one side that can have no justification what so ever. Without surprises, I have come to hear the word ‘neutrality’ used in various uninspiring and absolutely nonsensical ways. So what does it mean to be neutral in such an incident?

Sooraj

Sooraj in hospital bed before the surgery

Let us look at this case. Imagine that there is a bunch of people who go hyper with a few fantastic jargons. They often use the jargons indiscriminately and in a declarative manner. These jargons are related to isms like fascism , Brahmanism and any number of such varieties. Well, they also raise relevant issues pertaining to language (Sanskrit and Hindi imposition?), regional biases, caste and class based discrimination etc. but in, what I would like to call as, counter productive style. They are few, and exist as a feeble voice, though often portrayed outside as louder than what they really are. They also have as friends (better word is not-opponents) individuals who agree with them on particular issues, but have serious differences with their style of functioning. As you can see, we are not talking about a single monolithic group but people with a spectrum of opinions that can be differentiated from right-wing ideals. You will find romantic idiots who want love and world peace to opinionated ideologues for whom the theory of revolution is no less than the ten commandments for an ardent Christian, among them.  They are often shrill and I have found many vocal people from this group as boring and unimaginative. Let us call this amorphous collection as ‘high pitches‘ in our context. Apparently, a few individuals with various degrees of affiliation to this bunch, came together to conduct a discussion on the new regulations imposed by the central Government on a taboo. The taboo in question is beef, which by the way is not illegal in the land where this happens. I am calling it the taboo event.

Now, imagine another group. These people are more closed knit, with less to zero diversity in terms of religion, region, caste and gender. Their lack of diversity could be explained by Shahrukh Khan’s dialogue from the Bollywood flick ‘Chak De’ : “Ek team mein, do gundey nahi ho sakta. Aur is team ka gunda mein hoon”. (There cannot be two goons in the same team, and I am the goon of this team.) The closest they have come to a coherent political sentence without expletives and threats is ‘Bharat mata ki jai‘, which is fine. But there are also not-so-fine hot tempered gentlemen within, who are anything but gentle. Expect no bright ideas from this bunch. Their concerns are all related to maintenance of the status quo.  Some particularly  obnoxious characters from the gang expect a Maharaja service for themselves from hapless mess workers.  Then there are circles of supporters who generally agree with these people, but would not like to associate with them because of temperamental issues.  Still outside are individuals whose disagreements with the core are visible, although they continue to justify them citing the shrillness of the other group. Let me call this progressively worse by every yardstick as we go to the core gang as dhamakas. Their response to every argument is predictable, but then rule of the thumb is to expect the worse.

Note that I have not included the moderates from both ends of political spectrum, libertarians, generally uninterested people and many other categories into my classification scheme.

Manish

The perpetrator threatening others at the hospital.

There is a nasty person from the dhamakas with a well documented history of disrupting events and engaging in unprovoked physical assault. He is supported, possibly instigated, by a gang whose only difference from him is the ability to keep themselves safe. This gang assaults a person who was seen at the taboo event, because he ate that which is unacceptable for them and probably because they assumed him from the high pitches.  And no, it was not a mutual fight, but a pre-planned attack. The main character has openly made death threats against high pitchers in full public view, in real world as well as in facebook. Witnesses who have no stake in these issues confirm that this was a deadly attack, primarily by the nasty guy, with full support from the group. These people then change stories on every passing day after the attack. Or at least somebody is doing on their behalf. To cut a long story short, nothing that the nasty guy and his gang says (dhamakas), should have any credibility in the eyes of people who were not born yesterday. Even if we give them the benefit of doubt, no evidence, either physical or  human witnesses, attests their claims. You could read the detailed account of the incidents from the document here. So, how do we maintain neutrality about this case?

The ex-speaker of the Students Legislative Council of IIT Madras writes to an international media where in he mentions that there was a fight between left and right in student legislative council (SLC) meeting, which at its best is only semantically correct. Is “fight” the appropriate word to describe an incident when a person attacks a member of SLC without any provocation, and a friend of his responds in weak and spontaneous self-defense? There are things that I agree with him, at least in a minimal sense, about destruction of engagement spaces. Both parties have responsibility, if not at an equal level. But there is no way to bring in the question of differences of opinion and styles of functioning, to justify violent acts. I do not buy the left-liberal versions with ifs and buts while they talk about Paris or London attacks. Now that holds equally well when US and its allies goes for its holy ‘save democracy’ war in Iraq or Syria.  Much less should one admit that argument in the context of violence within a university, where intellectual growth is one’s own responsibility and purpose.

Neutrality cannot be defined as taking both opinions on an equal footage, as some from center-right or self proclaimed apolitical pretends. The fact that you do not like an ideology, should not blind you from seeing that injustice done to a person  with sympathies to that ideology is unacceptable. It’s negation does not imply lending support to the ‘powerless’ for the only reason that they are so, as left would have when it is favorable to their stands.  Neutrality, if there is ever such a thing, is remaining in suspended animation without passing a comment. Nobody is neutral by stating that both versions are possible. No cookies for that. Most importantly it is about stating known facts as they are.

Supporting an individual or group because they are apparently the underdog is not a principled way to overcome neutrality. We have to philosophize here. It is possible that some people might rank certain kinds of emotional violence over and above physical violence. This does not prove that a subjective emotional violence, would in anyway justify a physically violent (so-called) retaliation. Violence on physical existence is qualitatively grave than what anybody could do with words, generally speaking. May be one could imagine a few extra ordinary circumstances.  But even those have to pass the litmus test of targeted, personal, verbal assaults with an intention to provoke irrational response. So long as one cannot ascertain those, stating that both sides are at fault is not neutral, but a lazy self justification for one’s own biases.

The enigma called Indian conservativism

Conservative movement in India is a big enigma. Accuse me a conservative when I state the obvious — India does not have a conservative movement as far as the commonly accepted meanings of that word in the modern sense is concerned. And yes, I actually mean no conservative political movement— nacht, nyet, naHi, illai. The only time the word conservatism can ever be used in its proper sense is in its past tense; to refer to Swatantra Party by C. R. Rajagopalachari.

C_Rajagopalachari_1944

C. Rajagopalachari

We do have a not so subtle potpourri of various groups like traditionalists, anti-liberals, hardcore religious fanatics and cultural nationalists with varying degrees of bigotry, mostly controlled by populists  the from the last group. No points for the guesses, as they are the current ruling party that commands a stable electoral majority in the parliament. They are considered to be the nearest to, or in some cases proclaims themselves to be the voice as in the case of their fellow traveler publication Swarajya, Indian conservatives. May be, it is the comparison with Republican party of United States in terms of composition, that makes people say this. In any case, this bunch makes an interesting subject for a study.

The rise of Modi to power did give some commentators the hope that this time the general course would change. After demonetization, higher indirect taxes, bringing in new red tapism in the form of making Aadhar mandatory for every inconsequential thing and new regulations on cattle markets (which is nothing but a devious way to restrict supply of beef — the ideological agenda), I believe that no intelligent observer will argue that we are in the direction of a small government.

The late Malayalam novelist O. V. Vijayan made a brilliant observation about the predecessor of today’s ruling party, the Jan Sangh. Let me quote him (translation mine).

O._V._Vijayan

O. V. Vijayan

I remember the conversation with O. Rajagopal (the veteran Jan Sangh/BJP leader and current MLA) many years ago while he was getting ready to leave after spending the night at my home as a guest. I asked:

Where will the divisive politics of Jan Sangh lead to? You do not have a contemporary economic vision. You do not have a democratic solution to the linguistic and geographic contradictions.”    

We will be accepted pan India“, he replied.

“How?”

My friend expressed sympathy at my silliness with a kind smile. He said:

Any movement that is born from the (holy) Sindhu-Ganga basin should necessarily succeed.”

I was shocked at this half baked mysticism….. Sangh’s primary concern is not the failure of Indian democracy. It is not any of the contemporary issues. Their concern is mythology, the great war between Devas and Asuras!

 ~ O. V. Vijayan, from Haidavanum athiHaindavanum, 1987 (roughly translated as ‘The Hindu and the ultra Hindu’)

I believe Vijayan’s observation is right on the mark even about the new avatar of Sangh. Of course, the organization has expanded and become a little more diverse and inclusive. But one cannot miss the fact that apart from the cultural flank based on Hindu mythology, none of its successes are its own making as against its opponents’ failures. Even today, the only agenda it is able to set is the nationalism turf plays. It is still not confident enough to talk about the economics or a social vision. This is in sharp contrast with the conservative movements from Europe or North America which has confident spokespersons who can handle the economic doctrine or its ideas about society, and I’m not talking about the fringe Christian fundamentalists who might ally with them.  To that extend, ideologically Sangh is a more confused mirror image of Jamaat-e-Islami from the Muslim world. And that in itself will resist the core from taking any rational economic policy. Even if the government comes up with one in certain sectors, it has to balance that by spending a proportional amount as archana (paid prayer ritual in the Hindu context) for the arcane cultural (read ideological) causes.

So, why aren’t there many electorally popular or intellectually appealing Indian conservatives? The standard right wing answer to this will be the so-called hijack of the  academia by the left (after Indira Gandhi) and dominance of the Indian National Congress which championed the populist left ideals. I agree that there is some merit to these accusations. Still, it does not account for the full picture. In my opinion, the missing link is the high prevalence of muddled thinking among the people at large, from the centre to right  spectrum. Liberals are prone to muddled thinking when it comes to the questions of economics. But generally, they get many socio-cultural questions right. It is another matter that they often display double standards. Most self identified conservatives from India, except a few libertarians, carry an unnecessary burden of ‘cultural victimhood‘ (the wounded civilization rhetoric of V. S. Naipaul) which has no basis and they tend to blame the leftist discourse for their own incompetence. The prevalence of outdated to horribly bad cultural practices in third world countries is a fact. No amount of blaming colonialism, can hide this. On top of these, Indian conservatives have no equivalent for a Protestant work ethic to hang on.

I have observed that self confessed conservatives from India, often (unnecessarily) take up on themselves the duty to find justifications for elements in a far from admirable past. It is a common feature in most post colonial states that conservatism takes a strong anti-modern position. This puts a severe limit on the rationality of conservatives, furthering the nonsense of  ideas like our sciences vs western sciences.  This becomes a hurdle in pursuing rational economic policy and their substitute becomes no better than status quo or in worst cases akin to Marxian dogma. On top of this,  except for a handful of people, the self identified conservatives are least knowledgeable when it comes to the native systems. I have always been baffled by this contradiction that people from the left-liberal camp (myself included then) had a better grasp over the broad picture and finer details of India’s history. And that is not because of some conspiracy by leftist historians, for conservatives are generally unaware of even traditional sources. How do we reconcile with the contradiction that these people are the default nationalists but without any fundamental idea about the idea or history of the nation they were defending, except as fragmented myths and emotional euphemisms!

I am not a conservative (or a leftist). But I would like to see more intelligent modern conservatives without the bigotry against non (upper caste) Hindu cultures and traditions, speaking their minds about politics, economics and society, and engaging rationally . We need a social debate on ideas and not the cacophony in the offering today. Can Indian conservatives for once prove to be an exception to the inward looking third world traditionalism?