26 Nov 2005
"You may not like it, but do it for the team", she said. Not at all a singular suggestion. All of us use it. Only, 'team' is replaced with family, community, race, religion, nation, etc, depending on our position. 'Doing something for others' is a virtue that has been ennobled by innumerable wars. What if 6 million Jews perished? Hitler did it for his race. What if Iraq has been razed? Bush did it to save the world from terrorism.
Drop a bomb, exterminate a nation, convince ten million neurotics that you did it for their security and you are on the short-cut to win the Nobel Prize for Peace. Pump bullets into hundred souls across the border to protect your country and you get a Param Vir Chakra. Close your eyes, get screwed while others have a ball and you make for a great team-player, a good family member, a sensible citizen. Man's recipe for being good is so simple.
Morally sunk as I am, I never see the line between virtue and vice clearly. I understand only one criterion - that of intrusion. Any kind of intrusion - regardless of the consequences - is fundamentally wrong. If B prefers Bach and C prefers Rock, the ideal state for both of them to be happy is - they appreciate each other's preference and enjoy the music in their own rooms. The moment one imposes his preference on the other, it makes for chaos. Sadly, the world is not lateral but hierarchical, so the man in power imposes his preferences on the powerless. As Hitler said, "A lie repeated thrice becomes a truth." Eventually, the ideal becomes a virtue. Politics is rife with flaunting every act as 'doing for others'. False promises, false gestures, and the gullible masses are taken for a ride.
Not that I dismiss everything that one does for others. It's the basic assumption and the association with virtue that I am unable to appreciate. Giving up on one's preferences and giving in to the majority's choice should be voluntary. It should be based on common sense and understanding, and not on the desire to live up to the ideal and fear of persecution. It should be as voluntary as it is between a mother and child. A mother doesn't think twice to give up even her life to save the child, if a situation demands. When neither desires authority, giving up is a joy.
Other than the cases of intrusion - as in case of criminals, eve-teasers, those cranky chaps making for nuisance on roads - I doubt if there are any situations else that deem an individual to be compelled by his group/society to yield. If a chap is minding his own business and has preferences different from those of the group, I do not see any reason why the group should find it odd or have problems about the same. Even in goal-oriented teams - as we have in sports - the concern of the team about a member should end with his performance. His personality and character should not be the group's business to evaluate.
One common criterion, promoted by management and self-help books too, is 'cumulative happiness'. The group's opinion and choice is always given more importance. While a member who stands by his preferences is termed inflexible, unadaptable, asocial, etc, the group forgets that it, in the first place, is being inflexible. This applies to any organized group. A group is always rigid because it goes by rules. Which is why, walking out of groups has always been a problem for those rare souls who wanted to walk out. Depending on what kind of a group it is, you are either persecuted or ostracized or shot dead - even when you have just minded your own business all the way. No wonder then that the desire for security, fear, and ambition are very important determinants of an individual's decisions. A noble and affectionate gesture as it might appear, sacrifice has done more harm than good in this world.
If B sleeps with a gorgeous girl and his ten friends also want to not miss out on that, and he persuades her to 'do it for their happiness' (assuming the girl is unwilling), I doubt if the chaps who go by cumulative happiness theory agree that she has done a noble deed. If cumulative happiness is the sole criterion, then the equation should not change even if the girl indulges in an orgy or gets gang-raped. If the willingness of the girl takes precedence, then there should be a line beyond which the group's preferences should be ignored, no matter what. And if we at all admit that an individual's choice should always matter, then this should be applied across groups.
Good leaders - to my mind, those who respect freedom of others and do not go by any ideals or beliefs - are rare (ironically, such people never become leaders). And it's very dangerous for a group to be led by those who rely heavily on the terminology and perspective of people like Dale Carnegie, Deepak Chopra, Robin Sharma, etc. Or, for that matter, anybody's. But these guys are more dangerous. It's easy for leaders to lead a homogeneous group. To my mind, regardless of the performance of the team, such leaders should be deemed inefficient. But that's not how it works. The governing priciple is, to borrow from Orwell - "All men are equal but some men are more equal than others." Power reigns.
What is a good action/decision? If cumulative happiness is not the right criterion to measure the same, what is? Is there any such thing as good/bad action per se? If everybody minds his own business, will there ever be any conflict of preferences - whether among individuals or groups and individuals? Some questions may not have absolute answers, but it's good to ask them nonetheless.
(P.S. Apologies to Russell)
18 Nov 2005
When it involves screwing others, people remember and adhere to rules more strictly. The defining lines of evil/bad/wrong become very clear when one is on the judging position. The lawyer, the policeman, the TV reporter, the journalist, the old man reading the newsmagazine, the chap watching the newscast on the TV set,... everybody siezes the opportunity to become Lord Krishna. Persecution mania is so deeply rooted in human psyche. Homo sapiens
is a mistake.
12 Nov 2005
Creation hymn from the Rig Veda, quoted by Amartya Sen at TIFR, Mumbai, during a public lecture on Science, Argument and Scepticism, on November 5th, 2005:
Who really knows? Who will here proclaim it?
Whence was it produced? Whence is this creation?
The gods came afterwards, with the creation of the
universe. Who then knows whence it has arisen?
Whence this creation has arisen - perhaps it has
formed itself, or perhaps it did not - the one who
looks down on it, in the highest heaven, only he
knows - or perhaps he does not know.
When did this jewel of scepticism sink into the murky bog of dogmatism?