Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Kamal Hasan, Cho etc

I don't think Cho's spontaneous genius can be summed up in simple words. He has the ability to squeeze through a subtle point in-between humor. And I'd like to think it stings where it hurts. He summed up Kamal Hasan perfectly when Kamal appeared in a mock version of reality show "Neengalalum Vellalam Oru Kodi" For the uninitiated this show is a poor man's poor copy of "Who wants to be a Millionaire". Or as I'd like to call the show - Vijay TV's Poverty Porn.. A carefully instrumented show where people's dopamine response is achieved by hearing poor people sing their poverty song, cry often and get alms from the host Prakash Raj. Someone's poverty is our entertainment. And no one can sell this sort of entertainment better than Vijay TV.

Anyway coming back to our beloved Cho. Cho casually described Kamal as "An actor among intellectuals and an intellectual among actors". This is probably as accurate as one can get in terms of describing Kamal Hasan and as close to one can get to insulting him during Vijay TV's traditional lick ass series of shows.

As observed many times in this blog Shakespeare has said two things about life - (1) No God is equal to sabapathy and (2) the world is a theater. In the spirit of (2) this was clearly not a reality show. It was as staged as it can get. If the "Ramanujar birth place" question didn't clue one in. I am sure Mortimer Wheeler and Sambhaji Maharaj must have. One was happy looking at Kamal Hasan's rather poor pretense during the Poornam Viswanathan question. It was comforting to note that even he wasn't interested in pretending anymore. But it will deceive the public nevertheless. This is because the questioner did not 'out' the question paper to Kamal Hasan. The questioner knew the contents of the answer paper Kamal Hasan had written and set the questions accordingly. And hey! cinema icons never lose. Award shows are staged that way in India. The only reason Kamal Hasan didn't win 1 crore was because "time was up". If there was time he would've won the show. How can Kamal Hasan ever be wrong in Vijay TV?

This show was mainly about how big of a "maira pudungi" Kamal Hasan is. The purpose of the show was to tell us all that Kamal Hasan is this amazingly, intelligent, multi-talented, know it all, philosopher, pundit, jedi master and Gandalf. A veritable modern Vishwamithrar whom we better call Brahma Rishi only because we are not Vasishtars and therefore we have no right to not crown him with titles. We are almost obligated to do so. Since we are remiss for not acknowledging the turban'ed Bharathi in his lifetime, we have to compensate by acknowledging this self-proclaimed  "turban podaatha Bharathi". No one pauses to realize that Bharathi was not recognized because he was truly a rebel and didn't agree with the popular thought process  of people around him. The former is not always caused by the latter. But the latter always causes the former. 

One of the biggest failings of Tamils as a civilization in the post-independence era is their glorification of cinema koothadis as messiahs, philosophers and intellectuals. In an ideal world, cinema people will be relegated to the entertainment section. They would have zero voice in politics, religion, philosophy and intellectual thought process of the civilization. The only way a dictator can set right this 'pazha pona' thamizh civilization is to limit the freedom of cinema people to have them not express a view on political, religious or other topics that require careful debate, knowledge and understanding. There should be whiplashes for cinema people who even has a fleeting thought about expressing an opinion on philosophy and politics.

A person like Kamal Hasan is dangerous to the society purely because he is an actor pretending to be an intellectual when people can't tell the difference. There is a risk that he may actually have a social impact. His false narratives of history, unnoticeable inaccuracies, artificial agenda can actually mislead the people. Channels like Vijay TV who have been carefully setting up a narrative to brainwash people use him effectively. Whether he likes it or not they ask Kamal about atheism and other arbitrary historical/philosophical things which he is no way qualified to pontificate about. Yet he and his cinema cohorts are the ones who are the voices of this civilization's intellectual thinking. And the only way one can show their intellectualism or be a rebel in Tamil country is by offering their 2 cents on religion.

No matter what the topic is - Kamal Hasan arrives with his tool kit of "Sivaji Sahab", "Dilip Kumar Ji", "Balachander saar" " I am Sivaji sir's eldest son" " I sat on the lap of MGR, AVM" and performs his "adraa raama" monkey dance in front of an eager public. He appears to roar, growl, and in a "true Gandhian" sense militates against a non-existent straw man institution that opresses, supresses and depresses the innocent thamizhan. Losers who have no one to blame but themselves get an imaginary institution to shift the blame for their own failures. Apparently E.V.Ramaswamy didn't break Vinayagar idols. He only wanted more people to come to temple and pray. One must sympathize with Kamal Hasan though. He is a prisoner of his own image. The fox's paint will only come off when it rains. In a civilization that is going through an intellectual drought, chances of that happening is very low.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The notion of equality

I am increasingly amazed when young kids totally filled with idealistic notions come and tell you that s/he believes in "equality". I am not even sure if they mean this exclusively in a social context. I think they mean it everywhere. I find this kind of "flat earth and the sun goes around it"  brainwash fascinating. I wish I was in a position of power to poison the minds of younglings with arbitrary notions such as the one on 'equality' so that I can push my own agenda. 

Life as a Zero Sum Game Vs Life as an Ever Expanding Pie: There are some who believe that the world is a zero sum game. One person's growth means that someone else has lost. On the other hand, some think the universe is an ever expanding pie and everyone can grow with no cost to other individuals. Strangely 'equality' is a concept that belongs to the former philosophy. If you bring everything in this world to fit within a LHS = RHS construct then the world becomes a zero sum game. So if you belong to the LHS and if you have to gain anything you will have to deprive someone in RHS of that thing in equal proportions. On the contrary, if you believe things are by default unequal and work on an assumption that LHS != RHS (note: "!=" means "not equal to") then you can add or subtract anything from any side and the world is an ever expanding pie. From my observations, a person with scientific mind and liberal thought believes in equality but also believes that the universe is an ever expanding pie. As they say - medula oblangata is boggled.

Interpreting equality literally: Let me start by playing dumb and take the phrase "everything and everyone are equal" in the literal/absolute/non-metaphoric sense. I will pretend that I am an alien visiting this earth and I have heard a human being say "X = Y for all values of X and Y". This is patently wrong. People espousing equality don't really mean it that literally. But is important play this extreme interpretation to drive home the point that there are inequalities in the world that a person assumes, agrees to and accepts/endorses as 'natural' but conveniently forgets it when using 'equality' as an argument.

That things are fundamentally created unequal is the most obvious reality of nature: In my eyes one of the most easily discernible things from nature is that nearly all things are unequal. Living things are not only created unequal but constantly strive to be unequal all the time (think 'evolution'). This includes the fact that some living things are human beings, some are animals,  birds etc etc.  Some people are born healthy, some have retardation of growth, some cant hear or speak, some can run very fast at the age of 7, then there are 9 year old drug addicts, people who fail 2nd standard, rich people, poor people, atheists, liberals, conservatives, birds that can fly, animals that cannot, trees that bear fruit, mammals, eggs, reptiles, calm people, angry people, short people, fat people, tall people, people with vision problems, diabetics, ophans. If there is one thing we can be sure about. It is the fact that there is a inherent and natural inequality that exists and that we all accept as nature. Try telling a person who touts their belief in equality that all human beings are created with equal 'intelligence' or equal 'intellectual horsepower' and they will make a u-turn like you have never believed. If you really want to anger them tell them everyone is equally 'lucky'.

Interpreting Equality As a Metaphor: Now, people may actually 'say' something but 'mean' something totally different. So if you pull yourself out of the 'literal' interpretation mode and understand that people can be 'metaphoric' when they use the term 'equality' we find that people intuitively mean something more subtle. So at the core of it people may subconsciously accept that X and Y are fundamentally unequal  but nevertheless require X & Y to be *treated* equally. Here is where I think there is a fundamental disconnect between what people *mean* and what people *do*. These people want everyone to be treated equally but they themselves don't treat any two people equally. For example - a woman who majorly clamors for equality may meet 1000 men in her life who want to marry her but she will choose only one. In effect she treats 999 people unequally when compared to the 1 she chooses to marry. If you think this is an 'out there' anecdote and isn't empirically true, think again. When 2,00,000 people apply for IIT-JEE exams, the board actively discriminates among them and only selects 2500. In that 2500 every single person is treated unequally in terms of preference for groups. Extend this to interviews. In any single interview the job of the interviewer is to introduce an inequality between applicants to select a few and deny the others. The categories where people display their competence by introducing inequality is almost universal and omnipresent. Academics, research, sports, medicine, army, housing, jobs, government tenders, electricity, and basic comforts depend on establishing inequality. Either the individual actively works towards establishing and increasing his inequality with his peers or the judges/governance rewards individuals with high level of inequality compared to their peers. In fact it is hard to come up with examples where 2 things are assigned exactly equal results.

No one treats anyone equally: In a social context a mother or father treats other children as unequal to their own children. A court of law establishes inequality between defense and prosecution. A wife treats her husband differently from other men. You treat your social circle different from an urchin on the slum. For example your friends are people who are in the same financial or educational class as you are. You don't have friends who are construction workers. You actively discriminate and create inequality in choosing your friends circle by consciously eliminating beggars, slum urchins, prison inmates, and construction workers. You may eliminate them indirectly by never even giving them a chance or never meeting them but that in itself is a result of inequality in social status that you endorse and accept. There is a recursive inequality even within existing methods of establishing inequality. Selecting a person as spouse over another one because of a professional, physical or financial inequality is accepted by the certain people but the very same people detest rejecting marriage proposals based on caste inequality.

The Philosophy of equality: What this all boils down to is an lack of understanding of what we really mean by 'equality'. And what forms of equality pass philosophical muster and what don't. There are situations in which equality is the correct approach and there are situations in which inequality is the correct approach. I have almost come to believe that those who make arguments based on an assumption of equality as an axiom do not understand the difference between equality of outcome and equality of opportunity. 100 men may have an equal opportunity to go ask a girl for her hand in marriage. But there will be no equality in outcome. A group or category of people can have an equal opportunity to appeal to the court of law demanding a set of benefits comparable or equal to another set of people. The other set of people can go to court opposing this request. But the outcome may not be equal to both parties. The court - through very fair logic - may decide that one group will not be given an equal set of benefits when compared to another set of people. This does not mean people are bigots or there is unfairness in the system. Inequality in outcomes as a result of a peer validation process is how this world works. You can't expect god to come down and do an interview for you or be the judge in your court case - for you to consider it as a fair process. A peer human being with his biases and capabilities will conduct the decision making process.

Equality of Outcome is Nonsense: This is almost common sense. However, for many many issues people feel a sense of fairness only when there is equality of outcome. People don't realize equality or *feel* the presence of equality when there is only equality in opportunity. A slightly facetious example would be the 'spiritual but not religious' nut jobs who claim puke-worthy things that 'all gods are equal' or 'all forms of prayer or equal'. They will not *feel* the presence of equality if I selected only 1 form of prayer/god and followed just that. They would think I am a fundamentalist. And they wouldn't change their opinion unless they see 'equality in outcome'. I am virulently against 'equality of outcome'. Primarily because I am not a communist. I don't want all the 5 runners in a 100m race to win Gold or all applicants to a job interview be given job offers. That doesn't make me a bigot or a biased person. I am a bigot if I move the "starting point" in below diagram (Image Credit: wikipedia.org) leftwards. People should have an opportunity to take a 'shot' at the outcome they so desire. But I strongly disagree with the people who move the "ending point" leftwards and align it with "starting point" (Example: It is one of the flaws of caste based reservation systems in India - which involves a variant of this approach). Sounds like common sense but pretty much every second or third argument that uses 'equality' does this.

Circular Logic and Consequent Annoying High Moral Ground: Knowing where equality applies and where it doesn't reduces fallacious arguments where people present circular logic. These people say that 'Category X must be treated equal because... they are equal". Well if they are already equal then this request must be totally pointless. Its like saying "you should marry her because she is already married to you" or "You must kill him because he is already dead". An argument that some group of people should be given an equal outcome when compared to another group of people cannot depend on an assumption that the former group is *already* equal. Equality is a conclusion you are trying to establish. You can't use it as a premise. The fact that you can classify the two groups as distinct assumes that there  is a fundamental inequality that exists between them. So an appeal for equal outcome should involve a merit that is something other than 'equality'. Knowing this avoids the unnecessarily high moral ground that people derive by asking a fellow human being to offer equal *outcomes* for all religions (apparently they say the "same" truth in "different" ways), different gods/approaches within same religion, all genders, all races, and all sexual orientation etc. It maybe true that at the end of the argument they merit equal outcomes in a practical world.  But just don't start the argument with an axiom that they are 'equal'.

p.s1: As it is the case with many things the truth could be that the world is a mixture of LHS = RHS and where X != Y . In general I'd like to think that at a universal level it is an ever expanding pie with X + a != Y + b continuing to be true even if you keep adding on both sides. However, at some points depending on values of the four variables you could have exceptions where RHS = LHS.  Though they are  exceptions - they do impact a person's life as a result of  being a 'zero sum' situation. 

p.s2: On a lighter note - The entire intensity of iyengar-iyer god worship debate would be lot less intense if people grokked this.

p.s3: if you give everyone equal outcomes as default - you are not liberal, fair or good. You are actually a bad and unfair person. The whole notion of Satvik and rajo/tamas concept is based on this.