Just say it!

I read a blog-post just now and started typing a comment - "idhu vetti scene velamma pethi'oda post, vera'edhum illa. oorukkulla ekka-chakka per indha mari dhan thiriyuranunga..". After a while, I thought I'd rather save it for a post here. Because, it's quite a common phenomenon, not just in blogs.

It's the good old 'I'm going to praise myself under the cloak of confessing my idiocy/phsychosis/neurotic-obsession/misfortune/wantonness' tactic.

"I'm such a geek that I started using Linux in 98"
"I'm such a loser that I paid $4100 for my latest laptop"
"I'm such a TV freak that I bought a 59" LG plasma"
"I'm so unlucky that I have lost my wallet over 50 times during my flight-trips to London"
"My life sucks so much that I studied during my holidays and topped my class"
"I'm so clumsy I ruined my jacket by spilling caviar on it"
"I'm such a man-whore that I have sex with 19 different women every month"
and a long list of "confessions" we hear everyday (probably use it ourselves). All these "confessions" just say one thing - "I'm such a modest wuss that I resort to cheap hackneyed techniques to feed my own ego."

Do/say whatever you want to. Just know that almost everyone knows what you're doing, they are just in a mode themselves - "I'm so nice that I'll pretend like I didn't see through you." So just say it; just say "I'm the shit!"

* - I haven't linked the post to avoid another episode of 'local paaltix' driven squabble (yes, I'm scared). I'll say this much, though: it was about the author's obsession with Harry Potter novels.

Toon Teaser 3: Charlie Brown goes 'metal'

God: life's purpose and unpredictability?

I recently published a podcast that evoked several exchanges between me and a few listeners (mostly in email). My conversation with a listener named Subash is probably worth publishing here.

He Said,
First, I dont believe in any religious god and never have I had any spiritual experience. But I am sure there is something in the universe which we can call GOD. It is, I believe, 'Unpredictability', which has not been properly explained or predicted with numerous probability theories. That is why inspite of the obvious and simple connection to cause and effect of different entities of nature, we are still unable to predict anything of reasonable significance scientifically and may never be able to. The process that causes an 'effect' from a 'cause' is yet to defined for infinite cases in science. As a physicist, I believe that until sufficient ideas come forth to understand the nature of different entities around us the question of GOD will always remain only of any cultural or sociological relevance and honestly it shouldn't be allowed to even enter the realm of philosophy.

In fact, just think if suddenly one day man finds an answer to all the questions that were ever asked and will be asked. Will he be peaceful? What can he do for a living? So just like man's thought is evolving with generations, so will the world around him too atleast as much so that he may never be able to catch up with it to fully understand it. Like I think "Success is an orgasm, its the foreplay that lasts longer", its better to keep searching rather than to find answers because the happiness lasts only a while.
I replied,
About predictability: Some one else had brought the same point and it's interesting that you should relate science’s inability to predict the future with God too. I'll quote what I had said there (along with what he had said).
{{If scientist, atheists are trying to find out, through their equations,comparisons to define the laws driving man,universe- all they are doing is to define some geometric sense,an order in everything. With this order , they want to predict the future.}}

This is just not true. Natural scientists are neither interested in predicting human behaviour nor the future in general. Behavioral scientists, probably. But as you know, psychology, sociology etc., are not 'natural sciences'. They sure use the ‘scientific method’ to arrive at theories, but unlike the natural sciences none of those theories evolve in to ‘scientific facts’. Even a claim as simple as "If you pinch a child, it will cry" is only a theory. It is not a fact. It can be replicated to the extent of 100% success rate for millions of attempts but it is still not a fact (because there are several children who are born insensitive to 'touch' in several areas of their body).

I'll extend the discussion here. Predicting the future may never be possible simply because of the lack of information. Add to that the fickle-minded-human-involvement in the functioning of the world. As you probably know already, all demographic predictions (and sociological theories in general) rely strongly on data that is based on a sample. The accuracy of those predictions is directly proportional to the sample size. That is, the more you know about the present (and to an extent, the past) more you tend to "know" about the future. Even for that they need to make a lot of generalizations -- based on historical patterns and existing theory. Now, think about something that is seemingly plain and simple as predicting the Earth's overall temperature at 2050. It is made complex by carbon emissions, deforestation -- human effects-- and volcanic emissions (especially, lava into the sea bed), global dimming, tectonic movements -- "natural effects" that we do not know about entirely. While we may know the latter thoroughly over the next few decades, the former will remain relatively less predictable. Nevertheless, in spite of all these shortcomings, geologists and climatologists have decent theories (that make decent predictions) about what the Earth will be like, in terms of climate change, in the year 2050.

But I see you are aware of all these things and you're pointing to the 'naturally existing out of human involvement' entities. Once again, I think it's lack of information. Science has over the past few hundred years unraveled some of the "deepest mysteries" giving way to successful predictions (Think about the accuracy of weather predictions 60 years ago and now). New 'instruments' give new information. I think this process will keep expanding, probably not in the quest to predict the future per se, but to explain the present. That's also another reason - we don't know what the 'effect' really is before we could analyze the cause.

I think one needs to be rational enough to realize, as you point out, that science will always have something to "understand." But that cannot be taken as an excuse to allow an 'all seeing' God in public discourse; especially when God has a rather ridiculous definition for over 5 billion people.

You ask a very good question here: "just think if suddenly one day man finds an answer to all the questions that were ever asked and will be asked. Will he be peaceful?" I say the same thing to some of the 'moderates' when they say, "science can only explain the 'how' and not the 'why'". Well, God can't explain the 'why' either. It's funny that most of God believers attribute their life's “purpose” to the one that supposedly created them. That's why I said,
"To put it briefly: So what? What if this universe was created by someone/something? How does that bestow any purpose to our lives? I know who my father is. I know one of his billion sperms made me (through a rather circular process). But none of that will give any "purpose" to my life, would it?"

Your last quote reminded me of a discourse by Osho where he explains that the "joy is in finding."
He replied,
When I say "Unpredictability", I dont mean the lack of information as the handicap. In fact lack of information is not the biggest hurdle to postulating laws. Simply because computers can handle much more information now than before and there is no theoretical limit to it in the future.

So "Unpredictability" is the "fickle-minded-human" attitude which is shared by most of the other entities in nature especially at the nano and femto scopic level. Just like what Heisenberg states in his uncertainty principle, which I am sure you must have come across. It is impossible with current knowledge to predict the final state of an electron when its initial states are given even in a controlled environment. It probably is not an inherent quality of the electron to be mysterious as claimed by Heisenberg, but because we use an electron to study an electron which is why it is so ineffective and there is no other method or any other smaller known particle which can be used.

Imagine having a small ball trying to understand the shape of another ball of the same size. you can hit the target ball (with the ball you have) several times and make a pattern out of the impinged area on a screen to predict the shape of the target ball, which in this case would be a function of probability distribution. If you have a smaller ball than the target ball, you have a higher probability of identifying the shape of the target ball.

You can claim that it still is because of this lack of information whether smaller particles exist in nature that the unpredictability exists. But the claim has to end somewhere since any particle cannot be infinitely divided into smaller entities. The same condition of unpredictability will exist for that smaller particle, which will permeate into the normal world too. So its not really lack of information that necessitates this unpredictability tag, but unpredictability itself. I do believe that existence of GOD cannot be rationally explained apart from this unpredictability, which means that GOD is as confused as we humans are. So the existence of a higher power is only laughable.
I replied,
{{So "Unpredictability" is the "fickle-minded-human" attitude which is shared by most of the other entities in nature especially at the nano and femto scopic level.}} - I completely agree with what you say. We don't even have to go to complex subatomic particles; everyday things have it in them. The example that I often cite, as you might too, is that of a 'coin toss'. The unpredictability of an outcome lies on the inherent nature of the object involved and not on the information we have about it (assuming that it's a "fair" coin toss). What's amazing though, is that even randomness has a pattern (normal distribution). That is, over a million coin tosses we are likely to have close to 50-50 outcomes of the coin's faces.
Disclaimer: I have made few changes to the actual emails. The exchange, quite visibly, has material that is often used by several people (inlcuding movies). It's mostly because of nature of thetopic. So yes, I didn't post it beause it is intellectually stimulating or novel. It's just for the 'record'.

Vegetarian Evangelists

It's always good to see a new podcaster or a new podcast in Tamil. But this one's the age old veg vs. non-veg debate. The same old points repeated. Nevertheless, as I lately jump on any topic that cites religious morality as a reason to do (or not to do) something, I couldn't resist this one.
Anyway, it's just another reason to state my position on something. An ethical perspective is as far as I'm willing take on this issue. Even that, with lesser vigour.

Download mp3

Oh man!

After the infamous "Bad server, no donut for you" error message in Orkut and several other new "teen-like" messages, I got this one today ('ennagada dei?') .

Odeo Error

We have errored.

The page you are trying to request has been eaten faster than Oreos and milk.

Perhaps it was here and working, or perhaps you are requesting a page which never existed.

Vetti Post-2

(This post loads well in IE)

Since I don't have the kind of time to write anything new I'll just post my response to a mail that I got from my friend. He forwarded this post, and asked me what I thought. It's the usual run-of-the-mill 'anti-Brahmin' nonsense. There used to be days when I engaged with 'those types' in attempts to expose the vacuousness of their "rationality." After a point, as with many who try it, I realized that their heads are too far up their butts for any reasonable conversation. It's one of the reasons I stay away from the 'Tamil blogosphere'. They just can't keep off the 'Dravidians were the first to use toilet paper - that's how far advanced our civilization was' rhetoric. But I think I'll use this post to state my stance, though vaguely, on this topic.

It's a big pile of bullshit, that's what it is. And this guy isn't the first one. Ever since forumhub days of mid 90s this group has been spitting utter lies about "Tamil History." The whole theory of an "Aryan invasion" is highly dubious on account of DNA evidence. The whole of the Indian subcontinent, at least racially, were the same people till all 'real invasions' took place (Dravidians or Aryans or edho elavu). There are strong cultural influences from what is now West-Central Asia and Eastern Europe (in terms of bronze age records). But then again, this could be the other way (that is we influenced them, hence the similarties in language patterns etc.). Whatever the case is, the existing 'Aryan-Dravidian split' in many public discourses is false. Check this page.

It's funny that the word Dravidian actually originated from Sanskrit. How ironic is that? It's true. None of the past works of Tamil literature mentions the word 'Dravidan'. Not in Thirukkural, not in Puranaanooru or Agananooru, not in Pathitrupathu or any pre-modern literary work you can think of. Nada. But still these idiots keep talking about Tamils being 'Dravidan'.

Most of these are hypotheses with ostensible assertions. One cannot come to a concrete conclusion based on existing historical findings. But for a critical thinker, the so called Tamil culture will still sound ridiculous. It's just as bad, if not worse, as the "Aryan" culture. Their points can be attacked on an entirely different--conceptual--basis.

How did the people who were mere shepherds gain the capability to defeat a whole race of indigenous people? Did they get 'inside support' from the indigenous people? If they did, I'm sure it was a good number -- more than a few selective "dhrogigal". If huge number of this race were traitors who is he feeling proud about? A race that had a good number of traitors? (more here: "அதன் பிறகு தெற்கே வாழ்ந்த சில தமிழ் மன்னர்களை தம் பக்கம் சேர்த்துக் கொண்ட இராமன் தமிழர்களின் தலைநகரமாக இருந்த இலங்கைக்கு படையெடுத்துச் சென்றான்.")

Hasn't he heard of the saying "fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me"? How many times and how many people fooled the Tamils? So we were just bellicose fools who couldn't fight the "cunning"? And this guy is feeling proud about that "race"? Is that even a good excuse? That "we got cheated"?

And note the part where he proudly argues that, "இராவணன் ஒரு போரில் இராமனை வெற்றி கொண்டு அன்றைய வழக்கப்படி வெற்றியின் அடையாளமாக இராமனுடைய மனைவியை கவர்ந்து சென்றான்.எனினும் இராமனின் மனைவியை ஏதும் செய்யாது கண்ணியம் காத்தான்." What the hell is he talking about? If Raavanan was such a deejuntu fellow why even abduct Sita? And what kind of "culture" makes 'wife stealing' a symbol of victory? It's as bad as patriarchy can get. And this man is feeling proud about that "race"?

I'm not sure if I've got all my 'facts' right. But I think the second part of the mail doesn't need any factual basis. It's out there to be torn apart. It's a shame that these self proclaimed rational thinkers (pagutharivu pannadaigal) find such pride in saying "we were the first patriarchal assholes", i.e. 'Tamil civilization', in India.

* - I've made small changes to the actual email -- cleared a few typos and added some links. Tamil words quoted directly appear better in IE.

Aval Appadithan

I wrote this movie's "review" 3 years ago in mouthshut.com, then posted it here last year. Now I have the movie uploaded in dailymotion. It's my all time favourite Tamil movie. Sure, the movie has been "stolen" from a few mediums before it got here (the audio lag is not because of that, that's how it is even in the actual version) but it's worthwhile.

Update: I did a podcast on the movie too; you can download it.

Screw moderation

I have very often stressed that there are no grey areas in a lot of issues. I don't mean to sound like Bush, but sometimes you have quit trying to be 'nice and neutral' and take a bloody stance. This blog-post does both. It takes a firm stance asserting that all beliefs should be tolerated - a stance that takes no stance. I don't know if I should call it naivety or ingenuous optimism or plain lack of critical analysis. But it's a good thing she expressed it, at least now she'll know who agrees with her and who doesn't (and why). Given that I spent some time to post a reply, I might as well quote a part of my comment there.*
{{Today being an atheist is a fad. People don't realise that it is an extreme point of view and they are no different from religious fanatics.}} - This is a platitude that bears little logical reasoning. You have two factions, one that is totally dogmatic, inherently prejudiced and intolerant based on a certainty that cannot be proven unless you stoop down to a delusional world. And on the other hand you have the most universally accepted epistemological realm in this world (science). Given that evolutionary science has grown so much that the religious ‘fundies’ can no longer play the "it's just a theory" record, one can no longer believe the Gods of Christianity or Islam or Zionism or even Hinduism if they understood science. Atheists of the past, mostly, rejected the idea of God based on moral, ethical and philosophical grounds. Lately it's scientific. If development of modern science is a fad, then sure, atheism is too.

Delusion (aka faith), unlike science, does not follow an inductive method or logical reasoning that is both universal and objective (as universal as human universality and as objective as objectivity can possibly get). Whether there is anything real or not, science is the only way to understand and communicate (with least ambiguites) the idea of reality. So, as someone who's passionate about the truth, Dawkins' supposed militant approach can only be equated to anti-slavery movements of 19th century, the feminist movements of the 1960s (and the civil rights movement of the same period).
Slavery was, at least then, a lifestyle and for many, a belief system that was supposed to help the 'black man'. And I'm happy that not many people were "tolerant" to those beliefs for a long time. There are several belief systems that the need be shown zero tolerance. Religions (especially monotheistic ones) need not be treated different just because of the sheer number of followers. The likes of Ted Haggard are breeding close minded homophobes all over the world. It's an indoctrination that breeds intolerance. Why should it be tolerated?
In the presentation cited below, Sam Harris makes a similar argument. He goes on to accuse the 'moderates' for "providing a cover for the fundamentalists." The same can be said about a few theologians that I've met or listened to. They use their intellect and sophistry to manipulate the semantics of science, albeit embarrassing themselves in the process. Nevertheless, they do provide fodder to the 'god believing lot'. For them the "smart theologians" are a defense mechanism. The theologians (especially the ones who believe in a religious God), are either incorrigible liars or neurologically diseased.

* - Minor changes have been made from the original comment. Please read the comment in its original context to see the footnotes that I had provided.

Addendum: I strongly recommend you to watch the videos from this site. Or search for 'beyond belief' in youtube and watch the edited clips available there.

Butler English

A few days ago I was on the phone with my friend discussing some TV stuff. We were talking about an episode of 'Fresh Prince of Bell Air' in which Geoffrey reveals his "marathon history." Geoffrey, like most butlers in American television (no, not the Mexican ones), is quite sarcastic and pompous yet quite polished in his language. I asked him then, how come 'Butler English' in India has a 'not so good' repuation - one that connotes imperfection? A quick Google search took me to this article.

A Babu tries to impress his British master with his command of the English language and to him, how he conveys his message is more important than what he says. The emphasis is on verbosity rather than the content, the characteristic feature of Babu English being its stylistic ornamentation. Here is an example: "The extreme stimulus of professional and friendly solicitations has led me to the journey of accomplished advantages to proceed elucidatory and critical comments: wherein no brisking has been thrown apart to introduce prima facie and useful matters to facilitate literary pursuits . If the aimed point be embraced favourably by the public, all in all grateful acknowledgement will ride on the jumping border from the very bottom of my heart"
The example also reminded me of this article. I think a lot of Indian bloggers, escpecially the "senior" ones are no less than a Babu. They simply can't get out of the 'I memorized all the word lists in Barron's' mode. There's also a lot of double standards because some are actually good at hiding their pomposity (being consistently bombastic is a virtue). They are so good that they'll even mock other Babus for being a Babu. There's also a tacit agreement (ok, unspoken) among the 'good Babus' to not pull one other. It's amazing how the 'colonial culture' reinvents itself in various forms for various reasons by various people (Sonia Gandhi and her minions not being the least of them). Anyway, the article got me bursting out with laugther again,

The British masters were amused by Butler English as it had its own charm. They were sometimes annoyed when a Butler's English was faultless. For example, Ellis in George Orwell's "Burmese Days" is in conversation with his butler.

Ellis: "How much ice you got left?"

Butler: "Bout twenty pounds, master. Will only last today, I think. I find it very difficult to keep ice cool now."

Ellis: "Don't talk like that, damin you — I find it very difficult! Have you swallowed a dictionary?' Please, master can't keep ice cool! That's how you ought to talk, we shall have to sack this fellow if he gets to talk English too well.

PS. Crib means 'to whine/complain' only in India (ref 1, ref 2). This is probably the only entry that saves the face of millions of Indians who "crib" about things everyday (and mind you, it's bloody archaic).

Dance..: WTF?

They 'do' to 'undo'

I don’t know if it’s a coincidence, but just after I had published a podcast, I found this story. I posted the following comment in IBN’s website,

Isn't this ironic? It's so funny that you should do a story on your own wicked ways. The article is so conspicuously contrived. You're showing clips of people who are making general claims about press freedom and trying to equate that with press's assumption of moral high-ground (rightly pointed by Jeth Malani). IBN, since its inception, is known for going by CNN's motto – ‘sensationalize everything’. Look at the bloody music you use. What's up with that? If news channels are about informing people, why the hell do you have to use such dramatic loops and beats? Cheap!
I don’t think it’s going to appear in the site. I expected it; that’s why I had it saved. Anyway, I said it’s a coincidence because, in the podcast, I had mostly talked about the news items that had appeared on IBN’s homepage last night. Of course, as usual, I digressed to other unwholesome issues as well. This podcast is just a ‘filler,’ for it’s been close to month since I published my last one.
I forgot to mention the little boy’s kidnapping episode. The media, especially the likes of IBN, must be glad that their week long draggy story had a 'happy ending'. Now they get to dramatize it further. It might also bring the good old “is a CEO’s son’s life better than the thousands of Biharis who are kidnapped everyday?” debate. What’s worse? The debate will be staged in IBN (it hasn’t happened yet, but it will). It’s irritating, really. Then of course, there’s the weekly dose of judgmental nonsense, ‘The Verdict.’ This week: Do today's urban youth have contempt for the law?
A loaded and a clichéd question/topic. What do you mean by "today's youth?" Have the youth of any time period valued law more than the youth today? Is there even data to support your claim? What percent of those who are accused or to be accurate, convicted, belong to the 'youth'? The kind of spurious correlations you make are stupefying. How about having a value free debate for a change?
This is another comment I had left; it might not appear either.

Download mp3

"surplus of women": WTF?

Whenever you read/watch stuff in books/internet/tv etc., you often run in to things that make you go 'wtf?' This is one such video.

Toon teaser-2: Let me get philosophical!

Given that a lot of us (in my dept) are very familiar with 'Family Guy' I use this quote (with the "haah") very often to twit people who try to get all philosophical (of course, they use it back on me several times). It's like our own "sooper appu" when someone tries to act like "hey listen to the idea-mani's idea."

A strange feeling

Child abuse, the act or the occasional news about it, never sank in me so disturbingly unless it had to do with girls. The idea of boys being physically abused was not as depressing. ‘Catholic bishop molesting young boys’ was just a funny standup routine. Before I go on with this topic, I want to link a documentary that shook my views on the whole issue a great deal.

It’s shocking and disconcerting in many levels. The magnitude of the number of people and organizations involved is disquieting. The lengths these people have gone to suppress the issue worsens the disquiet. Then there’s the emotional side to it. The thoughts -- “What if it had to happened to me? What if I had been molested? How would I feel?” -- are quite scary, awfully embarrassing, terribly disturbing, but most of all, strange.

Yes, it’s a strange thought. Because, I as a person belonging to a gender that is almost devoid of the notion of rape (at least, until recently) am not quite able to relate to the people in the documentary. I can distantly imagine their pain and to a lesser extent the emotions that they went through then and going through now.

My conception of rape has a lot to do with self-respect, dignity and lot of constructs that are highly relative. But my understanding mostly centers women. How it affects the aforementioned constructs with respect to that gender. There’s an unquestioned and invisibly patronizing sympathy because they are the “weaker” sex. There’s also the belief that women are more resistant to rape (or sex in general) than men.1 I don’t want to venture too much in to this area as it’s a little too polemical and I’m fairly inadequate to discuss it theoretically.2

If it weren’t for some movies, my view of ‘male rape’ would have continued to be entirely apathetic. ‘American History X’ was, for me, the first movie to show the agony of rape experienced by a man. Edward Norton’s poignant and rather realistic portrayal of his character’s helplessness and shame sent chills down my spine. I was then exposed to a series of movies, quite coincidentally, that dealt with male rape.3 Over a period of time, I think, the shock started to dissipate and it became an alien phenomenon that didn’t worry me so much.
Then came ‘Split Wide Open;’ it was another ‘Mahanadhi,’ a little less ‘mainstream’ but just as strident. It is probably the first Indian movie to deal with bisexuality, incest, pedophilia and all ‘tabooed topics’ that an average movie viewer can very well do without. The fact that the story was set in Bombay made it all the more harrowing. SWO threw more truths than I could handle in two hours. None of it seemed improbable or far fetched, though. I had read some real life equivalents in newspapers. But, I was/am still not able to understand the stigma, if there is any.

Male rapes, at least its portrayal in media, are quite uncommon in India. Even ‘uncommon’ doesn’t quite explain the situation - it’s virtually absent.4 A phenomenon that is non-existent in the media or the public discourse cannot possibly develop a stigma. Social stigma, needless to say, shapes the depth of victimization. In a typical urban middle-class setup in India, most boys grow up without ever having to fear rape. Notwithstanding the fact that ‘men having sex with men’ is not an entirely alien concept, even among 12 year olds.
Of course, there’s a lot of homophobia. But I don’t think that can be equated to how a male rape victim is perceived. The point is, my upbringing did not in anyway help me alleviate the ‘strangeness’ that I had alluded to earlier.

I saw AHX when I was 19. Five years have passed since then. More movies, more horrific “truths” and more ‘what the …?’ reactions – but it’s still strange. And then I saw the movie ‘Twenty Nine Palms’. Instead of trying to praise the movie (which I may do later), I’ll get to the scene that is most relevant here. Close to the end of the movie a couple is driving down an isolated road are intercepted by 3 men in an SUV (in day light, in an open desert). Before the couple could say anything, they are both slapped around and the woman is stripped naked. Since the movie does not exactly hint such a thing, I was frozen with cold fingers as I muffled “don’t…don’t rape her.”
As the scene continued to unfold, the man tries to wrench out of the goons’ hold only to get pummeled. What followed gave me an emotional overload. As the woman kicks and screams at the sight of all this, she is pinned down the dirt as she watches her boyfriend get raped. Yes, one of the goons sodomizes the badly-injured man lying on the ground, growling in pain.5
It was a mind-numbing scene, but I felt an uncomfortable relief. I couldn’t quite conceptualize him as a victim, at least not immediately. I was just glad that it wasn’t her. The movie’s ending was no consolation either. A week later, I saw another movie ‘Mysterious Skin.’ This movie was just as racking. Though the movie was kind enough to not have me frozen at any point, it was ruthless in revealing the cold vulnerabilities of “manliness.”
The movies helped me get out of the ‘strange’ feeling. Now, it’s not that strange as much as scary or depressing. They guided me to do some abstract deconstruction in this area and this post is a part of that process.
1This page has a whole list of ‘myths’ about male rape. Makes an enlightening read (at least, in legal terms). I thought this point is worth quoting: The vast majority of men who sexually assault other men identify themselves as heterosexual. This fact helps to highlight another reality, that is, that sexual assault is usually more about violence, anger, domination and control over another person, than it is about lust or sexual attraction.
2 Try the following wiki articles for a brief read: Art 1; Art 2.
3 Pulp Fiction’ was one of the movies which made ‘male rape’ look funny.
4 Male rapes, in various contexts, are reported quite frequently in the English media lately. And there’s also the invasion of ‘western pop-culture’ that carries a good amount of slurs referring to sodomy. So the construction of a stigma for male rape victims is not far away (in India).
5 If you're open to graphic (and sexual) images, try this trailer

Did you know?

Deconstruction: exhaustive and boring

Disclaimer: Another post that is actually a comment(s). I know, I'm shameless.

One of the questions that I often end-up asking myself and my profs is “how far do you deconstruct?” I don’t think there is a perfect answer. You do it as long as you can support it logically. When logic stops you stretch it further with metaphors and anecdotes. But even they stop at some point. That’s when you know you need to stop, but some people continue anyway.
I came across this post earlier today. I don’t know much about the people mentioned in the post or even about the actual topic. But as usual, my problem is only with a few arguments the author has drawn. I’ll give you the exchange below.

My comment:

{{What does that even mean? What dignity? Dignity is a quality that lives and dies with a living being. Once you die, along with your clothes, wealth and silicon implants, you also leave your dignity behind. Whose dignity are we then protecting?}} - Good, now let's legalize necrophilia, stealing organs and feeding dead bodies to starving stray dogs (or humans, if you like). They are dead, I'm sure they'll be happy with their "dignity stripped" dead bodies feeding, literally, the needy.

{{Wouldn't you feel that way, if it were you who were the victim?}} - This is a hypothetical question that has no straight answer; even if it's about you. It's like asking "would you kill yourself if you got raped in the butt and had a gun in the drawer?" You cannot assure the way you are going to react if it happens to you, for it has not happened to you. Even if you have a history--of such an ‘event’ and a reaction as you've claimed you'd exhibit--there is no reason to believe that you're going to replicate it (or otherwise).

About pictures being powerful and all: Here, the question "powerful for who, powerful for what?" needs to be asked. You're suggesting a universality that is both factual and benign. Given that you have a problem with unsupported "facts," I don't see where that suggestion of yours is coming from.

His reply (not surprisingly):

I don't see any problems with necrophilia or feeding a body to the dogs or anything else as long as the person (before dying) or the next of kin has given consent. Just like the consent that was apparently given in this case to photograph the body. How about we stop speaking for the victim eh?

I am an organ donor. What that means is after I am dead they will be slicing me up, harvesting my organs and distributing them to other people. All that will be left of me will be a pile of skin and my liver which will be unusable. So basically, I won't be very dignified after I die and hence yes, fuck post mortem dignity. What next, being buried with a jar of caviar Pharaoh style?

Powerful as a prop for the blog post. To imprint the horror of the massacre into the minds of the blogreaders. I already provided facts. Michael J Fox, banning of the coffin pictures. I could go on google and look for more examples

(Did he say “I don’t have a problem with necrophilia?” Elavu da sami!)

My Comment(2):

{{How about we stop speaking for the victim eh?}} – That’s exactly what you are doing. When you say "I would do this if it happened to me," what you are actually saying is "I would do this if I become a victim." In essence you as a non-victim are talking for you as a victim. To make it even shorter, you are the one who's talking for the victim.

About you being an organ donor: As gory as you make it sound, it's quite commonplace, we all know that. In fact, the Parsis let their dead bodies be consumed by vultures (even today they have those 'places' in Bombay and other major cities). That's not the point. None of these rhetorics apply to victims, because no victim is victimized by consent. Or someone who's "victimized" by consent is not a victim at all (victim of brainwashing or psychosis, may be).

Your "facts" are non-sequitur. First, there's no concrete study that suggests that the said "power" has always invoked expected response. Second, the response that it invokes need not necessarily be "positive" or "negative", or, as I mentioned before, one that was desired by those who initiated the "power". If you "go on google and look for more examples," I'll be happy to return the favour. Only that I'll be pulling out examples that say the exact opposite (ex: propaganda videos).

Images arrest the reality that your mind corresponds to with reality that matches a wider consensus (sometimes both are close). Words on the other hand let your mind make its own image - that could very well be more "powerful" (and disturbing) than the actual image itself. It's the age old book vs. movie debate. The arguments go both ways.

Besides, are bloggers so numb that they cannot "react" for 'rape and murder' but to the image the "captures" it? What kind of "reaction" is that? And all these reactions, supposedly, are directed towards justice (at least in legal parlance within this case's context) and awareness. But, does justice need to immerse itself into this "power" as well? Even if it does, can't it do the same without an image? That is, a judge's ruling based on the police report1that says "girl was brutally raped, and murdered by slashing her throat" different from one based on an "image depicting" it?
1 I know, the police reports contain everything; photos, forensic evidences and what not.

Update: The exchange continued. You can read it all here.

Vetti Post

Yeah this is one of those 'yes, I do want to post something but it's just that I'm a little busy with other stuff' posts. It's not so much that I'm really busy, a decent post won't take more than an hour to put together. But then, with that you invite comments, rebuttals and what not. There were a few issues that I wanted to talk about last week. One was about the news report about the cleric in Australia blaming the women for sex crimes ("pig meat kept out in the open" as he put it). It wasn't so much what he said. Even idiots in Indian media say things like that; only in the name of culture and tradition. It was his attempt to escape the criticism he didn't foresee. When he was cornered tight he resorted to the good old "I was quoted out of context" strategy. I don't think people bought it though.
And then there was this program in BBC - the one about press freedom (and its responsibilities). It's actually a conference in which some world renown journalists and other people working for NGOs (and organisations like the UN) had come. The discussion is definitely worth a post. As I mentioned earlier, I don't have the time (or the guilt free mind, if you will) to open up those topics here. Anyway, I have them all recorded, I can pick it up anytime. This post however, is just to fill the gap. I thought I'll link a video that I found very touching and...you know "sema peelings ba."

I spend at least an hour everyday in youtube. Given the length and nature of most of the videos, that's about 20 to 30 videos a day, easily. Three months ago if you punched 'Chennai', 'Madras' or anything like that, you got no more than 3 pages. Now the pages are overflowing with all kinds of videos for the same search strings. So I had to narrow down my search string to something like 'IIT Madras.' No I'm not from IIT. The only connection I had with IIT was that I would go there 4, 5 times a year during 'Saarang' and whatever 'cultural event' that let you bunk college. So I thought of connecting to my recent past by watching some videos - videos with wannabe singers, dancers, drummers and the whole 'koothu kaara' bunch.
I found this video below. It's amazingly well conceptualized (well, a few clichéd sequences with the girl in the coffee parlour and in the library). The background music is a little DDish, but has an R.E.M like depth that touches you. The guys in the video have done a very good job of acting like the camera isn't there. The main guy (the soda buddi) isn't too bad either. He reminds me of my friend Badri, with his whiny face and confused looks. It's well edited. The video is mostly steady. It's like watching a mini documentary done by Kukunoor. Ok fine, just watch the video.

Selective unveiling

A couple of weeks ago British Cabinet Minister Jack Straw made a few comments on Muslim women wearing veils in Britain. The comment rekindled the usual debate over Britain’s multiculturalism, tolerance, freedom of expression etc. The issue, at least with respect to Straw’s involvement, is quite dated and I should have probably posted it earlier to retain its news-worthiness. Nevertheless, one of the points, often mentioned in all debates related to this issue, is never too barren. It’s the argument that the Muslim women “choose” to wear veils.

On Oct 8’s ‘Dateline London,’ it brought this topic for discussion. In order to have a “balanced” discussion, they had invited two Muslims (a man and woman) and two Christians (again, a man and woman)1. They were all from different countries, stationed in London as foreign correspondents. One of the panelists, Editor of the Daily Jang--Shahed Sadullah, argued that Straw’s comments were in bad taste (because Britain is a democratic state and all that). And the Christian woman from America backed his argument on the same basis – that people, as long as they don’t infringe on others’ rights, need to be given the freedom to practice what they want.

The Muslim woman (presumably from Pakistan or India) rebuffed that it’s a symbol of slavishness that the British troops were fighting against, in Afghanistan. In this page you can find a debate that is quite close the one the panelists had. I’ll now get to the point where she said “sure, they ‘choose’ to wear their veils. After all, they have been brainwashed since they were six.” She made the “brainwashing” assertion several times before the program ended. Luckily for her, the argument sounded very convincing then.

What’s ironic is that she, in other discussions, has accused the Western media (the BBC included) for alienating the Muslim community by portraying some of their practices in the wrong light. She has also spoken about religious and other kinds of freedom that might be trampled by the new “anti-terror” laws proposed in Britain. I am with her in most of what she says about the Western media and about the veil issue. But I sense a sense of dishonesty from her side. Or perhaps her views are not thoroughly analyzed.

Here’s a woman who speaks like a liberal but is not too liberal because it gives way to subliminal patriarchy. She uses the “brainwashing” argument wherever and whenever she deems it fit. That is, while Muslim women who choose to wear veils are “brainwashed” to do so, she doesn’t have a problem with children being brainwashed to become Muslims (or Hindus, Jews etc.). She does not mind if they are “brainwashed” to acquire a particular kind of education. She does not mind if they are “brainwashed” to be “free, to choose” other things because of their adults in charge (usually parents). She does not mind if their environments are contrived to nurture a certain personality out of them. She does, however, when it’s about women and veils.

As I said earlier, I do agree with her about veils2. But her premiss’ underpinnings also support arguments against so called free will and freedom of expression. It negates her claims in other discussions. Surprisingly, the other two panelists did not deconstruct her argument (instead went on repeating whatever they started with).

Though the topic of ‘propaganda and media-influence on people’ is increasingly discussed in pseudo-mainstream mediums such as documentaries, it does not seem to offer an alternative. They themselves form a new layer of presumed reality. Thanks to scholarly sophistry, all debates seem like an infinite deconstruction.


1Because I saw the program in TV and could not find the transcript or even a reference of that particular episode I am not able to recall any of their names (I’m not even sure about Shahed Sadullah. I just know that the panelist was a correspondent for Daily Jang in London). The fourth Panelist is a Jamaican. I’ve mentioned their religion and countries of origin to provide an identity that we often relate to when people are involved in a debate. If you are not the judgmental reader that I have assumed you to be, I’m sorry. For others: you’re welcome.

2I go all the way as discussed earlier here, here and here.

I miss the odour

Today is Deepavali. One thing that I miss most and have not been to able to replace with is crackers (no, not the white folk). For me, that's what Deepavali was mostly about -- the odour of gun-powder, the noisy environment and feeling the blast waves on the face. I miss them all. Just them.
I have too many thoughts and memories that I can put down in a blog-post. I instead chose to record it all in a podcast.

Timeline (in minutes) of what's in it.
1-13 : types of crackers and how we use them
13-23 : "Cultural events" in Dindigul; Nostalgia
23-30 : Deepavali in the past and present
30-end : Diwali or Deepavali? End.

Download: 96Kbps; 48Kbps.

PS. Crackers mentioned in the podcast include hydrogen bombs in the page.

Toon teaser-1: Why do you need ‘em?

This clip from 'Home Movies' pretty much sums up the futility behind most of what we do; especially when Brendon asks why the Coach needs “them”. It's also one of the funniest exchanges ever.


Disclaimer: This post is a boring precursor for 'less boring' posts, hopefully, that are to follow in future.
Watching cartoons has been a favourite pass-time of mine since the ‘He-Man’ days in Doordarshan. Most of the cartoon characters of those days had exaggerated expressions vocally or facially or both. And for someone like me, who could hear what they were saying but couldn’t understand a single word, it helped a lot. I enjoyed the mere tonal reverberations in my ear. But things changed when Murdock’s channels entered India[1]. For the first time I started paying attention to the dialogues. That’s also when I started wondering how I enjoyed Tom and Jerry so much till then.

The Simpsons (then telecast in Star Plus every Saturday at 4.30[2]) was the first show that had little that was visually funny; you had to 'understand' what's being spoken. I mean, just make out the words, and then of course you need to know their meanings, the context, the innuendos, the sarcasms, the stereotypes and all that. In spite of all these problems, I found it funny. When I compare myself with what I see now and what I saw back then, I realize that I had gotten less than 10% of the jokes. But amazingly, it motivated me to try more stuff. That’s when I started watching Dexter’s Lab, Dog House (changed to 2 Stupid Dogs), Johnny Bravo and the occasional ‘What a Cartoon Show’. These shows had an exceptional blend of comedic routines going with characters’ quirkiness.

As years passed, Cartoon Network came up with more cartoons that were just as funny (they were all categorized together as ‘Cartoon Cartoons’). ‘I AM Weasel’, ‘Samurai Jack’, ‘Courage the Cowardly Dog’ and ‘Sheep in the Big City’ were some of my favourite shows. By this time -- thanks to the hours I spent watching Star World, Zee English, HBO etc., – I had gained considerable knowledge about the American pop-culture; an essential requirement to understanding their jokes.

When I left India, I was introduced to a whole new genre of cartoons here. For the first time I saw some truly 'adult oriented' cartoon shows. Family Guy and South Park were instant attractions. Then I found there’s a slot called ‘Adult Swim’ in Cartoon Network. It features some of my current favourites – ‘Home Movies’, ‘Aqua Teen Hunger Force’, Futurama and ‘The Boondocks’. ‘Home Movies’ is exceptional in that it has practically nothing that is out of the ordinary. It hardly relies on animation or stereotypes to be funny. It thrives on characters that mock one another subtly in regular everyday situations. It's loaded with witticisms. The children in Home Movies go through the occasional sombre periods that is steeped in irony.

I thought I’ll link some of my favourite episodes from these ‘not-so-popular-among-many-Indians’ shows and share what I enjoyed. Because, very often more than being funny they’ve had some profound philosophical references (well, at least I personally related to).

1 When Cable TV was introduced in the early 90s Star Plus and Prime Sports (and MTV?) were the only 'Star' channels.
2 This was in 1995 when I was 13 years old.

The Butterfly Effect

I saw this movie last week and a few days later saw another movie, ‘Groundhog Day’—one of my favourites—on TV. It was a "coincidence" for me, because there’s definitely a connection between the two movies. Without revealing the plot too much, I shall say, ‘The Butterfly Effect’ in its essence is about a person who can travel back in time and change his past so that he can have different future (his present that is). ‘Groundhog Day’ on the other hand is about man who wakes up on the same day everyday. Nothing changes except his own memories – so he literally relives his past everyday1.

The fundamental difference between the two premises is the kind of control the protagonists have on their past and future. And the basic similarity between the two is that both of them are given (voluntarily in one and involuntarily in the other) more than a few chances to replay (relive) their past till they get it “right”. While both movies end with rather optimistic notes, I felt closer to TBE. It carries with it what I call the pessimism ingrained in the flow our life cycles – changing the past is either inconsequential or consequential to an undesirable effect. Yes, either way, you’re screwed.

That’s one of the reasons why I don’t worry myself too much about all the wars and the tsunamis. Sure, I discuss the “ethics” and “morals” of whatever happens. Thanks to my mundane socialization I even manage to act like my hard-drive crashed. Still, I honestly don’t believe that a difference will actually make any difference. But apparently, what needs to be done needs to be done to maintain the illusion of progress and change; regardless of the illusion's essentiality.
It’s like my “sacred tonsure” in Palani, a year ago. For my mother it was meant to bring Murugan’s blessings, for me I like traveling and I had not seen myself “mottai” ever. I did it. We both had a sense of having done something “meaningful”. The hair’s back; my mother is still worried; I still live.
1 If you skimmed through the wiki entries about the movies, you’ll understand me better. If you get a chance try watching them, it's worth the time (available for download in torrent).

Old thing, new word - condescension

That's right, it's one of the most common words we come across; just as common as the feeling. It's something that nobody likes to face but is more than happy to deliver. But the word condescension doesn't usually enter our vocabularies till we go to college (when you prepare for GRE that is). Of course, some of you 'Ooty kaanbent'/DAV/Don Bosco educated kids might have started using the word even before. But either way, the word cannot be as old as what it implies, in many of our lives. So, I did a podcast on it. I started off with something and as usual rambled my way through the caste system, schools, children and what have you. There's no guarantee that it's not going to suck. Listen to it at your own risk.

A time line (in minutes) of what's in it, skip and save the pain if you please.
1-5 : Random nonsense
5-9 : Caste based condescension
9-16 : Random nonsense
16-end : School life; children; more school life; end.

Download: 48kps; 96Kbps; Edited version

Disclaimer (brief history): I've been doing podcasts since Feb '05. Not all of them fall in to a particular genre or even into a specific topic. One may not be as interesting or as funny as the other, so place your expectations at the bottom and raise it gradually (if you feel like). Here you can find some of my other podcasts.

Aren’t you supposed to be funny?

I remember watching ‘The most shocking moments of TV’ (or something like that) in VH1. That’s when I first saw this video in which Jon Stewart rips the hosts of the show. Apart from the whole conversation itself, there’s an interesting part in it. One of the hosts, Tucker Carlson, not being able to handle Stewart’s rather “serious allegations”, says, “I thought you were going to be funny.” It’s a cheeky escapist strategy that completely backfired, at least for Carlson1. But very often it does work however cheeky it is. Though Stewart is very funny, he is quite political. He has strong opinions and way smarter than many mainstream media pundits. But because he’s funny; because he parodies others, he is taken less seriously in mainstream media/politics (or so they pretend).

Obviously, I’m not in anyway comparing myself with JS or what he does; like Cartman would say, “he is thyaan and I’m hyaan, may be a little down hyaan2. The flash video was a very effective retort and it worked just as I had thought. But it’s also a rather easy way to get back at people (provided you have the resources to pull it off). My ‘weapons of choice’, sarcasm and mockery, can easily be turned against me. No, I’m not talking about someone else doing a flash video or some kind of parody on what I did (or going to do in future) – that would actually be great.
I’m talking about a sarcastic and snobbish reply, something like – “I don’t want to mess with you man. You’re so talented that you’ll make a crappy animation and do voice-overs to make fun of me. Jeez I’m so scared”. If someone says that amidst a “serious” discussion, for whatever reason, he/she would practically shut me up. There’s no way ahead. I can not only not-continue the discussion, I cannot make “crappy animation” either.

Given that this blog is now known (at least for the first time visitors) for the notorious video in the previous post, I wanted to do my part to avoid being identified with that and just that -- hence this useless post. Yes, this post is to say, “hey I know you would say this”, in future. I know; the lengths that I go to (to save my ego).

sariyana elavu da sami!

1 Here’s the part of the exchange.

CARLSON: Wait. I thought you were going to be funny. Come on. Be funny.
STEWART: No. No. I'm not going to be your monkey.
2 It's one of the best episodes of Southpark. Watch the video at around 1.35 for the dialogue that I've quoted.

Worst flash movie ever

I've always wanted to create a mini 'skit' or something using flash. But I was just too lazy (and not skilled enough) to do it. And, I never really had a reason. But yesterday, a wannabe got thumped big time and apparently he complained to his bully friend. Being a "good friend", the bully did what he *can* do -- call this blog "puke-worthy", which I wouldn't really refute. This blog could well be on its way to beat the likes of ogrish.com, rotten.com, or even better, themaanga.blogspot.com.
So, I thought I'll use this opportunity to spend an hour in flash and make some seriously messed up video to prove them right. However, I would suggest that you visit at least some of the links that I've provided to get some context.

On a totally unrelated note - I know not many of you are going to leave comments in your original IDs. And some of you might feel like what I had described in this post. That's fine. I'm still a novice in "local paaltix". I want it to be that way.

PS. I tried 'lip sync' for sometime, it took about 15 minutes for just 1 minute. I don't think this video is worth spending so much time.

Necessary but not sufficient

In my methods course, the first lecture was on causality. It's also one of my favourite topics of discussion. As with many epistemological concepts, causality can be exploited to weaken any argument merely because of its observational constraints. That is, the unobservability of certain measures because of the non-universality of the values associated with them. Academically speaking, psychology, among other social sciences, was one of the worst affected because of this "exploitation". Of course psychology, by the sheer number of experiments and empirical data, evolved into a strong and independent area that it no longer had to wait for others' "approval". Contrarily though, measures such as IQ, though disputed by some scholars, have now been established as "objective" and "universal". This article provides a good critique of intellectual bias behind of some of these "scientific constructs".

All said, I'm no saint when it comes to exploiting the limitations of the scientific method or citing the same to invalidate overly assumptive nonsense. Crudely put, I switch sides to sound smart. I have had to do it quite often with a topic that we cannot avoid ourselves from getting into, post 9/11. It's about religion and terrorism; more specifically, suicide bombing. But this article provides a very coherent deconstruction that cannot be escaped. I’ll just quote the most relevant parts,

Dawkins is suggesting that the motivation for certain ‘evil’ acts (not a word I like, but I think it’s clear that Dawkins means act that most of his readers would consider morally unacceptable) is sometimes religious belief, but that atheism does not have similar effects. Of course, this doesn’t mean that atheists don’t act immorally – presumably, according to Dawkins, when they do act in such a way it is not motivated by their atheistic commitments, nor is carried out in the name, or to advance the cause, of atheism. Brown responds with the line about Stalin killing the priests and the clergy. But what does this fact alone demonstrate? That an atheist committed mass murder – which tells us what? I’m no expert on Stalin’s reign, and so I don’t know what motivated his actions, but is Brown suggesting that his atheism per se was a decisive or contributing factor? It would seem so, when he writes “The claim that Stalin's atheism had nothing to do with his actions may be the most disingenuous in the book”. But what does Brown base the conclusion about the role of atheism in Stalin’s stunning inhumanity on apart from a correlation? If there is evidence that it atheism was a driving force, where is the evidence?

And there seems to be a bit of a double standard here. Brown seems irritated at Dawkins’s suggestion that religion can lead to terrible behaviour, but then tries to counter it with by showing that atheism can lead to bad behaviour. If it’s too simple to blame religion for bad behaviour, as Dawkins supposedly does, it should also be too simple to blame atheism, as Brown implies.

Brown also takes issue with the suggestion that religious fundamentalism is a causal factor in producing terrorist bombers:
[T]he definitive scientific study of suicide bombers, Dying to Win, has just been published by Robert Pape, a Chicago professor who has a database containing every known suicide attack since 1980. This shows, as clearly as evidence can, that religious zealotry is not on its own sufficient to produce suicide bombers; in fact, it's not even necessary: the practice was widely used by Marxist guerrillas in Sri Lanka.
Whenever people want to illustrate the lack of efficacy of religion in producing suicide bombers, they always cite the Tamil Tigers, who are inspired by a Marxism rather than an explicit religious agenda (indeed, may Tamils might be atheists). Again, we have to ask what this shows. Imagine that someone wrote a book on the dangers of smoking, and reviewers pointed out that not all smokers get cancer, and that non-smokers also get cancer. Would we say “See, smoking isn’t dangerous after all”. Of course not. The fact that smoking is neither necessary nor sufficient for getting cancer isn’t the point. Smoking can still be an important cause of cancer – even the most important cause of cancer (I’m not saying it is) – even if people get cancer for other reasons. And so when people tried to get smoking banned in public places, or taxes increased to put people off smoking, we wouldn’t be entitled to say “But look, there are some other know causes of cancer, so leave smoking alone!”. It would still be appropriate to single smoking out, critically discuss it, and definitely withdraw government support for it (if there were, say, smoking academies).
As we see in the excerpt above, exemplary refutations suffer the same fate they inflict. It's like swords slicing one another. Then again, some swords are sharper than the others.

I hate you, but you’re right

This is a feeling that I very often have. It’s the feeling when your egos have already started engaging in a ‘cold war’ but your rational side is still controlling your conscious mind.

Karan Johar and Shahrukh Khan are some of the many celebrities who I almost despise. I’ve hated them for the shoddy products they make, mostly. Then of course, the fact that they have become popular despite the shoddiness. But, in a few interviews, I’ve seen them make some really good points (especially about culture, marriage etc.). Points that I often make to corroborate my arguments. Not only that, their articulation of their ideas was nothing short of a critical thinker’s. Especially, Shahrukh -- he has become really clever in handling some of the most clichéd questions that he has had to face in his career. I don’t think his answers were as clever before. Only Sushmita Sen has managed to sound so intelligent right from the beginning. Ash was always the “look at me I’m a politically correct bimbo” type. Shahrukh was in the same band too, but lately he seems to be fed up with that. Or he’s just chosen this new “technique” to handle a more “intelligent and international” crowd. Whatever the reason is, his interviews are more watchable now.

But it’s still uncomfortable to hear sensible stuff from the people who you don’t like so much. Celebrities have multiple dimensions to like or hate. Their persona on screen, the products they give, then the people they are, the things they say (do) etc. I don’t know the ‘mode shifts’ that my mind goes through when I watch them perform and then giving interviews.
My ‘roast of VV’, at least some of my points, was instigated by what Gautam Menon had said in some interviews (about Oscar etc). It’s a bad movie, but what made my ranting really “harsh” was what he and Kamal had said off-screen, about the movie (it wasn’t a movie review, why should I distance myself from all that?). It’s sometimes too hard to dissociate the two. You hate the guy (girl/woman) in the movie for what he said in TV and you hate the guy in TV for what he did in a movie. Of course, sometimes they are the same.

I think it’s the same with blog readers. You might “hate” someone for things that he/she said in some posts, but can’t disapprove of what he/she says in other posts. That’s when you either downplay the post’s significance or pretend like you never read it. It doesn’t matter I suppose. It’s a favour we keep returning one another; a self sustaining ecological cycle that maintains a balance. A balance that is required to make sure there are no ‘superstar’ egomaniacs who get in to “masala blogging” before they end it for good (Lazygeek is probably a good example).

By the way, this post is not in response to anything that’s happening in this blog but to Shahrukh’s rather sensible interview in IBN. Well, it wasn’t totally sensible; he did get in to the “Islam is a secular religion” bullshit mode. But come on. It’s enough that he’s trying to be sensible, it’s too much to ask of him to be a radical.

"selflesness" and "freewill"

Recently, my discussions have increasingly come to center the idea of free will. The existence of a concrete ‘self’, the notion of a “personal identity” and so forth. Of course my stance, borrowed from a few scholars and “personalized” to fit my contexts, is that they are all meaningless structures that we have come to accept as “objective truths”.

Once the arguments that support the idea of a “self made consciousness” and “inborn conscience” are weakened, “free will” just hangs there. Like a cartoon character that has just crossed the edge of the cliff but is still standing.

In an exchange that I and one of my friends were having, I was trying to point to the situatedness of each decision we make. Thus, arguing that “free will” is more or less, a farce. This may not be the most interesting thing you’ve ever read, but the video below makes a very interesting relation indeed.

I was watching ‘BBC world’ yesterday and this news report which lasted for around 3 minutes summed up most of arguments impressively. The news item in itself is about a very interesting (controversial, if you please) issue that is well worth being discussed in a different post. For the fear of dissecting a news item that is actually a metaphor for what I want to say, I'll shut up now.

If you were wondering how I found the video in youtube, I did not. I recorded and uploaded it myself.

Love, Sex and Marriage

I did a podcast on this topic. It started as a response to this podcast (download), then I digressed and started talking about other things. Out of all my podcasts I enjoyed this one the most.

Download it from here. Other podcasts

What follows is an email exchange that I and one my listeners had. It was long exchange. I'll just quote parts of it. I've modified the sentences in few places to provide anonymity and frame the discussion within a context that is generally comprehensible.

In response to my podcast:

You mentioned that sex is the basic reason why people marry. And luckily you later clarified your reasoning, otherwise others and including me would have jumped at that. But what I don't understand is this: Why is sex always associated with marriage? Let's forget about love & marriage for now. The two have nothing to do with each other at all in my opinion. But why sex? I agree that there should be a certain kind of sexual intimacy between the married couple. This intimacy will enhance their already established understanding of each other and their friendship. But I think that divorcing just because your sex life isn't active is stupidity. Because it is obvious that as the marriage proceeds, sexual activity would decrease. And finally the husband and wife would end up having no sex at all. This occurs because both of them are more focused on their career or they have to take care of another responsibility; that comes with the arrival of a child. Pls correct me if I’m wrong. So don't tell me that before marrying these people, who divorce their partner for the reason of a lack of sexual life, didn't contemplate on such a possibility.

You quoted the figures of those who get a divorce because their sex life sucks. Yes true. But how many more couples do you think there are, who lead the same mundane lives, in which sex is absent? There should be many. They are either the type who, as you said, adjusts and give in. Or they are the type who are 'mature' couples who have come to know that sex is not the only thing that gives them the joy of intimacy and who have come to value their long-lasting friendship above all.

I have seen more and more of my friends getting their boyfriends and going out with them. And for most of the time, I have thought that they were happy. But after a few years, they are filled with bitterness and anger because their relationship obviously didn't last for long. And soon, one of my friends had found another boyfriend. So are/were they in love? Or was it just infatuation?

But I’m clear in my stand that I don't believe in this bf/gf stuff. I find more benefits in forming meaningful friendships with the opposite sex, rather than a 'meaningless' relationship. As far as it concerns me, such bf/gf relationships are meaningless

My Reply:

{{You mentioned that sex is the basic reason why people marry. And luckily you later clarified your reasoning, otherwise others and including me would have jumped at that.}} – Actually I need not have clarified it; I could have easily defended what I said. That defense is also the answer to your question “Why is sex always associated with marriage?”. It’s not always true, however, associating sex with a relationship is. Since in India, relationship is pretty much synonymous with marriage, sex is associated with marriage. Anyway, I’ll answer the question from the "Indian perspective".

If sex does not define marriage, what does? Let me take some pointers from what you’ve said and dissect it.

{{they are the type who are 'mature' couples who have come to know that sex is not the only thing that gives them the joy of intimacy and who have come to value their long-lasting friendship above all.}} – If this is what defines marriage, I think it makes me a homosexual already. Yeah, I have a relationship with my best friends which can only be characterized by what you’re saying. We are intimate as in we share our inner most feelings, problems and tribulations. We care about each other a lot, and needless to say we know we are best friends. And I think it’s going to be ever lasting.In fact going by the definition, each friend of mine is married to 3, 4 guys and some, to a few women.

I’ll quote a part of what I had said in my
post on identity, arranged marriages and all that (the one you had read).“The only difference between your friends/room-mates and your spouse is that you have an emotional attachment with your spouse that is partly sexual (and of "committed" economic dependence or interdependence).”

If mutual care and friendship is all you need in a relationship, why even marry? Can’t you be “just friends” and do that? Oh, married people live together, right? Then make it people who are “just friends and room-mates”. Interestingly though, a lot of married couples lead the lives of two room-mates who don’t see each other often. They sleep in separate rooms, they cook their own food, make their own money, spend it the way they want and they are not interested having kids. If it’s not for the occasional sex they have, they are nothing more than “good friends who are room-mates”.

I can also explain it from a different angle. What makes a marriage is pretty much the same thing that breaks a marriage – fidelity/infidelity (or adultery). What do we mean when we say “he was unfaithful to her?” I know a lot of guys who, don’t even touch, but have “intimate and a long-lasting friendship” with other women even after they’re married. Is he married to them as well? Is he being unfaithful to the one he’s living with? The one he tied a yellow thread around the neck?

We say “he cheated on her” (or vice versa) when he has sex with another woman, don’t we? It means, "you’re married to this woman, so you no longer have an ethical right to have sex with other women but to her and just her”. The whole “faithfulness”, “trust” and other expressions are all facades for the crude sexual blockade they lay on people to monopolize gene transmission (which is not a bad idea I guess). So, sex does define marriage (or a “relationship”). Sex is the basis for all the social relationships. Father, mother, sister, uncle, aunty, friend, friend who’s a guy, friend who’s a girl, girlfriend, wife – all these relationships boil down to your sexual “freedom” with them (from completely blocked to complete freedom). That’s the basis for human cultural evolution. So it’s not inappropriate that sex is associated with marriage.

If I get married for whatever reason, I’ll accept that I got married so that I can have sex with a person that I love without the society bitching about it. Yes, if I ever get married that would be just to avoid all the non-sense that comes from the society if I did not (say, I was “living together” with her). Of course, there are also legal reasons (like, if I die, my wife shall have the insurance money and inherit whatever I have and vice versa).

{{ But I think that divorcing just because your sex life isn't active is stupidity. Because it is obvious that as the marriage proceeds, sexual activity would decrease.}} – You’re being judgmental here, I had just said in the podcast – we are in no place to judge what others’ priorities should be (in their personal lives that is). Who are we to pass judgments on what one should expect out of a marriage? And it’s not “obvious” that sexual activity decreases as marriage proceeds. It’s not a scientific fact. Contrarily, women’s sexual energy peaks in their early 40s and for men they peak in the late 20s and it continues at a relatively same rate till they reach mid 40s. While it may be true that what you’re saying applies to lot of couples, it need not be true that it’s “the best way to live”.

I’ll state a perspective that is not my own, by very convincing nonetheless: We don’t know why we are here. We don’t know if our lives have any purpose. What we do know for real (as real as reality can be perceived by humans) is our momentary existence. As long as we are alive in this earth, we might as well indulge in earthly pleasures (if we are ready to face the consequences too). As opposed to “both of them being more focused on their career or taking care of another responsibility; that comes with the arrival of a child.” What are they chasing by running behind a career and bringing up a child? Happiness? So they are depriving themselves from a happiness to achieve a happiness of a different kind? At least sexual pleasure is reflected by the fact that you have orgasms. There’s no delusion (like the "pleasure" you get from watching your progeny grow up, get in to deepshit and put your ass on the line every other day).

Don’t agree with me? Why? You think the happiness of the ‘other’ kind is better than the satisfaction you get out of sex? Well, may be it is for you and me, why should it be for others? If a person is born with an immense libido, would you call him (or her) stupid if he leaves his marriage because he cannot satisfy his urges? Is it his fault that he’s born that way? Is it even a fault?

Of course, there’s an age old argument about the permanency of ‘that’ happiness -- as if the happiness you get from family life (career, children and all that nonsense) is going to last forever. In my opinion, they are both as fickle and shallow.

So I repeat - sex is the basic reason why people get married. This time however, I’m giving no clarifications, deliberately. Let me see if anyone can “jump on it” and prove me wrong. The people who get married may not realize this, but the institution itself is structured like that. They are 'weekend customers' who order shark-fin soup. They are not killing sharks, but they are part of the business that does.

{{So don't tell me that before marrying these people, who divorce their partner for the reason of a lack of sexual life, didn't contemplate on such a possibility.}} – There’s a basic difference between knowing it’s going be painful and experiencing it. It’s like those who climb the Mt. Everest. They know it’s going to be cold, really cold. But when they get there, they go “man it’s cold! I didn’t realize it’s going to be this cold. To hell with this expedition, I’m leaving”. So people who knew that their sexual life is going to diminish might still not know how bad it can get. How bad can it get? I don’t know. But if people leave their marriage because of that, it should be pretty bad.

It’s all in how we look at things. People often praise Indian couples for staying together in spite of all the problems (lack of sex life being the least of them). These people put their society’s whims before their own, but it doesn’t mean they are any better. If they contributed to betterment of the society by not caring about their personal lives, as many would argue, I fail to see their contribution. It’s a society soaked in inequality, injustice, poverty, sexism, bias, racism, political imbalance and what have you. I’m not saying that things would have been better had we followed a different family model. I’m just pointing to the fact the existing one is not the best. All societies function within their limits of sustainability. So, the western societies need not be mocked or looked down up on because they have shrinks and strip clubs.

Getting back to my podcast, my only point of argument was that marriage is a mixture of several things (sex, attraction, love, compassion, friendship, trust, reliance etc.). Regardless of how it begins (arranged or love) all marriages go through this mixture, probably in varying proportions. And if you take love as the source of it, that source’s inception can again be triggered by sexual attraction or whatever. As I had said, I know a few guys who “fell in love” looking at the girls' breasts and neckline. They’re now “happily married” with a kid. I think they embody the “happily married every after” couple. Sure, their start, as I know personally, wasn’t all that “divine”, but now it’s just as good as others’ who started with “complete maturity and understanding”. In my opinion it’s all bullshit. No body needs to justify which way of bullshitting is the best. My discussions however, are only about establishing that; it’s all bullshit.

In all of this, the question of morality is moot. I don’t think anyone has the moral high ground to claim that a particular way living is moral and others are immoral. I think that line of thinking is nothing short of intellectual bigotry and prejudice. There are things in this society that I hate, despise, scoff at, pity and disrespect, but I would never (at least when I’m “completely in control” of what I’m saying) have the temerity to say something is immoral.

About your friends having boyfriends; I don’t know exactly why they do it but I can understand. You would have seen me use the word memes quite often. What your friends are doing could be that. I think we all do it. Fashion, movie, music - none of these is independent. We like what we like because there’s a status associated with that likeability itself. Just tell me if you’ve done anything on your own, just for yourself. I shall deconstruct and demonstrate that it wasn’t. In the same light, what your friends are doing need not be measured or judged. But you may throw your ideas on what they are doing. It will probably help you shape your worldview.

We all venture in to things that don’t always go as we planned, but it doesn’t mean we were stupid. But failing to see the possibility of it going wrong is stupid indeed. So in a sense if your friends cannot handle breakups I don’t think they should be dating. Then again, as I had explained with the Mt. Everest example, they might know it’s going to be painful if and when they breakup; but cannot quietly take the pain. So they get “filled with bitterness and anger”. But it passes and after it does they would have gained a valuable experience.

We are all big blocks of stone, we carve ourselves an image by blowing with a hammer called experiences (sometimes other blow it, sometimes it’s feeble blow, sometimes it’s a strong blow – each blow has its corresponding effect). Creation and destruction happen simultaneously. As the stone block loses itself, an image, a sculpture gets created.

{{So are/were they in love? Or was it just infatuation?}} -- I had mentioned about this specifically in the podcast. Is it love only if it lasts? Or if they get married? I don’t agree with the idea that love should be ever lasting. I don’t think it’s possible (if we are to follow a strict definition of love). All relationships share an intensity that does not remain constant, because we as people, change constantly. If you remember my earlier discussion about the ‘self’, you should be able to correlate. You fall in love with someone when you are 25. By 30 he is a different person and you’re a different person. Now, how is it possible to maintain the same love with the same intensity? It may increae but it's still not the same. It’s almost like finger prints. They look the same but they are the not same, are they?

I don’t know if you’re familiar with the term 'risk society'. It’s also a book's title. That book, in general, is about risk and reward behaviour of people in late modernity. It’s mostly sociological than psychological. There’s a section in the book that talks about how people in the 60s, 70s and 80s spent their whole lives working for the same company. That is, their career started and ended in a building. They were from the non-risk-taking generation. They were scared to leave their jobs for the fear of ending up in a worse job. But today it’s not the case, you see people jumping companies every month. Each person has 4, 5 jobs in his career. Some people have 4, 5 careers in their life. Now, whose life was better? Nobody can tell.

Apply the same logic for love and partners. All these people who are supposedly in love may just stick to their partners because they don’t know where they might land if they leave the one they have. In all of this, I don’t see where the distinction between love and infatuation creeps in. I don’t even know if there needs to be a distinction.

{{As far as it concerns me, such bf/gf relationships are meaningless.}} – As a nihilist, I think everything is meaningless (just give it a wider perspective). It’s like looking at something in ‘Google Earth’. When you are 80,000 ft above the ground, everything looks green or blue or yellow – somewhat meaningless. Then you go down further and further, you see a country, then a city, then a street and then a green circle. The whole blurry green thing seen from 80,000ft on a closer look is beautiful cricket ground. So be flexible in looking at things, not only from different angles, but also from different altitudes.

***end of exchange***

If you are going to leave any comment, please don't say anything about the post's length. I probably could have summarized the whole thing to less than 800 words, but why should I? People summarize books too. But I would rather read the book than the summary. This post is a narrative, it's not meant to be "appealing" or interesting. But I think it still is. Nevertheless, just know that if it's not, it never tried to be. It's not prose that follows a certain structure. It's a conversation.

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