"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.

Be yourself = It may or may not rain

Temporally speaking, I should have posted this comment before the one below. This blogger is not an idiot, she’s ok. But her writing, at times, easily peeves me. Anyway, I’m not going to assess her writing skills or anything, I’ll just get to the comment that I made in response to this post of hers. The post is all “you go girl” toned, the kind Twisty lambastes in her blog.

She starts off well (all bolds and italics are as in the original post),

One of my friends always say 'I'm an Indian girl, very traditonal, I have a culture to preserve...etc' and I used to ask her this. Shelby are you really all Indian? Cos we are in this imaginary world sometimes forgetting the fact that though we are Indian/Sri Lankan/Chinese/English/Aussie/Canadian etc by origin, that we are really many more than just that.

From what seems to be a deeply thought out question, she makes a nosedive to say,

I'm a family-loving Greek woman when I watch TV with my mother and aunt instead of going out with the boys…,…I'm a hardworking Asian woman when I'm at work earning my dough,…
It gets worse

I have every trait and I'm every woman. What matters is being who you are, not labeling/branding yourself to be one thing just cos of brand-loyalty. That doesn't mean you should be someone else, but it means don't be forced to hide what you are based on a passed label. Be proud of your origins but never let that loyalty cost you your originality.

She has deconstructed, though partially, the myth of having a single cultural identity and otherwise. But in the process she has constructed new identity(ies). The most problematic, at least for me, is “your originality”. So I left a short comment for which, as someone whose ego is picked, she gave pseudo-wise reply. I’ll now paste parts of the exchange. It’s going to be too long and probably too boring. Well, I’m not in to the whole brevity thing, so who cares?

Comment 1:

{{What matters is being who you are}} - Well, who you are is the question that is moot.
"be yourself" is an age old clichéd cousin of what you've said above. You've listed a whole bunch of constructions which themselves are nothing short of prejudiced generalizations.
Why? An American is devoid of family love? Or is an Indian not supposed to enjoy sports? You are perpetuating the very element that you're criticising.

Reply 1:

what I mean is be what ur istincts r telling u to be. I guess u didnt get that.

**Why? An American is devoid of family love?

did I say that? U interpreted my example in that manner and I cant help that. What I have used in those examples r in fact MAJOR traits of women in this world. Surely u dun see MOST Indian women in bars d u? It's the MAIN cultural characteristics I have laid out in the examples. Not prejudices at all!

Comment 2:

Ok back to basic deconstruction

{{yes and? what I mean is be what ur istincts r telling u to be. I guess u didnt get that.}} - What does instinct mean? Or what is an instinct in general? Can a person who has never driven before "instinctively" hit the breaks when an animal (or whatever) runs in to your car? Oh, how can a person drive if he/she doesn't know how to drive, let alone stopping the car in time? - is that your question?
That's exactly the point. What you call instincts are nothing but social constructions that you internalized over a period of time that it, from the conscious then to the subconscious, has entered a part of your mind that's called an instinct. So, we are not just born with instincts, we develop them according to our environment (or to put it a little theoretically, habitus).

So if you're a "victim" of American pop-culture, your "instinctive" reaction to pizza would probably be "whoa, that's a lot of calories". The reaction is not you; even your instinct is not you, for 'you' do not exist. You are a personification of your circumstances and surroundings and to an extent, genes (and genes know nothing about calories or good/bad sports). So when you say "be yourself", all it means is, "continue to personify whatever you personified before that moment" - which need always be right or wrong (the nature of the embodiment and how you judge 'right' or 'wrong' are debatable). So your statement, in its essence, is pointless. It's like a weatherman's prediction that goes "it may or may not rain today!”

{{What I have used in those examples r in fact MAJOR traits of women in this world.}} - What you used in your examples are stereotypes that are euphemistically referred to as culture. Of course, you can always hide under the mask "that's the way you see it" - a universal text book example of rhetorical escapism. You say what you want to say. What you say, regardless of what you mean, means something independently (a naked man is a naked man).

{{t's the MAIN cultural characteristics I have laid out in the examples.}} - What you call "cultural characteristics" are nothing but transitory behavioural traits (which are influenced by several elements including, but not limited to, media, family, memes, financial set up etc.).

{{Surely u dun see MOST Indian women in bars do u?}} - I don't see women in India driving SUVs either. I can tell you tonnes of other things that you cannot see a lot of women in India doing. There are several reasons for that; economic status being one of those, very significant one at that. And talking about women in bars: women from the socially wealthy or "upper class" can be seen in all page 3 parties and other social get-togethers on par with men. If culture is the factor that stops Indian women from going to bars, I wouldn't see any "Page 3" personality that is a woman. Or we should probably take it as rich Indian women have no culture (or that theirs is more "westernised").
Another example: all poor people have certain food habits, if food habits is an indicator of culture, then poverty defines culture (at least for a lot of people in India). So, maintaining their culture would probably mean they should continue to be poor. In that sense "be yourself" would mean "be poor, always!"
What is my point?
Culture is not as tangible as it may seem, if it was tangible it is not as observable, if it was observable it is still not generalizable (regardless of how many people ape it), if it is generalized let it not be done loosely (like it’s done in your post).

It might be worthwhile to quote what I said, in a moment of absolute genius, about one's self, in this post,
The idea of one's self is very murky and sometimes void. Self is nothing but a construction of an individual's perceptions built on reflecting his/her notions and ideas on various people and places under different circumstances...This construction goes on in a continuum, for you cannot say "Now that I'm 20, I have a self and I won't let anything change it no matter what".
In the same sense, "originality" is mostly a fleeting conception. Twisty had made this interesting post on culture, I wouldn't necessarily use the same expletives, but she's sure right.

Disclaimer: Some of the ideas that I've expressed are highly qualified(2) and probably need some footnotes. I'll provide them later. I've quoted only parts my comment, the whole unedited version of comment can be found here, just scroll all the way down. The longest is mine!

Pretentious "people" (shameless me)

As I've said before, I love (read it "laavvvvvvvvvv") taunting people. There are lots of blogs, especially run by girls/women, that cannot stop posting pretentious nonsense (pardon my sexism). I don't mind when people try to pretend like they are intellectual, but I do when they try to pretend like they care. Anyway, I read a post[1] in this blog about 'children, innocence and peace' (yeah sounds like a documentary's title). It's about a picture: some children are writing something on a few missiles; I learn that they are Israeli missiles meant to bomb Lebanon. Then she goes about how the children's minds are corrupted by the adults and the usual BS. I made a comment, I don't know what she's going to say, I don't think she's going to give a clever answer. At least, I'll use it to fill my blog pages

Here's the comment:

@ The picture (free from its context)
If all missiles are "bad" then it would mean all people in the world are good. But basic geopolitical knowledge would tell us that us that it's not true.
Let's go back in history, just a bit, some 60 years. Let's say the missiles were meant to bomb the Nazi camps, are the missiles still bad? Are the kids supposed to write "No war only peace" on those missiles as well? (when millions of innocent people were torched in concentration camps?).
Regardless of who started what, there are "bad people" in the world who are doing "bad things" to "good people" and sometimes the only way to save those good people are to use force (here I'm not pointing to anything particular). Innocence is just ignorance in disguise; one's age makes the difference.

{{can stop them when they grow up to have hatredness among other people.}} - If I have children, I'll bring up in a way that they hate casteists, racists, bigots and hypocrites. I'll encourage them to castigate them. Because there are people who need to be hated, whose actions need to be stopped - indignation is the source for reform.

{{I feel pity for these children who can barely understand foreign policy and its strength.}} -
I don't know if you call yourself a Hindu (Christian, Muslim, whatever) or a religious person. But I pity all the people who call themselves religious. They were molested as young children, they were given identities (a stupid name, to start with), for foreign policy is not the only thing they cannot understand. They cannot understand, religion, caste, ‘field of education’, friendship, brotherhood, sex and whole list of things. They don't just learn it from nowhere, they learn it from adults and what adults have produced (books, movies, TV etc.).
{{Children are innocent, its the adults who take advantage with them.}} - If adults are to leave that "innocence" untouched, the innocence will become ignorance and before you know you have a bunch of cave men and women in your hands!

Hostility and warlike qualities are parts of "human nature", as biological animals we have those features "instinctively" programmed in our genes. The innocence that you're so much in love with, left unchecked, will only transform itself in to an uncivilized barbarian. It's the "adult's interference" that refines it (sometimes, well, very often, exploits it for one's agenda).

Question to all the people: If you're for "innocence" and "peace" - shed all the identities that you got before you reached your adulthood (as a general point of reference for "maturity"). You were told you are to believe in god, believe in a religion, believe in statehood, believe in morality, believe in "peace"/"war" - when you were young; when you were "innocent" (in other words, when "adults took advantage of you"). Because all these identities were given to you when you were innocent, would you get rid of it altogether? Are you ready for complete de/reconstruction? Can you even say that you can think about it without actually seeing it from within the filters that come with those identities?

I know, it's funny that my comment is four times as long as the actual post (pretty much a like bomb's effect when it explodes). That's right, there's so much nonsense compacted into her 8 lines. What's worse? The people who leave comments on her blog are just as superficial. Most of them, I think, belong to the "performing mutual favours" type. And look at what one of the idiots, has to say

{{My God! That is shocking indeed. What you imbibe in children can stay with them for long... This should not have happened.. Thanks for posting it here. Never saw this before.}} - Right! Now that she's pointed to it you'll be able to sleep with the satisfaction of knowing just about everything in the world, vetti payale!

Children learn and unlearn so many things as they grow up. Not just kids, even with adults, no body can be sure that someone's going to stick to what he/she believes his/her entire lifetime. People are constantly influenced by what they see/read/hear and talk about (yes, people includes me too). And they don't always see/read/hear and talk about the same thing[2]. To come back to the picture, these same kids might grow up say "damn I was such a stupid, what was I thinking writing those stuff in the missiles?” I know I've said that a lot of times (no, I don't mean "writing on missiles" per se).

[1] Update: The girl, who posted the actual entry in her blog has deleted it. I wanted to deconstruct her post and ended up destructing it fully :)). I seriously didn't see that coming.

[2] Yeah, sometimes people do confine themselves or their aforementioned activities to specific area or perspective. There could be several reasons for this - fear, ego and comfort are some.

Apology: As you can see, I've changed the title of the post. I was quite irked when I made the initial post, so calling her idiot didn't seem like a big deal. But in retrospect, I think it was quite uncalled for and I sincerely apologize to her for that. Sure, she makes idiotic posts, but that doesn't make her an idiot, does it? (aaha enna arumayana logic).

The art of prediction

I used to play tennis when I was 12. I played for less than a year before I got tired of waking up early in the morning for practice. I wish all the activities that I quit or sucked at when I was young, started a little late; preferably around 12.00.

Anyway, this year’s US open tennis is one of the tournaments that I was following closely. Federer was playing as invincible as ever till he reached the finals. Roddick on the other side wasn’t too bad either. Today, minutes before the finals started, I thought of predicting who’s going to win and how he is going to do it. I scrapped it in my Orkut’s ‘scrap book’ as the match progressed (my Orkut profile is set for PST). Let me list my scraps (to myself),


1:46 PM - A scrap of prediction - 3 minutes before the match's start

It's going to be a four set match. Federer would win the first two without tie breaks. Roddick would win the 3rd set in a tie breaker. Fed, however, would bounce back in the 4th set to win it and the match.

2:01 PM - things are going according to my prediction, Fed broke Rod's first serve game and he's now leading 3-0 in the first set. He's going to take it 6-2

2:07 PM - oh man, I could be wrong, Fed is leading 5-0 already. Come on you damn American, win at least one of your serve games and make it 6-1 or something.

2:14 PM - As if to go by my prediction Rod won his serve and broke Fed's too, now the set is set at 5-2. Roddick is now serving, let's see if Fed will break and make my prediction right.

2:20 PM - f*ck yeah! Damn I'm impressed. Not only did Fed win the game he won it just like the way I predicted (6-2, breaking Rod's serve). Now who else predicted it so precisely? :))

2:56 PM - oops it's all going awry; the second set has not been very impressive from Fed. He lost it 6-4; it wasn't even a tie breaker. Oh boy, I better shut up!

4:21 PM - The match is over, let's see what I've got right

Federer won - something that anyone can guess, no big deal
The first set's split - pretty amazing indeed
Third set being a tie breaker - of course, Fed won it (as opposed to Rod as I had said)
The game was a 4 set game - again, not bad at all.

***end of scraps***

My “prediction” is not completely random. I saw almost all of Federer’s matches and the last three of Roddick’s in this year's US open. I’ve now seen 6 of the last 12 matches in which the two played against each other. I didn’t consciously work out any permutations like they do in horse-races, but I can clearly say that my guess was a little “educated”. I remember reading something like this in ‘Statistics for dummies’ – inadequate information leads to inaccurate prediction of a random outcome, abundance of information leads to precise estimation of a random outcome. But, I wonder if any outcome is random at all (including Steve Irwin's "accidental" death).

Depressed: Steve Irwin is dead

I came to know about his death yesterday and was so shocked and disturbed by the news. No public figure’s death, other than Steve’s, has made me cry before. The reason is that Steve has inspired me in so many levels, directly and indirectly. It’s not like I’ve become a renown biologist or an environmentalist, but the person he was in TV has taught me so many things.

He was passionate about crocs and wildlife in general; he pushed himself to the edge to learn and tell us what he learnt. If it weren’t for him I would have never touched a snake in my life. I touching/catching snakes is not that big a deal, it’s how he deconstructed my “instinctive feeling” that all reptiles are disgusting. It shook one of my fundamental beliefs that all humans are born with certain instincts and loathing reptiles is one of them. You only have to weaken one of the structures that hold your belief system, before you know, the whole thing is collapsing. It’s not as bad as it sounds because you start constructing another one, this time however, more critically. Of course, I didn’t exactly have the maturity to extrapolate it so coherently back then, but I believe it had deep and subconscious impact.

The way he “risked” his life also pointed to another lesson: if we have concrete information about something, we can push the limits rationally and the risk is a lot more calculated. A lot of feelings, awe, fear, respect, admiration etc., all come from what we know about someone/something. Recently I was in Niagara, and I couldn’t appreciate its height or volume or whatever it’s popular for. I think knowing the probability of surviving a fall, the currents’ pace and the fact that I can swim pretty well, all ruined it for me. Yeah, it’s supposed to be “beautiful”, it is beautiful indeed, but the people and the big casinos around it take away the “nature” part of the beauty. Put simply, it changes your perspective on things. That’s what Steve did, he changed my perspective on a few things that eventually changed my perspective on more things (sort of like a fission reaction).

Steve is dead now, but I’m sure he enjoyed each minute of his life that always close to death. I wish I have his life, at least for a few years, before I have his death.

PS. I did a podcast on his death too, I didn't want my expressions left cold in text.

Mediocrity thrives in conventionality

I got a mail from one of my podcast listeners, Mr.Sridhar, I'll share the discussion to provide some clarity on some of what I've said in the podcast . My reply to his mail also dragged me in to topics that were quite unrelated to the actual podcast, but quite relevant to any discussion in general.

Mr.Sridhar wrote:

I happened to listen to your roast of VV just today – interesting! I see it as how a friend of mine would feel if we were to talk about the movie over coffee. I don’t agree with several of your opinions on VV but then, as you say, we are both entitled to our opinions J
I don’t want to get into an advisory mode but humour me because of my age and the fact that I went through a lot of your experiences before. One thing that I am trying to get over (and I can’t claim to have accomplished this) is the act of generalization (Americans are like this, Muslims are like that…). Not that I get riled over it, but I tend to disagree whenever people generalize. I think it is a simplification by us because we have conditioned ourselves to slot people and their behaviours – because our own predilections… This pontification is my reaction to your points about Gautham, Harris Jayaraj, et. al It seemed to me an attempt to show aggressively that you don’t agree with the conventional wisdom… J

More reaction on your making fun of the pronunciation of Kamal and the doctor: I used to often make fun of how people pronounced certain English words until I found out that some American pronunciation has made its own variations for certain English words.
My reply:

It's not a surprise that you disagree with a lot of what I had said (contrarily, I would be surprised if even a few people agree with me; apart from my friends that is). I and another friend of mine were talking about it and she pretty much said the same thing. A movie with bad actors and bad acting isn't worth watching unless it has a presentation that supersedes the former. What's interesting is that she's such a hardcore Ilayaraja fan that she at times goes to the extent of bashing ARR; Harris Jeyaraj will be dusted. Unlike me, she knows music, she listen to all kinds of music. Some of the music she introduced me to, gave me little familiarity that instinctively deconstructs bad music. Yes, HJ, if you have the exposure to certain kind of music, will sound like garbage. Actually I never liked him after his first movie (the first movie had loops lifted from Rahman, and then he started recycling his own stuff with ARR, hip-hop, Latino music and Euro-grunge). I respect him only as much as I do Deva, but because Deva isn't praised so much I don't bash him either.

As you know, I have criticized Cheran, GM et al because these people's products, in my opinion, haven't been deconstructed adequately. Not that I do it so well, I feel it's necessary, nevertheless. Some how these people have slipped through the minds of most film critics, who have been treated to overwrought banalities for a long time. But, since I avoid watching 'bad movies', my reference point remains with the good movies of old times (and a few recent ones). I refuse to get down to the contemporary condition of movies and critique Autograph, TT, VV et al, with respect to that.

{{It seemed to me an attempt to show aggressively that you don’t agree with the conventional wisdom}} - Yes, you're right, while I've been relatively calm in other podcasts, I was a little irritated when I expressed what has now become usual in my podcasts - I don't agree with conventional thinking. If you agree with the clichéd phrase that "it's an evil world out there", I think "conventional thinking" is what has gotten us there. So I think we should deconstruct many, if not most, conventional thoughts and approaches employed in the conventional system; especially in arts. Mediocrity thrives in conventionality; conventionality and “common sense” maintain the status-quo. My irritation is due to the blogosphere's verdict that it's a "fantastic..brilliant movie" -- nothing short of a conventional reactionary response.

The conventional thinking or the popular opinion--to see HJ and GM as people who are highly talented--has been a result of fast paced "corporate socialization". I don't want to call it wisdom -- wisdom is the crystallization of thought processes that go through rigorous criticisms and analysis. If there is any wisdom involved in this at all, it can only be comparable to what guided millions of people in India to "feed lord Ganesh" with spoonfuls of milk. Of course people realized their stupidity after a few days, some after a few weeks and some probably never will. The same goes to HJ and GM, though their music/movies have been accepted without much thought (or thought that is basically superficial), their actual worth will be understood by these same people after 5, 10 years from now. Out of all the movies we have seen in the past 20 odd years, only few come to us when we want to recollect and discuss. Only true quality stands the test of time (like IR's music).

About generalizations - I think I have expressed my opinion on this in my other podcasts and particularly in 'Shallow views and senseless pride' (under Engum Arasiyal). As a self proclaimed critical thinker, I have the comfort of shifting positions just for arguments' sake. Now, I’ll argue for generalizations. Though we cannot generalize people based on their country, ethnicity etc, there's a fair amount knowledge and factual basis associated with it. When you say Indians like spicy food, the generalization does have some validity. It might be stupid to cook extremely spicy food for an Indian guest assuming that he won't complain, but the statement is still relatively valid. I'm in a field where we have to base our theories on data collected from a sample. The technique of generalizability has over the years been perfected close to those in natural sciences. Demographic indicators such as fertility, mortality, migration etc., are all based on some kind of generalization. Do you know that several insurance companies charge male drivers more than female drivers because males have higher probability of getting in to an accident?

{{I think it is a simplification by us because we have conditioned ourselves to slot people and their behaviours – because our own predilections}} - It need not just be our predilections, it may also be based on historical data - information and theoretically established knowledge. Logical deduction of informational pointers can be mistaken for simplification, but there's a huge difference between the two in terms of reliability.

About the pronunciation - I agree, there are words that have varied pronunciations (generally just two), American and Brit, like either (eether-aither), staff (staaf, staff) and some that sound different because of the accent. But semen is neither of the two; semen is “seemen” in all parts of the world. It may seem like a small thing, but it's not, because a DCP and a doctor are using the word. I have heard doctors and police use it before, they say it as “seemen”. The characters look completely idiotic when they cannot even pronounce a very commonly used word (in their fields that is).

Anyway, I wasn't complaining about their English because it was bad, but because it was deliberately shoved in to all characters. As I had said, why do you want to make them speak English if you cannot make them do it right? It's a Tamil movie after all. I hate his judgment that he can add sophistication and finesse to his characters simply by making them utter English words here and there. I think the very attempt is offensive. I’m not a purist or a perfectionist, but I get enraged when people attribute either to something that is less tha.

GM's scenes carry with them a kind of condescension: as if he is far better than other directors when the scenes are flawed at so many levels (apart from the condescension itself).

Among other things, the movie is overtly and overly sexist right from the beginning. Women are targeted and victimized as if none of them could have escaped the villains' "wrath". Especially, when 'Amudhan' walks in to a house with 3 women and "kidnaps" one of them without much effort. What the heck is that? like they are all helpless paraplegics. Besides, they were living in an apartment for heaven's sake, are all the neighbor's deaf? Never mind...if I have to question the logic behind the scenes, then there is no end to it. All of this insults my intelligence, especially because he tries to mask it like it's meant for "smart" viewers.

As arrogant as it may sound, I don't think I'm one of the average movie-goers who are stripped off the tools required for dissecting one. Like an elitist connoisseur, I think I've got exposed to very good products, that I can no longer digest silly half-baked material like VV.

It's not just this movie; GM's previous one was no better. Each and every scene is a blooper for a critical viewer. Still, he has led himself to believing that he's one of the best directors in India. Like I've said, my contempt for GM et al doesn't come just from their movies, but from their interviews too.

***end of conversation***

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