Selective Outrage

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A plate of French Fries

Please note: Views expressed are strictly personal.


An argument has, amongst other things, a background on which it is based. And a response that it elicits.

A recent book that I read – it was either Romilla Thapar’s “Public Intellectual in India” or Prof. Amartya Sen’s “Country of First Boys”; can’t recall which, and I’m too far away from my bookshelf to check – argued that outrage should not seek historical legitimacy.

An admirable sentiment, and one which I (normally) swear by.

What it means, in a crude, easy-to-digest form, is that “you did not protest *X*; hence you protesting *Y* is wrong”, or “you did not protest at time *T1*; hence you protesting at at time *T2* is wrong”.

One of the chief rules of argumentation – a fine craft that is sadly lost in the street brawls that make up today’s “discourse” – is that an argument should be judged on its own merit. Facts and arguments in its vicinity (and specifically, the identity of the person making that argument) should not be used to test its validity. And ergo, the response to such an argument would also be limited to the context of the argument.

What I mean by this is that whether or not I had a healthy meal yesterday cannot provide a justification for me having an unhealthy meal today. Think of your school teacher screaming at you – “Don’t tell me you did something because s/he did it. If s/he jumped into a river, would you jump in too?”.

But then, at one point, we stop and wonder and say to ourselves, “Fine, you are protesting *X* without having protested *Y*. But why did you not protest at *Y* as well, when you just as easily could have?”.

And therein, as the Bard would tell us, lies the rump.

The Example

(And this is where the plate of fries makes sense)

Consider this – I go to a restaurant “A” and order a plate of french fries. The fries look wonderful – crisp, golden, sizzling hot. But they are overtly salty. Not only is the excessive salt bad to taste, it also adversely affects my health. I object, and send it back, and write a bad review for that restaurant. Nothing wrong in this, right? All perfectly a-okay.

But then it so emerges that I had, a few days back, gone to a different restaurant “B” where I had again ordered a plate of fries. And this time too, the fries had been excessively salted. But this time, I did not object.

I am not even talking about a presumed “conflict of interest” – the manager did not give me a discount or a refund or a gift voucher. There was no “consideration” transferred which would make me want to not object.

I simply chose to not object.

The question, then, is this – am I objecting to excessively salted fries (which are undeniably bad for both taste and health), or am I actually objecting to restaurant “A”? Or, to rephrase this question, am I using my opposition to unhealthy food as a proxy excuse to actually oppose restaurant A?

The Problem

But, is there something fundamentally wrong in objecting to restaurant A? I dislike the place, I think it is bad for the health of me and my family, and therefore I chose to object to it. I like restaurant B and therefore I chose to not object to it.

Nothing essentially wrong with this, right?

The problem lies at a lower stage of abstraction. Masquerading my opposition to A under the false proxy of disliking unhealthy food is a fundamentally wrong thing to do.

One – not restoring to such “theatricality and deception – both of which are powerful agents” is an important part of intellectual honesty. We all know why we are so dishonest, of course. Far too often we find it necessary to sugarcoat frank aspirations by marketing them under the guise of higher ideals, ideals that only a handful believe in to begin off with.

Two – using such a smoke-and-mirrors to deceive is essential crooked and cowardly.

Three – sooner or later, is going to cook up a healthy dish and sooner or later, B is going to cook up a dish that is unhealthy; such is dictated by the all-powerful, inevitable hand of probability. It is far better to be honestly wedded to the higher cause of healthy food, rather than being short-sightedly committed to a restaurant.

The Rump

All of this discussion about right and wrong, honest and dishonety, lies on the presumption that we, as a society, are capable of moral and nuanced behavior. If we agree that such ethically sound behaviour – of people saying what they mean and being honest – is far too lofty and utopian a goal, then the entire argument I pleaded above crumbles into pointlessness.

Sadly, in today’s age it is impossible to expect such mentally disciplined and honest behaviour – it would be an interesting exercise to figure out if such behavior was always impossible.

What I have said before, I repeat again. These are my personal views, and are mentioned in abstraction. This framework can be adopted and enforced onto any practical example, and its efficacy can be evaluated.

I look forward to hearing views and counterviews on this subject.

I am also fully aware that because I have spoken out on the issue of “selective outrage”, I shall be prescribed certain ideological sympathies, if not inclinations. While I assure you that what I right is strictly apolitical and devoid of any “cult-biases”, I could not care less about the conclusions you (voluntarily) wish to draw regarding my alleged biases.

When Destination Matters More…

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Location: Dhikala, Corbett National Park

In violation of the common refrain – the one where the journey matters more than the destination? The one everyone keeps on quoting without really appreciating the depth of its meanings? – there are certain places where the destination matters more than the journey.

Dodital in Uttarakhand is one. The Rann of Kutch is another.

Dhikala, deep within the heart of the Jim Corbett National Park is another.

Sitting right at the edge of a cliff, Dhikala overlooks the massive grasslands within the park. The road leading up to it runs straight through a thick forest of Sal, and sometimes if you’re lucky – as me and my dearest buddy were once, ten summers back – the flowers fall off the trees onto you in carpets, welcoming you like the heroes we imagined ourselves to be.

The magnificence of Dhikala is such that it cannot be captured fully by neither photographs, nor by words.  As Salman Rushdie wrote in “Joseph Anton” about the South American plains, photographs or words provide only one stationary frame. To experience their true, immense beauty, one must travel through Dhikala.

This provides a delicious (seeming) paradox – for travelling through Dhikala is a transition; ergo, the journey should matter more than the destination. But that is diametrically opposite to what I am arguing.

You see, we, as humans, are in a perpetual state of both being and becoming. It is vital to attain a balance between the two – to both exist and transit in each moment.

“We must be still and still moving, into another intensity.
For a further union, a deeper communion.
Through the dark cold and empty desolation,
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters
Of the petrel and the porpoise.
In my end is my beginning.”

-T. S. Elliot

And while the journey is the joy of travel, and while places like Dhikala can be cherished only by passing through and not seeing them through single-frame windows, there are some places where the journey must be broken, in contemplation.

And that is what the beauty of Dhikala encapsulates. It is one of those places where we arrive, not travel through. It is one of those places where I have experienced an intensely spiritual connect – not in terms of divinity; but in terms of deep introspection.

Such places are, after all, spiritual. And I have a hunch as to why this is the case. Dhikala, Dodital, the Rann – their beauty is so overwhelming, so pristine that it crushes the “me”, at least momentarily.

And it is in that moment of tranquility that real conversation can occur. After all, “Jab Main Tha Tab Hari Naheen. Ab Hari Hai Main Naaheen”.

Controlling the Humanities

It is much more important to gain control over the humanities, rather than the sciences. A different way saying the exact same thing is that it is “more necessary” to grant the humanities greater freedom than the sciences.

This is being said in a particular context, and must be understood within it.

The humanities are much more subjective; their essential character is interpretation. Ergo, they can be leveraged more pragmatically for social changes, and are particularly amenable to individual wills. The sciences, by virtue of the rigorous laws of rational enquiry, are much less so. If – and this is a terrifying, 1984-esque “if” – we reach a state wherein the sciences can be suppressed by opinions, society has reached a point of such absolute perversion that all liberties are rendered irrelevant. Such is not the case with the humanities – there is a greater tolerance buffer.

Besides, the humanities have an impact on a person’s psyche (psyche alone, at least and definitely, not an entire way of life) in ways and with an alacrity that remain unmatched by the sciences. What is going to be a more obvious influence a man’s behaviour in the immediate term? A Yo Yo Honey Singh song or the improved efficiency of a 4-stroke engine?

There are certain ideas that are palatable to society at a particular point in them, and there are certain ideas that aren’t. And to make certain ideas palatable, it is necessary to re-engineer society’s psyche. To do so, the role of certain elements is paramount. Let me illustrate – you want to promote smoking? Make movies, cast superstars, and make sure they look *cool* while smoking. You want to stop smoking? Make those very same superstars die in agony.

 Which is why one should never under-estimate the power of the Chetan Bhagat’s and the Honey Singh’s and the Arnab Goswami’s of the world. And – at the greater level of abstraction – the temples where they are born (or the factories where they are manufactured – whichever way you want to look at it) are much more critical.

Those guys got it, these guys are getting it, and those guys will again get it in the future. The fight going on right now is not about one man or the other, it is about much larger picture.


Note – I know I being a little obscure here. I ask your forgiveness, and I hope the right audience will understand (completely) what I wish to say.

Views expressed are purely personal.