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.

Random Musings…

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(Random musings that occured while reading. These may or may not be related to each other)

On dismantling religion –

Far too many concern themselves with the dismantling of religion – the whole notion of “destroying temples, mosques, churches, gurudwaras” etc., and in its stead looking at humans as humans. Nothing wrong with this approach, of course – there is evil, plentiful evil in all major religions.

My problem is that there is no notion of creating an alternative. Man created religion for a purpose – and it is has stood the test of time because there is something undeniably marketable about it.

The mere dismantling of religion will not suffice, it will merely create a vacuum; an alternative must be created. Its essence of spiritualism, of looking for meaning and purpose and peace that it is supposed to espouse, the reason why man turns to a “God” – that reason must be quenched.


Why I find it difficult to share –

There is a certain sense of exclusion I feel while talking to people about [books, movies, music, and (primarily) ideas] that have appealed to me.

You take a lot of effort in understanding something, there is a massive process behind appreciating something. And this effort, this process adds value to the final conclusion. And then you turn to someone, excited to share it. And they go, “Yeah. That’s pretty cool.”. And the scales fall from your eyes. And you scream within yourself, “No, you idiot. You don’t understand. You may see, but you do not understand.”

Appreciating the conclusion without appreciating the process behind it demeans the conclusion. It seems to trivialize it. I find pretense – its shallowness and its dishonesty – despicable. That I do not like. And hence I find it difficult to share.


On “Madhushala”…

These “random musings” have all been reflections that came to me while reading this monumental work in the Hindi language.

The writing has perhaps the best “rhythm” of all that I’ve read – so spectacular that at times, I enjoyed verses purely on the basis of their metric, rather than their content.

I appreciate the title – “Madhushala”. It is a reflection of the sentiment of revolution (reformation?) against orthodox, structured edifices (primarily  religious edifices). The idea of *alcohol* has a very strong connotation to it.

I feel comfortable with the knowledge that I know very little. It is scary and overwhelming – for it drives a screwdriver right at the idea of self-preservation; if we do not know, who are we? (Please don’t answer with the trivially obvious Jon Snow).

In any case, returning to Madhushala – it has been overwhelming. Firstly, because of my own discomfort with the Hindi language. This is the first time I have read Hindi, aside from the school textbooks that I gave up in 2006. Secondly, I am also quite a novice when it comes to poetry. That makes this all the more difficult.

But the main point is this – the work is immensely layered. The meaning of “Madhushala” that is interpreted is so subtle, so intricately woven, so finely balanced, that at times the literal reading of a few verses came across as a shock. Certain verses I pondered over several times and found to be exquisite. Certain verses I skimmed over, unable to grasp the meaning and the vocabulary.

There is no rush. I am confident that with time, further layers, the entire depth of the text will reveal itself to me. As I said, I am comfortable with the knowledge that I know very little.


Languages

All of my South Indian friends speak Hindi. That makes it three languages – their mother tongue, Hindi and English. All three with drastically different scripts, grammars and contexts.

Very, very few of my North Indian friends speak anything other than Hindi and English.

I speak Hindi, Marathi and English. The two are very similar. And since I’m bad with both, it doesn’t really matter.


A World I Cherish

Ideas, and intelligent people.

What is intelligence? In a nutshell – creativity. The capacity to entertain an independent thought.

A world where ideas and intelligence rule, where conversation and sharing flows freely. Where these mental stimulations are so overwhelming that human fallacies melt away, identities disappear and only discourse reigns.

You need to have but eyes to see…


The Compromised Scholar

A Sanskrit verse that I learnt in school said – “The Father is worshipped in his house, the village-head in his village, the King in his kingdom;  but the scholar is worshipped everywhere.”

Such are not the times we live in. Standards of intellectual integrity have nose-dived. Each scholar (true or self-proclaimed) has a personal axe to grind and will stick to the values he or she shouts from rooftops only as long as it remains convenient to do so.

Homo Homini Lupus – Man is a Wolf to Man.