Category Archive: Miscellaneous

Payoji Mainein

Some of my most beautiful memories from my childhood are those of waking up in the mornings of weekends to the tunes of certain Hindu devotional songs that my mother used to listen to while she went around her daily morning ritual of cleaning up the house and preparing for breakfast. Some tunes, called bhajans in this case, have made an incredibly deep impression on me and, as I discovered today, they still have the kind of power of transporting me to my past which is simply unavailable through any other means. Music of a certain kind contains within it that elusive key to my past which I can never seem to grasp during moments of coherence and control. Some specific tunes are simply made of nostalgia, built up, as it were, completely of beautifully chosen moments from crisp winter mornings when I used to wake up rubbing my eyes to the sights of fine columns of Sun pouring in through the window and to the intoxicating smell of semolina being cooked in ghee.

I was listening to, among other bhajans, the brilliant rendition of Payoji Mainein by the ever sonorous Lata as I felt being transported to a time far separated from the present. In that moment of, for lack of a better word, clarity, I realized something which I had not realized earlier, at least not with the same force. In the great debate between religion and atheism I have always, and without hesitation, taken the side of religion, even though I can only describe myself as an atheist. In that moment I felt what an incredible loss it is to lose the ability to have faith. This conclusion has been a consistent conclusion of mine for some time now but seldom have I realized it with the same kind of gravity. That tune, with its aching beauty and with the immense weight of culture that it carries on its shoulders with such effortless grace, stands mockingly in contrast with the ugly, shambolic, and bitter structures of reason. So while I may be cursed with knowledge I still lay claim to some morsels of my own humanity. And that humanity allows and forces me to vote for beauty over mere process. And to the modern and proud flag bearers of reason and science, I can only offer my perplexity. That they are proud and not miserable can only mean one thing; they don't understand their terrible predicament yet.

V Day

This is something new on this forum. Here are some thoughts of mine on the 14th of Feb, on the significance of this day for me. In short I don't care at all about it and cannot understand what the fuss is about. I don't necessarily discount the essential emotions to which it refers, although I do think that we make too much of them. I do, however, have severe reservations against the commercial nature of it and against the general expectations which come with it.

Let's begin with the latter and destroy some fake romantic ideas here. This is yet another day which has been designed so that you will be subconsciously compelled to buy shit. Like Christmas, new year's, mother's day, friendship day, this is just another day to squeeze out a little more from your wallets. The feeling behind it, although may be seen as noble by itself, nevertheless merely ends up getting cynically used up by the market forces. Since almost everybody around you is consumed by the madness of valentine's day, you feel compelled to join in as well. The social expectations end up forcing you to do things that you might not have done by yourself. But there is a very high probability that that is your entire life anyway so I won't dwell upon it too much.

Then comes my other objection to this special day but before I state my objection I should mention the following. I think in life it is important to strive to be happy and one of the sure shot ways of successfully going about it is finding a well adjusted human being, with whom one has some things in common, as a companion. And on finding such a person, compromising, if need be, on pretty much all other expectations because they are not important. The current dating climate fails these simple rules on two accounts. First, a distinct lack of well adjusted human beings in society. It seems that nutcases are running wild crashing into other nutcases in bars and on dating websites and apps (like chickens running around with their heads cut off; if you've seen one you'd understand the apt and inspired comparison). Second, the culture of compromising, settling for what one has, and not always being in search of something better, is slowly dying away with the passing of a generation which didn't just sit around on its ass over-analyzing its love life. Nutcases + greed, that's the perfect recipe for long term dissatisfaction. And this day plays very well on these two shortcomings of the modern society. This day helps to create a vile and devious fiction, that one's love life is extremely important. This day is the distillation of Sex in the City kind of message and idiots get easily taken in by it. But then that's the main purpose of idiots in this world anyway, to get taken in by various fictions.

I ultimately have a soft corner for a certain mix of feelings that one might have towards another person but it is most definitely a mix of feelings. In that mix lies romantic attraction but it is not the most important one. I think respect is equally, if not more, important. Respect not in some vague charitable sense but respect earned properly and honestly through the manifestation of some concrete qualities. So while one can be romantically attracted to all sorts of people of questionable worth, the requirement of respect serves to separate the melody from the noise, the worthy from the riff-raff. In fact, the all too many stories of the various travails of people hopelessly in love fills my heart not with any sympathy for them but with contempt. Pure love, they say, is blind and they are right. It is also contemptible and thoroughly deserving of the misery it so often inspires. Inasmuch as Valentine's day might celebrate this balanced, restrained, and stable vision of happiness and love, I will support it. I don't think it does though.

Morbidity of Facebook

There is much that is ghastly about social media in general and Facebook in particular but the one aspect which really gives me the cancer is how happy everybody is there. There is a certain kind of happy person who is thoroughly insufferable. One who is never angry or sad or mean. And it seems everybody on Facebook is that insufferable person. There was a time when the number of people whom I had not unfollowed was still in the double digits but that was a time of great personal agony for me. I was continuously swamped with ridiculous photos of people trying to one up each other in a surreal contest of idiocy. Lovingly shot photos of delicately arranged food, adrenaline fueled selfies of people jumping off of airplanes, a relentless barrage of mediocre self-promotion, people in various stages of inebriation among large groups of friends with smiles too wide and teeth too white, lukewarm brain droppings of questionable merit posed in sentences which try to make the thought appear deeper than it really is, a general presence of too much communality and too little individuality. And the final issue is not accidental. Individuality must suffer when the primary purpose of one's presence is to fit in. When I meet people in the real world I can still see in them that other half of the human nature which has been suppressed so brutally in social media. The part that is slightly devious and politically incorrect and vile. Combined with the courage to accept this vileness as one's own, I see a real human being in them with real emotions and real worth. On the other hand what does one find on social media? If the media is anonymous (reddit) then we find people who behave like uncivilized animals and if the media is not anonymous (facebook) we find  useless robots who are only too eager to be nice and well meaning. They acknowledge other robots of their kind with similar expressions of fake happiness and lukewarm ideas which are at just the right temperature to not be offensive to anybody. Mildly pleasing and ultimately well meaning always and, therefore, absolutely worthless. There's no meaningful concept of light in the absence of the idea of dark and my primary beef with social interaction of the kind that I see on Facebook is that the black has been removed from the personalities of its robotic denizens. I can't remember the last time anybody posted about being angry or sad or hopeless. It would be a depressing world where these emotions were removed like they seem to have been online. After all, much of the beauty that humans have created over their history in the form of music, painting, poetry, and literature is based not on happiness but on sadness. But I think we are entering just such a world where these valuable emotions are being pushed under the rug, if not consciously then subconsciously, and our online discourse is as much a symptom of this malaise as a driving force.

Well I don't face the personal agony I described above anymore when I visit Facebook. Looks like the only people I haven't unfollowed are those who are too cynical to post anything and/or have a real life. Just like me. I rather prefer the real world and I still take solace in the fact that in the real world people can still snap out of their online morbidity after a little poking. And that they can still share a human moment together where they reveal themselves, like I do, to be slightly but refreshingly unsympathetic, vile, askew, hopeless, and angry.

The Impudence of Naivety

Indeed, there is nothing more vexing, for instance, than to be rich, of respectable family, of decent appearance, of rather good education, not stupid, even kind, and at the same time to have no talent, no particularity, no oddity even, not a single idea of one's own , to be decidedly "like everybody else." There is wealth, but not a Rothschild's; an honorable family, but which has never distinguished itself in any way; a decent appearance, but very little expression; a proper education, but without knowing what to apply it to; there is intelligence, but with no ideas of one's own; there's a heart, but with no magnanimity etc. etc., in all respects. There are a great many such people in the world and even far more than it seems; they are divided, as all people are, into two main categories: one limited, the other "much cleverer." The first are happier. For the limited "usual" man, for instance, there is nothing easier than to imagine himself an unusual and original man and to revel in it without any hesitation. As soon as some of our young ladies cut their hair, put on blue spectacles, and called themselves nihilists, they became convinced at once that, having put on the spectacles, they immediately began to have their own "convictions." As soon as a man feels in his heart just a drop of some sort of generally human and kindly feeling for something or other, he immediately becomes convinced that no one else feels as he does, that he is in the forefront of general development. As soon as a man takes some thought or other at its word or reads a little page of something without beginning or end, he believes at once that these are "his own thoughts" and were conceived in his own brain. The impudence of naivety, if one may put it so, goes so far in such cases as to be astonishing; all this is incredible, but one meets with it constantly. This impudence of naivety, this stupid man's unquestioningness of himself and his talent, is excellently portrayed by Gogol in the astonishing type of Lieutenant Pirogov...

-From The Idiot (Dostoevsky)

Jog on

I came across an article on Nytimes about some new study which has found that the optimal time that one must jog in order to live a long life is lesser than one might expect. While women in yoga pants and bros in shorts have been sacrificing themselves at the altar of fitness for tens of hours every week, it turns out they only need to do so for around 2 and a half hours. Being a reasonable person, this new study is extremely concerning to me. I fear that if these people end up taking the advice of the article seriously, they'll  hang around in this world longer than now. Are we as a society okay with such a grave repercussion? I mean, what are these people doing in this world anyway? They take in the energy which has been laboriously created by plants and animals over months and years and they immediately convert it to waste heat. No value addition whatsoever. They are the bluntest of examples of the futility of human life. There is no shorter route from order to disorder than these people. The second law of thermodynamics is being accelerated by them.

There was a short amount of time when I ran but I wised up soon enough. I hated it which is what I think is the predominant feeling of most who run in order not to get fat. I figured that in life I'll make a bargain. I'd rather chill out till the age of 60 and die (if not running does shorten my life) than choose to live miserably every day till the age of 85. This is why I haven't jumped on the many bandwagons that these health nuts tend to do. And although I don't smoke, I have respect for an honest and proud smoker. Not for one of those ridiculous people who smokes those e-cigarettes but those who smoke the real stuff. I'm sure they love it and the most dedicated of them have probably made a similar bargain in life. A bargain that has never been more clearly explained than by the great Bill Hicks himself. I really hope that if this study is right (I have my doubts, I mean what is an exercise scientist anyway?) then it gets ignored by these joggers. For the greater good.

Good and Bad

It's going to be ten years this August since I moved to the US and I think this is a respectable amount of time in which to begin understanding the psyche of a culture. I believe that as an essential outsider I have naturally had better tools to evaluate this culture than a person who was born and brought up within it. I have always had a reference point with which to compare, and a supremely good one at that in the form of the Indian culture. I don't mean to say that the Indian culture is perfect, or even very good, but it acts as a nice counterpoint to the American one by virtue of being fundamentally different. If I were to think about what is one thing which is great about the American culture and what is one thing that is ridiculous, what would the answer be?

I think the greatest thing about this culture is the freedom to choose and the fact that at their very hearts people here do take that as a sacred principle. This freedom is almost always dormant and hidden away but it is ultimately there. One can choose and one will not face the kind of social, economic, or political repercussions that they might in other places. On the scale of the severity of repercussions, I think the middle eastern countries, along with China and Russia, lie at the bottom, with Asian countries like India, and Latin American countries somewhere in the middle, European countries with Australia and Canada above them and ultimately a distant second to the US. It might appear that countries like Canada are better than the US in this regard but that would be a mistake in judgment as they derive their sense of freedom essentially from the British idea and the British idea is not nearly as free as the American one. One example is the existence and strict enforcement of the first amendment in the US whose analogue surprisingly doesn't exist in Britain. I think it is safe to say that the this culture, more than any other culture, respects individual freedom and tolerates dissenting opinion.

The worst thing about this culture also emerges from the freedom it provides. At the very basic level it is an obsessive inward looking tendency and I think it is made possible because the culture tolerates an infinity of narratives, some of them naturally being more supportive of a particular kind of malaise. There is an obsession with the self and the ridiculous idea that I matter and that my issues are important. I never found, and still do not find, this obsession in India nearly to the extent that I find it here. In India people are, in general, in much worse situations but they have no other option but to face life and to get on with it. But in the US I find whole industries devoted to legitimizing and feeding the issues of people with regard to their own self. I don't mean to trivialize the real issues which some people, I am sure, face but on their coattails ride entire hoards of people who obsess about their physical, economic, spiritual, and sexual well-being and who, had they been in a less prosperous country, would have merely been told to stop whining and being a general pest. I think this obsession has deeper roots. It emerges from a fundamental emptiness of meaning, of purpose, of real relationships, of the sense of one's place in this world, and, more importantly, from an intense reluctance to face the dim truth with honesty. In this instance India is a brilliant demonstration of the capital T truth, that the I doesn't matter and the world will hum along nicely enough without bothering about the I.

Science as the new God

There are many good things one can say about the effects of a century of science on life in general, including a better standard of living on average, longer lifespans, perhaps even peace between nations. However, there is one aspect of it against which reasonable arguments can be made. The scientific attitude is supposed to be one of deep skepticism and relentless doubt but science itself has inculcated in the general masses, curiously enough, an utter morbidity of thought, a complete surrender of skepticism. It has ushered in a whole generation which celebrates everything it associates with science with the exact same devotion as is expected of a religious person. Science has silenced debate even in areas where its grip is still too weak and its mad worship has completely undermined such fruitful activities as the liberal arts. It has made the idea of a well rounded human being who can think on his own and argue, a total anachronism. With its reductionist tendencies, science has created what are essentially robots who seem to think in similarly fragmented, hyper-specialized, broken ways and who are only too eager to appeal to borrowed arguments from authority. The result is a population which seems to have lost its sense of all that is human in this world, the grayness of issues, the lack of clear blacks and whites, the idea that we still live in a world where, when all is said and done and strictly speaking, nothing can be proven as a surety and which is why it is still of use to learn from diverse sources.

I think the idea that there either already exists some scientific explanation to our question or that there will be one one day is a dangerous one because it allows us to shift the responsibility of thinking about it to someone else and to some other time. We are, once again, throwing our lot and our hopes with an external authority. We have done it time and time again with different gods but this time the God is Science. It's the latest agency to say to us, believe in me, I'm right. At this point I want to clarify that I have the utmost respect for the true scientific attitude. My problem is with how science is seen in the current society, as the last word in all matters, as something worth groveling against. And this is not an accident but the unintended consequence of the narrow-minded and idiotic efforts of such scientists as Dawkins.

Young and Old

Dorian Gray is one of those books which I found unusually striking at the time when I read it. Wilde had completely turned the traditional way of looking at things on its head and illuminated to me a philosophy which was at once seductive and rebellious. I have since come to take the aesthetic philosophy espoused in that book with a grain of salt but there is infinitely more to be learned from the failures of great men than from the successes of small ones. Wilde failed eventually at his own philosophy. He died in penury, alone, and what is to me the most heartbreaking negation of his own life, lost to the mystical and mediocre ideas of Western religion. If only he had died headstrong and rebellious his philosophy could be taken much more seriously. Still, I find the crux of Dorian Gray as illuminating now as I found it then. I find it brimming with the potential for further thought.

The central thesis of the book is that in this world the one thing worth having is youth and wisdom is what old people like to call their absolute surrender to life's inexorable web which closes in on each and every one of us. I think this thesis is pretty spot on and this is what this little post is about. If there's one argument which opens and shuts the case for youth, it is that young people find it easy to be happy. Sneering and cynical people on the wrong side of 25 ascribe this to inexperience and a general lack of responsibility and they are correct. But so what if at the end of the day someone is happy? Of course, the youth of today would grow up and join the ranks of the cynical old people and the cycle would continue. This, therefore, is an argument precisely in support of youth and not of those who are young. There's nothing special about those who are young as they will be, in general, condemned to the same misery in a few years time. Youth likes to think that it has a special grip on reality, a special understanding of the age. This is, thankfully, never true. I say thankfully because such an understanding, if it existed, would be built on very superficial foundations, and because this arrogance is precisely what gives youth its happiness, abandon, and attraction. As people grow old their edges are blunted by circumstances, they are bruised, broken, and battered by life's many pulls. This lost man (or woman) finds it difficult to see his utter surrender honestly in the face and invents a fiction and a euphemism. He calls it experience. I don't say that this experience is useless but it is nothing more than his weak attempts in the face of the incredible forces of life and it signifies the loss of a precious quality, of the happiness which comes so naturally to youth. Old age deals with it in the only way it knows how, by belittling youth through the labels shallow and superficial, by aggrandizing its own follies not as something which is inevitable but as something which is desirable, and by turning its face away from the one truth here, that there exists a deep seated jealousy in the hearts of those who have thus surrendered against those who have not yet had to. Old age waits in vengeful anticipation, knowing that the young will turn into them soon enough, that they will soon enough be smoothed by the sandpaper of experience. The man with such conventional experience, to me, is a broken person and there is very little that is attractive about him. There is even less to learn from him because his ideas are not his own but are owned by the group to which he belongs. Even his surrender is not his own. He surrenders in a completely conventional fashion, devoid of any story, any brilliance. He surrenders in a way which is expected of him by the community, meekly and subserviently.

This brings us full circle. Wilde's ideas in Dorian Gray are those of a man drunk on youth and arrogance. While flawed, they do point honestly to the truth. His eventual surrender is unfortunate and serves only as a reminder, at least to me, that his later ideas need not be taken seriously.

Lenovo x240 sucks

This post is in part a tirade against a specific Lenovo laptop and in part the illumination of a general rule of thumb. Lenovo's Thinkpad x240 is supposed to be a high end, professional laptop and being that it is from the glorious Thinkpad line, it is supposed to be a highly reliable machine. I purchased one in February last year and it died today. I'll need to send it in for repair and I'm sure they'll fix it but if one pays north of a grand and a half for a laptop, one expects it to not cop out in less than a year. This is not the only problem that I have had with this laptop but it is the one which has pushed me beyond the edge and forced me to write this.

I don't completely blame Lenovo here. They are merely a symptom of a deeper malaise: the absolute crapness of new technology and how it produces disposable objects which are lacking in quality and durability. It does produce shiny objects with tons of features that nobody needs. It produces objects of desire which send people insane periodically and leaves them salivating as they peruse them in shop windows and on websites. Have you seen their dead fixated eyes as they drool over that latest and greatest gadget or that expensive dress? What are they purchasing from all that money that they have painstakingly accumulated working too many hours at jobs which completely suck the life out of them? They buy fancy, expensive shit and then they buy more fancy, expensive shit to go with what they bought earlier and to protect their earlier shit. A good example is a phone. Nobody needs all the features of the modern phone except in case if they expressly desire to turn into walking zombies. But they go to terrible lengths, including signing up years of their life on contracts or paying ridiculous sums of money up front, to buy what are essentially higher meaningless numbers. More pixels, bigger screens, faster processors, more RAM. And then they use it all essentially to fire up facebook and share on it the ridiculous selfies they have taken or their mindnumbing photos of food. Nobody needs 3 GB of RAM for photos of food! But there they have it, all that power and all that shiny metal and shiny screen and it all needs to be protected now with a case which must be as nice and fancy as the phone it protects. The phone breaks down in a couple of years because it packed all those extra functionality which nobody needed in the first place but which provided more points of possible failure. And the cycle starts again. More hours at a dead job, more salivation, more desire for higher numbers, a new phone, a new case, a couple of years of life, ad infinitum.

I am writing this on a HP laptop that I bought many years ago for 300 bucks. It has never failed me and has given me absolutely no issues. With this 1 data point, I'd like to extrapolate a bit. All fancy, expensive things suck. They suck because they are fussy and because they are liable to failure in more ways than a simpler alternative is. And they suck at a deeper level. Nobody needs them but everybody wants them and they sell their life and soul in their eternal pursuit. It's a rotten business inside and out.

Liberty or Equality

I have, of late, become fascinated with trying to understand the American experiment in the context of my Indian upbringing. In this quest I have seen myself moving past the simplistic logic of people like Jon Stewart on the left and Bill O'Reilly on the right, and on to some real heavyweights of thought and logic. In this quite different plane lie people like Charles Krauthammer and Noam Chomsky. The former has a very high regard for the principles that America stands for and believes that the principles are honorable enough so as to deserve a kind of state proselytizing. This is the traditional logic and the beginning assumption of those who are identified as conservatives in this country. Chomsky, on the other hand, thinks that American exceptionalism is nothing but yet another ruse to keep people in line. In other words, he thinks that it's an efficient strategy of control and, therefore, there is nothing inherently honorable about it. Both agree at a very deep level, at the question of liberty which is enshrined in the American idea. Krauthammer seems to think that that idea of personal liberty gives America a special place under the Sun which is worth fighting for and Chomsky thinks that that idea of personal liberty is lost precisely when such an argument is made because it sets in motion systems which are much more powerful, much more omniscient than a puny individual. An individual is hopelessly deluded and lost within a machinery vastly more complicated than he can comprehend. Both have very good points and arguments and one can appreciate either side when one begins with the understanding that the fundamental axiomatic assumptions on either side of the debate are essentially arbitrary.

This line of thought led me to the question of liberty vs. equality, because these ideas are inherently at odds with each other. America was founded on the principle of liberty and equality was, in my opinion, added half-heartedly under the influence of Christianity. Still, the society here never seems to have taken equality very seriously and has, more or less, only ever paid lip service to the concept. With the decline of Christianity it appears that the sorry effort at trying to establish equality will also fade away because the arguments of equality from a non-religious point of view are very hard to justify. After all, why should people be equal if they were not created equal by a God? Equality, from a non-religious point of view, must necessarily take a subservient position to freedom. This is how it works in evolution and this is the inherent nature of human beings under evolution. Interestingly enough, while Christianity taught the equality of all people and this is how it affected the American experiment, Hindu philosophy taught the inequality of people through Manu-smriti and led to the establishment of the caste system. Under modern standards of behavior though, this centuries old set of principles is now being challenged. Indians are now being dragged, screaming and kicking, into contemporary expectations of modernity. What do I think? I think that the Hindu philosophy deserves credit for being so ruthlessly logical and for those who are immediately offended by this statement, I'd like to ask them to really think about where they derive their own justifications. I think liberty and inequality are the founding facts of life. These are principles which do not contradict each other and in fact are two sides of the same coin. But the society that they would give rise to would be an unpleasant one for all but the luckiest. This one sees in the Indian experiment and how incredible discrimination was dished out to so many for such a long time. Therefore, equality, as sort of an arbitrary principle and in an ad-hoc way, needs to be imposed on society for it to become reasonably pleasant. Indians are trying to do it and it is right and proper for them in the current age. However, there is a cost involved in this transformation and it should be kept in mind.