Category Archive: Miscellaneous


I came across a very well written and comprehensive article which deals with an issue that I have also been interested in. It is an issue which seems to be getting a pass in the popular discourse even though whose repercussions, in my opinion, will be tremendous not too far in the future. Many of the effects can already be felt. The issue is one of the steadily creeping and all engulfing reach of technology in our daily lives and the effect it has in the short and the slightly longer term. By technology I refer not only to all the different gadgets that we use everyday but also to the sinister grip of algorithms which drives so much of our current lives from behind the scenes.

It is clear to me that the short term effect of this increasing technological reach is positive but it is positive only in the sense that the effect of a narcotic is positive. It provides increasing comforts on an individual level but for every comfort that it provides, I cannot help but feel that a longer term nail is also sharpened and readied, to eventually be used to close the lid on the literal and metaphoric coffin. A case in point is Uber but there is nothing special about it as the tech industry in general will faithfully follow the story. Uber makes it exceedingly easy to hire a taxi through a smartphone and it is, therefore, not surprising that it has zealous, almost fanatical, support among the many who use it. That it tramples over the existing taxi services not through direct competition but mainly by avoiding regulations is conveniently overlooked by its supporters. "Evolution of transportation", "inevitable disruption", and other similar revolutionary phrases are heard coming from the doyens of silicon valley and their rabid followers. Uber may very well be the future but let's not deceive ourselves by thinking that a fair game is being played. Let's also not be under the delusion that the shared economy of which Uber is, in some sense, the flag bearer will be a benevolent one. Uber, like many other services, is amassing huge amounts of money which will only be used to push those very users who use it out of a livelihood. Today it is the taxi drivers but in the not too distant future it will be the Uber drivers who so enthusiastically support it. This is already evident by the significant research investment that Uber has made in self-driving cars. In the larger perspective the people who so vocally champion the tech companies of today (Uber, Google, Apple etc.) will eventually be pushed aside. This turn of events would be humorous if only it was not so tragic and ironical because, in a sense, humanity is digging its own grave. We are not only parting with our privacy today but we are actually parting with our tomorrow. It's bad enough without even mentioning the other elephant in the room which is fed by tech, surveillance, and the philosophical degeneration of such deep ideas as freedom that it leads to.

I don't think there is a large scale solution to this because the collective foresight is too short, the collective resolve too weak, and the collective greed too high. Perhaps all one can do is to rebel in a small personal way and I find it not hard at all to cultivate the dislike which must form the basis of it. I dislike groups and I hate their homogenized thinking and there has not been a greater and a more brutal homogenizing influence than the ascension of tech.



... you look around and every street, every boulevard, is its own special art form and when you think that in the cold, violent, meaningless universe that Paris exists (!)...

-Midnight in Paris

I was here for a conference and this being my first time in Europe, I took a bit of my time out to explore the city, to walk along some of its utterly pretty streets and boulevards. First things first. Eiffel tower would have been tolerable had it not been swamped by a crazed army of selfie stick wielding tourists. They descend from packed buses and they emerge from underground metros in vast droves, their phones ready to snap up their photos as the tower serves merely as a puny framing device to their massive narcissism. Questionable merchandise is being peddled to them and they walk around with sad plastic replicas of the tower. It's all a bit much but even without these pesky selfie maniacs I think I would not have been impressed with the tower. It's a useless heap of steel and I have seen bigger heaps where one can actually live.


Paris's other great attraction, the mighty Notre-Dame, is a different matter altogether. I was living not too far from it and had the chance of visiting it at various hours. During most of the day it suffers from the same disease that the tower suffers from - too many people who are not really interested in it but only in how they look with it in the background. However, I woke up one morning at 5:30 (jetlag) and walked over to the Notre-Dame. I was alone there for a good hour and a half and had the time to admire the intricate sculptural details on its arches - from its various stone statues to its many miniature castles no two of which appeared to be similar, from its flying angels to its ominous gargoyles. From the inside, its towering prayer hall is awe-inspiring as the morning Sun filters down through its high and mighty stained glass windows in solid columns of light. The hall is vast and and immensely tall, it is dark and mysterious, every little sound echoes endlessly within it and transforms it into a complex organism with a life and a memory of its own. Each echo reverberates and recreates and reaches deep into its 1000 year history and brings back sensations drenched in the characters of the structure itself - their essence is one of dark and cold stone and of gruff and penetrating sermons. To think that those stones were laid down by people 900 years ago, that for all this time innumerable people with their own dreams and insecurities have visited this place and derived a sense of strength! I found the following lines particularly notable:

Each year, fourteen million visitors from around the world enter through the portals of Notre-Dame, this masterpiece of Gothic architecture. Yet the cathedral is more than just an historic monument: it is, above all else, "the house of God and the house of man" - alive with faith and prayer and filled with Christian and human experience alike. The cathedral is witness to the life of the People of God, of the radiance of their charity, of their fervent hope.

Readers probably know that I have no faith but it does not mean that I have no heart either.

From the very little experience I had in this city, I feel that Parisians (and French in general perhaps) have figured out some basic ideas of life better than others. They seem to enjoy the various little pleasures that life provides, none of which has much to do with wealth. When not working they lounge about in various public spaces, reading books and chatting with friends. The public spaces themselves have been designed with beauty in mind and are often created around sculptures and buildings with deep historical reach. It probably gives them an invaluable perspective on life, on how to enjoy their ephemeral moment under the Sun. In a public square I saw a bunch of kids playing football and it was the happiest part of my trip since it reminded me of my own childhood back in India and also made me aware of how rare the sight is in the US. In a space of about 50 feet by 100 feet, around 40 kids of all ages were jostling for 6 different footballs. Some fell down, got injured, cried their hearts out, and began playing again. The youngest ones were probably 6 years old and the oldest were around 15. I could make out micro-dynamics which necessarily appear when kids of different ages get together. Some bullying by the older ones, some elderly treatment as well, hesitation and a little fear in the young kids, all part of life and not once did any grown up interfere in any of it. To think that I have never seen such an elemental display of childhood in my 10 years in the US is shocking and also says something about the society there. I think it is safe to say that a child growing up in the urban parts of America has, on average, been dealt a very bad hand. Thanks to their manic and overprotective parents he/she will never know what it means to be a child and will grow up with an unrealistic understanding of reality.

I hope that what I have seen in my limited time in Paris is symptomatic of the larger culture because it is mostly very good. Others stand to learn a lot from the French and it is more, much more, than merely good food.

I have met many different kinds of people with a host of different characteristics which they are endowed with and with a variety of different faces that they are trying to put up. There are flaws that they are insecure about and I can often make out these insecurities. It is not hard to do as the essential personality signatures of these insecurities are repeated with great uniformity by people who might, on the surface, appear very different and otherwise confident. Any reasonably observant person should be able to make them out. I am not interested in the faces people put up, merely in their flawed and insecure and honest selves, not necessarily seeing the sum total of these flaws as something for me to feel good about but because I am interested in the existence of a colorful world, one which is not polluted by perfection, whatever that ideal may be. The nature and degree of flaws and strengths differ in different people but there is one trait which I have found in every single person that I have met. Again the degree of this trait has differed from person to person and depends very much on the culture to which he/she belongs but it has existed nevertheless in everyone I have met.

Everyone wants others to be like them in some deep way, to do the things that they have done, to make similar decisions when confronted with similar choices in life, to follow the essential principles that they have followed. This tendency is very logical and very surprising at the same time. The logicality results from the superficial understanding that people have some vague idea that their lives have turned out okay and that these general principles can be applied by others to get similar and desired (?) results. However, I don't think this is very true. It is at least not the full story. I think the stronger drive here is insecurity. I think people need external validation that the choices that they have made were good and one way to make that validation is to convince others to make the same choices. It is undeniably true in my experience that those who are truly happy have the least desire to convince others to be like them. It is only those who are deeply conflicted, who are not sure whether they are, on balance, contented or not, who live with a very gray version of reality and are not ready to accept that they do actually live in such a complicated fashion, it is only those who want others to be like them, and in precisely the ways which has led them to their dissatisfied states. The tendency to preach, to give unsolicited and general advice, to expect others to be like oneself, is, to me, mostly driven by deep inadequacy and a distinct lack of a sense of self and of self-respect. But everyone suffers from it to different degrees. If I may say so, Indians suffer from it more gravely than Americans, conservatives suffer from it more than liberals, old people more than young, and religious people more than atheists (although atheists are catching up!). But these are very broad brushstrokes.

This tendency is also surprising to me at some level. I have no doubt that people are not considering the possibility that it is their own insecurities which might be driving them to behave in the manner that they do. I am convinced that in wanting others to be like them, these people really do feel that they have something objectively good to share, that there is something really worth emulating in the way that they have lived. I am incredibly surprised by the surety of this assumption especially when I consider the situations of those who are most ready to display this tendency. It is hard enough to be sure on very specific matters in science but to be so sure in the vague domains of life! How is such surety possible unless one is actively involved in deluding oneself?

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.