The last four months have been deeply interesting, politically speaking. The last year, which featured the great Brexit drama on the other side of the pond, along with the coming years which will feature, among many unforeseeable issues I am sure, the French elections and further fissures in the EU resulting from the banking crises in Italy and Germany and the relentless unemployment in the southern European countries, may very well turn out to be the defining moments of the World in this century. One might look at the current political climate and shake their heads in bewilderment, but the general outline of how the events have unfolded appear, at least to me, more or less logical and capable of being explained. I think there are two main lines of thoughts with which to wrap one's head around these.

The first is economic and the main culprit here is technology. It is no secret that there is a deep economic aspect to the rise of nationalistic sentiments in the US and Europe. The manufacturing jobs have been decimated in these places, a phenomenon which has been accompanied by the hollowing out of entire towns, cities, cultural institutions, and ways of life. I refuse to take seriously the argument that the reason is the outsourcing of jobs to places like China. The argument, if true at all, only serves to delay what is truly inevitable. And the inevitability is the replacement of all or most of human labor by technology and automation. This is the reason why Trump will not be able to bring back a majority of the jobs which have been lost and this is the reason that contemporary economic nationalism is fundamentally misguided if it believes that the world can return to some sunny day in the past when there were good paying jobs galore which provided a sure shot way into a decent middle class life. The future is most certainly one of decreasing human jobs. It will also be one of increasing inequality unless something is done about it. That literally nothing has been done about this eventuality is a major reason why we have the current political climate. It is time to ditch the idiot who continues to insist that there is something inherently worthy about hard-work and that one's right to live comfortably should be linked to it. It is time to take concepts like Universal Basic Income seriously.

The second is religious and the culprit is atheism. Even though I am an atheist, I see very little of value in it. In fact, it is my opinion, that the rise of logic and rationality has had an overall deleterious effect on humans. It has destroyed religious institutions and with them it has destroyed the grounding that people could find in the past in the absence of material success and well being. It has created, in Nietzsche's words, the last man, completely defined by market forces. Nietzsche thought that the life of such a man would be akin to death itself. He did not envision what might follow. What has followed is a sense of abundant and wide-spread cultural irony and mockery, a sense that literally nothing is sacred and that nothing is inherently of much value. In the sustained absence of material success and in the most important broken promise of capitalism, a deep cultural desperation has set in and no religious institution is now strong enough to serve as an anchor.

In the economic and religious roots of current social crises, Marx and Nietzsche again loom large in this new century.

There is no doubt in my mind that the people and friends that I met while I was a student at UCSD were, as a group, the most interesting and most formative influence on my personality. My childhood and early youth exist in my mind only in half spoken broken sentences and in heavily patched over tapestries. What should have been the long, dark, and firm shadow of their grip on the succeeding decades of my life is, in reality, stunted, hesitant, and meek. My time in SD, on the other hand, stands as the singular and powerful influencer which is due, in no small part, to the singular characters whom I had the fortune (or misfortune) of befriending there.

There's, for instance, Babaji. The one who was perpetually short on decent clothes and decent hair but who made up for these shortfalls by being supremely passionate about all things outdoors and incredibly sharp, quick witted, and street smart. Stephen Fry once said that a Hungarian is the only man who can follow you in a revolving door and come out first. Over the years I have come to think that this is also the perfect description of Babaji and I am sure that other friends of mine who had the pleasure of interacting with him would agree. To think that this crafty and artful creature began his stint at UCSD with a monumental blunder of the habiliment variety, one which literally relieved him of all his clothes except the ones on his back, reveals to me a truth that I could not otherwise have discerned - that there are creatures smarter and more shrewd than Babaji out there. As humbling and disturbing as that realization is, this incident is more important and significant to me because it is precisely archetypical of Babaji as a unique person. I have known people who had their house burgled and I have known people who had their pockets picked. I have known people in various states of misfortune but I know of nobody else but Babaji who had all their clothes (and nothing else mind you) stolen. That incident became the singular framework for my understanding of him, periodically emphasized, no doubt, by my regularly finding him pottering about in his backyard in his signature red polo T-shirt and black shorts (which, I have always maintained, could have been longer than they actually were).

My friendship with Babaji ran deep and had many facets. Some philosophical, some culinary, but most important of them all was our mutual obsession with the 2-wheeled mode of transportation. I had two successive motorcycles (a yellow Kawasaki Ninja 250 and a blue Yamaha YZF600R) in San Diego and, to my knowledge, I was the first Indian grad student at UCSD during my time to eschew cars in favor of motorcycles - a genius decision in hindsight. Babaji soon followed suit and bought a yellow Suzuki GS500 and thus began a half a decade worth of motorcycling adventures in California, Arizona, Nevada, and Baja California. Almost all of our motorcycling trips ended with either mine or his, but more often his, motorcycle breaking down and they invariably involved the deus-ex-machina intervention of our resident guardian angel, Khatri bhai. But For all the breakdowns in all the random places (Barstow, Mojave desert, Catavina), the memories that I associate with those trips are simply sublime. These include riding non-stop and relentlessly at the redline on those unending Death Valley roads which seemed to continue on to infinity and fall over, vanish beyond the horizon. They include riding at the limit on the fast and sweeping mountain curves in Show Low Arizona. They also include spending the night on the streets of Ensenada as Babaji and I tried to withdraw some money, any money, from the ATMs in order to pay the guy who had hauled his entire family and Babaji's motorcycle on the back of his pick-up truck through 250 miles of Mexican back-country. They include, as well, the harrowing experience of me hauling Babaji on the back of my bike on the heavily trafficked I-15 and in the intense winds of southern Californian mountains. As I was trying to make sure not to veer into the 18-wheelers zooming past, Babaji, I understand, was soaking in the sublime beauty of the endless windmills fields. In that moment when I was doing the hard work he was, as he has often been, supremely serene and happy.

President Elect Trump

Yesterday Trump defied the pollsters and the media at large and pulled off a stunning upset in the general elections. He is the president elect now and will be sworn in as the next president in 2017. Throughout the period of his rise I have felt that there was a sense of inevitability in it. Although I did not expect him to actually win, the Trump phenomenon, per se, didn't ever surprise me. Perhaps the thing that surprised me the most about his rise was the fact that it had not come earlier. It has been 8 years since the great recession, during which time vast swathes of the country have seen its wealth diminish and transferred to the coasts and few urban centers. Politicians, democrats and republicans alike, have paid mere lip service to the plights of the many millions and have used them cynically to their own ends. While people in the great heartlands of America were witnessing their lives disintegrate, politicians, democrats especially, were happy squabbling about non-issues such as the bathrooms that transgender people should use. Are they now surprised that the heartland has just delivered them a swift kick in the nuts? Trump is very much a product of their arrogance and smugness. He is a repudiation of a system which is rotting from inside anyway and in that sense he represents a necessary and welcome correction. It's a system which is defined by a sharp divide between the elites (moneyed, powered, politically connected, media, urban) and the vast common populace (poor, rural or suburban, politically diminished) and in which the former has completely abdicated its own responsibility towards the latter. Not only that. The former looks down upon the latter as ignorant, racist, bigoted, and contemptible. Well guess what. The latter are the majority and they just decided to light up the entire system and have a good old bonfire.

If I could vote I don't think I would have voted for Trump. However, I do think that his victory actually represents something absolutely beautiful and incredibly amazing about the American democratic system. Here is a guy who fought absolutely everything and everybody. This includes almost the entire media establishment and his own political party. He ran a shoddily managed campaign perpetually short on cash and broke every rule in the book. But in the end he beat out the better heeled, better organize, better funded, better connected, and better supported campaign of Hillary Clinton. And he did it purely by the will of the people who supported him so enthusiastically. There is something alive and uplifting about that. In the past I have often made the very common mistake of underestimating Trump. I think now I'll reserve my judgment of the kind of leader he will make. I think there is a good argument one can make that despite everything that he said over the past year and a half, he may end up leading in precisely the kind of way that a classical liberal might have wanted. Not the bullshit liberal of the current democratic party but a true liberal. I can only hope.

I have now met and interacted with enough people in my life that I am hardly ever surprised by new acquaintances. There is a great repetitiveness to conversations and to the lives of people. As far as what goes on in conversations, I might as well predict the general responses and points of views without exchanging a word. People are driven, more than anything else, by their insecurities and they will delude themselves by trying to appear strong, righteous, prim, and proper. They have never committed an evil deed in their lives, at least none that they are sorry for. They have often been unfortunate though. The world has been unfair to them. It is always others who could not understand them, who failed on their stringent standards. Everybody is always right in their own eyes and has always been so. Their delusions are side-splittingly hilarious.

In a conversation I am only ever interested in the subtext. I have heard all the boring details more times than I care for. Yes your kid is the smartest kid that there ever was. We'll see in another 20 years. Yes, you've had a terrible heartbreak. It is still only one in 150 million entirely pedestrian heartbreaks today. A hard day at the job? I get reminded of that image of the malnutritioned child and the vulture in waiting. Devoid, therefore, of either much novelty or any semblance of perspective, I find myself only ever being drawn to the subtext of conversations. Which insecurities are a person trying to dress up? How are they deluding themselves? What fears are they hiding? I'm neither sympathetic to these fears and insecurities nor dismissive of them. I'm merely interested because I have them too. This subtext is the only truly interesting part of people.

Petersburg, Petersburg!

Falling like fog, you have pursued me, too, with idle cerebral play: you are a cruel-hearted tormentor: but you are an unquiet ghost: for years you have attacked me; I too ran through your dreadful prospects [streets], in order to take a flying leap on to this gleaming bridge...

Oh, great bridge, shining with electricity! Oh, green waters, seething with bacilli! I remember a certain fateful moment; over your damp railings I too leant on a September night: a moment - and my body would have flown into the mists.

from Petersburg by Bely

It is a great irony that the time that a person spends being happy and content is precisely the time which is also his least productive, least creative, and least formative. This is not to say that a state of contentment is to be avoided but only that that state may be a fundamental contradiction and an ultimate mirage for a certain kind of person. For a person who sees virtue in instability and darkness, for one who cannot help but observe the degeneration which is implicit in stability. One can get too carried away with this chain of thought and, drunk on the romanticism of mere words and on their revolutionary appeal, undermine the virtues of happiness, contentment, stability, but herein lies the delicate rub, the slender truth pulsating on the whimper of a knife's edge. It points in only one direction, towards only one conclusion. One that I have arrived at time and again and have not been able to escape in my many internal musings. Still.

If for the duration of this post I do put my blinders on, if I do allow myself to be swayed by a lack of balance and good reason, if, and only for a bit, I put aside the final state of cosmic confusion which is my irrevocable destiny, and think about the most formative years of my life, the ones I miss the most in an intellectual sense, they would have to be the last couple of years that I spent in San Diego. Between the Curlew street house and the sixth avenue apartment, at a time when I found myself more alone than most people probably ever will, wandering aimlessly along the streets of Hillcrest and North park, observing silently and hearing from a distance the muffled drone of the business of life, I grew more as a person than I did perhaps in the sum total of all my other years. There was nowhere to go and often nobody to see and the days would roll off one after another with the kind of rigidity and purposelessness which is the very embodiment of life itself. Time, it now feels, both slithered away too quickly and stood motionless for an unbearable eternity. In hindsight I see those years as being deeply crucial. As a person I was essentially half-formed before them and I thought that I knew everything. I came out of those years thinking that there is nothing to know in a very deep sense. I also came out of those years dismissive of the "knowledge" of others. Those who have never struggled alone simply have nothing worthwhile to say. They speak exclusively in platitudes and their lives are but ridiculous carbon copies of each other.

Deliverance from a smartphone

So I recently took the plunge that I had been musing about for the last six months - replacing my current smartphone, a comparatively modest Moto E, with a phone that does just two things - call and text. In other words, a return to a dumb-phone. I see this step as another one in a long line of steps which have all been aimed at my eventual goal of wresting back my autonomy, freedom, and sanity from the madhouse that is the modern connected world. This long line has included other steps such as quitting social networks such as Facebook and deactivating digital personal assistants but the overarching emphasis has always been to rely less and less on those modern tools which adversely affect some human qualities which I deem worthy of preserving in myself. I think that people are too connected nowadays, to the extent that it is psychologically damaging. It has become far too easy to compare oneself to a very large social circle and such relentless comparisons decimate any possibility of a human being's independent conception of himself. They also encourage behavior which induces anxiety - seeking acceptance from those who do not matter in one's life, constantly lying in little ways to appear an ideal vision of oneself in the eyes of others. The constant din of notifications appears to reduce the ability to concentrate and has all but relegated to the pages of history, the ability to introspect and reflect. The result is a human being defined completely in relation to the expectations of others, with no power to resist and no desire to think.

I have wanted no part of this degradation and degeneration. My limited capacities mean that I can only be interested in the lives of a very small number of people. My immediate family and maybe 2 more friends. All the rest is noise and needless distraction to me. There is a real world out there which still responds to my pokes, which still crystallizes into beautiful patterns under the tools of my thoughts. It is a little sad that this world is infested with fools who are constantly staring at their phones but there are better aspects to it still. Animals, for instance!

Brexit

A very interesting development took place yesterday: United Kingdom voted itself out of EU in a general referendum. The Pound fell to its lowest level since 1985 and there was immediate market turmoil the world over. Things will surely take a turn for what will be perceived to be worse directions in the future. Surely EU will suffer more fissures and the UK itself might break up with Scotland wanting to defect. London will find it increasingly hard to remain the financial center of Europe and the isolationist tendencies in France, Netherlands, and the peripheral countries will definitely be emboldened. All of these are repercussions which most would paint as undesirable, however, I do not. I think this is an excellent example of democracy at its best and a necessary correction which was long time coming. This won't be the last such correction either.

I suppose I myself belong to what would be called the intellectual class but I have no sympathies with their projects. Neither do I have any sympathies for the modern centers of power and commerce and most of the smug and self-congratulatory people who proudly call them their homes. Their wealth and comfort has not come at no cost. Entire areas the sizes of nations in both the US and Europe have been decimated in the process and with them the lives of simple people. Now I am not foolish enough to think that there was ever an alternative to the way things have progressed. Once you drink the cool-aid of neoliberalism, as the world did, the essential repercussions follow. Job losses through Increased automation and easier immigration policies, decimation of local competitiveness through easier trade, increasing centralization of economic activity, and of course increasing inequality. The benefits of neoliberalism are diffused (cheaper products) but its evils are concentrated (job losses in specific communities). What annoys me most, however, is the sheer arrogance of those who have won in this economic climate in expecting those who have lost to accept their lot quietly, to go down without even a fight. The former expect the latter to simply genuflect against their own "superior" and self-serving logic. The hypocrisy is breathtaking which is why I love the swift kick in the nuts which has been delivered to the elites in the UK and Europe.

It will be unfortunate if a similar thing happens in the US but not because the pain of the analogous American class is any less legitimate. It's because Trump who is their standard bearer is a self-serving fool and a bumbling idiot. Still, in the name of fairness and consistency, I'd understand if it does come to pass. If I was in the position of the millions who find themselves out of job and livelihood because their jobs have been given to cheap labor from outside which, by the way, mostly benefits the owners and shareholders of companies, I'd also exercise the one power that I have remaining: the right to vote. I suspect that I would also, in such a circumstance, be driven to options which leave everybody worse off. It's a perfectly rational response by those whose lot could not be any worse anyway. And the blame for this behavior lies squarely at the feet of the smug elites who not only robbed many of their prosperity but also delegitimized their suffering by portraying them unfairly as racist, ignorant, and bigoted merely for pointing out the obvious reasons of their plight.

Since my parents are visiting, I have been doing something that I hardly ever do - listening to Indian news channels. I generally find myself cut off from Indian news, of which I am not proud, but I am quite okay with not listening to the "news" which these channels have. The list of my grievances is long but they are certainly not particular to Indian news channels. I suspect that most (but not all) parts of the American news channels such as Fox, CNN, MSNBC are similarly garbage. However, till now I have not been able to find the non-garbage parts of the Indian news channels. Perhaps they exist -little unappreciated islands of good analysis and intelligent conversations in a vast stinking sea of loudmouths, idiots, ideologues and charlatans. Perhaps I have mentioned it before on this blog - there is nothing that I hate more than a group with an agenda. This includes but is not limited to groups based on religions, political affiliations, sexual orientations, environmental activism, and atheism. I detest how these groups completely consume an individual to the point where there is no individuality, no independent thinking left. There is hardly a human being left. All thought is reduced to "group positions" at which point all debate becomes soulless and automatic - fit only for a subhuman specie.

This is exactly how I find the news channels. Their entire effort appears to be to distill the world through a lens of their choice for the easy digestion of their non-thinking audience. The people obviously love it all because they are not too different from those who cheered in the Roman Coliseum not too long ago. In a group they find it easy to shed the thin veneer of civilization and turn into barbarians and savages, baying for the blood of those who belong to the other group. Convinced of the rightness of their own positions, they shout down those who disagree with them, feeling within them, I suspect, rage and animosity based only upon what is often just a difference of opinion. All while the news channels post increasingly impressive viewer ratings and the demagogues which they effectively employ gain power and positions.

It's a grim picture that I paint. Which is why I had taken a leave from all this some time ago. TV is unequivocally trash and social media is also garbage with no exceptions. While the former is a shameful exploitation of people's worst instincts, the latter is built exclusively upon what the lowest common denominator thinks is worthwhile - and this denominator could not be lower. Internet does offer some intelligent voices to percolate through if one looks hard enough and I try to limit myself to these. This is also my advise to those who wish to preserve their intelligence, sanity, and even humanity in this hyper-connected, hyper-homogenizing world.

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