Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Discussion and The Herd

Unity is merely an instrument that can be used for good or for bad. In itself, it has no intrinsic moral worth. It is not a value. It can at best be a precondition for pursuing some collective goals of a herd*. It is these goals that must then be examined for their moral worth.
I would argue that it is desirable -- even a moral duty -- of every member of the herd to question these goals and not merely pursue them blindly.
Being human entails autonomy and thus a capacity for moral responsibility of our own choices. This is the basis of all human rights.
But if you merely pursue the goals of your herd without questioning and examining them -- like an automaton following the one in front of you -- you abdicate your moral responsibility. Though not ideal, this is still bearable for this is itself a moral choice -- even if a bad one -- and concerns only you.
However, what is morally abhorrent is denying others in your herd a chance of questioning and discussing its goals. In doing so you deny that autonomy for moral choice which makes us human. (Of course, some may point out that it will be an impossible situation because two members of the herd may decide on contradictory goals. But that difficulty can be handled by some agreed upon rule -- votes, for example. In that case everyone is still allowed to make their own choices even if their preferred outcome is not achieved. What is immoral is disallowing equal chance to anyone to discuss and influence the goals of their herd according to their own conscience.)
This is the moral argument for tolerance of questioning and discussion in a herd.
There is also an instrumental argument. The herds that allow the collective intelligence of the member to discuss and choose goals are more successful and resilient. Conversely, the herds whose self-definition is based on taboos -- we are a herd that does not discuss this or that -- will disintegrate sooner than later.
[*It holds true of all herds -- your nation, your religion, your organization, your sports team or whatever herd you feel part of.]
Discussion and The HerdSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Kafka in MEA

Contrary to the rumors of his death, Kafka is hale and hearty. Met him at the passport office of Ministry of External Affairs, India last couple of days.
Went to get my passport renewed. Since I had got married in the interim, I wanted to get Manvi's name added. The document list on the website suggested that I submit a joint affidavit declaring that I and Manvi are married. Sounded pretty legit. I did the needful and attached the affidavit with the application. The officer at counter B who was responsible for verifying the documents didn't seem convinced that I was married to someone I was stating on a sworn legal document that I was. (Even though the MEA's own site said the document was sufficient.) The officer, in his own infinite wisdom, then decided to ask for the verification of originals -- the wife, in this case. No kidding! His logic: since the affidavit was executed on the same day, he needed to double check. (Implying that had I sworn in the same statement a couple of weeks ago, it would have been more believable. An affidavit is perhaps like concrete that need to be curated for a week or two before it achieves desired strength.) He and subsequently the deputy passport officer asked me to come next day with Manvi.
So I and Manvi reached passport office again early next morning. The only problem? The security guard was adamant that the rules are pretty clear -- in no case can anyone be allowed to accompany the applicant who was not a child or senior citizen. So I tried to make him see the catch-22-ness of my situation. Finally after about 15 mins of hand waving and emphatic arguments, we agreed to wait for some officer who would review my case. In the interim I was left wondering my luck -- had the officers at counter B yesterday shown the similar spirit of sticking to the letters of the rules as this guard was showing today, I and Manvi would have been spared this trouble. The wisdom in a government office is always arbitrarily distributed, I surmised.
Finally the guard talked to someone inside and luckily this person wasn't as stickler for details and advised that we both be allowed in. After about 3 hours of other multiple rounds of verifications, scannings, and clarifications, my file was accepted. Funny part -- the file had exactly the same documents as were submitted the first time. Only consolation -- throughout these hours of difficulty, the wife was present, in original, alongside me, as she promised about a couple of years ago.
Kafka in MEASocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Tuesday, July 7, 2015


Came across the following Hindi poem on Twitter via @iawoolford - 

And my attempt at translation -

I stumbled upon
As one would on a new word.
To grasp and comprehend you
I accepted my own inferiority;
And with a student-like faith
I turned into a believer.
Doesn't being a believer imply
That only as the understanding dawns
One becomes uncomplicated like a learner?
Isn't word polymorphism the essence of texts?
O my word
O my meaning
O my text

YouSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Monday, May 18, 2015

Stoic Ethics

Change what you should and can. 
Accept what you shouldn't or can't change. 
Understand, regardless. 

~ Stoicism, basically.

P.S. Sounds like a good programming maxim.
Stoic EthicsSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Monday, May 11, 2015

On Tolerance

I get along well with people who've high tolerance -- for ideas and alcohol.  
Others generally throw up too soon -- in a pub or a discussion.
On ToleranceSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Joys of Studying History

Some 300 years ago, a dude born in western U.P. and working at the time in Dilli*, moved to Hyderabad to make a career for himself -- not unlike yours truly. So we paid a visit to his family house, the Chowmahallah palace, this weekend. The Nizams, as his dynasty came to be called, seem to have had done rather well for themselves, though we felt that they could have learned a thing or two from the Rajputs in the art of building grand royal palaces.
[* The first Nizam, Asaf Jah I got fed up with the court intrigues in Dilli that followed the death of Aurangzeb in 1707. He moved to Deccan in 1724 to carve out an independent principality for himself -- though the dynasty he founded, the Asaf Jahiya dynasty or the Nizams, would never be absolute sovereign of the Deccan -- at least in theory. First, the Nizams continued to accept the sovereignty of the Mughals, and then later accepted the paramountcy of the British.]
And today, quite unexpectedly, I came to learn that in historical terms the connection with the family of Nizam, Asaf Jah I goes further than the mere similarity of moving to Hyderabad for the reasons of rozgar or career. Apparently, my home town, Ghaziabad, was founded in 1740 by Ghazi ud-Din Khan Feroze Jung II, the eldest son of the first Nizam whom he got installed as the Wezier (prime minister) in the court of Mughal emperor Muhammad Shah before moving to the Deccan.
Ah, the joys of studying history.
The Joys of Studying HistorySocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Paternalism and Morality

Bemused at the debate around the interview of Delhi gang rape convict. Worryingly large number of apparently sensible people are expressing the view that broadcast of the interview should be banned to protect the public from such views. This is a paternalistic argument and it is wrong.
The views expressed in the interview may be wrong and disturbing, but so far as they are true in the sense of being held by an actual person, it is in society's larger interest to be aware of existence of such views.
Even more importantly, there's an ethical angle to this whole debate -- assuming that morality involves *autonomous* choices between right and wrong, it is precisely in the presence of opposing views that a person's or a society's choices and affirmations become autonomous and acquire moral worth. Paternalism takes away this autonomy and thus erodes the capacity for moral judgement -- both for the individual and the society. It makes a society or a person morally under-confident.
Paternalism and MoralitySocialTwist Tell-a-Friend