Monday, May 31, 2010

Some Interesting Links

Some interesting links:
  • YouTube videos:
  • Search keywords:
  • Century of self
  • Happiness machines
  • Engineering of consent

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Meaning(lessness) of it All

A trip to cafeteria found a news report running on the latest train derailment that has killed 65 people. Again supposed to be a Maoist attack! Interleaved with it was the report where little girls in Rajasthan are being injected with growth chemicals before being pushed into prostitution. Then there are reports of Pramod Mutalick's alleged vandalism contract. An illness in the family of a childhood buddy is going to cost him all the money he has earned so far. I know about the struggle he has gone through to earn that money.

Visions of ugliness and meaninglessness around is overwhelming me at this moment. I often momentarily archor on such thoughts . I writhe for a few weeks in the pain of 'kuchh karna padega' (to borrow the phrase from the classic Hindi satire 'Raag Darbari' by Shrilal Shukla) feeling. Then the currents of everyday life take me away on my way. Sometimes, it feels as if the meaningless chores of everyday life are the only shelter from the burning flames that pierce our eyes the moment we try to look up, look around.

Am I doing anything good by even cribbing? Sitting in an air-conditioned office, being paid a salary which an impoverished fellow no worse than me except in the initial conditions of life would never dream of earning...As one of my dear friends rightly pointed out in response to my earlier posts, even talking about it brings up the question: 'Will you give it all up to save the world? So why talk about it?'

Really! Am I doing any good even talking about it, thinking about it? Wouldn't I better be busying myself feverishly in the chores of life without bothering about the bigger context. So, is that what Krishna meant by 'Karmanyavaadhikaaraste...'?

Did he say it because anything beautiful we make has an ugliness in the context that nurtures it? Because every thought of love has hatred hidden in it? Every building or highway we build destroys the ecology around? Every convenience we earn causes inconvenience to someone else we don't know? Every slurping sound we make over a delicious food is distilled out of the cries of helpless creatures dying? Because every instance of affluence causes many instances of poverty?

Or isn't there anything real called beauty without cruelty?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Side-Effects of Healthcare

The other day, discussion over lunch turned towards the popular subject of Jews. How brilliant they are. How shrewd they are. How most of the Nobel prizes in basic sciences have gone to Jews and so on. We also got to hear the natural selection arguments -- that says that the centuries of persecution of Jews has made sure that only the best of the best of them survive. That has resulted in a small but extremely purified gene pool among the present Jewish population.

This naturally led us to the undying arguments about the fundamental effect of improved healthcare on human race. In short, healthcare's main function is to support the life of the diseased. In general, it also means that it supports those lives who would otherwise have been lost because their bodies are too weak to survive. That means, healthcare is defying the basic law of natural selection which results in the survival of the fittest. Healthcare will result in the survival of the unfit too. We being in the healthcare industry can say how much rejoicing there is in the industry because the world population is growing older and there's a huge growing market for healthcare products and services. How, then, do we expect the human race to become stronger in the long run?

I think the argument is strong. But I have the following doubts:
Is it possible to defy the law of natural selection in the long run? If these bad guys whom healthcare is making live longer are finally going to meet their grievous end a few hundred generations down the line, the point of natural selection is reaffirmed, albiet a bit late. What big deal is that in the billion year long Earth calender? Natural selection seems to prove its point whether it sets in or not. What I mean is if these bad guys do manage to survive till doomsday, then they are the fit ones. It's just the 'fitness' gets redefined. Whoever said that fitness is just physical fitness?
The above point apart, is there any harm done by letting these unfit individuals exist by the side of the fit ones? OK, there will be cross breeding resulting in poorer gene pool. But there will still be some to carry the pure genes. How does that reduce the chances of the survival of the entire species is hard to comprehend.

Anyway, just to give a corny philosophical close to the discussion, it's said that death is nature's way to give way to new things. Had there been no death, there would have been no need to evolve, no need to innovate, no need to improve. No species would have seen the best of itself had there been no death. Death is after all not such a bad thing. If the average human life is about 75 years, we anyway lose 1/75 of the world population every year. That must be a huge number! Then why does death shock us so much? Why do we care so much to avoid it? These are innocent comtemplative questions, not condescending ones. Which means, death does shock me. And I care to avoid it at all cost for myself and my dear ones. But I don't know why!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Buzz off!

My addiction to Google Buzz is very recent. No doubt it's got potential. To an extent, it's an integrated substitute of all the social networking one does with twitter, or facebook. In short, it's Google's trump card to reaffirm its monopoly on the Web.

From my personal viewpoint, Buzz, Twitter, and the whole bunch of social networking sites are methods of quenching my insatiable thirst for distraction. They all keep me from facing the painful reality that a working day is after all about a few hours (at least) of focussed effort. Mails are quick and practical ways of communication. The problem is that it's not insane. In emails, one has to explicate the list of recipients of that message.
In other words, one has to own the responsibility of where his words go. In consequence, evesdropping is illegal. This drastically reduces the traffic bringing it down to sane limits. Even with 3 to 4 mailboxes open, I don't get enough material enough to remain forever distracted. After reading a message, I have to again go back to work.

Buzz and twitter legalise eavedropping. Everyone is listening to everyone else. Now, things are insane. There's a chaos, noise all around. With Blogger, twitter, ... all integrated to create buzzes, there's no need to get back to work anymore. Buzz is continually buzzing while you are unwillingly pretending to try to get back to work. Since it buzzes you, you are saved from the guilty feeling that's associated with browsing the wikipedia, which involves a initiation from yourself, either voluntary or compulsive. This is the jackpot that tweets and buzzes have hit against emails and scraps.

Buzz is good. But it's got the potential of doing to me what Orkut had done 6 years back -- throwing me completely off track. So, begins the long process of disciplining myself and learning defense mechanisms against the messages buzzing off on my machine.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Dark Night

Power condition in Bangalore has been pretty bad as it is. Sunday evening's storm has made things worse. For the last two days, we are facing long power outages at home during the night lasting for 2-3 hours. My little son Vigyan wasn't able to sleep due to the heat and mosquitoes. I stood there fanning him with a magazine for about an hour, non-stop. Seeing him in trauma is a far dearer price to pay for me than an hourlong torture of standing in dark, sweltering heat of the night, myself bathing in sweat, trying to comfort him with a medieval apparatus. Seeing him slide back into a peaceful sleep was more than a compensation.
But this post is not all about showing off what an affectionate father I was last night (though I can't claim that not to be in the fringe of the agenda). The main purpose is to raise an alarm from my personal side.
I think we have started scraping the edge of the precipice. There will soon be a sudden disappearance of earth from beneath our feet, and then will begin a sudden, fatal fall. The way weather has been off late, the uncontrolled shortage of power and water, basic necessities of civilised life, all these is somewhat too ugly, too regular, to be caprices of nature. I think we are in a decisive stage of our battle against our unplanned, uncontrolled growth as a species. And we are going to lose this battle!
And at every moment I see instances of how we have abused our surroundings. How we continue to do it, thinking that it's normal to do so. Thinking that worry about it is a sign of one's own morbidity.
At office, the instances are most rampant.
People travelling to office by car, all alone. Shame on all of you!
People who don't switch off their computers while leaving office. Shame on you!
People who waste tissue papers and water in the toilet. Shame on you!
People who waste food. Shame on you!
You, who are often good people otherwise, often you are my friend, my colleague -- you are the reason why last night was such a long dark night for me and my son.
A long dark night awaits. A very long, a very dark night. Then, we'll most probably not have the luxury to exchange pleasantries at cafe. There will no lunch and snacks to go together to, because there will be only so much as only either of us will be able to eat. Not you and me. It'll be you or me! In those dark times, we may have to avoid each other's eyes. For it's hard to look into the eyes of a person you are killing. We will soon be fighting each other. Killing each other. Just like beasts! Because there will soon be so little left to survive on, that we have to reduce ourselves to savage ways even to exist.
Meet you in the battleground. Meet you in the jungle. Meet you in the dark night.
I had written this post for the company internal blog. But found it relevant to be reproduced here.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Beauty without Cruelty

I bumped into this webpage today, again reminding me of the ever-elusive issue of cruelty towards animals.

Where one draws the line of cruelty is subjective. One may go to the one extent of saying that nothing -- absolutely nothing -- should get hurt by what one does. Or he may choose the other extreme, saying, nothing that I don't 'know' as cruel death, is to be considered cruel. Both the stances have pitfalls. The first one has the oft quoted pitfall of considering plant-death as cruel, and hence, farming is cruel. On the other hand, the second one has the pitfall trying to explain why killing humans for food should be considered cruel. In fact, one doesn't need to go so far, since, the scene of Indian non-vegetarianism is rife with contradictions. Some people consider it OK to have fish, some draw the line after chicken, some after mutton. Beef, pork etc. are out for some people who, otherwise, neither swear by religion, nor give a second thought before relishing a mutton recipe.

There are unpleasant discussions between people arguing about whether indeed killing plants isn't as cruel as killing animals. After all how do we know that they don't feel pain and fear? What is the nature of this knowledge of ours? After dwelling shortly on themes of touch-me-nots and chemicals which flow in plants in response to physical stimuli, the problem eventually drifts into the dubious realms of epistemology!

And there are contradictions in human nature too. From my own experience, the most soft hearted creature I have ever met was this Muslim girl in my earlier office whose diet included everything that moves by itself. And the most aggressive of creatures I know are those who observe vegetarianism with Brahminical austerity. For one, I am not sure that my giving up meat-eating at an early age against the remonstrance from my family was a sign of my docility. Going through the unpleasantness of explaining myself everywhere, getting into ugly arguments every now and then with those who took my ethical vegetarianism as a personal attack on their non-vegetarian habits -- all these needed a determination bordering at arrogance. It was nothing short of a war against my circumstances. So much for the saying that vegetarian diet breeds peacefulness. I have met vegetarians with extreme conceit, laziness, greed, ...and every vice vegetarianism is supposed to protect you against. I am really not convinced that there exists any positive correlation between human nature and vegetarianism.

Then, is it a subject about which there's no constructive thought possible? May be people will/should continue with whatever food habits they inherit from their parents. I feel that's a very natural and just criterion for choosing one's food habit. We indeed have our eating ways too well-drilled in our basic nature. By basing our choice of our pallete on such general principles as 'cruelty and kindness' would be a mistake on this present day. The basic nature of 'cruelty' isn't known too well today. If tomorrow's philosophers do figure it out for us, only to find out that any kind of food is indeed based on a cruel act, will we have the guts to stop living?

Or is 'cruelty' such a big unknown? I feel, all philosophical problems are nearly unsolvably difficult when we try to solve them in general. But are exceedingly simple when we try to answer for ourselves. For it's very easy to know if what we are eating is due to our sense of righteousness, or is it because we are afraid to face an obvious question lest it makes appeal on us to give up our gluttony. I think, we should all face the question at our very personal level but we shouldn't argue with anyone. For all we know, asking someone to give up something he loves without sufficient convincing could be as cruel as killing. But examining our beliefs, our faiths, our personal sense of right and wrong, is not cruel.

The only prescriptive statement I would make here is that we should, in solitude, give these questions some thought. We needn't talk about it to anyone. But think, we must. Even if we are able to accept to ourselves that some item we consume is fundamentally a product of cruelty to someone, even if we mayn't be in a position to give up consuming it, or even to openly proclaim our finding, it'll be an act of momentous courage.