Friday, June 05, 2015

The Thin Thread of Logic

Sometime ago, while driving a relative's car, I was trying to wear the driving belt, as is my habit. The belt was stuck. I struggled for a while and got it unstuck and then wore it. A part-praising, part-remonstrating remark about how I must follow rules came from the other passengers of the car. The fact is, I couldn't care less about rules (I wasn't even carrying my license with me at that time). But I think that driving is dangerous, and driving without a seat belt increases the risk of turning an accident fatal. Wearing the seat belt is easy, and I don't feel uncomfortable at all wearing it. More than once, I have gone more than 10 hours at a stretch behind the wheel, all the while wearing the seat belt. So, it's logical for me to wear it.

Interestingly, when we took to the road, the topic of upanayan (sacred thread) ceremony came up. My relatives were interested to know when I would like to get it done for my son. I said, I wasn't too interested. After a few moments of uncomfortable silence, somebody probably asked, why? Or probably no one asked. Anyway, I provided my reason. I felt that the thread served no purpose. Our belonging to a Brahmin community has no significance. I don't see a point in celebrating that fact. I am not a Dalit apologist, nor do I think of all castes as evil. Quite to the contrary, I feel that the concept of Brahmin is a very elevated one. Most of us Brahmins, who revel so in our Brahminism, are not Brahmins by virtue. A Brahmin is supposed to lead a life of complete renunciation, austerity, scholarly pursuits, modesty, compassion and service. A Brahmin is not supposed to horde wealth. He is not supposed to be proud, hot-headed, aggressive and deceitful. How many of us tend to be even some of all the above? I don't think I have any of the above in significant quantity. I stopped wearing my thread a very long time ago. Brahminhood is not an inherited wealth, it has to be earned. And a person with the above qualities is a Brahmin irrespective of his or her birth. However, today, the idea of Brahminism has got reduced to a ceremony, a mark of a community's covert wishes to be distinguished as elite without having to work for it (one of your key claims to that elitism is your lack of wish for it). The thread ceremony today is not a relic of our age-old tradition of celebration of a scholarly way of life; it's a remnant of the evil phase of history which turned a social role of scholars to an entitlement to unearned privileges.

Just as an aside, let me mention that among Bengalis, most Brahmins eat meat. Now, I don't mix the issue of meat eating (though I have my stand on it) and castes. But, I am mentioning this because I remember a very amusing argument given by someone in defence of Bengali Brahmins being non-vegetarians. According to her, Bengal was ruled by Brahmins. Therefore, the Brahmins of that region were historically supposed to be physically strong and aggressive by nature. Hence, they took to meat eating since it is supposed to give physical strength and infuse aggression (I don't believe either).

But really, the reason for my writing this post isn't really about all the above. It's actually about two things which aren't at all related to the above topics of road safety or casteism. The first thing is about the amusement I felt at the weird connection between the two topics: a thread! In the road safety topic, we are talking about tying a seatbelt; in the casteism topic, we are talking about tying a allegedly sacred thread. This similarity, the strange temporal proximity between the two discussions, and the mysterious creative process which allowed me to get amused from this to conceptualise a cartoon was immensely interesting. So, that's one.

The other is the amazing fact that logical thinking is not all that easy to come by to us. As they say, common sense is uncommon. I am not trying to ridicule particular people at their lack of rational thinking. I wish to say that we all in general are prone to lose sight of reason and have conflicting views on things. I would loved to quote examples where I have failed. I am sure there must be such examples. Unfortunately, we aren't very good in seeing our own logical failings. Had we been good in that, there's no reason to fail in them in the first place. In short, I would not know my own examples. So I am forced to relate others'.

On a related note, I also find that we all are much more driven by emotions than logic. Over time, we get tremendously adept in putting what's an expression of an emotion or at most an opinion in the garb of a logical argument. Often, our subconscious mind works in the background to create arguments in favour of what's just our emotion: fear, greed, lustanger, jealousy, laziness etc.

To conclude, logic is good -- probably the best thing that has happened to humans. But unfortunately, it doesn't work all the time. We humans are tied to logic through very thin threads which quickly break under other forces acting on us which are much stronger than those threads. Worse still, logic often becomes a slave to those other forces.

So, what's actionable in this? Here:

  • Be careful to check if your beautiful arguments may just be smoke coming out of embers of emotions.
  • Avoid being unkind to others for their logical fallibility. Know that you too are fallible because of the very nature of your connection to logic.
  • Train yourself for making fewer mistakes by being aware of the weakness.

1 comment:

Sambaran said...

Cannot agree more with you regarding 'logic'. Logic can be very easily subverted by our emotions. If I am afraid of a change, I concoct a 'logic' which lets me believe that my current state is good enough.

Thanks for a nice read and a beautiful cartoon.