Tuesday, November 03, 2015

India vs UK

Exhibit A

GDP of India per capita in 2014 was $1627 (current USD).

GDP of UK per capita in 1830 was $1750 (current USD).

Exhibit B

Literacy rate of India in 2001 was 64.8%

Literacy rate of UK in 1830 was 65%

Exhibit C

In  his 1694 essay "Of Identity and Diversity", John Locke writes:
For, supposing a rational spirit be the idea of a man, it is easy to know what is the same man, viz. the same spirit- whether separate or in a body- will be the same man.
Supposing a rational spirit vitally united to a body of a certain conformation of parts to make a man; whilst that rational spirit, with that vital conformation of parts, though continued in a fleeting successive body, remains, it will be the same man. But if to any one the idea of a man be but the vital union of parts in a certain shape; as long as that vital union and shape remain in a concrete, no otherwise the same but by a continued succession of fleeting particles, it will be the same man.
In his twentieth century work called "Forty Verses on Reality", Ramana Maharishi writes:
30. If one enquires ‘Who am I?’ within the mind, the individual ‘I’ falls down abashed as soon as one reaches the Heart and immediately Reality manifests itself spontaneously as ‘I-I’. Although it reveals itself as ‘I’, it is not the ego but the Perfect Being, the Absolute Self.

31. For Him who is immersed in the bliss of the Self, arising from the extinction of the ego, what remains to be accomplished? He is not aware of anything (as) other than the Self. Who can apprehend his State?

The Inner and The Outer

Much of self-help and spiritual literature advises one to derive one's happiness from "inner" sources, as the "outer" is what it is and to want to change the outer is fraught with frustration.

The dichotomy between the "inner" and the "outer" is expressed as if the inner is "me" whereas the "outer" is "not-me".  Supposedly, if I look within "me", I can find eternal happiness.  But if I continue to look for happiness outside of "me", it will be elusive.

This is a serious misconception, and a dangerous one.
An immediate problem is the definition of "me", and where to locate this "me".  In many spiritual traditions, such as Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta, the mind or even the "soul" is the outer, the not-me.  In those traditions, the way to find happiness in "me" is to regard everything as not-me.  Whatever can be observed, is anyway "not me" (or so it is claimed).  And, going further, even the observer is "not me".  There is just no "me" to be found anywhere.  One's true nature is "nothing" (in Buddhism) and "everything" (in Advaita Vedanta).

But even if we disregard these radical systems and consider "me" as my mind and my attitude, it is still a grave mistake to consider "me" as somehow more likely to provide continued happiness and contentment than the "not-me".

The first issue with this approach is what I call the "loser approach".  The loser says to himself: I can't seem to make a difference in the world, so let me then find fulfillment in an imaginary way.  The parable of the old woman looking for her pin under the light even though she lost it elsewhere is brilliantly pertinent here.

The second issue is that it is a huge misconception that one can in general transform one's mind and one's attitude in a way that is easier than transform one's external situation.  In many situations, it is easier in fact to change the situation rather than escape into oneself.  If one's boss is a bully, it is quite often possible to address this situation so that the boss is given some feedback, rather than adjust oneself to become more stoic.  The self-help approach leads to a status-quo in the world, rather than improvement.  And according to many studies, one's basic temperament and drives are mostly set in stone after the first few years of one's life.  One can perhaps learn to modulate one's anger, but to not get angry at all is a tall order.  Novice seekers vainly imagine that one day they will be free of anger and desire.  Unfortunately, they realize the futility of their quest when it doesn't matter whether they get angry or what they desire.

The third issue is that this approach leads to a high degree of isolation.  Since "I" am to derive "my" happiness from "myself", I no longer deeply care for others.  I may be compassionate in a condescending manner, but I cannot be passionate or sentimental or attached or loving or sad, because these are directed emotions in which another person is deemed significant.  In the self-help approach, all significant emotions must be directed to oneself.  Any outward expression is fraught with complication and suffering, and an "inward-looking" person is unsure of handling such complications.  For an "inward-looking" person, only one's own happiness is important.  Others should also focus on themselves, instead of expecting anything from oneself.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Self as a Linguistic Error

Spiritualists, including Mr Jaggi Vasudev, like to argue that to say "My Body" is proof that I am not the body.

But then, people also say "My soul is attracted to this.", or "I love him with my body and soul."

So, to continue the argument, "I" am not even my "soul" (whatever that might be).

But that would be mistaking a linguistic convention for the proof of an entity's existence. 

It is easier, however, to just understand the "my" adjective as referring to "this".  In fact, vedantins of some sects are fond of referring to themselves as "this body" instead of "I".

As Chomksy writes in his outstanding essay on Mysteries of Nature:
Priestley urges that we also dismiss arguments based on “vulgar phraseology” and “vulgar apprehensions,” as in the quest for an entity of the world picked out by the term me when I speak of “my body,” with its hint of dualism. “According to this merely verbal argument,” Priestley observes, “there ought to be something in man besides all the parts of which he consists,” something beyond both soul and body, as when “a man says I devote my soul and body,” the pronoun allegedly denoting something beyond body and spirit that “makes the devotion.” In Rylean terms, phrases of common usage may be “systematically misleading expressions,” a lively concern at the time, based on a centuries-old tradition of inquiry into the ways surface grammatical form disguise actual meaning. Like Priestley, Thomas Reid argued that failure to attend “to the distinction between the operations of the mind and the objects of these operations” is a source of philosophical error, as in interpreting the phrase “I have an idea” on the model of “I have a diamond,” when we should understand it to mean something like “I am thinking.” In an earlier discussion, the Encyclopedist C├ęsar Chesneau du Marsais, using the same and many other examples, warned against the error of taking nouns to be “names of real objects that exist independently of our thought.” The language, then, gives no license for supposing that such words as “idea,” “concept,” “image” stand for “real objects,” let alone “perceptible objects.”


It was dawn and he hadn't slept all night.

He was riding, without permission, on a cross-country freight train.  The noise wasn't letting him sleep.  The train had passed through thousands of miles of terrain: desert, mountain, lake, forest, rock...

The train had killed many a wild animal straying on the track.  It had killed many birds in its hurtling motion.  It had gone over carcasses and boulders and fallen trees and snow and sand...

The momentum of the train was immense.  Against its momentum, nothing lasted for long.  No view was eternal, no horizon remained a horizon, no cloud was permanent, no object was an obstacle.

It was dawn and he hadn't slept all night.

The sun was coming up far in the east, and the silence and softness of that early hour was in sharp contrast with the thundering roar of the train.

On a whim he jumped off the train.  The momentum continued to thrust him forward, dragging and bouncing him by the tracks, injuring and lacerating and scraping him all over his body.

Eventually he came to rest.  The train had disappeared in the distance.  He looked around him and saw tiny leaves, flowers and dewdrops on the grass.  The sunlight was shimmering on the drops and he dared not move, afraid to disturb those precarious beads of water.

He remained that way for what seemed to him an eternity when another freight train leaped up from behind him and deafened him with its roar.  This train was filled with cattle and sheep and monkeys who were all asleep at that hour.

As the train was passing him, he gulped a mouthful of air, stood up, faced the tracks, picked up a big rock, and with all his might, threw it under the train.  He had a perverse impulse to derail it.

The wheels of the train came in contact with the rock, and crushed it to powder.  No animal on that train even registered what had happened.  In all that noise of that train, that incident was as-if silent and non-existent.  The wheel smoothly passed over that powdered rock without experiencing even a minor bump.

He laughed aloud at his own ambition and foolishness, turned around, and vanished into the forest.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Suspicious Indian

India ranks pretty much at the bottom of the world when it comes to contract enforcement.  This doesn't mean that people are honest and only in the rare case that the contracts are breached that there is a problem.  It also points to the fact that contracts might be being broken with impunity without fear of consequences.  With an understanding of behavioral economics, it stands to reason that without a strong disincentive, people will try to gain unfair advantages over others.

That means, not only is there no justice in India, there is no incentive to being ethical in India.  And hence, being ethical is an exception rather than a norm in India.

This has some curious consequences and corollaries which I will explore in this essay.
  1. The vast majority of Indians live in a state of terror.  They are afraid that they will not get their due.  They are in a constant state of insecurity and risk-avoidance.  They are apprehensive that they will be cheated and short-changed.  They don't venture out of the familiar because who will protect them if things go wrong.

  2. Indians do not trust and respect each other.  Trust is predicated on whether there are legal consequences for breaking that trust.  In India there is no real consequence.  Hence, there is no trust.  Indians see others as out to cheat them.  Therefore, they see no harm in cheating them first.

  3. Indians are blank-faced and not very expressive in day-to-day interactions.  They do not betray what they are thinking inwardly.  They are hawk-eyed, gawking and staring at others, but not expressing much themselves.  They only react in extremes.  Extreme anger, extreme pity, extreme sorrow, ... make them suddenly explode with emotion.  Mild emotion is kept repressed.  Expressiveness is a sign of a trusting society.  To express is to be vulnerable.  To be vulnerable in a society of cheats is to be suicidal.

  4. Indians are perceived as untrustworthy and opportunistic by more educated and trusting societies.

  5. Indians are pleasantly surprised when they travel to a trusting society.  They are amused that people are following rules and laws without any overt enforcement.  They find it a bit comical though they grudgingly admire this vision of "paradise".

  6. Indians are hypocritical and sociopathic.  Their cheating persona (which is a consequence of, and which feeds, the cheating atmosphere) makes them incapable of being congruent and wholesome.  They rail against other Indians' corruption while turning a blind eye to their own corruption.  They have a huge "secret self" full of shame which expresses itself in anonymous groping, shoplifting, petty thievery, bad hygiene, decrepit underwear, shabby dwelling spaces, ... In general, an impassive, moralistic public persona and a shameful private persona.