Monday, May 30, 2011

On Men and Women

Women are not the same as men.

They are the females of the mammalian species Homo Sapiens, in case one needs to be reminded.

They have distinct bodies, which have distinct processes, which have distinct hormonal rhythms.

They have a distinct biological role, and that biological role has defined to a very great extent the social and moral restrictions placed on them.

Of course there are "double standards" when it comes to male and female sexuality. "Double Standard" assumes a pejorative and hypocritical stance, whereas a more neutral phrase would be "distinct standard".

These distinctions in social and moral restrictions can be summarily brushed aside as unnatural and unfair only if one does not understand their evolutionary bases.


A woman is expected to act more modest socially. Her modesty has traditionally been her shield against unwanted male advances. It signals that she is not easy, and that there are going to be commitments and investments and social negotiations before a man is to even attempt to impregnate her.

A woman is "free" to disregard this traditional guideline of modesty just as someone in Iowa is free to not wear a helmet while riding a motorcycle. There is going to be increased risk, and society as a whole is going to have to pay for undesirable consequences when they occur. Divorces, night patrolling, care of fatherless children, termination of pregnancies, sexual harassment regulatory overheads, matrimonial litigation, all are significant economic costs which traditional societies avoided by having strict rules for women.

Many of those rules caused hardship to free thinking women, who were intelligent enough to make wise sexual decisions and didn't need to be overseen. And it is an interesting facet of law and morality that they are both wide-ranging and do not account for individual differences.

All sexual morality is the consequence of the biological facts of a woman being a female mammal requiring protection and support while she gives birth to and brings up the offspring and thus helps to propagate the genes of the father. There may be idiosyncrasies such as genital mutilation of females in certain societies, but then there are such idiosyncrasies related to men as well (e.g. circumcision).

Females and males are sexually unequal, and always will be. This fact can be consciously disregarded, but reality has a way of catching up in a hard way if you ignore it long enough.


The other arena of the so-called "double standards" is leadership.

Traditionally, power and leadership has been synonymous with readiness to engage in conflict. And to this day, conflict can quickly escalate into insults, ruthless negotiations, property disputes, physical violence, warfare. Armies and police forces all over the world are still predominantly male. It is no wonder that women military leaders have been conspicuous by their non-existence. There have been some notable female heads of state, but again, the vast majority of rulers have been men.


Coming to white collar environments, can a woman be a leader of men? The conflicts in these environments are not physically violent, but they do require a certain "toughness", an insensitivity (not blindness) to others' suffering and emotional states (ref, mass layoffs), and competitiveness.

A woman in a position which requires ruthlessness will understandably have to prove herself as being "man" enough. A man doesn't have to prove himself capable of ruthlessness, it is assumed that he is, by virtue of his gender. On the other hand, it is a fair question to ask of a woman leader whether she has got the requisite "guts" and "balls".


To what extent are traditional morality and social restrictions related to women still relevant? And let it not be thought that it is men (or only men) who subject women to the "rules". In fact most men who are not socially invested in her well-being would like her, for obvious reasons, to be more promiscuous and available and skimpily dressed and so on. Women have been brainwashed to think that "men" are restricting their sexual freedom, when factually speaking, societies (both men and women) have evolved these morals and rules to avoid hardship and a breakdown of the community.

In modern urban settings, the breakdown of the community is a non-factor, the community not being there in the first place. Similarly, sexual morality, being a communally driven phenomenon, is relatively non-existent. Hence, in a metro, a woman is, more or less, free to do what she wants.

But, there is a caveat.

Because an atmosphere of amorality and lack of community does not equate an atmosphere of implicit safety (in fact it is quite the opposite), increasingly vicious forms of women-friendly legislation have been put in place in most modern societies. Presumption of guilt is quite widespread when a woman complains against a man for some sexual or matrimonial indiscretion.


Equality before law is another topic of debate. No society treats all its inhabitants equally, even formally speaking. Illegal immigrants do not have the rights granted to a citizen. There is affirmative action for various classes of underprivileged people. Certain jobs require youthfulness. Most jobs require suitable credentials. Only high-net-worth individuals can invest in hedge funds.

It is politically correct to say that one must not discriminate against a particular race, income class, gender, and so on.

Most feminists I have talked to, or listened to, are not in favor of equality before the law. They would rather have preferential treatment for women, because they are the "oppressed" class. In most modern societies, laws favoring women vastly outnumber laws favoring men (if the latter at all exist).

I am of the firm opinion that one can't have it both ways. Either admit that women (as a class) need protection, and that they are more vulnerable to abuse. Or admit that women are equals, and that they do not need protection or special treatment. In the first case, a special right (or protection) will have to be accompanied by certain responsibilities on part of women. In the second, women can do what they want, but they had better take care of themselves when shit hits the fan and not run to the "society" for taking care of the fatherless child, or to men for "alimony" and "maintenance", or to judges for "bail based on gender".

(to be continued)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Fall in IT, or Rise

The Hindu recently published a somewhat provocative article titled "Are IT people the fall guys?" written by one who has been working in the IT sector for seven years.

The article, and the many comments and subsequent "Letters to the Editor" (here, here and here), express varied viewpoints about the Knowledge Industry versus traditional occupations.

The IT and private Services sector, just like the salaried government workers of the last century, is the new middle class of India. It was easy to predict the worldview of the middle class then, and it is easy to do so now. The parameters have changed slightly, but as before, success for a middle class person is achieved by hard work, listening to the boss, subservience, patience, and following the rules. Thrift is no longer a virtue, though.

The parents of most people in the IT sector belong to the salaried and middle classes. Such parents tried to make sure their children studied hard, did not indulge in immorality, got a degree from a college, and understood the value of money. Risk-taking was not encouraged.

Here is my unsolicited advice to the frustrated IT employee, the author of the above article being one.
  • Read something other than popular fiction and popular non-fiction. Read the classics, or the Nobel winners. Harry Potter is not a book for adults.
  • Travel to small nondescript towns and villages for a vacation, or to a famous university town, not all the time to Goa or Disneyland.
  • Take the stairs in the office. All the time.
  • Shun cheap beer, company party or no company party.
  • Keep a dumb phone.
  • Fuckin' boycott mainstream cinema, fast food, red bull, IPL and assorted drugs.
  • Throw out the telly.
  • Cook something simple everyday. And walk a mile after dinner.
  • Be a seven-eleven person. Wake up by seven, and go to bed by eleven. Let it be something worthy, or beautiful which keeps you awake at night, not a bad routine.
  • Drink lots of water, green tea, unsweetened juice. Regard Coke as a load of cock, and Sprite as shite.
  • Learn investing and money management.
  • On a free day, visit a police station or a hospital or a court. It will be much more memorable and insightful than visiting the same stores in the mall.
  • Subscribe to a proper magazine, not Flimfare or Cosmo or some other ad-infested joke.
  • Create something. Write, even if just a review. Photograph. Paint. Play.
  • If you have nothing to do on a rainy day, do nothing. Watch the rain. Don't log on to facebook and start chatting, for fuck's sake. Show your middle finger to Zuckerberg and Zinga and ZooZoos.
  • Vote: Local, State and Nation. Know your representatives at all levels. Most don't even know their MP.
  • Spell, and punctuate. Diss dis'ing.
  • If you don't know enough about an issue, then study. First learn, and then form an opinion. Be it global warming, GM foods, vanishing tigers or turtles, Pakistan, Corruption, Reservations, Feminism. These are complex issues, and your uninformed opinion doesn't count.
  • Be politically incorrect at times. Say something authentic which drops a bomb on a pretentious polite conversation. Question deeply, and don't just troll.
  • Understand that your boss is as much a victim of you, as you are a victim of him. Both of you are victims of economic forces much beyond your control. Stop whining and start understanding.
  • Look at the faces of your housekeeping staff, the security guards, the waiters, the auto-wallahs, the beggars, the vegetable sellers, the checkout clerks, the drivers. You don't have to respond, or to smile. But look! Don't remain in your cocoon.
  • Simplify your gadget and media heavy life.
  • Be a man, or a woman. Not a kid or an adolescent or worse. Let not working in the service industry make you facile or servile or infantile.
  • Know your heritage, history and heretics.
In short, take back your life from all the brainwashers, time hijackers, dope-pushers, health-hazards, leisure-sappers, money-grubbers and their ilk. Stand tall amongst the ruins. To hell with mediocrity and conformity AND non-conformity. Non-conformity is just another form of conformity if you don't know why you are rebelling.

Make the Gods proud that you inhabit the earth.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Value of Money

The concept of money is one of the most important inventions in humanity. It is hard to overstate what money enables by virtue of its near-universal acceptability.

Money is a valid claim only insofar its acceptability is mandated by law. It is an institution.

Money extends a trade in time. You hand over something of real value, and in return, you are given money, a claim on humanity for the future.

To hand over money to someone and expect something of value in return is an implicit celebration of this institution.

Money is the true "sanchit karma": the accumulated value, in hard numbers, of your past deeds or pedigree.

Money enables, in future. And its enable-ability is guaranteed. And therein lies the key to its charm. It is a lasso to overwhelm time. To have a million in the bank is as good as walking with an army of bodyguards, slaves, doctors, lawyers, and so on.

To have money in one's pocket is to have a command over one's environment.

Someone who shuns money, or regards its pursuit as mistaken, usually does not produce something of value for the others. Such a person has an unjustified sense of entitlement over others. Beware of the man who seeks to pick your pocket by calling its contents worthless.

Since it is a bulwark against the vagaries of time, there is no limit to how much more money one wants. As long as immortality cannot be bought, no amount of money is ever going to be enough.

The difference between greed and ambition is simple: Greed involves seeking unjust rewards. To want to steal, rob, manipulate, hoodwink, is to be greedy. To work hard, plan carefully, to want to grow, to produce something of value to others, is ambition.

Money is a form of power over others which others cannot wriggle out of. Influence, reputation, beauty are also forms of power, in that they lead to (mostly) a willing subservience. But non-monetary forms of power are neither easy to possess, nor easy to maintain.

There is the valid criticism that the pursuit of money can become self-serving, an end in itself. I find that criticism naive. Money is obviously an end in itself till it is spent. Castigating someone for only collecting money and not spending it all within the month, is to berate him for thinking further ahead than most people. Maybe he is more afraid of mortality than others, maybe he wishes to do something great for society or enable a grand sense of security for his family.

To shun money (ref Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa) because greed is a base instinct, is to throw out the baby with the bath water. But this is a general trait, more pronounced in the East. To forget ambition, love and belonging, to see the negatives of lust, greed, attachment, and to thereby condemn women, money, relationships, and to then exhort celibacy, poverty and detachment. Humanity continues and flourishes not because of the renunciates, but because of those who struggle with, and try to balance, the rewards and sorrows of their instincts.

Of course the institution of money is corrupt, like any other institution. Of course inflation is a bit of a fraud, of course there is manipulation in commodities and in the stock markets, but the battle between greed and law will continue as long as we are human. What is the alternative? Money is here to stay. Only a progressive evolution of our institutions is our choice.

Since it is such an important institution, there is a class of industry which deals solely with the management of money and associated paper. The Financial Services Industry. It is a complex question whether they add real value to society. Certainly there are a lot of very rich people in this sector, with nary an accomplishment against their name except having made good bets due to privileged access to information, more efficient processing of money-related information, having found arbitrage opportunities, and having found interesting loopholes in the system.

Are the money-experts the baron-robbers of modern times who go away laughing from plundered cities? There is a general agreement that many of them need to be firmly reined in. But one of the strangest conundrums is: anyone who knows or understands enough about money to rein them in, joins hands with them. To thwart this very real nexus of regulators, state, financiers, requires a person of Jesus' moral strength who has memorized and understood the scriptures of Mammon and who has the warfare skills of Clausewitz. The best and the brightest join the gang, and one can easily pacify the rest with some soap opera or sport on TV.

Money, like any dopamine trigger, has diminishing psychological returns as one grows richer and richer. But even its tangible returns diminish in comparative value. In the struggle against disease and death, to have a dollar to buy an antibiotic is a far bigger leap from a position of absolute vulnerability, than for a rich man to afford another high-priced specialist in Japan.

Who doesn't struggle with the stress introduced by the pursuit of money versus the need to convince oneself that it is worth it? That convincing can, these days, take the form of media madness, "shopping" for useless junkets or fancy clothes, and outsourced pampering. To at least numb the mind somehow.

But I guess even the most distracted of money-makers would wonder at times whether it is "worth it" to do hard time in order to gain an easier time later. There is no one, or right, answer to this question.

If you are directly going bald and heart-sick in your indirect pursuit of joy and health via money, there is perhaps something wrong. It is facile to say: "live for the moment" rather than "save for the future". Both need attention. Too much of a focus on the future, and the present becomes a punishment. Too much of a focus on the present with nary a thought for the future, and may god bless you with good fortune.

The big question that seems to fox many is: "Can money buy happiness?" One is asked to observe the unhappy rich and the occasional happy poor, cleverly glossing over the luxuriating rich and the vast numbers of the unhappy poor. There are parables galore (ref the fisherman resting on the beach). It is a question which the poor are rhetorically asked, the middle classes torture themselves with, and the rich have to disregard.

The merely conceptual/tautological analysis would yield the unsatisfactory reply: Insofar as happiness can be arranged, it can be arranged better with the help of a generic enabler that money is.

Another equally unsatisfactory answer is: Having money can prevent hardship. And it can certainly lead to pleasures. Happiness, we don't know. That's your problem. Even the gurus haven't figured it out yet.

But to answer this question in earnest, one has to investigate what happiness is. In most cases, it will be found, happiness is harmony with one's surroundings, fulfilling associations with other human beings, and good mental and physical health. It is easy to see that (the pursuit of) money can be counter-productive in all three of the above aspects. Its pursuit can lead to pollution and devastation, suspicion and lack of trust, and neuroses and illnesses. And it would be ironical to then try to solve these problems which the pursuit of money introduced, with the rewards of that pursuit.

It is perhaps healthiest to consider the journey as well as the eventual pot of gold as important. To buy happiness at the mileposts as one journeys to get richer. And to continue to enjoy what doesn't cost anything. Urination and watching the stars, for example.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Three Slaves

In an unknown mountain region, on a plantation, there lived three slaves. They were enslaved to toil from morning till night. Sometimes to level a field, sometimes to clear a path, sometimes to lift heavy stones.

Being human, they could not help but reflect on their daily lives every once in a while.

The first slave was an obedient one. He did what he was told, and enjoyed the meals, the shelter and the bonds of his family. He knew that if he rebelled, his family would suffer from hardship. He wanted to become a more privileged slave, an overseer. He always saw the "silver lining" in every cloud, and was the eternal optimist. A day of heavy work, and he would look forward to an easy one. An easy day, and he would play with his children.

The second slave was a rebel. He thought that rebellion was a necessity, given their fate. He knew that his family would face difficulties, but he thought for the next generation, and did not want his children to have the same master, who he thought was unjust and cruel at times. He wanted them to travel, to seek their destiny, and to choose a kinder master. He even had wishful thoughts of a master elected from a community of slaves.

The third slave was in the habit of asking "Why?" and "For what?". For any outcome, particularly a happy one, he thought for a second longer than either of his slave friends, and commented: "But death awaits in the end," and ruefully lamented his mortal fate. He frequently thought of suicide, but even that he concluded to be a meaningless gesture and not worth the drama.

One hot summer day, all three slaves were resting in the afternoon in the shade of a large tree. Their backs resting on the earth, their faces upturned to the view of sunlight shimmering through the leaves, their legs aching from the long march of the forenoon.

The first slave was deep in the thoughts of his wife who he imagined was waiting for him in the evening. He did not mind the tiredness much. He knew that the other two slaves called him a buffoon and a simpleton and a lackey, but since his wife loved him, he was happy.

The second slave was engrossed in thinking of ways to escape the plantation. He thought that any place must be better than this, where he had little choice in how he spent his day. He regarded his wife at home as a weary and sad creature, a conformist and a seeker of certainty, who prevented him from being a true revolutionary.

The third slave was tossing and turning. He could not imagine a worse place to be, but he could not also imagine that another place would be better. He had still not finished his meal, as every morsel reminded him of the death of the living thing which was now his food. He had had a wife once, but she had left him.

An old man, himself a slave of yore, was passing through the plantation and stopped to rest near that large tree. He looked at the faces of the three slaves and casually asked all three: "So how's life?"

The first slave: "It is nice to rest for a while, innit?"

The second slave: "How is life over there, beyond the hill?"

The third slave remained silent and turned his face away.