On the hurt pride of vegetarians

Sometimes, after reading some article somewhere I get really irritated. No matter how hard I try to forget and get on with other stuff, the offending words and ideas linger… like a thorn in my side. I have no option but to sit down and write about it to understand why exactly I feel the way I do about it.

This time it was this article that appeared in The Hindu written by one Vamsee Juluri who is a professor of media studies at the University of San Francisco.

(Here is some readily accessible info about the hunger situation in India. Skip it if you have already read about it(very likely).)

I have always been shocked and dismayed by the level of malnutrition, stunting and the generally dismal level of the health and development of children of the oppressed classes. The situation looks even more dismal and desperate for girl children. According to scientists, doctors and social workers there are a combination of factors responsible for the situation. The biggest among them, from what I could understand are

1. The lack of sanitation and clean drinking water. The associated level of childhood morbidity and parasite load massively impacts physical and mental development during the most critical years of growth.

2. The lack of a balanced diet in impoverished agricultural communities which lean heavily on grains for subsistence and tribal communities which have been deprived of their tradition habitats in the forest.

3. Protein malnutrition and absence of essential trace nutrients in the diet

4. Lack of basic medical facilities and simple medicines in communities that most need them

This situation is far more dangerous than most people can imagine. Between 1/3rd and 1/2 of the future of country is growing up with serious mental and physical developmental deficits. This should give any human being with a conscience a massive jolt! The seed of our national well-being is the promise of our children and if we can’t do everything possible to ensure their access to adequate sanitation and food, then we are failing in our duty to our country.

What I have said till now is public knowledge and is widely acknowledged both nationally and internationally. India ranks near the very bottom in Global Hunger Rankings, even below countries like Sudan.

The news

The brunt of this disaster is born by the children of the low-castes and dalits of the country. The dispossessed tribals and the landless. For children from these families the mid-day meal scheme and the egg-a-day schemes are a God-send that provides them with much needed protein, cholesterol, fat and trace minerals and nutrients found only in animal products. Eggs are widely considered to be critical to child-hood nutrition, even ahead of cow-milk. This is because milk is hard to keep unspoiled, is easily diluted or contaminated and is difficult to transport and store. Also, many children, especially the older ones might have difficulty digesting milk in enough quantities to matter because of lactose intolerance.

The MP government’s professed reason for denying its starving children one of the best sources of protein is not scientific. They offer no rational explanations for why it was done. The only reason thrown in the faces of these children and the food-rights activists working on their behalf is that the chief-minister has a “sentimental objection” to serving eggs in school. He is probably supported by the Jain and the other religiously-motivated vegetarian lobbies in the state.

When capacity for subtlety blinds rather than illuminates

In this situation comes along an author writing an article that criticizes the NPR for calling out the “vegetarian elites'” attempts at enforcing their misinformed dietary concepts on people ill-equipped to voice their opinion! He thinks that the article is a mere ploy to perpetuate the myth that vegetarianism is a tool the elite use to starve the poor. I don’t know what kind of a retarded mind would read the head-line(NPR article is here) and think, “Oh! Here they go again, trying to spoil the image of the vegetarians” and not “Why are some people trying to impose their dietary preferences influenced by their privilege and religion on other people who are suffering from these impositions!” It takes a frightening lack of empathy and self-absorption to engage in this kind of abstract nit-picking!

Pretensions to intellect are more dangerous than ignorance

The author thinks that it is ironic that the western media is writing against the massive over-consumption of red-meat in developed countries and the industrial production of meat it necessitates at the same time it writes against the denial of one-egg-a-day to malnourished children from the most deprived sections of an underdeveloped society! He calls himself an intellectual and is unable to understand the simple, overwhelming and almost painfully obvious differences in context between the two sets of articles. An average indian consumes less than 2 kg of meat in a year while an average american consumes more than 120kg!! Anything in excess is probably not good. (Although, the latest research seems to be pointing to the presence of refined sugar and carbs as the cause of problems of diet related morbidity in developed societies. But, I digress!)

And if he is going to argue that eggs should be denied to poor children because american over-consumption of beef causes heart problems and adversely effects the environment then maybe rice too shouldn’t be served to them as there is robust evidence for its role in causing heart-disease, diabetes and obesity in the over-fed Indian upper-class! Maybe, they should not be fed any food at all because there is strong evidence that too much food consumption by his adopted country is wrecking the environment and health of his allegedly hypocritical american friends!

Why don’t these kids care about the fucking chickens!

He writes in a whining tone about how when it comes to writing about the stunted Indian children questions of environment and “animal-ethics”(!!!!) are being ignored. Wow!! How shocking!? How dare these poor starving children not care about the environment and how their consumption of eggs is making chickens sad!! How dare they not pay attention to the sensitivities of the well-fed dog sitting comfortably in San Francisco and thinking deeply about “what diet-issues are really all about!”? Maybe, his vegetarian diet has fucked his nervous system and as seems apparent from the article in question, rendered him incapable of clear thought. That maybe why he had to waste so many words on advertising his ignorance of what diet-issues are all about when it comes to the desperately poor struggling to keep their kids in school. Here it is. In one fucking line. It is a about survival.

It maybe disappointing to his “cultured” intellect brought to maturity in the rarefied atmosphere of scholarship and privilege to discover how little the under-privileged of India care about the rights of animals. How little they appreciate the glorious “Hindu” heritage(which includes the “invention/discovery/tradition” of vegetarianism) they can lay claim to because they had the wonderful luck to be born in this country and into their situation. How little they care about the wounded sensitivities of their privileged, upper-class, Hindu, intellectual compatriots, especially, the ones who are sitting on the other side of the earth and fighting pitched battles to ensure that the western media understands the glory of their deprivation in all its nuanced complexity! But, there goes the truth!

Environmentalism for the poor

I was reading an illuminating and stunningly humane book written by my favorite author, historian and social critic Ramachandra Guha called “How much should we consume?”. It echoed exactly what I used to think about the environment and animal rights.

Environmentalism should be less about restoring some imagined justice or virginity to nature and more about allowing the human beings who depend on our environment for survival to continue living in a sustainable way without depleting the natural capital. People who rail against the poor for not worshiping animals or for eating them are almost invariably the well-fed vegetarian(rarely even non-vegetarian) elites living in protected alcoves who don’t have to countenance the cold, hard and brutal truth of nature and survival in the pits of deprivation which is expressed in the vocabulary of hunger, sudden death and chronic morbidity without hope.

The next paragraph is almost comical when you consider that this person has at least once seen the insides of a university. There is data to prove that that the upper-castes of India who for centuries have overseen the operation of one of the most efficient and ruthless engines of oppression grinding into the dust of humiliation, hunger and loss of dignity the vast and under-privileged low-caste population of India are predominantly vegetarian. The same vile bunch of books that prescribe the system of varnas also pontificate on the relative “purity” of foods and castes! People who depend on the system of caste for privilege will also believe in these insane and unscientific pronouncements on diet. There is both data and possible explanation for it. Now you know what he is going to do, right? Cite a study which shows otherwise? Hahaha no. He tells you a fucking story about what happened when he walked into a fucking mcdonalds! He tells you about what he saw inside fucking malls in AP.

Now, you can throw away all that data and history and just sue NPR for defaming the elites who are on a roll, banning or restricting access to one food item after the other. Who fund and run organizations prepared to slaughter men to protect cows. Prepared to beat woman like dogs for partying and violating Indian Culture. Prepared to expose little children to sudden and painful deaths to give dogs justice and ensure their “right to life”(granted by whom, I sometimes wonder!). Touting yoga as the solution to the problems that are crippling India. While gleefully cutting health budgets and pumping money into promoting quackery and thugs cheating people with snake-oil.

It’s about me me me!

In the next article, he cries about how they have failed to appreciate the saints, gurus and other such holy Hindus who have given up meat because of the “innate violence involved” in it and how NPR has failed to write about the unctuous practices of the meat-consuming Hindu. (As if these practices were patented by the Brahmin and is beyond the grasp of the vegetarians in other societies.) His glorious restraint, his commendable love for the cow and other such fine aspects of “Hindu Culture”. How did they have the gall to write an entire article about starving children being denied eggs and fail to mention all these things. He finds it unbelievable. Unless, it is all part of an elaborate international conspiracy to tar Hinduism and denigrate its ancient glory and mysterious secrets!

In the next paragraph, he feels that the models that show one group as lower than another is simplistic and doesn’t account for the flux in the caste situation in India. Which is funny! Because, news articles which feature stories of caste oppression and violence continue to appear with surprising regularity. Models by necessity are simple. They are only as complex as is required to make predictions about something. Do you want to understand why some people think that the family they are born into makes them superior/inferior to another human being? Do you want to understand why even the inferior ones further perpetuate this stupidity by treating some people as even more lowly than them? Do you want to understand why they believe all this shit? Models can help you. But, if you are the sort of armchair intellectual chasing imaginary pride and glory derived from their country of birth or their ancestors(stuff which they had absolutely no say in picking) then maybe the models won’t be complex enough to salve the self-inflicted wounds of your dying self-esteem.

Vegetarianism as an Indian invention

The author then continues to beg people to make the discussion about removing eggs from mid-day meal schemes into something far more complex and fill it with subtle arguments and erudite observations about the Indian brand of vegetarianism.

It is surprising how an author with cavils against the western media for paying insufficient attention to the complex Indian situation fails to see that there are vegetarians and even vegans in other countries too. That there are communities which depend on plant-based diets in even more sophisticated ways outside India. Maybe, when you accuse people of being simplistic you should be a little more careful about what you pick to be proud about yourself. No body discovered vegetarianism. No body found a particularly superior way of being vegetarian. And refusing to let other people seek nourishment from their animals is not the same as saving the environment or being non-violent. If he thinks that a vegetarian lifestyle is superior to one than includes a reasonable quantity of animal products he is free to argue for it. But, he picked the wrong context for a back-drop.

You can listen and/or read people like Bill Gates(who recently tried vegetarianism) who while working hard to curtail the consumption of animal products in the US, is also at the same time fighting to increase its consumption in Africa and South-Asia. Despite his privilege he understands the reality of undernourishment in poor countries. People who have the widest possible variety in their diets also tend to be the healthiest. One only has to visit the peoples in the East, Europe and other such areas to discover that these people are healthier, fitter and live longer that the typical Indian vegetarian. Even the well-fed ones.

Equating  non-vegetarianism with violence

This is something that pisses me off every single time I read about it. People from the cow-belt, the scripture toting, yoga fans, who live amongst people who kill, starve and take away personal agency from girl children, who support khap-panchayats and masturbate to “ancient Indian Glory” and the village life lecturing others on what does and does not constitute violence. Here is the simple truth!

There is no justice, fairness or kindness in nature. You can’t lecture a lion or a tiger on ahimsa. Right to life and happiness, right to food, right to education and right to justice are all human inventions created for our collective well-being. Human existence is a violent act. The self-superior vegetarian guys sitting inside comfy rooms insulated against the dangers and uncertainty of the wild, pecking away furiously at their keyboards in a frenzy of self-righteous indignation against all those inhuman meat-eaters fail to see the irony of their situation. If they think that human beings are being unjustified in treating other animals as less valuable than members of their own species, then they should go and kill themselves. By lightening the burden of human existence on this planet they will definitely save the habitats of countless animals and trees.

In this vast and frighteningly empty universe there is a filament of human sentience, fragile but beautiful nevertheless floating uncertainly in ultimate futility, creating its own meaning in the strength and complexity of its internal connections. We are the ones who constitute this filament. In this tremendous loneliness the only company we have are our brothers and sisters with whom we should be standing shoulder to shoulder. We don’t owe the earth or nature any more than we owe a rock. But, we need to take care of it and its diversity to the extent that we need it for our survival. That is the only kind of compassionate environmentalism possible. And that is precisely the brand of environmental protection practiced by sections of forest-dwellers and excluded people all over the world.

What constitutes violence?

Female foeticide is violence. Misogyny is violence. Denying people basic rights is violence. Poverty and deprivation is violence!

Torture of animals is wrong. Taking pleasure from their pain is the sign of a psychopath. But, making use of animal meat for food and nourishment of human beings is not evil. That doesn’t make you prone to violence or stupidity. If anything the evidence from India seems to be to the contrary. Kerala, West Bengal and other such non-vegetarian states feature the highest HD Indices while the benighted states of the cow-belt are wallowing in ignorant misogyny, violent masculinity and poisonous superstition. If anyone in the world thinks that meat-eaters are violent people or if they have some complicated theory for why eating animals makes you an environment-hating and violent anti-social(like this other equally irritating article in The Hindu did), there is a wonderful Indian invention for the number of fucks other people give about it. 0.

Quality of commentary in the paper

The quality of the intellectual commentary in The Hindu used to be good. But, over time it is deteriorating. The fall is made even more obvious because of comparisons that people draw with other liberal sources like NYT and NPR. These people never fail to impress. The piece by NPR featured Food Rights Activists from the region in question, even one vegetarian who has never touched an egg in his life arguing for the egg program for malnourished children. But, what did the Hindu do to get comments on it? Went to a privileged professor of media studies who is living and working in the seat of the decadent and hypocritical(according to him) western civilization with obviously zero knowledge of nutrition, subsistence lifestyles and grinding poverty to comment on it! How tragic! If they could find someone, maybe a parent of a child who would have been exposed to the program to comment on why the option of eggs is a bad idea rationally and objectively, that would have served to enlighten people and expand the debate.

Instead of perverting the discussion and confusing people.

Articles like these are becoming more common every day. Maybe it is in keeping in line with the growing sentiment of revanchism infecting the euphoric Hindu upper-class egged on by the administration of the country. Who knows!?

Flash Boys: A Wall Street RevoltFlash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt by Michael Lewis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A great read for the view it offers into the world of high-tech trading and the complexity of modern financial markets. The ways in which modern technology has changed share-trading is really mind-blowing. But, the best thing is, a lay-man can get a top-level view of this world of big money and high-technology in a very entertaining and gripping read thanks to Michael Lewis.

Before reading the book, I never really understood what flash-trading was all about. I just thought that it was a faster way of processing market information and using it to make relatively risk-free trades that make money for the people who invest in the required computing power.

Given my understanding I really couldn’t grasp why the people engaged in this were viewed as villains and getting pulled-up by law-enforcement now and then.

But, as I read the book, I understood that what was happening was not quite so simple. The manner in which HFTs colluded with stock-exchanges to access information that was not yet available to others to make risk-less trades against actual investors was shocking.

In a normal trade both sides gain something. It is not a zero-sum game. But, HFT is presented as a tax on the movement of capital. This is over and above what is required to solve the problem of connecting a genuine buyer with a seller. Instead of “taxes” like this reducing with better technology, they are in fact made possible and allowed to do so much damage by the growing abilities of modern information processing and transmission systems.

This book documents how a bunch of guys got together to build an exchange that would give the right incentives to the intermediaries to put the interests of their customers first.

There is no excessive moralizing. Which is a huge plus! And I really liked the concept of “long-term greedy”. It is something I have believed in myself. The problem with selfishness is not the mere fact of its existence. But, the inability of people to fully understand what really is good for them in the long-term. Of course, this is an over-simplification. The point is this. You don’t have to really suffer any pain or deny yourself stuff to be of value to your society. If the system of incentives were set up in such a way that people were rewarded for the value of their work to society then people could do good merely by doing their jobs well and earning to their maximum potential.

But, when the reward system gets corrupted you can expect the guys who lack a sense of empathy to swoop in and exploit the loop-holes for their benefit at a great cost to the broader society.

Instead of focusing on individual failures of conscience, this book tries to analyse why the scalpers wound up doing what they do and the enabling environment. Also, there is quite a bit of back-ground on “front-running” and how this practice has evolved over the decades. The author clearly explains how this activity has had increasingly deleterious effects on the markets because of the technology used nowadays to implement this conceptually simple but ethically-fraught technique.

Also, another subtle but extremely important aspect of the author’s style is how he manages to convey the difference between visualizing a corporate entity as an evil and sentient being and a mere agglomeration of groups fighting pitched battles internally for survival and supremacy. Ultimately, all businesses are made up of human beings and they can never be entirely evil or completely generous.

He merely tries to point out how faulty incentives can mistakenly reward people within the businesses to put their short-term interests above everything else and thus allow/sanction the happening of bad things.

Overall, 4/5. It is a great book. But, not quite as gripping as The Big Short! Maybe it is unfair to give a lower rating merely because the author has written an even better book! But, I am a little biased that way

View all my reviews

Picking a travel destination

You are dead tired, each step feels heavy and labored, every single muscle in your body is making its presence felt, but, the destination is in sight and relief is just a few more kms away.

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This is the best part of any hike or trek or trip. There is isn’t any more danger or uncertainty. There is no fear that you might be unable to complete the trip without getting hurt. There is just a rising excitement from finally seeing the finishing line and a feeling of relief from the crushing fatigue. You start to smile and talk more and suddenly there is a spring in  your step.

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Once the main trek was done, we took a taxi to Dhankar where we stayed at the guest house attached to the monastery and relaxed for a day before the next trip.

Spiti Valley

After a week of trekking and sleeping in the rain and snow, being finally under a concrete roof in one of the most surreal landscapes in the world is a wonderful feeling. Sitting on a terrace attached to the coffee shop gazing out at the desolation and barren beauty of the Spiti-valley while pondering over things like the motivation of people who voluntarily chose this place as their home, feels different and strange.

Dhankar Monastery

Dhankar Monastery

We spent the morning hiking up to the Dhankar lake and then I and KP spent the rest of the day lazing about and eating tasty little treats and talking at the coffee shop.

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When I think of a place to travel to, it is only rarely that I try to see if that place is objectively beautiful or if the sights are “worth-it”. The first thing I think of when picking a place is about the things that could be done there. I think that by doing something or engaging with a place physically we will be able to better appreciate what it has to offer.

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I have heard many people talk about how great it would be to visit foreign countries or go on a whirl-wind tour of the famous tourist-spots of the world. When I hear that I always wonder what it is exactly one feels when standing in front of a tourist attraction. What is the happiness you get out of taking a picture of yourself in front of the Eiffer tower or some other such landmark? One can of course see anything online nowadays. When we imagine ourselves being happy in front of a particular sight have we ever wondered why we would be happy in that position? Is it just the beauty of the sight?

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A lonely flower

I have a strong feeling that it has to be more than that. Maybe, it is the break from the routine of daily life involved in getting to the said location. Maybe it is being there with your friends or family. Maybe it is the little surprises that happen on long trips…

When I look through these old photos, the pleasure I feel comes more from remembering how I felt like at the time than from the mere aesthetic appeal of the scenery that I have tried to capture with these images.

I once cycled up the Khardung-La pass in Ladakh and was deeply affected by the experience. Once the cycling expedition was finished I got myself into a group which was hiring a share-taxi to visit the Nubra valley through the same route. The second time I went through that route, I slept most of the way and the sights that had deeply moved me the first time failed to have the same impact as they whizzed past the window of our vehicle.

A sky so rare, the moon is visible at noon!

A sky so rare, the moon is visible at noon!

I realized then that the impact travel has on us is mostly a function of our own state of mind, our physical condition, the accessibility and uniqueness of the place, interaction with our travel partners and the activities we are engaged in. If one’s stated purpose for travelling is to collect different experiences and learn something new about oneself in that process, then, the “impressiveness” of any place or sight is of only secondary importance. The way we engage with that place has a bigger say in deciding how much we are able to take away from the whole exercise.

Is there something objectively great about a place that would make a trip there worth the while? I think this is an important question for someone interested in expanding their mind in whichever way possible.

So, the next time I plan a trip, I ought to spend more time thinking about what I can do there than on whether that place is “beautiful-enough” or not.

Rant against The Righteous Mind

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and ReligionThe Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Recently, I got to read The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt. I was disappointed by the general quality of the book, the style of reasoning and the somewhat surprising conclusions the author draws from them.

Somewhere in the middle of the book, he discusses the type of people he thinks are more susceptible to liberal ideas. As examples he takes great thinkers like Immanuel Kant, David Hume and John Stuart Mill.

He says in the book that the liberal thinkers among them tended to be recluses with some anti-social tendencies.
In order to support this somewhat strange point of his he talks about how these people had few friends, had odd routines and about their dysfunctional or somewhat abnormal personal relations.

He then goes on to analyse the liberal thinkers'(John S Mill and Kant) personalities in light of his interesting Moral Foundations Theory that posits that the human moral system is founded on a few basic concepts that supposedly have their roots in basic human psychology.

According to this theory, these foundations are :-

  1. Care/Harm foundation
  2. Justice/Fairness
  3. Sanctity/Purity
  4. Loyalty
  5. Respect of authority

He thinks that conservatives and conservative thinkers depend on all these foundations “evenly”(whatever that is supposed to mean!) to make moral decisions. Whereas, liberals depend overwhelmingly on the first two to make their moral choices.

At this point the book starts to get really weird. He says that the moral foundations are like taste buds and that moral systems exhibit so much diversity because of the infinite ways in which these “tastes” can be combined to create “cuisines”.

Then, he jumps from this to his follow-on conclusion that because liberals depend on fewer “tastes” to stimulate their moral sensibilities they are less broad-minded than conservatives!! (WTF moment!) Please read the above sentence once more. I wanted to make it all caps. Because, that is how it appeared to me when I read it. It was like a giant big flashing red sign telling me that somewhere something went horribly wrong….

Hmmm…. So, turns out conservatives are more broad-minded when compared to liberals because they crave for and appreciate a more “varied (moral) diet”.

So, the liberal thinkers who made such astounding and paradigm changing contributions to human welfare by suggesting ways of removing fundamental blocks to it in our law, social and political organization and personal behavior and who have had a fundamental impact on our collective well- being in addition to providing the basic concepts that underpin the most sophisticated, peaceful and developed social systems in the world are apparently narrow-minded people because they don’t have as many moral taste-buds!! hahaha

He bolsters his case by talking about how Kant was such a loner and a strange character. He then comes up with a clever experiment. He rates people on a spectrum of qualities at the far end of which lies characteristics that indicate possible autism. He then measures the degree to which their attitudes are liberal and discovers that people who tend more towards autistic qualities are more liberal than the “normal” people.

There is a hidden implication here. The overall point of all these specious arguments, cherry-picking of facts and flawed experiments is to somehow justify his apparent “enlightenment”(more on that later) and awakening to the value of conservatism and his unstated conclusion that liberal attitudes don’t fit with “human-nature”(TM).

This is wrong on so many levels that one feels a little pity for this dude for having spent so much time on confusing himself so thoroughly. It might be true that loners who don’t spend as much time partying and hanging out with friends are more liberal. But, did he ask why? Is it because there are some neurological differences in their brains that make them susceptible to moral deviances and deficiencies or is there something about the typical lifestyle of such a person that causes them to dump conservatism?

Isn’t it likely that people with a scholarly personality will be reading a lot more stuff, spending more time thinking about things and observing others from a distance? Isn’t it possible that the consequent higher level of intellectual development and detached perspective is what causes them to realize that the purpose of human morals is human well-being and not “tasty moral cuisines”(hahaha, what a stupid fucking idea!!) and causes them to be economical with moral principles that make them more judgmental?

Extending this line of reasoning, isn’t it possible that the differences in attitudes of “normal” people and liberals might not be caused primarily by their personalities. That might be only a distal cause. The proximal cause might be the kind of universalist thinking and hunger for other perspectives that reading and thinking can generate in a person. So, if “normal” people with 10s of girlfriends and 1000s of Facebook friends and a party schedule that is limited by his/her liver capacity were somehow encouraged to read and think a lot what would happen?

He never asks these kinds of questions. Instead he just says that Kant and Mill were probably a little weird. But, he is careful to point out that he doesn’t hold that against their conclusions. That would be an ad-hominem attack. And that would be wrong(tut-tut). But… you get the idea! If you are a liberal, you are probably an odd-ball who doesn’t have many friends and is going to get divorced.

Again, he doesn’t fully explore this line of thinking. He just casts aspersions on some great thinkers, makes a half-hearted attempt at ameliorating the rape of logic and then leaves it at that, leaving the reader to fume and rage over it. So, let us examine the conservative thinkers then!

Let us look at the Popes, all the amazing Pastors, God-men, catholic-priests, saints, religious thinkers and conservative philosophers. Let us look at how successful their marriages were and how many friends they had and how few children they abused and how few women they have tortured and killed and how well they can dance the Salsa! Let us do that and see how they stack up against Kant and Mill. If you do that you will also conclude that what the author had was probably not an “enlightenment”.

Equivalence of moral systems

Since all moral systems are basically just a random combination of his moral foundations, all of them are according to him about equivalent. He never makes an attempt to see if the moral systems are tied to social conditions, economic and technological development and average levels of violence and strife in the society. He never tries to discern the overall drift of all moral systems and in which direction they are all headed.

He fails to appreciate the fact that the greatest advances in human happiness were caused by the abolition of slavery, feminism, recognition of child rights, secularism, democracy, rise of individualism and science – all of which are liberal concepts. These are also things that are spreading the world-over and which most societies are striving-for with higher levels of economic development acting as a symbiotic agent. What is happening here is not the rejection of 3/5ths of human morality(as the author would have us believe).

It is a growing realization that the first two moral foundations have the veto over the other ones.

You should not respect authority that asks you to rape and kill.

You should not be loyal to your teammates to the point that you don’t mind their cruelty to others.

You should not be so obedient that you will go out and kill someone if your dad asks you to.

You should not beat your kids because your religious text asks you to.

You should not abuse your spouse because he/she is not traditional or obedient.

Our moral feelings have a survival value. But, they are also open to exploitation and erroneous firing. The only way to protect ourselves against our own survival instincts is by recognizing the primacy of reason and justice.

He talks about how in India, the unit of social organization is the family and community and how that is so prevalent in most parts of the world(he doesn’t mention that most of those parts are also seriously underdeveloped) as compared to western individualism which is sort of rare(but kind of common in all the developed countries). He doesn’t write much about how women and children suffer under these social systems, how the country has been crippled by casteism and communal thinking and how the idea of sanctity and tradition has atrophied the intellectual growth and cultural renewal of our country.

He doesn’t make a single attempt at trying to answer one critical question. What is the fucking purpose of morals!!?? In your mind you are always thinking, “Please, please answer that!” If you read his book the idea you get is that morals are supposed to be complex and tasty and that liberal morals are just plain boring.

Morality as an end in itself

The author claims that he was a liberal who was suddenly “enlightened” and came to the realization that he was superior to both liberals and conservatives. He gives his acceptance of the moral equivalence of both attitudes as a proof for it.

But, does he say anything to convince us of this equivalence. He narrates some anecdotal incidents which alternately show the folly of both liberal and conservative solutions for particular problems. So, he goes like, “Yeah, so, you see, both liberals and conservatives are occasionally wrong and here I am like a wise old grand-dad watching the little kids squabble over gay-rights and freedom-of-speech. Tch-tch, if only they just sat back and enjoyed each other’s moral cuisines!”. And you feel like punching him in his face for being such a pretentious little prick.

Liberals are only 2/5ths as moral as conservatives

What he fails to analyse in detail is the relative priority of the foundations. Liberals don’t let the last 3 foundations effect their judgement if it contradicts the first 2. This does not mean that they are disloyal, indecent or disrespectful. It simply means that they appreciate that things are not black and white and that at times they will need to go against authority, appear indecent and break away from their groups if that is what is required to be just and compassionate. In short, their morals might be more subtle and complex than it is given credit for in the book.

It is not like liberals don’t like football or other such team sports which are so enjoyable mainly because of the team-spirit and cohesion it creates in the players.

It does not mean that they randomly break laws. Science is considered to be one of the most disciplined professions.

It does not mean that they are incapable of learning from the past or respecting tradition. After all, the most famous liberals are also some of the most erudite people.

So, when he says that conservatives are broad-minded because they consider all foundations on an equal footing, I think that he has got it ass-side-up.

Science and reason fail to appreciate the moral complexity of humans?

He routinely drops lines like, “yeah, so scientists have failed” and “rationality has failed at grasping human nature” etc. etc.. And you are like, “How did this guy get a PhD!?”.

The fundamental idea of science is that humans are fallible and that their individual judgements are of limited value when trying to ascertain facts and truths and coming up with theories to account for them. Science is precisely the solution to the vagaries of human cognition. And whatever our failings, we have to give ourselves credit for coming up with something that has worked so well!

Now, here is this guy saying that science, logic and reason doesn’t work for clarifying moral dilemmas because people just “know” that some things are wrong! They can’t give reasons for it. Obviously, you too think that they are wrong! And you can’t give reasons for it. So, hence we can prove that reasons are useless when it comes to morals.

He fails to appreciate that you can find somethings distasteful but don’t see the need for it to be banned for others or for it to be made an offense that is punishable. What you like or don’t like is different from what you consider to be morally wrong.

Liberals have a ready standard for separating what is wrong from what is merely distasteful. For example, if I were asked his “trick” question,” Is it ok to have sex with your dead chicken before eating it?”. I would probably be shocked for a second thinking why anyone would want to do that. Then, I would instantly say no. Then I would think about it for a bit more and then say, “Hey, I can’t see why you would want to do it. But, I don’t think it is a wrong thing. So, no one should stop you from doing it.”

Now, he says that some people would just say no to it. It is easy to see why. It is obviously a disgusting thing for some people, myself included. So, I can be forgiven if I just say no to it. If I think like that I am probably a conservative. But, nothing has been proved here, mind you. Reason has not been defeated here. What has been proved here is that some people don’t want to follow the lines of reasoning to their logical conclusion and are quite satisfied with giving an answer from their gut.

What he is hoping for here is that people will get confused by his own muddled thinking and conclude that reason is useless when it comes to deciding what is morally wrong and what isn’t.

If he thinks that people just know some things to be wrong regardless of their conditioning or social or intellectual background, then maybe he should have asked this question to jews and muslims.

“Hey, what do you think of me cutting-off a piece of my newborn baby’s penis(circumcision)?”. They would say, “Great Idea! Do you want me to do it?”. But, a mother who has never heard of this practice will probably take a shotgun and take off your head with it if you went anywhere near her baby’s penis with a knife.

So, as you can see, exposure and culture are strong factors in deciding what people consider right and wrong. This might not be anything innate. And it certainly doesn’t prove that reason can’t help refine social practices. For example, circumcision is just plain silliness. Female circumcision is nothing short of a crime against an innocent child. Yet, many conservatives intuitively “know” it to be the right thing to do. People who refuse to consider justice and harm to an innocent child over tradition, sanctity and deference to authority cannot be placed on a level with people who consider fairness and compassion to be of primary importance.

More on his “experiments with disgusting questions”

His experiments with these questions are just plain retarded. If I were asked whether I would want to eat the shit of a particular civet which has been fed coffee beans(Kopi Luwak), I would say no to it. Because, I am not used to it. Now, there are people who pay thousands of dollars for this thing because it is a delicacy.

So, you can see that I don’t want to consume it. But, if it were safe for human consumption, I wouldn’t support any motion to get it banned.

Just like that some actions might not be agreeable to me. But, I will not have them banned for everyone.

But, conservatives don’t want anyone to do the things they think are wrong and the things they consider to be wrong are determined more by dogma and tradition than by reason. And this is where the problem lies. He doesn’t address this issue at all in the book.

In fact, he goes one step further and aggravates the problem further by seeking to justify this kind of insular thinking by attributing such feelings to certain moral foundations. He says, “See this is why people think that way. It is human nature.”.

“Yeah, so what? “. Racism is human nature too. Violence is human nature. Rape is human nature. Murder is human nature. Theft is human nature. Stupidity is human nature. What exactly does that prove? These tendencies might have evolved in response to certain factors in the pre-historic environment of our ancestors. But, that doesn’t justify anything. And, we are certainly capable of recognising these tendencies for what they are. Unacceptable manifestations of primal instincts that need to controlled at any cost. Except maybe murder which is ok during war( I am not sure, actually, about this).

The moral foundations theory doesn’t make social conservatism appealing. It merely explains it in a slightly different and I must add, dumbed-down/scientifically shallow way.

Polarization of political debates

This is the only part that you can read without getting a headache. But, this idea has been dealt with by many other authors and I didn’t think that this book’s treatment of the problem of growing polarization and partisanship in politics was in any way extraordinary.

His ideas on how common ground can be found between people of opposing view points and on the art of convincing people are interesting, but they are neither original nor exceptionally well-presented.

There is a very strong correlation between liberalism and factors like scientific aptitude, awareness and erudition. Social conservatism thrives in an environment that dulls the above factors. What this book has done is merely explain what is already known about this phenomenon in terms of fundamental human tendencies along with claiming that social conservatism is fine because it is human nature.

Well, the real question that one is left with after reading the book is……..

“Am I a narrow-minded liberal or a broad-minded conservative!?”

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What does it take to walk away from relationships?

I have always wondered what it is exactly that prevents us from walking away from toxic people and troublesome relationships. Why do people sometimes endure bad treatment, dishonesty and shallowness? I know that humans are irrational and that everything we do needn’t have a reason. But, sometimes, it is hard to see why people stick to some people voluntarily despite them being a nuisance or at least of questionable value to them.

In long-lasting friendships, people would have done a lot for each other, sacrificed many things and gone to great lengths for the happiness of their friends. Sometimes, they may have denied themselves opportunities simply because it might have struck them as selfish or because exploiting them might have hurt their friends.

These small gestures create a feeling of indebtedness that is difficult to shrug off easily, even when it later turns out that the relationship is proving to be an impediment to one’s own progress.

I have always considered any opportunity to help any one as a privilege. But, recently, I also realized that it is a good way of giving something back to your friends. If you have always given lavishly to the people around you and never expected anything back from them, then you will find that you have a lot of freedom. If one day you decide to just leave it all behind, you can walk away without any qualms. Without any worry about feeling like a selfish/manipulative person. That freedom to walk away without even turning back to say goodbye is a precious one.

Guilt and feelings of obligation are two of the biggest factors that entangle people in useless relationships. If you are free of them, then, that means that the friends you have are people you genuinely like and want in your life. Being surrounded by such people is of more worth than any small discomfort you have to endure for it.

I am not implying that you should be wary of asking your friends for help. Just that you should not look down upon any opportunity to be of use to someone… Always give more than you take (an incredibly wise saying… even for a selfish person). It can bring immense satisfaction and peace to the fair-minded among us.

Whatever I wrote here was inspired by a book I read recently called The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini. In the book, the author talks about how some people can misuse our fundamental tendency to reciprocate by doing us unwanted favours. Though what I have written is not directly related to it, I think, that our innate sense of fairness can constrain our actions and force us into negative relationships if we let ourselves grow indebted to other people.

There is a goddess of Memory, Mnemosyne; but none of Forgetting. Yet there should be, as they are twin sisters, twin powers, and walk on either side of us, disputing for sovereignty over us and who we are, all the way until death.

Richard Holmes, A meander through memory and forgetting.