Rituals

Via Buyer Behaviour,

…Rituals give us a felling of power. They are one of the very few things, perhaps, in our control, and therefore, so important to us.
– Sumaa Tekur, The Power of Rituals

I have never understood why so many seemingly reasonable people accept and carry out mindless rituals, mostly during religious ceremonies. The quote above seems to be a good explanation. I am not sure if it is the only one, but it is certainly something to think about.

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Nursery rhymes

Take a look at another hilarious post at Let’s Put DA. I liked the one on Mamata Bannerjee the best.

Old Mamata B went to a farm. Eeya Eeya O.
And on that farm, she saw a plant. Ayyayyayyo.
With some protests here,
And some violence there.
Here a speech, there a speech,
Everywhere a screech screech.
Old Mamata B caused great harm. No Nano Nano.

Sach Ka Saamna (Facing the truth)

Today’s supplement to the Times Of India carries a column by Vinita Nangia on the controversial TV show ‘Sach Ka Saamna’. Ironically the lesson Nangia draws from the show (as do many others) is

Facing the truth isn’t all that easy and some truths are best left unsaid. Each one of us has a dark side that is best left hidden from others; revealing our dark secrets can do nothing but cause harm to loved ones. As a young lady puts it succinctly, “There’re skeletons in every cupboard, and we shouldn’t rattle them!” Another adds, “Is there really anyone out there who doesn’t have a dark deed festering somewhere in his heart?”

This is bound to destroy a lot of relationships… simply because more questions will be asked… and more truths served up on a platter! Thankfully, we all have a choice — stop watching or at least stop trying to lift the veils of illusion; believe me, it is sure to backfire miserably…
(Emphasis mine)

I should note that I haven’t watched the show yet, nor do I intend to do so. I have no interest in the private lives of random strangers. But the concept of the show (from what I have read of it) is fascinating in the context of today’s culture. This is obvious from the attention the show has got. It is worth analyzing the issues that the show raises.

The show is about facing the truth about one’s emotions and actions and whether these are consistent with one’s consciously or implictly held value system. An emotion is an automatic reaction. It is determined by one’s values. If one’s emotions are not consistent with one’s values, it means that one’s value system is not consistent with itself. In any situation where one’s value system clashes with itself, there is bound to be conflict. It is not surprising that people act badly when they are in conflict. What the show reveals is that its participants and audience – judging by their reaction – are very often in conflict about a lot of very important aspects of their lives. And worse, that this conflict is usually brushed under the carpet by repressing one’s emotions or by indulging them stealthily.

By bringing this conflict into the open, the show has disturbed a lot of people. That is good. It is good that people are concerned about the truth. But the concern will not be of much use if it does not lead one to question its cause – the inconsistencies in one’s value system. But that is not what Nangia (or any other article writer that I have read) wants to do. They all want to brush the truth, the conflict and the show itself under the carpet. Some even want to legislate the show out of existence. All of them want to preserve their existing relationships even at the cost of the truth. They think that conflict is inevitable. There is a grain of truth to that. Man is not born with a value system. He has to create it for himself. And not being infallible, it is likely that he will make mistakes. So some amount of conflict is inevitable when those mistakes manifest themselves. But the mistakes can and should be corrected. And that requires facing the truth. Conflict certainly does not have to be perpetual. For most people, it is perpetual because they have never made the effort to explicitly create a value system or even to question the one they happen to absorb from the culture. Their method of dealing with conflict is to pretend that it does not exist. When someone exposes this pretense, they want to pretend that the exposure does not exist either.

There isn’t anything wrong about not revealing the entire truth to everyone. Honesty is not an unconditional virtue. It is merely a recognition of the fact that wishing something does not make it so, that reality cannot be changed by refusing to recognize it. It is a virue when one is dealing with rational people. There is no reason to reveal the entire truth to random strangers when one does not know whether they are rational or not. But when one is dealing with people one claims to value, there can be no excuse for dishonesty. If a relationship is weakened by the truth, it cannot be valuable in the first place. Anyone who advocates hiding the truth from one’s loved ones is doing himself, his ‘loved ones’ and everyone else a great disservice.

An enjoyable post and some queueing theory

I always enjoy reading Eric Lippert‘s posts but this one is better than usual. I would like to learn to write like that.

The moral vs the practical

Via NoodleFood I came across this blog post on time management. The post is quite good in general but one particular point is not.

Determine what matters most to you. Make a list of the people, activities, and things in your life that mean the most to you and then spend the vast majority of your time focusing on these items. Be honest with yourself, though, and put on your list what really matters to you, not what you think should matter to you. [emphasis changed]

Consider the emphasized part. The author makes a distinction between what you think should matter to you and what really matters to you, between the moral and the practical. And then he goes on to say that you should choose the practical and disregard the moral. But if  ‘what you think should matter to you’ is not ‘what really matters to you’, then you have a much bigger problem than time management. If that which you consider to be moral is not practical, what sort of a moral code do you have? What purpose does it serve?

A person whose value judgements do not match his actions is a hypocrite. But the author advises exactly such hypocrisy and calls it ‘being honest to yourself’! What is the result of hypocrisy? A sense of guilt. The author seems to know that. In another point he writes

If an activity or responsibility isn’t on your list of what matters most to you, say “no” to it. Learn to say “no” in such a way as to not be a jerk, but say “no” when you need to. This is where I greatly differ from most people because I don’t feel guilty about protecting my time. [emphasis added]

I agree with the point. You shouldn’t feel guilty about protecting your time. But why do most people feel guilty about it? Because their moral code tells them that the good consists of serving others, that other peoples’ claims on your time or money or life are more important than your values – because they accept the moral code of altruism.

The author claims to feel no guilt. If that is true, then the author has rejected morality so completely that breaches of morality no longer bother him. But it also means that morality gives him no guidance whatsoever. The author might be quite good at managing his time – but to what end? Is whatever he chooses to do with his time worth doing in the first place? That is a moral question and no amount of pragmatism will answer it. But the question does need to be answered. So how does the pragmatist answer it? By default. By allowing his emotions (instead of a moral code) to determine his value judgements. Emotions are the result of earlier value judgements. If you choose not to make those judgements yourself, then you pick them up from others – from the culture in general, from the dominant code of morality. The very code of morality that the pragmatist thinks he has rejected in his day-to-day work ends up determining the goals of his life. And since the moral code of altruism is impractical and therefore destructive, the pragmatist ends up destroying his own life, values and goals – efficiently.

Counterfeit currency

There are reports that a large volume of counterfeit currency is in circulation. Apparantly the government is worried. I wonder why. Nobel prize-winning economists tell us that a recessionary economy needs “stimulus”. Counterfeit currency is “stimulus” too. Shouldn’t we be applauding the counterfeiters for creating additional “demand” and thus helping the “economy as a whole”?

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