Entertainment is Not So Innocent

In the movie Sadhgati(1981), a poor dalit man, Dukhiya, wants to welcome a brahmin to his home to fix his daughters marriage date. Dukhiya doesn’t want to go to the brahmin empty-handed and therefore cuts and carries a bundle of grass with him. The brahmin orders Dukhiya to clean the verandah, to carry heavy bags of husk from storeroom to cowshed and to cut logs of tree, before he could come to Dukhiya’s place for fixing the date. You will also see the brahmin’s wife going about her daily chores.

Meanwhile at Dukhiya’s home you find his wife Jhuria preparing the necessary offerings to the brahmin, his daughter Dhania working on a mat made of mohwa leaves for the brahmin to sit on and a plate made of mohwa leaves for the brahmin to take the offerings from. You will wonder if the brahmin does anything other than marital consultancy.

You will find one scene where the brahmin offers solace to a young bereaving husband by quoting Bhagavad Gita: ‘just as a person sheds his tattered clothes and puts on fresh ones, so does the soul abandon the old body and finds a new one.  Though your wife is dead, you must realize that her soul lives on.’ The young man finds this thought most consoling. You can say that the brahmin has taken up the role of a psychiatrist here.

The idea that orthodox religion offers solace is not new. For example, Karl Marx said: Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.

As the corona crisis (a real suffering) worsened across the world, the solutions, solaces and salvations from orthodox religion also increased.

If you are an atheist or a member of something like New Atheist movement, you would buy neither the brahmin’s consolation in Sadhgati nor the solutions to the corona crisis offered by managers of various orthodox religions. Moreover, they may even annoy you. You may be tempted to refute the theological arguments and even go as far as calling the masses of individuals looking for solace in orthodox religion as covidiots or something like that.   

Marx was neither interested in discrediting theological arguments nor was inclined to call masses of individuals idiots. He was fascinated by the very idea of the existence of religion.  For Marx, religions exist not for cognitive understanding of the world but to give consolations for human needs which are otherwise unsatisfied. As long as the needs are not satisfied, you can refute religion all you want, but in the end people either hold on to it or generate new religious ideas.  For Marx, the criticism of religion is not an end in itself but only a means to criticize “this state, this society” which produces religion.  Marx goes on and says:  

The [Aufhebung] of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. The demand to give up the illusions of their condition is a demand to give up a condition that requires illusion. The criticism of religion is therefore the germ of the criticism of the valley of tears whose halo is religion.

Consider the prospect of finding something that is similar to orthodox religion (in terms of giving solace, relief etc) and yet isn’t the same. Perhaps a secular religion in which even some of our most vehement atheists of orthodox religion can be seen participating passionately. Is there such a thing(s)? Consider these posts from Markanday Katju, former Chief Justice of India.

Now don’t think Katju is some sort of communist just because he used the metaphor ‘opium’. Before you hasten to such conclusions, see his other posts below.

So, he is a liberal who supports capitalism with some regulation. Perhaps, the honest judge’s liberal world-view explains his propensity for making such sweeping statements such as 98% Indians are fools (blaming masses of individuals) and all communists live in fine style and are frauds.

Katju identifies cricket (sports business broadly), politics (why politics? Perhaps, he meant politics of the sensational image building-cult of personality kind), movies and movie stars and so on as opiums of our contemporary world and implies that these opiums are diverting people from the real socio-economic problems.

I don’t want to be presumptuous and say that only for capitalism, entertainment works as a tool for distracting and diverting people from real issues that capitalism is not able to solve.  Because this tactic was employed even by the ruling classes of the past (as Katju mentioned about Roman Emperors).

For instance, the 16th century philosopher Étienne de La Boétie in his essay ‘Discourse on Voluntary Servitude’ offers three answers for the question: Why do the many submit to the tyranny of the few? Why do “a hundred” or “a thousand” “endure the caprice of a single man?”. One of them being entertaining diversions (the other two being custom & habit and patronage: tyrants surround themselves with dependents, who in turn have their own dependents):

Plays, farces, spectacles, gladiators, strange beasts, medals, pictures, and other such opiates, these were for ancient peoples the bait toward slavery, the price of their liberty, the instruments of tyranny. By these practices and enticements, the ancient dictators so successfully lulled their subjects under the yoke, that the stupefied peoples, fascinated by the pastimes and vain pleasures flashed before their eyes, learned subservience as naïvely, but not so creditably, as little children learn to read by looking at bright picture books.

Movie: Gladiator (2000)

While it is true that entertaining distractions are as old as history, the scale at which capitalism can deliver such distractions is unprecedented. The magnitude and variety of entertainment that is possible with capitalism would have been a wet dream of the rulers of the past. Hence, I don’t agree with Katju when he says: ‘one opium is not enough to keep the Indian masses in a state of intoxication, so several are required.’ It is not the Indian masses that need several opiums, but it is the capitalism’s capacity to deliver those ‘several’ not only in India but all over the world.

If we see each of these opiums as a commodity (as defined in Marx’s Capital): ‘an external object, a thing which satisfies through its qualities human needs of one kind or another. The nature of these needs is irrelevant, e.g., whether their origin is in the stomach or in the fancy’, then even Marx, capitalism’s fiercest critic, praised its capacity to produce commodities:

The bourgeoisie, during its rule of scarce one hundred years, has created more massive and more colossal productive forces than have all preceding generations together…. what earlier century had even a presentiment that such productive forces slumbered in the lap of social labour?   

Nothing would validate my idea of similarities between entertainment and orthodox religion as providers of (fake) solace-relief and distraction from real conditions than the tweets of movie star NTR and movie director S.S. Rajamouli made during the beginning of the corona crisis lockdown in India.

Similar to the brahmin consoling the young bereaving husband in Sadgathi and other orthodox religion managers providing unreal solutions to corona crisis, both director SSR and star NTR are providing us with their movie poster to ‘lift our spirits’ and to ‘get thrilled’ during this crisis. It is not the case that for every ‘like’ the poster gets on social media, a ventilator is added to our hospitals.

Sure, the fans of NTR and SSR must have felt a relief and courage after seeing the poster and watching the teaser, as was expressed by one such fan in the comments (below). But my focus is not on the fake relief/solace the fans had, but on the similarities between orthodox religion and entertainment (it is defined as ‘fake solace’ because neither the poster nor the teaser has any effect on improving the actual crisis situation).

I think it is fair to call SSR and NTR priests of capitalism in this instance. How did they turn themselves into such priests? The answer is: by the method of market. My speculation is that they have sensed a good market in this lockdown with people staying at homes. Because under the logic of market, nothing is sacred and everything is marketable (even orthodox religion is a commodity to be sold in the market). By this logic, the people staying at home are potential viewers. To seize this market of potential viewers they released the poster and teaser and thereby entered the reign of market, which turned them into priests of capitalism. 

RGV, capitalist priest of highest order. If only I can touch his feet once in my lifetime!

Along with the functions of catering bogus relief and distracting from real issues, entertainment also helps in inculcating hysteria(see the audience response to Bahubali in the above video) and paranoia. For instance, consider what Noam Chomsky says:

Now there are other media. Their basic social role is different: it’s diversion. There is this real mass media, the kinds that are aimed at the Joe Sixpack. The purpose of those media is to dull people’s brains. This is an oversimplification, but for the 80% or whatever they are, the main thing for them is to divert them, to get them to watch National Football League and to worry about mother with child with six heads or whatever you pick up in the super market or look at astrology or get involved in fundamentalist stuff and just get them away from things that matter. And for that it’s important to reduce their capacity to think.

Take, say, sports. That’s another crucial example of the indoctrination system. It offers people something to pay attention to that is of no importance.  Keep them from worrying about things that matter to their lives that they might have some idea about doing something about. Its striking to see the intelligence that is used by ordinary people in sports. You listen to radio stations where people call in. They have the most exotic information understanding all kinds of arcane(sports) issues. When I was in high school, I asked myself at one point: “Why do I care if my high school’s team wins the football game? I don’t know anybody on the team, they have nothing to do with me. Why am I here and applaud? It does not make any sense.” But the point is, it does make sense: It’s a way of building up irrational attitudes of submission to authority and group cohesion behind leadership elements. In fact, it’s training in irrational jingoism. That’s also a feature of competitive sports. If you look closely at these things, typically, they do have functions and that’s why energy is devoted to supporting them and creating a basis for them advertisers are willing to pay for them and so on. 

If Chomsky thinks cheering for his high school football team makes no sense, then what are we to make of cheering maniacally for a team of cricket players bought by some billionaire, with usually no connection between the players and the place they are apparently representing, and presenting this entire madness as encouraging sports?

You may ask: to many life is tough, can’t they have a respite in the form of entertainment? But the trouble is, it is not merely a respite from tribulations. It is like a drug that alleviates the pain of your war wounds. But along with alleviating the pain it is also blinding you from seeing the causes of the war. Besides, it is developing in you ‘submission to authority and group cohesion behind leadership elements and irrational jingoism’, the very qualities that make you disposed to war.

Do not underestimate the power of practice. If you practice playing piano regularly, may be you won’t become the greatest piano player, but you would sure keep getting better at playing piano. Likewise if you are engaged in some form of hysteria, jingoism, slavish activity week after week, month after month, year after year, you would only become better at these things. You become what you practice.

Stars are celebrated as Gods and Gods are celebrated as stars

Further, these opiums with their distracting abilities and irrationalities inducing capabilities are a godsend for authoritarian governments. Neil Postman in his book, ‘Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business’, comparing the dystopian visions in Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World says:

Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.
What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.”
In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.

Or think of Alan Moore, a comic book writer, amusing line: Orwell was almost exactly wrong in a strange way. He thought the world would end with Big Brother watching us, but it ended with us watching Big Brother.

Big Brother is watching us and we are watching Big Brother.It’s a symbiotic relationship

However, I think both Orwell and Huxley are right. Authoritarian governments(Big Brothers) watch us and they also prefer us watching (and thereby distracted by) Big Brother TV shows. In fact, I think Big Brothers are watching us to precisely see whether we are consuming Big Brother and not stepping out of line. Orwell was not wrong in predicting Big Brother would watch us. The whistle-blowing affair of Edward Snowden vindicates Orwell. And everything I have written so far falls in line with Huxley’s dystopian vision.

Also it is a misunderstanding of state, if you attribute it the sole responsibility for authoritarianism and exclude corporations from any blame. For example, in the preface to the essay ‘Discourse on Voluntary Servitude’ by philosopher Étienne de La Boétie, Murray Rothbard, a libertarian economist, praised Boétie for his acuity in understanding tyranny and says:

LA BOÉTIE’S DISCOURSE HAS A vital importance for the modern reader… for the libertarian… For La Boétie speaks most sharply to the problem which all libertarians—indeed, all opponents of despotism—find particularly difficult: the problem of strategy. Facing the devastating and seemingly overwhelming power of the modern State, how can a free and very different world be brought about? …La Boétie offers vital insights into this eternal problem.

While I share Rothbard’s concern about devastating and overwhelming power of the state, I would say (Rothbard’s favorite) free market needs state. As the free market worsens inequality, the state has to intervene to quell the accompanying anxieties and chaos in society. The corporations need state. The bourgeoisie needs state. As Marx says: The executive of the modern State is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie. When we say Big Brother is watching us, you have to not just include NSA, but also Facebook because here the line distinguishing state and corporations need not be distinct and can be blurry. The default position is : state for corporations and corporations for state. Political campaigns such as Bernie Sanders ‘Our Revolution’ are only attempts to tilt this default position slightly towards working people and such attempts are highly unlikely to succeed and usually fail (under normal circumstances).

Mark, my Big Brother
A bunch of Marxist police officers discussing symbiotic relationships in system (Movie: Shiva 2006)

So if Katju is right in saying that various opiums are distracting people from actual socio-economic problems, then is he right in calling 98% of Indians idiots? The answer is NO. Because people indulge in these activities for lack of real alternatives, the powerlessness to resist or act otherwise. We have a system where so called ‘enlightened’ gurus can shamelessly declare that the very idea of protest is wrong. Chomsky says it is the way the system is set up:

When I’m driving, I sometimes turn on the radio and I find very often that what I’m listening to is a discussion of sports. These are telephone conversations. People call in and have long and intricate discussions, and it’s plain that quite a high degree of thought and analysis is going into that. People know a tremendous amount. They know all sorts of complicated details and enter into far-reaching discussion about whether the coach made the right decision yesterday and so on. These are ordinary people, not professionals, who are applying their intelligence and analytic skills in these areas and accumulating quite a lot of knowledge and, for all I know, understanding. On the other hand, when I hear people talk about, say, international affairs or domestic problems, it’s at a level of superficiality that’s beyond belief.

In part, this reaction may be due to my own areas of interest, but I think it’s quite accurate, basically. And I think that this concentration on such topics as sports makes a certain degree of sense. The way the system is set up, there is virtually nothing people can do anyway, without a degree of organization that’s far beyond anything that exists now, to influence the real world. They might as well live in a fantasy world, and that’s in fact what they do. I’m sure they are using their common sense and intellectual skills, but in an area which has no meaning and probably thrives because it has no meaning, as a displacement from the serious problems which one cannot influence and affect because the power happens to lie elsewhere.

Now it seems to me that the same intellectual skill and capacity for understanding and for accumulating evidence and gaining information and thinking through problems could be used — would be used — under different systems of governance which involve popular participation in important decision-making, in areas that really matter to human life.

It is not accurate to say that people get what they deserve, but rather it is people get what the existing power systems impose on them.

In this system we either use our intellectual capacities in things that don’t matter or we stop using them entirely after enervating, alienating work

Lastly, I am not saying that since cinema, dance, music, sport etc have predominantly become ideological tools, they have to be abolished. It would be absurd to do such thing because they are not inherently evil. After all, they can be used against the system and to expose the system and there are examples doing this. However, such examples are less popular and popular examples are usually ideological. These cultural forms are not to be abolished or destroyed but to be aufhebung. The German word aufhebung is complex and has contradictory meanings such as ‘to abolish’, ‘to preserve’ and ‘to transcend’. For Engels aufhebung suggests ‘Overcome and Preserved’, i.e. a dialectical overcoming: ‘Overcome with respect to form, and preserved as real content’. Form here means the existing social relations. Therefore, for us, these cultural forms need to overcome the existing capitalist relations while preserving their real content. (For a detailed explanation on Marx’s metaphor opium, and his dialectical analysis of religion, see this paper, it is very interesting).

Puroorava Chakravarthy (8th May, 2020)

Updates on this article added on 11th May, 2020:

My friend Sreekanth Reddy Gondipalle asked me to respond to certain areas that are not clear in the above article. The following has my friend’s questions or responses in red and my responses in blue.

Sreekanth’s question: Do you have a solution for how we can achieve the state of “aufhebung” for the cultural forms?

My response: I don’t think it is about achieving exclusively aufhebung of cultural forms. I think by ‘overcome with respect to form, and preserved as real content’, Engels meant overcoming/abolishing the capitalist relations as a whole, or overcoming (or abolition) of classes themselves. It is more about a revolution that changes the entire social order. For Marx and Engels when we overcome/abolish the form (i.e. capitalist relations), that is when our true freedom begins. And this would be achieved through a proletariat revolution. Proletariat class is working class, which owns no property (i.e. means of production, more on this below) and has only its labour power (i.e. capacity to work for a wage) to offer.

Now as to answer why Marx considered proletariat class, let me quote from his ‘Towards a Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right’, the text from which I also took the Marx’s quotes on religion that I used in the article.

Marx asks: “So where is the real possibility of German emancipation?

Answer: in the formation of a class with radical chains, a class in civil society that is not a class of civil society, of a social group that is the dissolution [Auflösung] of all social groups, of a sphere that has a universal character because of its universal sufferings and lays claim to no particular right, because it is the object of no particular injustice but of injustice in general. . . It is . . . a sphere that cannot emancipate itself without emancipating itself from all other spheres of society and thereby emancipating these other spheres themselves. In a word, it is the complete loss of humanity and thus can only recover itself by a complete redemption of humanity. This dissolution of society, as a particular class, is the proletariat. . . . When the proletariat declares the dissolution of the hitherto existing world order, it merely declares the secret of its own existence, since it is in fact the dissolution of this order. When it demands the negation of private property, it is only laying down as a principle for society what society has laid down as a principle for the proletariat, what has already been incorporated in itself without its consent as the negative result of society.

Before our right-wing libertarian friends come and attack the ‘unholy’ line: ‘negation of private property’, let me explain what Marx meant by ‘abolition(negation) of private property’. Here private property doesn’t mean your tooth brush, your TV remote, or your car keys or whatever. Here he is describing the negation of private ownership of means of production, i.e. negation of the owning of means of production as a private property of the few.

Say, you, me and our other engineering friends work for some industry by offering our labour power for some wage. We spend most of our adult life at our workplace and yet we don’t own anything there (sure you can buy some stock here and there, but that doesn’t make you much of an owner). We all come together and work there to produce something that satisfies some human need. And yet we have no say in where to produce, what to produce or how to produce. We don’t have a say in whether the plant should be in USA or China or India. We don’t have a say in whether we can have the job or not have the job. All these major decisions are made by the owners. We produce things that satisfy our human needs collectively and yet the major decisions are made by a select few.

So, Marx, to put it simply, is addressing this contradiction. Marx’s line: ‘negation of private property, i.e. negation of private ownership of means of production’, can be in modern parlance roughly translated to democracy at work place, i.e. democracy extended to the economic sphere.  And it has nothing to do with taking away your favourite tooth brush, as some of our libertarian friends may claim.     

Now that we dealt with the ambiguity surrounding the words ‘private property’, let us apply Engels phrase ‘Overcome with respect to form, and preserved as real content’ to the idea of negation of private property. Proletariat is propertyless and this propertylessness is imposed on the proletariat by this (capitalist) society. When the proletariat abolishes private property and establishes a new society, it changes its propertylessness into something quite different (When proletariat demands the negation of private property, it is only laying down as a principle for society what society has laid down as a principle for the proletariat).  The proletariat is propertyless in both capitalist and new societies. But it is one thing to be propertyless in capitalist society and it is quite something else to be propertyless in new society (which is formed through abolition of private property (i.e. capitalist relations)). The real content of the proletariat, that is being propertyless, is preserved and yet it is changed into something very different by overcoming the form (i.e. capitalist relations). Now you may ask me if such a proletariat revolution can ever happen. Seeing the world as it is now, I am pessimistic. But looking at history gives me hope. Capitalism itself emerged overthrowing feudal social order through bourgeois revolutions. Though the defenders of the existing system vehemently propagate the idea that liberal democracies in their capitalist form as the end of history, that we have achieved the final form of organizing ourselves, I think history says otherwise: the only constant is change and everything is in flux.

Sreekanth’s response: You seem to vehemently diss the idea of people devouring distractions (“watching movies”) as a form of entertainment.

My response: “Vehemently dissing”, not really.  I actually empathize with people. I am not making these observations as a neutral observer from mars. I myself participate in this society and you can blame me for seeking these entertainment pleasures, though the level at which I engage with them may be very low compared to normal standards, for example I don’t care about IPL and most other things that are popular, but I do watch an occasional movie for entertainment. So, I am not vehemently dissing, rather I think I tried to explain why we spend so much of our energy on these trivial things and why we are so helpless:  because of lack of real alternatives etc.

Friend’s question: What do you suggest the bourgeoisie to do in a time like this (COVID-19 Lockdowns)?

My response: I’m assuming there is a little confusion over the word ‘bourgeoisie’ here.

From the second definition in the above image, you can see bourgeoisie means the capitalist class, i.e. the current ruling class. It also has the meaning ‘middle class’ for historical reasons. In 18th and 19th century the term ‘middle class’ was used for capitalists, since the upper class at that time meant aristocrats or nobles.  So for our purposes, bourgeoisie isn’t middle classes, but includes people like Bill Gates, Ambani, Jeff Bezos, Tata etc and may be extended to their friends such as Obama, Trump, Modi, Sonia Gandhi etc in a broad sense. So, what can we ‘suggest the bourgeoisie’? NOTHING. They will do what they have to do, to preserve their privileged positions.

Friend’s question: Why do you think it is a bad idea to completely abolish several forms of entertainment like sports, movies etc. when you see them as mere distractions or means to numbing the brains of the general public?

My answer: It is not true I saw them merely or only as distractions, but yes, I think, I am guilty of not elaborating on it. And thank you for pushing me in this direction.

Because it would be absurd to abolish them. What would human life be without art, music, dance, cinema or sports etc. For example, we all have a natural tendency for sports, i.e. to play. Not just humans, but even in other animals you see this tendency. We see dogs and puppies playing freely and they don’t need a market of audience to do it or even worse, they don’t have to be bought by some billionaire in order to play.

These are necessary for humans’ natural urge for expression or play etc. It is only in certain social relations they turn into ideological tools. Take another example such as sex.  If we agree sex is a human urge for intimacy and affection, see what our capitalist relations has done to it. Intimacy is removed and in exchange we are offered porn to consume it as a commodity. I am not being moralistic here. I’m not saying porn is immoral and every penis that watches it should be punished and so on. Only that things have to preserve their real content, while overcoming the form (existing social relations).

In the last paragraph I said: ‘After all, they can be used against the system and to expose the system and there are examples doing this. However, such examples are less popular and popular examples are usually ideological’. Though I didn’t elaborate on it, what I was trying to say was, in every cultural form both ideological and utopian (revolutionary) dimensions need to be seen.

Consider religion. Theodore Adorno, a German philosopher and sociologist, on religion becoming a commodity in capitalist society says: Religion is on sale, as it were. It is cheaply marketed in order to provide one more so-called irrational stimulus among many others by which the members of a calculating society are calculatingly made to forget the calculation under which they suffer.         

But see what Max Horkheimer, a philosopher and sociologist belonging to the same school of thought as Adorno, says on the utopian aspect of religion: The concept of God was for a long time the place where the idea was kept alive that there are other norms besides those to which nature and society give expression in their operation . . . Religion is the record of the wishes, desires and accusations of countless generations.

And from Mckinnon (2005): While it is true that in Marx’s text, religion is an “illusory happiness”, there is still a kernel of happiness there, happiness in promised form. The history of religion records the “wishes, desires and accusations” of oppressed human beings. When they are not sui generis dreams, these visions of another reality are designed as the promise of a blissful hereafter for obedient slaves. Do they not nonetheless, in their vision of another reality, also open up new possibilities for imagining “real happiness”?

Frederic Jameson, a Marxist literary critic, in his work The Political Unconscious asks us to see the interplay between the ideological and Utopian(revolutionary) dimensions of a cultural form :  a process of compensatory exchange must be involved . . . in which the henceforth manipulated viewer is offered specific gratifications in return for his or her consent to passivity. In other words, if the ideological function of mass culture is understood as a process whereby otherwise dangerous and protopolitical impulses are ‘managed’ and defused, rechanneled and offered spurious objects, then some preliminary step must also be theorized in which these same impulses – the raw material upon which the process works – are initially awakened within the very text that seeks to still them.

All these examples are taken from Mckinnon (2005) paper, which I also mentioned at the end of the article. It is a very interesting paper that describes Marx’s dialectical analysis of religion and how this analysis averts narrow instrumentalism (or functionalism). Please check it. I have focused more on the ideological dimension in my article because I think that is the dominant one at this stage of our history. And I thank you for asking these questions which led me to detail other dimensions.    

The Lure of Natural Sciences

Jordan Peterson, a psychologist and a right wing self-help guru, on hierarchies: These creatures(lobsters) engage in dominance disputes. Because lobsters aren’t very empathic and they are not very social. So it really is the toughest lobster that wins. When a lobster wins, it flexes and gets bigger(stretches). He looks bigger because he is a winner and he is advertising it. The biological, the neural chemical that makes him flex is SEROTONERGIC and you think what the hell does that mean.  Well, it means it’s the same chemical that affected by anti-depressants in human beings. So if you are depressed, you are like a defeated lobster. And if you give someone an anti-depressant then they stretch and ready to take on the world again. Well, if you give lobsters who defeated in a fight serotonin, well they stretch out and fight again. We separated from those creatures on the evolutionary time scale somewhere around 350-600 million years ago. And the damn neuro chemistry is the same. And that’s another indication of just how important hierarchies of authority are. They’ve been conserved from the time of lobsters. These hierarchies are older than trees. From a Darwinian perspective, what constitutes real is that which has been for the longest period of time. So for human beings, the idea that hierarchy has exerted selection pressure is indisputable.

Christine Lagarde, French Finance Minister in 2008, on 2008 financial crisis: Gender-dominated environments are not good, particularly in the financial sector where there are too few women. In gender-dominated environments, men have a tendency to… show how hairy chested they are, compared with the man who’s sitting next to them. I honestly think that there should never be too much testosterone in one room.

Ben Shapiro, a conservative pundit, on gender pronouns: I’m willing to call Caitlyn Jenner, Caitlyn Jenner. I’m not willing to call Caitlyn Jenner a she. Because you can’t change your sex, you can change your name. Caitlyn Jenner is a man, a biological man. And if he were born with high doses of estrogen (primary female sex hormone) in his bloodstream, he would also not be a woman. You are determined by your chromosomes. And facts don’t care about your feelings.

Smiley Nani, who was arrested for insensitive remarks, on 2019 Hyderabad rape: No one rapes on purpose. When one sees a girl, one gets into mood and the accompanying huge release of hormones makes one lose control. That’s it. Nobody rapes with a pre-plan.

From Canadian Jordan Peterson to our own Guntur Smiley Nani, what is the common theme that runs through their arguments? They were answering complex questions such as: Why hierarchies exist? Why 2008 financial crisis happened? Why men rape? And they all resorted to base their answers on natural science, in this instance biology.

Jordan Peterson apart from getting the details of neuro chemistry wrong (Jordan “And the damn neuro chemistry is the same” Peterson), making the lobster comparison invalid, more importantly made the fallacious argument that since we have a continuity with lobsters on an evolutionary scale, hierarchies are natural, real and justified. Even if we choose to answer by resorting to biology alone (such reduction is absolutely wrong, but let’s grant poor Peterson this), there are examples such as bonobos, who are not only the closest living cousins to us on evolutionary scale but also social creatures, and sea horses whose male are the caregivers and many other species’ life styles that would put Peterson’s world view to rest.

Christine Lagarde’s answer to financial crisis is an example of neoliberal feminism. Filling powerful financial positions with more estrogen instead of testosterone is somehow going to solve/better the issue without addressing the contradictions in the financial institutions, their structure and how they work. It is like believing that the blackness of a black American president would somehow lead to better policies and politics, without looking into the issues such as “politics is the shadow of big business”. 

Ben Shapiro wants his prejudice against transgender people to win. He wants the traditional conservative gender roles to prevail. His claim that he uses pronouns based on biology is sophistry of highest order. Consider the lines from the wiki page on Titanic: “Titanic sank after striking an iceberg during her maiden voyage. She was built by the Harland and Wolff shipyard.” Here writers used ‘her’ and ‘she’ while addressing Titanic not because Titanic has XX chromosomes. But because it’s a convention to address ships with she pronoun. The trouble here is not transgender people’s ignorance of biology but rather it is Shapiro’s misconception of how language works. In our mundane lives, we address a transgender person depending on how they appear. If an individual transgender prefers a particular pronoun, we try to use it as a showing of courtesy. Not because of the dictates of biology.

As to Smiley Nani, he didn’t know that one has to be a Canadian psychology professor or at least a Telugu conservative cultural ‘uplifter’ before one makes stupid or insensitive remarks and not get arrested.  

SMILEY NANI WENT JUST ONE STEP DEEPER AND EXPLAINED THE BIOLOGY BEHIND IT. OTHERWISE SMILEY IS UPLIFTER, UPLIFTER IS SMILEY

When Ben Shapiro tries to intimidate his opponents with his mantra- “facts don’t care about your feelings”, he is very likely referring to facts from natural sciences rather than social sciences. There is a tendency to place natural sciences over social sciences. And this tendency leads to the belief that if my argument involves concepts and facts from natural sciences, then my argument is rock solid. And it is for this reason that the likes of Shapiro, to defend their conservative views, trouble themselves to make the laughable connection between language’s pronouns and biology’s chromosomes.

You can make a valid argument based on natural sciences, when it is relevant. I am not denying that. However, if you tell me that high levels of some hormone xyz in the blood samples of Occupy Wall Street protestors is the reason why they are angry, then even though the finding of high levels of that hormone is an objective fact, it isn’t contributing any answer/solution to the question: why the protestors are angry? It is as absurd as a zoologist studying the life of a lion as a collection of atoms moving together.

There is a blog named Why Evolution Is True run by a biology professor named Jerry Coyne. Despite its title, the topics in the blog aren’t restricted to biology or evolution. I visit this site to see what’s happening in the centrist or centre-right American political bubble.  Recently, I saw an article asserting that Freud is a fraud, which went like this:  

About fifteen years ago, I decided to read Freud. After all, he was touted as one of the three greatest thinkers of our time, along with Einstein and Marx (all Jewish men), and while I found Marx boring, I could at least try to read Freud… I was appalled. As a scientist, I recognized that his works were tendentious in the extreme. He wasn’t following the data, but massaging the data to conform to his preconceptions.

One may even doubt how valid or sensible is the question: top three greatest thinkers of our time? I request you to put that doubt aside for now and move forward. I don’t know anything about Freud. Hence I cannot say anything about the claims in the article. But what drew my attention is the first comment (Note 1, notes at bottom) under this article:

Fine, Marx and Freud are talentless hacks according to Ryan. But what’s interesting for our purposes here is what’s on Ryan’s top three list: Dirac, Feynman and Hawking. Dirac- a PHYSICIST. Feynman- a PHYSICIST. Hawking- a PHYSICIST. Even the not smart enough physicist like Hawking is better than the talentless hacks Marx and Freud. I think we have reached a point, let’s call it Ryan Point, where a physicist lecturing on ancient Indian history will be seen as more valuable than an actual historian lecturing on the same subject. And what will happen if Ryan comes to know that Einstein (the genius) wrote an article titled Why Socialism? , which, if the name of the author isn’t mentioned, reads very much like something written by some Marxist (hack)? (Note 2)

A doctor friend of mine lately wrote this in relation to climate change:

Climate change is not a population problem. The rich contribute the most to climate change and the poor are affected most by it. Under these circumstances, again blaming the entire masses of population is sheer cruelty.

More importantly climate change or global warming is a politico-economic problem, i.e., systemic problem.  The politics and economics of climate change cannot wait.

The corporations (fossil fuel in this instance, but this is a pattern) prefer short term profits over saving the planet. These corporations with their political lobbying will not allow anything that affects their profits. Also they knew long before(in 1968) any literate or illiterate person know what their products were doing to the planet. The knowledge of global warming chemistry didn’t stop them from pursuing profits. The men who run these corporations do not have to be inherently evil (although I feel most of them are). The logic of capitalism is enough.

Not only just political lobbying, but also these corporations run think tanks such as Cato Institute, Reason Foundation, Heritage Foundation etc that propagate ideas that deny climate change, in turn hampering my doctor friend’s very idea of enlightening people about carbon footprint in the first place. It is easy to see that those who own the means of production can also own the means of communication. Therefore, they can communicate whatever ideas they want much more effectively and rapidly. Besides, corporate media is more interested in what is marketable than what is useful.

Bhai (Salman Khan) promoting corporate media as progress

It is attractive but absolutely wrong to promote a primarily politico-economic problem such as climate change as a problem of global warming chemistry and individual responsibility (Note 3). Any climate movement that lacks a political angle is bound to be a failure.  

Lastly, I myself was a culprit of drooling over natural sciences. In 2017, I wrote an article titled: How to Win a Noble, which was simply a rant against everything that is wrong with society and which luckily got published in EPW. I wrote a second article (tentatively titled Do Pure Science or Die) answering the responses to the first one. It wasn’t wrong on its own. Research in natural sciences should be taken seriously. But it gives an impression that the root of all evil lies at the lack of (natural)scientific spirit. It was appropriately rejected by EPW. 

Why are natural sciences placed above social sciences? I think for the following reasons:

Social sciences if not in the service of the rulers (like think tanks mentioned above), are a real threat to the ruling classes. Any science that unmasks the lies of the establishments and shows them for what they are will be obviously in big trouble. For example, even in natural sciences, evolutionary biology has trouble in society, unlike quantum physics or relativity, because it is a threat to organized religion’s (an establishment’s) creation myths. Authoritarian governments are usually happy with natural sciences-technology universities but have a special relationship with social science universities. So, for the elites, the less the critical ideas of social sciences are promoted the better.

There is a drive for STEM(Science(natural), Technology, Engineering, Mathematics; you can include Management, Chartered Accountancy and other non-technical fields that work within and not against the system as well) because market provides better job opportunities. Because market decides what is valuable, one can see there will be a lot of value in education that promotes obedience and conformity to authority along with cut throat competition among students.

My formal education is in Mechanical Engineering 😦

I think it was Chandrababu Naidu, pioneer of neoliberal market policies in Telugu states, who said no to student politics (though he himself was a student politician) because that will shift their focus from studies and ruin their careers. Though on the surface this may sound like a benign avuncular suggestion, it actually resulted in severing the connection between individual and society, in making individuals obsessed with their private lives and in merely becoming tools of production.

I looked into various ads related to education apps and education, and this is what I found (a summary video below).

Here I found how a sports jersey with label BYJU (an education app) helped the players to know how to win, how to lose but not lose face and so on and so on (in the words of philosopher Zizek).

Here I found Sharukh Khan in various dad avatars worried about son’s MATHEMATICS learning, daughter’s MATHEMATICS learning, son’s FUNDAMENTAL LAWS-ENERGY-NUCLEUS (i.e. PHYSICS) learning, daughter’s OXYGEN-RED BLOOD CELLS (i.e. BIOLOGY) learning.

Here I found a son’s knowledge of how ELECTRICITY (PHYSICS) works saving his ignorant father from an electric shock. Conclusion: a safe Diwali is a happy Diwali.

Here I found parents anxious about their children spending too much time on phones, tablets etc. It turns out that the children were working on MATHS, PHYSICS, CHEMISTRY AND BIOLOGY.  

Here I found Uncle Mahesh Babu testing his nephew’s ALGEBRA.

Here I found Uncle Mahesh Babu realizing that his nephew is Edison.

Here I found extramarks for PHYSICS (PROJECTILE MOTION) and by the way, what’s with the obsession with projectile motion in all these ads?

Here I found a curious boy of working-class parents asking questions:

1) Dad, how does the ant chew food?

2) Dad, why is the air invisible?

3) Dad, how does the wheel move?

4) Dad, why doesn’t mom have a moustache like you do?

5) Dad, why can’t I see stars during day?

6) Dad, this tree… (about to ask his sixth natural science question but gets interrupted by his father)

My question is, why is the boy’s curiosity limited to natural science questions? Why isn’t he asking, how is it possible that three rich American individuals (Bezos, Gates, and Buffet) hold more wealth than bottom 50% Americ …Okay, sorry, I got carried away. Those are my questions.

Why isn’t he asking: how is it that these three people sit above while the rest of us sit below? Or why aren’t you able to provide your son a decent education despite working so hard?

The child’s curiosity is limited because these ads reflect an ideology that wants you to see society as natural and therefore be uncritical.  Whereas you can be curious about natural world, since it won’t threaten the status quo.  

Along with evangelistic excitement towards natural sciences, there is also the aspect of isolating the individual even further. Each individual with his phone (or tab) is submerged in his own world. No social interaction with your fellow learners. No human-like attachments with your teacher. Just extra-marks, just ruthless competition.

Anyway, what daddy Sharukh Khan, uncle Mahesh babu and a cricket team got to do with education?  Sorry, I forgot. These are stars. And stars bring better market prospects. I forgot that invisible hand is a magical wand that turns our stars into John Deweys of our times. Market is a force of nature.

A PROPHETIC MESSAGE FROM MOVIE NETWORK (1976)

In conclusion, my purpose here is not to reduce the significance of natural sciences but only to question the excesses. My purpose here is to give social sciences their due place.

Puroorava Chakravarthy (10th April, 2020)

Note 1: I included this example because I think there is an overlap between groups that are enthusiastic about free market neoliberalism (American center, center-right) and groups that kneel before the altar of natural sciences.

America’s political center is actually not so center

Note 2: Here I am not arguing that because Einstein was a socialist, you should be too. I am only concerned about Ryan’s health.

Note 3: For a detailed answer on this systemic vs individual responsibility, see my long reply to a friend (especially 4th reply).

Note 4: I found one UNICEF education ad that targets discrimination. But it is a general ad saying not to discriminate people and not an ad about a curious kid, who asks why such discrimination? Also a kind lady helps the kid, but I feel these things are not fully achievable without a fight.

Note 5: I also found one stupid ad from Idea Network. It thinks it is a brilliant idea to educate children through teacher voices over phones and that is going to solve the problem.

Note 6: I wanted to name it In Defence of Social Sciences. But The Lure of Natural Sciences has better market 😉

Do Pure Science or Die

Note: This was written in response to the replies I got to the article: How to win a Nobel, which was published in EPW. This was rightly rejected by EPW. Later, I realized the rejection is justified and the reasons in The Lure of Natural Science may explain why.

My article ‘How to win a Nobel’ in Economic and Political Weekly provoked a variety of critical responses from my friends. One variety chastised me for not understanding the noble mercantile spirit of announcing Rs.100 Crore to future Nobel Prize winners as a form of science encouragement. To this, I apologize from the bottom of my heart for not falling in line with the ‘market’ spirit of our times.   

Another sort questioned on why fundamental science research should be prioritized when there are other pressing and immediate problems. And yet another class challenged the very idea of society supporting fundamental research. The last one reminded me of a famous line, ‘why should we subsidize intellectual curiosity?’ from Ronald Reagan’s campaign speech.

The proponents of ‘pressing and immediate problems’ should realize that to create any technology that solves a problem, first one has to have a real understanding of the forces of nature that are involved. A special emphasis on the phrase ‘real understanding’ is needed here to separate from other ‘understandings’ that are fake, unrealistic and drenched in mysticism.  Fundamental research is nothing but an endeavor to obtain a real understanding of nature.  

Scientific method is the backbone of any fundamental research. Like it or not, so far the only method that gave us a real understanding of the forces of nature is the scientific method. Oxford dictionary defines scientific method as: “A method of procedure that has characterized natural science since the 17th century, consisting in systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses.” It is no accident that the greatest technological explosion that our species ever witnessed is simply followed after our adherence to scientific method. 

It is true that the fundamental research results of today need not be applicable to our on hand problems. However, the value of fundamental research should not be measured in terms of the immediacy of its applicability.  In fact, running the enterprise of science as an exclusively need-driven and not as curiosity-driven entity can lead to counter-productive results.

Max Planck, one of the founding fathers of quantum mechanics, said, “Scientific discovery and scientific knowledge have been achieved only by those who have gone in pursuit of it without any practical purpose whatsoever in view.”

Scientists are motivated by curiosity to unravel the mysteries of universe. Einstein was not worried about the accuracy of GPS (Global Positioning System) devices when he was trying to understand the notions of space and time; Newton was not anxious to launch communication satellites when he was studying the motion of heavenly bodies; Rontgen was not concerned about fractured bones when he discovered X-rays; Curie was not contemplating cancer therapy when she was assiduously working on the extraction of radium from pitchblende; Maxwell was not fantasizing cell phones and televisions when he was wondering about those elegant and concise fundamental equations of electromagnetism.

Popular science writer Carl Sagan said, “Maxwell’s equations have had a greater impact on human history than any ten presidents.” I wonder what Sagan would have said if he saw our present powerful political class.

Alexander Fleming, the discoverer of penicillin-the first antibiotic that saved millions of lives, said, “When I woke up just after dawn on September 28, 1928, I certainly didn’t plan to revolutionize all medicine by discovering the world’s first antibiotic, or bacteria killer. But I suppose that was exactly what I did.” 

One of the greatest physicists of our time, Steven Weinberg in a talk titled ‘On The Shoulders Of Giants’ available on YouTube stressed the need to advance pure science. He said:

Discoveries in fundamental science change the way we live but it doesn’t happen immediately. And to take an example, a little before the end of the 19th century, J. J. Thomson in Cambridge was making fundamental studies of the way electricity flows. And in the course of these studies he discovered, what it was the first discovery of elementary particle, the electron. And a huge electronics industry could not exist without the knowledge of the existence of this particle which carries electric currents in all ordinary electric circuits. If J. J. Thomson in 1897 had been directed to work on practical problems, problems of immediate technological importance, he would have developed a better STEAM BOILER. But he would not have discovered the electron.

I think another important and this is less rarely recognized spin-off from high energy physics is that it has tremendous intellectual attraction and I see this with students coming into my university. Many of them motivated to go into science because of the challenge of discovering fundamental facts about the way the world is ordered and many of them become scientists who do things of great practical importance.

The society that decides that it will only support applied science and not waste money on pure science is likely to be a society that will wind up with neither

No doubt, science has to attend to an impending issue like global warming (although I think of it as more of a political problem), find a cure to HIV, cancer etc. But the gravity of our present problems should not lead us to the conclusion that pure science research is a total waste of time and resources. The boundaries of our understanding of the universe should always be on the move.

Science apart from giving technology and improving the material lives of people, it also adds to our lives in a subtler way. I am almost tempted to say that science enhances the ‘spiritual’ experience of our lives. But I refrain from using the word ‘spiritual’ since it has been hijacked by all kinds of charlatans, quacks, babas and swamijis and gave it a supernatural, mystical texture. 

Consider a few facts that science revealed to us: the humbling fact that we are not the center of the universe but just an insignificant blue planet (though, a precious thing from our perspective) orbiting around an average sized star (Sun). There are about 100 billion stars in our galaxy alone and the number of galaxies is estimated to be another 100 billion; the idea that all life on earth is related at a very fundamental level and share the same DNA code. We share a staggering 98% of our genetic makeup with our closest evolutionary cousins, chimpanzees and bonobos; the chemistry in our bodies is made in the cores of collapsing stars and that we are actually stardust; the fascinating aspect of telescope as a time machine because everything we see is light and light takes time to travel. If you are looking at the next nearest star, Proxima Centauri, in 2017, what you are seeing is happening in 2013. When you look up into the sky, you are looking into the past; the mind-boggling concepts such as time dilation and length contraction from relativity; and there are more molecules in a glass of water than there are glasses of water in the ocean.

The awe and reverence evoked when we learn about ourselves and the universe is characteristically human.  This remarkable feeling does not need any supernatural prop or any kind of mysticism. Science is enough.   

Children are extraordinarily inquisitive.  But only a few individuals maintain the impressive curiosity levels of their childhood in their adulthood. Shouldn’t our society pamper and nurture these curious creatures when they are adding both to the intellectual and material reserves of our species? Is our overall education system helping in creating such individuals?

Einstein famously said, “It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.”  Doesn’t our present situation reflect this quote? For example, consider the teaching of Newton’s Laws of motion to high school students.  To many students, the significance of Newton’s Laws lies in the likeliness of their appearance on exam and the number of points they carry and not in what they reveal us about the nature. Clearly, things are going upside down.

Forget about pampering scientists, what about our general attitude towards scientists? A few years ago, when I had a Facebook account, the most popular troll circulating on Newton was, “Physics would have been much easier if a tree had fallen on Newton’s head instead of an apple”.  The irony was that the majority of people on my friends list who shared this meme are those with either engineering or some science degree.

Don’t think I am of the attitude that scientists should not be made fun of. I am of the opinion that no one is an exception, even gods or god-sent politicians, when it comes to sarcasm or humor.  But great comedy not only makes you laugh but also reveals something profound.  The Newton troll that was circulated among engineers and science graduates reveals only something profoundly sad.  It shows that we are manufacturing lots of degrees in technology and sciences and not individuals with an appreciation for science and its methodology.

Puroorava Chakravarthy (May, 2017)

To My Friend, Ravi Teja Katragadda

My friend(Ravi Teja) emailed me this:

I want you to write a critique/comment on the topic Protest Vs Action.

Do the one who protest do enough in terms of action

Do people who act also protest

If one has power (Power can be money, influence anything that works), should he influence people to protest or act, and if so how?

Example:

1. I have never seen Bill Gates protesting. After retirement with the money he has, he is been developing toilets for africa.

2. Sadhguru, with his power is acting on environment and making people act on it

3. Jane fonda has been protesting on climate change

4. Greta Thunberg has been protesting on climate change

—————————————————-End—————————————

My 1st reply:

Power is the capacity to do things. To have power is to have the ability to get things done. Once we define power as such, there is a dichotomy between protesters and actors (no pun intended). Those who act are able to act because they have the power to act, whereas the protesters lack power to make changes they want and therefore have to organize and protest, so as ‘to make the deaf hear’.  The actors are powerful while the protesters are powerless.

Let’s take your own examples. Bill Gates is able to build toilets in Africa, because he has the power (money) to do so. But when it comes to Jane Fonda, the situation is different. Sure, she is a famous personality. As a daughter of legendary actor and a prominent actor herself, maybe she has the power to get a role for you and me in a Hollywood movie. But when she is against the fossil fuel industry, she is powerless.

By the late nineteenth century, Svante Arrhenius work revealed that release of carbon dioxide into atmosphere has affect on earth temperature. By 1960s, the fossil fuel industry was aware of the grave consequences of burning fossil fuels. Meaning, we should have acted on climate change and searched for alternative energy sources at least forty years ago. But that didn’t happen. Why? The fossil fuel industry with its power to act, acted on climate change denial instead.  The fossil fuel actors achieve this through political lobbying (In USA, the republican establishment calls climate change a hoax while the democratic establishment acknowledges it, but does very little to avert the disaster). Through creating institutes that have ‘experts’ to deny climate change, through funding professors in universities, media ‘analysts’ that do the denial job. Why? There is a lot of money (power) in oil. They would rather see the world collapse than lose the profits. There are ‘philosophies’ out there extolling these values as virtue. To have some idea on how corporations mask the issues that are important to people but are at odds with corporate interests, read this book called Merchants of Doubt or watch the documentary by the same name.

 Your question of ’act versus protest’ reads like ‘what has protest ever achieved?’. To give you a few examples:

  1. The civil rights movement in USA achieved legal and constitutional rights to African Americans.
  2. The Indian independence movement in its various forms.
  3. Bernie Sanders political campaign for health care as right, tuition free public universities, 15 dollar minimum wage and most importantly his policy to avert climate disaster is in its essence a protest against the existing establishment.  
  4. The reason you have an 8 hour job shift rather than a 19th century 16 hour shift is because the workers who came before you protested and demanded it. It wasn’t the result of our magnanimous bosses’ benevolence. If anything, the owners of the industry dismantled the worker unions in the last forty years.

In all the examples above, it is those with less power that are protesting against the powerful and none of the above achieved their ends overnight.

 It would be absurd for Bill Gates to merely protest (and do nothing else) about the lack of toilets in Africa when he has the capacity to act. One does not have to protest if one has a means to act. It is also absurd if you accuse one for not acting, when one doesn’t have a means to act. For example, it would be silly if you accuse me for not building toilets in Africa.

Also protest is an action. It is the action of those with less power. This act involves a large number of powerless people to organize themselves to achieve a certain end by protesting against the powerful. What protestors lack in money and position, make up through numbers, organization and solidarity. It is natural for the powerful to hold such methods of action in contempt. But what’s sad is, as a result of successful spread of neoliberal ideas of cut-throat individualism, the very idea of collective protest has become unpopular. I think this will change.

Furthermore, there are many questions. Why one individual, Bill Gates, has so much wealth (power) over others? To take just one example: why three individuals (Jeff Bezos, Bill gates and Warren Buffet) have more wealth (power) than the bottom 50% of Americans? Are these three men born with three natural penises each? And is there a rule somewhere that I am ignorant of, that says, those with three natural penises are allowed to accumulate wealth in gigantic proportions? Are they divinely ordained by the religion of capitalism? Because this was the argument in feudal times: since kings are divinely ordained, they could have all the money and power.        

You may argue that Bill Gates through his intelligence and ideas came up with Microsoft and that made him super rich. Yes, I agree Bill Gates is an intelligent man. No doubt. But is his intelligence so high that it justifies his disproportionate wealth? Are all the CEOs who earn 300-500 times more than an average worker, are also 300-500 times more intelligent than the average worker? Are there any studies proving this disproportionate intelligence correlation with disproportionate wealth? Or is it just three penises rule?

Is the rich individual solely responsible for the creation of this wealth? Or is wealth socially created? For example, Steve Jobs is hailed as the maker of iPhone. Jobs biographies have been written and made into movies. He enjoys a cult like status in pop culture. But are the technologies in iPhone developed by Apple or are they developed in public sector?

In the movie Agent Sai Srinivasa Athreya, the protagonist says something like, “the institutions that are involved in religious crime are often involved in charity. While it may appear that they are kind and good, these activities of charity are actually a facade to hide the sickness involved.” Similarly, there are studies exposing the charities of the high priests of capitalism. I am not pointing out Bill Gates here. May be Bill Gates is genuinely moved by the condition of Africa, I don’t know. The question here is not whether a particular rich individual is benevolent or otherwise. (If anything, depending on the benevolence of a few individuals (oil industry owners) has led to the existential threat called climate change.) The question here is: why should I be okay with a system that makes me depend on the charity/benevolence of one or a few super-rich individuals?  Puroorava Chakravarthy (13th October, 2019)   

Reply from my friend:

Ok one version of the critique.

What about people with no money, but are genuinely inspiring people by action rather than protest.

Read about Saalumarada Thimmakka. Just with her husbands help she was able to plant so many trees. She is 97 and still does it. There are lot of people in India like thimmakka.

One of the easiest ways of some improvement in carbon foot print and climate change is go vegetarian. It’s effect is greater than driving cars and running factories. These activists can try to influence people by action from individuals.

Also Sadhguru, he is only making money by his yoga classes, selling his yoga stuff, but heavily involved in growing trees. He has actually produced results in some 10000 acres. He is talking to governments by examples and was able to convince people also.

————————————————-END—————————————

My 2nd Reply:

Forget to add some more details to yesterday’s mail.

There are protest imitators. Protest imitators copy the style of powerless to achieve nefarious ends. I know of a worker who died in a blasting accident. It was due to negligence of the management. Proper safety measures were not in place. Three major political parties’ (Congress, TDP, BJP) local leaders immediately started a protest at the site. For all outward appearances, it looks as a protest. But the protest stopped once those local leaders were paid by the contractor. 

And there are ritual protestors. In this case, the protests are done as a ritual. The participants in the ritual are usually not aware of what is it that they are fighting for, why are they fighting etc. The reason they are there could be money/food, or sometimes just because they belong to a group or party and the top-down leadership has called for it. 

Moreover, protest imitators and ritual protestors are not mutually exclusive.

Coming back to your reply:

You started your first mail in the tone of Bill Gates (the super rich man of action) vs Jane Fonda (the useless protestor) aka what has these protests ever achieved? My answer involved examples of the importance of protests, who take up protests, and also the irrationality of depending on a few super rich individuals.

  1. So now you come back with Thimmakka, a poor old lady, along with the words, “genuinely inspiring people by action rather than protest”. So after all the lengthy reply that I gave, you are back to square one.  There is no competition between Thimmakka and protestors. They complement each other.
  2. “It’s effect is greater than driving cars and running factories”.  No, it is carbon dioxide that majorly contributes to climate change. Also it doesn’t mean that we should ignore methane.
  3. There is no doubt that all individuals have a role to play in climate actions. But sir, for now, not all individual responsibilities are equal. Some individuals’ responsibilities are more equal.
  4. Do not confuse primarily systemic problems as individual problems. Any environmental movement that lacks political angle is bound to be a failure.

I want to elaborate on each and every point above. But I am not going to, because there is no point. Puroorava Chakravarthy(14th October 2019).

My 3rd Reply:

Screw you, I will elaborate.

I once read about a construction labourers’ son who made into IIT. Both his parents don’t have formal education and the boy was also helping his parents in their work. Getting into IIT under these conditions is miracle like.

Now imagine a group of people who are fighting against the ‘Narayana-Sri Chaitanya’ education system.  They are convinced that this model of education is doing harm to education in the name of education. So they are protesting against this system. They are trying to bring the attention of the public to show what is wrong with the system. Their movement may grow and bring awareness about the problem in the masses or it could be curbed by the powerful people profiting from this model of education (some of the owners are even ministers; we can actually call it education mafia). So anything can happen.  Under these circumstances, if someone comes along and recites the story of construction labourers’ son who made into IIT and questions the protestors: why aren’t you inspired by this boy? What will your protest achieve?

Can you see the ludicrousness in this? Bringing Thimmakka against climate protestors is the same.

When one hears the stories of Thimmakka, the boy who made into IIT and Manjhi- The Mountain Man, one is awestruck. But that doesn’t mean you should stop fighting/protesting the nastiness of oil industry, fucked up education system and lack of decent roads.

“These activists can try to influence people by action from individuals.”  Are all of ‘these activists’ non-vegetarians? Or is there a chance of some of them being vegans and also protesting? Can’t you see that you are painting a black and white picture of a complex situation?

I think you have wonderfully internalized the ideas of the powerful and have developed distaste for protest (The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas-Marx).   

Puroorava Chakravarthy (15th October 2019)

My 4th Reply:

I am sorry for my harsh 2nd and 3rd replies. I think you have asked me to respond genuinely curious about a different perspective. So my elaboration continues (read the article references later, but watch the videos along because they are short and helpful to understand this reply, hyperlinks provided)

So what do I mean by systemic problems? Let’s start with an example, plastics industry, and try to draw some generalizations from it and see if we can get some sense of systemic problems.

One: Plastics industry is worth $4 trillion dollar and the following points are taken from an article:Plastic industry generates more than 300 million tons of plastic a year according to the most recent records — nearly half of which is for single-use items, meaning that it will almost instantly become trash.

Two: Lobbying groups for plastic such as American Progressive Bag Alliance conduct events that promote recycling and education efforts like encouraging some school kids to spread the uplifting message of cleaning up plastic waste, while lobbying for a state bill (legislation) that would strip people of their ability to address the plastics crisis. The legislation would make it illegal for local governments to ban or restrict bags and other single-use plastic products — one of the few things shown to actually reduce plastic waste. The trick is to publicly embrace its opponents’ concern for the environment while privately fighting attempts at regulation.

Three: (RRR-Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) While reduce and reuse are abandoned by the plastic industry, the reality of plastics recycling is pretty much already dead. Since the Environmental Protection Agency began tracking plastics recycling in 1994, when the U.S. recycled less than 5 percent, the rate went up only about 5 percent, peaking at 9.5 percent in 2014. Although there is no data before 1994, the rate was almost certainly even lower then. So more than 90 percent of the plastic is never recycled as promised by plastic industry.  Some of that failure can be blamed on careless consumers, but much of the waste that is dutifully put into recycling bins and bags also gets land filled and burned because there’s no market for it.

Four: Locally plastic waste is dumped on the poor. Eight out of 10 incinerators in the U.S. are in communities that are either poorer or have fewer white people than the rest of the country, and residents living near them are exposed to the toxic air pollution their combustion produces.

Five: Globally plastic waste is dumped on the poor. In May, the most recent month for which data is available, the U.S. sent 64.9 million kilograms of plastic scrap to 58 countries. Thailand, India, and Indonesia — where more than 80 percent of waste is mismanaged, according to data published in Science — are among the countries that now find themselves besieged with U.S. plastic that’s being illegally dumped and burned. 

Six: Shielding corporate polluters from blame by shifting responsibility onto individuals. In 1971, Keep America Beautiful, an anti-litter organization formed by beverage and packaging companies, including PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, and Phillip Morris, created the now-infamous “Crying Indian” ad. The deception was as their ad was inducing guilt in viewers for spreading trash, Keep America Beautiful was fighting legislation that could have done much to address the problem.  To this day, Keep America Beautiful continues to focus on litterbugs, prodding errant citizens to better dispose of their plastic waste while fending off regulation of their production of that waste.

Seven: Why? Because what is at stake for them is not just the current plastics market now worth hundreds of billions of dollars annually, but its likely expansion. Falling oil and gas prices mean that the cost of making new plastic, already very low, will be even cheaper. Because it is more profitable to produce new plastic than recycling (handling).                                                                        

You may protest against generalizing ideas from one example: plastic industry. But trust me; I can give you more and more examples from varied industries following the same pattern. They only add more details and make this already long reply even longer. So what ideas can we derive and what sense can we get on systemic problems from the examples above?

A: As long as political establishments feed and survive on corporate money, the chance of an individual politician A or an individual politician B from these establishments passing a bill (legislation)  that helps people but is against corporate interests is very low. While the elections are celebrated as a ritual and movie stars remind you the importance of vote etc, the reality will be a failure of democracy (democracy as people partaking in the decisions that affect them).                                                                                         

While images such as this are cute, there is not much the cutie pie can do when his political machine depends on corporations  

B: Between a million dollar donor and a one dollar donor, any decent politician would prioritize the million dollar donor over the one dollar donor. Simply, the interests of a million dollar donor would be a million times more important to even a decent politician. This is no quantum mechanics.  While the systemic reality is thus, we are pushed into playing a game of choosing the lesser of the two evils (liberals vs. Conservatives, Obama vs Hillary etc) without actually addressing the evil.

C: Imagine you are a CEO of a corporation. Say you realized that the things your corporation doing for short term profits are harming the world. Since the present system’s logic is to expand for all eternity without any regrets for externalities, any resistance from you will lead to the system getting rid of you and find someone else willing to do it. Therefore, any mere individual heroic efforts against the system are futile. The system marches on.  

D: It is easier to bring change at production rather than at consumption. For example, if burning fossil fuels and rampant plastic use are a cause for climate catastrophe then it would be prudent to find alternative energy sources and alternatives to plastic at production level. Once the products are in the larger world, that is once they reach the consumers, it would get much more complex and harder to deal with the problem. Careful, I am in no way endorsing the irresponsibility of litterbugs or sports-car enthusiasts. I am only pointing out that, the corporations have bigger responsibility and they are not serious about it, and even if they are serious about the problem (which isn’t possible in this expand/profit at any cost system, but consider the hypothesis), it would be much easier to tackle the problem at production level rather than consumption level. Further, this also exposes the corporations’ hypocritical narrative defending the existing system. For all its claims to be innovative and changing, the system in reality has proven to be dull and inert when it came to the most threatening problem of our times (climate catastrophe).

E: Be skeptical with the colorful images of corporate ‘responsibility’ in the corporate media (points two and three). By now, it must be clear that the system’s logic is to do what is marketable/profitable rather than what is responsible/needed. Reality is at odds with the claim that free market, left on its own, unregulated, can solve problems. If anything, it is the source of problems.  It is very easy to fall prey for the glittering images in corporate news giving a fake impression of the corporations acting responsibly. And it is difficult to follow what bills are passed by our ritually elected law-makers.  How many of us really have time to check what a particular legislation is about?  How it affects us? Which lobbying groups are behind it? Are the groups giving a colour of responsibility on TV are also the groups that secretly lobby for legislation that curtail any effective solution to the problem?     

F: Be careful, the corporations shift the blame on to individuals (consumers)(point six). This is not to say that individual actions do not matter and should evade responsibility. We all have to take responsibility and make whatever changes we can in our daily lives. But, the point is the corporations have bigger responsibility and they are evading it. And this is what I was pointing to, when I said, “Not all individual responsibilities are equal. Some responsibilities are more equal”, in my 2nd reply.  

G: The system is primarily cruel towards the poor (points four and five). It doesn’t mean that the system is all love and kisses for us- by us I mean those who are in the professional class (engineers, doctors, professors, journalists, lawyers etc). I only mean the system’s brunt is primarily taken by the poor and the professional class is in relative comfort. I think this ‘relative comfort’ of the professional class is what makes it blind towards the irrationality of the system. 

Now consider these examples

a: Tomi Lahren is a right-wing commentator who supports Trumps’ Make America Great Again politics. She owns a clothing line by the name Freedom. Despite her America first rhetoric, recently it came to light that the garments from her Freedom are made in China. As a response to her critics, she said: Increased labor costs and heightened regulations pushed her production overseas and that the brand is working towards to the aim Make in America.  Her answer is interesting because it shows despite her aim (Make in America), she had no freedom but to go overseas to exploit greater profits from low labor costs and minimal or zero regulations (a systemic feature). American right-wingers defend capitalism as an epitome of freedom. Yet, it can be seen that the very defenders of the system are not free. Naming her brand Freedom isn’t helpful either. 

b: Putin took the role of an old wise man explaining the complexities to a naive sixteen year old (Greta Thunberg). When the hands of the master of sly replies are soiled with oil, then he has no choice but to put on a mask of Defender of the Global South (more on this later). 

c: Former Republican Presidential Nominee Mitt Romney in June, 2011 acknowledged climate change and then in October, 2011 he denied it. Look how quickly the system changed the heart of an (individual) presidential hopeful within a few months. 

d: One should watch Senator James Inhofe infamous ‘ice challenge’ on senate floor to see what all crazy stunts the system makes an individual to perform.

e: Trump doesn’t even try to hide. When asked about climate change, he openly asserted that extracting wealth (from fossil fuels) is the most important thing.  I love Trump because he is the personification of the ugliness of the system that usually goes unnoticed under political polishness.

d: Our own Cutie Pie in 2014 put the whole of climate change as a subjective experience.

e: You must have already noticed. The six examples above are examples from right-wing political establishments. So what about liberal establishment? To me liberal establishments are worse than conservative establishments. After a financial crisis they promise change, but load their teams with the same wall-street insiders. They use words such as ‘pragmatic’, ‘incrementalism’ etc to justify the existing order of things. They use words such as secular without actually meaning it and this absolutely helps right-wing politics. While the conservative establishment reveals the ugliness of the system on various degrees, the liberal establishment covers that ugliness with finesse. Both establishments give an impression of being different, but at the fundamental level they are the same and their duty is to defend the existing system. 

f: There is a widespread misconception that labels liberals as left. Liberal establishments play center, center-right politics. May be to someone far right, the center may look like left. But it is important to understand that liberal and left are entirely different things. In fact, it is the policies of these centrists, center-rightists that help right-wing politicians. The Trumps and Cutie Pies of the world are not created out of vacuum. They are the result of liberal politics.   

By now, I hope you got some sense of how environment problem is a systemic problem and also an idea on systemic problems in general. Now that you know where I am coming from let’s tackle the problem of individual action. As I mentioned before, individual actions matter. But the problem is with the existing ideology one-sidedness. It propagates the myth that individual action alone can solve all our problems. It tries to hide or doesn’t confront that there is a problem with the system itself. Actually the mono-dimensionality of the mainstream ideology makes sense, because the very purpose of the ideology is to protect the existing system. Hence, it is necessary to hide the systemic problems and shift the blame onto individuals. 

Let’s consider the examples that are most popular to understand this mainstream ideology.

I: Jordan Peterson, a right-wing super popular self help guru, wrote a book called ’12 rules for life’ with a caption : an antidote to chaos. There is no need to go into the details of how successful the books’ sales are. All 12 rules are, unsurprisingly, aimed at individual actions (you can google them and see for yourself). Take rule number six: Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world. I do not deny the importance of order and discipline in one’s life. It would be silly to argue against such truisms. But if you follow Peterson’s philosophy, you will see that he is vehemently against those who point towards the present system’s failures. No doubt, it is better to keep your house in order. But what if you are one of those poor (point four), who lives in a neighbourhood which is constantly being bombarded with plastic waste? Should I still try to keep my house in order while the system callously creates disorder in my life?  If North Koreans stand straight (rule number one) and keep their houses in order, would that solve the systemic problems of North Korea? Had the American masses petted a cat (rule number twelve) and kept their houses in order, would they have been able to avert the 2008 financial crisis?

II: Consider the popular books The Alchemist and The Secret. The Alchemist’s theme: when you really want something to happen, the whole universe will conspire so that your wish comes true. Really? Is universe that jobless? The whole universe conspires for an individual’s wants. I wonder what will happen if two individuals wants are at odds with each other? May be the universe gets confused and explodes. Then there is The Secret, which promotes something called Law of Attraction: thoughts can change a person’s life directly. So the poor all over the world are poor because they have poor thoughts.

III: Deepak Chopra, a charlatan with millions of dollars worth snake oil businesses, appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, one of the most popular shows in America.  On the show Chopra and Oprah ‘experimentally prove’ that you can move a string (a pendulum) with the power of an individual’s mind. The conclusion is: your expectancy determines the outcome. So if you can do with a string, then you can do it with your life.

IV: Sadhguru, one with millions of followers, in a video titled, Everything happens within you,   questions: have you ever experienced anything outside yourself? His answer is NO. Everything, the whole world, the whole experience is within you. Therefore everything is determined by you. There are land grab and illegal construction allegations on Sadhguru. I wonder, why didn’t he determine a reality without any allegations at all? Wait, it is actually the reality determined by me, in which, Sadhguru is facing accusations. But I honestly never wanted any allegations on Sadhguru. Anyways, it’s very confusing and my head is spinning, so I will leave it here.  

Can you see the common theme running through these four examples? Ideologies varying from Jordon Peterson practical advice of mere individualism (without addressing the external world) to the sophistry of Sadhguru (with intense background music) serve the purpose: To isolate and blame individuals (the internal), and hide systemic (the external) problems.

Along with rugged individualism for masses, this ideology needs the myth of individual superheroes complementing it. So, what is this myth of individual superheroes?

Ludwig von Mises, a celebrated right wing economist, impressed by Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, wrote to her:

You (Ayn Rand) have the courage to tell the masses what no politician told them: you (masses) are inferior and all the improvements in your conditions which you simply take for granted you owe to the effort of men who are better than you.

The ‘men who are better than you that Mises is referring to are the capitalists/billionaires/the owners of the world (i.e., super-heroes).  He is referring to the likes of Koch Brothers, Elon Musk, and Steve Jobs etc. To explain the myth of individual super heroes, let’s just take one example: Steve Jobs. It is undeniable that Jobs has a cult like following. He is synonymous with iPhone (or smart phone). The popularity and craze around his image looks as if Jobs went into some caves with a loin cloth and came back with the greatest fruit of technology, i.e., iPhone.  But the reality is every fundamental technology that makes iPhone smart was developed in public sector. For more details, I recommend this book called The Entrepreneurial State by Mariana Mazzucato. In a separate chapter dedicated to iPhone it says:

While the speech (the popular Steve Jobs’ Stanford University commencement address)  is inspiring, and Jobs has rightly been called a ‘genius’ for the visionary products he conceived and marketed, this story creates a myth about the origin of Apple’s success. Individual genius, attention to design, a love for play, and foolishness were no doubt important characteristics. But without the massive amount of public investment behind the computer and Internet revolutions, such attributes might have led only to the invention of a new toy – not to cutting-edge revolutionary products like the iPad and iPhone which have changed the way that people work and communicate. Like the discussion of venture capital in Chapter 2, whereby venture capital has entered industries like biotechnology only after the State had done the messy groundwork, the genius and ‘foolishness’ of Steve Jobs led to massive profits and success, largely because Apple was able to ride the wave of massive State investments in the ‘revolutionary’ technologies that underpinned the iPhone and iPad: the Internet, GPS, touch-screen displays and communication technologies. Without these publicly funded technologies, there would have been no wave to foolishly surf.

Therefore, it is a myth that for all the improvements in our conditions, we should owe to the effort of these few men (i.e., super-heroes and they are mostly men) who are better than the rest of us. 

These super-heroes are surrounded with all sorts of mythical narratives. You must be already aware of one super rich super-hero who is going to take us to Mars leaving behind the failing Earth. I once saw an Eenadu’s usual gaudy front page headline: సత్తా చాటిన భారత్ (India shows its might). The largest circulated Telugu daily was celebrating three super-rich Indians who made into Forbes world’s richest men or something. I am not sure, how is that a cause for celebration to most Indians. Here the news daily was creating the myth that these obnoxiously Indian rich men are India’s might. I ask myself, whether I am part of that ‘India’?

Remember Megastar Chiranjeevi’s Tagore, a movie known for its anti-corruption crusade. In its typical Telugu cinema high-octane histrionic climax court scene, the protagonist asks the judge (thereby the entire society): if USA’s twenty eight crore population can come up with one Bill Gates, then how many Bill Gates should India’s hundred and two crore population produce? While one can do the math and come up with an answer, my point is that the movie was upholding the narrative of the myth of the individual super-hero (protagonist) solving the systemic problem of corruption, while simultaneously, failing to notice that any system that creates a few super rich ‘super heroes’ at top leaving most of the masses at the bottom is inherently corrupt.

If you pay attention, you will notice these myths of super-heroes showing up in numerous forms in both reality and pop-culture. You need look no further than the highest grossing and most successful movies in the market – movies in the Marvel, DC comics’ styled super-hero genre. These movies represent and reinforce the same myths of individual super-heroes and their narratives: that there are a few special people different from the mass of regular people and we need them, that these few super heroes solve the most complex of problems and save us from most impending threats, that sometimes the stupid masses don’t understand these super heroes and sneer at them, but these super-heroes are benevolent and in spite of our nastiness still try to help us etc. 

It is interesting to see some people not losing their critical faculty towards the cult of certain individual state officials (ex: Joseph Stalin of Soviet Union). I appreciate their understanding of the dangers of such personality cults. But what is even more interesting to see is that the same people are adoring and uncritical to the cult of individual super-rich. I think, they don’t realize, that any system that produces and maintains outrageous levels of inequality in power, be it through political position or wealth or any other means, is dysfunctional and a disaster-in-waiting.

In a video Sadhguru speaks about Greta Thurnberg. He made the following points (my responses to each point are in blue and italicized)

  • He realized long ago that anger isn’t a solution but rather acceptance and appreciation produce much better results than toxic criticism.

Anger by itself isn’t rational or irrational. For instance, the stupid-fuck anger of Arjun Reddy (movie) is irrational. Greta’s anger towards the rulers for lack of climate action, despite knowing the problem at least 40 to 50 years ago is rational and it also exposes the failure of the system. You will not produce any systemic changes by ‘accepting and appreciating’ the ugliness of the system. It happens when large masses of people become conscious of the system’s failure and come together to fight against it. 

  • We will not have a solution (to climate crisis) without involving the democratically elected governments of the day.

Thankfully, he acknowledges the importance of government’s role in climate solution. But, are the democratically elected governments truly democratic? Is our democracy really a democracy or is it just a ritual we do once every few years? Has democracy been compromised because of big money (fossil fuel industry money in the case of climate action) involvement in politics? He doesn’t address any of these systemic problems.

  • When asked about the issue of ‘more talk and less action’, he agreed that there is more talk and less action and “isn’t that the way you have chosen, democracy means, see you are in the media. You like to talk. If you are not allowed to talk, you will say there is no freedom of speech and make a big fuss about it. So naturally there will be more talk than action”.

పడమటలంక జెమిని సాక్షిగా చెబుతున్నా అయ్యా, నాకు ఆయన ఇక్కడ ఏమి చెప్పదలుచుకున్నాడో నిజంగా అర్ధం కాలేదు. I couldn’t follow Sadhguru’s answer on ‘more talk and less action’. But there is more talk and less action, because, again for the 117th time, of the system we are living in. The republican establishment calls climate change a hoax, i.e., talks against it and therefore there is no need for action. The democratic establishment talks about it and does little or nothing about it. Compare for example the liberal supremo Obama promise of just $3 billion in funding for the Green Climate Fund (transfers to the Global South) to independent Bernie Sanders pledge that “the U.S. will invest $200 billion in the Green Climate Fund.” Elsewhere Sanders pledges more generally to work to redirect the $1.5 trillion that is globally spent on militaries towards climate change efforts. Also compare Global South Defender Putin’s oily response on Greta6.       

  • Continuing on the ‘more talk and less action’ issue, Sadhguru asserted that India has taken huge steps (mega steps) towards sustainable energy.

As to the mega steps taken by Indian government towards not just sustainable energy but overall environment, maybe I am completely ignorant of it. As far as I know, the government shelved it’s war on plastic supposed to start on 2nd October and our environmental performance index in recent years isn’t anywhere close to mega performance.

Also my suspicion of these ‘mega steps’ comes from the lack of emphasis on environment problems in the popular political discourse. Take the most recent Indian parliamentary elections (2019). The Indian National Congress party ran on the plank of NYAY and criticisms of incumbent economic failures. The Bharatiya Janata Party ran on the events of Uri, Balakot, and the security of the nation. I don’t remember, either of the political establishments, giving any significance to the impending climate crisis during election campaign. Any issue first appears in political discourse and then how many of those promises in the discourse actually become a reality is in turn conditioned (determined) by the system. There wasn’t a great emphasis on climate crisis in discourses; therefore I have no reason to think there is any mega action.

  • He also agrees that may be not every country is doing what it needs to do.  And then he questions whether people living in those countries are willing to make sacrifices, is it just political leaders? Is it right to expect the governments to pull a magic wand and create a solution?

Concerning ‘people willing to make sacrifices’, as I have already explained, the question is: are the corporations willing to make slight sacrifices, i.e., putting indispensable necessities above short term profits? (Refer point D).  Further, even if we consider the aspect of regular individuals making sacrifices alone, we face the question: had enough effort been put into informing the masses about the gravity of the climate crisis? Because without such efforts to raise awareness, one cannot build will of the people to do anything. So we come to the question of media’s role in informing the people. Fox News, a right wing Media Corporation with largest viewership in USA, outright denies climate crisis. The liberal Media Corporation MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, with regards to low coverage of climate crisis, tweeted: every single time we’ve covered [climate change] it’s been a palpable ratings killer. So the incentives are not great. So what the tweet implies is that the corporate media is more likely to favour Jabardasth comedy show over some program that educates on climate crisis, because of the ratings-incentive model. By now, I guess, you can see the systemic problems involved in media. So I’m not going to elaborate on this.

Regarding expecting the governments’ pulling a magic wand, the frustration is not over the lack of magic tricks by the governments. The frustration is over the governments not doing anything concrete that matches the seriousness of the climate crisis in the last 40-50 years.     

  • And finally, he talks about the problem of population. “If people are asked not to have children for five years, will they do it? Then how, when you are the problem and you want somebody else to find the solution, how? The only problem we have in the world, and especially in India, we think there are many problems, no there is only one problem: population.”  And ends with the Malthusian answer.

“When you are the problem… solution”- There you go. Blame it on the mass of individuals (points I, II, III and IV). And, is population the only problem?    

In 2015, just over a year after Modi’s government formation, various writers, artists and scientists returned their awards as a protest against the murders of rationalists and Dadri lynching. A debate on the growing intolerance levels ensued. Anyone who questioned the intolerance was treated very intolerantly to prove that there was no intolerance. Sadhguru disapproved the protesters and award returns. In a video titled ‘Is India Intolerant? – Sadhguru Answers’ he makes the following claims (my responses are again in blue and italicized):

  • He is not a supporter of any politician or any political party.

Though Sadhguru asserts that he does not have any favorites in politics, his actions and speeches prove otherwise.

  • India is the only country left on the planet where everybody can do whatever they want to do and say whatever they want to say. Anyone who claims otherwise has no idea about or not travelled the rest of the world.

Claiming India as the last bastion for freedom in the world is preposterous. Unless in Sadhguru’s view the rest of the world is confined only to China and Pakistan, his proclamation cannot be supported. But the world is bigger than that. One can simply check various freedom indices available and see where each country stands.

  • A country of more than billion people is bound to have its own share of nut cases. Implying freak incidents can happen.

Giving Dadri lynching and the killings of rationalists a color of freak incidents was an attempt to impart innocence on the ruling party. While every nation has its share of freak incidents, these cases do not fall into that category. For there is a clear pattern in all these murders and the ideology involved matches with that of the ruling party’s temperament. In the aftermath, the prime minister sat silent while his ministers made statements that lack basic human decency.

  • When sixty million people are starving or living in dire poverty, only those who lack basic human decency protest against other things.
  • Democracy means when the majority elects someone or some party, one should just shut up and support the government without any question.

In Sadhguru’s mystic world, democracy means elect and shut up until next elections. By this definition, can I protest against government policies that are pushing more people into poverty or should I wait for elections date? Is the furor humanly decent or indecent? The trouble is that he is simply not against a particular form of protest but is averse to the very idea of protest itself. It is as if democracy is all about electing a dictatorship by the majority every five years.

Moreover, let’s check what Sadhguru’s majority means in the 2014 elections. The average election turnout was around 66 percent, of which the BJP got 31 percent of vote. This means for every 100 eligible voters only 20 voted for BJP. That is, one in every five voted BJP and the remaining four voted some other party or didn’t vote at all. These numbers hardly give the impression of majority that Sadhguru was trying to project. More importantly, even a rudimentary understanding of democracy will tell you that a strong, critical opposition and vigilant people are imperative for a good democracy. I am afraid the so called enlightened one’s understanding of democracy is very poor. May be to the saints and the rulers silence is a privilege and a trick to evade responsibilities, but the ruled cannot afford to shut up.

I watched Sadhguru videos to understand where you are coming from. I thank him for planting trees in 10000 acres (as you mentioned in your reply). But I think his philosophy is regressive, something that is there to defend the status quo-the existing system. His distaste towards the very idea of protests; his blindness to systemic problems; his prescription of one-sided rugged individualism for masses; his ways of defending and shielding the establishments against criticism etc show where his heart is and therefore I am afraid that I don’t share your enthusiasm towards Sadhguru/ruling class ideologies.

Puroorava Chakravarthy (22nd October, 2019)

 

వకీల్ సాబ్

హిందీ చిత్రం Pink (పింక్)కి వకీల్ సాబ్ రీమేక్. ఈ రీమేక్ ఇంకా విడుదల కాలేదు. కానీ నాకు ఒక విషయం కచ్చితంగా తెలుసు; హిందీ చిత్రం మీద మీ అభిప్రాయం ఏమయినా, ఈ తెలుగు రీమేక్ మాత్రం నీచంగానే ఉంటుంది. మన తెలుగు కథానాయకుడికి ఒక భజనగా మిగులుతుంది. ఇంకా సినిమా విడుదల కూడా కాలేదు, ఈ విషయం నీకు ఎలా తెలుసు అని మీరు నన్ను అడగొచ్చు. నీకేమయిన తిక్కా అని మీరు నన్ను గదమాయించవచ్చు.  కానీ నా దగ్గర దానికో లెక్కుంది.

రెండు సినిమాల పేర్లని పోల్చి చూడండి. పింక్ అనే పేరుని మనం అనేక రకాలుగా అర్ధం చేసుకోవచ్చు. కానీ అన్ని అర్ధాలు దర్శకుడు చెప్పదల్చుకున్న అసలు విషయానికి (స్త్రీలపై వివక్ష) దగ్గరగా ఉంటాయి. మరి వకీల్ సాబ్ పేరు వినగానే మనకి ఏమి అనిపిస్తుంది. ఇది ఒక సాబ్ సినిమా అని అనిపిస్తుంది. పవర్ స్టార్ పవన్ కళ్యాణ్ అనే బాబు సినిమా అని అనిపిస్తుంది.  ఈ మధ్య వచ్చిన తమిళ హీరో విజయ్ సినిమా whistle (తమిళ్లో బిగిల్) ఎలా అయితే ఆడవాళ్ళ ఫుట్బాల్ గురించి కాకుండా కథానాయకుడి హీరోయిజంతో చంపిందో, అదే విధంగా మన వకీల్ సాబ్ మన తెలుగు హీరోయిజంతో మనల్ని చంపబోతోంది.

రెండు సినిమాల పోస్టర్లను పోల్చి చూడండి. హిందీ చిత్రం పోస్టర్లో ముగ్గురు ఆడవాళ్లు ముందు వున్నారు. అమితాబ్ బచ్చన్ వెనక వున్నాడు. మార్కెట్ అవసరాల కోసం అమితాబోడి బొమ్మ కొంచం పెద్దదే వేశారు. ఒప్పుకుంటాను. కానీ ఆడవాళ్ళని ముందు పెట్టారు. మరి మన వకీల్ సాబ్ పోస్టర్ లో ఏముంది? కళ్యాణ్ సాబ్ ఒక్కరే వున్నారు. అంతయు నీవే అని పాడించేటట్టు వున్నారు.  ఏదో కేసు గట్టిగ వాదించి వచ్చి ఆలా chill అవుతున్నారా అన్నట్టు వున్నారు. ఎదో పుస్తకం కూడా చదువుతున్నట్టు నల్ల కళ్ళజోడు పెట్టుకొని బాగా నటిస్తున్నారు. ఆ పుస్తకం బహుశా ప్రముఖ న్యాయవాది నాని పల్కివాలా రాసిన We, the Nation: The Lost Decades అయుంటుంది. ఈ పుస్తకం జబర్దస్త్ నాగ బాబు అన్న గారి ఆదర్శంతో మన కళ్యాణ్ బాబు బాల్యంలోనే చదివేసారు. పల్కివాలా మన కళ్యాణ్ బాబు రాజకీయ ఆలోచనలు ఏర్పడటంలో కీలకమయిన పాత్ర పోషించారు అని ట్వీట్ కూడా చేశారు. 

పోస్టర్లే కాదు. పోస్టర్ల మీద వున్న టైటిల్ డిజైన్ చుడండి. పింక్ టైటిల్ డిజైన్ నిర్బంధానికి చిహ్నంగా వుంది. మన తెలుగు టైటిల్ డిజైన్లో కళ్యాణ్ సాబ్ ఏదో తీవ్రంగా ఆలోచిస్తూ నడుస్తున్నారు. అసలు విషయం ఎంత చక్కగా పక్కకి పెట్టారో చుడండి. స్వేచ్ఛ నిర్బంధం లాంటి విషయాలని పక్కన పెట్టి మన లోతయిన సాబు ఎంత లోతు అనే తాత్విక చింతనకు గురిచేస్తుంది మన తెలుగు డిజైన్. మన సాబుతో పోస్టర్ని అంతటా అలికేయటమే కాక టైటిల్ డిజైన్ లో కూడా వేరే ఏ విషయము రాకుండా జాగ్రత్త పడిన మన వాళ్ళని చూస్తుంటే ఎంతో గర్వంగా వుంది. ముచ్చటేస్తోంది. ముగ్గురు అమ్మాయిలు, వాళ్ళ కోసం పని చేసే లాయరు కథకి ఈ చేష్టలు వింతగా ఉండొచ్చు. కానీ ఒక సర్వాంతర్యామి కథకి ఇలాగే చెయ్యాలి మరి.

వకీల్ సాబ్ షూటింగ్ నుంచి ఓ ముప్పయ్ సెకన్ల  వీడియో బయటపడింది. ఆ వీడియోలో వకీల్ సాబ్ ఒకడి చెయ్యి మెలివేసి ఇలా అన్నారు:  ఎన్నేళ్లయినా నా ఆవేశం తగ్గదు ఆశయం మారదు. నేను ఒకసారి నల్ల కోటు వేసుకున్నాను అంటే వేసుకోటానికి పిటిషన్లు తీసుకోటానికి బెయిల్లు వుండవు 

మొత్తం పింక్ సినిమాలో నేనెక్కడా కూడా లాయర్ (అమితాబ్) అవతలి వాడి మీద చెయ్యి చేసుకోవటం చూడలేదు. మరి మన వకీల్ సాబ్కి ఆ అవసరం ఎందుకు వచ్చిందో? పైగా పిటిషన్లు వెయ్యటం బెయిల్లు ఇప్పించటం ఒక లాయర్ వృత్తిలో భాగం. పిటిషన్లని బెయిల్లని ఆపేయటానికి మళ్ళీ నల్ల కోటు వేసుకోవటం ఎందుకు? అలా కాళ్ళు చేతులని విరగ్గొట్టి సమాజాన్ని ఉద్ధరిద్దాం అని నిర్ణయించాక ఇంకా వకీల్ సాబ్ అని ఎందుకు? ఏ ఫైటర్ సాబ్ అనో పెట్టుకొంటే పోతుంది కదా.  బహుశా కళ్యాణ్ బాబు బాల్యంలోనే చదివేసిన నాని పల్కివాలా పుస్తకంలో నేర్చుకున్న వకీలుగిరి ఇదేనేమో. 

ఇప్పుడు పింక్ సినిమాలో కవితని వకీల్ సాబ్ లోని పాటని పోల్చండి.

పింక్ కవితలో విషయాలు  వకీల్ సాబ్ పాటలో విషయాలు
1. మగువ నిన్ను నువ్వు తెలుసుకో
2. ఆ సంకెళ్లని వస్త్రాలలా ధరించకు. వాటిని కరిగించి నీ ఆయుధాలుగా మార్చుకో
3. పాపులకు నిన్ను పరీక్షించే హక్కు లేదునిన్ను బంధించిన ఈ సాలెగూళ్ళని దహించు.
4. నువ్వు పూజించే హారతివి కాదు. నువ్వు క్రోధాగ్నివి.
5.సినిమాకి సంబంధించిన చిత్రాలనే వాడారు
1. మగువా లోకానికి తెలుసా నీ విలువ! నీ సహనానికి సరిహద్దు కలదా!
2. బోలెడు పొగడతలు. ఆడవారు ప్రత్యేకం అనిపించే రాత.
3. ఆడవారు తల్లి లాగ భార్య లాగ ఉద్యోగులులాగా చిత్రాలు
4. మదర్ తెరెసా సుధా మూర్తి లాంటి ప్రముఖుల చిత్రాలను చూపిస్తారు

పై రెండు విషయాల్లో తేడా గమనించారా?

పింక్ చిత్రం ఆడవాళ్లు ప్రత్యేకం అని శ్లాఘించదు. అసలు ఇక్కడ విషయం ఆడవాళ్లు ప్రత్యేకమా కాదా అనేది కాదు. వాళ్ళు ఉన్నతులా కాదా అనేది కానే కాదు. ఇంకా చెప్పాలంటే ఆడవాళ్లు ప్రత్యేకం కాదు. వాళ్ళు మగవాళ్లంతగాను నీచంగా ఉండగలరు. అంతే ఔన్నత్యం చూపగలరు. ఇక్కడ అసలు విషయం ఏంటి అంటే: ఆడవాళ్ళని సమానంగా చూడకపోవటం. ఈ అసమానత మీద పోరాటమే మనం పింక్ చిత్రంలో చూస్తాం. ఆ పోరాట ధోరణే మనకి పింక్ కవితలో కనిపిస్తుంది.

మరి మన తెలుగు రీమేక్ సంగతి ఏంటి? సమాజంలో ఒక సమస్య పై తీసిన సినిమాని మన రీమేక్ ఒక సినిమా హీరో భజన కీర్తనగా మార్చేసినట్టు మనకి ఈ పాటికే అర్ధం అవుతుంది. ఒక పక్కన ఆడవాళ్ళని ప్రత్యేకమంటూ పాటలతో కీర్తిస్తూనే అసలు చిత్రాన్ని ఒక మగ మహావీరుని గాధగా చేసేస్తోంది. ఇలాంటి పద్ధతులనే Benevolent Sexism (కరుణామయ లింగ వివక్ష అని అనొచ్చు ఏమో) అని అంటారు.

Benevolent sexism గురించి నాలుగు ముక్కలు:

కొన్నిపలుకులు (ఇవి మాములుగా మగవాళ్ళ నుంచి వస్తాయి) స్త్రీలకు మద్దతు ఇచ్చినట్టు గాను సానుకూలంగాను ఉన్నట్టు అనిపిస్తాయి. కానీ ఆ పలుకులు సాంప్రదాయకంగా స్త్రీలకు అంటగట్టిన పాత్రలపై ఆధారపడి ఉంటాయి.ఈ  Benevolent Sexism ప్రత్యేకత ఏమిటి అంటే ఇది Hostile Sexismలాగ స్పష్టంగా బయటకు కనిపించదు. ఇది చేస్తున్న వాళ్ళు కూడా సద్దుదేశంతోనే చేస్తున్నాం అనుకుంటారు. దీని బాధితులు కూడా మంచే చెబుతున్నారుగా అన్నట్టు చూస్తారు.

Benevolent Sexism ఆడవాళ్ళని గందరగోళపర్చొచ్చు. ఎందుకంటే ఇది ఒక పక్కన మద్దతు ఇస్తున్నట్టే వుంటూ మరో పక్కన సాంప్రదాయకంగా వచ్చే స్త్రీ పాత్రలనూ వాళ్ళకి అంటగట్టిన బాధ్యతలనూ వాళ్లకి సహజమేలే అని నమ్మించే సామర్ధ్యాలనూ పొగుడుతుంది. వాటినే మళ్ళీ మళ్ళీ బలపరుస్తుంది.

శుభ్రత (ఇంటి శుభ్రత, పిల్లల వృద్దుల శుభ్రత etc), పోషణ (వంటావార్పు) లాంటి గుణాలను మహోన్నతమయినవిగా చిత్రించటం, అవి ఆడవాళ్ళకే ప్రత్యేకం అన్నట్టుగా నమ్మించటం ద్వారా Benevolent Sexism లింగ అసమానతలను పెంచి పోషిస్తుంది.

సామాజికంగా ఆర్థికంగా తక్కువ విలువ వుండే లక్షణాలపై ప్రత్యేక దృష్టి పెడుతూ(వాటిని మహాద్భుతాలుగా వర్ణిస్తూ, సహజం అంటూ రుద్దుతూ) మగవాళ్ళు Benevolent Sexism అనే సాధనంతో  ఆడవాళ్లకు మద్దతుగా ఉన్నట్టు భ్రమని కల్పిస్తారు. సాంప్రదాయకంగా వస్తున్న అసమానతలను మాత్రం నిలిపేవుంచుతారు.

Benevolent Sexism పై ఒక అవగాహన వచ్చింది అనుకుంటున్నాను. ఇప్పుడు వెళ్లి మన వకీల్ సాబ్ మగువ మగువ పాటి వినండి. దాంట్లో దాగి వున్న Benevolent Sexismని పట్టుకునే బాధ్యతని మీకే వదిలేస్తున్నా.

Benevolent Sexism కి కేంద్ర ప్రభుత్వం బేటీ బచావ్ కార్యక్రమానికి ఇచ్చిన ad ఒక చక్కటి ఉదాహరణ.        

 ఆడపిల్లని పుట్టనివ్వకపోతే నీకు రొట్టెలు ఎక్కడ నుంచి వస్తాయి అని ఈ ad మనల్ని అడిగి పెద్ద చిక్కులో పడేస్తుంది. ఇక్కడ రొట్టెలు తయారు చెయ్యటాన్ని ఆడపిల్ల ప్రత్యేకతగా చూపి అదే ఆడపిల్లని తుంగలో తొక్కుతుంది.    

మన తెలుగు పాటలో ప్రముఖ మహిళల చిత్రాలు వేశారు అని చెప్పాను. ఆ చిత్రాలలో మొదటి వ్యక్తి మదర్ తెరెసా. ఆవిడ కరుణకి చిహ్నం అన్నట్టు ప్రపంచ వ్యాప్తంగా ప్రచారం వుంది. కానీ అది వాస్తవం కాదు. ఆవిడ పాలక వర్గాల మనిషి.  ఆవిడకి మార్గరెట్ థాచర్ రోనాల్డ్ రీగన్ ప్రభుత్వాలతో సంఘీభావం వుంది. Sandanista వ్యతిరేక CIA ఆమోదించిన Contrasని సమర్ధించింది. ఇక మన దేశంలో అయితే భోపాల్ గ్యాస్ విషాదం తరవాత ఆవిడ యూనియన్ కార్బైడ్ వారి పట్ల అనుకూలంగా వుంది. అంతే కాదు ఆవిడ స్త్రీల హక్కులను వ్యతిరేకించింది. గర్భనిరోధక సాధనాలను విడాకుల హక్కును abortion విషయంలో నిర్ణయం తీసుకొనే స్త్రీ స్వేచ్ఛనీ ఆవిడ మతం పేరుతో తప్పుబట్టింది.  ఇలాంటివి ఇంకా ఎన్నో. నేను చెప్పే నిజాలు మీలో కొంత మందికి ఇబ్బందిగా ఉండొచ్చు. ఎందుకంటే ఈ విషయాలు మొదటిసారిగా తెలుసుకున్నప్పుడు నా తల కూడా తిరిగింది.   అయితే నేను ఇచ్చిన ఆధారాలను పరిశీలించి మీరే ఒక నిర్ణయానికి వస్తారు అని ఆశిస్తున్నాను.

మదర్ తెరెసా లాగే సుధా మూర్తి చిత్రాన్ని వేశారు. సుధా మూర్తి గారు ఇన్ఫోసిస్ chairperson అని తప్ప నాకు ఆవిడ గురించి పెద్దగా ఏమి తెలీదు. అయితే సుధా మూర్తి చిత్రాన్ని పెట్టటం వెనుక ఒక విచిత్రమయిన స్త్రీవాదం (feminism) వుంది. దీనిని సంకుచిత స్త్రీవాదం (narrow feminism) అనొచ్చు. నయా ఉదారవాద స్త్రీవాదం (neoliberal feminism) లేదా identity politics feminism అని కూడా అనొచ్చు. ఈ స్త్రీ వాదానికి సమాజంలో వున్న హెచ్చుతగ్గులు అంతగా పట్టవు. యజమాని -బానిసల సమాజంతో దీనికి పెద్దగా ఇబ్బంది ఏమి లేదు. యజమానుల్లో ఒక ముప్పయ్ మూడు శాతమో ఇంకేదయినా శాతమో ఆడవాళ్ళూ ఉంటే చాలు. అంబానీ, రామోజీరావు, బిల్ గేట్స్, జెఫ్ బెజోస్ తదితరుల మధ్య కొద్దిమంది ఆడ అంబానీలని చూడగలిగితే ఈ స్త్రీవాదం సంబర పడిపోతుంది. 

తమిళ్ నాడు ముఖ్యమంత్రి జయలలిత చనిపోయినప్పుడు కొంత మంది ఆడవాళ్ళ స్పందన ఈ సంకుచిత స్త్రీవాదానికి ఉదాహరణ. జయలలిత ఒక ఆడదిగా వాళ్ళకి ఎంతో ఆదర్శప్రాయమని సోషల్ మీడియాలో కొనియాడారు. కానీ సమస్య ఏంటి అంటే జయలలిత అవినీతిలో ఏ మగ రాజకీయనాయుకుడికి తీసిపోదు. ఆడది పాలించినంత మాత్రాన వ్యవస్థలో అవినీతి పోదు. చంద్ర బాబు నాయుడు వై స్ రాజ శేఖర్ రెడ్డి ఆదర్శం అంటే ఎంత విడ్డూరమో జయలలిత ఆదర్శమంటే అంతే విడ్డూరం. కానీ సంకుచిత స్త్రీవాదానికి ఇది విడ్డూరం కాదు. మగవాడి ఆధిక్యతతో కుళ్లిపోయిన రాజకీయాల్లో కొంత మంది ఆడవాళ్లు వాటా తీసుకోవటం కూడా ఈ స్త్రీవాదానికి ఆదర్శమే. సంకుచిత స్త్రీవాదం మొత్తం వ్యవస్థ మీద పోరాడదు. వ్యవస్థలో చిన్ని చిన్ని సర్దుబాట్లతో ఇది సంతృప్తి చెందుతుంది.

గౌతమ్ మీనన్ జయలలిత జీవితచరిత్ర మీద తీస్తున్న వెబ్ సిరీస్ ట్రైలర్ చూసారా? నాకా ట్రైలర్ చూసినప్పుడు సంకుచిత స్త్రీవాదమే గుర్తువచ్చింది. పైగా ఆ వెబ్ సిరీస్ పేరు Queen (మహారాణి).

మనకి కావాల్సింది ఈ సంకుచిత స్త్రీవాదం కాదు. మనకి కావాల్సిన స్త్రీవాదం అంబానీల ఉనికినే ప్రశ్నిస్తుంది. సమాజంలోని హెచ్చుతగ్గులు సహజం అంటూ చెప్పే కట్టు కథలని అది తిప్పి కొడుతుంది. అది కేవలం స్త్రీ సమస్యలకే పరిమితం కాదు. అది వర్గ పోరాటాన్ని ఇతర సాంఘిక వ్యత్యాసాలపై పోరాటాలని గుర్తిస్తుంది. వాటికి సంఘీభావం తెలుపుతుంది. వాటితో కలిసి మొత్తం వ్యవస్థకి వ్యతిరేకంగా పని చేస్తుంది. ఎందుకంటే నిజమయిన స్వేచ్చకు అదే మార్గం అని దానికి తెలుసు. 

పింక్ సినిమాలో అమితాబ్ పాత్రని తెలుగులో పవన్ కళ్యాణ్ చేస్తే బావుంటుంది అనే అద్భుతమయిన ఆలోచన ప్రొడ్యూసర్లకి ఎలా వచ్చింది అనేది నాకో మిస్టరీ. చాలా సార్లు ఇంటర్వ్యూల్లో నేను అసలు నటుడినే కాదు అని చెప్పుకొనే కళ్యాణ్ బాబు అమితాబ్ లాయర్ పాత్రని ఒప్పుకోవటం ఇంకా పెద్ద మిస్టరీ. కళ్యాణ్ సాబ్, తమరు ఈ పింక్ సినిమా కాకుండా సల్మాన్ ఖాన్ భారత్ ని తెలుగు లో అఖండ భారత్ అని చేసి ఉంటే చాలా బావుండేది. ప్రస్తుత మీ రాజకీయ ధోరణికి కూడా టైటిల్ చక్కగా సరిపోయేది. నాకు ఇదంతా రాసే బాధ తప్పేది. 

పురూరవ చక్రవర్తి (14 మార్చ్ 2020)

Update on 3rd September 2020:

On Sye Raa Narsimha Reddy

I knew this movie (Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy) is going to be Marvelization of an Indian rebel against British Empire. I know it is a sin worse than turning a historical poet into a mythological character. And yet, call it stupidity or whatever, I have watched it on Amazon Prime yesterday. The very opening scene was clearly based on a popular internet myth (below) attributed to T.B. Macaulay of British Empire:

If you don’t believe me, see the screenshots (below)  from the movie opening to see two random supposedly white dudes wallowing in the Macaulay myth (check the English subtitles):

SyeRaa8.png

Macaulay wasn’t even in British parliament on 2nd February, 1835 to make this infamous speech. He was in India and what you find from the minutes of the meeting on 2nd February, 1835 is a 19th century racist disdain, the exact opposite of the Internet myth:

I certainly never met with any orientalist who ventured to maintain that the Arabic and Sanscrit poetry could be compared to that of the great European nations. But when we pass from works of imagination to works in which facts are recorded and general principles investigated, the superiority of the Europeans becomes absolutely immeasurable. It is, I believe, no exaggeration to say that all the historical information which has been collected from all the books written in the Sanscrit language is less valuable than what may be found in the most paltry abridgments used at preparatory schools in England…There are no books on any subject which deserve to be compared to our own, whether, when we can teach European science, we shall teach systems which, by universal confession, wherever they differ from those of Europe differ for the worse, and whether, when we can patronize sound philosophy and true history, we shall countenance, at the public expense, medical doctrines which would disgrace an English farrier, astronomy which would move laughter in girls at an English boarding school, history abounding with kings thirty feet high and reigns thirty thousand years long, and geography made of seas of treacle and seas of butter.

That the British looted India is an indisputable fact. That’s not the confusion here. The trouble is how these facts are framed and interpreted.  

Also if the Mughals had already looted by the time these white dudes arrived, how come these white dudes didn’t find a single beggar or a thief? If the looting by the Mughals hadn’t resulted in poverty and crime (beggars and thieves), then does that ‘looting’ qualify as looting? If the white dudes didn’t find a single beggar or a thief and saw no Mughal impact on the existing culture, then what exactly does looting by Mughals mean?  

This scene is a typical example of historical myths promulgated.  

One of the popular myths is: All Muslim kings were bad and all Hindu kings were good.  

Are all Muslim kings evil? Are all Hindu kings benevolent? Or though there are relative merits and demerits between individual king to king (irrespective of religion), with hindsight, in 21st century, shouldn’t we have already developed an aversion to the very idea of kingship itself?    

Anyway, why are the histrionics of every single British Officer in the movie are like that of a typical South Indian movie villain?  

May be the disclaimer at the beginning of the movie explains everything. May be that is what ‘cinematic liberty’ means.

Puroorava Chakravarthy (25th November, 2019)

Why I Stopped Attending Weddings

Yes, I agree I attended a few weddings before due to obligations. But for the last one year or so I took a conscious decision and stopped doing that. It is not just the usual social phobia that I have that is stopping me from attending, I have other reasons too. I find it very strange when some people sulk over me for not attending a wedding.  Why is it so important? I don’t understand.

After all, what is a marriage, fundamentally? Or should I be asking who gets married? Mostly it is two individuals who decided to live their lives together for entire eternity (yes it’s for a very long time).  Doesn’t that make it a private affair? Now how is my role important there? Or is there any role at all?

And how can I not mention all the superstition and stupidity involved in a marriage ritual! The priest puts the bride and the groom through some religious mumbo jumbo. The list is big. Want an example? Would a person in his/her proper senses ever try to show you a star in broad day light? But that happens. And the people involved pretend as if what they are shown is a rare astronomical event happening only once in a thousand years. And how can I not tell you the more recent example that I came across. After completing the marriage ritual in Vijayawada, the bride and the groom are supposed to travel to Hyderabad. But that is not all that simple. They have targets. They have to start between 8:00 and 8:15 am in Vijayawada and should reach Hyderabad between 2:00 and 2:15 pm on the same day, no matter what, because following this schedule will somehow keep them “happily ever after”.  Yes, with the time above mentioned one should make that trip comfortably. But the car driver slacked off on his driving (is some evil force not happy with the marriage and responsible for this?) and by the time they are half their way it was already afternoon. The bride’s father started cursing the driver for the fear of not making it on the so called auspicious time. The driver now got into his formula one driving mode and covered the rest of the distance in a very short duration. I came to know about this incident through a cousin who was involved in this journey and he explained how he thought it was almost his last day in his life. We make a lot of noise about road safety (especially on the high ways) and give up those safety rules just for the sake of some silly superstition. Superstition is stupidity. At times, stupidity is just another name for danger. A marriage ceremony is a mother lode of superstitions; the rituals involved are stupidity in action and I do not want to attend such an event.

Now coming to the idea of mangalasutram (the sacred thread), I always wonder why women do not have a disgust for the sacred thread. If one really thinks about it, one can say mangalasutram is a symbol of slavery. Don’t you believe me?  Okay, I would like to remind you the famous Indian film scene. It goes something like this:” the bad guy is forcibly trying to tie the sacred thread around a woman’s neck. The women resists because she doesn’t want to be his slave. But the guy at the end succeeds in his endeavor. The woman now is in shock (the great Indian cinema shock face to be precise) and the guy is now smiling. That smile says you are my bitch now.”  What does this say? If a guy puts the sacred thread around a woman’s neck, it’s all over. There is nothing a woman can do. She is a slave now. That is the power of mangalasutram.  Also why is it unidirectional in its applicability? If marriage is a commitment between two equals, shouldn’t the woman also tie the knots? Another such item in marriage paraphernalia is the toe ring. The married women ought to wear these. But how will I know whether a man is married or not. Is he going to wear a special kind of underwear after marriage? Any clues? I hope someday women realize this unequal, irrational arrangement and say no to this garbage.

There are people who say a marriage event is not just about the marriage itself but it works for them as an occasion for getting together with old friends and relatives etc. But even in this aspect it is a big flop for me. When I attend a wedding, I not only meet the people I want to meet but also forced to meet the people I want to avoid. Accept it or not everyone has their favorites and not so favorites and I am no exception. So if I am missing someone and I want to meet that person, I would rather take an appointment and meet them. But will not plan the meet at some common friend’s wedding.

And finally, the obnoxious display of wealth in a wedding. The costumes and ornaments worn by the bride, the groom and their relatives are usually exorbitantly expensive and aesthetically vulgar. For instance, who on this planet would wear a belt made of gold (Vaddanam)?  Please tell me how is it aesthetically appealing? The Vaddanam is nothing but a vulgar display of opulence.  I can confidently say that the rich and the upper middle class have successfully instilled the idea that ‘a grand wedding is the right way of wedding’ into the society.  The poor of the society try to emulate this idea. They spend all that they have on this one occasion. In a country that is largely poor, is this the example that one should set for others to follow? And mostly the expenses are borne by the bride’s side. The bride’s parents are burdened financially, they cannot avoid this due to the social pressure and no wonder female foeticide is rampant in our country.

 Now tell me, should I still attend and encourage these ritualistic, wasteful events?

Puroorava Chakravarthy (2012)

Why I Am Not A Communist

Why I am not a Communist

Because of my recent postings on Facebook, people around me are putting me under various labels.  If I oppose BJP on an issue they label me as a Congress Party stooge. Then I have to explain to them that the categorization of political affiliations in our nation is not simple black and white, and I belong to a third category of people who oppose both Congress and BJP alike. Then these people think really hard and come up with the label ‘communist’. Sadly, they are wrong again (“Galath Javaab”- read it in Amitabh Bachan’s stentorian voice please). I am not a communist and the reasoning for which will be given in the following lines.

Firstly, when compared to other grand political parties, I hardly feel the communist parties’ presence. The recent incidents revealed to me that the communists are hiding in the universities. And during elections, as far as I remember, they mostly joined hands with the Congress. Now this alliance to me is like, if Congress is a tailless monkey then the Communist Parties attached themselves as a tail. Now if I have to choose between the monkey and its tail, I believe it would be wise to choose the monkey. But as I mentioned before, I hate this monkey and therefore never cared much for its artificial tail.

Very recently I shared a video. The video has P Sainath addressing JNU students. I didn’t know that sharing P Sainath’s video again puts me under the communist banner. But the truth is until I saw this video I never knew that Sainath was an alumni of JNU. To me, Sainath was a mad journalist who doesn’t cover India vs Pakistan cricket matches, but someone who has a morbid obsession with farmer suicides and other ‘unimportant’ things such as poverty, human development index and such stuff. One of the key ideas that the video addresses is market fundamentalism which resulted in growing global inequality. To give you an idea,  just a handful of 62 richest billionaires own as much wealth as the poorer half of the world’s population and the top 1% of people own more wealth than the other 99% combined. Unlike most communist party leaders’ speeches which are filled with jargon that nobody understands, Sainath’s speech was lucid and cogent. It is these same economic policies (that created these gross inequalities) that our country is following vehemently, like a religion, from the 1990s. Unfortunately, I don’t have any friends from the top 1 percent. So I shamelessly tagged my friends (whoever came to my mind at that time) urging them to watch that video. Now if you are not one of top 1% and if your mental health is alright then the obnoxious growth of top 1% that we are witnessing today should make you to puke. Do you need a communist ideology to understand these simple numbers? Do you have to be a communist to oppose these practices? Even in United States, the Mecca of Capitalism, there are people who are opposing this trend. Senator Bernie Sanders, who is passionately exposing this economic trend, is pulling large crowds in his presidential campaigns. Is he a communist? Senator Elizabeth Warren is loved and praised by the middle class of US for her relentless fight against the Wall Street. Is she a communist? And if I am a fan of both Sanders and Warren, does that make me a communist? When the numbers are this clear do you need an ideology to oppose these trends? I think commonsense is enough.

Coming to the communist ideology itself, allow me to digress to an incident from the life of Rockstar Physicist Richard Feynman and it is not completely irrelevant to the present topic. Feynman was awarded Nobel prize in Physics in 1965. To receive the award he had to attend the Nobel Prize Award Ceremony. At the ceremony after dinner, Feynman saw an empty chair next to Princess Somebody of Denmark and sat down. The princess turned to Feynman and said, “Oh! You’re one of the Nobel Prize winners. In what field did you do your work?”.”In Physics”, replied Feynman. “Oh, well, nobody knows anything about that, so I guess we can’t talk about it”, said the princess. Feynman retorted, “On the contrary, it’s because somebody knows something about it that we can’t talk about Physics. It’s the things that nobody knows anything about that we can all talk about”. He gives the subject ‘weather’ as an example for his claim. It is true that we know nothing about the weather, but we invariably talk about it and are quite comfortable in that talk. I think the communist ideology is very much like the subject ‘weather’. Nobody knows what it is, for the simple reason that nobody read the original works of its founding fathers, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Yes, my previous statement is an exaggeration (Nobody!!), but it is not completely untrue. I see people who embrace this ideology and also people who hate this ideology and you can be sure of one thing, that most of these people from both categories never read a single pamphlet written by the original authors, Marx and Engels. I, myself, haven’t read any of the original works of Marx and Engels and have no clue what it is about. Every time I see the size of these books, I must confess, I shit in my pants. So do you think it is fair to label someone who hasn’t read any works on this ideology, who has no clue what it is about, as a communist?

Blind love and blind hate

Another reason for communist hate is Stalin. Stalin is one of the most evil personalities in modern times. Of that I have no doubt. But I am confused. My confusion is how the same ideology can produce Stalin on one hand and Bhagat Singh on the other hand. Are you surprised too! Yes you heard it right, it is Bhagat Singh. I have never seen a single individual who disliked Bhagat Singh. Even staunch Gandhian followers may have questioned his methods, but never doubted his integrity. Because it is too silly to question his integrity. Doubting his integrity is like spitting on the sky. Do you know that Bhagat Singh was a strong proponent of atheism and had a high regard for Marxism. Most of my friends don’t know this fact. And the simple reason for this is we are a nation of non readers and not just that, we make fun of people who are bookworms. Why do you love Bhagat Singh? You love him because you are told to love him by your elders, by your society around you. Loving someone without knowing his ideas and activities is blind love. Blind love is as stupid as blind hate. Though Bhagat Singh is dead, we have his writings and in these writings Bhagat Singh is alive. His ideas are alive. Read them. Understand them. Then take a position. Love him or hate him for his ideas, for what he stood for. Don’t just love him just because your elders asked you to do so.  Read today, start now. Start with this article, “Why I am an Atheist” by Bhagat Singh. I am providing the links below. Incidentally his writings are saved in marxists.org. In my opinion, Bhagat Singh should have been the father of our nation. I have a dislike for Gandhian methods. Careful, it doesn’t mean that I hate Gandhi and it doesn’t also mean that I love Godse.

Now I am curious why my hero Bhagat Singh is so enamored of Marxism. Now I want to know what Marxism is. Starting next month I will begin with works of Marx. It is a herculean task and the size of the volumes is intimidating. I will go inch by inch. I may like this ideology or I may not. I am open. After considerable amount of reading if I am convinced about this ideology, just like my hero Bhagat Singh did, I will declare myself a communist. Until then I am no communist. So don’t label me as one. Also don’t call others communists just because they oppose you (Joseph McCarthy of USA did something like this in the past, don’t be such a douchebag), until you read and understand what communism is.

Puroorava Chakravarthy (2014)

On Vakeel Saab

Vakeel Saab(Lawyer Sir) is a Telugu remake of Hindi movie Pink.  This remake hasn’t released yet. But I know one thing for sure. Irrespective of your opinion on the original movie, the remake is only going to be worse. It is going to be a wallowing in the protagonist’s narcissism rather than the original movie’s take on a social issue. How do I know?

Consider the titles. The title Pink has multiple interpretations. But all those interpretations revolve around the issue the movie wants to address. The title Vakeel Saab has only one interpretation and it is this: it is about a Saab, Power Star Pawan Kalyan Saab. Just like the movie Whistle (Bigil in Tamil) is about Vijay’s heroism than about a women football team.

Consider the first look posters. I agree the original has Amitabh’s picture in the background a bit looming large for market purposes. But it also has the three women fighting the issue in the foreground. The remake poster has only our Saab. It looks like he is chilling out with a book after a tough day at court. Any guess what the book might be?  My bet is on jurist Nani Palkhivala’s We, The Nation: The Lost Decades. A book that Saab claims to have read in his teens, thanks to his elder brother Jabardasth Naga Babu. He also tweeted that Palkhiwala played a key role in shaping his political thinking.

Check the title designs of both movies. The original movie title design is a symbol of confinement or unfreedom. The remake design has a ‘contemplative’ power star walking. The focus has shifted from a social issue to how deep is our DEEP SAAB. Saab not only spread over the entire first look poster, but also didn’t leave any room for anything else in the title itself. This will not make sense if he is playing a lawyer who defends three women. It will only make sense if his highness is playing an omnipresent god.

Watch the leaked video from Vakeel Saab shoot. In the video, you can see Saab twisting a man’s hand and saying: No matter how many years pass by, my rage will not be pacified and my aim doesn’t change. Once I put on the black coat, there will not be any petitions to be made and there will not be any bails to be granted.

I don’t remember one single scene from Pink in which the lawyer (Amitabh) manhandles someone. I am sure some part of a lawyer job involves petitions and bails. So it doesn’t make any sense to put on a black coat and refusing to do essential lawyer tasks (petitions and bails). When you don’t want to be a lawyer, why even worry about that black coat? Why even wear a black coat to beat the shit out of rogues and solve the public issues? Why the filmmakers didn’t just name it appropriately Street Fighter Saab? I don’t know.  May be these are the ‘lawyering skills’ Saab learned from his reading in his teens of Nani Palkhiwala’sWe, The Nation: The Lost Decades.

Compare the poem from Pink with the song from Vakeel Saab released on women’s day.

Essential points in Pink Poem(Tu Chal) Essential points inVakeel Saab Song(Maguva)
1. Woman find yourself.
2. Don’t wear those shackles as clothes. Melt them and turn them into your weapons.
3. The sinners don’t have a right to judge you.
4. Burn the web of cruelty into ashes. You are not a flame of worship but a fire of anger.
5. Uses images from the film itself. Predominantly includes the three lead women’s images displaying both dark and bright moods.
1. Woman, does the world know how valuable you are? Does your patience have any limits? (rhetorical questions)
2. Showers lots of praises and treats women as special.
3. Shows images of women in traditional domestic roles (as a mother, wife etc) and also in ‘successful’ professional roles.
4. Also shows pictures of popular women such as Mother Theresa, Sudha Murthy etc.

Can you see the difference in the approaches to the issue?

Pink doesn’t treat women as special.The issue here is not whether women are special or not.For the record, let me say it loud: WOMEN ARE NOT SPECIAL.They can be as abysmal/magnanimous as men. The real issue here is: WOMEN ARE NOT TREATED EQUAL.  Pink is about fighting this unfair treatment. And it is that fighting spirit that reflects in its poem.

But what about the Telugu remake?  It has turned the movie from an artistic expression on a real issue into a spectacle of movie star worship. The singing of praises and special treatment of women while changing the original movie into a dominant male superhero movie is a spectacular example of benevolent sexism.

The following points from this article should make the idea of benevolent sexism clear.

  1. Benevolent sexism occurs when someone (usually a man) says something that seems supportive and positive, but is based on traditional gender stereotypes. It is unique in that, unlike hostile sexism or other overt forms of discrimination, is often deployed with consciously good intentions, and often seen by the recipient in that light.
  2. Benevolent sexism can be disorienting to women because it may appear supportive while simultaneously reinforcing and extolling the virtues of traditional gender roles, responsibilities, and capabilities.
  3. Benevolent sexism maintains gender inequality through the idealization of subordinate qualities in women such as neatness or nurturing.
  4. By focusing on qualities that hold less social power and capital, benevolent sexism affords men the means of seeming to offer support to women, while still maintaining traditional gender hierarchies.

Now go back and watch-listen to MaguvaMaguva song and identify the BS in it (by BS I only mean benevolent sexism and nothing else).

Another good example of this BS is a government ad for BetiBacho campaign.

It says: How will you get rotis, if you don’t let the female child born. The ad by creating a so called positive image of a nurturer for a girl, relegated her to what is a subordinate social position. 

The list of exemplary personalities shown in the song begins with Mother Teresa picture. Mother Teresa has this image of an angel, but the reality is something else. She is a fraud. Mother Teresa has supported the powerful interests. She was aligned with both the governments of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. She backed the CIA funded Contras against the Sandinistas. In India, she was loyal to Union Carbide after the 1984 Bhopal disaster. In the name of religion, she went against women’s rights. For example, she was against contraception, an option for divorce and an individual’s choice in abortion.  This may be disconcerting news to some of you because it was for me when I first encountered this truth. Therefore, I can only request you to check the links provided for evidence and decide for yourself.

You will also see Sudha Murthy of Infosys in those images. I don’t know much about her. But her inclusion is the result of a certain narrow feminism.  This feminism doesn’t question the existing hierarchical structures. It is not uncomfortable with our Owner-Slave society. What it aspires to do is to include 33% or some other percentage number of owners to be women. This is the feminism of identity politics. It will be content if it could place a certain number of super powerful women bosses among the Ambani, Ramoji, Gates and Jeff Bezos etc. 

The responses of some women on the death of the politician Jayalalitha are good examples of this narrowfeminism. The responses more or less expressed how inspiring Jayalalitha, as a woman,was to them and so on. But the trouble is Jayalalitha was as corrupt a politician as any other male politician. The fact of being a woman didn’t alter the problem of systemic corruption. Treating Jayalalitha as an inspirational figure is as absurd as treating ChandraBabu Naidu or Y.S.Rajasekhar Reddy as an inspirational figure.   But for this feminism it is inspiring to have some representative number of corrupt female politicians in an otherwise corrupt male dominant political world. This is the problem with this narrow feminism: It doesn’t fight the larger system. It is satisfied with the system as long as it achieves some minor adjustments within the system.

Have you watched the trailer of Gautham Menon’s web series on Jayalalitha’s life?  That trailer is as good example of narrow feminism. And by the way, the web series is titled Queen. Isn’t that interesting? 

But a different kind of feminism emerging from a different kind of politics questions the very idea of Ambanis. It challenges the ‘rationalizations’ provided to justify the existence of super-rich/super-powerful as natural. It isn’t restricted to women issues alone.  It understands class war and fights involving other social hierarchies. It is in solidarity with other causes. It joins others to fight the system. Because it knows that this is the only path to true freedom.  

Coming back to Vakeel Saab, it is a mystery to me how the makers of Vakeel Saab arrived at the genius idea that the role of Amitabh in Pink would suit Pawan Kalyan. It is also a mystery to me how Pawan Kalyan himself accepted to play the role when he himself admitted many times that he is a non-actor. If only Kalyan Saab had instead gone for the remake of Salman Khan’s Bharat and named it Akhanda Bharat (this title would have also servedKaylan Saab’srecent political affiliations), I wouldn’t have troubled myself writing this. 

Puroorava Chakravarthy (10th March 2020)

Update on 3rd September 2020: Vakeel Saab still growing strong(video below and also happy birthday to youuuuuuu)

How to Win a Nobel

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu, having recognised the dearth of Nobel laureates in the sciences from the state, announced a drastic remedial measure in January this year. He announced, in front of an audience of mostly children,₹100 crore as prize money for the person who becomes a Nobel laureate in the sciences from the state. In one shot he hoped to instil a sense of curiosity for scientific enquiry, thereby also fixing the dearth-of-Nobels problem.

I accidently saw this news item on the front page of Eenadu, a Telugu-language news daily, and got depressed. One way to address depression is to expose one’s self to more of the source of depression. I searched YouTube for more information on this news item and found a videotitled, “CM Chandrababu Announces ₹100 Cr Prize Money for Nobel Prize Winners in Science.” Believe me, I don’t know why, but the video of the same news evoked a completely different feeling in me. It provided some comic relief. In the video, the emphasis on ₹100 crore by Naidu is so ineffable that one has to watch the video to feel the intensity.

What is surreal is the audacity of the chief minister in not hiding his philistine views before a Nobel laureate from Japan, Takaaki Kajita, who is right there on the dais. If you observe the video carefully, when Naidu announced his Sankranthi bonanza, his puppets were the ones ready to clap and lead the applause, while the rest just followed, as is routine. Clearly, the Japanese scientist was the last one to clap. I cannot speak for the scientist, but it is obvious that he is not enthused by this noble mercantile spirit. The circus didn’t stop there. Naidu requested the scientist to share “tips” and “tricks” to grab some Nobels.

Is it Ponguru Narayana’s greed that led to Naidu’s imbecile request for tips and tricks? Narayana is a cabinet minister and an education baron. His educational institutes are famous for equipping young students with tricks and shortcuts to crack all sorts of exams all over India. These institutes are famous not only for their “educational” achievements, but also for their “subtle” television ads. Any person watching these ads is bound to have an out-of-body experience. An example is the ad on YouTube titled “MPC sri chaitanya narayana TVC MPC AD.” Have Narayana and his monstrous institutes set their eyes on Nobel prizes now? Are we going to see ads in a similar vein, except with Nobel prizes supplanting exam results? Do you not think the chief minister’s request to the scientist eerily resembles a typical Narayana–Chaitanya student’s request to his teacher to teach him some shortcuts to use in exams?

One of the most brilliant and influential physicists, and a Nobel laureate, Richard Feynman said, “Physics is like sex: Sure, it may give some practical results, but that’s not why we do it.” In essence, great scientists do science because they enjoy it. But that does not mean it’s easy. “Science is hard, but it’s totally worth it,” can be said to be a scientist’s motto. They try to understand the workings of nature in a deep way. They are in a continuous quest to find all the laws that govern the universe. In this quest, some of them find a new aspect or a better understanding of nature and others may not. However, not just the results but also the process of scientific research is gratifying to scientists. Otherwise, it is impossible to explain their perseverance. Of course, there is a technological aspect along with scientific enquiry, which is secondary. Primarily, a scientist is a truth-seeker. All new scientific discoveries may not be applicable immediately to solve our day-to-day problems, but that should not stop a scientist from doing his or her job, that is, the job of truth-seeking.

I doubt whether this tech-savvy chief minister understands this. I do not want to single Naidu out. He is one among many of the political roses we have, while the majority of our political class, especially the powerful lot, is mediocre.

However, the question remains. Why the dearth of Nobel laureates in the sciences? Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, an Indian-origin American–British biologist and Nobel Prize recipient in chemistry in 2009 attended the Indian Science Congress in 2015. Sadly, this is what he had to say in 2016: “I attended one day (of an earlier Congress) and very little science was discussed. It was a circus. I find that it’s an organization where very little science is discussed. I will never attend a science congress again in my life.” And for all the astrology aficionados, the following is what he said, “There is no evidence that planetary movement has any effect on one’s fate.”

The powerful political class, which is supposed to raise the consciousness of our society, is itself mired in superstition. We see our politicians blatantly seeking the blessings of astrologers and swamijis for important events. State-sponsored superstition is hailed and celebrated in the headlines of many noble newspapers. Does Ramakrishnan know that there has been an idea of introducing astrology in Indian universities? The scientific temper prescribed in the Indian Constitution has remained in its pages, and has never seeped through into our society. And it will not, as long as third-rate politicians rule. Moreover, mediocrity is not the preserve of any one political party. It is all-pervasive.

The idea that offering large sums of money as a bonanza prize to fix a problem or to improve a situation cannot be isolated to the Nobel case. This attitude is just a reflection of one of the aspects of mediocrity. I want to call this the “Meelo Evaru Koteswarudu” [MEK] phenomenon: who among you is a crorepati? Since mediocrity is ubiquitous, the phenomenon attached to it should also be all over the place. For instance, take the case of demonetisation and its aftermath, that is, digitisation. To motivate people to go digital, the central government announced lottery schemes and lucky draws. The showering of prizes on Olympic medal winners to encourage sports and its spirit is well known. Recently, the competition between the Telugu states to own an Olympic medal winner is comparable to the arms race between the United States and Soviet Union during the Cold War. They want us to think that the bidding that goes along with the Indian Premier League (IPL) is the highest form of sports encouragement. IPL bidding is the quintessence of the MEK phenomenon.

V Balakrishnan of Indian Institute of Technology Madras, famous for his lucid lectures on physics available on YouTube, in an interview, lamented of a certain “loss of idealism” in young minds. He says,

At the age when you are out of high school, and are about to start college, it should be a time when you are actually dreaming. It would be the time you haven’t figured out what you really want to do; confused and hopelessly idealistic, wanting to correct the world and change a lot of things. Most of you in any case won’t end up doing that, which is fine. You may want to become a musician, a great poet or artist, get the Nobel Prize, find a cure for cancer, explore the universe—all these are wonderfully idealistic dreams. But I don’t find our children saying that at all.

This year I read an interview with 11 students who topped the State Board 12th standard exam. No less than 7 of the students said that they wanted to do—guess what—chartered accountancy! Nowthat really worries me. They want to become auditors. Make no mistake; I consider auditing as noble a profession as any other. It is a necessary profession, or else there would certainly be even more financial fraud than there is right now. But—come on—dreaming of chartered accountancy at the age of 17 or 18? I’m saddened. You know what it really means? It means the person’s childhood has been lost, stolen, taken away, in some profound sense.

Balakrishnan’s worry is a clear indication of MEK-ism replacing idealism in the minds of youngsters.

Renowned singer S P Balasubramaniam in his famous television programme “Paadutha Theeyaga” (I will sing melodiously) talked about his long-time association with music director Ilayaraja and his insight into Raja’s life. In essence, he said,

Ilayaraja worked very hard. If he had some meager₹10 in his pocket, he used to spend₹2 on tea and bun and the remaining₹8 on musical notes. He starved, but his dedication to music never wavered. Now he has his own Mercedez Benz car and an air-conditioned bungalow.

When Balasubramaniam finished talking, the audience burst into applause. No doubt, the devotion of Ilayaraja to music is awe-inspiring, but what is disturbing in this whole episode is Balasubramaniam’s concluding remarks. There are a thousand people out there who own a Benz or an Audi or some such vehicle. The reason why anybody cares about Ilayaraja is his music, not because of his cars and bungalows.

If one music legend’s insight, conscious or unconscious, about another is in such poor taste, you can imagine how much the MEK phenomenon has spread into the heart and soul of our society. I can confidently say that MEK is the zeitgeist of our times.

So far, I have complained a lot against the drive for money and the obsession with accumulating wealth, which are the tenets of MEK-ism. This may lead to the impression that I hate all worldly goods. But let me elaborate. I am not suggesting that we should leave all our material possessions, accept sainthood, and live out the rest of our lives in the Himalayas. In fact, I consider such an ideology to be even more dangerous. Money is very important, but it has its limits. Yes, science research involves lots of money. But one has to understand that money is only a means to an end, not the end in itself. You need money to do science, you don’t do science for money.

You may think I am being too critical. Maybe, I am. Maybe my perspective is completely wrong. Maybe, Naidu’s₹100 crore idea will do its magic. Maybe, we will see young scientists with their Nobel Prizes in one hand and large suitcases filled with₹100 crore in newly minted₹2,000 notes in the other, standing at the crossroads of Amaravathi—the sacred city that was purified with Yamuna water at its foundation by the Prime Minster himself—to invest in its pious lands.

Maybe that is what the world is all about. Maybe the time has come for the dawn of the Nobel realtors.

Puroorava Chakravarthy (Published in Economic and Political Weekly, 22nd Apr, 2017)