I went through a recommended book one of these weeks called Bullshit Jobs by David Graeber. I didn’t read every single page but read some chapters. This blog is about the crux of what the author’s trying to say in the book, and my reflections on some of that.
In essence, bullshit jobs are ones where those who have such jobs, in the heart of their heart know that their job is not really needed as such – that what they are doing is basically bullshit.
Ever felt that way about your job? Then read on.
Graeber (who died only few months ago – in Sep 2020) goes ahead and offers the below classification for bullshit jobs:
what flunkies do – jobs that exist only to make someone else look or feel important (needless receptionist / PA for example);
what goons do – something that you need to do only because your competitor / enemy is doing it (army / PR etc.);
what duct tapers do – fixing other people’s mistakes that could have been easily avoided had the original person showed basic competency;
what box tickers do – folks that do work that’s mainly needed for some sort of a ‘tick in the box’ by someone (typically bureaucratic in nature); and
what taskmasters do – folks who spend most of their time allocating tasks to others.
I graduated with a masters in 2008 and played the role of a management consultant for four years. Reading the book made me reflect on that job. I always knew there was something meaningless about the consulting job that I had. Sure, every assignment that I worked on was of value to someone somewhere (that’s how consultants get paid), but at the end of the day, most of what I did was essentially a box-ticking activity. I think most consultants, for most part of their working lives, are box-tickers. The jobs are bullshit.
How about what I do today? When I create a video or a short documentary film purely for the joy of it, it is obviously meaningful to me. But what happens when I get paid to help clients with my storytelling skills? From Graeber’s classification, if my final work is essentially an ad, then I am pretty much a ‘goon’ – it’s a job that one does only because someone else is doing it.
Graeber shares his correspondence with a London based post-production guy Tom. Tom told him that there were parts of his job that he found enjoyable and fulfilling – getting to make cars fly, buildings explode, and dinosaurs attack alien spaceships for movie studios – because all said and done, these things provide entertainment for audiences worldwide.
But a growing percentage of Tom’s customers are advertising agencies where Tom would use visual effects trickery to make it seem like the products worked (shampoos, toothpastes, moisturizing creams, washing powders). Most of his work on TV shows and music videos – where the celebrities are the products – involves things such as reducing bags under the eyes of women, making hair shinier etc.
We essentially make viewers feel inadequate whilst they’re watching the main programs and then exaggerate the effectiveness of the “solutions” provided in the commercial breaks. I get paid £100,000 a year to do this.
When Graber asked Tom why he considered his job to be bullshit (as opposed to merely, say, evil), Tom explained that a worthwhile job should probably be one hat fulfills a pre-existing need, or creates a product or service that people hadn’t thought of, that somehow enhances and improves their lives. But since supply for most products / services seems to have far outpaced demand (in most industries), the demand is being essentially manufactured, which he partly helps do. After manufacturing demand, the usefulness of the products sold to fix it, is exaggerated. That is the job of every single person that works in or for the entire advertising industry.
If we’re at the point where in order to sell products, one has to first of all trick people into thinking they need them, then one would be be hard-pressed to argue that these jobs aren’t bullshit!
Makes sense, right? I wouldn’t necessarily recommend you pick the book but if you really really relate to what you read here, may be you will enjoy it more than I did. At this stage in my life, I don’t care much about the bullshit part of the work that I do, as long as I don’t sell my time and skills to doing that entirely. As long as I am also writing blogs like these and doing my personal 3MinuteStories, I am fine. Are you?
“Rape / rape-culture is a big problem in India? Sure, we can ‘discuss’ it over comments and come up with a way that can definitely solve it”. “Caste issues? No problem. ‘Solution’ should be the focus; what’s the point in ranting about the problem”? “I don’t know the problem enough? Then educate me no? Tell me what is wrong in my ‘reasoning’? I am here to learn – teach me, educate me”.
We Indians love to reason. We also love to offer solutions – to every problem that we spot (especially if we are men). In fact we loving offering / talking about solutions so much that we never have the time to learn – by reading / consulting experts – about the underlying issues. We want to take the short-cut of learning by reasoning and logic.
Now if you are in a class and a teacher is teaching something, you should definitely ask questions. You should reason and try to understand the logic of what is being proposed and taught (unless obvious). You will learn better that way.
Even in case of peer-to-peer learning, say when you have missed a class and want a friend to explain the topic that you missed, you will learn better if you ask questions and get into reasoning and logic. For a short time-period this friend has essentially taken over the role of a ‘teacher’ and the nature of this relationship is well understood. And that is why reasoning works.
But that’s not usually the case with most social media conversations. There is no clear teacher-student role allocation. By default, both parties act like teachers (or so I have generally observed). And that’s why nobody ends up learning anything by reasoning and logic in most social media conversations.
When persons with limited knowledge (or even some knowledge) acknowledge that they are the student in a conversation, they can definitely benefit by reasoning, but only if they engage in a conversation with an expert. Such conversations rarely happen.
I often find myself in the “some knowledge” category and get turned off when it becomes obvious that the person I am conversing with has limited knowledge on the same subject. A – it is not my job to teach (it takes time and effort), B – I may not be able to do a good job of teaching them because I am not an expert yet (and possibly will never become one) and C – the time and energy that I will save from avoiding to converse with the person, can be devoted to actually learn something useful (by researching / reading more on the subject I already have some knowledge in).
When a person with limited knowledge in a subject claims that s/he is genuinely interested in learning more, I often cite point B and try to make them read good books directly (in short making them access ‘experts’). But you’d be surprised what I am often told – ‘oh I would love to learn but I don’t have time to read books and all that’.
I am of course talking about subjects / topics where a lot of research and theorizing has already been done and books after books have been written. This includes caste and gender topics. For a totally new subject, every one would essentially have ‘limited knowledge’ and reasoning and logic with a mutual learning spirit could possibly be helpful. But for well known and well researched subjects, it is usually a waste of time in most scenarios, if ‘learning’ really is the objective.
When I (with ‘some knowledge’) am conversing with someone who also has ‘some knowledge’, at times reasoning and logic is useful. This is especially true when the tone of conversation is on the lines of – ‘hey these insights that you shared are useful, and I have some more complimentary / contradictory insights to add if you are interested”.
Such tone eventually encourages both parties to go back and study specific things in more detail (source could be books but it could also be shorter stuff like blogs / podcasts / videos).
But such learning usually does not happen when the discussion is simply on the line of logic and reasoning – which often is the case when one party has ‘some knowledge’ and the other party has limited knowledge.
The language of the jackal
One of the reasons conversations on social media (where typically it’s not clear who is the teacher and who the student is) creates more conflict than learning, is because both parties end up using the language of the jackal.
The language of the jackal causes the speaker to feel superior and the person being addressed to feel bad. Typical examples of jackal language are:
Analysis: ‘That’s wrong, because…’
Criticism: ‘The mistake you made was that you…’
Interpretations: ‘You do that because…’
Appraisals: ‘You are smart / lazy, you’re right wrong…’
The use of jackal language (aggressive) leads to counter-aggression and you can imagine how much ‘learning’ really happens once a conversation goes down that path.
By the way, the reason Rosenberg labelled the other kind of language (where one observes without evaluating, acknowledges feelings etc.) – language of the giraffe is because giraffes apparently have the biggest heart in any land animal! I had no idea; did you?
Anyway, this brings me to the last part of this blog-post.
If reasoning and logic is often pointless on social media and nobody learns much anyway, why do so many people still indulge in it?
In my observation, it’s mostly men who love debating on topics where they have limited knowledge. This could have something to do with their systemizing abilities being more than empathizing abilities (about which I have written separately). In such a scenario, men want to quickly jump to ‘solving things’ or finding a ‘net net conclusion’. The rush is so much that there is little patience to spend time in self-researching the subject at large. Logic and reasoning are mistaken as sufficient tools to extract enough knowledge from anyone so that some solution / overall conclusion can be discussed ASAP.
When a person ends up indulging in this reasoning-based learning again and again, he often ends up believing that he now ‘broadly’ knows all the ‘key things’ there are to know in the subject. With this attitude (and false confidence), his subsequent conversations with others become even more arrogant and jackal-ish (in spite of no real knowledge – just reasoning).
The worst lot take it upon themselves to ‘educate’ everyone else. It’s mind-boggling – the confidence of these reasoning-based pseudo learners – especially if the person happens to be an upper caste male in India. What has gender and caste to do with the person’s confidence? See the figure below (another communication theory from the same book).
So yeah, that’s all for this post. The next time someone asks me to educate them on a topic because I know so much, I will just make them read this piece! Good idea? 🙂 Or that would be too jackal-like? 😀
Alright, let’s get back to the “ancient_science” account now…
When the mythic past is being built, a language is not just that – it is so much more – something that facilitates ‘unfoldment of higher awareness’! A language is not just a means to express ideas and discoveries (like this blog) but something that ’emulates the mantric sounds of the cosmic mind’!
Is it by any chance possible that the Vedas were written in Sanskrit because that was the *only* language that the authors knew to write in?
I crosschecked some of the above quotes and guess what, they are legit. But there are two issues with the post. First, the headline – “Influenced by Hindu Dharma”.
All these guys read some Hindu texts (like Gita). And there is a reason. They were all trying to find the connection between physics and philosophy and that meant they had to read up the well known philosophies (including eastern and Hindu philosophy of which Swami Vivekananda was a great spreader of, during this time). This explains the quotes – not endorsement of Hindu dharma.
The word dharma encompasses duties, rights, laws, conduct, virtues and “right way of living” – none of these scientists have ever proclaimed that the Hindu / Sanatana dharma influenced them. But of course that shouldn’t come in the way of evoking the pride that we must attach to being Hindus.
The second issue with this post is that it makes use of what’s called the halo effect to fool one’s brain. I have written about the halo effect in another blog, but in short – it is our instinctive disability that makes us believe that if someone is good in some aspects, that person is good in all aspects (and vice-versa).
For example, Tesla (quoted above) disagreed with the theory of atoms being composed of smaller subatomic particles, stating there was no such thing as an electron creating an electric charge! Today, any school student will tell that Tesla was wrong. This doesn’t necessarily make Tesla a fool. And yet it doesn’t necessarily mean that every single quote of Tesla is of value! Same goes with others.
Yes. Just like below is the beauty of Islam?
And what about this? Beauty of Sikhism?
Let’s get to the beauty of temples now…
Posts like these try to make you feel proud of the kind of amazing temples Hindus built centuries ago. Except that the construction of this ‘ancient’ structure was started in 1990!
There is a much older ancient temple (not so instagram-worthy) in the same place too. But the Gopuram that you see in the image is not that. It’s common for Gopurams to be added to older temples. Both the Gopuram and a Shiva statue were funded by NRI business tycoon B R Shetty. And it’s a great thing if religious rich folks build grand Gopurams or temples. I have nothing against them really. I am only trying to show you the overall motivation of insta accounts that put together posts like these. They don’t care about B R Shetty or the great work that he did. What do they care about? You will see for yourself. Just read on!
Is there any reason for us H for Hindus to be not super proud of such glorious past? Tell me. What else did our ancestors have in mind other than to make a ‘fashion statement’? Apparently, a lot!
This 12th-century Hindu temple was commissioned by King Vishnuvardhana in 1117 CE, on the banks of the Yagachi River in Belur (then Velapura – an early Hoysala Empire capital). The temple was built over three generations and took over hundred years to finish. It was repeatedly damaged and plundered during wars and repeatedly rebuilt and repaired over its history.
In 1774, Haidar Ali was the de facto ruler on behalf of the Wadiyar dynasty. Ali got the temple repaired (a Hindu officer was given the task). In 1935, parts of the temple was cleaned and restored with financing by the Mysore government and grants by the Wadiyar dynasty. [source]
Now here’s an interesting bit that some of you proud Hindus may find rather offensive – the temple artwork depicts scenes of secular life in the 12th century, dancers and musicians. It is a Vaishnava temple that reverentially includes many themes from Shaivism and Shaktism, as well as images of a Jina from Jainism and the Buddha from Buddhism.
One more illustrious insight? The Vijayanagara Empire sponsored the addition of smaller shrines in the temple complex, dedicated to goddesses and the Naganayakana mandapa that were constructed by collecting the war ruins of other demolished temples in Belur area and reusing them!
Posts from accounts like “ancient_science” remain silent on all such details, by design. These accounts don’t exist to teach you history. They just want to use selective / distorted and if needed, fake history to help create a mythical past for you.
If one can convince a population that they are rightfully exceptional, that they are destined by nature or by religious fate to rule other populations, one has already convinced them of a monstrous lie.
In a glorious past that fascism aims to create, members of the chosen community had their ‘rightful’ place at the top that set the cultural and economic agenda for everyone else.
“Now” this is a masjid. There are only two minor issues. “Now” = 15th century! Yes this has been a mosque since 15th century! And the second minor issue – the claim that this was once a temple is unverified! Of course. Just don’t take it to the Supreme Court because you know what happens in the end.
The photograph is real and not photoshopped if that’s what you are wondering. It is Daitya Sudan temple situated in Lonar, Maharashtra.
There is no record as such of how one of the gates has this Islamic architecture looking upper half thingy but let’s just assume an Islamic invasion it must have been. What lazy invaders, then?
It’s interesting that this insta account teaches us nothing about temple demolition beyond an Islamic war against Hinduism. So let me talk about it then. Learning some more history is not harmful, is it?
Recorded instances of Indian kings attacking the temples of their political rivals date from at least the eighth century, when Bengali troops destroyed what they thought was the image of Vishnu Vaikuntha, Kashmir’s state deity under King Lalitaditya (r. 724–60).
In the early tenth century, the Rashtrakuta monarch Indra III not only demolished the temple of Kalapriya (at Kalpi near the Jamuna River), patronized by the Rashtrakutas’ deadly enemies the Pratiharas, but took special delight in recording the fact;
In the late eleventh century, the Kashmiri King Harsha raised the plundering of enemy temples to an institutionalized activity;
In the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries, kings of the Paramara dynasty attacked and plundered Jain temples in Gujarat.
And you know what, I am not going to judge them. The way temples and religions and Hindus and Muslims are talked about in the present was NOT how they were viewed and talked about in the past. And therefore, using selected real / fake stories from past to influence the present thinking is nothing but a means to manipulate into imagining things a certain way!
Austrians are the biggest shiv-bhakts you see. And Shivji must have one day accidentally gone to Alps instead of Himalayas.
Every cylindrical ling / phallus shaped thing in the world is a proof of the spread of our culture. What is the lie in this? Leaning tower of Pisa? Shiv ling. The Qutab Minar? Shivling. You have to be blind to not see it.
The Eisriesenwelt (German for “World of the Ice Giants”) is a natural limestone and ice cave located in Werfen, Austria, about 40 km south of Salzburg. The cave is inside the Hochkogel mountain in the Tennengebirge section of the Alps. It is the largest ice cave in the world, extending more than 42 km and visited by about 200,000 tourists every year.
At least the ice-cave photo from Austria was factually correct. But see that “Sudhwara – Africa – 6000 years” image in the above grid? That is not even from Africa! I did a reverse image search and it turns out that structure is in Ireland!
In a 1922 speech at the Fascist Congress in Naples, Benito Mussolini declared – “we have created our myth. The myth is a faith, a passion. It is not necessary for it to be a reality. Our myth is the nation, our myth is the greatness of the nation! And to this myth, this greatness, which we want to translate into a total reality, we subordinate everything”.
Fascist leaders appeal to history to replace the actual historical record with a glorious mythic replacement that, in its specifics, can serve their political ends and their ultimate goal of replacing facts with power.
Such pride inducing ancient science! Could it possibly be untrue?
The astrolabe was invented in Hellenistic Greece around the second century, but it was the Islamic world which preserved this Greek knowledge, elaborated upon it and then disseminated it eastwards up to India and westwards up to England.
In his India, Al Biruni claims to have composed a manual on the astrolabe in Sanskrit verse. The work does not survive, but it is quite probable that Al Biruni had brought the astrolabe with him and taught its working principles to his Hindu interlocutors at Multan in the first quarter of the eleventh century.
Aww – so beautiful. Let me quote something from a renowned Dalit activist and writer – Kancha Illaiah.
Hinduism has been claiming that the Dalitbahujans are Hindus, but at the same time their very Gods are openly against them. As a result, this religion, from its very inception, has a fascist nature, which can be experienced and understood only by the Dalitbahujans, not by Brahmins who regard the manipulation and exploitation as systemic and not as part of their own individual consciousness.
…unless one examines in detail how all the main Hindu Gods are only killers and oppressors of the Dalitbahujans, and how the Dalitbahujan castes have built a cultural tradition of their own, and Gods and Goddesses of their own (who have never been respected by the brahminical castes), one cannot open up the minds of the Dalitbahujans to reality.
The dangers of fascist politics come from the particular way in which it dehumanizes segments of the population. It aims to limit your capacity for empathy, leading to the justification of inhumane treatment, from repression of freedom, mass imprisonment, and expulsion to, in extreme cases, mass extermination. Go check out the kind of comments the account attracts and you will see what is true intended outcome of running such accounts – it’s succeeding in its job. In the mean time that I wrote this blog, it added 2,000 more followers.
So now you know why accounts like “ancient_science” exist – they play their role in promoting fascism. Let someone else know too?
Thalidomide is a medication used to treat a number of cancers and skin conditions including complications of leprosy. The developers of the drug claimed that they “could not find a dose high enough to kill a rat” and so thalidomide was freely available since 1950s in stores as a mild over-the counter medication in many countries.In 1960, doctors began prescribing it to pregnant women who suffered from morning sickness.
It turned out that while the drug didn’t kill rats, it did affect foetal development. Before it was finally taken off the market in 1962, over 10,000 children had been born around the world with thalidomide-related disabilities! You can read a detailed story by NY Times.
Because of this scandal, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) issued guidelines in 1977 excluding women of childbearing potential from drug trials!
But what happens when you exclude a certain group from clinical trial? Be it pregnant women or women altogether?
Caroline essentially quotes examples after examples of how almost everything that is made / designed in the ‘man’-made world, miserably fails to take into account the specific needs of women. This reflects in design of roads to malls to phones to piano to drugs to vaccines.
Just because something works for men in a certain way does not mean it will necessarily work the same way for women. And that’s a problem when women are not represented adequately in any kind of user impact study.
In 2000 for example, the FDA had to force drug manufacturers to remove phenyl-propanolamine, a component of many over-the-counter medications, from all products because of a reported increased risk of bleeding into the brain or into tissue around the brain in women, but not in men.
To understand the difference between male and female bodies, at the most basic level you need to realize that women typically tend to have a higher body-fat percentage than men. This, along with the fact that blood-flow to fat tissue is greater in women, affects how women metabolise certain drugs. Also, male gut transit times are about half the length of women’s! This means women may need to wait for longer after eating before taking medications that need to be absorbed on an empty stomach.
When it comes to vaccine, it is well proven that women develop higher antibody responses and have more frequent and severe adverse reactions to vaccines.
The mechanisms leading to these differences can be:
hormonal (i.e. the different effects of testosterone, oestrogens or progesterone);
genetic (biological females have two X chromosomes while males have only one); or
related to differences in intestinal bacteria.
And yet, most phase 1 clinical trials – a) don’t bother to study sex specific results and b) don’t enroll women in adequate numbers in the first place! How many drugs that would work for women are being ruled out at phase 1 trials just because they don’t work in men? Nobody knows!
Sex matters even in animal trials. In a 2007 analysis of animal studies where rats of both sexes were identified, it was observed that in over half the studies, the drug-effect depended upon the sex of the animal! And yet, most animal tests don’t bother to sex-tag the results (if they at all get enough of male and female animals in the first place).
By the way sex and gender have different implications – and to those not clear on the difference between the two terms, the below figure is self explanatory.
So how are we doing gender / sex wise in terms of analyzing Covid’s effect or vaccine development?
Most states are doing a bad job of reporting sex / gender aggregated data.
Bad quality of sex / gender aggregated data = a vaccine / drug that is designed mostly for men.
In a still to be peer-reviewed study, researchers have found that only 416 of the 2,484 Covid-19 clinical trials mention sex / gender as a recruitment criterion on the ClinicalTrials.gov database. [Source]
During the time of ancient Greeks, the female body was seen as a ‘mutilated male’ body – ovaries were female testicles and didn’t have a name for themselves till the 17th century! For millennia, medicine has functioned on the assumption that male bodies can represent humanity as a whole. A 2008 analysis of a range of textbooks recommended by ‘twenty of the most prestigious universities in Europe, US and Canada’ revealed that across 16,000+ images, male bodies were used three times as often as female!
For things to change in the future, we all need to be at least aware of the implicit data bias that exists in every single aspect of our lives – before enough people can even begin to make noticeable noise about it. I can only hope that happens sooner than later.
If you found the insights in this blog fascinating and yet reading an entire book on this topic is a bit much, at least check out this Guardian article that has a lot more examples of data bias for women and how it affects them, even kills them.
In one of my Instagram stories, I wrote about the need for more Hindus to have at least one good Muslim friend. Likewise, upper castes should have one good lower-caste friend. This I proposed would make the Bhakts more empathetic (Bhakts I believe are predominantly upper caste Hindu men).
Note: You can also listen to this blog in my podcast (to subscribe to my podcast channel, search for VATSAnalysis on your favourite podcast platform)
To this suggestion, someone pointed out that this may not help at all.
“Having a friend really makes little to no difference to Bhakts / card carrying RSS member for that matter. The hypocrisy is too deep”, P commented and shared the below cartoon.
“All these people have friends. But they consider them friends only until outside their doorstep”, P added. “They never give up on rituals and cultural processes. They stay with the family circles and with those, they have constructed beliefs that make a villain out of minorities.”
Since this ‘friendship ain’t gonna do nothing’ theory was primarily coming from the P’s personal experiences, I wanted to find out if there were studies available, where sociologists / social scientists had tried to test this hypothesis.
Life’s real answers are mostly neither here, nor there – they are somewhere in between! 🙂
In all-white housing projects in US, 75% of residents said they’d dislike living alongside blacks; but in mixed projects, only 25% disliked having black neighbors.
In all-white platoons in US, 62% of soldiers opposed integrating the armed forces; but among whites who had been in a mixed platoon, only 7% opposed such integration.
Do you now think there is a possibility of an evidence based support for what I was instinctively thinking? In fact, there’s a name for it – the ‘Contact Hypothesis’.
The antidote to bigotry that the Harvard psychologist Gordon Allport proposed in his 1954 book was simple – Bring people together – which in psychology, came to be known as the ‘Contact Hypothesis‘.
But Contact doesn’t work all the time. In fact, in some cases, it can actually make things worse.
The Boston commuter train experiment
When each morning at the same time, some Latino passengers were ‘planted’ on a Boston commuter train – and this was done for ten days – it was observed that the white commuters who saw Latinos grew less tolerant of immigration than they had been before.
“Goodwill contact without concrete goals accomplishes nothing”, Allport proposed, followed by recommendations to make such Contact initiatives truly effective (things like giving the groups mutual goals, making the interactions personal etc.)
Allport proposed that for most favorable results of such Contact initiatives, groups should be given equal status (even if one group has more power in real life). But now we know it takes more than that (in part thanks to the Sender-Responder experiment).
The Sender-Responder experiment
Emile Bruneau – Director of the Peace and Conflict Neuroscience Lab at University of Pennsylvania – started with the premise that if one group is silenced for most part in real life, perhaps they should be given greater status when the groups come together.
To test this idea, he paired Mexican immigrants and white U.S. citizens who had never met. In each pair,
one person was assigned the role of “sender” – who would write a short essay about the hardships facing their group;
the second person – the “responder” – would read the essay and then summarize it in their own words and pass it back.
When white Americans acted as responders (reading what Mexicans wrote and then summed it up themselves), they said they felt better about Mexican immigrants. The Mexican immigrants who acted as senders also felt the same.
But when Mexican immigrants acted as responders (where they had to read about hardships of white Americans), they felt worse about the white Americans.
Brunue tried similar experiments in different contexts and settings and the results were the same. The minority group is already well aware of the majority narrative / perspective. In a sit-down where say both men and women are supposed to share their perspectives, men get to gain real insights; women – not so much.
Women are so keenly aware of the male experience because our entire existence had to be kind of through that lens. Whereas men have never had to understand the female experience in order to exist in the world.
Contact Hypothesis works, but it works best when it reverses the existing power structure, rather than ignoring it in the name of ‘equality’.
Before I end, let me share another story / experiment from the book – this one is on psychopaths. Psychopaths, by definition, have impaired empathy – they simply don’t care about other people’s emotion. So the question is – IS IT POSSIBLE TO ALTER THE EMPATHY LEVEL OF PSYCHOPATHS TOO?
The short answer is yes! I know I know…
Christian Keysers and his colleagues traveled to prisons around the Netherlands and scanned the brains of both psychopathic and non-psychopathic criminals as they were shown images of people in pain.
As expected, psychopaths didn’t show a mirroring response (activation of mirror neurons takes place in our brain when we feel someone else’s feelings / pains / movement). The non-psychopathic criminals showed such mirroring response.
This may suggest that psychopaths’ lack of empathy is “hardwired” into their brains. But then Keysers’s team ran a second version of the study – the result was no more the same!
The psychopaths were now asked to focus on victims’ pain and to do their best to imagine how it felt. And when the psychopaths did this, their brains mirrored suffering in almost exactly the same way as non-psychopaths!
Bottom-line – with the right nudge, anyone can be triggered to show empathy.
The book of course talks a lot about short-term empathy and long-term empathy and what works when and the need for more research in select areas etc. There is no way I can sum all that up in a blog (nor should I). If you like the premise and whatever little that I have shared, it’s definitely a meaningful read.
As I end, let me leave you with a Ted talk by Jamil Zaki where he touches upon few more aspects of empathy (like his Roddenbery hypothesis). That will be all for this blog – hope your learnt something useful. If you like what I write, do subscribe to my Sunday newsletter.
In 2009, when I heard Obama had won the Nobel peace prize within months of becoming a US President (meaning he must have been nominated much earlier) – it just felt awfully weird. I drew the below Shitoon.
The above will not appear funny unless you remember a 2009 video that had gone viral, where Obama swats a fly. The video is funny.
Anyway, so I didn’t dig deep much into it then.
When they gave one to Malala few years down the line, I did find it amusing, like many others, but again, didn’t bother to investigate much. Until this happened.
This sounded too ridiculous to be true. But true it was. In fact I learnt that Trump had been nominated earlier too (but obviously didn’t win).
I decided it was time to figure out how such ridiculousness creeps in, in something that is apparently so prestigious that Indians have been offended since long that Gandhi never got one.
By the way, as I am writing this blog, I hear that Trump has been nominated again! Shit gets shittier.
Nomination is of course not the same as winning.
After a bit of reading I now understand that the reason nomination can get ridiculous is because just too many people can nominate any person of their choice. The criteria and the link to submit the nomination-form is accessible to everyone here. There are over 300 nominees this year! Trump is just one of them.
Is it possible then that Modi has been nominated too? Going by the criteria for nomination, yes pretty much possible. One can never officially find out though (true for Trump too).
The Nobel Committee does not itself announce the names of nominees, neither to the media nor to the candidates themselves. In certain cases names of candidates appear in the media. These advanced speculations are either the product of sheer speculation or information released by the person or persons behind the nomination.
Neither the names of nominators nor of nominees for the Nobel Peace Prize may be divulged until the start of the year marking the 50th anniversary of the awarding of a particular prize.
Although Gandhi never won, even he was nominated a bunch of times. And given that pretty much anyone can be nominated – so were Hitler and Mussolini. Basically, nomination means shit. They are also forged once in a while.
A 2018 NYT article reports that Trump’s nomination has indeed been forged twice.
Anyway, so who selects the winner from all the nominations? Just a bunch of old people (usually 5 or 6).
With all these insights, why does anyone care about the Nobel Peace prize, really?
To find an answer, I read a 2019 book (at least the first chapter) by Geir Lundestad. He was the Director of the Norwegian Nobel Institute and the Secretary of the Norwegian Nobel Committee for 25 years (1990 -2014).
Last year (2019), when Lundestad was asked what he thought of Trump ever winning the prize, this is what he said:
I would be extremely surprised if Donald Trump ever received the Nobel Peace Prize. He may say he wants to bring peace to the Middle East or the Korean Peninsula, but he has not accomplished anything. And his policies do not fall into line with the ideas of liberal internationalism.
As per Lundestad, there are four main reasons that make the Nobel Peace prize “The World’s Most Prestigious Prize”:
It’s 100+ year old
It belongs to a family of prizes (and Nobel Prize for science, economics, literature etc. are hardly as debated + their selection is more sorted / technical)
In spite of few mistakes (not giving one to Gandhi for example – that Lundestad acknowledges in his book) and few controversies here and there (Obama?), the record has mostly been solid.
The prize has proven to be relatively flexible – the peace concept for example has been expanded and the prize has gradually become more global.
The issue with point no. 3 (on track record) is, every time someone like Trump makes a headline, associating himself with the Nobel Peace Prize, it brings down the value of the prize itself. It leads to articles like what ‘The Atlantic’ published today titled “End the Nobel Peace Prize“.
If Trump wins the prize, it will be the fourth Nobel awarded for peace between Israel and its neighbors. That will make Arab-Israeli peace mediators more successful at charming the Nobel Committee than the International Committee of the Red Cross, which has won three times in the prize’s 120-year history, but still less successful than my favorite, which is no one at all. The committee has declined to award a peace prize 19 times.
The record of achievement of the peace laureates is so spotty, and the rationales for their awards so eclectic, that the committee should take a long break to consider whether peace is a category coherent enough to be worth recognizing. Peace had its chance, and blew it.
See how you felt differently about Anil than about Varun (please tell me you did)? I used an illustration from my current favourite book “Thinking, Fast & Slow” (chapter 7) and just added Indian names.
This experiment has been conducted on various people and the conclusion is solid – “the initial traits in the list change the very meaning of the traits that appear later. The stubbornness of an intelligent person is seen as likely to be justified and may actually evoke respect, but intelligence in an envious and stubborn person makes him more dangerous.”
That’s halo effect at work where your brain feels like jumping to a conclusion about a person based on first few information that you gather (you put them in the ‘good’ box or the ‘bad’ box’).
Since Trump is in my ‘bad’ box, my cognitive bias immediately makes me uncomfortable when something like a Nobel Peace prize gets associated with his name.
In fact the halo effect is also a possible explanation for the positive association we have for the Nobel Peace prize itself (point no. 2 from Lundestad – ‘it belongs to a family of prizes’).
The consistently credible Nobel prizes in other disciplines make us view the overall brand in a strong positive light and so even when the nomination / selection and everything else for the Peace prize is totally different, the instinctive part of our brain over-rides the rational, and the brand continues to remain strong!
The below quote from a 2007 Wiki discussions page would be the best way to close this blog.
Some in this discussion have argued that nominations are notable because of the significant publicity given to them. But this is circular: The public gives nominations attention because it mistakenly believes they are notable (as I and many others here believed before looking into it). If Wikipedia decides they are notable because the public does, it will only reinforce the public view that they are notable. If everybody in the world knew all the facts around nominations, it is likely that most would not find them notable.
If you are an Indian, you must have felt an instinctive emotion of “pride”. We feel proud of the Indian team when they get us the world cup and we feel proud of A R Rahman when he wins an Oscar. But why do we? What have we contributed to their achievements?
What about saying ‘I am proud of my country’?
Religion? Heritage? In all these instances, why are we feeling proud of something to which our contribution has been zilch?
I finally understand it from a cognition / psychological point of view.
Basking in reflected glory (BIRGing) is a self-serving cognition whereby an individual associates themselves with known successful others such that the winner’s success becomes the individual’s own accomplishment.
What is the benefit of BIRGing? It boosts your self-esteem.
Disadvantage? BIRGing can be negative when done so extensively that you become delusional or forget the reality that you did not actually accomplish the successful event.
So essentially the ‘instinctive’ reason we BIRG is because the non-rational part of our brain knows it will increase our self-esteem – and that means we can achieve more in life / be more productive etc.
It is only the rational part of the brain, that even asks – ‘but is there any real basis’? Well guess what, no – there is no real basis. At the end of the day, it’s a story that helps us feel good about being part of something bigger than just us.
If you have anything more to add to this, do let me know (other than more jargon like ‘tribalism’, ‘social identity theory’ etc.).
Note: This article was updated on 04 Sep 2020 (few days after being first published)
Below is what the BJP twitter handle tweeted on 22 Aug.
They used IMF’s forecast from April, even when IMF already had a negative forecast out in June.
Anyway, so now we know what really happened.
My question is: how much of this drop is from Covid and how much of it has to do with actions from Govt. (typically lockdown). One may say that the action of Govt. is a response to Covid – so they are one and the same thing – but are they? Imagine two scenarios:
Govt. doesn’t do much – the economy still goes down – this is purely because of Covid
Govt. does something – here both factors are at play
So for India, how much of the fall is from Covid and how much is from what Govt. did about it+Covid? Can one attempt to find that out?
To begin with, I think it makes sense to first look at some other countries that were impacted by Covid too, the “Govt. response” being different for each country.
GDP growth fell for all of them – as you can see in the below graph that I put together.
India is the orange line. From the countries that I have chosen, India’s last quarterly growth in 2019 was lower only than China (grey). This was pre-Covid. Also, by growth I mean, when compared to the same quarter the year before.
In the next quarter, China’s GDP growth took the sharpest fall (understandably). Other countries GDP growth fell too, but not as much. In fact, India was doing okay in Jan-Feb-March 2020.
And then Covid spread in India.
In the Apr-May-June quarter, India’s growth fell really really bad. The decline in GDP growth is only better than Peru, a country that is one of the worst hit by Covid (just scroll up and look at the per million deaths for Peru). Peru’s GDP growth fell down by almost 30%.
China is the only country whose growth returned to positive in this quarter. Now you tell me, what explains the orange line (India) falling this bad even when other countries were hit by Covid much worse? Or…
has India’s GDP growth fallen this bad BECAUSE we have not done as bad as most of these other countries in terms of Covid spread?
But if this were the case, what explains Peru? Its cases went up AND its economy fell too – both drastically.
Think about it.
How do you think a GoI’s propaganda channel is spinning the news? Just listen to Arnab describe this “global phenomena”. He literally quotes random numbers for countries like USA and Canada. Is he lying on national TV or am I missing something?
At one point, #GDPTruth was trending at no. 5 on Twitter. Most of them using this hashtag seemed to be paid propagandists whose only job looked like passing this off by calling it a “global phenomena”!
Is comparing India with US / Europe like comparing apples and oranges?
Responding to an earlier draft of this blog, some friends seemed to suggest so.
I agree. No two countries are the same. No two fruits are the same. Not even two apples are same for that matter! Comparison after all is just one way of looking at things – because looking at something in isolation is even more meaningless, no?
If you think about it, the figure of -23.9% itself is a comparison! It compares 2020 quarter 2 GDP with 2019 quarter 2 GDP. But 2020 is not like 2019, so why compare? Everything is apples and oranges – from Global Ease of Doing business rankings to GDP forecasts!
Some also responded to my first draft saying this was expected – we were in lockdown for most of the quarter in question – people were saving money (so drastic drop in demand) – factories couldn’t operate (so supply drop).
Nice. Let me quote Daniel Kahneman from Chapter 19 of his book Thinking Fast & Slow (the chapter is titled “the illusion of understanding”).
The mind that makes up narratives about the past is a sense-making organ. When an unpredicted event occurs, we immediately adjust our view of the world to accommodate the surprise.
Learning from surprises is a reasonable thing to do, but it can have some dangerous consequences.
A general limitation of the human mind is its imperfect ability to reconstruct past states of knowledge, or beliefs that have changed. Once you adopt a new view of the world (or any part of it), you immediately lost much of your ability to recall what you used to believe before your mind changed.
Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Slow
BJP now has a nice explainer video.
At least in this video (if you watch from 3.30) BJP admits that IMF changed its 1.1% GDP projection for India to -4.5% in June (unlike my first quoted tweet from 22 Aug where they conveniently ignored this).
That aside, I think the above video is a fair attempt to explain the GDP numbers and we will have to wait till Nov to see how much we recover in Jul-Aug-Sep.
The worst case scenario would be when GDP growth continues to be low and the cases / deaths continue to rise and get as bad as the other countries. Because then, paise bhi gaye or jaan bhi?
And today, I read the following in the newspapers.
Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (SC/ST) communities don’t constitute a homogenous group and can be further sub-classified to ensure the benefits of reservation in government jobs and higher education institutions percolate down to weaker sections, the Supreme Court observed on Thursday in a ruling that may have far-reaching political ramifications.
Let me quickly lay down the full context (took me some time to research and read up – if I have misunderstood / misreported something, do let me know; will rectify).
The Creamy Layer
1971 (Indira Gandhi is the PM) – Sattanathan Commission introduces the term “creamy layer” – it refers to those members of a backward class who are highly advanced socially as well as economically and educationally. The Commission proposes that the “creamy layer” be excluded from the reservations (quotas) of civil posts.
1976 – State of Kerala vs N. M. Thomas – “benefits of the reservation shall be snatched away by the top creamy layer of the backward class, thus leaving the weakest among the weak and leaving the fortunate layers to consume the whole cake”.
1992 – Indra Sawhney vs Union of India – this judgment validates exclusion of creamy layer for OBCs.
The OBCs who meet some defined criteria (like if their parents have held high govt. office etc.) cannot claim reservation benefits. Same, if they fall under “creamy layer” – meaning the family annual income is above a certain defined threshold value.
1993: The “creamy layer” criteria for OBCs is set at an annual family income of more than INR 1 lakh (this would be revised to INR 2.5 lakh in 2004, INR 4.5 lakh in 2008, INR 6 lakh in 2013, and finally to INR 8 lakh in 2017 ). Note that so far, this concept (and the overall Indra Sawhney case) applies only to OBCs and not SC/STs.
2000: Andhra Pradesh State Govt. enacts a law – the Andhra Pradesh Scheduled Castes (Rationalisation of Reservations) Act, 2000. This requires sub-dividing the Scheduled Castes into four groups and apportioning reservations separately for each.
2004 – E V Chinnaiah v. State of Andhra Pradesh – SC strikes down the Rationalisation of Reservation Act 2000 and says that SC/STs form a homogeneous class and therefore cannot be further sub-classified for reservations.
The way I see it, implies that one cannot say some SC/STs are backward / less privileged and others are forward / relatively more privileged (which in turn suggests that it would be counter-intuitive to apply the “creamy layer” concept to SC/STs). The “Chinnaiah case” judgment is critiqued by many, main argument being that it does not reflect the reality. Also if OBCs can be sub-divided (as per the Indra Sawhney case), why shouldn’t the same logic apply to SC/STs? In fact, in 2018, the SC would ask something similar.
2006 – State of Punjab v. Davinder Singh – Punjab government enacts a law requiring 50% of vacancies in the quota for SCs in recruitment to be filled by the members of Balmiki community (rest 50% by those from the Mazhbi community). Davinder Singh, himself a SC person, challenges this law in the Punjab & Haryana high court (citing the Chinnaiha case as per which, one cannot sub-classify SC/STs). The High Court rules in his favour. The State Govt. appeals in the Supreme Court against this High Court judgement.
2009 – While SC is yet to decide on the legality of the Davinder Singh judgment, another state does something similar (sub-classification of SC/STs for reservation benefits). Tamil Nadu enacts a law that reserves 3% of the total seats in educational institutions and state services for the Arunthathiyar community (who constitute nearly 16% of the total SC population in the state, but their representation in most government departments, corporations and education institutions is less than 5%).
2018 – Jarnail Singh v. Lachhmi Narayan Gupta – a five-judge Constitution Bench says that the well-off members of the SC / ST communities (the creamy layer) cannot be granted the benefits of reservation in college admissions and government jobs. This is a stance opposite to that of the Chinnaiah case.
2019: The Modi Govt. files a plea for a review of the Jarnail Singh judgement; it wants a 7 bench Constitution bench to reconsider the decision.
2020 (27 Aug): SC concludes hearing of the 2006 Davinder Singh case (and other related cases / pleas) and requests Chief Justice of India to place the creamy layer applicability in SC / STs matter before a 7 judge bench.
Now some of the above cited judgements talk about the reasons why it makes sense to view Dalits in at least two sub-groups – 1. the really poor / less privileged Dalits and 2. the more privileged ones (those who are not so poor; even when being rich does not mean less discrimination).
But is there a counter-question to this rationale?
What can possible be wrong in applying the creamy layer concept to SC / STs?
From some Dalit activist’s point of view, following seem to be the two main considerations:
The claims that the well-off dalits (creamy layer) are taking away most of the benefits of reservations, leaving out the poorer / more backward dalits is just a hypothesis – there is no data / research / survey to back this. So why is the SC court trying to solve a problem that doesn’t even exist? Although one must realize that they are the not so poor / privilaged Dalits who are saying this. Nobody really knows what the really underprivileged Dalits have to say. Or can we guess?
Doing this will divide the Dalits; it is of extreme importance that the Dalit community continues to be united so that it can fight the Bahmanical / Savarna oppression with full force.
Both these points are valid. But debatable too. In any case, there are no easy answers.
If only we could get some data, it would be easier to make decisions. Without data, imposing the creamy layer concept to SC/STs can always be argued as a political move than a societal-benefit move based on the ‘intuition’ and ‘logic’ of Savarnas (after all, the representation of Dalits in judiciary is minimal, just like in most spheres of power).
I think that claiming this division as a means to weaken the Dalit rights movement is a little far-fetched hypothesis, even when it’s valid from a certain point of view. To me, the potential benefits to the truly underprivileged Dalits, seems more than the perceived weakening of the Dalit movement (am I missing something?)
Also, if a division is such that the overall Dalit community is split in two equally sized groups – then it is one thing. But given that the creamy layer Dalits are in all likelihood just a tiny fraction of the overall Dalit community, will the division really impact the Dalit movement at all? I would want to know how. Data will certainly help.
By the way, if any of you are still under the impression that given that we are in 2020, it’s high time we all should move to ‘meritocracy’ and simply put an end to this never ending reservation thing, I do recommend you think deeper.
The blog that I mentioned in the opening paragraph may give some clues! If you have never lived a Dalit life, it’s easy to fall for the meritocracy myth.
Talking about meritocracy also brings me back to the question I posed in the beginning. Time to answer it – Mohism was the political ideology that first propagated the concept of meritocracy.
Although Mozi attracted a large group of followers, he was regarded as an idealist and Mohism was not adopted by the Chinese rulers of the time. In the 20th century, Mozi’s notions of equality were rediscovered by Chinese leaders Sun Yat-Sen and Mao Zedong.
I asked this to my Facebook and Instagram followers. They responded. I am listing down all the recommendations that I received (arranged by categories).
I have added few from my own experience too (* marked). From the recommended list, unless otherwise stated, I’ve not read them. That also means my categorization could be faulty in some places. If you spot such categorization errors, please do point them to me and I will rectify.
And one last thing – if there is a perspective-altering book that you think must be in here, let me know; will add.
Category 1: Why the world is the way it is / why we act the way we do
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (2014) by Yuval Harari (have read)
Irrational Man (1990) by Bill Barrett
Guns, Germs and Steel (1999) by Jared Diamond (started)
Factfulness (2019) – Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World—and Why Things Are Better Than You Think by Hans Rosling (have read)
The God Delusion (2006) by Richard Dawkins (started)
*Debt: The First 5,000 Years (2011) by David Graeber
on how brain works – Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahnemann (started)
on how nature works – The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben
Conscious: A Brief Guide to the Fundamental Mystery of the Mind by Annaka Harris
on how randomness works – The Black Swan – The Impact Of The Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Sub-category: the ones where the author writes whatever needs to be written to propagate his theories on the right way to live life (generally put together from a mix of existing theories)
Blessing or Curse – you can choose, by Derek Prince
Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu (Stephen Mitchell’s translation)
Life is beautiful by Tony Martin
The subtle art of not giving a fuck by Mark Manson
The power of intention by Dr. Wayne W. Dyer
The Heartfulness Way: Heart-Based Meditations for Spiritual Transformation by Kamlesh Patel
Inner Engineering by Sadhguru
Jinnsutra volumes 1,2 & 3 by Osho Rajneesh
Gyanyog by Swami Vivekananda
Note: Personally, I am not very interested in the last two sub-categories. They tend to become preachy and their only basis are stories and storytelling. But may be if I read enough, I may change my opinion.
Category 3: Science
The Baloney Detection Kit by Carl Sagan (or any other book by the same author)
The Body: A guide for occupants by Bill Bryson
Surely you’re Joking Mr Feynman: Adventures of a Curious Character – by Richard Feynman
*A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
Physics problems by IE Irodov
Note: I know the last one is an odd one out, but those who needed to solve the problems in the book (especially mechanics), would recall that once you learn how to solve those problems, you do end up developing a new perspective of looking at things.
Sub-category: intersection of science and philosophy
Tao of Physics by Fritjof Capra
Category 4: Fiction
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Anna Karenina by Tolstoy
First published between 1900-1950:
The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
The Outsider by Albert Camus
Animal Farm by George Orwell
Street of Crocodiles and Other Stories by Bruno Schulz
Brighton Rock by Graham Greene
The Trial by Franz Kafka (have read)
Of Mice and men by John Steinbeck
As I lay dying by William Falulkner
Zorba the Greek – Nikos Kazantazakis
The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene
First published between 1950-80:
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
The Post Office by Charles Bukowski
The War of the End of the World by Mario Vargas Llosa
Things fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Kiss of the Spiderwoman by Manuel Puig
One hundred years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez (have read)
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts (have read)
Mars trilogy by Kim Robinson (Sci-fi)
Dark Forest trilogy by Cixin Liu (Sci-fi)
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
*Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig
*Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
Category 5: Health
Pure, White and Deadly: How sugar is killing us and what we can do to stop it by John Yudkin
Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease by Robert Lustig
Lies My Doctor Told Me: Medical Myths That Can Harm Your Health by Dr. Ken Berry
The Obesity Code by Dr. Jason Fung (also Life in Fasting lane)
Note: this is not my area of interest in the present; may be will dive into these in the future.
Category 6 – How to…
be more productive – Four hour week by Ferriss Timothy
do good parenting:
Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting – by Pamela Druckerman
The Awakened Family by Dr. Shefali Tsabary
get what you want – The Secret by Rhonda Byrne (have read)
unclutter your life – The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo
Category 7 – Comic Books
Calvin & Hobbes by Bill Watterson (who has not seen at least some strips?)
The Sandman by Neil Gaiman
Category 8 – History
Freedom at midnight – by Dominique Lapierre
Africa: A Biography of the Continent by John Reader
Ten thousand Miles without a Cloud by Sun Shuyun
After Tamerlane: The Rise & Fall Of Global Empires by John Darwin
Nicholas and Alexandra: The Classic Account of the Fall of the Romanov Dynasty by Robert K. Massie
*India After Gandhi – Ram Guha
Sub-category: autobiographical that tell us something about history / historical events
King Rat by James Clavell (World War 2)
*Our Moon has Blood Clots by Rahul Pandita (a Kashmiri Pandit’s take on his exodus).
By this time, if you have forgotten what * is for – it is to denote the books that were not recommended to me by anyone, but I’ve added to the list based on my personal experience.
Category 9 – Theories on society, its biases, its beliefs etc.
Why I Am Not a Hindu: A Sudra Critique of Hindutva Philosophy, Culture and Political Economy by Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd
Everyone Loves a Good Drought by P. Sainath
*The Republic of Religion by Abhinav Chandrachud
Category 10: Business
Small Giants: Companies That Choose to Be Great Instead of Big by Bo Burlinghamis
Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh
Ben Jerry’s Double Dip: Lead With Your Values and Make Money by Ben Cohen
Made In Japan by Akio Morita And Sony
*Bottle of Lies by Katherine Eban (on Ranbaxy fraud)
11 Communication & storytelling
The Communication Book: 44 Ideas for Better Conversations Every Day by Mikael Krogerus.
Story: Style, Structure, Substance, and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert Mckee
Made to Stick – by Dan & Chip Heath
12 Relationship – The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman
Update – found a recent thread on Twitter asking the same thing – this may give you few more recommendations (may update my list with the extra suggestions below).