I fell in love with computers because of Ctrl-Z.
Until that moment, I loved Chemistry with all my heart.
During high school, right upto the time I was sixteen, I had all but assumed that I would be a chemical engineer of some sort. Inorganic chemistry was not just a subject in class - right around commuting distance was ISRO's Liquid propulsion labs and right over there near the beach lines were the Titanium sands of Kerala waiting to be smelted. I took trips to the CSIR-NIIST from school, seeing cryogenic superconductors levitating over magnets and was dreaming of changing the world wearing a lab coat and safety goggles. And if I wanted a different pathway than pure research, the Tatas were the next stop for an engineer who wants to melt things and pour them.
I had chemistry oozing out of my brain, but very little could be done without actual equipment or supplies.
Even today, I watch NileRed to indulge in this part of my childhood fantasy.
But besides the obvious problem of reagents and facilities, Chemistry had two other main problems for me.
First is that it is a yield and volume process - to make a significant quantity of something takes a lot of ingredients if the yields are small. Anybody who has cooked cabbage or spinach know this feeling of unexplainable loss, which is not relevant to the recipe, but you definitely feel it. Not just that, often it is time consuming to actually extract what you have successfully synthesized. Even if you are extracting something already present, getting a whole gram of pure caffiene takes a ridiculous amount of solvent steps and time, along with a pitcher of espresso. Once you've got the method right, doing the process once does nothing for the next cup.
Second is that the longer a process is, the worse a mistake is. This is sort of like cooking, where you can't really get the salt out of a soup without taking out some flavour too (yes, yes, I know how potatoes can). But in general, once you hit a dead-end while exploring, you need to often go back to square one and start over. This means that every step needs to be contemplated before deciding to waste some ingredients on a theory. This was in some way, a sort of chilling effect on your inventiveness as a chemist (or cook). More accurately, there is a lot of analysis paralysis and/or regret involved.
Not everything was like this though - electro plating as a kid was the exact opposite. And growing giant permanganate crystals was too. But those aren't experiments, they're fun activities with exactly a single step. That's nothing like a lab book full of failed things you tried.
So there I am, with Chemistry in every pore, resigned to the fact that first I'd get my my BSc and MSc (both my parents had post-grad degrees, so it was assumed - eventually my sister got her post-graduate degree too, my wife has hers - I'm the only one who doesn't *yet*). Then, I would have to spend years stuck in a loop, repeating the same process steps for a professor who would use me as a research chemist to chase some theory, while I earn my doctorate. Paying my dues, until one day I get my own autoclave, fumehood and centrifuge or whatever I needed to follow my dreams of emulating Haber or Heroult.
If I was a chef, this would be the equivalent of cutting onions, peeling potatoes and stirring soup, till you 'make it'.
Enter Excel into my life. All of a sudden, these expectations are upended in a single moment.
My dad takes me along to a class he's taking on spreadsheets. His goal is to simplify preparing his tax returns, which take a literal spread sheet (a tabloid sized worksheet with boxes) and a casio calculator with a AAA battery, which adds numbers a little slower than my mom, but divides them faster.
I'm uttery enthralled by a bit of technology which has no concept of a yield (there is, but power isn't a real consumable). The more data you put in, the more results comes out. Even better, the complexity is in building the mechanism, there is no real scaling required to repeat it. If you can do your taxes once, you can do it for everyone who's willing to type their numbers in. There's no actual math to be done, after you put it "together", the computer does the math for you if you say =A12+B12.
The part that blew my mind was how the system could be put through its paces while building it. It didn't require you to build a whole scaffolding and start only when the plan is ready. You could literally build on top of the ruins of your previous mistakes (the disillusionment about that came much later). It didn't matter how bad the mistake was, all you had to do is go back to the mistake and start over from right there.
If you were really worried, you could just make a copy and try something new instead. I felt like I could play with it without thinking of the mistakes I could be making - I had to discover my mistakes, not prevent them, because I could always go back and fix them right there and keep going. Knowing that you made a mistake wasn't a soul crushing, back to square one moment. For the first time, it felt like learning.
And for the first time I was trying things, even the ones I knew were mistakes, just to see what happens.
It was not like I hadn't experienced learning by correction before - every single problem in a class worksheet came with the ability to cross-out a few steps and start over. But unlike that, with computers, the end result was as good even if I had made mistakes along the way. Video games with save points were almost the same, but they held no promise of repeatability. Starting from that little spreadsheet, the final result was not just repeatable for the next set of inputs, but also beautifully perfect after it was complete.
In all honesty, the code I write these days feels nothing like that - the code is piled on top of previous mistakes in the name of backwards compatibility, the mistakes aren't all caught and just because it works today doesn't mean it will work tomorrow (or even compile). And once it all works perfectly, there's the urge to actually do it properly without the scars embedded in code.
Anyway, since that day I've been chasing that feeling of freedom that came from sitting next to a computer with my dad. Doing meaningless things and hitting undo.--
Nowadays most people die of a sort of creeping common sense,
and discover when it is too late that the only things one never regrets are one's mistakes.
-- Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray
This is not something I ever tell myself. Usually at least.
In fact, I've often said the opposite in anger and sadness.
Being alive is such a lazy thing to accomplish, that it takes no effort to do it. But nobody is going to call it effortless. Often, it takes effort to find ways in which life is worth living; To raise your voice enough over the default drone of everyday life and tell yourself that "I'm alive!".
But for a thousand miles now, I've been hearing it loud and clear over the roar of my motorbike.
Maybe it is about gratitude. Every day I get on the bike and come home safely, I am grateful. There's a sense of relief to be released from that level of focus, which is overpowering.
I've got a California M1 license since 2015, but I've held off on owning a motorcycle because I have a long storied history with them.
Since I turned sixteen, I've loved riding motorcycles. My Royal Enfield was the most expensive personal posession I ever had. Actually it was almost as if I was posessed by it. All of my injuries as an adult are from riding motorcycles. Still remember every single slide in slow-motion, the world going round around me as I roll out of the way. My chin has scars, my elbow does, my palms too, my knee got torn & will never be the same. Very rationally, when I'm not riding one, I'm utterly terrified of falling off one.
But when I'm on one, I'm entirely occupied by the act. There's no room for any indecision, when you got in too fast into a corner. There are margins for error, but that's what you're trying to avoid. Every move is tied to everything else - your bike will go where you look. Look at a car that's in your way and the bike will clairvoyantly drive you towards the obstacle. And unconsciously you are always looking for the way forward and never at the obstacles. Stare at the abyss and the abyss takes you.
Panic and you do something stupid. Everything around you turns into smooth curves, even those little bumps in the lane you are splitting turns into a slalom between cars. Smoothly, slowly, surely turn your mind away from fear or anger. There's no room for hurry, but all the space for speed. There's forty horses to push you as fast as you want, ten seconds of smooth shifts to 60 through a merge lane. Easy does it.
Riding my bike home is like a high stakes version of meditation.
Calm down or die. And I know. I don't want to die. We all have to, but at least, not like this.--
For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.
Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.
-- Khalil Gibran, "On Death"
This isn't about leadership, but the events leading up to it. There's nothing new for me to say here, except to walk you through the path I took reading Socrates, Plato and Aristotle.
Though this truly started because I read Men At Arms again and wondered what Corporal Carrot is made of (& Vetinari and Vimes too).
Because reading it made me pick up H2G2 and look at Zaphod Beeblebrox & the man who rules the universe. But that's for a different episode, about presidents with a penchant for orange sashes.
In the Republic, Plato records Socrates's argument about the nature of leadership. That guardians of the state are not necessarily the leaders, but leaders employ themselves where they can show the way and to do that may abdicate power when they observe a well functioning, if not perfect state of affairs.
Weighing between the potential advances they could make from mastery of their art against the heavy burden of leadership, they choose to advance their mastery instead and indicate to others that their mastery is advancing the world.
The world changes shape, right at the moment where those have ignored politics realize that the state of affairs is regressing, despite their progress through life. In those moments of chaos, they consider leaving their avowed profession and take up the unthankful jobs that they had left to others before - leadership. There is no longer a question about comparing the rewards of leadership against anything else, since the alternative is to lose out on the most relevant of common goods - peace.
And I quote
And this is the reason, my dear Thrasymachus, why, as I was just now saying, no one is willing to govern; because no one likes to take in hand the reformation of evils which are not his concern without remuneration. For, in the execution of his work, and in giving his orders to another, the true artist does not regard his own interest, but always that of his subjects; and therefore in order that rulers may be willing to rule, they must be paid in one of three modes of payment: money, or honour, or a penalty for refusing. What do you mean, Socrates? said Glaucon. The first two modes of payment are intelligible enough, but what the penalty is I do not understand, or how a penalty can be a payment. You mean that you do not understand the nature of this payment which to the best men is the great inducement to rule? Of course you know that ambition and avarice are held to be, as indeed they are, a disgrace?
And then Socrates explains.
And for this reason, I said, money and honour have no attraction for them; good men do not wish to be openly demanding payment for governing and so to get the name of hirelings, nor by secretly helping themselves out of the public revenues to get the name of thieves. And not being ambitious they do not care about honour. Wherefore necessity must be laid upon them, and they must be induced to serve from the fear of punishment. And this, as I imagine, is the reason why the forwardness to take office, instead of waiting to be compelled, has been deemed dishonourable.
And Socrates goes onto explain the punishment that awaits a good person who sees a leadership vacuum and does not step up to it.
Now the worst part of the punishment is that he who refuses to rule is liable to be ruled by one who is worse than himself. And the fear of this, as I conceive, induces the good to take office, not because they would, but because they cannot help --not under the idea that they are going to have any benefit or enjoyment themselves, but as a necessity, and because they are not able to commit the task of ruling to any one who is better than themselves, or indeed as good.
And that's how Socrates concludes that leaders are forged out of a crisis, not out of peace or prosperity - not by intention, but by choice and circumstance.
That does paint the progression as sort of inevitable, but it is entirely rational to observe the choice ahead and just leave.
PS: Republic talks about doctors getting paid for good health, women being educated equally and rulers being enlightened - it's hard to think of it being written two millenia ago, while most of that is still fought out. Read the whole thing.--
There is no harm in repeating a good thing.
I make it look easy.
I even make looking things easy, look easy. I guess I've had enough practice.
The truth is, most of the things I really want to do are hard. So hard that it hardly seems worth the effort. If I knew what it would take to do them I would've probably never even done it.
The long sleepless nights, the weekends consumed, hobbies neglected. Little sacrifices and the big ones. Perhaps even by someone else. That's what it has taken to make it happen. Every step of the way.
If you knew, you'd probably never attempt them. That is exactly why I can never tell you. That is exactly why you'll never know how hard it was for me. Not that it matters, because here's the kicker, it won't help you.
In some sense, I'm less capable of the impossible once I've proved it is merely difficult. I'm guessing you all think the same. So I deceive you and anyone else who asks. Everything's easy and all you need is a little time & determination. And you're just a few steps away from success, always. There's really nothing to it.
See, *that* was easy.--
If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough
-- Albert Einstein.
Don't trust me on this ... I've been wrong before.
The difference between good friends and bad shows itself when you're wrong - when you're wrong and you don't know it. Sure, misfortune is a true test, but it hardly comes around every day and I'm glad it doesn't. But try being wrong about something. And you'll notice a strange fact.
These days friendships are too shallow. We're too independent to really need them. No, I'm not decrying the current times from the chair of age. I'm talking about the way my life's taken. And I notice that I've stopped being wrong - there was no wrong way to live my life. For a while, I thought it was because I finally had life figured out.
And I was wrong. Wrong on both counts. And people have noticed. I've been insulted. Told off by people that I was an idiot. But I didn't care for insults. They've never been a way to make me comply with anything. People have tried shame on me for years and failed. I've rarely got anything to prove to anyone but me.
A friend would've told me why. Felt comfortable enough to sit me down and outline the flaws. Because I'm not my mistakes, I'm more. Friends have got stuff to salvage, the snipers from afar don't seem to. There's a world of a difference between "He's such an idiot!" and "Don't be an idiot". And I react very differently to both.
Like I said, I've been wrong before. And I see no reason to stop now.
Well, you know what to do. Also, bring popcorn.--
The need to be right is the sign of a vulgar mind.
-- Albert Camus
You & I both know there's no We here.
As I write down blog entry after the other, I've come to realize that there's only one person I can talk about with any sort of clarity - me. I can't speak for anyone else. Everything is as I observe, as I experience and as I feel - all mixed up into a general pile of nothing. To draw out a clear & coherent thread of thought out of that requires me to unravel a bit of myself in the process.
Self reflection leaves its own smudges in my thoughts. The searchlight of my mind leaves shadows, of contrasts & comparisons with itself. The similarities just merge into the backdrop, the differences stick out like a sore thumb. The edges & cracks appear, just like on a lake in winter, when the fluidity of thought is frozen into something solid.
And the words, like charcoal rubbing on paper, merely picks up what stands out. Everything in black & white, clearly marked out. Makes for a pretty picture, but is hardly what really exists.
Frame it up, hang it up and sign my name. And call it a blog.--
My mind not only wanders, sometimes it leaves completely.
I have an ego. A nice, cheap and refurbished one in good condition.
And yes, I'm proud to have one. I've been without one, lost nearly all traces of it. Killed, choked it, sacrificed it at the altar of love & togetherness. Apologized for what wasn't my fault, forgave without apologies, silenced my self respect and cut off my ego from my life.
And that nearly was the end of me.
I couldn't survive. Because here's the thing - the world isn't always fair. Life's a bitch and it shows its true colours. It criticizes without reason and often without gain. To keep your course through that minefield of criticism requires a tough skin and a crumple zone. An ego is the crumple zone for your real self. It stands up to the world, in your stead. Takes a few dents, but nothing permanent.
Building myself back up from nearly nothing, there was my ego, leading the charge. Driving me, pushing me to do things I'd never done before, channeling my Id into the useful. Everything accomplished was an ego boost. Every failure hurt, but every failure challenged.
An ego strong enough to repel the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, from the inner sanctum of your self and spirit. Something to keep the material world out of the spiritual, something with an edge to cut my path through the world.
There's that bright light within my eyes again. A smile on my lips and a spring in my step. And screams that it is here to stay, till death do us part. But there's balance. Between me, my ego and my Id, I'm ambitious, curious and cautious all at the same time.
In a mirror, I see me. And I smile.--
The ego is not master in its own house.
-- Sigmund Freud
People don't make decisions. Decisions make people.
That can't be true. I know to the exact dot, dash and every crossed tee to why I made the decision to write this blog. Or am I just writing out a rational framework as an after-thought to a pithy cliche? Maybe it's because I picked up an Orwell book and read Shooting an Elephant again?
I will never know. Not for sure. The sequence of thoughts that precede and follow an action are often so mixed up in retrospect. They get even more muddled up when I introspect deeper. I can't use my mind to understand itself. Going third-person collective on this stuff!
We strive to maintain a certain rational self-integrity as a survival trait. In some sense, our self images involve a picture of a conscious, self-evolved and rational person. We cling to it, however transparently false it might be to everyone else around. We are proud of it.
Impulsive decisions prompt a certain cognitive dissonance in deep dark of your sub-conscious. You know you aren't that kind of a person, but the act is behind you and there's no rewriting your actions. But perhaps there's other things you can change to make it all fit. Most of us fight it by becoming a new self, to whom the actions are a natural consequence of who they are. I understand, even have grown to respect that it's inevitable. But rather than admit that the change of heart was after the action, we'd rather revise our history a bit to recover a bit of internal coherence. Because in the disordered and confused world they live in, the coherence of self is perhaps the only thing they've got left to hold onto.
You've become a different person and it surprises everyone around you. The most convenient lie to trot out to mask all this internal turmoil is the ever cliched "I've always been like this, you didn't know me well enough!". I can't really read minds, but I've learnt to read people. Observing people will themselves into believing this - that they haven't changed due to their decisions and that causality flowed the other way around - has brought me some insight into the ways change has creeped into me.
I've come to embrace it. My decisions have changed me, some for better & some for worse. I'm a product of my decisions, not of my dreams or desires - of my decisions & actions. I live out my own punctuated equilibrium of personal evolution. And not everything that changed me came from within. I'm not taking anything away from myself with that admission. It's the truth.
But I've come to despise the impulsive pretenders of later rationality.
Perhaps despise is too strong a word. But it'll do for now.--
One could laugh at the world better if it didn't mix tender kindliness with its brutality.
-- D. H. Lawrence
Occasionally, as I flip back the pages of my life, I find myself in conversation with a younger me from a much older time. As if caught in a flipbook time machine, I see myself change, grow and in some sense, stay the same. Once in a while though, I turn up a page with which I disagree with enough to need revisiting.
In the mid-summer of 2007, out of my frustrations with work was born an unadulterated rant of pure cynicism.
There's some sort of misplaced humility that is injected into us by our educational system. Or maybe it is some sort social stigma attached to the braggart or overacheiver. Must've been what was going through Lennon's mind as he penned down "they'll hate you if you're clever and they despise a fool". Eventually, the struggle to stand out and the pressures to blend in, find some sort of balance in your inner selves. You'll be happy to be the best at something everybody is doing. And even if you aren't, it's somewhat a partially ordered set. Life makes sense and the years roll on.
So you are the real deal, the bee's knees. To start off your career, you dive in and start pulling your weight. Even a moron in a hurry can see that what you're doing valuable, nay essential to the company. Your management wants to know that, it's exactly the kind of information they crave. When it's handed to them in a platter, they love it. But, you keep working, in your little corner. Nobody notices anything and if they do, it's when you fail. You complain about not being noticed to your peers, you write out long rants on your blog about how your life sucks.
Most people at this point in their careers blame the management for everything that's wrong at their job. And treat every peer who chooses to move into management as a blood traitor. I'm not denying that there are bad managers, just the same as there are bad people. But most managers promoted out of rank & file end up being good people with a job which looks like herding cats, except without any catnip. The people working under ordinary managers go passive agressive in their rebellion, complicating the situation further. Eventhough 'tis a betrayal every which way, it happens because nobody trusts anybody.
You are doing something very important and valuable to the company. Then why don't they trust you? Because they have had people work under them in past who were poor communicators because they weren't getting anything done. They even had good people work under them who secretly didn't like the plans, but kept their traps shut and worked towards a fait accompli. So if you communicate poorly, they are not going to give you the benefit of the doubt. No matter how many poor communicators actually end up getting work done, the managers will always remember the times they've been burned.
You don't need to be a 'Yes Man' or a atrocious sychophant to get your manager to treat you well. All you need to do is to make his job easier ... after all, managing you is pretty hard work. Though, there's such a thing as overdoing it. But that's yet another story altogether.
Watching your future with much interest,
— future me.
Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.
-- George Bernard Shaw
Occasionally in life, I have a blinding flash of the obvious. An idea which has been hiding out there in plain sight, just jumps out and catches my attention. I don't even claim to be original about this, but at least I hope that here's the first time you've seen this in writing. Here's one of those ideas I had when I was 14... looking back at the all the years.
The world has a plan for you. The day you were born, you've watched it unroll in front of you. The system tries to coerce you to its plan with its checks, balances, pains and rewards. The system is all around us in our culture, environment and upbringing. It's implemented by the powers that be, to turn you into a well oiled cog in society.
If you're reading this, you've probably already dismissed the plan. You, the individualist, is determined to make your own way in this world. You've already recognized its shortcomings, pitfalls, weaknesses and in fact, you know you're cut out for bigger things. You are the person you are because you chose to branch out from it, rather than conform to any expected norm.
This is not a bad thing in itself. But the powers that be, they fear the change you represent. They will resist you, they will force you into their systems of indoctrination. You will fight, you will fail. As your idealism tends to wear out, as it grinds incessantly against the real world, you become frustrated with your impotence in this world. The rebellion becomes destructive - to yourself and others around. As you're thrown out of society's inner circle labelled as an outsider and a troublemaker, you're reaching an end which you do not deserve.
There are only two basic rules of survival for the individual:
- Work the system
- Fuck with the system
It doesn't get any more contradictory than that.
I listened to the world carefully as it whispered its rules in my ear. I didn't agree at first, but I still listened with as much care as I could muster. Because the day I stood up and disagreed with it, I didn't want to disagree because I didn't understand. I wanted to dismiss their plan because I understood and understood all too clearly.
The System is not your friend or your enemy. Being caught in it is like being caught in a raging torrent. You don't escape it by swimming against it, the only way out is downstream. You need to know the currents, the way the water flows to let the stream take you where you want to go.
Fight the System head on and you will most certainly fail. It is not fair, but that's how it works out. You need to focus your efforts on what you want to do rather than in wasting it on the system's clampdowns. Don't reject it outright, but instead ride the river - use its power to your advantage. But don't let it change who you are, understand that you are making the system work for you.
But you will need patience. Almost infinite quantities of patience, because the Machine will never move at your pace. The right moves at the right time, holding your breath waiting for the right moment and you can move nearly anywhere you want to get to. Without giving up an inch of your inner self, at complete harmony, but in complete control - in surfer cool fashion, you'll be able to move about.
But how do you not become a drone in the process? Society, as powerful in mainstream life as it may be, is not omnipresent. Sooner or later you'll have people around you who do not belong to it. By reaching out and connecting to such people, you'll build yourself a little sub-culture where you are truly truly free. You'll be able to disconnect from the hum-drum of the rest of the world and truly enjoy human interaction sans rules built by others. And those moments will reasure you that you haven't lost it, yet.
Just like any surfer on a wave, now comes your time to stand up & shine. Once the machinations of society are second nature to you, the threads pulling each human being around you start to pop out of the background noise. Even as a non-conformist, you'll be able to manipulate the world around you to your own ends. As you delve deeper into the systems within systems and wheels within wheels, you'll start to "see the code" to the world.
You'll be surprised about how much of your blatant individualism will be tolerated by the powers that be, if they can't detect a threat from your existence.
Don't be an idiot. Don't complain into the ears of your peers. Don't fight the system and self destruct. Know in your heart that you have something to offer to this world, whether it wants it or not. That is not worth risking for any rebel posturing or meteoric martyrdom.
But in the end, they won't call me a rebel. Because I wasn't ... I was just being myself.
So be you.--
Every act of rebellion expresses a nostalgia for innocence and an appeal to the essence of being.
-- Albert Camus
We are haunted by our mistakes.
Our successes, they will leave us while we're dulled by that afterglow of satisfaction. Your mistakes, however - they follow you around, as you drag your feet through the journey of your life. Like a shadow in the darkness, but their footfalls ever so muffled for you to suspect your sanity. They linger on, to provide that tinge of regret, which unfortunately is the mark of a life lived, instead of slept through.
As I headed out to watch Dev D for a second time, I wasn't expecting to feel any different from what I felt the first time. But I was to be surprised at what I felt for the protagonist - the disdain I had felt for him vanished into thin air, to be replaced with a sense of despair if only by empathy. I felt for his dillemma, the internal conflict that is the core of it all. Maybe it's a twist of perspective, but the experience was different.
To anyone who's made a mistake, there's an irrational urge to run away from everything that's headed your way - to leave consequences to others and withdraw. That the solution to everything was just to be not there. Not like it hasn't worked before, it just wont work this time - because you didn't wrong someone else, you wronged yourself.
But as you watch Dev and Chanda both go through their lives running away from the consequences of their actions - the realization hits home that you can run, but then that's all you'll ever do in life. Run and run. Run into the arms of drugs, alcohol or any other crutch that could make your mind just stop. Saving you from the monsters that inhabit you, dulling the pain and make you smile, all in ignorance. Anything to stop thinking, stop everything and keep running.
Consequences are strange beasts. They give chase when you run, but wait for you when take your time to walk to them. No one else can make you walk upto your consequences and introduce you to them. The last mile is yours alone to walk. It's not an easy one to walk back, knowing what awaits you at the end. But there comes a point when you're tired of running. When running away is not getting you where you want to be.
There was that moment of epiphany for Dev, standing next to that phone booth picking up the coins. The moment when you realize that this life is just too short to take the long way around. In perhaps what's the most unappreciated twist in the movie, you see the protagonist actually stop and walk back. Back to Delhi, back to Chanda and back to the police station.
On his own feet, to meet his past & make way for his future.--
I have learned silence from the talkative, toleration from the intolerant, and kindness from the unkind;
yet, strange, I am ungrateful to those teachers.
-- Kahlil Gibran
The word intellectual has been hijacked. That epithet was reserved for those who held views of their own on this world. For those who used their intellect and abilities to percieve the world in their own light. For the renegades of thought, not restricted by the dogmas of their time and life.
Somewhere along the way, it became impossible to distinguish between the true leaders of ideas from those who have squandered their potential as independent thinkers. It's not like the fundamental roots of philosophy have changed over the years, but the world of print is seducing those that wish to futher their development onto the beaten paths of the last century. I do not deny that on shoulders of giants we should stand, but not on their toes.
I meet people like that all the time. I in fact, enjoy the crossfire of ideas that results in. I'm growing, I'm learning without being taught. But I often feel like what I've wandered into is not the melting pot of ideas, the half-bakery of them - but the McDonalds of ideas. Ingredients sourced from all over the world, made with a recipe, packed and tastes the same all over the world. There's a pervading sense of sameness about it - the names dropped, the vocabulary and the people I meet.
The ends remain the same, but the means have lost their meaning. Existential angst is the source of all my philosophy. The contemplation of suicide is perhaps the only source of truth for me - to veer off that path, I've looked far and wide for meaning in my life, till I realized that ironically, that very same quest is the fundamental meaning of sentient existence. To find an answer would be a death unto itself - cogito ergo sum. There's only one certainty and depressing as it might be, the evasion of which is what's so uplifting about every day lived.
I'm not an intellectual. But I like to pretend to be one, because of the social acceptance it provides for my quirks. But beyond that, I'm merely a student of human nature - mine first and everybody's later. And that's just my arrogance claiming how unique I am.--
The error of youth is to believe that intelligence is a substitute for experience.
-- Lyman Bryson
We condemn the most in others that which we hate in ourselves. For it is our nature to be honest and judge oneself so harshly, so much so that your judgement passes onto the actions of others. It's never their deed that you despise, but the bitter taste of your own which rises like bile from your gut. And you can never forgive, never forget.
At some fundamental level, we are incapable of being with people like us.--
I'm a man, you're a woman. We're just too different.
Freedom isn't degeneracy. Oppression is never constructive.
Rebellion isn't the answer, it's merely a step. Freedom is a state of mind, reality checks are moot.
The ability to be whoever you want to be is no excuse to slip & be somebody you aren't, someone you don't recognize anymore. You are not truly free inside your mind, until you know your Ego & your Id - in your decisions, reasons and emotions. Until that day, freedom from the comfortable clasp of social norms is meaningless. Free from others, but still a captive of your desires and whims. Merely an illusion of isolation, holding onto it; Changing everything, seeking instability, perpetually emptying out your soul. Hoping to be free in solitude, but still not succeeding.
Perhaps I'm wrong and freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose, nothing left to keep and nothing left to fight for.
But how would I know? I'm not free, at least not yet, not for a long time to come.--
Man is free the moment he wishes to be.
Next time you walk past a mirror, stop & reflect.
Look deep into those eyes for a glimmer of something real. Break through that facade that has taken several precious years to build. Through all the limits that the world has put on you. Take a good look at yourself.
The most interesting thing about you isn't the people you have surrounded yourself with. It's not the assortment of gadgets that adorn your fingertips, pockets or desk. Neither is it the long list of books you've read and several others you own, merely for others to comment upon. Nor is the rather eclectic taste in music that the pinball machine of life have bounced into you. The sips and dips you've taken, places you've gotten lost in or even whom you hooked up with & when.
It should've been you - just you. But you've lost yourself in incidentals. Thrown away yourself only to replace it with the byproducts of your existence. You became a showcase, instead of a person - with whatever you've got, perpetually on display. What you are suddenly was skin-deep and then it got ugly.
Maybe you were ashamed. Ashamed of who you were. It was fun to pretend you weren't anymore, but what truly changed? You or just a new mask? Wearing it, hoping that nobody ever comes into your life to whom you'd have to bare all? Keep it on forever?
Maybe you'll try. Maybe it was better than being nothing in the eyes of others. I said, maybe.
But just remember not lose all you've collected - at any cost. Because once you've lost yourself, that's all you got. That's all you got.--
What ever you can give up, that's all you have. The rest is what you are.
I'm not alone. I'm just lost. I know where I am. I know where I'm going. I know this way, I've walked these paths before. I know where they lead. But I'm lost.
At a familiar crossroad again. Been here before, taken all the forks, gone the full distance, come around full circle and back to square one. Moved over, settled down, played around and even took the detour - from there to here and back. But my heart whispers that somewhere up there, is there a path I skipped, which takes me away and hides me away.
A way forgotten, in haste or carelessnes. There must be a way - I need to find a way to cut a path across the hills and valleys of life. Passing the crests and troughs like a rough rollercoaster ride of emotions. Travel alone, but arrive together.
Or maybe just pass by. In this vastness of our lives, we pass each other by - a look and a voice. A light and a signal, then the darkness and a silence. And yet again. Crossed paths and meandering routes marking our journeys across this lanscape of existence. There must be a plan, a map to consult, a compass to travel with and the stars to guide you by.
But this is not the map I need. Directions are not what I need, I need a destination.--
Predestination was doomed from the start.
You are disconnected, you live in your own shell. The world exists for you only when you wish it to be. Your world is one of your own, independent from those around you. And you learn to enjoy the silences, they carry their own sense of meaning, peace and serenity.
And one day you forget how to feel. Caught up as a spectator to your own life, watching, taking apart and doing what's rational. Being successful, but completely unsatisfied with your own success. It's not that you don't crave for meaning, but it's like a tango with the world in lead. You realize that you've lost purpose, drive and emotion - but it's been taken care of.
Of all the things you miss in life, that's what you miss the most - emotion. Pure indiluted irrationality has leaked out of your mind, leaving a completely rational automaton behind. Every action you take is followed by a Why? and one day the answer "just because" stops answering it. And it feels like it's never been enough of a reason, anyway.
Living in the present. A pitiable existence, a slave to your senses. Never nostalgic about the good times of past, never looking towards anything in particular. You eyes, ears and intellect guiding your hands. Doing what's needed - no more, no less. Somehow rationalizing to yourself, that you're just waiting for something. Something that signals the end, turns the page. You know you need something, but not knowing what you need. Spending your days, waiting for your real life to begin in full earnest, with a happily ever after.
Comfortable. Sane. Numb.
Sun rises one day and something in you awakes. Trapped in a perfectly logical box of thought, it tries to break out. Illogically, it seeks to renounce everything that makes you comfortable. Seek pain, not enjoy it - but need it to break out, start feeling alive again. The veil that is laid over your emotions is torn to bits in a fit of anger and desperation. You hurt yourself, you want pain, for the lack of anything better. You hurt others, perhaps you run away from those whom you might. But most of all, you cut yourself open & bleed.
Understanding it was hard. Pain - it's only catharsis. The puff of smoke as you cauterize your endless haemorrage of reason, to be human again. Deal with it, learn to live again, love again; laugh again.
Wait, did I say "again"?--
Never look back, the view is never as good.
Ashamed I'm not to borrow the words of te inimitable Jerome K Jerome.
We are but the veriest, sorriest slaves of our stomach. Reach not after morality and righteousness, my friends; watch vigilantly your stomach, and diet it with care and judgment. Then virtue and contentment will come and reign within your heart, unsought by any effort of your own; and you will be a good citizen, a loving husband, and a tender father - a noble, pious man.
But as someone remarked "nobody starves anyone else".
It is very strange, this domination of our intellect by our digestive organs. We cannot work, we cannot think, unless our stomach wills so. It dictates to us our emotions, our passions. How good one feels when one is full - how satisfied with ourselves and with the world! People who have tried it, tell me that a clear conscience makes you very happy and contented; but a full stomach does the business quite as well, and is cheaper, and more easily obtained. One feels so forgiving and generous after a substantial and well-digested meal - so noble-minded, so kindly-hearted.
I always thought it was just me...--
Man doth not live on bread alone;
but philosophy baketh no bread.
Your stress level should be a measure of the work you're doing/done, rather than the work left.
At least, that's the official policy - but it's not quite working out per policy these days.--
Of course there's no reason for it, it's just our policy.
I thought I'd invented this term. I'd thought it was my small bit of original jargon to contribute. I even had about seven pages of scribbled over notepaper dedicated to the topic - several hours worth of cogitation on the topic from airport lounges, cramped airplane seats and other places of extreme boredom. Pages and pages of attempts to distill out the idea from an amorphous concept, which the two words which by themselves cannot contain.
But everything that's worth saying has already been said. Despite being original, I discovered, to my surprise, that I'm not the first one to use "honorary guy". Well, rather than waste effort explaining how I feel, let me point you to this this cartoon (oh, the irony). But before I rain on my own parade, let me try to unload my mental baggage.
Being the new kid on the block isn't easy. Especially when you are entering an insular psuedo-meritocracy. And by psuedo-meritocracy, I mean that the pecking order is regulated by assumptions of your merit before you get to prove yourself. Somehow anybody testing such waters is likely to find it cold and assume a rather defensive toe-in first approach to exploring the community. And that makes for uncomfortable beginnings everywhere - and beginnings are such delicate times.
People who are thrown into such situations broadcast very strong vibes, which are there for any intelligent human to pick up easily. Perhaps this is my personal bias, but the strongest of those vibes is that of a girl entering a primarily male dominated community, feeling defensive and wary. The message sent is probably a very tentative "Hi, here I am", but due to an outgroup homogeneity bias, the message comes across as a self-entitled demand to adapt to the presence of the newcomer.
Being the nice guy that I am, I usually comply. The effects aren't pretty. Instead of being myself, I revert to some fallback stereotype male persona. This ranges from the shy guy, the shuffler or the patronizing alpha male. The first two finds me as a stoic blinker (oh, yeah ... smile at me) and those girls who are relieved to find me the latter are generally marginalized to footnotes in my eyes. And those who actually hate me for patronizing them actually fills me with sadness & hope at the same time.
And then there's the minority who do not broadcast these messages, the ones who are comfortable being themselves and in turn just "let me be", without ignoring me altogether. These are people I generally treasure as friends - men and women, both. These are people whose opinion I take for face value, for that's not driven by any facade I present to them. And due to a lack of vocabulary, I picked "honorary guy" to refer to women of this group.
But rather than stereotype these people into a new bracket, what the term "honorary guy" really does is to suspend judgement based on stereotypes I've accumulated over the years. Sort of short-circuit out the homogeneity biases and treat them like the individuals they are. I guess I need a better word.
And as for the rest of them, I'm just being as little of myself as I can. Shut up, shuffle or condescend - pick one. After all, you asked for it.
PS: Umm... Dorothea had mentioned it on her blog, last year. Same arguments, different conclusion ... .--
The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike
than those who think differently.
Man's unique agony as a species consists in his perpetual conflict between the desire to stand out and the need to blend in. -- Sydney J. Harris
Some people get stuck half-way. Some people don't even start.--
Not to be a socialist at twenty is proof of want of heart;
to be one at thirty is proof of want of head.
-- Georges Clemenceau
Apparently the median for my office persona is a straight faced automaton. But about a fortnight ago, all that changed. I realized the obvious solution in one of those moments of lucidity - "don't worry". It might sound simple, but it takes a lot of effort to side-swipe the society's influence to actually say don't sweat the small stuff to yourself. And it takes great tragedy too, to separate the small things from the large and the large from the inconceivable. So here's how the book would look like if I wrote a book about it - which I won't, but I still love the cover (click image for bigger version).
I've generally stopped being upset by small setbacks. Is only life, as they say it. But it took a quite large learning curve before I dropped into this chilled out world, where everything's cool (eventhough it is summer) and I get the important things done right. I guess I'm not the first one to actually go down this path. Rather than say it out myself, let me pull out those words from the pen of Bill Watterson and the mouth of that cheeky six-year-old.
But could that really be ? I suppose so ... it works at this end.--
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat.
"I don't care much where--" said Alice.
"Then it doesn't matter which way you go," said the Cheshire Cat.
Some people are born managers, some others acquire that talent over the years and then there are those who have it thrust upon them. But everybody's still gotta manage, play the game with the hand they've been dealt with and not all of them will make good poker players. From my shuffled set of manager cards, let me therefore deal out a card which has been played so often that, it is pointless to attempt a bluff. But first, some setting and scenario - from the receiving end of the card.
Case of the Mondays: Imagine working in a team of ten odd people. For some strange reason your manager seems to insist on the entire team showing up at 9 'O clock sharp, just like factory workers everywhere - except without the benefit of a siren to warn them. Except there are two free-thinking hippies who still show up at work at 11, with bleary eyes as if they've been working all night long - and maybe they have. The first clue that the management (no, it is no longer in singular) is displeased comes from an email, similar to the following with appropriate padding.
From: manager@company To: team-world-wide@ Subject: Punctuality and Official Timings We as a company ... blah ... blah ... customer ... blah time is money ... waste no time ... read this long mail ... with care and precision ... key aspects ... morale and motivation ... blah blah Of late, it has been noticed that people ... you know who you are ... yada yada ... engineers show up late ... as late as lunch ... must encourage team work ... on mondays 99 bugs on the product ... Take one for the team ... pass it all around ... make sacrifices for the team ... ask not what the team can do for you but, ... So, please ensure sync ... and conf-calls with onsite ... by coming in time every day. Thanking you, Your Neighbourhood PHB
No Names: A politely worded mail, which in the manager's opinion conveys the essence of his complaint in clarity. But such mails accomplish two things. First it fails to totally point out who's wrong and who's not. This indicates to those in the wrong that the manager is non-confrontational and is more likely to snipe from afar than come out in a melee. And by not naming any names, the manager assumes that the people responsible will know and take action. But by denying personal criticism, they are blocking off the employee's response in advance. There is no way for the employees who have incurred the displeasure to broach this topic and explain in person - without appearing petty. They might have a very good reason for coming in late every day - a conf call at 10 PM every night for instance.
Authority Erosion: Secondly and more importantly, such a public announcement erodes into your authority and trust from the other employees. When they see your orders disobeyed with impunity (yes, when ... not if), you are literally letting your targets eat into your authority, while building their own pseudo-authority as a rebel - especially if they are still good at their job. To give an appropriate analogy, it is indeed hard to keep faith in this world, when certain people aren't instantaneously hit by lightning, even out of stormy skies. In short, it pisses off more people who keep to the lines, when you send such a mail which gets an unconscious "Yeah, but what can you do ?" response.
I call this manoeuvre the Group Therapist, where someone having run out of his power and authority, tries to turn the peer pressure screws and essentially try to shame people into obeying. And sometimes it works, mainly because people are sheep. Nothing bad happens if it works, but as mentioned above, problems get worse if it doesn't work - especially over a prolonged period.
Grapevine: But private direct criticism can still work as a deterrant for others. The office grapevine is strong and long enough to actually leak what was said in that sound proof conference room - and the weird thing about people is that they believe hearsay more than an official memo. Gossip in general giving no advantage to the producer other than the thrill of being "in the know", while official communiques aren't viewed with such pink-tinted glasses - Making the water cooler conversations more effective at communication than any office memo ever sent. Strange, but logical.
If you've read Migration Patterns of Codemonkeys or Performance Inversion, you'd already know that my my bitter well of cynicism holds no answers. But they present some facts, pose a couple of questions and the rest has been left as an exercise to the reader :)--
Long gone are the days when personal shame caused you to take personal responsibility.
-- Linus Torvalds
Very little is known about the Life and Mating Habits of the common Code Monkey. But that should come as no surprise to anyone who has observed a specimen in the cubicles of Asia. But observations from cubesville have often been indicative of a certain flux in the population - a trend to migrate over longer distances. Unlike the famed lemming of the north artic tundra, which takes a downhill (to say the least) approach, this migration is more often in search for higher ground. Is there some herd mentality to it or is it merely an individual moving on ? Join me, as we dig deeper into the mysterious world of the code monkey.
Of late, I've been feeling the urge to leave Yahoo! and go do something else. I couldn't explain exactly why, because I probably have the best job imaginable - work on what I want, from wherever I want, a couple of meetings a month and play pool all afternoon. But the urge was still as strong as ever. It needed a rational explanation and I started to itemize and categorize the possible reasons as objectively as I could. A couple of recent discussions on slashdot and india-gii have added fuel to that fire and then I read this.
Career Phases: In general, the company you work for is really really important for your first couple of jobs. It should come as no surprise that junior engineers want to work with a strong brand. This sets them up to move onto be senior engineers in places which pay better. Experienced engineers are not too desperate to seek out things which look good on their resumes - they're interested in other aspects of the job than how good it will look on their resume in a couple of years.
There's a flip side to the career phases argument too. If you've read the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett, you might remember a class of wizards known as the Sourcerors. Now that nearly all magical spells have been formed out of the raw magic, the discworld needs no more sourcerors.
Now, software companies are like miniature discworlds. There is a phase in the company's life cycle (it is a cycle, it repeats) when the ground is fertile for new ideas. And this age of miracles, attracts the brilliant miracle worker who can shape reality around such ideas. But such proto-geniuses have little to do in the adolescence of the company. As the work force muscle builds up, the concept of a superstar engineer dies and slowly but surely, the emphasis shifts to overall throughput of a team than individual brilliance. When a manager (and his team) can outperform any individual engineer at the same task, the company needs the best managers they can get, rather than a couple more brilliant code monkeys.
People outgrow companies and vice versa.
Wages: Money is like air. A little bit more doesn't do much when you have enough, but you'll know it when you are running short. But there does exist a certain stress level beyond which people do not think it is worth their pay to work - but a large percentage of salaried workers never approach that limit. That is where an interesting economic hypothesis pops up - Efficiency wage hypothesis. Even when you get paid enough, merely the fact that you are paid does not induce any sort of gratitude or loyalty towards your employer - it is money in return for services rendered. But as the shirking model in the theory indicates, often you do get what you pay for.
Pay hikes are often nominal and are significant only when you are promoted. Meanwhile people being freshly hired are being hired at pay scales more in terms with the market demands. Over a period of two or three years, the difference between your hiked pay and your peers being freshly hired climbs to a significant value to prompt you to get back to level. Most companies to refuse to raise the pay of a long standing employee to the levels of a freshly hired of similar level, giving various excuses - the most general of which go - who told you that ? That's not true. And in this world of salary confidentiality, rather than counter that argument, you'd probably try to get a better pay package elsewhere - and you probably will.
Raises don't match lateral entry pay packages.
Vertical Space: Most indian companies don't have a good technical ladder. In an industry where company half lives are measured in years, waiting around for those above to retire is hardly any option. Generally the way to climb the ladder is to move somewhere where you're closer to the top and work towards building the rest of the ladder downwards. In other words, the easiest way to get promoted is to be somewhere small and grow along with it - after all companies don't need to be promoted (*sic*) to grow. But some are unfortunate enough to end up pushed down as the management brings in fresh talent to supplement the growth. This is somewhat in line with the career phases argument where fast growth, high risk approaches are suitable after the initial few years of establishing a brand pedigree.
Last one out is a...: Community is a usually disregarded factor when considering job hopping. But the web of friends can outweigh some of the advantages a job hop might bring. More important would be your relationship with your direct boss. Having to work under a new person and develop the same rapport takes quite some effort and the average asocial code monkey dreads the thought of having to go through that *again*. On the other hand, this explains how much more precious a manager can be, because when he leaves he disturbs the general inertia of his direct reportees.
The moment the community at work starts breaking up, be it due to overwork or attrition, the downsides of leaving start to diminish. Eventually, you'll be able to point out a single departure which snowballed into a mass attrition throughout the company - even if everyone went in their own directions. At some point, a $n people can't be wrong correlation turns into a causation going into a spiral of departures.
Attrition turns into super-attrition when a strong community breaks up.
I've sort of started to understand why people need to switch jobs, about every couple of years - not out of greed or disloyalty - but as suggested by pure common sense. But a closer inspection of the scenario does indeed suggest that status quo is an assumption - a valid assumption for vast majority. That could change, I suppose (or rather, hope).
There's a corollary to all these observations, but I'll leave that as an exercise for the reader.--
The biggest mistake you can make is to believe that you are working for someone else.
Q: What are you rebelling against ? A: What've you got ?
But I understand.--
Rebellion lay in his way, and he found it.
-- William Shakespeare, "Henry IV"
It has always been Us vs Them, only the definitions of either group have varied for mankind. The fact that we are "We" isn't due to "Me", it has always been because of "Them". The phenomena is not restricted to the world outside, but into the air conditioned world of the software industry. Rather than just poke the sordid underbelly of my chosen profession, I wanted to understand how exactly this came to be.
The polarization evolves from a geographical split. An indian wing of a US MNC or an offshore ODC of one could serve as a sufficient model. The cultural and timezone differences aside, the system functions smoothly when the wing is small, yet doing really important things. But somewhere during the latter phase of its growth, things start to go wrong. Work that could have been done by "Us" (yes, it begins...) is kept for "Them", even though they are understaffed or overworked. Suddenly a log jam starts to appear in the smooth flow and you can literally feel the disparity in treatment.
The problem has its roots in communication. While the communication channels remain person to person, as is common with a small outpost of a company elsewhere, the problems, if any, remain purely personal and has none of the communal hatred of the Us vs Them. Then arrives the manager who, for lack of other tasks, takes up the job of communication. Well intentioned maybe, but the moment an engineer has to send a mail to a manager who has to communicate it elsewhere, the seeds of disparity are sown. Information shouldn't need to go up levels to traverse teams. Hierarchies get in the way of information and the barriers start to rise as growth pushes the pyramid upwards.
But there are some managers who seem to have avoided this problem by being so transparent that they seem to be hardly there. My career so far has been short and uneventful (mostly), but it has been my pleasure to work with two individuals who, in my opinion, have discovered the zen of management. To be completely frank with their reportees and extremely diplomatic with their superiors is how they function. Compared to the fold like umbrellas attitudes others have shown towards authority, I have found the other strategy to be better at motivating me. Transparency means that you know why you have to work harder and what's on the line here. Consequences of a boss's displeasure isn't enough to make me work hard, but a real failure of the project is.
But back to the original problem, beyond communication and onto competition. The moment a manager starts collating his bug reports and TPS sheets, it becomes a game of numbers. Now, if you haven't read How to lie with statistics, you should. So some team will have done a bit more or a bit less and the obvious comparisons between the two teams will be made. Unwanted parallels drawn to the disadvantage of the team lagging behind. Once this has been dragged out into the open by somebody, it becomes an open contest for next year.
Competition works. Margaret Thatcher was a great fan of the concept. But a software firm is more of a non-zero sum game than the free market, especially since the customer (who wins) isn't playing the game at all. Like the old game of prisoner's dilemma, the teams draw up their perceived benefits of co-operation or defection (more accurately, delaying or denying help). But as the game suggests, it should easily fall into a cycle of co-operation, if communication was open and clear.
That is where the next tragedy of the software industry comes in. Attrition rates and job hopping essentially means that the shadow of the future is rather short. For the average employee, he'll not be here to play the next round. So as in the one-off version of the game, his obvious choice is to always defect.
In this race to be the one first up with a product, to make the most money, to get the most kudos for their product, a silo of thinking develops. People start reinventing the wheels merely because the other team doing the same thing elsewhere is not co-operating (also because they stand to lose a chunk of the credit). Time and money wasted. Important products slip merely because a manager doesn't want to ask for help.
The lack of communication explodes into a cycle of non-productivity and credit grabbing which are short term benefits paid for by somebody else in the long term. But in reality, you merely end up paying for somebody else's mistakes of the past and merely passing on new burdens to your successors. Unburdened by any past sins, the first generation which indulges in these seem to come out winning.
What could have been a peaceful working environment is now wracked by underground politics which cuts through the basic helplines of the employees - other employees. The command structures demand no creativity, a task which is solidly obeyed in levels below ("the easiest thing to do is to never have good ideas"). Thus a hierarchy has divided and ruled for its own benefit and paved way for its ultimate downfall, merely by replacing the individual with a collective Us in constant conflict with Them ("We'd always been at war with Eurasia").
I've seen the disease and I haven't found a cure yet. Prevention yes, but a cure no.--
"Don't worry about the mule. Just load the wagon."
-- Project Management Simplified
As authors both George Orwell and Aldous Huxley were masters at the task. But as visionaries (yes, for the last time 1984 is a warning, not a guidebook), they differed in a very fundamental way. Orwell has always rooted for an external oppressor who shall conquer us and rule our thoughts, lives and the world in total - the infamous Big Brother. On the other hand, Huxley had portrayed an even more outlandish concept, where the people accept and in fact, love the thing that incapacitates them from rational thought. In the Brave New World, there is no necessity for an oppressor to deprive us of our autonomy, individuality or maturity, we would gladly give that up for the security and convenience the oppression offers.
Orwell dreamed of a future where information would be denied, kept hidden from the masses and handed out in small enough parcels. A totalitarian regime where information is the currency and control was achieved by denying it. Huxley feared the opposite, where the important information is drowned in a mass of irrelevance. Where nobody picks up a book because there are far more convenient distractions to choose from.
1984 controlled people by pain, hurt when you try to enter the forbidden corridors of knowledge, while the Brave New World enslaved you with pleasure. Given you so much that you have no desire for anything more, perfectly content to watch the feelies and drink soma. Reduced to passivity and egotism, ever fearful of any disruption which would destroy the comforts that were traded in for free speech and thought, yet oblivious to their own slavery.
Yet, when the year 1984 came, there were those who rejoiced that the world hadn't fallen to a Big Brother. But the Brave New World couldn't be denied, the quest for a happy living strays too close to the ultimate paradise of ignorant bliss. As you watch an everyman sit in front a TV, sipping whatever gets him high and wondering about what exactly is happening with Paris Hilton's latest boyfriend, you do have to wonder is this a Brave New World ? The critique on the free press and its role in oppression is contrary to common belief, but some corner of my mind it is happening today (ok, pickup a Times Of India).
Huxley's message is chilling in its content and cynical in its perception. The fact that people will sacrifice essential liberties of free speech and thought to enjoy a comfortable life sits in opposite to the loss of paradise that the Adam & Eve suffered. In our deepest psyche this is a holy grail we yearn for, even at the cost of our individuality, history or autonomy.
1984 ends the same way the Brave New World began, love instead of hate.
He gazed up at the enormous face. Forty years it had taken him to learn what kind of smile was hidden beneath the dark moustache. O cruel, needless misunderstanding! O stubborn, self-willed exile from the loving breast! Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.
The golden cage that we built for ourselves, the only way these two differ is how we got into the cage. So who is right ? I'd say Huxley, but 1984 is yet to pass.--
If society fits you comfortably enough, you call it freedom.
-- Robert Frost
People are sheep. They move in herds, believe in numbers (look at democracy) and avoid solving anything in person. This is, contrary to common sense, perfectly normal and how the world should be - read it through and then let me know, if you think otherwise. Before I can explain to you exactly why people are so timid, I'd have to explain why the Original Hero in our particular story wasn't the Go-Getter Hollywood crafts its dreams around. And it all starts out pretty normally .
So, I'm sitting around at my parents', munching on some easily munchables in front of the idiot box. Tuned in at the moment is one of the new cartoon channels which is reinventing Tarzan for the youngster of today. So there you see Tarzan telling his ape friends that the new evil leader (complete with silver back, huge fangs and red eyes) is weaker than the entire family combined. After hearing that motivational speech from somebody hanging upside down from the arms of the giant ape, the entire family drives the bullying big male out. And they all lived happily ever after, at least until the next episode.
Now, to pick out where this particular story diverges from stated 'real' world into a more fictional human world. But first, I want you to marvel at the sophistication of the tool at my disposal now - language. Sure, a cat call in the night or a howl in the distance is communication too. But our chatter possesses something unique in itself. We talk about things that could be - we talk about the future as if it were real. The first time your mother told you don't do that, or else $bad_thing_could_happen.... was when you were introduced to the very possibility (that word itself speaks volumes) of things that could be. In other words, the animals could understand what could be done if they joined forces.
Now, human society is very peaceful compared a lot of other social mammals. In almost every other primate society there is a lot of bullying and fighting at lower levels than the alpha males. Even in a stable society there are always some murmurs of disapproval and fights happen in the background. So what's different in our world that stops this from happening ? While I ponder about such important questions an advertisement for clean teeth (uhmm... I mean toothpaste) pops up.
*CLICK*. Yet another soap on some other channel. *CLICK*. Same story of a family broken by something. *CLICK*. Ah, it's a veritable cat fight between two women with bindis large enough to cover Switzerland (you *know* that I stole that analogy). Oh wait, they're just stopping at name calling. I guess language comes up as a winner yet again in this story - so where are the sheep people that I started talking about ?
Language is merely the tool. You might think the real clincher in the deal is how language helped organize things (like the Tower of Babel for instance). Well, before mankind was big enough to start dividing ourselves over language, religion, caste and creed, we lived in tribes. The organization there needed to kick some ass more than the mot juste and language was hardly (yet) the way to get your average cave-woman interested.
Even with philosophy running in parallel, daytime soaps are boring. *CLICK*. Oh, its some mafia gangster flick and some guy's getting shot because he ratted out some 'brother' to de cops. And he did that because the other guy made eyes at his sister. Seems fair, I think. If I were in the same posish, I'd be wiping the blood off my knuckles too. Wait, he didn't stand up and fight, he merely went to the Big Brother and squealed like the family pig (George Orwell is a genius). Language has its advantages for the weak and oppressed.
But didn't evolution stick up for the 'Fittest' or something ? So, if you are weak and oppressed, you'd do good to the species to stay out of the gene pool. Then why does human society discourage bullying and stick up for a very unnatural concept called fair play. Because long back during the dark ages of human evolution, language helped the weak to team up and beat up the bullies. That's just a prediction and this movie's getting way too bloody to have a happy ending.
*CLICK*. It's one of the 24x7 news channels and it's showing a strike in some factory plant somewhere. The union is demanding special protective masks and compensations to the families of its employees who have succumbed to halitosis. The basic co-operative skills mankind developed in the distant past for hunting large animals of the last ice age have been subverted to bring a factory to a grinding halt. On the other hand, the weak worker class have no way to fight the system other than uniting. And it looks like they're coming out winners.
The critical combination of language and co-operation form a very sharp tool in the arsenal of the weak and the timid. The call goes out - All for one and one for all. Such coalitions and brotherhoods must have picked off every one of the stereotypical aggressive alpha males when the species was passed through an evolutionary pressure like a famine or disease. Of course, you can't blame the mob - dying out was hardly a worthy choice. The badass alpha male just didn't Fit in with the times of crisis.
Even today, our society runs on the basis that its combined might is significantly bigger than is in possession of any one individual. This is why democracy is so popular, because aggressive individuals do not survive in a majority of their own - this town isn't big enough for the both of us. But we still need the risk taker, adventurer and explorer - they deny society and are labeled mavericks, become recluses in old age. You know the examples. We're not like them, as much as we admire them.
Still, somewhere in our primitive brains, we crave for an absolute leader to settle our disputes, punish the wicked and reward the good deeds. The all powerful, ape lord of our own tribe, that we used to see and obey everyday in those dark and distant days when we had hardly climbed down from the trees. We worship him, live our days in awe of his awesome power, sleep nights under his protection and follow him across hades if necessary. Oh, my God, what am I talking about ? (*heh).
Us humans, we are such a coalition of the timid, where decisions are by consensus and where politeness overrides correctness. That's the way it is and short of mass genocide there's nothing you can do to fix it. So quit cribbing.
Let the meek inherit the earth -- they had it coming.
I hate being the bad cop. For all that cliched formula attached to this particular idea of Good Cop, Bad Cop the sad fact is that it really works. The very idea that a person would often agree to a moderate in the presence of an extremist picking the seemingly lesser evil.
Sometimes to do what's good, you have to make others hate you.--
God instructs the heart, not by ideas, but by pains and contradictions.
-- De Caussade
I went to a party yesterday night. I don't drink. And generally I am asked why ? - because I look like a dopehead with red blurry eyes. I don't drink, because the word Moderation does not make sense to me. If I drink, I will end up a drunk.
I came up with the quote 'Moderation knows no limits' while walking to office today. It must've been the heat or something, but I was just replaying the conversations at the yesterday's party and the part about moderation struck me. You can interpret this in any way you want. My favourite is you can always be more moderate - sort of going against the word moderation.
Paradoxical word play is often the only way to get yourself out of the cage of well defined concepts. But rarely do I have anything original.--
There is nothing wrong with abstinence, in moderation.