Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Great American Dream Plan.

Watching TV, I never thought I would be allowed such a new insight into the world Americans live in - advanced, yet worried. Intensely planned, brilliantly executed, and yet brittle and no more resilient than less touted ways of life.

You see, it is all about "the plan". Americans have a plan for everything. When that new airport design works brilliantly, it should surprise nobody, for they really thought about it. God bless the geniuses this country produces. The creative juices that flow into the cleverness of all the little things that work well are a joy to behold, unlike for instance, our Indian bank tellers who are much slower after they got computers and money counting machines!

Americans are excellent when it comes to embracing something new, and hence their engineering codes and standards are updated once every six months, whereas ours in India haven't been updated even once since independence. When this something new works neatly into the overall "plan" of things, Americans are happy, like with the fabulous iPhone, but if this something new is not part of a plan, they are completely messed up, like with Sept 11th and now, this financial crisis.

It isn't so much the matter how good this plan is, as long as there is a plan! What a strangely conditioned bunch of people! Now it makes some sense to me how they can be so overwhelmed by this phenomenon new to them called "terrorism". It isn't as if they have anything to be mortally afraid of Osama Bin Laden. But there is something inherently fluid about the man and his methods that Americans are really scared of.

That's why they went to war against Iraq - to let off some steam, but in a war they could "plan" for. You can't feel very good trying your high tech weapons against the ideology of your enemy, against his nebulous network of arms suppliers, against the prowess of his religious calling - all that is too complex and takes too much time. Americans needed some immediate action, and for that you need to knock out buildings, set fire to a few targets from far away, and move ships and troops. Afghanistan and its border with Pakistan are notoriously difficult areas to put up this kind of a show. Even the fake WMD claims were nicely accommodated into this planning mentality, which wouldn't have worked very well in rag tag mountain and cave territory where embedded reporters would have been ill at ease showing the American army as a chaotic bunch. That is the last thing Americans would want to see - their fine men and women of the armed forces in a clueless situation.

Iraq also turned out to be a clueless situation, but at every step of getting there, there was a plan. There were presidential speeches, there was media coverage, there was a clarion call for action! Then there were constant updates, up until the infamous era of beheadings. That was a clever one by the Al Sadr gang. Those rascals knew exactly what kind of below the belt blow the Americans couldn't take. They knew what truth Americans would be most uncomfortable with, and sure enough, once the heads started rolling, white people's sense of the value of a human life came sharply into focus, even though they hardly cared when thousands died in cluster bombs they dropped from far away.

See, a cluster bomb is an evil thing, but there is something fully planned about its design, the way a plane carries it, instructions are given by seemingly respectable people in military uniforms, and promises a sterile and sometimes even spectacular display as it completes its evil duty. But it doesn't look evil! It looks like a nicely planned scientific journey gone horribly right! But a beheading, even though done one at a time, is gruesome to the white American culture. It makes them sick, and they are repulsed by the sight of a human head separated from the rest of the body. All of a sudden, Moqtada Al Sadr and his men are a bunch of "savages", while the son of a bitch who dropped the cluster bomb that killed thousands more of unconnected civilians probably got a medal for his meritorious effort of pushing a button from the safety of his plane flying thousands of feet above the ground. But if it took so much effort to make a random killing machine so antiseptic in its presentation, it must be a "good" thing, that can defend our freedoms and values and our way of life.

American weapons seem to be particularly good at defending American freedoms and American values and the American way of life. I wonder if cluster bombing Wall Street will fix the financial crisis right now and do something to restore faith in the American way of life. In the least, the illicit narcotics trade seems to be the safest investment anywhere in the world, but the Americans are spending millions to stop this and have caused the creation of several druglord billions! Is it hard to get your hands on any banned substance in any part of America? Not at all! Go figure!

For a while now, I have wondered how you can be the most powerful nation on the planet and the most scared, ill informed bunch of sore, loser idiots at the same time. It is because they have been brought up on this diet of result-is-proportional-to-effort. The American Dream is itself quite a well defined three bedroom house, father, mother, two children, two cars and a dog! Is this a dream? Come on! And there are fools who believe people go to America to have just this? What is so great about it? Ah, now! See, this is something you can plan for! Your daughter snorting coke at fourteen, your son shooting his classmates, and you being sued by your neighbour for being bitten by your dog - these are not part of anybody's dream, but in reality should be part of some parents' planning!

Osama Bin Laden represents such an enormous threat to this way of life, not because he wants to rape American women and kill their dogs and feed dope to their children, but because in his world nobody is really bothered by day to day chaos. His world doesn't depend on that pin point control of events and there is no particular end result without which his tribe won't go to sleep peacefully.

That's why Islamic terrorism doesn't do anything more than irritate Indians. Radical Islam trying to inject chaos into an Indian's life is the joke of the century. Indians already have enough chaos and not only do they ignore it, they revel in it. They have partnered it, danced with it, and go to bed with it all the bloody time! This pesky business of being hit by bombs and bloodshed is rather annoying, but India is not likely to be threatened by anything being thrown out of gear.

Even in American storytelling, even in crime, planning is everything, all the way from The Day of the Jackal to Oceans Thirteen, it is all about the precision of the attack. If someone is two seconds off, it is too dangerous! I wonder how many assassins can really pull the trigger under that kind of pressure and still hit the right target. It isn't as if the madman strapped with explosive running into a bunch of people is any less effective, but to Americans, the act of killing through precision and science is always more fascinating and respectable. Islamic terrorism flies in the face of this fascination, and that's the real reason Americans hate this new adversary!

For some strange reason, Americans thought there was going to be another attack on Sept 11th, 2002! There was no intelligence, just millions poured into being "safe" on that particular day. This to me is the retarded blind belief in the spectacle of precision and the blinder belief that their enemy was likely to be like them! Osama Bin Laden really doesn't have to have the resources to call upon this kind of precision in his warfare. He has to plan to carry out something that will not be easy to detect, and that's pretty much it. If one day doesn't work out, his men will simply do it the next time they see an opportunity. If they can't do it, they will do something else. Usually their plans work because there aren't too many geniuses involved and split second precision is not needed even when displayed in a series of bombs going off in a city.

Americans on the other hand, plan so far ahead, that their banks lent fifty times their worth, believing the housing bubble would keep on expanding, and all the financial geniuses who were brought up on that diet constantly fed into that myth in a methodical frenzy that ate up all logic, and sure enough all the planning went to the toilet as soon as reality showed up.

As funny as it may seem, Islamic banking is completely insulated from the kind of mess that Wall Street finds itself in!

Monday, October 20, 2008

The heady smell of failure

Most good stories come full circle. The adventurers who return to their village, the hero who comes back to his roots, richer for the ride and wiser for the experience, but essentially coming back to starting point after victory to share it with his tribe. The sense of belonging is one we can all identify with, and is used in no small measure by good story tellers. But for that, we must identify with the characters, the journey they chose to go on, and the ordeals on the way that made them better. In the very least, we must care.

Of late, Americans have shown up to be the drunks who went to the party, trashed the palace, and puked on the lawn and let it flow down the street called Wall Street. That's no hero's journey - it is a fool's parade and isn't funny when it takes 700 billion dollars to begin to fix, and most of the people who paid this in taxes weren't even invited to the party. But some people have such a hangover that they still don't realize the palace stinks to high heaven, and the neighbourhood is sick of the scene.

There was a segment today on NDTV called "A view from Wharton", which had a bunch of Indian clowns studying at Wharton Business School, offering their views on the financial crisis. The puppies all had rather optimistic views about them finding jobs and I wondered how and why any of us would give a rat's arse if any of them got jobs or not! When none of them was talking about getting jobs in India, how could this possibly be relevant to us here, apart from paying bored attention to some specimens from a well known tribe of Indians wanting to study and work abroad. Who cares if some Indian guy graduating from some school in the USA gets a job or not?

More than anything, I'd be worried if we're celebrating those who have chosen to learn from a failed system! I really don't want to hear from the losers on how it is done! I have always believed that you get expert opinions from people who are reasonably successful at what they do. If you want to talk about a formula one racing, you try and get Michael Schumacher, or if you have to settle for someone less, maybe Narain Karthikeyan has some insights. You most certainly do not ask the village idiot who crashed his bullock cart into the train you can hear two miles away.

But the amusement value, priceless! One of these puppies thought they had the best ringside view of this crisis, and it helped them learn first hand from their faculty how exactly these things came about and they were interested in seeing how this kind of crisis could be prevented from spilling over to the rest of the world, and affect countries like India that might be more vulnerable to this kind of situation! I can usually smell stupidity coming round the corner at full speed, and even the geniuses at Wharton did not disappoint!

What exactly are these idiots learning at Wharton? This financial crisis isn't a nuclear bomb that somehow spills over the border with the wind carrying deadly radiation to other countries. It simply isn't going to be felt in areas that are not vested and dependent on the American economy. It most certainly isn't going to affect countries that have long since insulated themselves from this kind of fly and crash cycle by keeping their economies slow and steady. We in India certainly know what slow is even if we may forget steady once in a while, so who exactly has been affected in our "vulnerable" country? We don't know yet, but we are not the country pissing off billions in a war with no end in sight, and we certainly aren't going ga-ga lending to people who can never pay back.

The professor at Wharton had a better view of Indian economic experts - he said they had a mindset quite different from those of their American counterparts and while they thought about building their companies, they also thought about building their countries. Quite a fascinating viewpoint, and timely. When America was trying its best to bully us to open our markets some more in the 90s, nobody quite thought about India as being correctly cautious. Our own "financial experts" were busy comparing us to the rapid growth of the Far East and wanted more and more deregulation right away. Are we in the same planet today?

So, why are we supposed to take Wharton seriously? Apparently, there is a Wharton business school alumnus who is in charge of Bush's $700 billion bailout package, which he must dispense with in the next two months. All right genius. What about the thousands of idiots schools like Wharton must have unleashed over the years to cause this mess in the first place?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Old is hardly gold.

Every time I hear of the Babri Masjid demolition, I cringe. It remains one of the most retarded deeds in post Independence India and it brings out the worst in me. It is something I am ashamed of and I hate being human at times like those. This has nothing to do with my opinions of religion or freedom of expression or rights of minorities or constitutional guarantees or the expectations I have of my country or anything of that sort. It is the misplaced notion of something from the past deserving so much respect that upsets me.

It is the respect people showed for the 'belief' that the mosque was once a temple long ago in a glorious past, and that it somehow needed resurrection that always gets my goat! I always cringe at historic references to today's realities. If people let go of their ancient notions and thought progressively, we would be able to solve all of today's problems and embrace tomorrow without fear or anxiety. Wrongs need to be corrected, no doubt, but not when the corrections serve no practical purpose. Religion and dogma do not serve any practical purpose, especially in tandem.

But the real culprit is our blind reverence for all things historical. If we were so glorious in our past, why don't we demolish our cities and go infest caves again? Look at what history we have left behind - It wasn't that long ago that slavery was legal, a lot of people were lynched for their knowledge, including those that had perfectly valid theories about gravity and other laws of physics, and people with fevers that made them behave strangely were killed for being in the clutch of "witchcraft". If we had developed our transportation systems based on the theory that the earth was flat, we'd be nowhere today. If we'd believed that leaving the shores our country was somehow inauspicious, we'd hardly be the people we are today. Old is gold? No thanks, I'm happy in my polluted, buzzing, irritating, restless modern world.

I am definitely happy and blessed to be able to carry a piece of plastic with me and be able to travel anywhere in the world, eat what I want, do what I want, connect with everyone I know from wherever I am, not have to worry about my personal safety and not have to carry a weapon with me all the time. More than anything else, I am very thrilled to be in a jetliner, cruising at well over thirty thousand feet, drinking juice and relaxing on my ten hour flight that took Columbus months to cover. I love the speed of modern life, and the blessings that come with it. I love the fact that automated systems are in place to ensure very little error, and allow very little scope for human intervention and inefficiency.

Not long ago, I happened to be in Jomsom, Nepal, and I had plenty of admiration for the natural beauty of the place and the extreme weather conditions there, the howling wind, the ultra clean but hostile landscape, clear blue skies and the sheer expanse of land, mountain and sky around. Yet it was not nice to be locked in for three days because no plane would land or take off, the water would freeze in the pipes, and the heating in one of the most modern lodges there was absolutely inadequate. It was to say the least, ridiculous. This kind of misery has my full condemnation.

The escape was finally provided by a jeep willing to brave the hammering on a rocky path designed to break backbones, and a day long journey through spectacular landscapes consisting of walking, riding on the back of motorcycles, and finally, an old car that brought me and my companions to civilization. I am all for warm climates, low altitude, motorized transport, reliable water supply, and above all, hygiene, even if it comes at a price.

Extremes apart, there is no justification in my humble opinion, to keep anybody poor and impoverished, ill informed and in perennial physical hardship, to be part of a landscape that richer tourists from relatively well off places can come and 'explore'. Nothing could be more condescending than keeping one part of the world backward for the others to enjoy in their own selfish way. I am all for development that brings basic safety, health and hygiene, education, communication and transportation to each and every person on this planet, so that we may indeed live in a connected world. When I see people struggling for survival in a place that is infested by tourists from all over the world, it makes me angry, for we have reduced those people to caged animals in a zoo that serve no purpose but our vicarious pleasure in going to places that are still "caught in a time warp".

I always get the patronizing argument - "But people are happy there!". Another blatant lie. What we see in people in places with a lot of physical hardship is resignation. They are happy to have guests like us, and they are happy to be nice to us, but their life of hardship is hardly one they would celebrate. Taking the example of Nepal alone, there are more Nepalese people in India than in the whole of their own country, and you can safely assume none of them came to India as tourists and fell in love with the allure of ancient India!

Offered a chance to make one's life better, most human beings, no matter where we live, would choose to take the opportunity. It is the way we are made. It is the reason we develop, it is the reason we span the cosmos in our thinking today - because we want all the time to be better off. To assume that another human being is absolutely content in his backwardness reeks of a lack of understanding of human nature. I am all for innocence, but not when it is due to ignorance. Look at villages in India today that are full of televisions and cellphones. Is anybody complaining that they have too much communication? Hardly! So, let's give them more development, and see what magic works its way to every person in the world.

Every development brings progress. There may be mistakes along the way, but that is just the price to pay for a pioneering nature that is inherent to human beings. That price is hardly the reason to retard ideas of progress. Take this blog for example. Without the internet, my thoughts wouldn't reach you so quickly, so elegantly and definitely not so cheaply. Can you imagine me mailing clay tablets to millions of people? I don't want to be the guy who has to walk twenty miles for water every day. That is not a beautiful life, unless you are one of those heartless people who watch humans on Discovery with the same mentality as watching other species.

I am especially appalled at the way white people travel to remote places, mix with natives who don't have any of the modern tools they are accustomed to, and paint romantic notions and wax eloquent about the peace and the beauty and the wonderful things that life offers in a place like Sub Saharan Africa. Quite honestly, it disgusts me that they would come up with descriptions like this for if it were half true, guess how many people would want to live there. The fact is, it is damn hard to make a living out of those hostile environments, and the room to negotiate is severely limited by the conditions. There is no way you can find yourself a bargain even for the simplest tasks. I definitely do not want to fight with animals for my right to survive and I definitely don't intend to piss off any wild animal with a bite force of over four hundred pounds per square inch.

To me, coming from a fairly developed world, while visiting backward places on the face of this earth, although coccooned by 'unspoilt' environs, it is just plain hypocrisy to see people suffering physically when technology should have provided basic creature comforts a long time ago. Go for a trek in one of Nepal's famous trekking routes and your breath will be taken away by the natural beauty of the Himalayan land. At the same time, there is really no beauty in the backbreaking work performed by individuals carrying barrels of water to a lodge just so that its customers can wash. That is what makes Nepal a backward country. I didn't see any Sherpas delirious to be working like donkeys, and though they had a sense of humour, I didn't see them delighted to be there. It is impossible to have physical and mental energy for a good time when you are not having a good time, it is as simple as that.

I expressed the notion that they ought to do something about so many tourists coming there and spending money and how they could perhaps think of a way to build a pumping system of some sort so they could have running water. The full extent of the explanation I got was that pipes would freeze. Now that is what I call a numbskull answer - to be defeated by the question even before considering the possibility. That mentality is also a symptom of backwardness. We need to get people out of this mentality on top priority, or it will retard the progress of all of mankind. When you pay over $100 a night, you should bloody well be able to get running water anywhere in the world, especially when there are thousands of fools willing to show up and shell out this kind of money. It is just the "cannot do" attitude that gets me mad. By the way, there is enough running water even in the most miserably cold places in all the developed countries, so it is not as if there are any genuine challenges beyond the lack of will.

We have cut down millions of trees, denuded millions of acres of rainforests, and raped the earth for minerals. I would rather do all this and expect to live 75 years rather than have to live in the midst of and fight nature on a daily basis and expect to croak at 32! I'm all for saving the environment, but I'm not about to forget the gifts that being modern and science have brought us. Many diseases we had no clue about, we completely avoid these days. We fix our broken bodies, heal tortured minds with therapy, kill pain with medicines, and can pass on knowledge to others in a matter of seconds.

Indeed, we run the world with concepts of money and the promise of wealth based on ideas, and we have amassed weapons of unbelievable destructive power at the cost of ignoring millions of us who have rather pressing needs, and we as a race have destroyed a great deal of our own planet, but we know of this destruction only because of our modern science. We have learnt about the environment and ecology and delicate balances of natural equations only because we have studied the cosmos with the aid of many modern tools. It is not for nothing that we are the most advanced species on this planet, and look forward to connecting with intelligent life forms from extra terrestrial origins.

Very romantic indeed the notion that old is gold! Old is rubbish, the new is always to be welcomed. It is the way of the world, and has been the way of the universe for ever. The human race has pioneered a great deal of change, and the only way forward is to accelerate progress, not retard it. Yes, but at what cost? - ask the detractors, and many misled environmentalists. At any cost, would be my consistent reply, for without trusting our ability to develop with responsibility, we wouldn't be able to trust one another at all. The empires of old were built on this inherent mistrust of "other" human beings. The wasted investments in offensive capability were all built on mistrust. There is no place for this mistrust in ourselves. Today's internet generation has less room for animosity because they are able to connect with one another much more easily, and get to know the world and their place in it - much more than any classroom can ever teach.

Why is it that backward thinkers are always worried about countries losing their cultures, and people losing their moral compasses? I am all for today's culture that doesn't allow public executions, looks down upon open drains, and lays down laws to make people physically safer from other humans. Sure, child pornography would not be a multibillion dollar industry without the internet, but that is not the fault of the internet. The perverted mind is the problem when it chooses to use the internet for pornography instead of something better! The emperors of old had harems of women and a multitude of children to be forever tarnished as the king's descendants, but without any royal rights. Talk about ancient glory if you were one of those! We burnt widows along with their dead husbands in those days. I'm not sure how many of those women would have politely refused a chance at a longer life in order to maintain their tradition.

The human race will expand its presence to other planets. It is inevitable and it is the best ambition to have. We have no business thinking we should be confined to the limitations of our own beloved Mother Earth. Not just for giving our race a chance of surviving beyond the spectre of being hit by a meteor that could wipe out life on earth as we know it, but for the chance of finding out what might lie elsewhere. Genetic engineering and stem cell technology will give us a new wave of knowledge to put away some really challenging diseases and medical problems, some of them permanently. But we have even today, some people as significant as the leaders of advanced countries, standing in the way with typically idiotic and dogmatic resistance to these developments. We have not been gifted the intelligence and the resources to finally allow dogma to hold ourselves back from being all we can be as entrepreneurs and pioneers.

There is nothing in the human make up to suggest we should be satisfied with what we have. There is no place for misplaced guilt and other assumed emotional reservations in our quest for newer horizons. We deserve it, and the universe that gave us our capabilities deserves it. The way forward is to shed all exaggerated reverence for all things that don't serve us properly. Ancient knowledge doesn't become wisdom just because it is ancient. It needs to undergo as much if not greater scrutiny by our modern minds.

Monday, October 13, 2008

What meltdown?

This financial "m e l t d o w n" that our media loves to directly copy from American media is to say the least, comical. Why can't the fools who get paid insane amounts of money to serve as financial experts see a bubble when it is blowing sky high? It isn't as if Wall Street didn't know this was coming. But nobody wanted to poke the balloon and question the unreality of banks that lent fifty times their asset base, and obviously American borrowers were stupid enough to buy homes they could not afford now, but based on how much their precious homes would be worth thirty years down the line!

Stupidity - and this is fast becoming my favourite word - is always expensive. The speculative optimism of American people doesn't border on stupidity, it is entrenched and enshrined in it. Just after Sept 11
th, I had a conversation with an American man - I told him I wanted no part of the American Dream where each citizen owed an average of $36,000. He brushed off my concern and said his money was making him more than he was paying for. In other words, he was telling me that his investments were raking in good returns while he was paying a small interest on the money he owed. Of course that means some bank was being a sucker and he was in a good part of the food chain, where he could essentially grow fat without doing much.

Somehow, in a connected world, when you are unproductive, you tend to get your arse kicked sooner or later. Sure enough, American banks went crazy over easy money they were making based on home values bloating all over the place, and it is such a great economy that there were a great number of people buying homes, and then refinancing them to pocket a good chunk of money every so many years, and the few that weren't able to pay were becoming an acceptable percentage of repossessions. Now, in a bad economy, which Bush and Co. ensured Americans would face, people's confidence tends to sag as incomes aren't as rosy as they used to be, and jobs are harder to come by as more and more money went to Iraq and for buying oil!

So, a lot of loans went bad, and repossessions meant nothing when there were no "other customers" to push those homes to. The bubble had already burst but nobody was willing to use the word "recession" in case it threw people into a bigger panic. See, it is all about perception, and relying on perception instead of knowledge is .. you said it, "stupidity". The stock market is all about perception too. Stock value is buoyed up by the perception of a company doing well and how badly people want or do not want to be a part of that company. Fair enough if things are going well. But when one thing connects to another and big lending institutions like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have to face the reality of having bet on the bubble, all they get is soap water.

So, Bush, after pissing away billions in Iraq, and having done nothing to improve his country's competitiveness or productivity (America consumes 6% to 7% more than it produces), knowing fully well that the Chinese own the 3 trillion dollars of credit card debt that Americans have all accumulated, did nothing but put on a show for the fools watching the
superfool on TV. The reason he could afford this luxury was because for nearly the entire second half of the last century, America was the engine for the world's economy, by the power of consumption alone. But to get to the bottom of it all, at some point, laziness comes at a price, and when America isn't quite as productive as it once was, it is bound to be forced to correct itself. Add high oil prices to this mess, and Americans are really being squeezed - because, guess what, surprise, surprise, they also consume the most oil per capita! (It is another matter that the USA with 4% of the world's population also consumes 25% of the world's energy)

So, as money kept drying up in American institutions, others stepped in to lend, because who doesn't want the animal that consumes so much? It's like a bar loves big drinkers, but doesn't like drunkards! As if debt is going to really mean anything if the borrower commits suicide! That suicide is what is being prevented by Bush and Co. with this famous 700 billion dollar "bailout", but the joke continues beyond the American tax payer!

This is what the "liquidity crunch" is really due to. Americans could show their houses as their "piggy banks" (to quote George
Soros) and keep borrowing and spending out of notoriously good "refinancing" schemes! But when the housing bubble burst, everything went down the toilet rather fast! Houses were suddenly worth less, or worthless depending on how candid you want to be, and banks couldn't do much beyond gawk, since there were hundreds of such bad loans and nobody to palm the bad loans off to, based on these houses!

Since most banks are international institutions now, money flows across borders quite a bit in this free market economy we have all signed on for. It is all nice and dandy when our products and services are being consumed by others, and when we are raking in the money, but not quite so nice when we lend to unproductive fools. Luckily India doesn't usually lend to unproductive fools, and we are rather tight
fisted about giving out large loans based on sentiments. That is the reason our economy here in India is fundamentally sound and nearly impossible to whip up to any frenzied activity - in growth or in decline. We are, thankfully, like financial donkeys.

The clowns on
Dalal Street that are busy selling in panic induced frenzy clearly do not have an understanding of realities beyond their own sentiments. The idiots who spread rumours about ICICI going down, without even checking the facts on the ground, sent text messages to people that their insurance companies were going down are nothing but idiots who suddenly see themselves as "global" carriers of panic, who reel under imaginary winds of enormous change, who almost by whim or fashion, have to react to something like this, just in case they don't look out of place!

Quite staggeringly, there are a lot of people here in India, that seriously believe America will not pay that heavy a price for its follies. They feel that some "innovative" move will give them a genius break out of this and somehow the American financial flag will fly high again very soon. That is not a bad wish, and this is not to piss on the optimism or wish anything bad on American people, but from my understanding of "fundamentals" of any economy, you have to produce more than you consume in order to be competitive.

America needs to find a way to become competitive again. It is as simple as that, but for that to materialize, a lot of things have to fundamentally change, starting from curing the fever of betting a large amount of money on speculation of unending growth. That kind of growth is no longer happening in America. It is happening in India and China, but both these countries have such enormous cushions of populations that are coming into new habits of consumerism coupled with good, traditional, conservative fiscal sense, that there is hope we won't repeat the mistakes of the West here in the East.

I remember the time in the 90s when the developed "world" complained that India wasn't opening up its economy soon enough, while Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Far East were doing that. I remember our wise men didn't follow suit and sure enough all tigers turned out to be made of paper and India stood strong enough. It is no different now, but there is madness in the air of this New India. Baseless madness. Financial meltdown, my left foot toe, we have a bit of a character meltdown!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Instinct vs. Intellect

A mosquito tries to sit on my ankle, and I take a swipe at it - total miss! It comes back for another try. This time I allow it to almost sit and then BAM! It's crushed! Dead! I flick it away to join the few other carcasses of its species lying on the floor already.

If I were a mosquito, it must be a scene right out of my worst nightmare - to fly to a location looking for some blood, and finding a few members of my clan dead without getting a suck! But if I were a mosquito, I wouldn't notice! I see goats being slaughtered for mutton. One goat is getting its throat cut while another is busy chewing on grass right next to it - apparently not even bothered about what could happen to it next! It almost always blows my mind away. Somewhere, something is lacking - it is called intellect.

If you as much as trapped a monkey with the cleverest contraption, it is very unlikely that the same contraption will work again with the same group of monkeys. Monkeys have ample instinct, but they have a great deal of intellect as well, and that is why they have adapted and survived in the face of so many challenges. (Now let's not argue "instinctively" that so have mosquitoes, because there are other reasons for that.)

I have heard this all too common gripe against "boring intellectuals" who have nothing but thoughts and some of them very sophisticated indeed. Quite commonly, a lot of popular people, particularly in the performing arts, like to talk about how they have a "gut feeling" or an "instinctive take" on something and they just run with it, imparting a side note that they're not really thinking about it that much. Somewhere along the line, this gets translated to many susceptible minds that the brain is somehow an impediment to great artistic achievement and the instinct has far greater potential than intellect. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Luck plays a major factor in the outcome of an artistic adventure, no doubt. But that is hardly a case for supporting an approach that lacks in thought and is fraught with risk. Of course "method" can only go so far. But for the ones not naturally gifted with an easy understanding, method is the donkey's approach to doing what it takes. That is really as intellectual as it needs to get.

The brain isn't always the hero either. A reflex action is controlled by the spinal cord, before the brain even has the time to get the information about the stimulus. It is a brilliant way to save our lives when we are suddenly thrown off balance, but hardly of any use when figuring out what to do with your life. The few who trust their instincts and ignore their intellect usually end up in jail or correctional facilities. The few who succeed by listening to their "inner voice" aren't a product of their instincts alone. They had the acumen to push their charmingly realized visions towards measurable goals and achievable milestones. They created their own lives. The brain was not playing second fiddle there!

We love people who are a bit ready to fly off the cuff, since there is something unpredictable about the output, and we love to see that unpredictability in other people's attempts, just to keep it interesting for us. But beware of those who advice you against using your brain and trusting your "gut instinct". When I get angry, my "gut instinct" normally tells me to punch someone in the face or sometimes even jam my palm against the nose! Extend this some more and we should love people who murder on impulse, rape on an uncontrollable sexual instinct, and commit many horrendous crimes against humanity!

People who excel at anything are usually the ones willing to put their brains to work. If they use their instincts to propel them to the pinnacle, that is usually when they have completely gone as high as their understanding has taken them, and they are willing to take a bit of risk to understand some more by going into the regions yet not experienced by them.

Intellect is informed by and craves for knowledge, while belief is often instinctive, and therefore almost always blind. I always worry when someone expresses belief as a necessary component to success. Only knowledge can give us the tools to succeed, not belief. There was a time when the majority of the world's population believed the earth was flat. It took knowledge to dispel that stupid belief. Any time knowledge steps in, belief loses its value. So if you believe in God, believe in yourself, believe in democracy and all that stupid nonsense that has been thrust upon you, know that knowledge might be just around the corner that will force you to quickly give up your beliefs!

If you believe to an extent where you are driven by it, particularly if you are pursuing a "dream" like being an actor, or lead a life where your progress depends on how others perform in a circus of permutations and combinations, then know that your belief played no part in your success or failure. It is true that everybody who succeeded talks about having faith and belief in their inevitable success, but then, that is because everybody who pursues a goal where intellect does not play a decisive part somehow turns to belief for motivation!

Your father released three million sperms into your mother. Only you swam into the egg that ovulated and eventually became you. I wonder if you believed more than the others! But, if you're good enough to beat three million rivals in one race for survival, you can usually do pretty well amongst human beings - as long as you know what the odds are. For knowing the odds, you have to turn to statistics - a very cerebral, truth filled subject that relies on measurable data and numbers!

The next time you are about to make fun of that "boring intellectual" sort of guy, remember that he can afford to be boring once in a while whereas you instinctive clowns out there have to be interesting all the time for others to even notice!