Sunday, May 13, 2012

Just like ours

New Guinea is the second largest island in the world. It has a line of mountains at its centre which are surrounded  by plains. Till the 1920s, it was thought that people only lived in the plains and the mountains were too inhospitable for people to live. It was then discovered that there were actually two mountain ranges at the center running parallel to each other. In-between them was a plateau with many fertile valleys where lived about a million Stone Age people who had been cut-off from the rest of the world for thousands of years. Both the highlanders and plains people were equally surprised to meet each other. In The Language Instinct, there is a description of what the highlanders thought about their discoverers:
The highlanders conferred intensively, trying  to agree upon the nature of the pallid apparitions.  The leading conjecture was that they were reincarnated ancestors or other spirits in human form, perhaps ones that turned back into skeletons at night. They agreed upon an empirical test that would settle the matter."one of the people hid," recalls the highlander Kirupano Eza'e, "and watched them going to excrete.  He came back and said, 'Those men from heaven went to excrete over there.' Once they had left many men went to take a look. When they saw that it smelt bad, they said, 'Their skin might be different, but their shit smells bad like ours.'"
I often resort to the 'Feynman manoeuvre' when watching Indian politicians on T.V. I watch their minions clapping their hands for some standard pablum. I will look at the large crowds listening attentively to the speeches and wonder how many have been brought in by the truckload, how many fit Gabbar Singh's description of Jai and Veeru in the film Sholay - kiraye ke tattoo. There will be numerous people falling at the feet of The Leader and I  will keep thinking how embarrassed I would be if people kept falling at my

I will do similar things while watching American politicians. I will not pay much attention to the speeches. Instead I look at the crowd clapping rapturously at the thunderous bromides of their messiah. I watched the State of the Union address of the American President a couple of times. The fun part for me was the sight of the rich and powerful of Washington standing up to clap and sitting down every couple of minutes. I wonder how those with dodgy knees manage.

You must be wondering what some remote New Guinea tribe has to do with Indian and American politicians. It occurred to me  that their skin might be different, but their shit is just like ours (that is, if you ignore the elephantine statues). Stimulating democratic debate is not what you get.

when the obsequiousness goes to extreme lengths, one witnesses the strange scenes seen in North Korea after the death of Kim Jong il. Actually it is difficult to interpret the scenes of sobbing. On the one hand , the grief might be genuine because the people are so brainwashed and cut off from the rest of the world that they actually seem to believe that their country is paradise on earth. (The video at that link is surreal.) On the other hand, they may be acting because if they don't sob in front of the cameras, they may be thrown into the dungeons.

I heard that when Kim Jong-il was  alive, his father, Kim Il-sung, who had died in 1994 was President. (I heard this in a speech by Hitchens.) According to Wikipedia, Kim Jong il was proclaimed the Eternal General Secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea and Eternal Chairman of the National Defence Commission in 2012.

1 comment:

  1. You can conduct the same experiment using history instead of geography as the basis. It is amazing how similar people have been over the last 100s of years and how they respond pretty much similarly to the same incentives (power, money, religion, etc.).

    Actually, it is not amazing. We are just wrongly taught to believe that time and space make a difference. Perhaps we should tell our kids - "...just like ours"