Saturday, October 31, 2015

Education is not a panacea - I

In the  documentary Ram ke Naam, the sensible statements were often coming from those with little literacy and the medieval statements were often being made by the educated.  ('Education' is a flattering word to describe what is imparted in many schools and colleges in India.) Many of the vicious, misogynist, jingoistic comments by trolls on Twitter are by college-going students. Educated, middle-class people take great pride in flaunting their religiosity and finding modern ideas in ancient texts. Meera Nanda points to the peculiar mind-set of many Indians who have an inferiority complex with respect to Westerners which causes them to wear a superiority complex. As she says in Geek Nation by Angela Saini:
'For an ordinary believer, it's just faith.  They don't need to explain it. But there's a certain class of people coming up that need to justify their faith, who need to somehow intellectually put into words why they believe. It's more of a disease of educated people.'
Educated people have the same biases that everyone else has but are often in a position where they can cause much damage. The female-male sex ratio looks worse in some of the more developed parts of the country. Dowry pressure is quite common among the educated. Many of the educated rich seem to have an attitude similar to a comment I heard by a character in a novel by Kiran Nagarkar, 'With great fortitude we bear the misfortunes of others'. Caste, class and regional feelings are very much present among the educated. A Lancet study pointed out the disturbing possibility that recent increases in literacy and Indian per-person income might have contributed to increased selective abortion of girls.

In this video, Ashis Nandy says that more than 95% of the causalities in riots have been in cities, where the majority of the educated live, and not in the villages, where the majority of the population lives. These riots are orchestrated and  directed by the educated. The instances of public apathy, where lots of people look on with exemplary restraint while atrocities are committed in front of their eyes, seem to happen mainly in cities. There are many regressive practices in villages but these sordid realities of cities also cannot be ignored.

Incidents of drunk driving where poor pavement dwellers get killed and the educated perpetrator walks away without remorse happens in cities. There were many insensitive reactions after Salman Khan got convicted in a hit and run case. The most appalling comment was made by the singer Abhijeet, a person who one would have thought was educated enough and well-travelled enough to have some idea of the harsh realities outside his cocoon: 'If a dog sleeps on the road, it will die a dog's death. The poor and homeless must not sleep on roads... I too was homeless once, but never slept on road.'

I heard in a talk by the Dalai Lama that over 200 million people were killed by violence in the last century and most of these were at the hands of educated people. Educated people seem to be more likely to drool over terrible weapons that cause immense destruction somewhere far away and over the costly ceremonials of state power. I was shocked by this report that there is brisk sales of Mein Kampf in Delhi with some management students seeing it as "a kind of success story where one man can have a vision, work out a plan on how to implement it and then successfully complete it".  If education is only about learning skills at the cost of basic human values then there is something rotten at the core of modern education.

Educated people often say that Human Rights groups should not interfere with the working of security forces especially in remote areas. They are ignoring the fact that without checks and balances any group, whatever its ideology, becomes coercive. It is human nature. As Primo Levi says in The Periodic Table, ' is a centaur, a tangle of flesh and mind, divine inspiration and dust.' It is the job of Human Rights groups to ask questions that security agencies find uncomfortable. If they have an amicable relationship with the security agencies, it means that they are not doing their job.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Changing one's mind

You can get some good stuff on the Internet and a lot of garbage. Sturgeon's law  that 90% of everything is crap is more applicable to the Internet than anything else. The other day, I came across a comment by Gandhi which is one of the good stuff.
I would like to say to the diligent reader of my writings and to others who are interested in them that I am not at all concerned with appearing to be consistent. In my search after Truth I have discarded many ideas and learnt many new things. Old as I am in age, I have no feeling that I have ceased to grow inwardly or that my growth will stop at the dissolution of the flesh. What I am concerned, with is my readiness to obey the call of Truth, my God, from moment to moment, and, therefore, when anybody finds any inconsistency between any two writings of mine, if he has still faith in my sanity, he would do well to choose the later of the two on the same subject.
Some time back, for some reason, I saw the the titles of a couple of my old posts and couldn't recall what it was all about. After I read the posts, I remembered having typed some sentences in it but for the most part it seemed as if I was reading someone else's post. So it is entirely possible that you may come across inconsistencies in my views. If so, Gandhi has the answer.

It has become the norm to regard changing one's view as a sign of weakness. Our first instinct when shown our contradictory statements is to somehow show that both mean the same thing. Talk shows often have one politician saying that another had said something in the past that is opposite to what he is saying now. I think that it is ok to change one's mind  provided of course that it is based on experience and reason and not due to political convenience depending on whether one is in the Government or in the Opposition.

For example, Arun Jaitly said when in the Opposition that disruption was a legitimate form of parliamentary protest but now he is against disruptions. If he holds on to the changed view whenever he finds himself in the Opposition then the change of mind is credible.

Faith is a realm in which minds are very difficult to change,  with scientific information that contradicts a cherished belief leading people to doubt the study in question. In psychology, the motivation to resolve conflicting ideas is called cognitive dissonance and it leads us to try and resolve the contradiction in whichever is the most personally satisfying way, rather than whichever is the most in tune with reality.

Many people revel in mysteries. Some look at them as challenges to be solved; some like them for their own sake, thinking, like Keats, that explaining a rainbow in terms of its prismatic colors destroyed the beauty of a rainbow. Keats wrote, 'Do not all charms fly / At the mere touch of cold philosophy?' They don't want to change their minds about a mystery and would prefer to be left alone in ignorance. In Unweaving the Rainbow, Richard Dawkins talks of an incident when Michael Shermer publicly debunked a famous TV spiritualist:
The man was doing ordinary conjuring tricks and duping people into thinking he was communicating with dead spirits. But instead of being hostile to the now unmasked charlatan, the audience turned on the debunker and supported a woman who accused him of 'inappropriate'behaviour because he destroyed people's illusions. You'd think she'd have been grateful for having the wool pulled off her eyes but apparently she preferred it firmly over them.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The 2015 Ig Nobel Prize Winners

The Ig Nobel Prize is for achievements that first make people 'LAUGH then make them THINK.' It is more interesting than the Nobel Prizes. This year's winners are:

  1. CHEMISTRY PRIZE - for inventing a chemical recipe to partially un-boil an egg.
  2. PHYSICS PRIZE - for testing the biological principle that nearly all mammals empty their bladders in about 21 seconds (plus or minus 13 seconds). 
  3. LITERATURE PRIZE - for discovering that the word "huh?" (or its equivalent) seems to exist in every human language — and for not being quite sure why. 
  4. MANAGEMENT PRIZE - for discovering that many business leaders developed in childhood a fondness for risk-taking, when they experienced natural disasters (such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, and wildfires) that — for them — had no dire personal consequences. 
  5. ECONOMICS PRIZE — The Bangkok Metropolitan Police [THAILAND], for offering to pay policemen extra cash if the policemen refuse to take bribes.
  6. MEDICINE PRIZE - for experiments to study the biomedical benefits or biomedical consequences of intense kissing (and other intimate, interpersonal activities). 
  7. MATHEMATICS PRIZE - for trying to use mathematical techniques to determine whether and how Moulay Ismael the Bloodthirsty, the Sharifian Emperor of Morocco, managed, during  the years from 1697 through 1727, to father 888 children.
  8. BIOLOGY PRIZE - for observing that when you attach a weighted stick to the rear end of a chicken, the chicken then walks in a manner similar to that in which dinosaurs are thought to have walked. 
  9. DIAGNOSTIC MEDICINE PRIZE - for determining that acute appendicitis can be accurately diagnosed by the amount of pain evident when the patient is driven over speed bumps. 
  10. PHYSIOLOGY and ENTOMOLOGY PRIZE — Awarded jointly to two individuals: Justin Schmidt [USA, CANADA], for painstakingly creating the Schmidt Sting Pain Index, which rates the relative pain people feel when stung by various insects; and to Michael L. Smith [USA, UK, THE NETHERLANDS], for carefully arranging for honey bees to sting him repeatedly on 25 different locations on his body, to learn which locations are the least painful (the skull, middle toe tip, and upper arm). and which are the most painful (the nostril, upper lip, and penis shaft).