Obligation to beat long odds

Then, there’s this other Gramscian dimension to your thought. He once said, “In the medium of the intellect, I am a pessimist, but when it comes to the medium of the will, I am an optimistic.” There’s this seesawing back and forth of the extreme pessimism and extreme optimism.

I see that in your work, too. You’re an Italian who came to the US with such high hopes. In many ways, you love it, but in other ways, you’re deeply disappointed. You keep on seeing the unities between US and Italy, corporations and government, and the practical pessimism of this state of affairs. Yet, you’re propelled to do something about it by writing, speaking, being a public figure, and so on.

That would be like my two‑minute version of who you are, what you do. What do you say to that?

That was how Tyler Cowen described Luigi Zingales to Zingales himself. He called it the two-minute version. The full interview is here.

If the battle of the will and the intellect applied to many in the U.S. and Italy, it must be more applicable to the millions toiling away in India, outside India and for India.

Strangely, it found some resonance in this lovely article that Jason Zweig about himself and his work. It was first written more than two years ago.

My senior year of college, my father was dying of lung cancer. Most weekends, I would take the train up from New York City to Fort Edward (then the nearest train station to where I grew up in rural upstate New York).

On one of my last visits, even as my father was in severe pain, he asked me the same question he always did: What are you reading?

I fluffed my feathers a bit and said: Kierkegaard. “What is he telling you?” asked my dad. I had just been reading a volume of Kierkegaard’s journals on the train, immersed in the poetic ruminations of the great Danish philosopher. So I immediately spouted, verbatim and with the appropriate pauses for world-weary effect, the words I still remember to this day: “No individual can assist or save the age. He can only express that it is lost.”

Without a moment’s hesitation, my dad retorted: “He’s right. But that’s exactly why you must try to assist and save the age.”

In that one moment, my dad put a callow youth gently in his place, out-existentialized the great existentialist and gave me words to conduct a career by.

Only years later did I understand fully what he meant: We can’t assist or save the age, but the attempt to do so is the only way we have of even coming close to realizing some dignity and meaning for our lives. The longer the odds, the greater the obligation to try to beat them.

I am sure that Jason Zweig would not have failed to realise the paradox of his last sentence. ‘The longer the odds; the greater is the obligation to try and beat them’ is context-specific. The odds of beating the market in finance is long. Jason Zweig would not advice an investor to do nor is making returns from an overvalued market an outcome with short odd. It is a long-odd outcome. Jason Zweig would not advise that either. In the context of ‘saving the age’ or ‘serving the nation’, it is perfectly apt.

Koenraad Elst Speaks

Extracts from remarks of Prof. Koenraad Elst in conversation with Sandeep Balakrishnan.
This power equation was aggravated by the passivity of the Hindu Nationalists. As the only nationally organized Hindu force, they claim to be the vanguard of Hindu society. If so, they should not be proud of their achievements in this field, where Hinduism has only been losing ground. They have never invested in scholarship…. But organized Hinduism has produced nothing except some obscurantist repetition of scripture as if it were history.
Western linguists who support a more westerly Homeland (hence an Aryan invasion from there into India) ignore the findings of Harappan archaeology. The latter only confirms a complete cultural continuity since before the Harappan cities and lasting through their abandonment. It has failed to find a single trace of Aryans entering India.
Most people don’t judge a theory by whether it is true, but by the company it puts them in. If a truth is spoken by a despised group, they will feign to oppose this truth, and even interiorize that position. So, anyone desiring to be in the good books of the international establishment, will oppose an Indian Homeland.
Unlike the American Indologists, who are hand in glove with the Indian secularists and openly partisan, these European linguists know little of Indian politics and would be open to pro-Indigenist arguments on merit. They would only demand that these are methodologically sound.
And this makes me think of one more important aspect of the Aryan debate. A debater confident of his position will seek to debate the strongest version of the opposing position.
If Hindus want to get anywhere with their Aryan debate, the first thing needed is a moratorium on mentioning anything from the colonial period. All the noise about Max Müller only serves the laziness of people who don’t want to acquire the skills to research ancient history.
It is a fact, though, that the Modi government and its local dependencies do give the impression of promoting, or at least of giving space to, backward tendencies. There are plenty of Hindus with very backward attitudes and beliefs. That is partly the revenge of a deliberate choice made long ago by Guru Golwalkar. He had a very anti-intellectual prejudice (“do you need to read a book to love your mother?”), which became official policy of the RSS, and as they never listen to feedback; that has remained effective till today.

Just watch how Hindutva spokesmen perform in TV debates: their communication skills are dismal, because they have always despised intellectual work, both in scholarship and on the media front.

Great call for reflection

Anand Giridhardas’ speech recorded in March 2015 and posted at TED talks came to me from my wife and from another friend. I went through the transcript. A well scripted speech. Much needed. I am not sure if there is a practical call for action, though, and even if it were one, if it would happen. But, please do listen to the speech if you had not listened. It is time well spent.

The ideal economist

The master-economist must possess a rare combination of gifts…. He must be mathematician, historian, statesman, philosopher — in some degree. He must understand symbols and speak in words. He must contemplate the particular, in terms of the general, and touch abstract and concrete in the same flight of thought. He must study the present in the light of the past for the purposes of the future. No part of man’s nature or his institutions must be entirely outside his regard. He must be purposeful and disinterested in a simultaneous mood, as aloof and incorruptible as an artist, yet sometimes as near to earth as a politician. 
Found this in the report on Economics Education prepared by the Post-Crash Economics Society at the University of Manchester.


Bigotry and selective outrage – 2

More than six months ago, I had read this interview of Sadguru Jaggi Vasudev done by Economic Times. His clarity of thought and articulation were both immensely impressive and had many lessons for listeners. I had shared the interview with my friends with the following comments:

Considering the headline that ET gave to the interview – completely incorrectly in my view – neither the interviewer nor her editor had learnt anything from listening to the Sadguru! That is why India’s outlook remains bleak. These are the ‘elites’ of India.

Six months later, nothing much has changed. As I expressed in the last two posts, the selective outrage continues. Not that one expected it to change. The drive to find new things to flay the Indian Government and the Indian Prime Minister is relentless.

The indefatigable energy is impressive at one level. But, methinks it is wholly misdirected. In fact, the risk is very high that it is counterproductive for their own goals too. In that sense, it is an energetic pursuit may be, but not a smart pursuit at all.

Here is a recent example. What exactly is a foreign policy bubble? Since when relation with Pakistan became the touchstone for diplomacy? The rise in India’s rank as the No. 1 destination for Foreign Direct Investment was a clear outcome of his efforts. Here is the news report on it.

I exchanged emails with a friend on his tweet that bigots were worse than hypocritical and selective liberals. I am not sure I understand the difference. I find the logic twisted. A selective liberal is tolerant towards some intolerance and not to others. Is that helping to reduce bigotry? It incenses bigots on one side and gives a clean pass to bigots on the other side. So, the net effect of a selective outrage expressed by a liberal is that it adds to the stock of bigotry. So, my answer is NO and if not, then aiding and abetting bigotry is worse than bigotry.

A liberal is a liberal and selective liberal is illiberal. Period.

More importantly, these labels are odious. Very few can touch their hearts and say that they are not intolerant of views that do not agree with their priors. Who is a ‘Liberal’ and who is a ‘Conservative’ are mostly unproductive discussions. In human lives, in societies and in economics, show me the full facts and I will tell you which I side lean towards.

A friend experiences a serendipitous moment

I do not have his permission yet to reveal his identity and it does not really matter. But, the content is very interesting.


Hi Ananth,
It’s funny how the divine keeps giving us hints!
Just chanced upon your review of Arun Shourie’s book, you know the one I am talking about.  Which has always fascinated me in terms of it’s attempts at reconciling the concept the God with what we see in daily life!  And by God, I mean that which is as described by Shankara, not the God that Shourie spends most of his book on.
And I have reached a somewhat unusual conclusion.  Haven’t shared it with anyone, but it was too much of a coincidence reading your thoughts today, to keep it to myself.
Should be interesting to know what you think after reading what follows  :-)
One of the statements that Shourie does make is that the experiences of great sages such as Ramana and Ramakrishna Paramahamsa were ‘merely’ their ability (Arun Shourie says by chance not ability) to access a different neural pathway in their brain than normal individuals.  He gives the example of stroke patients right?
That single statement exploded like a bomb in my head.  That single statement had a very different impact on me than what it was intended to convey.
The conclusion I reached was –
What if therein REALLY lies the answer?  That it DOES NOT matter whether they accessed their extraordinary neural pathways by luck or by ability?
The very fact that they COULD do that at all – is an amazing thing.  It then remains merely a function of somehow accessing it ourselves; it’s ‘merely’ a question of finding the right technique to do that!! After all, it is the human brain!!!  :-)
Which means it is POSSIBLE for all of humanity to do that.
Which possibly means that at least some or many (the number is not important) of our ancient practices around yoga, meditation, rituals, way of living etc, could be suggestive of / guides to techniques to access these pathways.
Which in turn aligns physical / matter and energy based ‘science’ with spiritual / metaphysical ‘experiences’.
After which I chanced upon this article in the Hindu about what is called the hologenome – Is I becoming obsolete?
Which when combined with quantum states of matter and energy, then opens up an almost infinite universe of possibilities of what is ‘experienced’ inspite of the underlying ‘reality’ being the same in terms of matter and energy.  It will only be the ‘experience’ that varies.  See the link below.
Which essentially then validates every possible combination of spiritual experiences as manifestations/ subjective experience of a single infinite one underlying ‘reality’.  Ergo  – Maya and Brahman.
Which ends up completely aligning ‘science’ – as it stands today;  and ‘God’ – as described by Shankara.
Which then basically validates all of the below
a)  Are we God?  –  Yes
b)  Are we capable of experiencing who we really are – Yes
c)  Is all reality one –  Yes
d)  If all of the above is true – do we have infinite power – Yes
What follows is the ‘scientific/logical’ and ‘religious’ explanation for the above question.
WE DONT KNOW HOW – The necessary brain pathways are not accessible to us !! Ergo – MAYA.
ONE LIFETIME MAY NOT BE SUFFICIENT TO LEARN ALL THAT IS NEEDED !!  May be a physical fact / manifestation of ‘evolution’ –  Ergo – REINCARNATION.
Do I sound mad enough?  :-)

Bigotry and Selective Outrage – 1

There are times to disagree with PBM. There are times to agree with him. This is, in my view, the time for the latter. He has written rather cogently, clearly, sharply and angrily on this one. Similarly, there is a Shekhar Gupta’s piece here.

If the facts are as mentioned, there is no justification for delay and equivocation and moral equivalences.

That said, all those who express outrage must still do their own home work. That means remembering two things:

(1) Indian media does not report all such incidents with equal promptness, passion, creativity and commitment to truth. So, you react to what they want you to react. If you do not understand this, it is time you picked up Daniel Kahneman’s ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’. Despite knowing enough about how ‘framing’ of issues influences our response, we continue to be victims of media framing issues and thus framing us!

Just think about why India’s secularism, unity and integrity were not threatened and why you did not take to Twitter when Pandits in Kashmir were raped, plundered and their places of worship ransacked and destroyed. Because, no one wrote a column in stirring prose.

The problem, in the end, is not selective reaction. It is worse. The outcome is more bitterness, more division and more disagreements and less liberal attitudes and values. There is more intolerance and hence, more bigotry. Is that what one wants to achieve with his/her self-righteous reaction? Calm reflection would help them choose the right response with the right timing and in right measure.

(2) You do not have access to full facts of the case. Sometimes, it is better to spend time gathering facts than taking to Twitter immediately to express outrage.