Lilla on the ‘Liberal’ leela

Closely related to the previous post on the matter of James Damore vs. Google, is a long piece by Professor Mark Lilla of Columbia University. It is an extract from his book being published today. It is long but it is time well spent. Google’s conduct exemplifies what he writes below:

It is time to admit that American liberalism is in deep crisis: a crisis of imagination and ambition on our side, a crisis of attachment and trust on the side of the wider public. The question is, why? Why would those who claim to speak for and defend the great American demos be so indifferent to stirring its feelings and gaining its trust? Why, in the contest for the American imagination, have liberals simply abdicated?…..

Other sentences from his piece that are worth pondering over:

As a teacher, I am increasingly struck by a difference between my conservative and progressive students. Contrary to the stereotype, the conservatives are far more likely to connect their engagements to a set of political ideas and principles. Young people on the left are much more inclined to say that they are engaged in politics as an X, concerned about other Xs and those issues touching on X-ness. And they are less and less comfortable with debate.

Over the past decade a new, and very revealing, locution has drifted from our universities into the media mainstream: Speaking as an X…This is not an anodyne phrase. It sets up a wall against any questions that come from a non-X perspective. Classroom conversations that once might have begun, I think A, and here is my argument, now take the form, Speaking as an X, I am offended that you claim B. What replaces argument, then, are taboos against unfamiliar ideas and contrary opinions…..

We must relearn how to speak to citizens as citizens and to frame our appeals for solidarity—including ones to benefit particular groups—in terms of principles that everyone can affirm……

Black Lives Matter is a textbook example of how not to build solidarity. By publicizing and protesting police mistreatment of African-Americans, the movement delivered a wake-up call to every American with a conscience. But its decision to use this mistreatment to build a general indictment of American society and demand a confession of white sins and public penitence only played into the hands of the Republican right.

Frank Bruni’s article in the New York Times (‘I am a white man; hear me out’) is a good read too.

An inner search engine for Google

The story of former Google Engineer James Damore is dominating airwaves. He was fired for writing a memo that pointed to basic gender differences as one of the explanations for why there were so few women in software. It is not just about the firing of a single employee. It is about Google. Over time, being fired from his job might turn out to be a blessing in disguise for James Damore.

I had gone through his memo. You can find it here. I found it reasonably worded and argued. I listened to the 50-minute conversation of Prof. Jordan Peterson with James Damore. Professor Peterson at the University of Toronto cited many references that supported the points that Damore had made in his memo.

David Brooks in NYT wrote a good piece as to why Sunder Pichai should resign.

James Damore wrote a piece for the Wall Street Journal as to why he was fired. It is interesting that he appeared to sympathise with Google management by blaming the ‘mob’ for ‘tying’ the hands of the management:

Upper management tried to placate this surge of outrage by shaming me and misrepresenting my document, but they couldn’t really do otherwise: The mob would have set upon anyone who openly agreed with me or even tolerated my views. When the whole episode finally became a giant media controversy, thanks to external leaks, Google had to solve the problem caused by my supposedly sexist, anti-diversity manifesto, and the whole company came under heated and sometimes threatening scrutiny.

Professor Jonathan Haidt and Sean Stevens have a comprehensive post at the Heterodox academy with a list of citations and research findings that both support and refute the points that Damore had made in his memo:

If you wanted to jump straight to their conclusion, here it is:

In conclusion, based on the meta-analyses we reviewed above, Damore seems to be correct that there are “population level differences in distributions” of traits that are likely to be relevant for understanding gender gaps at Google and other tech firms. The differences are much larger and more consistent for traits related to interest and enjoyment, rather than ability. This distinction between interest and ability is important because it may address  one of the main fears raised by Damore’s critics: that the memo itself will cause Google employees to assume that women are less qualified, or less “suited” for tech jobs, and will therefore lead to more bias against women in tech jobs. But the empirical evidence we have reviewed should have the opposite effect. Population differences in interest may be part of the explanation for why there are fewer women in the applicant pool, but the women who choose to enter the pool are just as capable as the larger number of men in the pool. This conclusion does not deny that various forms of bias, harassment, and discouragement exist and contribute to outcome disparities, nor does it imply that the differences in interest are biologically fixed and cannot be changed in future generations.

If our three conclusions are correct then Damore was drawing attention to empirical findings that seem to have been previously unknown or ignored at Google, and which might be helpful to the company as it tries to improve its diversity policies and outcomes.  What should Google’s response to the memo have been? We’ll address that in a followup post next week. [Link – all emphasis mine]

Based on her personal experience, Megan McArdle agrees with James Damore.

In short, Google had an opportunity to set an example for what it means to be truly liberal. It blew it. Perhaps, Sunder Pichai’s education, background and experience did not prepare him for facing a situation like the one he faced with James Damore’s memo. It needed a non-Engineering approach. Perhaps, a woman would have handled it better? But then, Google’s diversity officer Danielle Brown did not offer any nuanced reaction. It was a mere prelude to the firing of James Damore.

There is very little to choose between the openly intolerant and not-so-openly intolerant. In fact, the former can be handled mostly through the law-and-order apparatus and framework but the latter is insidious and, hence, probably more dangerous.

‘Lightning’ Bolt on the ground

The story of Usain Bolt’s exit from competitive athletics is a poignant one. He failed to win the 100-meters individual race and he had to limp out of the 4 *100 relay. Given a choice, he would not have wanted to script such an exit. Many of us who have admired his athletic prowess also would have wished a better exit for him. Apparently, he is also a good sportsman rather than being just a good athlete. I guess you know what I mean.

So, very few would have wanted an embarrassing and anti-climatic exit for him, as it happened. The cramps he suffered from and collapsed during the relay did not happen to anyone else although everyone was made to wait for 30 to 40 minutes in cooler weather, as Gatlin said. It happened only to Usain Bolt. Therein lies a message. There is very little that we control.

I was at the London (Kia) Oval Cricket ground in July. Sir Donald Bradman played his last innings there. He scored a 0 in his last innings. His test match average was 99.96. Had he just got 4 runs, it would have been an average of 100.0.

Sachin Tendulkar did not play a role in India’s World Cup victory in 2011 nor did he help the team win the finals in 2003. Virat Kohli could not beat the West Indies in the T-20 championships in India in 2016; did not play a role in the World Cup finals in 2015 against Australia and could not help India beat Pakistan in the Champions Trophy finals at the Oval in 2017.

Instances like these galore. There is only one message from all of these. There is very little that we control. If we remember this, we will stay grounded. If we stay grounded, the risk of a fall is almost nil.

 

ICC Champions Trophy has a new winner

The ICC Champions Trophy 2017 is over. Pakistan are the unexpected champions. Congratulations to the winners. I am not sure they are the deserving winners of the Championship, though. Sure, they played well on the day against India. But, one does not get the impression that they can sustain this. Much of the post-match commentary is emotional exultation in the victory of the underdog. There is no drama or story in the victory of the favourite team. The emotional outpouring, in itself, is a sign of the unsustainability of victory. There is still a sense of disbelief about it and correctly so. Emotions do not produce champions. Application does.

It is hard to resist the thought that the result dictates the justification of the methods and tactics and not just their intrinsic merits. Writing with the benefit of hindsight, commentators let ends justify or glorify means. In doing so, they celebrate chance; they praise brilliance but not hard work. The occasional flashes of brilliance make good copy. Sustained hard work is admirable but hard to emulate. Hence, they do not inspire poetry. But, that is what makes cricket teams and nations winners over a generation or two.

Pakistani cricketers have plenty of talent. That has never been in doubt. Over the last several decades, they have produced exceptional cricketers. Not all of them have shown application or stuck to a straight path. Only under Imran Khan did the team look like a professional outfit over a sustained period. He groomed a team although Misbah-ul-Haq and Wasim Akram had arguably better records as captains. If you are interested in the records of all Pakistan captains, then this article is for you. The current Pakistani team has plenty of question marks over sustained application. Sarfraz Ahmed, the Pakistan captain attributed the victory to God. He is right. The team does not look like it can achieve them with its efforts on a regular basis.

The victory on Sunday had lots of drama but it was not a comprehensive victory over India. For that, I would choose the Sri Lankan victory over India. That was clinical domination. Their batsmen were more systematic and purposeful than lucky. The way they deconstructed Ravinder Jadeja was impressive. Pakistan did not come anywhere close to them in the batting department. Their bowling was much more incisive, of course. More often than not, Pakistani bowlers have made the ball talk and sing. That is a compliment.

Unfortunately, the reliable Jasprit Bumrah went for twelve runs in his second over. Then, he no-balled on a delivery that took the edge and went to the wicket keeper. Inside edges missed the leg stump and ungainly heaves landed between fielders. Bails refused to fall.  Pakistan referred and got a verdict overturned. Indians thought too much about a review and did not get one. When fate reprieves a batsman who was out at three and he goes on to score a century, one must realise that it was not meant to be one’s day.

There are many interesting similarities between this match and the World Cup final of 2003. On both the occasions, the Indian captains won their tosses and invited the other team to bat first. Now, as then, India came into the finals on a high. It had decimated Pakistan in the semi-final. Here, they defeated Bangladesh rather easily. The totals of Bangladesh and Pakistan were close. Then, Zaheer Khan conceded fifteen runs in his first over, peppered with no balls and wides. Bumrah began better. But, in his second over, he emulated Zaheer Khan conceding twelve runs.  One big difference between that match and this one is that Srinath leaked plenty of runs that day whereas Bhuvanesh Kumar stood tall amidst Bumrah’s day off. India conceded 37 extras that day in 2003. On Sunday, it conceded 25 extras.

India’s top scorer – Sehwag – was run out on that day. A similar fate befell Hardik Pandya on Sunday. Against Australia, India was perhaps in the match until then. Similarly, notwithstanding Pakistan’s bowling brilliance, another five overs of Pandya and the match might have been a lot closer, even if the result would not have changed.

With the benefit of hindsight, one could talk of selection mistakes made by India. Not that they would have made a big difference to the outcome on a day like June 18. But, still good to reflect on some of the possible errors. They are not exactly Monday morning quarterback wisdom although I am writing this on a Monday morning!

The wisdom of playing two spinners is fair game for questioning. After the Sri Lankan victory over India, I did tell a few who cared to listen that Jadeja perhaps needed to be rested. He was not the same force as he was against the Australians in the Test series. He went for big runs on Sunday and eased the pressure on Pakistan when, at one stage, five overs went for just 20 runs. India was turning the tide back and Jadeja pushed it back to Pakistan. One can blame it on too much cricket but far too many cricketers in the world can complain of that these days. So, it won’t wash. In any case, his sacrifice of Hardik Pandya deserves a response from the team management. It was very unprofessional.

Whenever I watched Ashwin Ravichandran in this tournament, he did not strike me as the same bowler. His aggression was not there. I did not get the impression that he was looking for wickets. He was going through the motions anxious not to be hit for runs. Usually, when one is anxious, one’s mission fails. That is what happened to him. So, the team management could have thought harder about playing both. In fact, in one of the warm-up games, Mohammed Shami looked keen, purposeful and fit.

Similarly, Kedar Jadhav does not inspire confidence as a one-day batsman. Ajinkya Rahane and Dinesh Karthik do. Kedar’ fielding mistakes were quite a few, throughout the tournament. It goes for Yuvraj Singh too. He has done a very good job for India over the years but he has become a slow mover and does not bend down as quickly as he should or used to. In his prime, he was a brilliant fielder.

Ajinkya Rahane’s mindset impressed me the most in the fourth Test against Australia in Dharamsala when two quick wickets had fallen. It was in the fourth innings of the match. He was the captain. He came in, took charge and broke free of the mind games that small total chases play on players. He went after Hazelwood and ensured that the match went India’s way without any further hiccups. That was leadership. One must mention here the contrasting style of Ashwin Ravichandran. He dropped a sitter in the slips then and looked at the ball, looked at the skies and looked at the other players as though everyone else were to be blamed, except himself. I had noticed this tendency even in some IPL games in the past. He needs to reflect on it. Else, he cannot be a leader of men.

One final thought on cricket itself: The boundaries have become excessively short. The game has tilted far too much in favour of the batsmen. Youngsters get the message that the game is all about lofted shots with bigger bats. Just as there is a debate in tennis about the rocket frame, the cricket bat’s thickness should be circumscribed. Cricket needs bowlers. Batsmen cannot hit by themselves. Just as there is a sex ratio imbalance in some countries due to male bias, the game’s administrators should not create a batsman-bowler imbalance. It is easy to pander to the lowest common denominator of entertainment, akin to WWF Wrestling. Cricket used to be more sophisticated.

Postscript: In a blog post covering India’s defeat in a cricket match against Pakistan on Sunday, the 18th of June, it would be a big omission not to cover India’s achievements on the same day.  In the World Cup Semifinal League Hockey Match, India beat Pakistan by 7-1. Indian Badminton player Kidambi Srikanth beat an unseeded Japanese player to win the Indonesian Open Super Series title. In the semi-finals, he had defeated the top-seeded Korean player.

Viruses on campuses and in the American society – great weekend reads

(1) The Media Bubble is Real — And Worse Than You Think [Politico].

The only quibble I have with the article is that it concludes that journalists respond best when their vanity is punctured. But, far from trying to figure out why they were so vain as to miss what was happening to America, their vanity is making them tilt at the manifestation of their failure – Donald Trump. So, they are pitting their vanity against his and are directing their energies at getting him out. Russia is their trump card (pun intended). If they succeed in removing him, they think that they can exculpate themselves of the failure to anticipate his rise. Then, it would be difficult for the authors of this wonderful article to come up with another explanation as to how the media could do worse than they did in 2016.

(2) Professors moved Left in the 1990s. The rest of the country did not. Great read although it is from 2016.

While the data confirms that university and college faculty have long leaned left, a notable shift began in the middle of the 1990s as the Greatest Generation was leaving the stage and the last Baby Boomers were taking up teaching positions. Between 1995 and 2010, members of the academy went from leaning left to being almost entirely on the left. Moderates declined by nearly a quarter and conservatives decreased by nearly a third.

What is it about the boomers that they turned so irredeemably Left? Is it their success or is it guilt conscience that they achieved so much success at so high a cost to the world at large, to Planet Earth, etc.,?

(3) Heather Mac Donald’s experience at Claremont McKenna College in April 2017. It is positively scary and despairing. David Brooks is right to call it a tale of ‘chilling intolerance’.

(4) A great title: ‘Freedom from speech’ and a great line (George Will – Nov. 2015):

Campuses so saturated with progressivism that they celebrate diversity in everything but thought [Link]

(5) David Brooks is unfortunately likely to be proven right here:

These days, the whole idea of Western civilisation is assumed to be reactionary and oppressive. All I can say is, if you think that was reactionary and oppressive, wait until you get a load of the world that comes after it. [Link]

(6) On a hopeful note: this video has more than seven million views on YouTube

(Most of the links above were picked from the Twitter handle of Jonathan Haidt)

How to listen to Carnatic music?

I have a simple suggestion for the header on this Buddha Purnima day. List the very popular musicians today, go back, and listen to their concerts 10 or 15 years ago. That should, mostly, make for a very satisfying listening.

You will commit Type I errors. That is you might waste time listening to those who do not satisfy the null – ‘if an artist is popular today, he or she would have been a prodigious talent when young’. That is Type I error – accepting the null when the null is false.

You would commit Type II error too – rejecting the null, when the null is true. That is, you might reject a good artist because he or she is not popular.

You would not even be selecting them because they may not be popular today. You may not identify such artists.

But, the difference is that you would not know that you are committing a Type II error. The impossibility of the counterfactual in real life, real time!

Of course, you can choose to minimise one of the two errors as with most quality control settings. If you recall your high school statistics, you may not mind good pieces being rejected but you might be particular that no bad one seeps through.

Only, in this case, you would do the opposite.

You would probably list popular, moderately popular and mildly popular artists and listen to them from the past. You would rather listen to over-hyped talent and then reject them than let go of good talent without listening to them.

Why this sudden ‘enlightenment’? Well, today is Siddhartha Jayanti. That is probably one explanation. Ok. The real explanation is that I had bought a one-year subscription to Charsur digital archives during the Chennai Music Season 2016-17 at the NSG Mini Hall in Chennai. I was listening to Sanjay Subramanian’s ‘Shubha Pantuvarali’ from a concert in 2002. It was fabulous. That explains this blog post.

Of course, needless to add, this is not the only way to listen to Carnatic Music.

Justice A.P. Shah’s M.N. Roy Memorial Lecture

A good friend had forwarded me the full text of Shri. A.P. Shah’s M.N. Roy Memorial Lecture. You can find it here. The PDF of the speech is here.

Overall, it is a good lecture. I understand the need for someone of his stature to raise his voice against nascent signs of intolerance and suppression of dissent in insidious ways. That is very much needed too.

However,  I do have some differences – big and small.

How then did M.N. Roy understand nationalism? In Roy’s view, nationalism was representative of the desires and ambitions of a group of people within a certain geographical area, as opposed to people uniting on the basis of class. Nationalism thus emphasised the placing of one’s country’s interest over the interest of the rest of the world. There was a time in the 19th century, when countries were still isolated from each other, when nationalism was a historic necessity, under whose banner people came together and humanity progressed. However, he believed, it had now become a selfish, narrow-minded “antiquated cult”, and the world should progress towards internationalism and international cooperation.

Nationalism in the context of the rise of China and Pakistan, the manner of their rise, their systematic and persistent hostility to India combined with their use of the social media and other pecuniary motivations, is not outmoded. Unfortunately, that is also going to give rise to inevitable restrictions on the concept of ‘benefit of doubt’ to spontaneous, agenda-less dissent.

In other words, Indians have to accept certain (that can be defined) restrictions in their exercise of fundamental liberties. The State machinery will try to take advantage of the situation to place restrictions on domestic political dissent. But, Courts, civil society and the media should and would play the role of ‘checks and balance’. In any case, Justice A.P. Shah seems alive to that risk.

While discussing the declaration made by the President of the Hindu Maha Sabha that “the majority is the nation”, Roy said that it sounds quite in “tune with formal democracy”, but in reality “particularly in the prevailing atmosphere of Indian politics, it means that in a nationally free India the Muslims, constituting nearly 1/3rd of the population, will have no freedom”.

​If some sections constituted one-third and hence had to be accepted as an integral part of India – a very fair point – then it is not consistent with preferential treatment as minorities. The State cannot mandate that they shall have the first claim on India and that they be exempt from RTE provisions, for example. One cannot have the cake and eat it too.

But, the speech does leave a feeling of deliberate incompleteness when it talks of how a group of twenty-something students of a University could be tried for charges of sedition for doing what the students in a campus would do:

More than 90 years later, however, we are still grappling with the fact that the crime of sedition was invoked against a group of 20-something University students for doing what students in a campus should feel entitled to do – raise slogans, debate, disagree, and challenge each other on complex, political issues that face the nation today.

Clearly, the State should have had the nous to separate slogan-shouting from explicit anti-national activities. At the same time, the learned Justice should have noted that the shoe is on the other foot too when it comes to the charge of intolerance. The students prevented and still do prevent alternate points of view.

If nationalism cannot be compelled – and I agree with that without qualification – then is it justifiable that anti-nationalism can be compelled on national soil as some sections of the society want?

If voluntary groups of people – like students – can resort to violence (in America, now left-liberal students even consider words as violence) to stop alternative points of view, then it becomes that much more untenable for critics to blame the State alone for resorting to violence on which it is supposed to have a monopoly!

The speech would have been more complete had he also acknowledged the special circumstances that India finds itself in – an assertive and threatening China and its poodle Pakistan, the global rise of Islamic terrorism, Naxals and Maoists and the exploitation of these fissiparous tendencies by Christian Missionaries – that places the State and the army in a uniquely difficult position, etc.

Some law and order excesses would be inevitable in such situations and they should be redressed and addressed. That said, they do not negate nor nullify the need for vigilance by the State. That would be a very naive call.

Kamal Hassan in his movie, ‘Nayakan’ asks the question of who should stop first. That applies here.

M.N. Roy’s so-called and apparent context-free commitment to certain ideals definitely had a context. Anyone who claims that they were not influenced by the context in which they lived is lying. Similarly, any message that does not take into account the context in delivering eternal homilies is an incomplete one.

Indeed, all those who speak pejoratively of nationalism are able to do so only within the sanctuary offered by certain nations. That they cannot do so in all nations is a comprehensive rejection of their rejection of nationalism.

Finally, both at a micro-level – families, small groups and communities – and at the national level, compulsion is usually counter-productive. So, I agree with this part of the speech fully:

As Pratap Bhanu Mehta points out, the order fails to understand a distinction fundamental to liberal democracy – everything that is desirable or makes for a better citizen does not, and should not, be made compulsory. In fact, making something compulsory undermines the very meaning of that action and the respect that is normally accorded to it.