Jordan Peterson

Peggy Noonan has an interesting article (ht: Venugopal Ramakrishnan) on the interview of clinical psychologist and social philosopher Jordan Peterson by a British television journalist. From what she writes, I think Peterson’s work resonates with me. I listened to the interview he gave to Cathy Newman of Channel 4. He handled himself exceptionally well.

If you want to be shocked by how someone could so deliberately distort the interviewee’s words and if you do not want to watch the interview, you can read an article in ‘The Atlantic’.

I got to know of Jordan Peterson as the person who had interviewed the Google employee James Damore. Sunder Pichai fired him for posing important questions on the culture at Google. Now, Mr. Pichai says he stands by his decision. Well, I suppose, it is too early for a mea culpa. Julian Baggini has a review of his book at FT.

The sub-title of the review is: ‘A YouTube intellectual’s advice on how to live emphasises order and tradition’. That is enough to put any objective reader off. The arrogance of some of these self-styled intellectuals is blinding them to the obvious reality that it is not helping but hurting the very causes that they claim to espouse – so-called liberal values. There is nothing very liberal or liberating about putting down another person. It is cheap and vulgar. It is intolerance. There are far better, more effective and more persuasive ways of critiquing a book’s content or the lack of it.

Cathy Newman of Channel 4 and Julian Baggini have done the greatest disservice to genuinely liberal values and principles.

Peggy Noonan has an answer for Julian Baggini:

When cultural arbiters try to silence a thinker, you have to assume he is saying something valuable.

So I bought and read the book. A small thing, but it improved my morale.

As many readers-commentators in FT have said, the article in ‘The Guardian’ on his book is far more insightful. I could also read what Professor Peterson had to say about the backlash his interviewer from UK’s Channel 4, Cathy Newman, faced.

The last line of that article tells me that he is a liberal:

If Cathy is interested, maybe we could model a conversation. That would be a good thing.

That is the way to foster a dialogue.

‘Moving’ can be progress

It is often said in physical sciences that movement is not progress.  Tony Rothman had reminded us of that in his perceptive article on the myth of technological upgrades being deemed technological progress. If you had not read that article, it is worth your time doing so.

I am referring to the different kind of movement here. I am referring to ‘moving’ – moving from one house to another. That too is progress. In fact, it is spiritual progress. Doubtless, the gentleman will explain himself adequately to the satisfaction of the readers!

First, let us get the logistics out of the way. Being amateurs, we did it somewhat clumsily. Perhaps, we can learn from this experience and so too can others. ‘Moving’ houses is like a South Indian Brahmin wedding. Well, almost. It has too many moving parts (pun intended). It needs many people and many hands ideally. A lot can go wrong and if you are lucky, only some do.

Those who have made ‘moving’ a habit or have become habituated to it because their jobs forced them to, would find this post boring. They can skip most of it and move to the last part as to why moving is spiritual progress. If they are interested, that is.

Those who are compensated for their ‘move’ can choose the most expensive professional movers, assuming that high expenditure brings and means high experience and competence on the job. What does one mean by that?

First, they have to do the assessment of the task involved carefully and give an accurate estimate instead of shocking us in the end with a higher bill than their initial estimate.

Second, they need to pack each room separately, neatly, label the contents as thoroughly as possible and in as much detail as possible.

Third, importantly, they should bring as many small containers or as many and types of containers of appropriate sizes as possible to pack small items, medicines, toiletries, etc.

Especially, if you have a spouse who has a liking for small artefacts and buys all the wind chimes in the world and hangs them wherever possible in the house, they need to be packed delicately. If they have to be functional again, that is. Small things like pens, pencils, office stationary, files, etc. have to be packed in such a manner that one can set up one’s professional work-space speedily and be ‘up and running’.

Fourth, there should be a clear identification of the number of boxes per room and the total number of boxes. They have to tally with the boxes being moved and boxes being received in the new house. Ideally, there has to be a sign-off at both the ends. That is why one needs more people. Friends may not know where to arrange the stuff. But, if they are labelled correctly, they can ensure that they are stacked in the appropriate places besides ensuring that the number of boxes received match with the number of boxes loaded and packed for each room.

Fifth, if you have possession of your new house a week or even a few days in advance, you can use the time to move all precious items – these are not confined just to expensive jewellery and watches but also documents such as passports and permits.  When you safely deposit the items yourself, think of what would make you miss the most and feel sad, if lost. Take them with you. Life is full of asymmetries.

Well, it is always asymmetric. Loss aversion is more intense than anticipation of gains. The former is more painful than the pain experienced for a gain that failed to materialise. That is asymmetry. Further, we miss them when they are lost than we feel happy when they are with us. This is as true of things as it is for individuals and friendships!

Sixth, it is better to pack two or three suit cases for a few days or up to a week as though one is travelling outstation. That would enable us to pursue our commitments – workplace – easily even as we settle down and set up the new place. We won’t’ be frustrated searching for a small things such as a handkerchief or one sock in a pair!

In spite of all of the above, you may lose a few things. One hopes that it does not happen and if it does, you may not be disappointed too much. Anticipate that. It would make it easier to bear. If there is some insurance available, all the better.

Of course, no technology has been developed yet that enables one to wake up in a new home with all things neatly arranged. Be prepared for hard labour. Have small medications handy – for a sprain and for aches, in general.

A wedding is not usually an occasion for stock-taking. Moving homes is an occasion for stock-taking. It is the only time we take a hard look at the stuff that we accumulate, often mindlessly.

As you grow tired of unpacking and putting things in their proper places in the new home – all the more difficult if you are moving to a house of a smaller size – just take a moment to ask, ‘why?’. Just as work expands to fill the time available. Our possessions expand to gratify the ego, even as the latter keeps growing too! That is the problem.

We accumulate things and when we pause to think of how they would be looked after or who would look after them, after we are long gone, we won’t be acquiring much at all. Indeed, nothing is going to come with us – in Tamil, Pattinaththaar has a beautiful line for it: even an ear-less needle will not come with us on our last journey.

If moving houses forces us to ask deep questions of accumulating tendencies and of the meaning of our possessions, then moving homes will be worth it.

Sometimes, technologies help us make spiritual progress. Sometimes, they do not. Apple products are named iPhone, iMac and iTunes, etc. That is against spiritual progress. The emphasis on ‘i’ is an ego-statement.

But, services like ‘Airbnb’ and taxi services like ‘Uber’ and ‘Grab’ in Singapore remind us that what we need are services that some assets give us and that we do not need to own the assets. They make possession unnecessary and absence of possession or possessiveness is spiritual progress.

In that sense, ‘moving’ can be progress even though movement is mostly not progress. After nearly eight years of living in an independent house, I moved to an apartment this week and these were thoughts triggered by the experience of packing, moving, unpacking and settling in. The last is still work in progress and will be so, for a few more weeks!


It is quite possible to misunderstand this otherwise useful long essay that appeared in ‘Wall Street Journal’ on Saturday (Nov. 11). It is about resilience. Celebrities and successful people – now and before – have invariably had difficult childhoods – broken homes, alcoholic and abusive parents, sexual abuse, bullying in school, etc.

Before we even begin to analyse the article, we have to state upfront that the study seems confined to the American cultural or family setting. Would the results be different in other societies? Possibly.

When one reads the article carefully, one realises that hardship is neither a sufficient nor a necessary condition for success or distinction later in life. Read this carefully:

Two-thirds of these high-risk children went on to have difficulties of their own, such as delinquency, unplanned pregnancies and underemployment. One-third, however, fared well. At school and at work, they did as well as, or better than, their low-risk peers from more affluent, stable homes. [Link]

Notice that two-thirds went on to have difficulties of their own. Therefore, some might be tempted to conclude that it is a necessary condition but not a sufficient condition. If it is a necessary condition, then those who have comfortable lives as children should not be succeeding big. The evidence for that is mixed:

The Goertzels found that less than 15% of their famous men and women had been raised in supportive, untroubled homes, with another 10% in a mixed setting.

More interestingly, the one-third (see the earlier quoted text) who went on to be successful provided caring homes for their children:

In adulthood, they found supportive partners and built loving families that, often, differed greatly from the ones they grew up with.

The real issue is not whether one provides a rough or tough environment for their children to shine later in their lives. No one is going to wantonly deny their children comfort and affection, if they have a choice of providing them.

The question is whether and how one prepares them to face tough situations as and when they arise. Do we pamper, spoil them or readily provide support and not let them grow up on their own even as we stand ready to lend a helping hand when it becomes absolutely essential?

For example, when they have difficulties with their studies, do we abuse the school and teachers and bully them or encourage the children to work harder, to ask questions, to look inward and find out where they are going wrong and show them how to emerge out of it?

Some of the passages in the article reminds one of Viktor Frankl’s ‘Man’s inner search for meaning’:

Dr. Ehlers found that the extent to which prisoners had fought back in their own minds made a bigger difference than the severity of the abuse they had suffered. Those who felt mentally defeated—who felt like they were “nothing” or who quit caring what became of them—were more likely to report symptoms of PTSD later. By contrast, prisoners who had resisted from within—even if they appeared to have given up on the outside, by complying with guards or signing false confessions—fared better down the line.

So, how to enhance or cultivate resilience in children who grow up in comfortable setting? I found it hard to believe that the article does not mention the importance and usefulness of emotional security and affection that parents provide. Aren’t they supposed to be helpful for children to cope?

In fact, very successful people are usually rare. That is true by definition. So, children growing up in difficult environment can turn out to be somewhat extreme – either too successful or too badly.

Most of us will settle for our children to turn out to be moderately accomplished, emotionally stable adults who are also useful members and pillars of their community, if possible.

What do we need to do for them to tick these relatively modest goals? The article is a bit thin on that, in my view. Nonetheless, it is not empty. It offers some suggestions:

Take on long-form projects that feel like challenges rather than threats.

When life inevitably becomes difficult, own the fighter within. Resist defeat in your own mind.

Reach out to family, friends or professionals who care. … Seeking support is what resilient people do.

Engage in active coping…. Make a realistic plan to improve your situation, and work toward it day by day. Progress shores us up and calms us down.

Finally, remember the ways you have been courageous and strong.  (In other words, remember your stories of successful coping and resilience).

In sum, a useful article but if not carefully read, it can be misleading and lead to incorrect inferences too. Apologies if the article is behind a paywall. I read it because I saw a link to it in the Twitter handle of Jason Zweig.

The wisdom of Sébastian Bras for Mark Zuckerberg

The September 23rd International Edition of New York Times had two very beautiful stories. I caught up with them on my flight to Hong Kong.

The first story I want to mention here is that of Facebook. The article is aptly titled, ‘Facebook’s Frankenstein moment’. The article has some very interesting and profound sentences that should make us think of its relevance for human lives too.

The journalist writes:

If I were a Facebook executive, I might feel a Frankensteinian sense of unease these days. The company has been hit with a series of scandals that have bruised its image, enraged its critics and opened up the possibility that in its quest for global dominance, Facebook may have created something it can’t fully control.

One more:

But the troubles do make it clear that Facebook was simply not built to handle problems of this magnitude. It’s a technology company, not an intelligence agency or an international diplomatic corps. Its engineers are in the business of building apps and selling advertising, not determining what constitutes hate speech in Myanmar. And with two billion users, including 1.3 billion who use it every day, moving ever greater amounts of their social and political activity onto Facebook, it’s possible that the company is simply too big to understand all of the harmful ways people might use its products.

The last one:

When Mark Zuckerberg built Facebook in his Harvard dorm room in 2004, nobody could have imagined its becoming a censorship tool for repressive regimes, an arbiter of global speech standards or a vehicle for foreign propagandists.

These three excerpts made me think. Multiple thoughts came to my head. There are lessons in this for corporate mission and goals; for humans.

Is growth the ‘be all and end all’ for corporations? Are we in control of what we do? When we begin to do something, do we even know in what directions it would grow and how big? Do we control the process all the way through? Do we realise that? Do we even know that we don’t drive the process but the process has a mind and life of its own? In fact, it is the real intelligence and we are the artificial one! Do we grasp the play of the law of unintended consequences in life and in business?

Only if we do, we can put our hand up and say STOP and not pursue growth for its own sake. When we conscioiusly question the ‘growth’ choices (becoming big or rich or both), we will even think of why we pursue those goals – megalomania or delusions of grandeur?

Plainly put, is it ego that drives and not any other so-called rational imperative? Per se, nothing wrong with ego having a role. It always does. But, recognising that will evaluate the trade-offs and the costs better and pursue corporate goals (or, personal goals) with a sense of awarenesss.

Every time we are offered choices to grow big and fast, the alternatives are ‘grow big but at a measured pace’ and ‘stability over growth’. How do we evaluate the choices? That would make a big difference. Going back to our origins, our goals at inception would help steer us better and keep us grounded even as we fancy taking flight to higher altitudes. Again, applies as much to businesses as it does to individuals and institutions.

And, to politicians! As they become bigger and bigger players, they move furhter and further from their core values and principles. IF they look into the mirror one day, they will not recognise the face they see. How much has it been transformed and HOW and WHY?

Staying close to one’s knitting and to one’s initial goals, staying small, compact and manageable vs. growing big, these are as much philosophical decisions as they are business decisions. When we choose the latter – growing big – we do have to recognise the possibility that we won’t be in the driver’s seat.

Letting the process drive us and growing big consciously are actually two different choices. The articles give us the opportunity to think about how many of us are victims or prisoners of the former? The second one is about freedom. Are we free?

[Of course, at a macro level or economic plane, there is a problem with this philosophy. A country of India’s size needs scale. Also, conversely, while the desire and passion to grow big brings with it, its own share of problems, issues and loss of control, the motivation to stay small should also be subjected to rigorous questioning? – laziness (sloth) or lack of confidence.]

But, in the American context and in the light of what Facebook has wrought to itself, to people’s lives (most users are on big ego trips on their Facebook page unmindful of their own privacy and security), the above questions and issues are more relevant than the parenthetical sentiment.

The story of the Michelin *** Chef putting his hand up and say STOP was a beautiful contrast to the Facebook story. He is a spiritual chef.

Mark Zuckerberg – and all of us – must have a conversation with Sébastian Bras. He is only 45 years old (google search). He wants Michelin to take his three stars away. Pointedly, he said this:

I want to be liberated from the pressure.

That is it. We have found our spiritual wisdom. That one sentence can unlock many things, many of our minds including that of Zuckerberg.

‘Liberation’ is a heavily loaded spiritual term. We are all held in bondage by our desires, by our goals and by social conventions, pressures and because ‘this is how and this is what everyone does’. Liberation is about letting go. He is ready to do that, at least in this aspect. If ‘letting go’ is not spiritual, what else is?

He said he wanted to give a new meaning to his life.  Bingo!

Towards the end of the article, there are quite a few profound truths, uttered by chefs. There is something very beautiful about hearing these words from chefs because food is the biggest craving for many of us. It is a very big bondage. Here, chefs are teaching us about ‘letting go’. There is a beautiful irony in it.

Sample this:

In 2005, Alain Senderens, a founder of the nouvelle cuisine movement, decided to close Lucas Carton, his Art Nouveau restaurant on the Place de la Madeleine in Paris and abandon his three stars. He said he was fed up with the agony of perfection and wanted to do “beautiful cuisine without all the tra-la-la and chichi, and put the money into what’s on the plate.”

Fed up with the ‘agony of perfection’ – think about it.  It is not an invitation for sloppiness. Indeed, the paradox is that he would most likely make food that delight scores of customers with this mindset.

Or, sample this:

Earlier this year, René Redzepi, 39, the chef and a co-owner of Noma in Denmark, a leading light of the New Nordic movement, said he was closing his two-starred restaurant and moving it to another neighborhood in Copenhagen, forsaking his hard-earned stars. He said in an interview that it was “necessary to break down a castle in order to build a new one.”

Of course, in my book, the gold goes to Sébastian Bras:

Mr. Bras, for his part, said his decision to shun the would-be supreme court of global cuisine had been motivated by a search for serenity. He noted that while the pressure to retain three stars could be an engine for creativity, it could also prove debilitating.

“Food should be about love — not about competition,” he said. “All I want is to welcome people to my restaurant during the day, or during the night under a sky filled with stars.”

All emphasis mine.

Sébastian Bras is not just a chef. He is a Guru.

[Postscript: A friend, on reading the post promptly, pointed out that the use of the word, ‘process’ can be confusing. A process-driven path to growth (or any other business or personal goals) may actually be considered the right way to go about it rather than the one that is ego-driven or driven by convention, social pressures or peer group pressure, etc. I have used the word, ‘process’, to denote these latter, unthinking and unconscious approaches]


Confronting our profound ignorance is frustrating, but it is also crucial. It is the force driving us forward. Real progress in understanding the Universe requires recognising that every instance of our ignorance is a scientific opportunity, and then resolving to chip away at it. Advancing our understanding requires venturing beyond the edifice of current thought and opening our minds to new ideas. [Link]


It is easier to sit around in a drawing room and pontificate on how Narayana Murthy or Ratan Tata failed to let go. They hung on and want to hang on. That is the chorus. But, letting go is easier said than done. We turn the inward gaze and check. It is there. It is universal. ‘Clinging on’ is the default mode. The justification, the strength and the intensity of clinging on vary. It is there.

When friends asked me months ago whether I was prepared for the departure of my daughter for college in a faraway land, my answer was that I did not know if I was prepared or not. That was an honest answer. Now, I know that I am not prepared. Much work remains.

Mixed feelings and mixed emotions.

The justifiable part of the mix is the one that deals with the issue of familiarity. Sheer force of habit. For about eighteen years, there has been a routine, a familiar pattern. Kids go to school, come back, homework, vacation, play dates, falling sick, etc. That is about to be broken. Habits die hard. Creatures of habit that sapiens are, it takes time to adjust to the new routine. That is the easily understandable part. But, it runs deeper. More on it later.

Then, there are other feelings. Will she acquit herself well or will she self-destruct or will she fall victim to undesirable friendships and habits?  Equally, if not more importantly, will she cross the road safely looking left first? Will she be texting while walking? Will she know how to handle black ice? Will she handle the rapid onset of darkness and biting cold in the winters?

Questions and more anxious questions. These are not questions arising because of distance and faraway lands but questions of the illusion of control, of the feeling of ‘being in charge’. Which one is more laughable? The width of the range of thoughts and anxieties or the depths of ignorance?

Who controls what and who takes care of whom? A saint said in Tamil that even the hair does not obey human laws. Natural laws. Someone or something is guiding us all, including the worrier. Or, if you don’t BELIEVE, it does not matter. It happens anyway.

As the familiar pattern looks set to be disrupted (yes, that word has to be in), the mind thinks of ‘What Ifs’. What if I had stayed in India throughout my life?

The problem with WHAT IFs – they are partial differentiation calculus. Life does not work that way. One cannot change only the part that is jarring and that too for now. WHAT IFs are about total differentiation.

The struggle to adjust and adapt as the ‘familiar’ gives way to the ‘unfamiliar’ is not one of adaptation and adjustment alone. It is about remaining relevant in our children’s lives. The truth is that we would no longer be relevant. Well, not THAT RELEVANT, any more. As a mother wrote, she was the sun and her little ones were the planets revolving around her. That is not going to happen anymore. That, in the end, may be the real issue facing parents. Their increasing irrelevance, amplified and reinforced by aging and the prospect of loneliness that come with it.

This is true of all parents who were children once to their parents and all children who will be parents in future. The archer put the arrows in the Quiver. The person carrying the bow and the quiver full of arrows is not the archer. He is just as passive a participant in the ‘Leela’ (the drama) as the arrow itself because he is an arrow himself! The archer takes out the arrow, strings the bow and is ready to launch the arrow for its own journey. Some of the arrows might return to the quiver again. But, it won’t be the same arrow nor is the quiver the same, anymore.

How does one adjust to this new reality?

Some run, some drink, some pick up other habits, some learn and some get a dog. Some write blog posts!

But, is there an alternative? YES.

It can be the beginning of the journey to non-identity. Non-labels. No labels. It is a journey with no destination. It is a journey towards a JOURNEY. That remains the ideal. These episodes and milestones – important and emotionally challenging, they may be – are, in the end, reminders of that journey barely begun.

A lady who owns and runs a petrol pump in Johannesburg says that one grows when one lets go. Yes, we grow spiritually. Well, the evidence is I am barely out of the kinderschule.

The reminder follows.

Nirvana Shatakam [LINK]

Mano-Buddhy-Ahangkaara Cittaani Naaham
Na Ca Shrotra-Jihve Na Ca Ghraanna-Netre |
Na Ca Vyoma Bhuumir-Na Tejo Na Vaayuh
Cid-Aananda-Ruupah Shivo[a-A]ham Shivo[a-A]ham ||1||

1.1: Neither am I the Mind, nor the Intelligence or Ego,
1.2: Neither am I the organs of Hearing (Ears), nor that of Tasting (Tongue), Smelling (Nose) or Seeing (Eyes),
1.3: Neither am I the Sky, nor the Earth, Neither the Fire nor the Air,
1.4: I am the Ever Pure Blissful Consciousness; I am Shiva, I am Shiva,
The Ever Pure Blissful Consciousness.

Na Ca Praanna-Samjnyo Na Vai
Na Vaa Sapta-Dhaatuh Na Vaa |
Na Vaak-Paanni-Paadam Na Copastha-Paayu
Cid-Aananda-Ruupah Shivo[a-A]ham Shivo[a-A]ham ||2||

2.1: Neither am I the Vital Breath, nor the Five Vital Airs,
2.2: Neither am I the Seven Ingredients (of the Body), nor the Five Sheaths (of the Body),
2.3: Neither am I the organ of Speech, nor the organs for Holding ( Hand ), Movement ( Feet ) or Excretion,
2.4: I am the Ever Pure Blissful Consciousness; I am Shiva, I am Shiva,
The Ever Pure Blissful Consciousness.

Na Ca Praanna-Samjnyo Na Vai
Na Vaa Sapta-Dhaatuh Na Vaa |
Na Vaak-Paanni-Paadam Na Copastha-Paayu
Cid-Aananda-Ruupah Shivo[a-A]ham Shivo[a-A]ham ||2||

2.1: Neither am I the Vital Breath, nor the Five Vital Airs,
2.2: Neither am I the Seven Ingredients (of the Body), nor the Five Sheaths (of the Body),
2.3: Neither am I the organ of Speech, nor the organs for Holding ( Hand ), Movement ( Feet ) or Excretion,
2.4: I am the Ever Pure Blissful Consciousness; I am Shiva, I am Shiva,
The Ever Pure Blissful Consciousness.

Na Me Dvessa-Raagau Na Me Lobha-Mohau
Mado Naiva Me Naiva Maatsarya-Bhaavah |
Na Dharmo Na Ca-Artho Na Kaamo Na Mokssah
Cid-Aananda-Ruupah Shivo[a-A]ham Shivo[a-A]ham ||3||

3.1: Neither do I have Hatred, nor Attachment, Neither Greed nor Infatuation,
3.2: Neither do I have Pride, nor Feelings of Envy and Jealousy,
3.3 I am Not within the bounds of Dharma (Righteousness), Artha (Wealth), Kama (Desire) and Moksha (Liberation) (the four Purusarthas of life),
3.4: I am the Ever Pure Blissful Consciousness; I am Shiva, I am Shiva,
The Ever Pure Blissful Consciousness.

Na Punnyam Na Paapam Na Saukhyam Na Duhkham
Na Mantro Na Tiirtham Na Vedaa Na Yajnyaah |
Aham Bhojanam Naiva Bhojyam Na Bhoktaa
Cid-Aananda-Ruupah Shivo[a-A]ham Shivo[a-A]ham ||4||

4.1: Neither am I bound by Merits nor Sins, neither by Worldly Joys nor by Sorrows,
4.2: Neither am I bound by Sacred Hymns nor by Sacred Places, neither by Sacred Scriptures nor by Sacrifies,
4.3: I am Neither Enjoyment (Experience), nor an object to be Enjoyed (Experienced), nor the Enjoyer (Experiencer),
4.4: I am the Ever Pure Blissful Consciousness; I am Shiva, I am Shiva,
The Ever Pure Blissful Consciousness.

Na Mrtyur-Na Shangkaa Na Me Jaati-Bhedah
Pitaa Naiva Me Naiva Maataa Na Janmah |
Na Bandhurna Mitram Gurur-Na-Iva Shissyam
Cid-Aananda-Ruupah Shivo[a-A]ham Shivo[a-A]ham ||5||

5.1: Neither am I bound by Death and its Fear, nor by the rules of Caste and its Distinctions,
5.2: Neither do I have Father and Mother, nor do I have Birth,
5.3: Neither do I have Relations nor Friends, neither Spiritual Teacher nor Disciple,
5.4: I am the Ever Pure Blissful Consciousness; I am Shiva, I am Shiva,
The Ever Pure Blissful Consciousness.

Aham Nirvikalpo Niraakaara-Ruupo
Vibhu-Tvaacca Sarvatra Sarve[a-I]ndriyaannaam |
Na Caa-Sanggatam Naiva Muktirna Meyah
Cid-aananda-ruupah Shivo[a-A]ham Shivo[a-A]ham ||6||

6.1: I am Without any Variation, and Without any Form,
6.2: I am Present Everywhere as the underlying Substratum of everything, and behind all Sense Organs,
6.3: Neither do I get Attached to anything, nor get Freed from anything,
6.4: I am the Ever Pure Blissful Consciousness; I am Shiva, I am Shiva,
The Ever Pure Blissful Consciousness.

Listen to it here.

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.