Author: iknowthemall

"Freaks my balance out..."

The Oppressive Compulsive Philistines


Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): An anxiety disorder in which people have unwanted and repeated thoughts, feelings, ideas, sensations (obsessions), or behaviors that make them feel driven to do something (compulsions).

OCD is a disorder of order, of obsession with order, to maintain it, preserve it, repeat it, without much thought to any revisions to the process. The thing that skipped all of us, is that our world is an OCD, our society is suffering from it, but due to the absence of an external reference the disorder is nearly impossible to spot. There are age old customs, reinforced by glorification of atavistic tendencies, that keep repeating without reason, like the propagation of sacred myths till they become unquestionable truisms. The problem is, they are not, and more often, they are very far away from the ideal.

Imagine if a thousand years from now, the restrictions on twitter statuses were to overflow into all communication by random chance and all communication, without much reason, was happening in 140 characters at a time. It would feel stupid and inefficient, right? Yet there are societal structures in place in the world today that serve no purpose relevant to the post-modern, post-internet era we are living in. Things like religion, marriage, biased patriotism, etc are some that are consistently found across most existing cultures as redundancies that have a sanction so oppressively bold that it is nearly impossible to go against all of them all the time. But some do.

There are two types of people in the world: the Philistines (I intend a broader scope of the term than the culturally indifferent person it is supposed to mean: I intend a person that would tend to gravitate towards vindication of the things he/she’s been taught, or indoctrinated with, in childhood and selectively pick examples to curate and reinforce that worldview. The article would make it clearer what kind of person I am referring to as a Philistine), and the non-Philistines (for the purpose of this article, let’s call them the vanguard, for they are the cultural avant-garde). The vanguard is responsible for raising a hand when the OCD gets too much to justify and tolerate. Sometimes the vanguard is crushed and blown away, sometimes it succeeds a little, and sometimes the apple carts turn over (only to be replaced by another obsession). To give you some examples, feminists have to fight all the time to let others know that women are human; LGBT rights are languishing in the widespread homophobia; atheists get caught in the cross-winds of religious nutcases trying to blow each other off all the time; institutional racism prevents people of color from getting an equal footing everywhere; etc. I take it a bit further to say that the legal sanction of marriage, and the oppressively high importance placed on it in certain cultures (one of which is India’s, to which I belong), tends to marginalize the happiness of a large section of society which is not genetically designed to function in monogamous arrangements.

So are Philistines just a bother, or do they serve any purpose? Well they do. They establish order, function on algorithms, are predictable, and keep the machine running. If this compulsively established order were to disappear, inefficiencies would start to creep in everywhere, and the machine would become more local and less global (let’s just say a bad thing, in general, though a separate exposition on this complicated topic would be in order), and the progress of humanity towards removal of strife and misery would slow down and maybe stop altogether. That is why the majority must always be of the Philistines. But they need to be made aware of the minority.

Like people who fight societal structures would know, one of the most crucial elements in winning the battle and creating an equal ground is awareness. If the majority is aware of their privilege as a majority and they try not to trample too harshly the voices of the minority, the world is not insufferable. So the world needs to be made aware of the vanguard in all its forms. And a person who is a vanguard on one issue may be a philistine in the other, and it needs to be out there. Turning apple carts over shouldn’t be a violent struggle all the time, treating the OCD shouldn’t be unfathomable.

Living should be easy, compromises should be few.

The Minority Identity


Ride the New York Subway on a regular day and you would realise what it means to live in a place where everyone is an outsider. Perhaps this is the reason why New York cannot be termed tolerant, because being tolerant implies that you are aware of the other’s identity, bothered by it and putting up with it. New York doesn’t care: it is indifferent, it accepts. This idea of racial/ethnic acceptance in a multi-cultural society had been going on in my head for the past few months due to its direct relevance to India, and I wanted to share some personal insights, with a little bit of science thrown in to demonstrate the point better.

Hardly a day goes by in the Indian media and political arena without a reference to the biggest religious minority of the country, the Muslims. Even though a good portion of the online population has wised up to the silly politics of religion, most people are not sure about how to go about discussing this touchy topic in a public setting, though most of them are brimming with their opinions about it. I often wondered why this was so, why was this problem so difficult to understand, for the solution begins at understanding. It took me a good deal of bigotry, cockiness, and an overdose of self-belief to allow myself to write radical comments against “the stupidity of Islam”, and the inherent aggression in it to be humiliated later when I was to re-read them again a couple of years later. What had changed in the two years is that I had undergone a change of, or development of a, perspective. I’ll talk more about that later, I want to share a few theories with you first.

At the core of this problem are the same psychological phenomena (at the cost of being too simplistic) that are responsible for the perennial gender issues, endless wars, racism, football hooliganism, the holocaust etc. Humans are irrational animals: they are motivated and influenced more by their asymmetric and biased world view than the objective understanding of the complete picture, for the complete picture is often too difficult to comprehend, even for those with a gifted imagination. Couple these biases with the inherent needs for a self-image and belonging, and we have men that cherish nationalism, for example, as a quality that defines the highest among them.

In one of the most unsettling of psychological experiments conducted on humans by a very important social psychologist called Muzafer Sherif, a group of boys at a camp were separated into two ‘tribes’ to understand how social hierarchies evolved in a natural setting, with the eventual intention of studying the interaction of the two tribes were they to meet.

You can read the details of the experiment in the link given, but to draw the relevant essence of the experiment here, the boys separated into the tribes perceived the differences between the groups, exaggerated them, ignored the similarities, growing more hostile towards each other than accepting. They also became very competitive and their work rate towards competitive activities increased. This is reflective of human nature in general, and can be explained quite easily from an evolutionary perspective- the stronger the collective spirit in a small group, the more likely is it to survive and fend off difficult circumstances. This might result in some intra-species struggles, but as we know from examples in other species, it is not something that is unprecedented. And even though the times have changed, outdating this line of thought, evolution isn’t keeping up. Nationalism, to stick with the same example, is a modern rendition of the same bigotry. It is not necessarily bad, as it can motivate people to often work hard for their country, as evinced by the boys in the experiment, but I feel the philosophical harm it causes (that often has tangible effects in the form of wars, terrorism etc.) outweighs any positives. It should be easy for the reader to see how the same bias is responsible for strife between different religions, races, etc.

Let me elaborate this with my own example. In India, I belong to the religious majority, the Hindus. I am thus fairly certain that when it is my turn to be judged by my peers, I would be judged irrationally on one less parameter compared to someone not from the majority. In other words, my identity is not defined by my religion, it is more defined by what I do, what I wear, what I say, how I behave, etc. This is a privilege of the majority. To elaborate this further, let us take the example of how society would view my moral transgressions. If I were to commit a mild treason by, let’s say, criticizing my country, I would be judged, more or less, on the gravity of my arguments. On the other hand, if I were a Muslim, I would instantly become a representative of the views of my religion, and with each step, I would be integrating my example to the archetype that would eventually become the Muslim stereotype (assuming it is not already created and being reinforced by my act). Why does this happen?

Because we have divided our world view into us and them. The minority identity for the majority is them, and in this particular case, the Muslims. To understand the often complicated reasons behind their treasons, we take refuge in the laziest of explanations: that it has to do something with their religion. This effect is called the Realistic Conflict Theory, and the biases in this form of irrationality are supplemented by yet another of the most prevalent biases we humans have, the Conformation Bias, which is a tendency to select the examples that suit our preconceived notions and ignore the ones that go against it. It creates a skewed world view where the end result might be, in an extreme but common enough situation, to assume all Muslims to be aggressors or terrorists unless proven otherwise, a dangerous, hostile and scary world view indeed.

There is a particular political faction in the country that would have us believe that pampering the minority, treating them differently in almost every sphere of interaction, is the way to their eventual integration into the mainstream. There is another that has a reputation for being downright hostile to the minority. I refuse to believe that they do this because of their naiveté. Most of the politicians in India are motivated more by greed than by adding value to the country, and very few of them have their hearts in the right place. They prey upon the religious difference among the people of the nation to achieve their ends, effectively stepping into the shoes of the colonial powers that preceded them. It again falls upon the great people of this nation to fight their oppressors.

I apologize for the digression. I am more concerned with having this article touch the readers at a personal level. I want to offer a simple thought experiment to counter this bias when you feel yourself succumbing to it.

I have lived in India most of my life. I left my country for the first time about a year back, and have lived in a lot of different parts of the United States. It is not a country that is particularly hostile, at least outwardly, towards people of Indian descent, but something about my situation here was ominous. After thinking about this vague feeling of insecurity over and over, I was finally able to point a decisive finger at it. I was a minority, for the first time in my conscious life.

I have called myself an Indian here in one year way more than I have called myself an Indian in India all my life (even if I count the daily pledge in school). Suddenly being an Indian is my identity, although I hate Bollywood, watch more American TV than Indian TV, hardly listen to any Indian songs, hardly read any Indian authors, love Sushi more than any Indian dish, and a million other “non-Indian” things, like a lot of my other Indian friends. A lot of people I meet here have been utterly disappointed that I call Art of Living a sham. Surely a lot of things about me are Indian, but there is much more that I would want myself to be associated with first before the concept of a stereotypical Indian guy. But that is how I am being defined now. I was never approached like this in my life, and it flipped a switch in me. My radical notions about Arabs and Pakistanis suddenly started dissolving away now that I could closely feel how my remarks would sound to someone from that part of the world. I loved (and understood the reason behind) the feeling of indifference in a melting pot like New York City, compared to the feeling of being an outsider in a less diverse state like North Carolina.

So here is my thought experiment. Whenever you find yourself making sweeping (negative or positive) statements about a particular community, country, culture, colour, gender, etc., you should stop talking for a while. Recognize that you may have taken the wrong line of thought there. Place yourself in the shoes of the other (like the children in Ms. Jane’s blue-eyed/brown-eyed class do) and think how fallacious what you were saying about yourself (as you are now) a minute ago was. Maybe that would help with the perspective. With all the intelligence and information at our disposal in this age, perspective is the thing we lack the most.

Humans no longer fear an existential threat from other species: they can afford to be friendly, helpful and less hostile, within themselves and without. We are (should, rather) no longer living in small groups, other than at a very intimate emotional level, and are moving towards a society that has the perspective of seeing itself from space, as one collective species out of many, floating on top of a rock in space. Our evolutionary instincts need to shift, or at least rationally modified, and it is a process we can accelerate through language and the internet.

The tensions between the warring tribes in the experiment by Muzafer Sherif was lessened by activities that involved both the groups to work together to achieve some goals. Our globalized world is the one camp we are in now, we are all humans, and we need to work collectively to strive towards a world with lesser misery, lesser suffering, and lesser strife, with more equality, more peace, and more happiness: a world that is more understanding and more rational.

Scrabble Words Finder


This is a simple VBA macro that I made that can find words with the letters (upto 4) that you want. I was frustrated with the lack of such a software/site that could tell me the possible words that I could make with certain letters. This macro finds such words, and arranges them in the decreasing order of the points they’ll give you in a scrabble or scrabble based game.

The code is included and you are free to make any changes and redistribute it wherever you want. I have hardcoded most things as I am new to VBA, so don’t change the columns and stuff or rename the sheets, unless you know what you are doing. Have fun!

I am not too sure if wordpress allows .xlsm files, so I changed the extension to .xlsx and uploaded this. Please change it back to .xlsm once you download it.
Scrabble Word Finder

This is the .xlsm version.
Scrabble Solver (xlsm)

Endless Loop


Humans have recently made a big breakthrough in the development of a technology that will enable them to create nanobots that are expected to grow nano-colonies so as to build a subsequent generation of attobots (at the human level) which are expected to tell us (not consciously, due to the technical difficulties involved) how matter behaves at the very infinitesimally small level. It is expected that this sub-atomic probe will continue till we reach the end of divisibility.

These nanobots would never be able to create anything two orders above them, due to the lack of materials, much like humans cannot make anything bigger than two orders above them. To these bots, our world would be full of ‘dark’ matter and it might get difficult for them to understand their origins if they were to grow sentient (something that is expected).

This experiment is very promising.

the man who wasn’t there: an impression


Ed Crane

Anyone watching the film slightly critically and having read The Outsider by Camus would know that the plots are very parallel. It is very deliberate, because the movie seeks to define ‘the modern man’, in light of the literary interpretation of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle (the presence of the observer changes the observed). That is why the title suddenly starts to make sense at a level that is deeper than the first reading of the plot.

In the whole movie, there is only one man who knows the complete story, i.e. he hasn’t changed the observed, and that is Ed Crane. Otherwise, seen from anyone else’s point of view, the observed is different from the ‘reality’. Even though, by the end, Ed himself starts to dissolve into the confusion around him, his understanding still remains deeper than the other characters, though he is as much a victim of this confusion as the others.

While Mersault was a man who was entering modernity by rejecting and disowning the prevalent morality, exalted by the benign indifference of the universe, Ed Crane was living in a time where the moral atmosphere was, for the lack of a better word, confused. Ed Crane was the modern man, born into a modern time, not one who was ushering in the modern era. He was trying desperately to find his place, and that is why Birdie is so crucial to the plot, as Crane wants her to find herself so he could live through her vicariously. His ambition was to create an impression, to have a say in the future (‘Dry Cleaning: wave of the future’), as he was distraught by the futility of cutting the hair that always grew back (Sisyphus the wisest barber), of having it made and having nothing, of being alienated and anonymous (although I am not too sure about the anonymity part as he was fine with his name not being associated with the business). He is, in every sense of the plot, the man who wasn’t there.

Mersault says in The Outsider that to him, everyone was guilty (an idea that becomes central to a later work of Camus, The Fall), and it is the same in the film. The crucial difference is that while in the Outsider the guilty were prosecuted for the crimes they committed, in the movie, the crime committed was different from the crime they were being punished for. But like the movie, the sentence meted out was the same. So was, I think, the reception to the punishment. Confused faces could be seen watching Crane’s execution, wondering what it meant to them. Crane, on the other hand, had resigned from the expectation of any epiphany (other than that there was no epiphany here), pinning his hopes on something in the afterlife, refusing to acknowledge the end when it hit him. This is completely unlike Mersault who reconciles with the universe at the end.

I am still reeling and not completely decided on what to make of the movie, but the impact is forceful, and it reinforces my belief in the writing prowess of the Coen brothers.

Illism


a man works
at the computer
in a corner
sometimes forgets
man is alone
neon’s intangible

a man looks
at the time
in the corner
sometimes forgets
it’s late for home
nobody’s waiting

a man drives
back to home
basal ganglia in-charge
sometimes forgets
radio’s not on
none to complain

a man listens
the refrigerator hums
no other sounds
sometimes forgets
his shoes are still on
the bed’s his own

a man watches
night slowly fall
tells the man
sometimes forgets
he likes it all
he’s not sad that’s all

a man lies
his heart a stone
tries to sleep
never forgets
man is alone
the end’s far

Features of Pandora One without paying for them (on your computer)


There are two significant disadvantages/annoyances of Pandora if you use it on a laptop in a window:
1. Ads
2. Are you still listening?

To hack the first, just use AdBlock plus (a Chrome, Firefox extension), and uncheck “Allow some intrusive advertising”. This should take care of the annoying ads.

For the second, the workaround is slightly complex. You will have to install Leechblock if you use Firefox or Nanny if you use Chrome. The trick works because when Pandora goes “Are you still listening?” the URL changes to http://www.pandora.com/inactive
In the settings, do these things:
1. Create a rule to block http://www.pandora.com/inactive
Set the rule to run for 0000-2359, and do step 2.
2. Search for the “redirect to” URL and put in the station you listen to on Pandora (or just https://pandora.com since it would recognize your login and work properly). You should be good to go.

Two irritating features removed that would make Pandora pure joy, as it should be. Needless to say, these work only on a computer (no AdBlock plus on Android yet! Boo!). But if you are using Pandora even on your phone, just pay up. The charge is hardly much.

The Fear Future


What should I look forward to- resolution, or reconciliation?
A man crippled by his own thoughts wonders whether the future holds any promise, whether these contradictions are resolved, whether an identity is established, whether anything other than vanity is ever achieved. He wonders if there can be another Dostoevsky in the age of blogs and instant gratification. He wonders if thought can be shaped and questions can be framed before they are dismissed. He wonders if his own confusion can channel itself into order, and how, if it happens, will it happen?
Do people understand love as they age? Or do they attach meaning to their sufferings, thinking that since they are suffering, they must be suffering for a reason, and name that reason love? Is there a love without suffering? Are humans capable of close coexistence? If yes, is it always a coupling? There are questions, there is no answer, literature is insufficient, literature just panders to what we want to feel is right.
Do people get to sleep at night? Do people get to know what makes them happy?
What is the future like?

Slacker


The blank page stares at him derisively. The rubber pickaxe thuds away on the inside of his head, creating bruises filled with guilt. He turns on some Massive Attack. The beauty empales him. The beauty empales the impaled.
He tries to get up and do something. He has lied to everyone that he would be sleeping. He didn’t. He needs to go to work in the morning. It’s about to be morning. He’ll find it hard to wake up.

He wants to escape to a silent island, where no lures follow him, where he can just lie down with his thoughts and die of hunger. He keeps thinking of this glorious death, when the silence distracts him. The song has stopped playing.
He changes the song, puts on Koop, starts to cry without tears, wonders why love has deserted him. The truth is, love never found him, it kept looking for him.

He wants to burn the money he has earned, money that has made him a prisoner. He wants to sleep free. He wants to meet love, only to punch him in the face, hug him, and hang on his shoulders. He sits down again, with a heavy head and a hollow heart, turns all the lights on and goes to sleep.