Sunday, December 26, 2010


"Democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried"

I had thought little more of this quote than any other witty saying, but lately I'm realizing more dimensions to it. Let's for a moment lump all consensus-driven systems under 'democracy' - organizations these days are as big as the societies that reformers of the past ages wrote about.

The quote posits quite a radical little idea, changing the focus from gains to losses: Democracy is a tool for minimizing loss - Every other form of government will result in even more losses to society. The way it does it is by taking away power from any one group of persons, and handing it to an abstract, nebulous entity called 'consensus'. This means limiting both good and bad changes. Nothing moves. In that sense, consensus is a fine thing to extol when one's coffers are full.

As an example of what happens when a non-consensus approach is attempted, P.V.Indiresan has an interesting take on one of our most deeply-valued concepts, the concept of Rama-rajya:

Many people extol Ram Rajya as the ultimate in governance. With due respect to Rama's devotees, I must point out that they do not enquire why Ram Rajya collapsed once King Rama passed away. It collapsed because it gave too much power without responsibility to persons of limited wisdom. It enabled an illiterate washerman to make wild accusations against Queen Sita and forced ultra-scrupulous King Rama to banish her.

However, one of the less obvious issues that this insistence on consensus effectively puts the burden of change on unknown unknowns and 'extreme' behaviour. Once one is past the stage of believing all the 'little drops make an ocean' bullshit, one realizes that virtually all change comes from these two sources. Either something from outside the system comes up, or an asshole (or someone who has little to lose) pushes his agenda because no one can stand up to him without losing something. Symmetrically, if one wants to introduce positive change, one has to depend upon the mercies of some eccentric who happens to have power; Abuse of power is common, but here we have the curious case of non-use of power. 'Consensus' never made a nail or a nation.

*Dec 29: Well look what the cat brought in! Behold, by the grace of Dileep, the fine process of consensus ably supporting the underbelly of the world's largest democracy:

Transcript of the Rajya Sabha - 1 [2 page PDF], 2 [1 page PDF], 3 [skip to page 29]

"पािण जी, बच्चे आपको देख रहे ह।
..(�यवधान).. वे क्या सबक लेकर जाएँगे?
..(􀃋यवधान).. The House is adjourned to meet at 12.30 p.m."

"MR. CHAIRMAN: Hon. Members, the two hundred and twenty-first Session of the Rajya Sabha comes to a close. It displayed distinctive features: no debates or discussions on matters of public interest took place; no Special Mentions were made, or, laid on the Table of the House; no Zero Hour interventions were sought; no questions were answered orally and no supplementary questions were raised."

"The prohibition in the Rules about shouting slogans, displaying posters, obstructing
procedures by coming into the Well of the House was consistently ignored. Peace prevailed only when obituaries were read."

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

I hate GMail

GMail and Reddit are really getting to me. Whenever I have a Gmail tab opened, I spend a LOT of time doing useless things like organizing old email (which essentially is deleting bacn), trying in vain to think of how to write a non-embarassing reply to a 3-month-old message, fiddling around with settings, re-reading the same old stale buzz, or just plain clicking 'Refresh' over and over again! With Reddit, I just keep reading wall upon wall of puerile AskReddit shit, which consists mostly fake stories being heatedly argued by a crowd pitchforking the same old straw-men. The painful part is that they are somehow 'addictive' and it's actually hard to get out of the groove.

GMail is even more insiduous because it has a lot of things that I commonly use embedded in it: I want to be online on Gchat; I use Drafts for a lot of things from to-do lists to jotting down philosophical observations; I frequently use email for backing up documents; Buzz is just around the corner as a 'sneak peek' to Google Reader posts so that I don't have to worry about constantly "mark unread" to postpone thinking about interesting posts; all of this present in one place, and I hate it because I seem to get struck doing all this, but ONLY this again and again!

Edit: An article that will surely become part of the Great Internet Introspection canon: Five emotions invented by the internet

Saturday, December 18, 2010


When one has a theory for complete systemic corruption and degradation, one is disturbed by exceptions. With a hat-tip to Sayan, how the hell can one explain these:

1. How do the Mumbai locals run with such efficiency? How does it not happen that a fishplate or an engine cylinder fails, and then the bidding process for fixing it takes months, and then the fix is done by the company owned by the minister's nephew? How does it not happen that the driver comes in half an hour late, and plays a minority card when he is attempted to be disciplined?

2. How is Mumbai, much more populous and having much more economic and social inequality, a safer place for women than Bangalore, the cherished home of marauding gangs from TN whose sole vocation seems to be kidnap and rape?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

In Frivolity we trust

One of the main points in a Huxleian vision of a bleak future, one that I heartily agree with, is that we are turning into a trivial society too amused by its own silly frivolities to consider doing meaningful things, or to even recognize its own serious problems. This classic comic comparing Huxleian and Orwellian dystopias would be a quick summary. 

I found these paragraphs in Alain de Botton's most excellent Pleasures and Sorrows of Work a fantastic counterbalance to this claim: 
It was in the eighteenth century that economists and political theorists first became aware of the paradoxes and triumphs of commercial societies, which place trade, luxury and private fortunes at their centre whilst paying only lip-service to the pursuit of higher goals.From the beginning, observers of these societies have been transfixed by two of their most prominent features: their wealth and their spiritual decadence.

Their self-indulgence has consistently appalled a share of their most high-minded and morally ambitious members, who have railed against consumerism and instead honoured beauty and nature, art and fellowship. But the premises of a biscuit company are a fruitful place to recall that there has always been an insurmountable problem facing those countries that ignore the efficient production of chocolate biscuits and sternly dissuade their ablest citizens from spending their lives on the development of innovative marketing promotions: they have been poor, so poor as to be vulnerable citizens, whom they have lost famines and epidemics. It is the high-minded countries that have let their members starve, whereas the self-centred and the childish ones have, off the back of their doughnuts and six thousand varieties of ice cream, had the resources to invest in maternity wards and cranial scanning machines.

Amsterdam was founded on the sale of raisins and flowers. The palaces of Venice were assembled from the profits of the carpet and spice trades. Sugar built Bristol. And yet despite their frequently amoral policies, their neglect of ideals and their selfish liberalism, commercial societies have been graced with well-laden shops and treasures swollen enough to provide for the construction of temples and founding hospitals.
Alas, it is true. It is the finicky cigarette manufacturer looking for a new thing to say in his marketing campaign that is interested in the intricacies of a better edge-detection algorithm. The question, "Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to change the world?" quite loses its punch, doesn't it?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Compression - 2

I was completely mindfucked by this line in Bana's Kadambari -

नाम्ना-एव यो निर्भिन्न-अराति-हृदयो विरचित-नारसिंह-रूप-आडम्बरम्, एक-विक्रम-आक्रान्त-सकल-भुवनतलो विक्रम-त्रय-आयासितम् च जहास इव वासुदेवम् |

nAmnA-eva yo nirbhinna-arAti-hRdayo viracita-nArasiMha-rUpa-ADambaram, eka-vikrama-AkrAnta-sakala-bhuvanatalo vikrama-traya-AyAsitam ca jahAsa iva vAsudevam |

It's impossible to translate directly, of course, but here's an attempt: "The king, who conquered his enemies (lit. broke their hearts) just by the mention of his name, and who had conquered the world with just a single stride, seemed to laugh mockingly at Lord Vishnu, who had made much noise and fanfare in taking on the Narasimha form (i.e so much trouble to kill his enemy), and who probably was exhausted by the three strides he had to take (as Vamana)."


The part that amazes me is the extreme succintness - viracita-nArasiMha-rUpa-ADambaram conveys so much, and the vikrama-traya-AyAsitam has the mocking tone so brilliantly ingrained in itself! ADambaram and AyAsitam - ROFL!!

(Compression 1)

Sunday, December 05, 2010


Several events in my life over the past few weeks repeatedly reminded me of this thought from Russell's essay, On Youthful Cynicism:

Moreover many kinds of beauty require that a man should take himself more seriously than is possible for an intelligent modern. A prominent citizen in a small city State, such as Athens or Florence, could without difficulty feel himself important. The earth was the center of the Universe, man was the purpose of creation, his own city showed man at his best, and he himself was among the best of his own city. In such circumstances Æschylus or Dante could take his own joys or sorrows seriously. He could feel that the emotions of the individual matter, and that tragic occurrences deserve to be celebrated in immortal verse. But the modern man, when misfortune assails him, is conscious of himself as a unit in a statistical total; the past and the future stretch before him in a dreary procession of trivial defeats. Man himself appears as a somewhat ridiculous strutting animal, shouting and fussing during a brief interlude between infinite silences.
The essay was written in 1930.