July 11, 2012

The verdict varies and biases shape memories

In the Yoga Vasistha, a spiritual text attributed to Valmiki, the story is told of a ripe palm fruit that falls from a palm tree at the precise moment that a crow alights on the tree. It may have only been a coincidence, but, the verse notes, observers frequently make the mistake of establishing a cause-and-effect relationship between the two events. And surmise that the fruit fell because the crow sat on the tree.
In the mythological narrative, the churning of the ocean to extract the elixir of immortality yielded both nectar and poison. Likewise, every major enterprise that makes bold to change the status quo releases both beneficial and malefic influences.
The American linguist George Lakoff would test his cognitive science students by telling them not to think of “pink elephants.” But of course, once the idea was planted in their minds, his students could think only of pink elephants. It’s a theme Lakoff explores in greater detail in his book Don’t Think of an Elephant, on the subject of framing in politics.
By its very nature, ‘news’ represents something out of the ordinary… In that sense, the news media thrive on ‘drama’, on the one thing out of the ordinary that provides a ‘news peg’. Which is why virtually every news outlet was turned on by the drama surrounding the perception of a ‘rift’, a ‘spat’, some ‘friction’ between Arvind Kerjriwal and Baba Ramdev at yesterday’s fast at Jantar Mantar.
India prides itself as a multi-party democracy — the world’s largest, no less. That even as a low-income country we embraced universal suffrage and empowered every adult citizen with the right to vote also occasions much chest-thumping…
But beneath the outer crust of being a democracy in its most elemental form, the Indian model is, truth to tell, rotting at the core, and is far less of an inspiration to democratising countries even in our neighbourhood. While a certain feisty rivalry perhaps marks the essence of any vibrant democracy, political parties in India have reduced this to a blood feud – quite literally. 
The most striking thing about Indian parliamentary democracy is, of course, that it has lasted this long, given the numerous intimations of its mortality over the years.
Governments should not behave like goondas. That, in short, is the substance of today's Calcutta High Court verdict declaring as unconstitutional the Mamata Banerjee government's forcible re-acquisition of land from Tata Motors.
For those with the wisdom to learn their lessons, a discreet word is all it takes to induce course correction. For the cussed fool who persists in his folly, even a lengthy tome is insufficient to impart wisdom.
In an early episode of the teleseries Yes, Minister, a Whitehall bureaucrat uses the furniture in a minister's office as a metaphor for the minister's inability to get anything done. "There are two kinds of chairs to go with two kinds of Ministers," the bureaucrat says. "One sort folds up instantly;  the other sort goes round and round in circles.” …
It isn’t often that we see a clash of ideas in the economic policymaking space in the public domain. Given the populist instincts of most politicians, we don’t always hear coherent articulations of the role of government in facilitating economic growth.
“When everyone is dead,” the writer Rudyard Kipling observed in his immortal Kim, “the Great Game is finished. Not before.”
In his satirical war novel Catch-22, Joseph Heller uses his fictional character, Capt Yossarian, to bring home the absurdity of war and the utter cussedness of military bureaucracy. In the novel, which drips with black humour in every syllable, Yossarian tries desperately to avoid going on combat flying missions by pleading lunacy – but the very act of asking to be let off from combat duty certifies him – in the convoluted logic of war — as sane, and so he is required to fly.
For BJP, blocking Sonia’s bid for PM has proved a blunder Jul 1, 2012 59 Comments In war, a good tactical move that nets short-term gains may prove strategically flawed from a longer-term perspective. 
Old soldiers, to take liberties with the lyrics of the army barracks ballad, never retire; they just fade away.
It takes a soldier to know the true horrors of war. As soldiers who have put their lives on the line, seen up-close the bestiality of conflict, and ordered young men into mindless battle, Generals don’t talk lightly of war in the way that armchair analysts do.
In chess, it is said that when you are in a position to win against your opponent, it’s advisable to sit on your hands – so as to avoid making a wrong move that fritters away your tactical advantage. Far too many defeats have been snatched from the jaws of victory by overenthusiastic but precipitate action in anticipation of imminent triumph.
In Ayn Rand’s gripping morality play Night of January 16th, the Objectivist philosopher-writer gets viewers to sit in judgement—literally—at a murder trial. One of the theatrical devices that the play invokes at each performance is to invite members from the audience to sit in as jury at the trial. The play, therefore has two alternative endings – one in which the jury finds the defendant “guilty” and the other not. The verdict varies at each performance, depending on the composition of the jury on a given day, and their bent of mind on the central philosophical exploration of the play: moral decay in society…
The novelist Truman Capote noted that “more tears are shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones”. Anyone who prays for an Army coup as the surgery that will excise the moral decay in our society ought to be careful what they wish for.
In any case, the cynicism that underlies that sentiment is far more ruinous to the aspiration to shape India for the better. Our democratic systems may be far from perfect, but they can always be perfected. Anyone who feels otherwise stands automatically disqualified from doing jury duty in the court of public opinion.
Comedian Groucho Marx once said in jest that he wouldn’t want to be a member of a club that was willing to have a guy like him as a member. That circular self-deprecatory logic applies in an unfunny way in the ongoing effort to build a consensus on the contours of a Lokpal Bill to set up an anti-corruption agency…
The immutable law of politics dictates that the greater the degree of consensus among self-seeking political parties, the weaker and the more pitiful the outcome will be. In catering to the lowest common denominator of the political establishment, the Lokpal Bill has been – and will continue to be – defanged and debased progressively.
Sonia-as-PM in 2004: Has Kalam backtracked or is Swamy wrong? Jun 30, 2012 157 Comments History has a nasty habit of being rewritten to suit expedient ends. 
The political cycle is an unforgiving beast… But in politics, you are only as good as your last victory – or, more appropriately, as bad as your last defeat... The metaphor of politics as theatre isn’t entirely misplaced, of course. The grandstanding that we often see from political leaders shows them up as performers who are playing their bit roles and marking their fretful hour on the stage.
The 18th century poet-saint Tyagaraja, in one of his soulful compositions (Nagumomu Ganaleni), points out that a king’s retinue would be failing in its duty if it did not offer good counsel to the ruler-in-chief.
When one's beard is on fire, it is folly to ask for a matchstick to light one's bidi.
Sometimes a switched-off cellphone can be more eloquent than the most garrulous motormouth exertions of party spokespersons.
Nothing concentrates the mind so wonderfully as the prospect of a hanging in the morning.
Always the bridesmaid, never the bride: that sort of sums up Pranab Mukherjee’s political progression over the decades.
In his epochal film Rashomon, the legendary Akira Kurosawa uses a crime thriller narrative to introduce us to the concept of “multiple realities” and the futility of reconciling them – even in an open-and-shut case.
In the film, set in a forest, a woman is either seduced or raped by a bandit and her samurai husband is murdered. The narratives offered by four of the protagonists – the bandit, the wife, the dead samurai (whose spirit is invoked through a ‘medium’), and a woodcutter who claims to have been an eyewitness to the crimes – are all equally plausible as stand-alone strands, even if they are all self-serving. When we hear each of their testimonies, we’re convinced of the certainty of each of them. Yet, seen together, the various accounts are so fantastically at odds as to be mutually irreconcilable.
During the shooting of the film, the somewhat befuddled actors themselves were known to have repeatedly approached Kurosawa asking for clarity on what the “truth” was. Kurosawa, however, wanted the film to be seen as an allegorical exploration of “multiple realities”, not as the revelation of The Truth.
Sociologists have since coined the term ‘Rashomon Effect’ to refer to the effect of the subjectivity of perception on recollection: on how our biases shape our memories and/or recollections of past events. It goes some way to explain why many observers of an event may offer vastly different (yet equally plausible) accounts of it. The same Rashomon Effect now haunts the many strands of the investigations into the Gujarat 2002 riots.
In one of his satsang discourses, which he typically infuses with levity to sustain 'devotees' interest, self-styled spiritual guru Swami Nityananda narrates a joke about God and Adam. God approaches Adam and tells him, “I have good news and I have bad news for you.” Adam asks to be told the good news first, upon which God says that He has endowed Adam with a brain—with unbounded capacity to think and reason—and a sexual organ, which would open the gateway to limitless pleasures.
Adam is, of course, overjoyed at being the recipient of the best of both worlds, and wonders what the bad news might be. To which, God responds: “At any given time, only one those faculties will work.” …
And in his sermons, he even makes references to a “time when bad people were around me and there was too much abuse” that almost sound confessional… Yet, the karmic deeds of a past when kundalini forces—and the hormonal urges to which all men are susceptible—played havoc with a spiritual practice aren’t proving so easy to bury.

The key question for anarchist politics/ontology is whether it leads necessarily to psychosis (my orientation here is anarcho-communist).  Putting the issue in more positive terms, is it possible to form a social relation that isn’t premised on masculine sexuality or Oedipus/Sovereignty/Theism and the discourse of the master? … I insisted that they’re Real, but historically variant.  I based my argument on first on Lacan’s Family Complexes, where he analyzes a shift from totemic cultures where the symbolic and imaginary name-of-the-father are different to our current bourgeois cultures.  There he argues that neurosis is a unique and new historical configuration that arises when the name-of-the-father is no longer the totem served by the maternal uncle, but where the biological/imaginary father stands in the place of the name-in-the-father (my ancient article on this issue is forthcoming in the next issue of Speculations).  This, Lacan argues, generates a new topology of subjectivity…
Finally, the very fact that the feminine side of the graph sexuation exists– and is presumably neither phallocentric nor psychotic –suggests the possibility of an anarchic alternative not organized around patriarchy, the phallus, or the name-of-the-father.  The feminine side of the graph of sexuation is an ontology without transcendent deity or sovereign, nor without masters.  This is the option I’m trying to take:  can we form a society without masters?  In this connection, I argued in The Democracy of Objects that it’s actually the masculine side of the graph of sexuation that’s semblance, masquerade, and fiction (which Lacan himself clearly suggests in placing the barred subject beneath the S1 of the discourse of the master).  So my ultimate question, perhaps, is what a queer society/politics would look like; or a society without masters/fathers/sovereigns…  Even human sovereigns. 

It was also an absolutely surreal experience to watch François Laruelle participate in a black mass. When a friend, Jessie Hock, explained to him in French that what was happening was “a sin”, he leapt up to receive the unholy host. Words fail to capture this event!

This in us laughs and weeps, suffers the stroke,
Exults in victory, struggles for the crown,
Identified with the mind and body and life,
It takes on itself their anguish and defeat,
Bleeds with Fate’s whips and hangs upon the cross,
Yet is the unwounded and immortal self
Supporting the actor on the human scene.

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