Thursday, October 11, 2007

No Homosexuals in Iran

Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmedinijad was asked a sneaky question during his lecture at Columbia. Everything about the whole speech was sneaky: the dressing down that an incensed university president tactlessly delivered frankly made me sympathise with Ahmedinijad for a little while.

When asked about how he justified persecution of homosexuals in Iran, he contended that homosexuality, as a phenomenon, does not exist in Iran. People laughed at him for that.

We must realize that the only difference between the fanatics and the west is liberal thought. But it seems that western liberal thought is not liberal enough to understand the reasons behind illiberal thought.

Liberalism is a luxury of the rich. (You might want to consider reading the previous post to understand why I make this claim with such vehemance). When you are worried about where your next meal comes from, you, more likely than not would not care about whether homosexuals (less that 1% of the population in societies where "coming out of the closet" is not an option) have rights or not.

The Iranian president, the product of a democracy (a little bit of liberalism that has seeped into an otherwise phenomenally othodox society) must be a refelection of what his people want. Otherwise, out he goes! It is electoral pressure in Iran than made him what he is. He is playing for the conservative muslim vote - the extremely illiberal school of thought that believes that Homosexuals must be stoned to death and that women must be kept under lock and key.

I don't think Ahmedinijad could have said anything else to that question. I don't think laughing at his denial or Iranian homosexuality has any point: Iran is an orthodox country right now. If you ask Pat Robertson (an American religious maniac) something similar, odds are he will give you a more venomous answer. [I would hold him more guility than Ahmedinijad as he hails from a much more liberal society and is still a fanatic].

I believe true liberalism can arise only when one understands the cause of illiberalism and accepts it. And in the case of the Liberals in the US vs Ahmedinijad, I hold both guilty. For if we turned back the clock 50 years in the US (with its instituionalized racism) - we find perhaps an equally sickening picture. There is room for optimism: the US, now, in my opinion has more or less conquered racial prejudice.

And Iranian society is more orthodox than the US was 50 years ago! Let's be reasonable, shall we? Why expect the impossible?

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Of Sleaziness and Corrupt Equillibria

Blogs are supposed to be offensive. If you want something inoffensive, then some nursery rhymes might be what you're looking for. This disclaimer is trying to preempt comments by one anonymous (or many anonymi) - who consistently opine(s) that yours truly is a pompous goof (or something to that effect). Anonymi are encouraged to comment, of course. This little disclaimer is just to put them down - a taste of their own medicine!

The disclaimer having been gone through, it seems more appropriate let the pontifications begin.


Not knowing much of something has seldom stopped me from opining about the same something. So, let me extend my speculative genius to Sociology.

The recent visit to the third world (home) has opened my eyes wide. I viewed India with a more critical eye this time: having lived in a more prosperous society for a couple of years. The same critical eye that has been viewing the U.S with for the aforementioned couple of years.

The following analysis is based on my experiences with India and the U.S - but from what people tell me - and plain common sense - I am sure this applies to any third world society contrasted with any rich society. And here I go.

In performing this analyisis, I will use two tools in plain argumentative form: thermodynamics and genetic algorithms. The former to define an equillibrium, and the latter to analyze how to get there.

Let me define a social equilibrium now. (And just like all the Ideas I've had before in my life, it's all been done before by some other nut.) Let me quote wikipedia here.

In sociology, a system is said to be social equilibrium when there is a dynamic working balance among its interdependent parts (Davis & Newstrom, 1985). Each subsystem will adjust to any change in the other subsystems and will continue to do so until an equilibrium is retained. The process of achieving equilibrium will only work if the changes happen slowly, but for rapid changes it would throw the social system into chaos, unless and until a new equilibrium can be reached.

I contend that contemporary Indian society is in a corrupt quasi-equillibrium here; a culture brought about by 45 years of Xenophobic protectionism (not to mention extreme economic exploitation prior to that). Here are some thought-allegories to help digest the point I am trying to make:

Firstly, let us consider an Idealistic police officer. Let's call him Ram. Ram turns down bribes when he catches people jumping traffic signals. He follows an American model of doing business: he writes the errant motorist chalans (Indian tickets ). Every other traffic cop accepts a crisp Rs. 50 note (I hear inflation has made it a crisp Rs 500 note) and lets the motorist go. Ram feels happier about himself. God is probably smiling at him.

He keeps up this outstanding behaviour. One fine day, his colleague calls him home. And when he goes to his colleague's home, he sees a couple of little spheres with eyes walking around the house, jumping on beds, fighting with each other - or behaving like typical children. Ram feels flabbergasted. His own kids are skinny to the core. Their ribs show. He soon finds out why.

His colleague's chidren eat a lot. A lot of fatty, expensive food. Food that Ram cannot afford himself.

Ram realizes that in order to feed his family like other people do (who are in the same position as he is) he must indulge in practices construed unethical by his God. Ram does not want to indulge in bribery of any sort: but his conscience will not allow him not to bribe. He is rational, after all. How can he watch his children starve, when a little compromise on his morals can make them live happier lives? Why should he be so selfish as to gratify himself by being moral?

And the invisible hand of the market (another of the millions of names for the second law) sees to it that he starts trading Rs 500 notes for pride and "morality". His children gradually grow more spherical. Ram will initially be miserable about his embracement of corruption. But gradually he will have begun to accept this as a part of life. He will have became bitter, cynical and, ironically, happier.

Morality, after all, is a luxury meant for the rich. The high horse that the rich ride on to "look down" upon the soul-less animals that they deem the poor to be.

Ram's story might contain elements of exaggeration: the rotund-ness of the little ones, for one. But I assure you, this dilemma is extremely common in poor India - and perhaps is only tempered by blind religious faith. (Here's another instance where I frown upon Dawkins' bellicosity toward all things religious: liberal values, like religion, seem to be a luxury only the rich can afford). Common sense would extrapolate this to any other region of the planet where penury is the predominant way of life: Africa comes to mind.

Now let's move on to Sarkar, a Bengali farmer. He farms rice in the sweltering 40 degree heat and infinite humidity. He is initially ethical, refuses to accompany the Basmati with little stones that lie about here and there. And then he sees his neigbour's fat children standing beside his skinny ones. Enough has been said.

Let's call this invisible-hand-emotional-blackmail the "thin children effect" (T.C.E) - and let this depict other implicit coercive effects that force people to compromise morality (such as the "let-me-steal-to-eat" effect, for one) too. Corruption is imperative because everyone else is doing it. With corruption the demand for higher legitimate wages goes down - there is no incentive to bargain for more pay when lots of the green stuff makes it to your pocket through the back-door.

Now let us try to construct a genetic algorithm that starts out away from equillibrium - and ends up in equillibirum. This, again is a thought experiment - inspired by the likes of Einstien

Start out with lots of rational average "honest" agents (people) - put them in large corrupt society. A corrupt society would penalize ethical behaviour (the T.C.E) and would reward corrupt behaviour more often than the legal forces would penalize corrupt behaviour. (And often corruption would get so institutionalized that the enforcement mechanisms would lose integrity too). If the people are rational (i.e. they realize that feeding their children is more important than the "luxury" of being ethical), then it can be seen that the "honest" agents will be forced into corruption. It can happen vice-versa only if the number of agents is much larger - perhaps of the order of the dishonest agents. Sleaziness and corruption shall prevail. You don't need a computer to tell you this. Just common sense.

On the other hand, take a handful of "corrupt" agents and put them in a large "honest" society. A honest society, I am convinced, can only be well to do. (More on this in shortly). Since enforcement is much better in an honest society, it is quite easy to see that the dishonest will be penalized - and rationality will convert them into honest citizens.

In my opinion, the developed world is more of an "honest" society - where dishonesty and petty corruption is more of a mutation than mainstream. And the poorer countries are "corrupt". But hold on! There's more to it than meets the eye. Since social hierarchies are quite difficult to breach, it is possible for many equilibria to coexist in the same society. While the lower middle class in India probably is in a corrupt equilibrium, the upper middle class is probably in an honest equilibrium.

Suppose, in the aforementioned GA, you don't introduce people into a large society, but you consider a large poor society instead, living in an "honest" equilibrium. Suppose, by some mutation, one "corrupt" person comes about. His children grow fat. Subsequently, he converts his neighbour to corruptionism (sic) so to speak. And so on, ad infinitum. An honest poor society is therefore unstable.

A dishonest rich society, on the other hand need not be deemed unstable - for there is greed in everyone. But, an overtly religious or "liberal" society will spontaneously become an honest one - because for such a society, dishonesty isn't even an equilibrium.

Futher, I expect rich societies to be much more susceptible to the luxury of patriotic blind faith - as is abundantly demonstrated by the U.S. The evidence of a growing Jingoism in India could perhaps be interpreted as a sign of the country's shifting economic fortunes? Of course, one must bear in mind that an overwhelming number of Indians are poor beyond imagination.

How does one break the corrupt Indian quasi-equillibrium? More on that soon.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Introducing Entropism

As far as religions go, there's plenty of religions out there - all brimming with messages of love - and beating the living daylights out of each other. To add another religion to this abundance of hate in the name of love would be unwise, to say the least. But nobody told me that. Here I go, starting a religion of my own.

Nothing makes sense right now. Christianity's most sacred assertion of virgin birth is improbable to say the least. And Judaism (and other faiths derived from Judaism) believe in a male God who created the world in seven days. Hinduism and other associated faiths believe in life after death , Nirvana - all equally irrational and improbable as virgin birth. (Please note that I dare not criticize Islam in this blog, as I might be imposed a fatwa upon by some Cleric and be prohibited from entering India - a fate similar to the one that has befallen one Salman Rushdie - so let me say for the record - Islam is a great religion and a religion of peace. That sound you're hearing is my knees shaking in fear of getting a fatwa issued in my name.)

Here are the basic tenets of Entropism:

Entropism is the belief that shit happens. Especially when you are careless. In order to limit the amount of shit that happens, one must be quite careful.

The intelligentsia amongst my readers would surely have realized that this is little else than the second law of thermodynamics ("the entropy of a closed system never decreases"). Yes, this is INDEED a cop out of mammoth proportions. The fundamental premise of this faith is just a statistical reality. No chance of that going wrong, eh? (Unless they make a Maxwell Daemon for real this time).

What is the central message of entropism? Is it one of love?

No. It is one of utter self centeredness (sic). And love, incidentally is a mere consequence of selfishness. (For an elaborate discussion of the same, the reader is refferred to Prof. Dawkins' "The Selfish Gene". Though I think Prof. Dawkins' emphatic confrontations with theists are counter-productive from a practical point of view - his book is still very powerful philosophically). The basic message is "Do unto others what others do unto you - keeping in mind, of course, legal constraints - for if what others do unto you is illegal, turning them over to the police might produce more satisfying results". A sort of order in the society shall then result - something not unlike the Evolutionary steady state that Prof. Dawkins discusses in his book.

The central message of entropism is one of faith. In oneself. Libertarianism comes close. But that's a political ideology. This is a religion. So, let's keep them separate - shall we? Separation of lack-of-church and state. (If I had my way, we'd do away with international borders and we would be worried about the separation of lack-of-church and planet but that's an altogether different story).

And what about prophets? Does entropism believe in prophets?

Yes it does. There's one and only one prophet. That is me. Possibly because there is only one entropist. Me. If you wish to convert to entropism then you could also become a prophet. Shit happens.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Prognostication: Cricket Tomorrow

The 20-20 world cup has concluded - and has revealed an entirely new and much more exciting game of cricket. An entirely new business model of the game seems to be on the verge of taking root - despite what a few snobs (the so-called "purists") say.

With this further shortened version of the game, it is quite likely that second rung tournaments will get more interesting. This has already happened in England and South Africa - where first class cricket has more or less undergone a revolution. Cricket can now compete with the likes of football in Europe - because the shorter version keeps intact Cricket's inherent reliance on strategy and intellect - and just adds a lot more entertainment.

England, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia. Small countries. Where Cricket is more of an after-thought than a religion. Now let's scoot over to the commercial hub of the game. The Sub-Continent. 1.5 billion cricket crazy people. A place which gets full stadiums for boring rain threatened ODIs. A place which is serious about its entertainment.

Here's what I see happen to cricket in the near future: (5 years?).

A local cricket league that makes lots of money takes root in the Sub-Continent. Perhaps the ICL or perhaps BCCI. This League also includes teams from Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Pakistan is also invited by the business concern - but political concerns (some overzealously "partiotic" delsional nut like Bal Thakeray's goondagiri (sic)) might make that a little difficult. And it makes money. Matches are played by cities and states- just like they are right now. Only they make a lot more money.

Since there aren't so many Australians around (their entire population is slightly more than that of the Mumbai Metropolitan area) - I expect that they either materialize in this league as a couple of clubs from Australia or they distribute themselves into local Indian teams like Indians currently do in British county cricket. That's because there's not much money in playing for local leagues in Australia - unlike there will be in India. Economics, after all, conquers all.

The Australians, the south Africans the British, the West Indies - initially will be star players. The will play a lot better than the Biharis, the Andhras - and the Mumbaikars. But in time, as India's economy grows - and as getting into local cricket becomes more lucrative - with more opportunities and all - I expect cricket to become a serious career option for young Indian boys. I expect more Indian cricketers to emerge who are as disciplined as the Aussies are right now.

And ten years down the line, I expect that the ICC will more or less dissolve - except for a few ceremonial games. I expect economics to shift criket to India.

Unless, the Chinese and the Americans start liking cricket. And that's unlikely to happen.

What I have claimed here is just based on common sense, little else. The only thing that could make this not happen is massive political instability in India slowing down the country - again, unlikely - the communists notwithstanding. Or an inherent genetic inability to perfrom in sports among Indians - a theory that seems untenable, judging by the occasional spurts competence shown by our current "selected" cricket team - and by the sheer talent of the occasional cricketer. Let's players select themselves, not some "selectors".The current system reeks of authoritarianism.

As far as cricket is concerned, the future belongs to the sub-continent. Because there is no incentive like money. And there is no engine of growth like the free market. And ironically, money there is (for cricket) in the subcontinent (though it is still one of the poorest regions in the world otherwise).