Friday, November 13, 2009

On Heroes,Humans and Role Models

A locomotive is moving. Someone asks: "What moves it?" A peasant says the devil moves it. Another man says the locomotive moves because its wheels go round. A third asserts that the cause of its movement lies in the smoke which the wind carries away.

The peasant is irrefutable. He has devised a complete explanation. To refute him someone would have to prove to him that there is no devil, or another peasant would have to explain to him that it is not the devil but a German, who moves the locomotive. Only then, as a result of the contradiction, will they see that they are both wrong. But the man who says that the movement of the wheels is the cause refutes himself, for having once begun to analyze he ought to go on and explain further why the wheels go round; and till he has reached the ultimate cause of the movement of the locomotive in the pressure of steam in the boiler, he has no right to stop in his search for the cause. The man who explains the movement of thelocomotive by the smoke that is carried back has noticed that the wheels do not supply an explanation and has taken the first sign that occurs to him and in his turn has offered that as an explanation.

The only conception that can explain the movement of the locomotive is that of a force commensurate with the movement observed.

The only conception that can explain the movement of the peoples is that of some force commensurate with the whole movement of the peoples.

Yet to supply this conception various historians take forces of different kinds, all of which are incommensurate with the movement observed. Some see it as a force directly inherent in heroes, as the peasant sees the devil in the locomotive; others as a force resulting from several other forces, like the movement of the wheels; others again as an intellectual influence, like the smoke that is blown away.

So long as histories are written of separate individuals, whether Caesars, Alexanders, Luthers, or Voltaires, and not the histories of all, absolutely all those who take part in an event, it is quite impossible to describe the movement of humanity


I have been on this planet for a little more than three decades now and I must admit that though I don't remember it in great detail now but I have good reason to believe that my experience during the first decade should have been the best .For ,after that I started indulging in a paranormal activity called Thinking. And That was a BIG mistake . Why ?? To answer that you need to know the nature of my indulgence . You see ,I have been trying to make sense of world and people around me and its taking longer than my initial estimate. There are many aspect of our existence which I don't understand. and whenever I try to go down the path of logic of what drives the thinking of my fellow humans I always come back empty handed .On every such attempt my faith in Darwin got reinforced.I am thoroughly convinced that We ARE descended from apes.

One damaging side effect of this habit is that often times it put you at odds with your peers .Specially When you are trying to argue a view point by rule of logic . So very often I discovered that like the man who attributed motion of locomotive to the movement of wheel ,inWar and Peace ,people around me start a discussion logically but their logic stops after a certain limit . its not that they are incapable of following the logic ( like in differential equation or advance Quantum physics ) its just that they are uncomfortable and unwilling to follow it . and if you try to tell them your reason they will listen to it,agree with your premise ,your hypothesis , your extrapolation but They will Dismiss the conclusion. I can understand it if agreeing to conclusion demand them taking any action. what make me sad is that even in purely theoretical , academic and intellectual discussion people flat out refuse to learn and acknowledge the finding.What make it worse is that after that point they try to throw personal insults to prove a point and win an argument .

If Brain is the source which moves our society and civilization then knowledge is the fuel which run it . Refusing to validating the knowledge and trivialization of seeker/pursuit of knowledge is bad and in some cases fatal for society . still I see this happening around me all the time . I used to wonder why ? I even used to ask it aloud but not anymore at least not very often . In very few cases I make an exception .This post is about one such case.


Few days back I was sitting in the company of few of my friends. We were having free flowing conversation about nothing specific . suddenly out of some random event out talk drifted toward a certain public figure ,a sportsman (lets call him Sir X) . Sir X is a well known name in world and often quoted as the best player the game ever had . I am no expert in that game ( or any game for that matter ) but still I will submit to you that the Sir X has earned his reputation , he has worked hard for it . During our conversation somebody in the room suggested that Sir X should be treated as a role model for future generation, not only in his area of expertise ( the game ) but also in every walk of life .

I politely tried to suggest that casting someone as a role model for young kids , that too in "EVERY WALK OF LIFE" is a very big decision . are you sure Sir X deserve that ? I tried to support my argument by quoting some well known incident where Sir X tried to evade tax on multiple occasion for an object of personal luxury and trying to modify a certain instrument of game for unfair advantage . I purposely quoted just two Factual and well documented incidents. so that their is no scope of ambiguity. I didn't even bought in the often discussed but inconclusive point about Sir X's affiliation toward individual performance at the cost of Team ( which i believe is just a matter of opinion and I defend Sir X there) .

My intention was to construct a complete picture so that we can choose carefully what we idolized for generation to come . But the reaction I got was surprising . from a non committal "Hmmm But ... " to " Lets not be judgmental " . I am accustomed to both but one of the person in room snapped back at me saying that

"HE is good because He will never react like you " . I admit that I was shocked and Hurt. I was Hurt both by her reaction and reaction (or lack of it ) of rest of the people in room . I was even more troubled by my own reaction , by the fact that these things STILL matter to me . I was under the impression that I am "Seasoned" after all My years here ( sorry for the style but I feel terribly alien to my peers when I think of these events ) . It seems like I will never be seasoned enough when it comes to two things

A) Ideas I am passionate about ( in this case KIDS and the environment we provide them )
B) People I care for (there were few in the room) .

But question still remains ? Why folks act the way they do ? and How can we solve this .

Specific Details of Sir X is irrelevant .. They are all around us . you can think of Sir X as

  • A certain veteran actor of Bollywood who falsely presented himself as farmer so that he can avail subsidy on land and buy it at low price which Ideally should have been given to a more needy person .He is a great actor .idealized by millions of Indians as role model.
  • A certain chief minister who go Tom Toming about Industrial progress in his area but at the same time he is mastermind behind biggest communal Massacre in recent history . Many amongst us believe that he should be India's president .He has created Biz friendly atmosphere in his state for sure . But does that qualify him as the best guy to RUN the country ? I don't think so.
  • All the investment banker in USA who took Bailout funds (Tax payer's money)from US Govt to save their arse and than they went on rewarding them self Hefty bonus while their countrymen were loosing their jobs . These guess have an air of self righteousness which is very similar to the one exhibited by my peers.
Truth be told ,for most of us if we want to see Sir X we need to look in mirror .there is a bit of Sir X in everyone us . Its in me for sure . only distinction i can possibly claim is that I am not in denial of it .

Another unfortunate aspect of this tendency is that how it rob the spotlight from more deserving people.who are actually doing something meaningful and they are consistent in their values.

  • Megha Patker ,NBA Activist .She was a gold medalist from Tata Institute of Social science. She could have picked up a well paying job at any corporate or UN agencies .She choose to fight for a cause . She is,as a TISS allumni told me at a Cocktail party, the only TISS graduate who is ACTUALLY making the difference. Now tell me how many time we hear about her ? Is she getting her due credit ? having had the honor of meeting her once I can tell you that she couldn't care less for it .She is one women with a mission .What a pity all we can think of social cause is some Beauty queen visiting Dharavi with a Team of Photographer .
  • Pullela Gopichand , The Badminton player who refused to endorse a Global Soft drink Brand because he himself don't drink it. What he got ? an Oblivion .
  • Keshub Mahindra , The Leading Industrialist from Mahindra Group who refused Padmabhushan saying that he don't deserve it because He was on the Board of Union Carbide at the time of Bhopal Gas Tragedy( Link). Its worth mentioning that He was a Board Member, a designation which doesn't entail any operational responsibility .Yet he didn't evaded the responsibility. That's a Gold standard one can set for himself and posterity.
  • E .Sreedharan Who after years of excellent work as Head of DMRC and Konkan Railway offered resignation after a mishap at Metro construction site which was clearly a mistake on part of vendor. He didn't choose to encash his past good work to sanction some mistake . His standard were not flexi.
Whenever I discuss these people and their work the response I get is "Uhh huh ..Here He goes again.." .Once a person said that "They are good , May be they are GOD .But you know what ? they are not cool " . May be He is right. consistency ..that too self imposed is not cool anymore .


You can't deny other person's reality , you can only build upon it
~ Emily Levine in Trickster's Theory of Everything .

Human brain is gifted with a strange capability of constructing things. We look at one half of an object and in our brain we can see how an object will look like in full . this capacity of creating self fulfilling constructs is not only limited to physical universe . We do it all the time in the realm of thoughts , ideas ,values everything. Perhaps that is the reason why some of us fail to see the complete picture . Our schools don't teach us critical thinking they teach us facts .they don't teach us how to think they teach us What to think .That's why most of the time We work on a limited /Bounded rationality . That's why our logic stops the moment we enter a uncomfortable zone .Man is an rational animal .We are told .But this doesn't give us a free ride at rationalizing whatever We deem fit . What will happen to a world where everyone act in this manner? Where everyone is rationalizing the path of least resistance . Where everyone is governed by their basic instinct ,Convenience and will full ignorance ? That thought gives me a shudder .

But I have seen enough of world to know that I have to live with it . No One can be changed by preaching. Bhagwat Gita says that You are entitled to change only one person in this universe . You yourself .That too is a tough job. Herman Hesse Wrote a book to explain the same point . Although I try to present my point with all my energy but I don't harbor any illusion to be capable of changing any one's world view .I used to think I can but not anymore . But at the same time I know that everyone of my peers , whose behavior is troubling me right now will change their thoughts , in their own sweet time . I have seen it happening in some other context so I know it will happen here too . I might not be there to see it happening but I know it will happen someday .

That leaves with me with critical Question "How to act in a situation like that ? What should be my approach when I face a situation like the one I faced in the room that night? How can I fit in with the reality of my peers without denying it and Keep my version of reality intact ? I have no definite answer . I have a hunch .


Regular reader of this blog know that I am very passionate about the kids and the effect society have on them in their formative years . I have talked about it in past . I might be paranoid about it and in all possibility I might be overreacting . But the fact is that We as a society don't pay much attention to the kind of environment we expose out children to . If every kid is our chance to change the world to a better place then I am very sorry to say that we are fucking our chance and we are fucking it badly .

First HERO a kid have is his parents.for better or worse there is not even a choice involved for both parties . Kid will see you as role model and He will imitate you in thought and action . Thats one BIG reason ( for there are many ) why I am still single and somewhat afraid of getting married . I don't see myself to be a good enough role model . for now I can only resolve to teach my kids to think critically and examine every thing presented to him . I will try not to impose my world view on him . I will try to teach him to create his version of reality while being aware of tricks of his own constructs and If he ever asked for my opinion I will tell him that Amitabh Bacchan is a Great actor, Narender Modi did some good work to promote business in Gujrat ,his father is an Average blogger who is terrible with spellings and Sachin Tendulkar was the greatest cricket player we had .

And I will make sure that He will have intelligence to interpret these facts for what they are actually worth . Ithink I owe this much to future generation .I don't want to fuck my chance to change the world.

Picture credit: Infinityrain

Update: A funny observation I just noticed that this essay was published on 14th of November Childeren's Day .


Anonymous said...

i do agree with you.
but how did you react that night??

Prashant Singh said...

@anon : thanks for afirtmation

"but how did you react that night"
As i mentioned in post I was hurt and I was visibly agitated .So I walked out of the room . I am not very proud of my reaction . hoe I will do better next time .