Life Ordinary

Wills and ways

It seems I never tire of writing about choices! Mad Men, and its reviews, is the reason for the latest bout of thinking on the subject. Very specifically, S7E6 and the review at AV Club. As the show nears its end, it is easy to see how each character’s choices have led them to a particular point. Much like our own lives. This, from the review, pretty much sums it up

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Dignity Gritty

Amongst stories of soaring e-commerce valuations, this Mint story on Indiaplaza, and how it ran out of cash, was quite a sobering read. But it wasn’t the business angle that stuck with me long after I finished reading it. I somehow felt that all Mr.Vaitheeswaran was seeking, was a little dignity. I have no idea of what really happened, so I cannot comment on whether that is deserved or not.

A few weekends ago, we were visited by someone who is a consultant for some work we needed done at home. She charged us Rs.2000 for a couple of hours, and after business was concluded, she spoke about how, a few years ago,  she had been a VP at a well known consultancy firm. Her current business, born out of her passion, was not doing well. She wanted to get back to work but was finding it extremely difficult to land a job. After she left, I wondered aloud to D, how she must feel, having to go to strangers’ houses on Sundays, and working for a compensation far below what she might have been earning. What would this experience be doing to her sense of dignity? More

An age when age doesn’t matter

While discussing a ’40 under 40′ list, I joked the other day to a colleague that my only chance of getting into one now was to reduce my weight by about 15 kg in a few years! It made me think of a strange yardstick I have employed in valuing others’ achievements – their age. To elaborate, if I came across a person who had attained a measure of success, I would be mollified if I figured that the person was at least as old as I was. If they were younger, mollified would be replaced by mortified. How dare they achieve something earlier in life?! Very strange, I know. I have quite a few theories on it – upbringing, a ‘paying your dues’ perspective, the way I have progressed in my career and what I’ve had to do, or perhaps just the result of being brought up in an age when folks worked hard all their life to attain things that we might consider a basic need now.

I gained freedom from it (or so I think) quite recently. The irony was that this realisation dawned  just after a meeting with someone whom I would say has been quite successful in his profession. As I made my way back home in a cab, I passed quite a few bus stops. It was late evening, and people were waiting for a bus to take them home.  Young people, middle aged people, and even a few old people, their faces echoing their toils. Perhaps they had a long bus ride ahead of them, perhaps they would have to stand all the way, perhaps they would have to get down midway and catch another bus. This was their life everyday, the cards they were dealt. Some might be unhappy, some would have made their peace, and some might even be happy. Their lot in life, or a bus they missed at some point in their life. Even as I had many, many things to be thankful for. So, what business did I have grudging someone because they worked hard and/or were lucky enough to make a mark early in life? More

Happy Tradeoffs

It’s in the nature of thought that it never ceases to exist. In Happiness: The End, it would seem as though I’d found the track I wanted to follow. But it isn’t ever so simple, is it? The books I read somehow seem to have words that phrase my thoughts just right

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The first roadblock I have found in the ‘happiness plan’ is sensitivity. It works in at least a couple of ways. On one hand, when I act with my own happiness as the key filter, I find it difficult to ignore the effect it has on other people. Do my actions make them unhappy? On the other hand, I am also in situations when others’ behaviour makes me unhappy but one or more constraints prevent me from doing anything about it. In both cases, I have to compromise.

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Memories & Consciousness

I was looking at the bookshelf a few days ago, and realised that though their relative position indicates they are among my favourites, I couldn’t recall some specific plot points and in some cases, even the ending, of some of the books! I was more than a little dismayed, but thankfully, found some solace in this post “How You Know“, specifically “Reading and experience train your model of the world. And even if you forget the experience or what you read, its effect on your model of the world persists.” It immediately set me thinking on the idea of consciousness and what technology can do to it, and it was a wonderful coincidence that the author too touched upon it towards the end of that post. But we’ll get to that in a bit.

Two nieces have ‘happened’ to me in the recent past, :) and I have clocked a few hours with them. The older one is just over a year old and is in general, a happy child. In my erm, ‘conversations’ with her during her stay with us, I have wondered what she perceives of the world around her. This was probably influenced by the fact that I had just finished reading Michio Kaku’s “The Future of the Mind” (must read!) and the four levels (starts at zero – plants) of consciousness. The final level, where humans are, are distinguished because of self awareness, and our understanding of time – specifically the enormous amount of feedback loops. This allows us to simulate, in our mind, possible future situations, and go beyond instinct and even emotions.

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Happiness: The End

A while ago, in Happiness and Compassion, I had written about what Fahadh Fasil described as the biggest lesson he learnt from failure – he said it made him decide that he would only do things that made him happy. The more I read, the more I think, and the more I live, the more I start relating to what Fahadh is doing, and what Aristotle said, “Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.” Everything else – fame, power, money, compassion, detachment etc – is probably just the means we create.

The thing though is, even if happiness were indeed the purpose, I can see at least a couple of challenges. In this excellent read “10 truths you will learn before you find happiness“, the first point is “It is impossible for anyone else to define YOU”. This echoed my first challenge – a difficulty in defining what happiness is to me. At the next level, I felt that the paths to happiness are confusing and have many things going against them. For instance, fame – “..other people’s heads are a wretched place to be the home of a man’s true happiness.” (Schopenhauer) Or compassion/pity (not kindness, which I regard as a more active expression, though the following might apply to it as well) – “There is a certain indelicacy and intrusiveness in pity; ‘visiting the sick’ is an orgasm of superiority in the contemplation of our neighbour’s helplessness” (Nietzsche) As you can see, it isn’t difficult to bring each down.

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The circle of nothingness

During a recent trip to Cochin, Dad pointed to a newly constructed building and asked me if I remembered what had been there before it, since he couldn’t. Neither could I, though I might have walked/cycled/ridden/driven past it many, many times. I get quite disappointed on such occasions, because when a memory is removed, it’s almost as though a slice of my life, thin though it may be, has been taken away forever. Strange though it may seem, I feel a sense of guilt, towards myself for not retaining a complete picture of my own life, and towards the object itself. A few days later, we passed a plot on 12th Main, Indiranagar, where a commercial building is being constructed. This place will ‘always’ remain in my memory as my uncle’s house, though they moved away quite a few years ago.

All of this reminded me of Schopenhauer’s “The world is my idea“, and a post I had written more than four years ago, the last paragraph in particular. From nothingness comes an idea, it then takes a tangible shape in a mind, and then probably manifests itself in words, deeds, objects and so on. Beyond its physical life, it exists in the minds of the people with whom it has been shared, maybe in forms massively different from its original, until the minds themselves are no more, and no connection exists between the current form and the original. “Soon you will have forgotten the world, and soon the world will have forgotten you.” ~ Marcus Aurelius  More

The people we are….with

After I shared the “We, the storytellers” post on Twitter, Surekha sparked off this interesting discussion on how we could persuade others to be less judgmental and more compassionate. I really didn’t have a fix-it-all answer and felt that it was more important that we simply practice this ourselves. That, however, did not stop me from thinking about it.

The next day, my reading list had this post, which touched upon things that get people to change their behaviour. I remembered this William James quote used in the post from something I had seen a while back at Brain Pickings.

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The Art of Live In

I borrowed the title from a post I wrote nine years ago on live in relationships. We have come quite a way since then, but I am also seeing an evolution in this narrative. I call it the same narrative because fundamentally it challenges the institution of marriage as we know it. The way I see it, marriage was an evolutionary necessity – as a relatively structured process of procreation, and thereby organising society. The words below are from a work of fiction based on the life of the Buddha, it would seem that neither is it far from truth nor have things changed much.

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So why is this institution primed for ‘disruption’ now?

Technology is one factor. The family unit made sense when younger members of the species had to be protected. As AI advances, maybe a family unit will not be necessary for safety or security. Technology also might play a hand in the physiological aspects, more on that in a bit. As I mentioned in an earlier post (Emotion As A Service) marriage is as much a transactional relationship as an emotional one. To paraphrase Scott Adams,  (fromthe internet has allowed us to have a barter economy of relationships….a virtual spouse comprised of a dozen separate relationships

The second factor – advances in medicine and increasing lifespans. Imagine living up to 150. The ‘life partner’ that you chose when you were a carefree 20 year old may not be the one you’d want to have fireside conversations with in your middle age – 95. Interests, outlook, worldview, personality etc change with time. Maybe you’d be living in different cities at different stages. 

Another factor I’d consider is depleting resources – these may be natural, (on a larger scale) and economic (on an individual scale) (any thing else you can think of?) These might force the species to rethink the institution, even though it seems hardwired into the brain by now. 

I can already see several paths diverging from this point. Robots as companions for the aged is a fast developing area, it could be used for young ones in future. In a physiological context,  though we might not be there yet, s3x with robots is a distinct possibility by 2025. There’s bound to be a learning curve, but hey! 

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In a relationship context, The Atlantic had a long article on polyamory, including perspectives on how society sees them, and the challenges involved. I was actually more surprised when Bangalore Times carried an article on the subject on its front page recently. The point here is that it is getting mainstream attention, arguably the first step in societal acceptance of units that are radically different from the traditional family. Even children with DNA from three parents might soon overcome legal hurdles and become an accepted practice.  

With all these paths, and many more, the institution of marriage might become one of the many options available. Some communities might hold on to it – as a tradition. But as time progresses, both individuals and society will undergo not just transformations on the outside, but in mindset as well.  After all, isn’t evolution just a logical response to a creature’s living environment? If it is, once the evolutionary necessity has passed, even this tradition might just fade away.  

(The views expressed above are just the author’s attempts at intellectuality, and do not represent his actuality. He hopes he doesn’t have to sleep outside!) 

until next time, along came poly! 

We, the storytellers

The day after Robin Williams died, I had posted this on Facebook

This was a man whom (I thought) no one could have any ill feeling towards. He made so many people forget their worries, for at least a while, through his roles. When you saw him, you couldn’t but smile. How could such a man have any troubles? But somewhere inside him, a story was being told, one that would end his life. In a tangential way, I had related it to “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind” from the ‘One off a kind rating‘ post in which I had written of self perception, and compassion vs kindness.

Once upon a time, I used to be very judgmental of people who chose suicide, but I realised over time that people are different. Some have the strength to deal with things, others don’t. But I still wonder about one facet of this decision. Barring the ones who end their life simply because they feel they have nothing/no one left worth living for, do people take this decision because they can’t live with something they have done/not done, or they are afraid of how people would judge them for this? In both cases, the common factor is the perception people have about themselves, and how it would change.

That makes me think – how much of this self perception is built based on cues from others? I think this is very relevant in the era of social platforms, because these cues could come from a variety of people. Arguably, Facebook is already affecting our thinking and behaviour, in a warped version of the Hawthorne Effect. (a phenomenon whereby workers improve or modify an aspect of their behavior in response to the fact of change in their environment, rather than in response to the nature of the change itself. ) That’s probably why we largely see only happy stories on Facebook – because people know they’re being watched, and judged. How soon before this becomes the guiding principle in lives, their only cue for creating self perception? It can be argued that this was happening even before social platforms, but I think there is a difference in scale. If entire generations are spending more time on social platforms, their behaviour offline would probably soon start reflecting that. To stretch it, their sense of identity would be built online before being taken offline.

When you connect this to the fact that the internet is also home to the kind of taunting and trolling that can radically alter one’s perception of the self, and one’s feeling of self worth, I see a problem. In the aftermath of Robin Williams’ death, the collective trolling power of the internet forced his daughter off several social platforms, at least for a while. Paul Carr wrote about a generation – born before the 90s – that should count itself lucky to remember a time before such acts became the norm. I think the power each one of us has to influence the stories others tell themselves is massively magnified now, if only we could use that to be less judgmental and more compassionate. Maybe that will also affect the stories we tell ourselves.

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