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I Love Pettiness

I love pettiness.

A friend once told me: “What I like about your blog is the way you describe the pettiness of people. You are not trying to make a particular point. What you write is often along these lines: “I said this to her, and then she said this to him.” But, what becomes obvious is the absolute pettiness that emerges from the interactions between the half-anglicized Indians inside an office.”

I find this a very bold statement because people often feel a need to search for socially acceptable justifications for everything. I often tune out much of what I hear about what people think of literature, or what I write. It is ear in and ear out for me. I often hear people saying that they like Ayn Rand’s novels because of its internally consistent philosophy. But, why can’t  they simply say that they are pretty damn good novels? Isn’t that harder?

But, what I like in her novels is the way she punctures the hypocrisy and the pettiness in people. Her biographer Anne C Heller thinks that “Whatever  one  thinks  about  her  positive  program  of rational selfishness, egoism,  and unregulated capitalism, her ability to spot and  skewer  cowardice,  injustice,  and  hypocrisy  is  at  least  as  keen  and passionate as that of her ideological opposite Charles Dickens.” Unlike most libertarian thinkers, she knew that the state and the evil philosophies ultimately brings the souls of individual men into question. If you do not hate pettiness—If you do not hate the souls of these individual men, how can you even claim that you love truth, beauty and liberty?

When I write, I have no other purpose in my mind other than that I want to write on what happens around me in the most beautiful manner possible. If I write to offer “constructive criticism”, or even to bring out the pettiness in people, I would be compromising the integrity of my prose. I write the way I do, with so much precision and detail because it makes it so beautiful, and so believable. People almost never ask me whether what I write is true.

But, it is obvious to me that pettiness plays a very important role in the world. It is responsible for almost everything that is wrong with the world. In the list of our problems, pettiness would be in a dead heat with stupidity.

Pettiness on a Macro level

Pettiness can take various forms. Semi-literacy, or even deep scholarship cannot reform the people who are fundamentally petty. It can be very dangerous. Think of immigration restrictions. I agree with Bryan Caplan when he says that “If research energy were proportional to the inefficiency of the status quo, virtually every economist would study immigration.  And if outrage were proportional to harm, virtually every protest on earth would be in favor of open borders.” But, virtually no one in the developed world wants those restrictions to be repealed.

Economists are markedly different, but even libertarian economists do not often want these walls to be immediately torn down. Libertarian economists are far more open to iconoclastic research, and their IQ’s are extraordinarily high. It is blatantly obvious that it is wrong to prevent people from entering a country simply because they were not born there. All this should translate into immense support for open borders among economists. But, having studied economics for a decade, I can say that it does not. The attention immigration restrictions attract is vastly disproportionate to its importance. It gets virtually no attention though it is obvious that repealing them would “instantly” abolish world poverty. This is by no means an intellectual error.

So, why his apathy? I can only say: “Ah, the pettiness of people.”

The reason is simple: The man on the street does not like people who are different from him. But, this is true not just of the man on the street, but also of people who have relatively comfortable lives. This is true even of the intellectual elite—though to a lesser extent.

Anti-Capitalists often think of themselves as partisans of the poor. This is clearly an indefensible way of describing one’s political position. But, in the issue of immigration restrictions, it is clear that even their claim to be saviors of the poor is a sham. It is bad enough to be motivated by plain, naked envy. It is bad enough that they want to pull down their betters. But it is worse when they want to condemn the world’s poor to a life of misery simply because they look different.

I do not find the issue of immigration restrictions complex. Years before I became a libertarian, I had wondered how wonderful it would have been it there were no borders. What got me thinking was a 2000 interview with Vinod Khosla. I do not know how professional intellectuals can miss this:

“Regionalism is a bad idea, and fosters division, conflict, pettiness and disrespect for others. Maybe, we’ll someday be just world citizens and countries will disappear. It will resolve a lot of issues! Of course, it’s fairly unlikely in the next 100 years but technology will force us in that direction. Traditional wars will become less important.”

How can the issue of open borders be any more complex than this? What prevents people from seeing this is their narrow-mindedness and inability to see people as individuals. I won’t even debate the economic benefits of open borders. People should get real, and stop making up socially acceptable justifications for their petty beliefs. I gather that there is some evidence that these people are neurotics, high in anxiety, and very high in anger. 

I would say that this is true of macro level politicking in general.

I do not think that people who are into politicking are nice people. It does not matter whether they are openly Machiavellian, or whether they turn it into a philosophy, calling it compassion. I have never felt that do-gooders are motivated by a desire to improve the world. A writer once told me that what she does not like about the leftist people is the contrast between the theory and praxis. Naive people often see this as a bizarre dichotomy, but, this is hardly surprising. People who are into this kind of business are going to be basically very awful people. What they want is a validation for their complexes and insecurities—even if the price  is destruction on  such a large scale.

How many intellectuals state this in the case of open borders, fearlessly—that there is nothing more to it?

Of course, even libertarians have socially acceptable justifications to prevent “aliens” from entering their land. Many would like to believe that it is harmful to do so when there is a huge welfare state, and that the median immigrant is more likely to be socialistic. But, all this is totally besides the point. I think we should get real and stop humoring them. Psychologists often say that it is pointless to tell manipulative people to stop manipulating. It applies here too. This is not too much of a stretch.

Pettiness on a micro level 

I have seen more internal politicking than someone of my age would normally see. Initially, it was shocking to me because I had a very sheltered childhood. I had spent much of my time reading. In college, I almost never stepped out of my room that looked like a library. If my batch-mates were awful people, I did not know that. I had a pretty sound theoretical understanding of people, and was always a misanthrope. But, the politicking I saw at workplace was worse than anything I had ever read. When I see politicking today, I see it. The words they use, the tactics they employ, the socially acceptable justifications they have for what they do—There is nothing that I am not aware of.  People often play without knowing that I had seen many such people before. 

Politicking at workplace or inside a bedroom is politicking at the micro level. I think almost everyone is hardwired to be very politicking. They do not know how to be straight. The concept of common decency is beyond their comprehension. So, it is hardly surprising that we ended up with such big governments.

Politicking inside offices is a form of passive aggression. But, at least deep inside, people see them for what they are. It is only that politicking on a macro level is a far more sophisticated form of passive aggression. But, even the petty people inside the offices have socially acceptable justifications when they take orders and fuel conflicts: “Oh, I am just doing my job. I am being paid for it”  But, any hired thug can say it. Any prostitute can say it. These weak-hearted fools have no self knowledge. They have no sense of reality.

Manu Joseph once said that we do not need morality to do what is profitable. Pure self interest would suffice. Morality is about acting against our narrow, short term self interest. This is one reason my smart enemies do not bore me much. 

What the politicking people inside the offices want too is destruction—destruction for the sake of destruction. When I think of all that happened in the last four years, what I feel can at best expressed by these wise words:

There is tragedy in the world because men contrive, out of nothings, tragedies that are totally unnecessary—which means that men are frivolous. —Henry de Montherlant, La Rose de Sable, 1932.

When I hear about the wrong things that people do for money, I do not pay much attention to it. That is a question begging argument. If you are being paid to do wrong things, it means that there are people who want wrong things to be done in the first place. Money is only a tool. It can’t be the primary motive.

The root cause is, of course, that people are petty. They are approval seeking conformists. They want to defy your will for the sake of defying your will. Politicking is about that, whether on the macro level, or on the micro level. It is not a fundamentally profitable endeavor. It is a costly, destructive exercise. But, I am not one among those people who want to see this as an aberration. This is very much the norm, and the people who deny it are simply being manipulative.

Here is a typical office battle:

Miss Doll once came near me to insist that I should send in my work soon. I agreed that I will finish the work as soon as possible. She came near my desk a couple of times to see to it that I am not shirking. When such things happen, I know at the back of my mind that the esoteric agenda is something else. But, I dismissed the thought inwardly and bent over backwards not to sound dismissive.

I was asked by Mr. Brilliant to work on another article on an immediate basis. Miss Doll again appeared, and said with a twinkle in her eyes: “I will report.” I was amused, and was suddenly reminded of how a classmate sulked in LKG: “I will complain to the class teacher.” The three year old me had cried. I wondered why I was turning all misty eyed and reaching for those rose tinted glasses. But, I soon forgot the whole incident.

Many days later, I wanted to know something and went ahead to ask her. I heard her mumbling hysterically, as if she was spitting venom. I was always slow to grasp. I was taken aback, but later things fell into place. She was burning in humiliation for the last ten days, waiting eagerly for an opportunity to strike back. Her hidden agenda hadn’t worked out that well. It was understandable. The dichotomy became visible. I understood everything.

When I said this to someone, she told me: “Oh, don’t think “small”. It could be something else.” I often wonder about the souls of people who deny the obvious. Why is this such a sensitive issue for them? Why do they feel pressed to be in denial? Why is this so important to them? The reason, I believe, is unpleasant. Something inside them tells them that this is an accurate description of their mindset. They do not want to admit that this exists, that this is real.

You think this is an exaggeration? Imagine telling anti-capitalists that they are motivated by envy.  Are they likely to admit it? You have to see that an anti-capitalist is almost always “openly” an anti-capitalist. But, a politicking person is almost never so.

The politicking I have seen was almost always about the insecurities of people. I have seen people ruining organizations and families purely for the pleasure of hurting a young person who had hurt them unintentionally.

In a Magazine I had worked with, the problems began when I told an editor that the pictures he had chosen for an article of mine were wrong. He nearly ruined a Magazine and the people in it for something that could be resolved if he had calmly listened for a minute. And this happens between people who are perfect strangers. Still, they are unable to see beyond their complexes and insecurities. They fear that their illusions would break down if they give the sane perspective a fair hearing, not too unlike the people who are politically irrational. People turn defensive and uncommunicative only because they are trying to hide something. It is as simple as that.

This cannot be explained away by anything other than a genuine lack of maturity in people—a genuine lack of inner nobility in people. Irrespective of what people say openly, it is clear to me that all this matters so much to people. People deny it because they are fundamentally insecure, and because of their total lack of insight into other people and themselves.

Sometimes when I see how childishly people respond to something baby-ish that I say for the fun of it, I think: “Good God, she is as old as my mother, but that does not modify her behavior.” And then I feel, “Awww, my dearest one. But, I did not know this.”

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Eugene Richter was a 19th century German thinker who had written a dystopian novel: Pictures of the Socialistic Future. His predictions were accurate. How? Bryan Caplan tells us:

What inspired Richter to make these grim—yet uncannily accurate—predictions about the “socialistic future”? The most plausible hypothesis is that Richter personally knew the leading socialists from the German Reichstag, and saw them for what they were.I submit that he repeatedly peppered the socialists with unpleasant hypotheticals, from “Under socialism, who will take out the garbage?” to “What will you do if skilled workers flee the country?” When socialist politicians responded with hysteria and evasion, Richter drew the natural inference: “If this is how these ‘idealists’ deal with critical questions before they have power, just imagine how they’ll deal with critical actions after they have power!”
I do not wish to disagree. Only that I would not single out the socialists for such “psychologizing”.

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