Why Do I Find It So Difficult To Understand Sarcasm?

When I was in college, a 16 year old girl promised to marry me. She wanted to name our baby “Sachin”. I believed her.

When a policeman once asked me whether I’d like to get my passport on time, I smiled with gratitude and slammed the door on his face.

When I once read, “Ron Paul is a gynecologist, and he is self-taught.”, I did not understand why this evoked laughter in an audience. I still do not.

I’ve always had a tenuous understanding of sarcasm and double-speak. I take words literally. When I was a child, it took me many years to understand hidden insults. 

I’ve never had it any other way. I was not sarcastic as a child. I was too innocent to understand the art of insinuation. When a teacher was sarcastic to me at 9, I understood her only a year later. When I fully understood her, I felt numb, as if I were struck by lightning. I stood still, staring at my coconut tree. It was too late, because I’d left that city and moved into another school. There was nothing much I could do about this. This was deeply unsettling. Continue reading “Why Do I Find It So Difficult To Understand Sarcasm?”

If you really are stupid, I would call that a disease.

Nobel laureate Dr. James D. Watson, Chancellor, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.I believe you are the kindest to people when you tell them exactly what you think, in the clearest possible terms, in the most uncompromising manner, without hostility, without manipulative intent. It is sheer evasion and malice that stops people from seeing this. Normal human beings find this very hard to understand, because they are cheap. But, the details of their narrow-mindedness doesn’t interest me at all.

Little people evade the truth because truth is not a great ally in persecuting brilliant, honest men. This is what happened to James Watson. Watson now wants to sell his Nobel Prize to make quick cash. Read what he has to tell you:

“I’ve had strong opinions probably since I was born. It makes you unpopular, but what can you do?”

“If someone’s liver doesn’t work, we blame it on the genes; if someone’s brain doesn’t work properly, we blame the school. It’s actually more humane to think of the condition as genetic. For instance, you don’t want to say that someone is born unpleasant, but sometimes that might be true.”

“People say it would be terrible if we made all girls pretty. I think it would be great….”

“I think it’s irresponsible not to try and direct evolution to produce a human being who will be an asset to the world.” 

“When you interview fat people, you feel bad, because you know you’re not going to hire them.”

“All our social policies are based on the fact that Africans’ intelligence is the same as ours – whereas all the testing says not really. People who have to deal with black employees find equality is not true.”

“If you really are stupid, I would call that a disease. The lower 10 percent who really have difficulty, even in elementary school, what’s the cause of it? A lot of people would like to say, ‘Well, poverty, things like that.’ It probably isn’t. So I’d like to get rid of that, to help the lower 10 percent.”

“If we could make better human beings by knowing how to add genes, why shouldn’t we? What’s wrong with it? Evolution can be just damn cruel, and to say that we’ve got a perfect genome and there’s some sanctity?”

“Ultimately, we’ll help the people we discriminate against if we try to understand more about them; genetics will lead to a world where there is a sympathy for the underdog.”

“One could not be a successful scientist without realizing that, in contrast to the popular conception supported by newspapers and mothers of scientists, a goodly number of scientists are not only narrow-minded and dull, but also just stupid.”

“To succeed in science, you have to avoid dumb people… Even as a child, I never liked to play tag with anyone who was bad as I was. If you win, it gives you no pleasure. And in the game of science-or life-the highest goal isn’t simply to win, it’s to win at something really difficult. Put another way, it’s to go somewhere beyond your ability and come out on top.”

“If you accept that people are the products of evolution, then you have to have an open mind to the truth. Unfair discrimination exists whether we like it or not; I wouldn’t have married a gum-chewing vegetarian.”

“It is necessary to be slightly under employed if you are to do something significant.”

“No one may have the guts to say this, but if we could make better human beings by knowing how to add genes, why shouldn’t we?”

“Never be the brightest person in the room.”

“I just can’t sit while people are saying nonsense in a meeting without saying it’s nonsense.”

“Constantly exposing your ideas to informed criticism is very important, and I would venture to say that one reason both of our chief competitors failed to reach the Double Helix before us was that each was effectively very isolated.”

Frauds And Fakes

1) Journalists often claim that Economics “has not been very successful in predicting the trends in history, and that this suggests that Economics is far from being a science.”  When I read a journalist who makes this claim, it is clear to me that he is a fraud, a total fake. I have never read a serious economist who believes that this is the purpose of the economic science or even that economists can forecast the future.  But, you do not have to be an economist to know this. It is obvious to anyone with a passing familiarity with the subject. This does not, of course, mean that we know nothing about the future, or that we cannot anticipate certain trends. Decent economists never encourage this tendency of journalists, and tell them that the monthly changes in economic indicators are not as important as they believe. But, their attitude is “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah”. This is a classic case of projecting ones own inferiority onto others. They assume that this is the goal of economics. Then, they blame the economists for not living up to their expectations. These critics of economics cannot even describe the content of economics with reasonable accuracy. This is true of all such frauds.

2) When I read a writer who claims that a particular view is not “subtle” or “nuanced”, or that it is a “black-and-white” perspective, I assume that he is a fake.  People who love the truth have no use for this sort of criticism. People want to believe that a view that they disagree with is not “subtle” or “nuanced”, whatever that means. Often, these people have no understanding of the complexity of the position that they criticize. They simply assume that it is a childish view, because they do not like it, because it appears extreme, or because they hate good prose. Again, this is a projection of ones own inferiority onto others. Continue reading “Frauds And Fakes”

The Refund, Fritz Karinthy

Fritz Karinthy’s “The Refund” is a play I liked when I was 9. I read it to my little brother, and he liked it too. I lost the hard copy, but you can find anything over the web. Do read:

Play logline

A man about 40 returns to his old school and demands to refund the tution fees paid by him 18 years back for the reason that the education given to him never proved useful and that he is now not good for anything.

The Principal is seated at his flat-tapped desk in his office in a high school. Enter a servant.

THE PRINICIPAL: Well, what is it?

THE SERVANT: A man, sir. Outside. He wants to see you.

THE PRINCIPAL [leaning back and stretching]: I receive parents only during office hours. The particular office hours are posted in the notice-board. Tell him that.

THE SERVANT: Yes, sir. Yes, sir. But it isn’t a parent, sir.

THE PRINCIPAL: A pupil?

THE SERVANT: I don’t think so. He has a beard.

THE PRINICPAL [disquieted]: Not a parent and not a pupil. Then what is he?

THE SERVANT: He told me I should just say Wasserkopf.

Continue reading “The Refund, Fritz Karinthy”

My Experiences With Homosexuality

They have a disease called homosexuality. Do you know what it means?

In junior high school, the lunch break seemed all too short. When we were thirteen, every boy liked to play, except the class topper, a freak who never needed to study, and the wayward backbenchers. They did not leave the classroom when everyone else did. My only friend in high school once said, “He, and his friends, they have a disease called homosexuality. Do you know what it means?” I said, “Yes. I have read about it.”

I first read of homosexuality in a memoir in which the author, a scientist once met a friendly middle-aged man in a wine bar. The middle-aged man insisted that he needed a place to sleep. When the author said that there are many hotels in the city, the “friend” said that they are very expensive. The author took this man home, where he was staying as a paying guest. When the author decided to sleep on the sofa, asking him to sleep on the bed, the “friend” claimed that it made him feel guilty. He insisted that they could sleep together, puzzled, asking the author why he took him home when he had no intention to sleep together. The scientist did not understand what was going on. When he was asked to leave, the friend said that he needed money. The landlord woke up hearing the verbal duel, paid the friend, asked him to go, telling the author that there are many maricón’s in the city. Homosexuals. After this incident, the landlord and his daughter did not talk to him much. Continue reading “My Experiences With Homosexuality”

Clever People

Clever teacher.

I was not sarcastic as a child. I was too innocent to understand the art of insinuation. When I was in second standard, one day, as usual, the children in my class wanted to go out and play instead of learning Math. Our Mathematics teacher was ingenious. She was a clever lady. She found a way to put an end to this nuisance by saying that the kids who prefer games to her class should line up in front of the classroom. I sprung up from my chair and cheerfully walked out of the classroom. After waiting for a while for the other kids to follow, I walked down the stairs.

Walking down the stairs, I ended up staring at my 1st standard class teacher who stood far away. I was still not over my deep crush over her. I used to be deeply depressed in those days. I had believed that she had left the school, and the job. I wondered whether, as usual, my suffering was unnecessary. There was of course, a reason why I fell for her. The law of causality tells us that nothing happens without a reason. In a parents teachers meeting, she had hugged me saying that I was such a quiet child. With a smug smile on my face, I thought how naive I was to believe that she was unaware of my existence. Continue reading “Clever People”

April Fool’s Day

April Fool!

We were in Kindergarten, and our Summer vacations had just begun. On April 1st, when my little brother and I woke up in the morning and opened the door to play, we saw all our chairs hanging on a tree. On a placard, it was written large: “April Fool!” We stood there with an expression of astonishment on our faces. When we called our parents, they told us that it was the “April Fool’s Day”.

We intuited that some of my father’s students did that. I had seen these people. Once when my father gathered that they did not know the difference between Arabic numbers and Roman numerals, he called me and my brother. And then he said: “My children—They are in school. They know what it means.” After explaining it to them, I looked at them with intense disapproval, thinking: “I will never study with you, people.” Continue reading “April Fool’s Day”

An Interesting Conversation

You have no fear for me. It is a game.

She: I don’t feel fear in human interactions. I have trained myself to convert fear  into action when I sense it.

Me: Do not be fooled by what I say.  I convert fear into action too. My butterflies are unpleasant only when they inspire fear. I think you know one such person.

She:  I know whom?

Me: Your guess is as good as that of mine.

She: You have no fear for me. You conjure it up only because you enjoy it. It is a game.

Me: Why do you say that I do not fear you? Look, you are quite perceptive, unlike your friend Miss X.

She: Lol. She ain’t my friend. And I have experience on my side.  Continue reading “An Interesting Conversation”

My First Short Story

Pointing at the bird, my mother told me and my little brother that this bird that never rests has better work ethic than us.

I was nine years old when I noticed that a bird was building a nest inside my “home”. For weeks, I would lie on my bed and watch the bird carefully build its nest. The bird made countless trips to and from the nest to collect materials to build its home. Pointing at the bird, my mother told me and my little brother that this bird that never rests has better work ethic than us. And that it is time for us to shape up. I think she should observe some Magazine editors here, but I suppose it is a bad thing to find flaws in other people.

I and my brother soon started hatching plans to trap the bird and its baby in the night. We even bought a cage. “But, we should wait for the right moment”, we told each other. We waited and waited and waited. In those days, I read as much as I can, about birds.

One night, we both decided that the time has come. We woke up in the night after our parents had slept, and started walking towards the nest, holding each other’s hands with a torch and a cage. When we were about to trap the birds, we noticed that the birds had left that day evening. We stared at each other, with an expression of astonishment on our faces. And then we went back to our beds feeling betrayed, with incommunicable discomfort. Continue reading “My First Short Story”

The Man Who Hated Everything

The Sage Of Baltimore

While glancing at a picture of a bunch of Harvard students holding a flag along with Mencken, captioned “Mencken was our God, and the American Mercury our Bible”, I couldn’t help wondering how a 20th century American journalist could evoke such burning passion in the minds of the very young. I had once read with  puzzlement that my favorite novelist-philosopher Ayn Rand showed him the manuscript of her first novel, calling him the greatest representative of a philosophy to which she wanted to dedicate her life. I had loved Rand’s caricature of H L Mencken (Austen Heller): “He had started as a literary critic and ended by becoming a quiet fiend devoted to the destruction of all forms of compulsion, private or public, in heaven or on earth. He could discuss the latest play on Broadway, medieval poetry or international finance.”  I had read that according Mencken’s own judgment, “Notes on Democracy” was the worst book he had ever written. But, I was shocked speechless when I read it, as it was the greatest work I have ever read on the “blind worship of mere numbers”. Everything I had heard of “the man who hated everything” started suddenly making perfect sense to me. I can easily agree with Joseph Wood Krutch that Mencken was truly the greatest prose stylist of the twentieth century. Continue reading “The Man Who Hated Everything”