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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

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An exception that proves the rule
An exception that proves the rule

When I hinted that a girl was too pretty to be a BJP supporter, she lashed out at me, asking whether I expected her to say, “Why, oh, Thank You!”, batting her eyelashes. But, Hindu nationalists are ugly for the same reason porn stars are not the prettiest people in the world. Pornography is a fundamental need of human beings. But, when a girl takes off her clothes in a porn movie, people look down on her. Of course, in societies where the stigma isn’t much, porn stars are not so ugly. A guy I know changed his daughter’s name because her name was the same as that of a porn actress. But, when a pretty Bollywood actress takes her clothes off in a photo shoot, people do not care much. Perhaps the contempt toward porn stars is a matter more of appearance than of substance.

The contempt toward Hindu nationalists, again, is a matter more of appearance than of substance. Like the average Indian, most Indian intellectuals and politicians are a lot closer to Hindu nationalists than they think. But, they don’t have self-knowledge. Virtually everyone is a nationalist. Otherwise, globalization and open borders wouldn’t have been so unpopular, even among the most informed economists and social scientists. Despite everything they’ve read, if the best intellectuals cannot shake off their prejudices, it is obvious that such biases are deep-rooted.

But, when someone openly says that Muslims should be slaughtered, or something along those lines, people balk. That does not sound “nice”. But, what they really believe is not too unlike this. Right wing intellectuals and politicians make a career out of this. But, to make a career out of this, you have to be willing to say this out explicitly, loudly, for everyone to hear. If this is not acceptable, you should insinuate that this is what you believe. People with high IQs—especially when they have high verbal IQs—tend to have a highly nuanced and complex understanding of what is socially acceptable, and what is not. (People with Asperger Syndrome are a notable counterexample.) They keep this to themselves. They wouldn’t choose a career in which people draw attention to their pettiness.

Cute.

Attractiveness and intelligence are the most reliable indicators of genetic quality. Looks and intelligence are highly correlated because high status men chase pretty girls. People with high verbal IQs, I suspect, will find more attractive partners than people with comparable general intelligence. Women with high verbal IQs are unusually attractive to men because they are more likeable. Men with high verbal IQs are unusually attractive to women for the same reason a successful author is more attractive to women than a wealthier real estate agent. If this is true, it is not surprising that the right wing intellectuals and politicians are ugly.

There are way too many leftists in intellectual professions. So, it is not surprising that they are far more competent than non-leftists. The best leftists are smarter than the best non-leftists because they are chosen from a larger pool. I haven’t read a competent Indian libertarian intellectual—other than me–because there are not many of them. They are chosen from a much smaller pool and are, not surprisingly, mainly, duds.

I’ve noticed that people think liberal intellectuals like Arundhati Roy, Pankaj Mishra, and Paul Krugman write fairly well, but are intellectually blank-cartridges. But, this is nonsense. Language is enormously complex. While it is hard to accept the truth, the truth is often obvious. The best liberal intellectuals cannot see the obvious despite being so intelligent because they are conformists. All the platitudes and pretensions to the contrary notwithstanding, they are wimps.

The prettiest girls are not willing to act in pornographic movies, because it is not hard for a pretty girl to make money without getting naked. Similarly, right wing smarties are not too willing to be intellectuals because they have to choose between living a lie and being marginalized. Most intellectuals are liberal. Intellectuals don’t condemn someone who believes that rich people should be taxed and regulated, or that multinational companies are evil because such prejudices are too deep-rooted. Leftists are cheap, little rascals, but they see themselves as nice people. Even their opponents believe that their “hearts are in the right place”. But, right wing intellectuals and politicians are seen as idiots and rascals. Is it surprising that smart right wing fellows don’t want to be intellectuals or politicians?

Biases of liberals have a good press. Biases of Hindu nationalists have a bad press. But, if bigotry bothers intellectuals so much, shouldn’t it bother them more when people are not honest about themselves?

Post Script: It is not surprising that it is Aakar Patel who made this observation. Aakar Patel is the most objective Indian columnist, though he isn’t very smart.

Books

If you put quite a few people inside a building, many things are bound to happen. Many bad things are bound to happen. Unless they are, well, nerds. Anyone who has worked inside an office for more than a few months know this. The people who deny this are the worst, the most contemptible people I have known.

I gather, from Twitter, that an alpha male ran into trouble after he raped a female colleague. His full name is Tarun Tejpal. Think about this. This guy is 50. The female colleague was not just a former colleague’s daughter. She is/was his daughter’s friend. Forget morality. How can he take such a huge risk for a moment’s pleasure? Even if she did not expose him, it would have been very difficult for them to work with each other. Why do people assume that he must have failed himself once, at a weak moment, at the age of fifty? Perhaps she did not have good “sportsmanship”, as he had expected. Perhaps, it was not easy to get away, this time?

Alpha males can get almost any woman. Why do they get into all this? I never understood. When I look at most evil things that people do, it does not make any sense to me. Continue Reading

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Morbid Thinking

We often accuse each other of wishful thinking.  Only rarely, though, do we accuse each other of the opposite cognitive vice: morbid thinking.  You might think that the disparity reflects the greater prevalence of wishful thinking relative to morbid thinking, but that’s hard to buy either.  The media is notoriously negative; as a rule, good news just isn’t news.  Academics, policy analysts, story-tellers, and religious leaders also tend to focus on the negative.  Academics and policy analysts write about social problems; story-telling can’t get off the ground unless bad stuff happens; religious leaders tirelessly inveigh against sin. My preferred explanation is simple: People neglect the danger of morbid thinking because most people are morbid thinkers!  While wishful thinking does exist, vocal wishful thinkers quickly provoke pushback: “Open your eyes, daydreamer!”  Vocal morbid thinkers, in contrast, typically evoke morbid support: “It’s even worse than you say.” You could respond, “Bryan only says this because he’s a wishful thinker himself.”  But what’s so wishful about decrying the ubiquity of morbid thinking?

Curiosity And Humility

In my experience, humble people are sheep.  They aren’t curious about the world; instead, they look to other people for guidance.  It is hard for them to question conventional wisdom, because their inner voice taunts, “What makes you think you’re so special?” True, if you’re so arrogant that you think you’ve got the whole world figured out, you’re not going to be very curious either.  But it takes a lot of confidence – even arrogance – to ask a question your peers aren’t asking, and insist that it deserves an answer. Continue Reading

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The Illicit Happiness Of Other People

When a young friend quoted an excerpt from a novel which convinced him that it would be one hell of a read, I did not know what it meant. It read: “If there were ever a sudden almighty silence in marine drive, you would hear a thousand bra straps snap.” When I once read that “Ron Paul is a gynecologist, and he is self-taught.”, I did not understand why it evoked laughter in an audience. I still do not.

When I once read in a Magazine that physical intimacy begins with a kiss, I wondered apprehensively: “But then, how far would they go?”  So, it is hard for me to not like the twelve-year-old Thoma in Manu Joseph’s The Illicit Happiness of Other People.

Thoma is glad that he is not a woman, because unlike his elder brother Unni, he does not know how to decipher clues. When Gloria Miss stands in front of the class with her arms folded, Thoma felt sorry for her. He wondered how women go through their lives—how they handle this shame. He knows that if he were a woman, he would have spent his whole life missing all the insults hurled at him by other women. To people who do not know how to decipher clues, there is an aspect of reality that is incomprehensible-an aspect of reality that involves people.

Continue Reading