Everything about Peter Thiel seems larger than life. Marty Neumeier once said that you can hear the caffeine coursing through your veins as you read Peter Thiel. In the words of journalists, he is a “gifted rhetorician and a provocateur with a bottomless pocketbook” who is also America’s greatest living public intellectual. Peter Thiel is against death. He is more “athletic than his onscreen impersonators”. Peter Thiel pays brilliant students to drop out of college. Peter Thiel wants to prevent aging, produce meat and leather without killing animals, and build computers with greater brainpower than human beings. Peter Thiel also wants to build artificial libertarian cities in the ocean. Ayn Rand would have been delighted to see a libertarian businessman who is also one of the greatest intellectuals of all times.

It is not just journalists who find Peter Thiel impressive. Some of the greatest intellectuals on earth are admirers of Peter. Economist Bryan Caplan called him the world’s most creative philanthropist. This is how economist Tyler Cowen introduced Peter Thiel before interviewing him.

“It’s been my view for years now that Peter Thiel is one of the greatest and most important public intellectuals of our entire time. Throughout the course of history, he will be recognized as such. Peter himself doesn’t need an introduction; he has a best-selling book. His role in PayPal, Facebook, Palantir, many other companies, is well known. Peter is a dynamo. There is no one like Peter.”

But it was Peter Thiel who funded Hulk Hogan’s legal battle against Gawker.com for violating privacy. In 2004, Peter Thiel was outed by Gawker. “Peter Thiel is totally gay, people”, a Gawker article said. Peter feared this may deter some of his more traditional investors in Arab countries. When Gawker’s dig at Peter Thiel and some of his friends got too much, he decided to get even. Peter Thiel hired a team of lawyers to research how to bring Gawker down to its knees. Peter Thiel became a vengeance donor. This is one of the many cases in which Peter Thiel funded people who sued Gawker.

Do I blame Peter Thiel? No. Why?

Peter Thiel once told New Yorker’s George Packer that he had not made up his mind about the seat belt question. People drive carelessly when they fasten their seat belts. Then he made a volte-face, fastened the seat-belt and said it is much better to drive carefully while wearing the seat belt. Think about this. Seat belts make driving safer. But if your mind tells you that you’re safe, you’d probably drive recklessly. It’s all in your mind. You can selectively erase the information inside your mind. You can twist such information to your advantage. You can forget facts when it is inconvenient, and remember them again when it suits you. You can transmit untrue facts from one mind to another. All these have consequences. This is why delusion trumps the seat belt. Your safety has more to do with your beliefs than seat belts do. Your safety, and that of others. Our beliefs matter more than where regulators stand.

Let us suppose you live in a traditional society where the punishment for homosexuality is ostracism. If news gets around, your family will disown you. Your friends will leave you. Your will be out of your job. No one will rent out an apartment to you. You will have no place to go. Remember: These are not violations of your rights. People are within their right to do all this. These are not hypothetical scenarios. In some parts of the world, till recently, gays were treated not too unlike this. Even in the US, gays were persecuted under the sodomy laws, and often faced private ostracism and violence. Peter Thiel’s sexual preferences were not known to many except his family, closest friends and colleagues. Why? He feared things wouldn’t be pretty if everyone gets to know this. Your friend Jim knows you are gay. He outs you. Is this fair?

This much is obvious to me. You will suffer through no fault of your own. Jim and your other associates have the satisfaction of not having violated your rights. By tinkering with the information inside the heads of people, Jim harmed you. Here, Jim was not lying. But, what if he were lying? What if he were publicizing information he had not right to publicize, as in Hulk Hogan’s case? Gawker often targets powerless and vulnerable people who can’t fight back. Whatever you think about it, this fits Peter Thiel’s fundamental tenets of philanthropy:

“You want to pick an issue where it both does some good on its own, and at the same time helps draw awareness to a broader set of issues.”

Books, Uncategorized

Jinnah was quite clear about the role of Indian politicians. They must never mix religion with politics: one was a private matter, the other public service. Political differences should be settled by debate and not taken to the streets to create mob hysteria. The right to vote should be restricted to the educated tax payer and not be extended to the illiterate and those who do not contribute to the cost of administration. Primary education should be compulsory. What is truly amazing is that he found many takers for his ideas and was acceptable to the Indian National Congress as well as the Muslim League. Unlike most other Indian politicians, he was not overwhelmed by English governors and viceroys: he spoke his mind to them without mincing his words. He carried on verbal warfare with Lord Willingdon, Governor of Bombay and then Viceroy of India. In short, he was for a time India’s top political leader, till Mahatma Gandhi arrived on the scene. Gandhi not only infused religion into politics (!) but also took politics to the streets through his call for non-cooperation and boycott of government-run institutions, including schools. Jinnah found this distasteful and difficult to digest. Besides these, Gandhi showed a marked preference for Jawaharlal Nehru as the future leader of the country. Gradually, Jinnah was pushed off the centre stage of Indian politics to become more and more a leader of the Muslims. As The Manchester Guardian summed him up: ‘The Hindus thought he was a Muslim communalist, the Muslims took him to be pro-Hindu, the princes declared him to be too democratic, the British considered him a rabid extremist—with the result that he was everywhere but nowhere. None wanted him.’

—Khushwant Singh, The Good, Bad And The Ridiculous

I don’t believe in this freedom struggle business. I think Indians shouldn’t have kicked out the British. But, for someone in his right senses, it is hard not to read this and say, “What a decent fellow!” When compared to the mushheaded freedom fighters, that is. 

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In “Editor Unplugged”, Vinod Mehta hints that he was surprised how hysterically people responded to what is possibly a false rape accusation against the Tehelka editor, Tarun Tejpal. A lot of people called this a shameful admission, because Vinod Mehta admitted that Tarun Tejpal used to hit on women when he worked under him. This makes sense because this happens, and people pretend not to notice till it suits them. When you hysterically rant, remember: Most journalists probably had seen this as a charming eccentricity of his till he was caught. But, why do men cheat? Why would women do this? It has much to do with male and female sexuality. Roy F. Baumeister has the most beautifully written explanation I have read, of what men and woman want, in a relationship. And what traditional marriage and sexual mores lead to. This is not about false rape allegations, but this suggests why men cheat, and why women make false rape allegations:

“Nature plays a dirty trick on men here. Culture compounds it. Men may be fooled into making the promise of eternal sexual fidelity. They marry an illusion. Women in love do typically have high rates of sexual desire. When she wants the man to make the promise, the woman actually changes, not in a sneaky or manipulative way, but rather because her own feelings sweep into stronger sexual desires and responses than she is ever likely to have again. Many a man thinks he has found his sexual soul-mate, whose desires match his. But when the romantic passion wears off after a year or two, they revert to their quite different baselines. Most husbands discover that their wives want sex far less than they themselves do. The woman is likely fooled also. She knows her future husband wants sex with her often, but she likes this and thinks it suits her. Then her feelings subside and she finds herself stuck with a partner who is pressing her for more sex than she wants to have. In some times and places, women have simply accepted that providing her man with sex was part of her duty as a wife. Nowadays, however, she is far less likely to think this way. The married man has thus put himself in a bind. He promised to refrain from sex with anyone else but his wife. And now she doesn’t want him, at least not very often. Let us consider another possibility. Suppose his desire for her diminishes. Many women gain weight as they get older. Does the bridegroom realize that he is promising never to have sex with anyone but her, even if she were to double her weight and become unappealing to him? In recent weeks the advice column in my local newspaper has had a series of letters from readers about prenuptial agreements that include specifications about weight control. The columnists, a pair of women, were predictably indignant about such a legalistic requirement. They thought that trying to control someone’s weight is a ridiculous thing in a marriage. In fact, they seemed skeptical of prenuptial agreements generally. Such views are understandable from women. And perhaps it is unreasonable to divorce somebody because he or she put on weight. Then again, people are allowed, even expected to divorce partners based on having sex with someone else. If the two are related, why is one the norm and the other unreasonable? The fashion industry and mass media emphasize the ideal of slim women as sexually attractive. Countless pages have been written about how difficult and tragic this is for ordinary women, who cannot live up to those ideals and therefore must feel bad. I have not seen many pages devoted to sympathy for the husbands of those women. But the media’s ideals of thinness affect men too. The men see those same commercials with the attractive models. That makes it harder for them to desire their own sagging, thickening wives. You think men don’t notice or don’t mind? Weight is not the only culprit, of course. Very few women look better at thirty-five or forty-five than they did at twenty-five. Most lose some degree of sex appeal. The bridegroom looks at his bride, all lovely and slender in her white dress, and he feels a surge of desire. He is thus able to make the promise that she is the one for him, for now and forever. He should look at the older women in the group, perhaps her older female relatives, or indeed middle-aged women in general. Not just the pounds, but the wrinkles, the downward drift of loosening flesh, the other inevitable parts of aging.

Trends in recent years have seen people marrying later and later. Men who reached maturity in the 1950s and early 1960s typically married in their early twenties. Now, the late twenties or early thirties is more common. More men resist marriage for a long time, in some cases forever. This pattern of postponing marriage has given rise to a stereotype of modern men as afraid to make the commitment to marriage. On talk shows, advice columns, and other female-dominated media, the complaint that men are reluctant or afraid to commit will be heard over and over. Thus, we have yet another bad thing to think about men: Supposedly they are afraid of a healthy, loving relationship. The discourse about whether to get married, sooner versus later, is dominated by females and therefore sees things through their eyes. The male attitudes are distorted. Assume, for the sake of argument, that there is some truth to the behavioral pattern: that men are in fact reluctant to commit. The women will label this as fear of commitment. It is treated as a character flaw common to men. One could just as well look at it all differently. I suspect the men-are-flawed view is biased and possibly unfair. The alternate could also be characterized as biased and possibly unfair, which makes them equal. The alternate view is that women are trying to hustle men to do something against their best interests. The men sense at some point they are being taken advantage of. They prefer to slow down and wait. The male reluctance to commit could be a rational response and a reluctance to be exploited. Above and beyond that, though, there are other reasons for women to be in more of a hurry than men to get married. Sexual economics theory depicts many romantic pairings as exchanges in which the man brings money and other resources, while the woman contributes sex. Her sexual desirability is based partly on her looks. These resources change over time in a way that is not kind to women. If a man and a woman wait five years, as compared to marrying now, things likely change in different directions. His salary and bank account are likely to increase over those years. Her face and body may lose some of their bloom. Hence when they revisit the marriage market, his appeal and his options will have increased, while hers have decreased. The deal he can get will improve over time; the deal she can get will get worse over time. I sympathize with her predicament, but that’s not our concern here. It’s whether his reluctance to get married right away reflects some character flaw in him or simply a very sensible, rational strategy. He has no hurry. Again, this is the mirror image of the decision whether to have sex. Women can always stand to wait a bit longer to let the man prove his commitment more strongly, before getting into bed. He is the one in a hurry to have sex. Her reluctance is understandable, and for same reasons (fear of being exploited, or simple rational assessment that she doesn’t lose out on much by waiting). Many of us men were told when young that yes, it will seem for a long time that the dating game is against you, and the woman has all the power and advantage, but at some point that will switch over. We doubted this was true, and even if it would be, the time of our advantage seemed impossibly remote. But it is correct nonetheless. The young woman holds all the cards over the young man, but by age 30 if not earlier, the man has more cards, and on average the woman is increasingly anxious to close the deal. This is all based on rational calculation of one’s appeal in the mating market and how to get the best deal. Other considerations certainly operate. Still, the calculation of rational advantage has a way of bringing people around, to some extent at least. All the talk of men’s fear of commitment can thus be seen in another light. It is a bit like a marketplace in which all the sellers are urging the buyers to buy now, hurry, sign right now! The sellers know the prices will be dropping severely next week. So of course they want to sell as soon as possible. The buyers do not know quite what the hurry is. In reality there is no hurry as far as their prospects are concerned. Sellers point out that some sales have been made, some properties thus off the market, and they imply that if you do not buy quickly, you will miss out. Some of the buyers heed the warnings and buy rapidly. But it is the sellers who have to hurry. The buyers can wait till next week, when the sellers who have not yet sold will be cutting their prices, and new sellers will be entering the market. The buyers themselves may even be better off next week, because they will have more money. The Imaginary Feminist, and plenty of non-imaginary ones, have said that the social myths of romance and love are aimed at deceiving and exploiting women. Maybe. But perhaps they are aimed at exploiting and deceiving men. It is men who must be induced to fall prey to romantic mythology, so that they will enter into marriage, where their money can be tapped to support a woman and her children for a very long time, regardless of how their relationship to that particular woman unfolds. A startling yet revealing observation was made by Norah Vincent, after she had lived as a man for some months. She said that when she got men to open up and talk about their sexual feelings, most confessed that at some point they had done something of which they were now ashamed, motivated by their sexual desires. She did not elaborate on what these were, and one does not know even whether they men told her the specifics. And despite my extensive reading of research on sexuality, I have not seen any systematic data on this question. But let’s suppose that she’s right. What would that tell us? Certainly anyone who watches the news knows that many men, even highly respectable, prominent, successful men, have done sexual things of which they were ashamed. We have seen presidents and presidential candidates admit to sexual misdeeds that compromised their careers. We have seen senators and congressmen admit to doing things in public restrooms or in their offices that have made them laughingstocks. Are these men somehow atypical? More likely these incidents are the tip of the iceberg. These men were caught because they were such public figures that when they do what many other men do, the media are eager to report on them. There are many things men could mean when they say they have been ashamed by something sexual they once did. It is not just having sex with the wrong person or wrong type of person. It may include making inappropriate advances. It may include misleading a woman such as by pretending to be in love with her in order to convince her to have sex. It may have been trying again after she said no once. Before we condemn men as hopeless sinners, however—and I suspect many men regard themselves as such, at least when they reflect on their attempts to come to terms with the inner sexual beast—we might feel a moment of sympathy for their unrewarded successes. How many times on the dance floor, possibly head swimming with too many drinks, did he want to reach out and touch some woman’s derriere, and yet he resisted? How many times did he stop as soon as the woman with whom he was necking said to stop? (Research has suggested that most women have said “no” when they meant “yes” at least occasionally, which introduces a further element of confusion to even the most well-intentioned young man.) He doesn’t get any credit for all the times he stifles his desires, despite all the struggle and sacrifice that they cost him. Daily he wrestles with the beast, and mostly he keeps it controlled, even though it is part of him and, crucially, when he does manage to give it the sex it wants, the result has been some of the most glorious moments of bliss he has ever known. Mostly he succeeds in restraining himself. Out of every thousand times he has to deny himself and stop himself from acting on his feelings, once or twice he slips up, and these can be enough to shame him. In fact he’s lucky if their only lasting effect is painful memories tinged with shame, embarrassment, and guilt. These little slip-ups could ruin him, costing him his career, his marriage, his happiness, even his freedom.”

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1891996“Four years ago, while working with Chappell on his book Fierce Focus, I read his diary. It was exhaustively detailed. Chappell wrote it for himself, not for publication. He has not consented to my raising it now. But he has, it seems, been traduced, and ought to be defended. The diary records only one visit paid by Chappell to Tendulkar’s home. It took place nearly a year before the World Cup, on May 9, 2006, the day before Chappell and Dravid were to take the Indian team to the West Indies for a Test and one-day tour. Tendulkar was months away from playing. In private and in public, Chappell was placing unstinting faith in Dravid. This is the meeting to which Chappell’s statement refers. His diary records no other visit to Tendulkar’s home. So what’s going on? Was there a second meeting? Conspiracy theorists might say Chappell doctored his own diary, to delete a meeting such as Tendulkar describes. However, he would have needed to do this between 2007, when the diary was finished, and 2011, when I saw it. The only conclusion is that he has done this deliberately. Why would he do that? Perhaps to win favour with Dravid, who, while not possessing Tendulkar’s godlike status, has universal admiration and respect from cricketers of all nations for his unimpeachable integrity, a quality in which he is second to none. There is a certain cruel logic by which Tendulkar should throw Chappell under a bus. By the end of his tenure after India’s poor showing in the 2007 World Cup, Chappell was the convenient fall guy for all of India’s problems. Tendulkar may be playing a dangerous game by challenging others to go public with what they really thought of his behaviour over the years. Or perhaps there is no danger at all. Greatness on the field brings its own shield of invulnerability, and off-field, financial power adds a sword of intimidation. To fight for the truth is seen as too much bother, too difficult, too politically fraught. Too scary. Cricket Australia has bowed its head to realpolitik before, and there is no sign that it will change course. But for as long as free speech is suppressed in public, private resentment will fester.”

—-Malcolm Knox in The Sydney Morning Herald

“Why would he do that?” This is a good way to put it, because there is too much paranoia about paranoia. This question has roots in the weak-hearted fool’s inability to accept the human condition. Jealousy explains much of what people do, but this is an explanation that sounds too ugly to the little people who are too nice to see the truth. People don’t have self knowledge. So, when this question is posed at “conspiracy theories”, the proper retort is often, “Perhaps the dirty old shmoe was jealous?”

But, why would Tendulkar do that? Malcom Knox’s explanation doesn’t make any sense to me. Even if it is true that Sachin has lied, it can’t be because Sachin wants to win favors with Dravid. Sachin has already hinted that Dravid had declared the innings when Sachin was at 194 in the Multan test. This makes Dravid look like a jealous guy, and this is perhaps not unjustified. The Chappell incident was probably slipped in to make Sachin look like a noble guy who wouldn’t accept Chappell’s offer to kick out Dravid and pull the strings, even after Dravid had stabbed him in the back. Awww.

Dravid seems to have sensed this and that’s why he is hinting that he doesn’t know about that:

“I haven’t really read the excerpts of that book. Also I am not privy to any private conversation between two individuals. I have not heard about this before and I have no idea what happened and I would not want to make any comment. It’s been a long time and it does not make much of a difference to me now. Not looking forward towards reading this [Chappell controversy] but yes anything that Sachin writes on batsmanship and things like what made him the best in the world. I am more interested in reading those parts (!).”

Post Script: But, there seems to be an answer here:

“Then, there is the problem of Rahul Dravid. There was a distinction between the society’s love for Tendulkar and for Dravid. The distinction was based on class. Just as Tendulkar’s ruse was humility, Dravid’s was intelligent discourse derived from apparent reading. A segment of the urban society had a Nehruvian adoration for Dravid. Tendulkar knows enough to embarrass Dravid and the ill-fated coach Greg Chappell, and people tell me that he has spoken at length to the book’s collaborators, but it is possible that he has not retained everything.”

Books, Uncategorized

manmohan-singh-614-3Babies are deeply idealistic about love, because their prospects of mating are quite low on the probability scale. The voters who mock Manmohan Singh for being a wimp are in the position of the babies who hold others to such highly scrupulous standards in romantic love. Many Indians would want to replace him with a strong, decisive leader, but at best, this means that they are spoilt babies.

The average Indian feels no compulsion to yield to the whims of Sonia Gandhi because she does not order them around. He feels no compulsion to not hold strong opinions, because it is virtually free. Not bound by such constraints, he longs to be a Rajah who would smash everything that would stand in the way of creating paradise on earth. But, the truth is that he is not a Rajah and is not likely to be a Rajah anytime soon. He does not have self-knowledge.

But, it is hard for the Prime Minister to have such fantasies. It is hard for him to “man up”, because he derives his power from Sonia Gandhi, and not from public opinion. There are obstacles to overcome, and these obstacles are real. He has to overcome the inertia of his allies and masters. This is especially true, because Manmohan Singh is an economist, and probably has more sensible views. The more sensible your views are, the less you can afford to be a chutzpahnick.

Read my column In Defense Of Manmohan Singh in DNA