Musings: It’s okay to send your brain fishing in Mexico

12% of employees eat because they are hungry. 88% of employees eat because it is 1 o’clock.
-Mokokoma Mokhonoana

PART I: WE ARE ALL ANDY DUFRESNE

21st century intellectualism is a joke. I don’t even think it exists anymore; conditions are far too hostile to sustain it.

Over this century, we have set up factories at almost every place in the world. These factories, unlike any other, lack in machinery, time cards and uniformed labour. Their workforces are educated in the sense that they had all been students, at some point in their lives. These workers man the length of an invisible assembly line that snakes from factory to factory, indifferent to national borders, as its products acquire more parts. Finally, at random drop-off points all across the globe, this borderless invisible crisscross delivers its goods.

Unlike other capitalist assembly lines, this one doesn’t make tangible goods. However, like their more tangible cousins, these intangibles sell just as well. Those who do not buy them, out of personal reasons or even a simple lack of awareness, have them fed down their throats. These goods are nothing but the opinions we mass-manufacture and guilt people into buying.

Today, opinions own everything- conversations, food, education, and most teenagers. Your brain can take an early retirement and go fishing in Zihuatanejo because you certainly do not need it these days. The internet shows you menu cards with the bestselling opinions. All you have to do is figure out the ones that you like and can understand, even when the brain is on holiday, to call them your own.

If this feels tough for you, worry not. Just look around and people will tell you the good opinions from the bad. Newspapers are the best sources of such information. They will tell you, right down to the day, hour and second, which opinions are the best to hold for the time. The bad opinions are not tough to spot actually. People boo them at conferences and call them names at the end of concerts or theatre performances. Twitter comes alive at their mention. Memes flood the internet until this heresy ceases.

With all this a few taps of your finger away, why think? YouTube and Reddit have already done that for us. People on those platforms have already thought about everything and have given opinions on everything, so why not scroll through your feed, pick some interesting ones up and then walk around feeling and sounding intelligent?

Listen, individual opinion is outdated anyway. Taking your time to understand issues and then speaking your mind is a thing of the past. Listen to the experts, they’ll tell you why such and such is such and North Korea and Trump and France and the Middle-East. They’ll also talk about the clothes you must wear, the places you must go, the food you must eat and the music you should listen to. They will also tell you the converse- the clothes you must hate, the places you must avoid, the food you must detest and the music you must ignore.

To stray from this loop is asking for a death penalty. Not for you, of course, but for your individual, sometimes immature, irrational, and error-prone thoughts. Once the experts and the ones with the trending opinions execute your individual and nascent ideas, you are back to the center, away from the fringe. The fringe is for the abnormal ones, who would much rather sit and voice infantile ideas of their own rather than swallow the more mature ones of the pack.

And so, I rest my case.

PART II: WHAT IS A TRUMP?

Let’s get a little personal now. I want you to keep this a secret, okay? I am a fringe-person. I confess to not caring about what Trump does or does not, I confess to wanting to travel to mysterious North Korea. I also confess to not being a full-time feminist and other such unheard-of things. I’m all for gay rights, so you can calm down a bit. In other words, I respect no opinion but my own. I also recognize the possibility of my opinions being ill-formed ones or irrational ones. That’s okay. Opinions are ideas you form with experience and they’re as personal as your thoughts. It’s okay to have a contrarian opinion. No, one does not aim at sensationalism through contrarianism, one just thinks different and believes it is wholly okay to do so.

In other words, it is okay to not hold an opinion on everything that’s happening everywhere. Opinions are heavy and carrying too many hurts your brain. Think about the things you really care about, the ideas that come back to knock at your mind’s door every night as you lay down to sleep.  They come back because you are yet to let them in. Dwell on those, instead. American presidents, European elections, Korean threats and celebrity hairstyles can wait. For me, lunch, my beard, and the intricacies of Haruki Murakami’s latest short-story collection are enough to think and opine about, for the moment.

As a parting gift, I’ll give you this pearl of wisdom- in a world where everyone is correct, be a rebel and allow yourself the freedom to be wrong. It’s the only way to stay sane.

Musings: The typing dead

One should respect public opinion insofar as is necessary to avoid starvation and keep out of prison, but anything that goes beyond this is voluntary submission to an unnecessary tyranny.
– Bertrand Russell

The ubiquity of the internet gave birth to one of the 21st century’s most banal and detestable cultural phenomenons: fandoms.

Fandoms are groups of fans that share common interests over mutual feelings of empathy and kinship. They sound tolerable on paper, even pleasant. But one mustn’t speak unless one has survived the horrors of their online orgies. Fandoms discuss everything- right from the daily outfits of their Objects of Devotion (OoD, from here on) to intimate details like dress sizes, blood groups and, yes, even their children.

Consider the recent case where the internet had a meltdown over the published photos of a pregnant Beyoncé. Fans congratulated her, suggested baby names, extolled her physical virtues and called her pregnancy sublime. Some reached the conclusion that very few women could carry a pregnancy off with grace like her’s. Honestly, how is her pregnancy in any way significant? Or different, for that matter, from millions of other pregnancies?
Beats me.

As such, fandoms have manufactured countless zombies devoid of individual opinion. These zombies create gaudy social media profiles full of pictures of their OoD. These profiles serve as podiums while they discuss, debate and ultimately swear allegiance to specific fandoms. This process is repeated and loyalties are reaffirmed, multiple times. Quite often, this is done through vague code on public profiles. This is a tactic fans use to stymie their less aware peers and spark their curiosity. Their online revels are voyeuristic as they bask in the attention their posts garner.
The hypocrites might allege libel and sue me over this, but this is true. Invariably and undoubtedly so. I was  a part of this mess as well, until I chose the burdens of a real life over the shackles of an online one.

All of this bears the semblance of a militia recruitment campaign. These fandoms, at first, name themselves. Then they begin to collect under this name, their banner. They market their values and lure people into an online army. How this works is through a complex system of social reward, best explained through the example of Pavlov’s dog. Initially, one is encouraged to declare affiliation to a fandom, subject to peer approval. Once this initiation is done, the wheels are set in motion. Every post one makes in support of the fandom, points of approval are gained. Like Pavlov’s dog, they too salivate at the approach of their food- approval. Soon enough, the approval ceases, like Pavlov’s food did. Yet, like Pavlov’s salivating dog, they continue to ooze adoration in the hope their favourite food returns. As such, over time, these fandoms grow to occupy vast swathes of internet territory- erecting barriers and inventing languages.Doing so, they suck the meaning out of their surroundings.

Look at Tumblr, for instance. What started off as a promising space for bloggers to post and interact has now been reduced to a barren wasteland. It died in the fire it helped set off. It never took much to get the party started. The smallest spike in some OoD’s activity and Tumblr erupts. The fandom citizens crawl out of their holes and instantly leap into a whirlpool of mindless chatter and squabble, severing ties with reality.

There is yet another detestable subspecies, the most insidious of the lot.
Herein, members lament their ‘overwhelming dependence’ on the fandom and the communities it has spawned. These specimens whine about losing sleep over pointless virtual conversations held on electronic screens. Simple, sane suggestions like ‘get the hell off the damn fandom then’ do not enter their brains, which by then have been mummified.
Sympathy, alone, gets them to shut up. These are the kind that want two birds for the one stone they throw- approval and sympathy. Day after day, they re-enter the Motherland, sacrificing precious sleep and scorching their eyeballs under the harmful blue light of their screens, addicted to the concoction of approval and sympathy they get out of it.

Meanwhile, as these online zombies tear themselves to pieces over items of increasing insignificance, I shall quietly catch my TV episodes and the latest chapters of my preferred manga in the privacy of my room. Once done, I will turn the lights off and tuck myself into bed- safe from this epidemic of banality.

For what it’s worth, I refuse to be an insignificant bunch of lines on strange screens- alone and sans purpose.

Musings: The impotency of water & what it portends

If you base medicine on science, you cure people. If you base the design of planes on science, they fly. If you base the design of rockets on science, they reach the moon. Cars drive. Computers compute.
It works, bitches.
               

 – Prof. Richard Dawkins
(when asked to justify the scientific method)

Here lies my case: as a species, we share an immense susceptibility to fantasy.
This is why sensationalism is rampant in today’s reporting. Nothing grabs eyeballs better. Except, perhaps, mysterious little North Korea and its chubby head honcho.

Consider this:

In the summer of 2016, my father visited a few farmers’ collectives. He went to survey their opinions on an upcoming hydroelectricity project. Despite the project’s benefits, the farmers expressed immense dismay. Further inquiry revealed the reason- the farmers strongly suspected that the hydroelectricity project would diminish the water’s ‘strength’. They thought the water would lose its fertilizing power. They lamented the supply of impotent water to the farmlands. 

This might seem like a hilarious anecdote at first. A fond memory of the naivete of the country folk. Look closer, however. It is evidence of the susceptibility I mentioned earlier. We imagine explanations where we lack them. We prefer fantastic conclusions to obvious natural reasoning. Conclusions that satisfy our ego. Adapting these to fit the limits of reason is thought inconvenient. Science is declared ‘limited’ and ‘incapable’. Fantasy suffices, then suffuses,

If you haven’t observed this already, you’re either a part of it or have entirely escaped it. The latter is highly improbable.

This susceptibility is toxic, tantalizingly so. It provides a widely accepted alternative to logical thinking. Science is not malleable. It is impersonal and people hate it for this apparent coldness. Science paints a picture of their lives they cannot digest. More edible and tastier alternatives are sought. Cue: innate susceptibility. Unlike animals, we evolved an intelligence that can imagine. Not just adapt and grow but imagine. We can ask the ‘what ifs’ and the ‘why nots’. This makes for a very potent stew.

Where science proves inconvenient, where it proves harsh- we ignore it. This baffles me. How can one ignore science as if it were a choice? If the rock above one’s head falls, it will hit- regardless of whether one sees it coming or not. Where one’s personal ideas are rubbished by science, one worries. One escapes from its constraints, sailing the ship of imagination. We invent ideas and create explanations that please and encourage. Entire industries have developed around this- religion being the most formidable.

This is my plea- don’t look away. However bleak or cold reality may be, it is the only thing there is. Nothing else exists and in nothing else, will you. We must desist from buying this inherited delusion of convenience. Science cannot be disposed of. Its laws have preceded us and will go beyond us. It is why we are here- products of evolution. It is immune to us, just as it must be. For if left to us, scientific law would be an awkward and insecure apology incapable of deciding what two twos must equal; let alone what flies, what swims or what does both.

Scientific law is inevitable and ubiquitous- the only law that needs no constitution. The entirety of the solar system and all of the galaxies- each bigger and hotter than the other, spread over an endless space, have been unable to achieve the most momentary suspension in the laws of the universe.

How can you?

Musings: My Beef With Spirituality

I cannot remember when last beef and spirituality were in the same sentence, if ever.

A spiritual seeker seeks insight into what one does not already know. One meditates on the unknown to somehow grasp the known. One dismisses the obvious in deference to its alternates. The system of inquiry that allows for such methods is spirituality.

However, there is another occupation which is not entirely dissimilar. There too, one questions the unknown to try and make it known. Therein, one dismisses the obvious in deference to its mechanics. William Whewell, an English philosopher and a gifted wordsmith, termed one occupied with such interests as a ‘scientist’.

Though technically identical in their quests, a scientist could not differ more from a spiritual seeker. The latter relies on the abstract whereas the former employs logic as the tool of discovery.  Scientists make the unknown known on the back of irrefutable evidence. Universal truths emerge as the culmination of their investigations.

What, then, does the spiritual seeker do?

One studies the abstract and the obscure with dubious tools. These tools have no form nor any defined function. They do not operate within the constraints of reality. Inquiries typically precede birth and go beyond death, scrutinizing everything in between.

This is where I sniffed my beef out.

Spiritual inquiry is not built on a scaffolding of logic. It is an attempt to grasp a superior reality with inferior tools. It is random and personal, expansive and fragile- all at once. Spirituality obeys no laws, nor does it contribute any. Fact checking, unfortunately, holds no weight in spiritual inquiry.

Fraught with such inconsistencies, spirituality sometimes confuses fiction for fact. The converse is true as well, sadly.

I consider this kind of inquiry dangerous. To me, it is a haven for those entrapped by dogma. Imagine the endless labyrinths of fact-fiction one can weave herein! Anybody can aspire to spiritual inquiry; intellect not being a barrier to entry. Contrived inferences on the same reality emerge, desperate to reinforce the overarching dogma. Fiction pervades, fact is shunned.

It does not help that spirituality has garnered immense acceptance. It has suffused every zone of life. We have spiritual solutions for workplace issues. Sportspeople win gold medals and credit them to spirituality. Families resolve domestic disputes, courtesy spirituality.

But for how long will fiction shield one from reality?

It is bound to break, sooner than later. And when it does, your happy little bubble will implode. You’re back to the beginning and realize you had actually never progressed. Just imagined it, that’s all, but never have.

Listen, should you ever feel the irrepressible urge to question- stop. Think. Will answering this question transport you away from logic? If the answer is no, proceed. If the answer is yes, good luck.