The Mirror-Image Fallacy

I was watching Zoya Akhthar’s Dil Dhadakne Do yesterday. I guess the whole point of the movie was a belaboured one about how super-smart, intelligent women like the one played by Priyanka Chopra are suppressed by the patriarchal Angry North Indian Male (a distant cousin of the Angry White Male). One of the scenes that sets off the third act shows a frustrated Priyanka yelling her head off at a bunch of rich, North Indian aunties for gossiping about hookups among their litter of Ralph Lauren clad offspring. “Get a job!”, she yells. All transformed from Doormat Girl to Angry Indian Female. Stop gossiping. Focus on self-improvement. Study hard, begin startups and ‘Make In India’ for the greater glory of humankind. But she and her other social media lecturing counterparts forget one thing. Some aunties don’t want to become self-made women. Most, actually. Some are content with buying Fendi bags and gossiping about youngsters. Priyanka’s character’s solipsism believes that the whole world is like her.

This reminded me of a prescient article on the Mirror-Image Fallacy by Charles Krauthammer from Time 1983. I read it a while back and the sheer brilliance of Krauthammer’s thoughts stayed with me. I tried to find a link on the internet but couldn’t find one. So I typed it out for you. Word for word from the hard copy of his book ‘Things That Matter’. It deserves some space on the internet.

The Mirror-Image Fallacy
Charles Krauthammer in Time, August 15, 1983.

“As is evident just from the look on his face,” observes The New Yorker in a recent reflection on the Lincoln Memorial, “[Lincoln] would have liked to live out a long life surrounded by old friends and good food.” Good food? New Yorker readers have an interest in succesful soufflés, but it is hard to recall the most melancholy and spiritual of presidents giving them much thought. New Yorker editors no doubt dream of living out their days in gourmet pastures. But did Lincoln really long to retire to a table at Lutèce?

Solipsism is the belief that the whole world is me, and as mathematician Martin Gardner points out, its authentic version is not found outside mental institutions. What is to be found outside the asylum is its philosophical cousin, the belief that the whole world is like me. This species of solipsism – plural solipsism, if you like – is far more common because it is far less lonely. Indeed, it yields a very congenial world populated exclusively by creatures of one’s own likeness, a world in which Lincoln pines for his dinner with André or, more consequentially, where KGB chiefs and Iranian ayotollahs are, well, folks just like us.

The mirror-image fallacy is not as crazy as it seems. Fundamentally, it is a radical denial of the otherness of others. Or to put it another way, a blinding belief in “common humanity,” in the triumph of human commonality over human differences. It is a creed rarely fully embraced (it has a disquieting affinity with martyrdom), but in a culture tired of ancient distinctions as that between children and adults (in contemporary movies the kids are, if anything, wiser than their parents) or men and women (“I was a better man as a woman with a woman than I’ve been as a man with a woman” says Tootsie), it can acquire considerable force.

Its central axiom is that if one burrows deep enough beneath the Mao jacket, the shapka or the chador, one discovers that people everywhere are essentially the same. Eleven-year old American anthropologist Samantha Smith was invited to Moscow by Yuri Andropov for firsthand confirmation of just that proposition – a rare Soviet concession to the principle of on-site inspection. After a well-photographed sojourn during which she took in a children’s festival at a Young Pioneer camp (but was spared the paramilitary training), she got the message: “They’re just … almost … just like us,” she announced at her last Moscow press conference. Her mother, who is no longer eleven but makes up for it in open-mindedness, supplied the corollary: “They’re just like us … they prefer to work at their jobs than to work at war.”

That completes the syllogism. We all have “eyes, hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions.” We are all “fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer.” It follows, does it not, that we must all want the same things? According to Harvard Cardiologist Bernard Lown, president of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, that’s not just Shakespeare, it’s a scientific fact: “Our aim is to promote the simple medical insight,” he writes, “that Russian and American hearts are indistinguishable, that both ache for peace and survival.”

Such breathtaking non sequiturs (cardiological or otherwise) are characteristic of plural solipsism. For it is more than just another happy vision. It is meant to have practical consequences. If people everywhere, from Savannah to Sevastopol, share the same hopes and dreams and fears and love of children (and good food), they should get along. And if they don’t, then there must be some misunderstanding, some misperception, some problem of communication. As one news report of the recent conference of Soviet and American peace activists in Minneapolis put it, “The issue of human rights sparked a heated discussion . . . and provided participants with a firsthand view of the obstacles to communication which so often characterize U.S.-Soviet relations.” (The sadistic sheriff in Cool Hand Luke was more succinct: pointing to the rebellious prisoner he had just brutalized, he explained, “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.”) It is the broken-telephone theory of international conflict, and it suggests a solution: repair service by the expert “facilitator,” the Harvard negotiations professor. Hence the vogue for peace academies, the mania for mediators, the belief that the world’s conundrums would yield to the right intermediary, the right presidential envoy, the right socialist international delegation. Yet Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini, to take just two candidates for the Roger Fisher School of Conflict Resolution, have perfectly adequate phone service. They need only an operator to make the connection. Their problem is that they have very little to say to each other.

There are other consequences. If the whole world is like me, then certain conflicts become incomprehensible; the very notion of intractability becomes paradoxical. When the U.S. embassy in Tehran is taken over, Americans are bewildered. What does the Ayatullah want? The U.S. Government sends envoys to find out what token or signal or symbolic gesture might satisfy Iran. It is impossible to believe that the Ayatullah wants exactly what he says he wants: the head of the Shah. Things are not done that way any more in the West (even the Soviet bloc has now taken to pensioning off deposed leaders). It took a long time for Americans to get the message.

Other messages from exotic cultures are never received at all. The more virulent pronouncements of Third World countries are dismissed as mere rhetoric. The more alien the sentiment, the less seriously it is taken. Diplomatic fiascoes follow, like Secretary Shultz’s recent humiliation in Damascus. He persisted in going there despite the fact that President Assad had made it utterly plain that he rejected efforts by the U.S. (the “permanent enemy”) to obtain withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon. Or consider the chronic American frustration with Saudi Arabia. The Saudis consistently declare their refusal to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state in the Middle East, a position so at variance with the Western view that it is simply discounted. Thus successive American Governments continue to count on Saudi support for U.S. peace plans, only to be rudely let down. When the Saudis finally make it unmistakably clear that they will support neither Camp David nor the Reagan plan nor the Lebanon accord, the U.S. reacts with consternation. It might have spared itself the surprise if it had not in the first place imagined that underneath those kaffiyehs are folks just like us, sharing our aims and views.

“The wise man shows his wisdom in separation, in gradation, and his scale of creatures and of merits is as wide as nature,” writes Emerson. “The foolish have no range in their scale, but suppose every man is as every other man.” Ultimately to say that people all share the same hopes and fears, are all born and love and suffer and die alike, is to say very little. For it is after commonalities are accounted for that politics becomes necessary. It is only when values, ideologies, cultures and interests clash that politics even begins. At only the most trivial level can it be said that people want the same things. Take peace. The North Vietnamese want it, but apparently they wanted to conquer all of Indochina first. The Salvadoran right and left both want it, but only after making a desert of the other. The Reagan Administration wants it, but not if it has to pay for it with pieces of Central America.

And even if one admits universal ends, one still has said nothing about means, about what people will risk, will permit, will commit in order to banish their (common) fears and pursue their (common) hopes. One would think that after the experience of this century the belief that a harmony must prevail between peoples who share a love of children and small dogs would be considered evidence of a most grotesque historical amnesia.

From where does the idea of a world of likes come? In part from a belief in universal brotherhood (a belief that is parodied, however, when one pretends that the ideal already exists). In part from a trendy ecological pantheism with its misty notions of the oneness of those sharing this lonely planet. In part from the Enlightenment belief in a universal human nature, a slippery modern creation that for all its universality manages in every age to take on a decidedly middle-class look. For the mirror-image fantasy derives above all from the coziness of middle-class life. The more settled and ordered one’s life—and in particular one’s communal life—the easier it becomes for one’s imagination to fail. In Scarsdale, destitution and desperation, cruelty and zeal are the stuff of headlines, not life. Thus a single murder can create a sensation; in Beirut it is a statistic. When the comfortable encounter the unimaginable, the result is not only emotional but cognitive rejection. Brutality and fanaticism beyond one’s ken must be made to remain there; thus, for example, when evidence mounts of biological warfare in faraway places, the most fanciful theories may be produced to banish the possibility.

To gloss over contradictory interests, incompatible ideologies and opposing cultures as sources of conflict is more than antipolitical. It is dangerous. Those who have long held a mirror to the world and seen only themselves are apt to be shocked and panicked when the mirror is removed, as inevitably it must be. On the other hand, to accept the reality of otherness is not to be condemned to a war of all against all. We are not then compelled to see in others the focus of evil in the world. We are still enjoined to love our neighbor as ourselves; only it no longer becomes an exercise in narcissism. But empathy that is more than self-love does not come easily. Particularly not to a culture so fixed on its own image that it can look at Lincoln, gaunt and grave, and see a man ready to join the queue at the pâté counter at Zabar’s.

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The Hardcore Postmodernism of Gurgaon Plumbers

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I like how plumbers in Gurgaon use graffiti. Forget nihilistic subcultures and fighting the system, these guys are just vandalizing public property to advertise their services. Well done fella, you’re more of an artistic rebel than I am.

Graffiti has moved from being vandalism to being debated as a recognized art form in the latter part of the 21st century. Unregulated public art on vacant lots, subways and flyovers have added a certain youthful angst to ancient cities that were earlier defined by their grand columns and promenades. They wear hoodies and sullen looks. They fight tyrannical governments and promote world peace. But before we hail the spray can as the new black, let’s look at this whole thing dispassionately.

1. All graffiti art is not good. For every one great piece Instagrammed to death there are ten eyesores which can only be filed under ‘Vandalism’. There was some street art project in Bandra a couple of years back. The Wall Project. Most of it was eye-wateringly boring Bollywood kitsch and the “spirit of Mumbai”, whatever the fuck that means. There is good graffiti out there. (Mostly in Japan). But it is outweighed by the godawful.

2. You know how a Harley-Davidson just looks wrong on an Indian road? It just doesn’t fit. It’s such an iconic piece of Americana that it looks wrong anywhere except on an American highway. That’s how I feel about a lot of spray can art. My instant association is a Harlem ghetto and 80s hip-hop. And when the same style is replicated elsewhere it looks like a knock-off. And so hardcore wannabe. I guess you can’t fight globalization.

3. The politics of underground artists. Let’s start right at the top. The Pope of the movement, Banksy. Banksy is a pretentious boring wanker who makes pompous social comments, when his art is tired, uninspired and pretty much just a plea for attention and fame. And his minions follow his lead. They’re all recycling the same Banksy-esque armchair politics. “Don’t start wars, the government is oppressive, everyone’s in a ‘rat race’.” The less politically motivated species merely get off by signing their names. Or ‘tagging’, to go by their nomenclature. Which is about as artistic as peeing on a tree to mark your territory.

If you are going to put it out there on public display for all to see, we have a right to judge it on its merits. It’s like a person who’s just bought a violin playing at a nationally aired event. Who gave you the right to inflict your shitty art and your moronic political views upon me? What is the difference between this and Al Fayed’s MJ statue at Fulham or Mayawati statues, closer home.

Graffiti is a cultural atrocity on all counts.

Although if you are looking at solving tricky plumbing problems at home, you may be persuaded to make an allowance or two.

iPad Apps for India

Visit the App Store and there are hundreds of apps. But how many of these are relevant to our culture? Are you really going to cook Jamie Oliver recipes or read the e-book of War and Peace? Perhaps not. Let’s look at some apps that make sense to us.

The Shastri-Gavaskar App
Type in any forthright comment about cricket and this cleans it into a BCCI certified version of the same. Free with this is the Tendlya-Mancrush App which plays romantic music mixed with heavy breathing and occasional panting whenever Tendulkar is at the crease. $ 0.50

Customer reviews

Akash Sharma. ****
This is awesome. Check it out. I typed in “The Indian test team are a bunch of overpaid, inbred louts”. What I get is “The Indian test team is perfectly balanced”. Stalin is smiling in his grave.

The Bollywood Remix Song App
Takes any old Hindi song from your iTunes library, adds a base track of pulsating beats (doof-doof-doof-doof) and intersperses Jamaican patois/ rap in it to make your own Bollywood remix! FREE

Customer reviews

Cool_GuyDelhi *****
Gm 2 all ma sweet frnzzz…ve a gr8 day.. Njoy

Abhishek Dutta ****
gud one

Sahil Tyagi *****
kya gazab ka app hai bhai!!!

The Delhi Belly App
Been eating too much clean food? Missing out on Medical Leave?
This app ties in the GPS functions of your phone to show you those gastronomic hotspots in Delhi where you are guaranteed E-Coli, Gastritis or Hep B that can lay you low for a week. $ 1.50

Customer reviews

Richa Shreshta ****
Brilliant. It showed me some places in West Delhi that can effectively counter vaccines!

Alok Ranjan *****
I used to have conscience issues fabricating excuses to skive off work but now those days are gone.

Ajay Prajapati *****
This thing is super effective. I went in search of a simple flu and ended up with Small Pox. 6 months quarantine!! Yay!

The Ridiculous Nickname Maker App
If you were born in India and you don’t have a corny ‘house-name’, you’re probably adopted. Tonu, Sonu, Babloo, Chinkoo, Lolo? No? Tch Tch. This app finds an appropriate cheesy Indian nickname for you, based on your given name, state of origin and level of ridiculousness desired. $ 0.50

Customer reviews

Gumpoo *
Nonsense app. We have been given good names by our parents only. Why are we buying the apps for this?

The Tax Loopholes App
Self-interest is our national sport and we’d be rotten Indians if we gave the government its rightful due. This app finds all the loopholes in our tax system and generates a to-do list of activities based on your particular profession and income level. Get ready to buy some ‘farm land’. $ 3.50

Customer reviews

Krishna Desai ***
I have heard many people saying that India is not developing or is very slowly developing. Those who believe this should again give a thought to it. What an idea sirji.

NetJobs4All *****
!!!!!!!!!!!!!Work from Homedoing data entry jobs!!!! Earn $1000-2000 USD/month!!!!! No investment!!!!!!!!!!!! Free Training.!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The Rape Whistle App
This is the must-have app of the season, especially if you reside in the NCR region. It’s a pretty straightforward app, does what it says. There are two settings, manual and automatic. The manual one is free. The automatic version is iPhone only as it requires body contact to detect minute changes in body temperature and adrenaline levels that correlate to the body’s flight-or-fight responses and triggers a high-pitched whistle. Automatic Version $4.00

No customer reviews so far

The Bribe Calculator App
Traffic cops, registrar of marriages, the gas connection guy, excise – how do you decide how much to bribe in each instance? Fret not. Your worries are over. The Bribe Calculator App has been scientifically developed after interviews with over 5000 government employees and 7000 unscrupulous businessmen across the four metros. It even includes the correct bribe glossary in different states. Examples, ‘Kharcha-paani’ in Mumbai becomes ‘Adjustment’ in Bangalore. Between $0.50 to $16.00 (negotiable)

No customer reviews so far

The Google Nosey Neighbour App
This app uses Google Maps to identify your neighbourhood and sets up Google alerts for all your neighbours and prepares weekly bulletins with all their activity on FB, Twitter and the internet in general. Being a Google app, this is still in the Beta testing phase and you can’t download it unless someone invites you to the download page.

Customer reviews

Swaroop Dev **
What do you think? Here to stay, or another Buzz/Wave?

Vikas Rawat ***
The interface is quick, really well done. I love the integration with the other Google tools I use, like Gmail and Reader.

Help The MBA Challenged App
We live in an age where unfortunately a lot of young people are afflicted by MBAs. It is a chronic condition that causes early onset of dementia, stunted emotional growth that can result in borderline intellectual functioning, repressed sexual behaviour and in some cases even anxiety attacks. In some countries people cross the road to avoid them and children throw rocks at them. This app helps the MBA challenged cope with the real world. Helps them through basic human interactions, greetings, responses and makes them productive citizens of society.

Customer reviews

Periyaswamy Ellappan *****
App of the Year, for me.

Ankita Mittal *****
How wonderful and humane of you to do something like this. God bless you.

Shubham Bhatkande ****
Touching. Best use of technology!

Is Bollywood music better than Western music today?

Taking off where my last post left off, I was going through the most played tracks on my iPod today and it turns out I’ve listened to more Bollywood music than Western music over the last couple of months. It came as a surprise to me, because I’ve never really considered myself a Bollywood music person. Is it age? Senility? Is it because I’ve spent close to 8 years in the North? Possibly.

But there’s probably more to it.

During my school days in the 80’s, Western music had a certain magnetic allure. These were the pre-liberalisation days, so anything with the ‘Made in USA’ tag was accepted like gold, frankinsence and myrrh. Jeans, Bruce Springsteen, Madonna and the pre-paedophile MJ. It was a heady world. Bubble gum was cool. So was Bubbles the chimp. We craved for bootlegs of A-Team and Airwolf.

Hindi music was something akin to genital warts. In Bangalore anyway. Ocassionally when there was a blockbuster Hindi film or an impossibly catchy tune like Hasan Jehangir’s ‘Hawa Hawa’ infected people, it was a guilty pleasure. You enjoyed it but would never openly admit to liking Hindi movies because that just labeled you as common and uncool.

Probably like how listening to Country Music was in America.

30 years have passed. Kurt Cobain died a long while back. MTV came and left. The music industry is running on fumes. And Western music for several other reasons has lost its allure. It’s more about celebrityhood and fashion now, it seems. You take the top ten pop tracks and they all have that same synthetic, factory-produced Rihanna quality. I’ve never heard a single Lady Gaga track. I don’t think anyone has. But everyone talks of her clothes.

And as for rock, I have a one word summation of the state of the industry.

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Nickelback.

And there’s Beliebers and Miley Cyrus’s clitoris on display 24/7 for anyone who’d care to take a look.

Maybe I’m getting senile but Western music does seem to suck a bit.

At the same time, Hindi movies have gone through a sea change of perception. Funnily enough, it became fashionable among the hoipolloi around the time it hit its nadir, i.e. the David Dhawan era. Reverse snobbery kicked in and suddenly Govinda was cool. I never fell for that.

But things began to change slowly for Hindi films. Karan Johar and SRK brought in the overseas audiences. Multiplexes changed the nature of the old potboiler. And Hindi music has moved on from the Bappi Lahiri, Anu Malik days to more sophisticated music directors like AR Rahman, Amit Trivedi and Sneha Kanwalkar. I would even grudgingly doff my hat to Pritam who’s brought back an almost RD Burmanesque quality to melody. Is this the watershed moment?

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Have we finally moved on and given up the baggage of the Raj Hangover, cantonment living and convent schools to finally embrace our own culture? Only time will tell.

Your move, Western music.

Why Cricket Sucks

1. It’s not really cricket anymore, is it? This tedious sport was originally invented by red-faced Englishmen to give them something to do between cucumber sandwiches and fox-hunting. Over time, Kerry Packer introduced the one-day version, which made way in recent times to the Technicolor slogfest that is 20-20. 20-20, as any proper cricketer will tell you, is not really cricket. 20-20 is to cricket what Miniature Golf is to Golf.

2. One of the main reasons I watch football is that ad breaks in football appear every 45 minutes. There’s no way around it. No interruptions for 45 minutes + added time. Then you put your tv on mute and go get your beers while the ads play. With cricket, it’s every over. And in between there are those annoying bars at the bottom that tell you Vodafone phone rates throughout. And how do we celebrate a crucial moment in the match when a batsman hoists the bowler for six to win the match? Not by witnessing the scenes of celebration in the crowd or the ecstacy on the batsman’s face. Abrupt cut to a Reliance ad that flashes on and off telling you how happy they are as a brand that somebody scored a six. Do you see a Nike ad every time a player scores a goal in football?

3. Not only is cricket one of the most boring spectator sports in the world, it is one of the most boring participation sports in the world. Remember when you were a kid and you ran off to the nearest playground to play cricket? What did you want to do the most? Bowl? Bat? Maybe keeping wickets did it for some. But did anybody really like fielding? This is my main problem with the construct of this sport. Fielding. What is the point of fielding? How is it fun? Why is it exciting? From what I see it’s mostly just standing in a place. There’s a term for that and its called ‘loafing’.  Most other sports involve all participants all the time. Football, basketball, tennis, hockey. In cricket, of the 13 players on the pitch, only 3 are actively playing. The bowler, the batsman and the wicket-keeper. The rest are just standing or walking around the place. There is no feat of athletic prowess involved here unless you are one of those specialist fielders at silly point or wherever who fling themselves to the ground at regular intervals to stop the ball. Bravo. If this is a sport then watching a pair of goldfish in a bowl would qualify as an X-game.

4. Where are the personalities? Great personalities are often image-drivers for sport. One tends to think of Michael Jordans, Boris Beckers and Eric Cantonas when one thinks of basketball, tennis and football. Cricket had its heroes too. Viv Richards comes to mind. But the big difference is that basketball, tennis and football have heroes that drive the modern game. For every Jordan, Becker and Cantona, there’s LeBron James, Rafa Nadal and Lionel Messi. What does cricket have? Dhoni. A pockmarked hillbilly and an assorted selection of unwashed rabble like Sreesanth, Harbhajan. And there’s this other guy with an abnormally large Adam’s Apple that betrays at least three generations of inbreeding. Who else? Kevin Pieterson? Afridi? Ponting? You got to be fucking kidding me.

It’s a dull game played by dumb, ugly people watched by dumb, ugly people. I’m fully aware that over 98% of India would disagree with these views. Enjoy your dumb game you fucking halfwits. Remember to clap every time you see the pop-up ad that announces the sixer.