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I tend to have very strong opinions, so my contempt for the increasing "stupidification" of India is hardly a secret. This is a cause for alarm, because it is indeed contagious. Political views, gender, caste, class, religion are not barriers to this epidemic. The reason for it is the natural human tendency to reply in the manner in which we are spoken to. I have brought this up before. If I say apple, you may say "oranges, pie, tree, cold weather, computer...." but you are unlikely to say, say for example, "spoon" - our mind tends to reply in a manner that is relevant to what it is that we are replying.

This is a problem when there is an overall process of radicalization, because those conditioned to thinking in a polarized mannerh will have a tendency to bring all conversation to their programmed triggers. The trap is already set. There are few responses that can be made at that level that won't derail you from the subject you wish to talk about. As a consequence, this conditioning spreads also to those who oppose it through sheer Pavlovian repetition. So a person questioning a liberal perspective may be a bhakt, a person questioning a feminist perspective may be a misogynist, and so on. The fundamental tendency proliferates on its own through sheer engagement with it. Whether in agreement or disagreement does not matter, as long as the nature of interaction is polarized.

It creates an unconscious conditioning of disagreement being seen as hostility or outright evil. Among both desiring to exclude or target specific identities or those wishing to exclude or target those who exclude or target specific identities. This is where we are today. This is why it is so difficult to prevent the increasing irrationality. Because those opposing the irrational views themselves get sucked into the whirlpool to the bottom of the IQ scale.

It is human nature to recognize our own view as the sane one and see the irrationality outside us.

However, if we examine the interactions we have, for quality, as opposed to morality, the problem is clear. We have gazed too long into the abyss and the abyss also gazes into us.

This, in my view is the real danger to the society, the country and the world. A departure from rational thought in the public space is a very alarming situation. The stupidification is a bigger threat to India long term than the violence and it has grown far more than either side of the polarization is able to recognize.

Fear is seductive. Our survival instincts condition us to pay attention to threats in order to survive. Hence, negativity - real or imagined - will always draw attention more easily than well being (there is nothing that needs urgent attention).

In my view, the bigger urgency today is to understand how we get sucked into talking about things we don't wish to through sheer Pavlovian conditioning. We need to develop skills to engage in rational debate and refuse to engage in irrational triggers derailing conversation to programmed tirades on political stands. The immediate danger may be violent mobs, but the larger long term concern is what caused so many people to think that such a stupid choice is a bright idea.

This is the result of fear. The fear that is used as a quick fix to compensate with paranoia what the agenda lacks in quality. We are surrounded by a culture of fear. Majorities are led to believe that minorities are somehow going to subjugate them. People who wouldn't quit smoking over health issues in the next decade would happily celebrate the murders of hundreds or thousands to "protect" themselves from that unlikely threat. The chances of dying in a road accident are higher, but they feel no fear about being in a vehicle. The point I am making here is anxiety is carefully built about specific subjects to turn them into threats for political profit. This is how Muslims being less than a fifth of the population and yet disproportionately underrepresented in jobs, education, housing and over represented in disadvantageous statistics like death tolls in communal crimes or being killed in state violence or being imprisoned without trial and so on, still results in a perception of Muslims as a threat.

It is like asking someone whether they have a pimple forming on their nose. They will touch their nose and examine the smallest hint of a bump and see it as proof that a problem pimple is indeed growing. It is how a stage magician may move his hand in a flourish while saying something in a dramatic manner, while the other hand palms a coin or scribbles a message for the audience to "discover" in full sight of the audience - and yet invisible. Because attention is focused elsewhere. People trying to figure out how the trick was done will continue to imagine that there was something about the flourish and want to examine sleeves and such, but fail to notice the other hand in full view doing the tricky part on the table. If you see enough TV programmes discussing the risk Muslims are to the country, you don't stop to ask why there is a need to discuss Muslims specifically. The unconscious conditioning to see them as a problem that needs to be resolved is already established through what is called a "false dilemma" or "false dichotomy", where you are presented with two choices as the only ones possible, making several illogical assumptions in the process.

If you were to see TV talk shows discussing daily whether apples were healthy at all, regardless of the discussions or conclusions, the fact that there was a need to evaluate the safety profile of apples specifically at all on a daily basis would have you avoiding apples and eating bananas or some other fruit to play it safe. In reality, there is no particular reason to discuss apples with such exceptional intensity. There is nothing wrong with discussing apples either. But the disproportionate attention given to evaluating their safety will make them appear to be unsafe even if discussion after discussion daily affirms after much debate that they are safe - because that affirmation is no conclusion, a new discussion will be required tomorrow - it is not safe. It is an ongoing threat. Better eat the orange. Now, if I sold bananas and wanted more people to switch from apples to bananas... would I have a reason to trigger such paranoia among those I want to manipulate?

This is an important part of propaganda - the delegitimizing of the targeted population. The questioning of every aspect of their existence and needing it to be proved harmless, while the rest of the population is very much similar but bears no scrutiny gives out its own message. The issue is not what these debates conclude. The fact that you devote 80% of TV debates to less than 20% of the population itself is its own signal to the population - here is something that needs you to be alert. The examination of every aspect of a part of the population as though they were aliens also serves another purpose - dehumanization.

Humans inherently are social animals and do not aspire to see themselves as vicious killers or attackers or those depriving others of basic human dignity. Mere differences cannot make a person be okay with inhumanity. For that, the target needs to be dehumanized. It has to be rendered to something less than human. A threat. Something so alien that it feels less pain than us, is more violent than us, is less deserving of compassion than us. This is where impunity for genocides is manufactured. We are in this cold blooded process. And we have no way to elevate the conversation. Partly because these conversations are carefully engineered to avoid targets being seen as humans, but also because those countering have no skills to set their own level of conversation and respond on the same level. Whether you don't talk to me or I don't talk to you, if the end result is a chasm, the objective is achieved.

This manipulated and deliberately propagated insanity is also the reason why there is an increase in violence - both physical and verbal. Violence is the last refuge of the illogical. When a person runs out of words to express their stand, they escalate to violence. As long as there is scope for presenting more and more of their perspective with words, there is no need for violence. But because the propaganda is inherently illogical, a person who believes it has no way of explaining it to one who doesn't, unless they make considerable effort to come up with enough logical fallacies themselves as well. Questioning then becomes a threat, because they are convinced of the threat to them from their targets and any questioning that could undermine it also becomes a threat.

To avoid increasing violence and hostility, we desperately need more clever and well planned conversations. We need the public to develop skills in assessing where their interests lie and when they are being manipulated toward prefering or avoiding something for reasons that are completely irrelevant to them and will likely harm them.

Long term, I think Darwin nailed it. The stupidification itself will erode the mental faculties of those depending on propaganda and with time give increasing advantage to those able to think through it. In the meanwhile, I suppose they will also have to learn how to survive till that point.

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Guest post by Milan Gupta

Yesterday (on 28th December, 2015) Santosh Desai ( @desaisantosh ) published his opinion column titled “2015: The Empire Strikes back” in TOI(Times of India) Delhi edition newspaper. Mr Desai has often expressed optimism in the future of Indian democracy and has been a keen observer of the historical political trends especially of the last 4-5 years. I have often found him amongst the few rare writers who are very forward looking.

When I did read his statements in the column yesterday which were courageously frank like :

“ There is much deeper question here. Is change of a meaningful kind at all possible in India…”,

“Is there something inexorable and deep in the way the polity functions that makes change a virtual impossibility”

“For a brief period, it looked as if the impetus for change would come from a new vision of a more participative form of democracy, but those hopes lie in tatters.”

I do think that a pessimism has grown in the intellectuals class and that predictably hope is being questioned by them again. The world belongs to the new and the young. The ones who have a stake in the future have a responsibility to shun such pessimism how so ever well intentioned it may be from the intellectuals.

I respond to Santosh. He is much older to me and I seek his forgiveness if ever I do sound disrespectful.

The future is bright, Santosh.

Over the last few years, the political discourse has changed so radically that the fear of politicians at least in the metros has almost disappeared. You find Radio jockeys taking such digs at senior political figures which was unthinkable even till 2010. An Anupam Kher in 2010 was issued a privilege motion by Sanjay Nirupam in the Maharashtra assembly for questioning the political class. Such digs at political class are a common place now.

Pilots, least of all Air India’s, never refused entry to late coming VIPs in their planes. But now , we have all heard of how the Kerala governor, a lazy retired Supreme Court judge, was snubbed by the national carrier’s pilot. I couldn’t have called the Kerala governor “a lazy retired Supreme Court judge” in public, a clear disrespect to his post from me, and not be scared of a witch hunt.

Things have changed radically and irreversibly over the last few years. This is the decade of change. The change by the end of the decade will be of gargantuan proportions. Perhaps because we have such a very open social media that its not possible to control any individual now. Yet the credit for the change must go not to the technology but to the Indian people. The Arab Spring has totally misused the social media and the revolution there has turned violent. Pakistan and other countries too have the same tool, but its only in India that the change is happening rapidly and non-violently.

I must take your much deeper question head on where you questioned existence of something inexorable and deep in the way Indian polity functions.

Yes. It exists. It is deep. And very well hidden from common discourse. But its not inexorable at all.

Democracy means not only the right to elect, but it also means right to get elected to the eligible. Dictatorships are controlled by giving the eligible the right to vote but not the right to get elected. Go deep in the direction of how the right to get elected for the legally eligible is curtailed in India, and you would find where that deep problem (and not an insurmountable one) lies.

It is of course not possible for me to briefly show here what that deep rot is which can be easily removed. However, I would briefly point where an answer would lie to one of your question on the Parliament logjam.

If the government is in minority in the Rajya Sabha, why should the leader of the house be from the government at all? Why should the government at all be able to have the final say in the conduct of business of the Rajya Sabha, even what bills and motion to be moved in it? Identify the reason for that contradiction and the log jam in Rajya Sabha can be resolved.

Answers to our questions and the deep rot can be found only if we promise not to give up on hope. We have achieved a lot. The youth are as responsible as any other time. Hope, achievements and debates remain their quintessential characters. The hope must remain unquestionably alive. That’s what has brought us so far.

We’ll have the good life within our life time. The empire is already crumbling.

1

I met kavitha during my visit to Pandharkawada village, Yavatmal district, Vidarbha 

This is the story of Kavitha, who is a mother, a babhi, a daughter, a wife, a homemaker, now a farm widow turned farmer in the capital of India, Vidarbha and she is just 27 years of age. Despite the gravity of the situation, she spoke with great confidence and she spoke with an infectious smile.

The mother:

Manasi, her 8 year old daughter, was very happy since it was the Independence Day and she wore her favorite 10 Rs tri-colored hair band.

The 2 year old daughter was home with her in laws.

The mother also told how she draped her daughter with a tri-colored saree and when how when Manasi entered the class room everyone would say "Look Bharat Mata is walking into the classroom".

The Bhabi:

Bhabi was very worried about her 15 year old brother-in-law because he wasn't getting any work. He only had 2 pairs of dresses which he carefully juggled through. He would be very calm and very quiet, often refused to take part in any social gatherings or any celebrations. He didn't have any footwear, which was one reason why he was feeling very shy to move around. Bhabi was very happy when they managed to buy a pair of chappals for Rs 100.

The daughter:

Her parents were working as landless laborer s and their income these days isn't consistent. They have work only on a few days. Her brother is also looking for a job. She is worried about her brother as well who is looking for a job.

The homemaker:

The kids school expenses aren't that much. The books, uniforms etc. cost about Rs 500 a year. It's the other expenses that add up to about Rs 3000 or so.

The wife:

Kavitha finished her 12th grade and after her marriage had discontinued her studies. Her husband was very troubled and increasingly frustrated over his helplessness and his never-ending debt situation. He had shared this with Kavitha as well but she could not anticipate that her husband would take such an extreme step.

The farmer:

3 acres of land is all she has on which she cultivates cotton and soya bean. There is an outstanding loan with the bank which hasn't waived yet. The price of cotton in the market isn't guaranteed and there has hardly been any rains adding more trouble to the already troubled situation.

There have been many Kavitha's before, many Kavitha's now and unfortunately, if no intervention, there would be many more.

  
If we blame the politicians for being indifferent, then we are to be blamed equally, for we are indifferent to their sufferings

If we blame the govt for being ignorant, then we are to be blamed equally, for we are completely ignorant of their sufferings.

If we blame the govt for not having the will to solve the crisis, we are to be blamed equally, for we never had the will to question and hold our ministers responsible and accountable.

14

I have rather radical thoughts about love, sex and . I wish to state them, because I am getting increasingly itchy about the compulsive prudery pervading everything these days, even as divorce rates soar, premarital sex thrives and acceptable public opinion continues to chase some vampire romance-like view of love as an absolute - one true soul mate, etc.

I've been married twice, had a long live in relationship that was better than the marriages, divorced once, separated twice. And I have learned from all those.

Currently, I describe myself as solosexual with detours and am happier than I've been in a long time. I no longer believe in marriage and even less in monogamy as a commitment. I have successfully ruined excellent friendships by marrying them. Some have even improved after breaking off. What have I learned?

About myself, I have learned that I am not a suitable candidate for 24/7/365 relationships. Too intense, too close. I am too idealistic, too uncompromising and too unwilling to accept the mediocrity of daily life once a relationship mellows into a comfortable habit that usually settles comfortably into the woman making compromises for a happy family life. I don't stop working at it, and I feel betrayed by my partner stopping working at it. I most certainly don't do well relating with the world as someone's belonging - even a cherished, precious one.

I am also quite asocial and even when things are going well and like ample space for me to be left alone with my thoughts. I'm not interested in anyone's socks, playing 20 mushy messages or how their day went, unless they have something to share or something seems off... or on. In turn, I like a man leading a happy and fruitful life not needing rescued from himself or his tanhai. Together for joy, not compulsive habit.

It isn't easy for the man either to be held answerable for the actions of a woman who does not even notice convention, let alone toe it. Even one who accepts my freedom feels resentment over being asked questions he feels obliged to defend over things he never felt strongly about. Why? Because I'm his woman! Apparently that means he is responsible for all I do and for running a customer care service for unsolicited opinions about bringing me in line - which he is most incapable of doing. This pretty much decimates a man's ego in today's society, so a wife like me ain't exactly happiness for the man either.

I find the best intentions eventually collapse into a resignation of "too much headache". Yet of course, I am incapable of being someone I am not. Someone tame, someone who colors within lines, someone society will approve of. Nor would I, if I could.

I have stopped believing in love as a relationship. Love, to me is moments of intense affinity that we chain together with a relationship in some desperate hope of more sense of belonging coming from the same source. To me, love is a feeling that simply is or isn't. It cannot be controlled by rules about where it should manifest and where it shouldn't. It also never goes away entirely. A memory can trigger it about someone you don't even like anymore.

I have learned that relationships die because the people in them stop making them work. In my experience of myself and others, more relationships have died from willful hurt and neglect than from someone "straying". From simply being too lazy to improve on a good thing till it goes broke and then too lazy for the phenomenal effort it would take. For those who believe in monogamy, any straying comes much after a sense of belonging is lost. For those who don't believe in it, the straying is irrelevant to the relationship anyway. Yet such a big fuss is made of loyalty to a partner, and so little about continuing to nurture a relationship. I believe in loyalty. Intense, committed loyalty, but not rights, including exclusivity over what another person is allowed to feel.

I do not wish to limit another. I do not wish to be limited by another. Love ought to be what expands us, not preventatively limits us.

Does this mean I no longer love? I do. But I don't set it in concrete. I feel it, am enriched by it, and am free of it once the moment passes without obligation. I feel no need for love to have a consequence. To turn into sex or marriage or a proposal or resentment over being unrequited. Or even be expressed. I have nothing against a relationship evolving either. Sometimes it does. But it doesn't "have to" and have to with "the right one". There are many right ones, with people who resonate and moments of meaning, and there are none that are always, tediously right.

Do I not believe in relationships? I do. But I'd like my partner to walk along. Independent, together. Our relationship is between us. I commit to nurture it, to treasure it and to fight for it when it is in trouble. But I do not commit to being owned by it. I do not commit to it overshadowing all other relationships or limiting their potential - including the potential for genuine, heartfelt intimacy. I would not want to own another either.

For someone who has never had simultaneous relationships and is absolutely disinterested in casual sex, it is surprising how strongly I have started feeling about rejecting monogamy. Would I have had? I honestly don't know. I'm quite content as a "solosexual" and currently feel no need for anyone in order to have a happy sexual life. The issue is the principle of it. Having thoroughly disliked the chains of being one half of a couple, where I have to dumb myself down and cater to expectations of what a part of a couple should be, I no longer am willing to get into all that. It is unpleasant.

And I have found there are many kinds of love, with many kinds of people. Many kinds of intimacy, that enrich, expand, grow with time, fade, metamorphize. There are many kinds of togetherness, of independence. They stretch across ages, genders, locations. There are even loving, caring relationships with men (gasp!), where both feel attracted, stated, yet there is no sexual relationship. Because there are no rules that say that "you're repressed if you don't sleep with people you love and are attracted to while you are single" either.

If there is one thing I have found common to these relationships, it is that there is a sense of grounding. Of being exactly who I am. Of being cherished, and of cherishing in turn. Of being accepted, appreciated and accepting and appreciating in turn. Of freedom, and yet being securely held. And it is all love.

 

My relationship is with the person. It is between the two of us. If it gets between me and the world, that is not acceptable to me. Because my first commitment is to myself. Self owned.

3

Season for questions on how to deradicalize Muslims. Later there will be a season on how to deradicalize Hindus (like much later, five years later). Answer is the same. Treat them the same. Respect them as people. Disagree with ideas, not hate identities. Golden rule of debate is there for a reason. It allows for dialogue without violence. Isn't that what society needs? For communities to be able to interact without violence and be able to negotiate differences?

Actions that are inappropriate can be changed. Identities cannot. If your laughing when I am in pain hurts me, you could try not laughing when I cry. But if your existing at all bothers me, then there is no end to this problem.

This is as much a suggestion to Islamophobics as it is to the anti-Hindutva fringe. Hate actions as much as you want. Be willing to accept that there is more to people than simply what you have chosen to notice and detest.

Be inclusive, treat people with equality rather than a default of mistrust or singling out for extra pity just because of surname or looks or religion. It is hardly as though we like everything about people like us either.

Alienation is the biggest reason for groups of people to break off. We can blame them for it and claim ourselves to be better or we can make the alienation less likely and make everyone safer.. Do not hurt or hate anyone you have not witnessed doing you wrong specifically as opposed to belonging to some community.

There I said it. The big elephant in the room which we prefer not to address because it doesn't give us a psychological high of "holier than thou".