opinion

There’s a famous philosophical dilemma called the ‘trolley problem.’ In this hypothetical scenario, there’s an out of control train on a track which five workers are repairing. You’re given just a second or two to decide if you want to to flip a switch and divert the train onto a second track. The dilemma is that there is a worker on that second track who will be killed if you flip the switch.

The opposing philosophies which apply here are ‘utilitarian’ – overall good of many, and ‘thou shalt not harm’ – leave it to a higher authority, and don’t consciously kill another person.

Studies have shown that 90 percent of people opted to kill one worker to save five when presented with this dilemma. The studies were then repeated with a twist. Subjects now wore virtual reality gear which projected an avatar of the worker. Surprisingly, 90 percent of people still opted to flip the switch and kill the lone worker even though they could now see their ‘victim.’ There was no change in the results.

Here comes the interesting part. When subjects were told that they had to physically push the worker and kill him instead of flipping a switch to save the other five, only 50 percent opted to kill him. And here’s the kicker. When people were told that the worker on the second track was either their spouse, sibling or parent, only one-third opted to save the five workers.

What can we infer? That evolution has selected a majority of those who will make split second decisions to kill another? That we don’t like to get our hands dirty? That we’re selfish and will sacrifice others in order to save our own? That there are powerful evolutionary forces which propel us into horrific acts when it is a matter of survival?

Are we condemned to always play out our Darwinian impulses? Will our humanity always beat out the divinity in us? That’s not a cheerful picture, if true.

What’s your take?

I stopped watching news on TV more than five years ago. I’ve tuned in only on rare occasions, like during elections or recently when the India Gate protests raged. I can count the number of these occasions. By and large, I’d rather have root canal surgery than watch television news. Here’s why.

The media plays at least 3 roles in a democratic society.

1. To inform.

It’s the job of the media to keep us informed of the facts. To be perfectly honest, I don’t watch TV to find out what Rajdeep Sardesai’s or Barkha Dutt’s opinions are. I could definitely do without Arnab Goswami’s histrionics. None of these “anchors” have expert training in economics or public policy or defense or anything else for that matter. They are (I believe) trained journalists and were hired to play the role of skilled interviewers. I’d prefer if they kept their opinions to themselves. I’d like them to tell me the facts, please. Then, I’d like to hear what experts have to say on the matter. And by experts, I don’t mean mouthpieces of political parties or former editors of semi-porn magazines or activist Bollywood actors or self-styled marketing gurus. There are smart people out there who’ve invested their time and careers in analyzing social issues, running businesses and researching and implementing policy matters. Go find them. Bring them on air. Allow us to hear what they have to say, even if they conflict with your opinions.

News anchors should be good at what they are supposed to be good at. If you talk more than your panelists, it means you’re not a skilled interviewer. If your show turns into a free for all among the panelists within a few minutes into the show, it means that you are an embarrassment to your profession.

2. To investigate

Media organizations are the watchdogs of a democratic society. They are our conscience keepers. It’s their job to find where the fire is burning when they see smoke. It’s their job to separate fact from fiction and help us tell a real scam from a smear job. We live in a complex world with complex issues. We want someone to tell us what’s going on so we can make up our minds about it. We are looking for someone to trust. Not someone who makes us live in perpetual anxiety.

It’s not really important to me as to who broke the story. What’s important is that the truth does not get bent in the process. I find our media stunningly incompetent on two counts. 1. They are not the ones to break stories. Stories get handed to them on silver platters. 2. And when they are handed stories, they make no effort to uncover details. In fact, they go through great trouble to obfuscate matters.

The last time we saw high quality investigative journalism in India was in the late 1980’s when the Hindu broke the Bofors story.

3. To build consensus

The media plays a critical role in building public consensus on matters of national importance. It’s not an easy job to take on emotional issues and steer the public towards thinking objectively about them. It’s a lot of hard work to assemble facts about an issue and to paint a clear picture. Instead, we have television channels which take the lazy route by fanning flames and obscuring facts that they end up doing incalculable long term harm to the country. The cornerstone of a democracy is the ability to engage in public discourse. If we don’t get this right, our democracy will fail.

Thomas Jefferson, one of the founding fathers of the United States said, “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” Unfortunately for us in India, we seem to have neither a functioning government nor media.

I hope you now understand why I don’t watch television news any more. I’m amazed that anyone watches at all. Is a little competency and integrity too much to ask for?

I think our approach to Pakistan is messed up. Here’s why I think so.

Pakistan is not our equal.

Not economically. Not in population size. And certainly not in the way they conduct affairs of the state. Pakistan now stands teetering at the edge of a precipice. India, on the other hand, has a much brighter future notwithstanding our many flaws. They should not be treated as an equal. If you can believe me, I don’t mean this in a dismissive, contemptuous way. I mean it as a matter of fact. A junior minister of state in external affairs should be deputed to engage with their foreign minister. Our external affairs minister should engage directly with their President, and none less. Our Prime Minister and the Leader of Opposition should not comment publicly on or engage with anyone from that country.

I support the position of our Prime Minister when he recently remarked that the recent provocations from Pakistan deserve no more than a tactical response, that we should not indulge in jingoism, and that the matter of how we deter the Pakistani army is best left to professionals in the Indian Army. In contrast, I found Ms. Sushma Swaraj’s “Get me 10 heads for one” response deeply disturbing and alarming.

Never get into a fight with a country which has nothing to lose.

At times, it may be tempting to engage in one-up-man-ship. What we have to remember is that by doing so, we’re going out of our way to keep an irrelevant nation in the public eye and thus make it out to be more important than it really is. In other words, there’s no gain for us. It’s all upside for them. Don’t stoke a dying fire.

The opposite of love is not hate. It’s indifference.

Pakistan works pretty hard to earn our anger. In return, we must offer our indifference. We must stop putting every act of theirs under the microscope and agonizing over it. We must stay focused on fixing our ownselves, and moving quickly ahead in this very competitive global economy. The best “revenge” – for those who tend to like this sort of a thing – is one that will be served someday when Pakistani people wake up and realize that we’ve left them miles behind in the race to prosperity. Those obsessed with things like “honor” and “izzat” should remember that it takes more courage to walk away from a fight than to get into one. Patriotism is not about having a misplaced sense of honor or a narrow view of the world or flag waving and chest thumping. It’s about being a committed citizen and taking the time to understand complex issues, how they intersect and doing what’s what’s best for the country and making your opinion heard in a constructive manner. In my opinion, Pakistan should cease to be a voting issue for Indians, and anyone who attempts to make it one should be discouraged.

There is no such thing as Pakistan.

There are the Pakistani people. There are the politicians. There is the Pakistani army. There is ISI. There are many niche centers of power, controlling narrow domains. None of them are in control. It’s impossible to negotiate when there is no decision maker on the other side of the table. We have to recognize this and understand the difficult job that our government has, when it comes to dealing with Pakistan.

They are people like us too.

Perhaps, a way forward might be one that involves building direct bridges to the Pakistani people and creating economic opportunities for them so they, over time, have something to lose by harming our interests. Pakistan is like this evil twin of India, separated at birth and adopted and raised by a gangster. In many ways, their people have suffered more than us. I refuse to believe that an average Pakistani wakes up in the morning and looks for ways to destroy us. I think the average Pakistani is like the average Indian. He/she just wants a good job, a hot meal and a peaceful life. An “economic version of Aman ki Asha,” which promotes free trade and collaboration – as much as it sounds like a fairy tale – might not be a bad way forward if we’re willing to be patient for at least a couple of decades.

Heck, we don’t have be nice to them, if we don’t want to. But we really ought to stop obsessing about them and move on.

What’s your take?

Also read: O Pakistan, Whither Goes Thou?

Freedom of expression, at some level, symbolizes life itself. When we regulate and control, free speech is no longer free. Instead, it becomes tempered by fear of authority and ceases to be a right. This is how it is in India today. The topic of free speech raises a lot of questions, some more pertinent than others given that India is a multicultural, religious society.

  1. How much free speech should be allowed by law?
  2. Should there be legal bounds on free speech?
  3. Should hate speech be made unlawful?
  4. What constitutes offensive or hate speech? Who decides what is offensive or hurtful?
  5. Who should have free speech? Individuals? Corporations? Religious leaders? Media?
  6. What constitutes fair penalties for violations?
  7. Is it possible to define laws tightly that they will not be abused?

None of these questions can be easily answered. Which is why free speech is such a hard thing to regulate.

Here’s my take. In the conflict between free speech and morality, the former always should prevail. And exceptions should be made only when a person’s freedom of expression is violated in a manner that can be proven beyond reasonable doubt. In my book, anything goes. Well, nearly everything with the following exceptions:

  1. Sedition. This goes against the grain of  an organized society.
  2. Copying intellectual property is laziness. It’s not free speech. It violates the original author’s free speech rights.
  3. A call to violence (which is proven to incite murder) is not free speech. It’s intent to commit homicide.
  4. Making false claims is not free speech. You cannot lie to sell products.

Everything else is free speech. Like the following examples -

  1. Hate speech is distasteful, but cannot be outlawed. If you don’t like what you hear, feel free to tune out.
  2. Religious conversion and evangelism should be allowed under free speech laws. If you don’t like people being converted, that’s too bad. You’ll just have to learn to live with it.
  3. Media should receive special protection under free speech laws. The bar should be set high on slander and libel cases.
  4. Pornography is free speech too. Child pornography should be illegal as it violates the free speech rights of minors.
  5. Rap songs which have explicit or misogynist lyrics are made by jackasses. So, don’t buy them. Don’t outlaw them.

And so it goes. Each new social phenomenon will make us wonder about how much freedom an individual deserves. The answer as always should be, “all of it.”

Where do you stand on free speech? Take the poll!

[widgets_on_pages id="Poll"]

Unless we know why rapes happen, we cannot prevent them from happening. Rapes are prevalent in nearly all species of animals (especially primates). They happen in all cultures in every country in the world. And they have been happening for a very long time.

There is no country, as yet, that has managed to stop rapes from happening. Nothing has helped. Not even the death penalty has deterred rape.

Decades of research have brought us no closer to an answer that is fundamentally insightful enough to design prevention of rape. However, almost all research agrees on the following-

  1. That rape is not a sexual act. That it is an act of power. Of entitlement.
  2. That there may be other emotions involved, such as anger or mental depression.
  3. That the incidence of rape in a society or culture is a function of what’s commonly perceived to be a man’s ‘entitlement’ in that society and avenues it provides for discharge of the anger when such expectations are not met.

Which kind of leads me to the fact that women are physically weaker than men. That’s the way it’s always been. Why is that so?

I presume that at the beginning of the evolutionary cycle, there must have been females who were physically equal to or even stronger than males as well as females who were weaker than males. Now why did natural selection favor females who were weaker than males in almost all species that exist today? What was the evolutionary advantage of being a female who was physically weaker than a male?

Is it because weaker females were “preferred” in some way by males for reproduction? Are we humans a result of stronger, aggressive males systematically raping weaker females over millions of years? That’s a horrifying thought. Yet, that’s how far back in time we might need to travel in order to find where the demons lie hidden.

Is there such a thing as a ‘rapist’ gene? Do all males have it or is it just some? Can it be modified to change / eradicate this aggressive, entitlement behavior? Time will tell.

As scientists explore the “ultimate” reasons for rape from an evolutionary perspective, law makers and citizens must pay attention to the proximate causes for rape. In Indian cities and our society – there are many proximate causes, all of which are fairly obvious.

Imagine this. A group of young aggressive males, filled with an entitlement of superiority, encounter a single woman who’s more educated or successful than them. They feel emasculated. Rage erupts. One person suggests rape.  Group dynamics kick in. The others join in. And that may be how a gang rape results. This is not a justification. It’s an explanation. An explanation that does not provide solutions to preventing rape. But it provides some clues to women as to how they can safeguard themselves by spotting or avoiding signs of trouble.

The question is – why do men have a sense of entitlement? What do they feel entitled to? Can we medically or otherwise (mandatory therapy?) erase such notions from their minds? Research should hopefully shed some light on this.

As long as the law looks at crimes against women through the eyes of men, nothing will ever change.