Education, history, womanhood and a Facebook discussion

A provocative discussion started at Facebook by my friend Abhishek, worth mentioning here. There are many people commented in the thread – I am just pasting the conversation(with minor editing) between me and Abhishek.

Abhishek started the thread:

We say the education in early days was in-depth and substancial…..was it because all teachers were ‘Guru’ s (masculin gender)?? [This is an open question…nothing personal…so no offense please…]

I replied:

May be you shoud start by defining “we”. “Early days” needs clarification too.

Abhishek:

its very difficult to define we for you …. because that is different from your environment and don’t worry about the ‘early days’ that is black-and-white syndrome that many of us suffer many a times…..

My reply

Aren’t we talking about something universal? In that case, why the subjective reality should be different for me and you?

Beyond the sexist and misogynistic hint of the theorem you proposed, I think the problem is much deeply rooted. It’s the habit of mass generalization, which comes with sentiments like ‘Bengali’s are academically smarter and cultural’, ‘Scottish people are alcoholic’, ‘Men are incapable of multitasking’ etc. When narrowly defined, there hypothetical generalizations takes fundamental shape – e.g. Muslims = Terrorists.

The saddest part of the whole thing is, that we are the only species who can do these generalization and pattern matching. That’s our evolutionary advantage over others. But this nature also nurture a slippery slope. We try to find a pattern even where there is none. We prefer even a bad theory over ‘no theory’.

Coming back to the very topic you raised – let’s rewind a bit. When we started our journey, as caveman (and woman), we were hunter-gatherer. Men used to hunt and women used to gather and collect 80% of the daily necessities. The economic power of the women was equal or more than men. Then we discovered agriculture and men moved ahead in economic value chain ahead of women – by just sheer brute force. Fast forward couple of thousand years, beyond industrial revolution, at the era of knowledge economy, when brute force is becoming irrelevant – women are again reclaiming their position.

Talking about ‘Guru’ era, i.e. ‘Brahmacharya-ashram’ at gurukul, yes only men used to teach, but only teach men. That too, only an elite class of men (Bramhin and Kshatriya). There was no education for women and the circle perpetuated. Will you call that era as ‘golden’ or model?

Abhishek:

Actually I was trying to get people’s opinion over a few things. First, we know the world is not going in the right path considering the destruction of nature, the disappearing of human values, the failure of proper wealth distribution, etc. and I was trying to get to the roots of cause…..education.

Since we know most human being first get exposed to any data from his/her mother. Of coarse the other factors starts influencing the person as time progress. But the influence of mother is immense. Then comes the schooling where a huge influence comes from the teachers, majority of them are women.

So in this context of soul degradation period what role is expected from the feminine gender? Do they again (according to you) feel satisfied that they are now in competition with men (sometimes going ahead also)? Do they feel proud that they are teaching that stuff which only a small percentage of human population wants us to learn (and learn by heart so that we cannot even question other way)…or Do they ‘still’ surrendering to the so-called ‘System’ as they they have done always?

The matter of fact is a major chunk of education in whatever form comes from this feminine gender and thus a huge responsibility lies in their hand…..Responsibility of each individual….Responsibility of a society…Responsibility of a country….Responsibility of a planet ….Responsibility of humanity….

So to all my lady students and friends who is reading this please give it a deep thought and act accordingly…..

My reply

After 10 years living outside India – still I miss the ‘Adda’ and ‘useless’ debates. You can take an argumentative Indian out of India, but can’t take the Indian out of him! 😀

Again, allow me to disagree.

“…world is not going in the right path” – since when? Isn’t it almost since the beginning of civilization? Why crucify the current era only for that? Let’s do some further deconstructions.

“…destruction of nature” – Human beings are tinkering and disrupting the balance of nature since they learned agriculture. We just realizing the devastating causality of that recently. Why blame only the modern generation now?

“…disappearing of human values” – This is completely opposite of the truth. Look back. When the ‘values’ were in the epitome of human mind? 20th century? With two world wars, nuclear bomb proliferation, mass genocides and more? 16/17/18th Century? With imperialism, colonial subjugations and slavery? Beyond that history gets vague and only talks about King and Queens – not common man. But again, moral standards of that era remains questionable. In sixteenth-century Paris, a popular form of entertainment was cat-burning, in which a cat was hoisted in a sling on a stage and slowly lowered into a fire. According to historian Norman Davies, “[T]he spectators, including kings and queens, shrieked with laughter as the animals, howling with pain, were singed, roasted, and finally carbonized.” Today, such sadism would be unthinkable in most of the world. This change in sensibilities is just one example of perhaps the most important and most under-appreciated trend in the human saga: Violence has been in decline over long stretches of history, and today we are probably living in the most peaceful moment of our species’ time on earth.

In the decade of Darfur and Iraq, the claim that violence has been diminishing may seem somewhere between hallucinatory and obscene. Yet statistical evidence that seek to quantify the historical ebb and flow of violence point to exactly that conclusion.

In short – I have more faith on this generation, that I had in ours!

“…proper wealth distribution” – again, when on earth this was NOT the case? Just being conscious about a problem is the first step to solve it, and we just began to realize these. But, in no way you can drop the onus on this generation only.

Now, let’s come to the original issue – education! I will wholesomely agree with you on that. But why the responsibility is imposed only on women? Who stopped more men to become teacher?

The baton of responsibility is for all of us to bear. It’s not gender specific. Saying that, and seeing all the mess created by men for last few centuries, I’d rather take my chance with women on lead and give the fairer sex a chance to steward us out of this mess.

Did you notice, in every religion, people refer to omnipotent god as ‘He’ / ‘Him’ (masculine gender)? You might argue different reasons for that, but I strongly believe (being an atheist) – the god must be a man indeed. This massive screwup is not possible by a woman!

Cheers!

UPDATE 10:01 PM May 6, 2010

From Abhishek

I absolutely agree on the points that this nature of human that is disturbing us is not that we have manufactured recently and i do also have a massive faith on the present and coming generations (and thats why i am surviving as teacher)…..

But basically i was trying to emphasize on the point that puts the women ahead of men anyway….as i talked about their greater responsibility (with great power comes the greater responsibility)…..I always felt that it is the women who can play the most important role in re-structuring the world around us…only thing i was worried and wanted to discuss was the about the structure of it….i expected more women (or girl) to participate in this debate…!!

…And still so long lets all thank to this ‘man’-made ‘man’- GOD of ours to allow us discuss so ‘valuable’ points and present us a hopeful generations….

The conversation continues…

But as Facebook threads are not open to all, I thought of posting it here and hope to get some more perspectives.

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Diamonds and Rust – Joan Baez

Joan Baez with Bob Dylan
Joan Baez and Bob Dylan, Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. 08/28/1963

About 3 years ago Tinkerbell first introduced me to the works of Joan Baez, and soon ‘Diamonds and Rust’ by Baez made its way to my ‘Top 25 played songs’ in iPod/iTunes. In the song, written and performed in 1975, Baez recounts an out-of-the-blue phone call from an old lover, which sends her a decade back in time. If I try to summarize the song in one sentence, it will be –  “memories bring ‘diamonds and rust’”, i.e. time turns dirty charcoal into beautiful diamonds and shiny metal into ugly rust.

It is  believed that the song describes Baez’s relationship with Bob Dylan, ten years prior. The fact was confirmed by Baez herself during an interview with music writer Mike Ragogna.

MR: “Diamonds And Rust” was another magic moment. You’ve said when you began writing the song, it started as something else until Dylan phoned you. Then it became about him. That must have been one helluva call.

JB: He read me the entire lyrics to “Lily, Rosemary, And The Jack Of Hearts” that he’d just finished from a phone booth in the Midwest.

MR: What was the song about originally?

JB: I don’t remember what I’d been writing about, but it had nothing to do with what it ended up as.

But in Baez’s memoir, And a Voice to Sing With, she recounted how she told Dylan that the song was actually about her husband David Harris.

The following excerpt shows Baez’s rendition of this conversation between her and Dylan:

“You gonna sing that song about robin’s eggs and diamonds?” Bob had asked me on the first day of rehearsals.
“Which one?”
“You know, that one about blue eyes and diamonds…”
“Oh”, I said, “you must mean ‘Diamonds And Rust’, the song I wrote for my husband, David. I wrote it while he was in prison.”
“For your husband?” Bob said.
“Yeah. Who did you think it was about?” I stonewalled.
“Oh, hey, what the f*** do I know?”
“Never mind. Yeah, I’ll sing it, if you like.”

Here goes the lyrics of “Diamonds And Rust”

I’ll be damned

Here comes your ghost again

But that’s not unusual

It’s just that the moon is full

And you happened to call

And here I sit

Hand on the telephone

Hearing a voice I’d known

A couple of light years ago

Heading straight for a fall

As I remember your eyes

Were bluer than robin’s eggs

My poetry was lousy you said

Where are you calling from?

A booth in the midwest

Ten years ago

I bought you some cufflinks

You brought me something

We both know what memories can bring

They bring diamonds and rust

Well you burst on the scene

Already a legend

The unwashed phenomenon

The original vagabond

You strayed into my arms

And there you stayed

Temporarily lost at sea

The Madonna was yours for free

Yes the girl on the half-shell

Would keep you unharmed

Now I see you standing

With brown leaves falling around

And snow in your hair

Now you’re smiling out the window

Of that crummy hotel

Over Washington Square

Our breath comes out white clouds

Mingles and hangs in the air

Speaking strictly for me

We both could have died then and there

Now you’re telling me

You’re not nostalgic

Then give me another word for it

You who are so good with words

And at keeping things vague

Because I need some of that vagueness now

It’s all come back too clearly

Yes I loved you dearly

And if you’re offering me diamonds and rust

I’ve already paid

The Four Horsemen

Richard Dawkins at the 34th American Atheists ...
Image via Wikipedia

30th of September 2007, my favorite 4 ‘militant atheists’, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens sat down for a first-of-its-kind, unmoderated 2-hour discussion, convened by RDFRS and filmed by Josh Timonen.

All four authors have recently received a large amount of media attention for their writings against religion – some positive, and some negative. In this conversation the group trades stories of the public’s reaction to their recent books, their unexpected successes, criticisms and common misrepresentations. They discuss the tough questions about religion that face the world today, and propose new strategies for going forward.

Here goes the complete 2-hour discussion in 2 parts – enjoy!

Part 1

Part 2


This video is provided free online by The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science (RDFRS) and http://RichardDawkins.net .

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Predictably Irrational

Image representing Dan Ariely as depicted in C...
Image via CrunchBase

We love to be told we’re smarter than we thought we were, but a surprise bestseller by an MIT professor has a less happy message: We’re consistently irrational much of the time. While there’s no cure, there’s hope – if we can learn to outsmart ourselves. Dan Ariely is an Israeli professor of behavioral economics. He teaches at Duke University and is head of the eRationality research group at the MIT Media Lab.

Despite our best efforts, bad or inexplicable decisions are as inevitable as death and taxes and the grocery store running out of your favorite flavor of ice cream. They’re also just as predictable. Why, for instance, are we convinced that “sizing up” at our favorite burger joint is a good idea, even when we’re not that hungry? Why are our phone lists cluttered with numbers we never call? Dan Ariely, behavioral economist, has based his career on figuring out the answers to these questions, and in his bestselling book Predictably Irrational (re-released in expanded form in May 2009), he describes many unorthodox and often downright odd experiments used in the quest to answer this question.

In his 2009 TED talk Dan explains why do we cheat. The experiments he conducted are amazingly simple but elegant. Here goes the Video:

From the transcript:

So, like we usually do, I decided to do a simple experiment. And here’s how it went. If you were in the experiment, I would pass you a sheet of paper with 20 simple math problems that everybody could solve, but I wouldn’t give you enough time. When the five minutes were over, I would say, “Pass me the sheets of paper, and I’ll pay you a dollar per question.” People did this. I would pay people four dollars for their task — on average people would solve four problems. Other people I would tempt to cheat. I would pass their sheet of paper. When the five minutes were over, I would say, “Please shred the piece of paper. Put the little pieces in your pocket or in your backpack, and tell me how many questions you got correctly.” People now solved seven questions on average. Now, it wasn’t as if there was a few bad apples — a few people cheated a lot. Instead, what we saw is a lot of people who cheat a little bit.

Now, in economic theory, cheating is a very simple cost-benefit analysis. You say, what’s the probability of being caught? How much do I stand to gain from cheating? And how much punishment would I get if I get caught? And you weigh these options out — you do the simple cost-benefit analysis, and you decide whether it’s worthwhile to commit the crime or not. So, we try to test this. For some people. we varied how much money they could get away with — how much money they could steal. We paid them 10 cents per correct question, 50 cents, a dollar, five dollars, 10 dollars per correct question.

You would expect that as the amount of money on the table increases, people would cheat more, but in fact it wasn’t the case. We got a lot of people cheating by stealing by a little bit. What about the probability of being caught? Some people shredded half the sheet of paper, so there was some evidence left. Some people shredded the whole sheet of paper. Some people shredded everything, went out of the room, and paid themselves from the bowl of money that had over 100 dollars. You would expect that as the probability of being caught goes down, people would cheat more, but again, this was not the case. Again, a lot of people cheated by just by a little bit, and they were insensitive to these economic incentives.

So we said, “If people are not sensitive to the economic rational theory explanations, to these forces, what could be going on?” And we thought maybe what is happening is that there are two forces. At one hand, we all want to look at ourselves in the mirror and feel good about ourselves, so we don’t want to cheat. On the other hand, we can cheat a little bit, and still feel good about ourselves. So, maybe what is happening is that there’s a level of cheating we can’t go over, but we can still benefit from cheating at a low degree, as long as it doesn’t change our impressions about ourselves. We call this like a personal fudge factor.

Now, how would you test a personal fudge factor? Initially we said, what can we do to shrink the fudge factor? So, we got people to the lab, and we said, “We have two tasks for you today.” First, we asked half the people to recall either 10 books they read in high school, or to recall The Ten Commandments, and then we tempted them with cheating. Turns out the people who tried to recall The Ten Commandments — and in our sample nobody could recall all of The Ten Commandments — but those people who tried to recall The Ten Commandments, given the opportunity to cheat, did not cheat at all. It wasn’t that the more religious people — the people who remembered more of the Commandments — cheated less, and the less religious people — the people who couldn’t remember almost any Commandments — cheated more. The moment people thought about trying to recall The Ten Commandments, they stopped cheating. In fact, even when we gave self-declared atheists the task of swearing on the Bible and we give them a chance to cheat, they didn’t cheat at all. Now, Ten Commandments is something that is hard to bring into the education system, so we said, “Why don’t we get people to sign the honor code?” So, we got people to sign, “I understand that this short survey falls under the MIT Honor Code.” Then they shredded it. No cheating whatsoever. And this is particularly interesting, because MIT doesn’t have an honor code.

So, all this was about decreasing the fudge factor. What about increasing the fudge factor? The first experiment — I walked around MIT and I distributed six-packs of Cokes in the refrigerators — these were common refrigerators for the undergrads. And I came back to measure what we technically call the half-lifetime of Coke — how long does it last in the refrigerators? As you can expect it doesn’t last very long. People take it. In contrast, I took a plate with six one-dollar bills, and I left those plates in the same refrigerators. No bill ever disappeared.

Now, this is not a good social science experiment, so to do it better I did the same experiment as I described to you before. A third of the people we passed the sheet, they gave it back to us. A third of the people we passed it to, they shredded it, they came to us and said, “Mr. Experimenter, I solved X problems. Give me X dollars.” A third of the people, when they finished shredding the piece of paper, they came to us and said, “Mr Experimenter, I solved X problems. Give me X tokens.” We did not pay them with dollars. We paid them with something else. And then they took the something else, they walked 12 feet to the side, and exchanged it for dollars.

Think about the following intuition. How bad would you feel about taking a pencil from work home, compared to how bad would you feel about taking 10 cents from a petty cash box? These things feel very differently. Would being a step removed from cash for a few seconds by being paid by token make a difference?

Over at EG, Entertainment Gathering Dan spoke about some other facets of predictable irrationality of human nature.

One more example of this. People believe that when we deal with physical attraction, we see somebody, and we know immediately whether we like them or not. Attracted or not. Which is why we have these four-minute dates. So I decided to do this experiment with people. I’ll show you graphic images of people — not real people. The experiment was with people. I showed some people a picture of Tom, and a picture of Jerry. I said “Who do you want to date? Tom or Jerry?” But for half the people I added an ugly version of Jerry. I took Photoshop and I made Jerry slightly less attractive. The other people, I added an ugly version of Tom. And the question was, will ugly Jerry and ugly Tom help their respective, more attractive brothers? The answer was absolutely yes. When ugly Jerry was around, Jerry was popular. When ugly Tom was around, Tom was popular.

This of course has two very clear implications for life in general. If you ever go bar hopping who do you want to take with you? You want a slightly uglier version of yourself. Similar. Similar … but slightly uglier. The second point, or course, is that if somebody else invites you, you know how they think about you.

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Open letter to Suman Chatterjee aka Kabir Suman

I was sixteen when I first heard your song. It was, ironically in a CPIM’s meeting at Brigade Parade Ground. I have always been politically conscious, but never involved in active politics. The only reason me and my friend went to the Brigade, was to watch Utpal Dutt’s play (most probably ‘Tiner Taloar’). It was getting late, and as usual, the play was delayed. We decided to abandon the plan and go home. We had to pass through the front of the podium to go out. Then suddenly one guy with a guitar, started a song – ‘Haal cherona bondhu…” (don’t give up my friend…). We stopped…and keep on listening to your songs, one after another…for another hour.

I am still standing there.

Correction, I was still standing there, until recently, when you decided to run for the election as a Trinamul candidate!

I have all the songs sung by you. From ‘92 to 98, I went to at least 50 of your live performances. Anywhere you performed, from Kalamandir to Girish Mancha, I was there. In fact, one of the main reason I started this blog, bigbangbong, is to translate your songs for one of my non-bengali friends.

I never judged you by the context of your personal life, only formed your image in my mind by your songs. Turmoils in your personal life never touched me. Neither I was surprised when CPIM (and their nasty sidekicks) tried to run the dirty character assassination campaign against you. Given their track record, it was bound to happen sooner or later. I never met you personally either. There were many opportunities, I never wanted to. Near Asuthosh college, we were returning from tuition – I saw you at the sweet shop. All my friends rushed to get your autograph. I didn’t. Years later, you were waiting at Dumdum Airport, for a Biman Bangadesh flight to Dhaka, I was waiting there for my flight to Singapore. I felt like going in front of you and say ‘do you know that, whatever I am today, my sense, my soul, you have a huge contribution to that’. I couldn’t. I was scared, what if Suman in person change my perspective of of Suman the singer and one of the building blocks of my life?

And now, you are running for a political chair, as a Trinamul Congress candidate, shoulder to shoulder with Mamta Banerjee! With one statement, with one news – you just massacred one part of my identity. Your political viewpoint and actions are not a matter of your personal choice only, they are the foundations of your songs.

Don’t get me wrong here, I would’ve been same way disappointed, if you decided to run for CPIM. Also, I strongly believe that mass de-politicalization of youth is one big reason of the political downfall of India. But, Trinamul Congress? Why Sumon, why? ‘Enemy of my enemy is my friend’ – is such a medieval sentiment!

I am deleting all your songs from my music library. Thank goodness I don’t have the disks and cassettes here with me – I would’ve shattered them in thousand pieces by now. Thanks for destroying one huge portion of my identity. One thing at least I learned in my 33 years of lifeform – everything changes, still somehow having problems internalizing this!

Dekhte dekhte shaab palte jai

Valentines day, an alternative story of origin.

A wooden rolling pin
“Velan” via Wikipedia

Got a mail forward from my sis Anu. Enjoy!

In spite of what you have been told by everyone, the truth is that Valentine’s Day originated hundreds of years ago, in India, and to top it all, in Gujarat!!

It is a well known fact that Gujarati men, specially the Patels, continually mistreat and disrespect their wives (Patelianis) . One fine day, it happened to be the 14th day of February, one brave Pateliani, having had enough “torture” by her husband, finally chose to rebel by beating him up with a Velan (rolling pin).

Yes…the same Velan which she used daily, to make chapattis for him….only this time, instead of the dough, it was the husband who was flattened.

This was a momentous occasion for all Gujarati women and a revolt soon spread, like wild fire, with thousands of housewives beating up their husbands with the Velan.

There was an outburst of moaning “chapatti-ed” husbands all over Anand and Ahmadabad. The Patel men-folk quickly learned their lesson and started to behave more respectfully with their Patelianis.

Thereafter, on 14th February, every year, the womenfolk of Gujarat would beat up their husbands, to commemorate that eventful day.The wives having the satisfaction of beating up their husbands with the Velan and the men having the supreme joy of submitting to the will of the women they loved.
Soon The Gujju men realised that in order to avoid this ordeal they need to present gifts to their wives….they brought flowers and sweetmeats.
Hence the tradition began.

As Gujarat fell under the influence of Western culture, that day was called ‘Velan time‘ day.

The ritual soon spread to Britain and many other Western countries, specifically, the catch words ‘Velan time!’. Of course in their foreign tongues, it was first anglosised to ‘Velantime’ and then to ‘Valentine’. And thereafter, 14th of February, came to be known as Valentine’s Day!

Happy Valentines day everyone! 🙂

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