Friday, June 09, 2006

Multiplicity of views and intolerance

Unlike what some people would have you believe, everything is not black and white. There are a lot of grey areas. In fact, grey areas form the majority. The whiteness or blackness of the grey areas could be a subject of debate. There would be some grey areas which people wont dispute about it being more white than black and vice versa. Of course, there are always some radicals who question that. And there would be some grey areas about which there will always be a dispute regarding its dominant colour (white or black). Considering that there were no objective means to solve this dispute, it really becomes hard to come to a conclusion regarding those grey grey areas. Unless, one group is able to convince all the others, there would be no consensus regarding this issue.

There are many kinds of people in this world.
There are people who refuse to see the grey areas in the world and their dichotomy of the world into black and white is dictated by dogma, religious or others. They are what we would call the fundamentalists, who are so incredibly stubborn that it is quite a stupid thing to even try to explain that it is not that simple. I won't even consider having a conversation with them because it is quite impossible not to feel frustrated while talking to them.
There are those who do believe in the grey areas. They see it and decide how white or black it is. And they form strong opinions about that. So, again the dichotomy appears with such kinds of people. They see the grey but form two opposing camps with exactly opposite opinion about what is the dominant colour in that particular grey. They confront eachother with their opinions and are quite intransigent about them. For both of them, it is obvious which is the dominant colour and they are unable to understand why the people in the other camp are blind to that fact! Both cannot objectively quantize why they feel so about that particular grey area. Their inability to put their perception into words created more frustration. When they do put those perceptions into words, they know that it is imperfect representation and they get attacked for it. Neither camp gets anywhere in trying to convince the other because for both of them there could be no other view regarding which view is the right one.

Intolerance breeds not only in fundamentalists but also in people who refuse to see that human perception is not perfect and what is obvious to one need not be obvious to the other.

In a recent discussion with Falstaff, he mentioned that the dichomtomy of right and wrong works at a very micro level, ie, you can divide any issue into atomic subissues (my grey dots) about which you form an opinion about whether it is right or wrong. And depending on what you think about each sub-issue and how much weightage you give to each of them, you form a opinion about the issue in question.

So, there can be very complex and varied views about the same issue. There would be a mulitplicity of views on any issue and it would be wrong to simplify this complexity into just two opposing camps. But, in general, that is what usually happens. Most of the time, we do not do a self-analysis about what goes into out thought process in coming to a particular conclusion. Most of the times, it is 'obvious that we are right'. The question of why is never answered, because obvious things do not need any explanation. This refusal/inability to analyse their own views and that of others leads to misunderstanding and confrontations that lead nowhere. People who do put forth some logical views and base them on facts are dismissed by the other side using one of several mind-block techniques. One of the most common amongst people is dismissing someone's opinion as being marxist, which basically stems from a misunderstanding of marxism (someday I will write a short introduction about marxist schools of thoughts).

How are such issues resolved? I do not think there is any other way to resolve it than to submit the case/disagreement before an accepted authority like the Supreme Court and accept whatever decision that that authority gives out. Sadly, you cannot question the decision of the court in India because that is punishable as 'contempt of court'. But that is a different issue.

This kind of dependence on one authority to resolve conflicts is not healthy because after all the judges are human. What it leads is to a sense of victory/defeat in the two parties and no real understanding of the other point of view. The best way to resolve this conflict is through dialogue, debate and compromises. What I am suggesting is a form of a participatory democracy where people decide for themselves on issues that concern them. We do not have such a tradition in India and that I think is the bane of Indian democracy.

Blogs have been pretty important in this process of debate because of their numerous advantages. Physical proximity is not an issue. Temporal proximity is also not an issue. So, on blogs and discussion boards, we could very well have a debate that spreads over days and involves people from all over the world. Of course, the disadvantage would be that the online world is elitist and involves people who have access and knowledge. So, it involves a small subset of people and does not have the diversity that is desired.

What have I professed? That we should debate, respect each other views and be more open to opposing views. Of course, there are some who are just plain wrong. For example, read the comments of Falstaff's post. There is a person who goes my the name of MockTurtle who posits the view that rape stems from a 'natural male urge' and he gives the examples of the predominance of rape in the animal world. What I find amusing is that he seems to say that sexual urges cannot be controlled sometimes and that they can be quite overwhelming. I wonder whether he poops and pisses in his pants because isn't that what animals do. They poop wherever they want, whenever they want. His argument is just plain wrong. I could never respect his views nor come to a compromise with this person. And if some judge ruled in his favour, I would probably be jailed for contempt of court.

It is not just in views that people differ. They may agree that there is a problem but may disagree with the methodologies adopted for rectifying this problem. They would have different but strong opinions about what may or may not be the 'right' way to go about changing the situation. The problem is that they have only an idea of how their solution would shape up and they have no way of knowing whether it is indeed the 'right' way of going about it. That is where the importance of dialogue and compromises come in.

India has a lot of problems but we cannot solve it without active involvement. The caste system is a social evil that needs to be eliminated. If people do not take positive steps towards it, the government does not any choice but to enforce a top-down approach to bring justice to the downtrodden. I would always resent the fact that the government comes up with strong measures that border on dictatorial but quite frankly, when the problem is people themselves, there is no other alternative. Grassroot movements are usually local and take too much time. But admittedly, they are the best approach. We do need a grassroot movement that addresses the issues that concern our people.


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27 comments:

I believe you said...

Thanks for the considerate post. This is my attempt to create a dialogue. I am trying to understand the things here and apply it in life in a way that could be meaningful for others.

I have been reading, following your link, the posts of Falstaff and the links there from. And I found out that Falstaff's main theme was quickly hijacked into a discussion of "rape" and why/how of it. Why did it happen? Why was the broad theme reduced to a focus on "one" of its facets. I do not know. But this might have something to do with what you are saying here, the dichotomies, atomic views, etc.

At a more personal level, to be honest, I could relate more to the why/how debate. A metaphor says that the world is contained within each of us. I know of friends who have been (with good reasons) very "angry" and "violent" with other people (both men and women), but I do not think they could control their anger to an extent that is appropriate for the level of unfairness perceived. I find that the seeds of the crime are already in all of us. Of course, each one has to find for oneself. But it makes me aware of the need for constant inner (moral or spiritual) and outer (social or legal) vigilance.

That is what makes me believe in the role of biological theories (whether correct or not, attributing certain tendencies to males), in laying the ground for a realistic dialogue. It has the power to create a sense of responsibility (and I believe empathy follows from there) in men to approach the victims. In a sense, the men could say "look, we have been responsible for this menace, and we are genuinely sorry. Let us work on it together." Does this approach look like lumping all men together?

Please feel free to correct me in my views. As I said at the beginning, that would only clarify the matterns. And also, it would pull me back into the central idea of your post.

MadHat said...

Well, the reason why the debate on Falstaff's post was hijacked was because Falstaff used rape as an example and MockTurtle strongly felt otherwise and felt compelled to put forth his views to try and get Falstaff to accept it.

When you say that the seed of crime is within us, do you really mean the seed of violence? Because crime is a more overarching term which would include things like white collar crime, which are not necessarily driven by instincts. That much is true that we are all capable of violence. But I would add that we are all capable of pacifism.

We can make assumptions about human physiology by observing certain animals but can we make assumptions about human behaviour by observing animals? If so, how do you explain the fact that we wear clothes and feel ashamed/embarrassed if caught without our clothes. Does that happen in the animal kingdom? A lot of human behaviour is _learnt_. You are toilet trained when you are so young that you do not even remember that. You are taught a language. You are taught how to behave in different situations. How you are taught these things and what you are taught (as well as ohter influential things like books, TV, films, etc) make a huge difference in your behaviours. So, human behaviour is very complex and is governed mostly by learnt things. This is mostly because humans are capable of complex thought processes and to look to biological explanations for human behaviour is, quite frankly, stupid. Biological impulses may be a factor but do not completely determine how we behave. For example, hunger is a biological phenomenon but if you put a vegetarian in an isolated place, s/he would probably never eat animals even if hunger is quite acute (well, it really depends on the person). Or if we put a religious hindu in a land where there are just cows, s/he would probably die of hunger before eating the cow.

I believe you said...

OK. That makes sense.

Yes, I meant violence and not crime in general.

"Biological impulses may be a factor but do not completely determine how we behave." It is very humbling to recognise our animal origins and to see how far we have gone from there, as a species.

When one sees another fellow human being in distress, one tries to marshall all resources at one's disposal in order to alleviate the suffering. And therefore I welcome "responsibility" for something that I might not have committed as an aware individual, but which nevertheless creates an atmosphere in which empathy is easier. In the other blog, a lady used such words as "visceral" response to the crime. She also says that it is (almost) impossible for a man to feel that kind of response. Biology?

This enhances the practice of "learnt goodness" of behaviour. We are still complex creatures, masters of our own manners, emotions and and behaviour.

MadHat said...

In the other blog, a lady used such words as "visceral" response to the crime. She also says that it is (almost) impossible for a man to feel that kind of response. Biology?

With all due respects to Warya, I think she is wrong. She presumes that one cannot understand another's situation if the former has never had the _same_ experience. You need not have had the same experience to empathise with another. Approximate experiences work too. Rape, for example, is an expression of power. Women feel helpless, betrayed, depressed, violated (and a whole lot of other emotions) on having been raped. An approximate experience would be if you were jailed without charge or trial and kept in inhumane conditions in an isolated place, like guantanamo bay. You can identify the same feeling of helpnesses/powerlessness, etc in the latter case. So, such a person would find it easier to empathise with rape victims. But it does not mean that they would. I would attribute it to self-centredness; the kind that makes people say, "why does it always happen to me?"

Now, it is not necessary for a woman to have been raped to empathise with a rape victim and to evoke the 'visceral' response to the crime simply because they feel the same exasperation, helplessness to a certain extent when they are harassed on the streets or in the office. Maybe that is to a limited extent but it is more than enough to be able to empathise.

Sympathy and empathy are the same thing. I think you mistake sympathy for empathy.

So, really, it is not biological at all! What I am really saying is that if you have had an experience where you felt some of the emotions that the other person is feeling (for example, loss), you would be able to empathise. And it is not necessary for you to have gone through the same experience.

Plus, we cannot look at biology for explanation, can we? Is there really any documented proof that animals can empathise?

I believe you said...

Warya (and possibly MT) spoke as human beings much closer to the phenomenon.

By empathy, I meant an attempt to "directly" experience the other person's distress, or to "put myself in the other's shoes". This seems essential before one can do anything to help another.

Regarding empathy in animals, the biologists are divided between "yes" and "may be not".

MadHat said...

Warya (and possibly MT) spoke as human beings much closer to the phenomenon.

what phenomenon are you talking about?

By empathy, I meant an attempt to "directly" experience the other person's distress, or to "put myself in the other's shoes". This seems essential before one can do anything to help another.

True. But I do not think empathy is essential for people to help one another. Understanding that the other has had an egregious experience would perhaps be enough.

Regarding empathy in animals, the biologists are divided between "yes" and "may be not".

Ok

Anonymous said...

In your post you have beautifully put down how people see only black and white. And a very few people can see the grey.

I totally agree with you.

In that refrence ,do you think that your mate here,OBCVoice, sees the grey ever?

When you seem to have such a clear understanding why people have difference of opinions i find it pretty contradictory that you support a guy who sees all uppercaste as black, everything about the OBC's as white,pure angelic.

How come you support a guy who rubbishes people like me who see the grey, who want him to see the grey and know that neither the upper caste nor the OBC's are saints???

You said in a comment earlier that you dont like people spreading rhetoric ideas.

In the wake of your support to OBCvoice, can I safely assume that in this case your post about the necessity to see grey is rhetoric.???

MadHat said...

@anon: reply is at the appropriate place.

another_blogger said...

Regarding anonymous' comment: it is a question of consistency of this post in the light of the other.

i believe you said...

Warya (and possibly MT) spoke as human beings much closer to the phenomenon.

---
what phenomenon are you talking about?
---

Er. I meant that Warya etc. are looking at rape through the lens of "organic" and historical knowledge. I agree with you that it is possible to help another without the vicarious experiences and I got carried away by my past. For a year, I worked with people in pain and suffering, and my main responsibility was to reduce their distress. I found that I succeeded most when I was able to empathise with the victim. However, it could be "one" way of doing things and here is scope for "multiplicity of views".

Thanks.

MadHat said...

@another_blogger: I think I am very consistent.

@i believe you:
I meant that Warya etc. are looking at rape through the lens of "organic" and historical knowledge.

I am sorry I still do not understand this. Do you mean to say that rape stems from a biological impulse or are you saying that empathy is a biological impulse? When you say 'organic', all I am reiminded of is benzene and toulene and such :)

I found that I succeeded most when I was able to empathise with the victim.

But of course. People, in general, hate being sympathised with. They find it condescending and obscene. They would rather be with someone who shares their emotions.

Solutions to a problem are always multiple but which one would work best is something that is best answered with time and experience.

And may I ask what was it that you worked with?

I believe you said...

@madhat: It is a metaphorical way of saying things. I am trying to bring another perspective to the discussion (without de-valuing your logic).

Here organic refers more to "organism" or "life" (and less to chemistry). It points to a sensibility that is far from (so to say) the rational zone of the mind but is grounded more in its instinctive, passionate side. Let us consider the typical love of mother to her child. (for the moment, neglecting adoptions, etc). One could always find explanations (e.g., hormones) for why the mother loves her child, but there is another level of the reality. The mother's love also has a historical aspect, linked to all the experiences she went through while carrying the piece of life within her, and went through the painful process of bringing it to earth. It is all mixed up together. I used the word "organic" to refer to this sensibility, which is complementary to the logical, rational way of dealing with things. Please understand that the mother's example is a very common one, but I believe that similar things happen to almost every one (male or female) on a daily basis.

Yes, we have to be careful about how we empathise. I make a distinction between sympathy and empathy. Sympathy is a more external behaviour, while empathy is a deeper realisation (as you say, shared emotions).

I was actually working with people with various physical and mental difficulties in a hospital and in the community. I did not last long, but empathy was on top of the priority-list while I was there.

As a teenager I was attracted to things "intellectual", but as one goes out to the world at large, "touches" the every-day problems of an average individual, one sees that one could do with less "intelligence" and yet be useful to the society.

It is only one way of saying these things.

I believe you said...

Oh, I failed to connect the dots at the end. I meant that Warya etc. see rape in a different experiential framework. This is all I mean about their being _closer_ to the _phenomenon_. Bad choice of words, I agree.

MadHat said...

Well, there are psychologists who would differ on mother's love too.

We, as a society, rever the 'mother' and her love for her child. How far is a mother's behaviour towards her child affected by this? I suppose that is a question that can best be answered by a psychologist. I will leave it at that.

I was actually working with people with various physical and mental difficulties in a hospital and in the community.

That must have been depressing! I know this sounds bad but it really takes a lot of strength to be that person who counsels others.

As a teenager I was attracted to things "intellectual", but as one goes out to the world at large, "touches" the every-day problems of an average individual, one sees that one could do with less "intelligence" and yet be useful to the society.

Suddenly, I am more interested in knowing more about you... You sound like a very interesting person.

MadHat said...

PS. I know that I have been posting my responses a little late but in my defence, the World Cup is on.

I believe you said...

> I know that I have been posting my responses a little late but in my defence ...

I dont mind the late responses. I look at it as communication in "slow motion".

> ... You sound like a very interesting person.

Thanks. I think you know a lot about me by now.

> That must have been depressing!

Yes, you could call it depressing, although it was more like "exhausting". But it gave me a glimpse into some social realities, and changed the way I look at things from then on.

I sometimes go out and play with a small child. It is really interesting to see how children's mind works. I would read about the sun, planets and stars in the space etc. He would listen with interest. One day evening after having dinner with the family, I told his parents to do an experiment. To switch off all the lights, make the rooms dark, then light a candle symbolising sun, a big ball as earth, smaller ball as moon, etc. We tried to simulate the solar system inside the living room. It was a crude simulation, but the little child was absolutely fascinated. I guess, it gave him a sense of being immersed in the "reality" of the solar system. It was no longer a far off thing. Even I was surprised by the effect of this simple experiment on him. Things of this kind happen everywhere. Unfortunately I do not always register.

We are immersed in a social and historical "reality" all the time.

I believe that we try to pick up the threads of this reality (which is greater than the individual) and weave these around a unique "center" in this world (the individual) into some statements that make sense to others. I find it a slow process.

MadHat said...

I dont mind the late responses. I look at it as communication in "slow motion".

Excellent!

But it gave me a glimpse into some social realities, and changed the way I look at things from then on.

Ah! You are right. Idealism works well. You could have a lot of different utopian/idealist world views. But when confronted with social reality, most of them just fail. That teaches you to respect the the 'real' world and to understand the world around you, one needs to remove the lens of idealism. It makes you understand that you are not always right and makes you introspect constantly...

Children are amazing. Sometimes they can point out things that we would never ever think because we have, in our minds, made somethings unquestionable and axiomatic, whereas children are in the process of learning and, so, are able to come up with doubts that we find hard to explain. But while trying to explain that to them, we learn a lot about ourselves.

We are immersed in a social and historical "reality" all the time.

I believe that we try to pick up the threads of this reality (which is greater than the individual) and weave these around a unique "center" in this world (the individual) into some statements that make sense to others. I find it a slow process.


That's a lovely way of putting that sentiment. I find it a slow and hard process. Sometimes, it just does not make any sense. Those are the times when I am distraught and depressed.

i believe you said...

> Sometimes, it just does not make any sense. Those are the times when I am distraught and depressed.

Thes two lines are at once deceptively simple and profoundly human. I must admit that I (perhaps many) pass this route often.

An unrelated example. Some times one might have this experience inside water (e.g., bathtub/pond/lake/river), lie down face up, with ears submerged but eyes clear of water. What one hears does not strictly correspond to what one sees. For example, one cannot comprehend what another person is saying except by coming out of water (or lip-reading). But one keeps on listening to nice sounds of water flow. To some extent, the visual world becomes de-coupled from the auditory world.

Let me make a jump from two senses to two modes of the mind. It is possible that what we feel (emotions) is often antagonistic to what we think (reasoning) in a fundamental way, only because of a kind of philosophical/moral framework that have been thrust upon us, i.e., it is not innate to us.

Human being, as a stage in evolution of the dynamic life-force, was not supposed to be stuck at the level of "reason". I believe that both reason and emotion are part of a larger dynamic "whole". I have no way to prove it, though. Much more worrying, the dilemma itself is not clear.

MadHat said...

Emotions are an importat part of being human. If we did not have them, we would not have morals/ethics. And I think morals and ethics make us a better inhabitant of this planet. I cannot imagine a world without them and I would not want to live in that world.

But having said that, emotions can come in the way of clear thinking, which is also something that I value. It could hamper our judgement and could make us do things that we would regret later. Whenever we try to reason out certain things about the world, we need to ensure that emotion is not a part of the process but ethics/morals are. It is a tricky process but one that requires you to be aware of what leaps of reason you make and why you make them. It is easier said than done.

Our perception of the world is imperfect and any radical change in that perception is disorienting and frightening, yes. But it does also reminds us that what we perceive is a function of our senses and can be influenced by other factors, like environment, mental health and emotions. When we realise that, we realise that we can never be objective. We will always be subjective and can only aim towards doing the best we can and that our views and opinions could be wrong. That is a humbling experience...

I believe you said...

Could not have said it better.

A conversation between a teacher and the aspiring student (paraphrased from the Upanishads).

Teacher: how do you see?
Student: by the light of the sun.
Teacher: and when the sun goes down?
Student: by the light of the moon.
Teacher: and when there is no moon?
Student: by the light of the candle.
Teacher: and when the candle is exhausted?
Student: then, my Master, I somehow see with the _inner_ light.

I believe that _humility_ signals the beginning of this inner light.

The other day I was listening to a lecture in which there was mention of "road rage", violent behavior exhibited by drivers in traffic. The lecturer (an american philosopher) drew attention to Searle's view that it is partly caused by culture. I paraphrase: when the communication between two people is reduced to leaning on the horn (now forget cell phone, you dont call him!), then we have to admit of barbarity.

Of course, that is not the whole story. There are other factors for someone getting angry. But what struck me was that not only what I think, but even what I feel, might have been, partly, shaped by cultural forces.

There are situations in which it is the "right" thing to be angry e.g., to defend one's raison d'ĂȘtre.

MadHat said...

I believe that _humility_ signals the beginning of this inner light.

Which is why we Indians admire humility so much and the reason why we hate people we perceive as arrogant.

when the communication between two people is reduced to leaning on the horn (now forget cell phone, you dont call him!), then we have to admit of barbarity

Hmmm... road rage would definitely come under those juvenile things that men do which Freud would probably attribute to Id. Culturally, these things are looked upon as 'cool' by peers. Which is why they do it because their actions are driven by a need for acceptance, companionship and being respected. So, it stems really from a primary need in us, humans, to socialise. I am not sure why...

But what struck me was that not only what I think, but even what I feel, might have been, partly, shaped by cultural forces.

yeah. this is true. our emotions are also partly driven by our culture.

Anonymous said...

Have no intention of getting into the debates here. But just out of curiosity, where is the reply to anonymous' questions (about support for OBC voices)? I tried looking in a few of the recent entries, but could not locate it.

I believe you said...

> Which is why we Indians admire humility so much and the reason why we hate people we perceive as arrogant.

You know, I have seen a few people who talk in a very simple way. And they talk of such deep thoughts, using very plain language, without putting on airs. It is a marvel. And in their presence, one becomes like them and start talking in plain language.

While there are others who speak for the sake of speaking, for the sole purpose of letting others know that they are there. And they use tricky lines or pompous words and appear quite convincing.

This takes us into the domain of your current post.

MadHat said...

tricky lines, pompous words...

the biggest example of this is Ayn Rand. Libertarians are my personal grouse and in my opinion, the scourge of the world.

btw, are you complimenting me for my post? If yes, thanks. I try...

MadHat said...

@anon: my response was directed to that particular anon. if you do want to read my reply, go here.

i believe you said...

Oh, yes, Ayn Rand. Knew her mostly through those people who liked her. Never could finish her book.

The problem is often people often confuse glibness with knowledge, cleverness with wisdom. It needs some time to recognise that truth has little to do with skillful use of words.

Yes, that was a compliment for the post!

MadHat said...

The problem is often people often confuse glibness with knowledge, cleverness with wisdom. It needs some time to recognise that truth has little to do with skillful use of words.

So true. I have always felt that we as humans have learnt to rever the unknown, the unexplainable and the strange. Usually, the effort (and it takes a lot of effort) to find an answer is never put in and we end with an answer that is superficial and as weird as the phenomenon itself.
Livertarians, particularly Ayn Rand, come up with simplistic theories and puts it in a way that is extremely persuasive (yes, it is). She is an extremely manipulative writer; one whose writings is hard to ignore. But you just need to scratch a little deeper, question her assumptions and you find her entire theory based on a lot of bullcrap.

I usually like writers who state their assumptions up front and state their reasons for assuming them and build up on them with rigorous logic. There are not many but the few that there are have influenced me a lot. You would see a reflection of that in my own writings. I try but I believe that I am still a juvenile writer.

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