Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Who moved my home?

The late Michael Crichton, in his book, "State of fear" talked about how global warming is an over-estimated concept. It gave rise to a lot of criticism, but it made me wonder if it is right on our part to compromise the growth of a community and its people for the sake of the environment.

At first sight, that might look like a ridiculous question, but that's only because tons of column inches on newspapers and time on television has told us that anyone who questions the motives of environmentalists are stooges of the  "Evil" corporates, who are so greedy that they don't mind ravaging the planet for their benefit. But that kind of attitude doesn't let us examine our actions closely. Yes, I do accept that for the most part that corporates have been insensitive about the destruction that they seem to be causing to our eco-system through their dumping of wastes and indiscriminate use of natural resources. But to generalize that, and say "Man" is responsible for the threat to nature is not accurate. That is because most of the pollution happens because of the developed world, the "Civilized" people, with their cars, factories and homes. People in villages, the "country-brutes", on the other hand, have lived in harmony with nature for thousands of years. Yet, when it comes to measures taken to curb and prevent global warming, it is inevitably the villages and other tribal communities that bear the brunt of the difficulties. The foremost example is that of afforestation. It always seems to happen in remote  areas rather than in the cities, where, if done, they would be much more effective in curbing CO2 levels( because they are the centres of emission) . The reason seems to be because of the land prices in such cities, which makes it "unviable" for such a measure. Instead, these measures are forced upon communities where cutting the wood from forests have been a way  of life  for millenia.  We also stop them from cutting down trees to create farms, which might become a means of livelihood for them. Therefore, while trying to save endangered species is comendable, it should not come at the cost of endangering the culture of a people. 

All of which takes us to the question of the day:  How fair is it on our part to keep polluting and expect underprivileged people to pay the price? Who are we to tell them that they cannot look for a means of livelihood even as we increase our personal wealth and aspire to own objects of desire? I find a strange parallel in the USA asking other  countries to sign the CTBT. It is very similar to saying "I've got the nuclear weapons first, so I can keep producing them, while you haven't started producing them, so you don't have to right to start now". In our case, we seem to say," We started polluting a long time back, therefore we have a right to keep polluting, while you, who are on the throes of prosperity, cannot do so because you would endanger the future of our children if you start doing what we do". It is of no coincidence that most of the ecology reserves are in and around tribal belts. Nowadays, a tiger mauling a child to death gets only a speck of news coverage when compared to a villager killing a tiger that entered his fields. That's because the tigers have a voice through WWF and the likes, but the villagers don't. 

That apart, we are still not sure of what approach we need to adopt with regards to conservation. Do we need to leave alone the wildlife that exist within eco-parks? If so, if numbers of endangered species are still falling( survival of the fittest), would we need to take some steps? If we do, wouldn't we again be interfering in the eco-cycle? And in the first place, wasn't man a part of the eco-cycle itself? For example, in australian reserves, when a forest fire occurs, they would first try to ascertain the reason for the fire. If they find it to be natural, they wouldn't try to control it. Therefore, even if the fire does end up wiping out a large number of animals, they wouldn't interfere. Is that the ethical course of action?    

Amidst all these confusing questions, and while I am typing this, I read a news clip which speaks about how the next Ice age, which would wipe out most of the planet's species, has been postponed because of the greenhouse effect. Are we then, inadvertently, the saviours of millions of species? 

There are many questions that we don't ask, or are too afraid to ask. If you have any comments, and any rebukes/rebuttals, as I am sure many would, please send in your comments. I am all ears(or eyes, in our case!). The reason it took me this long for my next post was because of a blogger's block(ala writer's block). I want to concentrate on quality, rather than quantity. I don't know what I am going to write about next, but if you want me to talk about something, please send in the topic. What are we as a community if we cannot debate on any issue?

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Look who's arguing!

As I sat down to write my next post, I thought of all the topics in the world that I could write about, and then settled on one: My last one(its about patriotism, in case you don't know). The reason for this choice was that there were so many points that I was bombarded with, that I would have done injustice to the topic if I were to lay it to rest prematurely. Also, I want my blog to take both a vertical and a horizontal look at issues, as I think there's no point in just skimming the surface with such issues. 
If you'd cared to take a look at the comments column, you would have agreed that Mary had almost written as much as I did for the post. In fact, she was my Devil's advocate. At one point in her argument, I remember her telling me that we are two very different people who will never come to a common conclusion. But right at the end, she told me that she had the same doubts about patriotism as I did(refer comments column). Also, during the course of the day(about which I shall speak later), I argued about the same topic with others who had read the blog, but had not commented on it. Two of them were Siva and Ms. Ashwini herself(who'd had cause for a lot of consternation when I had created the blog a couple of days back). What it did prove was that EVERYONE loves arguements. It seems to be a human tendancy to argue(we shall revisit that topic one day). 

The result was that newer dimensions were being added to the points that were put forth by me yesterday. The gist of the doubts that surfaced during my arguments with Mary were two points:
1) Is humanity more relevant than Patriotism?
2) Who is a patriot? Is somebody who empathizes with his/her country a patriot? Or should that person actually have done something concrete? If so, then what about the millions who do not have an opportunity to do so?

During my conversations with David(aka Rajeshwaran), Siva and Ashwini, I came up with the point that Patriotism seems to be a veneer for an intrinsic need of man: To be recognized as a part of some group. My arguments were that man is a social animal(that seems to so often repeated, it is now a cliché). When he was a nomad, he hunted in groups. As he advanced, he established territories which he guarded in groups. His need for these groups were always to satisfy his need for security. As time progressed, the reason for security also changed from a wild animal to other men. Most nations today are a reflection of how they were ruled over the centuries. For example, while we might not give them credit for it, the only reason India is a united country is because of the Brits. If it weren't for them, we might have possibly descended into a replica of the Balkan states. The reason why I state this is, our Patriotism today stems from the fact that we don't want to be under anyone else's authority, and as a nation, we were more together in our hatred for the British than anytime else in our history! This is not a unique case. Most nations were formed from former Kingdoms, with people wanting various reasons to stay with the group, ranging from losing identity anywhere else, to wanting better times than at that point of time. 
Ashwini and Siva, on the other hand, seemed to think that Patriotism is not a need, but rather a choice. They argued that any person who is brought up in any country has a choice of whether or not to love their country. They took the case of people who migrate to other lands in search of better opportunities. They also stated the case of terrorists and anti-social elements. They were firm in their view that, had Patriotism been a need, this wouldn't have been possible. Meanwhile, David came up with two statements. One was that, the people who leave their homelands don't stop loving it. They just move in search of better opportunities. I think this statement can be validated by the example of many Sri Lankan Tamils, who even though have migrated to various parts of Europe to avoid the conflict, are pressurizing the governments of the nations in which they live( Norway being an instance) to help find a peaceful solution to the conflict. The other was that people who are "anti-social"(like terrorists) don't actually hate the land in which they live in, but only the system that presides over it. This statement also raises another question: Is patriotism towards the land as such, or the system of life that people follow? 
This is the current state of affairs with respect to this topic. This is where we stopped our discussion. 
As regards to the comment by Mike(I'm delighted that I could give you fodder for a new post in your blog), I don't think humanity is the only answer to the problems facing the world today. There is no way we can "ditch" patriotism, even with all its flaws. This is because, as I said earlier, this is what keeps nations together. You might wonder why I am taking up both sides, but that's exactly my point. There are always two sides to a coin, and unless you take a careful look at both of them, you might spend your life believing there's just one of them.

So what do you think about both the sides, and Mike's comments? Please keep the replies, retorts and comments coming. I am just loving this! If there are more points generated, then I might consider extending this topic to the next post. 

I promised you that I would tell you what I did today earlier. Well, here it is:
I went to a place called Mukkambu(Spare me if the spelling's wrong). Its 40 kms off my place, and about 20 kms from trichy on the Karur highway(If you can call it that). While first impressions weren't great, we did end up having a lot of fun(By we, I mean Siva, Chandy, David, Mary, Ashwini , and myself). That was because there was a good current, and there were good enough safety measures for us to enjoy the water without being disturbed by the current. So all in all, it was a great day as far as I was concerned, with lots of argument over lunch(which gave me enough content for this post), and also a nice change from normal routine, with exams looming large over the head. 

Saturday, November 8, 2008

When I told ashwini that I had created a blog, her immeditate reaction was one of "et tu brute?". There seems to be so many people who have started blogging in my institution that I need to adopt a unique "positioning" strategy in such a fragmented market(yes, I AM a marketing student). But the reason behind my creating this blog need to be specified. You may ask me why I am doing this in my second blog, as compared to the first one. It is only because I had to clarify on some of the comments made about the blog(not written in the comments section). I would be lying if I said the idea of creating a blog just popped into my head. It was long time coming. But the problem has always been content. I remember my days in under-grad, slowly deteriorating in a sea of complacency and  laziness. Why didn't I create it then? I am not convinced about the answers I can give myself, but I do have to concede that seeing so many people jotting down their experiences in this institution has inspired me to take this step too. And then there was always the case of irritating ashwini. I just loved the look of betrayal on her face. But the most important reason has got to be the arguments that I get into in this place. Coming from a conservative background, I never questioned a lot of things and took them for granted. I also happened to spend my entire life in Chennai, surrounded by people who fussed over me and spoilt me(I am the youngest in my family). For the first time in my life, I am now being made to fend for myself, and I should say that it is a nice experience. The people who surround me are far more intellectually capable, so I have come to learn a great deal from them, and most of the things that I learn are through arguements. So, I like to think of this blog as just an extension of my conversations and conflicts with people. As I was telling shails yesterday,someone said "If you have an apple, and I have an apple, and we both exchange apples, we both each end up having one apple, but if you have an idea, and I have an idea, and both of us exchange ideas, both of us would end up having two ideas". There, that's my positioning strategy. So enough of the justification(I hope).

So, let's get on with the first of the many topics of which I think I have a differing view on. Today, that topic is the oft-repeated and least understood word "Patriotism". I'm still not sure about its meaning. Most of the dictionaries seem to define it as " The love of and/or devotion to one's country. My question is, how far does this extend to? Do I have to love the Indian cricket team(or "Team India") to be a patriot? The general consensus seems to be so. I remember when I was a kid,  I used to love the West-Indian cricket team, especially Lara. I liked him more than I did Sachin(No, I don't want this to turn into a "Who's better?" duel). Most of my school friends at that point of time used to mock me and call me a traitor. I clearly remember the taunts when India beat them in World Cup '96, with Lara gone for 2 while Sachin made 70( After being dropped earlier), and again when they lost to Kenya. Even some of my cousins used to talk about how kids are not "Patriotic" anymore. Now, while I have converted to a Team India supporter( and yes, I like Sachin more than Lara now), I still can't help but feel that the definition of patriotism gets adapted to the culture, time and context of its use. If so, then what yardsticks can be used to measure patriotism? Can it be measured at all? But why does it even have to be measured? What are the problems with uncontained patriotism? Well, the problem seems to be that it throws up questions that are quite disconcerting to answer. Ask yourself if killing someone who is stopping a nation's progress is alright. Many of us, if we stop to think about it, will tend to think it is ok. What are the implications? Quite frightening, actually. Men have committed horrendous crimes in the name of patriotism, right from the first person who said that a family can be sacrificed for a village, and a village can be sacrificed for a nation, to the Fuhrer and, as of today, the US of A. All of which brings us to the question, " Who is a patriot? ". Is a patriot one who supports India in cricket and any other sports?(Seriously, do you think the Indian football team is even worth supporting?). My point is that these are just sports, and I can support any team that plays the game the way I like to watch(That's why  I like the "Selecao" when it comes to football). Or is he/she the person who attends every Republic day parade and Independance Day celebrations? And why do we link patriotism to dying for your country? Is every person in the army a patriot, or only the ones who have died for our politicians' mistakes? I know that I am touching some raw nerves here, but I have come to understand that only through careful dissection can we get to the bottom of issues, not through usual "politically correct" statements. Thus, I am still searching for answers, and I hope somebody can help me here.

Friday, November 7, 2008

And there was darkness

Just today, while chatting with a friend, I was forced to defend darkness as a creditable substitute for light. Here, darkness was perceived to be ignorance, while light was perceived to be wisdom. I started off with baseless arguments, but as I got more involved in the argument, I found myself believing in my case. That's when it struck me: There are two sides to EVERY coin. Therefore, I pledge this blog to the "others", the people who always look at things in a different way, the ones who question normal perceptions, but also question the perceptions of themselves, and strive to create a balenced view of the world. If any of this is going over your head, all I'm saying is that the things that are supposed to be "good" and "bad" aren't necessarily so. Take darkness. I argued that darkness lets people introspect(I alluded to the fact that we tend to search deeper and more frequently in the dark). I also thought of more commonplace occurences, like how the bright lights in cities are killing nocturnal animals and birds. So, in such a scenario, light is not "good", and dark is not "bad".

Apart from my own ramblings and musings, I would also like to use this space to portray the world in which I live, as  seen by me. As of now, this "world" of mine is Bharathidasan Inst. of management, nestled in the BHEL complex that's far, far away from any hint of civilization, but does allow for a good learning environment(no good hotels, pubs, bars or any other places of recreation in sight). It will also contain anything that I find queer about myself or those around me, and also the arguments that I get into(believe me, that's given me a LOT of content. Afterall, aren't we all the Indians Amartya Sen talks about?). Therefore, comments, praises, and more importantly, brickbats, are most welcome.

Will get back to you with more. As of now, keep your comments coming on the issue of darkness vs light. Or anything else that you think is not what it seems.