Ask me anything — the quotes edition

I love quotes. I have a very large collection of quotes, some of which I have even published in The Big Page of Quotations on this blog. It’s a work in progress and I update that page intermittently. Here I present to you a few quotes that I had tweeted.

I think the popular belief is that governments are like doctors with respect to economies; doctors heal the sick but are not responsible for the disease, and governments can fix the economy but are not responsible for the economic problems. But governments are not like doctors at all; they cause the economic diseases nations suffer, and their interventions actually make things worse.

It’s like the practise of blood-letting by doctors before the advent of modern medical practices — all it did was only to make the patient sicker. Buddha’s injunction was “First do no harm.” That applies to us all, and especially so when it comes to those in government. The recent indiscriminate Covid-19 lockdowns by governments is the 21st century equivalent of blood-letting.

It’s estimated that the government-imposed lockdowns would eventually result in around 130 million additional deaths, most of them among the extremely poor in really poor countries like India. Let’s put that 130 million in perspective. The First World War killed an estimated 28 million; the Second World War, the deadliest conflict in history, killed 85 million (upper limit estimate.) The combined total of the two world wars is 113 million, give or take a few million. That means that the lockdowns — not the disease — but the lockdowns would eventually kill more than the two world wars did.

And yet people think that governments are good for humanity. I am forced to conclude that the only thing the goverment is guaranteed to be good at is in mass killing. It doesn’t matter what kind — Fascist, Nazi, Communist, Democratic, Republican — every kind of government kills and the bigger the state, the larger the government, and the greater the numbers killed.

The Indian government has the blood of tens of millions on its hands. Will the politicians and bureaucrats pay for the crimes? Not at all. They will be celebrated for their “bold” decisions, while the poor will pay with their lives. It’s totally sickening.

The celebrated author of Democracy in America, published in 1835 and 1840, Tocqueville was brilliant in his analysis of governments and democracy. Here’s a bit from the wiki entry about that book:

Tocqueville speculates on the future of democracy in the United States, discussing possible threats to democracy and possible dangers of democracy. These include his belief that democracy has a tendency to degenerate into “soft despotism” as well as the risk of developing a tyranny of the majority. …

Tocqueville also outlines the possible excesses of passion for equality among men, foreshadowing the totalitarian states of the twentieth century.

Insightful analysis of political society was supplemented in the second volume by description of civil society as a sphere of private and civilian affairs, mirroring Hegel.

Tocqueville observed that social mechanisms have paradoxes, as in what later became known as the Tocqueville effect: “social frustration increases as social conditions improve”. He wrote that this growing hatred of social privilege, as social conditions improve, leads to the state concentrating more power to itself.

I have the two volumes of the Liberty Fund edition of Democracy in my library.

The bigger the government, the more tyranny the people will suffer. It’s inevitable although it proceeds in small steps. The US is an illustrative example. After the American Revolution, the newly-formed US government was small. The US government did not engage in global warfare. Now it is huge and is involved in perennial global wars. Which is why I am in favor of small states. Small states have to have small governments and therefore they don’t start wars in far away lands. Switzerland, for instance, would not get into the business of “bringing democracy to the Middle-east” or “destroying Iraq’s WMD.”

Our reasoning faculty has provided us with great advantages that come with advances in science and technology. Paradoxically it appears that the average person is getting less reasonable. The age of reason appears to be receding. We witnessed the insanity of the “black lives matter” people recently. It is clear that those people are clinically certifiable retards. Let Thomas Sowell have the last word on that matter.

Anyway, this is a AMA. So what’s on your mind?

 

24 thoughts on “Ask me anything — the quotes edition”

    1. WJ G:

      I suppose respect and tolerance refer to different categories of objects. One respects persons and their views and opinions; one tolerates people and their actions. Toleration has shades of condescension, a lack of acceptance of the person and his action. One tolerates a child’s misbehavior, for example, and excuses the child as immature and therefore one allows — not accept — the behavior.

      When I respect a person, I accept his viewpoint and appreciate his actions, and would like to emulate him; I welcome him into my circle. If I merely tolerate some person’s actions, I don’t approve of his action but let it slide; I would not like to emulate his actions; I don’t respect him; I don’t accept him into my circle.

      Societies that respect a diversity of opinions and viewpoints are better than those that don’t. That is so because it is hard to figure out ex ante which ideas are good and which not.

      I am reminded of Milton Friedman. In an interview he said (I am paraphrasing here although I put it in quotation marks), “Do I have a duty to stop a person from doing what I consider to be a sin? Yes, I do have a duty. But how can I be certain that what he is doing is wrong? I can’t. So I should not interfere unless he is actually harming others with his actions.” That’s what is epistemic humility — the “I don’t know” attitude.

      I hope I have addressed your question; if not, please reply. Thanks.

      Like

      1. Thanks Atanu, a comprehensive and thoughtful response (as usual), and I agree with most of it.

        I would add that tolerance at least permits others to express opinions rather than shut them out. We may not agree with those opinions. However, in matters of religion, tolerance is a difficult concept. So for example I may express an opinion that the ‘virgin’ Mary’s birth of Jesus was a myth, but I could be severely sanctioned for blasphemy, because over a billion people believe it. Tolerance then is in short supply. Emotion distorts tolerance and I could be lynched.

        In terms of respect, yes I agree with your points. But often all theories or beliefs do no not deserve equal respect. I may believe that fairies live at the bottom of my garden, but on a scale of 1 to 10, I would not be surprised if people would have a low respect score for me – probably 1. Maybe they will tolerate me as a fool or mad as my beliefs do not offend them. But if they do eg Jesus was not God, then both tolerance and respect fly out of the window, and hate and intolerance replace it.

        Why are emotions of people so tied up with religious beliefs that they will die for them or indeed kill for them?
        I am sure you have come across Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot but have added link for your readers who have not. I am an admirer of him as a scientist, being an amateur astronomer myself

        Thanks

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        1. @WJG:

          Regarding your reference to Carl Sagan, I too am a great admirer of his work and his philosophy. I have referred to him numerous times on my blog (search “sagan pale blue dot” on my blog.) Here’s “The Pale Blue Dot” from October 2010 where I have the transcript of the monologue.

          In my previous reply to your comment, I wrote, “Societies that respect a diversity of opinions and viewpoints are better than those that don’t.” I should have written, “Societies that respect allow a diversity of opinions and viewpoints are better than those that don’t.

          Allowing people the freedom of expression is the key point. It does not imply respect for what’s expressed; only that it is not disallowed and one is not penalized for the opinion, however much one disagrees with it. In modern Western societies that follow Judeo-Christian ethics people enjoy that freedom, and that freedom of expression is denied in most non-Western cultures, particularly in Islamic nations. In the US, for example, you can freely announce that the “virgin birth is superstitious nonsense” and you’d be fine. If it is merely alleged that someone in an Islamic country has even looked cross-eyed at their holy book, he’d be lucky to see his next birthday.

          Western societies are not just different from but are superior to Islamic societies. As a Hindu in the US, the law prohibits the government from discriminating against me; as a Hindu, I will be legally discriminated against in Islamic countries (and shamefully I would be discriminated against in India because I am a Hindu.)

          Regarding your question, “Why are emotions of people so tied up with religious beliefs that they will die for them or indeed kill for them?” I think this has to do with only some, not all, people. A Jain, Buddhist or a Hindu would not kill for religious reasons because their religions don’t preach death to non-believers. But a devout Muslim is commanded by their god to exterminate non-believers in case they don’t convert.

          I suppose people who kill for their beliefs are not quite confident of that their beliefs are true, and they want “safety in numbers.” If 2 billion others believe in it, it can’t be wrong, can it?

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          1. Thanks AD.

            Coincidentally, I am a Moody Blues fan (having been to all their concerts in London) and a great admirer of Marcus Aurelius. I had not quite realised the strong connection of the MB and Hinduism. I will revisit your 2010 post. Thanks.

            I need to have a think about your response on the Muslim beliefs and your views on being discriminated in India because of your Hindu beliefs, which seems odd in a country where Hindus are a majority and Mr Modi of the BJP is PM.

            On a change of subject, can you pls provide a view on Diego Maradona and why he has such an influence far beyond his footballing genius. Why is he so admired despite being so flawed in so many aspects of his life? In Argentina and around the world he is close to being revered as a God. How and why do humans achieve this status?

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            1. WJG:

              Indian spiritual thoughts deeply influenced not just the Moody Blues but also influenced the Beatles, and George Harrison became a Hindu. Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass” is a great album.

              It’s odd, as you write, that Hindus are discriminated against in majority Hindu. It speaks volumes about the retardedness of Hindus.

              I am totally immune to sports. I have as much use of sports as a fish has of a bicycle. Sorry, no can answer that question.

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            2. I admire Diego Maradona for the awe he inspired in the 1986 soccer world cup. Seated along with my cousins, I watched a few of his matches on television. In Bengal, for no particular reason, people align with mutually exclusive sets of Brazil-supporter vs Argentinian-supporter. I was in the Argentina camp. Maradona provided me with a second-hand success that I cherished immensely.

              But I restricted my respect for Maradona to soccer only. I understand he was very indisciplined with drugs. Worse, he seemed to be a communism/socialism sympathizer. I ignored all these and focused solely on his football-talent. I consider him an accomplished entertainer.

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  1. Since it is Ask-Me-Anything, let me ask a very personal question.

    I understand you have made your money and do not work for salary/earnings any more. Can you confirm?

    If the above statement is true, I am curious to know how do you spend your time and days? Do you have a list of topics-you-want-to-learn, places-you-want-to-go, experiences-you-wish-to-have? Do you plan your day, week, month, year and execute as per that? Or do you go with the daily flow?

    Please feel free to delete this question if you do not like answering this one. I understand it is too personal.

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    1. This is indeed a personal question but as you noted, this is ask me anything and so it’s fair game.

      I don’t have a family and as good fortune has it, no one is dependent on me. As it happens, all who are near and dear to me are doing well on their own. I am free to come and go as I please because no one is waiting up for me. As it also happens, my needs are basically simple. Relative to what I can afford to spend, I live on very little. In that I claim no virtue; it’s just the way I am. Instead of spending on luxuries, I find it more satisfying helping others to the limited extent I can. Again, I claim no virtue. It’s “selfish” in the sense that I only doing what I find personally rewarding.

      The creed I live by is expressed most succinctly in the one page titled “Desiderata” by Max Ehrmann, 1927. Every sentiment expressed in it rings true to me. Let me underline that: every sentence rings true to me.

      In a sense, I don’t “work” for a living. I do what I am internally motivated to do — which is to understand how the world works and why. That’s why I keep studying all the time, from astronomy to zoology. My focus is economics but not exclusively so. I like science, technology and engineering. Having spent so much time understanding a diverse set of ideas, I am useful to many people. My financial support is from a wealthy friend. I am very careful with money but thank goodness I am not greedy.

      I am the least ambitious person you’re likely to meet. That lack of ambition goes well with my innate laziness. Given half a chance, I would do nothing at all except read good stuff and watch great videos on many subjects and listen to wonderful music (which I have a huge collection of and I have an awesome audio system at home.) That’s how I spend all my time. I don’t plan anything. I like to think that I live the Zen life: I eat when I am hungry and sleep when I am tired.

      I believe I have learned how to think, how to fast and how to wait. When Kamala, the courtesan in Hermann Hesse’s novel Siddhartha asked the young brahmin ascetic what skills he had, he replied that he has learnt “how to think, how to wait, and how to fast.” To my mind, that is a complete education. Being able to fast is the ability to live on a limited amount. Freedom is inversely proportional to the external resources one needs to survive. One is free only to the extent that one does not depend on resources external to oneself. (See <a href=”http://When Kamala, the courtesan in Hermann Hesse’s novel Siddhartha asked the young brahmin ascetic what skills he had, he replied that he has learnt “how to think, how to wait, and how to fast.” To my mind, that is a complete education. Being able to fast is the ability to live on a limited amount. Freedom is inversely proportional to the external resources one needs to survive. One is free only to the extent that one does not depend on resources external to oneself. (See this blog post from Jan 2005.)

      The one virtue I have is that I am delighted when I have the opportunity to help someone. It’s a joy, a pleasure, and a privilege when I can help. I have received an outrageous amount of help from others — family, friends, teachers, strangers. I hope I can give as much as I have received. I am thankful for what I have and don’t particularly mind that I don’t have other goodies that I would like to have. Contentment is important.

      Well, that’s a lot of personal stuff. Hope that answers your questions.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I have not read Dr Seligman’s “Learned Optimism.” I found a video of an audio book on Youtube which goes into the main points of the book. I will check it out later. Thanks for the reference.

      I have read Victor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning” some years ago. It is heartbreaking and I would not recommend it to the fainthearted. Life is bound to be hard from time to time even if you are not a prisoner in a gulag or a Nazi concentration camp (which is a different level of extreme stress.) I would recommend other books that lay out a roadmap for meeting the vicissitudes of life. I like the stoic school in this regard. Here’s a reference: “A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy” by William B. Irvine (Oxford Univ Press, 2009.) Write to me if you are interested in reading it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Atanu,

    Great to read this post and your replies to the comments. Personally, I should myself strive on “how to think, how to wait, and how to fast.”

    My query is in relation to the quote you shared known as the Tocqueville effect: “social frustration increases as social conditions improve” and is actually a request to expand on the meaning of the same as well as how it tends to government appropriating more power. Would be great if you can give some examples of your observations in the Indian context if possible.

    Does this social frustration relate to some form of jealousy/imagined (or misguided) grievances by one group against another?

    Like

    1. Anup,

      “Social frustration increases as social conditions improve.” The wiki page on the Tocqueville effect is pretty good. That page quotes Tocqueville:

      “The hatred that men bear to privilege increases in proportion as privileges become fewer and less considerable, so that democratic passions would seem to burn most fiercely just when they have least fuel. I have already given the reason for this phenomenon. When all conditions are unequal, no inequality is so great as to offend the eye, whereas the slightest dissimilarity is odious in the midst of general uniformity; the more complete this uniformity is, the more insupportable the sight of such a difference becomes. Hence it is natural that the love of equality should constantly increase together with equality itself, and that it should grow by what it feeds on.”

      There’s another quote there from Tocqueville’s The Old Regime and the Revolution (1856): “The regime that a revolution destroys is almost always better than the one that immediately preceded it, and experience teaches that the most dangerous time for a bad government is usually when it begins to reform.”

      So it would appear that when social conditions improve, the people should have less to complain about. That means there is “less fuel” for revolution when things get better. Yet paradoxically, the zeal for revolution increases as conditions improve. That means the government has more to worry about. So in reaction to that, the government has to grab more power to counter the revolutionary forces.

      Here’s my explanation on why people get more impatient for reforms when things improve than they were when things looked rather hopeless. If things are hopeless, then of course there’s nothing that can be done. So people just accept their lot and get on with their lives. But when things improve a bit, it is no longer hopeless and therefore one strives for better things. That leads to the frustration that did not exist when things were totally hopeless.

      Frank H. Knight used to say that to say that a situation was hopeless is the same as saying that the situation was ideal: in both cases, you have nothing to do.

      You mention jealousy. There’s some connection there. An analogy would be that I may be jealous of that guy who has somewhat more wealth than me and therefore be resentful of him. But I will not have that same resentment of Bezos; there’s no way in hell that I can ever have Bezos’s wealth. We cannot fail in a task that is impossible for us; we can only fail in a task that is possible.

      You ask for “some examples in the Indian context.” It is not clear to me what you are referring to. Please elaborate.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks a ton, Atanu. For some reason, I had some difficulty understanding the quotes from the Tocqueville book on the Wiki page but can appreciate it much better with your explanation.

        Just as Tocqueville made his observations of this effect in the context of French Revolution, my request for examples of this effect was to understand it better given an Indian context.

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  3. What do you attribute the unabiding faith that people in India have towards the government? First of all, do you agree with my assessment that people in India always look for solution in the government? How can government role be reduced in India?

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    1. Raj,

      In your question, you wrote, “the unabiding faith that people in India have towards the government” when you perhaps meant “abiding faith.”

      I would agree with your assessment that Indians have a childlike faith in the government. Paternalism is the obverse side of the coin of childish (and childlike) faith in the unquestioned belief in the benevolence of the government. One side supports the other, and neither side can exist without the other.

      In mature democracies — such as the US was at the time that the Founding Fathers of the union created the nation — people have a healthy suspicion of those in government. That is why the constitution of the US specifically instituted a government that was only as strong as it needed to be to discharge its severely circumscribed role, and no stronger. Let’s recall what James Madison wrote in the Federalist Papers #51. He asked, “what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature?” and answered:

      If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.

      The people have to exercise primary control over their government. But if the people are dependent on the government, then that control is impossible. Madison answered your question “how can government’s role be reduced.” I believe that the nature of the government is a reflection of the nature of the people. A nation of children will beget a government of parents. This exactly parallels Edward R. Murrow’s statement that “A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves.”

      Until the people “grow up”, I am afraid that India is doomed to have an intrusive government that lords over the people — just like the British rulers did before 1947.

      Like

      1. Thank you for getting what I meant 🙂 and your thoughtful reply. English language is not most strong point. But as you indicated in response to another comment, I too admire the British. I dont admire their language, though 🙂
        I admire the fact that they were pioneers and builders, free thinkers and risk takers. All admirable qualities.

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    1. wjg:

      I could not have ever imagined getting this kind of question in response to my AMA 😂. It’s a really hard question. Britain used to be a superpower once upon a time. Rule Britannia and all that. The sun never set on its empire. But like all empires, it too eventually ended around the 2nd World War. Empires go through seven stages:

    2. The Age of Pioneers (Outburst)
      The Age of Conquests
      The Age of Commerce
      The Age of Affluence
      The Age of Intellect
      The Age of Decadence
      The Age of Decline & Collapse
    3. The British Empire reached its zenith in 1920 and was practically over by 1950, when the US took over the position of the supreme power in the world. The British empire was the biggest empire in history.
      British Empire

      For context, note that the total land area of the earth (excluding the continent of Antarctica) is 135 million square kms (or 52 million square miles.)

      If I were British, I would feel pretty good that my ancestors were empire builders. True, now it is not what it used to be but it is better than never having had an empire.

      I admire the British — which by definition means the English, Scottish and Welsh. The first industrial revolution happened there. Also the English and the Scottish Enlightenments. The land of William Shakespeare and John Milton and Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin and Bertrand Russell and Lewis Carrol and David Hume and Adam Smith. Because of the British Empire, I know English and it has allowed me access to an immense wealth of knowledge.

      I guess that you are likely English. You have much reason to be proud of your ancestors.

      Like

      1. Thanks for your perceptive observations. I note they have been positive despite a lot of problems caused by the British in so many countries.
        I thought you may have also mentioned the sense of humour, which is widely admired in India eg TV program Yes Minister. The humour often tends to be ironic as can be seen in this clip here relating to letting families meet over christmas.

        On a more serious note, why is humour lacking in religions? Should it be used to ridicule silly beliefs no matter how fervently believed by people? For example I wear a colander on my head as part of my religious beliefs. Many people laugh at me but I don’t feel the urge to attack them physically. Is it ok to make fun of a religion and its ideas including its gods, prophets and followers?

        Humour is a key characteristic that differentiates us from other mammals. Without it our world would be grim indeed. Do we need to draw a line somewhere though? One’s man meat is another man’s poison. Is religion off limits for humour?
        Would appreciate your thoughts.

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        1. WJ G:

          I love British humor. They have great humorists by the truckloads. Leave aside the previous generations (Wodehouse, for instance), even the present ones are wonderful. The Monty Python gang of the previous generation. Rowan Atkinson’s Black Adder. The fabulously funny Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister. And the amazing Stephen Fry. Both Atkinson and Fry are not just comic geniuses, they are genuine thinkers, writers and classical liberals. Among the younger generations of intellectuals, Douglas Murray is brilliant.

          “Humor is lacking in religion.” As a generalization that’s wrong. Humor is lacking only in one particular religion — Islam. That claim isn’t from critics of Islam but a proud claim made by Islamic scholars and authorities. Here’s a bit of cut-paste from the site Islamic War Against the West:

          “There is no humor in Islam. There is no fun in Islam.”
          – Ayatollah Khomeini

          “The Ayatollah Khomeini’s rejection of music — like the Prophet Muhammad’s and Qutb’s — was directly connected to his revulsion of any form of cheer or joy in human life. He explained:

          “Allah did not create man so that he could have fun. The aim of creation was for mankind to be put to the test through hardship and prayer.
          An Islamic regime must be serious in every field. There are no jokes in Islam. There is no humor in Islam. There is no fun in Islam. There can be no fun and joy in whatever is serious.”

          Like

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