Even stupid people can do smart things. Contrarywise, even smart people can do stupid things. Here’s a post hauled from the archives where I make that point. When Smart People Have Stupid Ideas.
Freedom of speech, expression, and the press is a distinctive mark of civilization. It distinguishes — and indicates the degree of civilization achieved among — the nations of the world. Nations that valued the Enlightenment traditions of the likes of Kant and Voltaire prospered and became culturally (not to mention militarily) powerful enough to profoundly impact, and indeed create, the modern world.
Just compare where the Islamic nations are in relation to the Western nations in terms of social, cultural and economic well-being. The Islamic nations fail miserably. They languish in the bottom of the heap suffering terrorism and imposing it on the rest of the world. Part of the explanation must be that their civilization lacks the freedom of speech and expression.
“Congress shall make no law …”
And consider that the most powerful nation in the world, the United States of America, is what it is partly because of the wisdom of its Founding Fathers who included the critically important First Amendment in the “Bill of Rights” of the US Constitution which says, in part, “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press …”.
Say what you may (and you may say whatever pleases you) but I am a freedom of speech fundamentalist. It is non-negotiable, it is off the table, it is not for sale, trade, barter or exchange. I reserve the right to say whatever I wish, and I defend your right to say whatever you wish. And equally importantly, I reserve the right to choose to hear, read and watch whatever others freely choose to express in whatever form. The operative word is choose. You choose to speak, and I choose to hear, without compulsion on either side.
I recognize no authority over me that will dictate to me what I may say or listen to, read, write or watch. I will resist any government that attempts to take away my right to free speech, and the corresponding right to listen to the free speech of others.
Now that I have expressed my position on the matter, let me get down to why I did so. Continue reading
Death and Taxes
In 1789 Benjamin Franklin wrote that “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”
I beg to differ. Unlike the certainty of death which is imposed by nature, taxes are entirely man-made and therefore avoidable. But most people accept taxes with the same resignation as they do the inevitability of death, and by this uncritical passive acceptance of taxes they acquiesce in the persistence of a system that is positively harmful to personal well-being and social welfare. What’s worse, they consider taxes to be a social good.
The existence and persistence of bad institutions and norms can only be attributed to wrong ways of thinking and acting. An inverted view of reality that considers what’s harmful as beneficial causes untold avoidable harm. Continue reading
Diogenes of Sinope lived in a tub in the marketplace. Since it was a long time ago, around the 4th century BCE, the details are few. He is also known as Diogenes the Cynic.
I feel a certain intellectual kinship to Diogenes because I too am a cynic. He must have been a remarkable man, going by the stories told about him.
It is said that he sometimes walked around with a lamp even in broad daylight. When asked why, he replied, “I am looking for an honest man.” A cynic to the core. Continue reading
“Experience teaches us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the government’s purposes are beneficent. Men born to freedom are naturally alert to repel invasion of their liberty by evil-minded rulers. The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding.”
— Justice Louis Brandeis in Olmstead vs United States 1928
May 26th, 2015
Dear Prime Minister Shri Modi:
I write this letter as a long-time supporter. I have had great expectations from you. Considering the importance of the matter I wish to address, this is very short; considering that you will probably not read anything longer than a powerpoint slide given your busy schedule, it is much too long. Therefore although addressed to you, it is meant for the ordinary citizen of India.
The opportunity for transformational change arises rarely. Rarer still are the times when these opportunities are actually seized and the nation transformed. We never get to know about those missed opportunities because history neither records nor evaluates failures positively. The potential for change exists rarely but actualizing that potential is even rarer still. So rarely do transformations occur that when they do happen, they are highlighted in the history of nations centuries after the events, often long after the entire population has been replaced many times.
This question has bothered me for a long time: Why are there riots and other forms of social unrest in India? Are Indians intrinsically unsocial or is there a structural reason for this? What is it in its political makeup that there is inter-group conflict? I explored that question in a piece I wrote for Niti Central a few days ago. I am posting it here, for the record.
It’s all karma, neh?
I usually use that line as a sign off to some of my posts. But this time I lead with it because — well, let me come to that. Karma is a Sanskrit word whose meaning is difficult to convey precisely but the two (of the many) important facets of the word are salient in this context. First is karma as action, and the second the consequence of action. This bears repetition: the same word refers to action as well as the consequences of action. This is by no means accidental.
After I watched the movie Argo, I had a one of those Rashomon moments, a realization that there is more to the story than was related to you. You may recall Rashomon (1950) introduced the master movie director Akira Kurosawa to the wider world. Set in medieval Japan, it is the story of the rape of a woman and subsequent mutually inconsistent accounts told about the incident by various eye-witnesses. According to Kurosawa, there are no particular truths, no definitive version of what actually happened at a particular time and place. What is recalled and later told depends on the observer and the particular vantage point.
Alright, time to get down to some serious work. The weekend is here and I have places to go, people to meet. And of course I have to get back to reading and writing. So while I do that, here’s one old post hauled from the archives. It’s from August 2011 and titled “The Three-ring Anti-corruption Circus is in Town.”
Below the fold I quote a bit from the start of that post to lure the reader into the tent.