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July 19th, 2015

A quote on free speech

An idea in connection with free speech that I have often struggled to effectively communicate is discussed in this article:


Reflection on such cases can sharpen our conceptions of what free speech is about: of what it is actually for. Speaking for myself, and not for other free speech advocates, I defend a conception rather different from those I often see from political libertarians. I am less fixated on the power of governments; I am less absolutist in opposing restrictions; but at the same time, I worry about a wider range of threats. I worry not only about state power but also threats from private power and popular opinion. Above all, I am concerned to protect the free exchange of opinions and ideas, whether the free exchange is impeded by state power or by power of other kinds.

This can lead to a more subtle and difficult analysis than the simple attitude of: “Government censorship bad; everything else okay.”


April 30th, 2015

This is to explain why I am against equating marital rape with rape, and why I am suspicious of laws designed specifically against it.
Some soorisookti
Way back in 2004 Ravikiran Rao wrote many of the points that I am going to raise, but more beautifully. Do read the connotation vs. denotation argument in the post, how feminists disingenuously use the *denotative meaning* of the word rape to unleash its *connotations* on their targets. So whenever you see a sentence like "rape is rape", caution is advisable - chances are, someone is attempting to use a denotative meaning to subtly communicate a connotative one.

I would like to discuss two issues here - intensity of the crime, and the proof standard involved.
Intensity of heinousness
Rape involves force/coercion and violence, which makes it bad, heinous.

However, if that were all there was to it, then one could treat it under the general heading of violence. A separate heading like rape, intended to devote more specialized discussion to it, would not be needed.

We all treat rape separately and more seriously, and rightly so, because there is much more to rape than violence. Deep emotional scars are caused because of factors such as:

(a) Evolutionary psychological trauma (I am writing from a vague understanding, please correct me if I am wrong) : someone raping a woman is, as it were, threatening to take control over her reproductive destiny and to force her to raise a child that shares genes from someone she hasn't chosen. A woman is hardwired to feel devastated from it, because when humans evolved there weren't effective methods to prevent pregnancy. For this reason, medical assurances about how pregnancy can be controlled will not help.

(b) Societal stigma (especially in more conservative countries).

Notice that (b) does not apply to marital rape at all, though (a) applies to it, albeit to a much smaller extent : trauma about (the primal fears associated to) being impregnated, though by a chosen person, at the wrong time. Thus, marital rape falls somewhere between ordinary violence and actual rape, but - I could be wrong but am yet to see arguments articulated either way - much closer to ordinary violence than to actual rape. Thus, using the same word "rape" for both these is like "ashvatthaamaa hataH...kunjaraH".
Proof standard
Short of certain injury signs, it is difficult to prove marital rape. The feminist approach to the difficulty posed by evidentiary standards is reflected in and summarized by Krish Ashok's comment here, namely : "so you can either trust women to not misuse the law or men to not rape. What sounds more likely to you?" Of course, articulating this prominently will eat away from popular support for the feminist cause, so feminists tend to avoid this point and focus on the gruesomeness of rape, in other words emotionally manipulate using the connotation vs denotation obfuscation. Be that as it may, the question posed by Krish Ashok is worth thinking over. For one, is it okay to frame laws that are unfair against group B, and thereby sacrifice a few, say m, members of group B, if that improves the chances that people of group A may get justice, let us say it helps n members of group A get justice? If so, what should a lower bound for (say an expected value for) n be as a function of m? That is only one of the questions worth asking here. Another problem with the feminist argument is the following - the following possibilities are consistent with each other :

(a) The possibility that marital rape happens with an outrageous frequency; and
(b) The possibility that most marital rape cases that *go to court* could be fake, filed by women who want to settle some score with their husbands (in other words, it may happen that almost all genuine victims of marital rape suffer silently without going to court).

I repeat, I am not saying that (b) will necessarily happen, but merely that belief in (a) does not automatically preclude the possibility of (b) occurring. I don't know how far (b) might occur. I doubt anyone knows either. I am afraid feminists want us to believe that the numbers say what they want us to believe, not because they have figured the numbers out but because their own internal fears incentivize them to believe that numbers are aligned in a particular way.

Finally, it is scary to think of how in every other issue one can think of, "civilized discourse" emphasizes the principle of "innocent until proven guilty", while the same sources of discourse, when it comes to this issue, cite an unusually, extraordinarily, consequentialist-sounding argument to deny men any benefit from due process.

March 4th, 2015

Make no mistake, the NDTV/BBC interview of the Delhi rapist has yet another very sinister angle to it - namely the implicit suggestion that, since the rapists' opinion is common among Indian men, Indian men are not much different from the rapist.

Thus, Shekhar Gupta tweets :
"Hope we all noticed, 99.9% outrage on BBC rape docu by Indian men, not women. U can see who is so petrified of being shown the mirror & why"
- in other words, for an Indian man, watching the rapist is equivalent to seeing the mirror!

Unfortunately, a lot of feminism has come to be less about womens' rights than about man-shaming.

Man-shaming does a spectacular job of causing pain and humiliation to sensitive, woman-respecting men while leaving potential rapists entirely unmoved. In fact, it possibly shields the latter from blame by diffusing the blame on an entire gender. In other words, sort of, "विनाशाय च साधूनां परित्राणाय दुष्कृतां".

What do such feminists seek? Perhaps the satisfaction of punching back. Unknown to themselves, their psyche is probably seeking comfort in the thought that they have at least been able to gain partial victory by causing grief to a collective entity to whom the rapist belongs, namely a gender.

So do such feminists care about women at all? They do, but not to an extent that matches their hatred for men. Unfortunately, in nature, anger and hatred are more potent forces than altruism.

February 13th, 2015

Problems in real life usually defy definition. On the other hand law demands precision. Thus, we have two ideas of free speech :

1. The abstract principle of seeking to maximize peoples' freedom to propagate ideas, in the interest of a tolerant and rich (in ideas) society. This is vague and there is no clear path to ensuring that it is honored.

2. The legalistic principle, which doesn't care for principles like propagation of ideas but is a precise, consistent and elegant doctrine, more like a scripture that stipulates what the Government should (or should not) do.

Let me quote from a comment that I made along these lines about 2.5 months back at a certain "National Interest" blog :
When “free speech” started off, it began as a movement for all kinds of small voices to be heard, in the interest of a tolerant and creative society. Gradually the philosophical concept of free speech was replaced by a legalistic doctrine, which laid emphasis only on what a governmental policy should we. This made things precise and clear, as legal matters should ideally be, but lost out on breadth and nuance.

These days those who understand free speech only as a legalistic doctrine even claim that those who champion the earlier, less precise but more broad-minded, version of free speech don’t get what the term means. Whereas in practice it is they who fail to distinguish between the philosophical and legal manifestations of the same principle. Now social media etc. have made the nuance necessary.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and I fail to find it obvious that a society that adheres to legalistic free speech and yet where people can be witch-hunted and their lives destroyed for relatively harmless comments is necessarily better than one with a constitution riddled with contradictions as a result of seeking to put "reasonable restrictions" on free speech. Specifically, I am referring to :


Unfortunately, die-hard free speech champions seem to prioritize theoretical consistency and elegance over the well-being of a society. They seem to me to be committing something like a ludic fallacy.

If you are a free-speech champion and disagree with me, and don't mind explaining why you think I am wrong, I would love to hear from you.

February 10th, 2015

As everyone and her dog is telling us why AAP won and BJP lost, let me just focus on a tautological point which so many seem to miss. As far as possible,

The only reason to conclude that "Reason X contributed to BJP's defeat" should be "There is substantial evidence to believe that reason X contributed to BJP's defeat".

This looks like a blinding flash of the obvious, and yet, election after election, in country after country, this principle seems to be honored more in its breach than in observance, leading to what Taleb calls retrospective distortion. Here is a satirical article by Megan Mcardle spoofing Democrat "analyses" of the Republican defeat in the 2012 Presidential election (link courtesy of my political Guru, Gaurava Mamunigal).

Here is a small sample of bad arguments cited to explain BJP's failure :

1. They did not implement your favorite policy, say reforms. Here is Ashok Malik most probably making this mistake.

2. They did not do enough to check something you hate, say Ghar Wapsi Here is Kanchan Gupta making this mistake.

3. They inducted Bedi shortly before the election [this is post facto rationalization; most were calling this a masterstroke before the election, so stronger evidence is needed].

In fact, most of the arguments that are put forward to explain BJP's loss seem to be perverted products of ego, put forward to bolster the writer's self-respect or get readership/viewership.

Please, please avoid the mistake of thinking "I am a normal reasonable human, so the majority of humans will weigh their priorities the way I do". Please don't automatically assume that "Doing the right thing will get you political dividends". Instead develop some of what (again) Taleb calls "epistemic humility" [see here].

Now I am aware that like humanities disciplines, much of election analysis does not lie in the domain of falsifiability; while one can indeed retrieve some information such as vote share, and get limited information on preferences via surveys, such information is usually too incomplete to arrive at an action plan. And yet one does have to take action, which means one has to rely on some amount of vague thinking or guess work. And inevitably, people will differ on the exact amount of guess work that should be considered admissible. But while doing so it is important to have greater self-awareness, how much of a particular opinion of ours is backed by reasonable evidence and how much is guess work that depends on our preferential benefits of doubt. It is especially important to be not led astray by ego, especially desire for validation from the intelligentsia.

As conservatives, let us remember that our concern for our country should supersede intellectual validation, even by ourselves let alone others.

August 25th, 2014

Sorry I am in a foul mood and hence this incoherent ramble.

After all the mind numbing brutality from ISIS we have come to read of in the last few days, all that the very popular (and, I have to admit, very intelligent) "Tweet of God" handle could tweet was : "Just because some members of a particular religion are crazy, doesn't mean some members of other religions aren't also crazy."

Liberals like this guy have blood on their hands. They have helped take away all pressure that Islam might otherwise have had to reform. It is time to expose the blood on liberal hands.

A more subtle issue is the role played by "free speech", which one must not let go under-appreciated. Allowing the likes of Anjem Choudhary to spread their outrageous views, perhaps bolstered by tabloid-induced popularity, has helped the Jihadists recruit as many as 500 Brits into ISIS. Free speech fascists came up with sophistry such as "Sunlight is the best disinfectant, the world should see how ridiculous the extremist views are etc." Guess who is having the last laugh now?

Please try to bring to light to free speech fascists how they are supporting policies that have led to the torture and murder of thousands. Islamists, liberals (progressives) and free speech fascists very direly need public shaming. At least the extent to which Hindus are shamed in India or republican Christian white males are in the US.

April 17th, 2014

Prabhu suggested:
Aside, maybe for a different blog post: Your thoughts on Modi and Skull cap? Media is showing him wearing caps of other communities and rejecting the skull cap alone.
This is a "fun topic" to write about, since it is mildly challenging. One has to dig a little bit, though not too much, to bring out features that distinguish acts that those who follow the path of least resistance confound as morally equivalent. So here are some ideas, which anyone who reads this, if at all, is welcome to add to and/or finesse.

1. What would be a likely newspaper heading if Modi did wear a skull cap? I bet it would be "With an eye on Muslim vote, Modi wears the skull cap". A slight variant is the possibility of accusation that the man is being insensitive, trying to rubbing salt into Muslim wounds by frivolously flaunting their symbols in spite of (what detractors see as) apathy and hatred for Muslims. In other words, on this issue, either option would invite the secular "damned if you do, damned if you don't" blame.

2. As pointed out by many, whether or not the skull cap is a religious symbol, people view it as one. In contrast, the other head gears that are worn come more with a cultural as opposed to religious connotation. There is that difference between a westerner wearing a churidar or a kurta as opposed to he or she wearing sandal paste on forehead.

3. Modi did wear the green shawl with Islamic verses that was given to him.

4. Another aspect distinguishing the skull cap from other headgears is that, due to overuse, politicians wearing the skull cap has acquired a connotation of appeasement. Islam has been a basis for appeasement in a way none of the cultural constructs associated with the other headgears has been. In fact, explicitly avoiding religious symbols might help toward bringing about a welcome change away from the politics of appeasement.

5. Moreover, it is never healthy if wearing a skull cap becomes a requirement, as it seems to have become. I don't see parallel requirements for Muslim leaders to proactively encourage Hindu sentiments. After all, we have a rich "secular" tradition of singing "Ishvar Allah tero naam" in temples but not about any Hindu God in mosques. Allowing seculars or liberals to enforce political correctness is a slippery slope.

6. This is a slight variant of point 2. When do you offer to shake hands with someone? You may do that to a stranger that you are just meeting. You might also do that when you meet a friend with whom you have good ongoing relations. But the protocol is not so immediate when the person harbors a grievance against you. Shaking hands with an evidently disgruntled acquaintance may be seen as aggressive, as an attempt to conquer by cynically manipulating through gestures for which decorum demands reciprocity. To put it slightly differently, Modi can start on a relatively clean slate to try breaking ice with people from various parts of India, not so much with Muslims with whom his relations have been overanalyzed in a less than reconciliation-oriented manner.

April 15th, 2014

Several people on twitter seem to have risen up in arms against a circular issued by `The Hindu' prohibiting nonvegetarian food in their canteen. They especially take objection to the circular mentioning "...as it causes discomfort to the majority of the employees who are vegetarian". For instance, the celebrity infotainer Sidin initially supported the right of `The Hindu' to impose restrictions in its premises, but later sort of backtracked saying he found the `majoritarian' angle troubling. I am quite disturbed at the eagerness of several vegetarians to *unthinkingly* support the non-veg cause. Anyway, I would like to raise two points, mainly intended at showing that things are not black and white :

1. Though it might seem otherwise, non-vegetarianism is not JUST about choice. Supporters of nonvegetarianism (including you if you are one) do use `choice' as the decider eventually, but that is emphatically not the only factor they take into consideration. Why do I say so? Because most of the modern world recognizes such a thing as animal rights, in a way it does not recognize plant rights. There are laws that ban animal cruelty but not ones that ban plant cruelty. People do not casually pluck at an animal's body part the way they do leaves etc.

The reason non-vegetarianism is considered acceptable is that, though people usually do consider it wrong to torture animals, they prioritize their eating preferences above such scruples. In presence of conflicting pulls, the average human brain just happens to be superbly equipped to silence the one with less perceived benefit to self. Those who are staunch vegetarians on principle follow the same set of values as nonvegetarians do, but the emphasis they lay on non-violence on animals exceeds their respect for `right to choice of food'. I belong to this category. This is completely different from the relatively more black and white issue of homosexuality, where there is no externality, i.e., no direct material harm is done to a third life-form-with-central-nervous-system. I remind you that it is always important to keep in mind that even the most principled man puts some principle at backseat at some point of time in exchange for convenience.

2. The accusation of majoritarianism. This is what caused Sidin to flip, yet I think this point is even more silly. Majoritarianism is there everywhere in life, and all of us live and breathe it every day, and in many cases rightly so. It usually boils down to - given that one has to choose between causing discomfort to one group of people and causing discomfort to another, how do you take your pick?

In the case at hand, the issues are : (a) how much inconvenience is it to nonvegetarian employees to eat only vegetarian food in the canteen? (b) how much discomfort does it cause to the vegetarians? From a purely moralistic third party perspective, why is one of (a) and (b) less sacred than the other?

Now in legal issues, in public space, classical liberalism addresses (a) at the expense of (b), so long as "discomfort" does not grow into "material harm". In the legal world, arguably a case could be made to uniformly prioritize one over the other. But what about non-legal issues? In practice people settle on one of (a) and (b), and the decision is usually arrived at in a case by case manner. Thus, watching porn in work situations that do not affect business can still get someone into trouble. Same with dress codes in companies and such.

P. S. : There is no denying that there is a lot of hypocrisy in The Hindu's stance etc., but for me vegetarianism is a stronger concern than all those right now.

Epilogue : Usually I agree with Gaurav ji on such a large number of issues that it is a bit sad I have to differ with him on this. [EDIT : I stand corrected as Gaurav ji clarifies] But of course the biggest, though predictable, disappointment here is from greatbong with an uncharacteristically high degree of bigotry :


@RMantri 43m
@sidin @greatbong Most pvt offices have a dress code - what if somebody insists on wearing totally opp.? Majoritarian to insist otherwise?

@greatbong 41m
@RMantri @sidin The wearing of proper clothes is relevant to conduct of business. Not the eating, given this is Hindu

‏@Sanity_3 34m
@greatbong bizarre! Dress code can impact business but a person eating meat next to vegetarian won't? :) @RMantri @sidin

‏@greatbong 29m
@Sanity_3 @RMantri @sidin This is why in the US and Europe they have dress codes but not food codes. Tough for vegetarians to understand


You see, all Greatbong could say was that his preferences are justified because the Americans and Europeans say so!! And then he dares top it off with a personal attack on vegetarians (not just those who insist on vegetarianism), saying `Tough for vegetarians to understand'. Very disappointing :'(

February 11th, 2014

As Ravikiran, the high priest of libertarianism, says, one should devise solutions based on structures and incentives. What are the incentives in front of Hindus to support free speech?

An illustrative example would be the following excerpt from an FAQ on the blog of Krish Ashok :
Would you do this to the Koran, the Bible or the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy?

No. I would not. I choose to parody the culture I grew up with and I am quite aware of the violent repercussions possible from fundamentalists of all denominations. You are free to call me a coward for my selective choice of subjects.

Aren’t you then taking undue advantage of the freedom and tolerance inherent in our religion?

It isn’t freedom and tolerance if I cannot take advantage of it. If you say “How dare you take advantage of our tolerance?” then the logical fallacy inherent in that statement causes it to collapse on itself.

Indeed, it is not inconsistent for liberals to choose to selectively offend Hindu sentiments. Neither is it inconsistent for someone to selectively oppose Hindu intolerance and more or less ignore other forms of intolerance, as long as he/she does not endorse these other forms of intolerance (like Salil Tripathi). More generally, it is not impossible for a secular society that adheres to free speech, to selectively and consistently humiliate and demonize in press one section of the society.

So the question in front of Hindus is the following : do you want that extra bit of freedom in exchange for a society where you are routinely humiliated? Where you will have all the rights that are formally granted in a modern society, but yet you of all will be singled out for embarrassment? Where ideas and practices of your religion alone, which you respect and cherish, are condemned as factors behind the ills in your society (e.g., blaming our epics for rapes)?. Where intense societal pressure will force you to keep to yourself about the hurt inflicted on your religious feelings and weep in silence?

If not, do not be a slut for free speech. Make it clear to the champions of free speech that while selectivity in outrage or ridicule by the society as a whole may be consistent with their own framework of principles, these concerns of selectivity still have to be addressed if they are to have your support.

People have been rubbing it onto us that Hindutva was dead. In this recalling of Doniger's book, we have a faint glimmer of hope. It is not clear if the Hindutva project or even the withdrawal of this book will stay, but this temporary victory gives us a shot of much needed, rejuvenating, confidence. For this reason, it is indeed time to party!
Apparently a petition that is sloppy at many places and poorly referenced has compelled Penguin to withdraw Wendy Doniger's book.

And in fact it is this very sloppiness that makes this success all the more sweet to me. The painstakingly constructed, polite, sophisticated critiques of Doniger had all failed us Hindus. The liberals' excessive faith in credentials meant that they happily ignored the best counterarguments we had and sang her glories. A distinguished professor at Chicago who had mastered the way political correctness works, she could make a remark as lazy and irresponsible as "Her greatest hypocrisy is in her pretense that she is a woman." (on Sarah Palin) and get away with it[link]

The liberal society has consistently responded to the finest Hindu arguments with a silence equivalent to "Kyaa ukhaad loge be?" Thus, defeating them in an intellectual skirmish could never possibly be a source of satisfaction, as it would just mean that we had to deal with the bitter after taste of their well left snub or an unfazed "Get over it". Rather, they had to paid back in their own coin, preferably using the crassest arguments that would disgust them, for which they have immediate logical counters, yet leaving them powerless to do anything about it. Well, I cannot express my emotions nearly well, but they are roughly analogous to what the master of writing, Greatbong, described in a different context, namely, when Pakistani players were invited for the IPL auction and not one franchise bid for any of them [link] :
...but of the mass thappad given on the faces of the Pakistani players. Now putting on my unemotional, rational hat this was something that could totally have been avoided. ...
... here is what I felt when none of the franchises bid for Pakistani players. I felt happy. Perhaps unintentionally and through pure mismanagement, the IPL franchises have done what our government could not pull of. It has given a resounding slap– jiska goonj bahoot din tak sunaai dega.
This snub has drilled into Pakistan that thing that burns them up so much. Namely that “India call the shots because they have the money”, the extent of which can be realized when Parnell, hired for the Delhi Daredevils for 610K USD, says that his idol is Ashish Nehra. Yes that’s the extent of India’s financial muscle.
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