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September 15th, 2017

Check out this Opindia post on Shahane's scroll article that had accused Swami Vivekananda of laying foundations for "India's politics of sectarianism":


November 18th, 2015

A bunch of Hindu-friendly scholars have issued a statement responding to two earlier statements by left-liberal social scientists and other academics in the context of rising intolerance.

A section of the left liberal twitterati have been quick to identify the achilles' heel of the statement and use it to attract non-left libertarian support - namely the part:
1. A reductionist approach viewing the evolution of Indian society almost entirely through the prism of the caste system, emphasizing its mechanisms of “exclusion” while neglecting those of integration without which Indian society would have disintegrated long ago.
The left-liberals have interpreted the latter part of this excerpt as suggesting that the Hindu-friendly scholars are trying to push the positive side of caste here.

While it may be possible to interpret this sentence as not saying anything positive about caste at all, pro-Hindu voices trying to engage with the above mentioned left-liberals have indeed interpreted that to be so.

And by this, I am afraid, they have surrendered the entire argument at the feet of the left-liberals.

The reason is simply that any statement on caste other than unequivocal condemnation, however nuanced and erudite and intellectually honest and well meaning, is interpreted by most as a "justification" - this is a topic on which most people consciously avoid the side of nuance.

Those who would not mind a discussion on caste which is nuanced enough to admit an a priori possibility of a positive side to it, or even to admit that someone talking of a possible positive side to it, rightly or wrongly, does not necessarily amount to justifying it, are already pro-Hindutva; they do not need to be won over by such statements.

This is an important lesson Hindus should learn: do not make an argument just because it is correct - an argument, however dharmic, making which will only undermine your credibility and hurt the cause you are espousing, is to be meticulously avoided.

This is not to say that these scholars should not have talked about a positive side of caste in any context - if they made similar arguments in an independent capacity elsewhere, that would hardly make any dent in the credibility of this particular statement. When added to this particular statement, however, the argument ends up harming the rest of the statement which many libertarians would have been happy to buy.

November 9th, 2015

Disclaimer/better alternatives: As I write this I should be careful of not violating what I said earlier. Also, mine being rambling thoughts, that too unoriginal, it is much better to read Gaurav [see here for links] and Rahul Roushan [see here].

The black swan of May 2014

It is important to not forget the incredible amount of selfless dedication and hard work that went into the May 2014 victory, on the part of people from a wide variety of backgrounds - including those who quit well paid jobs to make Modi PM, kAryakartas of the Sangh which went all out, like never before, to campaign for Modi, etc.

However, even more important it is to realize that all these human contributions, as also factors such as Modi's own charisma and Amit Shah's strategization, would not have amounted to nearly as much, had it not been for a unique fortuitous combination of circumstances that amplified the currents in BJP's favor by perhaps an order of magnitude [see Footnote 2]. Neither hard work nor enthusiasm among cadre nor money was wanting in the case of the Bihar elections, and yet BJP lost very badly [Footnote 3]. Some of my super smart colleagues who recently talked of rising intolerance had, back in early 2014, more expectations from Modi than a Modi fan like myself did.

Thus, the answer to the question "What can BJP do to ensure that May 2014 gets repeated?" is, regrettably, "Nothing." We were lucky then. May 2014 was simply something like a black swan [see Footnote 4]. It is not the kind of thing we can reasonably expect to happen.

People perhaps still generally like Modi's performance (that is what the surveys say, though these days one no longer knows whether to trust any survey at all), but not enough to raise BJP's vote share levels by several notches - in other words, the momentum associated to the talent-generated-but-luck-amplified Modi wave has more or less subsided. We were right to infer that there was a Modi wave, but we should have done so with a bit more humility regarding its mysterious and deep provenance, rather than attributing everything to one person, even while correctly recognizing the indispensability of the said highy remarkable person.

The arduous task in front

What can take you home without having to rely on luck? Only the good old intrinsic party strength. However, this is not easy to build, especially in states where BJP does not have some strength already. If there was any kind of recipe to cultivate such popularity, we would keep seeing a new and successful party all too frequently, and perhaps that would make democracy far less feasible than it is today. Similarly, in states where a party already has some strength, it is not easy to further improve its support base significantly. Thus, winning the Bihar elections was always next to impossible, given that even with the Lok Sabha voting patterns, i.e., at the crest of the Modi wave, NDA's vote share was substantially below that of the combined share of the constituents of MGB. Of course, the opinion polls that came later encouraged many, certainly including me, to overestimate what Amit Shah could do.

Don't lose the core

Let us look at two important kinds of sympathizers BJP has right now: (a) Hindutva core; and (b) A tiny elite bunch of libertarians who hardly care for Hinduism. Cultivating a core is next to impossible as mentioned above, and what did the trick for BJP is the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, led by various stalwarts, especially Advani ji. But unfortunately the core alone is far from sufficient to take BJP to the majority, even though alienating it or treating it luke-warmly, as members of the group (b) want to do, is suicidal - group (a) is almost all of BJP's current strength. A bird in hand is worth two in the bush. How can BJP add to its strength without sacrificing (a)? Development cannot do much given the phase lag between policy and its effect and how easy it is for development to go unnoticed (as happened to NDA 1). I am afraid no one knows the answer.

Goals versus systems

Scott Adams often talks about "goals versus systems" [see this article], heavily favoring the latter over the former. Goals often give only temporary benefits and burn us out soon, if at all they succeed. Systems continually make us stronger and maximize our chances of exposure to luck as well as our capability to make use of such exposure. Winning a specific election is a "goal", not a "system". Even if BJP had won in Bihar using the Modi wave, it would not necessarily have been a good thing because that would not necessarily cultivate BJP in the state (though, to be fair, success would attract more and better people to the party and thus is far from useless in the long run). Instead, having a system that somehow (and I admit I don't know the details of this "somehow") gets talented people in each state to lead the party from the front, without having to rely on a national leader, would give the party a better shot at strengthening itself at the state level.

Needed: more federalism within the party?

In administration/economy one confronts this question of dividing controls between the central government and the state governments. It is often argued that the center has access to better resources and more qualified sources to give technical inputs, and can hence spend more and spend better. Yet, it is in favor of giving more control to the state governments that Modi has sided with, because centralized control would become too unwieldy in situations where a "one size fits all" approach would not work. Perhaps this approach of cooperative federalism is applied not simply to governance but to building party also.

An aside on intra-party democracy.
BJP used to be a tad closer than other parties to having intra-party democracy. The arrival of the undoubtedly shrewd Amit Shah seems to have - to the best of my knowledge - made the party more entrenched in its high command structure. For a while I have been thinking that this was for the best, since the transition to democracy involves much suffering and uncertainty until democracy falls firmly into place - and we have too much at stake right now. Now with 2019 looking pessimistic again, I am not so sure. We have to rely on our strength, and not luck, against a combined ferocious ecosystem-fortified opposition.

Footnote 1: Though the coal and spectrum allocation scams showed up during UPA 1, the media managed to cover it up and the BJP managed to not make an issue out of them; in fact only a few on the right, such as realitycheck, followed it seriously enough.

Footnote 2: It is particularly telling, for instance, that a disturbingly large number of Indians still think that UPA 1 was great and that only UPA 2 sucked (see Footnote 1). Things had to come to a particular kind of head, which included Anna Hazare having to show up and his movement garnering unexpectedly high support from the youth, so as to gather together the scattered expressions of support for Modi and magnify them into a Modi wave or a Modi tsunami. Before these events took place, it was still clear that Modi would augment the BJP tally, but capturing power at the center still remained a distant dream. Hence in early 2013, it gladdened the seculars to know that Modi was likely to be a PM candidate for NDA, for that would kill his brand without adding much to the tally, demoralizing BJP in the process (and we still troll them by retweeting their tweets from those days).

Footnote 3: Compared to 2010 elections BJP's vote share percentage per seat contested declined slightly from 16.46/102, which is roughly 0.1613, to 24.4/157, which is roughly 0.1554; what this basically says is "no serious improvement over 2010", for one should also take into account that this time it did not have JDU support and had to contest on seats where it is not strong.

Footnote 4: I am given to understand that several people misinterpret the term black swan, and I could be doing the same too. Hopefully it is clear what I mean. Same could happen with Scott Adams' goals versus systems

November 2nd, 2015


The following three events are probably arranged in the increasing order of the surprise with which they took those who care for our country.
(a) Dynasty worshipping literati, such as a Nayantara Sehgal or a Munawwar Rana, returning their awards in protest;
(b) An acclaimed, genuinely talented (well, I am in no position to judge but this is what most people say), author like Vikram Seth agreeing with the other writers; and
(c) A good number of scientists petitioning against the present Government - here is the petition, and it was reported in the `news and comment' section of the prestigious scientific journal Nature.
(a) probably does not come as a surprise to many. (b) would surprise those accustomed to thinking of writers as particularly enlightened. After all, in school, we were all taught - dogmatically - to take for granted that literature and art add value to the society. However, many do realize that being a good writer does not mean much more than being able to arrange words in an aesthetic fashion (or perhaps rather, excelling from the view point of certain rigid aesthetic conventions; on this topic, do not miss out on Eric S. Raymond's take on literary status envy). For instance, many on the right consider Arundhati Roy to be talented in literary aesthetics and yet pathetic in any kind of analytic reasoning.

The conundrum of the scientists' petition

What is on the face of it most puzzling here is scientists being swept away by the tide of the artistic chorus, with seemingly uncharacteristic disregard for data (see this; also see [this], [this] and [this]). A friend of mine, who happens to be an academic, asked me how scientists who are trained in logical reasoning, who know the difference between data and anecdote and can tell good statistics from bad statistics, could make such loose allegations. Moreover, while their petition does not mention the ruling party or a specific individual by name, they claim to be adding to the voice of writers who are very clear about their political affiliations. Further, their claim regarding "the active promotion of irrational and sectarian thought by important functionaries of the government"', notwithstanding the fact that one of their examples chosen as illustrative was that of Narendra Dabholkar, who was killed when the currently ruling party was in charge of neither the state in which he was killed nor the center, strongly raises suspicions of "lying without lying", in the sense of trying to impress a false thought in the mind of the reader without having to take responsibility for it.

And yet, it is worth noting that:
(i) Many of these scientists are highly accomplished. Not merely the best in India, but with substantial contributions to the frontiers of human knowledge, having come up with theories or solutions to problems that some of the very best scientists in the world were looking forwarded to or impacted by.
(ii) Many of these scientists are good human beings who mean well, as people who know them vouch for. It goes without saying that, at least intentionally, they would never buy into a diabolical plan just for the sake of their political sympathies.
Aim of this article

So, I would like to propose a mechanism which I believe likely explains this phenomenon. Of course I cannot read others' minds or produce data to explain why scientists think in a certain manner, so the rest of this article is going to be quite speculative.

Preliminary considerations - scientists and rationality

To warm up, let me discuss an aspect of the issue my friend raised - how far does scientists' training in logical reasoning contribute to the rationality of their outlook? It is true that scientific research does place a very nontrivial demand for rationality. More to the point, scientists depend on their existing beliefs or expectations as to how things function, in order to make bold guesses - typically far bolder than non-scientists might expect them to be. The scientific method, or an attempted proof of a theorem, may then tell them that their idea was unrealistic or wrong. To be a successful scientist, then, one necessarily has to keep challenging one's belief system.

Thus, it might appear at first sight only reasonable to expect a scientist to be a highly rational individual. However, as Robin Hanson points out, such a perspective is misleading. Rationality consumes resources, and hence ``you should spend your rationality budget where truth matters most to you.'' Scientists may typically not acknowledge this explicitly, but in my experience most of them realize this at some level and make adjustments accordingly. Thus, one can often see scientists consciously choosing the naive route in many a practical matter. For instance, somewhat analogously to the "rules versus principles" dichotomy, they realize that dogma is a cost effective way to implement a principle. A perhaps different but at least superficially related phenomenon is the observation of Gaurav ji: "Gaurav's law of intellectual anisotropy. In general the genius of a person in one field is directly proportional to his chutiyapa in an unrelated field."

This is not to say that rationality is like a fixed resource to be utilized sparingly. Rather, it is probably more like a muscle which, though a "limited" resource, becomes stronger with usage. I think this `muscle view' together with the fact that scientists come from a smarter subset of the population makes scientists more rational on an average than others, all other things being equal, but far from perfectly rational.

Thus, these considerations only partially alleviate my friend's concern and mine.


As Robin Hanson says, we tend to form political opinions less out of a real concern for the society or interest in policy than as a means to signal our qualities. We have all evolved to be hypocrites. Without ourselves realizing, we use political arguments all the time as a means of signalling our loyalties and telling others how awesome we are as human beings. Everyone has this tendency, including academics.

Thus, the arguments that succeed are often not the most honest ones but the ones that can arm your side to signal its superiority over the other. For instance, as discussed in the previous post, attempting certain forms of nuance can in many contexts invite unfair accusations of blaming the victim. Making arguments from certain sides involves swimming "against a moral current". This moral current may also be heavily influenced by contemporary intellectual fashion - for instance, an anti-caste crusader in sixteenth century India may find it very difficult to come up with effective ways of articulating his or her views.

Thus, the natural tendency for humans is not to pick the more honest side in an argument, but the `easier to argue' one - one that allows you to indulge your own tendency of self-validation, to signal your loyalties to what you think is the intellectually fashionable side, and increase your relative legitimacy by demonizing those on the other side. Thus, we have what we may call the "narcissism bias".


There is a way science gets over the problem of bias in human thinking - for in science, we have the concept of falsifiability. Science requires its practitioners to make predictions that can actually put their hypotheses to test, and test these hypotheses against the predictions. If our theory is not falsifiable, i.e., do not allow for predictions against which its correctness can be tested, then it is not science anymore; it is subject to human biases.

However, subjects like social science being unfalsifiable, one can easily set up systems that can explain any outcome. For instance here is the left liberal template while explaining a communal polarization or riot that occurs before the elections:
I. If the state Government is BJP ruled, blame the state Government (in fact, one who stops at just blaming the state Government cannot be faulted - law and order is indeed in the State List).

II. If not, and if the central Government is headed by the BJP, blame the central Government. This is what they did for the polarization that happened just before the 2015 Delhi elections (e.g., for the nun attack in West Bengal in which the culprits turned out to be Bangladeshis; [link]).

III. If neither the state Government nor the central Government is BJP ruled, claim that the BJP is engineering the riot in order to capture power. Further:

III.a If BJP wins the subsequent elections, claim that the BJP used communal polarization to win the elections (for instance, they use this to explain Modi's victory in the 2002 Gujarat state elections)
III.b If BJP loses the subsequent elections, claim that people rejected the communal politics of the BJP (a suitable variant of this was used following the 2015 Delhi elections).

Thus, they have a set of hypotheses ready to explain any situation - in other words, there is no falsifiability. This protects narcissism from being tempered by truth.

Nationalism as an anti-dote to narcissism

Is there a factor that counters this unfortunate human inclination? There is, namely nationalism. If you really care for your country, you sincerely wish well for it, and this can override your desire to conform to what your colleagues say or to be led astray by your personal quest for legitimacy. You sometimes see that the theory you supported does not work well for the nation (recall, we are assuming now that you care sincerely for the nation), which forces you to update it. Thus, for instance, so much of the good criticism of the Modi government actually comes from the right wing. This does not apply to "citizen of the world" considerations in place of nationalism, for we are not wired to be that altruistic. We are, however, wired to conflate a part of our own identity with the national identity - our national identity gets tied with our own ego, something that does not happen with a "citizen of the world".

Unfortunately, many scientists have grown up to have a disdain for nationalism. They think they are "citizens of the world" with a global perspective. In the process, they overestimate their rationality, succumb to narcissism, and have their honesty compromised by the lure of easy, binary narrative.

Thus, nationalism is far more than a blind worship of artificial borders; it is perhaps our only defence against some of our darker tendencies. The senselessness of some of the smartest brains in our country is a stark illustration of why nationalism is so important and indispensable.

October 4th, 2015

The question at hand

Let us consider this abstract question. Suppose there has been an act of violence, say ideologically motivated. Should we (at least immediately following the occurrence) focus solely on condemning it and pressuring the authorities to bring the perpetrators to book, or should we analyze the "root causes" and go after "nuance"?

Some arguments in favor of `nuance'

One can of course give abstract theoretical arguments in support of either position. In support of "nuance" one could say, among other things, that:

1. it is needed to prevent hate-mongers from targeting innocents based on fallacious generalizations;

2.without it, we may be targeting the symptoms instead of the disease and hence being ineffective in preventing future incidents of the kind; and

3. while liberalism or for that matter law in most countries believe in punishing violence, jurisprudence rarely ignores mitigating circumstances, which is nuance of sorts (and further public outrage must be tempered using nuance so as to not create extra-judicial pressure on the legal set up).

Some arguments "against nuance"

On the other hand, one can give arguments against nuance as well. People frequently argue against the "but" brigade, that a violent crime should (at least in the immediate aftermath of its execution) be condemned unequivocally without any further qualifications. They fear that allowing for these extra qualifications may lead to interest groups, more specifically those whose ideological moorings are broadly aligned in a similar direction as the perpetrators, especially if they are politically influential or in control of public discourse, to "abuse" nuance and indulge in, among other things:

(a) victim blaming (this is subtler than it might seem; one person's "cause-effect analysis" is another person's victim blaming);

(b) distraction from the severity of the crime, thereby dampening public awareness of the seriousness of an issue;

(c) drawing false equivalences, thereby actually obscuring the perspective as opposed to enhancing it.

Here, one crucial point regarding all these points (a)-(c) above is "cognitive finiteness". Our brains have limited bandwidths, and it is unrealistic to expect us to be able to accord all the various issues that contribute to a cause proportionate relevance. This forces us to discard some of the causal factors - insistence on not doing so skews, not sharpens, the perspective.

An example from gender theory

Here is an example where I think almost all "educated modern" folks denounce nuance. Namely, at least theoretically - forget whether the answer is affirmative or not - one could ask a question as to whether girls dressing provocatively leads to an increase in the incidence of rapes. While many "regressive" or uneducated people try to bring in such a question as "root cause analysis", the "modern" approach to this question is almost invariably not to address it and demolish it with logic, but rather to dismiss it altogether; to shame those who raise the question. And yet, I don't find this approach entirely unjustified either, precisely due to the reasons mentioned in the previous paragraph. Thus, one discards nuance and ideological engagement owing to fears that they might give traction to regressive elements.

``Cognitive real estate''

In other words, nuance does not always guide us towards the truth; given constraints of "cognitive real estate", it can be a very useful tool for one half of the political spectrum to impede the other by ensnaring its members in non-falsifiable arguments.

Interlude on the Dadri example (which actually motivated this post)

Here is another example (on which anyone who is not pro-Hindu will almost certainly disagree with me). Going by many "left liberal" articles post the Charlie Hebdo attacks, I am tempted to think that, in a parallel universe where more pro-Hindu folks thought like "left liberals", one would see several columns with sentences along the following lines: "Violence and murder have no place in a civilized society, and thus the Dadri lynching should be condemned by anyone in her or his right mind. And yet, if a solution to this senseless violence has to be found, we cannot afford to ignore the broader context that gives rise to it. Simply put, the reality on the ground in much of rural UP and Bihar is that cow slaughter has been practised not simply to exercise one's dietary preferences, but rather, it has been systematically used as a tool to offend and mock Hindus, to show them their place." [with part of the text adapted from this tweet].

That Hindutva folks have generally not written like this may be partly or wholly to their relatively milder indulgence in intellectual dishonesty, or due to their lack of training in left-liberalish dialectics etc. I think it is worth noting that even the relatively Hindu-friendly Opindia.com has not gone the left-liberal way at all, but that is perhaps due to their libertarian slant.

[Aside: To make a small digression, Gaurav ji points out that the issue is better understood by using the words "cow slaughter" instead of "eating beef". This is an example of nuance that makes complete sense to me, but which left-liberals will file as victim blaming. This is also an example that illustrates how most Hindus instinctively use phrasings coined by left-liberals instead of proactively setting the language of the discourse.]

The dichotomy and finding the balance

In any case, I think there is a "nuance vs doctrinaire pacifism" sort of dichotomy in question, and a balance between these can only be arrived at in a case by case manner. Even there, the necessarily non-falsifiable nature of these considerations means that "reasonable" people, even those who are politically similarly inclined, can arrive at different prescriptions for the balance in any given case.

On the libertarian and left-liberal approaches

A comment on libertarian vs left-liberal approaches to finding this balance. Libertarians, at least the more doctrinaire ones, tend to use a very definitive set of axioms to side in favor of either of these considerations. Therefore, they tend to be consistent in at least their positions, if not their outrage levels (in which they may be influenced by the extent of media coverage), across different contexts of a similar nature, in spite of the identity of the perpetrators. Thus, what one usually cannot accuse serious libertarians of is inconsistency (I am not referring to charlatans like Salil Tripathi). Yet, to me their approach is not satisfying, as societal stability and progress are more important to me than having consistency in framework for its own sake; and since moreover I don't keep liberty, free speech etc. (which form the basis of libertarian considerations) on an altar and worship them, like Nitin Pai does religiously and dogmatically. Reality is far too messy usually to be "optimally" handled by simple, theoretically elegant, frameworks [somewhat like the way ludic fallacy operates].

Left-liberals, on the other hand realize this, and realize that a suitable level of nuance can only be determined in a case-by-case fashion. However, instead of using this realization in the interest of societal good, they pick and choose the level of nuance depending on who they wish to support, just as they pick and choose the level of outrage.

Aside: One of the phrases they use when they want to use nuance to do violence apology is that "truth has faces" (please keep your bull-shit filter on high alert whenever you see such a phrase). It is basically due to misuse from left-liberals that I frequently dread the word "nuance" in spite of seeing virtue in it.

Possible relation with a "rule for internet Hindus"

The "cognitive space constraint" consideration, and how it is cynically exploited by left-liberals, is perhaps one of the reasons why Gaurav ji has written in his rules for internet Hindus [I can never praise this set of thoughts enough]: "Never argue with someone who deserves to be mocked, exercise judgement".

On the relative absence of explicit articulations of "cognitive limitation constraint"</a>

Needless to say, the above "cognitive space constraint" considerations on the "flipside of nuance" are by no means unpopular. These are contained in what the Narada Bhakti Sutras echo when they say: "वादो नावलम्ब्यः ॥ बाहुल्यावकाशत्वादनियतत्वाच्च ॥" However, when an issue of "nuance vs violence apology" arises in practice, the dichotomy is not articulated explicitly by either side, which typically prefers to dismiss the other side as simplistic/chauvinistic or apologist - perhaps for fear that this particular nuance may blunt their message!

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.
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