Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Oranges and apples

It is the oldest trick in the world.

It is called denying and delaying and diminishing by an unfair but convincing comparison. We do it all the time. And for some reason, it is quite the established and accepted ritual.

Think back. Did you as a child push unpalatable food down your throat with a parent delivering statistics on how many children are starving in Ethiopia?

My grandmother had a way of keeping us obsessively busy dusting, with tales of how much harder it was to plaster their village homes by hand with wet mud!

Who has not had a teacher extol their great fortune in being able to attend a boring class while there are kids and more kids struggling to read under the street lamps?

Politicians make a habit of trivializing their own misjudgements by pointing at the mal-achievements of other leaders.

Mum-in-law will often negate the hardships faced by her son’s wife with an insistence she has it easy, considering her own husband was so unreasonably demanding.

Without going into their veracity, it can be safely assumed that none of these statements represent any desire on the part of the speaker to acknowledge the discomfort of the subject of their deceit. And deceit is. The unstated objective of this craft of deception is to dodge responsibility. The treacherous comparisons are made to keep things conveniently status quo. It suits someone to avoid deeper engagement and resolution of an inconvenient truth by harping on a worse scenario.

There is the proverbial saying about being sad over having no shoes until one met another who had no feet. But has the disabled person in this story ever had a chance to offer his side of the story? A hugely unfair and universal presumption is generally made about his life being of lesser value because he has stubs where there should have been feet. To go further, it is quite possible that the barefoot poor is alone and cold and injured in the feet while the other has friends to help him and wrap a blanket around his stumps.  The moral of the story should have been that the poor fellow badly needed a pair of shoes and someone ought to donate a pair; instead it became all about his need not being as important because there was someone who did not have feet to begin with. Do you see the fault line in this brand of treacherous logic?

I firmly believe we would build a happier, safer, more sustainable world if we did not dodge real issues in this cowardly manner.  But switch on the TV, open the day’s newspaper or go online, the gas lighting is in full flow.

Watch Manish Tiwari, the official spokesperson of AICC, dodge a question on the potential of an American style Prime Ministerial debate in India. His response is a harangue over how it might be the only way, going by the number of Parliamentary disruptions caused by the opposition in the current session.

You begin a discussion on euthanasia related legislation and a smart deflector will condemn the elitist nature of the issue, claiming nullification because the poor do not have access to healthcare. 

The alarmingly consistent stories on rape in Haryana led the Khap Panchayats recently to demand early marriage! A debate on abortion will habitually degenerate into a question of morality; is it fair to punish the unborn child?

The latest is Jairam Ramesh, India’s Rural Development Minister. His declaration of toilets being far more needed than temples in the country has unleashed a storm of hurt religious sentiments. How dare he compare oranges with apples, said some! Well, NASA researcher Scott Sandford, dried, ground and spetrometered both apples and oranges and found them to be remarkably similar, which is to say that the apples and oranges cannot be compared premise falls by the wayside, nice and proper.

And yet we persist with all sorts of intellectual dishonesty. We will use every trick in the trade to keep us shielded from seeing uneasy truths:  the cult of personality, claims of privacy, argument from intimidation, insinuation. We will indulge in scapegoating, quoting widely held fantasies, theatrical effects, claiming to cover two sides of the story and on and on.

Honesty would lie in pointing out the omissions in one’s opponent’s logic and facts.  We instead change the subject, quote irrelevant facts, question their motives.

We are intellectually dishonest in layers!