Thursday, September 26, 2013

Civilization and its Discontents

Civilization and its Discontent
Sigmundd Freud

To me the derivation of religious needs from the helplessness of the child and a longing for its father seems irrefutable, especially as this feeling is not only prolonged from the days of childhood, but constantly sustained by a a fear of superior power of fate. ...  The origin of the religious temperament can be traced in clear outline to the child's feeling of helplessness.

The life imposed on us is too hard for us to bear: it brings too much pains, too many disappointments, too many insoluble problems. If we are to endure it, we cannot do without palliative measures. Of such measures, there are perhaps three kinds: powerful distractions which causes us to make light of our misery, substitutive satisfactions, which diminish it, and intoxicants, which anesthetize us to it. 

Any prolongation of a situation desired by the pleasure principle produces only a feeling of lukewarm comfort; we are so constituted that we can gain intense pleasure only from the contrast, and only very little from the condition itself.

On the aim and purpose of our lives:
The answer can scarcely be in doubt: they strive for happiness, they want to become happy and remain so. The striving has two goals, one negative and one positive: on the one hand it aims at an absence of pain and unpleasurable experience, on the other at strong feelings of pleasure.  

The religions of mankind too must be described as examples of mass delusion. Of course, no one who still shares a delusion will ever recognize it as such.

Three sources of our suffering : the superior power of nature, the frailty of our bodies, and the inadequacy of the institutions that regulate people's relations with one another in the family, the state and society. 

We ought to be content to infer from this observation that power over nature is not the sole condition of human happiness, just as it is not the sole aim of cultural endeavors, rather than to conclude that technical progress is of no value in the economy of happiness. 

On rejecting Utilitarianism:
The fact that civilization is not concerned solely with utility is demonstrated by the the example of beauty, which we insist on including among the interests of civilization.  The usefulness of order is quite patent; as for cleanliness, we must bear in mind that it is also required by hygiene, and we may presume that people were not entirely unaware of this connection even before the age of scientific prophylaxis. Yet utility does not wholly explain the striving for cleanliness: something else may be involved too. 

Communal life becomes possible only when a majority comes together that is stronger than any individual and presents a united front against every individual.

Individual liberty is not an asset of civilization. It was greatest before there was any civilization, though admittedly even then it was largely worthless, because the individual was hardly in a position to defend it. 

Sublimation of the drives is a particularly striking feature of cultural development, which makes it possible for higher mental activities -- scientific, artistic and ideological to play such a significant role in civilized life. 

.... And this seems the most important point -- it is impossible to overlook the extent to which civilization is built on renunciation, how much it presupposes the non-satisfaction of powerful drives -- by suppression, repression or some other means. 

The reality behind all this, which many would deny, is that human beings are not gentle creatures in need of love, at most able to defend themselves if attacked; on the contrary, they can count a powerful share of aggression among their instinctual endowments.  .... Man is a wolf to man. 

With the abolition of private property the human love of aggression is robbed of one of its tools, a strong one no doubt, but certainly not the strongest. No change has been made in the disparities of power and influence that aggression exploits in pursuit of its ends, or in nature. Aggression was not created by property, it prevailed with almost no restrictions in primitive times, when property was scanty. 

Primitive man was actually better off, because his drives were not restricted. Yet this was counterbalanced by the fact that he had little certainty of enjoying this good fortune for long. Civilized man has traded in a portion of his chances of happiness for a certain measure of security. 

I take the view hat the tendency to aggression is an original, autonomous disposition in man, and I return to my earlier contention that it represents the greatest obstacle to civilization. 

It is curious how differently primitive man behaves. Having met with misfortune, he puts the blame not on himself, but on the fetish which has clearly not done its duty, and whips it instead of pubishing himself.
We thus know of two origins of the sense of guilt: one is fear of authority; the other, which came later, is fear of the super-ego. 

... the sense of guilt as the most important problem in the development of civilization and to show how the price we pay for cultural progress is a loss of happiness, arising from a heightened sense of guilt. 

The development of the individual seems to be a product of the interaction of two trends -- the striving for happiness, which we commonly call 'egoistic', and the striving for fellowship within the community, which we call 'altrusitc'. 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Life in July 22 - Sept 20

Dil dhoondta hai phir wohi fursat ke raat din.....

The above line sums up what is currently going on.  The last two months have been very very eventful.  Without any further delay, let me start the show.

~ Best news: Ran KTM Half marathon. Detailed report here

~ Parents visited for 8 days. And so did Shweta didi. Awesome time spent.

~ Went for a play - Dear Liar starring Naseeruddin Shah and Ratna Pathak Shah on the life of George bernard show. Didn't got the full context but as expected, it was well acted.

~ Attended talk by Dr. Srinivas on his book - Politics as Performance: The social history of Telugu cinema. The talk was hosted at BIC and also had Dr. Ramachandra Guha there. Quite informative. Had not thought about the performance aspect in politics, but now that i think, it seems so important. Also, it is so important in entrepreneurship as well. Something to always keep in the back of the mind.

~ Attended water film festival with Raksha. Saw 86 centimeters and Bottled Life.  Bottled life was quite well made. I had not used a single plastic water bottle since watching the film :)

~ US trip - A lot of running in US. Detailed report here
~ Went to a Jazz concert in US. It was alright, good in parts especially they had piece with minimalism like music in it. In some other parts, it was too random. Something to open our minds though.
~ Boudin bakery, Ghiradelli square, Ethiopian, Thai and several other cuisine were tried.
~Flew via Doha on Qatar airlines. Not the best experience.
~Went to Yosemite with Abhishek KR and Anita. Hiked the mist trail. It is always great to be visit Yosemite. Pics at -
~ Bentonville was again great at this time of the year. BV pics can be seen at -
Also, went to the Farmer's market there. Awesome stuff!

~Pursuing coursera course on Modern and Post Modern philosophy. Taught by Prof. Michael S Roth from Wesleyan university.  Thoroughly enjoying it.

~ Went to see semifinals of Indian Badminton League with Nikesh.  Ok-ok match.
~ Books:
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Civilization and its discontents by Sigmond Freud
Guns Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond.
Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World's food system by Raj Patel

~Bangalore Politically inspired book club meetups on GGS and SaS were good. Good attendance and some good discussions as part of it.

~TV Series:
Finished Newsroom season 2. Much better than season 1 with couple of awesome episodes but a not-s-good ending
Burn Notice : The series comes to an end. With comedy gone, this has been a difficult one to get through.
Studio 60: Again a Sorkin one. Delighted to see Bradly Whitford back in action. Halfway done.
Couple of episodes of Pradhanmantri. Enjoying them, very informative.

Madras Cafe: 2.5/5
Dekalogue 4 and 5. Awesome to see them again.
A few more on the flight but cant remember them now.

~A media monitoring project on AAP. Details will be posted soon. Did three overnight hackathons. Good fun!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Closures and Beginnings : KTM 2013

There are only a few races that one runs to prove a point, to prove to oneself, ofcourse. First time races such as one's first HM, first marathon belong here, not all of the timing goals belong here but few do. Then there is a whole "other" category.  My KTM 2013 belongs to this "other".

The Context:
Back in 2010, i ran my first HM with a timing just shy of 3 hr mark. Last year, at KTM 2012, i ran my second one and it was a disaster. It took me 3 hr and 20 mins to cross the finish line and it was a very poor finish. I had a horrible run wherein at one point of time, i just sat down on grass next to the trail as i could not run. At the end, physically, i was dehydrated, dizzy, head-ached and wasted but mentally i was angry, enraged on screwing up my run so badly. Typically, people improve as they run but in my case it was the other way around. My next step should have been Auroville but after this mind-numbing performance, i took a break from everything. I started training for Ananya HM, it was all going great until i had to visit US for a three week work trip. I did not make time to train there and lost all the momentum. A two line email from Santhosh said in no-nonsense terms that i should not run this race. I was even more angry at myself for having failed to straighten the record. So, it was KTM 2013 where i vowed to take revenge, to prove that i am a much better runner than this.

The Journey:
KTM 2013 training started on a great note. I was fairly regular and was enjoying the program. Byalkere Peacock Reserve was a great find and Bangalore's weather this year has just been a paradise. It was all going according to plan until i was told that there has to be another work trip. "It can not be happening again" was the first thought that came to my mind. But i was not going to give up this time. I had tremendous luck this time as i was staying in a hotel that was next to an awesome running trail. My full US running activities are documented here.  Outside of work, the only thing in my mind for the entire trip was running - when, where and how. Running alone, without the group, made me push myself to limits that i had not experienced so far. For the first time, i had this feeling that i must run today not because i was to train for KTM or anything but just that i wanted to run. Running made me got up in early mornings instead of the other way around when i used to get up in order to run. Running was no longer a chore, it was what i wanted.

Back from the US, the very next day i ran 10K at Kanakpura and followed it up with a mock run at the Kaveri trail. Both were strong finishes and i knew i was ready. But there was more to it. On last Thursday morning, for bib collection, i realized that i have not received any registration confirmation email. Panicked, i called the KTM organizers who told that they do not have my record in any database. It was crisis time, i had a vague feeling that i have registered but was i imagining it? Next couple of hrs were an exercise through sheer pain. Having done everything, this would rank as the stupidest reason to miss a race. Miraculously, i was able to find my online transaction and using it, the RFL guys were able to look me up and give my bib number.

People sometimes have a surprise look when i tell them that i am a forever finish goal-er. Even though i have quoted timings above, they matter little to me. Running is one of the few physical activities that i enjoy, i do not want to strain it with a time restrictions.  Yesterday, at KTM, people finished full marathons in less than 4 hrs, fastest half marathoner was there in less than 90 mins. I just clapped at these numbers, i was happy for these people but that was it. Among all this, there was also an announcement at the finish line, somebody aged 80 yrs has finished his half marathon. Now, that makes hairs on my hand stand tall. If the dream of a time-goaler is to improve his time with every successive run, the dream of this finish-goaler is to be sixty one day and yet be fit enough to have a strong Half marathon finish, to hell with the timing i say.

The Race:
KTM weather was very kind yesterday, the Sun was behind clouds for most of the time. With 900 participants, it did feel like a crowd but not comparable to TCS by any stretch. For the first 5K, i was trying not to be the rabbit and instead focussed on being a tortoise. After 5K, i knew that people ahead of me will finish early and behind me will be late, so i knew that i have found my placement. From 5-13K it was a rhythmic run. I increased my pace a little after 13K hoping to reach 16K point sooner. 16K is my mental comfort point as in i do not feel exerted to run 16K. But at KTM, at 15K, i realized that i was little tired. 15-19K was completely a  mental game, i persisted at a steady pace not relenting to walk. Once 19K was reached, i knew i would be home soon and i also knew that it would be a personal best. So, i increased my tempo little bit. At about 20.5K, i started sprinting and was home with a cheering reception. It took me 2 hrs 35 mins and 15 seconds to finish the race. I was very happy. Not only with the timing but the fact that i was in no pain, able to walk properly (no limping) and with a very mild headache that went away after about 20 mins. So, it was a strong finish.

All the above has been possible with the help of Runners High. Its an awesome group and i am in awe of the dedication that the coaches show towards the community. From my side, i would like to thank Santhosh,  my HSR coaches - Ajay and Vinay,  our buddy group DreamRunners, especially Nikunj, the awesome people at water-stops during our training runs,  and everyone who has been there with the group. A small cheer, a slight word of encouragement, a strong "you-can-do-it" shout goes a long distance in lifting one's self confidence, more than one could imagine. RH is a joy that must be experienced if you are living in Bangalore.

It is only fitting that the RFL bus covers two sides of Cubbon park before stopping right in front of the Queen's park entrance for us to get off. The first long run of this season was kicked off from the very same spot about 15 weeks ago. A fantastic journey has come to a closure. But another one is just beginning.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Charles Darwin : On the origin of Species

As part of the MPM course, we read chapter 3 (Struggle for Existence) and chapter 4 (Natural Selection) from On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin. We also read the conclusion from The Descent of Man. Following are my highlights from the text. 

But this is a very false view: we forget that each species, even where it most abounds, is constantly suffering enormous destruction at some period of its life, from enemies or from competitors for the same place and food; and if these enemies or competitors be in the least degree favoured by any slight change of climate, they will increase in numbers, and, as each area is already fully stocked with inhabitants, the other species will decrease.

All that we can do, is to keep steadily in mind that each organic being is striving to increase at a geometrical ratio; that each at some period of its life, during some season of the year, during each generation or at intervals, has to struggle for life, and to suffer great destruction. When we reflect on this struggle, we may console ourselves with the full belief, that the war of nature is not incessant, that no fear is felt, that death is generally prompt, and that the vigorous, the healthy, and the happy survive and multiply

Man selects only for his own good; Nature only for that of the being which she tends.

How fleeting are the wishes and efforts of man! how short his time! and consequently how poor will his products be, compared with those accumulated by nature during whole geological periods. Can we wonder, then, that nature's productions should be far "truer" in character than man's productions; that they should be infinitely better adapted to the most complex conditions of life, and should plainly bear the stamp of far higher workmanship?

A large number of individuals, by giving a better chance for the appearance within any given period of profitable variations, will compensate for a lesser amount of variability in each individual, and is, I believe, an extremely important element of success. Though nature grants vast periods of time for the work of natural selection, she does not grant an indefinite period; for as all organic beings are striving, it may be said, to seize on each place in the economy of nature, if any one species does not become modified and improved in a corresponding degree with its competitors, it will soon be exterminated.

Slow though the process of selection may be, if feeble man can do much by his powers of artificial selection, I can see no limit to the amount of change, to the beauty and infinite complexity of the coadaptations between all organic beings, one with another and with their physical conditions of life, which may be effected in the long course of time by nature's power of selection.

From The Descent of Man

The main conclusion here arrived at, and now held by many naturalists who are well competent to form a sound judgment, is that man is descended from some less highly organised form. The grounds upon which this conclusion rests will never be shaken, for the close similarity between man and the lower animals in embryonic development, as well as in innumerable points of structure and constitution, both of high and of the most trifling importance,—the rudiments which he retains, and the abnormal reversions to which he is occasionally liable,—are facts which cannot be disputed

The moral nature of man has reached its present standard, partly through the advancement of his reasoning powers and consequently of a just public opinion, but especially from his sympathies having been rendered more tender and widely diffused through the effects of habit, example, instruction, and reflection. It is not improbable that after long practice virtuous tendencies may be inherited. With the more civilised races, the conviction of the existence of an all-seeing Deity has had a potent influence on the advance of morality. Ultimately man does not accept the praise or blame of his fellows as his sole guide, though few escape this influence, but his habitual convictions, controlled by reason, afford him the safest rule. His conscience then becomes the supreme judge and monitor. Nevertheless the first foundation or origin of the moral sense lies in the social instincts, including sympathy; and these instincts no doubt were primarily gained, as in the case of the lower animals, through natural selection.

I am aware that the assumed instinctive belief in God has been used by many persons as an argument for His existence. But this is a rash argument, as we should thus be compelled to believe in the existence of many cruel and malignant spirits, only a little more powerful than man; for the belief in them is far more general than in a beneficent Deity. The idea of a universal and beneficent Creator does not seem to arise in the mind of man, until he has been elevated by long-continued culture.

Man scans with scrupulous care the character and pedigree of his horses, cattle, and dogs before he matches them; but when he comes to his own marriage he rarely, or never, takes any such care. He is impelled by nearly the same motives as the lower animals, when they are left to their own free choice, though he is in so far superior to them that he highly values mental charms and virtues. On the other hand he is strongly attracted by mere wealth or rank. Yet he might by selection do something not only for the bodily constitution and frame of his offspring, but for their intellectual and moral qualities. Both sexes ought to refrain from marriage if they are in any marked degree inferior in body or mind; but such hopes are Utopian and will never be even partially realised until the laws of inheritance are thoroughly known

 ...all ought to refrain from marriage who cannot avoid abject poverty for their children; for poverty is not only a great evil, but tends to its own increase by leading to recklessness in marriage.

Guilt, Bad Conscience and Related Matters by Friedrich Nietzsche

As part of the Modern and Post Modern Philosophy course, i read the second essay from the book - On the Genealogy of Morals by Friedrich Nietzsche. The second essay talks about Guilt, Bad Conscience and Related Matters.

Writing reviews of these works will prove to be quite tricky. My objective here is to capture text that i really enjoyed reading, or the lines that made me ponder up and think really hard.  I will try to offer my observations/thoughts in between or at the end, but no promises in this front.

From that we can see at once how, if forgetfulness were not present, there could be no happiness, no cheerfulness, no hoping, no pride, no present

 Only something which never ceases to cause pain remains in the memory”—that is a leading principle of the most ancient (unfortunately also the longest) psychology on earth

  the sovereign individual, something which resembles only itself, which has broken loose again from the morality of custom, the autonomous individual beyond morality (for “autonomous” and “moral” are mutually exclusive terms), in short, the human being who possesses his own independent and enduring will, who is entitled to make promises—and in him a consciousness quivering in every muscle, proud of what has finally been achieved and has become a living embodiment in him, a real consciousness of power and freedom, a feeling of completion for human beings generally. .... There’s no doubt: the sovereign man calls this instinct his conscience.

And with this we turn back to our genealogists of morality. I’ll say it once more—or have I not said anything about it yet?—they are useless. With their own merely “modern” experience extending through only a brief period [fünf Spannen lange], with no knowledge of and no desire to know the past, even less a historical instinct, a “second sight”— something necessary at this very point—they nonetheless pursue the history of morality. That must justifiably produce results which have a less than tenuous relationship to the truth. 

(Nietzsche never misses an opportunity to mock other philosophers, the above is one such example. He tone is always acerbic and he does not hesitate to name names as part of his attacks) 

 For the most extensive period of human history, punishment was certainly not meted out because people held the instigator of evil responsible for his actions, and thus it was not assumed that only the guilty party should be punished:—it was much more as it still is now when parents punish their children out of anger over some harm they have suffered, anger vented on the perpetrator—but anger restrained and modified through the idea that every injury has some equivalent and that compensation for it could, in fact, be paid out, even if that is through the pain of the perpetrator. 

Watching suffering makes people feel good; creating suffering makes them feel even better—that’s a harsh principle, but an old, powerful, and human, all-too-human major principle, 

With these ideas, by the way, I have no desire whatsoever to give our pessimists grist for their discordant mills grating with weariness of life. On the contrary, I want to state very clearly that in that period when human beings had not yet become ashamed of their cruelty, life on earth was happier than it is today, now that we have our pessimists

(Just read the language above - grist for their discordant mills grating with weariness of life.)

Wherever justice is practised, wherever justice is upheld, we see a stronger power in relation to a weaker power standing beneath it (whether with groups or individuals), seeking ways to bring an end among the latter to the senseless rage of ressentiment

Here one more word concerning the origin and purpose of punishment—two problems which are separate or should be separate. Unfortunately people normally throw them together into one 
(The above is from section 12, the entire section is worth reading)

I wanted to say is this: the partial loss of utility, decline, and degeneration, the loss of meaning, and purposiveness, in short, death, also belong to the conditions of a real progressus [progress], which always appears in the form of a will and a way to a greater power and always establishes itself at the expense of a huge number of smaller powers. The size of a “step forward” can even be estimated by a measure of everything that had to be sacrificed to it

Only something which has no history is capable of being defined

I consider bad conscience the profound illness which human beings had to come down with under the pressure of that most fundamental of all the changes which they ever experienced—that change when they finally found themselves locked within the confines of society and peace. .... All instincts which are not discharged to the outside are turned back inside—this is what I call the internalization [Verinnerlichung] of man. ..... Enmity, cruelty, joy in pursuit, in attack, in change, in destruction—all those turned themselves against the possessors of such instincts. That is the origin of “bad conscience.”

Nietzsche's conclusion has the following remarks - 

 “Is an ideal actually being built up here or shattered?” . . . But have you ever really asked yourself enough how high a price has been paid on earth for the construction of every ideal? How much reality had to be constantly vilified and misunderstood for that to happen, how many lies had to be consecrated, how many consciences corrupted, how much “god” had to be sacrificed every time? In order to enable a shrine to be built, a shrine must be destroyed: that is the law—show me the case where it has not been fulfilled! We modern men, we are the inheritors of thousands of years of vivisection of the conscience and self-inflicted animal torture. That’s what we have had the longest practice doing, that is perhaps our artistry; in any case, it’s something we have refined, the corruption of our taste. For too long man has looked at his natural inclinations with an “evil eye,” so that finally in him they have become twinned with “bad conscience.” An attempt to reverse this might, in itself, be possible—but who is strong enough for it, that is, to link as siblings bad conscience and the unnatural inclinations, all those aspirations for what lies beyond, those things which go against our senses, against our instincts, against nature, against animals—in short, the earlier ideals, all the ideals which are hostile to life, ideals of those who vilify the world?