Thursday, October 24, 2013
You know, it's the weirdest thing, but I've come to realize that there's one piece of furniture we always overlook and ignore, but when I think about it, plays a very important role in... I don't know how to describe it better, in sorting out life. The humble desk.
We buy the beds and the cupboards, then the sofas and coffee tables, a dining set, display cases and sideboards, kitchen cabinets, shoeracks, and then if there's place left over, a desk.
I think we don't take seriously enough the role rooms and items play in organizing our minds.
Beds are private places, locked away inside. Cupboards absorb messes, store, and close. Bookshelves call out your intellectualism. The table's to eat, the coffee table's to socialize. The TV dominates the room, the mind, and time, and stops anything else from happening.
But my personal favorite is the desk. It's also a private place, but one where your mind is awake, active, and free. You can read, draw, listen to music, play games, work, nap, snack, socialize virtually, and just think. Plan your travels and sort your memories. Organize your life. What's on your desk at any point of time is a snapshot into your mind and psyche. Cameras, cards, disks, accessories. A diary, a sketchpad. A keyboard and mouse. A tablet. Phones. Hobby stuff. Glue, paper, wire, tools. Paint. A poster in front, a to-do-list tacked to a board on the side, a dustbin below. A coffee / water / coke.
These are all things you do, you love, and cherish time on. Things that give you something, do something, take you somewhere.
The desk is an active space, probably the most versatile, positive, active space in the house. I miss having this space around. If you don't have a workspace like this set aside somewhere, all the time you spend in the house will feel... wasted, somehow. Unproductive. You'll be itching to get up and go out, do something. You'll be confused, lost, disorganized, mired in ennui. You'll turn into a couch potato, an alcoholic, a socialite, anything that takes up the time and energy you don't know how to work off.
Damn, I need a bigger house.
Tuesday, October 15, 2013
Note - this post is likely to depress you
A few days back, a friend of mine posted a (probably by now a much-shared) link to a series of photos a Chinese tourist took in Varanasi, of corpses abandoned in the river and washed up on the shore. His tone was one of (in my opinion, slightly gleeful) horror at what looks like the rejected props from a Walking Dead episode coexisting with daily life, which goes on like it's nothing out of the ordinary.
Other than the tone taken, I don't really disagree. Yes, these are corpses, the decaying remains of what was once human beings, abandoned and left to rot like refuse in a public river, with nobody to lay them properly to rest, to clean up, to even bat an eyelid.
Nobody's disturbed because this is daily life. This is how things are. The only people who get disturbed and upset are the people coming from places where their society has the time, the resources, and the inclination to handle corpse disposal properly.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, but in a similar way, we get shocked when we go to a first-world country and find we can drink the water coming directly from the taps, no filter, no UV, no boiling.
The truth is, there is no regard for human life here. nobody cares when you're alive, why would they care about your corpse?
Think about poor Varanasi's history. For centuries, the city has lived under the plague-ridden burden of perception that it is somehow spiritually elevated, that a death here is different, more meaningful in some way for the one dying. Freedom from reincarnation? Spiritual upliftment and enlightenment? Privations in this life rewarded in the next?
It's meant a flood of people with nothing left but death, a flood of people hungry for soul-cleansing, a flood of people trying to understand something of what's happening. The tourist money keeps the economy running briskly, but the concept of a just reward in an afterlife has left little motivation to improve this one.
There is no enlightenment here, no spiritual reward. It's something we make up, desperately, to somehow justify the appalling conditions we see, the misery, poverty, deprivation. People don't choose to be poor for a spiritual reward, they are poor because they had no choice, and every waking moment they fight it. There is no alternative.
Be, or die.
That's why the tourists flock here, too. They cannot imagine a life that is so bad, yet continues to be lived. They're convinced there's some great secret behind it all, something that we know and they don't, something that justifies this horror. Some mysterious philosophy of rebirth, reincarnation cycles, karma, an understanding of the nature of reality that they haven't got yet. Some knowledge that lets us continue to live in this place, walk these streets, where corpses wash up on the banks and lie putrefying in the sun.
Chill, guys, there's no great secret. Step back and look at the big picture. We live because the alternative is to die. We live here because there are a thousand million little threads that tie us here, because there is nowhere else to go.
The native will keep the farce going. The yogis and godmen will speak about this great secret in hints and allusions, translated into the guides' commentaries, the documentaries, the book and the stories.
We live, and we die. There is nothing after, but as long as people believe there is, the money keeps coming, the stories keep perpetuating, the society keeps functioning.
We make the tools we need to survive, and faith and hope are just some of those tools.
Sunday, June 16, 2013
It just occurred to me, the whole concept of the death penalty works if the condemned - and the accused, the potential perpetrators - believe in an afterlife of eternal damnation, believe that the human judge on this side mirrors the eventual judgement they will receive and the following punishment.
If you believe that what you are doing is wrong, wrong enough to warrant an eternity of the lake of fire, and the lake of fire exists and is waiting, and you will be caught, and when you are hung, God will send you to hell to forever burn... you will be deterred. You'll think twice.
If you think you won't be caught -
If caught, you think you can evade punishment -
If punished, the punishment is too light - especially if the roof and regular meals of prison looks attractive compared to whatever brutal hell you are already living in -
If the maximum punishment is given, you don't believe in God or hell -
Or if you believe his judgement will be different from society's -
The the entire concept of punishment to act as a deterrent to crime breaks down. It becomes an escape, a start-over. A reward. An irritant. Fame and glamour. Not the stuff that will ever stop crime.
What's an acceptable alternative?
Honestly, I don't know. It's not that easy. For the victim of the crimes, it's easy to like increasing brutality, barbaric punishments. Taliban-esque. Make the immediate, visible results of a crime seen to all, the thieves without hands to make other thieves think a thousand times. But this will make societies increasingly brutal. The chances of an innocent caught in the machine. It also needs a enforcement and judicial system that's fast, efficient, and accurate.
Maybe humanity's just too big to govern effectively now.
Friday, June 14, 2013
...as a socio-evolutionary regulator.
Think about it.
In any given situation, if one person gains a slight advantage over others, he will attempt to further that advantage. Like wishing for three more wishes as your third wish.
And if he has an advantage already, he will succeed. The gap widens.
Over time, one person will have all the resources, while the rest have none.
As a result, this person will have the capability to continue to hold all the resources, while the rest continue to starve.
And what happens when you have no resources? You can't have kids. Either you can't afford them, or raise them properly, or save them in dire situations.
Genetic diversity of a society starts to become completely skewed towards the one guy. Or girl, it doesn't matter.
And this is not a good thing.
But, if there were something else that becomes accessible as a result of having all (or a lot of) resources - like money - something expensive, hard to get, but that would make you feel good, that you desire - you would try to get it. And you would succeed.
Something that others couldn't take away from them, and they could stop them if they tried.
Something like... a gateway drug. That leads to the harder, more dangerous stuff.
The resourceless, the impoverished, can't afford it. Only they can.
And once they're addicted, it eats away all their resources and kills them.
Balance is restored.
If you have nothing, it's just a waiting game. The person who has everything also has, inevitably, something that will destroy him.
Fast cars. Alcohol. Venereal disease. Drugs. Thrill-chasing. Fights.
All you have to do is make sure it doesn't get you as well, accidentally.
Self-control is the greatest weapon you have, the hardest to manage and the easiest to use.
Everything else is working with the universe to make sure genes continue to proliferate. You, the self, the consciousness, the mind inside that meat bag whose sole purpose is to act as a life-supporting vehicle for your genetic code, is an accidental, happy, short-lived coincidence.
Don't throw it away.
Don't be a pawn of the Universe, a statistic, a variable like trillions of others in the great dance of life, a cog in a machine.
Thursday, June 06, 2013
Medical science finally gets telomere-repairing gene therapy right, and we all can now live till age 500+, in perfectly healthy bodies. What happens to the world?
Step One: Population Bomb. Natural death rate will fall to zero, and given that everyone's fit and healthy, and likely to remain so for a long time, children being born will go through the roof. And their children. And their children. For over 20 generations, and let's not forget the original parents are still breeding. Exponentially explosive growth doesn't remotely cover it, this shit is nuclear.
"They won't be that stupid", you say? Maybe the countries and populations with easy, affordable access to birth control won't, but that's only the upper layers of first-world countries and the very narrow upper layers of the rest, or in other words, around 1-5% of the population. For the rest, it's literally bang, and boom.
Step Two: Resources Vanish. In less than a generation, we'll be hellishly overcrowded. It's not just a case of people having 1-2 kids in their prime; their prime is now nearly infinite. They can keep earning for decades, they think, so it;s a new generation every few years. Jobs, education, space, food, and water become scarcer and scarcer.
Step Three: Economies of Scale. With family sizes exploding, and each generation competing with forefathers and ancestors for the same place in the sun, the individual family unit will be too inefficient; there'll be a movement into joint families, then commune-style setups.
Step Four: Total War. With the economies of scale in place, each community or extended family unit is an effective, organized force, with its own supply chains and specialist systems. What used to be bad blood and feuds, will have the potential to become all-out battles, especially if the prize is twice the living space and resources up for grabs. And with that many people around, human life will look cheap.
Step Five. The Recession. As life becomes more and more brutal - and we're still talking about a time maybe a hundred years ahead - people will start realizing that a controlled approach is the only way this will work. And since children are no longer the means for you to control your resources and wealth over time - you can do it yourself - they'll lose all meaning and just take on nuisance value. Infanticide, indoctrination, slavery.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world...
The more developed countries will see the spectre of a population bomb sweeping out from Africa, Asia and consuming everything in its path. If they can hold themselves together for even a generation, the enemy will have starved himself into a non-threat, and in two generations, will be a collapsed, shattered economy - ripe for the plucking. Then will begin the real horror of systematic invasions, genocides, exterminations. They might be holding themselves together, but they're still bursting at the seams, and the need the oil, water, farmland.
A first thought that comes to mind is that ecology will be devastated, but that may not happen. Societies crumbling under the weight of their populations will have access barely to an industrial-age technology, while the more developed will be forced into long-term, ecologically sustainable green tech - after all, they're still going to be around, so anything that turns bad in 50, 100 years will not be wanted. And nations that are sparsely populated but technologically developed will have a huge headstart in this. As long as they can repel the raiders.
Don;t confuse this with eco-friendliness, though. If there's something that can be harvested with no long-term impact - thought it might wipe out entire species - it will happen.
So there's likely to be a massive expansion into oceans, space, and underground, to open up new areas for expansion and maintain a technological edge, at least in the first world... and then a few centuries of fighting to keep those from falling into the hands of the starving millions.
And this is something straight from Larry Niven - with a longer life, will people be more careful? Take fewer risks? Or will the ravaged world they now live in, allow the luxury of a low-risk life?
Preservation through Overtaxation
Given the catastrophic fallout, the drug is not likely to be available easily. Very restricted, very high-priced. So obtained only by the very few - who then continue to hang tightly to their positions of wealth and power.
Very strong urge to build long-lasting structures to maintain the status quo. Strong opposition to any kind of systemic change.
Extend this to political power positions, and you see not just Dictator-for-life, but for several of his subject's lifetimes. Within a lifetime, revolutions will become impossible, and he will become a living god within his indestructible castle.
So will begin the era of assassinations, political games, and power plays between the long-lived players.
Who else will have access? The ones who took it illegally. It's going to be a very, very expensive drug. And the criminal syndicates and families will become unshakeable.
End result -
Warlords, tyrants, politicos, and kingpins - and merchant princes - living in a unchanging, stagnant world, full of ignorant serfs, assassins, starving slaves, destroyed biodiversity...