Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Misplaced Idealism

As much as I would love to keep IITiana out of this blog there is one argument I must analyze.

Before I get into my main argument, I shall digress to talk about a phenomenon I call IITiana and frankly it irritates me quite a bit. It refers to the excessive glorification/criticism of IITs that has entered the mainstream media today. This exists in the form of badly written book(s), movies, newspaper reports about cultural festivals and sometimes plays. The problem is not the media hype. Indian media today is an arse and we have to live with that. But the fact of the matter is that understatement is the hallmark of class. When dealing with the media it is very important to know what has to be left unsaid and it is THIS which is the indicator of pedigree. Sadly, people from both inside and outside the IIT system don't seem to be exercising this. In the long run this may result in a "Familiarity breeds contempt" problem.

The other aspect of IITiana is the arbitrary criticism. Someone somewhere designs something which is significant, the attendant question is "Why hasn't IIT done this?" There are a lot of non-tech jobs which pay well, immediately the cry goes, "IITians are not doing the job they were set up for". Another plaint is "You people are gifted, you must stay in India and change the world" (The implicit admission being I am a weeny and I will not do anything, but blame the system for everything)

"Changing the World" has cousins like "Let us make a difference" or "Giving back to Society" or even "Wanting to do something meaningful". Old people have been saying this and there is absolutely no problem as long as you know you have to ignore it and move on. But the problem comes when young, wet-in-the-ear virgins talk about all this. My message to all those 20s odd wannabes who worry too much about whether they are giving back to society, my answer is take all those feelings, put it in a bottle and shove it up your arse.

Here's why. There is a fundamental asymmetry in the power distribution. The old hold the power but the young have to go magically save the world. Politics is/must be a pursuit of the 35-70. (Actually it should be 35-50 but our country has such a fucked up understanding of respect to elders) "Then what do I do until then?", you may ask. Good question. Well, study hard for one. Take up some activity and prove yourself in that. Just don't squander the prime of your youth in "Making a difference". Why again? The fact of the matter is no one is going to take your political views too seriously when you are young. Therefore, there is a higher chance you get used for someone else's ham-headed actions than for your own good. If you don't know what I mean ask all those who campaigned for Lok Paritran how they feel.

Whereas, if you DO prove yourself in some activity then people will/have to/want to take you seriously. How much ever I may feel Arundhati Roy's views are incomplete and sometimes idiotic, she has earned that space by winning an International Prize. I haven't. Therefore, any day she has more credibility than I do. Period. Only if you achieve, must you deserve and only then can you desire.

See, if anyone asked me a thumb rule, I would say as a young man setting out on a career one's motivation must be to get either power, money, fame or a combination of these things. That way atleast you have had a good time and if you are really good you will get there anyway. To give a crude analogy, often in life it is tough to even know what is the global optimum. But we do have a pretty good idea of the local optimum. So your aim must be to secure the local optimum as anyway reaching the global optimum is a matter of great uncertainty. Then the following argument arises:

Then didn't Mother Teresa make a difference?
Yes, she did. She lived a wonderful life of sacrifice. No questions about that.

Isn't her life of sacrifice holier than mine?
No, you fucking moron, THAT's the point. When starting off the aim must be to secure one's future. That is your duty. By some turn of circumstance she was already a nun. You have been trained as a professional.

How do you do your duties?
For most part,if you achieve money/power/fame, you and your family will be extremely happy. Do that first.

Then wouldn't the world descend into chaos?
No. This is the result of too much self-righteousness. The world has gone on and it will. Someone will rise to the occasion.

Doesn't the onus fall on me?
No. If you happen to be at the right place at the right time and it clicks, great. if it doesn't you are not in any way worse off, or more responsible.

Does that mean that one has to be uni-dimensional?
Not at all. I strongly believe that there will be a huge resurgence of generalists and polymaths as a reaction to the era of specialization we live in. It is just that do whatever you like and do it well. That's enough.

See, one realizes that idealism is for the old, contrary to popular "wisdom".

To conclude, I would like to quote Gordon Gecko in the movie Wall Street:

The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed -- for lack of a better word -- is good.
Greed is right.

Greed works.
Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit.
Greed, in all of its forms -- greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge -- has marked the upward surge of mankind.

25 comments:

Vijay said...

Hey good one da. All these outside college people give me the "You're in IIT so you must do something" shit.

Raytracer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Raytracer said...

"Man's ego is the fountainhead of human progress" :D

Harish Suryanarayana said...

Truly enjoyed your article . Surely ,wanting to do well ,and more importantly ,doing it to the best of your ability, whatever you do, will better things for everybody.

themiddler said...

@Wipes
I SO know that!

@Raytracer
Hmm... an Ayn Rand fan huh? Still ambivalent about her though

@Harish
Thanks man! :)

Ramkumar said...

Since we have already discussed this once, it would be redundant to say that I agree with this post. One more thing though... This "misplaced idealism" gets one more dimension when one realises that the "ideal state" and "ideal way of life" is so very individualistic, subjective and so much prone to error by virtue of the limitations of human cognition.. A probabilistic analysis would perhaps reveal that if people acted ideally in their own right, the world would be almost as chaotic as it is currently! Many current problems might be solved, but many new ones might crop up. Worse, we don't even know what the new problems might be :)

cowmaaa said...

Anna,
good one, made quite some sense, esp since I recently finished reading "The Fountainhead" and am in the process of reading "Atlas Shrugged". But konjam over'a abuses use pannirukke...IIT pona ipdi dhan gethu kaattuvinga pola irukku...parava illa, u guys "deserve" to do it. lol :P
No offence intended

themiddler said...

@Kaushik

Hey thanks for stopping by.

Point noted on the expletives. Yes da... it is mostly for emphasis and an attempt to do the whole 'don't mess with me' routine.
Will tone down in future.

shrinivaz said...

makes a lot of sense...keep going!

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