Category Archives: Arbit
Developing a new (constructive) habit is on everyone’s agenda. And it is almost never an easy task. The discipline, time and energy that need to be invested over extended periods of time is not easy to come by for us regular folks. The task gets harder as they are competing against the well set (less constructive) routines that we are already very familiar with.
Going to the gym on a regular basis is something that is on pretty much everyone’s agenda. New Year resolutions would become a redundant thing if the concept of ‘losing weight’ or ‘work out regularly’ were to lose its significance. Let’s face it. We live in a society that glorifies the lack of fat. So yes, we all feel pressures to various degrees to lose weight, or maintain our good shape. For some people, the motivation to actually act upon the pressures can be easy to come by. But for most of us, either due to lack of opportunity, desire, will, discipline or time, we find it hard to act upon the pressures. But over the past year and a half, I have found a way that makes the whole process easier. I am going to share it here and hope that it can perhaps help someone in a similar situation.
In the last couple of years, I have been trying on and off to practice the Dudeist way of life. I have been successful on some counts and still working on the others. One of the things I am actively practicing and embedding into my lifestyle is the act of not making any decisions – or to be more precise, the act of minimizing my decisions. I work on the (scientifically proven) belief that the human mind has limited energy, and that making decisions depletes that reserve. So minimizing decisions in my day to day life helps me save my energy that I can then spend on the things that truly matter.
Going to they gym was an exhausting activity in the initial days for me. The reasons were obvious. Apart from all the physical effort I was putting in, the mental effort was equally – if not more – significant. I was making decisions every step of the way at the gym. What time do I go to the gym, how many laps I would run, which muscle groups I would exercise, what weight I would put on, how many reps, the length of the break between exercises – every one of these actions sapped my mental energy, making it harder every subsequent visit. All this, of course, was happening on the assumption that I indeed did have sufficient energy left over after a long day at work involving hundreds of decisions there. It was easy to lose motivation and momentum when you have your own mind working against you, telling you that it needs a rest and does not have the mental energy to push your body.
So the answer to this seemed pretty clear – just minimize the decisions needed. But how? And that answer came to me about a year ago when I joined the YMCA: Group Exercise. The class that I began to go to is called Body Pump. It is a strength training class that works most muscle groups in the body in a 1 hour session. We use weights – bar, dumbbells, hand weights etc – to exercise each muscle group choreographed to a specific song that plays over the speakers. And I have been doing that pretty much every week for well over a year now.
Essentially, in one stroke, the group exercise knocked pretty much all the decision making off my plate! The classes were held at fixed times on most days of the week, so I was already told when to show up. The instructor told us what weight to put on for beginners (with the idea that as you progress over time, you would increase your weights in small increments as you feel comfortable), so that was also taken care of. The number of reps were already decided based on the track choreography (completely doing away with the idea of ‘One More Rep!’). A nominal break of a minute or so between each muscle group was also already established. The instructor would tell us what to do every step of the way for the entire duration of the class, so I didn’t even have to think about what I was going to do- just listen to the instructor and do as she says.
And in addition to all the minimizing of decisions, there is the added motivation of working out in a group. There is a certain energy in the room when a group of people are exercising in rhythm, as opposed to a bunch of individuals doing their own thing at their own pace. And that energy rubs off on everyone in it pushing us all throughout the workout. And for reasons completely alien to me, the demographics of the class that I go to (usually about 25-35) is heavily heavily skewed in favor of the female variety. There are usually a maximum of 3-4 guys – including me – and the rest are all women. And, yes, there have been many many occasions when I have been the only guy in the entire class*. And so, typically, when I am feeling a lack of motivation, all I have to do is just look around me at all the women in the class pushing the bars, doing squats, crunches – all with an enormous sense of grace and determination. And when I see that, either their energy rubs off on me, or (more commonly) I tell myself, “Well I can’t stop now! All these hot women are going to think I am a wuss!”. And that keeps me going! (Hey whatever works, right?)
*Also, this is me totally not at all complaining!
And it would be completely remiss for me to not emphasize the role the instructor plays in making everything work. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have been taking these classes under some of the most cheerful and inspiring women I have come across. They are a big reason why I look forward to the classes every week. They have always commanded a presence in the room that draws everyone’s attention to them and makes us all happily follow their lead. They have acted like conductors of a symphony – giving cues and making sure everyone is doing things the right way. And the fact that they do all this with a great sense of grace gives the entire experience a zen-like feel. And I will continue to go the classes as long as possible.
Perhaps I went off on a slight tangent there with my own personal experience of minimizing decisions to make going to the gym easier. But I suppose you get the point. Over the course of the past year or so, I have utilized the act of minimizing my decisions to grow stronger than I have ever been. I have built new muscle all over – an act that I believed was completely beyond me till a year ago. I have, for the first time in my life, developed a routine for physical exercise that I can now use as a baseline to get even more active. And the fact that I am able to say this only after I am 30 years old has no bearing on how good I feel about it.
In my continuing quest to lead a stress free lifestyle, this happens to be the latest benefit I have gained. Your achievement is not going to be any more fulfilling by deliberately choosing a more difficult path. Choosing the easier path almost always involves minimizing the decision making associated with the effort. I mean, look at me. I have grown significantly stronger by putting in almost zero mental effort! I could have perhaps built the same muscle by making all the decisions and putting in all the mental effort to push myself at the gym. But then, what’s the point? Why would I do that if I can get the same end result with practically zero mental effort?
All of us have our own desires and unachieved targets. Trying to get to them all by ourselves is perhaps the most difficult path to take. And many times, just asking for a little help – from friends, family or even strangers – can go a long way in making that path become a lot easier. So why take the long way home when there is a short one available? We typically underestimate the willingness of people close to us to help us. And when help is offered (requested or not), it is always a good idea to accept it and minimize our decision making in the process. And then, of course, you will want to help them in their time of need, thus setting off a positive feedback loop where everyone benefits.
So really, people, when you are trying to get to some place, please just ask for some help. Doing it all by yourself is not going to somehow make that final destination seem any better. And remember to always – always – minimize your decision making if such an option exists to get to the same place.
Previously on NOT MAKING ANY DECISIONS: No Decision Weekend
As part of my continuing effort to lead a stress free lifestyle, I decided to try something new. I decided that I would not make any decisions for a full weekend*. This was largely inspired and based on the ideas of ‘Decision Fatigue‘ and ‘Ego Depletion‘. In a nutshell, those two ideas convey the fact that the human mind only has a limited pool of energy or resources that can be drawn to evaluate options and make decisions on a day to day basis. It also follows that after a long session of decision making, our ability to make correct (or any) decisions decreases significantly because of this mental fatigue. I guess in a way, this is a fairly elaborate academic way to explain the seemingly banal idea of ‘getting stressed out’. But you get the point. Making more decisions takes away more and more energy from your mind leaving you tired at the end of the day. Activities such as doing nothing or sleeping help replenish that source of energy for use at a later time.
Minimizing the number of decisions we make is a fairly popular approach to reduce stress levels. Steve Jobs and President Obama both implemented this idea in their everyday lives. And so do professional poker players. I just decided to take it one step further. I decided to make absolutely zero decisions for a full weekend. On Friday morning, my plans for the weekend consisted of me driving to Chicago that afternoon to see Mark Knopfler at the Chicago Theater, stay over at my friend’s place that night, meet another friend Saturday evening, and drive back home Sunday afternoon. Apart from this, I had no additional ‘plans’ to do anything at all. So it was then that I decided to make absolutely zero decisions from the time I left home till the time I got back. To be more specific, I decided to not think about the options in front of me when confronted with a decision. Just pick something and go with it if I really have to make a decision.
So that was how my No-Decision-Weekend started. I listened to BBC or NPR for the whole drive, switching between them only when I got really bored with one of them. Never bothered to explore the dozens of other music channels that Sirius XM had to offer. Reached Chicago and went to see the concert. Mark Knopfler was great, though I wish he had put in some effort – any effort – to actually sing the lyrics to Sultans of Swing instead of just speaking into the mic. But he more than made up for it by singing (and singing well) Your Latest Trick, Romeo & Juliet and my personal favorite On Every Street. So I left on a high, went to my friend’s place, had a beer, did small talk and went to bed at 130 AM. NDW Friday was a success.
NDW Saturday started with my friends asking me if I would be interested in an Apple festival that was taking place in Lincoln Square that morning. Clearly, there was a decision being asked of me. And I firmly declined to make it. I would go wherever it was they wanted to go. So, I found myself in Lincoln Square in a farmer’s market styled festival with lots of apples and apple related dishes – everything from apple pies, apple donuts, apple sauce, apple on stick, caramelized apples, and a bunch of other appley things that I had no idea about. Now I like apples myself but was never a fan of the sweet stuff that Americans tend to make out of it – like pies for instance. Never liked them. But all that changed because my friend declared that it was time to eat apple pie and drink coffee. Clearly I was not going to be objecting to that as that would require me to suggest an alternative and that involved making decisions. So I got an apple pie with some whipped cream and took a bite of it.
You know, there are some times when just the act of eating something makes you feel like all is well with mankind and that everything will be OK in the end. And that at that moment, all that mattered was that you were eating and enjoying that thing. I don’t particularly remember thinking of the war in Syria and believing that it was all going to be OK in the end. What I do remember, however, was how that piece of apple pie just melted in my mouth and made me fall in love with a dish that I had actively avoided for a long time. Of course, there was still the coffee to be had, so we went into a coffee shop/bakery and got a coffee. I also found something that looked interesting. It was called a ‘Savory Tart’. I had never seen anything like it before, so I bought it. It was essentially a piece of bread/bun with some small amount of cheese along with some caramelized onions and red peppers on top of it. I took a bite of this ‘Savory Tart’.
It tasted just like the mega-super-awesome-all-award-winning-epic-unparalleled-phenomenon ‘Bread Toast’ that I used to eat at all the Bakeries back home in Bangalore. 6 years on, this was the first time I had found something even remotely resembling the Bread Toast from back home. Apple festival was clearly a great success!
But we still had an hour to kill after the festival. So we walked into a record store nearby. That record store was clearly planted right next to the festival just so I did not have to make another decision on where to go next. It is known. I had never been to this record store previously. It was a decent sized store with neatly organized records along with CDs, cassettes, movie DVDs and video games. I started filing through the records with absolutely no idea of what I wanted (which is how I usually go about buying records anyway). An hour later, I had a problem on my hands. I had 4 albums and had to pick 3 to stay under a ‘reasonably exceeded budget’. I had to make a decision. So I just totaled up 2 different combinations and went with the one that cost me more. Ended up getting Illmatic by Nas, Hounds of Love by Kate Bush and Songs in A&E by Spiritualized. Problem solved! (Sorry Slowdive!) But it was only when I went to the counter to pay for them that I had perhaps the most interesting conversation that whole weekend.
There was a guy and a girl at the counter who were managing the transactions. The girl (who was around my age) called me over and I handed her my records. She started punching numbers into the computer.
Girl: It is going to be $80.
Me: OK. Here is my card.
Girl (running my card): Do you want a copy of your receipt?
Girl: Please sign this for me.
Me (signing): Here you go.
Girl: Do you want paper or plastic?
Me (still not making any decisions): Anything is fine.
Girl is now picking out a paper bag.
Me: I am not making any decisions today.
Girl (putting the records in the paper bag): Then who is going to make them for you?
Me (pointing at the paper bag): Well apparently, you just did!
We all laugh (including the guy waiting behind me in line).
Girl: If you come back later, I will help you make some more!
I have to admit. That last comment by the girl caught me completely off guard. It took me a few seconds to process what she had actually said and evaluate its potential implications. And it didn’t help that there were a bunch of people waiting in line behind me to make their payments. And by the time I realized I still hadn’t responded to it, she was already processing the next guy’s transaction. I guess I should have asked her her number or something. Or perhaps when she was getting out that day. But oh well, maybe next time.
We then went to Devon St, where the Indian settlement was, for lunch. I already knew where I was going (Udupi Palace) and what I was eating (Bisi Bele Bath). I also knew what I was going to order for my friends (who are American) – Lunch Thali. Once the lunch thalis showed up, I had half a mind to just sit back and watch my friends eat all the different dishes in no particular order or combination – hoping to see them eat HapLa dipped in Paaysa, or mixing the chapathi with all the other items there to make a big fat burrito. But I ended up explaining to them about all the items and what should be eaten with what and in what preferred order. They were able to appreciate it and enjoy it.
That evening, I met up with a friend who was clearly told from the beginning that I would not be making any decisions that night. She suggested we go to a particular bar and met up there. There she asked me if I wanted to go to a different bar, and I simply followed her. At the new bar, she asked me if I wanted to go to another bar and I said OK. I knew a few spots that I would have preferred myself in Chicago but I was clearly not making any decisions that day. So we ended up at the Liars Club on the edges of Lincoln Park. Before we went in, she described the place as a ‘divey night club’. I knew what a dive bar was (one of them is my home away from home away from home), and I knew what a night club was (though it had been over 2 years since I had been to one). But a ‘divey night club’? That sounded curious.
And when I went in there, it was exactly just that – a divey night club! I would not have put it any differently myself. Great place with people of all walks of life – from bikers to hot college girls to a couple where the guy was old enough to be the girl’s father (Hey! Fuck you if you are judging!). And all the people just seemed real. Just like a good dive bar! A place where you could have a good conversation, where the bartenders did shots with you, and here you could even go to the dance floor at the end of the bar to dance to 80’s music being played by the DJ! (Special shout out to that mega-awesome Hispanic guy in his late 40’s with a dress shirt, dress pant and formal boots dancing all night long, making up his own moves and not giving one single fuck to other’s opinions about his dancing. If anything, a bunch of girls went next to him to imitate his dance moves and some went one step ahead and began grinding with him! What a man!)
Great place overall! Thoroughly enjoyed it and stayed there till bar close. I ultimately returned home to my friend’s place at 330 in the morning and went straight to sleep. NDW Saturday was an unequivocal success!
Sunday started with me waking up at 7 AM with no hangover. (Smug face!) I had to leave at around noon, so my friend and I went to get some coffee and breakfast at a nearby cafe. Had a great conversation for the next couple of hours and then I left Chicago. Reached home in Des Moines at around 6 and was thoroughly satisfied with my No-Decision-Weekend trip.
I suppose I achieved my overall objective of not allowing any form of stress to develop over the weekend. This was my second attempt at such a ‘break’, with the first one being done in the company of His Holiness as he elevated his enlightened self to Dr. His Holiness. Stress free vacations are very rare and extremely underrated. Deciding to not make any decisions during a vacation can be very liberating. It does not mean that you are not in control. It means that you have no expectations and nothing at stake. And if you have nothing at stake, nothing can possibly go wrong. In a way, my weekend worked out like the first half of that Jim Carrey movie ‘Yes Man’. I pretty much just said Yes to everything my friends suggested, and it made me experience new and awesome things I otherwise would never have come across. So maybe there is some truth in that movie after all!
Screw all the decision making and the unfulfilled expectations that come with it! As The Dude would say,
* Well, technically I suppose that was a decision, but fuck you if you are going to get all technical about it.
It was May of 2010 and I had just landed at the Bangalore International Airport early in the morning. I was coming back home after my first two semesters at Virginia Tech. By the time I reached home, it was about 8 AM and I was already hungry. My mom was clearly enthusiastic about cooking for me, but that morning she mentioned that I would have the Idli & Chutney that my grandmother had cooked an hour earlier. Apparently, my grandmother – who lived just a few blocks down the road – had woken up early just so she could cook breakfast for me. And she knew exactly what to cook. The Idli and Chutney that she used to make was the kind of stuff that could fix anything and everything. I think the word I am looking for is ‘panacea’.
So here I was, not having eaten ‘home food’ for over 10 months and my mom served me my grandmother’s best creation for breakfast. I sat in my chair and broke the first idli into a small piece, took a generous dipping of the chutney and put it in my mouth.
To this day, I cannot think of a more profound moment I have had when I ate something. Before I could chew the food and swallow it, I had broken down and was crying like a little baby. It was not just the feeling of experiencing something after a long time that made me cry. It was the realization that I was experiencing after a long time, something I had just taken for granted all my life that hit me like a cannon ball. And I didn’t have to tell my mom anything. She knew exactly why I was crying and that there was just no consoling me at that point. I cried for some 10-15 mins before I resumed eating my breakfast. Needless to say, I stuffed myself with what would have otherwise been a sizable breakfast for 3 people.
In hindsight, that realization seems a lot more obvious. But it does not make it any less significant. Food is one of the things that we are conditioned to take for granted (unless you are in a poor financial situation or related circumstances) while we were growing up. We always assumed that no matter what happens in this world – barring a natural or man made disaster – we would always have dinner served at the time we expect it to. So much so, that we even felt entitled to complain when it was delayed by a few minutes. Breakfast was always prepared 15-20 mins before we left for school or college. It just had to be. There was no other option. It would be an apocalyptic hell if it was delayed even for a few minutes. And all the food we were served had also better be something we liked to eat.
And so being served food that I preferred, at the right time, day after day for over 20 years was something I had gotten so used to that I had never comprehended the idea of anything different. Even when I lived in the hostels during college, the hostel mess always had the food ready at regular times. In any case, I went back home every 2 or 3 weeks during my undergraduate years. So it was only when I moved half way across the world here to the USA did I face the extremely strange situation of nobody serving me my preferred food 3 times a day at my new home.
In hindsight, the way I initially reacted to that is almost comical. I was in complete denial for the first couple of weeks and just did not eat any breakfast. I ate out for lunch and made some makeshift dinner (read cereal). It was at least a month before I came to terms with it and started cooking. Fortunately for me, I found that I took immense pleasure in the act of cooking. And after that there was no looking back. I learnt – mostly through experimentation and long phone calls with my mom – to cook most of the dishes that my mom made on a regular basis and took great pride in sending her photographs of my cooking. Needless to say, she was very impressed and very happy that I was eating home cooked food. And so after the first couple of months, I rarely ate outside and continued to get better at cooking. I even became popular among my Indian and American friends at VT for my cooking!
But when I had that first bite of Idli Chutney on my first return back home, I also knew that I would never ever match the taste that my mom or my grandmother made. Because you see, the dishes my mom or my grandmother ever made were not just made up of spices and vegetables. They were always made with unconditional love. And I suppose it really was THAT ingredient that I had taken for granted in all the food I had ever been served at home. It was also the ingredient that I had missed the most and could never put into my dishes. No wonder I broke down when I had that breakfast back then.
A few months after that, when I was back in the US and having just graduated, I learnt that my grandmother had unexpectedly passed away. I will never see her again and that pains me to no end. I will also never have her Idli and Chutney once more, but I know that she is still out there helping me to recreate that taste I fear I will never get to experience again.
So yes, we take a lot of things for granted and don’t even know it. It only comes to the surface when it is absent and absent for a long time. So enjoy it while you still have a chance. But also, always pause to appreciate its existence while it lasts.
It’s a simple question, but one that is perhaps the hardest to ask of yourself.
“Am I Replaceable?”
A few years ago, a friend of mine working for a company that provided background checking services decided to quit the place as she found a new job elsewhere. When she quit, nobody in her company expressed even the least bit of concern that someone who had a lot of experience and who was good at their job was leaving. The way they looked at it was that once she left, someone else would be in line to take over her position. Simply put, she was ‘replaceable’.
That was, like I mentioned, a few years ago. But over the past couple of days, for reasons unknown to me, I have revisited the idea of being replaceable very deeply. So I am wondering:
Are We Replaceable?
All of us like to think of ourselves as unique, as one of a kind. There is something different in us that separates us from everybody else. It must be in our character. So on and so forth. Right? Right?
Just take a look at where you are, what you have done in your life, what you have achieved in your life, who you are married to, who your friends are, what kind of life they are leading, what kind of a life you envision for the future, and what kind of a life the other people you know in your life have envisioned for their future? Fact is that every one of us have done something or the other with our lives. We have gone to school, perhaps gone to college, got a bachelor’s degree, perhaps even a Master’s degree, (and for an immigrant like me, made the trip to the USA for my Master’s), some of us are now married to someone, maybe we even have kids or are planning to in the near future, have a steady job that promises good career growth, helping out a lot of people at the job, working on new products, etc. etc.
Which is all good – as long as people agree that all these things that they have done could have/would have been done by any one of a lot of other people as well had they been in the same position as they were. That is to say, we haven’t done anything that someone else (among a lot of people) in our position would not have done. Or in other words: “We are replaceable.”
Anytime we live our lives by putting in the effort to do mostly what we really ‘have’ to do in order to be considered successful in the eyes of society and family, we are replaceable. This is because there is always someone else who, with similar upbringing and societal influences, will achieve the same things with the same opportunities that we have had.
But what about our relationships, you might ask? Surely each person is loved for his unique character and personality, right? Else, relationships could not possibly work at all, correct?
Both my parents have shown me unconditional love all my life and I am extremely grateful for it. If, for instance, my character and personality was instead more like one of the dozens of friends I know, my parents would still love me just the same. I could have been like any one of the many different people I know and my parents would have loved me just the same. What about a husband and wife? Surely there is a higher demand of a specific character requirement there, right?
Think of your partner right now. Now, also think of some of the other people of the opposite sex of about the same age that you know fairly well and you respect. Now think about what would have happened if you had met one of these other people at the right time and under the right conditions. You would perhaps be sharing your life with this other person instead of your current partner. It just so happened that you ended up meeting your current partner under the right conditions and so you ended up with him/her.
So essentially, anyone (of the many many people in this world) fulfilling your set of basic criteria, who happens to be at a particular place at a particular time and under the right set of circumstances will very likely end up as your partner. Whatever may be your partner’s quirks or character flaws, you will just learn to adjust, adapt and not complain about it in the long run. And the sense of ‘irreplaceability’ that you may feel towards a person after being with them for a long time comes not from a sense of individual uniqueness, but more from a sense of security, familiarity and an inherent fear of change.
So yes, your partner is replaceable. And since that applies reciprocally as well, it means that you are replaceable too.
If this sounds very depressing, that is because it is. Nobody wants their sense of self worth to take a beating. It is one of the worst feelings in the world. The objective here is not to belittle who we are or what we have achieved. Instead, the crux of this aspect of the human condition is to be brave enough to ask ourselves a very tough question:
“What have I done in my life that anyone else in my position with similar upbringing and influences would not have done?”
Another way to frame it would be:
“What have I done in my life that is beyond my basic duties as an employee/student, husband, son, father, friend, etc?”
“What have I created in this life that nobody else in my position as an employee/student, family man, friend, etc. would have?”
If you are struggling to find answers to these questions, then you – like most of the earth’s population – are replaceable. You could be leading the life of any one of a million other people just like you – and any one of the million other people just like you would have done pretty much the same things as you have in your life. They would offer the same things as you do. And so, you are replaceable by any one of them.
Questioning your own sense of self worth is easily one of the hardest things to do – which is why nobody does it. Instead, we all want to feel good about ourselves and think of ourselves as unique and remarkable in our own way. But the truth is that most of us are neither remarkable nor unique.
Because most of us are just REPLACEABLE.
PS: At some point in time in the future, I intend to write about the one exception to this rule: ART.
Being half way around the planet from all the NaMo and RaGa and MaBa and ArKe waves during the election campaign, I have had little to no direct exposure to the ground realities in India. All my ‘information’ came from Facebook status messages, newspaper headlines quoting politicians out of context, memes, satire posts on Faking News and some input from my parents who are seeing all this first hand in Bangalore. So in order to get real information, I have had to make additional effort to look through the biased media, read a very long list of ‘expert’ opinions on both sides of the story, find compilation of statistics on so many issues that are being debated and of course, frame my own opinion at the end. In any case, the general gist of what I am hearing is this:
There is this NaMo dude who is the Uber Dude and who is expected to simply win the next election. Then there is RaGa who is going all out to let people know he has an IQ less than Timmy. New kid on the block ArKe is trying all in his power to just play spoilsport. Didi MaBa just wants to run for elections. The Left parties – wait, do they still exist?
The common thread running through all the bits and pieces of information I am getting is not regarding RaGa, ArKe or Didi. It is almost exclusively about NaMo. But before I get to that, a little bit of football.
When I started watching football, it took me a while to start supporting Chelsea. Everyone around me was either a Manchester United fan or an Arsenal fan. The Arsenal fans were mostly proud of the whole ‘youth development’ ideal that the club apparently stood for. All good. The Manchester United fans on the other hand were mostly proud of their trophy collection and were generally branded as glory hunters. I get it. Every fan wants the sport team he supports to win trophies on a regular basis. It is a very natural state of mind.
But what was different with United fans was the unquestioned glorification of the club and everything associated with it. Most of the fans were convinced that Manchester United was the only true club in England. They would quote the rich history associated with the club and also point to the massive trophy collection. They would also point to one Sir Alex Ferguson as a ruthless winner who would stop at nothing to win trophies – and all the fans were proud of his long tenure at the club. But it didn’t stop there. United was considered to be a team that was beyond criticism. Going a step further, no other team was considered to be a valid team to support. If you were new to football and were still looking for a team to choose to root for, you would be made to believe that you had no choice. You would be made to believe that Man United were the only team worth supporting and it was some kind of a default choice.
United was also the club which had the largest fan base (and still does) in India and Asia. There were definitely reasonable United fans here and there that I have gotten to know over the years but for the most part most of them were just plain cocky about it. They just refused to even entertain the idea that the club was anything less than just the best damn club on the planet. There would never be any admittance of any imperfections in any of the club’s aspects. Nobody could level any amount of criticism without getting a good amount of backlash from its supporters. Moreover, supporters of all other clubs were looked down upon as if they did not deserve to be a fan.
All this inevitably led to a lot of distaste among a lot of fans who supported other clubs – including myself. So much so, that there was a fair amount of hate brewing against United. These people were our friends who we got drunk with and whom I am still in touch with. But the dislike and hate that was brewing was directed more at the club than at the supporters. Sure the schadenfreude that we experienced whenever we saw United lose grew exponentially. But the important thing to note was the strict polarization that Manchester United’s image had created. You either fully embraced it and considered it to be the flawless club ever, or you considered that to be the most vile, cocky, exaggerated, pretentious, falsely publicized, all powerful, corrupt sports organization in the world. There was almost nothing in between. And all this was a creation not of the club. (I am sure the club wouldn’t have wanted it this way). But this big divide was really a creation of the supporters.
And now I see the same exact thing happening with NaMo in India. He is considered untouchable and beyond criticism from the eyes of his supporters. There is so much pro-Modi rhetoric that there seemed to be little that he could not accomplish. He is treated as the solution to all problems. There is not a single ounce of criticism that can be thrown at him without ten counter responses coming from his supporters. (In the eyes of the supporters, they feel they are right because they are offering the statistically proven, reasonable response to a guy who is just making wild accusations against Modi). He is considered to have zero imperfections and his supporters quote the ‘development’ that has taken place in Gujarat over the course of more than a decade as proof of his awesomeness. And just like United fans sing the ‘Glory Glory Man United’ chant, there is now also a NaMo NaMo (and many more apparently) chant/song that all the Modi supporters consider their war cry. There is even a Modi-Brigade that you can join by giving a missed call or something.
All this isolation from criticism, unquestioned glorification of his past achievements and a level of expectations never before associated with an Indian politician have inevitably generated a strong anti-Modi fan base – just like it happened with United. Endless arguments and debates – both online and offline, opinion pieces from every Tom, Dick, Harry and his brother-in-law, articles listing statistics that prove the point each side of the argument is trying to make (never mind that they contradict themselves) – all have contributed heavily to the strong polarization of the Modi image.
You are either a strong supporter and think he is the panacea all Indians have been waiting for, or you think he is the nightmare scenario waiting to happen where he ends up becoming India’s Hitler creating a Hitler Youth organization equivalent and there will be a genocide in his first month in office. The stronger the isolation and glorification, higher is the criticism and hate. Higher the criticism and hate, more is the isolation and glorification. It is like a feedback loop which just feeds one off the other but they both grow in size and content. And just like United, all this is a making of the supporters. Modi for one would have never wanted this divide. Part of it, admittedly, can be attributed to the hate against the UPA Govt and our current impotent PM. But most of the responsibility of this rests on the supporters.
I suppose there is a cut off point beyond which there would be no significant growth of pro-Modi or anti-Modi rhetoric. Perhaps that point will be reached after he is elected PM. Or Not. I for one can only hope that his supporters and haters can get to a more reasonable level of opinion. The worst outcome of this would be an American styled Democrat-Republican divide.
If you have not been able to figure out yet, this post is nothing more than an observation. It is not a criticism, support or judgment of anyone involved – from the politicians to the avid supporters and haters. It is merely a perspective which I have been looking through for a while. A lot of Modi and Man United supporters will inevitably disagree with me and some will even offer detailed explanations of their disagreement which are supposed to be interpreted as their idea of reason. First of all, do check out this thing called the Backfire Effect. Secondly, if you have you gone as far as trying to dispute what I have pointed out, you have already proven my point. So just calm the fuck down and think about it for a while.
In all seriousness, I personally want to see Modi in the PM office and am really curious what this guy is all about. And at this point, I offer no response to speculation or the possibility of a genocide happening in India as a result of his election. But really, considering his competition is a circus clown in a politician’s disguise…..
…well you get it.
In a bizarre turn of events, young Americans under the age of 35 all over the country have stopped talking to each other after Congress accidentally passed a new law that banned the use of the word ‘Like’ – the most widely used word by Americans. The word ‘Like’ has been in popular usage not as a verb or a conjunction, but as a filler that is used in between ANY two words in any sentence in a role of complete redundancy that serves absolutely no purpose. However, in spite of it not serving any purpose, young Americans have shown a very strong affinity to throw in as many ‘Likes’ as possible while talking to each other. Now all this has been banned under the new law which took effect last week.
Now anyone using the word ‘Like’ in a redundant manner while talking will first receive two warnings. A third offence will invite a fine and more than 10 offences will make it mandatory for the culprit to take English classes demonstrating the redundancy of the word in regular grammar. As part of the law, employers will also be able to check how many offences any job applicant has to their name before hiring.
All this has not gone down well with Americans for whom the word ‘Like’ is fundamental to the successful construction of a sentence. A normal sentence such as:
After a long working day, he said, “I am feeling really tired and want to go home”
has always been spoken out as
After, like, a long, like, working day, he is like “I am, like, feeling really, like, tired, and want to, like, go, like home”
Young Americans have regularly demonstrated their inability to speak more than 2 sentences without using their favorite word. Linda, an American teenager, spent tremendous amounts of energy to focus and avoid using the word LIKE in order to tell us how she felt about the new law.
“I ….. don’t know …… what I’ll …..do……My friends…..cannot …..talk to ….each other anymore. I guess…I’ll have to….text them if I ….want to ….. say anything.”
This appears to be the ready made alternative to this new law. Teenage girls in America have always communicated with each other via text messages even when they are with each other, so this has become the go-to option for them.
Following this new law, demands for speech therapists has increased astronomically. John, a New York based speech therapist, had this to say about the new law and its impacts:
“This has always been an epidemic. It is not just Americans who have been affected with this disability. All immigrants who have stayed in the country long enough and interacted with other Americans on a regular basis have shown growing symptoms of this condition. So, I believe this really is an epidemic that keeps spreading and affects even those who speak without using redundant words.”
Some young folks have tried to protest the law by shouting slogans in front of the White House. But almost inevitably, their slogan shouting included the redundant use of the word LIKE (e.g. “We, like, like our like, right, to use, like, whatever, we like, like, when, we like, speak to , like, each other!”) and were subsequently slapped with a hefty fine and asked to enroll in English classes.
Guest speculators on the official Republican Speculation Channel Fox News have laid the blame squarely on Obamacare. Their Democratic counterparts on the Democratic Speculation Channel MSNBC have, as expected, blamed the existence of the Republican party for the consequences of the new law.
The international media, on the other hand, were perplexed about why anyone would be using the word LIKE in this manner in the first place. Most English speaking countries just failed to understand the idea of a spoken sentence such as
Like, I’m, like, very irritated to know, like, I, like, cannot even, like, talk to, like, my own, like, friends, like how I, like, want to.
Most English speaking people outside America said that by the time they heard the full sentence, they could not remember what it meant.
Sometimes things work out. Sometimes they don’t. Mostly they do. Or we just make it work.
We have all seen it. People living together and staying together. People moving to a new city and staying there for the rest of their lives. People sticking to one job or profession all their lives.
Because that’s what people do.
Yes marriages and relationships fail. People move to different places and change jobs. But then that was never the argument. My argument is that if you stay long enough, you will stay for good.
As far reaching as my contention may appear, I wish to elaborate.
When two people get into a relationship, there is attraction at some level to start with. Always. Then comes the part about getting to know the other person. New things are discovered about the partner. Some are likable. Some, not so likable. Barring one or many shocking revelations, the relationship continues.
When someone moves to a new city, they move for reasons that span the entire spectrum: from an exciting new job to blindly following a sweet heart. It could be an opportunity or it could be a compromise. Take your pick. But irrespective, there is a period of getting to know the city – all it has to offer, what it lacks, the people, the places, the weather. And again, barring one or many shocks, they continue to live in the city.
When someone takes up a job, the reason is more likely just pure necessity. It gives money, it pays the bills, it gives peace of mind, and it helps you feel secure about the future. But then over time the rigors of a regular job are revealed. Some things are likable and some things are not. But yet again, barring a deep rooted hatred for the job or the boss, people continue to show up every single working day at the same place.
But why? Why don’t more people seek new relationships, new city experiences or new job challenges?
The answer is simple:
Because everyone’s ongoing predicament is not sufficiently bad.
That’s pretty much it.
A relationship need not be passionate or significantly compatible to work out for the long term. If the two people involved like each other to some minimum extent and don’t hate each other’s guts on a day to day basis, there is usually very little motivation to leave. They just learn to live with it.
A city need not be exactly what one is looking for. As long as there are things to keep people occupied, friends to hang out with, and some basic fulfillment of expectations, people will stay. The city may not have a vibrant social life but the light traffic and laid back lifestyle is perhaps a relief. Or put it the other way around, the traffic may be a pain, but there may be so many things to do and places to go to, that it makes everything else worth it. So unless there is something that is completely unacceptable or when even the most basic of expectations are not met, people will just stay.
A job need not be a dream job. The security the regular income provides goes a long way in making a job pretty darn comfortable. Not necessarily enjoyable, but very comfortable. The coworkers maybe a pain but the boss is good and there is some pride and recognition for the work. Or perhaps the work is monotonous and the boss is just barely manageable, but the work ultimately provides for the family and helps people stay close to their loved ones. So yet again, unless there is a complete breakdown in professional relationships or the hatred for the job is intense, people will just continue to stay.
There is an obvious and clear thread running through these situations. All of them involve spending significant time in a particular set of circumstances. Then follows the revelation and understanding of the good and the bad the situation has to offer. And then comes the part where people just get very comfortable wherever they are.
And then they just stay.
So ultimately, if under any set of circumstances involving a person, place or job, as long as you like the things that it has to offer and can put up with the things that it lacks or goes against your preference, and you spend sufficient time under those circumstances, you are likely to stay wherever you are. You will get comfortable too, and will even begin to feel lucky that you are able to experience all the good things that everything has to offer.
It is called a trade-off. And the longer you find the trade-off worth it, the more you are never likely to seek new challenges, experiences or relationships. It is the reason why arranged marriages work. It is the reason why people don’t move around as much. It is also the reason why the whole economy works like a clock.
People just get comfortable if things aren’t sufficiently bad. They ACCEPT, ADJUST and ADAPT.
There are a couple of lines in one of the songs in Steven Wilson’s new album. It goes thus:
Eliza dear, you know there is something I should say
I never really loved you but I’ll miss you anyway…..
– The Watchmaker
It is really scary to contemplate the depths of the message in those two lines. Familiarity, comfort and security are not necessarily things to strive for. Sometimes they are just obstacles to a better life.
The grass maybe greener on the other side. But the pasture here is not bad enough to make people want to climb that hill and see what’s on the other side.
There is rarely any pride in inertia.
In a surprising development towards the end of yesterday, hundreds of reports from all over the world poured in claiming large masses of people going to depression simultaneously. The reason : Democracy – or more specifically the realization that it does not appear to be working.
It first started with people in Japan reporting en masse to psychiatrists and psychologists complaining about general depression and a growing inability to trust anything. People were seen making long lines outside pharmacies waiting to pick up their prescription medication to battle depression.
Meanwhile, many reports started coming in about similar developments in Greece, Cyprus, Portugal, Spain, Italy and a few other European nations. This was then followed by reports in the United States where millions of people were first confused if their depression was the result of the extended winter this year. However, after continuing to watch their preferred News Channel – Fox or MSNBC – just to see the ‘other party’ get thrashed, the people found their depression getting worse and ultimately attributed it to the failure of democracy.
Common questions the people seem to be asking all around the world included: “Why isn’t anything getting done here at all?”, “If a party is elected by the people, then why doesn’t it get to do anything?” “Majority means they should be able to pass all the bills right?”, “I thought Obama had won the reelection. But then why is he still campaigning against the Republicans instead of getting things done?”
Questions like these were asked repeatedly by people when journalists inquired about their depression and what they thought of the economy.
A worldwide survey had shown a few years ago that democracy was “The Shit, Yo!”. It was apparently not just a ‘good system’ of governance, it was also the ‘only system’ of governance. People all around the world appeared to agree that the United States was ‘just awesome’ because it kept bringing in ‘democracy’ to all those poor souls in the middle east who were ‘totally suffering without democracy’.
A noted commentator who has been supporting democracy setups all his life had this to say about the new democracies in the Middle East: “It’s cool yo! I mean, there are a lot more people getting killed, more religious persecution, more security problems, more economical problems, and on top of it all, nobody is able to do shit about it! But it’s cool because they have a democracy, right?”
Another pro-democratic intellectual
masturbator said this in response to all the increased violence and unrest in the new democracies: “Hey! At least now they get to feel awesome and brag to the rest of the world that they live in democracies right? I mean, now they actually have a RIGHT to brag and feel awesome! Yeah, take that Bitchas!”
Actually, this reporter was unable to find anybody who held anti-democratic views who could talk about the other perspective. Apparently, it was just ‘not cool to be anti-democracy’. Why? The only answer this reporter was given repeatedly to that question was “Because Democracy is the Shit, Yo!”
When more people were interviewed to hear their perspectives about why they felt democracy would not work, many of them echoed similar thoughts.
“I was told from my days in middle school that democracy is the shit. I never understood it back then but just thought it was something cool that everybody liked. So I began to trust it as well. But I just don’t see it working ANYWHERE.”
Citizens of India, the largest democracy in the world, were initially upbeat about the next elections so that they could vote the ruling Congress party out. But then they realized that even a different party would never be able to satisfy the needs and demands of hundreds of retards who will still be in the parliament- all thinking differently.
“The only thing that will continue for sure is the regular adjournments of the parliament sessions. No bills will get passed and no reforms will take place. Because this is democracy right? So you get to put down a bill just because it won’t help you win reelection.”
The only people who appear to be celebrating democracy and those that have not gone into depression are the folks who have been making their lives out of subsidy and welfare money from the governments. Social Security, disability, medicare, medicaid, unemployment benefits, you name it. People who utilize these welfare schemes appear to be extremely happy about democracies.
“I hope democracy continues. This way nobody will have the balls to take away my disability checks and Medicaid because if they do, I will vote for the other guy who promises me my free money. Isn’t that awesome? I hope the people in the Middle East also begin to reap the benefits of democracy soon. Go welfare schemes!”, said a 43 year old American who has been claiming disability checks simply because his ‘back hurts a bit when he tries to stand up’.
It appears that only people who work, making money and leading generally better lives were affected by the depression epidemic that has swept the globe. The poor who have been living mediocre lives through welfare schemes and subsidies appear to be more than happy to continue to live in mediocre conditions as long as they keep getting their free money that in turn supports their mediocre existence.
All the people living off subsidies and welfare schemes were of the strong opinion that ‘Democracy indeed is THE SHIT!”.
When President Obama was asked about this mass depression epidemic, he responded with a prepared statement with beautifully crafted sentences, messages of hope, general GOP bashing, and a lot of promises and by the end of his speech, people were so excited and enthusiastic that they seemed to have forgotten what it was that they had asked him in the first place.
The President did refer this reporter (who pressed him with the same question a second time) to the following video from The Dictator…..
…..thus missing out the whole point altogether.
In conclusion, it appears that Democracy is not just ‘The Shit’, it is simply SHIT.
No. Fernando Torres’ woes in front of goal are not going to be attributed to him appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated – and I don’t even think he has made it to the cover at all. This is about something more fundamental.
The Sports Illustrated cover jinx is an urban legend that states that individuals or teams who appear on the cover of the Sports Illustrated magazine will subsequently be jinxed (experience bad luck). A star athlete makes it to the cover of the magazine after having a remarkable season or a particularly outstanding performance. Following his appearance on the cover, his performances suddenly see a dip or his very next performance (after the outstanding one) turns out to be a really bad one. There are dozens of instances that corroborate this jinx, and there will no doubt continue to be many more in the future. And as much as this is a clear cut case of confirmation bias, I will argue later in the post that there is another fundamental principle underlying this urban legend.
Now let us look at Chelsea FC. For anybody who knows me even remotely, I am a well established Chelsea supporter – (you know that team in the Premier League that plays football with at least 2 different managers every year. The same team that went on to win the Champions League last season only to get knocked out in the group stage this season. Yeah, that one).
Being a Chelsea fan for close to a decade now, I have seen many many transformations in the team – thanks largely to a bankrolling AND trigger happy owner. I have seen many successful years and many unsuccessful years. However, the past couple of seasons have been particularly frustrating and energy sapping for any Chelsea fan. (Yes, we did win the Champions League last season, but it could have as well gone all wrong so easily). And the biggest factor in all of that has been Chelsea’s inability to field a striker who can score goals.
We all know the story. Fernando Torres comes in after a few scintillating seasons with Liverpool and for a hefty transfer fee. Didier Drogba, a fan favorite, is approaching his twilight years and will make way for Torres in the front line. It all looked good on paper. And then reality sunk in. Torres barely scored. His record of goal scoring was so pathetic that Emile Heskey began to sound like a better option. And this continues to this day – even after the departure of Drogba and with the infusion of creative midfielders like Hazard and Oscar.
But before we pass around judgments, let us take a step back here and go over recent Chelsea transfer history – specifically on the strikers. Chelsea has been widely accused of being the club that buys world class center forwards for big money, only to make them mediocre players as soon as they started playing for their new club. Even a hardcore Chelsea fan like me cannot deny the dip in performances of the TWO actual instances – Torres and Shevchenko. However, upon closer look, one sees a more fundamental principle at work here.
Torres and Shevchenko were world class strikers before they came to Chelsea, after which they suffered a terrible dip in form and are/were never likely to regain the top form that they displayed at their previous clubs. But ‘joining Chelsea’ was not the reason why their form dipped. The reason Chelsea even purchased them was because the club had a reputation of spending big money on players who were at the peak of their careers. Torres and Shevchenko definitely fit the bill then and their services were acquired for significant sums of money. But where does anyone go from the peak of their careers? There is only one way – and that is down. So when reaching the peak of one’s playing career is followed by going to Chelsea FC, the headlines are already written. A simple correlation is easily mistaken for causality.
Not only does this bring about an image of being a club that apparently spoils players’ talent and form, but more importantly, the team is now playing someone who is on the way down in his career. Add to this a change in the system of play, the psychological barrier that comes with the hefty fee and the intense media and fan scrutiny/expectations involved – and you have a perfect recipe for disaster. The player stops performing and the club’s results begin to go down in a spiral. Sound familiar? Well, it should. Because this is exactly what has happened with Chelsea’s striker position.
Torres was already on the decline at Liverpool. His performance at the World Cup before joining Chelsea was laughable and I personally rated him to be the worst player at the tournament. Spending 50 million in that situation was never a good idea. Didier Drogba, on the other hand, was brought to the club under none of the above circumstances. He was young (24-25), far from his peak, didn’t cost as much, and Chelsea built their playing system AROUND him. As a result, he gave his best years to the club and no wonder the club’s best years coincided with his career peak.
Demba Ba is not the solution. He is a temporary fix who is expected to be better than Torres. So what then is the permanent solution? Well, for one, it does not involve anyone whose name has either Falcao or Cavani in it – for acquiring the services of players like Cavani and Falcao in their current situation clearly falls under the same set of circumstances in which Torres was bought. (Yeah sure they may give a couple of good seasons but that is not the objective here is it?) And if Mr. Abromovich does not intend to repeat the same mistakes, he would be better off buying someone younger and who has not yet reached his peak.
Going back to the Sports Illustrated jinx, it is now quite easy to draw the analogy. A star athlete makes it to the cover BECAUSE he is at the peak of his career or at the least, a local maxima – and there is only way to go from there – down. Not only is this just a case of confirmation bias, it also serves as a textbook case of correlation being mistaken for causality.
This underlying principle deserves a closer and more detailed look – especially with regard to how football teams are built and its correlation with the success the team achieves. But that is a topic for another post – hopefully sometime soon.
For people with no knowledge of the Placebo, I will start with what Wikipedia has to say on the subject:
“A placebo is a simulated or otherwise medically ineffectual treatment for a disease or other medical condition intended to deceive the recipient. Sometimes patients given a placebo treatment will have a perceived or actual improvement in a medical condition, a phenomenon commonly called the placebo effect.”
A small variation of this test is the generally accepted standard of testing for any new treatment or drug, and is known as the double-blinded placebo test. To summarize it (from India Uncut):
“The standard test in medicine for seeing whether a treatment works is a double-blind placebo-controlled test. In this, patients are randomly divided into two groups, one of which is given the treatment being tested, and the other is given placebo—such as pills that look like real ones, but are actually inert. Neither the patients nor the doctors know which group is getting the treatment and which the placebo (that’s why it’s ‘double-blind’), thus eliminating psychological biases on their part. The mere belief that they are being treated often helps patients, so the true test for a treatment is if it can do better than placebo.”
This appears to be a fair and effective method to weed out non-performing drugs – and it is. This has been used for many many decades, even centuries, and so has passed the test of time. Drugs from many alternative systems of medicine have failed these tests repeatedly – due to which, these tests have served as the primary basis for these systems’ criticisms. These tests imply that the drug is to be considered ineffective if it cannot outperform the placebo. In other words, a patient needs to be getting better because he has taken the drug in question – not because he has taken just ‘some medication’ that he has been told will cure his ailment (in this case the placebo). My question now is not targeted at the veracity or the fairness of these tests. My question, however, concerns the implications of these tests when they are taken to the other extreme.
Consider a situation where a patient is given a medicine – from any system of medicine – for a particular ailment that he is suffering from. This drug is made specifically for the patient taking into account ALL necessary information needed as per the corresponding system of medicine to treat him. The medication is taken by the patient at the intervals the doctor/practitioner has recommended and the full dose is completed. However, there is a small difference. In this situation, the patient is completely unaware that he is taking ANY medication at all.
I am not going to get into ‘how’ the above mentioned situation can be executed in reality. I am also not going to get into a debate about the ethics and responsibilities at play here. My interest in this is purely that of inquiry and so if it means that ethics are broken during the potential implementation of this situation, I am fine with that.
What I AM interested in, however, are the results of a series of such potential tests on many patients. A slight variation of this test could include some patients being administered a known placebo – again, without their knowledge. But perhaps the best situation would be what I have outlined below:
For the sake of argument, let us assume that these tests are to be conducted on 100 randomly selected patients with no particular pattern in their medical history – but who are suffering from the same ailment. These patients are then divided into three equal sets. (Well OK smartass, one group will have 34, happy?). Set 1 will have the corresponding drug administered, as tailored to meet each particular patient’s needs, without any knowledge of consumption of ANY medication. Set 2 will have a known placebo administered into them, again without any knowledge of the same. Set 3 will have absolutely NOTHING done to them AND they will not be aware that nothing is deliberately being done to them. The full recommended dose of the medicine/placebo (or the lack of it) will be administered for all patients. The condition of the patients are monitored continuously and the progress (or lack thereof) is noted.
At first glance, administering a known placebo without a patient’s knowledge can appear to be ridiculous. But it is necessary to measure and compare the effects of the drug itself against a similarly induced placebo. Similarly, the absence of a treatment is also necessary to measure a situation where the patients get better ‘anyway’ and to see if the drug was needed at all.
Now let us look into all possible result scenarios and the corresponding implications for the drug and the placebo effect:
Scenario 1: Set 1, for whom the medicine was administered, show a general improvement and/or curing of the ailments. Set 2 and Set 3 do not show any signs of improvement over the same measured time frame. This is perhaps the most expected situation of a drug that actually works. One does not expect the unknowingly-administered placebo patient to recover without any of the subjectivity involved in the knowledge of having taken the placebo. Set 3’s results also go as per expected.
Scenario 2: Set 1 do not show any marked improvement in their ailments as compared to Sets 2 and 3. This is the other extreme and clearly shows that the drug is completely ineffective as compared to those taking the placebos and those having no treatment at all.
Scenario 3: All sets show general improvement at similar rates. This is similar to scenario 2 in that the drug has not outperformed the placebo and the non-treatment.
Scenario 4: Set 1 has not shown any signs of improvement whereas Sets 2 and 3 have exhibited improvements in their ailments. This is clearly a sign that the drug is actually inhibiting improvement and/or making matters worse, and should not be used at all.
Other scenarios include those wherein the patients in Set 2, who have had the placebo administered to them, suddenly display symptoms different from those in Set 3 (they could be better or worse). If this were to indeed happen, it would be the most curious case of clinical trials ever studied. Such tests have indeed been administered, albeit with the knowledge of the patients, and so cannot be referenced here.
But the bigger implications of these tests lie elsewhere. Consider Scenario 1 wherein it can be stated with good certainty that the drug does indeed work. Would the converse be true? That is to say, would the same drug pass the standard double-blinded placebo test? Is there a possibility that it would fail the standard placebo test but pass the modified placebo test as described in this post?
Looking at it differently, can this modified placebo test be viewed as both a necessary AND sufficient condition/test for a drug to be declared effective? I would certainly think so. If a drug is working without the patient being aware of its administration, it should certainly work (perhaps even better) if the patient is indeed aware of it. That, in fact, is the crux of the placebo effect. The effects of the knowledge of ‘something’ being consumed that is ‘supposed to’ cure an ailment is what lies at the root of the placebo effect. With that in mind, it follows that drugs passing the modified placebo test should definitely pass the standard placebo test.
If the modified placebo test is accepted to be the necessary AND sufficient condition for a drug to be considered effective, then it also follows that every drug that passes this test must be accepted as effective – irrespective of the system of medicine and without regard to its composition. Now, this is where things can get a little tricky.
For instance, consider Homeopathy. This system of medicine has long been criticized and ridiculed for prescribing drugs that have minuscule and even negligent concentrations of the active ingredient in them. Irrespective of any explanation that may have been put forth by the proponents, the extreme low levels of concentration can make one wonder how something like that can have ANY effect at all. But in my current inquiry, all this is completely irrelevant and beside the point. My only proposition is that ANY drug passing the modified placebo test should be considered effective.
The next question is obvious. What if there are instances wherein Scenario 1 was replicated in reality with Homeopathic drugs? That is to say that a patient was unknowingly administered homeopathic drugs and got better in a relatively short time – as compared to the time he spent suffering from the ailment with no medication. In such a situation, the exact workings of the drug – biological and chemical – become irrelevant and fade into the background. What matters then first and foremost is the fact that this drug indeed works.
Note that this particular illustration is definitely not restricted to Homeopathy. It can be used with ANY system of medicine and the implications will still remain the same. Sure, there will always be questions asked (and mostly answered) about the composition and workings of the drug itself. But in any case, the drug should simply be accepted as something ‘that works’. I am saying that it is OK if one is unable to explain how or a why a drug is working – as long as it passes this modified placebo test. But going back to an earlier observation, what if these very drugs, that have passed the modified placebo test, fail the standard placebo test?
Ideally, they should not. If they do, then the very mechanism and thinking behind the standard placebo test will have to be questioned. Fortunately or unfortunately, we will NEVER have sufficient data to ever make either claim with complete certainty. For one, this modified placebo test will almost certainly never gain approval in the medical community – not with all the ethical issues involved. And secondly, it would be very difficult to actually find a way to administer these drugs (or placebos) without the knowledge of the patient. And finally, and perhaps more importantly in the current scenario, nobody will ever publish such data even if such tests were indeed conducted, due to obvious ethical and professional reasons.
It is a shame that such a test cannot be conducted in the real world. It would answer so many questions and raise so many more. I suppose I can now relate to the pains of economists like Stephen D Levitt when they talk about the need for a controlled randomized experiment to explain the dynamics of this world. (A big smug follows).
In any case, I invite more discussion and differing points of view on this. Please feel free to point out possible misconceptions and overlookings.