Dear Football Commentator: VAR is NOT the Controversy; YOU Are

Earlier this week, I watched the phenomenal Man City vs Tottenham 2nd leg at the Etihad. The tie ended 4-3 to City with Spurs moving to the Semis on away goals rule. Despite the remarkable scoreline, one of the most obvious things that will come to anyone’s recollection about the game will be the use of VAR to decide two instances of goals – with one being awarded (Llorente), and another not awarded due to an offside (Sterling). While the decisions were correct, the way the commentators portrayed VAR and its role in the process has been very annoying – in this match and others. By commentators, I am referring to anyone with any significant influence and position who puts out opinions/commentary/articles etc. So this includes live commentary personnel, football writers, twitter celebrities, fan blog writers, etc.

Situations like Sterling’s goal being negated for a missed offside decision are the exact kind of decisions that the VAR was brought in for. And they have been doing their job just fine in Serie A and other competitions – just like they have begun to do so in the Champions League. So the only objective way to react to situations like this is to acknowledge the role the VAR played in ensuring the correct decision was made during the match.

Instead, in a ridiculous turn of events, most football commentators have come to characterize ANY decision made by the VAR as ‘controversial’! This is even more true when it comes to the VAR overturning a decision made by the on field referee. Until recently, the same commentators had been calling for the introduction of VAR to rectify the incorrect decisions made in the field. But when it is finally in play and starts overturning those very same incorrect decisions, it is suddenly deemed to be ‘controversial’! Are you serious?

In addition to just terming any VAR intervention as ‘controversial’, there are a bunch of other phrases that these commentators have an affinity to use:

  • City were “robbed by VAR”
  • “VAR denies” City a goal
  • “VAR raises its head” once again in this tie
  • “VAR drama once again”

Ok first of all, nobody ever gets ‘robbed’ by the VAR. Getting ‘robbed’ assumes that you had actually scored a goal LEGITIMATELY to start with, and the VAR overturns it for no good reason. This has never happened in the short history of the VAR. Getting ‘robbed’ can only refer to incidents like Frank Lampard’s ghost goal in the 2006 World Cup which he did score legitimately, but was not awarded by the referee. Or it can also refer to Tom Henning Overbo’s refereeing that night in Stamford Bridge in 2009 (Oh Lord please give me the strength to let go of this!). So if a team scores a goal, and the VAR later catches a foul or offside in its build up, it is no longer a legitimate goal to start with! So no, VAR does not ‘rob’ anyone of anything.

And no. VAR does not ‘deny’ anyone of a goal either. It is fair to make statements like “Hugo Lloris denies City a chance to go ahead with a remarkable save”, or even “the striker was denied a goal by the woodwork”. But making a statement like “VAR denies City a goal” is akin to accusing it of ‘robbing’ (see above). The only way to use ‘deny’ and ‘VAR’ in the same sentence is something like this: “VAR correctly denies Manchester City of a goal for an offside that was not spotted in the field.”

And what does it even mean to say “VAR raises its head again”? I have heard this multiple times on TV. The phrase ‘raises its head’ is generally used to show something under a negative light – which is why you typically hear people say “….raises its ugly head again”. Nobody ever says “…raises its beautiful head again”. Just because an on-field decision is overturned by the VAR doesn’t make it something that needs to be shown in a negative light. VAR is a process that allows the referee to utilize additional time and information to make a correct decision – even if that means overturning what was previously awarded.

And let us all just agree that there is no ‘drama’ with VAR. The only ‘drama’ lies is in people’s reactions to potentially overturning an incorrect decision. So it is not the VAR that is ‘causing’ the drama. If anything, it is the VAR that is being used to ‘resolve’ or even ‘prevent’ the drama arising out of an incorrect decision on the field.

But why is all this important you may ask? After all, it is just a game and commentators are supposed to give words to what is happening or has happened in their own words.

OK first of all, no competitive sporting event is ever just a game. Don’t even dare say that to a sports fan – regardless of sport. Secondly, the primary requirement of any commentator’s job is to be unbiased and objective. Everything else follows that. A part of that requirement is to not create a narrative that simply doesn’t exist. And that is where I am unhappy.

The problem with generating a narrative that terms VAR as something ‘controversial’ is that it ultimately leads to football fans questioning the very integrity of the decision making process in the game. This is highly ironic as the VAR was brought in because the integrity of the decision making process was being questioned (due to a large number of high profile incorrect calls). Further, it can lead to a lot of resentment among the fans whose team were at the so called ‘receiving end’ of the VAR process. This resentment will typically not exist if the accepted narrative is that the VAR did what the on field referee should have initially done. But if the act of VAR overturning an on field call is termed ‘controversial’, this will always lead to resentment and a feeling of having been ‘robbed’ or ‘denied’ by some arcane process. And in the long run, that is unsustainable as a lot of people will eventually simply call for scrapping the VAR. And how unfortunate would that be!

That is not to say the VAR is perfect. I would love to see the referee make a live announcement to the entire stadium to explain the final decision after VAR review (NFL style). This can go a long way to let the fans all around the world know the thinking behind the decision. And that would also hopefully shut these commentators up as they can no longer simply speculate why the referee made that decision.

But till then, we have to acknowledge that the VAR is simply providing additional information and time to the on field referee to make the correct calls. Overturning an incorrect call does not make it controversial. In fact, the commentators who continue to call that process as controversial are the ones who are actually causing the controversy.

pretty-please-with-sugar-on-top

So here is my sincere request to all football commentators:

The VAR is a good thing that has happened to football and it is also long overdue. It does not become controversial just because it was used to overturn an on field decision, and it certainly does not rob anyone of anything. Your job is to stay objective and unbiased in how you report the football events, which means you need to understand and acknowledge what VAR is and what it is not. So, as the Wolf would say,

“Pretty please, with sugar on top, do your fucking jobs!”

On Hasan Minhaj’s Episode on Indian Elections: The ‘Slumdog Millionaire Effect’

When I first moved to the United States back in August 2009, I had to confront a surprising and rather unsettling situation. I found that many Americans and students from Europe were asking me eerily similar questions about where I was from. These were not questions about how I was coping in a new country, or how I was handling the culture shock. Instead these were questions along the lines of “Is it true that there are no toilets in India?”, or “Do you guys have banks in India?”, or “Is it very dangerous to live in a big city in India? How about the rural areas?”, or “Do you have cars and other technology over there?”.

When I was first asked these questions, I had no clue how to respond to them. I didn’t even have a clue as to WHY this person I had just met was asking such denigrating questions about my home country. But the truth was that none of these questions were ever asked in a condescending manner at all. On the contrary, the people asking me this always showed a genuine sense of curiosity. When I eventually found out the reason why so many Americans and Europeans were asking me these questions, I was flabbergasted. The reason why these questions came up was Danny Boyle’s 2008 movie Slumdog Millionaire.

In case you haven’t seen this movie, Slumdog Millionaire is about a kid from the Mumbai slums who grows up being the victim of almost every aspect of India’s dark underbelly. It documents what he went through and culminates with him winning a million dollars in a game show. It was marketed as a rags to riches story, but in reality that theme was just a vehicle to reinforce every single pre-existing stereotype the Western world has about the third world in general – and specifically India. Some of the things shown in the movie include child prostitution, forced begging, open toilets, religious riots, rape, blinding of children, call centers, etc.

slumdog-millionaire-kids

After the movie won the Best Movie at the Oscars, it predictably got a lot of additional publicity and a lot more people made the effort to watch it – especially in the western world. And so whenever I met an American or a European who had watched the movie, I was typically asked questions like the ones above. And it was not just me. Most of my fellow Indian friends have gone through this same experience.

Yes these are not appropriate or even the correct questions to ask someone. What I realized though, was that I was being asked these questions by Americans not out of condescension, but out of an actual lack of knowledge about India. Essentially, Slumdog Millionaire was the ONLY mainstream representation these people had about India. Predictably, those whose opinion about India was only based on this movie were the ones asking those questions – and they were doing so out of pure curiosity and fascination.

Needless to say, Slumdog Millionaire is not at all representative of India as a country. Make no mistake – all those things shown in the movie do exist and they do impact a lot of people. But by deliberately showing ONLY the dark underbelly of a country, there is a conscious building of a narrative – one which dictates that the dark underbelly IS the country. And THAT is not at all acceptable. Imagine if a movie is made about America focusing ONLY on the school shootings, opioid crisis, police brutality, crime in low income neighborhoods, racism in the deep south, widespread obesity, big corporations controlling the population and the elections, and an extremely divided country with one set of people hating the other. And if this movie is the ONLY mainstream representation of America in a foreign country, would Americans consider it fair? Probably not. Such a movie would again just take the dark underbelly of a country and portray it to be EVERYTHING there is to know about the country. And that is simply an incorrect portrayal.

texassharpshooter

And that right there is what I call the “Slumdog Millionaire Effect”. This is a classic manifestation of the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy. This is what happens when the spotlight is put on a select few aspects of a situation and the audience’s understanding of the entire situation is thus limited to just what is shown in the spotlight. It is a dangerous technique but one that is widely used in today’s society – especially in the media. 

Which brings me to Hasan Minhaj and his Patriot Act episode about the upcoming Indian Elections on Netflix. In a nutshell, Hasan Minhaj has used the same techniques that Danny Boyle used to portray India. But just labeling it as an example of the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy would hide all the other (more important) deep seated issues that the episode is symptomatic of. And that will be the focus of the next post.

What ‘The Big Lebowski’ Teaches Us About Media Bias

In one of the most enduring scenes that ever came out of Hollywood cinema, there lies a rather deep hidden meaning. It becomes painfully obvious once you see through it. And when you do, you will appreciate the script and the context that much more. The scene is from the movie The Big Lebowski and features Jeff Bridges and John Goodman.

Here is the context (SPOILERS ahead!):

The Dude has failed in the task entrusted to him by an old billionaire. The task is to deliver a large amount of ransom money in exchange for Bunny – the trophy wife of the said billionaire. He has instead lost that money and the old man castigates him for his ineptitude by showing him the consequences of his failure – which involves a toe that is  believed to belong to the said kidnapping victim. Disappointed with himself and worried about the victim, The Dude then ‘discusses’ the situation with his buddy Walter Sobchak. Here it is in full:

WALTER
That wasn’t her toe.

DUDE
Whose toe was it, Walter?

WALTER
How the fuck should I know? I do
know that nothing about it indicates–

DUDE
The nail polish, Walter.

WALTER
Fine, Dude. As if it’s impossible
to get some nail polish, apply it to
someone else’s toe–

DUDE
Someone else’s–where the fuck are
they gonna–

WALTER
You want a toe? I can get you a
toe, believe me. There are ways,
Dude. You don’t wanna know about
it, believe me.

DUDE
But Walter–

WALTER
I’ll get you a toe by 3 o’ clock–with nail polish. These
fucking amateurs. They send us a
toe, we’re supposed to shit our-
selves with fear. Jesus Christ. My
point is–

DUDE
They’re gonna kill her, Walter, and
then they’re gonna kill me–

WALTER
Well that’s just, that’s the stress
talking, Dude. So far we have what
looks to me like a series of
victimless crimes–

DUDE
What about the toe?

WALTER
FORGET ABOUT THE FUCKING TOE!

Essentially, the Dude has come to believe that the toe that is shown to him by Jeffrey Lebowski (the Billionaire) does indeed belong to ‘Bunny’ – the Billionaire’s wife – the apparent victim of a kidnapping. But Walter is clearly having none of it. He firmly believes that the toe is another in a series of ‘victimless crimes’ that are done by ‘fucking amateurs’! (Of course, in the end Walter turns out to be spot on!)

Which all brings us to a simple question.

Why did the Dude believe that the toe did indeed belong to Bunny? 

On the face of it, the apparent ‘proof’ consisted not of direct evidence of the identity of the victim, but instead consisted of an indicator – one which needs to be taken at face value without questioning in order to arrive at the suggested conclusion – that the toe does indeed belong to Bunny. It is this very ‘indicator’ nature of the evidence that Walter Sobchak questions and confidently declares that he could generate the same evidence by 3 o’ clock that same day (with nail polish!)!

The Dude believed the initial assertion (that Bunny was harmed because of his ineptitude in not delivering the money) not because of the ‘proof’ (a severed toe) that was presented to him. Instead, he started off by taking the initial assertion at face value without questioning, and then used the ‘proof’ to confirm this belief. The narrative was setup in such a way for the Dude that he just assumed the initial assertion was true and perceived whatever ‘proof’ he was then presented to simply confirm this assertion – even if that ‘proof’ was simply ‘indicative’ in nature.

Now where else have we all seen this? Where have we seen a topic being presented in such a way that it makes an assertion first and then uses primarily ‘indicative’ evidence to backup its claims?

There are a good number of ‘news’ websites and print media that utilize this very technique to sell stories and content. Many headlines from such organizations are usually articles involving a recent quote by a personality of some significance, or one or two facts that include numbers. This is then typically followed by a description of the context. But there is a sub-category here. This group of articles contain something more. It is usually subtle, but it is there nonetheless.

These articles contain a narrative that interpret the said development in a very specific way. And they do this not by offering any hard facts, but by providing evidence that are at best ‘indicative’ in nature. These articles usually contain a catchy headline that typically signals something to be feared or worried about. The article then starts off by repeating the assertion made in the headline in a more elaborate manner. Then it goes on to the actual quote or fact(oid) which typically forms a very minor part of the full article. Then the article attempts to reference previous similar developments in an effort to forge an apparent pattern – all spelling doom to varying degrees. Then the article goes on to make statements that involve the use of modal verbs such as ‘may’, ‘can’, ‘might’, ‘could’ indicating the possibility of further bad news. And then, finally, at the end of it all, to tie it all together (I had to obviously use the pun!) and to bring a sense of authenticity and confirmation to their idle speculations, they ‘reveal the toe’!

The ‘toe’ typically involves a quote by someone directly unrelated to the actual development, but one who holds a position of some significance in some industry, academia or organization that would entitle him/her to have opinions on the matter under consideration. The bigger the said person’s significance/position, higher the level of authenticity that is perceived to be on the speculations. It is important to note that these quotes are not something that is made by these persons out of their own volition without being specifically asked for. This is almost always a situation where the quotes are actively sought out by the person writing the article, and these quotes are then included in the article to provide a sense of truth and authenticity (and general concern) to the speculative inferences/statements made preceding them. (They send us a toe, we’re supposed to shit ourselves with fear.) In a sense, the person writing the article has already built a narrative (without many facts to support them) and then looks for quotes from ‘experts’ or ‘analysts’ to corroborate the same. Of course, nowadays, these ‘experts’ are dime a dozen. (You want a toe? I can get you a toe, believe me.) So it is another question altogether whether every single ‘expert’ he/she contacts provides quotes that corroborate their narrative, or if he/she only includes those experts’ quotes that does corroborate their speculation.

**********

See this Dec 25th article on CNN Money about Brexit for a good demonstration of the above idea. Also go to this Dec 13th article by the same writer on the same topic where he appears to have some information that doesn’t necessarily support the narrative in the article in the Dec 25th article. Also observe how he has cleverly left out those pieces of information in the Dec 25th article.

***********

So at the end of it all, it is simply a case of the writer making an initial speculative assertion and then ‘revealing the toe’ to backup their claims. So the question you, as a reader, have to ask is, “Am I being presented actual proof based on hard facts, or am I being ‘shown the toe’?” If you suspect the latter, then you know the ‘news article’ is nothing more than clickbait garbage. If it is the product of actual investigative journalism, then you will probably see a lot more information in the form of hard facts backing up the said claims. It is up to you to actively seek out the difference.

In this day and age of information/noise overload, if you even mildly suspect that you are being ‘shown the toe’, then it very likely is indeed just garbage. You should then be wary of any article from that particular source of ‘news’. This is a very simple and practical approach to consuming news media today and to distance ourselves away from fake news, pre-determined narratives, and idle speculation masquerading as truth. And if enough people do this on a regular basis, then we might still have some hope left for humanity’s progress.

New H1B Bill: How the Indian Media Provided False Information

Note: This is the second post on this topic. In the first post, I explained what the current H1B law provides for and what exactly the bill proposes to change. Please read that to get a full understanding of the situation. 

The Protect and Grow American Jobs Act that was reintroduced last week by Rep Darrell Issa (R-CA) has received a large amount of attention from the Indian media due to its specific targeting of H1B visa changes. I have discussed in detail what the current law is and what the bill does previously. In this post, I will cover how the Indian media has incorrectly reported this bill.

To summarize the impacts of the bill, the following points should be sufficient:

  1. This bill applies only to H1B Dependent Employer (HDE) companies (those that have more than 15% of their workforce under H1B visas) and Willful Violator (WV) companies. It DOES NOT apply to ALL H1B visa seekers.
  2. The HDE and WV companies, unlike the rest of them, are required to recruit an American worker before applying a H1B visa for a foreign worker. They also cannot fire an American worker within 90 days before and 90 days after an H1B foreign worker is hired. They also cannot post the H1B worker at a different employer’s office. This is done to reduce visa abuse, to offer basic protection to American workers, and to ensure that only the best workers are hired under H1B.
  3. Under the current law, the additional requirements for HDE and WV companies, as shown in #2, can be easily bypassed in either of two ways. One is by hiring a foreign worker who has a Master’s degree in the area of the job. Second is by offering the foreign worker a minimum pay of $60,000 per annum. These two ‘exemptions’ allow the HDE and WV companies to bypass the additional requirements, thus making it very easy for them to abuse the visa system. (See the Disney H1B lawsuit for example).
  4. The new bill aims to change two things in the criteria that allows the HDE and WV companies to bypass the additional requirements (in #2). One, it aims to increase the minimum pay to $100,000 per annum. Second, it removes the Master’s degree exemption – meaning you cannot bypass the additional requirements just because the H1B worker the company plans to hire has a Master’s degree. This aims to close the loophole that allows visa abuses to take place.

So that was a summary of what is happening here. Now let us look at how the Indian media is reporting this news.

I will start with the most egregious falsification: The Hindu. The Hindu news article lists 6 separate items that it says the Bill aims to do. Only one of these is even partly correct. The rest are just outrageous falsifications. Let us look at them:

  • The Bill prohibits companies from hiring H1-B employees if they employ more than 50 people and more than 50 per cent of their employees are H1-B and L-1 visa holders. ABSOLUTELY INCORRECT. There is no such language in the bill at all. Even the HDE company definition is incorrect going by this rule.
  • The Bill encourages companies to recruit American workers. This provision would crack down on outsourcing companies that import large numbers of H-1B and L-1 workers for short training periods and then send these workers back to their home country to do the work of Americans, the Senators who introduced the Bill had said. This is a very generic statement offering no specific information on how the bill aims to do this. As a general intent of the bill, it is correct. But there is no language listing this explicitly. 
  • It explicitly prohibits replacement of American workers by H1-B or L-1 visa holders. ABSOLUTELY INCORRECT. The general intent to not replace American workers is indeed contained in the bill, as it is in the current law. But there is no ‘explicit’ language in the bill that talks about prohibiting replacement of American workers. 
  • The Bill seeks to give the Department of Labour enhanced authority to review, investigate and audit employer compliance as well as to penalise fraudulent or abusive conduct. ABSOLUTELY INCORRECT. Again, this is a very generic statement offering no information. More importantly, the bill text itself does not include any language in this regard. 
  • The Bill seeks to increase the minimum salary of H1-B visa holders to $1,00,000 per annum. INCORRECT AND MISLEADING. As discussed in the summary above, the minimum salary only applies to the H1B workers under the HDE companies seeking to bypass the additional requirements. This DOES NOT APPLY to all H1B visa holders, as this statement suggests.
  • Currently, firms need not go through extensive paperwork if the potential H1-B employee has an equivalent of a Master’s degree or higher and he or she is paid at least $60,000 annually. The Bill aims to do away with the Master’s degree exemption (as “they are easily obtained by foreign workers”). PARTLY CORRECT. This is the only bullet point that has even a shred of correct information in it. As seen from the summary, what The Hindu lists as ‘extensive paperwork’ are essentially additional requirements that (only) the HDE and WV companies have to adhere to in order to ensure there is no visa abuse. Additionally, this statement mentions the Master’s degree exemption, but does not state what the exemption is for!

There is absolutely no excuse or justification for publishing such large amounts of wrong information on a leading national daily website (and presumably their newspaper as well). I am currently preparing an email to the Editor of The Hindu pointing out this outrageous misinformation. I do not expect a response, however.

The next biggest blunder I saw was from Zee News. Their article listed 3 separate items as part of the bill and its impacts. Here they are:

  • To get H1B visa approved, you will have to fit in the salary bracket of $100,000 a year, up from $60,000 currently. ABSOLUTELY INCORRECT. This only applies for HDE companies looking to bypass additional requirements.
  • One will need to have a Master’s degree, as recognized by the US. ABSOLUTELY INCORRECT!! Removing the Master’s degree exemption language is foolishly misinterpreted as a Master’s degree ‘requirement’! 
  • It is estimated that any change on visa law will largely impact companies who have more than 50 employees based in the US. INCORRECT. The HDE companies are those that have 15% or more of their workforce under H1B visas. Companies even under 50 employees have the HDE categorization. 

It should be noted that the Master’s degree ‘requirement’ mentioned above is actually being listed in many newspapers and websites. This is completely incorrect. There is no such requirement at all! Do not confuse the removal of the Master’s degree exemption to the ‘requirement’ of a Master’s degree!

\[UPDATE March 29th 2017]\

One of the journalistic sources that I have been personally reading for the past 3 years and would strongly recommend is The Caravan Magazine. Its writing primarily includes long form journalism and has generally provided very high quality articles – albeit with a left-leaning perspective. However, I was particularly disappointed with the way the magazine had covered this H1B bill’s developments in this February’s edition. This error becomes even more egregious considering the writer is a Professor of Political Science at Indiana University and is an author of multiple books. It is difficult to comprehend how something as simple as this escapes folks who are expected to be well informed.  Here is what it states and how it is incorrect:

  • ….the bill proposes to raise the minimum salary of H1-B professionals from $60k to $100k, making it costlier for employers to hire foreign workers. INCORRECT AND MISLEADING. As discussed in the summary above, the minimum salary only applies to the H1B workers under the HDE companies seeking to bypass the additional requirements. This DOES NOT APPLY to all H1B visa holders, as this statement suggests.
  • It also promises to end a provision that allows as many as 20,000 foreign nationals in excess of the annual H1-B quota to avail of the visa if they hold a Master’s degree. This is the part which particularly disappointed me. The Master’s degree exemption that is discussed in the bill is essentially the loophole through which HDE companies can bypass a lot of additional requirements. It has absolutely NOTHING to do with the existing quota of 20,000 H1B visas being issued to people with Master’s degrees from US Universities. These are two separate and independent things. Even just the most cursory reading of the bill will make it clear.

I have written to The Caravan requesting them to issue a retraction on their upcoming issue. (There was none issued in the March edition). I am hopeful that they will.

\[UPDATE March 29th 2017]\

\UPDATE May 30th 2017\

The Caravan responded to my email and have issued a correction in their online and print article to reflect the correct information.

\[UPDATE May 30th 2017]]

Let’s move on to other big publications. Websites of Times of India, The Indian Express, Live Mint, and Economic Times all include more or less the same statement regarding this bill:

The bill among other things increase the minimum salary of H-1B visa to $100,000 per annum and eliminate the Masters Degree exemption.

And as we have seen, this is only partly correct and also does not include any information on what the actual exemption is. Additionally, the Economic Times ran a slightly different spin on this statement. This is what it said:

The new bill would require workers on the H-1B visa pay a minimum of $100,000, up from $60,000 currently. The bill also removes the Master’s degree exemption to the cap on the number of visas available.

The second line is what is total garbage. There is no impact to the ‘cap on number of visas available’ as this report states. The Master’s degree exemption is completely unrelated to the H1B visa cap of 85,000 per year. Completely false information!

I do not have access to all the local newspapers which may be carrying different incorrect versions of this information. But I do suspect most of these versions were covered by the big newspapers (not a compliment!). I do not know exactly what was discussed in all the ‘panel discussions’ on news channels, so I cannot comment on that. However, I do not expect it to be any different than what I have seen on the websites. I was also appalled at people in high positions in various big name companies provide quotes on this matter without knowing anything about it in the first place.

What did concern me though was that this false information was said to have caused a fall in the share price of these big IT companies. This should not happen. The media loves to profit from sensationalizing new developments. But in the process, it should also be made aware of its responsibilities to report correct news. This is not something that should even be pointed out. It should form the basic bedrock of their whole operation. But the fact that a regular guy like me can dig up the correct information within an hour – all on the internet – while paid journalists do not bother to do so, and in fact report falsified information, is a definite cause for concern.

The Oxford Dictionary listed ‘post-truth’ to be the word of the year 2016. Its definition is: Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief. We always counted on the news media to show us what is actual truth and what is not – to separate the facts from the claims. But not any more. It now appears that as citizens of the world, we now need to verify what the media is reporting (or not reporting) prior to believing them. It is indeed a scary realization of today’s world – that the media is, in fact, part of the ‘post-truth world’.

I am sure that makes a sensational news story.

Narendra Modi reminds me of Manchester United

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:

Screw Mario. Here comes NaMo

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?

Already the next Prime Minister of India

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.

The Panacea all Indians have been waiting for

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.

The Rise of the Indian Youth or the beginning of a new Hitler Youth – depending on whom you ask

 

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.

When did an Indian Politician ever become so cool that he had his own Merchandise?

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.

Making the Case Against Happiness: Societal and Religious Expectations

This is the first of what I hope will be a series of posts dealing with society’s incomplete, unfair and misplaced perception of happiness. 

The Happiness Industry is everywhere. It exists because we all want to be happy all the time. From the self help books, to the ‘Lead your life’ seminars, to the daily inspirational quotes, to all the websites and blogs giving you their own unique tips, to the religion sponsored salvation guarantees, to the different schools of thought offering that elusive ‘inner peace’, to the innumerable God Men who claim to know the path to enlightenment, to the beauty products that guarantee your confidence, to the prescription pills promising to alleviate your stress, to the never ending advertisements that promise you happiness in exchange for some of your money. 

The Happiness Industry’s Product is now for sale: EVERYWHERE

IT IS EVERYWHERE.

It is also completely missing the point.

It starts off with parents telling their kids that everyone should be happy in life. That is then upgraded to be a requirement. Subsequently, it becomes an order. Then there is talk of REAL HAPPINESS and that it comes from within. Materialistic objects are then perceived to be providing only temporary pleasure and are apparently never fully satisfying. Then there is the sudden realization that maybe REAL HAPPINESS lies in religion and God. Then there is an alternative school of thought that promises that elusive ‘inner peace’. How about living in the present? Or how about that really charismatic person who apparently performs miracles and who seems to want to help everybody be happy? He can surely make people happy? Perhaps falling in love is the key to fulfillment. Having children and starting a family is maybe what is missing. That promotion should help things get better. No? Then perhaps go back to religion and God. That is always a safe bet, right?

How hard people try….. All the places they look…. All the things they believe in…..

All searching for HAPPINESS. All the time.

I have only one question: WHY?

The answer to that is not a WHY NOT? The answer to the question ‘Why are people always looking to be happy?’ is  that wanting to be happy is simply a consequence of societal and religious expectations. Same as getting an education, getting a job, starting a family, etc. This expectation of being happy is so deeply ingrained in us that it is extremely hard to justify to somebody that being happy should never be considered a necessity. The idea that, as a human being, the objective in life is to  be happy is an extremely fundamental and fixed frame of reference. Everything everybody ever sees is through this frame of reference.

Just one question: WHY?
Just one question: WHY?

A few instances: when we are not feeling good, we are encouraged to talk to people to feel better – nobody says it is OK to feel down; when a friend has lost someone, we tell them everything is going to be OK – nobody reminds them of what a big loss they have just had; when someone is feeling down, we make it our responsibility to make them feel better – we don’t suggest that they try to express it through a form of art; a therapist is always expected to solve other people’s problems so that they feel better; counselling is always encouraged for people to get out of traumatic situations; when we are angry we are told to calm down because being calm makes it easier to be happy – nobody encourages us to listen to heavy metal music in that state of mind.

Ultimately, every state of mind that is not directly linked to being ‘happy’ is always judged to be something inferior – and people are expected to rise above it, whatever it takes. If we are unable to rise above it, we are then considered weak. If we are not considered weak, we are shown a lot of sympathy and/or pity. Being treated with sympathy or being considered weak – fact is that both these are still going to consider us to be inferior and as somebody who needs help. Note that both society and religion has already decided that every individual personally desires to be happy all the time. If there is an exception, then, well, there is apparently something wrong with that person. Right?

And this is where I have a problem. I realize everyone likes being happy – if happy things happened to them. I only question the deeply ingrained dogma of a society to judge a person who is not ‘happy’ as someone inferior to the rest. I also question the even more fundamental idea that everyone in this world should actively strive for happiness all the time and that everything else is a bad idea.

Being a human being is not just about being happy. We have evolved to be able to experience an unbelievable spectrum of emotions. Happiness is only one small part of it. Being happy makes you experience a certain specific sensation or feeling. If the sum total of all the feelings that we have experienced in our life is restricted to this one specific feeling, then can we even claim to have fully lived like a human being?

Happiness is good. But this should never imply the converse – that anything apart from happiness is miserable and unacceptable. And it should never make it acceptable for the society to simply demand and expect people to be happy all the time and consider them inferior if they are not. And so I personally reject all schools of thought that make happiness/salvation/enlightenment as the fundamental objective of a human being during his or her lifetime.

Come to think of it, if everyone from the beginning of time was happy all the time, how do you think our history would read? It would perhaps comprise of one sentence: “And then Mankind lived happily ever after”. That would be such a boring and one dimensional history and I would not want to be any part of it – even if it had made me happy.

******************************

In the next post, I will explore the role of ART in explaining why the societal and religious perception of happiness is incomplete and completely misplaced. 

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Why be happy when you can be sad?

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A Truly Depressing Winter in Iowa

Americans unable to communicate verbally after Congress bans use of the word ‘Like’

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.

No more Likes allowed

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.

Like here, like there, like everywhere

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.

The Benefits of a Biased Media

One of the things that has truly fascinated me after me coming to the USA has been the state of the mainstream media in the US.

For one, it is downright pathetic and despicable. News has been conveniently and deliberately replaced by a toxic amalgam of speculation, sensationalism, hype, exaggeration, “expert opinion”, and dramatized debates – all aimed at providing no useful information or perspectives. I have personally come across very few instances of actual news reporting over the past couple of years among American news channels.

Secondly, and perhaps, more significantly, almost every single news channel in the USA is, simply put, biased. It is either Left or Right. But, to me, what appears to be the real talking point  is that there is barely any effort made by the news channels to try to dispel the general impression of bias among the viewers. Yes there have been a few statements released by the channels and a few of them may even have something indicating no bias in their slogans. But these efforts appear to be nothing more than rhetoric. It is a way of saying : “We will say we are unbiased just because we are required to, but you the viewer already knows better.”

Unbalanced and not hiding it.

My intention here is not to expose the obvious fallacies in a biased media. It has been well documented and a google search will provide ample references to read through. Instead, I intend to explore the contrast I have seen with the biased media back in India. In fact, after due contemplation, I have come to realize and appreciate the NEED for a biased media.

Back in India, the story isn’t that different from the first point I mentioned earlier. It is equally pathetic and despicable and checks all the boxes of the toxic amalgam. It is also heavily biased. But where the Indian and American mainstream media differ, is that ALL the news channels in India are biased towards only one political party.

Just a quick summary of the current political scenario in India. The ruling party is the Congress (with its allies) and the main opposition party is the BJP (with its allies). The Congress party has historically dominated the elections and they have been in power for the past 7 years now. They are also extremely corrupt. The opposition party has had its own fair share of troubles from within and is now looking to challenge the upcoming 2014 elections with a popular and charismatic new leader in one Narendra Modi.

The mainstream media (both print and TV) have almost without exception stuck behind the ruling Congress party through all its scandals, failed economic policies and the impotent Prime Minister. News items are routinely twisted to portray the Congress in favorable light to the public. Questions are repeatedly asked of the BJP and its allies while no similar inquiry is made into the Congress. This process has been going on for a while now. So much so, it has become the norm of any news channel.

In such a situation, I have always looked at the US model of mainstream media – and its bias. If the Republican party leaders say something totally ridiculous (which appears to happen every other day nowadays), MSNBC will eat those Senators or Congressmen alive on Live television. Whenever a scandal breaks open for the Obama administration (which also appears to happen every other day nowadays), Fox News is right there to keep pounding on the issue till….well…the next scandal breaks out.

Ultimately, there is no letting up for either party. A Congressman can have some media outlets putting out a story in his/her favor but there is no stopping a bunch of other media outlets who will keep harping away at his/her story until something bigger comes up.

Now here is where the contrast becomes very evident. In a country where the entire news media favors one single party, the scales are already tilted. The solution to this does not involve in getting the existing news channels and print media to become unbiased. Instead, the balance in the scales can only be achieved by throwing an equal weight on the empty scale.

The subtleties and fine details of any bill, legislation, scandal, breakthrough or victory is best revealed through a critique. That is an observation I have repeatedly seen to be true. And simply put, there is just not enough air time for a news channel to critique/analyze BOTH sides of the story on any news item – definitely not when the priority is the previously mentioned toxic amalgam. In such a situation, the only solution is to create two extremes and allowing them to balance out the scales to the best of their abilities. This allows for both points of view to be presented in full and anybody who wishes to hear both sides of the story will have their needs met.

The downside of this proposition is the obvious. The general population may already have certain beliefs and opinions that are usually in agreement with one or the other political party. This inevitably leads them to watch the news channel that serves their bias. Because you see, when people watch news, they are not looking for information. They are looking for confirmation. This then becomes a classic case of confirmation bias – a perfect platform to reinforce already existing beliefs and opinions. So for instance, as time passes by, it will become increasingly difficult for a liberal to get himself to watch Fox News to see the other side of the argument.

Not to say that this isn’t already happening in the US. But the crux of my argument is that the alternative – a balanced and unbiased media –  is just not a reasonable expectation. If this is acknowledged, then the only other option that would balance the scales is having a fully biased media – with certain media outlets catering to one side of the story and another catering to the other side of the story.

Millions of people around the world go into depression after realizing Democracy does not work

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.

Depression is the only consequence

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.

Karma and the Just World Fallacy

The Just World Fallacy (or JWF hereon) is a fairly well known idea among psychology circles, even though outside of it, it hasn’t really created waves. It probably should. It has the power to make you feel horrible about the world.

Consider this:

YOU are walking by a busy street in Bangalore and spot two beggars, who are evidently in need of money and help. One is blind and the other is completely weak and malnourished. Of course you do not know the background or history of either of them. All you see are two beggars on a street begging for money.

Your friend next to you asks you, “Do they deserve to be so miserable?” What are YOUR first thoughts?

Consider another scenario:

YOU are glancing through a magazine not really reading any of the stories in depth, when you happen to see the cover story: “Two of the richest women in the country”. You take a look at both the women in it, acknowledge that they have a lot of money and then just move on to a different story. So you are completely unaware of the backgrounds of either of them.

A person sitting next to you asks you, “Wonder if those women deserve all that money?” What are your first thoughts?

Without knowing the background of each of the beggars, the first place your mind goes to is to think that these beggars had at some point made choices that made them deserve their current plight. And without knowing the history of the two women, the first place your mind goes to is that these two women must have made the right choices at some point that made them deserve all the money that they currently had.

THIS rationalization that you just did is what is called as the Just World Fallacy. The tendency of human beings to attribute good outcomes to good actions and bad outcomes to bad actions lies at the heart of this fallacy. We all do it – all the time. We make judgments on how each person deserved what they got or are going to deserve what they WILL get. We want to believe that making good choices in life will result in good outcomes and that making the bad choices is going to result in bad outcomes.

In other words, we want to believe that this world is ‘just’ and ‘fair’ and that whatever goes around comes around. And that ” …you want to believe hard work and virtue will lead to success, and laziness, evil and manipulation will lead to ruin, so you go ahead and edit the world to match those expectations.”  However, our failure to take into account chance and luck into the outcomes of the choices made is a clear demonstration of our own need for a just and fair world. We like to believe that we are in control of our lives – by making the right choices and by not making any bad choices. We do not like the results of our actions to be dependent upon chance. Hence, we embrace the Just World Fallacy.

Lady Of Justice

As much as this appears obvious, leading you to believe that YOU have never fallen prey to it, the truth is likely to be otherwise. This phenomenon is part of being human. So don’t blame yourself if you find you are guilty of it.

Now lets go back to the beggars and the women. You have already worked it out in your head that the beggars must have done something horribly wrong at some point of time to deserve this and that the women too, must have done something right at some point of time to deserve all that money.

Later, you learn about the beggars’ history and life. This is what you learn:

BEGGAR 1: A man bets all his life savings on a cricket match and loses it – all of it. He is bankrupt, cannot feed his family and is eventually deserted by his wife and kids. He becomes an alcoholic, loses his job and his life in general, becomes miserable. He now makes a living begging on the streets.

BEGGAR 2: Another man loses his parents when he was young in a car accident with a truck whose driver was drunk. This led him to be sent to an orphanage where he was a model boy leading a disciplined life. He then becomes a victim of human trafficking and ends up working as a slave to a wealthy man, occasionally molested  during the time. He then has his eyes taken out and is forced into begging. His ‘owners’  leave him to himself after a few years and he has since made a life out of begging on the streets.

Curious about the 2 women, you then decide to read the entire cover story. This is what you learn:

Woman 1: A middle class couple have a girl baby. They bring her up and give her all the education and love they can. She grows up to be an A-grade student at school, topping her class and getting into the best universities. She works hard and lands a well paying job and has now established a company by herself which is doing tremendously well. She is featured on the cover of a popular magazine as one of the richest women in the country.

Woman 2: Another middle class couple have a girl baby at about the same time. She is given a good education as well but she drops out of school and college as she does not make the grades – possibly due to her constant partying and neglect of her academics. She grows up to be a woman with very loose morals,  becomes an alcoholic and eventually gets into prostitution. She does not make any effort to start a new life and continues to make a living out of prostitution. One day she wins a Jackpot at the lottery and goes gambling. She wins all her hands and overnight becomes one of the richest women in the country. She is also featured on the same magazine cover . She now lives in a big mansion with a lot of servants and with her money safely stashed away.

NOW, what are your thoughts?

There are 4 scenarios here, with each scenario being a combination of the kind of choices one makes, and the eventual outcome. The possibilities are fairly evident: Bad choices/bad outcomes (Beggar 1); good choices/bad outcomes (Beggar 2); good choices/good outcomes (Woman 1); bad choices/good outcomes (Woman 2).

Our Just World Fallacy works perfectly well for Beggar 1 and Woman 1. For they both appear to get what they deserved. After all, the Beggar 1 did make the bad choice of betting all his money –  which is clearly a bad choice. And also that Woman 1 worked her way up the society with hard work, discipline and making the most out of what was given to her. On first thoughts, it appears that this is how the world functions and in fact, should function – the good getting rewarded while the bad getting punished.

Now lets get to the tricky part about the other beggar and the other woman.  Now that you are aware of the choices these two have made previously, do you still think they deserved what they got? Do you still want to believe that chance and luck have no bearing on the outcomes and that it is dependent only upon the choices you made?

Maybe deep down inside you know many times it just boils down to dumb luck and chance. But that knowledge doesn’t make you feel good about the world you live in. After all, how can someone who has made no wrong choice in his life end up on the streets as a blind beggar? Or how can someone who has wasted away their life and indulged in immoral activities become one of the richest women in the country?

So how does one explain this glaring anomaly in what we consider a fair and just world? The known causes and effects are not sufficient to explain, justify or rationalize what happened to these 2 people. But the fallacy is so strong that you WANT to believe in it –  no matter what. This is because you believe this world works under the just and fair laws of the entity we have come to refer to as God. And God always makes it right.

So then, how does God make his laws such that the situation with this seemingly unfortunate beggar and seemingly undeserving woman are justified?

Now, for a moment, let us go back in time – a few thousand years ago, when organized religion was still on the horizon and people were still preaching their God and their religion to their people. Now imagine if, during one of these preaching sessions, someone got up and asked the preacher something along these lines: “I have never committed a single misdeed that you have described in your teachings, but I lost my wife and son last week. My neighbor steals, cheats, kills and harasses people, but he is living perfectly well. How is this fair? My only daughter asks me why she lost her mother when she has been a good girl and did everything she was told? What do I tell her?”

Now if you are the preacher, you know that you have been preaching that this is a just and fair world and that God is always just – rewarding the good and punishing the bad. Then how do you explain to this man that what you have been preaching is still right?

Thousands of years ago, the preacher DID come up with an answer. And it was a masterstroke!

The answer comes in the form of Karmic retribution – or simply Karma.

Now do not underestimate the reach of this Karma. Unlike the straight forward manifestations of the JWF, Karma goes out and beyond to enforce it! Karma takes into account not just  the actions of the individual that they have committed in this life. No Sir! The Gods (or maybe just that charming preacher) have realized that, in order to make anomalies like the above two cases appear completely just and fair, Karma has to take into account the actions of the individual in his previous lives too!

Because you see, by including the activities performed by the individual in his previous life as potential ’causes’, one can explain and justify EVERYTHING that has ever occurred on this planet from the beginning of time and forever and ever!

Show me a man who has had the life much akin to Beggar 2, suffering bad outcomes after bad outcomes for absolutely nothing wrong he may have done in this life – and I will show you a religion which tells you that he is suffering because of something bad he must have committed in his previous lives. (Actually you can just look at Hinduism).

Show me a woman who gets rewarded even after having lived a wrongful and immoral life filled with neglect of responsibility  – and I will tell you that she had done something tremendously good in her previous life for her to deserve that sudden change of fortune!

And Karma doesn’t just stop there!

Show me a man who is getting away with crimes against humanity and is still living a luxurious care free life –  and I will tell you that he WILL SUFFER …. albeit in his NEXT life!

Show me a man who is doing all good deeds in this life but not getting rewarded in any way – and I will tell you that he WILL be REWARDED … albeit in his NEXT life!

The fact that the scriptures say you will go to hell if you do not believe this, coupled with the complete inability to know what EXACTLY the individual did in his/her previous life – gives rise to a tremendous masterstroke!

You now have an explanation for every seeming violation of God’s ‘just and fair’ laws while at the same time, there is no way that non-believers can disprove this – as the burden of proof (of choices in previous lives) is thrown upon the shoulders of the non-believers!

The preacher had told the skeptic: “You prove to me that your actions in the previous lives DO NOT affect your present outcomes and I will take back what I said. I believe that it does because God said so. And I believe in everything God says!”

To which the skeptic said, “Ok preacher. I believe in God now too. Because if I don’t, I might go to hell.”

So you see, the idea of Karma is a masterstroke. There is no way of disproving it for those who do not believe in it. And for those who do, well, there IS NO necessity for proof!

And so the world goes on, with people attributing every seeming violation of a just world law of God to some action the individual must have done in his previous lives. They convince themselves that he/she deserved whatever they got because God is only giving out justice by making them suffer!

Truly, what a sick world we live in….