September 29, 2013

About Ayn Rand and Individualism

Well, the economic philosophy of Ayn Rand as sought to be implemented by one of her chief acolytes, Mr. Greenspan, has already been shown to be a massive failure. I think.
But here's the more important 'Idea of Ayn Rand.' I think it's about applying some THOUGHT to one's place or role in society and having some idea about the purpose or meaning of life.
Looked in that sense, the idea that Indians (even the 'elites' coming out of those top B schools or engineering colleges) might be something of individualists or non-conformists has got to be the most hilarious idea.
I mean, Indians are the most conformist, conservative kind of people/society out there. Even when they go abroad (to places such as where you live), they take their silliness with them and become Baba Ramdev devotees or Double Sri Ravi Shankar devotees. Can you think of anything more ridiculous and a more egregious example of 'non'-thinking?

I have heard of IT professionals from the South settled in the U.S. for long who make it a point to visit their village deity when they happen to visit India once in a while. It's like the story of Ramanujan's Goddess of Namakkal giving all those formulas to him in his dreams.
Indians mostly are incapable of separating the 'genius' part of Ramanujan from that (and other) idiosyncrasies of that one-of-a-kind individual.
I would say the 'idea' of 'Ayn Rand' is about being a 'rebel' in a certain sense.
Indians and the idea of being 'rebels'? Hilarious, right?
Who in India DOES NOT follow the well-trodden paths as laid down through the 'ages' by the supremely 'wise' *elders*:
First get an education ... nah, get a 'degree' -->> then get a job -->> then get married while invoking 95 different gods and performing silly, ridiculous and hilarious rituals for 29 days -->> then of course produce the 'mandatory' number of babies -->> oh and btw, in between buy this or that vehicle and take it to the nearest temple for the required blessings and buy a house and perform more effing 'rituals' called "house warming" and so on and so forth.
Well, really, to even REMOTELY even IMAGINE that Indians might have some Randian qualities is utterly ... well, it's like saying aliens have landed on Earth.
But in the American context, I think individualism is there — and that has both positive and negative implications. I think there is something about their culture which produces a Bill Gates ... propels a student to quit Harvard in the last year to start a company. And then others like Zuckerberg follow in those footsteps.
And what ingredients does it take to produce a Steve Jobs who grew up in a perfectly un-exceptional middle-class household? (Of course, he had the early-mover advantage of pretty much growing up in and along with Silicon Valley.)
I have been thinking of those superb (I am avoiding words like 'revolutionary' here) Apple ads which asked people to 'Think Different' which had words like these: "the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers."
And which went on: "Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do." I have been thinking about a little odd dichotomy.
Here's the contradiction: if you are asked to 'think different', then, when EVERYONE is buying an iPhone and so are you, it is NO LONGER an example of 'thinking different', is it? It's more like 'think like sheep.'
So, what's happening here?
Of course, Apple products sell because they are The Best and not because of some advertising.
But what explains those lines by Mr. Jobs? I think first of all, it says more about him then the consumers/customers.
Second, I think Mr. Jobs understood that people like the 'idea' of being 'rebels' and 'trouble makers' and not ... they 'like' to 'think' that they are non-conformists and making new trails and even doing a bit of 'changing the word.' Of course, they are not doing any of that.
All those Americans lining up to buy iPhones clearly won't be able to, for example, replicate the hippy-backpacker thing that Mr. Jobs spent six months in India doing.
Hell, it might be tough for even most Indians to live inside India here and there like a vagabond.
So, most Americans are conformists too. It's just that they are probably less conformist than Indians. Of course, I have absolutely NO IDEA about the bible-belt crazies, the Texans, the folks who populate the 'mega-churches' and so on ...
It seems to be that the really visionary thinkers are really, REALLY rare in any society. Take tiny 'small island' Britain. From Darwin to Bertrand Russell to Francis Crick ... Stephen Hawking and Richard Dawkins among the contemporaries.
America clearly has more of them. Silicon Valley and IT has produced many unique thinkers from Robert Noyce to Stephen Wolfram and Seymour Cray and no need to name the mainstream cultural icons and billionaires.
Then there are the inventors ... of whom only Dolby and Amar Bose come to mind at this moment. Then the Nobel laureates — whether in Physics or Economics or Medicine — pretty stand-out individuals in their own respects.
Here's a little story. David Hubel, a Nobel winning Neuro-scientist died this month. In the past week in fact. Here's a paragraph from his obituary in WaPo:
"Outside of academia, Dr. Hubel pursued a range of hobbies. He learned Japanese and French and studied astronomy. He was also a pianist and flutist. His interest in photography led to a friendship with Edwin H. Land, a co-founder of Polaroid."
The 'wealth' of talent is wonderfully illustrated in that anecdote. And then you add the others like Feynman and John Bardeen and so on.
From building airplanes at Boeing to landing on the Moon and on Mars, folks have done a LOT in the 20th century and even just after the Second World War.
Contrast that with India and Indians. Still wailing ba-ba Vivekananda. Or claiming that Sanskrit will cure cancer. Or, perhaps yoga will.
The score is not entirely blank, perhaps. Among our contemporaries, we have APJ Abdul Kalam and Dr. Devi Shetty.
I have been thinking about what 'framework' do we use when we 'think' about things? It seems to me that for an overwhelming majority of Indians, their canvas is confined in some critical ways to old shibboleths of thinking ... and I am not even sure I've used 'shibboleth' correctly there.
Speaking for myself, I like to imagine that my thinking about life and the 'meaning' of life and the purpose of existence and everything is colored and determined by whatever little I have studied. I have no problems admitting that I am not one of those who claim to have read 'thousands' of books. If you ask me, biographies of Subrahmanian Chandrasekhar, Srinivasa Ramanujan combined with bios of Hawking or Einstein or Dirac or anyone else of your choosing can give one a pretty good 'sense' of what life is about and most importantly, keep one humble.
But I think people of India do not learn 'lessons of life' from biographies: they prefer to 'follow' in the footsteps of their parents. They spend their entire lives in the company of their various 'relatives'. Indians quite often can go through their ENTIRE lives without becoming really close to anyone who is not a blood relation. This is kind of an invitation to disaster because it shows that one's mind is permanently closed.
What innovation and what individualistic thinking can you expect from such people?
For crying out loud, there are ef#ing BOOKS that Random House is publishing about stories of 'arrange marriage.' Yes. Can you believe that? People are still trying to find 'good stuff' about that e#fing 18th century deadwood.
Well, this post has grown just a 'little' bit long, I'm afraid.
So, I will stop. But not without pointing to one problem with 'individualism' too. I read with ... well, should I say 'amusement'? ... all those gun nuts in America who claim that the way to make things safer and the way to prevent mass shootings at schools/theaters and elsewhere is to arm more and more people. I was watching with some interest all those gun nuts who came out and so vociferously supported their 'rights' to 'bear arms' owing to some 18th century '2nd Amendment' or whatever.
So, there it is. While a culture of individualism may be mostly good and may lead to many positive innovations and benefits to society at large, it can make some folks ... are they only in rural Texas? ... pretty crazy too.

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