Saturday, July 28, 2007

38 Ways To Win An Argument

Arthur Schopenhauer
1 Carry your opponent’s proposition beyond its natural limits; exaggerate it. The more general your opponent’s statement becomes, the more objections you can find against it. The more restricted and narrow your own propositions remain, the easier they are to defend.
2 Use different meanings of your opponent’s words to refute his argument. Example: Person A says, “You do not understand the mysteries of Kant’s philosophy.” Person B replies, “Oh, if it’s mysteries you’re talking about, I’ll have nothing to do with them.”
3 Ignore your opponent’s proposition, which was intended to refer to some particular thing. Rather, understand it in some quite different sense, and then refute it. Attack something different than what was asserted.
4 Hide your conclusion from your opponent until the end. Mingle your premises here and there in your talk. Get your opponent to agree to them in no definite order. By this circuitous route you conceal your goal until you have reached all the admissions necessary to reach your goal.
5 Use your opponent’s beliefs against him. If your opponent refuses to accept your premises, use his own premises to your advantage. Example, if the opponent is a member of an organization or a religious sect to which you do not belong, you may employ the declared opinions of this group against the opponent.
6 Confuse the issue by changing your opponent’s words or what he or she seeks to prove. Example: Call something by a different name: “good repute” instead of “honor,” “virtue” instead of “virginity,” “red-blooded” instead of “vertebrates”.
7 State your proposition and show the truth of it by asking the opponent many questions. By asking many wide-reaching questions at once, you may hide what you want to get admitted. Then you quickly propound the argument resulting from the proponent’s admissions.
8 Make your opponent angry. An angry person is less capable of using judgment or perceiving where his or her advantage lies.
9 Use your opponent’s answers to your question to reach different or even opposite conclusions.
10 If your opponent answers all your questions negatively and refuses to grant you any points, ask him or her to concede the opposite of your premises. This may confuse the opponent as to which point you actually seek him to concede.
11 If the opponent grants you the truth of some of your premises, refrain from asking him or her to agree to your conclusion. Later, introduce your conclusions as a settled and admitted fact. Your opponent and others in attendance may come to believe that your conclusion was admitted.
12 If the argument turns upon general ideas with no particular names, you must use language or a metaphor that is favorable to your proposition. Example: What an impartial person would call “public worship” or a “system of religion” is described by an adherent as “piety” or “godliness” and by an opponent as “bigotry” or “superstition.” In other words, insert what you intend to prove into the definition of the idea.
13 To make your opponent accept a proposition, you must give him an opposite, counter-proposition as well. If the contrast is glaring, the opponent will accept your proposition to avoid being paradoxical. Example: If you want him to admit that a boy must to everything that his father tells him to do, ask him, “whether in all things we must obey or disobey our parents.” Or , if a thing is said to occur “often” you are to understand few or many times, the opponent will say “many.” It is as though you were to put gray next to black and call it white; or gray next to white and call it black.
14 Try to bluff your opponent. If he or she has answered several of your question without the answers turning out in favor of your conclusion, advance your conclusion triumphantly, even if it does not follow. If your opponent is shy or stupid, and you yourself possess a great deal of impudence and a good voice, the technique may succeed.
15 If you wish to advance a proposition that is difficult to prove, put it aside for the moment. Instead, submit for your opponent’s acceptance or rejection some true proposition, as though you wished to draw your proof from it. Should the opponent reject it because he suspects a trick, you can obtain your triumph by showing how absurd the opponent is to reject an obviously true proposition. Should the opponent accept it, you now have reason on your side for the moment. You can either try to prove your original proposition, as in #14, maintain that your original proposition is proved by what your opponent accepted. For this an extreme degree of impudence is required, but experience shows cases of it succeeding.
16 When your opponent puts forth a proposition, find it inconsistent with his or her other statements, beliefs, actions or lack of action. Example: Should your opponent defend suicide, you may at once exclaim, “Why don’t you hang yourself?” Should the opponent maintain that his city is an unpleasant place to live, you may say, “Why don’t you leave on the first plane?”
17 If your opponent presses you with a counter-proof, you will often be able to save yourself by advancing some subtle distinction. Try to find a second meaning or an ambiguous sense for your opponent’s idea.
18 If your opponent has taken up a line of argument that will end in your defeat, you must not allow him to carry it to its conclusion. Interrupt the dispute, break it off altogether, or lead the opponent to a different subject.
19 Should your opponent expressly challenge you to produce any objection to some definite point in his argument, and you have nothing to say, try to make the argument less specific. Example: If you are asked why a particular hypothesis cannot be accepted, you may speak of the fallibility of human knowledge, and give various illustrations of it.
20 If your opponent has admitted to all or most of your premises, do not ask him or her directly to accept your conclusion. Rather, draw the conclusion yourself as if it too had been admitted.
21 When your opponent uses an argument that is superficial and you see the falsehood, you can refute it by setting forth its superficial character. But it is better to meet the opponent with a counter-argument that is just as superficial, and so dispose of him. For it is with victory that you are concerned, not with truth. Example: If the opponent appeals to prejudice, emotion or attacks you personally, return the attack in the same manner.
22 If your opponent asks you to admit something from which the point in dispute will immediately follow, you must refuse to do so, declaring that it begs the question.
23 Contradiction and contention irritate a person into exaggerating their statements. By contradicting your opponent you may drive him into extending the statement beyond its natural limit. When you then contradict the exaggerated form of it, you look as though you had refuted the original statement. Contrarily, if your opponent tries to extend your own statement further than your intended, redefine your statement’s limits and say, “That is what I said, no more.”
24 State a false syllogism. Your opponent makes a proposition, and by false inference and distortion of his ideas you force from the proposition other propositions that are not intended and that appear absurd. It then appears that opponent’s proposition gave rise to these inconsistencies, and so appears to be indirectly refuted.
25 If your opponent is making a generalization, find an instance to the contrary. Only one valid contradiction is needed to overthrow the opponent’s proposition. Example: “All ruminants are horned,” is a generalization that may be upset by the single instance of the camel.
26 A brilliant move is to turn the tables and use your opponent’s arguments against himself. Example: Your opponent declares: “so and so is a child, you must make an allowance for him.” You retort, “Just because he is a child, I must correct him; otherwise he will persist in his bad habits.”
27 Should your opponent surprise you by becoming particularly angry at an argument, you must urge it with all the more zeal. Not only will this make your opponent angry, but it will appear that you have put your finger on the weak side of his case, and your opponent is more open to attack on this point than you expected.
28 When the audience consists of individuals (or a person) who is not an expert on a subject, you make an invalid objection to your opponent who seems to be defeated in the eyes of the audience. This strategy is particularly effective if your objection makes your opponent look ridiculous or if the audience laughs. If your opponent must make a long, winded and complicated explanation to correct you, the audience will not be disposed to listen to him.
29 If you find that you are being beaten, you can create a diversion--that is, you can suddenly begin to talk of something else, as though it had a bearing on the matter in dispute. This may be done without presumption if the diversion has some general bearing on the matter.
30 Make an appeal to authority rather than reason. If your opponent respects an authority or an expert, quote that authority to further your case. If needed, quote what the authority said in some other sense or circumstance. Authorities that your opponent fails to understand are those which he generally admires the most. You may also, should it be necessary, not only twist your authorities, but actually falsify them, or quote something that you have entirely invented yourself.
31 If you know that you have no reply to the arguments that your opponent advances, you by a find stroke of irony declare yourself to be an incompetent judge. Example: “What you say passes my poor powers of comprehension; it may well be all very true, but I can’t understand it, and I refrain from any expression of opinion on it.” In this way you insinuate to the audience, with whom you are in good repute, that what your opponent says is nonsense. This technique may be used only when you are quite sure that the audience thinks much better of you than your opponent.
32 A quick way of getting rid of an opponent’s assertion, or of throwing suspicion on it, is by putting it into some odious category. Example: You can say, “That is fascism” or “Atheism” or “Superstition.” In making an objection of this kind you take for granted 1)That the assertion or question is identical with, or at least contained in, the category cited; and 2)The system referred to has been entirely refuted by the current audience.
33 You admit your opponent’s premises but deny the conclusion. Example: “That’s all very well in theory, but it won’t work in practice.”
34 When you state a question or an argument, and your opponent gives you no direct answer, or evades it with a counter question, or tries to change the subject, it is sure sign you have touched a weak spot, sometimes without intending to do so. You have, as it were, reduced your opponent to silence. You must, therefore, urge the point all the more, and not let your opponent evade it, even when you do not know where the weakness that you have hit upon really lies.
35 Instead of working on an opponent’s intellect or the rigor of his arguments, work on his motive. If you success in making your opponent’s opinion, should it prove true, seem distinctly prejudicial to his own interest, he will drop it immediately. Example: A clergyman is defending some philosophical dogma. You show him that his proposition contradicts a fundamental doctrine of his church. He will abandon the argument.
36 You may also puzzle and bewilder your opponent by mere bombast. If your opponent is weak or does not wish to appear as if he has no idea what your are talking about, you can easily impose upon him some argument that sounds very deep or learned, or that sounds indisputable.
37 Should your opponent be in the right but, luckily for you, choose a faulty proof, you can easily refute it and then claim that you have refuted the whole position. This is the way in which bad advocates lose good cases. If no accurate proof occurs to your opponent, you have won the day.
38 Become personal, insulting and rude as soon as you perceive that your opponent has the upper hand. In becoming personal you leave the subject altogether, and turn your attack on the person by remarks of an offensive and spiteful character. This is a very popular technique, because it takes so little skill to put it into effect.
Source: Scribd
Img: flickr

Thursday, July 26, 2007

How To Deconstruct Almost Anything


My Postmodern Adventure

by Chip MorningstarJune 1993

"Academics get paid for being clever, not for being right."-- Donald Norman

The basic enterprise of contemporary literary criticism is actually quite simple. It is based on the observation that with a sufficient amount of clever handwaving and artful verbiage, you can interpret any piece of writing as a statement about anything at all. The broader movement that goes under the label "postmodernism" generalizes this principle from writing to all forms of human activity, though you have to be careful about applying this label, since a standard postmodernist tactic for ducking criticism is to try to stir up metaphysical confusion by questioning the very idea of labels and categories. "Deconstruction" is based on a specialization of the principle, in which a work is interpreted as a statement about itself, using a literary version of the same cheap trick that Kurt Gödel used to try to frighten mathematicians back in the thirties.
Deconstruction, in particular, is a fairly formulaic process that hardly merits the commotion that it has generated. However, like hack writers or television producers, academics will use a formula if it does the job and they are not held to any higher standard (though perhaps Derrida can legitimately claim some credit for originality in inventing the formula in the first place). Just to clear up the mystery, here is the formula, step-by-step:

Step 1 -- Select a work to be deconstructed. This is called a "text" and is generally a piece of text, though it need not be. It is very much within the lit crit mainstream to take something which is not text and call it a text. In fact, this can be a very useful thing to do, since it leaves the critic with broad discretion to define what it means to "read" it and thus a great deal of flexibility in interpretation. It also allows the literary critic to extend his reach beyond mere literature. However, the choice of text is actually one of the less important decisions you will need to make, since points are awarded on the basis of style and wit rather than substance, although more challenging works are valued for their greater potential for exercising cleverness. Thus you want to pick your text with an eye to the opportunities it will give you to be clever and convoluted, rather than whether the text has anything important to say or there is anything important to say about it. Generally speaking, obscure works are better than well known ones, though an acceptable alternative is to choose a text from the popular mass media, such as a Madonna video or the latest Danielle Steele novel. The text can be of any length, from the complete works of Louis L'Amour to a single sentence. For example, let's deconstruct the phrase, "John F. Kennedy was not a homosexual."

Step 2 -- Decide what the text says. This can be whatever you want, although of course in the case of a text which actually consists of text it is easier if you pick something that it really does say. This is called "reading". I will read our example phrase as saying that John F. Kennedy was not a homosexual.

Step 3 -- Identify within the reading a distinction of some sort. This can be either something which is described or referred to by the text directly or it can be inferred from the presumed cultural context of a hypothetical reader. It is a convention of the genre to choose a duality, such as man/woman, good/evil, earth/sky, chocolate/vanilla, etc. In the case of our example, the obvious duality to pick is homosexual/heterosexual, though a really clever person might be able to find something else.

Step 4 -- Convert your chosen distinction into a "hierarchical opposition" by asserting that the text claims or presumes a particular primacy, superiority, privilege or importance to one side or the other of the distinction. Since it's pretty much arbitrary, you don't have to give a justification for this assertion unless you feel like it. Programmers and computer scientists may find the concept of a hierarchy consisting of only two elements to be a bit odd, but this appears to be an established tradition in literary criticism. Continuing our example, we can claim homophobia on the part of the society in which this sentence was uttered and therefor assert that it presumes superiority of heterosexuality over homosexuality.
Step 5 -- Derive another reading of the text, one in which it is interpreted as referring to itself. In particular, find a way to read it as a statement which contradicts or undermines either the original reading or the ordering of the hierarchical opposition (which amounts to the same thing). This is really the tricky part and is the key to the whole exercise. Pulling this off successfully may require a variety of techniques, though you get more style points for some techniques than for others. Fortunately, you have a wide range of intellectual tools at your disposal, which the rules allow you to use in literary criticism even though they would be frowned upon in engineering or the sciences. These include appeals to authority (you can even cite obscure authorities that nobody has heard of), reasoning from etymology, reasoning from puns, and a variety of other word games. You are allowed to use the word "problematic" as a noun. You are also allowed to pretend that the works of Freud present a correct model of human psychology and the works of Marx present a correct model of sociology and economics (it's not clear to me whether practitioners in the field actually believe Freud and Marx or if it's just a convention of the genre).
You get maximum style points for being French. Since most of us aren't French, we don't qualify for this one, but we can still score almost as much by writing in French or citing French sources. However, it is difficult for even the most intense and unprincipled American academician writing in French to match the zen obliqueness of a native French literary critic. Least credit is given for a clear, rational argument which makes its case directly, though of course that is what I will do with our example since, being gainfully employed, I don't have to worry about graduation or tenure. And besides, I'm actually trying to communicate here. Here is a possible argument to go with our example:

It is not generally claimed that John F. Kennedy was a homosexual. Since it is
not an issue, why would anyone choose to explicitly declare that he was not a
homosexual unless they wanted to make it an issue? Clearly, the reader is left
with a question, a lingering doubt which had not previously been there. If the
text had instead simply asked, "Was John F. Kennedy a homosexual?", the reader
would simply answer, "No." and forget the matter. If it had simply declared,
"John F. Kennedy was a homosexual.", it would have left the reader begging for
further justification or argument to support the proposition. Phrasing it as a
negative declaration, however, introduces the question in the reader's mind,
exploiting society's homophobia to attack the reputation of the fallen
President. What's more, the form makes it appear as if there is ongoing debate,
further legitimizing the reader's entertainment of the question. Thus the text
can be read as questioning the very assertion that it is making.

Of course, no real deconstruction would be like this. I only used a single paragraph and avoided literary jargon. All of the words will be found in a typical abridged dictionary and were used with their conventional meanings. I also wrote entirely in English and did not cite anyone. Thus in an English literature course I would probably get a D for this, but I already have my degree so I don't care.
Another minor point, by the way, is that we don't say that we deconstruct the text but that the text deconstructs itself. This way it looks less like we are making things up.
That's basically all there is to it, although there is an enormous variety of stylistic complication that is added in practice. This is mainly due to the genetic drift phenomenon I mentioned earlier, resulting in the intellectual equivalent of peacock feathers, although I suspect that the need for enough material to fill up a degree program plays a part as well. The best way to learn, of course, is to try to do it yourself. First you need to read some real lit crit to get a feel for the style and the jargon. One or two volumes is all it takes, since it's all pretty much the same (I advise starting with the Culler book the way I did). Here are some ideas for texts you might try to deconstruct, once you are ready to attempt it yourself, graded by approximate level of difficulty:


Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and The Sea
Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers
this article (blogger's comment: wink wink)
James Cameron's The Terminator
issue #1 of Wired
anything by Marx


Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn
the Book of Genesis
Francois Truffaut's Day For Night
The United States Constitution
Elvis Presley singing Jailhouse Rock
anything by Foucault


Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene
the Great Pyramid of Giza
Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa
the Macintosh user interface
Tony Bennett singing I Left My Heart In San Francisco
anything by Derrida

Tour de Force:

James Joyce's Finnegans Wake
the San Jose, California telephone directory
IRS Form 1040
the Intel i486DX Programmer's Reference Manual
the Mississippi River
anything by Baudrillard

So, what are we to make of all this? I earlier stated that my quest was to learn if there was any content to this stuff and if it was or was not bogus. Well, my assessment is that there is indeed some content, much of it interesting. The question of bogosity, however, is a little more difficult. It is clear that the forms used by academicians writing in this area go right off the bogosity scale, pegging my bogometer until it breaks. The quality of the actual analysis of various literary works varies tremendously and must be judged on a case-by-case basis, but I find most of it highly questionable. Buried in the muck, however, are a set of important and interesting ideas: that in reading a work it is illuminating to consider the contrast between what is said and what is not said, between what is explicit and what is assumed, and that popular notions of truth and value depend to a disturbingly high degree on the reader's credulity and willingness to accept the text's own claims as to its validity.
Looking at the field of contemporary literary criticism as a whole also yields some valuable insights. It is a cautionary lesson about the consequences of allowing a branch of academia that has been entrusted with the study of important problems to become isolated and inbred. The Pseudo Politically Correct term that I would use to describe the mind set of postmodernism is "epistemologically challenged": a constitutional inability to adopt a reasonable way to tell the good stuff from the bad stuff. The language and idea space of the field have become so convoluted that they have confused even themselves. But the tangle offers a safe refuge for the academics. It erects a wall between them and the rest of the world. It immunizes them against having to confront their own failings, since any genuine criticism can simply be absorbed into the morass and made indistinguishable from all the other verbiage. Intellectual tools that might help prune the thicket are systematically ignored or discredited. This is why, for example, science, psychology and economics are represented in the literary world by theories that were abandoned by practicing scientists, psychologists and economists fifty or a hundred years ago. The field is absorbed in triviality. Deconstruction is an idea that would make a worthy topic for some bright graduate student's Ph.D. dissertation but has instead spawned an entire subfield. Ideas that would merit a good solid evening or afternoon of argument and debate and perhaps a paper or two instead become the focus of entire careers.
Engineering and the sciences have, to a greater degree, been spared this isolation and genetic drift because of crass commercial necessity. The constraints of the physical world and the actual needs and wants of the actual population have provided a grounding that is difficult to dodge. However, in academia the pressures for isolation are enormous. It is clear to me that the humanities are not going to emerge from the jungle on their own. I think that the task of outreach is left to those of us who retain some connection, however tenuous, to what we laughingly call reality. We have to go into the jungle after them and rescue what we can. Just remember to hang on to your sense of humor and don't let them intimidate you.
Source: Fudco
Img: Flickr

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

जीवन की आपाधापी में

- Haribansh Rai Bachchan

जीवन की आपाधापी में कब वक़्त मिला
कुछ देर कहीं पर बैठ कभी यह सोच सकूँ
जो किया, कहा, माना उसमें क्या बुरा भला।

जिस दिन मेरी चेतना जगी मैंने देखा
मैं खड़ा हुआ हूँ इस दुनिया के मेले में,
हर एक यहाँ पर एक भुलाने में भूला
हर एक लगा है अपनी अपनी दे-ले में
कुछ देर रहा हक्का-बक्का, भौचक्का-सा,
आ गया कहाँ, क्या करूँ यहाँ, जाऊँ किस जा?
फिर एक तरफ से आया ही तो धक्का-सा
मैंने भी बहना शुरू किया उस रेले में,
क्या बाहर की ठेला-पेली ही कुछ कम थी,
जो भीतर भी भावों का ऊहापोह मचा,
जो किया, उसी को करने की मजबूरी थी,
जो कहा, वही मन के अंदर से उबल चला,
जीवन की आपाधापी में कब वक़्त मिला
कुछ देर कहीं पर बैठ कभी यह सोच सकूँ
जो किया, कहा, माना उसमें क्या बुरा भला।
मेला जितना भड़कीला रंग-रंगीला था,
मानस के अन्दर उतनी ही कमज़ोरी थी,
जितना ज़्यादा संचित करने की ख़्वाहिश थी,
उतनी ही छोटी अपने कर की झोरी थी,
जितनी ही बिरमे रहने की थी अभिलाषा,
उतना ही रेले तेज ढकेले जाते थे,
क्रय-विक्रय तो ठण्ढे दिल से हो सकता है,
यह तो भागा-भागी की छीना-छोरी थी;
अब मुझसे पूछा जाता है क्या बतलाऊँ
क्या मान अकिंचन बिखराता पथ पर आया,
वह कौन रतन अनमोल मिला ऐसा मुझको,
जिस पर अपना मन प्राण निछावर कर आया,
यह थी तकदीरी बात मुझे गुण दोष न दो
जिसको समझा था सोना, वह मिट्टी निकली,
जिसको समझा था आँसू, वह मोती निकला।
जीवन की आपाधापी में कब वक़्त मिला
कुछ देर कहीं पर बैठ कभी यह सोच सकूँ
जो किया, कहा, माना उसमें क्या बुरा भला।

मैं कितना ही भूलूँ, भटकूँ या भरमाऊँ,
है एक कहीं मंज़िल जो मुझे बुलाती है,
कितने ही मेरे पाँव पड़े ऊँचे-नीचे,
प्रतिपल वह मेरे पास चली ही आती है,
मुझ पर विधि का आभार बहुत-सी बातों का।
पर मैं कृतज्ञ उसका इस पर सबसे ज़्यादा -
नभ ओले बरसाए, धरती शोले उगले,
अनवरत समय की चक्की चलती जाती है,
मैं जहाँ खड़ा था कल उस थल पर आज नहीं,
कल इसी जगह पर पाना मुझको मुश्किल है,
ले मापदंड जिसको परिवर्तित कर देतीं
केवल छूकर ही देश-काल की सीमाएँ
जग दे मुझपर फैसला उसे जैसा भाए
लेकिन मैं तो बेरोक सफ़र में जीवन के
इस एक और पहलू से होकर निकल चला।
जीवन की आपाधापी में कब वक़्त मिला
कुछ देर कहीं पर बैठ कभी यह सोच सकूँ
जो किया, कहा, माना उसमें क्या बुरा भला।

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Leisure | Things I wish I’d known when I was younger

Most people learn over time, but often learning comes too late to be fully useful. There are certainly many things that I know now that would have been extremely useful to me earlier in my life; things that could have saved me from many of the mistakes and hurts I suffered over the years—and most of those that I inflicted on others too.

I don’t buy the romantic notion that my life has been somehow richer or more interesting because of all the times I screwed up; nor that the mistakes were “put” there to help me learn. I made them myself—through ignorance, fear, and a dumb wish to have everyone like me—and life and work would have been less stressful and more enjoyable (and certainly more successful) without them. So here are some of the things I wish I had learned long ago. I hope they may help a few of you avoid the mistakes that I made back then.
  • Most of it doesn’t matter. So much of what I got excited about, anxious about, or wasted my time and energy on, turned out not to matter. There are only a few things that truly count for a happy life. I wish I had known to concentrate on those and ignore the rest.
  • The greatest source of misery and hatred in this world is clinging to past hurts. Look at all the terrorists and militant groups that hark back to some event long gone, or base their justification for killing on claims of some supposed historical right to a bit of land, or redress for a wrong done hundreds of years ago.
  • Waiting to do something until you can be sure of doing it exactly right means waiting for ever. One of the greatest advantages anyone can have is the willingness to make a fool of themselves publicly and often. There’s no better way to learn and develop. Heck, it’s fun too.
  • Following the latest fashion, in work or in life, is spiritual and intellectual suicide. You can be a cheap imitation of the ideal of the moment; or you can be a unique individual. The choice is yours. Religion isn’t the opiate of the masses, fashion is.
  • If people complain that you’re too fond of going your own way and aren’t fitting in, you must be on the right track. Who wants to live life as a herd animal? The guys in power don’t want you to fit in for your own sake; they want you to stop causing them problems and follow their orders. You can’t have the freedom to be yourself and meekly fit in at the same time.
  • If you make your work your life, you’re making your life into hard work. Like most people, I confused myself by looking at people like artists and musicians whose life’s “work” fills their time. That isn’t work. It’s who they are. Unless you have some overwhelming passion that also happens to allow you to earn a living doing it, always remember that work should be a means to an end: living an enjoyable life. Spend as little time on the means as possible consistent with achieving the end. Only idiots live to work.
  • The quickest and simplest way to wreck any relationship is to listen to gossip. The worst way to spend your time is spreading more. People who spread gossip are the plague-carriers of our day. Cockroaches are clean, kindly creatures in comparison.
  • Trying to please other people is largely a futile activity. Everyone will be mad at you sometime. Most of the people you deal with will dislike, disparage, belittle, or ignore what you say or do most of the time. Besides, you can never really know what others do want, so a good deal of whatever you do in that regard will go to waste. Be comforted. Those who love you will probably love you regardless, and they are the ones whose opinions are worth caring about. The rest aren’t worth five minutes of thought between them.
  • Every winner is destined to be a loser in due course. It’s great to be up on the winner’s podium. Just don’t imagine you can stay there for ever. Worst of all is being determined to do so, by any means available.
  • You can rarely, if ever, please, placate, change, or mollify an asshole. The best thing you can do is stay away from every one you encounter. Being an asshole is a contagious disease. The more time you spend around one, the more likely you are to catch it and become one too.
  • Everything takes twice as long as you plan for and produces results about half as good as you hoped. There’s no reason to be downhearted about this. Just allow for it and move on.
  • People are oddly consistent. Liars usually tell lies. Cheaters cheat whenever it suits them. A person who confides in you has usually confided in several others first—but not got the response they wanted. A loyal friend will stay loyal under enormous amounts of thoughtless abuse.
  • However hard you try, you can’t avoid being yourself. Who else could you be? You can act and pretend, but the person acting and pretending is still you. And if you won’t accept yourself—and do the best you can with what you have—who then has any obligation to accept you?
  • When it comes to blatant lies, there are none more egregious than budget figures. Time spent agonizing over them is time wasted. Even if (miracle of miracles!) yours are honest and accurate, no one else will have been so foolish.
  • The loudest noise in the world is the sound of people whining. Don’t add to it.

Adrian Savage is a writer, an Englishman, and a retired business executive, in that order, who now lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his other articles at Slow Leadership, the site for everyone who wants to build a civilized place to work and bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership and life. Recent articles there on similar topics include Chickens, eggs, and happiness and Why perfection isn’t a viable goal. His latest book, Slow Leadership: Civilizing The Organization, is now available at all good bookstores.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Don’t Equate Booty With Brilliance

Mahesh Bhatt

"Wealth is based on insights. A nation’s growth turns on one key factor, which is, its openness to new ideas and its ability to mobilise and harness the creative energies of its people. Regardless of industry or profession, our future value will come from our capacity to create, originate and innovate...’’ said a senior World Bank official to me recently.

Corporations have always regarded creativity as a major driving force in their success. However, most corporations tend to confuse creativity with productivity. It is time that they realise that great advances in the creative field have always come from ideas, and ideas do not fall from the sky or grow on the trees. They flower in the hearts of the people. It’s people who write great screenplays on which a multi-billion dollar film is based. It is people in whose hearts great musical scores are born, which, in turn, kick-starts the fortunes of a dying music industry.
It was not the state-of-the-art technology and acoustics which the industry paid fortunes for, but a Nadeem-Shravan in the nineties, and now Himmesh Reshammiya, who has become the life support system of the music industry. The history of Hollywood was rewritten by a group of young filmmakers like Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola, who brought dazzling new concepts and ideas into the film domain. Hollywood icon Robert Redford says it all with these words: Do you think the world was created by an accountant? No! The universe was created by the combustion of a creative explosion. Fire and chaos started everything. Then order came on top of that.
Today, when I look around, I find that in this ‘Age of Ideas,’ the creative spirit has somehow gotten buried beneath the ferocity of artificial financial engineering. I find that in our frenzy to produce the illusion of growth, too many companies have started relying on acquisitions, aggressive accounting practi-ces, and financial revenue-boosting techniques, rather than innovation of genuinely new markets, products, and services. The other sad characteristic of these times is that in this so-called technological age, we have become a nation that is investing more in technology than in our people. When will begin to see that gadgets and structures are not enough for a firm’s success. It’s high time that managements began to focus on what their creative work force ‘think’ instead of what the management does.

The paradox of our times is that we are fast becoming a world, which is rich in technology but bereft of ideas. Today, we make celebrities of the rich and equate their booty with brilliance, when their success has more to do with cunning and pure marketing.
The real predicament facing the world and particularly the global entertainment industry is a threatening shortage of creative talent. Even the US, which has been the Goliath of the global economy, is struggling to maintain its global supremacy since terrorism made it shut its doors to the flow of creative talent, which for years, has contributed to make it a land of opportunity and innovation.
Do you know that in the United States, scientists, entertainers, architects, lawyers, financiers and others, who make their livelihood “creatively”, outnumber traditional blue-collar workers? Though this creative class makes up just 30% of the US workforce, it earns nearly half of the nation’s wages and gives America its creative clout.
We have a lesson to learn from the United States. It’s high time that our government and the private sector began investing generously in our creative people and developed an infrastructure to educate, inform and inspire them on an on going basis. I’m glad that in our world, film makers like Subhash Ghai and Anupam Kher have taken the lead to create film and acting schools. There are also welcome signs that the Film and Television Institute of India is making that brave attempt to play the role it was originally fashioned to play. Their effort to invest in screenwriters and give them centrestage deserves to be applauded. But these are isolated attempts that are too few for a nation of one billion people.
What leaders need to do is to create a great sense of urgency and inject that into their people and into their systems. But that will only happen if the leaders themselves begin to recognise that there is a gap between the ground reality and their claims and expectations. The problem is that most of us become the victims of our own hype, and mistake our aspirations to be our reality.
To take an example, the products that Bollywood manufactures are far below global standards. Every year, our stars and starlets go to the Cannes film festival to hob-nob with the mighty players from the rest of the world. But the truth is none of our movies even qualify for competition. Getting bigger does not mean getting better. Our creative wells are running dry. Cynics say that our innovators are dead. But I do believe that the creative spirit is still very much alive and kicking within us. It is the imperative and moral responsibility of our leaders to uncover, restore, and revitalise the nation’s imaginative resources and make it erupt.
Our businessmen need to realise that creativity is not a tangible asset like gold or silver, which can be hoarded or fought over, or even bought and sold. The creativity of the human race is like liberty, which can be used for the common good. It is the essential perfume of life that belongs to everyone. It just needs to be nourished, renewed and maintained, or else it will wither and die.

—The writer is a Mumbai-based film maker

WTF of the Week

“It was shocking as well as suspicious on the part of the government to send soldiers from the Battalion involved in the killing and disappearance of many civilians in the recent past,” Minister for Information and Communication Krishna Bahadur Mahara (CPN Maoist).

Why tell half the truth, Mr Mahara? And on what moral grounds?

Sunday, July 22, 2007

In defense of dangerous ideas

In every age, taboo questions raise our blood pressure and threaten moral panic. But we cannot be afraid to answer them.