by Vishveshwar Jatain on May 1, 2013
Free will often turns out to be a polarizing topic with most people. Almost everyone has a strong opinion on it one way or another. On one end of this debate, every incident, small or large, is deemed to be the doing of some higher power; all emergences part of a grand, predetermined scheme – from leaves rustling in an abandoned backyard to the supernova explosion in a faraway galaxy. On the other end is the view that within the confines of planet earth, every human is what he or she makes of himself or herself. No matter which side of the camp you’re on, these often deep-seated beliefs about the concept of free will stem from intuitive processes, just like believers and nonbelievers with respect to their conviction or disbelief in god – we “know”. We can’t conclusively prove why we know what we know (despite all the million dollar arguments and retorts), but we do.
I am not an exception to this rule. Ever since I can remember, I have always believed that the concept of free will is a misnomer and that we live in a deterministic universe – for everything that happens, there are conditions such that, nothing else could happen. One argument for this case: None of us have a recollection of choosing or consenting to live life, which is an event that predates and precedes all other events in every conceivable way – so doesn’t then the concept of free will go for a toss because its foundations are sketchy and shrouded in the unknown? An analogy would be a hamster in a box, who has freedom of movement within the box, while the choice to be inside the box was never in its spectrum of control, would you then say that the hamster is really free to act out its will? The point is this: Free will exists only as an all-encompassing concept, because when there are limits on when and where it can be applied; it signifies a defeat of the very power that it supposedly endows. And what if we did choose to live this life and just don’t know it? This counter-argument throws us in the territory of metaphysics – who knows what happened before life and what transpires after death, for all that is mere speculation.
Step down to more realistic scenarios and the story continues. When it comes to surviving, or rather thriving, the smartest thing that any of us could have done was to be born to the right parents at the right time in the right part of the world. Get born in an impoverished third world country to parents who are drug addicts and you’re off to quite a dismal start, your determination to rise above the circumstances notwithstanding. On the other hand, choose an affluent nation and parents who are evolved enough to enroll you into weekly piano lessons and you may just be on your way to becoming the next Mozart. In evolutionary psychology, nature and nurture are the pillars on which an individual life stands. Nature is what an organism is born with, the genetics, which in case of humans also governs the basic template of their personality: Will you be an extrovert or an introvert? Do you carry a hereditary risk of a certain ailment? Are you inherently more intelligent than an average person? Nurture is the environment which the organism grows up in, this includes among other things, early childhood experiences, how friendly or hostile the society is at the time, degree of wealth, and lack or abundance of healthy relationships. Even though nature and nurture are intrinsically linked and constantly affect and mold each other, at any stage of our lives, we are the composite sum total of both. Before you and I grew up and started making conscious decisions and took stock of our awareness, before you one day decided that you enjoy listening to classical music and I chose tea over coffee – we were born to our respective parents in a certain part of the world at a certain time, all a seemingly arbitrary combination. My second argument is this: If you had no control over your nature and nurture, which essentially makes you who you are, then how do you have control over anything else that follows? Is your reading this somewhere a conscious choice you made by clicking on a link? Or is it just a resultant effect of an ongoing process that started in the form of organic chemical reactions?
Lastly, I’d like to tackle the most overused question used to counter determinism: “If everything is decided by fate, why would we make any effort at all? Why work hard? Why improve? Why evolve?” This is a bit absurd. Imagine a man who jumps off a train that is running at a speed which forces the man to run alongside it till he slows down. Why run at all? Why make the effort? Why put strains on those hamstrings? The answer is momentum. Life is momentum. Death is the cessation of that momentum. While you can’t not run the stretch while you’re still alive, it doesn’t mean you choose the direction or pace – which in this analogy symbolize free will, an inspiring but ultimately baseless notion.
by Vishveshwar Jatain on April 20, 2013
Day 4 of not smoking. Any smoker would tell you that’s big. The first 72 hours of abstinence are the most difficult. The app on the phone tells me I’ve saved Rs. 350 and 3 1/2 hours of my life. Not too shabby. So I think I’ll reward myself.
“Maybe I’ll pick up a bottle of white wine on my way home from work.”
I park the car, get out and make my way to the wine shop. I ask the guy for Samara white and he tells me that they don’t have it, but I can look around for others. I make my way to the inside of the shop where an old uncle with a turban around his head (presumably the owner) is lounging — yeah, lying down inside the shop. He dismissively asks me what the hell I want. I tell him I want a Samara, but since they don’t have it, I’m looking for other options. I just about glance the shelf before the old man started grumbling about being specific. Now I don’t get this fucking attitude that some shop owners have, especially wine shops here. Am I not allowed to shop unless I have a list in my hand? It’s 3pm, hardly rush hour, your shop’s empty… get a grip, will you? So I storm out. Fuck this shit.
“Fine. There’s a cake shop close by. I’ll just buy a brownie.”
So I’m just browsing around trying to decide what to buy. Now the cake shop people are nice. Really nice. So nice that they were thoughtful enough to check: “Hey, did you park your car outside the kerb?” I reply no, absent-mindedly. Once it sunk in, I dash out to see my car being towed. What the hell. There was no “No Parking” sign. There are 10 other cars there, most of them white SUVs, which of course no one would touch, lest one of them turns out to be a neta’s ride. This enrages me. This “fuck the guy with the small car” mentality. But that’s how the world works. I tell the police constable that I didn’t know this was a no parking zone — though I wondered how I was ever supposed to — and that if he could please be nice enough to not tow it and resolve the issue on the spot instead. He tells me he’ll need Rs. 400 and my driver’s license. I give him that because anything’s better than having it towed. I follow him in my car to the police check post where another policeman writes me a challan. I show him my media card and ask him how the hell I was supposed to know of the no parking zone without a sign. He says, “Sir, aap pehle card dikha dete toh aapka challan nahi karte.” Now I don’t like flinging my media identity to get shit done just because I can. I would rather be treated like an average person, citizen, whatever — but clearly the average person is just fated to be doled out shit every day. Fuck this shit. I drive away angry. And I’m rarely angry. Worse, I don’t know who or what I’m angry at any more, with everything that happened in the last one hour.
“Well I’ll just reheat some food, watch TV, catch a nap and everything will be fine.”
Of course, the electricity goes off in the middle of me trying to reheat my food. I haven’t got an inverter yet, and it’s hot. The electricity doesn’t return for 4 hours.
Why universe, why? What’s stuck up your ass? Still not over the trauma suffered during the big bang, are we?
by Vishveshwar Jatain on March 21, 2013
Just a quick rant. Especially written with love for people who can’t help rolling their eyes at a rate that would put industrial nacho making machines to shame, whining ceaselessly about “oh-how-insufferably-boring-you-are”.
I am not boring. You’re bored. There’s a difference.
You’re a bored person. Your life is boring. Stop projecting that on the rest of us, who by the way, are pretty good at keeping ourselves entertained without external stimuli like god, thunder, and rain.
If you’re bored, find something to do. Did you know the world is a huge place with endless choices and options? At any moment, you can choose to discover something you didn’t know a minute before — groove to the new tune, read a fascinating blog post written by banker-turned-Buddhist-monk, go to Reddit and catch some cats doing some hilarious shit, take the rest of the day off and go watch discovery channel, try your luck with the PYT or the hot stud at the club. Get my drift?
Those are your options. Don’t come hissing in my hear about how I bore you, because all I hear is: “I am a boring person and I don’t know what to do about it.”
by Vishveshwar Jatain on January 17, 2013
I. Thou shalt always occupy the next free corner, if all are taken, thou shall awkwardly squeeze thyself into the center.
II. Thou shalt halt all your ongoing conversations no matter how important till such time the elevator gets empty.
III. Thou shalt fidget incessantly, avoid any and all eye contact with other human beings and generally act like you’re tripping acid.
IV. In presence of friends, thou shalt make eye gestures involving the utter absurdity of other people, and giggle on your way out.
V. Thou shalt whip out your cellular device and try your best to appear busy lest others wonder that you don’t have a life.
VI. Thou shalt not, under any circumstance, begin to masturbate in the elevator. If you absolutely must, do it facing the corner whilst ignoring everyone.
VII. Every once in a while, thou shalt get off on the wrong floor, and apologize inwardly for being the klutz that you are and for wasting everybody’s time.
VIII. Thou shalt take the stairs if thy stomach is making grumbling sounds of any manner or intensity. Ignoring this will almost certainly lead to embarrassment.
IX. Thou shalt not hold the elevator for a stranger even if said stranger has half his body stuck in the doors, thou must exercise total reluctance in such cases.
X. In case of a full elevator, thou shalt not offer a kind word to the people standing outside, not even a nod, just stare them dead in the eye until the doors close.
by Vishveshwar Jatain on January 3, 2013
I’m taking a break from the regular “13 ways to become a T-rex” and “how to make your granny shut up about your marriage” post styles.
I want to talk about some of the things that have been bothering me of late. First of all, I’ve been writing a lot less than I would like to. This post should hopefully alleviate some of that anxiety.
I’m 25. These are supposed to be some of the most important years of my life — as I’m told by all and sundry. I can’t say that I share the same joie de vivre. This is not to say there’s something drastically wrong with my life, but there doesn’t seem to be anything strikingly remarkable about it either. I have stupid problems like the fear of not coming across books that I would really enjoy reading and not having enough drive to join a gym — really mundane stuff. I have this guitar that I tried my hands on for a few days and then stopped. Why? Well, why do it? When I started working on my bucket list, I actually had to make up a few things because my mind was pretty much blank. I mean, is it okay to be completely devoid of any desires to do something or be someone or reach somewhere? That’s the real dichotomy. Society and culture tells me it’s not okay. I’m force-fed the idea that the death of desire and ambition is the end of life — so now I can’t even enjoy that simple feeling of doing nothing. So what does it all mean? Will I learn to make peace with this feeling of not moving anywhere and still being okay with it? (And understanding that there really is no need to be moving at all, just being where you are and what you are is enough.) Or will I grow old to realize that I should have crammed more life into my hours when I was younger? Who knows.
I guess you could call this a rut.