The Logical Extreme

August 21, 2009

Supporting freedom of speech and expression is a bit of a spectrum. On one end there is the complete commitment to free speech, consequences to anybody be damned. On the other end there is North Korea.

In between, there’s the hypocritical commitment to free speech in Indian politics where Shashi Tharoor will criticise Modi banning Jaswant Sinha’s book but say nothing about Congress government bans on Nine Hours to Rama, The Satanic Verses, and James Laine’s books. There’re also the Hindutvawadis who are all for free speech when it comes to Taslima Nasreen and the Danish Muhammad cartoons, but suddenly do an about face when it comes to MF Hussain and the poor chap in Vadodara.

But even if you’re not committed to free speech at a fundamental or ideological level, there’s a very good selfish reason to support it, or to speak up for any poor bastard who’s getting thulped for having caused offense: if people who are actually offensive and obnoxious can get away with it, people who’re entirely innocent don’t have anything to worry about. If Muslims can depict Hindu gods any way they like even if they are blatantly hurtful or derogatory, Hindus can also depcit gods in any manner, even if these are not traditional and a little edgy. Conversely, if offended Hindus can get away with hounding Muslims, they’ll soon start going after offensive Hindus too. And apparently we have already slipped down that particular slope:

Dr Subodh Kerkar, an artist based in the holiday resort state of Goa, had announced the exhibition of his sketches, which depicts Lord Ganesh in different form including the one holding Oscar award.

I have been receiving phone calls which threatens me with dire consequences. They told me that they will chop off my fingers for indulging in such act, Dr Kerkar told daijiworld from his gallery at Calangute, a beach village in North Goa.

The series of calls for the painter started when Sanatan Saustha, a hard core Hindu organization through its mouthpiece, Sanatan Prabhat carried the sketches appealing `Hindus to call up Dr Kerkar and express their anguish.

The paintings means no offence to any religion. They are my ex-pression of creativity, Dr Kerkar said. The painter said that he himself is a devotee of Lord Ganesh and has always been inspired by him.


He got into trouble for painting Ganesh with an Oscar. At this rate Tantra T-shirts are doomed.

Once upon a time, being violent to members of your religion for not being pious enough was something that the Dukhtaran-e-Millat used to do in Kashmir. It’s tragic that now we Hindus are sinking to that level.

And While We’re Discussing Knee Jerk Reactions…

December 18, 2008

Masabi has a sooper post up about the ill-conceived Small Change petition.

Tibetan is the New Jew?

November 14, 2007

Haven’t thought this through, really, but here’s the funda:

For two thousand years, the Jews were refugees from the promised land. They were persecuted all across Europe, repeatedly expelled by various monarchs, segregated, and ultimately faced genocide (through the Russian pogroms or the German Holocaust).

Then they made it to America, where the American Constitution protected them from state persecution, and a capitalist economy helped them become enormously rich and successful.

In the twentieth century, the Tibetans were expelled from their land and became refugees in India. They’ve lived on the margins ever since. Are economic growth and freer markets going to empower them as much as they did the Jews in America?

Pertinently: if it does, could this finance something equivalent to a Zionist movement for Tibetans? (The difficulty being faced here is that America and the Holy Land never shared a border, while India, Tibet and China most definitely do.)

Thio Li-Ann Nails It

October 25, 2007

Speaking against the decriminalisation of gay sex, Singapore MP Thio Li-Ann says:

Consent to harmful acts is no defence – otherwise, our strong anti-drug laws must fall as it cannot co-exist with letting in recreational drugs as a matter of personal lifestyle choice [..]


Exactly. The next time you abuse libertarians for being idiots who want to legalise drugs, and free up gun ownership, and do other such nasty things, please remember that once you give a government the moral authority to ban things that are bad for you, you give it the moral authority to ban everything, including who you have sex with.

Equality and Equalisation

May 13, 2007

The FGB writes about Dalit participation in the UP elections, and makes an excellent point:

There is nothing radical being said here. I am just advocating equality. The politicians and the armchair economists and political theorists on the other hand are always lobbying for equalisation.

But the most important paragraph is this one:

Instead we do not what is right, but what is easiest. Oppress them with state machinery, and then buy them out (if we allow them to vote) in return for IIM seats.

This is a massively important insight into how the Indian government works- not just in the realm of social justice, but in many others as well. I’ll make my own post on it sometime.

Meanwhile, read the whole thing.

The One Protects The Other

October 19, 2006

Over the last few days, the comments in my controversial, disgust-inducing post have moved from outrage to debate. People who came in appalled at my use of such a crude analogy have begun to see the point behind the analogy, even if they don’t agree with it: that your body is as much your own private property as your house or your business is. If you are forced to throw open access to your property, you may as well be forced to throw open access to your body.

There are two points of contention now: is is patronising and patriarchal or even correct to compare a body to property? Secondly, even if you do accept that a body is property, isn’t your body more intimately connected to your dignity and right to life than your property?

I’d like to start off by trying to bring you around to my point of view. Let’s take the easiest case first: you think that a body is a special case of property, and has much more inviolable rights than any other sort. You’re willing to compromise a little on what you’ve bought or inherited, as long as your body and your dignity are given the uncompromising respect they deserve.

But where does the boundary between the body and property begin? When a street harasser leers and stares at a woman, he isn’t touching her body, but he still violates her personal space and her dignity. If he goes on to scribble graffiti on her scooter- violating her property- he’s still violating her dignity.

What I’m trying to say here is that the line between your body and your property isn’t such a sharp one where your dignity is concerned. And my ‘slipping’ from property rights to rights over a woman’s body is justified.

But what if you believe that a body isn’t property at all? Or that the comparison itself is outrageous and reduces people to things? Read this very well-written essay, please, which explains much better than I can why comparing people to property is not just correct but desirable.

But what if you remain unconvinced? You think that the logic in that essay is faulty, or that the author started from false premises. That it’s an axiom or an article of faith that people cannot, must not, be property. In fact, forget what you think? Suppose it’s indisputably true that a body is not property?

My point holds even then. If you do not respect property, it is impossible to respect dignity and life.

If you say that the right to property does not automatically lead to the right to life and dignity being established, you’re correct. A Dalit might own milllions in assets, but a Brahmin might still refuse to eat with her. But the right to dignity and the right to lilfe are meaningless if the right to property isn’t present. I’ll explain how.

Example one:

We live in a world where you have the right to life and dignity but not the right to property. You are an asthamatic and you need a nebulizer to survive. Now I take your nebulizer away. You have no property rights, so you can’t protest when I say that your nebulizer should be used as a toy for a poor child instead of the eliltist purpose of maintaining your good health. And despite your right to life, you die because your property rights weren’t protected.

You’ll point out that this is a ridiculous example. For starters, the world is not made up of asthma patients. Even if it was, it’s obvious that taking away a nebulilzer endangers your right to life. You can prevent it on the simple grounds of protecting your right to lilfe rather than your right to property.

Okay, so let’s examine Example Two:

We live in a world where you have the right to life and dignity but not the right to property. Since you have no right to property I sieze all your money, all your real estate, everything you have. Even when you earn something, I sieze that, and use it for the greater good of society. Without any money, you starve, and eventually die of malnutrition. But before you die, you suffer the indignity of being weak and frail, struggling to be productive at work, and being unable to provide for your family. But hey, that’s eventually. I’m not directly violating your life or your dignity. You’ll be alive for a few months before starvation kills you. You’ll hold on to hope for a few weeks before you lose that and your dignity with it.

Again, you could point out that this is a stupid example. Even if it doesn’t kill someone directly, it doesn’t take a genius to see that starvation will eventually kill someone. I am clearly violating your life and dignity, even if I’m doing it by degrees.

So now let’s move on to Example Three:

Once again, we’re in our world without property rights. Once again, I take everything you own and everything you earn after that. I get away with it because you reallly don’t have a right to that property. But I acknowledge your right to life, so I make sure you get enough to eat every day. I acknowledge your right to dignity, so my security guard beats up anyone who mocks you, or tries to assault you in any way. Your right to life and right to dignity are both being secured by me. Of course, instead of eating just enough to prevent starvation, you could be spending your money on food you actually liked. Instead of depending on my security guard, you could depend on the locked door of your own house. But you’re still alive, right? Nobody’s violating your dignity, right? What you could be doing is just hypothetical.

But isn’t your dignity being violated by the very fact that you’re utterly dependent on me? No better than my slave? Isn’t your life under threat because I could change my mind any time?

Isn’t it your definition of dignity that should matter, not mine?

Isn’t it your right to property, and your right to use your property any way you feel like which ensures that you can protect your dignity as you see fit?

Let’s start from the beginning.

  1. Tejal made an assertion that debating access to institutions was irrelevant as long as you were prepared to accept the existence of the institutions themselves.
  2. Tejal further suggested that we should question the system that allowed the existence of such institutions.
  3. The system that allows the existence of such institutions is the system of property rights that allows a property owner to use his property as he sees fit. This system gives him the right to keep criminals, miscreants, and troublemakers off his property. As a natural fallout, it also gives him the right to debar law-abiding or well-behaved people who he is prejudiced against.
  4. I am willing to question the existence of this prejudice. I am willing to accept non-coercive methods to mitigate its effects. But if I try to dismantle the system that makes it possible, I’m also dismantling the system that gives me the right to keep thugs off my property. I’m dismantling the system that prevents anybody from the Bajrang Dal to the CPI(ML) to the Bombay Quiz Club to the FIFA from demanding I hand my money over to them. I am dismantling the system that gives me the right to decide where my personal space begins and ends, and who I allow inside it.

You don’t need to believe that a human being is property, or that humans own themselves. You don’t need to believe that the rights to property are as important as the right to life. But that doesn’t matter. Property rights guarantee your right to life no matter what you believe. The one protects the other.

Arseholes and Engendering Elitism

October 17, 2006

Now that everyone is done being outraged about my language, can we step back and take a look at the actual argument, please? Thank you.

I first thought of making this post a week or more ago, when I first read the original comment. The post I wrote in response was what I felt immediately on reading it. I saved it as a draft, but refrained from posting it knowing that the language would offend some people. After a week of thought, I decided to post it as it was.

Why did I post it with that specific example instead of toning it down? Because I deliberately intended to be provocatice and jolt the readers out of their comfort zones. I could have written a longer, politer, more expository and detailed piece about how Tejal was attacking the same system that guaranteed her life, sexual emancipation, and overall freedom, and people would have slipped by it bored. That is not the inattention an idea of this magnitude deserves.

Let’s look at how I could have responded in a ‘politer way’. I could have written this, for instance:

I think Tejal should set an example for the rest of us by ‘depriviledging’ her drawing room and throwing it open to everyone: Thakurs, Dalits, Maoists, the John Birch society, illegal Bangladeshi immigrants and to the libertarian cartel for our next meeting. I see no reason why everyone should be a have-not when it comes to having a place to meet, especially when Tejal has the power to make everyone a have.

Fair enough, right? I draw out the absurdity of Tejal’s argument without pushing the wrong buttons and stepping on the sensitive subject of sexual assault. But let’s consider for a moment that this actually happened. After all, turning a drawing room into an open meeting place is not such an irrational demand. Then, what stops me from writing this:

I think Tejal should set an example for the rest of us by ‘depriviledging’ her bank account and throwing it open to everyone: TamBrams, OBCs, Mother Teresa’s home for the Destitute, the Cato Society, Shivam and Nilu. After all, there’s no reason why they should be have-nots when Tejal has it in her power to provide them funds they need and can make good use of and turn them into haves.

And now the demand is a bit more unreasonable. But how far is it from a drawing room to a bank account? Letting random people access your house and your money both pale in comparison to letting them assault your body, right?

But, hey, since we’ve already opened up access to Tejal’s money, and it really isn’t that important compared to her dignity, let’s go a little bit further. After all, her body is the important thing out here. Her property, we can be flexible on.

I think Tejal should set an example for the rest of us by ‘depriviledging’ her working hours. Why should her employer or her professors be the only ones to make demands on her time? The Indian Cancer Society desperately needs volunteers. I desperately need a secretary. Dominos could really do with another delivery girl. Why should we be denied Tejal’s labours when it’s in her power to turn us into haves?

And now Tejal works for us for free. But hey, nobody’s anally violating her, which is the important thing, right? So now we take one more step.

I think Tejal should set an example by ‘depriviledging’ her body and donating her kidney. There’s this guy who really needs it, and Tejal’s a perfect donor. Why is she turning him into a have-not? It’s his llife at stake?

Oh, come on. It’s a kidney. You can get by on one kidney. Why wouldn’t Tejal agree? Fine, so let’s take one more tiny baby step.

I think Tejal should set an example by ‘depriviledging’ her body and letting infertile couples use her womb. They want kids so badly and don’t have any. Why is Tejal engendering this medical barrier by refusing to give out her womb?

All in a good cause, right? How far is it from here to raping Tejal? If her drawing room, her time and effort, her blood and organs are free for the taking, why not the rest of her?

This is why I started with the anal rape example: because it gets people outraged and excited. Because they respond to the fact that it is one of the most appalling crimes anybody can commit. Because you need to understand that the policy Tejal has advocated is the one which will lead to her loss of control over her own body. The earnest young leftist who says that the elite shouldn’t be allowed to decide who they can let on to their property is morally equivalent to the Congress (I) goon of 1984 who said that Sikh households were free for looting, or to the Bajrang Dal goons in Gujrat who said that Muslim women were theirs to rape.

Yes, we can debate elitism. I think the pros of elitism outweigh the cons, but I can appreciate and sympathise with people who want to mitigate or elilminate the cons. But when someone wants to pull down the system of property rights just because elitism flows out from it, they’re on the path to self-destruction. They would do well to remember it.