Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Which path?

In an article in Business Line, T.C.A. Srinivasa-Raghavan points out that Prime Minister Dr.Manmohan Singh and Economist, Dr. Amartya Sen share a quality that is central to their success; neither takes any but the most central of positions on any issue. The Left and the Right could both claim them as well as criticise them. No one knows what they really stand for.

They believe that the ‘middle path’ is the most pragmatic route to take. You could say that both men want to have the cake and eat it too. On the other hand, you can’t pin them down, because both can trot out opposing quotes or theorems. In a way, concludes Srinivasa-Raghavan, they typify what the poet A.K. Ramanujam described in his perceptive essay called Is there an Indian way of thinking?.

(In that essay Ramanujam had observed that Indians don’t have an absolute sense of morality. Context is everything. The same action can be viewed as objectionable in one context, but permissible or even desirable in another.

In fact, the essay opens with the assertion that even the question Is there an Indian way of thinking?can mean different things and elicit different answers depending on which word you choose to stress, as in:

Is there an Indian way of thinking?
Is there an Indian way of thinking?
Is there an Indian way of thinking?
Is there an Indian way of thinking?)

Anyway, going back to the ‘middle path’ theory. This seems to suggest that the practitioners of this method carefully evaluate the two extreme positions of the spectrum, and then take an average of both to determine the coordinates of the path they ought to take. So, if one extreme position is that India should open its doors unconditionally and fully to foreign investments, and another is that we should hermetically seal ourselves and prevent the entry of more East India Companies, then Dr Manmohan Singh will adopt the policy of allowing FDI upto 49% of equity in select sectors for a limited period and subject to Govt approval, leaving the holders of both extreme positions bewildered .

I have tried to apply this principle myself. When a blogger takes an extreme position, I make sure that I read the views of another blogger with an opposing view, so that I can then carefully balance the views and take a middle position.

The problem is that when I read the first blogger’s views, I get totally convinced. When I go across to the blogger who has diametrically opposite views and read the posts there, I get equally convinced that he or she is right. This leaves me thoroughly confused and unable to cling to either of the positions, or to take a middle path. A blog I read regularly had provided a remarkably cogent argument to prove that climate change was real and could wipe out humanity by the year 2030. This was so convincing that I couldn’t find a single flaw in the reasoning. Hurriedly, I went across to another blog, which dismissed the whole thing as hype created by doom-mongering Cassandras. Again, I couldn’t pick a single hole in the reasoning.

You must have heard the following story before:

Prosecution : Based on the evidence, Your Honour, it is clear that the defendant has committed the crime.
Judge: You are right. I tend to agree.
Defence : Your honour, the evidence is entirely fabricated and my client was nowhere near the scene of the crime.
Judge : You are right. I tend to agree.
Clerk: But, Your Honour, both of them can’t be right.
Judge : You are right too.

I feel like that Judge most of the time.


Anonymous said...

haha so true

Rachna said...

I agree. I have been vacillating between arguments myself especially with regards to the recent Mumbai attacks and India's response to it. Today, I read an editorial and felt that India should really take some concrete action. At other times, on reading other views I felt that India should be a little soft. It is all a vicious cycle. All arguments make sense :)

Usha said...

Have you ever been asked to moderate an argument between your daughters or with their mom? That would be fun to watch I think...

Raj said...

Rachna, welcome to the Vacillators Club.

Usha, you are right too,