Last Tuesday, the Dean of the Faculty of Science proposed a merger plan to merge the departments of computer science and math into one. The meeting invitation went out to the faculty and the students only a day ago in the midst of a busy teaching bloc. The merger was reported in the University Post. This has sparked a spate of opinions which all seem to point to the utter absurdity of the move especially since it was tried 2.5 years ago and failed, and nothing has changed since then other than the reasons against it. A lot of conspiracy theories are also doing the rounds. Whatever the real reasons behind the merger may be, what is clearly apparent is the fact that the move has not been thought out well by the Dean’s office and has not encapsulated the people it concerns and hence it just remains a tactless, non-visionary (contrary to the claim), damaging exercise just for the sake of it.
Disclaimer : This blog entry is not supposed to justify or unjustify any points of view. It is just a thought experiment aimed to raise some questions which are maybe not asked. It just occurred to me while I was thinking of the situation and wanted to share it with the larger audience.
A real world scenario :
Recently, a fortnight back 3 Indian ministers were filmed watching porn on their cellphones in an Indian State Legislative Assembly(regional state level parliament) while discussions were going on in the Assembly. A huge furore was created over it and the ministers had to resign following social pressure(invisible yet present).
The thought experiment :
Imagine yourself in the Assembly with the above ministers. Imagine they are watching porn and you are picturing some porn movie you watched yesterday in your head. Now, let us assume “someone” has a “thought oracle”, a machine which can read thoughts and project your thoughts on a screen. Let us not go into discussing how the thought oracle can be designed, let us assume it exists. Now THAT “someone” trains the thought oracle on you and projects your porn visualization images on the screen. Let us assume the ministers have also got caught by filming what they were doing. Aren’t you and the ministers in the same boat ? The deterministic factor here is the technology while the incriminating factor here is the subject’s intention. Of course, there is subjectivity in judging intentions but the bigger question is “The judgment seems to be valid from a strict legal viewpoint but is it really valid from a social high horse ?”. As far as I see, the ministers resigned because they were not committing any legal offence(otherwise their employment would have been terminated) but they cowed down to social pressure and its larger socio-political implications. This is actually frightening.
This led me to the following questions which I would just outline. I do not have the answers, so I would not be verbose. Let’s just spare a minute for thinking, shall we ?
1. What has society become today ? Why was society initially formed ? Was it formed to be a collective entity where the weakest entity in the group is not as weak as he would have been if he had been alone and the strongest entity is stronger than he would have been had he been alone ? If that is the basic assumption, then what is the role of society today ? Is that role justified ? If individuals spawned society for ease is the basic assumption, then is the assumption not weak if not obsolete today ?
2. What controls the will of the society ? What do we define as fair and not fair ? Is the judgment being done from within the society or from outside ? How do we examine the system then ? Is the way we examine the system now correct ? Are we ending up going towards a situation where we would end up at a wall ? Is the sum of all societies the sum of all people ? Is that a valid and fair sharing ?
3. Why don’t I have the option of opting out of a society and not join any other society ? If the rules of the societal model are binding on all then, as an individual born why don’t I have the option of signing a Terms and Condition based rule set ? How do we define fair ? Is fairness/justice today defined only from a societal viewpoint and not an absolute viewpoint ?
4. Society can be thought of as a model, is the model flawed ? Are we spending too much of time and resources to solve the problems in the model without realizing that those solutions might lead to other problems owing to the assumptions in the model being inherently flawed ?
5. What is culture/religion/.. ? Is it just a mechanism to bind a group of unknown people into a society ? Is it the first point of common unification for such people to implement a collective group will ? Are those mechanisms self preserving using human emotions ? And if it is such, then is emotion just a masking factor for deciding something where logical decision is impossible owing to lack of sufficient quantifiers for the decision ?
PS: I have kept the questions at a very very abstract level because then they can be interpolated to very specific scenarios. I am aware that I might have used some mathematical terms but that allows for precise formulation in little words. Plus, I am a mathematician too so I cannot do away with my basic instinct, part of the society in me. At least, when I was thinking of these questions and discussing with my friend Ian Leinert while travelling in Geneva at -15 degrees, I did not find any obvious answers. I am not even sure if there are any but all of you are brighter than me, maybe you will find the answers or better still maybe you will ask some more pertinent questions.
The following is my attempt to get in touch with the honourable minister of telecommunication over an issue of my telephone not working. My eyes really popped out when I read the previous line again. Writing a letter to the minister of telecommunication over my telephone not working and imagining the letter to climb up the departmental and bureaucratic public ladder without even an assurance of multi billion infrastructure gains, sounds lame but then a cup of coffee and an inquisitive mind can be a a heady mixture.
Dear Mr. Minister,
I Vivek Shah, am a citizen of the Republic of India currently residing in New Delhi and trying to sustain my existence by working as one of the innumerable IT workers. I am ordinary in every sense of the word. I am all of 24 years of age and have not seen or heard the world as much as you would have. If this letter is really being read by you, I think the politics of our country is in the right hands and the letter would have realised its goal. Since you have already taken some of your time to read till here, I might request you to read further.
I am one of those people who depend upon the telephone connection provided by MTNL for my basic sustenance. It is not because I can end up talking with my girlfriend for hours or discuss the latest happenings in Big Boss 3 with my friend. In fact the receiver on my end does not work. Its a one way traffic so that I can hear people talking about insurance policies on the other end or asking for a wrong person but I cannot just make them hear, “Just f*** off”. I am not even complaining about. My most important requirement from the telephone whose receiver lies on the floor instead of the handset, is the broadband facility.
First of all, inspite of the tall complaints, I must congratulate you on the excellent broadband facility which is provided at such an affordable price. This broadband facility is one of the most urgent requirements of my white collar job. This facility ensures that my bosses can wake me up from my beautiful dreams at 1 AM at night and ask me to stare at a piece of file on a computer in Europe because of which a person in US is not being able to print a PDF. Its a small www world these days. So, when my broadband connection was not working yesterday on 30th January, I looked into my telephone bill and called up 011-2222-1504 to register the complaint. The person who picked up the telephone, sounded offended by the idea that I wanted to register the complaint. He did not tell me anything to suggest so, but the human mind can pick up the tones so either the person who answered my call was having a bad case of throat infection and stomach disorder or I am completely off my rocker here. Anyway, he did register my complaint and I got a 4 digit complaint number 3920 as proof of my achievement. I courteously asked him by when can I expect the connection to be fixed as it was particularly urgent to me. He replied, within 24 hours. I asked him if there was something I could do to speed up the process. He said, “Call on 197 and find out the Area Managers number”. My first question lies here, since I was talking to this person for help and support(who is getting paid for it by people like me), he could have at least told me the corresponding area manager’s number itself(which I am sure would have been searchable on his computer). If my telephone is not working, how can I call up 197 and find it?
Since India is a country of charming people, my charming neighbour came to my rescue and provided me the number of Janakpuri area manager. I reside in New Mahavir Nagar and my house is a 10 minute walk from the Janakpuri telephone exchange. I called up the Janakpuri area manager and mentioned my telephone number 011-2599-7227 and complaint number and asked him if he could do something in this matter. To this, he replied “This number does not fall in my area call up Dwarka area manager” and gave me another number. Perplexed, I called up the Dwarka area manager, who replied “This number does not fall in my area call up Rajouri Garden area manager” and gave me another number. Confused, I called up the Rajouri Garden area manager who replied “This number does not fall in my area, call up the the Janakpuri area manager” and gave me another number. By this time I had gone crazy. I had gone an entire full circle with each person giving me the same templated reply(which I hope you would have noticed). I was wondering, “In which area did my telephone number lie, is it in Pak Occupied Kashmir?”. I called up the Janakpuri area manager and told him that I had gone a complete circle and what was this about. It looks to me, he was very busy and so he did not have the time to reply to such a stupid unnecessary question. So he took the shortest route possible, he just cut the call and never picked up my subsequent 6-7 calls.
Utterly dejected, I called up a linesman I knew, and he was working in the area nearby. A few kind words and requests later, the kind soul landed up in my area an hour later and fixed the problem. I can only say “Bless, his soul”.
After reading all this Mr. Minister you might wonder what is the point ? The point is inspite of the excellent and thoughtful policies and people who/which have been placed to look after these kind of problems, the entire set up has fallen flat. I have lost a little bit of faith in the whole setup to which I looked upto in order to help me when I needed it most but I have regained a little bit of faith in human relations and what 2 people who want and can try to genuinely help out each other. I might be one of those cases where Murphy’s law was true and I was the wrong person with the wrong person at the wrong place and the wrong time but I sincerely hope you don’t get letters like these more often. This letter might not have to do with any of the multi billion dollar projects/decisions/investments but it has to do with the most important facet of governance, touching the lives of those who have chosen you to govern. If the governance is not worth it, the multi billion dollar investments/infrastructures just sound very hollow.
Thank you again for the time to read my letter. Thank you again for all the work.