Sunday, May 8, 2022

The First Feminist in My Life

As usual on mothers' day, my WhatsApp is filled with images that romanticize the systemic oppression of people who become mothers. Photos of mothers who are at work with children, of "caring", "loving", and "sacrificing" mothers, of mothers carrying children on their back (including photos from animal kingdom), and so on.

While I find it fair to thank those people for such forced "selfless service", I find it arrogant and violent to continue stereotyping and socially enforcing such gendered and oppressive practices.

I often think of the privileges I must have had to enable me to see systemic oppression as it is. And one of the greatest privileges I've had is to have a feminist mother.

I've never heard the word "feminism" from my mother. And that's probably why it took me forever to realize she is a feminist. Fortunately for me though, the lessons of feminism did come through all my childhood albeit without the label.

To begin with, my mother is a teacher. And she puts work at par with, if not higher than, family. She has a very clear idea of her role as a teacher and very meticulously carries it out. She has withstood social pressure to ignore her profession or to ignore becoming better at it.

The way she deals with my father is more illustrative of her feminism. She never backs down in an argument. And there are plenty of arguments that she has with dad. When I was younger, I didn't really understand who was right in those arguments. And because I was closer to dad, he would often convince me that he was right. But today I realize that my mom was right and continues to be so in many of the arguments that she has with the dad and with society. She still speaks up, unweathered.

She has always demanded better and just treatment from others. Because she sees the injustices that are being meted out to her. But more importantly, she never waits for anyone to treat her better. She is independent and continues her own life with not much regard to all that. She does not let people develop a savior complex.

There are far too many details in my childhood. But to summarize, there are many privileges of being male in a patriarchal society and my mother "exposed" many of them to me all throughout my childhood. 

That's why I call my mother the first feminist in my life. And I've got to thank her for that every day.


If you like what you're reading, subscribe!

Get posts via email:

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Finding Direction When Being Pragmatic

You remember how I embraced pragmatism and started chasing power? There was one problem. When you start chasing power with the idea of wielding it for social justice, when and where do you stop chasing power and start wielding it?

Take Praveen's comment for example

Screenshot of text chat. Pirate ‍ Praveen (he/him) quotes asd's message "Context: https://blog.learnlearn.in/2021/09/power-is-useful.html" and comments "Though this is a slippery slope and one which usually results in concentration of power eventually in most cases, there are exceptions though. When you start making compromises, where do you draw the line? That is not easy." asd: "Hmm. I know that is a valid criticism."  Pirate ‍ Praveen (he/him): "Usually the short term power and sustaining becomes the primary goal and everyone forgets the initial goals. Look at any political parties." 

One possible answer can be that you start wielding power while you start chasing power - and you chase less and wield more as you go forward.

Graph that shows on y axis time, x axis "amount of effort in". As time goes forward "chasing power pragmatically" decreases and "using power to reach ideals" increases.

But going by this, today I should spend lesser effort in chasing power than I spent yesterday. And tomorrow, even lesser than today. That doesn't quite fit with the idea of chasing power first. Perhaps there is a threshold of power which I should reach before I start using power. Perhaps the graph is more like:

Similar graph as above. X axis is time. Y axis is amount of effort spent. Towards the beginning on the X-axis of time, the Y axis is completely occupied by chasing power pragmatically for a while. At one point using power to reach ideals starts and then correspondingly chasing power decreases.

Perhaps that threshold is what is called "the line". The line that determines when you stop (or decrease effort in) chasing power and start using that power to reach ideals. Drawing the line becomes important once again.

Let us then try drawing that line.

How much power is enough power? Is a PhD enough academic power? Is a 20 person company that operates in profit enough entrepreneurial power?

Read my poem (?) about career advice. Any goal you accomplish will be dwarfed by a bigger goal. No matter how much power you gain, there will be someone more powerful than you.

Which means that there is no clear way to draw the line on when to stop chasing power.

But there maybe an alternative that requires us to not draw a line. One in which we can chase power and use power simultaneously with the same effort. That alternative requires us to reconcile pragmatism and idealism. 

You find a hack to chase power through your ideals.

That is extremely slow though. Slow and excruciatingly boring.

Which is why it has to be extremely personal. You have to be very selfish in what you are doing and craft the journey to your likes and desires. Only that can sustain the boredom of that chase.

(It was Varsha who told me first about entrepreneurship being a very personal journey. This maps on to that. Life is a very personal journey.)

That also solves a long-running question in my mind. How do you find what direction to go in when you are being pragmatic? What's the principle with which you make pragmatic decisions?

The answer is to listen to yourself. To do what feels the most right to you. I know that sounds like profound bullshit (something that internet gurus would say). But it is based on neuroscience and philosophy of knowledge.

The brain is a rather complicated organ. We can process many more signals than we are conscious about. Even when we think we make decisions rationally, we make decisions based on very many things that we haven't consciously considered. Read Scott Young's Unraveling the Enigma of Reason to read more about how our reasons are always post-facto rationalizations.

And this is tied in the external world to intersectionality. There is no decision on earth that lies on a single dimension. Everything affects everything else and nothing is clear-cut.

And thankfully these are complementary. It is only a decision making machine vastly complicated like our brain that can consider all the thousand factors that intersect on a decision in the human world. (I express similar thoughts in the earlier post on living with opposition)

It also means it is difficult to rationalize some of these decisions and generalize them into principles. Pragmatism is the acceptance of this fundamental difficulty and the decision to live within that framework of uncertainty.

Of course, one has to be widely reading and learning to offset the risks of trusting an uninformed brain. One must be open to unlearning and relearning, criticisms, etc as well. These are the things that will protect the pragmatic person from going in the wrong directions.

tl;dr? Trust your gut.


If you like what you're reading, subscribe!

Get posts via email:




One more time, subscribe via email: