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However, there is nothing in the age of a belief or tradition which makes it right inasmuch as people root their identity and the meaning of their life to their belief and tradition (for the lack of any other equally good or bad, or better formation as close as the one their life is based on to be their belief and tradition). Madsen Pirie succinctly summarizes the ad antiquitam tendency of the human mind:

At its simplest, the ad antiquitam is a habit which economizes on thought. It shows the way in which things are done, with no need for difficult decision-making. At its most elevated, it is a philosophy. Previous generations did it this way and they survived; so will we. The fallacy is embellished by talk of continuity and our contemplation of the familiar.

While the age of belief attests to experience, it does not attest to its truth. To equate older with better is to venture into the territory of the fallacy. After all, human progress is made by replacing the older with the better. Sometimes men do things in a particular way, or hold particular beliefs, for thousands of years. This does not make it right, any more than it makes it wrong (HWEA, 2006, p. 14).

Culture and tradition are not gifts or dispensation God gave humans in the beginning or dropped like cooked and packed manna from the sky in lots across the ages. Culture and tradition are a product of human’s creative and adaptive mind developed by trial and error over time, and being a product which takes after the maker’s creativity and adaptive needs, they inevitably undergo changes and modifications, because creativity differs from person to person and from age to age, and the social and natural environment humans have to adapt to changes constantly no matter how conservative the society may be and how slow the change may be. Over time, this gradual and piecemeal replacement of the old by the new has the ultimate effect of human’s complete dispensation with their forefathers’ caves and stone tools for modern homes, computers, cars, gas stoves, etc., while all this happens so slowly and quietly that the series of changes feels more or less smooth and seamless except at the points marked by revolutions that suddenly introduce a whole new set of values and modes of life, such as the French Revolution, the English Civil Wars, the American Revolution, the Declaration of Emancipation, and the Arab Spring, etc.

Ad antiquitam is often mutually intensifying with man’s tendency to be what Fiske and Taylor (1991) term cognitive miser. As opposed to a naïve scientist who rationally weigh costs and benefits, test hypothesis, and update expectations based upon the results of the experiments that are our everyday actions, a cognitive miser tends to intuitively conserve mental process energy and spend it only when they must, relying on simpler, economically prudent and time efficient strategies when evaluating information and making decisions not just about familiar things but about both issues and ideas they know very little about and those of great importance. In this process, the cognitive miser, rather than rationally and objectively evaluating, uses mental short cuts—they assign new information to simplistic, preconceived categories that are easy to process mentally. These categories arise from prior information, including schemas, scripts and other knowledge structures, that has been stored in memory and thus the processing and storage of new information does not require much cognitive energy. The cognitive miser, thus, tends not to stray far from his or her established beliefs when considering new information (Fiske & Taylor, Social Cognition, 1991).

Though humans are motivated tacticians—having multiple cognitive strategies available and choosing among them depending on the situational and motivational demands (Fiske & Taylor, 1991); that is, they are simultaneously naïve scientists and cognitive misers in varying degrees, and they shift from quick and easy cognitively economic tactics of a cognitive miser to more effortful, thoughtful and thorough ones of a naïve scientist when processing information as their motivation deems necessary—they are typically more inclined to act as cognitive misers. This is because “people typically do not consciously choose between automatic and controlled processes;” rather “[a]utomatic processes influence the motivations that trigger social cognition, as well as behavior that results” (Fiske & Taylor, 2013, p. 31). While acting as cognitive misers is rational, as Fiske and Taylor argue, considering the intimidating volume and intensity of information humans intake, the decision and judgement thus reached are more likely to exhibit attributional biases. In fact, psychologists and social scientists now associate cognitive miserliness with racist and gender biases and other issues of stereotyping.

Bibliography

Fiske, S. T., & Taylor, S. E. (1991). Social Cognition (2nd ed.). NY, USA: McGraw-Hill.
Fiske, S. T., & Taylor, S. E. (2013). Social Cognition: From Brains to Culture (2nd ed.). London, United Kingdom: Sage.
Pirie, M. (2006). How to Win Every Argument: The Use and Abuse of Logic. NY, USA: Continuum.

In The Croods (DeMicco & Sanders, 2013), Grug, the head of a prehistoric family of the same name, says, as part of his strategy for their survival “like mice” in their cave behind rocks against the dangers of a harsh and hostile world they are in, that fear keeps them alive and advises that anything new should be avoided because “anything new is bad” and dangerous. Every night, before they go to sleep, he tells a bedtime story of the same kind in which a young, little character lived happily with its family (because they lived their lives in routine and darkness and terror) until one day, filled with “curiosity,” a “serious problem,” the young little character went out and saw something new and died. The Croods are terrified and Thunk, the son, says that he will never do anything new or different. In the Croods family, whenever one mentions “new,” they instinctively shrink in fear. Eep—Grug’s young, curious, and recalcitrant daughter—who feels suffocated by this lifestyle summarizes her father’s (i.e., her family’s) survival rules painted on the cave walls:

Anything new is bad, curiosity is bad,
going out at night is bad. Basically,
anything fun is bad (DeMicco & Sanders, 2013).

All their worst fears confirmed, the Croods snuggle into one big heap, warm and comfy, and fall asleep.

This social scenario may be a bit exaggerated for dramatic effect in the animated 3D movie and no society we know and can remember is so closed and neophobic as the Croods or any social group in the prehistoric existential condition this film constructs, but most societies still have the traces of their prehistoric fear for the strange and the new largely determining the outlook of their individual members and the collective community. In the prehistoric scenario, exposed to a plethora of dangers they cannot understand and out of their control, the people, as humans early or modern are always, are concerned about their safety, and they feel surely safe about the few familiar things that make up their small routine world, and it gives them peace to remain within this safety bubble. From their long experience, they know in their immediate environment what are safe and useful, what are useless but innocuous, and what are dangerous and to be avoided. With this knowledge, they are able to select useful and innocuous things and aspects of their behavior to build their familiar environment, their safe little routine world, and exclude whatever is clearly known to be dangerous and the potential dangers of whatever unfamiliar and new, because they do not usually want to venture their safety bubble on anything new that may turn out dangerous.[i] The mode of their long relationship with the included and the excluded condenses into long established patterns of behavior, which we call culture, authoritatively imposing an ethical list of dos and don’ts on its members, determining any behavioral traits evolving or appearing newly in the social make-up are either acceptable or unacceptable. Humans have this mind set passed down to them through millennia and every modern society exhibits behavior informed by it in varying degrees without exaggeration.

Human fears are not absolute. When humans have lived far long past the moment when they were able to at least remotely empathize with the physical conditions in which their forefathers lived in immediate proximity to their fears their strategy for protection against which had reactively shaped their culture, this primitive fear producing this reactive force has lingered in their collective psyche in changed and diversified forms. In fact, with the changes in the natural physical environment humans share with other creatures and things and the expansion of the dimensions of their social affairs, their individual and collective fears have also greatly changed and multiplied. Many that once posed a danger or threat are extinct or have ceased to be so now; many things new or unfamiliar or they did not know at all turned out life-enhancing, while many such turned out dangerous and many such others innocuous; and many they had once included as safe and useful underwent change and diversification, and these plethora of strands mutated with mixed results. Thus, humans are in constant fear of the possibility of anything harmful jumping out from anywhere. So, in the same way as in primitive times, humans feel safe in their little, familiar, routine world, and are suspicious of anything new or foreign.

This fear has interpreted the long established habits—culture and tradition—as the only safe, and hence meaningful, way of living and survival, and, by extension, the only path to happiness. This gross belief, now favored and endorsed by emotion born of long association, translates anything old as gold and valuable, which condenses age into the supreme measure of value: the older the truer and better, and thus truth is nothing but culture/tradition.

[i] The intensity ratio of their fear to curiosity is not static, and fear seems to outweigh curiosity most of the time keeping humans from being allured by the possibility of at least a few of the new turning out good. However, humans, in their long history, have occasionally had moments when their curiosity surpassed their fear, at least by bits, and thus they ventured into the new making social evolution possible.

 

Works Cited

Belson, K., Hartwell, J. (Producers), DeMicco, K., Sanders, C. (Writers), DeMicco, K., & Sanders, C. (Directors). (2013). The Croods [Motion Picture]. U.S.A: 20th Century Fox.

Original title: Der kleine Riese
Author: Hans Wilhelm
Genre: Fairy Tale
Original language: German
First published: 1987
Translator: Thoitoi O’Cottage

Once upon a time there was a small giant. His name was Igor,
and he was very unhappy,
because he had a very serious problem:
he did not know who or what he was.
He was not big and did not feel he was as giantly as his parents and
siblings. He was
just simply different. He preferred to be
alone and remain reading books.

However, it was not that easy to find
a small quiet place. Igor’s family was
very loud and noisy. With shouts and jeers, they raged over
the mountains and through the woods, hunted animals
and did nothing else but nonsense.

They even netted and gathered some clouds,
rolled them up into thunderbolts and hurled them at each other
around the ears, causing a terrible downpour.

Igor was often in their way, and he
could feel it. Finally, he came to believe more and
more that nobody loved him,
nobody understood him and wanted to have him.

One day Igor could not stand it any
longer. He packed his favorite books
and then took five giant steps.
Then he was gone!

A couple of giant steps and Igor was standing
in the middle of a foreign kingdom on
the other side of the world. There he suddenly
heard a loud cry.

It was a small king. He sat under a tree and
sobbed so much that Igor asked him, “Why
are you so sad? What’s happened?”

The king looked up. The sight of the giant–
even if it was a young giant–made him
forget his grief for a moment. But
then he broke into sobbing again.
Igor felt great compassion for the little king.
“What’s happened?” it asked once again.
“My…my…bird,” sobbed the little king. “It has
flown away and I can’t find it.”
“What does it look like?” Igor asked. “Maybe
I can help you search.”
“Would you do that?” the little king asked
and jumped. “You will immediately recognize my bird. That’s a
totally unique bird.”

(To be continued)

Despite my very rudimentary domestic and professional correspondence, for almost a year now I have been more of a hermit (more alone than I used to be) in Delhi, the city of millions, with no dearth of human varieties from street sweepers to the President of the country with their noises filling the whole decibel range audible to the human ear. No newspaper. No TV. Nearly no social media presence. So I missed Leslee Udwin’s BBC documentary India’s Daughter.

Yesterday morning (it’s already 7 March now), opening my FB account to check my timeline for an old post, I stumbled on a post of my friend Rituparna Sengupta (thanks to her) commenting on or supplementing or introducing a Quartz India article, followed by my friend Anveshi Gupta’s comment. Rituparna’s introductory word made perfect sense, and Anveshi’s comment intrigued me, but these comments on the theme of what Rituparna had shared and the very title of that article could not immediately make up for my ignorance of the world’s developments in months. Beginning with the shared article, I read quite a thin book’s worth of volume along that line (including quite a few comments) in the few hours that followed, discovering that the documentary has been successful by “hitting hard,” the controversial nature of whose reception has made it controversial. As for me, what I have gathered from the commentaries on the film that I have read has pushed my thumbs up to Leslee Udwin despite its “alleged” “failure to get to the core of the problem.” A lack of substance can be (thankfully) socially supplemented by what we as members of the very society in which the incident occurred are aware of, and thus it is not a sin which the film would have been guilty of if it presented factual errors, which is not the case.

If the rapists’ defence attorneys (M.L. Sharma and A.P. Singh) share moral values with the rapists themselves—if what they have said is not just a professional act of risking their legal occupational hazards (no matter what their personal conviction) but their personal ethical and legal (?) conviction (if they are psychologically certifiable as normal, it is very hard not to be convinced that their statements reflect the ethical and legal ground they stand on), then India’s rape epidemic cannot solely be accounted for by the country’s “lack of education” (unless we consider the likes of M.L. Sharma and A.P. Singh as uneducated). While the lack of education plays its irrefragable part in this ignominious epidemic, there are more elementary causes in the tissues of our society/culture that even warp our education and cause our “warpedly” educated minds (most of us are like that) to view a girl coming out of home after certain “culturally” quietly declared point of time in the night as “legally and ethically” “rapeable,” as if being born a male comes with the natural appurtenance or privilege of biting like a mosquito [which you cannot sensibly drag to the court for exercising their mosquito right to bite (yes, you can slap and kill mosquito mosquitoes, not human mosquitoes)] any “ma” or “bahin” coming out of the house after that cultural Lakshman rekha of time in the night for whatever reason or no reason. This cultural thing, however, is not what I want to talk about here.

Among the many criticisms of India’s Daughter is the one condemning it on the mistaken grounds of its “giving platform to the [unapologetic] rapists” and their extra-blooded, never-say-wrong defence attorneys who have hurt more than previously imaginable number of hearts to such an extent that this episode seems to be the career suicide of these non-uneducated attorneys. Let me repeat the crux here: “giving platform to the rapists.”

Parallel to this, the Bar Council of India has moved its jaw opening the floodgate of its pent-up rage and frustration over the two defence attorney’s “hurtful and insulting statements,” circulating an online petition against them seeking the signature of the citizens of the country looking to suspend their licenses (if enough people sign it).

It is at this point that the law seems to be helplessly at a crossroads. Not merely the law’s helplessness, but an unconditional universal human condition. Because, the law is a normative science, which is definitely very subjective at the root despite its objective projections when there are no serious debates. So subjective that the law, despite its accepted force “in the [m]iddle-earth,” has a “mystical foundation of [its] authority.” However, again, it is not my purpose here to deal with this Derridaean mystical foundation of authority, but to share what I think about “giving platform to rapists” and “suspension of their [the lawyers’] licenses,” to say nothing of the government’s unwise ban of the film.

Aesthetically and logically, let’s ask if the documentary’s purpose to show the prevalent mindset of many people (whether educated or uneducated or undereducated) capable of causing such disturbance who constitute “our” society (whether they are our representative or not, that’s not the issue, because the issue is the little or more part such section forms of our society can cause such disturbance of this magnitude) would have been fulfilled if what shock us (i.e. the statements of the rapists and their defence attorneys) were not presented. Is not it like a pathological diagnosis explained to us to hear what the rapists have in their poisonous minds which are in unholy communion with other rapists and still other men capable of committing rape [though they have not (yet) physically committed this crime]? Isn’t it better for us to reply to and refute these false/mistaken ideas [supported by certain elements of our culture (though this “human” crime of rape occurs in every other culture as well)—I am not talking about these here] than keeping them growing up under the cover of decency? In any case, the rapists are now convicts on death row, the price for the “sweets” they ate as “street/gutter dogs.” Yes, we don’t want to hear much from these rapists, not that they have much to say, not that we have holy or sordid things to learn from them. However, it is good for one to show that they bark to prove they are dogs. It they mew, we cannot say they are dogs. What has shocked us again is not the film but what the film reminds us of, the very thing we have so close among us that we are unconscious of it most of the time until it shocks us with what it can do—rapes and its accompaniment, murder. What has rubbed salt into our “Indian” psychological wound is the fact that the filmmaker just happens to be a “foreigner” “hell-bent on gratuitously defaming India in front of the international community.” But who ever of a pure desi breed could have done that if they had the idea? Nobody.

As for the statements of the rapist(s) in the documentary, I think that those are legally redundant now to hold them legally culpable because they are already on death row and none of them have two or enough lives to be punished in the appropriate degree of severity. And they are not given any platform without a plausible purpose, which (by dint of the nature and gravity of their crime) would in no way do anything in their favor any more.

As regards the stand and statements of the convicts’ defence attorneys, M.L. Sharma and A.P. Singh, I think it is quite problematic and difficult to deal with. This matter touches the core of the force the law has or the authority it enjoys, which is again complicated by the fact of these two men’s happening to be lawyers (no matter whether they have plausible reasons to defend themselves). As the Bar Council pointed out, I think it is quite courageous above board (though it seems to verge on foolhardy and professional suicide at best, if their minds are normally functional) for Mr Sharma and Mr Singh to support and take stands for their clients [when it is inescapably clear that they (their clients) would end up as they have now] risking the unusually serious occupational hazards involved. I appreciated their courage which I thought was driven by a spirit of justice and democracy, to look into the whole legal process their clients will undergo and safeguard them against any possible injustice in sentencing, punishing, and even executing them for their crime, and guiding their clients through all these processes so these convicts become sober/sensible (if possible) and die a better and hence less hated death. On the contrary, these attorneys have proved their own senses to be spurious and dubious.

However, as everybody is entitled to their own opinion or conviction, these two lawyers, however crazy, weird, irrational or shocking their views may be to us, can “legally safely” have and express their own opinion as long as they keep themselves categorically within the legal domain (i.e. without saying anything legally culpable). We may hate them or even want to do away with them somehow for having that opinion or expressing them; however, until what they say or do is “concretely” culpable (be it to be a Hitler without rounding up gullible or like-minded people for some “ethnic cleansing mission” or something else), hatred/dislike, by itself, is not a solid legal ground for punishment. Hating our good neighbors just because they are more advanced than us in the kind of life we want to lead is not an unfamiliar feeling among us many humans.

However, as Cobb in Christopher Nolan’s Inception (2010) says, the most resilient parasite is neither a bacteria nor a virus nor an intestinal worm, but an idea. Ideas are highly contagious. “Once an idea has taken hold of the brain it’s almost impossible to eradicate. An idea that is fully formed, … that sticks; right in there somewhere.” If the idea is really bad, and is spread by a powerful agent (powerful at least because they (rightly or wrongly) command their society’s high respect (as in the case of the two lawyers), then the idea becomes very dangerous, breeding poison in every gullible mind they contact. Here creeps in the idea of limits to one’s freedom of speech (though nobody will poke a legal nose into one’s cache of unexpressed thoughts however poisonous they may be), though no written acts have ever drawn a line separating what’s ethically [hence it leads to “legally” (involving some courtroom drama of debates)] culpable from what’s not. While the un/culpability of a speech act in this unchartered ethical, political and legal field is not measurable like the height of a pillar, meaning that it depends on the discretion of whoever in juridical authority (which keep changing from time to time), meaning that what is culpable at point A may not be so at point B, what the law upholds and encourages is responsible speech, though, in fact, history has witnessed many speeches considered responsible by many being condemned by many others as irresponsible. So, it is an opinion that comes against an opinion. Thus, ultimately number counts. Majority carries the vote, be it deciding on whether we should poison Socrates or crucify Jesus Christ. Democracy has a “fair” room of the possibility of the foolish majority winning the elections, and prosecuting the wise for saying wise things hazardous (and hence “obnoxious”) to the foolish establishment’s health/sensibility.

As for the two defence attorneys of these rape case convicts in question, I think it more democratic for them to be let alone and practice their art. I think they will professionally die on their own because of the suicidal statements and commitments they have made, unless we have still further people among us capable of doing things as will necessitate them to hire these attorneys for their defence (which would be an interesting social test). Whatever the case, however, we (how many of us are there in this country) should reply to and refute their flawed reasoning which they are mouthing so confidently now. Our inability to silence their flawed reasoning in this way is not a virtue, and silencing who/what we don’t like by the equivalents of mob justice will make spuriously legal and ethical precedence or room or convention of silencing any Socrates or Christs (who are possible to be born as social reformers—social reformers are almost invariably regarded as antisocial first) among us. (What we think now to be incontrovertibly best/right may turn out less than that when we sort of get wiser–we are fallible and we should leave room for our self-correction in future.) A couple of rotten eggs should not spoil the whole basket and all the eggs yet to be laid, and all the chicks yet to hatch.

Category: Poetry in Translation
Title: Midwinter
Poet: Tomas Tranströmer
Source book: The Great Enigma
Original language: English (Translated from Swedish by Robin Fulton)
Year of publication: 2006

ইশং শংবান্নবা অমা
ঙাল্লী ঐগি ফিদগি।
নিংথম ময়ায় চবূক।
উনগি তেম্বোরিন জ্রিং জ্রিং।
মীৎ উইশিল্লী ঐ।
মখোল থোক্তবা তাইবঙ অমা
অকায়বা মখুল অমা
মদুদগি লোন্না থাঙই
অশিবা মী ঙমখৈ লান্না।