Skin In The Game I

Skin In The Game I

Sadnanth: Eh in that Joe Rogan interview, Peterson basically equates religion to aesthetics in a broader sense of the word, which i’m still not sure is reconcilable with the rest of religion itself.

Sadnanth: Ok nvm he answers it later.

Depressshiva: I think he makes a very strong case for the aesthetic and religious connection. For example the reason comic books have not taken off as strongly in India is because of the local folklore or stories that we have on Ramayan or Mahabharat. It maybe even be argued that we need flights of fancy rather than being purely factual.

Sadnanth: But the issue I have with that is again that all religions make certain truth claims without providing evidence for those claims. And while viewing it all as aesthetics is nice, aesthetics by definition is subjective, it’s an appreciation of beauty, not a factual statement about the world. Not saying it doesn’t have its place, just saying that it doesn’t really address any of the issues i have with religion satisfactorily, haha.

Depresshiva: Tell me one non subjective truth claim that Eastern religions make Sadnanth?

Sadnanth: Reincarnation, that enlightenment is a thing, karma.

Depresshiva: Six schools of thought all disagree on the three concepts above. And all of those issues have to be experiential hence subjectively experienced before you accept it. You haven’t experience karma or being in the flow then reject lah. Reincarnation is predicated on those ideas what pretty much

Sadnanth: Predicated on what ideas?

Depresshiva: Karma reincarnation and enlightenment. They are all intertwined. If you reject karma and enlightenment because you don’t have any subjective notion of it, then there isn’t a need to hold onto reincarnation either… Obviously I don’t. Because I have experienced karma and enlightenment very strongly in my life. The truth claim is a nominal one and not a prescriptive one. But you can’t do it any of these truth claims without any experience of it. Its very easy to reject it otherwise. Basically cavemen, tribal or christian ideology suffices.

Sadnanth: Or no ideology… But fair enough ah I never teased apart that relation this finely.

Depresshiva: There is no such thing as no ideology. Nature hates vacuums. Try as you might, you, your kids, your family, your community will end up accepting something. Think about Communist China and Christianity. 10k new converts a month with a membership larger than the communist party that single handedly brought the masses out of poverty. Which is why i like Jordan Peterson and Nietzsche. You see the abyss, you gotta overcome it. Somehow. It’s never nothing, if you look at it, its a fullness of sort.

Sadnanth: I disagree that people will end up accepting something by default. Perhaps I’m in the minority and due to confirmation bias have only really interacted with people without much of a religious inclination, but I disagree that people need to have an overarching framework to follow. Not everyone subscribes to an all encompassing worldview like religion. Most people have simpler motivations. You work a job you hate for your wife and kids. You see other kids suffering, your empathetic connection for your own kids extends to color that observation, and you decide to contribute to a children’s hospital. But it’s small, little actions that provide meaning rather than an overarching framework of metaphysics and morality. Definitely my own experience, btw. In my view anyone who tells you that X is how it is in totality is wrong, because things are complicated and morality is confusing, for the most part. I subscribe to no religious worldview, but definitely have aesthetic preferences, which is why reducing religion to aesthetics seems odd and incorrect.

Sadnanth: Tldr; you don’t need religion or an ideology to overcome nihilism, only a collection of small actions and impulses that you later band together. In fact I would argue that ideologies are often the imperfect attempt at synthesizing this collection of actions into something ‘whole’. Life has no meaning save the one you give it.

Depresshiva: No way to resolve it because we disagree about data-sets⁠⁠⁠⁠.

Sadnanth: I don’t think it’s that simple man. People tend to be lazy, and figuring out a cohesive worldview to guide your actions is hard work. Think about all the people who nominally identify with a religious group. Fake Christians, fake Hindus, what have you. They say they subscribe to it but really don’t, instead going by the heuristic approach (i.e. the collection of actions). Definitely got a lot more nominally religious people than deeply religious people. Ergo more people follow the heuristic than otherwise. Feel free to tell me I’m wrong.

Depresshiva: Your small set of impulses and actions have to come from somewhere. If you are lucky enough to have an upbringing where your parents don’t screw you over you might be able to be a productive member of society. But in the trenches or when shit goes horribly wrong that pastor will walk by your death bed to offer a quick fix. And most people will take it since it’s an easy way out. Which is why I agree with Jordan Peterson when we don’t have that sense of transcendence or divinity things start to go wrong in a sense. If you aren’t educated or don’t have many prospects in life, all this is wishful thinking. I am not saying that your phenomenon doesn’t exist. What we are arguing whether its in the majority or minority. So like I said; data-set disagreements.

Sadnanth: Again, you’re not talking about religion, you’re talking about community. If you’ve had a messed up childhood and you get taken under the church’s wing, you get positively rewarded for following behaviors at first, which you then later synthesize to construct the worldview. No two interpretations of Christianity are the same, but when you ask most people why they follow what they follow, it’s because it makes them feel good and gives their actions meaning. But that’s the important thing, their actions are given meaning, and that is doable without religion. The collection of impulses (which i’m just gonna refer to as a morality heuristic) might come from religion (which, again, is not necessarily true), but that doesn’t exactly refute my point

Depresshiva: You are making conflicting statements Sadnanth. 1. People are lazy 2. Coming up with a metaphysical framework is hard work 3. Their actions need some sort of meaning. But somehow you make the leap that people come up with meaning at the end of the day. Which you will and also you will be sian and lonely, therefore is isn’t tenable. Religion is basically spirituality in community what, so is morality which is individual ethics in society. If you didn’t have society you wouldn’t need either. All this is secondary to the aesthetic experience of religion which pretty much lights up the same parts of your brain as a good concert. Why do I care whether you are atheist or not. Because the eastern or atheism is not a self propagating ideology. At the end of the day, you will have a society or empire that believes in one god and you are fucked. Has happened before, will happen again.

Depresshiva: http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/disbelieve-it-or-not-ancient-history-suggests-that-atheism-is-as-natural-to-humans-as-religion

Depresshiva: So the fairy tale that humans are naive and the unnecessary religious doctrines will wither out is misplaced. It happens sporadically. Which is why to draw a full circle. Jordan Peterson is awesome even though he needs to reference Hindu archetypes more. Especially since he is obsessed about mythology.

Sadnanth: Don’t really see how any of those statements are conflicting, to be honest. All I’m saying is that there exists a significant subset of the population who do not derive meaning from religious life or worldviews, but instead give their actions meaning by using useful proxies at a much smaller scale, i.e. the notion of acting according to a grand unified theory of reality is appealing to some, but not to all.

Depresshiva: I agree but it’s not the mainstream nor is it viable. Only the educated and successful do that. To paraphrase Taleb: YOU ARE THE ABERRATION RATHER THAN THE NORM.

Arrival Of A New Sci-Fi Trend

Arrival Of A New Sci-Fi Trend

Spoilers. Do not read if you haven’t watched Arrival, Interstellar or Midnight Special.


 

Arrival is part of the usual Oscar circlejerk right now but I actually left the cinema feeling underwhelmed. Don’t get me wrong, the movie is good, especially on a technical level, but I wasn’t happy with the way Villeneuve balanced the sci-fi with the personal emotion of the film’s protagonist.

Weirdly enough, a friend recommended this movie to me as “what Interstellar was supposed to be”, and while I do think it’s a better movie than Interstellar, it has the same pitfalls; focusing very hard on the science of the premise before making a hardcore switch to character drama. This movie spends the first hour and a half or so dealing with how humans would realistically deal with an alien encounter, and it does this extremely well. Suddenly, the film’s themes change to predeterminism and eternalism in its final act. I don’t mean that there isn’t any foreshadowing- there’s clever misdirection and anachrony, but other than the plot twist being that the flashback that starts the film is actually a flashforward, the film does little to actually flesh out the non-linear perception of time. Moreover, there is only one line in the film about the protagonist asking her would-be fiance if he would change anything if he could perceive time in a non-linear fashion, before she decides she will appreciate every moment.

However, for the above idea to work, the film would have to show instances of her breaking away from predestination, to show the consequences of free will, but the film conveniently eschews that for a soap opera with the protagonist and her daughter (gee, does that sound familiar). Of course that in itself isn’t a sin, but my problem with modern sci-fi movies is this, jamming emotion and science into a movie. Of course, great sci-fi, or rather, great movies have emotional impacts that far outweigh the scientific accuracy of the film, but it becomes jarring when the film does not to bridge the two halves. The protagonist barely shows any form of chemistry between her and her future spouse (and even more annoying, it tried to hide the obvious fact that he would indeed be her spouse in the future). There is one throwaway line in the beginning with the daughter shouting “I hate you!” at her mother, but there seems to be no reason to believe the relationship between mother and daughter has anything meaningful for her to remember. Watch any family drama or character-relationship movie, there will always be friction scenes in between. The only real friction in this film is not even for the protagonist, but at the bureaucratic level with the nations struggling to achieve consensus (a theme that is also wrapped up with a soapy emotional beat rather than an exploration of international conflict). As with Interstellar, the film puts in a lot of effort into hard science but decides to answer all its questions with vaguely emotional moments, a trend which doesn’t sit too well with me.

In contrast, there has been another sci-fi family drama earlier this year last year that I genuinely enjoyed- Midnight Special. Unlike Arrival, the scientific aspect of the film is barely explored and serves as backdrop to the character drama. Unlike Arrival, the protagonist is not a scientist or a learned individual in any way, but a simple father trying to find a solution for his son. The film also has a consistent theme of dealing with loss, explored via various characters who are connected to the child with strange powers. There is also some clever characterization, with a scientist working with the government becoming more spiritual as he interacts with a power or phenomenon he cannot understand. The film also shows government and religious responses to the child, without in any way undermining their role to society in real life. It’s a simple, heartfelt film that is cathartic for parents who have had to lose a child. There is a lot of back and forth with the child and the father, before the father finally agrees to trust his son and let him go- so that the child’s departure is truly earned in the movie.

In Arrival, we know nothing about the character’s daughter other than her use as a plot gimmick.

On the philosophical spectrum, the last sci-fi movie that I’ve seen that presented two sides to an idea was The Matrix and it’s sequel. Even if it’s on the nose, it added on to the intellectual experience, because you see both the idea of free will and predeterminism (the Wachowskis tie it up in a very Vedic way), and when you leave the cinema, you can choose your takeaway from the movie. Nobody in Arrival acts out in his, her or its free will, providing no contrast to the protagonist’s convenient desire to accept and appreciate her fate. The protagonist is not given any choice in the film, nothing for her to choose to walk away from. So why does she choose to appreciate anything? Is it even a choice for her to appreciate? If I could perceive time like she did and have no idea what would happen if I changed fate, why would I think it’s better to accept things the way they are?

The film tried to do a lot of things and didn’t flash out a lot that could have made a much bigger impact.

But that’s just my opinion.

Cinematographer deserves an award for the shot when they walk up the alien ship, though.

 

Thoughts on Kabali

Thoughts on Kabali
– You can’t just put a coat on him and make him a ‘don’. His behaviour wasn’t gangster at all.
– He didn’t ‘act’. I mean, he emotes and all, but changes his emotion robotically second to second. Fucking weird.
– It’s telling when The Godfather, a nearly forty year old Hollywood film, has more nuance, complexity, character, plot and cinematography than this piece of shit of a film. You might think it’s unfair that I am comparing this with a film widely considered to be the best film ever made, then I will tell you that it’s fucking embarrassing that Tamil movies continue to flirt with childish themes, and worse, idiotic cinematography and sound editing (there were a few out of place metal clangs in the movie). All these advancements in technology and still no improvement in maturity or cinematic techniques. Shame.
– When Rajni is standing against the wall sized window, it’s pretty fucking obvious that the backdrop of KL is CGI. I don’t know why anyone who was making the film thought it was a good idea. Don’t be a lazy director and look for natural lighting, and don’t use CGI if it serves no real purpose or more importantly, if it looks like some meme I drew on MS Paint.
– I’m sure glad that Rajni’s flashback in the film was a limited montage but we could spend about 45 minutes going pointlessly from town to town, country to country looking for his wife.
– Which vending machine did they find the Chinese actor from? His weird intonation was a laugh.
– Dub the non-Indian actors altogether, or force them to weirdly speak Tamil altogether. Don’t do both. Winston Chao’s Tamil at the end seemed too much of a parody.
– Raadika Apte was a surprisingly good actress, but her involvement in the story was the most unnecessary part. What a fucking waste.
– Don’t even need to talk about Dhansika.
– A fucking huge waste of Kishore, who is normally a nuanced and subtle actor. Can’t blame him too, his character was so poorly written. For someone who had the brains to plot against his boss, it seems weird that he had no problem being a dog to Winston Chao.
– Rajni didn’t even come close to Nasser’s charisma or acting talent. And wait- gangsters in broad daylight are also politicians in Malaysia? I mean, even Najib was more subtle.
– Fade in, fade out for the montage toward the end as Winston Chao attacks Rajni’s henchmen. No, that is just terrible sequencing.
– Even by Tamil movie standards, dialogue was atrocious. Seriously. “Hey, I have an idea…. you can be my dog! Hahahaha” was an actual line, in English, in the film. Hearing Rajni tell the others exactly what he was thinking verbatim- I thought this shit only happens in anime. And this pisses me off because generally Tamil films excel in dialogue and wit. No wordplay, no ‘punch dialogue’ as Tamilans like to call it. Nothing.
– No manpower, no resources, and that ending plan of Rajni’s? I mean, it didn’t even feel smart or consistent. And the worst part is that it’s interspliced with images of the pool party, like as if that was supposed to arouse me somehow. And why did he wait until the end to do this? All he did was storm the other gangster’s businesses. But hey, just put the theme song and Tamilans will eat anything up, right?
– People act like this movie showed the plight of Tamil folk in Malaysia. No. It tried to. It failed. It was atrocious. I’m sure the Malaysian government was more than happy to put the blame on a wooden Chinese villain. And moreover, the real problem, which is a hole in meritocracy, was saved right at the end for about two minutes. While we spent forty five minutes on a fucking treasure hunt for Radhika Apte. If all this wasted runtime was used to build a proper theme….
The movie was made in response to Jigarthanda, which is miles above this piece of shit. Apparently Rajni saw Bobby Simha’s performance and felt inspired to do a gangster role, without emulating an ounce of his complexity or gravitas. Jigarthanda had better cinematography, better dialogue, better acting, better plot and even a nice subtle understudy on film-making. It was witty, clever and showed the socio-political workings of the modern Tamil city. NONE. OF. WHICH. WAS. SHOWN. IN. KABALI.
On a sidenote, the indie black comedy niche is thriving in Tamil cinema, and I would encourage more people to watch those films, instead of these mass appeal movies that incite severe brain damage.

Narrative in Economics

Narrative in Economics

“The purpose of studying economics is not to acquire a set of ready-made answers to economic questions, but to learn how to avoid being deceived by economists,” British economist Joan Robinson once piquantly remarked [1]. She isn’t very far from the truth; a running joke among economists is that for every theory posited by one, there is an economist with the exact opposite argument. This is the implication of economists making normative statements; ones with personal value judgement [2], when developing theories to make sense of raw data. Economists tell a story with graph. Narratives are subtly used to invoke a claim, so that an economist can present his theoretical hypothesis. The two are inexorably intertwined, and in this paper I will show how narrative techniques are employed by economists to make their argument.

Firstly, there is a structure within most economic theories that resemble a narrative [3]. A narrative has the following elements; characters, event, plot and conflict [4]. Economists are in a sense like poets, using graphs as metaphors for events that take place in an economy and succinctly representing that in a pictorial form. Language here can be mathematical or graphical, but the intuition is always communicated via narrative. An economist has to establish his characters (be it a country, company or an individual), events (exogenous or endogenous shocks to an economy), plot (the sequence of events and consequentiality) and conflict (misallocation of resources). It’s hard to find any economic theory without the above elements, and these are structurally ingrained in economists when they try to form a rhetorical argument as to why their theory is correct [5].

The characters in an economic theory or story are very clearly stated, even if personal names are not given. For example, take the concept of asymmetric information, where one party has more information than the other in a transaction [6]. The conflict has also been called the principal-agent problem, easily setting up both the protagonist and antagonist for an event. The principal is the director or CEO of a company, and the agent is one of the executives in the company. Since the principal is not always around to monitor his business, the agent has incentive to cheat, or misuse funds. For example, in the early days, when a merchant sends his assistant to a different village, he has no way to confirm if the assistant is being honest or pocketing the profits himself. This way, the assistant has more information than the merchant, since he is physically present with the funds and the goods, while the merchant in still at their home village. In this narrative, the protagonist is the principal, and the dishonest agent is the antagonist. These characters have motivations, usually to maximize profit, and face conflict when profits are hindered.

Events take place in economic theories all the time.  The ‘events’ can be endogenous changes, meaning that they usually happen as a direct consequence of the character’s actions in an economic model [7]. An endogenous change could arise from the fact that a goods seller chooses to increase his price of goods because there is a great demand for his goods. This is often demarcated by a movement of a point along the supply curve in a demand-supply curve. On the other hand, an exogenous change is a change that arises from variables that are not in the model. For instance, in a demand-supply graph for the price of labour (worker’s wages), an unexpected change in oil prices, or shocks, could indirectly increase the cost of operations for a company, and force them to suppress wages. This is shown with a shift of the whole supply curve to the left in the demand-supply graph (see appendix 1). Thus, the events have a temporal and consequential flow, like a plot.

If one were to use the three-constituent plot structure as a point of reference, the events in an economic theory usually have a rising action and a falling action, sometimes quite literally on the graph. Denouement, or the end point, in all economics narratives is usually a state of equilibrium [8]. On a demand supply graph, a state of equilibrium is reached only after price and quantity have adjusted to the shocks or other events. In a very minimal plot, there is a rising action (a shift of the curve upwards due to a negative oil price shock), a conflict or climax (the state of non-equilibrium from having a misallocation of resources, since the price of wages have not adjusted for this change in price of oil) and a falling action (when the price of wages fall to accommodate this change in oil prices). Each event leads logically to the next, until it reaches the equilibrium, or when the economy reaches a stable allocation of resources. In a macro-economy, equilibrium can be reflected as peace and stability, perhaps after the country has survived economic turmoil either because of a natural disaster or political incompetence. The equilibrium is the idealistic ending of a theory as in a narrative. Economists are never happy without the closure of an equilibrium, and all theories are plotted towards the equilibrium.

While the misallocation is often a source of conflict in economics, there is another source of conflict that is more concerned with micro-economic agents; uncertainty, which deals with the fact that we can never be sure of the probability of an event occurring. An economic concept that deals with uncertainty is game theory, whereby a rational individual has to make a choice between all known possible outcomes [9]. In this framework, an individual maps out all his possible actions; all his possible endings (see appendix 2). When he chooses one action, he has to completely forgo the other possible actions and hence the other possible outcomes (opportunity cost). The motivation of the character is his happiness, or as economists like to say, utility. Models assume that human beings are rational creatures that try to maximize their utility, and this resembles the basic motivations of most characters in a narrative. Utility hence becomes a measurement of how much an individual is willing to pay, or forsake, for his goal [10], and this can be interpreted as a plot device for this individual’s story. An individual calculates the risks that any action of his will bring, makes his decision, and advances the plot, hoping to reach his stable equilibrium in the end.

Who, then, narrates the story for an economic theory? The economist, as the author of his theory, assumes the role of a third person narrator, because he speaks from outside the setting in his story, telling us the characters’ motivations via exposition through economic language (utility, profits), and showing us how a series of events leads to an outcome that prove his theory or framework right. There have been multiple occurrences of economists using narratives to make their theories more compelling, the most famous (or infamous) being Karl Marx, who turns his communist theory into a rhetoric tale in The Communist Manifesto [11]. In this tale, the setting is clearly established (the post-industrial dystopia of Europe). The characters are the bourgeoisie (owners of capital, the antagonists) and the proletariat (the labourers, the oppressed, and the protagonists). Marx clearly sympathizes with the labourers, and outlines a series of events that will lead to the disintegration of the two classes: the bourgeoisie suppress wages until they cannot be suppressed => the proletariat are forced to overthrow the bourgeoisie because of the unliveable financial conditions => there are no longer any bourgeoisie and everyone lives as individuals of an equal class. Each event leads consequentially to the other, and Marx addresses the reader (he passed this manifesto as a flyer to people on the streets) in second person, imperatively telling him to rise against the oppressor, inspiring him with the promise of a free tomorrow (denouement). The theory, thus becomes a vehicle of communication between the economist and the audience. We now know of course, that the concept could not reach an equilibrium, and that the theory failed in practice, even drawing the ire of author George Orwell in Animal Farm, but this illustration shows the rhetoric nature of economic theories, as opposed to rules set in stone.

 

Therefore, I am certain that narrative is a huge component of economic principles. I have clearly outlined how an economic theory is structured like a narrative, and how it incorporates the same elements such as characters, settings, events, plots and endings to tell a story. The purpose of this story is to show how an economist’s theory is executed, and the ending is always a point of equilibrium. This brings us back to the beginning on why economists are always arguing. They are in essence, challenging the endings, or equilibrium, because they have a different narrative. Different economists, have different notions of equilibriums in mind because they have different settings [12]. Maybe their models accounts for an exogenous shock that the former economist failed to see, because his setting was limited. All economists tell stories with their graphs, some go further and tell it through literal narrations to make their arguments more compelling. The human element has always been ingrained in the science of economics, despite the rigidity of mathematical laws in calculations, and as long as there is a human element, there will always be a narrative element.

Appendix:

  1. An exogenous shift in supply curve on demand-supply graph.
    http://www.tankonyvtar.hu/en/tartalom/tamop412A/2011_0009_KarcagiKovats_Andrea_Kuti_Istvan-Agricultural_Economics_I/ch03s03.html

2011_0009_KarcagiKovats_Andrea_Kuti_Istvan-Agricultural_Economics_I

2. An example of a game theory tree that maps out an individual’s actions

game

References

  1. Joan Robinson, “Contributions to Modern Economics”, Academic Press, 1978
  2. Paul A. Samuelson & William D. Nordhaus. “Economics (18th Ed)”,  Irwin/McGraw-Hill, 2004
  3. Ferdinand de Saussure, “Courses in General Linguistics”, Duckworth, 1983
  4. Seymour Chatman, “Story and Discourse”, Cornell University Press. 1978
  5. Donald N. McCloskey, “The Rhetoric of Economics”, American Economic Association, 1983
  6. Steven N. Durlauf, “ The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics (2nd Ed)”, Palgrave Macmillan, 2008
  7. Jeffrey M. Wooldridge, “Introductory Econometrics (5th Ed)”, South-Western College Publications, 2012
  8. Donald N. McCloskey, “If You’re So Smart: The Narrative of Economic Expertise”, The University of Chicago Press, 1990
  9. Roger B. Myerson, “Game Theory: Analysis of Conflict”, Harvard University Press, 1991
  10. Alfred Marshall, “Principles of Economics. An introductory volume (8th ed.)”, Macmillan, 1920
  11. Karl Marx, Selected Writings, EBSCO Publishing, 1994
  12. McCloskey, “If You’re So Smart”, 1990

 


 

I wrote this paper for my GEK1049 Narrative module. Posting it here on the suggestion of a friend who read it. Got an A, a bit higher than what I thought I’d get. It’s dry, and felt weird for me to write since it’s effectively talking about how fictional my major is. Three years devoted to fiction. Ha.