Thursday, 3 December 2015

When Congress stumped the mullahs : Revisiting the Shah Bano judgement

Shah Bano (image source : Hindu)

The story as it goes..

In 1978, Muhammad Ahmad Khan, a well-known lawyer from Indore, decided to stop giving maintenance money (a mere Rs 200/month) to his 62-year old wife Shah Bano, who he had thrown out of his house after taking a second wife for himself. When she petitioned a local court to guarantee her a fixed maintenance amount, shrewd lawyer that he was, the husband decided to divorce her. Now, under the Muslim Personal Law (applicable to Indian Muslims in personal affairs), a divorced woman is only eligible for maintenance upto the period of her iddat (usually 3 months), and thus, by divorcing her, Mohammad Ahmad ensured that he wouldn't be under any legal compulsion to give her any money after the first 3 months were over!

When the Madhya Pradesh High Court repudiated his maneuver and ordered him to pay Rs 179.20/month, Muhammad Ahmad filed a petition in the Supreme Court, claiming his "right" under the Muslim Personal Law to not give monthly alimony to his ex-wife. As expected, the Supreme Court unanimously rejected his appeal. Several of the ulema (religious authorities) saw this as a violation of God's laws and an intrusion into the personal laws of Muslims. Under the umbrella of All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), Ali Miyan and other prominent ulema launched a vigorous campaign against the judgement. Fearing the loss of Muslim votes, Congress passed the infamous "The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act 1986" nullifying the Supreme Court judgement, effectively allowing Muslim men to divorce their economically-destitute wives without having to provide for their maintenance except for the first three months.

The Act was roundly criticized as regressive and a blatant case of minority appeasement. BJP (whose predecessor Jan Sangh and ideological fountainhead RSS had incidentally fought tooth and nail against the rights of Hindu women during the Nehruvian era) accused the Congress of placing its own self-interest ahead of the rights of Muslim women. Ever since, the Act has become a symbol of vote-bank politics and a byword for minority-appeasement, especially of the Congress.

Behind the scenes - What really happened

So, are Muslim women today devoid of their alimony rights in India ? Fortunately, not, and the reason is a legal maneuver from Congress, worthy of a John Grisham novel. Under pressure from influential Muslim groups, Rajiv Gandhi agreed to scrap the Supreme Court ruling, but in the very Act that was supposed to nullify the judgement, a paragraph was deftly introduced that would strengthen and validate that very verdict, paving the way for far-reaching reforms in Muslim alimony laws in India. Arif Mohammad Khan (India's Minister of State at that time; he later resigned in protest against the Act) recounts that when the Law Minister Ashoke Kumar Sen handed him a draft copy, he was astounded that the Act overturned everything that the ulema were demanding, and was in fact, an improvement over the Supreme Court's decision itself! Section 3(1)(a) of the Act requires :

"a reasonable and fair provision and maintenance to be made and paid to her within the iddah period by her former husband".

Since the maintenance was supposed to be paid "within" the iddah period (3 months) and not "for" it, the Act effectively required the husband to pay the entire life-worth of alimony as a single lump-sum amount inside 3 months of divorce! Moreover, it provided no maximum ceiling for the alimony amount (which was Rs 500/month in the original SC verdict). This loophole was no accident; it was deliberately inserted to dilute the Act's effects. Arif recounts Sen pleading him “ keep quiet. None of them has understood this provision.” 

The courts, of course, understood it perfectly and have since, interpreted the phrasing liberally, granting in some cases, lakhs of rupees as alimony to Muslim women. Implicitly acknowledging this honourable deceit, the Supreme Court, in 2001, remarked : 

“though it may look ironical, the enactment [Muslim Women Act] intended to reverse the decision in Shah Bano’s case actually codifies the very rationale contained therein”.

Outwitted, the ulema of AIMPLB were advised by Ali Miyan against further protest as the blame for getting the "defective" Act passed would, otherwise, be upon them. Thus ended an epic saga of patriarchal bigotry, judicial integrity, populist demagoguery, legislative ingenuity and ultimately, an enduring legal reform.

References :

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Country as myth : A case against rabid patriotism

Preempting ScoopWhoop by a good decade, my class 8 history book offered me "Top ten things about India that you probably didn't know". One particular "fact" struck me a little odd.

India hasn't invaded any country in the last 10,000 years of her history

Having spent a good part of the previous year memorizing the murderous battles that marked the formation of the MauryanGuptaChalukya and Mughal empires, I couldn't help but wonder if there was even such a thing as "India" at that time (apart from its obvious geographic connotations). The entire area seemed a patchwork of kingdoms big and small, each identifying itself as an independent (and often sovereign) entity, similar to how nations today see each other. Without any consciousness of a single united entity, the concept of an "Indian" invasion seemed, even at that time, an utterly absurd notion.

In fact, even the use of the term "country" for medieval and ancient times is anachronistic. Countries, with their well-defined borders, are a very recent innovation, with empires (with their seemingly endless appetite for gorging new territories) being, by far, the most prevalent system of political organization in the past. Inside an empire, your loyalty and identity extended no further than the current ruler's kingdom (often not more than a few dozen kilometers). You were Indian only in the way an Indian today is also an Asian - a mere geographic identity.

By contrast, all of us today that live inside the area demarcated by international agreements as "India", are united by a single identity, that of an Indian citizen. The only reason this identity exists is because everyone, everywhere in the world has come to believe in the myth of the Indian State, or more generally, the myth of a sovereign independent nation. But wait! Aren't myths supposed to be fictional stories ?

Let's take the example of money. If you think about it, there is no real reason why a person in Andaman should give you a dozen mango crates in exchange for a piece of processed wood pulp (your 1000 Rs note). He can't do anything useful with it - he can't eat it, burn it to keep himself warm, or use it to catch animals. Your note has absolutely no physical or intrinsic value. The only reason that it is valuable to the Andamanese guy is because he knows that everybody else in Andaman also thinks that it has value, and if he takes it to any shop, he can buy some actually useful stuff in exchange for it.

Money is a concept that resides only in the combined imagination of billions of human beings. It works only because everybody has agreed on the same mythical value of that processed piece of wood pulp. Indeed, its one of the most powerful myths that mankind has ever imagined (Yuval Harari : Sapiens)

Far from being a negative thing, myths are the foundations on which the human civilization is based. Our capacity to imagine powerful, completely imaginary stories, and convince others to believe in them, is what enables such large-scale co-operation among human beings - a capacity that no other animal can claim to possess. Just imagine the world without the myth of human rights. It took humans centuries to convince each other of this myth, but in reality, the idea that all human being have some fundamental rights, is something that has absolutely no basis outside the human imagination.

The nation-state is a myth in the same way money is. It works because everybody in the world has come to believe that its a good idea to draw arbitrary boundaries on a map, and tell people living inside those boundaries that they now all "one"; somehow distinct from everybody that lies outside those boundaries. One may argue that there are good reasons for drawing those boundaries, but ultimately, the only place they exist is inside the human mind (A Burmese goat wouldn't know when it entered India, would it ?)

Like every other nation, India too is a myth. The problem is not that it is a myth; the problem is that we have forgotten that it is one. Divinity is ascribed to it and blasphemy laws erected; legitimate criticism is dismissed as anti-national and its proponents branded "marxists", "leftists" and most unfortunate of all, "secularists". (Not all criticism is dismissed though - that of the far-right is by default patriotic) Objection to the words of a song is heresy and the slightest criticism of the army's role in conflict-ridden territories tends to haunt you for life. In India, there are no fake encounters, no false charges; no torture cells and no witness-intimidation. That's what other countries do. When our security agencies capture a terroristof course he's a terrorist. What possible reason can there be to doubt that ? Who could even think of defending him except those "sickulars" and "liberals" ?

This vile industry of rabid patriotism inevitably gives rise to self-appointed "community-leaders" - custodians of national honour and the sole arbiter of what it means to be patriotic. They extend the national myth into a careful construction of a glorious past - a past that is ironed out to remove all inconvenient wrinkles. Of course, in a region as diverse as India, there can be no such single unifying narrative of "glory". Not unless you start creating villains.

Unfortunately, the current grand unified narrative is one in which the villains constitute 15% of India's population - foreign invaders who brought an end to the glorious reign of "Indian" rulers, and pushed the country into what our respected PM called, "1200 years of slavery".

In conclusion, the Indian State (like every other nation) is a piece of political fiction - necessary and useful, but fiction nevertheless. The bigotry arises when we fail to see it as such; when the rights of the nation become more sacred than the rights of its citizens and when our love for it turns us into inveterate apologists.

Love your nation but don't restrict it to imaginary boundaries. Respect the selfless (and often anonymous) sacrifices of our security forces, but don't close yourself to the possibility of their crimes. Be a patriot. Don't be a bigot.

References : 

  • Sapiens : A Brief History of Mankind (Yuval Noah Harari)
  • The Past As Present (Romila Thapar)

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

When humans other than sapiens walked the earth

There are 3 elephant species, 10 of pigs, 90 of whales and 260 species of monkeys on earth. All humans today, no matter which colour, height or region, constitute just a single species, homo sapiens. If man is an animal (as he demonstrably is), it begs the question as to where are all its different species ? The answer, it turns out, is quite disturbing.

Around 1.8 million years, when there wasn't even a whiff of any sapiens on earth, a brute, with a little over half our brain-size and a radically different anatomy, emerged in the African grasslands. Armed with improved intelligence and full bipedality (walking on two legs), it became the first human to cross the continent of Africa. In less than a million years, it had colonized lands as far as China and Indonesia, mastering fire in the process. This was homo erectus - the most successful human species to have ever lived, at least in terms of time (over a million and a half years). 

Around 600,000 years ago, a group from an extinct human species called homo heidelbergensis migrated out of Africa, choosing to settle in what is now Europe. This group evolved into the famous Neantherthals - a culturally-sophisticated species that surpassed modern humans in both physical strength and brain size. It dominated the European and West Asian landscapes for a whopping 300,000 years! (let that figure sink in - all the history we learn spans not more than 5,000 years)

As fate would have it, another group of the same homo heidelbergensis species had stayed back in Africa. In another 400,000 years, these relatively non-descript cousins of the illustrious Neanderthals would evolve into the most dangerous predator the earth had ever seen - us, the homo sapiens. 1

Evidence indicates that we did try to cross Africa about 100,000 years ago, but were driven back by the Neanderthals while passing through the Middle East 2. Close on the heels of that failure, the largest supervolcano eruption of the last 25 million years occurred in Indonesia, setting off a thousand-year winter. Our species was pushed to the brink of extinction 3, with genetic evidence revealing that not more than 10-15,000 people survived. Evolution worked overtime, and although nobody knows exactly what cognitive changes occurred during this time, the next time we invaded the Middle East 70,000 years ago, we were a completely different animal altogether. 

Within a span of five thousand years, we obliterated the Neanderthals (and possibly the Denisovans - a human species that we know only through its DNA), proceeding then towards South Asia to wipe out any and all surviving descendants of homo erectus

Around 40,000 years, we became the first human species to set foot on Australia - a truly devastating moment in the continent's history. Almost its entire megafauna (a name given to large-sized animals) was slaughtered out of existence. In order to obtain easy prey and clear forests, we literally set fire to the entire continent! Eucalyptus - the most widespread tree in Australia today, survived only because it was fire-resistant. The pattern was repeated everywhere this new species of humans went - in North America, 34 out of 47, and in South America, 50 out of 60 genera (entire genera, not just species) of large animals disappeared within a couple of thousand of years of human arrival. So much for the belief that our ancestors lived in harmony with nature!

So again, where are all our human cousins ? In oblivion of course, where we placed them. But before dying, they did manage to leave an indelible mark upon us. While contriving to end their existence, we had duly taken care to breed with some NeanderthalsDenisovans and a third yet-unknown species, resulting in 1-5% genetic contribution from them in modern non-African populations. In a very real sense therefore, a part of these ancient human species continues to live within us.

References : 

  1. Sapiens : A Brief History of Humankind
  2. The Greatest Show on Earth
  3. Human Evolution : Past and Future (University of Wisconsin)
  4. Introduction to Human Evolution  (Wellesley College)
Its possible that the descent from homo heidelbergensis wasn't entirely linear
There were probably other minor migrations, but firm evidence for them is still pending 
Whether it was the result of this supervolcano eruption or some other  unknown cause, remains a contentious issue

(Image courtesy of africa at

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Artificial Intelligence - Monsters, Minions or None of the (ever) Above

AI has traditionally been represented in Hollywood as an existential threat to humanity. Predictably, the counter-trend chose to depict them as homo humane – moral beings dedicated to humanity’s welfare, or at the very least, choosing not to interfere. In doing so however, we are merely projecting human psychological quirks upon their minds; “minds” that are fundamentally non-human.

To be sure, nobody really knows how consciousness arises (or even how to define it, strictly speaking). Increasing neural complexity along the evolutionary path, at one point, led to rudimentary self-awareness. Instead of a series of involuntary reflexes, the trait allowed the animal to take cognizance of his surroundings, and actively make use of its neural prowess to manipulate it in order to avoid danger and obtain food - the stepping stone towards intelligence. It reduced the turnover time that natural selection took in order to get the critical survival behaviour that had suddenly become indispensable. What would have taken generations to program into the animal for it to mindlessly execute, could now be partially improvised by the animal itself, making consciousness a chief candidate for optimization through natural selection. Origins aside, it is clear that our modern consciousness is an emergent phenomenon, the result of millions of years of evolutionary tweaking.

Similarly, our psychological impulses too have been shaped by innumerable, and mostly unaccountable evolutionary factors. Given that we can't possibly hope to recreate all the factors that led to our current psychological state, there is absolutely no reason to assume that an AI which becomes self-aware somehow, will share any of our expectations of behaviour. Why, for example, would it want to create something, follow orders, or have even an iota of curiosity? Why would it even want to survive? A consciousness brought about by artificial means with possibly no survival instincts, cannot be “obviously” expected to have any desire.

All of this assumes that the self-awareness we are used to is a distinct something that can be reached through multiple paths, and not something bound to a very specific evolutionary process. Even if it were the case, will we even call something that doesn't want to survive, conscious? Doesn't our very idea of consciousness hinge upon our perception of free will? If that is an illusion, might not consciousness be one too? Are all our efforts then, directed at making machines delusional? And, how much time will a “true” AI take to realize this?

(Image courtesy of Victor Habbick at

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Why banning drugs might not be such a good idea

This is a collection of selective quotations from a discussion that took place between Sam Harris and acclaimed environmental journalist Johann Hari here :

Common sense dictates that we ban drugs and other such addictions. After all, who wants their friends and family to fall victim to its menace ? The above conversation shows us why such a ban might be counter-productive, and might very well contribute to increasing the misery of society in general. Following are some of the snippets of that conversation :

Funding for the mafia

"When you ban substances that people enjoy using so much that they’ll break the law to do it, you create a black market with huge profits. And since purveyors of illicit drugs have no legal way to secure their investment, the trade will be run by increasingly violent criminals. In a single stroke, therefore, prohibition creates organized crime and all the social ills attributable to the skyrocketing cost of drugs — addicts are forced to become thieves and prostitutes in order to afford their next fix. Why isn’t the stupidity of prohibition now obvious to everyone?"
When the American authorities decided to completely ban drugs in 1914, they left a deliberate loophole permitting doctors to prescribe them to drug addicts. When in the 1930s, the government decided to ban even this, the drug gangs and mafia actually bribed the narcotics officers to implement the ban even quicker, and more strictly. Their rationale was that if the addict could not get the drugs legally, he would have to go to the mafia, which could extort obscene amounts of money for it. Its quite astonishing how this ban has funded (and continues to) fund the most violent drug lords and extremist groups, to the extent that some of them are virtually running the city's finances for it.

"[Banning drugs] means unknown criminals selling unknown chemicals to unknown users, all in the dark, in our public places, filled with disease and chaos. Legalization is a way of imposing regulation and order on this anarchy. It’s about taking it away from criminal gangs and giving it to doctors and pharmacists, and making sure it happens in nice clean clinics, and we get our nice parks back, and we reduce crime."

The example of Portugal and Switzerland

"In 2000 Portugal had one of the worst drug problems in Europe. One percent of the population was addicted to heroin, which is kind of extraordinary. Every year they tried the American way more and more: They arrested and imprisoned more people, and every year the problem got worse. One day the prime minister and the leader of the opposition got together and in effect said, 'We can’t go on like this. We can’t have more and more people becoming heroin addicts. Let’s figure out what would genuinely solve the problem.'

They convened a panel of scientists and doctors and said to them (again I’m paraphrasing), 'Go away and figure out what would solve this problem, and we will agree in advance to do whatever you recommend.'

... The panel went away for a year and a half and came back and said: 'Decriminalize everything from cannabis to crack. But'—and this is the crucial next stage—'take all the money we used to spend on arresting and harassing and imprisoning drug users, and spend it on reconnecting them with society and turning their lives around.'

... Most of it, the most successful part, was really very simple. It was making sure that every addict in Portugal had something to get out of bed for in the morning. It consisted of subsidized jobs and microloans to set up small businesses. Say you used to be a mechanic. When you’re ready, they’ll go to a garage and they’ll say, 'If you employ Sam for a year, we’ll pay half his wages.' The microloans had extremely low interest rates, and many businesses were set up by addicts.

It’s been nearly 15 years since this experiment began, and the results are in. Drug use by injection is down by 50%, broader addiction is down, overdose is massively down, and HIV transmission among addicts is massively down.

Switzerland, a very conservative country, legalized heroin for addicts, meaning you go to the doctor, the doctor assigns you to a clinic, you go to that clinic every day, and you inject your heroin. You can’t take it out with you. I went to that clinic — it looks like a fancy Manhattan hairdresser’s, and the addicts go out after injecting their heroin to their jobs and their lives.

I stress again—Switzerland is a very right-wing country, and after its citizens had seen this in practice, they voted by 70% in two referenda to keep heroin legal for addicts, because they could see that it works. They saw that crime massively fell, property crime massively fell, muggings and street prostitution declined enormously."

What exactly causes addiction ?

"For 100 years we’ve been told a story about addiction that’s just become part of our common sense. It’s obvious to us. We think that if you, I, and the first 20 people to read this on your site all used heroin together for 20 days, on day 21 we would be heroin addicts, because there are chemical hooks in heroin that our bodies would start to physically need, and that’s what addiction is.

The first thing that alerted me to what’s not right about this story is when I learned that if you step out onto the street and are hit by a car and break your hip, you’ll be taken to a hospital where it’s quite likely that you’ll be given a lot of diamorphine. Diamorphine is heroin. It’s much more potent than what you get on the street, because it’s medically pure, not f***ed up by dealers. You’ll be given that diamorphine for quite a long period of time. Anywhere in the developed world, people near you are being giving loads of heroin in hospitals now.

If what we think about addiction is right, what will happen? Some of those people will leave the hospital as heroin addicts. That doesn’t happen. There have been very detailed studies of this. It doesn’t happen."

"...our idea of addiction comes in part from a series of experiments that were done earlier in the 20th century. They’re really simple experiments, and your readers can do them at home if they’re feeling a bit sadistic. You get a rat, you put it in a cage, and you give it two water bottles: One is water, and the other is water laced with heroin or cocaine. The rat will almost always prefer the drugged water and will almost always kill itself. So there you go. That’s our theory of addiction.

But in the 1970s, Bruce Alexander came along and thought, “Hang on a minute. We’re putting the rat in an empty cage. It’s got nothing to do except use these drugs. Let’s try this differently.”

So he built a very different cage and called it Rat Park. Rat Park was like heaven for rats. They had everything a rat could possibly want: lovely food, colored balls, tunnels, loads of friends. They could have loads of sex. And they had both the water bottles—the normal water and the drugged water. What’s fascinating is that in Rat Park they didn’t like the drugged water. They hardly ever drank it. None of them ever drank it in a way that looked compulsive. None of them ever overdosed."

Switzerland again and the Vietnam soldiers

"In Switzerland, where they legalized heroin, when you start on the program, you set your own dose of heroin, and you can stay on it for as long as you want. There’s never any pressure to stop, which surprised me. I actually was taken aback by that.

So anyone on that program can just stay on it their whole life, right? You can just carry on. The program’s been running for 20 years. But it’s interesting—there’s almost nobody on the program now who was on it at the start.

I said, “Well, how come that happened?” And they said that the chaos of street use, of scrambling to pay this grossly inflated price, ended, because people were given heroin as a medical prescription. The people in the clinic support you, they help you get housing, and they help you look for a job. So the majority of the people there get jobs, get homes, so they choose entirely of their own will to gradually cut down their heroin use over time, and eventually they stop. Because their lives become more bearable. Because they want to be more present in their lives. Because their lives slowly improve.

In Vietnam 20% of American troops were using a lot of heroin. And if you look at the reports from the time, they were really sh***ing themselves, because they thought, 'My God, we’re going to have hundreds of thousands of junkies on the streets of the United States when the war ends.'

Actually, this was studied very closely, and the overwhelming majority—95%—of the men who had been using lots of heroin in Vietnam came home and just stopped. They didn’t go to rehab, didn’t get any treatment. They just stopped. Because if you’re taken out of a hellish, pestilential jungle where you could die at any moment, and you go back to your nice life in Wichita, Kansas, with your friends and your family and your human connections, that’s the equivalent of being taken out of the first cage and put into Rat Park."

The case of tobacco

"[This's] not to say that there’s no chemical component [to drug addiction]. It’s important to stress that... There’s a broad scientific consensus that one of the most physically addictive drugs available to us is tobacco. And we’ve isolated the part that’s chemically compelling—it’s nicotine. So when nicotine patches were invented in the early 1990s, there was this massive wave of optimism: Great, you can give smokers all the drugs they’re addicted to without the filthy carcinogenic smoke. Progress. You will see a huge fall in smoking.

Actually, the US surgeon general’s report found that only 17% of smokers stopped with nicotine patches. Now, it’s important to stress that 17% is a lot. It’s not nothing. That tells us that 17% of these addictions are chemically driven—or at least that 17% of people can stop when the chemical component is met. That’s huge. That tells us that the story we’ve been told up to now is not false. But it also tells us that it’s only 17% of the story, and that 83% has to be explained in some other way. These social and environmental factors should be a very big part of the conversation and the discussion."

Image courtesy of marin at

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Why's everybody else just so stupid ?

"Why're these trolls on FB and twitter so damn stupid ? I mean, how can they not see how bad this party is, how murderous these people are, or how absurd is that logic ? Mindless drones, trotting like sheep, to wherever they are herded. Would someone give them a link to that article, and tell them to do some damn research before shouting their mouths off."

If that's you speaking (and it is you), it might be well-worth considering that you (instead of, or in addition to the evil "other") suffer from something called confirmation bias. Plainly put, its the tendency to focus on only that information which confirms what you already think is correct, and filtering-out/ignoring things which contradict that position. But wait! You are too smart to fall for that, aren't you ? You are a rational person, someone who does proper research before choosing his position. You'll obviously change it when confronted with evidence to the contrary. Right ?

Well, the thing is, you probably won't. Not because you don't want to, but because you would've made it extremely difficult for yourself to ever see contrary evidence. And, why the hell would you do that ? Look at twitter, for instance, where you can "follow" important people, and get notifications whenever they post something. Who do you choose to follow ? Mostly, people who you like and whose view you already agree with. Who do these important people follow ? Again, mostly people who they agree with. How do you find new people to follow ? Either from the suggestions twitter provides you, or by being impressed by people whose tweets are re-tweeted by those you are already following. How does twitter know which people to suggest ? Often, it suggests people who are being followed by people who you are already following. You realize where I'm going with this, right ? You never set out with the explicit intention of ignoring other views, but here you are, overwhelmingly surrounded by people who all think like you. From where do you think you'll hear those other views now ?

Inside these "in-groups" of yours, you get high on seeing silly, illogical comments of the other side being incessantly mocked and torn apart by merciless logic. There is a certain guilty pleasure in hearing the other side being described as "bhakts", "AAPtards", "trolls" and the like, even if you don't use those words yourselves. Over a period of time, you develop disdain, not only for their opinions, but for anybody who professes to hold (or even casually endorse) those opinions.

Suppose you hear some news that goes against your deeply-held convictions (or some criticism of your favourite political party). The first thing that comes to mind is that there must be a backstory that justifies it, some piece of information that the "paid" media is hiding. The internet knows this too, and there is a huge market for articles that pander to this need of yours for self-justification. Against this tide of criticism, all you need is one article that justifies your stand (and rest assured, there'll always be one), just one reassuring voice that says that you were right all along, and you'll sleep that night knowing that you are the beacon of logic and rationality in this dark and gruesome world of gullible fools. And it often doesn't matter what this "refutation" is; the very fact that there is one, is enough to convince you that your enemy has been slain. Then begins your victory dance - trolling your trolls with your discovery, pasting its link in every possible comments section you can find, and then conveniently disabling notifications from those posts. After all, who has the time to hear their illogical justifications. You have a 9-6 job you see, unlike these [Mossad, CIA, Illuminati - insert your favourite over-arching villain]-funded trolls whose very job is to misinform people.

Another way it plays out is when the first time you even hear about the criticism, is when someone in your circle publishes a response to it. It so turns out that you are reading the response before the allegation itself, inherently biasing yourself against the original criticism, if you even choose to read it (and why would you, after it has been so magnificently deconstructed and rubbished).

Once in a blue moon, the glass shatters. You encounter a flesh and body individual who actually holds those opinions. Its when, with a condescending smile and a difficult-to-hide smirk, you set out to educate them, that you find that the arguments perhaps weren't as stupid as they were made out to be. The silly arguments that you were expecting were exactly that - silly, distorted caricatures of what the actual criticism was. And you never bothered to check! Such is the insulation, that people are often visibly shocked on hearing some rather common news - something that was never discussed in what is often their only source of such knowledge - their "in-group", for reasons that becomes quite obvious to them at that time.

Of course, none of this implies that you are necessarily wrong in your opinions, nor that sometimes, a position is clearly absurd and illogical. But it would probably be best to step out of your high castles once in a while, and trawl the lands of your heathen nemeses. After all, while criticizing others for their "herd mentality", you might yourself be getting herded by a far more subtle, and potent shepherd - your unconscious brain.

Image courtesy of artur84 at