Anand Fadeout

Mdeii Life - Anand Krishnamoorthi's blog

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Lost Purposes

Eliezer Yudkowsky's piece Lost Purposes is another one of those thought-provoking things that he regularly churns out at Overcoming Bias.

He writes:
"As you read this, some young man or woman is sitting at a desk in a university, earnestly studying material they have no intention of ever using, and no interest in knowing for its own sake. They want a high-paying job, and the high-paying job requires a piece of paper, and the piece of paper requires a previous master's degree, and the master's degree requires a bachelor's degree, and the university that grants the bachelor's degree requires you to take a class in 12th-century knitting patterns to graduate. So they diligently study, intending to forget it all the moment the final exam is administered, but still seriously working away, because they want that piece of paper."

He continues to explore the intricacies of what is well spelt out in the title of his blog-post.

Take for example the case for a film school in Chennai. Going by the quote above, one should think that it would not get into the rut of producing graduates with paper diplomas because the 'industry' values performance more than paper. In fact, one would safely assume that since the industry is quite comfortable with its apprentice system of education, a film school would actually have to produce performers in order to stay alive.

Of course this might be quite true for the government run film-schools which anyway do not depend on the patronage of the industry to exist. I do not have the numbers to back up a claim that formal education is of no effect in the mainstream industry. It appears that I have to go by 'perception'. But maybe the general absence of any reputable organised private training institutes (considering the scope, scale, and age of the Indian film industry) could point to the irrelevance of formal organised training as far as the film industry is concerned? So taking up 'perception', barring 'technicians' there is generally very little respect for aesthetes out of film school.

So here the general conclusion would be that the idea of lost purposes would not apply to a private film school. This sounds too good to be true (not that this doubt is any cause to deny its correctness).

We need to see at what point in the evolution of the film industry does a formal film-school become relevant, and even possible? This considering the fact that the industry itself has somehow found an optimum in non-formal education. (I seriously doubt the other assumption that the government film-schools were sufficient).

Many hail the 'corporatisation' of the the film-industry as the big thing that is going to take the industry by storm. This necessarily involves a restructuring of 'employment' within the industry. Here is where a paper diploma becomes useful for its paper. And correspondingly, this has seen a sudden surge in the number of private film-schools.

OK, before I come across as a Gandhian champion of subsistence filmmaking, where everybody somehow seemed to have learnt with a 'purpose', I have to start rethinking what employment really means in the film industry.

Am I to assume that somehow everybody found their 'purpose' before blind corporatisation turned them into mindless and purposeless proletariats? No. Am I also to assume, in extension that corporatisation is going to suck creativity and accountability out of the system by getting rid of the close-knit information structures that helped recruitment in the past? No. Why not? Well, probably because for one, I am not a Gandhian romantic.

Even in subsistence-filmmaking, a job was still a job. If you got paid better climbing a ladder and holding onto a light, than sawing planks of wood and painting them pink, you would try to train yourself to climb heights. The sole 'purpose' is to get employed and make money not some romantic ideal of 'I would make a better grip or carpenter'. Smith, rather than Ricardo. Now this idea would be harder to reconcile when talking about other technicians or artists. “Surely, one does not become a Cinematographer just because it paid better, you need to have it in you”. But is this really true? Yes, you need to have it in you, but if you 'had' it, and then if it paid peanuts?

So even in the subsistence industry, employment and wages follow the same basic rules, but one other thing happens. The idea of 'purpose' gets romanticised. In a glamour industry where signalling plays a huge part in remuneration and status, connections and level at entry play a very important role. Ability, or qualification and ironically, ambition and 'purpose' have very little say.

This is probably the reason why formal education was disregarded, not because it was 'purposeless' but because qualification meant squat. I have already made the case why formal education is not something that is contradictory to informal teaching, but merely the evolution of how people skilled themselves.

Now if ambition and ability had nothing to do with how things were, how does this new 'corporate' culture with its 'lost purposes' fare any better? For one, in its 'ruthless' ways, the corporate would minimise the costs of 'signalling'. There will be those without purpose (as they always were) but the ones who will be more successful are the ones who can still find their own goals and work towards them. Julian Simon comes to mind. The corporate film industry is not ideal, but even less ideal is the feudal subsistence film industry. At-least in the former case, individual human enterprise is unleashed, and maybe even contemplate 'purpose'.

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Monday, November 19, 2007

I ravvu de Japaneesu Part II


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Thursday, November 15, 2007

A Delusion called the Free-Market (and gravity)

This is the modified version of the letter I wrote to Amit Varma in response to his article in his web-log India Uncut, Changing the Law of Gravity, dated 15 November 2007.

Dear Mr Varma,

Apropos your piece entitled "Changing the Law of Gravity", Congressman Bill Sali makes a very valid point.

Every state is defined by its Constitution—a text which lays down the rules by which all actions within the nation can operate. Vaazhappazha had its Parashurama Sutra, England has its Magna Carta, and India and America have their own constitutions.

In America the law of the market and the law of gravity are specifically written down in their constitution. This is primarily a result of the era in which the American Founding Fathers lived, and their writing is a reflection of their belief system. Therefore America is where the market and gravity were said to exist (that is, until recently).

India, on the other hand is different. Since we were not founded on the principle of the free market and of gravity, but instead on socialism and the history of Hanuman having flown to Lanka, one cannot expect western values to be imposed on us. Unfortunately, the neo-liberals amongst us make the very mistake and point to the American constitution as an example.

In a curious development, Eastern (specifically Indian) historical texts have greatly influenced modern western ideas. In fact I would call most of it sheer plagiarism. Indian non-gravitational inventions such as the Pushpaka Vimana, and anti-gravitational ideas such as Hanuman flying up to the sun and Krishna lifting a mountain have all had a bearing on recent western thought and science.

The travel of Indian ideas to the rest of the world closely coincides with western non-gravitational inventions such as the aircraft and space-flight, and also non-gravitational concepts such as Superman and the Incredible Hulk. And if you notice carefully, all the things I have so far mentioned are in fact American.

Just as the legislation of the minimum wage and the New Deal came about as a result of market-failure, Superman and space-flight are a direct result of gravity-failure.

It is probably time for America to rethink its holy-cow constitution and come up with a text that recognises that far from the truth, the free market and gravity are both non-existent delusions. I am glad Congressman Sali has realised this, and I thank you for pointing our attention to this very uplifting piece of news.

Yours Sincerely,
Dr. Acharya Somuchidononanda Pandey
Hon. Director, Smirzkoff Centre for Historical Speculation in Pune, India
Director, Mehta-Vedic Sciences Project in London


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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Goethe and evolution

Diegogarcity (there! I've used my new favourite word in a sentence) forced me to the Wikipedia entry on Goethe, and I quote from there:

"Goethe was also a cultural force, and by researching folk traditions, he created many of the norms for celebrating Christmas, and argued that the organic nature of the land moulded the people and their customs

"He argued that laws could not be created by pure rationalism, since geography and history shaped habits and patterns. This stood in sharp contrast to the prevailing Enlightenment view that reason was sufficient to create well-ordered societies and good laws.

"Goethe's influence was dramatic because he understood that there was a transition in European sensibilities, an increasing focus on sense, the indescribable, and the emotional. This is not to say that he was emotionalistic or excessive; on the contrary, he lauded personal restraint and felt that excess was a disease: “There is nothing worse than imagination without taste”. He argued in his scientific works that a “formative impulse”, which he said is operative in every organism, causes an organism to form itself according to its own distinct laws, and therefore rational laws or fiats could not be imposed at all from a higher, transcendent sphere; this placed him in direct opposition to those who attempted to form “enlightened” monarchies based on “rational” laws by, for example, Joseph II of Austria or, the subsequent Emperor of the French, Napoleon I. "

Now read about a Curious Inconsistency as written by Don Boudreaux. And from there go read about the Social Snowflakes as written by Steven Horwitz.

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Friday, November 02, 2007

Ali Farka Touré

Listened to some really trippy blues guitaring after a long time. I'm afraid it is only a matter of time before some Bollywood idiot steals the tunes (if it has not already happened).

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