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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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Comments to Lost Purposes

I have to apologize that my comment has nothing to do with this specific post, though I'd be really interested in hearing your thoughts to my following question. I was watching a short news piece a few weeks ago that centered around a 25 year Indian film student from Canada (lived there his entire life) who has come down to India in hopes of starting a film career. He states that the continued burgeoning of the film industry in India and it's continued exposure to world cinema will allow Indian audiences to accept foreign talent and "fresh prespectives". I was wondering, what is your take on this recent phenomena of foreign film student (U.S., Canada, U.K., etc.) coming down to India to participate in the Ifndian ilm industry? Would it be welcomed by you sepecifically?

posted by Anonymous Anonymous 

6:29 am, December 11, 2007
 

Anon: A filmmaker is a filmmaker, irrespective of where they come from, how they work, or what language they speak. So if you ask for my opinion, it takes all sorts to make films, and it takes all sorts of films to make an audience. Cheers!

posted by Blogger Anand 

7:57 pm, December 11, 2007
 

'The Black Swan' by Nassim Nicholas Taleb makes extensive use of various biases to make the author's point. It may not be too far fetched to describe parts of the book as an application of 'biases' argument/postulates. I realised while reading the bag that I had mentally formulated a couple of these based on my own experiences - of course they are not as complete and articulate. overcoming.bias seems to be quite popular with nerds these days.

posted by Blogger BNB 

7:14 pm, December 16, 2007
 

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