Sunday, February 11, 2007

SLAVES OF OUR WORDS

As many must now know, there is an acrimonious debate going on in the blogosphere about alleged racism from the administrator of Desipundit. This debate is hardly always a civilised one, and the comments I have seen may contain the most comprehensive set of profane phrases penned in the desi blogosphere.

I don't want to analyze what Vulturo said about 'Madrasi' girls. But while he is certainly entitled to his opinion, I definitely think that what he said was very unwise, rather than 'right' or 'wrong'. I think that was so especially because he is the administrator of Desipundit, a site which most of us regularly subscribe to and enjoy. This is not a question of being politically correct or incorrect, but is also about maintaining a certain accountability for an organisation that you are managing. When Lawrence Summers makes sexist-sounding comments, it reflects on Harvard. Similarly, when Vulturo makes provocative comments, it reflects on Desipundit, irrespective or whether this is right or wrong. Also, there is a nuanced manner in which one can make even the most provocative statements. Unfortunately, Vulturo did not leave room for any ambiguity and equivocation in his opinions. The words he used immediately consigned themselves to the bin of racist flotsam. After that, I don't think any amount of explanation will make people's opinions change at least about the specific words used.

There is a simple Chinese proverb; you are masters of the words you hold inside you, and slaves of those which you speak. Most of the times, we don't follow this, but this adage couldn't have been truer than it is in the age of the internet. I believe that our generation, being the first one to have such unfettered access to penning our opinions on the web, still has to come to terms with the permanance of those words. We still have to fathom the fact that twenty years down the line, a spouse, friend, or employer can dig up those words and form an opinion of us. Whether an opinion can be formed based on words written twenty years ago is itself a different question; sometimes it could be credible and sometimes not. But we cannot stop it from materialising. Even though we understand this, I don't think we have internalised the concept. So we need to be careful, more restrained than before. Again, it's not a question of whether it is right or wrong, only whether it can or cannot happen.

I have myself made this mistake before, not to an extent that would damage my career or impressions, but made it nonetheless. Most of the times, I have jokingly said something about a scientist in the comments section of a blog, who could be my prospective employer. I won't be surprised if googling the names of prospective employees is now standard pracctice in organisations. In any case, if he sees the joke I made about him, he may or may not be irked. Again, it does not matter if his outrage is warranted or not. All that matters for me is whether his opinion of me as a student or employee is tainted by these words, quite irrespective of anything else. If his opinions are tainted by my words, I am the one who loses.

Unfortunately in case of Vulturo, his statements were about beauty, a characteristic that is always subjective, and also one that has a long social history of causing offense. Let's accept it; all through the world and in history, fair skin always has been called more beautiful, there is no secret in that. There are several complex reasons for this (European dominance and European-inspired modern civilization being a major one in my opinion). But first of all, there is a good number of the world's population who disagree with such an assertion, and secondly, it is one of those things which may be a fact, but which is not appreciated. So after he made those statements, there was no way Vulturo could logically or objectively wriggle out of their consequences, whether intended or not.

Perhaps our children's generation will have a code of their own, an interesting evolved internet culture in which they are either more responsible or more cautious. I am not implying that one should always be politically correct; otherwise there is no sense to the freedom of speech that this marvelous invention has provided is. The blogworld is essentially a forum to voice your personal opinions. However, freedom of speech is one thing, and its consequences are another. The problem is, even a rational person would find it hard to judge what would be the consequences of his comments suddenly being read by millions of people in the world. What wave of common consciousness would his opinions create in the fluid and vast blogosphere?

In the absence of a defined sense of consequences, one should be doubly sure about his words. This freedom of expression we have inevitably carried the burden of responsibility. We all are crass and say things that we are then forced to either retract or defend. The least we can do is be aware of this. We need to try to be more of masters of our words.

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4 Comments:

Blogger Eric said...

Choosing the right perfume can be difficult and because it is also considered an intimate gift buying the wrong perfume can backfire on you and get you the opposite result of that which you hoped for.

The first thing you need to do is do some homework, meaning research. Look at your lady's perfume bottles, the ones that are nearly empty will be her favorites. If there is one there that is nearly full chances are she doesn't wear it often or doesn't like it. Hint around and ask her what types of fragrances she likes and dislikes.

Humans are very sensory oriented and our sense of smell is no different. Certain perfumes can elicit strong reactions in both the wearer and the person reacting to the scent. Perfumes are made not only to attract but to also relax someone. If you aren't totally sure what kind of perfume to buy you can always play it safe and get something in the aromatherapy line. If you go this route, bear in mind that vanilla scents are considered to relax and a peppermint or lemon scent will be more stimulating.

1:24 PM  
Blogger Ashutosh said...

Umm...Eric, are you sure you left the comment on the right post? The right blog?
Nonetheless, the comment and your accounts of perfume are quite interesting! I myself am very interested in perfumery. Have you read the recent book by Luca Turin?

1:27 PM  
Anonymous Patrix said...

Couldn't have said it better myself. I was trying to allude to this aspect of weighing your consequences before speaking your mind but plenty of people dismissed it as political correctness (PC). PC exists for a reason, too bad some people fail to see that.

BTW Eric has been leaving that comment all over but don't think he is a spammer

12:45 PM  
Blogger Ashutosh said...

Yes, Eric seems to be an interesting guy!!

And correct, that's precisely the point; it goes beyond being PC

5:34 AM  

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