Friday, January 24, 2014

The path and the end of an argument

‘The idea is to make progress, even if you can’t do it all now’ – Lars Peter Hansen
When I read the above, I let out a bone-chilling shriek and scared my wife. I told her, “A Nobel Laureate has just validated an idea I subscribe to!” She asked, insultingly nonchalantly, “So what?” Now, I have found out that there is no point arguing anything with her and therefore I am letting it all hang out in this quasi-public forum.
I have argued that in any argument the phrase that should never find a place is, “Taking it to a logical conclusion …” My idea of a discussion or an argument is merely to determine, or at least agree on the direction of movement. One should not get into an argument with an idea of concluding anything. From my perspective, an argument enables course correction, or, in sailing parlance tacking this way and that way to try to reach what appears in the horizon as the probable destination. Indeed, the destination may change during the journey. One has to sail with, against and across the wind during this arduous exercise. America’s Cup races would be smooth sailing in comparison!
Recently I argued in a post that perhaps it is our religious training that makes a super majority of Indians endorse death penalty. I could have taken that line of thinking to its logical conclusion that unless people are deprived of religious teaching, there is no hope for abolishing death penalty. Had I tried to pursue that line of argument I would have been burdened with having to prove that every irreligious person is against death penalty. That would have been the logical conclusion. Obviously, I am not up to that task. Hence, I stopped short. I hedged and said the anti-death penaltyists must counter the mentality of revenge to have any hope in their mission.
I wanted others to think further on this line. And, to my mild surprise, one of the readers did and that warmed the cockles of my heart! Indeed, even assuming I could have constructed an unassailable argument and brought it to conclude that death penalty is useless at best and immoral at its worst, I am not sure I would have felt as happy as that, because this reader has internalized the supposed need for death penalty, for deterring such crimes, for bringing justice to the victim etc. Now, not having gone full bore and to the end, I seem to have made a dent in her thinking. Maybe I am jumping to conclusions in a hurry. But, please allow me to feel good, even if only temporarily.
Now, to get back to the quote at the beginning of the post. I was not able to do it all at one go. But, I have made some progress.

And, I am entitled to feel elated, and indeed let out a shrill “Yippee…!” never mind my wife and her sensibilities. What does she know, about Nobel Laureates, no less!
Raghuram Ekambaram 

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