Note to recruiters

Note to recruiters: We are quite aware that recruiters, interviewers, VCs and other professionals generally perform a Google Search before they interview someone, take a pitch from someone, et cetera. Please keep in mind that not everything put on the Internet must align directly to one's future career and/or one's future product portfolio. Sometimes, people do put things on the Internet just because. Just because. It may be out of their personal interests, which may have nothing to do with their professional interests. Or it may be for some other reason. Recruiters seem to have this wrong-headed notion that if somebody is not signalling their interests in a certain area online, then that means that they are not interested in that area at all. It is worth pointing out that economics pretty much underlies the areas of marketing, strategy, operations and finance. And this blog is about economics. With metta, let us. by all means, be reflective about this whole business of business. Also, see our post on "The Multi-faceted Identity Problem".

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Hindu Studies Post 3 - Blistering barnacles

Bad ideas are like barnacles. They have a tendency to hold on. In Hindu Studies, there has been this tendency to think that every opinion is created equal. This is an understandable intellectual response to the organizational nature of Hinduism. If there is no organization that can serve as an 'Authority' (as, for example, the Catholic Church for Catholicism), then surely, all opinions must be equal. (Ed Note: Of course, they are not). My thesis, as part of this series of posts, is that Hinduism is different from other religions in that it does not possess a hierarchical structure but rather has a network structure. This is the reason for the mistaken intellectual response that you often see.

The same sort of mistake, oddly enough, also happens in India Studies, but it may be a bit more involved to state why. The reason is incentives. Professors have no incentive to point out mistakes in the work of others. Tenure decisions are not made based on how much you help other academics correct their analysis. It is much better to execute a policy of 'live and let live' wherein nobody finds fault with anybody else. This strategy is a Nash equilibrium. And not surprisingly, that is exactly what professors do.

Unfortunately for these professors, they are many of us who know that not all opinions are indeed created equal. An academic paper is much more likely to convince if it has the backing of sound mathematical statistics and solid numbers. The non-mathematical approach to academe continues to be popular, but it is unfortunately a recipe for disaster. What we have in place of actual intellectual analysis is a perfect storm of confusion. In the case of Hinduism, billions of people with billions of ideas about their faith, all of them somehow treated as correct. In the case of India Studies, hundreds of academics with conflicting ideas about India, all of them somehow consistent. I suppose anything else would be considered 'privileging' according to the so-called Theories of Power fancied by the Marxists.

Below is an example of this sort of a mess. The article I had linked to before by Paul Brass clearly suffers from this same sort of a non-mathematical analysis problem. The author argues that secularism in India is somehow different from that in other countries. To a social scientist, this is an inconsistent, even bizarre, position. Why is it be different? Why should it be different? Why are the social scientific methodologies that are already providing excellent insights on the economics and political economy of India invalid? The answer is straightforward : they are not.

The fact of the matter is that secularism is secularism, no matter what else they will make it out to be. Over to Paul Brass.
The bulk of writing on the question of secularism in contemporary India has focused on an issue that has its origin in Western civilization, history and religion, namely, the relationship between the state and religion, and specifically concerning the establishment or not of a state religion or the official recognition of a multiplicity of religions. Most of these writings also reach the hardly surprising conclusion, given the focus, that the beliefs and practices of Western civilization, history, religion and state policy towards religion are either not relevant to the religions, religious practices, and religious beliefs of the peoples of the subcontinent, or else require considerable modifications to make them so. The battle is often joined between those who argue for their relevance and deny that their non- indigenous origins pose insurmountable obstacles and those who take the opposite position.In this essay, I will take a different view of the matter, arguing that the political issues and political practices that involve the question of secularism in India have a different focus and meaning altogether from the issues and practices that dominate Western societies and polities.
My response to this is : show me some numbers. It seems that you see something like this every month (underlining above mine). It is only a matter of time before someone else produces yet another interpretation of secularism in India. The beauty of all these arguments is that they feature virtually no statistical methodology. It is a lot of talky-talk but no actual statistics. Just stuff pulled straight, well, out of the air.

That even intellectuals as distinguished as Amartya Sen have fallen prey to this canard is a testament to the power of bad ideas in societies. These annoying ideas seem to cling on no matter what you do. Oh, these blistering barnacles.

Update (March 10, March 11, March 14): This is a post on both Hindu Studies and India Studies. My aim is not to say that this is not an article worth reading. But the utility of reading this article for me was zero. Virtually every line of it is already very well known to anyone who has at all been seriously studying India. In fact, I believe I knew most of this stuff when I was about 14. This is not to toot my own horn. It is just that we used to subscribe to a bunch of magazines at home (Time, Newsweek, The Week, et cetera) and I used to read them all from cover to cover because, well, I was that kind of a kid growing up. The issue ultimately is this : you don't read these types of articles in the context of the political economy of the United States (Sample question - "Why are Americans more Religious than Europeans?"). Why should India and Hinduism be treated differently when they are the subject matter?