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Thursday, November 20, 2014

Narrative Hijack in 3...2...1...

Hopefully, narrative hijack fix in 1-2-3-4-5.

I made a sincere promise to myself, and have largely managed to keep it. This was, of course, to *never* read the comments thread on anything on the internet. Unfortunately, when it comes to the latest controversy - Rosetta mission scientist Matt Taylor's ill-advised choice of shirt - the comment feed comes via friends, and unfolds across my own social media.

My first thought was that it was overblown. My second was - this is familiar. Everyone and their parakeet is going to be out squawking about how this illustrates their pet cause. And, sure enough, the grand melee to frame the incident (and the debate around it) in whatever terms best support one's argument is heartily underway. Much jousting, splintering of lances, dust kicked up; original issue all but obscured. 

Sanity (whatever I still possess of it) now demands some disambiguation of the issues (to say nothing of the non-issues) involved. Here's my tilt at it:

1.  Matt Taylor can wear anything he likes. 
Yes, he can. This is, indeed, the point of freedom of expression. But that doesn't protect him from being judged for what he wears. He could have worn unremarkable clothes, whatever you think is typical for this occasion. He could have shown up in a towel, making jokes about Archimedes, or a bathrobe, making jokes about Arthur Dent (which would have been awesome), or in a Star Trek costume (which would be confirming a whole 'nother bunch of stereotypes). He could also have shown up dressed as Che, or as Hitler, at least one of which would be seen as even more socially inept than what he did wear. In each case, he'd be judged. (To avoid adverse judgments at professional interactions, I propose this fairly simple thumb rule - "if Archer would do it, you probably shouldn't.")

Also, "freedom of expression" is a great argument against anyone trying to curtail that freedom, but it's a horrible argument for any specific form of exercising that freedom. You're literally saying the only merit that expression has is that it's not illegal. 
But I digress.

2. That's like saying he was "asking for it", and where have we heard that before...
It is disingenuous to compare criticism of Matt Taylor's shirt to the demand that women should not be judged for the clothes they wear.

First, that's a very stylised form of the feminist argument around clothing choices - more relevant ones involve blaming victims of harassment or abuse for their experiences, because the way they dressed was "asking for it". Unsurprisingly, the people making this distasteful comparison aren't bringing up or trying to engage with these stronger claims. (Always a giveaway, when someone deliberately steers for the weakest form of the argument.)

Second, even at the stylised level, it should be clear that the sexist nature of an act depends on its context, including characteristics of the person(s) involved. A hug is just a hello, or a gesture of affection, or romantic, or - if it's Shivaji and Afzal Khan - murderous. Context matters, and the gender of the wearer is an obvious element of context. If I (self-identified cis hetero male) wear a little black dress, I'm being funny / adventurous / ironic - as is the person that catcalls me. If a female scientist had worn a dress with the same images on Matt Taylor's shirt, again, it would probably be seen as funny / adventurous / ironic.

Third, even if he was asking for "it", what is the *it* in question? To be called out as sexist? In what universe is that morally equivalent to being harassed, assaulted, or blamed for your own violation? Saying Robin Thicke's lyrics are *rapey* is a world apart from calling Robin Thicke *rape-bait*. The entire point of the feminist claim is that there is an underlying hierarchy of power structures, which have disproportionately negative impacts on women, and that some actions reinforce those structures of discrimination. It is particularly perverse to suggest that calling someone (or some act) sexist does this.

The ironic bit is that the "feminist hypocrisy" brigade miss this underlying dynamic entirely. I'd love to live in a world where gender equality had been attained, precisely because then I could arguably wear shirts like that with no controversy. That's not the world we live in, though, and how we dress does have political consequences in this one.  

3. He's a scientist (a *real* scientist), he's above such things.
I can readily accept that Matt Taylor did not set out to do something sexist. But you don't have to be *a sexist* to be sexist (or do something sexist). I'm not going to try elaborating, because I pull that from one of my favourite pieces on the topic.

BTW, the idea that science - as a field - is not sexist is appealing, but plain wrong. In some ways, it may be *more* merit-driven and *less* sexist than, say, politics - I mean, it would be hard not to be - but iniquitous societies are fractal in nature. "As above, so below" applies; almost all relationships, institutions, and structures within such societies will reflect those patterns of power, because it is part of their cultural underpinning.

My chosen science - Psychology - has recently been shown as basing numerous findings on an absurdly skewed sample. I could reasonably make the claim that the field itself has been racist; this would not imply that everyone who conducted those classic experiments was *a racist*. Hopefully you see the difference by now?
(If you're going to say *social* "science", 1) don't. 2) tell me how that affects the argument?)

4. Okay, but he really is just a nice guy who made a genuine mistake. He doesn't deserve all this feminist ire. 
I tend to think the first part is true - I sympathise with Matt Taylor, and his reaction does say to me that he made a genuine mistake. I've lived that experience, and I've been in tears each time (because realising you've been sexist when you aren't actually a sexist feels awful). It's an irretrievable screw-up, and it's entirely up to the generosity of the person you offended to accept you meant no offense. In his case, I hope this happens, but the internet is not exactly known for generosity. (*Never* read the comments.)

I tend to think the second part is true, too, but that has less to do with Matt Taylor himself, and more about what the reaction says about the feminist movement. Again, not going to elaborate, because it's so eloquently argued by Julie Bindel, in the best piece I've read on this issue yet.

Which brings us to...

5. One guy in one shirt is not going to impact the number of women entering STEM fields.
Agreed. He's not. Anyone who believes that argument applies literally is referring to some pretty remote, hypothetical, pocket case.

On the other hand, there are inequalities in employment in STEM fields, and even the most sympathetic pieces have to admit they are driven by institutional factors. Unless there is scientific evidence to back up the claim that the relevant traits and aptitudes are unequally distributed by gender - I'm yet to see it - this means a gender gap in such employment exists. (Even if the traits are / were differentially distributed, an equitable employment mix would have to match the ratio of their distribution; this is still a hypothetical, BTW, because we aren't sure if we have unbiased instruments to measure that distribution in the first place. More psychology having been racist/sexist.)

Counting is a political act. The enumeration of statistics is a political act. Where the numbers themselves are credible, they illuminate the effect of underlying incentives, policies, structures, institutions, cultures - precisely the stuff feminism studies, and (in this case) they show precisely the pattern it protests and wants to change! 

So, Will one guy wearing a gimmick shirt change those numbers, one way or the other? Pretty unlikely. But, did he just provide a very visible illustration of the culture that creates those numbers? Yes, spectacularly so. He doesn't have to subscribe to that culture. He may, in his daily life and work, actually be fighting against it. He still got on a stage wearing something emblematic of it. It's not implausible that somebody looked at that emblem, and decided any place with so obviously male (or childish) a culture was not for them. Matt Taylor won't be the reason that person didn't enter the STEM field - that's still down to the culture, not him - but he certainly made himself its instrument, and (unfortunately for him) its lightning rod.

Bonus: the red herring - A female friend made/got that shirt for him.
This has nothing to do with anything. Also, @#^#*&#! you, imbecile.

- x -

Until the next windmill, then.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

SGS14 Day 2: Speak Up!

आखिर हम इस हद तक पहुँच ही गए: हमारी मुख्य चुनौती | Edward Norton ने इसे ज़ुबानी दी - हम क्या कर सकते हैं, और क्या हम उसके लिए कारणत्व और जिम्मेदारी स्वीकार करने के लिए तैयार हैं ? हमारे कार्य इस स्थिति का भाग कैसे है - समस्या का, उसके हल का, दोनों का ? और हम इन कार्यों का सन्देश दुनिया तक कैसे ले चलें?

हम करवाई करना चाहते हैं, हम औरों से भी करवाई करवाना चाहते हैं, और हम सबको करवाई करने के लिए प्रेरित करना चाहते हैं | यह करवाई सार्थक और समन्वित होनी चाहिए, और प्रभावकारी होनी चाहिए | हम समझते हैं की इस काम में सामाजिक, सांस्कृतिक, आर्थिक एंड राजनैतिक बाधाएं हैं |हम इसमें शामिल नैतिक सवाल समझते हैं ; फिर भी, हम बदलाव लाना चाहते हैं |

Michael Franti ने इस जवाब का एक अंश हमें बताया |हमें अपने जूनून, अपनी काबलियत, और अपने पेशे को एक ही दिशा में गठबन्धित करना है: सेवा | सेवा के माध्यम से हमें प्रतिपूर्ति करनी है |स्कूल में Skype से हमे इस जवाब का बाकी हिस्सा मिला - सहानुभूति, हमदर्दी, संवेदना | Empathy!

जी हाँ, हमारे सामने कैन रुकावटें हैं | यह वास्तविक रुकावटें हैं, और यह गंभीर है | हमे हमेशा अपनी दुर्बलता का सामना करना होगा | आख़िरकार इस दुर्बलता से निराश होकर चुपचाप रहना आसान है |

कभी भी, किसी भी हालत में यह गलती मत करना !

हम सभी के पास आवाज़ है | यह, अपने आप ही, हमारी ताकत है |और हम एक दुसरे के आवाज़ को बढ़ा सकते हैं | आप कभी जान नहीं पाओगे की आपका आवाज़ कौन सुन रहा है, और आप किस की ज़िन्दगी, किस की दुनिया बदल देंगे |

ज़ोर से बोलो !


We've come down to it: the key challenge. Edward Norton called it - what do we do, and are we ready to accept causality? Will we take responsibility? Are our actions contributing to this - this problem, or this solution, or both? And how do we convey that message to the world?

We want to act, we want people to act, we want to inspire people to act. And we want to inspire meaningful, coordinated action with a clear impact. We understand the social, cultural, economic and political barriers to that impact. We understand the ethical dimensions of our own actions and choices. And we want - despite all that - to make change.

Michael Franti gave us a part of the answer: we have passions, we have skills, we have vocations - where we use our skills to earn a living - and we must have "seva": use our skills and abilities to serve, to give back. (Shout-out to Michael for philosophically perfect use of seva, in the yogic sense!)
The Skype in the Classroom session gave us the rest: empathy. Teach empathy, learn empathy, practice empathy.

So yes, we are faced with obstacles. They are real, and they are serious. We are confronted, always, with our own lack of power. And it is easy, ultimately, to let those obstacles and that lack of power silence us.


Each of us has a voice. This is, itself, power. Applied, it can surely bring change. More, we can amplify each others voices. And you never know who's listening, whose life you can change. Speak up. (Try telling people about UNICEF Rapid Pro -

#2030NOW needs you.
#2030Now #SocialGoodSummit 

SGS14 MasterClass, Day 2: Engagement & Amplification

आप अपने प्रमुख दर्शकों का ध्यान और संलग्नता कैसे अपनी मुट्ठी में ल सकते हैं ? आप लोगों को कार्रवाई करने के लिए प्रेरित करते हैं? आज के MasterClass अधिवेशन से कुछ युक्तियाँ : -

  • Internet का इस्तेमाल करें ! Internet का इस्तेमाल करें ! Internet का इस्तेमाल करें ! के बल पर लोग सिर्फ जानकारी के उपभोगता ही नहीं, बल्कि उसके निर्माता भी बनते हैं | निर्माण से स्वामित्व पैदा होता है ; स्वामित्व करवाई का जमानत है |
  • सिर्फ समाचार ही नहीं, करवाई के लिए ऐलान भी शामिल रखें. RYOT News' Bryn Mooser हमे बताते हैं कि लोग खबरों से प्रेरित नहीं होते, बल्कि उन खबरों के जवाब में वे क्या करवाई कर सकते हैं इस सम्भावना से |
  • उपयुक्त निवेशक खोज लें |यह गलत कल्पना है कि सारे निवेशक एक समान हैं - आप के लिए काम करने वाले किसी को ढूंढे |
  • उत्कृष्ट पदार्थ बनाये | आप को सिर्फ एक बार उसे बेचना नहीं है, बल्कि उसके गुणवत्ता के डैम पर लोग उसे बार-बार खरीदते जाये |
  • "Catalytic Innovations" में निवेश करें | ये ऐसे निवेश हैं जो औरों को भी नवाचार करने के काबिल बनाते हैं |
  • बहुभाषी बने | इन सवालों में वैश्विक दिलचस्पी है - अपने आप को इस वैश्विक श्रोतागण से वंचित मत करे |

How do you get your major audience - millennials, women, investors, whoever - engaged with what you are doing? How do you move people to action?
The MasterClass today had a number of suggestions. 
  • Use the internet. Use the internet. Use the internet. The internet makes people not only consumers, but producers of content and information. Producers have ownership, and ownership assures involvement.
  • Embed a call for action. This is what RYOT NEWS is doing, building off the key finding that people respond not to content but to their ability to take action related to that content.
  • Find a suitable investor (or investors) for your efforts: it's a myth that all investors think alike, so find those that click with you.
  • Make quality content. Innovative and engaging content. The internet will do the rest, and there will be a response. (Check out Fabian Cousteau's Mission 31!)
  • The same is true of design: make good products. Yoobi's Ido Leffler says the goal is not to sell once on altruism or guilt, but to get loyal customers because they like your products.
  • Look for "catalytic innovations" - investments that can build the capacity and platforms for unleashing entrepreneurship.
  • * Get multilingual. These interests are global. Don't block yourself off from a larger audience.

YPFP and we Global Language fellows are on top of the last one, at least!

Monday, September 22, 2014

SGS 14 Day 1: The Summit!

Missed out on day 1 of the summit? No worries, you can catch all of it here -

TL; DR? Well, come back and watch when you can. Until then, some themes - in Hindi and English!

आज के प्रमुख विषयों की संक्षिप्त प्रदर्शनी -

* ज्ञान शक्ति है | जानकारी शक्ति है |
* ज्ञान के साथ-साथ, आप किन व्यक्तियों और नेताओं तक पहुँच सकते हो, यह भी मायने रखता है |
* Digital technology & innovation से ज्ञान और पहुँच दोनों पैदा या प्राप्त हो सकते हैं - इसीलिए ये सचमुच शक्तिशाली उपकरण है !
* लेकिन ये शक्ति अभी भी अकेले व्यक्ति के स्तर पर सीमित है | उसकी सच्ची ताकत सिर्फ उस वक्त ज़ाहिर होगी जब इस प्रौद्योगिकी से दुनिया भर के बदलाव-करक के बीच संयोजन जुड़ जाए |
* फिर हम आखरी कदम तक पहुँच जायेंगे - निर्णय और निर्णय निर्माताओं पर वास्तविक प्रभावों में उन आदानों का अनुवाद ! क्या आपके नेता आपके अनुदान सुन रहे हैं? उनका ध्यान कैसे मिलाया जा सकता है ? इसके लिए ज़रूरी रणनीतियां समझ लो, और उन पर अमल करो !


* Knowledge is power
* Access matters
* Digital technology & many, many innovations can deliver both access and knowledge. That's exactly why they're powerful - but that's still at the individual level...
* The real power is unleashed when these tools can enable connections and real-time collaborations between aspiring change-makers and networks of change agents across the world.
* The final step is translating those inputs into actual influences on decision making. Are global leaders listening? And what will it take to make them listen? Find out, and get it done!


Unsurprisingly, much of the focus was on education, and specifically on educating communities by educating women and girls. It is, as one speaker said, *the surest way we know to eradicate poverty*.

On that note, let me sign out with a piece from my former boss, a man who's championed the cause of educating girls in India for many, many years: Imagine, he says, [a world of schoolgirls]( You'll probably love it. 

SGS 14 MasterClass, Day 1: Missions, Innovation, Connections

मैं इस कहानी की शुरुआत इस सुबह के आखरी वक्ता से करूँगा: Ben Keesey of [Invisible Children]( उन्होंने हमें बताया कि सबसे पहले, हम जो बदलाव लाना चाहते हैं, उसपर हम खुद विश्वास रखें | जो व्यक्ति और संगठन दुनिया बदल देते हैं, वे उस बदलाव को लाना सिर्फ एक फ़र्ज़ समझते नहीं हैं, बल्कि उस फ़र्ज़ को ही अपनी पूरी ज़िन्दगी बनाते हैं | Ben ने हमें बताया की आज की दुनिया में कोई चार में से तीन लोग मूल रूप से फारिग  या लापरवाह हैं ; अगर हमें उन्हें प्रवृत्त और प्रोत्साहित करना है, तो हम किसी भी हालत में खुद ऊबे हुए नहीं हो सकते |विश्वास और रचनात्मकता से ही यह काम लिया जा सकता है !

इस तरह मजेदार तथा कृत्यवान योजनाएं बनाना ज़रूरी है, क्योंकि - जैसे कई व्यक्ताओं ने कहा था - बदलाव प्राप्त करने में सम्बन्ध एंड संजाल अनिवार्य है | सभी समझते हैं की किसी भी तरह के बदलाव - PPPs, advocacy, community empowerment, microcredit, building constituencies for change - को स्थायी बनाने के लिए हमारे विख्यात प्रयास एकजुट होकर परिवर्धित होने ही होंगे |

मैंने इसे अनिवार्य क्यों कहा ? इसलिए, क्योंकि हम "नवाचार" (innovation) से जो समझते है, उसी का स्वभाव मूल रूप से बदल गया है | यह सिर्फ प्रौद्योगिकी विकास या अविष्कार की बात नहीं रही, बल्कि समाज-सुधर की बात बन गयी है | नवाचार उस वक्त ही सफल कहलाएगा जब उसमे कुछ "नया" नहीं रहा है, वह किसी रूप में अपेक्षा-भंग नहीं करता, क्योंकि लोगों की आदतें, अपेक्षाएं और रवैय्या ही बदल चुके हैं |

आसानी से दिखाई देता है की इस प्रयास में सहभाग और धीरज की ज़रुरत क्यों होगी ! (प्रतिबद्धता भी |) अब चलो, हम summit में ही चलें, और ऐसे लोगों से मुलाक़ात लें जिनमे इन गुणों की कोई कमी नहीं...


Let me start this post where the MasterClass ended: Ben Keesey of [Invisible Children]( telling us, above all else, to believe in the change we want to make. The people and organisations that change the world, says Ben, don't just have a mission - they're *on* a mission.

Ben talked about a world where 3 of 4 people are fundamentally disengaged; if the goal is to get them engaged, to harness their energies to direct change, then being boring will get us nowhere. Conviction and creativity, in short, was his formula.

Ben's challenge - to combine fun and function - came after a number of speakers had explored the importance of connections and networks to achieving this change. Whether it was PPPs, advocacy, community empowerment, microcredit or building constituencies for change, the shared conclusion was that individual efforts have to be amplified by linkages and connections to have sustainable effect.

That comes, largely, from the new understanding of what an innovation is: not a technical adaptation - although it might involve or rely on a technological development to come into being - but rather a form of social change. The successful adoption of an innovation is its mainstreaming or normalising - it isn't disruptive anymore, but rather the accepted way of doing things. Attitudes, norms and habits have shifted.

Easy to see why molding this will need a network. And patience. And commitment.

Now on to the Summit itself, to hear from people who have all those qualities in abundance!

#2030NOW #ypfp #sgs14 

Friday, August 29, 2014

बीस साल बाद, or thereabout

Walking on Marine Drive and watching the clean-up after Independence Day - which is basically seeing a pile of paper flags get scraped into the gutter - brought to mind an extremely powerful poem we had read in school: Bees Saal Baad (Twenty Years Later) by 'Dhumil'.

Sudama Pandey "Dhumil" (1936-1975)

A refrain has been echoing in my head for a while, and I finally have the time to write it out. This is a first for this blog - a post in Hindi. When I started the blog, I was using Hindi mostly for official work, so writing in it at leisure would have felt like I was still in the office. Dhumil's poetry, however, cannot be replied to in any other tongue.


फिर वही  सवाल

कल, पंद्रह अगस्त का दिन रहा |

आज़ादी का त्यौहार एक बार फिर मनाया गया
पता नहीं, क्यों लगा, विषाद-सा मौसम है छाया हुआ
लाल क़िले पर वही तिरंगा एक और बार लहराया गया
कई बातें थी, जिन्हें एक और बार दोहराया गया
जिन्हे शहीद माना, उन्हें आदरपूर्वक याद किया गया
जिन्हे दुश्मन माना, उन्हें दुबारा ललकारा गया
कहते हैं, बदलाव का वक़्त है --
हमें तो सुना हुआ-सा ही राग सुनाई दिया |

चलते चलते, मन में कई सवाल उभर आये
जवाब ना आप जानते थे, हम भी ना दे पाये |

बच्चा हूँ, धूमिल : क्या जानूंगा जवाब ?
समझता हूँ सिर्फ अपनी औकाद -
अपना रास्ता समझना मुश्किल
हमारे कदम कोई और सवारे
देश की नैय्या तो कोई और ही तारे !
हम सुनते, चुपचाप, चलते जाएंगे
किसी दिन अपने ही घर में चोर कहलाएंगे
तब तक आज़ादी का जश्न मनाते जाएंगे |

बच्चा हूँ, धूमिल - नहीं जानता जवाब
आपके जैसा चलता गया, चुपचाप -
जाते-जाते, एक बात उसी दिन मन में उभर आई -
जो नक़्शा-नज़ारा देखा, उससे साफ़ नज़र आई -
बीस साल बाद आपने जो बात महसूस की थी, धूमिल
वह चीज़ आज एक दिन बाद भी महसूस आई |