The Network Effect doesn’t make you invincible

Unlike Socialism, which fails in similar ways wherever it is tried, Capitalism gives us new things to worry about every generation. In a dynamic economy, companies from different industries threaten to become monopolies every generation, giving us new reasons for why this time’s threat is different from that of last time.

The threat our generation faces is apparently from monopolies that benefit from network effects. We are particularly scared of social media companies that exercise control over freedom of speech, who cannot be dislodged from their monopoly perch because they have the power of the Network Effect.

The Network Effect

You are trapped in the Network Effect when being part of the network may not be your first choice, but you have to be there because all your contacts are there. Your contacts are there for the same reason. It is a collective action problem. There may be a network that all of you would move to if only someone could coordinate, but that is an impossible task.

So everyone hates LinkedIn but everyone is still on it because all their professional contacts are there. They are on Tinder because all potential romantic partners are there, on Facebook and Instagram because all their friends are there and on Twitter because all their enemies are there.

The second reason why all of you are still on the network is that you all would like to move, but each one’s choice is a different one, so you stay on the current one as a compromise.

Network effects are self-limiting

It is a meme, popular among young women, to show four photographs of themselves representing how they wish to appear on different social networks – a sanskari look on Facebook, a professional look for LinkedIn, an exotic photograph of themselves for Instagram, and a sexy look for Tinder. A Twitter look usually does not appear in this set of photos, presumably because people rarely have photos of themselves having a meltdown and screaming at people.

This meme illustrates a truth about social networks and network effects. Network effects aren’t always positive. There are some networks you would go to because all your friends are there. For some, that is a reason to avoid that network. No teenager wants to be in the same social network as his parents, as Facebook is learning. As networks grow too big, there is a real possibility that they become infrastructure – just as email is, or they are so crowded that no one wants to go there.

The meme also teaches us that there is a market for more than one social network. In theory, we would like to have different social networks for different purposes, just as the young woman in the meme has, the better to ensure that her sanskari look doesn’t leak into Instagram and her love-life is not revealed on Facebook.

The vector of attack

In any industry, if a challenger wants to dislodge the dominant player, taking it head on is rarely the right way. The better way is for the challenger to attack an area where the dominant player isn’t noticing, doesn’t consider it worth its while, or is unable to respond.

The limitations of the network effect suggest such a vector of attack for challenger social networks. You won’t dislodge Facebook by building a better alternative to Facebook. You will do it by finding a group of people who want to be on a different network from the others, or a theme that a network of people can coalesce around, and begin your attack from there.

In practice, this is not easy to do. Managing multiple social networks is hard, which makes it hard for a new social network to gain a foothold. The challenger social network, in its initial phase, needs to have a well-defined theme. If you have ever tried to moderate a mailing list and tried to keep people to stick to particular topics, you would know that it is difficult to do. It is almost impossible to do at scale. People want to do fraandhip on LinkedIn and they use Facebook for professional networking. If it were easy to do, we wouldn’t have been having arguments about network effects in the first place.

But it isn’t impossible. There surely are some natural communities you can begin with – the community of youth is one obvious way, but I am sure there are others that are not so obvious. The Network Effect isn’t some unprecedented power that successful companies of this generation have, a power that makes them so strong that we have to reevaluate everything that we have learnt about the wisdom of breaking up monopolies. It is a power. It is a moat that is difficult to cross. It does not make you invincible. One day, the moats will be crossed, and this generation of companies too shall pass into oblivion.

But Facebook is buying them all up!

But isn’t Facebook is buying all the challenger social networks? It bought up Instagram and WhatsApp! If the dominant players keep buying up the challengers, who will be left to challenge the monopolists?

Well, calm down. A monopoly isn’t much of a monopoly if it takes work to maintain it. If the monopolist has to constantly scan the market for potential threats, move nimbly and introduce new features to maintain dominance or acquire any companies that can pose a threat, it isn’t enjoying a natural monopoly.

Every organization gets old. Once it gets old, it gets flabby. The founder either moves on or doesn’t have the same instincts he used to. The people working there don’t have the same drive they do when young. The organization gets too bureaucratic and procedure oriented. New ideas are stymied by turf wars. It doesn’t move as quickly to acquire or crush competitors as it used to. It is slower to introduce new features, or even to copy them from competitors. It doesn’t see emerging threats as quickly as it used to because it is too focused inwards and too focused on existing customers.

This has happened to every organization in history and it is a fair bet that it will happen to the companies that run social networks as well. I believe that we should be concerned about monopoly power only if it lets the old and flabby organization stay a monopoly long beyond its sell-by date. I don’t see evidence that this is happening. An hour is a long time on Twitter, but in historical terms, the current social media companies haven’t really been in a dominant position for long.

Social media will destroy democracy

We are all very concerned about the effect social media has on society, our political system and our democracy. We are all very concerned that companies that run social media will dominate the discourse and decide who can say what. We are all very concerned that social media companies are monopolies. My belief is – no, they aren’t monopolies. No, they don’t dominate the discourse and determine who can say what.

Yes, social media will destroy democracy, but if it is any consolation, it won’t be through the monopoly power of the companies that run social media.

Postscript: Why isn’t there a social network in India?

I’ve argued that one way to challenge the dominant social networks is to find a group of people willing to break away and form their own network, perhaps around themes that has little overlap with those of the larger network. Now, there exists a large nation named India. It has a vast population that speaks many different languages. It has many interests and cultural issues many of which overlap with the rest of the world and many which don’t. While this country is fairly well-connected with the rest of the world, it also has many people who should be willing to join a social network that caters to their interests. It also has a government with a lot of influence, and interest in supporting an indigenous social network. If the officials of this government begin extensively communicating on a challenger social network from India, it should attract a nucleus of influential people who can seed the growth of this network. It also has skilled programmers and a startup ecosystem that can build a new network. Could the next social network come from India?

Just kidding. It won’t.

Do BJP and Congress women voters have different attitudes?

This article in Mint has a chart showing that “female supporters of the Congress held views different from not only BJP supporters, but also from male supporters of the Congress”, i.e. while women BJP voters are only mildly more liberal than male BJP voters, female INC voters are very liberal as compared to their male counterparts.

I suspect that something else is at play here. If you look at the second chart, BJP supporters are over 40% of the population, while Congress supporters are closer to 10%. At 40%, the law of large numbers starts kicking in – the views of the BJP-supporting women are closer to that of the general population of women.

With Congress-supporting women, I suspect, a kind of self-selection kicks in. Think of how people engage politically. It could be in one of three ways:

  1. Passive supporters of a party – i.e. you support a party because everyone around you, your family, friends and community does. It is just the default and you don’t think much of it. For example, if you ask any of my relatives, Brahmins from the strongly BJP supporting area of Udupi and Dakshina Kannada, the answer, be it from men or women, would be BJP.
  2. Active supporters – i.e. they deeply engage with the party and its views. They may have strong political views which they express either online or offline, and they may be politically active in their community.
  3. Not engaged politically. They may not identify with political party, and their vote is purely transactional.

Now, the BJP has achieved pole position in Indian politics. When you have 40% support, it is inevitable that a greater proportion of your supporters are “passive supporters” – i.e. entire families and communities support the BJP. Supporting the BJP is just a thing you do, a part of your identity, not an active, engaged choice. With the Congress, on the other hand, given that it has so little support, chances are that a higher proportion of those who support it are people who are actively engaged.

To be clear, I am not claiming that BJP supporters are less engaged. If you look at absolute numbers, you will find a greater number of active, committed BJP supporters than Congress supporters. I am only talking of the proportion of passive supporters within a party’s voter base. This has to go up as a party’s base increases. Back when the BJP was a niche party struggling to break through, it would have had a higher proportion of engaged supporters. Now, the proportion will be lower even though the absolute number is higher.

So the Congress supporters would be self-selected to be more politically engaged. This would be true for both men and women. Now, it is possible that women who are more politically engaged will give more “liberal” answers to questions related to freedom of women, and this is true for BJP as well as Congress supporters. I mean, if you are a woman party worker, how strongly are you going to agree to the statement “Men make better leaders than women”? If you are politically engaged, you are probably used to speaking your mind. How likely is it that you will agree with the statement that women should follow their husband’s views and listen to them?

In other words, I suspect that the difference between the women supporters of the BJP and the Congress is actually the difference in views between less and more politically committed women, and when you correct for that, the gap may go away, at least on these questions – i.e. questions involving women’s freedom and directly relevant to their lives. I strongly doubt that this is a case of political preferences determining conservative or liberal attitudes or vice versa.

Parliamentary Democracy suffers from the Karna Syndrome

I agree with Shruti Rajagopalan’s argument that the 52nd amendment, more popularly known as the anti-defection law was a bad idea. The amendment turns legislatures into glorified electoral colleges. I do not agree though that this is the source of the problem. Jay Panda, a national vice president of the BJP has written multiple articles where he argues for reforms in parliamentary rules that will reduce the agenda-setting power of the Speaker (and by proxy, the government). For example, take this piece written in 2014, this one from 2015 or the one from 2016. The underlying theme in all of Panda’s articles is that our Parliament continues to be hobbled by the rules the British government set for the Central Legislative Assembly, and reforming those rules would go a long way to make our legislature more effective and help it hold the government accountable.

These reforms are worth trying, and I don’t want the perfect to be the enemy of the good, but I am sceptical that these go deep enough. The problem is inherent in parliamentary democracy, which suffers from the Karna Syndrome, the inability to perform its job when it is most needed.

The parliamentary system violates the principle of separation of powers between the legislature and the executive. Because the legislators elect the chief executive and the executive is essentially a standing committee of the legislature, it skews incentives all around.

  • A popular prime minister or chief minister has an incentive to choose pliant legislators who will never waver in their support for him.
  • Voters have only one vote. They are supposed to use this vote to choose their legislator, but they may like to express their choice for the prime minister. I have argued that it is rational for them to do the latter in a situation where everyone else is doing the same.
  • For ruling party legislators, career progression involves becoming a minister. Why would they jeopardise their chances by performing their oversight function too vigorously?

For this reason, I believe that mixing the law-making and oversight functions of the legislature with the electoral college function was a bad idea. It was inevitable that the latter would overshadow the former. When the executive is weak, it leads to unstable governments. When it is strong, it leads to rubber-stamp legislatures. Parliament is able to perform its oversight function when the executive is weak, but like Karna, is unable to do so when it is most needed.

Export of Free Speech can be India’s soft power

As the recent permanent ban imposed on President Trump’s social media demonstrates, Free Speech is under threat even in the home of the First Amendment. France’s craven response to the recent decapitation of a middle-school teacher who was murdered for using the Charlie Hebdo cartoons as a teaching aid underscores that Europe is moving away from enlightenment values. It is telling that in both examples of assault on free speech, the victims found more support in India than in their own countries. This suggests an opportunity for India. We can be the beacon for free speech in the rest of the world.

On the other hand, the recent example of Munawar Faruqui illustrates the dangers of untrammeled free speech for Indians. While we need to champion free speech across the world, there is obviously a need to balance this advocacy with India’s own policy priorities, including, but not limited to, preventing insult to our gods, maintaining peace between communities, stamping out criticism of our leaders and clamping down hard on contempt of court.

Fortunately, there is a tried and tested solution to this conundrum. This has been effectively employed in the economic sphere to balance the need to earn foreign exchange and the imperative of keeping Indians poor and dependent on government handouts. We could deploy the same solution here, in the form of SEZs, or Special Expression Zones. These SEZs can be used to host infrastructure for free speech exiles from other countries – for example, the social network Parler, currently subject to a brutal clampdown in the United States, can find a home here. The only condition should be that Indian passport holders should not be allowed to use these services, obviously as the policy priority is to export free speech. The regulation setting up these zones should provide for international arbitration to settle any disputes that arise, keeping them out of reach of capricious Indian courts to the extent possible.

I think there is great potential in this idea. Global export of Free Speech can be India’s Soft Power. We can be the Vishvaguru for the world. People around the world will look up to us and see us as a shining light and an example for the rest of the world to follow. This is apart from the economic opportunity that this obviously represents. I hope Prime Minister Modi takes this idea seriously, especially given that it already has a catchy acronym and has the potential to be a significant component of our post-COVID strategy in 2021.

A Congress version of Modi will not succeed

Regular leadership transitions are necessary, but even necessary transitions weaken the entity that is being led, as contenders to the gaddi duke it out and governance takes a pause amidst the uncertainty. The transition can be made shorter and smoother by having a well defined and legitimate process.

There are many different ways to decide on the succession – it could be dynastic or democratic. You could have an appointive process where the incumbent or a board makes the choice. You could do a search for the next reincarnation of the bodhisatva, or you could have an elephant with a garland choose the next king. To succeed, the process requires legitimacy. It is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for success.

What is legitimacy? In the words of Thomas Schelling, it is a focal point. In those of Lord Varys, “power resides where men believes it resides”.

If I win a legitimate democratic election, I know that my opponent will not mount a rebellion against me, so I will have no need to conduct a purge and eliminate my opponents. My opponent knows that I know that he will not mount a rebellion, and therefore, I will not attempt a purge, and therefore, he feels safe enough to not mount a rebellion. I also know that once the election is over, norm assures me that barring exceptional circumstances, I am safe from a challenge till the next election, and therefore I do not need to be in a combative posture continually. I can reach out and shake hands with my opponent and strike up a working relationship with him.

The dynastic method of succession also successfully serves as a focal point. It narrows the field of contenders to the throne to a small number within the family. (If you adopt a rule like primogeniture, the field is down to one) While it is disappointing for someone outside the dynasty that he will never gain the top position, the disappointment is somewhat mitigated by the knowledge that others around him are in the same position and he doesn’t have to engage in constant power struggle. Because the dynastic position is for life, the lucky sperm can focus less on power struggles and more on governing, at least till his offspring grow up.

I don’t want to overstate the case for the dynastic system. Historically, most dynasties did not survive for long. They were overthrown by others who established their own dynasties. And the dictum of legitimacy being a necessary but not sufficient condition of success applies particularly with the dynastic system.

Many people are calling for either the democratization of the Indian National Congress or a Modi-style rebellion against Rahul Gandhi, but the problem remains the same with either scenario. The democratic process does not have legitimacy in the current Congress. The dynastic system does. Legitimacy takes a long time to be established. The power struggle that is required to unseat the Gandhis will finish the INC much before legitimacy can be established.

The BJP does not have a legitimate process for succession either. Modi took over a party whose aging leadership was overdue for retirement. There was no formal leadership challenge, no election or any kind of competitive process. Everyone kind of just decided that he was the right man for the job and the entire party reoriented around him. Modi’s task was made easier by his overwhelming popularity within the party. It also helped that the party has organizational and ideological coherence that ensured that it would stay intact even if there were a power struggle.

The Congress does not have any of these advantages. Its organizational coherence is uneven at best, and it has no ideology to motivate it. A BJP leader or worker does not have a future outside the party, as Keshubhai Patel, Uma Bharti and Kalyan Singh learnt. For a congressman, the INC is one of the many career options. There is no reason the party will stay together during the period of inevitable uncertainty when a leadership struggle happens.

To make this concrete, we can try to imagine a Congress version of Narendra Modi – a challenger to the leadership. Obviously, such a person is unlikely to exist in the current national “leadership” of the INC, because popular leaders have been systematically eliminated from there. So imagine an ambitious and talented leader at the state level, either within the Congress or outside it. He wants to carve out a career path for himself that will take him to the Premiership of India by adopting any strategy that will work. In any plausible scenario, is staying in (or joining) the Congress, deposing and taking over its leadership the dominant strategy? I claim that the answer is no. I would argue that in almost every case, breaking up the state level party to form a new entity and trying the coalition route, or trying to form a new national party that attracts the disaffected leaders of the Congress and other parties dominates in terms of cost-benefit analysis over the strategy of working within the party.

The one exception I can think of is a strategy that does not directly challenge the legitimacy of the dynastic system. This is the method by which the Peshwai was established, the method by which ambitious and competent ministers have risen to be the power behind the throne when the throne is occupied by weak kings, or indeed the method that resulted in constitutional monarchies in many countries of Europe. But for such a strategy to work, this ambitious minister will have to insinuate himself into the good books of a man who has absolutely no discrimination and whose natural instincts are to trust charlatans like Praveen Chakravarty, fight off political machinations and intrigue by a jealous inner circle whose attacks on him will only increase the more successful he gets and somehow also concentrate on his core job of strengthening the party and helping it win elections. Perhaps in some particular combination of circumstances the stars might align and the right person adopting such a strategy may be the right choice, but no, this is not something one can reasonably hope for as a way to form an alternative to the BJP.

India’s election system won’t work in the US

During my BTech, I took an elective named Appropriate Technology, which was offered by the Centre for Technology Alternatives in Rural Areas, or CTARA, a bastion of the Gandhian faction. The course only made me sceptical about the concept of appropriate technology, because my suspicion was that the term was just a euphemism for romanticizing low tech jugaad solutions in the garb of being appropriate for the particular rural setting in which it is used. Prof. Date, who taught the course, saying that “farmers can sing while using it” as a point in favour of some contraption did nothing to allay my suspicion. My argument was, yes, we should gauge the appropriateness of the technology for a particular setting, but sometimes the most appropriate technology is not low-tech, but hi-tech that leapfrogs over the path other countries have taken.

I’ll admit though that the EVM is a very good example of the appropriate technology that the AppTech course was claiming to favour. It doesn’t fetishize low-tech and does not adopt hi-tech for the sake of it. Adopts just enough technology to solve the specific constraints that the Indian system faces – stop rigging via booth-capturing, be sturdy enough to work in dusty places without a steady supply of electricity, etc. It doesn’t try to solve problems that don’t need to be solved. It didn’t succumb to the temptation of connecting to the network to make it easier to tabulate votes. The higher tech a machine is, the less secure it is, so the the fact that it is low-tech is a feature, not a bug. In fact, I was uncomfortable with the idea of adding a paper trail to the voting machines, not because I was opposed to paper trails, but the general principle is that adding moving parts, features and inputs or outputs to anything increases the chances of failure or compromise. In the event, the VVPAT enhancement seems to have been done well, so there is no longer a need to object to it.

Now, every time the Americans hold an election, or for that matter every time we hold elections, many misguided people point to the way Americans hold their election and hold it up as an example to emulate. This is deeply stupid for two reasons:

  1. The American system for conducting elections is objectively terrible. It has probably the worst system among democracies, and if it were any worse, it would no longer remain a democracy.
  2. The American system works under a different set of constraints and requirements from the Indian one.

This is why, while it is misguided to say that we must emulate the Americans, it is also misguided to say that the Americans should just outsource their elections to the Election Commission. The Indian system won’t work in the US for the same reason we can’t copy the Americans. Our constraints are very different from theirs.

For example, Indians have good reason to envy the fact that Americans have a much greater ability to vote by mail. Postal ballots do exist in India, but only a small fraction of citizens are eligible to cast their franchise by that method. An expansion of postal ballots in India, however, would prove disastrous. There would be widespread vote-buying and intimidation of voters.

Similarly, American systems seem to provide a better ability for a person to figure out whether his vote has been counted or not. He can send his vote by mail, check online to see if it has been received, and if not, go to the polling station and vote. But before we think of adopting a better audit trail, we must realize that there is a trade-off between the secrecy of the ballot and an audit trail. The United States faces a different trade-off from us. Secrecy is a lot more important in India than in the US. In the US, people are quite open about their voting preferences. More importantly, they can rely on rules that require officials who count the vote to maintain secrecy. That choice would be inadvisable here.

So, while we should certainly envy some of the features of the American systems, we should be careful before translating that envy into imitation. Designs involve trade-offs, and we face a different set.

The most important reason, however, for why the Indian Election Commission would face its Waterloo in the United States is cultural. As a rule, I find that Indians design for control while Americans design for convenience. This is true of not just elections. It is the reason why the US is so reluctant to require PINs while making card purchases, and why we had to learn of the benefits of offering easy returns from the Americans. Of course, the reason for the differing cultural choices is partly the differing trade-offs that our nations face – the US can accept a higher risk of fraud because it has a better legal system that is able to catch more of the fraud that occurs. It is equally true that cultural differences take on lives of their own and exist independent of the underlying reasons that gave rise to them. So an American and an Indian, when faced with a similar set of trade-offs, will make differing design choices, the former favouring convenience while the latter, control. An Indian would find it weird that some Americans can register to vote right on election day, for example.

This is of course a generalization, and there are exceptions – for example, Indian voters are registered by EC officials visiting their homes and taking down their names, which is surely more convenient for those who do get registered that way (not so much for those who get left out). But the generalization is valid enough. In case of elections, Americans should probably learn to be a little more rigid, but in general we would do well to learn better how to design for convenience.

Trump is Tamasik

The Bhagavad Gita and many schools of Indian philosophy speak of the three guNas, or categories of human nature – Satvik, Rajasik and Tamasik. My theory of Trump is that he is Tamasik while we expect people in his position to be good or bad in Rajasik ways. This is a mistake that his supporters as well as detractors make.

What are the three guNas? I don’t claim to be an expert, but here is how I would interpret them:

A person with the Satvik guNa will perform his appointed role in life unmoved by the pleasure or pain it gives him. A Satvik president or prime minister, when faced with a difficult political decision, will ask himself only “What will a platonic chief executive do when faced in this situation?” and do it. Whether the outcome of that decision is favourable to him or not does not come into the picture, and the question of what the decision will do to the next elections and to his own political survival are relevant only to the extent that they are good or bad for the country.

Needless to say, a Satvik guNa is an entirely theoretical construct, and no such person exists or has existed in real life. But people may:

  • Rise to the occasion and behave as such when the situation demands
  • Believe, and possibly convince themselves that they are behaving in a Satvik manner
  • At least make an attempt, and struggle with themselves in the process
  • Claim to be be Satvik, and try to convince their constituents that their actions are driven only by Satvik motives

The point to be noted though, is that do any of these things, you need to have the ability to conceive of these higher order motives. To an extent you have to fake it till you make it, but even when you are faking it, you should know what you are faking.

Lee Kuan Yew, the first Prime Minister of Singapore, demonstrated his Satvik nature when he planned his leadership transition – or did he? In his autobiography, he describes, with a high degree of self-awareness, that he realized that his mental acuity was reducing as he got older, and therefore, it was time for him to pass on the mantle to someone else. So he undertook a well-planned search for a successor, found one, and handed over the reins to him.

Except of course, he sincerely believed that his son, Lee Hsein Loong was the right person to succeed him, but he nominated Goh Chok Tong because it would be unseemly to pass on power directly to his son. And oh, having decided to retire, he did not actually retire. He stayed on in the cabinet as Senior Minister and then Minister Mentor till he reached an advanced age and was eventually forced out by his son a few years before his death.

Was Lee demonstrating his Satvik nature and making disinterested decisions for the benefit of Singapore? Given that both Goh and the younger Lee have turned out to be good Prime Ministers, that is certainly a possibility. Or did he convince himself of the Satvik nature of his actions, but in reality, his decisions were tainted by his love for his family and desire to cling to life? Or perhaps he was aware of his imperfections and tried to do the best he could. Or it is possible that this was all a ruse. We will never know and perhaps he never did; such is human nature.

Most functional adults are Rajasik. They are driven by ambition and desire. This is not necessarily a bad thing. We recognize ambition as natural and even desirable. We celebrate romantic love and love for one’s children. When a politician we support displays the killer instinct and acts like he wants to win the elections, we appreciate it, though if he uses corrupt means to do so, we should ideally oppose it.

If Lee’s retirement was actually a long-drawn strategy to install his son in power, it was a perfect demonstration of the Rajasik guNa. The goal was driven by familial love, but in the means employed to reach it, he was able to control his impulses emotional drives and follow a multi-year strategy to achieve it. This is more than someone driven by his Tamasik nature would be capable of .

Trump, as I was saying, is Tamasik. He is driven by his impulses, and in his case, the impulses are all negative ones. Now, to be fair, all of us struggle with our impulses and emotional drives, but becoming a functional adult involves learning to rein them in, and converting them into higher order goals. We all have sexual desires, for example. The Rajasik nature involves sublimating them into a higher order emotion called love, and pursuit of love involves choosing one person and forgoing others; not giving into the impulse of going after every woman you find sexy. Trump has not made that transition at all. A Clinton may give into his impulse; Trump is his impulse.

You can see that in every one of his behaviours. An example of this that I found fascinating was the bleach incident. In the video, Trump is insecurity given human form. Any person who reaches a senior position in an organization will be familiar with the feeling. You find people reporting to you who have much greater expertise than you in their field. When you talk to them, you, who have always prided yourself on your knowledge, feel that bit of insecurity. You are afraid of asking a dumb question and being shown up. But you are an adult and you reach back to the techniques that you have learnt along the way. You display faux humility, you praise people for being very smart and say things like “Forgive me if this is a dumb question” and then ask your question.

Trump is completely unable to do that. He is unable to recognize his own insecurity and therefore unable to maintain a distance from it. He sees scientists talking and what matters to him is not the content of what they are saying, but the fact that they are coming off as smarter than he, so he has to say something to remedy the situation. Whether it is appropriate in that context is irrelevant to him.

A common thing people say about Trump is that he tells it like it is. That is not actually true. He lies quite flagrantly. The reason for the misconception is that people are confusing the transparency of his lies with honesty. He is like my six year old son, who, when woken up at 7:30 AM to be in time for his class at 8, throws a tantrum complaining about not being woken up at 6 AM as he had asked for the previous night (He always asks to be woken up at some ungodly hour, we say yes and wake him up when we want.) Of course, the real reason for the tantrum is that he is sleepy and is annoyed and having been woken up, but he knows that he can’t complain about that, so he makes up some reason, and it’s clear to us what the real reason is.

Now, we are all human beings, and we continue to get groggy when we do not get enough sleep even in adulthood. A person displaying Satvik guNas would have enough self-awareness to put a distance between himself and his grogginess. He will say “I am not the person who is feeling sleepy and irritable. I am the person who has a job to do and needs to rise about the irritableness.” The Rajasik person will have this self-awareness as well, but his lack of sleep will still steep through and he will show his irritation in some other way that seems completely justified to him but probably leave the target of his ire confused about what his fault was. My secondborn’s tantrum seems much purer in comparison to a Rajasik person’s and a lot more comprehensible.

Trump’s lies are like that – they are much more transparent, communicate his feelings much more viscerally than a normal adult’s lies do. When they reach others who share his feelings, they feel real, never mind the factual content.

The other reason for people getting confused about Trump is that it is difficult to imagine that a purely Tamasik person like Trump can get so far in life, so it is understandable that many people substitute him with an imaginary Rajasik person in their heads, and end up behaving as Vidyottama did with Kalidasa

The princess raised her index finger . Kalidasa, quickly replied by showing two fingers. He had thought that Vidyottama was meaning to poke him in one eye. He was obviously thinking of outdoing her. Actually she had indicated that God is one without a second. Kalidasa’s answer was wisely interpreted as the truth has two parts the supreme God and the individual soul. She was surprised by this wisdom. Venturing further, she showed her five fingers to indicate five senses. Kalidasa thought she was about to slap him so he showed his fist. This time Vidyottama thought it to mean that controlling the five senses can lead to ultimate greatness. Thus impressed, she then agreed to marry Kalidasa.

Growing into functional adulthood involves overcoming, sublimating or at least rationalizing your basest Tamasik impulses. Perhaps you overcome your cowardice and sublimate your pride into higher order values like courage, honour and bravery. Or perhaps you are a cynic who see your country as worth fighting for, and you rationalize that feeling into a higher order value called pacifism.

When we deal with a normal Rajasik person, it is sometimes possible to see the underlying Tamasik being powering him, but it is also possible to have a dialogue with the Rajasik person he has constructed. Perhaps he is a bully who has sublimated that emotion into support for strong law enforcement, but it is still possible to have a discussion with him on the merits of his policies around law enforcement. Perhaps he is a transactional person who is cynical about US foreign policy engagements and wants to pull back, but it’s still a valid policy option with pros and cons, the timelines around said disengagement and the extent of it.

With Trump, there is no higher order Rajasik person. Sure, maybe his gut feeling aligns with your policy preferences – perhaps his instinct for minimizing the COVID crisis and push for reopening the economy aligns with your considered policy preference on navigating the tradeoff between deaths due to the pandemic and the economic disaster, but do you want someone as impulsive as he in charge of making that tradeoff? In case of Trump, we need to ignore Eleanor Roosevelt’s dictum that “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people”. There are no big ideas sitting on top of his personality flaws. He is entirely his flawed personality.

It is not just his supporters who mistake him for a Rajasik person. His opponents do as well. Look at Trump’s COVID response. Yes it is not the response of a decent or competent person. But it’s also not the response you would expect if you model Trump solely as a populist authoritarian either. Dictators are Rajasiks. A Rajasik dictator would have taken advantage of the crisis. He would have blamed China, whipping up xenophobia. He would have rallied his people, made it sound like he was fighting a war and he would have cast the inevitable economic hardships as wartime sacrifices from which the nation would emerge stronger. Which idiot dictator wastes a crisis like this? Trump got the blaming China and the xenophobia part down, but his genius was to make himself sound whiny and weak while doing so. The rest of the tricks from the dictator’s playbook were useless to him as it required him to display Rajasik guNas which he is unable to even play-act at, just like my secondborn.

He is unable to make inspiring speeches because he is a cynical man. To cast the economic hardships as wartime sacrifices from which the nation would emerge stronger would require three things that were out of his capability. First, it would require him to acknowledge setbacks, which he is chronically unable to do, because he is continually looking for wins. Secondly, the notion of making sacrifices for the common good is foreign to someone as self-absorbed as he. Thirdly, he is unable to conceive of the future. He lives in the past and the present.

He and his supporters endlessly whine that the Coronavirus crisis was engineered to make him lose his reelection. That is amusing, because there was nothing about the crisis that made it inevitable that his election would be at risk. In fact, if you had told an unbiased observer in 2019 that a virus from China was on its way and that it would cause hardship to the people of the US, that observer, assuming he did not understand Trump’s personality flaws, would have predicted that it would lock in Trump’s reelection, as my friend Karthik did (though this was in April 2020, not 2019).

To summarize, I believe that people’s misunderstanding of Trump comes about in one of two ways:

  • His Tamasik nature is good at communicating his unadulterated visceral feelings to others who think like him. This communication is mostly one-way. He is unable to understand others, pick up cues from others and adjust his messages accordingly, which is why his playbook is limited and repetitive.
  • People are unable to believe that he is who he is, so they mentally substitute a Rajasik in his place. But his madness does not have a method to it. As Groucho Marx said ““Gentlemen, Chicolini here may look like an idiot and talk like an idiot but don’t let that fool you. He really is an idiot.”

And that is all there is.

The South Indian Relationship Chart

I mentioned in my last post that you can explain familial relationships in Kannada using a 2×3 matrix that I wanted to draw some day. The truth is that it is actually a 2xn matrix which I have wanted to draw since childhood. Now that I have reached middle age and in any case the end of the world is near, I have decided that it is not a good idea to delay this any further. So here is the matrix and the explanation.

The matrix has 2 columns, and I have depicted 3 rows, but as each row represents a generation, there are an infinite number of rows. I have numbered the rows 1, 2, and 3, but there will be rows before and after as well.

To use this matrix, first, you place yourself on it. Then you follow 2 simple rules to find the co-ordinates of anyone related to you. Which box they fall in will tell you how they are related to you. This relationship is unambiguous as long as certain (impractical) conditions are satisfied.

The two rules are:

  1. If a person is in a block, his or her father will be in the block immediately above, and vice versa. For example if you are in A2, your father will be in A1. Conversely, if you are male, your children will be in A3.
  2. If a person is in column A, his or her spouse will be in column B of the same row. So if you are in A2, your wife or husband is in B2.

By applying the above two rules iteratively, you can locate any of your relatives. Once you find the block they should be in, look at the legend. Depending on whether their gender and relative age (relative to whom, will be explained further) their relationship with you will be clear. There are some special cases which are also explained.

Let’s see how this works using a few examples.

  1. If you are in A2, your father is in A1. Your siblings, being children of the same father, will be in the same block as you, i.e. A2. So they will be called aNNa, tamma, akka or tangi, depending on whether they are your elder or younger brother or sister.
  2. You are in A2, your father in A1. Your mother, being your father’s wife, is in B1. Because she is your mother and it’s a special case, she’ll be called Amma.
  3. Your father’s siblings will all be in the same box as he is. So his brothers will be either doDDappa or chikkappa to you depending on whether they are older or younger than your father Their wives will be in box B1 and will be doDDamma or chikkamma depending on whose wives they are.
  4. Your mother is also in B1, so her sisters are also doDDamma or chikkamma depending on whether they are older or younger than she. Their husbands are also doDDappa or chikkappa depending on whose husband they are. (I think it won’t matter here whether they are older or younger than your father)
  5. The children of all people in #3 and #4 will be in the same box as you, and therefore will have the same relationship to you as your siblings do – aNNa, tamma, akka or tangi, depending on their gender, and age relative to you.
  6. Your father’s sister, being his sibling, will be in the same box as he. In her case, her relative age doesn’t matter. She will always be called atthe. Similarly, your mother’s brother will always be called mAma (or mAva). A mAva’s wife will also be called atthe and an atthe’s husband will be called mAva, by rule #2.
  7. You are in A2, your spouse is in B2. His or her father is therefore in B1, and will be a mAva to you, and his wife will be in A1, atthe to you.
  8. If you are in block A2, your mother’s brother’s children will be in B2, as will your father’s sister’s children. They will all be bhAva or maiduna, attige or nAdini, depending on whether they are older or younger than you. If you end up marrying one of them, special case rules apply and she’s your henDathi or ganDa depending on gender.
  9. Likewise, if you are in A2, your spouse is in B2, and his or her siblings will also be bhAva or maiduna, attige or nAdini. Here, the age is considered relative to your spouse rather than to yourself. So your wife’s elder sister will be attige even if she is younger than you, and your husband’s younger brother will be maiduna even if he’s older than you.
  10. The rules for maga, magaLu, aLiya and sose are self-explanatory. I have created 2 charts, one to refer to if you are male and another if female, but this is only for convenience and in fact, there is no material difference between the two. If you are male, your children will show up in the block immediately below yours while if you are female, your children will show up in the block below your husband’s.
  11. Your grandparents are all ajja or ajji – there are no special relationships such as naana or daada, unlike Hindi. Grandchildren are all mommakkaLu.

Using these rules, you can place anyone who is related to you by blood or marriage in the matrix. I mentioned in my last post that I worked out that my maternal uncle’s wife’s brother would be chikkappa to me. Applying the rules should make it clear how it works. I (A2) → MAva (B1) → Atthe (B2) → her brother (B2). In B2, male and younger than my father, therefore chikkappa.

This works in every case as long as a simple rule is followed – if marriages happen between A and B of the same row only. This means no inter-generational marriages and no marrying someone in the same box as you are. These rules, to be clear, are not enforced beyond a certain point. For one thing, in South India, there is also a tradition of women marrying their maternal uncles. This matrix breaks down in this case. For another, there are unusual ways in which this rule can be broken. For example, person A’s wife’s brother marries B. Person A’s brother C marries B’s sister D. This is a perfectly normal marriage between two people not related by blood, but according to the rules, C and D would fall in the same box. So while there is no prohibition on this marriage, this anomaly would definitely be noted in the “hey this is interesting” sense. That is because Kannadigas have a mental image of the matrix I have depicted when they use language.

1984, your uncle’s daughter and Sapir Whorf

In 1984, Orwell describes how the Party purges words of extraneous meanings leaving only one, thereby ensuring that some concepts are simply unthinkable. For example, someone reading “all men are created equal” would be unable to grasp its meaning because in the ideal world of Newspeak, the usage of the word in the sense of political and legal equality has been disappeared, so someone reading that phrase would only be able to think of equality in physical and mental attributes. A Newspeaker trying to read the American declaration of independence would be unable to understand it in any meaningful sense.

This idea that the structure of the language determines cognition is the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. I didn’t know the term at that time, but reading about Newspeak*,* I was reminded of the words we use for our uncles, aunts and cousins in Kannada.

Karnataka, like the rest of South India, practices cousin marriage, but strictly among cross-cousins and not among parallel cousins. This norm is reinforced through language. Kannada uses the same word “maternal uncle” and “father-in-law” – mAmA. It is not just this word, every word in Kannada for relationships reinforces this with utmost consistency. Your mama’s wife is atthe, as is your father’s sister and your mother-in-law. Your mama’s daughter, if she is older than you, would be “atthige” and “nAdini” if younger. These are the same words used for your spouse’s elder and younger sisters respectively. Male cross-cousins in Kannada are called “bhAva” and “maiduna” depending on whether they are older or younger than you, and these are the same terms used for your spouse’s older and younger brothers. The word for daughter-in-law, your sister’s daughter (if you are male) and your brother’s daughter (if you are female) is the same – sose. The corresponding male term is aLiya.

We call our father’s brothers “doDDappa” (big-father) or “chikkappa” (little-father) depending on whether they are older or younger than our father. Their wives are “doDDamma” and “chikkamma” respectively, and these are also the words for our mother’s elder and younger sisters. Any children of our doDDa/chikka appas or ammas are our brothers (aNNa/tamma) and sisters (akka/tangi). Like most other Indian languages, Kannada doesn’t have a word for cousin. If you are doDDa or chikka appa or amma to someone, their relation to you is maga (son) or magaLu (daughter).

This norm is maintained for second cousins and beyond as well. The son of my parallel cousin (who is simply aNNa to me) is an aNNa to my son as well. It is also a framework that can extended logically to anyone who is related to you. For example, when my maternal uncle got married, my eight year old self took great pride in working out that his wife’s brother would be a chikkappa to me (you’ll have to work this out, but the idea is that your father’s sister is your atthe, so any brother of anyone who is atthe to you becomes a doDDa/chikka appa to you) When I proudly explained this to my mom, I got a response to the effect of: “Look, you’re right, but just call him mAmA, ok?”

The reason Newspeak reminded me of Kannada cousin-marriage is that it occurred to me that one could argue that the structure of our language reinforces the norm of cousin-marriage in Kannada. So explaining the taboo around cousin marriage by saying “You shouldn’t marry your uncle’s daughter” would translate to “You shouldn’t marry your father-in-law’s daughter”, an absurdity. And if you had to argue for marriage with parallel cousins, you can’t avoid saying that you can marry your brother or sister, because those are the only words available for parallel cousins.

There are different forms of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, the strong form arguing that the words available to you entirely determine thought, while the weaker forms claiming that language influences thought in some way without claiming determinism. These hypotheses are not accepted among linguists. When you think a little more carefully about the uncle’s daughter example, you’ll realize why.

I remember when I had to explain Kannada cousin-marriage and names for relationships to a North Indian. He was flabbergasted with the concept. In Hindi, your cousins are all brothers or sisters to you. How do South Indians distinguish between different categories of cousins, was the question he had. That got me thinking. The answer was culture, and the way we were socialized starting from childhood. If a Kannadiga boy, while playing house-house, decides that his mAmA’s daughter was going to be his wife, everyone around him will smile and say “so cute”, but if he did the same with his chikkappa’s daughter, he’d be immediately corrected with “She’s your sister! You can’t make her your wife!” This message is reinforced in every novel and movie involving love affairs between the hero and his mAmA’s daughter.

The incest taboo is quite strong and innate in human beings. There is something in our brain that tells us “If someone is your sister, then treat her as sisters should be treated” and this is something we are born with, and there is also another part of our brain where we put women we consider our our sisters. Our actual female siblings will be represented there, but who else resides there depends on cultural factors and life circumstances. In our culture there is the category of rakhi sisters, that puts women who aren’t even related to us by blood into that category. There is research that shows that women we’ve grown up with tend to get treated as sisters (for example, in Israeli Kibbutzim, it’s been shown that marriage within the Kibbutz is rare) The idea that your Guru’s daughter (whom you’ve presumably grown up with in a gurukula) is your sister brings together both the cultural and life-circumstances reasons.

So, obviously, the idea that it’s ok to marry your mAmA’s daughter comes from something similar, but is that something language or culture? The reason the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is not accepted among linguists is that it is impossible to disentangle language from culture, because after all, language is a part of culture. It is impossible to decide whether Kannadigas are ok with cross-cousin marriage but not parallel-cousin marriage because our language has a certain structure or because our culture reinforces this norm through every instrument available to it, including language.

Another example that is apparently provided in favour of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is that apparently the Inuit have many more words for snow than English does, and because of this, they have a richer and more vivid experience of snow. This factual claim has apparently been discredited (I suspect that the factual dispute turns on what “word” means and what “having” a word means.) But even if it were true, so what? It is not surprising that the Inuit experience snow in many different ways – after all, they see much more of it and many different varieties of it. It is also, for the same reason, not surprising if they had many more words for snow in common use than English does. The stronger case for Sapir-Whorf would have been if the reverse were true – if English had many more words for snow, and therefore the English had a richer experience of snow than the Inuit did.

This post started off with 1984, then it explained Sapir-Whorf, then it went on to explain cross-cousin marriage in Kannada, and ended up with Inuit words of snow. If you are wondering what the real point is, I am not quite sure. Thank you for reading anyway.

(And oh, you can explain familial relationships in Kannada using a 2×3 matrix, which I will draw some day.)

The Khumrah treadmill of outrage

How do you combat bigotry? One way is through debate. You let the bigoted person speak and you counter his views. You point out that those views are morally abhorrent or scientifically incorrect, or both.

This approach has advantages. Very often, hearing the bigot speak is sufficient to convince others that those views are repugnant. If that is not sufficient, your counter to those bigoted views should do the job. In addition, by letting him speak, you avoid getting into ancillary debates about whether those bigoted views are covered under freedom of speech. You also do not give his allies the excuse of ambiguity over whether they are supporting his views or supporting his freedom to express those views.

The approach has disadvantages though. There is no winning the debate. It is not like the bigot will fall to your feet, ask for forgiveness, thank you for opening his eyes and change his views permanently. Bigots, not surprisingly, are irrational and illogical people with a lot of time on their hands, so debating them with the view to winning, whatever that means, is futile. It is important to remember that the point is to convince other people that the bigot is wrong, not to convince the bigot himself. We should walk away once the point has been made, which is not something humans find easy. Bigots will always be among us, and they will always express their views, so even countering their views without debating them is exhausting. Finally and most importantly, bigotry is hurtful to those it is targeted at. It may lead to discrimination and actual violence.

Given these disadvantages, it is tempting to shut down bigotry, either by making bigoted expression illegal, or through social pressure. When we do that, it is the beginning of the Khumrah treadmill, which I have tweeted about.

Bigoted people, finding that they are unable to express their views directly, resort to euphemisms, insinuations and pseudo-scientific jargon to hint at their views. Now, we need to build a wall around the Torah to prevent the original bigoted view from being expressed, so we make the euphemisms and holding of those pseudo-scientific views unacceptable. So you ban the use of “negro” because people who used the original n-word slur have started using it as a slur. Of course, this means that the bigots will find euphemisms to refer to those euphemisms, and they will begin to misrepresent legitimate scientific theories to hint at the second-order bigoted views, so you build another wall, and make even those euphemisms and discussion of those scientific views unacceptable.

This process continues, and more and more walls are added around the Torah. This results in a few things happening.

First, the original bigoted view you want to cancel may be so unacceptable that no one other than the bigot can reasonably hold them. But around the views located around the fourth or fifth wall may be ones that reasonable people may hold them – they could be even be correct views. So, the original idea is that biological sex is distinct from your gender identity, and you should be accepting of people who may be biologically female, but identify with the male gender, or vice versa; and that you should refer to people by their preferred gender. It is bigotry not to be accepting of this. After building multiple walls around this concept, it is apparently unacceptable to even believe that biological sex exists, or that there is a high degree of overlap between gender identity and biological sex, because breaching this wall is the first step that will inevitably breach the next one and the one after that.

Second, you have to start sounding like party apparatchiks to be non-bigoted, and because it is easy to “gum together long strips of words which have already been set in order by someone else, and making the results presentable by sheer humbug” as Orwell famously said, you will attract a lot of humbugs.

Third, because humans are tribal beings, holding the right kind of views become the price of admission to the tribe, and the more absurd the belief, the better it is as an initiation ritual. Condemning anti-Muslim bigotry? That is easy, and lots of people will join in it. Outraging over someone who believes that Aurangzeb was a bad person? That takes commitment, and therefore once supporting Aurangzeb becomes the test of whether you are part of the non-bigoted tribe, you will get only the most committed adherents.

Fourth, when you outlaw reasonable views, only outlaws will have reasonable views. Many reasonable people who hold those cancellable views in private may just step away and do other things rather than express them. The people left to engage in debate will be the unrepentant bigots, and non-bigots who don’t care about political correctness, but who will express reasonable views in the worst possible ways. This will further power the Khumrah treadmill, because if only crazy people express a particular reasonable view, the view in question will sound crazy.

The final stage of the Khumrah treadmill is that someone will realize that if everyone is being cancelled anyway, they might as well express the most bigoted view possible, and outrage at this will be dampened by the fact that everything is outraged at anyway.

Sanskrit Appellations

(Attention North Indians: Do not swallow the schwa when you read the Devanagari in this post. If you do, many examples will not make sense. For example, अर्जुन is Arjuna, not Arjun)

Sanskrit has this system where you can be addressed by a name formed by your father’s name, mother’s name, the name of one of your prominent ancestors, or even the place where you are from. This name can be used along with your given name, or in place of it.  There are some characters from some of the Itihaasas we know only using their appellations, and we don’t know their given names at all.

For example, अर्जुन, the son of पाण्डु, is a पाण्डव, though the term is more commonly used as a collective term for the five brothers. He is also referred to as पार्थ and कोैन्तेय after his mother’s names पृथा and कुन्ती, and those two terms seem to be reserved for him, though there were three others who could be called  पार्थ and कोैन्तेय.  Krishna addressed him as भारत when he made the promise to reincarnate himself, acknowledging his descent from the emperor भरत. Of course, he could also have been called कौरव as he was a descendent of kuru, but that term was reserved for his cousins. There was another अर्जुन before this one. He was the one who made  Parashurama lose his shit and  go off on a Kshatriya killing spree. He was the son of कृतवीर्य and is known to us as कार्तवीर्यार्जुन. Likewise, कृष्ण, the son of वसुदेव, was known both as वासुदेव कृष्ण and just वासुदेव. He was also referred to as यादव, indicating his descent from यदु, though this term was used for the entire clan as well. 

Among women, we know सीता, the daughter of जनक as जानकी. We also know her as मैथिली because she came from मिथिला. Being addressed by the place of their origin seems to have been common for women, and there are many women we know of in no other way. For example, Dashratha’s wives कौशल्या and कैकेयी were from कोशल and केकय respectively. गांधारी and माद्री were from गांधार and मद्र respectively. We do not know of their given names. द्रौपदी was the daughter of द्रुपद who was from पांचाल and therefore also called पांचाली. I am not sure of her real name either (was it कृष्णा?).  Knowing women by their places of origin seems to have been more common than for men, presumably because women moved to their husbands’ place after marriage, and people at their new homes referred to their daughters in law by where they came from. Presumably that is why we know अंबिका and अंबालिका by their real names; काशेयी would have referred to both of them. Interestingly, I cannot think of any woman who was known by her mother’s name.

In referring to people by their father’s, mother’s, ancestor’s or place name, Sanskrit seems to be using a grammatical transformation that is common in other contexts as well. For example सुन्दर (beautiful) is transformed to साैन्दर्य (beauty). सैन्धव लवण is the mineral (लवण) that came from सिन्धु (sea), a term that survives in Hindi as सैन्धा नमक्. The term लावण्या is obviously related to लवण, telling us that the association of beauty with saltiness has carried into Hindi from Sanskrit. गौरव is that which is due to the गुरु (I will refrain from a fascinating digression into gru, gravity etc.)

This grammatical transformation must have held even when Sanskrit transformed into the Prakrits. Chandragupta मौर्य was so known because he sat on the peacock throne, but मौर्य looks like it must have come from मोर, not मयूर.

So, if you have read so far and are now curious about how to call your children after yourself or your spouse (or yourself after your ancestors) , here are the rules. I’ll add a disclaimer – I have worked out these rules myself, so if there are any errors, corrections or clarifications, please feel free to let me know.

To transform your name into your kids’ appellation, you need to take the first and the last vowel. (and remember that in Sanskrit, the name always ends with a vowel. My name, for example, is रविकिरण – Ravikirana, not रविकिरण्) The first vowel gets transformed into its longest form, while the longest form stays as it is.

  • अ -> आ (यदु -> यादव, पाण्डु -> पाण्डव)
  • इ, ई, ए ->ऐ (दिती -> दैत्य, केकय -> कैकेयी)
  • ऋ ->आर् (कृतवीर्य -> कार्तवीर्य)
  • उ ऊ, ओ, -> औ (कुरु -> कौरव)

The rules for the last vowel are not 100% consistent, but these are the rules:

  • अ stays as it is (वसुदेव -> वासुदेव)
  • आ -> एय (कृतिका -> कार्तिकेय) (Sometimes, it stays as is. पृथा ->पार्थ. In Sanskrit, a word ending with आ would be feminine, so you’d use this to name them after their mother)
  • इ, ई -> य or एय (दिती -> दैत्य, कुन्ती -> कौन्तेय)
  • उ, ऊ , ओ, -> अव (कुरु -> कौरव)
  • The above get adjusted for gender. So a daughter of कुन्ती -> कौन्तेयी

These rules cover almost all the cases. There may be some adjustments for euphony or some cases that I have not thought about, but using the above rules, you should be able to address your son or daughter easily, so go ahead and do that right now.

My sons are राविकिरण if I use my full name, or राव्य if I use my short one. As they are sons of my wife सौम्या as well, they are सौमेय too. One thing I am not sure of is what I will call my grandchildren from my first son. His name is संवाद, and I am not sure what the rules for अं are. I guess I have time to figure it out.

(P.S. According to the above rules, an Indian is either भारत or भारती. The term commonly used for us: भारतीय makes sense if we consider ourselves poetically as the children of mother भारती, but I guess even then, according to the rules, it should be भारतेय and भारतेयी, so I am not quite sure how to reconcile them.)

Using DLS to fix NRR

The net run rate has a few disadvantages as a method of comparing performance of teams. There are three that I’ve heard or thought of. 

  1. Team 1 gets bowled out in 33 overs having scored 230 runs. Team 2, while chasing, loses 9 wickets and reaches the target in 25 overs. Intuitively, we would think that this match was close. But because Team 1 got bowled out, its run rate calculation has 50 in the denominator, while Team  will have 25, which means that NRR exaggerates the gap between them. (I think I read of this example in the feed of Twitter user ZaltzCricket)
  2. The bind that Pakistan found itself in recently provides another example. A team that bats first, scores 350 and dismisses its opponent for 150 rightly gets a boost to its NRR. A team that fields first, bowls out the batting team for 150 and then reaches the target in 15 overs has arguably done better than the first team, and this shows up in the run rate difference for that match. But when its net run rate is calculated over the whole tournament, the team that wins by batting second gets a disadvantage in the NRR because only 151 and 15 get added to the numerator and denominator respectively, with the result that the impact of this win is smaller than that of the team that scored 350 in 50. 
  3. A team that scores 300 in 50 overs for the loss of 3 wickets and a team that scores 290 in 50 for 9 wickets will have nearly the same NRR, even though we intuitively feel that the number of wickets lost should also matter. 

Can the Duckworth-Lewis-Stern method help fix the deficiency in the NRR? Prima Facie, it appears that the DLS method, used in its current form, should help with the problems in examples 1 and 2, but not in example 3. The idea behind DLS is that it considers the overs remaining to play and the wickets in hand as “resources” that are, statistically speaking, proportional to the runs that you can expect to score. To understand this, let’s use this table found in the Wikipedia page for DLS. It says that if your team has lost 9 wickets, unless you have fewer than 7 overs remaining, you have 4.7% of your resources left. This makes intuitive sense, because if you’ve lost 9 wickets at 40 overs, the number of overs left is not much of a constraint on how many runs you are statistically likely to score. If you have scored 200 runs at this point, DLS predicts that you are likely to score 200*100/95.3 = 210 runs.

DLS Table – Standard Edition. Image Credit: Wikipedia User Chintan9, license: cc-by-sa3.0

To take another example, if, when the rain interrupts play, the team batting first has played for 25 overs without loss of wickets, DLS predicts that you still have 66.5%, or 2/3 of your resources left. If the score at this point is 125, DLS predicts that the team is likely to have scored 125*100/33.5 had it been allowed to complete its full fifty overs. If the chasing team is also given only 25 overs, it is assumed to have lost the first 25 overs of its innings, which amounts to 100-66.5, or 33.5% of its resources. So the chasing team’s score must be scaled accordingly, which means that we must compare 125*100/33.5 with S*100/66.5, where S is the chasing team’s score, to determine the winner. This is equivalent to saying that the target to chase is 125*66.5/33.5, which is how the target is given.

Going back to our three examples, it should be clear now why DLS won’t help with the third one. By definition, a team runs out of resources when it has used up 50 overs or has lost all its wickets. In example 3, both teams are at the same position as far as DLS is concerned. In examples 1 and 2, the DLS method holds more promise. Both of the situations involve a team batting second not having to bat for the full 50 overs because it reached its target score. In the first case, because the team has lost 9 wickets, DLS will predict that it will score only 231*100/95.3 =242 runs, and adjust its run rate accordingly. In the second case, assuming that the chasing team loses 5 wickets in the process of scoring 151 in 15 overs, DLS will predict that it has 48.1% of its resources left and add approximately 300 runs and 50 overs to its run rate calculation. Both these results seem fairer than using NRR as it is. Does that mean that a DLS-enriched NRR is the right option. I will give the case against followed by the case for, and let you decide.

The case against: In Oscar Wilde’s play “The Importance of Being Earnest”, there is a brilliant line that goes “I do not know whether there is anything peculiarly exciting in the air of this particular part of Hertfordshire, but the number of engagements that go on seems to me considerably above the proper average that statistics have laid down for our guidance.” The line is funny because statistics are supposed to measure reality, not guide it. It is one thing to use statistical averages as guidance in exceptional situations like rain interruptions. If we start using them for NRR calculations, we will be using them routinely. To use them to predict the score of the chasing team is particularly inappropriate. The canonical team that forms the basis for DLS is a team that is trying to score as many runs as possible within constraints of the number of overs and wickets remaining. But a team that is batting second is not aiming to score as many runs as possible. It is trying to reach its target. A team that needs to reach just 150 runs doesn’t need to bat as if it has 50 overs and 10 wickets. It can adopt a T20 strategy and score them as fast as possible. Going back to our examples, the team in the first example can protest that it is being unfairly penalized for losing wickets, when that was the right strategy in the situation. The team in the second example may benefit from DLS (because more runs and overs are added to the numerator and denominator – I think this depends on how many other matches it has played and how many other runs it has scored) but it can also argue that it is being unfairly penalized for losing 5 wickets. More pertinently, the introduction of DLS for NRR will make chasing teams completely change their strategy, which is not what we should be aiming for.

The case for: Yes, the introduction of DLS for NRR will make teams change their strategy, but that is a good thing, because now this is more of a like for like comparison. To do a perfectly fair comparison between two teams, we must put them in the exact same position. However, in a normal ODI, the team batting first does not know how much it must score; and the situation it is faced with is to score as many runs as possible within the 50 overs it has. The team batting second knows its target,and its strategy must adjust accordingly. For both teams to be in the same starting position, after the first 50 overs are done, we must inject both teams with a drug that induces amnesia and makes them forget the first 50 overs till the next 50 are completed. Unfortunately, anti-doping regulations do not allow that. Therefore, using the DLS to adjust the NRR seems like a good way to level the playing field between the two teams. Hence proved.

The case against, once again: Using DLS for NRR will slow down the batting of the second team. Any innovation that results in slower batting will never be acceptable to the ICC.Quot Erat Demonstrandum.