The Faithful Hound

Friday, February 16, 2007

Dynamic Duos

So I'm reading this book on Jung's take on symbolism. A lot of it covers his slightly suspect interpretation of dreams, but other bits are pleasantly interesting, if not eye-opening.
One chapter is devoted to popular archetypes in social culture - the hero, the mother, the trickster, the divine couple and the male and female animus. This chapter also includes a really interesting theory on hero pairs. The book claims that many primitive cultures have legends about hero pairs, and that most of these pairs share an important characteristic. One is usually an introvert and the other an extravert.
The extravert is the popular and public face of the duo, loud and brash, lapping up attention and often courting controversy. The introvert, on the other hand, maintains a solemn presence in the background but is usually the more potent element of the pair. The introvert is not as active as his partner, but when it is time for him to make his move he quickly reveals the extent of his powers.
Fables across various cultures have stories of similar twosomes; Achilles and Patroclus, Krishna and Arjuna, Gilgamesh and Enkidu are among the more popular. The attraction that the audience has towards these pairings, according to Jung, is that the observer has a bit of each characteristic within him; the externally motivated extravert and the internally motivated introvert, the id and the ego. That makes the duo appealing in a multi-dimensional manner to the observer, who can associate with and emulate each member of the pair.
I think that the hero pair archetype has survived pretty much intact into modern culture, not so much in the Don Quixote-Sancho Panza and the Holmes-Watson type relationships in literature, where one element completely overshadows the other, but certainly in rock and roll bands where the singer-guitarist relationship makes for a great study of partnerships.
Think about it; the prevailing rock groups of our generation have always been focused around a dynamic singer and a talented but publicity shy lead guitarist. The singer has always been an over-the-top extravert who is the public face of the group while the lead guitarist maintains a serious, almost mysterious presence off centre stage at shows, coming forward occasionally with a mind-bending solo but otherwise content to leave the singer in the limelight. Plant and Page, Axl and Slash, John and Paul, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards (Ok, in that last case the only mysterious thing about Richards is the fact that he is still alive, but he is a classic introvert never the less).
There are, of course, similar examples in Hollywood. Think Thelma and Louise, The Blues Brothers, Midnight Cowboy and any number of cop-buddy movies that are based on the same personality combination. Always a cheery sociable one who makes you laugh and a complex brooding one who makes you think.
I wonder if the whole introvert-extrovert thing applies to married couples as well. While marrying someone at the diametrically opposite end of the psychological spectrum is usually a sure-fire recipe for marital disaster, it does create an exciting spectacle for the external observer as long as it lasts. Look at Charles and Diana. They were media darlings in those early years. The perpetually smiling princess who tried to put a friendly (and sexy) face on the house of Windsor as her more reserved, but much more influential husband looked on condescendingly.
When they broke up and Diana hooked up with the equally outgoing Dodi Al-Fayed they made great gossip but did not really capture the public attention until their exuberance unified them with that tunnel wall in Paris. Similarly Charles’ union with the equally retiring and intelligent Camilla did not make much news outside the regular subscribers of Horse and Hound magazine.
The same applies to the couples I know personally. The ones whose company I enjoy the most are not usually comprised of individuals whose company I would enjoy seperately. The perpetually stressed-out investment banker with the chirpy bubble-headed wife, the brooding social activist dating the hard-drinking golfaholic. I don't know how they can stand each other but when they're together I couldn't ask for better entertainment without having to pay for it.

On a side note, I don't mean to gloat or anything, but did anyone take a look at the cover of the latest Economist? It heralds the demise of cash money and I quote "cash, after millennia as one of mankind's most versatile and enduring technologies, looks set over the next 15 years or so finally to melt away into an electronic stream of ones and zeros". I am so cutting edge that I had better start carrying band-aids in my wallet.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Contentious Opinions

There are three topics on which I find myself constantly defending my views.
I believe that all three are cultural mythologies that have been accepted as common truths, causing anyone who challenges their validity to be held up as the worst form of villain.

1) Democracy is the best form of government: The biggest problem I have with democracy is that it is based on the false assumption that all people are equal. When it comes to choosing national leaders, a Nobel laureate has as much influence as an uneducated lout and a humanitarian has the same number of votes as a porno actor.
While I'm all for equal opportunity and equal protection under the law for all citizens, I firmly believe that indiscriminately handing out the power to select national leadership creates a class of leaders who cater to the lowest common denominator.
Just look at Hillary Clinton. Valedictorian at Wellesley and keen progressive thinker, she's forced to pander to the mob and pretend that she adores guns, foetuses and her philandering husband if she wants to compete for the Presidency of the United States.
Or, look at India; Most of our problems can be traced back to the lacklustre leadership that our democracy keeps shoving down our throats. Illiterate villagers, who sometimes peddle their votes for a sachet of hooch, vote in leaders that they can relate to, who in turn presume that good governance involves renaming our big cities (Bengaluru!!?), promoting communal strife and lining their own pockets. The right to vote should not be granted to a citizen who can not read up on the facts about his candidate and analyze them to make an informed decision.
My suggestion? Base governments on private enterprise. The mail clerk in a company does not help to decide who the next CEO will be. The cleaning lady doesn't get to judge how well the VP of accounting is performing. Countries should have a board of directors who earn their place based on their past merits and who in turn hold the CEO accountable for the progress of the country, based on a publicly available quarterly report. No political parties or elections. Just pure results-based decision making.
If a citizen does not like the way the country is being run then he can sell his stock and invest in another country that better suits him. Governments should be forced to work hard to attract citizens.

2) The Golden Age of Man is in our past: This is another one that always riles me up. Every generation believes that the next one is sinking a little closer to hell. There was a time, they claim, that man lived at peace with his environment. He filled his mind and body with pure thoughts and fresh air and his life was blissful and uncomplicated by the terrors and tribulations that plague us today.
What a load of bull crap! Life today has become much simpler and less dangerous than it was even a century ago. Our early ancestors did not enjoy their fresh clean environment because they were terrified of it. They huddled in their caves petrified that some terrible toothy thing would come out of the jungle and drag their children away. Yes it is sad that the big cats are endangered now, but better them than me. Do you think, if you were the last human alive, that a tiger might let you go if he cornered you when he was hungry? 'Go forth and procreate my poor endangered friend. I'll just eat some fruit instead'? Man may be a cancer upon this planet but, as cancer cells, chemotherapy is not in our self interest.
Modern society has made giant strides in health care, equal opportunity, engineering and world peace. Improvements in each of these areas have improved the quality of our lives, while possibly making them a little duller. But if excitement included spending my life eating rodents and dying at the ripe old age of 35 from beriberi, then count me in for all the boredom that modern life can pile on.
My ancestors suffered through ravaging diseases, vicious predators, hostile weather and uncivil neighbors. I thank them for their sacrifices but certainly do not feel guilty about enjoying the benefits of air-conditioning, wall to wall carpeting, refrigeration, plasma television and automobiles. In fact, I think they make me a better human being. The Noble Savage, when not contemplating his freedom from stifling social constraints, occasionally indulged in witch-burning, human sacrifices, slavery, cannibalism and the torture of his enemies. I, on the other hand, am content to simply spend my free time sitting on a couch and watching the Sopranos.

3) Anti-feminism equates to anti-female: This is a touchy one, so let me begin by saying that I think that violence and discrimination against women are serious crimes and should be dealt with in the same manner as would any other serious crimes.
Having said that, I have never been able to see eye to eye with ardent feminists (even the host of them within my family). There are and always will be stark differences between men and women. These differences cause friction, attraction, mistrust, affection, excitement, fear, passion, revulsion and a whole host of other emotions between the sexes. It's completely natural and it's never going to go away.
A guiding principle within the feminist movement is the goal to create a society that puts men and women on a completely equal footing and ignores any differences between the sexes. Aside from being unrealisable, I'm not even sure that this is a worthy ambition. A person's sex is a large factor of their being and it influences who they are, how they react to their surroundings and what they want from life. Your sex defines you as a person more than any other aspect of your self. It is certainly not something to be ashamed of and ignored.
Hardcore feminists, in my mind, are at the intersection of two obnoxious groups; the ideologues, who blindly tout the party line without reviewing every case on its merits, and the champions of political correctness who believe that frank discussion should be shunned and that uncomfortable truths should be repressed. The combination makes it very hard for an outsider to engage them in rational discussion.
A man who cannot respect women should be punished, but a man who cannot understand the feminist perspective should be constructively engaged with.