Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Founder of Civilization

“The first human who hurled an insult instead of a stone was the founder of civilization” – Sigmund Freud

Sometimes this man (Freud) doesn’t leave you with any option but to admire and agree with his assertions. And I couldn’t agree more with this one.

So basically what does this sentence signify? That transition between uncivilized world and the civilized world was brought by simply a change in tool – from stone to insult.

And for what was/is this tool used?

Uncivilized man (hmmm) hurled stones on fellow men to control territory, to gain upmanship, to win women, and to become the leader of the clan.

And a civilized man (HMMM) hurls insults on fellow men to control territory, to gain upmanship, to win women, and to become the leader of the clan.

[I stopped here for almost 10 minutes not knowing what to write next… I had come across that interesting quote and thought I’d write something… and I was clueless in which direction to proceed]

Well, well, well. I just realized that I have used ‘man’ whereas the quote of Freud has the word ‘human’. I must admit that I didn’t use the word ‘man’ as synonym of ‘human’ (for non-homosexuals, it should be pretty apparent as I also used the term ‘to win women’) but I actually envisioned a man (bearded, beefy, and bare bodied) hurling stones, whereas it seems that Freud believes that it could have been a woman as well who hurled insult and started civilization!

Great, so here we have an interesting topic, who started civilization? Man or woman?

If we go by definition of Freud, whoever is more vulnerable to hurling insults, started civilization! So what do you think? A man is more open to hurling an insult or a woman?

Well, our two epics – Ramayana and Mahabharata – depicts two great wars being fought after women threw insults and men answered in uncivilized manners!

In Ramayana, SurpanakhaRavan’s sister – first tries to lure Rama and Laxman with her beauty, and when she fails to do so, she starts insulting both of them along with Sita. This results in Laxmana cutting off her nose and ears (most versions of Ramayana tell that Surpanakha had pounced upon to kill Sita after hurling insults following which Laxman acted). The act resulted in Sita being kidnapped by Ravan and ensuing war in Lanka Nagari.

In Mahabharata, Draupadi insults two men – Karna in her swayamwar and Duryodhana in the Indraprashta palace – the insult of Duryodhana sows the seed for the dice game and subsequently the Mahabharata war takes place.

So based on above two incidents, can we construe that women are more prone to hurling insults and men more prone to throwing stones? Seems unfair to womankind, isn’t it? And already liberals and feminists are against Hindu scriptures; let me not give them another reason to hate those texts. So we need a deeper analysis.

I think we might need a psychologist and sociologist to tell us what kind of person is more susceptible to throw insults rather than attacking physically. I am neither (psychologist nor sociologist) by training, but let me try.

Throwing an insult or stone, is a decision a person would take in extreme circumstances, when pushed to a corner.

I think it can be safely assumed that a person, when pushed to a corner, will try to use his best resources and skills to act or retort. How best and efficiently he or she uses the resources and skills, is a different matter. But when pushed to a corner, a person will try to give his or her best shot as he knows he might not get a second chance, or that he might be left repenting in future about not having been proactive enough at that crucial time, so better use your trump card now.

Women, on an average, have been found to be better than men in linguistic skills, and it doesn’t require an expert study to show that men are on an average physically stronger than women. So if you believe in equality of sexes on all other counts, women have linguistic skills as their best resource and men have physical strength when compared to each other.

Now to throw an insult you need linguistic skills, and to throw stone you need physical strength, isn’t it?

So I tend to believe that it was a woman who started civilization ;)

On a more serious note, one day one of my friends had argued that it was indeed a woman who started civilization. Of course, then she didn’t use the above logic.

She had argued that in uncivilized world men would kill fellow men, own territories and women, and roam around from place to place. He would not need a ‘home’. He was happier that way – untamed and uninhibited.

But for a woman, life was hell. She would live a life of being a sexual object and a second grade human being (unfortunately true in some sense even today in some parts of the world). She must have felt that if this wild man were to be tamed, her life can become a little better.

So it was a woman who convinced (brainwashed?) a man that he indeed ‘needed’ a home, where he can lead a better life, a more ‘civilized’ life. And thus she pushed through the concept of ‘home’ and ‘family’ in this world – institutions that would accord her better and safer status in the whole scheme of things.

It’s almost impossible to think of civilizations without ‘domesticated’ men. Wild men can’t give birth to civilizations. And wild men didn’t have any ‘natural’ need to become domesticated. So it was indeed a woman who created the need for men to become domesticated and subsequently gave birth of civilization, she argued.

Well, I agreed with her then, and I agree again!

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Sunday, June 24, 2007

New 7 Wonders - Emotional Scam or Master B-Plan?

Around two weeks back, media reports informed us that Taj Mahal was ‘lagging behind’ in the race for New Seven Wonders of the world. It was a national shock for some people, which had potential of translating into a national shame.

So suddenly patriotic fervor went up and some people decided to act. Our inboxes and websites like orkut got spammed with ‘Vote for Taj’ messages, we started receiving SMS to do the same, A R Rehman composed “India Unites for the Taj”, News Channels suddenly became aware of their social responsibilities and exhorted people to vote, small time leaders campaigned for support and criticized the government of not doing enough to protect the honor of India. Government didn’t respond.

Wow! We felt like Indians. We needed to. With India out of cricket world cup in first round itself, we needed something to drive us along as Indians; perhaps for many of us ‘New 7 Wonders’ provided that opportunity.

Around seven years back, Swiss businessman Mr. Bernard Weber also saw an opportunity. He launched this campaign to find ‘New 7 Wonders’ ostensibly ‘to protect humankind's heritage across the globe’, and now, with around two weeks to go when his project ends, he must be a happy man.

It’s really amazing to see how this campaign to find New Seven Wonders of the World has caught the imagination of the world. Almost no one questioned what mandate Mr. Weber had to launch such a campaign. Who authorized him to do this? And what validity, legal or otherwise, the results of the campaign would contain?

Well, it can be argued that there really hasn’t been any official organization with authority to prepare such a list. The list of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World is supposed to have been prepared around 5th century BC by Greek historian Herodotus and chief librarian of the Alexandria Museum Callimachus of Cyrene. We don’t know what monuments they listed as the work was destroyed with the Alexandria Library. Nobody exactly knows who compiled the list of Seven Wonders of the Middle Ages. The earliest reference to the list is engravings by the Dutch artist Maerten van Heemskerck (1498-1574).

It seems that the lists of seven wonders have always had a vague history behind them, but we could have done away with another vague attempt in the modern age. Many people believed, and perhaps rightly so, that any genuine attempt to list modern seven wonder of the world should have been championed by UNESCO.

On 20th June 2007, barely three weeks before ‘New 7 Wonders’ is to announce the final list, UNESCO released a press note saying it is not involved in the campaign. The press note says, “Although UNESCO was invited to support this project on several occasions, the Organization decided not to collaborate with Mr. Weber.”

The press note further says, “The list of the ‘7 New Wonders of the World’ will be the result of a private undertaking, reflecting only the opinions of those with access to the internet and not the entire world. This initiative cannot, in any significant and sustainable manner, contribute to the preservation of sites elected by this public.”

UNESCO not only is suggesting that this is a campaign by ‘private undertaking’, but it is also making clear that the ‘winner’ sites or wonders would not get any ‘rewards’ from the organization e.g. increase in grants on preservation of that particular site, etc.

So it’s just another poll, no better than MTV’s ‘youth icon of the year’, or other umpteen SMS and online polls that television channels conduct, because the methodology for voting and counting is no better or more scientific in this case.

At least the ‘private undertaking’ of Mr. Weber could have afforded to be more scientific and democratic in the whole process. You can SMS and call as many times as you want and keep on voting for your preferred wonder (after all it will earn him revenue each time you do that). You can vote online for ‘free’ once, and the you can pay $2 and vote once more, and again $2 and once more, and so on. And yeah, you will get a ‘certificate’ each time you pay, I mean vote.

On 07-07-07, in Lisbon, there would be grand ceremony. Celebrities like Hilary Swank, Jennifer Lopez, Ben Kingsley, Bipasha Basu, and Cristiano Ronaldo would be there. It would be a great day, you shouldn’t miss it, you can win Ronaldo signed T-shirts. You can buy the tickets for 140 Euros excluding booking charges for the mega-event, but you must vote before that. And finally on 07-07-07, seven certificates to new wonders will be issued. Will our dear Taj Mahal be there? I don’t know.

If it’s there, we will celebrate, if not, we will blame the sagging patriotic spirit in ourselves and our leaders? Brazil's President Lula de Silva addressed his people on radio telling them how to vote for Rio's statue of Christ the Redeemer. The government of Peru opened computer terminals in public places and exhorted people to vote for the ancient city of Machu Pichu. What was Manmohan Singh doing?

Whatever is the new list, Mr. Bernard Weber surely made a successful business-plan for his ‘for-profit’ organization, and wonderfully executed it. An attempt to generate a modern list of wonders of the world is not new. Media companies like CNN and USA Today had released their list of modern seven wonders earlier, websites like hillmanwonders.com and wonderclub.com too had done the same, and organizations like American Society of Civil Engineers had finalized a list of modern seven wonders. All these attempts had expert opinion as well as public opinion factored in. Mr. Weber had a real challenge to do something different.

And he did it. Weber launched his campaign on 15th September 2000 with an event where his amphibian aircraft (he is a filmmaker, museum curator, aviator, and explorer as per the official site) landed in a spectacular fashion in Sydney Harbour. Weber also announced the selection of the Sydney Opera House as one of the candidates for the ‘New 7 Wonders of the World’. It made news. It appealed to the emotions of local people.

This was just a week before the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. This event was aired by television stations in US, Eurpoe and Australia. He must have anticipated it, after all news channels around the world need to file stories that build up the mood to some important event. People became aware of the website and the campaign.

The next year in 2001, Taliban destroyed Buddhas of Bamiyan, and Weber added “The Bamiyan Buddha Reconstruction Project” as a part of “New 7 Wonders” foundation. He declared that 50% of the ‘net’ revenues would be used to fund restoration efforts worldwide e.g. Bamiyan Buddha and heritage sites in Africa. It made news. It appealed to the emotions of people. Donations also were to be pledged later.

Over next couple of years, releases from Mr. Weber’s organization would tell how Turkey has overtaken USA in voting or how Peru would soon overtake Mexico. Some people thought, ‘our country is lagging behind, let’s vote’. It made news. It appealed to their emotions.

August 2004, Athens Olympics game was going on. Mr. Weber flew in a hot air balloon over The Acropolis, and repeated what he did four years back. The Acropolis was included in the official list of ‘candidates’ for the New Seven Wonders. Mr. Weber also opined that since ancient list of seven wonders was chosen by a Greek historian, he was modest not to put The Acropolis in the list, so people now have a chance to accord the coveted status to their city. It made news. It appealed to the emotions of local people.

By now, the campaign was well known in western world, but market existed outside the western world too. So in December 2004, Mr. Weber visited Taj Mahal in the company of Aishwarya Rai. Taj and Aishwarya – it made news – where Aishwarya made her famous statement, “Taj is more beautiful than me”. Shahjahaan was happy. Taj Mahal was also a candidate now, and there were 250,000 registered votes from India in the following week. It appealed to our emotions.

People were talking about it now. It appealed to their emotions. But it should appeal to their reason also. So Mr. Weber got a panel of experts with six architects from different parts of the world and a former UNESCO director-general as the president of the panel. Three years later, now UNESCO’s press release makes it clear that the former director-general is there in his personal capacity. It didn’t make such a big news.

Mr. Weber must be congratulated for his patience and preparation he put in for his business plan. After initial investment of time and money, he didn’t need to do much. Slowly and steadily, his business-plan was marketed almost free by mass media, patriots, spammers and even governments. He could get sponsors for everything he was doing – webhosting, SMS and telephone traffic, world tours, merchandise selling, competitions, and event management.

It all happened because with each passing year and day, customers were rushing in. It appealed to their emotions. Weber’s plan was a success.

On 07-07-07, we would see the climax of the campaign, but Weber’s plan doesn’t end there. ‘The New 7 Wonders will further be documented on breathtaking IMAX large format film, for which Weber's extensive film background should prove useful’ – the official website informs.


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