Monday, May 28, 2007

"Morality: Morality is a way to stop players from playing the best strategy for themselves. Morality persuades the players to cooperate by increasing the costs from cheating. These costs take the form of "reputation costs". You try to be a nice friend, a loyal wife, devoted mother, or honest business partner, in order to avoid these reputation costs. Playing another strategy would have been more profitable without these reputation costs," taken from Miscallenous Lessons of Life.


Deepa Mehta's Water is a beautiful movie. It's about how religious rules and interpretations, purely based on practical reasons, become an instrument of abuse and subordination. They are accepted (or largely overlooked) not only by those who are favoured or remain unaffected, but also by the victims. The mere existence of the rule is supposedly enough to justify their undeserved suffering. The rule cannot be questioned or falsified, after all, it is to be believed in unconditionally. The cost of questioning or breaking the rule is to be reborn as a jackal.

The afterlife (or the role played by chance in this life, and everybody's vulnerability to bad luck) is nothing but a switch from an unrepeated game to a repeated one. Justice will be done: players will be rewarded for their submission and punished for their diversion.

Some rules do have a point, they are based on lessons taken from experience. They are there for a reason, you run the risk of hurting yourself or someone else if you break that rule. Unfortunately not everyone is responsible or thoughtful enough to be decent people without the fear of a penalty being imposed on them. (Here I must point out the importance of information exchange -gossip, that is!- in giving people a bad name!)

But some rules are just non-sense, no matter how hard people try to justify them. The mere existence of a rule is not enough for it to be meaningful. If a rule doesn't make sense to me, if it won't make me or someone else better off, I won't follow it. If it's not there to help me, then it is there to oppress me.

But then, I have a choice. A critical mind, however necessary, is not always enough to stand up against a rule. The costs are too high: Disapproval and even exclusion from one's family and community. Emotions tied to memory, home and tradition are strong.

I tried to explain in the Eye and Paternalism and Tolerance that simply telling people that their beliefs are wrong and backward will not convince them. They have to decide for themselves. Hence I'm against a headscarf ban in universities and public service. But I have to qualify that argument now, because I realize that some younger girls don't really have the choice. A headscarf ban for younger students would be in order to give them the time and freedom to make up their minds. The same argument justifies state intervention to make sure that young girls are sent to school.


Pratik Dattani said...

watching the movie is on my to-do list...downloaded it a month ago and still haven't gotten round to it.

maintaining the blog is turning into hard work...

Pratik Dattani said...

the age-old maxim applies:
"when in doubt, conform. when this puts you into further doubt, conform harder"

one of the chief protaganists seems biswas questions her religious mentor ("sadhu"/priest) this denigatory part of hinduism, that treats women like chattel. he sighs, and says well this is what the scripts of manu prescribe.

read "what ist aufklaerung" by emmanuel kant. kant says a priest, no matter how devout, if he sticks rigidly to his beliefs in such a prescribed way, he is not enlightened, but merely a slave.