Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Vox Populi

Vox populi, vox dei goes the saying. Voice of the people, voice of god. It's a more loaded statement than one would initially believe. For instance - religion; quite literally the voice of god is often a function of what the people find popular at that point. Of course - I could open a whole can of worms, and I will - but religion is not the can of worms I'll be opening today. Instead I want to talk about the mass hysteria surrounding Anna Hazare.

Full Disclosure: I do not approve of his methods so before I criticise my bias (which I readily admit to) I implore you to question my arguments. I also do not consider myself patriotic, but I am as much for rooting out corruption as the most patriotic of you.

There have been enough opinion pieces about Anna and most of the ones I have read have been critical of him. I attribute this in part to the fact that he enjoys enough support that opinion pieces supporting him don't need to be written all that often and in part to my own bias. But the one thing I find very striking in all the pieces are the reactions, the only gauge of which I have access to being the comments.

A majority of the comments disapprove of the articles - which is fine. What isn't fine is the general pattern of comments. Anyone who criticises Anna and/or his methods is not a puppet of the government. Anyone who doesn't support his ideology doesn't automatically support a corrupt government.

One of the best articles I have read in a long time was an interview with Nandan Nilekani (Full Disclosure: I am a fan of him and his work) where he states his view that the Lokpal bill is not a magic bullet that will rid the country of corruption and that anyone who thinks so is drinking the Kool Aid. He went on to mention that not all politicians are corrupt and that it's important to engage in parliamentary proceedings and that his own experiences were pretty pleasant. And here are what were some particularly; for lack of a better word - gnarly comments:

See what a few months spent in the North Block of Indian Parliament and interactions with Manmohan Singh , Kapil sibal , P Chidabharam can do to a person.

He is now completely talking like a corrupt Congress Agent .
Not even his former colleagues at Infosys will agree to it

Likes: 21

Because OF course - the commenter knows exactly how his Infy colleagues would have reacted. And as far as I know - no one from Infosys came out to criticise the guy.

I mean - sure; criticise his stand, but not by attacking him personally. Even if the accusations levelled were true, they would not and should not diminish the point that was being made (whatever the merit of the point itself).

If you do not have a solution, do not criticize others who have, and are putting in effort to bring in the change.

Likes: 9

This is a favourite; for how utterly inane the statement is and just how often it is repeated. Let me put forth a terrible analogy for how terrible the argument is - if someone points out that 2.4343*pi*(e^(5/6))*-1=5 is wrong because you're multiplying the expression by -1 and so the answer should be negative, they shouldn't have to give a solution because their reasoning for why the answer is wrong is sound.

Mr.Nilekani...........big sorry comes for you!!!!!!...if you are so concerned about the country and against the way Anna is using for fighting against corruption!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!then please suggest some solid measures for the eradication of corruption and come up in front of every one and help the citizens of India!!!! WHO ARE GETTING MORE POORER AND PEOPLE LIKE YOU ARE GETTING MORE RICHER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!.......................SHAME ON ALL OF YOU ...


Looking past the terrible grammar, extended exclamations and Caps Lock abuse, it is obvious that the commenter has not even read the article or watched the video. If criticism is levelled against the person you support - you can only counter it if you know what the criticism is. Nilekani clearly states suggestions and why he thinks what Anna is doing is a bad idea and some of the things that need to get done (and of course; promoting the nationalised ID system as ONE of those steps. Full Disclosure: Nandan Nilekani heads the project).

These are only some of the inane comments I have read. Others include things like "you {insert random political ideology}-ist upper class in your AC room are not connected with what's happening in this country and so cook up these conspiracy theories".

Assuming that the person writing that has any idea what that political ideology even stands for, it's an outrageous claim that they are somehow more connected with what's happening than the person they disagree with.

The latest I came across was " even a true cause fails to touch our hearts....its a pity.....".

A blind appeal to emotion and an implicit claim that the opposition is somehow less true in its intentions.

One of the worst are claims like "India is Anna". No it's not.

Say even a hundred thousand people supported Anna at Ramlila maidan (which they didn't) it's hardly representative of the millions of others who haven't said anything (for whatever reason).

I do have problems with Anna, I make no secret of that. But I respect your right to support him and I expect you to maintain my stand. If I have problems with your claim that I want to address - I will address them and not attack your character, your motivations or your backing.

Now I'm not claiming that one has to have a similar personality to the commenters quoted if they have to support Anna. But if your response to criticism is anything along the lines of the responses here, I urge you to reconsider your stand.

Because if you make the same fallacious arguments; you're adding to a growing list of people who do the same. And if these people are representative of the large majority of Anna's supporters, and if one accepts that the large majority of Anna's supporters are indeed representative of the voice of the people; they are the vox populi - then it is indeed worrying and makes for a disturbing vox dei.