Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Political Animal In Me

I came upon this interesting site the other day and, of course, couldn't resist the temptation of taking the test. Go ahead, check it out, get yourself assessed and come back here - this post won't go away. It's anonymous too, and the secret service agents who have you under observation will never find out your political inclinations unless you choose to make them public. Which I am about to do in this blog post, with mine.

I got a -2.50 on the economic left/right scale and a -3.33 on the social libertarian/authoritarian scale. Let me tell you what that means (if you haven't already gone there and figured out how it works). It means I am a bit to the left of centre in my economic ideology and a bit anti-authoritarian with regard to the philosophy of social organisation. It puts me in the same quadrant as Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama and Mohandas Gandhi; diametrically opposite to Adolf Hitler, George Bush and Tony Blair. Now - I didn't need to take this test to tell me that. At 45 I know who and what I am and am happy with that, as I usually say. However, it did bring a smile to my face - I enjoy the company in this quadrant, though I may not be as far left (communist) as, nor as much of a libertarian (anarchist) as some of my other quadrant-mates. I'm happy to be bracketed with some of the great peace-loving, enlightened and spiritually evolved revolutionaries that have walked this earth. The fact that I am closer to the centre also tells me that I may even be a bit more balanced than some of them. Hurray!

I was, however, a bit surprised to find that I was more libertarian (3.33) than I was left of centre (2.50). Even though I thought I'd made my peace with the establishment! If I'd taken this test a couple of decades ago ... well lemme not go there (too much detail - you don't need to know). Maybe as I grow, I will evolve closer to the centre and perhaps one day be a perfect 0. Standing erect like a spinning top - a perfectly balanced revolutionary ...

After spending adequate time gloating over my results and feeling smugly satisfied about my evolutionary path, my attention turned towards the framework itself (I love pondering). It would be natural to put left on the left and right on the right, which would appear like giving minus marks to the economic left and plus marks to the economic right, much to my chagrin (it's the connotation of - and + as a value judgement that I am commenting on here, not the academic semantics, which of course is value neutral on either side). However, why put authoritarian above and libertarian below? That has its connotation too. Both axes seemed to have been calibrated by right-wing capitalists (mild ones perhaps, to give them the benefit of my jumping to conclusions) who would want themselves and others of their ilk to score a + on the x axis (think of all the meanings of the word 'right') and a + on the y axis (think of all the meanings of the word 'above'). Hmm ... like it or not, the academics could not get away from leaving behind a trace of their own political sensibilities in the design of their framework, like some kind of watermark. Of course it would be too much to expect them to put left on the right and right on the left. That would be counter-intuitive if not downright confusing. But ... could they have avoided this by putting the economic left/right on the y axis? Still, one of them would be 'above' the other. Well, too bad for those who think that the top right quadrant is the 'correct' place to be. The way this has been designed right now, they'd have to share their political space with the great leaders of the free world. Some people may actually like that. Good for them!

The other thought I had was ... they should have had a z axis too. Something to characterise, let's say, attitudes towards change i.e., liberal (not to be confused with libertarian) / progressive vs. conservative / traditionalist. I wonder where I would have scored on that axis. I have enough going on both sides. Perhaps I would have been a -2 or -3 there as well i.e., leaning towards liberal / progressive evolving towards 0. I have assumed that conservative traditionalism would be a plus, and liberal progressive would be a negative, going by the spirit of the design.

There were some interesting moments as I took the test. I read "It's natural for children to keep some secrets from their parents" and thought of myself and smiled as I answered. Then I read "Marijuana should be legalised", smiled some more and answered. Then I read "The most important thing for children to learn is to accept discipline" and remembered my answer to "Good parents sometimes have to spank their children". And then I went back and changed a few answers. I would definitely want to spank my kids if I catch them secretly smoking a joint, and they better accept the discipline meted out to them. With me it was different ... (sigh) ... in the good old days. And no, Dad, I never inhaled.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Dwelving On Dwelve

The first time I heard someone say 'dwelve', a couple of years ago, my mind momentarily stopped following the conversation and circled around what to my ears was a new combination of syllables, like a hawk around a small furry animal before it disappears into its burrow. The individual who shall in my memory be eternally associated with that word (let's call him A) was senior to me in the firm I was working for at that time and anybody who knew him would be familiar with his tendency to mispronounce words (and then assert that it was the American pronunciation), combine words (not creativity -- ignorance!) and otherwise indulge freely and unabashedly in solecisms and malapropisms (some of which had me in splits). So I didn't pay much attention to this latest in his series of gauche utterances, letting it disappear into the black hole of A's discomfort with the language. And so the hawk in my head continued the futile search for meaty nuggets of sense and meaning in A's long monologue which mainly consisted of him marvelling at his own latest achievements.

Then I heard it again a few weeks later, from a business acquaintance. "Let's not dwelve on it ..." he said, referring to a mishap in the business we were transacting. The Prof. Higgins in me was alert again, and again, I chose to let it go since I didn't have a personal rapport with this guy, and acquaintances don't take too kindly to being corrected by someone who isn't their back-slapping beer buddy. But I did make a mental note of it and when I had some time to myself, looked up 'dwelve' in as many dictionaries as I could, just to be absolutely sure.

A few months ago a dear friend of ours (let's call her M) invited my wife and me to dinner and somewhere in the conversation over a bottle of Grey Goose the word 'dwelve' popped out of her mouth. This time I was not going to let it go. "There's no such word as dwelve" I said quietly, setting my empty glass down so she could pour me some more of that excellent vodka. M is a proud and successful businesswoman -- not one to let someone get an edge over her. But over the years M has learnt to recognize when a battle is not worth fighting. For a moment she stared at me, opening then closing her mouth a few times, and I could see her trying to decide whether to humbly acknowledge this fact or to challenge it, with her characteristic bravura. "There isn't?" she said finally, with that lost child look. "No." I said, "It could be an interesting portmanteau word combining dwell and delve, trying to establish a certain level of currency for itself, but as of now it doesn't exist except in the ersatz lexicon of fast-talking fast-thinking overachieving platinum carders, who through a series of etymological mutations coin such words and phrases that then go forth and multiply like viruses and become common parlance". And then, having run out of breath, went on to enjoy more of her hospitality.

The other day another business contact of mine (let's call her U) used the dreadful word. Now U is very different from A and M: she is not your Type A/ alpha prime/ chest-thumping bull ape. U is convivial even if (and when) she is not on top of things. She is an open, friendly person with a disarming smile and not at all your cutting edge corporate type (though she has a fairly senior position in a large global bank). When someone like U starts using a word of dubious coinage, you know that it has won, in spite of the Hemant Puthlis of this world who tried quite hard to abort its birth. I came away from my meeting with U with a sense of defeat. I realized that its only a matter of time before this wretched non-word finds its way into the dictionary.

So, prudent as I tend to be in such matters, I've decided not to dwelve on it. Notwithstanding this blog entry, of course.