Sunday, February 12, 2012

Where is my consent ?

Disclaimer : This blog entry is not supposed to justify or unjustify any points of view. It is just a thought experiment aimed to raise some questions which are maybe not asked. It just occurred to me while I was thinking of the situation and wanted to share it with the larger audience.

A real world scenario :
Recently, a fortnight back 3 Indian ministers were filmed watching porn on their cellphones in an Indian State Legislative Assembly(regional state level parliament) while discussions were going on in the Assembly. A huge furore was created over it and the ministers had to resign following social pressure(invisible yet present).

The thought experiment :
Imagine yourself in the Assembly with the above ministers. Imagine they are watching porn and you are picturing some porn movie you watched yesterday in your head. Now, let us assume "someone" has a "thought oracle", a machine which can read thoughts and project your thoughts on a screen. Let us not go into discussing how the thought oracle can be designed, let us assume it exists. Now THAT "someone" trains the thought oracle on you and projects your porn visualization images on the screen. Let us assume the ministers have also got caught by filming what they were doing. Aren't you and the ministers in the same boat ? The deterministic factor here is the technology while the incriminating factor here is the subject's intention. Of course, there is subjectivity in judging intentions but the bigger question is "The judgment seems to be valid from a strict legal viewpoint but is it really valid from a social high horse ?". As far as I see, the ministers resigned because they were not committing any legal offence(otherwise their employment would have been terminated) but they cowed down to social pressure and its larger socio-political implications. This is actually frightening.
This led me to the following questions which I would just outline. I do not have the answers, so I would not be verbose. Let's just spare a minute for thinking, shall we ?

1. What has society become today ? Why was society initially formed ? Was it formed to be a collective entity where the weakest entity in the group is not as weak as he would have been if he had been alone and the strongest entity is stronger than he would have been had he been alone ? If that is the basic assumption, then what is the role of society today ? Is that role justified ? If individuals spawned society for ease is the basic assumption, then is the assumption not weak if not obsolete today ?

2. What controls the will of the society ? What do we define as fair and not fair ? Is the judgment being done from within the society or from outside ? How do we examine the system then ? Is the way we examine the system now correct ? Are we ending up going towards a situation where we would end up at a wall ? Is the sum of all societies the sum of all people ? Is that a valid and fair sharing ?

3. Why don't I have the option of opting out of a society and not join any other society ? If the rules of the societal model are binding on all then, as an individual born why don't I have the option of signing a Terms and Condition based rule set ? How do we define fair ? Is fairness/justice today defined only from a societal viewpoint and not an absolute viewpoint ?

4. Society can be thought of as a model, is the model flawed ? Are we spending too much of time and resources to solve the problems in the model without realizing that those solutions might lead to other problems owing to the assumptions in the model being inherently flawed ?

5. What is culture/religion/.. ? Is it just a mechanism to bind a group of unknown people into a society ? Is it the first point of common unification for such people to implement a collective group will ? Are those mechanisms self preserving using human emotions ? And if it is such, then is emotion just a masking factor for deciding something where logical decision is impossible owing to lack of sufficient quantifiers for the decision ?

PS: I have kept the questions at a very very abstract level because then they can be interpolated to very specific scenarios. I am aware that I might have used some mathematical terms but that allows for precise formulation in little words. Plus, I am a mathematician too so I cannot do away with my basic instinct, part of the society in me. At least, when I was thinking of these questions and discussing with my friend Ian Leinert while travelling in Geneva at -15 degrees, I did not find any obvious answers. I am not even sure if there are any but all of you are brighter than me, maybe you will find the answers or better still maybe you will ask some more pertinent questions.

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