The success and failure of Coupling, this blog and the Benjarong Conference

One of the few sitcoms that has remotely managed to hold my attention is Coupling, the series on BBC. I don’t think it runs “live” any more, and even when it did, the quality of the episodes fell off sharply in season three, and even more sharply in season four. Episodes of those two seasons simply cannot compare to the episodes of the earlier seasons. In possibly related news, a number of blog readers and commentators mentioned to me that they saw a sharp fall in quality in posts on this blog sometime in late 2009. None of them have told me that the blog has made any “comeback” of sorts. And given this theory, it is unlikely to.

Back in March 2009, there was a meeting of six great minds at Benjarong Restaurant on Ulsoor Road, which has come to be known as the Benjarong Conference. The main topic of discussion that evening was about chick-hunting, and more so in the controlled environment of South Indian Brahmin arranged marriages. The conference was a grand success in terms of the quality of discussion, and left lasting impressions on the minds of the participants. Kodhi, who is going to be arranged married later this year, mentions that over two years on, it was the proceedings of this conference that helped him make his decision.

The main attraction of Coupling, for me, was the theories that the character Jeff used to propound. Starting in Episode One of Season One, where he comes up with the concept of “Unflushable” as his best friend Steve repeatedly tries to dump his girlfriend Jane, and fails. And in subsequent episodes, when the three male leads (Steve, Patrick and Jeff) meet at the bar, Jeff always has a theory to explain why things happen the way they happen. Masterful theories, at a similar intellectual level that was exhibited at the Benjarong Conference. Jeff has a theory for everything, except that he is unable to implement his own theories and get hooked up. And what happens in Season Three? He gets hooked up (to his boss, as it happens)! And starts falling off the social radar, and even when he is there at the bar, he is incapable of coming up with theories like he used to. And in Season Four, he disappears from the show altogether, thus robbing it of its main attraction.

Four of the six participants at the Benjarong conference were single, with three of those having never been in a relationship. The two that were married were married less than a month, and one of them had met his wife not too long before. The conference drew its strength from this “singularity”. Single people, especially those that have never been in a relationship, have a unique knack of being able to dispassionately talk about relationships. The problem once you get committed, as readers of this blog might have noticed, is that there is now one person that you can’t disrespect when you talk or write. So every time you concoct a theory, you have to pass it through a filter, about whether your WAG will find it distasteful (most singletons’ theories on relationships have a distasteful component, as a rule). Soon, this muddles your thinking on these theories so much that you stop coming up with them altogether.

One of the pillars of strength of this blog between 2006 and 2009 was the dispassionate treatment of relationships. Then, in late 2009, fortunately for myself and unfortunately for my readers, I met Priyanka, with whom I have subsequently established a long term gene-propagating (no we haven’t started propagating, yet) relationship. And on came the “distaste filter”. And off went the quality of my posts on relationships. A large section of the readership of this blog knew me as a gossip-monger, and they would now be sorely disappointed to not find such juicy material on this blog any more. The only good relationship posts subsequent to that, you might notice, would have been on the back of some little domestic fights, which would have led to temporary suspension of the distaste filter.

Sometimes, though not in public forums, I do get my old distasteful sense back. Not so recently, I was counselling my little sister-in-law about relationship issues. After thoroughly examining her case history and then situation (examining case history and diagnosis is her domain. She’s studying to be a doc), I recommended to her that the solution for her then relationship woes was to get herself a Petromax. While it did help that my wife and her parents weren’t around then, the tough part was to convince her that it was a serious well-researched piece of advice. Maybe I should have packaged it less distastefully. And maybe it is time to accept that the distaste filter in my case is on permanently, and I’ll never be able to spout theories like I used to. And my dear blog reader, it is time you accept that, too, and stop holding this blog against its pre-2010 standards.

Libertarianism and rejection of authority

Ok so this is yet another of those self-reflective posts, where I try and rationalize why I’m the way I am. And in the process concoct a fancy theory.

I’m part of this secret society most of whose members are libertarian. I must in fact credit this society from changing my ideology from one that was broadly conservative to broadly libertarian (notice that my economic ideology hasn’t changed, only the social bit has). One thing common among most members of this society is that they are the kind of people who don’t bow to authority. They can be described as confrontationalist, or maverick, ¬†or non-conformist. And most of them are libertarian.

I must mention that for purposes of this post, I define libertarianism as a “belief in free markets and free minds”.

In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins writes that one of the things that makes people religious is the tendency to listen to “superiors”, “elders”, etc. He argues that this is consistent with natural selection – that back in those days where we were a “hunting ape”, if we were the type that didn’t listen to our parents, there was a greater danger that we’d fall off trees or got eaten up by lions. So us human beings are “naturally conditioned” to listen to “elders”, “superiors”, etc. Effectively, we are conditioned to take orders. Dawkins talks about how this makes us religious, but that is not relevant here.

So we grow up having this “elderly authority” at home. The “elderly authority” commands us and guides us and gives instructions, and in return provides us protection from the outside world. Soon we grow up, and don’t need that protection any more, so we don’t need to take instructions any more (if you look at taking instructions from parents as the “cost” of the protection they offer you). But then we are conditioned to taking instructions, and being controlled, and it is tough for most of us to outgrow this conditioning.

And so some people look to “society” to provide the instructions, and control you, and tell you what to do and what not to do. They end up as conservatives. Some other people, look to the government (remember that today’s “government” is a replacement for yesterday’s “king”, who was supposed to be “divine”) for instructions and control. They end up being “liberals” (quotes because traditionally liberals supported free markets; it’s only recently they’ve taken a socialist turn). It is quite interesting that a lot of “liberal” people, who profess their rejection of authority, think it is ok for the government to tell them who to do business with, and at what price.

And then there are these really masochistic people who look to both “society” and “government” to put controls on you. Think Swadeshi Jagran Manch and similar institutions.

And so what about people who actually reject the need to have a “protector” once they grow up? They don’t want to take instructions from anyone, and in return they are willing to forego protection – apart from asking from the government protection in terms of defence, foreign policy and upholding of law. Given that very few people reject authority (Dawkins’ concept), it’s very few people that end up as libertarians.

PS: Is it a coincidence that so many very good libertarian bloggers (Caplan, Tabarrok, Hanson, Cowen) are at the little-known George Mason University, and not at one of the “top-ranked” universities?

PS2: I think large corporations are not free-market in any sense. Leave aside crony capitalism. Corporations, by definition, are internally deeply socialist. I guess I’ll save that for another post.