The canvas of painting history painted a lustrous picture of the wonders of the brush.

Art connoisseurs, real and otherwise, regularly paid obeisance and sang paeans to vivid masterpieces. Rising wealth in recent decades meant that many of these wonders came to be viewed as an investment class. Picasso and Rembrandt now adorned the walls of wealthy patrons; who almost unanimously, liked to think of themselves as connoisseurs.

To the art cynic, however, artists and painters seemed masters at profound conceptual mumbo-jumbo. A few lines here, a few there, random gobs of colour strewn carelessly, with great care, on canvas often resulted in a masterpiece that fetched a fortune. The naysayer was brushed off, ironically, by the artist, on the grounds of utter ignorance at appreciating beauty. The cynics, however, made some of the artists pause and ponder about the state of affairs.

Veiled irreverence had always been a potent tool in a provocateur’s arsenal. A snide remark on his apparent ineptness as a painter from one of his own set off reactive impulses in Italian brushman Piero Manzoni; who rather inadvertently through his actions taught the world an entertaining lesson on the values of popular delusion.

Stung by criticism, Manzoni decided to carry out a real-time experiment. In 1961, he put art connoisseurs to the test by filling 90 tin cans filled with an ounce each; of his valuable excrement and christened his ‘artwork’, Artist’s Shit. The action, rather harmless in intention, turned into a vivid parody of art in subsequent years.

Manzoni intended each can to be priced equal to the prevailing price of Gold by weight. The price of each can would vary according to the fluctuating price of Gold. In 1961, this valued Manzoni’s finely preserved faeces at $37 each, a princely amount for a thing of shitty value.

Shit was worth as much as Gold.

Given his stature among art appreciators, Manzoni’s cans gained in allure with the passage of time. A piece of art was, of course, theoretically priceless, in the eyes of art lovers. Several regime changing events occured in the 1970s, which resulted in Gold’s value fluctuating with gay abandon since. Manzoni’s cans came into their own.

30 years after the cans came into being, art auctioneer Sotheby’s auctioned one can for a rather eye-popping $67,000. The price of Gold meanwhile, poor commodity, had soared to only $375/ounce. Manzoni’s faeces changed hands at 170 times their ‘fair’ price. Rational humans were in the act.

Shit had got pricier than Gold.

But, rationalisation has always been a ready elixir to our actions. Of course, Manzoni’s faeces were in short supply (he died an untimely death). More of it could simply not be created, unless someone volunteered to sit in.

A thing of scarcity value only becomes more (in)valuable with time. Then in 2007, Sotheby auctioned one can…for a monumental $163,000. Gold, meanwhile, after a stellar rally, had only managed to reach $650/ounce. In keeping with the spirit of the recession, another can changed hands for $157,000 in October 2008, at the onset of the financial crisis. Gold managed to inch up to $780/ounce.

After fetching 250 times the price of Gold in 2007, humans demonstrated their natural rationality by remembering the recession and Manzoni’s excrement fell out of favour, somewhat.

Shit was priced at only 200 times the price of Gold. 

 

Manzoni's Shit

Some felt that Manzoni’s parody on rationality and consumerism had left a bad odour, not-so-ironically, on human beings. Yet others felt that humans had displayed acute understanding of scarcity value.

We humans had learnt our lesson.

Or had we?

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Agitations are the in thing this season. The voyager is witness to many a fast-unto-deaths for various causes. Some to find a solution to the centuries-old problem of corruption and others zealously requesting a separate state. Some of these efforts could be termed genuine but in most other instances, protagonists furtively tend to their grumpy stomachs every now and then, hoping to outwit peeping Toms. Peeping Toms appreciate that fasting can be a tough business; with the indulger often ending up hungry, so an occasional helping of Potato Chips dipped in tomato sauce followed by chicken biryani and tea shouldn’t be a deplorable offence.

I shall not bother the reader with necessary details such as motivation behind the demonstration and so on. Henceforth, the demonstration will be referred to as the Movement and the demonstrators, the Illuminati.

A brief introduction to the typical Art of Rural Warfare is in order though, prior to the story.

A street-war in bucolic locales begins with a tuneful jangling of the vocal chords, reminiscent of a tiger’s growl and a visible frontward coiling of the tongue, akin to an elephant’s curl of its trunk prior to attack. The Wail is expected to achieve multiple objectives of revving up one’s dormant battle instincts, striking fear in the hearts of the opponent and arousing slumbering soldiers. It is generally most useful in accomplishing the last objective. Contortions of the tongue and protruding eyes are intended to impress upon the opponent the seriousness of one’s malevolent intentions. The opponent is expected to back down at this warning but generally, in accordance with Newton’s Third Law, the opponents repay with an equal and opposite reaction. For no fault on its part, the loincloth which adorns the gents is then subject to several slaps around the thigh-area, followed by wind-mill like motion of the arms, as the warriors shadow swim above water. The body is known to join in and so do the legs in a rigorous warm-up just before commencement of battle.

Baleful voices found their way into my ears. I craned my neck in the direction of the source and discovered mace-like hands sparring with the air above and determined feet punishing the earth beneath. For a moment, the mob seemed to resemble a pack of irate mongrels. Adorned in colourful clothing and equipped with flags that emitted fluorescence, the Illuminati were self-professed flag bearers of the Movement. The group halted on an open field and on closer inspection, one discovered a range of metal accessories that are generally commonplace in gladiatorial contests. The only missing ingredient (which wasn’t missed for long) was a catalyst to flag off the drama. One wasn’t sure if the Illuminati had a definite objective that they were working towards. Not that it mattered; to them or to me.

The time-tested technique to incite a jingoist mob is a Socratic attempt at a discussion on the pros-n-cons of the issue at hand. This was the Movement. How could anyone question the prudence of such a noble activity? A Socrates regrettably committed this grave sin.

The leader of the pack – a gentleman inclined towards roundness – let out an ungentle-manly growl hoping to drill jingoism back into the fidgety mob, which looked like succumbing to reason. The snarl only succeeded in shooing real mongrels away. The air-beating resumed and the leader’s voice was lost in the debris of cacophony that had broken out. These are things that are too much for the Ego to handle. Smarting from the dismissive nonchalance with which he was greeted by the Illuminati, the leader thought it appropriate to unleash another round of verbal ammunition, this time at a higher octave.

The Illuminati seemed to quieten for a bit. Impressed, the leader stomped his feet and was beginning to consider his next move when a simpleton landed in the leader’s vast constitution. Someone had shoved the simpleton from his left, who lost balance and thought of embracing the leader for support. The latter, however, misinterpreted the simpleton’s decorous intentions. Glowering, he seized the man and decided to let his restive hands do the communication.

The simpleton felt a mace coming to an abrupt halt in his cheek. Dazed at the assault he took some moments to regain his composure. The leader, meanwhile, looked around to his sycophants for approval; nodding his head and smiling in self-congratulation. He hadn’t considered a guerrilla manoeuvre by the simpleton, though. Fleet-footed, the simpleton compensated for the great mismatch in body volume with agility that had never managed to convince the leader of its utility.

A leg, swinging like a pendulum, disappeared into the leader’s underbelly.

The protrusion around his centre of gravity prevented the leader from addressing the point of impact with his eyes. The leader’s hands, abruptly reminded of their primary responsibilities, moved involuntarily towards the gentleman’s ailing sausage, caging it in protection. It was too late. The cost of the lapse was borne by the leader, who let out a roar in pain, whirled around and sat down. In subsequent proceedings he took no further part.

The sycophants swung into action, drawing out their weapons of mass destruction. The simpleton’s camp followed and battle lines were drawn. The reflection of the sun off the metals seemed to stir a whiff of reason into the soldiers, who thought it wise to replace weapons with their hands. The sycophants turned towards their leader for a battle cry and were greeted instead with a low-frequency whine. Overcome with consternation at this sight, the sycophants decided to exact revenge.

The typical Rural Warfare setting outlined in the beginning of this story played out to near perfection. Roars rippled out in all directions, tongues curled in unison, eyes magnified to twice their normal size, thighs suffered in stoic silence and arms waved in circular motion in both camps. This proceeded for what seemed like an eternity with each side inviting the other to take first strike. Heartfelt abuses were hurled to and fro; directed first at the opponent and then invoking ancestors several generations back in time. One felt sorry for the souls who were responsible for putting these Illuminati on earth. So stinging were the abuses to the kindred clans. But the impending fisticuff remained a stillborn.

The ‘war’ threatened to be played out solely in the verbal realm. The sycophants had seen the fate of their leader and as much as they adored him, were loath to join him in pain. The simpleton’s party, meanwhile, wisely considered the mismatch in numbers, apart from the mismatch in physical bulks which was roughly 2.5:1. Both sides judiciously, but regrettably, settled for verbal warfare. As the gullets grew weary, momentum was lost and both sides menacingly cowered away, unwilling to give a quarter. The leader was escorted away by his sycophants, sausage firmly protected by the hand guards.

So, after an entertaining lag, reason had triumphed over jingoism and egos. A magnificent build-up to what promised to be a grand spectacle had fizzled out.

What about the Movement?

It didn’t matter. Either to them. Or to me.

—————-

This is a re-run of an old post. Similar circumstances to those described above reminded HaLin of this post lost in the archival depths of Haphazard Linkages.

Finely attuned ears began hearing faint rumblings of discord in the cricketing world. The Brotherhood of the Retired was seen furtively scampering off to their favourite pub – The Old Guard – in the dark of the night to discuss a matter of growing importance.

The attendees had all retired from the game, and were somewhat weary of warming the benches in the commentator’s box in dreary test matches that no one bothered to watch. The uber veteran expert opinionators encountered a new grouse. The commentator’s box faced a population explosion problem. Hitherto, opinions, sane or otherwise, were seldom in short supply but experts were. Now, a new batch of Old Guards had taken birth and were jostling for a stake in the commentator’s microphone.

The veteran Old Guards decided to summon the new Old Guards to smooth things out and to explore a peaceable solution. Sachin Tendulkar was invited as a special guest to offer thoughts. Tendulkar exuded stoic silence, as usual, opting to let silence do the communication.

Veteran Old Guard Ravi Shastri was seen hooting at the top of everyone’s voices, in a veiled but hopeless attempt at drawing attention. The shirt-ripper Sourav Ganguly, self-anointed leader of the new Old Guards, furiously waved his Armani signalling Shastri to back off. His boom boxed, Shastri yelped and sat down.

This infuriated Navjot Sidhu, the Senior Wrangler, who was entrusted with the responsibility of ensuring no meeting was ever tainted by the vice of peacefulness. He did his bit, and with his brusque brouhaha, managed to evoke an equal and opposite reaction from Danny Morrison. Danny M huffed, face contorted, mouth and eyes pointing in humanly impossible directions. He made a valiant attempt at beating Sidhu at his own game but the latter countered with a dangerous weapon – the word bomb. Sidhu trembled, words scarily rushed out in rapid succession; Peace made a hasty exit. The veteran Old Guards seemed in charge.

Or so it seemed.

Loath to miss an opporunity at letting someone else walk away with the laurels of instigating a ruckus, Ganguly grabbed the microphone and hinted that the veteran Old Guard ought to move on. Retire. Again. It was time for the new Old Guard and fresh Old Blood to clean up the mess left behind by the veterans, and create a messy legacy of their own. The long dead W. G. Grace, was seen vividly expressing his displeasure (it seemed he wasn’t allowed to bat first, which seemed to irk him the most). The psychoanalyst and accidental Captain Mike Brearley chimed in with a whisper of approval. Shastri had an attack of his customary Feelings and yelled his innards out, as always, for no reason and little provocation. Gavaskar silently lobbied for the commentary box at the Wankhede Stadium to be named after him. Ramiz Raja and Aamir Sohail seemed clueless, as usual.

Kapil Dev, with a rich history of letting tears do the talking at opportune moments, outswung into action. Finding a perfect spot, in line with the lead camera, Kapil cried his gullet inside out. Every little drop of tears was summoned from the recesses of his being and unleashed at the opponents. The veteran Old Guards smiled, even as Kapil wailed himself into enervation. Not to give the veteran Old Guards an inch, Ganguly sent Vinod Kambli to counterattack. Kambli came forth and exploded in a tear bath that seemed to knock the great Kapil off his rails. The latter quickly collected himself and parried with a seductive display of passionate tear making. A sympathy wave enveloped the veteran Old Guards. The new Old Guard seemed worsted.

Ganguly, prudently, shifted track and requested the special guest to speak a few words.

Tendulkar took him quite literally.

As the new grand old Samaritan still adorning whites, many hoped that his statesman demeanour might calm things down. After what seemed like an eternity, the Little Master cleared his throat and out came a stream of words in all their empty glory. Many leaned forward, lest their aging ears failed to pick up words of erudition. Some claimed to have heard the occasional semi-moderate decibel ‘proud’. Tendulkar seemed lost in thoughT.

God then spoke.

He made a fervent and moving plea to the Old Guards, addressing both the new and the old, encouraging them to return to the cricket field. In a single shot, he silenced the warring parties. Even Sidhu and Danny M fell silent.

Tendulkar urged the Brotherhood of the Retired to shed their inhibitions, legacy and historical inertia in favour of a path-breaking step. The Retired ought to make a comeback. To buttress his persuasion, he cited veterans from other sports, his friend Michael Schumacher for instance, as luminaries whose examples ought to be followed. He even invoked the long forgotten memory of Nolan Clarke. Now, a princely 64 years old, and thrilled to have found a mention, Clarke cast his weight behind the Little Master. Fellow forgotten Old Guards John Traicos, Miran Bux and James Southerton, the oldest Test debutant, were unamused at being ignored.

The new Old Guard seemed thrilled. Given his many unsuccessful attempts at continuing in his state of cognitive dissonance with regards to his playing days, Ganguly was seen smiling the widest. Ponting, Srinath, Jayasuriya, Dravid, Kumble, and Shane Warne were all seen warming up, stretching their dormant muscles. Tendulkar’s stature, meanwhile, soared a little more.

The enthusiasm seemed to rub off. Drawing inspiration from the new Old Guards, the veteran Old Guards plotted their comeback.

Everyone was happy.

Tendulkar managed to add another record to his cap.

He never retired.

—————-

It is hoped that the cricket devoted post will not put off HaLin’s beloved non-cricketing nation readers. Baseball, unfortunately, bears some resemblance to the glorious sport but any allusion to cricket’s quality is purely a figment of the baseball fan’s imagination. HaLin admires all sports equally, after cricket.

Interesting contrasts in perceptions, viewed through the beauty of Math…

 

 

…by speaking a thousand words a picture is, sometimes, a penman’s last saviour.

Post a flurry of exuberant outpouring on Radical Proposals (links at the end of the post) aimed at tackling some of society’s most pressing problems, HaLin hit the pause button. Few seemed excited (HaLin actually pitched more palatable versions of the ideas to powers-that-be, who quickly reminded the fable of the goose that lay the golden egg), and less pressing issues took precedence. On careful search for thorny problems demanding somewhat crazy solutions, HaLin hit upon a problem worthy of addition to his expanding list of Radical Proposals.

Anyone who has been around academics/scientists/researchers, real or otherwise, for any length of time would notice a common grouse. Lack of funding. HaLin has long been an admirer of the Sciences – Natural, Social and Pseudo – and has strongly believed that the inability of the Illuminati to communicate with lesser mortals should not detract from their grand mission; of ridding the world’s problems. This community, generally also believed to exhibit scant understanding of the real world, are most comprehensible when complaining about the utter lack of funding and understanding on society’s part, of their many vital contributions. Rejected research proposals are attributed to recalcitrant attitudes or ignorance or both. Moreover, despite much progress, humankind is besotted with more problems than it would like to have on its menu. Solutions are nowhere in sight.

Given this, humankind faces a serious problem. A proposal to solve this pressing issue of lack of funding, whilst maintaining economic sanity, is duly recommended; for dissection, digestion, suggestion, redaction and comment. Though, criticisms are expected to feature most prominently.

——–

Put simply, every single research proposal across the globe vying for funding, would receive full funding support. To ensure impartiality, a pan-global entity – Mission for Advanced Research Solutions (MARS)  – could be constituted to administer duties. MARS could be empowered legally to print money in unlimited amounts, with the sole constraint of doing so to fund research projects. MARS grants would not be entirely contingent on viability to humankind and probability of success. The currency used by this entity would be a special unit, perhaps referred to as RGU (Research Grant Unit).

Every earthling alive would hold an equal share in MARS, so benefits would flow directly and equally to all earthlings. No corporation, or a small set of privileged individuals would be shareholders; as in the present-day arrangements in key economic entities around the world. To ensure market stability, trading in these RGUs would be prohibited.

Earthlings in dire need for more RGUs could enter into a barter exchange agreement with fellow earthlings, with MARS standing in as the global Custodian and watchdog. For instance, University X that badly needs extra RGUs might enter into a barter exchange with University Y, on mutually acceptable, bilateral arrangements. The Over The Counter (OTC) barter system might also insure against black market or surreptitious trading, a common outcome when public trading is banned in a commodity of some value. This would also ensure reasonable matching of excess and deficits, whilst maintaining broad market stability.

It is likely that this broad brush, open-for-all approach would encourage many to seek a career in academia/science instead of heading to finance and assuming a bad name, by default. The attractive pay-off could potentially dwarf the pay-off provided by finance. As an unintended consequence, this would solve one major problem confronting the world today; vilification of finance. However, the open door would likely encourage rampant misuse, which remains a risk.

With time, there would be a proliferation of RGUs in the hands of the Illuminati, which would, essentially, be extra currency in their wallets. At some point in time, a seamless medium of exchange between RGUs and existing paper currency would be introduced (at a 1:1 exchange rate) to ensure smooth functioning (many services that the Illuminati would use for their research would have to be paid for, using actual currency).

This would lead to a new problem. Excess paper currency on Earth. The MARS Project, with its printing of RGUs, would be akin to the present system of Quantitative Easing, being employed to combat the world’s economic woes. The creation of a parallel currency system – the RGU – is recommended keeping in mind the ill-effects of excess currency floating in the world. As excess money would lead to a surge in inflation at some point, the creation of RGUs would be a first step at ensuring that continued (new) currency creation would not awaken the ogre of inflation.

In the moratorium period that would ensure post creation of MARS, RGUs would assume the character of future money, exchangeable for existing currency at central banks around the world. Till such time, RGUs would not enter the world financial system, and inflation would be kept at bay. When the exchange takes effect, a surge to swap RGUs for existing currency might be reasonably expected.

To smooth the effect, the Illuminati (who would hold much of the world’s RGU) would be suitable encouraged to deposit their RGUs at a warehouse specially created for this purpose; in planet Mars. Much of Mars’ atmosphere is carbon dioxide, which would serve as a reasonable deterrent to a daring heist (the thieves would have to be alive, which isn’t possible presently). The warehouses in Mars might be within the realm of possibility, thanks to the outcome of the many research projects that would bear fruition due to creation of the MARS Project. Machines administered by MARS would preside over the to-and-fro transactions. Withdrawals from the warehouses could be restricted to a semi-annual cycle, and to within, say, 25% of the RGU balance held by the individual. To further encouragement, an annual rate of interest – payable in RGU – would be on offer.

This proposal, if implemented, would let the Illuminati enjoy the fruits of their labour, even if part of the enjoyment would be deferred, their grumbling would cease. The world would get solutions to many thorny problems, old and newly created ones. While net currency in circulation on Earth would increase, the above laddered proposal pertaining to savings and withdrawals, would smooth the effects of inflation.

To be sure, this scheme is not infallible. Like any system, it is open to gaming and has chinks which need ironing out. Just the basic construct has been presented here. Specifics have been deliberately left out, for want of space and to let you, dear Reader, contribute in shaping this proposal.

For comment.

——

Radical Proposals, selected archives:

Tequila Shot Solution, To The World’s Prison Problem

Tax The Fat

On The Futility of Eating & Marriages. How To Reduce Food Wastage…

HaLin has been an actively passive watcher of the intensely (un)interesting Presidential candidate debates and intellectual mud-slinging, in the lead-up to US elections. With D-Day round the corner, HaLin realises that much of the electorate is likely to be reeling under the assault of political innuendo, being liberally thrown around from both sides.

This is a cause of much concern. In pressing times like these, where activity of any form is hard to spot, it behooves each thinking human to convey an impression of making an informed voting decision, in the very least.

This post hopes to serve as a guiding light in wading through the fog.

Political Left: A group of flip-floppers that see little Right, about anything in general, around election time.

Working for the greater good of humankind, this group brandishes the sabre of altruism to great effect. The unemployed, uninsured and the unhealthy merit a special spot in their lexicon. They attempt to do much for them, but periodically remind themselves of the fable of killing the goose that lays the golden egg.

This group has, historically, displayed an attitude of nonchalance towards the economics of revenue and expenditure. They tend to view (permanent) budget deficits as manna from heaven. Spend more than what you make, repeat indefinitely, and all will be well with the world. Those in the electorate who haven’t yet allowed themselves to be brainwashed by this catchline (the pesky blaspheme) are strongly encouraged to drop their ill-functioning anchors of basic reason, and embrace what is clearly in their best interest.

This group likes to paint businesses as profit-making beasts created by the evils of Capitalism. They are known to throw good money after bad, with the sole aim of saving jobs and the economy; even though their record at achieving either is shrouded in mystery. They like taxing in taxing times and hope that businesses and individuals will pay an expanding share of a reducing pie (income). When blaspheme wonder how loss-making businesses will help increase jobs and wages, this group pounces upon dissenting voices, writing it off as a deplorable instance of naiveté, idiocy or a concoction of both.

When all else appears to fail, they opt to blame China, as the root cause of all ills; known and unknown.

Political Right: A group of flip-floppers that see little Left, about anything in general, around election time.

This group is pro-business, or at least likes painting itself with that palette. They liken Corporations, too big to fail and often too big to save, to Messiah of Prosperity. What they earn eventually makes it way to people, helping the economy, helping the electorate, helping goodness in general. This group, though, displays a lack of understanding of the wind of the day. In pressing times, a pro-proletariat group is likely to garner sympathy votes. The blaspheme who suggest this are branded as being anti-Capitalism, pro-idiocy, or a concoction of both.

This group utters things that are closer to truth than its opponents. But it fails to acknowledge the effects of basic psychology. How incoming information is interpreted by the thinking electorate is a function of how it is packaged and delivered. By adopting directness over vagueness, preferred by its opponents, this group opens itself for vilification and accusations of belligerence.

Their policies are crystal clear in their fogginess. In this respect, they have something in common with their opponents. But both sides indulge in exposing the ineptness of the opponent, while caring to remain ignorant of the muck accumulating in their own backyards.

Foreign policy from both sides, too, share some common threads. While they seem to differ in means, both sides display a penchant to land up, often uninvited, on foreign shores to sort out problems that hitherto did not exist. The process of problem creation and resolution has been institutionalised to perfection through years of intense practice. Blasphemes are encouraged to use sophisticated nomenclature, preferably purveyors of altruism, while describing their actions.

When all else appears to fail, they opt to blame China, as the root cause of all ills; known and unknown.

Mainstream business, Unbiased Media: Mouthpieces of President Obama and Left-leaners, featuring fawning Ivory Tower savants schooled in coloured interpretation of Keynesian diktats, in general; and well-schooled in selective perception and reporting in particular.

Electorate: A group, largely composed of real and professed proletariat and the creme de la creme of idleness, demonstrating a special affinity for assimilating propaganda. This affinity is neatly counterbalanced by a remarkable ability to tune out opinion-altering facts, especially of the real variety. This group is best advised to partake in leisurely pub outings with a selection of equally (un)informed mates for a detailed discussion on the best candidate and the state of the economy and foreign policy. Consensus decision-making is a hallmark of democracies, collective self-interest is an aggregation of individual self-interests.

This group repeatedly finds itself being called upon to exercise an informed vote, despite an impressive historical record of uninformed decision-making. The basic instincts of self-interest and preservation, honed by the process of evolution, miraculously seem to fall at the altar of the polling booth.

Those wondering if the outcome of the election will really alter the state of the economy would do well to follow Jonathan Swift’s words from the Logicians Refuted:

Thus at the court, both great and small

Behave alike, for all ape all.

Voting and going bust offers better risk-reward to doing nothing, for the same outcome.

In a congregation of oddities, a group, consumed in the seductive embrace of success, gathered for a rather queer objective. To eulogize the lone soul in their coterie, one that had doomingly succumbed at the sharp jaws of failure.

The Brotherhood of the Successfuls were surprised that nobody suspected that the eulogy was a covert attempt at adding to their vast ego, by vulturing on the remains of the exception. This practice had been invented somewhere along the long arm of Time and was widely regarded as an instant means for self-gratification. The Brotherhood smiled, imagining the damnation that was forthcoming. Flunky took his place in the center of a circular maze of chairs. The circle was thought to be the most useful formation for such ceremonies. The arena soon buzzed with eager beavers, gleefully awaiting the gladiatorial contest. Flunky seemed uncannily calm.

Such ceremonies presented the enthusiastic with a potent weapon for heartfelt outpouring, History. Each member of the elite Brotherhood took turns recounting their success stories. From the glitterati came a famous writer, a painter, politicians, businessmen, musicians, management consultants, investment bankers et al, in a circular ebb and flow of unbridled glory.

A group consisting of arm-chair experts from various arenas, often armed with an impressive array of academic arcana, seemed the most vociferous. Each maven was widely regarded as the foremost thought leader in his/her area. Scores flocked to snatch every word making its way into the world from the abyss of their gifted trachea. Formalities dispensed with, the Brotherhood turned their attention to Flunky. Many provided a moving, eloquent ode to Flunky’s many failures. How he tried things that nobody else wished to, how he eschewed commonly accepted principles, how his attempts at reshaping a tiny corner of the world with his strange ideas were laughable…how they all inadvertently led around in circles.

Flunky soon lost track of the drumroll. Sandwiched amid this exceptional group, he listened quietly, even making a genuine attempt at faking admiration. Almost everyone in the group welcomed his genuineness, correctly interpreting it for awe. The parasiting orgy left many in the Brotherhood in a state of untold bliss. In battles between Humility and Hubris, the latter generally obliterated the former. The Brotherhood added to the warehouse of empirical observations.

After what seemed like an eternity, Flunky rose to speak. He seemed to notice that almost every success was accompanied by a beautiful story. A birth in a trying environment seemed to be a common starting point. Many, in fact, seemed to have emerged like the Sphinx, from the bowels of extreme penury, or navigating a war-torn geography; often with loss of limb, even though all items of the anatomy seemed in perfect working order.

Flunky reminded the Brotherhood that Time gradually erased from collective memory the greatest of success stories. Few cared. Fame was a chimera, and sometimes reflected a parasitic dependence on the part of the Brotherhood, for continued sustenance. The Brotherhood were peering at the world through their tinted prism, where things diffracted into black and white. Shades of grey never entered the fray. It was entertaining to see mortals being judged through a narrowly defined tunnel vision, which the Brotherhood seemed to be rather generously endowed with.

Clinchingly, Flunky reminded the Brotherhood of the process of evolution. Through the passage of Time, the proportion of organisms that perished in the battle for survival (failure) vastly outnumbered the ones that ended up being alive (successful). In Nature, failure was the norm, success the exception. In every walk of societal life, humans admired those adhering to mainstream norms, often ringfencing and deriding the exceptions that ‘didn’t fit in’. If Flunky was a failure, he was simply adhering to evolutionary norm; consequently, he ought to be an object of admiration instead of being a butt of ridicule.

In a society swimming deep in the trappings of nomenclature, it didn’t pay to take oneself too seriously.

Socratic logic seldom worked, in general, but particularly when unleashed on a group deeply entrenched in self-created dogma. Low on humour, and high on pomposity – quite misplaced – the Brotherhood were unamused with Flunky’s rejoinder.

They drowned him in another round of verbal bashing, repeatedly highlighting his uselessness.

Those wrapped in the trappings of ‘success’ trumped those in the trappings of ‘failure’.

Everyone was…trapped.