Here is a thread I composed and posted to Twitter in September 2018. It went kind-of viral. I am rather fond of it myself because you don't often go viral for something you genuinely care about. And this I really care about. Here goes:

A large section of India's so-called educated middle-class is socially regressive and shows support for demagogues and opposes progressive values. People wonder why this is so.

I however, wonder why this is surprising. It's clear as day. It's all in our education system.

The other day, on a Whatsapp group, a software engineer - a school friend - shared a meme that pretty much said that rising petrol prices are okay because at least the BJP is saving us from Bangladeshis and Rohingyas and suchlike.

Before that, a doctor - another school friend and a trained psychiatrist - said that I had violated his freedom of expression by blocking him on Facebook. I had blocked him because even after multiple warnings, he had been spamming my comment threads with the defence of a rapist.

When I told him that freedom of expression is something that exists between him and the state and not between him and me, he didn't get it. He didn't understand that freedom of expression didn't mean he was free to spew vile bilge on other people's social profiles.

I want to try to explain this lack of understanding. And this is not just a lack of understanding. It's a full on denial, not just of facts, but of the ways of thinking that the humanities teach.

These boys were science students. They spent their school lives focusing on science and math and did reasonably well there. They targeted technical careers and got through. They worked towards building "stable" futures for themselves as defined by our middle-class sensibility.

They are products (and supporters) of a system that looks down upon the arts and the humanities. They devoted themselves to technical skills in a society where arts students were destined for failure. They studied math and physics and medicine and became doctors and engineers.

They made it. They won. Their families demanded large dowries for them because they had that much social capital on account of being doctors and engineers. They weren't failures like arts students.

And what did the arts kids do? They resigned themselves to "second rate" lives.

Lives that society had assigned to them. They studied history, sociology, political science, and economics. The broad view - the disciplines that form the foundations of human culture - were all that was left to the arts students.

Then, out of nowhere, the internet happened. It was the early 2000s and blogs and an infant social media universe came into being. It wasn't tech heavy. The arts students liked it. For the first time since school, they had a playground.

They had avenues to explore their subjects with a level of depth their schools had never provided and their colleges couldn't care less about. And because many of them couldn't afford a liberal arts education abroad (this is small town India), they made the best of the internet.

They studied, read, communicated with experts, and even began to use the web to publish their own work and find their voice. They started getting what had been denied to them by our education system - a sense of self worth, and even the right to consider themselves intelligent.

There was no roadmap for them to follow. So they taught themselves and went into journalism, advertising, writing, and law. They became web publishers. They started websites. They began to mould a kind of heaven from the hell that they had been condemned to.

And they JUST CAN'T DIGEST IT because their lives have been lives of educational privilege. They have always been the top rung of Indian society. They were brought up on the lie that they are better than everyone else. They have always been the ones destined for "success".

For the first time in their privileged lives, they find themselves having to contend with the fact that they might not actually be good at everything. On an average day, it is hard to get these people to shut up about their houses and their salaries and their houses.

On days when the talking point is politics or economics or some other matter that they threw away because only girls study arts, they are positively sick with FOMO. They feel left out.

So is it any surprise that our "educated" middle-class is raging against "media" and "intellectuals" and "experts" and "stars" and "writers" and "artists"?

Make no mistake. This is the cream of India's educational caste system fighting back against its lost privilege.

So it's not surprising at all that an alternate ecosystem has popped up to cater to the insecurities of the "science stream caste". It tells them they are victims. It feeds them sweet nothings from morning till night over WhatsApp.

Remember that the Right Wing was the first to start waging war on the tech and social media fronts. They started the first blogs and had the first IT cells. They were the ones with armies of software engineers.

Cut to: 2018. Tell a software guy holding forth about politics and economics on a WhatsApp group that he is wrong about something and you'll get called an "elitist" or a "liberal".


Tell a doctor that what he has written makes sense on neither the logical level nor the grammatical one and he will ask you what makes you an expert and the fact that correct grammar is just a way for liberals to establish their superiority.

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Now flip it. Imagine an arts student lecturing them about their areas of expertise - engineering or medicine. They would be justified in calling it out because the boy who studied economics and literature is not qualified to comment on these topics. He simply lacks the education.

Why is it then, that privileged members of the science caste consider themselves capable of holding forth on humanities subjects even though they never had that education? They literally rejected that education. They were applauded for not being interested.

I'll tell you why.

The doctors and engineers I am talking about didn't value the humanities when they were in school and college. And they don't value them now.

You will have to physically restrain them to keep them from boasting about the fact that they WON the race of life. But when it comes to things that the arts kids do, they seem to be of the view "ye sab toh koi bhi kar sakta hai".

In the present political and social climate, intellectuals, liberals, media persons, and artists are not being vilified because of the things they are saying.

They are the villains because in the eyes of the science caste, they were never supposed to amount to anything. They were supposed to be amusements, sources of entertainment, and cautionary tales for them to scare their children with so that they never choose the arts.

In many ways, this "ye sab toh koi bhi kar sakta hai" thinking permeates our entire culture. People don't think art is worth money. People tell designers to work for free because it "can't possibly be that hard".

But the worst possible consequence of our attitude towards the humanities is currently playing out in the political and social arena. Our "educated middle class", thanks to a lack of education, is screwing us over.

-- That was the main thread. Many liked it. Many didn't. And I wrote a separate thread answering some of the most frequently raised concerns. Will add that here in some time. --

Even people who didn't agree with the thread above completely, said that it made sense on some level. And the people who did agree with it appeared to be nodding so hard their heads were likely to fall off. And though I felt happy about all of this, there were still a few who disagreed.

That's understandable. What I wrote was intentionally one-sided. It makes sense to those who have suffered or those who empathise, but because of its tone, it still lead some people away from the point I wanted to make. So here are some pieces of criticism I got and my responses.

"Science and Arts are both important"

Yes. But we don't treat them that way. That was my point. When I say traffic accidents are bad, you don't respond with "but traffic is necessary too". I know that. I'm not saying traffic should disappear. I'm saying accidents should go down.

"Science students are often also interested in Arts"

Yes. And Arts students like science too. That's not what is under debate. The debate is about the vast perceived gap between the two academic routes in India and those who benefit from this structure and perpetuate the divide.

"I am a science student and I am not an asshole"

Congratulations! Now grow up. This is not about you. It is about a systemic inequality that affects Arts students their entire lives. Try to empathise. You can't do that if you take every piece of social commentary personally.

"You have a superiority / inferiority complex"

Any Arts student can tell you it is hard enough not to get an inferiority complex because of our school and college systems. Often, that seems to be our function in the education system - to be the literal definition of failure.

As for superiority complex, if there is a chip on an Arts student's shoulder, he probably had to work really hard to keep it there. It's not easy for an Arts student to feel good about their choices in life when his friends literally stop talking to him for going into the Arts.

"The sciences ARE better than the Arts"

Congratulations! You have successfully steered your ship away from the actual point of this thread. You have been officially selected to serve as the ironic mascot for this argument.

"You should have worked hard in school"

I worked hard on subjects I had no aptitude for. I worked very hard. I wish I hadn't. I wish I could have spent that time on subjects I did like. Had it not been for comics, cartoons and my local library, I wouldn't have survived school.

"You didn't work hard enough"

No amount of hard work was enough. I had to stay up till 1 AM to read and write and draw. If I hadn't, I would have gone mad. So yes, I apologise for not killing myself so that I could measure up to your standards.

"Not all Arts students are liberal"

I never said they were. My point was that we need greater exposure to the Humanities in our education system. Right now, we don't. My point was that a part of our present lack of empathy can be traced to an insufficient focus on the Arts.

"You're just a sore loser who couldn't get into engineering, IIT, Medical..."

Never gave an Engineering entrance. Never tried for Medical. Never wanted to. I had no use for these things. Not everyone should have to do these things... that's the whole point.

And lastly... I know we all suffered. The Indian Education system is a pressure cooker that cooked all of us - science, commerce, arts... everyone. My point is that when the stove was turned off, some were placed on platters and served to the market.

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@vimoh Anyone who thinks they've won the race of life has declared himself a fool.
For that matter, anyone who thinks that life is a race is a fool.

@vimoh I can still understand someone who's in deep scarcity thinking "I first need food for my stomach before I can receive food for my soul." Yes, go make money, feel materially secure first.
But those who already have food for the stomach are extremely stupid indeed to look down upon those who have food for the soul to offer them.

@vimoh Great thread. A lot that I agree with and much that I don’t. One area you didn’t explore is the humanities’ folks adherence to dogmas and schools of thought, vs empirical methods and openness to new ideas.

@nitin The way the Arts are taught in India are a different thread altogether.

I agree with you. But that is just another symptom of the disdain I mentioned - "We don't have to teach the Humanities well because... you know... it's just Arts."

@vimoh @nitin Humanities education have many different threads. There are several where empirical evidence is needed to be able to prove hypothesis, just like science - Sociology and Psychology among them. Additionally, you will be happy to know that even in lit crit, there are empirical schools of thought. All angles are taught, making Humanities education far more rich in experience than the average STEM education we have in India.

@Shantanub @vimoh in theory yes. I get to interact with colleges across many cities and find that the reality is rote learning to clear papers.

@nitin @Shantanub An easy way to look at this is this:

The entire system is in a rote-learning dump. And inside that dump, the Humanities are in a deeper dump.

@vimoh Hey, I remember reading it the 1st time this went viral and every second going 'Yes, yes every word of this makes sense'. Same feeling today, sadly have a few more examples of the science students'. Thanks for the thread :)

@vimoh I am an engineer, but luckily most people in my family has studied arts. And so I have understood it's importance.

@vimoh Good post. I have shared it on my FB timeline.

@vimoh very well expressed! Enjoyed reading the thread.

@vimoh How do you think advanced societies have it better?

Why is this obnoxious engineering/doctor merit myth not as damaging there?

Is it the backwardness of the country making these fields the most relevant because they offer the fastest economic mobility?

And giving people the false impression that economic success is the only metric of value in the society?

@sandipb Can't speask for other places as I have never been there and not experienced life there. I only know what I have seen. And this is what I have seen.

@sandipb @vimoh
1. Developed societies follow what is right & fare, not what is envied / liked by others
2. In developed societies, sense of (false) pride, morality & few other imaginary feelings, do not trump freedom & equality
3. Except a thin cream of the ultra rich, statuses (in Indian context) aren't something they understand, which makes us look down upon another
4. Wealth for them is what it can do for u, not how much is sitting in ur bank or u r wearing on u.
5. In India my life is mine & ur life only makes sense if it goes with my sense of morality, pride, status, faith & politics - all which I define & is in my head only.

,@vimoh My younger sis & I are Engineers, the youngest a Dr. Dad an Economist, mom homemaker. None of us sibings have anything against Humanities. We would be dishonouring tons of cousins and dad if we did, right? It's just that we were louzy at history, geography, etc.!

P.S. I had a Humanities paper in Engg. too, back then, dunno about now. My son is a BA, aspiring Jazz singer. So I don't know!!

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