City City Bang Bang, Columns

Yet another Excuse!

As we go through the cyclical bout of manic depressive anger that follows the loss of our cricket team, it is time to look beyond cricket, the IPL and other such burning issues of the day and turn our gaze to some underlying mindsets that come into play. One recurrent refrain that we have heard in the last few days is that of various commentators, ex-players and sundry experts is that the IPL or late night parties is no excuse for the terrible performance of the team. Such attempts are being denounced and the team’s attempt to wriggle out of their responsibility has been nailed for the pathetic lie that it is. Of course, most of these critics have a deep vested interest in the success of the IPL, but let us for the moment ignore that.

The use of word ‘excuse’ is interesting. If the reason proffered by the team, its coach and its till-so-far respected captain, is an excuse, then what is the real reason? On the face of it, the reason offered has some merit. Why is it so difficult to believe that the IPL may have something to do with the lackluster performance of the side given that it involved players finishing a game till midnight, then partying till the wee hours of the morning and catching early morning connections for 45 days running? Now regardless of whether the players were contracted to attend parties (something confirmed by board officials) or not, and regardless of whether this is a legitimate reason or not, it is still potentially among the valid set of explanations for their listless performance.

The real issue here is a deeper one. If we accept that the players have a reason for their performance, what happens to the anger we feel coursing through our veins with such ecstatic righteousness? Any reason offered, must prima facie, be an excuse, for in our scheme of things, there can be no room for disappointment. As the paying public and the baying media, we sit in divine judgment on our cricket team; the codes of this world do not accept ordinary causality as a defense. In this mental model, things do not happen because of a reason, they happen because of the intrinsic quality of the people involved. They are either Good or Bad, Patriotic or Sleazy Party-Hopping Money-Grabbing Degenerates. And since this is the case, any defense they put forward is a self-serving attempt to weasel out of their responsibility.

This calls for punishment or at best, forgiveness, but never understanding. At times like this, captains are changed and coaches are fired in the name of visible action. Players are expected to feel contrite and show signs of penance -partying at a pub the night after losing is guaranteed to inflame passions. Imagine the audacity of the team to want a drink to drown their sorrows! The players have not merely failed- they have sinned; the language around their loss is full of references to betrayal, lack of patriotism, lack of moral fibre and so on. From our perspective, we never ask what is responsible, only who.

This trait is not limited to cricket. Even the politically loaded and emotionally charged Kashmir issue, we see this at work. A large section of India denounces the ‘root cause’ theory- the notion that terrorist attacks at India come because of what the state is doing in Kashmir. It is seen and perhaps accurately, as a stick that can be used to beat India with and is thus hotly contested. Leaving aside the politics of the issue, the language used is revealing. By denying the possibility of a root cause, what we are in effect arguing is that terrorism exists because of terrorists. They do not need reasons or root causes, they are like that only. For if we understood their motivations, we would have to accommodate their worldview in ours and that would be very problematic indeed. We need to slam the door on any possibility that they have a reason for what they do.

To this way of thinking, having a reason is seen to be the same as having a legitimate justification. We must deny causality itself or at least attribute the cause to something that lies that outside the situation at hand. Nuanced arguments create dissonance; it is difficult to believe that we can accept that the handling of the Kashmir situation does contribute to terrorism and at the same time, strongly denounce the means used by terrorists to express their disaffection. That becomes a sign of weakness; outright denial on the other hand gives us a sense of iron purpose.

The fear of reason is the fear of hearing two voices in our head. It is the fear of understanding the other and eventually becoming the other. It is the fear of the dissolution of the self in a molten pool of understanding. Calling a reason an excuse is a simple linguistic device aimed at maintaining distance and reinforcing existing boundaries. It allows us to continue wanting whatever we do without having to take note of the other person’s perspective. As consumers, we want our team to win. If they lose, they can possibly have no excuse.