Seek and ye shall find

Assume nothing, question everything’


You would think there would be no greater service to society than finding answers to the all-important questions endlessly analysed and dissected in the mass media. Will a government under CPN-Maoists bring peace and stability? Or, will its leaders’ vision of a classless society come in the way of the country’s march towards a modern capitalist statehood? How will Nepali society embrace modernity? Will Nepali still be our lingua franca a decade on?

But what if these are not the ‘right’ questions — and we are not asking enough of the wrong ones either?

In Freakonomics: A Rough Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, Steven D Levitt, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago, in collaboration with Stephen J Dubner of the The New York Times, emphasises the importance of asking enough questions (‘Assume nothing, question everything’, goes a blurb)

to get at surprising, and more often than not, meaningful correlations and causalities among even the most disparate variables in any social setting.

Levitt arrived at his groundbreaking discoveries, which have conferred on him a demi-god status among contemporary economists, while trying to find links between subject matters as incongruent as sumo wrestling and grading system at American schools (cheating for self advancement is rampant in both) and abortion and reduction in crimes (a positive correlation).

Why do American gangsters live with their moms? For the lack of adequate resources to support themselves. Is there a positive correlation between parenting and children’s intellectual development? Turns out, rather tenuous.

Although some of the book’s claims, and the exploration of link between legalisation of abortion in the US and reduction in number of crimes across America in particular, have been highly contested, the writers do not, at any time, resort to bluster and rhetoric to validate their stand; poring over reams upon reams of hard data is their preferred method. The aim of the book is to get people asking themselves hard — and at times ridiculous — questions.

Keeping alive the true freak spirit, here is my dig. What was the role of CIA in engineering people’s war in Nepal? I am stretching it a bit, but hey, no one has ruled out the possibility — Chomsky can’t be raving mad about CIA ‘grand designs’ for nothing. Unless enough questions (simple, stupid, awkward, downright inane), are asked, we might never get to the truth.

And... even more questions. How big a role will the abolition of tariffs on all products (both imports and exports) have to achieve, if indeed such a GDP spurt is possible, the CPN-Maoist goal of 20 per cent growth per year? How will sex education in Nepali schools result in better grades for students?

Jaunty? Outrageous? Well, that is exactly the point: To ferret for meanings into the places no one else has ventured before.