Atanu Dey On India's Development

The Theater of the Absurd: The War Log Edition

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The latest blockbuster play released last week at the Theater of the Absurd — also known as the “War against terrorism” — is titled “Afghan War Diary.” Starring the usual American warmongers and its usual bunch of lackeys, the play is full of intrigue, stupidity, feigned outrage, in your face finger-shaking moralizing, and little side-plots that give the critics sufficient material for their column word-quotas. Absurdity does not come in more dramatic garb.

What I find most absurd is that these leaked secrets are surprising to the people who are supposed to know what they are doing in their own “war on terror.” It is like the author of a play, sitting among the audience watching the play (which he himself wrote and directed), is shocked and surprised to see how the play unfolds. Only severely schizophrenic authors can manage that feat.

True, the leaked documents are supposed to be secret and not meant for the public. Perhaps they could come as a surprise to someone who has not been following the news in the last 10 — or even the last 30 — years, and has never been quite good at adding two plus two to get four. But to an average person, the broader conclusions to be drawn from the approximately 92,000 documents should not be the least surprising.

The pope is Catholic; bears shit in the woods; Arundhati Roy is a hypocritical meretricious self-righteous busybody; Manmohan Singh is a spineless toady — that’s the sort of broad conclusions I am talking about. Sure one does not know the exact details, but one can easily conclude that the Pakistani government and its army (hard though it may be to distinguish between the two) are a bunch of a double-dealing murderous pathetic beggars who have soaked up around $19 billion or so from the US in the last ten years, and have been using part of that American largess to fund the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan (and a bit for good measure to fund the Taliban to kill the infidel idol-worshipping Indians.)

It beggars belief that the government of the US does not know that the money they ship to Pakistan is being used by Pakistan to kill American soldiers. It is absurd to imagine that the US government does not have access to its own secret war logs. The US administration is pretending that it did not know, and only after the leaks it knows that Pakistan is a double-crossing nuclear-armed scum of a nation, and it is pretending to talk tough. Hillary Clinton, the US Sec of State, said the other day that someone in the Pakistani government must know where Osama bin Laden is.

Shocking!! I am shocked. I say I am shocked. Not.

I am not shocked because I think what Hillary Clinton said is common knowledge.

Slight digression on “common knowledge.” I may know something and you may also know the same something. But when I know that you too know, and you know that I too know, and moreover, if I know that you know that I know, and you know that I know that you know, and moreover, I know that you know that I know that you know . . . ad infinitum, then it becomes common knowledge.

Hillary Clinton knows that the Pakis know where OBL is; the Pakis know where OBL is; Clinton knows that Pakis know that Clinton knows that Pakis know; the Pakis know that Clinton knows that the Pakis know that Clinton knows . . . you get the picture.

I think that what the wikileaks did by publishing the Afghan War Logs is that it made what was general knowledge into common knowledge.

To appreciate this point, here’s a logical puzzle which is interesting not just for the logical challenge but more so for the deeper lessons it has about common knowledge and coordination mechanism.

The puzzle goes thusly: In a particular village in a land far away, there used to live only two kinds of people. One kind had blue eyes, and the other kind had brown eyes. Peculiarly, while everyone could see everyone’s eyes and note the color of the eyes, no one could ever see what color one’s own eyes were. There were no reflecting surfaces to reveal one’s eyes to one, and all discussions of eye color was tabooed and verboten. There was a rule that everyone knew: if one could ever logically conclude that one has blue eyes, then one has to leave the village the next day.

Life in the village went on year after year with nothing remarkable happening. Then one fine day, when the villagers were busy minding their business, a visitor comes to town. He assembles the entire village and makes an oracular proclamation, “There are blue-eyed people in this village.”

The question is: What happens next?

[The solution to this puzzle and its implications are in part 2 of this post.]

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  • http://www.blogs.newsx.com/thirdrock Pierre

    “Thanks for the breaking news, Sherlock”, said the villagers and went about their business.

    Which is exactly what the US and Pakistan intend to do (and are doing!).

  • http://www.deeshaa.org Atanu Dey

    Pierre, the villagers were perfect logicians. So after their “thanks for the breaking news, Sherlock”, they figured out something. The question therefore is what is it that they figured out and what happened after that.

  • http://www.deeshaa.org Atanu Dey

    Here’s one from the archive from 2006 on “What the World Owes to the US.”

  • http://www.yayaver.blogspot.com/ yayaver

    @ Atanu Sir, What is the answer of the question ? I am curious to know what is it that they figured out and what happened after that.

  • TiredProf

    Wikileaks has been planned and planted. Even the chief of WikiLeaks is likely an American stooge. This is hardly a conspiracy theory: check out reader comments on any Western news outlet. WikiLeaks will change nothing, except perhaps to clean away a few double agents who were getting out of control. Pierre’s comment is the best. Not only Pakistan and USA, but even India is following that strategy, viz., ignore WikiLeaks. Our only problem is that our politicians still feel compelled to keep up these moronic charades with Pakistani politicians. Because if we stop, USA might get very upset, and stop all those cushy World Bank infrastructure loans, or “discounted” surveillance or air force gadgets. Or, heaven forbid, send all NRIs home.

  • Rohit

    Answer is :
    If x is the number of People with blue eyes, On X th day, All the X people with Blue eyes leave the village (on the same day). They all come to know that on the same day assuming everybody is perfect logician.

  • Rohit
  • http://akshar100.wordpress.com Akshar

    Good thing about India is there is hardly any information that can be leaked.

  • Pushkar

    if There are M brown and N bule eyed people. All blue eyed would leave the village by N-1th day.
    Suppose N= 2 then each would see M brwon and 1 blue eyed and would conculed that he is the one. So he would leave .
    Suppose N= 3 then each blue would see M+2 so, if these 2 guys did not leave by day 1 he would conclude that he is the one.
    Same .. goes..forany N.

  • http://NA DG

    The puzzle is really about the no mirrors thing.

    If you are part of this village you dont know if you have blue eyes. So at the individual level its not in your interest that the views of this visitor be given any importance. So both by individual self interest and group interest its best to go just grab the visitor and kill him for committing blasphemy and continue life as usual

  • http://oshantomon.blogspot.com Sambaran Mitra

    Thanks Atanu for sharing the common-knowledge-puzzle. Thanks Rohit for your answer and wikipedia-link. It took me a lot of time to get comfortable with the puzzle, even after knowing the answer.

    I am not sure about the analogy of the puzzle with wikileak issue though. In the blue-eye-brown-eye-puzzle the reasoning went thus (or should I say thusly):
    Naming the villagers as A, B, C…..
    Till the day of oracular announcement,
    Only A blue eyed: A does not know that there are blue-eyed people
    A&B blue eyed: B does not know that A knows that there are blue eyed people
    A&B&C blue eyed: C does not know that B knows that A knows that there are blue eyed people
    .
    .
    and so on. Till the day of oracular announcement, there is always a ‘does not know’ in the picture. The oracular announcement has the effect of turning the ‘does not know’ to ‘knows’ and hence the reasoning can start leading to exodus on Nth day. I can comprehend this reasoning.

    However in the pakistan-hillary case, there are not multiple players like A, B, C and so on. Atanu’s reasoning has pakistan and hillary ‘knowing’ folding over each other. I am unable to comprehend that. Hence I am unable to deduce what change will happen. Any clarification will be appreciated.