My gilded comment

I'm a regular user of reddit.com, which is to say I check the site regularly and read any article that catches my interest. I also read the discussions that happen on communities like AskHistorians and askscience. Of the sites I've visited, I feel reddit is possibly the most conducive to healthy, thought-provoking discussion thanks to its system where "good" comments are rewarded with higher visibility. It does have its flaws however. For one, people who comment earlier are much more likely to reach the top of the thread and thereafter enjoy more attention than any others, helping them keep their position. Joining a discussion on a thread more than a few hours old is sometimes futile. Another problem is that without heavy moderation and policing of comment threads, low-effort comments such as meme references and puns are more likely to be upvoted, simply because a lot more people can finish reading them quickly. This is however, a subject of much debate.

Facebook, in contrast, has a pretty bad system. Their commenting system similarly helps short, easy to digest one-liners rack up easy likes, while longer, usually well-crafted comments get collapsed under a "See more" link. Since there's usually no moderation (why would there be?), no one even tries to write anything longer than a couple of sentences because they're too easily ignored. Also, replying to anyone is difficult because the entire thread is flat rather than nested, so most people never bothered. Worse, people seeing the post for the first time see only the last couple of comments, not the best ones. Of course, having people participate instead of only reading is desirable for Facebook, so I don't see them changing this in the near future

But theirs is not the worst. Youtube commenters were considered the very dregs of internet society and it was generally agreed that only masochists would actually read them. Their problem again was that recent comments were the ones that people saw by default, rather than the best. Again, like facebook, it was impossible to have a conversation. I'm not sure if the new requirement of commenting via Google+ profiles is a constructive one. Many consider it too onerous, but I don't think the quality could actually become worse than it was earlier.

But even Youtube is not the worst. I personally find the live chat on twitch.tv (a site where gamers live stream themselves playing games) and the discussion on 4chan is probably the worst. The less said about them, the better.

The internet has empowered us in many ways, and one of those is allowing us to have conversations with strangers. No matter where your interests lie or what you feel like discussing, there's probably a group of people on the internet already discussing it. Its up to you to join them. The kind and quality of the discussion is, however, shaped by features of the platform itself.

The comment

Like I said, I don't contribute to reddit threads much because I usually arrive pretty late. I have, however been awarded gold for one of my comments. I was immensely proud of it when I clicked on the post button, but looking back, I'm less enthused about it now. It could do with a serious rewrite, but I'll leave it as it is and just copy it here.

It was posted on this thread where the original poster felt that Gandhi is given too much importance today while other freedom fighters are fading to obscurity. I responded with a defense of Gandhi, and for good measure, Ambedkar as well.

OP - "Indian guy here, I feel Gandhi is given too much importance and limelight today, in a systematic attempt to delete historical importances of other freedom fighters, and raise his status to an unnecessarily saintly level for benefits of obviously related people. CMV."

I agree with you that the history books that we read in school are biased, and curiously, contain no event that occurred post-1947. I think to understand the importance of Gandhi, you ought to read a book by Ramachandra Guha called India After Gandhi.

Guha describes the teething problems that we had as a nation and the role that Nehru played in keeping it together. He argues that without a well-loved person at the helm, India would have fallen apart. Sitting here in 2013, we take for granted that India as a country always existed, and would have gotten her freedom eventually, but I disagree.

India did not exist except on British maps. We were not one nation in 1947, though we may be (sort of) today. We were a collection of many, many different peoples, across radically diverse geography. We couldn't even communicate with each other, because in many cases because people didn't speak a common language. Nations usually have a common language or religion that ties them together and any nation today has either one or both of these two as a uniting factor. Can you think of any exceptions, apart from India?

There were two things that (almost) all Indians had in common however - we wanted the British out, and we trusted the Mahatma. Sure, there were many people who fought valiantly against the British, but there was only one man who recognised the importance of a united struggle and actually got everyone fighting under one banner. Further, his method of non-violence ensured that the British departed on good terms, and that the ones who came to power in newly independent India weren't warlords at the heads of militia (like countless African nations and Afghanistan in the 90's. Look at how it worked out for them). He also ensured that post-Independence we did not tear each other apart on communal lines, though we've been trying hard since.

To take no credit away from all the other freedom fighters, but they thought small. The Rani of Jhansi just wanted the British out from Jhansi, Bose thought violence could achieve his ends (and allied with the Empire of Japan, who would have been far worse than the British), Tilak would eventually have gotten independence .. for Bombay province. And meanwhile, each of the 400 princely states would have remained independent, instead of becoming part of India. We needed a man whom everyone (Indians and foreigners both) respected and trusted and we were lucky we got a Mahatma.

As for his personal traits, I feel that only one is important - that he wasn't interested in power. He could easily have set himself up as a benevolent dictator, but he never did. As for his other traits (such as his alleged sexual "deviance"), they're irrelevant. The man helped free 200 million people and forged a nation - what he did in the bedroom is no business of ours.

That's it on the Mahatma, but I noticed in another comment that you don't much care for Ambedkar either. I feel that Ambedkar is important for two reasons - his efforts to reform the Hindu civil code over the course of a decade had a huge impact on the lives of 90% of the women in India. Before his bills passed, Hindus were governed by a mess of inconsistent rules that allowed, among other things:

  • A Hindu man could marry more than once (how curious that we revile polygamy today).

  • A Hindu wife could not apply for divorce on any grounds - not cruelty, infidelity or if the husband took a concubine into the household.

  • If she left him anyway, she wasn't entitled to any maintenance from him.

  • All property went to sons exclusively, nothing to daughters or the widow.

  • Inter-caste marriages were not allowed legally.

  • You couldn't adopt children belonging to another caste.

All of these things, and other injustices contributed to the lousy position of women in Indian society. His ceaseless and tireless efforts in the 50's to get these bills passed made a big difference to the lives of women in India.

But the second and arguable more important reason for his relevance was he was a low-caste man who had made it big in life through hard work. His caste meant he was supposed to be cleaning toilets, but instead he was shaping the policies of the nation. He proved to the millions of low and backward caste people in India that it is possible to succeed if you apply yourself to it, that their status depends on their actions, not on their birth. Even today, he is help as a role model and ray of hope to millions of Indians. A person who is born an upper caste cannot appreciate how much this would mean to people who had been oppressed for centuries.

tl;dr - Gandhi was awesome, and so was Ambedkar. Read the whole thing to find out why.

comments powered by Disqus