Skewed Society

Recently, a friend shared an interesting probability problem, the solution of which led me to a horrific conclusion. The realization that struck me isn’t new, we all have read about it in newspapers & social studies text books. But somehow figuring it out like this when I wasn’t expecting to, helped me really see it. So here we go:

Problem statement: Imagine a hypothetical society where there’s a preference for male child (not that hypothetical). In this society, a family continues to have children until they have a boy child and as soon as a boy child is born, people stop having any more children. What will be the ratio of boys to girls in the population of such a society?

Assumptions: Probability of a single child being a boy or a girl is like a fair coin toss, 50-50. Only one child is born at a time.

Solution: So in this skewed society, a family can have the following number of children:

1 Boy, 1 Girl + 1 Boy, 2 Girls + 1 Boy, 3 Girls + 1 Boy, … and so on.

What we get is each family having exactly 1 boy and either 0, 1, 2, 3, … number of girls.

Ratio of boys to girls = Total number of boys in the population / Total number of girls in the population

Given X number of families to start with, we know that each will have exactly 1 boy child. So,

Total number of boys in the population = X

So all we need is the total number of girls in the population to find the ratio, which can be calculated as follows:

Total number of girls in the population = Number of families having 0 girls * 0 + Number of families having 1 girl * 1 + Number of families having 2 girls * 2 + Number of families having 3 girls * 3 + … and so on.

To calculate number of families with n number of girls, we need total number of families (which is X) multiplied by the probability of a family having n number of girls. When a family has n number of girls, they have n+1 children, last one being a boy. Probability of any child being a boy or a girl is 1/2, so this probability is 1/2 * 1/2 * … n+1 times.

So, total number of girls in the population = X/2 * 0 + X/4 * 1 + X/8 * 2 + X/16 * 3 + X/32 * 4 + …  = X (1/4 + 2/8 + 3/16 + 4/32 + …)  [Equation 1]

Let S = 1/4 + 2/8 + 3/16 + 4/32 + …

Then, S/2 = 1/8 + 2/16 + 3/32 + … [Divide both sides by 2]

S – S/2 = 1/4 + (2/8 – 1/8) + (3/16 – 2/16) + (4/32 – 3/32) + …  [Subtract the two equations]

We get S/2 = 1/4 + 1/8 + 1/16 + 1/32 + …

S = 1/2 + 1/4 + 1/8 + 1/16 + … = 1 [Multiply both sides by 2 and we get a famous example of geometric series.]

Plugging this back into Equation 1 above, we get:

Total number of girls in the population = 

Aha! Since number of boys in the population is equal to the of number of girls, the ratio of boys is to girls is 1:1. This means that the population is still going to have 50% boys and 50% girls. In fact, since the probability of any one child being boy or a girl is 50%, no matter how many kids people choose to have for whatever reason, it can be proven that the population will always have roughly equal number of boys and girls. Neat!

So here’s the horrific conclusion: female infanticide and sex selective abortion of female fetuses is real. It’s so damn real. Anywhere there’s skewed gender ratio, you can bet that they are intentionally stopping girls from coming into existence.
It means that even with all their preference for a male child, the gender ratio will still be close to 50-50 if they just let the girls live. Just let them live.

 

P.S. The problem of female infanticide and sex selective abortion is often reported in the media under the headline “Missing Women”. The issue exists world over, but is more prevalent in China, India and Pakistan. Read more about the India specific problem here.

* I regret having to exclude non-binary genders from this post. The problems assumes binary gender and I understand it’s non inclusive.

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Compassionate Non-vegan

You may understand the message: that we can live well enough without harming and abusing animals. Yet, for whatever reason, you don’t think it’s possible for you to be vegan. In this post I want to highlight ways in which you can still help the cause, even if you’re not vegan (yet) & even if you’re not trying to be vegan (yet).

  • Do whatever you can do.

Labels are important. They convey the message in a more crisp way. But labels are not the end goal. It’s horrible the way we are collectively responsible for torturing and killing animals and the end goal is to be better than that. It’s to let animals be free. If you can’t be fully vegan, then don’t be fully vegan. Be as much vegan as you can be. Make vegan choices. Sign petitions. Foster/adopt animals. Donate to charities fighting the good fight. Educate yourself. Educate others. Keep trying to do whatever you can.

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Personally, I did not turn vegan overnight. And it’s great if you can, but if you can’t, then know that you can still help. Being receptive to the message and bringing in small changes in your lifestyle works too.

  • Support vegan alternatives and vegan businesses.

One of the main reasons people feel like they can’t go vegan is because they feel that there’s a lack of vegan products in the market. You can choose to buy vegan products & food items and help support ethical businesses grow. It may sound small, but has the potential to cause shift in the industry. You also end up eating more vegan foods and using cruelty free products in the process, which is a great thing in itself.

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  • Support vegans you know.

One of the other main reasons people don’t go vegan is because they perceive it as socially awkward. People don’t want to stand out and be mocked at by their own friends and family or judged by total strangers. It’s strange how contributing to causes, taking a stand, is always applauded once it becomes mainstream but ridiculed & laughed off if it’s in minority. Being vegan in this very non-vegan world requires one to be tough & headstrong. Your support & accommodating nature can help vegans & those on the fence to be vegans with a little less effort. Of-course if a vegan is being an ass you are free to treat them however you want, just don’t take it out on other vegans. Remember, vegans are as diverse bunch of people as any.

vegan-sidekick

 

Labeling myself

Feminist, Agnostic, Atheist, Vegan, Pacifist, Secular…

I’ve never been one to be shy to put labels on myself. But is it the right way to go about things? And does it matter?

 

I’m often told that there are extremists associated with most of these social movements. People who are too loud, who take it too far, who don’t really understand, who are irrational. People like these, who become a prominent face of the movement  & you don’t really wants to associate with scary folks. Identifying with a label, thus, comes with a baggage. People’s perception of you is affected by the labels you choose to wear. But there’s a catch here: this perception of you is limited by people’s knowledge and their previous perception of the label.

For example, if some stranger casually happens to mention that they identify as a feminist. What can you learn from this? What will be your perception of this stranger?

  1. If you don’t know what this word means, you might search for it’s meaning. (That’s how I came to know about most things).
  2. If you believe in equal rights for all genders & choose to label yourself a feminist, you are likely to have to positive perception of this person.
  3. If you don’t believe in equal rights for all genders, you are likely to have a negative perception of this person.
  4. You might agree with the crux: equal rights for all genders but don’t feel that the word feminist represents this definition. You’ve met people calling themselves feminists before and their behavior greatly differed. And hence you might not be too sure of what this person means by feminism. You may ask them further questions or just observe their behavior to make up your mind (good/bad feminist). Or just leave it at that, and not form an opinion. In which case your perception of this person remains largely unaffected by their use of this label.
  5. You might agree with the crux: equal rights for all genders but based on some past experience, you feel like feminists are an angry bunch of man-hating women or something like that. And this likely results in a roll of eye and a negative perception of this stranger.

So, one drawback of putting a label on yourself is that you might have people who essentially believe in the same thing as you do (definition of the label) and still carry a negative impression of you.

Now consider a slightly different scenario: instead of a stranger, imagine a person you’ve known for some time & this is someone you like and someone whose broad ideology you agree with. This person casually mentions that they are a feminist. Now what?

  1. Same as above.
  2. Same as above.
  3. Same as above.
  4. Here, since you already liked this person before, you might categorize them as a ‘Good feminist’ in your head and the perception likely doesn’t change overall. But it still has a positive effect of you knowing one more of the good kind.
  5. This is the fun part. You found this person agreeable before & here they are saying that they identify with this angry bunch of man haters! If your negative perception of the label is greater that your likeness of this person, their reputation is going to take a hit in your head. On the other hand, if your likeness of this person is greater than your negative perception of the label, it might push you to re-assessing your stance or in the very least, strike up a conversation with them on the topic.

 

Ultimately, it seems that a lot depends on the person you are talking to when you choose to share your labels with them. Coming back to the questions I started the post with:

Putting labels on oneself: Is it the right way to go about things? And does it matter?

The answer I suppose lies in how strongly you feel about the issue. Is it more important to you that more people know/talk/discuss/debate the issue or is it more important that people not perceive you negatively? What would you regret more: not being vocal about an issue that is important or being dragged into unwanted debates requiring obvious clarifications?

For me, a person who is a natural debate seeker, the answer is a no-brainer. I refuse to be scared of the extremists who try to hijack the issue: I will try my best to call them out. And I refuse to be concerned with how I’m perceived by people who seek no clarifications. My personal stand is that by trying to be a rational & thoughtful person, I might be able to change some people’s perception of the label & the kind of people who associate with it – which ultimately helps the cause. I also run the risk of being considered stupid/obnoxious/etc. by some, but if it’s not due to my actions but their view of the issue in general, then frankly I don’t care and I don’t see how not labeling myself will help in this case (except maybe I’ll be more likeable at the cost of not actively supporting the cause, which again comes back to – how strongly do I feel about this issue?).

I don’t know if the broad categories above cover all the likely scenarios, this write up is not a well researched one. But hey, what do you think? 🙂

Trying to be a sane vegan

People come in all shades of grey. It’s always best to not be clouded by stereotypes or think in terms of black & whites. I want to list some important points to keep in mind if you’re a vegan or transitioning into one.

  • Being a vegan does not put you on a pedestal giving you special rights to pass judgements on people who aren’t vegan or vegan enough, according to your standards.
  • Being a vegan does not absolve you of everything else. Trust me, you can still improve and learn. And a lot of that learning can come from non vegans.
  • You don’t have to agree with another vegan, just because they are vegan. Sounds silly, but happens a lot. In a vegan vs non vegan debate you are forced to participate in, do what you should do anyway: try to be rational and keep an open mind.
  • Non vegans are not evil. Even the ones you think know what veganism is all about. Chances are they don’t understand what the deal is. And in any case, we are a product of our social conditioning and it takes time to break away & change.
  • Don’t oppose anything important (medicine for example) just because it doesn’t align with veganism unless you are aware of a vegan alternative that’s almost equally viable. Only protesting, without providing a solution doesn’t help. It’s always a better use of energy to instead promote viable vegan alternatives, and help find solutions where those don’t exist yet.

The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.  – Socrates

I’m gonna end here with a promise to come back and update this post as & when I learn more.

Updates

I started this blog about 11 months ago. And I feel it’s a good time to reflect on my goals & see how far I have come. Here’s what I wanted to explore, along with the mission status :

  • Be vegan: Successfully completed! 🙂
  • Create zero waste:  Have taken several steps in this direction (composting, menstrual cup, carrying my own bags for grocery shopping, refusing bottled water, cutting down on heavily packaged foods, etc.) but there’s still some scope & I don’t believe I’m done with as far as I can go.
  • Live in a sustainable manner: This is so vague, what does it even mean?! I guess I’ll have to define this properly before I can say how far I could reach.
  • Adopt minimalism & a frugal lifestyle: Hmm.. again frugal is vaguely defined here. In any case, this mission was mostly unsuccessful. We ended up getting a new bigger refrigerator, a basic sofa set and a fancy bookshelf this year.
  • Help the environment: How very grand of me! 😀 Well, we planted a couple of trees. And nagged our local elected corporator to plant a whole lot more. I am also experimenting with some environmentally friendly products (shampoo, soap, detergent).
  • Be fit mentally & physically: Hmm.. since I again slacked on the definition.. I would say a partial success. I feel strong and healthy, I am managing exercise 5 times a week, I’m eating healthy most meals. My weight is stable & I dint fell sick at all (I know because I dint apply for any sick leave for last 1 year). I don’t know how to judge my ‘mental fitness’, hence the partial successful tag.

I guess finding your younger self immature & lacking in the basic grasp of ideas.. is well a good sign. Maybe I have become a slightly better version of myself! 🙂

Permaculture

Recently we went to a 3 day workshop on permaculture. It is a farming technique which focuses on mimicking natural ecosystems. The basic idea is to strengthen & build the soil using organic matter & microbial action. The idea is to make a sustainable system which minimizes the external inputs into the soil i.e. no fertilizers, pesticides etc.

The ideas of permaculture and natural farming can be studied in Fukuoka‘s famous book ‘One Straw Revolution’ and I will not try to cover them in brief here as I’m scared I’ll mess it up. For the longest time I thought the obsession with nature & organic was against science, and hence was always vary of it. Well, it kind of is against science in a way, as science is practiced in a  reactive form in this area. Meaning, it kind of focuses on fixing the symptoms of a given problem rather than root causing the issue. Almost all the government policies which are supposedly aimed at helping farmers end up using this incomplete science and encouraging wrong practices. The book & the workshop offered some inexpensive, practical solutions that can easily be adopted. I’d really recommend everyone to read this short book, even if you have no interest in farming. In the very least, it will teach you to be better consumers.

Anyway, here are some pictures from the workshop:

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Morning Routine

The importance of routine cannot be overstated. Especially if you’re trying to achieve a goal. In my pursuit of a ‘better self’ I realized my old habits: sleeping whenever, getting up whenever, eating whatever, wherever.. it basically sums up to a week, a month, an year, a lifetime of just ‘living’ and not achieving all the things that I want to achieve. Sure, I care, I get ideas, but without an implementation plan, complete with a routine to crack it regularly, my ideas will fade away into nothingness.

So, here I am with my morning routine. It’s not perfect yet. I am still working on it. But it’s getting better.

  • Get up between 6:30-7 am
  • Plan my day while getting up from bed. Remind myself of the stuff I have to do for the day, get excited about whatever interesting I’m going to do today.
  • Water the plants in my balcony garden. No kidding, that’s the first thing I do after I get out of my bed! It’s a great way to open my eyes. The greens, the flowers are pleasant & so is the morning wind.
  • Freshen up, meet & greet whoever else is staying at home. Check messages on phone. Reply to the urgent ones. Read some article I marked for reading last day.
  • Go for a run from 8-8:30.
  • Take a shower, get ready for work.
  • Make a green smoothie. This is my second favorite part of the morning, after watering my plants. I mix and match leafy greens, flaxseeds, some nuts and some fruits to make an awesome smoothie every morning (granted it’s not awesome every morning, but hey, that’s how we learn!).
  • Have a bowl of sprout salad with variable ingredients ranging from various fruits, nuts, seeds, veggies or have vegetable oats.
  • Add all the organic waste from my bin into the composter & give it a good stir!
  • Cycle to work by 9:15, reach office by 9:30 (perks of living close to work, you can have a lazy morning).

This routine stays mostly the same on weekends, except I spend almost twice the time for each task! This daily morning routine enables me to get my exercise, breakfast full of nutrition, spend at least a few minutes with my plants and on my compost every day! It’s almost perfect. I just need to make some room for reading. I’d really like to have 20-30 minutes of time for reading a book.