Reduce complexity to absurdity
I first heard of a “spherical cow” in my graduate studies, and that too as a humorous interpretation of the tendency of theoretical physicists to reduce complexity by making absurd assumptions. It’s more like that. If you want to model the shape, structure or actions of a cow, you would need complex equations and intractable calculations. Some of them may be impossible to calculate. But the computational problem is solved if you imagine a cow to be a perfect sphere and follow simpler equations. Although I’m not sure if anyone has actually modeled a cow as a sphere, but the idea is a metaphor for theoretical physics and chemistry to reduce a complex phenomenon to something radically simple in order to facilitate calculations. Of course, the simplification is purely illustrative. It is useless and cannot capture anything real. While this certainly makes calculating the equations easier, the results are neither relevant nor meaningful. Fortunately, no serious theoretical physicist takes the idea of a spherical cow seriously.
But apparently there are others who do.
When the issues and events of a country of 220 million people are discussed in cricketing metaphors, I wonder if we haven’t taken the spherical approach to the politics of politics a bit too seriously. It’s one thing to make a flippant remark, but when on the eve of a historic political event, the Prime Minister says he will play until the last ball, what does that mean? Why is the political process (real or imperfect) reduced to a fierce cricket match? Why are the elected officials of a country, with very real social, economic, security and political issues, imagined as simple players on a cricket field? It is disturbing enough that the Prime Minister speaks largely in terms of cricket, but the fact that those around him from his party, and those who despise him, often speak in terms of ‘bouncers’, ‘full blows’ , “sixers” and “wickets”. The main newspaper, after the success of the motion of no confidence, had its editorial titled “Return to the pavilion”.
Reducing a political process and its manifestations to simplistic cricketing terms is wrong for three main reasons. First, it is a casual approach to a very serious governance problem. Governance is not a match, nor a competition, or can be reduced to a game of balls, bats and wickets. Unlike a cricket match, real lives are at stake here, as is the future of a country. Our people deserve politics and a debate about politics, not some absurd posture of playing to the last ball.
Second, the idea of politics and the political process as a sporting event reduces them to win-or-lose binaries. Winning at all costs, a Trumpian approach to politics, is both extremely dangerous and contrary to what leadership is all about. The United States experienced this perverse ideology in the very recent past. This approach paves the way for unconstitutional actions (as we saw in early April) and reduces each political action to a new trick to defeat the adversary, as opposed to one that focuses on taking care of the people of the country. and reflection on important local and global issues of the time.
Finally, a reductionist approach to governance using cricketing metaphors is incredibly exclusive and alienates inclusive engagement from all sectors of society. For someone who doesn’t know what an “inswinger” is, what a “no-ball” means, or what the “third umpire” does, the whole talk is gibberish.
A lot has happened in the country over the past month and a half. We need to unpack it with deep self-reflection and intellectual engagement – not simplistic terms of “game over” or “wait for round two”. It is hoped that we can move beyond cows, sacred or spherical, as we take stock of our present and future.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 12and2022.
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