Quantifying Sominism

The past month Public Radio had interviews with various authors regarding the rise of India and China. Kishore Mahbubani, dean and professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore,  rightly mentioned that both India and China were the economic powers till 1820 and are only rightly regaining their space in the world. Tarun Khanna, professor at Harvard Business School and author of Billions of Entrepreneurs: How China and India Are Reshaping Their Futures–and Yours, is optimistic that the economic rise of these two countries is good for Asia. Even in  popular fiction , characters are talking about these countries.

If you are shocked that India is shining, all you need to do is pick up New York Times and get your daily dose of Sominism. In an article on the development happening in Gugaon, she writes:

Almost half of India’s population has no access to the electricity grid, and many more people suffer hours without power. Nearly 700,000 Indians rely on animal waste and firewood as fuel for cooking. [Thirsting for Energy in India’s Boomtowns and Beyond]

Many great bloggers have worked on the expression Sominism, but so far no one has quantified it. Unless we find a way to measure Sominism it will be hard to compare articles by Pankaj Mishra, Arundhathi Roy and Praful Bidwai. While a complex mathematical formula involving string theory would be the ideal, we will settle for something simple due to lack of time and number of people to criticize.

For now we will use a measure which takes the position of the hatchet paragraph relative to the entire article. In the above article, it appears in paragraph five of a 28 paragraph article: the Sominism Coefficient would be: 5/28 = 0.18 S.

A number by itself is meaningless unless you put it in context. To see where Somini stands in the Sominic scale, she has to be compared to her contemporaries and one place to look for some would be in the Ramayana — yes, the timeless classic written by Valmiki. We don’t know whose brilliant idea it was to get Pankaj Mishra to write the introduction to R. K. Narayan’s shortened version of Kamban Ramayanam; maybe Prakash Karat was not available.

By the fourth paragraph, Mishra hits the goal post.

Indeed, the popular appeal of the story among ordinary people distinguishes it from much of Indian literary tradition, which, supervised by upper caste Hindus, has been forbiddingly elitist [Ramayana]

Mishra’s introduction which covers the mandatory “Hindu nationalist movement to build a temple on the alleged birthplace of Rama”, “North Indian Brahmin called Tulsi Das” and a quote from Romila Thapar that the televised Ramayana was an attempt to cater to the right-wing middle class of India, is 31 paragraphs long. The hatchet job appears in the 4th paragraph giving it 0.13 S, thus giving him an upper edge over Somini.

Since this author does not have the stomach to read an Arundhathi Roy or Praful Bidwai article, finding similar values is left as an exercise to the reader. My guess is that Arundhathi Roy will is the one who will achieve the ideal value of 0 S, where the ‘job’ will be done in the title itself.

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9 Comments

  1. Dear JK,

    I wish to submit an amendment to the metric to make the measurements more accurate. Since each hatchet paragraph contributes to the aggregate Sominism, you need to add-up your proposed metric for each paragraph in order to arrive at the aggregate value.

    But straight addition will yield misleading results; so some adjustment is necessary.

    Until the time someone invents a Comprehensive Sominism Value (CSV), we could use your Limited Sominism Value (LSV).

  2. I agree with nitin that the number of hatchet paragraphs need to be taken into account.

    I propose a harmonic mean of all the times that a hatchet paragraph occurs. actually to make it more intuitive, and to have higher numbers indicating greater somini value, we should take the inverse of the harmonic mean.

    suppose there is a 20 paragraph article. and there’s a hatchet piece in paras 3,5,10.

    the ordinary somini numbers (OSN) of the 3 will be 0.15, 0.25, 0.5. Now, we need to invert each of them and add them up. So in this case we get ~ 13.

    this i think takes sufficient care of the number of times a hatchet piece appears. also, arundhati roy will get an automatic score of 20 for the first line itself. consistent right?

    ok – i’m wondering if this score should be normalized for the number of paragraphs. Can someone please take this forward? i’m getting confused…

  3. Nitin,

    I agree completely. We not only have to measure the aggregate, but also have to see if they have covered all the essential points (caste, cow, curry, poverty). As always, a work in progress.

  4. I propose an alternative – the measure may be of value if we rate the number of times essential points are raised with weights assigned to each mention – caste and poverty higher weightage, anything related to cow (especially in Pankaj Mishra’s nonsense) average weightage, and lower weightage for curry. And normalize the weights with, may be, number of words in the article. (The same can be done across articles showing may be the frequency!!)

    I think this would be better metric then position of a paragraph which could be happenstance or probably be an editorial decision!

    I agree that one really has to have strong heart to do this with Roy…

  5. I suggest a “Somini Transform” rather than a value – look at each of the Sominism parameters – those related to casteism, oppression of women, inequality and so forth. Then the Somini Transform of an article is a function that maps each parameter to ( some quantification of ) the intensity with which that parameter is treated in the article. I would expect the Somini Transform of a dalit-organization article to be a Dirac delta ( or a finite linear combination of its translates ) and that of Pankaj Sharma to be finite valued but nowhere vanishing.

  6. Looks like we need the multi dimensions of string theory to accurately quantify the sominists. let me ping stephen hawking or brian greene to see if they have some cycles to spare.

  7. From the Sominist article India’s old-fashioned coal-fired power plants are among the country’s biggest polluters…. Funny isn’t it, when the US and China are expanding coal-fired power generation India’s plants suddenly become “old-fashioned”.

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