Conspicuous Leisure

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Easily one of the most memorable scenes from Downton Abbey is when Maggie Smith’s character, the Dowager Countess, inquires, with this fabulous line, wonderfully delivered:

What is a week-end?

Thorstein Veblen captured the essence of the high-caste, priestly perspective perfectly:

Brahmin India affords a fair illustration of the industrial exemption, an expression of their superior rank…Purposeful effort comes to mean, primarily, effort directed to or resulting in a more creditable showing of accumulated wealth…From the days of the Greek Philosophers to the present, a degree of leisure and exemption from labor has ever been recognized by thoughtful men as pre-requisite to a worthy human life. In itself, the life of leisure is beautiful and ennobling in all civilized men’s eyes – a requisite for decency – provided that the gentleman can live in manifest ease and comfort.

Along with P.G. Wodehouse (whose vivid and humorous descriptions of the life of Lord Emsworth at Blandings Castle are still etched in my mind), Veblen has been influential in shaping my philosophy of what constitutes a worthwhile life. 😏

Perched divinely – well above the aristocracy – my Brahmin ancestors may have found, initially, my descent into Capitalism, a disappointment, a self-destructive fall from grace – He was too much in this world – only to revise their hasty judgement as they realized that software entrepreneurship is the most elegant approach to achieve the dream life – jivamukti in 21stCentury America – that of a Gentleman Scientist, harking back to an era before science was professionalized – spiritually contaminated – who, leisurely strolls – happily potters – in the verdant, picturesque countryside around his majestic estate on fine sunny days (like today!), situated in the heights above the vale – with a village that has at least nine bars – with a relaxed lifestyle and simple obsessions – movies, cars –  and happiest when pursuing something fresh,  like quantum integer programming.

Heading out to the Tepper Faculty/PhD picnic shortly that I had mentioned in Show, Memory after I finish sending the required information (Title/abstract/bio/headshot) triggered by this email from a couple weeks back:

Dear Sridhar,

We hope this email finds you well.

Daniel and I are in charge of organizing the MIT OM seminar this year. We were wondering if you would be interested in visiting Sloan and giving a talk here. Our seminar regularly takes place on Monday from 11.45am to 1.00pm, allowing 75 minutes for the talk and any Q&A. Attendees include the OM faculty at Sloan and interested faculty from other groups/departments within the University, as well as graduate students. Besides the talk, you will also have a chance to meet with our faculty, graduate students, and other interested parties in one-on-one meetings.

We hope that you will accept our invitation.

My talk is scheduled for 9/20. I cannot think of a more appropriate first University Seminar visit post-Covid – see my post Back to School – than at MIT, as this is the 10th invitation to speak there, over 30 years, and, additionally, MIT has been not only the place of my first sabbatical (in 1997), but also my second home, after SmartOps was acquired by SAP, for three years (2013-2016), when I had a courtesy appointment, with an office marvelously located within walking distance of Kendall Square Cinema (and several wonderful restaurants). So looking forward it, and thank you all at MIT for inviting me!












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