Friday, December 31, 2010
At the last moments of 2010, I am going to offer you hand-picked posts from this blog made throughout the span of this year. These posts are meant as highlights of my journey, and represent dominant themes that I was concerned with. They also represent the evolution of my thought. I hope the readers will find this recap an enjoyable treat. Happy New Year, everyone :)
The Art of Mark Fray: The work of an erratic artist makes us wonder 'what is art?'
The Imperfect Society: How should one live in an imperfect society?
Resignation: Can resignation be bad-faith?
Love: The Potential for Abuse: Love is not beyond morality.
Unfair: Life is unfair.
Truth: She stood there, offering me the Truth...
Out of Place: Feeling out of place in this society...
The Case for Abortion: Why I believe Abortion is justified.
A Heart Stifled: A heart without intellect is a heart stifled.
The Five Curses: A piece from the little prose I wrote this year.
Eternal Recurrence: An excerpt from When Nietzsche Wept
Fundamentalism: Aati explains Fundamentalism.
Perceptual Truth: Transcending skepticism
A New Intellectual Journey: Discovering Mysticism...
In terms of meaning, I will classify poems into 4 categories:
Category I: This is the poem that consists of just pretty words with no underlying deeper meaning; it is intended to convey an aesthetic impression and nothing more.
Catergory II: This is the poem which has a determinable meaning, either on plain reading or on analysis, but determinable without recourse to the poet's life.
Category III: This is the poem that has multiple meanings, none of which is 'objectively' true, such that the reader can ascribe any meaning to it of his own fancy.
Category IV: This is the poem that is intended by the poet to be a metaphorical expression of a particular feeling, experience or life-event. I would call it the 'objective meaning' of the poem.
Whenever I read a poem, my first question is: Which category does this poem belong to? How do we even decide which poem belongs to which category?
Category II has the determinable meaning, so that is easiest to identify (though it too can cause confusion if it is too obscure), so the actual problem is with other categories, and they are what I'll discuss from this point onwards. Category IV would be easy to identify if the poet reveals that the poem is about this or that experience, but if the poet publishes the poem in isolation without revealing the underlying experience, then the reader is left lost, the poem becomes any of the category I or III for the reader. It can even be the other way round. If, for example, I write a poem of Category I while I am going through a break-up, a friend of mine may mistakenly believe that the poem belongs to Category IV and is an expression of my feelings of break-up, while that is not actually so.
The point is, unless the poet himself reveals what the poem is about, the reader is free to judge the poem as belonging to any category he thinks appropriate. When a poem is published in isolation, the objective meaning of the poem is lost, and the poem becomes a matter of complete subjective interpretation, capable of being fit in any category the reader believes it to belong to. The poet abandons a poem to subjectivity by withholding the objective meaning. Of course, people can and do argue that this very subjectivity is what makes poetry what it is. If that is so, well, then that is so. The question of "What does it mean?" becomes irrelevant, because the answer to that is "It means whatever you want it to mean."
Thursday, December 30, 2010
Sometimes I come across poetry and literary writings that sound incredibly beautiful, like an abstract painting that has been painted with words, but beyond that strong aesthetic over-whelming feeling, I don't grasp anything, and I am left asking "What does it mean?" And often when I try to ask the fans of that poetry, "Well, it is truly beautiful, but what does it mean?" I just fail to get any satisfying answer. Many of the answers tend to revolve around the theme of "It cannot be explained. It's something you have to feel." Most of the time I just shut up in humbleness, and accept my inability to feel. At other times, I am just silently pissed. Either the poet is speaking in a language that makes sense but which I cannot understand, or it is all just a string of pretty words with no meaning underneath. How do you even distinguish between the two?
Yes, my mind is strongly rational, and it always tries to make 'sense' of things. And I accept that I may not be able to make sense of something on my own, that is why I am always eager to ask "Tell me, show me, teach me, how it makes sense." But what am I to make of the response that 'it cannot be explained'? How can something that actually makes sense cannot be explained?
Earlier in the year I learnt about a type of poetry, Confessional poetry. Confessional poets deal with the matters of their intimate personal life. Among the recognized confessional poets, I have only been exposed to Sylvia Plath somewhat, though I have not read her in detail. There are some lines in her poem Elm that go as:
I have suffered the atrocity of sunsets.
Scorched to the root
My red filaments burn and stand, a hand of wires.
I really liked these lines, because they are incredibly beautiful. The aesthetic beauty of the expressions is over-whelming. But my mind kept nagging me, "What does it mean?" So I kept searching online, and eventually I came across a comment on a forum which said that these lines are about Sylvia Plath's experience of undergoing Electro-convulsive Therapy as a part of treatment for her severe depression. I don't know whether it is true that the poem is actually about ECT, but in a flash, suddenly, the lines made sense. I could understand them.
These poets are talking in an extremely personal language, in metaphors that are so intimate that they make no sense divorced from their lives. It is like an attempt to create what Wittgenstein called a Private Language “The words of this language are to refer to what can be known only to the speaker; to his immediate, private, sensations. So another cannot understand the language.” (I say attempt because Wittgenstein goes on show that a true Private Language is not possible.)
I do not wish to say that this sort of confessional poetry is without value. Confessional poets have created masterpieces, no doubt. But what I wish to say is (to the poet): What is the point of publishing something that wouldn't mean anything to anyone apart from you? If you present the reader with just the poem in isolation, how do you expect the reader to make any sense of it? It would simply be reduced to pretty-sounding senseless words, or else the reader would ascribe any meaning to it of his own fancy. When you are writing something that only makes sense to you, then I believe you also ought to explain to the reader how to interpret it. To write a coded confession without revealing the relevant biography is like abandoning the poem. It is like throwing the poem at the mercy of the post-structuralists and agreeing with them that, yes, 'the author is dead'. But you, the author, are not dead; you are deliberately committing suicide.
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
“To live, to err, to fall, to triumph, to recreate life out of life.”
A quote by James Joyce, which has been codified (along with the others things) into the genome of the first semi-synthetic self-replicating bacterium, by J Craig Venter's team. Details here.
Monday, December 27, 2010
Even though art critics have left no real distinction between nude art and porn, for me personally, aesthetics divides the two. Nude Art is beautiful, or aims for beauty, or some other abstract quality and meaning. Porn, on the other hand, is simply ugly by virtue of its brute insistence on sexual gratification. The critic, having exiled beauty from art, brings more and more porn under its patronage, while the layman with a limited aesthetic sense, perceives more and more art to be porn.
Friday, December 24, 2010
I am posting some extracts from an article by Sam Harris, which can be found here. Harris argues for a case that I, at the moment, believe in myself. All morality is about or should be about human well-being and flourishing (or as Harris says, of all conscious beings). All systems of morality that do not lead to human well-being are worth discarding. Anyone who says human well-being shouldn't be our goal is someone who ought to be ignored. Because what is purpose and point of asking "How would we ought to behave?" if the answer is not to maximize human well-being. Of course, there are serious and genuine issues of deciding of what 'well-being' is, and determining how it can be maximized, and whether there is only one way of achieving that or more than one. These are all genuine difficulties and must be addressed, but it also true that facts about what leads to human well-being are not a matter of clueless opinions, and moral systems which do not lead to human well-being can be identified and rejected. For instance, despite our difficulty in defining well-being, we can immediately see that a society that allows slavery and legalizes rape is not a society that promotes human well-being, and we can reject their morality without hesitation. These issues and related ones are discussed by Sam Harris. If you find the extracts interesting, please do read the whole article for more clarity and understanding.
P.S. I think Harris complicates matters unnecessarily by insisting it is an issue of 'science'. Even if it is not entirely in the domain of science, his ideas make sense philosophically.
I was suggesting that science can, in principle, help us understand what we should do and should want -- and, perforce, what other people should do and want in order to live the best lives possible. My claim is that there are right and wrong answers to moral questions, just as there are right and wrong answers to questions of physics, and such answers may one day fall within reach of the maturing sciences of the mind....
Science simply represents our best effort to understand what is going on in this universe, and the boundary between it and the rest of rational thought cannot always be drawn. There are many tools one must get in hand to think scientifically -- ideas about cause and effect, respect for evidence and logical coherence, a dash of curiosity and intellectual honesty, the inclination to make falsifiable predictions, etc. -- and many come long before one starts worrying about mathematical models or specific data....
Many of my critics also fail to distinguish between there being no answers in practice and no answers in principle to certain questions about the nature of reality. Only the latter questions are "unscientific," and there are countless facts to be known in principle that we will never know in practice. Exactly how many birds are in flight over the surface of the earth at this instant? What is their combined weight in grams? We cannot possibly answer such questions, but they have simple, numerical answers. Does our inability to gather the relevant data oblige us to respect all opinions equally? For instance, how seriously should we take the claim that there are exactly 23,000 birds in flight at this moment, and, as they are all hummingbirds weighing exactly 2 grams, their total weight is 46,000 grams? It should be obvious that this is a ridiculous assertion. We can, therefore, decisively reject answers to questions that we cannot possibly answer in practice. This is a perfectly reasonable, scientific, and often necessary thing to do. And yet, many scientists will say that moral truths do not exist, simply because certain facts about human experience cannot be readily known, or may never be known....
When I speak of there being right and wrong answers to questions of morality, I am saying that there are facts about human and animal well-being that we can, in principle, know--simply because well-being (and states of consciousness altogether) must lawfully relate to states of the brain and to states of the world....
[My claim is that] well-being is what we can intelligibly value--and "morality" (whatever people's associations with this term happen to be) really relates to the intentions and behaviors that affect the well-being of conscious creatures.... all the people who claim to have alternative sources of morality (like the Word of God) are, in every case that I am aware of, only concerned about well-being anyway: They just happen to believe that the universe functions in such a way as to place the really important changes in conscious experience after death (i.e. in heaven or hell). And those philosophical efforts that seek to put morality in terms of duty, fairness, justice, or some other principle that is not explicitly tied to the well-being of conscious creatures--are, nevertheless, parasitic on some notion of well-being in the end (I argue this point at greater length in my book. And yes, I've read Rawls, Nozick, and Parfit)....
Those who assumed that any emphasis on human "well-being" would lead us to enslave half of humanity, or harvest the organs of the bottom ten percent, or nuke the developing world, or nurture our children a continuous drip of heroin are, it seems to me, not really thinking about these issues seriously. It seems rather obvious that fairness, justice, compassion, and a general awareness of terrestrial reality have rather a lot to do with our creating a thriving global civilization -- and, therefore, with the greater well-being of humanity. And, as I emphasized in my talk, there may be many different ways for individuals and communities to thrive -- many peaks on the moral landscape -- so if there is real diversity in how people can be deeply fulfilled in life, this diversity can be accounted for and honored in the context of science....
But the deeper objection raised by scientists like Carroll is that the link I have drawn between values and well-being seems arbitrary, or otherwise in need of justification. What if certain people insist that their "values" or "morality" have nothing to do with well-being? What if a man like Jefferey Dahmer says, "The only peaks on the moral landscape that interest me are ones where I get to murder young men and have sex with their corpses." This possibility -- the prospect of radically different moral preferences -- seems to be at the heart of many people's concerns....
... there are trained "scientists" who are Biblical Creationists, and their scientific thinking is purposed not toward a dispassionate study of the universe, but toward interpreting the data of science to fit the Biblical account of creation. Such people claim to be doing "science," of course -- but real scientists are free, and indeed obligated, to point out that they are misusing the term. Similarly, there are people who claim to be highly concerned about "morality" and "human values," but when we see that they are more concerned about condom use than they are about child rape (e.g. the Catholic Church), we should feel free to say that they are misusing the term "morality," or that their values are distorted....
Everyone has an intuitive "physics," but much of our intuitive physics is wrong (with respect to the goal of describing the behavior of matter), and only physicists have a deep understanding of the laws that govern the behavior of matter in our universe. Everyone also has an intuitive "morality," but much intuitive morality is wrong (with respect to the goal of maximizing personal and collective well-being) and only genuine moral experts would have a deep understanding of the causes and conditions of human and animal well-being....
So what about people who think that morality has nothing to do with anyone's well-being? I am saying that we need not worry about them -- just as we don't worry about the people who think that their "physics" is synonymous with astrology, or sympathetic magic, or Vedanta....
One of my critics put the concern this way: "Why should human well-being matter to us?" Well, why should logical coherence matter to us? Why should historical veracity matter to us? Why should experimental evidence matter to us? These are profound and profoundly stupid questions. No framework of knowledge can withstand such skepticism, for none is perfectly self-justifying. Without being able to stand entirely outside of a framework, one is always open to the charge that the framework rests on nothing, that its axioms are wrong, or that there are foundational questions it cannot answer. So what? Science and rationality generally are based on intuitions and concepts that cannot be reduced or justified. Just try defining "causation" in non-circular terms. If you manage it, I really want hear from you.... Seen in this light, moral relativism should be no more tempting than physical, biological, mathematical, or logical relativism. There are better and worse ways to define our terms; there are more and less coherent ways to think about reality; and there are--is there any doubt about this?--many ways to seek fulfillment in this life and not find it....
And while people like Bundy may want some very weird things out of life, no one wants utter, interminable misery. And if someone claims to want this, we are free to treat them like someone who claims to believe that 2 + 2 = 5 or that all events are self-caused. On the subject of morality, as on every other subject, some people are not worth listening to....
But what if I believe that the highest moral good is to be found in the autonomy of the individual, while you believe that the highest good is to maximize the utility of some societal group? What are the data we can point to in order to adjudicate this disagreement?... It's ultimately a personal choice, not an objective truth to be found simply by looking closely at the world. How are we to balance individual rights against the collective good? You can do all the experiments you like and never find an answer to that question....
Again, we see the confusion between no answers in practice and no answers in principle. The fact that it could be difficult or impossible to know exactly how to maximize human well-being does not mean that there are no right or wrong ways to do this--nor does it mean that we cannot exclude certain answers as obviously bad. The fact that it might be difficult to decide exactly how to balance individual rights against collective good, or that there might be a thousand equivalent ways of doing this, does not mean that we must hesitate to condemn the morality of the Taliban, or the Nazis, or the Ku Klux Klan -- not just personally, but from the point of view of science. As I said at TED, the moment we admit that there is anything to know about human well-being, we must admit that certain individuals or cultures might not know it.
It is also worth noticing that Carroll has set the epistemological bar higher for morality than he has for any other branch of science. He asks, "Who decides what is a successful life?" Well, who decides what is coherent argument? Who decides what constitutes empirical evidence? Who decides when our memories can be trusted? The answer is, "we do." And if you are not satisfied with this answer, you have just wiped out all of science, mathematics, history, journalism, and every other human effort to make sense of reality....
Fanciers of Hume's is/ought distinction never seem to realize what the stakes are, and they do not see what an abject failure of compassion their intellectual "tolerance" of moral difference amounts to. While much of this debate must be had in academic terms, this is not merely an academic debate. There are women and girls getting their faces burned off with acid at this moment for daring to learn to read, or for not consenting to marry men they have never met, or even for the crime of getting raped. Look into their eyes, and tell me that what has been done to them is the product of an alternative moral code every bit as authentic and philosophically justifiable as your own....
I once spoke at an academic conference on themes similar to those I discussed at TED -- my basic claim being that once we have a more complete understanding of human well-being, ranging from its underlying neurophysiology to the political systems and economic policies that best safeguard it, we will be able to make strong claims about which cultural practices are good for humanity and which aren't. I then made what I thought would be a quite incontestable assertion: we already have good reason to believe that certain cultures are less suited to maximizing well-being than others. I cited the ruthless misogyny and religious bamboozlement of the Taliban as an example of a worldview that seems less than perfectly conducive to human flourishing....
As it turns out, to denigrate the Taliban at a scientific meeting is to court controversy (after all, "Who decides what is a successful life?") At the conclusion of my talk, I fell into debate with another invited speaker... Here is a snippet of our conversation, more or less verbatim:
She: What makes you think that science will ever be able to say that forcing women to wear burqas is wrong?Me: Because I think that right and wrong are a matter of increasing or decreasing well-being--and it is obvious that forcing half the population to live in cloth bags, and beating or killing them if they refuse, is not a good strategy for maximizing human well-being.She: But that's only your opinion.Me: Okay... Let's make it even simpler. What if we found a culture that ritually blinded every third child by literally plucking out his or her eyes at birth, would you then agree that we had found a culture that was needlessly diminishing human well-being?She: It would depend on why they were doing it.Me (slowly returning my eyebrows from the back of my head): Let's say they were doing it on the basis of religious superstition. In their scripture, God says, "Every third must walk in darkness."She: Then you could never say that they were wrong.
... the most basic facts about human flourishing must transcend culture, just as most other facts do.
Yesterday, during a discussion with Aati on whether everyone should go for love in life, I realized that something which I felt to be obvious was not quite so obvious at all. So, I decided to do a little survey. I planned that all the participants in the survey should be Pakistani, young adults, and people who prefer or would prefer to be in a love relationship of their choice over an arranged one. This last requirement was important, because the question wouldn't even make much sense for someone who doesn't even believe in love or already prefers arranged marriage. So the purpose of the survey was a specific one: to discover how many of the Pakistani young adults who prefer love themselves would endorse that love ought to be a preference for everyone.
As I have very few friends who fulfill the selection requirement of having love as the personal preference (!), I had to ask Dure for help, who very kindly conducted the survey among her friends, and provided the bulk of participants. (Thank you!)
The question asked was: Which are these statements would you agree with?
A. Everyone should prefer a love based relationship in life over an arranged relationship (in which the couple will get to be fond of each other with time).
B. There are some people who by temperament and social upbringing are unfit to love, and would be better off having an arranged marriage.
Simple deliberation reveals that the two statements are mutually incompatible, and therefore a person can either pick A or B.
The results are:
10 participants picked option A. (58.8%)
7 participants picked option B. (41.2%)
Of course, the survey doesn't itself prove the truth of either statements. It simply reveals that what I perceived to be something quite obvious (statement B) is not a perception that is shared by many of the other advocates of love.
Aati (speaking in favor of statement A): It doesn't work that way. Loving someone and making a habit of someone are two different things. It's like asking: when you're happy with a slice of bread, why hope for chocolate cake? Chocolate cake is worth heart disease, diabetes, obesity and caries. Love is a chocolate cake. And what makes it better is the emotional palette, the chance for a bond like friendship but deeper, discovering the better side of yourself, understanding more about human nature, and making yourself vulnerable to life.... There is more room for hurt going for love, but love is not something one should be without.
Thursday, December 23, 2010
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Such beautiful music! This is a recording from the Fez Festival of World Sacred Music 2003 performed by Ensemble Organum and Ensemble El Assala, uniting the Christian Mozarabic tradition with the Islamic Samaa marocain.
If you want to listen to the whole concert of Ensemble Organum and Ensemble El Assala performing together, you can do so from this link.
'The first signs of psychic opening are love and joy – a joy that may be extremely intense and powerful, but without any exaltation and without object, as calm and deep as the sea. Psychic joy does not need anything in order to be; it just is; even in a prison it cannot help being, for it is not a feeling but a state, like a river sparkling wherever it flows, whether over mud or rocks, across plains or mountains. It is a love that is not the opposite of hate, and it needs nothing to sustain itself; it simply is, burning steadily regardless of what it encounters, in all it sees and all it touches, simply because it cannot help loving, for that is its nature. Nothing is low for it, or high, or pure, or impure; neither its flame nor its joy can be tarnished. Other signs may also reveal its presence: It is light, nothing is a burden to it, as if the whole world were its playground; it is invulnerable, nothing can touch it, as if it were forever beyond all tragedies, already saved from all accidents; it is a seer, it sees; it is calm, so calm, a tiny breath in the depths of the being; and vast, as vast as the eternal sea itself. Indeed, it is eternal. And it is free; nothing can entrap it, neither life nor men, nor ideas, nor doctrines, nor countries – it is beyond, forever beyond, and yet innumerably present in the heart of everything, as if it were one with all, for it is God within us.'
Satprem, Sri Aurobindo, or The Adventure of Consciousness
Monday, December 20, 2010
Taken from Maverick Philosopher's insightful post Evil As it Appears to Atheists and Theists:
Thus atheism is bred in the bone before it is born in the brain. The atheist feels it in his bones and guts that the universe is godless and that theistic conceptions are so many fairy tales dreamt up for false consolation. This world is just too horrifying to be a divine creation: meaningless unredeemed suffering; ignorance and delusion; the way nature, its claws dripping with blood, feasts on itself; moral evil and injustice -- all bespeak godlessness. There can't be a God of love behind all this horror! For most atheists, theism is not a Jamesian live option. What point, then, in debating them?
This deep intuition of the godlessness of the world is prior to and the force behind arguments from evil. The arguments merely articulate and rationalize the intuition. The counterarguments of theists don't stand a chance in the face of the fundamental, gut-grounded, atheist attitude. No one who strongly FEELS that things are a certain way is likely to be moved by what he will dismiss as so much verbiage, hairsplitting, and intellectualizing.
"My religiosity consists of a humble admiration of the infinitely superior spirit that reveals itself in the little that we can comprehend about the knowable world. That deeply emotional conviction of the presence of a superior reasoning power, which is revealed in the incomprehensible universe, forms my idea of God."
Einstein's views on God are a subject of much popular confusion. Here is an excellent article which reveals with clarity what Einstein did actually believe and express on the matter.
Sunday, December 19, 2010
[We were discussing the women who themselves accept the socio-religious restrictions being imposed on them as justified and for their own good, and I was admitting how such women often annoy me even more than the men who impose these restrictions on them.]
Aati: If you are someone who has spent substantial time arguing for someone's equal rights, every so often that someone steps in to tell you that you are in fact delusional and she has all the rights any 'woman' could ever need and you're the one who needs to be reigned in. And that act of standing up for being crushed down is frustrating and very vexing.
"Of the reality or unreality of the mystic's world I know nothing. I have no wish to deny it, nor even to declare that the insight which reveals it is not a genuine insight. What I do wish to maintain... is that insight, untested and unsupported, is an insufficient guarantee of truth, in spite of the fact that much of the most important truth is first suggested by its means."
Bertrand Russell, Mysticism and Logic
“Do mystical states establish the truth of those theological affections in which the saintly life has its roots?”
William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience
In the past few days or so, I have been amazed and fascinated by my exposure to a mystical school of thought, the Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, and I am undergoing a significant intellectual change of perspective from my previous philosophy. I am extremely curious about these mystic experiences and since it is not my habit to accept blindly, I am definitely eager to explore them on my own. However, it is also very obvious to me that the practice of mysticism requires a certain distance and detachment from the worldly life (albeit not a renouncement), and after some days of confusion I have realized that I am not yet ready for such a distance. I am not done with this physical plane of existence yet, both intellectually and emotionally. At the same time, I am convinced of the validity of mystic experiences, that mystic experiences do have something to tell us about reality, and that the knowledge gained from them cannot be discarded as psychotic ramblings. Once I have accepted this new mode of knowledge, it is also clear to me that it has very significant things to say and add to our understanding of the physical and human world.
So, I have outlined my project of personal learning for the near future: I will attempt to learn how the epistemic admissibility of mysticism can be argued for and philosophically defended, and in what way it affects our understanding of the physical world, and what mysticism has to add to the disciplines like metaphysics, psychology, ethics, aesthetics, sociology etc... and I will continue to explore Integral Yoga and mysticism intellectually until I am ready to undergo the meditations myself.
I realize that even by merely accepting mystic experience as valid, I am risking being alienated from my skeptical-minded philosophical friends, but if life has taught me something, it is that every significant growth in the pursuit of truth brings such risks of estrangement. At the moment, I would just request my skeptic friends to at least have a minimum of faith in my philosophical judgment, that if I am so interested in this subject, there must be something making sense in it that I see, and that I have not lost my mind. Plus, as I explained in this post before, it would be dogmatic even for a skeptic to dismiss something without an honest inquiry.
For the religious-minded readers of this blog, who are quite in abundance, I would like to clarify: No, it does not mean or imply my return to religion. In fact, I believe that the mystic experience itself reveals the falsehood of organized religions and faith-based theologies that we see around us.
In general, however, the blog with its familiar and customary themes will continue on in the usual manner.
Thursday, December 16, 2010
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
The Pizza, The Prophet, and Me
This is such a precious read! Full of such kind simplicity and intimate honesty that it makes you see a relationship with religion that we have all forgotten: one based on personal fondness.
(There was an error in the link before; it is functional now.)
G: Parents kitnay desperate hojatay hain na larkion kay rishton kay liye.
Me: Yeah, parents mistakenly believe that they are doing it for our own betterment. That is why we need independence: to save ourselves from their misplaced good intentions.
No belief that tries to justify itself by appeal to "faith", whether religious or of some other philosophical sort, can ever survive intellectual skeptical scrutiny. For skepticism trumps these hollow truths. No such truth can survive the corrosive effect of Skepticism; it will dissolve away at contact. The only truth that could survive is a truth that would transcend skepticism: a perceptual truth. A perceptual truth that you experience for yourself. If a person says to me, some prophet or otherwise, "I am God's chosen one; this is what I have experienced. You must take my word for it and believe what I say," my response would be, to borrow Aati's eloquent words, 'Keep your boogeyman to yourself!' But if someone says to me, "This is what I have experienced; and it is something which is accessible to all, if you are willing. Don't take my word for it. Judge for yourself." Now that would be something I would respect, and that would be something I would be willing (if i am sufficiently motivated) to explore and scrutinize for myself. For Skepticism comes in two varieties: a blind dogmatic skepticism that disbelieves without inquiry or becomes content with attacking a straw man, and an open-minded skepticism that can differentiate what is metaphysically possible from what is plainly false, and is open to further analysis and scrutiny, both rational and empirical.
When Galileo saw the four moons of Jupiter, he did not say to others, "Believe in what I tell you, because my sight is better than yours." Instead, he handed over his telescope and said, "Look for yourself."
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Monday, December 13, 2010
Saturday, December 11, 2010
"We borrow our desires from others. Far from being autonomous, our desire for a certain object is always provoked by the desire of another person — the model — for this same object. This means that the relationship between the subject and the object is not direct: there is always a triangular relationship of subject, model, and object." [Mimetic Desire, from wikipedia.]
I'm not sure how much the claim that 'All desire is mimetic desire' can be defended, but mimetic desire definitely seems to be true about a large number of desires that I see people experiencing around me. In particular, there are desires that are socially endorsed; they exist by virtue of their large host population and they try to infect anyone coming into exposure with them. There are so many such desires, imperceptibly and unconsciously acquired through this mimetic mechanism. The Model in this case is the abstract Society. Mobiles, cars, houses, money, jewelery, love, engagements, marriages, vacations, education, jobs, fame... how much of it is the result of our society implanting the desires in us? Social Mimetic Desire makes us a slave to the society, because our desires and hence our happiness chains us to it.
You cannot truly be independent of the society until you also cast off the desires that still make you dependent on it; to whatever extent it is possible.
Of course, the desires you replace them with would probably have Models of their own. The champions of social rebellion, the people who inspired you, be it Russell or Marx, or your friends.
Nevertheless, a person who desires an Independent life, a Free life, is still chained to his desire, and to his Model... but it is not a desire that chains him to the abstract society.
Can there ever be a non-mimetic, truly original desire (apart from the desires born out of our physiological needs)? I would like to believe so, but I am not so sure how it can be explained in terms of the prevalent discipline of deterministic psychology.
After writing the post, I feel that the distinction I have made above between Social and Individual desires may not be entirely satisfactory. First, because "society" is a matter of subjective perception, and its boundaries are blurry. Secondly, individual desires may be as psychologically enchaining and harmful as social ones. Anyone who has experienced strong jealousy can understand that. And it is a particular type of jealousy: when you are jealous not because the particular person has something you want, but you want something because the particular person has it and you don't. Independence from such mimetic desires is also necessary for anyone who seeks independence.
Perhaps we can make another blurry distinction: we can divide desires into "superficial" and "deep". Deep desires would be those that are closest to our inner being, the person we are inside. Superficial are those that we have picked up from the society and individuals through the mimetic mechanism... desires that we would want to cast off if we become conscious of them and ask ourselves "Is this something I really want?" The more we can get rid of the superficial desires that burden our mind, the more free we would be.
My lover took away my robe of sin and I let it fall, rejoicing; then he plucked at my robe of virtue, but I was ashamed and alarmed and prevented him. It was not till he wrested it from me by force that I saw how my soul had been hidden from me.
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
"The first sign of the new man is probably that he becomes aware of a terrible lack of something, which neither his science nor his churches nor his garnish pleasures can give him. Man cannot be amputated from his secrets with impunity."
Sunday, December 5, 2010
Aati: Ha! My parents are taking me to a well-connected family of our caste so that they can "see" me and help find a rishta.
Me: Abhi tumhari umar hee kiya hay :)
Aati: Haaye, haaye, tuano nai pata? Kurriyan di shaadi tay intrauterine life vich karan chaiey tay main tay inni vaddi hogai :P
Me: Ab tumharay rishtay anay lag jayen gay?
Aati: Awww! Sweetie, meray jaisiyoun ke rishtay nahi aatay.
Me: Koi rishta bhej ker tu dekhay, banda uthwa doun ga ;)
Aati: Aha! Mera rakhwala :D
Me: Taangain tor doun ga agar kisi ne 'achi' nazar say dekha tu ;)
Aati: Hahaha! Awais 'Don' Aftab :P
R: You know, how in urdu you say, when you feel sick "dil ghabra raha hai"? I never liked that phrase. I could never reconcile the fact that I should say "my heart is scared" when I feel sick. It just never made any sense to me. And now that i feel nauseous so frequently, I had the opportunity to analyse my nausea and I realized that the feeling of nausea is very similar to the feeling of fear from a physiological point of view. It involves the same region of the body, the throat area. And if I hadn't known that I was nauseous I could mistake that feeling for fear! So now i can understand the phrase. Whoever came up with the phrase must have realized that the feeling is similar in nature.
Me: That is a pretty interesting observation. Are u aware of William James theory of emotions? The theory holds that emotion is the mind's perception of physiological conditions. The neurological circuit in the brain that is related to emotions, it is kind of circular in a way. Normally, we feel an emotion, and it leads to physiological changes. But it can also act in reverse: physiological changes can lead to an emotion.
R: The connection between body and emotion makes sense to me now. But I'm really impressed with whoever made that phrase.
Me: It is an interesting possible theory about the etymology of the phrase.
R: I'm glad I could share this with you.
Me: Yeah, thanks. Me too :)
Me: Yeah, thanks. Me too :)
Saturday, December 4, 2010
She desecrates everything I cherish
In her all-consuming neurotic pain
Burns all her memories
And chars mine with their ashes
Till they are smouldering remains
I pick them up and treasure her still
And bear all with a smile
Yet she thinks my love false
Because she suffers more than me.
Friday, December 3, 2010
This is from the comments on the Rape and Victim-Blaming Mentality post:
"Anyone who has been exposed to both sides of debate can see that the issue of hijab is too multifaceted to be swept away by a single generalization, either in its favor or its opposition. We cannot say that veil is all good, because we know that veil is an instrument of oppression of women, and many women are suffering because of that. Nor can we say that veil is all evil, because we know that veil is a conscious and free choice of women in many instances.
The problem is not the veil itself. The fundamental problem is, as Butters very rightly pointed out, that men are judging women's 'respectability' in the first place. It is this mentality that I wish to criticize and attack, and which we must all protest against, whether we are religious or secular. A society in which women are not judged by their clothing, in which women are free to wear what they want without a moral tag attached to it, whether it is a bikini or a burqa. It is such a society that we must aim for."
[Edit: I am not talking about judgement based on clothing in general. I am talking about a specific sort of judgment; a judgment of sexual respectability status; the sort of judgement by men that classifies women into "respectable" and "unrespectable". As far as I can observe, there is no existing corresponding judgement of this sort for men by women. Its existence is only justified by a patriarchal society. I am attacking this particular judgement. European societies have approximated this ideal more than Muslim societies.]
(Aati thought that if I posted this conversation, a lot of people would get offended. I'll take my chances, I guess. I think if people read it carefully, they can see that the intention is not to offend. Comments have been edited for readability. )
Aati: I have noticed a similarity between a lot of girls who grow up in liberal families, then don the hijab. Consider this my offensive and ignorant opinion, but I have noticed a lot of these girls were what you call 'shallow' before they 'got religion'. Matlab, the girls who based the identity and worth on appearances, whether they were taught to or chose to, who were prone to peer pressure and people's perspectives of them contributed a great deal to their self-image. That kind. Every teenager shows such behavior, but for some it rings true to their actual self whereas for others it is associated with adolescence and decreases as they develop a personal identity and a concept of their own worth. A lot of these girls, and I'm including Western women who convert, never seem to do that till religion steps in, slaps an identity on them, and tells them to stop focusing on their appearance.
Me: Is it like moderates, which were previously too thoughtless to see their own contradictions, becoming more religious (or its opposite) in an attempt towards a consistent meaningful life?
Aati: A lot of these girls don't progress from moderate to conservative. It's a 'bad girl gone good' or 'Barbie goes Hijabi'. And then they become the poster children for the tableeghi jamaat.
Me: Hmmm. Religion gives them an identity they couldn't create for themselves?
Aati: Exactly. So you don't generally find women with a strong identity -- whatever it is, with the exception of 'religious' -- turn to religion this way. By this way, I mean donning the hijab, or burka etc. The 'visible' ways.
Me: What do you think Y would say about this?
Aati: Y would be very offended! She would also jump into an argument with me to show me how wrong I am in so many ways. She jumps in to defend before hearing out and trying to understand what someone's saying. But I have a feeling this is one thing where I'd have a LOT of explaining to do. She's not a Barbie-turned-Hijabi though, and this would only add to her missing this trait in others.
Me: So what kind of a Hijabi is she? The one whose true inner personality developed into that?
Aati: Yes. She was a classic example of a curious mind seeking higher meaning -- she found it in her Religion, you found it in Philosophy, and I found it in Love. I respect all three of us making a choice, even if I don't agree with all the choices made.
Me: I don't really respect the-religion-that-must-not-be-named, and it makes me hard to respect people like Y.
Aati: I try to respect TRTMNBN because blanket condemnations generally make me uneasy. There is both good and bad, while there is oppression and draconian punishments, there is also encouraging honesty and [feeding the poor.] My actual problem is with individual beliefs and values.
Me: Then you shouldn't say that you respect TRTMNBN. You should say that you don't judge it at all as a whole, and that you only respect or disrespect individual beliefs :)
Aati: No, I do try to respect it. [...]
Me: If you are justified in (trying to) respect TRTMNBN as a whole, then I am also justified in disrespecting it as a whole :P
Aati: *Lol* Yeah. One can look at the negative aspects just as easily as one can look at the positive aspects. Religions are like that. They claim to be an absolute truth, when they couldn't be farther from it.
Me: You know my minimum for respect? I cannot or will not respect any ideology or person who believes that I deserve to be killed or that I deserve to go to hell for all eternity. I cannot respect something or someone that doesn't respect me.
Aati: *hugs* That was for three reasons. 1. You are right. 2. I can empathize with you. 3. I was suddenly reminded of your 'maleness.'
Me: Maleness? Lolz. How? I think I sound like Nietzsche. 'If there were gods, how could I bear not to be a god?' Demanding that God respect ME :D
Aati: According to my society, I am respected based on how socially obedient I am. The way I am, threats of death and punishment are something I got used to since childhood. Same story with a lot of girls. The idea that we can be killed or punished isn't 'odd' anymore. At its best, it's someone's delusional raving or just a jest. At its worst, it's something to brace ourselves against, a warning to heed, or a fate to escape. So for 'females' like me, our minimum working standard for respecting someone moves away from the more ideological or ego-focused stance of being respected in return. I am not saying that's how it should be, but that's the way it is with many of us.
(* Y is someone me and Aati both know, and you, the reader, won't know.
**Sorry, comments aren't allowed for this post. If you have something genuine to say, please email me. If it adds something meaningful, I'll post it on the blog.)