Monday, December 26, 2011

'I am far more concerned about whether someone is pluralistic in their worldview-- if they oppose totalitarianism and believe people of different religious and nonreligious identities should be free to live as they choose and cooperate around shared values-- than I am about whether someone believes in God or not.'


My sentiments exactly.
A Myth in Creation won the Merit Award in the Best Diarist category in Pakistan Blog Awards 2011.

My gratitude to all the readers, especially the regulars who have been a source of encouragement over the years, and to all those who voted and commented in my favor.

And like last year, a special note of thanks to Aati, without whom this blog would not be what it is.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

3:AM: You use a striking phrase in one of your essays, “the hermeneutics of suspicion”, to discuss three of your intellectual heroes, Marx, Nietzsche and Freud. Could you say a little about what you were getting at in that phrase and how it is really relevant for the intellectual left today?

BL: The phrase itself derives from the French philosopher Paul Ricoeur, though I take strong issue with how he understands what such a “hermeneutics” - or method of interpretation - involves. But what Ricoeur correctly notices is that Marx, Nietzsche and Freud represent ways of thinking about and analyzing human societies and human behavior that share certain structural similarities. First, they typically suspect that people’s own self-understanding and self-presentation are misleading as to what really explains why they say what they say and do what they do. Second, these thinkers try to show that the real explanation is one that would undermine the credibility of the beliefs and values people affirm.

Take a wonderful Freudian example, that has since been confirmed by experimental work in psychology. A “reaction formation” is a psychological process in which one forms moral views in reaction to desires that one really has - so, e.g., one becomes a vociferous critic of the immorality of homosexuality and gay marriage precisely because one has strong homosexual urges and desires that one finds threatening. A reaction formation is a “defense mechanism,” a way of trying to protect oneself from desires one doesn’t want to act upon. The typical religious or moralistic homophobe will conceive of himself as “defending family values” and “traditional marriage,” when, in reality, he only mouths these moralistic platitudes because deep down he’d like nothing better than to have anal or oral sex with another man. If, in fact, it’s the reaction formation that really explains his moral beliefs, then those beliefs can’t possibly be justified, since they arise from a mechanism, reaction formation, that’s inherently unreliable (that is, it’s not a reliable way to figure out what’s morally right or wrong). This bears emphasizing: if what really explains your moral attitudes is that they are a desperate psychological attempt to restrain your own desire for what those attitudes condemn, then why should anyone else take them seriously?

Leiter Reports. Brian Leiter interviewed by Richard Marshall at 3:AM magazine.
#TS97 prompts: an empress, a poem and sand

* the empress banished the poets from her court and forbade all poesy; she knew well there are verses that sting like sand in the eyes #TS97

#TS98 prompts are - frankincense; wandering star, farce

* Even tho death renders everything a farce & time burns past away like incense,the aroma is there to stay in the wandering minds of men #TS98

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Men take on the burden of patriarchy often when they love a woman and set out to free her... only to realize that patriarchy is more than a system; it is a mindset, and the only one who can free you is yourself.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

‘It is so,’ says religion. ‘It could not be so,’ says humanity. Eventually, religion yields. When it doesn't, it produces monstrosities.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

"The authentic human being is one of us who instinctively knows what he should not do, and, in addition, he will balk at doing it. He will refuse to do it, even if this brings down dread consequences to him and to those whom he loves. This, to me, is the ultimately heroic trait of ordinary people; they say no to the tyrant and they calmly take the consequences of this resistance. Their deeds may be small, and almost always unnoticed, unmarked by history. Their names are not remembered, nor did these authentic humans expect their names to be remembered. I see their authenticity in an odd way: not in their willingness to perform great heroic deeds but in their quiet refusals. In essence, they cannot be compelled to be what they are not."

Philip K. DickHow to Build a Universe That Doesn't Fall Apart Two Days Later

#TS86 prompts: Non sequitur, Surreal, Quantum.

Every quantum of love received planted a cactus in the surreal landscape of his life; he was a strawman struck wd a non-sequitur amour #TS86

#TS87 prompts: Seven sins, housework, a bond

She had 9 lives; 7 of them she spent in sin, 8th in virtue as a housewife, & 9th beyond good & evil, seeking the ethereal bond of love #TS87

Monday, December 12, 2011

"When I have promised my patients help or improvement by means of cathartic treatment I have often been faced by this objection: 'Why, you tell me yourself that my illness is probably connected with my circumstances and the events of my life. You cannot alter these in any way. How do you propose to help me then?' And I have been able to make this reply: 'No doubt your fate would find it easier than I do to relieve you of your illness. But you will be able to convince yourself that much will be gained if we succeed in transforming your hysterical misery into common unhappiness. With a mental life that has been restored to health you will be better armed against the unhappiness."

Sigmund Freud, Studies on Hysteria

Sunday, December 11, 2011


Set to a Mexican ballad, it is the love story of Chronos and a mortal girl, depicting the joy and agitation of an unresolved romance through the vicissitudes of time and the actions of destiny. Two lovers in an ever-changing dreamlike landscape, filled with the rich, intriguing and often incomprehensible surrealistic imagery of Salvador Dali. It has many of his well-familiar symbols, such as the soft melting watches, indicating the fluidity and relativity of time; ants that signifiy death, decay and also sexual desire; crutches that denote the inadequacy of mankind and their constant need for support etc. The meaning of Dali's symbol's springs from his life and his subconscious associations, which makes them difficult to make sense of; nonetheless, even when the symbols are incomprehensible, they do not fail to evoke distinct impressions, forcing the viewers to make sense of it from their own subconscious projections. In the words of the creators: Dali says that “It is a magical exposition of the problem of life in the labyrinth of time,” while Walt explains that it is really “just a simple story about a young girl in search of her real love.”

More on Dali's symbolism here and here.

For more information on the historical collaboration between Walt Disney and Salvador Dali, read this.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Six years ago, sitting in the Dissection Hall, a realization struck me with disquieting intensity: there is not much choice in love. Who you fall in love with, how you fall in love, it's all very circumstantial. It felt, at that time, so arbitrary. It appeared as if the decision to find a partner could either be left to parents (arranged marriage) or to circumstances (love). Suddenly the whole grand idea of loving and marrying by choice seemed to crumble in front of me. Love became contingent.

I must say, these thoughts were, and are, not the final word on the topic. Much more can be said about it. The reason I am bringing them up is that I found those ruminations beautifully echoed by Milan Kundera. It's one of those moments when you read a writer or a philosopher, and discover your own thoughts in them, refined and polished:

"...her words had left Tomas in a strange state of melancholy, and now he realized it was only a matter of chance that Tereza had loved him and not his friend Z. Apart from her consummated love for Tomas, there was, in the realm of possibility, an infinite number of unconsummated loves for other men.

We all reject out of hand the idea that the love of our life may be something light or weightless; we presume our love is what must be, that without it our life would no longer be the same; we feel that Beethoven himself, gloomy and awe-inspiring, is playing the 'Es muss sein!' to our own great love.

Tomas often thought of Tereza's remark about his friend Z, and came to the conclusion that the love story of his life exemplified not 'Es muss sein!' (It must be so), but rather 'Es konnte auch anders sein' (It could just as well be otherwise).

Seven years earlier, a complex neurological case happened to have been discovered at the hospital in Tereza's town. They called in the chief surgeon of Tomas's hospital in Prague for consultation, but the chief surgeon of Tomas's hospital happened to be suffering from sciatica, and because he could not move he sent Tomas to the provincial hospital in his place. The town had several hotels, but Tomas happened to be given  room in the one where Tereza was employed. He happened to have had enough free time before his train left to stop at the hotel restaurant. Tereza happened to be on duty, and happened to be serving Tomas's table. It had taken six chance happenings to push Tomas towards Tereza, as if he had little inclination to go to her on his own.

He had gone back to Prague because of her. So fateful a decision resting on so fortuitous a love, a love that would not even have existed had it not been for the chief surgeon's sciatica seven years earlier. And that woman, that personification of absolute fortuity, now again lay asleep beside him, breathing deeply."

Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being
X: You place your happiness in my shaky hands... what kind of a burden is that?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011



We are fortunate that even those who believe that everything is permitted in theory are in majority of cases not capable of everything in practice. 

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Day of Ashura is a day of mourning for the martyrdom of Husayn in the Battle of Karbala for the Shia Muslims. A rich tradition of beliefs and rituals surrounds the commemoration of this day: there are intense, poetic recitations, there are beating drums and chants, narrations of the history of the event, public processions, ceremonial chest beatings, ritual flagellations, and even re-enactments of the battle of Karbala. There is a deeper significance to all of this, which I became aware of only after I had read Karen Armstrong's work on mythology.

Armstrong does not limit herself to the narrow definition of a myth as a 'purely fictitious narrative usually involving supernatural persons, actions or events...' something that is mutually exclusive with an actual historical event. Her conception of a myth is deeper and meaningful. A myth, she says "is an event that - in some sense - happened once, but which also happens all the time."

To my mind, it is difficult to find a more perfect contemporary example of it than the tradition of Ashura. The battle of Karbala is an actual historical event, it happened on 10th of Muharram 61 AH (680 CE). However, in a sense, this battle happens every year in the lives of Shia Muslims.

Armstrong says, a myth "is nearly always rooted in the experience of death and the fear of extinction." The death of Husayn forms the core of this tradition.

"Mythology is usually inseparable from ritual. Many myths make no sense outside a liturgical drama that brings them to life, and are incomprehensible in a profane setting." It is the rituals of recitations, narrations, chest-beatings, flagellations, re-enactments that breathe life into Ashura. While it is a very meaningful activity for the Muslims who do it, from the profane perspective, it is incomprehensible and absurd.

"The most powerful myths are about extremity; they force us to go beyond our experience. There are moments when we all, in one way or another, have to go to a place that we have never seen, and do what we have never done before." Ashura forces the participants to go beyond their day to day experience, and takes them to a time and place they have never seen, the day of the battle of Karbala.

"myth is not a story told for its own sake. It shows us how we should behave." For the Shias, the martyrdom of Husayn provides the central ethical narrative to their lives; it is not just a historical story, it leaves them with moral understanding of what sort of personal virtues they should aspire to in life.

In mythology "we entertain a hypothesis, bring it to life by means of ritual, act upon it, contemplate its effect upon our lives, and discover that we have achieved new insight into the disturbing puzzle of our world. 

A myth, therefore, is true because it is effective, not because it gives us factual information. If, however, it does not give us new insight into the deeper meaning of life, it has failed. If it works, that is, if it forces us to change our minds and hearts, gives us new hope, and compels us to live more fully, it is a valid myth. Mythology will only transform us if we follow its directives. A myth is essentially a guide; it tells us what we must do in order to live more richly. If we do not apply it to our own situation and make the myth a reality in our own lives, it will remain as incomprehensible and remote as the rules of a board game, which often seem confusing and boring until we start to play."

This is how I make sense of the Day of Ashura.

Quotations are from A Short History of Myth by Karen Armstrong.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The research of Kiley Hamlin from the University of British Columbia demonstrates how infants possess almost adult-like moral understanding, developed somewhere between fifth and eighth months of life.

This is yet another bit of evidence in favor of universal moral grammar.
Midway during a conversation:

Me: So you take names when you orgasm? :)
Aati: Usually. It just happens. You make it sound so interrogational waise. 'take names' -- 'name names', like I'd make a bad spy; someone could sex names out of me. :P
Me: Hahaha!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Envy is unsettling because it projects from one's own insecurities and fears. The subject of our envy is merely a canvas on which we paint with our splashed emotions of anger, resentment, inferiority and disgust. This is precisely why envy is so hard to over-come, because what we are trying to over-come are our own demons. It is the Hydra of all inner monsters, no matter how many heads you chop off, many more emerge.

Envy can prove to be one of the strongest chains binding you to your past. It prevents you from moving on, dragging you back again and again to an imaginary arena in which the chanting crowd is constantly cheering to the death-match between you and your opponent, even though in reality, no one is comparing. Even if they are, what matters is whether you are comparing.
 

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