Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov contains perhaps the most vivid and intense description of the philosophical problem of suffering in literature. The relevant passages are in the chapters titled Rebellion and The Grand Inquisitor. (They have been published separately from the novel as well.) While the whole novel is worth reading in entirety, below I am presenting an excerpt-summary of the problem of suffering in the words of Ivan Karamazov. This exercise is intended mostly for personal convenience of revisiting the text while philosophizing about this problem in future, but I hope it will also benefit those who wish to get a taste of it before (or without) reading the whole novel. The excerpt is from Rebellion.

--- Excerpt Start ---

"It’s not that I don’t accept God, you must understand, it’s the world created by Him I don’t and cannot accept....

I meant to speak of the suffering of mankind generally, but we had better confine ourselves to the sufferings of the children.... [The] reason why I won’t speak of grown-up people is that, besides being disgusting and unworthy of love, they have a compensation — they’ve eaten the apple and know good and evil, and they have become ‘like gods.’ They go on eating it still. But the children haven’t eaten anything, and are so far innocent.... The innocent must not suffer for another’s sins, and especially such innocents! ...

I’ve collected a great, great deal about Russian children, Alyosha. There was a little girl of five who was hated by her father and mother, ‘most worthy and respectable people, of good education and breeding.’... This poor child of five was subjected to every possible torture by those cultivated parents. They beat her, thrashed her, kicked her for no reason till her body was one bruise. Then, they went to greater refinements of cruelty — shut her up all night in the cold and frost in a privy, and because she didn’t ask to be taken up at night (as though a child of five sleeping its angelic, sound sleep could be trained to wake and ask), they smeared her face and filled her mouth with excrement, and it was her mother, her mother did this. And that mother could sleep, hearing the poor child’s groans! Can you understand why a little creature, who can’t even understand what’s done to her, should beat her little aching heart with her tiny fist in the dark and the cold, and weep her meek unresentful tears to dear, kind God to protect her? Do you understand that, friend and brother, you pious and humble novice? Do you understand why this infamy must be and is permitted? Without it, I am told, man could not have existed on earth, for he could not have known good and evil. Why should he know that diabolical good and evil when it costs so much? Why, the whole world of knowledge is not worth that child’s prayer to dear, kind God’! I say nothing of the sufferings of grown-up people, they have eaten the apple, damn them, and the devil take them all! But these little ones!...

With my pitiful, earthly, Euclidian understanding, all I know is that there is suffering and that there are none guilty... I must have justice, or I will destroy myself. And not justice in some remote infinite time and space, but here on earth, and that I could see myself....

I want to be there when everyone suddenly understands what it has all been for. All the religions of the world are built on this longing, and I am a believer. But then there are the children, and what am I to do about them? That’s a question I can’t answer. For the hundredth time I repeat, there are numbers of questions, but I’ve only taken the children, because in their case what I mean is so unanswerably clear.

... if it is really true that they must share responsibility for all their fathers’ crimes, such a truth is not of this world and is beyond my comprehension....

Oh, Alyosha, I am not blaspheming! I understand, of course, what an upheaval of the universe it will be when everything in heaven and earth blends in one hymn of praise and everything that lives and has lived cries aloud: ‘Thou art just, O Lord, for Thy ways are revealed.’ When the mother embraces the fiend who threw her child to the dogs, and all three cry aloud with tears, ‘Thou art just, O Lord!’ then, of course, the crown of knowledge will be reached and all will be made clear. But what pulls me up here is that I can’t accept that harmony....

It’s not worth the tears of that one tortured child who beat itself on the breast with its little fist and prayed in its stinking outhouse, with its unexpiated tears to ‘dear, kind God’! It’s not worth it, because those tears are unatoned for. They must be atoned for, or there can be no harmony. But how? How are you going to atone for them? Is it possible? By their being avenged? But what do I care for avenging them? What do I care for a hell for oppressors? What good can hell do, since those children have already been tortured? And what becomes of harmony, if there is hell? I want to forgive. I want to embrace. I don’t want more suffering. And if the sufferings of children go to swell the sum of sufferings which was necessary to pay for truth, then I protest that the truth is not worth such a price. I don’t want the mother to embrace the oppressor who threw her son to the dogs! She dare not forgive him! Let her forgive him for herself, if she will, let her forgive the torturer for the immeasurable suffering of her mother’s heart. But the sufferings of her tortured child she has no right to forgive...

I don’t want harmony. From love for humanity I don’t want it. I would rather be left with the unavenged suffering. I would rather remain with my unavenged suffering and unsatisfied indignation, even if I were wrong."

--- Excerpt End ---

Most modern readers of Dostoevsky, or at least the one's I have encountered, are more influenced by this elucidation of the problem of evil than by Dostoevsky's answer to it. In fact, many don't even realize that Dostoevsky did, in fact, offer a solution! This solution, however, was not intellectual, but of a psycho-spiritual nature, which is embedded in the very plot of the novel. This makes it difficult to grasp and even more difficult to express intellectually. 

Dostoevsky was a theist, but a person capable of giving voice to such a rebellion, and whose 'hosannah has passed through a great furnace of doubt', can be no ordinary theist. Dostoevsky himself writes in his notebook about being mocked for his faith in God (by people, I imagine, not very different from the New Atheists of today!):

"Those villains have mocked me for an uneducated and retrograde faith in God. Those blockheads have never even conceived so powerful a rejection of God as exists in the Inquisitor and the preceding chapter to which the whole book will serve as an answer. After all, I do not believe in God like a fool (a fanatic). And they wanted to teach me, and mocked my backwardness! Their stupid sort never even conceived a rejection as powerful as the one I overcame. And they are going to teach me!"

Dostoevsky was quite proud of what he had accomplished in Rebellion and The Grand Inquisitor: "In all Europe, there have been no expressions of atheism, past or present, as powerful as mine." And he acknowledged at the same time that the argument is intellectually irrefutable. The refutation he offers is of a different nature. In a letter to the head of Russian church, Dostoevsky himself was concerned whether the refutation will be successful:

"Will it be adequate as a refutation? Especially as the answer is not direct, not a point-by-point refutation of what had been said previously in 'The Grand Inquisitor' and before, but only indirectly... so to say, in an artistic picture."

Was Dostoevsky successful in his refutation? I suspect I cannot do justice to it even if I do grasp it. A curious reader should be driven to read the novel to find out. I can, however, offer one remark for now: It is ironical that a man driven to rebel against God out of love for humanity should end up proclaiming that everything is permitted.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Saudi Arabia's eagerness to destroy Islam's archaeological history is quite telling: Wahhabism seeks to return to a past that doesn't exist.

The Guardian reports: 'the house of the prophet's wife, Khadijah, was razed to make way for public lavatories; the house of his companion, Abu Bakr, is now the site of a Hilton hotel; and his grandson's house was flattened by the King's palace. "They are turning the holy sanctuary into a machine, a city which has no identity, no heritage, no culture and no natural environment. They've even taken away the mountains,"... 

[There are] proposals to develop Jabal Khandama, on the hills to the east, which will likely see the erasure of the site where the prophet Muhammad was born. Alawi says his wilful destruction of Islamic heritage is no accident: it is driven by state-endorsed wahhabism, the hardline interpretation of Islam that perceives historical sites as encouraging sinful idolatry. So anything that relates to the prophet could be in the bulldozer's sights.'

Saturday, October 27, 2012

"There may be a great fire in our soul, but no one ever comes to warm himself by it, all that passers-by can see is a little smoke coming out of the chimney, and they walk on."

Vincent Van Gogh, Letter to Theo

Friday, October 26, 2012

Maverick Philosopher answers a question I had asked him regarding two of his posts dealing with the issue of psychotropic drugs and veridicality.

Uzma Aslam Khan's interview, conducted by me, published in The Friday Times.

Two excerpts from it:

* 'As with just about every aspect of Pakistani life, in matters of love, we overdo ourselves at the same time that we don't do enough. For instance, we lavish love on our guests, or our friends' children. And at the risk of generalizing, I'd say Pakistani children lavish more love on each other than children in the West; they're more affectionate and generous. I encountered dozens of such examples while teaching in Lahore, ways in which the young look out for each other. Yet, we teach those same children to withhold love from the poor, from religious minorities, from sexual "outcasts". We teach them to be ashamed of thinking of wives as lovers and friends. These aspects of love we don't nurture; the flower, if it blooms, blooms in a closed, guilty place, where it can't live for long.'

* 'When in the book Nana is falsely accused of blasphemy, he is also called an Ahmadi, as though calling someone this is an insult. His response is to refuse to wear it as an insult by refusing to say what he is. He says instead, "My faith is what they bury when they force me to expose it." And I think that the increasingly furious pace of hate crimes against our religious minorities - from the attack on an Ahmadi mosque in Lahore on May 28, 2010, which should be declared a national day of mourning, to the assassinations of Shahbaz Bhatti and Salmaan Taseer, to the present-day case of young Rimsha Masih - all of this, on top of terrorizing those already vulnerable in our society, makes us all guilty, for two reasons. First, for staying silent about what we know to be wrong. And second, because we are all forced to say what we are, all the time. We can't even get our passport renewed without 'confessing' to not being Ahmadis. I've even been asked my religion while registering for a blood test. And to whom are we always in need of confessing? Not to God, but to a bunch of people who call themselves the state. If this were a civilized land, faith would be private and proof against those we know are playing God would be public. But in Pakistan, it's the other way around: Faith is public and proof is private.'

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Maverick Philosopher argues that we cannot be the source of our own existential meaning. He explains it with great clarity. His argument is that if my life has no meaning apart from the meaning that I create for myself, then before I create meaning for myself, I and my acts exist meaninglessly. This further implies that my very act of meaning-bestowal exists meaninglessly. If the very act of meaning-bestowal is meaningless, how can it give my life a meaning? As far as I can see, it's a pretty devastating argument.

My own view on the matter is that meaning exists as a set of open-ended possibilities determined by the facticity of an individual; the personal, social, political, historical and material circumstances, and the inherent capabilities, which all limit and shape the spectrum of possibilities. One of these possibilities is actualized over the lifetime by the interaction of the individual will and the facticity. We are not the source of our existential meaning. We are the actualizers of possibilities; it is part-creation, part-discovery. Among the possibilities is also the possibility of lack of actualization of any meaning at all. This may be the result of a failure of an attempted actualization, through our unwise choices or through tragic circumstances. This may be intentional, such as a life of willful nihilism, and it may be unintentional, for instance, through thoughtless, inauthentic modes of existence in which the question of meaning never arises as a serious question.

Monday, October 22, 2012

"What do you mean by ‘sorry to lose God’?"
"Imagine: inside, in the nerves, in the head — that is, these nerves are there in the brain... (damn them!) there are sort of little tails, the little tails of those nerves, and as soon as they begin quivering... that is, you see, I look at something with my eyes and then they begin quivering, those little tails... and when they quiver, then an image appears... it doesn’t appear at once, but an instant, a second, passes... and then something like a moment appears; that is, not a moment — devil take the moment! — but an image; that is, an object, or an action, damn it! That’s why I see and then think, because of those tails, not at all because I’ve got a soul, and that I am some sort of image and likeness. All that is nonsense! Rakitin explained it all to me yesterday, brother, and it simply bowled me over. It’s magnificent, Alyosha, this science! A new man’s arising — that I understand.... And yet I am sorry to lose God!"

Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov (1880)

Saturday, October 20, 2012

I encounter this argument very commonly from people amidst conversations:
"If free will does not exist, it implies that we cannot hold criminals morally responsible for their crimes."

However, despite the appeal, the argument is self-defeating. The argument supposes that we have some sort of a choice in holding criminals morally responsible; that we could choose not to hold them responsible if we so decided, and yet it denies this same agency to the criminals. A criminal could not have done otherwise in committing a crime, but we can do otherwise by not judging them?

As obvious, the relationship between free will and moral responsibility is of more philosophical subtlety than this popular argument can capture.

As Thomas Nagel's Mind and Cosmos has not yet arrived in Pakistan to my knowledge, I can only console myself with online reviews. Maverick Philosopher is doing a better job in this regard than most other published reviews that have come out. In his latest post he clarifies Nagel's project in the face of some objections raised by Elliot Sober

'According to Sober, Nagel " . . .  argues that evolutionary biology is fundamentally flawed and that physics also needs to be rethought—that we need a new way to do science." This seems to me to misrepresent Nagel's project.  His project is not to "end science as we know it" but to indicate the limits of scientific explanation.  A legitimate philosophical task is to investigate  the limits of even the most successful sciences. (4) Now, to investigate and point out the limits of evolutionary biology and physics is not to argue that they are "fundamentally flawed."  They do what they are supposed to do, and the fact that they do not, or cannot, explain certain phenomena that certain scientistically inclined people would like them to explain, is no argument against them.'

Friday, October 19, 2012

#TS298 Prompts: Axis, Deixis, Catalexis.

He aligned his focus so much towards context that he ignored the rhythm of his life. The poet within him was buried without a funeral #TS298

#TS300 Prompts: Guns & Roses, Brigadier, Happy endings.

She whispered as he caressed, "You soldier on in love, but you cannot reign. It's hard to hold a candle, in the cold November rain." #TS300

#TS302 Prompts: any three words beginning with "dis-"

He dissected his disquietude in the hope of dispelling it, but his discomposure only deepened and disarmed his sanity. #TS302

#TS303 Prompts: Man, Manhattan, Manet.

The impressionistic sketch of Manhattan skyline struck him as symbolic of modern human condition & he broke into uncontrollable sobs #TS303

#TS304 Prompts: Story, Storey, Storyteller.

He climbed a storey for every novel he had written and looked down. 'One day I'll reach the roof and jump,' he thought and smiled. #TS304

#TS305 Prompts: Smoke, Mirror, Addiction.

His keen, addicted gaze lingered on as she fixed her smokey eyes in the mirror & he sighed at the Vettriano turn his life had taken #TS305

#TS313 Prompts: Trollop, Codswallop, Jackson Pollock. 

She disrobed, sending his timid, teenage mind into chaos. "What does it mean?" He asked b/w kisses. "Whatever you want it to, kiddo." #TS313

Thursday, October 18, 2012

'Nietzsche war kein Atheist, aber sein Gott war tot'
['Nietzsche was no atheist, but his God was dead']

Carl Jung 
[as quoted in The Dionysian Self: C.G. Jung's Reception of Friedrich Nietzsche by Paul Bishop]

(discovery owed to my dear friend Qasim Aziz)

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Following is an excerpt from a very informative paper 'Sexy Dressing Revisited: Does Target Dress Play A Part In Sexual Harassment Cases' by Theresa M. Beiner. The excerpt deals with popular perceptions about provocative clothing and sexual harassment/rape, discusses how actual evidence reveals that harassment is driven by perceptions of passiveness and submissiveness, and contrary to popular opinion, revealing attire is viewed as a sign of dominance and assertiveness, and therefore those wearing provocative dress are less likely to be victims of harassment. It then discusses the reasons for why this misconception exists in public:

"Underlying rape shield laws is the belief that people, and in particular jurors, mistakenly believe that a women’s dress has an impact on whether she will be victimized. This belief is borne out by research on perceptions of women’s dress. [...] [H]ighly-educated and learned adults believe that how a woman dresses has an impact on whether or not she will be a victim of a sex crime. [...] [In a study involving 200 college students] women rated the model dressed provocatively highest on the likelihood of provoking sexual harassment. However, men and women did not differ in their assessment of the model wearing nonprovocative clothing. This suggests that women are more inclined to believe that provocative dress has an impact on who is harassed.

While people perceive dress to have an impact on who is assaulted, studies of rapists suggest that victim attire is not a significant factor. Instead, rapists look for signs of passiveness and submissiveness, which, studies suggest, are more likely to coincide with more body-concealing clothing. In a study to test whether males could determine whether women were high or low in passiveness and submissiveness, Richards and her colleagues found that men, using only nonverbal appearance cues, could accurately assess which women were passive and submissive versus those who were dominant and assertive. Clothing was one of the key cues: “Those females high in passivity and submissiveness (i.e., those at greatest risk for victimization) wore noticeably more body-concealing clothing (i.e., high necklines, long pants and sleeves, multiple layers).” This suggests that men equate body-concealing clothing with passive and submissive qualities, which are qualities that rapists look for in victims. Thus, those who wore provocative clothes would not be viewed as passive or submissive, and would be less likely to be victims of assault.

Along these lines, research suggests that rape victims are “significantly lower” in “dominance, assertiveness, and social presence.” While members of the public believe that victims of assault attract such attacks by dressing provocatively, attractiveness does not correlate with submissive characteristics in victims. Instead, research “specifically revealed a negative relationship between perceptions of attractiveness and traits which could be construed as contributing to a nonverbal appearance of vulnerability.” [...]

This conclusion is inconsistent with the common belief that how a woman dresses has an impact on whether she will be sexually harassed or sexually assaulted. Why then, do many people, including psychiatrists, assume that dress plays some part in who is a victim of sexual assaults? In particular, why do women believe this? Social scientists believe this is the result of the “just world hypothesis.” As Melvin Lerner explained, 

'for their own security, if for no other reason, people want to believe they live in a just world where people get what they deserve. One way of accomplishing this is by . . . persuading himself that the victim deserved to suffer, after all. The assumption here is that attaching responsibility to behavior provides us with the greater security—we can do something to avoid such a fate.'

Thus, in the context of sexual harassment, this explains why women, more than men, are inclined to believe that provocative dress has an impact on who is sexually harassed. Women attribute the harassment to something the victim has done, such as wearing provocative clothing, as a way to understand how it could happen to someone else and not to them. Thus, blaming the victim, for example, by believing she provoked the behavior by her dress, makes other women believe that dressing differently (i.e., more “appropriately”) will prevent it from happening to them.

This is closely related to another theory known as “harm avoidance.” Women blame victims as a way to exercise control over their lives and to continue to believe that bad things, including sexual harassment and sexual assaults, will not happen to them. Thus, by viewing provocative dress as a factor in sexual harassment, women believe that they can avoid sexual harassment simply by not dressing provocatively. Both of these theories provide explanations as to why women, in particular, may think that harassment or sexual assault is provoked by victim dress."

[Hat-tip: Pakistan Feminist Discussion group on Facebook.]

Monday, October 15, 2012

An excerpt from The Cruel Boredom Of Pornography by Robert Jensen. The whole article is worth reading.

"* Heterosexual men tend to consume pornography to achieve sexual satisfaction without the complications of dealing with a real woman.

* Pornographers deliver graphic sexually explicit material that does the job, but to do so they must continuously increase the cruelty and degradation to maintain profits.

Gonzo producers test the limits with new practices that eroticize men’s domination of women. Less intense forms of those sexual practices migrate into the tamer feature pornography, and from there in muted form into mainstream pop culture. Pornography gets more openly misogynist, and pop culture becomes more pornographic -- many Hollywood movies and cable TV shows today look much like soft-core pornography of a few decades ago, and the common objectification of women in advertising has become more overtly sexualized.

Where will all this lead? How far will pornographers go to ensure their profits, especially as the proliferation of free pornography on the internet adds a new competition? How much eroticized misogyny will the culture be willing to tolerate?

When I ask that question of pornography producers, most say they don’t know."

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Kunwar Khuldune Shahid wrote an article in Pakistan Today, which states an opinion that is all too common in the Pakistani atheist community: The Islam of Taliban is the true authentic Islam.

First, let me pre-emptively state to counter any possible ad hominem criticism that I am not one of the 'moderates'; I have never declared Islam to be the 'religion of peace' (if anything, I have been critical of the notion) and, if my memory serves me right, I have never accused Taliban of 'misinterpretation'. I state this only so that I am not reflexly dismissed by the readers as one of those whom the author mocks as: "you live in oblivion with your extremely palatable, but simultaneously blatantly fallacious, brand of religion and then claim that the Taliban are misinterpreting and misapprehending your ideology?"

A lot of our Muslim liberals and moderates do follow cherry-picked, fallacious brands of religion, and it is not something I wish to deny nor do I defend such faux religiosity.

The crux of the author's argument lies on a particular binary thinking that has been expressed succinctly in the final lines, and that is what I do not accept:

"It’s time our ‘thinkers’ stopped taking the easy way out and finally picked a side. You either follow a religion in its true form or you’re irreligious. The Taliban know which side they are on. Do you?"

My disagreement is by virtue of the fact that there is no 'true form' of a religion. The idea of a true or authentic religion is a myth. It doesn't exist. I have expressed this in the past as well.

How do you determine what a religion actually is? For instance, what is ‘true Islam’ and how do you determine that? “From the scriptures, of course” is not an adequate answer, because the scriptures don’t provide you with any finalized ideology per se. They are always in need of interpretation with regards to their application in a particular scenario, they are always context-dependent, and they only mean something in the background of theological assumptions. It is precisely these 'pre-text' assumptions that guide you how to read the scripture. It is only a theology that links various portions of scripture in a coherent manner, resolves apparent contradictions, and provides a legal and moral framework for that religion or sect. Interpretations vary, and so do theologies, and furthermore, these evolve with time. So, strictly speaking, there is no such thing as a ‘true religion’ or ‘actual religion’; there are only different theologies, all based on the same scripture, interpreting it and relating to it in different ways, none of which is “true” or “false” in any objective sense. Of course, some of these interpretations will be more consistent than others, and some of these arguments will be more valid than others, but consistency and logical validity are not sufficient to decide the question of 'truth', which depends on the assumptions of the theological reasoning.

The notion of true religion as the version of religion which existed in the time of the Prophet is also not immune to scrutiny. First of all, the question of what shape and form Islam possessed in the time of the Prophet is a historical question. Believers take their versions of history as a matter of faith, but faith does not decide what really happened. There are significant differences regarding Islam's early history, with Sunni and Shia being the two dominant, but not the only possible, versions. The authenticity of even these historical accounts can be challenged. Hence, there is a certain unresolvable uncertainty regarding the religion which existed at that point and time in history, and many aspects of it may forever be lost to us. Secondly, even if we know for a fact what Prophet said and did 1400 years ago, it remains a matter of debate as to how much of that is still to be applied as it is in the modern age. A traditionalist may hold that it is to be applied in all its exactness and purity, but that is no more than a theological assumption which another believer may not accept. Quranists and many others maintain that the practice of the Prophet was meant to serve only as a historical example, and is not binding for all times and places. None of the answers can be declared to be 'true', because their validity depends on theological assumptions that you accept on faith and that are subject to disagreement.

'You either follow a religion in its true form [that of Taliban] or you’re irreligious.' The notion is too reductionistic to be correct. Take the case of an Ahmedi. A devout Ahmedi believes that he is following Islam in it's true form, he has a somewhat consistent theology, has a particular version of history and has a particular interpretation of Quran, and is clearly not the Taliban, so how on earth do you declare this devout follower to be 'irreligious'? Take a Shia, or take a Quranist, or take someone like Amina Wadud, and the argument doesn't hold. Hell, even take some non-Taliban orthodox Sunni and the argument doesn't hold! 

A historical study of the development of Islamic Sharia and it's many schools of thoughts, including the four traditional Sunni schools, opens our eyes to the flexibility of religious interpretation, and how each interpretation arises and gains dominance out of a complex interplay of scripture, historical circumstances, theological challenges from within and without, geographical and cultural factors, philosophical engagement, and the socio-political power structures.

Instead of lazily declaring one or the other interpretation of religion as the 'true religion', religious critics should try to understand why this or that particular interpretation has gained dominance and consensus, and how that balance may be shifted in a more progressive direction, if it is so desired. If your desire is to abolish religion in its entirety, so be it, good luck with that, but it wouldn't help to reply on erroneous arguments to do so. A spade, after all, is a spade.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

My op-ed in The News:

Last year Humeira Iqtidar’s book ‘Secularizing Islamists?: Jama'at-e-Islami and Jama'at-ud-Da'wa in Urban Pakistan’ ruffled many feathers in the Pakistani liberal intelligentsia, where her work was generally perceived and dismissed as rationalizing Jihadi discourse and as being anti-secular. However, these responses, in my opinion, failed to engage with the crux of her argument and instead focused on implications of her thesis, which weren't exactly spelled out by the author but were assumed by her critics to be in accordance with their alarming apprehensions. 

Last month Ms Iqtidar restated her position again in an article titled ‘Secularism and Secularisation’ published in Economic and Political Weekly, which has helped me gain a better understanding of her views and has stimulated the writing of this article. The key to comprehending Ms Iqtidar’s case lies in grasping that the sense in which she uses Secularization is different from the conventional sense in which the word is employed. 

In contrast to Secularism, which is a political doctrine of the separation of religion and the state, Secularization is a sociological process, which is generally understood to be a decrease in the religiosity of public sphere, a privatization of religion, and, in Max Weber’s words, a rationalization and ‘disenchantment of the world’. Ms Iqtidar challenges each of these aspects, maintaining that secularization is not a change in the quantity of religiosity but a change in its quality, that the public-private distinction is problematic, and underscores Weber by contending that while rationalization is a characteristic feature of the process, disenchantment is not. Rationalization of religion, for her, is a homogenization of religious practice and the easing out of its internal contradictions, such that while the local and folk religious practices are wiped out, at the same time religion becomes a matter of conscious, individual choice and no longer remains a matter of following norms unthinkingly. In addition, she claims that the secularization is characterized by ‘objectification’, a process in which believers at large become conscious of basic questions such as ‘What is my religion?’ ‘Why is it important to my life?’ and ‘How do my beliefs guide my conduct’. This is related to a fragmentation of religious authority, in which the role of clergy is minimized and there is an increased individualized responsibility to follow the scripture.

All this is relatively unproblematic, even if one disagrees with it. The problem arises when Ms Iqtidar goes further to propose that Islamists (Jama'at-e-Islami and Jama'at-ud-Da'wa, her examples) are the agents of this secularization in Muslim societies, in a process that is similar to, but not the same as, the secularization experienced by Christian societies at hands of German Protestants. She makes sure to clarify that the outcome of Islamist secularization is not likely to be the same as Protestant one, that her intention is not ‘apologetic’, that Islamists cannot be seen as ‘liberals or progressives’, and that secularization, as she defines it, is neither the ‘unadulterated good nor the sole preserve of progressive politics’. All these are clarifications that her critics would be wise to take note of.

My concern with her thesis is the exclusive focus on Islamists as the agents of secularization, while there may well be other agents involved. Especially, I am concerned with the whole gamut of scholars and supporters of the so-called Liberal Islam, who have been rationalizing Islam as much as Islamists, but in the opposite ethical direction of liberal and progressive values. Crucially, the contact and the exposure to the West has been to my mind one of the driving forces, in part through the liberal scholars and in part through the atheists and free thinkers whose critiques of religion push the believers, willingly or reluctantly, in the direction of reform. In the subcontinent Sir Syed was one of the early forerunners and his interpretation of the Quran was a remarkable attempt at a rationalization of religion. Later we have Allama Iqbal who refined Ijtehad into a legislative process of elected assemblies. For a while, one of the chief ideological rivals of Maududi were Ghullam Ahmed Perwez and others Quranists, whose rationalization attempts led them to the abandonment of hadiths and a drastic re-reading of Quran. It would do us no good to ignore these liberal voices and declare the Islamists as the sole secularizers of the society. The fact that the Islamist secularization may well lead to an increased fanaticism, radicalism, militancy, intolerance, and human rights violations is a glaring possibility that must never be discounted. And it is a possibility that is rapidly becoming a reality. Islamists may well be secularizing the society, and a proper understanding of its sociological dynamics is no doubt a necessity (which is the practical value of Ms Iqtidar’s thesis) but it would be naive to suppose that the outcome would be something benign. To my mind, the liberal sections are justified in being wary of such a secularization.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

An elaboration of Nagel's panpsychistic naturalism by Maverick Philosopher:

Thomas Nagel, Mind and Cosmos: Overview

Monday, October 8, 2012

"She is rhythm, rhyme, long and short verses that break and lose themselves only to come back to meaning.

And she is with him, he who is prose. But prose that is obsessed with poetry, obsessed with rhythm, obsessed with rhyme, but prose that is never able to break and lose itself only to come back to meaning. He never does that."

excerpt from Haider Shahbaz's short story Marriage on 3QD

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The best way to preserve the allure of the forbidden is to let it remain forbidden.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

"Kant’s critical philosophy and much of continental philosophy which has followed, has been a defense against horror and madness."

This intriguing premise drew me into reading this article, which only turned out to be senseless crap driven by the sort of careless thinking that PoMo inspires.

Michael Weisberg and Brian Leiter's scathing review of Nagel's Mind and Cosmos:

"We suspect that philosophers — even philosophers sympathetic to some of Nagel’s concerns — will be disappointed by the actual quality of the argument."

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

This is my response to thabbithinks's post To incest or not to incest:

There are two aspects of this question that we must distinguish here. One is the question of whether two consenting adults have the right to do as they please. This is an issue of individual liberty, regarding the morality of limits of social interference, which we have established using the criteria of ‘adulthood’ and ‘consent’. This in itself says nothing about the positive or negative moral value of what those two consenting individuals choose to do.

The sexual relationship in which a couple chooses to indulge in dehumanizing and degrading forms of sex, but within privacy and with mutual consent, are well within their ‘rights’ to do so (i.e. society is not justified in interfering with what goes on between them) but that relationship cannot be ascribed the quality of being ‘moral’, because it possesses no positive moral value as such. Sadism and Masochism as character traits only have negative moral connotations. (I'm speaking from a broadly virtue ethical perspective. Utilitarian and Deontological notions of morality are too narrow to distinguish the moral richness of such scenarios.)

Most people while defending homosexuality rely exclusively on the ‘rights’ principle so much so that they totally ignore the fact that a positive moral case can be built for homosexuality as well. American Psychological Association, for instance, states:

“Same-sex sexual attractions, behavior, and orientations per se are normal and positive variants of human sexuality—in other words, they do not indicate either mental or developmental disorders.”
“Gay men, lesbians, and bisexual individuals form stable, committed relationships and families that are equivalent to heterosexual relationships and families in essential respects.”

This can be used to argue effectively that homosexual relationships can have the same positive moral attributes that any heterosexual relationship can have.

When it comes to incest, definitely it comes under the protection of rights principle, but its moral value per se is difficult to judge. As you have identified yourself, sanctioning incest robs the home and family of its safety. For a society which morally values the institution of family, this is one very pertinent reason to disapprove of incest. Secondly, even if safe rearing of children is somehow guaranteed, the possibilities of emotional exploitation in a romantic relationship with family members are far greater than in a relationship with non-family. Responsible societies disapprove of relationships between psychotherapists & patients, and teachers & students, because they can recognize how the role asymmetry can lead one to exploit the other, even in a sincere, consensual relationship. If we are justified in disapproving of a relationship between psychotherapist & a patient for this reason, we have far greater justification for disapproving of a relationship between a parent and a child, even with consent. In specific situations these factors may or may not come to play (siblings who grew up apart, etc) and hence some specific cases may not be subject to disapproval, but generally I believe we justified in disapproving of incest, yet I do not think it is reason enough to criminalize consensual, adult relationships.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Book review of Thomas Nagel's Mind and Cosmos at the The Threepenny Review:

'So mind and cosmos are a pair of strangely mutual astonishments. And in addressing them, Nagel believes that the teleological step is necessary: “The intelligibility of the universe is no accident,” he says. His book suggests that physical matter itself—the proton, the quark, the first stardust—has always been imbued with a purpose, which it seeks to fulfill. This though he’s an atheist....

Nagel doesn’t intend to be an obfuscator or a mystic. He is a dyed-in-the-wool atheist and takes pains to make that clear. He is very much on the side of science. But he feels that science has oversimplified two important mechanisms of nature: mind and evolution. The mind must be more than sparks and drips; and consciousness must have evolved by more than random accident.

Mind and Cosmos lays out a far-reaching, general campaign. He wants to defend not only consciousness against reductionism, as in previous work, but also to defend the higher mental structures of cognition and ethics. Those two mental faculties, too, somehow inhered originally in matter....

In Nagel’s diagram (or rather, gesture), there are three salient attributes of existence which are too wonderful to be explained away mechanistically—consciousness, cognition, and eternal moral law—and they must have been part of physical matter from the beginning. A renowned philosopher, relaxed in his authority and unashamed to display some decent puzzlement, he makes equivocal confessions like “I am not confident that this Aristotelian idea of teleology without intention makes sense, but I do not at the moment see why it doesn’t.”'


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