Important..please read before continuing

The more serious posts are at the beginning of the blog. I ran out of good topics and started doodling :P
Unfortunately, they aren't written as well as the later posts. . .
Your choice

PS: It surprises me, how I have to validate every single thing I do. I mean, there was absolutely no reason for me to write this note, and even less, to write this postscript, or the postpostscript, that i will write after this one. Maybe, I do not like being misinterpreted. or maybe if there's any criticism that needs to be dished out, i'd rather do it myself.Or maybe i'm just a megalomaniac who wants to be all encompassing and always in a position to say: 'I told you so', even if the 'so' is some inherent flaw in me :P

PPS: Or maybe i just have too much free time, writing long posts to an imaginary audience. . . .

PPPS: Wait, that would be megalomania. . .

Friday, March 29, 2013

The Desert

  It walked with an easy, jaunty step,enjoying the cool wind that blew across its face.It had  stopped looking around now, its ears registering every monotonous inch of the dusty wilderness.The sun had risen a few hours ago,  and the warmth felt energising. Now and then it would bend down  to examine a strange rock, or shell, occasionally picking up broken pieces of bone. Processes: Swirling fluids,falling rocks and decaying atoms, these it could see, but only in flashes and fragments. Incomplete knowledge,  random scraps, stored away meticulously for later use. Curiosity was natural, but its thoughts, it's personality, was impartial,uninterested. A strange curiosity,directed but unbiased, natural, irresistible.

   It stopped, ears pricking up ever so slightly. Crouching, it moved to its left, heading for a large rocky hill. It moved swiftly, running bowlegged, in an almost comical fashion. It leapt up, grabbing at a fissure, and swiftly began climbing the rock face. It reached the top with a long leap , followed by a scrabble, sure as a mountain goat. Pulling itself up,it looked down..

It was a nomadic camp. Highwaymen of a sort, though this was not yet apparent to the savage. It seemed almost happy now,  or excited at any rate, and it began descending the hill,  leaping from rock to rock on the balls of its feet. The highwaymen were dressed in loose robes with large hoods. As they spotted the savage, they rose to their feet readying rifles and crossbows of a strange design, perplexed, yelling directions in a strange, musical tongue. Their leader, a slim woman with beautiful green eyes,stood in the center holding a double barreled rifle on the rapidly descending stranger.

   The savage leapt down,dropping into a crouch and bracing itself with one hand, then stood up and looked at the woman holding a gun to his head. He saw it in her eyes almost as  soon as she thought it,and leapt at her, just as she gave the order to attack. He ripped the gun easily out of her hand  smashing it into the nearest attackers head,and  then threw the leader into the oncoming fire of her troops. The blasts and whistles disoriented him.He whipped around to his right, grabbing another attacker as a shield, eyes filled with a mixture of fear and wonder.Almost in a trance, he grabbed the shotgun dropped by his unwilling saviour, and in one  fluid motion, swung  around and fired all 8 shots. At that range, it caused bedlam. Every one of his shots had found a target, and they in turn, flailing and  discharging  their weapons had incapacitated all but three of the nomads.  Shotgun and two crossbows. They all fired at once. The  savage jumped to the ground and slid towards his attackers. He grabbed a crossbowman and threw him at the shotgun's blast, then smashed his fist upward into the remaining attackers nose, who  discharged her weapon. The bolt ripped through the other crossbowman's head, causing him to shoot the last highwayman in the throat.

    The savage looked down at the woman that lay gasping and wheezing at his feet. His eyes gleamed. He picked up the crossbow and shot her through the heart, ending her suffering.He looked back at the broken and dying people, perplexed. Those that were still alive were too scared to make a move, whimpering silently as they lay in the sand. The savage walked to one of the tents nearby, and peered in. He smiled and picked up  a blue and grey robe.

   The robes felt good against his skin, as did the cloth sandals, as he walked  towards the settlement that was now only a few miles away. He appreciatively fingered  the  crossbow that was now at his side, absentmindedly fiddling with the locking mechanism as he walked. He felt the adrenaline.  It gave him strength, and purpose. He started whistling as he swung the crossbow jauntily into a shoulder firing position, looking down its sights. He stopped walking, and lowered the crossbow, as  if struck by a realisation. He looked  back to the highwayman camp, now far in the distance, and made a sudden movement, then stopped. He  swallowed once, then turned around, and started walking quickly towards the settlement, leaving behind him the first of many unanswered questions..... 

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Savage

"Why ?"
I know, it sound's like a very stupid question to ask, and more pertinently,  a very stupid way to begin any statement. Generic. Fatalistic. Like I said, stupid.But I can think of no better beginning, to anything, and everything.

Deep breaths.....Drenched to the bone, freezing, disoriented... It stumbled, gaining confidence and strength, rising to it's feet, it shook it's head and looked up at a grey sky. It's breaths were still laboured and rasping. It wasn't disoriented anymore, but more confused than ever.
"Why ?"
It spun all around, mind a blank, looking desperately for answers. Nothing..... Only a question. Generic, yes. but in that moment, it was anything but fatalistic. Quite the opposite. The only semblance of sentience, of  meaning, of anything.
   Soon enough, it's heartbeat settled down, it's breaths noiseless and low, it's eyes narrowed.It went low, creeping along the riverbed towards the line of trees that made up  the horizon. Even now, there was nothing, no memories, no thoughts. Just the one question. Like a beacon in it's mind, it's brilliance receding, but it's glow persistent.

   It's senses were now becoming attuned to the surroundings, the all pervading greyness seemed less solid, every sound differentiated sharply in a hyper lucid state of awareness. It was running now, gracefully,  almost seeming to flash through the tall riverside grass, leaving only rustling in it's wake.

       Finally, it reached the treeline, and stopped. It stood poised,it's lithe body bristling from the cold and the anticipation. Anticipation... It was the only feeling, the only thought, the only, thing. Stealthily, slowly, keeping low to the ground, it moved towards the treeline. As it drew near, it  became evident that there was actually just a line, no more than two or three trees thick, like a fence.

      It slowed down, senses working overtime, mapping the surroundings in it's head. Pushing through the hanging leaves with a deliberate, almost delicate touch, it peered through the gap between the final two trees...
   Far away, in the distance, across a sandy desert, it saw a line of lights, a settlement. It's eyes gleamed, and it crept out into the desert. Stretching to it's full size, it gazed up into the sky, more blue now, than grey.. It wasn't cold anymore. It looked back at the line of lights that promised answers, and meaning, and started running.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Mad World

I'm in ahmedabad right now, 'helping' my sister 'settle in' at NID where she's starting her undergrad. study, and I had the opportunity to meet a particularly ebullient great uncle( once removed ??) of mine. Now I come from a large, and very close knit family, being close to the relatives on both sides of my family tree, and have had the good fortune to have many friends similarly blest ( or cursed, really a matter of perspective :P), but this particular meeting really got me thinking...a lot : considering that my blogposts have been few and far apart in recent times. Maybe it's because my great uncle's family reminded me so much of mine(my parents's) ( Not sure , the resemblance was there, but in a different context perhaps) or because thoughts rush in my head very randomly and just happened to resonate with some part of the conversation. I say resonate because it's very rarely that thoughts persist in my head, I have a horribly short attention span, but sometimes they stick hard, and people (**tumbleweed**) get to read about it here. I won't get into details, but I met, and heard about a lot of interesting people today, and it just brought back to me an idea I'd thought of a long time ago, as a kid of 10 or so. I remembered imagining people as having two beams of light coming out of their eyes, intersecting the rays from the eyes of others, forming a grid changing rapidly in space and time. I used this picture to visualise the human presence of the billions of people in the world, or atleast as many as were in my field of vision (:P), as participants in a MMRPG ( Massively multiplayer role playing game, for the uninitiated) each with a carefully designed character, in-game decisions, faction allegiances etc; the whole package. This image used to leave me awestruck at the immensity of the human world, imagining billions of 'me's, thinking, talking and feeling in the first person, as much alive and individualistic as oneself, a conception that one never really experiences in the true sense, in one's day to day life. For a moment, think about your life with all its intricacies: Your friends, family, career and hobbies, Your hopes and dreams, fears and anxieties, disorders and complexes. The double thinking and questioning, the paradigm clashes with kith and kin, the love and hatred, the fun and the depression. Then remember that everyone is going through the same thing all around you, and I guarantee, it will blow your mind. It did that to me, today, after so many years, and IT-WAS-AWESOME.

But, before you go thinking that this is just some idiotic rambling-on about the beauty of the human world, for yes, at some level it does strike me as being just that, and thus, not so awesome( or maybe i'm just too jaded :P), it isn't, I just wanted to get it out, in case I was wrong about the idea being merely mental masturbation, and also 'cause, it is where my mind went.... But it did go on, later, to something that I consider, as being truly significant, not new, you've probably heard it all, but we keep so many things at the back of our head, that it is as good as not knowing them at all, the distinction being between knowing a thing, and then being aware of that knowledge. We live in this crazy amazing world, true, but our day to day experiences all reach us, through these filters, whether of our making or that of others, some of them not of our volition, others purposefully fitted and draped . We look at everything and we see these tags: the brand value, the social estimation, the usefulness and the value of these things. Now this may be a capitalistic idea, or more generically, a rationalistic idea, something like reductionism, but what we are essentially doing, me thinks, is fitting people to paths, to moulds, and then judging them, one way or the other, by how well they fit in to 'that for which they should be fit(a very subjective idea)'. It may be right, for all I know, but in my head these ideas seem deeply flawed, we judge people by education systems, and intelligence by IQ tests, when in my opinion the order should be reversed, you should judge systems by people, not the other way around. A very impractical way of doing things perhaps, but it seems to me to be the more organic, more human thing to do. Our estimation of people depends so heavily on the biases our thick skulls harbour, it's just not funny :P ( Seriously, it's not :D(STOP IT !)) I myself, have realised this about myself so many times, I could kick myself, my one saving grace, the thing that keeps me from making any more blunders, is that I tend to overthink ( How good a thing that is, only time will tell, or maybe time ain't the best judge, maybe i'll never know) most things.
As for the impracticality, maybe in the spirit of the idea, there oughtn't to be a system of working based on it, but rather an effort on the part of humankind, of each and every person who meets another: an effort to understand the other, get under his/her skin, and feel,and think and understand.......that should help.

PS: Anne Frank said "In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart" She was perhaps, speaking of the same thing.

PPS: People would argue,' That which is in existence is meant to be, is human, is natural', I'll just say that free-will screws it all up, and if that doesn't satisfy them, then an argument akin to Marx's theory of history, should suffice.

PPPS: About the first part being idealistic rubbish, I realise that the second part could be even more so, as I am treating that as a 'given' idea, something universal, wheeas the first, being a reimagination of the world, is personal and more 'true' than the last, seeing that it has no pretensions

PPPPS: This is what I mean, when i say overthink :P I'm going though the arguments for the two ideas I just put forth........I'll just quit, and not judge :D , they're both as good, or bad, as the other :D

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Religious fundamentalism : A course paper :P

Religious fundamentalism can be defined as a model for religion that involves going back, intellectually and morally, to the original text of the religion and returning to a time where modernist ideology had not yet eroded the practice of, and faith in, religion. Essentially this is a return to a fundamentals of the religion, and  a more stringent , inflexible origin.
To study Religious Fundamentalism we must understand the spirit in which it was created. We must further trace its development through modernity to understand how within its paradigm, religious fervor and devotion can reside alongside with extremist militancy.
To explain the birth of fundamentalism, I will be using an economic theory of religion proposed by Laurence Iannaccone and Eli Burman (Jul 2006). It strays from other economic theory, by studying carefully the interface between the religious content and the economic framework, to understand better, the relation between the two, and reach better conclusions.
All economic theories of the origin of religious fundamentalism start of by introducing the concept of a market for the supernatural and religious, with consumers and suppliers as natural as they are with gold, or tables and chairs. The idea, for mankind, has always been about improving quality of life, and they will always find themselves combating scarcity in the world, one way or the other. The supernatural/spiritual world, being able to operate beyond this world, while holding the power to alter the flow of events that we participate in, holds boundless possibilities of getting around the problem of the paucity of resources, be it time, money, or happiness. It is like a different form of technology that can be harnesses to achieve many good things, in this life and the next.
Giving the spiritual a chance, simply means performing some rite or ritual we would not do otherwise, that nevertheless has some religious significance and expected gain associated with it. Praying, wearing charms and observing some rituals are only some of these ubiquitous signs associated with a chance given to the supernatural. What is interesting is that it is not just religious fanatics and ardent worshippers who fall in this category, but also hopeful sceptics and careful agnostics, anyone, in short, who does not know ( and believe, for himself) that the supernatural world does not exist. An almost poetic declaration by Berman and Iannaccone at this point would be apt:
Rational individuals seek to understand and influence the supernatural to the extent that they are not convinced of its non-existence.
A not altogether surprising conclusion given the burden of evidence placed on the prosecution in our legal system. Innocent until proven guilty, is all that this positivist principle declares, and it is here that we see the roots of the religious market. Since the demands of consumers stretch as wide as their imagination, there are a multitude of products put on offer by the religious entrepreneurs whether they represent organised religion or stand-alone god men and prophets. The emergence of organised religion from a mostly random and individualistic enterprise, with very few constraints or entry barriers is easily explained using economic theory. With so many products, that too of so many different varieties, a wide range of applications and practically zero guarantee, people are bound to seek some legitimacy in the religious products they would choose to partake in. Organised, religion arises out of this need for guarantees and referrals. If many respected or trusted individuals ‘advertise’ a religion on a personal one-to-one basis, people will have more reason to believe them. If these people have little to gain (and perhaps, a lot to lose) from that referral , it makes the suggestion all the more credible.
With the creation of such religions, there come problems, or rather issues to be worked on for the successful running and propagation of a religion. Primary among these problems is that of gaining a natural credibility for the organisation’s methods, while eliminating free riders and increasing the devotion and faith of true members towards the organisation. This step is the point of departure for the religious fundamentalist sects in the world. One way of achieving the aforementioned goal is to impose certain restrictions on membership, for eg: restrictions on use of technology or modern medicine, recreational activities or modes of dress. Not only does this give the sect a natural credibility, because when one has given something up, one expects to see some results in the supernatural arena, especially from an organisation as respectable as the church/sect. Fundamentalism, seems a viable option here: A return to the fundamental principles of the religion, interpreted by the leader of the sect, stricter and more rigid, designed to pull people towards the sect: Communal religions provide recreational communal events to bring people together which, in the presence of restrictions on recreational activities, would serve the double purpose, of also bringing people closer to the sect. Also, involving children in the community earlier on, through culture and education, religious or otherwise, gives religion a good way of influencing children’s’ family and religious values early on, leading to what is called indoctrination, in extreme cases.
Communal religions also use other methods to increase the faith levels of true followers. They create a communal environment where people could feel safe, and where their social needs were met. Using their credibility to facilitate business deals and a high investment community to facilitate philanthropy and mutual insurance, they could build extremely successful systems of social services like health, education, poverty, land issues etc.
Some statistics bearing out the benefits of communal religions are, American adolescents raised in sectarian environments manifested less deviant behaviour including drinking, smoking and criminal activity. Couples from the same sect have substantially lower rates of divorce as compared to the situation when one spouse is from a different or lower commitment sect. All these statements are borne out by facts in the case of Judaism and Islam as well. Ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities have a far stronger bond with each other all over the world, than Jews from a more liberal community. As Fritsch (200) noted,” the near collapse of public education in Pakistan and Afghanistan, corresponded to a rise in the influence of the madarasas”. When the Soviets retreated and the USA withdrew most of its support in Afghanistan, militant Muslims stepped into the vaccum to provide free education, healthcare, room and board, while training the young boys, later to be called the Taliban. The Hezbollah in Lebanon is another Islamic sect that succeeded in setting up schools and clinics using foreign funds. Especially in the presence of ill functioning or corrupt governments, religious sects are well placed to take on a pseudo administrative role in countries, examples being Middle Eastern Muslim countries. Thus, religious sects can easily expand into the political arena, not only because their resources allow it, but also( and more importantly) because their ideology endorses it, as shall be evident later.
As we see, religious sects are formed to service people’s demands for supernatural goods, like happiness in the afterlife, shortcuts to material and mental wellbeing etc. To improve credibility, eliminate free riders, and create a highly dedicated and loyal community of followers, high investment sects build a rich communal culture, creating a more exclusive environment, with people actively discouraged from a life outside the sect, while their social needs are met within the religion. At this point, one may begin to observe, at least theoretically, a point of departure, for religion, as a paradigm and world view from the rationally defined sects that were just discussed. Changing from an alternative technology that may be used to combat scarcity and bring happiness, religion becomes, to the members who remain ( and that is a substantial number) in high investment sects, something totally different. It becomes a way of life. The high investment credence goods ( goods, whose utility cannot be completely verified by any amount of experience on this plane of the world) that they deal in, makes commitment to the cause a more or less permanent thing, actively rejecting all other paradigms and world views.
It is also important to analyse, the time in which religious fanaticism came to be, and the reasons for the same, for though it may be that its origin lay in rationality, the manifestation of the demand for supernatural goods at one point in history, as also the transformation of religious sects from the rational choice of informed buyers to the visceral need of faithful devotees, can only be the result of powerful movements in human history corresponding to the intrinsic needs in humans.
One of the great predictive failures of modern philosophy and sociology was the death of religion. Many great thinkers like Hume, Comte, Marx, Freud etc. predicted with great gusto, the inevitable demise of religion as a result of scientific progress and improving technology. In their opinion, as people got more and more acquainted with science, they would shed their religious superstitions and various religious cults would disintegrate to the benefit of science and rationality.
What happened, in fact was markedly different from this prediction. With the enlightenment, and the time that followed, modernity certainly managed to highlight it’s key ideas like science, rationality, individualism etc, but what this also did, was put religion as firmly opposed to this paradigm, with several key differences in the basic ideologies of the two, that make them, not just opposing sides, but rather, competing commodities, choosing between which requires an (at least implicit) understanding of one’s own paradigm or world view.
One good way of understanding Fundamentalism ( with special reference to Sunni fundamentalism, though the same discussions hold much truth in case of other religions too) is by positing it alongside the idea of enlightenment rationalism to clearly understand the differences between the two. The rational actor model, a product of modernist rationalism, is a model used to understand economic and political behaviour of humans, by assuming them to be rational and self-serving having entered into socio-political contract with each other for easier fulfilment of their goals in society. The basic assumptions of the rational actor model are:
· Actors pursue goals
· These goals are a result of their perceived personal gain
· Action is a result of conscious choice
· The individual is the basis of analysis
· Actors have stable and rational preference orderings
· Given a choice, actors choose the alternative with highest perceived utility
· Actors are reasonably well informed regarding the different options open to them, their various consequences and utility.
There is also a modification on this model that must be understood, the rational choice model, this changes the rational actor model by focusing on the process of decision making rather than the actual algorithm, if information about alternatives , preference orderings and utility are not very clearly defined, the same model may be used, to satisfice rather than maximise. This would imply seeking an alternative that leaves us with at least some minimum level of satisfaction, thus avoiding some pitfalls of the rational actor model, while retaining the spirit in which it was imagined. A second modification of this theory would be in the case of analgesic cultures, that is cultures which try , not to maximise pleasure, or achieve satisfaction, but rather, avoid pain, allowing that decisions be made at lower standards of rigor and information.
However the basic idea of the rational actor model is the dichotomy between rationality and irrationality (fostered in a very specific Western cultural tradition), and as they were represented as, science and religion; for as science developed, and rationality grew to being widely accepted, it was placed as being opposite to and different from the dark ages that preceded the enlightenment, characterised by religious fervour and control of religion over politics and most other aspects of human life.
Rationalism is said to be the ultimate tool for decision making, impartial and neutral. But who can verify this? Rationality, portrayed as an impartial tool useful for neutral decision making, in fact starts off by rejecting ‘irrationality’ ( defined by itself) as clearly inferior to rationality. Though it may seem believable prima facie, all this does is clearly draw the lines of difference between the two metanarratives, that of religion and modernist rationalism.
Roxanne Euben’s paper on the compatibility( actually the non-compatibility) of Sunni Fundamentalism and the Rational actor model isolates from sunni fundamentalism, some basic ideas and assumptions which form the core of its ideology. I will now, try to show, with the help of ideas from Euben’s work, the clashes between these ideas, and those of the rational actor model.
Divine sovereignty: The Islamic belief is that the supreme being, God or Allah, rules over all of existence, thus limiting human administration and political sensibility to the interpretation of God’s will through religious scriptures. The only way a community can be successful is by following Shariyah ( Islamic law) which is essentially communal, with the government’s powers greatly circumscribed upto execution of religious law, in all speheres of life: public, private, economic , moral and political,. This same constraint upon government action, gives the laws ( the interpretation of which are far from objectively divine) a natural and divine sanction, making control and indoctrination even more effective. In terms of economics, what this means is an economic system geared towards overall growth and prosperity of the community, reinforcing the communal aspects of the religion
The Unity of the Political and the Moral: Islam sees no divide between the public and the private, the political and the moral. The prophet, who received the Quranic teachings was also the founder of the first political community in Islamic history. In accordance with the principle of Divine sovereignty , the moral and political cannot be separated as they are but two interpretations of the same laws of God. Also, communities ( like religion) are judged as a whole, not by individual morality, and This provides a clear indication to religious sects that entering into the political arena is not only possible , but rather called for by their creed.
Modern corruption: This can be seen as the fundamentalist reply to sciences defamation and vilification of the dark ages of religion. Sectarian religion, especially Sunni Islam views the modernist belief in the supremacy of man and the sovereignty of the individual as a direct attack against the superiority of God, viewing these ideas as abominations, heresies. Thus, from the Sunni point of view, modern rationalism is as much of a thing to be countered, as science believes true of religion.
Necessity for action: The necessity of taking concrete steps to counter the modern rationalist paradigm in an effort to bring God’s kingdom on earth, is also a well-established principle of Sunni Fundamentalism, which is also shared by other fundamentalists all over the world. This too, is a very reasonable assumption, given that if one knows the secret that will benefit the user, one wishes for it to be bestowed on all of one’s friends. Religion can treat non followers as threats, or misguided assets, this particular dichotomy giving rise to exclusive versus inclusive religions.
Thus we see, that Fundamentalist beliefs differ from the Rational actor theories(including rational choice theory, and the modification to the same for analgesic frustrated action)when it comes to ideas of morality, polity and human nature. The assumption of actors making rational self-serving decisions to achieve goals in the presence of a substantial body of concrete information to maximise utility, minimise pain, or achieve a certain minimum level of satisfaction, is not only immoral according to Sunni fundamentalism as it elevates the individual human to a very ‘Godlike’ level of judgement, but also incorrect factually, as whole communities of people prove, time after time, that they believe in God, in a fundamentalist and hegemonic religion, governed by the word of God.
Thus, we see, Religion, and specifically religious fundamentalism which has grown to be a powerful metanarrative to explain our world, one in which many people fervently believe, is in direct contradictions with the ideas of modern rationality like : the supremacy of the individual rational human for whom self-interest and maximising utility provide all sanction . Why is it then, that it could pull so many people, away from the rational , impartial call of science to its opposite, and keep them there, for so long. Ironically, the answer lies in the partisan, subjective, and altogether more warm, more communal environment that religion fosters. While science tries to rationalise, deconstruct and impartially judge events and decisions, religion runs to the other end of the spectrum, using anecdotes and stories of a very personal God, to create different narratives that are more long lasting, stimulating and take deep root in the minds of men. Like Jean Francois Lyotard remarked in ‘The postmodern condition: A report on knowledge’, maybe conventional wisdom like fables and stories form a strong believable body of narratives because they are personal and subjective, they can be easily seen at work in everyday life, and being easy to understand, become more amenable to people than the dry science that they studied in laboratories.
As religious fundamentalist sects took up arms to combat the ‘enemies’ of their creed, using their tightly knit community of dedicated followers, and their credibility and moral standing to gain more support, the questions that were to be answered changed, from those about the origin and progress of these organisations, to their morality, and means of stopping them, or at the very least , reaching a compromise to promote peace. Iannaccone and Berman suggest that Adam smith was right when he said that a vibrant community housing multiple sects among several other metanarratives, would serve humanity better by creating a vibrant colourful atmosphere in human society. The key, in their opinion is fostering a secular neutral climate, where several hundred religious communities and sects would compete, they postulated, in moderation (as borne out by the religious climate of Christianity in the USA, as a result of it’s secular non interventionist policy) and religious tolerance would be fostered, if only as a necessity
It is true that there are well organised religious sects that have taken up arms, eg: Al Qaida, Hamas , IRA etc. which cannot just be written off as misguided, or combated through religious freedom and diversification but what I believe is that this is not merely a function of the religion in question, but also equally importantly, of the situation they find themselves in, and the interactions between the two, hence fighting fire with fire, would merely lead to a vicious cycle of poor civic amenities, religious pseudo government and further, fundamentalism.
Whatever the case, religious fundamentalism will always form a part of the body of moral and political study, as long as there are people who are not convinced of the nonexistence of the supernatural and put their faith in an untested , unverified, but also ‘truthful, until proven otherwise’ theory of religion. Who knows, they may be right.
PS : It's a bit long, but interesting, I think.
PPS: Have added my references below in case anyone is enthu to read the original papers
PPS: References:1)When Worldviews Collide: Conflicting Assumptions about Human Behavior Held by Rational Actor Theory and Islamic Fundamentalism
Author(s): Roxanne Euben
2) Religious Extremism: The Good, the Bad, and the Deadly
Author(s): Laurence R. Iannaccone and Eli Berman

Thursday, February 2, 2012

War en Pieces

For centuries, people have tried to figure out how to live their life, tried to make sense of the whole human experience, if only to make their lifes more coherent, more livable. A reason to life, a purpose to it all, is something all of us seek so frantically, grasping at straws and clinging on to whatever shreds of direction and focus we find in the world around us. Whether it is an ideal objective or the existentialist charge to take control of one's life, be it a path or a destination, we all want to know that we are going somewhere, with some purpose, with some confidence. Today, the world around us has matured ( and degraded, some would argue) to the extent that there are several layers of structure around us, implicit and explicit, thus making this search for meaning even more tedious. One not only has to trawl through the plethora of choices the world offered us, but also link them to all the options that society affords us, and unravel the ensuing web of causation, to reach a point, where actual decisions can be made. The most commonly accepted parameter used to define success in life, happiness, often simplifies things for people. No matter what the implications and underlying direction of one's path, if it brings one a reasonable amount of happiness, it is good enough. However, it is my belief that most, if not all people feel this simplistic definition inadequate, Occham's razor, is something that most humans can never come to terms with. A simple answer, just seems redundant....why the question then, why the urge to dig, deeper and deeper...Of course, there is a simple argument for the simplest answer in this case. If reason and meaning in life is so fundamentally human, why then, all humans should be able to see the answer and act towards it, to be human in the first place. On the other hand, if, as some may believe, it is our ultimate purpose, as a population to find the answer to The Question, we have an equally strong argument against the simplicity of that answer, 'It is fundamentally human to search for meaning, because our ultimate purpose is to obtain the answer', our programmed objective, so to speak. Whether we are being zestfully scientific or cattily curious, the search for meaning is a very real phenomenon in the lives of all such individuals.

Then again, we must not ignore that section of the populace that primarily strive to further existence( or think they do, for how much is enough ? What life is a merely subsistent one ?), a more basic and visceral drive than that for purpose. This '99 %' , as is argued, have even more reason to strive, subconsciously, for meaning in life than the others. Of course, which section of the population you are grouped under is also a matter of personal choice, as is the pursuit of money and creature comforts. You may choose a 'purposeful' life ( purposeful in your own paradigm, of course) over one that is considered happy and succesful within the framework of today's society. And all of us do try to find meaning, through our own ethics, our small habits and quirks , our roster of duties , desirables and undesirables, our benchmark for life, fragmented and incoherent though it may be. We all do things using our schemas and mental framework, which is influenced by reason and emotion, advice and prejudice, social pressure and angst, opposing forces that mould our beliefs and ideas in ways we cannot imagine, infusing them with logic and authority. And inevitably, we have conflict. Whether it be at the large scale of religious and economic ideologies clashing on the streets and in the stock exchanges, the middling vegetarian debate, or the more mundane altercations over duty and responsibility that take place every day, everywhere in the world, clashes of perspective and differences of opinion shape our society in a very fundamental way.

Small scale arguments are further compounded by anthropocentric ideas like nationalism and religion , Ideas with the power to pull large chunks of humanity to their banner, making debates into wars for survival, for the very essence of our life and ( so we believe) of us. Even the most rational of us, swept up in the majority and the structure are pushed, by the pure ubiquitiousness of these ideas to join their fold, caught up in a life so complex and rich, that there is scarcely time left over for any independent critical thought.
Whether right or wrong, these processes make conflict resolution all the more difficult, in the same way that they compound the pursuit of purpose. In essence, the only thing to be done is ask 'Why ?' again and again, till stripped of all our divine moral authority, we become children again, rational children, neither right nor wrong, but possessed of reasons and goals, negotiating, not warring. On a global scale, such analyses leave us with reasons and paradigms that form a sizable, but managable set which can be worked with, at some levels at least, and if the inclination persists to examine them further and break them down to , possibly an even smaller set of belief structures. What is required of us, is to stop, smell the roses, and then ask it why it has thorns....

PS: It really works, you should try it .. :D

PPS: I am personally interested in working on a similar project. If people are willing to discuss, or even introspect with a view to isolating their paradigmatic affiliations, whether in a comment here, or a mail to me ( at I would be very much obliged and would be glad to provide such people with a tabulated form of all the feedback I receive , anonymous or otherwise, according to the author's decision.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Something serious : Caste..

The Varna ashrama dharma system delineated in the Manu smriti cannot be be read separately from the other ideas therein. It is only one part of a paradigm, one tenet / postulate of the larger hindu Meta narrative. The monist Hindu outlook believes the purpose of every person on the earth is, over several lifetimes ascend back to the single entity to which they originally belonged, by attaining freedom from the cycle of rebirths. Ascension in the human plane, can be achieved by following the principles of Varna Ashrma Dharma, not dissimilar to the Christian principle of following certain principles in order to gain entry into heaven after this life.

Looking at the tenets of Caste from this perspective, paints a picture quite different from the oppressive hegemony we are used to reading about. The caste system, specifically the twice born castes: Brahmans, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas can be understood to be arranged hierarchically, not on the basis of some arbitrary notion of Purity and Pollution, but rather purity and pollution as defined by contact with and ties to the material world, which would undoubtedly hamper one’s ability to free oneself from this world. The Vaishyas: merchants ,traders and agriculturists, involved in commerce; the Kshatriyas:, soldiers and administrators, and the brahmans, priests and teachers, who are not to ordinarily concern themselves with the mechanical functioning of human society, portray, in descending order, one’s involvement with this earthly society and it’s goals, and subsequently a difficulty in transcending this world to see the purpose transcending each life span. Endogamy and non contact with the ‘lower’ castes can be viewed as rational, as it prohibits the upper castes from exchanging cultural knowledge and knowledge of the day to day workings of society, as this could be seen as polluting their broader view, with a narrower one, confined to this planet and this life span.

This system, is inherently communitarian, and the harmony and interdependence that it bases it’s orderly functioning upon is quite likely to break down if it were the case that not everyone in that society believed in this paradigm. The prevalent ‘modern’ paradigm, confines all thought and rationalisation to one life span of 70- 80 years, something quite different from, and alien to the Hindu religious paradigm. Shifting individual elements such as caste, from this paradigm, to modern day society, without adherence to, and belief in the inherent meta narrative, would be flawed to say the least.

The paradigm shift, from the hindu meta narrative to the one prevalent today, may be explained by the fact, that the hindu meta narrative requires its practitioners to delay gratification, much like the Christian religious paradigm, but on a much larger scale, which from the marshmallow test, it can be postulated, is not inherent within human nature.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Pseudo Psychology for the romantically insane

Regular followers of my blog ( Yes, I went there :P) will know that my two 'favourite topics in the whole world' are 'Love and relationships' and, 'Society is so screwed up'. Either topic can get me excited and aroused, but when they come together, well, it's like ......... a threesome. Whenever I get to talk about these issues in tandem, I feel like Archie on a date with Betty AND Veronica. It's awesome...Super mega awesome really. . .

In general, People have different ideas about the mechanisms that love is/uses, and subsequently accord different levels of importance to relationships that involve some idea of love.From the most practical, to the cynical, to the most romantic; there is a veritable army of paradigms that populate the earth. But despite this, and also because of it, People cannot help but screw up, or at least imagine that they did so, while in the pursuit of a romantic relationship. The amount of second guessing, double bluffing, and 'hard to getting' that is involved in any form of courtship is enough to drive the sanest of people crazy. And it doesn't matter one bit, whether you're thinking rationally, or just going with the flow; either way you're screwed: racked with doubt and indecision, either because of the multiplicity of possibilities, or just a sheer hormonal flood that takes over your body and mind, forcing you to live in a world of Moonshine and Stardust; or Towering cliffs, Darkness and teen popstar songs , making you bipolar and psychotic.It sucks. And society is to blame. (:D)

Courting or wooing a girl is fraught with endless lists of dos and don'ts. What to say, what not to say, when to say it and so many more . Add to this a backpack stuffed with homemade wisdom, earnestly doled out by friends and well wishers, and you can easily imagine some poor Romeo going schizophrenic, sitting in a corner mumbling to himself. The same course of action, can be interpreted ( and thus by extension interpreted as being interpreted as (basicaly second guessing)) being so many different things. Being perseverant could be seen as romantic by some and stupid as others. You could be inching closer towards a final 'Yes', or you could just be on the hook, either voluntarily orchestrated so by some wily female, or accidentally set up by a girl, who's probably as confused as you. Moreover, one never knows what course of action is the right one, even in an ideal world, because you don't know whether love is something magical, spontaneous and bilateral; or rational and developed over time, through friendship and a set of common shared experiences. So you don't know whether you should/ would want to be with someone whom you asked out 10 times till she finally agreed any more than you know for sure anything about a first glance spark that catches your attention.

Guys competing with others for a girl's affections are faced with another problem, a 'how fast ?' along with the 'What ?'. You never know, who is going to make what move and when; and you don't even know whether making a move early is better, or if you should wait for the 'right' time, whatever that may be.They also face the problem of having to make the move first, which is especially true in a country like India., not to mention the fact that being 'romantic' makes one the object of ridicule, and people have surprisingly long memories when it comes to such things

And the girl, oh poor thing that she is, has to choose between multiple suitors; and being in that spot cannot be an easy one, cause most of the times it's like choosing between watching a romantic movie, a serious drama film or a slapstick comedy caper (:P :D); and god knows we've all been there: you might be in a mood to watch something funny right now, but what about next month ? You see, returns are tough :P :( .Plus, she is faced with deciphering the same conundrums that plague the guys, having to correlate action with thought and intention, and further, thought with perceived goodness in one's paradigm of love, to make a rational decision.But worst of all, is when a girl is forced to choose, when she would rather have not had that opportunity at all. One doesn't always have to want to be in a relationship, but when your host asks you ' Tea, or coffee ?', it's hard to say no to both ( :P)

And when this all comes to a head, when someone pops the question, for some reason people more or less ignore the idea of failure being possible, never once considering the possibility that both you and the girl may want different things from life, and may even have a different idea of what love is and what a relationship should/would entail. This could be attributed to either a) arrogance or b) a paradigm of love as magical, spontaneous and necessarily bilateral, which would imply that she will like you 'cause you like her and nothing can go wrong( Sigh.... :D).Subsequently, this leads to heartbreak, denial, depression, and in some cases, suicide. The competition that boys have to face when wooing a girl lends a very poignantly terrible twist to this story. Having confessed one's feelings for a girl, most rejected suitors find it impossible to stay friends with her, embarrassed by one's lapses in reason and foolish displays of emotion during the courtship, which, though vindicated by a happy ending, are worth a lifetime supply of blushes in failure.

And most of this, happens due to lack of communication. Not knowing what's going on in someone's head lets you make all kinds of assumptions and imagine all kinds of situations( which, when it comes to me, typically involve triple bluffs, double crosses, psychological torture and sadism :P) A normal instance of asking someone out should be as simple as doing it at the outset on the basis of some preliminary attraction, and, in the cases where this primary attraction is mutual, getting to know each other, discussing what one wants from life and then taking a decision as to whether the paradigms that the man and woman subscribe to are reconcilable into a happy life. But , modern day society makes it so hard for people to share their feelings and thoughts and open out to others, that this process is circuitous and all data is encrypted in the form of hints and signs and flirting, where one can believe exactly what one chooses to believe. It not only lengthens the process for a true pair bond, but also fails miserably to eliminate unwanted suitors, thus causing more pain to everyone involved than necessary.

'What's the way out ?', one wonders.
In my opinion: Be rational and calm, but don't be afraid to take the leap. After all, badly encrypted signals can change good to bad as often as bad to good, and you may have a better chance than you think.Love, but don't be afraid to lose. Shakespeare wasn't lying when he said " It is better to have loved and lost, than to never have loved at all". Be brave,Be genuine, Be open; because if i know one thing for sure, it's this: If true love exists, like in the stories and movies, it's worth all the ridicule in the world.......

PS: There are many ways that situations can be purposely distorted by one or both parties involved in a courtship for malicious reasons. My advice: If you're sure, buy a chainsaw....Once again: worth the sacrifice :D

PPS: Male seahorses get to choose their mates, the only specie to be in this position. However, the males also incubate the eggs....

PPPS: Seahorses ? Really ??

PPPPS: 'Chasing Cars : Snow Patrol' is awesome !!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Coffee and comforters

She looked out the window, nursing a cup of coffee, her face almost pressed to the glass. Her hair, clothes and overall demeanor, all had the air of someone who's ,'sure as hell not stepping out of her home that day'. She sighed contentedly, and curled her legs up even tighter for warmth. The incessant rain, pounded against the trees, and the cars, and the street. Only a slight overhang, stopped it from knocking on her window. She wished she could wish the over hang away. She wanted to press her face against the glass, with the rain railing on the other side. She wanted to taunt it, tease it, stick her tongue out to it. Then she laughed, and jumped off the window sill. The marble floor was cold, and her toes curled up as her feet touched the ground.For a moment, she stood there, frozen, her legs stuck together, her arms pressed up against her body for warmth, her palms all toasty and warm from the coffee, her eyes closed, her nostrils dilated as he took in the cold frozen smell of nothing , that one usually gets when one is indoors during a particularly long rainy spell.

Laughing again, she put on her slippers, curling up her toes again in their warm softness.Her walk across the living room and down the hall, was lonely , yet strangely comforting. It was the second best thing in the world, on a rainy day like this. Alone at home,piping hot coffee and shrewsbury biscuits for company. A bed that afforded her comfy coziness, and a view of the rain outside that was just magical. A view of the street, people walking briskly , holding up umbrellas and clutching rain coats to their chin, trying to stay out of the wet and the cold. People looking busy, people looking nostalgic. Kids floating paper boats in large pot holes, and jumping around in the even larger ones. Teenaged lovers walking inthe rain, arms around each other,giggling and cooing.Dogs, sitting in alcoves barely sheltered from the rain,curled up, their fur bristling from the cold. They looked out at the rain dolefully , batting their eyelashes at it, whining at it to make it stop. And all the time, the rain poured on.. . Not malevolently. . Rather like the rush hour traffic....Mildly apologetic in one way, but routine and unavoidable in another. going about it's business, the sun having long since hidden itself behind it's grey prison towel.
She dips a biscuit in the coffee and bites of a large chunk, savouring the feeling as it's buttery goodness crumbles on her tongue, and then slides down her throat smoothly . The hint of coffee in the butter is tantalising. It's scalding hot, but she gingerly takes a tiny sip, her pink tongue still speckled with the light brown biscuit crumbs. She feels warm, and safe, her childhood comforter wrapped around her legs..... She hears a sound and looks up. . .

She smiles up at me as I enter the room, feeling the cold myself inspite of my thick coat. Many days, I would long to take it off, but not today. . Today, it feels perfect.I get up on the bed, and snuggle as close to her as possible, both to take warmth and supply it.She offers me her coffee, but I hate coffee, and all I want is to get inside that comforter with her. She puts down the coffee mug on the window sill, and pulls the comforter over our heads. For a moment, both of us are scrabbling about, trying to stay within the warmth, till both our heads pop out of the comforter, and we sigh as one,cuddling close to each other till we are comfortable. comfortable..... She looks up at me and says..'I love you...'

I just wag my tail.

PS : Brrrrrr.....

PPS: I wish ! :D

Saturday, May 14, 2011

O synechdoche ! (That's an Apostrophe. . .)

I've been watching the IPL lately. What with the summer vacations, and the joy of lying down on a chaise lounge,unwashed and sleepy, with a bag of chips, and the remotes(Set top boxes have contributed greatly to the megalomania of couch potatoes (Potatos sounds better in this context right?) ) within an arms reach, or at worst, clone enough to be pulled towards oneself, using a newspaper rolled breadth-wise.. . one is bound to end up doing exactly that. . wishing that the se7en fan club doesn't catch up to you :D. .
As i said. . I've been watching the IPL.And have been getting steadily depressed watching the performance of the team i was supporting: The Mumbai Indians. Just the other night, i remember feeling extremely sad watching the Mumbai indians getting their butt kicked by the Kings XI Punjab team..I stopped, and realised what i felt was hopelessness, a feeling as though everything was lost. Never mind that the Mumbai indians had played brilliantly in several matches, that there were several matches in hand and that they had virtually made the playoffs, or that, the fate of the Mumbai Indians had absolutely nothing to do with anything as far as I was concerned. I felt downtrodden, depressed, ashamed even. And the absurdity of the whole thing struck me, hard. . really freaking hard.

How many times has the win/loss of our favourite cricket/football team or Tennis/golf (?:P) player changed our mood for the better/worse ? How many times have we made important decisions in the backlash/euphoria of these emotions ?, and how many times have we wished we had done otherwise ? I mean, I cannot honestly say that the emotional overflow(:D) from some sporting event has not affected my mood and changed my life in a significant way. No one can. And i would be willing to bet on the fact that, yes, sporting events do affect our lives. We do gain pleasure from watching, the team we support defeat their arch rivals, and worse yet, we do get irritated and irritable when our team loses a game. The false sense of achievement and the vicarious disappointment we feel, carries on to the next human interaction we have, which influences the next and so on. We may decide not to work that day because, after all we won the game !, or on the other hand, we may be extremely crabby and snappy, disappointed by the loss. And it is quite rational, i think to9 assume that even neglecting the positive feedback that could decidedly aggravate our 'artificially created' bad mood, the fallout of even one cricket match or football game could effect important, permanent changes in our lives.

But accepting this premise, only puts us in a deeper quandary. . What then ?? This is the eternal catchphrase of the laissez faire. . . accept the status quo, for rejecting(and replacing) it is too time-consuming or difficult, or not worth the trouble. . . I have often tried to imagine (and actually tried as well, for a period of a week and a half), as an experiment to lead a meaningful, wholly productive life sans movies, sitcoms, social networking sites and euphoria inducing substances, and come to the conclusion that it is impossible. . At least, for a person conditioned in and by this society for this long, it is impossible. Of course, the possibility exists, that I , personally cannot pull this off, but then the question still remains, what does man do, the average, normal individual ? How does he live a semi meaningful,or rather pseudo meaningful life ( assuming that this plane of existence is the entirety of life, we can come up with a broad definition of meaningful that can be 'worked' :D) productive life. . Or is he/she destined to lie on the couch watching TV ?

As usual, there are several answers. Anarchy, Spartanism ( well. . you get the idea ... :D) and other ideologies swim in ones mind, wearing two piece bikinis on their flawlessly sculpted bodies, throwing water on you, chiding you, teasing you, begging you to come into the water (Couldn't resist. . Mea Culpa), and lots of people would gladly jump in, forgetting their poor wife(one piece, two kids :D) who stood by the pool. . .

Different is always worth checking out, but then divorce proceedings are always so messy and Spartanism and Anarchism both reeeealy want you :D, so yeah that's a bloody bog in it's own right. .look at your wife and i'm sure she's nice in her own right :D.. What i mean is, there's a way out, a very simple one. . come closer. . closer, i'll whisper it in your ear. . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . MODERATION. . . .

It's like eating the whole of your birthday cake. . Okay, yeah, it's yours. . but that doesn't mean you have to eat it all, not unless you want to christen the day after your birthday, Diarrhea day :D. . Just because a system is flawed doesn't give us the license to curse it for every single thing that goes wrong with our lives, which is something, that a lot of us are only too willing to do. Cricket is a drug. . Okay. . understood . . But it has a range of influence. . the time for which the TV is on. .Ok, , maybe more than that. . But. . it's gotta end soemtime. . and that's for you to decide. .
Lots of people live their lives waiting for that perfect system to get established in the world, or for that perfect algorithm that tells you how to live your life. . And that's just Bullshit. . it's our life, and it's doesn't have an algorithm. . We have to change things for ourselves, by ourselves. . every minute of every day. . .

Get on with it. .

PS: Mumbai Indians !! \m/ , Despite today's brilliant game plan which involved Pollard and Bhajji hitting 26 off the last over, just cause Mishra did 23 ( Mommmeee :D)

PPS: People never really think through the algorithm premise. . 9 times out of 10 it points to no free will and determinism. . .

PPPS: THe marriage/hot chicks in the swimming pool analogy didn't work out, going deeper revealed too many complexities.. like your current marriage is a childhood betrothal, that's the same for everybody else too :P

PPPPS: Of course, a rough analogy, disregarding the absurd aspects (:P) would say that man is never satisfied with the status quo, and is always looking out for something better. . .which is true for a certain class of individuals. . Rational Rebels. . But then, what would be the link that joins this particular class of individuals with the marriage/society analogy ??

PPPPPS: enough for now. . If you get any leads, please do call/message/mail

PPPPPPS: Yawn. . .G'night. . .