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The Pressures of being an Intellectual

Posted by Jerry on November 11, 2011

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Tehelka Magazine

The pressures of being an editorial columnist, journalist, or some kind of published intellectual can put real strain on your abilities to reach rational, honest conclusions. Because, in this information age, we interact within a massive marketplace of ideas–a market that is constantly and rapidly updating itself with newer, better, more provocative, more sensational ideas.

Thus, to really stand out–to win, to be noticed in this marketplace of ideas–especially, if you are in the business of peddling some and your survival depends on being noticed for your ideas, one has to either be a savant genius and genuinely innovative or be at least an imitative provocateur.

Ashis Nandy of the Tehelka is an example of the latter. It appears that he has succumbed to the pressures of grabbing eyeballs in this fiercely competitive marketplace of ideas by resorting to gymnastics–of the mental and provocative kind. His latest piece is particularly demonstrative and revealing.

In an article titled “The Pursuit of Happiness and other Absurd Ideas“, Nandy picks three ideas that he regards as particularly egregious and poisonous to human civilization: (a) pursuit of happiness; (b) progress; (c) secularism.

Now, if your hoping to encounter some definitions of these terms, you will be disappointed. Nandy proceeds blithely through these ideas without ever pinning down their exact meanings or how he uses them.

To begin with, Nandy makes this highly debatable–even untrue–statement: “Our value systems, even in India, are increasingly based on reason. Which is why, perhaps, we constantly feel like we are a country sitting on a tinderbox — riots, terrorism, insurgency, discontent.”

First, it is unclear what he means by “reason” in the claim that India’s value systems are increasingly based on reason. Next, given a common sense understanding of “reason”–as the faculty of human consciousness to identify, evaluate, and integrate the facts of reality–his statement is squarely false. If anything, the world–and India included–is marching towards irrationality, mysticism, new age spiritualism, whim-worship and hedonism, and overall irrationality than anything resembling reason. The global economic crises and the European bankruptcies are arguably great demonstrations of what short-term, hedonistic irrationality gets you.

What’s more interesting is that three of the four consequences Nandy cites here of the use of reason, namely, riots, terrorism, and insurgency, are all actually variants of the use of force. Now, any sensible analysis of force will reveal to you that force is the destroyer of reason. Nandy would perhaps retort here that it is precisely our reason that has convinced us of some superior “right” to use force against other people. For instance, some religious groups have somehow reached a “conviction” that their use of force is justified.

But that line of argument is fallacious. Force and reason are opposites. The ability to reason (to think, to evaluate, and to choose) ends immediately when a gun is pointed at you. A gun is a command to action, not a syllogism to persuade. It appeals to your fears not to your reason. Indeed, as it is empirically evident and proven for any honest person to see, it is only when reason, dialog, discussion, persuasion, and argumentation is abandoned that force becomes the means of settling disagreements.

Having disparaged reason, Nandy proceeds to attack the three “poisonous” values of pursuit of happiness, progress, and secularism. This is where the article derails from any semblance of intellectual rigor and enters into the territory of the absurd. Indeed, the absurdities leap out of the screen at you. For example, in explaining the origins of the idea of happiness, the author states that “all societies deny the idea of death”. Really? Which one? He does not say.

What he does say, immediately thereafter, is this: “In successful capitalist societies–bereft of religion, afterlife, rebirth, or any of the philosophies that transcend death–the panic [about death] is profound.”

That should qualify as the most uneducated statement of the year. If any country can be considered as a successful “capitalist” country, it has to be the United States of America more than any other–and this is also perhaps of all advanced economies the only country most rooted in the faith of Christianity, in the Protestant ethic, in the belief in life after death, salvation and damnation, and the transcendence of this material world!

Nandy goes on to make another risible claim: that “Both the disease called unhappiness and the determined search for happiness afflict the more developed societies.” Meanwhile, in the world of his own mind, the under-developed societies of repressive Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Nigeria, Somalia, Burma, etc. are veritable paradises of–what?

“Happiness, like school uniforms, has now become compulsory,” he says. Is he implying that the ideal human condition need not be one of “happiness”? Is Nandy suggesting that a human life lived in unhappiness or banality is just as optionally preferable as a life of happiness? If you answered NO to be charitable to the author, you are wrong. He explicitly states his intention, saying: “We need to be practical and reconcile to live in this imperfect world with our normal unhappiness.”

Yes, my dear readers. He just said that we should learn to live happily with our unhappy lives. Whatever that means.

National Socialist Workers' Party of Denmark

Nazism

If you think Nandy is just innocently unwise, again you would be wrong. Nandy belies a high degree shrewdness and sophistry. As evidence, note that immediately after citing history’s two most murderous, collectivist, tyrannical regimes–Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany–as examples of societies that enforced “utopian” happiness and thereby inflected untold atrocities upon its people, he goes on to allude that the modern conception of (poisonous) happiness is an outgrowth of the philosophy of individualism. The mental gymnastics that is required to at once connect the epitome of collectivistic horror with the philosophy of individual freedom, self-autonomy, and liberty is not possible without some intentional sophistry at play.

To be charitable, the author does introduce a brilliantly benevolent, correct, and pleasant thought into his otherwise vapid article; unfortunately, the thought is not his. “According to philosopher KJ Shah, the strength of a human relationship should be measured not by the absence of quarrels, but by how much quarrelling the relationship can take.”

The implication of this view–correctly–is that happy people are not unmoored by momentary disappointments. That happiness is not an experience of the moment, but an orientation towards life. Sadly, however, the author is unable to see that such an orientation towards life as that of happy people is not possible without reason–without a philosophy that promotes the exercise of the rational faculty. As the philosopher Ayn Rand noted correctly, happiness cannot be achieved by the pursuit of irrational whims and hedonistic pleasures of the moment. A rational man projects the task of happiness across the entire span of his lifetime. Thus, he seeks his happiness not in the mindless fraudulent pleasures of the moment (although he may choose to indulge in legitimate relaxation), but in the experience of a joy that comes without penalty, guilt, shame, or contradiction. Happiness is the state of consciousness that comes with achieving the non-contradictory values of one’s life.

Indeed, from a psychological perspective, happiness is an important signal about the successful state of our lives. It is the emotional barometer of human consciousness, which informs us about our success at living life. Happiness and suffering are parallel indicators about the physical issue of life or death, pain or pleasure.

Moving on to his criticism of “Progress,” Nandy states that progress is the major source of violence globally. He says we should “hang our heads in shame when using” the word Progress. Again, his distortions are unbelievably confounding. In his attack on the concept of progress, he raises yet again the repressive regimes of Soviet Russia, China, as Cambodia as examples to fight his case. However, the connection that he wishes to forge between these regimes and progress is one that is founded on non-essentials, and is therefore simply untenable. The common ideology that underlies these regimes is not simply “progress” as a vague, general goal–but a *specific* approach to achieving their own conception of progress, namely, a collectivized, classless, communist society achieved by force and revolution. This is diametrically opposed to the classical liberal and democratic approach, which also had as its goal “progress” for the human condition. The results are evident and history has offered its verdict.

The author conflates the failures of socialist ideologies with the legitimate and praise-worthy goals of human progress–without, notably, ever defining what he means by progress. Then, he identifies a phantom relationship between secularism and the genocides of socialist regimes, such as that of the Soviet Union, North Korea, and Khmer Rouge. Perhaps, he is blind to the fact that National Socialism (Nazism)–the originator of one of the most hateful periods of human history–was virulently anti-secular, anti-atheistic. It

Nazi German propaganda poster: "Danzig is...

was at the same time socialistic and religious. The Reich, or the German State, cloaked in Christianity, was elevated to divine status with the blessings of Hegel, Heidegger, and Nietzsche. If the modern Catholic Church is seen as a benevolent and benign dictatorship, the Nazi regime was an evil and violent one.

One should also wonder if the perpetrators of the Crusades, Inquisitions, Islamic wars, and other religious wars had access to the kinds of modern weaponry, would the scale of their murders be just as vast?

Ultimately, what drives maniacal men to genocide is not and cannot be a “belief in non-belief” — or atheism. It has always been a belief in some assertion–either that of the Divine God or the Divine State or the Superiority of the Collective.

But Nandy is apparently convinced about something that’s paradoxical (and perhaps because it is so, given his antipathy towards reason): he believes that any desirable society must bypass the idea of progress because progress is essentially “anti-life.”

Now, to take that seriously, one would first have to know what he defines as “progress,” because in the general understanding of the term, progress means the general enhancement of the living condition. To illustrate it simply, if the average human life span in the 18th century was 30 years, today it is 70. And that is progress. Period.

Turning to the “third killer in [the author's] violent lexicon,” we are confronted with an insidious analysis of “secularism.”

SecularismIn a very disconcerting claim, the author argues that one must not keep religion and politics separate. However, quickly, the reader realizes that the author does not really understand the full implications of what he advocates. At one point, you are even confused about the author’s take on secularism–does he hate it or like it? Because after disparaging it for a while, the author appears to defend secularism when he refers to the “hindutva” movement–claiming that Hindutva is actually secular. Wikipedia describes Hindutva as a Hindu Nationalist movement. So, is he implying that Hindutva is as good as secular or as poisonous as secular?

Indeed, much of this article is a (deliberate or not?) mix of conflated terms, inaccurate and ill-defined usages of words, and flat-out contradictions of ideas.

It appears to me that Nandy gunned for a shock-treatment approach to writing this piece, by employing “toxic” vocabulary to describe values that are–in the right spirit–actually some of the pillars of a civilized society. Perhaps he did this so that he could gain some eyeballs, shock a few people, and win a few uncritical nods at the seeming profundity of it all. To this end, the author achieves the goals. But he does so at the cost of exposing the goals themselves and at the risk of our evaluating such pursuits and such methods of trying to appear “intellectual.”

Posted in Atheism, Culture, General Work/Life, India, My Theories and Ideas, On Collectivism, Philosophy, Political Issues, Religion, Rights and Morality, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Consistent Irrationality

Posted by Jerry on March 28, 2008

Most people function on a mix of rational and irrational ideas in their lives. There are only two ways you can survive: either you be consistently rational and act accordingly or you allow for instances of irrationality and hope that you will luckily escape the consequences of it or have someone else (usually, the government or rational neighbors) bail you out from the mess of your own creation.

It is only the human mind that can harbor contradictions, because it has free will—and since external reality does not permit such a mix of contradictions, the extent to which a person functions on irrationalities and contradiction, to that extent he is at war with reality.

Religion is fundamentally irrational. To the extent that you practice your religion consistently, it won’t be long before you either seriously or fatally harm yourself or someone else. It is the inescapable nature of reality. Here are just a couple of examples that highlight this principle manifesting in reality (from John Enright’s blog):

An eleven-year old girl is dead because her parents refused to take her to the doctor for a treatable condition. Instead, they chose to pray to god for a healing to occur. When, miraculously, no healing occured, and the child’s condition worsened over 30 days until she eventually succumbed to her death, her parents said that they did not pray with enough faith. Not to accept defeat in their battle against reality, the girl’s mother has now vowed to pray for her daughter’s resurrection:

An 11-year-old girl died after her parents prayed for healing rather than seek medical help for a treatable form of diabetes, police said Tuesday.

Everest Metro Police Chief Dan Vergin said Madeline Neumann died Sunday in Weston, just outside Wausau.

“She got sicker and sicker until she was dead,” he said.

Vergin said an autopsy determined the girl died from diabetic ketoacidosis, an ailment that left her with too little insulin in her body, and she had probably been ill for about 30 days, suffering symptoms like nausea, vomiting, excessive thirst, loss of appetite and weakness.

The girl’s parents, Dale and Leilani Neumann, attributed the death to “apparently they didn’t have enough faith,” the police chief said.

They believed the key to healing “was it was better to keep praying. Call more people to help pray,” he said.

The mother believes the girl could still be resurrected, the police chief said.

A very troubling aspect of this story is that the government’s child services division apparently finds nothing alarming about these parents’ behavior and its implications to their three other daughters. The dead child–whose death was directly caused by the faith and irrationality of her parents–has three siblings between the ages of 13 and 16.

The girl has three siblings, ranging in age from 13 to 16, the police chief said.

“They are still in the home,” he said. “There is no reason to remove them. There is no abuse or signs of abuse that we can see.”

In another account of a battle against reality, a father allegedly placed his infant baby in a microwave oven to burn; his wife explains that her husband was under the influence of Satan, who had taken advantage of a “weak moment.” Through some means, the wife acquired the knowledge that Satan was angry at her husband for choosing to become a Christian preacher. Therefore, Satan compelled her husband to put their infant child in the microwave, shut the door, turn it on, and watch as the baby suffered serious burns.

The wife of this demon-haunted man, however, does admit to an interesting fact:

Mauldin said her husband had a mental disability and her efforts to get him help have failed.

Those who claim that religion is not something to be made fun of are correct in one sense. Religion cannot be taken so lightly as to be made fun of; know that the believers are not taking their religion lightly–and to the degree that they are not, we shouldn’t either, because life hangs in the balance. Religion should be criticized, denounded, and condemned as strongly as the practitioners who practice it hold their faith.

The pernicious death-premise of religion is hardly recognized by even most secular folks and atheists. While the secularists and atheists are content with rejecting religious beliefs, many of them often acknowledge that some people need religion and that religion can certainly provide a path to a virtuous and moral lifestyle. Indeed, many atheists share the same moral code that religion prescribes! Religion is seen as a guide to virtuous living that can be secularized, which is the insidious nature of this form of irrationality—it hides under the garb of universal virtue. 

A majority of people in the world (including many atheists) consider only religious people to be some of the most virtuous people on this planet. Think Teresa of Calcutta. How many people believe that Teresa was lacking in any significant moral virtue? I’d venture to say—very few. How many think she was downright evil?

Do you see my point? 

====

UPDATE: Yahoo! News and the Associated Press have just posted a more detailed account of the 11-year old girl’s death, including interviews with the parents and some relatives. Here are some of the details missing from the original link I posted in my article above:

An autopsy showed Madeline Neumann died Sunday of diabetic ketoacidosis, a condition that left too little insulin in her body, Everest Metro Police Chief Dan Vergin said.

She had probably been ill for about a month, suffering symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, excessive thirst, loss of appetite and weakness, the chief said Wednesday, noting that he expects to complete the investigation by Friday and forward the results to the district attorney.

The girl’s mother, Leilani Neumann, said that she and her family believe in the Bible and that healing comes from God, but that they do not belong to an organized religion or faith, are not fanatics and have nothing against doctors.

She insisted her youngest child, a wiry girl known to wear her straight brown hair in a ponytail, was in good health until recently.

“We just noticed a tiredness within the past two weeks,” she said Wednesday. “And then just the day before and that day (she died), it suddenly just went to a more serious situation. We stayed fast in prayer then. We believed that she would recover. We saw signs that to us, it looked like she was recovering.”

Her daughter — who hadn’t seen a doctor since she got some shots as a 3-year-old, according to Vergin — had no fever and there was warmth in her body, she said.

The girl’s father, Dale Neumann, a former police officer, said he started CPR “as soon as the breath of life left” his daughter’s body.

Family members elsewhere called authorities to seek help for the girl.

“My sister-in-law, she’s very religious, she believes in faith instead of doctors …,” the girl’s aunt told a sheriff’s dispatcher Sunday afternoon in a call from California. “And she called my mother-in-law today … and she explained to us that she believes her daughter’s in a coma now and she’s relying on faith.”

The dispatcher got more information from the caller and asked whether an ambulance should be sent.

“Please,” the woman replied. “I mean, she’s refusing. She’s going to fight it. … We’ve been trying to get her to take her to the hospital for a week, a few days now.”

The aunt called back with more information on the family’s location, emergency logs show. Family friends also made a 911 call from the home. Police and paramedics arrived within minutes and immediately called for an ambulance that took her to a hospital.

But less than an hour after authorities reached the home, Madeline — a bright student who left public school for home schooling this semester — was declared dead.

She is survived by her parents and three older siblings.

“We are remaining strong for our children,” Leilani Neumann said. “Only our faith in God is giving us strength at this time.”

The Neumanns said they moved from California to a modern, middle-class home in woodsy Weston, just outside Wassau in central Wisconsin, about two years ago to open a coffee shop and be closer to other relatives. A basketball hoop is set up in the driveway.

Leilani Neumann said she and her husband are not worried about the investigation because “our lives are in God’s hands. We know we did not do anything criminal. We know we did the best for our daughter we knew how to do.”

Posted in Atheism, Culture, Objectivism, Philosophy, Religion, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Get Crucified in Style

Posted by Jerry on March 20, 2008

On Obloggers, Paul Hsieh alerts us to “some important safety tips for those who plan to be crucified this weekend.” (Lol!)

==Excerpts:

This Holy Week, the thousands of guilt stricken or pious worshippers who will flay the skin off their backs, and the handful who will crucify themselves, are encouraged to get a tetanus shot first and be sure to use a clean whip or nails.

“Getting deep cut wounds during whippings or lashings is inevitable and being so exposed during the course of the penitence, with all the
heat and dust blowing in the wind, welcomes all sorts of infections and bacteria like tetanus,” he explained.

Re-enactments of the Passion of Christ are common in many parts of the mostly Roman Catholic Philippines but frowned upon by the church
authorities.

In San Fernando City 23 people, including two women, have signed up to re-enact the crucifixion at three “improvised Golgothas” around town.
Four of them will use real nails.

The city government’s website trumpets the preparations.

“The City Health Office (CHO) autoclaved all the nails to be used and will administer anti-tetanus vaccine to all the “Cristos” to ensure
their protection from possible infection,” it points out. City officials will conduct an inspection of the Golgothas on Thursday.

Some 23 people, including two women, plan to reenact the crucifixion. The festival is sponsored by Coca-cola and a company called Smart
Telecommunications.

In a break from the original tradition, penitents are encouraged to “bring enough drinking water for the whole course of the pilgrimage to
avoid dehydration, rather than buy bottled drinking water from unfamiliar sources.”

There is also government advice for the many tourists and spectators who attend the events.

“It is also better to bring self-prepared foods such as sandwiches, not only to save money, but also to avoid getting diseases such as
diarrhea, hepatitis A, and typhoid after eating food bought from street vendors,” the health secretary suggested.

============

Just imagine, instead of asking for myrrh, Jesus would have called out for “some Coke please.” WHAT BRAND ENDORSEMENT THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN!! Coke would officially have replaced wine in all the chalices of Catholic churches!

Posted in Atheism, Culture, General Work/Life, Humor, Religion, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments »

Deriving Atheism from Philosophy

Posted by Jerry on March 14, 2008

It is a matter of fact that science can never disprove the existence of God. The tools of science–experimentation, observation, and empiricism–are inherently inadequate for the job. At best, empiricists can only reach approximations of certainty–and can claim, like Richard Dawkins does, that they have a very high degree of certainty that god does not exist.

This, however, does not indicate any weakness in the position of atheism as such; rather, it highlights the fact that science is inferior to philosophy and that philosophy is and should be the foundation of all scientific thought. Once reason and objectivity are evicted from their epistemological base in philosophy, a free floating set of rules like that of pragmatism and relativism or a blinded philosophy like that of the skepticism is spawned: neither of these philosophies can agree on what can be known or indeed whether anything at all can be known.

As Ayn Rand said: “Science was born as a result and consequence of philosophy; it cannot survive without a philosophical (particularly epistemological) base. If philosophy perishes, science will be next to go. It is philosophy that defines and establishes the epistemological criteria to guide human knowledge in general and specific sciences in particular.”

It is philosophy that reveals to man the proper methods of thinking and the laws governing sensible, valid, and rational thought. In other words, it is philosophy that identifies the axioms of knowledge and the non-contradictory nature of existence, and then devises the epistemic rules of thinking (logic) that mimic the nature of existence. 

The lack of absolute certainty in the non-existence of god actually indicates the categorical confusion of metaphysics and nature that scientists like Dawkins commit. Atheism is often reinterpreted as being a naturalistic worldview; and although this is not false, it has resulted in the belief that atheism is actually a position reached at the end of a personal scientific and empiric quest. And often, this is indeed how many people become atheists: they start with their studies in evolutionary science, physics, or astronomy; they begin to ask the right questions and push for honest answers; they examine claims of miracles and seek scientific explanations; and eventually, they reach a point where atheism becomes the only plausible and default position to hold. Quite correctly, they see no empiric evidence to believe in the supernatural.

However, such atheists arrive at their conclusion through very weak and fundamentally unsubstantiated grounds. Indeed, such atheists can never deny that the next scientifically inexplicable event may suddenly turn them into theists or agnostics: in fact, some atheists (misguidedly) consider such “open-mindedness” in the face of an inexplicable even to be a sign of honorable intellectual honesty–the mark of a skeptic who is even proudly skeptical of atheism.

In essence, such atheists hold their belief at the mercy of the next concrete event, discovery, alleged sighting, or claim that would dictate whether or not they remain atheists or turn into agnostics.

The only way to rescue this unhinged concept of atheism from total collapse into subjectivism is to extract it from the domain of science and place it back where it belongs–in philosophy.

The position of atheism is a particularly philosophical position, not a scientific one. This is because atheism belongs to a subset of ideological positions, namely, the ideological position pertaining to metaphysics and spiritual belief. Particularly, atheism is the ideological position that holds as fact that there is no god. The only way to ascertain the validity of this assertion is by applying the laws revealed by philosophy, not by the implementation of any empiric, experimental, or observational method of scientific enquiry. In other words, the only permanent path to atheism is one primarily or fundamentally grounded on rational philosophical enquiry, not a scientific one.

Ayn Rand identified that existence exists and that existence is identity. It is on the basis of these fundamental and irrefutable metaphysical axioms that we know–with absolute certainty–that god does not, and indeed cannot, exist.

Existence is identity; that is, to be is to be something. A thing cannot be and not-be at the same time: this is a law that identifies a fact of existence. The supernatural not only means something outside of our Earth or our galaxy, but literally outside of everything in the Universe, including the Universe itself. Therefore, to be supernatural is literally to be outside existence qua existence, since existence is the totality of all that exists. Therefore, for the supernatural to exist, it must not exist. Therefore, the supernatural does not exist.

Likewise, if god is omniscient, then he must know everything; but then he cannot know what it is like to not know something. Therefore, god is an omniscient being who does not know everything. Therefore, god does not exist.

Likewise, if god is omnipotent, then he should be able to do anything; but god cannot kill himself. Therefore, god is an omnipotent being who cannot do everything. Therefore, god does not exist.

Likewise, if god is infinite, then he must transcend space, time, and measurement; but then he cannot have an identity–or be an entity–because to exist is to be an entity (to be is to be something; like the Universe is itself an entity). Therefore, god is an entity who is not an entity. A is non-A. Therefore, god cannot exist.

Likewise, if god is intelligent, then he must be rational, logical, and sensible. In other words, god would also have to obey the laws of rationality and logic; but then, our use of logic and reason above has demonstrated that were such an entity to exist, he would have to be full of contradictions; since logic does not permit contradictions, and contradictions do not exist, god does not exist.

And so on…

It is only at the end of such personal philosophical enquiry in the context of metaphysics–by employing the tools of logic and reason and holding objectivity as the standard of knowledge–that absolute atheism can be arrived at. And this pure atheism is immune to whatever claims or random events that may give someone a sense of wonderment or of being inexplicable. This kind of atheism knows that there is–and can be–no gods.

Posted in Atheism, Ayn Rand, Culture, General Work/Life, My Theories and Ideas, Objectivism, Philosophy, Religion, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 28 Comments »

Reason Versus Faith

Posted by Jerry on March 13, 2008

The Ayn Rand Institute has recently started uploading videos onto YouTube. Since I have an account on YouTube, I have already subscribed to the ARI video feed. I urge you all to do the same.

The ARI’s most recent posting is a series of Question and Answer videos–a series of 8 Q&A clips–that were recorded at one of their conferences on Reason versus Faith. They are excellent viewing.

Some of the questions from the audience members are quite baffling–like in videoclip 2, a man insists that Objectivism impoverishes the human spirit by emphasizing reason. I’m not sure which philosophy he is indicating when he says “Objectivism”, but his version surely cannot be the one developed by Ayn Rand, because Rand in fact wanted and fought to repossess the concepts and sentiments of exaltation and worship that religion had expropriated for itself.

I am reminded of this beautiful quote–that I have enshrined as my own personal religious credo on my blog–which expresses the high value and esteem Objectivism proffers to the properly spiritual in man:

“You see, I’m an atheist. And I have only one religion; the sublime in human nature. There is nothing to approach the sanctity of the highest man possible, and there is nothing that gives me the same reverent feeling, the feeling when one’s spirit wants to kneel bareheaded… do not call it hero-worship, because it is more than that. It is a kind of strange and improbable white heat, where admiration becomes religion and religion becomes philosophy and philosophy, the whole of one’s life.” – Ayn Rand

Videoclips 3 and 5 are also very interesting for the answers given by Dr. Ghate and Dr. Brooks. Indeed, watch all 8 of the clips, vote your favorites, leave a comment if it so moves you, and subscribe to the ARI video feed.

Posted in Ayn Rand, General Work/Life, Objectivism, Philosophy, Political Issues, Religion, Rights and Morality, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Sword of Wafa Sultan

Posted by Jerry on March 7, 2008

Syrian-born political commentator and American psychiatrist, Wafa Sultan, speaks with the ferocity of a sword-wielding soldier in the battlefield of ideas.

“I have decided to fight Islam; please pay attention to my statement; to fight Islam, not the political Islam, not the militant Islam, not the radical Islam, not the Wahhabi Islam, but Islam itself… Islam has never been misunderstood, Islam is the problem…. (Muslims) have to realize that they have only two choices: to change or to be crushed.”

This video of her interview on Al-Jazeera is a must-see:

http://www.memritv.org/clip/en/0/0/0/0/0/0/1704.htm

Go to fullsize imageWhen Islamic barbarism was revealed in the wake of the Danish cartoons fiasco, Wafa Sultan and members from the Ayn Rand Institute got together on panel discussions across the United States to stand up against the Islamic threat to freedom, liberty, and western civilization. The ARI website has the video of one their events in which Wafa Sultan participated:

Totalitarian Islam’s Threat to the West
A panel discussion featuring Daniel Pipes, Yaron Brook and Wafa Sultan
Recorded April 12, 2007
View video playback (requires RealPlayer®)
Part 1 (55 min.)
Part 2 (60 min.)

Watch more videos of this brave woman. [HT: Rule of Reason]

Posted in Atheism, Ayn Rand, Culture, Islamo-loony, Philosophy, Political Issues, Religion, Rights and Morality, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments »

The Weather Today

Posted by Jerry on January 15, 2008

Metereologist and founder of The Weather Channel, John Coleman, has this to say about global weather:

image[Global warming] is the greatest scam in history. I am amazed, appalled and highly offended by it. Global Warming; It is a SCAM. Some dastardly scientists with environmental and political motives manipulated long term scientific data to create an illusion of rapid global warming. Other scientists of the same environmental whacko type jumped into the circle to support and broaden the “research” to further enhance the totally slanted, bogus global warming claims. Their friends in government steered huge research grants their way to keep the movement going. Soon they claimed to be a consensus.

[HT: John Stossel's article in The Atlasphere.]

Posted in Culture, Environmentalism, Favorite Quotes, On Collectivism, Political Issues, Religion, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Slow Poison

Posted by Jerry on November 30, 2007

I was over at Flibbertigibbet, reading his post on the US presidential race. It’s really scary how Christianity is gaining an even stronger foothold in US culture and politics.

Mike Huckabee is the currently leading Republican contender for the president. He is also an ordained Christian Baptist minister, and holds the following positions:

He’s against gays in the military.  He’s against gay marriage.  He’s even opposed to civil unions. As a Christian, he believes that homosexuality is immoral and that marriage is sacred.

He’s against abortion.  As a Christian, he believes that abortion means killing a child and a woman’s right to her own body is superseded by the fetuses alleged right to life.
 
He’s for the War in Iraq.

He’s against stem cell research for much the same reasons that he is against abortion.

He’s a creationist and an anti-evolutionist.  Why?  Jesus said so.

He regards environmentalism as a moral issue based on the Christian stewardship concept.

He supports national ID cards and use of RFID chips for tracking citizens.

Posted in 2008 US Elections, Culture, Political Issues, Religion, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 15 Comments »

Ideological Allies

Posted by Jerry on November 23, 2007

At the culmination of a convoluted debate that’s been raging on this thread, the commentor Db0 finally stated some premises explicitly. The commentor is an atheist, moral subjectivist, collectivist, and is obviously influenced by evolutionary empiricism a la Dawkins, Hitchen, et al. to a great extent.

The fact that a person is an atheist does not say anything about his commitment to rationality. This is what undercuts Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkin’s attempts to blame all evils on religion and argue that Hitler et al. were not in fact atheists. The point is it simply does not matter whether you’re an atheist or not.

Picking your ideological allies just based on atheism–or, to use another prime example, the non-initiation of force principle–is a fundamental error. This is why Objectivists refuse to align with ideologies that on the face of it seem reasonable but are fundamentally incomplete or flawed: like secular humanism, naturalism, evolutionary empiricism, libertarianism, and others.

If you read the comment thread on that post, you will notice how the influence of evolutionary empiricism is infused in Db0’s view of morality. Db0 commits the naturalistic fallacy of arguing from the view that what is given by nature is the way it should be. Notice the dismissal of the volitional faculty of man’s mind to make choices autonomously.

I do believe that this is the side-effect of Dawkins et al. who have been so vocal in criticizing the morality offered by religion but have not been able to provide a consistent, robust, and rational alternative instead. They are creating a vacuum in morality, which permits people like Db0 to conclude that morality is ultimately a fabrication of society, the fad of the day, the need of a pack, subjectivist, relativistic, etc. In essence, while throwing out the dogmatic morality of religion, they throw out the notion of objective morality itself.

Somewhere in all this there is a lesson for those Objectivists who seem to think that libertarians are a benign bunch of people who share pretty much the same views; the religious libertarian Ron Paul may not be quite your ally as you think he is.

Posted in Atheism, Ayn Rand, Culture, Objectivism, Philosophy, Political Issues, Religion, Rights and Morality, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

Tehelka

Posted by Jerry on October 29, 2007

I was just browsing through some of the articles on Tehelka, a newspaper that bills itself as “public-interest journalism.” For the most part, Tehelka is the voice of the Indian left and disillusioned socialists who still cry shrill over the injustices of class warfare.

In any case, I found this shocking piece of LTE in response to an article on the site; my impression is that the writer is serious about his view, but I am so eager to be wrong on this. The letter to the editor says:

We know there is complete chaos in society. All of us can now afford cars and add tonnes of CO2 everyday to the atmosphere. Modern amenities are making us lazy. The worst offenders are medicines, which are forcing people to live longer and adding to the geriatric population. But we have democracy. Have a look at Pakistan and China and you’ll know why life in our country is certainly not as bad and hopeless as you make it out to be. Always remember, it is better to be an optimist and contribute to society. Dr Kapil Paliwal, Kanpur [all bold mine]

Did this fellow just say that modern medicines are the worst offenders?! Offenders against whom–the sick and the dying!?! 

I should really stop being so surprised. The newspaper is such that it does attract its crowd of lunatic Malthusians and Marxists.

Nevertheless, some of its articles are thought-provoking–precisely because the writers of this paper understand the value of ideas in a society (like all Marxists do), adhere to an ideology, and write their arguments on the basis of principles they wish to defend. For example, I read an article that argued the view that Indian tradition and ethnic chauvinism were the roots of rampant mob violence in India. While I agree that all forms of collectivism breed violence against and disregard for the individual, I do not see how the author of the article can logically arrive at the conclusion that mob violence can be impeded by correcting social inequalities, which was the point implied throughout.

It’s a naive and superficial view that social inequalities are the cause of struggle and disharmony within a society. The view is itself a collectivist one and therefore assumes what it wishes to prove. It seeks to replace a chauvinism of ethnicity, class, or caste with the chauvinism of an amorphous and undefined collective called humanity. Therefore, while it condemns social injustice arising from classism or religious warfare, it does not mind the sacrifice of an individual if one can engineer social justice for the greater good–for mankind, for humanity.

If one were to check the premises, one would realize that whether the social field is leveled at the top or from the bottom, some will be trampled at the expense of others and the strife will merely simmer right below the leveled surface until the next bloody eruption.

So, is strife inherent in society and one should not bother to tinker with it? Not at all! I am pointing out that the lens with which you look at this situation is itself skewed–because it is collectivist. A society is *not* an irreducible unit: an individual is. A proper concern for social justice, therefore, should begin at the level of an individual, and devise a system of ethics that is based on the realization and maximization of an individual’s rights! What is proper and moral and just for an individual is necessarily proper and moral and just for a society of individuals.

The answer to social justice, therefore, is not to replace the tyranny of one group with that of another (be it of the poor over the rich or of the lower castes’ over the higher) in order to level the playing field, but to discard the very lens by which humans are viewed as interchangeable and disposable units of an amorphous humanity in the pursuit of an engineered social equality.

Posted in Culture, Economics, General Work/Life, India, Mumbai, Philosophy, Political Issues, Religion, Rights and Morality, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

My Interview with The Telegraph

Posted by Jerry on October 24, 2007

The following are the questions posed by the reporter from The Telegraph (TT) and my e-mailed responses to them. I have slightly edited only my responses at some places for stylistic reasons; in the question about the response of young readers to Ayn Rand’s books, I have added a few additional points to expand upon my original thoughts.

TT: What drew you to Ayn Rand?

JJ: I was first introduced to Ayn Rand’s novel The Fountainhead by a friend of mine. While I thoroughly enjoyed reading the novel as a work of art, the philosophical ideas in it disturbed me greatly. They were radical and completely alien to everything I had been taught as moral. My response to this cognitive dissonance was to shut out Rand’s ideas from my mind and continue to live the way I was used to. A couple of years later, I happened to pick up a copy of Atlas Shrugged. My life was never the same after that. I could no longer just ignore the radical ideas in the book. This pushed me to investigate further, ask “why?” to every single premise and belief I currently held, dig deep to the roots and trace out the ideological contradictions in my belief; in essence, from that point on, I embarked on a critical evaluation and a massive upheaval of my belief systems. It was a challenging and confusing period of time, but I was open to the experience.

TT: There are successive generations of readers who discover Rand in their youth and then move away. What are the elements in Rand that you continue to revisit or discover over the years?

JJ: There are several reasons why young readers become zealots of Rand’s ideas and then move away as they grow into adulthood: Rand’s philosophy is tremendously complex and radical. Every principle in the system is internally related with every other, non-contradictorily. Therefore, there are two approaches to dealing with this philosophy: first, one honestly wrestles with the ideas of the philosophy and attempts to follow all its logically connected chain of thoughts to integrate them in one’s own mind, or second, one can take the shortcut approach and memorize the key fundamental principles, learn a few choice quotes from Ayn Rand and the novel’s heroes, and then claim to be an Objectivist.

Unfortunately, the young readers who have not yet achieved the intellectual capacity (due to their age or intellectual training) required for such massive integrations across philosophical levels tend to adopt the second–easier and shorthand–approach to express and feed their emotional excitement from having read the novels. The reason is that one can simply not read these emotionally stirring and philosophically challenging novels and remain passive or wait over years for intellectually maturity to set in: one is compelled to feed this immediate emotional experience by retaining key slogans or quotes from the books that express an emotional truth, then they seek out answers from wherever they can–even if it may be from Google searches or the Wikipedia.

Consequently, an intellectually pre-mature and overwhelmingly emotional introduction to the radical Objectivist premises of individualism, egoism, and self-interest often leads young people to hold an undigested, unintegrated, contortion of dogmatic beliefs–identical to religious beliefs held on faith, emotional need, repeated memorizations, and acceptance from authority. Eventually, such a person may literally “grow out” of their memorized philosophy and regard it as his foolish and juvenile indulgence in youth.

For me, Rand’s works continue to reveal whole new integrations, different perspectives, unique approaches, and various applications of a principle to reality. For example, my recent discovery was the integration of the Objectivist position on charity with the issue of cultural activism for change in society. While I won’t go into the details of this integration here, I will only say that the elegant nature of Objectivism’s non-contradictory system of principles can give amazing insights into any and all aspects of reality: since there is only one reality, it necessarily means that all of reality is a totality of interrelated facts and relationships. Therefore, it is simply an incredible experience to discover new relationships among seemingly unrelated existents in this one reality.

TT: Would you say Rand’s time has come in India?

JJ: I would say that Rand’s ideas have long been pervasive among Indians–both abroad and here in India. After the United States, India is cited as the nation with the most Ayn Rand fans. Further, Rand’s ideas have a particular relevance to the history of Indian politics and economics. One can actually argue that many from our parent’s and grandparent’s generation “Shrugged” in the intellectual sense in response to the repressive Socialist policies of Nehru and the License Raj. Free minds cannot function under oppressive regimes. That generation chose to withdraw their minds and the products of their minds from this society in search of free societies in the West; the government of India called it the “brain-drain”–Ayn Rand would have called it “Atlas Shrugged.”

Notice how with the opening of the Indian borders, the gradual acceptance of free markets, and the loosening of government regulations, not only is tremendous wealth flowing into this country but also the minds who create such wealth are choosing to return to make their fortunes here.

TT: In what way is Rand’s work, particularly Atlas Shrugged, relevant in India today?

JJ: [I think the answer to this question is the same as above.]

TT: What are the common misconceptions, if any, that you find people bear about Rand’s philosophy?

JJ: Rand’s philosophy is only about 25 to 30 years old. It is only now being studied seriously in the philosophy departments of 30 universities in the United States. As an intellectual movement, Objectivism–the philosophy of Ayn Rand–is only beginning; most movements take centuries to merge into the mainstream mindset. Until that happens, Objectivism is prime target for misrepresentations and outright distortions. Some examples of such are as follows: some people claim that Ayn Rand advocated that man is an island, that individualism means isolationism, that to be independent is to never ask the help of anyone else on principle.

Any substantial study into the actual ideas of Ayn Rand will reveal that such a notion of individualism and independence is contrary to Objectivism. Among other things, Objectivism champions laissez-faire capitalism. The crucial and practical tenet of capitalism is the division of labor society: that individual men engage in the mutual trade of products that they have gained an expertise in producing. A division of labor society–that is, a capitalist society–necessitates a society of individual men who need each other in the rational–non-sacrifical–sense of traders–traders who voluntarily exchange a value for another. In simplistic terms, this ensures a steady supply of products out in the market for exchange and a market of consumers eager to exchange their own products or values for that which they have not produced.

Therefore, it is contradictory to claim that Objectivism preaches isolationism or that independence means man is an island. Quite the opposite, it is only the rational man who can foster a benevolent society of individuals who engage in voluntary transactions that mutually benefit each other’s lives immensely! 

TT: What is your personal favourite AR writing?

JJ: We The Living–for its incredibly moving portrayal of a rational life struggling to exist in an oppressive and irrational society. It is also the closest to an autobiography of Ayn Rand–in terms of its ideas, themes, and values, not in terms of the concretes.

Posted in Ayn Rand, Books, Culture, Economics, General Work/Life, India, Mumbai, My Theories and Ideas, Objectivism, Philosophy, Political Issues, Religion, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Pulse of the Culture

Posted by Jerry on October 24, 2007

After reading this very interesting article by Sarah Baxter, I’m getting the impression that some key Objectivist positions are already seeping into the mainstream of intellectual and englightened dialog–on say multiculturalism, the moral bankruptcy of the left and Marxism, the rising reactionary threat of Christianity, the current threat of Islamofacism and the requirement of full war against it.

Read the entire article. It amazingly brings together various interconnected issues and persons into focus: Che Guevara, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Islamofacism, feminism, multiculturalism, antisemitism, the war in Iraq, Bush policies, atheism, Christopher Hitchens, and more!

A case in point is the treatment of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somalia-born author of Infidel, who has received an astounding lack of support from liberals and the left. An article in Newsweek described her as a “bomb-thrower”, when it is Hirsi Ali who faces death threats from real bomb-throwers merely for speaking her mind and has had to rush back to the Netherlands because its government will no longer pay for her bodyguards while she is abroad.

Natasha Walter, reviewing her book in The Guardian, wrote blithely: “What sticks in the throats of many of her readers is not her feminism, but her antiIslamism” – as if the two could be separated. It was Hirsi Ali’s culture that led her to be genitally mutilated as a girl, and it was her Muslim former co-religionists who murdered her friend Theo van Gogh, the Dutch film-maker. Why should she remain quiet?

Posted in Culture, General Work/Life, Philosophy, Political Issues, Religion, Rights and Morality, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

The Golden Anniversary Evening

Posted by Jerry on October 16, 2007

There is some debate on the exact date of the Atlas Shrugged 50th Anniversary; some argue it’s on October 10. We in Mumbai celebrated the event on October 12, 2007. Given that I had only 10 days to prepare and organize the event from scratch–all by myself–I am extremely proud of what I managed to accomplish and of the experience I was able to give the 22 to 25 Ayn Rand fans who attended.

We watched the 1974 interview of Ayn Rand by James Day; during the interview, Rand was at her characteristic wit and precision–repeatedly insisting on Day to clarify his terms: “concern is such a loose term, what do you mean by it?” “I will begin with romantic love because I don’t know what other love you mean”, “the perpetrators of [abstract art] say that they don’t know what they’re doing, and neither do we, and I’m inclined to take their word for it.”

The discussion following the video wasn’t up to the expectations I had; at one point, someone floated a confused interpretation of acting on self-interest. I took pains to clarify that the sanction of your actions is not egoism but reason; egoism is the nature of your actions–and there’s a difference.

Thankfully, this open-floor discussion didn’t last very long. I decided to have everyone come up to the table and join me in cutting the anniversary cake: a chocolate truffle. While I cut the cake to a round of applause, filmmaker Mukarram Khan graciously offered me the first slice. From then on, everyone was free to mingle and congregate in groups to have their own private discussions.

There was a high school boy who said that Atlas Shrugged was required reading in his class. He said that after having read the novel, he couldn’t wait to get his hands on The Fountainhead, which also he read soon enough. This was a young man just discovering the philosophical premises underlying the sense of youth, aspiration, possibilities, and greatness. I felt a strong sense of concern for him, hoping that his discovery of such a radiantly youthful philosophy would not be dimmed by the fog over contemporary adulthood and the greyness of what passess today as “sophisticated nuance.” I expressed this concern to him; I told him that hopefully he would continue to educate himself on the philosophy and rely only on his best judgment of its premises.

Many who attended were eager to have Rand’s ideas spread quickly in the Indian culture. Concerns were raised that not enough is being done–that Objectivism has been around for 25 to 30 years now and there is very little to show in terms of cultural change. I pointed out that for a philosophy, Objectivism is relatively young and it is unreasonable to expect dramatic changes in such a short amount of time. Despite that, I do believe that the efforts of the Ayn Rand Institute is bearing visible results in the American intellectual scene. Speakers and writers from the ARI are gaining increasing prominence in the mainstream media: Dr. Yaron Brook has regular speaking engagements and television appearances. With the introduction of The Objective Standard (the inauguration of which I attended in Washington D.C.), Craig Biddle is actively engaging the political and economic thought-leaders of America with a rational alternative. ARI writers are constantly featured in guest columns and editorials of prestigious media channels across the nation. The ARI’s Objectivist Academic Center is preparing a new generation of Objectivist intellectuals to enter mainstream academia and produce serious Ayn Rand scholarship. The Anthem Foundation is funding much of these ventures into philosophy departments. Departments in 30 universities are already taking Ayn Rand’s ideas seriously and studying Objectivism as part of its curriculum. The Ayn Rand Society is doing its laudatory share of organizing symposia and conferences with Objectivist and non-Objectivist philosophers, which are often covered by the media.

With regard to India, I pointed out that ARI neither has the obligation nor the resources to make it feasible to focus on influencing the Indian cultural scene. If one wishes to do something about this country here, one of us must make the intiative and do it–not point at the ARI and complain that they are ignoring this country. Yes, they are, and they are fully within their moral right in doing so; it is immoral of us to complain.

India is entrenched in irrationalism and mysticism. While the efforts in the United States is focused on *rescuing* the nation from the rise of Christian fundamentalism and re-aligning the culture to its founding premises of individual rights, liberty, and the selfish pursuit of happiness, the efforts in India would have to be more than Herculean–it requires a total upheaval of everything currently cherished as a value, a custom, a tradition, or the way things ought to be. If this upheaval is not from the root, then only Objectivism stands to lose: in any compromise in the principles of this philosophy with the mixed-bag premises of the Indian culture, only Objectivism will be adulterated, distorted, mutilated, and eventually, rendered impotent.

So what can be done? First, remember that as Objectivists, we are not out to change the world–nor must we pursue that goal as our primary purpose: we are out to selfishly pursue our own happiness. If this pursuit involves having to agitate in our society for a change in order that we can gain our desired values without hindrance during our lifetimes, then yes, acting to change our society is rational and consistent with our pursuit of happiness. However, if the change required is too daunting, overwhelming, almost impossible–or if there are other avenues to achieving one’s values without having to agitate for societal change–then properly, an Objectivist should ignore the society and pursue those alternative means to achieving one’s happiness: often, this means leaving your society or your country–if such an option is more attainable than hoping for a change to materialize.

You are not called to be martyrs to Objectivism or to an irrational society. This is a rational philosophy for living life on this earth, presently; it is not a religion demanding that you sacrifice the life you have for the realization of some principles in your society in the future after your death! Your concern is not the generations who will come after you or the country of an unknown billion who currently live with you. Properly, your only moral concern should be whether you can achieve and protect your values presently so long as you are alive: if the task seems possible, then agitate for change in your current circumstances; if the task seems almost impossible, then work diligently to get yourself out of that society and let it head to its own ruin.

A society that is inherently corrupt and irrational will collapse from within. You are in no obligation to struggle to rescue it from the inevitable: that would be immoral on your part.

It is ironic that this most central message of Atlas Shrugged was rather overlooked at the celebration of its 50th Anniversary. There is one other major issue that was asked of me during the event, about which I had grave concerns. I tried my best to persuade him to change his views, but I am not sure if I was able to convince him thoroughly. That will be the topic of my next post.

Posted in Ayn Rand, Books, Culture, General Work/Life, India, Mumbai, My Theories and Ideas, Objectivism, Philosophy, Political Issues, Religion, Rights and Morality, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Rock Bottom

Posted by Jerry on October 4, 2007

I’m sitting here watching the evening news on Times Now India.

Here’s what’s playing: “Mystic” Rock Attracts Devottees.

Apparently, a sizeable rock weighing about 15 kilograms was found floating around somewhere. The rock refused to sink in water. So, some Indians have taken to worshipping the rock, considering it a miracle by their god “Ram.”

:|

Posted in Culture, General Work/Life, India, Mumbai, Philosophy, Religion, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Being God Just Ain’t Fun Anymore

Posted by Jerry on September 21, 2007

*sigh* The things people do to their gods. If you thought that atheists were sacrilegious, then you haven’t really thought hard enough. Religious believers do the most inane things to their gods.

Every year at this time in India, Lord Ganpity (also known as Ganesha), the beloved elephant-god with a pot-belly and an eating disorder, is dumped into the seas in a mass frenzy of ritualistic hedonism. I feel sad for poor, drowning Ganpity, who clearly cannot keep his heavy body afloat and therefore drowns in no time, only to be recast into an idol the following year and dumped yet again! Ouch! Meanwhile, the Indians who create a spectacular fiasco out of the whole activity, are loud, drunk, boisterous, and generally clueless about their surroundings: Lord Ganesha be damned… err.. drowned!

And then here’s a Christian politician in the United States who is taking god to court! He is suing god for being a reckless deity, for being careless about his creation, and for allowing suffering and calamities to befall this earth. Oh boy. I wonder what lines of defense will god mount. And who’s sitting on the jury? Is Satan allowed?

UPDATE!!

People, I am NOT making this up; and this is NOT from The Onion. This is for real!

A legislator who filed a lawsuit against God has gotten something he might not have expected: a response. One of two court filings from “God” came Wednesday under otherworldly circumstances, according to John Friend, clerk of the Douglas County District Court in Omaha.

“This one miraculously appeared on the counter. It just all of a sudden was here — poof!” Friend said.

State Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha sued God last week, seeking a permanent injunction against the Almighty for making terroristic threats, inspiring fear and causing “widespread death, destruction and terrorization of millions upon millions of the Earth’s inhabitants.”

Chambers, a self-proclaimed agnostic who often criticizes Christians, said his filing was triggered by a federal lawsuit he considers frivolous. He said he’s trying to makes the point that anybody can sue anybody.

Not so, says “God.” His response argues that the defendant is immune from some earthly laws and the court lacks jurisdiction.

It adds that blaming God for human oppression and suffering misses an important point.

“I created man and woman with free will and next to the promise of immortal life, free will is my greatest gift to you,” according to the response, as read by Friend.

There was no contact information on the filing, although St. Michael the Archangel is listed as a witness, Friend said.

A second response from “God” disputing Chambers’ allegations lists a phone number for a Corpus Christi law office. A message left for that office was not immediately returned Thursday.

Attempts to reach Chambers by phone and at his Capitol office Thursday were unsuccessful.

—————

That’s it. God exists! I need to confess! I have sinned!

Posted in Atheism, Culture, General Work/Life, Humor, India, Mumbai, Personal, Religion, Uncategorized | 6 Comments »

Onkar Ghate in The New Statesman

Posted by Jerry on September 19, 2007

Dr. Onkar Ghate’s articles in the New Statesman are a must-read. If there’s anything you do today, reading these two very brief articles is a must!

The Selfish Life

Objectivism: A Philosophy for Living?

As I understand, there are a couple more articles from Dr. Ghate to be published on the site in the future. Watch out for them, too!

[h/t: Noodlefood]

Posted in Ayn Rand, Objectivism, Philosophy, Religion, Rights and Morality, Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

The Road to Atheism

Posted by Jerry on September 17, 2007

In my recent post on Mother Teresa, I passingly mentioned the question I had come across randomly on some atheist website. The question was why do we never hear of an amputee’s limb being miraculously regenerated or regrown through the power of prayer or supernatural intervention.

Interestingly enough, there’s a whole website dedicated to this question and to all of its implications–and it’s called “Why Won’t God Heal Amputees?Thomas Stone (of the EpistemeLinks project fame) brought this site to my attention in a private e-mail. He specifically says that the videos on the site are a must-see. I visited the site to briefly glance at its contents; here are some juicy bits that I found! :)

No matter how many people pray. No matter how sincere those people are. No matter how much they believe. No matter how devout and deserving the recipient… Prayer does not restore the severed limbs of amputees. You can electronically search through all the medical journals ever written — there is no documented case of an amputated leg being restored spontaneously. And we know that God ignores the prayers of amputees through our own observations of the world around us. If God were answering the prayers of amputees to regenerate their lost limbs, we would be seeing amputated legs growing back every day.

What are we seeing here? It is not that God sometimes answers the prayers of amputees, and sometimes does not. Instead, in this situation there is a very clear line. God never answers the prayers of amputees. It would appear, to an unbiased observer, that God is singling out amputees and purposefully ignoring them.

[M]any believers will say, “God always answers prayers, but sometimes his answer is ‘no.’ If your prayer does not fit with God’s will, then God will say ‘no’ to you.” This feels odd because God’s answer to every amputee is always “no” when it comes to regenerating lost limbs. Jesus says, “If you ask anything in my name, I will do it.” He does not say, “If you ask anything in my name, I will do it, unless you are praying about an amputated limb, in which case I will always reject your prayer.” Jesus also says, “Nothing will be impossible to you,” and regenerating a limb should therefore be possible. The fact that God refuses to answer every prayer to regenerate a lost limb seems strange, doesn’t it?

Now, since we are on the topic of God and his obvious non-existence, I am reminded of an early paper I wrote in college for my “Critiques of Christianity” course in Theology. That paper was my first official exploration into the territory of mild atheism. Frankly, I was glad to write that paper because it forced me to revisit my already ambivalent feelings toward Christianity and come down conclusively on any one side of belief or unbelief.

I extensively researched source material for the paper, including materials from Catholic apologists from Boston University (the writers of the famous Handbook…), Micheal Martin’s “Case Against Chrisitianity,” several books on Theodicy, Soteriology, and Christology, whose author names I cannot remember now. 

One of the points of argument I made in my paper regarding the Resurrection story of Jesus was that Jesus was not the only one to have allegedly resurrected from the dead according to the Gospels. One of the Gospels explicitly states that when Jesus died on the cross, the earth split, rocks rolled off the tombs, and dead people resurrected in large numbers and went into the city to spread the word of God.

So, apparently, Jesus was not the only one to self-resurrect from the dead; but for some reason, he got the most publicity for his stunt. 

In any case, by the end of my paper, I had surprised myself by the strongly anti-christian and anti-God-incarnate conclusions I reached. I’ll also admit that I was worried by my conclusions at that time. I was still emotionally religious; but my paper had just forced me to rationally confront my emotional predilection. My emotional need to cling to beliefs I was familiar with and which I had thoroughly internalized over all my life created a sense of discomfort against the honesty of my rational conclusions.

My emotional responses of fear, discomfort, and uncertainty stemmed from the deeply engrained irrational beliefs that I held and wanted to protect. I feared that I may be guilty of grevious blasphemy against God because of my rational conclusions. Note that my rational conclusions were so new to me that they had yet to be internalized and integrated into my subsconscious mind and “reprogram” my emotional responses. Thus, I was essentially feeling the philosophy I had held at that time. I was afraid for my “soul” because of my rational but sacrilegious words.

I don’t exactly remember how, but eventually I overcame my emotional responses of fear and my emotional attachment to religious belief. I suspect it came about gradually with my increased immersion into the study of religious belief and rational philosophy. Importantly, I can note from my experience that the greatest hurdle in overcoming religious belief is overcoming my own fear–fear of supernatural retribution, fear of unknown spiritual and philosophical exploration, fear of losing your emotional comfort zone, fear of having no moral and ideological framework without religion, etc. Note that the variety of this emotional response all stem from an unfounded and irrational philosophical premise–that reality does not have primacy (the primacy of supernatural consciousness) and that man’s consciousness is inept and incompetent in dealing with and facing reality.

Truly, being an atheist is a very liberating and exultant feeling, of a magnitude greater than any religious experience, because it does not dull after the momentary high of a religious experience; it is a feeling that characterizes your very approach to life and existence.

Posted in Atheism, Culture, General Work/Life, My Theories and Ideas, Personal, Philosophy, Religion, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

Richard Dawkins is not an Atheist

Posted by Jerry on September 11, 2007

Richard Dawkins would make such a good atheist. No, he isn’t one already. Dawkins, by his own admission, cannot properly lay claim to the label of “atheist.”

In The God Delusion, Dawkins places his brand of de facto atheism at number 6 along a scale of 1 to 7, where 1 is “strong theist” and 7 is “strong atheist.”

“I am an agnostic,” Dawkins says, “only to the extent that I am agnostic about fairies at the bottom of the garden.”

Dawkins asserts that strong atheism (of the magnitude of 7 on his belief scale) is not possible because “reason alone could not propel one to the conviction that anything definitely does not exist. [Hence,] I count myself in category 6″, where 6 represents:

Very low probability [of God existing], but short of zero. De facto atheist. “I cannot know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there.”

This is why I said earlier that Richard Dawkins needs Objectivism. Being primarily a scientist, Dawkins finds himself constrained by the compulsion to be empirical in his claims, according to which absolute certainty is equated with or close to being dogmatic, and skepticism is touted as the hallmark of free thought.

This intellectual impediment imputed by the philosophies of empiricism and skepticism is the result of several flawed premises. Absolute certainty is considered impossible because the human means of gaining knowledge is regarded as inherently biased or frail. The premise of this complaint is that omniscience is the ideal epistemological standard and the absence of an organ of consciousness (i.e., a vacuum) is the ideal method of awareness. Consequently, the notion of “absolute certainty” arises from these flawed premises–“absolute” means a-contextual and a result of omniscient awareness and human knowledge is flawed because it is obtained by our faculty of consciousness. 

Objectivism identifies the fact that all human knowledge is contextual and relational, i.e., all knowledge is necessarily internally related within and across specific domains; every bit of knowledge relates in some manner with every other. This epistemological principle is a direct reflection of the metaphysical fact of existence: there is only one reality, and no aspect of existence can exist wholly independent of everything else.

Given that all knowledge is contextual, the notion of absolute certainty, too, can only be meaningful within a specific context. There can be no absolutes that has no relation with any other bit of knowledge–and by derivation–independent of all reality. To hold such a notion of “absolute certainty” is to contradict the unified nature of both the epistemological and metaphysical domains.

An important implication of the above, therefore, is that once absolute certainty is achieved within a specific context, no future information pertaining to and arising within that context can contradict the prior certain knowledge. All properly contextualized truth is absolute. For example, therefore, once the absolute validity of the primacy of existence is grasped, all claims to the primacy of consciousness can be rejected absolutely. Further, since all knowledge is related, the primacy of existence bears important relations with other premises, viz. the identity of existents, the nature of consciousness, the law of causality, the absence of randomness, etc.

Thus, Objectivism rejects the claim that man must have omniscient knowledge to achieve certainty or reject the existence of god, fairies, demons, etc. For example, one does not need to draw every possible square and every possible circle of different parameters to conclude that a squared-circle is an impossible figure. The concepts “square” and “circle” preclude such a possibility. Concepts–like the rest of knowledge–are relational; they are formed by the human consciousness in a specific context related to reality.

Therefore, if knowledge and concepts in man’s mind are relational, then they cannot have internal contradictions–they have to remain in internal harmony. Hence, the method of conceptual cognition that reflects the harmonious nature of non-contradictory knowledge in man’s mind is logic, i.e., the method of non-contradictory identification.

Thus, Objectivism reveals to us the powerful mechanism of logical identification that we can use to achieve certainty. Using this method of logical identification, Objectivists like myself, Diana Hsieh, and Greg Perkins have tackled the specific God-concepts (in the context of the nature of existence) and revealed its inherent logical contradictions–with the same force of rational conviction by which we say that a squared-circle is impossible. Insofar as God is defined as an intelligent, supernatural being, God’s existence is not just highly improbable, but impossible. Other definitions of God–such as God is energy, God is nature, etc.–are at best meaningless. If you wish to claim that the energy of a burning cake of cow dung is god, then you are delusional, your god is useless and not worthy of attention, and I am the incarnation of Batman. If God is nature, then the Indians defecating and urinating by the roadside must surely be going to hell! :-)

Thus, while Richard Dawkins likes to exploit his image of being one of the foremost atheistic scientist to sell his books and remain in the center of religious debate, by his own admission and by his own philosophy, he is unable to fully embrace the pure certainty of atheism.

And no, atheism cannot merely be defined as “unbelief” or “lack of belief” in god. Definitions–to be meaningful–have to be precise. To define atheism merely as “unbelief” is to render the concept so broad as to be meaningless, because by such a definition most of us would be atheists–the retarded, the uneducated, and little children; in sum, anyone who has no belief in god for reasons like impeded intellect, lack of education, and being too young to know anything is an atheist.

Atheism has to be defined as an assertive statement of knowledge–not belief–that the existence of god and any supernatural being is false and impossible.

____________

A reader commented below that atheism should indeed be defined as a broad term and not specific. I realize I did not provide an explicit argument for my position in the post; I felt it was unnecessary and self-evident. Since I am obviously mistaken in assuming, I provide my response to the commentor here to explicate the reason behind why I insist on a specific definition of atheism:

To appreciate the reason why atheism needs to have a specific denotation and not a broad and vague connotation, one has to understand that atheism is a *subset* of a type of ideological position, namely, the ideological position pertaining to metaphysics and spiritual belief. In that context, your analogy of atheism and liquid is false. The concept “liquid” is intended to denote a particular atomic/molecular state and contrast it with the atomic/molecular state of solids and gases. A proper analogy would be to compare the conceptual level of “liquid” with the concept of “ideology” or “belief”.

Just as water is subsumed under the concept “liquid” (i.e., it is in the subset of liquids), atheism is subsumed under the concept “ideology” or “belief.” Therefore, just as water is particularly specific in denotation, atheism must also be particularly specific in denotation.

Since atheism is a subset of “belief”, it must necessarily denote an ideological position adopted by the believer. Therefore, a retarded person or an infant cannot be properly called an atheist (under a proper definition of atheism) because they do not possess the faculties necessary to adopt any particular ideological belief. It would be as nonsensical as calling all new born babies followers of Zoroastrianism! Just as you wouldn’t give a specific ideological label to babies (of Scientology, say), you wouldn’t properly give them the ideological label of “atheism.”

Any ideological position has to be consciously adopted by a thinking being. An acceptance of an ideology denotes an acceptance of a truth; all truth resides only within the minds of conceptual beings. Therefore, the label atheism–as an ideological position pertaining to metaphysics–must reside in the minds of conceptual beings and must be defined as a positive knowledge or grasp of a metaphysical fact. If you don’t have that grasp, then you are either defined as an agnostic or a theist.

Posted in Atheism, Ayn Rand, Books, General Work/Life, India, My Theories and Ideas, Objectivism, Philosophy, Religion, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | 62 Comments »

Journal Entry: On Heaven and Hell

Posted by Jerry on September 7, 2007

[Below is one of the entries from the philosophy journal I used to keep while I was in college. I do not, anymore, necessarily subscribe to any/all of the views mentioned in it; it would be inaccurate to even say that I subscribed to all of these views at the time of writing—about five years ago. You may notice several glaring logical fallacies and inconsistencies in them. Feel free to point them out in the comments.]

“Heaven is not a place where all your desires are fulfilled, where there is joy forever, where there are lots of food, great tasting wine, riches, and gold,” I heard a student say this during one of the Christian prayer group meetings on campus. The student went on to say what heaven actually is like; he quoted some verses from the New Testament. He said that heaven is finding eternal joy in the worship and glory of God.

I just happened to be passing by the hallway when I heard all of this. And the first thing that struck me was, if heaven really was that, then it surely must be the most boring place ever! I mean, I just can’t see myself doing something for eternity—the same something forever! I don’t see how there can be eternal happiness in praising God, boosting His ego, telling Him things He should already be aware of—and doing it forever!

Nevertheless, now as I think more of it, I remember my mom saying something like this when I was a kid. She said that the soul will be sooo overjoyed at being in the presence of an almighty God, that all its praises and worship would seem inadequate—and therefore, the soul would basically spend all eternity trying to overcome the inadequacy. I guess it’s something like a struggle forever. The awesomeness of God will highly overwhelm the soul that the only basic endeavor left within the soul—its basic desire—would be to unceasingly glorify the awesome, mighty God. And in doing that, the soul would find all joy.

This innocent and devoutly religious view held by my mother seems to have much emotional appeal. I’m sure there are many other Christians in the world who believe similarly in terms of what it means to be in heaven. However, upon closely scrutinizing a belief like that, one can come up with some interesting questions and reveal some inherent problems.

First, and the most basic problem I have with this view, is—what is the ultimate purpose of all this? What is the goal? Does God merely play this whole stunt of watching us live, suffer, enjoy, die, and then either take us to heaven or throw us in hell for a sadistic or ego-bolstering purpose? So that when the good guys go to heaven, all they do is inflate His ego for eternity? What is the reason for doing this? As a child, I had no probs with this belief, but now I need more reason and clarification. What is the purpose of a heaven and hell? If you say that they serve to administer justice, well then fine. Those that go to hell suffer for their wrong-doings, and those in heaven enjoy the fruits of a good life. But why have it for eternity? How just is it for God to punish human souls for eternity for finite crimes committed in a spatio-temporally finite world?

Among the many responses the apologetics give us in answer to the above problem is that Hell is eternal but not infinite. They say that there are limits or levels in hell. All of this seems absurd to me! First, how do they know all this? Second, so what difference does it make? The soul will still have to spend an eternity of suffering in hell, no matter what “level” of hell they’re in! Another response to the same question, they say that Hell is privation of God—a no-God situation that causes immense torture to the soul. They say that physical pain comes in intensities, but the privation of God is total. There is a clear contradiction between their first and second responses. They say that Hell has levels, then they say Hell is total privation of God. So what is it?—Different levels within a total privation of God? What does that even mean? So, in a totally “no-God” Hell, I can be at a level of low suffering, where I don’t really really suffer too much from the absence of God—or I could be in a moderate intensity level hell, wherein I kinda sorta miss having God around and it troubles me slightly—or I could be damned to the worst level of Hell, where I TERRIBLY miss God, and His privation is total upon me that tortures me immensely. Does all of this actually sound sane? This is like believing in really crazy stuff! And what about the problem of omniscience?—Since God is supposed to be omniscient, He can’t really be missing in Hell; but if He is missing, then you have a God that is not entirely in all places at all times. And in the opposite case, you have a God who is in Hell, along with the Devil and the rest of the sinners!

Anyway, going back to the problems with believing in heavenly joy the way I explained before—it seems like once you are in heaven, all you do is praise God. However, if one’s praises of God can never still be adequate enough, then basically the soul is engaged in a futile endeavor of trying to give God all the praises that He is worth by doing it for eternity. But the very idea of doing something for eternity means you never stop doing it or never reach a point where you have given enough praise. If this is so, then how compatible is this view with the notion that heaven is a place of fulfillment and satisfaction and rest and peace and no more desires? If the soul is never satisfied with the amount of praises it can give, then technically, heaven is not a place of total satisfaction. In other words, there is desire and lacking in heaven, too.

Also, does this view of souls praising God unendingly fit with the idea that there is happiness in doing that? I mean, if there is happiness in praising God, then there should also be avenues for sadness or neutrality or other feelings while NOT praising God and while doing other activities in heaven (whatever they may be), assuming that souls in heaven have the free will to praise God or not. So, if a soul chooses not to praise God, it will not be happy; but then would it be okay for the soul to remain in heaven in that case? I mean, can a soul experience sadness, anger, fear, frustration, boredom, etc. in a place like heaven? I would think that it should be able to experience other emotions just like it can experience the emotion of happiness. Why not, if it is a free soul?

Anyway, another question on my mind right now is, what does it mean for a soul to “experience” temporal feeling and emotions like happiness in heaven and pain or anger in hell? What are its “tools” or “organs” of experiencing these sensations and emotions? Can there be any logical way we can think of to explain how a soul could experience feelings—or whether it is even possible for it to do so? How can we associate the experiences of a soul as consequences of the actions of its body? I mean, like if I am a sinner and I die—how do I exactly get punished for it?—By having my soul get thrown into hell. But how can one associate that soul suffering in hell as “MY” soul suffering the consequences of “MY” actions? These seem to be very complicated questions, and I would have to probably write another journal entry focusing only on these issues.

However, just as a superficial and quick explanation, I’m going to tackle some of those questions now. I think we can take the analogy of dreams. In our dreams, we live out strange and fantastic worlds where many of our known natural laws don’t seem to exist or function. Nevertheless, in such fantastic dream worlds, we are able to use our physical and natural five senses to experience our dream worlds. For example, in our dreams, we can experience smell, the taste of great food, feel the touch of an angel, see the flight of an elephant, hear the songs of the ducks, etc. All of our senses work as well as if in the real world to make our dreams so believable and actual to us. This is how we experience a strange world in our nights, which does not really exist. Similarly, the after-life, heaven, and hell are like dream worlds and out souls move into those worlds and experience those worlds in a similar fashion with our five senses even though the physical is absent. Similarly, also, the soul is experiencing the consequences of the actions of the human being and can be associated in a relationship analogous to the physical person asleep on the bed with the active dream character alive in the person’s mind. Just as the dreamer is also the ‘dreamee’ or the character experiencing the different dream world, so is the soul the same thing as the human being who preceded it.

Posted in Atheism, Journal Entries, My Theories and Ideas, Personal, Philosophy, Religion, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Lucky to be in India

Posted by Jerry on September 7, 2007

There are times when I am reminded of how lucky I am to be in India. This is one of those times:

Airline sacrifices goats to appease sky god

KATHMANDU (Reuters) – Officials at Nepal’s state-run airline have sacrificed two goats to appease Akash Bhairab, the Hindu sky god, following technical problems with one of its Boeing 757 aircraft, the carrier said Tuesday. …The goats were sacrificed in front of the troublesome aircraft Sunday at Nepal’s only international airport in Kathmandu in accordance with Hindu traditions, an official said.

[HT: Greg at Noodlefood

The question that still remains is, did the technical glitch in the airplane get resolved? I wonder what the mechanic who invariably had to sort out whatever technical glitch had to say about a goat getting all the attention!

Well, just as I was feeling slightly happy to be in India, I remembered this comment left on one of my posts:

proud that we give respect cow as same as our mother coz after mothers milk we have cows milk.
our land is our mother we even give respect to stones , but some countries hav no human values.

Gawd.

Posted in Culture, General Work/Life, Humor, India, Personal, Religion, Uncategorized | 20 Comments »

 
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