Leitmotif

Reason as the Leading Motive

Archive for the ‘India’ Category

Family

Posted by Jerry on January 7, 2008

The other night, just as I lay my head on my pillow to sleep, this thought formed in my mind, obviously for some reasons:

In India, a family refers to a group of people related by blood, who are so closely bound to each other–often against their will–that the only kind of glances they can manage among themselves is through the squint of their eye.

Posted in Culture, Favorite Quotes, India, Mumbai, My Theories and Ideas, Personal, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

Being The Silly Oncle

Posted by Jerry on December 18, 2007

It used to be that every evening when I got home from work, I would make a few perfunctory gestures toward my parents and head straight to my room–my very personal sanctuary that I designed very carefully to suit my tastes. Usually, I would only emerge for dinner, make minimal conversation only if necessary, and then revert back to my room for the rest of the night. Most of my blogging and reading activities (outside of work) would occur at this time in the privacy of my room and the quietness of my mind.

My mornings out in the rest of the house are usually very brief; a few minutes before I leave for work, I step outside my room, head to the kitchen, grab something to eat quickly, and head out the door.

Things have changed recently, however; my sister and her two little kids have moved to India and are living with us now. My little niece–Anushka–is about four years old and acts like a grandma! My little nephew–Abner–has been on this earth for barely a year now–he’ll turn one in January. 🙂

They are such delights to be with! Nowadays, I spend much of my time at home outside my room playing with the kids. Anushka is such an intelligent little brat, she’ll chide me sometimes for being “silly” when I play with her! She’ll say things like “Jerry Oncle [that’s how she pronounces “uncle”] don’t be silly! That’s very silly!”

Little boy Abner is too young at this time to do anything beyond making incoherent noises and inadvertently erratic limb movements. But he’s aware enough to know when to smile or laugh when he sees a familiar face or hears a friendly voice. He loves it when I carry him horizontally and zoom him around the house–like superman flying through the air.

Sometimes I lift him up to give him a unique vantage point from which to view his surroundings; I think he likes that because he looks on with such intent curiosity as I move him along different positions around the same object. I don’t think his mind is developed enough to realize that he’s watching the same object from different angles and heights; his mind probably perceives it as discrete perceptual instances. But the wonder of it all is rather apparent in the way he looks, as if he is examining the object and being perplexed by the similarities. I wonder if this may help develop his faculty of orientation and space perception early on. Also, it seems that even at this early age, he recognizes mirror images as reflections of the self. He glances at his reflection and then at me and my reflection and seems to smile in understanding.

Abner’s older sibling seems to be already beyond her years. She understands the concept of “space” and “property,” and she respects my space, my things, and my room. Once, I told her in a firm but gentle voice that she is should not enter my room when I’m not at home. She wanted to know why. She wants to know why about everything anyone says. “Why should I not go to your room?” “Because it is not good to go into someone’s room when they are not around.”

I don’t think she really understands all aspects of the responses we give to her “why” questions, but we have made it a policy to never discourage her from asking why. All she wants to hear is a response to her question even if she does not entirely understand what we say; and we never deny her that respect. Also, we never respond to her “why” questions with “because I said so” or “don’t ask why, just listen.” This is a conscious policy that everyone at home follows. However, this often means that we have to be exceptionally creative in fabricating a response that makes some sense–however ridiculous or far-fetched the reasons may be! For example, she’ll ask “Jerry Oncle, why do you close the door?” Hmmm… 🙂

But not only does she not enter my room when I’m not home, she actively ensures that no else does, too! I have been told several times that my niece had “scolded” my sister and mom for entering my room: “This is Jerry Oncle’s room! Why are you going in Jerry Oncle’s room?”

The other night, my niece and I were sitting on my bed tucked under my cozy comforter, we were reading Oh, The Places You’ll Go by Dr. Suess, which a dear friend of mine gave to me just before I left the United States. My niece can’t read anything as yet; she has not started school and has not learned to read words. However, she has a rather extensive vocabulary for her age, and was able to follow–and gleefully enjoy–the Dr. Suess poem.

At first, I wondered how I would explain the concept of “thinking” and “perseverance” in relation to the idea of pursuing a goal and achieving success and going places in life, which the poem is about. Amazingly, she was able to exactly identify the theme of the story by saying “You use your imagination to go places. And you go here, and here, and here, and you use your brain and go here, and here…” using her hands to point to her head and to pictures of roads and buildings on the page!

I was very surprised that she knew the concept of “imagination”; so, I added to her understanding of that concept by introducing the concept of “thinking” or “reasoning.” I said, “Yes, you use your imagination and your brain… you think and think to find new places to go! And then you go to new places, with your imagination and by thinking, with your brain!” And I gestured to her head to indicate where the thinking occurs.

She had enjoyed this reading of Dr. Suess with me so much that the next day, while I was at work, I got a call from my sister saying that my niece was insisting on wanting to read some book “about the brain. Some brain book she wants to read.”

My sister had no knowledge of our activity and so she had no clue what book Anushka was referring to. I told my sister that the book is in my room and that when I get home in the evening, I would take the book out and read the poem again with her. But my sister said that Anushka was insisting on wanting that book now. I told her, tell Anu that she must wait for me to get home in the evening because she will not get that book now. She must not get everything the moment she demands for them.

That evening, when I got home, my little neice happily came up to my room, stood by the door, stuck her head in to look at me lying on my bed, and said: “I miss you Jerry Oncle. Why do you have to go to office?” I’m so often surprised by the things she says, but I try not to make my surprise obvious; I continue as if the conversation were between adults and therefore there’s no expectation of anything less.

When I asked my sister where or how did Anu learn the word “imagination,” she said “from Disney’s world of imagination.” Ah! It made sense, of course! Children can absorb so much knowledge–even implicitly–from attractive artistic and creative works. 

We sat together again that night and read through the poem. That particular poem is an excellent medium of conveying some very crucial developmental ideas to a young child–of the need to perservere on the path to one’s goals, the need to use your mind and imagination to think, the need to make the most of your life’s moments, and so much more.

Sometimes I simply like to observe the two kids and watch how they interact with their environment. I wonder what’s going on in their brains: how does their consciousness develop from the perceptual to the conceptual; how and when do they begin to observe relationships between cause and effects, do they reason about simple processes and try to make simple sense of them?

One day, I decided to pester my little niece because I wanted to investigate the manner in which she learned and structured her concepts. I noticed that she was playing with her Island Princess Barbie. I sat down next to her, picked up the Barbie doll, and asked her:

“Is this is a girl or a doll?”
“It’s Barbie!” She responded immediately.

Okay, so hmmm… I thought. Well, let’s try this once more. I persisted:

“But is Barbie a girl or a doll?”
“It’s Barbie, Jerry Oncle.”
“Yes, But is it a doll?”
“It’s Barbie! You’re being silly, Jerry Oncle.”

Okay. Ya, I was being silly! I mean, hell, why would she care? It’s Barbie!

Anyway, I decided to let that rest and leave her alone to play in peace with her Barbie.

My nephew, now–the little toddler–can’t seem to control his limbs. They fling around all over the place erratically, like a bulldozer gone berserk! And he loves grabbing, touching, or holding on to anything he can get his hands on. It’s almost as if he is learning of his surroundings through his sense of touch. It’s fascinating, but we have to always keep a careful eye on him.

One Sunday evening, after a long and tiring day of shopping and eating out with the kids and family, my nephew fell asleep on my chest during our drive home–his tiny arms spread on either side of my torso (we don’t use a car seat for him). I literally froze myself in the seat so that I barely moved so as to not disturb his sleep. But he was too fast asleep to really care, notice, or be disturbed by any of it.

I thought it was one of the most beautiful experiences to have a toddler sprawled across your chest, fast asleep, with all the trust and not a care in the world.

Having said all of this, I realize that having a child is one of the biggest responsibilities you can undertake–it is the task of bringing a human being into this world, making him capable of functioning in reality, equipping him mentally and physically with the task of efficient and competent survival, imbibing in him the virtues he will require in life, and pointing him toward the rational way to achieving joy, happiness, success, and a productive life.  It is no easy feat, and demands a parent’s long-term and voluntary committment to their choice of parenthood.

Given what I currently forsee in the future for myself and the values that I wish to pursue, having and raising children are not an optional task I wish to undertake. I am content with having the pleasure of watching and being involved in the mental growth of my little niece and nephew.

Posted in General Work/Life, India, Personal, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | 10 Comments »

Immoral and Illegal

Posted by Jerry on December 6, 2007

The distinction between immorality and illegality is the distinction between that which applies to the private sphere of a man’s mind and that which governs the behavior of men in a social setting. However, because man is an indivisible entity possessing both mind and body, the specific nature of his thoughts can certainly inform the nature of his actions. In other words, a man can have immoral thoughts and act upon them, which would make his actions also immoral; nevertheless, his immoral actions may not necessarily be illegal or criminal acts.  

All that which is immoral is not necessarily also illegal. For example, it is immoral to pleasureably fantasize about plundering your neighbors home, raping their 10-year-old kid, and then hacking them all to death. Insofar as these remain merely fantasies, no crime–no act of force or fraud–has been committed and therefore there is nothing illegal or criminal about the thoughts. Nevertheless, in the privacy of his own mind, this person is an immoral–possibly deranged and psychopathic–individual; and if these thoughts were ever expressed in words to another sane individual, the proper response would be to condemn such fantasies as disgustingly immoral. One cannot respond with a neutral or amoral evaluation.

Morality is a private, individual affair: each man requires (and has) a moral code to guide him in living his life. His life can only be lived by him. His thoughts–about morality or anything else–can only be thought of by himself in his own head. Thinking–the process of cognition–is a private affair. Thoughts, therefore, belong only to an individual. Evaluating the morality of thoughts, therefore, is an evaluation of a private process of cognition.

Virtues, for example, are qualities and actions of an individual in pursuit of his values in reality. The virtue of honesty is a policy set by a man in relation to his mind’s grasp and acknowledgment of reality and facts–it is his commitment to never fake or evade the matters of fact as they objectively exist; only derivately is the virtue of honesty related to man’s interaction with others: a man could very well lie to himself and evade certain facts in the privacy of his own mind. Such a person is not practicing the virtue of honesty–even though he has lied to no one else; and to that extent, this person is immoral and irrational. His immoral thoughts, however, are not criminal or illegal.

Objective law does not punish a man for holding the wrong ideas or for being an untrustworthy character; usually, the punitive consequences of private immorality and irrationality arise from reality’s own exacting nature, from the requirements of survival, and the nature of an entity (for example, a man’s immoral thoughts may create a reciprocal relationship with feelings of self-disgust, repulsion, low self-esteem, psychological insecurity, repression of certain motives and emotions, evasive psychology, unhappy relationships, etc.).

Now, only when man puts his morality into practice or expresses his thoughts in explicit actions, is he stepping out of the private sphere of his mind–and even then, unless man is not surrounded in a social context with other men, the physical manifestation or practice of his immoral thoughts does not amount to a crime, they remain his own immoral actions.

The concept of crime exclusively denotes a certain set of actions in a social context, namely acts of force or fraud against others:

A crime is a violation of the right(s) of other men by force (or fraud). It is only the initiation of physical force against others—i.e., the recourse to violence—that can be classified as a crime in a free society (as distinguished from a civil wrong). Ideas [even immoral ideas], in a free society, are not a crime—and neither can they serve as the justification of a crime. — Ayn Rand

A social context is necessary for human flourishing, because–among other benefits–it provides the framework within which a division of labor society can emerge and thrive. Thus, man has to live in a society with other human beings and derive the benefits of voluntary trade in order to achieve flourishment. The concept of rights are the conditions that allow a man to enter a social context with a guarantee of life and liberty; rights allow man to practice his moral code and pursue his values (and disvalues) in a social context.

Therefore, the concept of rights is a political and social concept and applies exclusively to actions–not thoughts. That which is illegal necessarily requires the violation of rights, i.e., an action that mitigates or suppresses someone else’s rights by the introduction of force or fraud. In contrast, the immoral is not judged primarily against a social context, but against the context of an individual and his relationship to reality.

Therefore, the business of government is not to interfere in the advocacy or suppression of whatever ideas it considers moral or immoral. The purpose of the government–and of law enforcement agencies–is solely to examine individual actions to ascertain whether a crime (force or fraud) has been committed, and act in response to the severity of the crime. When the government punishes a criminal, it is not for his immoral ideology or set of beliefs that the punishment is awarded but specifically for his crime–the act and its severity.

To claim that the government can punish a man for his ideas is to grant the government legitimacy as a moral arbiter. Once this is granted to the government, it is only a matter of a few more rationalistic deductions thereafter to argue that the government should get into the business of ideological advocacy or suppression, i.e., become the thought-police of society, or institute a Communist state (see “Enforcing Moral Values“).

Few would defend the view that the government should reward men who have moral ideas by granting them (say) free property, health care, trips to the Bahamas, etc. Then, on what grounds can the government legitimately punish a man for immoral ideas, or what it may consider to be “thought-crimes”? On what grounds can the government punish people with immoral ideas (like racism or Nazism, which motivate so-called “hate crimes”), monitor the “moral fiber of society,” and censor certain ideas (like pornographic stories)? If it is not sufficient–or even permissible–to convict an individual for homophobia or racism, then why should there be special status granted to actions motivated by such thoughts that are clearly out of the bounds of legal punishment? Why are crimes motivated by homophobia or racism considered particularly heinous “hate crimes” that require special legislation and sentencing?

There is simply no legitimate ground for such government interference in the realm of ideas–be they moral or immoral–unless one subscribes to the notion that the government is a legitimate authority on morality and is the ultimate arbiter in moral affairs; this notion, in turn, has no other foundation other than the basis of collectivism, according to which, morality is not a private individual affair but a collective one and that an individual alone has no use or need for a moral code of principles.

Thus, maintaining clear boundaries between the spheres of the individual and the social, the domain of morality and legality, the concepts of morals and rights, the concepts of thought and action is as crucial as choosing between life and death, slavery and freedom, a dictatorship and a free society.

[Edits: Added a paragraph on the necessity of a social context for rights and human flourishment and an elaboration on hate crime laws.]

Posted in Ayn Rand, Culture, General Work/Life, India, Mumbai, My Theories and Ideas, Objectivism, Philosophy, Political Issues, Rights and Morality, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments »

Bating On the Way to Heaven

Posted by Jerry on November 28, 2007

Ha! This is for real. The following question appeared in this morning’s sex column of Mumbai Mirror–an English-language regional daily. I can’t decide which is more funny–the 20-year-old man who just discovered some new activity and his intended pathway to heaven, or the sex columnist’s response!

I’m a 20 year old man. I learnt “master bating” from my friends and now I cannot stay without it. I don’t have any bad habits like smoking and drinking. I have also lost weight because of this habit. I know many prostitutes who can show me the path to heaven but I don’t have the guts to deal with them. Please help.

Respose: You are not playing cricket; it is “masturbation” that you are doing. There is nothing to worry about. You will learn better control and masturbate only when you have something to excite you. No harm will come to you. Prostitutes or any unknown female will not send you to heaven — there are more chances of going to hell. Lead a healthy lifestyle.

[P.S. In the sport of cricket, a team bats while the other bowls–much like in baseball. Hence, the term “batting”, and a misspelled version of it: “bating.”]

Posted in Culture, General Work/Life, India, Love and Romance, Mumbai, Personal, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , | 7 Comments »

HIV and AIDS

Posted by Jerry on November 12, 2007

The other day, I happened to catch a Hindi movie on television halfway through. The movie was one of the few recent attempts by the Hindi film industry to discuss the issues of HIV and AIDS. The two lead characters–played by prominent Indian actors Shilpa Shetty and Salman Khan–were HIV positive; notably, they were also a heterosexual couple, which was the context in which this disease and its issues were discussed.

In India, HIV is not known to be a gay disease; this is because most HIV+ individuals here are married men and women. However, given the social stigma of homosexuality, it’s quite likely that there are many married men and women in India who are in fact gay. In any case, regardless of sexual orientation, a disease simply cannot have a selective sexual preference for its host: this is a natural fact and cannot be refuted unless one makes some appeal to supernaturalism of some sort, in which case the argument is not a refutation anyway. Nevertheless, I would agree that HIV is a prevalent problem among same-sex partners.

Of interest to me is the several complex moral issues that HIV/AIDS poses. AIDS is a truly dreadful disease, utterly dreadful. I don’t think most people–particularly, the young and sexually active–appreciate the dreadful magnitude of this disease. In a very real sense, having AIDS is literally having your very DNA breached by the parasitic virus, such that every cell in your body becomes a carrier of the virus. As your immune system progressively loses the impossible battle, the virus gradually compromises your entire existence, making you susceptible and open to any other parasite seeking a host. 

When I was younger, I used to be a volunteer HIV/AIDS activist; I worked with the Indian National Service Association in promoting AIDS awareness among high-risk groups like sex-workers. I even gave a brief talk on HIV/AIDS to a group of young Indian college students. Ironically, however, reflecting in hindsight about my outreach efforts, I sense that the impact and magnitude of this deadly disease is dulled by the approach to AIDS awareness we adopt. I realize that our efforts–the secular AIDS awareness advocacy–tries very hard to strip off all moral associations with the disease and with the individuals afflicted by it. Realize that AIDS is more than just a physical illness; in most cases, it is a consequence and realization of unfortunate mental, philosophical, and spiritual ailments.

There is a fine balance to be maintained between retaining an objective moral perspective on the matter on the one hand and eradicating the stigma from the disease in order to protect psychological health, legal rights, open debate, access to medication, and early treatment, on the other hand.

Nonetheless, in an effort to raise awareness and promote open discussion, we have deliberately tried to ignore and shroud the moral and philosophical issues inextricably linked to HIV/AIDS. There is a deeper issue here than just not using condoms or sterile syringes: there is the issue of values, rationality, moral accountability, self-esteem, dignity, self-identity, and more.

The efforts to promote safe-sex awareness adopt a concrete-bound approach to behavior: here’s the disease, here’s how you get it, here’s how you can avoid it. While this may work for some people over the short-term and is effective in mass communications, a permanent and psychologically rooted transformation in the behavior of a culture does not come about from this behavioral emphasis. This pragmatic approach does not even address the causes of high-risk behavior, which are more philosophical and psychological than behavioral.

If one agrees that man’s behavior is motivated by ideas–implicitly or explicitly held ideas–then it should be easy to see that the way to change behavior–any behavior–is to identify the bad ideas at the base and uproot them. In other words, one has to explicitly draw a connection between a behavior and the motivational premises in order to be able to change both–fundamentally and for a lasting effect.

The secular AIDS awareness and safe-sex efforts almost never discuss the moral and psychological contexts that in fact promote and make high-risk behaviors possible. Beyond merely stressing the importance of having safe-sex with single partners and using sterile needles to do drugs, there must be a simultaneous effort in sex education and rehabilitation to explicitly tackle the moral (i.e., philosophical) and psychological premises that permit a man to be reckless with his own life and that of his loved ones.

Observe, in contrast, that faith-based rehabilitation programs–whether they are for alcohol addiction, sex addition, drug abuse, or any other self-destructive behavior–focus on a wholistic transformation of the individual–a physical transformation that proceed from and follow the mental and spiritual transformation. Faith-based rehab programs either explicitly or implicitly push the individual to subscribe to a specific metaphysical worldview and to its corresponding ethical principles. They either explicitly make you adopt a Christian deity or some unnamed spiritual super consciousness to whom you become morally accountable. (For example, a man in Alcoholics Anonymous attributes his ability to stop drinking to a Higher Power.)

An example comes to mind of an HIV+ gay man who appeared on the Oprah show. He admitted to being reckless with his life, being a chronic drug abuser, and a mindless hedonist. The man claims that he has now found Jesus, after undergoing some faith-based detox and rehab program. He claims to have reformed and now considers it his mission to spread awareness about the disease and lead gay men toward a spiritually enlightened lifestyle.

The point is, morality, values, spirituality, and ethics have traditionally been in the religious domain and are the tools of religious rehabilitation programs by which they achieve their transformative goals. Those who know better know that you don’t need Jesus; you know that these tools are even more effective when used with a consistent body of philosophical principles that require no appeal to supernaturalism to address the spiritual in man. Religion–as a primitive form of philosophy–can safely be replaced with a rational philosophy that identifies man as a unified whole: both spiritual and physical–and grounds the union on a natural, realist metaphysics.

Secular outreach efforts–particularly in sex education in schools–lack this most crucial and life-saving methodology. And this is a symptom of the culture’s view that spiritual and mental values have no place in a scientific approach to a problem. The secular approach is to inundate and saturate a culture with concrete facts and exhortations to use contraceptives and sterile needles. Sex education in schools discuss sexually transmitted diseases outside the context of moral and spiritual values proper to a sexually healthy human being: they merely point out the disease, the ways of contracting them, and how to behaviorally avoid the disease. They have conceded the moral and spiritual ground entirely to religion, and even deride religious methods as psuedo-scientific, unempirical, and therefore, mystical. Quite logically then, those who seek a wholistic rehabilitation of their mental, philosophical, and psychological premises have no rational and secular institution to turn to or a rational method to adopt; hence, they turn to new-age mystical meditative and/or ascetic techniques in search of spiritual upheaval.

The secular outreach must come to recognize this glaring and life-threatening gap in their efforts: if HIV/AIDS–and any other self-destructive behavior–needs to be curbed, an education about the rational and moral nature of man–which guides man’s actions as his tool of survival–is imperative as early as possible in a sexually active person’s life. One should not shirk the responsibility of drawing moral evaluations of volitional actions (with the requisite sensitivity) in order to plant a truly rooted transformation of behavior that is motivated by newer, better, and rational premises.

In sum, it is as important and life-saving–if not more–to spread and promote a rational approach to life as distributing free condoms.

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

The complex moral issues about AIDS that I have not yet fully developed my thoughts on include moral culpability; perhaps, at some point I might raise the issue in a separate post. Specifically, should it be a crime for an HIV+ individual to have unprotected sex with an HIV negative partner? Depends on informed consent. If both partners are aware of the entire situation and still engage in this highly risky behavior, then it should not be illegal, although I regard it as immoral.

Is it a person’s responsibility to ascertain the HIV status of his sexual partner before having unprotected sex, or does the responsibility of disclosure lie with the HIV+ person? Perhaps, since it is difficult (impossible?) for a person to ascertain the HIV status of his partner by just asking or looking at him, the moral responsibility of disclosure should fall upon the HIV+ individual. To hide this life-threatening possibility from one’s sexual partner such that the partner is unable to make a fully informed decision about whether or not to enter into a sexual tryst is deceitful. Although, I would also state that to agree to have unprotected sex with someone whose HIV status you are unsure about or cannot verify is reckless (and immoral??) on your part.

Does non-disclosure amount to criminality? I don’t know yet. I’m open to being rationally persuaded either way.

Should disclosure of HIV status be mandatory before marriage or civil unions? No, not by the government. This can be handled privately by the concerned individuals. 

Should disclosure be mandatory for immigration–if yes, would the same principle apply to all other diseases, or only HIV/AIDS? Why? I’m uncertain on this issue as well. Reader comments are welcome.

[Edited to reflect the balanced approach of advocating concrete behavioral changes along with rational philosophical premises.]

Posted in Culture, General Work/Life, Homosexuality, India, My Theories and Ideas, Philosophy, Political Issues, Rights and Morality, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 13 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 »

Giant in the Sky

Posted by Jerry on October 25, 2007

I love airplanes. I love looking at them, I love flying in them, and I have always dreamed of being able to fly one of them. Unfortunately, due to an imperfect vision, I gave up on my dream to be a pilot. Even then, just to be surrounded by airplanes, I had even seriously considered becoming an Air Traffic Controllor.

My room has a view of the airport runway, from which I can see the jets land and take-off. My way to work goes around the perimeter of the airport landing strip just behind the airport wall. When I hear the roar of a jet approaching for a touchdown, I stick my head out of the autorickshaw to look up at the plane roaring past just a few feet above me. It’s often the highlight of my trip to work.

On my journey back from work, I usually take the public bus–because it’s cheaper and I’m in no hurry to get home. However, I often make it a point to get on a double-decker bus and climb up to the upper deck only so that I can get a good view of the runway when the bus passes by the airport along the perimeter road.

Today, the new Airbus A380–the largest jetliner in the world–took off officially as part of the Singapore Airlines fleet. While the Boeing 747 is also referred to as the “jumbo” jet, this Airbus giant is being called the “Superjumbo” jet.

[The aircraft] is as tall as a seven-story building. Each wing is big enough to hold about 70 mid-sized cars. 

The A380 ends the nearly 37-year reign of the U.S.-made Boeing 747 jumbojet as the world’s most spacious passenger plane. The A380 is also the most fuel efficient and quietest passenger jet ever built, from inside and outside, according to its European manufacturer, Airbus SAS.

This particular photograph of a man in front of the aircraft captures the significance of this achievement and that which made it possible.

Airbus A380

Posted in Culture, General Work/Life, India, Mumbai, Personal, Philosophy, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , | 2 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 »

Telegraph on Ayn Rand

Posted by Jerry on October 22, 2007

The Atlas celebrations in India is covered by The Telegraph. Since I organized the one in Mumbai, I am mentioned several times in the article.

The writer of the article e-mailed me to express her regret that her original piece was “severely truncated” for space issues. I can see that the intent of the article is very positive towards Ayn Rand. However, as with all such cases of articles on Ayn Rand’s philosophy written and edited by people who are not properly familiar with it, this article contains at least three major factual errors. It is highly unfortunate. I immediately e-mailed the writer and pointed out the inaccuracies, asking that she either revoke the article or rectify the errors quickly. I offered some suggestions on how those errors may be rectified. I’m not sure what will come out of it.

😦

P.S. For copyright issues, I was told not to post the article on my site. So visit the link to read it in full.

UPDATE: I was just informed that prominent Indian actor Shammi Kapoor’s quote in the article (about AS’s thesis that money is the root of all evil) is verbatim. This means either the entire book went right above the man’s head, he has an incredibly weak memory of what he read, or Kapoor was just very sloppy in talking with the reporter. In any case, all of this merely underscores the case that he shouldn’t even be mentioned in the article.

I encourage all of you to send Letters to the Editor (ttedit@abpmail.com) pointing out this error and raising more points to get a discussion going. I’ll be writing one myself. Feel free to post your LTE’s here in the comments.

UPDATE: My entire interview with the reporter, which was excluded from the article for space reasons, is posted here.

Posted in Ayn Rand, Books, Culture, General Work/Life, India, Mumbai, Objectivism, Philosophy, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments »

Thoughts This Morning

Posted by Jerry on October 18, 2007

I have met this person twice now. And I continue to be impressed, although with some warranted restraint. He has an upper-level position in a large US pharmaceutical company, is mature, intelligent in his sphere, and attractive. Last night he said, “I like you; so I want to go out of my way to meet you again. This is because I’m selfish.”

I’m optimistic about where this is headed.

[P.S. I sent this person a link to my article on Atlasphere, and over the phone, I said, “This is a link to what we were talking about last night. Check it out any time.” He responded, “Why at any time? I’ll check it out right now!”

He just says the right things, doesn’t he!]

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

On my way to work this morning in the autorickshaw, I decided that I need to calm my mind and just relax. You know how even after you’ve slept, you feel that only your body has relaxed but your mind is still tense or active or busy? So, on the entire trip to work, I just closed my eyes, plugged my ears with my headphones, and focused on the melodious music from my iPod. These days, I almost exclusively listen to Hindi/Bollywood music: the songs are so melodious, with a coherent rhythmic pace, and the lyrics are essentially poetry–very emotional, romantic, metaphorical, and imaginative. It was a good, calming, relaxing trip to work.

🙂

Posted in General Work/Life, India, Love and Romance, Movies, Mumbai, Personal, Uncategorized | 7 Comments »

The Terror of Increasing Freedom

Posted by Jerry on October 17, 2007

From the Atlasphere Meta-blog

Ayn Rand is extremely popular in India, but not with student Indira Dammu:

On my daily walk to class, I am taunted by chalkings that declare obscure statements such as “Who is John Galt?” Undoubtedly the handiwork of some pretentious “free-thinking” student group, these chalkings echo a disturbing trend among college students to identify themselves as libertarians.

Why don’t people like her choose to migrate to some socialist heaven, where income is distributed from each according to his ability to each according to his need, where a set of staple foods is rationed to long waiting lines of people, where goods and services are distributed among people not in exchange for value or currency but in response to need?

Why are such articles written by neo-Marxists (and Rawlsians) who choose to live in the most capitalist nation in the world?

Posted in Culture, Economics, General Work/Life, India, Objectivism, Philosophy, Political Issues, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

The Target of Ideological Outreach

Posted by Jerry on October 16, 2007

Someone at the Atlas Shrugged event I organized asked me why the Ayn Rand Institute (ARI) is not doing enough to educate children in the pre-school and high school levels on the ideas of Objectivism. He made the case that since children are at a particularly impressionable age, we must protect them from the influences of religious and irrational ideas imbibed by their parents and teachers. His argument was that if we protect the minds of young children early enough, they will have a better chance of being immune to irrational ideas later on in life, thus creating a fertile ground for the spread of Objectivist ideas.

He argued that by focusing on intellectuals and philosophers at the academic university level, ARI was already losing the opportunity of fostering young minds to grow with the ideas of reason. This, he argued, created the difficult situation of having to “unblock” the minds of later adults when they encounter Objectivist ideas, having to re-train them to think rationally, and perhaps not having much success in penetrating the minds of young adults who have been fed with irrationalism all their lives by their parents and teachers.

I disagreed with his analysis.

Objectivism is (1) a philosophy in general, and (2) a philosophy of reason in particular

As such, Objectivism makes crucial demands on a person to apply his critical thinking skills to process ideas and premises before reaching any conclusions. This statement implies two important requirements that a non-Objectivist must meet, failing which, it is best to leave the person alone and not bother engaging him in a discussion on the philosophy: one, he must be mentally and intellectually capable of considering new ideas; two, he must be honestly open to considering new ideas.

Therefore, it is more than a pursuit of frustration to try and convey the ideas of Objectivism to a mentally immature or intellectually incapable person: for example, little children, the retarded, the really old and infirm.

Objectivism is not a body of principles that must be religiously memorized and fed to little children, who should then be able to regurgitate the right principles in the exact order. Objectivism is a philosophy: it needs to be processed by an intellectually capable mind, a mind that has reached a sufficient level of maturity to make sense of philosophical premises. Objectivism is a philosophy of reason: it needs to be processed by a mind consciously dedicated to the task of rational and honest thinking, a mind that refuses to memorize a principle until it has rationally convinced itself of the principle’s truth.

The questioner above was implicitly–and perhaps unknowingly–propounding the idea of psychological determinism: that a child’s mind and intellectual premises are formed irreversibly during his childhood and that the child is doomed to those premises for the rest of his life. Granted that there are cases of children who grow up to hold the exact premises in adulthood that they were taught when they were kids; however, such cases are not proofs of psychological determinism but indicators of human volition. The Objectivist movement is better off not having such docile adults who succumb without a fight to the mental blocks laid by their parents or teachers. Remember, Objectivism demands an active consciousness that is committed to understanding and demanding reasons for every premise; Objectivism would benefit not having those without such an active epistemological inclination or those who tend to claim the intellectual victimhood of their particular circumstances.

Young children should properly be engaged at the sense-of-life level, i.e., at the level of aspirations, imagination, emotions, art, movies, books, recreational activities, friends, family, etc.; not at the level of philosophical principles. Philosophical ideas can be much effectively transmitted to a child’s mind through emotionally appealing, artistic or recreational means. Of course, as a child progresses through school, he should be taught critical thinking skills explicitly in order to tackle philosophical ideas in a limited measure. However, a pre-mature introduction to philosophical premises–especially, those as radical as the Objectivist premises of individualism, egoism, and self-interest–without the requisite years of training in critical thinking will only lead to an undigested, unintegrated, contortion of dogmatic beliefs. Eventually, such a child may literally “grow out” of their memorized philosophy and regard it as his foolish and juvenile indulgence in youth.

In religious training, little children are commanded by their parents or “moral science” teachers to memorize a set of incantations: like Koranic verses, the Apostles Creed, the Act of Contrition, etc. Many children grow up learning these prayers without ever pausing to reflect on the philosophical meaning of the words being uttered. Objectivism cannot–and should not–be taught to a child in this manner. A child must be shown the principle of rationality in action, not lectured on the essential nature of man that makes rationality virtuous and important. However, teaching by action and example is the job of an adult who understands the meaning and value of such lessons–and therefore, an adult is the proper target of philosophical outreach.

In this respect, the Ayn Rand Institute is brilliantly following the right course of action: they freely distribute Ayn Rand’s Anthem, We The Living, and The Fountainhead to be taught in the pre-school and high school levels to introduce young children (in accordance with their general level of mental maturity in that grade) to a new emotional sense of life, not a set of explicitly philosophical principles. The target of full-fledged philosophical outreach is properly adults–the adults who are parents of these children, the adults who do the “imbibing” of ideas in their children, the adults who are teachers, professors, and mentors of these children, the adults who are capable of processing and disseminating ideas in a culture.

Objectivism seeks the rational and active mind who wrestles the hardest with an idea before accepting it; Objectivism does not seek to have a large following of docile minds who were nursed with its philosophy from infancy and never bothered to validate its truth for themselves. Each man has to discover the truth of the principles of reason for himself: this task can only be done by an adult who is both capable and willing to do it.

[Edited]

Posted in Ayn Rand, Culture, General Work/Life, India, My Theories and Ideas, Objectivism, Philosophy, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 32 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 »

Atlas Celebrations in Landmark, Mumbai

Posted by Jerry on October 6, 2007

Atlas ShruggedAtlas ShruggedI have been working with Barun Mitra of the Liberty Institute in Delhi to organize a celebratory event in Mumbai. Hyderabad and Delhi will be having celebratory events simultaneously with the one in Mumbai. Check out the Liberty Institute announcement for more details.

Here are the event details in Mumbai:

October 12, 2007
7:00 P.M.
Landmark bookstore
Infiniti Mall
Andheri Link Road
Andheri (West)

Expect snacks, cake, a lively discussion, and an opportunity to meet Ayn Rand fans from across Mumbai.

UPDATE: Check out the Liberty Institute Web site for the announcement of the Mumbai event, including the program of events in Hyderabad and Delhi.

UPDATE: Professor Shehernaz from the Philosophy faculty at Wilson College may be speaking at the event on Ayn Rand’s philosophical influence on the Indian academia and culture in general.

UPDATE: View the Atlasphere announcement here. Also, sign-up for free on The Atlasphere to find fans and admirers of Ayn Rand around your local area. I noticed that their list of subscribers for India is quite substantial. In fact, the owner of the site–Joshua Zader–tells me that India is only second to the US in number of subscribers!

UPDATE: I’m working on screening a short 1974 video interview of Ayn Rand at the event. I should be getting the DVD by tomorrow.

UPDATE: Several members of the press are sending in inquiries! Therefore, I anticipate good media coverage. I am also in talks with some journalists who are fans of Ayn Rand and who have promised to make every effort to attend the event. I am beginning to have strong reasons to believe that there will be many more people attending than I had originally envisioned.

UPDATE: I have news that several other cities in India have come on board with their own celebratory events on this Anniversary: Bangalore, Calcutta, and may be even Patna. However, these cities will most likely have their events later next week, to have the time for preparations and such.

In any case, I am delighted to hear of it. I think India has beaten the United States with respect to the number of cities commemorating 50 years of Atlas Shrugged. I also believe there is a good reason for this. In my preparations for this event in Mumbai, I have become acquianted with so many Ayn Rand lovers from the older generation; i.e., people who have known, studied, and loved Ayn Rand’s works before the boom of the Internet and the phenomenon of blogging in India. Their access to Rand’s ideas were through more legitimate channels like actual audio/video recordings of her lectures and interviews, her books, and the newsletters. This is unlike the more recent crop of young Indian literates who for the most part rely on Internet searches and adulterated Wikipedia articles for their source of information.

For more on why Ayn Rand is respected more widely in India than in the United States, read this and this.

POST-EVENT UPDATE: In my assessment, the event I organized was a great success! 🙂 I was pleased with the number of people who turned up (22 people signed the information sheet, although I believe some more may have been present), and more importantly, I was pleased to learn of their deep interest in Ayn Rand. I think all of them loved the Ayn Rand interview from 1974. There was a diverse mix of people–from a boy who said he was in high school to older men and women who’ve been Rand fans for several decades. In the audience, there was a filmmaker, an author, fashion designer, editor, marketing professionals, stock broker, etc.

I asked a lovely lady with stylish black-rimmed glasses–who had come with a little tiny girl–whether she had read Atlas Shrugged. This is how she responded: “I have read *all* of Rand’s books. … Twice!”

I had to love that! 🙂

Anyway, it’s way too late in the night, and I have been literally surviving on 10-minute power naps for the past 10 days. So, a substantial post-event update is forthcoming, but only after I rest to my heart’s content! In the meantime, all my blog readers that I met this evening, now I know who you are and that you’re lurking around here. Place your comments about what you thought about the evening, about Rand’s interview, our discussions, the organizing–anything.

Here’re a couple pictures from the event:Atlas Shrugged Anniversary; Event audience. I’ll upload the rest later.

MEDIA UPDATE: I have just been contacted by a reporter from the Telegraph. She is interested in writing up a story on our Mumbai event.  I gave her some details and described the event to her. I also gave her the contact information of some who attended the event on Friday. She might contact you for quotes or opinions. [See the Telegraph article on Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged celebrations. See my interview with the Telegraph reporter here.]

The Times of India has a short article on the Hyderabad event. The Pioneer ran an editorial on the Ayn Rand event in Delhi.

Posted in Ayn Rand, Books, Culture, India, Mumbai, Objectivism, Philosophy, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 23 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 »

Piracy Protects Property Rights

Posted by Jerry on September 24, 2007

In India, buying pirated movies is the best way to protect your own property rights.

Pirated movies, videos, music, and software are rampant in the Indian market: they are sold openly, loudly, and prodigiously in the full presence of law enforcement officials, who are often also the patrons of such piracy. Indeed, it goes even further: pirated goods are often sold right on government–public–property!

The Indian constitution recognizes no right to private property, which is actually logically consistent with its constitutionally enshrined Socialist character.

Therefore, there are no economic transactions in India that absolutely exclude the presence of the government at every level.

In the context of pirated movies, when you purchase a legitimate copy of a DVD from a store, you will be wrong to assume that the government has not stepped in somewhere between the creator of the movie and you–the purchaser–of the movie to violate the sanctity of property rights. Further, because of this government interference, you can never be sure that the movie you are going to purchase is the same movie that you wish to purchase.

Recently, I bought the legitimate copies of Babel (on VCD) and 300 (on DVD); naively, I assumed that I had purchased that which I wanted to purchase, i.e., that which I considered was of a value worthy of trading in my money for.

Both movies were so grotesquely mutilated by the government censors that I had no interest left in watching or even owning them and they provided me with no value for the money I had spent. Note that the censorship was actually a government act of fraud and violation of property rights: The movies I ended up inadvertently owning were neither created by the director/producer nor were they the ones I was led into believing as being what I desired to own.

Thus, the knife of government censors slices both ways–they mutilate the property of the creators and fraudulently expropriate the money of the consumers who have no way of ascertaining the integrity of the product they are purchasing. The creator’s property rights are violated and the customer’s right to pursue that which they truly intend to own is also violated.

In this way, the government of India openly commits fraud, invalidates the objective property rights of its citizens, infringes on the property laws of other sovereign nations, and continues to foster piracy on its own turf.

In response to the criminal acts of the government, the Indian people are well justified in resorting to piracy; from what I hear, the pirated versions of the DVDs come directly from the US, bypassing Indian government interference and censorship, and therefore preserves the integrity of the originally intended creations of the movie producers.

Therefore, by having the original creation reach its consumers as properly intended, piracy in fact protects the property of its creators; and by delivering the correct product that the consumers actually wish to purchase, piracy is fostering an honest (non-fraudulent) exchange of value for value.

Of course, that the creators get no gains from the sales of pirated versions of their products is therefore not the fault of the common man in India; for this, they should properly target their blame upon the Indian government as the true originators of piracy and crime.

Notably, the same violation occurs with regard to cable television in India. While the US government treats cable television as a sacrosanct domain because it falls under the private ownership of cable subscribers, in India there is no dearth of government meddling, censorship, and outright blackouts of cable channels on the whims of the Indian Ministry of Communication. This is in obvious disregard for the fact that cable subscription is the private property of individual citizens who spend their hard-earned money to purchase it. 

Here again, the Indian government’s utter ineptitude at providing quality programming on broadcast channels–and its refusal to fully privatize broadcast air frequencies and get out of the business of media completely–has forced a majority of Indians to buy or steal cable service. Thus, while stealing cable is a crime, the blame should properly lie on the government as the true originators of the crime.

EDIT:

I’m reminded of Howard Roark’s actions in the Fountainhead. Roark much rather preferred that Keating took all credit for the design of Cortlandt and Roark received nothing for himself (in a sense, giving up his claim to his property–his designs) than have the integrity of his creation compromised. In a sense, this parallels the situation I am describing in India. A creator would rather have his creation released intactly with integrity and exactly as he intended–but have it be pirated–than have some incompetent secondhander in the government (who’s probably never made a movie in his entire life) mutilate his creation and sell it on the market as pseudo-legitimate property.

Of course, the analogy is weak and serves only an illustrative purpose–not a moral justification. Roark’s actions were deliberate and voluntary. Many of the movie-makers whose works get pirated are not even aware of the unlicensed reproduction of their works.

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

Two Articles

Posted by Jerry on September 17, 2007

There is a reason why I haven’t blogged much lately. My mind is occupied with some troubling personal issues beyond my control, which is more frustrating than the actual problem itself. In any case, since there isn’t anything I can do about it, I might as well function normally as best as I can.

For now, I’d like to draw your attention to two articles on the Web. The first is my own article published on the The Atlasphere–an online magazine for Ayn Rand enthusiasts. The article is a slightly edited version of my post on free markets in a cultural context. After you read the article, you can also rate it to your liking. So far, my article enjoys a reasonably high rating.

The second article is by Harriet Rubin published in the New York Times on Ayn Rand’s widespread influence in corporate America.

[John P. Stack] created an “open book” company in which employees were transparently working in their own interest.

Mr. Stack says that he assigned every job a bottom line value and that every salary, including his own, was posted on a company ticker daily. Workplaces, he said, are notoriously undemocratic, emotionally charged and political.

Mr. Stack says his free market replaced all that with rational behavior. A machinist knew exactly what his working hour contributed to the bottom line, and therefore the cost of slacking off. This, Mr. Stack said, was a manifestation of the philosophy of objectivism in “Atlas”: people guided by reason and self-interest.

The important fact to note from the article is the very real and practical influence of philosophy in everyone’s life. Corporations and the people who lead them have great impact on the employees, stakeholders, traders, vendors, politicians, and the culture in general; the imperative need for a rational philosophy guiding these businessmen and women is to ensure that the impact they create is a positive and desirable one.

[Happy update: The “troubling personal issue” that I referred to in my post while writing this about two hours ago has now been resolved! 🙂 I just learned of it a few minutes ago. I am immensely relieved.]

Posted in Ayn Rand, Culture, Economics, General Work/Life, India, Objectivism, Personal, Philosophy, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | 4 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 »

Indian Philosophy

Posted by Jerry on September 10, 2007

I need to rant.

Little else peeves me off more than finding the stupidest books ever written (and an irredeemably huge carbon footprint at that, if you ask me) placed in the Philosophy sections of bookstores here in Mumbai. Alongside way too many copies of Bertrand Russell’s various works, you will find the “philosophy” of Deepak Chopra; the Art of Living by some gay looking diva in a flowing white robe and long beard; the meditations and ruminations of Osho; books on Astrology, Numerology, and Palmistry; books on the occult, witchcraft, and magic; and all kinds of psuedo-scientific crap on telekinesis, ESP, and telepathy. These books take their place next to the works of Aristotle, Plato, Hume, Sartre, Marx, Will Durant, John Searle, Ray Monk, William Barrett, and even Ayn Rand.

Frankly, it’s aggravating!

Often, I have to consciously make an effort to look past such rubbish and dig out legitimate philosophical works. Why don’t they just relegate all such trash to a section titled “You don’t need a brain to read these!” Why adulterate the Philosophy section with such things?

And you know what’s worse? Seeing someone actually pick up a copy of one of these to buy it.

Sigh.

Posted in Books, Culture, General Work/Life, India, Mumbai, Personal, Philosophy, Uncategorized | 13 Comments »

 
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