A word of Hebrew origin, amen means so be it, truly.
Amen also happens to be the name of a movie inspired by the life of Harrish Iyer–an enterprising, entertaining, and enthusiastic young man; a friend of mine; and a persistent voice for the rights of sexual abuse victims and the queer community.
The story behind the creation of Amen is almost as divinely providential as the title itself suggests: Amen had to be, hence it is.
With almost no funding and no actors willing to play the daring roles required of the script depicting the evolution of two men as they discover each other’s bodies, souls, and histories, it is no small feat that today Amen is an exemplar of powerhouse cinema created by independent artists and their generous patrons, winning awards and being screened across film festivals over the world.
Apart from the Directors Judhajit Bhagchi & Ranadeep Bhattacharya, it is important to highlight the courage of the two lead actors Karan Mehra and Jitin Gulati. Both handsome and rising artists in the Indian film industry, Karan and Jitin portray characters that many would consider risqué and suicidal in terms of a professional acting career in Bollywood.
Nevertheless, displaying a kind of honest heroism that we rarely get to witness even in our fantastically idealistic Bollywood movies, Karan and Jitin play the role of gay man and child sex-abuse survivor with grit, intensity, compassion and passion, and also, when required, lots of tenderness.
India, however, is the villain in the off-screen tale.
The Indian Censor Board–the Stalinist body that decides what artistic speech Indians are fit to confront and what we are not–has refused to give this film a clearance for screening in movie theaters unless the directors agree to cut scenes and dialogues that they consider to be vulgar and obscene.
While to the right-minded person, it is amply evident as the light of day that what’s truly obscene here is that such a body exists and that such a body dictates–like a God, or a King, or the Pope–the terms and conditions under which adult, mature, Indian audiences are to experience art, for many in India this is the expected, the accepted, the routine, the procedural, and the mundane.
Properly speaking, the battle to get Amen out in theaters is not about fair and equal treatment of all movies with similar mature content; the real battle is about the nature of free speech, artistic freedom, and the right to self-determination.
Are we free to create, express, encounter, and consume the kind of art we want? Or, should we have to apply for prior approval from an all-governing, all-knowing, all-seeing body of authority that knows what is best for us better than we do for ourselves?
Are we free peoples? Or are we subjects of a great and benevolent ruler-king, by whose mercy and kindness we exist, we enjoy movies, and read books?
Are we ready for movies like Amen? Evidently not, according to the Indian Censor Board.
But should this fact matter at all? Absolutely not!
The matter is also not be about what happens to the Indian moral fabric if movies like Amen were to be released in all its mature glory. That’s the problem of individuals, their families, their schools, their private spheres.
The matter is about whether or not we can spend our energies, monies, time, and effort making such movies and expressing our emotions without the threat, fear, and result of censorship. The matter is about whether those of us who want to see such movies and elevate our consciousness to beyond just the most petty entertainment have the liberty to do so.
Alas, India is a democratic country. And as such, we do not live by the rule of law, but by the rule of the people. And this is one of the dangers of a democracy: the tyranny of the majority; the rule of the mob, who decides and postulates for the entire nation what they find offensive, what they find palatable, what they permit, and what they censor.
Amen is a story about the smallest minority in the world–the individual.
It is the story of a lonely individual who was abused by his uncle as a child and who grows up to meet another man, who in turn is a victim of his circumstance, tradition, and society.
As luck would have it, now Amen–the movie itself–is truly the victim at the hands of the Indian Censor Board–that great Council of Guardians of the Moral Fabric of the Indian People.
This is life in a democracy without the rule of law.
The idea that homosexuality is unnatural is held widely not just among the religiously tainted but also by those who support the rights of LGBT persons.
Perhaps this is because the experience of same-sex attraction is so incredibly difficult to imagine for heterosexuals that they prefer to let it remain unexamined. After all, putting yourself in another person’s shoes to empathize with their subjective experiences is a difficult process in itself—and in the case of homosexuality, this may demand a visceral experience that can be quite unsettling.
Hence, even those who have gay friends and are in support of recognizing the full rights of LGBT individuals hold a deep-seated belief that homosexuality is not “natural” and “not how things were meant to be.”
Given this, the most common defense of homosexuality then boils down to a matter of choice—the right to have a personal preference in romance, even though it might violate “natural” norms.
This is the premise that needs to be challenged and discarded.
Homosexuality is not a matter of choice. It is not a preference. It is completely natural. Indeed, it can also be an expression of the grandly spiritual.
The Factual Explanation
But let’s begin from a purely probabilistic calculation: in a population of over seven billion human beings on Earth, it is a lack of imagination to insist that all the billions of people will manifest only one kind of sexual behaviour in nature, namely, the heterosexual behaviour. Just by the pure mathematics of it, the amount of potential combinations and permutations possible to the human species in the kinds of sexual, psychological, emotional, and physical manifestations are limitless.
Homosexuality is merely one naturally occurring variant in the great spectrum of human psycho-sexual possibilities. This variety is the natural order of things. Diversity in every aspect of nature is the motive power that drives procreation and evolution.
However, the religiously tainted claim that homosexuality is an aberration only observed in humans. Again, this is an ignorance of the available evidence. There is ample amount of documented evidence of homosexual and bisexual behavior in various non-human species. A quick search on Wikipedia reveals that same-sex behavior is a nearly universal phenomenon in the animal kingdom, common across species.
What’s more, the human species itself has documented evidence of homosexual and bi-sexual behaviour since its earliest history, agnostic to cultures and geographies.
The Moral Case for Homosexuality
But beyond these existential facts about homosexuality lie the more important question: Is homosexuality an immoral indulgence? Does it degrade the dignity of human nature?
You will see at the end of this article that the answer is a resounding “No!”
The religiously tainted have dominated the moral conversation, and it is time we exposed the root of their arguments. At the root of their moral assertions lie a fear of confronting their own self-loathing, cowardice, and un-reason.
The religiously tainted argue that just because homosexuality is observed in the animal kingdom, it does not mean that humans should emulate the same and “become like animals!” We have a moral compass, they chide us. We can and must choose to be better than mere animals.
Notice carefully, however, that there is no reason given beyond a bald moral assertion that human sexual pleasure is degrading. There is an implicit admission of shame and guilt associated with human sexual desire, as if prima facie it is wrong and therefore must be suppressed at all costs.
This debased projection of the human capacity to experience desire, joy, and ecstasy as the cause of shame and guilt is the filthy consequence of a mind—and a culture—obsessed with the mechanics of sex, not the experience of sex.
But even keeping that aside, what is more specious is the view that homosexuality is the consequence of a mindless, perverse pursuit of the sexual stimulus. Apparently, according to the religiously tainted, nature has arranged the sexual organs of male and females to “fit” in a particular manner that facilitates procreation. Since this is the only natural way to procreate, it therefore must be the only moral way to have sex.
Like almost everything that the religiously tainted claim, this is yet another illogical and specious jump from a physical phenomenon to a moral conclusion. If the act of sex is justified purely because of the resultant ability to procreate, then by that logic all manner of non-procreative sexual activity will need to be immoral. That would include everything from healthy behaviors like masturbation to every act of sex even among married heterosexual couples that does not lead to child-bearing.
Further, if the capacity to procreate is what decides the morality of a sex act, then heterosexual couples cannot morally indulge in a host of intimate, loving, and celebratory activities like foreplay, cunnilingus, and fellatio. Finally, the act of wagging a finger on the private, bedroom activities of heterosexual lovers simply because they do not intend to have children is itself a highly egregious moral offense that cannot be explained away.
Are We Humans or Sex Organs?
But there are some very important questions that confront the religiously tainted, if they choose to honestly grapple with this topic:
Is it really dignified to interpret the complexities of our sexual desires as little more than the arrangement of organs that “fit” together in our bodies—like pipes in the bathroom plumbing system? Is it possible to explain all of human desires—those heights of emotional and sexual experience that motivate marvels of art and architecture—as products of only titillated sexual organs? Can the entirety of the human sexual experience be reduced to the activity of our sex organs?
The religiously tainted say yes, because it is their view of human sexuality that sees nothing spiritual, nothing transcendent, nothing holy, nothing reverent in sex. They are the ones who truly describe the human sexual experience as that of mere meat groping in the dark to find the right fit.
In contrast, humans are the only species in nature with the power to recast our entire existential being into a sexual organ. We are the only species that can transform our whole bodies and our minds into the service of sexual exploration and ecstasy. Indeed, we have the power to reach dizzying heights of emotional and psychological experience without even any physical contact.
This is proper to the fullest nature of human beings. This is when humans rise to all that is possible to its own nature.
Those who call this human potential “unnatural” and “against the order of nature” are actually not ignorant of what it means to be human; they are afraid of it. It is fear of the realization that they lack self-esteem and that they loathe their own bodies that drives their hatred for all that is possible to us as a species.
Implicitly, they realize that it is this fear which allows them to hide comfortably behind the dark pronouncements of their religions and traditions.
The only hurdle facing humanity in accepting homosexuality or any other diverse forms of human pleasure as legitimate forms of human psycho-sexual experience is the primitive Judeo-Christian morality that has pervaded our civilizations for more than 2000 years, infecting even non-Judeo-Christian cultures now.
This morality is frought with the guilt and shame of sex–any sex, not just homosexual sex–and hence, it attempts to minimize the possibilities and wide range of sexual indulgences possible to humans. The ideal at the end of the road, of course, is the complete and total eradication of the sexual experience–as perfected by their moral personification, Jesus Christ, and as attempted for centuries by the celibate clergy of the Catholic Church.
“Observe the false dichotomy offered: man’s choice is either mindless, “instinctual” copulation – or marriage, an institution presented not as a union of passionate love, but as a relationship of “chaste intimacy”, of “special personal friendship”, of “discipline proper to purity”, of unselfish duty, of alternating bouts with frustration and pregnancy, and of such unspeakable, Grade-B-movie-folks-next-door kind of boredom that any semi-living man would have to run, in self-preservation, to the nearest whorehouse.”
Ayn Rand On Living Death, a speech discussing the 1968 papal encyclical Humanae Vitae.
Professor Mugdha Karnik from the University of Mumbai had undertaken the monumental task of translating Ayn Rand’s epic novel Atlas Shrugged into Marathi — the regional language of the state of Maharashtra–one of the most populous states in the country.
I have personally heard Prof. Karnik read an excerpt from her translation during one of the Atlas Sunday Club Philosophy Salon’s I organize in Mumbai. She read the passage in which Hank Rearden is holding the dying young wet nurse in his arms. It is a stirring scene in the original novel–and listening to Prof. Karnik read it out in Marathi was equally moving.
I remember telling her at that time that I believe she did not just translate the language of Atlas Shrugged but also managed to translate the spirit of the novel.
Anyway, all of this is in preamble to the reason for this post. The new Marathi version of Atlas Shrugged is being released officially in the city. The following are details. All who are in Mumbai or can travel to the city are urged to attend:
Saturday, Feb 26, 2011
7 pm to 8.30 pm
Shivaji Mandir Dadar, Mumbai
GUEST SPEAKERS Veena Gavankar and Sharad Joshi
Dhananjay Karnik will introduce Sharad Joshi
For more details and information about the book, you can reach out to Professor Karnik at the following address:
Mugdha D. Karnik,
Centre for Extra-Mural Studies, University of Mumbai,
Vidyanagari, Kalina, Santacruz (E),
In brief, my thoughts on bisexuals and their capacity to have committed, romantic relationships with a single partner.
The incomprehensibility surrounding a person’s bisexuality has mostly to do with the fact that people impute more layers of complexity to the matter than is actually warranted.
Bisexuality is just like any other sexual identity. Merely because a bisexual has the possibility of forging deep and romantic relationships with both sexes (or the possibility of being physically intimate with both sexes) does not mean that he is inexorably led to do so at every juncture! Neither does it mean that he will more quickly tire of his current partner and seek someone of the other sex than his heterosexual and homosexual counterparts would!
A bisexual may well choose a partner of either sex and live in a committed, long-term relationship. The bond that keeps two people together in a lasting relationship is not sexual orientation (that’s more like a precondition), but love–and all the necessary elements that lead to the summary emotion of love.
And are we to deny that bisexuals have the same capacity to experience true love–for whichever gender that may be?
“Proposals should outline at least two educational events or activities designed to achieve the goals of the proposed program. This can be translation and/or distribution of the book, events such as book launch, reception, discussion forum, seminars, courses, press conferences, or any creative form of educational outreach such as a movie, interviews, contests, etc.
Proposals should include a draft budget of how the money would be spent and a timeline of how the project would be executed.
Grant proposals are due in English by October 15, 2008. Proposals should be submitted by e-mail to Ms. Yiqiao Xu at email@example.com.”
The grant is made possible by the BB&T Bank.
I am working with the Liberty Institute to secure this grant and here’s the preliminary set of ideas I have come up with. I’m posting these up here to get feedback and additional ideas on how best to promote the ideas of Atlas Shrugged in India. Please note that the deadline for submitting the proposal is very near.
Essay contest on Atlas Shrugged—across Indian colleges—with cash prizes for 3 winners.
Create professionally designed brochures and pamphlets of key ideas from Atlas Shrugged:
Francisco’s Money speech
Excerpts from John Galt’s speech
Other excerpts that highlight philosophical and artistic integration Leverage these brochures on all events, activities, cross-country trips, bookstores, etc.
Create and distribute large-sized posters of Atlas Shrugged and Ayn Rand across large-chain bookstores in India–to raise the visibility and sales of the novel.
Discussion seminars across various locations in India on themes from the Atlas Shrugged–moderated by me or representatives from the Liberty Institute
Philosophical themes for college professors from philosophy departments
The artistic merits of Atlas Shrugged—for students, artists, and professors from theaters, art institutes, and colleges
Panel of experts session on the moral theory of Atlas Shrugged versus other moral theories:
Panel of clerics, NGO representatives, journalists, doctors, scientists, etc.
Screening of the documentary film Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life on a cross-country tour across major movie chains such as PVR Cinemas–perhaps with the additional help and sponsorship of the American Center in Mumbai, tied-in with promotions of Atlas Shrugged—distributing brochures, books on sale, etc.
Buy media space (in newspapers and online media such as emails, etc.) for promotions of the above-mentioned events and activities
To the extent of my knowledge, nobody–not even any Objectivists–have pointed out some of the crucial complications in morality that occur toward the climactic scene in the movie The Dark Knight. I haven’t the time to write all of it down right now in detail, although I have stated these in conversations with my friend soon after we watched the movie for the second time.
Let me say this: The Dark Knight is a fantastic example of superb artistic integration–including music, plot, theme, character, ideas, logic, and conflict. It’s a cinematic achievement that occurs only rarely in a lifetime. However, it’s themes are dark, evil, and at very critical junctures, even ambiguous, which I think becomes its failing. This is not Nolan’s fault, however. I think it’s a matter of the philosophical context he functions in–the one in which we all find ourselves–the predominant one holding sway in this world today.
At the Atlasphere review of this movie, this is the comment I left:
I loved the movie as well; however, this review like all the others I have read by Objectivists, fail to identify some crucial failures in the morals held up as ideals by the director for the characters of Batman, Dent, and the people of Gotham.
For one, Rand would never have approved how the boat scene in the end turned out, nor would she have approved of how Batmand undercuts his own virtue and corrupts the image of good by accepting the mantle of a criminal fugitive. It’s a very Christ-like self-sacrificial attempt to take on the “sins of the world.”
In addition to the above, let me clarify that the boat scene requires a moral context that is ignorant of how the plot eventually plays out; imagine yourself as a citizen of Gotham on one of those boats and not having even an inkling about how your fate’s going to turn out. You do not know that Batman will eventually save the day. Now, given this context, analyze the morality of the actions that people on that boat commit–and the implicit affirmation of a certain course of action as the right and moral one.
UPDATE: Hello, yes, there is the gun-point scenario and the game theory. However, there is more, and unfortunately, I don’t have the time to make a detailed case, so here goes: The choice made by both parties in the two boats–and in particular, the choice made by the convicts–would logically have led to the destruction of the lives of everyone on both boats.
Essentially, between choosing to blow either one of the boats, *some* people made the “executive decision” to end the lives of every single person on both boats (by leaving the decision upto Joker to blow both boats at midnight).
However, this evil choice and its horrendously destructive logical outcome is cloaked under the garb of altruism that the movie affirms as the ideal and self-sacrificial course of action, when in fact there it is more a butchering of others than of the self that is being advocated, and the evil is not just altruism but annihilation, a worship of death.
The essential evil is this: Gotham city affirms the exact same premise of burning death and destruction that motivates Joker’s desire to see “the world burn.”
Moreover, the interference of Batman to save the day distracts the movie-watching audience from fully processing the horrendous and evil nature of what had just transpired–something more evil than the Joker himself, and something the Joker should have been proud of. By saving the day, Batman (and thus, the director) sheilded Gotham and the movie-audience from witnessing the explosive mutilation and barbarity that would have resulted from the altruistic choice they had made. Nobody on the boat would have known that Batman would interfere to save them. Thus, Joker won and he didn’t even know.
Thus, in the end, actually, evil in this movie triumphs in more ways than even Joker could grasp–or the director. This is because the evil is served to us on a sappy, emotionalist plate that has all the sprinkling of humanity, humanism, altruism, brotherhood, love, self-sacrifice, etc.
Finally, another really disturbing aspect of the movie was that the convict in the boat was shown as the one being able to make the so-called “moral” decision without a thought—of throwing the detonator out of the boat, saying this was something that should have been done a long time ago. I agree that the detonator should have been thrown out–but as I said above, there should have been an explicit statement of the reason–even briefly–that this was being done in defiance of the terrorist, not because we want to accept death and then congregate to pray together during our final moments (as it was shown in the movie among the convicts).
Meanwhile, the free citizens of Gotham were shown as immoral people who not only debated on whether or not to trigger the bomb but also who were ready to press the button right up until the last moment when the man got a moral crisis of guilt (or cowardice, whichever).
Why did Nolan choose to show convicts as making the “right” choice without a thought and show the free citizens debating the matter endless but then not being able to follow through? Is this a matter of undercutting the moral legitimacy of the good citizens?
For these reasons, my argument stands that the ending of this movie is morally ambiguous at best, critically wrong and evil at worst, and the actions of the citizens of Gotham on both those boats were terrifyingly evil for the logical consequences that would have played out. These citizens were not moral, were not virtuous, and were not defying the Joker. Hence, Joker should have been happy.
In general, we humans no longer perform back-breaking work in farms, for example; nor do we run on our two feet–with a spear in hand–chasing prey. As a species, we have removed ourselves far away from the direct tasks of survival. We have moved into the phase of flourishment–or survival qua man; i.e., living as appropriate not to “man the animal” but “man the rational animal.”
Actually, it is more accurate to say that the best and brightest among us have ushered the phase of survival qua man for the rest of us humans. Human civilization progresses in the wake of these men of brilliance.
Today, a few taps on the keyboard, a few meetings in plush boardrooms, and a little ride to a high-rise office building ensures our “survival”–it deposits a fat check in our bank accounts. Of course, the leading motive behind all activity today is a sophisticated body of knowledge acquired by our minds. The point is, although reason was always our basic tool of survival, in today’s information age, reason has come to the fore as our most directly used tool of survival.
Reason–like all tools–has to be sharpened, developed, nurtured, and honed over time with repeated use, learning, and development.
When primitive man had to use his physical prowess to chase and kill his prey, he had to ensure that his body was fit for the purpose. Today, we don’t need to use our bodies in such physically demanding roles anymore. Our meat does not come warm, bloody, and fresh after a kill, but cold, frozen, and wrapped after days in transit. Today, we hardly think of our meals as necessary nourishment that sustains our body but as delectable pleasures to please our whimsical palate for the day.
Thus, although we have adapted our minds quickly enough to respond and act effectively in this new age, our bodies–slaves to the sluggish mechanisms of evolution–continue to remain in the state in which our hunting-nomadic ancestors were.
Therefore, I would assume that some level of physical activity–either through sports, dance, or light fitness workouts–are important routines to incorporate into our modern lives. I find it strange that someone would call physical activity “addictive.” This was exactly my reaction when–over the past weekend–someone told me that going to the gym is an “addiction.”
My mind thought: that’s like saying eating is an addiction. And indeed, while gluttony is unrelated to my thoughts, eating is an activity we indulge in very often every day! And never do we think that we are addicted to eating! Likewise, while steroid-induced body-building is unrelated to my thoughts, ensuring that you incorporate a certain level of physical activity on a daily basis is fairly essential to a healthy body in our modern lifestyle. To call this addictive is tantamount to saying that walking is addictive.
There is a rational approach to everything. And then, in corollary, there is an irrational approach that one can adopt towards anything. Like food, fitness and health can be approached either rationally–in which case, you can project how your activity aligns with your goal for a healthy life in the context of the reality you are surrounded in; or irrationally–in which case, you either ignore all needs for physical activity, become indiscriminate about your eating habits, or go overboard in body-building well beyond the reasonable needs of a healthy body.
Thus, to say the least, it is odd to disparagingly call a daily routine of physical fitness an addiction. Quite the opposite, it is a volitional and properly rational act done in the full pursuit of survival qua man. And this is not just my philosophical musings on the subject; I am confident that even medical doctors share the same opinion.
Since childhood, I had always loved mango-flavored drinks–even artificially flavored ones. I absolutely loved mango milkshakes, mango breezes, mango smoothies, mango blasts, Mangola (a Coca Cola beverage), Frooti and Maaza (both artificial mango-flavored drinks), and Real Mango fruit juices. At any point, I would prefer one of these to any other softdrink. Strangely, however, I didn’t have the same craze for the actual mango fruit itself. I only liked its pulp and flavor in juices–and perhaps, its yellow color.
In fact, after I had newly arrived in India two years ago, I got into this habit of consuming entire one-liter packets of Real Mango fruit juices at every meal. Sometimes, I would have about 3 to 4 packets a day. Added to that, I was alarmingly indiscriminate about my eating habits and neglectful about my physical appearance.
I suspect this kind of behavior might have had some kind of psychological roots–in addition to just mindless indulgence when it came to food. I realize that this was the phase in which I was undergoing drastic transformations in my physical, emotional, and romantic life. However, it is a fact that these transformations were not the cause of my behavior, but merely my excuse. I know this is true because once I made the conscious decision to snap out of my mindless gluttony and recapture my rational judgment in this matter, I acted upon the decision–immediately and consistently.
I was fortunate enough to find a gym that truly exemplified motivation and fitness professionals who were competent experts in their field. With the help of a well-planned nutritional program, in only about 4-5 months, I lost 16 kilograms (35 pounds) and returned to the appropriate weight category for my height and age.
While I acknowledge the role of my trainers and my nutritionist, the predominant onus of action obviously was upon me: Ihad to choose to go to the gym every evening after work (which I still do, albeit at a different gym now); Ihad to choose to stick to a proper diet; I had to choose to be discriminating about the kinds of food I ate; Ihad to choose to modify my emotional responses to food in accordance with my conscious decisions.
To be straightforward about it: I was acting rationally. The combined psychological and physical result of practicing rationality was that I was able to gradually detoxify my body, which made it progressively easier to continue eating healthy, staying fit, and maintaining my ideal weight.
In India, we are in the midst of a scorching summer–and particularly in Mumbai, the heat is made worse by the humidity in the air. Even after the sun sets, the air is hot and heavy, with water vapor, smog particles, and dust persistently suspended all around.
Therefore, in such climates, a refreshing chilled drink with lots of ice and flavor is like an image of paradise. I was sitting at Cafe Coffee day this evening, intending to take a glass full of just this kind of paradise. It was a long day at work, I was tired, parched, and hot. Now, It just so happens that the coffee shop was promoting its new Mango-flavored smoothie. The place was drenched with close-up images of yellow liquids in moist, beaded glasses. Their special menu boards had “mango” prominently written all over it. Mango was in the air at Cafe Coffee Day.
So, when the server came up to me to take my order, I said, simply, without conscious effort, and without a second thought:
“One lemon iced-tea please.”
Then I looked around again at all the heavy promotions of that special mango-flavored drink, and I smiled at myself realizing how rationally habituated I had become. 🙂
It’s not that I avoid the bad foods anymore–as a conscious decision. It’s like Howard Roark’s response to Ellsworth Toohey: I simply don’t even think of it.
Practically everyone I know at work has read at least one of the major works of Ayn Rand. They seem to regard her primarily as a literary figure, and I think, they mostly don’t much agree with (or understand) her philosophy. Rand’s novels, to them, are just that–novels; not a dramatization of a true philosophy of life, just an unusual and radical storyline.
This Friday, I will be conducting an informal discussion session with my colleagues on Objectivism in general and The Fountainhead in particular, since that is the book most of them have read. Also, since they learned that I have studied Objectivism in some detail for so many years now, they were very eager to hear me make the case for the philosophy. I am happy to do it.
Rand continues to be a polarizing figure; and she still manages to get people involved in animated discussions. My colleagues have been excitedly talking about the Friday session all this week–everytime we gather in the cafeteria for a meal or snack or hang beside each other’s cubicles. I’ve already heard some of the usual criticisms carelessly thrown about: “she was too extreme. It’s too rigid.” But I resist the urge to engage them in full-on discussion because I want to make a proper, prepared, and well-organized presentation on the philosophy. However, I’m not going to be lecturing or doing most of the talking; I’d rather prefer to facilitate the discussion–offer some guideposts, introduce some new ideas, elicit opinions and reactions, ask them to probe deeper into their questions and reactions, etc.
Anyway, if this goes well, I expect to hold additional sessions on the philosophy. I am quite certain that people will want to have more things to say and hear about Rand. After these sessions, I would be eager to get them started on We The Living, because it is my favorite novel and which I have read three times now.
So, cheers for personal activism! Hip hip Hurray! 🙂
Ted Keer has started a new blog called “Radicals for Happiness.” He’s hosted over at blogspot, but he says he will soon switch over to his own domain; I hope he chooses to host on the WordPress platform.
I was going through some of his posts, and I love–absolutely loved–the following from a post on his site:
North Korean classical pianist Cheol Woong Kim, born in Pyongyang, gave his first performance in America as a free man in Manhattan on May 21st. He had escaped to South Korea in 2003. The New York Sun quotes him as saying “I did not leave North Korea because I was hungry for food, but because I was hungry for music… People do not leave because they know that they deserve food, but because they know that they deserve freedom.”
I have played a significant part in introducing my friend L’Innommable to the ideas of Ayn Rand and Objectivism. In fact, I think I have done the same with most (all?) of my close friends, who have now read the major works of Ayn Rand and agree with at least some of her ideas to some extent.
I think it comes with the territory: out of happenstance, if I befriend someone, they are bound to be exposed to my value-system; indeed, I am certain that my values play a role in the kind of people I keep and value as friends.
As a matter of fact, I know that simply running this blog and writing the occasional article on Objectivism here has introduced several people to Ayn Rand and helped them get a more mature grasp of her ideas. I am happy of these consequences–and they are an added perk because they are not wholly intended. I write on my blog simply because I like setting my thoughts into words, and I derive a serene sense of pride from my writings. That my blog has resulted in some positive–and hopefully, challenging–intellectual experiences for some is a delight to learn about.
Anyway, L’Innommable is in the midst of reading Atlas Shrugged and he has written of his impressions of the book so far. I liked what he had to say. Here’s just an excerpt of his post:
“[Atlas Shrugged] reminds me of a symphony… I see hints, suggestions, undertones, and allusions to what is to come; an exposition on the philosophy of Objectivism. The thing is, it starts out as any good symphony would, not giving too much away in the beginning, but enticing the listener to continue listening for his enjoyment and edification, climbing ever higher to a crescendo that seems inevitable.”
The book Facets of Ayn Rand is now available online for free! Published by the Ayn Rand Institute Press, the book is a personal memoir of Mary Ann and Charles Sures, who were both friends of Ayn Rand for more than 20 years.
Here is an excerpt from the introduction by Leonard Peikoff:
Mary Ann and Charles Sures were longtime personal friends of Ayn Rand—Mary Ann for twenty-eight years, Charles for almost twenty. Their recollections in this delightful memoir make vividly real the Ayn Rand they knew so well.
I sometimes get the desire to spend money on apparently cheap items only so that the people selling them to me continue to remain in business. Many times, I consciously feel the urge to buy something from a streetside vendor so that I can prolong his sense of hope and trust in the virtue of trade and production—particularly because I realize the sharp necessity of this hope in the face of what surrounds such people in India: abject poverty, beggars, homeless wanderers, alcoholics, marauders, looters, unscrupulous police officers, cheats, robbers, thugs, etc.
The other day, I was eating a vegetable sandwich at a roadside foodstall. In the short time that it took me to eat my sandwich, three different individuals–perhaps thugs, goons, or police officers in plain clothes–came up to the sandwich vendor at separate times: all three of these men didn’t say a word; they just came up to the stall and looked at the vendor knowingly. Then all three of them left with money that the vendor had given them. After the last of them had gone, the vendor just looked down at his table and muttered in Hindi: “Everyone wants money; if they take all my money away, what will I have left?”
I was shocked and disgusted by what had just happened! I knew that the vendor had just been extorted of money for the “privilege” of setting up his stall and running his food business on that street. Typically, such vendors have to pay not just the police officers patrolling the street but every other thug who has laid claim on a stretch of land only by the virtue of force for the privilege of being productive.
After I had finished eating, I paid the money I owed the man for my sandwich, and then gave him an extra 10 Rupees. It is a very small amount of money–both to him and to me; it was not intended for him to use it to survive the night or some such thing. I gave him the extra money to convey a sense of hope–my hope that he chooses to continue his business and be productive, instead of quitting and joining the thugs, or becoming a leech, or giving up on life entirely and stagnating.
I offered my money in response to his struggle to attain values and live life. I was proud of it.
Of all the places to find an article about Ayn Rand, there is this recent one on Zee News. The online version of the 24-hour Hindi News cable channel carried a decent article on Ayn Rand (in English, of course). Reading the title of the article, I was prepared for yet another misinformed, second-handed diatribe on Rand’s life and a grotesque caricature of her philosophy.
The article is fine, however; the author Ipsita Baishya treats the essential ideas of Objectivism fairly enough. Like in these excerpts, for example (note how Baishya points out Rand’s rejection of the libertarian party):
According to Rand, one’s highest value should be one’s ability to reason. This also manifested in the way she viewed her own life, not through feelings but through her interest in ideas and her thinking.
Politically, Rand wanted to provide liberal capitalism with a moral anchor, to take on the commonplace notion that communism was a noble if unworkable idea while the free market was a necessary evil best suited to flawed human nature. Her impassioned arguments against “compassionate” redistribution–and persecution–of wealth have not lost their urgency and relevance even today.
Although Rand denounced the feminist movement, one cannot help but see a strong feminist subtext in her repertoire. All of her heroines are strong-willed, independent women; feminism being all about women asserting their individuality. So it would not be incorrect to assume that Rand by default had a feminist streak to her as many feminists have interpreted. She rejected the Libertarian movement due to her emphasis on epistemology and her rational premise did not allow her to believe in the existence of any Superpower. [bold mine]
But the sprinkle of words like “cult”, “religious doctrine”, and “loopholes” leaves me wondering about the intent of the author. I suspect this article was published in time to mark Ayn Rand’s birthday on February 2.
I myself had made plans to commemorate the occasion over two days by airing an Oscar nominated documentary on Rand’s life—Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life and the Italian movie based on her book We The Living. However, as I was making my plans, I learned that Mumbai would be celebrating a 10-day long art festival slated to begin on the same day. Due to the festival, the venue I was considering for airing the documentary would not be available—Prithvi Theater, MaxMueller Bhavan, etc. Besides, I would be competing with more established festival events for an audience to the movies.
Perhaps, after the Kala Ghoda Art Festival concludes, I might set up the dates for screening these movies. The American Center Library in South Mumbai is open to hosting the event, when I spoke to them earlier this week. Let’s see how it all turns out.
Last Sunday, I went on a coffee date with a man I had been in contact with for several months. Our conversation was fluid, lively, expansive (in terms of the topics we discussed), and stimulating. However, there was this one moment that totally cracked me up. You’ll see:
Him: You know that the X-Men movies have a definite homosexual sub-text, right?
Me: Oh, of course! It’s hardly a sub-text–it’s the entire freakin’ gay agenda, loud and proud!
Him: Yah. Precisely! Well, in Mumbai, there is a definite X-men type gay underground group. We have Magneto, a.k.a, Ashok Row Kavi–the militantly gay activist, and his posse at the Humsafar Trust; and then we have his nemesis Professor X–the more benign and amiable founder of Gay Bombay groups with the rest of us followers.
Me: Oh, interesting! And what character are you?
Him: Well, I’m not really a “character” per se: I Am The Cerebro!
I realize I haven’t been blogging at all lately. I find that I have very little free time to myself; and the precious little that I do have, I must choose between spending it on finishing a book that I’m reading, watching something on TV to just relax blankly, or typing up my thoughts on innumberable things on my blog. Invariably, I end up choosing from the first two options.
I just finished reading Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. It’s an explosive book!–what a fascinating story, a heroic life, an incredible journey of a real heroic giant of a woman! It should be compulsory reading for every crazy multiculturalist and Islamic fundamentalist out there. In fact, everyone should read it, and be inspired by it. Ayaan Hirsi Ali defies cultural determinism, cultural bonds, traditions, religious injunctions, the threat to life and soul, family, clan, nation–practically everything that an average mediocrity finds as constituents of his self-identity. Rising from the tribal muck of primitive Somalia and the backwardness of Islamic traditions, Ayaan charts her own course, explicitly based on reason, individualism, and enlightenment ideals. Infidel is the autobiography of this strong, young, and heroic woman. It’s the story of a woman that exemplifies Ayn Rand’s words: “man is a being of self-made soul.”
Then, I plodded through a terribly clunky, horribly-written book on Poincare’s Conjecture in the mathematical field of Topology. The book is about the story of an unknown Russian mathematician Greg Perelman, who suddenly shot to fame after quietly submitting a paper on the Internet in which he had written up a proof for Poincare’s Conjecture—a problem that had remained unsolved until then for several centuries. This incident had happened on a few years ago, and at that time (sometime in 2001, I think), I remember reading about a Russian man solving a centuries-old problem in the newspaper. I still recollect being intrigued by the story and wondering what the details of this solution and the mathematical problem was.
Now, I love reading books on mathematics, although I am terribly weak in the subject myself. I have never been good with numbers: we are as mutually repelling as opposite poles of a magnet. However, I am fascinated by the story of mathematical achievements, geniuses, mathematical research, inventions, explorations, thoughts, etc. I had immensely enjoyed reading about Godel’s theorems and Fermat’s proofs. And the more I read about the field of mathematics, the more I understood it, because each new book contains several references to similar themes, ideas, topics, problems, and personalities–and they approach it from different angles; and when you identify these similarity and begin making integrations in your mind based on these vantage points, the feeling of awe and wonder is more than gratifying.
However, as I was reading Poincare’s Prize, I thought to myself that the contributors to Wikipedia write far superior articles, and they are more captivating as well! The author of Poincare’s Prize seems completely scattered in his organization, overwhelmed by the complexity of the subject matter he’s tackling, and unsure of how to simply progress from one paragraph to the next. His transitions are clunky and distracting. He dwells on irrelevant–almost encyclopedic–details of personalities that add little to the progression of the storyline.
In any case, all of these deficiencies can be overlooked as nothing more than mild annoyance. However, what I found most egregious is the author’s gall to inject his sense of morality and judgment on the actions of the mathematicians he discusses. Instead of staying clear of such moral evaluations in a topic dealing with objective facts and dry logic–or at least letting the reader make his own moral judgements of the characters, the author generously indulges in moralizing. It should go without saying that my heightened senstivity to this aspect of the book is primarily because I deeply disagree and detest the author’s moral evaluations.
Anyway. Moving on to something unrelated. For my recent birthday, I was gifted a Nikon CoolPix L11 digital camera. I decided to tinker around with it in the privacy of my room. Here are some short videos of my room.