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Showing posts from December, 2016

Post-truth and 2016

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2016 is bidding adieu having gifted us ‘post-truth’ as the word of the year, thanks to the Oxford Dictionaries.  Is the concept new, however?  Haven’t emotions and personal beliefs been more influential in shaping our ‘truths’ than objective facts throughout history?  Otherwise, why did religions and their gods continue to wield such power over us perennially?  Nationalism, Jihadism, Trumpism, Modiism, and a whole range of isms would not have succeeded as they did if objective facts held sway over shaping of public opinions. ‘Post-truth’ is just a euphemism for falsehood, deception, chicanery and all the lies that have dominated politics and human affairs from time immemorial.  There’s nothing new about it except that it’s a new word.  Only the word is new, not the concept, not the implications. Throughout history political leaders used various tricks to deceive their people.  We have words like Machiavellian and Goebbelsian which came from real people who used inhuman

Let there be more evolution

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Let alone acts of violence, every trace of evil is proof that mankind is still an unfinished product.  It is as if the evolution got stuck somewhere.  We have a highly evolved brain compared to the other animals.  But most human beings do not use the brain for promoting goodness, not even the welfare of our own species.  On the contrary, we compete with one another and are highly detrimental to our own species, to others as well as the planet.  The amount of money, energy and resources employed in destructive activities such as war and terrorism is much more than what is devoted to constructive and mutually helpful purposes.  In the process we also inflict much damage on the planet which sustains us.  Which other species is so self-destructive?  Yet we claim to have a sophisticated brain. Who is an evolved human being? An intellectual understanding of life and the world which instils compassion towards other creatures should ideally be the first and foremost character

Einstein and God

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Recently I saw a Christian catechism book which described Albert Einstein as a firm believer in God.  Nothing is farther from the truth. In his biography Einstein clearly states that his “deep religiousness” came to “an abrupt end” at the age of twelve when he realised that established authorities like the state and religions were deceiving people with “lies”.  As an adolescent Einstein developed a “mistrust of every kind of authority” because he could see through the falsehood that upheld the authorities.  Yet Einstein was religious in the sense that he saw sanctity in the universe.  “I believe in Spinoza’s* God,” declared Einstein, “who reveals himself in the harmony of all that exists, not in a God who concerns himself with the fate and doings of mankind.”  Answering a scientist who questioned Einstein’s reported religious faith, Einstein wrote, “If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so fa

For a Friend

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Tom, the Catholic priest who is pleading for his life in this video, was captured by Islamic terrorists in March. I still remember the hug I received from him a little more than a year before the tragedy befell him. We had met during an alumni gathering in Kochi. When the meeting was over and I was on my way home along with my wife, the latter made two remarks about Tom. "He looks like a saint," said my wife. I replied that he was different from most people. The saintliness that his face reflected was genuine.  My wife's second remark was that the hug he gave me was genuine too. The hug was not a mere formality. "We were good friends," I said.  Tom and I studied together for six years. In the first half of that period we were close to each other. Eventually his saintliness and my vanity couldn't go together. But we still remained good friends. At a distance. We respected each other. We loved each other too in spite of the individual d

Why live?

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An average person is more likely to kill himself than be killed by terrorism, illness or accidents.       Source Source Life is pain, said the Buddha.   Why to live then?   That would be the most fundamental question if we accept the Buddha’s enlightened truth.   Philosophers like Albert Camus wrote treatises on why we should live in spite of the pain, absurdity, or sheer ridiculousness.   The treatises are individual responses to the question about the meaning of life.   Each individual has to discover his/her own answer to the question, I think, unless one is satisfied with the readymade answers given by religions or such systems.  If suicide is the largest cause of death in the world, one implication is that there are too many individuals who are not able to find religious or similar readymade answers meaningful.  One of the basic biological facts is that life tends to sustain itself in spite of all odds.  Plants and animals will keep struggling against hea

Mr Modi and Utopia

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Speaking during a function in Raigad yesterday, Prime Minister Modi threatened the nation with more “difficult decisions.”  From today's Times of India A couple of days back, Steve Forbes, Editor-in Chief of Forbes magazine condemned Mr Modi’s demonetisation as immoral and theft of people’s property.  A few days back, Wall Street Journal wrote that “Instead of factory openings or large new investments, the images that tell India’s current economic story include snaking lines outside banks, distressed workers migrating back to their villages, and tax raids on jewelers and officials caught with hoards of allegedly illicit cash.” Today is Christmas, a festival that marks the birth of a man in whose name a major religion came to be founded.  Christianity has always upheld suffering as a virtue.  It has relished imposing more and more rules and regulations, restrictions and penalties on its people.  Its priests and other leaders love to threaten the faithful with omi

Alone in the Crowd

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As English has become the language of the world, capitalism has become the world’s religion.  Wealth is the only real god.  Unlike the jealous Yahweh of the Bible whose very first commandment was “I am the Lord your God; you shall not have any other god besides me,” the god of capitalism says, “I am the only God who can buy up all other gods.” Apart from a god (or many gods depending on their tolerance level), a religion requires certain norms and values by which people organise their lives.  Capitalism has its own system of ethics and morality.  Egotism and profiteering are the elementary lessons in the catechism of capitalism.  Every child is taught that it is special.  It is brought up like a prince or princess.  Pampered by parents at home, the educational system at school, and the businesses and their advertisers in the society, the child grows up seeing itself as the centre of the universe.  The child grows up to be a monarch, the monarch of a little kingdom which is

The Spirit of Christmas

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Christmas, the festival of jingle bells, plastic pines, polymer stars, carols and donations, is round the corner.  As long as I lived in Delhi, the festival meant little more to me than a plastic Christmas tree and a plastic coated star.  Now that I live in a place that will resonate with carols for a few days, I’m tempted to ask this question: What does Christmas mean to me? Jesus was an enlightened person like the Buddha was.  An evolved brain.  One of the few persons who are born once in a few centuries [ Sambhavami yuge yuge ?] with a mutated brain. Normal human beings are descendants of the ape.  The ape continues to dominate our hearts though we have a slightly better brain which can do more things than the ape like learn the formula of (a+b) 2 .  The heart didn’t evolve much.  It carries all the savagery of the ape.  Jesus, like the Buddha and many others, tried to civilise that heart.  This is what I love most about such people. Take this story about Jesus

Sapiens - Book Review

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Book Review This is one of those rare books which challenge the reader’s perspectives again and again unabashedly.  Every chapter (there are 20 of them in all) wages a war with some of our pet beliefs and concepts.  Religious people who are particularly sensitive about their faith and religious sentiments will find this book highly disturbing.  The rational thinkers and those who are guided by the scientific temper will find their perspectives being reinforced. The author is a historian by education and profession.  But the book is multidisciplinary drawing copiously on various subjects such as biology, psychology and anthropology.  Starting with the evolution of man from the ape, the history of mankind moves on through the myths and gods our ancestors created, the agricultural revolution, the industrial revolution, and so on, to “The End of Homo Sapiens.” Man is a myth-making animal.  Myths have enormous powers.  Myths can bring millions of homo sapiens together and

Modi, the Messiah

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BJP has made a clean sweep of the Chandigarh municipal elections by winning 20 of the 26 seats.  Amit Shah has already declared the victory as the people’s approval of the demonetisation.  We should not disregard Shah’s declaration as the Hanuman’s natural devotion to his god.  In fact, BJP’s sweeping victory is an indication of things to come.  The party may end up winning many more elections in the coming months.  As many as seven states are going to assembly elections in 2017. “An economic measure should be, and normally is, judged on the basis of how it  benefits  the people, and any measure that brings distress to the people is derided for that reason. What we find in the present case however is just the opposite:  the more demonetization brings distress to the people, the more it is applauded for its wisdom and courage.”   Prof Prabhat Patnaik wrote recently in The Citizen .  [emphasis retained from the original] There is nothing surprising about people accepting the

Money is the universal deity

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“(W)hereas religion asks us to believe in something, money asks us to believe that other people believe in something .” Yuval Noah Harari says that in his book Sapiens , which I have been quoting extensively of late.  The emphasis belongs to the original. Religion asks us to believe in a god or many gods.  It may ask us to believe in a lot more things such as heaven and hell, or that a bath in a particular river will wash away all our sins, or that you can’t be part of the community unless you part with your foreskin, and so on.  Money demands a much simpler faith from us: that other people have faith in its value.  Without that faith, money is as useless as the waste paper in your dustbin.  Remember what Prime Minister Modi said to the nation on Nov 8?  “From midnight today, all the five hundred and one thousand rupee notes with you will be worthless paper .”  Worthless paper, that’s what one speech from one particular individual made out of some twenty lakh crore rupees i

Demons of Conquest

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Hi(story) Hernan Cortes was proud of his conquest.  His ambition had taken him all the way from his country, Spain, across the rage of the oceans, to the Caribbean islands.  Along with his men, Cortes invaded each of the islands and established Spanish rule over them.  More significantly, he had exterminated the entire native Caribbean population in just about twenty years.  The Spaniards imported African slaves to fill the vacuum left by the extinction of the Caribbean people.  Slaves will not rebel, Cortes knew that.  Every bit of rebellion is wiped out by the time the slaves reach their destination from their homeland.  Long voyage and excruciating torture.  Homeland becomes an impossible dream.  A dead dream.  Dead dreams hang heavily in the memory like taunting disgraces.  They emasculate the best of men.  Then there is the physical pain.  Together they, the disgrace and the pain, kill the soul.  Then there’s only the body left.  Body without a soul is a slave.  Cortes

Modi had a little lamb

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Our ancient forefathers were nomadic foragers.  They went from place to place in search of food.  Animals which were not dangerous were hunted.  At some time in history, some of those foragers decided that they were tired of the constant chasing after food.  They chose to settle down and cultivate their own food.  Some animals were domesticated too. Animals were not used to domestic life.  They were used to roaming freely without any master to boss over their movements except the laws of nature which demanded constant vigilance against predators.  Man was one of those predators. But man was different from the other predators because he had a more evolved brain which told him that it was to his advantage to hunt the male sheep or the old ones, leaving the females to breed and also to provide milk.  But male sheep were also required for the breeding process since there was no genetic technology in those days.  Hence man resorted to selective killing of the males.  The aggre

Rahul Gandhi’s Earthquake

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Rahul Gandhi regaled the nation with the threat of an earthquake-like assault on PM Modi.  Far from an earthquake, there was not even a wind that could stir the slenderest willow stem.  That’s one of the deadliest tragedies the country is facing today: no opposition worth the name.    In Kerala where I now live there is a species of birds whose Malayalam name translates as ‘Bum-shaking bird’.  This little bird’s bum keeps on shaking whenever it alights from flight.  The typical Malayali humour has it that the Bum-shaker thinks that there is an earthquake because it shakes its tail.  Rahul Gandhi has become the Bum-shaker of contemporary Indian politics. It's time Rahul learnt that his grandmother and her present successor share too many personality traits One wonders why Rahul Gandhi issued the threat of exposing no smaller a figure than the Prime Minister of the country only to back out leaving the entire nation baffled.  Mr Gandhi owes an explanation to the natio

Our real Power

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One of the many quotes that has refused to fade from my memory is Thomas Gray’s couplet in his classical poem, Elegy written in a country churchyard, which I studied decades ago.              Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,             And waste its sweetness on the desert air. When the lines dug their roots into the limbic system of my being even before I had thought about my career, little did I realise that it was going to be an oracle in my life.   I believe each one of us is a centre of power.  Our individuality, our uniqueness, our very identity is that power.  Given the appropriate ambience, that power will unfold and spread a beautiful fragrance.  Deprived of the ambience, it may droop and drop into dust having achieved little more than existing vacuously. Is the existence of the flower in the desert, “unseen”, a mere “waste”?  That’s an interesting question which touches the realms of metaphysics.  Does anything even exist unless perceived by

Ramdev and Fraudulence

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An Uttarakhand court has fined Baba Ramdev’s Patanjali Rs 11 lakh for fraudulence.  In 2012 the District Food Safety Department had found that many food items such as mustard oil, salt, pineapple jam and honey sold by Patanjali failed quality tests.  In fact, many of these items are not even produced by Ramdev’s Ayurvedic units; they are produced by ordinary commercial enterprises and then given Patanjali labels.  Such is the Baba’s fraudulence.  There are scores of legal cases filed against the godman and his so-called Ayurvedic industry.   The Baba is guilty of manifold crimes ranging from misleading people to evading taxes.  In 2012, when the godman was asked to pay up Rs 120 crore as penalty for various offences, Digvijay Singh remarked, ““I have seen many frauds in my life but Baba Ramdev takes the cake. He may be occupying more space in media now but I do not visualise Ramdev making an impact on our society for long.  Such people do not last long in public life.” Mr S