Monday, 2 November 2015

A political, or apolitical !!??

Amidst the haze over our collective conscience, lies the dilemma of a common man - am I a political or apolitical one. Especially at the backdrop of growing social insurgencies and experiences of political discourse all around us, it is important to understand the politics, nay, be part of it.

Religion and politics, and at times a deadly mix of both, is infringing our socioeconomic wellbeing. Those who sail in the religio-political waves, presume, nothing can stop them. It’s fuelled also by our hero-worship culture, that’s prevalent not only for political but other sections, such as cinema. Once we vote for a certain candidate, we feel obliged, we convince ourselves into an unquestioned, biased legacy of supporting the elected representative – our psychological self-defence mechanisms kicking in, protecting a possible wrong choice we made. While protecting our choices, we tend to go defensive over our mistakes. When this extends to the political choices, we end-up extending our mistakes further, by blindly following and endorsing actions of the political leaders.

A politically aware electorate is the backbone of any democracy. We are more likely to debate frequently about current affairs, be aware of legislations and have opinions about national issues. But a serious problem arises when the electorate stops judging the political class and instead identifies itself with it. This leads to hero-worship and blind belief, pretty much similar to our religious inclinations (described at length here:

When people recognise themselves with the party they voted for in the last election, they see anyone with opposing ideologies as enemies. It is then that the national discourse becomes diluted, with well-informed citizens being replaced by star-struck, agenda-driven, criticism-abhorrent, propaganda-enslaved people who will defend their party or leaders no matter what they say or what they do. Many of us forget that the spirit of democracy lies in nurturing debate and responding to critics and opponents not by condescending phrases but by factual retaliation.

This phenomenon is becoming common among voters of all demographics, all mainstream parties and all regions. People have stopped judging their leaders by facts, and begun judging the facts based on their party loyalty. Derogatory debates, hate and cursing, just because we have different political preferences.
The truth remains that we, the citizens of this country, are behaving like voters less and political spokespersons more. This is very dangerous for a democracy. The political class needs to be ideologically divisive so voters have a diversity of choice; but when the voters stringently allot themselves to political blocs the national debate on all issues becomes corrupted.

Though many citizens find it unacceptable, nevertheless it is a public tendency in India (and in many other countries too) to praise the politician with blind adulation and reverence. Leaders who work for the downtrodden will always get unstinted support and respect but that does not imply we have to overdo it by changing respect into a fawning submission. It is highly important to commend a person (leader or not) and felicitate them for the good work, as that will not only encourage their actions but also ensure the news of any good work is disseminated down to the grassroots and others also learn how to follow suit. But commendation when runs into the arena of holy worship, history tells us that it leads to the ruin of the democratic system of checks and balances.

Great leaders such as Dr. Ambedkar challenged this notion of idolisation in politics by calling it a “sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship” which should be a wake-up call for the public, and the political parties. One needs to refrain from worshiping the politician as it can very well empower him to be invincible, resistant and unassailable to public criticism, legal accountability and transparency. And when that happens there will be no room for improvement or public opinion; the mistakes of the politician will be dismissed as paltry in the light of his being a flawless hero. Praise the leader, and you will be rewarded, worship him and he will reward himself at all times.

Indian election agendas for ages have been dominated by caste/religion. While we expect elections to be ‘development’ centric, it soon snowballs into an ugly sugar coated religion and caste based rhetoric. Every stakeholder comes up with their respective share of loose condemn-able statements, burning effigies of the trust we bestowed on them. 
Politicians have time and again rived us by hatred and held us hostage to the intolerant demands of religious natures.

Real development issues seem to get faded and if/when they seem to portray them, politicians do to not stick to the tall promises they made while wooing the voters. The very core issues these politicians once opposed vehemently, now support after resuming the offices, or vice-versa. They are seen taking complete U-turns on issues they claimed to resolve if came to power
, the flip-flops would leave the Cirque du Soleil smitten. The oratory could be safely classified as rhetoric during pre-election and statesmanship post-election. They use the media to garner favourable views and to quash when the winds are not favourable. The electorate, at times, knowingly elect candidates with questionable records, ideologies, falling prey to the inflated claims of work done.

In the last Presidential election (year 2012), out of the 776 MPs and 4,120 MLAs who were eligible to vote, 31% or 1,450 of them had criminal cases lodged against them (based on the information they provided in their election affidavits). Among the number mentioned, 641 of them had serious criminal charges against them (i.e. rape, attempt to murder, kidnapping, robbery and extortion against them.

It’s a movie called ‘Indian Politics’ – starring actors garnering the most negative reviews imaginable. Not only the so-called “representatives of the people” are horrible at their proclaimed jobs, they are also foul-mouthed and unbelievably immature. A matured, reason prevailed person would understand that people are different and we should respect the difference, but in politics, it's easy to turn into a bigot, blindly follow or oppose. They can’t do a single scene without throwing accusations and threatening each other. These are the people we trusted on creating, building and strengthening the sovereignty of our nation. What they end up scripting is blame games, U-turns, false promises, political gimmicks and amalgamation of one or more of these. Politicians don’t hesitate shedding their badge as a statesman and cross the thin red line which separates rhetoric from bigotry.

We, the audience were promised a script filled with fairy-tales. But we were given were protests and offensive bantering. The screenplay remains mundane and the dialogue delivery rash and unsettling. The location settings, the only thing that (almost) saved the movie from being a complete disaster, a remarkably beautiful, ornate round building with pillars as strong as the actors’ vocal chords. It’s a pity this majestic monument must be the setting of such a bad movie with such an uninspiring cast. Indian Parliamentarians: In-charge of The Largest Democracy, disrespect it daily and the great nation, that has been built over countless sacrifices of our freedom-fighters and the soldiers who lay their lives in protecting it. Not that the entire cast is horrible; it’s just that they’re not good enough to compensate for the group which never stops shouting lines that are not even in the script. They never improved, always bickered amongst themselves, and let down the millions who vouch for them every day.

The problem is rather propagated by us, and lies in our gullibility. We place the politicians on a holy pedestal. There are also those figures who reach such a place because their fans are trying to flatter and win their sanction. People give them a grand treatment unwittingly granting him/her full immunity. The common masses do not realise that in their pampering of their leader they are contributing to his/her:
 - full exemption hence prone to corruption.
 - unaccountability hence prone to breaking the law.
 - absolute power hence prone to mistreating his underlings, workers and the civilians.

There might be exceptions, but it's a great risk to gamble on rare exceptions and at the cost of having to deal with a dictator in a democratic society.

The issue of communalism has attracted the centre stage in Indian Politics for quite some time now. Fringe groups of all hues make statements to incite people and the result being small incidents lead to large communal disturbances. Although secularism is proceeding rapid in many of the world’s societies, and this trend seems connected in some way to the process of economic development, nevertheless religion continues to be an important political phenomenon throughout the world, for multiple reasons. Even the most secularised countries (Sweden is typically cited as a prime example) include substantial numbers of people who still identify themselves as religious. Communal harmony is paramount for the functioning of a great democracy like India.

Recent injection of some new elements of intolerance and authoritarianism into the lives of people has created unnecessary disturbances. A rampant culture of violence targeting freedom of expression, freedom of religion, intellectual freedoms. The most troubling aspect of the state of Indian democracy remains, as always, the appalling culture of impunity that kept infringing right since the days of partition, for mass crimes that target selective ethnicity with the explicit backing of leading political figures. It is appalling that politicians known to be complicit in large-scale communal violence have escaped legal retribution and are not even seen to be seriously threatened by legal sanctions.

These sustain the new cultures of intolerance by giving them a seeming legitimacy. Organised mysticism and cultures of gullibility has crept in. "You have hurt my sentiments" is the fiction used to justify both violence and intolerance. The so-called sentiments that are said to be hurt are manipulated – serial devices akin to the Nazi "stab in the back" theory that was used to justify the attacks on German democracy in the 1920s. A fundamental lack of equality, is a huge black hole at the heart of our democracy. Autonomous bodies are also being moved to the subservient to the views of the political parties, replacing the deserving with the stooge.

Rationalists who were active in combating the organised mysticism and cultures of gullibility have been ‘silenced’. 
It's slowly taking the form of canary in the coal mine: Secular voices, if censored, others will follow. How can any modern democracy flourish if the supposedly "popular" cultural base is one steeped in various forms of promoted mysticism and credulousness? Run by religious entrepreneurs, who have every stake in keeping the mass of the population in a state of abject subjugation have been flourishing. Nationalist gibes, the belligerent provocation of various Indian minorities has raised ethnic tensions.

Divisive, intolerant and insensitive statements of ruling-party leaders, their repeated transgressions and silence maintained by the head of the party constitutes tacit approval, - and that such endorsement is not acceptable, it's rather ominous. A quick resort to bans (to please those so-called religious sentiments, ultimately to garnish the political mileage) will chill all debate as everyone will be anguished by ideas they dislike. It is far better to improve the environment for ideas through tolerance and mutual respect, than strangulating sprouts of ideas

Parliament is about reaching a consensus; but all we see is disruptions, continuing for weeks. We need to see beyond the lies and chaos of politics and understand the central point: we need politicians who can debate in a civil, decent manner, who can uphold the dignity of the parliament and defend democracy. Due to this known track-record of unruly, immature, indecency – many elite people stay away from politics; unfortunately leaving the undeserving to serve(?) the nation.

We generally look in awe or gloss over the expensive advertisements of our leaders and their deeds which could have been represented in a modest ad or an article. Huge Banners, flimsy hoarding, countless posters, and artistic graffiti, should make one think of the expenses driven into financing these grand motifs of narcissist propaganda and coverage. The holding of extravagant events, time and again disrupt public transport among other things; the space which is used to hold grand gatherings is open to defacement, littering, and even deforestation and not to mention the wastage of resources all on the expense of the common man. We have adjusted ourselves to ignorantly accept all this, knowingly or unknowingly.

Do we really need to buy all this, helping them to create block-blusters for themselves, while we keep suffering?
Do we need to surrender our loyalty to the elected candidates? We ‘the people’ have the rights to question/demand their loyalty.

We need someone who will intervene decisively to crush the extremist fringe and refocus the country’s attention where it matters. The vast mass of citizens in this country have to ask themselves whether that is the vision of India they seriously subscribe to. We the common people need to understand that we can love our country without having to love our government. Sadly, we have come to realise that all the politicians have similar faces, but different masks! It is always us, ‘common people’ that are chosen as victims. Those who fall prey to the communal incidences are common people, not the politicians.

We the citizens should not allow the political class to divide us – we must understand that we are not a herd to blindly follow political leaders. We do not owe any politician anything; we don’t need to defend anything and everything that they say. We have the right to criticise our politicians when they need it, and defend them when they deserve it. We don’t owe them our unquestionable loyalty – they owe us their unquestionable loyalty. Our allegiance lies to the Tricolour, the Constitution and the Law, not to the party we voted for in the last election.

Let us promise ourselves to be more tolerant of diversity of ideologies. Let us promise ourselves to have meaningful debates with factual accuracy and relevant logic. Let us promise to not judge each other by our political preferences and thrive together as learned, secular citizens of India.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Our belief system

Typically, most of us follow religious beliefs based on what’s dictated to us by storytellers. At times it’s from our parents/grandparents, where most of our cognitive (or otherwise) learning starts. They themselves have gotten their hearsay (second-hand) beliefs from their parents/grandparents. This goes on… we continue the cycle, we pass this dogma to our kids. It’s of course with a genuine urge that our loved ones try to ingest in to us some good morals and religious values. Seldom do we realise that all the emotional investment is rather induced religious indoctrination - something that we force on the feeble mind of a very young child. In reality, anything like religion should not be introduced to a child until he/she reaches a reasonable age, when our rational thinking is developed and we are able to decipher and critically evaluate the intrinsic meanings, if any, behind those stories.

We label a child Hindu/Muslim/Christian and so on, directly based on the faith the parents hold; forcing our beliefs on kids we induce them to think abjectly rather than promoting to think objectively. Shouldn't the kids rather reach a reasonable age and allow them to evaluate what is right, than leaving them bewildered at a tender age. Imagine, labelling our kids based on the political parties the parents follow - a Congress kid, a Republican kid and so on; that would sound really silly, wouldn’t it?
Children trust their parents, after all, and seek their approval and look up to them for guidance. Most of the time what parents impart in to their children turns out to be true - but not always. Once a ridiculously false belief takes hold (for some reason or other), it is quite easy to imagine how it could get transmitted down generations after generation; it’s belief without evidence - faith. May be this is why they believe in what seems quite silly to a rational mind. Then there is also the fear of abandoning a belief out of concern that it may hurt one's parents' feelings, and also there is often fear of ostracism from the family and even the larger community to which one belongs. This is a very good example of a very bad reason for holding a religious belief: because your parents hold it. We fail to understand that ethics and morality are quite independent of faith, and cannot be derived from it. Moral minds need not be developed from ignorant religious teachings.

Given the obstinate nature of religious faith and the wilful ignorance it cultivates in the mind of the believer, it’s carried on for ages from one generation to the next, without most of us questioning the motives, reality and the truth. We as kids, read (or watch on TV/movies these days) the fairy-tales, the magic and so on… our young brain believes these stories, we perceive all that as if it’s all real. As we grow, we realise and understand that there is/was nothing called a unicorn, or a mermaid, a fairy, Aladdin Genie, or a magic wand; we grow-up and grow-out of those faltering childish beliefs. But hold on, you will find even adults who still believe all this is real. People actually believing Santa clause is real. :) Some of us don’t grow out of these urban legends - growing old is mandatory - growing up is optional. :)

We have been traditionally passed on wrong information, in the form of stories and as plain old traditions, sometimes in authoritative manner and at times, quite vehemently, as someone imposing their perplexed revelation. Tradition, authority and revelation are very poor reasons for accepting something to be true. We must teach our kids to think more objectively, and think with reasons. Kids should be encouraged to ask questions, rather than being made complacent by believing generic and static proclamations. Not only kids, but each one of us should question the evidence of something being told. Most of us choose the easier route - follow-the-herd, taking authority or some epiphany as the final word rather than being sceptic and critically examining the truth. Guess what, some religious books indicate that the world is about eight thousand years old, albeit in reality (as science illustrates, with evidence) the world is 4.5 billion yrs. old, and the universe is actually about 14 billion yrs. old. Is there any match or slightest truth in the fallacy presented by religious books?
“We are the product of 4.5 billion years of fortuitous, slow biological evolution. There is no reason to think that the evolutionary process has stopped. Man is a transitional animal. He is not the climax of creation.” - Dr. Carl Sagan

“You must believe in feelings deep inside”, a common expression we hear, “otherwise you’d never be confident of things like ‘My wife loves me’”. How good is that argument? There can be plenty of evidence that somebody loves you. When you are with somebody who loves you, you experience a lots of little titbits of evidence, and they all add up. It isn’t purely inside feeling, like the feeling that priests call revelation. There are outside things to back the inside feeling: looks in the eyes, tender notes in the voice, little favours and kindnesses; this is all real evidence. Sometimes people have a strong inside feeling that somebody loves them when it is not based upon any evidence, they are likely to be completely wrong, possibly ill in their mind. Inside feelings must be backed by evidence; otherwise we can’t trust them.
Inside feelings are valuable in science too, but only for giving you ideas that you later test by looking for evidence. A scientist can have a ‘hunch’ about an idea that just ‘feels’ right. In itself, this is not a good reason for believing something. But it can be a good reason for spending some time doing a particular experiment, or looking in a particular way for evidence. Scientists use inside feelings all the time to get ideas. But they are not worth anything until they are supported by evidence.

Holding certain beliefs makes some people feel better about something or other. For example, it might make some anxious to think that they will be permanently separated from their parents or other loved ones by death and so if the religion offers a belief in an eternal afterlife, as many religions do, where you will be reunited with friends and family, it may make you feel calmer. Or belonging to a religious faith might provide some people with a feeling of solidarity and community and a pleasurable method of occasional social interaction with others. But just because something makes you feel good is not a good reason to believe it is true. It would make me feel very good to believe that I am the best-looking person or one of the richest in the world, but that doesn't make it true and it would be quite foolish of me to have such a belief without strong evidence that it actually is true. Besides, these beliefs and the propaganda around them invade into public places, it ceases to remain personal, for most people it's more show-off than anything else. Spiritual, religious or otherwise, keeping it a private matter, restrains the evil otherwise it creates when it goes public.

Recently, there has been a spur in trying to defend religious teachings with scientific explanations, rooted from inherent psychological defence mechanism. However, something that in the very core of it is totally unscientific, cannot be justified with science; it’s an attempt to square the circle, it’s kind of an oxymoron - Scientific proof for a religious perspective!! :)
I bet you heard of “God’s Pharmacy” - examples of many of the foods that we eat resembles the vital organs in our body, and provide nutrients that actually help the organ in question function. Things like, carrots’ core looks like iris of human eye; a tomato has four chambers and is red. Our heart has four chambers and is red; Kidney beans look like human kidneys; A walnut looks like a human brain and so on.
While some of the coincidental specifics, may sound brilliant and indeed show great source of perfectly matched paradigm, albeit proclaimed source from divinity!! It’s more of a comfortably accepted ignorant norm. If we carefully ponder further and study, we will realise that:-
Tomatoes, even the most common variety of tomato has between three and five chambers, not just four, other breeds have between two and ten. Carotene gives tomatoes and carrots their health benefits and their colour. If god’s trying to draw us to healthy foods by making them red or reddish, why are most poisonous berries red?
What’s suspicious about these claims, beyond the inaccuracies above, the recurring non-references to scientific research: “science shows…”, “research shows…” and so on. No links/evidence to any actual research. Though much of what’s said is likely to be correct, we’re expected to believe it from the word-of-mouth alone!! And unfortunately most of us do, quite silly, isn’t it?

Science is based on evidence, experiments, careful evaluation and repetition of the results and establishing the reality; unlike religious beliefs - which are based on age-old texts, stories, with no evidence whatsoever. Science keeps upgrading, correcting and updating itself with new observations, discoveries and knowledge, unlike religion which is primitive and stuck to its core without any tangible evidence. In religion ‘The Book’ is the evidence, in science the books explain what the evidence is. ‘How’ to think – and not ‘what’ to think!
There are many questions that are unanswered and science cannot answer those in its current advancement, may be in future it will. Who knew all the technological advancement in the field of medical science a few hundred years ago that we know with the help of science today. With religion, one can simply make it up; you can attach it to the creation of god. It's easier to proclaim answers to life's great mysteries if you're allowed to just make it up. We know less and less about more and more, though accepting proclaimed answers of creationism won’t help.

Some of us are also in a confused state, somewhat in a state of dilemma - we call ourselves spiritual, rather than religious.
You cannot completely separate spirituality from religion, as it basically originates from our religious beliefs. Traditionally, spirituality has been defined as a process of personal transformation in accordance with religious ideals. Though there cannot be a fixed definition of it, it tends to differ from person to person and based on their perceptions and practices.

People obviously hold wrong, even ridiculous beliefs, we can learn much more about why they do so, by reading about the origins of religious beliefs and what weakness are there in human psychology and emotional makeup that allow such wrong notions to be held true by so many otherwise intelligent people. You can educate yourself to value reason, facts and evidence, over the fallacies perpetually flaunted by those who do not value the truth above their own egocentric delusions. Delusions inspired by an unquenchable thirst for security, no matter how frighteningly false the foundation is. You might be surprised to know how many of the religious ideas which seem crazy to you, take advantage of well-known problems in human cognition to perpetuate themselves from one generation to the next. Some of these ideas are so weird, that if an individual claims to believe in something absurd, we straightaway term him/her insane; but when these beliefs are part of a larger group, and believed by a majority, it’s all easily accepted and followed blindly as religious beliefs. Humans everywhere seem to share the same mental flaws, just as they do physical ones, like having a useless appendix, and psychologists have made a lot of progress studying these phenomena. It’s our perplexed and ignorant mind-set ploughing us into believing Miracles! - at times at pitiful levels. A lone survivor from a natural calamity is assumed to have been saved by the grace/miracles of the god, straightaway terming it as mercy of the god – forgetting the agony of the grieving relatives of the deceased who lost their life in the same event. What constrained the divine intervention to save others? Nothing, it’s simply our stupidity and gullibility that make us believe such absurdities.

Our religious beliefs tend to abuse our emotional sides, at times by threatening, by luring or by preaching what’s not true. We tend to attach many natural (or man-made) events to the acts of god. Even in situation where there is utter absurdity, people think it’s the god’s divine plan. The god must be planning something better. It’s a sick and ignorant mentality that has been developed and passed on to us for generations, and it does not go away easily. It’s mental inertia, that requires a great amount of emotional overcoming and external force - force of knowledge, to question everything and a genuine urge to find reasons, to create rational thinking, and looking for evidence.
What kind of divine plans a god can have for a child whose parents die in an accident? New-borns with congenital diseases, or life threatening medical conditions developed in growing years. What kind of plan can a god have for all that? For the young girl in Delhi who was raped brutally and died? There are numerous such instances that will impel you to realise that, if any of this was a planning by a human being, we would term that person very wicked, cunning and term all that very immoral and unethical. How can someone, called god, be so wicked and immoral? In reality, it’s not god, because there isn't any. If there was one, with the kind of imaginative superpower that people believe the gods hold, none of this will ever happen, what we witness happening in the world - the simple reason why all that still happens is because there is no such entity. Sometimes I wish, I wish there was such entity in reality. No one has ever proved its existence so far, and no one will ever do. There is no point wasting our time in praying, even when we are emotional at the backdrop of our experiences, such as the loss of our loved ones. Two hands working can do more than a thousand clasped in prayer. Prayers have proved nothing, no evidence, zilch.

It’s funny how effectiveness, value and importance varies between – a. praying in a particular shrine/church/temple, or b. following a particular deity; not only that a particular deity has more importance (and powers) than others, but also various incarnations (versions) of the same deity has different levels of importance/divinity based on where it’s located. For example, Ashtavinayakas have different value, Ganesh temple from a particular city/place has different divine importance than the one at your home, or in your car, or those worshipped during the festivals. And then there are millions of gods, spiritual leaders and (supposedly) holy saints. That's true for even those who claim to be monolithic. Besides, why pray? not satisfied with the divine/mysterious plans? The gods (if) are capable of resolving problems by listening to your prayers, though cannot totally avert the situation itself? Oh, perhaps they create the problems first and then wait to act based on your prayers, to prove their own worth and powers!!

Many believe that the world was created by god and that we are creation of the god. Does that mean people of all faiths are created by one god, if that is true, why these faiths differ to a great extent with each other. Not only two faiths differ, but their sub-sects differ too - Protestants Vs Catholics, and Shias Vs Sunnis and so on. They portray a great amount of absurdity, at times trying to be meek, besides claiming superiority over other religions. These faithful sects time-and-again have resorted to destroying each other, and they continue to do so, lest in the name of their gods - quite ironic to their own beliefs that everything is creation of one supreme entity. It’s simply because these faiths and the beliefs are irrational and hollow. A slightest discomfort or diagreement hurts religious sentiments - hollow drums are most noisy, ain't they !! These are imaginary and inept creation of human brains. Human being is not creation of god; rather god is a creation of human imagination.

The great ancient philosopher Epicurus (341 -270 BC) said:
“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
  Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
  Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
  Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”

It’s empathetic how so many people spend their life thinking about the afterlife, about the day-of-Judgement, the apocalypse, or the armageddon and what happen when we die. It’s an individual choice, it’s our life, we have just one to live, we must take full control of it, and be responsible for what we do. We live once; there is no afterlife and no reason to prepare for or to think of the afterlife. We only live by our deeds and in the memories of people. Someone said, we have two lives, and the second begins when we realise we have only one!!

I would like to suggest some books, you may want to check these:
- Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon - by Daniel C. Dennett
- God Delusion – by Richard Dawkins
- The magic of reality – by Richard Dawkins (this is a book for kids, but equally apt for elders too)
- How the Mind Works – by Steven Pinker

… may the good sense bless all of us !! :)