Monday, May 29, 2006

History of Philocomedy!

This is so funny! Dr. Stephen Hicks is a professor at Rockford College in Illinois, and he has compiled a brief "History of Philosophy" from his student papers. Some of the ones I thought were totally hilarious: Against Marx, Rand advocates free enterprise and selfishness, but her philosophy is sort of controversial, in a sense. She commits the fallacy of hoc poc der doc. According to Freud, the child has lust during the breast-feeding stage. Eventually his mother stops, and his lust is suppressed until his adultery stage. To Socrates, having a good life meant dying. Socrates was com­pletely opposed to the Sophists. Not only did the Sophists not have reasons, they also did not have reasons. Sophists felt that there were no real reasons. For Aristotle, the virtuous person can be known as temperature, someone who is under complete control. Aristotle thinks the Principle of Noncontradiction is an axiom is because it is one.

Dissecting the Indian Male

So, at work, I sit beside this handsome, Indian boy; he’s tall, has broad shoulders, a sharp face, and wears rectangular, thick-framed glasses. As I said, he’s quite handsome. Anyway, the point of my writing this post, however, is not to explore the details of his attractiveness, but to consider his non-verbal interactions with me in light of the larger attitude of masculinity and collectivist mentality in India. This handsome bloke (yes, we speak British here) has this habit of nonchalantly placing his hand on my thighs while talking to me; or holding my hands in his and looking directly into my eyes when he’s asking me for some help or advice (typically, in matters of editing and studying). Needless to say, being that I have the “hots” for men, or in other words, being that I fancy young blokes, his non-verbal style of communicating with me is only slightly uncomfortable – oh, but I’m NOT complaining! Just merely stating the fact that it’s a wee bit uncomfortable – especially the hands-on-my-thighs part. And no, he is not gay – that is a fact. I’m certain of it. In all other matters, he displays the kind of typical straight boy goofiness that young, straight American males tend to display – a kind of hollow excitement of being perpetually at the cusp of puberty, only just becoming aware of their raging testosterone, and consequently going berserk! His physical frankness with me is not unusual as a manner of behavior among Indian men. One could argue quite persuasively that India is an androgynous – if not an outright feminine – culture; its men are very well-adjusted to displays of sensitivity, emotional depth, and homosocial intimacy (I wonder if Bollywood has a big role in shaping the Indian male psyche as such). It is not rare to see men walking around the city-streets hand-in-hand, or arms over their shoulders, or displaying other signs of very intimate affection towards each other. This one time at the train station, I saw a group of young men caressing each other’s hair, one of them combing the other’s lengthy locks with what seemed like so much love in his eyes, while the other men in the group carried on a lively and animated conversation among each other. Well, all of this means, it gets awfully hard for *actual* gay men like to me to figure out who’s in who’s “camp” – if you know what I mean. It’s incredibly risky to assume someone’s gay, or someone has the “hots” for you just by their non-verbal behavior and displays of intimacy. I suppose this could possibly lead to a further psychological burial of a gay man’s homosexual expression because of the ambiguous nature of homosocial behavior he observers among the men around him. Moreover, this ambiguity probably leads Indian gay men to try and seek satisfaction and fulfillment of their psychological desires to be intimate with another man in such homosocial relationships (i.e., in safe homosocial intimacies with straight men) thereby repressing a full-blown expression of their proper sexuality with other gay men. All of that (and other socio-psychological causes) then probably leads some Indian gay men to delude themselves into thinking that they are in fact bi-sexual, or maybe even straight! And not as a matter of fact, but as an act of conditioned force upon their own minds – undoubtedly, with terrible consequences for themselves and for those they come in close contact with. The collectivistic influence: The collectivist expression in all of this is the apparent lack of any notion of individual space and personal privacy. It is deemed rude and disrespectful for one to insist on privacy among friends, colleagues, co-workers, relatives, or family members. In fact, insisting on privacy on any matter is also looked upon with suspicion. For example, if I insisted on closing the door to my bedroom, certainly it must be because I have something to hide! What is it that I do that cannot be shared by others? In fact, at work, I am routinely subjected to all kinds of questions about my personal and professional life that I find quite intrusive and unnecessary for them to know about. One of my co-workers insisted on finding out my middle name and my official signature – and I barely know the guy! Yet, insisting on privacy or declining to answer such questions casts you in a suspicious light; you are considered as possibly dishonest, or at least obnoxiously conceited. It is also regarded as offensive to maintain personal space between yourself and another person. Why would you want to maintain such a distance (a distance that Indians would find inordinately greater than necessary)? Is it because the person has foul odor? Do you not like being next to the person? Maintaining personal distance also could be construed as your unwillingness to be friendly with the person. Thus, everybody wants to be in everyone else’s business and everyone else’s personal space. That is the culture. It is a clear expression of its collectivist influence. The psychological mentality of collectivism and the physical reality of a highly over-populated country exacerbate the rampant disregard for and stifling of individualistic notions. This collectivistic influence probably plays a fueling factor in the kind of social, non-verbal behavior Indians exhibit among themselves. Even when they are being hospitable towards each other, the manner of their hospitality borders on force, coercion, and then even suspicion. It’s too much to get into right now.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Let's Kill Them All (And They Say Atheists Cannot Have Morals!)

Following the example of the Muslim savages and the Christian idiots, the Hindu crackheads are now getting on the bandwagon of banning all free speech, killing all heretics, or in other words, protecting their religious sentiments with loyal diligence. Here's the latest (via Philosophy Now, Issue 55):
"Let’s All Join In A Hindu group in India is offering a reward to anyone who beheads the artist M.F. Hussain, who produces edgy reinterpretations of Hindu deities. “Those who are endangering our religion and nation should be eliminated for everyone’s good,” said Ashok Pandey, president of the Hindu Personal Law Board. “Anyone who kills Hussain… the Danish cartoonist, and those in the German company printing pictures of Ram and Krishna on tissue paper…will be given (the reward) in cash... Peace will not prevail on Earth unless such people are eliminated.” Pandey commented that Hussain was as guilty of degrading Hindu deities as the Danish cartoonists were of defiling the Prophet Muhammad. A senior advocate at the Lucknow High Court said that the comments were “just an attempt to gain cheap publicity.”"
What I had discussed in previous posts regarding the unholy alliance of collectivism and religion in such regions of the world like India, the middle-east, and some countries in Africa is further corroborated by the recent incidents mentioned above. Notice this: Japan, China, Korea and other East Asian countries are terribly collectivist societies, but where there is no ideology providing an explicit and systematic code of ethics - either political (eg. communism) or religious (Christianity), there is seldom such instances of mass violence and violations of human rights. In other words, Japan is a collectivist society (to its core), but it lacks the cohesion of moral beliefs provided by a systematic code of ethics. Japanese people are not religious - many practice Buddhism, but in its various, lose forms. The Japanese have a variety of superstitious beliefs, but no universal system of religious or ideological moral system today. And very seldom, if ever, do we hear of human rights violations or religiously incited violence occuring in Japan, (I'm not including the pre-World War II Japan, which was very strongly monarchical/dictatorial. A dictatorial monarchy fills in the role of a Diety, its royal dictats serving as a code of ethics or value-system that creates the requisite mental cohesion among its peoples). Now, contrast the collectivism of Japan that is unaligned with any cohesive ethical system with the collectivism of China and its communism, or of North Korea and its communism, or of Nepal and its dictatorial monarchy, or of Pakistan and its Islamic dictatorship, or of Indonesia and its Islamic predominance, or of India and its Hindutva majority (80% Indians are Hindus).

Thursday, May 25, 2006

How Wierd is That?!

My first week at work and I've already come across a mention of Ayn Rand, and a brief statement of Sartre's ideas (the 'freedom is a burden' theory) in the materials I am reading here. Crazy, no!?

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Now That I've Started Working Again

... it feels like I'm actually back in school! I'm an Editor of academic articles and books in the Humanities and Social Sciences. What that means is, in my typical day, I am reading articles, literature, manuscripts, etc. that have been submitted to scholarly journal publications or university presses, editing them for stylistic, grammatical, syntactical, esthetic, and other improvements, discussing/arguing with other editors, authors, and publishers over all kinds of issues related to the publication, and finally, providing our estimate of the overall quality of a submission (i.e. worthy of publishing, stylistically consistent, room for improvement, etc.). Now, ofcourse, you may be wondering - this dude cannot even write a decent blogpost in English, how in hell did he get a job as an editor!? Well, I wondered about that too! But here's the deal: I'm currently undergoing a rigorous training period of three months, during which I will be expected to complete a number of courses and modules in topics such as English grammar, language structure, elements and constructions, etymology and academic vocabulary, style guides for academic submissions, differences in written British and American English, etc. For example, today I spent eight hours studying the eight different comma modules (each module being an hour long). I had no clue that comma usage had some DRAMA behind it! Well, the best part of all this is getting to read some absolutely amazing, cutting-edge scholarly, scientific work. However, I have come to realize that regardless of how brilliant these authors maybe in their respective fields, all of them are not gifted English writers (like me, I guess :-)) And so, their amazing minds and inadequate English writing skills provide jobs for people like us. Which brings me to the most important reason one gets a job (atleast among the most important reasons for me) - that is, to make money. I've heard that my salary is in a competitively high bracket in the Indian market given all considerations to my position, my qualifications, the company, and its growth. I'm being paid handsomely for taking in-depth courses in the English language, for reading and discussing scholarly articles from all over the world, enhancing my language skills, increasing my knowledge base, exposing my mind to new and varying perspectives, and just basking gleefully in a knowledge-driven environment of intelligent people. One of our high-profile customers is the world-renowned Oxford University Press. There are other university presses and publications in America, Great Britain, France, Japan, Korea, and Malaysia that also use our business services; I haven't heard of their names before, but that might be because of my own past ignorance of these matters. My company does more than just provide editing services, though. We also conduct online English teaching modules for international institutions and individuals, and provide transcription and translation services. I'm quite liking the place and the young, intelligent people I work with. Right now, I believe I'm making the best of my situation here in India. I can't complain.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Objectivists and Causes of Homosexuality

Updated: It seems like some Objectivists are quite in disagreement over the causes and moral status of homosexuality. Of course, wrestling with that issue is not unique only to us, as much of contemporary society is dealing with trying to understand gay people like me and why we are the way we are. Even we homosexuals are divided over these important issues regarding our sexual identities. Over at Trey Given’s blog, a young discussion has arisen over the causes of homosexual identity. Trey is of the opinion that homosexuality is entirely or mostly biological (genetic), and therefore homosexual behavior is simply amoral- and that’s that. Diana Hsieh is of the opinion that while she finds absolutely no reason to hold homosexual identity as immoral, she cannot accept that there are any biological or genetic roots to its manifestation in some people. Diana asks some crucial questions on the topic: How could homosexuality (or any sexuality, for that matter) be innate (i.e. genetic) without innate concepts of male and female…. Are our brains programmed with not just the innate capacity to distinguish male from female, but also an innate desire for one or the other? How exactly might that work? Do we have all kinds of other innate knowledge and desires? Or is sexuality some kind of radical anomoly [sic] in the way our brain works? My own opinion is that homosexuality is a bit of both, and maybe more. The two alternatives proposed by Trey and Diana, of being mostly genetic or entirely psychological, respectively, are inadequate and fall short of capturing the vast range of differences one finds in human sexual manifestations. Moreover, coming from an Objectivist perspective, such disjunctive bifurcation of the human sexual identity in either the wholly genetic or the wholly psychological wrongly sustains the separation of the mind from the body – a dichotomy that Objectivism vehemently rejects in every understanding of man. Trey’s insistence that homosexuality is almost entirely dictated by genetic predispositions does not fit into our current understanding of human sexuality as a rich, complex, and varied phenomena. It furthermore would need to admit that all manifestations of sexual orientations, like heterosexuality, transexuality, bi-sexuality, bestiality, etc. etc. are also entirely determined by genetic causes (as people bearing these identities often claim for themselves). I don’t believe this position can be viably held in the face of current and future revelations on the matter. On the other extreme position that Diana holds, i.e. sexual orientation could not be genetic at all, and must be entirely psychological, similarly goes against current science, and on a more personal level, it goes against my own (and other gays’) experience and understanding of sexual identity. The questions Diana poses regarding homosexuality could also be asked of heterosexuality. [Note: Diana does emphasize that even heterosexuality cannot be genetic and is therefore, psychologically developed - either consciously or sub-consciously.] Why is it that throughout history, the majority of human population have been heterosexuals if it were possible for them to easily develop sexual attraction to any thing or any person (since it is not genetically determined)? Why didn’t people develop a pre-dominantly homosexual orientation, leaving reproduction to the 10% minority? If there are no innate concepts of male and female, and no innate attraction for one or the other, then the overwhelming pre-dominance of heterosexuality needs crucial explanation beyond our current understanding of its evolutionary causes and roles. I’ll copy/paste here some of the arguments I posted on the comments at Trey’s blog. If you are reading this and are interested in participating in the discussion, please proceed to his site to include your comments and get a complete picture of everyone else’s arguments. My post here is mainly for my own purpose of synthesizing my scattered opinions on homosexuality in one place, on my blog. ================================================ Explanations such as physiological suitability of opposite sex organs dictating the *choice* people made throughout history is very inadequate for atleast two reasons I can think of right now: 1) I personally do not find any difference in the *physiological* suitability between heterosexuals and homosexuals (yes, even among lesbians). This notion of "suitability" probably carries some subjective and arbitrary beliefs of the purpose of sex and our sex organs. If the "suitability" of sex organs are viewed with a subconscious view that they are primarily for reproduction, then I would only concede so much that TODAY opposite sex organs have better suitability than same-sex sex organs. If "suitability" is understood in the view of sex as expression of love, pleasure, lust, etc... then to claim that one set is more "suitable" than the other is simply arbitrary. 2) If sexual identity was indeed totally unconnected with genetic causes, then, given the variety of human sexual choices we already witness, the number of heterosexuals should have been far lower - or atleast widely ranging during different periods of history depending on prevailing socio-cultural norms. However, I believe it is a matter of fact that homosexuality has remained at a steady minority rate, and hetersexuality has maintained a huge majority throughout history. Other sexual identities (possibly, as I mentioned earlier, due to random genetic/evolutionary processes) have been typically lower than homosexuality.These trends cannot be explained away by saying simply that the large *majority* of people throughout history just chose to be heterosexual because of the suitability of opposite sex organs. If choice were truly the main factor, then the diversity of sexual choices would have been more evenly spread out. I've always held that homosexuality is not entirely or merely a genetic/biological phenomena. I believe there is certainly some environmental/psychological aspect that probably triggers a latent "gay" gene in the people that have it. I’ve read some studies to this effect – which I find to be the most plausible scenario. Yet, I have also held firmly that homosexuality - whatever its causes - is not immoral in any sense. If given a chance to change my sexual orientation (I don't like the word "orientation", but I can't think of any appropriate one to use right now), I would choose not to do it. However, I don’t mean to imply that I am somehow more comfortable with my homosexuality and Trey – because he leans toward being open to change – is somehow not fully comfortable. I agree with Trey that it is purely an individual decision made in their given contexts. It seems to me that all the "inconveniences" or "hurdles" or "problems" associated with being gay actually has no proper root in the fact of being gay, per se - but of being gay in *today's* cultural environment. Being gay as such does not give rise to any uniquely different or significant problems that would not similarly arise among heterosexuals... I agree that there are real problems homosexuals experience - but it is because we are gay *today*, in *this* cultural environment. However, we must remember that our situation is much, much, better off that gays living only 20 or 30 years ago. My understanding of the "gay" gene does to correspond to a cognitive or conceptual understanding of gay sexuality, masculinity, etc. I understanding genetic basis of behavior dispositions as simply *tendencies* - not a hard-wired *programmed* formula. There are genetic tendencies that different people have to differing degrees... for example, scientists have studied some people's genetic predisposition to a short temper, get angry more quickly and easily, or get hooked on some addiction or alcoholism, etc. However, my argument is that these predispositions are tendencies that typically are latent unless they are triggered early on in a person's life (depending on what those tendencies are) by environmental or psychological factors. Thus, a person with a predisposition for easy addiction (maybe a gene that allows for a quicker neural connection in the brain to process drug-induced chemicals and respond quickly with a positive "high" experience)... might not actually be an *addict* until they actually interact with some trigger in their environment (peer pressure to smoke at an early age, drug abuse at home, etc.). Similarly, the gay genetic tendency is not present in all persons... and even those who DO HAVE that genetic predisposition might not manifest it in their conscious sexual orientation unless it had already been triggered through some means early enough in their psychological development. That might explain bi-sexuality, latent homosexuality, anecdotes of abuse in childhood common among many gay people, etc. If […] homosexuality is *entirely* psychological or developmental, then it implies to whatever degree, a deliberate choice I made after understanding concepts like my masculinity, sexual attraction, other males, etc. But I must say, and I think Trey would agree, that I cannot ever remember making any such choices nor understanding any such concepts in my early childhood - when there were already clear signs of my homosexual attraction. My earliest memory of being attracted to another male (a little boy, actually) seemed to arise automatically and naturally when I was only 3yrs old, and he was maybe only a few yrs older than me. Was that childhood attraction possible because even at that age I had some concept of sexual roles, gender, penis, masculinity, etc? I don't know. But I doubt it. To me, it seems more like the physiological reaction of my gay gene after being triggered positively, releasing positive and reinforcing emotions in me. I take it being analogous to a person who has good genes that respond quickly to muscle-building when the person works-out in the gym only few days a week, while another person sweats out 2 hours everyday at the gym and yet can barely maintain a decent physique (I submit myself as an example of the latter!) I cannot honestly agree with any theory that regards homosexuality as completely devoid of any genetic, physiological, or biological roots. It creates an unresolvable conflict in my mind between what "stomach-feeling" I have and what that theory would espouse. I think homosexuality (its different degrees, and bi-sexuality, etc.) are caused by some interactive influence of both, the biological and the psychological.All behaviors are subject to moral judgement. Harmful addiction is immoral regardless of the person's genetic predispositions - because, as I mentioned, those addictive acts are still under the control of the person's deliberate choices. Homosexuality is not immoral regardless of its causes.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

An Epitaph for Memories of You

I am scared to think of you. You have become… a memory Like so many other things bygone – A mere thought. And that thought scares me. I am alarmed at the fact that you are Only an ephemeral firing of some neuron That bears your name in my mind. Your images Flicker rapidly, Moving too quickly for me to grasp Memories of you jostle against each other Blurring the chronology of events Smudging the precision of your face I am petrified by the sight of your Ghostly image projected on the walls of my consciousness I cannot have you haunting my soul I cannot have you addicting my mind And yet, you are there… somewhere… Inside the dark murkiness of my head I wish I could gather your body into the fold of my arms I wish I could admire the mirthful gaze of your eyes I don’t want you in my thoughts I want you in the body I do not wish to forget you But I do not wish to make you a memory to think of How grotesque it is For a being full of life and vigor and animation For a being that exemplifies “laughter let loose in the Universe”* To be twisted, chained and locked in the chambers of my brain, To be tangled among a sad mess of dendrites. Will my body ever shudder under your touch again? Or will memories like translucent dew Be all that I will have left Of you? ============================================= *Ayn Rand used those words to describe the paintings of her husband.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Christians Against Free Speech in India

There is a furor rising up among the Christian - particularly Catholic - community in India over two movies that were scheduled for nationwide release. The local Catholic communities in Mumbai staged a protest rally today, calling for the ban of these two movies from country-wide movie theaters. They distributed fliers, in which they describe their objections to the two movies: 1) Tickle My Funny Bone - shows a women [sic] dressed as a Nun romancing, with the Church & Cross in the background. The advertisements read, "Story of a Sexy, Bold, Naughty Nun" and show her in worse scenes than the one on the behind of this sheet. 2) The Da Vinci Code - speaks of Jesus getting married to Mary Magdalene, with they having sex & children. The Church is shows as trying to cover this story, where the chalice of the Last Supper is supposed to be the womb of Mary Magdalene, bearing the blood of Christ.... Furthermore, they demand that the "secular government" of India take note of these movies "as it did with... the Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie [and] the Holy Prophet's Cartoons...". They are, in effect claiming, that if the muslims could have their way with their protests and violence, so can they; in fact, so should they! Their corrupt understanding of the concept of "secular" means the government should ban all instances of allegedly insulting and insensitive material against all religions alike. They are asking all Catholic communities, parishners, and church go-ers to email or write to newspapers, politicians, and other authorities and state their protest against the movies. I decided to email them back and express my absolute opposition to them and their views. I also sent the following email to the editors of two major newspapers in India. I hope that those of you reading this, if you have any value for the right to free speech and other basic rights, and if you value living in a rational world that protects those inviolable rights, you will spare a few moments to send a quick email to these newspapers (and other ones if you can), expressing your support for the release of "Tickle My Funny Bone" and "The Da Vinci Code". To: editoronline@dnaindia.net ; toieditorial@timesgroup.com ; divinemedia@gmail.com
Dear Editors, On Wednesday, May 10th, certain Catholics gathered in Mahim to protest the release of two films that they claim are "insulting" & "hurting" their religious sentiments. They claim that India is a secular democracy, and is therefore obligated to respect all religious sentiments. Therefore, the Indian government is obligated to ban both of these movies. I wish to emphatically say that I stand diametrically opposed to these Catholics' demand! Banning of movies, books, or any other form of media violates our most precious value and basic right of free speech. Just as there can be NO compromise to our right to live, there can also be NO compromise on our right to THINK freely and express those thoughts FREELY in speech. India is a secular democracy - and precisely for that reason, every Indian should have the freedom to speak as they wish, and practice their religions as they see fit - as long as that speech or practice does not extend into a credible threat of physical harm. The Indian government has NO obligation to ban these movies. The government SHOULD NOT interfere in this matter. This is a matter of private entities - private studios, distributors, and individual citizens. The Indian government should be secular - and therefore hold NO STANCE or position for one religion or against another. Catholics need to realize that the right of free speech is guaranteed inorder to protect me when I make an offensive speech. Certainly, I would not need any such right or guarantee if I wasn't saying anything offensive. I should have the right to criticize or ridicule Hindus, muslims, or any other religion, just as they have the right to criticize Christians. If I believe that the 300 gods of Hindus are wierd, I should have the right to say it, and make fun of it. You have the right to not listen to me and walk away. You have NO right to force my mouth shut. Galileo Galilei had published his revolutionary book that was highly insulting to the Catholic Church. He was therefore, imprisoned and declared an offensive heretic. We know today how wrong the Catholic Church was, the Church apologized for that instance of denying Galileo his freedom to speak as he saw fit. If we shut every work of media, art, and science as offensive to our sentiments, we will be heading towards a horrible scenario of absolutely no freedom, and widespread stagnation. Let every individual make their own minds about the kinds of speech they wish to subscribe to. If you do not like the movie, do not watch it! If you think it is insulting to your sentiments, don't go see it. But DO NOT DEMAND that they rest of the country also respect your sentiments! A muslim CANNOT DEMAND that catholics stop eating pork because it insults the muslim sentiments. A Hindu CANNOT DEMAND that we stop eating beef because it insults their sentiments. A Christian CANNOT DEMAND that no one in this country should see these movies because it is insulting to their sentiments. Keep this country free. Keep freedom alive. Let everyone practice their own religions in peace and privacy.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Conflating the Identities of Humans and Animals

In my previous post about Animal Rights, I revealed the two alternatives posed by behaviorists and intrinsicists: the former believes that humans are not much different (if at all) than other animals, while the latter believes that we are positively superior to animals – because we are smarter and more sophisticated. I identified that both alternatives rest on a false premise: that humans and animals are measured for difference on a linear, quantitative scale – that the behaviorists place humans only a few points higher (if at all) than animals, whereas the intrinsicists place humans dramatically higher on this linear scale. The premise is that humans and animals have the same characteristics, only in differing degrees. That the identities of humans and animals are essentially the same, though differing only in some aspects like the amount of intellectual brain development. I argued that there is fundamental and radical difference between humans and animals. That we are not on some quantitatively higher position of superiority than animals, but on an altogether different standard of measurement. Our fundamental identities are dramatically different – not just in differing degrees, but totally, and absolutely. I pointed out that human consciousness possesses the faculty of volition that is only unique to us as a species. This faculty is absent among other species, and therefore our essential identities are radically different. Humans are not animals in any but the most narrow, physiological sense of the word. Just a few minutes ago, I happened to read Roger Donway’s article “How Individualist Is Human Nature?” Given the title, I believe the article is entirely superfluous – one should quickly be able to reject the whole evolutionary theorists’ premise of pre-programmed concepts like Individualism, altruism, selfishness, etc. hard-wired into the brain based on the very fact that those are higher level *cognitive* concepts that cannot exist without a developed *cognitive* faculty! Furthermore, I have deep criticism for Roger’s analysis of Evolutionary psychology. I may critique his article in detail in a separate post. My point in bringing up his article in the context of my discussion on animal rights is to show just one example of determinists and behaviorists positing the complete negation of human identity as a rational being with the faculty of volition – as a being that is radically different from animals based on the nature of his consciousness. By refusing to recognize the different natures of human and animal consciousness, they posit the negation of identity itself – human identity and animal identity – thus, conflating the two and abolishing the proper foundation for morality and rights, and fundamentally, for existence itself. If existence is identity, and that if a human exists he exists with an identity, then to deny the identity of a human being is to deny the very existence of man qua man. Of course, then what you get is human qua animal; a brute; a mindless thug functioning on automatic instinct, and left at the mercy of unknown causes in his brain. In the article, Roger cites an evolutionary psychologist who says ““The brain is a physical system whose operation is governed solely by the laws of chemistry and physics. What does this mean? It means that all your thoughts and hopes and dreams and feelings are produced by chemical reactions going on in your head.” What they wish to argue is that the chemical reactions produced in your brain allegedly precludes, out of necessity, any faculty of free will and volition – even the possibility of such a faculty as existing. Moreover, the entire enterprise of writing a book, or formulating a theory is, according to them, nothing more than the effects of causal chains of chemical reactions. Matt Ridley, whose book is the focus of Roger’s article, “ridicules those who believe that “we are conscious, rational, and free-willed, not like those inferior things called animals.”” The deterministic, behaviorist trend in psychology (and other fields) openly reveal their contempt for human identity and reason. To deny the faculty of volition in human consciousness is to deny the functioning method of our rational faculty. The operation of reason rests upon the faculty of volition. Choice is the effect caused by the nature of our consciousness. If there is no free will, there can be no faculty of reason.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Revealing a False Alternative - Animal Rights or Human Rights?

Since I wrote the article on “Animal “Rights” Trump Human Rights”, I have thought extensively on the matter and have now been able to identify and formulate a thorough exposition of the fundamental premises of people in the Animal Rights camp. I have also been able to identify, once and for all, the fundamental difference between humans and animals. In discussions on whether animals have rights, there are many notions being loosely held and misused – the most obvious one being the concept of ‘rights’. However, 'rights' is a higher level concept that depends on many underlying concepts and premises. I won’t go into a detailed analysis of rights-concept, as I believe, Objectivism has properly and fully completed that job. What I wish to identify here, then, is the question of difference: Are humans really any different from other animals? If we were to afford animals their alleged “rights”, then it must imply some sort of significant similarity between animals and humans. Are humans also just animals? Aren’t we all just animals? I have identified at least two alternative strains of thought that answer this question of difference – and both, I believe are false alternatives. The first alternative is the determinist, behaviorist argument that claim humans are also animals. We are no different. Humans can be trained and taught tricks just like a chimpanzee. Animals communicate and build homes and protect their young just like us humans. Humans and animals have the same feelings, emotions, loyalties, etc. except maybe to differing degrees. The second alternative is that of an intrinsicist or, what I call, the pseudo-religious argument: Humans are definitely different from animals. We are not only different, but superior to them. We are more intelligent than animals, we can communicate, we can build huge cities, we love more deeply, etc. In short, Humans are superior to animals because of our superior intelligence. No other animal matches us in intelligence. Both these alternatives to the question of difference are wrong, and based on a false premise. The common fundamental premise shared by these two alternatives is that the difference between humans and animals is a matter of intelligence measurement; that the level of intelligence varies among humans and animals. The first camp believes that the intellectual difference between animals and humans is not too large, that we are not very much more intelligent than the smartest dolphin or chimpanzee. Our brains are essentially the same, and that an animal could be trained to be as smart as a human in most tasks. The second, intrinsicist camp argues that our intelligence level is dramatically greater, or higher, than that of animals, recent studies in animal intelligence notwithstanding. Our intelligence has become very sophisticated due to language, social interactions, and other such factors. Thus, we are fully superior to other animals. What both these alternatives reveal is a flawed, inaccurate understanding of human beings. Humans are not differentiated from other animals only by virtue of our intelligence. No matter what the intellectual capacity we possess, there are some of us humans with an intelligence level below that of an average chimpanzee, and there are some of us humans whose intelligence is rarely surpassed by any even over centuries. Beyond this simplistic quantitative view of human intelligence, we must take into account, the significance of the type of intelligence we humans possess: our intellectual abilities vary not on a linear two-dimensional scale, but on multi-layered three-dimensional model with scales that measure different aspects of our intellectual sophistication, like that of musical intelligence, integrative ability, mathematical aptitude, etc. To say it very mildly, human intelligence is tremendously complex and sophisticated in various ways. And yet, philosophically, this standard of a highly complex human intelligence is NOT enough to sufficiently differentiate humans from animals, and ground the concept of “rights” only in humans. This standard fails horribly when we bring in an equal or greater challenger of human intelligence in the form of robots, computers, or other such man-made creations. Despite the paradox of judging a man-made creation as being more intelligent that the creator, the standard of intelligent measurement objectively reveals that our creations often score better on the intelligence scale than many of us humans. Yet, I do not believe any one entertains the opinion of granting similar human rights and treatment to robots and computers. Thus, we see that intelligence by itself is an insufficient standard of arguing for the difference between humans and animals (or non-human entities). A robot maybe highly intelligent, but supposedly, lifeless – and so one may be tempted to then argue for some combination of intelligent *life* as the standard of difference. And yet, even that standard fails. It is an arbitrary insistence on a combination between intelligence and life, with a pre-conceived bias towards a traditional concept of “life”. Would the self-generated and autonomous actions of an intelligent robot or computer not suffice as defining it as a living entity? Does one require a heartbeat to be considering “living”? Is a brain-dead human a living human or a lifeless vegetable? Why do we consider the chemical activities of plants as proof of life but not the electrical activity of a super-intelligent robot? As you can see, insisting on that arbitrary standard of “intelligent life” leads to many complicated tangents and caveats that need resolving. Therefore, it is my argument that the fundamental difference between a human and an animal is not due to our quantitative levels of intelligence, or the qualitative levels of our intellectual sophistication, or due to the idea that we are the “only” intelligent life on earth. Those arguments are not invalid, but they are not fundamental. They are propositions that depend on a more fundamental premise. That premise is the Identity of Consciousness. The fundamental difference between a human and an animal is in the fundamental identity (nature) of our Consciousness. As humans, the identity of our consciousness is one that is volitional. As animals, the identity of their consciousness necessarily excludes the faculty of volition. Ayn Rand said that all living creatures face the fundamental alternative of life and death. Animals, by the identity of their consciousness are automatically equipped to deal with this reality. The nature of their consciousness gives them the requisite tools to face the alternative of life and death, and automatically pursue life, life-affirming activities; life-sustaining and reproducing activities. As humans, we have to CHOOSE one or the other – and that grounds all of our ethics and morality. Do we choose a life-affirming morality or a morality of death? 'Rights' are a moral concept that is applicable only under a morality of life. If one chooses death, one does not need to claim a right to life. If one simply cannot choose death as such, one cannot have any basis for morals, or rights. [At this point, I have to bring in the analogy of God: Since the God (assuming existence) cannot choose death, He can also not be an entity concerned with morals. Read "God's Limitations"]

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Oh my god, how much I miss Chicago.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Atlas Smolders With Sexual Tension!

It's about 4:00am right now here in god-forsaken land. I recently began re-reading Atlas Shrugged - the new Centennial paperback edition. The cover design on this behemoth of a book is so attractive and stunning, I couldn't resist its temptation; so I bought the book right before I left America. At first I thought I'd give this copy to my friend here, since I already have my own copy of an older version of the book (which is all worn out, tattered, and literally in two pieces due to very abusive reading habits). However, since I bought this new paperback edition, I've been so reluctant to part with it. I feel so selfishly possessive about it, and I am torn between on the one hand, wanting to keep this new, fresh, attractive copy for myself to re-read, and on the other hand, wanting to give it to my friend so he can hopefully gain some value in his life from reading it, which might help us have a deeper understanding and friendship due to a shared context. Ofcourse, I could really do both - re-read it first and then offer it to my friend. Oh, but the pain of parting away from it at all! Ugh. Anyway, well what really motivated me to rise up at this time of the morning and blog was that as I was reading my fresh, new, robust copy of the Centennial edition, I came upon this smoldering hot desription of the sexual tension between Hank Rearden and Dagny Taggart - the heroes of the novel. Read this part:
"To reduce you to a body, to teach you an animal's pleasure, to see your wonderful spirit dependent upon the obscenity of your need... to see you in my bed, submitting to any infamous whim I may devise, to any act which I'll perform for the sole purpose of watching your dishonor and to which you'll submit for the sake of an unspeakable sensation.... I want you - and may I be damned for it!..."
Daaayyaaam!! Well, read more:
"... Do you know what I'm thinking now, in this moment?... Your gray suit and your open collar... you look so young, so austere, so sure of yourself... What would you be like if I knocked your head back; if I threw you down in that formal suit of yours, if I raised your skirt-"
Good God! Rand could well have been a Romance novelist! I bet her romance novels would be so edgy, steaming, sexy, smoldering, and as an added benefit - they would actually have an intelligent, philosophical plot structure! (hmm... I wonder if that's what Atlas Shrugged is already?).

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Celebrity Baby Names

Gwyneth Paltrow's baby is named "Apple". Branjelina are rumored to name their upcoming baby "Africa". Tom and Katy have named their just new-born baby "Suri" (apparently, its hebrew, but even the Israelis don't know what it means!) What with baby names like Apple, Africa, and Suri I am so glad I'm not a celebrity baby, My name is, plain old, Jerry. [John, I couldn't help it! The topic renders itself so easily for such rhyme!]

Very Funny Joke! Capitalist Hell vs. Socialist Hell

A young, ruthless executive died and went to hell. When he arrived, he was given a choice: capitalist hell, or socialist hell. In front of the socialist hell was an incredibly long line; but not one person waited in front of the capitalist hell. Even now the executive believes in informed decision-making, so he asks the guard about the socialist hell. "In socialist hell," answers the guard, "they boil you in oil, whip you, and then put you on the rack." "And what do they do to you in capitalist hell?" "The exact same thing." The executive frowns: "So why is everybody in line for the socialist hell?" "Because in socialist hell," explains the guard, "they are always out of oil, whips, and racks." (Thanks to Smile of the Day for the joke, and Life and Otherwise for the link)

Strange Responses to God's Plan

I posted a modified version of my "God's Original Plan for Humanity" on the Progressive U site. I disagree with the website's mission and vision statement, but the site has generated a sizeable number of readers for my post there. At the time of this writing, 105 people have read my post. Ofcourse, it is my desire to have my original ideas disseminated as widely as possible. Yet, that also means having to contend with strange and wierd remarks or opinions in response to my ideas. The following is my modified post and some people's remarks to it: "Assume that the Genesis story in the Bible is true. Therefore, God exists. God created man in His image. Then he created woman out of man. Strangely, however, God commanded Adam and Eve to not eat the fruits of the tree of life and knowledge. In other words, God made man and woman in His image except for the knowledge and immortal life part. So, “His image” is quite questionable as to what it means. It is said in the book of Genesis that before eating of the forbidden fruit, man had no concept of sin or wrong or evil. It was after having eaten the fruit from the “Serpent” that sin entered into the world. Sin implies immorality – which also implies a possibility of morality. The book says that after they ate the fruit, Adam noticed Eve as a “woman” and apparently that reveals the human nature of sinful lust that became possible for Adam to experience. So, God originally then intended Adam and Eve to remain oblivious of good and bad, right or wrong, moral and evil, the sexual and the impersonal, etc. Which further implies that God did not want Adam and Eve to have knowledge of such things, and of many other things that arise from such knowledge – like love, values, virtues, hatred, benevolence, choice, freedom, nurture, etc. Thus, it seems like God created Adam and Eve just like He created all the other animals – like just any other species – endowed with life, but a blank stare of ignorance in their eyes. God did not want Adam and Eve to have knowledge – to know what is admirable, what is deserving of praise, what is evil, what is immoral, what is good, what is bad, etc. Knowledge was forbidden. In other words, God’s Divine plan for humanity was to keep us in a perpetual state of ignorant void – there can be no “happy” “innocent” state without the possibility of experiencing unhappiness or evil – an infant is not “happy” or “innocent” in the true meaning of the word, the infant is merely clueless, like any other animal would be, only sometimes responding pleasurably to pleasurable stimuli. But, humans foiled God’s Divine plan (clearly, foiling God’s plan is possible, according to the Bible) in cahoots with the Devil. The Devil liberated human beings from the state of ignorance and animal-like existence and brought salvation upon humankind. The Devil gave us the glimpse of immense possibilities, of achievements, of the concept of happiness, joy, love, of the higher meanings of morality, choice, freedom, failure, etc. The Devil made the world we live in, possible. The Devil free-ed humans to build our own heaven, here on Earth. The Devil makes it possible for us to love our mothers and hate our back-stabbers, to enjoy our boyfriends in sex, and to create great works of Art and literature. The knowledge of good and evil makes it possible for us to have a life that has meaning, that gives us control over our actions, that gives us responsibility, purpose, efficacy, sense of achievement. Of course, because of our freedom, we also screw up a lot. But hey, I still prefer living like this today, as a thinking human being, than living like how God intended Humans to live – as ignorant animals with no knowledge, no concept of any values, no experience of love or sexual intimacy, no worth, no pride, no self-esteem. Ergosum's blog – 105 reads Responses: The last two paragraphs here The last two paragraphs here could have been titled, "Why I am not a Christian." Excellent post. One of the essences of religion here. Michael Allen Yarbrough Protagonist – Tue, 05/02/2006 – 1:28am reply God commanded them not to God commanded them not to eat of the tree of Knowledge, however the tree of Life was open. Adam and Eve were immortal beings until they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. After they ate, they were banished from the Garden of Eden, which made them mortal, at least while on earth. As a Christian, I believe God is sovereign. Satan could not have tricked Eve into eating the fruit if God did not allow it. God's plan for humanity was to create us, then send his son to die for us, so that we could believe in Him and be saved. He knew what was going to happen from the time he created Adam and Eve, because that was what he wanted to happen. The fact that people accept his sacrifice brings glory to Him, and He created the world to bring glory to himself. ~Keri~ KearBear44 – Wed, 05/03/2006 – 6:31am reply Interesting idea, but I Interesting idea, but I noticed one problem. I could be wrong but I don't remember it saying in Genesis that Adam an Eve we're not immortal. I think they were immortal until they ate the fruit and were kicked out of the Garden of Eden. So if this is true then they may not have had knowledge but they would have lived in paradise without the pressures, struggles, and evils that we know about. But on the other hand since thats not what happened I can see your point in thinking we were liberated. Good Post tcole31314 – Wed, 05/03/2006 – 6:33am reply Hey very strong words. Just Hey very strong words. Just remember that these stories were written to help aid us in our relief to the thought of death. But that brings some thought into play. I always wondered if heaven is so perfect when we reach that destination why think. You have done a great job of answering my question. The reason why we are so afraid of thinking outside the world we believe in. Is because animals as we were. wernt made to think. But the devil is only our concept of evil. And evil does not deserve reward for what we have accomplished. Knowledge is due its credit. The "devil" had no part in stuffing that apple down our mouth, curiousity did. Thats the problem with your theory How would it be wrong to eat the apple if we dont understand the concept of right or wrong. What animal goes against his instinct to learn the experience of knowledge. When the bible says we were made in his image i dont think he was talking about flesh and bones but i believe he was talking about the ability to make our choices on the path we were willing to take. That story only illustrates that we as human biengs desire not to live within the restriction of any higher being. but well thought out im not a religious person just showing in defense out of respect for other religions Godfrey G Davis II – Wed, 05/03/2006 – 6:45am

Monday, May 01, 2006

First Month in India

Today marks the end of my first month in India since I arrived here. I had a first-hand experience today of something absolutely shocking, and to some real extent, very ominous. I went out to watch a movie with an old friend of mine. We decided to watch Aeon Flux, at a downtown movie theater. We sat in the very large, double level auditorium theater, watched the previews (which I very much enjoy watching, in anticipation of movies I’d like to see next), I sipped on my Mangola while my friend munched on some salted popcorns from a ridiculously tiny but exorbitantly pricey paper bag. Suddenly, I was caught unawares by the entire auditorium crowd rising up to their feet; at the same instant I heard the swelling sound of a familiar musical piece. It had bellowing sounds of horns and trumpets – in a funny staccato rhythm. I had not heard this particular piece of orchestration in a long while, so it took me a few moments to register. I had not even noticed that I was already standing up on my feet, though still quite confused. It finally hit me hard as to the nature of what was going on when I saw on the large silver screen of the theater, the flag of India being projected across the entire length of the screen, and the people around me, in low, respectful voices, were singing the Indian National Anthem! I was shocked! Truly! Beyond words! This never used to happen in India before. I’m not sure when and why this sudden tradition started, but I asked my friend why this was happening, and he seemed confused by my question, as if it should be clearly self-evident that this is a normal and desirable activity. He asked me in return, “Doesn’t this happen in America?” I said, “No, not in a movie theater!” Anyway, this experience stuck in my head. The experience had the photographic resemblance of an Orwellian “utopia” of mind-controlled citizens, singing in robotic unison their national anthem, facing a large silver screen that projected the mighty, towering, over-powering, national flag. Collectivism is in every fiber of this nation’s consciousness. Even the mere entertainment of a “selfish”, individualistic argument is met with incredulity and disbelief, as if one couldn’t possibly be serious about it, and if one were – then that is purely their naiveté. The person just needs some time to mature, they say. I am bombarded with collectivist, altruistic statements everyday – in my home, from my friends, the newspapers and the media, the church that I am forced to visit every Sunday, the Indian corporate culture, etc. Mom has a staple line that she keeps repeating to me: “What will society think? We will lose our dignity in front of their eyes. People must respect us, only then will there be a value in living.” The pastor at the Church said: “The prisoners in jail need our help and support. We are collecting money for their rehabilitation. They are in prison for minor offenses like robbing and stealing. They commit those crimes because they are poor, and in need. We must treat their poverty, not punish their crime. Give with open hearts, for God will give you abundantly in return.” My friend and I were discussing the Danish cartoon incident and the Muslim brouhaha. He agreed that the Muslims should not have acted violently, but he said: “I disagree with you to the core that freedom of speech comes with no responsibilities. The Danish newspaper was very insensitive and offensive in their insults. They should have atleast apologized!” The newspaper editorial section runs a column everyday that talks about the mystical benefits of being “One” with our inner consciousness, of the spiritual benefits of altruism and self-sacrifice, written by some Maharishi or Yogi or Guru or some such thing. Yuck. This first month in India has already seemed like a year. I spend my days usually being quiet and unargumentative with my family and friends. I try to keep to myself mostly, on the computer, or reading a book. I try not to go out during the day so I can avoid the heavy pollution, heat, and humidity. The other day, at church, I came across a priest from whom I picked up a definite gay vibe - and a disgusting one at that. He eyed me knowingly, and I think my expression clearly showed my disgust for him. I am desperately looking for a job here. I'm currently in an interview process, infact. I hope it works out. Staying home without a job is utterly damning to my sense of purpose. I don't want to become of those that wait for hours to pass, wait for the sun to set and then rise again, wait for their hair to grow, wait for their life to end. Yet, that is how I feel my life is right now. I detest it fully. I have been immersing my mind in music and books. I sometimes close my eyes and drown the reality of my surroundings in my familiar musical favorites. It reminds me the days I lived, and the times I enjoyed, and the life I had. I try to re-live them again for some moments in my head. In the dismal reality that I am surrounded with, I have come to understand and appreciate even more the importance of works of Art - the spiritual fuel of man's consciousness - that is exalting, romantic, proud, and ideal.