Applied Religion

This article in “The Times of India” reports

“…The Mumbai police on Monday suspended the licences of 34 errant cinema halls across the city for a period ranging between four and eight days…”

“A month ago, when a section of Marathi film producers called on Patil to protest against the failure of theatre owners to exhibit Marathi films, Patil had asked the home department to examine the rules before taking stringent action. He was informed that according to the licensing conditions, it was binding on theatre owners to exhibit Marathi films at least four weeks in a year…”

(For context, R. R. Patil is the deputy Chief Minister of Maharashtra. He is the same man who enforced a ban on dance bars in Mumbai two years back and whose government wanted to ban cheerleaders in the ongoing IPL cricket tournament)

These obviously impractical attempts to force the cultural tastes of people might seem bizzare. But it must be remembered that these are the same devoutly religious men who worship an assortment of gods and sincerely chant ‘mantras’ at ‘pujas’ before any significant event in their lives. Ayn Rand wrote “To deal with men by force is as impractical as to deal with nature by persuasion.”  These are men who have not even discovered that it is impractical to deal with nature by persuasion. These are men with whom no argument is possible. This is what makes religion a great threat to a civil society, a threat greater than that posed by power-hungry statists.

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Exposing Moderate Islam

In a recent article in the Indian Express, columnist Tavleen Singh writes how the film “Khuda Kay Liye” (For God’s sake) inadvertently exposes the myth of moderate Islam. She writes

“…The message of the film, in its essence, is that Islam is a great religion that has been misunderstood and that the United States is a bad, bad country and all talk of freedom and democracy is nonsense. Alas, this is not how we infidels see things.

What interested me most about the film was that in seeking to show Islam in a good light, it accidentally exposes the prejudices that make moderate Muslims the ideological partners of jihadis…”

and in conclusion

“If ‘moderate’ Muslims believe that the West is the real enemy of Islam and that the free societies of modern times compare poorly with the greatness of Muslim rule in earlier times, then there is little difference between them and the jihadis. As we infidels see it, the problem is that Islam refuses to accept that in the 21st century there is no room for religion—any religion—in the public square. Other religions have accepted this and retreated to a more private space. Islam has not.”

This analysis of religion in general and Islam in particular is as refreshing as it is rare. The ‘moderate’ followers of any religion are those who do not follow the religion in all aspects of their life. To the extent that they still believe in the sanctity of their religion, its prophets and its scriptures, they must sympathise with those who follow their religion fully and consistently. That is what makes them ideological partners of the religious fundamentalists.

Disclaimer: I have not watched the film and cannot say whether the message of the film is indeed what Tavleen Singh says it is.

Equality

The doctrine of equality is a key one in modern politics. Yet it is fairly ambiguous. Does it mean equality of wealth or equality of opportunity or equality under law or something else? The doctrine is widely held as a given, a primary, as something that needs no justification. Is it really a primary or can it be derived from more fundamental principles?

Men are born with widely varying abilities (both mental and physical) and are brought up in widely varying environments and circumstances. These differences are metaphysical. They are not open to human choice.

In what way are men equal then? They are equal in that they have the same nature. They all have a need of knowledge to survive and they have the same (and only) means of obtaining that knowledge – a rational mind. They all have free will. They all have a mind that must think and judge on its own. This equality too is metaphysical, not open to choice. No man can think for another nor can he force another’s thoughts.

Man’s nature requires that he be free to act on his thoughts, his mind being his sole source of knowledge and sole standard of judgement. A man who acts under force (or the threat of physical force) acts against his nature.

The only way for a society to be civil is to outlaw the initiation of force since the only proper response to an initiation of force is retalliation to end it. It is man’s nature that is the source of his right to be free of force. Since men are equal in their nature they all have this right equally. That is the only moral doctrine of equality and the only one that is achievable in practice.

What is the nature of attempts to enforce other forms of equality? They are a revolt against the nature of existence and the nature of man. They are attempts to change that which is not open to human choice. They are a revolt against the fact that sustenance is not free, that man must produce in order to live, that the extent of his ability (and favorability of circumstances) will determine his success.

Attempts to enforce equality of wealth have led to disastrous consequences in the last century in about half the world and now stand mostly discredited. Attempts to enforce equality of opportunity, however, are very popular today. They can be observed in policies such as progressive taxation, affirmative action, social security, socialized medicine, subsidized goods etc. “Opportunities” such as the “opportunity to a good education” or the “opportunity to a good job” or the “opportunity to health care” are not free. They are created by the efforts of men (such as the efforts of investors, educators, entrepreneurs, doctors, etc) and must be paid for (by one’s own efforts or by ones’ parents’ efforts or by charity). Asserting a right to equal opportunity is asserting a right to enslave the men whose efforts create the opportunities in the first place. Since these attempts are not as radical as attempts to enforce equality of wealth, their consequences are milder but not different in nature. If an attempt to enforce equality of wealth is murder (and not just figuratively, as history shows), then the attempt to enforce equality of opportunity is murder by slow torture.

K. M.

Social Justice

In another instance of “social justice”, the Indian Supreme Court upheld the 27% quota for OBCs (Other Backward Castes) in seats in central educational institutions. The article linked to mentions that two aspects of the case received attention from the court.
“Two aspects received a fair bit of attention from the apex court. First, the mode of determination of backwardness — whether it should be caste-based or economic condition, and secondly, whether the creamy layer should be excluded or not.”
Note that the court did not bother to consider whether quotas are legitimate in the first place. The ideas of social justice – that government should step in to make sure that men get what they need (whether they deserve it or not) – are so firmly established that they don’t even get challenged.

What is Justice?

“Justice is the recognition of the fact that you cannot fake the character of men as you cannot fake the character of nature…
…that every man must be judged for what he is and treated accordingly, that just as you do not pay a higher price for a rusty chunk of scrap than for a piece of shining metal, so you do not value a rotter above a hero…”

Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

Social justice is the negation of justice. It demands that men be rewarded for their needs instead of their actions or their abilities. Since there is no universal standard by which the needs of men can be compared, the meaning of need defaults to a lack of ability. Who provides the rewards? It can only be the men of ability, the men who can produce the rewards. That is the obscene evil of social justice – that it punishes men for their abilities and rewards men for their incompetence.

Altruism, Pragmatism and Moral Relativism

Man is faced with choices in every conscious moment. To make these choices, he needs a code of ethics – a morality. For his choices to be successful, his moral code must be based on the facts of reality (including his own nature). Properly, a code of ethics must be derived from the nature of existence and the nature of man (man has specific requirements for survival and has free will and the abilty to reason) with reference to an ultimate purpose. This is the motivation for studying philosophy. One must discover the nature of existence – existents have a specific identity and behave in accordance with it. This is the task of metaphysics. One must acquire knowledge of the world (including of man’s nature). To ensure that the knowledge is accurate, one must validate it. This is the task of epistemology.

The dominant morality today is that of altruism. Here is the dictionary meaning.
1 : unselfish regard for or devotion to the welfare of others
2 : behavior by an animal that is not beneficial to or may be harmful to itself but that benefits others of its species

Altruism is a code that has “the welfare of others” as its ultimate purpose (note meaning 1 above) and sacrifice as its guiding principle (note meaning 2 above).

What altruism does by defining sacrifice as the guiding principle need not be elaborated here. The consequences are painfully apparent. By defining the ultimate purpose to be the welfare of others, altruism destroys the motivation to study philosophy. Without an explicit understanding of the nature of existence and the nature of knowledge, man is left in chronic doubt. He cannot be sure of what he knows or even whether he actually knows anything at all. Nevertheless, he knows that he has to make choices. He knows that he is not equipped to make them. What does he do? He adopts the principle “Do not decide any issue beyond the range of the moment”. He decides that he will only consider immediate concretes. He decides to reject principles on principle. This is how altruism leads to pragmatism.

Having rejected principles, man is left with no means to judge others. By considering concretes, he can still judge individual actions or situations to a limited extent. But he cannot judge others. Their motives and the long term consequences of their actions are not concretes. They can only be considered with reference to principles. Thus he adopts the principle “Do not judge people”. He decides that the concepts ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are neither absolute nor objective, but only have meaning in the range of the moment. This is how altruism leads to moral relativism.

Added on 29 April 2008 (In response to Scott Hughes’ comment):

Most religions prescribe altruistic ethical rules as absolutes, as a revelation from God. However those absolutes are of little help in the application of ethics to most real-life issues. Look at the Ten Commandments. How would they apply in formulating (or even evaluating) a company’s policy regarding employee benefits? Altruism has “the welfare of others” as its ultimate purpose. But what is this welfare? Altruism does not answer that. Without an explicit understanding of the nature of existence and the nature of knowledge, man is left with subjective (and inconsistent) emotions as the only means to an answer.

Knowledge and Reason

Knowledge, in the sense applicable to a human mind, is more than just an awareness of reality. It is an understanding of reality. Implicit in the concept of knowledge are the axioms of existence, identity and consciousness. Knowledge must have a subject (something must exist), content (things must have a specific identity for anything to be known about them) and it must be held by a consciousness.  Perceptions (the involuntary integration of sensations) are man’s units of information about reality. However, man does not have the ability to retain perceptions. Apart from the perceptions of the immediate moment, knowledge is retained in the form of concepts. The ability to think and form concepts is reason. Knowledge thus rests on perceptual data and reason.

Apart from simple concepts like ‘Length’ or ‘Red’ which are abstractions from perceptual data, most concepts depend on other concepts. For example, the concept ‘Illusion’ depends on concepts like ‘Reality’, ‘Knowledge’ and ‘Truth’. The concept ‘Virtue’ depends on the concepts ‘Action’ and ‘Value’. Thus knowledge has a hierarchy. One cannot properly use a concept if one does not understand (or accept) the concepts that it depends on.

Here are a few examples that violate the hierarchy of knowledge.

“Everything is an illusion”. The concept ‘Illusion’ is used to deny the concept ‘Reality’ on which it depends.
 “All property is theft”. The concept ‘Theft’ is used to deny the concept ‘Property’ on which it depends.
“Change is the only constant”. The concept ‘Change’ depends on a fixed standard but the assertion denies any fixed standards.

Unquestioned Moral Premises

In a blog entry on Desicritics.org, Shantanu Dutta comments about the manifestation of power in society in response to this incident. He writes

“It looks graceless when people with the power which only their position gives them use it so coarsely – whether it be by slapping a liftman or using the hapless, over worked people under you to look for a missing pet ( for a report on the working conditions of the Delhi Police look here) or raping a woman or through in any of the innumerable ways in which we demonstrate our power, not to lift up the weak but to further crush those who are already trampled.”

and further

“The sad paradigm of power is that the truly powerful seem to be frail of body like broken reeds like Gandhiji or Baba Amte or Nanaji Deshmush or Mother Teresa while their shadows flaunt a caricature of power through golden cages of glitzy cars or the grandeur of Lutyens’ bungalows displaying vain glory in the guise of the emperor’s new clothes as in Hans Christen Anderson.”

Yes. This is sad. But is that all that one can say about it? By what means did those who abuse power get that power? How is it that those who flout moral ideals become powerful while those who practise them consistently remain powerless? If moral ideals are doomed to failure, by what standard are they moral? What is the nature of a moral system that consistently results in punishment for its practioners and reward for its abusers? What is the nature of a moral system that no one has ever succeeded in putting into practice? What is the nature of those who continue to regard these ideals as moral? What is the nature of those that preach these ideals knowing that anyone practising them will be punished?

And finally what is the nature of those who choose not to ask these questions?

 K. M.

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