Capitalism and Religion- Introduction

June 25, 2016 § Leave a comment

As weird as this comparison felt to me when I heard this for the first time, I was forced to think on it. Having felt convinced on the first-time talk basis, I couldn’t let myself be influenced by someone’s words so easily unless I analysed it myself. This subject is a major challenge for me, and my preparations were an intellectual adventure of unforeseen proportions. I am neither an expert on moral theology or social philosophy nor Capitalism. But my curiosity got the better of me and led me to explore a comparison which arose out of an interview conversation.
When we compare capitalism and religion, a dictionary definition will suffice for direct correlation. But when we start with capitalism we discover, that there are very different approaches to the subject and that it can be defined in different ways. Maybe there is more than just one variety of capitalism. The same holds true for religion.

Dictionary definitions

Capitalism : an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market.
Religion :  a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices.

Both concepts have no difference when carefully observed. Both are institutions governed by either an individual or a group of individuals. These definitions cause no mayhem. When has written word ever caused issues anyway.

Is Capitalism the root cause of all evil?

There is no such thing as “the” economy or capitalism as a monolithic concept.They are vitriolic constructs to prevent them from being further studied and understood ( whether to attack or support is a thing for further consideration).Money, as an institution exists, it is an ingenious invention, on a par with the wheel, language or writing. If someone describes it only as the source of all greed, then he must be able to offer functional alternatives.The state as an institution exists, also a human accomplishment (which is possibly overvalued, by the way). But an institution called “the economy” does not exist. Economy as a component of culture is a highly complex process by which needs are satisfied through exchange and division of labour. The notion that “the economy” or “the world economy” can be “manipulated” by a couple of superpowers, is based on a dangerously naïve overestimation of how controllable highly complex phenomena are. Shimmering through this belief is the expectation that all you need to do is replace these greedy powers with a reasonable, intelligent management crew , and presto! the planet would be saved and all evils vanquished.
My own approach to capitalism is that it is the essence of private property and open markets for products, finance and labour. Capitalism is what happens, when you open these opportunities by removing the institutional obstacles. Capitalism has not to be organized by a central political power. And Capitalism tends to globalisation but it creates absolutely no need for a global government.

Is Capitalism just the opposite of Socialism or are, — from a religious point of view — , both ideologies just the two materialistic and rationalist errors of the 19th century — not so far away one from each other? This is my answer: Capitalism is not an ideology, nor a dogma that is to be believed or not. Capitalism is just what happens in world that has invented or discovered money, credit and the division of labour, when you stop to intervene by governmental coercion.

It’s not a question of one ideology prevailing over another, nor is it a question of loyalty, but rather a question of empirical plausibility, whose answer is based on empirically verifiable facts and longer-term comparisons of orders. Which principle (“System” is too static to be used) leads to greater prosperity, also for the poor, and to greater progress in measurable criteria (infant mortality, life expectancy)? Which territorial authorities, using which regulatory models, have generated pressure to emigrate? And which have generated pressure to immigrate (voting with one’s feet)?

Capitalism and love

Majority assumption lead us to believe that capitalism and love are opposite concepts.  Do you believe in love? This question is probably the most important ( and most futile, as well) question of a person’s life as your happiness depends on the answer you find.
Similarly, do you believe in market? Answer to this depends on one’s capability, skills and talent. An extremely personal question challenging one’s ego.

Most people believe in love to be ‘happening’ all the time independent of how he/she is. But love is far from this. To gain love, one must deserve it. The issue today is in our criteria of becoming deserving of love. The way to deserve love is to give it not for the sake of any return but for the sake of loving itself. This is what each religion tries to achieve. While finding a common ground between the two ideas, I came across a quote by Aristotle “Unity and harmony among things and people who are different can be achieved only by maintaining their diversity and singularity.” Every religion has the following three aspects covered: Personalism, subsidiarity and solidarity. In the further posts, these 3 aspects will be further looked into.

Being raised a Hindu, I have maximum exposure to this religion. Hence my basis of comparison will be between Hinduism and Capitalism. But I can safely assume the following aspects to be applicable to all religions.

 

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Punch and Judy, to their audience

June 10, 2016 § Leave a comment

by Theodore Melnechuk
Our puppets strings are hard to see,
So we perceive ourselves as free,
Convinced that no mere objects could
Behave in terms of bad and good.

To you, we mannequins seem less
than live, because our consciousness
is that of dummies, made to sit
on laps of gods and mouth their wit;

Are you, our transcendental gods,
likewise dangled from your rods,
and need, to show spontaneous charm,
some higher god’s inserted arm?

We seem to form a nested set,
With each the next one’s marionette,
Who, if you asked him, would insist,
that he’s the last ventriloquist.

काशी अविमुक्त

April 6, 2016 § Leave a comment

Varanasi is one of the major cities of Uttar Pradesh. A shabby city, mind you.
On the other hand Banaras is the only city of its kind in the world.
It does not conform to any standard of a city, per se. It is like any other 2nd tier city-potholed roads, traffic jams, and bad infrastructure. Name the flaws and you have them. But you don’t go to Varanasi for Varanasi. You go there for Banaras or Kashi.

This place has an ethereal quality lacking structural beauty. Lacking the luster of a city and seeming as if covered in dust of non-existent fervor, Banaras has an inherent stability, equilibrium though dynamic in nature. Dynamic because there is a movement beneath all that non-sensitiveness. The place never reaches its stable state. It is not supposed to either. Very true to its essence.

All the life and activity is visible in the old area of the city where the ghats are. This is the central area of attraction. The entire area is a maze of uncountable passages, seething with life and death alike, with the destination being any one of the supposed 100 ghats and the finality being the quintessential destination through the ultimate passage-Banaras. Many say there are more than 300 ghats. This doesn’t matter. The place is full of stories without a beginning or a confirmation. After all it is considered to be the oldest living city. Word of mouth has never been reliable or left untouched without a personal flavour.

I am not keen on describing the ghats or recounting various myths and stories. The oddities will be palpable as the ghats and the lanes are explored. The only way to experience them is to be there. What fascinated me most was the calmness of the place and the people. You are not expected to have an opinion there. For me this city is neither cheerful nor miserable. I felt neutrality and acceptance here. Usually at a place you are supposed to have an opinion about it or feel something about that place. There is an underlying imposing nature of that place. Rudrabhoomi rids one of judgment. You can feel nothing about this place and there is not a sense of conclusion within you. Only an observation. People have an opinion which they gladly tell you when asked but if you disagree they will agree with your point. No sense of assertiveness as well. Not that they lack conviction but they don’t care. This don’t care attitude with a constructive theme is what stood out for me. You are not termed as ‘cold, unemotional, uncaring, unsympathetic etc’ if you don’t possess an extreme sentiment. A live and let live attitude is pervasive here. I found this liberating. Another person found the same aspect extremely negative. In his words- “There is no spark in the city. Nobody is keen on life.”

This is the city of Lord Shiv, the eternal shakti (power) as she/he is called. This is the city where Hindus come to die and end their cycle of rebirth to attain complete freedom from karma or oneness with the ‘shakti’. This outlook is maintained in every local here and every devout who comes here. For the first time death did not overwhelm me in the customary modus operandi. The magnificence of death and its romanticism, more than its counterpart appealed to my core.
In the end, Banaras can be put like this – Place where people come to pray for tranquility after death, before and during life.

P.S.

  1. To really understand this, visit Kashi. This juxtaposition will be most evident when you see the lights of the evening prayers being lit to revere River Ganga as the life-giver at the Dashashwamedh/Rajendra Prasad Ghat and just 3-4 ghats down the line you see the never-ending funeral pyre of the expired ‘lit’ at the Manikarnika Ghat. The myth goes that the day there is no fire burning at Manikarnika, that day will be the end of the World. Another glaring contrast is the two-way queue from Manikarnika Ghat to the Kashi Vishwanath Mandir . It is infinite live or a complete cycle.
  2. The city has its share of orthodox rituals going on. I did not get a chance to see the darker side of the place hence that aspect is not covered here.

Sar Pass

June 19, 2015 § 9 Comments

Mountains hold different meaning for different people. Everyone is influenced in a different way. They are for everybody willing to climb and belong to no one in particular. However easy or tough is the climb, the satisfaction of reaching the top and being among or above the fellow peaks is worth every moment of trouble.

Sar Pass at 13800 ft in the Parvati Valley is one of the Himalayan treks I decided to undertake. It takes you to a height where you, even though being at the same height as the mountains around you , don’t feel a tinge of pride seeping in. The huge snow-capped eminence humbles you. They overwhelm you to an extent of making you speechless. Feelings cannot be described at that point. Sar Pass is not a tough trek. Hence some people may lack a sense of achievement after crossing it. But what everybody positively feels is the immense beauty that those mountains have to offer- The beauty of the Himalayas.

I did the Sar Pass trek with YHAI. Considering the fact that not everyone was a fast walker or had high stamina, the pace of the trek of almost every batch ( as per my information ) was from slow to medium. There are members of every age group which makes the trek a lot of fun and insightful. There are always people who walk extremely slow to the point of annoyance of fast walking members. There are a few members who are dying to have Maggi at every lunch point ( after the ban I don’t know whether YHAI will continue the association with Maggi or not). There are always people in the group that annoy somebody. Not a single one is in the best books of everyone. Some grudge or the other will always exist. But that is what a large group has to offer. How to cooperate, adjust and move ahead without or with least arguments is what these large groups teach. I was recently reading an article about why humans rule the Earth and not any other species. The sociologist had written that humans were insignificant when they had evolved but now they rule. The reason, according to him, was because of our species’ ability to cooperate, coordinate and imagine. He said that humans would be nothing when left alone but as a group we can do wonders. The large group definitely had that learning to offer.

Besides what humans could not teach me, the trek did. As mentioned before, the trek is not tough ( I am not a pro-trekker and neither I have a stamina that I can boast of) but it is lengthy. You have to walk a lot. Also with the guides not really helping you about how much distance left to cover ( you ask them now it is 3 kms, you ask them after 1 km, still 3 kms left), you have no option but to continue walking. Walk, walk and you will reach the camp. This long walk definitely did teach me to persevere ( in this regard at least). Not only persevere but also patience. I have ended up believing patience has no threshold. How much ever you may think that you have patience , go for a trek and your patience will just increase. Anyways these long walks also gave a few people pain in the knees,thighs, shoulders and back. But after reaching the camp all the pain goes away. The beauty of each place, whether it is raining or sunny is just inimitable. The best feeling while trekking is the height gain. At the base camp, we are at the bottom of the mountain. With every single day, we gained some height and reached a higher point on the mountain ranges. One day we were at the bottom. Our walks were accompanied by the Parvati river most of the times. The other day we had walked and climbed 2000 ft higher . Nearer to the sky. Nearer to the pinnacle. With each passing day we were moving into and above the clouds. We were sitting with the gloriously ( like a boss) gliding Himalayan Eagles. And finally at Sar Pass, we were above them . We were above the clouds, the eagles and very near to the Sun. Snow was all around us and we started going crazy. Snow angels and snow mans ( just a blob of irregularly shaped snow over another such shape of snow) could be seen. At the top after having fun, when you look around and soak into the beauty, then you realise the surroundings. The strong Sun, the cold air, the white mountains with golden crown of light shining over the fresh snow, the specks of browns and blacks of rocks in between the snow. All of this just enchant you and capture you in the scene. Everyone is in awe and wonder. Instead of me having conquered the mountain, the mountains have captured me. The respect that they command without asking for it and the strength that they possess has no bounds. Reaching the top is both empowering and humbling. Looking at the night skies lit with a blanket of stars you can not think but just feel the moment. You feel like you have achieved but have no vanity. Both the view and feeling is stunning. It is worth every pain that anybody would have endured.

The most important thing that you can learn from the entire journey of trekking , reaching the topmost point and then crossing Sar Pass is – You respect the mountain and the mountain respects you. The moment you get undisciplined, that moment it lets you go. Else it guides you to its zenith 🙂 Not only this but it also teaches you to live in the moment without any judgement, without any comment, without any complaint. Just live the present. Future depends on now.

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True that!

May 16, 2015 § Leave a comment

I had a friend once who told me that the worst mistake you can make is to think that you are alive, when you’re really asleep in life’s waiting room. The trick, is to combine your waking rational abilities with the infinite possibility of your dreams. ‘Cause if you can do that you can do anything.
You ever have a job that you hated? Worked really hard at? A long, hard day of work, finally you get to go home, get in bed, close your eyes and immediately you wake up and realize that the whole day at work had been a dream… They get your waking life for minimum wage and now they get your dreams for free.”

And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”

Trust your daughters, they are faithful. Honor your daughters, they are honorable. Educate your daughters, they are amazing.”

I don’t want to be
the other half of your soul.
I want to be the one
who reminds you
that you’re already whole.”

I watched you lose interest in someone you said you’ll love till the end of time. From that moment on I realized to never fully trust the words from a lover’s mouth again.”

The Buddhists say if you meet somebody and your heart pounds, your hands shake, your knees go weak, that’s not the one. When you meet your soulmates you’ll feel calm. No anxiety, no agitation.”

Sometimes you meet someone, and it’s so clear that the two of you, on some level belong together. As lovers, or as friends, or as family, or as something entirely different. You just work, whether you understand one another or you’re in love or you’re partners in crime. You meet these people throughout your life, out of nowhere, under the strangest circumstances, and they help you feel alive. I don’t know if that makes me believe in coincidence, or fate, or sheer blind luck, but it definitely makes me believe in something.” -Brandon Oda

Love is the honoring of others in a way that grants them the grace of their own autonomy and allows mutual discovery.”

Make the first move, tell people how you feel, stop being so scared of rejection, stop feeling so engulfed with thoughts that aren’t even yours, and stop wasting your f*cking time.”

Telling [children] that sex is only between mommies and daddies is a lie that leads to confused, hormone-charged teenagers. Telling them that sex is only something that happens when two people love each other very much is a lie that causes hormone-charged teenagers to confuse love with lust, or obsession.It leads to leaps of logic like, If I have sex with this person, we must be in love. Or worse: If I love this person, I have to have sex with him or her.”
-Lea Grover

Two words. Three vowels. Four consonants. Seven letters. It can either cut you open to the core and leave you in ungodly pain or it can free your soul and lift a tremendous weight off you shoulders. The phrase is: It’s over. “-Maggi Richard

Thinking is the biggest mistake a dancer could make. You have to feel it.” -MJ

God, Science, and Delusion : A Chat with Arthur C. Clarke

January 3, 2015 § Leave a comment

God, Science, and Delusion : A Chat With Arthur C. Clarke
by Matt Cherry
Free Inquiry magazine, Volume 19, Number 2
1999
Arthur C. Clarke is known across the world for his books, television programs, and movies. Free Inquiry Deputy Editor Matt Cherry visited the science fiction author, who is a member of the International Academy of Humanism, in Sri Lanka, the beautiful tropical island that has been Clarke’s home for nearly four decades. His house, in the capitol of Columbo, is filled with spectacular wall-sized NASA photos, reminiscent of some of the shots in his film 2001: A Space Odyssey. In the personal study where he was interviewed, Clarke was surrounded by books and signed photos-ranging from actress Elizabeth Taylor to astronaut Buzz Aldrin-that reflect Clarke’s prominent roles in the very different worlds of science and entertainment. He talked to Free Inquiry about mankind, morality, and religion.

Free Inquiry: This is a rare opportunity. Thanks for talking with us.

Arthur C. Clarke: Rare indeed. My agent will probably shoot me for granting this interview. I turn down interviews all the time, but for Free Inquiry, I’m happy to make an exception.

FI: Our readers have some familiarity with your views and in particular your very strong emphasis on the use of science in understanding the natural world. But could you say something about your views on moral issues?

Clarke: One of the great tragedies of mankind is that morality has been hijacked by religion. So now people assume that religion and morality have a necessary connection. But the basis of morality is really very simple and doesn’t require religion at all. It’s this: “Don’t do unto anybody else what you wouldn’t like to be done to you.” It seems to me that that’s all there is to it.

The other issue is, why can’t humans live up to this principle? Why is it that people can’t act as human beings should? I’m appalled by what we all see on the news every day-massacres, atrocities, injustices, outrages of all kinds. When I see what’s happening, I sometimes wonder if the human race deserves to survive.

FI: In recent years a lot of ethical issues have arisen from advances in technology, as they have, for example, in cloning.

Clarke: Yes, and such issues will continue to arise at an increasing pace. They will challenge all of us – but especially those who hold rigid moral outlooks like those found in most religions.

By the way, I was – in a strange way – involved in a cloning project. There was a project afoot to send me into outer space along with a lot of other people. Not the whole me, though – just a hair from my head, while I still had some. It was quite a serious project by a company that launched a lot of spacecraft. The idea was that maybe in a hundred million years or so, an advanced civilization would find this little space capsule containing my hair, an Arthur C. Clarke would be cloned from it, and I would thus pop up in another galaxy in the distant future. Interesting thought.

FI: Yes, but perhaps a little disturbing.

Clarke: Well, it’s better than the Celestes Project, in which you have to be dead before your ashes are sent into space.

FI: You have written a great deal about possible technologies of the future. For example, you’re well known for thinking up the idea of geostationary orbit. But as we look into the next century or even the next millennium, what do you see as the big technological changes that are likely to alter the direction of the human species or will present major new dilemmas or problems to the human race?

Clarke: I think most of the major changes will be biological, involving advances in DNA research and technologies, among other things. But there’s also potentially revolutionary research going on in the physical sciences. The thing that I’m most interested in at the moment is the so-called Infinite Energy solution – the possibility of finding new ways of tapping into virtually limitless sources of energy. It’s been about ten years since cold fusion was touted and then laughed at. But since then there’s been a groundswell of scientific opinion and lots of experimentation suggesting that maybe there’s something important going on, that maybe we can solve our energy needs once and for all. This field is subject to hype and disappointment, yet I’m seeing evidence now that hints that we may be on the verge of an energy breakthrough.

This would cause a total transformation of our society, an end of the fossil-fuel age and all the geopolitical implications of that. No more worry about global warming; now we start worrying about global cooling. So an energy revolution is the biggest joker in the pack at the moment.

FI: Do you think that the breakthrough will be in cold fusion or something different?

Clarke: I don’t know whether it will come in cold fusion or warm fission or something else. I suspect it might be something totally unexpected-perhaps a way of tapping into quantum fluctuations of space-zero-point energy, as it’s sometimes called. Now, this new finding may turn out to be an experimental laboratory curiosity that can’t be scaled up. But remember, nuclear power started as a small laboratory curiosity.

FI: But what about that giant leap into the future that you foresaw so many years ago-space travel?

Clarke: Yes, I’m still intensely interested in that, of course. And the whole field is very exciting now – with all these fleets of robot explorers to come, the new space station going to be assembled, new forms of space propulsion. There will be a big space conference involving all the top people at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration this spring. I’m recording a video address to them soon.

FI: Have you been disappointed by the lack of progress in the space program since the 1960s?

Clarke: Good heavens no! I’ve seen far more than I ever imagined would happen. I mean, I never dreamed we would have explored the solar system as we have. It’s the most exciting time. Of course, I’m sorry for the youngsters who thought they’d be flying into space by now, and you know that manned – or womanned – space flight has been rather limited, but efforts are still being made and will continue in the next century.

I’m astonished by what we’ve seen. I’ve got this beautiful panoramic three-dimensional painting of Mars based on Martian photos. It’s 30 feet wide. You can pick out every pebble on the Martian landscape. And who’d have dreamed you could do that?

FI: What are your thoughts regarding the future development of something else you’ve often written about – religion?

Clarke: Well, I suspect that religion is a necessary evil in the childhood of our particular species. And that’s one of the interesting things about contact with other intelligences: we could see what role, if any, religion plays in their development. I think that religion may be some random by-product of mammalian reproduction. If that’s true, would non-mammalian aliens have a religion? Anyway, that’s one of the nice things about the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) project; if it is successful, we could perhaps answer such questions one day. I’ve just seen Contact, by my late friend Carl Sagan. It’s quite an impressive film that offers hints on this subject.

FI: If religion does indeed represent an immature stage of humanity, do you see any prospects for humanity growing up?

Clarke: Yes, there is the possibility that humankind can outgrown its infantile tendencies, as I suggested in Childhood’s End. But it is amazing how childishly gullible humans are. There are, for example, so many different religions – each of them claiming to have the truth, each saying that their truths are clearly superior to the truths of others – how can someone possibly take any of them seriously? I mean, that’s insane. And such insanity concerns me, especially now that waves of lunacy are washing over the United States and the world in the form of millennial cults. Time magazine recently reported on them. The crazy thing is, according to traditional Christian dogma, the real millennium was four years ago, for Jesus was supposedly born circa 5 B.C.E. – so it’s already 2004! Apparently some millennial nuts are blithely ignoring their own dogma.

FI: Do you see any value at all in the various religions?

Clarke: Though I sometimes call myself a crypto-Buddhist, Buddhism is not a religion. Of those around at the moment, Islam is the only one that has any appeal to me. But, of course, Islam has been tainted by other influences. The Muslims are behaving like Christians, I’m afraid.

FI: What appeals to you in Islam?

Clarke: Historically, Islam had a great deal of tolerance for other views and offered the world its priceless wisdom in the form of astronomy and algebra. And, as you know, Islam helped rescue Western civilization from the Dark Ages by preserving classical texts and transmitting them to the West. We, on the other hand, burned the library at Alexandria. If Islam hadn’t fallen into internecine warfare and had gone on to conquer the rest of Europe, we’d have avoided a thousand years of Christian barbarism.

FI: Your television series, The Mysterious World of Arthur C. Clarke, is still a classic. It appeals to the human yearning for mystery but also shows how to apply some scientific principles to get answers. Do you feel that the human yearning for unexplained mysteries will always be greater than the need for scientific explanation? That is, will people always reject scientific explanations if they can have an inspiring mystery or wonder?

Clarke: There does seem to be a tendency to do that. People get very exasperated when people like James Randi show how some trick is done or reveal the true, naturalistic explanation. They say, “No, the trick is really paranormal.” How can you argue with people who want so badly to believe?

Harry Houdini and Arthur Conan Doyle had a friendly argument about that. Conan Doyle was convinced – and tried to convince Houdini – that Houdini did his tricks with supernatural powers. Somewhere I have my door key bent by Uri Geller. I don’t rule out the possibility of all sorts of remarkable mental powers – there are even things like telekinesis and so forth. And I’m sure that there are many things we don’t know about. But they’ve got to be examined skeptically before they’re accepted.

An example is reincarnation, which everyone in Sri Lanka believes in. An American, Dr. Stevenson, has done a lot of papers on that, and has produced studies of about 50 cases that are hard to explain. But the problem with reincarnation is that it’s hard to imagine what the storage medium for past lives would be. Not to mention the input-output device. I hesitate to rule it out completely, but I’d need pretty definite proof.

January 3, 2015 § 1 Comment

There’s so much more to life than finding someone who will want you, or being sad over someone who doesn’t. There’s a lot of wonderful time to be spent discovering yourself without hoping someone will fall in love with you along the way, and it doesn’t need to be painful or empty. You need to fill yourself up with love. Not anyone else. Become a whole being on your own. Go on adventures, fall asleep in the woods with friends, wander around the city at night, sit in a coffee shop on your own, write on bathroom stalls, leave notes in library books, dress up for yourself, give to others, smile a lot. Do all things with love, but don’t romanticize life like you can’t survive without it. Live for yourself and be happy on your own. It isn’t any less beautiful, I promise.” —Emery Allen