Monday, July 31, 2006

A right turn in history and the international Left

As the writer puts it, “Paganism has the advantage of being older than Christianity, the faith which arouses most of the hatred of the pseudo-intellectuals of our time.... Much of Islam today seems to have more in common with the pagan religions which preceded its founding in the seventh century. No clearer case of child sacrifice exists now than radical Islam’s cult of suicide bombings...” Who is that voice telling Muslims to murder children--both their own and others'? Could it be the same voice that told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac? No: could it possibly not be?
As a psychologist, I see the story of Abraham and Isaac as a primordial, archetypal tale of how barbarous pagans stopped listening to their psychotic, child-hating God, and instead took a right turn in history, discovered the God of Love, and became Jews. That little crack of light that opened up in antiquity runs in a straight line to us. Another line leads to contemporary Islam and its allies among the international Left. It is so obvious, and yet people do not see. This occasionally causes me real despair, as if the foundations of the West are being eroded in plane sight, on one side by Islamic do-badders, on the other side by Leftist do-gooders. posted by Gagdad Bob at 6:39 AM 1 comments

Saturday, July 29, 2006

This is in the self interest of industry

Inclusiveness, not quotas, best in industry J. J. Irani Indian Express: Saturday, July 29, 2006 SC/ST representation in our workforce will boost industrial growth through multiplier effects on consumption and investment
India has inherited, through centuries, a caste-based society. Our social predicaments are unique, and pose special challenges to inclusiveness. However, given the country’s projected population dynamics, marginalisation of any section of society from the market economy will seriously impact India’s overall competitiveness and economic prospects. In our rapid march towards economic prosperity, inclusiveness and competitiveness are interdependent and one cannot be achieved without the other.
For most of the 20th century, private industry has suffered, through ill-conceived “protection” policies — low productivity, lack of self-confidence and self-esteem, and an inability to compete on its own terms. With economic reforms and liberalisation since 1991, we have developed new abilities and confidence in ourselves. This is one reason why we believe that reservation of jobs in the private sector can have long-term adverse social implications for the beneficiaries...
Private industry can play a large role in this through mentoring fresh entrepreneurs from the SC/ST category. This will create a class of independent and self-directed business persons from SC/ST categories, with the freedom to make their own decisions about their growth and future. Companies can build effective linkages for such entrepreneurs and self-employed persons in their upstream and downstream business partnerships. Further, such businesses will contribute to employment generation. In this context it may be worthwhile to observe that the US programme on “Equal Opportunity Employer” has actually played a strong role in making the US industry more competitive...
Inclusiveness is a matter of priority for industry. I am confident that with the concerted efforts of all sections of society, the government and private industry, we will be able to witness positive results in building an inclusive society with a competitive and expanding economy within a short period. This is in the self interest of industry and, therefore, it is of great importance that this programme takes off and succeeds — the credibility of Indian Industry is associated with it.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Give courtesy freely, without expecting anything in return

DailyOM July 26, 2006 Small Gestures Common Courtesy
We often feel that we don't have the time or energy to extend ourselves to others with the small gestures that compose what we call common courtesy. It sometimes seems that this kind of social awareness belongs to the past, to smaller towns and slower times. Yet, when someone extends this kind of courtesy to us, we always feel touched. Someone who lends a helping hand when we are struggling with our groceries makes an impression because many people just walk right by. Even someone who simply makes the effort to look us in the eye, smile, and greet us properly when entering a room stands out of the crowd. It seems these people carry with them the elegance and grace of another time, and we are always thankful for our contact with them. Common courtesy is a small gesture that makes a big difference.
An essential component of common courtesy is awareness and common sense-looking outside yourself to see when someone needs help or acknowledgment. As a courteous person, you are aware that you are walking into a room full of people or that your waiter has arrived to take your order. Then, awareness leads to action. It is usually quite clear what needs to be done-open the door for the woman holding the baby, move your car up two feet so another person can park behind you, acknowledge your sister's shy boyfriend with a smile and some conversation, apologize if you bump into someone. A third component is to give courtesy freely, without expecting anything in return. People may not even take notice, much less return the kindness, but you can take heart in the fact that you are creating the kind of world you want to live in with your actions.
When you are out in the world, remember to be aware of others, lend your hand when one is needed, and give this help without an ulterior motive. Through these small actions, you make this world a better place in which to live.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Grown-ups are more immature than ever

The theory’s creator is Bruce Charlton, a professor in the School of Biology at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, England. He also serves as the editor-in-chief of Medical Hypotheses, which will feature a paper outlining his theory in an upcoming issue. Charlton explained to Discovery News that humans have an inherent attraction to physical youth, since it can be a sign of fertility, health and vitality. In the mid-20th century, however, another force kicked in, due to increasing need for individuals to change jobs, learn new skills, move to new places and make new friends.
A “child-like flexibility of attitudes, behaviors and knowledge” is probably adaptive to the increased instability of the modern world, Charlton believes. Formal education now extends well past physical maturity, leaving students with minds that are, he said, “unfinished.” “The psychological neoteny effect of formal education is an accidental by-product — the main role of education is to increase general, abstract intelligence and prepare for economic activity,” he explained. “But formal education requires a child-like stance of receptivity to new learning, and cognitive flexibility."
"When formal education continues into the early twenties," he continued, "it probably, to an extent, counteracts the attainment of psychological maturity, which would otherwise occur at about this age.” Charlton pointed out that past cultures often marked the advent of adulthood with initiation ceremonies. While the human mind responds to new information over the course of any individual’s lifetime, Charlton argues that past physical environments were more stable and allowed for a state of psychological maturity. In hunter-gatherer societies, that maturity was probably achieved during a person’s late teens or early twenties, he said.
“By contrast, many modern adults fail to attain this maturity, and such failure is common and indeed characteristic of highly educated and, on the whole, effective and socially valuable people," he said. "People such as academics, teachers, scientists and many other professionals are often strikingly immature outside of their strictly specialist competence in the sense of being unpredictable, unbalanced in priorities, and tending to overreact.”
Charlton added that since modern cultures now favor cognitive flexibility, “immature” people tend to thrive and succeed, and have set the tone not only for contemporary life, but also for the future, when it is possible our genes may even change as a result of the psychological shift. The faults of youth are retained along with the virtues, he believes. These include short attention span, sensation and novelty-seeking, short cycles of arbitrary fashion and a sense of cultural shallowness. At least “youthfulness is no longer restricted to youth,” he said, due to overall improvements in food and healthcare, along with cosmetic technologies.
David Brooks, a social commentator and an op-ed columnist at The New York Times, has documented a somewhat related phenomenon concerning the current blurring of “the bourgeois world of capitalism and the bohemian counterculture,” which Charlton believes is a version of psychological neoteny. Brooks believes such individuals have lost the wisdom and maturity of their bourgeois predecessors due to more emphasis placed on expertise, flexibility and vitality. Source: Discovery News

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Majority of human beings don't make it to psychological maturity

Because America is so affluent, it can tolerate an unusual amount of foolishness, but not an infinite amount and not forever. In my lifetime I have witnessed the corrosive effect of leftist thought on our culture, as it insinuates itself into, and begins to weaken, the uniquely American character. But I am actually more interested in the more general failure to launch that afflicts mankind at large. What is the cause of this? For example, there is no question that this is the problem we face in the bulk of the Arab Muslim world. Something in their cultural DNA has left them mired in an historical and developmental eddy, sitting on the launch pad below, just where we left them 700 years ago. What happened? Why didn't they grow up? Why didn’t they launch? And why do they want us to join them on the launch pad?
As we have discussed in a variety of contexts, humans inhabit a horizontal and a vertical world. Among other things, the vertical world is the world of psychological and emotional development. We are the only animal that comes into the world with an almost infinite potential that may or may not be fulfilled in this lifetime (actually, being infinite, it is never completely fulfilled). Other animals--assuming that they aren’t eaten or die prematurely for some other reason--inevitably reach their developmental goal and achieve maturity as defined by their species. But not humans. Yes, barring some kind of unusual disease, all humans grow to physical maturity. But it is fair to say that the vast majority of human beings down through history--right through to the present day--do not make it to psychological maturity: they do not come close to fulfilling their developmental potential.
This is a question that has always intrigued me, because it goes directly against the grain of any facile Darwinian explanation. That is, I believe that human development is guided by a telos or an end state that we are supposed to achieve. But unlike other animals, there is no way this end state can be accounted for by natural selection, because it never existed in the material world--it remains latent unless or until it is realized. Only human beings can "not be themselves."
In short, while we certainly have our genetic blueprint, we also have some sort of nonlocal “archetypal blueprint” that draws us toward it. But any number of personal, cultural and historical conditions can conspire to prevent us from realizing this blueprint. For example, if you are a woman in Saudi Arabia, what are the chances you will have the opportunity to become who you are? Approximately zero. But if women can't become who they are, neither can men--which is why there are so few developmentally adult men and in the Arab Muslim world. Likewise, if you are a tenured radical in an American university--say Noam Chomsky or Juan "Osama's Pawn" Cole--what are the chances that you will ever grow up and know reality, much less live in it? Probably zilch.
Another way of saying this is that human beings alone among the animals are somehow built for transcendence. Not only do human beings have the capacity to rise beyond and surpass themselves, but this is our essential nature. No one looks at a pig and says, “Why don’t you grow up and start acting like a proper pig?” But we ask this of humans all the time. In fact, it is the question that answers the question of what a human being is. posted by Gagdad Bob at 7:14 AM 30 comments

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

A virus is a small collection of genes

What is the purpose of sexual reproduction ? Adel Fattah, Developmental Biologist The Naked Scientists
SEX: A short word. Often used. Often used to sell products in fact. Yet it is one of our base instincts, one of our prime motivations in life. I can't remember how many times I chose a seat on the train because a good-looking girl sat nearby, or bought a magazine because of the attractive woman on the cover. So why do we find the opposite sex so attractive? I mean, the act of sex itself is a pretty bizarre thing to do, all that jigging around and what about the mess? I mean we all look pretty hilarious whilst we do it (and the only reason they don't look daft in films is because they are not really doing it). If we didn't enjoy it so much would we really bother?
Would you go through all that if it weren't for the orgasm at the end? After all, there is a lot more to it than just the act of sex itself. There is the whole elaborate (and expensive) courtship display beforehand: the "asking her out", the "first date", a bit of food, a bit of wine, one thing leads to another... (Not on the first date, of course). Then there's the "I'd like to do this again sometime" and the 'should I call today, or wait a few days? I don't want to seem too keen'. Countered by "I'm washing my hair tonight". And so back to square one, until you get past the 'hair wash barrier'. Now you're in with a chance!
So basically we are all driven with a deep desire to mate and we will go through just about anything to achieve it (girls, the best time to ask a guy for that expensive treat is just beforehand). I remember all the embarrassing episodes that happened when I was a teenager. Many left me scarred for life, but none stopped my adolescent craving to 'go all the way'.
Propagation of Species
So a lot of questions, Adel, but what point are you trying to make? Well, I'm trying to make the point that sex is meant to be all about propagation of species or more specifically, it is all about propagation of our genetic material. But is the theory that we are simply vessels for the propagation of genetic material a little simplistic? As I alluded to above, there is a lot more to finding a mate than simply sex. If passing on genetic material is what it is all about why don't we just clone ourselves? No mess, no fuss, just pure transmission of your own genetic material! Many primitive animals do it every day. Some do it several times a day!
Which begs the question is there an advantage to sex? The whole point of sex is to mix the genes in the gene pool allowing the transmission of 50% your own and 50% your partner's genes to your young. The point of mixing the genes is to allow for variation in the gene pool. As genes are mixed new combinations arise some are useful to the survival of a species, others are detrimental. Those that carry detrimental genes are disadvantaged at mating and are thus less likely to pass on those detrimental genes. In contrast, those that possess genes, which confer an advantage, are more likely to survive predators and beat their competitors in the race to find a mate, and their genes are more likely to be passed on. This is the basis of Darwin's theory of evolution and the mechanism by which it happens is termed Natural Selection.
Monogamy versus Polygamy
So if the whole point of sex is to mix up the gene pool why not have multiple partners rather than a monogamous relationship? Why are humans (generally) monogamous, are we the only creatures to spend the majority of our lives with one partner? Is that what puts us apart from other animals? Not so. Take love birds for example, they remain in lifelong monogamous pairs, but they seem the exception rather than the rule. In contrast, many animals belong to the 'sowing wild oats' school of thought, for example, the male chimpanzee often invites females to mate by typically spreading his legs to reveal a bright red, erect penis that stands out against the black scrotum. Not recommended behaviour down the pub on a Friday. Similarly, some human males are of the 'kebab theory of women': a great idea after ten pints down the pub, but you wouldn't want to wake up next to one every day.
More seriously, creatures such as fish and especially sea urchins release their eggs and sperm into the sea and hope that some of each meet up and fertilise. Not strictly polygamy, granted. But if humans mated with numerous partners their genes would be spread further and as such, is monogamy not a disadvantage? The answer here may be quality not quantity. Monogamy in humans may have evolved because we need to nurse our young for many years before they become independent. A stable family life is important in order to make our offspring high achievers and thus attractive to other high achievers. In other words, by improving the quality of young we increase the chances of propagating our own genes successfully.
What's Love got to do with it?
OK. I've established we need sex and that for humans monogamy is preferred. So where does love fit into all this? Pah! I hear you say. "Love? That's not very scientific, is it? This essay is about the science behind sex, not the spiritual and mysterious nature of love.
"Aha!" I reply. But has love evolved to maintain monogamy? Those possessed by love will do many (often strange) things and unless you experience it yourself, one cannot explain how it can be an incredibly strong motivator. Arguably stronger than lust, and that's saying something! Many people have married 'the One', citing that they just knew it in their heart 'that was it'. Love is strong enough to keep couples together through thick and thin. 'All you need is love'. I wonder if there is some physiological basis to love? Perhaps it could be a balance of hormones that subtly affect our mental perceptions of our chosen partner versus other acquaintances. A little like the release of endorphins during pleasurable activity. But I suspect it is a higher cerebral function modified by social conditioning and cultural values. I'm no neuroscientist so I won't explore avenues I know little about.
What I want to argue is that the whole point of falling in love is a complex form of mate selection. A bit like the female peacock (peahen) that picks the peacock with the biggest and best-kept tail. As I hinted at before, it is women that are the choosy ones; the men are less so (driven by a deep desire to distribute their genes far and wide). So men need to attract women, and women need to choose a good husband and father. It is not something taken lightly and so love has evolved as a mechanism to secure a good mate and keep them together, at least until the kids have flown the nest.
The Evolutionary Arms Race
But why should we evolve? What's the point? Is there some spiritual force behind it all pushing species to evolve to perfection? Possibly, but it is not for the scientific method to explain matters in that way, that is for the philosophers to argue. One interesting theory raised in the book 'The Red Queen' is that sex has evolved as a protection against parasites. Daft, eh? Well, no. Let's break it down a little. Sex evolved to allow genetic variation. Genetic variation allows evolution to select the most hardy. Why do we need to be the most hardy. The answer is to beat infections, especially 'genetic infections': the viruses.
A virus is a small collection of genes that hijacks cells to take over their machinery to reproduce. Cells evolved mechanisms to keep viruses out, the viruses struck back by evolving ways around these defences. Cells retaliate by creating new and better defences. So the arms race continues. Such models have been run through computers comparing sexual versus asexual species and how they cope with a parasite invader. In all cases, asexual populations were wiped out within a few generations whilst sexual populations survived.
Of course there are other theories, such as sex was useful millions of years ago to ensure survival and was something we've been stuck with since, a sort of evolutionary left over. But the parasite theory is one that has a very convincing basis.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

To friend has become a frivolous verb

The most tenacious of taxonomists, Aristotle thought pleasure and utility counted for less than the rare commingling of virtuous character as the basis for friendship. Centuries of varying ideals and fears ensued. Are our close ties becoming shallower and more instrumental? How many are too many, and what is enough? Is friendship a matter of spontaneous sincerity, heartfelt reciprocity, mutual understanding, deep loyalty, moral obligation or shared passion — and can it last? In his new book, “Friendship: An Exposé,” Joseph Epstein quotes the German sociologist Georg Simmel already worrying a century ago that we moderns are destined to drift among “differentiated friendships,” missing out on an all-encompassing connection...
When one-dimensional, functional relationships are ever more accessible, the desire to be known and to know another from all sides and from inside out may be lodged even deeper — and may thrive closer to home. A century ago, another philosopher surveying a modernizing world, George Santayana, had already concluded that “the tie that in contemporary society most nearly resembles the ancient ideal of friendship is a well-assorted marriage.”
The General Social Survey data suggest an inner core that isn’t oppressively clannish but invites rising equality and diversity, narrow though it is. The percentage of people who include a spouse in their circle of closest confidants went from 30 percent in 1985 to almost 40 percent two decades later. And in 2004, 15 percent reported at least one confidant of another race, up from 9 percent in 1985. While to friend has become a frivolous verb, to bond might prove to be one that Americans are taking, if anything, more to heart than ever. Ann Hulbert, a contributing writer, is the author of “Raising America: Experts, Parents and a Century of Advice About Children.” Homepage

Saturday, July 15, 2006

In praise of the unannounced visit

SANTOSH DESAI Saturday, 15 July, 2006
Every time we heard the sound of an autorickshaw entering our lane, the conversation would trail off till either it passed or stopped short of our house. In the event that it stopped in front of our house, then of course the conversation was over as we all rushed out to see who it was. Every time the front gate creaked, we expected some new visitor, someone dropping in unannounced. Doorbells ringing at odd hours contained the possibility of a delightful surprise, of some uncle or cousin dropping in for the night en route somewhere else. Growing up in middle-class India meant that one was firmly enclasped in the bosom of a large family with very blurred and decidedly elastic boundaries and this sense of kinship was kept alive by the institution of the Unannounced Visit.
You dropped in on people without warning and usually without purpose. The thought popped into your head that you hadn’t seen someone in a while and that was enough for you to make the trek using the bus, cycle or train and land up unannounced at the doorstep of the remembered one. If it was morning, you got a cup of tea, if it was meal time, you were quickly accommodated and served. No questions were asked about your purpose and in a few cases, no real conversation was also expected. I remember a grand-uncle who for years dropped in for a visit and never said a word; he spent the day with us and left before it got dark.
We lived in a time of an extraordinary elasticity of accommodation. For all the middle-class tightfistedness that one grew up with, there was never any problem accommodating four surprise guests who decided to drop in for a fortnight. There was a mysterious limitlessness of food that I find difficult to explain today, looking back. Along with the tightness, there existed an ability to stretch what you had quite seamlessly. So even when obscure relatives and relatives of relatives dropped by, there was rarely any resentment at being put upon by these visits.
Of course, this also meant that you did the same and as a child the idea of landing up at some distant relative and having to spend hours listening to tales of even more distant relatives was an act of colossal boredom but at that time boredom had no currency; it was bereft of the exchange value it has today.
In fact, relationships were based on the draining out of visible purpose and came without the expectation of any immediate or tangible reciprocity. They necessarily involved large tracts of barren time; it was as if the land was kept fallow so as to underline the fact that it was the land that was important, the crop was transient and would follow. Relationships were built on the rock solid foundation of boredom. Time was a communal property as was space, to a large extent. You could not intrude on someone’s private time or trespass on their personal space because these didn’t really exist. Individuals were the form in which the collective manifested itself and were treated as such.
Technology today has been a key force in changing this conception. Technology individualises us by offering us the ability to stay connected on our terms. The telephone, particularly the mobile phone, offers us the possibility of endless, continuous connection and in doing so frees us from purposelessness. We can call anyone if we want to and we end up doing so more food time for the visit which in turn makes us more circumspect as to whether they are merely being polite. The relationship becomes ordered, it takes on the contours of our mutual expectations. We are in control of the relationship and mould it as we see fit. As a result, last night when the doorbell rang at 11, I didn’t bother thinking who it might be. I knew it would be no one I would be surprised to see.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The barbarity of the ancient world

It is almost impossible for us to imagine the barbarity of the ancient world--very similar to how contemporary liberals find it impossible to comprehend the evil savagery of the Islamists with whom we are in a mortal struggle. As we mentioned yesterday, in all other ancient lands, the abuse of women and children, including infanticide, was common. Breiner notes, for example, that On, the King of the Swedes, sacrificed nine of his ten sons in the belief that it would prolong his life. Think about it. It was if the entire ancient world consisted of Palestinians who think that murdering children will lead to their own salvation...

In any event, the story of Abraham and Isaac allows us to assume that, up to that time, the ancient Hebrews were just as barbaric as any other ancient people. This biblical story preserves one of the truly shocking and unexpected “right turns” in human history--when something caused us to empathize with the sacrificial victim and lay down the knife. Not that it wasn’t a struggle afterwards. The Bible chronicles many instances of backsliding and regression, which gives it even more of a ring of authenticity. The struggle against absuing children was (and is) very real. But the benefits were obvious. For the first time in history, Jews were also able to intuit the one God. Not only that, but he was a loving God. Other primitive peoples lived in the psychological fragmentation of polytheism.

In my opinion, they did not know God because they could not know God. Early childhood trauma leads to what is called “borderline personality structure,” in which the mind is subject to vertical splitting and the inability to maintain psychological unity and coherence. Therefore, primitive polytheism was actually an indirect measure of child abuse. Note as well that the gods of ancient Greece and Rome were arbitrary, selfish, and narcissistic, and even got a kick out of lording it over the “little” humans. They were suspiciously simlar to abusive and uncaring parents. Perhaps not surprisingly, the Hebrews began viewing themselves as having an intimate relationship with a benevolent God who took a deep and abiding interest in them, instead of having to live in fear of a multitude of arbitrary and self-absorbed gods...

Breiner speculates that this prevailing attitude--“to take care of and love one’s wife so that she will care for and love one's children”--was “fundamental in determining why ancient child abuse and infanticide were rare among the ancient Hebrews.” The Talmud stated that those who practiced pederasty were subject to stoning. In ancient Greece, pedophiles were subject to being lionized as immortal philosophers. One of the most striking differences was in the attitude toward female children, which is one of the hinges of psychohistorical evolution. Unlike other ancient peoples, the Jews began cherishing and protecting female children. Many laws that we might now look upon as chauvinistic were, as reader Yesterday pointed out tomorrow--I mean Tamara pointed out yesterday--very advanced and innovative for their day. They were meant to protect women and girls, not to degrade them...

Again, it is easy to be historo-centric and view ancient Hebrews as barbaric by our standards, but the punishment meted out in Hebrew courts of law was lenient and humane by the standards of the day. So too their treatment of slaves, of captured enemies, of the poor, the oppressed, the widow, the stranger. They were the first people to achieve nearly 100% literacy, a development which had staggering implications for the way children were raised. posted by Gagdad Bob at 8:23 AM 14 comments Clinical psychologist Robert Godwin is an extreme seeker and off-road spiritual aspirant One Cosmos

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Romantic irrationalism

Harrison cites a couple of scholars who have attempted to quantify the link between child-rearing practices and cultural progress, in particular, progress toward democracy, economic prosperity, and social justice. As I noted in my own book, the further back in history you go, the more evidence there is of abominable child-rearing practices--what we would now call outright abuse.
Perhaps this is why, as Harrison notes, “Early humans were neither democratic nor egalitarian during the first 80-90 millennia of human existence.” Instead, we see ceaseless war, violence, oppression of women and children, and frankly crazy cultural beliefs and practices. The romantic idea that humans were ever peaceful “noble savages” has been thoroughly debunked by anyone who cares to actually look at the evidence.
One of my problems with contemporary liberalism is that around 40 years ago it lurched into romantic irrationalism--cultural relativism, multiculturalism, and the like. For example, Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously identified the pathologies of African American culture in the late 1960’s but was absolutely pilloried by the irrational haters of the left. If only his ideas had been put into practice then, millions of black lives would have been materially and spiritually improved, and saved from prison, poverty and early death. But instead, the left adopted the ideology of victimhood to explain black cultural pathology, with disastrous results.
I don’t think we should shy away from calling this leftist philosophy what it is: child abuse. For to indoctrinate a child with a victim mentality is to murder his soul. Here is what psychologist Jerome Kagan says all American children should be taught in order to grow up psychologically healthy (and remember, this book was written by an avowed liberal--my kind of liberal--Lawrence Harrison). posted by Gagdad Bob at 8:01 AM 10 comments

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Retreat of citizens to private life and private space

Rebecca Solnit Guardian The Hindu Saturday, Jul 08, 2006
The exercise of democracy begins as exercise, as walking around, becoming familiar with the streets, comfortable with strangers, able to imagine your own body as powerful and expressive rather than a pawn. People who are at home in their civic space preserve the power to protest and revolt, whereas those who have been sequestered into private space do not.
More and more I think of privatisation as being not just about the takeover of resources and power by corporate interests, but as the retreat of citizens to private life and private space, screened from solidarity with strangers and increasingly afraid or even unable to imagine acting in public. This is how human beings get downgraded from citizens to consumers. We talk about politicians being in public life, but they seldom appear in the public space where everyone is free to appear as a citizen.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

"What did we do wrong" vs. "Who did this to us"

Anonymous said...Dr. Godwin, what do you see as the key defining elements of
leftist liberalism and rightist conservatism? 9:35 AM
Michael Andreyakovich said...I can't answer for Bob, but I think the difference between attitudes on the Left and Right is summed up quite adequately by the two questions in the Bernard Lewis quote: "What did we do wrong" vs. "Who did this to us".
  • What did we do wrong? is the typical phrase that the right-wing politician asks himself; if a policy in place is not working, he prefers to throw it out and try something else - or at least ATTEMPT to throw it out. There must be a mistake somewhere in the policy itself - and that can be fixed, taking into account the imperfection of the citizens to whom the policy applies.
  • Leftist politicians ask Who did this to us? The failure of a policy is never their fault; they assume that it was sabotaged by their political opponents, or by the failure of society to live up to its full potential. Their response to a failed policy is to try it again, and yet again, until somebody somehow gets it right. The policy is perfect; it's other people that are the only real problem. 10:05 AM
Gagdad Bob said... I don't know that there is one key. If you search through the archives you will see that I have discussed the differences from many different angles. But if I had to pick just one, I would say that leftism in all its forms is a closed system that is alienated from the greater reality of the vertical. In the absence of a transcendent vertical telos, they are condemned to an ideology and existence that are ultimately unworthy of the dignity of man. 10:10 AM

Use of the hands, Opposable thumbs

Don’t keep your head out of the way # Why football goes completely against human nature From an article by Frank Cannon and Richard Lessner in ‘The Weekly Standard’ Indian Express Monday Jul 03, 2006
Another reason why soccer will never enthrall Americans is that the game is contrary to nature. What is it that is unique to the physical makeup of human beings that sets us apart from the animal world? Two things: Our large brains and our grasping hands with opposable thumbs. Our big brain is why we’re called homo sapiens, thinking man. And our ability to use our hands to grasp and manipulate objects is why one of our early ancestors was designated homo habilis, handy man. Human beings are thinking toolmakers. We’re able to imagine the arrowhead in the stone and use our hands to carve it out of the rock. These two uniquely human traits have allowed us to become the dominant species on the planet.
Yet soccer flies in the face of nature. In almost all other sports, the head is protected against injury... But soccer players use their heads, deliberately, to contact the ball. This is contrary to all human instinct, which is to keep the head out of the way of danger. Duck, you idiot! Protecting the head against injury is deeply rooted in our nature. It’s an evolutionary survival response. Sacrifice a limb if you must, give up an arm or leg, but protect your head at all costs. Yet in soccer the player is encouraged, no, expected to hit the ball with his head. This is as stupid an action as a human being can undertake.
Secondly, any game which prohibits the use of the hands is contrary to nature. Opposable thumbs allow humans to grasp things (thumbs on other primate hands such as chimps and orangutans are splayed out the side and are not truly opposable.) This is why the games human beings play involve holding things such as baseball bats, golf clubs and hockey sticks, or to grip and throw objects like a ball or a Frisbee. Soccer denies its players this most basic human ability.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Skilled use of fingers: low-end, labour-intensive manufacturing

India should tread Chinese path: MIT Prof • Tap Women For Growth
Amiti Sen NEW DELHI The Economic Times Friday, 07 July, 2006
INDIA can replicate the Chinese growth experience by educating women and introducing flexible labour laws rather than building highways and roads. According to a China expert Yasheng Huang from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), India’s growth, like China’s, has to be driven by the manufacturing sector. “In India, there is a need for low-end, labour-intensive manufacturing units. It could be achieved if India eases labour laws and invests more in education, especially of women,” he said.
Pointing out that good infrastructure was a sign of prosperity and not a tool for achieving it, Prof Huang said that India could achieve sustainable growth only by investing in the social sector. “About two decades back, India’s roads and railways was much better than China. China has now shot ahead because it made its base strong by investing in education and health,” he said.
Speaking to ET, Prof Huang said that in countries with strong manufacturing bases like China, Japan and South Korea, women out-numbered men by a strong margin in production units. “Women are generally seen to be more productive than men in activities requiring skilled use of fingers. India needs to use its women workforce to its full potential,” he said.

Dual secular guarantee of religious freedom & social justice for all

Temple Tantrums Rajeev Dhavan THE TIMES OF INDIA Friday, July 7, 2006
The Sabarimala controversy tests India's dual secular guarantee of religious freedom and social justice for all. Every citizen has the right to profess, practice, propagate and manage one's own affairs in matters of religion including the myriad of essential practices that define a faith. To strike a balance, the Constitution permitted the state to provide, for "social welfare and reform or the throwing open of Hindu religious institutions of a public character to all classes and sections of Hindus" to ensure temple entry for untouchables and others.
But, religious freedom is subject to gender equality. The Ayyappan temple at Sabarimala is undoubtedly a public temple which must normally be open to all including women. The core question is whether temple entry or social reform can override what is sacral to a faith.
The present controversy stems from the latest astrologically based Astamangala Devaprasanam in which the deity was, allegedly, upset by many things, including thefts and favouritism in the temple, de-forestation and a woman having defiled the temple sometime earlier. In a secular vein, the deity also wanted worship at the Vayar shrine managed by Muslims in the vicinity. All these supposed oracular wishes of Lord Ayyappa stand unfulfilled. But, what has attracted attention is actress Jaimala's confession that she had touched the deity in 1987, her defiant stance that she will answer to God and not high priests and her apology.
The high priest refused to admit a dereliction of duty to doubt the Jaimala story. Where do we go from here? As a matter of law, Kerala high court has clearly laid down that the exclusion of women aged between 10 and 55 is essential to the faith as a core 'essential practice' of the followers of Lord Ayyappa. If this is so, the past is secured and the future sealed. Non-believers cannot be told to believe in God. Nor can believers be compelled to deny their faith. But we can ask them to re-examine the validity of their belief. We can go down a partisan bifocal BJP route of preaching a uniform civil code to Muslims in the name of reform whilst defending many irrational Hindu claims to be part of India's national heritage. Such an approach has too many 'Hindutva' contradictions to command secular respect. For the rationalist, on the other hand, empirically unproven beliefs and practices should be allowed as personal belief not social practice.
Religions cannot be compartmentalised into inner beliefs, which are to be protected and external practices which can be reformed out of existence. Faiths come as an integral whole. Believers may well say that the forced entry of women into the temple will render everyone's prayer at the temple valueless. If the Supreme Court's logic is followed, women may obtain entry to the temple but not to the inner sanctum of Lord Ayyappa. The Kerala high court surmised that the reason for excluding women from the Ayyappan temple was to protect them from suffering the privations of the 41-day ordeal of penances. The rest is blind tradition based on astrological conjecture.
Hindu orthodoxy may have social and political reasons for seeking refuge in obscurantism. But Hinduism is no stranger to reform and change. Temple entry of untouchables and other reformist intervention have not weakened but strengthened the faith. Hindus cannot preach gender justice to others and indulge in practices that their own reformers have found wanting. For the moment we must proceed on the basis that the practice of excluding women from the Sabarimala temple lacks critical, moral and religious foundation. That the Kerala high court decided otherwise is hardly the point. The writer is a senior Supreme Court advocate.

There are no mediators in Islam

Women ought to know Humra Quraishi Thursday, July 6, 2006
Lately, not a week passes when one does not hear of a model nikahnama coming up. But there is such an abundance of rights for women in Islam - a definite provision for the woman to ask for divorce, a clause any Muslim woman and her family can include at the very time of signing the nikahnama. Since marriage is a contract in Islam, any one of the two partners can think and talk of dissolving that contract if the state of the marriage is beyond repair and all efforts for reconciliation have failed. The woman also has the right to ask for khula (release from marriage), if she is unhappy in the marriage and is sure that she would prefer to opt out of it.
Not that divorce is encouraged in Islam. Rather it’s the last option if all efforts at reconciliation fail. In fact, there is this hadith which says, “The thing which is lawful but disliked by God, is divorce.” Mind you, even here there is another hadith, which says that parents ought to be good to the divorced daughter, as it states, “Shall I not point to you the best of virtues? It is your doing good to your daughter when she is returned to you having been divorced by her husband.”
The woman also has the right to retain her father's surname or family name or using add-ons like Fatima or Khatoon; so there's little dependence on the husband, not even on his name. She has the right to property, to re-marriage, to mehr (a sum payable to her if divorced fixed at marriage), to playing an active role in society and at work. And above all, the right given to you as a woman, to be answerable to just about nobody except God. No, there are no mediators in Islam. For Prophet Mohammed says, "Do not prevent your women from coming to the mosque."

The Intent of Varna System

The various stratification of Varna system was meant to settle the Hindu life and regulate the society for a united action. Every society in the world has some form of groups that works for the common cause of social progress and general prosperity. In the various spheres of life, cultural, spiritual, religious, economic, political and social, medical, science and technology and even unskilled workers, there are groups united differently to work for the social cause of all the people. In Hinduism, this division is called Varna System. Each Varna has its social purpose, its own code, norms of behavior and keeps its independent identity. Still each part remains an integral part of the whole. The whole is always present in the part and the part is ever a part of the whole. This is the spirit behind the creation of Varna System. The four Varnas represented the people of wisdom, of action, of compassion and loving feelings, and of service to people. It was not intended to be hereditary and connected with birth. and therefore free interchange and intermixing was liberally permitted.
It is indeed unfortunate that the Varna System came to be connected with the caste System We can not know how and why and when it so happened. It grew up with a sort of spiritual monopoly of a certain group bent upon its material prosperity. It established the class of Brahmin by birth to safeguard their posterity. It is they who created and developed the ideas of inferiority and superiority among the people. This led to discrimination and distinction between various groups of occupations and the degradation of society began and reached so low as there came out people such as untouchables and pariahs. Thus the Varna turned Caste system brought about social degradation and downfall dividing people as low and high and the lowest. The Varna system, so sound and healthy and perfect came to such a pitiable state. It needs a reconstitution at this stage. [extract]

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Expressiveness vs. public decorum

Moving Violations By DEBORAH TANNEN Homepage: July 1, 2006
Though my research focused on how the women talked (the Greek women were vivid story-tellers, using the present tense and setting dramatic scenes with dialogues and details), I can't help pondering the differing actions the two groups of women described. Surely some general cultural patterns are at play.
For one thing, most Greeks, like their Mediterranean neighbors, place value on expressiveness, whereas American culture is influenced by the Northern European and British emphasis on public decorum. That's why Americans often mistake animated Greek conversation for argument. Another cultural difference is how readily strangers get involved in others' interactions. I once saw two men arguing on an Athens street; when one raised his hand to strike, he was immediately restrained by a passer-by.
This incident may help explain another Greek woman's account of a strange man who followed her and then approached with unwanted advances. She told me: "I yelled and I gave him a strong smack...Though many of the Greek women reported feeling anger and fear, they didn't talk about feeling helpless, as many American women did, and as I recall feeling when it happened to me. Equally dreadful was the sense of isolation: though you're in a crowd, something is happening only to you, and no one else knows.
Speaking out dispels that isolation, as well as the sense of shame that it reflects and reinforces. Knowing that she had acted allowed at least one of my Greek storytellers to transform a potentially traumatic experience into bonding through shared laughter. Deborah Tannen is a professor of linguistics at Georgetown University and the author, most recently, of "You're Wearing That? Understanding Mothers and Daughters in Conversation."