July 28, 2007
Nietzsche says the following:
If you want peace and comfort in life, believe; if you are a true devotee to truth, inquire.
Now, are we willing to do this?
Well, Yes, if the role of religion is to liberate and free self beyond mere provision of peace and comfort. Which is it?
July 27, 2007
Pirsig, in his book classic (which I admittedly never got round to reading till now – when I’ve been sick and stuck at home luxuriously with books in my lap that I finally have some time to look through), “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance“, philosophises upon Quality.
And increasingly gets his readers curious about this concept.
Quality, little thought of concept – or is it really? How does one determine Quality of any object or subject? Does it really even exist? Market-driven?
If Quality exists inherently, then what are the characteristics attached to it? For example in music, is there a standard for quality, i.e. consistency in tone, harmony, melody, elements that we must look out for? Classically yes, music students would be exposed to the typical theories that determine the Quality of a composition. Likewise in art, people are trained to look out for texture and particular talent explicit within a painting.
But then this assumes Quality lies within the object and the subject is left with nothing. Meaning, there is no need in interpreting the Quality therein. And this makes a mockery of critics of literature, art, music. Plus, I believe in the variation of choice and interest. What the market apparently labels as Top Quality (based on American charts), I may find absolutely rubbish. I may instead prefer independent artistes like Death Cab for Cutie and Damien Rice. So this assumes Quality lies with the subject – the interpreter, the observer, as opposed to the object.
Pirsig debates upon this concept and eventually comes to the conclusion that Quality lies not within object or subject but is the source of both. He says that,
The sum of quality does not revolve around the subjects and objects of our existence. It does not just passively illuminate them. It is not subordinate to them in any way. It has created them. They are subordinate to it!
That’s incredible. To me, anyway. It’s a question that I’ve also struggled with, and couldn’t come to any conclusion. I remember entering into an active debate with a friend about this issue sometime last year. Anyway, friend, if you are reading this post, I hope you come to the same conclusion as Pirsig. So Quality lies not in the manifestation but IS the manifestation. It is latent within the object but relies upon the subject to draw out its essence. This is liberating for me. Phew.
July 26, 2006
I learnt a new word today: dystopia.
Amongst the characteristics of a dystopian society are:
- State propaganda programs and educational systems that scare most citizens into worshipping the state and its government, in an attempt to convince them to believe that life under the regime is good and just, e.g. Alan Moore‘s V for Vendetta.
- Strict conformity among citizens and a general assumption that dissent and individuality are bad, as in We, where people are permitted to live out of public view for only an hour a day, and are not only referred to by numbers instead of names, but are neither “citizens” nor “people”, but “numbers.”
- A state figurehead that people worship fanatically through a vast personality cult, such as Nineteen Eighty-Four‘s Big Brother, We‘s The Benefactor, or Equilibrium‘s Father.
- Fear of, or disgust at, the world outside the state.
- A common view of traditional life, particularly organized religion, as primitive and nonsensical.
Why does this feel vaguely familiar?
Read one of those books I “should have read but never got round to” over the weekend: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. Written in 1932, it had an insight too deep for its time. Predicting that humanity would be reduced to merely that of continuous pleasures. In order to maintain a socially stable society, it was necessary to remove all possible barriers to pain and sorrow. This included pregnancy, parenthood, love, monogamy, individual opinion, personal feelings.
And in its place you had an order all too perfect and complete: the breeding of babies in test tubes, altered according to the purposes for which they would eventually serve: the Alphas, Epsilons and Betas and so on. Each class of infants would be socially conditioned into believing this was the caste for them – there was no way out.
And if ever there was the feeling of restlessness or being disturbed at anything in this Order, you would pop a pill of soma in, or a number of them, depending on how long you would like to escape into another world. Soma relieves you from depression, pain and suffering on this earth – instead transports you into a paradise, an ethereal world inside your head.
How far are we from this, really, 74 years after Huxley had that brilliant idea? Let’s think about it. You have a pill-popping nation. Think Prozac Nation. Think all sorts of medication that allow one to transcend the painful, real world – which eventually can kill, if not your body, your mind, your heart.
Social conditioning. What really has society been socially conditioned to believe? That certain things are necessary in order to keep society in its comfortable place and position? That anything out of the ordinary will ruffle feathers, step on the growling lion’s toes so an implosion is bound to take place?
And then of course you have the Savage, named so because of his believed and presumed position – uncivilised. But oh how much more civilised this creature is! Because of his knowledge of Shakespeare and how this means the world. The question of what reality is arises. Where from do we draw inspiration? The perfect squeaky clean sterile environment? What is a perfect society? Is it really necessary to impose regulations such that all and all alike behave the same way, subscribe to the same teachings? (Huxley goes the extent, proving that the most ridiculous of beliefs can be imposed upon us – something to think about.)
In the end, the book (like Orwell’s 1984) provokes questions that are applicable in both the political and spiritual realm. Politically, what level of control is leveraged upon a nation and citizens to achieve social stability but giving up individuality? Spiritually, what sort of happiness is false happiness? If it is imagined and imposed, does it become genuine? Is perceived happiness truly happiness? Personally, I choose pain and gore. Give me the fight, the furious battles of suffering and blood. Also give me emotion, happiness, elation, frustration, love, truth and freedom. O Brave New World is not so brave and not so new after all…
June 7, 2006
I've written my thoughts about freedom sometime ago when the cartoons incident sparked a wave of interest in what constitutes freedom of speech and expression. Now discussion has gone into other sorts of freedom, with the growing interest in International Human Rights and liberalism.
Wan Azhar Wan Ahmad, senior research fellow at a local Islamic research institute, wrote an article in today's Star which I thought quite interesting. He spoke about freedom from a Muslim perspective.
In his article, he goes to the root of the word freedom. The term ikhtiyar means the power of choice, or freedom. This word, in turn, has its roots in the word khayr, which means Good. What this means is that within the framework of Islam, freedom actually means the free choice of what is "good and better".
In his words, he says that "one cannot separate freedom from rights in the sense that the freedom to choose must always be done for the right, true, just and correct. It follows that a choice for something bad, as far as Islam or morality is concerned, is not real freedom. In this spirit, the Islamic concept of freedom differs from that of the secular idea."
My question is, what is the very definition of "good and better"? Surely every religion would assume its teachings to be the "good and better" relative to the other. Thus, freedom from an Islamic perspective would mean the freedom to practice within the parameters of what the faith allows, that which is enshrined within the religion itself – the practical manifestation of which can be humanly interpreted.
This is tantamount to saying that whatever freedom a Muslim enjoys is to the extent that the "bad" is not practiced, defined in Islamic terms.
Nevertheless, who am I to criticise who too believes in bounded freedom, as written about before. However, I believe in the principle behind the matter. It is the spirit of the law instead of the letter of the law. It is more important to recognise there is a principle behind a teaching, which I can practise with full conscience.
May 29, 2006
Heard of this guy? Said to be the next Stephen Hawking, or so his website here says..
(of course they would)
But check it out. If I read correctly from the reviews, he combines spirituality, philosophy, science, anthropology, history and psychology into explaining humanity. Very strange combinations, and even stranger titles: The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition into the Forces of History, and Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind from the Big Bang to the 21st Century.
This will stay in my head.. Excuse me for finding it profound despite its simplicity, but it is: There is no freedom without responsibility. (no, it is not the same as Spiderman's great power quote) How true this is. There is, in no sense, absolute freedom. Any sort of freedom .. of speech, to criticise, of religion, of expression.. comes with an equal responsibility to handle the freedom.
And a second statement: My freedom ends when someone else's dignity is taken away. Perhaps this is not the literal translation of the word freedom in itself, but it is one that sits well with me.
This link gives crisp comments on the cartoon controversy a while back. Although it took place a while ago, perhaps it is a good idea for us to, after the dust has settled a little, approach it in a civil manner to explore what went wrong, and the relationships between the various threads at work.
From the site, comments by American philosopher Dallmayr:
It is well to remember that the uproar in this instance was not instigated by Muslims or Muslim countries.It was a response to a prior incident or provocation. Reason dictates that, here as elsewhere, one consider the cause-effect nexus, the relation between action and reaction. In this matter, it is tempting to wax fundamentalist on both sides. In Western media, the uproar is usually portrayed as the conflict between “freedom” and dogmatism or fanaticism. “Freedom” in this context is often treated as something absolute and nearly sacred, while religious faith is presented as deplorable and obsolete.
For a Western person, it is important to ponder a bit this “absolutism”. Does freedom really mean that we can do as we please, that we can insult or malign other people at will? This assumption is at odds with both the religious and the ethical traditions of the West. Western civilization is often called “Judaeo-Christian”; but neither Judaism nor Christianity instructs believers to insult or injure other people. On the contrary, both Judaism and Christianity uphold the biblical injunction to love our fellow-beings (and this does not exclude Muslims). A prominent peak of the ethical tradition of the West is the moral philosophy of Kant. That philosophy stipulates as a “categorical imperative” the duty to treat other human beings as ends, not as means. And nowhere in Kant’s work is there a hint that this imperative does not extend to Muslims.
March 31, 2006
I'm a list person. Everything I do has to involve a list of things to do, people to contact, emails to send out. Have always made book lists for myself to monitor the themes of what I'm reading and whether I'm covering sufficient ground. I vary in cycles, and the following are the books I'm reading or going to read.
1. Why I am Not a Christian, by Bertrand Russell
2. The End of Faith, by Sam Harris
3. The Blind Watchmaker, by Richard Dawkins
4. Can Man Live Without God? by Ravi Zacharias
What the first three books have in common is an argument largely refuting the need for, and the truth of faith-based religions. These refer to Judeo-Christian religions. They vary in approach – either taking a more philosophical stance, scientific argument or plain reason and logic. The last book is written by a famous Christian apologetics author (apologetics means a defense of the Christian faith). While previous reading projects involved a further deepening of understanding into certain areas, here I am expanding into new ground.
I will write occasional reviews after each book (and possibly other titles to come).
February 23, 2006
The allegory of Plato’s Cave is probably the closest to what all who strongly believe in the truth of their claims are doing. The basic premise is this: That all are living in a dark cave, illuminated only by the slightest light from the opening of the cave far away behind them. People have grown up their entire lives trapped within the cave, backs towards the light, chained and strapped down. It is only by the volition of one person who claims to have experienced the blinding light that news of what’s out there comes back. But the light is strong, too blinding and unacceptable to most. As a result, all continue their lives in the cave of darkness.
See the following of what Plato says to his pretend-disciple, Glaucon in The Republic.
And now look again, and see what will naturally follow if the prisoners are released and disabused of their error. At first, when any of them is liberated and compelled suddenly to stand up and turn his neck round and walk and look towards the light, he will suffer sharp pains; the glare will distress him, and he will be unable to see the realities of which in his former state he had seen the shadows; and then conceive some one saying to him, that what he saw before was an illusion, but that now, when he is approaching nearer to being and his eye is turned towards more real existence, he has a clearer vision, -what will be his reply? And you may further imagine that his instructor is pointing to the objects as they pass and requiring him to name them, — will he not be perplexed? Will he not fancy that the shadows which he formerly saw are truer than the objects which are now shown to him?
What is the light? Truth.
What is the darkness? Ignorance.
What is truth to some is ignorance to others.
As a Christian, I believe that truth is what has been revealed to me from God. But others would gladly take that on and say I am practising ignorance. Who is right? The Bible is big on ignorance… “do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance… be holy in all you do..”
The same endeavour is carried out by Philosophers, Scientists, Economists, Psychologists, Historians, Muslims, Buddhists, Atheists, Sociologists (all except Politicians – because they don’t even claim to know the truth). Each claims to speak the truth and the whole truth.
Plato says: In the world of knowledge the idea of good appears last of all, and is seen only with an effort; and, when seen, is also inferred to be the universal author of all things beautiful and right. This is the power upon which he who would act rationally, either in public or private life must have his eye fixed.