Archive for January, 2007

January 30, 2007

it’s a cab-driver-eat-pedestrian world out here

sandal and license platesome say that this sandal was attached to the license plate for good luck after having taken it off of it’s previous owner’s foot. I’m still not convinced the said previous owner was actually that lucky…

January 30, 2007

Dennett and religion

first paragraph of Daniel Dennett’s answer to the 2007 Edge question (“What are you optimistic about?”):

I’m so optimistic that I expect to live to see the evaporation of the powerful mystique of religion. I think that in about twenty-five years almost all religions will have evolved into very different phenomena, so much so that in most quarters religion will no longer command the awe it does today. Of course many people–perhaps a majority of people in the world–will still cling to their religion with the sort of passion that can fuel violence and other intolerant and reprehensible behavior. But the rest of the world will see this behavior for what it is, and learn to work around it until it subsides, as it surely will. That’s the good news. The bad news is that we will need every morsel of this reasonable attitude to deal with such complex global problems as climate change, fresh water, and economic inequality in an effective way. It will be touch and go, and in my pessimistic moods I think Sir Martin Rees may be right: some disaffected religious (or political) group may unleash a biological or nuclear catastrophe that forecloses all our good efforts. But I do think we have the resources and the knowledge to forestall such calamities if we are vigilant.

I’ll agree with him on this point, but with the caveat that he did say that religions will evolve into very different phenomena – not that they will altogether disappear. To help this happen we need not only write books debunking religion, but also to consider what these new forms of religion might look like – so we know what we are working towards.

The main point of his whole response is that it is the superstition of religion that will disappear as people become better informed. So the question is: what would religion look like without the superstition. To work with Wittgenstein i think we could say that religions must become families (ie sets or groupings) of practices: stuff people do, think and say. But that is too general. The key is that these families of practices will evolve from current religions, that is, they will inherit much of the non-superstitious practices of our beloved religions, the stuff people do to be good, to be together and to be happy. The difference is that they will be (somewhat) more rational: they will have to define what their purpose is in non-superstitious or non-metaphysical, ie in down-to-earth terms and work at achieving that.

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January 27, 2007

Pascal Bruckner on Identity

Pascal Bruckner over at Signandsight (english translation of a french original) writes in exactly the same vein as Fukuyama a few posts ago:

Multiculturalism is a racism of the anti-racists: it chains people to their roots. Thus Job Cohen, mayor of Amsterdam and one of the mainstays of the Dutch state, demands that one accept “the conscious discrimination of women by certain groups of orthodox Muslims” on the basis that we need a “new glue” to “hold society together.” In the name of social cohesion, we are invited to give our roaring applause for the intolerance that these groups show for our laws. The coexistence of hermetic little societies is cherished, each of which follows a different norm. If we abandon a collective criterion for discriminating between just and unjust, we sabotage the very idea of national community. A French, British or Dutch citizen will be prosecuted for beating his wife, for example. But should the crime go unpunished if it turns out that the perpetrator is a Sunni or Shiite? Should his faith give him the right to transgress the law of the land? This is the glorification in others of what we have always beaten ourselves up about: outrageous protectionism, cultural narcissism and inveterate ethnocentrism!

This tolerance harbours contempt, because it assumes that certain communities are incapable of modernising. Could it be that the dissidence of British Muslims is not only a function of the retrograde rigorism of their leaders, but also stems from a vague suspicion that all the consideration show to them by the state is little more than a subtle form of disdain, basically telling them that they are just too backward for modern civilisation ? Several communes in Italy are planning to reserve certain beaches for Muslim women, so they may bathe unexposed to male eyes. And within a few years the first “Islamic hospital,” complying in all points with the prescriptions of the Koran, may open in Rotterdam. Anyone would think we are reliving the days of segregation in the southern United States. Yet this segregation has the full backing of Europe’s most prominent progressives! Theirs is a fight on two fronts: minorities must be protected from discrimination (for example by encouraging the teaching of regional languages and cultures and adapting the school calendar to religious holidays); and private individuals must be protected from intimidation by the community in which they live.

This time a great european intellectual is promoting Enlightenment as the solution to our current multicultural problems. Again, this is an element of the right solution: old cultural traditions must be modernized to help them cope with our modern world; and condescendingly approving of them without trying to improve them will not solve anything. The rejoinder that we cannot be sure that our modernism is actually any better than anything else (we humans have been so often so wrong about our intuitions) cannot be simply sidelined. Nevertheless, the solution cannot lie in simply tweaking these old traditions enough to allow them to cohere with european moderninty nor in indoctrinating immigrants into european ways of life.

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January 26, 2007

social networking

Following St. Ambrose’s wise suggestion, should you ever find yourself in rome to do as the romans do, i decided, being in india, that i absolutely had to create an Orkut profile. I’ve never been very fond of these social networking sites and never could get myself to sign up on Myspace all this time. So this was a big leap into the water, though google water. Well i’ll be darned, but it actually worked and i met up with someone i had met somewhere and we wasted an almost reasonable portion of our evening chatting. So now we’re Orkut Friends and i might even manage to find a decent movie theatre after all!

On the heels of that great experience i went so far as to add a Meebo widget to this very blog so that you can chat with me should you visit my blog while im online (ie not sleeping).

On another note: when proudly eating fresh vegetable-enhanced ramen noodle soup with chop sticks, try to avoid using those small, round and slippery green members of the above mentioned food group, which, by the way, still come in pods in india.

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January 26, 2007

Fukuyama on identity

In the latest edition of Prospect:

In the west, identity politics began in earnest with the Reformation. Martin Luther argued that salvation could be achieved only through an inner state of faith, and attacked the Catholic emphasis on works—that is, exterior conformity to a set of social rules. The Reformation thus identified true religiosity as an individual’s subjective state, dissociating inner identity from outer practice.

The Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor has written helpfully about the subsequent historical development of identity politics. Rousseau, in the Second Discourse and the Promenades, argued that there was a big disjuncture between our outer selves, which were the accretion of social customs and habits, and our true inner natures. Happiness lay in the recovery of inner authenticity. This idea was developed by Johann Gottfried von Herder, who argued that inner authenticity lay not just in individuals but in peoples, in the recovery of what we today call folk culture. In Taylor’s words, “This is the powerful ideal that has come down to us. It accords moral importance to a kind of contact with myself, with my own inner nature, which it sees as in danger of being lost… through the pressures toward social conformity.”

The disjuncture between one’s inner and outer selves comes not merely out of the realm of ideas, but from the social reality of modern market democracies. After the American and French revolutions, the ideal of la carrière ouverte aux talents was increasingly put into practice as traditional barriers to social mobility were removed. One’s social status was now achieved rather than ascribed; it was the product of one’s talents, work and effort rather than an accident of birth. One’s life story was the search for fulfilment of an inner plan, rather than conformity to the expectations of one’s parents, kin, village or priest.

Fukuyama then goes on to describe the identity problems of immigrants in Europe and to prone the solution of greater integration into national identities. Though this certainly would help, i’m not so sure it is the best solution. Turning Muslims into French Muslims would resolve some of the unrest; in the end, however, it is the all-encompassing Modern State that is at the root of the problem, the solution lying more in breaking up this institution than in forcing everyone into it.

via 3QuarksDaily.

January 25, 2007

Nightshift in the Automart

A cute and short (10 mins) PodCast from EscapePod obout the Goddess Kali herself. The story is was written by Andrew Gudgel and is read by Jared Axelrod. Mouthwatering excerpt:

The doors whooshed open and the Goddess Kali strode up to the counter. She stopped in front of him, grinning wickedly. Straight platinum-blonde hair spilled down over her shoulders and high bare breasts, contrasting with her inky black skin. Jeremy noticed a necklace of tiny, perfectly-formed ceramic skulls hung around her neck.
“Hi, Jeremy.”
“‘Lo, Suzy.”
The Goddess Kali’s eyes flashed red with anger. “Don’t call me that!” Behind her, a whole pantheon wandered the aisles, looking for late-night snacks.

For those requiring visual aids, below is the beautiful Kali atop Shiva. Here you will also find Hannuman (one of those so-so gods) and Vishnu (real cute god).




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January 25, 2007

pollution (part one of an infinite series)

They are burning plastic outside of my window again (yes, the window that is no more than a gaping hole in my kitchen wall) and i feel too uncomfortably high to complain at any greater length right now.

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January 23, 2007


I have just now finished the last word of the english translation of Rabindranath Tagore’s magnificent novel Gora. It is a masterpiece in more than one sense and thoroughly indian in many another. It is not open and undogmatic like Dostoyevsky, nor is it pure psychological elegance like Proust and it certainly does not attempt to re-write and subvert all of western litterature like Joyce. It is rather a work of power, truth and spirit. If only i could have read it in Bengali! If only i had the real thing between my hands and at my fingertips, how much greater it would have yet been! But i must be content with its adulterated substance and only dream of the perfection of its true form. I will write further about the realtion of the individual to society, about the rôle of religion and about india; but for the time being i must digest what i have tasted and carefully study deserving.

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January 22, 2007

the barber’s shop

After a wasted morning contemplating the mysteries of human religion, i decided to at least do one worthwhile thing to save the day, and sauntered over to the barber’s shop two doors down the street and next to the dry cleaner, since it was, once again, high time i did something with my hirsute head. The barber was busy cutting a young boy’s hair as i came in whom i presumed to be his son or at least a close relative from the many more or less vocal complaints he playfully uttered throughout the process. He did, however, pay in the end, thereby shattering at least the stronger version of my hypothesis. Then came my turn. Sharing an insuperable language barrier, my barber and i took full advantage of our mutual silence. For his part, he was able to dispense with the western hair dresser’s hypocritical inquiry as to how the client would like his hair cut and to forthwith proceed with the ideal hairstyle to which he had already predestined me. We were also able to forgo the usual chatter about my education, provenance and travels or his latest vacation, which freed up over a dozen minutes during which i strove to formulate the very contents of this decidedly light-headed post.

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January 22, 2007

bits and pieces gleaned from a lazy sunday spent on the roof

me: it will be a long time before that happens.
my venerable companion: no, not a long time … it depends.

Later in the day i learnt that throughout the entire indian sub-continent (as in the rest of the world, one might add) dogs and cats do not quite get along: but not in Kolkata! This astonishing observation can probably be linked to the fact that stray dogs in this city spend most of their days lazily napping on the side or in the middle of dirt roads – a most feline behaviour, the origins of which remain shrouded in the city’s impenetrable smog.

Speaking of which, it might interest the odd reader to know that the kolkatan sun does not set into the horizon, as one might have expected of it, but well before, gradually disappearing into the thick, milky air that holds earth and sky together around these parts.

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