May 29, 2009

The Tyranny of Tradition

I am amazed at the amount of hold that 'tradition' has on people's mindsets and behavior.
Consider the case of rituals associated with Hindu marriages . . .
These archaic and moribund activities that go on for many days originated perhaps more than a hundred years ago . . . now, we need to pause and reflect about the quality of the people and the quality of life of the people who lived in those times . . .
It would be helpful if you travel to the villages of India today . . . in the 21st century . . . and then try and extrapolate how life must have been like in those villages a hundred years ago and more . . .
I am sure it would be unbearable for us to live in those villages in those distant days filled with ignorance and poverty and generally backward conditions.
And yet, when it comes to rituals that go on even today, people are uncritical followers of traditions created by these same folks who probably — indeed, not probably, but did think — thought that rainfall was caused by a God sitting up there in heaven or who thought that diseases were caused when you incurred the wrath of Gods for some reason or the other.
What have youngsters achieved — I wonder — with all their educational degrees and exposure to the 'latest' in science & technology if all that exposure hasn't changed thier perspectives.
How can anyone — particularly the generation that will live out the greater portion of their lives in the 21st century — take so seriously rituals that are so local in nature and so flagrantly man-made.
Don't people see how marriage rituals differ from region to region . . . inside a state and indeed even inside a district possibly?
The laws of gravity are universal . . . they're not man-made and we can' choose to obey them or not obey them. Indeed, all the laws of science are universal in nature — the principle of a nuclear weapon is the same whether the bomb is creaed by democratic scientists of the U.S. or communist scientists of the former Soviet Union.
The Space Race was fought using the same scientific principles . . .
We all breath in the same oxygen and breath out the same carbon dioxide . . .
We are all born and live for a few years and then die . . .
These are the universal facts . . .
When will people realize that keeping fasts for husbands is sheer folly and infinitely non-sensical or that the 'groom' riding a horse during marriage is at best laughable?
Let's grow up people!

Berlusconi Defeats Sarkozy

The recent revelations and controversy surrounding Mr. Berlusconi's exploits involving young females certainly proves that the Italian PM can defeat the French Prez. and do so convincingly.
The media frenzy surrounding Sarkozy's wedding to Carla Bruni must have a rather frustrating experience for the billionaire PM and media tycoon. After all, what has Sarkozy got that Berlusconi doesn't have? The French President might retire to a modest home somewhere in France while the Italian PM can afford to retire to the fanciest villa/chateau anywhere in Europe — or, indeed, he can buy the most fabulous place to stay in the South of France which would be beyond the modest incomes of Sarkozy.
So, the PM decided to out-do the Prez. at his own game — if the Prez. could boast of a famous model as his wife, the PM could persuade a bevy of models to be his guests . . .
I wonder when Indian politicians will be able to compete with global politicians on this particular index . . . not that Indian politicians do not possess colorful private lives, but usually these aspects tend to stay hidden.
The media in India is still somewhat hesitant when it comes to covering the 'exploits' of politicians in this arena . . . and there's also an innate tendency among the people of India to provide extra leeway when it comes to 'powerful' people — certainly, politicians belong in that group of selected few along with businesspersons and powerful criminals.
Then, there's the long history of monarchs in India — not the least being the Mughals — who had multiple wives either overtly or covertly . . . indeed, one remembers the royals of mythologies like the Ramayana who had multiple wives and it was considered 'okay' . . . apparently.
Indians tend to apply different yardsticks to judge the rulers and the ruled . . . which is undemocratic, but then democracy is certainly not an Indian invention.

May 25, 2009

An Apparent Disconnect

Americans seem to have a confused attitude towards extramarital relationships — at least, with respect to their public figures indulging in them ...
John Edwards suddently found that the ground beneath him had disappeared when his one time relationship with a woman came to light ...
Similarly, Eliot_Spitzer had to resign from the post of Governor of New York state when his liasions with call girls became public knowledge.
In Bill Clinton's case, his fling with Monica Lewinsky almost brough down his presidency.
In the case of John F. Kennedy, some of his adventures are coming to light now — more than 40 years after his death. A former White House intern is going to publish a book about her relation with the then president.
In spite of JFK's well-documented relations with many women, his stock continues to remain high in the public's opinion.
Is there a contradiction here?
Perhaps, the public is willing to condone personal mistakes in public figures as long as they don't lie.
Bill Clinton did lie about his relationship but he explained that it was only to protect his own family — so, that helped to mitigate his guilt.
JFK's story of course gets inevitably colored by the fact that he died young and so he attracts obvious sympathy because of that reason.
John Edwards got especially harsh criticism because he sought to hide something ... but did he lie?
Eliot Spitzer's conduct was unbecoming — especially as he was conducting a crusade against prostitution rackets and other moral depravities. But, again, this was a blemish on an otherwise spectacular slate of achievements ...
In India, of course, the ordinary person probably never gets to know about the 'real' private lives of politicians or other public figures ... The media is not independent enough to put tough questions to politicians ...

The God Delusion

Time to ride my hobby horse ...
Nothing perplexes me more than people's extraordinary level of faith in the almighty ... or, should that be Almighty?
I always wonder what are people's motivations for holding on to such an archaic structure ...
Anybody with a modicum of common sense and a rudimentary knowledge about the history of the world would appreciate that all of these major world religions were 'invented' about 2,000 years ago ... Christianity and Islam were founded by prophets belonging to small settlements or kingdoms in what is now known as the Middle East while Hinduism and Buddhism were started in the region that was home to what is broadly known as the Indus Valley civilization ...
Why were no religions invented elsewhere? Well, the answer to that is simple — couple of millenia ago, planet Earth wasn't home to 6 billion humans ... or a billion humans. The Americas were probably entirely dominated by wildlife ...
Some might ponder as to why it is that all the major religions took birth in about the same time frame ... the reason for that seems to be this — it was at that time in the history of our species that we became curious enough as well as intelligent enough to ask some deep questions about ourselves and formulate some answers to those deep questions ...
Questions such as 'Who are we?', 'Where did we come from?', 'Where did the universe come from?, etc.
But surely our civilzation has progressed since then ... so, why can't we jettison concepts that are obviously somewhat old.
If we can move beyond the horse-and-buggy days or travelling by bullock carts, why are we so eager to hold on to myths that are as old?
Haven't we found better answers to those fundamental questions in the years since those religious answers were conceived?
Science has certainly provided answers to many of those questions ... at least, those questions that can be answered — such as 'Why does rainfall occur?', or 'Why does lightning occur?'
For other more 'philosophical' questions such as those to do with the 'Meaning of Life', obviously science can never hope to answer such inexact questions ...
But, people are holding on to these archaic rituals and myths mostly out of intellectual laziness — it's easier to simply continue what one's parents have been doing or what you have seen others around you do as you were growing up; it's more difficult to take a skeptical view about rituals and question their fundamental meaning ...
People mostly live out their lives circumscribed by things that are very local in nature ... whether it's people in their immeidate vicinity, the community that they live in, the customs they grow up with, etc.
Very few people are world citizens as it were — although with the technology at our disposal, all of us could teach ourselves to be aware of goings on around the world ...
The reason that makes me skeptical about all these different religions is this: there's no global standard, nothing universal about these things ...
The simple and accepted truth about science and scientific principles is that they are UNIVERSAL ... so, to take an example of a scientific principle — nuclear fission — whether it is democratic United States or the former Communist Soviet Union, they both used the same principles to fight their Cold War ... Whether a nation believes in the teachings of Christ — or in the teachings of Prophet Mohammed, or the philosophies enshrined in the Bhagwat Gita, etc. — all of those nations use the same, universal principles of science to develop their weapons and demonstrate their destructive prowess.
Those who consider themselves 'educated' and 'liberal' and 'tolerant' usually adopt the position or argument that all religions basically talk about the same 'God' and talk about the 'equivalence' of the different religions ...
That seems a somewhat bogus position as the fundamental contradiction in a world with many religions is that their very existence diminishes all of them ...
I can't reconcile the idea of Christ and Prophet Mohhammed and Lord Vishnu and Shiva and Buddha and all the others ...
If you go through each of the religions, you'll find that they each have a different creation myth — basically saying that it was their particular God who created the universe ...
But, there's only one universe to be created and so how could it have been created in multiple ways by multiple folks ...
Of course, the sheer idea to think that a God who created the universe is looking after us is an example of attributing more importance to our species than we deserve ...
It's of course only in the 20th century that science — and more particularly astronomy — became advanced enough to let us learn the true picture of our own place in the universe.
We know now that we live on a tiny planet orbiting an ordinary star ... that a 100 billion stars like the Sun constitue our galaxy, the Milky Way, which has a diameter of some 100,000 light years.
The visible contains perhaps 100 billion such galaxies ... there are literally more stars in the universe than there are grains of sand on all the beaches of planet Earth ... that's perhaps the most humbling truth that science has ever discovered.
And it's at the opposite end of the spectrum from religions truths ... while religions put us at the center of everything and claim that the universe was created for us, science tells that we're just flatsam and jetsam and there's nothing special about our existence.
Faced with this choice, it's perhaps natural that people opt to believe in the religious myths which is anyhow more commonplace ... as it has had much more time to permeate through people's hearts and minds ...
Perhaps, in centuries to come, ideas of science and atheists would become as common place ...
Indeed, 500 years from now, people might look back at us and smile at our childlike naivete and faith in God ...
The only way we might last another 500 years or 5,000 years on this planet would be if science continues to provide us with the necessary tools ...
The planet lies at the edge of a precipice today in the form of the climate crisis ... it's man-made certainly, but it's solution will be provided by science and not religion ...
Perhaps the root problem is over-population and again it's a man made problem that has answers if only we are willing to be rational enough and enlightened enough ...
There's an unbound future for humanity — in terms of explorations of the boundless universe and an almost unimaginably vast time span to accomplish it — if only we are intelligent enough to grasp that reality ...
Would we be so intelligent?

Second Chance for Manmohan Singh

People of India have decided to go with the status quo by opting for another five years of Congress rule — not that they had any alternatives that are much better.
As noted in the last blog post, India is a conundrum ...
People in the United States whose jobs have been Bangalored certainly love to hate India ...
People in India meanwhile love to admire America ...
I am confused about Indians admiring America though ...
I am confused about this whole business of India being a 'young' country ...
From what I have observed about young Indians, they seem a strange blend of tradition and modernity ...
Youngsters don't see any dichotomy in aspiring to all the trappings of material success and yet at the same time they don't mind keeping alive their moribund traditions and rituals ...
When it's time for some critical decisions in life — such as marriage — young Indians demonstrate a remarkable resemblance in their mindsets with their ancestors.
I find it odd that educated Indians should emulate the cultural motifs and laws laid down by their illiterate forefathers ...
For if young people are to just silently emulate those who have gone before them and not challenge them, then what have they learnt from whatever education they have had?
It's not uncommon for IT professionals and others to migrate to the U.S. and yet marry someone from their own community ...
I think this has something to do with the way children are brought up in India — parents teach them, indeed drill it into their heads, to 'respect' elders ... and that stays with Indians forever ...
In contrast, one of the core values that kids in America learn growing up is to challenge 'conventional wisdom' ...
This attitude of conformity continues through the years of education for an Indian ... it's never the case that a school teacher would ask the students to challenge him or her — they would be happy if the student simply memorizes what is in the text or what he has explained on the blackboard ... God help the kid who proclaims the wise teacher to be WRONG!!!

On a different note, the Atlantis Hubble Servicing Mission — STS 125 — is over after a spectacular dozen days.
It's sobering to talk about the reality of India and the cosmic heights of Hubble in the same blog ...
While it's frustrating to see the frog-in-the-well attitude of Indians to many of the challenges facing them, it's exhilerating to keep up with the exploits of NASA at the same time ...
I think it has something to do with the ancestry of Americans — why they are such good explorers — after all, their forefathers crossed an ocean to come to America!

May 23, 2009

Welcome

India is a strange place.
Population of a billion plus and still growing . . .
A nation of overwhelmingly young people with a leadership that is mostly 70 plus . . .
It does not seem out of place at traffic stops in India to find Mercedes cars with kids knocking on its window — begging, of course . . .
The young generation of Indians meanwhile seem a strange combination of old ways of thinking and new aspirations . . .
Visit blogadda.com to discover Indian blogs PageRank Checker