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The Lure of Idiocy

Disclaimer: this is a personal reflection. As I observe a generation grow up in front of my eyes, I marvel at the choices they make. The lure of groupthink, the overwhelming herd mentality leaves me perplexed.

I witness the astonishing tenacity of meaningless customs. People grow up in conventional households and acquire some sort of a degree and land some job or the other. Then they fall back on some age old method of finding a wife or a husband as the case may be. When I consider the absolutely inverted logic of arranged marriages, I am flabbergasted that anyone in the modern age would opt for it.

And the youngsters are supposed to be educated. Why do they do it? Clearly the desire for sex outweighs the possibilities for pitfalls. Arranged marriages are above all safe choices … as safe as a choice of this sort can be. The alliances tend to take place among people who are already related to each other or belong to the same caste and district.

If divorce rates in a liberal society like America can be so high, how come they can be so low in tradition-bound India? In America, people usually go through a long vetting process before they commit to the long-term bond of marriage (well, perhaps with the exception of those who opt for Vegas style quickies). And yet, these marriages fail as people discover that they are incompatible with each other or that there are irreconcilable differences. How come couples in India who happen to be married to each other just because their parents decided that they should be don’t have these same differences?

I think that’s because Indian couples in a marital relationship are either not open to new thinking or they simply resign themselves to spending their lives in a loveless relationship.

It’s about how one defines one’s life. In India, the milestones of one’s life often tend to do with one’s family. So the married couple will live life according to age-old principles. The wife is confined to the household taking care of cooking and keeping the house clean. The husband is responsible for earning the money to provide for the family.

Just as youngsters go for arranged marriages like automatons, they produce babies like clockwork. So life remains superficially busy. Bringing up children keeps the wife busy.

Then there’s the matter of religion. Hinduism conveniently offers many occasions when the wives are required to perform many rituals. This too keeps them busy while not requiring them to use their brains for much creative thinking.

Rituals dominate the lives of people. There’s never a moment when you’re too far away from a ritual. If you marry, of course, you do so amidst a deluge of rituals that go on for many days. If you make a baby, of course, you remember to thank the gods for blessing you … hopefully with a baby boy.

When old folks die, again a bunch of rituals are performed which keeps everyone busy. Everything is more or less turned into social occasions involving hundreds if not thousands of people. This is all logical in a traditional society when everyone was a farmer and the cycle of life usually remained unchanged for generations and humans were clearly dependent on the vagaries of nature and were not at all the technologically powerful species that we are today.

What’s the harm if all this continues? I’ve a problem with quietly accepting all that has been going on for such a long time.

People argue that everybody is doing it. Well, that clearly shows a limited thinking as they define ‘everybody’ in a restricted sense. And also, everybody doing something doesn’t transform a stupid ritual into a meaningful one. All religions are stupid and Hinduism is only rather more so.

It’s a fact that there are harvest festivals in agricultural societies whereby the gods are thanked for a bountiful harvest. One can excuse the peasants for thinking that gods have been kind on them whereas in reality nature functions according to principles of science. People in villages worship the cow.

Surely people who have gone through 15 or more years of education to get themselves a professional degree can be expected to have a more critical mind. It doesn’t concern god that you bought a bike or a car. It’s silly to think that the direction in which the living room or bedroom of your house faces has any special implication. Surely the educated young have to go beyond ritual offerings. How does offering gold to a deity relate to your having a baby or its well-being.

Meaningless as these things are, the unfortunate truth is that these things persist with astonishing resilience and stubbornness. People rationalize the rituals in different ways: some will say that everybody is doing it, others will point to the need to continue one’s tradition as that will keep one’s racial and regional identity alive.

Competitive idiocy is widespread too. People will say: ‘look at them. They have so much more of rituals and are guarding their religion and race so vigilantly. We can’t let our guard down or we will be swamped by them.’

In all this idiocy, the loser is reason. The so-called educated people fail to realize that the very fundamental reason of education is to learn critical thinking.

Why is rational thinking so rare? What is the barrier that keeps atheist thinking from spreading?

Out of 100 followers of a religion, nearly 100 of them follow that particular religion unthinkingly … simply because they happened to have grown up with that religion, simply because that was the religion of their parents. Not many bother to question the basis of their religious beliefs. Otherwise, all the religions would collapse like sand sculptures faced with a tsunami.

I would have had respect for the young professionals of whom so much is expected in India if they had used reasoning to reach their religious beliefs. If the young men and women had wondered about the deep questions about the origins of humankind and of the universe and then realized that the Hindu creation myths and the plethora of gods offered the best explanation for the observable universe, then it would make sense if they believed in the Hindu gods. But most young people are not too concerned about the truth behind the religious beliefs. They simply blindly follow what has been handed down to them by their parents.

How do I know that there’s a lack of critical thinking with respect to religious matters amongst young Indians? I observe two sets of phenomena which convince me. Firstly, young people are too devoted to making money and too busy deciding which brand of flat screen TV to buy or which expensive cellphone to buy. They are too busy deciding which car to buy and which tourist destination to visit. Secondly, the existence of a growth market for religious gurus. It’s a booming business.

Unfortunately, there’s a price to be paid for the rising levels of wealth. Wealth does not buy happiness. When money increases, so does stress. So at some point people are somewhat confounded and perhaps dismayed and look for solutions. And what do we see?

The mushrooming of godmen. That’s one unique aspect of India. One would have thought in this scientific and technological age, the bullshit being uttered by these bearded (mostly) folk would be seen as transparent chicanery. But no. the new generation continues to be taken in. in fact, there’s a new class of savvy godmen who propound their message in English so as to appear modern. Some gods and godmen are very up-to-date with the latest social media technology such as having a website or being active on Facebook and Twitter. In a sense, you don’t have to travel to the Himalayas any more to find the truth. The purveyors of truth are just a click or two away.

What chance does science and reason have faced with these challenges from unreason and blind faith?

It’s unlikely that babies will be spared the onslaught of religious rituals from a very young and impressionable age. The household where no religion is followed is vanishingly rare. Similarly, the household where all religions get equal weight is also rare. Since we have got a bunch of kids who are pretty much indoctrinated with the values and beliefs of a particular religion, the battle to make them skeptical thinkers is an uphill one.

Skeptical thinking is not a required part of the curriculum in any degree course. People can blithely go on living a double life whereby they learn about rigorous thinking and scientific principles and the necessity of evidence in school and college and observe blind rituals at home with equal gusto.

Nobody points out the contradiction to them since it’s apparently not up to the teachers of science to repudiate the nonsense of religion. And with rare exceptions, the students are too busy memorizing the complex and boring chemical equations from organic or inorganic chemistry or trying to understand Bernoulli’s Principle or the Second Law of Thermodynamics to notice the apparent contradiction.

Who has got time to read up on biology and the theory of evolution. The simplistic nonsensical bullshit offered by Deepak Chopra appeals more than the deep writings of Richard Dawkins. Nobody has time to venture into the unknown. Indians are not explorers. They are not the kind of people who pick up a Christopher Hitchens book or a book by Sam Harris at the railway station or airport bookstall.

Indians do not use libraries in any large numbers. India is not known for any great libraries. Libraries do not form a part of the great Indian tradition.

Mike Tyson might be a well known name in India … at least to those of us who were already grownups when Tyson was biting ears apart from winning and losing matches. Neil de Grasse Tyson? Not so much. Michael Shermer and Lawrence Krauss are similar non-entities. The Michaels that Indians are familiar with are Jackson, Bevan and Schumacher.

Things being what they are, it’s unlikely that Indians will ditch the comfortable umbrella provided by religion which requires no thinking and the glib solutions offered by religious godmen to the deep mysteries and unanswerable questions of life.

Intellectual revolutions are rarer than political ones. Sometimes, people will hold on to the illusions of religion even at the cost of their lives.

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