Friday, December 30, 2016

More, About Democracy

Democracy is at crossroads. For various reasons it didn't become as successful as it should have. Shouldn't we worry about the path, it is likely to take?
Democracy originated as a political idea in the 20th century and has been enjoying unparalleled success ever since. But, of late it is running into trouble, and unless we do something to revive it, its future is rather bleak.

If we stand farther back and examine, the triumph of democracy does not look all that great. After its birth, the fall of Athens, where it was first developed, brought an end to its brief life. It remained dormant till the period of enlightenment, when one by one, countries started adopting this as the chosen form of government.
But, by the beginning of 20th century nascent democracies started collapsing. (Germany, Spain and Italy). By 1941 there were only 11 democracies left, and “the great flame of democracy could not be saved from the blackout of barbarism”.

In the second half of the 20th century, democracies had taken root in Germany, which had been traumatized by Nazism, in India with a significant part of its population being poor people, and, in the 1990s, in South Africa, which had been blemished by apartheid. Further, end to colonialism created a host of new democracies in Africa and Asia, and autocratic regimes gave way to democracy in Greece (1974), Spain (1975), Argentina (1983), Brazil (1985) and Chile (1989). Soviet Union, in its collapse gave shape to many fledgling democracies in central Europe. And a large part of the world happened to exist as democracies.
Democracies happened to be richer than non-democracies, where citizens could enjoy a better life. These states are less likely to go to war and have a better record of fighting corruption. Moreover, democracy, by letting people speak their minds, enabled each one to shape their own and their children’s futures. So many people in so many different parts of the world are prepared to risk so much for this idea should be testimony to its enduring appeal.

Yet these days a troubling pattern has repeated itself in capital after capital. The people mass in the main square. Regime-sanctioned thugs try to fight back but lose their nerve in the face of popular intransigence and global news coverage. The world applauds the collapse of the regime and offers to help build a democracy. But removing an autocrat turns out to be much easier than setting up a viable democratic government. The new regime stumbles, the economy flounders and the country finds itself in a state at least as bad as it was before. This is what happened in much of the Arab spring, as well as in Ukraine.
As far as established democracies like USA, UK or India go, situation is slightly different. People are selecting the most undemocratic among the available options, both while choosing a government and while abiding by it.
Democracy is going through a difficult time. Where autocrats have been driven out of office, their opponents have mostly failed to create viable democratic regimes. And in established democracies, flaws in the system have become worryingly visible and disillusion with politics is rife. Yet just a few years ago democracy looked as though it would dominate the world.

This feeling is largely due to the stream of successes it encountered. But stand farther back and the triumph of democracy looks rather less inevitable. After the fall of Athens, where it was first developed, the political model had lain dormant until the Enlightenment more than 2,000 years later. In the 18th century only the American revolution produced a sustainable democracy. During the 19th century monarchists fought a prolonged rearguard action against democratic forces. In the first half of the 20th century nascent democracies collapsed in Germany, Spain and Italy. 

The progress seen in the late 20th century is showing signs of slowing down. Even though much of world’s population, more people than ever before live in countries that will hold free and fair elections this year, it looks like, democracy’s global advance has come to a halt. Will there be a reverse?
Many democracies are already sliding towards autocracy, though maintaining the outward appearance of democracy through elections. Notably, the rights and institutions that are the important aspects of a functioning democratic system is slowly giving way.
Faith in democracy is constantly in doubt, when the overthrow of unpopular regimes takes place only to sputter out once again. Unnoticed by its champions, democracy has been becoming associated with debt, dysfunction, and lack of progress at home and overreach abroad. Democracy has always encouraged its critics, but now old doubts are being treated with renewed respect as the weaknesses of democracy, even by some of its proponents. What has caused democracy to lose its forward momentum? 
The most significant challenge to democracy, what Plato mentioned as a great ill of democracy,  that citizens would “live from day to day, indulging the pleasure of the moment”, has proved to be the cause. Democratic governments will get into the habit of running big structural deficits as a matter of course. They will have to necessarily borrow to give voters what they want in the short term, to ensure their own survival. In such circumstances, not many of them can think of long-term investment. 
People finally will lose faith, electing one group after the other and finding not much change. Now the thing to watch will be the growing cynicism towards politics. Peoples' direct involvement with political activities is declining across the developed world, I think, thanks to the general belief: “politicians tell lies all the time”. Meanwhile, the seriousness attached to politics, is fast eroding. (The win, in Iceland of a party that promised open corruption, or, in Italy of a comedian party, or, in USA, of the growing disregard for modern scientific findings, may be cited as examples.) The result is an unstable mixture: dependency on government on the one hand, and disdain for it on the other. The dependency forces government to over expand and overburden itself, while the disdain robs it of its legitimacy. Doesn't it bring up the memories of aristocratic dysfunction of yesteryears, the time prior to democracy?

The stars of democracy, America and Europe seem to have lost their appeal as role models and their appetite for spreading democracy. Aren't they paralyzed by the fear that democracy will produce rogue regimes or empower 'jihadists'. The threat I think is real, all other democracies are also finding themselves with 'excess of democracy' and opting for tighter regimes, of course, for valid reasons.

Madison said after American Revolution, “great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.” The failure to do this, I think has rekindled the fear of tyranny. Whether in the growing size, or the relentless expansion of government, the state is reducing liberty and handing ever more power to special interests, and a natural tendency to overreach is clearly visible. We need to introduce fresh, more appropriate checks and balances on the power of elected government. And if not, what John Adams, America’s second president, once pronounced, “Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself", will take place soon.

What will happen then? Those progressives, who are constantly remaining in a lazy, lethargic state fueled by the technological success induced excess of self confidence, will be shaken to the core. The rest will be anything but predictable.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Book Review: The Origin of Science

‘The Origin of Science’ by Louis Liebenberg is about the nature and origins of scientific thinking, and explores the question, How did the human mind evolve the ability to develop science. The book begins with an observation: “if you want to do interesting research you need to look for an apparent paradox in science and then try to resolve it”. And he finds a paradox in human evolution: How did the human mind evolve the ability to do scientific reasoning if it was assumed that scientific reasoning was not required for hunter-gather subsistence? Kalahari hunter-gatherers become a prime source of information.

Human evolution cannot be treated in isolation from the environment. The environment is not a static background, but an interacting agent, and humans  should  be  seen  as  a  part  of  the  biological  community, and  the evolution of hunting and gathering would have played a principal part in human evolution.  The book then goes on to explain how we came to develop many of our attributes and capabilities.

Like the human nature to walk on two feet. Foraging is the searching for and collecting of plant foods and in this, bipedalism may have been found more economical for walking than knuckle-walking. Persistence hunting that involves speculative tracking (attack future position of target) would have been the first form of hunting that involves creative human culture.

Bluffing, the precursor of many advanced techniques, which would have been in use to drive dangerous animals from their kills, is a bold aggressive act that requires knowledge of how different predators react under specific conditions.  This could have been found helpful not only in reducing the risk of injury by avoiding physical contact, but also in enabling humans to drive off predators that were too dangerous to confront directly.

When it comes to the techniques of tracking, there is unlimited possibility. Like, to identify, the presence of a lion by the faint sound of the flicking of ear, the animals’ gender by the relative position of urine and feces’ markings. Or of intuition – the art of reaching a conclusion on the basis of less explicit information than is ordinarily required to reach that conclusion, in the interpretation of tracks and signs. Or how, each tracker becomes an individual researcher contributing to the common good.

The author links the explosion of our intellectual ability to systematic, as well as speculative (involving calculation of possible target movement) tracking in difficult conditions that requires much greater skill to recognize signs and probably a much higher level of intelligence.

Thereafter, the origin and growth of scientific knowledge is discussed as a natural property of our race. Also, another paradox! If scientific reasoning is innate, why are superstition and irrational beliefs so common? 

The author reflects on the propensity of the early people to hoard totally unnecessary knowledge, like the vast information about ants that far exceed the practical requirements of hunting. Or the proliferation of superstitious beliefs in early races, origin of which can be linked to celebration of creative scientific imagination. I think such instances resemble quite well, the ideas I have expressed through my books and need further study. That the actual motive for all that we do is far different from what we see, can be easily linked to the post mating agony of life.

Each one of the author’s ideas is unique, and notable. For example, discounting the emphasis on modern ‘scientific’ methods, the author says, “Creative science is essentially a product of the human mind that allows humans to interact with reality in a way that increases our chances of survival”.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016


‘WHY MEN DON'T LISTEN & WOMEN CAN'T READ MAPS’ by Barbara & Allan Pease is a delectable piece of writing, on one of the most popular topics, the peculiar nature of sexual differences, best exemplified in the exchange, How many men does it take to change a roll of toilet paper? It's unknown. It's never happened. The book condenses the story of how, over millions of years, the brain structures of men and women continued to change in different ways, to how the sexes process information differently, how they think differently, how they believe different things, and how they have different perceptions, priorities and behaviours. Perky quips like, 'My wife can see a blonde hair on my coat from twenty feet, but she hits the garage door when she parks the car', along with a logical explanation for each, are given to explain such particularities.
Using catchy one liner like, ‘a boy doesn't really lose skin sensitivity at puberty, it just all goes to one area’, author covers the whole realm of male female differences. The book, I think is based on hard scientific evidence, but the everyday conversations, beliefs and scenarios that range from the humorous to the downright hilarious make this fun to read. The author has succeeded in boiling down the evidence into the simplest explanations while, at the same time, adding entertaining expressions, whether what is discussed is physical, chemical, economic, social, or genetic differences. This approach makes the information easily comprehensible for most people, that too, without the need of hunting for a science journal. This book has the potential to help one learn more about both oneself and the opposite sex, so that the interaction and relationships can be more fulfilling, enjoyable and satisfying.
From the time they are babies to the time they relax in their sunset years, no facet of the togetherness of the sexes is not subjected to scrutiny in this. Plenty of fitting examples from our daily life are given, making the general impact of the book lively and involving. Importance is ascribed to scientific consideration at contentious points, while retaining the overall air of an amusing discussion. The book concludes with a suggestion. “Relationships between men and women work despite overwhelming sex differences. Much of the credit here goes to women because they have the necessary skills to manage relationships and family. They're equipped with the ability to sense the motives and meanings behind speech and behaviour, and can therefore predict outcomes or take action early to avert problems. This factor alone would make the world a much safer place if every nation's leader was a woman.”
As I found in all other books I read so far about gender particularities, in this book also, emphasis is given to certain improved ability for women to gauge, understand and react appropriately. And also, equally inferior talents for men to appreciate these things. However, just like the other ones, this book also, does not suggest a reason for the observed peculiarities.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Another Hub

Nature Vs Nurture is an interesting contest, both the sides having huge stocks of supporting arguments. Either stance is taken liberally by many of us, both to justify whatever we want to, and to oppose what we do not like. I thought, why not examine a few cases of humans growing up under no influence of ‘nurture’ (no proper upbringing), and see what unique contribution, ‘nature’ did make. And I found 'nurture', more significant than what is generally held.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

One More Hub!

Antipedia – The Reverse Encyclopedia
If you are searching for new facts for, or are trying to adopt, a new concept, the information available all around in places like Wikipedia, is not enough. For, though such sources are capable of providing adequate information when it comes to things outside of us, the essential data regarding its unsuitability is not sufficiently given, without which, it is impossible to conduct any form of integration, however temporary. Some such arrangement, needless to say, is indispensable before we try out anything. Antipedia is envisaged as an exhaustive collection of data regarding, how ineffective something is. Incorporating modern Internet tools like a search engine and hyperlinks, it's designed to search for inabilities or limitations quickly.

Saturday, December 24, 2016


‘GEMS OF THOUGHT: from Leading Intellectual Lights’, compiled by John R Francis, is a collection of scholarly papers. It begins with dissertations on spirituality, astral development and an introduction to theosophy. A forecast into twentieth century, especially, how the present developments in our scientific and spiritual ideas will shape future, follows next. Where, about our idea of universe, the book says "Now the “I” is supposed to be the center of the universe in every human mind. Just as soon as that is changed and the “I” is relegated to its own place," we stand to get a more appropriate idea of ourselves and the universe.
The immediate future is then discussed. The solar engine is in the imminent future and is to supersede steam and electricity as well. Those rays of light that now seem to be squandered, or are held in solution somewhere, will be made available. … The solar heat will be made available for the new motor power. … The destructive potential available with nations, perhaps, more than any sense of brotherly love, will prevent nations from warring.
Next paper is about dreams and its significance, where author suggests about a middle path, ‘not superstitiously believing everything and troubling your self about things which come to you in dreams, nor, on the other hand, foolishly rejecting everything. This is followed by a paper about one of t h e most prominent clergymen of this country:  Rev. T. DeWitt.
Origin of Christianity is discussed in next paper. Constantine, the Roman emperor whose adoption of Christianity is what led to the growth of this religion, is studied critically. Constantine himself was a Mithraist, (an old mystic religion of Persia), and after conversion continued to follow the same observances as was following earlier, making Christianity, Mithraism by a new name. What follows this is a paper about science and its conflict with religion. Differences like, “All religions deal with the super natural. Science investigates only the natural” are listed to make clear, the stances of each on various matters. How spiritualism is awakening humanity is then examined.
Another paper examines the law of cause and effect. How this is dealt by Hindu religion using the name of Karma is described. Also, how they also apply the same term to the results which under it follow from action of any kind. The inevitable part of any discussion involving religions, afterlife, is discussed next. “Death is the gate of life”, author says, before continuing till the end of the book with guardian angels, spirits, clairvoyance, and many other esoteric topics from places like India, dovetailing in between the Church of Rome, as a monster.
I find the book full of optimism for 20th century. That it will release many things that have been chained in the past, letting people to express more. As far as the book’s predictions go, though, the most significant (as I see) one, that twentieth century will show less influence of religion, is nowhere near fulfillment, it is interesting to observe that many of the other forecasts, regarding women’s status, the social life, the impetus on solar power, etc., can be seen to have taken place.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Book Review: ‘In Defense of Women’

‘In Defense of Women’, by H. L. Mencken is a complete study of feminity, covering, The Feminine Mind, The Maternal Instinct, The Masculine Bag of Tricks, Biological Considerations, Romance, Marriage, etc.
The book caught my attention instantly, when I read: “Two of the hardest things that women have to bear are (a) the stupid masculine disinclination to admit their intellectual superiority, … and (b) the equally stupid masculine doctrine that they constitute a special and ineffable species of vertebrate, without the natural instincts and appetites …, and marked by a complete lack of certain salient mammalian characters.” I read again “... she talks—of anything, everything, all the things that women talk of: books, music, the play, men, and other women. No politics. No business. No religion. No metaphysics. Nothing challenging and vexatious”
The book is full of “ideas so novel that they will be instantly rejected as insane and outrageous by all right thinking men, and so apposite and sound that they will eventually conquer that instinctive opposition, and force themselves into the traditional wisdom of the race.”  Though the best and most intellectual in almost all occupations are not men, but women, and they have a fair share of the best writers, public functionaries, and composers and players of music, man, by remaining always in full possession of the modest faculties he can claim, continue to rule this world, the book posits.
The book notes the gradual emancipation of women that has been going on for the last century. Mainly due to the changing status of women in USA, such changes have been happening, which will free them of their traditional burdens and so stand clear of the oppression of men.
Many of the observations made by the author support the view of women as complete beings, unlike men. The ‘masculine shortfall’, though is not critically examined, supports once again, the view I have expressed through my book, ‘The Unsure Male’.

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Sometimes I wonder , how is that each one of my friends happens to be so memorable a character? One among them, who is also a little mo...