Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Book Review: The Cult of Incompetence

The Cult of Incompetence, by Emile Faguet, is a criticism of modern democracy. At the beginning, author examines different forms of government, to identify the general idea which inspires each political system. And locates the principle of monarchy in honour, the principle of despotism in fear, the principle of a republic, in virtue or patriotism, etc. 
The book then goes on to describe how everything concurs to make the representative, the most important part of democracy,  as incompetent as he is omnipotent. Which naturally leads to inefficiency, and democracy has to resort to nationalisation to accommodate the incompetence. And as people are under no obligation to please the Government or willingly tolerate incompetence, and had no other interest but to do their work properly, the State will transform the free population into government employees, whose primary duty is to be docile and subservient. Legislators shall continue to produce laws that aid them.
The spread of incompetence in other areas of the society, like governance, judiciary, military etc., by limiting the independence that is essential to moral efficiency, is then examined. Which is followed by examining the thorn in the flesh of democracies, every form of superiority, whether individual or collective, existing outside the State and the Government.
Next chapter examines how, democracy's disrespect for any superiority stands to corrupt our manners. Or, how democratic is rudeness! Also inimical to efficiency. 
How people, democrats themselves, have sought very conscientiously, to find remedies for this constitutional disease of democracy, is discussed next. The best way of avoiding the worship of intellectual and moral incompetence, the hidden rocks which threaten democracies, is examined, proposing a multi chamber house with purely democratic and aristocratic parts. 
This interesting discourse cleared many of my questions. The historical and philosophical relevance of many of the institutions we continue to have is quite plain now.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Book Review: Anarchism and Other Essays, by Emma Goldman

Anarchism and Other Essays, by Emma Goldman begins with a discussion about what anarchism really stands for. How befitting is it, as a philosophy based on liberty unrestricted by man-made law; the theory that all forms of government rest on violence, and are therefore wrong and harmful, as well as unnecessary.
Anarchism directs its forces against the third and greatest foe of all social equality; namely, the State, organized authority, or statutory law,—the dominion of human conduct. Just as religion has fettered the human mind, and as property, or the monopoly of things, has subdued and stifled man's needs, so has the State enslaved his spirit, dictating every phase of conduct.  Also, this book mentions that law, instead of making man a whit more just, is making them more prone to finding solace in injustice.  And by destroying government and statutory laws, Anarchism proposes to rescue the self-respect and independence of the individual from all restraint and invasion by authority. Anarchism, thus stands for liberation from the dominion of religion, from the dominion of property, and also from the shackles and restraint of government.
Then come the other fundamental issues with politics. Political aspirants will find their path of good intentions full of pitfalls: wire-pulling, intriguing, flattering, lying, and cheating; in fact, chicanery of every description. Or they will feel intimidated by the tyranny of a compromising majority or a stubborn minority. Or how unsettling is patriotism, as a menace to liberty.
Discussions on prostitution, women’s suffrage, marriage, love and issues of emancipation of women, bring the book to a close.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Why do I Write?

A Writer by Default?
I never had any dreams of becoming a writer. In fact I used be one of those to brandish the view that all those who land up with writing as a profession are generally the unsuccessful ones in other types of verbal and nonverbal communication, the innate choices of expression for all forms of life. Writing never comes to us as you would expect, whenever we feel strongly about something, the natural response always is to express, share or to tell someone. When that becomes an impossibility, either due to our inability in conveying opinions, thoughts or ideas well, or due to our lack of success in finding someone willing to listen to what we say, we are forced to resort to unnatural paths of release, writing being one such path.  The most likely causes are unpopularity, seclusion and other undesirable elements of life. Naturally, the more such elements are associated with someone; the greater are the chances of achieving success as a writer!
During my student days onwards I used to enjoy lengthy and protracted discussions on topics of contemporary charm, temporal relevance and mutual interest. I had been noticing that whenever the topic of discussion seemed to veer around caste, a strange transition took place in our circle. Almost all participants started losing their steam, some of them instantly coming up with an excuse to withdraw from the conversation with a few among them going to the extent of detaching completely from all future discourses! It was only their earnest desire to maintain the friendship that made the few, who continued their involvement with this ‘intellectual exchange’, do so.
Caste being a stark reality of daily life, topics related to that could not be kept away for long. It used to appear in our midst oftentimes and as a consequence, the size of our discussion group kept on diminishing. Finally, it reached the condition where difficulties were being encountered in mustering even a minimum quorum for initiating a chit-chat, let alone deliberations, and I had to resort to writing whenever the need to release myself arose. I became an occasional writer and only when I started to put my thoughts on paper did I become aware of my gross ignorance on these and other issues of sociology which luckily prodded me on to read every book that contained some serious discussions on social stratification and related topics.
As luck would have it, I found myself in hospital quite frequently for a few years beginning with one year at a stretch, injured and confined to bed with books as the main companions. To add to my good fortunes, specialists of more than one discipline of medical science were needed to examine and treat my injury and that necessitated frequent visits to many hospitals. In all these places, the patient’s library was well stocked, with the complete works of Mahatma Gandhi adorning the main bookshelf. I randomly took one of the volumes and read. To my shock I found Mahatma Gandhi’s opinions on most of the topics of social relevance to be vastly different from the prevailing and generally accepted view. And that egged me on to read the collection in full to find myself completely at variance with the popular opinion, on almost all social issues.
The ideas presented, in all the books dealing with the issue of caste that I happen to read for the next 20 - 25 years, can be summarized in one sentence. In reality, caste is nothing but an apparition instituted by certain group of people to suppress the rest, the plethora of rules and observances aimed to keep them always under a tight leash and in perpetual submission. Any worthwhile exception to this could be found only in Mahatma Gandhi, whose writings exhorted those lower in caste to release themselves from the yoke they are under and to surpass the upper caste brethren by freely competing with them.
I ended up collating my skewed thoughts, which could assemble together and put across a substantially different view of caste. And the result is my first book, Origin of Caste in India, revised and republished as Caste: The Unexplored Territories.
But something didn’t fit. For every answer that I did conjure up, my book in fact posed many new questions. How come we in India came to adopting such system like caste, which has the potential to bring down the capabilities of Indians lower with each passing day when compared to those inhabiting the rest of the world? Which, by any standards, is highly irrational? Further reflection on similar issues affecting other societies could easily convince me that we in India are not the only ones to choose the irrational. Man always will choose the most complex or contorted one, among all the available solutions to a given problem (it is only incidental that some solutions turn out to be rational!) and caste happened to be one such solution to the question of maintaining social harmony.  Now I am faced with a bigger question, what makes us choose thus, going always for the input intensive?
At this juncture, some images of animal behavior that were lying dormant in me for long, came to fore. I had been observing that discernible differences exist between the ways male and female of the animals reacted to events and occurrences of living. Mulling over, I had to admit that equivalents for the particularities found among men and women (see bestsellers like ‘men are from mars…’) could easily be identified among all other forms of life. That male and female of all species react differently to the same signals and circumstances was an aphorism I could easily formulate. It was only a matter of time that I could publish my new theory; all that makes us greatly uncomfortable, like the scourge of extremism and its repercussions, is easily understandable, if one is to read the fundamental nature of life, a little differently. And these peculiarities originate from a single source, the one that is intended to give each species, the impetus to evolve. And also, how, discovery of VIAGRA holds the potential to cause significant changes to the incessant flow of life. I published the theory as my second book, Origin of Evolution. But in a short while and with closer look, I revised, further developed with an intuitive title and published the book as 'The Unsure Male'.
I was carefully observing my surroundings, always with an eye to locate the nonconforming, anything that can pose a question to this theory. As time went by, not only that I did not notice anything that could have put this theory to question, but also found present, many remarkable peculiarities in all the activities of life and living. These I compiled initially as 'hubs' at hubpages.com, and was published later as a book, ‘Hubs that Provoke’.

Matter didn’t rest there.  Much more of such quirks continue to appear each day. And get lost in the melee of radical shifts, violent changes and other expressions of extremes. Some of those will get into what I write.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Book Review: Analysis of Mind

'Analysis of Mind' by Bertrand Russel opens with certain fundamental questions about the nature of consciousness, and an examination of various theories extant.
For example, "The stuff of which the world of our experience is composed is, in my belief, neither mind nor matter, but something more primitive than either. Both mind and matter seem to be composite, and the stuff of which they are compounded lies in a sense between the two, in a sense above them both, like a common ancestor." Or, "idealism tends to suppress the object, while realism tends to suppress the content." 
The book then goes into other aspects of instinct and behavior. Next chapter is about desire and feeling and how past history influences it. This is followed by a chapter on how, external perception furnish data for our knowledge of matter, and "introspection," furnish data for knowledge of our mental processes. Memory and its attributes like accuracy, vagueness etc, and its relationship with the past and present events is discussed. Next chapter is about the "most mental thing" we do, believing. In fact our intellectual life consists of beliefs, and of the passage from one belief to another by what is called " reasoning." And the essential elements of thought, knowledge, error, truth, and falsehood, are but a product of this.
Though this book does not draw any unique conclusions on the nature of mind, it gives certain insight into the theories by familiarizing the reader with the ideas extant.

Monday, January 2, 2017


‘PLATO and a PLATYPUS WALK INTO A BAR’ by Thomas Cathcart & Daniel Klein, introduces us to fairly complex philosophical questions of metaphysics, logic, epistemology, existentialism, ethics, and many other topics having potential for obscurity. Such topics are presented in the form of lively, humorous story snippets, each illustrating another important facet.
Like that of a  Harvard  professor,  while experimenting, inhaled laughing gas, and thought he saw the ultimate unity of  all things, but, after the drug wore off, he couldn't remember his cosmic insights. So, the story goes, the next time he sniffed laughing gas, he tied a pen to his hand and a book open in front of him. Sure enough, a brilliant idea came to him, and this time he managed to get it down on paper. Hours later, in his unaltered state, he read the philosophical breakthrough he had recorded: “Everything has a petroleum-like smell!” Disappointed at first, the professor soon came to his philosophical senses. The real question, he realized, was whether a) ideas that appeared brilliant to him under the influence of laughing gas were actually banal; or b) “Everything has a petroleum-like smell” cannot be appreciated as a philosophical proposition unless one is under the influence of laughing gas.
Or, like that of a famous art collector is walking through the city when he notices a mangy cat lapping milk from a saucer in the doorway of a store. He does a double-take. He knows that the saucer is extremely old and very valuable, so he walks casually into the store and offers to buy the cat for two dollars. The store-owner replies, “I’m sorry, but the cat isn't for sale.”
The collector says, “Please, I need a hungry cat around the house to catch mice. I’ll pay you twenty dollars for that cat.” The owner says, “Sold,” and hands over the cat. But the collector continues, “Hey, for the twenty bucks I wonder if you could throw in that old saucer. The cat’s used to it and it’ll save me from having to get a dish.” The owner says, “Sorry, buddy, but that’s my lucky saucer. So far this week I've sold thirty-eight cats.”
Or the one about a western anthropologist and a Voohooni (a tribe), who says that 2 + 2 = 5. The anthropologist asks him how he knows this. The tribesman says, “By counting, of course. First I tie two knots in a cord. Then I tie two knots in another cord. When I join the two cords together, I have five knots.”

Explanations of this nature, bit humorous, much entertaining, and also demystifying in full, for a substantial number of philosophical terms are included in this page turner. In short, this is philosophy in non-philosophical terms, easy even for the uninitiated, and thoroughly entertaining, especially for those, who have taken pains to follow such esoteric topics.