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Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Religion is not the Antidote to Hopelessness

Before I begin, I was seriously considering titling this post "Faith is not the Antidote to Hopelessness." The reason I decided not to proceed with this is primarily due to the fact that I have begun to differentiate between faith, as a necessity for all living things, and religion, as an institutionalization of faith, replete with rituals and practices, and most notoriously of all, a sense of identity that creates a framework for exclusion, as much as it does for inclusion. This play of semantics aside, I must admit that I am no stranger to religion, having spent a fair share of time trying to play along to the rules of the religion of my family, perhaps a bit more questioningly than is to be appreciated, however. Still, I have attempted pilgrimages, and will still show signs of respect outside temples, churches, and mosques, not to forget Buddhist, Sikh, Jain, or any other places of worship that I happen to come across. However, my own attempts to do so of my own volition, not because I was asked to, or in some cases forced to worship, have largely been a case of a sense of some missing element in my life, in spite of the certainty my knowledge and apparent adherence to a civilized lifestyle have ever seemed to offer. And, as I sit here pondering this kind of thing, sometimes more intensely than other times, I cannot help but feel that the world around me senses a sort of doom, this hopelessness I wish to refer to, not with a view towards defining or examining it, but just to point out that as days give way to a future in which I too am rapidly approaching old age, the young among us bring a frightening level of zeal and commitment to the beliefs that they accept readily, in many cases, making causes out of noble ideals that they are willing to die for. It seems to paint a strange, and somehow fateful picture for this world that we have created, but I will not be the one to judge this as the fate of our folly. No. I only wish to briefly delve into the fact that this growing angst that is fueled by the swelling of religious ranks, is ultimately not the antidote for the seeming hopelessness that seems to descend upon us all. If anything, it will be precisely the kind of thing that will light the fuse and explode this keg of fervent but disjointed worship.

The Source of This Hopelessness

I remember watching Bill Hicks do his comedy routine, quite specifically him mentioning how turning on the news invites us to believe that the world around us pretty much in flames and on the verge of total annihilation, only to pull back the drapes and hear crickets and the resounding silence in-between chirps, making us wonder where all of this is happening. He was right in one regard, namely that the news we all happen to see on TV is largely and most violently happening somewhere far away from us. Yet, in addition to the deluge of such information from the media all around the world, we now have social media to thank for a near-constant reminder of numerous other horrors occurring in all spheres of life, making this world ripe for self-extinction by its very creators. We see news about how politicians are screwing up their economies and environments, and creating wanton rifts in the communities they lead, just to get a few votes, before we find ourselves staring at the horrors of the meat trade and suffering animals, before we find out there is plastic waste much larger than many nations around the world floating around in the Pacific and causing massive damage to marine life, before being told about the heart-rending, gut-wrenching death toll of the latest natural disaster to strike a hheavily populated area, before someting else comes to the fore to make a mind-numbing sensation and elevate it to a higher point than the previous story. There is no escaping it, from newspapers and magazines to TV news shows, to the more recent advent of social media as a platform for sharing this content instantaneously, all around this orb we have come to call home. Add to this the troubles that are unique to the human race, like unemployment, or more competitive, rigorous, and ultimately, growingly unaffordable education, or even crises of resource supply to ensure basic survival to the largest swathe of humanity to be suffering since a few minutes ago, after which the population has grown and made the situation direr still. The hopelessness is palpable, to put it mildly.

Why Not Religion?

The reason for not wanting, or needing, religion to be the answer is fairly simple, on so many levels. First up, it claims to provide answers, but only offers more hope like a carrot on a stick, except it calls you to have faith in the carrot because when you open your eyes and look, you do not see one. Second, and I don't mean to make science seem to be the obvious answer in comparison to the statement I am about to make, but it claims to know the unknowable, and wishes to charge its adherents for their faith, with nothing less than cold hard cash. Most ironically, this money ends up making its way to the top of the religious hierarchy, where it can be used for all kinds of purposes, but manages to ignore the masses who pray on their knees for miracles they have been told about, and in all likelihood, have given up the most to make these offerings. Thirdly, in spite of all religions preaching very similar messages, there is always a schism in the interpretation of some aspect of the origins of the religion, to name internal differences, before which the codification of the essential faith makes enemies who will not do, say, live and worship in a similar manner. Instead of answers on how to actively deal with this sense of doom and gloom, most religions seem to advocate stricter, more impassioned followings of holy books and teachings, almost like a distraction to the reality of what is happening all around its followers. From my own personal experience with Hinduism, being born to and raised in such a household, albeit rather loosely because I always chose to question what I was and was not taught about it, I have found that it draws people into lifelong subservience with the promise of transactional gain; making offerings and participating in rituals, of which there is a long list, can bring about the desires of the person willing to make this payment. Praying to one or many gods for a safe way out for your own family, or self, is a very narrowminded approach to ensuring the longevity of the group, even before we begin to consider how everything else on this planet which is not human is left out. Well, maybe not the cows, being sacred symbols who give milk, and then live out their lives in bonded oblivion, tied to their masters' own sick, ultimate fate for no fault of their own. Most religions do not even begin to consider, let alone address the deteriorating environment, or rising sea levels, or even the fact that there are some followers who become deserving "haves" while others of the following will inevitably end up being "have nots".

The Answer, Please!

I don't know what the answer is, but even as I write this, a different kind of mindset is emerging, still in pockets mostly, but soon to take over large areas of the world. People are doing what it takes to try and reverse the aftermath of the lives they have led, and are asking the questions that needed to be asked generations ago, when many were still being sold lies, quite willingly accepted it would appear, because none of what is happening now seemed to be happening on the kind of scale in which it currently is. I mean, for example, my grandparents grew up in a time when the population of the Earth was about a couple of billion people, at most, and technology was still not as pervasive or readily available to promote its convenience as its key benefit. People ate food cooked over wood stoves, relied mostly on locally grown produce, and drew water from wells, traveling distances on foot that would today seem unthinkably unnecessary to do so, just to get to where they had to go. Cars and even bicycles were a novelty, horsedrawn carriages being the mode of transport of the elite, and electricity was just about beginning to make its foray into the local lifestyle, where people largely preferred to go to bed a couple of hours after sunset. They lived healthier lives and had a far greater connection to their immediate surroundings and the prevailing conditions. No, I'm not advocating a return to days of old, but I am trying to point out that activity, doing something about the mess, was a much more readily accepted course of action that brought people together to act and remedy what was out of balance. Maybe we've gotten soft, or maybe, we just prefer to fight reality with endless distraction. It doesn't figure well for us, overall, unless more people want to do something about something, which, I am happy to say, is becoming the case, more and more, with every day that goes by. May this trend continue, and really, not lose focus and pander to the call for distraction-by-entertainment that is now the want of most people.

It's about time we pitched in and did something, other than folding our hands and prayed for supreme beings of our own narrative creation to come along and save us from the mistakes we so gladly made, and in many cases, continue to make.

Monday, April 23, 2018

How Inspiring is Inspiration?

We live in an age of sharing our most passing likes and fancies with the rest of our world, with nothing more than a flick of our fingertips. No, this post is neither about the ease of use of social media, nor is about to make a case for anything long lost. I merely mean to briefly explore our sense of inspiration, as stimulated by the use of this media, and its ability to share images, animated GIFs, links to websites, podcasts, etc., and whether or not we are inspired in our own ways to anything with this endless stream of information. What is inspiration? Or to ask a more pertinent question, what has inspiration become, and, what is it inspiring us to do? Based on the number of philosophical quotes and cute animal posts and tweets that I have shared and retweeted, I'd have to say not much more than these activities alone. In fact, I may go a little further to argue that the amount of time it takes us to perform these acts of online good could be better spent actually performing similar deeds, if not spent in a little more self-reflection, pondering our world and where all of this is headed.

Inspiration, Dictionary Defined

Inspiration, as defined by Merriam Webster is "something that makes someone want to do something or that gives someone an idea about what to do or create," on the one hand, and more simply is said to be "a good idea". Sounds simple enough, that is, until one begins to explore all of the things that have inspired people to do something, great, or even greatly stupid. Consider how an apple falling on his head inspired Sir Isaac Newton to define the concept of gravity, something that was around forever, until he brought it into the realm of conscious existence by describing what it was. Then, consider those great heroes among us, who have wanted to do great things, but have ended up becoming winners of the Darwin Awards, or somehow less glamorously, its honorable mentions. How curious a case of said "good idea" turning into proverbial gold, or certain death, for the inspiree. And, what of those who are inspired to inspire, and spread more inspiration, but are very much victims of their own fears, which can now be masked by the veil of a presentable personality, as part of some social media facade from behind which they operate? If not for that, yours truly wouldn't be here to write this little blog post now, would he. :)

Does it "Inspire"?

Personally, seeing posts about the unethical cruelty with which human being treat the rest of the living world, whether it is abandoning cats and dogs, once pets, now unwanted vermin, or worse, aggressively raising soon-to-be-victims of slaughterhouses and the meat market from which much money is derived, for the owners and suppliers, of course, I have recently switched to observing a vegetarian diet. Of course, I do this at my own risk, because in a world of growing genetically modified organisms, along with harmful chemicals and pesticides meant to aid in the marketability of vegetables, eating anything at all is a risk to health. I bring up this double-edged sword because it often flummoxes me how we can ignore one aspect of what is wrong with our world by exalting aspects of some other area of our lives, as if to achieve a balance, instead of stepping back for a second and seeing that one less-wrong is still pretty wrong. I've had this debate with so many people, and it has always concluded with the fact that vegetable cruelty is more welcome than animal cruelty, but no one ever accepts my point about how the individual, civilized, consumerist, human being is the essence of both of these problems. Such truth is rarely marketable, certainly when compared to a cute little device, affordable no less, that one can use to wash the vegetables one buys of all the external garbage that the growers have sprayed on it, doing very little to the effects of whatever has been done internally, of course. Am I inspired to do something about all of this? Most certainly. I say plainly, it's time to give up this life of convenience and slowly embrace the inconvenience of being not as civilized as we claim to be, because what is coming for us in a few years is going to be a bit apocalyptic, and of our own design.

What next?

All the inspiration that we are all inundated by, almost all the time, leaves many of us a little wary of what to do. Do we, repurpose old plastic bottles and turn them into something useful, or do we work towards eliminating the need to use plastic in the first place? Or better yet, do we figure out how to make plastics that will biodegrade, as an in-between measure, so that we can continue our present style of existence? Do we give up meat and switch to vegetables, preferably organically grown, and with a view towards reducing the distance it would have traveled by adopting more farm-to-table practices from local growers? Or, do we create vegetable alternatives to meat dishes, to kind of trick us into enjoying the decadence of animal flesh, without any of the grief, and with imaginably more flavor and goodness? Do we get inspired by where we seem to be heading so that we do whatever we can to arrest this progress, creating new technologies to replace those that have ultimately served us poorly, like say, the fossil fuel combustion engine making way for the electric engine? Or, do we stop and think about why we need all of this energy to travel to far off places at a couple of hundred miles per hour, all day? In a world with so many choices, ranging from alternative fuels to alternative models of social and economic systems like Jacques Fresco's "resource-based economies" and "The Venus Project" we have it all. Yet, highly unsurprisingly, we have nothing. One may even devote oneself to some misguided notions of spirituality, very conveniently practiced among human beings but with little or no relevance to the world of the wild that the human race is systematically decimating, where desperation drives survival, and a few moments to ponder the fleeting nature of life will be the most convenience one will ever have, let alone enjoy. Is this what we have been inspired to do? Or, will we be inspired to be honest with ourselves, and what has happened to the planet we call home, but keep defecating all over with nary a thought?

What say you, dear reader? What are you inspired to do? And, more importantly, how inspired are you to do it?

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Earth Day and Me: 29 Years On

We spend a lot of time talking about The Environment, capitalized to avoid any confusion between what most people would consider being their immediate surroundings, in a mostly urban sense, in normal conversation. It's Earth Day today, the 48th day of specifically paying attention to the plight of the planet Earth, as plunged into certain human-enabled oblivion as it seems to be at the moment, yet, apart from a handful of repeated posts, and literally, small groups of people in faraway places, the larger group of civilized humanity seems to be doing very little to address the problems that they are a part of. I say this in all honesty, having watched several videos, and even reading up on a collection of articles about the little things we can do to stop it from sliding down into the pit of despair that we all anticipate it will, soon enough. However, living in a country like India, with its soon-to-be-number-one record of having the most people in the world, the rising impact on the environment, immediate, or urban or otherwise, is an extant reality that most people seem to be dealing with in a manner that belies the severity of the situation. Or, maybe it's just me. Whatever the reality of this situation, whether or not pockets of individuals are presenting a crisis that does not really exist with the help of their deep, seemingly endless pockets, and their own tentacles of the media and scientific establishment, or if what we know is only a fraction of the extreme environment that we will be facing in the near-immediate future, the fact of the matter remains, which is that our choices made in the last forty-eight years, is really a far cry from the original urgency that kicked of this celebration with its specific focus on lending a helping hand to a self-healing and self-sustaining planet that has allowed us to do whatever we have wanted to, to now becoming an annual event in which we observe how much worse things have become from the last year, in spite of our apparent effort. May it be different next year.

Memories of Earth Day

I remember Earth Day 1989 somewhat clearly. In my life, at this point in time, I was into my second year of boarding school, in the fourth grade. I was aware of Earth Day, from the previous year where we had a fun-filled activity that kept us kids going all day long, but that excitement had given way to life as we had ordinarily come to know it, until the next year had rolled around and it was time to observe this "Day" again. This time, a few days before Earth Day this year, all of the elementary school children had been asked to make a poster, as best they could to illustrate what Earth Day meant to them. I can't quite recall if we were allowed to work in groups or pair up at least, but I did mine on my own. I wish I had it with me, to be able to show you what a non-masterpiece it was, but to describe it briefly, it had a picture of a few houses, built on different levels of a hilly landscape on one side, clean and free and with birds flying about undisturbed, and the same scene on the opposite half of the poster, except the tiny waterfall that cascaded down, was filthy and brown with muck, and there was smoke obscuring the sky, which was obviously bird-less. Reading this description now, it sounds way cooler than it actually is, than I can actually remember it, but trust me, it looked like something a five-year-old would have drawn, not a child almost twice his age. Once we were done with our works of art, they were all collected and sent to a committee of staff, and possibly older, high school students, to determine a winner. When Earth Day did finally come around, we were all taken to the high school building for an All-School Assembly, where much to my delightful shock -- using the word "surprise" would imply that I had some expectations of achieving something with what I threw together -- I won a prize for my efforts! That was a highlight of my life, to be very sure, but that was exactly where the momentousness of this occasion came to stop. Looking back to this day, to that moment when not hearing my name being called out my classmates and class teacher started pushing me towards the adults near the microphone, all the way in the front, I have to say that in the last twenty-nine years, I haven't done a lot to live up to this promise.

How Far We Haven't Come

Looking at the world around me, there are many people or several handfuls of individuals around the globe giving it their all to saving the planet. I wish I was both like them and part of what they are trying to do. For my part, I do attempt to reduce, reuse, and recycle, as well as attempting to remain veg during periods of severe guilt at my own habits. I've even attempted what I like to refer to as "urban asceticism" by sleeping on the floor without a mattress, not heating the water I bathe with no matter how cold it may be, limiting the use of chemicals I use to cleaning myself, my clothes and my surroundings to just one or two, mostly baking soda, with a little detergent, and using public transport of distances longer than three kilometers. About this last one, living in India, mostly in South India, the oppressive heat and humidity makes it difficult to consider such distances on foot once the Sun is up, and waiting for the Sun to go down to attempt conducting any business is often too late in the day because those business owners who have suffered the noonday heat are raring to get back home and recover from their wet and sticky days. These efforts on my part are minimal, at their most generous, and there was so much more that I could be doing. I've attempted to internalize what needs to be done and come up with conclusions that I have had to rework and rethink as I come across, or am made aware of newer discoveries and practices from around the world. Yet, the thing that saddens me the most is the fact that many popular remedies to the issues of pollution and exploitation of the natural resources of Planet Earth is that they are products that need to be purchased or theories that need to be learned as part of courses that need to be paid for. Don't get me wrong, I believe that every brilliant idea should get its due and fair reward. Yet, I can't believe that addressing the issue in a manner that excludes those who can from the rest who cannot, cannot whatever, make the purchase, or be part of the effort without affording it financially, in part or in whole, is the answer to solving the issues we know are plaguing the world. This isn't a call to make everything free, or to set up some kind of Socialist/Communist Eco-conservancy where all intellectual property has is immediately a possession of the state and its central caucus of guardians-in-poorly-disguised-greed. But, I do sincerely hope, that a year from now, no matter what the focus of Earth Day is, whether it is still battling air pollution, or ending Plastic Pollution as it is this year, we can take an honest look at our planet, and not bother with having to blame corporations and politicians for the mess we are all in, and declare the Earth, this life-giving orb in our solar system, a great deal less negatively impacted by our actions, and really, our claim to have developed a far more inclusive form of existence with our fellow living beings with whom we share this sacred space. That would be an achievement.

Sincere Aspiration

I wish to thank all those who are doing their bit, no matter how small or insignificant it is, to making this world more liveable for all life on this planet. May we all be able to look back on April 22nd, 2019, and honestly say, "We have made a small dent this past year. Here's to making a much bigger one in the year ahead!"