Personal Opinion, Technology

On Mass Behavior…

Argument from morality (known as virtue-signaling in common lingo) doesn’t seem to convince the masses most of the time when it comes to changing their behaviors on issues pertinent to the world, even if the argument is reasonable. There are sound arguments from social-justice activists, environmentalists and vegans that question our moral compasses when it comes to egalitarianism, being mindful of the environment we live in and for increasing the circle of empathy to all the animals around us – but they just don’t seem to be working for most people for some reason – why is that?

If you study the nature of change in human societies, be it any social justice movement or a strive for a better environment, only a few people change their attitudes or behaviors based solely on the revision of their moral values at one time. While I’m not discrediting the achievements of countless men and women who fought for moral change across the millennia, I also want to bring to the attention of people the fact that new technologies and apt economic motivations have always aided us in the process, and have made transformations quicker. Significant changes in human societies in terms of our behavior have always needed economic incentives, newer technologies, substitute behaviors or behavior channels first before the moral stimuli start to kick in.

To state a few examples – first wave of automation making slavery obsolete and financially cumbersome, invention of home appliances saving time for the then housewives to enter the workforce, discovery of the contraceptive pills and birth-control techniques giving women reproductive rights to spear-head the most significant of feminist movements, invention of live-television allowing the words of Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela to be heard across households, and high-speed internet and social-media bringing people close enough to empathize with other people having different sexual-orientations and granting them equal rights. On top of all these, the incentives for bringing more people equally into mainstream economics were beneficial for all – which ended up changing the behavior of the previously resistant masses and made the world a better place to live in. To talk about the most pertinent issue of the late 20th century, the Ozone depletion – economic incentives in the form of substitutes for Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were established; CFCs were then banned, markets for non-CFC compounds were subsidized – and today the Ozone is recovering successfully. What we can see from these few select examples (and there are a lot more) is that for us to change our behavior as a species, we need to change the nature of our economy first so that it gets easier for people to change their attitudes.

Human beings are adaptive creatures over the long term but can also be resilient to short-term changes. This short-term resilience can be overcome if you provide them with alternatives that aren’t hard to transition into – such as cheaper electric vehicles with better range than gasoline ones, affordable bio-degradable plastic, lab synthesized meat as good as or even better than actual ones, vertical farming and aquaponics more practical and yielding than conventional farming. These could all prove to become paradigm-shifting alternatives that may help us tackle the most pressing issues of our time. And the common ground these technologies share is that they make it easier for us to change our behaviors for the better. We don’t buy things because they’re moral, we do that because we think they benefit us – we are selfish creatures indeed, and that is a reality we need to exploit for our own welfare.

Being aware of behavioral economics and creating markets strong enough to compel even the most rigid politicians to change their policies is equally important. If activists want to be effective, they need to start embracing this process more than just looking for a “symbolic gesture” intended to question people’s moral values. Because if we go for the “shaming” tactic, factions of people are sure to become defensive and even more resilient to change than before. For instance, most of us in favor of taking immediate action against climate change believe that people who are resistant to this idea, and who think of climate change as a hoax, hold lesser moral values, are uneducated and dogmatic. Then we argue assuming that we stand on a moral high-ground, which we may, but we forget that the other person might also be arguing against you with a similar mindset. Playing the devil’s advocate, I could say that the oil companies are resilient to accepting the climate initiative because they fear that they are losing their investments and their markets and hence lobby hard; a proper way to incorporate them into the climate plan would be to provide a fair deal to these companies and an opportunity to modify and diversify their products – such as investing in Hydrogen fuel and subsidizing carbon-trapping technologies they install (a model that is being adopted in Canada and Norway). If our strategy is to antagonize head-on and vilify companies and people, we cannot convince other humans to change their behavior as they will become defensive and protective; we will reach a state of political deadlock – the likes of which we are witnessing across world politics today – dividing people and not getting anywhere in solving even the most existential issues.

The key to tackling this conundrum, in my opinion, lies in the proper understanding of the behavioral sciences – both at the level of individuals as well as the masses. This would teach us to adopt non-zero-sum strategies when dealing with humans as opposed to the ineffective zero-sum game. Playing the blame-game will also not amount to much in this regard. If certain people do not want to change their lifestyles drastically, we should aim for strategies that are minimally invasive – such as biodegradable polythene bags, or electric trucks that are not very different from the previous products. This is very hard to achieve, no doubt, but I believe it is still a better approach than to waste valuable civilization-years preaching people about virtue. People do not change because they want to be good and to do good, they change when they understand the benefit of choosing the better option.

I believe that there’s no harm in introducing behavioral sciences as early as middle school. My argument is that since we are always interacting with other humans as individuals and are exploring our social and political identities from an early age, it would help us as a species if we taught our children to understand the core mechanisms which drive our species in everyday life. The reason I am writing this article is to highlight the multi-lateral nature of reality and how the study of behavior is key to addressing problems in a realistic and non-romanticized manner. We are so much distracted by all the short-term “activisms” that become viral on social media, we often forget to focus on the most effective strategies for solving our problems. We easily sway towards profound statements and emotional rhetoric which are amplified by the media, and we forget to study what the actual problems and their solutions are.

Positive change isn’t brought about solely by demonstrations and movements for a noble cause, it is also a result of chance and is determined by uncontrolled convergence of random events into favorable outcomes. The best way to ensure that change occurs across a large number of people quickly could be by putting more emphasis on the study, awareness, and application of behavioral economics. Because moral arguments may be enough to influence the most educated or aware elites of an area (try telling a poor Nepali villager during a festival that killing animals is morally reprehensible and see how he responds), but the elites sadly do not form the bulk of the population at any time in history, even if objectively their moral values may be more utilitarian.

It may sound authoritarian at first glance, but the reality is that we can attain a more fluid path towards progress if we can focus on modifying the behaviors of the average people – economics is always obsessed with the middle-class for a reason. And the best way to do so is by planning for better, localized economic incentives that can yield technologies and strategies which people find beneficial and voluntarily opt for – changing their behaviors and hence their moral values in due time.

Philosophy

On Buddhism and Suffering…

I think the fundamental idea of Buddhism, of desire being the main cause of suffering, is somewhat flawed. Although it surely is a massively influential idea which has branched off into different complex and esoteric forms over the course of time, fusing even with other schools of thought like Shintoism or Daoism, I still think it is somewhat insufficient in terms of foundational reasoning.

After all, Buddhism is, in reality, an idea that was derived from just an individual Human’s emotional epiphany about the universal phenomenon of human suffering. I guess this realization of Buddha’s has had much to do with the moral conflict any human with basic empathy skills experiences when they are removed from their comfort zones and put into a situation where they see people struggling to get by on a daily basis or to just survive. We can still witness such phenomenon in the form of tourists from industrialized rich countries getting emotionally affected enough to be motivated to start or donate to charity in order to help the people they see as being unfortunate or disadvantaged during the course of their travel to a developing nation, all relative to their own lives of relative comfort.

Now I’m not even going to entertain the argument that Buddha wasn’t a human but instead an enlightened being; because that line of thinking, I assume, is just an effort to shift the goalpost in order to distract the primary point of critique. If we assume Buddha as a human being, then he surely is subject to the universals of human nature, and when he is subject to these universals, he is surely subject to the cognitive biases that make us all liable for critique. In that sense, can we trust Buddha’s philosophy which was based on pure epiphany and introspection? Can we give any validation to Buddha’s idea of subjective truth encompassing all forms of objective truth? If the answer is yes to these questions, then I’ll have to disagree.

Such a phenomenon of individual humans being affected by the harsh nature of reality and its effect on human lives, and subsequently seeking isolation in order to meditate and introspect about the nature of reality is common. We can see numerous examples of such from history. Sages who sought for social meditative isolation was a common practice in ancient Indian subcontinent and has been documented in Hindu scriptures older than Buddhism itself. Perhaps after his epiphany of class differences between humans and the subjectively perceived unfair nature of life as a whole, Buddha was inspired by the same established trend to abandon what he deemed as ‘material possessions’ in order to seek isolation for subjective, explorative and meditative purposes. Realizations of class struggle, suffering and it’s uncanny nature is as old as humans have existed, we can say, and so I think we cannot just blame nor credit even Karl Marx for coming up with the idea of socialism, I guess he just organized it for his time. Unless we understand how we function as humans, pertinent to the laws of evolution and physics, I don’t think any human would be able to realize the biology nor the psychology of suffering in objective ways, for what they are – leading them into the endless metaphysical abyss of questioning the very idea of existence and suffering without any useful end in sight whatsoever.

Coming back to the initial thesis, my reasons for disagreement stems from the fact that Buddha’s notion about suffering is much too simplistic, if not obsolete. I can understand how later disciples of Buddhism have tried to work around this deficit and they should be given some credit, however, I think they still haven’t dealt much with the core idea of suffering coming from human desires. The trailing bias against human desire is all too apparent in most of their works. What this has come to imply today is the popular notion among followers that desire is immoral and thus to mitigate it as far as possible is a moral thing to do. Such a line of reasoning is in fact insufficient in explaining the causality of human suffering even in the most general sense. We could argue that suffering arises from our subjective expectations not meeting the seemingly unpredictable outcomes of reality, and there’s some truth to that; but what about the inevitable suffering brought forth by often uncontrollable factors such as disease or death, is that also a result of human desire or a certain concept of a deterministic yet reciprocal Karma? Mainstream Buddhism escapes this loophole by shifting the goalpost as it creates an unfalsifiable negative in the form of Karma, and thus most argument in favor of Buddha’s initial thesis circles around it in an endless loop. Perhaps Buddha and people who follow his line of reasoning are affected by the problem of failing to realize the nature of entropy or natural selection – what can go wrong will go wrong (as we may call it Murphy’s law); and that we are all subject to natural selection in spite of our protective civilizations – as a result of which our subjective expectations aren’t met and thus the perceived quality of suffering. I’m not discounting Buddha’s observation completely, despite of his realizations about suffering and desire being a derived from just a strong epiphany; it surely does bear some truth to it. However his conclusion of desire being the causative agent of suffering, I think, is flawed and that remains my main argument against the foundation of Buddhism. I guess we can help tackle that reasoning by asking a simple question – isn’t it also a kind of desire to get rid of desire itself?

What I understand is that nature is ruthless in a way that it has no bio-centric goal in anyway, let alone any anthropocentric ones. Nature is indifferent, so for me to call it ruthless is also my own anthropocentric projection and likewise would be my idea of suffering. If we are to understand the laws of physics and those of evolution, suffering is nothing but a neurological perception and its subsequent portrayal of the effects of entropy. Take away the nervous system, especially its ability to perceive pain or dissatisfaction or it’s ability to set and fulfill survival goals, and would there still be suffering of any kind? Would suffering still be an effect if there wasn’t an observer to experience it? Would plants suffer in the same way animals would? Despite it is apparent that the end adopted by Buddhism is in achieving Human well being, the means are pretty ambivalent as it falls into the risk of being open to interpretation, liable in being led into any motivated direction as any proponent could please. This is sure to happen and has happened (e.g. Ethnocentric Buddhist Monks in Myanmar using Buddhist scriptures to justify the violence against Rohingya Muslims) – Buddha’s ideas do not give us a sound and cogent means to achieve its desired end.

The problem that arises from Buddha’s line of thinking, at least in this century if not in the ones before it, is of an uninformed kind of moralistic pacifism – the kind of which we see in those projected by PETA activists around the world. An obscure idea of morality could lead to overly zealous people reside on a self-assumed moral high ground from which they knowingly or unknowingly think of others who do not agree with them as lesser people and thus act upon it, much to the detriment of well being itself. We can see a similar moralistic trend amongst people who vilify vaccines as opposed to holistic alternative care modalities such as homeopathy, naturopathy or tantric medicines, which haven’t been shown to have had any objective benefit on people for so long and instead may cause more harm – despite of assumed good intentions. A sort of a black-and-white mindset for envisioning reality ensues out of doctrines derived from those such as Buddha’s ambivalent ideas of moralistic pacifism and suffering. I’m not saying, in any way though, that such effects are all due to Buddhist values – all I’m trying to do is to draw a common ground between ambivalent moral ideas.

Another troubling aspect in this regard is of people’s zealous attachment to Buddhist ideas, devoid of any kind of critical reception. This, I think, remains a fundamental philosophical problem of the Indian subcontinent – to adhere to a doctrine of subjective preference with little regard to their rational significance. I understand that it is more important for some people to become morally right, or spiritually sound, as opposed to pursuing after a rational observation of their surroundings or any idea for that matter. But in the end, if our common philosophical goal is towards the well being of the Human race as a whole, shouldn’t it serve the same purpose better if we could train ourselves to see things for what they are as opposed to what we want them or assume them to be? This, I think, is a question we all have to ask ourselves and others around us at some point in our lives – all for the sake of promoting clarity of thought for the covetous end of Human well being.

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Image source: Buddhist Thangka Center Website
Neuroscience, Philosophy, Science, Technology

On Intelligence Paradox…

If you think about it for a while it may make sense. To explain our existence from an origin-perspective, the teleological argument (that we have a predetermined purpose for existence) soon turns out into a negative – an unfalsifiable idea. The idea of an intelligent creator or creators, whether be it a certain god or a computer programmer simulating us all, is subject to the same old circular reasoning as implied by the teleological argument. So even if personalities like Elon Musk have made it famous, for the “fascination” of many people, I am quite apatheistic in that regard. It’s an interesting thought experiment – but that’s it, until we have anything solid on this subject matter (we may never, to be fair to the negative). Abstract thinking is desirable, but perhaps we shouldn’t take anything that is abstract much too seriously than practically warranted.

Talking about purpose, this one idea I really like is that of the purpose of intelligence in general. And this is not a predetermined purpose as in the teleological sense, but rather a purpose that is in the making (or perhaps is already nascently existent). We know that complex or abstract systems can originate from simple physical or non-physical combinations (eg. John Conway’s ‘The Game of Life‘, language, ant or termite colonies, People in dancing flash mobs etc). Complex behavior can ensue from just a few simple arrangement of neurons (such as the enteric nervous system moving our guts independently and under influence from the autonomic nervous system, or take any arthropods or worms for that matter). So an organisation of neurons even more complex than that of nerves in our guts or in a cockroach, without doubt, is capable of generating virtually infinite permutations of complex behaviors (like when talking, generating written language, doing science and so on).

As contemporary philosophers and cognitive scientists have deduced for a while now, that it is us who assign a sense of purpose to anything objective or abstract, and not an external force; it can be speculated that the goal of any highly intelligent system such as ours could be directed towards the creation of at least some “purpose”. And such a system could be capable of improving upon itself as time progresses. A self-learning intelligent system becoming more complex with every input of information, to the point of being capable enough to assign abstract purposes to objects or subjects of concern.

As of now, the only intelligent system we know of, that can generate some set of purpose, is within ourselves. We have no other similar system to compare ourselves to yet – be it extraterrestrial or synthetic. So the idea of purpose being the end-product of an intelligent system – can be said to be at present, just hypothetical. We do not know whether the idea of being able to think in an abstract manner or to be able to recognize or assign purposes are just byproducts or offshoots of evolution on this planet, or whether such an algorithm, are but means to every intelligent end – to collect understandings (information) about the universe. It remains to be seen whether or not any synthetic intelligent systems which we design or intelligent systems which have evolved far away from us will have similar (if not the same) end – algorithm establishing purpose. Whether they are capable of thinking only in terms of objective raw data or whether they can, like us, be able to form abstract concepts like a sense of purpose – only time (or maybe serendipity) might tell.

It will be very likely that synthetic intelligent systems that we create in our proximity may mimic our thought modalities and try to serve similar (if not the same) purpose as our own; but we may not be able to proclaim the same for those from another planet. Will they have a communication modality such as language? Will they need language? What may be their world-views? Do they have a similar understanding of science and mathematics as we do? What are the ways they resemble or differ from us? Can they help us conclude that intelligent systems are a universal phenomena of animation, requiring only time, for them to be able to exist? Much remains to be discovered and answered – this much we know for certain. I’d like to call this concept, if I’m allowed, the Intelligence Paradox, in a sense that our idea of universal intelligence (or intelligent purpose) may be limited, mainly by our grounded and thus restricted perception of our own.

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Image: from an iteration of John Conway’s code – Game of Life 

 

Philosophy

On Stoicism

Just like many people, when I first heard of the word ‘stoic’, I looked it up and many dictionaries showed me definitions which sounded somewhat similar to what google gives you – a person who can endure pain or hardship without showing their feelings or complaining. The first character that came to my mind was Papa. He happens to be this hardened, seasoned, struggler, whom I’ve heard complaining on fewer occasions than the number of fingers on my hands. The second stoic in my mind was obviously Bhinaju, he’s endured many instances of pain, the likes of which most of us do not even know about, and yet he remains the same old composed, sociable, and caring Bhinaju for all of us like ever before. These are the two close men I’ve always looked up to in life. But sadly, I am nothing like them in anyway, so I don’t consider myself a stoic in that regard. I claim to be just the opposite, but this blog is not about me, nor does it deal with these two men – but rather about a philosophy that has been adopted, knowingly or unknowingly, by countless mentally strong men and women throughout human history.

I was first introduced to the idea of Stoicism in a very non-traditional way. There was this time I was watching an episode of ‘Gotham’, a FOX and DC television series based on the early life of Bruce Wayne and Jim Gordon – a sort of a prelude to DC’s Batman comics. The series turned out to be very superficial towards the end of the second season, but for its early episodes, it was more or less captivating. So in this one episode, young Bruce meets his company’s tech supervisor, Lucius Fox, to ask for clues about his father’s murder. Fox then explains by revealing that his father, Mr.Wayne, was a stoic and would never make careless decisions. Rest aside, the word ‘stoic’ had caught my attention. I then looked it up and was subsequently directed towards the philosophy of Stoicism itself.

For a few years then, I started casually learning about Stoic philosophy from others who knew more about it. There were numerous articles on the core tenets of Stoicism on The Atlantic and Aeon, I also devoured the Stoicism page on Wikipedia as much as my memory could retain, watched numerous video essays dealing with similar ideas, and I subscribed and listened to numerous podcasts which dealt on this topic on a regular basis – the most notable one being ‘Daily Stoic‘. However, I came to read Marcus Aurelius’s famous work on stoicism –  ‘Meditations’, fairly recently after being inspired into it by a very close friend of mine. It may seem as if I was obsessed, which is only partly true since I never seriously considered becoming a stoic myself. It’s not as easy as declaring myself into a certain doctrine, and stoicism, I have come to learn is not just about garnering the identity of this line of thought, but rather about practising it whenever you can. Don’t get me wrong, I still don’t consider myself a stoic, although it is one philosophy I have found to be practically useful for daily life – especially for acquiring useful insight for enduring the long and uncertain journey in my career.

When we first look into the philosophy, we may assume that it’s a strategy for hiding our emotions. I’m guilty on this regard as well, but the more I looked into the philosophy, the more I discovered that it’s not a very organized idea to be described in just one sentence. The word Stoic comes from Greek word ‘stoa’ which simply translates to ‘porch’ in English. This is because the first Stoic philosophers in Greece, like Zeno, preached and dictated their philosophies to pupils from the porch of their schools. The word stuck after the Hellenistic period, much later than the time of Zeno, even though the tradition vanished into the vastness of history. The problem with this terminology is that not one philosopher we know as a Stoic today, ever assumed that title for themselves in their teachings. For instance, Marcus Aurelius, the emperor towards the end of the old Roman empire, wrote Meditations as a diary for objective self reflection and to practise philosophy for just himself. He never really intended it to be spread through publications. Likewise, Zeno never really taught his pupils the philosophy of Stoicism, he just taught philosophy. Epictetus and the Roman Seneca, never really mentioned the term Stoicism in their writings or teachings – they all just called themselves philosophers practising philosophy.

What we today identify as Stoicism, is nothing but a set of practically useful philosophies, which many men in history have come to agree or elaborate upon. Individual stoics have ranged from emperors like Marcus, to slaves like Epictetus. They have been highly spiritual and pious, but they have also have been skeptics who doubted the gods of their times. They span across different times, religions, and cultures but the core tenets of their individual philosophies for approaching life remain strikingly similar. Ibn-sinha (aka Avicenna) and Rhazes, for instance, were physicians and philosophers of the Islamic golden age with keen interest in the Stoic philosophy. It could be said that some eastern philosophers like Lao Tzu, Confucius, Zen master Ikkyu Sojun or even the Hindu economist Chanakya were in some ways Stoics as many of their ideas on self-reflection and endurance resonated to those of the classical Stoics from the West. What’s even more interesting to note is that the reiterating themes of endurance and composure in the Stoic philosophies, could be said to have been simple empirical observations of these diverse group of people, pertinent to their time of existence.

Even some well-known critics of Stoicism, like Friedrich Nietzsche, have inadvertently adopted some aspects of the Stoic philosophy for themselves. It can be said that Nietzsche’s critique of Stoicism was borne out of an obvious lack of understanding, perhaps he assumed the Stoic philosophy of being a singular conformist attitude in favor of the Judeo-christian way of life he was so critical of. Perhaps he thought Stoicism was just about wearing a mask in public to suppress our emotions. But regardless, his ideas of Amor Fati (The love of one’s fate) and the purpose of his thought-experiment of Eternal Recurrence, are intimately tied, albeit unknowingly, to the core tenets of the Stoic way of life. Why this has happened is probably because Stoicism encompasses a set of observations made by people for the sole purpose of introspection, selective indifference and coping and for endurance – skills that are very useful and needed by all of us, regardless of gender, culture, race, or era. And since Human nature is too obviously universal, our philosophies in this way do tend to resonate across millenia. For instance, I’m almost certain that my Papa and Bhinaju had never even heard of Epictetus in their lives, but regardless, they still have more in common with the Greek man than Siddhartha Gautama himself.

Although many people can get their insights from other means such as Zen Buddhism, Sufi mysticism or even Hindu Vedic philosophies, most of us make the mistake of immediately identifying with the name of the first idea we come across. For example, we tend to readily identify as a ‘Buddhist’, even if Buddha himself may never have intended the same for himself or his disciples. This approach, I think is quite hasty, and similarly it may also be wrong to call ourselves ‘Stoics’ just because we like many aspects of this philosophy. However, what has drawn me towards Stoicism is it’s immensely useful practicality rooted in the basic rules of Human nature. In short, Stoicism is perhaps one line of thought that never really goes against human psychology, all the while being a useful tool for improving it. It teaches us to see ourselves and other humans as phenomena, like how we observe rocks or other animals. One recurring idea in Stoicism is to not complain about the rain – not because we shouldn’t but because we should identify the futility of the complaint as we cannot do anything about it.

Marcus Aurelius specifically found it useful to read people, and he did that by seeing them as facts of nature, even through their emotional outbursts – all so he could deal with people in the way they wanted and could also empathise with them or avoid them when needed. Stoic ideas have less to do with suppressing our emotions, than with acknowledging them so in the end we become less affected by our own as well as those of others. Basic common sense. In this way Stoic philosophers have talked about many different areas concerning human life, from relationships with others, and proper use of power, to perseverance and curiosity. Contrary to the popular criticism that Stoicism makes us suppress our feelings and emotions, it instead encourages us to channel it safely to where it’s worth, thus removing the need for us to suppress our emotions in the first place. Obviously, my take on Stoicism is limited in this particular article. Perhaps I’ll talk more on the details of the Stoic philosophy in a later sequel to this blog, but I can’t stress enough on how important the findings of Stoic philosophers can prove to be for us all.

A topic for a later day, I’m also intrigued about how Stoic ideas have been supported in many ways by the current findings of present day cognitive and evolutionary psychology. For example, an empirical psychological therapy known as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT (a kind of psychotherapy) has proven to be effective for addressing numerous mental conditions and personality disorders in the clinic. CBT teaches us to envision ourselves objectively, to reflect on our past actions, and to see our emotions in action and exactly how we are affected by other people and how we react to them. It gives us insight to improve upon our mental resilience – much like the core ideas in Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations and the rest of Stoicism. Perhaps this is how Nelson Mandela, who was a self-admitted follower of Marcus’ notes, endured his stressful 27 years in prison. And much like him, I think it is about time we all gave Stoic ideas a try, even if we can do that just once.

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Marcus Aurelius

 

 

 

 

 

Philosophy

On Romanticism

This article won’t be about the cultural relevance, history nor critique of Valentine’s day. For that you may need to go somewhere else. Instead, I want to talk about the spirit behind what makes the 14th of February so popular, and how, over the years it has come to be synonymous with an icon of something very interesting in human philosophy – Romanticism. This article will talk about it particularly in the context of human relationships.

Romanticism, as we know in mainstream philosophy, originated as a collective movement in what we identify as the Romance period, immediately following the Enlightenment era. In this period, a great number of artists, writers, playwrights and poets started emphasizing more on the value of individualism, virtue of pursuing our unleashed emotions and the primacy of subjectivity and aesthetics. Some scholars and historians speculate that this trend arose out of being somewhat frustrated with the then prevalent hardcore emphasis on Rationality, which the preceding era of thinkers had brought forth. Others opine that the Romantic thinkers and artists spoke largely against what was the norm in their society – rigid social rules and traditionally approved relationships commissioned by arranged marriages. It was their commonsense perspective that such arrangements were more like business agreements than union of human beings, each otherwise individually capable of expressing emotions and living through their own sets of imaginations. Thus commenced a series of countless reveries, stories and poems rebelling against the then status-quo of a hardhearted society that invited unforgiving consequences for any who dared to defy the norms. This is one reason why tragedy is such a recurring theme in any Romantic novel or drama, even to this day.

Rediscovery after rediscovery of Romantic virtues by many generations and cultures of people thereafter, made the theme a rather popular one among even the lay folk, let alone the nobility or aristocracy. Tragedy as a genre was (and still is) easier to grasp and had far greater entertainment value compared to art that dealt with other aspects of the human condition. It was, more importantly, relatable to anyone. Because people in general have the ability to fantasize about great stories of love, passion or courage complicated by unforeseen obstacles that leave the concerned individuals with only a few choices to overcome them – which could often times result in failure or even death. Much like in life, but somewhat exaggerated of course.

Romantic art forms often show us that what seems so achievable to us in near sight, can prove to become a gargantuan feat to accomplish – be it a love affair across the classes, enemy lines or taboo. These were able to spark deep emotions within readers or viewers in every generation and leave them in the end to freely interpret the experience in their own subjective ways. Romantic stories demanded readers or viewers to use less of their rational brains and instead to delve into a purely emotional experience. And Romantic themes could always be molded into different keys of social issues, which made them a timeless form of art and entertainment. Portrayals of near-impossible longings or courting of people being hindered by social restrictions or other random events can easily be accepted by people of any generation; as it’s only our human nature to be able to envision ourselves in a position of constant struggle which the characters in such stories are seen enduring. But an important yet often overlooked tenet of the Romantic movement was to bring about the feeling of empathy in people, and I personally think this is the most valuable aspect of all. For this reason, many people today who enjoy any form of art or literature, new or old, are in some ways Romantics themselves. Even if not in terms of human relationships, perhaps for some other vision which they have created for themselves, for example the virtues of Heroism and courage we can find in superhero comics or movies (But this is beyond the scope of this article today).

Where Romanticism may have done unintended damage in the modern era could be said to be in our individual psychologies and possibly even on our mental health. Influenced by generations upon generations of epic romantic stories of people going out of their way to please the ones they wish to court, I think many people have, at least in some sense, lost track of what the ethos of the romantic movement really was about. The core idea of Romanticism lies in the appreciation of our emotions, struggles and sufferings as human beings and their subjective or aesthetic portrayals, along with an emphasis on the value of empathy. Romanticism isn’t just about being extravagant in terms of action or finance for courtship purposes. It also isn’t about falling into self-justified emotional turmoil at the near-chance of failure in that regard. It’s also not just about relationship idealism, like the myth of finding the “perfect one”; although nowadays it’s a catchy theme for drawing out audiences to buy novels or to fill out movie theaters.

But unlike back in the 16th century, I think people today have a wide variety of philosophical as well as entertainment options from which they can choose – thanks to the internet of things and the technologies that we possess. If used cautiously and with direction, it could lead us into channels that could actually improve our skills or insight when it comes to dealing with people. Romantic ideals such as zealous emotions, if taken lightly in the form of subtle and harmless entertainment, could instead have positive effects. It could win us the admiration of those we love and perhaps even more people could be attracted to us for they could perceive us as being jovial or simply ‘fun’ to hang out with. I have to admit that this is a position I have come to conclude after much thinking over the years; when before, I used to shun Romantic ideals altogether. I used to call myself an anti-romantic, which was a radical position to take as I realize now in retrospect. I understand today, that if taken lightheartedly, it could help us attain psychological soundness or perhaps even help revive a sense of optimism in mildly straining relationships. The goal, it seems, is to not stick to the either extremes of this ideal. Most importantly, the Romantic philosophy’s insistence on the human quality of empathy has lead me to personally stress on it’s importance more than ever.

While some elements of Romanticism may be relevant for purposes of attracting mates or partners, other elements may foster in us undesired feelings of insufficiency or inadequacy. If not carefully understood or examined, Romantic ideals could instead lead us to fabricate this alternate reality where perfection actually exists, forgetting about the values of empathy which it teaches us, and in the end – to suffer the consequences of our bloated expectations not meeting the harsh nature of a somewhat frugal reality. This could then lead us into a slippery slope of emotional turmoil, full of unstable relationships, vindictiveness and hostilities – which may in effect package us into a kind of negative outlook or attitude for life. I think, if we are not vigilant, Romantic idealism can skew our perception of actual human psychology and human relationships, all towards certain detrimental effects.

Even in clinical psychology, we see this effect of exaggerated Romanticism in the form of what professionals call Borderline personality disorder or a similar one known as Histrionic personality disorder. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not claiming an absolute causation pattern, just a linked observation. There’s evidence which suggest that other factors such as genes, development inside our mother’s womb and trauma experienced during childhood may play much significant roles for the same. But what can be said with certainty, is that based on our personality types and our sensitivities, we should probably weigh our abilities to grasp important lessons from Romantic stories or art. If we see ourselves either overtly attached or overtly detached, then perhaps an objective study of the Romantic philosophy could do us good. But this just remains my speculation at this moment.

And in this way, the 14th of February, is tied intimately (even if in a historically distorted way) as we all know, to the essence of the Romance era. It already is a global event, regardless of some pockets of local resistance it suffers in some places around the world  (which is kind of expected since it is basic human nature to be defensive at the advent of a newfangled cultural idea). And because of that, we should use it’s inevitably increasing popularity to spread awareness about especially the practical lessons of the Romantic spirit which it comes attached with, not just the superficial and oftentimes immature kind of materialism which we can witness today. And I think, as in any other philosophy, sticking to one extreme will not do our lives much justice. In my opinion, any human philosophy, if observed objectively, can give us much needed practical tools to better our lives and thus our general well-being, while simultaneously helping us identify with clarity, the negative aspects which may not be so useful in our everyday lives.

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Art: Anonymous
Mental Health, Neuroscience, Philosophy, Psychology

On Meditation…

Upon reading the title of this article, you may be imagining a serene and tranquil environment where calm-appearing people clad in white apparel are seated with their legs crossed and backs straight on a mat, while gently breathing in and then out in synchrony. This is also exactly what may come into your minds every other time you hear the word ‘meditation’ and you are partly correct – this is one form of it, not really the sole definition. But that’s just half the story.

The term itself is probably one of the few positive sounding words out there in our everyday lingo. When people tell you that they meditate, you may automatically assume that they may be doing something constructive and healthy. To be fair, that is what it actually is, most of the time for many people – meditation is a positive thing to do.

But what concerns me is the apparent skewed understanding of this mental exercise, tipping mostly towards the narrative set by the rapidly growing wellness industry. And seeing how things work in the global economy, such a skew is oftentimes an expected affair. We often assume that the practice of meditation is something extra-corporeal and so we tend to see it through this presupposed net of airy mysticism. Now I’m not trying to belittle people’s perception of this art form through this blog, as I’m fully aware that attaching such mystic themes may sometimes be helpful to the some people who want that. What I’m trying to reveal is a well-known yet widely understated fact – meditation is a purely down-to-earth affair and there’s nothing magical about it. But this also doesn’t mean that we’ve fully understood it’s neurological significance and workings.

Subjective perceptions apart, let’s come to the interesting part. First and foremost, let’s talk about what exactly meditation means, regardless of the various forms. What does it mean to meditate? What are the common grounds between the various choices -contemporary or ancient?

Above all, one thing is fairly certain and is agreed upon by people from all sectors concerned: meditation is about attaining deep focus and psychological equilibrium. We do not know how exactly this is achieved, but evidence is mounting that it has mostly to do with our biological brains. It’s hypothesized that since every form of meditation somewhat deals with focusing on the fewest possible things for the longest possible time, and on diverting our conscious awareness to reflect upon our thoughts, personalities and behaviors – it may help strengthen our ability to better understand ourselves and thus others. What I assume on a personal level, being fully aware that I may be mistaken, is that training to meditate may actually help us train this area of the brain known as the prefrontal cortex. Perhaps the mechanism could be explained by more neural connections being formed in this region, or maybe by the strengthening of existing ones (or maybe even both). I’m not throwing out airy assumptions, just making some educated speculation based on the basics of neuroscience. But people who know better than me are conducting research into this and it may be better to look them up instead for more information.

Making at least this much clear, I’d like to move on to what the various forms of meditation can be. We usually assume that meditations have mostly to do with ancient eastern philosophies such as Buddhism or Hinduism, owing to their popularity. But as I’ve said before, this is a human practice (or should I say art form) and much like how human nature is universal, meditation is too. To put this into perspective for instance, we can’t rightly say that the art form of painting is a western construct can we? So the same argument applies for meditation.

History has documented many instances of human cultures that have come up with their own forms of meditation. From Epicurean subsistence communes in antiquity Greece and Vipasana or Yoga in ancient India, to Christian Monasteries of medieval Europe and Sufi dance schools during the Mughal era. These are all forms of meditation established by different human cultures, independently or under influence.

But what many of us may not grasp is the fact that it doesn’t always have to be limited to a certain ancient discipline or spiritual schools of thought. Any hobby of your liking that you pursue solely for your own pleasure can prove to be an equally effective form of meditation. Painting, composing music, playing musical instruments, writing stories, trekking or hiking, sports, photography, exercise, dance or martial art, you name it. These being the intuitive ones, other less intuitive and unconventional forms of meditations could be even found in computer programming, digital art, video gaming, or for some, maybe even You-tubing. Any act that involves deep focus and is enjoyable especially for ourselves in one way or the other could be said to be a form of meditation. And I assume even in this direction, my earlier thesis – of meditative actions strengthening our prefrontal cortex and thus helping us focus more efficiently – stands. Of course, the common sense notion of moderation being key will still apply.

It will be interesting to see what actual science will tell us in the coming years, since research into meditative practices such as basic mindfulness is currently ongoing. Where I do have some doubts about them, they may lie in the fact of such practices having mostly subjective outcomes through the individuals being tested – which makes it very hard for any known scientific method to empirically document the effects. But as newer brain imaging and electroencephalographic modalities are being developed as I write, it may only be a matter of time before we start uncovering the enigma associated with meditative practices and their widely stated benefits on our brains. The only thing to look out for then, I assume, would be for people’s range of acceptance of the hard facts.

Featured Image: JJ Studios Designer Abstract Painting

Philosophy, Psychology

On Fame

We all secretly covet a life of fame and fortune, we all want people to appreciate our work or talent, we all want to be known or recognized by history. This is true for everybody, including me and you.

But how many of us actually end up getting all of this in life? Only a very few. If we somehow do, how many of us are remembered by history? Even fewer.

One great reiterating theme in Stoicism and Buddhism is about recognizing our desire for fame. It may not always be a good idea to suppress it, say the many stoic philosophers especially, but we also need to soak in the hard fact that not many of us will make it – in this way, our expectations do not run amok from realistic odds.

This is not saying you shouldn’t dream big. You should always try and strive for greater things, but without being blinded by the fruits of the end, while also keeping in mind the thorns the means can come with.

There were many great noblemen, poets, playwrights of their time and region. Some are known and may seem evergreen to us, but what happened to the then-great ones whom we haven’t ever heard of today? We remember some of them, but we forget most of them. For every person who knows William Shakespeare, there maybe someone in a rural village in India who doesn’t. What happened to the legacy of many Princes, Lords, or Barons of old who built forts and carved out statues in their honor? Looking closer to our home, Bir Shumsher established the first hospital in the country and named it ‘Bir Hospital’ in his honor, but how many of us even think of him when paying the resident doctor a visit? Maybe only few. The point of this is to say that human legacies are always transient, no matter their scale; it’s only a matter of time before they’re forgotten, and this is why it seems so futile to only be motivated by it.

And we can see this natural human desire for fame and recognition with greater frequency today. It’s only because we have become more in number, less poorer and more idle relative to history, with easily accessible technologies that have the potential to shoot us up into fame overnight for even a silly video we make in the bathroom. We know this as ‘going viral’, of course. And many use the quick fame to their advantage – to promote a cause or to speak out against injustices; many don’t and may even perish eventually. Some are even destroyed by the covetousness of fame or their brief stints of popularity – because they think this is what they were ‘meant to do’ and were somehow denied.

Enduring the other side of success without being complacent is a core philosophical argument of many Stoics like Marcus Aurelius and Seneca. Most highlight that the first step for doing so is to accept the greater possibility of failure. It also helps us if we understand the fact that no matter what we may do, we will always be on the lookout for fame, unless we belong with those rare personality types who are not; we need to recognize this quality in our nature, sincerely, without denial. When we are able to achieve this mindset, we may then focus our energy or effort into what matters to us the most or into what we are good at.

Desiring success or fame is like rolling a die: you should always be on the lookout for a number face of your liking, but also be aware that five out of six times you won’t be seeing it. But just because of the unlikely odds, you also shouldn’t stop rolling the die altogether. If we fail to be recognized for the work that we love, we will at least be fulfilled with the mere fact that we’re doing a labor of love for ourselves. And if, on the off-chance that we become famous for it, we should consider ourselves lucky, without forgetting about the odds that brought us here.

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Padma Shumsher Jung Bahadur Rana. How many of you thought this was Bir Shumsher on the Thumbnail after reading the 5th paragraph?

 

 

Ethics, Philosophy

On Ethical Living in Nepal

The problem with trying to live an ethical life in Nepal is that you mostly won’t get help from the very people who are supposed to be close to you. Some common issues in this regard might be: superstitions, sexist taboo (eg. menstrual taboo), household child labor, corruption, cult followings, racism, ethnocentrism, xenophobia, homophobia, trans-phobia, forced marriages, fornication, casteism, gotra-pratha, criminal justice, corporal punishments in schools, tax frauds and the like.

If you think something is wrong, at least some of your family, friends or relatives will be likely to commit it themselves at some point. If you think that something shouldn’t happen, the people around you wont let you live by it without you seeming like a hypocrite. Because the social structure in Nepal is ultra-cohesive (unlike the individualistic structure of industrialized nations), one simply can’t escape the society in order to fight it. They’ll be ostracized beyond recovery, making it difficult for individuals to bring about positive changes. The cohesive and intrusive social structure may be good for things like coping in difficult times, where people will by default come to help you, but if you see that some social practices are archaic or unethical and try to argue against it, you can’t escape them for the fear of being left alone.

Many will propose to abandon them, sometimes a good measure for most. But it’s not always possible for everyone to take that road. We are social beings, and we all need a niche in the society to function well.

I don’t know what the solution is for overcoming this, but one clear way is to change yourself and seek independence from the people who are close to you. This doesn’t mean we should abandon them, just that we stop depending on them for finances if we do, without necessarily disrespecting them. Financial freedom gives you a sense of control and power over your life and you can start living as ethically as possible. If the people around you can be changed – go for it, this is the best method. However, if they are resistant to change – you start changing things starting from your life and your own progeny.

I think in every society, progress starts from progressive individuals who will someday make up a progressive collective.

Personal Opinion, Philosophy, Psychology

On Happiness

Happiness, in my opinion, is overrated. I’m not even sure whether it is a real thing. Since life is a continuous process of struggle until the end, it doesn’t make sense when it’s possible, if at all, to reach this state of ultimate emotional equilibrium we call happiness.

Asking “how can I be happy?” is, in my opinion, asking the wrong question. We have no choice but to anticipate and tackle all the painful moments in our lives; we have to expect disappointments, betrayals, sadness, death of loved ones, illnesses and trauma we can get affected by and so on. If tackling is not possible, we may even need to accept them, much like we have to accept death at some point. This much is certain, and we all know it pretty well that we cannot avoid them.

We can’t be “happy” in the romantic sense, as often portrayed by numerous motivational speakers, life coaches or “Gurus”. Most of them present the concept as a holy grail that every one of us should always covet. I have now come to realize that all this is bogus.

This is much like the fact that we cannot realistically establish a social utopia: twentieth-century romantic nationalist or communist or even “democratic” endeavors which tried to do so, failed miserably – at the cost of many human lives. Similarly, in my opinion, romantic conceptions of happiness as portrayed in many popular books, novels, music and movies have skewed our ideas for living a realistic life and have in the process, ruined many individuals, families and relationships. We are told to imagine and pursue a certain arbitrary end called “happiness”, which in fact is always out of our grasp the more we reach out for it. And reality not meeting our idealistic expectations, stresses us out – many a times to the detriment of our fragile mental health. Pursuing happiness perverts our outlook on life, as we look at other people’s momentary satisfactions as being “happy” relative to our momentary dissatisfactions which we deem as being  “unhappy”. This much is not so hard to understand if we think deeply.

Learning to cope with life, recognizing aspects of life that are important for us in the long run (like family and friends), and engaging in activities or hobbies that demand, but not exhaust, our enthusiasm (doing what you enjoy doing persistently without regret), are some of the means to reduce existential stress or anxiety. But again, at the back of our minds, we do need to be ready for the possible unpleasant moments of pain, failure, dissatisfactions – which even these coping strategies may occasionally bring forth.

Being realistic, is to accept the imperfections that mandatorily come attached with existence and to ceaselessly struggle against them – much like Sisyphus against the boulder uphill. Being idealistic is to try to escape from them irresponsibly, by imagining unrealistic targets such as a state of happiness or utopia. By educating ourselves about human nature and to be both emotionally and rationally intelligent – can boost our ability to cope. Now we just need to repeat this process ad infinitum. And all this while, we should completely forget about ultimate happiness. Because the more we think about ultimate happiness, the more we become unhappy at proximity. This is also one core principle of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) sessions provided by clinical psychologists, which is very helpful in reinforcing coping abilities in troubled people.

And that’s the red pill – we need to learn to cope, not to be happy.

Egalitarianism, Philosophy, Technology

On Freeing up Time

(A 21st century add-on to Bertrand Russell’s famous essay ‘On Idleness’)

I read Bertrand Russell’s famous philosophical paper “On Idleness” and was taken aback by the man’s prescience and insight. None of which would have come without his impressive clarity of thought. He made a compelling and everlasting case for working less and living life more. The core thesis of the paper being: we need to work less, in order to amplify the subjective “meaning” as well as the objective “quality” of all our lives – without actually being complacent. He argues that work has been historically declared as a virtue mostly by the ruling few, because they seemed to have enjoyed their idleness, gifted to them by their privilege or birthright. Those who didn’t work were vilified and those who worked were hailed as important units of society – just so that the status quo could be maintained to continue the means of production.

Back in the day (and even now to some extent) only few people enjoyed the fruits of the work done by the many – money and hence plenty of time for hobbies. Time to create as well as enjoy music, literature, art; or to document history, to form philosophies, to be able to learn about science and enjoy the luxury of cutting edge technology first hand and so on. See for yourselves – Mozart, Beethoven, Descartes, Montaigne – all enjoyed some sort of privilege that allowed them to be talented and creative maestros in their respective fields (them having lived before or during the first wave of industrialization). After the first wave of industrialization had took hold – we could see plenty of scholars and artists who rose from being sons of the working men to becoming significant intellectuals and underdog artists or virtuosos. Fast forward to today – majority of the world’s top billionaires did not inherit their wealth, but rather created them by capitalising on their newfangled ideas. Although Russell’s initial paragraphs have a Marxist overtone, he doesn’t at all make the case for overthrowing the ruling class and taking charge of the means of production – his take is more empirical than Marx’s purely ideological one.

He argues (in early 20th century) that since the industrial revolution had allowed many to move from farms and live in the cities and work in factories, they may not have had more time to enjoy than the owners of the factories, but nonetheless they still had more time to enjoy life than the farmers and peasants of old or from the countryside. Factory-workers could enjoy some days off their work without having to worry about starving their children relative to the farmers of those days – who had to constantly ponder about the success of their unstable crops for survival. People could buy ready-made products directly from shops and didn’t have to waste time to make them on their own. They could divert the time spent knitting to more productive works like reading books or pursuing hobbies or going to a picnic. Russell argues in this way, how new technology will enable even the common people to better enjoy their lives by giving everyone some free time than their forebears. And this, he argues, was a continuous process which would better itself so long as progress wasn’t to be halted by destructive wars or calamities. He makes a utilitarian case for progress and the benefits technology can provide the human race as a whole.

Today we can realize, with the advent of the information age and possibly the new industrial revolution – the age of Artificial Intelligence and machine learning – that Russel couldn’t have been more correct! The talk of the globe today is about such self-thinking machines taking away jobs and people being unemployed and thus possibly miserable. This mindset, I believe, comes from the same old practice of establishing work (by which I mean mundane drudgery) as a virtue in itself. Much work people do today is those that they do not like. The very reason we make employees compete for “employee of the month” is to try and boost their mindless productivity (banal things like who processed the most accounts and which salesman sold the most number of toilet cleaners and so on). Much of the stress and dissatisfaction with life today comes from the fact that many are not satisfied by their work. They have to work for others, they have to work in times unsuitable for their wishes, they have to disregard the wellbeing of their spouse or children, they have to sacrifice their desire to learn new skills, and if they need to take a time of for their health – the inevitable fear of losing their jobs. Blue, white or red – all ‘collar’ work are done to serve a pre-supposed greater “purpose”. Mindless and uncreative work have become such an integral part of our lives for millennia since the agricultural revolution, that we even have plenty of well known adage such as “Be the first in the field and last to the couch” or “Diligence is the mother of good luck” or “A cat with gloves, catches no mice” and so on.

When the prospects of machines taking over jobs comes up everytime, widespread existential anxieties ensue. People think about their future, or the future of their kids – because that is a basic human common ground that should be guaranteed to everyone in modern civilization. And agreeing with Russell, I do think people should be compensated – just to be idle. I’m vouching for the Universal Basic Income or some kind of social guarantee of survival as ends, whatever the means. Because as efficient and self-learning machines take up much of our mindless jobs – we will probably have more time to enjoy our lives. There might be a concern about complacency, but that can be dispelled by tracing facts from history. More common people today enjoy the luxury of travel, good food, art, music, entertainment, multiple hobbies than ever before. What was something only aristocrats would’ve dreamt of before, is accessible to the common “peasants” of today. And the more prosperous a nation – more idle time their citizens can enjoy. A simple scanning of the facts is enough to support this claim. And the trend is only growing. Rich countries divert their sweatshops to poorer ones because of cheap labor. Citizens in prosperous countries enjoy clothes sewn by Bangladeshi workers and gadgets assembled by an ex-farmer in Shenzhen, China. People in places like Japan, France, Britain and the United States can enjoy more time in their lives because some people are trying to make ends meet in poorer countries.

This is where Russell’s argument in favor of technology is so important and ageless. This wave of industrial revolution that we are facing today, is for the very people living in places like China, India, and Bangladesh – so that they, just like the people that they work for – can enjoy the globalized world in their own time. But of course, if everyone is idle when machines take over everything, who is to pay for the people? That is indeed a black-and-white way to look at things. As much as new technologies will take away traditional jobs, they will be creating more than we can imagine. Much of those jobs will be less mindless and require more of our cognition than physical labor. And in terms of cognition – those requiring more divergent intellect from our part than convergent. In short: we will be paid for being more creative than for being repetitive. We will be paid for our ideas, for our art, for music. We are already seeing some effects – independent “Youtubers”, social media “influencers”, spotify “artists” and so on. These are the initial cohort of people who have already entered the “new market” of self-employment. They are generating revenues in such a way that even indices such as GDP or GNP cannot properly account for. People are establishing startups backed by new and innovative ideas – which require more people for their creativity than for their drudgery – the latter being done entirely by machines. Boring jobs like sweeping toilets, cleaning the subway tracks, building houses or cleaning the dog-poop – all will be taken over by machines – and it is ever more likely now to envision such a future than in Russell’s time. It’s only a matter of time.

And just as Russell argued for safety-nets back in his time, contemporary people have argued for likewise – in the form of Universal Basic Income. We have to acknowledge that not everyone will be divergent enough to be able to feed themselves through creative works, so we need a safety-net. What if prosperous governments (or organizations or conglomerates, whatever be the means) provided free basic annual income to everyone, unconditionally – so that they can get all the basic necessities for basic living? It is shown through many research done by economists and mathematicians, that if people do not have to think about survival every now and then – they tend to be more productive if not creative. Just compare Sweden and Somalia to get a perspective. Some people may become complacent or spend it on drugs or useless things, but most would still choose to work – to add meaning to their lives. And their only purpose for working would be to meet their surplus needs and not basic ones which are already guaranteed. They will thus be able to enjoy more of their time in that regard, spend more time with their children, contribute more to the family or community, can be freer to fight for causes they believe in and be more politically aware and active. Best of all – the more idle people become, basic needs guaranteed, the more they will choose to educate themselves or opt for skills-trainings – enough to improve the quality of their lives and perhaps even thought.

Experiments on UBI are being conducted across various regions in Scandinavia or Canada (and perhaps even India in the near future), and the results are being awaited as I write this essay. So it may be some time before this can be agreed upon by the global community. But this much is sure, if not the UBI, then maybe some other idea for a safety-net, because that will surely come into demand, no matter the size of the opposition. Because history has shown us that weaker ideas have always failed before utilitarian ones, when economics of progress is in the driving seat. If such ideas become successful then perhaps we might as well need to modify proverbs such as “Give a man a fish, you’ll feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, you’ll feed him for a lifetime.” to “Give a man a fish every year, and he may teach himself to fish, or if not – may give you a beautiful painting for your living room.”  

Many people around the world today get angry at Indian or Chinese tourists because of their seemingly bad manners (some may even consider Europeans ill-mannered in some parts of the world – they wipe their bottoms with just paper!), but I wish to not moralize on proper methods of tourism myself. I’m rather delighted with the fact that there are Indian and Chinese people spending their free time and surplus money – touring the world! Because remember, that just about a decade ago, even using the terms “Chinese Tourists” or “Indian Tourists” would have been considered a joke!

And owing Russell a big thanks for his clear vision of human necessities and of the future, I’d like to end with an important saying I heard a random anonymous engineer give out in a random documentary about progress – “Technology is the answer, so what’s the question?”. To that I may as well want to add “Technology and cooperation is the answer, so what’s the question?”