Rationalism

Your moral outrage explained by science….

Neurological Beings

The filter fiasco

The reason I decided to write this article is in lieu of what I like to call the recent ‘catastrophe of offense’ that embraced the Nepali internet community. What was objectively a simple, innocent and a creative gesture, was marred by a hailstorm of outrage and disapproval. Aayush Shrestha, a Nepali comedian, and an entrepreneur created a ‘Kumari filter’ on Instagram – for interested people to use it on their selfies or other pictures and showcase it to their friends. Many enjoyed it, but many were offended to such an extent that they even threatened him of harm – so much that he had to take the filter off the platform.

Kumari is an old continuing Newa tradition of appointing a pre-menstrual virgin girl from a specific part of the Newa community as a ‘living goddess’. Some historians say that the tradition was established by the Malla…

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Rationalism

A student’s encounter.

Students are still beaten in Nepali schools……

sanoprakashclassroom

So, turns out I was not the only one who was enraged and wrote something about the day (read here).

What follows next is what a student felt and wrote after those dreadful early minutes of a school day.

Today, 28th of November 2018, after I arrived at school, at around 10:00 we were announced that we would have an assembly. I along with my class joined the assembly where other fellow students had already settled. We did our morning prayer as usual and the vice-principal of our school spoke few words to the teachers in a little aggressive and high pitch.

He told the teachers to strictly check their students if they were in proper uniform or not. He even said that it was teachers’ fault that we were not obeying them and teachers are to be strict instead of being friendly with us.

At the same time…

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Personal Opinion, Rationalism, Technology

Aid our faulty memories!

Another common problem in the Nepali medical work-space: we rely too much on our memories.
 
Our memories are faulty. We live in the age of information surplus and not in the time of William Osler or Edward Jenner. And it is completely natural to forget the massive amount of information we collect, and people shouldn’t be shamed or tested purely on failure of recall.
 
Human memory wasn’t designed to handle so much information all at once. Our brains can only store memories if they are linked to something personal, relatable or frightening. This is where mnemonics come handy when memorizing facts or concepts. But that isn’t always possible for everything in practice. Compared to most developed nations, we rely too much on memory to the point of regressive test standards and burnout.
What is important is to actually understand what charts, criteria, protocol, scores are useful for. It serves no practical purpose to memorize those charts and tables which can today be promptly accessible on procedure room walls, tablet devices or smart phones. For instance, what’s the point of memorizing scoring tables for diagnosing Lupus, if we can easily look it up on a cell phone at bed side? Sure, having a better memory will boost one’s career and will maybe be helpful in busy situations. But such individuals are outliers, and not every medical professional are blessed with super-human memory. We need to think in terms of the average medical professional. Faulty memory is also a major contributor towards medical errors which can cost actual patient lives! Even the brilliant prodigies who become great doctors or successful nurses can forget – as they too are humans!
 
We never think in terms of ‘lives saved’, or ‘mishaps prevented’ or ‘errors avoided’ in Nepal. We seldom think as a group. We only think in terms of individual success. Maybe this has to do with our poorly regulated standards and indifferent medical professional bodies. And why not? Most research work done out here is to fulfill a certain criteria for individual promotion or raise and rarely to solve actual problems. Even if research has been done with genuine intention, their findings are just shoved aside as “just another study” by those in power. Some institutions like PAHS in Patan are trying to change this dependency on human memory, but PAHS is just one institute in one part of one district! We could learn from them, but we perhaps emphasize our professional ego too much to progress. 
 
Computers obviously have a better, faster, and more accurate memory storage and recollection system. They are here to aid us, to potentiate our faulty memories, so we can instead dedicate more energy in conceptualizing and problem-solving in real time. Using smart devices at bed-side isn’t a sign of our incompetence, it’s a sign of progress if it helps us to prevent errors due to our primitive organic memories. Given that we could standardize their use at bed-side (like institute-dependent apps or webpages), I can confidently say that they will surely prove to be a great boon (and a massive relief for nurses, residents and medical students) for the field as a whole. 
But who’s going to take me seriously, I’m just a random blogger.
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Personal Opinion, Rationalism

Did you know?

All these people who complain about ‘white privilege’ and ‘white exceptionalism’ definitely have credit where it’s due.

But sometimes they take it too far to the point of falsely justifying their cultural inferiority complex, that likens their argument to those of religious fanatics (Us against them sort of mindset). That white people are bad and should be always guilty for what their grandparents or ancestors did; and everyone else is a victim of their white prejudice.

Arguing from a ‘victim’ mindset could be detrimental to the legitimate argument they actually may be presenting, because in such a state, it degrades their argument just to the level of white people-bashing and nothing else. It’s one thing to learn from the ill aspects of history, and wholly another be stuck at one point of it.

It helps to not polarise your thinking and knowledge if you can understand about perspectives across the world. Did these people know that the Japanese people, isolated from the rest of the continent, used to be as entitled as the British Colonizers? There still are politically powerful ‘Japanese exceptionalists’ lobbying against immigration in the state and to strengthen Japanese influence in the region. The imperial government of Japan tried to expand its dominion all over East Asia and the Pacific at one time. There was a time United States didn’t like to interfere in global affairs, before the great war. It’s all about power. A dominant culture of one time tries to encroach upon others. Indians would if they had a chance. The Nepalese would if they had it themselves. Not implying moral indifference, just asserting an observed phenomenon. Not everything has to do with race.

And if you look at history from a bird’s-eye-view, then it all makes sense. That is why I respect intellectuals and personalities who try to present a non-narrative-driven, unbiased picture of reality instead of the opposite kind who have a particular agenda at hand and confidently argue just to defend it, even when they are wrong.

In simpler words, this is why I respect outlets such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall-street Journal, BBC, Aeon, Atlantic and Reuters (nowadays, even Wikipedia news) more than CNN, FOX news, MSNBC, Vice, Vox or the notorious Huffington post.

Egalitarianism, Personal Opinion, Philosophy, Rationalism, Secular Humanism

“But it’s their culture!”

As a Humanist, I believe ethics and morality should be consequential. To be judged by the outcome of collective human actions rather than from a virtuous standing.

So certainly preserving a particular faith, cultural, ritual or political practice in place of reason, freedom of speech and fundamental human rights seems very inconsequential.

This isn’t just a mere personal hunch. We can take important lessons from history that in doing so (preferring harmful cultures/traditions over reason), more harm can be brought upon Humanity than good, as seen across many different cultures and societies.

Sati pratha, Caste System, Slavery, Colonialism, Religion, Political fundamentalism, Female Hysteria, Witch Hunt, Spanish Inquisition, Xenophobia, Rwandan Genocide, Ethnocentrism, Ethnic cleansing, Cult worship, Capital punishment, Ban on abortion, Ban on contraceptives and what not! If all these teach us one thing, then it is the idea that it is much more beneficial for everybody to adopt reason over lack, thereof. I admit that the practice of reason is hard for everyone. But nonetheless, it’s worth a shot.

To modify our cultural practices to suit the progressive and liberal zeitgeist seems like the best option. For instance, if we hadn’t done so in some way then we’d still be burning widows in Pashupatinath and beating Kamaiyyas because they ruined a batch of maize. Because even if we are in denial, sooner or later our societies will have to be subject to that change regardless of our conservative sentiments.

If irrational practices can change to suit such values, then good, but if it refuses to change, then it will have to go sooner or later. But people like me think sooner is much better than later. So why stop voicing against them even if the majority have no problem with such?

“But it’s their culture” is a perfect example of a serious kind of Genetic Fallacy. It’s a logical fallacy, which may appeal to our emotions by appealing to historical sentiments for the short term. Whereas in the long run they lose their rational significance.

This is why I consider Voltaire as a great champion of farsightedness. As my opinion resonates with some of his in his “Letters concerning the English nation”. Because history has shown us that Voltaire was right about many aspects of the collective human condition.

And finally, I’d want to sign off with my all-time favorite slogan: No idea is above scrutiny, no human life is below dignity!

Philosophy, Rationalism

Is Dualism Dead?

Spoiler: I think we can confidently say today that the basic idea of Cartesian Dualism (dichotomy of mind and body) is effectively dead and debunked, if it is used to explain the nature of reality.

In addition, so is metaphysical solipsism, effectively dead! Methodological solipsism, may not be (there’s a difference) so hang on.

Cartesian Dualism covers a similar mind-body dichotomy concepts as posed in Adhyatma or Bedanta in the Vedas or Buddhism (In almost every spiritual faith system). So we do not have to give each theological variety a special consideration or a higher ground in philosophy, as the core idea is like that in Cartesian Dualism itself.

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The mind (consciousness) as we know today, is a product of observable, material phenomenons involving sodium, calcium, chloride, neurotransmitters, action potentials, neurons, nerves and their intricate arrangements and their interplay with myriads of different kinds of external stimuli. This much is already too certain to not be considered for explaining the origin of the mind (but unfortunately not enough for explaining as to how it works), as the evidence is heavy. Let’s try to find consciousness without these shall we? Or injure a brain-stem region and not be unconscious? Or alternatively, let’s try to code for a supposedly self aware AI without silicon chips, circuits, photons and electricity. We cannot even fathom such feats can we?

Back in the time of Descartes or even before that, say during the period of inception of the great spiritual faiths, this much was not known so their idea of dualism is understandable and intuitive. Nonetheless, empirical evidence is counter-intuitive and possibly the reason why dualism still lingers around much of the philosophical community. I admit, sadly, that critical understanding of philosophy, without confirmation biases is hard and the idea of dualism, despite of being fallacious is pleasing.

Now Metaphysical Solipsists and Idealists will argue that observable evidence is also a result of our conditioning and experience (subjectivity) so cannot be relied upon, but that is a circular argument, such that this doesn’t explain that if reality were to be a product of our minds, why others around us experience similar subjective things not much differently than we as ‘self’ do? Cognitive science can study subjectivity better and better with each passing day and has been producing observable, reproducible results with a considerable degree of universality. So the idea that subjectivity cannot be studied rationally is long expired.

In this respect Idealism, Dualism and metaphysical solipsism will not carry much ground for the purpose of explaining the nature of our consciousness. I repeat, useless for the purpose of explaining but useful for the purpose of questioning, since philosophy can be considered as the art of questioning. It’s not, as a whole, completely dead like Stephen Hawkins and some notable physicists have declared. Philosophy may not be useful for answering the questions it asks, but it is also important to remind ourselves that formulation of every hypothesis follows questioning borne out of curiosity. It is again vital to understand, that curiosity cannot on itself answer or satisfy the questions it asks. So a system or a method is required, to rid the observer of subjective biases and conditioning that could skew their empirical observation.

Now some philosophers like to interpret Dualism with today’s scientific understanding, as in relating the mind body dichotomy to highlight the bridge between subjectivity and objectivity. In my opinion, that may be understandable for many intellectuals, but I think it falsely justifies an ingenious but an expired idea. I think we can find better ways to ask questions about the nature of the Qualia or simply our experiences borne out of our subjective perceptions without obscuring the already clear link between the brain and the mind.

To sum up, I think instead of dedicating our time and effort to revolve around in the circular arguments posed by dated concepts like dualism, philosophers and scientists may better utilize their resources and time, if important questions about the very details of the origins of the consciousness and it’s functions is asked instead.

Altruism, Philosophy, Psychology, Rationalism, Secular Humanism

Effective Altruism

When you see a beggar or a homeless person on the street asking for some tip, what do you do?

Most of you reading this tend to give them a change or two as you pass them by without even giving your action a little thought. Others tend to be undecided and perhaps depending on mood, sometimes give, whereas at other instances dont. On the other hand, there are others who never give out change at all for a variety of reasons known only to themselves; whether they are them selves broke, whether they don’t want to lose hard-earned money, whether they are emotionally indifferent or whether they think it’s not an effective move to solve the beggar’s problems once and for all.

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Let’s imagine for a while that a neutral onlooker is observing each person from their respective groups as they pass a beggar. The first one will be judged as benevolent (and rightly so), the second one as hesitant and the last one as a miser or ‘kanjoos’ or ‘daya nabhayeko’.

Now this blog is actually a focus onto the latter non-giving group of people. I’ll try to go even deeper into this cohort of interest. A subset within the group, who do not believe in charity that has no potency for change (especially the latter of the last group). Thus the term effective altruists.

I’d like to consider myself an effective altruist even though I haven’t really participated in any major philanthropy so far. I’m one of the third group, for I simply do not think that giving a man a fish for a day will solve his problems in any way.

Now you may argue in this age of individualism, that giving them money for a day will make you “feel better”. Better you may feel, but the short-sight in this way of thinking will not alleviate the number of beggars in the street but in fact may even make matters worse for them by encouraging begging. You create a vicious loop of begging instead.

This analogy was my effort to help readers grasp the concept. It would surely help if you all were to briefly learn about the very psychology behind philanthropy.

What is altruism and why do we indulge in charity?

Altruism is not anthropocentric as most people tend to believe. The meaning of being a human is not defined solely by the joy we find in giving. To give is not only being human. To give, is actually being an animal as altruism can be observed in hundreds if not thousands of species, vertebrate or invertebrate.

Perhaps the best explanation of biological altruism has been provided by evolutionary ethologist, Richard Dawkins, in his book The Selfish Gene. He explains that we are all survival machines for the residing genes which code for our bodies, and for the genes to survive, the survival machines must be kind, empathetic and protective even at the cost of one or two individuals so long as their genes are safely passed on to their offspring. This explains why parents rush into a burning building to save their child and why animals give out warning calls when they spot a predator and why we feel empathetic towards the plight of other humans.

All major and minor acts of philanthropy throughout human history is based on this single fact. This is our urge to survive. We act kind because we want the human race to survive. It’s the same principle even when we talk about the ‘collective good’ or ‘greater good’, be it borne out of religion or by other means. Our psychology has been shaped much in the same way, so as to cater to the survival of our genes, when it come to donation.

So why think while giving? Give away then! Right? Not entirely.

Bring in reason and evidence and we have effective altruism

Like I said before, the meaning of being a human is not solely defined by our capacity to empathize. It’s rather defined by our ability to think and reason and of our ability to make things work when it comes to manipulating the nature around us for our benefit. This is what separates us from other species (often wrongly used by anthropocentrists to glorify our illuded superiority). So there is a reason why the word effective is emphasized.

Compared to the act of just giving away money or charity, the act of doing so effectively can matter a lot. First of all it ensures that the money you spent is able to provide maximum good or benefit for that sum. A utilitarian mindset. Secondly, in this age of information overflow, fact-checking and empiricism is ensured so that you are not hoodwinked by fraudulent or corrupt organizations; and lastly, to gain the satisfaction that your work is actually helping to change people’s lives for the better, because you were smart enough to think responsibly before setting out to donate.

Effective Altruism or Effective Philanthropy, as a means to meet charitable ends that was spearheaded by the moral philosopher Peter Singer through his two books The Life You Can Save and The Most Good You Can Do, is gaining popularity especially among self-aware, conscious and responsible people and is being used by reputable organizations such as Oxfam, UNICEF and GiveWell. Some core aspects of this new philosophical movement are discussed briefly below.

Evidence Based Philanthropy

Effective philanthropists, whether individual people or organizations, opt for an empirical approach while giving away charity. It is imperative that one research thoroughly and usually adhere to Randomized Controlled Trials, meta-analyses, research evidence and the general scientific consensus in an effective altruism.

This is to prioritize the area of charity so that when you spend your money, the sum that you have paid is likely to bring about maximum benefit. Some notable examples are Bill Gates and Elon Musk.

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Bill Gates

Bill and Melinda Gates through their foundation have delivered billions of dollars worth of effective charity to fund vaccines, infectious disease prevention programs and research in developing nations, as a result of which millions of children world-wide recieve essential vaccines for free or at lowered cost. The end result: lesser infant and child mortality rate and greater national productivity.

I’ve brought up Elon Musk as another example because unlike Bill Gates, his philanthropy is mostly focused on individual research primarily in technology so as to inspire pioneering innovations among enthusiastic scientists, science-entreprenuers and researchers. This is to make a statement that effective altruism is not only limited to delivering responsible empathetic charities to poor people, but it’s scope can extend to any activity which helps towards the betterment of human (or animal) lives.

Consequential Approach

Effective Altruists are consequentialists; i.e those who know that the consequences of their actions are the only basis for judging whether their actions can be deemed right or wrong. That is to say that if you donate for a particular cause, and the end result bears desired benefits, then your action can be rightly deemed effective or successful. In short, their ethics is consequential means that they are to be judged by the results of their actions. And in most effective philanthropy, since the means is scientific and fact-based, the end is often successful. So I’ll again exemplify Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, as they are perhaps one of the most influential and ethical effective charity foundations that have actually made significant positive changes in people’s lives.

Egalitarian Mindset

For an effective altruist, no human is above another. In practice it may not be consistent, but most tend to consider that people in a developing nation have equal value to people in their own community. While most of their effort is focused on reducing human suffering in a selfless but thoughtful manner, some altruists may also argue the case to extend their moral compass towards ethical treatment of animals.

Cost-Effectiveness

Since money is hard-earned and doesn’t come easy, it is common sense to be strategic and careful while trying to spend it, even for a noble cause. For a utilitarian approach, most effective altruists go for the cheapest commodities and materials that bring out the most benefit for their cause. Most nowdays even think in terms of QALY (Quality Adjusted Life-Years) saved per dollar and DALY (Disability Adjusted Life Years) reduced per dollar. These are useful indeces used to assess tge improvement in tge quality of people’s lives. Whatever saves the dollar but still maximizes the benefits, effective altruists tend to go for it after much calibration.This allows money to be literally ‘well spent’.

Cause Prioritization

Cause is prioritized and usually a single cause is taken into consideration. This allows room for proper planning of logistics and makes it easier to assess the end result, i.e to measure it, and to work step by step to deliver the best services or programs.

For example, instead of donating money to poor people, effective altruists focus on certain core aspects as to what a certain community is most at need for (such as vaccination or family planning) and deliver accordingly to improve that sector first before moving on to other ones.

Criticisms

Most vocal philosophical criticisms of Singer’s Effective Altruism dig at it’s utilitarian aspects, while they do commend the motive it carries along. As John Stuart Mill’s utilitarianism goes, as I’ve mentioned above, this is the act of doing the maximum amount of good. Critics argue that utilitarian views in philanthropy may seem strategically beneficial but in the end it may even miss, during the process of weighing out options, quite a lot of important sectors that may require more attention even if it doesn’t look so on paper.

One important area of criticism is on the over-reliance of people who call themselves effective altruists, on third party institutions (or ‘evaluators’ such as Charity Navigator) who do their research for them instead of the altruists doing it by themselves. This could at times be contrary to the core principles of effective altruism and this reliance is in itself a weakness of this otherwise noble concept.

A Lesson To Be Learnt

So let’s come back to the initial question: When you see a beggar or a homeless person on the street asking for some tip, what do you do?

Reference and Further Reading…..

If you want to learn more about effective altruism start from some of the links provided below. Also if you are not satisfied, there are a number of links on some valid and some invalid criticisms of effective altruisms that you can go through.

  1. Biological Altruism, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  2. Effective Altruism, Wikipedia
  3. The Live You Can Save: How To Do Your Part To End World Poverty – Peter Singer
  4. The Most Good You Can Do: How Effective Altruism Is Changing Ideas About Living Ethically – Peter Singer
  5. Altruism, Wikipedia
  6. Effective Altruism, Website
  7. Basics of Altruism, Psychology Today
  8. Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, General Information
  9. Combining Empathy with Evidence, Center For Effective Altruism
  10. Ted Talk – Peter Singer: The Why and How of Effective Altruism
  11. Effective Altruism and It’s critics, Journal of applied Psychology 2016
  12. Philosophical Critiques of Effective Altruism, By Prof Jeff McMahan
  13. Effective Altruism Has 5 serious Flaws, Avoid it and be a DIY Philanthropist – Hank Pelliser 
  14. Altruism, The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins
opinion, Rationalism

Observing Modi

Modi’s strength is his ability to say exactly what the audience wants to hear.

This occasionally leads to laughable incidents like telling a group of traders that they have better risk taking abilities than soldiers, making fun in Japan of people suffering from demonetisation for an NRI audience and crying the next day for a local audience, quoting Dylan in music concerts, Star Wars in America, and relocating Taxila from Pakistan to Bihar.

But make no mistake, it gives him a direct connection with the masses that no other leader in India can match in scale, and this allows him to make other leaders in Gujarat, within the BJP, and indeed in India…. irrelevant.

This mandate from the public allows him to concentrate power within his own being and this has allowed him to make quick decisions for corporates trying to do business, further enhancing his credibility in that stakeholder group (environment, etc. be damned).

He gets more money and that is invested in PR that connects with the masses. It’s a virtuous (?) cycle of power reinforcement and all other politicians are playing catch up.

There are a few problems that come along with these strengths.

One is he says different things to different people and they might figure out he’s not trustworthy.

But only fact checkers catch him on this as the rest of the groups he speaks to are remarkably insulated from one another. He could easily speak about meritocracy in some Business India conclave that is uploaded on YouTube for bschool (business school) kids to watch while speaking in front of a poster of the Ram mandir (temple) in some UP rally the next day. He could just as easily give lectures on the importance of press freedom while his government is forcing TV channels off air.

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Modi uses a lot of emotional Rhetoric

Most people will not catch on to just how duplicitous he is. They’re too busy with life to audit his promises.

So he’s getting away with it.

The other problem is that he has no coherent vision or ideas past national and cultural pride. Everything else is a mish-mash of self contradictory nonsense.

He can set rules on how much money we can withdraw of our own money after having wowed the corporate crowd with his ‘vision’ of minimum governance. He can talk about black money and transparency after his party has blocked every effort to make its cash based funding and expenditure visible.

Sooner or later, as a result of this incoherence of strategy, we were going to see a train-wreck.

It’s here

It’s called demonetization.

We’re seeing the impact of centralized decision making of a man not intelligent or secure enough psychologically to surround himself with smart people who can say no.

It was a harebrained idea that was shambolically implemented by someone who would be excellent at organising the logistics of the local fair in a town.

But nothing bigger.

And as the initiative fails to clamp on black money, counterfeiters, terrorists, etc. while killing lives, businesses, GDP growth, and trust, the question we can ask is…. how will he worm his way out of this hole?

Easily.

He will simply tell the business crowd that it is the first of many steps to clamp down on black money and also present them with yet another Ponzi promise – this time the vision of a cashless utopia.

And the bschool crowd will fall for it because they have no clue about black money and cashless utopia sounds even more exciting than bullet trains. And of course because their universe revolves around themselves they will conclude that the cashless economy has been achieved in all parts and pop strata of India if they themselves occasionally pay an outlet or kaali peeli in South Mumbai with paytm.

The poor will be told that rich black marketers were hurt very badly and shown repeated footage of one or two success stories till they believe that something actually happened.

Belief in karma allows the poor to put up with any level of suffering. It also allows the rich to remorselessly celebrate their entitlement since they believe they deserve everything they get.

Is there anything the opposition can do?

Yes.

They’ve got to segment the market and deliver differentiated messages to each group using the medium most suited to that segment just the way that Modi does.

Marketing 101.

With the rich crowd they just need to keep using international Nobel prize winning economists to express horror at the idea, let alone the execution of demonetization. Also magazines like Economist, etc. The MBA crowd don’t want to sound dumb so if every foreign reputed news source is down on demonetization, they will speak less loudly. You can’t influence them by telling them babies and pensioners died. They really don’t care and think it’s all worth it for ‘development’. And they will wait as long for acche din as Christians have been waiting for the second coming of Christ. They will let as many people die in the civilizing of Bharat as Christians were willing to kill while civilizing the savages of the Americas and other Imperial conquests.

With the poor crowd, the message just needs to be driven in that all the rich black marketers got away and in fact it was all a scam by the fat cats. There is little to be gained by telling them they should feel upset at the totalitarian implementation or in reminding them of the ‘inconvenience’ they faced. They are used to taking orders and suffering.

With the liberal crowd you’ve got to keep using stories of babies and pensioners dying. Liberals are horrified by harm to the voiceless.

And tell the Hindu traders there are rumours that Modi is going to take the money he made from their suffering and put it in bank accounts of Muslims and Dalits.

Then watch them lose their shit!

Opposition politicians are too coherent.

Kejriwal is just as likely to criticize Ambani at a crowd of slum dwellers as he is in front of a crowd of capitalism loving MBAs. This is why the bschool crowd love Modi and hate Kejriwal.

And Nitish and Mamta and Mayawati, etc are all similarly one trick ponies who say the same thing in all forums.

Modi is not a one trick pony.

He’s the entire circus.

Opposition politicians need to use several different narratives for different audiences.

If they are to ever beat Modi…

They first need to learn from him.

Personal Opinion, Philosophy, Rationalism, Skepticism

Questioning and Rethinking Democracy

“The world will not be right until kings (rulers) become philosophers, and philosophers become kings (rulers)”
                                                                                                                 – Plato

If you think Democracy is a Greek invention then you are deeply mistaken. In any human civilization or society, some form of order or force has some inevitable form of resistance. Freedom for Tyranny, Tyranny for anarchy, Communism for Capitalism, Secularism for Theocracy and Authoritarianism for Democracy. But these are merely just terms to describe the various different modes of struggle any human society can go through over time. I consider it to be a simple yet complex process of evolution of the collective psyche.

Be it 3000 BCE or 3000 CE, these struggles may differ in terminology but their essence will remain the same. So no; the concept of democracy has been here since the very beginning of the human species. If we look back into our history, we can find examples of non-Greco-Roman democracy across different cultures and tribes. So it’s origin isn’t limited to antiquity and Athens, even though the modern concept of this structure of governance is heavily inspired by the Greco-Roman model.

Now the point of this particular blog of mine is not to discuss the types or origins of democracy, but rather to question the concept of that form which most of us are familiar with today.

What comes to your mind the moment you come across the word democracy? Maybe people’s rule or public governance? Well, I’d say it’s valid to some extent at least on an ontological basis. But I’d like to put forth an inquiry as to whether it really means so in it’s true sense. When we think people’s rule, how can we distinguish Hegemony from Democracy? Or one may also question as to whether Democracy itself is in reality Hegemony? If Democracy becomes Hegemony, the voice of the minorities are suppressed so can it be considered another form of Authoritarianism where the oppressor is the majority. If this is so, how can we improve to establish a democracy where everyone’s voices are heard?

These aren’t just questions that have sprouted in my mind randomly but are actual questions that have been asked and raised as an issue throughout various revolutions and movements across the globe. They were asked during the Suffrage, the civil Rights movement, anti-apartheid movement, ‘Leave India’ campaign, the Arab spring, Kranti and two Jana-andolans in my home country of Nepal and even more so, these couple of years following the Rise of Narendra Modi, Brexit, Columbian Referendum, and the election of Donald Trump.

Now one would like to apply the heuristically-driven slippery slope logic here and say that the whole world is leaning more so towards the right and may be nearing destruction, but anyone who has carefully studied world affairs and history would rather say that the entire human civilization is based on an eternal argument towards utopia. Sometimes the yin-side will be heard and sometimes the yan-side will be heard and throughout the ages after numerous such cycles of arguments systems will be more and more polished and refined in order to strive towards utopia, much like a parabolic graph than a linear one, never perfect!

Talking about the dilemma of democracy, there have mostly been two main arguments. Whether to allow every faction and individual the right to vote and elect a government, or whether only some factions should be allowed to vote to elect a government? Now my argument will be trying to justify the latter postulate, and I will not be basing these factions on race, ethnicity or gender but rather on their reasoning abilities.

I’d like to consider the fact that most of the time any democracy has made a supposedly bad-decision, it’s mostly owed to the ignorance in part of the population. Some of you may argue that it might also be out of prejudice, which is true, but I’d like to mark prejudice as a form of ignorance in itself for reasons beyond the scope of this blog. And then going along the Socratic method of questioning, one may ask where does ignorance stem from? Some say it mostly stems from the uneducated or the less well-educated or the illiterate factions of the populace but I’d like to upgrade on that answer and say that it comes from the faction of the populace which cannot reason critically and think creatively. This fact could be universal.

Simply put, ignorance stems from those people, regardless of literacy, who cannot think for themselves and think clearly or rationally and would rather appeal to emotional and prejudiced slurs from sly politicians or leaders. So you might have figured out my main reasoning. Only allow those people to vote who have the ability to think critically and creatively without only the influence of heuristics.

But instead of just declaring my opinion, I’d also like to provide solutions to this philosophical standstill. People may ask how can any system assure and determine who can and not reason critically? Can that method be fail-proof? What if such an implementation instead of creating a just and reasonable system, lead to another bureaucracy or an elitist government that oversees the problems of the grass-roots?

To that I’d say my solution isn’t without its own flaws like any solution to any problem would have. We just have to argue taking into effect the benefit to harm ratio of this particular solution with relation to the society of interest. For instance, in highly literate societies like Sweden and New-Zealand, where per-capita GDP and the quality of Education is among the best in the world, this system may be fail proof and would ensure a baseline of well-educated critical thinkers in cohorts with suffrage. Same reasoning may apply for the US if implemented. Whereas if the same solution if blindly applied to nations such as India and South Africa with significant number of poorly educated and poverty stricken populace, it may not immediately work, though we can never say for sure for the long run.

So these are the simple solutions I propose and by this I do not claim to be an expert on political science or philosophy. I think the whole model of democracy should be changed by

  • First inspiring and teaching people how to think rationally and creatively, i.e to create a critical-thought-centric education system. (i.e Board exams and world education indexes should focus and reward more on analytical and thought processes.)
  • Instead of just assessing a nation’s ‘literacy rate’, judge a nation’s reasoning ability by assessing its ‘Critical Thinking Index’.
  • Make it mandatory for every educated person to go through an aptitude test for their Reasoning abilities for quantification purposes.
  • Finally, changing/amending the constitutions of Democracies to only allow individuals above an acceptable age with Critical Thinking/Reasoning ability above a certain acceptable threshold.

Simple four-step solutions for the betterment of democracies world-wide. This ensures a base-line of well-informed and responsible voters who would tend to think before casting their votes and would forever help improve the quality and integrity of the voters as well as the candidates for leadership. This would help prevent to much extent anyone from swaying the voters away from a reasonable rhetoric towards emotionally motivated and prejudice-driven ones.

In short, this system if it had been brought into effect, might have prevented a Brexit, a rejection of the FARC peace deal, the rise of the Modi-RSS system, or even a President Donald Trump.

Now it may be argued again that this will adversely affect the general liberty of the people. It may be scrutinized (a process which I encourage) saying that the illiterate will lose their right as humans; to which it can be argued against, saying that good education is a fundamental human right, and to choose not to be educated would become an unprofitable choice and automatically a deterrent towards not opting for education and hence ignorance. Absolute liberty may not always be beneficial and decisions are better made with a consequential mindset.

This is all I have to say for now. Feel free to disagree and please do put forth your counter-arguments.


P.S For those who say I trust Critical Thinking too much, like I trust the Scientific method (the two system of thought being mutually inclusive); I answer: They’re still the best two system we’ve got in order to understand reality, and until another better one comes up, its Critical Thinking and Science all the way for now! Cheers!

Watch the video below to learn about Socrates’ argument against Democracy…..

Nepal, Personal Opinion, Rationalism

The Ishan conundrum in brief

What I think

– His intentions are noble, but his approach is immature.
– His philosophy is courageous, but his support is mostly virtual.
– Actual reality is much more complex than portrayed by his political correctness…..
– Not every change can be achieved by playing the blame game, no matter how resistant or authoritative the opponent is….
– Blaming politicians will not solve anything, everything will ultimately come down to the democratic process…..
– We need to be able to suggest alternatives and also be able to implement those changes….
– To change a particular system we need to get into the system and change it from within…. not from a parallel….
– That is why I think Bibeksheel Nepali is a better force than Ishan to bring about effective change…. (but still not as effective as it should be)
– Change comes from the ballot boxes, change comes from opening our minds, not by idolizing a ‘messiah’ for change….

We do not always need a Gandhi or a Mandela to solve our problems. We can and are capable to raise our individual consciousness by training ourselves to think independently and by rationally and effectively being able to identify our biases.

#IamNotWithAnyone #IamWithReason #ThinkIndependently

Also read The Red Paint Conundrum, a blog post in the NASH website