Tuesday, December 9, 2008


The more I read about India and Pakistan, the less I understand. And, more importantly, the less I think there's any hope for that region, or for the world. This opinion piece in yesterday's NYT did nothing to help; nor did this one. (And here's a none-too-reassuring piece from today, by the president of Pakistan.) The unifying theme, both there and in the Middle East, is misery being conscripted by religion; most particularly by intransigent and zealous haters, unyielding in their own certainty. It takes a lot to hate that much, and to believe that much. And whereas it seems there is no religion you can name (with the possible exception of Buddhism) that is free of the guilt of fanning the flames of hatred, the common thread within the worst violence is that of radical Islam. Many Muslims -- those in India, it seems clear -- deplore the trend. But it seems to take only a few to propel the hatred to suicidal levels: enough to threaten the entire world. All-consuming conflagration seems inevitable.

The solution -- if there were one -- would require the end of those who teach, and those who accept, the kind of hatred that leads to suicidal (literal and figurative) behavior. The "liberal" answer, I think, is addressing the cesspool: the poverty and hopelessness of those regions. I doubt it. Mankind, in its frailty, is destined to kill itself off. If there weren't radical Islam, there'd be something else. The inevitability is tied directly to need for religious belief, irrespective of one's station in life.

That our inadequate and fragile brains need to construct religions is proof of our imperfection. No surprise there. There's such an overwhelming and intrinsic need for belief that faiths pop up like flora, everywhere: in isolation, in jungles, in riches, all around the world. The one and only thread connecting them is the eventual evolution of devotion so strong that it leads to hatred and violence toward the others. That, to me, is proof that it's about hapless human need and not about any sort of deities actually existing, behind it all. Our overwhelming impulse is to believe, sprouting an array of forms differing wildly one from the other but holding in common that need to hate: it's a thing which disproves itself. A THING WHICH DISPROVES ITSELF! What more potent argument against the existence of god/gods is there, than our demonstrable need to believe in them? If he/she/they existed, why would there be such a variety of beliefs, and such a need to destroy the others? Clearly, it springs from within us, not without.

Which is why there's no hope for us as a species. There's simply no way to put an end to the sort of insanity that we see in the Middle East and South Asia. It's who we are! If we're still evolving, it ain't nearly fast enough.

That in "our" corner of the world the dysfunction seems milder -- Prop 8, Newt Gingrich, James Hagee, etc., ad nauseum -- is only a matter of degree.

And of time.



  1. We forget we are animals. Many studies have shown that humans - like apes or bees - seem to regard anyone outside their hive, cohort, tribe as the "other." As soon as we objectify a group this way, empathy seems to be very difficult. Religion is just another kind of tribalism.

    I have no hope for our moral evolution.

  2. I can't say that I disagree with either of your views, but I still feel that there are small corners of our world which do have some goodness left.

    We go to a Unitarian fellowship on Sundays, and hearing the stories of people who are overtly helping people is quite heartwarming.

    There is a de-emphasis on the nasty side of religion at each session. We gather for coffee and discuss, but we stop short of fighting about our individual beliefs. Hey, good news! I regularly feel as if I am an animal (I love babies and puppies, I want to play and hug young children, I like to be tickled and enjoy splashing around in water).

    Meanwhile, I'm married to a man who doesn't seem to put women in a less important place than men, who doesn't pine after the other women who used to be or could have been in his life. He isn't particularly worried about himself, his health, or the fact that he is not rich. He laughs at religion, jokes about death, and comes to the same conclusion I do pretty much 100% of the time.

    Last night, "Animal Planet" had one of its "Extreme" shows on. The narrator was trying to explain why a tigress adopted several baby antelopes -- the tiger's usual prey. This particular tigress nurtured and protected successive baby antelopes as best she could against her own kind. No one seems to have an answer as to why she did that.

    My religion? I'm just bopping along each day in this life, not understanding much of where or what I was before I was born. Also, I'm not thinking there'll be much after I'm dead.

    Today, I'll try to be like that tigress... protecting all the baby antelopes in my life and the full grown people who aren't baring their claws at us.

  3. You wanta see hate and discontent, try sitting in the wrong area at a Bundesliga Soccer game...or Yankee Stadium...I think California Governor Arnold Schwarzneger said it best in "Terminator 2: Judgement Day"

    "It is in Your(mankinds) nature to destroy yourselves"

  4. There was a Buddist sect in 1940's Japan pushing young men toward the virtuous life of kamikaze pilots. Not often talked about (and hard to get details). However I have yet to hear anything bad about Quakers.

    I think it's very easy to think things are hopeless, to say that we've peaked, humanity is stagnant or descending in its moral fibre. On the timescale of our day-to-day lives, progress is very hard to see, and regression is emphasized by the news (I've often wondered if anyone's tried a Bright-Side News Network, that tries to look on the positive side of top stories, and reports on how previous disaster-stories have been resolved; it would need a better name than BS-NN).

    But "zoom out" for a bit. There is tension between India and Pakistan, but there is not a wholesale slaughter. Protestants and Catholics were once considered intractable but have certainly come a long way towards reconciliation. Prop 8 failed, but there have been great strides in the US in recognizing the human rights and a more human penal system. Liberalization is happening the world around, but it's almost impossible to capture (and goes back and forth incredibly) in the day-by-day analysis by which we judge the world. The 20th century was the most bloody century in human history. It was also the most peaceful century, with more people living their lives without violence, starvation, or tyranny (or at least with more freedoms).

    One of the greatest things I find about the internet in general, and blogging in particular is that the diversification of news commentary means that good news, encouraging events, and fascinating developments are out there, and much more easily accessible. I think it was a lot harder to get (though a M*A*S*H episode today had a great plot about a new type of clamp for smaller arteries). It's one of the reasons I find reading the archives of your surgeonsblog such a pick-me-up. It's not hopeless: progress is possible, slowly happenning, and worth endeavoring to perpetuate.

  5. Timmyson: I guess my perspective changes with -- who knows? The DOW maybe? I'm not 100% pessimistic 100% of the time. But in these times it takes only a few people to undo the good of many, in a massive way. So the little islands of sanity -- like Surgeonsblog, evidently! -- seem small indeed. I might be looking through the wrong end of the telescope, as you suggest.

    From one point of view, I take heart in the idea that it probably only takes a small percentage of society to keep it going: as long as there are a few people to find cures, invent solutions, maybe it doesn't matter that so many are seeming to care less and less. (It's why our aversion to immigrants is so self-destructive: they're the only ones who still have the dream; they're the ones graduating with honors.) But the obverse is true, too: it doesn't take many crazies to ruin it all.

  6. I seem to recall there being a Buddhist leader in India who has no trouble spewing nationalistic hatred. There's also been sectarian violence in Tibet - the Dalai Lama's troops won. Something about there being yellow hats versus red hats leading to the expression "everyone who has a head has a hat".

    But, yes, I don't recall ever hearing of the Unitarian Intifada.

  7. WRT religion, the Baha'i faith teaches we are one human family, one human race, all praying to one God.


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