Sunday, November 28, 2010

Some days back Dure asked me a question 'What is the difference between the man who rapes an 'indecently clad' woman and the man who doesn't, when both are in a position to do so and get away with it?'. I think that the difference consists of the following components:

1) The degree of lust that the two experience

2) Their capacities for aggression and violence

3) Their capacities for impersonal sex, and the ability or desire to have intercourse irrespective of the partner's emotional willingness.

4) Their sense of morality, and how much their morality can affect their conduct.

5) Do they live in a Rape Culture? A culture in which sexual violence is common and prevalent, especially against women.

6) What perception of women do they have in their mind? Do they consider them as equal to men, deserving equal rights? Do they consider them as sex objects?

The question is not about rape in general, but about rape with the specific motivation of sexual gratification. There are other motivations for rape (anger, power, sadism, revenge etc) which are perhaps more common but they are not relevant to the discussion at hand.

The question itself has a specific background. I guess most people people would remember the infamous Australian Muslim cleric who compared women who didn't wear the Islamic hijab to 'uncovered meat' and declared that they were to be blamed if they got raped, because it is they who possess the 'weapon of enticement'. The story provoked furious responses from all over the world, but the truth is that this mentality is extremely wide-spread among Muslims. Just a few days back I heard a Pakistani maulvi say the same thing on TV, and there was no uproar, only sympathetic nods from other guests in that talkshow.

I do not believe that a woman, no matter where and what she is wearing, can ever be "blamed" for getting raped, morally and legally; it is never her own "fault". Period. I cannot make that anymore clear. Sexual arousal in itself is never a sufficient cause for a rape to take place. Even if a woman is dressed provocatively, she is only affecting one factor, the component 1. A woman can make herself vulnerable to sexual assault, but it is always the man's fault, and the woman's vulnerability cannot be held against her.

Furthermore, 'indecently clad' is a vague term. Our Islamic clerics believe that a woman is 'indecently clad' if she is not wearing a hijab, but does that constitute a significant enough trigger for a man's lust? No, it doesn't. So then what does it do if it isn't in itself a sexual trigger? Well, let me tell you. The absence or presence of hijab is used by our man to "classify" the woman. It is the mentality of the man who believes: "If she is not wearing a Hijab, she is a whore, and she deserves to be used as a sex object." It is in the presence of SUCH men, SUCH mentality, that a woman not wearing a hijab risks being raped, because no one sane can declare uncovered hair to be so provocative as to lead to rape.

I have always believed that the prevalence of veil in a society is a reflection of the moral depravity of the men of that society. Now you can see why.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

X: My love would be considered blasphemous in its full extent, worthy of hellfire if you believe my Islamiat book. Ironically, I have to hide this from him. Remember when I told you falling in love was the greatest religious experience I ever had? I told him something similar back then, and he reprimanded me along the lines of 'what would you know of religious experiences? Don't talk about religion, you don't know anything about it.' So since then, I stopped. It has worked fairly well in keeping a lot of arguments at bay, though it's weird loving someone more than they have allowed you to tell them.
People who are aware of their right to have a choice but are denied so by the society in which they live, such people often end up being depressed (or having some other form of mental illness). This presents a tough challange for the psychiatrist, because the social etiology is clear-cut in most of such cases. The patient in question is actually a normal person in a messed up society. The mistake in this case would be to ascribe the psychological problem as being patient's inability to cope with the problem. To adopt that view would be an indirect justification of the messed up society. It would be like saying "There is nothing wrong with the society. The problem is with you. You couldn't cope."

This puts the psychiatrist in a dilemma. He cannot change the social structure in which the patient lives, and treating with drugs would bring some limited symptomatic relief but it wouldn't be a cure, and in psychotherapy, he can't really tell the patient to cope without implying that the problem is with the patient, not the society. And even if he does tell the patient to cope while simultaneously making clear that it is the society's fault, how do you expect the patient to be not depressed! So what to do?

I suppose it depends on how much the social environment can be influenced by the psychiatrist. If the parents are willing to listen, he could explain the problem to them that the disease is caused by so and so factors, and he could suggest a better approach. But if social environment cannot be changed, then I don't think the psychiatrist can do much for a cure.

Of course, there are patients who do have genuine coping problems. I am not denying that. But the distinction can be made by the type of social problem the patient has difficulty with. A person getting clinically depressed over losing a job is a coping problem. A girl getting depressed over a forced marriage is not a coping problem ... it's a moral crime being committed!
Existentialists like to believe in the absolute personal freedom, that we have a choice in everything we do in life, and that even when we are forced to do something, we are choosing to be forced. I have written about it many times before, for example here and here. Philosophically, yes, it seems that we do always have a choice. But there are social limits to this personal freedom, and these occurs in two ways:

1) The consciousness of personal freedom requires a certain social structure that would permit its development. More precisely, the awareness that one has a choice and that one has a right to a choice develops only after one is exposed to this philosophy. An illiterate girl born in a strictly conservative family where gender segregation is strictly enforced and where it is accepted by all that girls ought to be married off without asking for their approval, she probably wouldn't even realize that she has a choice and would accept that this is the way things are... unless she somehow gets exposed to the "radical" idea.

2) Society cannot eliminate existential freedom. What it can do is limit the choices available to a person. Consider the above example again. If that girl becomes aware of her personal freedom, what can she do in that situation? What choices does she have? She isn't educated, she can't work on her own. She can't leave the house, because she knows nothing of the outside world, has no where to live and knows no one. Well, she can leave the house, but then she would risk being hungry, homeless, moneyless, and other gruesome possibilities like abduction, rape, abuse or prostitution would also be there. Existentially, I can think of the following choices she has:

a) Accept whatever marriage her family decides.
b) Refuse, and suffer whatever punishment her parents mete out to her, including the possibility of forceful illegal marriage.
c) Run from the home, and risk whatever it leads to, including the possibility of getting killed for honour.
d) Commit suicide

Not too many acceptable options to choose from, are there? To call this girl 'free' would be just too cruel.

An educated girl in the West would, in contrast, have considerably far more options to choose from. She can work, she can live on her own, the society is safe for girls living alone. She is a position to explore her existential freedom.

So, the conclusion -- which would probably be blatantly obvious to someone not obsessed with existential philosophy! -- is that true freedom requires both personal and social freedom.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

“Now is the time for simplicity. Now is the time for – dare I say it – kindness.”


Intellect fails to offer comfort when death, and perhaps life too, are no longer abstractions and something that we are experiencing and going through. Something that we are suffering. Metaphysical puzzles that had intrigued us before suddenly open up to be absurd, complex but meaningless. That is when you need love and compassion... simplicity and kindness... and a gentle awareness that God has not abandoned you.

A brilliant movie. Highly recommended for all souls.
Me: I was thinking on what you said about fundamentalism the other day. Can it be said that fundamentalism is not exclusive to the-religion-that-must-not-be-named but that it is part of the problem?

Aati: No, I don't think it specifically is part of the problem of the fundamentalism. You and I, and Hirsi, all have a common limitation: when we think about religious fundamentalism, we tend to think about the religion we were most intimately exposed to. There is no instrinsic difference in 'quality' or nature between a Christian fundamentalist, Jewish fundamentalist, Hindu fundamentalist or Muslim fundamentalist. They all consider themselves soldiers of their respective gods.

Religion or any belief system that is rigid and refuses to be tempered or accomodate differences, is part of the problem and no attempts at solution can be made without addressing it. Historically where certain governments made atheism part of their national policy and needed to establish power and loyalty by destroying older centers of power, they aggressively attacked religion, imprisoned devotees, and snatched away the right to religious freedom. So there IS such a thing as a militant Atheist, and the weapons are the same as other fundamentalists. You don't see it often because the conditions favoring its appearance don't occur often. There are fundamentalist Jews in Israel, but they are a minority elsewhere, and minorities don't often antagonize. Christian fundamentalism is a phenomenon West was already used to and which it dealt with. This recent rise of fundamentalism is new to the West, otherwise, in our part of the world, things like honor killing, religious riots etc are nothing new.

Me: There is no intrinsic difference between fundamentalists of various religions, but the respective religion nevertheless plays a part in the expression of that fundamentalism. So, we have established that the fundamentalist attitude precedes the religion it uses as its means of expression. But if fundamentalism is using a religion, it is because that religion contains those elements (like every other religion) that make it vulnerable to be a weapon of fundamentalism, and if we are to fight fundamentalism, we would have to attack that religion as well.

Aati: Yes, I agree. But if we attack it simply for what it is, we'll lose sight of the actual problem. So it would have to be attacked on its intolerance, etc, to forcibly reduce that and favor more tolerant versions, like in Christianity. Hirsi thinks Christians are free to leave their faith, but not because of Christianity -- it's the environment that has silenced or curbed bible-thumping witch-burning extremists.

Me: I can't argue with that.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Q. What do you think about the blasphemy law.

Faiza Hameed: Uncertain and ambivalent :( I respect the Prophet (PBUH). My faith won't be complete without it. But should I expect other people (their religion not withstanding) to feel the same association? You can't force people to love or respect anybody. Especially, if you say along with it: you must think this way or off with your head. This isn't respect ... this is a threat. And in matters of love and faith, threat tends to have a short life span. I personally think all religious figures should be respected. If somebody (who doesn't necessarily have to be an anti-state element ... genuine misgivings relating to religion can and do arise) with a difference of opinion comes forward, the clashing view points should be debated upon.

I like to consolidate my religious beliefs and see them as a united whole, not pick isolated doctrines out of context. But like so many other things, this has proven to be quite a quandary. The Quranic tafseer I read, the Hadis on the matter, my friends and family, all support the law. But does that version take into account the thinking patterns of the whole society or just the dominant majority? If it doesn't accommodate the thinking styles of everybody, what should we do with the dissenters, the ones who disagree with the dominant majority? I don't know. I can't, for the life of me, reconcile the conquest of Mecca, 'the blessing for humanity' Quranic verse, the forgiving humble nature of the Prophet (PBUH), with the Hadis. I can't.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

"Imagine this thought experiment! What if some demon were to say to you that this life -- as you now live it and have lived it in the past -- you will have to live once more, and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and everything unutterably small or great in your life will return to you, all in the same succession and sequence... Imagine the central hourglass of existence turned upside down again and again and again. And each time, also turned upside down are you and I, mere specks that we are.... let this thought take possession of you, and I promise you it will change your forever!.... I urge you, then, to consider the implications of eternal recurrence for your life -- not abstractly, but now, today, in the most concrete sense!" [Nietzsche]
"You suggest," said Breuer, "that every action I make, every pain I experience, will be experienced through all infinity?"
"Yes, eternal recurrence means that every time you choose an action, you must be willing to choose it for all eternity. And it is the same for every action not made, every stillborn thought, every choice avoided. And all unlived life will remain bulging inside you, unlived through all eternity. And the unheeded voice of your conscience will cry out to you forever."
Breuer shivered...
"So, Josef, once again I say, let this thought take possession of you. Now I have a question for you: Do you hate the idea? Or do you love it?"
"I hate it!" Breuer almost shouted. "To live forever with the sense that I have not lived, have not tasted freedom -- the idea fills me with horror."
"Then," Nietzsche exhorted, "live in such a way that you love the idea!"
"All that I love now, Friedrich, is the thought that I have fulfilled my duty towards others."
"Duty? Can duty take precedence over your love for yourself and for your own quest for unconditional freedom?"...
Breuer summoned the energy for one further rebuttal. "There is such a thing as duty to others, and I have been faithful to that duty. There, at least, I have the courage of my convictions."
"Better, Josef, far better, to have the courage to change your convictions. Duty and faithfulness are shams, curtains to hide behind. Self liberation means a sacred no, even to duty."
Frightened, Breuer stared at Nietzsche.
"You want to become yourself," Nietzsche continued. "How often have I heard you say that? How often have you lamented that you have never known your freedom? Your goodness, your duty, your faithfulness -- these are the bars of your prison. You will perish from such small virtues. You must learn to know your wickedness."

Excerpt from When Nietzsche Wept by Irvin Yalom.

This will be the last excerpt from the novel, concluding this series of posts.
Dure: The book [Maps for Lost Lovers by Nadeem Aslam] convinced me that physical intimacy is beautiful.
Me: It's a beautiful discovery.
Dure: Why are we always taught that it's shameful and lame?
Me: It's the morality we live in and are exposed to: sex is beastly and immoral. A shameful act to be kept hidden and not talked about. It's stupid and outrageous considering how much harm it does.
Dure: Why is it that the Western way of doing things always turns out better? Do you think there is a truth to the 'success of Western propaganda in Pakistani youth' theory, or are their systems and ideas really better in every regard?
Me: I think they are better. At least more humane. But everything comes with a price. Sexual liberation has its own problems. Suppressing sexuality is an effective but very cruel method of preventing that. Unfortunately, that's the approach our society took.
Dure: Individuality, then, is the solution, not structures. Right?
Me: If individual well-being is the goal, then yes.
Dure: Is that your goal?
Me: Yes, it is.
* "... there is a gulf -- a huge gulf -- between knowing something intellectually and knowing it emotionally.... This is where philosophy falls short. Teaching philosophy and using it in life are very different undertakings." [Breuer]

* "... we are more in love with desire than with the desired." [Nietzsche]

* "... life is a spark between two identical voids, the darkness before birth and the one after death." [Breuer]
"Life -- a spark between two voids. A nice image, Josef. And isn't it strange how we are so preoccupied with the second void and never think upon the first?" [Nietzsche]

* "I mean that one can't love a woman without blinding oneself to the ugliness beneath the fair skin: blood, veins, fat, mucus, feces -- the physiological horrors. The lover must put out his own eyes, must forsake truth." [Nietzsche]

* "And a woman? What about her meaning, her freedom? ... I can't choose freedom when my choice enslaves others. Have you thought about what your freedom means for me? What kind of choices does a widow, or a deserted wife, have?" [Mathilde, Breuer's wife.]

* "When you have to worry about the rent and the butcher's bill, you don't worry much about freedom." [Eva, Breuer's friend.]

* "You have a burden: the richer the soil, the more unforgivable the failure to cultivate it." [Breuer to Freud]

* "If we cannot embrace our own aloneness, we will simply use the other as a shield against isolation. Only when one can live like an eagle -- with no audience whatsoever -- can one turn to another in love." [Nietzsche]

* "... we are each composed of many parts, each clamoring for expression. We can be held responsible only for the final compromise, not for the wayward impulses of each of the parts." [Breuer]

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

* "Though I care for my wife and my children, I don't love them! In fact, I resent being imprisoned by them. I lack courage: the courage to either change my life or to continue living it. I have lost sight of why I live -- the point of it all." [Breuer]

* "I can't cure despair, Doctor Breuer. I study it. Despair is the price one pays for self-awareness. Look deeply into life, and you will always find despair." [Nietzsche]

* Freud looked at Breuer in astonishment... "Despair? Why, Josef, you're atop the very crest of life!"...
Breuer winced. How could he admit to having wagered his whole life only to find that the final prize was, after all, not to his liking? No, these things he must keep to himself. These are things you don't tell the young ones.

* "Maybe," Breuer replied, "there doesn't have to be a next step? Perhaps simply revealing himself would constitute such a major achievement, such a change in his way of life, that it would be in itself sufficient?"
"Simple confession isn't that powerful, Josef. If it were, there'd be no neurotic Catholics!" [Freud]

* "Let me make an observation: I find it remarkable that you are responsible for all of your thoughts and all of your deeds, whereas she" -- Nietzsche's voice was stern, and he shook his finger at Breuer -- "she, by virtue of her illness, is exonerated from everything."

* "Like you, I have often wondered why fears reign at night. After twenty years of such wondering, I now believe that fears are not born of darkness; rather, fears are like stars -- always there, but obscured by the glare of daylight." [Nietzsche]

* "If you choose science, if you choose to be liberated from the soothing chains of the supernatural, if, as you claim, you choose to eschew belief and embrace godlessness, then you cannot in the same breath yearn for the small comforts of the believer! If you kill God, you must also leave the shelter of the temple." [Nietzsche]

"Don't you see, Josef, that the problem is not that you feel discomfort? ... The problem is that you have discomfort over the wrong thing!" [Nietzsche]

* 'What we fear is shallow water.' [Nietzsche]

* "Life is an examination with no correct answers. If I had it to do all over again, I think I would do exactly the same thing, make the same mistakes. The other day I thought of a good plot for a novella. If only I could write! Imagine this: a middle-aged man, who has led an unsatisfying life, is approached by a genie, who offers him the opportunity to relive his life while maintaining full recall of his previous life. Of course, he leaps at the chance. But to his amazement and horror, he finds himself living the identical life -- making the same choices, the same mistakes, embracing the same false goals and gods." [Breuer]

* "Not to take possession of your life plan is to let your life be an accident." [Nietzsche]

Monday, November 15, 2010

Me [to Aati]: You know what I hate about envy? How it makes me want things I don't even really want!
Back-cover description: In nineteenth-century Vienna, a drama of love, fate, and will is played out amid the intellectual ferment that defined the era. Josef Breuer, one of the founding fathers of psychoanalysis, is at the height of his career. Friedrich Nietzsche, Europe's greatest philosopher, is on the brink of suicidal despair, unable to find a cure for the headaches and other ailments that plague him.

When he agrees to treat Nietzsche with his experimental "talking cure," Breuer never expects that he too will find solace in their sessions. Only through facing his own inner demons can the gifted healer begin to help his patient. In When Nietzsche Wept, Irvin Yalom blends fact and fiction, atmosphere and suspense, to unfold an unforgettable story about the redemptive power of friendship.

I am reading this intriguing thought-stimulating novel these days by Irvin Yalom about the fictional encounter between two of the greatest minds of human history -- Breuer and Nietzsche, and I'll be sharing some extracts on this blog as I read along.

* The joy of being observed ran so deep that Breuer believed the real pain of old age, bereavement, outliving one's friends, was the absence of scrutiny -- the horror of living an unobserved life.

* Was he dissimulating? Or was it that he did not now feel despair because he had already decided upon suicide? Breuer had known patients like that before. They were dangerous. They appear improved -- in a sense, are improved; their melancholia lightens; they smile, eat, sleep once more. But their improvement means they have discovered an escape from their despair -- the escape of death.

*"Truth," Nietzsche continued, "is arrived at through disbelief and skepticism, not through a childlike wishing something were so!"

* "It is not the truth that is holy, but the search for one's own truth!" [Nietzsche]

* 'To find everything profound; that is an inconvenient trait. It makes one strain one's eyes all the time, and in the end one finds more than one might have wished.' [Nietzsche]

* "You wonder about a conversation with nothing concealed -- it's real name is hell, I believe." [Nietzsche]

* "And underlying the disorder of rhythm? The cause of causes? Shall we ultimately arrive at God -- the final error in the false search for ultimate truth?" [Nietzsche]
"No, we may arrive at medical mysticism, but not God! Not in this office." [Breuer]

* "The taste of my death in my mouth gave me perspective and courage. It's the courage to be myself that is the important thing." [Nietzsche]

* Breuer was startled at the similarity of Nietzsche's statement to Freud's position the day before. "You suggest that there are independent walled-off mental kingdoms within our mind?" he asked.
"It is impossible to escape that conclusion. In fact, much of our life may be lived by our instincts. Perhaps the conscious mental representations are afterthoughts -- ideas thought after the deed to provide us with the illusion of power and control."

* Nietzsche continued: "You have looked at my books. You understand that my writing succeeds not because I am intelligent or scholarly. No, it's because I have the daring, the willingness, to detach myself from the comfort of the herd and to face strong and evil inclinations. Inquiry and science start with disbelief. Yet disbelief is inherently stressful! Only the strong can tolerate it. Do you know what the real question for a thinker is?" He did not pause for an answer. "The real question is: How much truth can I stand? It is no occupation for those of your patients who wish to eliminate stress, to live the tranquil life."

Friday, November 12, 2010

"My aim was to create a scene that was perfectly morally ambiguous, and in which the reader might quite justifiably side with either Andrew or Sarah. Andrew isn’t such a bad guy. What he fails to do on the beach is what most people would probably fail to do, myself included. Once Andrew realizes he’s made the wrong choice, it’s too late for him because the moment has passed and he is condemned to spend the rest of his days regretting that he failed life’s test. Sarah is lucky, really. She’s not inherently more moral than her husband, but just at that one critical moment she happened to do the right thing. This means that she can look back on her actions on the beach without too much guilt or shame. She can move on with the rest of her life while Andrew must enter a terminal decline. It’s ironic because Sarah’s infidelity is the reason the couple find themselves on the beach in the first place. And yet her premeditated affair goes unpunished by life, while Andrew’s momentary failure of courage dooms him forever. Life is savagely unfair. It ignores our deep-seated convictions and places a disproportionate emphasis on the decisions we make in split seconds." [My emphasis.]

Thursday, November 11, 2010

To hear that all cultures are "morally equal" and that all deserve the same 'respect' is something that really nauseates me. Even more than being false, it is harmful. All cultures are not equal, because not all cultures treat human beings with the same respect and dignity without discrimination; not all cultures provide its individuals with universal fundamental human rights. A culture that violates human rights is inferior to a culture that protects human rights, and I am not going to offer my unconditional respect for any culture that does the former. Of course, the tricky part begins when people begin to claim that human rights are also culturally relevant. Something like: "Your culture has your own version of human rights, and my culture has my own version of human rights, so you can't judge my culture based on your version."

First of all, such a conception of human rights goes against the very idea of universal human rights, that there is a set of rights that ALL humans are entitled to irrespective of which society they are born into. To believe in culture-specific human rights is to negate the idea of universal human rights. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that to believe in culture-specific human rights is not to believe in human rights at all. It sounds absurd to believe that women have a right to property if they are born in country A but do not have the right if they are born in country B. Of course, women in countries A and B do have different rights in practice, but it is entirely another matter to believe that this is how it should be. A person in country A cannot possibly believe that to give women property-rights is as equally morally valid as not giving women property-rights. Either ALL women born anywhere in the world have property-rights or ALL women born anywhere in the world do not have property-rights. It cannot be both. The various human rights that every culture endorses, it endorses in a manner as if those human rights were universal. No culture advocates human rights while advocating that these rights only exist within that particular culture and have no applicability outside it. To say so would be to undermine the validity of those human rights.

Secondly, true, there are different conceptions of human rights that vary cross-culturally, but it doesn't mean that they are all on equal footing. Some conceptions of human rights are better than other conceptions. A human rights charter that doesn't discriminate against women at all is better than a human rights charter that only partially discriminates against women. And why is one charter better? Because it is more in accord with human respect and dignity. Because it discriminates less. So yes, I do believe that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by United Nations is far superior to any other declaration of human rights that exists as yet (though a better version might come up in the future), most notably, The Cairo Declaration on Human Rights, which I believe is a joke.

All cultures that fall short of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, my respect for them falls short in equal measure.

There, I have said it in unequivocal terms. Political correctness be damned.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

"It is not the nature of most men to be happy in a prison, and the passions which shut us up in ourselves constitute one of the worst kinds of prisons. Among such passions some of the commonest are fear, envy, the sense of sin, self-pity and self-admiration. In all these our desires are centred upon ourselves: there is no genuine interest in the outer world, but only a concern lest it should in some way injure us or fail to feed our ego.... The happy man is the man who lives objectively, who has free affections and wide interests, who secures his happiness through these interests and affections and through the fact that they, in turn, make him an object of interest and affection to many others."

Bertrand Russell, The Conquest of Happiness

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

There is so much in our lives that depends upon conditions over which we have no control. The innate potentials and skills we are born with, the personality traits we come to develop, the apparently random events surrounding us that determine our "luck" and lead to our success and failure. The situation hasn't changed much since the time humans lived in primitive tribes: Life is still unfair. Fickle gods still control our circumstances. And we still need prayer and gratitude to cope with all this.

I guess I don't really have a "point" to make. Just writing down some impressions on my mind.
I had been down with Dengue Fever, and I suppose it also provided me with a much needed excuse to take a break from blogging :) I have been restored to health now, so here I am again.

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