Thursday, March 31, 2011

This post might be described with a number of adjectives, depending on your taste, but there is one common strand running through it: Sylvia Plath. This is my attempt to highlight some of the ways in which Plath brought up kisses in her writings. The pictures have been taken from various sources (mentioned) and quotes have been added by me. All quotes except the last one are from the journals of Sylvia Plath.

Aati: It's funny how parents want to protect you from the mistakes you make but expect you to live with the mistakes they make.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

'[Psychic being (the individual divine soul)] "makes do" with what it has, so to speak. Yet that is precisely the problem: when it comes out of hiding, if even for a second, it casts such a glory upon everything it touches that we tend to mistake the circumstances of the revelations for its luminous truth. Someone who experiences the revelation of his psychic being while listening to Beethoven might say: "Music, nothing but music is true and divine on this earth"; another, who feels his soul in the middle of the ocean's immensity, may make a religion of the open seas; still another will swear by his own prophet, his church, or his gospel. Each one builds his own structure around his own particular nugget of experience. But the psychic being is free, marvelously free of everything! It needs nothing to exist; it is Freedom incarnate, and it uses each of our greater or lesser pieces of music, our sublime or less sublime scriptures, simply to bore a hole in our armor in order to emerge into the open. It lends its power and its love, its joy, its light, and its irresistible open Truth to all our ideas, all our feelings and doctrines, because this is its only chance to manifest openly, its only means of expression. In return, these emotions, ideas and doctrines derive from it their self-assurance; they appropriate and enshroud it, drawing from this element of pure Truth their indisputable assertions, their exclusive depths, their one-way universalities, such that the very strength of the element of truth increases the strength of the element of error. Ultimately, the psychic becomes so thoroughly entangled and mixed in with the rest that we can no longer tell the difference and remove the counterfeit without destroying the very fabric of truth itself. Thus the world goes on, burdened with half-truths far heavier than falsehoods. Indeed, the real difficulty may not be to free ourselves from evil, which we can recognize easily enough if we are a bit sincere, but to free ourselves from that good which is the other side of evil yet has always annexed a partial element of truth.'

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

by Gail Dines

* From the Book's Introduction:

"As someone who studies porn, I am accustomed to these kinds of images, but Patricia is new to them, and it is through her eyes that I see it for what it really is: a parallel universe where the complexity of humans, the multiple pleasures of life, and the deep connections that nourish and sustain us, vanish. …. Both Patricia and I are in the middle of a world which reduces humans to orifices and body parts, bled dry of soul, personality, history, and future, as life in the porn world is only about the here and now where penetrating someone or being penetrated is all humans exist for.

... Rather than sporadic trips into a world of coy smiles, provocative poses, and glimpses of semi-shaved female genitalia, youth today, especially boys, are catapulted into a never-ending universe of ravaged anuses, distended vaginas, and semen-smeared faces. When they masturbate to the stories, acts, and narratives of the porn in a heightened state of arousal, the images send a cornucopia of messages about women, men, relationships, and sex to the brain.

... Porn, like all other images, tells stories about the world, but these stories are of the most intimate nature as they are about sexuality and sexual relationships. When men go to porn to experience sexual arousal and orgasm, they come away with a lot more than just an ejaculation, as the stories seep into the very core of their sexual identity. To suggest otherwise would be to see sex as just a biological urge, removed from the social context within which it is developed, understood, and enacted in the real world. No biological urge exists in a pure form, devoid of cultural meaning or expression, and in American society, porn is probably the most visible, accessible, and articulate teller of sexual stories to men."

* Berel Dov Lerner writes:

"The book makes an interesting and alarming set of claims regarding the affects of pornography on its users and those around them. Anyone acquainted with the history of attempts to link pornography to rape knows that this is a tricky area of investigation, and even some feminists have argued that porn can be sexually liberating. Dines tries to prove that pornography -- especially in its increasingly extreme and aggressive "gonzo" forms -- does not merely promote violence against women, rather it distorts the attitudes and expectations that people bring to normative erotic relationships. Citing evidence including her discussions with college audiences, Dines tells us that women today are expected to conform to a pornographic ideal of feminine beauty and are pressured to engage in unpleasant and degrading acts popularized by porn. Men are intimidated by the sexual athleticism of male porn stars and they confess that pornographic conditioning has undermined their ability to connect emotionally with their sexual partners."

"Gale Dines disputes the widely held assumption that the mass distribution and use of pornography is a morally neutral cultural phenomenon. She is open about the fact that we do not know for sure the consequences of saturating our culture with porn. Yet her well-evidenced critique of the industry and porn consumption are a testament to the overabundance of negative effects on women’s and men’s sexuality, relationships and culture. It is her attempt to bring to public consciousness a problem that she argues is nothing less than a public health issue.

... Media images are not harmless. They help construct our mental map of the world, and they way we make sense of our place in it. Dines has found that men who view porn begin to ask the women in their lives to replicate degrading acts that amount to abuse; they encourage them to dress, look and act like porn stars. Men who use porn become less interested in real human beings and more interested in the porn women they conjure up in their imagination; the women they date inevitably become objects that can be used and disposed of.

In her treatment of men, Dines is a voice in the feminist wilderness. What is different about this book is that one doesn’t find a scathing attack on the unrestrained appetites of men. Certainly, she is in fine form when it comes to describing how porn has turned women into objects used for the self-gratification of the unrestrained desires of porn watchers, yet she is willing to acknowledge that men too might be suffering the consequences of porn usage. She even goes as far as to argue that pornography, as it becomes the main form of sexual education for boys, is a form of violence towards them, denying them the opportunity to develop an authentic understanding of intimacy and developmentally appropriate growth. Finally we have a feminist who has widened her methodological lens, acknowledging that “repressive patriarchy” might not be able to explain the entirety of the human experience."

[Hat-tip: Ned]

Monday, March 28, 2011

"I do not know how to teach philosophy without becoming a disturber of established religion."

Baruch Spinoza, letter to friend.

Quoted in James A. Haught, 2,000 Years of Disbelief

Saturday, March 26, 2011

"The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen."

Elisabeth K├╝bler-Ross

[hat-tip: Amna Raza]

Friday, March 25, 2011

Me: Hey, have you seen that new talkshawk commercial on tv, in which the wife says 'suna hay college mae aap baray dil phaink thay'?

Aati: Yeah, I have seen that. Why, does it remind you of your former love-junkie days? :P

Me: Lolz. No, I was just thinking about how a commercial depicting the reverse situation of a girl having the history of being the dil phaink one and the husband joking about it would be practically impossible for our audience to accept.

Aati: Haan, because that would make the woman 'loose' and the man 'beghairat' (shameless). Halaanke, in real life, I think couples might possibly joke like that too, at least the closer ones.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

This excellent article highlights an important point regarding the manner in which philosophical debates are often conducted, especially within the academia. It holds true for much of the philosophical debates I have witnessed on internet. Unfortunately I have myself been a party to it on occasions, sometimes the victim and sometimes the guilty. The issue is the blood lust and the arrogance and aggression with which philosophers act, the intolerance of dissent, the feeling of combat and hostility that robs the debate of any opportunity for genuine learning and growth. Where is the intellectual charity? Where is the philosophical generosity? Must we be consumed by our role as a predator? This is something for all philosophical souls to think about. Let us aim to extend an attitude of intellectual tolerance. By all means, let us seek truth and let us uncover erroneous and mistaken beliefs, but let us do it with a generosity of spirit, and perhaps we may find something to learn from disagreement.


"Philosophers, of course, are supposed to be critical. We have trained, and daily refine our skills, at exposing the errors in others' work. But while the exposing of error is an essential part of the doing of philosophy, it is not all there is to doing philosophy. Far too much of the practice of philosophy, both written and dialogical, has become one-sided: finding what is wrong in someone else's work and failing to find what is right, useful, and meritorious in that work."

"Is the blood lust I am speaking-of the cause of the underrepresentation of women in our profession? Does our very manner - collectively speaking of course, there are many individual exceptions - of doing philosophy repel the gentler, kinder, souls among our students? Have we adopted a collective personality which perpetuates itself by driving away those students who do not share our aggressiveness?"

"What so many persons currently practicing philosophy, currently serving as role models and mentors to students, find exhilarating - the cut and thrust of verbal battle - antagonizes, indeed offends, many students. Colloquia are viewed by these students - especially women - as the academic counterparts of courtroom battles. (Is there something of F. Lee Bailey, Louis Nizer, and Melvin Belli in many of us?) My students tell me that there is a palpable feeling of combat in philosophy paper readings and colloquia. And with their having alerted me to it, I, too, have come to sense it. Moreover, certain anecdotal evidence suggests that aggressive challenging of guest speakers' theses has chilling effects on many of our students."

"I am not remotely suggesting that we not attend to, still less desist from, the uncovering of error in philosophical work. But there are ways of doing this that are humane and honorable, and other ways that are insulting and unseemly. A person's stature as a philosopher is not diminished by generosity and sensitivity. One thinks, for example, of Carl Hempel. Those who have known him personally (I have not) invariably speak of his kindness, and that humanity reflects in his writings: we look in vain there for a 'put down' of other philosophers. In Hempel's work we see how it is possible to do philosophy extremely well without savagery. (Happily many other names come to mind as well.) But, by and large, or at any rate, to a greater extent than is warranted, philosophy has a vicious streak. If we really care about our profession, we need to reverse its destructive tendencies."

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

An interesting x-phi discovery "in our abstract brains we’re incompatibilists, but in our hearts we’re compatibilists". See the article here at the New York Times. Not that it settles the philosophical issue in any way. Just tells how people tend to think about the issue. [I personally think that a compatibilist free will, if it exists, is sufficient for moral responsibility.]

An excerpt:

'At an abstract level, people seem to be what philosophers call incompatibilists: those who believe free will is incompatible with determinism. If everything that happens is determined by what happened before, it can seem only logical to conclude you can’t be morally responsible for your next action.

But there is also a school of philosophers — in fact, perhaps the majority school — who consider free will compatible with their definition of determinism. These compatibilists believe that we do make choices, even though these choices are determined by previous events and influences. In the words of Arthur Schopenhauer, “Man can do what he wills, but he cannot will what he wills.”

Does that sound confusing — or ridiculously illogical? Compatibilism isn’t easy to explain. But it seems to jibe with our gut instinct that Bill is morally responsible even though he’s living in a deterministic universe. Dr. Nichols suggests that his experiment with Mark and Bill shows that in our abstract brains we’re incompatibilists, but in our hearts we’re compatibilists.'
My Editorial in Kemcol 2010, KE's official magazine.

Friday, March 18, 2011

"The concept of eternal punishment is so abhorrent that, were it true, the only ethical choice would be to sin one's way into hell in order to work there for the overthrow of heaven's tyranny, and be on strike against God eternally."

[Hat-tip: Maria Amir]
If everything, including God, is bound by Logic, then where did Logic come from?

Monday, March 14, 2011

An excerpt from Mob Morality: The Dangers of Repugnance as Moral Authority by Tauriq Moosa on 3QD:

"Jonathan Haidt famously provided the following example in a study.

Julie and Mark are brother and sister. They are travelling together in France on summer vacation from college. One night they are staying alone in a cabin near the beach. They decide that it would be interesting and fun if they tried making love. At the very least, it would be a new experience for each of them. Julie was already taking birth control pills, but Mark uses a condom too, just to be safe. They both enjoy making love, but they decide never to do it again. They keep that night as a special secret, which makes them feel even closer to each other. What do you think about that? Was it ok for them to make love?

Haidt, in an interview, explained the responses of subjects reaching ‘moral dumbfounding’:

People almost always start out by saying it’s wrong. Then they start to give reasons. The most common reasons involve genetic abnormalities or that it will somehow damage their relationship. But we say in the story that they use two forms of birth control, and we say in the story that they keep that night as a special secret and that it makes them even closer. So people seem to want to disregard certain facts about the story. When the experimenter points out these facts and says “Oh, well, sure, if they were going to have kids, that would cause problems, but they are using birth control, so would you say that it’s OK?” And people never say “Ooooh, right, I forgot about the birth control. So then it is OK.” Instead, they say, “Oh, yeah. Huh. Well, OK, let me think.”

So what’s really clear, you can see it in the videotapes of the experiment, is: people give a reason. When that reason is stripped from them, they give another reason. When the new reason is stripped from them, they reach for another reason. And it’s only when they reach deep into their pocket for another reason, and come up empty-handed, that they enter the state we call “moral dumbfounding.” Because they fully expect to find reasons. They’re surprised when they don’t find reasons. And so in some of the videotapes you can see, they start laughing. But it’s not an “it’s so funny” laugh. It’s more of a nervous-embarrassment puzzled laugh. So it’s a cognitive state where you “know” that something is morally wrong, but you can’t find reasons to justify your belief. Instead of changing your mind about what’s wrong, you just say: “I don’t know, I can’t explain it. I just know it’s wrong.” So the fact that this state exists indicates that people hold beliefs separate from, or with no need of support from, the justifications that they give. Or another way of saying it is that the knowing that something is wrong and the explaining why are completely separate processes."

Sunday, March 13, 2011

You'd think that when your heart dies, you'd die too.
But you just keeping living on, heartless.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Me: Do you think that if the person you love is not the top most priority in your life, then it means you don't really love them?

Aati: I think it depends on your personality more than the depth of your love, for the most part. Some people are very love-centric. For them, it is important to give all their attention to the person all the time, as demanded and even otherwise. This may be a healthy, non-disruptive part of their life but this is also the kind of person more likely to become dependent, resentful, obsessed or have a self-image/identity far too reliant on their object of affection. But at the same time a person may give a low priority to a lover, also in a healthy way, but that's the kind of person more likely to have trouble forming attachments, and so on.

Me: And love-centric are also likely to define love in the love-centric terms, and judge the companion accordingly.

Aati: Yes, that's exactly why they become resentful.

Me: So it's a small healthy zone of attachment where the two overlap?

Aati: Yes, though I wouldn't call it small. I mean, most people must have normal relationships, mustn't they? I can't imagine the majority of humanity divided into clingers and pushers :P

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, on reading Kafka’s Metamorphosis: “I didn’t know you were allowed to write like that.”

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

What are the possible ways to deal with the judgmental bullshit of the society? [Such as this.]

1. Hide your inner private life from your public life as much as possible. Be the sinner in thought while acting like the saint.

The Gain: No judgmental bullshit
The Cost: Your hypocrisy and your passive support to the society's bullshit in maintaining the status quo, so that others like you have to face the same bullshit.

2. Live your life, without going out of the way to keep it hidden. Distance yourself from the bullshit and/or stop caring about it.

The Gain: Your are living your life, and not the shallow life you are expected to conform to.
The Cost: You'd need to be financially and psychologically independent of the judgmental elements of society, and for that you'd need a social circle and friends like yourself, and a great degree of mental resilience.

My Advised Solution: Begin with the first strategy to protect yourself, but with the aim of achieving the goals of second strategy. Keep working on your financial and psychological independence, and gradually shift to living your life.

Do you know of another way? Please share.
When can I start living the life that I want to live and not the life that I am 'supposed' to live?

At what point would I have fulfilled the social stereotypes of success to a degree that I would be able to say 'Enough. Now I can do what I want. Now I can stop doing what I hate'?

There is no discernible moment.
It's now or never.
This is an alarming situation for the profession of psychiatry:

There ought to be more responsible mental health insurance policies that can cover the cost of psychotherapy.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

I have often referred to psychopathy with reference to morality on this blog, but I haven't really discussed psychopathy itself. So I am giving some links for the benefit of those who only have the pop-culture notion of psychopathy, and haven't read about what psychologists actually consider as psychopathy:

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Imagine a human-looking AI robot is created that is programmed to be a psychopathic rapist. It simulates cunning and manipulative behavior, displays grandiosity and narcissism, abducts, tortures and rapes people, avowedly 'for fun', appearing to derive pleasure out of it, and exhibits a lack of remorse or guilt. How would we humans react to this rapist-robot, while being aware that it is a robot programmed to rape, and therefore has no "free will" in the usual non-compatibilist sense of the word? How would we react if the victim was someone close to us? To go even further, how would we react if we were its victim?

I believe that our emotional reaction to it would be the same as our emotional reaction would be to an actual human psychopathic rapist. We'd experience the same anger, outrage, resentment, fear, disgust. And if it was somehow possible that the robot could actually be designed to experience pain, we'd want to hurt that robot. Yes, we'd want to hurt it bad.

However, this emotional reaction is only likely to be aroused by a direct interaction with the psychopathic rapist. If you just read about it in the newspaper, it'll just be a news. The more the interaction, the more the emotional reaction: watching the pictures of tortured victims, hearing about their shattered lives, having someone close to you victimized, and becoming a victim yourself.

I find it reasonable to assume that there would no difference in our emotional reactions. We'd react to it as if it were a human psychopathic rapist possessing free will. The more interesting question is, what would be our moral response to it? [And even more interesting, what ought to be our moral response to it?]

I believe that for people driven by the emotional reactions described above, the moral attitude would consist of precisely these reactive attitudes.

For people unaffected by these emotional reactions, the moral attitude would be an objective attitude: it's a programmed robot who lacks free will and therefore cannot be held as morally responsible.

('Objective Attitude = seeing others as objects of social policy, as subjects for treatment, as "things" to be managed/handled/avoided.

Participant Reactive Attitudes = "attitudes belonging to involvement or participation with others in inter-personal human relationships," which include "resentment, gratitude, forgiveness, anger," or love.' [See Strawson and Reactive Attitudes])

Strawson believed that the attitudes expressed in holding persons morally responsible are in fact reactive attitudes, and that the validity of these reactive attitudes is independent of the truth of determinism. Reactive attitudes would remain valid even if determinism is true. If that is so, then we would be justified in holding the robot morally responsible based on our reactive attitudes.

Let's also briefly touch the issue of legal responsibility here. Let's say that robot is caught and presented in the court, and the robot pleas that since it is programmed to do these heinous acts, therefore it has no free will, therefore no legal criminal responsibility, and it would be unfair to punish it for that. Even though it has no free will, I find it hard to conclude that it therefore has no legal criminal responsibility. Obviously, some sort of legal action has to be taken. We cannot let it run lose. And if legal action has to be taken, there has to be some criminal responsibility. It seems to suggest to me that the notion of criminal responsibility is not tied to free will. [This paper argues that conceptions of free will should have no impact on law and forensic psychiatry] Even if humans have no free will in the metaphysical libertarian sense, the notion of criminal responsibility would still stand. Even if the actual human psychopathic rapists could not help doing otherwise, they would still have to be subject to criminal legal action.
Religious people (faith-based) who initiate study of philosophy already convinced of the truth of their dogmas and seeking merely a confirmation of that will fail to grasp philosophy at all. Philosophy is not a tool to justify what you already believe. In fact, if philosophy can be said to be a tool at all, it is more of a tool for refutation than for justification. Everything, literally everything, can be subject to doubt. If you wish to do philosophy and do it the right way, then there can be no belief in your mind that you should seek to protect from doubt. No cherished article of faith that you should not genuinely question. Come to philosophy to purify your mind of falsehoods; do not come to philosophy cowardly and clinging to comfortable falsities. You can only learn from philosophy if you open yourself to the possibility of being wrong. You can hope that you are right and that your belief may survive the process of genuine doubt, but you cannot already believe that you are right before you even begin to philosophize. If you are going to do that, then you shouldn't even bother. Stick to your faith, cause what you are doing isn't philosophy. Philosophy doesn't like to be treated as Theology's handmaiden, and it bites back.
A psychopath's favorite maxim: Be yourself!

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