Utility of Philosophy

This is an awesome passage from one of Michael Sandel’s lecture which I want quote here –

  • Philosophy is a distancing even debilitating activity.
  • One of Socrates’s friends Callicles tries to talk him out of philosophizing. Callicles says that Philosophy is a pretty toy if one indulges in moderation at the right time of life. But if one pursues it further than one should, it is absolute ruin. Take my advice, abandon argument learn the accomplishment of active life. Take for your models not those people who spend their time on these petty quibbles, but those who have a good livelihood and reputation and many other blessings.
  • Callicles has a point because philosophy distances us from conventions, from established assumptions and from settled beliefs. Those are the risks, personal and political. And in the face of those risks there is a characteristic evasion. The name of the evasion is skepticism. Its the idea that we didn’t resolve, once and for all, either the cases or the principles we were arguing when we began. And if Aristotle, and Mill, and Kant and Locke haven’t solved these questions after all these years, who are we to think that we here can resolve them. Maybe it is just a matter of each person having his or her own principles and there is nothing more to it, no way of reasoning. This is the evasion of skepticism.
  • To which Sandel offers the following reply: it’s true these questions have been debated for a very long time, but the very fact that these questions have recurred and persisted may suggest that though they are impossible in one sense, they are unavoidable in another. And the reason they are unavoidable and the reason they are inescapable is that we live some answer to these questions everyday. So skepticism, just throwing up your hand and giving up on moral reflection, is no solution. Emmanuel Kant described well the problem with skepticism when he wrote “skepticism is a resting place for human reason, where it can reflect upon its dogmatic wanderings but it is no permanent place for permanent settlement”. “Simply to acquiesce in skepticism”, Kant wrote “can never suffice to overcome the restlessness of reason”.
I think Callicles is right. I think Nandan Nilekani had also made this point when he said that solutions to India’s problems should not be ideology based but solution based.
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Is BJP = Cong + Cow?

  • Some time back, Arun Shourie, one of the very few honest politicians in independent India, disillusioned with the Modi government said that BJP = Congress + Cow.
  • I think his criticism, though not completely lacking merit, might be a bit pre-meditated. But the Modi sarkar was not voted into power to implement the existing laws with efficiency. There is no doubt that Modi is capable of both hard work and efficiency but there is a need to change the existing laws. That was the whole premise of the 2014 election.
  • It is to be conceded that a lot of the changes needed requires a 2/3rd majority in the Lok Sabha and BJP is making good progress in winning elections.
  • We can say that BJP is Cong + Cow if by 2024 a good chunk of the following changes are not put in place.
    1.  Abolish the first amendment. The 1st amendment of the Indian constitution mandates reverence to all religions and and FOE is contingent on the wishes of the incumbent govt. FOE should be irrespective of the govt and should allow irreverence to all religions, like the 1st amendment of the US constitution. (Highly unlikely they will do this)
    2. Abolish the RTE. It prevents the poor from getting affordable education. Open up higher education sector for private players.
    3. Bring back strong land and property rights.
      1. Put a muzzle on the waqf board.
      2. There are a lot of powerful people squatting on lands at the exchequers expense.
    4. Abolish article 370
    5. Bring a uniform civil code and show the Sharia board proper their place.
    6. Remove the anti-beef laws from the preamble. Ram mandir is not communal but anti-beef laws are.(Highly unlikely they will do this)
    7. Urban infrastructure improvement by changing the incentives and accountability structure that currently exists. Make the mayor more powerful and accountable and not the municipal corporation. Change the tax system such that a good chunk of city taxes go to the city administration and not the state. Remove free parking and have paid parking. I don’t think the whole smart city thing is a big deal
  • Except for point 1 and 6 the other things can be argued to be pretty much in line with the Sangh Parivar agenda of cultural nationalism. If they are able to do this then we can confidently say that Arun Shourie was wrong.
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Why ‘Liberals’ are failing

I have used the word liberal in quotes because I believe India has very few real liberals, but a lot of douchebags who roam around calling themselves liberals. And it for this reason that liberals, for want of a better word, are hard to take seriously.

Pratap Bhanu Mehta recently wrote this article – Sinking Valley. He accuses the Indian establishment of being in denial about the realities of Kashmir, hence unable to win the hearts of the Kashmiri people which military force alone cannot accomplish. What is funny is that Mehta has written the whole article not mentioning even once the problem of Islamism and the abomination of Sharia law that exists in the valley. And he accuses others of being in denial. Thats rich!

I don’t know if there is any difference between the separatists and rabid Islamists in the valley, but Mehta does not even attempt to address that. I have often read news articles where lot of Kashmiri folk go with the mantra “Sharia or Shahdat( martyrdom)”. Frankly we should help them with their Shahadat plan but not cede an inch to Sharia.

It is this denialism that is stopping the larger population from trusting these self-proclaimed ‘liberals’. And this also manifests as a lack conviction when they try to go after the murderous anti-beef lynch mobs. Unless ‘liberals’ learn to unequivocally condemn all movement that are overtly or covertly trying to push Sharia law, they will keep losing. They should separate Muslim culture and art from Islamic law. One is acceptable( good if you are into arts and stuff) the other is plain abomination.

I had once read a comment about Mehta on the interwebs that he is a permanent outrage machine, who has nothing to offer in terms of ideas or solutions but has something to say about anything any govt tries to do. I think it is pretty accurate. The work of academics should not be just criticism, they should be able to suggest credible alternate solutions at least in a few situations, if they wish to retain some amount of credibility.

There is this awesome passage towards the end of the movie ‘Ratatouille’ that I think is very apt here. I will try to quote it here –

In many ways the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy the position over those who offer up their work and their selves for our judgement. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fine to write and to read. But a bitter truth that we critics must face is that in the grand scheme of things the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent and new creations, and New needs friends. Last night I experienced something new, an extraordinary meal from a singularly unexpected source. To say that both the meal and its maker have challenged my conceived notions about fine cooking is a gross understatement. They have rocked me to my core. In the past I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau’s motto – ‘Anyone can cook’. But I realize only now that I truly understand what Gusteau meant. Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere. It is difficult to imagine more humble origins than those of the genius now cooking at Gustave’s,  who is in this critic’s opinion, nothing less than the finest chef in France. I will be returning to Gusteau’s soon hungry for more.

I feel Mehta might be the textbook case of a critic who fails the above test. I have never seen him praise /approve of anything. (I could be wrong of course, I have not read all his works)

Also I dislike the intelligentsia’s habit of using the nation’s capital while trying to refer to the govt. I think it is stupid. They should either say the Indian govt/Indian establishment or say the union governemtn/ central government/ federal government. Throughout the article he keeps referring to New Delhi, as though that is the whole of India.

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Recco List

  1. Kakistocracy
  2. Education and DeVos – http://indiauncut.com/iublog/article/the-one-good-thing-you-did-not-know-trump-was-doing/
  3. Booklet App – Nice idea about summarizing non-fiction books as a series of Whatsapp messages. Book collection can be better.
  4. Interesting podcast, this and the next one –
    1. http://www.dancarlin.com/common-sense-home-landing-page/
    2. http://www.dancarlin.com/hardcore-history-59-the-destroyer-of-worlds/
  5. Amazing journalism about how the ISIS coordinates its attacks – https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/04/world/asia/isis-messaging-app-terror-plot.html?ref=oembed
  6. Very valid points about immigration by Ayaan Hirsi Ali – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/trump-immigration-ban_us_58933c0de4b070cf8b80d970
  7. Very true about innate merit, appearances and optics – http://www.opindia.com/2017/02/this-paint-ad-explains-the-importance-of-appearing-liberal/
  8. Gut wrenching documentary about manual scavenging in Mumbai. – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y7DfnI0nDUo
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Is it always wrong to discriminate against culture?

Is it always wrong to discriminate against culture? by @jonathankdavis1

Answer by Jon Davis:

People will get pissed off by me saying this, but discrimination against culture is the only kind of discrimination we ought to practice.

Culture is not race, ethnicity, or gender. It also isn’t something as superficial as a brand of musical styles or a food. Nowhere in the world is worse off for having more variety in food. All these are the surface features that do not actually reflect what defines a culture. What does, are the fundamental underlying set of ideas which have become embedded in a people and define and direct the choices they make.

For example, a culture which has embraced philosophies of Karl Marx will behave much differently than one in the tradition of Edmund Burke. A nation which has shifted to secularism will have different values inherent to it than one which upholds Christian values, and both will be radically different from one of the Islamic tradition, or even one where Confucianism was once the norm. Moreso, each and every culture today exists in a very complicated state of conflict between many competing, and often contradictory, systems of ideas within themselves, yet to be fully resolved. In many, the conflict is ripping the cultures apart, while a few use the conflicts of competing ideology to rationalize new solutions, which themselves will cause more disruption once they spread. An example of this would be Europe, where a philosophy of openness and egalitarianism pervaded following a century of bloody wars. Those ideas are being challenged today by increased internal struggles with security and Islamic colonization which is proving more and more unable to adapt and become part of the greater European culture which surrounds it.

That said, the reality of this is that all ideas are not equal and all don’t work together in the same society. More than this, when certain ideas are placed together, they always lead to predictable outcomes. What’s important to note, is that absolutely no one in the history of mankind ever thought they were evil. Every dictator, despot, and murderer of millions was acting in accordance with what they believed to be the best form of governance according to what they believed was right. Every single one believed they were acting in a way consistent with what was the good and moral thing to do… every single one.

To be clear… there is such a thing as a bad culture.

In this example, the National Socialist Party of Germany circa the 1930’s had many economic policies which were very progressive for their day, and served well to elevate the everyday German out of the suffering they experienced following the First World War… but we don’t remember the National Socialist Party for their economic policies, do we? No, we remember the Holocaust, the Rape of Europa, lebensraum and the decimation of whole populations in systematic ethnic cleansing as their legacy. What is important to accept, is that the economic revolution they experienced was tied to the very same ideas which invariably led to the slaughter of over fifty million people. You simply couldn’t one in the way they did, without the other. Regardless, many Nazis lacked remorse for the collective actions of their party, because the ideas of Nazism were so ingrained in their moral rationality of the world, that they saw everything they did as good and necessary in the end. It is in this way that intentional famines were engineered in China, political purges in Soviet Russia, Colonialism from Europe, Baathism’s spread in the Middle East, and a regime of fanatical Islamists resurrected the Caliphate to the horror of the world. In every case, the leaders of the movements didn’t balk, because to them, they were never the bad guys.

Once we accept and acknowledge this, we have to realize that some cultures are simply better than others for the common good of not just the most people, but of everyone; and other culture’s ideas are not just good for everyone in their culture, but everyone in the world. We have to also accept that each culture can exist in a hierarchy of acceptability to the values we already have. Some cultures would easily be considered just and moral, others detestable. Once we accept all these things, we must accept that we are defined less by the collective color of our skins, and much, much more by the philosophies we hold in common, and then accept also that other philosophies and systems serve not only as contradictory to our own, but as destructive to other forms of thought, and in fact, are mutually exclusive to beliefs we hold dear. As I said, no one ever thought they were the bad guy.

It is for that reason that we have to rely on education about not just our own ideas, but the vetting of outside forms of thought without looking to the prophesied and preached utopias they claim to offer. Instead, we have to look to the historical record of what actually came about in their wake. In this way, it is the duty of every individual holding collective responsibility for the common good of others to discriminate against and reject certain cultures based on the historical record, and embrace others which improve our own.

This is the opposite view of Globalism and Multiculturalism. These ideas center on the assumption that there is something inherently wrong with systems in place today, particularly in Western Democracies, and that the only solution is the importing of new and different ideas with no true concern of what those ideas are. So long as it is different, exotic, and new, it must be an improvement upon the “status quo”. “Plant a garden of many flowers so that the brightest may bloom.” This idea only works in a world where some of the flowers do not actively seek to cannibalize and massacre the rest of the garden. It is a lazy philosophy and a naive one because it doesn’t seek to learn or understand a person’s culture, even while professing it’s value, only to feeling good about itself in the moment for its belief in its own altruism.

In reality, there are very few ideas which will improve upon Western style democracy in regard to what Westerners claim to value: personal liberty, moral equality, both upward and downward social and economic mobility, representative government. These ideas have done more to create wealth and ensure the prosperity, dignity, and potential for greatness of even its least members than has any other collective system of thought in the history of mankind. More so than this, it is those systems of thought prevailing in the last half of the 20th century which led to fewer deaths worldwide from war and disease, and a greater acceptance and proliferation of technology and education than at any time in history… even extending very far beyond the places which created it. Very few parts of the world have ideas which improve upon that tradition, and the inclusion of many would (and are) working to dismantle the progress it has made. So the real truth is that much of the rest of the world needs the ideas of Western democracy more than the west needs new ideas.

The rational, predictable consequence of this idea? That while an individual should not be discriminated against for their faith, skin color, gender, or ethnicity, but to acknowledge that individuals are the bearers of their culture. While individuals are not responsible for a whole culture, it is individuals that spread culture, and individuals that are changed by new ideas. Each person, upon entering a new culture experiences the shock of radical differences with the one which you left. This is because we carry with us ideas we inherited which are often inconsistent with our new realities.

A prime example are the Indians. In their tradition is a deep seated tradition of classism because of the castes which existed in their culture for many, many years and continues in some forms today. This is antithetical to Western values, but what isn’t is the hard work and tradition of intellectualism also a part of many parts of the Indian people. For that reason, our system can accept only so many Indian immigrants and in such volumes as that their inclusion does not create cultural conflict. There must be only so many as that that the parts of their culture which cannot integrate within the western value system will fade with time, and not take root. It would be a radical regression to revert to something like the caste. But enough must be allowed in to so that the parts which can integrate well with our values, such as their work ethic and intellectual rigor, will be reinforced and, in fact, spread out into and improve our own culture over a number of generations as they acclimate to their new culture.

What this means is that a culture must protect and nurture itself through firm and immigration policies, intellectual integrity, and an eye towards what lies beyond its borders, both good and bad. These policies need to be made with the acknowledgment that cultures are different, some cultures align more to our own, and some are worse. Some, even, are directly contradictory to our way of life. A nation’s immigration policy must be porous enough to allow a number of high achieving individuals in who would better their own culture once they acclimate to it, but not so much as to create a system of cultural colonization. That is why, once we allow someone in through a throughout vetting process, we must welcome them happily, to show them the greatness of our own cultures and to learn best what they have to offer. So can we, as individuals, discriminate against other cultures? No, we shouldn’t, but the state absolutely should be aware of what is going on outside its borders. So long as the state is doing its job, we can be as warm and welcoming as we want to be. This will both improve acclimation and prevent conflict. What we can’t do, is have an open door policy to every bad idea in the world because having that standard might appear to some to be racist, intolerant, or mean.

Thanks for reading!

For more answers like this check out An Elephant in the Room and follow my blog Jon’s Deep Thoughts for more new content. Everything I write is completely independent research and is supported by fan and follower pledges. Please consider showing your support directly by visiting my Patreon support page here: Help Jon Davis in writing Military Novels, Articles, and Essays.

Is it always wrong to discriminate against culture?


On a related note this is a brilliant article by Ayaan Hirsi Ali on Trump’s recent Immigration related executive order – http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/us_58933c0de4b070cf8b80d970/amp

And I think that if they are really trying to curb radical Islam, then not including Saudi Arabia in the list of countries to watch for does not make sense. Of course it does not make much sense to expect honesty and intelligence from Donald Trump.

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Republic Day Thoughts

Reading list for the republic day –

  1. A fascinating artistic perspective of our constitution – https://storify.com/varungrover/a-fascinating-artistic-look-at-our-constitution
  2. Transcript from the debates of our Constituent Assembly when the Preamble was being decided – http://parliamentofindia.nic.in/ls/debates/vol7p6.htm
  3. The Directive principles advises the protection of cows and calves as part of promoting animal husbandry, which probably forms the basis for the asinine beef ban that is happening around the country. The directive principles probably requires a serious relook.
  4. This is a brilliant podcast by Sidin Vadukut about the Indian constitution – https://soundcloud.com/anewrepublic

This is an excerpt from the above transcript which wisely opposes the use of the word ‘Socialist’ from the preamble of the constitution.

Mr. Vice-President, Sir, I regret that I cannot accept the amendment of Prof. K. T. Shah. My objections, stated briefly are two. In the first place the Constitution, as I stated in my opening speech in support of the motion I made before the House, is merely a mechanism for the purpose of regulating the work of the various organs of the State. It is not a mechanism where by particular members or particular parties are installed in office. What should be the policy of the State, how the Society should be organised in its social and economic side are matters which must be decided by the people themselves according to time and circumstances. It cannot be laid down in the Constitution itself, because that is destroying democracy altogether. If you state in the Constitution that the social organisation of the State shall take a particular form, you are, in my judgment, taking away the liberty of the people to decide what should be the social organisation in which they wish to live. It is perfectly possible today, for the majority people to hold that the socialist organisation of society is better than the capitalist organisation of society. But it would be perfectly possible for thinking people to devise some other form of social organisation which might be better than the socialist organisation of today or of tomorrow. I do not see therefore why the Constitution should tie down the people to live in a particular form and not leave it to the people themselves to decide it for themselves. This is one reason why the amendment should be opposed.

The second reason is that the amendment is purely superfluous. My Honourable friend, Prof. Shah, does not seem to have taken into account the fact that apart from the Fundamental Rights, which we have embodied in the Constitution, we have also introduced other sections which deal with directive principles of state policy. If my honourable friend were to read the Articles contained in Part IV, he will find that both the Legislature as well as the Executive have been placed by this Constitution under certain definite obligations as to the form of their policy.

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Women’s March on Washington is a farce

I just came across a bunch of people taking out a protest march in San Jose. They called it the Women’s March( https://www.womensmarch.com/team/ ), I looked it up once I got home and apparently it is some sort of protest against Trump.

I think the march is a total farce. It has no cause, the new government has not curtailed their rights in any way, and have not implemented any new policy. So I fail to understand what these people were protesting.

If one actually sees the team of people organizing it, it contains people with a very shady past. Linda Sarsour in the past has supported Sharia law ( https://twitter.com/almostjingo/status/822411501247938560 and http://dailycaller.com/2017/01/21/womens-march-organizer-recently-met-ex-hamas-operative-has-family-ties-to-terror-group/) and is a Hamas sympathizer. That is the very definition of a rabid Islamist who needs to be denounced in the strongest terms. There is nothing liberal about tolerating Sharia law or the people who propose it. In fact it is the very antithesis of liberalism. Following the lead of such people can never be wise.

The protest march also had idiots who were trying to pass off wearing the hijab as some sort of symbol of women empowerment. It would be funny if it were not sad.

Another march held in Iran back in 1979 was a real Women’s march( http://nytlive.nytimes.com/womenintheworld/2015/09/15/the-day-100000-iranian-women-protested-the-head-scarf/). When the Islamic Revolution tried to strip the citizens of their rights, good people tried to protest against it.

The current lot are just a bunch of jokers with no cause, and full of hot air.

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What one sentence can change the world if every human being would live by it?

Answer by Anirudh Acharya:

“There is no free lunch”. Nothing is free of cost.

What one sentence can change the world if every human being would live by it?

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I’m choosing between two PhD advisors. One of the projects is more interesting, but the other advisor is just plain nicer. Who should I p…

Question on @Quora: I’m choosing between two PhD advisors. One of the projects is more interesting, but the other a…

A is better funded and more reputable. I’m more attracted to A’s research. But A is a boss, not a mentor, and is insensitive to students’ personal lives. B is an incredible mentor and provides more academic freedom (important to me). B promotes a healthy lifestyle for his students.

I’m choosing between two PhD advisors. One of the projects is more interesting, but the other advisor is just plain nicer. Who should I p…

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Random Thoughts

I think I finally figured why I find John Oliver’s eccentricity/stupidity vaguely familiar. He resembles Pinky, from the cartoon Pinky and the Brain, to a great extent. I just picked a random image from the net for the comparison, but you could look at other pics too. The similarity in not just looks but also in speech and mannerism is eerie.

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