Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Meaning of Nelson Mandela for a Just World Order

Nelson Mandela's passing on December 5, 2013 caused me and millions of others to pause and reflect on the meaning of his life for our time. He fought for five decades to dismantle the unjust system of apartheid in his homeland of South Africa. Apartheid meant a black man (or woman) was unable to own property outside certain (low value) designated areas. Africans were not allowed to obtain certain jobs, no matter how qualified. They were forced to carry passbooks giving them permission to merely be present in white areas. Any white person could challenge them to present evidence that they were permitted in the area. They could be detained without charge and deported to so-called "African homelands". Last but not least, they were not allowed to vote or hold public office.

The day Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as President of South Africa was indeed a great day in the history of his country and dismantled at one stroke the legal structure of apartheid. However, the world at large continues to practice similar evils on a far larger scale today. The majority of citizens of  developing nations are not allowed to work or travel in developed nations just like the African residents of Apartheid South Africa's "homelands". The differences in wages between different parts of the world exceed those in Apartheid South Africa. Furthermore, the developed nations dominate the world economy, just as the white apartheid government dominated the economy of the so-called homelands before 1990. While the basis of today's apartheid is not explicitly racial, it is noteworthy that the citizens of developed nations are overwhelmingly white. The mostly non-white citizens of the developing nations are confined to their territories just like the serfs of the Middle Ages were confined to their lords' estates.

A grotesquely unjust system such as today's global order cannot last. While we can disagree about the best path toward a more just world order where everyone has genuinely equal rights, we cannot disagree about the goal: The dismantling of the current system of Global Apartheid and its replacement with a system where every human being throughout enjoys equal rights, the rule of law and roughly equal pay for equal work must be an absolute priority now and in the future.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Hinduism Deserves Ridicule Too!

During the last five years a number of best selling books ridiculing religion havecome on the market. The most well known among them are The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, The End of Faith by Sam Harris, God Is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens and Breaking the Spell by Daniel Dennett. All of these books are excellent critiques of religion. They all have one drawback, however. Their criticism is directed almost entirely at the three Abrahamic faiths. I believe the eastern religions (primarily Hinduism and Buddhism) are equally deserving of criticism. I am offering here a critique of Hinduism which may be developed further by others.

The beginnings of Hinduism are contained in the Vedas, especially the Rig Veda, the earliest of the four Vedas. A fundamental tenet of Hinduism is that the Vedas are infallible. So, if these books are truly infallible, why do they contain nothing about bacteria and viruses? Books which are infallible should surely contain information about medically significant facts! There is also nothing about elementary particles, chemical elements, neuroscience or any other useful information an infallible text should have.

Another central tenet of traditional Hinduism is the caste system in conjunction with the Law of Karma. The Law of Karma posits favorable consequences for the individual in a future life for morally meritorious deeds performed in this life. Any member of a lower caste is supposedly suffering punishment for misdeeds committed during a previous life! Such a doctrine is quite clearly a fiendishly clever doctrine designed to buttress the power of the Brahmins, the traditional priestly caste. Aside from the moral defects of the caste system, such a doctrine clearly discourages the striving for excellence and creativity necessary for the advancement of knowledge. Needless to say, absolutely no evidence has ever been adduced for the belief in reincarnation or for an afterlife of any kind. All of the "near death experiences" reported to date can be easily explained as hallucinations caused by extreme stress or trauma.

While the Bible claims the earth has existed for only six thousand years, the Vedas claim the earth , including Indian civilization, has existed for 1.9 billion years! Both time scales clearly contradict the painstakingly unearthed findings of modern science. Similarly, neither the Vedas nor the Bible mention the theory of evolution through natural selection. Fundamentalist Hindus, like their fundamentalist Christian counterparts, therefore reject evolution. Finally, the Vedas claim intelligent beings exist on other planets as well as the sun! Another claim rubbished by scientific research.

Many intellectuals would agree with the criticisms I have leveled so far but will maintain that the philosophy of Advaita Vedanta as expounded in the Upanishads is a deep and subtle system of thought. Such is not the case. As with other idealist philosophies, it cannot stand any scrutiny by modern neuroscience. We now know how injury or deformity in specific regions of the brain lead to specific personality or mental disorders. Our mental faculties are clearly a function of chemical and electrical reactions in the brain. While the details of the interactions are still not completely understood, one can be certain that mental processes are an epiphenomenon of physical processes in the brain. No consciousness has ever been observed outside a brain!

A full discussion of these issues would require considerably more space than is available here. However, one can definitely surmise that a philosophy which considers the material world to be an illusion and material comfort to be unimportant is not likely to lead to material progress.

I will be discussing these issues further in future blogs. Until then, I invite readers to offer their comments and criticisms!