Power of comedy and satire

Comedy and satire are probably one of the most powerful weapons in our society. Authoritarian figures and institutions use a sense of gravitas and seriousness to quell any questioning of their words or actions. They turn someone or something into hero or holy, and any criticism is prevented by invoking their greatness or holiness. It is like the emperor who is not wearing any clothes, but no one can tell him because no one must question the emperor.
Then along comes the satirist who speaks the truth to the masses. By pointing out the ridiculousness of something or someone, it takes away the sense of gravitas. And once that seriousness about an authority topic is gone, people are free from the bondage and are free to question everything else. It is the like the child who finally points out that the emperor has no clothes. Once that ice is broken, everyone else can join in on the laugh. A self-proclaimed holy man might tell me to run between two buildings every morning because it is the holy thing to do. Then the joker comes along and shows me the absurdity of the situation that I can let a man control me to the point of making me run between two buildings every morning.
That is power of comedy – to give power to the people, to show the absurdity of authoritarian institutions and their ridiculous reasoning and rituals to control the masses. If you can make something funny, it stops controlling your life. The same attitude can be used in our day-to-day lives. Life always throws shit at us. But it is up to us to decide whether to dwell in the gloom, or to find the ridiculousness of the situation and have a good laugh about it. In the end, it is the joker and the satirist who speaks on behalf of the masses while bringing a sense of control and power to the masses.

Faith is beautiful – Part I of Faith, Religion, and Me

Faith, now what does it mean? It is a confidence or a trust in something, or someone. Faith gives up hope, it gives us a reason to go on when we cannot see the future or an end. Faith doesn’t have to be in a deity but it could be anything – it could be in our own abilities, our friends and family, or just a positive thinking that if we keep trying something good might happen. One doesn’t have to be religious or even a theist to have faith, because everyone has faith in something. Some might even call faith as positive thinking or vibes, or a belief in hard work, due diligence, and its reward.

For a religious person, faith involves a deity/deities who might answer prayers or our performance of doctrinal rituals. We believe such a deity is looking over us for our well-being and we implicitly trust this deity to bring something good to us, even when bad things are happening to us. For an irreligious person, faith involves in trusting their own actions, abilities, efforts, or just the luck of probability.

Faith keeps us going in the darkest of times. It transcends the analytical mind because the logical brain deals with facts, not with hope. When a parent loses their child, it is faith that keeps them going that their child is in a better place. Try telling such a parent that their child’s life meant nothing and that it is now reduced to the dust of time. Faith gives many of us hope that our good actions will be rewarded, the injustice we face in this life might be rectified in an afterlife, or that we will once again be able to see our loved ones whom we have lost.

Similarly, an atheist or an agnostic might have faith that hard work is rewarded. A deity isn’t necessary to have faith. We can have faith in our fellow human beings and trust that they will be kind, compassionate, and just to us. We can have faith that our positive feelings would improve our outlook on life and cheer us up. Some term these positive feelings as prayers and put their faith in a guardian angel or a God.

It is when we lose faith in something is when we give up – be it a job, a person, or even life. Faith is the motivator that promises us of a better future. It is the catalyst that keeps us moving despite hardships and trials. Faith brings us closer to spirituality, because no matter what our beliefs are, the spiritual aspect of faith gives takes us to a deeper place where the analytical brain isn’t capable of entering. Knowledge, logic, and reasoning has its important place in our daily lives, but when we are hoping for a miracle, it is only faith that is by our side. The miracle might not even happen, but isn’t it better to live hoping for a better future than to give up the idea that anything can be different. Now hoping and faith is never going to work if we do not make an effort to change our circumstances, but faith can greatly complement our efforts when we are trying to achieve something.

Faith is too personal to be taken away from someone, or invalidated because it doesn’t match up with someone else’s faith. After all, isn’t faith nothing but hope and trust? So who are we say what gives comfort to a person, and who are we to say that someone’s faith in something is wrong? If it gives them happiness, hope, and a promise for a better future and it doesn’t harm or hurt anyone else, let us respect their faith like we expect them to respect ours. Let us respect that we can coexist together even if we do not share the same faith. Let us acknowledge that faith isn’t fact, it cannot be empirically determined, that there is no wrong faith or right faith. It is only our personal hope for the future.

Choice, control, and respect

Control is about power, not benevolence towards another person. People who do not give choices in life decisions to others do not respect the other person. Control is just another form of emotional abuse. The sad, and ironical part of control is that it perpetuates itself from the abuser to the abused – many who themselves become controlling people. Controlling attitude is prevalent across societies, cultures, and ethnicity. And it generally passes down from generation to generation. It could be nature, but it could also be nurture where if someone never had a choice in life decisions, they do not give that choice to others.

A person might resist a controlling family or spouse, but when a child has known nothing but control since birth, many just accept it as reality and give in to the controlling parents. Some might be strong enough to resist and be rebellious as kids and establish their independence as adults, but many are conditioned to believe that absolute obedience to parents is what makes one a good person. These children grow with an unhealthy outlook on life, where pleasing parents or any authority figure is the only way to receive validation. From a logical standpoint, it would appear that if someone suffered some sort of abuse, that they won’t perpetuate that abuse. Unfortunately, human psychology works in a way where abuse is perpetuated and it passes down in a never-ending cycle because for too many people the abusive life is a reality and they know of no other way of life. Experiencing kindness, compassion, and even freedom could be confusing and sometimes terrifying. When we are in an abusive environment, we learn to stop trusting people and even ourselves. We know that when our so-called well-wishers or loved ones ask something of us, they are actually looking out for their own benefits. As such, we start distrusting other healthy human beings who might show us compassion or love without having any ulterior motives.

The result of being in a controlling relationship is that the abused person tries to get control over whatever aspects of life they can, even at the expense of invading boundaries of newer relationships like friends, spouses, and even children. Besides power, the other aspect of control is a lack of respect for the other person. When we deny someone the life they want to live, we do not respect them. For children, it is an invalidation of their feelings and choices, and if that’s the reality they have known their entire childhood, they grow up to be someone with low self-esteem who needs others’ approval or permission to make any decision. If a child says he feels cold, and a parent says it isn’t cold – it invalidates the child’s feelings. If a child wants to wear something or a teenager says he wants a certain career but his parents say no – it invalidates the child’s choices. Children don’t always make the wisest of decisions, and parents must not agree to every demand. But there is a difference between teaching children how to make good decisions and making decisions for them because of the parents’ controlling and narcissistic personality. If control and a lack of choice is all that a child knows, he/she will grow up to be the same way for two reasons – 1. It is all they know and therefore it the normal to them, 2. They try to make up for the lack of control they had in their lives by trying to control anything else they can. Just like their personal boundaries was invaded by their parents, they invade the boundaries of their partners and children.

Society can be just as controlling as individuals. At the root of it is a lack of respect for individuality. When parents control their children through adulthood, when spouses control their partners, or when government or society makes rules intruding in our private lives, they all disregard the individual. Someone else makes the decision of how we dress, what we eat or drink, what we believe, or whom we can marry. Just like individuals control for power, governments too control the population to perpetuate their power. This is because a population whose thoughts and actions can be controlled isn’t a population that will question its government or leaders.

The opposite of control is choice, and choice is given through respect. When we give someone a choice, we acknowledge their individuality; we respect their thoughts and beliefs. It isn’t choice to tell someone “you must do this or face negative consequences”; it is a threat and an ultimatum. True choice is respecting an individual’s right to shape his or her own life because life is a journey of learning and growing up. What we believe in our 20s isn’t what we believe in our 40s or our 60s. We learn everyday, and we change everyday. I might be a non-vegetarian today, and some day I might become a vegetarian. These same things might become true for my partner and my children. Respecting them is giving them the choice to be what they want to be. It is about respecting their thinking, their personality, and their individuality. If my kid does not believe what I believe, it does not hurt me. But if I prevent him from believing what gives him comfort, then I neither respect his choice, his thinking, nor his happiness. And many people make the mistake that because we are a certain way, our family members must be the same way. Such expectations doesn’t allow others the freedom to grow, learn, or be independent. The only thing we can expect of those close to us is that they treat us with respect, compassion, empathy, love, and kindness. Having expectations of how they should live or believe is disrespecting their personal boundaries. And isn’t this what creates conflict in the world? When we treat our children as an extension of ourselves, not as individual human beings. When we want society to follow our beliefs because we take those beliefs as facts. When we do not respect the rights of others to be different. I might have some personal beliefs, but the difference between beliefs and facts is that beliefs are subjective. Someone else might have equally strong beliefs that completely differ from me. In a controlling or intolerant society, differing beliefs aren’t allowed to exist. Choice and tolerance does not mean giving up our beliefs. It means understanding and respecting that two brains can think and believe differently, and to acknowledge that our beliefs are subjective, and not an universal Truth. Because very few people can treat beliefs as facts and not feel that the other side is Wrong. And if we see someone as inherently Wrong, it becomes less likely to respect them or tolerate their choices. I might believe in God, but I don’t see disbelief as wrong because I cannot prove my beliefs to be a fact. My belief only affects me in a positive way, without negatively affecting others. But if I believe that homosexuality is a sin, I am having a negative belief towards something that does not affect me in any single way. With a negative belief, I am more likely to be intolerant and treat something as a fact that has no basis in objectivity. And once again, we let our subjective feelings invade others’ personal boundaries. When life is a constant journey of learning and growth, beliefs do not stay the same. Seeing them as private beliefs leads to tolerance and harmony. And when we do that, others also see that we respect their choice to think differently, we respect their choice to believe differently, and we respect their individuality. Let us hope for a world where governments, societies, and individuals are less controlling, and more respectful about individuality and personal choices.

The Reason I Read

I read for knowledge, and to enhance my understanding of the world around me, and to figure out the thinkings/actions of human beings! Yes, many times you will think I am a Sheldon Cooper or a Sherlock Holmes (immodest much? 😛 ) I always wonder why people behave, think, or act the way they do. Take politics and religion as two examples – a lot of people are quite self-righteous about their beliefs and find their way of thinking to be so obvious and cannot imagine why someone else doesn’t see their way. It happens on both sides of the political spectrum, and for all religions. “How can that person not see it?!” is a common phrase. Through my years of reading on neuroscience, psychology, history, literature, and religious scriptures…it has been quite fun to figure out why we behave/believe the way we do. And it has also led me to be more open-minded and question the things I might feel are self-evident. I feel that to understand something, you have to read everything about it and around it. You cannot limit yourself to only a certain field, or books in that field. Its like…one must study all the leaves to get a complete idea of the tree…not just a few leaves or a branch of the tree. To get an idea of the world, of existence, of humanity…one cannot limit their knowledge to only a few things. Therefore, I read and read and read.

Fight for fairness and justice everywhere, not where its convenient

Everyone knows about my stance on issues like child abuse, women’s rights, homosexuality, science, place of religion in the public square etc. And the Catholic church deserved getting bashed for the child sexual abuse. But I also get angry when it is only the Catholic church/Christianity that keeps getting bashed for things that are not unique to them. After a while, constantly picking on an institution that doesn’t respond back in violence is cowardice. There are at least 76 nations that have same or worse laws than Russia about homosexuality. There is a huge chunk of the planet that sees women as subservient to men. Take an anonymous survey about sexual abuse and you will find how prevalent it is in the world and how easily it is hidden under the carpet in closed communities/societies. So just picking on one side because it is politically incorrect to pick on others is not cool. Adam and Eve have no meaning for half the planet. But the fundamentalists of the other half that take it literally are not all Christians. Picking on someone because it is easy to pick on them is not bravery.

The deepest answer we seek…

If it is part of the natural world, it must follow the laws of nature. If it does not follow the laws of nature, it is not part of the natural world. And if it is not part of the natural world, then no sentient being of the natural world can understand or quantify something that is beyond the laws of nature. The cruelest irony of our existence is that the answers we have sought for millennia will always be beyond us. Either we have to change our idea of the answers we seek, or the laws of nature will have to break, or we will stay forever in ignorance of that we search the most.

Artists and art

For an artist, a painting, a photograph, or a sculpture is a work of art, of imagination, of talent, and of passion. For an artist of visual arts, the joy is in making the work aesthetically pleasing. For an artist of literary art, the joy is in making the work intellectually pleasing. An artist doesn’t understand why a subject can be forbidden or why a piece of imagination can be offensive. For many non-artists, many things are offensive, or sacred, or forbidden to be depicted by artists. Well, it is the artists, not the non-artists, who leave behind work that are seared in our brains.

Opening the mind

Opening your mind can be a scary proposition. Everything we have come to know or believe can come crashing down around us. Things we were told in childhood might turn out to be fairy tales and fantasies. Losing the innocence of childhood is the scariest part of opening up our minds. If the things we believed for so long could be fiction or lies, then how can we trust anything else? How can we know that what we see or hear now is true? The black and white of right and wrong, morals and sins, Truth and Lies, beliefs and myths, all fade into an infinite shades of grey. The dichotomy of black and white gives people a sense of control and meaning over their existence. Such was my case too. Till around the ages of 18-22, life for me was pretty straight forward. I knew what I should do and shouldn’t do, what I should eat, what I should drink, what I should believe. I was taught right and wrong that shouldn’t be questioned. I questioned the abstract, but never questioned the path set by my parents and society. I might have asked questions, but I wasn’t prepared to take a divergent path from what was set for my culture/society/religion. In short, I was the “good, obedient child”. Just like children don’t question the existence of Santa or the mythologies of various religions, I followed what was taught.

But a funny thing happens when you live in the United States, and in a diverse city like New York. You meet people from every corner of the planet with all the different cultures, beliefs, and thinkings that one can imagine. When you meet these people who are different than you but as good a human being as any you know, you do start to doubt and question your thinking. Why can they eat beef but I cannot? If eating beef was a sin, shouldn’t that sin be universal? Is this amazing human being committing a sin for the simple act of eating a cow when I don’t commit any sin for eating a goat? If my religion is the True one, is my best friend a sinner for not believing in it? Is there a Creator who will condemn a human being for the act of belief, not actions? How could a Creator punish a person who has served his/her fellow human beings for an entire life, for the sole purpose of having a different belief or no belief? Then such a Creator seems more like a narcissistic, egomaniacal, insecure dictator than a benevolent Creator. If what I knew about eating and believing is false, what else isn’t true? It was a scary thought. Seeing my entire reality crumble around me was a scary and torturous phase for a few years.

But something else happens when you start opening your mind. The world starts appearing more beautiful, more inviting, less stressful. One gets to appreciate the beauty of diversity. Instead of living a life full of fear and paranoia if you are committing a sin or a wrong, you start to experience everything the world has to offer with a free mind. Nothing is forbidden because it is different or from the “others”. You get to appreciate different thinking, different cultures, and different cuisines. You start to understand the existence of different beliefs in different geographical places. When you open your mind, nationality, race, ethnicity, caste and gender ceases to exist and you see a fellow human being for who he/she is – a fellow human being. You bond over your shared humanity rather than you shared tribal roots. When your identity becomes a homo sapien, you no longer have a rival or an enemy based on religion or nationality or ethnicity. The world no longer exists in black and white, but the infinite shades of grey are less terrifying than falling afoul of the morality of black and white. Opening of the mind is a continuous journey where everyday is a learning experience, where every possibility becomes possible. Maybe the answers aren’t as straight forward as we thought, but the journey of life becomes a search for answers from every corner of the Earth, not just my own. Opening of the mind allows us to experience the beauty of life in all its glory, without obsessing about the next life and neglecting the one we are living. For a non-believer, opening of the mind unleashes the full potential of existence. For a believer, opening of the mind allows a person to experience the magnificence of a Creation that is meant for everyone, not just a select few. Starting on this journey might be a scary prospect, but the journey of life through an open mind is an exquisite spectacle to behold, with mysteries and surprises on every corner. It is a beautiful life, a life worth cherishing.

Who is a scholar? Part II

Scholarship is studying the entire tree, not a single leaf. Because if you are studying a rotten leaf, you’ll be a “scholar” of rotten. And studying functioning leaves isn’t going to give a complete picture of the tree either. My point – I am irritated by the liberal use of the word “scholar” just because someone has spent X amount of time on Y subject. I can spend a lifetime studying palmistry and still be “scholar” of rotten (in a quatum universe where everything is X probability, there is no such thing as magic or foretelling).

Fear

fear…the most primal of emotions. it is an even bigger instinct than love. fear of the unknown in the bushes helped us survive predators. so everyone has fears, whether they show it or not. cowardice is giving in to fear and saying I can’t do anything about it. courage is facing your fear, acknowledging you are afraid, and working to fight it and overcome it, but not giving in to it. face the fear that comes in your path and walk over it. once you do, you will never ever be afraid of that particular thing, because then the unknown became the known and you survived it. fear…the primal emotion of the unknown.