When Atheists Attack

•August 9, 2007 • 10 Comments

This is priceless.

If I keep writing heresies such as this, I may be taken off the Atheist Blogroll. Hilarious.

Update:

Looks like the debate on the censorship of my ideas has begun.

Update:

The sad and inevitable conclusion.

Thank you for reading.

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A Letter to an Atheist – PART II: Can We be Good without God?

•August 8, 2007 • 39 Comments

My last piece on this subject proved two things: firstly, that there is very little room for intellectual flexibility in a debate involving the existence of God, and secondly, that science will never sufficiently rule out the possibility of God’s existence unless one is willing to place one’s trust in science that it possesses the future capacity to explain all things. Though the debate was often convoluted and verbose, there was general agreement on the above observations.

I now wish to veer away from the realms of science and explore the notion of morality and its relationship to God’s existence.

Human beings have since the acquiring of sufficient intelligence to comprehend existence and become conscious of some notion of ‘self’, subjected most behaviour to the peculiar test of morality. Morality serves as a reference point to regulate behaviour and ensure some form of conformity to a presumed standard. Its accepted origin, no matter what the Greeks say, is firmly rooted in some form of archaic religion and a simple internet search would dispel any doubt of this fact. Most established religions would teach God is good, this is what He says, so this is our moral standard.

Secular teachings however attempt to divorce the concept of God from morality and instead offer an interesting alternative. The terms Good and Evil are replaced with Right and Wrong, and morality becomes the principle under which certain actions are adjudged as either right or wrong. Actions which are right deserve applause and appreciation while those which are wrong deserve punishment or at the very least, some cold-shoulder treatment. However, the question arises as to what constitutes the substance of morality which in turn labels an action either right or wrong?

To make things simple, let us take a clear example of a so-called morally wrong act: stealing. It is wrong to steal. Why is it wrong to steal? Is it because one should respect the property rights of others? This is however not a satisfactory answer, because the question arises as to ‘why one should respect the property rights of others’. The answer to that question doesn’t seem as obvious. So then is stealing wrong because our conscience tells us not to steal? This answer doesn’t hold much water either, since most of us do not have a conscience. Well, suppose we do, still each person’s conscience would have varied degrees of what he or she thinks would be acceptable conduct. Stealing someone’s car is definitely wrong, but stealing some flowers from an overhanging branch of your neighbour’s tree? Well, that isn’t really stealing, is it? Perhaps it’s because he wouldn’t miss it. So why is stealing really wrong? One possible answer is that it is ‘considered’ wrong by the average reasonable person or by a majority opinion. However, the average reasonable person doesn’t really exist. If he does, he certainly wouldn’t be average. Majority opinion on the other hand is another figment of some statistician’s imagination, since we can only ascertain what the majority might say though we cannot ascertain what they really think. Ask yourself ‘is it really wrong to steal a loaf of bread to feed your starving infant?’ Also, the average-majority conclusion puts us in a precarious position since this would lead us to further conclude that the content of morality and the ingredients of right and wrong are subject to gradual change. So in two millennia or so, stealing may be rechristened ‘permanent secretive borrowing’. No, that simply wouldn’t do. It seems therefore, that one is left with very few theoretical options as to a satisfactory answer to the question ‘why is stealing wrong’. However, one may answer this question by reference to a certain rational chain of thought. The logical sequence that follows is that stealing is wrong because it is contrary to accepted moral standards. These moral standards are accepted because they are derived from tradition and conscience. However, what is derived from tradition becomes rooted directly in some notional experience as to what really works in terms of sustaining society, while what is derived from conscience is directly attributable to the education system, one’s upbringing and, like it or not, a fair share of social conditioning. So, are these elements, often considered as infallible moral indicators, really that reliable?

The underlined conclusion on the question of morality is one which points to something utterly basic and quite simple: survival. In my opinion, the secular version of morality can only be explained by reference to an assimilation of behavioural patterns which through a process of trial and error has turned out to be most conducive for the successful survival of the species. Therefore, every action becomes either right or wrong simply by reference to whether it is directly or indirectly compatible with survival.

If one is in agreement with my hypothesis, the question remains, does one human being have the right to enforce moral standards on another? Do all human beings have an inescapable obligation to propagate the species, and does that obligation justify adherence to some moral code of conduct? Unless, we derive our moral standards from a higher power to which all human beings are subject to, the idea that equals can enforce a standard which is arbitrary and essentially self-serving seems unjustifiable. Therefore, morality must necessarily be derived from some external source for it to be sufficiently compelling. It must precede human thought and existence in order to demand adherence. If not, one is forced to concede that the fabric of our civilization is merely based on a well-refined and cleverly disguised version of law of the jungle.

Thank you for reading.

Are you Bending Over for Whitey, or Just Talented?

•June 20, 2007 • 34 Comments

When your friends and loved ones return from abroad they often bring along gifts, goodies and some rather interesting, and at times exaggerated tales. Occasionally, one or two may also bring along a brand new accent. This has always struck me as curious since what an American or Englishman cannot achieve in a lifetime spent in the East, is promptly undertaken by one of “us” who spends just a few semesters in the West.

Is this necessarily a bad thing? We Sri Lankans left behind to fret about the dying economy and intensifying ethnic conflict, often view with suspicion and contempt those of our kind who achieve the feat of successfully adopting a foreign accent. “Oh gosh, guess who came back speaking like Yankee Doodle?” or “I didn’t know the stiff-upper-lip was contagious?” are common sentiments articulated in private.

However, I find that the phenomenon of accent switching can be attributed to two main reasons.

  1. Our Colonial Hangover
  2. Our Hospitable Nature

The reason many of us find ourselves switching to a ripe British accent as soon as we set foot on those green hills of England, is primarily due to the fact that a Whiteman’s accent is seen to be of a slightly higher and more prestigious standard than our own. It also has a lot to do with self esteem and how comfortable one is with the way he or she articulates the English language. Studying or living abroad is not necessarily the reason one speaks with this accent, but rather the valid excuse one uses to justify the switch.

The second reason I have listed relates to the most common excuse given by those who engage in an accent makeover. It is simply that persons abroad fail to understand the Sri Lankan accent thus requiring us to change our accent in order to facilitate greater understanding. This of course is entirely true as I have experienced it myself. However, what is curious is that Westerners living here for decades on end never seem to make this same switch. In fact those of us who speak to them mysteriously alter our own accents, momentarily adopting a strangely refined British or American tone without even the slightest affiliation to those nations.

Some of you may call this “doormat-like behaviour”, but I would like to remind you that not all people can achieve this feat. It takes true talent to speak in multiple accents without even the odd acting lesson for assistance. Some of us choose not to change our accents, while others simply can’t help the change. However, time and again we have proven our potential for flexibility.

I find it more likely that this whole accent switching maneuver is part of a common potential possessed by all Sri Lankans to morph in order to fit in better with the outside world. This is probably why we can get along with everyone else except ourselves.

Thank you for reading.

WordPress vs. Blogger: Why you should also make the switch

•May 24, 2007 • 13 Comments

This is merely a momentary departure from the usual satire, so please bear with me.

(In this post: Find out how to import your old blog posts to your new blog site in just minutes)

After careful consideration, I have recently decided to shift my web log from WordPress to Blogger. The following piece seeks to highlight my findings and observations, which some of you may find useful.

Where WordPress wins:

1. It is most definitely a service provider with slicker templates and a more sophisticated overall design. However, you would be required to download an appropriate version of the WordPress blog tool and personally host your own site to truly appreciate this benefit. The free version which I had the luxury of enduring for a few months, offered very little room for tinkering.

2. It offers a wide range of statistics which enables you to track the performance of your blog.

3. It also permits the display of multiple pages, which somehow seems to be a feature in Blogger that I haven’t quite discovered as yet.

4. Finally, for those of you who enjoy a debate or two, it offers scope for the editing of both user comments as well as your own responses in terms of discussions that take place on your blog.

Where Blogger prevails:

1. It permits HTML editing. This is a priceless feature which the free version of WordPress does not offer. This ability to edit your blog’s HTML code essentially opens the window for countless possibilities.

For example, the lack of a statscounter is instantly resolved by including a code offered by service providers such as statcounter.com.

And of course, opportunities for revenue generating through the likes of Google’s AdSense, also open up due to such HTML editing capabilities. This provides an entirely new commercial dimension to the list of incentives to use Blogger.

2. It offers better design control over your blog. Blogger possesses a number of tools that enables template editing which ranges from fonts and colors to adding a feed from YouTube. Thus the scope for personalizing your blog is indeed far greater.

One of the main problems faced by bloggers who wish to switch between blog providers is the feasibility involved in importing old posts to the new blog site. I encountered this very issue in attempting to import my posts on WordPress to its new Blogspot location. The problem is now adequately dealt with through the use of a simple piece of software located here.

All things considered, I find the move to be a reasonably good one. However, the true prudence of this migration of sorts may only be tested with time.

Thank you for reading.

Caste in Stone: The dirty little secret you ought to know

•May 16, 2007 • 63 Comments

The ethnic conflict in the North and East has quite understandably drawn much attention away from many of the other social evils which perpetuate in this country. While there is still much activism against drug abuse, pedophilia and domestic violence, a field trip to Hambantota sometime back, revealed to me a stark reality which I still struggle to cope with.

The caste system of Sri Lanka is thought by many to be a bygone of the past. However, it occurred to me that the system, rather than ‘no longer existing’, is now merely ‘swept under our carpets’.

My assignment in Hambantota related to evaluating an NGO which worked with beneficiaries at the grass root level. The work, as is observed in many grass root level organizations, was admirable and sincere, and in most cases changed the lives of the beneficiaries. The anti-NGO sentiment we all consider as the general consensus amongst rural folk is in my experience almost non-existent. This sentiment is rather a product of the local administration which struggles to cope with the needs of poverty stricken families, and resents the dependency placed on these organizations. However, as the assignment took me deeper into the inner workings of this support system, I observed a tiny anomaly. There were cases of mysterious discrimination which were not on ethnic or religious lines.

Due to professional commitments, I cannot publish the details of the account. However, it was revealed to me that this discrimination was based purely on the caste to which individuals belonged. Such was the extent of this underground system, that the organizations that worked in these areas were forced to work within caste lines in order to reach their beneficiaries.

This is how it worked: the Government Agent is usually of a particular caste and has “obligations” towards assisting his own caste members. The local grass root level NGOs are usually desperate to gain access to beneficiaries and for this they need the cooperation of the local authorities. The GA then directs the NGOs to his own caste constituency, thereby ensuring the development of his own caste, a noble maneuver, no doubt. And finally, since the NGO’s mandate does not relate to the eradication of the caste system but rather deals purely with poverty alleviation, the organization reinforces the system by working through it.

Many foreign donor organizations are seemingly unaware of this system. However, the manner in which one must address this issue remains uncertain. On the one hand, we all agree that the archaic and notorious caste system is completely contrary to the concept of universal human rights. But on the other hand, we must cope with the issue of whether some good work is better than none.

Thank you for reading.

Wildebeest behind Wheels: All you need to know about Colombo’s roads

•May 7, 2007 • 63 Comments

wildebeests.jpg

Do you ever wonder what causes drivers to behave the way they do on our roads? I often do, since I tend to presume that we are not all that bad in real life. We just seem to permit a miserable, self-centered spirit to possess us each time we take the wheel.

Let me begin with a simple illustration. It’s raining and there is bumper to bumper traffic. The traffic lights before you display the colour green, and it is your rightful turn to go. However, there is very little opportunity for you to proceed, since your lane is neatly obstructed by vehicles traveling across it. If one vehicle decides to chance the red light, it is often followed by three or four opportunists who feel the necessity to tag along for moral support. And just to put the icing on the cake, the bus behind you honks impatiently with the hope that somehow you are Moses and you didn’t forget your magic staff.

Now what is the root cause of this predicament? Is it the lack of education, poor infrastructure, incompetent driving or just plain bad manners? In my opinion, the primary source lies elsewhere. The reason for what has been described by some as the worst driving in the world (barring India of course) is simply the existence of herd mentality.

Sri Lanka’s roads are indeed a step back from civilization and a step into the wilderness. Only the strongest may survive, and by strong, I mean drivers who possess the skill and the confidence to stake their claim using an array of weapons which includes curses, glares and, of course, a well-tuned horn. All this effort merely to gain a few extra minutes (and perhaps lose a few extra hairs…)

So why put it down to herd mentality? Ask yourself a few simple questions about our drivers and the issue may become slightly clearer.

1) Why is it that we take a few minutes to react to a green light, whereas we honk profusely when the driver in front of us fails to react instantaneously to an amber light?

2) Why is the use of the horn and the head lamps second nature to us, while around the world, they are reserved for emergencies?

3) Why is it that hardly anyone ever offers an opportunity to another vehicle to access his/her lane, while hardly anyone ever displays gratitude to the few that permit such access?

If you really think about it, there’s absolutely no valid reason for the lack of road etiquette in this country, except that we’re just not used to it.

Individuals that have driven abroad remain appalled at the abysmal standards seen here, and as much as it dents the ego, they are often correct in their analysis. The sad fact remains that everyone agrees that the standards are poor, yet continue to contribute towards perpetuating these standards. And please, let us not point fingers at the buses and the taxis. It would be a shame to admit that buses and taxis set the benchmark for everyone else to follow.

The fundamental issue to be addressed in this case relates to how people approach the law in general. Law must under most circumstances be buttressed by some form of sanction. Though sanctions themselves can be disincentives to violating the law, it seems inevitable that modern society demands that there be some manifest framework of positive incentives for upholding the law. This, if you really think about it, is a ridiculous position to hold. However, in the case of road rules, the lack of such manifest incentives simply proves the existence of this “ridiculous” predicament.

So, are we to be likened to a herd of hoofed beasts that needs to be driven by incentives in order to follow a simple set of rules? I hope not, but the signs remain discouragingly negative. The solution to all our road woes may lie within a simple law-abiding attitude. Or is it really that simple?

Thank you for reading.

 

 

The War Must Come to Colombo

•April 23, 2007 • 90 Comments

Forgive my blatant disregard towards being politically correct. I intend to make my point as clear as possible, thus the usual diplomatic wrappings that form a masquerade around my true opinion will be set aside on this occasion.

The recent massacre at Virginia Tech University was indeed an event that we all condemn and regret. We as members of a global community have realized the necessity to empathize with our fellow brethren across continents whenever fate deals them a cruel blow.

However, it occurred to me that we in Colombo have a nasty tendency to empathize with the West at the expense of neglecting the issues within our present civil war. A classic example of this was the reaction of individuals in Colombo which even included facebook groups for the purpose of displaying solidarity against the massacre. It would have been equally polite to have a couple of groups dedicated to the children in the North and East that are lost to war each day.

To avoid misunderstanding, let me make it clear that I too empathize with the families of the victims of this massacre. However, I find it puzzling that events such as this along with Oklahoma, 9/11 and Katrina seem to affect our conscience in far greater proportions than events within our own country. The international media, which is for obvious reasons West-centric, will continue to inundate us with news items that relate mainly to the West. And we seem to simply fall in line like well-trained monkeys.

It is obvious that we Colombo dwellers are more Western than in fact Sri Lankan. We remember our nation mostly when the cricket is on. Feel free to despise me for hazardously generalizing. The ethnic conflict (and yes, there is a conflict out there which is deeply imbedded in the psyche of the people) will never cease unless the conflict comes to our own doorstep.

No, I am certainly not asking you to wear sackcloth, weep and gnash your teeth in despair. However, I invite you to ponder upon the dynamics of our conflict and how we in Colombo, as we grow tired of the politics, choose to ignore its realities. I feel it is unlikely that a viable solution will be found until we, as the supposed crème-de-la-crème, are physically affected by the conflict. What I mean by “physically affected” is open to interpretation. I however do not possess the morbid wish for violence to take place within our city merely for us to learn our lesson. Personally, I believe mandatory military service may do the trick. But that’s a different debate altogether.

The truth is, we have grown comfortable in our own depression and look elsewhere to offer our condolences. Charity must begin at home.

Thank you for reading.