Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Infrequently Asked Questions, an Introduction to the Untitled Enlightenment Project

Augie March, the chief protagonist in Saul Bellow's memorable bildungsroman, narrates the following gut-puncher of a scene:

I remember I was in a fishmarket square in Naples (and the Neapolitans are people who don't give up easily on consanguinity)--this fishmarket where the mussels were done up in bouquets with colored string and slices of lemon, squids rotting out their sunk speckles from their flabbiness, steely fish bleeding and others with peculiar coins of scales --and I saw an old beggar with his eyes closed sitting in the shells who had had written on his chest in mercurochrome: "Profit by my imminent death to send a greeting to your loved ones in Purgatory: 50 lire."

The beggar's surprising calibre of wit, should be relatively less challenging to  the imagination of my fellow Indian city dwellers, than our friends in the first world, given our distinctly high frequency of encounter with them (beggars). The beggar's appraisal of the upper class sentiments, his simplistic but quite accurate perception of the role of money in a society stratified by income, his method of channeling the power of cruel irony to strike his audience with a profound level of awareness for only the briefest moments of self-doubt/loathing. These conceptions of the witty beggar, however excruciating to our feeling of "Life is good", comes easily to the "urbanized" Indian citizen, who perhaps even imbibing this newly acquired wisdom, pays heed to it via the simplest of gestures.

Or so I could fool myself into believing.

In my view, a debilitating wave of cynicism and apathy has swept our nation (yes, the very same as Cardinal Goswami's). What has become far easier to imagine is the emergent narrative, that is virtualizing reality with an emphasis on self-gratification:
1) The beggar's predicament is the result of his karma.
2) Also, the collection of crooks, hoodlums and hooligans we call the Government.
3) Also, maybe the beggar can get a job and earn a living like the rest of us hard-working people.
4) The caste system is unfair you say? Have you not heard of quotas or what?
5) Yes, the quotas don't work, but see (2).
6) I'm just an honest labourer-by-day-family-man-by-night. I vote and pay my taxes. What else do you want me to do? "Think our country" out of disaster?

That is simply a sample of the kind of self-congratulatory yet nihilistic dialectic that Amartya Sen was emphatically NOT referring to when romanticizing the Indian instinct to argue1 . Because at the heart of any serious argument, lies reason. Reason. Yes, it is worth mentioning one more time: Reason. We are becoming a dangerously unreasonable race of peoples. And the tragedy is that it isn't entirely our fault. For what sense is the growing youth supposed to make of a world that apparently values entertainment over ideals (If you find *serious news item with far reaching repercussions* depressingly difficult to follow, why not browse our collection of celebrity gossip that appeals to your apetite for the embarrassing and the inspirational)? What sense is he/she to make of journalists dangling politicians like live bait above a democratically charged mob to invisible avail? What sympathy can be spared for the poor farmer whose circumstances have been relegated to fillers between advertisements for business schools, fast cars and skin care products? How much of his/her conserved time is to be devoted to the affairs outside the solipsistic sanctuaries of social media? The situation is worse than a temporary bout of cultural diarrhea; it throbs with the threat of a metastasizing cancer. Perhaps the allegation of sounding alarmist can be softened if not voided by a personal anecdote.

As an undergraduate in Mechanical Engineering in my senior year, I had realized my over-nursed dream of building and explaining the working of a bicycle gyroscope to students from other departments during the annual ME symposium. For those of you unfamiliar with this remarkable contraption2, the bicycle gyroscope is a standard apparatus used to highlight a very non-intuitive aspect of angular momentum, whose centrality to modern physics can never be understated. Understanding it is a necessary rite of passage for anybody who wishes to grapple with both classical and quantum theory. It is like DNA to a Biologist, rational choice theory to an Economist, the Rosetta Stone to a Historian. The gyroscope is also of immense import to the mechanical engineers who concern themselves with the stability of trajectories. Needless to say, a PhD in physics who teaches the subject for a living, however entranced he/she is by the bizarreness of the Conservation-of-Angular-Momentum's universal validity, surely can be expected to be that soul in the crowd for whom this demonstration is hardly surprising. So it was to my surprise, when my very own PHYSICS PROFESSOR congratulated me not for my expository account of this phenomenon, but rather sarcastically for my legerdemain. At first, I thought he was inviting a dialogue on "True" understanding and that this was his method to inspire me to become a better teacher. But I quickly realized, judging from his shockingly retarded grasp of the subject and its jargon ("things don't simply stand erect and go round and round"), that he hadn't the remotest inkling on what he was talking about! The look of puzzlement on anybody's face when their intuition is challenged is a secret craving of mine, but there was nothing appetizing about this man's doubts, or rather, his certainty. It was in this moment forever crystallized in my memory, that my inner scaffoldings came crashing down: How did this person acquire his degree? What sort of textbooks did he read to avoid confronting this subject through the 5+ years of his college education? What sort of peer group doesn't challenge such deficiencies even for fun? What sort of entrance exams fail to catch such severities and how poorly trained are his employers who make decisions regarding his raise? Which accreditation board was to be held accountable? Who were his teachers and what abject nonsense had they inherited? During which generational shift exactly had it evacuated the minds of those in charge that Science was a proven and rigorous method of enquiry that had encircled Nature as its item of utmost import and for the sake of civilization could not be surrendered to such causality? And what of this man's conscience; the gaping hole in his knowledge didn't stop him from questioning his student's credentials. Was he even aware that such a hole stood agape? After all, one can easily recall instances when one's simplest revelations came after a gentle nudge. To have gone through life without these effective prods would require an incomprehensible grade of immunity to criticism, or worse, a complete eradication of it! At the time it looked like an isolated instance of the kind of lack of awareness you'd expect from the reekingly rich, but society's true colors were beginning to emerge and my resulting extrapolation turns out to be hardly inaccurate. Politicians who don't understand the constitution are commonplace. So too are stenographers who posture as journalists, businessmen who are selectively blind to how their fortunes are intricately linked to the misery of millions, lawyers who'll stop at nothing to win an argument, corporate capitalists' respiratory relationship to IP, cricketers who seem oblivious to the havok money has wreaked in their sport, film producers content with their usual recipe of endocrinologically oriented high grossing scripts, revisionist historians leading cacophonous bandwagon's of propaganda, economists blind to unintended consequences, etc. And here's the gut punch with the same implicit content as Bellow's: the people around us are the ones who comprise this society, this reality. You and me, by this analysis, regardless of whether we like it or not, are complicit in these decays. My Physics Professor - writing this sentence was not easy - was a harsh representation of everything that was wrong with the World, with India and with me.

It is here that I wish to reintroduce our reluctant average Selvan who might have unwittingly suggested the key to a better future, perhaps hopeful that his interlocutors would take his meaning literally and shut up once and for all. Can we in fact "think" our country out of disaster? I hope to attach meaning to this phrase in the remainder of this pamphlet.

A good place to start would be to adopt the language of logic. Consider two propositions A and B. Also consider the simple third proposition, that the truth of A implies the truth of B i.e. if B is true, A must be true. A particular sort of A is that which is rendered meaningless when left all to itself. For instance, let A be the loaded statement "India is a secular country." Let B be "One is free to follow any religion in India without persecution." Now, if B is true, A is true by definition. But if B is false, is A still true? Answering this question requires knowing what it means to be persecuted. Given the broad spectrum of lifestyles in any subcontinental society, it is safe to assume that getting a majority to agree on what persecution exactly entails is very difficult. So let us strengthen the idea of Indian secularism with another proposition C: "Candidates contesting for office don't exploit people's religious affiliations for votes." C now gives A a discernable shape and allows us to discuss secularism in terms of political motivations3. So if C is true, B is true and A is resoundingly true. But if C is false, B is less plausible and A is even less plausible. Let us stick in a couple more to include considerations regarding indoctrination and law: D "Public institutions like schools and colleges do not have religious affiliations" and E "All religions are equal before the eyes of the law". For a very strong A, we could even throw in a forceful statute F "Any Member of Parliament if found encouraging religiously polarized communities to commit atrocities like, I don't know, demolishing mosques, burning houses and killing people should be tried as purposeful instigators and stripped of their political standing with breakneck immediacy." Now, if one were bold enough to utter A, one would face the uphill task of backing it up with B,C,D,E and F. If even one of these is false, A's truth can be rightfully called into question (even if F's language isn't optimally disinterested). If all of these propositions are found to be false, A is not only false, but downright laughable. In fact, insisting on a poorly verified A's circulation can cause some serious destabilization in the meaning of words like secularism and democracy.

This kind of reasoning is powerful. For one, it is academic and not colored with prejudice; it is simply an exercise in seeing what Indian secularism should entail if it is true. Both the atheist and the believer can agree on the logical relationships between the various propositions and their observable truth values, however distinct their moral judgements on those truths are. The logical route avoids the tediously useless complaints that we've grown tired of hearing, for example, how Hindus were original settlers or how Muslims raped our women. Do those facts have any bearing on our modern conception of secularism? If they do, this discussion was over before it even started. We shouldn't be discussing secularism but how best to allot rights based on genetic heritage!

Another advantage in using the language of logic to arrive at truth values is allowing for a separation of the ideal from the real. No country has completely achieved B,C,D,E and F because reality is extremely complicated. What we're interested in is the degree of difference between the real and the ideal because operating on the platform that connects the two is our only hope for progress. Too long in the logical board room can result in plain impracticable propositions like "ban all religion". Besides being hopelessly unpragmatic and dangerously inconsistent with other core ideals like freedom and liberty, it heralds a tone that is insensitive, brutish and above all certain. Shouldn't all exercises that seek the truth begin with the humble realization that nothing is certain?

Indeed, religion plays a huge role in people's lives and to have it questioned, controlled, altered and mocked can cause many people to visibly sweat. The various interpretations of religion being a way of life or a set of self-contained moral codes or a source of transcendental experiences are all too bulky for the metaphorical carpet to hide. Surely even the atheist can imagine the plummeting of hope being a good enough reason for many to transfer faith to some greater entity. These personal entanglements don't even begin to describe the political nightmare of a fact that all religions are not actually equal, that some are more extreme than others: Jainism compared to Islam for example. And in the midst of this asymmetry, promoting tolerance as a slogan introduces immense inconsistencies in fostering brotherhood and fellowship4. These realities defy rational deconstructions but cannot by virtue of that fact become the very reasons for upending our logical explorations. We have no choice but to use A through F as a basis set to tackle these more difficult questions. The infrequently asked ones. For if we shed A through F, we'd be trapped in an infinitely anarchical game of goal-post moving. Questions like "what is secularism after all?" and "didn't democracy mean anything goes?" are smoke alarms signalling the pyromaniacal lust that burns reason black. If we are sincere in our admission of these problems, then we're obliged to do our best to fix them, and to fix them is to question the validity of not just the answers, but of the questions themselves. Seriously. As in seriously.

"But what is secularism after all?" queries the confused heart. Did proposition A pop out of thin air? Is A even a valid axiom? What with the majority belonging to one religion and all, is A an example of some edgy committee writing? Some perfunctory attempt at emulating the West? Some pipe dream inspired by Marxist opiates?

Everything you experience in life is equal to everything that impinges on your sensory system. You are the absolute center of your universe and your attachment to yourself is the singularity that makes your living even possible. Your reasoning is reflective of the world you exclusively perceive. Which is why it is easy to get carried away. Everything that doesn't belong in your interior design can become superfluous and extraneous. Why should Indian secularism's flimsiness bother you when your everyday experiences have no perceivable relationship to it? Why ruminate on impending ecological disasters when guaranteed a lifetime supply of air-conditioning? Why lose sleep over some border conflict taking place at exotic altitudes? Soon, the triumphant cliche "Out of sight, out of mind" exits, and like a responsible bellhop, hooks to the doorknob of your mind that familiar beige colored tag that reads "Do Not Disturb" prefixed with an italicized "Please" for good measure.

Prop A is readily reduced to a silly non sequitur, too often as a result of the above solipsism. Mounting a defense for A does not require the mental gymnastics of math proofs. It doesn't require research labs or a thousand page treatise. Its proof languishes in the depths of our experience as self-aware Human Beings5. Your ability to socialize without steering the conversation back into your problems every five minutes, your capacity to imagine that you could very well be the problem in the first place, your sense of judgement to convict yourself for being majorly wrong. Dishonest even. If you aren't immediately being persecuted, you would be if you were exchanged atom for atom with someone who was. That thought experiment is more than legitimate because it is the only means to open your mind to the truth that you are not in complete control of your fate, that you are not at the center of the Universe. That is the capitalized, block-lettered and seriffed TRUTH. And this non-empty, in fact very substantive empathy that emerges from your awareness of what it means to be persecuted is key to getting prop A. Simply being aware, being conscious of your environ and your place in it can inspire the necessary and sufficient set of inarticulable propositions that convinces none other than YOU.

Think about this formula of awareness and reason. Take the rape epidemic that has besmirched our Country. If you are aware that as a citizen, you haven't magically severed your umbilical connection to our country's patriarchal roots, then chances are that you can recollect some of the instances when you indulged in some minor patriarchy yourself. Be it in the perception of the role of the Indian Woman: objectifying her as a piece of meat, stereotyping her as a housewife/cook, emphasizing the imperative that is her good looks, patronizing her implicitly/explicitly when she outdid herself or remain passively background when someone else treated her in such ways. Why, even the language you use could have been the friendly fire you once relegated as benign6. With this deep awareness of the underpinnings of chauvinism, having renounced your claim to eternal correctness, how could you muster the gall to jump onto the streets and parade the castration of a rapist, when that is clearly the most obscene of tangents that impersonates the solution? Fight molestation with molestation? Surely it strikes you that as a middle class well educated student of Life, you have benefitted from a set of experiences that has taught you better than to go about brutalizing the opposite sex. But you can also ask yourself about those who were brought up in the most miserable backdrops of our country, where the toxic combination of poverty, piety, peerhood and patriarchy, can drive someone into making dangerous life choices. Atom for atom, it could be you. Now, observe our proximity to the root of the problem. Intimidating. But close. Well poised to tackle the real bull by its horns. Our debates, press releases and legislation can address a richer, more effective solution procedure starting from here. For we have thought and reasoned that the problem has less to do with how we protect our women, and more with how we treat them. Grotesque doctrines in religious texts will be criticized, because your umbrage comes nowhere close to hers. Female roles in mainstream Indian cinema might undergo an overhaul and you might have to answer the unsettling question of why your first response was "I'll adjust." Only awareness can reveal the truth. Only reason can set it free7.

Apparently, our cynical times call for empathy's defense. "You dare empathize with the scumbag, pervert, barbaric rapist? Has your sense of true north escaped you? What evil ganja have you been smoking?"

I wish to introduce a coinage, The Disease of the Synecdoche8, a.k.a. DOS.
The frequent DOS attack here is that a part of my opposition to the rape isn't so much about the rapist as it is about society's instincts, hence the whole of my opposition is voided due to the elbow room I've gifted him. By empathizing with him, I have become his lawyer, his publicist, his loyal fan. By some accounts, I promote his merchandise and also secretly god-father his children. The reason this line of reasoning is automatic, is the same reason the aforementioned solipsism is also automatic. It is intracranio-numbingly easy to take such cross-Atlantic leaps of logic when you've renounced all your stakes. There are other extremely relatable examples:
"Modi is guilty? So you're from the left? One more of Sonia Ji's stooges? Naxal?"
"Gays are humans? Next you'll say cows are humans. Then pigs." 
"Farmers are committing suicide? So should I stop buying groceries so we can join them?"
Don't pretend you haven't heard at least variants of such right-wing poetry. And don't be surprised when you come across similar speech impediments from the left:
"Sonia Ji is guilty? So you're from the right? One more of Advani's acolytes?    RSS?" 
"The Iraq war is freeing people? Why don't we bomb everyone and free them all?" 
"Farmers are committing suicide? So should I stop buying groceries so we can join them?"
What we have here is a set of growingly innovative automatic DOS defences, a socio-immunological proven method of evasion. Conflate, accuse and repeat. At the speed of sound. It becomes impossible to be critical without being violently polarized. Arundhati Roy is a naxalite. Palagummi Sainath is an alarmist. Vandana Shiva is a hippy. This Standard Operating Procedure indicates a bad conscience. Ask yourself: Was there a condoning of the rape? Was there the slightest insinuation that the victim was asking for it? But in swoop the pundits, the television anchors, the spokespersons, the geriatrics and the juveniles, stroboscopically finger-wagging to the tune of conformity. Our media has set the agenda and its survival as an industry depends on us participating in its narrative. And its narrative has a complicated dependence on revenue. Advertising and television ratings have sealed themselves as indispensable fittings to today's information manifold. Expect a media with a predator's instincts for the quick buck. That's why our TVs have gotten louder and varicolored; because the quickest buck comes from exploiting that intracranio-numbing ease with which we surrender to self gratification. Shouting matches, celebrity gossip, doomsday soundtracks, vivid imagery, inflated rhetoric, controversy curdling are all turning out to be SOP in the media because it appeals to our automatic disposition to be minimally engaged so as to not take anything outside our immediate lives seriously. Consider just a few recent articles of news that have been squeezed dry of their shock value and thrown aside like spoilt cheese:
1) The Indian Jawan who was returned mutilated by the Pakistan army, was an opportunity to conduct a nuanced discussion on the sanguinary confusion regarding Kashmir's allegiance and the tinderbox description threatening Pakistan's sovereignty (cf. MJ Akbar's "Tinderbox - The Past and Future of Pakistan"). Instead, Goswami, India's self-appointed Premiership, used this opportunity to extend his Pan-Indianism to call for War against Pakistan by inviting Pakistani scholars and ex-generals to his primetime show and silencing them every time they offered evidence of peaceful piecing together of the problem. The exchanges closely resembled the sweaty testosterone infused clinch fighting seen in WWE matches, minus the spandex9.
2) The maoist attack at Chattisgarh that killed 28 Congress workers was as good a platform as any to deconstruct the politically charged race for resources, the plundering of adivasi land, the historical and sociological circumstances permitting a dominant presence of terrorists in the state. Once again, Goswami's sympathies for those suggesting carpet bombing the affected areas seemed strongly parallel to the predictable climaxes of action movies.
3) The IPL "rotten apples" disgraced for match-fixing could have been just the episodic segway required to step back and inspect the beast that Indian Cricket has become. It is a billion dollar industry mixed with the drama and trauma of Bollywood, which bandies about players like pieces on a life-size game of Monopoly played by businessmen whose abodes are in clouds. There is also a compelling similarity between America's war on drugs and India's war on match-fixers. Institutionalizing and hence legalizing betting could subtract significantly from the work of policemen, who lets not forget are at the service of the Indian public first before investigating the semaphores of entitled cricketing tweens. And the currency siphon stemming from the corporate-government nexus can be seen in the Indian budget's tax write-offs (cf. Sainath's "Many Insecurities") for the entertainment industry, which the IPL is neatly bracketed into. Money that rightfully belongs to the uplifting of our poor Indian laborers. You can imagine the ready reluctance to engage in these harsh realities. It would depress people. Make them feel guilty in pleasuring themselves like hormone besotted boys who just discovered the internet. It might even stir them into action and possibly ruin the business model. A business model so plastic and surreal, it can be thought of in the same sense as a lingerie model.

Look how cripplingly inadequate our information sources are. The nutrition value of our news channels, if you can pardon the gruesome analogy, would have us suffering from goitre, scurvy, rickets, parasthesia and night blindness all at the same time! The paralysis is not meant to be an exaggeration. If you are attentive of the paid-news pandemic, from local language news papers to the English Behemoths, you'd immediately see how this single phenomenon can be the undoing of our sovereign republic. To compare this to McCarthyism like propaganda is like not getting a good joke. The bureaucratically mottled universe of Kafka and the tyrannical hell of Orwell, as overused as yardsticks for doom as they are, enunciate the reality well, because cliche alone explains cliche. And as Sainath coldly exacts his judgement on Indian mainstream news, "Forget Professor Chomsky's Manufacturing Consent10. We've begun to Manufacture Content!"

So when we can't trust our mainstream media, how are we to witness reality? How does one separate it from the fictions that are understandably linked to an impregnable business model? How does one begin to think and calculate when force fed the deceptions and delusions of our media?

The questions are surprisingly old and are even canonical starting points in studies in philosophy, namely epistemology. One metaphor that isn't repeated enough is that of Socrates' Allegory of the Cave, found in Plato's Republic, Mankind's first attempt at assimilating a coherent theory of Justice. Socrates encourages his disciples Glaucon and Adeimantus to conduct the following thought experiment:

Imagine a cave in which prisoners are tied by their arms, necks and legs, constricting their view to only one direction, specifically towards a large wall facing them. Behind them is a fire that lights the cave and in front of it, yet still behind the prisoners, are figures casting shadows on the large wall, like some sort of bizarre cinematic puppet show. All the prisoners can see and interpret is limited to their sensations of these shadows. With no way of realizing that a world exists outside this claustrophobic nightmare they've come to call home, they get supremely confident that what they are experiencing is in fact reality. Then one day, one of the prisoners is released and dragged out of the cave into the world outside, where after his eyes adjust to the Sun, slowly starts to put two and two together, that life all this while had been a fantastic delusion. This education, the real meat of his enlightenment, was something inexplicably worth sharing. So he comes back to the cave to inform the prisoners that the lives they are living is imperially fake, that the gap between their belief in the constitution of reality and their knowledge of the constitution of reality is unimaginably large. But the prisoners are so hardwired to their beliefs, that this "freed" prisoner starts to sound like a trickster anarchist. The allegory is supposed to be a reference to the real life of Socrates, who was eventually fed hemlock and put to death for precisely this sort of annoyance.

The Greeks were definitely onto something when they were discussing education as a liberation of the mind. All this stuff about awareness, reason and truth converge beautifully at the focal points of our education. An education that is less about examinations, job interviews or status symbols and more about refusing to serve another term in the comfortable prisons we've erected for ourselves. And it turns out, this most electrifying liberation is exactly what the most downtrodden, exploited and poorest people in our country can benefit from the most. You are the class of people that become lawyers, businessmen, politicians, journalists, doctors, writers and Physics Professors. You are the beholders, transmitters and guardians of our culture and economy. Your imprisonment, is thus our culture's imprisonment, and the ones who suffer the most are the economically and socially backward classes of your society, for you are their employers, their representatives. And when you screw up, you are unwittingly boring away at the lives of an entire class of people, which our media's business model doesn't permit us to think about.

Please don't fall for the tempting although pathetic Synecdoche that understanding DNA, rational choice theory, the Rosetta Stone and gyroscopes frees the oppressed classes. The kind of thinking required in the serious study of these subjects is the same kind of thinking that fosters the liberation of the mind. It isn't the actual content of these subjects, but the self-contained dialectic in them that offers the chisels and forks to break out of our Shawshanks. Put another way, it doesn't matter what you think but how you think. Anybody can have thoughts, but the distinction lies in the machinery that produces them11. The difference between inspecting prop A through the lens of empathy is different from accepting it as an immovable standard. Both views may reach a moral equivalence on paper, but only one of them offers the opportunity to extend the perimeter of understanding. Learning the structure and functions of DNA, besides leaving one absolutely slack-jawed at Nature's infinite complexity, dislodges you from the center of things, and reminds you that to tackle complexity is to be disciplined and free to consider possibilities foreign to your life's routines. To digest the inherent paradoxes of rational choice theory is to be hypersensitive to the power of incentives and psyche. To appreciate the Rosetta Stone is to confront mankind's roots and its immutable love for language and how it always seems to magically supersede its grammar. How can such intellectual excursions not affect the way one perceives and interacts with fellow human-beings? And how can one ignore the ingrained humanity in these subjects? If you write software and are aware of the way it shapes society and its consciousness, then you will think deeply about its repercussions and might not be as trigger happy as you're told to be by execs when its time to file for an IP patent. If you are a businessman, even if profit-making is the end goal, being aware of how much you owe society and how similar everybody else is to you can go a long way in codifying ethical practices. If you are a minister in charge of foreign affairs, being aware of the kind of privileged access you have to operations of the WTO and the UN and the economic avalanches they can cause in particular regions, is more than half the battle won in resuscitating the World's lowest classes.

Your education, if you choose to take ownership of it, will restore your grasp on reality. It is a painstaking process. It can be a frightfully lonely one. But it promises to reveal the truth if you're persistent. Like the emergent structure of a Sierpinski triangle.

It would be remiss not to complete the context of Bellow's beggar in Napoli, or rather Augie's. His realization that awareness was inseparable from strangeness is a comforting admission:
Dying or not, this witty old man was sassing everybody about the circle of love that protects you. His skinny chest went up and down with the respiration of the deep-sea stink of the hot shore and its smell of explosions and fires. The war had gone north not so long before. The Neapolitan passersby grinned and smarted, longing and ironical as they read this ingenious challenge. You do all you can to humanize and familiarize the world, and suddenly it becomes more strange than ever. The living are not what they were, the dead die again and again, and at last for good.
I see this now. At that time not.
This pamphlet aspires to be the spark of your personal renaissance. Via subjects mentioned in this preface and more, we hope to strengthen this thesis, that it is possible to "think" our country, and ourselves, out of disaster.


[1] Amartya Sen's "The Argumentative Indian"
[2] If beauty is a priority, see The Feynman Lectures on Physics (Volume 1)
[3] C is however not entirely independent of B because of this other nagging concept called Democracy, for if B is false, C to some degree is rendered false as well, because the effectiveness of my vote has been altered by my religious affiliation (hence persecution). Real life is difficult to distillate into mathematically precise ideas, but we aren't looking for complete descriptions anyway.
[4]Do you tolerate your brother, or do you love him?
[5] David Foster Wallace's "This is Water", one of the greatest commencement speeches in recent history, lays the sufficiency condition, awareness, for the Copernican revolution of the mind.
[6] "Be a man."  "You throw like a girl." And also the etched-in-memory-forever "You catch like a girl."
[7] Our existential retreat is best summed, not by the difficult to parse Heidegger ("We are thrown into this World"), but by the language artist Salman Rushdie who in his "Midnight's Children" writes:
“I am the sum total of everything that went before me, of all I have been seen done, of everything done-to-me. I am everyone everything whose being-in-the-world affected was affected by mine. I am anything that happens after I'm gone which would not have happened if I had not come.”
[8] Synecdoche, n
a figure of speech by which a part is put for the whole
[9]  The E in WWE stands for Entertainment.
[10] For an introduction to Propaganda models, there is no better place to start than Professor Chomsky's "Manufacturing Consent". And for an encapsulation of our postmodern TV culture, read DFW's essay "E Unibus Pluram".
[11] Christopher Hitchens offers an example to illustrate:
The examination for captaincy in the navy used to be a very demanding one. There came a day when a young man was sitting for his exam and he was asked what he would do if a great wind got up and was blowing him towards the rocks. He said he would tack a starboard and pile on an extra sail. Said the admirals, "What if the wind continues to blow you towards the rocks?" He replied "I'd continue to tack the starboard and I'd add another main sail". He was asked the question again and he gave them the same answer. Then finally one of the admirals asked, "Where are you getting all this sail from?" The Young captain-to-be said ,"Same place you're getting all that wind from."

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