Archive for December, 2015

Maintaining institutionalized ignorance

December 28, 2015

— Nasir Khan, December 28, 2015

Renowned American writer Saul Bellow (1915-2005) says: “A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance.” This pithy saying speaks volumes if we analyse it at greater length. But I will offer only a few fleeting remarks here.

It may surprise some if I say that ignorance is not a simple matter. In fact, a complex phenomenon serves various social, political and religious interests. It is directly related to influence common people and their consciousness of the social reality that surrounds them. However, the task of the brainy purveyors of ignorance is not to inform but to raise the barriers that would not let any truth slip in to the masses! That means if the particular interests are to be protected and masses duped then ignorance has to be institutionalised, fortified and perpetuated by the powerful and the influential people who are at the helm of affairs.

Who can batter the citadel of Ignorance better than the people who are dubbed as intelligentsia, intellectuals and the ‘educated’ ones that separates them from the ordinary people? There is no doubt, they do an excellent job when they have rich and resourceful people to patronise them and institutions to hire their services. They are closely attached to upholding the interests of the ruling elite and justify their actions and policies. I call them modern-day gladiators!

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Remarks on old gods and One God

December 27, 2015

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— Nasir Khan, December 27, 2015

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I assure the followers of one Supreme God who belong to different religions, both monotheistic (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) and others (Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, etc.) that old gods and goddesses were not ‘real’. They were only man-made and existed in the imagination of their believers. However, it is important to point out that for their believers they were ‘real’ and they worshipped them in earnest.

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As luck would have it, Jews found one god, Yahweh, who became common in the Middle East under different names. This happened at a certain stage in history and the evolution of divergent theologies, finally culminated in the concept of one God. Consequently, one universal and omnipotent God replaced the old tribal gods.

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In this context, we should not forget the role of the Egyptian emperor Akhenaten (c. 1351 BC – c. 1336 BC) who also introduced one god in his realm. But he met much opposition from the powerful priests and the followers of traditional gods. After his death the old gods were reinstated and the memory of the ‘heretic’ emperor and his one god banished.


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Courtesy: Mark Stephens


The three daughters of the Semitic god, Hubal. From left to right: Al-Uzza, Al-Lat and Menat formed a holy trinity in Ancient Arabia. They were widely worshipped: from Nabatean Petra in the North to the legendary Kingdoms of Arabia Felix in the South, including Saba, the Biblical Sheba; as far east as Mesopotamia and Persia.

  Mark Stephens's photo.

How we get religions and politics

December 24, 2015

Nasir Khan, December 24, 2015

“In religion and politics people’s beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second-hand, and without examination, from authorities who have not themselves examined the questions at issue but have taken them at second-hand from other non-examiners, whose opinions about them were not worth a brass farthing.”

― American author Mark Twain (1835-1910)
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In Norway, people say if you discuss religion and politics then your social contacts with your friends will have a short life. I am acutely aware of this dilemma because I often discuss religion and politics in my articles and comments that I share with many. No wonder if I can count the number of my close friends on the fingers of only one hand! (What a sad loss!)

Both religions and politics have their long lives that outlive us as individuals. In fact, both religions and politics share some common concerns that make them appealing to their followers. We follow religions because our ancestors have done so. In our childhood, we may ask some odd question but soon we find that the social pressure to conform prevails and we fall in line with the common traditional practices in our inherited religion. Western societies may have found some middle way, but the vast majorities of Afro-Asian societies follow the traditional pattern in matters of religion.

Some people may be modest not to proclaim the superiority of their religion, their religious beliefs or ‘their’ God/gods. But they are limited in numbers. Most followers of a religion take a different course. They may say something that amounts to this: ‘Other religions are false and based on wrong beliefs, but my religion is real and the best’, ‘our God is the only true God because he is not man-made as some others have’, and so on.

In politics, we have more or less the same. For instance, in the United States, there are only Democratic and Republican parties that have monopoly over power. You are either a Dem or a Rep by birth! Only a few may cross the party lines but the vast majorities of the two parties remain loyal to the party they inherited from their parents. Therefore, I find the traditional attitudes towards religion and politics Mark Twain referred to be empirically accurate.

 

Why generalising is needed

December 22, 2015

Nasir Khan, December 22, 2015

“An idea is always a generalization, and generalization is a property of thinking. To generalize means to think.”

— German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831)
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Hegel is spot-on the interrelationship of thinking and generalising. We all think about various things in our daily lives. Out from our observations and experiences we also draw some general conclusions, or generalise that is more of an evaluative process.

We also meet people who hold an opinion or view to be only a ‘generalisation’; therefore, by calling it a generalisation what they imply is that it should be cast aside as ‘non-factual’ or ‘illusory’.

However, that’s a simplistic view. On the contrary, in the hands of thinkers and mature observers their views are based on empirical data and a rational analysis of such data. As a result, for them to offer generalisations is  an essential part of communicating some facts that are part of a cognitive process.

No wonder, all thinkers and mentally mature people generalise; that helps many of us to see their views as empirically verifiable. But all generalisations do not meet this criterion. By adducing evidence, we can show the erroneous assumptions on which such generalised views may be based.

 

The tools of despots – deception and misuse of religion

December 20, 2015

Nasir Khan, December 20, 2015

“The supreme mystery of despotism, its prop and stay, is to keep men in a state of deception, and with the specious title of religion to cloak the fear by which they must be held in check, so that they will fight for their servitude as if for salvation.”

~ Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677)
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Some people may find Spinoza’s language in this quotation somewhat intricate. In simple words, what he means is that in despotic form of government the powerful rulers use both deception and religion to strengthen their stranglehold on the people. Thus misled, the subjects serve the oppressive polices of their rulers wholeheartedly as if these provided the only way to a better life for them. If we apply this saying of Spinoza to the contemporary world, we see how realistically he pinpointed the way oppressive rulers use false propaganda and misuse religions to keep their domination and exploitation.

 

Wars and Profit

December 14, 2015

Nasir Khan, December 14, 2015

“War against a foreign country only happens when the moneyed classes think they are going to profit from it.”

— British writer George Orwell (1903-1950)
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Well, selling weapons and making enormous profits is quite common for the weapon producers. If there are no wars or no military conflicts, the weapon industries of the major industrialised countries can’t sell their products and can’t survive financially. No war, no profit. Therefore, they have to use their political influence to push the ruling elite to start some military conflicts under some flimsy slogans that catches the attention of the ordinary people.

But when a powerful country decides to invade a foreign country, the ruling elite and their henchmen do no say they are going on a military spree to earn large profits! Instead, they have to use other means to carry out their war plans, by hiding the true objectives of foreign wars.

First, they feed the population of their country with false information. They can offer any reasons to justify a war. The whole state-machine and its think tanks can offer all sort of explanations to gain support for a coming war.

Secondly, they appeal to the demons of nationalist jingoism and patriotism to sell their war. This stratagem or trap never fails. In fact, the thin porridge of national pride to win victory over a distant ‘enemy’ is gladly devoured by the vast majority. What comes next is all too familiar!

 

Joseph Stalin as a war leader, some short remarks

December 13, 2015

Nasir Khan, Dec. 13, 2015

Joseph Stalin’s pivotal roles in the fight against Nazi invasion, his mobilization of the Soviet people for the Great Patriotic War and his dominating and decisive leadership in the conduct of the war against the Nazi Germany are unprecedented in the history of Europe since the end of the Napoleonic era.

It does not mean that we should cover up his hard polices he followed in collectivization and industrialization of the country. His suppression of political dissent and elimination of all who could be a threat to his rule proved disastrous for the world communist movement. His political suppression pre-empted the moral force of Communism for a worldwide new form of State structure under the control of the working classes.

However, despite all the mistakes he made, his stature as a leading military strategist and leader against the Nazi war is great, possibly too great, for a military historian to narrate impartially who is not in the service of US imperialism and neo-conservatism.