Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category


Posted: March 25, 2013 in Philosophy, Vagrant, Verses

There is too much paper

In the world,

But not much ink.

There is too much ink

In the world,

But not many words.

When paper,ink

And words concur

There is not much me

That’s left.


Leave those Popes alone!!

                Pope Francis has made a cakewalk into the hearts of even those who are not the least interested in papacy by his simplistic gestures and stances, so many think. The “goldlessness” of his pectoral cross, aversion to the bullet proof Pope Mobile, non-descript pair of shoes and apparels and all the more his exhortation to a life of simplicity made especially to the prelates have started a storm. Two posts on my FB newsfeed on this regard had been particularly pestering to me.

1) A snapshot of the humble pair of shoes the Pope was wearing. It drew questions regarding the validity of that gesture as the Pope was expected to wear the pair of red shoes symbolizing the blood of the Holy Martyrs. It even led to the larger question of who is bigger : Pope or Tradition? Convinced that the colour of the clerical vestments cannot be part of the Sacred Tradition (understood in the sense of Tradition and Scripture) I commented wondering what colour would have St.Peter, the first Pope sported. This tradition is functional and not dogmatic. So the ones waiting for the Pope to get loose on certain moral and dogmatic rulings that the Church has “vehemently” upheld ever will be thoroughly disappointed. There can be no dilutions in the essentials. Be ready for that. Later all those who heap praise on the Pope shall not swallow their own words and get choked by its sheer volume.

2) Of the many celebrations of the simplicity of Pope Francis many things are poised on the funnier side. A diptych showed St.Francis of Assisi taming the fierce wolf of Gubbio on the one hand and Pope Francis fondling a service dog on the other. It is quite apparent that there is a world of differences between the two situations. We are still overstretching.

With no prejudice to the simplicity and sanctity of the person of Pope Francis certain observations shall be made.

a) Simplicity may be the charism of Pope Francis and he will surely have a host of other virtues too, which shall not be delectable at times.  They shall not be overlooked.

b) In assuming that Pope Francis is simple, one shall not presume that no other Pontiffs were equally simple. Perhaps they failed to register an external gesture to show that they are simple. We cannot make a relative gradation and evaluation of the lives of Popes as much of their life is hidden from the public eye and is known only to God.

c) Cardinal Bergoglio was always involved in humanitarian activities and was noted for his exceptional preference for the poor. I am a bit wary about the media glare his past accomplishments receive now. It would amount to saying that all the great works he has done have become very appreciable now as he has become the Pope. Otherwise nobody is interested.

d)  When we celebrate the simplicity of Pope there can be many perspectives to it. Taking the clerical status of the Pope as our starting point there is a blunt allusion in it that the clerics are generally steeped in a life of luxury and impropriety. We are ill informed to make that comment even about a majority of the clerics. Taking the authoritative status of Pope as the starting point we are sending a signal to all centers of power to behave more humanely. Now there is a “third-party” situation: I-The Simple Pope or his equivalent- and the flamboyant/wicked/inhuman other and “I” elucidating the example of “Simple Pope” for the “Wicked Other” to emulate. That is just another way of passing the buck. You too are an oppressor as much as you are oppressed too. It is easy to celebrate somebody else’s virtue, especially if it is most endearing and difficult to cultivate, and it is even easier to celebrate the shortcomings of others.  Let us learn to say “mea maxim culpa.”

                Let us not allege the Pope of sanctity. He is holy inasmuch as he has responded to the Divine Will. He will be evermore strengthened to guide the Church through these difficult times. The Pope himself knows it better than anybody else as is reflected in his motto “miserando atque eligendo”(shown mercy and elected). He received greater mercy and grace from the Lord which he shall share with us all the more. And for our part we shall stop harping on the virtues of the Popes lest familiarity breeds contempt. Rest assured that human standards fail miserably when trying to assess the Pope or Petrine ministry.

Reality-when excessive

Sounding overdriven notes

Drives men to take cover

Seeking options to quell it.


Reality- negate or posit it

Or turn your back you may

Drawing apps and new ways,

Plying for situation control.


An earplug- born of needs

To nix the sound extern

Is deafness made wearable,

As if world has no words for you.


Or an earphone, still better

To fix a sound you like

As if it’s only one you’d hear

Though the world cries out loud.


Blindfold in its symbolic richness

Can hold the world at bay, a dark bay.

Window-blinds shut in

To let in just a beamlet;


Still reality stays and it says’

“You hear that you want

You see that you want,

But there is more and more unturned.”

“No matter how many white swans you have seen, it doesn’t tell you anything about the possibility of a black swan”
                                                                                                                         Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Philosopher and Expert on Risk
In a celebrated dialogue between Fr.Copleston and Bertrand Russel, the latter is posed with a question as to what question he would throw at God if he chanced upon him. Russell quipped: “I will ask God why he hasn’t left anything in the world to prove his presence.” The Vedas had it that “Isōvāsyam idam sarvam”(Everything is the abode of God). In a crude way Thales spoke of everything being full of gods, thus sowing the seeds of hylozoism and pantheistic trends in the western thought. In Indian tradition one comes across the supposedly contrasting worldviews of acosmism and cosmism; these are nevertheless the same thing viewed from two different ends: from eternity and from temporality. A similar strain of thought is shared by the Stoics in their formulation of sub specie temporis and sub specie aeternitatis upholding that everything is essentially good even when it appears the contrary. Tertullian went a step further in claiming that anima naturaliter Christiana( soul is naturally Christian). The aforesaid representations point to the fact that some sort of regularity had been observed in the dynamics of the universe which are variedly ascribed to the physical, preternatural or spiritual forces.
A law or rule of action is seen as implicit in the very nature of things. This, we call, the natural law. It also designates laws that regulate the activities of nature both in organic and inorganic realms. All creatures have from their creator those determined natural inclinations to their own respective ends “which we say are natural laws”, comments St.Thomas; elsewhere he has spoken “natural law is nothing other than the participation of eternal law in rational creatures”. Not only in classical and scholastic philosophy but also in modern science one finds that natural law is deemed to have an ontological value. This is a realistic view. Various contemporary thinkers hold that scientific knowledge is assimilated as a passive representation and faithful mirror of reality.
Plato speaks of Euthyphro Dilemma: whether something is good because God loves it or God loves it because it is good. This is a moot point in moral philosophy. One can view the beauty and order as a consequence of its ordination by God or one can speak of God as an abstract representation of the beauty and goodness one finds in the world, something like a provisional subject. Are there natural laws? Science has no knowledge on things that cannot be observed. Its validity depends on the conformity of the individual observations to a hypothesis.
Consider the proposition “All crows are black” and its contrapositive “All non-blacks are non-crows.” Each time we see a black crow our supposition is proved but given that each of the above two propositions can be immediately followed from the other, why is it that a pair of white shoes (which is non-black and non-crow) does not validate the supposition that all crows are black? There is something predictable about the physical laws; in that respect how much does it contribute to the definability of God? This is under the assumption that God wills the physical laws to be unchangeable so that every time you throw a stone up it inevitably comes down. Suppose if there is a miracle or an aberration, then it too is natural in that it occurred in the natural sphere. Only thing we may conclude is that the exception was so far not recorded.
Duns Scotus said that God in His willing is “intelligissime et ordinatissime volens” (most intelligent and most orderly) and that He is not arbitrary. If natural laws are participation in this eternal wisdom why it seems that much of the occurrences in life appears as matters of chance or like game of dice. Natural law ought to orient us towards the natural end as the case maybe. The facticities (things which are beyond one’s control) of life set each individual in a different starting point and he is to grow upon that. How can one conceive a common denominator for the different individuals and speak of it as the natural end of that life. When the pronouncements about each man’s end are as varied as there are individuals how can we speak of a “law”? The universality of the “law” is at stake. It takes us back to the Orwellian paradox: “All men are equal, but some are more equal than others”. If you try to educate somebody about the aim of his life, then it’s just trying to conform him to a consensus and it stops to be natural and spontaneous. If one’s destiny depends on the formative force of his circumstances then it is not equal for all. Natural laws, if any should be applicable or accessible to all equally. This leads us to the nominalist position that there can’t be such a thing as universal and that there are only individuals.
If we are pawns in the hands of God then there is no point in speaking of our actions as bound to natural laws, because God is not part of our nature in the sense God is part of God’s nature. This leads to arbitrariness in human actions as we witness in the present sociopolitical context. Each action is targeted not on a blind abyss but on immediately fruitful results. Here appetites grow higher than the intellections. Every human action becomes hesitant or determined according to the viability of the situation with utter disregard for the “natural laws”. A jihadist has sound theology for his outrages, an imperialist wages war in the name of God. This is because God is no more thought to be abstract but as a concretization of one’s own personal whims and fancies. Therefore god’s  revelations become unmediated and very often my god draws the sword at your god. Then why wonder that the world has become self-centered and each one nothing but a juggernaut.


cobwebs from corners

through treasured icons reaches

for my dusty soul…


watching dead leaves fall
from the cell through a window,
time seems frozen still.

when you stand on heights
and rain wets you,see it
falling on vales too.

two windows set near
one lit yet other not- as
opaque septum parts them.

sips by the beak off puddle,
crow slakes but as man im forced
‘drink safe lest guts crash

never candy melts
but chewed down unrelished- my
mouth chews by instinct

“love lost”
our love cedes, meeting
flesh of flayed realities
so we wed new lies

prose to set a fire
lovely hymns to quench- so my
prayer cycle recurs.

“rules to climb”
when you hear a gurgle
know your foot’s on splay- climb up
or roll down, no stay.

sweet note,loved, treasured
crumbles in hand as i slumber
lethal lethargy!

id crush boulders, eat them
digest,filled, live by it, yet
tip over a pip-sized rise.

“spectres on ice”
icebed arctic melts,
a mammoth calf unveiled
haunts me back here home.

“drip drying”
clothes to dry, sun slips
wind blows, lost sun bemoaned
forgets- wind dries too.

‘john’s dead’-said in jest
the words flew, all johns fell dead
that’s the thrust words wield.


            When a girl was molested in the streets of Guwahati, a few months ago, there was a journo at hand capturing every single moment of the assault in his cam and got it later streaming in the Youtube, of course pixellating the image to smooth the sensibilities of the viewer. Debates came in quick succession and fingers were pointed at the skewed ethics of the photojournalist. How vague are the lines that separate right and good! It is known that all our moral judgments are based on a value, which depends on one’s station. It was reminded that it was the duty of the journos to report and reproduce the event rather than preventing the event. That is a very professional view of things, of that sort of coarse and heartless professionalism that drove the Pulitzer Prize winner Kevin Carter to a desparate end. Martin Luther King is reported to have stopped a photographer who sought to intervene when an outrage was committed against him suggesting that the latter should record the events and bring it to the world so that the world shall know them and thus it is not just a single instance of outrage that is prevented but all the future recurrences. Perhaps we are confusing the photographer’s “right” with our “good.” What if the photographer is only saving the records to bring it later to an audience who are ready to decide on the course of actions? Such newsfeeds should be maintained to bring a consolidation of events around us and to trigger corrective actions. That is the most natural thing we can expect from man.

            The problem does not stop there. We are confronted by a situation where every other person is wielding a camera and is quite senselessly adept at it. We have become a lot obsessed with the delights of vision. When everybody becomes a self-styled reporter the reporting is taken into a realm that transcends the primary, actual and immediate capabilities of man. We record events out of fascination. When everybody runs the cam then who is the target? One has the provisions to broadcast the video captures as raw as he meant it and get it running. Doing so would displace the responses that the report could generate to a virtual plane, where anonymity is the order and where nobody really cares. Suppose a brutal act of assault is taking place before a crowd and nobody cares to intervene. By later presenting a video footage of the same, sourced by various onlookers, we are depriving the victim of that justice he should have received immediately in space and time. What is the good of elevating an event to a plane of discussion and ideational exchanges when action was precluded in the first instance? We are a folk who have reserved stock words to express our pseudo-commiserations. There will be a time when even the most violent turnout in one’s life becomes only a piece of information for the world whose emotional appeal, if at all there is any, will be systematically painted over by the diktats of the technocosm.

            Susan Sontag has aptly observed that a camera is “the ideal arm of consciousness in its acquisitive mood.” She also notes that any knowledge derived from a photograph is not ethical or political and that it is at the most sentimentalist and that photographs cater to an aesthetic consumerism. Attempts have been made to reproduce a historical event using photographs and cinema and we shall call this supplement to historiography as historiophoty. Certain emotions are better conveyed in visual or imagistic depictions rather than verbal discourses of the traditional historiography. It was firmly believed that the pleasures of man are largely scopic and that of women tactile. This is the very reason that man is capable of ocular assaults- the very look which can engender a sin. This is yet another reason why the girls are always skimpily clad in the silver screen even when their male buddies will compensate superfluously for their deficit. That seems to be an old story if we believe the social watchers of our times- women have started ogling at men now and so you understand why the heroes move about baring their abs. This is no minor indication. The very sense of sight has overwhelmingly run over all other faculties of man. Just pay attention to the advances made in display technologies that we relish in our television screens. It is a race to capture even the finest detail and with the advent of ambient modification techniques we will be tempted to take the projections for reality. The designers may cut down anything but not the screen size. Read with this the deluge of reality shows that can go to the most ridiculous extremes. We are concocting reality.

            When an event is caught in an amateur cam (we can spare the journos because they are condoned by certain interpretations of their professional ethics) does the photographer makes an ethical evaluation of the situation- something like him saying that he caught it in the tape because it was an infraction which needed to be publicized? Very often, it is not so. When we speak about moral judgments, some are of the opinion that our moral judgements are drawn from sensory appraisals. We may call it a “Humean” version. There is the “Kantian” line which suggests that there involves reasoning behind all our moral judgments. Controlled experiments regarding the moral judgments one makes reveal that sense and reason play non-exclusive roles and so it is aptly suggested that men are “Rawlsian” creatures in their moral judgments. It was John Rawls who suggested that there is an inherent moral grammar which determines our moral valuations. The amateur photographer is largely the one who is detached from the gravity of the situation and is only concerned with the rarity of the sight. The intelligentsia who dwell on these problems are equally clinical. They represent the opposite poles of sense and reason. In the age of information proliferation, even the slightest of microhistories are prone to get global attention if sourced through the appropriate channels. This should not be a violation of the privacy that the dignity of the individual justly demands. As men we should be keener on coming to the rescue rather than feasting on the flesh of a violated, mangled or wrecked body.

            Sontag writes in Regarding the Torture of others that the lynching photographies, like the ones from Abu Ghraib are maintained as trophies. This happens in our place too, when the vigilante groups or individuals commit an atrocity in the name of an ideal they believe and represent and eventually circulate the record of the act in the web. Even when the act is blatantly criminal, they maintain a daring impunity over publicizing it. This is the case when an onlooker or a perpetrator take the photographs which is exactly the journos’ cup of tea. This ubiquity of photographs reveals a wide spectrum of emotions which can never be treated as one and the same.

            There is a very poignant message in the Jackie Chan starrer Police Story. A team of police officers are led into a deadly trap and are killed by a gang of cult gamers. They make that fatal operation into a video game and post it in the Net. Knowing that the whole plot is centered on the depression Chan is in, unable to reconcile with his state as “the one who lived to tell the tale” and accusing himself for the death of his team, presumably the most devastating phrase found in the script is “they made you into a videogame.”



Ephraem maria gilbert

Capuchin ashram Thumpoly

14 August 2012

Patricio Guzman draws an interesting relationship between archaeology and astronomy in his renowned documentary film The Nostalgia for Light. In the extremely arid setting of the Atacama in Chile, are arrayed some of the mightiest telescopes of the world. The site affords a lucid view of the sky. Hand in hand with this comes yet another geographical peculiarity of the Atacama- near zero humidity which means that historical remnants that can be unearthed from that terrain will be almost freed from the ravages of water. This presents an even more lucid picture of history. What calls for an unlikely matrimony of astronomy and archaeology is the fact that deep in the Atacama lies the mass graves where the dissidents in Pinochet regime were condemned to silence. There are women who scour this impossibly vast terrain with spades looking for the shards of their dearest ones- a feat of endurance that matches the immensity of the Atacama. Some of them were wishing that the telescopes could zero in on the ground as meticulously as they were combing the skies and bring out their beloved. Here the telescopes watch out for the origins of universe, an anthropically fine-tuned entity, and contributes to the knowledge of genealogy of man even as the archaeologists unearth those specters which points to the genealogy of terror. As John the Heretic of Gibran says, the wolves may kill the sheep in the night but at the break of the day all we see the blood and know what happened in the cover of the night.
It is not yet time to forget the Wikileaks episode which brought a brand new vision of the contemporary world construed in the eyes of the major players in world politics. It exposed the “paper trail” of classified information taking the ordinary man into the depths of what happens in reality contrary to his superficial perceptions. A paper trail is the lineage of documented evidence maintained in all the administrative machineries. The common lot is lured into believing that all the determinants of their lives are perceptible to them. Those in power do not want a popular reading of the reality or history. Reality is as they dictate it. In the increased bureaucratic settings of contemporary governments, there is only a selective dispensation of information. The media and the entire government machinery can be complicit in presenting a particular perception as a reality and nothing else. Nobody expect the loci of power to tell the truths, these days. The more immediate the history, the more vehement will be the effort to skew it as one feels. The immediate past is the greatest weapon in the hands of a propagandist in this age of media coverage whose strategies are dictated by the circulation departments. A piece of news is in vogue as long as it generates revenue. Why should there be a paper trail at all if it would transpire the truth at some later juncture down the road given that it is truth that needs to be suppressed at all costs? Truths have to be politically correct. The maintenance of the written documents is a vital part of that blame-game strategy that can ensue at any time if the operational details leak out. There should be always a space available to pass the buck. History cannot be undone.
There can be cases of historical instances getting petrified in the collective psyche of classes of people. Years of struggle and mythmaking can lead to some sort of siege mentality in people. The very identity can become permanently referred to a historical event or situation. Luis Bunuel who thanked God for still keeping him an atheist wanted to convey this fixation for history in his “heretical movie” The Milky Way. It is an exposition of various Christian heresies that confront the ways of two impoverished pilgrims. What is worth noting in the story line is the predicament of various religious affiliations to posit themselves in contrast to others to get themselves demarcated. The cases of religion getting a patriotic hue and any incursions on religion getting treated as treacherous have something to do with the historical consciousness. In the post-patriotic identities designed to suit the neoliberal economies historical oblivion has become a requisite to effect a destructuring of the workforce. It is only by proposing that history has reached its finality that a sense of accomplishment and ultimate dignity can be effected. The cult behaviour rampant in all walks of life is a signifier of an anticipation of an imminent eschatological or apocalyptic finale. History is yearning to come to a grinding halt.
Fukuyama drew inspiration from the development of natural sciences to understand human history. The progress of natural sciences is cumulative and directional. The logic of modern science is to make an economic reading of history that leads to capitalism. He speaks of thymotic pride in man, a concept first proposed by Plato. It is the spirited aspect of man whose satisfaction is crucial to his dignity. This satisfaction cannot be afforded by ordinary man in an authoritarian regime. Therefore democracy becomes the best option and history should have come to end in its developmental sense by the establishment of democracies, which exactly is not so. The problem of recognition is always there, the unquenchable thymotic pride. So we design irrational forms of thymos like nationalism, sectarianism but given that these options are detrimental to capitalist designs we design still more irrational forms of thymos. Since recognition is at stake we get more individualistic, a situation whose glimpses we have now. The eternal race for recognition and approval, the “i-you-he” types of game are catching up again with the barrage of social networking media. It is no accident that Facebook is providing a view known as “timeline view” in lieu of the “wall view.” After all it is a bit of personal history which one can tamper with. The obsession with history never dies.