Wednesday, December 12, 2007

I made a video!

It's my first one ever, so be nice. Or send it to people mockingly, so that my viewcount goes up, either works.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

the slope really isn't so slippery

Ah, election time approaches. A time for Indecision and Decision, youth activism, and feelings of importance (rather unwarranted) mingled with despair at the futility of it all (more on-target).

This is the most wonderful time of the four-year span for logicians. I am not a logician, but I love advocating for logic. People hate me for always wanting a reason, but even more so for constantly asking, "What exactly do you mean by that?" which is the main weapon for a student of philosophy.

This brings me to the fallacy I hear most and which I consider the most ridiculous: the slippery slope.

The main context in which it is used against me in an argument is in regards to my secular tendencies. The claim is that without religion, there would be no morality, and the world would degenerate into anarchy. One problem with that is that the theist definition of morality and what morals are most important is usually quite different from the construction of humanist morality. The Ten Commandments are a great example, since all of the Commandments are considered highly important.
1) I am the Lord thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
2) Thou shalt have no other gods before Me. Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image, nor any manner of likeness, of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; Thou shalt not bow down unto them, nor serve them; for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me; And showing mercy unto the thousandth generation of them that love Me and keep My commandments.
3) Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain.
4) Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work. But the seventh day is the Sabbath in honour of the Lord thy God; on it thou shalt not do any work, neither thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates; For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it.
5) Honour thy father and thy mother; in order that thy days may be prolonged upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.
6) Thou shalt not kill.
7) Thou shalt not commit adultery.
8) Thou shalt not steal.
9) Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor
10) Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house; thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's.

So, essentially, the Judeo-Christian theist perspective is that worshiping something besides the Hebrew God, creating art that depicts living creatures, cursing, working on Sunday, dishonoring your parents, murdering, cheating on a spouse, stealing, lying, and being jealous are all on the same plane of badness. Leaving aside the fact that most Christians violate at least one of these, I really can't believe that worshiping a non Judeo-Christian god, creating art, cursing, working on Sunday, or thinking jealous thoughts are truly crimes. Besides, how would the last one be regulated? Additionally, I don't think that adultery and murder are really on the same plane of evil, and American law is on my side, as adultery cannot be prosecuted.

More simply stated: the vast majority of the world's population claims to be religious, and yet not only does man-made evil exist, but certain reprehensible acts are committed using religion as a justification. Secularism only causes immorality if you define immorality via dogmatic instead of rational means.

Another example of the slippery-slope model is one argument that has been adapted by homophobes. Some claim that without religious injunctions against homosexuality, the human race would die out because everyone would "turn gay" and would no longer participate in procreative sex acts. Three simple facts call this assertion into question: the world is overpopulated as it is, modern heterosexuals can live non-procreative yet sexually fulfilled lives, and some LGBTQ community members engage in occasional procreative acts (or turn to artificial insemination) in order to have children. The funniest part of such an argument, to me, is that it would suggest that every person, or at least a majority of people, would "turn gay" if loosed from religious bonds. I love asking people who use this argument if they would "turn gay" if they weren't religious, as they tend to flounder or avoid the question with a great measure of awkwardness.

Some more slippery slopes that aren't accurate:
- Having sex at a young age leads to other socially deviant behavior.
- Marijuana use necessarily leads to the use of harder and harder drugs.
- Legalizing euthanasia would lead to the disenfranchised seeking out death.

BS Factor:
The steepest street in the world (Baldwin Street, Dunedin, New Zealand)

It has a grade of 35%. Impressive, no?

why Bollywood doesn't suck.... much

As I mentioned in my previous entry, I'd recently seen the Indian movie called Fanaa, and it sparked a lot of thought re Bollywood in my mind.

I watched the movie with some people, and one of them was displeased with the film for a number of reasons, reasons with which I agreed in the past and have by no means ceased to comprehend. I will describe her main three reasons.

Firstly, the portrayal of Muslims in the film is distasteful. All the main characters are Muslim, including the protagonist, who has sex with the hero (whom she has known for but three days) in a night of agreed-upon no-string-attached frolicking before they decide to marry, and the father of the protagonist, who falls into alcohol as a cure for his grief after his wife dies. Such portrayals are propaganda that normalize such un-Islamic behaviors as premarital sex and the consumption of alcohol.

Secondly, the signature song of the movie utilizes the Islamic phrase "Subhanallah", which can be translated as "Exalted is Allah." To hear a phrase used to worship reduced to what can be essentially described as a pick-up line is jarring to the Muslim ear and mind.

Thirdly, the melodramatic plot-line of the movie is utterly unrealistic. They fall in love, have sex, and decide to marry within the span of a few days. The next day, she gets eye surgery whilst he carries out a terrorist attack (which is not portrayed as a Muslim thing, thankfully, but a Kashmiri freedom fighter affair). Seven years later, he just happens to get injured close to her house. The implausibility causes unrealistic expectations.

All of these are valid concerns, and I have shared some of them and still do.

As for the first, i.e. the portrayal of Muslims, it is true that seeing things in movies does tend to desensitize people to them. I'm not sure, however, if a film like Fanaa could be counted as "propaganda," as that word is defined by Merriam-Webster as such
1 capitalized : a congregation of the Roman curia having jurisdiction over missionary territories and related institutions
2: the spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person
3: ideas, facts, or allegations spread deliberately to further one's cause or to damage an opposing cause; also : a public action having such an effect

Definition 1 is easy to dismiss, and the third is a very political definition. #2 is probably the definition used in the criticism, with the damaged party being Muslims. Viewed in a vacuum, the movie could be seen as deliberately designed to hurt the image of Muslims and Islam. However, viewed in the broader context of Bollywood, it follows a formula in which are inserted Hindus (and, to a lesser degree, Parsis and Christians) as well as Muslims. Of course, Muslims are a minority in India, and thus more prone to stereotyping.

As for the portrayal of pre-marital sex, it might not be so disparate from reality as many Desis would like to believe, as Nita J. Kulkarni blogs.
No matter how much parents rave and rant about the evils of western influences, and the decline of Indian culture, the facts are that the desire to interact and romance the opposite sex is natural and has always existed in India! By denying the existence of such natural feelings parents are alienating their children. In fact I did not include an interview due to a lack of space, that of an eighty year old gentleman. He told me that too much fuss was being made about premarital sex. It was not a modern affliction, he said, it existed in his day and age too. He lost his virginity at age 17 he said, several years before marraige and it wasn’t with a prostitute. This was the first time he was confessing it to anyone though. The only change now (he told me) is that sex has been dragged out into the open and youngsters do not pretend its wrong. This is a good thing according to him because it could be the beginning of the end of hypocrisy.

What the old man calls hypocrisy is, actually, so embedded in the Desi community (including the Desi diaspora of which I am a part), especially the Muslim Desi community, that a young Pakistani who drunkenly murdered a white man in 2005 actually said, in reference to drinking and being a in a premarital romantic relationship, that "In our religion you don't tell your parents. They might get upset." He didn't say that drinking and romance prior to marriage were forbidden in the religion, he said that talking about it was forbidden. This, to me, represents the embedded gag order under which Desis, especially Muslims, live. Taking the dichotomy of appearance (i.e. "we don't talk about that") vs. reality into consideration, the criticism is a poignant example of cultural synecdoche.

Alcohol is perhaps even more stigmatized than sex, but even that is changing. The consumption of alcohol by young Muslims is called a plague here, and yet the stigma is still real, as Austin Cline details in several interviews with young Muslims.

The second criticism, that of the use of Islamic phrases in Bollywood soundtracks, is not an easy one to tackle. I've heard other Indian songs use the word "Allah" and found it jarring. Theologically speaking, it's irreverent, but I know of no one who regularly watches Indian movies who cares. It could simply be a desensitization on their part, or a lack of exposure to Bollywood on mine. In any case, my knowledge of Hindi is not enough to know whether or not Islamic Arabic phrases are used in day-to-day life in a manner to which I am not accustomed.

The third criticism is easily answered via a quick glance at Bollywood. All the movies are ludicrous and over-the-top. Every single movie is a romance or is romantic in nature in a society in which most of marriage is arranged (more than 95% according to this, and 80-90% according to this). Bollywood films are intended to be romps in escapism more than a realistic depiction of reality.

In the end, no matter how much I might dislike Bollywood, there is a flip side of the story. Even though media portrayals might deride true feminism, there was a movie that sent an empowering message for women, and Indian soap operas seem to help rural Indian women develop more feminist attitudes. India's feminist scene is also quite vibrant, with groups such as the Gulabi Gang taking matters into their own hands. I suppose that since Bollywood is here to stay, even "haters" like me would better serve others by offering constructive criticism instead of hoping that Bollywood stops making movies, or completely revamps everything.

BS Factor:
The number of bangles I own...

I'll admit it, I imagine myself as graceful as some of the Bollywood actresses when I wear Desi clothes. Also, this is an old picture. I own a lot more bangles now.