Sunday, August 17, 2008
This proposal aims to compare two opposing accounts of how language and the brain interact; these go by the names of generative linguistics and cognitive linguistics. I will outline the basic assumptions common to most mainstream adherents of these fields, together with the conclusions they are obliged to accept in light of their respective theoretical commitments. After assessing various aspects of these theories, they will be compared using the standard criteria of what ought to constitute a scientific theory, and thereby conclude that the cognitive approach seems to be more empirically and logically plausible for various reasons.
The school of linguistics known as Generative Linguistics (henceforth GL) was started by numerous collaboraters, many of whom have since either abandoned the enterprise as initially outlined, or gone on to expand the theory in novel ways. Those who have abandoned the ship include thinkers like George Lakoff and Haj Ross, whereas those who expanded the theory in ways not originally envisioned include Ray Jackendoff, Steven Pinker and Jerry Fodor.
The central figure since the inception of the GL enterprise in the late 1950’s has been Noam Chomsky, and his position regarding the nature of language, how it ought to be studied, and its relation to human nature, has remained fundamentally unchanged over the years.
The main arguments within the GL framework have come from Noam Chomsky and Steven Pinker, and therefore their work will be drawn upon more heavily than others in outlining the said theory. Others, who have accepted the core assumptions and methodologies, will be alluded to as well, but will not constitute the core of this thesis.
The key assumptions that pervade this approach are as follows:
Language is innate, in the sense that it is part of an autonomous module (a mental organ) in the mind that grows in the child the same way your limbs grow.
Language learning or acquisition are therefore misnomers; language growth is a more appropriate term.
The physical manifestation of language (our linguistic performance) is only to be studied insofar as it provides clues to the language in our minds (our linguistic competence). We should therefore assume that a speech community is homogenous, and language should be studied as if it were part of such an idealized community.
For this reason, we are to draw a distinction between surface structure and deep structure linguistic forms.
Language is a discrete combinatorial system, and this fact allows us to use language in novel ways, which they refer to as creativity.
Language is at the core a syntactic phenomenon, which employs various finite rules which enable the user to produce a potentially infinite number of utterances. This process works like an abstract algorithm, and therefore functions independent of context and meaning. Hence, semantics should not only be seen as secondary, but as epiphenomenal.
As a genetically based module in the mind, language must have evolved at a single point in our history, either by Darwinian natural selection (Pinker) or by some kind of small genetic mutation, which somehow interacted with the mind’s computational principles (Chomsky), which gave rise to language.
Language has no direct influence on our thoughts, as thought and language are two separate processes which function separately in the mind.
Since language is part of our biological endowment, there must be a Universal Grammar (UG) present in all languages, which manifests as a result of being part of our minds at birth, providing the scaffolding that enables language to grow in the mind.
Just as our physical organs interact on some level with other organs, they are nonetheless structurally and functionally independent of them. Language, being a mental organ, should also be expected to be understood independently; language should not be intertwined with other aspects of our mental life, any more than the heart is intertwined with the functioning of the liver.
Language is understood in light of Rationalism, whereby thought is believed to be conscious and literal.
Generative Linguists are vehemently opposed to Empiricism and behaviourism.
The human mind is a uniform, modular organ.
These principles are certainly not exhaustive, but I have selected those which I seem to be the most definitive.
There are certain things that follow from this approach to the study of language and mind. Generally, accepting these premises obliges one to accept the conclusions which follow. Regarding the study of language, this includes:
Having to concede that second language learning is not at all related to the growth (sic) of your first language.
Language teaching is not related to the primary goal of linguistics.
Socio-linguistics, prescriptive grammar, speech therapy, etc. are not of primary concern to the linguist.
Reading and writing not part of language; they are cultural artefacts just like painting and dancing.
Documenting corpora is a pointless exercise, since the range of potential utterances are infinite. The goal should be to try and discover what the universal, finite rules are which all languages employ. The goal of linguistics as a whole has to be redefined, and those who pursue corpus linguistics are wasting their time.
Language is not for communication. Language appeared in the mind somehow, and we discovered that it could also be used for communication. Where it came from, and the real reason it manifested, are unknown.
Language is to be seen as part of the physical world, and needs to be studied as such.
In addition, GL uses some words in deviant ways. For example:
- creative refers to the simple act of speaking
- language is no longer seen as something spoken by a community; it is more accurately seen as an underlying mental competence, which grows in the mind and is the same in every human being. Recently Chomsky has taken to distinguishing between i-language, e-language, and Language, which adds to the confusion
- mind is merely a synonym for brain, but seen more as aspects of the brain which we know must be there
- the use of the word grow to refer to the development of a first language in the child; if the child is exposed to three languages as a young child, then three languages will “grow” in him. Generative linguists do not see this as odd, and they would be quite comfortable with an analogy along the following lines: if a child grows up gathering rocks and hunting, his hands will be stronger and more versatile; likewise, if a child grows up hearing different languages, his innate language faculty grows to be more versatile.
Also, it is not a coincidence that people like Pinker tend more towards a conservative outlook, whereas people like Lakoff tend more towards a progressive outlook. The idea that we are all the same at the core, that our linguistic and cultural disparities are just superficial, that our minds come fully equipped with genetic information, etc. means we do not need a government to see to our individual needs, since we are capable of using our innate potential to make a success of our lives. It is this mind-set that justifies the right-wing extremist view that the world should be run under one government, and any country or nation which questions it simply does not realize that we are all the same. This is the reason why democracy needs to be superimposed on Middle Eastern countries, whether they like it or not. Saudi Arabians, who are perfectly happy with their king, simply do not realize that American democracy is the best way of running a country.
Why democracy? Or why America’s brand of democracy? Well that is just a coincidence arising from the fact that they happen to be the first country to realize this. Countries like Dubai and Saudi Arabia just do not know what is good for them. One may wonder why, if “self-evident” civil liberties are innate, do they not know this; the answer: if a child is raised with his hands tied behind his back, and that is all he knows, he will not realize that they were meant to be free until some benevolent person (or institution) unties his hands, and forces the society to ban such practices. One of the conservative arguments justifying the war in Iraq goes along these lines.
This mind-set is the very same one which insists that some of the rules which pertain to American English must be part and parcel of human nature. Not only should this apply too every other dialect of English, and to the some six thousand other languages in the world, but every human being is born with this UG. If it does not appear that way, it is only because that principle must not have a surface manifestation – or maybe that principle is actually a parameter. In fact, at one point, if you did not accept this, you could hardly expect to find a job or get a research grant in the USA.
I am certainly not insinuating that the conservatives in Washington read The Blank Slate, got over excited, and invaded Iraq in an attempt to spread democracy and freedom in the Middle East, knowing now that the notion of universal liberty can be justified. I am merely drawing a parallel between these ways of thinking, and the methodologies they employ in reasoning. Just as you get different forms of democracy in the world, the principles underlying a democratic government are the same, just as with language.
Pinker refutes this by saying that political equity simply means being treated equally, not being literally equal in the biological sense. In fact, Pinker does not believe that we are all equal. In addition to his conviction that men and women have different skills and abilities (though he is careful not to hierarchialise this), Pinker also believes that there could be a racial correlate regarding our skills and abilities. During an interview with John Brockman, he said that science may one day discover that certain race groups are better at certain things than other things, which may be something we are not ready for (interview available at http://www.edge.org/q2007/q07_index.html). The interview was based on the theme Dangerous Ideas, and Pinker based his statement on a book by Daniel Dennett called Darwin’s Dangerous Idea. After pointing out how Darwin was ostracized, and how the theory shook the very foundations of the church, he says that the next shock to us will be the said discovery. He was very careful not to spell out the details, but I doubt he was implying that we may discover that Black Africans are more intellectual, and that White American males are better at manual labour.
As an aside, it is a well-known fact that the HSRC used to publish very convincing statistics during the apartheid days ‘proving’, for example, that Black people are biologically designed for intellectually inferior tasks.
The various forms of evidence cited to support these views will be discussed and criticized scientifically. I contend that the ideas on which GL is based are methodologically and empirically flawed. The same criticism applies to other paradigms which utilize the same lines of reasoning, like the conservative politicians.
These upshots and underlying assumptions are not accepted universally by linguistics scholars for various reasons. Scholars like Geoffrey Sampson rejects every argument and every logical implication of this approach; he has argued very effectively against GL in his various works over the years, like in his book Educating Eve, and various papers like Popperian Language Acquisition Undefeated, Minds in Uniform, Revisiting the ‘poverty of stimulus’ argument, etc.
His approach is a negative one, where the nativists say they have evidence and arguments for an innate language module in the brain, and Sampson points out that their evidence and arguments are flawed. These will be outlined here, but the problems with Sampson’s own account will be highlighted. His representation of Popper is not accurate, his alternative account of language acquisition and human nature is simplistic and reductionistic, and there seems to be a disparity between his academic work and his political views. For example, he got into trouble whilst an MP for saying that Asians are better at Maths because of their genes; in Minds in Uniform he takes issue with forcing a little country to abolish advocating the death sentence for speaking out against their country’s leader (cultural relativism).
Sampson is however a liberal, and his alternative theory can be supplemented by what has come to be known as Cognitive Linguistics (henceforth CL). As an aside, Sampson, like Chomsky, admits that he does not know anything about CL.
CL as a whole was born as a reaction to what is still referred to as “mainstream linguistics”, ie. Generative Linguistics. The question I will ask here is whether this reaction was justified, as is entailed rejecting all the key assumptions upon which GL rests, and in fact virtually all of Western philosophy as well, if you accept the import of George Lakoff’s and Mark Johnson’s Philosophy in the Flesh. For such a paradigm shift to be justified, the following has to be clearly demonstrated:
Each theory will have to be independently evaluated in light of evidence; refuting evidence should be taken seriously
Each theory will also need to be assessed in terms of other methods of argumentation employed to justify their stance
Where there is a deviation from the norm, either by way of reinventing terminology, postulating counter-intuitive hypotheses, or postulating more hypotheses than necessary, it needs to be adequately justified
The implications of each theory, both within its own field and in cognate disciplines, need to be assessed as well
Aspects of each theory which may be metaphysical in nature, need to be assessed in terms of its relative explanatory power
Are there aspects outside of the theory and evidence which influences the theory, like ad homonim considerations, socio-political factors, etc.?
These are the standard criteria used when deciding which theory is a better one. It is only a coincidence that I will use the works of Karl Popper in doing so, as he is one of the few philosophers of science to systematically outline what the logic of scientific inquiry entails, though few would disagree with his approach. Had I used Einstein, Newton, Feynman, Penrose, Putnam, or any other serious scientific thinker, the criteria would be the same.
The evidence and methodology used by the GL school specifically will be assessed. If their hypotheses make predictions, I will test these predictions, and see how the theory handles counter-evidence. If the theory can be always adapted to assimilate counter-evidence, then it is problematic. If the theory can construct ad hoc hypotheses without compromising testability, it would be better. If new concepts and terms are invented to account for this, then these new concepts have to be justified in light of the evidence, not just to protect the theory. If counter-evidence is ignored all together, then the theory is not an empirically responsible one, and therefore not scientific.
Before doing this, we need to understand a little about the alternative theory, which we will turn to now:
CL was born as a reaction to GL, after exponents like Lakoff initially tried to expand Chomsky’s theory to include semantics, which at the time went by the name Generative Semantics. As more things came to be known, the idea of trying to incorporate all evidence within a GL paradigm became more and more difficult, and a ‘breakaway faction’ ensued, resulting in what was documented by Harris as The Linguistics Wars. Lakoff was a student of Chomsky’s, and the latter seemed to take this as a betrayal. After Lakoff’s criticisms, Chomsky is on record as saying that Lakoff does not understand linguistics very well. Today, Chomsky claims that he knows nothing about Cognitive Linguistics!
Anyway, while Lakoff is one of the exponents, CL cannot be attributed to a single ‘founding father’. It is a collaborative movement which is always evolving, though there are theorists who are prominent within the field. As a result, there are various branches of CL, and not every linguist who calls himself a CL has to accept all the assumptions that others espouse. Hence, delineating criteria which distinguish the field can lead to some fuzziness.
Regardless, these are some of the key assumptions shared by CL as I understand it:
Language may or may not be innate. It remains to be seen how much is innate if so. Regardless, evidence thus far shows that language is part and parcel of other higher cognitive functions, and is neither an autonomous mental organ, nor does it grow – it is learnt via interaction with the environment and the mind, using all its capacities.
Language as expressed and transcribed is one our most important sources of data, and should be studied as such without assuming that each speaker is homogenous, and that his language does not change in any way.
The idea of every sentence having a deep structure is thereby also rejected, since the reasons for postulating it in the first place are not clear.
Language is at the core a semantic phenomenon which cannot be divorced from context. It makes evolutionary sense that parable and narrative evolved first, followed by other aspects of language. Otherwise, nothing precludes a computer from simulating human language.
Language could not have evolved the same way our physical organs evolved, since that assumes that natural selection has a vision to the future; if it evolved with other cognitive faculties and manifested initially as parable, it would have immediate survival value.
Language and thought are inextricably linked, so much so that without language our level of consciousness would be reduced.
Though there is an innate basis for language, it has to be learnt via hypothesis formation. Hence, the will be commonalities constrained in trivial ways by our biology, but nothing to suggest that there is a UG hard-wired into our brains.
Language is an abstract cognitive faculty, which is neither functionally nor cognitively separate from the rest of our other cognitive faculties. This predicts that damage to our language centres in the brain would affect other things as well, and that language proficiency is conducive to clear thought (and of course, that linguistic proficiency varies from individual to individual)
Language is by and large figurative (or metaphorical, in the larger sense of the word), and thought is mostly unconscious.
Empiricism and behaviourism are not rejected by fiat, but aspects of either are assessed on their merit.
Language and mind are not necessarily part of the material world. While not saying so explicitly saying so, they leave a gap in their paradigm to cater for the possibility that they might be good candidates as possible denizens of Popper’s World 3.
Once again, these assumptions are not exhaustive, and the evidence will be duly scrutinized, as with GL. As mentioned, this school was born as a reaction to mainstream linguistics, and as such will be expected to handle the evidence more responsibly, as they claim, should be commensurable with common sense, and the rejection of things like the primacy of syntax will be looked at.
Stylistic issues like the novel use terminology will be assessed as either bad style or bad science, since CL scholars do not do this. The question will be asked: are there any theoretical implications leading to pseudo-problems as a result of this? If so, would the problem still be there if these additional assumptions were not made? (For example, the concept of creativity in the conventional sense does not exist anymore, for generativists – though this is more of a semantic reductionism, which is the converse…)
To avoid redundancy, the entailments of these assumptions will not be reiterated as they are pretty much the converse of the opposing paradigm, as expected.
Regarding politics, CL seem to have a less euro-centric view of the world, and are progressive in their thinking. They do not feel the need to create a hierarchy, either in the academic world or the political world. This is not only because of George Lakoff’s now defunct progressive think tank, The Rockridge Institute, but because there are explicit links between the two (unlike GL, where the links are implied and never stated explicitly; in Chomsky’s case, he explicitly denies the link).
As mentioned, there are parallels between conservative political arguments and the way GL argue. The correlation does not entail causation, as any statistician would confirm. This merely shows a parallel in thinking, with possible causation. For example, the reason gay marriage is opposed is argued for as follows:
If they allow this, then what is next? What’s to stop from condoning bestiality, and then allowing them to get married!
Or their argument against raising the minimum wage:
If you give them a two dollar raise, what is to stop the unions from demanding a hundred dollar raise the next time round!
For some reason, it has to be one extreme or the other. Gay marriage not creating a terrible problem in South Africa is not considered as counter-evidence. A colleague told me: Wait and see what happens in five years time! When I pointed out that this has been happening for five years, he did not feel the need to reevaluate his position, but without reason. Likewise, Pinker would tell you that you either accept that there is a UG, with built in x-bars and island constraints, hard-wired into our minds (and in fact many other alleged things not related to language, as he explains in The Blank Slate, How the Mind Works, and The Stuff of Thought), or that we believe that the mind is a blank slate no different from a rock – he says we must either believe there is a human nature (and therefore accept his argument in its entirety), or totally reject the idea of the existence of human nature. He is careful to quote John Locke as advocating the “blank slate” idea, knowing that few people have read his works, but then adds that Locke does not deserve the blame for the idea that most intellectuals today believe that our minds are empty buckets and that people are hapless victims of their environment. As with the “gay marriage” argument, the alternative does not follow; likewise, you can reject GL and still believe that there is such a thing as human nature. Likewise, Chomsky has stated that the existence of UG is unquestionable, unless you believe in magic; clearly, it is quite tenable to reject both given the evidence.
Also, as with conservative politics, there always seem to be hidden, ulterior motives. For example, in Thinking Points, the authors quote various right-wing journals and magazines as stating before the “war” in Iraq that:
- Iraq’s oil reserves are open for the taking, and that profits should go to American companies since Iraqis are unable to handle it
- A puppet government is what is required to make this possible
- Iraq is an ideal military base for an attack on Iran
- An invasion can be justified by villainising Saddam Hussein, and using 9/11 as an excuse
- The move is justified since the Iraqi people have nothing anyway, and a semblance of democracy would make them happy; however, Americans should do what maximizes profit for themselves…
Despite being published in dozens of dated pre-war sources, they would all deny such an agenda. They pretend it was to find WMD’s, and then to remove a brutal dictator. Only in light of the above would we understand why America never invaded to remove Robert Mugabe from power, also a brutal dictator, and certainly worse in many ways. Likewise, Chomsky was out to make a name for himself. His ulterior motive was exactly that. His representation of Empiricism is very inaccurate, as is his representation of behaviourism. When I took Verbal Behavior out of the Wits Library in 2002, it had NEVER been taken out before, despite being a very old book. The spine was not even cracked. What I found was a very sophisticated and well-written account of language learning, not very different from Piaget’s account. Skinner never believed that a parrot could learn language, because of syntactic and contextual nuances. One of the reasons he proposed was a lack of attention span. The point is, though Skinner’s assumptions may be questioned, Chomsky’s famous review was not accurate, and most people do not know this because they trust his authority and veracity. In the past, Chomsky used give many lectures on his ideas on language, preceded by polemical remonstrations against the Vietnam war; many contend that the latter drew the crowds, not the former. When I wrote to Chomsky, asking some rather sycophantic questions, he replied in the form of two hand-written letters, signed. He also used to reply to every email I sent. When I raised some critical questions, his replies got more terse. My last question was regarding CL, and his one line reply was: I don’t know much about it.
Pinker also feigns ignorance about Sampson’s Educating Eve, which demolishes his (and Chomsky’s) arguments very systematically and logically. Strangely, he uses some of the very arguments used in that book in his subsequent book. He claims that he was too busy with his subsequent projects to “dwell on critiques of old ones” (personal communication). He also uses Lakoff’s theory of metaphor in How the Mind Works, saying that many researchers, including himself, have discovered it; this was not long after pointing out in very vicious and inaccurate review that the very idea is wrong.
I cannot help but draw parallels between Bush’s rejection of Scott McCelland, former White House spokesperson, after he wrote a critical book on the Bush administration, and Chomky’s rejection of his disciples in the early 1970’s when all they did was try and improve the theory. Lakoff also alleges that many of his ideas were adopted by Chomsky, without credit.
These parallels may or may not be coincidental, but this idea will be explored in more detail to ascertain its viability. At the moment I conjecture that the methodology used by CL drives one to a progressive mode of thought, and GL drives one towards doing what the conservatives do.
It is thereby clear that GL and CL are mutually exclusive, and the conventional hybrid solution would therefore not be a viable cop-out. Both theories aim to provide a comprehensive and holistic analysis of language and mind, together with implications of how to go about doing it.
Hitherto, it seems like CL has the upper hand; its alleged empirical accountability together with the relevant political and intellectual implications seems more palatable. GL needs to adopt a less dogmatic approach, as the assumptions guiding it mostly precede the research and therefore the evidence, which is not the way it is meant to be.
It remains to be seen whether this remains true in light of a more in-depth analysis or not.
 This is a problem which follows only as a result of the assumptions inherent in your particular theory.
 And in fact Locke did indeed believe in innateness, which Pinker very well knows.
 A progressive handbook, available from the Rockridge Institute’s web-site: www.rockridge.com.
Sunday, July 27, 2008
Language, as commonly understood, is a primarily communicative device, despite views to the contrary in mainstream linguistics, where language is said to be an abstract manifestation of symbolic notation. This fact, coupled with its ubiquity, makes its study indispensable when attempting to understand almost any aspect of human nature.
It is through language that we are able to express intent, share what we feel, communicate facts and create art in various forms; this of course does not imply that language is the only means of doing so, but I give it precedence here because it is indeed the most widely used in the aforementioned arenas. Without language, our ability to conceptualise and categorise is severely compromised.
When we wish to convince someone of our viewpoint, we use language to do so. In so doing, we may choose to manipulate, lie, use words with specific connotations, designed to evoke a particular mind-set in the listener, etc. Win trying to win someone over to your side, so to speak (whether it’s a child trying to get his parents to buy toy for him, or a political party trying to convince you to vote for them), you may share certain selected facts with them, appeal to their emotions in various ways, and so on. These are some of the techniques used in spin and propaganda.
On this point, people like Steven Pinker try to minimize the influence language has on us because he is of the opinion that language is almost an epiphenomenon resulting from universal substratum, which is genetically based. In addition to this, he follows Jerry Fodor in postulating a “language of thought”, saying that language and thought are two separate things; an upshot of this position, as I said – and Pinker certainly agrees – is that language cannot influence thought in any substantial sense. He agrees that language can influence the way we think about certain things, but does not think that language can determine our thought patterns to the point that it frames an entire paradigm. I will not elaborate on his views here, but I would like to make it clear that I disagree with Pinker’s ideas almost in their entirety. His theory of language is seriously flawed, as is his conception of the human mind, and human nature.
The traditional approach to language use is based on ideas made popular during the Enlightenment period, otherwise known as The Age of Reason. This is a time which marks a dramatic shift in the Western philosophical tradition from fideism and mythology to the triumph of reason. The movement’s exponents, past and present, opine that logical thought should be the basis of all inquiry, ranging from academia to politics and everything in between. If something could not be justified rationally, then it is assumed that there is no rational or logical basis for it, and therefore no one is compelled to give it any serious thought. This modus operandi rests on the following assumptions:
- That all people think on a literally, such that there is a one-to-one correspondence between what we think and the thing we are thinking about,
- That thinking is a conscious process,
- That common sense is a particular way of thinking which is common (hence the name) to all members of the species, and following from this…
- That if the relevant facts are presented to a given number of people, they would all come to the same conclusions, because they are all assumed to be rational beings.
Whilst this may seem prima facie plausible, a closer look at each of these will show them to be problematic.
Firstly, the claim that we think ‘literally’ is actually meaningless, since most people cannot even tell us what is actually means to think literally; what I mean by this is simply that if we talk about this matter to a group of intelligent people, chances are that there would be variable understandings of what exactly ‘literal’ entails. The word is commonly used to imply the opposite of ‘symbolic’ or ‘figurative’, and this works fine when referring to sensory perception, as in I saw the car or I heard the music. But when we extend this notion to more abstract modes of thought, it gets tricky. For example, anything we say that has a spatial or temporal characteristic takes on a metaphorical raiment. In their book, Metaphors We Live by, George Lakoff and Mark Johnson go into detail on this matter, providing various examples of how we use metaphor in everyday speech to conceptualise the world. For example, when we say Time is running out, we somehow conceive of ‘time’ as an expendable entity, even though that is meaningless if we really think about it. We liken ‘warmth’ to ‘care’, when we speak of someone being a warm person, and the opposite when we say that someone is cold. We liken morality to direction, such that a low person is understood to be immoral. The examples are endless as we use hundreds upon hundreds of such metaphors on a daily basis.
Before I go on, I would just like to add here that even the idea that direct sensory perception, without any language intervening, is not ‘literal’, if by that word we mean a one-to-one correspondence between the subject and object. Ancient scriptures from the East, like the Vedas and the Upanishads tell us that the world is not really what it appears to be; the objects of perception are as unreal the ephemeral objects of the dream-state, if you assume the WYSIWYG principle. A snake sees the world as ultra-violet rays; a shark sees the world as a series of electrical impulses; a honey-bee sees the world as vertical and horizontal lines, which decussate. Humans see the world as such as a contingent upshot of their perceptual mechanisms. Modern quantum mechanics has us believe that the fundamental building blocks of nature are mass-less, sub-atomic particles, leaving a puzzle as to how the world as a solid body even exists. Physicists even contend that by merely looking at a particle we change its behaviour and possibly its structure. There are volumes of work on this topic, so I will not go into detail here.
Immanuel Kant, in his Critique of Pure Reason, argues that we perceive and subsequently understand things in a way that is unique to humans by superimposing a spatio-temporal quality to it, and then conceptualizing the said percept according to the twelve categories, which he claims to have deduced in what he refers to as the “transcendental deduction of the categories”. The fact that we perceive everything in a unified manner is surprising, given the complexity of the task of perceiving, and is given the rather euphuistic label of “the transcendental unity of apperception”. Kant therefore concluded that the world consists of things-as-we-perceive-them and things-in-themselves, the latter being what the world really is. [Kant used the words phenomena and noumena (respectively) to describe these.] Schopenhauer pointed out that it is incorrect to refer to things-in-themselves as plural, since the underlying reality of the world needs necessarily to be a single, unified whole. This is in keeping with the Vedantic world-view alluded to earlier, which Schopenhauer was an avid advocate of, despite being both a pessimist and an atheist.
My point in referring to these philosophers is to emphasise the fact that even something as fundamental as basic perception is not to be taken for granted. When we give these matters serious thought, we notice that they are not only complex processes, but also largely unconscious.
This gets us back to the topic at hand. As mentioned, our predilection for metaphorical thought is something that is not only natural, but unconscious as well. A very young child who has only just acquired his language is said to have hundreds of metaphors available as part of his knowledge base. He does this by mapping source and target domains in various ways. For example, when a child’s mother holds him to her, he feels the sensation of warmth, and associates the feelings of love/protection/care with the sensation of warmth. Metaphors formed in this fashion are expected to be reflected universally in language. However, it would be equally plausible that some metaphors are unique in some way, perhaps to a particular culture, a given society, or may even be the idiosyncrasy of a family. Being clean may be deemed a good thing, and being dirty may be deemed a bad thing. Hence, by association of having a dirty mind would refer to the metaphor DIRTY IS BAD, and as such would refer to thinking something that is morally wrong. However, this is something that would have to be instilled in children by the parents; if not, the concomitant associations would be different. Even though metaphors of the latter kind are a result of conditioning, the conceptual metaphor itself is acquired unconsciously. We know this because children use and understand various metaphors without any problem, yet would not be able to explain it meta-linguistically.
So far we have seen that perception and conceptual metaphor are not conscious processes. Once we appreciate the ubiquity of metaphor, it follows that the majority of our thinking is unconscious. The idea that unconscious wills and desires affect us was made popular by Sigmund Freud, but he was certainly not the first one to speak of the unconscious. Schopenhauer wrote about that very topic long before Freud, which the latter actually acknowledges; and once again various Eastern traditions have spoken about such things as well before anyone else.
Now, conceptual metaphors form the basis of the way in which we think. Once we understand this, many things which would otherwise not make sense now do. The metaphors that we acquire slot in to various cognitive schemas, which are continually evolving, though we may assume that there is a saturation point. We have what we can call deeply ingrained schemas, and superficial schemas. The latter evokes the former. George Lakoff uses the terms deep-framing and surface-framing to describe this. For example, when someone says You are such a pig, one would have to have some knowledge of the negative connotations associated with pig: they are unhygienic, seen as potential disease-carriers, pork is forbidden in many cultures for various reasons, including its association with lack magic and evil, etc. The frame that this word evokes would depend on your understanding of it, but generally such a statement would be meant as an insult. This statement is a surface frame, but depends on a deep frame, which requires you to understand that DIRT IS BAD/IMMORAL, and that things associated with the dirt must also be bad in some way; pigs like to roll in dirt, and would eat anything, even rubbish, and therefore they are dirty...
Now imagine someone who grew up on a farm in Bloemfontein. Imagine that the farmer was a maize farmer, who kept sheep and pigs as well. The sheep are shorn twice a year, and the wool is used for various things. The pigs are kept more as pets, and not slaughtered for meat. The child grows up watching his father care of the sheep and pigs very lovingly, and watches him playing with the little piglets like you would little puppies. Imagine also that this child attends a local school which caters for the children of farmers from the surrounding farms. If this child goes to Johannesburg on holiday for the first time at the age of six, decides to eat the food at the restaurant with his hands, making a bit of a mess, and he overhears the child at the next table saying Look, he’s such a pig. Because pig would evoke a different frame (cute little animals whom he probably has names for), he would not understand what the statement means, insofar as its intention is concerned. Our farm child may not even have the deep frame DIRT IS BAD on which to hang the surface frame, because working in the mud and dirtying himself by helping his father may be associated with a virtue. This child would understand that being dirty is not always bad, whereas a suburban child would, who was continually chided for playing in the mud, would associate it as such.
Note that this is just an example, and possibly not a very good one. The point is simply that we all have frames, which are represented in our minds. We have deep frames which surface frames draw upon. Due to the way we go about acquiring conceptual metaphors, the resultant frames are generally the same within a particular speech community, but there are important differences and these differences (or more importantly, the consequences of these differences) are what I would like the reader to take cognizance of.
John Gray’s bestseller, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, spoke of the different ways men and women speak, and the miscommunication that ensues when they speak to each other. He refers to a myth at the outset of the book, where men once inhabited Mars, and women inhabited Venus, and upon learning of each other’s existence, agreed to tryst upon earth. However, they had difficulty communicating with each other, and despite improvements over the years, there is still much to be desired. The book aims to bridge this gap. He points out various instances whereby both parties need to understand what is actually meant when something is said, instead of just taking what is said at face value. For example, when the wife says We never go anywhere anymore, she is usually confronted with the retort But we went out last week for dinner! Then the wife gets angry, and the husband gets confused.
Why does this happen? This seems to happen because women in general have the frame LANGUAGE AS EMOTIONAL EXPRESSION, whereas men have the frame LANGUAGE AS CONVEYING ESSENTIAL INFORMATION. In the former frame, expressing your emotions to the people you love is seen as a good thing, and in the context of a relationship, is the primary aim of communication; in the latter frame, emotional expression is seen as effeminate, a sign of weakness. In this context, what is expressed should not be counter-factual, and should be preceded by a kind of brain-storming session where you think about what you’re going to say before saying it. Once this is understood, many things make sense that otherwise just seem unintelligible. Instead of conceding that there’s something at play that we don’t understand, we villainize the other party, and attribute our lack of understanding to stupidity, callousness, etc.
We understand religion in metaphorical terms as well. If you ever hear a strict Hindu having a debate with a strict Christian, what would strike you is not so much the differences in particular beliefs, but the fundamental ideological disparity. The particular beliefs pertain to surface frames, but what really distinguishes these two religions is the deep frame, which links religion to family. We superimpose the metaphor of family to any other institution which resembles it, being our first experience of governance, with our parents the ultimate authority from whom to get authorization, and whose approval meant everything.
George Lakoff speaks of two kinds of families: the strict father family and the nurturant parent family. With the former, what the father says goes without any question, just because he says so, leaving no room for negotiation. If you violate these rules, you will be punished. The circumstances which preclude you from following these rules are generally deemed irrelevant, and often ignorance of the rules do not suffice as an excuse to evade punishment. This is tough love, so that you will soon grow to be a responsible, independent person. If they do not learn within the required time-frame, they are forced to go out and learn on their own. With the latter, rules are not rigid and may not even apply in some cases; punishment is tailored to suit the wrong-doing, and children are allowed to develop at their own pace. If children do not learn or develop as expected, they are given guidance and assistance as long as they need, without any pressure, but with the knowledge that the parents will not always be there. In reality, most families are a combination of the two family types, meaning that when it comes to one kind of issue, parents would be nurturant, and in another they would be strict and impose a different set of policies. The degree to which they vary is more accurately viewed as a continuum.
On a literal level, this explains the differences between Eastern and Western family life, together with it implications for child-rearing. The details would be interesting to go in to, but not relevant to the discussion at hand.
Christianity adopts the GOD AS STRICT FATHER metaphor. This explains its intolerance of other religions, with its rigid rules and regulations. Circumstances precluding the ‘children’ from following the rules are not taken into consideration: ALL Hindus (including saintly souls like Mahatma Gandhi), Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and other non-believers are going to hell to suffer for eternity. Some would say that this includes people who were born before Jesus started teaching, the people who were around when Jesus was around but had not heard of him, as well as people in remote parts of the world. They may all be good people, but the Bible says that we can only reach the Father through Jesus, by explicitly accepting him as your sole saviour, and that’s that. It is also not a coincidence that God within this frame is perceived as a male figure, who makes all the decisions and has all the authority.
The GOD AS NURTURANT PARENT metaphor is adopted by Hindus. This explains its acceptance of all people, regardless of the faith they practice. Rules and regulations are perceived more as guidelines which ought to be adjusted according to circumstances. This is why there are even various scriptures to suite these various circumstances. The belief in karma ties in with the idea that the punishment should suit the crime, and that God has the power to forgive at His discretion. (With the above frame you are forgiven once and then expected to obey, or else…) The belief in reincarnation shows that you are given opportunities to better yourself, instead of going straight to hell after one lifetime. If you have managed to become a virtuous person, through whatever means available to you, you are welcomed into heaven with open arms. Hindus also believe that God has a female aspect, analogous to the Yin-Yang concept in Chinese philosophy. Just as God is seen as a single, male figure in the above frame, here God is seen as a complex, multi-faceted being, and his creation is governed by multiple laws which can only be understood systemically and hierarchically, not in a linear if … then fashion.
In light of this, when a Hindu is befuddled by the Christian who sees God being omnipresent with room for hell, and His absence from hell as logically CONSISTENT, the Christian sees no problem with this because what Father says goes no matter what. The fact that God can send you to hell to suffer for eternity whilst still being all-merciful is also not questioned for the same reason. Hindus are perplexed by the fact that God should be feared, and that religion should be based on blind obedience with dire consequences, without concern for anything else. These people would be consistently talking past each other all the time, without understanding either side unless they are willing to step out of their frame and at least understand the side’s frame, and vice versa. This is slightly more complicated than seeing things from another person’s point of view, or stepping into someone else’s shoes, though it’s pretty much the same thing in principle.
It is through repetition and propaganda (and fear of damnation) that many are converted, and this is nothing more than getting the potential proselyte to accept your frame. In my experience, conversion to fideism is based on fear (with solace taken in the belief that He cares for you and that it’s for your own good), and is deemed necessary for various reasons by current practitioners, whereas ‘conversion’ to deism is seen as unnecessary, since God loves all of his creation, and a personal choice which not really necessary.
In general, the Eastern religions (deistic) embrace the GOD AS NUTURANT PARENT frame, whereas the Western religions (fideistic) embrace the GOD AS STRICT FATHER frame.
In American politics, there are two main political parties, the Republican Party and the Democratic Party. The republicans are labeled as conservatives, whereas the democrats are labeled progressives. The labels are self-explanatory, and we can understand their policies by seeing this too in terms of conceptual metaphor. Here we have a NATION AS FAMILY METAPHOR, with the republicans adopting the STRICT FATHER model, and the democrats adopting the NUTURANT PARENT model. (This spills over into their religious beliefs, with the democrats being more tolerant of other religions and cultures, and the republicans not.)
Let us consider the ‘war’ in Iraq:
The republicans believe they should use violence, and attack all opposition with a take no prisoners kind of attitude. Furthermore, they believe they know what is best for Iraq, and that they must obey or else… Notice, it is only within this frame that terms like ‘war’ and ‘surrender’ have any meaning. Here it must be known that the ‘father’ is tough, and if you mess with his ‘family’, he’s going to browbeat you. Democrats see this as an illegal occupation of sovereign territory, and that leaving is precisely that: leaving – withdrawing from a land they invaded under false pretences. When a republican accuses the democrat of being weak and wanting to surrender, the very phrase has no meaning within the nuturant parent frame. If a nuturant parent’s child gets beaten up, he would first ask the child what he did to instigate the fight. After ascertaining for sure whose fault it is, he would then talk to the parents of the other child. Likewise, a diplomatic understanding of the underlying causes which instigated 9/11 would help in finding a holistic solution, and a punishment which fits the crime, something like dealing with it as a criminal act. What the Bush administration did was tantamount to going and beating up the child accused of beating up your own child [Afghanistan] (no questions asked – you messed with a member of my family, now I will show you who’s boss), then beating up your child’s friend, since he has something your family could use and beating him up for this reason will give you an excuse to take what he has [Iraq and its oil resources]. For those who do not know, America is currently setting up a number oil companies in various parts of Iraq. A strict father would also, after all this, punish his child just to get the point across that he should steer clear of fights; America is punishing its own citizens with moves to allow random phone tapping and email hacking to try and catch the Judas. With the war powers Bush has given himself during this occupation, he has the right to detain without charge anyone accused of terrorism. Many have been detained, without even a doctored charge, and tortured in various ways in the notorious prison in Guantanamo Bay, deliberately set up there so it would be outside the world’s eye. Sami Al-Haj, a camera-man for Al-Jazeera is an example of this: he was held without charge for six years, and underwent extreme abuse and torture for no reason. Republicans would say that these are terrorists, and they do not deserve to be treated normally, or with dignity. Torture is necessary to gain ‘intelligence’ and to get them to admit what plans they are hatching, etc. Even if this were true, they would have to explain why they would torture someone who is arrested with NO charge, even after six years. If were told he’s accused of x, and that admitting x would stop the torture, he may have admitted it just to have some solace, but as I said in many cases there were NO charges! Indeed, many did ‘admit’ to crimes under torture, which the republican politicians are delighted with. This kind of policy seems inhumane and barbaric, and it makes us educated, civilised people wonder how things can happen under the auspices of such a developed nation. When you see the frame as a kick-ass ‘father’, like Rocky, going to some kid and saying Are you the one who’s messing around with my kid? He says no at first, until he pushed around a few times, followed by a slaps, etc.; then he comes around to see the light, apologise, and ‘admit’ guilt; this is their idea of victory.
In being steadfast, the republicans want to be perceived as being tough. However, they are not as resolute in their policies as they would like to be. For example, they do not speak to or work with terrorist organizations, and of course what counts as a terrorist organization is left to their discretion, and by the official definition, the USA falls under a terrorist state as well, in addition to actively supporting alleged dictators like Saddam Hussein. South Africa’s ANC was listed as a terrorist organization all along, until July 2008 (this was George Bush’s ‘gift’ to Mandela on his 90th birthday! ), yet the USA has always had good relations with South Africa ever since sanctions were lifted in the early 90’s.
There was a successful rescue mission conducted in the middle of 2008 by the Columbian army on the Farc rebels, who held many high profile hostages, including two US army officials and a former Columbian presidential candidate (she was campaigning when she was taken hostage) for many years. This was only made possible because they entered into negotiations with the rebels, and executed the rescue on that premise. Without this intervention, the hostages would still be captivity, including the US officials – this is further proof that conservative policy does not make much sense.
However, republicans are so successful because they own all the major media houses in the States, and they invest millions in setting up think-thanks, which churn out publications in non-peer-reviewed journals. Hence, they create their own frames, which are instilled in the minds of the people all over the world, and things that they hear outside this frame is either incorporated into this frame or not recognized as making any sense – you call them bigoted, or biased, or closed-minded, but really they are just trapped in a conservative frame. So when we talk of the ‘war’ in Iraq, we are already presupposing a republican frame: we immediately think of attack and defence, good guys and bad guys, state of emergency, and fear of espionage. When we talk of ‘occupation’, we frame the American troops as criminals! This is why the conservatives repeat over and over again WAR ON TERROR, so that this frame gets inculcated in your minds, not the liberals’ (more accurate) frame. If we talk of war, we are entering into a debate on republican turf. Liberals need to frame the debate in their terms, and like the republicans, repeat it and use surface frames that hinge on the deeper frame.
It makes no sense to say that Bush is an idiot, the Americans are evil, etc. because they know very well what they are doing, and they are good at it – which means they’re not so stupid after all.
When Obama suggested talking unconditionally to Iranian leaders, he was merely referring to a willingness to understand things from their point of view, to understand their frame of reference before assuming anything, then making their frame clear to Iran, and then finding a way forward. This is at least better than unilaterally declaring that America will attack unless all alleged nuclear plants are blown up in public. The republicans will not speak to them as they are the enemy. Instead they will issue an ultimatum: do what we tell you or we will attack you. From Iran’s point of view, this is bullying. Just as Iraq had no “weapons of mass destruction”, they say they have none either, and that they have the right to develop nuclear technology, which they say is for peaceful purposes. America is seen as a fickle yet dangerous threat, who once supported Al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein when it suited them, and now turned against them as show of strength and virility to show the American people that their ‘father’ is tough. Hence, the difference in policy regarding Iran.
There is a younger generation of neo-conservatives who understand the problems with the status quo, and are trying to make their policies more reasonable. Their critics say they are just taking some liberal policies and calling themselves neo-conservatives, but it remains to be seen what comes of this.
In American politics, the frames are fairly clear, and we can more often than not predict which policies will appeal to which party.
In applying this theory to the South African context, it gets a bit more complicated. In using the NATION AS FAMILY metaphor, we need to bear in mind that there are other family types, including:
“Single mother” families
“Abusive parent” families
“All are equal”, families
Surely there are other family structures, but these seem to be the most prominent. I’ll call these type 1, type 2 and type 3 for ease of reference. I would imagine a type 1 family to have a strong, sturdy, resolute yet caring mother – who strives not to show her love too blatantly; perhaps Margaret Thatcher’s government would have fallen into this category.
A type 2 parent would not care for his children, and intimidate them to make himself feel more important. He would tell them things to make them believe that he is a great man, even if he knows this to be counter-factual. He would like to control who children hang out with, and what information they receiving, for if they become too educated and street-wise, they may rebel. You can see this as strict father gone wrong. One obvious example of this kind of government is the ZANU-PF currently ruling Zimbabwe.
Imagine a type 2 parent who abuses one child, and favours the other. One could draw an analogy with this government and that of apartheid South Africa, where White people were the favoured ‘children’, and the others were treated badly for being different. Now when the abused child takes over, they decide that we must all now be equal, but decides to surreptitiously get those who benefited in the old days back [affirmative action] and so on. The parallels we can draw are endless, but now we have a type 3 parent, who decides that he needs to make things right by apologizing to the abused children, and declares that all are equal, and all should work together as a collective to make the nation a better one and serve the government who now sees them as all equal. This type 3 parent feels that if one child gets a sweet, the others must get a sweet as well. Hence, the communist ideology of equal distribution of wealth, as so often bandied about in the ANC.
Now, the National Party, the archetypal symbol of apartheid and the concomitant abuse that went with it, was the opposition party during the elections in 1994, when we had our first truly democratic elections. Though the leader at the time was a “courageous and honourable man, in Nelson Mandela’s own words and a Nobel Peace Prize winner, few forgot what they stood for during the apartheid days, and the horror and pain they inflicted on their ‘children’. The NP was soon to be deposed, but still had the stigma of being a type 2 abusive parent, and now they were to be relegated to the MAIN OPPOSITION PARTY, and therefore still a threat. The NP recognized this, and eventually changed their name to the NNP, the NEW National Party, one that has realized its mistakes, and was prepared to make amends for the ills of the past by becoming a nurturant parent under its new leadership. But this did not work, because the type 2 frame was too deeply embedded in the minds of the denizens, and it is nothing other than their failure to eradicate that type 2 frame that led to the downfall and dissolution of the party.
When the Democratic Alliance (or the then Democratic Party) won the second most seats in parliament, deposing the NP, they slotted right into that type 2 frame without even asking for it. To make matters worse, they also accepted the label OFFICIAL OPPOSITION PARTY, as if it were a good thing. Now, in addition to unknowingly fitting into a type 2 frame (remember that this is something unconscious yet indelibly burnt into people’s minds), they hang on that frame the surface frame of “opposition party”. Now, the ANC, being a type 3 family, is known to promote equality, justice, freedom and a better life for all. They are also the ones who fought the oppressors with the iconic Nelson Mandela at its helm. If you are the party opposing the ANC, followers of the ANC are seeing you as opposing freedom, justice, etc. This is a direct upshot of slotting into a type 2 frame, and then accepting the label ‘opposition party’. This is precisely why the current ANC youth league believes that the DA is the enemy and needs to be wiped out – what’s wrong with eradicating someone who stands in the way of all those things all South Africans hold so dear? This is just taking the vengeance condoned by his ‘parent’ one step further. With this also comes the stigma of being perceived as the party who would oppose everything the ANC says and does on principle. When Tony Leon (the then leader of the DA) visited my university just under 10 years back, some students were shouting at him, telling him that he’s the “devil incarnate”. Having listened to his talk, and listened to him answering (some very antagonistic) questions on policy very eloquently, and very reasonably, and having shook his hand afterwards, and observing him meet with students and chat with in a very friendly manner, I did not understand why the animosity was so rife. My brother cites Tony Leon’s father as being an apartheid judge as his reason for hating Tony Leon and the DA; this being said without any knowledge of the kind of judge he was, or the kind of person he was. But things like this make sense if we understand that his party fell into a trap, so to speak.
At the time of writing, the ANC has reason to be rather concerned, as their leader faces corruption charges. The DA’s criticisms are brushed off and seen as inciting hate, and feelings of retaliation are justified as they were the ones who condoned the oppression of black people during apartheid – this is not true, but it fits in with the frame that the DA has unknowingly embraced. In reality, the DA adopts a nurturant parent frame, and bases its philosophy on the principles of an open society, in the Popperian sense. This is reflected in their policies, they way they reason things through, and the things they say when given the opportunity. This is only evident when you listen to what is said with an open mind, without shackling yourself into a frame. However, this is not easy as we unconsciously create frames based on various conceptual metaphors, so the “facts” only make sense within a frame. If a fact does not suit a frame, it is seen negatively, as treason, reversion to oppression and so on. A type 3 family owes allegiance to the father, who is fighting for their equality; in return, they are prepared to wipe out, kill and die for that leader. This is part of the type 3 frame, and if it is not understood as such, this can be as confusing as it is distressing.
Helen Zille, the current leader of the DA, has criticized the government’s Black Economic Empowerment policy (BEE), which is a way of giving preferential treatment to those who belong to previously disadvantaged communities. (It has more recently being upgraded to Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment, to include those who are not Black, but still belong a group that was once marginalized). Contrary to what we would expect, she does NOT criticize the fact that this policy is a kind of reverse discrimination, where a White person would not be considered for a job over a Black person, who actually might be less qualified. In fact, she points out that the policy is meant to assist the masses, who – before 1994 – have never had equal access to education and other resources. However, the in practice the policy is only being used to assist the middle-upper class Black population, and she thereby feels the term Black Elitist Enrichment would be a more appropriate label, which is a clever spin on the now hackneyed abbreviation, BEE. Her point here is that the poor Black people, who this policy is meant to help, and who it was designed for in the first place, are none the better as a result of this policy. Instead, already affluent Black businessmen are getting deals and tenders they would otherwise have to compete for in the free market.
Surely this point is not a criticism against the ANC per se, but a point made on behalf of the majority of the South African population. It is criticism which any member of the ANC should accept in principle, as it points to the failure of government implementation, and merely reminds them that their supporters are suffering as result of this.
However, common sense plays no role here, and the actual facts do not matter in the grander scheme of things. The fact is that Helen Zille represents the DA, who fits into a frame that on principle opposes everything that the ANC stands for, and therefore must oppose a better life for all. This fact cannot be over-emphasised, as the influence of cognitive frames are deeply embedded in our minds and unconscious. It takes thereby takes conscious effort to understand these frames, and then change them appropriately in a responsible manner.
This explains why people are not able to just look at the facts objectively, and use their common sense. Common sense does not exist, in that it is not common. We only have frames, and many of these are common, but many are not. If you talk about an issue that is embedded in a frame to another person who espouses another frame, your conversation will get nowhere; a DA supporter talking to an ANC supporter about Jacob Zuma’s trial will not get anywhere, just as the Hindu who argues with a Christian about the nature of God wouldn’t.
What the DA should have done, and should be doing still is not picking on particular issues. They should do what Barack Obama is doing in the States and work on changing the frames that are so indelibly burnt into the minds of the nation. It is only then that the people who count will listen, and of course I don’t just mean swaying voters in your favour. The stigma of being the NP’s replacement should be wiped out, and the DA should stop labeling itself the opposition party, because they do not oppose what the ANC stands for in THEORY. They stand up for what is right, and they stand up for the people whose tax money is being squandered unlawfully by the GOVERNMENT, of which the DA is a part. They should frame themselves as part of a whole, who are there to help care for the nation. If a member of the Independent Democrats does something wrong, it would be brought to the fore; if a member of their own party goes astray, it would be brought to the fore, and they would be dealt with.
This would be the first step in changing the negative frame that is in the minds of so many South Africans, people would listen more attentively, and they would earn the respect of their rivals. Without action based on an intelligent understanding of the situation, there is no communication, one party sees the other as being idiotic or rebellious, or whatever, when really what they are doing is quite consistent within their frame of reference.
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
People often draw the distinction between being religious and spiritual, the trend being that people feel that there is a certain stigma attached to the label ‘religious’. Given that religion is more often than not founded on profound and lofty principles, why would there be such a need to do this?
In fact, many well-meaning intellectuals choose not only to distance themselves from religion altogether, but to actively speak out ‘against’ it. As an aside, I dare say these persons have not encountered the persons I have been so fortunate to both study and meet in person; no sceptic can remain one after having the experiences I have had, but I will not discuss these here.
Academics like the biologist Richard Dawkins, the psychologist Steven Pinker and the philosopher Daniel Dennet fall into this category. Dawkins sees himself as the modern day Charles Darwin, and a lot of his work has received critical acclaim for reviving the dying doctrine of evolution by natural selection. I call this a doctrine simply because classical Darwinism is certainly dead. The notorious missing link has never been found, and if it is it will be very difficult to preclude the researcher from superimposing his own bias on what was actually found, which can vary according to one’s theoretical assumptions at the outset – reconstructing bits of bone that is millions of years old requires a fallible person to do so, carbon dating is nothing close to accurate, etc.
Nevertheless, Dawkins has become a raving sceptic not only because he sees evolution as a complete explanation for life and all the mysteries that go along with it, but also because of the very sad and unfortunate history that just about every major religion in the world bears; some more than others, but all religions, mine included, have a cross to bear. Any honest adherent would have to face these facts and accept it graciously. We are all aware of the vicious and bloody Arab conquests done in the name of religion. Recently Islamic fundamentalists have shown what their interpretation of scriptural injunctions entail. There are passages in the Koran, for example, that quite explicitly advocate the brutal murder of “non-believers”, which is reiterated throughout the book. For example, the following verse from Surah Taubah is very often quoted by critics of Islam, to show that Islam promotes violence, bloodshed and brutality:
"Kill the mushriqeen (pagans, polytheists, kuffar) where ever you find them."
A former student of mine (and needless to say, a devout Muslim) tells me that
critics of Islam actually quote this verse out of context. In order to understand the context, we need to read from verse 1 of this surah. It says that there was a peace treaty between the Muslims and the Mushriqs (pagans) of Mecca. This treaty was violated by the Mushriqs of Mecca. A period of four months was given to the Mushriqs of Mecca to make amends. Otherwise war would be declared against them. He thereby pointed me to the following verse to prove this point; verse 5 of Surah Taubah says:
"But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them,
and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practise regular charity, then open the way for them: for Allah is oft-forgiving, Most merciful."
The idea of warfare and ultimatums seems somewhat out of place in a religious context. As an open-minded Hindu, this seems rather disturbing, to say the least. Describing God as a being that is “most merciful” and full of love, yet gets angry very easily, to the point where if you disobey you should not only be brutally killed here on earth, but will suffer in hell in the most hideous manner: you will be given a body to encapsulate your soul so that you are sentient, and you will have boiling oil poured over you by the “angel of death”, who will see to it that your body is replaced when it gets worn/burnt out. Such fear pervades the Islamic holy book, and in a place like Saudi Arabia people live in constant fear of being ‘caught’ for various things, like not praying during the mandatory prayer time, which happens five times a day. If you are found not praying, they check whether you are Muslim or not; if not, they take you to your place of residence, with a stern warning not to be seen during prayer time; if you are Muslim, you are given fourteen lashes and dismissed with a warning. If you look at woman, more specifically if you look into her eyes, you can be charged.
There are dozens of examples like this, but I will not go into detail here as I think the general point has been made. The standard objections regarding these points include:
-The version of Islam practised in Saudi Arabia and other such countries is
not the ‘correct’ one.
-These are based on mistranslations from the original Arabic.
Going back to the objection raised by my former student: he claims that it was okay to slaughter the kuffar back then because they violated the ultimatum, which was either to convert to Islam or be killed. Now, leaving aside the fact that this is precisely why fundamentalists think it is okay to blow themselves up in public places (they get a two-fold benefit: they’re dying in a jihad, and they they’re killing non-believers – who, by the way, for many include apostates, not just non-Muslims), this objection is problematic for someone trying to justify it because the tenets of the Koran are meant to be eternal, rigid, and with a set meaning; there are even caveats which state that if you try and alter anything in the Koran in any way (that includes disobedience and misinterpretation, wilful or otherwise), you are no longer a Muslim. So by grounding it in history, saying that this instruction was only applicable then, you relegate the scripture to the status of a historical text, open to heuristic and therefore variable interpretation. Aside from this, someone with this objection would also be logically committed to admitting that all the Muslims in Saudi Arabia are not really Muslim.
The other option is just to be honest and admit that there are some inconsistencies inherent in the book, and that the some parts need to be looked at with a critical eye. This is actually what Muslims in more open societies do, but then there is always the issue of those who do not. An interesting, yet equally disturbing and shocking revelation, was brought to the fore in a recent production in the UK called Undercover Mosque, where they went into various mosques in the UK with a hidden camera and recorded the things that were said and advocated by their religious leaders. Given what you have read thus far, I’m sure you can imagine what the documentary revealed. By the way, the Islamic community there took the production company to court, saying that they misrepresent what was actually said in the mosques. After it went to court, and after the recordings were scrutinised by a judge in a court of law, it was concluded that the documentary was indeed accurate, which precluded the plaintiff from stopping the distribution of the documentary.
Regarding polygamy in Islam, I was referred to the following quotes:
"The righteous woman, if they enter Jannah, will accompany her husband,"
"...marry such women as seem good to you, two and three and four; but if you fear that you will not do justice (between them), then (marry) only one or what your right hands possess; this is more proper, that you may not deviate from the right course."
"Ye are never able to be fair and just as between women, even if it is your ardent desire: But turn not away (from a woman) altogether, so as to leave her (as it were) hanging (in the air). If ye come to a friendly understanding, and practise self-restraint, God is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful."
Many Muslims actually see this practice as wrong, and countries which accept religious freedom do not condone polygamy. Once again, this is seen as a historical anachronism by some, claiming that during the war, there were many widows, and the prophet instructed his followers to marry them so they won’t be alone. Putting the fact that these widows were widows because their husbands were killed by Muslim warlords aside, this poses the same problem regarding historical heuristic interpretation mentioned above.
Despite attempts to keep the religion homogenous, categorical and straight-forward, there is still a lot of infighting. Sufis, for example, are condemned as being non-Muslim, as they apparently violate God’s instructions.
Judaism and Christianity are obviously not without problems of this kind. They advocate division and hatred by proclaiming themselves in various ways to be the only ones going to heaven, since Jews are the ‘chosen ones’, and Christians quote various maxims from the Bible, like Jesus saying “I am the only begotten son of my father”, meaning that there was no other prophet; “You cannot reach my father in heaven but through me”, meaning that if you do not accept Jesus as your saviour, you’re going to hell, etc. This gives Christians a sense of superiority, and gives them a license to look down upon other religions. Whilst the New Testament is a bit more benign, the Old Testament advocates meting out the death sentence for things like homosexuality, adultery, blasphemy, idolatry, talking back to your parents, and picking up sticks on the Sabbath! This is partly why Noam Chomsky says that the Bible must be the most genocidal book in our entire canon.
Dawkins rightly describes the God of the Old Testament as blood-thirsty, possessive and misogynistic. Few need to be reminded of the history of the Catholic church, their notorious witch-hunt and concomitant (and ingenious) torture methods. The list is well nigh endless, and Dawkins spares no detail in his notorious book, The God Delusion. After pointing these out, Dawkins asks us to consider what is left to respect about religion? Why do people align themselves with a tradition that has wreaked so much of havoc on the world? How can this alleged God, who is apparently so full of love, allow things of this nature to happen?
His answer, as you may well imagine is that since we cannot properly prove the existence of God, we should be either agnostic or atheistic. He points out that all religions in their own way encourage you to be a good person, but virtue and morality could just as well be independent of any religion. Besides, if your morality is religiously based, which religion should you adhere to, given that there are not only different religions with different doctrines, but also countless sects within those? And strangely enough, there are actually branches of Hinduism and Buddhism which are quite literally atheistic!
In light of all this Dawkins thinks it makes more sense to simply accept life as a product of natural selection, and apply the scientific principles of reasoning and logic when it comes to making everyday decisions, including those that pertain to ethics.
Dawkins also misses the simple point that the jurisdiction of science has most certainly not been agreed on, and there is no consensus as to what even counts as ‘science’, or a ‘scientific endeavour’. For example, given that Darwinian evolution is not testable, is it science? There have been many articles published on the effects of meditation on the mind and body; is that science? Can religion actually be studied scientifically? Does a philosophical problem preclude, pre-date, presuppose or transcend a scientific view of the said problem? If science means the use of maths/equations, as some of my colleagues insist, does that mean something like microbiology is somehow not a science? Since some linguists use equations to describe phrase structure rules (like Noam Chomsky and Zellig Harris), does that mean the study of language is a scientific endeavour?
The role of intuition as intellectual revelation is also not appreciated by people who see science (whatever that means) as the be-all-and-end-all of intellectual practice. Dawkins merely dismisses Einstein when he attributed his most important insights to reverie, and even said that Einstein probably didn’t mean it when he said that he has great admiration for God – rather presumptuous claim! Philosophers like Sarvapali Radhakrishnan have written extensively on the role of intuition, and even tried to reconcile it with the rather parochial approach of Western philosophy.
Scientists cannot merely ignore phenomena that do not appeal to them. True science is about explaining facts. The ubiquity of religion, for example, is not something that can be ignored, or summarily dismissed as delusional. This aspect of the topic will be explored in more detail in other chapters.
As an aside, Dinesh de Souza passed a comment about Dawkins’ book, The God Delusion, which I think is quite apt and deceptively insightful:
“This is what you get when you let biologist out of the lab.”
That being said, does this show that eastern religions are better? Well it is clear that religions like Jainism, Buddhism and Hinduism do not condone violence in any form whatsoever, to the point where a true practitioner would not harm ANY living creature intentionally, and be a strict vegetarian. They do not seek to convert, and actually often advise against it, in the belief that anybody can be a good Christian/Jew/Muslim, etc., and that you are born into a particular set of circumstances for a reason; therefore converting is a form of escapism which defies your karmic path. I disagree with this, like most other practitioners, and believe that people should be free to choose.
Many great Western thinkers admire Hinduism and eastern traditions for various reasons; these include none other than Albert Einstein, Arthur Schopenhauer, Alan Watts and William Blake. I will dispense with the details here, for the interested reader can follow it up if he so wishes. I wish merely to point out that despite the far reaching influence of Hinduism, most do not even understand its basic tenets – and by most I mean Hindus themselves. This serves to perpetuate all the misunderstandings and gross misrepresentations so rife amongst non-Hindus.
have yet to meet a Hindu who truly appreciates the various contradictions inherent in his religion. Aside from being open to proselytism, Hindus seem to embrace mutually exclusive doctrines. Unlike most Christians, Jews and Muslims, Hindus can never state with rational conviction what their stand point is on many issues. Adding to this problem is the fact that Hindus are brought up to tolerate and accept other religions, not in the mere democratic sense of allowing other people to believe what they want whilst disagreeing, but in a more fundamental sense as in, for example, proclaiming that prophets like Jesus and Mohammed were indeed authentic prophets as their followers claim them to be. Once admitting this, the Hindu is faced with either accepting or explaining statements like:
- I am the only begotten Son of my Father
- You cannot reach Heaven but through Me
- Those who do not accept Jesus Christ as the only Saviour is doomed to eternal
The dilemma comes in either not taking these statements too ‘literally’ (often a euphemism for I choose to reject that so I’ll pretend I can explain it away some other way; hence the inverted commas), or accepting what is apparently logical and converting. They do this in the hope that they will now be ‘saved’ and therefore go to Heaven, wherever or whatever that is; they are often frightened into the logically untenable option of rejecting to convert and going to hell, which is defined (in Christianity) as an eternal punishment for not accepting Jesus.
They face the very same dilemma when they meet Muslims. Hindus accept Mohammed and as the prophet of Islam, and accept that He must have been sent by God. However, the Muslim will then point out various facts, including:
- That Mohammed came here to ‘correct’ the corrupt practices that have become the
norm with the religious zealots, including the Jews and the Christians
- Mohammed is hailed as the LAST and DEFINITIVE prophet, while acknowledging and
endorsing the Jewish and Christian prophets, He certainly supersedes them;
hence, his word and teachings are to be given precedence
- The obvious upshot of this is also that there can be no other prophet succeeding
Mohammed, and the Koran is to be the final word on all matters religious
- Those who do not accept this decree will be, you’ve guessed it, condemned to hell – again defined as a logically untenable ETERNAL punishment, etc.
As before, the Hindu now has a choice to make...
Hindus are unable to ‘defend’ themselves when faced with situations like this simply because Christians, Jews and Muslims CAN say, more often than not, quite categorically what their religion is about, what their beliefs are, and what the goal of life is for a ‘true’ follower (ie. score enough brownie points to get in to heaven).
One problem is the fact that Hindus do not know when their religion originated. Without a founding prophet, there is no person to look to for answers regarding even basic questions.
In fact, Hindus see nothing wring in advocating Hinduism not as a religion at all, but as a “way of life”. Hence, there is no contradiction in being a Christian and a Hindu (a Christian would never agree that things could be so the other way around), for example. Hindus see this as a plus, implying open-mindedness, universalism, etc.; others see this as Hindus having no philosophy or authoritative beliefs of their own.
Another is the multiplicity of scriptures that Hindus have. Swami Vivekananda boldly said in one of his talks that there could not have been a man in history who has read all the Hindu scriptures – being a very learned scholar himself, he did not seem to exclude himself from this category. I had the great honour and privilege of knowing and learning from a great Hindu monk, who went by the name of Swami Shankarananda. He dedicated most of his life to the study and practice of yoga within the Hindu framework. Prior to being initiated, he spent twelve continuous years studying various aspects of Hinduism. This included six hours a day dedicated to scriptural study. One would think that this would be enough time to have mastered at least a basic overview of Hindu scriptures in its entirety. Yet, during one of my
Q & A sessions with him, I asked him the following question: What does the Sankhya say about the creation of the universe? His response: I don’t know; I’ll have to look through some information I’ve got and get back to you on that.
This was a very surprising answer, given his training and his background. I do not mean to denigrate his legacy; indeed, as you will see later, I revere this man as my guru and mentor. My point is simply that if there are things about Hinduism that HE did not know, what to talk of the rest who have NOT had that training?
It is no mean feat to undertake a serious study of Hinduism. Dabblers will certainly either get confused, or be misled into believing something that is not representative of the Hindu religion. The Hindu scriptures include the Vedas (there are four of them) and Upanishads (there are a hundred and eight of them left, with twelve being the “principle” Upanishads), the latter actually being the end portion of the Vedas, actually. It is said that they adequately summarise the Vedas such that a study of the Upanishads would make a study of the Vedas redundant. In addition to this, the book that speaks of Lord Krishna’s experiences on the battlefield, the Bhagavad Gita, is said to summarise the crux of all the Upanishads, making it unnecessary to study the latter. However, the Bhagavad Gita is largely allegorical and symbolic, and like all great works of literature (if it may be so-called without relegating its status as a scripture), it is open to multiple interpretations.
There are various other epic scriptures (in the form of story) in the Hindu religion. Second to the Gita is the Ramayana, which tells of the exploits of lord Rama, after his fourteen-year banishment into the forest. This too is richly allegorical, and open to interpretation.
Aside from the mainstream scriptures, there are the more controversial aspects of Hinduism. One of which would no doubt be offensive symbolism. For example, in the Mahabharata there is an episode famously known as the Rasa Lila. This is an episode where Lord Krishna dances rather seductively with the Gopis, charming them, flirting with them, and stroking them in a risqué manner. Their husbands were very worried about them, as the Rasa Lila took place over a few days, and these cow-herd girls did not care worry about their husbands, or the housework that they were busy with, etc. because they so captivated by the Lord.
In his book Lord Krishna: his lilas and teachings, Swami Sivananda, before his rather succinct commentary on it, spends a good few pages explaining why the Rasa Lila should not be given a sexual interpretation, and that those who do are simply of a base nature. As I said, when married women state that they are willing to leave their husbands for the all-attractive Krishna, that Lord Krishna teased them and played with them by stroking their thighs, etc., it is difficult not to, which is why this particular part of scripture is not given much attention. Of course the commentary points out that the Lord’s mind was pure, and that despite his indulgence, it was only to make the Gopis feel important for the time being, and to show them that their lechery will necessarily be ephemeral, and that they should look to transcend such feelings, etc. Other orthodox commentaries concur broadly on this point.
However, there is a branch of Hinduism called Tantra, which is actually documented as amongst the oldest of Hindu scriptures. One of these scriptures has been bastardised by the movie of the same title: Kama Sutra, which means something like “love precepts”. A word on this matter before going on. In Hinduism, we believe that there are four stages of ‘life’:
The first pertains to student life, the second to married life, the third to retired life, and the last to a life of renunciation. It is believed that every person is meant to go through these stages. Each stage of life has certain recommendations in order to be successful at it. For example, chastity and obedience to your teacher are important to being a good student. Sublimation of your veerya (expained only recently as sublimation in modern psychology) is important as your semen contains very concentrated and pure energy, which will be wasted if used sexually, and will be transformed into a profound creative force if not. Aside from ethical considerations, the eating of meat is also forbidden because it dulls the mind, and induces laziness. There are various scriptures meant to be specifically for students, with concomitant rules and regulations. Just as school students find appeal in the universal charm of story-telling, some scriptures are in the form of stories, which is why we have so many epics, and the richness in symbolism is there simply because students appreciate the symbolism in a more sophisticated manner the more advanced they get.
Likewise, in the stage of married life, which is the second one mentioned above, there are various scriptures which tell of how to conduct yourself as a householder. This includes the rites and rituals that ought to be performed during the wedding ceremony, what being a good mother entails (summarised quite nicely in Swami Sivananda’s book, Sthree Dharma), what being a good father entails, etc. Of course, there is guidance on being a good husband and a good wife as well, together with the duties and prayers each has to do to maintain a spiritual atmosphere in the home. Key to a healthy marriage is a healthy sex life, which is what a part of what the Kama Sutra is meant to address.
Scriptures like the Vedas and the Upanishads are meant for the final two stages of life, when you have gathered life experience, with more than just a bookish knowledge of your profession, have passed the stage of material acquisition to the point where you see its futility, have conquered sexual desire, etc. It is only in this context that a reading of the said scriptures, together with their moral implications, makes any sense. This is why Vedanta entails having a rather sophisticated view of the world, and requires standards of discipline not otherwise expedient.
Now getting back to my point on tantra. The tantric scriptures advocate using the pleasures of the world to heighten your awareness and therefore your consciousness. This is not very different to the Shamans who use peynote during various rituals to get more in touch with nature. In addition to other worldly pleasures, tantra advocates using sex as a means to heighten your energy levels. It claims that by concentrating on a particular whilst engaged in sex, you exchange and heighten your energy levels to such an extent that you experience exactly what you would experience during conventional meditation, but at a much faster rate. The trick is, however, to not only delay orgasm, but to not take the experience to orgasm at all. I’m obviously summarising and therefore compromising the subtleties and complexities of the technique and philosophy behind the practice, but my point is simply that it is there! It exists, and is actually more widely practised than one would assume. In his book, which he by the way regards as one of his masterpieces, Essays in Life and Eternity, he dedicates a very terse chapter to tantra, entitled Tantra Sadhana. He says in the said work, for example, that greatest obstacles to spiritual perfection are wealth, power and sex, and it is these that the Tantra intends to harness. He is careful not to go into detail though, pointing out only that this practice is secret, and based on the belief that everything has a dual nature, often represented by Siva and Shakti (or the Yin and Yang in Chinese philosophy), mind and matter, good and evil, etc. The idea here being that one can be used as a ladder to reach the other, instead of pretending that it does not exist, or that it ought to be completely shunned. The Upanishads, for example, states that the world does not exist, and that God is only thing that is real. People never question this when a swami says it during his speech in an ashram, but when they’re on the road and a car is speeding towards them, they would very quickly jump out the way, instead of questioning the reality of the incident. Hence, we have to accept at least the relative reality of the world, together with its dual qualities.
Swami Sivananda agrees on these points in his book Tantra, Nada and Kriya Yoga, but also pays it only lip service. Towards the end of the book he also concedes that Hindu icons were meant to embody this fact in its symbolism. The most oft-writ about example of this is the “Shivalinga”, meaning symbol of Shiva.
The Nationmaster Encyclopaedia has to following to say about the Linga; please note that I am QUOTING:
Lingam is usually found with Yoni, the pedestal. As such, Lingam represented the male entity of the universe, while Yoni represented the female; it was natural togetherness of the male (Shiva) and female (Shakti) (Lingam and Yoni) as the point of energy, point of creation, and point of enlightenment. Such revelation was later enriched by many philosophies and theologies as man's knowledge of God widened with civilization. The word is first attested in the Brahmanas, both with general meanings of "sign, mark, characteristic" and of "gender mark, genital".
Various interpretations on the origin and symbolism of the Shiva lingam obtain. While the Tantras and Puranas deem the Shiva lingam a phallic symbol representing the regenerative aspect of the material universe, the Agamas and Shastras do not elaborate on this interpretation, and the Vedas fail altogether to mention the Lingam.
Some Tantras consider the lingam to be a phallic symbol and to be the representation of Shiva's phallus, in its spiritual form. Accordingly, the lingam contains the soul-seed containing within it the essence of the entire cosmos. The lingam arises out of the base (Yoni) which represents Parvati according to some or Vishnu, Brahma in female and neuter form according to others. Tantra (Sanskrit: weave), tantric yoga or tantrism is any of several esoteric traditions rooted in the religions of India. Shiva is a form of Ishvara or God in the later Vedic scriptures of Hinduism. The word yoni is the Sanskrit word for the female reproductive organ.
The puranas, especially the Vamana purana, Shiva purana, Linga purana, Skanda Purana, Matsya Purana, along with the Visva Sara Prakasha, have narratives of the origin and symbolism of the Shiva lingam. Many puranas attribute the origin to the curse of sages leading to the separation of and installation of the phallus of Lord Shiva on earth; many also refer to the endlessness of the lingam, linked to the egos of Lord Vishnu and Lord Bramha. The Puranas are part of Hindu Smriti; these religious scriptures discuss devotion and mythology.
In simple terms, it is the phallus / penis being worshipped while it is in deep trouble inside the yonic/ vagina and we are proud to worship this eternal symbol of glory under the moon.
Say what you will, but there it is. Granted, there is what you would call orthodox Hinduism, and unorthodox Hinduism (astika and nastika in Sanskrit), the former accepting the authority of the Vedas as taking precedence over all other scriptures. But there are problems even with this. Most Hindus consider the Hare Krishna movement to be unorthodox, yet they subscribe to the Vedas and take it as having precedence over all other scriptures; they see the Gita merely as a summary of and commentary on the Vedas. Also, since most Hindus claim to follow orthodox Hinduism, why is it that the Lingam is almost universally used, despite having not been mentioned in the Vedas. As I said, scriptures that do mention it do so in the said context. Why do they not just use a murti of Shiva, as is common practice with the other deities?
It also known that some Hindus so appalling things like practice black magic and slaughter animals (and the two are actually not mutually exclusive). There are so-called scriptures like the Indarjal dedicated entirely to this end! How many Hindus are aware of this? Once again, we can easily say that this is not really a scripture, or that this forms part of the UNORTHODOX wing of Hinduism. But then how would you explain the fact that the Atharva-Veda also has black magic spells? Granted, there are other benign and even beneficial spells in it, but this does not account for the darker part. In addition to this, there are instructions on how to perform ritual slaughter! It speaks of how to use the animal’s energy to clear your own path for success, etc. This explains why the practice of ritual slaughter is so rife. As the point is now made, I will not elaborate with further details.
Suffice to say that as a result of this, there are various sects, factions and schools of thought, and it is no exaggeration to believe anything and virtually do anything, and still be correct in calling yourself a Hindu. It is in this sense that we can say that Hinduism is a way of life, not really a religion. My point here is not to berate my religion, but to point out that we have an extremely rich and profound tradition. However, it is not good enough to merely proclaim this, as it sounds quite clichéd and therefore vacuous. When confronted with the facts regarding animal slaughter, sex rituals, the eating of meat, the charge of polytheism and idol worship, etc. it simply makes us sound ignorant and ineffectual to say:
- Well, TRUE Hindus do not slaughter
- Well, TRUE Hindus know there’s only like one God
- Well, ja pigs are like worse then other animals so IF we eat meat we
mustn’t eat pigs, oh ja and cows too
- We don’t believe in black magic
As Hindus, we need to be ambassadors of our religion, and not live in ignorance of the religion we practise. In pretending that our scriptures do NOT say what they actually DO, we sound as foolish as those Muslims who fail to understand that taking certain tenets of Islam at face value lead some people to do terrible things, and denying it, or declaring all Saudis as heretics simply commits you to a logical position which you would not be comfortable with.
Let us accept that there are aspects of our religion, inherent in our scriptures, which we choose not to accept because we are open-minded, free thinking rational beings. The latter quality is something which Hinduism encourages, unlike other religions. But in order to do this with any conviction, we need to be clear of what actually is out there, and why we choose not to adhere to that particular aspect of Hinduism. Otherwise, we sound like fumbling fools when confronted with the facts.