Malusia: Take On Hypocrites


August 16, 2017

Malusia: Take On Hypocrites and those who betrayed this nation and our children

by Azly Rahman@www.malaysiankini.com

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In honour of the thinking and rational man

Atheist Club? Atheist Republic? Is that a band from California, after Linkin Park and Nirvana? Or a new name for a brand of Chinese-made jeans? I know One Republic is a brand of clothing and True Religion is a pair of cool jeans. Only true believers wear them.

And for the atheist, there is always the question when they die:

All dressed up and nowhere to go?

And what does it mean to believe in Nothing? When we live in a world in which we cannot escape from Somethingness?

Seriously folks, this is a serious matter in Malaysia, today and yesterday, at least. Another distraction from the issue of 1MDB and who allegedly stole the money, and who killed Altantuya and who masterminded the tragedy.

Even if one is an atheist, you’d say: Oh my God. Why was so much money allegedly stolen? Why use C4 explosives on the pregnant woman?

That is what we will say and what we have been saying about what the hell is happening in this heaven called Malaysia.

Malay-Muslims denouncing their religion. Why? Loss of meaning. No spiritual compass. Perhaps? The elders have betrayed them and robbed them of their future.

What is the meaning of Islam in Malaysia today? What has the Islamicisation agenda brought us?

Not what Prophet Muhammad taught: Opposing gluttony, combating greed. Look at the kind of lives the leaders and the sultans of the world are living. Look at the poor. Remember what the Arab Spring was about? Herein lies the rise of those who are disillusioned by Islam.

What we are reading about in the Islamic world is about Muslims killing each other, and the richer amongst the Islamic countries are building and buying weapons from the enemies of Islam, to annihilate each other.

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A Malay Muslim of the UMNO variety will freak out at the sight of pork or bacon or ham but find it quite moral to squander or songlap state funds to quote Azly Rahman. MACC, what are you doing about these hypocrites? Billions of ringgits have been songlaped by the UMNO state, while you take on small fries.Occasionally you arrest the likes of Isa Samad for show.–Din Merican

At home in Malaysia, we have these streams of reports about massive and even billion-ringgit corruption cases allegedly involving those who profess the religion of Islam. As the popular saying goes, a Muslim will freak out at the sight of pork or bacon or ham but find it quite moral to squander or songlap millions.

Words they merely are. A prison-house of language we live in. Atheism. Agnosticism. Platonism. Theism. Pantheism. Secularism. Islamism. Anachronism. These are mere words.

The last one is not a belief system though. It sounded like an anaconda with a chronic illness. And if it is “anachronistic”, it should be an anaconda with a lipstick.

Who to hunt

Hunt down not the atheist to destroy them. Hunt those who are killing the nation and the coming generations. Those in power who cause untold damage, pretending to believe in God yet godless in the way they treat the world and its inhabitants.

I hope those planning to do the goodwill hunting of the atheists will be ready with the best weapons: philosophy of religion and rationalistic thought.

The self-proclaimed atheists are very smart people and have all the good arguments (though many might be faulty) to argue why they have left religion, in general.

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Dialogue is good, hunting is not, let alone calling for the death of atheists. I doubt the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) would agree to that. I doubt Islam is about that brand of paranoia.

 When I read about the issue, I recall what I wrote about believing. Here it goes.

“Prayer of a Believer”
by Azly Rahman

Believe in anything you wish to
in anything
in something
in nothing
anything that teaches you the beauty within
and shows you the kingdom you are to govern wisely 
shown by you … yourself 
as Time evolves itself within you
begin believing in anything
privately 
privately 
privately
moving into intimacy with yourself
so that when you worship
you become the worshipper – and the worshipped
like the dancer and the danced
the waves in the water
the self in your self
and when you have become good in believing what is 
good in you
the human in your humanity
the love in your beloved — you become lovers
you evolved 
you and yourself
none should tell you how
none should know
no signs 
no symbols
no house of worship should shroud your soul 
from infinitesimal glows
you evolve 
and evolve 
and walk proudly
publicly
publicly
publicly
even like the sage Siddhartha
with a begging bowl
with Rumi and reason whirling as rhymes in you
like a sadhu
a wanderer in the wilderness
a prophet on Wall Street
a soul meditating on a mountain of light
away from the madness of civilization’s plight
believe in anything you wish to 
you are truth
evolving
creating meaning
in a world
where nothing can become everything
and believing makes you a being
every minute 
every breath 
evolving
a cycle
never ending
a circle 
expanding
illuminating

No. Let us not hunt atheists but focus our energy and resources hunting down hypocrites and those who betrayed this nation and our children: leaders that are godless but wearing the mask of religiosity.

That should be our goal. As for Muslims, we do it with Bismillah hirRahman nirRahim. In the name of the Universal God, Most Merciful, Most Compassionate.


DR AZLY RAHMAN is an educator, academic, international columnist, and author of seven books. He grew up in Johor Baru and holds a Columbia University doctorate in International Education Development and Masters degrees in five areas: Education, International Affairs, Peace Studies Communication, and Creative Writing. Follow him on FacebookTwitter and his blog.

Edward Said–A Tribute


August 12, 2017

Edward Said–A Tribute

by A.C. Grayling

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Edward Said (pic above) was a much interviewed man, partly because he stood in a unique cross-cultural place at a painful historical juncture, and could speak about it with intelligence and eloquence,thus attracting the persistent attention of journalists and fellow intellectuals, and partly because he agreed so often to be interviewed , doubtless out of the intellectual’s need for expression, but almost  certainly also because there was more than a tincture of vanity in that handsome man who derived so much from so many places–Palestine, the Western literary tradition, the East, America, the British public school tradition,the Arab world, the East Coast Ivy League tradition, Cairo, Jerusalem,New York, well lit European television studios, the border with Israel at whose fence he could throw stones–because he claim to belong to none of them though benefiting massively from them all.

The many interviews he gave between them beautifully manifest these paradoxical  self-positionings and deep ambiguities, and in the process offer a portrait–all the more striking for being so unselfconsciously self-conscious–of a vitally interesting individual. A volume collecting his interviews was ready for publication shortly before his lamented death, and he therefore read it;  one wonders whether he saw how chameleon-like he was, taking on colours of the side from which his interviewers  came: an Arab for Arabs, a ‘colonial’ when talking to other ‘colonials’ (for example the Indian editor of the volume), and a culturally conservative four-square Western-educated intellectual for Western academic colleagues. He even went so far as to say to Israel’s Ha’aretz magazine, “I’m the last Jewish intellectual…I’m a Jewish-Palestinian.”

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He was, of course, nothing of the sort, and not much of the other thing either. Born a Protestant Christian in West Jerusalem of wealthy Christian Arab parents, he spent his early life in Cairo being educated at a famous English public school there along with later King Hussein of Jordan and the famous bridge player-actor Omar Sharif, and then went to university in America. After taking his PhD in English Literature he joined the faculty of Columbia University in the early 1960s, and New York remained his home until his death in 2003.

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Although his chosen milieu was American academia, the accident of his origins gave him a stake in the tragedy of the Middle East, and he became an indefatigable and powerful advocate of the Palestinian cause. Fame came with his book Orientalism , whose argument is that Europeans deal with the Orient through a process of colonisation premised on the Orient as ‘Other’ expressed in many ways, from literature and art to scholarship and thence colonial bureaucracy. He saw the Occident-Orient relationship as deriving  not in fact from alienation but from historical closeness, although at its fullest it takes the form of power, dominance, and varying degrees of hegemony in Gramsci’s of ‘cultural domination’. This important idea, and its extension into Said’s views about the relation of culture and imperialism generally, is discussed repeatedly and from a variety of angles in the interviews he gave, which between them therefore constitute a work in itself, and an excellent introduction to hie thought.

For all that Said was a campaigner for Palestine and enemy of Zionism in unequivocal terms (he disliked Martin Luther King Jr. and King was pro-Israel), he was otherwise a small conservative in cultural terms. Despite everything he said about Orientalism, his most abiding loyalty was to Western High Culture ( he loved serious music and opera, and wrote about it frequently) and the literature of the English tongue. Claiming that even Jane Austen embodies the imperialising thrust of English literature–Mansfield Park is paid for by a slave plantation in Antigua, a passingly mentioned item which for Said, as for the many engaged in the industry of ‘postcolonial literary studies’, is an endless resource–Said  was able to be a prophet among avant-garde lit.-crit. fraternity, and yet at the same time he came early to despise them.

“One thing that everyone can agree with Said about–and it is  a point he often  and eloquently made–is that academy should not be disengaged from the real world and especially the injustices it contains. His own life is a monument to that conviction, and deserves praise for it”.–A.C. Grayling

Refreshingly, he was sometimes dismissive of ‘literary theory’ and the jargon-laden ‘auto-tinkering’ of the academy,  in which literary criticism  is a cheap form of philosophy done by waving banners  with ‘Derrida’ and ‘Heidegger’ on them, resulting in salaried logorrhoea, a thick stream of indecipherable nonsense that has spewed, like outfall from a main sewer, into an intellectually polluted sea of futility.

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But interviews with him show  that he never quite escaped the grip of this intellectual disease. When speaking to fellow lit.-crit. academics he falls easily into the jargon: ‘As (Michel) Foucault said…As  (Jacques) Derrida said…’is the familiar refrain, and, like his colleagues he misquotes  and misrepresents (as when he shows unfamiliarity with what for example (Thomas) Hobbes and (Karl) Popper really meant, though airily invoking their names in that lit.-crt.way, which is like a verbal twic or twitch: ‘…as Popper said…’)

As just one of many  ambiguities that cluster around Said’s intellectual persona,though, his divided attitude  to his academic discipline is understandable enough. Often pressed in interviews on  the question of how he can regard (Jane) Austen and (Joseph) Conrad as great writers and their works as great literature while at the same time viewing them as imperialist producers of texts not merely expressing but embodying the very process of colonisation and therefore diminishment of the Other, Said had to navigate carefully between emphasising  now on one side of the dilemma and now the other, trying to show that a work can be great literature even if it is, because it is of its time and place, an instrument of a form of harm. To perceptions which catch less shiftingly grey nuances, this seems like having a cake and eating it; much of what Said tried to do in interviews was to show how that can be done.

One thing that everyone can agree with Said about–and it is  a point he often  and eloquently made–is that academy should not be disengaged from the real world and especially the injustices it contains. His own life is a monument to that conviction, and deserves praise for it.

Source: A.C. Grayling, The Heart of Things: Applying Philosophy to the 21st Century (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2005), Edward Said, 1935-2003, pp 226-229

Buddhist Philosophy–Its Value for Humanity


August 7, 2017

by Antonio Damaso

http://www.nytimes.com–Book Review

Anyone writing (or reading) about Buddhism faces a critical question. What is Buddhism, really? A religion, complete with supernatural deities and reincarnation? A secular philosophy of life? A therapeutic practice? An ideology? All of the above? Robert Wright sketches an answer early in “Why Buddhism Is True.” He settles on a credible blend that one might call Western Buddhism, a largely secular approach to life and its problems but not devoid of a spiritual dimension. The centerpiece of the approach is the practice of mindful meditation.

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The goal of “Why Buddhism Is True” is ambitious: to demonstrate “that Buddhism’s diagnosis of the human predicament is fundamentally correct, and that its prescription is deeply valid and urgently important.” It is reasonable to claim that Buddhism, with its focus on suffering, addresses critical aspects of the human predicament. It is also reasonable to suggest that the prescription it offers may be applicable and useful to resolve that predicament.

To produce his demonstrations and to support the idea that Buddhism is “true,” Wright relies on science, especially on evolutionary psychology, cognitive science and neuroscience.

This is a sensible approach, and in relation to Buddhism it is almost mainstream. Over the years, in a number of encounters, I have found the Dalai Lama and those around him to be keenly interested in science. Wright is up to the task: He’s a Buddhist who has written about religion and morality from a scientific perspective — he is most famous for his 1994 book, “The Moral Animal.”

My take on Wright’s fundamental proposals is as follows. First, the beneficial powers of meditation come from the possibility of realizing that our emotive reactions and the consequent feelings they engender — which operate in automated fashion, outside our deliberate control — are often inappropriate and even counterproductive relative to the situations that trigger them. Second, the mismatch between causes and responses is rooted in evolution. We have inherited from our nonhuman and human forerunners a complex affect apparatus suited to life circumstances very different from ours. That apparatus — which is controlled from varied sectors of our nervous systems — was created by natural selection and assisted by genetic transmission over a long period of time.

It worked well for nonhuman primates and later for human hunter gatherers, but it has worked far less well as cultures became more complex. Third, meditation allows us to realize that the idea of the self as director of our decisions is an illusion, and that the degree to which we are at the mercy of a weakly controlled system places us at a considerable disadvantage. Fourth, the awareness brought on by meditation helps the construction of a truly enlightened humanity and counters the growing tribalism of contemporary societies.

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Wright’s book is provocative, informative and, in many respects, deeply rewarding. A good example is Wright’s description of his first full entry into the realm of mindfulness. Arriving at this new mental state generated in him an intense emotive response and a memorable feeling that Wright evokes with suggestive but spare prose. It rings true. This scene lets the reader glimpse the power of mindful meditation and be intrigued, even seduced, by the transformative potential of the practice. I found myself not just agreeing but applauding the author, on a number of passages. A case in point is his unflinching embrace of the notion of feeling, which he understands as the mental experiences of physiological states, states imbued with a valence ranging from positive and pleasant to negative and unpleasant. He is referring to phenomena in the mind, private to each specific human being and not inspectable by others. He does not confuse feelings with emotions, which are public and can be inspected by others. Surprisingly, this distinction between feeling and emotion is often glossed over not just in popular accounts but also in the scientific literature. And yet, it is fundamental for the understanding of how living organisms with nervous systems can behave, develop conscious experiences and construct individual minds, sociality and cultures.

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Wright is not as persuasive when he attempts to establish the truth of Buddhism by considering the circumstances in which feelings arise. He readily admits the value of feelings as basic guides to the way we run our lives. For example, feelings can express states of our physiology by letting us experience thirst and hunger and satiety and pain and well-being. He designates such feelings as “true” because their experience is congruent with the organism’s state of need or lack thereof. But when, in modern life, emotions such as fear and anger are incorrectly and unnecessarily engaged — for example, road rage — Wright calls the respective feelings “false” or “illusory.” Such feelings, however, are no less true than the thirst, hunger or pain that Wright accepts and welcomes. When we feel road rage, the feeling faithfully depicts the disturbed state of our physiology brought about by anger. That feeling is just as true as the feeling of pain after we suffer a wound. Practical inadequacy is the issue, not lack of truth.

More often than not, we gain from subjecting the recommendations of any feelings to the scrutiny of reason. With some exceptions — situations of panic being an example — emotions and the feelings they engender need to be judged by reason, in the light of knowledge, before we let them guide our behavior. Even “good” feelings such as empathy, compassion and gratitude benefit from distance and discernment.

We can agree that mindful meditation promotes a distancing effect and thus may increase our chances of combining affect and reason advantageously. Meditation can help us glean the especially flawed and dislocated status of humans in modern societies, and help us see how social and political conflicts appear to provoke resentment and anger so easily. Over and above the personal benefits of meditation one can imagine that populations engaged in such practices would expand their awareness of the inadequacy and futility of some of our affective responses. In turn, that would contribute to creating healthier and less conflicted societies, one person at a time.

But there are important questions to be raised here. How does one scale up, from many single individuals to populations, in time to prevent the social catastrophes that seem to be looming? I also wonder if, for some individuals, the successful practice of meditation and the actual reduction of the anxieties of daily life is not more likely to induce equanimity regarding social crises than the desire to resolve those crises with inventive cultural solutions. Individual therapy and the salvation of society are not incompatible, of course, but I suspect they can be easily uncoupled.

Wright correctly defends the view that the self as director of operations and decider of one’s actions is an illusion. I could not agree more. But there is an important distinction to be made between the idea of self as mastermind and chief executive officer, and the process of subjectivity. The self appears fragmented, in daily life and in meditative states, but subjectivity does not break down. It never disappears, or we simply would be unable to observe the fragmentation in the first place.

I would venture that in most meditative states some subjectivity remains, as representative of the biological interests of the individual. As far as I can imagine, the complete disappearance of a subjective view would result in a “view from nowhere.” But whose view would that be, then? And if not ours, how would we come to know let alone seek such a view, such an emptiness? Mindful meditation is no stranger to the world of paradox. Is there anything stranger than discovering the pleasures of not feeling?

Antonio Damasio directs the USC Brain and Creativity Institute. He is the author of a number of books, including “Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain.”

Can Conservatives find the Way?


July 10, 2017

by Tevi Troy*

IT is increasingly obvious these days that many of the people who call themselves conservative can’t even agree on what the term means. Despite simultaneous Republican control of the White House and both houses of Congress, the conservative movement seems endlessly at odds.

Senator Mitch McConnell’s recent troubles with the Republican health care bill have presented a window into these continuing disagreements for the world at large to peek through. But health care is hardly the only issue on which the movement is divided: looming debates on tax reform, trade, foreign policy and immigration imperil conservative progress.

Conservatives speak wistfully of an era of conservative unity that brought about policy transformations, especially under President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. Both the animating ideas and the corresponding policies were in harmony because Reagan believed in a conservative philosophy and used that philosophy to carry out actionable policy.

Crucially, this period was also characterized by a belief that there was a unifying strand to conservatism, and that the Republican Party was the political home for this movement. Even if conservatives disagreed on the details of a specific policy, they agreed on a general direction and on supporting political leaders who would get them there. As for the Republican Party, it was a vehicle for debating policy and ideology, serving as a party of ideas, in contrast to the Democrats’ warring coalition of needy interest groups.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R)

Conservative reveling in this bygone past is a phenomenon that predates the most recent presidential election. As Jonah Goldberg, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, told me: “G.O.P. primaries for the last few cycles have been like the nerdiest possible re-creation of the end of ‘Spartacus’: ‘I am Ronald Reagan.’ ‘No, I am Ronald Reagan.’ ”

The halcyon period of the 1980s did not develop out of nowhere. Reaching this degree of unity was hard, with the Reaganite consensus emerging over a lengthy period of debate dating back to conservatism’s modern revival in the 1950s.

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Yale- Educated William F. Buckley Jr. of The National Review

Whenever conservatives talk about unity, the unifying figure in this regard is William F. Buckley Jr. Shortly after starting National Review in 1955, Mr. Buckley and his colleagues sought to join together the various elements of the respectable right. Mr. Buckley’s associate, Frank Meyer, an ex-Marxist of libertarian inclinations, found the key to uniting disparate elements under a common rubric. Mr. Meyer called for a defense of both Western civilization and personal freedom that came to be known as “fusionism.”

Fusionism was an explicit recognition of certain shared concerns — about the existential threat of Communism abroad and the growth of government at home. It managed to bring together both government-skeptical libertarians and religiously minded traditionalists by emphasizing the importance of the individual and Western civilization, as well as the Communist threat to both.

When it came to governing, though, fusionism provided somewhat less guidance. Think tanks like the Heritage Foundation and the Hoover Institution stepped in to fill the void, producing policy books called “Mandate for Leadership” and “The United States in the 1980s.” The Reagan administration then carried out their policy recommendations, or at least many of them. Mr. Buckley himself recognized but also gently mocked the importance of the Heritage Foundation’s work, saying, “Sixty percent of the suggestions enjoined on the new president were acted upon (which is why Mr. Reagan’s tenure was 60 percent successful).”

Within these policy manifestoes and Mr. Reagan’s rhetoric, certain overarching ideas emerged to guide politicians: aggressive prosecution of the Cold War against the Soviet Union, lower taxes and a tough stance on crime.

Today, with a larger conservative movement, it’s harder to find areas of agreement. The policies pursued under the fusionist umbrella now have less sway. The cold warriors’ tough stance on Russia is no longer unifying in a post-Soviet era, to say the least. A more contemporary, and more elusive, idea is the concept of a clash of civilizations that President Trump alluded to in his speech in Poland last week: “The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive.”

Crime remains an issue, but less so than in the 1980s or the 1990s, in part because many urban politicians, including liberal ones, adopted conservative recommendations on how to combat crime, like the broken windows theory of policing. As for marginal tax rates, conservative policies reduced them, and took so many people off the income tax rolls that 44 percent of Americans pay no federal income taxes. The hidden lesson here is that conservative policy successes had the effect of making core conservative ideas less politically resonant among voters and thus making them ineffective for unity as well.

At a surface level, some issues do appear to unite current conservatives: disdain for anti-conservative and anti-Republican bias in the mainstream media; support for conservative judges like Neil Gorsuch, who joined the Supreme Court in April; and support for Israel. But these issues themselves are insufficient, as well as more limiting.

As Lanhee Chen, a Research Fellow at Hoover, told me, “those three things alone don’t make a governing agenda.” When I asked Sally Satel, a resident scholar at A.E.I., about whether these areas of agreement could form the basis of a real consensus, she said sarcastically, “Talk about a big tent. …”

Another problem is that these issues unify mainly in opposition to forces conservatives dislike: liberal journalists, judicial activists and Israel bashers. Vin Weber, a former Republican Representative, summed it up this way: “We sort of know who we are against.” Mr. Weber believes that conservatives “need to refocus on why we have a G.O.P.”

In the great sorting that is to come, some conservatives who divided over this most recent election will find themselves permanently ensconced in different camps. But there is still hope for a semblance of unity if conservatives build out from the admittedly narrow list of areas of common agreement in the development of a new conservative agenda. If this difficult yet important work of creating a new conservative agenda at all three levels — philosophy, policy and politics — does not happen, then the conservative movement will lose much of its ability to shape the Republican Party going forward.

Getting this recalibration right is not a short-term commitment. The period from the creation of National Review to the election of Ronald Reagan was 25 years. This upcoming period of conservative re-examination will take some time — although hopefully not as much — as well.

To complicate matters, intense disagreement about the sitting president could make it harder to accomplish this work during Mr. Trump’s tenure. As Jonah Goldberg put it to me, “Trump is like a magnet next to a compass,” making it harder for conservatives to find true north as they argue over whether it is the duty of conservatives to support him or the duty of conservatives to oppose him. These arguments divert attention from the question of what a 21st century conservative policy agenda should be, and they are likely do so for the rest of his presidency.

At the same time, some conservatives think Mr. Trump has performed a necessary service in highlighting the existing fault lines. Seth Leibsohn, a pro-Trump radio host who wrote the new book “American Greatness: How Conservatism Inc. Missed the 2016 Election and What the D.C. Establishment Needs to Learn” with his co-host, Chris Buskirk, told me that “it’s even healthier to have these debates as we win elections — for that we owe a lot to the Trump candidacy, presidency and movement.”

Regardless of where one stands on Mr. Trump, conservatives need to identify a new, modern fusionism, with both a unifying concept as well as a corresponding set of shared policy ideas tailored to our current era. This is not the work of politicians, be they Reagans or Trumps. It is the work of conservative thinkers at magazines and think tanks, who need to debate, argue and ultimately agree or disagree on whether it is possible once again to develop a conservative vision for the future and what that vision might look like.

With Old Age comes Healthy Dose of Wisdom and Skepticism


July 5, 2017

With Old Age comes Healthy Dose of Wisdom  and Skepticism

By Dean Johns@www.malaysiakini.com

One of the pitifully few consolations of old age is supposed to be that, as the Old Testament Book of Job puts it, ‘with the ancient is wisdom; and in the length of days understanding.’

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But with every passing day I find myself less convinced of this, and increasingly if regretfully inclined to the contrary view that, as the late, great American skeptic and critic H L Mencken so aptly expressed it, “the older I grow, the more I distrust the familiar doctrine that age brings wisdom.”

In fact, if there’s one lesson that life has taught me, it’s to distrust all doctrines, dogmas, ideologies and other such alleged “truths”.

Especially those “truths” whose proponents, or rather propagandists, are most at pains to threaten dire penalties for those daring to doubt or outright disbelieve them.

Thus the older I get the more inclined I am to dismiss such typical examples of intellectual bullying as “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom’ (Bible, Psalms 11:10) and “He that doubteth is damned” (Bible, Romans 14:23) in favour of the proverbial Ancient Greek proposition that “wonder is the beginning of wisdom” and the observation by Miguel De Unamuno (1864-1936) that “life is doubt, and faith, without doubt, is nothing but death.”

In all conscience, however, as long as I’m arguing here for doubt, wonder, questioning, skepticism or whatever as the path to wisdom, I have to admit to awareness of De Unamuno’s wry remark that “a lot of good arguments are spoiled by some fool who knows what he is talking about.”

And since surely some foolish Malaysiakini reader who knows what he (or she) is talking about is already on the point of reminding me that as desirable as doubt might be in principle, it can also be dangerous or even deadly in practice, I might as well get in first.

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Starting with conceding that, yes, just as disrespect of or doubt in the supposed gods of ancient Athens proved fatal to the philosopher Socrates, and doubt in the biblically-proclaimed relationship between the earth and the sun decidedly dangerous to Galileo, doubt in allegedly “sacred” and indeed “divinely-inspired” books can prove a death sentence in many theocracies and other “religious”-majority countries today.

It is also clearly far from safe for the inhabitants of a great many nations to demonstrate a lack of faith in their rulers. For citizens of China, for example, to cast doubt on their fake “people’s” Communist Party; for Russians to question the probity of Putin’s corrupt oligarchy; or for Malaysians to express too strident doubts about the billions missing from 1Malaysia Development Berhad or the massive “donation” Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak and his cronies dubiously claim he received from some mysterious rich Arab.

In fact, to show a lack of faith in the virtues of Najib and his accomplices in the UMNO-BN regime is considered virtually tantamount to doubting Allah, by whom, it is regularly claimed, they have been chosen to rule.

Just as millions of US citizens paradoxically claiming complete faith in both of what to many of us are the conflicting creeds of Christianity and Capitalism have chosen to have their nation presided over by the preposterous, pathologically lying Donald Trump, who deems any doubts about him and his stupid tweets as “fake news”.

In short, as much as I hate to have to admit it, doubt isn’t always politic or even possible, and even when entirely possible, as in the relatively free and just society I’m fortunate enough to live in, it can be a decidedly mixed blessing.

When combined with sufficient effort, thought and sustained tolerance for the discomfort of uncertainty, doubt or skepticism can lead to wisdom, but unfortunately, it all too often gets subverted by the all-too-human tendency to wishful thinking, and thus results in nothing but wishdom.

For example, doubts by the disaffected, disadvantaged or outright desperate about the fairness and effectiveness of political institutions can lead, as we currently see to our collective dismay, not the greater wisdom of all concerned, but the kind of woeful wishdom that gives rise to a dangerous nitwit like Donald Trump as in the US, a Rodrigo Duterte as in the Philippines, and similar idiots elsewhere.

Doubts on the part of a spectrum of the populace ranging from the confused through the irrational to the utterly cuckoo about such creatively self-questioning institutions as medicine, science and technology result not necessarily in greater public wisdom, but in many cases entirely evidence-free faith in any of a virtually infinite clutter of weird and wonderful wishdoms including, to cite just a small sample of such superstitions and paranormalities, angels, anti-fluoridation, astral travel, astrology, aura-reading, breatharianism, clairvoyance, climate-change denial, colonic irrigation, druidism, ghosts, fairies, iridology, naturopathy, palmistry, pixies, psychic surgery, satanism, spiritualism, sprites, telekinesis, trolls and UFOlogy.

And given that all of us are liable to have grave doubts about the idea of what appears to be the inevitability of our deaths, it’s hardly surprising that we’ve achieved very few wisdoms, at least that I’m personally aware of, on the subject.

Plenty of witticisms, admittedly, two of my favourites among these being Woody Allen’s “I” m not afraid of dying; I just don’t want to be there when it happens’ and Bob Monkhouse’s “I want to die peacefully in my sleep like my father did; not screaming and crying like his passengers.”

But mostly we deal with death not through the wisdom of laughing in the face of its ultimate reality, or but with the laughable wishdom of an “immortal” soul that somehow either eternally survives in some “other” world, or keeps being “reincarnated” in this world in a series of different bodies. And in case our faith in such far-fetched nonsense fails, we can always pin our hopes on cryogenics.

In conclusion, in all honesty, I feel obliged to confess that, despite my carefully-cultivated skepticism and considerable thought I’ve yet to achieve even the degree of wisdom of which Socrates famously boasted in claiming that he was wiser than all his fellow ignoramuses in Athens, as unlike them at least he knew he knew nothing.

And in any event, I can’t help suspecting that even the very desire to achieve wisdom is probably nothing more than yet another symptom of the insatiable human appetite for self-deception, or in other words wishdom.

Legendary Motorcycle Author Robert Pirsig Dies Aged 88


June 8, 2017

COMMENT: What do Farouk A. Peru, a much younger man at least a few decades apart chronologically speaking, and I (78 years old last May) have in common? Well for starters, we are Facebook pals; we  love to read and pen our thoughts in print; we appreciate culture and the arts and all things of beauty; we are unafraid to express our views openly and critically; we are Muslims; we are Malaysians and we enjoyed reading ZEN.

We admire Singapore’s Pak Othman  Wok, and Robert Prisig who wrote Zen And The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (first published  in 1974 and that was when I read it). Both men have since died, and May God Bless their souls.

I stumbled upon Farouk’s article  on Prisig’s magnum opus and also learned of his passing in The Malay Mail this evening (see below).

Like Farouk, I recommend the Zen book (which is subtitled An Inquiry into Values) to my young readers. It is tough reading at first, but it gets easier as you go along with the help of a good English dictionary. But to assist you, I would recommend The Guide Book  To ZEN AND THE ART OF MOTORCYCLE MAINTENANCE by Ronald L. DiSanto, Ph.d and Thomas J. Steele, S.J., Ph.d (New York: William Morrow, 1990). I congratulate Farouk for reading the book and for his article.–Din Merican

Legendary Motorcycle Author Robert Pirsig Dies Aged 88

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance author Robert Pirsig has died at the age of 88. Pairing motorcycles with philosophy, Pirsig was responsible for inspiring countless motorcycle journeys and road trips.

The book “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” sits on bookshelves all over the world. It’s by no means a book about Zen, nor is it a book that tackles the mechanics of motorcycles – it’s a story about a father and son journey aboard a motorcycle that takes them across the western United States. It’s not necessarily a road trip book either. In fact, it’s hard to classify exactly what the book is, but that doesn’t matter – and that’s the beauty of it. It was a book that appealed (and still appeals) to audiences over the world, and is an essential book for any motorcyclist. If you’ve ever been drawn to the road, you and Pirsig would have a lot in common.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenence authot Robert Persig

Robert Pirsig: 1928 – 2017

An announcement by Peter Hubbard, the Executive Editor of William Morrow & Co, recently announced the death of one of our favorite authors. Robert Persig passed away on April 24th 2017, “after a period of ill health.”

Zen was first published back in 1974. Pirsig had been rejected by more than 100 publishers before the iconic, semi-autobiographical book ever hit the stores. Despite the difficulty finding a publisher, Zen became a best seller. Pirsig described the nature of the book as an effort to “set out to resolve the conflict between classic values that create machinery, such as a motorcycle, and romantic values, such as experiencing the beauty of a country road.”

Robert and Chris Pirsig

Born in Minneapolis, Robert Pirsig was very well educated and went on to earn a degree in Philosophy, working as a technical writer and English teacher before suffering from mental illness. His battle with mental illness resulted in a motorcycle trip with this son Christopher in 1968 through the western United States, which would become the inspiration for his story.

The preface to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is the best way to sum up his iconic book: “What follows is based on actual occurrences. Although much has been changed for rhetorical purposes, it must be regarded in its essence as fact. However, it should in no way be associated with that great body of factual information relating to orthodox Zen Buddhist practice. It’s not very factual on motorcycles, either.”

Robert Pirsig and his motorcycle

If you haven’t read it, we urge you to pick up a copy and enjoy Pirsig’s journey along with him and his son. It’s a great American story and should be celebrated – and a fantastic read for all of those who appreciate the liberty and freedom associated with the open road.

Here’s to you Robert Pirsig, and thanks for your wonderful insights. You will be missed.

Robert Pirsig

“The test of the machine is the satisfaction it gives you. There isn’t any other test. If the machine produces tranquility, it’s right. If it disturbs you, it’s wrong, until either the machine or your mind is changed.” – Robert Pirsig 1928 – 2017

Read Robert Prisig’s ZEN AND THE ART OF MOTORCYCLE MAINTENCE

By Farouk A. Peru (April 28, 2017)

Not one but two writers whose works made an impact on me died. It seems that 2017 is doing to authors what 2016 did to artistes! I had written about the death of Othman Wok and now I find out Robert Pirsig has died.

Often at times, authors or film-makers are defined by a single work but that work is a true magnum opus. They never again replicate the sheer tremor of these works but they do not have to. The deed is done; they have imprinted their names in the annals of literary history.

In the case of Robert Pirsig, that work is Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (henceforth, Zen, first published in 1974 ). This narrative has been available in Malaysian bookshops since my own childhood, as I remember.  However, it was only in the early 90s when I picked up my first copy. It was after my SRP and the bookshop was the MPH in Section 14 which has long since closed down.

It was in the New Age/spirituality/philosophy section and I needed something completely different from the boring schoolwork I had been ingesting since the beginning of 1991.

Image result for robert pirsig dies

Zen was not about actual Zen (the Buddhist originated tradition), as I found out on the bus home. Rather it was about a journey undertaken across the American north from Minnesota to California by the unnamed narrator and his son, accompanied by their friends for the first half of their journey.

It was set in the 60s or early 70s. What attracted me to it at first was the journey itself. I loved narratives of long-forgotten places. America, being the gigantic nation that it is, has plenty of places which are unknown even to Americans themselves.

One could liken the geography and culture to the milieu found in Annie Proulx’s works and the visuals akin to the film Brokeback Mountain. Of course, the tagline of Zen being “An Inquiry into Values”, one would rightly expect a philosophical discussion.

One would not be disappointed either but Pirsig delivers it so surreptitiously that readers would feel as if they had “gone under” in surgery and woken up with some philosophical knowledge!

Pirsig ingeniously used the literary device of a third person, thought to be the alter ego of the narrator. He named him Phaedrus who, like the Phaedrus coined by Plato in his dialogues, was an interlocutor, midwifing the truth for readers through his own experiences.

Phaedrus had mental health issues like Pirsig himself but was a child prodigy. These similarities are obviously telling us who Phaedrus represents.

Rereading this book in 2014 (I had found a milestone edition with an introduction by Pirsig himself), I found that Pirsig may have oversimplified philosophy just a little.  His East/West dichotomy saying Eastern is more intuitive and the West more rational had become too simplistic for my liking. Perhaps if he meant dominant trends in each tradition, I would have been more amenable to his view.

To me, philosophy as a subject cannot be extricated into several self-containing traditions. Rather it is a complex network of ideas which feed off its own nodes which we may not even be aware of.  Plato, for example, may have derived his ideas from Egyptian thought, thus undermining the very idea of Western philosophy!

Be that as it may, I would still highly recommend Zen to anyone who is looking for a digestible story while at the same time expand his philosophical mind. The book has, after all, sold five million copies. No small feat for a manuscript rejected 121 times before finally getting published!

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

 http://www.themalaymailonline.com/opinion/farouk-a.-peru/article/why-you-should-read-zen-and-the-art-of-motorcycle-maintenance#sthash.5FDvKLu7.dpuf