Tagged: Philosophy

Charlie’s Counsel


I met with an old friend of mine yesterday who worked with me in Singapore many years ago. He is from the Philippines and was visiting Singapore on business. He is some 7 years younger to me, but is wiser than me and I should say, more broad-minded. I always try to meet up with him whenever he visits Singapore, and has been the beneficiary of his counsel on many matters of life.

He thinks highly of me as well, and shares his views on business and life with me. We know each others’ families, and I have stayed with him in Manila during one of my trips. My views on the Philippines is largely shaped by his commentary on his country.

Yesterday’s meeting was no different. It was a real pleasure to catch up, and the meeting veered towards substantive life issues. Charlie has been impacted by his father’s recent demise. He also described the cancer plaguing one of our mutual friends in the U.S. He mentioned that life is fragile and we all need to do things which we enjoy right away without any undue delay. No procrastination. Spend more time with your family and friends. Do not have regrets.

He asked me a rhetorical question – “is the world going to miss you tomorrow morning if you are gone today”, and the answer was a firm “No”. The world will move on with its business, and a small group of family members and close friends will probably shed tears and express remorse and grief, and that would be all. Things will get back to normal and even close family and friends will move on in life, except for occasional remembrances.

It is kind of difficult to understand and digest this aspect of life. What can we then do today that would impact folks around us? How can people feel the positive impact of anyone in their lives? We are not talking here about the great historical figures who built nations (like Mahatma Gandhi, or Lee Kuan Yew), or who discovered scientific breakthroughs (like Albert Einstein, or Thomas Edison), or the first astronaut who flew around the earth (Yuri Gagarin), et al. Many of these people have had strong impact in the manner in which nations and lives have developed during the 20th Century, and there are hundred of such figures whose names can easily be recalled. But, how about yours? Will anyone outside your immediate circle recall your positive contributions to society? Will anyone even remember us?

If a person has led a good life, causing no harm to others, always wanting to help others especially the downtrodden, and tries to contribute to society in some positive manner, it is not necessary that he or she should be famous with an easily recallable name. The small positive contribution will be recognised by the society. However, the most important effect is that his or her children carry on the same principles in their respective lives, and inculcate similar philosophies in their immediate circles. A small group of people will surely recall how good a person was during his or her lifetime. And, that should be enough.

Coming back to Charlie, he was gazing beyond me yesterday and thinking seriously about the fragility of human life. I told him that I completely synchronise with him on his line of thinking, and suggested that we should spend more time together discussing these aspects of life. It is critical to decipher when one becomes happy, and most of us do not ask ourselves that question – “what makes us truly happy?”. Think about it for a couple of minutes and you will see that the answer is quite complex. There are many happy things that you can do, there are things that you can do which makes others happy, but what exactly that you do that makes you very happy? Think about it.

May be sailing in the sunset with your life partner will make you very happy, or celebrating the arrival of your first grand-son or grand-daughter will make you very happy. But do you become very happy when you receive a huge sales commission or you sell a share for a big profit?

What are you going to do with that money?

We still live on 3 simple meals a day, and our wants are minimal (at least for most of us). One does not need to have huge amount of money unless one wants to donate to charity and help people of Syria, Rwanda, Angola, and other very poor countries.

So, it is time to ruminate your position in the circus of life and whether you are playing it well, not just for your own benefit but for others’ as well. Are people around you happy about you? What are you doing today to positively contribute to the mood at home, or to society at large?

A lot to think for the weekend, I guess.

Have a good one.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

15th July 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Campus Protests and Free Speech


You might have followed media coverage of campus protests against conservative speakers in prestigeous U.S. universities like University of California Berkeley. This is an important development in the annals of free speeach and freedom of expression in university campuses and society in general.

Key questions to be asked in this context:

  • Is there real freedom of expression in society and specifically, in university campuses today?
  • What is free speech and what are the limits of free speech?
  • Why do students generally and largely consider themselves “liberal”? Why do students not respect the need for universities and societies to listen to “alternative” facts, theories, hypotheses, though propounded by conservatives who have equal rights for expressing their views?
  • Why do we militate against people with different views on social matters as compared to ours? Why can’t we treat all people normally?
  • Why do universities, generally considered the bastion of free speech, free thoughts and freedom of expression, tend to invite controversial speakers and then buckle to student protesters? Do they not have a responsibility to execute their plans to defend the above key tenets of academic life?
  • Why do Republicans (in this context, I am referring to legislators belonging to the Republican Party of U.S.) wish to legislate this aspect of campus life, allowing fiery speakers belonging to either liberals or conservatives into campus without any cancellations (like what has been happening a few times already in the recent past), but without due regard to university administration?
  • Why has almost everything polarized in U.S. society? Why can’t things be simpler? Where is the need to create several camps of thoughts in a university, except for mock debates?
  • And, so on and so forth

I believe it is critical to hear what opponents to your belief say in a public forum. If not for anything, it allows one to strategize for evolving a counter approach to the ideas propagated by powerful believers of opposing philosophy. It is the right thing to do. Impeding free speech by anyone is not the right way to operate in a true democracy. If this is not possible in the U.S., then one can assume that the U.S. is not a true democracy. Unfortunately, what happens in the U.S. is frequently copied in other countries. Or else, excuses will be used based on what has happened in the U.S. Such practices, while unhealthy, are inevitable due to the influence of the U.S. on world affairs.

Don’t we disagree with other people all the time? We must disagree respectfully, however. Sometimes, we do not say anything, or respond to provocations. Sometimes, we reserve the right to speak or respond in a civil manner. Sometimes, we congregate and evolve a uniform approach towards countering people who vocally drive a wedge in society for their own benefit.

However, violence is not an option at all. Attacking professors and guest speaker? A strict NO, NO. Our students should know better, they are not kids in primary school. The changed political landscape in the U.S. does not give permission to students to physically assault folks who have an opinion different from theirs. If such be the case, what is the difference between illiterates settling disputes by show of force, and educated elite doing the same in an open forum. Walking out of a convocation being addressed by Vice President of the U.S. is fine, but disrupting the convocation is not.

Students have to learn reality of life. In real life, one learns to respect others. Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. When a co-passenger on a recent flight out of the U.S. asked me about what Asians think of President Trump, I told her what I think of him. I said I cannot talk for others, almost everyone seems to be enjoying the fun of a rather brash President. I uttered what I did on U.S. soil without any fear, because I believed in what I believe. She was a Democrat and might not have liked what I said about Trump and Hillary Clinton, but she did not shout at me or hit me! Civility and respect are the cornerstones of intellectual debates, and these cannot disappear from U.S. university campuses due to the outsized influence of extreme Left. Sometimes, the political Right may also be right.

Let us listen to all views before analysing and concluding. Academics should know this better than anyone else.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

28th May 2017

Europe under continuous attack


Europe needs and deserves a firm leadership against terrorist attacks which try to disrupt peaceful co-existence of the 28 countries in the European Union (EU).

Like any other association of nations, the very purpose Europe came together is for trade, employment and joint defense (against U.S.S.R. in the Sixties and Seventies). Similarities in cultural backgrounds help in all such associations, though a common religion plays a much less role. Europe has always been willing to take in immigrants from non-European countries, though various countries in the EU have their own restrictions. Some of them are very liberal, some of them are quite restrictive. Germany is an example of a generous nation, well-to-do people, who have accepted immigrants as long as these folks can adapt to the local culture and learn to speak the German language. The history of Europe is laden with wars and refugees, and crimes against humanity, so it is not surprising that the Europeans are more open than others to war refugees.

However, we will soon find out if Europeans remain tolerant to the vagaries of the refugee influx, especially from Syria and certain other Middle Eastern countries. France is a case in point. Paris has been diligently attacked by terrorists who do not like the French way of living. While it is easy to cast aspersions on a particular religion for these incidents (including the one last week), the French people will do well to recall that their freedom did not come easily – they had to fight for it every inch of the way in the Second World War with the help of the Allied Forces. They had to fight against Nazi occupation – they were refugees in their own country. It is critical to take stern actions today to defend French freedom, no doubt about it. However, it is rather easy to swing to the far right and attack the whole philosophy of Europe and the EU. What positive stuff can come out of it? Why would France try to isolate itself from the rest of Europe?

Colonial powers such as France and the U.K. cannot escape their histoy. If there are millions of Muslims in France, that is the result of French invasion and occupation of North African countries several decades ago, may be a century ago. Clear-headed, rational thinking is called for when a government is dealing with all kinds of its citizens – they do not always come with the same colour, race, ethnicity or religion.

Nevertheless, Europe faces tough times ahead. Elections are a way for the far right to assert their extremist philosophies and gain governance after a long wait. That did not work in Austria and Denmark, and is unlikely to work in France. Germany, in my opinion, will remain centrist for quite some time, unless jobs disappear and crimes increase as a result of uncontrolled immigration.

The solution is to give law enforcement more powers as they are called to face and deal with militant elements of societies. Governments have to make it absolutely clear that cultures and philosophies would not be trampled upon in the name of giving big space to immigrants. Everyone has to live together peacefully, and the message has to go out loud and clear that if immigrants are not happy to adapt and accommodate, they should be free to return to where they came from. This message is critical and needs to be delivered by all types of political parties or governments. immigrants remain as guests of the welcoming host nations till they earn the right to become permanent residents or citizens and start a new way of life. Why should they want to replicate the lives that they lived in their respective repressive countries?

Europe remains a beacon of an elitist kind of democracy that other democratic nations can only aspire to become. It should not be split radically into segments which then cannot work together in the European Union. That would be disastrous for the future of this world.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

23rd April 2017

Gurus not exempt from Law


Spiritual Gurus have long been a bane of many religions around the world.

Their (largely) negative impact has been felt severely in India for a very long time.

Some gurus have positive impact overall. One of them is Jaggi Vasudev, the other is Sri Sri Ravi Shankar who runs the famous Art of Living (AOL) Foundation. There are thousands of others, but my simple view has always been that there is no need for an intermediary between God and I, or God and anyone else for that matter. Unfortunately, Hinduism, one of the most enduring religions of the world with over 800M followers, encourages the adoption of gurus to facilitate a communication with God. I do not agree with such a philosophy, though there are other major religions which follow similar philosophies, putting man over man. Humans look for a guide to help them navigate the world, and it is not at all a surprise that a Pope arises to guide Catholics, for example. The plethora of gurus in India does not follow any systematic approach, they crop up anywhere and everywhere where the gullible would fall at their feet and worship them. There are thousands of “magical” episodes when these human gurus have generated simply impossible manoeuvres which continue to fascinate their followers.

However, none of these “humans” are above the law of the land.

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, his Art of Living Foundation, and his spokesman accuse the government and the National Green Tribunal (NGT) for giving permission to conduct the World Culture Festival in March 2016, which has completely destroyed the river bed of the Yamuna River which most Hindus consider as a holy river. Sri Sri is a charismatic guru, who is close to powerful politicians and the wealthy folks of India, and so it would be interesting if the expert committee’s findings would indeed find their way to justice in the current dispute between the government/NGT and Sri Sri/AOL. I don’t think it was appropriate for Sri Sri to accuse the NGT and the government for having granted permission to him for conducting the Festival.

Where is accountability and humility on the part of the famed Sri Sri?

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and his AOL are not exempt from the law of the land, and have to abide by the rules and regulations. Being close to God does not exempt him from the rule of law. It would be interesting to see how his ardent followers react to the findings of the expert committee.

It is clear that spiritual gurus cannot run a government, a court or the environment. They should focus on God, not make Hinduism a circus philosophy. It is always good to hear some of the lectures of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, but the wisdom of his speeches does not make him God. He is after all, an ordinary man, like all of us. If he commits a mistake, he has to pay for it. There cannot be an excuse. If a fine is levied (as it has been), then his organization has to pay it. Damage done to the Yamuna riverbed will take 10 years to fix, as per the expert committee. Who caused the damage? Not the government, nor the NGT. They merely granted permission, may be misguided, may be under some sort of pressure. But Art of Living Foundation and Sri Sri are entirely responsible for what happened. Who can contest this assertion?

Again unfortunately, most of us are emotional, and wish to kick folks who do not conform to whatever is the general trend of belief or philosophy, in this case of Sri Sri. If there is a variation to that thinking, then the people who think differently would be termed as traitors to the cause. Nothing can be farther from the truth.

Time to think on environment, time to think about Yamuna River, which has recently been designated as a “legal person” by the courts of India.

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar should apologize, desist from repeating such extravaganza, and indeed pay the INR 5 Crores fine. We should all respect the law.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

22nd April 2017

Religions and Future Generations


My views on the unnecessary importance that we ascribe to religions in our lives and the extraordinary negative impact that the segregation of people is having on societies around the world are well established via this blog communication in the past. I have written about the destruction caused by religions over the centuries and how religions divide, rather than unite us.

While nothing much has changed in our societies with regard to the treatment of religions and the impact that the religions have on societies, it is now widely accepted that multiple religions with differing philosophies have succeeded in dividing people, and polarize their views about what is right and what is wrong. Strong indoctrination of religious principles which are not subject to debate and discussion, has further fomented these divisions. Only a few religions are pacific, the rest push for indoctrination of principles, adoption of basic tenets, and followership of the “cult” to the exclusion of all others.

Added to the above religious divisions forged by major religions, the caste system perpetrated in India (for example) has further deeply polarized the society. While the caste system in itself is deplorable, the adoption of non-economic criteria in stratifying a country’s population into haves and have-nots has worsened the deep divisions in society, and has led to the departure of meritocracy from running of the society and the country. India was accordingly set back by several decades when compared to caste-less societies such as Japan or China, which are much more homogeneous in population demographics and treatment of citizens.

We argue vigorously oftentimes that equal treatment should be meted out to equal votes from citizens. Such is not always the case even in developed countries. There are very few examples wherein countries do not even differentiate based on gender – these are the Nordic countries which have reached a very advanced state of development, not found even in the wealthiest and more developed nations such as the U.S., U.K., or Germany. The treatment that citizens usually receive in countries such as India is dependent on religion, caste, race, colour or gender. We tend to ignore such treatment from society in the hope that economic advancement will eventually obliterate such divisive tactics. I am not so sure.

While we have felt the acute impact of religious and caste divides in our current generation, somehow we have been able to navigate our way through not just one system, but multiple systems, during our lifetime. This may be because of the early experiences that many of us have had in the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties, which had made most of us rather matured for our time. The ability to navigate the world in an equitable and non-offensive manner, while keeping our heads firmly on our shoulders, has been a key characteristic of our generation who are now in our fifties.

But, what about the next generation and the one after it?

My worry is that the next generation who are in their teens and twenties are not yet experienced the way we were – probably they will never get our experience because they have grown up mostly outside India. The conditions are vastly different and meritocracy is the norm rather than the exception, and societies have matured rather aggressively towards equal and equitable treatment in a conscious way. This did not happen overnight of course, but took several decades of enlightened governance with the interests of citizens at heart.

However, as we move towards our twilight years, we need to be concerned about how our future generations will shape up and react to the world at large when it comes to the articifical divisions caused by religions. I always believed that we should set an active example, by following our own religion in a light manner (not with a lot of religiosity) without too many rituals which segregate us even from our own people (meaning other Indians in my case), and have an inquisitive mind on any subject matter thrown in front of us as an “accomplished” fact or a done deal. I wrote recently about thinking, and it is an extremely critical concept. If we do not think for ourselves and the world, then we would be doing what our ancestors had been doing over centuries without questioning their larger impact. If I am not considered as very religious, that is by my own design. I do not wish to be “special” in any category that divides me from others. I go to temples, but I also visit churches and mosques occasionally. We should look not for conformity, but for unity in what unites us all. I have communicated my thoughts to my family members, and sometimes to my close friends. I have not always received a positive sync, but I thought there indeed was a sense of appreciation on my thinking for myself. I do not of course, wish to indoctrinate anyone!

Coming to the conclusion, it is my earnest submission that people should look for similarities while maintaining their individuality. Non-conformance to a tenet or philosophy does not mean any kind of insult is proferred. Every individual has a right to his or her own thinking. It is most important to shape the thinking of future generations accordingly.

Let us all think! It is the most important thing to do today!!

Cheers, and Have a great weekend,

Vijay Srinivasan

15th April 2017

Why is Capitalism losing out?


For the past more than five decades, the philosophy of Capitalism has become well entrenched around the world. The Western world developed the concept of Capitalism, where the free allocation of capital and labour to the most demanding production jobs in the right proportion generated products required by the market, while also generating more than adequate returns to the investors (in most cases). The wealth created from the productive use of Capital led to more investments, and so on and so forth. The opposing ideology of Communism which is state-assisted labour deployment only had partial success in the predominantly Communist countries (though Israel followed the state-farming approach which yielded positive results).

In every ideology, there is cause for mistakes to happen – in the case of Capitalism, the owner of the capital becomes greedy and squeezes the labour for higher returns on employed capital – so the term “greedy capitalists”. In later years, this term was used for people who tried to grab whole companies by throwing money – if you recall “Barbarians at the Gate”, who then tried to fire the employees, make the company lean and mean, and then re-list the company on the stock exchange for fat profits, or sell off the company. These are developments of the capitalist theme and nothing wrong (except on moral grounds) from a business perspective as the purpose of a capitalist is to make money at the end of the day, and that concept is not going to change.

In the meanwhile, several large countries such as India, experimented with Socialism in a democratic context (unlike Communism which always had dictatorial undertones). While the world appreciated the new ideology of India such as removal of poverty, the results from the experimentation were not pleasant, as the social investments made by the government did not reach the intended recipients in most situations, and corruption became a bugbear with insidious politicians siphoning off money meant for productive deployment. A corrupt bureaucracy was the downfall of socialist initiatives pioneered by the government. Over the past 50 years or so, socialism gained only one moniker – which is non-interference in the affairs of other nations in the Non-Aligned Movement – and no concrete economic results or benefits which could upend the surge of Capitalism around the world. Hence, socialism was largely considered as a failure, though most political parties will never acknowledge the fact.

But now, we see an upsurge of socialist movements starting with the most capitalistic countries of all – the U.S. The youngsters who I categorize as late teenagers and early twenty somethings, have become tired of the greedy excesses of the Capitalist era, which concentrates wealth in the hands of few people. A case in point is that the top 82 wealthiest people in the world have more wealth compared to 3.7B people of this world, which is just ridiculous. This scenario of excessive wealth within the top 0.01% (or even less %) of the people reduces the possibility of wealth creation for the remaining people, and the resulting gross and obscene income and wealth inequality has caused the youngsters of the world to question the status quo system which favours the rich folks. There is nothing wrong in questioning the status quo and asking governments and political parties to explain the rationale for continued patronage that they extend to the wealthiest people.

There is only one reason why a government (prime example would be the U.K. Government) would want to support the wealthiest folks from anywhere in the world – one is that they bring most of their wealth. The other primary reason is that the wealth could be deployed to create industries which would then require employment – so you would then achieve more than two critical objectives for any government – you create lots and lots of jobs via productive capital investments, the money would be in your country’s banking system, and the resulting employment and business operations would generate additional tax revenues for the government.

Looks absolutely logical, isn’t it? The flaw in the above logic is that most people who move their money do not deploy the same to generate employment and taxes. These greedy folks are looking for ease of a sanctuary location (with no questions asked) and ease of moving the capital in and out, and of course, ease of living. Several countries are greedy enough to provide all of the above facilitators and more.

More and more insight reveals that the government directly does not gain any new net revenues. This is one major reason that social agendas do not receive budgets necessary to sustain the operation. Healthcare is ignored, while defence gets huge investments to support the defence industries. Education is ignored. All put together, people do not see justice and equality in the way things have panned out over the years, and it is no secret.

Socialism is therefore coming back, not with the same mantle but in a different avatar. The key expectation now is reduction of income and wealth inequality (not exactly “redistribution of wealth”), more opportunities for job creation, fairer treatment in the hands of the government, freer and fairer elections which would allow people to better elect their representatives, elimination of corruption and lobbyism, et al. These are all noble objectives, and we all tend to appreciate the new logic which is inherent in this new socialistic approach.

While Capitalism is not going to go away, it should be fearing that the attacks on it would not subside anytime soon. It would lose substantial power in the coming years as more socialists get elected around the globe. It would be rather interesting to witness this transformation in the coming decade, when socialism would be pitted against capitalism and conservatives, as we have seen in the U.S. Elections within the Democratic Party nomination fights.

Have a good weekend,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

12th February 2017

Gain Control of Yourself


This blog post is one of my self-help advice posts, which I sometimes write out after significant experimentation with myself. May not work for all, but I believe that it is important and critical to share one’s own experiences, positive or negative, in trying to shape one’s life. Simply because the sharing will potentially help someone with positive benefits of positive experiences, or dissuade one from pursuing similar tactics if the experiences related are negative.

Well, I hear some grunt nearby – can’t I write simpler English please and why do I have to resort to compound sentences to convey something which could easily have been explained in simpler terms?

Well, my dear, you know what, I relish in writing such complex and complicated English precisely because it allows me to torture my readers. Why do you read the same?

Just ignore the above two paragraphs!

Now how do we get control of ourselves?

What are the mechanisms that we can follow?

Or, indeed can we ever get control of our thoughts or even actions?

Difficult questions, I agree.

But then, as intellectually driven species with our infinite capacity to think, there is always a different way to look at anything – any complex matter, with an understanding which could vastly differ from traditional views or understanding.

Do you agree? You may or may not.

However, I believe that any big learning comes from looking inside oneself. Of course, some part of our learning comes from external sources, for sure. But, if we do not learn from our behaviour and our mistakes, then that would be the biggest mistake that we can commit in our life. It is all right to read philosophical books and listen to the occasional books on how to lead your lives in a more productive yet peaceful manner. There are any number of mythological, parental, spiritual and friendly influences in our lives that demonstrate how to plan and lead our lives on this planet. And, of course, there are examples of friends who are apparently leading successful yet controlled lives, are they not?

So, what is my prescription to the apparent lack of control most of us experience in our lives all the time? There is this seeming lack of a solid grasp when things happen to you without any forewarning, the tendency to blame oneself for what are not controllable factors, the feeling that everything is slipping away………….

What does one do?

Well, first it is critical to gain focus on yourself – who are you, what have you accomplished in life, what are the things that are yet to be done, who are the people very close to you, what are the things in life that you hold dear to you, and most importantly, what are you doing at this moment. Are you creating or adding value, or are you frittering away preciosu time that we all have before we realize there is no further time available? Are people around you feeling the strongly positive impact of your presence and advice? Are you proactively seeking out and helping people around you? Have you given at least one hour of your time, on a weekly basis, to help disadvantaged or poor people? Look at yourself, look at what you are doing, imagine what better things you can do in this life, and think while keeping your eyes completely closed. If you find it difficult to gain focus, I would suggest that you first try a breathing exercise, focus on your own breath while keeping your eyes closed. Inhale to four counts, hold the breath and slowly exhale to the same number of counts. I am not a yoga teacher, so you would have to figure out how to control your breath and focus on it. Once you gain some focus traction, use that ability to think of things which I explained earlier in this paragraph in a calm environment. Make a list of things you can do, which you haven’t yet accomplished.

It is not that difficult if you think about it. Just give it a honest try.

I can assure you of the benefits of such hard thinking – you would discover a new “you”, who can deliver much more to this planet than has been the case thus far (bad English, I guess!!!).

You are now well on the way to “gaining” control of yourself. There is no self help book required. You are an intelligent human being, that’s all you should care about. You are able to focus and you are able to think. Then you are able to make a “to do” list and execute for your own benefit.

There will be a huge change in yourself, and your family members and friends will see that you are a “transformed” individual with a far greater potential than they imagined, or you yourself had imagined. Now, you are ready to unleash the potential that you have gnerated in yourself – for your benefit and for the benefit of this world. It is not difficult, it is not complex, it is not complicated, it is rather simple.

This is what I do. This is what I believe in. We do not need gurus or books. What we need is an attitude, an inclination, a propensity to rediscover oneself and do good for others.

Think about this message. Let me know if this does not work for you. I will be very surprised. Have a good week.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

31st January 2017