The Extra Mile

By Dr. Nagendra Rentala

I – Events of the present times (November 15, 2001)

America is put on a state of highest alert. The administration, armed forces, internal security, medical emergency units, antiterrorist squads, department of transportation, postal services and every other conceivable government organization – all are operating in a hyper tense environment. In an unprecedented nationwide alarm, the public at large is being repeatedly asked, with ever increasing intensity, to be vigilant while leading their normal lives at the same time. In short, America today is a country kept in an Intensive Care Unit, except that it is much more serious – today, this great nation, the model of free world is in an Intensive Scare Unit.

The economic down turn before September 11 was shrugged off as a cyclic phenomenon, a perceived recession, essentially a process of market value readjustment in the dotcom world and merely a minor internal hemorrhage incapable of harming the country as such. The twin stabs at the very heart of the economic nerve center, consequent horrific loss of human lives and astronomical property destruction, combined with the jabs at both military and power symbols of the nation in broad daylight while millions of people were watching aghast, suddenly took the ailment to a bizarre, mind boggling new level of seriousness. In the excruciating aftermath of rescue and recovery, the fact that American economy is in a recession today is put on the backburner. There followed the exhausting embarrassment for the government of having to trump up support of the “Middle Eastern Referees”, in a game of war in which there is only one rule – “those who play by the rules lose the most”. These referees are known to cast their ballot not based on any objective principle, but by throwing a dice loaded with the deadliest and most venomous weight – the weight of religion.

The counter attack proceeds from a perfectly well-oiled machine that is the American Government, in a classic, text-book like fashion – make no audacious moves, ensure favorable public opinion, perk them up with usual rhetoric and garner world support – all with the aim of striking at perpetrators of the mayhem. The enemy has its second wave of arsenal in place already – rogue, cancerous cells of “Anthrax envelopes” surfacing in different parts of the country. Just like Anthrax itself, the spreading cancer of malignant envelopes in an already ailing nation is eminently treatable, curable provided you are willing to keep the country in remission mode – like periodically quarantining post-offices and establishments threatened by Anthrax, allocating enormous resources to launch an intensive hunt for the sources and meticulously continuing this expensive treatment for – uh!, as long as it takes. Treatable assuming that meantime no other disease strikes the country, which we can positively not guarantee.

Every rational human being the world over is deeply concerned today about this great model nation, symbol of freedom and epitome of enterprise, placed on an operating table under intense public glare. Wires and tubes are protruding from all parts of the body, instruments are monitoring signals from all the vital organs, while doctors and nurses in masks are desperately trying to calm down the nervous system that is the frightened public. Reserve blood supplies are frantically being transfused through a circulatory system that is the ailing economy using conduits of cracked up air and ground transportation systems and choked up postal services.

Consider the severity of parameters defining the present situation – (a) grievous homeland security issue, (b) an economy that is being propped up by life-support systems and the sheer will of people, (c) prolonged military engagement against a rag-tag outfit which would at best result in a pyrrhic victory, (d) growing resentment of the Islamic community both within and outside the nation towards America since the war began, despite the convoluted and often comical PR efforts on the part of the government and (e) professed intentions of the government to go after regimes aiding and abetting bio-terrorism in the next phase of war.

The following might sound like a fatalistic observation, but couching it in less stronger terms does not alter the fundamental reality outlined by the above facts: Increasingly large number of people are gradually losing the spark of life and enthusiasm for achievement, more so because there is not even a “clear definition” of what constitutes a silver lining either on the short term or long term horizons. What else would you expect from the public, daily used to listening to alarming alerts issued by their leaders? Here is the frustrating and at once frightening postscript – with the full support of both elected representatives and the populace, the nation’s leaders are fighting an unconventional situation with traditional means, doing their very best in difficult times and here are their pronouncements –

* ·  “This is an unconventional war that could go on for an year or two or ten”
* ·  “Be prepared for more terrorist attacks at home and more restrictions on individual freedom”
* ·  “This is a war in which it is difficult to define the rules of engagement and the meaning of victory (and by implication – of defeat)”

Every available resource is being tapped to surmount this calamity and suddenly adding numbers is of no relevance any more – X billion dollars to bail out this ailing industry and Y billion dollars for that emergency measure and so on. Budget proposals and security legislations are being approved near unanimously and instantaneously in a government, where every issue used to be carefully weighed and contested by the house of representatives – illustrating the compulsion of taking “range of the moment” decisions. All this happened just in a matter of few weeks. No!, not caused by head on collision with a super power as people all along feared and prepared for – which, while being catastrophic, has at least the dignity, decency and finality of an epic battle. What we are looking at is a disease unleashed by scurrying rats hiding in caves, entranced zombies whose brains are completely sizzled with religious hashish, sub-humans in whose doctrine concepts like value of human life, triumph of human spirit, fountain head of human intellect and competitive excellence in human enterprise are meaningless gibberish.

In this tragic turmoil, it is not a generation, or a nation, or the free world and not even our planet’s existence, at stake – the spirit of human triumph, the conscious, deliberate human effort that is instrumental over thousands of years in evolving the world into a better place, that is hanging in life threatening balance. Statistics in the aftermath are there for everybody to see and the conclusions are painfully obvious – consumption of durable goods and value of real estate are plummeting each day, more and more lay-offs are announced daily, prescriptions for anti-depressants are on the rise, domestic violence is on the increase and the entire economy in the free world is convulsing with the wild and arrhythmic fluctuations in the US stock market, the kernel of free enterprise. News of war casualties is trickling in and internal strife is slowly raising its head in the form of lawsuits against the government by some postal workers and scuffles between tired fire department and the police forces. Largest number of jobs were lost in the month of October following the terrorist attacks – a record in a couple of decades and no one can predict how long and wide the ripple effect is going to spread. More and more people are being reduced to performing “range of the moment” activities, steeped either in private tragedies or helpless frustration in the face of an unfathomable, undefined yet intensely anticipated terror.

The cancer of Anthrax envelopes is slowly but surely spreading to other parts of the world and several nations are already taking prophylactic measures. Billions of dollars are being allocated around the globe – not as usual for advancement of human life style but for preserving life itself. Gas masks, quarantines, armed guards and freedom on leash are suddenly the harsh realities of life and no longer fictional. All because of the script written by a psychopath, wielding the pen of destruction smeared with the ink of blind religious faith and enacted by a bunch of fanatics. War-mongering, gun-toting creatures whose lone guiding dogma is that death in this world means “eternal” life in the “other” world – a blatant contradiction and grotesque mutation of every known principle in millions of years of human evolution.
Today, we are in the midst of a terrible discontinuity in the history of human civilization – violently shaken by a frightening storm that has already caused untold misery and which is gathering in intensity into nuclear proportions. Conventional rallying around, exhortations from leaders and community services can only help so much, in a world that has suddenly turned upside down, an episodic event in modern history unleashed by a diabolical, religious frenzy. Traditionally exemplary display of courage, hard work and commitment by thousands of individuals during rescue, recovery, relief, resolve and move-on operations can merely put a soothing salve on the infinitely many wounds the world sustained, but by themselves are incapable of healing the chilling shock seared into people’s psyche. Only a more powerfully historic event, evolving as the result of dispassionate, objective and axiomatic assessment of the evil the free world is up against, can jolt awake the human spirit out of the present stupor with a life-saving electric shock. In the eye of the storm, we have but a moment of calm to ruminate and elicit a drastic, proactive course of action rooted in the depths of relentless logic, which will put an end to this rabid mutation once and for all and straighten the path of human evolution.

II – A case for looking into the past

In search of this Excalibur, we need to go back into prehistoric times – way back in order to delve deep into the fundamental origins of the conflict, whose terrible consequences are being enacted today. We need to turn to the wisdom of profound, original thinkers who visualized the perils of contradiction conceptually and outlined courses of action in fictional situations.

I do not wish to claim originality for everything that is being said here by way of hindsight and analysis of events. I am not only standing on the shoulders of giants, but am seeing in both directions of time through their eyes. I am stringing together the essentials of their vision, filling in some gaps here and there to present my thesis as a logical, coherent whole – brought into full focus in the concrete context of the rubble that once used to be the World Trade Center. Like millions of others in America today, I cannot drive past any high-rise building without moisture in my eyes and without feeling a sense of infinite sadness. What follows is my statement to exorcise those toxic feelings and my tribute to those millions of others who resonate with me. What follows is an exposition of the only course of action the free world should take both in the long and short terms to strike back at and exterminate this insanity.

In recent weeks, I have heard analysts and strategists seriously debate the issue – “What is it that America has done to attract such an intense hatred?”. I have heard some of them even remark in a half-mocking tone – “We are all pretty good when it comes to hindsight”. No, America finds itself in the present situation, not because of what it has done, but because of what it has not done, as the symbol of free world. We need to put in proper perspective the long and arduous journey the people who built this great nation have already undertaken, yet failed to appreciate the need for crossing but one crucial extra mile. Look towards the sins of omission and not the sins of commission and by the way – one’s hindsight stops at that point in the chronology of events and the hierarchy of knowledge where one is prepared to mark historic milestones and identify fundamental axioms.

A free, open nation of enterprising settlers from all over the globe since its beginning, America has epitomized an idealistic society, conceived and improved upon over thousands of years of evolutionary history of human civilization. America has perfected Democracy, objectively the best form of political structure, elevated to new heights the scientific principles of observation, induction, deduction, hypothesis, validation and application to build an awe-inspiring technological structure that quickly became the norm in industrialized world and discovered capitalism and free enterprise, the greatest form of economic structure. America has enshrined individual freedom and spawned a fertile social structure conducive for competitive excellence, culminating in individual entrepreneurs whose personal worth far exceeds that of some entire nations – individuals who are not objects of jealousy but icons of inspiration, admired by a mature society. America has stimulated the conception and development of the greatest original philosophy in modern history, the philosophy of objectivism enunciated by Ayn Rand, who has a large but silent following in this country. A philosophy, which has unfortunately failed to achieve its crowning glory of being accepted as the normative philosophical structure of this nation, even though every supporting structure is predominantly based on objective principles. One crucial mile still remains to be traveled.

In his recent address after the September 11 tragedy, President George W. Bush declared to the world “You are either with us or with the terrorists”, either or – an objectivist concept that brooks no middle ground. In her pioneering works, Ayn Rand has addressed at length the related but more fundamental issue – “You are either on the side of reason or on the side of blind religious faith and if you try to embrace both – in whatever proportions, you are doomed to a life of perpetual conflict”. The trouble with a statement like “You are either with us or with the terrorists” – which Rand characterizes as a pronunciation of derived concepts plucked mid-stream from the hierarchy of knowledge and side stepping fundamental premises – is almost immediately and painfully evident in the extended context. Responding to US attacks and in particular to the President’s remarks, Taliban announced to the world that the act of war by US is an “act of terrorism” – a grotesque distortion of the concept of terrorism in the lexicon of free world but one that is eagerly lapped up and violently cheered by Islamic followers. The extra mile, which forms the central theme of this thesis, is the intellectual leap that connects the consequential alternatives offered by President Bush, with axiomatic and irreducible primary assertions. Making that leap is by no stretch of imagination an easy task, because – when perceived on a universal timescale, the concept of religion, which is the crucial factor in the current strife, is second (albeit a distant one) only to that of evolution, in the entire history of mankind.
While the study of evolution is honed to near perfection by the rigors of scientific discipline, religion by its very nature remained in the hazy realm of mysticism – fanatically guarded by its exponents to avoid rational enquiry, spawning a wild growth of cultures, sub-cultures, cults, sub-cults and their variations – each with its own Gods, shrines, prophets, messengers and self-appointed, often times feuding earthly representatives, – each with its own version of so called “holy” books and their myriad confusing and conflicting interpretations.

III – A brief look at the evolutionary history of life

Events have to be laid out chronologically to understand the primacy of the principle of causality and thereby find a proper place for the origins, role and mutations of religion in the course of human evolution. Let us start at the beginning and quickly race through the milestones. The appearance of self-replicating entities on earth due to a chance mixture of the right chemical ingredients powered by the energy of lightning marked the beginning of life’s evolution. Laboratory experiments have confirmed the strong probability of an episodic event such as organic life-forms spontaneously generating from inorganic matter occurring, given the chemical composition and climatic conditions of earth, mediated over a time span of hundreds of millions of years. As propounded by Charles Darwin and numerous other scientists who corroborated and continued his work, more and more complex life forms have evolved in due course. The fittest specimens in each species survived and thrived, with some of the species dominating certain evolutionary epochs.

Scanning the entire spectrum of evolution, one cannot but marvel at the magnificent variety and complexity – compare unicellular organisms at one end and Homo-sapiens at the other. However, the principles that shaped this enormous complexity over time are astonishingly simple – (a) genetically transmitted: at each stage, minor variations or mutations are transmitted in the form of genetic foot-prints through the medium of offspring, (b) powered by blind chance, necessitating colossal time and material requirement: diversification and consequent variations occurred due to blind chance, i.e., due to errors while the genes are being copied from one generation to the next, thereby requiring billions of specimens and millions of years to result in significant mutations and (c) survival of the fittest: survival and eventual propagation to further generations is validated by the criterion of fitness, i.e., limited to those variations, which have successfully faced environmental pressures and competition from other species or variations within the same species. The cyclic component triad of (a) Transmission, (b) Diversification and (c) Validation, as described above, constitute a predominantly stochastic evolutionary process.

Which brings us to the second most significant landmark in the history of life – self-replicating organisms evolving over time into self-questioning ones. Entities with increasing brain size culminating in the acquisition of consciousness – capable of self-awareness, thought, making generalizations, understanding cause-effect relationships and refining them over lifetimes of successive generations, i.e., the human species – have arrived on the landscape. Evolutionary direction took a radically different turn – with the presence of entities capable of thought, the focus is no longer on the cumbersome and time consuming creation of newer life-forms, i.e., new species that better adapt to nature, but the much more efficient and faster (compared to geological time-scales) alternative – adapting nature itself to the betterment of life. To this end, man learnt to craft tools from surrounding materials for protecting, maintaining and improving the quality of life and to communicate through spoken and written words for the preservation of knowledge. Man also imbibed from the predecessor animal species, a vitally important factor for survival – that of living in herds, which evolved into groups, tribes, communities and eventually, elaborate social structures.

Fitting into this logical continuum of non-genetic evolution, the underlying principles also found a paradigm shift – (a) Idea-based transmission: at each stage, mutations or variations are transmitted as ideas captured in the medium of language, thereby adding to the knowledge, (b) Thought-driven diversification: modifications to existing knowledge are conceived and propelled by conscious and deliberate process of thought using scientific principles of theorizing, generalization, abstraction, modeling and prototyping – thus ensuring enormous economy and efficiency of time and material expended in this phase and (c) Validation through compatibility with life’s purpose: ideas are validated by their compatibility with the fundamental principle of life’s evolution stated earlier – adapting nature to the betterment of life. This is the cyclic component triad defining deterministic evolution. A self-reinforcing cycle that is still in the process of perfection – otherwise we would have seen yet another paradigm shift. Consequently, there are gaps in our knowledge – certain ‘expediency of the moment’ principles, which are still in operation today contradicting the very framework to which they are desperately clinging for support. More about these contradictions later – let us first prepare the ground and take a closer look at the Stochastic and Deterministic principles of evolution in operation.

To illustrate the contrast through a persuasive example – consider what would have happened, had the stochastic principles been still in operation after you and I came into existence. You are a physician by profession and you want later generations to advance it to greater levels of perfection. Just imagine that the only way you can propagate your professional knowledge is by transmitting your physician-ness to others through some genetic inheritance, i.e., only through conception of progeny. It might take tens of offspring at each generation and thousands of such generations taking their chances over millions of years for this particular, physician-ness genetic trait to dominate (if at all) over billions of other, similarly competing genes in the pool. Given such a scenario, you cannot even think of attempting to change the course of evolution. The consequences of the same situation driven by deterministic evolution are all too clear – we see it everyday in the phenomenally rapid progress being made in this world. Knowledge is passed on to later generations in verbal or documented form, changes are powered by conscious thought and validated by the logic of life sustenance and improvement. In light of these new evolutionary principles, every student of physics or scientist doing research in Relativity inherits the genes from Einstein, evolutionary scientist from Darwin and objectivist those of Ayn Rand. Every new model of car inherits from its earlier models and even from the models of rival car manufacturers. This is the evolution of substance.

The self-reinforcing cycle of deterministic evolution is reflected in better observation, better understanding, better communication and better learning from one other’s trials and errors – i.e., a process of perfecting the faculty of rational thought. Through this principle, man soon advanced from tribal communities into the build-up of harmonious social – and by extension national and international structures, i.e., an evolution of the form supporting the substance. After thousands of years of tribal wars and brutal conquests, a fairly stable map of international boundaries came into existence. Most illuminating of all, while this compulsion of “National Differentiation” was petering out into a plateau – in its most recent phase, life’s evolution experimented with “Rational Integration” and discovered a whole new world – a world within the world, a truly global village unfettered by color, race, culture, ethnicity, nationality and, uh! – religion. Life discovered America – the land of promise carved by enterprising immigrants over hundreds of years – the most successful nation on earth today, a model country on the verge of catapulting humanity into an exciting and glorious new epoch (release 3 of evolutionary history in the making if you will) thanks to the tremendous advances like internet technology, human genome project and stem cell research.
Is all of this going to change because of one mutant individual and his fanatic cohorts? Is America going back into a shell like the other countries and becoming one? Is the free world going to lose all the colossal gains of millions of years of evolutionary history and – instead of going forward to a potential release 3, regressing to release 2 like the Afghan cave dwellers and apes (bin Laden wants a Taliban like Islamic rule all over the world), or way back into release 1 of Anthrax type bacterial life forms? A couple of months ago, no one would have even guessed that people all over the world would be watching the map of Afghanistan as routinely as they watch the weather report and names like Taliban and Osama bin Laden would be on everyone’s lips like temperature and traffic. To find answers for this obnoxious aberration, let us not look at bin Laden, the person – let us look towards the principle that made him tick and made him a tick – a tiny bug waiting on the scaffolding with infinite patience to unleash a deadly disease – which, by all tenets of rational logic, should have been squashed long ago. Let us trace the origin and role of this principle in the development of social structures.

IV – Origins and evolution of religion

An inevitable consequence to the chain of “consciousness – thought – enquiry” is freewill. Simply put, you are aware of something, you think about it, ask a lot of questions – and you now have the freedom to act as you wish. An organism that cannot go through the above chain of process cannot act against its fundamental nature, i.e., the evolutionary force driving its life (survive – mutate – replicate), while free-willed entities like human beings can. You will not find an ape jumping off the cliff to commit suicide, but you will find a misguided fanatic who will do exactly that and if possible take thousands of lives with him. Combine freewill with social structure – since both factors are vital for enhancing the efficiency of evolution – and you now have a very potent mix that comes with a heavy price tag. It raises a host of moral and ethical issues. Note this very carefully – the question of ethics and morality arises only in the context of a community. For someone cast away on a remote island and living all alone, concepts like honesty, truthfulness and chastity are utterly ridiculous. Whether he runs naked on the beach, shouts obscenities at the top of his voice or makes faces at the sea is immaterial. Merely add one more person and there surfaces the issue of morality – if obtaining food to “survive” (as evolution demands) can be carried out “most efficiently” (without the risk or effort of searching or hunting for food) by stealing, why is it wrong? Add a group of ten or a community of hundred and complexity already piles up.

People realized through a process of rational thought, that even to steal or conquer, some one (the Prime Mover as Rand puts it) has to produce the goods to begin with. The futility of wars and conquests was soon recognized, since at some point or the other when the loot runs out, the prime movers once again have to step in to produce. Enslaving production (e.g., the Nazi controlled labor) is also merely a short-term solution since slaves by definition cannot flourish nor evolve. Eventually, people also understood that acquiring material comforts (following the evolutionary dictum – adapting nature to the betterment of life) and enjoying the fulfillment of life is a consequence of achievement, i.e., a contribution to the production pool of these material comforts and getting their due share in return, but not through dishonest or devious means (as the second handers do), which work only in the short term. Through this kind of enormous conceptual integration, people acquired wisdom. As a pioneering thinker, ahead not only of her times but ours as well, Ayn Rand analyzed these issues in her monumental works “The Fountain Head” and “Atlas Shrugged”. Unlike tens of thousands of other writers who primarily portrayed different types of conflict between “evil” and “good”, Rand illustrated through these books, her unique analytical capability to fictionalize conflicts between “good” and “ideal”.

The debate on issues of morality was going on at every stage in the development of human society – right from the early herds to tribes to communities to highly evolved social structures such as ours. And there were always some wise men in each of these stages, who managed levels of rational, conceptual integration necessary to grasp some of the principles of morality and of ethics. In order to maintain the social structure (remember that this is a vitally important factor for evolution) as a harmonious whole, the wise men took upon themselves the onus of teaching morality to society. They are already facing a contradiction because, as noted earlier, going against moral principles does have a short-term evolutionary advantage. It is relatively easy to teach how to make a bow and an arrow and shoot at running deer, but much, much more difficult to explain why one should not steal meat from the neighbor’s home – since both processes finally lead to food.

Faced with this vexatious issue, at some very early stages in the development of communities, the wise men of that era fell head-long into the extremely daunting, black hole of a trap – “Knowledge can be communicated but not Wisdom”. They took the inevitable shortcut and invented God and religion and became preachers, instead of teachers. The invocation of a supernatural force, outside the realm of day-to-day chores, helped them to make their pronouncements impervious to free enquiry and smothering freewill, i.e., as an entirely new set of assertions demanding to be accepted on faith as axioms. The intentions of these early preachers were perfectly benign – in order to ensure that humanity continued along the path of evolution within the framework of a society – which required production of food, clothing, shelter, protection and exchange of goods (the rational or free-enquiry based component of life), they used a little subterfuge and built a scaffolding to deal with the social and moral issues (the religious or faith-based component of life). This is when man’s conscience got split right down the middle – a dichotomy, which the society is still struggling to resolve.

One can find day-to-day examples of similar issues in modern world – a mother tells her young girl, – “the stork brought little Tommy next door”. A father admonishes his teenage son – “You broke your ankle playing football on a Sunday morning instead of going to the Church and this is God’s way of retribution”. An old lady comforts her granddaughter – “Do not grieve your miscarriage, God in his infinite wisdom has his own reasons for whatever he does”. Avoiding an explanation, instilling fear of the supernatural or administering something akin to a placebo – these are all well-meaning and harmless statements taken in isolation – assertions that terminate further enquiry and masquerade as axioms. Sooner or later the little girl realizes life’s realities, the boy learns his responsibilities and the mother moves on to conceive her next child. There is not much scope for mutations in these kinds of situations.

Rewind to the ancient times – like a drug-resistant parasite continuing to feed on its host, the scaffolding built to augment the path attracted more and more adherents and evolved simultaneously over time. It is said that a good teacher is one who becomes progressively redundant. In the context of religion, I want to add the corollary (which is perfectly valid even today) – “a good preacher is one who becomes progressively indispensable” and preachers started in ancient times as teachers. Religion also gave some preachers a mystic authority over society and no wonder they soon turned into rulers, i.e., evolving from indispensable into irreplaceable entities. Look at the diametrically opposite direction this evolutionary mutation has taken, because the fundamental premise on which it started is faulty.
Over time, with the evolving intellect leaning increasingly towards rationalism, questions were raised about the authority of religion. More and more people got into the game of religion, since the prospect of wielding power from the scaffolding without having to add value to the path was too tempting to resist (again, a short-term evolutionary advantage in operation). In the history of every religion, this marked the period of icons, holy books, tablets, elaborate rituals that dragged people further into ignorance, commandments, staged miracles and ex-communication of non-believers etc., further mystifying the issue. With more people rushing onto the scaffolding, there followed cults, sub-cults, variations and mutations – many of them surviving despite their dissimilarities, based on one fundamental tenet, viz., blind faith of their followers. Unlike the process of rational enquiry where each explanation further enhances the appetite for greater understanding till the truly persevering enquirer grasps things almost with a perceptual clarity, allegiance to religious faith does the exact opposite – each enquiry (if there is one) spawns further frustration and confusion, stultifying the mind and leaving a hazy, misty feeling of delusion.

V – Global branching of religion

The contrasting nature of these two forces was not lost on civilization. Even though the fundamental differences were not as clearly and not as well articulated (which we are able to do today after centuries of understanding), there was a simmering unrest in some societies about the uneasy and undeserved popularity of religion. In recorded history, western civilization took the giant leap and released governance from the shackles of religion, i.e., separate Church from the State. However, willy-nilly it still conceded the need for the scaffolding and the Church retained its independent status, letting the path take over the major ground of governance. As a result, Theocracy and its close cousins like Aristocracy and Autocracy eventually made way to the widely accepted Democratic form of governance in the west. War-torn societies settled down to make way for agricultural and industrial revolutions leading to phenomenal acceleration of growth. The impact of these events on civilization is that, the (so far) extremely successful laboratory of rational integration that is America, took its roots in the west and – with few exceptions, most western countries are by and large categorized today as “developed nations”.

The Middle-east, predominantly composed of Islamic nations did not make this transition. Despite the fact that the religious organization is very loosely strung (there is no position in Islam, equivalent to that of the Pope in Christianity, nor is there a proper hierarchy), religion by and large remained a strong under current and a unifying force among Muslims – because even the rudimentary distinction between the State and Religion could not be made from within. Whatever little transformation that took place in some of these countries, was primarily influenced by the example set by western civilization that material comforts are within the reach of humanity, through rational thought operating in a proper social framework and not by divine largesse. Individual examples are the emigrants from the Islamic nations seeking a peaceful existence in the west. The potency of religious fervor is however, illustrated by the fact that – even after the September 11 carnage, the response from the Heads of Islamic states is at best a very carefully measured support and from their general population is not even that.

Since the transition could not come from within, even today, whatever be the form of government, theocratic element plays a predominant role in these nations. Vestiges of stochastic evolution – one of whose driving principles is genetic transmission – are present in most of these Islamic societies where polygamy and proliferation of large numbers of progeny is the norm of religion and women are treated merely as conduits of conception. A sad, but harsh reality and a strange quirk of evolutionary branching – more so because, in present times the different branches are being entwined in the convergent evolution of cross-cultural societies and comparisons become inevitable. Equally inevitable are the ruptures that take place (one of the reasons of the current strife) – when the different branches are being grafted together superficially and not at the fundamental or cellular level. Steeped in religious ignorance, Muslim community by and large could not reconcile with the materialism (more about this later) of the west. Most of these nations remained predominantly under-developed and their social structures a long way from democracy.

Countries in the East are primarily influenced by the religion of Hinduism and its offshoots like Buddhism, Jainism etc. In the East, ancient history does not record that religion played a domineering role in governance in any of the countries. It is more like the Kings approached priests for advice on matters of what they thought to be religious importance. Once again, the organizational structure is very loosely knit but religion kept itself aloof, more or less maintaining the stand that – it is the seeker of knowledge who should go in search of a teacher and not vice versa. Unlike Islam, which historically attempted to propagate its creed through violence and conquests, and unlike Christianity, which in its later period, peacefully tried to spread its message through missionaries, Hinduism never subscribed to the oxymoronic concept of converting non-believers. Here is one evolutionary branch of religion, which realized that it should not evolve through any organizational structure, nor by propagation.

Probably, the best illustration of the characteristics of Hindu religious thought comes from the teachings of one of the modern day philosophers. Breaking away from the Theosophical society, which was grooming him to be its spearhead, Jiddu Krishnamurti (JK) announced in 1929 –

Man cannot come to it (the realization of truth) through any organization, through any creed, through any dogma, priest or ritual, not through any philosophic knowledge or psychological technique. If an organization be created for this purpose, it becomes a crutch, a weakness, a bondage, and must cripple the individual, and prevent him from growing, from establishing his uniqueness, which lies in the discovery for himself of that absolute, unconditioned Truth.

Note however the decisive contrast – the East did not have to contend with the major step of separating the State (i.e., social structures or the form for supporting the path) from Religion (the scaffolding), while the West did go through this step and learnt the hard way and from first principles, the critically important application (materialism) of man’s preeminent evolutionary dictum, viz., adapting nature to the betterment of life.

In this context, Hinduism totally lost its contemporary relevance – it could never fully come to grips with the Western Materialism. Let me once again quote JK –

An American lady came to see me a couple of years ago, during the war. She said she had lost her son in Italy and that she had another son aged sixteen whom she wanted to save; so we talked the thing over. I suggested to her that to save her son she had to cease to be an American; she had to cease to be greedy, cease piling up wealth, seeking power, domination, and be morally simple – not merely simple in clothes, in outward things, but simple in her thoughts and feelings, in her relationships. She said, “That is too much. “You are asking far too much. I cannot do it, because circumstances are too powerful for me to alter”. Therefore she was responsible for the destruction of her son.

This extremely pathetic and almost pitiable misrepresentation of materialism is unfortunately not limited to Eastern thinkers alone. Most people in the West are, even today, struggling to understand its fundamentals and there arises the need for that extra mile.
What is the true meaning of wealth – what kind of people pile it up in which type of forms and towards what purpose, what is really meant by selfishness, by materialism, by capitalism, who are the people that seek power and who are the Fountain Heads, who are the Prime Movers and who the Second Handers? Even for a thinker with the utmost clarity of understanding and a writer with unmatched crispness of literary style like Ayn Rand, it took two massive fictional works and scores of other writings in an attempt to answer these questions for the world. She could not do it – not on a truly global scale of establishing a norm – people were not ready for her in peacetime. Rand’s Objectivism is the only philosophical structure emanating as a logical consequence of the evolution – materialism chain. The extra mile is truly an epic journey, a quantum leap that would lead to a paradigm shift in our comprehension of the very evolutionary foundation of the universe, of the laws of causality and entropy, through an enormous conceptual integration of scientific, philosophical, psychological and existential perspectives. Are we willing to go for it and if yes, what is it that we need to do?

VI – The long term course of action for the future

If we accept the principle of evolutionary life, viz., “adapting nature itself to the betterment of life”, as an axiom, we should also accept that the future can be controlled by the choices we make today, that we are entities with freewill capable of moving towards betterment of life and not driftwood left at the mercy of supernatural fate. The scaffolding of religion was felt necessary in ancient times when there was a quantum gap between the different levels of understanding of people in the society. It was felt at a time when social hierarchy played a very prominent role and concepts like democracy and equality before law were beyond even the realm of human imagination. Felt at a time when even the wisest did not have the capabilities of conceptual integration necessary to realize that communication of wisdom begins by stating that there is not only knowledge, but a hierarchy of knowledge as well and at a time when teachers like Rand did not evolve to hit the nail by stating that when you are stuck with a contradiction, check your premises. No one doubts that since then, we have come a long, long way along the road of progress by building powerful supporting structures to strengthen the path of evolution. To what end? – the WTC bombings? a bunch of fanatics holding the world to ransom forcing retreat and regression?

In this century, which we were all looking forward to with eager and exciting anticipation not long ago, we have all the ingredients and the infrastructure to take our progress to its crowning glory. What we need is the pragmatic philosophy of objectivism and not even a vestige of the dogmatic philosophy of religion – any religion. I have heard many people say in defense of religion – Science or rational enquiry does not answer all the questions we face in our lives. There are things beyond our comprehension. I fully agree with their problem but not their solution. The counter lies in the very statement when someone says – “does not answer all the questions”, he is already conceding that it answers most of the questions. So the problem is not with the process of rational enquiry but our application of the same. A quasi-placebo like religion is a far cry from the medicine of rational enquiry. Religion, which started as a convenient prop, a scaffolding and since then became the quagmire of eternally captured preachers, priests and their confused flock, a haven for freeloaders, prophets, hawkers, looters and downright fanatic psychopaths has no place in the rational, logical scheme of things in the world. I was running the spell-checker on this document and MS-word helpfully suggested in place of Taliban – Tailbone. How apt indeed!, a tiny remnant of the ugly relic inherited from our simian ancestors.
The scaffolding draws its strength from the people who flock to it now and then and not through any divine intervention. People have to make a conscious, deliberate choice today, to shun religion altogether or at the very least completely dissociate with organized religion to begin with. If you are not in a position to make this kind of a serious, long-term commitment, what I am going to say by way of an immediate solution to the upheaval the world is facing, will not make any sense and for that matter, what I have said so far should not make any sense either. The onus of making this commitment lies even more on those willing individuals, who have been adhering to Islamic faith so far – to the extent that they have to make vociferous, public declarations of their rejection of religion. For individuals from other faiths, who are not willing to make a commitment to shun their own religions, it would be hypocritical even to consider my suggestion.

VII – A rational description of the present issue

War is not the solution for any problem. America, the most advanced nation on earth going to war against Afghanistan, the most backward country is an even more ridiculous non-solution. Property destruction is always a step backward in evolution – even the terrorist’s training camps could be remodeled to house the Afghans. Destroying a $100 worth of structure with a $10,000 air sortie makes absolutely no economic sense and it is even more ludicrous when everyone including the US government expects itself to foot the bill for renovating the destruction.

Killing people, even in war, is not the solution for a nation, which has so scrupulously upheld human rights. It makes even less sense to kill members of the al Qaeda or Taliban, who in some macabre, masochistic way want to spread and motivate their ilk by dying and achieving so called martyrdom. Going after them is worse still because it is difficult to make out whether they are dead or alive in those caves or have already escaped to Pakistan. And even if the al Qaeda in Afghanistan is destroyed, how is anyone going to flush out their international network, the sleepers in US or stop their financiers from future support?

While the 22 most wanted terrorists and their financiers are still on the loose, US or the free world can never relax in peace. What is the economic sense in guarding something like a $3M property with an annual security budget of $1M that demands a three-year advance payment? How is any country going to fight an unseen enemy for an unlimited number of years to achieve an undefined objective? Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld repeatedly stressed during his briefings the unconventional nature of the present war. The whole exercise is so complex and futile, even the best of military planners can only throw their hands up in despair. The irony is that everyone in the administration is perfectly and painfully aware of these problems. They are stuck due to the lack of an alternative, because of their conventional approach in dealing with an unconventional issue, and more importantly because the precise nature of the current strife still remains to be properly understood.
Let us define the problem first – bin Laden declares that it is a war between Islam and Christianity. America declares that it is a war between the Free world and Terrorism. All these four entities are derived concepts so far removed from fundamentals that everyone is finally getting bogged down in a war of words, in a war of rhetoric. In objective reality, it is the catastrophic culmination of the rift going on since ages, between rational thought on one side and blind religious faith on the other – the former evolving towards its most glorious form of Rational Integration that is America and the later into its most virulent mutation of Religious Annihilation that is Islamic Terrorism. Attacking the symptoms without a long-term commitment to cure the root of the disease will not only be hypocritical in the present context but a fatal medical blunder.

VIII – And finally the rational solution for the present crisis

Watching the collapse of twin towers, I felt that I have seen the most horrifying spectacle on earth. My first stupefied thought was the recollection of Ayn Rand’s passage about protecting the magnificent New York skyline with one’s own body. How could some people use their bodies and that of hundreds of other innocents to violently deface this skyline? What kind of power could propel people to such an obscene extremity, which is even beyond the realm of normal human imagination? I could get a glimpse of that when I first saw and heard bin Laden on TV – the chilling motivator of the destruction. The next thing that was chiseled into my mind was an Afghan speaking to a TV reporter – “Americans are non-believers and we will kill them”. There was no malice in his voice, no hatred and not even the trace of an emotion. A shiver ran down my spine – here is an average citizen who would go looking for the nearest non-believer whose throat he could slit, as routinely as a visitor to the WTC would have gone looking for the nearest trashcan to throw litter. I saw where from bin Laden was drawing his strength.

That was nothing – next scene: a batch of young “students” in a “school” rocking their heads and torsos back and forth, back and forth with jerky motions like hashish laden zombies, reciting some voodoo incantations. Their vapid eyes are not even paying attention to the big display board in front of them reading “Death to America”. Everything else paled into insignificance and I realized with crystal clarity why bin Laden is so smug in his pronunciations of ultimate victory. Here is his “vision” of the future and here are his Universal Soldiers of destruction. He must be having a hearty laugh about the UN inspection teams for chemical, biological or nuclear weapons in the Arab nations. He is mass manufacturing the deadliest weapon no super technology could match and no UN committee could touch – the psyche-washed human bomb. Even if 1% of his disciples live to the age of 20, every single one storied and higher building in the world will collapse faster than any technology could build them. Living on this planet with these zombies as my co-inhabitants, without even making a token effort to be heard, is the ultimate hypocrisy I cannot permit myself. Bombing these “schools” or destroying these “students” of malevolence, who could not even experience an iota of “freewill” in their lives so far, is absolutely out of the question – that is against the principle of evolution. Moreover, it does not solve the long-term problem of preventing the recurrence of such “schools”, nor the urgent need for nabbing the terrorist network.

Unlike rationalism, which is the self-polarizing component of our lives that does not primarily need an external magnet, the irrational element, i.e., religion, is quintessentially iconic. Like a master hypnotist who swings a pendant to entrance his subjects, purveyors of religion mystify their followers through rituals, through shrines and books. The purportedly permanent icons become the point of primary focus and the mortal hypnotist fades into a distant, secondary relevance. Long time ago, I read the story about a hypnotist who died on stage in the middle of a session and his subjects were brought back from trance by reversing the effects of his prop – a swinging pendant. The only way to break the deadly spell is to go after the icons, after the shrines and rituals.

Tuning in to one of the radio talk-shows while driving, I heard a listener ask why the US should not bomb the mosques of Mecca and Madina, in retaliation for WTC bombings. Destruction, unfortunately can never be the solution. In future, these two mosques could be converted into befitting museums for projecting the perils of religious evil that destroyed WTC, so that history will not repeat its mistakes. An intense, global and non-destructive campaign of ridiculing Islam is the only way to segregate and flush out the hard-core militants from the average citizenry, who are primarily interested in “mundane” matters like filling their bellies.

According to one news report, Afghan people are disappointed that US is dropping sheets of ad campaign and not money from the air. Give them a chance to earn their keep. Drop small pieces of jigsaw puzzle that combine to make the face of bin Laden with a big X across. Throw in an occasional currency bill. Those who collect the required pieces to combine the puzzle and attest on the backside that they want bin Laden captured, get a prize of $10. Another jigsaw could be the exalting motif of WTC in the foreground towering over the mosques. Drop billions of such pieces at the Mecca and Madina mosques during the Ramadan season. The idea of “selling America”, as an ad agency describes the American PR campaign in Afghanistan, is preposterous considering the level of their comprehension. Instead, “buy their attention”. Ridicule Islam to such an extent through a powerful ad campaign that every follower feels the shame and looks at bin Laden as the scourge who brought this on them and not the hero they made him out to be. Give them a chance to cleanse the vermin in their midst.

Saudi Arabia, a supposedly friendly nation of the US, also actively sponsors religious “schools”, which teach virulent hatred against the west. This aristocratic nation does not divulge background information on the suicide bombers and refuses to freeze the assets of terrorist financiers. Tell them in unequivocal terms that the pamphlet campaign at their two mosques will stop only after the 22 most wanted terrorists are accounted for, their global network wiped out and their financiers, whose assets are frozen in the west, are ostracized throughout the Islamic world. In every suspected terrorist hideout all over the world, continue this campaign against Islam.
A monumental ridicule of their icons confuses the zombie kids and their wardens giving them a fair chance to shake off their diabolical state of trance. As to the terrorist core of al Qaeda – they are prepared to face death or wage a war of attrition from their globally dispersed hideouts. But they will not be able to withstand an immense campaign of excommunication from their fellow Islamic followers (which is their physical strength) and the terrible taunting of sustained religious ridicule (their psychological strength). Hijacking their motive power and reversing the same as a relentless weapon against them would be the last thing they would expect. But if you look closely, this is exactly the strategy bin Laden used to win the first round. An aircraft, one of the greatest inventions of rational thought, moving towards a purposeful destination, was reversed in mid-air to cause senseless destruction. The rational purpose of the fuel on board, which was to energize the aircraft soar, was reversed and its energy used to devastate yet another great triumph of the rational human intellect – the WTC skyscrapers. He reversed the potency of rational thought to destroy the products of rational thought. A dire note of warning I wish to repeat in closing – ridiculing any religion without seriously examining and eliminating one’s own irrational beliefs would lead to a catastrophic boomerang.

IX – Epilogue

What we are experiencing today is a spasmodic convulsion of religion. If unchecked, there will be many more to come – after all, this is the fundamental nature of a longstanding strife. Whether we are prepared to go down with it burdened by unresolved contradictions and unidentified fundamentals, or snap into full focus to uphold the principle of evolution, the under current of life itself – is up to us. No doubt evolution is ultimately going to prevail – it is the mother of all principles and by axiomatic definition subsumes religion. The only catch is that Evolution has all the time in the universe, at its disposal. It has taken hundreds of millions of years for the present day events to unfold – a few more millions of years of waiting to assert the inexorable supremacy of evolution is not really significant, when perceived along geological time-scales.

The question is, are we prepared to wait that long, or – as the only conscious life-forms that have evolved on earth, the only thinking, rational beings capable of questioning our very origins and who have come a long, long way in understanding the same – do we have the courage of our convictions, to hold the axiomatic, rational, cause-effect relationships in full focus today – and steer this fundamental principle along its proper course?

Author’s note on suggested additional reading material

* Ayn Rand’s works on the philosophy of objectivism, in particular her fiction
* Richard Dawkins’ popular science books about the theory of evolution
* John Gribbin’s popular science books about modern physics

Nagendra Rentala (b. 09/23/1953) holds a Doctorate degree in Geophysics. A member of the New York Academy of Sciences and recipient of the Young Scientist Award of the  Indian National Science Academy (1982), he worked for over 20 years teaching and researching in the field of Computational Geophysics in Osmania University, Hyderabad, India. He was a Visiting Scientist at the following institutions – Dept. of Geological Sciences, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK – 1986/87; Dept. of Earth Sciences, Christian Albrechts University, Kiel, Germany – 1992/93; Dept. of Disaster Research, GeoForschungsZentrum, Potsdam, Germany – 1996/97. A keen Chess enthusiast, he visited Switzerland (playing in the Chess Olympiad in Lucerne – 1982 as a member of the Indian team), Russia, Spain, Germany, Slovakia and Hong Kong in various capacities like player, coach and organizer. Fascinated in 1990 by reading the works of Ayn Rand, he started practicing Objectivism. He has to his credit numerous radio and TV presentations on popular science topics, articles of topical interest and articles in Computer Science / Geophysics journals. An Indian by nationality, for the past 3+ years he is working in the US as a Senior Programmer / Analyst specializing in the development of Lotus Notes / Domino based Internet business applications. He currently lives alone in Bellflower, CA, USA. He may be contacted directly at nrentala@hotmail.com but the-vu encourages feedback through the feedback page so that readers can share in the debate.

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