The Times They Are a Changin’

So go the lyrics of a Dylan classic. I started this post at three in the morning at SeaTac airport with three hours to kill before my connection. Just a forewarning that the quality and coherence of thoughts put down may be more suspect than is even usual for me. I wanted to write this as a follow up to the previous post where I presented my case that left is indeed right. As in, if one takes a position left of center on a social issue one will likely end up on the right side of history.

I had a conversation with a gentleman a few years ago that I remember still quite clearly. I mentioned how among the pantheon of great American presidents I admire Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and FDR. The gentleman I had this conversation with was a conservative, so naturally — or a wrong presumption on my part to assume so I suppose — he said he agreed that Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln were men to be admired but FDR not so much. What with the New Deal and Social Security and all. Which got me thinking about how, in their time and age, these men were likely derided, even ridiculed for some of their views. For example, I have heard several people argue with me about how Lincoln was the person most responsible for the Civil War and how I’ve bought into the popular myth about the Civil War being about slavery and the eventual abolishment of the inhuman practice. To illustrate my point better, consider, for example, Barack Obama. I realize there are many who would take umbrage at the mere mention of the forty fourth president in the same context as the first, third and the sixteenth, but hear me out for a minute. I heard innumerable times how, when there are so many important things to do, Obama was concerned about, for example, gay rights. But here’s the rub. There are always more important things to do. They said the same thing about ol’ Abe Lincoln in the mid nineteenth century. That there were so may important things to do, and this man here was worried about abolishing slavery. A view, if held openly today, would result in the person holding that view being held in near universal contempt, and deservedly so.

Adams, Jefferson and the rest were the men of the Enlightenment which made them extraordinary men for not just their time but for several ages. But for all their greatness, the first and third presidents are guilty of pawning off to the next generation a practice in society that fundamentally challenged one of the founding principles of the republic that “all men are created equal”, much as it ate at their conscience. America’s Original Sin if you will. If they had tried to address it however, they would have, in their own time been thought of as too radical.
Words like expert and scholar are bandied about so casually these days and are so overused that they’re almost cringe worthy. So far be it from me to claim any expertise on American history, but I’ve read enough of it and the men that formed a part of the founding to know this much. Washington was accused of being a dictator. The man who set the precedent for the two term presidency. Adams was an unabashed elitist and egomaniac. Adams, who was jovially nicknamed “His Rotundity” by one of his peers for the highfalutin titles he kept coming up with which the president was to be addressed.  “His Highness the President of the United States of America and Protector of the Rights of the Same.” was one such, before Washington put his foot down and settled on the simple, elegant and no less awe inspiring Mr President”.  Jefferson after all, was responsible in introducing realpolitik to the nascent republic, aided in no small measure by his opposition to the anglophile Hamilton. The Francophile Jefferson some would say. Lincoln of course was the “black republican”.

I guess all this is a long winded way of saying that the reverence we hold for our forefathers and their prescience would have been misplaced in their own time. I also tend to stay away from hearkening back to the good ol’ times. Because the good ol’ times were good for a select few. Not so much for the rest of what would have been us at the time. Sure there was a time when travelers on airplanes were treated to luxury but air travel was then only accessible to a select few. The democratization of the technology and mode of transport means that it is accessible to people of lesser means but not at the same comfort level and luxury. But the rich have to differentiate themselves somehow. So they came up with first class, which is fine by me. Sure the good ol’ times were simpler and kids could play outdoors without constant adult supervision but they were more likely to be run over by cars too. That’s probably not a good example, but the reader gets the point.

It particularly irks me to see social media memes and posts where millennials are portrayed as lazy, self obsessed, smartphone and social media addicts that can do little but Snapchat all day. Assuming Snapchat hasn’t yet been relegated to the un-cool parents and grandparents category. When in fact they are the smartest generation in a long line of smart generations with ideas that will change and in some cases with their embracement of  sustainable living concepts, save the planet we call home.
I guess my point is, and there is one indeed, if you were wondering, is that the good ol’ times weren’t that great and the very people we hold up as examples from that time were considered far from examples to hold up at the time. So before I dismiss someone’s opinion, no matter how young, to keep in mind that I should think long and hard before doing so. It also reminds me that just because I am forty something years old doesn’t automatically entitle me to the younger generation’s respect.

Thank you

Lakshman Hariharan
Prosper, TX

Left is Right

Let me explain. What I really mean is that I believe if someone is left of center on a social issue, they will end up, more than likely on the right side of history. In what follows I’ll try to make the case of why I think so. On a side note, I made the title a bit catchy to capture attention, since I’ve started losing even the handful of regular readers I have. So if you happen upon this link, please read it. Perhaps I should be spending time in creating quality content than catchy titles.
Getting back on point. Driving the kids to watch a baseball game forty miles away, my best friend and I started a conversation, as is our wont. He is one of the few people I have long winded conversations about everything under the sun with. Politics, physics, biology, life, philosophy.  It also helps that we agree with each other on ninety nine out of a hundred topics.  Among other things we talked politics (surprise!).   We were discussing how the mainstream media is left leaning. Whatever the merits, fairly or unfairly, the person in the White House gets credit for things undeserved, just as he — not she, until we get progressive enough to elect a woman as president — catches flak for things that are likely undeserved. Kinda like the quarterback on a football team. For example, Barack Obama got bin Laden. Sure, he made the final call on the go no-go and it required major cojones  but did he really actually “get” Osama bin Laden?  My views on and opinion of the current occupant of the White House being irrelevant, I thought about what the media reaction would have been like if a democrat or a media darling like our previous president had been in office when the news came down about the North Korean dictator’s announcement renouncing (or suspending) his nuclear (nu-cue-lar, according to Bush Jr.) program. The media would be falling all over themselves in giving credit to the occupant in the White House. Also irrelevant is the fact that the current occupant of the White House will claim credit for bringing peace to the Korean peninsula even if the dictator doesn’t do any of what he says he will. A “fact” he would likely tout to and possible even get re-elected. That much most reasonable people can agree on I think.

So what does that have to do with left being right?
One of the laments I hear from social conservatives is that most media and comedians are left leaning or progressive or liberal, pick your word. I myself tend to lean left of center on most if not all such social issues. I want to be clear I’m not talking about fiscal conservatism, just social conservatism. Fiscal conservatism, small government, give people the means to making a living rather than handouts etc., sound appealing on the face of it. You know, the thing about giving a man a fish to eat will ensure he eats that day, but teaching him how to fish will help him eat for a lifetime. So in case there are any doubts, I am trying to make a case for why I think social conservatism is wrong, That is because when someone is left of center on an issue, they usually end up on the right side of history. That’s what I believe today. I could very well end up changing my opinion, because as F. Scott or Hemingway once said, and I’m paraphrasing and likely totally butchering the quote: “The man I am today is not the man I was yesterday.  The man I am today, I won’t be tomorrow. Because if I am then I am no man at all.”  The original quote was, I can guarantee you, much more concise and conveyed the same meaning much better with much fewer words.

When I go back and look at history (recent if you will, say sixteenth century onward) one thing becomes clear. What in that day and time appears or is deemed radically progressive or liberal  and is usually laughed at by the majority at the time, say a hundred years thence becomes the right thing to do. Recent examples that come to mind include women’s suffrage, abolition of slavery,  civil  rights, gay rights. I am very aware of the fact that some black folk abhor the equivocation of gay rights with the civil rights movement but that is a topic for another day.

So when I think back to, what a hundred and fifty years ago was considered radical: abolitionism for example, isn’t that radical today is it? Sure there have been the John Browns in any struggle but the principles behind those actions were anything but radical, viewed with today’s lenses. I can make a strong case that if I were to hypothetically transport back, a hundred and fifty years in time to the antebellum period, the very people that staunchly oppose gay rights or gender rights or those that oppose even the most common sense gun control measures,  would have possibly been the very same ones opposing the abolition of slavery. I realize what I said above comes across as accusing someone of racism or bigotry and those are two of the worst things one can be accused of. That is certainly not my intent and my sincerest apologies to anyone reading this arriving at that conclusion.  It is a hypothetical argument, we can’t go back in time. Not yet anyways, but that is my view.
I do understand the slippery slope argument: If we start here, where does it end? For example, if we remove all confederate statues, where does it stop? George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were slave holders. Are we to take down their statues too? And rename the nation’s capital? To those making that argument I would say (and I read this part in a magazine article) that that is a false equivalence. The legacies of a Jefferson or a Washington are not defined by slavery. But a Lee or a Stonewall Jackson or a Jefferson (the other one, not my man Tommy J) Davis is defined by their support for a cause that was ultimately evil. No matter how principled and honorable the men themselves, as Lee is often revered in conservative circles. Revisionist historians’ views of what the Civil War was really about notwithstanding.

As a quote oft attributed to Abraham Lincoln or Dr. King goes: “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.” I say oft attributed to because Wikipedia informs me that it was a certain Theodore Parker that originally formed that quote. Wikipidea, a forum that incidentally is, according to the philosopher king Michael Scott “..the best thing ever. Anyone can write anything they want to about any subject. So you know you are getting the best possible information.”

Lakshman Hariharan

Prosper, TX


Of Legacies and Such

One of the complaints, or criticisms rather, I received about my previous post from two of the handful of regular readers I have was that the post wasn’t deep enough or long enough. One reader specifically said that just as she was starting to enjoy the post, it ended abruptly. Which, long winded as I usually am, came as a surprise. I figured that the atypical brevity would be welcome. So in this post I attempt to probe a deeper topic, one that is of intrigue to most of us. One that hopefully isn’t highfalutin, evoking eye rolls.

While I can’t guarantee what follows is profound, given the nature of the topic it won’t lack in the verbosity department. A forewarning though. If the topic depresses you then I suggest doing what I did last time to feel better. Eat a chocolate dipped strawberry. That will put an end to all such crises. Or just give enough time for the humdrum nature of everyday life to distract you. Trust me, it will eventually.

 All of us, at some point or other in life, have to come face to face with this. This topic has  intrigued me and I must say, have been scared of, ever since I was six or seven. Since that time we buried the family dog in my grandmother’s backyard. It was then that it hit me for the first time, like a ton of bricks that Tabby (as he was named) is dead, gone forever, will soon be forgotten and everyone will go on about their usual businesses.
Of late as I try to expand the range and scope of what I read, I’ve been reading about the universe, the space time continuum and such. Which has resulted in me having thoughts around the legacy I will be leaving behind. One other possible reason for these questions is that I hit the forty year mark in 2016, which makes me forty two around the time of writing this post. Reaching forty in itself is no achievement to speak of, let alone celebrate. The astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson says that the main reason we celebrate milestones of decades is because we count in base ten. If we counted in, say hexadecimal (base sixteen) we would celebrate anniversaries of sixteen, thirty two, forty eight, sixty four years and so forth. When put like that, forty or fifty then just become insignificant numbers. Agree or disagree with the thought, it did bring to my attention how many years I realistically have left on this earth and what I want to do with those years. If I go my father’s or grandfather’s way, I have nineteen years left, because my father didn’t quite make it to sixty two. Say I beat the odds and make it to seventy five. I then have thirty three years left on this earth. Either way you skin it, if life were plotted on a graph with time on the x-axis then I’m well into the latter half of that. As I look back at my four decades thus far, a few words and phrases come to mind but none of them are flattering. Mundane, conformity, run of the mill, garden variety, mediocre, average. The reader gets the picture.

So I’ve been a bit philosophical of late. As my ten year old asked me the other day: “Why do you have to turn everything into a lecture?”

One example of said lecture that comes to mind is when my six year old, innocently and impulsively said “I will break this.” I went on a sermon about how nobody remembers or thinks highly of people that break things, and how breaking is easy but building is hard, and so forth. Which, needless to say, evoked an eyeroll from the ten year old.

I would like to, put down here, a story from an ancient text.  What follows is a verbatim reproduction of Swami Vivekanada’s views on Vedanta.

In one of the Upanishads (the Katha Upanishad), the legend of Nachiketa goes thus. The young boy went to Yama, the lord of death. The closest analogy in the Judeo Christian realm I can draw for Yama is that of the Grim Reaper. So the young boy goes to none other than Yama himself and asks: “Some say of a dead man. ‘He is gone’; others, ‘He is still living.’ You are Yama, Death. You know the truth. Do answer me.”

Yama replies: “Boy do not ask of me this answer.”

But Nachiketa persists.

Yama again replies: “The enjoyment of all the gods, even these I offer you. Do not insist upon your query.” But Nachiketa was firm as a rock.

Then the god of death said: “My boy, you have declined, for the third time, wealth, power, long life, fame, family. You are brave enough to ask the highest truth. I will teach you. There are two ways: one of truth, one of enjoyment. You have chosen the former.

Now note here the conditions of imparting the truth. First purity — that a boy, a pure, unclouded soul, asking the secret of the universe. Second that he must take truth for truth’s sake.

My interpretation of it is that since most of us mortals aren’t capable of seeking truth for truth’s sake, we must die in order to find the ultimate truth. And what child, however prodigious, can seek truth? So it stands to reason, according to my interpretation of the above story is that most of us who do not possess the intellect to pose such questions while a child and pure, and do not possess the purity when we are grown up, we have to be dead to learn the ultimate truth. It is a lay person’s interpretation of one interpretation of the original text, so make what you will of it.

When I was younger I thought If I were to die and the world were to simultaneously end, then I don’t have a problem. I’m not missing anything because there is nothing else to miss. The world has also ended. As I grew older I realized how incredibly selfish that notion was. Thinking in terms of legacies and such it makes for a less selfish more holistic view. Or so I think.
If you made it thus far, thank you for reading.

Lakshman Hariharan
Nashville, TN

Overused words, choose wisely
If I were to die and the world were to end..
Older the philosophy the deeper and more complex
Children, what we leave behind
Humdrum life takes over or a chocolate covered strawberry..
Eulogies and embellishment.

Bullhorn or Bumper Sticker?

Mark Twain apparently had this lament about Alexander Graham Bell’s invention:”The human voice carries entirely too far as it is.”

He is also said to have, in the same vein continued that “If Bell had invented a muffler or a gag he would have done a real service.”

What then would he have made of social media and Facebook specifically? Surely I can’t be the first person to have wondered whether Facebook is a giant bumper sticker or a giant bullhorn. Or both? Speaking of bumper stickers, over the past few days, I’ve seen several bumper stickers on trucks that said, in no particular order:

“Nobody Cares About Your Protests.”
“This is a straight car.”
“Welcome to America. Now Speak English”

So lets set aside what my political leanings are or aren’t. Or my views on social conservatism (or liberalism). Those are moot. However, a couple of things do come to mind.

a. Do I really need to know that you’re a homophobe? Or does the whole world need to, for that matter? Or do the ones unfortunate to be stuck behind you in traffic?

b. Surely someone cares about the protests? I mean not one person? That has to be a factually incorrect statement.

To be fair I should add some liberal ones too I suppose. But I can only think of a funny one that said:

“Tree hugging dirt worshipper.”

This only confirms what psychologists call confirmation bias, perhaps and I just fail to take note of the ones I agree with even if they have some kind of divisive or hateful message. Plus some would say the same about this blog or platform I realize. Hate is too strong a word as the cliché goes but in this case it gets it pretty close I think.

A short one this, as I really have too much going on in life, for a change and have other things that are top of my list.
As always, thank you for indulging me and reading.

Lakshman Hariharan
Prosper, TX.