Vanity thought #1190. Times are a-changin

Yesterday I talked about gluttony and sure they have given a couple of extreme examples in that documentary. It would not be fair to the world not to mention relatively positive developments in this area, not just for the balance but because the society really is changing. Maybe not everywhere and not in every aspect but we should give credit where it’s due anyway.

Earlier this week Jon Stewart, a comedian masquerading as a news presenter, talked about a “pig problem”. It was related to possibly the fattest politician alive so there were puns to be had at his expense but it was, literally, a pig problem.

New Jersey legislature passed a bill against pig farmers using “gestational crates” to keep pregnant pigs in. These crates are very small cages where pigs can’t turn around, can’t move, can’t even lie down to sleep. They are forced to stand up their entire pregnancy, which, for breeding pigs, takes 80% of their lives. It’s horrible, it’s torture, it drives animals insane.

What’s remarkable about this is that 93% of NJ population supports legislation against using these crates. People DO care even if they are not going to stop eating pork.

Stewart dealt with this very same dilemma, too – on one hand there are these poor pigs, tortured for life, and for what? Bacon. It’s impossible for him to say no to bacon, too, but at least he knows the price now.

Next he invited two guys for a mock up “debate” on this issue and the anti-crate guy started with some strong worded rhetoric about our responsibility to provide at least dignified life for animals we eventually kill for our pleasure. It’s a comedy show so they couldn’t say these things with a straight face but the strength of the argument was undeniable. These days everybody gets it, which is progress, considering that not a long time ago no one cared how pigs were raised and slaughtered at all.

Stewart’s next guest, an actress promoting a new movie, turned out to be vegan, perfect for the occasion. She was wise enough not to rub everyone’s face in hypocrisy of eating animals and that made her look even better. She avoided trivial question about taste of vegetarian food and instead talked about our moral fibers, appealing to a side of our heart that overrules petty demands of our tongues. All in all in it was brilliant.

Unfortunately, the decision to give up bacon was left to the audience but if there are any sincere individuals out there, they have been given all necessary information on the subject. It’s like that proverbial horse – you can take it to the water but you can’t make it drink.

Oh, and the politician promised to veto the bill anyway, but that’s politics, not our concern.

In the end, gluttony still wins, but barely.

Another good news this week was Washington Post’s review of the book called The Meaning of Human Existence by Edward O. Wilson. It’s a decidedly atheistic book about evolution and it extends the usual attack even further – Wilson argues that religions are product of evolution, too, following the same Darwinian laws as fruit flies and dung beetles.

He says, according to the review – I’m not going to read the book itself, that natural selection works not only on physical level but on societal level as well. That it’s not just about mechanical advantages given to certain individuals but survival between competing groups, too. Those who are better organized win, eventually establishing dominant cultures which then take over the rest of the world.

Surprisingly, the ability to communicate, collaborate, and divide labor is a trait that has been observed only on twenty occasions in the history of life, mostly among insects. Wilson is apparently world’s leading authority on ants so I’m not going to argue against that.

Religions, according to him, helped societies a lot in this battle for survival of the fittest. They provided binding and unifying force, ethics, trust etc. They also had side effects like sectarianism and religious wars but these are not the points I want to argue about today, I’m just giving a quick summary.

What this all means is that Wilson reduced our social life is to simple genetics and natural laws, stripping away our “free will”, and that’s what I liked this review for – they caught him on that.

Ultimately, there really is no free will in the material world, it moves according to the modes of material nature and under the influence of time, and karma rules the rest. For the purpose of this discussion, however – about a book on evolution, we need to talk about extraneous force – living entities who are beyond the modes of nature and who have their undeniable spiritual desires that can’t be explained through genetics.

On this level we need to assign values to good and bad karma, otherwise it would look all the same, like positive and negative ends of a battery. If it’s all just genetics then what’s so special about Martin Luther King or Mother Theresa, as someone said in the comments. Life then loses it’s meaning, and that’s what review caught the book on, too – it doesn’t live up to its title.

I’m glad that there are people out there who see this kind literature through and realize its limitations, and that these people are given voice in such prominent publications as Washington Post.

There was another good point there, too – Wilson predicts that neuroscience will soon identify the physical basis of consciousness. Good luck with that, will happen just after pigs fly, and after they learn to grow them from ground sand mixed with water. The review didn’t press Wilson on that, they probably didn’t even notice it, but we’ve been raised by Śrīla Prabhupāda and we smell this kind of promises from miles away. They stink.

One more thing about free will – on one hand it’s great that the reviewers exposed such a major shortcoming of this atheistic book, on the other hand denial of free will is a very mature realization. Even we, as devotees, still don’t get it and run around like ordinary karmīs trying to improve our lives. I’m not saying Wilson knows better but here he is like a broken clock caught in a moment when it happens to show the correct time.

To sum it up, the world suddenly doesn’t look like such a hopeless place. There are plenty of level headed individuals there who look open minded enough to accept the message of Lord Caitanya, if only we could go and reach out to them. The world looks Kṛṣṇa’s for the taking, ready to serve Him even for their own selfish reasons.

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