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.

Vanity thought #1189. Gluttony

Earlier this year there was a documentary on TV called “7 Deadly Sins” that deals with, as the title says, deadly sins. So far I’ve watched only Gluttony but I’m sure I’ll explore the rest of it, too, perhaps excluding lust.

It’s produced by the guy who created “Super Size Me”, an experiment where he would eat nothing else but McDonald’s meals for one month, accepting a “super-size” option every time it was offered. He gained 11 kg and suffered a number of other problems, one of the doctor comparing the effects to severe binge alcoholism.

For gluttony episode of the series he chose two powerful spokesmen plus an unusual take on the after effects. First up was John Basso, a restaurateur on a mission to teach people that his food is bad for their health. He serves burgers and fries and high calories sodas and he makes them extra, despicably unhealthy. He was on an off the news for the past couple of years and every time he drives this same point home.

Each burger patty is accompanied by five slices of bacon that they do not drain of cooking grease, plus cheese and other stuff, and their French fries are fried in pure lard. The names are telling, too – It’s a “Bypass burger” and “Flatliner Fries”. The biggest, Quadruple Bypass Burger, has four patties, twenty slices of bacon, and four times the calories recommended for a whole day. Eat one and they’ll wheel you out in an actual wheelchair, as per restaurant’s theme – you are a patient, waiters are nurses, orders are prescriptions, and the owner is a doctor. Those who weigh over 160 kg are entitled to a free burger, on the house.

Notable restaurant’s achievements include death of their 260 kg spokesperson at the age of 29, heart attacks suffered by customers right at the restaurant, and all kinds of what normally would be considered bad publicity. But, strangely, that’s what drives the sales. People love it exactly for that – unadulterated promotion of gluttony at any cost.

The “doctor” has created an image for himself as some sort of a health crusader, trying to teach people about dangers of eating fast food, but they just don’t listen. Once he was interviewed on TV and he brought a plastic bad with actual remains of one of his dead customers. It was there, right on the table in front of the camera, ashes of someone who died eating his food, and people still ignore his point.

In this documentary he starts with the commercial featuring his now dead spokesman and he begs people to wake up and realize they are fat, not “plus size”, not portly, but fat, and they should lose weight or “Hurry up, die, and be done with it.” Later on he says that he doesn’t want to be popular, he wants to infamous and hated and he tries everything to be as despicable as possible.

Do people listen? No! They take it as a challenge instead. Why? Many just like the risk, like to brag that they have eaten these burgers and survived, but otherwise it’s just gluttony, and to display its power the producer presented 320 kg adult entertainer “Darling Nikky” talking about her love of food.

She goes on and one describing everything she likes and how it makes her feel “orgasmic”. I don’t know where they found her but she is a quite disgusting character in every respect. Well, she is friendly and cheerful but that’s about it, after that it’s “me me me” and “what I like to eat and how it makes me feel”. Charging people for looking at her body is how she makes her living. Google search doesn’t bring anything resembling porn but, at 324 kg she looks like a certified freak and some people apparently have a thing for that. Her current “boyfriend” features in this documentary, too.

Then we are shown the end of all these stories – how mortuaries deal with obesity. They make extra big coffins and such, but the worst part is the cremation – obese people to not fit in regular size furnaces, and when they are burned their melted fat starts dripping out. Picture that! They also have to be burned at lower temperatures so as to avoid potential “grease fire”.

Anyone is still up for eating? Extreme sense gratification is so gross we should always be aware of the path we step on every time we indulge ourselves. Human form of life is not meant for that.

This is what we have trouble accepting – human form of life is meant for total, complete, absolute renunciation of all sense enjoyment. Forget the materialists, it just doesn’t occur to them, but as devotees we still think “this can’t be true, there has got to be another way”.

We talk about yukta-vairāgya, we talk about prasādam, and it’s true, if we engage our senses in serving Kṛṣṇa we do feel being gratified just the same, but that is still not the purpose. Kṛṣṇa is the master of the senses, they are meant for His enjoyment, not ours, even the senses themselves are not ours, we just lay claim to them under the influence of false ego.

Being properly engaged in service gradually purifies our senses but in this case it’s not the process, it’s the result that is important – all sense gratification must eventually be renounced. Until that happens we can’t expect bhakti to blossom in our hearts. We can’t expect love and devotion for Kṛṣṇa to manifest in our lives.

Every time we catch ourselves thinking “oh, that feels good” is the time we shut down the door to inner Vṛndāvana, door to Kṛṣṇa. It could be food, it could be a soft bed, it could be a nice looking woman on a street – anything. This has got to stop.

There’s no way we can understand Kṛṣṇa’s desires if we are still interested in what our senses want instead, and if we don’t understand Kṛṣṇa, how can we serve Him? How can we satisfy Him? How can we lead our lives in a way that brings a smile to His face?

About that – people shown in this documentary are a glaring example why Kṛṣṇa has absolutely no interest in material life. He cannot possibly love us for what we are trying to be here – sense enjoyers expressing themselves through gross matter. Yesterday I talked about compassion – there could be no compassion for these material shells, it would only be a material sentiment. We need to see pure spiritual souls underneath, understand why Kṛṣṇa needs them, and then we can talk about compassion towards Kṛṣṇa who has been bereft of His legitimate loving relationships with these “people”.

I’m more and more inclined to agree that compassion is not “oh, these people do not have Kṛṣṇa” but rather “oh, Kṛṣṇa is deprived of their service, how can we help Him.” At this point I tend to think that love for other living entities is an unnecessary distraction. We should love only Kṛṣṇa, and relate to all others through His love for them, not directly.

OTOH, it’s not how we are told to relate to other devotees so there need to be some adjustments to this proposal. All in a good time, I hope.