Monday, May 18, 2009

Misquotation or Misinterpretation

Which will you consider more dangerous, misquotation or misinterpretation? I had been reading few articles from Bhutanese news sites, and frequently the reporters are being accused of misquoting the interviewee. While the officials insist on having incorrectly quoted, reporters have their own justification and proofs of having quoted correctly – often with equal passion. Although this practice could lead to some unwelcome consequences, it is not really an irresolvable issue. If needs be, we can simply resolve it by bringing both parties to the same table. Perhaps the actual truth might be somewhere in-between the two extremes.

On the other hand, the problem of misinterpretation is in being subjective. While a phrase might be accurate word-to-word and letter-to-letter, the implied meaning would differ depending on the context, culture, and time it is being used. There are thousands of phrases which are being misinterpreted and have now become just another cliche. “Religion is the opium of the people” by Karl Marx is one of those phrases which is often quoted and often misinterpreted.

Nowadays the quote is being used to mean that religion makes people lunatic or delusional. It is not surprising since opium is being used for producing a drug-induced delusion for the person using it nowadays. The misinterpretation can also be attributed to the use of similar phrases like “religion is poison” by Chairman Mao during Chinese Revolution. The phrase appears in an introduction of a book – Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right – where Marx critiques Hegel’s Philosophy of Right paragraph by paragraph. Marx writes:

Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people

In the above quotation, Marx not only says that religion is the opium of the people, but also sigh of oppressed, heart of heartless, and soul of soulless. It is very important to take into account that opium is used as medicine – painkiller – during his time. Therefore he clearly states that religion provides a false solace – it does not make people delusional in any ways. He says that the purpose of religion is to create an illusory fantasy. Even if the living conditions and the economic situation prevents the poor people from finding happiness in this life, religion instructs them to take it positively since they will be rewarded in the next life. Therefore, religion provides solace for now and gives at best a questionable hope for future. Therefore Marx considers religion as an illusory happiness. He calls for the abolition of the illusory happiness since that is the ONLY way to demand the real happiness. Anyone would prefer the real happiness to illusory one, wouldn’t you?

In the recent incident of the murder of a woman by few Christian-converts, I have seen few people using Marx’s phrase to mean people become delusional or crazy because of religion. This certainly isn’t how Marx saw the world’s religion.

By the way, if you would like to read the text by Hegel and Marx, the links are provided below:

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Don't Fall Off the Mountain

"Don't Fall Off the Mountain", an autobiography book written by Shirley MacLaine narrates her childhood days in the suburbs of Virgina, adult days in New York and Hollywood, and the adventurous journeys – in search of her true identity – from the deserts of Africa to the high mountains peaks of the Himalayas. She writes about her involvement in the civil rights movement in the United States to her escape from the political revolution of the small Himalayan Kingdom.

She talks about the intolerance of the white Americans towards the African-Americans during the segregation and the Jim Crow's era. She takes a tour to Mississippi to “see their world through their eyes”. It was a era when every white, no matter what his work was, was a member of the KKK. She writes about the first hand accounts of the brutal acts of the KKK.

She describes about a journey she took along a klong in Thailand. Suddenly, an infant toppled head first into the klong and the parents don't make any attempts to save the infant but just watch their child drown. She rightly says that Buddhist believe that death is part of the cycle of life. But, I am not sure if she is right when she claims that many Buddhist will not interfere (will not try to save the drowning child) because we believe it is preordained fate. I am not sure if it is just a made up story or it actually happens in Theravada Buddhist culture – I'll have to do some more reading or will have to talk to some one. I find it hard to believe.

In remote Kenya, there is a small warrior tribe called Masai. Refusing to adapt to the white man's world, they prefer death to civilization. They rejects any form of development and feels that they're the elites among men. When a child enters adulthood, he will have to kill a lion single-handedly or die trying. It signifies their manhood and the skin of the lion they killed were hung from the door as a prize. Wives have value. They were purchased for a specific number of cattle, the price being fixed by the woman's father. Shirley describes about her stay with those tribes and gives a detailed account of their life-style and rituals. She becomes the Masai blood sister after a new born baby girl gets a name after her. Finally when she says good-bye, the chief asks her to tell her husband that he is going to buy her for five hundred cattle. “When he comes, we do business”, and with those words, they depart.

Then, she travels though India and describes the landscapes, people, and culture. She stops wearing pants and shirts and wears sari instead. After few months of stay at Kolkata, she finds herself a yoga instructor to instruct her. He says that the ultimate aim of yoga is “the liberation of the spirit, the union of the soul with the universe.” He said that get the inner truth continually and with startling clarity when we are on the mountain sanctuary. Thus, shes introduced to Bhutan.

One of her friend knew the Prime Minister of Bhutan, Dasho Lhuendrup Dorji, and he makes an appointment. She expects an old man sitting in lotus position, wrapped in saffron robes, and mediating. Suddenly a tall, slim and young Mongol of about twenty eight, dressed in black mohair trousers and red sports jacket walked towards her and introduced himself as “Lenny”. Lenny talks about his stay in the States while he was a student. Their conversation touched on New York City, Grand Central Station, Wall Street, LA Dodgers, etc. He talks about Bhutan and says it is still in the bronze age – only one telephone switchboard at the border, no electricity, and no wheels (except for the Indian industrial engineers who were constructing the highway from Phuentsholing to Paro). Anyways, she gets a permission to stay in Bhutan for a month.

Dasho Dorji was on his way to Switzerland – where His Majesty the third King was admitted to a hospital – to pay respect. So, he instructs a loyal Indian guide to go with Shirley to Paro. They travel along the Phuenstholing-Paro highway – which was under-construction. At Paro, she mets Dasho Nishioka and his wife. She visits few places like Taktshang and meets few spiritual masters.

Suddenly, the political environment in Bhutan gets hostile and all those people who are close to acting Prime Minister were arrested and acting Prime Minister was exiled. Dasho Lhendrup's non-Bhutanese wife(Mary) gets a mail saying that she should leave the country from a good friend of her. They make their journey to Phuentsholing and tries to cross the border. The guards catches them and takes them to Phuentsholing guest house. The army offered exit permit for Mary and Shirley but denied permit to Bhalla (the Indian guide). They tries to escape by hiding Bhalla under the luggage but gets caught at the second gate. Finally the queen grants an exit permit to Bhalla too and they leave the country to Kolkata. Mary narrates how the former Prime Minister Jigme P. Dorji was assassinated. She says that they were playing a card game. PM Jigme just won a game with a royal flush and was laughing when a bullet shot from the kitchen door of the guest house at Phuentsholing hit him. He died after some time after profuse bleeding. His last words, as per Mary who was holding him, was “Serve the king well.” The criminal was caught but he never spoke a word after getting caught. Thus they couldn't get into any details about the assassination.

She doesn't really go into the details of that incident, although I would have loved to read it. The book is written quite well and I would recommend to anyone who would want to read History, although she only offers one sided point-of-view. I would also love to hear from anyone who knows about those incident or would appreciate anyone who can direct me towards few materials about it.