3.3 The Paradox of Perfection

Kimaya 2011.jpg

I contend that in an inexorable march towards that idyllic world, we had to create a mess to begin with! This is an extraordinary claim which requires extraordinary factual evidence.
In his book, Awareness, the great Jesuit priest and mystic, Fr. Anthony DeMello, wrote[16],

"You know, all mystics—Catholic, Christian, non-Christian, no matter what their theology, no matter what their religion—are unanimous on one thing: that all is well, all is well. Though everything is a mess, all is well."

Such mystics have experienced the truth and have therefore, cleansed themselves of their subliminal fears and self-recriminations. When all is well within, everything is perfect without. But is there a scientific basis for this assertion of perfection in the face of all evidence to the contrary? Can we indeed show that our delusion of separation from Nature was a necessary step in human evolution, as part of the compassionate perfection of reality?

Science searches for the truth through patterns in common experience. But nothing is sacred in science and skepticism is fundamental to progress in science. The eminent physicist and Nobel Laureate, Richard Feynman, said in an address to science teachers[17],

"Science.. contains within itself the lesson of the danger of belief in the infallibility of the greatest teachers of the preceding generation."  

Thus, questioning everything is the bedrock principle of science. Can our assertion of perfection withstand the cold, hard test of such skeptical, scientific scrutiny? Can we satisfactorily and logically explain all the seeming ills of our present human condition as having occurred for a common higher, teleological purpose? If so, for what purpose?

Can we see perfection in colonialism? Why did my Indian ancestors have to endure the indignity of colonialism in such a world of perfection? Indeed, colonialism is still prevalent today, though couched in more polite euphemisms. The indigenous peoples of the world are as colonized today as my ancestors were in the heyday of the British Raj. At present, indigenous people have little to no say in their own homelands, their treaties are routinely ignored, their homes destroyed, their wives and children raped and the rivers and lakes in their homelands are polluted without their consent, all in the name of progress[18]. The industrial world can't convert millions of acres of forests into grazing lands for cattle, soy fields for livestock feed in the Amazon, palm oil plantations in Indonesia and new mining strips in the Congo, every year, without trampling on the rights of indigenous people violently[19]. Even the newly independent states in the post-colonial era have been ensnared with debts through development projects under the Breton-Woods arrangements and made to cough up their natural resources as reparation[20]. That is economic colonialism, even if the ex-colonial masters no longer rule these nations.

Can we see perfection in slavery? Though human slavery is no longer legal in most parts of the world, it still persists in the illicit sex industry, in the recidivist prison population of the US, in bonded, child labor and in the forced labor pools of China. While African Americans constitute just 13% of the US population, they constitute almost half the prison population of the US[21]. According to Steve Fraser and Prof. Joshua Freeman, in the US[22],

"Nearly a million prisoners are now making office furniture, working in call centers, fabricating body armor, taking hotel reservations, working in slaughterhouses, or manufacturing textiles, shoes, and clothing, while getting paid somewhere between 93 cents and $4.73 per day,"

That is thinly disguised slavery! Besides, consider that all the people of the world subjected to total Internet surveillance by large corporations and the National Security Agency (NSA) of the US, lack free agency. Says Prof. Eben Moglen of Columbia University[23],

"We've lost the ability to read anonymously. Without anonymity in reading there is no freedom of mind, there's literally slavery."

Since Yahoo, Google, Facebook, Microsoft and the National Security Agency (NSA) are constantly recording and watching our every move online, they have literally enslaved every Internet user on the planet. Such ubiquitous surveillance is enslavement because there are thousands of obscure national, regional and international laws on the books that make each and every one of us vulnerable to prosecution for seemingly innocuous acts. For instance, in the US, the Lacey act, 16 U.S.C #3371-8 states[24]:

"It is unlawful for any person… to import, export, transport, sell, receive, acquire or purchase any fish or wildlife or plant taken, possessed, transported, or sold in violation of any law, treaty, or regulation of the United States or in violation of any Indian tribal law or in violation of any State law or in violation of any foreign law."

Suddenly, even our email exchanges over last night's dinner could be grounds for our prosecution and conviction.

Can we see perfection in racism? Despite the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in the US, which made discrimination on the basis of race illegal, institutional racism still persists in the common day to day interactions between people of different races. The police routinely arrest more African Americans and American Indians for the same crime than White Americans, despite studies, which show that statistically, these groups commit crimes at roughly the same rate. African Americans are 4.4 times more likely to be arrested for property offenses, 6.4 times more likely to be arrested for violent offenses and 9.4 times more likely to be arrested for drug offenses[25]. Such racism is flourishing not just in the US, but also around the world. Neo Nazi groups are openly active in many countries, promoting hate on the basis of skin color and other such superficial externalities[26].

Can we see perfection in casteism? Casteism, or discrimination on the basis of birth lineage, is the uniquely Indian version of racism. Though casteism is officially frowned upon in India, tradition has kept the fire of casteism burning even as it consumes the intellectual treasures of India, the creativity of her people[27].

Can we see perfection in ableism, in society's discrimination on the basis of ability? Can we see perfection in ageism, in society's discrimination on the basis of age? Even though most countries have outlawed such discrimination, they are still common in our daily lives[28].

Can we see perfection in sexism, in society's institutionalized, paternalistic discrimination against women? Though sexism is largely condemned in society's legal strictures, it is still an all too common occurrence. Says Lori Girshick[29],

"When people watch a video of abused women or hear abused women and men speak about the beatings, rapes, and dominations experienced at the hands of partners and ex-partners, these people are clearly moved with compassion for their plight. However, feeling compassion for these individual survivors is very different from understanding that there is a social system that influences and condones this violence, a legal system that inadequately addresses it, a media system that encourages power-over, and a sexist belief system inherent in the religious teachings, gender roles, and traditions that form the context in which we all operate."

Can we see perfection in poverty, hunger and the inequity that plagues human societies today? While nearly a billion people go hungry around the world with 45% of the children below the age of 5 malnourished in India, more than a billion people around the world are overweight or obese and clearly, don't want to be either[30]. While Mukesh Ambani, the Indian billionaire, has built a $1B 27-story home in the middle of Mumbai, India, for himself and his four family members, millions of people stew in slums just a few miles from his opulent home[31].

Can we see perfection in homophobia, one of the last, legally sanctioned discriminatory practices against other human beings within human societies[32]? The struggles of our Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual and Queer (LGBTQ) brethren to achieve legal equality are still ongoing in many conservative societies, though progress is being made at a rapid pace as of late. But as our experience with racism and sexism shows, legal equality is just the beginning of a long continuous struggle for lived equality.

Can we see perfection in speciesism, literally the mother of all the violent, discriminatory practices in human societies? While many people would fundamentally agree with the concept of equality for all humans, they would still mentally classify animals as different; to be used as we please. But as we have progressively enlightened ourselves over the years to accord equal consideration to all humans regardless of race, color, creed, caste, sexual orientation or gender identity, isn’t it time that we enlighten ourselves to accord equal consideration to all sentient beings? Don’t all sentient beings deserve to live free of socially sanctioned, deliberately inflicted, misery and suffering? The Australian philanthropist, Philip Wollen, has asserted that[33],

“Animal rights is now the greatest social justice issue since the abolition of slavery.”

Speciesism is the belief in the superiority of one species, namely human beings, over all other species on the planet. It is a pervasive, legally sanctioned violence, perpetrated routinely by billions of people all over the world, without a second thought, at least three times a day. In most societies, eating animal foods is considered "Normal, Natural or Necessary," Dr. Melanie Joy's three N's of justification, in any system of oppression[34]. As the writer, philosopher and holocaust survivor, Isaac Bashevis Singer, wrote in his book, Enemies: A Love Story[35],

"As often as Herman had witnessed the slaughter of animals and fish, he always had the same thought: in their behavior towards creatures, all men were Nazis. The smugness with which man could do with other species as he pleased exemplified the most extreme racist theories, the principle that might is right.”

Isaac Singer also famously said that animals, especially animals raised for food, endure "an eternal Treblinka" at the hands of human beings, a reference to the Jewish extermination camp that the Nazis operated in Poland during the Second World War. The language of oppression is deployed to support institutionalized speciesism, where non-human animals become objectified as "it"s rather than "he"s or "she"s with distinct identities. If we were publicly exposed, maiming, raping, enslaving or murdering another human being, we would go to prison in almost every country on Earth. But if we maim, rape, enslave or kill an animal, we could still be regarded as fine, upstanding members of society in almost every country on Earth. In the United States, taxpayers subsidize practitioners of such behavior[36]. To add insult to the injury of animals, in the US, it is those who actively oppose the maiming, raping, enslaving and killing, who would be subjected to prosecution under the USA Patriot Act and the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act for impeding the profits of the Animal Agriculture industry[37]. In many US states that have "Ag Gag" laws on the books, it is illegal for citizens to exercise their First Amendment rights to free speech and document the maiming, raping, enslaving and killing of non-human beings[38]! The current socioeconomic system vitally depends upon the perpetuation of violence towards animals to promote consumption as an organizing value.

Can we see perfection in all this violence and oppression? Speciesism is inextricably tied to the concept of property ownership and property rights that allow human beings to fence in land and "tame Nature.” How can such sheer arrogance be part of perfection? It is only the rarest of souls, such as Pam and Anil Malhotra of SAI Sanctuary, who acquire property rights to tear down the fences and return land back to Nature.  

Further, when we assert that, "Everything is Perfect" now, then everything must have been perfect in the past as well. Therefore, can we see perfection in the Nazi holocaust itself? Or more generally, can we see perfection in the documented genocides of the past, the genocide of Central Asian peoples in Stalin's Russia, the genocide of American Indians in the US, the genocide of Armenians in Turkey, the genocide of Cambodians during Pol Pot's regime, the genocide of Indians and Pakistanis during the Great Migration of 1948? Or, how about the ongoing genocide in the Middle East in the endless Global War on Terrorism? Or the genocide in the Congo, where 6 million people have been killed since the mid 90s, mainly to support the industrial procurement of cheap minerals from that resource rich country, so that we can all have disposable electronics and ever-fancier cell phones[39]?

Can we see perfection in the carnage of the First and Second World Wars, in the instant nuclear holocausts of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Can we see perfection in nuclear accidents such as Chernobyl and in the ongoing, slow motion catastrophe of Fukushima where nuclear cores are still in active meltdown[40]? With respect to humanity's continuing flirtation with nuclear catastrophes, General Lee Butler of the US Strategic Air Command said[41],

"Humanity has so far survived the nuclear age by some combination of skill, luck and divine intervention, and I suspect the latter in greatest proportion."

The harrowing tales of our lucky nuclear near misses are enough to turn any open-minded atheist into a devout believer in divine Providence.

Can we see perfection in the thousand-fold increase in species extinction rates on Earth? According to the American Museum of Natural History, we are in the midst of the Sixth Great Mass Extinction event in the Earth's history and this time, it is not due to asteroids, comets or volcanic eruptions, but due to human activities[42]. Species are dying out due to habitat destruction, the introduction of invasive species, chemical pollution, overexploitation, anthropogenic climate change and just plain human overconsumption. While extinction means that the last of the species has died out, almost every surviving species on Earth, except for our domesticated species, has had to endure a catastrophic reduction in numbers. Populations of tigers, lions, giraffes, elephants, dolphins, whales, tuna and salmon, to name a few, are all down 90% or more, though they are not yet extinct. How can we see perfection in all this violence and killing?

Can we see perfection in the relentless progression of climate change? There is no question that the Earth's climate is undergoing rapid changes, with the imminent melting of the sea ice in the Arctic ocean, the irreversible melting of the West Antarctic ice sheet, the potentially irreversible melting of most of the Greenland ice sheet and the continued melting of other land-locked glaciers as lead indicators of such climate change[43]. This melting of the great ice masses on Earth is a nonlinear phenomenon that exhibits hysteresis and can be reversed only if we manage to cool the Earth to pre-industrial levels[44]. As we prepare for coastal cities to be inundated by the rising ocean, we know that some cities such as Miami in Florida, USA, cannot even be saved through the engineering of sea walls etc., as they are situated on a bedrock of porous limestone and the ocean would inundate the cities from below. Further, with increasing temperatures, we will experience unprecedented extremes in wildfires, droughts and deluges throughout the Earth. How can we see perfection in all this carnage and destruction?

Finally, can we see perfection in the burgeoning human population, which is still increasing towards an estimated peak of 9-10 billion people by 2050? In his book, Harvesting the Biosphere, Prof. Vaclav Smil estimates that the dry biomass of all wild land mammals on the planet is 5M tons, while the dry biomass of human beings is 55M tons and the dry biomass of all human domesticated mammals is 120M tons[45]. That is, wild mammals comprise around 3% of the biomass of all land mammals on Earth with humans and their domesticated mammals comprising around 97% of the biomass! According to the UN IPCC AR5, Chapter 11, native ecosystems have now been reduced to a mere 8% of the Earth's land surface area, while the remaining 92% show extensive transmutations from human terra-forming activities. Yet, human encroachment into the habitats of the wild animals continues as human population and consumer appetites continue to grow. Can we see perfection in this truly gargantuan scale of our current human enterprise?

[16] Anthony DeMello, Awareness: The Perils and Opportunities of Reality, Image Publishers, June 1990, ISBN-13: 978-0385249379, http://amzn.to/25eUxt6

[17] This quote is taken from Richard Feynman’s 1966 address to science teachers: http://www.feynman.com/science/what-is-science/

[18] Examples abound of such egregious actions: http://bit.ly/1XnNTuw

[19] We can monitor forest loss real time at http://www.globalforestwatch.org/

[20] Perkins, John, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, Plume, Dec 2005, ISBN-13: 978-0452287082.

[21] Of the prison population of 2.3 million people in the US, nearly 1 million are African Americans: http://www.naacp.org/pages/criminal-justice-fact-sheet

[22] Please see Fraser and Freedman’s article in http://www.salon.com/2012/04/19/21st_century_chain_gangs/

[23] Taken from Prof. Eben Moglen’s lecture at Columbia University in November, 2013: http://snowdenandthefuture.info/PartIII.html

[24] The Lacey Act is featured in the video on why you shouldn’t talk to the police: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6wXkI4t7nuc

[25] Hartney, Christopher and Vuong, Linh, “Created Equal: Racial and Ethnic Disparities in the US Criminal Justice System,” National Council on Crime and Delinquency Report, March 2009. http://www.nccdglobal.org/sites/default/files/publication_pdf/created-equal.pdf

[26] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neo-Nazism

[27] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caste_system_in_India

[28] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ageism

[29] Quote taken from Tuttle, Will, ed., Circles of Compassion: Essays Connecting Issues of Justice, Vegan Publishers, Jan 2015, ISBN-13: 978-1940184067, http://amzn.to/1TsYKAO

[30] See news article in http://dailym.ai/1TuGjgg

[31] See news article in http://bit.ly/1OQsGYL

[32] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homophobia

[33] Quote taken from the video: http://bit.ly/1JNlrZx

[34] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carnism

[35] Singer, Isaac Bashevis, Enemies, a Love Story, Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, Jan 1997, ISBN-13: 978-0374515225, http://amzn.to/1WIAY81

[36] Please see article http://bit.ly/1nWABFe

[37] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Animal_Enterprise_Terrorism_Act

[38] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ag-gag

[39] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Congo_War

[40] Lochbaum et al., Fukushima: The Story of a Nuclear Disaster, The New Press, Feb 2014, ISBN-13: 978-1595589088, http://amzn.to/1U6ll3h

[41] The quote is taken from the interview here: https://www.wagingpeace.org/general-lee-butler/

[42] http://www.mysterium.com/amnh.html. See also, Barnosky, A. D., et al., “Approaching a State Shift in Earth’s Biosphere,” Nature,  486, pp. 52–58, 07 June 2012, doi:10.1038/nature11018,  http://go.nature.com/1JF0gw5

[43] http://time.com/4340269/antarctica-climate-change-ice-melt/

[44] Notz, D., “The future of ice sheets and sea ice: Between reversible retreat and unstoppable loss,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 106 no. 49, pp. 20590–20595, doi: 10.1073/pnas.0902356106, http://bit.ly/2bTsNDX

[45] Smil, Vaclav, Harvesting the Biosphere: What We Have Taken from Nature, MIT Press, Dec 2012, ISBN-13: 978-0262018562, http://amzn.to/20jbSdA