I want to wrap up this series on atheism with a personal story about the point in time where I started diverging from the concept of God. I was very young then, about five years old. I had lost a pencil. It had just slipped out of my schoolbag, which was nothing more than a plastic basket with open weaves and a handle. When I realized that I had lost the pencil, I was quite upset. I think I was worried that I would get a scolding for my carelessness. You see, my family wasn’t rich. We were slightly better off than the households in our neighborhood, but quite poor by any global standards. The new pencil was, to me, a prized possession.
Personally, one of the main reasons I started taking the conspiracy theories about 9/11 seriously is the ardor and certainty of the so-called debunkers. They are so sure of their views and so ready with their explanations that they seem rehearsed, coached or even incentivized. Looking at the fire-induced, symmetric, and free-fall collapse of WTC7, how can anyone with any level of scientific background be so certain? The best a debunker could say would be something like, “Yes, the free-fall and the symmetry aspects of the collapse do look quite strange. But the official explanation seems plausible. At least, it is more plausible than a wild conspiracy by the government to kill 3000 of our own citizens.” But that is not at all the way they put it. They laugh at the conspiracy theories, make emotional statements about the technical claims, and ignore the questions that they cannot explain away. They toe the official line even when it is clearly unscientific. They try to attack the credibility of the conspiracy camp despite the obvious fact that it has the support of many seasoned professionals, like architects, physics teachers, structural engineers and university professors.
In the first post in this series, we saw that 7 World Trade Center building was the smoking gun of a possible conspiracy behind the 9/11 attack. The manner in which it collapsed and the way the collapse was investigated are strong indications of a conspiracy and a cover up. However, when I first heard of the conspiracy theory in any serious form, the first question I asked myself was why – what possible motive could any person or organization have to commit mass murder at this scale? I honestly couldn’t see any, and as long as you don’t see one, you cannot take these conspiracy theories seriously. Of course, if you buy the official story that the conspiracy actually originated in Afghanistan among terrorist monsters, you don’t need to look for any rational motives.
Some people are more susceptible to conspiracy theories than others. I am one of them. But even to me, the 9/11 conspiracy theories sounded ludicrous at first. I couldn’t see any possible motivation for anyone to go and murder 3000 people, nor any possible way of getting away with it. But there were things that could not be explained in the way the buildings came down, especially the World Trade Center Building 7, WTC7. So I went through as much of the conspiracy literature, and their debunking as I could. After a month or so of casual research, I have to say that a conspiracy is plausible, and even likely. I thought I would share my thoughts here, with apologies to anyone who might find this line of thinking offensive.
My father once told me an anecdote about SM Lee Kuan Yew. My father had no direct connection with Singapore, but had a friend of his working as a newspaper reporter here in the seventies. This friend, Majeed, was a small-time reporter, not at all famous in any way. He happened to be at a press conference given by Mr. Lee Kuan Yew once. Majeed asked Mr. Lee a question, who at that moment got distracted by some other reporter asking something else. Mr. Lee held up his hand to Majeed and said, “I will be with you in a minute, Majeed” and proceeded to field the other question. This might have seemed like an unremarkable exchange to anybody, but to Majeed, it was an astonishing revelation.
In Hinduism, there is a fundamental trinity of gods – Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. They are to be understood as birth, existence and death. They are the gods of creation, well-being and destruction, as our grandmothers told us.
I have had the pleasure of driving in many parts of the world. Being fairly observant and having a tendency to theorize about everything, I have come to form a general theory about driving habits as well.
You see, each place has a set of driving norms, a grammar or a dialect of driving, if you will. In Marseille, France, for instance, if you switch on your turn signal on a multilane street, people will immediately let you in. It’s not because they are polite and considerate drivers (quite the contrary, in fact), but a turn signal indicates the drivers’ intention to change lanes, not a request to let them. They are not seeking permission; they are merely letting you know. You’d better let them in unless you want a collision. In Geneva (Switzerland), on the other hand, the turn signal is really a request, which is usually denied.
Some recent events have prompted me to revisit this uncomfortable topic — why do we grieve when someone dies?
Most religions tell us that the departed, if they were good in life, end up in a better place. So grieving doesn’t make sense. If the departed were bad, we wouldn’t grieve any way.
Even if you are not religious, and do not believe in an eternal soul, death cannot be a bad thing for the dead, for they feel nothing, because they do not exist, which is the definition of death.
I was as shocked as everybody else when I heard the news of Robin Williams’s apparent suicide. I wanted to write something about it because I am ardent fan of his work. In fact, I’m a fan of all those talented people who can make others laugh, starting from Ted Danson of Cheers to Jon Stewart of the Daily Show, and all the f.r.i.e.n.d.s in between.
It also gets me thinking. Most of us want to be rich and famous. But money and fame don’t seem to be enough to keep anybody happy. Why is that? As usual, I have a theory about it. In fact, I have two. I will share both with you, but keep in mind that these are merely the theories of an unreal blogger, nothing more. The theories notwithstanding, right now, I just feel profoundly sad, almost as though Robin Williams was somebody I knew and cared about. It is silly, of course, but something about his age (and how uncomfortably close it is to mine), the suddenness of his death, and the fact that he made us laugh out loud, makes his parting something of a personal loss.
I found something weird. People seem to like sad movies — tear-jerkers. But nobody likes to be sad. I mean, you watch great tragedies with genuine sadness, and then go around saying, “What a great movie!” If whatever happened in the movie really happened to you or somebody you knew, you wouldn’t say, “Wow, great!” Why is that?
I think a good answer is that such depictions in movies let you experience the emotional intensity with no immediate physical (or even emotional) danger. If you were actually on the Titanic, you would at least have taken a cold dip even if you survived. But watching Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio battle for their lives probably lets you experience their fear and pain from the comfort of your armchair, with popcorn and soda to intensify the feeling.