Saturday, December 18, 2010

Integral Yoga is the ultimate of social activism

The Gita, like Aurobindo , elucidates the divine human who has the ability to perform the work of God, like the soldier Arjuna, firm in transcendent worldly action. From here Aurobindo extends the Gita into evolutionary possibilities for the liberation of all humanity, for as the Gita brings hope to the individual for liberation why not also the collective? 
Here again we see a slight expansion from Hindu tradition. Aurobindo is inspiring in his ability to take the tradition into modernity adapting for the purpose. Aurobindo remains true to the heart of the tradition and it seems that he succeeds in carrying out the spirit of Hinduism to its simple, logical, spiritual heights. If, according to the Gita, there is hope for every human no matter how wretched in their transgressions against the will of Spirit, why not also provide hope for humanity as a whole. Just as Aurobindo succeeded in offering the spirit of acceptance, inclusion and adaptation from the tradition to modernity, he succeeds in transmitting the message of the Gita and further the spirit of its cause by adapting it to the global community and the modern subject. Aurobindo seems to have the vast tradition, the yogis, the gurus of the past cheering him on into modernity. Aurobindo, at the same time, exemplifies the spirit of the Western exploration by pioneering new territory for the Indian tradition. Posted by Adam Dietz at 9:04 AM TUESDAY, DECEMBER 14, 2010

Integral Yoga and Social Concern
Just as Aurobindo shows us the social-political ramifications, outer ramifications, Western necessity, for pursuing the divine for the sake of fulfilling a sort of divine evolution, he also examines the inner tradition in terms of Yoga. Aurobindo refers to the various Indian traditions in which we find inner experience such as the Kundalini experience. He examines the various yogas as separate and distinct paths that must become synthesized. He explains that as we advance in one arena of spirit its effects manifest themselves in the other arenas. If we advance in the mental we will see the fruits of our relation to spirit manifest in action and devotion as well. Aurobindo ties these together with the additional benefit seen in Tantric yoga, the benefit of enjoying the outer universe as an extended experience of the Divine. Again we see the pattern of Aurobindo to synthesize the ancient tradition, and again we see him take it to its logical conclusion. If the yoga benefits the practitioner in all arenas of experience then would not, from the modern, global perspective, the yoga benefit humanity as a whole? Wouldn't Tantric yoga have implications in the broader social and political realms of experience. Aurobindo asks the practitioner of any yoga to, upon the growth in relation to spirit in the realm of the personal exercise, begin to seek the growth of the spiritual relation in all realms of life. Yoga for Aurobindo is the discipline by which the individual may free the self from the many egoic veils that obscure the manifestation of spirit.
Again, if this is the possibility for the individual why then is it not also the possibility for the group? In this sense Aurobindo believes that Integral Yoga is the ultimate of social activism. To lower the veils obscuring our relation to the Divine through discipline, to begin to see those veils being lowered in integral life, and to begin to see the possibility of lowering those veils through sympathetic, or better, empathetic action, is the beginning of the next stage in evolution. Again this is where Aurobindo simply extends the spirit of the Hindu tradition into realms that were not as widely understood in the 'smaller' ancient world. Aurobindo simply applies the spirit of the tradition to suit his experience with the modern world, a world in which social, global questions are increasingly significant. Many efforts are made by many people for social justice, Aurobindo’s own philosophy arose partly out of grave concern for changing India. But his answers come in the form of intense spiritual practice, a synthesizing practice that plays within the outer world but always remains rooted in its relationship to Divinity. The cultivation of spirit in oneself and in the larger social sphere is for Aurobindo the ultimate act of social concern. If, as the Gita illustrates, each human no matter their transgressions has the capacity for spiritual achievement then the logical extension of this would be the capacity for large scale group achievement. Posted by Adam Dietz at 6:20 AM FRIDAY, DECEMBER 17, 2010
Ethics and Spirituality Today

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Discrimination and persecution in the Ashram are the first things that have to go

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "This is Sri Aurobindo’s Ashram not yours and not P...": 
There is certainly truth in what you are saying. Indians today do have a long way to go in improving the lives of other Indians. […]
Indians are at least taught, through her teachers, to find the Divine in all things and beings. It is this and not some extremem discrimination that makes India unique among peoples and nations. This is a fundamental truth that even Sri Aurobindo repeats throughout His Works. If we have fallen from that state and strayed from that teaching then it is because of some fundamental weakness and error for which Sri Aurobindo provides the necessary corrective. If you feel that there is still a sense of discrimination and persecution in the Ashram then that is absolutely one of the first things that have to go, even as a preliminary to entering the spiritual life, which fundamentally rests on seeing and loving the One Divine Truth in all things and beings. Posted by Anonymous to Savitri Era Open Forum at 8:54 PM, October 19, 2010

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "This is Sri Aurobindo’s Ashram not yours and not P...": 
ashramites are deeply conscious of their "chosen ones", superior air.
they talk about being equal amongst themselves but it is in theory.the bengalis consider themselves superior, due to art, culture, intellect. the business class gujarati/marwari is inferior, the working class oriyas are treated worse in the ashram as brainless, poor etc. […]
gave some books on dalits to the ashram school/library and the response was uncomfortable, as if the problem does not exist or is not their agenda. okay agree on it.
just a few kms. outside pondy near villupuram and other areas, dalit discrimination is in full force. such as 2 tumbler system in tea shops. etc.
on ecr road before pondy university, after tsunami, the upper castes did not allow dalit bodies to go through certain areas.
okay ashramites/devotees are not supposed to solve these problems, but to talk about equality and toilet cleaner as archivist etc, is not fair. these issues and work of archives is not easy, takes years to learn, and the archives always, had to take help of experts, as many owrking there were not trained, so this talk of anyone doing it is not fair. Posted by Anonymous to Savitri Era Open Forum at 7:52 PM, October 20, 2010

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Standing by the authentic and the elevating

Comment posted by RY Deshpande Re: Sraddhalu Ranade writes to Manoj Das ... Manoj Das’s Disastrous Advice
These are all human problems arising out of human clumsiness. As long as it is there, they are there. But one goes to a spiritual institution for spiritual progress and not for, for instance, writing academic treatises for the sake of treatises. Unless these turn into spiritual aids, they have no value and any representation of such things to the ‘outside’ world then becomes a misrepresentation. It is that which becomes the source of annoyance. 
Intolerance of such an annoyance may not be absolutely yogic, but fighting against hostility that always surrounds it is also an aspect of yogic business, including fighting against authorities that uphold it. Repugnance towards untruth is to promote greater sincerity in the values that are cherished. Never can truth and falsehood stay together if spiritual pursuit is the concern, and dismissing falsehood is a part of that concern. In it precisely lies the hero-warriorship and standing by it is an act of spiritual nobility. There is no other identity in it except standing by the authentic and the elevating which comes only by developing finer perceptions. ~ RYD

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Seven distinctive features of Indian secularism

Social citizenship rights of Canadian Muslim youth: youth resiliencies and the claims for social inclusion. CONCLUSION: THE BEGINNINGS OF A WAY FORWARD 
Given the discussion so far that point to the very serious limitations of the Canadian secular welfare state to recognize social citizenship rights of Canadian-Muslims in socially inclusionary ways, alternative ways of defining secular welfare state's relationship with its faith-based communities need to be conceived. Rajeev Bhargava (2008), an eminent Indian political theorist has undertaken compelling theoretical work in this direction, by grounding his analysis from lessons learnt through expressions of secularism found in India. Starting with the admission that the Indian state has its own failings, Bhargava analyzes the constitutional claims that the Indian State offers an ideal for a rearticulation of secularism that takes the rights, interests and values of the multiple faith-based communities within which social citizenship rights are negotiated.

There are seven features of Indian secularism that Bhargava (2008: 101-103) feels can provide western welfare states with alternative definitions of secularism and which correspond to the earlier critique of the Canadian welfare state as an example of western secularism discussed in this paper. The first is its multi-value character. Bhargava argues that the Indian state takes seriously values that have been forgotten in western secular states, such as peace between communities as well as defining values of autonomy and equality in both individualistic as well as non-individualistic ways. This recalls the earlier discussion in this paper which was concerned with the limitations that were placed on faith-based communities through individualistic definitions of autonomy that overlooked the resiliencies that Muslim youth spoke of when they envisioned themselves as being part of something greater than their self. Thus Indian state supports the rights of faith-based communities to establish and maintain educational institutions that are crucial to the survival of these communities. This is very unlike Canada where the state feels it has no role to play in relation to such educational institutions unless it is a policing role.

Second, India is concerned with issues of domination in inter-religious as well as intra-religious relations. Thus it recognizes community-specific socio-cultural rights of faith based communities. Within Canada recognition of the socio-cultural rights of faith-based communities is withheld and rationalized in terms of the harm that can occur to citizens' individual rights of autonomy and equality within faith-based communities. In particular the state invokes Muslim women's rights of equality within their faith-based communities to make the case (Kymlicka 1995). Hence, as discussed earlier, faith is relegated to a private space. In the example of the Indian state, these thorny issues of community and individual rights of autonomy are viewed as maters of state concern and the effort is to set up institutions that can help negotiate and balance these sometimes conflicting claims to autonomy, rather than turning a blind eye to the lives of citizens for whom their communities of faith are central to their lived experiences of being citizens.

Third, building on the first two features discussed above, is that the Indian state is committed to the idea of principled distance rather than the mutual exclusion model of secularism that is characteristic of the Canadian welfare state. The mutual exclusion model, as has been previously discussed sees the state as having no connection to religion and vice versa. India recognizes some level of inclusion at the level of law and public policy, so long as the principles of autonomy and equality (defined in more communal terms) are not trammeled. India recognizes the falsity of a separation that is mutually exclusive because it recognizes that for some of her citizens such a separation would be meaningless in terms of their lived experiences. In the following quote Bhargava defines what he means by principled separation in an eloquent and nuanced fashion that resonates with many of the arguments made in this paper:
      ... for mainstream western secularism, separation    means mutual exclusion. The idea of principled distance unpacks the metaphor of separation differently. It accepts a disconnection between state and religion at the level of ends and institutions but does not make a fetish of it at the third level of policy and law.... How else can it be in a society where religion frames some of its deepest interests?.... a secularism based on principled distance s not committed to the mainstream Enlightenment idea of religion. It accepts that humans have an interest in relating to something beyond themselves including God, and this manifests itself as individual belief and feeling as well as social practice in the public domain. (2008: 103)
A fourth characteristic of Indian secularism is the distinction that it makes between unpublicized and depoliticization. It does not depublicize religion, as mentioned earlier; it provides public space for faith-based groups through its laws and public policy; however it depoliticizes religion in one form, by insisting on a disconnection between the ends of its own activities and those of religious organizations. In other words the state does not exist to serve the ends of religious organizations; it exists to serve its own political ends. Similarly at an institutional level it remains disconnected from religious organizations whose own institutions and personnel are different from the personnel that run and maintain state organizations. This is in contrast to theocratic states like Iran who's political and religious institutions are run more explicitly by the same people and on the basis of their attachment to faith.

Fifth, the Indian definition of state secularism is defined by active hostility to some aspects of religion that are incommensurate with secular liberal notions of social justice whilst maintaining active respect for its other dimensions. This allows for faith-based communities to have a voice and visibility in society but disallows it from using that voice to discriminate against its own or others. Faith communities are open to critique but not to active hostility or "respectful indifference," which could work as a wonderful alternative to address the concerns of Canadian citizens who fear limitations on their freedom of speech to critiques religious organizations, while addressing the needs of faith-based communities for respect.

A sixth feature is the malleability of the Indian state to allow for various and multiple definitions of secularism. The rather rigid definition of Canadian state secularism does not allow for such fluidity leaving secular Muslims at a loss of accounting for and articulating the complex characteristics of their identity.

Finally Indian secularism challenges normative notions modern welfare secular states by providing an alternative that is both modern but departs significantly from mainstream conceptions of western secularism (Bhargava 2008: 103). It speaks to the importance of young Canadian-Muslims to be both a part of modern Canadian society as well as deeply attached to the world vies offered by their faith, without having them choose between the two as incompatible.

In summary the Indian example of secularism treats faith-based communities as participating citizens whose voice is made visible in their own terms and as members of faith-based groups through a vision of social justice that is inclusionary of liberal conceptions of autonomy and equality--and much more. COPYRIGHT 2009 Association of Arab-American University Graduates. No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder. Copyright 2009 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Friday, August 20, 2010

World Union & Religion of Humanity

Volumes 6-7
PDF last updated: 15 Aug 09
Bande Mataram — I–II
All surviving political writings and speeches from 1890 to 1908.
The two volumes consist primarily of 353 articles originally published in the nationalist newspaper Bande Mataram between August 1906 and May 1908. Also included are political articles written by Sri Aurobindo before the start of Bande Mataram, speeches delivered by him between 1907 and 1908, articles from his manuscripts of that period that were not published in his lifetime, and an interview of 1908.
Volume 8
PDF last updated: 15 Aug 09
All surviving political writings and speeches of 1909 and 1910.
This volume consists primarily of articles originally published in the nationalist newspaper Karmayogin between June 1909 and February 1910. It also includes speeches delivered by Sri Auro bindo in 1909.
Volume 25
PDF last updated: 15 Aug 09
The Human Cycle — The Ideal of Human Unity — War and Self-Determination
Three works of social and political philosophy.
In The Human Cycle, Sri Aurobindo traces the evolution of human society and suggests where it is headed. In The Ideal of Human Unity, he examines the possibility of the unification of the human race. In War and Self-Determination, he discusses the sovereignty of nations in the aftermath of the First World War. These works were first serialised in the monthly review Arya between 1915 and 1920; later Sri Aurobindo revised them for publication.

Volume 36
PDF last updated: 15 Aug 09
Autobiographical Notes and Other Writings of Historical Interest
Sri Aurobindo's writings on himself (excluding the letters in volume 35,Letters on Himself and the Ashram) and other material of historical importance.
The volume is divided into four parts: (1) brief life sketches, autobiographical notes, and corrections of statements made by others in biographies and other publications; (2) letters of historical interest to family, friends, political and profession al associates, public figures, etc; also letters on yoga and spiritual life to disciples and others; (3) public statements and other communications on Indian and world events; (4) public statements and notices concerning Sri Aurobindo's ashram and yoga. Much of the material is being published here for the first time in a book.
Volume 37
Reference Volume (TO BE PUBLISHED)
Index, glossary, editorial notes, supplementary texts.
This volume will include a complete index to the Complete Works, a glossary of Sanskrit and other Indian terms, a chronology of Sri Aurobindo's life, a bibliography of his works, a note on editorial method, a list of emendations and errata, and supple mentary texts not included in the main works.
Glossary to the Record of Yoga (TO BE PUBLISHED)
A glossary to and structural outline of the Record of Yoga (volumes 10 and 11).
This unnumbered volume — an appendix to Record of Yoga — will contain an alphabetical index of Sanskrit words and a structural outline of the seven-limbed yoga that Sri Aurobindo practised between 1912 and 1927. (A temporary glossary is available on this website under the heading "Research".)

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Limit the tenure of Trustees to a fixed number of years

From bijan ghosh to … "Tusar N. Mohapatra" tusarnmohapatra@gmail.comdate 3 August 2010 14:34 subject Fwd: Reply to Manoj Das from Sraddhalu Ranade  --- Forwarded message --- From: Sraddhalu Ranade Date: Thu, Jul 29, 2010 at 2:24 PM Subject: Reply to Manoj Das from Sraddhalu Ranade To: Manoj Das  Reply attached as PDF file.
The Mother did not lay down any procedures for selection of subsequent Trustees other than the first Trustee to replace her. In any case the question is not of procedures but of values and interests. I care a whit what procedure is followed as long as the selection of Trustees is by the highest standards of conduct and wisdom. But this has not been the case at all. Every Trustee selected after the Mother has been chosen purely on grounds of personal loyalty, obedience and servitude to entrenched interests. We are already in the third generation of Trustees after the Mother – the servile of the servile to vested interests. Is it any wonder that the entire Trust Board withdrew the unanimous decision of its conscience on command from MDG! If you see nothing wrong in this, then you are only pretending to be short-sighted. […]

We need not wait for the “golden age” to be operationally free of the rule of dictators, vested interests or the merely incompetent. The Mother chose Trustees around her not for their administrative skills – that she left to the department heads; She chose them for their wideness of vision and openness of mind and heart. In the declining steps of interested appointments, each subsequent Trustee has been chosen for smallness and narrow subservience bringing us to the present sorry pass. This can still be reversed. Human problems will remain, but the vested interests and blatant favouritisms can easily be avoided even now, without needing to wait for the golden age. And I can assure you that the golden age will be greatly delayed as long as the repressive rule of vested interests continues to suffocate the life of the Ashram community.
Instead of justifying the rule of autocrats, you should more usefully direct your energies in helping our present Trustees to broaden their minds and hearts and open to a higher intuitive vision. Otherwise, it is better to limit the tenure of Trustees to a fixed number of years so that absolute power does not corrupt absolutely, and vested interests do not entrench themselves to the detriment of the Ashram. […]

In fact Pranab-da had wanted to take over the Archives by force in 1989 and throw out PH right then. Had he done it, none of this or the numerous Savitri-related court cases would have happened. In retrospect he showed more foresight than the Trustees then.
If the Trustees are ordinary “mortals like us” (as you have said) who get selected for personal
loyalties, how do they mysteriously gain greater wisdom after their appointment? Did you find yourself infused with new wisdom when you were made a Trustee? Did you lose that wisdom when you resigned? In what way have MDG or other Trustees become more wise than others merely from sitting on their chairs? On the contrary, absolute power is heady, and very likely they have lost the little wisdom they might have had from the unavoidable exaggeration of their egos. A long tenure in absolute power has an intoxicating effect. I have seen one of our
Trustees take technical engineering decisions when he was not capable of a simple sum. Another recently declared, “Ashramites should be grateful to us because we give them food”. A dose of normal life as an Ashramite without political privileges will surely do them good.
As a rule, the collective wisdom of a community is superior to the wisdom of an entrenched oligarchy because entrenched interests fear competence and so push out capable people from the centre of community life. The only exception is when the oligarchy is selected for wisdom and not for personal loyalty or other interests. Therefore our present Trustees must learn to be humble before the community and seek guidance constantly from its best minds and most
compassionate hearts. To claim superior or sufficient wisdom amounts to hypocrisy, self deception and betrayal of their responsibility to the Ashram community. […]

The Trustees’ actions are intentional, led by their emotions, thoughts and as in this case their vested interests. Their actions have no relation to Providence. And if the right thing is for Ashramites “to leave it to Providence”, should not the Trustees do the same? Why not then simply discard the institution of the Trustees playing the role of administrators – Mother never structured it this way in any case. As She formulated it in the Ashram Trust Deed, the role of the Trustees is merely to complete the statutory legal requirements for holding the properties and finances of the Ashram community. They were never meant to rule over others. If at all there is a hierarchy of authority and responsibilities, it is thus:
1. First and foremost are Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, above all else. There is no Ashram without Them and all are individually and collectively answerable to Them alone. If someone cannot accept Their authority, he should not be in Their Ashram.
2. Second are the Ashram community members – all equally children of the Mother; none superior, none inferior; all serving and working for Them alone. (The day you can meet Abala as your sister and respect her for her commitment to Sri Aurobindo, you will be closer to the Mother and to the Truth of what the Ashram represents.)
3. Third are the coordinators of activities, the so-called “heads” of services and “departments”. They were chosen by the Mother not for their amenability to the Trust Board, but because of their competence and commitment to the work. Their working is decentralised, and attuned to the specific needs of their domain of responsibilities. Sri Aurobindo once corrected an official notice striking out the word “department” and replacing it with “service”. If we recognise the profound import of this word, we will be able to act more closely to what He intended.
4. Fourth comes the Trust Board as a legal entity. The Board does not rule over the Ashram or its inmates, and has no spiritual authority. Its only task is to hold the Trust properties in service of the objects of the Trust as decreed in the Trust Deed formed by the Mother. The Board must interface with the Government for statutory requirements and functions only. The actions of the Board should not depend on the personalities or vested interests of its Board members.
5. Last come the Trustees, “mere mortals” as any, whose only responsibility is to serve Sri Aurobindo and the Mother by serving Their children, the inmates of the Ashram community. They do not represent Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. They should not rule over the Ashram or its inmates. Ideally, sadhaks of wide minds and open hearts, they should serve the interests of the Ashram community as a whole. If they do not have the requisite wideness, humility and spirit of service, they are unfit for this function.
As long as the Trustees appointed by the Mother were alive, this was largely the working of the Ashram Trust and the Ashram community-life. […]

As the original departmental heads that the Mother had chosen passed on, our narrow-minded rulers appointed their stooges and minions, deliberately sidelining the more competent and committed. But mediocrity breeds further mediocrity because it fears the more capable. The end result today is a widespread mediocrity in the administration of departments/services, and a complete loss of autonomy and freedom in their working. Today nothing moves without sanction from the one man who has placed himself at the centre of the entire Ashram’s working, in place of the Mother. The Mother herself, although holding absolute power, was never as autocratic: she empowered people, encouraged personal initiative, and cared for each one’s feelings. Even Sri Aurobindo went out of his way to try and keep the sadhaks happy as is evidenced from Nirodbaran’s correspondence with him.
Today favouritism and nepotism are rampant, and few appointed heads are respected for their competence. We have already crossed the threshold of the danger zone. The warning signs are most obvious when we consider that practically all the commercial units which were vibrant and creative centres barely twenty years ago are either shut down or in the doldrums. The rapidly declining condition of the Ashram school is painful to see, more so because it was once at the forefront of innovative education, and its decline was entirely preventable because it was foreseen by many who warned of it but who were sidelined and silenced. […]

Even as the inmates enjoy “a range of freedom”, the Trustees have been granted absolute freedom with absolute power and zero accountability, by the inmates. If the Trustees tamper too much with the limited range of the inmates’ freedom, you can be sure that eventually the inmates will withdraw the absolute freedom and power that they grant to the Trustees.
You have mentioned earlier that “the trustees are not elected by a body of voters”. This in itself is a great privilege that the Ashram community bestows upon them, and which the Trustees must strive to be worthy of, but which they have over time increasingly abused. In all other “normal” institutions that you refer to, the selection of a powerful post involves detailed background checks, years of vetting for competence and intentions, long-term training and tests, and their exercise of power includes continuing checks and balances to prevent abuse of power. […]

If at all the Trustees are to have a special position of authority in the Ashram, then surely being a spiritual institution first and foremost, their selection should be primarily by standards of spiritual development. In other words, only a more spiritually developed person should be selected to the Trust Board. Do our present Trustees even remotely fit this standard? Have any of their actions expressed a higher spiritual truth, insight or inspiration?
In the absence of a “certified” spiritual person, nobody can claim spiritual judgment, neither the Trustees nor others. But it is important that the community sets for itself some standards, whatever they be, and ensures that our Trustees and heads of services meet those criteria, along with suitable checks and balances. We have already lost too much from the entrenchment of vested interests. […]

The freedom we enjoy is not a gift of the Trustees. This framework of freedom was created by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother from the very beginning for the practice of the Integral Yoga. The Trustees have enjoyed it just as much, nay, much more than the common Ashramite. But in the last 20 years, this gift of freedom has been increasingly abused by the Trustees as regards themselves, even as it has been curtailed by them with regard to others. Sraddhalu 28.7.2010

Saturday, July 31, 2010

People are massively irrational & loyalty, a form of irrationality

Loyalty from Philosophy Talk: The Blog - Jul 17, 2010 posted by Ken Taylor
Loyalty binds people together. Friendships, marriages, even nations are built on loyalty. Try imagining a person who has no loyalty whatsoever to anything or anyone. Such a person would be friendless, loveless, nationless. She would feel no devotion to any higher cause or principle – like truth or justice. She would not even be a fan of any sports team. A life like that would be empty, devoid of many of the things that make us fully human.

Of course, loyalties are not all created equal though. Loyalty to a sports team is a shallow form of loyalty. Loyalty to a nation can sometimes demand too much. Or think of the loyalty that some battered wives display to their abusive husbands. There’s a misplaced loyalty if there ever was one.

Loyalty goes hand in hand with trustworthiness. If you can’t trust your spouse not to beat you or cheat on you, then your spouse doesn’t deserve your loyalty. If you can’t trust your government not to send young men off to fight in fruitless, forlorn wars, then your government doesn’t deserve your loyalty.

That’s connected to something else. Earlier I said that loyalty unites and that’s a good thing. But loyalty also divides. And that’s a bad thing. For example, soldiers at war are driven to kill each other by their competing loyalties. Or think of a parent who lavishes more toys on his/her children than they really need, out of a sense of loyalty and devotion, while entirely ignoring the needs of poor, abused, malnourished children around the world. If he would just spend a little bit of his wealth elsewhere, he could do a tremendous amount of good. But his loyalty has blinded him to the needs of others.

Loyalties can also divide a person from herself. Loyalty and devotion to your family, for example, can pull in one direction, while loyalty to an employer can pull you in an entirely different direction. Managing such conflicting loyalties is no easy task.

You could think that you just have to decide. You have to decide where your highest loyalty lies. Do you most want to be a better parent or a better philosophy professor and radio host?

But it doesn’t seem quite right to me that choosing between conflicting loyalties is a brute decision, a matter of simply deciding for yourself to whom or what you owe the higher allegiance. There must be some principles -- some moral principles -- that tell you who and what you owe loyalty to and to what degree you owe loyalty. Such moral principles should help you resolve such conflicts on an objective moral basis.

Speaking of abstract moral principles, though, depending on your moral outlook, the very idea of loyalty can seem morally problematic. Take utilitarianism, for example. Its highest principle is that you should always act so as to produce the greatest good for the greatest number. But it’s actually pretty hard to make sense of the very idea of loyalty if you are a utilitarian – at least if you are a crude act utilitarian.

To see why think about two people drowning. You’re in a boat and can save only one of them. One of them happens to be a Nobel Laureate who has discovered a cure for cancer. The other happens to be your spouse. Which one do you save?

The obvious answer to me is that I’d save my wife. But you’d have a hard time justifying that answer on utilitarian grounds. That’s because utilitarian morality has a hard time justifying giving the kind of special weight to one’s wife that loyalty demands. In deciding what to do, her well-being should count, to be sure, but no more, and no less, in your calculations than the well being of any arbitrary person.

That seems wrong to me. But I have to admit that I have hard time putting my finger on just why. My wife means a whole lot more to me than just any arbitrary other person. But does my loyalty and devotion really morally obligate or entitle me to give more weight to her well-being than to the well-being other people?

Consider a further test of just how much added moral weight loyalty endows my wife’s well being with. Suppose it was a matter of saving my wife, while letting two other people or three or four other people drown. Would I still be inclined to save her and let the others drown?

Here I feel something of a quandary – perhaps divided loyalties are tugging at me. On balance loyalty, and the special concern that goes with it, seem to me like very good things. But loyalty can be taken too far and can demand too much. And drawing the line is a tricky matter.

Clearly, we need some help sorting this all out. And luckily for us, help is on the way, in the form of our guest, poet and philosopher, Troy Jollimore. Troy has thought long and hard about loyalty, love, friendship and morality. So it should be a fun episode. If you’ve got the time, give a listen. Maybe even call in. 

As philosophers, I’m sure that John and I would like to believe that we make decisions in a perfectly rational way. Indeed, I’m sure that most people think of themselves as pretty rational decision makers. How would thoroughly rational decision making go? Well, first, you’d decide what things you want, and how much you really want them. Second, you’d survey your options for getting what you want. Third, you would assess the upside benefits and downside costs of each alternative. And last but certainly not least, you’d choose the alternative that has either the greatest upside or the least downside, depending on whether you were risk-averse or risk seeking. It’s pretty simple really.

Decades of psychological research has shown, thought, that although philosophers may be paragons of rationality -- ahem, ahen – in fact most people (and probably most philosophers too) are pretty irrational in their decision-making. People go wrong at every turn. We aren’t so good at figuring out what we want. Our preferences aren’t very stable or coherent. We’re bad at assessing risks and reward. You name it, when it comes to decision making, we’re bad at it.

Here’s a little game you can play with a partner that helps illustrate how irrational we can be. Let’s call it Sellers and Choosers. If you’re reading this alone and you want to play along, go get a partner now and let’s play the game together. I’ll be the referee. I’ve got two mugs – one for you, one for your partner. The mugs are exactly alike. I’m just going to flat out give you one of the mugs. (I can’t really do that over the internet just yet. But use your imagination and play along.) Anyway, the mug is yours to keep. It’s a really beautiful mug and very well made. Or, if you like, you can sell it. No doubt you’d be willing to sell the mug for the right price. So go ahead, write down the price at which you’d be willing to sell your lovely little mug.

Now as for your partner. I’m going to offer your partner a choice. I’m not going to flat out give her (or him) the identical mug. She or he has to choose. She has to choose between an identical mug and a sum of money. How much money, you ask? Well, I’ve written an amount of money on the bottom of the mug. She doesn’t get to see it. Instead what she has to do is write down an amount of money such that if she had a choice between the mug and the money, the choice between the two would be a wash. She gets the mug only if the price she writes down as a fair price for the mug is higher than price I’ve written on the bottom of the mug. 

You may be wondering going with this and what it has to do with irrational decision-making. Don’t worry, the punch line is about to come. Here’s the thing, suppose we run this little experiment thousands of times and put people in different roles – sometimes the role of Seller and sometimes in the role of a Chooser. You know what we find? Well we find that people in the role of the seller place a significantly higher price – like more than twice the price -- on the mug than people in the role of the chooser do. What that means is that if the mug is already yours (and you have to set a sell price) you’ll think it’s worth a lot more than a similar mug that isn’t yet yours (on which you have to place a “willing to purchase it” price.) 

One way to think of this is as an instance of loss aversion. You’ve got your precious mug in hand and you don’t want to lose it. It means a lot to you. And so you set a very high price on it. That is, people tend to value things they already have and might lose, much more highly than things they don’t have, but could get.

That seems pretty irrational, doesn’t it? Go back to what I was saying earlier about calculating upside benefits and downside costs. It looks like those calculations are highly skewed, depending on whether we’re talking about gains or losses. That doesn’t make any sense.

We’ve looked at just one tiny little example of apparent human irrationality. There are literally hundreds of experiments that demonstrate that people are massively irrational in the way we make decisions. And luckily for us, we’ve got one of the world’s leading investigators of human irrationality as our guest this week. Dan Ariely, author of the bestselling Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions

By the way, Ariely has a follow up book out – The Upside of Irrationality: The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic at Work and at Home. We’d love to have him back on the show to talk about the new book. This week’s episode, though, is less about the upside of irrationality than the downside. But I think one can get a glimmer of how irrationality might have an upside by considering last week’s topic – loyalty. From pure self-centered cost-benefit analysis, it can be hard to make sense of loyalty. You might even call loyalty a form of irrationality. But without loyalty (and trust) all kinds of relationships wouldn’t be possible. So if loyalty is a form of irrationality, it may be a darned good thing that we are irrational in that way. But that’s a topic for another show.

Update: March 30, 2016
Savitri Era of those who adore, Om Sri Aurobindo & The Mother.