Autism spectrum/A few impertinent questions/Can we do other people's growing for them?

After several weeks in Nepal, the day arrived for my overland bus tour to depart. I met the people with whom I would share a leisurely drive through Asia, Russia and Europe to England, stopping for several days in the most interesting places. We first all met in the hotel room of Haggis, our tour guide, an enthusiastic young man with a Scottish accent. Most of us were strangers to each other, but that would soon change. These young Australians and New Zealanders would become my family, and for the next three months, I would give up my solitary traveling and revert to being a tourist - except for crossing the Khyber Pass. That would turn out to be as much adventure as a woman of my age could comfortably handle. Six of us were of retirement age, and I’m sure we each wondered uneasily how we might fit in with that exuberant bunch of young people. However ours was a unique tour, in which the usual personality conflicts and age gaps that might plague such groups were banished. Or perhaps I should say redirected. Oh, we had our conflicts. No battle took place, but we actually had our own Cold War. Maybe that's what made the cohesion in our particular tour unique.

Two separate tours were originally planned. Each tour had been under-subscribed, so the company decided to accommodate both groups on the same bus, with one tour-guide and one driver. We drove out of Nepal, and in India we met the rest of our travel companions. Our tour was inexpensive and consisted of mostly young people. The group we met in India, called an Armchair Adventure, was for more mature, affluent travelers, and it provided first class hotels and restaurants. When we arrived in a city, the bus would drive to a first class hotel, and wait while the Armchair Adventurers (soon renamed the "Arm-pits" by the young people) unloaded their luggage. Then we continued on to the center of the city for our more native accommodations. The two groups saw each other only on the bus. I'm not sure why the young people resented the first-class travelers, but some of them apparently did. Some of the first class group wanted classical music played on the bus stereo. The young people retaliated by singing bawdy songs. We six seniors in the in the budget group might have preferred classical, but we claimed to share the young people's taste in music. There were a couple of complainers among the Armchair Adventurers, but I'm sure there were also some interesting people. The first class travelers were more isolated from the local culture than we were, and no one doubted our group was experiencing more of the countries through which we traveled. Maybe we even felt obligated to have more fun. No one in our budget group seemed to pay any attention to age differences. Mirrors were scarce in second-class Asian hotels, and we six seniors almost forgot we weren't the same age as our young companions. In addition to enthusiastically joining the young Aussies and Kiwis as they sang bawdy songs, we laughingly attempted their uninhibited dancing in noisy Asian discotheques with flashing colored lights.

We ordered dinner the first night. We heard a cackling outside and glimpsed a man chase a screeching chicken past the window. Those of us who ordered chicken suspected our meal would take a while. It was certainly fresh. We drove through northern India, stopping to visit exquisite monuments and temples, including the Taj Mahal. Haggis often arranged a local tour for us in places where we stopped for more than one day. One such demonstration, in the garden of a hotel, included an Indian turning a cobra loose a few feet from us. Then he let a mongoose out of its cage to kill the cobra. The mongoose was so fast we couldn't actually see what was happening. Later, one of the Arm-Chair Adventurers complained about being forced to witness a killing. I found it hard to work up compassion for the snake, but I did wonder that India had so many cobras that such a demonstration could be performed regularly for tourists. We rode a boat on the Ganges at sunrise. Along the banks people bathed, washed clothes, stood on their heads practicing Yoga, chanted religious music and cremated their dead. As we walked the ancient, narrow streets of Varanasi, the local Indian guide warned us to beware of cow-dung, pickpockets, aggressive peddlers, beggars - and the ubiquitous scrawny cows, which seemed to roam the streets like stray cats or dogs. When we felt overwhelmed by the hordes of people, we retreated to the secluded, walled garden of our hotel, often a building of decayed elegance left over from the British occupation. The red velvet drapes looked as though they could have hung in the dining room for a century. Silent, white-clad Indians waited upon us, as mice scurried about the edges of the room. No one disturbed the lizards on the walls, which were said to eat the mosquitoes that arrived in swarms after dark. The Indian countryside was lush and green. A tattered goatherd, or a lone woman in a faded sari, walking across a field with a clay jar on her head, looked picturesque, but when we approached a village we encountered the ever-present, tightly packed throng of humanity, which seemed to be India. People converged from all directions to surround the bus and stare at us. They appeared to regard us an exotic a sight.

One whiff of Indian toilets and we put away our modesty and used a ditch, as the Indians did, especially when we were suffering from “Delhi belly”. “Men to the right of the road and ladies to the left,” the tour guide would announce. One day a bus full of Indians on a side-road drove by the little ravine in which we were squatting. They honked and laughed and waved. It was difficult to know how to react in such an undignified position.

We drove back up into the Himalayas to Kashmir. It was early spring, and we were among the first since that year’s monsoon season to travel over the narrow mountain road. Huge waterfalls cascaded down from the snow covered peaks. We encountered washouts where great sides of the mountain had given way, taking the road with it. The bottom of the gorge was hundreds of feet below. I noticed a couple of abandoned, wrecked vehicles lying down the slope. At the most dangerous stretches we got out and walked. The bus and driver laboriously made their way along the narrow road being bulldozed out of the mud and rocks. We reached the snow level, and finally a six-mile tunnel. Emerging upon a dazzling, snow-covered mountainside, we looked down upon the fruit trees in bloom and the green valley and blue lakes of Kashmir.

During the British Raj, the English relished the cool climate of Kashmir for a holiday from the heat of India. The proud, independent people of Kashmir refused to sell land to foreigners, so the British built elaborate houseboats and floated them on the lakes. Kashmir now accommodated tourists in replicas of those houseboats, filled with intricately carved Victorian furniture and oriental carpets. Most tourist sites in Kashmir could be reached by water, so instead of rickshaws, transportation around the valley was provided by shikaras, little canoes full of cushions and covered with a ruffled canopy. A couple of natives paddled one of these canoes to wherever we wanted to go in the valley. There were no motor-driven craft on those high mountain lakes and streams, and the silence was crisp and lovely. Only the sound of our voices and the paddles hitting against the water echoed back from the snow covered mountains around us.

I shared a houseboat with five of the young Australians while in Kashmir. Playfully affecting accents and mannerisms of nineteenth-century English Colonials, we "dressed" for dinner. Akbar, our dignified, Muslim host, solemnly served us. At night he put hot water bottles in our beds. During that week on the houseboat in Kashmir we could almost imagine experiencing times of the British Raj. We respected the local culture, there were no missionaries among us, and Kashmir was serene and lovely. Mabe the Cold War between Russia and the United States had some influence on the harmony we were enjoying. After the Cold War ended, many of those countries would resume their customary hostilities. However, at that time Muslim people seemed to feel no resentment toward Westerners.

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Most of us are convinced of the superiority of democracy. Nevertheless the belief that ordinary people need an aristocracy to rule them was long accepted. Maybe enough individuals had to grow and achieve sufficient maturity before a population would be capable governing themselves. When we decide another culture is “primitive” and try to modernize the population, the people do seem to resent it. Just as we can't do our children's growing for them, we also seem unable to bestow democracy upon people who haven't developed it for themselves.

Questions edit

The original images may be found on this pdf copy of the book.

Current page: Can we do other people's growing for them?

  1. Wouldn’t volition be an essential aspect of creativity?
  2. Could an inherently creative universe, a living universe, ever be defined by mathematical formulas?
  3. How did the laws of nature originate?
  4. Are some scientific concepts too sacred to be debated?
  5. Are intelligence and creativity two separate and distinct processes?
  6. Are psychoanalytic theories profound? Or just convoluted?
  7. If purposeful creativity exists as an aspect of reality, why should we assume it is a process unique to human consciousness?
  8. Can the value of scientific knowledge ever justify enrolling people in research projects without their knowledge or consent?
  9. Exactly what technical knowledge enables psychiatrists to manipulate ids, egos and psyches?
  10. Should "normal" be equated with average?
  11. What technical knowledge enables psychologists to declare people emotionally abnormal?
  12. Are psychologists able to scientifically measure parental love? Or its lack?
  13. Is the universe, including life, an automatic, mechanical process, driven by nothing but the laws of physics and chemistry (the materialist position)? Or do other forces play a role, such as mind, consciousness, judgment and volition - most of which we presently have only have limited understanding?
  14. Should doctors and scientists refrain from expressing skepticism about theories of colleagues in other fields?
  15. Do people generally choose the challenges which force them to grow?
  16. How can we claim to scientifically manipulate thoughts and emotions if we don't even understand how such elusive phenomena relate to physical reality?
  17. What is faith? If belief that God organized the universe is a matter of faith, why isn't the materialist belief that the universe came together by some accidental, mechanical process also a matter of faith? (Or, the Buddhist belief in self-organization.)
  18. Are living creatures constantly evolving as they strive to grow and adapt? Or must evolutionary adaptations passively wait around for a random mutation to accidentally pop up in someone's genome?
  19. Should we have official committees to define scientific knowledge? Or is an ever-changing, constantly-challenged, general consensus our best way to keep our understanding of reality vibrant?
  20. Could lying on a couch and obsessing over a traumatic childhood ever be therapeutic?
  21. Would it even be possible to conduct a scientific study to determine whether psychological treatments are effective?
  22. What is racism?
  23. Does free-will exist?
  24. Would obsessing over a traumatic event ever cure any mental illness?
  25. Could a creative intelligence be an innate aspect of all Nature?
  26. What would define economic theories as materialistic or non-materialistic?
  27. Is intolerance often the result of personal insecurity?
  28. Consciousness and free-will may be defining characteristics of all life, but do we have much understanding of what they actually are?
  29. Can we do other people's growing for them?
  30. Are Western democracies civilization’s ultimate achievement?
  31. Which would produce the most psychologically stunted individuals? Being emotionally challenged? Or never encountering any challenges?
  32. Could the purpose of life be to participate in the growth of the universe?
  33. Can science investigate and attempt to describe a non-materialistic version of the universe?
Current page: Can we do other people's growing for them?