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We come naked, we go naked...

I had a discussion about birth control with two Indian Catholic priests in Calcutta the other day. We were sitting in an orphanage built to care for profoundly handicapped children (one of the many services provided by the Missionaries of Charity, whose role in the community is personified by Mother Theresa). I introduced the subject because I was curious to hear their ideas about how population control might affect the amount of suffering in the world. India is set to become the biggest nation in the world very soon, and there are a lot of hungry, homeless people there. They suggested that if life was brought into the world, it was probably the will of God and that it would be foolish to interfere with it. I countered that when it was cold I put on warm clothing without feeling that I was causing problems for God and that recognising the limits of your ability to feed children didn't seem like a particularly evil thing to do. They agreed that the Vatican was being very open to discussion about times when it might be appropriate (e.g. within marriage). I met some happy homeless people in India, but I also met a lot of cold, hungry ones. The guy who worked all day cleaning rooms in my guest house used to sleep on the steps in front of it every night, and he was always happy and friendly. Quality of life can be a difficult thing to measure.

The philosopher Locke apparently (yes, pun intended) believed that we could never know an object, only its qualities . This probably widens the gap in my ideas about subjective and objective reality. Not only is the information we have about the world limited, most of it is probably not very accurate either. Still, maybe sometimes its easier to work with a simple view of something. I guess if objective reality could experience itself it would do away with this dualism. (Somewhere on a mountain top Robert M Pirsig is smiling quietly to himself).

I realise that I've been quite irreverent in my e-mail recently. I've teased the USA, hippies, the class-conscious, capitalists, peaceniks, fascists, evangelists, scientists, economic rationalists, moderates, soldiers, bureaucrats - the entire human species, basically. My only refuge is nihilism but I don't believe in that, either. Recognising that disproof of standing theory is an important mode of scientific investigation, I spent a couple of hours the other day defending the USA against a couple of serious critics. It helped to remind me that the USA has a lot of good things going for it. I read the other day that people of Indian origin (not American Indian) in the USA make an average of 25% more than the rest of the population - about $57,000 a year. The standard of living that money can provide would be mind-blowing to the average person living in India.

I read Power Shift, by Alvin Toffler and he says some really insightful things about the possible futures of business and politics in the "Information Age." He asks if the future might see countries electing representatives in foreign governments as the decisions of nations begin to affect each other more and more. Anyway, defending America reminded me how often I play devil's advocate by saying provocative things just to get a response. It also reminded be that if people behaved like countries we'd all be wearing straight-jackets.

I also had a conversation with a Catholic Iranian who fled the Iran-Iraq war when he was 18 to find refuge in Norway where he has lived for the last 15 years. We agreed that a nice Muslim girl probably wouldn't go to hell when she died.

So after I got tired of wondering what the purpose of life was and how I should achieve it, I decided to go for a walk. I walked with a Swiss guy for ten days in the Annapurna Ranges in Nepal. It was really beautiful. Nepal is probably the most enjoyable place I've been on this trip. I'm in Kathmandu at the moment and the motorbike that I bought in India is running pretty well. I leave Kathmandu today to travel through the mountains in the west before returning to India.

Warm honey on toast, Ward



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