Pseudoscience & Religion

Why should Rationalists have all the fun?

This post is for making better use of people who are similar to me, for furthering the promotion of rational thinking. ‘X is similar to me’ is defined by the following qualities:

  1. X is a rational thinker.
  2. X would like to contribute to promotion of rational thinking (in cash, kind, time, effort etc.)
  3. Contributing towards promotion of rational thinking is way down in X’s list of priorities.

Let me provide an example – myself.  I try to promote rational thinking in my circle of influence, in small ways – at work, at home, and among friends and relatives.  For example, at work, I have championed the campaign to do away with forced religious holidays.  As a result, now we don’t have compulsory holidays for Christmas, Diwali, Bakrid etc. Only the state holidays (Gandhi Jayanti, Independence day, Republic day and a few other secular holidays) are mandatory.  The earlier compulsory holidays are now added to the employee’s vacation, so they can take them whenever they wish.

But I don’t go out of my way to promote rational thinking.  In some sense, I consider it ‘doing my bit to make the world a better place’. There are several other priorities in my life – my regular work, family, vacations, and hobbies – which are higher in my list.  Unfortunately, given the travails of modern life in India, time is a premium. I spend a lot of my hours at work (I’m not complaining, I enjoy it for the most part).  I spend a lot of time with my wife, my two small daughters (playing, educating, taking them out, vacationing etc).  Then I also like to spend some evenings having a good time with my friends over a few drinks. I also like to go on long motor-cycle rides (I miss out on several of these trips due to my higher priorities).  And I’ve wanted to sign up for music lessons for several years now.  After all this comes ‘doing my bit for making the world better’.   A case in point is writing this blog.  The ideas came to me four months ago and I wrote down the bullet points in my diary.  That’s a long gap between jotting down ideas and actually writing a blog on them.

Is there a way by which people like me can actually do something more regarding promoting rational thinking? That is the point of this post. For someone like me, spending a lot of time at work can be more fulfilling, if that work also promotes rational thinking.  This is where exploiting ‘the profit motive’ comes in.   A vast majority of people work several hours a day.  And they work to make a living, not for having fun (if you have doubts, think about this. People usually pay for having fun, not get paid for having fun). And who provides work for these people? Primarily, it is the business owners, corporations and government.  And why do they pay people? Except for the government, they pay people so they can make profit.  So the ‘profit motive’ generates a lot of work for a vast majority of the people.  The premise of this post is that if we can somehow exploit the ‘profit motive’, the adoption of rational thinking will grow exponentially.

This ‘Eureka moment’, if may call it that, as expected, came to me in the shower.  I had the radio turned on and it was playing an advertisement for ‘Incredible India’.   It goes like this. Some local loafers are passing not-so-polite comments on a foreigner (a woman).  Aamir Khan then rebukes those people and talks about our culture, how the foreigner is a guest of our country and quotes ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’, etc.  The delivery was very emotional, touching and it probably helped change the attitude of several people across the country.  I was impressed with that advertisement and that got me thinking. Who is funding this ad? The Tourism Department of Govt. of India.  Why are they funding this ad? To promote tourism so India can get more money, i.e. the profit motive. Why did they rope in Aamir Khan? Because he is a very well respected actor and if he communicates the message, it will have a bigger impact than, say, the tourism minister giving the same message.  Why did Aamir Khan do the ad? Probably because he was paid for it, again the profit motive.

Along with believing that ‘exploiting the profit motive’ can help in promoting rational thinking, I also believe its converse. That is, promotion of rational thinking is hurt by not exploiting the profit motive.

This is a problem not just with rational thinking, but other social causes like helping the aged, prevention of child labor, education of poor children. There are several organizations that work towards improving child education in India (e.g. CRY, Asha, AID etc.). But these are all non-profit.  People who donate money, time, effort for these causes do it after their higher priority things are taken care of.  For example, several of my friends ran marathons in New York, San Fransisco and other parts of the world, for Asha.  They campaigned with their friends to donate because they were running for this cause. Because of my friends, I logged in to a US site and donated some money which was counted towards their kitty.

I’m not belittling this effort, but the point is:  how much money did they generate? And is this a sustainable way of generating money for their cause?  Maybe one person generated a contribution of 5000 US dollars. This is one-time money generated by my friend for a cause he loves.

Now look at his company. They pay him maybe around 100,000 USD as salary per year.  And he probably generates a profit of 500,000 USD for his company.  And this is not just one time, but year after year, as long as he works for the company. And my friend is probably not even passionate about the work he is doing for his company – he tells me he wants to retire as soon as he makes enough.

profitNow imagine if that company was Asha and also somehow they have figured out how to ‘monetize’ the work they are doing.  My friend would be passionate about working for Asha as he loves the cause. He will be getting a salary of US 100,000. For Asha, he would be bringing in 500,000 USD instead of the paltry 5000 USD.  And the best part is that he would be working 2000 hours a year for this cause, not the 10 or 20 hours he is putting in now (I’m not counting the time he spends on preparing for and running the marathon).

The same thing applies to me and rational thinking.  If I was working for a company that made profit by promotion of rational thinking, it would satisfy my first priority of working to make a living. Automatically, that bumps up the number of hours I spend on promoting rational thinking to 2000 hours a year.  And the company might have time and effort being put in by several people who are not even interested in the promotion of rational thinking.  Imagine the rate of progress of rational thinking.

To illustrate, take the case of Coca Cola or Pepsi.  Plainly put, these are aerated-sugar-drinks, with very little nutritional value.  But they have reached every nook and corner of the world. Why? Because of the profit motive of these corporations, and armies of people working hard creating, selling, advertising these aerated-sugar-drinks.

Well, you might say, the ‘for-profit’ motive makes sense, but is it really required? Look at the movement for Indian independence, or the French revolution.  They were not ‘for-profit’.  My answer for this objection is that in those cases, people were clearly aware of the problem.  They perceived that their lives were miserable and would improve if the movement succeeded.  With rational thinking, we do not have that luxury.  Several people do not even know that they are suffering due to irrational thinking and belief in superstitions.

Assuming we agree that it is rational and worthwhile to exploit the profit motive for promoting rational thinking, the big question is How do we monetize rational thinking?’ Clearly there is value in moving from irrational thinking to rational thinking. To name a few, I am a much happier person, free from guilt, don’t consider myself a sinner, and am not living in the fear of divine retribution. There are other benefits too, but we’ll leave them out of this post.  The bottom line is that rational thinking has value. And it probably has more value than aerated-sugar-water.  So if someone can monetize that, we should be able to monetize rational thinking also.  This reminds me of a myth (or reality) about Google.  Apparently, when Google came up with their search engine, they knew they had something of value – everyone wants to search for information, right? And the story goes that they did not know how to monetize it until much later when they came up with AdWords. So, we can be inspired by Coca Cola and Google to see that it is possible to make money from rational thinking.  But I don’t know how to do that yet; I have some general ideas and directions and plan to blog them in the future.  The intent of this post is to start the thought process so that someday, somewhere, someone will start a profitable venture selling rational thinking.  If the founders are generous, I don’t mind getting some royalty 🙂

The fundamental point I’m trying to make is that ‘not-for-profit’ organizations make a much lesser impact than ‘for-profit’ organizations. Here is one example.  Fifteen years ago, getting a telephone connection in India was a great event. There used to be 10 year waiting period.  And now, you can get a mobile phone and connection instantaneously.  One reason is that fifteen years ago, only the Govt. was providing telephones and they did not have a profit motive to drive it.  There are several players in the mobile phone space, and they are all ‘for-profit’. As another example, consider mankind’s fight against diseases.  What do you think is the more likely cause for the rapid progress in medicine? Man’s desire to make the world a better place to live or the profit motive of the pharmaceutical companies?

Here’s another pressing reason. The competition is exploiting it heavily.  Just look at the amount of money the religious institutions, quacks and spiritual leaders are making. I think it is a fair hypothesis to say that they are in it only for profit.  And they are using all the proven techniques of making money, from selling fake medicines online to getting celebrities advertise products like the Rudraksha.  (By the way, here is a nice article by a venture capitalist about ‘marketing lessons from the spiritual world’.

Rational thinking can grow leaps and bounds if we exploit the profit principle. With due respect to people like Narendra Nayak and others who are evangelizing the cause by using media (print and TV) also as a tool, imagine the impact if Shah Rukh Khan was delivering these messages.   Or imagine an ad where Priyanka Chopra throws the ‘Aarti Saaman’ of Karva Chauth, starts feasting on delicacies instead of fasting for her husband, and says ‘Why should rationalists have all the fun?’

Don’t get me wrong, I have very high regard for Narendra Nayak.  In fact, if Narendra Nayak were the CEO of a ‘for-profit’ rational thinking company, I would like to invest in that company.

About the author

Pankaj Kulkarni


  • Very sensible thought that monetizing rationalism could give it a huge boost, though it might be a tough nut to crack. I’d like to believe that making an impact in terms of visibility also would also give it a fillip. In this respect adding a ‘cool factor’ to it might help get the attention of the youth who later on will pass this rationalistic mindset onto their children. Imagine the impact of rationalism being promoted by MTV, at rock shows, facebook, twitter etc. Of course by ‘cool’ i dont mean it in a casual, hep way. I imply some smart intelligent advertising which makes it ‘cool’ to be a rationalist at first, and as time passes by somewhat necessary. Just as its uncool not know the internet, it would be uncool to be a superstitious, religious person. I can also think of companies preferring rationalists over believers and thus provide tangible benefits of being a rationalist. Rationalism has to be perceived as non-intellectual for the masses to even think about it. Rationalism has to greatly simplified or else the heavy artillery of technicalities can put off an interested person. To get the desired results rationalism has to reach the masses and making an impact can definitely help.

  • Exploiting the “profit motive” to spread rationalism is really a nice idea but we should also consider the feasibility of such an initiative. If you compare it with any other religious institution, the difference is clearly evident. Religion has become such an integral part of (almost) every person’s life that a huge market exists to exploit their religious beliefs. There is a clearly established market for such institutes to flourish. And that is what these religious institutions are exploiting. Their main aim is not to spread religion and its beliefs but to make profit. In that process they are also helping in sustaining and strengthening the religious beliefs of their “customers”. This whole process acts like a positive feedback cycle and thats why it is flourishing. Its really immoral for such institutes to declare themselves trusts or non-profit organisations.
    The crux here is that relition has spread its reach to a level that people have started making money out of it by establishing religious institutes. On the other hand the rationalism is still in its infancy when compared to any other religion. There needs to be a considerable market for rationalism if anyone is to come-up with a “profit motive” to spread it.
    Another way is to associate the idea of rationalism with something which can make money, something which can be commercialized and has a “profit motive”. Similar to what Google did. The idea of a search engine in itself doesn’t have any commercial value, but when associated with ads, it suddenly becomes a very promising money making business. However, at the base of it all lies the fact that their is an existing market to consume the idea of search engine. There is a need for such a search engine and people are in dearly need of such a product. It wasn’t the other way round in the sense, that google came up with a search engine and then people realised its usefuness. Rationalism is currently at a stage where it has not find its importance in every body’s life, rather people have not yet realised the importance of rationalism in their life.
    Its more like a vicious circle: you need a “profit motive” to spread rationalism, but the “profit motive” in turn requires that rationalism be associated with some “market”. In my opinion, rationalism is still in its infancy. And hence can not be converted into a commercially exploitable one, even when the intention is just to spread it further. Once rationalism crosses a threshold limit, then it can be exploited commercially to pace up its dissemination, similar to what religious organisations are involved in. What we require is to create a “need” for rationalism in one’s life. A person should feel a necessity to involve in rationalism, he/she should feel a sense of emptiness in their life without rationalism. Right now, religion is doing more than enogh to fill up that void. As soon as you pull out religion, people would become open to other ideas of filling that void. At that stage, rationalism has a chance of seeping in.
    I also agree with Kedar on the issue of visibility. But it should not be presented as some kind of commodity which can help people in their lives. It can result into a situation wherein people will accept the rationalism but may still keep their religious beliefs intact. What is needed is a way to promote rationalism so that it can take place of religion. It cannot co-exist with religious beliefs. It should be projected as something which can take place of religion in one’s life and provide much more than what religion can.

  • I do agree with you about raising resources. People who have worked for the movement so far have done so on shoe string budgets like Premanand, Kalanathan etc. Kovoor used to live a life of a higher standard and so do I.
    Babu is now trying to bring about corporate involvement in the movement. Do you think any public figure in this country will dare that he or she is a non believer? We had a lot of them in the olden days, but now most of the people run scared of how the open expression of their beliefs or convictions will affect their commercial viability. So, it may be difficult or I should say impossible for a so called other wise popular figure to endorse our ideology. But, if one could do that it would be really nice. I am sure there must be a lot of closet non-believers who are not willing to come out openly about their convictions. I have met quite a lot of people in politics who endorse our stand and fully agree with our views but are unwilling to come out openly for reasons already mentioned above.
    Building up the movement is the co-operative effort of all of us who are interested. We do welcome the younger generation to come up with their suggestions and the energy to implement them. As I have been saying again and again we are waiting for the younger generation to take over from us.
    I have devoted all my life for building up the movement but am not living the sort of frugal lifestyle of those of the previous generation. I do love my comforts and my drink but the primary objective is always upper most in my mind- how a particular thing would build up the movement. I may give up my food,drink and put up with personal discomfort if it could be of some use in strengthening the movement.
    T think this sort of summarises what I have to say apropos what Pankaj has expressed.

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