Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What was early living like for you? In other words, what was the geographic, familial, cultural, and religious life for you?
Gauri Hopkins: My parents joined a religious cult when they were teenagers. My father is from Wales and my mother from Mauritius. Both joined on their Islands of residency. Their spiritual father forced their marriage for some illegal economic agendas, which I will not go into. In my early years, the institution was primarily centered on propagating the religion and so growing up involved living in different countries. I lived in India, Mauritius, Georgia, New York, South Carolina, Washington DC, France, Belgium, Holland and of course the UK. Despite my travelling to many parts of the world, I didn’t have much exposure to the real world as there were strict rules in place forbidding association with outsiders unless to preach or convert to them and so, the world I grew up in, was always with the same community, practicing the same culture, within the same social structure, but with different faces.
Due to the religious teachings and practices, my older sister and I mainly lived in ashrams (monasteries) and therefore had little parental guidance for the first 7 – 9 years of our lives. Our days were dominated by prayers from as early at 4:30am to as late as 9:30pm (festivals would go past midnight), in between which we had temple service and the institution’s schooling where we were seldom taught Maths, English, Science, and other important subjects. Although reading and writing were basic parts of our education, overall, we were focused on studying the religious teachings. We were raised to be prodigies of the movement and essentially priests. Over the years most of the children’s ashrams were closed down and turned into day schools due to the global and systematic, traumatic incidents that took place within them. It was not too long after these changes that my mother settled us and my three younger siblings in England and sent us to state school, in the real world with real people.
Jacobsen: How did these important factors in the context of an upbringing influence you?
Hopkins: Tough question. The list is endless really, but to list a few:
- I did not understand the importance of school so after mostly failing at it, I had to make up for it quickly when I was 15 and on my own. Because of this I appreciate the value of education and stability intensely and urgently and cannot help but be an advocate for them.
- For the majority of my state school life and even parts of my late teenage life, I struggled to make friends and assimilate into social groups as I saw people as demons or victims of their past life (past karma). This made most of my social experiences difficult and confusing and at times incredibly dangerous – being unable to see real threats lead to some unfortunate circumstances. As a result of this, I have developed the habit of reading into people through a self-protective lens, which is socially crippling most, if not all of the time.
- In the past 2 years, I have started to understand what is, to most, westerners, the strikingly obvious differences between history and mythology – something that I found so foreign and difficult to comprehend, thanks to my cultural conditioning. I call this weird thing I have my “logical impairment” and I think it resulted from never being taught the difference between fact and fiction and having these literally presented as the same thing and having to unlearn this on my own. For the first 10 years of my life, I negotiated reality on mythological grounds and fantastical spiritual experiences. I grew up with (what I would call) dishonest and mentally unstable people who made it very difficult for me to see the world as it was and so I perceived the world as it was taught to me. Anyway, this lovely revelation has helped me view the world much more pragmatically and objectively now, rather than in my former highly strung, emotionally reactive ways. When you do not understand where to find the facts because you do not quite know what a fact is you panic and overreact a lot- mainly because you do not know if you are safe or not, or worse if others are safe or if others are the “danger”. So, I have a deep appreciation for facts, objectivity, and balanced views. I have a lot of empathy for those that do not understand the value these conceptions bring, and I have much sympathy for those that have no desire to explore them.
- Another big one is that I was not able to think unless it involved reciting what I had been told for the majority of my life. At 23 I finally got the hang of thinking for myself and only in the past year I have gradually become pretty fluent at it. I owe a lot to my surrogate mother for this. She was never afraid to challenge me and be fiercely honest and she showed me nothing but love and support whilst I was overcoming heavy doctrines and institutionalisation.
- As I was incessantly taught I am a sinner and a fool from birth and as a girl/woman I am equal to a dog and/or a Dalit (lowest caste in India), I suffered from poor self-esteem which at times catches me today. However, I am fortunate to live in England where these internal conflicts pass quickly as they are not reflected in the external world. They not nurtured and reconfirmed like they once were on the compounds I grew up on.
- On a positive, I graduated in Bharatnatyam (traditional south Indian dance) when I was 13 and ran my own dance school every Sunday up until I was 17. I traveled a lot, teaching workshops, performing all over Europe and some parts of the East. This helped me gain some useful skills that I still use today.
- It influenced all of my core interests, such as: literature, anthropology, history, economics, morality, religion, theatre, neuroscience, primatology sociology, phenomenology, and philosophy.
Jacobsen: In terms of stances on feminist issues, broad question, how would you define a reasonable perspective? I ask because the recent rhetoric in North America and Western Europe has been ‘heated’ – to say the least of it.
Hopkins: Broad would be the word here. I will skim the surface with this one, Scott if you do not mind.
I am not a fan of the Contemporary feminist discourse – it seems the sexist card is the new get out of jail free card these days. Contemporary feminism, or intersectional feminism or radical feminism, who knows what it is or what angle individuals are coming from; like shattered glass, it makes a painful appearance in everything, everywhere, all the time. To me, it seems that Contemporary feminism has broken and mocked the core virtues of feminist ideology, which was all about equal opportunity. Traditional feminism was about challenging the legal system that limited the rights of women. That is my very general understanding of the subject of feminism as a whole, anyway.
Despite this, to some extent, I do agree that some of the social issues raised by Contemporary feminists have shed light on some serious detriments buried in the shadows of the “Western world”, like Hollywood for example. However, I battle a lot with these social problems. I do not know how much of the law should be involved in resolving these issues or whether it is the individual that should be responsible for defining their boundaries and executing their legal rights. Accountability is becoming more and more difficult to assign and even reason with at the moment and that worries me. You cannot make progress without solid reasonable judgment and assign accountability is sort of a part of that. It is tough.
In terms of giving a reasonable perspective, I really do not know much about it all to offer a well-informed opinion on the matter. All I can say is, I grew up in misogyny and when I left that world I utilised all my rights as an equal citizen to overcome my disadvantages and although I am no genius or millionaire, I am most certainly not a victim and I am most certainly not oppressed- but I am in debt.
Jacobsen: How did you find and become involved with Conatus News? How does a centrist progressive message provide the reasonable perspective on some of the more intense issues – relative to the rest of the world – for North American and Western Europe?
Hopkins: I am not much involved with Conatus News, but I do keep up with the articles as much as I can. My surrogate mother, Helen Pluckrose, writes for them occasionally and I support her and her ideas. It was through her I learned of what Conatus News is about. I am in support of centrist, balanced and empirical views and I encourage this as a person who came from what Dawkins would call ‘magical thinking.’ I understand how susceptible to irrationality and tribalism we are and so I strongly believe that using reason and evidence is the way forward to progress.
Jacobsen: Does religion influence you? If so, how?
Hopkins: Not as much as it used to. I see religion now as I see fairy tales, mythic legends or just fiction in general. It is fun to read with some good, maybe even great, lessons to learn. The doctrine itself does not influence me, but the culture in which it grew upon and the institutional aspects of religion do bear weight on me and perhaps it will take a lifetime to overcome.
Jacobsen: Any final thoughts or feelings in conclusion?
Hopkins: This was much harder to answer than I thought, but thank you for interviewing me. I hope I was able to help with your research.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Gauri.