Category Archives: Imagined futures

No place for the unarmed

We have come to a point where the accident of our birth is become a sign of virtue/merit or sin/shame. It seems to me to be a rolling back of everything the 20th century fought for – that it was possible to overcome the drawbacks of our birth if we so wished. Everything was supposed to be about free will, choice, freedom, rewards for effort and the virtue of self-education. It has now become about being the ‘right’ type, learning to think in the right apocalyptic way, and to learn the right forms of political interaction and groupthink.

So folks are now going to justify bullying, shaming and silencing by saying that people ‘like’ you (with markers of nationality, ethnicity, race, and religion) have been known to do this and this so you are at fault, no matter what you have done as an individual. You deserve it. History puts you at fault, and someone else writes history now. Your turn to be oppressed. We must first reverse the balance of power before we’ll talk about equal and uniform rights for all. And we are exceptional; and while some of us may be at fault, you cannot accuse people ‘like’ me. Take it. Apologize now, and always.

I find this strange, no matter which side it comes from. Obviously, I am not uneducated enough. Oh wait, I didn’t finish the PhD, so obviously I am not educated enough…


Opinion: On anthems and faiths

[Thus I anticipate my derisive critics: allow me to parade my ignorance. You may have your say later and in more public fora, I am sure, than this obscure page. And yes, I know you will take from my ill-informed arguments what you need to build your own powerful ones. ]

Within the context of the ‘Intolerance’ debates in India, some rejoice because it has been declared: ‘It is constitutional not to stand for the national anthem of India.’

Since it is so, therefore one may use any excuse or rationale to refuse to stand. The law is not broken, therefore all is well. And so ethics falls to belief.

What was the precipitating incident? This Indian Muslim family refused and was asked to leave the theatre.

An insistence on respect for the nation is seen by some as an intolerant imposition of majority (Hindu) norms on one of India’s minority communities. Just like before. Those Hindus, even multiple imperialisms haven’t taught them how to tolerate.

Some other members of non-Hindu communities do not see a conflict between faith and nation, religion and respect. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RHLd1VjRfzk. But these are the people on the street. Aam aadmi. The bourgeoisie. Philistines. #Modimorons. Bhakts. What do they know?

The nation, after all, according to enlightened postcolonial intellectuals, is dead! Never again should we stand…etc. Hinduism was a construct of the British. The Indian nation was a construct of the British. Postcolonial enlightenment demands that both be cast out. Along with things such as patriotism, but do bring in Harvard whenever possible please, especially at places such as the Kumbh Mela. ‘We’ like being pre-national and post-national at once. Our own cohort of intellectuals have crafted a logic and rhetoric to make it possible, of course the ordinary Indian cannot understand or accept the vision of the subcontinent we are trying to fund and craft.

If my tone has been a touch acid so far, the next bit is straightforward.

My point is utilitarian and democratic: if you wish to avail of the benefits of citizenship in India as a member of a minority community (Special Personal Law above the law of the land, affirmative action, paid pilgrimages, money for every girl child born into specific religions, etc.; India has over 80% constitutional reservations for people of various communities and caste groups and sects, even ‘Hindu’ minorities) then you owe something to the nation. You cannot expect the country at large to submit to your demands for wellness in this life while you invest everything you get in your personal concept of the hereafter as enshrined in this or that faith. Your faith may tell you that the opinions of those who do not support your faithful behavior do not matter, but the rest of India does not need to voluntarily submit to one-sided transactional citizenship, not even when their elites tell them to, especially if your actions and loyalties support the dismantling of said nation.

You are not permitted to forego your debts or your duties if you have enjoyed your rights until now. And these apply to every state, to every disgruntled person who claims discrimination and economic backwardness as an excuse for destructive public acts, to every apologist for a libertarian, existentialist agenda in militant activity against bad faith. Take what you can give, and take and give as much as is mutually agreed upon.

If you do not wish to stand for the symbols of the nation, show your respect to the nation by some other means, and do not enter the theatre (of film or nation) until the anthem is over. If all such symbols offend you, do not ask for any special benefits from the nation by virtue of the same belief-system (religion, non-religion) that makes you a minority. Or a majority, for that matter.

We are all, supposedly, talking and fighting over a nation we want the current hapless ‘India’ to be. Make it equitable. Make it democratic.

And please make the constructed (nation, act)and the critiqued (act, law, custom) unique to the locale (the Indian subcontinent). The version of secular democracy that should be allowed to evolve in India — through the daily negotiations of the ordinary public en route to individual life goals — may not coincide with Enlightenment-inherited or foreign-foundation-funded values of what experts think it should be. And that’s as it should be.

 


Pie charts

Three links. Yours to read, juxtapose, ponder.

My view: the pie (India’s distributable resources)  is not endless, people. Let’s also talk about how to grow it in size while we decide how to fight over how to divide it up.

A South Asia without borders is also a region without a single entity to provide subsidized healthcare, aid to victims of natural disasters, incentive to industry and technology, and the privileges of reservations.

A call to divide India up still further. (Other bits of supposedly “impeccable logic” from Pakistan and JNU. ) Please set these against this call for 100 % caste-based reservations in India.

Who gets what land? What industry? How is the reservation system to be enforced if regional majorities impose their own rule in each state? Will we resettle minorities to areas where they are majorities? I wish these learned people who write such articles and propose such policy changes would consider the massive upheaval, conflict and resentment they are instigating.

Above all, how is the logic of more power to regions compatible with centrally decided logics of affirmative actions? Should India convert to a loose semi-autonomous coalition? As before the British Raj? Shall we wait for another ‘settler colonial’?


The germination experiment

We had imagined that everyone had wanted bright lights and running water, music halls and conveniences. But ultimately, the nature of the pressure generated from being crammed into smaller spaces than humans had ever been in before was different from the ecological and infrastructural pressures we had predicted.

They became pressures of preserving an identity, of keeping privacy and separateness, of keeping apart. They became problems of assimilation, of integration, of a pressing need to say ‘who am I? And who are you?’

Ultimately, it became a distinction by identification of ‘what are you?’

Questions of worth, keeping up, matching what one has to the rest of the pack one desires to be in, deliberately differentiating oneself from the larger group, a proud distinction in the crowd. The pressure of strangers was perceived as pressure to move away from what one was, what one had brought with or saved of oneself when one came to the new place and the crowd. So we pushed back. Strangers not welcome. They intruded on our dreams of what we had thought our future would be.

Trouble was, those dreams had been based on the characteristics of a past that was already changing under our feet. You cannot enlarge and project the past into a realistic future; the past is the known, the smaller and more contained world, and the future is by definition the threshold of the unknown.

Some say we don’t have our backs to the past and our faces to the future. Rather, we have our backs to the future and faces to the past, so that all of time and experience is an unrolling ribbon of inclusive history. We look over our shoulders at the unknown. But that inclusive vision must still use the combat tools of modern historiography in order to secure change in every new moment of the present (or the past).

And even in that, the strange past intrudes like a morphing virus. What we dislike about the intrusion of the strange into our consciousness — the stranger, the new odd neighbor, the strange dresses and customs, the disaster, the irritating actions of others that force us to change our route to heaven or hell — is the way they spoil our dreams.

And the new ones who enter old spaces, the migrants wanted by one group and not another, at one time and not another? Their lives are also attempts at historiography. They also come into new spaces and hope to keep some parts of the old they left behind, and they try to re-create from the seeds in their memories, in a petri-dish as it were, a new entity: the reborn old world that they fled from or that they watched sicken and change or simply abandoned for better prospects.

All these worlds and their thought-bubble Edens, jostling in the same space. And not enough earth to let all be full-grown entities.

There cannot ever be those old worlds again. Nor even nouveau ones. Each group of people has grown far beyond what their past was, what their past had once made possible. But the earth has not grown. We are tree-tops choking each other in the slow fight to air or death. Look to our roots.


The whip and the road

I would not read this BBC story (http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-33096971 ) about two men who survived Tuol Sleng prison, Phnom Penh, as warning against certain kinds of torture or evil government. I would read it instead as reminder of the tendency of human beings to burn all in the quest for their version of utopia. Western, Eastern, Northern, Southern, each and all will sacrifice the Other and then parts of their own peoples to install a better future. It used to be possible to overcome some empires, dictators and tyrants and plot and plan their overthrow or assassination; with each passing decade, with the refinement in technology and the sheer human and economic numbers involved, the calculations for throw and overthrow are not likely to be made by individuals or local groups.

And in all that neutralized (in tone and political statement) story this matter-of-fact sentence is what I would choose to highlight:

‘”If those guards hadn’t tortured a false confession out of me, they would have been executed – I can’t say I would have behaved any differently [in their position],” [Chum Mey] says.’

This is the truth, I think. The blunt everyday evidence to stand beside the Stanford Prison Experiments and William Golding’s _The Lord of the Flies_. We do not like to talk about these things. We prefer to believe in sweetness and light. Or prefer that when we will make our mini and major empires we shall do it better and more honorably than this. Our souls are surely not like this, not if we adhere to Law or Religion. Surely, if we believe in something higher, our actions will be better. Surely we learn, and progress and evolve.

And yet, I think we merely see what is in front of us, the part of the moral compass that presents itself to our field of sight.

I once quoted elsewhere from a frivolous book: “True pain is like black ink. Enough of it can blot out a man’s soul. If you’re willing to use it, you can write whatever you wish in its place.” In that book these lines were spoken by a character who had been tortured in such a way that he bore no outward marks, and who had ‘sold his soul’ to avoid further pain. Allow me to generalize. Many of us do as the character did. War or sport or the war of life: ’tis all the same. Cumulative trauma exists, and half this hopeful world reels between the black reality of their pain and the unreal reality of the world-machine.

I first quoted that because I was struck by the metaphorical similarity drawn between soul (after ‘intelligence,’ the next most ‘untouchable’ attribute of the ‘human’) and ink-n-paper (in a world where we have grown accustomed to insisting on writing/patenting/publishing/material proof). Allow me another moment to ask metaphysical and utterly visceral questions. Is pain a reflection of soul, i.e. that it is but an illusion? Maybe, but even a monk doing penance knows how the body hurts. And a child knows joy. As for the rest of us: you can wear a person down over the years such that you break their will to resist and fight, to stand tall or act fairly. I have not read or speculated enough to agree if ‘aatma’ is ‘void.’ I suspect every organized and folk religion in the world will give you a different version of the nature, form and characteristics of the soul. And thereby prove or disprove the co-existence of pain with soul. I am irreverent, so I believe none of them until experience tells me true. I do not know about ‘soul,’ but the human can definitely be broken. Just like a horse under rein and spurs.

I know men and women can be broken and redirected at least half against their will. And sometimes, if they are beaten enough, they will be like the horse that attacked whatever it saw on the road in front of it whenever it felt the whip on its back. It could not see behind it (what had trained it, what drove it) but it could see what was in front, and it began to associate pain with what it could see. We can be like that, too. Too easily. Therefore news like this is important, and voices and words such as Primo Levi’s and Wilfred Owen’s and all the rest unknown to my mainstream mind are important, because after training by trauma we need to relearn what it is exactly that hurt us and what we cannot see.


Thinking on Conflagration

It is Holi, 2015. I am reading this.

http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21645729-quarter-century-after-end-cold-war-world-faces-growing-threat-nuclear?fsrc=nlw%7Chig%7C5-03-2015%7C

The nuclear bomb was meant to be a frightening inducement to peace, as if humans as a species could be collectively made to behave peaceably under the overwhelming threat of a weapon-overlord.

The context was near-planetary war, in a century shaken by the fact that war had no limits. New technology had made it possible to reach and destroy without having to go to the enemy and engage them face to face with rules and constraints. The enemy was multi-bodied, the enemy uniform or physical characteristic sufficient to mark and condemn all the people who symbolically shared it. Fear had spilled over the trenches long ago, now it would spill over human life itself.

Perhaps some folks did not like that the implacable fight to live that animated most of what science put under its instruments of examination should be mirrored in whatever humans created. Perhaps the idea was to subdue man with the forces of nature (or science) before the very matrix of human life became a battlefield.

What did those well-meaning men (and they were perhaps men, perhaps not all men) think about who would wield such bombs? Who is or would be benign enough to do so?

Besides, it hardly matters if the overlord himself were benign; it is not in this century’s culture to view the presence of a perceived overlord or more powerful entity as benign. The very existence of such a power would be an affront, an actionable trigger.

Nuclear power was never about ‘right’ (what is right); only about ‘the right’ to do something with it, and about some ideological justification for what any one person or community wants. The existence of nuclear power is not a problem; the pervasive desire to harness it as weaponry instead of a source of energy for human needs is a problem we cannot unmake.

There are studies (http://www.gsb.stanford.edu/insights/nir-halevy-how-do-you-make-decisions ) that say, given a chance, humans will choose an equal and best common decision for any relational choice. But what is true in societal, individual-to-individual or peer-to-peer relations is not necessarily true for inter-community relations. For the lifetime of a community is longer than that of a single human, and history induces a different sort of calculation of choices, of political justifications for imagined futures. People calculate rewards and punishments in different ways (http://www.gsb.stanford.edu/insights/kristin-laurin-people-calculate-rewards-punishments-different-ways). A man or woman may invest and sacrifice to build the fabric of the social network he or she lives in, but will not act the same way to extend that network beyond a safe, controllable perimeter. We don’t decide in favor of justice, we decide for ourselves.

I would resist the temptation to speak of schoolyard bullies, of men in their childhood. As long as there is any chance for power, gang war and factionalism, without sufficient overwhelming presence and pressure applied to discourage the bickering and fighting there will be war. There is no other species yet violent enough or powerful enough to subdue the self-sabotaging tendencies of the human race.

Our communication media are full of rhetoric about ‘changing the world’ at every level. We applaud youngsters who deliver inspirational speeches, move us with youthful idealism, or simply speak of things we discarded in favor of stability and security in our life-choices. We elevate and enshrine the idea– at our mundane career levels: work for the underprivileged, for women (while you shop at brand name stores), win a trip to Africa, to India, travel and learn, volunteer, teach the poor, the children (always dark-skinned, by the way), and what a great thing to add to our resumes; at geopolitical levels; at levels of religious or economic empires. And we ignore what it means when our effort and our vision of change or a changed world interacts with everyone else’s. We know better and we mean well, so you better listen, OR we don’t care about you and we have the power so you better listen. What’s the difference? Whose world matters? Whose vision?

This planet is more than the earth of humankind, but in our individual efforts to superimpose one or the other perfect world on it we have reduced its existence to our narrow jockeying for regional power. I watch the roll of history, of the choices being made between possible futures, and wonder how much energy will be spent in opposing one or the other mad ambition before some part of this earth is blighted.


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