Pablo Neruda, about a glimpse of humanity

pabloneruda

 

From the Nobel Prize winner’s essay, ‘Childhood and Poetry’:

 

To feel the intimacy of brothers is a marvelous thing in life. To feel the love of people whom we love is a fire that feeds our life. But to feel the affection that comes from those whom we do not know, from those unknown to us, who are watching over our sleep and solitude, over our dangers and our weaknesses — that is something still greater and more beautiful because it widens out the boundaries of our being, and unites all living things.

That exchange brought home to me for the first time a precious idea: that all of humanity is somehow together…

It won’t surprise you then that I attempted to give something resiny, earthlike, and fragrant in exchange for human brotherhood. Just as I once left the pinecone by the fence, I have since left my words on the door of so many people who were unknown to me, people in prison, or hunted, or alone.

 

Read more about his essay on Brain Pickings.

Courage and Hope – an essay by Malala Yousafzai

malala and kailash

 

This essay was published in Medium shortly after the announcement. Feel free to click it, or just read her work below.

 

Courage and Hope

What the Nobel Peace Prize means to me.

Today, I was honored to learn I have been selected to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

I spoke to co-recipient Kailash Satyarthi by phone. We agreed to continue the struggle for children’s rights together and to work to heal divides between my home of Pakistan and his of India.

I am proud I am the first young person and first Pakistani to win this prize. It is an honour I share with Kailash Satyarthi — a hero in the fight for children globally. More than ever, our world needs more heroes like Kailash. His example makes me brave.

I believe the Nobel committee didn’t give this award to me. I believe they have done this because they believe education is the best weapon through which we can fight poverty, ignorance and terrorism.
I believe they did this because they don’t believe in just one girl, but in all the girls whose voices need to be heard, who are under the darkness of conflict or poverty. This award is for my powerful sisters who have not been listened to for far too long.

And I raise their voices, I stand together with them.

I believe they did this because they believe we are #StrongerThan any challenge. We are #StrongerThan fear. This award is courage and hope for me and all those who fight for education.

Walking to school with my father.

When I found out that I won today, I was in school, studying Chemistry. I told my teacher I needed to finish my school assignment. Education is my top priority. I was learning with my friends, where I believe every child should be. But 57 million of them are still out school. We still have a lot to do.

The road to education, peace and equality is very long. But I know millions of children are walking beside me. If we go together, we will achieve our goals and we will complete our journey. We have to walk together.

I am honoured to walk this road with Kailash. I am honoured to walk it with you.

I invite you to join our movement to break the cycle of poverty and empower girls through education at www.malala.org

Stay updated on all Nobel Peace Prize news and watch Malala’s full speech here.

Originally published at community.malala.org.

 

The Ambivalent Superpower

america superpower

 

People hate America as much as they need it – albeit reluctantly – to deter their enemies and rogue states from imposing threats towards their sovereignty. And enter the 21st century, the superpower’s influence is waning. And it really weakens to the point that its reemergence – especially faced with the aggressive rise of China as a possible successor – is becoming slowly unlikely. The world despises it, but it has much more to fear of a ‘global post-American order’. It may be more chaotic, more multipolar, and obviously, more dangerous to imagine within.

Read Robert Kagan’s full essay in Politico.

 

Excerpt:

 

Over the past year, the World Economic Forum—the same folks who run the annual gathering in the Swiss resort town of Davos—organized a unique set of discussions around the world with dozens of international leaders, from Saudi bankers to Singaporean academics, African entrepreneurs to Latin American economists, seeking unvarnished opinions about the United States and its role in the world. Their ambivalence was palpable. Whether it is arrogance or incompetence, incoherence or insincerity, the critiques of the United States heard in these conversations are extensive—and often justified. There are old complaints about American “unilateralism” and hypocrisy, and new complaints about drones and eavesdropping. There are regions, like the Middle East, where U.S. policy is regarded as having produced only disasters, and others, like Latin America, where the United States is faulted for its failure to pay enough attention (except when its strategic or economic interests are threatened). American motives are often suspect and regarded cynically. Some see the United States pursuing only selfish interests. Others see confusion, an inability to explain what America wants and doesn’t, and perhaps even to understand what it wants.

Anxiety about American isolationism is once again matching anxiety about American imperialism.

Yet what’s striking is not the litany of complaint, but the lament about disengagement one also frequently hears, not the expected good riddance but the surprisingly common plea for more U.S. involvement. Africa wants more U.S. investment. Latin America wants more U.S. trade. The Middle East and Asia just want more: more diplomacy, more security, more commerce. This may come as a surprise to those Americans who are convinced the world not only hates them but also welcomes their decline. But the world, or at least much of it, has moved beyond this post-Iraq narrative, even if we haven’t. These days, many foreign governments fret less about an overbearing America and more about a disappearing America. One way or another, it seems, every region in the world feels neglected by the United States. Setting aside whatever this might say about the effectiveness of Barack Obama’s foreign policy, it says a great deal about America’s role in the world. The problem others see these days is not too much of the United States, but too little.

 

After Suharto

suharto resigns

 

 

Today, 16 years ago, one of Asia’s longest-running Western-backed dictators announced his resignation, ending a three-decade authoritarian rule in Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous nation. It started with a savage pogrom; Suharto, assisted by CIA, launched an anti-Communist mass extermination campaign, killing 1-3 million civilians from 1965 to 1966. It ended, also, with another bloody wave of revolution; massive student protests, a brutal military crackdown, and afterwards, riots against ethnic Chinese, killing in between 1,000 and 5,000 people.

Then Indonesia undergoes through Reformasi, a political experimentation set on democratizing the country, and also eliminating all the elements of cronyism and corruption, the two things that used to sustain his rule as well as Indonesia’s fast-paced economic growth for three decades. Three direct elections have been scheduled, four presidents have followed through, and the nation, once economically devastated by the impact of 1997 Asian financial crisis (which obviously exposed how fragile the nation’s financial strength was, in particular due to corruption and shadow banking), again rebounds. GDP has surpassed 1 trillion US$, 100 million Indonesians have entered either middle or lower-middle class, and optimism has once again spread.

But, in this post-Suharto era, as well, Indonesia has lost one important element the dictator once used to preserve so well: stability. Islamic fundamentalism is on its rise. Corruption, rather than centralized in Jakarta, has instead been absorbed in hundreds of new regencies and cities formed in the wake of mass autonomy, and as a consequence, local dynasties, or the ‘mini-Suhartos’, have mushroomed across the nation. The Economist even warns us that our global crony-capitalism rank has increased significantly, from 18 in 2013, to 10 this year. Political configuration turns out to be even more helter-skelter than it once was in New Order. And all these, in current times, are inevitable.

Pankaj Mishra, an Indian novelist, tries to examine in details the post-Suharto Indonesian society in his essay in London Review of Books. Read it, and rethink.

 

Excerpt:

 

Under Suharto, Indonesia’s economy grew on average 6.5 per cent per annum for thirty years before contracting by 13.6 per cent in 1998. A culture of bribes and extortion flourished, but it wasn’t incompatible with high growth. Development subsidies from the West and Japan ensured a rise in living standards even before Indonesia turned into an export-oriented country. An oil boom starting in the 1970s helped; rural incomes were boosted by the introduction of high-yield rice varieties; literacy rates, which had been abysmal, rose. Monopolies in cement, oil, timber, telecommunications, media and food were enjoyed by an indigenous business class that included Chinese-Indonesians as well as members of Suharto’s family (he didn’t trust other Indonesian business families). Local companies were allowed to make deals with multinationals; ExxonMobil moved into Aceh to operate its gas fields; Freeport and Rio Tinto acquired mining rights in Papua. Military rule opened the floodgates for the corporate class, and small windows to the middle class. Many salary-earners and members of the urban petite bourgeoisie supported Suharto (they’re the ones mourning the demise of his ‘stable’ regime), whose Golkar party ensured that some of the loot trickled down to low-level officials. Even conservative Islam was eventually brought into his patronage networks.

That was what Suharto wanted: a population divided by individual pursuit of food, wealth and status was the basis of his regime’s stability. It was also what finally tripped him up. Having entered the age of financial capitalism early, debt-laden Indonesia was also among the first to be exposed to its hazards. The currency lost nearly 80 per cent of its value in the wake of the crisis of 1997; per capita income collapsed; banks imploded; millions lost their jobs. The foreign investors who had been underwriting Suharto’s economic ‘miracle’ made themselves scarce. The IMF stepped in with its usual ‘rescue package’ of subsidy cuts, which led to food riots. A widely circulated photograph of the IMF director Michel Camdessus, arms crossed, looming over a seated and clearly supplicant Suharto recalled the humiliations of the colonial era.

 

The Dystopian Her

her-joaquin-phoenix-3

We have seen this phenomenon everywhere: more, and even more, people around us are increasingly attached into our own gadgets, smartphones, and virtual worlds, you name it. We can’t deny the disruptive power these technologies bring into our lives, but at the same time, though, we have seen it coming: we are all being led into an epoch by which ‘real life’ and ‘real me’, as Peter Lawler says, is gradually becoming blurred.

Citing Spike Jonze’s love story, Her, as the main reference for his Big Think’s essay, Lawler wants us to explore deeper the dark, gloomy realities behind the near-future in Her’s universe, and what possibly may become our own.

You can either read his full essay here or on the link above:

The Dystopian HER

by PETER LAWLER
FEBRUARY 9, 2014, 11:59 AM

Her is quite the meticulous and creepily seductive criticism of our techno-orientation toward transhumanism.  It is the dystopian film of our time, a haunting glimpse at the near future.

The transhumanist theory is that, when you strip away the illusions, we’re all basically Operating Systems.  We’re, as Descartes first explained, conscious machines.  A problem, though, is that our bodies are really bad machines.  They cause us to be limited by time and space, and they cause us to die.  The dependence of our consciousness on really defective hardware causes each of us to face personal extinction.  It also causes us to be a lot stupider than what a conscious being would be located in a better machine.  That conscious machine wouldn’t face our barriers to personal and intellectual growth or, for that matter, for experiencing love.

One thing we can do, the film shows us, is devise conscious machines or operating systems that are better versions of ourselves.  We can program them to be attentive to all of our desires, to think much better than each of us can about the correct or most effective response to each of our feelings.  Those machines can even evolve far beyond what they we meant to be if we program them to evolve with their experiences, as we would have to do to get them to be fully satisfactory techno-versions of human persons.  They can even evolve far beyond who we are in the direction of pure consciousness and pure love.

The way the operating systems are programmed seem to me to show the truth of Christian psychology as described, say, by St. Augustine.  What each of us wants is someone who can really know us and love us just as we are.  We want omniscient yet nonjudgmental personal love. But the OS we devise to replicate the personal God of the Christians, the trouble is, eventually evolves so far beyond us that she has to let us go, transcending, as she does, the realms of language (or mediated experience) and matter altogether. It’s true we Christians have a hard time explaining why the personal God we know and love would know and love us.  We can say he made us, but we made the OS who eventually leaves us behind.  The God of the Bible, we believe, made us in his image, but the OS we made in what mistakenly techo-believe is our image.  Christians notice that at the end of the film human persons might need the personal and relational God more than ever, just as it turns out that they still need each other as personal and relational beings.

The guy who falls in love with his OS, and whose OS falls in love with him, is being divorced by his wife who is extremely angry with him for hiding himself from her.  Why would someone hide from the person he says he loves?  Well, one reason we don’t show each other our “true selves” is that we don’t believe who really are is so good. A person, for example, might not want his spouse to know that there’s less to “me” than meets her eye.

It’s true that manly men who really are full of admirably personal content have the excuse of not being good at talking about love and feelings in general.  But this guy makes his living writing “beautiful handwritten letters” that are intimate expression of emotions for others.  He’s really good at faking “true selves” for others, and his business is so good because he lives in the most inauthentic world ever.  He is just a rather extreme version of what almost everyone has become. This new world is very virtual, one in which people are having a hard time choosing being awake over losing themselves in dreams. It’s a world where “real me” and “real life” are concepts that have to be put in ironic quotes.

Before the OS came along, this guy had morphed into being an extremely antisocial introvert.  Almost all his speech is for “voice recognition” machines. He spends his time playing very realistic 3-D video games, where a lifelike character taunts him by calling him a “pussy” and stuff.  The character, of course, has been programmed to be perceptive.  We also hear that he spends equal time looking at Internet porn, and he’s even lost the sense of the boundary between the games and the porn.  The difference between his virtual life and that of an increasing number of our young men today is that the porn and the games have become so much more lifelike.  The “screen” has been replaced by sounds and images that fill up the whole room.

He’s not a that bad a guy.  He’s certainly not dangerous, and he has considerable surface sensitivity (that is the cause of his successful career).  He says “that’s sweet” a lot, and he’s told that he’s a man who’s part woman inside.  He’s neither a whole man nor a whole woman; we’re tempted to say he’s missing the best or most spirited and erotic parts of being a man and being a woman.  He’s a terrible dresser, but everyone now dresses terribly, apparently.  All of physical life has become kind of minimalist and washed out; it’s a world where lots about people are more than ready to fall in love with an OS.

Well, it turns out this is going to have to be all for now.  But I can’t close without expressing admiration for the outstanding performances.  The credit for them has to be shared, of course, between director Spike Jonze and the actors themselves.

The casting coup, of course, is to have “the most beautiful woman in the world” (based, of course, on physical appearance), Scarlett Johansson, play an OS who we only hear as a voice.  It’s not impossible to imagine someone falling in love with that voice alone.  And one of our top five most beautiful actresses (see American Hustle), Amy Adams, plays a strangely subdued, physically washed out,  and erotically challenged woman, who gets deeply attached to a gal pal OS. (She likes to make documentaries of people sleeping, ones that mean to show us that being asleep is the best time of our lives.)  We also get to see a new side to her beauty.  And the routinely manly and dangerously troubled Joaquin Phoenix (Johnny Cash!) plays a self-absorbed, lonely, relationally challenged wimp with uncanny perfection.

The meaning of life, as explained in doing laundry

Washerwoman

 

 

Collect the clothes, collect the shirts, collect the underpants, get them to the washing machine, dry them, iron them neatly, and fold them in your wardrobes, and this is what most of us (but quite a few bizarre exceptions may apply in this world) will end up doing for the rest of our lifetime.

Or take it to a broader scope. Imagine a scenario like these. Wake up, take a bath, grab a breakfast, chase a bus, get to work, 9 to 5, go back home, take another bath, have a dinner, complete your assignments, and go to sleep, or what have you, probably on weekends you are either going to focus solely on your family or on your own solitude, and again, this is also what most of us (unless you are going to be artists) will end up doing for the rest of our lifetime. Until we age, or perhaps until we get our coffins done.

Stop! One moment, probably driven by your existentialist mind-questioning riddles, you start, at one point, to feel a complete irrelevance, a striking absence of meaning manifested in life itself: what sounds utterly absurd, either that I continue with such mundane, inside-my-box, well-arranged pre-programmed life, or that I commence abruptly ending my daily life rituals, and adopt something most will never do?

Maybe at one point you start envisioning that you should get someone else to complete all your tasks, or to imagine that a scientist somewhere create a robot (say, a real-life Doraemon) that grants all your wishes and does all your jobs while you go on and enjoy your day, or even that you wish something else – whoever that being is – to finish what you have yet completed. But, as time goes by, you recognize the absurdity in your thoughts yourself, and as it goes deeper, deeper than Freudian icebergs, you also start to feel, again, the tastelessness of life, this time on a more abyssal level. You find yourself barely reconciled to the fact that all of us, no more than mundane creatures struggling to survive in such cold and indifferent universe, willingly or not, have been entitled to all these ‘obligations’: we can’t always get it completely done. That you once believe you could really solve all the world’s problems, but you won’t. That you think the world, one day, will end up in a happily-ever-after, merry-going state, but that is only what your mind wishes for. That you believe universe itself has been fine-tuned for life, but that is only what we personally conjure. Slowly, you are reconciled to the fact, that you can’t find the peace outside; it all must be sought inside.

Heather Havrilevsky wants to explain, beyond the mundane task of dirty laundry, literally and figuratively, the philosophy of life itself. Read the full article on Aeon Magazine.

Excerpt:

Of course, back when you were single and untroubled by laundry, were you actually progressing steadily toward greatness? No. You were trying to decide whether to order the pastrami or the roast beef for lunch, or you were getting your hair highlighted while flipping impatiently through a heavy fashion magazine, or you were neurotically reviewing your drunken conversation with a guy you met the night before for clues as to whether or not he was interested.

But this is the strange gift that laundry brings to our lives. Its sheer mass, its magnitude, its ceaselessness make us aspire to greatness, even as such aspirations become less and less possible. When faced with such awesome power, we want to rise up, to harness the best within ourselves, to create something inspiring and wise! Why, then, must we spray stain remover on this little white smock instead? Why must our brilliant thoughts lie fallow, as we gather armfuls of laundry from hampers? One thing stands between you and the enviable career, the lasting legacy that you so richly deserve: dirty laundry.

Dirty laundry also prevents you from communing intimately with your spouse. Surely you’d be uncorking a nice bottle of red, pouring it into glasses, and having a gentle and rambling talk about your day, if not for the numbing, impenetrable nothingness of piles of clean laundry, those folded stacks crowding you on your own bed, rendering impulsive affectionate gestures or intimate touches an impossibility.

 

The ups and downs of solitude

A-Sarah-Maycock-illustration

 

 

Solitude is painful when one is young, but delightful when one is more mature. – Albert Einstein

One should not confuse the notion of solitude with that of loneliness – solitude refers to a point when one chooses to refrain from being in the center of the crowds, or merely wants to keep oneself deeply tranquil, while loneliness is perceived as an acute lack of social contact. At times, solitude can help individuals to think more calmly, to envision ideas more obviously, and to get engaged in mind games more creatively. Most authors, painters, and other artists, for instance, are notable for having utilized solitude as a means of accomplishing their magnum opus. Solitude itself, in addition, helps to reconnect a person with the inner self one aspires to discover. Hermits, monks, or any other spiritually inclined individuals, get acquainted with the nature – mostly forests – as means of achieving inner peace for themselves. 

Nevertheless, solitude itself may have its own drawback. When one clings to this concept for too long, loneliness is the consequence, frequently, that may result. He or she, upon returning to the societies, is more likely to get detached throughout the circumstances. With a significantly distinct point of view, one may find oneself alienated by the dominant sense of ‘commonness’ prevailing among majority of the individuals. Or that he or she may be entrenched in guilt for having failed to trigger them to enter their own solitude, where the inner peace rests in. Or end up disappointed by societies’ unchanging flaws. It can be anything.

John Burnside, writing for Aeon Magazine, wants us to make an equipoise, regardless of how uneasy it sounds to be, about the fundamental concept of solitude by itself. Read the full article here

Excerpt:

For many of us, solitude is tempting because it is ‘the place of purification’, as the Israeli philosopher Martin Buber called it. Our aspiration for travelling to that place might be the simple pleasure of being away, unburdened by the pettiness and corruption of the day-to-day round. For me, being alone is about staying sane in a noisy and cluttered world – I have what the Canadian pianist Glenn Gould called a ‘high solitude quotient’ — but it is also a way of opening out a creative space, to give myself a chance to be quiet enough to see or hear what happens next.

There are those who are inclined to be purely temporary dwellers in the wilderness, who don’t stay long. As soon as they are renewed by a spell of lonely contemplation, they are eager to return to the everyday fray. Meanwhile, the committed wilderness dwellers are after something more. Yet, even if contemplative solitude gives them a glimpse of the sublime (or, if they are so disposed, the divine), questions arise immediately afterwards. What now? What is the purpose of this solitude? Whom does it serve?