Tag Archives: critical thinking

Thoughts on “Beauty Queens, Fundamentalists, and Lepers” by Umberto Eco

This short essay is included in Turning Back the Clock: Hot Wars and Media Populism. In the essay, Eco employs his wit to address issues of globalization, and how the media contributes to the negative aspects of globalization.

I am one of those who think that out of every ten phenomena of globalization, at least five may have a positive outcome but if globalization does have a negative aspect, it is the violent imposition of Western models on underdeveloped countries to induce consumption and raise hope that such countries cannot fulfill. If I show you beauty queens in swimsuits, it’s because I want to promote the sale of Western beach wear, maybe sewn by hungry children in Hong Kong. The clothing will be bought in Nigeria by those who aren’t dying of hunger (if these people have money to spend, they are making it at the expense of those dying of hunger) and who actively help Westerners exploit the poor and keep them in precolonial condition.

(pp. 261 – 262)

The Covid-19 pandemic has made us all painfully aware of how fragile the globalized consumerist economic model truly is. Our insatiable craving for cheap goods to fill some void within us has killed local manufacturing and the result is that when things fall apart, as they eventually will, we are left without the infrastructure and ability to provide for ourselves. This is evident in the barren shelves which are reminiscent of a dystopian sci-fi film.

I have no idea what our post-coronavirus world will look like, but I am quite certain that it will be very different from what we have become accustomed to.

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Thoughts on “The Taking of Jerusalem: An Eyewitness Report” by Umberto Eco

Painting by Émile Signol

So it is no secret that I am a huge fan of Umberto Eco’s work, and this short piece is a fine example of why. It is a piece of brilliant satire intended to demonstrate the absurdity of news commentary, particularly in regard to war coverage. The piece is written from the perspective of a war correspondent covering the taking of Jerusalem during the Crusades.

Typical of a news reporter, the reporter is always looking to get into the heart of the conflict.

My informants tell me that the attack is more interesting on the northwestern front, at Herod’s Gate. I will hop on a mule and try to get to the other side of the walls. And now, back to the studio,

(Turning Back the Clock: p. 255)

The correspondent then gives a play-by-play account, reminiscent of sports commentary. I have often noted that coverage of conflicts, as well as politics, often seem like sports narrative.

From my new position I have a clear view of Godfrey of Bouillon directing the final assault from the top of a tower. The first Christians are on the top of the walls. They are Luthold and Engelbert of Tournai, I’m told, Godfrey and the others follow them, the Moors are falling under their blows, others are leaping from the walls. Herod’s Gate is down—unless it was opened by our men already inside. The men of the Christian Alliance have entered the city on foot and horseback!

(ibid: p. 256)

Toward the end of the piece, Eco makes his most important point, in my opinion. We like to believe that the end of a conflict is the end of the war; this is not true in far too many cases. Sadly, the termination of a conflict is only the beginning of a longer war, that of ideals fueled by resentment and hatred of the other faction.

A monk I spoke to this morning pointed out that this massacre amounts to a defeat. If we are to establish a Christian realm in these lands, we ought to be able to count on the acceptance of the Muslim inhabitants and the tolerance of the neighboring kingdoms. But the slaughter has raised a wall of hatred between Moors and Christians that will endure for years, perhaps centuries. The conquest of Jerusalem is not the end but the beginning—of a very long war.

(ibid: pp. 258 – 259)

We still have this war mentality that permeates so much of our culture: war on crime, war on poverty, war on hunger, war on coronavirus, on and on. Our political debates are battles, this side vs. the other. Everything is broken down to my team against yours (which team are you?). If we are to survive as a species, we need to collectively change this attitude. Us and them no longer works. It has to be we, and that will only be achieved through cooperation and support.

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Thoughts on “Holy Wars, Passion, and Religion” by Umberto Eco

In this essay, Eco explores fundamentalism and the need for critical and objective analysis when thinking about this complicated phenomenon. He basically argues that the problem with our approach to understanding fundamentalism is that we look at it from our own cultural perspective and not from the perspective of the society that spawned the fundamentalist movement. He also argues that understanding fundamentalism in other cultures helps us better understand fundamental movements within our own cultures.

Imagine is Muslim fundamentalists were invited to carry out research on Christian fundamentalism (I’m thinking of certain American Protestants, more fanatical than any ayatollah, who would expunge all reference to Darwin from the schoolbooks). Studying the fundamentalism of others helps us understand our own fundamentalism better. Let them come and study our concept of holy war (I could suggest a very interesting reading list, with some recent works), and perhaps they will view the concept in their own countries with a more critical eye. We Westerners have reflected on the limitations of our own way of thinking by describing la pensée sauvage.

(Turning Back the Clock: p. 244)

Our world has become very complicated, and as such, people have a general sense of being lost, as the speed of change continues to increase exponentially. This is the reason, Eco states, that we need to apply critical thinking in all areas of our lives.

But maybe it’s only a sign that in times of great disorientation (and we are living through such a time) no one knows where he stands anymore.

It is precisely in such moments of disorientation that we need to apply the tools of analysis and criticism—analysis of our own superstitions as well as those of others. I hope that these things will be discussed in the schools and not only at press conferences.

(ibid: p. 246)

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“Enlightenment and Common Sense” by Umberto Eco

UmbertoEco2

This is a short essay included in Turning Back the Clock that addresses the question: What is an enlightened thinker? While he lists several traits that are found in the modern enlightened thinker, he asserts that two essential qualities are common sense and skepticism.

While I am in complete agreement regarding Eco’s assertion about common sense, I am somewhat more skeptical when it comes to his claim on skepticism (a pun is intended here). While it is true that healthy skepticism promotes inquiry and testing of claims that are posited as fact, in the information age where a quick Google search can turn up supporting “data” for any claim, regardless of how ridiculous it may be, skepticism has opened the door to the denial of proven information that is crucial to society and humanity. The perfect example is climate change. The theory of biological imperialism asserts that a species will alter its environment to make it more conducive to its survival and comfort. It’s a hard theory to refute. If you accept this premise, then it stands to reason that humans, in modifying their surroundings, have changed the environment. When you consider this fact in conjunction with scientific evidence of changes in the climate and their connection with human activity, then our impact on climate change should be evident and not disputed. In spite of this, there is no shortage of “skeptics” who reject scientific findings and bolster their views with supporting data from “experts” in the field (often hired by corporations). And there is the problem with associating skepticism with enlightened thinking.

While I agree with 99% of what Eco asserts, I feel he is off in this area. There is a real danger in skepticism and I feel that common sense is much more important than skepticism. Hence to quote the old adage: Common sense is not all that common.

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Black Widow: Issue #7

BlackWidow_07

I liked this issue a lot. First off, it’s set in San Francisco, which is such a cool city and I have some great memories from there. Secondly, the issue includes an appearance by Matt Murdock, aka Daredevil. It is revealed that Daredevil and Natasha once had a very intimate relationship, but in typical Black Widow fashion, the details of the relationship and their split remain hidden. Lastly, the writing, artwork, and storyline are all very good and consistent with the comic series.

There is a great quote from the end of this issue that has me thinking a lot about current world events.

It’s more difficult to distinguish the good from the bad every day—and she needs people that she can trust. Because the world is full of people she can’t.

Reading this, I couldn’t help thinking about how divisive the world is nowadays and how with the plethora of information available it becomes difficult to get a clear view of a situation. We have the Russia/Ukraine conflict, Israel and Hamas, Republicans and Democrats, the list goes on. I can scan Yahoo news and read articles from different sources demonizing each side of every conflict. How can one feel certain about which side is right or wrong anymore? The lines seem to become more and more indistinguishable. For me, I try to educate myself as much as possible, to practice critical thinking, and not take anything for granted. History had demonstrated that there are always at least two sides to every story. I find it best to reserve judgment and keep an open mind.

Thanks for stopping by and keep reading.

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The Danger of Not Reading Enough

OldBooksStockPhotoI woke early this morning, made some coffee, and proceeded to read some of Anne Rice’s The Witching Hour (my current read, which is very long and may be a while before I finish). Anyway, I came across a quote in the book that struck me so deeply I decided it was worth its own blog post.

Ah Stefan, give me a man or woman who has read a thousand books and you give me an interesting companion. Give me a man or woman who has read perhaps three and you give me a dangerous enemy indeed. (P. 271)

This quote sums up the root of fundamentalism and the atrocities that have historically been committed as a result. The issue is that when individuals have a narrow reading base, then they lack perspective and the ability to think critically about ideas and information. A well-read person can engage in conversation, can discuss ideas, and is generally open to views that may differ. This is not the case with individuals who may have only read a couple of books, especially if they are the kinds of books that can lead one down the path of fundamentalism and fanaticism. These people often lack the ability to consider the validity of any concept outside their narrow intellectual scope and this closed-mindedness has led to hatred, war, and persecution directed at individuals who question or contradict those views. So yes, a little bit of knowledge can be a very dangerous thing.

As I sit here, I can’t help thinking about how this same concept applies to our current news media. People watch either FOX News or MSNBC, resulting in a very one-sided view of current events. This just fuels the division between people and leads to a distrust and even a hatred of those whose ideas differ. There is only one way to break this cycle, and that is to read broadly and often, and to remain open to new ideas, even if they challenge your established paradigms. If you are reading this, then you are likely one of those well-read persons with whom I love to engage in conversation.

Thanks for taking the time to read my blog, and keep on reading!

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