Tag Archives: social issues

Government Policy vs Cultural Dialog

Umberto Eco

I have learned to distinguish between the policies of a government (or even the constitution of a state) and the cultural ferment at work in that country. This is why I later attended cultural meetings in countries whose politics I didn’t agree with. Recently I was invited to Iran by some young, open-minded scholars who are fighting for the development of a modern culture there, and I agreed, asking only for the visit to be postponed until the situation in the Middle East became clearer, because it didn’t strike me as sensible to find myself on a plane that might get caught in missile crossfire.

If I were American, I certainly wouldn’t have voted for Bush, but this doesn’t stop me from having continuous and cordial relations with various American universities.

Umberto Eco. Turning Back the Clock

Leave a comment

Filed under Literature, Non-fiction

Overcoming the Negative Through Music

Often I, too, am overcome by the hatred, the jealousy and envy, the wars, all the ugliness that is a part of our world. I try to live in beauty and goodness; I seek out all that has a quality of inner beauty, and I am immediately repulsed by anything ugly that sends out bad vibrations. Over the years, with the help of my guru, I have tried very hard to create and build up within me a kind of beauty and spiritual strength, so that I always have this to turn to when the harshness of the world becomes too depressing. It is this inner beauty that I have worked so long to create that I try to reveal through my music and share with all my listeners.

Ravi Shankar. My Music, My Life

2 Comments

Filed under Non-fiction, Spiritual

Umberto Eco on Racism

There is an expression that has become proverbial in English: “Some of my best friends.” People who start off by declaring, say, that some of their best friends are Jewish, usually come to a “but” or “however,” followed by an anti-Semitic tirade. In the 1970s there was even a play about anti-Semitism called Some of My Best Friends (running in New York). Those who begin with this expression are immediately labeled as anti-Semites—and in fact some time ago, paradoxically, I decided that the best way to begin any discourse against racism would be to start off with: “Some of my best friends are anti-Semites…”

Umberto Eco. Turning Back the Clock

Leave a comment

Filed under Literature, Non-fiction

“Henry VIII” by William Shakespeare: On Politics and Literature

This was my first time reading this particular play, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. The introduction said that the play is a “pageant to be seen rather than a play to be read,” and the abundance of stage directions confirms this. Still, there are some interesting passages, especially in regard to the politics of that age.

The play essentially takes place as King Henry VIII was getting divorced from Katherine of Aragon so that he could marry Anne Boleyn (spelled Bullen in Shakespeare’s text). Toward the end of the play, Queen Anne gives birth to Elizabeth, the future queen, and this is where the text gets really interesting for me.

At the time that Shakespeare wrote this play, James I had succeeded Queen Elizabeth I and was reigning over England. In the final act, Shakespeare pays homage to the two monarchs that ruled during his time, a move that was politically savvy and ensured that he remained within the good graces of the ruler. He did this by crafting a prophesy, asserting that Elizabeth and James were both divinely ordained to do great things during their lifetimes. It is a long passage, but worth sharing.

Let me speak, sir,
For heaven now bids me; and the words I utter
Let none think flattery, for they’ll find ’em truth.
This royal infant–heaven still move about her!–
Though in her cradle, yet now promises
Upon this land a thousand thousand blessings,
Which time shall bring to ripeness: she shall be–
But few now living can behold that goodness–
A pattern to all princes living with her,
And all that shall succeed: Saba was never
More covetous of wisdom and fair virtue
Than this pure soul shall be: all princely graces,
That mould up such a mighty piece as this is,
With all the virtues that attend the good,
Shall still be doubled on her: truth shall nurse her,
Holy and heavenly thoughts still counsel her:
She shall be loved and fear’d: her own shall bless her;
Her foes shake like a field of beaten corn,
And hang their heads with sorrow: good grows with her:
In her days every man shall eat in safety,
Under his own vine, what he plants; and sing
The merry songs of peace to all his neighbours:
God shall be truly known; and those about her
From her shall read the perfect ways of honour,
And by those claim their greatness, not by blood.
Nor shall this peace sleep with her: but as when
The bird of wonder dies, the maiden phoenix,
Her ashes new create another heir,
As great in admiration as herself;
So shall she leave her blessedness to one,
When heaven shall call her from this cloud of darkness,
Who from the sacred ashes of her honour
Shall star-like rise, as great in fame as she was,
And so stand fix’d: peace, plenty, love, truth, terror,
That were the servants to this chosen infant,
Shall then be his, and like a vine grow to him:
Wherever the bright sun of heaven shall shine,
His honour and the greatness of his name
Shall be, and make new nations: he shall flourish,
And, like a mountain cedar, reach his branches
To all the plains about him: our children’s children
Shall see this, and bless heaven.

(Act V, scene v)

Shakespeare eloquently validates the rule of James I, while evoking the praise of Elizabeth, and at the same time, connects both of them to the idea of “divine rule,” that the King and Queen of England were God’s manifestation of power on the temporal plane.

I hope you found this passage interesting. If you are not a Shakespeare buff, you may want to watch instead of read this one. I also will look for a good version to stream online.

Thanks for stopping by, and try not to let the crazy politics of these times overwhelm you. Cheers!

9 Comments

Filed under Literature

Thoughts on “Crito” by Plato

This short dialog is included in The Last Days of Socrates which I originally read in college (and yes, I still have my old copy). It takes place while Socrates is in prison awaiting execution, and his friend Crito offers to help him escape and leave Athens. The two discuss whether it is right to do something that is wrong if something wrong is done to you, ultimately concluding that it is not justified, that the ideal of the social contract is more important than an individual’s self-interest. Essentially, Socrates would not break the law by escaping prison even though he was wrongly convicted, because upholding the ideal to which he agreed to live mattered more than his life.

Reading this in a time of social unrest as a result of individuals being frustrated with an unjust legal system raised a lot of questions for me, particularly: At what point does the social contract become invalid? If the laws themselves are just, but the people enforcing and applying those laws are unjust, is it right to respond unlawfully to foment social change which is clearly in the best interest of society? These are not easy questions to grapple with and I do not feel equipped to address them, but I felt I would put them out there for individuals to contemplate on their own.

There are a couple passages worth sharing and considering.

SOCRATES: I only wish that ordinary people had an unlimited capacity for doing harm; then they might have an unlimited power for doing good; which would be a splendid thing, if it were so. Actually they have neither. They cannot make a man wise or stupid; they simply act at random.

(Last Days of Socrates: p. 81)

There are some interesting things to think about here. First, it seems that Socrates is asserting that a person’s ability to do good is equal to that person’s ability to do wrong, and vice versa. This is important, especially in our current world of social media where people tend to view others as either good or bad, depending upon how that persons actions or ideologies correlate with the person making the judgment call. In our drive to squeeze everything down to a Tweet or a meme, we’ve lost the ability to recognize the complexity and range of scope that every individual possesses.

The other thing that struck me about the previous quote is Socrates’ claim that ordinary people “simply act at random.” At first glance, this seems rather insulting, but upon further reflection, one begins to see the truth in the statement. The problem with many people in the world is that they react to situations without taking the time to adequately think through the ramifications of their actions. A wise person would pause, consider the situation, and come to a logical conclusion. Conversely, a stupid person would pause, consider the situation, and come to an illogical conclusion. Too many people do neither. They react without consideration, essentially acting at random, as Socrates would claim.

Later in the dialog, Socrates debates whether it is best to listen to public opinion or to defer to a single authority.

SOCRATES: In that case, my dear fellow, what we ought to consider is not so much what people in general will say about us but how we stand with the expert in right and wrong, the one authority, who represents the actual truth. So in the first place your proposition is not correct when you say that we should consider popular opinion in questions of what is right and honorable and good, or the opposite.

(ibid: p. 86)

Socrates builds on this to establish that the law is the one authority that represents truth and that the public opinion that he should break the law by fleeing prison is the wrong course of action. But this again leads back to my quandary, which is, at what point does public opinion outweigh the law and previously agreed-upon social contract? It is a really difficult question, and one worthy of analysis via Socratic Method. But that is beyond the scope of this post, so I will leave you with the questions to ponder.

This dialog is very short (a mere 16 pages), but evokes a lot of questions relevant to our society today. I encourage you to give it a read. I suspect you can find a digital copy online for free.

Thanks for stopping by and for reading and thinking.

9 Comments

Filed under Literature

Juneteenth 2020: Thoughts on “We Saw Beyond Our Seeming” by Maya Angelou

President Obama presenting Maya with the Presidential Medal of Freedom (Source: Wikipedia)

Juneteenth is also known as Freedom Day, and is “an American holiday celebrated annually on June 19. It commemorates June 19, 1865, when Union general Gordon Granger read federal orders in Galveston, Texas, that all previously enslaved people in Texas were free. Although the Emancipation Proclamation had formally freed them almost two and a half years earlier, and the American Civil War had largely ended with the defeat of the Confederate States in April, Texas was the most remote of the slave states, with a low presence of Union troops, so enforcement of the proclamation had been slow and inconsistent.” (Source: Wikipedia) To honor black artists and to show support for the continued struggle for human rights in this country, I feel it is appropriate to share my thoughts on this powerful poem by the late Maya Angelou.

We saw beyond our seeming
These days of bloodied screaming

Of children dying bloated
Out where the lilies floated

Of men all noosed and dangling
Within the temples strangling

Our guilt grey fungus growing
We knew and lied our knowing

Deafened and unwilling
We aided in the killing

And now our souls lie broken
Dry tablets without token.

As a white man in America, this poem hits me on a visceral level. It is not enough to sit back and silently feel sorry for our fellow humans who are being systematically assaulted, humiliated, oppressed, and killed because of the color of their skin. We have a responsibility to speak out against injustice and to show courage in the face of hatred. Doing nothing makes us all complicit in the subjugation of an entire group of people. And as Ms. Angelou succinctly states in the final couplet, when we turn away and ignore the suffering of others, we incur scars on our own souls.

I hope this poem inspired you as much as it inspires me, and that you will draw on its strength to take a stand against racism. For those of you who are interested, here is a short YouTube video of someone reciting this poem. Thanks for stopping by.

Comments Off on Juneteenth 2020: Thoughts on “We Saw Beyond Our Seeming” by Maya Angelou

Filed under Literature

“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 58” by Lao Tzu

Where the ruler is mum, mum,
The people are simple and happy.
Where the ruler is sharp, sharp,
The people are wily and discontented.

Bad fortune is what good fortune leans on,
Good fortune is what bad fortune hides in.
Who knows the ultimate end of this process?
Is there no norm of right?
Yet what is normal soon becomes abnormal,
And what is auspicious soon turns ominous.
Long indeed have the people been in a quandary.

Therefore, the Sage squares without cutting, carves without disfiguring, straightens without straining, enlightens without dazzling.

This passage seems especially timely given the current state of affairs in the US. As we grapple with public outrage and social disruption, the sharp responses we have seen have failed to calm the situation. As Lao Tzu points out, people are discontented.

I can’t stop thinking about the last line of the second stanza: “Long indeed have the people been in a quandary.” It has been a painfully long time that we seem to have been dealing with the same set of social issues. I do not claim to know how to begin addressing the myriad problems facing our society, but I agree with Lao Tzu that our normal has become abnormal. All I can do is try to encourage change through personal example.

Thanks for stopping by. Stay safe and be a positive power in the world.

5 Comments

Filed under Literature, Non-fiction, Spiritual

Lady Mechanika: Vol.1

I was introduced to Lady Mechanika at a Free Comic Day event, where I received a free copy of one of the issues. I liked it, and then when I went to the Silicon Valley Comic Con, I met one of the writers and talked with her for a while, and became sold. I bought Volume 3 from her and she signed it for me. Which brings me to now, having just finished the first volume.

The graphic novel is lavish steampunk, and the title character is a smart and strong woman who is part human, part machine. In addition to the stunning art work, the writing is also excellent, augmenting the illustrations to drive the narrative of the story.

Anyway, I figured I would share a couple of quotes that I found interesting.

Our minds have mechanisms designed to protect us from those unbearable realities that life may at times lay upon us. When faced with horrors that threaten to shred our sanity, our minds defend us. Transporting us to a sanctuary within. A safe haven where nothing and no one can ever touch us.

As I read this, I considered the mind as a programmable machine. We feed in information, and that gets processed and generates usable data that allows us to navigate our world in what we deem to be the best and most advantageous manner. This may or may not be true. The human mind is so complex, and this analogy does not factor in collective consciousness, which is something I strongly believe in, but it is an idea worth at least entertaining.

People tend to fear that which they do not understand. This is a truth I have always known. At least for as long as I can remember, since I cannot recall a time before I was made into this unnatural form. They fear all who are different. Anyone who looks different, or acts different, or thinks different. All are ostracized and ridiculed… if not outright killed.

There is so much that one can say about this. Clearly, racism and xenophobia are just the tip of the “fear of the other” iceberg. There is also fear of those who have different political ideas, fear of those who may be sick, fear of those who threaten our established beliefs. So much of our society is driven by fear, and the flames of fear are stoked by a media that stands to profit from keeping people afraid. But for me, though, the most interesting line in this passage is “… I cannot recall a time before I was made into this unnatural form.” The more I contemplated this line, the more I began to envision our human form as our unnatural form. I truly believe that we are spiritual entities, embodied within these human forms. Is this temporal mass of flesh our true form, or is our real form something that we have forgotten, something we will recall once we pierce the veil? Again, a profound question that warrants contemplation.

To sum up, this is a fun, exciting, and stimulating read. I will definitely read more Mechanika, but I might hold off a bit until this virus thing passes. I really prefer to buy my books at a brick and mortar store, as opposed to the online monolith.

Thanks for stopping by. Stay safe, and keep reading cool stuff.

Comments Off on Lady Mechanika: Vol.1

Filed under Uncategorized

“Wuthering Heights” by Emily Bronte: A Polemic Against the Patriarchy

This is one of those books that I had been meaning to read for a long time. I bought a used copy many years ago, and have finally gotten around to reading it.

Emily Bronte published this book in 1847, and it provides a harsh view of patriarchal authority which sadly still resonates today as we continue to grapple with issues of gender inequality and the abuse of women.

After Catherine is forced to wed her cousin, Linton, we are presented with a horrific image of Linton’s plan to seize everything that was once Catherine’s, as well as physical and psychological abuse inflicted upon Catherine by Heathcliff, Linton’s father.

“He’s in the court,” he replied, “talking to Dr. Kenneth; who says uncle is dying, truly, at last. I’m glad, for I shall be master of the Grange after him. Catherine always spoke of it as her house. It isn’t hers! It’s mine: papa says everything she has is mine. All her nice books are mine; she offered to give me them, and her pretty birds, and her pony Minny, if I would get the key of her room, and let her out; but I told her she had nothing to give, they were all mine. And then she cried, and took a little picture from her neck, and said I should not have that; two pictures in a gold case, on one side her mother, and on the other, uncle, when they were young. That was yesterday—I said they were mine, too; and tried to get them from her. The spiteful thing wouldn’t let me: she pushed me off, and hurt me. I shrieked out—that frightens her—she heard papa coming, and she broke the hinges and divided the case, and gave me her mother’s portrait; the other she attempted to hide: but papa asked what was the matter, and I explained it. He took the one I had away, and ordered her to resign hers to me; she refused, and he—he struck her down, and wrenched it off the chain, and crushed it with his foot.”

(pp. 204 – 205)

The physical abuse is clear, but the psychological abuse is presented symbolically through the image of the locket. Heathcliff demands that Catherine give Linton the picture of her father as a symbolic gesture of her giving up all connections to her familial past and essentially becoming the property of her husband. She is not only required to relinquish all tangible property, but she must let go of her soul, of who she is, and thereby become nothing but a piece of human property, which can be done with as her husband chooses. When Catherine attempts to resist, the crushing of the locket represents the domination of patriarchal authority over her, stamping out all connections to her former self.

After Linton dies, Heathcliff takes possession of everything that once belonged to Catherine and her family. At one point, Catherine wants to use a small plot of land to create a garden. Heathcliff’s response demonstrates the patriarchal belief that a woman has no rights to any property.

“You shouldn’t grudge a few yards of earth for me to ornament, when you have taken all my land!”

“Your land, insolent slut! You never had any,” said Heathcliff.

“And my money,” she continued; returning his angry glare, and meantime biting a piece of crust, the remnant of her breakfast.

(p. 234)

While this book shows that we have come a long way, it also reminds us that we still have a ways to go. There is still gross gender inequality, as well as disparity between socio-economic classes. But as long as strong voices such as Emily Bronte’s speak out against inequality, we can continue to move forward as a society.

4 Comments

Filed under Literature

Quote from “Monstress: Issue 26”

I’ve been reading this comic from its inception, and it is magnificent, both the visual artwork and the word craft. While I don’t post on each installment, this issue includes a quote I feel is important to share.

You have heard me say this before, but it bears repeating: always be aware, kits, of the silences in history… of those stories that even the poets do not tell.

In our digital age, facts and history are subject to suspicion, and even outright denial. As such, we run the risk of inserting silences into our histories, of losing critical information which could help future generations navigate difficulties which they must inevitably face. Additionally, there are some stories that are painful to tell, but the telling of those stories is important. If we let the stories die out, because we are complacent or afraid, then we are complicit in the decimation of history.

6 Comments

Filed under Literature