Friday, May 8, 2015

The Un-answer

In the time it's taken for the weather to change from a bracing energetic chill here in Perth, to a treacherous and inertia-inducing cold, another seductive benumbing seems to have crept up on the world's unsuspecting masses, lured by the vigours of the 24-hour news and social media cycle, and the merits of an argument that has been laboured over ever since the advent of the communal fire at the heart of the proto-society: that of the positive effects of Violence.
The various names that the civil unrest in Baltimore has been called; ranging from the pro-establishment, riots, to the heroic, uprising, itself is a signal that the debate on violence has not run its course over millennia of invasion, war, city-sacking, and raping and pillaging, given expression through the ever-mutating propaganda machine that has recurrently reared its head throughout the recorded history of the world to justify the righteous fight against forces of darkness and injustice. We live in a world that has routinely seen parents bury children, looters savage priceless heirlooms, terrorists devastate societies so many times over since we began thinking of ourselves as beings with agency, that we cannot but shrug when violence arrives pre-packaged in the shiny wrapping of a vision of brave oppressed peoples rising up against their erstwhile oppressors in a heartfelt explosion of rage and helplessness that brings the world to a horrified standstill, in contemplation of these bleak works of man...
It has to stop.
It beggars belief that there is a certain credence being granted to the theory that were it not for the unrest in Baltimore the police officers responsible for the death of Freddie Gray would never have been charged with a crime. This line of reasoning follows from the same tortured logic that underlies the belief that the world is better off since the two world wars of the last century, and the response to the tragedy that was 9/11 in this one.
Violence cannot be justified, and not just the violence that follows from the works of man. When a person dies unnaturally from any cause, whether immediately known or ultimately unknown, it is due cause for grief and investigation, and possible mitigation of similar circumstances that could cause the death of another. We cannot and should not accept that the violence we visit on ourselves or that is visited on us from without is immutable, ever. What has to change is the systems and processes we put in place to mitigate the eruptions of violence in the world today, not our responses to it.
The debate in the immediate aftermath of the unrest in Baltimore centred on whether the rioting and the looting that led to the imposition of a curfew in that city could ever be justified. I took in this debate between protesters and news reporters with a fervency verging on disbelief, amid an atmosphere of absolute surreality in which police officers spoke calmly and respectfully to white protesters as they milled around in mostly white neighbourhoods holding placards denouncing racism, while, at the same time, worked to aggressively impose the curfew in mostly black neighbourhoods in the same city with violent arrests - for an event that was brought on primarily because of their own organization's actions.
This is not a surreal world. Everyone feels pain, frustration, and the pangs of impotency. Everyone wants freedom, a sense of manifest agency, and love. We must work towards a world where achievement cannot be tied to whether or not someone was brave enough to commit an act of violence to combat another act of violence. There's something fundamentally wrong with an argument such as that.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Something clicked

It has been gnawing at me for some time - the idea that the world wide web has taken in us what was once an engaged curiosity about the wider world and dispersed its constituent elements in a whirlpool of discontented latencies that have as their lowest common denominator, the ubiquitous click bait.

Three articles can be said to have led to this post. First, a hysterical response to a finely written and, ultimately, pessimistic view of an individual's role in tackling climate change. Two, the article being so commented upon. And three, an unconnected phrase in an experimental review of Saul Bellow's essays.

When I first read Robert Manne's criticism of Jonathan Franzen's essay on climate change, I was struck by how markedly it differed from the literary criticisms I regularly read in The New Yorker magazine itself, where the essay first appeared: The derision in stating Franzen's comparison of the conservationist sensibilities of a metaphorical Puritan Protestant and a metaphorical Franciscan Catholic, the sarcastic references to Franzen's use of a word - climatism, in counterpoint to one used just before - globalism, that seemed to me utterly relevant in its own environment but notably darker when brought out of context, and finally, casting aspersions on the sympathies of The New Yorker's, 'small army of fact checkers', when editing a piece by, 'The Great American Novelist', albeit one, 'incapable of mounting an argument'.
This is a hatchet job, no doubt, laced with the kind of ad hominem attack memes popular among the twitterati and seems destined to coax the outrage out of quasi-conservationists and environmentally-concerned netizens brought to bear on the duplicity of Franzen in decrying the diabolical negationist tendencies of lazy Americans and their destructive lifestyles.

Franzen's essay, meanwhile, manages to marry the cause célèbre of the day with the didactic effectively, with its calm exposition of a conservationist campaign personal to him, before going on to relate it to all that's wrong with how people and governments think about ecosystems, land use, and scalability. In effect, Franzen's argument is that we are using the excuse of climate change to neglect conserving specific species and habitats endemic to certain parts of the world, while stoking conflict about a catastrophe that has clearly overtaken its prevent-by date and that will affect future generations, whether we feel guilty about it or not.

As I was about to delve into Sven Birkerts' captivating account of interviewing himself as a way to alleviate the tedium of writing about Saul Bellow's essays, I encountered the phrase, something clicked, and my first reaction was to think of the phrase as an action performed on a link rather than just the usual reference to an inspiration gained.

What this says about me is that I must live too much of my life on the web, cross referencing authors with their critics, and commentators with their subjects, while learning a little more about the world with every click, baited or not. To paraphrase Franzen at the end of his essay - It's we... who need meaning.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Modern Horror

Drumming up hidden resolve,
From the depths of a recondite nihilism,
Each catch preying upon the next,
Before its own turn arrives,
In a particular wash of self-awareness,
That is cold to the breath,
And rancid to the nose,
A slow drum roll,
Anxiety ebbing and waning with each beat,
For a terrifying climax that never arrives.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Yeah, right

Spring is in the air, and all across the world the change in the weather is being heralded by a revolutionary dismantling of entrenched exclusionary and parochial national systems that will have far-reaching consequences for the future of the human race.

The U.S has eliminated research and development funding for defense equipment and armament procurement in its current budget, and is diverting that money towards more robust enforcement of its refugee support and job placement programs as well as committing a large annually topped-up corpus fund for its widely lauded reparations program for historically oppressed minorities.

Across the Atlantic, Europe is further expanding its Eurozone economic cooperation initiatives to aid economically worse off southern European states, and enhancing the mandate of the Eurogroup to facilitate integration of former colonised countries from Africa, Asia and South America into the European economic system. These reforms will accompany programs encouraging migrants from former colonies to choose where they would like to live and work anywhere on the continent and extending European Central Bank funded initiatives towards the smooth integration of these migrants into local communities.

China, meanwhile, is working closely with the Russian Federation to identify and isolate decades-old nuclear military equipment and transform their infrastructure to better support power generation capabilities that serve the needs of the wider Central Asia region. This cooperation further builds on concerted efforts by both nations to conform to and exceed the targets proposed in the Reversal of Climate Change treaty of which they are both founding members and signatories.

Iran and Israel have set up a joint task force to further the cause of a lasting peace in the Middle-East by supporting greater university-level semester exchange programs for students from their countries, as well as providing free higher education to students from any other nation in the region, in a structure set up on the lines of the higher education system of France.

India and Pakistan have finally resolved their differences over Kashmir by holding a long delayed plebiscite and following that, extending financial and institutional support to the newly established and fledgling Republic of Kashmir. The volume of trade between all the countries that make up the South Asia region has been on a sky-rocketing trajectory ever since, and has led to a AAA credit rating for the region by the major global credit rating agencies.

Australia has led the way to tackling climate change with the farthest reaching programs in the world in an effort to enhance the scope of the Reversal of Climate Change treaty, and has fundamentally transformed their erstwhile primarily resource-extraction based economy to one that is knowledge and consulting based. The number of people migrating from third-world countries to Australia is currently the highest in the world and the country has underlined its commitment to help more people settle in Australia by setting up more than 30 new cities in its vast hinterland to facilitate the process.

Japan is working closely with all countries in South East Asia to improve infrastructure and encourage nascent cottage industries in these countries by contributing expertise and loans in an effort, the Prime Minister of Japan recently said, to make up for the atrocities committed by Japanese troops in World War 2 in these regions. These efforts build on a concerted reparations program that Japan has engaged in with The United Republic of Korea.

Malaria, AIDS, Tuberculosis and Hepatitis are officially eradicated as of today according to a WHO press release.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

On 'India's Daughter'... and mine

I simply had to weigh in. There does come a time when pop-cultural forces beyond one's control form the ideal set of conditions for a perfect storm of collective global mania to descend upon an ill-defined and amorphous categorization of a group of male people who have nothing in common except a shared ethnicity and a befuddlement that they are indeed being grouped together by the rest of the world, as they are contemporaneously living with, loving, and sharing time and space with the women in their lives.

I am not a rapist.

I don't know what being a rapist feels like. I do not know that I would want to know what a rapist feels while he is being rapist or while he is going about his day and night not being rapist. I do want to know that my daughter is being protected by society from the genus of people collectively called rapist. I abhor rape in all its forms and manifestations. I'd like to believe this statement and the reality behind it puts me among 99.9999999.... % of the world's population, please.
I am an Indian male. While being an Indian male does not mean that I presently live in India or preclude the circumstance of me ever going back to the country, I identify with the commonality of traits and the shared cultural markers that are perceived as indicative of being an Indian male of a certain age. I believe that we are all ultimately where we are originally from, how much ever we might live our lives trying to undo our heritage, and I am completely comfortable with that. What I will not abide, however, is this idea that I must somehow be apologetic because someone else committed a crime that had nothing to do with me.
Have I ever acted to perpetuate misogyny or actively participated in an act of misogyny? I don't remember the exact circumstances when I did, but I'm sure that I must have done so sometime in my life. Just as I'm sure that I must have hit someone at sometime in my life with the intent to cause bodily harm, and been actively insensitive to someone at sometime in my life with the intent to humiliate. For these I am truly, deeply, unreservedly sorry to whomsoever I may have injured as a result and I would pay reparations in whatever form the victim(s) so wishes if I had the time or money to do so. In the current circumstances of my life, I would be hard pressed to take time off my daily schedule at work to even answer a summons at the risk of losing a desperately needed shift wage.
I represent myself. I am the sum of my experiences and desires and needs and fantasies, that are wholly, uniquely mine. I do not accept that others, except those I have so appointed and have a responsibility towards, have a say in the decisions I take to fulfil my expectations of life. I grant that everyone else in the world has the exact same right, as long as they are of sound mind and body and of a greater than commonly accepted age threshold.
I do not believe we have the right, as a society, to kill another human being as a penalty for a crime. I believe anyone can be rehabilitated and should be granted every chance to do so of their own volition.
I can only imagine what Jyoti Singh Pandey's parents, friends and associates go through every single day of their lives after what was done to her. I do not envy them that fate.
I don't believe that what happened to Jyoti Singh Pandey is representative of Indian society or its cultural values any more than is the belief that Indian society is a largely homogeneous, predominantly heterosexual, chauvinistically Vaishnavite entity.

There are worlds within worlds, both within India and myself.