Minding the Borderlands

Mark Koester (@markwkoester) on the art of travel and technology

Weekly Links – May 4, 2008 – Mystical Creation and Logical Rationality

Text links with stories,

with words, symbolically feeling words,
(umbilical cords and knots)
and we create, err,
we are
already are meaning.
Words telling stories.
Images storing wounds.
(~o~) This Week’s Weekly Links tries to make information beautiful and, at the same, make beauty informational. The good and the just of ethics or politics have to, in our technomarcratic world, pass by the excellent and the beautiful of our senses or of our aesthetics.

The quoted text comes from Richard Garlikov’s essay The Uses of Philosophy in Today’s World, an essay examining the meanings of the words “philosophy” and “philosophical” en vue of his aimed, true meaning of Western (and in particular, American and British) philosophy as “the sustained, systematic, reflective thinking about concepts and beliefs in any subject to see what is clear (i.e., intelligible) and reasonable to believe about it, and why.” For example, philosophy is often considered as a set of ideas and guidelines about a subject: “The company’s philosophy…”; as mere idle speculation about nonsense and the terribly abstract; as being well-read or bookish; ). In spite of his tragically (Western) orientation towards the so-called universal and supreme notion of reason, reasoning, rationality, or logos, Garlikov offers up an honest, well-reasoned (sic!) defense of philosophy as the well-reasoned and finely scrutinized study of the things around us.

The images are drawn from a real marvel of human creativity and communal creation: The Temples of Humankind, a project found by the inspirations of Oberto Airaudi with around, a reported, 24 followers in 1975. The Federation of Damanhur or Damanhur (“named after the Egyptian city of Damanhur which was the site of a temple dedicated to Horus”) is “a commune, ecovillage, and spiritual community situated in the Piedmont region of northern Italy about 30 miles (50 km) north of the city of Turin.” This community, which derives its belief from several ancient sources including Celtic Paganism, Celtic Christianity, Egyptian and Greek Pagan religion, is mostly known for its secret creation under a hill of a series of underground temples. One site reported on some their customs including that “[c]itizens abandon the use of their family names and adopt two new names when they join the community. The first is the name of an animal species, the second is of a plant.” The images speak for themselves about, whether it is formally religious or communally sacred reasons, how humanity can create such magnificently poetic worlds.

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Philosophy is about careful, sustained, and systematic thinking.** It is about a willingness to pursue the possible truth and value of ideas and the evidence for them, no matter what conclusions might result or how strange they might initially seem. Philosophy does not always lead to truth or to ideas of great value, but it can. It often has. And the potential always exists. There is much yet to be learned by the application of thought to what is already known or believed to be known. – Richard Garlikov

**

1.) The Education of the Other: Imitating Ivy League Models, Ideals. If you are looking for English teaching or computer technology work, South Korea is good place to look, as its society advances a quickly developing technological, service society. In an article from the NYTIMES Elite Korean Schools, Forging Ivy League Skills, Sam Dillion describes how education goes in an elitist school in Korea aiming to create the ideal candidates from top-tier American universities: students cramming, 15-hour schools days and “One teenager studies standing upright at his desk to keep from dozing.” There is no time to waste as students prepare to be the best among the already selected best. He writes:

*How do they do it? Their formula is relatively simple. They take South Korea’s top-scoring middle school students, put those who aspire to an American university in English-language classes, taught by Korean and highly paid American and other foreign teachers, emphasize composition and other skills crucial to success on the SATs and college admissions essays, and — especially this — urge them on to unceasing study. *

These special schools follow South Korea’s “required, lecture-based national curriculum” along with supplementing “Western-style discussion classes.” With a rigorous program, an epic scheduling, and parental pressure, the statistics are already showing in terms of entry results:

Some 103,000 Korean students study at American schools of all levels, more than from any other country, according to American government statistics. In higher education, only India and China, with populations more than 20 times that of South Korea’s, send more students.

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What underlies most philosophy – particularly perhaps British and American philosophy – is training and practice in (1) analyzing and understanding concepts, (2) recognizing and showing the significance of hidden, unconscious, or unrealized assumptions, (3) recognizing and remedying various forms of unclear conceptualization and communication, such as vagueness and ambiguity, which are often unintended and at first unrealized (4) drawing reasonable conclusions from whatever evidence is at hand, and (5) recognizing evidence in the first place – seeing, that is, that some knowledge can serve as evidence for more knowledge and is not just some sort of inert fact or end in itself. – Richard Garlikov

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Furthermore, philosophy in many cases is about deciding which goals and values are worthy to pursue – what ends are important. One can be scientific or pragmatic about pursuing one’s goals in the most efficient manner, but it is important to have the right or most reasonable goals in the first place. Philosophy is a way of scrutinizing ideas about which goals are the most worthy one. A healthy philosophical debate about what is ideal or which ideals ought to be sought and pursued, is important**. Efficiency in the pursuit of the wrong values or ends is not a virtue. – Richard Garlikov

2.) Defending the Chinese Western Olympic Flame. In the days following the West’s protests and demonstrations against China and pro-Tibet during the worldwide tour of the Chinese Olympic Flame, there has been a backlash in form of Chinese people and students counter-protesting in defense of China, its values, its present, its past, its future, its good, its peoples. In Chinese Students in U.S. Fight View of Their Home, Shaila Daewan chronicles how Chinese are speaking out about how, in the words of Ms. Dong, “We [The Chinese] are still neglected or misunderstood as either brainwashed or manipulated by the government.” It seems that “No matter what China does, these students say, it cannot win in the arena of world opinion.” This is well-expressed in a poem cited by these students:

When we have a billion people, you said we were destroying the planet.
When we tried limiting our numbers, you said it is human rights abuse,
When we were poor, you thought we were dogs.
When we loan you cash, you blame us for your debts.
When we build our industries, you called us polluters.
When we sell you goods, you blame us for global warming.

On the other side, the introduction to this article gives us an ambiguous yet telling anecdote:

When the time came for the smiling Tibetan monk at the front of the University of Southern California lecture hall to answer questions, the Chinese students who packed the audience for the talk last Tuesday had plenty to lob at their guest:

If Tibet was not part of China, why had the Chinese emperor been the one to give the Dalai Lama his title? How did the tenets of Buddhism jibe with the “slavery system” in Tibet before China’s modernization efforts? What about the Dalai Lama’s connection to Hitler?

As the monk tried to rebut the students, they grew more hostile. They brandished photographs and statistics to support their claims. “Stop lying! Stop lying!” one young man said. A plastic bottle of water hit the wall behind the monk, and campus police officers hustled the person who threw it out of the room.****

[![][9]][9] 3.) Vu de l’Amerique: France’s current, record-breaking, low-budget, regionalist comédie. Almost all of France has seen the film, Bienvenue chez les Chi’is such that even the American press is asking questions about how the success of this movie relates to the current status of their President.

While the film combines two familiar narratives —“fish out of water” and “yuppie learns from simple folks”— the bigger-picture interpretation reaches beyond mere plot mechanics. For Stéphane Fouks, president of the advertising agency Euro-RSCG Worldwide, “Bienvenue” is so popular because the French are “fed up with being fed up. Fed up with being world champions in bad news and psychotropic drugs. We want to believe. Not to be the best and win market shares in a globalized world, but just to build our happiness.”

Not coincidentally perhaps, the rise of the Ch’tis has been matched by the fall of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s popularity. Many pundits have interpreted the praise of small-town living in an unglamorous, untrendy region as a rebuke to Mr. Sarkozy’s pro-capitalist politics and his flashy lifestyle. Indeed, the movie is laying bare fault lines running through a France anxious at the prospect of losing its identity and cultural roots to a dehumanizing globalization closely linked to America.

Since living in France, I’m not so sure I would take such an intellectual explanation of the success of the Chi’is. Perhaps it’s simply that the French have a long history of low-ball comedies poking humorous situations and question towards French society? Perhaps in the their-language-obsessed French society (le bon français!), language jokes about accents and character identifying ways of speak make the French more than other films?

[![][10]][10] 5.) Reforming Islam? Two Female Voices From Within, From the Outside. The West, in particular the United States has a rather poor idea of what Islam is as well as the numerous divergences and tensions currently at play in the Islamic religion and in Arabic / Muslim countries around the world. A NYTIMES article, Muslim Rebel Sisters: At Odds With Islam and Each Other brings up some of these tensions through two female critiques of “mainstream Islam”: Ayaan Hirsi Ali (author of “Infidel”) and Irshad Manji (author of “The Trouble With Islam Today”).

Both are “firm and unyielding in their support for the West, feminism, reason, freedom” while trying to think and reflect about difficult problems like terrorists, is a secular Middle East possible?, its promotions, and “is Islam itself an enemy of the West?” and an enemy for its own peoples? Both object to Islamic orthodoxy, which for them is inherently Arab or Arab-dominated.” For them, a distinction must be made between Arab tribal culture and Islam.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is an atheist who is highly critical, sees terrorism as “the core of Islam,” and turns to the West, in particular Western liberation through the feminist movement. Irshad Manji, on the other hand, does not reject Islam but instead seeks, as a practicing Muslim, “to change her faith from within.” She says: “What I want is an Islamic Reformation…[there is] no need to choose between Islam and the West.”

While their views are highly divergent and perhaps irreconcilable on the future of Islam, both aspire through feminism for “more than equality; they are very self-consciously challenging the foundations of an entire way of life.”

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The study of philosophy is something like the intellectual equivalent of training in sports. Those with natural talent and no training will often be better than those with training but little natural talent, but proper training should develop and enhance whatever talent most people have to begin with. – Richard Garlikov

6.) In The Short End of the Longer Life, Kevin Sack looks at how the United States is not only divided by economic disparities but also but disparities in health and longevity. In one of the wealthiest countries in the world, we see that not only are the rich getting richer, they are also healthier and generally living longer. He writes:

Throughout the 20th century, it was an American birthright that each generation would live longer than the last. Year after year, almost without exception, the anticipated life span of the average American rose inexorably, to 78 years in 2005 from 61 years in 1933, when comprehensive data first became available. But new research shows that those reassuring nationwide gains mask a darker and more complex reality. A pair of reports out this month affirm that the rising tide of American health is not lifting all boats, and that there are widening gaps in life expectancy based on the interwoven variables of income, race, sex, education and geography. The new research adds weight to the political construct popularized by former Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, that there are two Americas (if not more), measured not only by wealth but also by health, and that the poles are growing farther apart.

According to a report by the Congressional Budget Office:

“in recent decades, socioeconomic status has become an even more important indicator of life expectancy, whether measured at birth or at age 65.”

Income inequality and its consequences was the main focus of former Democratic presidential nominee John Edwards. He said:

“The wealth and income disparity effectively infiltrates all parts of people’s lives.”

Majid Ezzati said:

“Some people are actually sinking. The line of excuse that we can live with inequality as long as no one is getting worse is just no longer there.

**

It is also important that beliefs and goals be examined, even if they are idealistic; that is, even if society is nowhere near ready to proceed from where they are to some idealistic state. For it is important to know what is most reasonably ideal, and to understand the reasons for thinking it is the ideal, in order to try to make stepwise progress (as society is ready to discover and accept any step in the right direction) and in order to reassess what one thinks is ideal when unexpected social responses show flaws or undesirable side-effect in the concept. – Richard Garlikov

Documentary / Video of the Week:

Dispatches: The Killing Zone

This 50-minute documentary by British journalists chronicles the dire conditions faced Palestinians and Western journalists and protestors in Gaza as Israelis fire daily on these neighborhoods from tanks and security towers. Such acts have left both so-called militant “terrorists” and civilians (including children) injured or worse killed by stray and intentional fire. On average, 3 Palestinians are killed for every Israeli killed. If the Israeli-Palestine conflict has left everyone on all sides with bloodied hands and broken consciences, the difference lies in the fact that Palestinians are throwing rocks, firing rockets and sometimes committing suicide bombings, while the Israelis are leading a “Defense Force” army of the highest military technology and weaponry. This is a video about a literally bombed out part of the globe… depressing.


Quote of the Week:

“It is of great importance in a republic not only to guard the society against the oppression of its rulers but to guard one part of the society against the injustice of the other part. If a majority be united by a common interest, the rights of the minority will be insecure.”

– James Madison, Federalist Paper 51