Heroism

Since time in memorial heroes have been thought by most to be those who do not retreat, who put themselves in danger of their lives. In the annals of heroism fighting to the death is but one, and then maybe not the finest one, of which human beings are capable.

There is a story of the Camps, brief as it is tragic, of a Jewish child being taken to be gassed and crying not knowing where her or his parents were. There were amongst those early victims Catholics and a catholic nun took the child’s hand and walked with it, dying as the child died. It is one of those stories that is probably true despite my inaccurate summation lacking names and dates, and it is not known if the nun knew what was going to happen or not.

What we can say is that heroism is the joining of one’s being to the suffering of another. We can all fight for our own side, our own nation, that is nothing more than an extension of our animal selves fighting for the tribe. But when we, as a Sikh sage once did, can go to someone who is the enemy of another and plead for that other and pay with our lives, our torture or our social standing, then we use our reason to understand heroism is taking a stand not taking a life.

Cynical Me

Cynicism is deeply bound up with human ideas of practicality and in many ways feeds off our insular view of our ‘living conditions, in the widest possible meaning of that phrase.  So when someone says all politicians are corrupt they are referencing not only the history of political careers and how corrupt so very may have been, but also their own selves.  This is the manner of  being human, sexual and fiscal corruption at almost every level from the individual saving themselves a few pennies off a tax bill to a billionaire buying a politician.

The reasons for this art in corruption are not very complex. They stem from the individuals need to stay in command which is why it is not relegated only to the male gender. Commanding the uncertain is one of the most difficult intellectual activities and millions of people making millions of decisions every second makes it impossible to command them all so you have to resolve to command the system under which they all live.

Its done with money, sex and social status in more mature societies, and with the gun in less mature ones. Corruption starts with the very nature of what a human being is; an animal trying to be intellectual. We can give all sorts of reasons for being better than anyone else; even when we bow to the ground we don’t do so because we feel less but because we are afraid.

As North Africa is finding out, corruption has its limits.

The Art Of Walking

When I was nine the nearest post box to our house was one mile away on the crossroads with the main road to the nearest large town, ten miles away. It made a suitable country walk with the dog whenever we had to post a letter. I was reminded of this today when I went to visit a friend in the town near here and couldn’t find any free parking in the centre, but loads of it in the shopping centres maybe a quarter of a mile away or so to my destination. Whilst I waited I saw people driving around desperately looking for parking spaces, and many of them were not infirm, or had any difficulty in walking, they were just used to not having to walk far for what they wanted.

Those that did didn’t do a mass of shopping and came back to their cars within half an hour or so. I realised something about which I was unaware, that modern society deliberately makes people lazy. I was mean enough to want to save myself a pound, but I am used to walking. On my walk I found two more streets with free parking, found the quieter back roads away from the busy road, and took in some architecture.

I also got soaking wet when it rained.

But that is what walking is all about, looking. Feeling.  Lazy people don’t do enough of it.

What Matters

Sometimes we look at the past and forgetting the way in which things were manufactured, or how rare certain materials might have been or even expensive, we raise a smile at what people thought important enough to give as presents. Some of the traditions (the father buying the house for the newly wedded couple) have disappeared except for the rich though they always were for the rich.

What would count as a special present today? A car for an eighteen year old? A computer for a ten year old? A diamond ring for a girlfriend? And what would we think a happy present that doesn’t cost so much but means a lot? A voucher for this-or-that? Are books disappearing as presents?

I wonder only because when I bought my friend’s two year old a present for Christmas all I found in the mainstream shops were made of plastic. Everything. The boxes were very colourful but most of the time the plastic bits were just thrown into the box with no wrapping, no additions, nothing. In the past everything was hand made yet today apart from a few students making little trinkets to help them through college, hand made items are expensive, even the smallest.

Because we have forgotten it isn’t the present itself that means anything, it is the time taken to make it that shows your respect, love and attention. Because we think money is the only value we forget to value our hands.

Connections

I used to wonder as the Earth was whizzing through space what happens when we hit the odd dust cloud, or radiation hikes, to our brains and to our bodies. I was interested because the whole idea that we are free individuals makes little sense as you look at the universe as a whole as we are subjected to an array of forces. It has become even more interesting as physicists have begun to open up the world of particles finding that theories suggest a particle in one part of the universe directly impacts on the responses of another particle on the other side of the universe. Since some of these particles are in our brains I wondered what effect that could be having?

We often point to sociological factors to explain human behaviour, more because it is something we can point to than something we understand, but at the particle level we are in a fathomless pit. The Universe contains energy and  information and particles all contain an understanding of each other.  How can we even begin to comprehend what that means for us?

What it means for us  that we have to start to look at human activity from a different angle, from a point of view that in not human-centric. That events may be instigated from activity billions of miles away. Relevance is understanding the question, “Do we have any relevance?”

I look forward to the answers.

Petdom

I was talking today with someone who argued that having pets – mostly dogs and cats but it applies across the board – is just another form of bling. The cost of feeding the animals that eat meat, in lives of other animals, and planetary degradation is huge – billions of animals, millions of acres, clear felling of ancient forests and so forth – for animals that are artificially bred (sometimes for looks), and produce so many offspring from unwise owners that millions of them have to be killed each year and there are continual fights to ban these animals from common grounds because owners allow them to defecate with abandon to the detriment of the health of others.

There is no doubt that it is true that millions of animals are sacrificed to the cult of pet ownership. That disease and over population follow owners who do not care enough and do not intend to try to care enough. That over-bred animals are often sick with a hundred ailments not found in their wild counterparts, and the cost of making the pills and potions which are sold at exorbitant rates by veterinarians just makes the case against pets stronger.

There is however one argument for them: the affection of love and generosity of owners who look after their animals and the needs of the people they live amongst. It would be good to legislate bling out of the picture, but a mistake to obliterate the unseen bond between animals and humans.

But first humans should have to prove they can love enough to have one in their family.

True Democracy

I was always surprised as a teenager and beginning to think about politics in the West, how people voted for things that were of particular moment to them. It seemed to me strange to vote for a leader of a country based narrowly of the benefits that would accrue to oneself from any particular candidate. After all this was not just ones leader but everyone’s, and a more rounded estimate of the benefits to the country seemed to me to be more important. Further I saw very clearly that politicians knew people voted in their own self interest and offered ‘constituencies’ of voters candies in their manifestos deliberately to obtain their votes.

In the nineteenth century MPs in the UK would give out money and cart people to the voting booths having virtually bought their support. There is really no difference between then and now.

The problem is people think that is a good use of their vote and never question the fact, but actually it shows how many voters in the West have no truly democratic instincts. You vote to better your country, to make a better world, because we use politics to make laws and laws make civilisations. To vote for anyone because you are going to personally be better of each month financially, or to ignore people who will suffer because of your candidate and not care, is to betray the future, not make it.

Friendships

I read a story many years ago about two writers, one of whom had something like a log cabin the woods. A getaway. He invited another writer for the weekend and the two men apparently spent three days together without saying a word to each other. The whole weekend may never have been recorded for posterity but for the fact that the invited author on leaving thanked his host and told him it was the best weekend he had ever had.

I would be the first to say writers can be strange and difficult people emotionally and intellectually, not always because they have better or clearer minds than other people. but the list of their friendships, their close friendships, is always different in many ways from the ordinary. The art form inspires a kinship, an emotional bond, that needs no explaining. Sometimes the bond doesn’t work – Gauguin and Van Gogh nearly killed each other, sometimes it is heart breaking as Keats’ friend had to watch him die; but the respect for the work feeds into respect for the person.

They say to truly love you must be friends first, but artists have friends who truly love their work. The most tragic artists in the world are those who do not have a single friend.

Where Antagonism Stops

There is an old Indian fable of a maharajah and his chief adviser sitting playing chess. The maharajah asks his advisor about the deployment of the army to defeat the neighbouring maharajah. Instead of replying directly as to tactics the advisor asks him what he will do if he wins in a battle. The maharajah says he will take on the neighbour on the other side. Again the advisor asks what he will do if he wins against him, and so forth. They talk until the maharajah has defeated the whole of India and is supreme ruler. Asking the same question each time the maharajah become progressively the ruler of Asia, and finally the whole world. When asked what he would do then he replies that he would sit as he is sitting now and play chess with his advisor.

Why go through all that blood, warring and murder to do what we are already doing? Is the final question the advisor asks him.

So much of human politics is all about the will of a single male or group of males to be in charge. It is no different from any other higher mammal. The antagonisms of nations are no more than the chauvinism of tribes. Most people just want to live peaceably and find a little happiness, but the structures of our leaderships have evolved from times when brutish behaviour was all we had.

When we have conquered everything we can conquer. What then? Will we never allow reason to conquer us?

The Greatest Challenge

The fear of everyone on this planet is facing a situation in which one is impotent, with no answer, no solution to the problem one faces. It is this need to overcome obstacles that has propelled the growth of our brains and guided our reason – even if most of the problems had to do with war and each other. It is this which hounds the artist who struggles to say something in paint, ink or stone and nothing wishes to be said. It is the nightmare of politicians who cannot square the circle and come up with wishful thinking as an answer because everyone looks to them for the something.

Being powerless is the stuff of nightmare films and we all sense the futility and shift uneasily in our heads in case such a scenario should ever curse us. Yet all around we promote power over each other and work to have power over our own destinies as the answer to the troubles which plague us. And whilst voyages of discovery opened up the world and gave some of us ways out of the quagmire we found ourselves in, and we flee the Earth to seek answers in the Universe, we truly can never be satisfied. For all our power comes not from within us but from what we make.

Some want to make a new engine. Some a new child. Anything but to consider existence its own prison.

The Battles Of Life

Fantasy has always been about the struggle of good over evil. Great stories of all cultures are about justice fighting injustice, religions are about the right path versus the wrong path for living. This dichotomy reflects the division in the experience of people that there are decisions to be made in our existence and that existence itself does things that can be judged. A volcanic eruption is not a thinking being but it can be judged as good or bad,depending on what happens and one’s viewpoint. People dying in Pompeii and Herculaneum is bad, volcanoes erupting millions of years ago and giving us continents and islands to live on now may be considered somewhat fortuitous.

Does this endless round of story telling on a strict theme display something about us? Is there rally a dichotomy in our thinking and in the way we run our lives? How many bad things are expedient and how many good things are simply our spin on our cultures? Is there some authority we can turn to that doesn’t spring from our minds that can show us a universal idea of goodness and badness?

Or is all this just a story as seen from our point of view? Is there no objective good anywhere just a judgment based on outcomes that affect us? Are our assumptions actually, the worst thing about us?

Marius

In Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables there is an uprising of the young, forming barricades  to protest at the state and Marius the young naive stands with his young political friends who all die. These uprising apparently were frequent following the revolution and even today the French are quite happy to march and burn things in the streets to tell their leaders they are unhappy. There are many instances in French literature of such uprisings being described or used a part of the plot.

Although England was the first country in Europe to get rid of its king in their revolution it did not take hold. Sadly whereas in France the leadership had several key figures one after the other culminating in Napoleon in England they only really had Cromwell.

I have a feeling the literature of the Arab world will be slightly refreshed by what is happening right now. The artists and thinkers whilst being filled with some apprehension will also be enthused by the sheer vibrancy of people saying no. The police state is muted in Europe although it exists and we have forgotten how terrible it is to live in fear. To lose friends overnight never to see them again. It is also wise to notice how chauvinistic police states actually are.

I will believe in the Arab revolution when all women and children are accorded equal rights. Until then I will stay off the barricades because liberation from suppression is a long way from liberation of one’s mind.

The Oldest Revolution In The World

There is a website ( http://www.endoftheinternet.com/ ) which states that it is the end of the Internet. It is a kind of in-joke for all those people on the Net and who understand how the Net works. It is also just a joke to share with everyone, rather than being a joke site, it is simply a fun statement. Organisation all over the world have in-jokes that make those in-the-know laugh, some of the funniest are said during wars and all politicians laugh at their own foibles. It is very important to be able to laugh. Psychologists say it helps one handle stress and depression and is extremely healthy, a wholly natural medicine.

It doesn’t cure one of anything, it doesn’t change anything, but in making one feel amused whilst going about the same old business day-after-day, it alleviates and lightens one mind. Quite literally in some cases. It is always important no matter what one does to have an end of the Internet glance at what one is doing. Laughter is reason’s safety valve.

To those of you who pop over to see what the end of the Internet looks like I don’t suggest you leave your e-mail address. The site gets visited by all sorts of people and you know where they have been to get there.

Pilgrim’s Progress

I remember reading Bunyon’s Pilgrim’s Progress and finding it quite interesting despite, or maybe because of, the obvious Christian theme. For much the same reason I was glued to watching the Mahabharata which was so different because it was staged for a different culture. And again another great saga Monkey, showing how the Chinese thought about the world and its affairs.

Yet the differences are pale next to the similarities: the idea of human beings being on or going on a journey which provides them with experiences that change them; the importance of friends, the struggles of life.  From Europe to Asia the experiences of human beings on this planet are all the same. How could it be otherwise since the human beings are all the same.

Not the least because they tell each other stories. Stories that we can learn from and are entrancing to the young minds who remember them for the rest of their lives, even though most just remember the story and not the import of the story for their own lives. We are all protecting someone, we are all on a journey, we are all fighting unseen demons to try to achieve something better for ourselves.

We are all story tellers.

Kiribati

For those who don’t know Kiribati is an island in a series of islands the capital of which is Tuvalu in the pacific. There are many islands in the pacific that will disappear as sea levels rise but I first came across Kiribati in much happier days in the early nineteen nineties when researching for a book. The reason it stuck in my memory is simply that it is home to very rare exotic birds and such is their eagerness to maintain the natural life they limit the tourists to thirty at a time. Usually you have to be super rich to get anywhere where only thirty people are allowed – that or super secretive.

Of course sea travel isn’t cheap and the local airport can only take smaller jets so it is a fairly extraordinary holiday, but to me it seemed and still does, a lovely place to go. It is part of the reason I want to buy an ocean going yacht and learn to sail, because of the freedom to travel across the seas. Although a friend once told me they wouldn’t like a boat as they would see the boat as constrictive because it is so small. A lesson in how perceptions dictate what we see as freedom and what we see as restriction.

One day I intend to see some very exotic birds in the pacific.

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