Category Archives: Politics

Thought of the day

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“Sufletul omului se aruncă în dezordine pe sine însuși mai cu seamă când devine, atât cât stă în puterea lui, un abces și, ca să zic așa, o excrescență a lumii; a-și arăta nemulțumirea față de unul din evenimentele care au loc înseamnă o distanțare de natură, în care sunt conținute ca părți toate naturile celorlalte ființe.

În al doilea rând, se aruncă în dezordine când respinge orice ființă umană sau se îndreaptă împotriva ei cu intenția de a o vătăma, cum fac, de pildă, sufletele celor aprinși de mânie.

În al treilea rând, sufletul se aruncă în dezordine atunci când se lasă învins de plăcere sau de suferință.

În al patrulea rând, când se preface și face sau spune ceva în mod fals și nesincer.

În al cincilea rând, când acțiunile și impulsurile sale nu sunt îndreptate spre vreun scop anume, ci se produc fără rost, la întâmplare și în mod inconsecvent, în timp ce e de datoria noastră ca până și cele mai neînsemnate acțiuni să aibă loc țintind spre o finalitate; dar scopul ființelor raționale este acela de a se supune rațiunii și legii celei mai respectate cetăți și guvernări*.”

*(cosmosul, guvernat de rațiunea universală și divină)

Marcus Aurelius – Gânduri către sine însuși, Ed. Humanitas, 2013.

 

 

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Thought of the day (Tocqueville revisited)

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“The first thing that strikes the observation is an innumerable multitude of men, all equal and alike, incessantly endeavoring to procure the petty and banal pleasures with which they glut their lives. Each of them, living apart, is as a stranger to the fate of all the rest – his children and his private friends constitute to him the whole mankind. As for the rest of his fellow citizens, he is close to them, but he sees them not – he touches them but he feels them not; he exists but in himself and for himself alone (…). 

Above this race of men stands an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratifications and to watch over their fate. That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks, on the contrary, to keep them in perpetual childhood: it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing. For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness: it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances – what remains but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living? Thus it every day renders the exercise of the free agency of man less useful and less frequent; it circumscribes the will within a narrower range, and gradually robs a man of all the uses of himself. The principle of equality has prepared men for these things: it has predisposed men to endure them, and oftentimes to look on them as benefits. 

After having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp, and fashioned them at will, the supreme power then extends its arm over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided: men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting: such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to be nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd. 

(…)

By this system the people shake of their state of dependence just long enough to select their master, and then relapse into it again.”

Alexis de TOCQUEVILLE, Democracy in America, Fourth Book, Chapter VI, pp. 861-863 – Bantam Classic, 2004

 

Ancient words of counsel?

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“It may be said that every individual man and all men in common aim at a certain end which determines what they choose and what they avoid. This end, to sum it up briefly, is HAPPINESS AND ITS CONSTITUENTS. (…)

We may define happiness as prosperity combined with virtue; or as independence of life; or as the secure enjoyment of the maximum of pleasure; or as good condition of property and body, together with the power of guarding one’s property and body and making use of them. (…)

From this definition of happiness it follows that its constituent parts are:

  • good birth, plenty of friends, good friends, wealth, good children, plenty of children, a happy old age, such bodily excellences as health, beauty, strength, large stature, athletic powers, together with fame, honor, good luck, and virtue.

A man cannot fail to be completely independent if he possesses these internal and external goods (…). (Goods of the soul and of the body are internal. Good birth, friends, money and honor are external). (…)

The phrases ‘possession of good children’ and ‘of many children’ bear a quite clear meaning. Applied to a community, they mean that its young men are numerous and of good quality: good in regard to bodily excellences (…) and also in regard to the excellences of the soul, which in a young man are temperance and courage. (…) Communities as well as individuals should lack none of these perfections, in their women as well as in their men. Where, as among the Lacedaemonians, the state of women is bad, almost half of human life is spoilt.”

Aristotle – Rhetoric, 1360b-1361a.

(Translated by W. Rhys Roberts – The Modern Library, New York, 1984)

No justification for mass murders

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I have kept my mouth shut for the past week to process the terrifying and abhorrent events that unfolded in Germany and France. Trying to get to the facts. Trying to make sense of the senselessness.

But as I keep browsing through (parts of) the press, I can keep quiet no longer. I have read too many articles that attempt to justify what has happened and somehow pin it on the host society. Do we intend to abolish personal responsibility altogether? Do we intend to play into the hands of those who hate and want to destroy us?

Look: German culture might not be the most accomodating place on Earth for foreigners. I have felt it, many others have felt it. But so what? No country can ever please all of its residents. And feeling unhappy/depressed/discriminated should never be accepted as an excuse for committing atrocities.

There is and always has been injustice everywhere. All societies have disenfranchised, discriminated and disgruntled minorities. People whom life or their peers have treated badly. And yet, they don’t go around detonating bombs, blowing innocent people up at random, or hacking them to death with axes and knives on trains and in the middle of the street. Because there is a societal taboo on these things. Because normally, they don’t even occur to people. Because how one deals with injustice and frustration has everything to do with the system of beliefs one chooses to embrace.

It is only when an ideology comes along to justify and encourage this kind of behavior as a legitimate consequence of someone’s “suffering” that horrors like these occur. There are deadly ideologies among us which glorify such a response to frustration and to injustice as legitimate, and we should not buttress them. We should not allow murder to become a pathway to notoriety and fame! Murder is not the way to give meaning to a meaningless life.

So when I see smart people – analysts, intellectuals, journalists – treading the mill of how society as a whole has supposedly wronged or failed these deranged criminals, and thus bears part of the responsibility, I can only shake my head.

I don’t think finding excuses for this kind of behavior is the way to go. Finding excuses only makes frenzied individuals feel even more legitimized – and legitimization is the third stage of conflict escalation. The next is radicalization.

Legitimizing this kind of behavior makes it socially acceptable. That is wrong! Our society should make it clear that absolutely nothing can justify this kind of behavior. We cannot go around saying, well, it makes sense, because they were bullied. Or, well, it makes sense, because they were exploited and discriminated against. No. We should not build these kinds of causal relationships – that somehow, these things are a “natural” consequence. Because by finding excuses for the perpetrators, by espousing theories which attempt to understand and even legitimize terrorism, we are gradually dismantling the taboo on mass murders. Turning them little by little into a socially accepted norm, something “we just have to live with” – and thus stoking the fire of the next round of “avengers”.

I am reminded now of a lesson in social psychology by Dan Ariely. In an attempt to stop vandalism in the Petrified Forest National Park, the Park’s management put up a sign pointing out the problem and informing visitors that so and so many tons of rock formations were being stolen every year. The result? Stealing only increased. Because instead of feeling shamed into protecting it (as our flawed intuition would tell us), visitors now felt that stealing was “the thing to do” in that park. Something along the lines of “if everyone else does it, and it’s so ubiquitous already, why should I be the only sucker who leaves without a souvenir?”  So instead of solving their problem, the park officials actually managed to worsen it, by creating the feeling that vandalism was the social norm in that park – which motivated people to continue to break the law.

Let us be smarter this time. Like something very beautiful I have read, let us become “apostles of a civilization of love”.

Thought of the day

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“The willingness to change one’s identity, or at least add a second identity – perhaps one of the most painful psychological experiences humans can encounter but also one of the most liberating – is shaped first and foremost by the willingness of the host culture to accept the immigrant into the community. As long as the host culture regards immigrants as permanent aliens and denies citizenship, then migrants will cling to their existing identities.”  (Weiner, Human Motivation, 1996, p. 53)

In his study guide on Human Geography, G.A. Jones (2011) also notes that “migrants must be willing to accept the norms and customs of the host society” and that “the extent to which exile is perceived as a temporary solution will affect the strategies adopted by the displaced”.

What do you think?

Sandy Hook Elementary

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There is evil in the world. The devil walks among us. The government cannot control the minds of its citizens, some of which are obviously deranged. But the government can and should control the means they can use to commit gruesome acts of violence.  Senseless mayhem of these proportions is only possible with powerful guns.

The children of Sandy Hook Elementary School are the unnecessary martyrs of a world centered around violence and a twisted sense of self-reliance. A primitive world, where children learn to shoot weapons before they grow pubic hair. A world where children learn what it is to be shot at, or threatened at gunpoint at an age where they can hardly process it. Which only feeds into the paranoia, the sense of insecurity and the never-ending arms race. You watch footage of the police descending on that place and it looks like the country is waging civil war on itself.

Lord, have mercy on those poor devastated parents and all the rest of us shocked bystanders. The souls of the executed children will be caroling in Heaven this year…

Discrimination, my love

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We’re in the process of moving to the Bavarian capital, and the rent is crushingly high, so I started to look for a second job.

I was pretty happy when I actually got a few replies, but then it all ended the way it often does: the person on the other end looks at my name on the CV, clears her throat and asks the one question that equals total demolition, “ahm, and… what’s your nationality?” That just makes my day every time.  Not to mention people reaching protectively for their pockets when I give the answer. Because there is no way around that answer, no matter how nicely I attempt to package it.

What can I say? Sure,  I have German citizenship, but they can hear my accent. And my name has too many vowels, apparently. It’s so lovely to be rejected for a job for which you were overqualified to begin with, simply because you were born in a country that everybody wants to avoid like the plague.

It caresses my soul to be told they’ve already found someone and then to find the ad still in the window two weeks later… I applied for an evening job as an English tutor, and the lady on the phone told me “one can hear you’re not German”.

Well, wtf? You don’t need me to teach German, do you? You need me to teach English – and English has been my job for the past 7 years. I started learning English in elementary school, later on studied with American visiting lecturers, then lived in the US myself for a while. But do you think that makes any difference? Not a word in English was exchanged between us. She decided I wasn’t native enough. Heck, even my son’s kindergarten would only employ purebred Americans or Britons ’cause nobody else can teach “this is a frog / this is a pen” to 5-year-olds.

I don’t mind being rejected after a thorough interview, if I am not up to the task. But at least give me a chance to introduce myself and show what I am capable of. Why should my Romanian origins immediately wipe 30 points off my IQ??? See, this is the reason I became self-employed. It irks me so bad that people (in my case, Germans), even those in multicultural settings, will judge a person strictly on the basis of nationalistic stereotypes. This day in age. People with University degrees, mind you.

(For some freaking reason, engineers are exempt from this “humane” treatment even if they don’t speak a word of German, which only irks me more.)

Honest Romanians abroad fight every day to keep their dignity. It’s an uphill battle. It’s essential for us to have a better image. So, how do we go about achieving that? Most of us are perfect, law-abiding citizens in our countries of adoption. And yet, it seems we cannot please people. We cannot completely dispel their prejudice.

We totally depend on the Romanians at home for that. And as any good PR specialist will tell you, advertising without content no longer works. We have to generate credibility, we have to put our house in order for real, and the image will follow. The system has to be fixed from within and then it has to remain stable, clean, and consistent long enough to generate trust. Only when we’ve accomplished that will a better image emerge. On its own.

Hopefully, during my lifetime. I would hate to see my kids go through the same thing.

A fine and healthy debate

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Adam and Eve were living in a world of plenty. They were in the Garden of Eden and everything was taken care of.

They could have:

  • had long, revealing conversations with God
  • deepened their love and understanding of each other
  • lived in harmony with their environment while exercising a minimal self-restraint
  • contemplated, cultivated and created beauty
  • enjoyed the good life.

Instead, they became obsessed with the idea of more, and what did they get?

More work, more pain, more disease and two sons who were so desperate to re-ingratiate themselves with God, that they ended up hating and killing one another…

This was one of those fleeting thoughts regarding the origins of our current economic, spiritual and moral crisis that probably would not have made it out of my personal diary, if it hadn’t been for Fareed Zakaria’s show GPS on CNN this past weekend. Coincidentally, he had invited Britain’s Robert and Edward Skidelsky – University professors and authors of a deeply provocative and intellectually stimulating book – to talk about just that.

The Skidelskys’ new book, “How Much is Enough – Money and the Good Life” takes an unusually fresh and honest stab at the “deathly orthodoxy” of economics as the mathematics of greed and at the obsessive pursuit of GDP growth as the sole measure of  a good life, while pleading for economics as a moral discipline which has to recognize that there is more to a rich, gratifying life than the mere material, monetized pre-requisites of wealth.

This is not one of those excentric, edulcorated, vaguely philosophical books written by misguided idealists. The authors know what they are talking about.  Robert Skidelsky is Emeritus Professor of Political Economy at the University of Warwick and an acclaimed expert on Keynes, while Edward is a lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Exeter.  Their research and their line of argumentation are as complex and serious as they are accessible. In the authors’ own words this book – full of exciting cultural references from the classics – is “an argument against insatiability”, focused on offering (against all odds) an objective and morally sustainable view of “the constituents of a good life”: health, security, respect, personality, friendship, harmony with nature, leisure.

How Much is Enough – Money and the Good Life” makes a wildly compelling argument, full of aha moments, well worth reading at this stage of our development in the Western (i.e. rich) world – and not only!  I can only recommend it. Together with Richard Heinberg’s “The End of Growth – Adapting to Our New Economic Reality” and Chrystia Freeland’s “Plutocrats – The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else“, I consider it part of a new school of thought that is gaining momentum. It is a troika of books that should not be missing from the bookshelves of those concerned with policy-making for future generations, as well as those simply concerned with making sense of their lives and escaping  the futility of the “rat race”.

A society of egomaniacs?

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Some people think they’re unhappy because they don’t get to meet enough of their personal needs. I think we’re unhappy because we’re too damn focused on our personal needs. Focus on the other person for a change.

Some people think they’re unhappy because they can’t satisfy their ego enough. I say we’re unhappy because we indulge our ego too much. Our ego is blocking the view.

One thing is certain. We’re being instrumental to our own misery. We lack metaphysics. We live artificial lives in unnatural environments and structures, full of big dry self-centered ambitions that lead to nowhere.

Out here in the (aging) Western world, we’re more protected than we’ve ever been, but we’re also more afraid than ever. Go figure.

Are we just old? Or too spoiled? Or both? Have we lost our ideals? Who and what are we living for? What do we derive our inspiration from? We’d have to believe in something first…

It seems we live in age where we just can’t find the right balance, the right kind of ferment for our spiritual growth. Too much chaos is bad because it generates excessive violence and a counterproductive recoil towards an idealized past. Too much security is bad because it turns the majority of us into sclerotic wimps AND feeds the extremist pipeline with those who cannot put their fervor and aggression (both natural characteristics up to a certain point) to better use in our society. These people look for leadership, excitement and a firm “vision” in the wrong lot. They are attracted by the “greater good” ingredient in these fundamentalist ideologies –  but they do so (mis)guided by their own narcissistic agendas.

Let’s face it however, there is a dire lack of inspirational alternatives, both east and west. What, after all, does our society put on the table in terms of grand ideals capable of galvanizing people towards brotherhood and a common goal? Moneymaking? Notoriety? A fancy wedding the preparations of which last longer than the marriage itself? Let’s be serious. A big fall is guaranteed. I am talking about sound, essential ideals that go to the core of every human being.

Some societies have too many unemployed young males vying for a sense of purpose in a macho society. Others, such as ours, have completely emasculated their males (I still equate “real man” with “real sense of responsibility”) with easy success, too many comforts and debauchery. The former blow themselves up in crowded places, the latter implode and are plagued by depression and vice.

Western society has not only legitimized but also encouraged selfishness for the past 50 years. Now it faces a dilemma: how do you implement the painful reforms needed for survival with a population used to always being on the receiving end? The peoples of Europe got used long ago to forgoing individual responsibility for their lives and putting their future in the hands of the almighty State. Now the State has failed them. Try taking the candy away from a child who was used to getting his daily “dose” of sweets. Turns out the State was not such a bright parent, after all. It ran into terrible debt not daring to take the child’s candy away and paying those high dentist’s bills. The almighty State did something else, too, by indulging the child. It made the child dependent and instilled the sense of entitlement in his brain. So a society of little pampered egomaniacs ensued, their only vision – preserving the status quo. For the most part, they have forgotten what it’s like to get up and do something for others, for free, once in a while. For free. Unbelievable. Unheard of. But quite a big source of happiness and cohesion. Not to mention survival.

How stable is a society built upon fierce individualists? Does it not wobble? Can a society of egomaniacs ever survive? Can there even be a real functioning “society”, per se, among egomaniacs?

The only true hope lies in shifting the focus from the self towards cooperation and community. It is a wonderful Christian paradox that by giving freely from that which you yourself do not possess enough of (patience, kindness, resilience, assistance, food), you yourself will be replenished. Call it the multiplying effect of love and altruism if you will. It truly IS happier to give than to receive.

What good has ever come from cold indifference?…

Sons of a gun

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At this point I just want to say something about the recent shooting sprees in America. It seems all sorts of maniacs are on the loose again. And their guns, too.

Now, I am not trying to pick a fight with anyone, but I cannot stand the blatant hypocrisy and shortsightedness of the gun-loving party. These brainwashed paranoid individuals will have you believe (and they keep repeating this like a broken record) that guns don’t kill people, people do. Oh, give me a fucking break!

Let me jot down a few examples:

1. a three-year-old finds a gun in his father’s closet. not knowing what it is, he fiddles with it a bit and, what do you know, HAVING HAD NO INTENTION TO KILL in the first place, he blasts away his best friend or his sister. Who is responsible for that atrocious tragedy? Who did that killing? And don’t tell me it wasn’t the gun. Clear case of no gun, no killing.

2. a guy (any guy next door, it CAN happen to anybody) loses his mind, goes terrifyingly berserk and wants to take it out on people. give him a club. how many people can he club to death before he’s all tired and panting, and some other guy gets a chance to stop him? give him a knife. how many people can he stab? again, the victim stands at least SOME chance of fighting back. you can’t really commit mass murder with a knife, can you? now, give him an automatic machine gun – let’s see. how many INNOCENT people can he gun down before he even breaks a sweat?…

I mean, how retarded do they think we are to believe (this day in age) that guns don’t kill? As a European, coming from a family that has never owned as much as a baseball bat for generations, I cannot grasp this American obsession with guns.

Another fallacy the advocates of gun ownership will have you believe is that guns are for self-defense only. Oh really?! Then how come you can find ASSAULT weapons for sale? I mean, all you have to do is look at their name. ASSAULT. That’s pretty self-explanatory. And even if they ban those. Let’s take a pistol, for example. So… if you leave it somewhere handy, you risk triggering a tragedy in your own family. If you put it in a safe, by the time you’re done turning keys, pressing buttons and punching the combination, you are probably going to be robbed anyway. They also say that a gun in the home acts as a deterrent for the bad guys. I don’t think it necessarily does. I think it only fuels the arms race, getting the bad guys to acquire ever more sophisticated weapons.  Heck, pepper spray is a deterrent. But guns, guns are built to kill. Stop sugarcoating that. This isn’t 1787 and a wilderness anymore. All of this shooting in broad daylight makes America look like a trigger-happy failed state.

If self-defense is all you’re after, take guns away from everybody and learn some karate.

But if it’s guns that you like, if they are an intrinsic part of your history, personality, ethos, then at least spare us the vapid excuses.