Category Archives: Politics

Words of wisdom, cautionary words

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On creativity:

“If too few opportunities for curiosity are available, if too many obstacles are placed in the way of risk and exploration, the motivation to engage in creative behavior is easily extinguished. (…) So, if the next generation is to face the future with zest and self-confidence, we must educate them to be original as well as competent.”

M. Czikszentmihalyi – Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention (Harper Collins e-books)

On vice and broadmindedness:

“Human wickedness, if accepted by society, is changed from an act of will into an inherent, psychological quality which man cannot choose or reject but which is imposed upon him from without, and which rules him as compulsively as the drug rules the addict. In assimilating crime and transforming it into vice, society denies all responsibility and establishes a world of fatalities in which men find themselves entangled. (…) If crime is understood to be a kind of fatality, natural or economic, everyone will finally be suspected of some special predestination to it. (…) The seeming broadmindedness that equates crime and vice, if allowed to establish its own code of law, will invariably prove more cruel and inhuman than laws, no matter how severe, which respect and recognize man’s independent responsibility for his behavior.”

H. Arendt – The Origins of Totalitarianism (Penguin Classics, 2017)

Any opinions?

Quote of the day

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“Plato (…) also discovered the very insecure position of truth in the world, for ‘from opinions comes persuasion, and not from truth’ (Phaedrus 260). The most striking difference between ancient and modern sophists is that the ancients were satisfied with a passing victory of the argument at the expense of truth, whereas the moderns want a more lasting victory at the expense of reality.”

Hannah Arendt – The Origins of Totalitarianism (Penguin Books, 2017)

On migration and diasporas

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“To live “in diaspora” is to reside in one place but to keep in motion an emotional, cultural, or political relationship with another, whether it is the site of one’s nativity that subsequently became a point of departure or an ancestral “homeland” virtually conjured but never visited. (…)

Diasporas (…) are platforms where received notions of cultural affiliation, religious inclination, and political persuasion can come undone or become entrenched and exaggerated. (…) They can be sites of recycling as much as of reinvention. (…)

But (…) all migrants, across a wide range of social positions, nonetheless share the experience that their movement results in a certain degree of expulsion from their territorial, political, juridical, or economic status. Even if the end result of migration is a relative increase in money, power, or enjoyment, the process of migration itself almost always involves an insecurity of some kind and duration. (…) The gains of migration are always a risk, while the process itself is always some kind of loss.”

S. Illot, A.C. Mendes, L. Newns (eds.) – New Directions in Diaspora Studies (Rowman & Littlefield, London, 2018)

Quote of the day

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“To yield to the mere process of disintegration has become an irresistible temptation, not only because it has assumed the spurious grandeur of ‘historical necessity’, but also because everything outside it has begun to appear lifeless, bloodless, meaningless, and unreal. (…)

Comprehension does not mean denying the outrageous (…). It means, rather, examining and bearing consciously the burden which our century has placed on us – neither denying its existence nor submitting meekly to its weight. Comprehension, in short, means the unpremeditated, attentive facing up to, and resisting of, reality – whatever it may be.”

Hannah Arendt – The Origins of Totalitarianism (Preface to the First Edition, summer 1950).

Words that still resonate.

Discoveries

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Venus – that ancient

goddess of carnal desire – 

has a poisonous atmosphere that might,

just might,

hold the life of a microbe.


Immediately,

the microbes here on Earth

began to show signs

of restlessness.

fighting each other for supremacy

and claiming poison

as their territory.

Copyright A. Sepi 2020. All rights reserved

The Darkest Hour

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“În vremurile aspre și triste, oamenii liberi pot să se consoleze întotdeauna cu lecția de bază a istoriei, și anume că tiraniile nu pot dăinui decât printre neamurile slugarnice.”

Winston Churchill,

în Humes, J.C. – Vorbele de duh ale lui Winston Churchill, ed. Humanitas, București, 2008.

 

 

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.

 

 

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”.