Sunday, 12 August 2012
Sunday, 12 August 2012
"No man ever steps in the same river twice," the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus is said to have said. Life and the universe are in a permanent state of flux.
This view seems to be true, if you think about it commonsensically. Apparently science corroborates it too. But what I have in mind is something less (or, depending on how you look at it, more) prosaic. I think that it is possible for anyone to go through such life-changing experiences that you end up wondering whether your personal notion of personal identity is correct.
Time passes and things change. Constantly. That is clearly what Heraclitus of Ephesus meant. According to serious scientists, that is what happens at the molecular level. Gradually, all molecules of our bodies are replaced by other molecules, so that not a single one of our current molecules is a molecule that was part of us at a certain point in our past. But we are, of course, still recognisably us.
Some people, however, undergo changes that are so drastic that this natural flux of life wouldn't be enough to explain them. For instance, when someone becomes an atheist, having been religious all of his or her life. Obviously, small changes will have happened along the way, preparing the ground for such a conversion. Yet, others never change, even if all the molecules of their bodies happen to have been replaced by new molecules since the last time they prayed to their gods.
There are changes that come about through really revolutionary processes. I was thinking about that kind of change just now.
This subject was kind of forced into my mind by a film I saw this evening. I film about a guy who can see when someone is approaching their death. Many scenes in it are suffused with moving statements and images. My first mental impulse was to ponder just how much human beings are capable of saturating life with sentiments which aren't strictly necessary. I felt that our reaction to death is influenced both by animal instinct and culture. We reject death instinctively; but human societies develop different ways to express this rejection. Part of the reason why we reject death is love; but, from a biological point of view, love is simply the name we give to an emotion that we all feel and which fits quite easily in a evolutionary view of life.
By now, however, I was asking myself whether such a dispassionate take on death (and, consequently, on life) isn't actually supremely unwise. It may well be a realistic insight into the matter, but if I am to seek to live a life that I can call good, meaning is something that will have to be part of it. There could come a point where I'm well-advised to accept my absorption into a scheme of things in which utter indifference is all that there is, and be philosophical and almost quizzical about death. That would be my own death, I guess, and even then I might be moved by the beauty of what I'm becoming. For the time being, though, I'm more inclined to stick with love.
Sunday, 5 August 2012
Sunday, 5 August 2012
I've just watched a video on youtube about conspiracies surrounding the 7th of July 2005 suicide bomb attacks on the London transport system. Apparently, a guy calling himself Muab Dib (who turns out to be an Englishman from Sheffield called John Hill) came up with an intriguing and compelling conspiracy theory, which he explains in a specially produced DVD that was sent by him to many people in the UK. The DVD is titled Ripple Effect. The video I watched is an episode of a BBC programme called Conspiracy Files. I had never heard about Ripple Effect and I must confess that I can't be bothered to watch it. The Conspiracy Files programme demolishes Muab Dib's theory very convincingly. That didn't surprise me: I'm very sceptical about such conspiracy theories, especially the one about the 9/11 terrorist atrocity in New York. I think people who insist on peddling these conspiracy theories miss a point which I find very important.
Some people seem to harbour a vague and general suspicion that the world is ruled by some sort of secret society, which will stop at nothing to achieve its goals. That is why they reckon that an ex-President of the USA and an ex-British Prime Minister are behind 9/11 and 7/7. They think (rightly, in my view) that those atrocities helped George W Bush and Tony Blair make their case for keeping up their fight against 'terror'. Which in turn furthered their world domination designs. Without 9/11 it would have been harder to convince Americans and Brits of the need to invade Iraq, to mention one example. The British were actually overwhelmingly against the invasion of Iraq, up to the point when it was carried out, and even more so afterwards. But there is no doubt that 9/11 changed most people's perception of reality. Saddam Hussein would have been far less demonizable without 9/11. Donald Rumsfeld, Bush's Secretary of Defence at the time of the invasion, made this clear when he said that the invasion of Iraq was directly connected to 9/11. I remember clearly him saying something about things being seen through a new prism after the Twin Towers attacks. And so conspiracy theorists simply go one step further. If the above-mentioned terrorist atrocities were in some ways useful to Blair and Bush, wouldn't it make sense for them to hope for them? And to go on to plan and carry them out?
Even though this isn't particularly relevant here, I think one needs to look at the people who entertain these conspiracy theories. Just in case. What other beliefs do they hold? Well, Muab Dib thinks that he's Jesus Christ. Literally. And then there is the large number of Mosque-going Muslims who find the theories quite cogent. But to dwell on these facts is just a diversion, as far as I'm concerned.
I think Muab Dib is a nutcase, but I also think that Muslim people are unfairly discriminated against by a lot of people in the UK. You can't blame a Muslim person for wanting to prove everybody wrong regarding the religious background of the perpetrators of the 9/11 and the 7/7 terrorist attacks. If they turned out to be Christian, the phrase Islamic terrorism would have to be replaced by Christian terrorism. However, the fact that someone might have a reasonably legitimate reason for wanting to believe that this or that reality is true has no bearing on whether it is or isn't true.
The main point in my opinion is that indulging in conspiracy theorising is to overshoot the mark. Of course the powerful nations of this world don't base their actions on moral considerations. Of course they mess up with other people's countries. But to see this as a deliberately elaborated foreign policy is, I believe, a mistake. The great Noam Chomsky said something once which I think is the key to how powerful nations go about their ruthless and remorseless domination business. It's not as if governments, corporations and the media collaborated in a conscious effort to wreak havoc around the world for their own benefit. They certainly do collaborate with each other to wreak havoc around the world (and to create misery to many people at home), but they do that thinking they are doing something else. This world elite is pretty much naturally selected to be exactly where they are. When they use words like freedom, stability, prosperity, democracy and the like, they take them do mean what good dictionaries say they mean, without for a moment doubting that what they are doing is the right thing to do.
Now, that doesn't always seem to be the case. Sometimes it does look as if people are just being deliberately ruthless full stop. But to believe that is to misread the motivations of today's powerful interests.
The very rich and the very powerful see their wealth and their power as a right they are entitled to. They see themselves as the exemplification of the soundness of the system they champion. To turn the very powerful into comic-strip villains is to play the fool in a different way from those who worship their political leaders. They may avoid being deceived by state propaganda, but they turn themselves into laughing stocks.
Anyway, I needed to say this to myself. Conspiracy theorists are a blessing in disguise for power-mad governments everywhere.
Wednesday, 1 August 2012
Wednesday, 1 August 2012
I've just seen an American movie called Salt of the Earth, from 1954. It is about a miners' community in New Mexico that goes on strike. It is somewhat depressing to realise that some of the themes developed in the movie are still eerily contemporary. Workers' rights being trampled on, ethnic minorities being treated as second class citizens, people in power willing to deploy all sorts of devious and illegal tactics. The film is, to some extent, a fairy tale, in that its happy end has ordinary people overcoming powerful interests. Although I'm not sure whether that was already the case at the time in which the story is set. I don't know whether such happy end was a very unlikely outcome in real life already at that time. It seems to me that it is set somewhere in the first half of the 20th century. Perhaps the information was given at some point, but I missed it. Whatever the case may be, the story does come across as a fairy tale today. The current Occupy movement is very encouraging and inspiring; but given the extent to which technology has been harnessed and turned into a means of seemingly unlimited violence, I can't help but wonder to what extent the populations of Western countries and above all the USA are safe from harm coming from the powers that be.
This is one of the things that went on in my mind's life today.
I have also been thinking about Venezuela's inclusion in the Mercosul, which is an economic and political agreement between some of the main powers in South America, including Brazil, the most powerful of them all. South American countries, led mainly by Brazil, have been quietly and consistently adopting a defiant stance regarding foreign and indeed domestic policy. Defiant to the extent that their policies aren't the kinds of policy that the US government would tend to favour, to put it mildly. And it seems to me that the good news is that this development is likely to favour the majority of the population not only in South America, but also all around the globe. The so-called 99%.
These things are important, because the very survival of humankind could be at stake. Typical so-called neo-con policies are, generally speaking, amenable to climate change denial. In fact, those policies are actually designed to keep the pace of global warming continuously increasing.
I've also been thinking about losing some weight and, which is a related subject, sticking with my alcohol abstinence. I need to start exercising. Mind you, I've been taking long walks almost on a daily basis lately.
Money has been on my mind too, since I was taken by surprise late last night by a payment which turned out to be substantially smaller than I expected. It is incredible to think of how many tiring things have been going through my head in the last twenty four hours, beginning with my dreams. Dreams of precarious housing after a flood. Perhaps it is alright to be a bit manicheistic sometimes. Maybe life is really all black and white. The power of light versus the power of darkness in an eternal battle of wills. Our job is to stay on the side of light. And of illumination. I shall keep on trying my best. I guess most people find themselves in a kind of twilight zone from time to time. Gosh, how vulnerable I am, come to think of it! How weak and susceptible. I'm sure there are many others out there who feel the same way about themselves. I think they are right to feel that way. And so am I.
Tuesday, 31 July 2012
Tuesday, 31 July 2012
The things that are missing in my life at the moment are the things I keep postponing day in, day out. Some of these things are completely neglected; others require more dedication. It may be that all I need to do is to simply start making time for them and, eventually, become obsessed with them. I have often suspected that I have an obsessive personality. Unfortunately, my current obsession is with laziness. But it is, nevertheless, an obsession. I've had many others.
I try to identify characteristics that mark obsessions off as obsessions, rather than regular activities, ideas etc. It seems to me that one thing all obsessions share alike is the ability to turn those who are afflicted (if that is the right word) by them into eccentrics. Sometimes just partially eccentric, but eccentricity is, I think, a symptom that accompanies obsessions. And if it doesn't, it seems to me that a process of repression is taking place, which is much more dangerous than eccentricity that grows freely and openly alongside an obsession.
I don't think there's anything wrong with eccentricity per se. Which leads to my next point. Obsessions also share with other obsessions the characteristic of being pre-moral. They aren't necessarily bad. Therefore, eccentricities that may develop as a result of the active pursuit of an obsession can be either benign or malignant. An eccentricity can be a charm or an unpleasant feature of someone's personality. Here I should make the honest suggestion that, if personalities are innate entities, they are also full of potential elements that may stay dormant throughout a person's life. They can be intensified and they can be deadened. They can be awakened in midlife, or in one's old age.
I've actually tried to get obsessed with things I felt I needed to do and I think I was successful. There were many books I had purchased at London charity shops that seemed to be destined to oblivion, at least as far as my reading them was concerned. I believed I stood to gain a lot by reading them. My obsession at that time was red wine. Or was it? Was it an obsession or was it a habit? Was it an addiction? I chose to call it an obsession. A habit that turned into an end in itself. It wasn't just the red wine, actually. I drank red wine every evening. About a bottle and a third of a bottle. And I read. I read the books I wanted to read, for the same reason stated a few sentences ago. But I only read in the evening, as I drank red wine. This meant I didn't read much, even though I read regularly. So I decided to ditch the red wine and consoled myself, in the cold turkey period, by telling myself that what I was getting into was also radical and excessive. And the fact is that I started to read quite a lot.
I found myself back to square one when outside events upset my new daily routine. My new obsession was cut short. Although I now see that I could easily have carried on with it. Just as some people turn to alcoholism or drugs to relieve stress, I could have stuck with my obsessive reading. Like a escape route. But a escape route that didn't just messed up with my mind. I could have carried on getting a bit cleverer than I was. Reading (if the books are properly chosen) are brains that you can pick at leisure. There are many brains out there that I have very good reasons to pick. Besides, I see a new tumultuous period of my life coming my way. I hope I can keep calm and read on. Actually, I hope I can not help keeping calm and carrying on, just like other can't help killing themselves with cigarettes. Cigarette smoking, by the way, is an obsession; not an addiction. A very vulgar kind of obsession.
This diary is something I want to try and turn into an obsession. I want to write more, and if I can't organise my thoughts enough to go about writing something a bit more structured, at least I can develop a habit of writing everyday. The next step is obsession. That, at least, is the idea.
Monday, 30 July 2012
Monday, 30 July 2012
Can one really live completely without superstition? I mean, even leaving aside belief in a supernatural dimension, couldn't it be the case that a proper grasp of certain life events isn't really within reach of one's rational capacity? And that guessing with the help of sheer intuition sometimes becomes the only reasonable course to take?Well, perhaps I should just drop this slightly fatuous attempt at a prelude to what's been really on my mind all day. If my tepid determination to keep a diary is to be made good on, it is alright for me not to focus solely on a list of the day's events. As yesterday's entry made clear to myself, I don't seem to qualify even for the mundane task of getting the chronology right before I sit down to write. But I shouldn't hedge my bets with preliminary thoughts of a general kind, as though I were talking about something that matters outside the context of my private life.
I haven't been able to resist entertaining the notion that certain choices we make in life are endowed with what I'd call a current. Like sea currents. Currents that take you inexorably in a well-defined direction. There may be plenty of room for small variations, but which are engulfed by the broad lines of an immovable trend.
Defeatism is something which, for the untrained eye, I could be accused of with justice. Talk of inexorable directions smacks, no doubt, of passivity and impotence in the face of life's events. And I think that is where the word superstition seems to suggest itself effortlessly. Superstition, that is, in the special sense of being a last resource, when there is just too much going on, at too fast a pace, for you to hope to be able to make sense of things.
You make a guess. It can only be called a guess. It can't possibly be a theory, not even in the non-scientific sense of the word. When I use the word theory I like to be able to present at least a few interesting reasons that back it up. Anyway, immediately after warning myself against talking as if I had some deep universal insight into the nature of life to offer to humanity, I fell back straight into the same mistake. I'm glad I'm talking to myself.
But, yes, I think I'm kind of stuck. I think this is just going to go on like this indefinitely. If I just carry on, my life will simply continue to be exactly what it has been since I decided to change its tack radically a decade and a half ago. Which, of course, seems to offer one single way out: I need to go back to what made me take the road that led me to where I am. Yes, perhaps this whole effort - this effort that has certainly brought with it many gains - has simply amounted to a postponement. I may have simply taken a break of life. A break that has been going on for an absurdly long time. I have been acting like someone who wants to avoid doing some necessary task by playing videogames or washing the car.
And yet, there were so many little distractions along the way, that some of them became important. They demand my attention and they want to follow their course to the end, until, like a river, they reach some sea that gives me back my freedom. But maybe I'm juts kidding myself, as has become my habit.
When is enough enough?
I can't tell. Perhaps I'm completely wrong about this theory of mine that equates superstition with rationality, albeit in a suitably loose manner.
Well, I guess I'm bound to go on and on in circles tonight. If I stop here, I will at least have suggested to myself some interesting lines of thought, which I'd be better advised to take up once I'm feeling a bit happier and less obsessed with my search for a clear answer to a messy network of enmeshed questions. This entanglement of emotions blindly trying to make sense of a recent past that is by no means characterized by uniformity. I shouldn't be in a hurry to identify patterns in this complex landscape of fifteen years. It's better to allow some clouds to dissolve and some fresh air to be blown by the summery breeze of a rainy end of July, and make decisions with a mind that feels generous, rather than cornered by these ghostly, spectral hounds of time.
Sunday, 29 July 2012
Sunday, 29 July 2012
I have discovered a kind of recipe for living my daily life. The ingredients, when generalised, are simple: food, reading, cinema, walking, writing and teetotalism.
Today began with coffee with soya milk. The youtube video was wholly unnecessary, and that is why I watched a Peter Singer lecture, in which he discusses the relationship between ethics and Evolution: a bit like listening to a serious audio-book. I also ate some Scottish rough oatcakes with olive oil spread. Then I lay in bed again and read Frege. Gottlob Frege. Tough. I wish I had been a better maths student. I'm actually considering doing an Open University course in maths.
Being able to access the internet on my mobile phone (something that, all of a sudden, seems so prosaic) means I can't help checking my inbox every ten minutes or so and taking a peek at my facebook page. Things which, again, I could very well do without.
Just after twelve noon I decided to prepare noodles with broccoli and tomato sauce. But first I turned on my laptop and went online. Then I chose a film to watch on the lovefilm British website: Chocolat. I began watching it while the water was progressing towards boiling point. It bothered me that the French congregation, at the little French church in the pretty French town, chose to sing an English hymn, in XVI century English. The film was clearly not set in the XVI century. I had to put the film on pause, chop up the broccoli quickly and throw it with the dry and hard noodle into the boiling water. I ended up adding a huge dollop of Philadelphia to the tomato sauce when I was heating it up. It took less than five minutes for me to find myself again in front of the laptop watching Chocolat. As I ate, I was further annoyed by Judy Dench speaking English with a phoney French accent. I ate my lunch quickly and stopped the film. I turned off the laptop, lay in bed again, with my stomach more than filled with noodles, broccoli, tomato sauce and Philadelphia, and wrote a post on facebook from my mobile decrying Chocolat.
I read more Frege and, eventually, went out for a long walk, glad that the English summer had gone rather cool. I had a single espresso at a cafe called Nero near the Turnpike Lane tube station.
When I got home I realised I had to wash my clothes.
My dinner was an interesting concoction made up of kidney beans cooked in water with salt and garlic, half a cup of rice, baby sweet corn chopped up, peeled and chopped up potatoes, a vegetarian imitation of minced beef and two vegetable Knorr cubes. This must sound horrible, but it suits me to the hilt. I ate this, as it were, dish with lettuce, red cabbage and lots of Greek olive oil.
I couldn't help watching a new Noam Chomsky video on youtube while I ate my dinner. And I went on to watch a debate between Professor Chomsky and a guy called Alan Dershowitz. Actually, most of it I just listened to, lying in bed.
I should have read more.
I forgot to mention another video, about a teenager who denounced his Christian fundamentalist history teacher to the head teacher of his school. The guy had been telling students that they should believe a lot of religious mambo-jambo. Everybody seemed to be against the poor teenager, but American law wasn't. Happy end for the lad (to cut a long story short).I posted it on facebook too and suggested it to one of my facebook friends, who liked it very much and reposted it.
Too much youtube, too much facebook, too little reading, enough walk, a bit too much food.
And this is all I have written all day.