This is a shortened version of the nowadays famous speech from David Foster Wallace to the 2005 graduating class at Kenyon College.
I feel its content and value goes perfectly well with the at times hypnotic and at times melodic beats of this album from Henry Saiz called Reality Addendum. Dreams are reality’s ‘addendum and they are part of the same journey for every person who seeks his own identity and meaning.
For the whole speech click on the title of the speech here below.
Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life.
There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”
If at this moment, you’re worried that I plan to present myself here as the wise old fish explaining what water is to you younger fish, please don’t be. I am not the wise old fish. The immediate point of the fish story is that the most obvious, ubiquitous, important realities are often the ones that are the hardest to see and talk about. Stated as an English sentence, of course, this is just a banal platitude — but the fact is that, in the day-to-day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have life-or-death importance. That may sound like hyperbole, or abstract nonsense. A huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded.
Here’s one example of the utter wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of: Everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute center of the universe, the real-est, most vivid and important person in existence. We rarely talk about this sort of natural, basic self-centeredness, because it’s so socially repulsive, but it’s pretty much the same for all of us, deep down. It is our default-setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth.
Think about it: There is no experience you’ve had that you were not at the absolute center of. The world as you experience it is right there in front of you, or behind you, to the left or right of you, on your TV, or your monitor, or whatever. Other people’s thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real — you get the idea. But please don’t worry that I’m getting ready to preach to you about compassion or other-directedness or the so-called “virtues.” This is not a matter of virtue — it’s a matter of my choosing to do the work of somehow altering or getting free of my natural, hard-wired default-setting, which is to be deeply and literally self-centered, and to see and interpret everything through this lens of self.
People who can adjust their natural default-setting this way are often described as being “well adjusted,” which I suggest to you is not an accidental term. Given the triumphal academic setting here, an obvious question is how much of this work of adjusting our default setting involves actual knowledge or intellect. This question gets tricky. Probably the most dangerous thing about college education, at least in my own case, is that it enables my tendency to over-intellectualize stuff, to get lost in abstract arguments inside my head instead of simply paying attention to what’s going on right in front of me. Paying attention to what’s going on inside me.
As I’m sure you guys know by now, it is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive instead of getting hypnotized by the constant monologue inside your own head. Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal-arts cliche about “teaching you how to think” is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: “Learning how to think” really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.
Think of the old cliche about “the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master.” This, like many cliches, so lame and unexciting on the surface, actually expresses a great and terrible truth. It is not the least bit coincidental that adults who commit suicide with firearms almost always shoot themselves in the head. And the truth is that most of these suicides are actually dead long before they pull the trigger. And I submit that this is what the real, no-bull-value of your liberal-arts education is supposed to be about: How to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default-setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone, day in and day out. That may sound like hyperbole, or abstract nonsense. So let’s get concrete. The plain fact is that you graduating seniors do not yet have any clue what “day in, day out” really means. There happen to be whole large parts of adult American life that nobody talks about in commencement speeches. One such part involves boredom, routine and petty frustration….
The point is that petty, frustrating crap like this is exactly where the work of choosing comes in. Because the traffic jams and crowded aisles and long checkout lines give me time to think, and if I don’t make a conscious decision about how to think and what to pay attention to, I’m going to be pissed and miserable every time I have to food-shop, because my natural default-setting is the certainty that situations like this are really all about me, about my hungriness and my fatigue and my desire to just get home, and it’s going to seem, for all the world, like everybody else is just in my way,and who are all these people in my way?…
Look, if I choose to think this way, fine, lots of us do — except that thinking this way tends to be so easy and automatic it doesn’t have to be a choice. Thinking this way is my natural default-setting….
The thing is that there are obviously different ways to think about these kinds of situations…
But most days, if you’re aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead eyed, over-made-lady who just screamed at her little child in the checkout line — maybe she’s not usually like this; maybe she’s been up three straight nights holding the hand of her husband who’s dying of bone cancer,…
The only thing that’s capital-T True is that you get to decide how you’re going to try to see it. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t. You get to decide what to worship. …
Because here’s something else that’s true. In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of God or spiritual-type thing to worship — be it J.C. or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan mother-goddess or the Four Noble Truths or some infrangible set of ethical principles — is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things — if they are where you tap real meaning in life — then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. On one level, we all know this stuff already — it’s been codified as myths, proverbs, cliches, bromides, epigrams, parables: the skeleton of every great story. The trick is keeping the truth up-front in daily consciousness. Worship power — you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart — you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. And so on…
The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default-setting, the “rat race” — the constant gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing. I know that this stuff probably doesn’t sound fun and breezy or grandly inspirational. What it is, so far as I can see, is the truth with a whole lot of rhetorical bulls— pared away. Obviously, you can think of it whatever you wish. But please don’t dismiss it as some finger-wagging Dr. Laura sermon. None of this is about morality, or religion, or dogma, or big fancy questions of life after death.
The capital-T Truth is about life before death. It is about making it to 30, or maybe 50, without wanting to shoot yourself in the head. It is about simple awareness — awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, that we have to keep reminding ourselves, over and over: “This is water, this is water. It is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive, day in and day out.
The symptoms of the two decades long propaganda of the war against terror and the Islamic axis of evil on the European immigration policies and integration discourse uncovers the hypocrisy of the whole secular Christian European identity comedy (tragedy) drama.
For more than 4 years we in the western part of this land mass that is EurAsia are witnessing a humanitarian crisis or better say catastrophe of unprecedented proportions with dead bodies of innocent women and children are washed out the beaches were many western Europeans are having their ‘well deserved’ holiday vacation.
And we remain in disgusting apathy. Regardless of the great efforts from many civil organizations and simple individuals to alleviate the pain and the misery the see in front of them the citizens of the EU repeatedly fail to put the necessary political pressure on their respective elected representatives to force them adopt the proper foreign relation policies to ease the pressures and circumstances that generate this constant flow of immigrants or at least to initiate a common European immigration policy which will make it easier and more effective for all the countries to share the responsibility to care for these people. Worse than that we are pushed down an in-humane debate from the various national media where we even begin to justify the fascist, xenophobic arguments of European and our national authorities for our shameful apathy and inaction.
This disgusting behaviour is the result of the prolonged pseudo-ideological crusade which followed the 9/11 attacks in the US which portrayed the (Christo) western block as the righteous defender of good against the (Islamic) eastern axis of evil.
A propaganda that continues still today through the debate about the immigration crisis that has been raging in Europe. The key word in this discourse is the word crisis.
Because while the EU and its people, us, all of us, are living in a continent where its population is rapidly aging, where its health care, pension schemes are almost crumbling, where there are entire villages in rural areas that are completely abandoned, where the labour market is over flooding from a mid and high level, local and global qualified work force that doesn’t want to work elsewhere; we are concerned about the effects 3 million or 4 million refugees will have on our Christian social identity.
Only when you are drowning in shit you cannot see that this tragedy is an opportunity to mend the bridges between east and west, to finally act in accord of our so called Christian belief of compassion and love upon your fellow man and in the same time give or societies the rejuvenating injection of young people who would work hard to rebuild their lives in what they can hopefully call, if we act correctly, their new home and country.
Religion and conflict seem to be more prevalent than ever in contemporary global politics and society. So often in public debate we hear that religion is either violent or it is peaceful, that it is oppressive or it promotes justice. But are these the only two ways of thinking about religion and conflict? In today’s post, Marjo Buitelaar, Kim Knibbe and Erin Wilson consider some possible alternatives and invite you to join them to explore these issues further in a free online course.
“Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.” – Blaise Pascal
“The whole purpose of religion is to facilitate love and compassion, patience, tolerance, humility and forgiveness.” – Dalai Lama
“Religion is like a knife: you can either use it to cut bread, or stick it in someone’s back.” – Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu
Religion and conflict seem inextricably…
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Winning and losing: The Syriza way
As a young Cypriot being brought up in the discourse of Albert Memmi’s colonized, I was lucky enough to be part of a critically thinking educated middle-class family that allowed me to see that the main perpetrators of the post-colonial vicious circle of dependency and submission were the colonized oligarchs. They had managed to amass during the years of colonization great power and wealth by adopting the ways, values and ideas of their colonizing masters.
In the cases that the post-colonial transition of political power came through radical revolutionary self-determination movements that overthrew the colonized oligarchs these movements were so totalitarian in establishing control over their governance that they often neglected the same ideals that they were fighting for in the first place. Nevertheless, their ideas that spurred the masses to offer the loyalty to their cause lived on and transcended to economic and political thoughts way beyond their boundaries of their own nation. The plain reason for this was that it was evident that their fight was not about nation-states. It was a class struggle.
The events that are unfolding in Greece since the electoral win of the radical leftist party of Syriza seem to me to have a modernized financial similarity with the successful liberation and revolutionary movement of Fidel Castro and Ce Guevara in Cuba in the late 50’s. I don’t want to say the two cases are the same, but they share similar elements since both represent grass root socialist ideological reactions against the gross imperialistic advance.
The South American economic and political puzzle of the late 50’s resembles the same opportunistic environment many European countries especially from Southern Europe found themselves in the post-2008 financial crisis. In the case of many South American countries during the late 50’s and in the 60’s their newly hardly fought and earned independence meant also dealing with the old establish indigenous oligarchs and their former colonial rulers, the USA. The US had for decades been imposing a monetary tyranny through the dollar. In those days the role of the IMF and the ECB gracefully was played by the WTO which with the help of the US secret services and their corporate oligarchy forced these countries to the so-called Structural Adjustment Programs that were aiming to kick-start these economies into free trade and economic growth. The results of these programs were, widening economic inequality in these societies, the establishment of brutal dictatorships all across the continent, the ravaging of the natural resources and wealth of these countries through privatization that benefited the few and led finally to the disintegration of the social fabric.
What Greece is experiencing since 2008 is an expression of the same imperialistic attitude of a dominant power that seeks to consolidate control over highly lucrative actors with great resources and assets by enslaving them into a relationship of perpetuate debt. Germany is the only EU power that has benefited the most since the global financial crisis. The aim to extend their control over their EU partners by making them more and more dependent on the mechanism of borrowing money. Then they can come and impose the regulatory adjustments that would allow them to maintain Germany as the most competitive economy in the Eurozone. In the meantime, they will extort, blackmail and do whatever it takes with the help of their the corporate lobbying war machine to ensure that they have the local elites to support their cause.
This is what Tsipras and Varoufakis want to uncover and this is exactly what they are most afraid of. Tsipras and Varoufakis are not Fidel Castro nor Che Guevara in their ideas or in the means of fighting their cause. But they are the same to the degree that they are fighting against the global imperialistic capital that wants you to believe that is the Greek people or the weak, corrupt countries of the south of Europe to be blamed. They know that is not the people, but it’s the oligarchs that with the help of their foreign financial colonizers that manipulated and played their lives in the world’s global financial casino.
The stakes are high for the Greek government because even though in the end Greece may be forced to accept some sort of renegotiated version of the bailout plan the only way that this government may survive this gross attack on its sovereignty politically and maintain its popularity in Greece is by pushing forward to the legal front and demand that all these Greek and European oligarchs that have profiteered for decades through extortion and bribery against the Greek public to be brought to justice. The unity of Greeks is of apparent and immense importance at this stage. Kissinger, the most beloved and celebrated free war criminal had once said that the only way one may succeed in dominating the Greeks is by dividing them. Well, Germany’s imperial fiscal fascism may actually do exactly that!
But they are winners no matter what. Both, Tsipras and Varoufakis. They managed to impose on the people of Europe a legitimate doubt against the German established financial dogma. The question they posed Is simple: Shouldn’t be an economic policy that has been so ruthlessly imposed the last 7 years and has perhaps as the only undisputed result the unprecedented rise of the far right neo-nazi parties across Europe, be rethink and perhaps changed? This question raises also doubts upon the argument Germany was using internally and which was putting the blame on its own economic weakness to the weaker European southern partners. The German public will ask why their country’s economic crusade since 2008 has failed to produce the fruits of economic growth yet.
In politics, the first battlefield is the one fought by the power of ideas and once the seed of an idea are planted it is inevitable that they’ll take roots. Now what fruits they will bring on is still uncertain.
When the Butterfly Effect meets Chaos Theory. The actual occurrence of the Domino theory that perpetuated the Vietnam war.
Sadiq Al Timimi is a well-known lawyer from Baghdad, Iraq, specializing in constitutional law. He has written the internal codes for several human rights and non-governmental organisations in Iraq, and is a regular contributor to the Iraqi press, writing on issues such as constitutional law and civil society. I spoke to him on August 6th and 7th 2014.
Donnchadh Mac an Ghoill: Sadiq, in the first place I’d like to thank you for taking the time to do this interview for Zero Anthropology.
Sadiq Al Timimi: You’re very welcome.
D: You began to practice as a lawyer about ten years before the US invasion in 2003?
S: Yes, nine years before.
D: Was there a lot of political interference in the law at that time?
S: It was accepted that to be appointed a judge, you had to be a member of the…
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Never again…or at least not on my watch!
On this 6 of April, twenty years will pass from the day when the plane carrying the Presidents of Rwanda and Burundi was shot down killing everyone on board. What followed this still unresolved crime was war, massacres and violence of the worst scale and ferocity.
I only wish that humanity’s crimes would have ended right then and there. Like many other tragedies from the archive of humanity’s grotesque insanity, the Rwandan genocide, that followed the murders of the two head of states, has become just another memory used to invoke sentiments of horror. In a lobby like campaign under the, always opportunistic, ‘Never Again’ banner paraded by an army of intellectuals, diplomats, politicians, retired presidents or generals the Rwandan and Congolese tragedies are re-discovered whenever an imperial power sees the need to justify humanitarian intervention or pre-emptive crisis management military strikes. Having collectively swallowed Neo’s blue pill of willful ignorance and amnesia we all seem to be collectively pre-programmed to remember these tragedies with the same specific moral authority that shoved that pill down our throats in the first place. “Everywhere is Rwanda for the humanitarian imperialist,” noted Max Forte in his book Slouching Towards Sirte, NATO’s War on Libya and Africa.
As a modern twist of the tragedy of the Holocaust the Rwandan genocide is pulled out from under the carpet to show off the catastrophic effects of inaction when facing a force of evil. In the words of one of the fathers of modern conservatism Edmund Burke ‘Evil prevails when good men fail to act’. Robin Philpot describes in his new work ‘Rwanda and the New Scramble for Africa, From Tragedy to Useful Imperial Fiction’ how the good men of the west constructed the main narrative of this conflict to represent the current President of Rwanda Paul Kagame as a brilliant strategist who came down from the north of the country with his Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) and put an end to the genocide. Moreover the same narrative tell us that the tough but visionary leadership of Kagame turned this troubled under developed nation to the next African miracle. The lesson that perpetrates this story is that in the future our western developed democracies should, by any means,act swiftly and drastically to prevent these atrocities from happening in the name of humanity.
Cracking towards the truth.
Thankfully through the work of people like Robin Philpot the carefully camouflaged cracks of this narrative are starting to show. He describes how facts become obscured or even simply neglected from the official narrative. The then Secretary General of the UN then Boutros Boutros Ghali, or Frenchie for the Americans has confessed to him that ‘the Rwandan genocide was 100% American responsibility’. What the US and the British intelligence and diplomacy did, as recently declassified Clinton’s administration documents show, was to try to withdraw the UNAMIR forces and block any more resolutions on the matter giving the time to Kagame’s RPF to mobilize after the events of April 6. Nothing was left to chance and so the events of April 6 were never thoroughly investigated. If they were the role of the RPF in the murderous attack would have become evident.
The US and the British wanted to set the field for a single power structure, at all costs, in the region of Central Africa’s Great Lake’s Region in the face of the RPF. In what it seems now as an early practice round of the Shock and Awe strategy the Americans succeeded to concealed their involvement in setting up the crisis and later to conspicuously rejected their diplomatic responsibilities in sabotaging the international efforts to act and resolve it. For Washington, the 1993 Arusha Peace Accord had to become obsolete.
An extensive PR network, similar to what it was used some years ago towards the hype to the war in former Yugoslavia, and the vocal repeated condemnations from the RPF against the international community, guaranteed that the arrows against the West were not aiming just at the US or the British.
One hand washes the other and both they wash the blood away…
Perhaps the most astonishing achievement for Robin Philbot of the then US Ambassador to the UN Madeleine Albright and of the State Department was the disconnection from the contextual references of this tragedy of the instigating first chapter of this supreme humanitarian crime.
When in 1990 around 4000 Ugandan uniformed troops, which they later went to become the RPF, invaded Rwanda most analysts quickly described it as just another minor hot incident in the region. Even much later in 2002 the majority of the populous western media described those events as ‘increased tensions’. But in 2010 the UN Mapping Report confirmed the criminal nature of the actions of RPF in Congo. A bit too little too late one might say. If you look at the events in the region between 1990 and 1994 you will see that the horrific crimes have started well before the April of 1994 and that the RPF was one of the main instigators during these violent and bloody years. This part of the narrative is laid forgotten as it doesn’t help anyone who wants to invoke ‘Rwanda’ to justify military intervention in a conflict or crisis zone.
What it does help though is perpetuating the notion of a ‘conspiracy to create genocide’ which the Western powers should had intervened and put an end to it. There were mass killings in Rwanda and war crimes have been committed, no one can dispute this evidence. The evidence though has failed to show was that there was a pre-planned conspiracy, at least from the side of the then Rwandan regime, for the genocide. Even after 18 years the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda had to acquit Théoneste Bagosora who has been repeatedly accused of being the man who instigated and planned the mass killings.
Again, this doesn’t mean Théoneste Bagosora is innocent of any involvement in this horrible story. A simple, relevant, but neglected, truth of the events as Robin Philbot argues in his book is the fact that ‘the Rwandan military and the police, who were the only one able to stop the killing in April, May and June 1994, were simply unable to do so because they were engaged in a war to the finish with a powerful and fully-equipped military machine known as the Rwandan Patriotic Front. That army also enjoyed the political, diplomatic, and military backing of two very powerful countries, the United States and the United Kingdom’.
These two realities have been very tactfully removed from the main-streamed narrative of the war in Rwanda. Just as the American foreign policy apparatus worked tirelessly to cover their own backs they did the same to offer the same services to their local culprits.
The most sickening of all is to see how the same people that have so cynically worked behind the scenes to multiply the viciousness and the ferocity of an incredibly difficult and complex conflict to then turn it into a handy propaganda clip whenever they want to justify further military interventions in Africa or elsewhere. And if you think this is just a circumstantial situation then have a closer look at what it’s happening the last two and a half years in Syria, or what has happened in Libya. Instead of Bill Clinton or Tony Blair orchestrating the events behind the scenes, the people of these countries have Obama, Cameron, Merkel or Putin with their local pons of idiots playing games with their lives on the global chessboard.