Blurred Lines

When I was young, I used to be a fan of the boardgame Risk. I remember once, my cousin and I had a great inter-Atlantic battle between his 59 troops vs my 61 hardened commandos. Even though I have the slight numerical advantage and I was confident in the training and valor of my diehard plastic soldiers, I lost the great war due to the roll of the accursed die. Subsequently, the effect of that great naval battle lost me my empire, and I could do naught as I watched him entered into my homelands of Africa while my brothers gleefully ate up other parts of my empire.

World-political-map

Enough sidetrack. What I wanted to put down here is that I still like the Risk map where the borders are drawn in thin impenetrable lines and as long as I have one plastic soldier in the middle of the territory, that land is mine to drawn resources from. Alas, growing up, even as I lamented last week, things are often not drawn so clearly in black and white anymore.

This week, I read the first few chapters of the book, “The Greatest Show on Earth : The Evidence for Evolution.” by Prof Richard Dawkins. By faith, I am a creationist. However, that does not mean that I am not open to reading about the other side. In fact, one of my deacons once told me to read more and to be careful with what I read, cause every book we read forms a mold inside our mind, changing us, especially if it is the first book we read on the subject. As such, I try to read as many books as possible, getting molded from all angles to be nicely rounded… Hehehe..

Anyway, he described our initial process as a child understanding the world as, in a sense, simplistic. We teach a child that a certain object is named a certain sound and that all these things under the same sound are essentially the same. A cat is a cat and no matter what color of its fur, it is a cat. Thus is the Platonic understanding that all we see as present relate to an ideal form and that despite the variations we  see, they all “belong” to the same ideal. It is the Allegory of the Cave, if you want to read more on it. However, if we truly think about it, the lines between the species are not as clearly cut as they seems. If so, we would not have creatures such as the mule or the ass, a mix between the horse and the donkey.

Similarly, I have been trained since young to think of countries as lines drawn on the map clearly defined and intact. The events of Ukraine and Crimea has shown us differently since then. Each region (definition of which is also porous) has their own characteristics and how each individual person can relate to the bigger group will be an fascinating topic to study indeed.

Black and White

The world used to be in black and white.

Only the faithful and the ignorant can continue to see the world in black and white. Sometimes, the line between them blurs.

Humans are conflicting creatures. We see the world as what we are and we don’t like what we see. We get angry at others and we hate the very thing that defines us. Responding to an event reveals more about us than the event that triggers our behavior. However, that is how it is and how we are made.

In the Hunger Games,  the Nation in which the Revolution takes place is called Panem, from the term, “panem et circenses” which means, “bread and circuses”. Give a people bread to eat of and entertainment by which to distract themselves, and the ruler of any nation can continue to do whatever he or she wants. The curse of human is that we see what we want to see and ignore the rest at our peril.

In 1984, George Oswell wrote of a nightmarish future, in which the State controlled its people through a whole slew of methods, combining mass brainwashing, creation of the common enemy and fear. One of the most important feature in which the State controlled its people, is through the creation of a new language called Newspeak. By removing the whole range of words that we deploy now and reducing them to base words with just superlatives or comparatives terms, the State controls the thoughts of the people bit by bit. However, even as the main character Winston struggles in the end to accept the State’s philosophy, he struggles within himself to manipulate his thoughts nimbly to force a logic to the philosophy and yet blindly ignores the flaws within them. How like he are we at times!

When we accept somethings as truth or discount others as falsehood, our mind creates a self-reinforcing pattern to agree only with what we know. “Don’t rock the boat.” may be used to describe what we are doing. Self-deceiving is another term that comes to mind.

The world is no longer black and white. We need to see the greys and become aware that as we see the world in certain ways, others see it differently. We ponder on how can certain obscene crimes be committed. The perpetrators simply do not see the world the way we do. That does not mean that there are no lines that shouldn’t be crossed. It only means that these lines are dictated by what most of us deemed it to be.

Freedom of Speech?

I am at odds with the notion of freedom of speech. Please don’t get me wrong. I am all for the idea of a uninhibited exchange of ideas and discourse by which the best course of action may be taken. However, the notion that everyone has a right to say something, even when that something said is utter nonsense, is wrong.

Words have power. Written or spoken, they pierce that which the bayonets cannot, the heart and mind of men. Words change men, for the better or worse. Harsh words spoken in anger are like nails hammered into the wood, even when the nails are removed through an apology, the scars remain there for all to see. We underestimate the power of words when we give the freedom to wield them without restrictions.

The Internet has changed the world in more ways than academics can document. It also allowed the small minority with extreme views to put their voice on the same stage as the rationalized ones.  Well-thought through arguments are placed side by side with irrational yet passionate voices and are drowned out by the theatrics of the latter. Sound advices and lines of inquiry are pushed aside simply because they often lack the appeal of the wild. Our six second generations often lack the ability to see through a string of thoughts and logic to its reasonable conclusion and make a informed and objective decision.

Thus, freedom of speech akin to giving weapons en mass to all who are willing, letting the infants of thoughts shoot out their feelings to those who are more intrigued by the flash of their muzzle than the directions the guns are pointed.

I do not advocated any totalitarian rule by which the press is controlled by solely one party. But freedom of speech is just as easily swayed by the power of the cash in a democratic country that claims to be free

History as each one of us see it

After listening to the second part of BBC’s Freedom 2014, Missing History, China and Japan, several thoughts were on my mind last week.

Firstly, that the Nanjing Massacre happened is a fact, as much as Jesus Christ lived on earth once. At Japan’s attempt to make light of the event, calling it the Nanjing Incident in a textbook, China built a monument to testify to the event with evidence beyond dispute. Not withstanding the numerous survivor’s testimony, a number of Japanese soldiers were also interviewed where few of them actually admitted to the atrocity that they have committed during the invasion. However, the Japanese government still refuse to apologize formally and unconditionally to China for the event. Even as the economic and social ties of these two countries continue to intertwine, history will continue to be a barrier for them.

Secondly, I was remarking to my father after the podcast and that even as hundred of thousands of people have died in the Nanjing Massacre, millions have died during the Great Famine of 1958 to 1961 as well as the Cultural Revolution of 1966. He replied that the difference between these events are that the Nanjing Massacre was an act of a foreign nation upon China and that the Japanese has still not apologized for it. Yet, I am not sure if the government of China has ever recognized the TianAnMeng Square Protest of 1989 and apologized for it as well.

Thirdly, coincidentally, the Straits Times published an article differentiating the cultural difference between the German’s apology for the Holocaust and Japan’s apology for their act in WWII. For the German’s, the article states, it was a personal regret by each and every of the German people and a personal moment of apology. Thus, when the German Chancellor, Willy Brandt, dropped to his knees in 1969, no words were necessary as the Germans feel what he felt. For the Japanese, a people who are more distanced from their Emperor and government, the people may feel the shame and are apologetic to the Chinese, but it may be, in their mind, an act of the government and soldier, that caused the war, not them.

History and the current geo-political landscape must be seen in each of the people’s different lens as they do not see things the same way. I suspect also that the Japan-China’s history baggage are also caused, in no small part, by America’s post-war handling of Japan.