Archives for category: collective identity

Cambridge Dictionary lists ‘riddle’ as being “a type of question that describes something in a difficult and confusing way and has a clever or funny answer, often asked as a game

What if there’s way lot more than this, hidden ‘in plain sight’ under the ‘difficult and confusing’ cloak draped over each of them?

“Black sheep on a white field;
He who knows them, leads them.”

“My father, the son of a subsistence farmer and his barely literate wife, used riddles to try to foster critical thinking in his daughters.”

This particular one is a classic in Eastern Europe and I stumbled on this version while Googling for an English translation. The quote belongs to Daiva Markelis, a Lithuanian American Professor with a PhD in linguistics… go figure… I included the part about the father because it illustrates perfectly the point I’m trying to make with this post.

That words, and letters, mean nothing by themselves.
We are the ones who attach meaning to each of them.
We are the ones who ‘lead’ them… even if sometimes unknowingly…

And precisely this is what riddles are for!
To tell us that languages, and letters, can and have to be mastered.
That unless we get to really know them, we’ll never be able to lead them where we want them.

But there’s an even deeper reason for riddles enjoying so much popularity.
Knowingly or unknowingly we somehow ‘feel’ that being familiar with letters and able to speak is not enough. That no matter how well we ‘know’ a language we’ll never grasp the full intended meaning of what is being spoken around/to us.

Yes, when speaking we should be forthcoming… to the tune of not becoming self detrimental, of course… and when listening we must remember to look for the intended meaning, not jump to conclusions according to our own opinion on the matter…

Advertisements

From the airlift which kept the flame of liberty alight in West Berlin to “Trump’s decision (to stop supplying arms to Kurdish fighters in Syria) appeared to catch both the Pentagon and the U.S. State Department off guard. Officials at both agencies, who would normally be informed of changes in U.S. policy toward arming the Syrian Kurds, said they were unaware of any changes. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity. It was unclear whether the Trump administration notified the Kurds of the move before telling the Turks. Nor was it how much significance the change would have on the ground, considering the fight against Islamic State is almost over.

Ich bin ein Berliner

What happened to “Ich bin ein Berliner”?!?

I’m afraid that  too many people continue to not understand what’s ‘the big issue between the free world’ and the authoritarianism which still encroaches it. They should indeed ‘go to Berlin’!

From a friend’s FB wall:

“African proverb:
Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up.
It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed.
Every morning a lion wakes up.
It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death.

It doesn’t matter weather you are a lion or a gazelle.
When the sun comes up, you better start running.”

(from The World Is Flat, by Thomas L. Friedman)

It seems that the modern world is gradually becoming more and more ‘African’.
We’re so busy running ourselves out that we’re failing to remember the essential.

That we’re people.
Neither gazelle nor lion!
And that most of us have long ago left the jungle and now live in cities!

How about ‘taking five‘ from our incessant quest for trinkets and use the time to remember “togetherness”?
As in “communion”?

In the civilized world, ‘Dog eat dog’ was supposed to be an exception, not an everyday occurrence…

Ruthless acquisition or competition, as in With shrinking markets, it’s dog eat dog for every company in this field. This contradicts a Latin proverb which maintains that dog does not eat dog, first recorded in English in 1543. Nevertheless, by 1732 it was put as “Dogs are hard drove when they eat dogs” (Thomas Fuller, Gnomologia).”

PS.
After reading this, my son pointed out that lions are the only cats which hunt cooperatively on a constant basis.
Could this be the reason for which they are seen as the royals of the animal world?

Fake news

“Federal lawmakers on Wednesday released samples of 3,000 Facebook ads purchased by Russian operatives during the 2016 presidential campaign. The ads conveyed the wide range of influence Russian-linked groups tried to enact on Americans…”

Let’s zoom out in order to gain some perspective over all this.

Fake news are defined by Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries as “false reports of events, written and read on websites“.

The way I see it, “fake news” have a lot in common with counterfeit currency.
In more ways than one!

First of all, most money in current use is ‘fiat money’.
We are dealing with either printed pieces of paper or otherwise useless pieces of metal.
We ‘trust’ them for trading purposes simply because we are convinced that the institution which stand behind them – Central Banks, free(ish) markets and law enforcement, will do what they are meant to do. We trust that the Central Banks will not print too many of those pieces of paper, that the free(ish) markets will set a reasonable price to everything and that the police will manage to weed out (most of) those who try to circulate fake money.
Not even a return to ‘real’ money – a.k.a. gold,  wouldn’t insulate us from crooks. Gold coins can be, and had been, tampered with in so many ways. Human greed is a very powerful motivator but not necessarily a good mentor.

Which brings us to the reason for why fake money came to be.
Simply because some ‘industrious’ people ‘make’ them and some other, equally greedy, people knowingly distribute them.

In conclusion, we wouldn’t have to deal with fake money if money wasn’t essential for an efficient free market and we would have a lot less of it if greed were not such a widespread attitude. And no, a cash-less economy would not solve the problem. A printing press is no longer essential for faking money. Hacking skills have become  a good enough substitute.

Let’s translate this rationale to (fake) news.

We need to know what’s going on around us so we’ve developed an equivalent to the financial system. The mass media.
Which has a more or less equivalent set of ‘guardians’.
The ‘printers’ are responsible for the equivalence between their ‘product’ and the reality it represents while the market (readers, that is) is responsible for ‘setting the price’.

Of course, there are also differences.
‘Law enforcement’ has indeed a role to play in the news industry but its scope is a lot narrower than in the first case. And rightfully so. The ‘information’ market needs to be a lot more ‘flexible’ than the one dealing in ‘economic goods’. There’s a lot to discuss on this subject, I’ll leave it here.
There’s also no Central Bank to ‘tug at the sleeves’ of those who ‘jump the shark’.

As a consequence of these two differences, the ‘counterfeiters’ have an easier life and the consumers/victims a far greater responsibility for what’s going on. Simply because the consumers/potential victims cannot rely on any third party to do their job. To sniff out the ‘bad thing’.

But what if ‘it’s the thief who plays the victim’?
That very much depends on who the ‘thief’ is!

Let’s go back in time for a short while.
First to the American Revolutionary War. During which the British attempted to crash the American economy by injecting in it enough counterfeit money to cause hyperinflation. “No economy, no more war.” The British did manage to produce and distribute a huge amount of fake money yet the outcome was not the intended one. “Even when at one point the amount of counterfeit currency in circulation may have exceed the amount of legitimate currency, the economy hung on by its eye teeth and never fully collapsed.”
One and a half centuries later, the British had found themselves at the receiving end of the same game. “…during World War II the Nazis almost destroyed the credibility of the British pound sterling by producing near-perfect forgeries, The Telegraph reports. By the end of the war the forgeries were so rife that Bank of England notes would not be accepted by any neutral country on the Continent “except at a very large discount…”.
Hitler was even less successful than the British had been but the inflicted injuries were huge nonetheless.
Now, would Hitler have attempted this on his own, without the British establishing a precedent?
We’ll never know… Sufficient to say that the US has also used fake money, obviously fake this time. For propaganda reasons and not as an attempt to ‘crash the economies’ of the countries they were fighting.

To close the circle, we must ask ourselves how successful would Putin’s trolls have been if Trump wouldn’t have beaten so hard the ‘birther’ drum…

Seriously now, propaganda is a very efficient weapon. Maybe more efficient than guns.
But, and in total contrast with a gun, propaganda is useless against really determined people.
“Sticks and stones may break my bones but names can never hurt me” is true. But only as long as those being called names are in the right state of mind. As soon as they start feeling hurt, all hell comes loose.

If you think of it, Trump’s birther campaign, fake as it was – he had admitted that much, eventually, was a very successful ‘fake news campaign’. It had established Donald Trump as  shrewd  media manipulator.
Unfortunately, it had an even worse outcome. It had very much helped those who wanted the American public split into warring parties.

And who are now pushing these parties further and further apart.

PS. While researching for this post, I found out that “fake news” has been declared ‘word of the year’ for 2017. A fitting development… last year’s ‘champion’ was “post truth”…
What next? Doublethink?

Plato, without actually saying so, was planning to ‘kill’ it.
A society run by his king-priests would have been ‘perfect’. Hence in no need of improvement. Not exactly dead but how would you describe something that doesn’t change in time? Anything but alive, right? And since ‘no change’ means ‘no history’…

Four centuries later, Jesus Christ had warned us about the ‘Final Countdown‘. Last Judgement, sorry. But what difference does it make? Final… Last…

Fast forward to the XIXth century, when Karl Marx was breathing new life into Plato’s ideas.
The Communists, therefore, are on the one hand, practically, the most advanced and resolute section of the working-class parties of every country, that section which pushes forward all others; on the other hand, theoretically, they have over the great mass of the proletariat the advantage of clearly understanding the line of march, the conditions, and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement.” (Karl Marx et al, Manifesto of the Communist Party),
Which very able and extremely wise communists were supposed to solve all past, present and future problems through a very simple measure. Abolition of private property and of the state needed to protect such property.
And since not everybody was yet ready to receive ‘the good news’, the communists were given a free hand to use revolutionary force in order to accomplish what they had to do.

To finally bring order to the World. To end history, that is.

Am I thick headed or the difference between Marx’s and Plato’s words is small enough to be insignificant?

You have again forgotten, my friend, said I, that the law is not concerned with the special happines of any class in the state, but is trying to produce this condition in the city as a whole, harmonizing and adapting the citizens to one another by persuasion and compulsion, and requiring them to impart to one another any benefit which they are severally able to bestow upon the community, and that it itself creates such men in the state, not that it may allow each to take what course pleases him, but with a view to using them to the binding together of the commonwealth.” (Plato, Collected Dialogues, The Cave)

A short century later, another optimist announced that ‘now, after the communist gulag had finally imploded, liberal democracy – a system flexible enough to absorb/solve any input/problem – will take over the entire planet. And, of course, bring over “The End of History” “.

Three decades later things are going on, as if nothing had happened.

There are still plenty rulers who behave as if “L’etat c’est moi” was coined yesterday and, even more sadly, too many people who look up to them.

The end of history has been postponed. Indefinitely.

 

Language is the tool we use when we consciously transmit, receive or glean information.

While the ‘transmitting&receiving’ part is rather simple, ‘consciously and ‘glean’ might need some explaining.

You’ve all heard about ‘body language’.

Actors use it consciously to convey emotion and sometimes even meaning while profilers use it to glean information unconsciously distributed by their marks.

Artists use specific ‘modes of expression’ – language, actually – to convey emotion/subliminal meaning to sometimes unsuspecting audiences.

Skillful ‘communicators’ have learned how to chisel a message – using most common words, printed or spoken – to obtain ‘maximum impact’.

By now I’m sure you’ve already gleaned what I meant by “‘consciously’ and ‘glean'”.
Contrary to popular belief, only one half of those ‘immersed’ in communication need to be conscious of what is going on in order for language to be in use.

Actors can influence their audience without the audience being privy to acting tools.
All of us freely distribute a lot of information about ourselves – through walking, eating, manner of speaking, etc., etc. – which can be ‘deciphered’ with ease by those knowledgeable in this trade.
All of us are inundated by all kinds of advertisement – commercial, political, religious, you name it – but very few of us are aware of the full picture which is being played for us.

In a sense, those of us who can sense anything are like any device connected to the internet.

If it’s connected, it can be hacked‘.

But nothing’s as bad as it seems.
Devices can be plugged off or fire-walled while we can stop watching crap.
And, of course, we can put our brains to work, in earnest, before buying into anything which is hurled towards us.

The current “Me too” campaign – long overdue, should be an eye opener.

Pointing out the perpetrators is a good start and we have a long way to go.

If we want to significantly reduce sexual harassment we need to examine ourselves, men and women, in a mirror.

How many times, as men and women, have we heard other men bragging about their sexual exploits, and said nothing?
How many times have we learned about other men using their rank/position to sexually impose themselves upon women, our colleagues, and did nothing?

And these were the easy ones…

Who raised and educated the present generation of sexual predators? Their mothers and fathers? Their teachers and neighbors? Who had put together the ‘sex sells’ culture which currently permeates everything?
How many women had voted for the ‘American Pussy Grabber’, despite the fact that he had proudly bragged about the whole thing? Why so many women, including ‘his’ wife, agreed that receiving oral sex in the Oval Office was something completely different from ‘having sex with that woman’?
How many women, including actresses, have used their charms to snare their bosses/business partners? And got away with it?
Why is it that in most countries the legislation which punishes the ‘working girls’ does not incriminate their clients?

do as the Romans do.

According to UrbanDictionary.com, “it has become shortened so often, some people don’t get it anymore. It’s an analogy making use of the strict rule of the ancient Roman empire”

Wikipedia mentions that it’s “a proverb attributed to Saint Ambrose”, meaning “that it is advisable to follow the conventions of the area in which you are residing or visiting.”

OK, seems sensible to follow the rules, specially when their are enforced vigorously. Furthermore, why rock the boat – specially when visiting a place? Or shortly after you’ve just moved in?

How about after becoming familiar with the local mores?

 

fall of Rome

 

Could there be anything more behind these words?

The proverb dates from an era when Rome was the center of the world. Of the Mediterranean world, anyway…
Could it also mean ‘do as the Romans do and you’ll share into the benefits enjoyed by the rest of them’? In line with ‘don’t rock the boat, lest the others will throw you out’?

In other words, the proverb suggests that ‘herding is good for you’.

Which is true. Most of the time, anyway.

Specially when you know when to bail out…

In this context I must remind you that mighty Rome ended up being sacked by a succession of rogue thieves… some of them hired by the emperors to guard the borders because the Roman citizens had became too ‘adept’ at ‘panem et circenses’ to bother anymore with bearing arms…

It seems that not all things done by the Romans were actually worth doing.

How about exercising our brains instead of sheepishly following the herd?
No need to insult the others, ‘rock the boat’ or anything else dramatic.
Just honestly give them the reasons for your dissent.
If they are wise – and you are right, of course, they’ll come your way.

If not… you should either follow the rules… or change the herd.

 

Farfetched?

Somebody was asking the other day on Facebook “how can you prove that a table doesn’t exist?”
The answer, ‘walk through the place where that table is supposed to stand’ is so obvious that it hurts.

So, was that table real or not?

You see, a table may exist in two kind of places. In a store/room/backyard and in the imagination/memory of the guys who designed/made/owned it. It can remain ‘in storage’ long after it was forgotten by everybody and/or can be remembered long after it was destroyed.
A tree, on the other hand, can exist – and die, without anybody ever noticing it. Or could have been lovingly planted and taken care of by somebody. Who might die even before the tree ever reaching maturity…

But how can any of us determine whether a table, or a tree, is real or not?

By attempting to walk through it, and hurting ourselves, we only determine that there’s something there. Not at all that we’d hurt ourselves by hitting a tree or a table…

OK, there’s yet another possibility.

reality figment

Dr. Pierce – who, by the way, was produced by the imagination of a screen-writer, reminds us that neurologically there’s no way of telling apart a dream/nightmare/vision from a ‘legitimate’ perception.

So.
Then it would be possible for whatever each of us perceives on a daily bases to be nothing but some-kind of an elaborate multidimensional movie. Or prank. Played on each of us by some extremely bored ‘arcade operator’. Or by a lab-technician performing some kind of an experiment… In this scenario all other people each of us has ever met would be nothing but characters imagined by the guy who had written the script/devised the experiment…
A slightly different scenario would be that our planet (the whole world?) is a theater, we are the spectators and most of what we perceive is the movie which is played on (for?) us. In this variation we are free to speak amongst us (discuss the movie?) and this would be the explanation for why our perceptions are coordinated so well. After all, all English speakers use the same word for table/tree and most of us are able to differentiate between a table and a chair. Or between a tree and a weed…

Or we could take a completely different road!
There’s a guy, Humberto Maturana, who has reached the conclusion that most humans are not simply aware but also aware of their own awareness. And that this is what really makes us human.
In fact, his ideas make a lot of sense. A dog is aware. If house trained, it will not pee inside and most of them are able to differentiate between their owners and some strangers. But it takes a fully functional human being to step outside of themselves and examine their actions/status.

Without this very self awareness, none of us would be considering ‘reality’. We’d simply walk around the table/tree or directly through the clear space and never waste a second considering whether the table/tree is real.

Or what reality really is.

In this scenario, reality is more like a table than like a tree.
It resembles a tree in the sense that it existed long before any of us ever thought about it and it is like a table in the sense that in order to consider it we need to imagine it first.

Reality exists.
In both scenarios and along both roads. It doesn’t matter whether in the first one we are fed fake sensations and led to believe whatever the screen writer wants us to believe. In order to do that, the screen writer has to exist in the first place. We also have to exist, otherwise there wouldn’t be anyone to watch the movie!
OK, maybe what we perceive has nothing to do (very little?) to the real reality. But that doesn’t mean that a certain reality doesn’t exist at all. Even in the first scenario.

Coming back to the second road, we cannot pretend that OUR reality exists outside us.
Yes, there is a reality – THE reality, which lurks somewhere outside our reach.
What we’re able learn from it, and all we’ll ever be able to learn, is what we’ll be able to imagine first.

Think of it. What do we do when we come across something new?
First we try to classify it among our memories. In fact we try to remember whether we already have a word for it. One imagined by one of our ancestors.
If not, we imagine one ourselves.
And only then we can proclaim that the new thing has been discovered. That it has become ‘real’.

 

A whole century has passed since the events described in Erich Maria Remarque’s Nothing New on the Western Front/Im Westen nichts Neues.

Not that we’ve learned much during this time…

1968

Brezhnev sends Russian troops to freeze back the Prague Spring.
Ceausescu, the communist dictator who ruled Romania at that time, refused to take part. He had even summoned enough courage to chastise the ‘outside intervention’.

Ceausescu praga

“No excuse can be found for…”

1978

Ten years later he was driven around London in a state carriage by Queen Elizabeth.
As a pat on the the back for his apparent independence from Moscow, as an attempt to weaken the communist ‘camp’ … both at the same time…
Never mind… We, Romanians, were very proud at that time while Elizabeth – and her advisers, must have had quite a heart-burn… specially later, after Ceausescu had started flying his true colors…

Ceausescu cu Lizica

1989

Romania’s was the second to last European communist regime to disintegrate and the only one which had ended in a self inflicted blood bath.  Ceausescu, and his wife – ‘the Presidential Couple’!, were shot at the end of a very short trial during which both had been found guilty of genocide, treason and subversion.

1989 Cu excavatorul la revolutie2005 Niagara

2014

Twenty five years later, Russia’s rising star was lionized by some in the European media.

the emperors clothes

Hungary’s Prime Minister was jokingly hailed as “the dictator” by the President of the European Commission.

Orban the dictator

 

Currently the Americans are trying to determine whether Putin has somehow influenced their last electoral process,

Putin Trump Hamburg

while Orban continues to build walls around Hungary.

hungary wall

Small wonder then for these two to become bosom buddies, regardless of what drives each of them…

Putin honorary

“Putin will receive the honor in the Parliament during his visit to the 2017 World Judo Championships in Budapest on Monday.”
“Putin will attend the judo by invitation of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. It will be Putin’s second visit to Hungary this year.”

 

 

%d bloggers like this: