The glass is there. Right in front of me. The ice cube that I just dropped in my drink is already slowly melting, fusing itself with the amber liquid inside. Swirling my drink in my hand now, it all becomes so clear: the minute you touch something, it cannot be pure anymore. Everything is exposed to contact from outside, everything is mudded by a myriad of influences. But then purity is not the point. A lesson so hard for humanity to learn that it has eaten away at us for not only decades but millennia. Trying to keep things pure, trying to stay pure, therein lies the crux of everything that is wrong with this world. It is this poisonous cell in our minds that wants perfection at any cost which makes us do horrendous things. Control: so exhilarating... so dangerous. The tempest that stirs in us this most deeply rooted instinct of trying to preserve a world that was never perfect to begin with, that was never worth it to stay intact. The second we will understand that progress as frightening as it may be, may lead to our world as we know it being shattered but will most probably also result in an amelioration rather than a deterioration of what is, we might be able to free ourselves from this maniacal desire to preserve. It is the summum of human frailty that we seek to achieve which is both unachievable and undesirable to a degree which blinds us towards all reason and moderation... Why then does this instinct to strive for the preservation of the status quo drive us so much that we may not even conceive of a change that is positive? It is what drives us to fundamentalism and extremism, it makes us commit acts which, in this perfect world which our mind convinces us exists and which we are trying to protect, would simply be unfathomable. So here's to forgetting about that idolized perfection of ours and embracing imperfection and reality while acknowledging its flaws and seeing its potential for improvement. Here's to letting the ice cube melt in your drink. If we rid ourselves of ends so strong they make us believe every means is justified, we may rid ourselves of one of the cancers which hamper free thought the most.
Pledging allegiance to anything other than the human race is a bad idea. Here's why: By accepting something preexisting as the truth and claiming it to fit one's own thinking can only mean one thing - precluding oneself from developing one's own thoughts.
We live in an age where categorisation is our primary occupation. Everything has to fit into a box with prefixed limits. I say we live in an age of categorization, but it is probably true that ordering everything around us into different categories is a preoccupation deeply rooted in our minds because since the beginning of time it has helped us to make sense of this world and to forget the mind-boggling questions that arise the very instant we are uncertain about our place in the universe. And therein lies the rub, because yes, living is easier when one feels a sense of purpose and thinks of oneself as having a certain place in this world but it seems to me a daunting prospect to want to perpetually stay in the same state of mind without the faintest chance of progress in sight.
We need to break free from the shackles we lay upon ourselves by wanting to be part of a certain group whether it may be a school of thought, a religion or a lifestyle. In case one should climb the Mount Olympus of philosophy, it is the task of historians to posthumously define one's amassment of thoughts over the years as belonging to a certain school of thought, but belonging to any should never be the goal of any man who prides himself in his free thinking for in so doing he would preclude himself from deviating from a path he has predefined for himself.
Another crippling blockade of progress and reason is the wish of man to sound coherent. And yet again: what simpler way to sound coherent than to subscribe to an already existing idea and defend it against all reason? A man who cannot change his view after new information is available to him or an error of logic in his thinking has become apparent to him commits an act of betrayal to all reason for he becomes a promoter of the alas far too old tradition of obscurantism. Indeed, complacency is the main reason why people choose to ignore evidence in favour of a belief they already hold.
Many a man or woman may ask him- or herself: Why bother asking myself agonizing questions or hypothesizing when I can just bask in the knowledge (unfortunately people think that is the right term to use for their beliefs) that I am a certain way and that nothing beyond my basic human needs is of any importance to the outcome of my life?!
My answer to this is clear: Because the humility of not knowing everything but the willingness to try as hard as possible with all the information that is available to form solidly founded opinions which remain open to future amendments lends an extra layer of beauty to the perception of this world we have.
Let us therefore not enslave ourselves to conformity or complacency, let us break free from our desire to have an answer for everything without the evidence needed to support that answer! Let us accept not knowing while still striving to understand by the proper means, which are evidence and reason!
It is exam time in France. Students should not think of anything but revising their notes from the past semester. Yet, it is hard to concentrate in Paris right now.
The past days have shown the presence of hatred rooted so deep in certain people's minds that it must make one pause to reflect upon what we stand for in what so many a citizen with a bad memory likes to call the "civilized west". Mind you, we have had our share of atrocities and barbarism here in the west and pointing fingers now at certain cultures seems ill-fitting given the history of this continent.
However, Europe and with it all of its like-minded countries (I am thinking here foremost but not exclusively of all of North America, most of South America, Australia and New Zealand, South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, etc.) has undergone an evolution of philosophy and values within the past 300 years that could not be greater.
We found ourselves now upon values that we hold to be necessary in order to give each individual the possibility to develop in whatever way he sees fit and to reach his potential. We no longer see opposition and differences of opinion as a threat, but as a chance. We applaud the culture of dispute for in the confrontation of ideas we see the path to new, exhilarating ideas that may shape the future for the better. We have learned that criticism of however great an idea is almost always justified and improvement almost always possible. No single person holds the truth alone, but in letting individuals develop their talents and in letting them think for themselves, we foster a society that compliments each other, where everyone can do what they love and thus excel in the most. We believe that in the end all of society profits from this distribution of roles that everyone has to find for themselves.
At the moment, we are fighting a war like none other before. No territory is off limits, attacks can be years apart, danger is somehow always imminent, the enemy is not a certain government but rather an idea, or the negation thereof. After the horrible events that were 9/11, the world we live in has changed considerably. The term a "turning point in history" therefore seems completely justified. Security has all of a sudden become our main concern, although security from what exactly, no one seems to know. Controls in airports have been increased, security cameras are being installed in public areas, privacy is trampled upon in the name of security. In my opinion, this has been exactly the thing we should not have done. Fear-mongering is the trade of terrorists, their name itself suggest that what they want to evoke in us is terror. Letting this fear get to us and decimating our own liberties in the name of security means the victory is theirs.
I therefore strongly urge everybody to carry on as they have done. Not pre-Paris, but even pre-9/11. Changing your ways because some people incapable of embracing cultural diversity and the multitude of opinions in this world commit acts of terror, helps these people achieve their goals. The minute you think twice about saying what you want to say, the minute you hesitate to go somewhere out of fear, our values are under attack.
I would therefore like to conclude with Benjamin Franklin who stated: "He who sacrifices freedom for security deserves neither."
My sincere condolences to all victims of terror, hatred, racism, sexism and bigotry.
Let's defend our values in the only way we can: by expressing ourselves freely no matter what anyone else thinks of us!
After the murder of Caesar in 44 B.C., romans all too eagerly let Octavian take over in nearly all fields of government. He cleverly first conducted successful military operations all over the empire, then, to the astonishment of every Roman, declared he would retire. The Romans, weary of the Republic and yearning for another strong personality tried to woo him back into government, Octavian eagerly gave in to their wish, having attributed almost all military and political powers to him without actually holding any of the offices usually required for these powers. He thus ruled Rome de facto, while in iure making it seem like he was humble in not accepting any public office.
Mario Monti, quite aware of history, is currently trying the same strategy- after a mostly positive run, he declares he is retiring, but willing to come back if the people want him to. This game made Octavian and will make Monti - in the case of a reelection - look like the savior that comes to free his people despite having better things to do; a martyr so to say.
It is telling that history should repeat itself once more in this way. All over the world, political leaders try this trick. Not the least, Jean-Claude Juncker, having used his high approval rates to his advantage before by declaring that if his party wouldn't win the national elections he might leave for a career at the European Union- resulting in all Luxemburgers voting for him and his party because they think they simply can't afford to lose him as head of the government.
Does this game with the electorate prove strong leadership though? No, it proves high manipulative skills, it proves that democracy is dead.
One could easily blame politicians playing the martyr card, but the real problem is that the electorate likes to play along. The people want a martyr. They feel that as long as they've got a strong political figure that decides to stay in office to fight for them while they could just as easily retire proves that they, as a people, are very special.
As with any cult, its members want sacrifices. In the cult of democracy, this sacrifice seems to have to be a Jesus-like figure, a man or woman that takes all the sins of the country on his or her shoulder and does so with a smile. People are not interested anymore in electing people that will represent their ideas in parliament, they are interested in making politics televisable, having charismatic leaders - never mind their message.
When Germany finally had a charismatic politician that was doing well with the media (Karl-Theodor von Guttenberg), they lifted him so high upon a pedestal it couldn't have surprised anyone anymore when he fell from the lofty heights. His downfall, too, is characteristic of modern democracy however. We strive for transparency, no matter what the price.
While transparency is in general a development in politics one should welcome, we want transparency for all the wrong reasons. Once more one can see an electorate so conditioned by modern television that they live for the thrill of seeing the rapid rise of a star and the sudden fall of a once beloved character. We want transparency not because we want to see that our politicians are clean. We all secretly hope that each and every one of them has dirty secrets we can expose so we can report about them, humiliate them. It makes us feel better about our own lives.
I therefore propose to do away with elections as we know them as they seem to no longer serve our needs. In this surreal world where keeping our own privacy is the most holy good, but exposing others' private lives is the highest pleasure, the only format that seems to work is the casting show.
Let's only hope that after democracy, casting shows will lose their appeal as well, because at the end of the day the people electing our government are the same people that vote for the winner of a casting show. The outcome of both votes seems deeply troubling to me.
Dark indeed is the future of a democracy where the electorate loses all interest in the outcome of the only meaningful exercise of its power in a period of 4 to 5 years, this power being restricted to the sole picking of its representatives.
Rome had a well functioning republic for a long time, yet got weary of democracy in the long run and slowly established a monarchy instead. We may think having had revolutions in the recent past that lead us to democracy is the ultimate peak of our development, but history shows it could well go back into the opposite direction. A democracy has to be taken care of by the electorate like a garden. If the gardner decides to look the other way for several years, weeds are free to grow and it will be hard to tame them once they've spread throughout the entire garden.
There is a recent trend to mix morals and law again. I say again because this used to be the norm and it has been a tedious process to finally separate the two. Going back to putting morals into the law would be a regression of the most horrible kind. Let's start out with some history:
In Hebrew law which is believed to be given by God, morals and religion are obviously not detachable from the law itself. These laws serve as a guideline to a pious life as well as a safeguard of peace in society and are still strictly followed by a lot of Jews all over the world. Many of these laws or rules were taken into Christian doctrine where through the powerful position of the Church in the middle ages they made their way into European ius commune; law that was applicable almost everywhere in Europe. A lot of these laws served as moral guidelines, the church tried to steer the people onto a certain moral path that it, the church, would ultimately profit from. Of course this manipulation has had some positive effects as well. It is undoubtedly true that the christian values of charity are the basis for the modern European "welfare state". But imposing values upon people seems to me to be a bit beside the point. If people only do certain things out of fear for punishment and not because they genuinely believe that what they do is right, society hasn't actually changed for the better and this oppression of free will might actually hinder real thought progression in the minds of people. We are alway keener on an idea if it is our own or we have at least learned to accept it as part of our value system without any imposition from above.
The mixing of morals and law has a strong tradition in Europe, but one of the achievements of the enlightenment period was to do away with that. Immanuel Kant was the first to publicly opine that morals and law should in no way be mixed but regarded as separate entities.
Indeed most people today would agree with this statement. Seeing something as morally wrong or socially unacceptable does not immediately mean that punishment by the state for such an unacceptable behavior should follow.
An example of this is cheating. Whether one is in a marriage or a non-marital relationship, cheating is generally viewed to be socially unacceptable. Yet most people wouldn't want cheating to be punishable by law.
Here I come to another point. Incarceration is the ultima ratio of the state. Penal punishment serves as a last resort if all else has failed to:
1) defend justice against injustice
2) make it clear to the offender that his behavior is unacceptable and won't go unpunished
3) secure the public by taking a dangerous individual off the streets
4) prevent future deeds
5) (most recently) give the victim a sense of its grief being taken seriously by the state
It is thus very important for a society to think hard about which actions to incorporate in their penal catalogue and which not.
In the light of recent events such as demands for a definition of mariage in a certain way in the law and making other acts which only a certain part of the population subjectively finds offensive punishable by law, it has become necessary to outline the progress we have made since the middle ages and make people see the benefits of a strict separation between law and morals.
Only a society which knows this separation can say that its citizens are free.
If we don't want to regress into a society which doesn't know religious freedom, freedom of speech and of opinion, then we need to fight against a moralization of the law.
If I had to describe myself and my views, I'd probably start like this: It's complex and I really don't know myself. I guess I'd say I'm somewhat of a liberal agnostic driven by the catholic teachings of charity and "love thy neighbor". A lot of people have the problem that they do not know what they stand for. Uncertainty is normal and the ability to change one's opinions is an important one to have. Being open to change and debating problems is the essence of being a participating citizen in a modern democratic state.
To quote Thomas Paine: "You will do me the justice to remember, that I have always strenuously supported the Right of every Man to his own opinion, however different that opinion might be to mine. He who denies to another this right, makes a slave of himself to his present opinion, because he precludes himself the right of changing it."
Certain things are however very clear to me. These are the positions I am willing to push into the public's conscience and thereby hope to provoke a change in people's conscience:
- Every gay couple needs to acquire the right to marry with the same legal and tax benefits as heterosexual couples (including the right to adopt) and most importantly the same social acceptance.
-Every human being in distress needs to get support from any country embracing the principles of liberty; asylum seekers should be given better support and receive help to integrate into the society of the country that is hosting them; once they have successfully integrated they should not be forced to return to their home country if they do not wish to do so, even if the situation there has turned back to normal.
-Liberty does not mean being able to do everything without limits or boundaries; Liberty is living in cooperation with other people in society thus weaving a security and support net together which enables one to take risks and try to achieve ones personal goals, knowing that if one should fail one isn't left to the dogs but that society takes care of one and enables one to start anew.
-The state, though providing a social support system and ensuring infrastructure and commerce's well-being, has no right whatsoever to get involved in the core issues of human liberty of conscience: sexual orientation, religion, philosophy, choice of trade, choice of attire and political opinion (in speech, written form and action).
-Justice needs to become more efficient, quicker to provide verdicts to the quarreling parties without the decisions losing any of their quality.
-Every person doing the same job should receive the same pay regardless of age, skin-color, gender or sexual orientation. (Furthermore discrimination on the job based on having certain viruses such as HIV needs to stop.)
This list is not finished and may be subject to change as I evolve my opinions.
These seem to be core issues, however, which I think should be prioritized in political debate.
This blog should serve as a platform for discussion, so after I publish posts, feel free to comment and engage in dialogue with me or even share my posts to spark a debate elsewhere.