TRUTH OR DARE?

TRUTH OR DARE?  .  .   AND UNMASKING FEAR


TRUTH

Chicago. July 30, 2010. Recently Wikileaks has been all over the mainstream news, although the site had been known in other circles for quite a while now. Below is a TEDtalks interview with the Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. Last week the 22 year old U.S. Army PfC who leaked the papers on Afghanistan to the site was tracked down, exposed by another hacker. I dread to think the fate that will befall PfC Manning. While I can understand the security breach in this particular case, what about blowing the cover on the real truth behind war and politics and greed and business-ploys-disguised-as-wars and more so the thousands of lives of U.S soldiers and Afghan civilians who have died in vain? 

I’ve always wondered why governments (be they eastern or western) and even people are often times so afraid of facing the truth. WikiLeaks had provided a safe outlet for whistleblowers for a while now, and that may no longer happen. The young Army whistleblower will learn how the world often doesn’t embrace truth with open arms and the messenger is usually shot. I know a former US marine who had fought in Operation Desert Storm and had spent 16 years in the Marines. He had joined it having been orphaned at an early age, and being very poor. The Marines was his way out. He had seen so much hypocrisy in the world that he confessed that now in his 40s he felt like a 100 year old man. How, as they were flying to Iraq back then, before even a single bullet was fired the marines were first told to surround the oil wells. How, as he tried to tell the truth about the real reasons for the war to news channels that later interviewed him, he found that truth had to be cloaked and even news channels he thought would like facts to be known did not wish blunt truth to be heard in case it enraged the ‘higher authorities.’  He’d described to me what shooting in a war truly felt like 20 years back – no Hollywood version – rather frightened 20-somethings blindly shooting in the enemy direction amidst low visibility caused by flying sand and gun fire smoke, knowing you can be killed any moment. Later he’d go on to become a private helicopter pilot. He and many of his former marine buddies still get together once a year and shed tears because the horrors of war and its hypocrisies had still not left them and they knew that their truths would never be heard in the world. He for one was incredibly pleased that WikiLeaks had exposed what truly goes on in the field. Either way the lives of the US soldiers are endangered, he said. From the moment they land into war zones. This did not increase it any more, rather it revealed the ugly truth that many soldiers battle with on their return even years after the war is over.

Whistleblowing is not easy – although people who have worked in big organizations know what goes on behind closed doors: Employees in planning offices who know where tax dollars really go, or why forests are bulldozed to encourage cookie-cutter suburban settlements (often as simple as the fact that bad planners do not care to use GIS maps to see forest locations nor think outside the box to know that houses can be laid out to encompass the woods rather than clear cutting them and the fact that developers pay campaign money to the politicians who vote on the project); The huge amount of unfathomable money spent on marketing kitschy products for big corporations and the ruthlessness of many of those marketing managers, be they male or female – who care little for anything else except their own paychecks and possible promotions; The kickbacks and corruption occurring in even certain humanitarian or ‘international development’ agencies or their use of aid money which often doesn’t trickle down to the real victims; The hypocrisies of evangelist/catholic churches or even certain new-age schools (same bullshit, different building, bottom line chant/prayer: “Give ME your money, so I can tell you how to be happy without it! Reveal to me your ‘pain’ so I can feed off it and get paid while I’m at it!”);  The true stories of power-hunger and cruelty of bosses with narcissistic personality disorders, borderline personality disorders (both consist of Machiavellain personality types, and a milder form of psychopathy) in the offices of dazzling ‘leaders’, be they political, financial, religious or even artistic; the stories on how war is a business-move for many countries as it promotes sales of goods – and a chilling story I myself heard about a business owner who would sell army helmets for both warring factions and therefore heavily bribed instigators of skirmishes and gave them cuts to encourage riots and clashes……The list goes on.

Perhaps only children are truly innocent – away from the muddy twisted ways of the adult world and perhaps it’s looking at the faces of their own innocent children that make many potential or capable whistleblowers maintain their silence, lest telling the truth for what it is unleashes the bullets – not against the truly corrupt that hold power – but on the messenger himself. Those who do it idealistically thinking ‘people care’ often find that mostly, people don’t care. After the initial furore of the news they settle down, complacantly happy shopping at the big box store (that has razed the local forest), investing in the 401(k) which might contain shares of BP oil, dining in the restaurants that uses meat from some ruthless slaughterhouse, wearing clothes made by child sweatshop workers….and then watching some ‘reality’ or other tv show or computer game and forgetting about their woes and the world’s realities. This is just an observation, not a value-judgment. People have to exist, to live, to look after their children and with the intricate network of connvulated practices of various systems of production and consumption that exist in the world, what other way is there?  Either becoming an ascetic or a hermit or a self-sustaining hippie? In other words a pure escapist? Or at most, becoming aware of the many aspects of reality in the world and making conscious choices or asking questions on to what extent do we continue endorsing our ‘age of excess’?  We have all become part of the system no matter how much we rant about it. Perhaps that is why sometimes seeing the courage of those who do dare to reveal the true facts of the world bring that sparkle in our eyes – for they have dared, where many have chosen apathy. Like sports fans vicariously live through their favourite athletes, the average, relatively good-hearted person who desires justice and truth lives for a moment vicariously through the whistleblower wishing he/she had had the courage to do that and face the aftermath.

I have included here his Ted Talk interview

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DARE

Earlier this year I’d seen a touching film on the whistleblower who changed the course of the Vietnam war – Daniel Ellsberg’s story (The most dangerous man in America – Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers.) I saw this week the movie ‘The Yes Men Fix the World‘ which was released on bit-torrent last week, though the actual film is a year old.  It is a one-of-a-kind film, sort of a ‘comedic vigilante justice.’ Two real -life professors who literally masquarade as big company/political executives to impart hypothetical acts of justice and ethics. Or at most, draw attention to horrendous acts of gross injustice committed in the world, ranging from the Bhopal Gas tragedy to the sneaky ‘housing’ mismanagement post-Katrina in New Orleans to unethical practices committed by Exxon Mobil amidst others. And their hoaxes are not small – they are huge, at one instance, speaking out to 300 million viewers through the BBC, while pretending to be Dow executives apologetic about the Bhopal disaster and finally paying the compensation packages.

What is always interesting though, is that after every hoax is revealed, the media resorts once again in shooting the messengers, rather than acknowledging that – true, this is what Dow SHOULD be doing, or this is how things SHOULD be managed in New Orleans, if the interests of the people are truly taken into consideration. The actual sufferers be they in Bhopal or New Orleans were in fact rather pleased that the Yes Men’s spoof had highlighted at least a hypothetical act of justice. (The ‘strangling’ scene in the trailer is an act for the trailer – the women go on to speak how glad they were at the Yes Men’s spoof.) The film also interviews high level finance cads, revealing the immense greed and twisted extreme-money-driven business structures we do live in.

The final scene of the movie is like a practical application of John Lennon’s wistful song ‘Imagine.’ It is a hoax done on an exceptionally grand scale, fooling the residents of New York City, and yet for a short period of time, it is heartening to see the smiles on people’s faces to see a world filled with justice, peace and love – the way it would be in a Utopian dream. If nothing at all, the Yes Men were able to bring that smile on the faces of thousands of city folks who for once didn’t have to wake up to the usual turbulent news that persist in reality. Yes, perhaps they were being male ‘Amelies’ in some ways (Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain) on a much, much larger scale, but for brief moments they had shown a glimpse of dreams becoming ‘reality’.

A must-see film. It is available online and is distributed by bit-torrent. You can watch it here: http://vodo.net/yesmen Or, it won’t be long before the film becomes viral and might be available on other sites too. Although they have won numerous awards in film festivals, its makers do it for getting the truth out, not for the money, so they don’t care if its available free.

I have to confess objectively though that even though initially people might think that extreme socialism is good, in truth healthy, truly ethical capitalism (the key word being ‘healthy’ and ‘ethical’) is a better option as communist and other totalitarian regimes have revealed through history that once its leaders become power-hungry, the atrocities committed are far worse and horrific than those seen in any democratic, capitalist country. (Or the capitalist/socialist blends like Canada & Australia which work well.) Greed, power-plays occur in both arenas – be it extreme capitalism or communism. The truth is that without  financial transparency, personal freedom and a good balance of ethics, practicality and above all justice (whether it is being just to the inventors/ the intelligent or talented to be recognized for their skills or it is being just to all citizens equally to have their human rights, standard of living, freedom and so forth be maintained at a good healthy level ), governments based on false ideologies, lies and lusts for greed and power – are bound to be unhealthy. The truth is that sadly, the choices of governements we have in the world are quite simply between : the ‘lesser evil’ and the ‘greater evil.’ Or if you are wealthy enough and enjoy solitude – to buy your own little island or a vast wooded hillside and live off the grid. (Mmm. That’s a wistful dream for me…..except I don’t have that much wealth to buy. So – back to reality. sigh.)

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AND UNMASKING FEAR

So if we ask ourselves ‘Why?’ – why do we live in a world or in political, social, academic, business systems where truth is concealed, injustices prevail and truth seekers punished, or why those with an insatiable greed for power who do not seem to follow any rational ethics are often so invincible – the answers at the end boil down truly to the functioning of human minds and emotions. And at the end boils down to the Machiavellian people who are often found in positions of power in various political, financial, religious systems.

Two years back in late July I was attacked on the street by a stranger, an alcoholic serial disturbance-maker who it seems even at the time of the attack was violating his parole order, as I found out later from the police. He was trying to force his way into my apartment building on the pretext of his ‘lost’ cat in response to a series of ‘found cat’ flyers I had naively posted on my quiet Canadian residential street, completely ignorant just how stupid a move this can be to attract predators. Some day I will write a separate post about it to highlight what measures women should take on seemingly safe streets because predators can strike anytime, anywhere. I used to be so over-confident before this incident, it was a humbling though frightening experience on how women are still not safe and can any time become victims even in seemingly safe, quiet North American residential streets. Having traveled around certain far more dangerous countries of the world, I’d become complacent and over-confident of the safety in first world countries.

I was comparatively lucky as I escaped with only a crushing fist blow to my face while trying to defend myself – a hard one that made my lips and gums bleed and left my face swollen for a week, and thankfully since a witness rushed to my rescue on the street outside my apartment and dialed 911, the police came on the scene and the man was later convicted. It seems I had not been his first victim and he had sexually harassed and attacked other women too on the streets but had escaped each time, but I’d become the first who was able to provide sufficient proof by sketching his face and describing him in detail later to the police along with other factual details and gone through with the trial – something I dreaded but had to, since the Crown (state) was defending me. The detective on the case was also relentless and told me that if I was not strong enough to go through the trial, this predator would be left back on the streets to endanger other women in the future. The attacker it seemed had a violent side, enhanced more when he got drunk, as in the cover of daylight this middle-aged man held the guise of a ‘cultured artist’! He had been previously arrested for a drunken fight with a man but his violent attacks on women had hitherto avoided trial due to insufficient proof. Besides the witness had luckily seen the man from down the street hitting my face and had confronted him trying to hold him before he escaped, so his statement to the police helped. What was most disturbing to me however was that the man had used my own kindness against me and the fact that I was putting up posters for a cat I’d found had turned against my own safety as his ‘approach’ had been to claim it was his cat (which it wasn’t) to try and get access to whatever crime he intended. Which meant that even while drunk he knew how to be cunning! Thankfully I was so much luckier as so many far more horrible acts of violence are committed against women every day and many are not lucky to escape.

The incident was a turning point for me to finally read up on psychology and try to understand what the ‘psychopath’ mind was. I cannot speak for others but I’ve noticed that architects and engineers are often extremely reluctant to read about psychology as we find it rather boring. Until this incident, I certainly did find it boring and never really bothered ‘figuring out’ people – even though I had been attacked twice before but didn’t let the incidents affect me. This time, instead of getting afraid, I thought it’s better to educate oneself and not be so naive about those wearing masks of ‘normalcy’ – be they street attackers, or seemingly ‘nice, charming’ folks who hide sinister sides beneath. While male psychopathy is exhibited in openly criminal behaviours, female psychopathy can be in the form of women displaying NPD and BPD. The devastation and insidious damage they do in relations and even in work places is not much different from ‘soul-rape’. I sometimes think that male psychopaths ‘hone’ their skills by torturing animals in their younger days before moving on to human victims. And female psychopaths ‘hone’ their skills by being the ‘mean girls/bullies’ to the kinder girls in high school before going on to wreak havoc in the lives of their future boyfriends/husbands with chilling emotional and mental bullying that leave many a kind-hearted man excavated emotionally and financially. In either case the chilling lack of empathy is the common point in both. Case to point – when recent bullying victim Phoebe Prince killed herself after months of isolation and torture, one of the chief girl bullies chillingly placed the word ‘Accomplished’ on her facebook page. Lack of empathy? You betcha!

So after my attack I read up a few books to understand how the minds of sociopaths work, and for some reason, I like looking at concrete facts far more than psycho-analytical hypotheses. Academic books on mental health helped much more and also reading up on case studies. But the book I found most enlightening, that a neuroscientist gave me, was written by a woman medical engineer Dr. Barbara Oakley titledEvil Genes: Why Rome Fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed and My Sister Stole my Mother’s Boyfriend. Although this is based on newer research, the book is an utterly fascinating read as it shows the brain scans of psychopathic minds along with many case studies of the ‘successfully sinister.’ It also combines research in the fields of psychology, anthropology, evolution, neuroscience and psychiatry that reveal how ‘double-faced’ minds work, but is written in an easy-to-read style, more like non-fiction rather than a scientific journal. Throughout evolutionary history, and especially during the time of empires and kingdoms, the more cruel/powerful men and the more manipulative women had better chances of producing a greater number of children. The tyrant warrior Genghis Khan for instance is known to have fathered the maximum number of children in the world. And if we view this simply from ‘humans as a species’ where the reproductive drive for progeny was evolutionarily ingrained in the majority, we can logically see how the assertive, the cruel, the more ruthless and the crafty were indeed able to reproduce far more throughout early history if even for sheer propagation of their ‘seed’ (whether they knew it for not) either by force or by instinct. Nature, nurture and numerous other factors certainly came into play. But the cruel/unempathetic/apathetic amongst us are in larger numbers than we might care to admit, though of course not all turn into killers or attackers – and these percentages are certainly low. The book covers not just the profiles of megalomaniac leaders and duplicitous financial organizations, it even covers the omnipresent ‘attention-seekers’ we see sometimes in showbiz, the power hungry narcissists we see even in academic and social-work settings and then gets closer to home when she analyses the minds of men and women like her own sister who showed an alarming lack of empathy and narcissism as seen in the condition called BPD. (It is important to note that not all BPD sufferers faced actual trauma in early life, though some certainly have. Many simply have a personality problem that makes them experts at manipulating, lying and wreaking havoc in the lives of their close ones – usually kind-hearted individuals who have a tendency to ‘rescue’ or ‘fix’ and fall for the ‘professional victim’ alternated with the bullying stance Machiavellians take. I am reticent to even mention the abbreviation, because sufferers of the disorder are often online and relentlessly blast and personally attack anyone who writes the truth of the condition. Even therapists and Oakley herself was not spared.)

On a personal level, my first boyfriend was a brilliant young university professor but clinically diagnosed with BPD on the NPD continuum. I had been ignorant and stupid enough to not have read up on this, having been merely told that he was ‘slightly bipolar.’ (‘Let me solve your problem’-quasi-Aspie-types like myself are incredibly susceptible to being extracted by borderlines – both male and female. You’ll be surprised how so many geeky engineers and kind, talented giving people attract Cluster Bs like honey due to their eager-to-help ‘fix-it’ tendencies, which in itself should be fixed to stop from falling as easy BP prey.) No matter how much kindness and understanding I tried to pour in, along with all-my-‘first love’-naivete, the lack of empathy he showed on many occasions and the constant changing of moods once he’d won me over, as well as the ‘mask-to-the-world’ vs. the ‘reality-in-private’ was very hard to figure out, until I read about the condition years later. It was as though light bulbs of comprehension lit up finally. I used to be very private, never talking of this neither to friends nor family – let alone online, mellowed as I was with an over-extreme ‘see-the-half-full-glass’ attitude and parents who taught me only to look at the brighter side of things without complaining, but now am comfortable stating the 360-degree version of truth for what it was without editing out its dark and painful sides, since reading online stories of other people who suffered relations with partners with BPD and NPD helped me too.

I think (and Dr. Tara Palmatier from Shrink for Men who has years of clinical experience and is a fresh breath of rationality has often reiterated) that unfortunately many therapists/books for the past several decades have resorted to asking sane or non-BPs (i.e. non-borderline persons) to be extremely kind and patient to their BPD partners thereby acting as servile ‘enablers’ to borderline/narcissistic/histrionic/sociopathic bad behaviours, rather than calling them out on their lack of empathy and remorse for what it is – incurable and chilling. And this ‘bad behaviour’ applies to both male and female partners – considering that plenty of women out there can be as abusive as men, except it’s ‘politically incorrect’ to speak up on this. In my case the BP was an emotionally unstable man, but most often BPs are women. This boyfriend came from a suicidal family, had a disturbed-though-highly-educated mother and exhibited a lot of the traits that come with this condition of BPD (i.e. rapid mood swings, quick idealisation-devaluation of their close ones, a fractured sense of self, extreme rage fits over inconsequential matters etc.) In men, this is often misdiagnosed as bipolar, but bipolar disorder can be checked by medication, ‘borderline’ is quite something else. He was not an extreme case though, certainly not criminal, rather quite talented and intelligent in his work and our good times were fun – like the highs of a roller coaster. He was able to overcome quite a few of his personality problems later in life through therapy. But the ‘gaslighting‘ and the chilling lack of empathy along with the roller-coaster mood swings remained, as one of our common friends, a doctor, ascertained years later; though it seems he had been able to control his destructive rages. It was an intense, turbulent 14 months for me – which I later found out was usually the ‘normal’ time for relations with BPD people as the non-BP partner takes upto 15 to 18 months (and in some cases, upto 8 to 13 years if one of their parents also had BPD) before they draw boundaries and defenses, and not allow further eroding by the BP. (My next relation thankfully was healthy, peaceful and sane, with a like-natured person as myself, and lasted for many years and we still remain friends with mutual respect and goodwill; and his mother still remains one of the most inspirational women I have met.) But it took me a while to logically understand the psychology of borderline/narcissistic people and that first boyfriend. Apparently throughout history many painters, writers and entertainers have also exhibited clinical borderline/narcissistic traits. The condition does not inhibit talent or intelligence but makes its sufferers extremely manipulative, attention-craving, unstable and have a black-white way of thinking.

Now, you can leave a relation with a man/woman you have known on a personal level displaying mentally unstable traits but not all-out ‘evil’, rather with mood-and-empathy-and-reality-regulation problems. You can be lucky to live in a country where a stranger psychopath displaying true sociopathic behaviour and attacking you on the street can be taken care of by the judicial and security system set up by the country and a good samaritan who you are incredibly lucky to have come up on the scene of the attack. But what do you do if you have to work for a mentally disturbed person wearing a mask of charm and sanity? Or be governed by one? Or are related to one? Or have to cope with in seemingly ‘normal’ bureaucratic/educational/social/religious systems? Or wonder how genocides in some African nations still continue, financial embezzlements have become the North American crime-du-jour, or in Iran clerics can actually endorse stoning a woman to death and crowds actually participate in this murder?! And in all cases, the perpetrators of crimes walk away with no accountability. That’s where Oakley’s book is very enlightening.

Barbara Oakley has been dubbed a female Indiana Jones — her writing combines worldwide adventure with solid research expertise. Among other adventures, she has worked as a Russian translator on Soviet trawlers in the Bering Sea, served as radio operator at the South Pole Station in Antarctica, and risen from private to regular army captain in the U.S. Army. Currently an associate professor of engineering at Oakland University in Michigan, Oakley is a recent vice president of the world’s largest bioengineering society and holds a doctorate in the integrative discipline of systems engineering. Oakley incorporates sociology, psychology, anthropology and biology in her analysis in her book ‘Evil Genes’

As a peer reviewer and author Cliff Pickover has written on Oakley’s book: “A magnificent tour through the sociology, psychology, and biology of evil. No one should pass up the experience of stepping through the portals of this fascinating book to answer Oakley’s crucial question: Why are there evil people, and why are they sometimes so successful?”

For a small dekko, I’ve decided to place here an excerpt from the last chapter of Evil Genes:

‘The Sun Also Shines on the Wicked’

Note: The term Machiavellian used here as per Oakley’s definition at the glossary of the book is as follows:

*Machiavellian = A person who is charming on the surface, a genius at sucking up to power, but capable of mind-boggling acts of deceit for control or personal gain. Ultimately a Machiavellian, as the term is used throughout in Evil Genes, is a person whose narcissism combines with subtle cognitive and emotional disturbances in such a fashion as to make him believe that achieving his own desires, and his alone, is a genuinely beneficial – even altruistic – activity. Since the Machiavellian gives more emotional weight to his own importance than to that of anyone or anything else, achieving the growth of his preeminence by any means possible is always justified in his own mind. The subtle cognitive and emotional disturbances of Machiavellians mean they can make judgments that dispassionate observers would regard as unfair or irrational. At the same time, however, the Machiavellian’s unusual ability to charm, manipulate, and threaten can coerce others into ignoring their conscience and treading a darker path. A synonym is successfully sinister.

“Who are the successfully sinister?

Before Hitler’s seizure of power, psychiatrist Ernst Kretscmer remarked: “In normal times we diagnose them; in disturbed times they govern us.”[i] In my reading, however, Krestschmer’s quip misses the mark in a number of crucially important ways.

Rather than being diagnosed “in normal times,” it appears that most people who interact with the successfully sinister, even trained psychologists and psychiatrists, have no idea with whom they’re dealing – not unless these analysts are given twenty-twenty hindsight clues such as a dead body or unexplained missing millions from a company’s accounts. A charming, highly successful lawyer for example, who beats and abuses his wife and children can almost literally get away with murder without being caught.[ii] A major company like Enron can run a flagrant Ponzi scheme where dozens of insiders are in a position to know something seriously strange is going on – and still no one says a word publicly.[iii] Pedophile priests in the Catholic Church can be responsible for the rape of tens of thousands of children, and the church hierarchy not only manages to keep the offenses hidden but knowingly moves the priest to new parishes, where fresh prey await.[iv] Key members of the United Nations can literally be in “Complicity with Evil” as described in Adam LeBor’s meticulously researched book of that name, in the commission of genocide after genocide. And yet those who allowed these disgracefully corrupt and malign episodes to proceed are granted a golden retirement with plaudits.[v] And individuals like Mao not only kill tens of millions but are worshiped in godlike fashion and touted as countercultural icons. Incidental death totals equivalent to a dozen or more Nazi Holocausts are minimized or tucked away from public discussion.

No, rather than being diagnosed, per Kretschmer’s quip, highly successful Machiavellians* appear to lurk in every human population. Whether their extraordinary ability to stack any deck in their favor, their relentless need for control, and their self-serving ruthlessness, those with at least a modicum of talent, looks, and assertiveness are more likely to be found in positions of power. This means the closer you climb toward the nexus of power in any given social structure, the more likely you’ll be able to find a person with Machiavellian tendencies. It really doesn’t matter what the underlying political system is – democratic, fascist, communist, or religious – or whether the social structure involves a company, university, schoolboard, religion, group, city council, state government, federal government or UN-style supragovernment; the larger the social structure and the bigger the payoff, the more Machiavellians eventually seem to find a way to creep to the top in numbers all out of proportion to their underlying percentage in society. Don’t forget the growing body of research literature that reveals how people selectively sort themselves into positions congenial to their personalities.[vi]

Machiavellians can have an incalculably restrictive, demoralizing, and corrupt effect on those in their sphere of influence. But what is worse is that Machiavellian behavior in a family, company, religious institution, school, union, or government unit – in fact, in virtually any social group – often seems to reach awe-inspiring proportions before anyone feels compelled to take solid action.[vii] Many people simply prefer to go about their everyday lives than take up a righteous cause; it is often much easier to simply ignore, evade, justify or silence the speech of anyone who does speak out than to constructively act against unsavory activities. Ordinary people’s emote control also means that sinister behavior can be seen as less important or – because of calcified beliefs about an ideology, institution, or person – even justifiable. Moreover the utter ruthlessness of some Machiavellians can mean that even the most sincere and altruistic keep quiet because of realistic concerns for themselves and their loved ones. Taking action against a Machiavellian is often a dangerous proposition, and no one takes on such a task lightly.[viii] (Friends in the know are often just being reasonable when they recommend cautious silence.) All of these factors serve to keep a stable sinister system intact, despite the fact that such a system is often less effective than other, more open systems. (Machiavellians in fact, often work behind the scenes to ensure their system is not put in a position of competing with other systems.)

Opaque organizations, systems, and ideologies that easily allow for underhanded interactions play to Machiavellians’ strong suit, allowing them to conceal their deceitful practices more easily. Idealistic systems such as communism and some religious or quasi-religious creeds are perfect for Machiavellians because they often lack checks and balances, or don’t use them.

When kindhearted people are unaware that a few leading individuals in “their group” are likely to be sinister, they are ripe for victimization. Their own kindness can be turned against them and others. Hitler’s greatest strength, for example, was his ability to appeal not only to the worst characteristic – hatred – but also to people’s best qualities – faith, hope, love and sacrifice. As with most Machiavellians, he was a master at turning people’s best traits against them. “He confided the secret of his approach to an intimate : ‘When I appeal……for sacrifice, the first spark is struck. The humbler the people are, the greater the craving to identify themselves with a cause bigger than themselves.’”[ix]

Such factors as political instability with no end in sight, worsening economic disaster, and rapid social changes have been pointed out as critical to the rise of the successfully sinister dictators such as Hitler. In reality, what these factors appear to do is merely allow the successfully sinister – always loitering near the top of every significant social structure – to not only gain ascendancy but also to rewrite the rules. As power is consolidated, the sycophantic cocoon that a leading Machiavellian is able to encase himself in can, it seems, reinforce his own narcissistic thought patterns. (as Ovid is said to have observed over two thousand years ago: “All things may corrupt when minds are prone to evil”)[x] In light of all this, it becomes clear that Kretschmer’s comment “in disturbed times they govern us” is true but misleading. Machiavellians are always present in every system that relates to power. It’s just that in times of troubles and in nontransparent systems, it’s easier for them to reach the pinnacle.

This is not to say that everyone at higher levels is Machiavellian. (One British study, for example, found that only one in six supervisors is thought by their subordinates to be a psychopath.)[xi] But certainly there appear to be high enough percentages of deeply Machiavellian individuals at powerful social levels to make for very different social interactions in that milieu. In such a high-powered setting, even if one is not deeply Machiavellian by nature, it is difficult to survive without using some Machiavellian strategies oneself.

The devious methods for success used by the sinister help explain why systems of ethics can at times be so surprisingly ineffectual and sometimes even counterproductive. Altruists who draw up rules and legislation to deter Machiavellian behavior are often surprised to find their policy turned on its head and used by Machiavellians for nefarious purposes…….”


[i] Redlich, Destrutive Prophet, p 334

[ii] Ann Rule, Dead by Sunset

[iii] Eichenwald, Conspiracy of Fools

[iv] David France, Our Fathers: The Secret Life of the Catholic Church in an Age of Scandal, 2004

[v] Adam LeBor, Complicity with Evil, 2006

[vi] Carnahan and McFarland, Revisiting the Stanford Prison Experiment

[vii] Stanley Milgram, Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View, 1974

This behavior can’t help but evoke shades of psychologist Stanley Milgram’s work. In a classic set of experiments, Milgram revealed that many ordinary people will go to absurd lengths – even giving electric shocks to shocking screaming victims – in their blind tendency to obey authority. Perhaps this relates to Posner’s research involving people’s varying ability to resolve conflicting information and Wilson’s studies related to decision making and synchronized neural systems.

[viii] Myron Peretz Glazer and Penina Migdal Glazer, The Whistleblowers, 1989

[ix] Waite, Psychopathic God, p. 396

[x] Thomas Benfield Harbottle, Dictionary of Quotations, 1906, p. 198

[xi] Rita Carter, Mapping the Mind, 1998, p. 93

__________________

The book is available on Amazon here: http://www.amazon.com/Evil-Genes-Hitler-Mothers-Boyfriend/dp/159102580X.I for one wish I’d read this even earlier. It would have helped in understanding why evil exists and thrives so well in this world, and how too much trustful naivete, optimism in human sanity, and our own kindness can work against us.

And why even now, despite the truth often being exposed by whistleblowers like Ellsberg or Assange, many of the systems-of-power in the world prefer to shoot the messenger rather than acknowledge facts for what they are – cold hard truth. Perhaps those who are too cowardly to face the truth about their own dark selves but prefer wearing smiling masks before the world are afraid that the hard truth of their actions and their double standards will be exposed to the world?  And their masks of sanity and charm removed? And for these hypocrites it is easier to punish the truth-teller rather than face their own Mr. Hydes (or Cruella d’Evilles).

It is a duty of self preservation for the truly kind and honest to not be made into sacrificial lambs nor pay the price for seeking justice. How do we do this? By gaining knowledge and deciphering the vile code of the successfully sinister. That, I believe, is the very first step. Knowledge, facts, wisdom. The first ‘how’ to answer the screaming ‘whys’ that resonate over the injustices, the crimes and concealments of truth that occur in the world. To remove the blindfold of Themis’ statue. And look straight up at naked Truth objectively. And without fear.

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Dreamweavers

BRIDGING DREAMS & REALITY WITH AN ARCHITECT’S INCEPTIONS

“Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules are absurd, their perspectives deceitful, and everything conceals something else.”
— Italo Calvino  in Invisible Cities

Ariadne – the Architect of Inception

I‘ve always loved Christopher Nolan’s work and his latest film Inception was awaited with great anticipation by all his fans and this time by many architecture and city planning students as well. Even the well-known Danish architect Bjarke Ingels was excitedly placing facebook updates about the film from a month before its release. I finally saw it this week. Since there are many reviews about the film already out there, I’m not writing any. As Frank Zappa (or was it Thelonious Monk?) had once said: “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture,” I’ll have to say that critiquing on Inception is like talking about swimming. It’s just one of those films that have to be fully experienced to be understood.

Inception is  certainly one of THE most brilliant films to come out in a while. Nolan who was working on its concept for nearly 10 years apparently referred to the book Godel Escher Bach (one of my all time favourites) to carry on the dream-within-a-dream trans-level loopy-loop concept. And amongst its other incredibly imaginative features and themes, I’m pleased as punch that they have finally shown an intelligent confident talented young WOMAN architect for a change (instead of the plethora of confused/passive and/or vapid/consumer-hog stereotyped women who have dominated most of the films so far earlier this year; or the proverbial ‘architect’ in any film being shown as some egotistic old man.)

An amazing movie, a fantastic concept that leaves you pondering for hours and days after you leave the theatre, and a whole lot of hard work by the technical crew! And while James Cameron’s Avatar was a visual treat with very valid green design messages, this movie is in many ways thematically much better as it is like a cerebral/visceral/psychological/visual manna. And for the few who have been detracting this film in cowardly message boards, really, it amuses me sometimes when people who cannot create works of depth or magnitude, think it is ok to belittle or criticize. Doers do. Non-doers criticize.

And this is a movie that’s definitely a cut above the rest – and a true inception of Nolan’s doing – and absolutely worthy of the appreciation it is receiving by both critics and members of the audience who have been captivated by its ingenuity.

It is also very refreshing to see a remarkable and self-assured young actress – Ellen Page – playing the part of the Architect. A self-described pro-choice woman, Page tries to avoid “stereotypical roles for teenage girls” which she finds to be “sexist.” Her name in the movie – Ariadne – is no coincidence. In the movie she represents the one who can unravel and find a way out for its conflicted protagonist Cobb (played by DiCaprio). In Greek mythology Ariadne is considered the ‘mistress of the maze’, the one who freed Theseus from the minotaur’s labyrinth and who the Greek god of chaos and madness Dionysius marries. Ariadne, the Architect in the movie, not only bridges and creates the cities in the multi-leveled dreamscapes where reveries and reality merge, mingle or oppose, but she also knows the way out of the maze amidst all the intoxicating Dionysion chaos that her team members must navigate through. A must-see film; a sensory/intellectual powerhouse. And the Parisian ‘folded urbanscape’ came as an especially delicious surprise – like entering into an Escherian world. (Did you know that M.C. Escher was also an architect?) As noted movie critic Philip French wrote, this movie would have delighted Freud. I think it delights mathematicians, architects, physicists, psychologists, computer-geeks, sci-fi fans, thriller fans and just good-movie lovers all alike.

Here is a link to  a good analysis done about the ‘architecture’ of the film by an archi-centred blog: http://www.architizer.com/en_us/blog/dyn/4964/inceptions-dream-architecture/

And this is an absolutely fascinating article on the neuroscience behind Inception from Wired magazine: http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2010/07/the-neuroscience-of-inception/

But this analysis possibly takes the cake, or should I say, totem: http://thelastpsychiatrist.com/2010/07/the_ultimate_explanation_of_in.html

M. C. Escher : Relativity

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Inception movie poster

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In light of creating ‘dreamscapes’ I thought this would be a fitting context to place Alex Roman’s breathtaking short film ‘The Third and the Seventh’. When I first viewed the film earlier this year, having visited many of the buildings featured in it, I thought that Roman’s cinematography was incredible. Only on reading about it on his website did I realize that this entire film was a CGI masterpiece – one of the most breath-taking short films that truly capture the ‘spirit’ of buildings. Ranging from Frank Gehry’s Bilbao museum to Santiago Calatrava’s Milwaukee Art Museum to a Mies Van der Rohe house to Louis Kahn’s Exeter library and Dhaka government center and other well-known works including one of Alex’s own creations in the forest, his 12 minute film has truly captured the inspiring and meditative quality of great buildings. For the complete uninterrupted version – where a full screen view is necessary, please watch it directly on his website.

http://www.thirdseventh.com/index.php?/4thdimension/film/

Sometimes after a long day, I like watching his film just for its sheer poetry and Zen-like peaceful beauty. It’s like tectonic therapy. The following video is just the first half and placed here only for a short dekko. It is much better to view it directly in the link above.

Part I only of the 3rd and & 7th film; Please watch the full version instead on the link.

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I’m halfway through reading the autobiography written by architect Daniel Libeskind : Breaking Ground – an immigrant’s journey from Poland to Ground Zero – a book someone gave to me. I’ve always had reservations against extreme ‘style-based’ or ‘jargon-happy’ starchitects, but decided to give it a read with an open mind, taking into consideration his war-ravaged past.Once you can get past Libeskind’s extremely self-viewed style of writing (which can easily be viewed as arrogance and malignant narcissism if not accepted that this is a confessional of an audacious man whose nomadic life is a story of survival and who grew up amongst insurmountable odds), the book settles into an entertaining read of the convoluted politics and poetry of the architectural world, the bitter dog-eat-dog world of New York City’s public projects, developers, rival architects and governing bodies, the crazy work schedules and demands in the world of architecture and a flashback into the horrors his family had faced during the Holocaust, which is a particularly poignant part – picaresque and viscerally moving at times, gut-wrenchingly horrific at others. The trials his parents went through in their birth land, then in their exiled countries and finally the labour in New York City (each working in a sweatshop and a printing factory respectively, and deliriously happy in the little they had) are quite remarkable. Just his father’s life alone is like a story straight out of a movie and is perhaps more inspirational. As well as the infallible strength of the two most influential women in his life – his mother and his wife Nina who most certainly seems to be his bedrock.

The book is filled with anecdotes, many vignettes and bizarre true-life stories, topics flitting from Proust to Mozart to German philosophers to Russian leaders to New York Times journalists to its mayors and governors to everyday folks and a lengthy description of his win and then subsequently being sidelined in the controversial Ground Zero Freedom Tower design. But when it comes to describing his built projects you wish he had credited, named or mentioned his brilliant associates and structural engineers – as any architect knows who the unnamed silent heroes in a starchitect’s firm truly are.  So far, I particularly liked his chapter Light where he does make the effort to credit some ancient masters at least, and while watching Alex Roman’s film thought how appropriate the quality and manoeuvring  of light truly is to reveal the ‘soul’ of good buildings, those that are unique and poetic.

The play of light is one of the most essential tools of any good architect – and Louis Kahn, whose library is featured in the Third and the Seventh film, was a virtuoso master of playing gymnastics with sunlight and shadows in his buildings. It was, in fact a visit to a Louis Kahn building and a profoundly moving experience I felt within its walls, meditative brick corridors and arched and circular openings that had inspired me at age 8  to become an architect later. (I had dreams of becoming either an astronaut/pilot or an architect or a secret agent – I was 8 after all….and the middle and more pragmatic choice prevailed at the end. My parents instead had hoped that I’d become either a doctor, a dentist, a professional classical dancer or an MBA – in that order – and indeed, I had found myself forced into a prestigious medical college – had the grades to get in – by my father’s insistence, only to quit after 2 weeks to join Architecture school, where I had also secretly applied and topped its nationwide entry exams.)  Louis Kahn’s play of light and surfaces had stolen my heart a long time back. My dream of becoming an architect would not be quelled by parental pressures. Louis had led me to Light through his funky wall ‘openings’ from what I believed then was the darkness of the prosaic conformity my parents had chosen when they had suppressed their own artistic, musical and writer’s sides to have embraced their academic Ph.Ds and ‘safe’, ‘stable’ livlihoods. Architecture still was a mostly ‘male’ profession with little place for women except to design ‘interiors’ where they were pushed into while the men would push themselves to design ‘towers’. The trouble was – inside I had never thought of myself as either a ‘woman’ or a ‘man.’ I was a ‘person’ in love with Louis’s Light and little did I know then that I’d go on to become the youngest woman architect, at 22, to start her own firm and build and implement projects. And 5 years later, I’d be designing museums and high-rise towers. And less than 7 years later, designing plans for entire ‘new-towns’, cities, and even a 16 square mile eco-city proposal. But starting out, one of my first clients would be not some disgruntled housewife or a store, it would be the CEO of the General Motors manufacturing plant in Asia wanting to design 300 acres of their land for their new plant. A couple of my first built designs under my own firm, both in landscapes and architecture, had circular openings……Hmm. I wonder why ;)


“All material in nature,
the mountains and the streams and the air and we,
are made of Light which has been spent,
and this crumpled mass called material casts a shadow,
and the shadow belongs to Light.”

– Louis Kahn

(his real name is  Itze-Lieb Schmuilowsky)

Now back to that Libeskind autobiography: Here are a few excerpts from the chapter Light from music-child-prodigy-turned-belated-architect Libeskind’s book.There is a particularly grim section where he writes how while designing the Jewish Museum in Berlin he was wondering if he should build one room with no light to depict the unsparing black, hopeless volume for those who had died in the Holocaust. He recalled the story of a woman who later lived in Brooklyn, a survivor. While being transported by train to the Stutthof concentration camp and at the point of abandoning all hope, she caught a glimpse of the sky through the slats of  the boxcar and a white streak suddenly appeared;  later though she knew that the streak might have merely been the trail of an airplane or a cloud, but that ‘vision’ had filled her with hope that she might somehow survive. And she did. This story was the inspiration behind designing the room named the ‘Holocaust Void’ which is empty, forbidding, neither heated nor cooled and only very high up in the ceiling is a tiny angled slit that lets in a line of light that is then reflected on the floor and walls of the Void. And he writes at the end of this story : Light is the measure of everything. It is absolute, mathematical, physical, eternal. There is an absolute speed to it, you can’t outrun it; that’s what the theory of relativity is about. Stand here and remember what you can. What you remember is in light, the rest is in darkness, isn’t it? The past fades to dark, and the future is unknown, just stars.”

“Like music, architecture is often about direct encounter rather than analysis. If you are interested in a piece of music, you can analyze it after you’ve heard it, take apart its structure, explore its modalities, tonalities. But first you have to simply let it wash over you. Buildings often exert their magic, their genius, in a similar way.” – DL

And these lines were interesting, to loop back to the topic of dreams :

“Do you want proof that there is immortality? I have always been taken by an argument posited by the philosopher and writer Henri Bergson, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1927 but, sadly, is not in vogue……[lines edited out here] ….Bergson believed that dreams are proof that there is immortality. Think of it, he said: Dreams are luminous, filled with light, and yet they happen without any optical, or measurable, light. They offer us a promise of eternity. I also have my own proof, which has followed me from Lodz. When I was seven years old, an aunt in Brazil sent me an extraordinary mounted butterfly, with phosphorescent wings and a deep indigo. It was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen, and certainly one of the few objects of beauty we had in Lodz. In those wings that glowed with an almost radioactive light I could see everything I needed to know about Rio de Janerio, about nature, cities, light, the afterlife, eternity.” -DL

Update (July 22): After finishing the book, I have to admit that although there are parts that are quite poetic and others very poignant, and you feel for the injustice his parents and others went through – Libeskind’s extremely condescending view of all his other contemporaries in the architectural world and his failure to give credit nor name any members of his own dedicated staff in his office or his engineering firms (who obviously do most of the heavy lifting for his designs given that he is more of a theorist and less of a structural ace) leaves you with a dry insipid aftertaste. While one can admire his optimism, his book knowledge of the arts and philosophy, and the fact that he succeeded in living an eastern European immigrant’s ‘American Dream’, his ‘outsmarting’ and ‘one upmanship’ anecdotes that he outlines in every project of his life right till the very end of the book (oftentimes bordering on pettiness and blatant self-aggrandizement) makes you begin to wonder if  this is a boyish audacity he never outgrew or just someone who craves the limelight. Something he never got over from the days as a music prodigy when as he claimed early on in the book, had ‘stolen the spotlight’ on the stage from violin prodigy Itzhak Perlman.

After reading the book, I came out with greater respect for his father Nachman, for his mother and for his devoted and diplomatic wife Nina than for Daniel. They are certainly the real girders due to whom Libeskind was able to build his dreams in reality, and not be stuck forever in his castle of words. And of course, his dedicated staff – unnamed in his book…..

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Here’s the link to the short film the Third and the Seventh once again, to be lost in a world of dreamlike buildings, existing in the real world, breathed life to by the inception of  ideas in its creators’ minds:

http://www.thirdseventh.com/index.php?/4thdimension/film/

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Jewish Museum. Berlin.

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* Billions of stars * Billions of sports fans

“We make our world significant by the courage of our questions and by the depth of our answers.” – Carl Sagan

* BILLIONS OF STARS * BILLIONS OF SPORTS FANS *

(or) What is it with men and balls-on-fire?

Spain wins the FIFA World Cup 2010 Final against the Netherlands, 1-0

Another FIFA World Cup ends. Fans and nations go wild. Spain emerges victorious. Advertising companies know that they’ll have to wait 4 years again before this showcase reaches billions across the planet at one go. The winning players will remember this match as the highlight of their careers. And somehow nothing seems to foster the patriotic pride of nations more intensely than international sporting events – be it the Olympics or this World Cup Soccer or even more slower tournaments like cricket. (Heck – in Spain at the moment even the separatist Basques and the autonomy-pushing Catalonians have suddenly all come together to celebrate a ‘united Spanish’ victory, forgetting their differences and debt problems. A soccer win has brought in an unprecedented unity not seen for centuries!)

 Why?

A very good reason for this. And a highly logical one too. (A reason – which perhaps if many women knew more, would stop nagging their husbands when they get engrossed in watching games on tv.) Shall we say that in some ways this ingrained sense of competition and ‘winning’ in men is what propagated the human species through centuries? I was always fascinated as a kid why my dad (an avid tennis and football player in his youth) would get so involved in sports-watching. Or why I myself had a competitive streak when it came to doing gymnastics and playing chess or later mountain climbing or got so intense while watching tennis matches and auto-racing. Or why many people in general went so crazy rooting for their teams, almost in some animalistic ecstasy? As though they were vicariously living through the victories of their sports stars? So I searched for answers and the best one I found was on reading a certain chapter in a certain book back in the ‘90s. So as the World Cup frenzy ends, I’ve decided to place here the entire chapter from that great book I’d read around a decade back by one of my favourite scientists – astronomer Dr. Carl Sagan.

(Note:For those wishing to directly read the chapter “Monday Night Hunters”, scroll down to the seconds half of the post.)

SAGAN’S SAGA

 I started reading the books of Carl Sagan when I first saw his Cosmos series. In many ways, Sagan was not only the astrophysicist who popularized astronomy for many, he was one of the most ahead-of-his-times rationalists whom even Richard Dawkins has thanked for the unapologetic outspokenness of his ideas. Since I’m going to restrict this post to a chapter from his last book – ‘Billions and Billions – Thoughts on life and death at the brink of the millennium’ – the one he wrote shortly before his death – here’s more on the brilliant Sagan:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Sagan

And here is a collection of his top 10 quotes (as per my own choice):

  1. It seems to me what is called for is an exquisite balance between two conflicting needs: the most skeptical scrutiny of all hypotheses that are served up to us and at the same time a great openness to new ideas … If you are only skeptical, then no new ideas make it through to you … On the other hand, if you are open to the point of gullibility and have not an ounce of skeptical sense in you, then you cannot distinguish the useful ideas from the worthless ones. “The Burden of Skepticism” (1987)
  2. The truth may be puzzling. It may take some work to grapple with. It may be counterintuitive. It may contradict deeply held prejudices. It may not be consonant with what we desperately want to be true. But our preferences do not determine what’s true. We have a method, and that method helps us to reach not absolute truth, only asymptotic approaches to the truth — never there, just closer and closer, always finding vast new oceans of undiscovered possibilities. Cleverly designed experiments are the key. – Wonder and Skepticism”, Skeptical Enquirer Volume 19, Issue 1, (January-February 1995)
  3. I would love to believe that when I die I will live again, that some thinking, feeling, remembering part of me will continue. But much as I want to believe that, and despite the ancient and worldwide cultural traditions that assert an afterlife, I know of nothing to suggest that it is more than wishful thinking. The world is so exquisite with so much love and moral depth, that there is no reason to deceive ourselves with pretty stories for which there’s little good evidence. Far better it seems to me, in our vulnerability, is to look death in the eye and to be grateful every day for the brief but magnificent opportunity that life provides. In the Valley of the Shadow” PARADE magazine (10 March 1996)
  4. Who is more humble? The scientist who looks at the universe with an open mind and accepts whatever the universe has to teach us, or somebody who says everything in this book must be considered the literal truth and never mind the fallibility of all the human beings involved Interview with Charlie Rose, 1996
  5. A celibate clergy is an especially good idea, because it tends to suppress any hereditary propensity toward fanaticism. – Contact
  6. In some respects, science has far surpassed religion in delivering awe. How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, “This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant. God must be even greater than we dreamed”? Instead they say, “No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.” (Pale Blue Dot, 1994)
  7. For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.
  8.  I worry that, especially as the Millennium edges nearer, pseudo-science and superstition will seem year by year more tempting, the siren song of unreason more sonorous and attractive. Where have we heard it before? Whenever our ethnic or national prejudices are aroused, in times of scarcity, during challenges to national self-esteem or nerve, when we agonize about our diminished cosmic place and purpose, or when fanaticism is bubbling up around us-then, habits of thought familiar from ages past reach for the controls. The candle flame gutters. Its little pool of light trembles. Darkness gathers. The demons begin to stir. – Chapter 2, “Science and Hope” The Demon-Haunted World.
  9. Humans — who enslave, castrate, experiment on, and fillet other animals — have had an understandable penchant for pretending animals do not feel pain. A sharp distinction between humans and ‘animals’ is essential if we are to bend them to our will, make them work for us, wear them, eat them — without any disquieting tinges of guilt or regret. It is unseemly of us, who often behave so unfeelingly toward other animals, to contend that only humans can suffer. The behavior of other animals renders such pretensions specious. They are just too much like us.“Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors” (1992) (co-written with Dr. Ann Druyan)
  10. Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it we go nowhere.

I particularly liked Billions & Billions because it covered a wide range of topics and was written with an incredible level of philosophical wisdom and deep understanding of the connections of different aspects and systems of the world we live in – touching topics from anthropology, medicine, physics, environmental ethics, evolution, space exploration, consumerism, war, government policies and politics, human fallacies and achievements and much more. It was the work of a brilliant mind expressing as much as he could before his hour drew close, which is why the book was marked with an optimistic poignancy due to the finality of his own life that the author was well aware of.

In Sagan’s work I have found ideas that have resonated well with the way I’d often wonder since childhood how the pieces “fit” in this world or the parts inter-connected in the whole. Personally, I think, or at least for me – those who seek truth based on evidence, rational thinking, and while developing their own empathy and kindness, question societal “givens” to seek answers analytically – are those who seem to often far better understand the value of, or search to find the balance between logic and love, prose and poetry, pragmatism and enchantment. We can then get lost in lands of unbridled imagination all we want when we have that grounding of objective reality already as a tether, a strong rock-solid foundation – because we know then that no matter how far we travel through metaphorical myths and journeys to find our own inner hero’s (and heroine’s) trials and tales – we know the way back, or better, come back “home” with a greater understanding of our inner worlds that have in the first place led us on a quest to solve the systems that govern our external world. And what’s more, we can use the tools of Reality to shape the dreams of our imagination without living in some shadowland of never-ending pessimism about reality or conversely only in some land of unfulfilled fleeting fantasy or magical, irrational thinking.

It is the pragmatists and inventors who are probably best equipped to luxuriate in optimism about their future because they know to build and operate the tools that can make their reveries real. Or at best be realistic of the problems they might face in the future and be prepared through contingency planning and make smoother tidings. Which is why I particularly liked this quote of Sagan and couldn’t agree more : “It is sometimes said that scientists are unromantic, that their passion to figure out robs the world of beauty and mystery. But is it not stirring to understand how the world actually works — that white light is made of colors, that color is the way we perceive the wavelengths of light, that transparent air reflects light, that in so doing it discriminates among the waves, and that the sky is blue for the same reason that the sunset is red? It does no harm to the romance of the sunset to know a little bit about it.”

I love that quote of Carl Sagan and would go even further wondering how the visual perception of colour itself is dependent on our retinas and how the same shades vary between species or even between colour blind people and that our very colour perception is based on the visual spectrum while infra-red and ultra-violet spectrums also exist. What can be more romantic than in-depth knowledge, both about scientific systems and about those whom you love? Doesn’t real unconditional love embrace and accept all the “spectrums” – both seen and unseen – about the person you love?

Among my friends, I have many who are musicians (mostly classical, jazz and indie rock) and I find it hilarious how composers/musicians can often be perceived as “very romantic” by an audience yet all the serious professional ones I know are utter pragmatists about the mechanics and acoustics and math and hard work that go into the making of good music and their poeticism of imagination is balanced by their pragmatism of the science needed to produce pleasurable tunes/songs. The true translation of deep emotion into music and the illusion of its ‘romantic’ effortlessness is rather a product of true technical mastery. When mastery becomes second nature, my musician friends say they can ride waves of indescribable emotion and a “one-ness” with their music with free abandon.

And I’ve noticed the same quality in good architects too – the seemingly “effortless” evoking of a transcendental experience through space and light in an edifice is a result of technical design mastery. The illusion is a result of intelligent design with an understanding of spatial psychology, knowledge of materials and structures; of imagination made real. Another example is when good gymnasts or ballet dancers or even sportsmen “float” and dance through the air when every act is in truth a manifestation of mastered controlled springing muscle. 

I think true “romanticism” that many rational/realistic people deeply, torridly experience is quite different and in many ways far richer and deeper than the cliched version of kitschy hyperventilating ‘romance’ or the ‘image of romance’ that marketing execs would like to impose to appeal to the masses. I love looking at the full moon – but I also know that the fact that many craters such as Albategnius and Copernicus exist on its surface (and that at 13, I’d memorized the maps of the moon’s topography and read voraciously about the moon’s origin and the Apollo missions and therefore know exactly what I’m staring at in the sky,) makes it all the more “romantic.” (I’ve learnt through the years though, by trial and error to not talk of the crater of Copernicus if I’m given a compliment on a moonlit night. I found that most people use the moon as a ‘romance prop’ and blink at me weirdly if I talk of its topography. Moonlit nights, I’ve been told, are supposed to launch loony female hormones, not lunar lessons. ‘Moon leadeth to moon’ it seems is what boys are taught from high school. Not very Copernicun….but now I understand why the boy who had a long but unrequited crush on me in my late teens, and was a bit different than most, had built a large telescope to impress me. Years later he’d tell me he was demonstrating his affection towards me by doing so. We both suffered from semi-aspie naivete and moonlit dates had been taken literally as moon-watching through a lens.)

When you look out for instance at the magnificent display of the northern lights, or the tail of a comet – how can one not wonder how that phenomenon occurs scientifically? And a craving to know the answers in no way removes its “magic”. Even magic tricks after all are based on sleights of hand and chemistry. Even the imagination of a painter’s mind can be translated into reality only through the oils and colours of chemicals and the woven cloth of a canvas. Truth IS reality – objective and undeniable. And Reality is always the canvas, the foundation on which our imagination can create wildly. In fact a lot of the mess in the world of humans has happened due to those who babble and fight irrationally to reverse this basic law of nature or try to base reality on wishy-washy “wishes”. (In that respect I often feel animals are far greater realists than humans.)

Back to Sagan. When you see people display emotions in victories or losses, or behave in unbridled ways in joys or sorrows, how can one not wonder what connections in the neurons of the brains, or the secretions of hormones, enzymes and release of serotonin, adrenalin, endorphins in their bodies cause the reactions that their faces and voices display? What great forces of muscle and passions for winning drive the athletes? This curiosity to solve puzzles is so important to me, I’m sure it is important to you….in fact I find it more puzzling why there are people who prefer to not know or worse, ignore the facts or truth and yet wish to use the products of those who think and invent, and then attribute those inventions to ‘miracles’ rather than acknowledge and thank those ingenious minds.

There is some unfathomable beauty in truth (or the quest for truth) that surpasses all the muddy rhetoric of those who choose confusion over clarity, delusion over depth, fallacies over facts. Knowledge releases shackles, truth frees and in no way does knowing how things work lessen their wonder; rather I think solving mysteries is what deepens our wonder of how intricately the laws of physics, chemistry, biology, geology, mathematics and evolution and much, much more that go beyond labels have combined to create mind-blowing works of universal art be it up in heavenly displays of gas and fire, or in earthly passions that manifest in modes of the human emotion of winning- so joyous and heart-warming in its displays that a poetic phrase such as “celebrating the human spirit” was coined.

Or the reasons why the earthly species of men are so fascinated by those who kick, chase, aim and score with their balls: (ahem, i.e. the SPORTS ball.)

Germany beats Uruguay 3-2 for third place at the FIFA 2010, but in a far more exciting and objective match than the Dutch-Spanish final.

MONDAY-NIGHT HUNTERS

(Chapter 3 from Sagan’s book Billions & Billions)

“The hunting instinct has [a] … remote origin in the evolution of the race. The hunting and the fighting instinct combine in many manifestations. … It is just because human bloodthirstiness is such a primitive part of us that it is so hard to eradicate, especially where a fight or a hunt is promised as part of the fun. WILLIAM JAMES Psychology, XXIV (1890)

We can’t help ourselves. On Sunday afternoons and Monday nights in the fall of each year, we abandon everything to watch small moving images of 22 men—running into one another, falling down, picking themselves up, and kicking an elongated object made from the skin of an animal. Every now and then, both the players and the sedentary spectators are moved to rapture or despair by the progress of the play. All over America, people (almost exclusively men), transfixed before glass screens, cheer or mutter in unison. Put this way, it sounds stupid. But once you get the hang of it, it’s hard to resist, and I speak from experience.

Athletes run, jump, hit, slide, throw, kick, tackle—and there’s a thrill in seeing humans do it so well. They wrestle each other to the ground. They’re keen on grabbing or clubbing or kicking a fast-moving brown or white thing. In some games, they try to herd the thing toward what’s called a “goal”; in other games, the players run away and then return “home.” Teamwork is almost everything, and we admire how the parts fit together to make a jubilant whole.

But these are not the skills by which most of us earn our daily bread. Why should we feel compelled to watch people run or hit? Why is this need transcultural? (Ancient Egyptians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Mayans, and Aztecs also played ball. Polo is Tibetan.) There are sports stars who make 50 times the annual salary of the President; some who are themselves, after retirement, elected to high office. They are national heroes. Why, exactly? There is something here transcending the diversity of political, social, and economic systems. Something ancient is calling.

Most major sports are associated with a nation or a city, and they carry with them elements of patriotism and civic pride. Our team represents us—where we live, our people—against those other guys from some different place, populated by unfamiliar, maybe hostile people. (True, most of “our” players are not really from here. They’re mercenaries and with clear conscience regularly defect from opposing cities for suitable emolument: A Pittsburgh Pirate is reformed into a California Angel; a San Diego Padre is raised to a St. Louis Cardinal; a Golden State Warrior is crowned a Sacramento King. Occasionally, a whole team picks up and migrates to another city.)

Competitive sports are symbolic conflicts, thinly disguised. This is hardly a new insight. The Cherokees called their ancient form of lacrosse “the little brother of war.” Or here is Max Raf-ferty, former California Superintendent of Public Instruction, who, after denouncing critics of college football as “kooks, crumbums, commies, hairy loudmouthed beatniKs,” goes on to state, “Football players . . . possess a clear, bright, fighting spirit which is America itself.” (That’s worth mulling over.) An often-quoted sentiment of the late professional football coach Vince Lombardi is that the only thing that counts is winning. Former Washington Redskins’ coach George Alien put it this way: “Losing is like death.”

Indeed, we talk of winning and losing a war as naturally as we do of winning and losing a game. In a televised U.S. Army recruitment ad, we see the aftermath of an armored warfare exercise in which one tank destroys another; in the tag line, the victorious tank commander says, “When we win, the whole team wins—not one person.” The connection between sports and combat is made quite clear. Sports fans (the word is short for “fanatics”) have been known to commit assault and battery, and sometimes murder, when taunted about a losing team; or when prevented from cheering on a winning team; or when they feel an injustice has been committed by the referees.

The British Prime Minister was obliged in 1985 to denounce the rowdy, drunken behavior of British soccer fans who attacked an Italian contingent for having the effrontery to root for their own team. Dozens were killed when the stands collapsed. In 1969, after three hard-fought soccer games, Salvadoran tanks crossed the Honduran border, and Salvadoran bombers attacked Honduran ports and military bases. In this “Soccer War,” the casualties numbered in the thousands. Afghan tribesmen played polo with the severed heads of former adversaries. And 600 years ago, in what is now Mexico City, there was a ball court where gorgeously attired nobles watched uniformed teams compete. The captain of the losing team was beheaded, and the skulls of earlier losing captains were displayed on racks—an inducement possibly even more compelling than winning one for the Gipper.

Suppose you’re idly flipping the dial on your television set, and you come upon some competition in which you have no particular emotional investment—say, off-season volleyball between Myanmar and Thailand. How do you decide which team to root for? But wait a minute: Why root for either? Why not just enjoy the game? Most of us have trouble with this detached posture. We want to take part in the contest, to feel ourselves a member of a team. The feeling simply sweeps us away, and there we are rooting, “Go, Myanmar!” Initially, our loyalties may oscillate, first urging on one team and then the other. Sometimes we root for the underdog. Other times, shamefully, we even switch our allegiance from loser to winner as the outcome becomes clear. (When there is a succession of losing seasons, fan loyalties tend to drift elsewhere,) What we are looking for is victory without effort. We want to be swept up into something like a small, safe, successful war.

In 1996, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, then a guard for the Denver Nuggets, was suspended by the National Basketball Association. Why? Because Abdul-Rauf refused to stand for the compulsory playing of the National Anthem. The American flag represented to him a “symbol of oppression” offensive to his Muslim beliefs. Most other players, while not sharing Abdul-Rauf’s beliefs, supported his right to express them. Harvey Araton, a distinguished sports writer for the New York Times, was puzzled. Playing the anthem at a sporting event “is, let’s face it, a tradition that is absolutely idiotic in today’s world,” he explains, “as opposed to when it began, before baseball games during World War II. Nobody goes to a sporting event to make an expression of patriotism.” On the contrary, I would argue that a kind of patriotism and nationalism is very • much what sporting events are about.* (* The crisis was resolved when Mr. Abdul-Rauf agreed to stand during the anthem, but pray instead of sing)

The earliest known organized athletic events date back 3,500 years to preclassical Greece. During the original Olympic Games, an armistice put all wars among Greek city-states on hold. The games were more important than the wars. The men performed nude: No women spectators were allowed. By the eighth century B.C., the Olympic Games consisted of running (lots of running), jumping, throwing things (including javelins), and wrestling (sometimes to the death). While none of these events was a team sport, they are clearly central to modern team sports.

They were also central to low-technology hunting. Hunting is traditionally considered a sport, as long as you don’t eat what you catch—a proviso much easier for the rich to comply with than the poor. From the earliest pharaohs, hunting has been associated with military aristocracies. Oscar Wilde’s aphorism about English fox hunting, “the unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable,” makes a similar dual point. The forerunners of football, soccer, hockey, and kindred sports were disdainfully called “rabble games,” recognized as substitutes for hunting— because young men who worked for a living were barred from the hunt.

The weapons of the earliest wars must have been hunting implements. Team sports are not just stylized echoes of ancient wars. They also satisfy an almost-forgotten craving for the hunt.

Since our passions for sports run so deep and are so broadly distributed, they are likely to be hardwired into us—not in our brains but in our genes. The 10,000 years since the invention of agriculture is not nearly enough time for such predispositions to have evolved away and disappeared. If we want to understand them, we must go much further back.

 The human species is hundreds of thousands of years old (the human family several millions of years old). We have led a sedentary existence—based on farming and domestication of animals—for only the last 3 percent of that period, during which is all our recorded history. In the first 97 percent of our tenure on Earth, almost everything that is characteristically human came into being. So a little arithmetic about our history suggests we can learn something about those times from the few surviving hunter-gatherer communities uncorrupted by civilization.

We wander. With our little ones and all our belongings on our backs, we wander—following the game, seeking the water holes. We set up camp for a time, then move on. In providing food for the group, the men mainly hunt, the women mainly gather. Meat and potatoes. A typical itinerant band, mainly an extended family of relatives and in-laws, numbers a few dozen; although annually many hundreds of us, with the same language and culture, gather—for religious ceremonies, to trade, to arrange marriages, to tell stories. There are many stories about the hunt. I’m focusing here on the hunters, who are men. But the women have significant social, economic, and cultural power. They gather the essential staples—nuts, fruits, tubers, roots—as well as medicinal herbs, hunt small animals, and provide strategic intelligence on large animal movements. Men do some gathering as well, and considerable “housework” (even though there are no houses). But hunting—only for food, never for sport—is the lifelong occupation of every able-bodied male.

Preadolescent boys stalk birds and small mammals with bows and arrows. By adulthood they have become experts in weapons procurement; in stalking, killing, and butchering the prey; and in carrying the cuts of meat back to camp. The first successful kill of a large mammal marks a young man’s coming of age. In his initiation, ceremonial incisions are made on his chest or arms and an herb is rubbed into 1he cuts so that, when healed, a patterned tattoo results. It’s like campaign ribbons—one look at his chest, and you know something of his combat experience.

From a jumble of hoofprints, we can accurately tell how many animals passed; the species, sexes, and ages; whether any are lame; how long ago they passed; how far away they are. Some young animals can be caught by open-field tackles; others with slingshots or boomerangs, or just by throwing rocks accurately and hard. Animals that have not yet learned to fear men can be approached boldly and clubbed to death. At greater distances, for warier prey, we hurl spears or shoot poisoned arrows. Sometimes we’re lucky and, by a skillful rush, drive a herd of animals into an ambush or off a cliff.

Teamwork among the hunters is essential. If we are not to frighten the quarry, we must communicate by sign language. For the same reason, we need to have our emotions under control; both fear and exultation are dangerous. We are ambivalent about the prey. We respect the animals, recognize our kinship, identify with them. But if we reflect too closely on their intelligence or devotion to their young, if we feel pity for them, if we too deeply recognize them as relatives, our dedication to the hunt will slacken; we will bring home less food, and again our band may be endangered. We are obliged to put an emotional distance between us and them.

So contemplate this: For millions of years, our male ancestors are scampering about, throwing rocks at pigeons, running after baby antelopes and wrestling them to the ground, forming a single line of shouting, running hunters and trying to terrify a herd of startled warthogs upwind. Imagine that their lives depend on hunting skills and teamwork. Much of their culture is woven on the loom of the hunt. Good hunters are also good warriors. Then, after a long while—a few thousand centuries, say—a natural predisposition for both hunting and teamwork will inhabit many newborn boys. Why? Because incompetent or unenthusiastic hunters leave fewer offspring. I don’t think how to chip a spearpoint out of stone or how to feather an arrow is in our genes. That’s taught or figured out. But a zest for the chase—I bet that is hardwired. Natural selection helped mold our ancestors into superb hunters.

The clearest evidence of the success of the hunter-gatherer lifestyle is the simple fact that it extended to six continents and lasted millions of years (to say nothing of the hunting proclivities of nonhuman primates). Those big numbers speak profoundly. After 10,000 generations in which the killing of animals was our hedge against starvation, those inclinations must still be in us. We hunger to put them to use, even vicariously. Team sports provide one way.

Some part of our beings longs to join a small band of brothers on a daring and intrepid quest. We can even see this in role-playing and computer games popular with prepubescent and adolescent boys. The traditional manly virtues—taciturnity, resourcefulness, modesty, accuracy, consistency, deep knowledge of animals, teamwork, love of the outdoors—were all adaptive behavior in hunter-gatherer times. We still admire these traits, although we’ve almost forgotten why.

Besides sports, there are few outlets available. In our adolescent males, we can still recognize the young hunter, the aspirant warrior—leaping across apartment rooftops; riding, helmetless, on a motorcycle; making trouble for the winning team at a postgame celebration. In the absence of a steadying hand, those old instincts may go a little askew (although our murder rate is about the same as among the surviving hunter-gatherers). We try to ensure that any residual zest for killing does not spill over onto humans. We don’t always succeed.

I think of how powerful those hunting instincts are, and I worry. I worry that Monday-night football is insufficient outlet for the modern hunter, decked out in his overalls or jeans or three-piece suit. I think of that ancient legacy about not expressing our feelings, about keeping an emotional distance from those we kill, and it takes some of the fun out of the game.

Hunter-gatherers generally posed no danger to themselves: because their economies tended to be healthy (many had more free time than we do); because, as nomads, they had few possessions, almost no theft, and little envy; because greed and arrogance were considered not only social evils but also pretty close to mental illnesses; because women had real political power and tended to be a stabilizing and mitigating influence before the boys started going for their poisoned arrows; and because, when serious crimes were committed—murder, say—the band collectively rendered judgment and punishment. Many hunter-gatherers organized egalitarian democracies. They had no chiefs. There was no political or corporate hierarchy to dream of climbing. There was no one to revolt against.

So, if we’re stranded a few hundred centuries from when we long to be—if (through no fault of our own) we find ourselves, in an age of environmental pollution, social hierarchy, economic inequality, nuclear weapons, and declining prospects, with Pleistocene emotions but without Pleistocene social safeguards—perhaps we can be excused for a little Monday-night football.

TEAMS AND TOTEMS

 Teams associated with cities have names: the Seibu Lions, the Detroit Tigers, the Chicago Bears. Lions and tigers and bears . . . eagles and seahawks. . . flames and suns. Allowing for the difference in environment and culture, hunter-gatherer groups worldwide have similar names— sometimes called totems.

A typical list of totems, mainly from the era before European contact, was recorded by the anthropologist Richard Lee in his many years among the IKung “Bushmen” of the Kalahari Desert in Botswana (see below at far right). The Short Feet, I think, are cousins to the Red Sox and White Sox, the Fighters to the Raiders, the Wildcats to the Bengals, the Cutters to the Clippers. Of course there are differences—due to technological differences and, perhaps, to varying endowments of candor, self-knowledge, and sense of humor. It’s hard to imagine an American sports team named the Diarrheas (“Gimme a ‘D’ . . .”). Or—my personal favorite, a group of men with no self-esteem problems—the Big Talkers. And one in which the players are called the Owners would probably cause some consternation in the front office.”

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Sports Beauties & Beasts. The chapter above does make sense, doesn’t it? 

A revisit to Jungle Queens & Tribal Warriors with clan cloths and war paints. Above: A FIFA German soccer fan, a Brazilian soccer fan, American football fans, South African FIFA fans, a SuperBowl Team Cardinal fan, a Canadian ice hockey fan. (click for enlarged view.)

Dunking dreams for teams and fans. Jordan’s superhuman jumps.

..

Anthem

A flock of Anser Indicus. These birds fly the highest altitudes on the planet, even migrating in flights above Mt. Everest.

Note: I am currently on a two-month trip driving from the U.S. east coast starting from Boston through to the mid-west and the western States. I’ll be in the Chicago area for quite  a while hoping to photograph many of Frank Lloyd Wright’s buildings, have already passed through small Amish towns in rural Pennsylvania, farm fields in Indiana, waved from a float as part of a 4th of July parade in a town in Wisconsin for a lark thanks to a strong-willed lovely lady who runs a dance academy (and pictures I hope to upload later should I find time – especially of innocent children and a fantastic Star Wars float), and then at some point will hopefully be off for a trip through the mountains and national parks in the Wyoming and Montana area and further. There will be long and deliberate stretches of time when I’ll be without any internet connection, far away from the world of humans,  so the blog posts will be sporadic and infrequent this summer. Have fun all, watching the World Cup semis & finals!  I’d love to see a Dutch-German one (my mom’s maiden family name is Dutsch – if that’s a clue ;-), but any other combos would be great too!

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As I post this today my heart is heavy with the appalling news of the mother Sakineh Ashtiani in Iran who is hours away from being stoned to death by a religious and judicial system that defies logic and humanity. It is a horrible blend of anger and helplessness one feels and wonders how can actions such as these be prevented from a grassroots level? How many more innocent lives will be taken as words are spoken, protests made in faraway lands yet little action is actually taken to prevent the deed? As people go about their daily lives obsessing about Blahniks and Benzes, bashing and insulting each other on virtual message boards, or picking on old objective harmless male film critics in liberal western countries to yell ‘misogyny’, this horrendous act of jaw-dropping REAL & ACTUAL misogyny and injustice will occur today. And like ostriches, heads will be buried in sands of escapism while Ashtiani’s serene face will be battered with stones of hatred and unfathomable injustice. Any society/societies in the world that allow evil like this to occur and yet claim the presence of some almighty benevolent God/Gods should do a check-up of their core values and rational mental faculties or rather lack thereof – for acts like these seem to be nothing more than ideologies used to profit the unchecked bullying by psychopaths.

http://www.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/meast/07/01/iran.stoning/

I post the rest with heavy hands

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ANTHEM

This is a poem I wrote to myself when I was 19 years old. It was part of a series of poems I wrote as an answer to personal ponderings. It was long before I had any boyfriend or would even fall in love – so the words were coming purely from the ways of social dogmas, facing bullying by the ‘mean girls’ and the general ways in which following one’s own ethics or callings or work or other hobbies were perceived by many others who understood the ‘language of groups’ much better than the voices of individualism. And for the times I didn’t give up and just focused on my goals no matter how tough it was. The words of the poem constituted my anthem and elixir through which I drank in strength when I needed it. (I’d started writing poetry as a kid but the early ones were mostly about nature, the skies and quizzical observations of human characteristics viewed during social events.)

Many years have passed and through time, despite their youthful and naive determination, whenever I read these words again, they  bring back the same sense of empowerment I’d felt while writing them. Later in my mid-20s, a beloved teacher from back in school asking for contributions to fill in the alumni publication liked this poem so much that it now stays framed on the wall in the entrance lobby of my former all-girls high school.  The words were not based on fantasy but on the reality of the life I had lived till then and the world I’d observed. And these words are not just for me, I share them freely and lovingly with every girl who has strived for strength and self-reliance no matter what she has faced in life, and no matter how many times she has been pushed down for having a sense of will and self-esteem – full, unfettered and vibrant within.

This is an anthem I now dedicate several years later from the time I first wrote it to every woman in the world and through the ages  who has stood for rational ethics for humanity and the natural world; to every woman who believed in her intellect and intelligence enough to seek answers through FACTS and truths based on reality rather than blindly follow irrational myths or ideologies; To every woman who has been mocked, ridiculed, bullied, insulted, pushed down, tortured for simply being herself and trying to do good even when it seemed to be against all odds; To every woman who has never ever indulged in using vampire hooks to induce pity, shame and guilt in others to ‘rescue’ her nor bullied and controlled others to cater to her whims, but has instead lifted herself up in life through her own hard work, self-reliance, logic and confidence without using human props;

To every strong willed truly brave activist who has fought for women’s rights in countries where misogyny is intrinsic to its religion and laws; To every woman in a free country who knows these truths and counts her blessings unlike those who use hooks on good people, instead of doing real good in the world or understanding the pain of women who face REAL and not fake suffering;

To every innocent girl in more free countries who has paid the price of being misunderstood or pigeonholed due to the conniving girls in men’s pasts, even as she held out her kindness, logic and patience in return and watched it being torn to shreds but was able to walk away with her dignity and compassion intact when she realized you can give unconditionally only to those who are ready to receive; To every girl who has faced apathy or cruelty from either men or women in return for her empathy or innocence and still never became bitter nor lost her ability to laugh;

To every girl who is a realist about her own flaws and weaknesses and strives for self-improvement and is open to objective criticism instead of becoming delusional or wallowing in her weaknesses; to every girl in a free country who stands for rational goodness and knows the power of inner strength, without making herself some sacrificial lamb but rather chooses quiet non-abrasive confidence and fortitude over giving in to victimhood, no matter how hard her trials are;

To every woman in a suppressed patriarchal Islamic country who has fought for her and her sisters’ rights, for they are in many ways the toughest and bravest feminists of all, and make the cushioned-liberal-arts-type-so-called-‘feminists’ here look like self-centred jokes and rightly so;

To every woman in a science and technology field who just a few decades ago was not even allowed admissions in these fields because they were women, but who have worked hard and never given up in professions where men still dominate and the women who have made it have worked doubly, nay – triply hard; To all those silent women in science and technology and all other professions where the products of their work are seen but not their faces; nor their presence hardly ever written about;

To every woman who has seeked and celebrated the inner strength of her individual being and never craved for hollow power over others; To every woman who understands the value of genuine love – glorious, enlightening, all-accepting, and the value of true kindness and empathy even when messages around her loudly scream to embrace frivolity, fakeness and shallow vacuousness;

To every woman who faced choices in life and chose her integrity and goodness each time no matter how hard or lonely that road was; To every woman who has the strength to speak up the truth, if only for her own conscience, no matter how difficult that seems because she knows that the truth does set one free;

To every woman who has never lost her sense of practicality, pragmatism and optimism no matter how hard the knocks of life may  be, no matter how many dreams have broken, and has used her experience to shape her own character and resolve and help others in return, rather than fish for excuses; and dared to dream again; To every woman who rose in life through self reliance and not by piggy-back riding or using others;

To every girl who has cried alone through a dark cruel night when there were no arms to comfort her even when she asked for help on the rare occasion; and even when it seemed the walls were collapsing till somehow with the last drop of her strength she lifted herself, battled and channeled the darkness into creativity and stood up straight holding her head up high again; To every girl who from childhood has sensed an overpowering ‘sense of Life and of love and learning’ – hard to express in words, but a soaring of one’s ‘spirit’ – as though life is important and there is much to learn and LIVE for, not merely exist; much to be curious about; much to be happy about despite all the downers life might have;

To every girl who has celebrated the beauty, innocence and goodness that lie either oblivious or obvious in the world but can be recognized and seen only by those eyes which have never nor ever will cross to the side of malice, jealousy, bitterness nor evil; To every girl who experienced an indescribable sense of joy within herself just being her own authentic self without ever giving up her tenderness or love or sense of ethical justice or a passion for knowledge – and found that that very self-assurance which is her inbuilt essence seems to incite something weird in others who go to lengths to push that down or lay traps to suck it dry; To every girl who never let those trappers clip her wings or kill her joy or lose herself to their diminishing mockery; To every girl and woman who never gave up and knew deeply and completely the immeasurable freedom and possibilities of rational goodness and inner strength;

To every girl who no matter what fears she had to confront, learned to be cautious but never, never to be afraid or cowardly.

And to every man who had the ability to recognize and love a girl like that, and was open to receive her love in return because he felt that same way inside about life as well. And felt confident in his own self-respect to know he deserved to share that sense of joy and peace. And recognized and cherished the difference between that adventure of living from the complacency of existing. And the love and strength it takes to create or fight for ethical justice rather than destroy or choose cowardice-disguised-as-apathy.

To every person who has dared.

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YOU GOT TO BE STRONG, GIRL

“You got to be strong, girl.
So dry those tears
Remove those fears,
BELIEVE in your own confidence
To reach out for the right:
For you have to be strong,
To point out the wrong,
And though you’ll be called a fool
And told to follow rules
Set by prisoned minds,
Just stay above and cool,
Don’t lose that Fire
of faith that sustains the true spirit of life in you.

You got to be strong, girl,
They’ll hurt you a lot and crush you to depths, 
But bounce back again with renewed strength, with added confidence,
Cry out your heart if you feel like, and after you’ve cleansed yourself
Surge ahead to a new tomorrow,
With a light so brilliant it can blind those who try to extinguish
that fire in your soul;

For who can keep underwater a sparkling bubble of air
With myriad colours surrounding its unbreakable shell?

For life is filled with challenges and there are those who can and who cannot overcome every hurdle
And you know you belong to the former;
And although you might be left dangling from the end of a rope or a clifftop,
So what? You can make new footholds and sprout new wings
And fly up above the hilltop.

When you know you are right and truthful
And done nothing to regret,
Why live in the past and the future – you’ve got the Present,
So make the best.
There’s a time for every wisdom
And the search for self-realization,
Or the pursuit of True freedom –
Was always frowned upon.
But you can smile at every mile –
‘cause you know, girl:
That when the road is long, you’ve got to be strong.
But when they tribe to make it longer –
You know it’s because you ARE stronger.”

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