Sunday, May 6, 2012

Experiments in Desultoriness

- Criticism is a word that too many people cringe at hearing, even though they themselves would rarely hesitate in commending, confusedly, the act of critical thinking. I remember reading a blog in which its editor was bemoaning the self censorship he has to constantly impose on his own writings so as to minimize the odds of receiving some unflattering comment. Not only him, but, he continues to enlighten us, this is also the reason why his ilk of free thinkers self-restrain. His rationale was that when someone criticizes others’ opinions, then she is in a way infringing on their freedom of expression. You’d expect a person who had long passed adolescence to have a slightly more sophisticated conception of this freedom of expression stuff.

The one and only creative process of all the mental processes that a human mind can muster on its own is criticism of one sort or another. Actually, when someone is listed as an influence of somebody else, then what is really being meant is that the former’s opinions and contributions had supplied raw material for the latter to produce her own in turn, chiefly by subjecting them to - you guessed it - criticism. Else, the influenced would have ended up only as the explicator of the influencer’s works or as her biographer.

- In a medium rife with plagiarism and regurgitated opinions, happening upon an original and nuanced opinion on the internet is a source of joy, whether or not one agrees with the writer. But the story does not usually end as happily as it starts. It is likely to occur that some commentators given to excessive compartmentalizing will begin heatedly discussing which side of two the author is really on, and what reasons are behind her paying lip service to the other!

Something within urges you to explain to them, in words of one syllable, that life resides mainly in its gradations and shades. But something else, within also, tells you that this would be of a futility equal to that of teaching an irrecoverably ponderous person how to dance ballet.

- One also stumbles upon appalling stuff while rambling online - like that is surprising news. Two memories of such occasions come rushing back to me at this thought. In one of them, a “prominent” male writer condescends to explain to our simple minds why “female bloggers” are superior. How did he go about accomplishing that feat? By stacking up nonsense that even in a state of stupor one would not, nay, make that can't, buy. My gripe with that though was not the writer himself, an old fart out of step with the world, but rather with the females who were intimately and gratefully thanking him - as if he had granted each her indulgence - for saying nothing more than “Listen women, I honestly have nary a positive thing to say about you, and that is mainly because I can’t get over my patriarchal mindset. But here is a clich├ęd cheap trick I learned in the past and I hope it will please you”. He then conjured an equally meaningless thing called “male bloggers”, and started thrashing them indiscriminately.

In the other occasion, a person was supposedly trying to use literature to deal the phenomenon of honor crimes its just lot. He starts the story by describing his soon-to-be-raped heroine. The girl never leaves home unless necessary. During her freshmen year she never talked to any person at the university, not even females. If you are wondering what she was doing with all that free time, then the answer is that the author does not make it clear, but you can rest assured that she partly spent it observing other girls to see who of them abided by her high standards of morals and honor, so that she makes a few select of them her friends in the coming years. Her shyness of men is deliberately made to smack of phobia or disdain. She never… easy there lad! What is it that you are trying to achieve?

It might be said that he was bending over backwards to win the conservative to his side. But that is effectively stepping backwards, retrograding. If it is not so obvious, the term “Honor Crimes” consists of two words: honor and crimes. This entails that the fight against those crimes is not a one to save lives only, but is also a struggle to emancipate, and that the two should go side by side, neither of them gaining any priority over the other at any point. The women who lost their lives on such grounds lost them not so much out of boredom on the side of the perpetrators, as out of trying to depart from the iniquitous norms of their respective societies. In this light, affirming and maintaining these norms and images become only that, affirming and maintaining. I can see the good intentions behind the guy’s attempt though.

While at it, I also have something to note about the current discourse on honor killings in the developing countries. At the moment, the pervading anti-honor-crimes rhetoric is that of brandishing the cases were the victims were raped or turned out to be “innocent”, while staying scandalously reticent on the ones where there were real sexual affairs. Here too concessions are not acceptable, because surely no one sober enough will ever endorse the act of extinguishing a soul for nothing. What is being argued over then? Thinking along these lines, it becomes apparent that any such concessions will be understood at the opposite side as a sign of their own victory, and a victory to be smug about at that.

- A fad is an interesting thing to observe as it replaces another, waxes, wanes and then gives way to the one next, in a never ending cycle. They serve as a constant reminder of how tightly linked we are to people that we’ve never even seen or heard of before, in that same vein of the popular “six degrees of separation”. But there are more practical conclusions that they can help us reach. Here I am talking about a very specific type of fads: that of what fills the “about” sections in online personal profiles. A quick look at this will often prove to be a fast and granted way to judge the cogitative abilities of the profile owner.

At the moment, one of the most fashionable expressions for describing one’s self online is “citizen of the world”. Every time I read this, I find myself laughing in ridicule. Can’t these people hear the “city” in the “citizen”? It will be said that what the word conveys today is not related to cities anymore. No denying. But to make my point, we need to explain the origins of the term. It probably dates back to the age of what we now call city-states. Back then the word was used to denote a specific type of inhabitants in any given state, viz. those who were entitled to a specific set of prerogatives (e.g. voting, protection abroad,... etc.) over any other type of dwellers in that city. Not much has changed ever since in this usage, except that now it is more likely for a state to comprise a group of cities instead of one only.

Having made the point, it becomes evident that calling one’s self a citizen of the world is as revealing as saying that somebody is a Brazilian of the world. The great Feynman himself would be in a bind to explain to us what is being said here. Along to the rescue may come the language evolution argument in its most risible form: "language evolves and there is nothing we can do about it". But that is stark devolution. And regardless of how you look at it, there is no lack of suitable words to use instead. Why not a resident? What about inhabitant? Or even the neologism of netizen? That last one does sound quite smart, given that it captures the reality of our current times. It is the internet that has melted the boundaries worldwide, if that is what they are so keen on telling us.

But no. It appears that humanity had long ago took an oath on itself to always appear as stupid as it can manage, and clearly, it can manage a lot.