The Palimpsest of Sawbones Surio

Pessimism of the Intellect, Optimism of the Will

Archive for April 2011

Speech is silver, but silence is golden

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Jacob’s old, tongue in cheek post from a couple of weeks ago, “In praise of mystics” initially flew past my head, as I am more used to the Indian association of the word “Siddha” for the word “mystic”. That Wikipedia article covers a lot of ground, so enjoy yourself.

From what I remember reading about Siddhas from elsewhere, Silence was a big part of their teachings. Indeed this is one of the common threads that connects many of the World’s religions. Other religions have also advocated (Buddhism, Sufism, Benedictine…etc…) silence as a means for raising one’s level of consciousness/awareness. Indeed silence is a misnomer here. It is not silence in the meaning that we commonly know and use, but that of stilling one’s mind, the originator of all thoughts (that eternal gaggler!). “Just be” is a more appropriate admonition here, rather than “Be quiet” :-P!

Cut to today. It is getting more and more difficult, if not downright impossible for “the Organisation man” to perform the act of wilful ceasing and stilling of thoughts in order to to engage in simple soul-searching for self-actualisation, let alone take stock of where the hell is this train-wreck heading towards:

  • A side effect of our infoglut culture with easy access keeps us on overdrive all the time. 😐
  • Digital Taylorism – Enough said. Ermine, our resident stoatwizard wrote a post on it. This modern ill that plagues us, ensures we are forever in an agitated frame of mind and in a bellicose mood that is brought on by that feeling of powerlessness.
  • Overspecialisation on the job front. Ermine touches on this also, but it is not what I meant to convey. Heard of DO-178B? That’s what is used when they try to develop avionics software. And fear not dear stressed-out, already overworked developers, there’s a new version coming out this year! And that’s just for the software. Don’t forget the hardware now! And just remember, you’ll be sued and jailed for negligence if something goes wrong, but your CEO will still collect his bonus and get himself another job.

“Special”, “customised” service, Sir? Watch the video. Enough said!

And the net result of our “modern times” is that

……the share of Americans who considered themselves very happy was 53% in September 1956 and 49% in December 2006, even as their personal computing powers increased infinitely……

—- Vaclav Smil on an online talk.

Vaclav Smil’s Latest article on American scientist: At very low and low per capita consumption levels, higher use of energy is clearly tied to rising index of human development, but once energy per capita reaches about 150 gigajoules per year, the correlation breaks down. More is not better. Read full article

So, one thing is very clear. Things are not going to be better if you are dependent on a monthly salary. After all, “You, Sir, are a ‘tool’ “ and you are about to get even more smaller and overwrought as we get more Specialisation and more energy-intense lifestyles. Double Whammy? Double Whammy is the right word indeed.

If you feel that you need to discuss with someone about these misgivings, then all the better. Just please spend some time and read this brief parable by Kahlil Gibran:

Four frogs sat upon a log that lay floating on the edge of a river. Suddenly the log was caught by the current and swept slowly down the stream. The frogs were delighted and absorbed, for never before had they sailed.

At length the first frog spoke, and said, “This is indeed a most marvellous log. It moves as if alive. No such log was ever known before.”

Then the second frog spoke, and said, “Nay, my friend, the log is like other logs, and does not move. It is the river that is walking to the sea, and carries us and the log with it.”

And the third frog spoke, and said, “It is neither the log nor the river that moves. The moving is in our thinking. For without thought nothing moves.”

And the three frogs began to wrangle about what was really moving. The quarrel grew hotter and louder, but they could not agree. Then they turned to the fourth frog, who up to this time had been listening attentively but holding his peace, and they asked his opinion.

And the fourth frog said, “Each of you is right, and none of you is wrong. The moving is in the log and the water and our thinking also.”

And the three frogs became very angry, for none of them was willing to admit that his was not the whole truth, and that the other two were not wholly wrong.

Then a strange thing happened. The three frogs got together and pushed the fourth frog off the log into the river.

—- Knowledge and Half-knowledge.

Moral of the story? “It depends” 😉

But two things stand out in the story for me.
1. The silent frog had in fact put more thought into their happenings than the so called “observant frogs”.
2. In the end, the cacophony of “factual”, on-the-ground observations will either win you over or crowd you out. In case of the frogs, the latter happened.

Minor Edit:

Very uncanny. A respected fellow commenter of great insight, Maus over at ERE forums has just completed a “fast from the Internet”. My two big takeaways, which I ought to place here.

  • I decided that my daily use of the internet had become a bit compulsive. I was frequently checking a handful of websites that I’d found interesting in the past. It began to seem to me as if I was doing this to avoid dealing with work responsibilities that were neither urgent nor interesting, and probably to avoid the larger question of whether my career as a lawyer has plateaued… I was taught that fasting (usually from food) helped one to obtain detachment and clarity of thought or intention. And my experiences at that time generally confirmed this. So, I decided to fast from the internet.
  • I wanted to recapture a sense of intentionality about my use of this incredible tool for communicating and obtaining information. The very ease of access had led me to take it for granted and to squander its potential to truly add value to my life. Having returned to the Net, I can say that my fast was very satisfactory. While I missed the ebb and flow of commentary by familiar “voices,” I can see that I did not miss anything truly earthshattering or fundamentally important to the realization of my core values.

So, don’t become the fourth frog in trying to engage the (half-)knowledged crowd. Become your own master. Indeed, this is when you’ll find, “Speech may be silver”, but “Silence is golden”! Some of the links on the right will help you on your road to mastery of your own life.

But, in the end you need to truly “meditate” on the options present, and come up with an action plan. May the force of the “mystics” be with you.

Written by Surio

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Posted in Musings, Philosophy

“Worker Bees” of the world, unite? — Done and dusted

with 6 comments

Minor Prologue:

It’s high time, we drew the curtains over the series of posts that offered counterviews for some of the prevalent opinions in the World regarding “Modern” Trade. Here’s Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 of the series, addressing the other common myths on “trade’s benefits”.

What was my motivation to write these posts? It is best illustrated by this Calvin and Hobbes cartoon strip below:

Please don't get caught up in the pro-anti-Hunter-hunted message. The broad message that I want you to take away is 'A Change in the point of view of an accepted perspective'.

Yes, this is an overt swipe at the pro-hunting lobby, but my interest lies in the broad message of the strip. How does it look when the mirror is pointed inwards? That was my intent; to turn the mirror inwards and point that what’s being enthusiastically promoted (by the media and the ones with vested interests) has very many hidden riders.

So, when I am done with saying all of this (*), it brings on the final Brahmastra(!) from others, that is usually deployed as closure.
(*) And may I say that I sincerely feel honoured if I was able to make you re-look some of our accepted value systems while reading this.

If it is so bad, why have you not taken to the hills in a bark robe?

Or in longer, more precise terms,

So, you spend considerable effort arguing that trade is bad and is like “slavery”, yet you go ahead and engage in it youself. E.g., The PC you are typing this blog from was probably “Made in China” employing ‘slave labour’ as you submitted in the beginning?

For this criticism (and depending on my audience), my response stops with:

As my mother is fond of saying, “Criticism does not automatically imply self excellence”.

Sometimes the above criticism also takes the form of “You seem bent on turning the clock back?”

For this second one (again, depending on my audience), my response usually is:

Not really. 🙂 All I want to do is to simply stop the clock for a while (if such a thing can be done), and then do some real soul-searching of where we really are now, and decide whether we need to continue down the road, or aprovechar what’s achieved so far in a fair manner.

But it doesn’t mean the discussion ends here. Here’s a slightly involved discussion of “what makes me tick” in the face of my realisation of the points made in these above posts:

For starters, I started supporting (and promoting) the concept of FairTrade (“cooperative societies” as they are sometimes known in India). As Wikipedia describes it:

A movement that advocates the payment of a higher price to producers as well as higher social and environmental standards — focusssing in particular on handicrafts, coffee, cocoa, sugar, tea, bananas, honey, cotton, wine, fresh fruit, chocolate, flowers and gold.

If you are new to the concept, The Wikipedia article on Fairtrade is a detailed one and might bring you up to speed. Like many countercurrent movements, it is not without false-starts and deficiencies and I began to realise it myself. What was even more insidious, was that rampant consumerism started riding on the back of the conscientious consumption movement! For example, I began noticing ads such as:

  • Pay an extra 50p for this bottle of water. When you do, the company will donate 3p to communities without clean water(*). :o… <Insert expletive here>
  • When you buy coffee with us in <ABC> coffee, “you are buying into something bigger than a cup of coffee”(?TM?)!. We purchase more “fair-trade” coffee than any company in the world!
  • Buy one shoe from us, and we’ll donate one pair to another one in need
  • Buy a lot of cosmetic products that you don’t even need or use, because our company is an “ethical” one! (“Greenwashing” entered public lingo with the pricking of this bubble)

It had to be his picture here if we're talking Simple Living!

(*) It’s a win-win: the company keeps the extra 47 cents, and you purchase not only some overpriced bottled-water (despite not questioning why on earth a First class society needs “bottled”) but also the ability to not feel bad about not really doing anything to help all those poor third world communities beamed on your telly. Bottled water is another gripe for another day! 😡

After the realisation of these insidious practices disguised to encourage more consumption by simply boosting our endorphins (PDF), I realised that it is better to curtail my participation to the absolute minimum necessary and I’ve since moved on to recreate a life of Voluntary Simplicity for (DW and) myself. As before, the Wikipedia article above is good if you wish for a headstart and an overview.

I found that this came more naturally and easily to me for cultural, spiritual, historical, familial, empirical, whatever-ical reason…… That desn’t mean it comes easy to ALL Indians (No way!) and is an Mt. Everest-like struggle to ALL non-Indians (No Way!). But paradoxically (or ironically, if you prefer), for these very reasons, it gets restricted, i.e., it could work for *you*, but not for *us*!! :-?… Equally, in adopting this method of making my point, the outreach was also restricted, i.e., only the people I tend to interact with regularly, personally and closely could observe my approach to life now. Also, I found that it was self-defeating in leading by example in this movement, when there are forces larger and stronger than you, me and him at play: I mean, let me try and use a bicycle in Indian roads today that are being deliberately flooded with cars through easy credit, policy and massive advertising – I almost certainly will not make an impact but I shall certainly be visiting the Casualty ward pronto!

At one stage, I was this close to resigning myself to simply being me and let the World wash over and do whatever it bloody well pleases! Yes, I was ‘this’ close. Here’s a (recovering) academic turned trucker (called Bill Pulliam) who’s returned to the land contemplating similar thoughts.

And I do believe that the end consumer has to assume some of the moral burden for what is done to produce and deliver the goods and services he benefits from. I also recognize in this intertwined world it is damn near impossible to extract yourself from all that is done to support our modern spoiled developed world lives. This computer is being run by electricity bought from TVA, most of which is generated by hydro plants powered by the dams that have impounded the entire Tennessee River and helped drive many species of fish to near extinction. Some of the rest of the watts come from coal ripped out of West Virginia by mountaintop removal. Pragmatism is necessary and inevitable. But it does not obliterate moral responsibility. Hell, I drive trucks for a living, burning the fossil fuels and dragging the consumer goods around the continent. But, my decision to drive a truck is not what puts the trucks on the road. It’s a million people’s decisions that they want their cheap plastic crap and they want it HERE and NOW that puts the trucks on the road. My choice to buy less cheap plastic crap will do more to take the trucks off the road than would my choice to surrender my CDL and quit working as a driver. Other decisions I can make as an individual will have a far greater impact than whether or not I drive a truck laden with cheap plastic crap for other people to buy.

And I already made the single biggest choice on that front when I got my tubes snipped insuring that I will never be responsible for the creation of another resource-swilling shit-exhuding human individual. So I keep on trucking and look for ways to do those other things that would make more of an immediate difference.

The rest of the post can be read here on his blog.

Meanwhile, I also discovered Jacob Lund Fisker’s blog in parallel, and was impressed with his attitude of perseverance. He gave a “name” (Early retirement extreme — ERE) to what is essentially an existing body of philosophy, chose to put up a blog in said name, and discusses ERE as a working concept (in the comments and in the forums), and didn’t just stop at retiring from the rat race and walk away with his savings. The underlying message I got from him was: To participate within the system, yet promote the “other side” idea, to point out that it can work, and bring about voluntary change and reach critical mass.

I also had an epiphany from the life of Mahatma Gandhi that gave my thoughts some weight:

  1. Gandhi advocated the Boycott/Swadeshi movement, but did use Press/Telegraph/cars/trains to organise the freedom struggle. In other words, he didn’t use the ‘Swadeshi’ Carrier pigeons or runners for the movement
  2. Despite being an ahimsavadi, he canvassed for Indian soldiers to fight for the crown for the I World war.

People still tend to call him a major hypocrite for these acts, but they seem to completely miss the point. In his doing so,

  1. Because of the well-coordinated and well-oiled relay and communications, India was among the first colonies to gain independence from the empire (after Ireland) and in a much more peaceful manner than the other colonies (let’s not talk partition today, OK?), and,
  2. Gandhi actually gained the support for Indian Independence from the grateful British public! This made a moral blot in the case made by the crown to retain India as a colony.

So, I now understand that it pays to use the dominant medium(*) of the day to communicate the larger message even if it brings the odd moral posturing time to time.
(*) i.e. the equivalent of the telegraph and the newspaper of yore.


Yes, there have been arguably good benefits to trade, in the past through to today, but I am not at all in agreement with how it has come to be carried out today. And it is not just restricted to the amount of power these corporations have managed to wield. Let’s see if this narrative flows:

In the beginning,

  • Those items (Sarong, Saree, Bullock carts, conical hats, etc…) mentioned in that thought experiment from Part 1 were part of all the colonised Eastern civilisations’ socio-cultural fabric (as American as Apple pie comes to mind) and had enabled them to engage in a quality of life, leisure and enjoyment that the West is now increasingly wanting to escape to all the time….
  • In a similar manner, around some time in History, other European civilisations invented spinning jennys and all those things that we were forced to cram in school as “great inventions to showcase human ingenuity”. Lovely — to each their own, as far as I am concerned. So far, still so good.
  • Now let’s take any jaded old colonial diary narrative of the “East”… The “natives/coolies” were invariably described as “lazy”, “sleeping in afternoon” “won’t work”…etc… Is this a bias in the thinking of the Europeans (PWE — my favourite bugbear) that made the Europeans mistake a true life-of-leisure into all those negative epithets?
  • Other (equally if not more, dominant) civilisations of their times, didn’t actively force their “ways-of-life” to Europe/USA, or anyone else. For example: India actively traded with China, Cambodia, Malaya, Indonesia, etc.. (by sea too!), but retained their mutual respect for each others’ way of life. Chinese didn’t wear veshtis, nor did the Indians wear robes (but “Lungi” became famous! Perhaps due to a shared climate and garish colour fascination? ;-)).
  • What I don not like is the way in which every other civilisation that does not live like the West is somehow labelled as “deprived”, “backward”, “non-progressive” and forced to convert into “Mammonism”, either by gun boats (previously) or by economic sanctions (lately). Why is it that “North Korea” or for that matter “any other place”, is somehow in “deep horse manure”, because they don’t “walk like us”, “talk like us”, “eat/sleep like us”….etc….?
  • And in the end, what is this fixation about “new markets” with the West, but always being portrayed as “beneficial to the locals” all the time? I love the bard when he says: “The lady doth protest too much, methinks”.

After several years of experiencing the “Brave, Flat World” I think I am beginning to understand Gandhi’s remarks,

When asked what he thought of Western civilization, Gandhi famously replied, “I think it would be a great idea.” Thus he did not equate increasing scientific and technological sophistication with progress in civilization.

I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides an my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any. I refuse to live in other people’s houses as an interloper, a beggar or a slave.

While everyone and his dog seems to hold North Korea as the “backward runt”, for its lack of trading in the global shanty, South Koreans themselves don’t think their lives are any better. This recent news article about South Korea literally set the blog rooms ablaze about similar complaints of India too…..

If being chained to your desk, whether you like it or not is not to be considered slavery, what is to be considered as slavery, then? As Jacob Fisker would say, “These are Golden handcuffs, highly sought after” 😉

Perhaps, it will take something as drastic as this strip before we are driven back to our senses (hoping they are not irrepairably dulled by mindless consumption by then)

Our Global economies' fixation with growth, job creation and new markets to explore

Finally, remember that in all this noise, profound words are being forgotten…..

“We don’t inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children”
——— Old Native American proverb

And in the end, when we are confronted by the coming generations about the trail of destruction that was left behind in this quest for markets and profits, let’s hope we’ll have enough honesty in responding to them. Remember this old anecdote:

A friend comes to you angry that an item he lent to you has been returned broken. “Unbelievable!” you begin, continuing, “First, look at it- it’s not broken. Second, I never even borrowed it. And third, it was already broken when you lent it to me!”

Let’s NOT respond like this to them!

Written by Surio

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