Sunday, May 30, 2004

Democracy, Tyranny and Communism

Many of the different political ideologies that we encounter today have been around for at least 2400 years. Today, I will attempt to discuss Communism, and the Road of Tyranny through Democracy.
When Communism was first described by Marx and Engels during the mid 19th century, a great many people were astonished with their reasoning and utopian ideals. On paper, communism seemed like the greatest idea ever known to man, and thus, it started a chain reaction, that eventually led to countries adopting Marx and Engels' brand of Communism. However, when looked upon objectively, the Soviet Union, or even Mainland China isn't a full communist nation. They might be identified as communist, but they are not fully communist on paper. You still find a great social divide, with dichotomy ever present. The leader of those countries, should, in paper, not have absolute dominating control. A central government was a must, but it didn't mean that the leader had to carry an iron fist. There were some advantages to communism that we can't find in a democracy. At it's best, there was no social class, and each person's rank in society was based on merit. The nets that were cast to draw those with certain abilities in their respective fields was a large one. If one was gifted in science, they would not be left behind, but supported and even backed by the state. If another was a good with their hands and at crunching numbers, they would become architects, or engineers. Even the status and role of women didn't stop them from achieving certain objectives. For example, the Soviets had a woman orbiting space far before Americans ever sent one. I'm not saying one form of government was better, but this was the advantage of communism. However, the greatest disadvantage was the diminished role of the individual, since the state dictated everything, and had an iron grip on every segment of the population, people were feeling squeezed, unable to freely move about. Freedom is a large necessity, and in the Soviet communist ideal, freedom was sacrificed for order and efficiency.
Communism however, did not start with Marx or Engels, but surprisingly, with Plato. During the height of Greek intellectual growth, Plato taught a great many concepts, and actually wrote them down in a book. Since the Greek influence was dominating the Mediterranean region at the time, Plato's Republic had a vast following, even among the non-Hellenic states. In the Republic, Plato actually talks about communism, and the Utopian ideal. As it turns out, Marx and Engels were not geniuses, but well-read individuals who borrowed Plato's concepts, and modernized it, as well as added economics. The original idea, however, was Plato's. Plato mentions the "perfect society" in the republic. In fact, he describes all modes of government, including anarchy, monarchy, tyranny, democracy, and finally his ultimate ideal, which we now call communism. However, Plato's communism was far more influential and extreme then Marx and Engels, or the eventual adaptation of Lenin's and Stalin's. Plato's communism would be composed of 3 main orders, or in effect classes. You would have first, the soldiers, who would follow the Spartan ideal. Basically, they would all be of one class, each generation living within the same accommodations. Few amenities would be included in their homes, and they would be exclusively trained for combat and defense of the nation. Sex would be under strict control, where each couple would have to be chosen by the state, in order to produce the strongest offspring. All the children would be raised together, in one commune, without knowing who their parents were. In turn, when they became the combat generation, they would all be part of one big family, calling each other brothers and sisters, not knowing who their siblings actually happened to be. The state would then choose the couples, based on their strengths, as well as limiting the possibility of inbreeding. The second order, or class, would be that of the merchants and artisans. They would be allowed to live in relative modesty, but with certain amenities. They would be chosen from a pool of youth that showed talent in their given fields. If they were keen as a shoemaker, they would become cobblers, if they had a knack for business, they would become merchants or traders. This order would not be under such stringent control as those of the soldier class, and they would have more personal freedom. However, they would still be under state control. The third, and final order would be the philosophers. They would be the state, making the rules, and enforcing the social order within the society. They would decide on all actions of the state. There would be stringent requirements but if a child was found to have the abilities and gifts, they would be chosen and educated as philosophers. Not only excelling in matters of the state, but also in science, and mathematics, etc. One may notice however, the lack of certain groups in this society. There is a lack of artisans, no poets, painters, or singers. There is also a lack of religion, no priests, or temples or anything of the like. Although this concept may be appealing to some people, one must realize that a great deal of people need religion. Although it's not for all of us, most people could not function properly without some sort of organized religious order in their lives. Without some sort of faith and understanding that comes not out of rationality, but out of the need to believe in something, even if it may seem so irrational.
So as one can see, communism was not an invention of modern times, but has been around since at least as long as Plato, and in certain instances, before that time as well. It has been modified since Plato's extremist example, but at it's root, it remains a similar concept. Democracy has also been around since Hellenic times, and we have all learned this in secondary school, or even before that, so I won't get into details. However, I will say that Plato warned against Democracy, along with other forms of government such as monarchy, and anarchy. The dangers of Democracy, according to Plato, is that it leads to Tyranny. And his words could not have echoed any truer in our world today. Democracy reaches a point where people feel so much freedom, they are complacent towards politics. But this freedom that they feel, comes at a price, and it's the blind eye they have against their leadership. Without realizing it, an influential leader can change the course of the government and lead it straight into Tyranny. We have this in the United States today. The last few decades especially, has resulted in the strengthening of the Federal government.
The United States government, upon creation, was based on loosely associated states, that had limited federal control. Each state had more power the the federal government could have. Basically, the Legistlative branch of government, was far stronger then the Executive branch. However, through checks and balances, at one point, around the late 19th century, all 3 branches of government were relatively equal, with their checks and balances still in place. However, since Franklin D. Roosevelt, we have been headed towards a stronger central government, with weaker state and legislative control. A strong central government is not a bad thing in itself, however, when presented differently, then we are sheep with wool pulled over our eyes. Take Canada, for example, they have a strong central government, and most provinces, except for Quebec, are highly dependent on the state government (Quebec in some ways as well), but Canada does not hide the fact that they are a strong central government. Even socialized Europe, with their stronger governments, doesn't hide that fact. However, here in America, our leaders have lied to us, and trapped us between an ideology on paper, and one that goes against the constitution. Switzerland, however, is not dominated by a strong central government, nor do they claim that fact. The power in Switzerland is distributed through it's member districts, or Cantons (similar to states, but which have more power), and the president is rotated every 7 years among these cantons. Not one state has more power over the other, and the government still functions well under free enterprise and it's healthcare system. I realize that the American Model is not the same, due to the greater population, but my point being that a true federation can exist. Member states joined together, each stronger then the federal government. If our leaders can't agree to the constitution, then let them change it, and lets become socialized, similar to the Canadian model. However, they can't have it both ways, claiming to represent the people, yet going against what we believe.
As one can see, the Democracy that should be part of the American system of politics has collapsed, and become Tyranny. Bush and his gang are going against the mainstream, destroying any credibility, or what was left of it, in the world stage. They are acting unilaterally, and refusing to acknowledge mistakes. Their concept of Neo-conservatism is destroying the foundations of the constitution. They aren't part of any political party, as much as they want to associate themselves as Republicans, they spend more then any Democrat ever did. My next topic will be about the neo-conservative movement and the destruction and internal dessication of the United States. I will also propose some novel solutions.

Saturday, May 29, 2004

Empathy and Oppression

Today, I would like to discuss the lack of a very important characteristic I have observed in the world today. Empathy is a very powerful force, if included as a tool in one's every day life. However, as one looks across this planet, the realization that although optimism may be the current theme, or perhaps the thirst for war and expansion pervasive in a given culture may dominate, what lacks in both scenarios is often times Empathy. One's perspective is forever changed if that person can put themselves in another person's shoes. Not many people have the capacity to try to fully understand the motivation of another, even if it's that of an enemy. Anywhere you look, countless atrocities are being committed, and yet, the ignorance of how negative an impact those can have continue, because of a lack of empathy, a lack of trying to understand another persons motivation.
As I look at the actions that the American government is taking (against our will and that of the worldwide populace), I am reminded how lacking in empathy many of the leaders and their ignorant supporters are. Now I realize, some may think, "oh empathy, what a weak word, I'd be a pussy if I thought that way", but in reality, it's what defines us as human beings. Not to say that chimpanzees or other greater apes, can't relate to such a base emotion, but at least for human beings, we can rationalize our thoughts, and force ourselves to think that way, not as an instinctual reaction, but in a thoughtful and calculating perspective.
When the President of the US, along with his cohorts of ignorance decided to invade Iraq, or when Ariel Sharon, decided to invade Gaza, I doubt they ever paused to think why the negative reaction from the people they were oppressing. Let's be honest, there is no such thing as democratic leadership, when you force your will on somebody else. This is oppression through-and-through, and no semantic dodging can say otherwise.
The Palestinians, especially through the American Media, and probably many other Western media (though not in the same extent), are portrayed as as domestic terrorists, people who are hell-bent on destroying Israel and all it exists for. What we are not being told is that many of the Palestinians are honest, educated people, trying to raise a family in an environment so unstable that the threat of death lingers constantly. The importance of this Palestinian example can be assessed with Empathy towards their cause. If one could put themselves in the shoes of a Palestinian, they would fully understand their plight. The Palestinians are stripped of everything they have, their economy is in shambles, their educational system is in ruins, they are constantly under curfew, their lands are snatched away from them, walls are being to enclose them, water is being diverted away from what fraction of territory is left. Add to this, the constant humiliation, old women and men, being stripped at checkpoints, whole families being stopped and forced to wait for hours going from one village to another, father's humiliated in front of their sons, and countless other such practices. If I was Palestinian, truth be told, I would react the same way. Most of the suicide bombers are highly educated people, some are physicians, lawyers, others undergraduates, almost all of them are highly versed, intelligent individuals. They are not sociopaths or blood thirsty killers, but people who have reached a breaking point. The most dangerous person in the world is one who has nothing.
Now, it may be hard to empathize with Palestinians, because of the difference in their situation, but as an example, imagine, especially if you're North American, that China, decides to invade. Taking America as an example, imagine that in 10 years, China, with the worlds largest standing army, and a strength of a superpower decides, that enough is enough, the world can't stand the American brand of Democracy. Instead, China will invade, and instill their own leader, because they know what's best for the American people. Now, how many American's would just sit at home and take it? All those supporters of Iraq's invasion, or sympathizers of Israel, would suddenly realize, hey, we have to attack these invading Chinese. At least, we have weapons at our disposal, the Second Amendment to the constitution provides us weapons, but imagine an Army of Chinese with automatic weapons, not much match in the suburbs. And we, would do anything to maintain our sovereignty, even if it means suicide bombing.
Although some Islamic extremists do reach the breaking point and justify their actions in the name of their religion, or in the name of Allah or whatever, it doesn't necessarily mean their religion is to blame. You can't judge a people by the religious extremists in their society. An example can be made for Christianity. Jesus never said "I bequeath my will upon you, that should thy nation have the power to control thy world, though shalt forcibly remove those that should stand in thy way". Although Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Ashcroft, Rice, and the rest claim it is the will of the Lord, of of how much they admire Jesus, their actions point otherwise. These people are nothing but ignorant morons. Some may have an education, and perhaps publicly they claim spirituality, but in reality, these people are cold, calculating oppressors.
If Americans realized the extent of our oppression, then we would rise up and have a revolution. I'm not talking about a revolution with arms, or maoist philosophy, but a revolution of passive resistance. Although Gandhi may be dead, his spirit lives on. Anywhere there's oppression, one must fight against it, preferably intellectually. The roots of the United States are a fight against oppression, and here we are, hundreds of years later, facing the same.
One should thus elect a leader, who not only is diplomatic, but also empathetic to the world. One who cares most and has the greatest empathy for it's own citizens, but also realizes the plight of others in the world. These kinds of leaders are scarce, and should they ever be elected, they would be gunned down in a blink of an eye. Real leaders are balancers, they can balance complex issues, without reverting to childish notions such as Good and Evil, God vs Devil, etc.
To arrive at an absolute truth then, one must strive to understand the plight of others, strive to empathize with even their worst enemy. I'm not saying that one should make friends with their enemy, survival is the most important, if it's you against your enemy, then you will fight, if you don't then you're not a successful human being. At some point, we must all stand our ground and fight, but even then, it won't hurt to take a moment to empathise and understand your enemy's perspective. It doesn't take anything away from yourself, or your cause, but it does lead to a greater understanding.
As an Armenian hearing stories of the Genocide (1915-1923) perpetrated by the Ottoman Turks and resulting in the decimation of our population and homeland, there is nothing that could justify such an event. Yet, even then, I can try to empathise and understand why the Turks did what they did. In their own limited mind-set, they thought they were preserving their culture. Their tactics were brutal and inhuman, and nothing can justify those actions, but to come to a greater understanding, one must understand their actions. The same can be said for the September 11th terrorist act. Although the truth behind it is still quite sketchy, and there are a lot of people running around trying to cover it up, the fact is that suddenly, terrorist hit close to home, and people reacted at first out of anger and fear. This is understandable, but at the same time, it's beneficial to try to understand why these group of people did what they did. Why did they terrorize the country, what caused them to attack what most people domestically consider a rather benign populace. Trying to explain it, and empathize and understand their actions, doesn't justify what they did. It just helps to arrive at a greater understanding. There are always 2 sides to everything, one man's evil is another's hero, and somebody's terrorist is another's freedom fighter or martyr. It's not easy for me to try to understand the actions of the Turks, in fact, I battle constantly with myself due to this inner conflict, but ultimately, understating both sides doesn't justify any wrongdoing, or irresponsible actions, it just helps to arrive at a greater understanding of the situation. The same can be said of the Holocaust, Khmer Rouge Massacres, Rwanda, Kosovo (even though now, the sides have turned and it's the Albanians oppressing the Serbs, which even then, it was 50/50, not just only Serbs against Albanians).
An intelligent person can understand the difference between empathy and justification. Just because one can empathize with an enemy, doesn't necessarily mean those actions of one's enemy is justified. Empathy is useful not just with one's enemy, but with anybody else in the planet. Trying to understand the plight of others isn't so difficult if one can, even for a second, place themselves in another persons shoes. At the same time, one must strive to not only empathize, but also understand the culture, read not just newsprint media, but an encyclopedia every now and then to get a full global understanding and perspective.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

First Blog -- Inquiries into why we exist.

Well, this is my first blog, and I'm finding it difficult to start from a certain organized perspective. I guess what I can do is try to include a little information on my background and perhaps the direction most of my future blogs will go.

I am an Armenian, born in Armenia, but raised in America. I currently reside in the states, but have seen enough of the world to realize how amazing the rest of the world is. Even countries that have been vilified are amazing, with great sights to see, and hospitable people. It is not the fault of the educated populace, if the leaders of their government are mindless morons. I can definitely speak for myself when I say, our leaders have gone insane, correction, they have been born insane, and remain that way. I realize this next paragraph may not be a smooth transition, but like I said, it's my first blog and please bear with the lack of organization.
The world is a very chaotic place, and there are many aspects to the world that are difficult to ascertain. Truth is that which is the most relative of all our notions. One man's truth is another man's lie, and so on and so forth. However, in reality, truth can be absolute when looked at objectively. This by far is the most difficult aspect of our lives, trying to live them according to the absolute truth, and the one that we ourselves have created.
How many truths can we deem absolute. I can think of none, because any truth can be contrary to another person's belief. This in fact is a major problem with our train of thought. Most human beings, especially me, are highly conflicted individuals. We have all seen those cartoons with the devil on one shoulder and the angel on the other, instead of thinking about this in good-and-bad terms, it's better to think of it as our inner conflict. This conflict however, does not stay contained but spreads to our everyday lives. There are a few people, perhaps many (see, another internal conflict) that don't have this balance. They have absolute resolve, and almost no conflict within themselves. However, I have noticed that the more education and global understanding a person has, the more conflicted they are internally. After a certain point, you just aren't so sure of everything, because the worst thing that can happen, is one becoming ignorant. You can't blame someone for being ignorant if their background and socio-economic situation prevented them from gaining more education and knowledge, but the worst is a person who becomes ignorant, even with all the resources in their disposal.
Now, I realize so far, I have not been very specific with examples and such, but this alas, is the fragment of philosophy in which we speak metaphysically, and in vague terms. I will, in the course of time, reveal a great many truths, but also the conflicts that come with it. People must realize that whatever I may say, or anybody, including the President of the US, or Prime Minister of England, or even Albert Einstein during his heyday may have said, is not absolute. Opinion is just that, absolute. Opinion is not the truth, even if it's taken by some to be just so.
The Bible for example, (I won't play favorites here, or the Quran, or The Talmud, or the Yanas, etc.) is based on mythology and legend. There may be some absolute truth, but it's just a story, a fable, and yet, billions on the planet swear to this. In the case of the Bible, it's mainly Jewish mythology, which in itself is borrowed straight from Mesopotamian Mythology (Sumerian, Akkadian, Babylonian, etc.), but presented as absolute truth. All the concepts are very vague, and yet, it's all based on faith. Faith is all that's required to render a story to be true or false, but this doesn't necessarily make it absolute truth. Nobody knows what the absolute truth is to the nature of the universe, this in itself is why I myself am an Agnostic.
Agnostic is an important word, because although it doesn't describe or categorize me, it does maintain a level of ignorance, but a level that is productive. Perhaps God exists, perhaps he does not, perhaps the universe is single in nature, or found in multiple realms, of for those of you who know the Ekpyrotic theory, the universe may be one of 2, found in a 5 dimensional structure, with branes moving within, and the colliding of which results in the cyclical nature. My point being, there are perhaps millions of theories as to how we are here.
The ultimate question, thus, is how is it possible that we are here, that we exist? We have all thought of it, and I'm sure even our distant ancestors (perhaps proto-humans, such as homo-erectus, or homo-neanderthalis) also thought of their place and their creation in the universe. Since then, the only thing we've come to realize is that the universe has gotten to be a whole lot bigger, and our impact a whole lot smaller in the greater course of things. Back 100,000 years ago, mankind was just leaving Africa, readying themselves, and I'm sure they thought of their immediate surroundings as the universe, created by who knows what kind of mythical being, and supported on any numerous kind of animal, perhaps an elephant's back, or other such notions. As you fast forward 100,000 years, we now know that the universe in itself, is far older then we once even could have imagined, far larger then our imagination can take us, and far more complex, yet far simpler then we can fathom. We are just simple creatures in this ordinary planet, in this ordinary segment of the ordinary galaxy of an extraordinary universe (unless even our universe is just ordinary, which it may just be). So in effect, our existence is what unified all human beings, along with the answer to why we are here. Some may try to rationalize it through religion or spirituality, other's through science, and some even try to find a heterogeneous theory, mixing the two together. Yet, we are all trying to arrive at one point, and that is understanding why we are here. That is why no single person is any more important than another. Yet, we all have our variances, cultural, personal, professional and this adds to quite a colorful world.
In closing, this blog is one that is not a conclusion in itself, but opens up so many modes of inquiry, that it can continue for years to come. The absolute truth to why we are here, is ultimately unknown, and perhaps may never be fully understood. Even the fact that we are here, can be contested, because if you're a nihilist, then you may think, our existence is essentially nothingness, it's just a random virtual illusion to a dead universe (or whatever is the ultimate harbinger of existence). Sometimes, especially if I'm feeling pessimistic, I do think about this particular view, and it has it's benefits and refinement.
Well, don't try to dissect everything in one sitting, and perhaps you can dwell on the existence of the universe, and our place in it, as countless numbers of our forbearers have and yet end up back where you started from.
Through the course of my future blogs, I will try to really be cross cultural, as you may have already guessed, I live in America (thus the fact I don't write in Queen's English, although if this blogs being read after Queen Elizabeth II's death, then you may call in King's English), but I am not just an American, but a person of this planet, a product of this blue-green gem in the middle of this chaos we call a universe. So bear with me, as I try to reach out for whoever may read this, be it Americans, Brits, Russians, Chinese, Armenians, Papua New Guinans, or whoever. This blog will be universal, and as usual, I will try to be my objective self, and like I said earlier, this may not be absolute objectivity, but I will try to reach as close to it as I can, even if it's sprinkled with some subjectivity.