Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Whirlpool and the Interconnectedness of Life

Black and white circles of Tao

You never step into the same whirlpool twice went through my head while one of the whirlpool jets was giving me a much needed back massage. There was a limit of thirteen people per whirlpool (a biblical number as well as one of superstitious precaution) and at that particular time there were six, including me. Everyone was minding their own water space and paying little attention to others.

In fact, that was all right with me. The whirlpool is my personal treat for fulfilling my given laps of swimming. I always go and do this alone and treat it as a serious and focused endeavor. In other words, I go with the hopeful intention to get myself into a somewhat acceptable body shape, and more often than not, I end up walking out refreshed while slightly sore.

So I rarely, in fact almost never, strike up a conversation. I see it as a strict and unwavering business deal I have with myself and not as a social event. I do not go to meet people or to chit-chat or philosophize. The few times people talk to me I either nod or smile and generally pretend to know no English. It gets me out of unwanted conversations rather easily. I am not usually that anti-social except when I am in and around the swimming and whirling pool.

But the words I lack in speaking, I make up for in heady thoughts. Some of my (dare I say better) blog inspirations have come from and during swimming pointlessly from one end of the pool to the other. Some ideas pop up while I am sweating in the sauna or relaxing in the hot tub. This post is both dedicated to the process of my writing and inspiration while also being one of its offbeat offspring.

As Heraclitus famously stated the river we enter is never the same as moments before, and this shows us the flexibility and the constant changes of life. Every moment is unique and has its own rhythm and tune as well as its idiosyncratic beat of synchronicity. Not only do the externals change, but so do we inside. The “me” who started this post is slightly different from the one that is finishing it. Put differently, I am now different because of my contact and interaction with particles of the external world.

But I think the image of a whirlpool is even more convincing than the river. Although it is limited in space, the water is constantly whirling in front of our eyes, and it touches and leaves our skin in constant flow.

So as we are sitting each at our jet stream minding our own business, even avoiding any accidental eye contact, all this time our bodies are connected or interconnected in this fluid pool. In fact, it is a strangely intimate scene. The water that has touched me is already in contact with the person next to me. It is like the mysterious aether of old except in a liquid form.

It must have been a rather good workout that afternoon, but I felt that life was the same way: an interconnected ebb and flow of situations. We may live in different parts of the world and have our own preoccupations and stresses, but at the end of the day, the world is a whirlpool. It pulsates with life, but each action ripples across the universe (to borrow a Beatles phrase) and all this will have an effect on us as well.

Evidently, the events will differ in intensity and degree, but eventually whatever is done will have an impact on you even if you are an anti-social and taciturn whirlpooler. This can be seen politically as well on significant changes and damages we cause on our environment through pollution and its aftereffects in the form of global warming. Not to mention the veritable possibility of freely and generously sharing bacteria and viruses in the limited watery space.

But the good is equally interconnected. The happiness that we exude and sometimes create in others will also spread its vibes across the whirlpool. It will touch the person next to you. Maybe they will not be aware of it, but it has come into contact with them; it has left its imprint on their skin.

And as time goes by and lives are lived, the whirlpool is still whirling. (Do they ever change the water I sometimes wonder?) It contains and stores the memories and events, and everything is waiting to come into contact with the next person who enters its stream. And that is not limited to the living, but includes the dead and their dusty after-remains. We may believe that we are islands upon ourselves, but we are connected via water and air, and no one is exempt or left out. 

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Genocide, Terrorism and the Idea of Justice

A lonely person with black umbrella at the snow-covered beach

That genocide and terrorism are inherently and morally wrong and should be condemned and censured sharply is evident and beyond doubt. Here I will try to give a purely rational explanation of how both genocides and terrorist acts are in essence unjust and never justified. I will not look at their moral or political ramifications, but will focus merely on the issue of justice. My goal is to prove that such acts should never be allowed under any circumstances as they oppose and contradict the very idea of justice.

So to start off, what do we mean by justice? In terms of religion, justice is equated with the adage of eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth. Philosophically, we are struggling to come up with a clear definition since Plato. Our common sense notion might be close to that of the Bible, which has clearly affected and influenced our moral views. So let us claim in rather simplistic terms that justice occurs when good people and their acts are rewarded, while evil people and their acts need to be punished. We will for the sake of argument accept the biblical notion of “eye for an eye” for punishment. Again, I am not looking for a just sentence, but am simply considering whether the action can be considered just in and by itself.

Accordingly, I will reach conclusions here that I disagree with morally, but that are at least in some measures deemed just. Case in point is the death penalty. Assuming that the guilt of the accused is proven beyond any reasonable doubt, then it could be considered a just act. It may be cruel, but it falls in line with the idea that justice has been served. Equally, to cut off the hand of a person who robs according to Islamic law may be justice taken to an unnecessary extreme, yet the person in question has indeed broken the law. For the sake of our discussion, we are leaving motivations and intentions aside as they fall into moral, psychological or philosophical territories.

Before we reach the first issue of genocide, let us examine war first. Motivations for war are not important here, but merely its practice. In a war, the soldier has under the circumstances the right to kill an enemy soldier. It becomes a just act to kill others as both soldiers represent their countries at war with each other. But it is unjust to enlarge the field to include civilians. Civilians, if unarmed, ought not to be included in this contract of war. If a soldier kills women and children, he or she is acting in an unjust manner. Although those civilians are part of the warring country, they ought to be exempt.

In this line of thinking, bombings become unjust acts. They kill indiscriminately, and they kill civilians. If you bombed the military headquarters or the parliament, it could be seen as just because those people are officially at war with each other. In that sense, the greatest injustice of all time has been the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which specifically and purposely targeted civilians even if it was meant to end the war and bring Japan to its knees.

So what about genocide? It is evidently unjust because it involves a wide range and circle of people that ipso facto must include a great number of innocent beings. Whether you are targeting Jews, Kurds, or Gypsies, these people are seen and treated as an oversimplified or generalized idea. They are grouped according to their ethnicity. Ethnicity is not something one has choice or say over. You are born to a race and country and to claim that you deserve to die because of something that is completely outside of your control, such as your birth, is wholly unjust.

That includes any type of racially motivated killing as in that case we are putting everyone both the innocent and the guilty in the same pot. It claims to work under the simplistic and extremely dangerous idea that everyone thinks and feels alike if they are from a given race or culture. Although there may be common traits or features among their people, this is generally not true.

In our idea of justice, stereotypes cause injustice as they cannot be applied indiscriminately to all within the group. It would be like punishing your innocent relative with death for the murder that you yourself have committed. In that sense, the biblical notion that sins of the father are inherited by their children is unjust since we do not want to punish those who did not commit any misdeed; their only transgression is to be part of a family or culture, but they are themselves, unless proven otherwise, innocent and blameless.

The same criteria ought to be applied to religions. To claim that all Christians, Jews or Muslims are all alike within their own belief systems is a great folly. There are different branches including radicals and fundamentals in each category, as there are also hundreds of millions who do not wish harm, destruction or religious conquests. Again to kill people merely because of their belief system is another great form of injustice. Not all people under the same banner of religion necessarily think and act alike.

Finally, we reach the issue of terrorism. Now terrorist acts that are not indiscriminate might be seen as just. I know that this is controversial and again I do not agree with it, but I could see politically motivated assassinations as just under certain circumstances. If you kill a politician because they have passed a law that puts innocent people in danger it might be seen as a just act. In other words, these politicians due to the nature of their jobs may put themselves in the line of fire the same way a soldier does. A president's life may be in danger because of their exposure. Those kinds of assassinations cannot be a priori considered as unjust. Those who had attempted against Hitler's life ought to be considered heroes because they were driven by ideas of justice and because their target was a person who is truly guilty.

Yet when it comes to modern terrorism, it is an act of pure injustice. To kill innocent civilians in order to get one's message across is always wrong. I do not subscribe here to utilitarian ideas. The end can never justify the means in terms of justice, so the death of a single innocent person cannot be accepted no matter how noble the cause may be. Instances like the World Trade Center or more recently the Boston bombings are completely unjust and cannot be justified as they claim innocent lives.

Now the terrorist may justify his actions by explaining that there are many innocent people dying in his home country due to the unjust actions of the government of the targeted nation. That may be so, but you cannot claim that each and every citizen is responsible for their government even in a democratic society. For instance, George W. Bush had about a fifty percent vote in his favor. That also meant that about half of the country did not vote for him! We are talking about a hundred million people who might not support him, his party or his policies.

That aside, among those who voted for him, there must be at least some percentage of people who may disagree with his foreign policies. To claim that people deserve to die because they are from a given country is unjust whether it is done by terrorists or by Americans and other Westerners. The implicit idea of terrorism might be to create fear and panic so that citizens put pressure on their own government. That may be so, but that does not give anybody permission to kill innocent people in the process.

As we can see, I believe that it becomes clear that there are absolutely no justifications for genocide or terrorism. Both of them are in direct contradiction to the ideas of justice. Since innocent people are killed in an indiscriminate manner, we cannot ever allow any of this to occur in the world. Evidently, such acts also disregard human rights, the right to life and freedom as well as moral issues. I believe that all killings are morally wrong, but I could be swayed to at least accept that certain killings or even wars may be necessary or be for the necessary good of others. But when it comes to innocent people dying in the process, I cannot ever condone it regardless of race, religion, or nationality.