Friday, August 24, 2007

Two Random Shots

Horsing Around
There was a surge in human consciousness around a certain age that spawned great civilizations: the Mesopotamian, Chinese and Indus civilizations. How they happened as near-simultaneous occurrences is anybody’s educated guess. The more current view was of an Indo-European nation of horsemen that reached Europe, China and India so that similar and near simultaneous surges could be observed. The revisionist view—based on re-reading a bull-inscribed artifact as that of a horse—is that the horsemen started from the Indus valley and went to the other areas. Whichever way you take it, both versions are linked to horses. A more intriguing angle would be to ask what is at stake in all this horseplay that potentially links great civilizations to living groups of people. If one were to generalize it, our definitions of what/who we are and are not, if done without a constant self-reminder of our imaginations of the 'other' on whom we rebound our defintions of ourselves, could easily slip into seemingly definitive and yet trite ethnophobic horseplay.

Ancient Futures: A Parable on modernity
There was once a brush-dappled hill with water-lined clefts sourced by perennial springs. The river at its foot would wax and wane with the seasons. Life abounded lacking only human presence. We then, on moving in and in needing to do so, tapped into its beat-the hill provided our essentials-so that life was synchronous in its diversity. Over time, the human population grew exponentially--after all, we don’t just hunt and gather-which in turn imperiled the precarious synchronicity because the hill refused to reciprocate. Our ingenuity conjured up attitudes and ways of being that would hopefully minimize the human demands on the hill. And then something almost irreversible happened.

Yards of barbed-wire crisscrossed the hill's face marking off my land from your land. Concrete structures were needed to house comfort and utility. In a word, life was different but nonetheless a lot easier and convenient. I just felt this urge to better my lot and so had to widen my network--got wired, got mobile, got miles, got plastic--effectively raising the bar for keeping up with the Chhakchhuaks. The race was on but beneath its din, the hill-clefts had become lined with a lifeless trickle of excesses. Peeping out of the slush and among an occasional Zepdyl bottle, I noticed a crumpled piece of paper with the picture of a bald and bespectacled man.
In the footsteps of one I consider an exponent of the 'parable', let me also expand: 'Ancient Futures' is the title of a rather readable book...nothing original about it. I also think this exponent used his parables to say things differently while spanning the intended range of his ideas. He was eliciting the engaged response of his listeners...remember his famous question, "Which of these three was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?" Moreover, the symbols are used suggestively rather than prescriptively so as tease out creative interpretations hopefully to make meaning-making more democratic and dynamic.
Having listed my caveats, modernity's promises of a 'better' life hold water to an extent but at many points are delusional because that life is based on homogenized commodifications that prey on the human instinct for want. 'Ancient Futures' does not romanticize an irretrievable past but suggests future possibilities within that which has been erased in our rush to modernise or chide others for not being a 'changkang' people.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Considering Value

These pics taken at various places are strung to serve, hopefully, as appetizers for a possible snorer on some IMMEDIATE reactions to recent discussions on a rather popular Mizo blogsite. .

How does one calibrate 'value'? The world of ‘objective’ science and commerce proffers fastidious scales notched with fancy Greek symbols so that, for instance, when I pump air into a set of tires, the numbers qualified by the Greek 'Psi' symbol helps determine my satisfaction for the work done. And yet our human world is a little more complicated and (only) less innocent than the quantifiable world of science and commerce. On flashing one’s symbols of value, it is often unsettling to realize that the significations resonate rather ambiguously leaving one to either doubt or attempt to steamroll one’s calibration over the nay-sayers. Still yet, the dust kicked up as one reacts to the ambiguity seems to refract one’s attention to a divergent tangent of power because it underlines who does the calibration and according to whose subjectivity the calibration is done. This is power not in its concretized occurrence as brute force but rather in terms of the definitive ability to control the actions and reactions of another that, in so many ways, underlines much of human activity and configuration. In calibrating something as being of value, one taps into a discourse of power that would help project one’s choices, actions and ideals as having a definitive grip on others, if not one’s own self. The jostling for value, in a way, then caricaturizes one’s own subjective standing in a discourse of power and how one chooses to define that standing.
Power is abstracted so that if one were to discuss value, ‘power’ itself would never surface in the course of the negotiation. When protesting student-groups are lathi-charged by policeman who for all their brutality could by all means deeply empathize with the students, it is a clash of values—a value for which the students protest and a value which the policemen want to protect. Snuggled somewhere subliminally is power that rarely surfaces or is ever culled out. If one were to move beyond the lathi-charge, the list is endless: who’s the insider and the outsider, whose knowledge is more efficient and relevant, etc.
With power being so pervasive, one might also see that in the jostling for ‘value’-able space, one would be just replacing x for y while innocently oblivious of one's impulse to influence or control (as altruistic and well-intentioned as they may be).
Also, a dilettante embracing of the ‘obvious’ without a careful handle on its ‘intrinsic’ could inadvertently lead to robbing Peter to pay Paul. Point in case is that our projections of options almost never are flat. With all these red flags up, values do help orient our sense of worth and direction and I would still hold on to the things I hold valuable. And yet, the problematic of the innocent and universal ‘value’ does continue to prompt me to caution-that values, if they are to be definitive beyond my own self, are negotiated rather than confrontational.

Some other possible after-thoughts:

-Power and knowledge

-Anonymity and power (those e-aliases and nix are telling)

-The finer art of chopping vegetables so that they cook evenly...just thought it might help my indigestion!!