Partition – Is It Ever A Good Thing?

I live in the United States of America and I am very proud of its melting pot of culture, religion, ethnicity, and political beliefs. In respects to religion, I am a Christian sharing this great land of freedom with Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and Scientologists – among many others. In general, people get along in America counter to what people see on the news and social media – the fact that it is “news” gives you a marker for context. This cohesion is in large part due to economic, social, and geographical cooperation. The fact that all 50 states have relatively fluid borders – sorry Hawaii – allows people to interact and form connections; connections which provide the zest to America’s delicious stew. Not everyone agrees with me on these points and some desire to split away from the red, white, and blue; nearly every election, there is a call for Texas, Northern California, Southern California, Florida, the south, or the north to form their own country. Today, around the world, there are serious calls for partition. To better understand this history of division, I read about one of the most contentious partitions in history – the separation of Palestine and Isreal – in the book O, Jerusalem! By Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre.   

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The partition of Palestine occurred after WWII and was caused by several concurrent events: A British desire to withdraw from the region because of increased retaliation from both Jews and Arabs; reparations for Holocaust victims and Jewish refugees who had no place to go; an increased nationalist movement by Zionists; and the West’s desire to keep communism from gaining a foothold. The United Nations voted to partition the region in 1947 and on May 14th, 1948, the state of Israel became official. Partition began a war that still rages today between Arabs and Jews – the first year of conflict claimed the lives of thousands of men, women, and children. Between 1947 to 1967, the Arabs had the upper hand on the Jews with their control of Jerusalem and major trading settlements. The Jews flipped the table in the War of 1967, and since then they have been slowly suffocating the Palestinians. Today, the state of Israel, with the backing of America, maintains dominance in the region. That dominance results in the persecution of Palestinians and continued hatred between the two groups.

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My question is this – Why was Palestine partitioned in the first place? Why couldn’t the region be one cohesive state with multiple religions like America? Maybe a better question…Why does America support the current state of separation when it goes completely counter to her own beliefs? Another example of the disaster of partition is the formation of Pakistan and India in 1947 which resulted in the death of 600,000 people and today is one of the most dangerous borders in the world. On paper, partition seems like a great idea; divide people based on their differences and then each state will have cohesiveness. The problem is that we don’t live in a bubble and arbitrary borders don’t mean much in real life. When a partition occurs, it is impossible to expel all members of a religion or ethnicity – there will be Jews in Palestine, Arabs in Israel, Hindus in Pakistan, and Muslims in India. The result is an obvious division between states and greater conflict within countries because the “unwanted” groups are seen as “internal outsiders” – separate in identity and a matchbox for intra-neighborhood conflict.

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So is partition ever a good thing? I think not. I think the state can unify people under a common banner of religion, ethnicity, and culture. I am a white-Christian-male, but that doesn’t mean I should have my own country. I am an American and that means that I share a connection with all Americans. The key is a balance between the two extremes; we can respect differences while maintaining a collective identity. So what is the solution to the problems in Palestine and India? To start with, we need to be good role models of statehood – let’s show the world what it looks like to be unique and united at the same time. One of my favorite leaders is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He didn’t push for a separate black nation but pushed for a united America behind a universal belief – the belief that all men are created equal. Is this an easy thing to do? Heck No. Is this something that can work? Heck Yes. Change is slow, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. What’s impossible is unification through division.

 

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Alexander the Exceptional

It’s been a while since I posted about my reading because of my son’s birth and all the complexities that come with a newborn. However, there is no need to panic because I am still keeping up with my daily page goals. My current project is Tackle the Library – Aristotle – the completion date is scheduled for June 12th. Aristotle is the peanut butter to the jelly of Plato – both philosophers form the bedrock of Western thought. To better understand Aristotle, it is essential to decipher his teachings within the context of ancient culture. One way of understanding that context was through my most recent book – Alexander the Great by Philip Freeman. Alexander the Great was the student of Aristotle for three years, and during that time he learned about medicine, philosophy, morals, religion, logic, and art; a breadth of study that led him to be one of the greatest kings of all time.

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Alexander was born in 356 BC to the then Macedonian ruler, King Philip. Macedonia was a northern state of the Greek peninsula and was looked down upon by the more cultured city of Athens. King Philip expanded his territory through an advanced fighting force and paved the way for his son’s conquests. Alexander took over the throne at age 20 after his father was assassinated by a jealous male lover. The young king quickly consolidated his control of Greece and went eastward to conquer the hated Persians. Over the next ten years, Alexander traveled 11,000 miles and established the largest empire up until that point in history; at only 30 years old, he ruled the entire world from Egypt to India.

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All good things must come to an end – at 32, Alexander mysteriously died; some say it was poison while others say it was from natural illness. The death of Alexander led to the eventual decline of the Macedonian empire. Aristotle was eventually pushed out of Athenian society because of his former history with the great king. I marvel at the life of Alexander the Great because he was mature beyond his years. At 25, my average day entailed Facebook and TV. At 25, Alexander’s average day entailed riding a horse into battle and leading thousands of men to victory. I believe Aristotle played a vital role in the great king’s success; throughout Alexander’s campaign, he was concerned with the central tenets of Aristotle’s teachings: political justice, virtue, ethical leadership, and philosophical contemplation. Alexander’s success led to the founding of Alexandria in Egypt – the city became the epicenter of culture and intellectualism in the ancient world.

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For me, the story of Alexander and Aristotle points to one fundamental fact: Mentors and teachers make a big difference in a person’s life, no matter the age. I’m sure we can all think of that favorite teacher from long ago; my favorite teacher fostered a love of writing. What we must ask ourselves is whether we are a mentor in someone’s life right now? Are we passing the baton on to the next generation? Are we equipping our friends and family to live the best lives possible? How are we fostering the future Alexander the Great or even the next Alexander the Exceptional? Like the lighthouse of Alexandria and the great philosopher Aristotle, be a beacon of wisdom for the world.

 

Buddhism for a Christian

As a Christian, I think it is important to have a working knowledge of world religions. Studying a different religion not only expands your understanding of varying beliefs but also helps you appreciate your own spirituality to a greater extent. Some people are wary of studying different religions because they believe it will tarnish their devoutness or lead them astray. In reality, the opposite almost always happens – for example, learning about Buddhism made me appreciate Jesus Christ to a far higher degree. Thanks to my physical therapist, I was recommended an excellent book on Buddhism called Old Path White Clouds by Thich Nhat Hanh. Thich Nhat Hand is a Buddhist monk, and a proliferate author – he wrote this book as a factual biography of the Buddha – heavy on doctrine and light on myths.

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It follows the life of Siddhartha, a wealthy prince who seeks the path of enlightenment and eventually becomes known as the Buddha. The word Buddha actually means “the enlightened one” and this book explains how Buddhism was initially spread throughout eastern India around 450 BC. At that time, many religions believed in various gods and degrees of asceticism – how much humans should avoid or indulge in pleasure. Siddhartha followed the greatest spiritual leaders but was never able to reach enlightenment until he understood the actual source of human suffering.

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What is the central root of human suffering? Ignorance. Not knowing the truth is the cause of all the pain in the world. Well, what then is the truth? The Buddha believed that…

“People were caught in endless suffering because of their erroneous perceptions; they believed that which is impermanent is permanent, that which is without self contains self, that which has no birth and death has birth and death, and they divided that which is inseparable into parts.”

Put in another way, people have the wrong perceptions of the world and hence inaccurate realities of truth. So the next question then is how can one fix their reality? Again the Buddha believed that…

“…the key to liberation would be to break through ignorance and to enter deeply into the heart of reality and attain a direct experience of it. Such knowledge would not be the knowledge of the intellect, but of direct experience.”

This “direct experience” is achieved through mindfulness of the present moment. Complete mindfulness requires one to understand that there is no “self” and that there is no permanence – all things depend on each other in a cyclical-eternal fashion. Understanding this interdependence of life – the Buddha was able to shed all the sources of suffering: fear, anger, hatred, arrogance, jealousy, greed, and ignorance. The Buddha taught his followers to meditate to reach this awareness and connectedness. In a way, Buddhism is more of a philosophy than a religion – there is no soul, higher power, or afterlife; the goal is to reach Nirvana which is complete enlightenment and the extinction of self.

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Buddhism is complex – especially with reincarnation – and what I have described are the main tenets; there are many different schools of thought just like those in Christianity. So how did I apply these Buddhist teachings as a Christian? First off, Christianity teaches that you can not earn your way into heaven and that Jesus Christ is the only way to eternal life. In Buddhism, the individual is responsible for their enlightenment, and the path to salvation is earned rather than gifted. Just that fact makes me want to shout “Praise the Lord for Jesus!” I did, however, find several parallels between Buddhism and Christianity in respects to suffering.

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Jesus, just like the Buddha, teaches that we need to love one another and that we are all interconnected – we fall apart because of fear, anger, hatred, arrogance, jealousy, greed, and ignorance. I also took away the important message of impermanence and mindfulness. Nothing on this earth is forever, and this life is just a blip on the map of eternity; we shouldn’t be sad about death because it is transient. We must be mindful of the present because it not only makes us more aware of our blessings but it gives us a glimpse of what eternity will actually feel like – no past or future. I actually have been meditating more, and it helps me with gratitude, calms my mind, and rids me of thoughts that cause suffering. No matter what you believe, learning about different religions will always give you a greater sense of the world and the human condition.

What’s Your Prescription?

I have worn glasses since my sophomore year in college. At first it took some time getting used to them framing my everyday life. They would fog up during the winter. They would smudge whenever Christina gave me a big fat kiss. They would distinguish me from my Mom, Dad, and Sister who all had great vision. After awhile though, I became use to them and I actually embraced them as a new identity. In time, I would realize that we all wear glasses in some shape or form. All the things that we have experienced in life – personal encounters, adversities,  blessings, life lessons – frame the way we view our world. That is why there are so many different viewpoints. Everyone has a different prescription and their proverbial glasses are crafted by their unique existence. These “glasses” make some people view life in a optimistic manner while a different pair makes the world appear very gloomy. One person could have a prescription that makes them campaign for Trump while another person could have a prescription that makes them campaign for Hillary. Now, there is nothing wrong with wearing glasses, and everyone, no matter how wise they are, has a prescription.

There is however a point at which a person’s eyesight is so bad and their glasses so bulky that they are unable to see very much at all. These are the people who many would call ignorant. Some ignorance is good and some is bad. Good ignorance, in my opinion, is not knowing the daily depression that always inundates the news. Bad ignorance is thinking that you know all the answers, that your way of doing things is the best, and that you are better than other people. Having a limited perspective makes life very difficult – there are few frames of reference for the range of emotions and thoughts experienced on a daily basis. For example, if I had no understanding of the suffering that takes place in the slums of India, I may feel apt to dramatize my own menial discomforts. Alternatively, I would be quick to rage if all I knew in life was the continual cycle of revenge and the coping mechanism of blame. For these reasons, it is imperative that we all improve our prescriptions – from the bulky thick lenses of our myopic desires – to the sleek frames of farsighted sagaciousness. So how do we go about improving our world perspective? First and foremost we must read things that take us out of our normal-intellectual circle. If you love Fox News pick up a book written by a liberal professor. If you love The Huffington Post, read a book by Bill O’Reilly. Read often because as Theodore Roosevelt said, “I am part of everything that I have read.” Second, travel as much as you can. See places in the world that make you appreciative of your own life and more respectful towards cultural differences. Thirdly, give your time to others. Giving to others is one of the greatest ways of looking at life through another person’s glasses. The better your prescription gets, the more you will realize how far you can see past your previous level of ignorance. Remember one important fact. Getting a better prescription is not a passive experience. Gaining years is not a free pass to wisdom. To truly see the background and the foreground one must consciously step out of their crisp-comfort zone and take a step forward into a  blurry-quagmire of endless opportunity.

3 books that helped improve my prescription:

  1. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  2. The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs
  3. Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo

The Upside of Down

What makes America great? Is it the people? The beautiful landscape? The election process? I think a lot of citizens define the greatness of America through her economic and military prowess. Over the past 10 years there has been a lot of news about America’s dominance fading in the world. I hear things like, “China owns half of our country!” “Their is a new Cold War with Russia!””There are going to be taco stands at every corner!” “All of our jobs are being shipped overseas!” I never really looked into these claims before so I wanted to read a book about the true economic status of the developed world compared to the developing. I picked up The Upside of Down: Why the Rise of the Rest is Good for the West by Charles Kenny. Kenny was previously a senior economist at the World Bank and is now a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development and writes for Bloomberg Businessweek and Foreign Policy magazines. To put it simply, this guy knows his stuff.

First off, China is definitely going to surpass the United States economy very soon – some economists argue that is has already happened. The math is simple: China has 1.3 billion people and the United States has roughly 350 million people. That is a billion more workers and consumers with an ever widening middle class that is ready to spend.

“…by 2030 the world will have four major economic players. China will be the heavyweight, with a share of global GDP around 24 percent (measured at purchasing power parity). Next will be India, the European Union and the United States – each with 10 to 12 percent of the global output. Brazil, Indonesia, and Japan will each control a little more than 3 percent of global GDP.”

Should this fact worry the United States? Not at all. It is great news. For one, the average Chinese or Indian will one day be able to buy more products from the United States. With more money flowing into America, there will be more jobs created and more services needed. Second, countries with large economies love trade agreements – allowing them to easily import and export. This increases alliances and decreases the risks of wars. Thirdly, with greater partnerships with other countries, the United States can reduce military spending and focus more on improving quality of life measures for her citizens (health care, infrastructure, worker benefits, etc.).

Now what about all the worries of immigration and jobs being taken by the “rest” of the world.

“…US offshoring may have been responsible for a 1.6 percent decline in manufacturing jobs over the period 1997 to 2007, but the impact on long-term productivity may actually increase employment (which may also be better paid). The idea is that firms save money by offshoring, which, by allowing them to sell more for less, increases both their own revenues and the revenues of those that purchase the goods they sell. As a result, they can hire more people, or their shareholders have more money to buy goods and services from other Americans.”

Yes, America has lost jobs overseas but the economy as a whole has benefited immensely from affordable goods and greater domestic purchasing power – the result being a net increase in job creation. So what about jobs at home being taken by immigrants? The United States attracts some of the best and brightest students from around the world. Our universities, with the help of foreign students, foster innovation that continues to make America a leader in patents and technology. Immigrants are vital to our growing economy, because as earlier explained, the number of people in a country is one of the biggest factors in economic health. With an aging population and a decreasing birth rate, the United States should be happy to take all the skilled labor she can get. What about the “illegal” immigrants? Shouldn’t we build a wall? It was found that immigrants from Mexico do not take jobs from Americans but rather help create new jobs (click here for clear example). By paying less for labor, businesses have more money for investments, purchases, and new job creation. Furthermore, between 2009-2014 there was net loss of Mexicans leaving the United States. This is due to an improving Mexican economy and better family reunification programs. It was found that increased border control actually increased the number of illegal immigrants in the country; due to the fact that it was harder for Mexicans to reenter their country.

All of this points to the need for more investment and economic teamwork throughout the world. We should not become a isolated country that is afraid of immigrants or the success of other countries. We need to remember that immigrants founded this country and that the rise of the rest is good for the west. If you liked this article please a related post, The World is Flat.

 

I Think Therefore I Am Not

“I think therefore I am” was the famous phrase coined by French Philosopher René Descartes. Essentially, Descartes  was saying that no one can deceive him that he does not exist because any conscious thought of his own accord proves his existence. But what if he consciously thought that he didn’t exist? Would he still technically exist? Confused yet? This tidbit of philosophy is a great introduction into the world of the “self.” What makes you-you? Is it conscious thought, narrative experiences, memories, or just the ability to experience things in the first-person? Thanks to my friend Megan, who bought me The Man Who Wasn’t There: Investigations into the Strange New Science of the Self by Anil Ananthaswamy I have a better understanding of what makes us-us. 

We all have an inclination of what our “self” represents. On the surface, our “self” is the culmination of our thoughts and experiences in the past, present, and future. We also have a physical “self” that comprises our body and a model of how the physical world should function (when I hear a noise outside I know that is not self-produced but coming from some other source). This basic thinking of the self stems from philosophers who connected the self with conscious thought and shaped western ideology of the mind-body connection. Unfortunately, the “self” is not that simple especially when disorders of the brain give us very different pictures of reality.

Would you pay someone 20,000 dollars to have your healthy leg-amputated? You may think this is a crazy question but there is a disorder known as Body Integrity Identity Disorder (BIID) where people feel that certain parts on their bodies are not their own. Individuals with BIID, from an early age, can pinpoint the exact place on their body that feels alien and many go to extremes to remove what doesn’t seem their own-there are several reports of people laying out on train tracks or paying foreign doctors to excise healthy legs or arms. Does BIID bring into question the “self” as defined by the body we inhabit? What about people with Cortad’s Syndrome who believe they are dead. Individuals with Cotard’s have no desire to eat, drink, or do anything (including committing suicide) because they believe that they no longer exist. So would this scenario disprove Descartes-“I think therefore I am not.” Going along with questioning Descartes, do individuals with Alzheimer’s disease have a “self” if they are incapable of conscious thought? What about Schizophrenics who have multiple “selfs”? Even weirder, people who have out-of-body experiences where they can view themselves through the third-person, or communicate with their own doppelgänger. Is their self fixed, split, or dynamic in the conscious mind and physical world?

All of these maladies of the self can be explained by dysfunctions of certain areas of the brain and help explain all the dimensions that make up the self: “our narrative, our sense of being agents of our actions and initiators of our thoughts, our sense of ownership of body parts, our sense that we are our emotions, our sense of being located in a volume of space that is our body… all of these can be argued as comprising the self-as-object.” Beyond the self-as-object is still the self-as-subject. In all the aforementioned maladies there is still an “I” which is experiencing and this is always present regardless of consciousness. Who am I? What is the most reducible version of the “self.” It isn’t our physical body or our ability to think but rather something irreducible and essentially undefinable. The self is always present but intangible to objective measurements. I think the poem, “Nirvana Shaktam” by Indian Philosopher Adi Shankara best explains the “self.”

I am not the mind, nor the intellect, nor any entity that
identifies self with ears, tongue, nose or the eyes;
Not even perceived by space, earth, light or the wind.

So is there a self or is there not a self? I believe there is a self and it’s greatest reduced component is the soul. Of course, the soul is not scientific but science cannot explain the self entirely through states of consciousnesses or physical dimensions. Buddhists and many philosophers do not believe in the self-rather they believe the self is a made up manifestation to help explain our personal subjectivity of the world. So why does this philosophical question matter at all? It matters because understanding the self can help us understand the way we interact with the world. Are we just a body walking around with a library of thoughts? Are individuals who have maladies of the self negatively disordered or just neutrally different. Simply put, what you define as “self” will dictate  what you deem important in life and your interactions with people on a daily basis.