Wednesday, June 4, 2014

June 4, 1989

The Tank Man, June 5, 1989
The world is closing in
Did you ever think
That we could be so close
Like brothers.

Scorpions - Wind of Change

It's a quiet day in Beijing, China. The air is impregnated with disillusion,
hopelessness, and the numbing smell
of death. The people's composure as they run their errands is the one that characterizes the vanquished after a lost battle.
A file of tanks suddenly appears cranking down Chang'an Avenue in a parading order, directed towards the north section of Tiananmen Square. The tanks are zigzagging victoriously along the avenue in the ultimate act of mockery towards the civilians in the streets of Beijing and of every revolting city in The People's Republic of China, just like Achilles tying Hector's heels to a chariot and dragging his dead body in the dust.
Until something happens, unexpected: one man alone, with two shopping bags as his only weapons, stands in the street forcing the proud march of the tanks to an inglorious and embarrassing halt.
As the tanks try to move on around the man, he moves too and keeps standing in their way, forcing the whole column of tanks to shut off their engines and wait, powerless.
This happened on June 5, 1989, one day after the Chinese government's violent act of repression against thousands of protesters in Tiananmen Square, a repression that, only apparently, had forced the People of the Republic of China on their knees. If some had surrendered to the government's will, not everyone resigned to a fate of open derision.

The day before, on June 4, 1989, Deng Xiaopeng, after declaring Martial Law on May 20, ordered the troops to clear Tiananmen Square: by dawn there should be no more students occupying the square. The space became a battlefield where only one side was armed and attacking, while the other ran defenseless in all directions for their lives. Students and workers, women and men who were pacifically trying to block the army from entering Tiananmen Square, where about a million were protesting against the government's corruption and for more freedom of speech and thought, were shot and wounded. Some journalists who were reporting the facts for the rest of the world also barely made it alive. Several civilians were killed. Corpses, blood stains, and cars on fire made a new scenario that night.
At about 2am on June 4, all the lights in Tiananmen Square were turned off by military order. Shots echoed in the dark mixed with screaming and sounds of human pain. When the light came on again, it was a bloodshed.
The People of China had been ruthlessly defeated. 

Today is June 4, 2014. We remember the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre and the brave act of millions of students who protested and marched pacifically for two months.

We remember the brave act of a single man who stood against the "iron feet of oppression", and blocked them, and mocked them in front of the entire world.
No one knows what happened to that man, but history logic tells us that he was probably never identified, never found, never caught, never killed.

Whether it is so or not, this is the ending we all would like to imagine.


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Wind of Change

November 1989 - The Fall of the Berlin Wall
I remember the stories my father would tell me about his car trips to Yugoslavia and Eastern Europe, not too far from home and practically to the other side of the Iron Curtain.

"We used to drive through Slovenian villages, raiding the winding countryside roads hoping to find our direction in the thick Communist fogs. Not a single lamppost or road sign stood on the streets between towns. Passing through customs on a pitch black night, officers would ask us for passports and open the trunk for inspection while we prayed they wouldn't find a reason to hold us there. We would then drive into a half-sleeping townlet for eggs and steak, and the locals observed our moves with suspicious and nervous looks from the depths of their bony eye-sockets. It was scary."

As I recall, images flood through my mind: black and white Potsdamer Platz, Berlin, the wall dividing East and West Germany, headlines on Gorbachev's meeting with Deng Xiaopeng, the characteristic film colors of the photographs taken with heroic Lumix and Pentax single-lens reflexes, the fearless reporters who risked their lives hiding film from military officials in the most unlikely spots in bullet-riddled hotel rooms, the courage that brought awakened masses to march in the true name of democracy and freedom of speech.
If it's true that the masses get often trapped in mass psychoses of majestic proportions and devastating consequences, it is just as true that, at times, masses can act under the influence of a great idea, of intellectual enlightenment. Back then, they did.

What has changed?
We have Apple products now and street cameras everywhere. Our life reached unprecedented levels of comfort. But wars, injustice, and class divisions are still here. Back then, access to information was blocked whenever someone thought it convenient. Now, an overflow of information makes it more difficult to distinguish what has been manipulated and what hasn't.
Violence is still here and, possibly, in higher amounts; part of it has become digital, and where it hasn't, it occurs in the forms of femicide, religious conflicts, and whatnot. We are being constantly monitored, much more than we were before and in subtler ways. 
Renovated Nazi forces, Golden Dawns, Ukip's, and Dutch Freedoms are hauling Europe into a maze of perdition; this is not mass enlightenment.

I often ask myself, "Has it all really changed for the better?"
That is when my father's stories come back to mind again. When it happens, I realize that today I do not have the luxury to get lost in the same thrilling country fogs, stopping by the first forlorn town for eggs and steak with friends, trying to decipher the curves and straight lines of an old and yellow road map as our old car chugs on. That has changed, and it shouldn't have.
Something else hasn't changed.
And it should have.


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Haikus - Life in Three Verses

If we ventured to explain the difference between prose and poetry, we could say that poetry is the quintessence of prose; poetry is prose filtered and rid of the inessential, in order to obtain purity of forms, meanings, and feelings. Now, filter poetry through the fine sand and gravel layers of an alembic, and the few, rare distilled drops of ether that fall into the ampoule are haikus.

A poem does not have to be perfect; a haiku does. A poem can be lenghty, a haiku must not; traditional haikus develop in three lines of five, seven, and five syllable respectively, for a total number of seventeen syllables; this was possible for the composition of the traditional Japanese haikus, but the English language has almost never adopted this tradition. My personal interpretation of this is a much lower sense of perfection the western world has always had compared to the Japanese traditional approach to any life quests.
Yet, a haiku must be made of three verses (two, exceptionally) and, in the simplest form, it must express the Meaning of Life.

Many of us enjoy composing haikus, just like poems, from daily or nightly impressions, dreams, facts of life, or personal experiences. Yet, these short compositions rarely are true haikus. Most of the time they are too complicated, forceful, and do not abide by the simplicity that defines haikus. Very often, just as it happens for most poems, they fail to offer a meaning of life that is universal and applicable, either by analogy, metaphor, simile, opposition, or whatnot to the life of each and every living or non-living being in the universe.
Following are some examples of the most beautiful haikus made by Japanese traditional haiku poets:

In the cicada's cry
no sign can foretell
how soon it must die.
- Basho - 

Blowing from the west
fallen leaves gather
in the east.
- Buson -

I kill an ant
and realize my three children
have been watching.
- Kato Shuson -

Over the wintry
forests,  winds howl in rage
with no leaves to blow.
- Soseki -

Even with insects -
some can sing,
some can't. 
- Issa -

Now, famous haikus by western poets and writers:

I went in the woods 
to meditate -
it was too cold.
- Jack Kerouac -

Everyone stands alone on the heart of the earth
pierced by a ray of sun;
and suddenly, it is evening. 
- Salvatore Quasimodo -

Among twenty snowy mountains,
the only moving thing
was the eye of the blackbird.
- Wallace Stevens -

Missing a kick 
at the icebox door
It closed anyway  
- Jack Kerouac -

Composing haikus is an exercise any of us can do. As we walk down a street or a nature path, while sitting on a couch or bench, in winter or fall, a haiku can be found anywhere at anytime. Yet, discovering it becomes possible only if we rid ourselves of the unessential, if we seek perfection and the universal idea behind each smaller fragment of reality, ultimately understanding that only through the particular can we access the universal.


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

10 Stratagems to Win a Confrontation and Prove Yourself Right

Raphael - The School of Athens
To say that dialectic is the art of speaking is to reduce this discipline into a very broad and, at the same time, limited category. Speaking is an art, yet we all speak. It hardly follows that we all speak with art; although some speak artfully, art is different in that it involves aesthetic and the concept of beauty.

Dialectic represents, instead, a powerful ability of expression, a set of skills that our mental faculties and our personality have inherited after years and years of conditioning, training and a natural-born disposition towards the spoken word. The aims of dialectic are not necessarily concerned with speaking beautifully and other flourishes. Dialectic and, using Schopenhauer's terminology, eristic dialectic are the art of using any possible rhetorical tools to prove yourself right. Even if you are not. Mind, dialectic does not aim at demonstrating truths. The necessity of proving a point, or a thesis, usually stems from someone else's attempts to dismantle said thesis. Dialectic, then, consists of a series of powerful weapons to be used without moral scruples in the context of a debate, with one precise scope: to win.

Following are ten key dialectical stratagems that can be used in a one-to-one public debate. The stratagems are only a few among the many obtained from my study of two essential works: Aristotle's The Art of Rhetoric and Arthur Schopenhauer's The Art of Being Right, with some filtering from the works of other philosophers and rhetors:

I) Amplify:
Bring the opponent’s statement beyond its natural limits. Give it the most general interpretation; the more general, the more exposed to confutation the opponent’s thesis will be. Your thesis, on the contrary, must be as specific and particularized as possible. 

II) Exception
Use the only principle for which a universal case is not valid, and the case will be demolished.
e.g. - All ruminants have horns.
      - Camels are ruminants and have no horns.
III) Interrupt and get off to another topic
If the opponent is about to defeat us with a strong argument, we must prevent him from concluding it: interrupt his argumentation or get away from it into something else. 

IV) Retorsio Argumenti:
Use against your opponent an argument he tried to use to support his thesis.

V) Argumentum ad Auditores
Use this strategy when an audience knows less than the debaters:
-          Advance a non-valid or incorrect objection: the audience does not know enough to see the inconsistency of your objection.
-          Make your opponent look or sound ridiculous: when people smile or laugh thanks to you, they will side with you. 

VI) Anger
If the opponent shows signs of anger within a certain argument, insist on that, even if you don’t know why the opponent is reacting that way. The advantages are:
 a) anger implies loss of control.
 b) an angry reaction means we have hit a weak spot.

VII) Invent
Ignorant people love Latin and Greek expressions, even though they are not familiar with them. Simply invent quotations to your advantage.

VIII) Retorsio Argumenti
Use against your opponent an argument he tried to use to support his thesis.

IX) Cunning Stupidity:
Something stupid stated in a serious and educated way can put your opponent in trouble.   

X) Insult:
When you realize you’re being defeated: insult, offend, attack your opponent at a personal level.
      e.g. The opponent states: “This proves that suicide is absolutely justifiable.”
                You reply: “Then go hang yourself!”.

Would you like to suggest more?