Thursday Morning Philosophy

Thoughts this morning, as the first sips of caffeine dillute quickly into my blood stream, the hazy sunrise behind the hills washed away by the increasingly bright, yellow sun.

An interesting discussion this morning on the local television news broadcast here in Yunnan, China, about the relationship between China and Russia, on the eve of former Russian President Yeltsin’s death. The Experts talked about how the tension between the two monster nations, sharing perhaps the longest land border in the world, have eased thanks to the philosophy that mutual beneficial relations can be best achieved by each country pursuing its own self interest. According to them, peaceful relations along this long border will work to the advantage of both, so it is in the interest of Russia and China to work towards friendly ties and increasing cooperation.

Always skeptical of what the talking heads on the good old state sponsored television are preaching, I can’t help but agreeing with a certain amount of logic in the political philosophy. It is, indeed, a train of thought that has always influenced my perception of the world. I believe that as long as there is inequality, massive disparities, exploitation between people all over the world, we will have a global situation that does not work towards the self interest of anyone. This has led to my belief in the efficacy of international institutions and law, for if we all have an equal playing field, all of humanity can benefit. What happens in one place truly is the concern of the people of another place.

However, my belief in the importance of international institutions often seems to run head on with the real-politic that seems to be more prominent in the relations between countries, the actual power relations that drives people to pursue their own self interests at the expense of others.

I believe that human rights and social justice are crucial, and must be experienced by all. Groups like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International are real and serve a real purpuse. However, the reality I have come to accept is that power is power, and power is the ability to manipulate a situation to achieve a desired result. In a world where the power, whether manifested in money or the ability to use violence, lies with those that too often pursue their own interests without the consideration of a global common good, how can those pursuing truly mutual beneficial relations manipulate global situations?

Running for a Good Cause

For those of you lucky enough to be in the Minneapolis, MN area, where the blossoming of the Spring can bring about spiritual renewal and a yearning for romance, this is a great event that you should check out. Jason Smith, a former house mate of mine and dedicated to the good cause of cooperative living, is raising money for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. He will be racing in a benefit triathalon (the fact that the triathalon is in Maui is ok, I suppose, since it’s for a good cause and all 🙂 ).

To help with the fundraising, he will be hosting a benefit concert at St. Petersburg restaurant (3610 France Ave. N)in Robbinsdale on April 27th(this Friday) starting at 7PM. Brother and Sister, Viceburgh(both Co-op bands), Russian Gypsy music, and various other local musicians will be featured.
There will be a $10 donation at the door. It will be a good way to support a great cause, try Russian food and vodka, and hear local bands. Donations can also be made at www.active.com/donate/tntmn/tntmnJSmith or by mailing a check for LLS to Jason Smith, 1721 University Ave. SE, Minneapolis MN 55414.

Another day of News, a Lack of Optimism, But Hope Thrives

The Mayor of New York, John Brenner, just returned from a state-sponsored trip to Indonesia, says a story in the York Dispatch – and his world seemed to get a little bit bigger. I can certainly relate, after my several experiences there. It can definitely seem a world apart from that of my experiences back in the United States, and at the same time can really strengthen a feeling of brotherhood across the world. The Mayor talked about the contradictions he saw, the lack of infrastructure and the horible poverty, the beautiful resorts and forests, and the rapid economic development.
Just another example of what I have tried to stress several times, how I feel that Indonesia truly is an important place, is a country and a people that are playing a growing role in international relations.

“Pria Bersenjata Tewaskan 32 Orang di Universitas Virginia”

The front page of the www.kompas.com online newspaper. I think the translation is pretty obvious, at least to anyone who had the slightest exposure to any media at all today (April 16). A horible event, whether you’re a fellow university student like myself or if you’re living in Java, reading the paper in the shadow of the volcano Mount Merapi. Just another example of that “global world” that is defining our reality now, the globe of which I claim to be a patriotic citizen. Kompas is Indonesia’s Bahasa Indonesia language daily with the largest circulation. I got into the habit of reading it every day while I was living in Depok, once my language was good enough to gain an understanding of what was written.

Importance of Indonesia

Indonesia is a truly amazing country. It is so convenient that there is this political construction, this imagined community of “Indonesia,” making it possible for me to clump so many different people, languages, religions, completely different climates and political systems under one title. How productive it is to organize masses of humanity in this way, I’m not sure.

Full of so many complexities,  it is none the less often ignored by the world at large, which fails to see the importance of the massive country. One reason why Indonesia does pop up on the global media’s radar, however, is because of the huge population of Muslims that defines its demographics. It is unfortunate that global relationships today result in tension between “the West” and “Islam,” and this becomes the reason for the New York Times to run this story in Sunday’s edition.

It’s well done, and worth a look. Indonesia, in my opinion, should be paid attention to for many reasons. This is certainly one of them.

Dead but not Forgotten in China

Yesterday was Qing Ming Jie, which is called the Grave Sweeping Festival in English. The translated name gives no indication to the meaning of the Chinese words, which has more to do with a certain point on the lunar calendar, but it does help outsiders get the jist of the occasion.

All across China, or for the vast majority that falls under the influence of thousands and thousands of years of tradition and practice, families and individuals  do their best to go to the graves of their ancestors. The name Grave Sweeping Festival comes from the activities of the visitors to the cemeteries, which focus on maintenence of and care for the tomb, and making sure the spirits of the great grandfather and great-great grandfathers are happy with the condition of their earthly monument.

As it is in every place that I have been in South East Asia, which is home to such a rich abundance of diversity and such long histories, one of the more interesting things to observe (and participate in) is the way that relatively new religious and social practices merge with, change with and in turn change traditions that carry over from the thousands of years of civilizations and cultural mixing. For example, the province of Yunnan has a very large Islamic population. As it was in Java, Indonesia, the Islamic faith has been successful because it has found a way to coexist with the cultures it is adopted by. Many of the Muslims visited the graves of their ancestors on Qing Ming Jie, though certainly with a special approach. The diversity of this part of China is one of the many reasons that I tried not to have too many expectations or pre-determined conceptions of my new-temporary home – most of them would have been way off…