Tag Archives: essay

How they stole Christmas spirit

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They dispirited Joy to the World; no more Christmas carols, no more resplendently colorful lights of Christmas trees, let alone no more exchanges of Christmas gifts. Instead, they brandish a Five-starred Red Flag, chanting party doctrines and Chinese cultural manifesto amid a flow of flashy foreign imports and an ostentatious charade of manufactured exports produced in high volume sales at a low unit margin of profit in world market. To paraphrase the universal Shakespeare, I must be cruel, only to be kind: Thus truth begins and reality remains behind. It is indelible truth that in this time of global community, indispensably interconnected by mutual needs and benefits, what is reckoned an Orwellian idea of totalitarianism as fabulously satirized in Animal Farms and 1984 is really happening in our time.

110179To come upon an article from the Internet issue of The Guardian on Chinese government’s banning on Christmas celebrations spurred me on to write this piece of short essay. The journalist objectively reports that the Communist government crack downed on Christmas celebrations, dismissing as “western festivals” that have no cultural values on their Chinese cultural heritage, which should be in turn actively promoted among the comrades. The governmental institutions, schools, and bureaus relayed a directive at the behest of Xi Jinping, disapproving of observation of Christmas as well as practice of Christian religions, under the pretext of “maintaining stability” and cohesiveness of Chinese cultural legacies. Moreover, the myrmidons of Xi, the cult of Communism, ingratiate themselves with old-fashioned propaganda that urges Chinese people to refuse all other foreign (especially, western) festivals because they will corrupt the purity of their culture and weaken their party ideals.

However, such is not a sudden raid on non-Chinese customs or anything that might look threatening to the despotic hegemony of the Communist Chinese Party. It has always been there, but now the tip of the iceberg is beginning to show by Xi’s political ambition conflated with his proud Chinese ethnocentrism. With respect to religious freedom in China, it has not been changed since the Cultural Revolution. For instance, China does not have diplomatic relations with the Vatican, and it has its own version of schismatic Chinese Patriotic Church of China, which the Vatican does not recognize. Not only the Catholics but also other Christian denominators are persecuted. The article informs the reader that the police raided a children’s Bible class, shut churches, and arrested the members because they practiced the religions outside of officially sanctioned institutions, which are in fact none other than governmental institutions vested with the ostensible canopy of a few de rigeur religious objects.

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Woe betides Xi, his myrmidons, the extreme Chinese jingoists, and their sympathizers who blindly declaim about their cultural superiority and proud ethnocentrism lasting for centuries despite their historical losses against the British, the Japanese, the Americans, and the Koreans. According to Ma Jian, a Chinese-British writer whose wife Flora Drew is his English translator, in China Dream, a satire about the Chinese communist totalitarianism, the Party developed a neural implant called the China Dream Device that is inserted to a person’s brain to wipe out his entire memories and dreams and to enter the Party ideals for the glory of New China built upon a gauche mixture of blatant consumerism and blind nationalism. The result is a Big Overfed Child who only thinks for himself and behaves without a decorum of civility common to Civilized Man.

Xi and the Party should first learn by heart that Christmas is not a byproduct of western materialism – which ironically has become their chief god – or an epiphenomenon of western imperialism under the aegis of European Christendom. Christian or non-Christian, Western or Eastern, Christmas is a joyful, a feel-good day that has been celebrated for centuries. It’s a most celebrated holiday season around the world that imparts a sense of warmth, togetherness, love, and hope. It does not require of anyone a special membership to enjoy the spirit. Besides, Jesus of Nazareth was not western but eastern because Israel was and still is geographically located in Asia. In light of the aforesaid, what the leaders and its Leader of the Party should understand is the cultural, religious foundations of not only Christmas Day but also all other legacies of humanity that transcend the subjectivity of time, territory, and tribe because as Edmund Burke also attested: “The standard of reason and taste is universal in all human creatures as regards principles of judgment and of sentiment common to all mankind.” Without the knowledge, China will still be clothed in the Old Mao Suit that does not fit.

 

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Celts Vs. Romans?

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Asterix (L) and Obelix (R)

In The Adventures of Asterix, a popular Franco-Belgian comic strip whose protagonists Asterix and his friend Obelix in a village of Gauls during the Roman occupation in 50 BC outwitted their Roman colonialists with Druidic magic potion and spontaneous ingenuity laced with Celtic sense of humor and and mysticism, the Gauls were constantly at war with the Romans in the reign of Julian Caesar, who was bent on subjugating the culture of the colonials, let alone the recalcitrant Celtic spirit, to that of the empire. But it wasn’t always like that, pace popular conception of the Roman ruling of the Gauls and the Britons as widely portrayed in popular culture. The relationship between the Romans and the Celts was quite peaceful and even surprisingly symbiotically beneficial – that is, at least prior to the emergence of Caesar and Claudius.

The Romans and the Celts were in Apollonian co-existence bound by flourishing trade and cultural exchange between the two peoples. There was a long period of peaceful trading between the Mediterranean Romans and the Celts of Gaul inhibiting modern-day France with exports and imports particular to each of the regions. To illustrate, the Gauls were known for their penchant for diluted Mediterranean wine that was transported by boat on the sea and wagon in land from the Peninsular. The Romans received in return Celtic slaves who never seemed to be short of a supply because there was a surplus of slaves in Gaul where frequent raiding among the tribes was the sine qua non of such abundance of exploited manpower to be used to tend the Roman vineyards and other aristocratic estates. Gaulish chieftains offloaded excessive number of newly acquired slaves by trading them off for proverbial Roman wine to distribute it to his followers as an ostentatious display of their wealth and prowess in their tribes. In fact, the Gauls’ love of the Roman wine was so undeniably famous that among the Romans the stereotypical image of the Gauls as drunkards slurping wine through their long, drooping mustaches was widely circulated in the empire.

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Asterix and Obelix in the Roman Army

Olive oil, tableware, jewelry, and other luxuriant goods were among the popular Roman exports, however expensively they were sold by canny Roman traders, who then bought metals, cured hams, beer, and hunting dogs from the Celts at low prices. Notwithstanding such discontentment in terms of fair trade, the prosperous bartering of the goods between the colonials and the colonialists brought the grist to the mill of effective management of the colonies in the context of regarding economic and political stability that could/would have been otherwise in turmoil as a result of despotic constraints on the preexisting native social and political structures characteristic of colonialism. This favorable symbiotic relationship between the Romans and the Celts (the Gauls in France and the Britons in Britain) greased the wheel of the cultural and political expansion of the empire by egging the Celts on to adopt Roman-style systems of government and the young ones on to enlist in the Roman army as auxiliaries.

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Julius Caesar

However, the pacific era of the Roman-Celtic relationship saw cataclysmic waves of change that would punctuate the stability of the status quo as destabilizing forces loomed large in Western Europe: Firstly, the prospect of Germans occupying the Alps was a cause of concern to the Roman Elite. Secondly, Julius Caesar, the ambitious Roman ruler who was seeking for a popular acclaim to fortify his rulership in the empire as well as booty enough to get himself out of debts, determined to impose his despotic rules on the peoples of the conquered lands as portrayed in The Adventures of Asterix. Then later, there came Claudius, the lame and slightly deaf emperor who was spared of his life by his nephew Caligula perhaps on account of such physical defects. Claudius launched a campaign of conquest in northern Europe to attain military prowess in the region and thus enforced totalitarian policy on the management of the colonial systems, discouraging autonomous trading and social and cultural exchanging between the colonial and the colonialist.

In light of the above, the relationship between the colonialist and the colonial sometimes begets unexpectedly mutual benefits in terms of cultural exchanges between the two peoples counter-intuitive byproducts, such as attested in the case of the Romans and the Celts, which could lead to diversification of native cultures, enriching the wealth of cultural legacies that would become another mode of new culture. If the Celts had been vehemently resisted against the cultural influences of the Romans as a result of the conquest of their lands, the cultures and history of Western Europe would and could have become very different from what we have known today, such as the English language, architectural and other historical artifacts, and political systems. In my opinion, sometimes, the colonial regime is not altogether downright evil in the sense that it somehow results in amalgamation of cultures favorable to both of the ruling and the ruled, not out of the benevolence of the former for sure but of the necessity of governing the conquered in the most effective way in order that the conqueror may quell the social and political dissonance arising out of the inept administration of the colonial affairs. In point of view as held by Ancient Athenian historian Thucydides, one must listen to the other less popular side of the story to transcend the subjectivity of times and to test the validity of truth. In this regard, I opine that however adamantly one may object to the benefits derived from the Roman-Celtic relationship, it attests to the fact that it enriched the cultures of both of the peoples and helped them reshape their ideas of epicurean ways of life that has passed on to the present progeny.

 

Author’s Note: The inspiration of this essay comes from my reading of “Traders to Invaders,” written by Barry Cunliffe, formerly professor of European archeology at the University of Oxford, from December 2018 issue of BBC History Magazine.

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‘Essays in Aesthetics’, by Jean Paul Sartre – review

Essays in AestheticsEssays in Aesthetics by Jean-Paul Sartre

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jean Paul Sartre was something of a celebrity in the European Intelligentsia in the Swinging Sixties; despite his rather homely exterior equipped with a pair of thick horn-rimmed spectacles covering the squint eyes, Sartre was brought into celebratory limelight with a panoply of illustrious epithets- L’Enfant Terrible of the European intelligentsia, a precursor of modern existentialism, and husband of Simone de Beauvoir, a trailblazer of modern feminism – The truth of the matter is that Sartre loved the attentions bestowed upon him. In fact, he thrived on it. On a question of fame relating to his celebratory statue as an intellectual, Sartre answered with forthrightness: “Fame is good, even at forty or fifty is desirable; there is happiness, an intense enjoyment, in pushing one’s way into the spotlight like this.” It is this unusual, feisty frankness in conjunction with his audacious existentialism vis-a-vis Viktor E. Frankl’s Logotheraphy that inspired me to find out more about the man’s school of thought in this book written by Sartre himself.

This light volume of essay collection draws on Sartre’s exceptional knowledge of the arts and the creators and yokes it to the tenets of existentialism, which means that the reader should have at least rudimentary knowledge about existentialism. The substratum of existentialism is the experience, the action taken by himself, which constitutes a man’s identity in the world. This might sound materialistic and even bathetic at first blush. However, do we not tend to judge our own self or other people based upon the manifested achievements or deeds, regardless of the character, personality, and/or other planes of circumstances pushing the doer into such actions? With every one of our actions, we particularize our self, thus creating a ‘self’. It is this realization of the abstract self existing as an abstract essence that results in the following dictum: Experience precedes our essence, establishing our own self identity in society.

In terms of existential analysis of a meaning of life or a sense of purpose in life, our actions becoming our experience make us responsible for our own lives, including our missteps and achievements. In other words, this explication of existence shows us how we look and what we are like as the touchstone of our existential selves in everyday life, as the Russian writer Anton Chekhov once said: “”Man will become better when you show him what he is like.” In this regard, existentialism coincides with Logotheraphy, which identifies a meaning of life, freedom of will, and will to meaning with fulfilling demands placed upon our daily tasks, to achieve ego qua meaningfulness.

In sum, Sartre’s existentialism strikes the zeitgeist of our time convoluted with reality shows, fake news, selfies, social media approbation, and grand collapsed narratives in which we often find ourselves uprooted in the midst of inflated self-aggrandization, however overtly and incorrectly exalted. Sartre tells us: “Man can will nothing unless he has first understood that he must count on no one but himself in the midst of his infinite possibilities without help.” That is, the purpose of our life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost by actualizing our purposes amid our daily lives, for we are what we do and create our own reality of the world by acting out our ideation. This book will be a good primer on more in-depth world of Sartre’s existentialism with his no-nonsense perspectives on the nature of humanity and proverbial touchy-feely approaches to the real world and a man’s place as a human being therein, all marked in his literary craftsmanship that is all the more enjoyable to the reader.

The etymology of black friday

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There were long lines of people everywhere today here in this otherwise peaceful sunny Californian city. As I swiveled my head in wonderment to figure out possible causes for the formation of the lines, my eyes directed me to a sign posted on a window of one of the outlet stores bearing “Black Friday Sale.” Hmm, so it was that time again. In fact, the word ‘Black Friday’, I think, always renders me an ambiance of Dystophia where desperate citizens resulting from a carnage of  wars and great famine are hell bent on looting stores for a paucity of goods. Besides, it is named so very dull, tawdry, and crude that the very sound of the name boasts a lack of cultural sophistication of its obscure name-giver who seems to me nothing but a philistine following a cult of Mammon.

That being said, to come upon an article about the origin of this consumerist feast day from a magazine seemed pat in the paradoxical sense of animosity colluding with curiosity on this whimsically leisurely Black Friday. It’s rather unsurprising to discover that the etymology of the term ‘Black Friday’ is ambivalent  in origin. There are four a posterior grounds of the birth of the term as follows:

  • Black Friday was the day when financial markets collapsed on September 24th, 1869, as a result of the disclosure of a Wall Street conspiracy to raise the gold price.
  • It was the day after Thanksgiving Day when police in 1950’s Philadelphia, having sacrificed their holiday leave, concentrated the force on the cresting influx of shoppers and American football fans into the city.
  • In 1961 retailers in the selfsame city foresaw the potential to galvanize business by choosing the term “Black Friday” as a catchy-phrase.
  • The retailers saw it as the day by which they could have procured sufficient revenue for the year, so that they could move their accounts written in red to black, finalizing a profit for the year.

black-friday-pros-and-cons-cartoonIn my opinion, the third postulation seems the most plausible, which logically constitutes the fourth one as a basis for the etymology. It’s always this mercantile ingenuity that prompted cults of consumerism, such as Valentines Day, White Day, and Christmas Day. Inevitably, in our modern capitalistic society such promotional encouragement of spending money on consumer products is the grist to the mill of market economy and greases the wheel of monetary circulation for the behoof of the vivaciousness of societal atmosphere in general. Yet, the hustling and bustling of the mindless shopping spree blindly egged on by the media prompting to buy things that you really do not need in frenzy appears to live beyond the principle of the Golden Mean, the virtuous moderation of restraining yourself from indulging in lavish expenditure, as advocated by Plato in corporation with the inscription written on the terrace at Delphi, “Nothing in Excess,” which chimes the bell of our ethos embroidering on conspicuous consumption.

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Lord of The Flies – When Id controls Ego

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Lord of the Flies by William Golding is a mind-boggling story about a band of English young boys aged from 7 years and 12 years marooned in an island after a plane crush in the wake of atomic world war. Written in 1950s, the book questions the defects of human society in respect of the defects of human nature as symbolized by the stranded boys who have once civilized under the parental/societal guidance descends to savagery, the primitive state of human condition, which is operated by Id alone. And it only takes about 2 weeks or so to return to the instinctual stage of mankind. Which is all the more scary yet true whether we accept.

There are two extreme characters in the story: Ralph, a headstrong, sophisticated boy whose father is a naval officer. His primary goal is to be rescued by a ship, to return to the the world of civilization where all’s will be normal and he will live normal. So his main concern is to keep fire ablaze to signal his existence, the last remnant of civilization, the surviving Ego that “wills” his societal existence struggling for existential meaning that a civil community confers upon his singularity and uniqueness for recognition. As Ralph asserts, “No fire, No smoke, No rescue.” To him fire is Hope that will save him from falling into savagery by which other boys blindly and almost unconsciously have become animalistic, acting on instincts to satisfy their most basic desire only: Eating by Hunting.

The Hunters are led by obstreperous, belligerent choir leader Jack. In fact, the figure of Jack represents many interesting aspects of psychotherapy. In the respect of psychoanalysis by Fraud, he symbolizes Id that “drives” all his acts and modus operandi. To him fire does not seem to matter. He does not even want to be rescued. What he excites him is a process of hunting a pig – especially a female one – for provisional entertainment and survival on an island. In the view of individual psychology by Adler, gaining power over his “tribe” of the boys and becoming a chieftain by forcefully and unjustly abdicating the legitimate Ralph takes precedent of anything, including keeping fire and going back to the cradle of civilization. The limit of ego qua responsibility does not apply to Jack, who lets his Id dominate his being. According to logotheraphy by Viktor E. Frankl, Jack has ceased to fulfill his responsibilities as a cooperative cohort of Ralph to work together to protect themselves, to guard fire, to maintain their orders until a rescue comes their way.

And there is pitiful Piggy. We don’t know the real name of Piggy. But we know that he does not want to be called such but that the boys, including the civilized Ralph, who can blow a conch by the encouragement of Piggy. The narrative tells us that it’s not that the accents or fumbling that makes him a buffoon of the boys; it’s his corpulent appearance that loses him respect among the boys. Besides, he’s the only one that wears a pair of spectacles are used as a magnifying glass to gather heat to make fire. In fact, I view the figure of Piggy as a voice of the intelligentsia.  As Ralph laments at the tragic death of Piggy, he’s the one who “talks sense.” In fact, his spectacles, cruelly damaged by the sneak ambush led by Jack and his savage tribe, symbolize the perspectives of the intellectual that view the state of human nature in danger of retrogression and decay to Zero, the raw, primitive nature devoid of existential meanings and values attached thereto. And the boys ridicule him, deriding his attempts to call their attention to reality of their situations and to address the substantial issues to be reckoned and resolved. Piggy is a Thinker, a voice of Rationality that does not seem to be a matter where Id and Ego stand in contention when human nature is stripped to its nakedness outside human society.

To recapitulate, Lord of The Flies by William Golding attests to loss of humanity as a result of catastrophic event in which a survival of the fittest seems only true. This may include a war in consideration of the year the book was written; it’s 1954, only 9 years after WWII. Golding saw the evils of the war – the countless deaths, the famine, the ruins of houses and building and nature – the Wholesale Destruction of Humanity. What had once been a great civilization fell into a great catastrophe by the hands of Humankind.  A Paradoxical truth that ascertains decay of human society debased into brute savageness operated on ferocious instincts for survival… Lord of the Flies is the fable of the lost children for the adults.

P.S. This is my another bygone writing about William Golding’s dystopian novel Lord of the Flies that I had written prior to the inception of my blog.

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