“We don’t need a melting pot…, folks. We need a salad bowl. In a salad bowl, you put in the different things. You want the vegetables – the lettuce, the cucumbers, the onions, the green peppers – to maintain their identity. You appreciate differences.”
“My first exposure to murder,” the Nobel-winning economist Amartya Sen writes in “Identity and Violence” “occurred when I was 11.” It was 1944, a few years before the end of the British Raj and a period of widespread Hindu-Muslim riots. The victim was “a profusely bleeding unknown person suddenly stumbling through the gate to our garden, asking for help and a little water.” Rushed to the hospital by Sen’s father, the man died there of his injuries. He was Kader Mia, a Muslim day laborer knifed by Hindus. He had been asked by his wife not to go into a hostile area of then-undivided Bengal. But he had to feed his starving family, and he paid with his life.
To the young Sen, this event was not just traumatic but mystifying. How was it, Sen asks …, that “… human beings … were suddenly transformed into the ruthless Hindus and fierce Muslims…”? And how was it that Kader Mia would be seen as having only one identity — that of being Muslim — by Hindus who were, like him, out in the unprotected open because they too were starving? “For a bewildered child,” Sen remembers, “the violence of identity was extraordinarily hard to grasp.” And, he confesses, “it is not particularly easy even for a still bewildered elderly adult.”
In his book “Identity and Violence” Amartya Sentakes aims at what he calls the ” ‘solitarist’ approach to human identity, which sees human beings as members of exactly one group.” This view, he argues, is not just morally undesirable, but descriptively wrong. Instead, Sen invokes the myriad identities within each individual. The people of the world can be classified according to many other partitions, each of which has some—often far-reaching—relevance in our lives: nationalities, locations, occupations, social status, languages, politics, and many others, including identity common to all – HUMANS. Because all of us contain multitudes, we can choose among our identities, emphasizing those we share with others rather than those we do not.
Let’s focus on our shared identities and appreciate differences for peace around the world.
* * *
Was it easier for you to accept the differences between the women in the video below, once you saw their shared identity?
“It’s a funny game, chess. Like a Mandelbrot set, there’s more to it than meets the eye – the more you look at a chess as a game, the more it really gets into your soul…
The world is, essentially, black and white. Right and wrong. Truth or lie. Do or die. For the pieces that reside in the world of chess experience this stark dichotomy on a daily basis. Their world, such as it is, allows for only restricted movement. They have no real freedoms at all…
Each of the players in life’s little game has their role, as in real life. From the menial, toilet-bowl washers through to the “do nothing but sit around and look magnificent” top tier of life, all facets of class system are there. As in life, the pieces are more or less defined by what they do. “You’re a doctor? Awesome… settle a bet – is this a boil or a mozzie bite?” – likewise each piece on a chess board is effectively hamstrung, their career chosen at birth and with little chance of respite from the gruelling daily grind…
It’s a damning indictment on the state of the world when you consider this fact: The most populous piece on the board is also the weakest. Like the serfs and peons of eras gone by, the fact that there are 16 of the so-called ‘little people’ on the world at the beginning of any match should supply some glimmer of hope – the most precious gift in the world – to the pawns. But they are not the sum of their parts. Repressed and homogenous, they simply exist to do the dirty work, and to die quietly with as much dignity as they can muster….
Ahhh… the safety and security of bricks and mortar are the lesson to be learned here. How solid and dependable are the rooks? They occupy and guard the outer edges of the world, keeping the other players safe from invading paws of curious kittens and insurgencies of spilt beverages. But how high is the price of such security?
I’ll tell you – it’s a terrible toll. Severely restricted movement, and a mindset programmed to think in unbending lines…
By immediate comparison comes the Knight, a piece with a wonderfully British outlook atop the chequered arena. It’s movements appear eratic, but are – in fact – carefully thought out in advance, taking into account the dual notions of sense of purpose and unpredictability. They like to give the impression that they might, if pushed, be a rogue state. Their wild nature is characterised by the brumby-like physical representation, which in itself speaks volumes.
But… and there’s always a but… on their own, they are all but useless. Any successful hostile action requires the recipient of violence to be backed, literally, into a corner with all avenues of escape cut off.
And then in rides the cavalry, to take the glory and claim the victory as their own. It’s typical, if you ask me… the horsey set always likes to think of itself as punching well above its social weight. When they’re not prancing about the board of life, you’ll find the Knights playing polo and drinking champagne…
Imagine a life where you are confined in your thinking to a single shade. Black or white, once you are placed in your initial position, that’s it – you may not ever occupy a square of the other shade. You must only believe in the one thing, forever more, until you are killed or the war is won.
It’s a damning indictment upon life off-board – where religious views are expounded upon at length, but rarely scrutinised and never challenged. As with any belief that is set in stone, it invariably ends in tears – it’s okay to have convictions and a strong set of moral values, but without wriggle room, it’s easy to end up trapped. If you cannot see the other side of an argument, you are doomed to lose.
The other telling point about the Bishops is that they do not move in a straight line – not in the classical sense. They’re sneaky, often arriving unexpectedly from the far side of the world to wreak violence and brutality upon those least expecting it. All of this from a man of the cloth? It’s wrong… but it’s the way of the world….
The Queen is the most honestly representative piece on the board, in terms of power, gender politics and potential capabilities. As a female, the Queen is the sole representative of women. As in the real world, women are horrendously under-represented in the upper echelons of power. This is, of course, coupled with the obvious glass ceiling – the Queen can never become the King, as the King never dies. Add to that the constant threat that one of the pawns may indeed reach the far rank of the board, and suddenly the Queen has another contender for the favours of the King. It’s horrible… and an eerily accurate reflection of the real world…
Bloated, corpulent and lazy, the King is a figurehead – a lumbering dinosaur whose only relevance to the world at large is to simply be. Without him, all is lost – but his presence serves only to provide purpose to the lives of others, who must live and die to protect him.
On many levels, I’m sure the other pieces have grown to hate the King. The King is little more than a chubby dictator – his whims to be observed, his life sacrosanct…
It’s obvious to even the most casual observer that chess is indeed a game – one that has its roots in the violence of conquest and its complexities founded in the notion of human interaction. But at the end of the day it is – just like the life and universe it mirrors – just a game. It’s unbalanced and bigoted, often violent and strangely bleak… and that’s the way we seem to like it. “
From The Politics of Chess by Gregor Stronach
Seymour Chwast coins a timeless truism in 1964
from Pictures of War and Peace
Designer, author and historian Steven Heller has published a remarkable collection of war-related posters and drawings. The interpretation varies with the times but the theme remains constant. Take a look at these fascinating and powerful images. Pictures of War and Peace – Print Magazine. Thanks to Josh Freeman for sharing this thought-provoking collection in the blogosphere.
My grandma was Ukrainian. My granddad was Russian. They lived happily in Ukraine all their life and are now both resting in peace next to each other…
What is happening in Ukraine now is not as simple as a pro-Western faction of residents protesting a unilateral decision to pull away from deeper EU integration made by a democratically elected government. There’s much more to the story.
While a few experts are trying to put the story straight in Ukraine from the geopolitical perspective, propaganda machines is busily working on all sides, manipulating public perception. Similar to the media coverage of the conflict in Afghanistan in 1984-1986 , the story gets twisted by the media machines in support of a certain agenda.
As Neil Clark points out in his article Ukraine & EU: Why some protestors are more equal than others, “leading western media outlets have not only have deemed the protests to be a major story, but their reporting makes it quite clear whose side they are on….It’s revealing to compare the highly sympathetic, high profile western coverage of the Ukrainian protests with the way other protests have been covered in recent years… Generally speaking, we can say that if the protests are against a government the western elites don’t like or it’s a cause they support… then they will receive extensive coverage. Not only that, but the protest will be reported in a very positive way, even if violence is used by the protesters… “, while if similar violence is used by protesters in Western countries they will be “condemned as ‘thugs’ and ‘criminals’”.
Russian media on the other hand is focusing all attention on the most controversial element of the anti-government alliance in Ukraine – Svoboda, an extreme right-wing political party that has representation in Ukrainian parliament and is widely known for its neo-Nazi views. Its leaders are included on the top ten list of most active anti-Semites of the world for their calls to fight with “goat-likes [Russians] and kikes [Jewish].”
The history of the radical nationalist movement in Ukraine is very long. The radical nationalist organization under the leadership of Stepan Bandera actively cooperated with Hitler’s troops during the war, fighting against Jews, Russians and Poles.
Sergey Kirichuk, a member of the group Borotba, which publishes and anti-fascist magazine in Ukraine, told Channel 4 News that these neo-Nazis are the most violent elements on the streets. “They are the ones throwing molotovs and trying to kill policemen… Svoboda are leading ideologically now. Fascism is like a fashion now, with more and more people getting involved.”
What about people? Ordinary people like my uncles, aunties, cousins, nieces and nephews? They can only hope that their beautiful country won’t turn into a Hell on Earth.
Let’s pray for the safety and well-being of all hard-working peaceful people in Ukraine – for dear Ukrainians, Russians, Jews, Poles and all the other people living in that beautiful land. Pray with us too, dear grandma and granddad, from your resting place to keep peace.
There is a poem by Jack Gilbert. The opening line is “Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.” The reference is the Greek story of Icarus whose father made him wings of wax and warned him to not fly too close to the sun or the wings would melt. In his youthful enthusiasm Icarus got too close to the sun, his wings melted and he drowned in the sea.
The rest of the poem is about Gilbert’s marriage – how people thought it would never last, his memories of times with his wife at the beach, in Paris, and that they eventually divorced. The closing lines of the poem are, “Icarus didn’t fail when he fell; he just reached the end of his triumph.”
As Robert Taibb points out, divorce can so easily feel like failure but it is also about triumph – that you both have helped each other to grow and change over the years, to be a different person than when you both started, and now you have merely reached the end. Your roads have divided. It is time for change, a new chapter.
From Different Paths
This post is not meant to encourage those struggling in a weakened marriage to pull the plug. If there are children in the family, personally I would do my best to maintain marriage unless it gets to a state, when divorce is unavoidable. If marriage gets to that state, divorce can not only start a new chapter in life, but can also heal ‘old’ wounds. I have experienced that with my own parents, who got divorced when I was in my teens after almost a decade of constant fights.
My parents always claimed that they stayed together for as long as they possibly could for the sake of us, their children. Too long and too late for us, as their troubled relationship with constant fights brought more damage to us than divorce. Both me and my brother felt a huge relief when it was all over.
To our surprise, our parent’s relationship improved dramatically after their divorce. First of all, they started talking to each other. And I mean talking, without shouting at the top of the lungs or blaming each other for all sorts of things. They started helping each other occasionally too. A few years later mum even dropped a few tears, remembering how wonderful my dad was when they got married. That came as a total surprise to me, as I’ve never heard her saying anything positive about him during their life together.
From The Letters
However don’t perceive divorce as an easy way out of hard-to-manage marriage. As Robert Taibb points out, the most difficult about divorce is the need to do well what was hard to do during the marriage – communicate well, consider the other person’s needs, keep your focus on what is best for the children rather than using them as battle grounds for power struggles or forums for dealing with your own grief and loss. While you may have different styles, you need to agree on the same bottom lines.
Most of all take care of yourself – like it or not you are a model for your children on taking risks, the courage of taking charge of your life, managing life changes while staying positive and well-balanced. If you are okay, so too will be your children.
Keep in mind what Gilbert said: You didn’t fail, you just reached the end of your triumph…
by Jack Gilbert
Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.
It’s the same when love comes to an end,
or the marriage fails and people say
they knew it was a mistake, that everybody
said it would never work. That she was
old enough to know better. But anything
worth doing is worth doing badly.
Like being there by that summer ocean
on the other side of the island while
love was fading out of her, the stars
burning so extravagantly those nights that
anyone could tell you they would never last.
Every morning she was asleep in my bed
like a visitation, the gentleness in her
like antelope standing in the dawn mist.
Each afternoon I watched her coming back
through the hot stony field after swimming,
the sea light behind her and the huge sky
on the other side of that. Listened to her
while we ate lunch. How can they say
the marriage failed? Like the people who
came back from Provence (when it was Provence)
and said it was pretty but the food was greasy.
I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,
but just coming to the end of his triumph…
From Glory of Icarus