27 December 2009
The more I think about it and the more I read philosophy, the more convinced I become that the key element of existence is not objects as such, but the relationships that constitute them, both internally and externally. If you deny the relationships between, then you fall into a trap. Where do you stop? At what point do you know that you've encountered the ding an sich, the thing-in-itself, or just some reified aggregate? You must always be searching for the smallest object, breaking everything down into its component parts. The universe becomes nothing more than an aggregate of particles, unless you posit some external, transcendent essence.
"'I' affirms a separate and abiding me-substance, 'am' denies the fact that all existence is relationship and change. 'I am' two tiny words, but what an enormity of untruth."
- Island, Aldous Huxley
By focusing on the relationships between, however, we can understand existence in all its complexity. The biologist studies relationships between organs and cells in a body, the ecologist studies relationships between species, the sociologist and anthropologist study relationships between people. This framework provides a whole new way of thinking - new epistemology, a new ontology, a new metaphysics and a new ethics.
Do an experiment - for a day, an hour, a minute - look at the things around you and think of them not as objects-in-themselves, but as being constituted by relationships both internally and externally. And don't just think about the parts - i.e. my book is composed of pages with ink bound in cover - think of the history, the social context - i.e. my book is composed also of a writer's thoughts, a genre, a publishing and distribution system, and each of these has its own history and context. Furthermore it has a relationship to me - why do I own it, why am I reading it (or not, as the case may be), why do I like it (or not, as the case may be), what personal history went into those decisions? Try it, and let me know what happens.
19 December 2009
The book takes place in Vietnam during the war, but prior to the arrival of American forces. In this scene, Fowler (an English journalist) and Pyle (an American economic attaché with some secret dealings going on) are sitting in a guard tower on the road to Tanyin after their car broke down. Across from them sit two very scared Vietnamese guards who are primarily concerned with staying alive through the night and hoping that the Vietminh don't attack their post.
"They don't want Communism."
"They want enough rice," I said. "They don't want to be shot at. They want one day to be much the same as another. They don't want our white skins around telling them what they want."
"If Indo-China goes..."
"I know the record. Siam goes. Malaya goes. Indonesia goes. What does 'go' mean? If I believed in your God and another life, I'd bet my future harp against your golden crown that in five hundred years there may be no New York or London, but they'll be growing paddy in these fields, they'll be carrying their produce to market on long poles wearing their pointed hats. The small boys will be sitting ton the buffaloes. I like the buffaloes, they don't like our smell, the smell of Europeans. And remember - from a buffalo's point of view you are a European too."
"They'll be forced to believe what they are told, they won't be allowed to think for themselves."
"Thought's a luxury. Do you think the peasant sits and thinks of God and Democracy when he gets inside his mud hut at night?"
"You talk as if the whole country were peasant. What about the educated? Are they going to be happy?"
"Oh no," I said, "we've brought them up in our ideas. We've taught them dangerous games, and that's why we are waiting here, hoping we don't get our throats cut. We deserve to have them out. I wish your friend York was here too. I wonder how he'd relish it."
"York Harding's a very courageous man. Why, in Korea..."
"He wasn't an enlisted man, was he? He had a return ticket. With a a return ticket courage becomes an intellectual exercise, like a monk's flagellation. How much can I stick? Those poor devils can't catch a plane home. Hi," I called to them, "What are your names?" I thought that knowledge somehow would bring them into the circle of our conversation. They didn't answer: just lowered back at us behind the stumps of their cigarettes. "They think we are French," I said.
"That's just it," Pyle said. "You shouldn't be against York, you should be against the French. Their colonialism."
"Isms and ocracies. Give me facts. A rubber planter beats his labourer - all right, I'm against him. He hasn't been instructed to do it by the Minister of the Colonies. In France I expect he'd beat his wife. I've seen a priest, so poor he hasn't a change of trousers, working fifteen hours a day from hut to hut in a cholera epidemic, eating nothing but rice and salt fish, saying his Mass with an old up - a wooden latter. I don't believe in God and yet I'm for that priest. Why don't you call that colonialism?"
"It is colonialism. York says it's often the good administrators who make it hard to change a bad system."
"Anyway the French are dying every day - That's not a mental concept. They aren't leading these people on with half-lies like your politicians - and ours. I've been in India, Pyle, and I know the harm liberals do. We haven't a liberal party any more - liberalism's infected all the other parties. We are all either liberal conservatives or liberal socialists: we all have a good conscience. I'd rather be an exploiter who fights for what he exploits, and dies with it. Look a the history of Burma. We go and invade the country: the local tribes support us: we are victorious: but like you Americans we weren't colonialists in those days. Oh no, we made our allies to be crucified and sawn in two. They were innocent. They thought we'd stay. But we were liberals and we didn't want a bad conscience."
"That was a long time ago."
"We shall do the same thing here. Encourage them and leave them with a little equipment and a toy industry."
"Oh yes, I see."
"I don't know what I'm talking politics for. They don't interest me and I'm a reporter. I'm not engagé."
"Aren't you?" Pyle said.
"For the sake of an argument - to pass this bloody night, that's all. I don't take sides. I'll still be reporting, whoever wins."
"If they win, you'll be reporting lies."
"There's usually a way round, and I haven't noticed much regard for truth in our papers either."
Pyle: "So you think we've lost?"
"That's not the point," I said. "I've no particular desire to see you win. I'd like those two poor buggers there to be happy - that's all. I wish they didn't have to sit in the dark at night scared."
"You have to fight for liberty."
"I haven't seen any Americans fighting around here. And as for liberty, I don't know what it means. Ask them." I called across the floor in French to them - "What is Liberty?" They sucked in the rice and stared back and said nothing.
17 December 2009
This is my paper for this semester's Environmental Anthropology class. I hope you enjoy it - it was a lot of work, but really a fascinating topic.