Sunday, July 29, 2007

Words and Hearts—Hey, Where are Our Minds?

Words. Sounds. Syllables. Powerful things, they cajole us, they frighten us, they comfort us, they make us laugh, they make us smile, they make us cry.

They make us think.

Words are power, and the tone used to utter them adds to their might, to the imprint they leave inside our minds—or should that be our hearts?

Two words used by writers and journalists, and all those who write to indicate the same thing. Mind, heart…those two words both speak of the grey matter beneath our skulls. This mysterious bit of grey matter where the intellect resides. Where emotions and feelings reside.

Always, in all times, people in power have tried to separate what is in fact one. People in power, be it in churches or other temples, be it in palaces or parliaments, or White Houses, have tried, and tried again to tell us that our hearts and our minds weren’t in the same place.

And incidentally, those nice people in power have always warned us of the treachery of our minds. The heart is oh, so much more trustworthy. So much nobler. So much better.

The mind is a fishy thing, a thing that demands a minimum of focus, of work, of reflection. A minimum of effort, while emotions and feelings rise naturally in response to things happening around us, to things said around us.

Heart and mind are two faces of the same whole. Two complementary elements. Together they give us balance. They make us whole. Separate, they make us prey to either inhumanity, or to the honeyed words flung our way by authorities either secular or religious.

Authorities, politicians, priests like to appeal to our hearts. They do not want our minds to come into the equation, and it’s so easy for them to do so: we’re all lazy, and lazy means we don’t feel like making the effort to listen and to analyze what we’re being told. We prefer being lulled by the song of the words, by the musical tone of voices. We let ourselves drift in the music, and we simply go along with the flow.

And we are duped. Like small children who’d go anywhere so long as they’re being handed out candies.

And the irony in all this is, that there are still decent people in politics, decent people in religions, but we rarely heed them. We rarely support them…or we aren’t enough to do so. Because those people do not want to trick us, and as they want to convince us, as they want to truly have our support, they appeal to our minds. They tell us important things, facts, numbers and reports they want us to analyze with them. They give them to us, so we can focus on them, and draw our own conclusions, make our own decisions.

But not enough of us want to do that. Not enough of us want to think, and get headaches figuring out what is going on around u s, the mechanics of our world, and devise a way to make it better, or at least ponder and decide who’s most likely to try and herd the world along the best path open to us.

As it has come to France, it has been in the US for a long, long time: the thinking crime has been imprinted in a great many people’s minds. People are taught to be wary of their minds, to be wary of intellectuals, of politicians, leaders who use precise, complicated words. People are taught that those who appeal to their minds, who ask them to make an effort, to think and analyze, are in fact elite snobs who have nothing but contempt for them.

People are taught to feel and emote, and they are taught to shun thinking. People are taught obedience and submission. People are aught to bow down their heads and to go work, work and work, so that when they get back home they’re so tired they don’t want to do anything other than to drown in whatever brainless reality show that’s airing when they drop into their sofas.

And of course, this is all very logical. While you can control someone through a shrewd use of emotions and feelings, appealing to the mind is taking a risk. The risk of understanding. The risk of disagreement. The risk of opposition. The risk of rebellion. The risk of revolution.

And of course, all those who have an authoritarian streak do not want that. They do not want that at all. So they appeal to our hearts, they use simple words, they do not tell us the truth of what they want to do. Instead they tell us that they have children and dogs, they tell us they’re good people who go to church, they tell us their opponents are bad people who do no respect this or that. They do not refute the contents of what their opponents stand for, they have no need for that. They’re appealing to our feelings and emotions, not to our minds. They do not want us to understand, they do not want to convince us. They want us to react on instinct, on emotions and feelings their words trigger. They want us to separate from a part of ourselves. They want us to be unbalanced, and soft, easy to shape and manipulate.

And so often, we are all too happy to oblige. Because it’s so much easier. Because we’re tired, and because thinking requires embracing the bleakness of our situations and of our lives, because it requires gathering the strength to rise beyond initial despair to think further, to find a way to make things better.

Because it requires a strength that can only come from the combination of what makes us truly human: our hearts and our minds.

And we need this balance, we need our hearts. We need our minds. We need them, if we are to outgrow old reflexes, if we are to win free of the leashes we accepted for so long. If we are to go beyond the simplistic rejections some words provoke in us, like “liberal”, or “socialist” or “communist”. What do we know of the true meaning of those words? What do we know, beyond the mental images they call up, mental images created by the very people who do not want us to think, and who want us in their control?

We know nothing…unless we decide to use our brains, and think.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Thinking Crime

There, it’s said at least. Now the truth is out, and criminals had better beware!

We think too much. It’s unseemly, it’s unproductive, and we should be ashamed. So the extremist minister of economics Mrs Lagarde said before the French assembly when defending the project of France’s new Enlightened Great Leader.

Thinking is obsolete, thinking is useless, fruitless and futile. It’s time we stopped, and high time we focused instead on the one important thing: work, work, work more, work without thinking, without reflecting, without analyzing. Work more, so that the Great, Wonderful and All-Powerful Economic Machine can prosper, and dump the tiniest crumbs of its profits into the held out hand of the working masses—and, please, give up on thinking about where the huge majority of the generated profits go, we told you already: thinking is a CRIME.

“Work more to earn more.”

This has been a mantra of Nicolas Sarkozy’s campaign. And of course, the Exalted Leader, the Savior of France would accompany this mantra with warnings that thinking is outdated, really far too much elite, and so contemptuous of the hard-working masses. It’s only natural to for him to flatter the populations and rub them the right way by claiming that he’s like them, he’s not an intellectual, he doesn’t waste his time thinking.

And so his minions are using the same argument. How could they not?

How do you expect to sell a rotten package like “work more to earn more” while allowing people to think and reflect on what they’re being told is good for them? If people indulged into the thinking crime, they might unravel the honeyed lies spun around the new French president’s mantra. They might add two and tow, and come up with the truth. They might balance one law with another, weigh the consequences of what one would entail for the other.

People might understand that “letting them work more to earn more” by erasing the taxes on extra-hours while passing law that will allow employers to fire employees without reason, on the spot and with a ridiculously short notice, will have interesting consequences:
  • Negating the proferred lie, “of course, doing extra-hours will be solely on a voluntary basis”: of course, you will have to volunteer to work those extra-hours. If you don’t, well your employer will be free to fire you, and replace you with someone who will volunteer.
  • Once you’ve established that pattern, and in reality forced people to all become volunteers to work extra-hours, you can lower the normal time, fixed income for people who work full time without extra-hours, to focus on the brave, courageous workers who deserve to earn more because they work more, and in so doing, insure that the “volunteers” will be trapped, will drown deeper and deeper in the swamp you created.

It’s no wonder that Mrs Lagarde came to the Assembly spewing out her rant on the thinking crime. If people indulged into thinking , they might deduce the truth behind the slogans and mantra, the truth behind the “Saviors of France’s” claims to lead the country and its population toward better times.

And that truth is so easy to find, if you just care to think about it: where does Mrs Lagarde come from? What does Mr Sarkozy love so? What is the model they admire and are pushing, carefully working to eradicate the French and European cultures and ways of seeing the world?

The US.

The US, Mrs Lagarde just came back from.

The US, where most of the medias, politicians and other voices heard in the country have cultivated for years the submission of people to the Holy Market’s will, the submission of people to All-Knowing, All-Powerful and Loving God of Economy. Economy, the US’ true God, the Sacred Entity which will make everything all right. And it does, if you’re happy with your scores of millions of people living in poverty, ignorance, blind and deaf, their lives dedicated to working in bad condition, focused on paying their bills, and being able to afford to pay for their kids’ school, while a very, very thin percentage of the population reaps it all and feasts on the sweat and work of hundreds of millions.

The US, where it works, for one good reason: politicians (mostly republicans), mass-media (Fox News and other “fair and balanced” obscurantist TV channels, radios or newspapers of the same vein) have carefully, very carefully fed the One Truth that allows people to be lulled into obedience, into stupid beliefs that this is the way the world should be, and that the laws of Almighty Economy are as absolute as the sun rising in the East every morning: intellectuals are elite which spit on the people. Thinking is bad, thinking is for nerds, for geeks, for those people who look upon all of you with such contempt. For elite people who do not know anything of true lives.

Yes, thinking is a crime. A crime against the people. And thinking is bad. Thinking is nasty. Thinking is evil.

Once you’ve established that truth into people’s minds, it will feed itself. It will need a bit of care now and then, but just a bit. The US has more than demonstrated how well that works. In the US, thinkers have been turned into pariahs, lowly forms of life to be shunned, people it’s so comfortable to hate.

And of course, what better way to reach their goal for Mr Sarkozy, for the Enlightened Guide of France and his goons than to follow the US example?

What better way than to outlaw thinking?

Outlaw reflection, outlaw analysis, and promote jogging, promote the descent of politics into the pure swamp of love affairs, glamour, rich parties and celebrations where you take care to be photographed close to the “hard-working populace”. Promote idiocy, promote the hatred of intellectuals, promote blind obedience, promote brainless belief.

Chances are it will work, and people will choose the quick fix, the easy path. In a galaxy far, far away, Georges Lucas once warned us that doing so led to the Dark Side.

History told us time and again, that it leads to obscurantism, to dictatorship. To hate thinking, to condemn and outlaw those who think, those who analyze and those who reflect on what it being claimed, announced and said means a very simple thing: you don’t want anyone to find flaws in your plans. You don’t want anyone to contradict you, you don’t want anyone to think other than you do. You don’t want opposition. You don’t want debate.

You want brainless tools which follow your will blindly. You want slaves, you want beasts of burden. You want the foaming at the mouth, unconditional admiration and consent of the populace. But one thing you don’t want.

You don’t want democracy.

You want a religious dictatorship, where all will bow down to the One True God: Economy.

Sunday, July 15, 2007


Some believe that Georges W Bush will succeed. Some believe that that instrument of bad luck and great blunderer is a success.

Some believe Nicolas Sarkozy will save France, and bring happiness to its people.

Some believe that they will find revenge and a renewal of pride and honor through honorless terrorism, the murdering of innocents, of women and children.

Some believe that keeping women under the status of slaves and breeding mares is the will of whatever god they worship.

Some believe that contradictory “laws” of economy will ensure humankind’s welfare and happiness. Some believe these so-called laws will be enough to bring a balance to a world that’s slowly, inexorably falling into chaos.

Some believe that things can go on as they are, that their reign is forever.

Some believe that reining in the desires to adapt to modernity inside the Catholic Church, and clamping down on much-needed reforms, giving signs of going backwards, of reverting to hard lines and obscurantism will bring back the crowds of faithfuls inside the churches for Sunday masses.

Some believe that all is well with the world, and that global warming is but a small problem, whose solution must not hamper the advance of economy, and the exploding production and consumption rates everywhere.

Some people in France believe that presenting the fact that the higher revenues have had an increase of 43% over the year 2006 while the poorer fractions of the population had only an increase of 4.3% in their revenues (barely above the increase in the costs of essential goods one must buy in order to survive) is not a big deal.
43% over a yearly revenue of, say, 500,000 €, meaning an increase of 215,000 € as opposed to 4.3% of a small revenue, say, 20,000 €, meaning an increase of 860€.
215,000€ to the rich layers of the population, versus 860€ to the poorer layers of the population. Since when is that insignificant? Since when isn’t that denounced, and clearly set on the table of Nicolas Sarkozy’s government? Ah, of course, since the moment when Mr Sarkozy’s been catering to the very rich layers of people in France, which means, since the beginning. But fools have voted him in power. Fools see the numbers on TV news, they see the percentages, but they do not take the time to convert that in terms of real money. They do not see, they do not realize.

And they believe.

And the populist, authoritarian Nicolas Sarkozy continues on his way, lying through his teeth, helped by the French TV media, who cater to his every will and whim, who broadcast the lies spun by his communication experts, who transform hard disputes and complains against Mr Sarkozy made by the Europeans who forced Mr Sarkozy to step back on his outrageous demands into a “lightning quick visit during which the president obtained almost everything France wanted”.

And his wife Cecilia goes to Libya to visit the Bulgarian nurses, in a transparent move to snatch at all the gains earned through months and years of diplomatic hard work done by the European Union. A visit heralded by the French media as “a humanitarian visit by the first lady of France”, conveniently forgetting the fact that it is nothing more than a brutal move to usurp the result of Europe’s hard work.

And people believe an image created by the media, a lie spun by communication specialists, while the world moves on, and the reality is the opposite of the honeyed tales sold to gullible crowds who want simplistic answers to hard problems.

And the Bush administration goes ever onward, denying the utter failure of everything it has undertaken.

And the mullahs, and the religious fanatics of Islam, the Talibans, go on stoning women, killing women, raping women, beating women who “do not wear the veil properly”, primitive apes that they are. Cowards. Gelded fools with no balls.

And people keep wanting simple answers, easy answers to hard questions.

And the Vatican keeps plunging down the road back to the dark times of obscurantism, of mass said in Latin, of exorcisms that leave their share of broken victims, of deaths. It’s so easy to think that praying to something will cure you of problems.

It’s so easy to shrug off responsibility to someone else. It’s so easy to claim that killing off the bad guys will turn the world into something better.

It’s so easy to follow Kira, and to cheer every time Yagami Light uses the Death Note.

It’s so convenient.

So mediocre.

So cowardly.

We all want a better world. But what is “a better world”?

Who is going to write the criteria that define “a better world”?

Who? Representing whom?

Georges W Bush?

Nicolas Sarkozy?

Joseph Ratzinger?

A nameless mullah in Tehran?

Theirs aren’t my world. And besides, nobody can build anything on sand. Nobody can build anything on lies…well, anything that lasts, anyway.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

The Aliens Among Us

Aliens. Apart from reminding everyone of the movies starring Sigourney Weaver, “Alien” is a word you can find everyday in an all too real context.

What is an alien? Had I never been to the US, I’d tell you an alien is an extra-terrestrial entity, sentient or not. And more often than not it’s a hideous monster out to devour/destroy/enslave/you-name-it humankind. All in all, what best defines an alien is a living being that’s not human (emphasis on “not”). That’s what I always thought, and it was logical enough.

But when you cross the ocean to get to the US, you discover that the alien is you. You, the foreigner, the stranger. You’re an alien in the term of vocabulary chosen by the US customs to designate someone who isn’t a US national. Shocking though that is in itself, in what it indicates as to how the US customs administration views the outside world, there is worse.

Many ordinary people in the US refer to foreigners as aliens.

And I wonder why. There are other words for people who do not share your nationality. Words which do not also carry the meaning of “beings so different, they’re anything but human”. Foreigner is one. Stranger is another, but I tend to go for foreigner, which does carry the intended meaning of “not being one of the country’s nationals”. Of course, I’m sure some people would argue with me that when the term started being used, science-fiction didn’t even exist, except in the minds of Jules Vernes, and wasn’t a mass market production. That may well be, but the times have changed. And it’s been a very long while since they changed.

When you hear “alien”, you do not think “stranger” or “foreigner”, you think “non human being”. And the “out to destroy humanity” usually isn’t far behind.

Calling people “aliens” is not only shocking, it’s insulting. It’s denying the fact that we’re the same, we’re people, even if some papers say that we do not belong to the same “nationality”. Terms like that serve to keep barriers, gaps and distance between people. Tell me, what do you feel when you hear “alien”? What do you feel when you hear “foreigner”?

On a subconscious level, we do not feel the same thing when we hear those words. One is definitely threatening. Remote, and irremediably different. Alien, in short.

Do people consider these things? Do people realize how important the choice of words can be? Do they understand all the subtext, all the feelings and emotions simple words inevitably trigger deep inside us, no matter whether we admit to this or not?

“Aliens” is one of the things I wish the US and its customs administration would change. It shows how remote and different from the rest of the world the American culture considers its own. Oh, it may be completely unconscious—although I kind of doubt that—but it’s there. It betrays this urge to close in upon oneself, to close to the world outside, and to focus only on oneself. It’s a very human thing to feel. A very human urge to have. But it’s one that must be overcome, especially when one intends to be the leader of “good causes” around the world.

Of course, there are many other things the US needs to change if it wants to embody the “forces of good”, but still “aliens” should change. It’s a small thing, so easy.

When you call me an “alien”, you push me away, you insult me, you deny me. When you call me a “foreigner”, you simply state the fact that I’m not a national of your country. “Alien” is a debasing term, one that denies your existence as a fellow human being. As long as the US administration refers to foreigners as “aliens”, it will strand itself apart from the world. As long as ordinary people within the US use the term and consider it normal, they will back up the growing feeling in the world that the US willingly and deliberately estranges itself from the rest of us, sets itself apart and above the rest of us.

If anyone with a bit of understanding as to how important words can be, as to how deep their meanings run inside our minds and hearts reads this naïve bit of rambling, consider getting over “aliens”.

We’re not “aliens”. We’re people, just like you.

Foreigners, certainly.

But not aliens.