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Step Zero in Freeing Up Half of the Human Race

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“There can be no safe future without safe motherhood”
Women Deliver global conference (London, 18-20 October)

The very, very first step we need to do to provide at least the possibility of freedom for the whole of humanity, and not just men, is actually made up of two actions:

Step 0.1: diminish the chances of death during pregnancy
Step 0.2: increase the survival rate for children 0-5

In fact, as long as would-be mothers die at the enormous rates of 1 in 6 in places like Sierra Leone and Afghanistan, no wonder the relative value of each of those human beings is not considered that much.

Cynically one would ask why would anybody emotionally attach himself to a person that is quite as likely to die within a year (obviously, in reality things do not work out so simplistic, but still…).

Furthermore, if children die in large numbers (especially in their most vulnerable years, from birth to 5), the only way to nurture some possibility of leaving descendants in this world, is to conceive as many babies as possible.

Having women wait out their entire reproductive lives doing only house chores, with no time for business or political activities whilst going from one pregnancy to the next, becomes then a perfectly logical, if horrendous choice.

Given the fact that death-during-pregnancy and the need of a large number of children just to hope for one’s family not to die have both accompanied humanity for much of its existence, no wonder women have been set aside as virtual slaves for millennia.

And so there is simply no opportunity for “emancipation” if we don’t get mortality rates lower for mother and for young children.

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Luckily but tragically, the solution is not that difficult.

It’s all very feasible stuff and so it is a real tragedy that we have not achieved yet that for all: just as abject poverty and “under-development” are still very widespread.

In truth, there is a precise correlation between those concepts, and the health of women and children is one of the best indicators of how truly “rich” a country is.

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And so: let’s provide education to all the girls, and provide them with all the drugs and all the resources needed to mantain their health and the health of their children.

Otherwise, all efforts may as well go to nothing.

Written by omnologos

2007/Sep/24 at 22:41:55

Free the Women

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Former U.N. envoy Stephen Lewis, at the 16th International AIDS Conference in Toronto, Canada, 2006, recently quoted by Jane Roberts in “Five years later, girls around the world need help more than ever:

I challenge you to enter the fray against gender inequality. There is no more honorable or productive calling. There is nothing of greater import in this world. All roads lead from women to social change.

I agree wholeheartedly. But arguably the contemporary relative freedom of Western women has been an accident of history, borne out of the men-hungry tragedies of both World Wars. Is there any hope and any means to make that happen elsewhere, the empowerment of women that is but without forcing their societies to live quite a long time without much of the male workforce?

Not to mention the futility of trying to inculcate freedom for half of humanity, from the outside.

Written by omnologos

2007/Aug/10 at 20:50:11

Every Day, a Christmas Carol for the Soul

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In Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge is an aging man, money-tight and with a soul drier than the harshest desert, finding happiness and moral redemption only after meeting the Ghosts of Christmases Past, Present and Future.

Most of us will not receive any visit by eerie presences: still, we all risk to see our lives wither away in a hailstorm of irritability and sulking.

Fortunately, there is a way to recover youth and enthusiasm the way of Scrooge: by looking at our inner “ghosts”, the pieces torn from our inner selves one by one by Time itself.

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As the years go by, in fact, the constituents of one’s soul lose “sync” with one another. Some parts of the inner being survive as throwbacks to the past, becoming the Past Inner Ghost, “Ego Praeteritus”. Other elements live in the here-and-now, making up the Present Inner Ghost, “Ego Presens”. Others still have their basis in what is yet to come, belonging to the Future Inner Ghost, “Ego Posterus“.

For example, women and cars, fast or slow as they be, provide the best evidence that an important element of our souls does indeed live in the present. In fact, an obvious component of the Ego Presens is the sense of fashion: contemporary in the extreme and constantly a-changing, with wardrobes getting refreshed not just of worn-out items and impossible-to-find (as new) the same stuff of a few years earlier.

Female beauty itself means changing body shapes every decade or so, even if the owners of the proverbially beauty-beholding eyes don’t all die off that often

That is exactly what happens with cars. Look back at the vehicles in the market 20 or 30 years ago, and apart from true “classics”, you will see primitive, ugly boxes of metal, not the sleek lines, inviting quality, and superior engines of today’s automobiles (alas! themselves destined to turn into ugly boxes of metal… by 2027!).

Politics is itself not immune from the “spirit of the times”, the zeitgeist. Big worldwide debates appear to be coming and going, monopolizing it all for a while, then becoming either boring and outdated or boring and obvious (another definition for “being fashionable”?).

In the past century, colonialism, imperialism, protectionism, fascism, communism, democracy and universal suffrage, worries about nuclear war, civil liberties, poverty, the environment: nowadays, “global warming”.

Are we then “Citizens of the Zeitgeist”? Or “Prisoners of Our Times”, with our Ego Presens socially and commercially pressured into “freely” thinking with the consensus and “voluntarily” getting the most up-to-date gadgets?

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Not completely.

It’s an altogether different story for musical tastes. For some reason, most people get their melodic preferences cast in stone between the ages of 16 and 25. So if you’re 50 you may have to accept that your preferred music was recorded at least 25 years ago, and is unlikely ever to re-appear in the charts but for a very short time.

That’s an example of what constitutes the Ego Praeteritus, the inner Ghost of the Past. Other instances include lifelong friendships, usually forged by the end of the “teens” years, as anybody that has ever left hometown can attest; and most personal fears including fully-fledged phobias, rooted perhaps in the first 3 or 4 years of one’s life (just like family ties: are all those related, one wonders?).

And of course, we are bound to keep accumulating memories, those images and feelings condensed (and filtered) in an increasingly-heavier baggage capable of influencing all our thoughts and actions.

Worse still: parts of the Ego Praeteritus appear to become lethargic, if not dead altogether, around 16 years of age (as famously quipped by Benjamin Franklin). For instance, the ability to change and embrace innovation; the sense of academic excellence, invariably coinciding with one’s own year of graduation; morality, inevitably going down the drain since the days of one’s own youth; youths themselves, not showing any longer the respect of old to parents and adults in general.

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It’s in the Ego Futurus that one can find life instead, in the very dreams that keep us alive.

Those may be the hope of getting to see another day, or of seeing one’s children live long and prosper, or of being able to buy whatever one desires. Whatever their kind, still those are hopes, the last bits of us to die, and without which life would be absolutely pointless.

Hopes and expectations are not only rooted in the future: they belong to it. Fulfillment of one’s desires may be what we think we aspire to, but more often than not, when that happens it strikes as anticlimactic.

No need to be an Apollo astronaut back on Earth or a retiring World Leader to ask oneself that most open-ended, unsettling, and desperate of questions: “now what?”. A question that we will all have to face.

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As times goes on, and dreams come to materialize (or fail to), one’s Ego Posterus can only fade. In the meanwhile, the Ego Praeteritus grows bigger. More and more of one’s inner self gets anchored to the past, resulting in a progressive larger detachment from the “real world”, and from one’s slowly disappearing Ego Presens.

This may be the strongest sign of having an elderly mind: when the soul is left with almost no connection with the present, or the future.

Sadly, that’s a well-traveled path, with one slowly but steadily growing “grumpy”, stagnatingly aged in spirit instead of just old in body.

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How can one avoid such an end?

Perhaps some good memory erasure would help. There would be plenty of space to learn new musical tastes and how to become a different person.

A more practical way may be to become instead aware that parts of the soul do not live in the same epoch as the rest of them, or the World out there.

Accepting all internal differences on a temporal level too, we can then confront our Egos of the past, present and future, day-in, day-out, in an unrelentingly rejuvenating “time travel of the soul”.

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In fact, it’s the Christmas Ghosts that bring back grumpy extraordinaire Ebenezer Scrooge to a happier life, better connected to the world out there and at peace with what went before, what is happening now and what is yet to come.

Written by omnologos

2007/Jun/20 at 22:45:27

Acknowledging a mistake…

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…there is no “if”, there is no “but”. There is no excuse, there is no defense.

If one really wants to acknowledge a mistake, maybe even learn from it, it’s much better to shut up, listen wholeheartedly, avoid being defensive, stop rationalizing.

Say, even if one doesn’t really believe it, pretend that the people pointing out the mistake are right. Get on their side.

Otherwise it’s going to be as useful as running in circles. Worse: it may reveal one as not actually having acknowledged a thing. Bye bye reputation!!

Written by omnologos

2007/May/25 at 21:13:11

Posted in Philosophy, Sociology

Reasons To Be Optimist

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Early XX century: millions in Europe dream of a bright future of “continuous progress”.

They will confidently march towards their deaths in the fields of the First World War.

Early XXI century: millions in Europe can only imagine a nightmare future of environmental and social catastrophes…

Written by omnologos

2007/Apr/24 at 23:13:20

Letter to a British Schoolboy (3 of 3)

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(three-part father-to-son explanation on the perils of being young in contemporary Britain)

Click here for Part I: Letter to a British Schoolboy: Infancy 

Click here for Part II: Letter to a British Schoolboy: The School Years

(Part III: The War Against Youth)

English authorities fight against all citizens between the ages of 10 and 18, whenever they try to do the undoable and think the unthinkable, like breaking some rule by smoking tobacco or cannabis, drinking alcohol, forgoing school and writing graffiti on anonymous train carriages.

Of course it would make no sense to encourage certain behaviors, But there is no wisdom in “zero tolerance” either. Take for example School Expulsions, with students threatened for far less than a headbutt on live TV. All one needs is to be a bit less pliable than usual, and the risk is to be literally thrown onto the street, destined to “special schools” where corralled rebels don’t normally help each other achieve the best results, neither at school nor in future life.

The abuse of a school’s right to expel pupils transforms it in a latter-day Pilate, cleaning its hands off the issue of how to educate a child. The impression really is that quite a few places are only geared to instill discipline, not knowledge or crafts in the students’ minds.

Once again, the problem is not the existence of sanctions: what is abnormal, indicating a climate of open war, is the inclusion of sanctions that effectively abandon the “guilty” student and their family to a lifetime of failure even for relatively minor offences.

The war continues outside school premises. It’s fashionable for teenagers to wear hoods on their heads: this makes them look a lot like each other, a common feature in pre-adult fashion the world over. But as soon as rumors have spread of young criminals using the hood not to be recognizable on security cameras, there they went, the whole media circus and a large part of the population labeling a “criminal” anybody wearing hoods indoors. As a result, some teens have been prevented even entering some hood-free shopping malls.

In such an exaggerated climate, isn’t it natural for a lot of young people to embrace a petty criminal lifestyle? British society in all its conformism hasn’t realized yet the charm the forbidden has for not-yet-adult people: as demonstrated by the decrease in cannabis consumption after it has been decriminalized.

The Government, instead, is wasting no time in establishing more and harsher rules against whomever breaks them: for example with the ASBOs (anti-social behaviour orders) allowing cold-hearted judges to force away from society no-gooders, I mean youngsters perhaps with larger problems than they cause  individui. Some towns have gone as far as declaring curfews, relegating minors in their homes (why then not forbid young men to drive until the age of 30?)

Is there any third way out of this: something else than sheepy conformism and senseless rebellion?

What can I suggest? We’re foreigners nevertheless. It’s their society and when and if they’ll want to change they better do themselves. Please try not to get too much conformism under your skin: accept the letter, not the spirit of the uniforms. And most important of all, channel your youth energies of upheaval in something worth of a future, instead than bothering a bus driver.

Let’s talk again in 2013 though…when you’ll be 11!

(the end)

Written by omnologos

2007/Feb/26 at 22:46:26

Posted in Sociology, UK

Letter to a British Schoolboy (2 of 3)

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(three-part father-to-son explanation on the perils of being young in contemporary Britain)

Click here for Part I: Letter to a British Schoolboy: Infancy 

Click here for Part III: Letter to a British Schoolboy: The War Against Youth

 (Part II: The School Years)

In Italy a millennium ago, until the age of 11 your Dad had to wear at nursery and school the grembiule, a neck-to-knee vest, mostly to avoid getting soiled clothes. In English schools instead, uniforms are more and more strictly imposed as age progresses: and so, just as personalities mature, they are subtly pushed towards a physical and metaphorical conformism.

In fact, school uniforms where required are rigidly so, and the more so in private tuition. Behind them there is a huge business, and parents throw their money at jackets, shirts, fake ties etc etc, that might have been fashionable in the 1950’s.

Hundreds of identically-dressed children are then marshaled every morning to salute the Headteacher, the School Organization and the Respect for Authority. Who knows, perhaps if we hadn’t had the excesses of Benito M. it would have been the same in Italy too (What? Oh, sure. I’ll tell you about Benito M. in a decade.)

How about learning? Huger and huger crowds of children are happily certified knowledgeable and smart with every passing year: a sign of a decay in examination standards, or perhaps, says The Economist, of the mysterious coincidence between academic excellence and the commentator’s learning years.

Not that it matters a lot to Government more interested in appeasing the tabloids, incredibly popular low-brow newspapers; with a control-freakery that sees the yearly publishing of School League Tables according to children’s results.

Low-performance schools risk closure, or being sold to sponsors with large liquidity and dubious ideologies such as Creationism. Headteachers will do their utmost then to nurture an environment of learning, or alternatively, they will figure out ways to climb the Tables with tricks and a cunning usually expected in far less law-abiding places.

Families will work hard then to find schools not managed by propaganda or cunning plans. And so every year millions wait in increasing anguish to know if they have been given their dream place of learning.

A place at universities such as Oxford and Cambridge will provide more chances of a bright career, perhaps as a banker with a history degree (the topic doesn’t count much). Attending a prestigious high school will give larger chances to be selected at Oxford and Cambridge. And the child that enters the best elementary school will be more likely rewarded with a place at a prominent high school.

Your enterprising parents had then to trot inside four primary schools, a few months ago, following enthusiastic Headteachers. Then, considered also local gossip and reputation, they decided for a school for your future (not so simple: three have been chosen in order of preference; but you have been allowed into the one we preferred).

Go on then, there is no reason to worry, it’s a good institute with lots of facilities. Enjoy it while you can, because the Stories of the post-Elementary School Years tell of the War between British Society and its Youth.

(continues)

Written by omnologos

2007/Feb/23 at 14:20:12

Posted in Sociology, UK