Adonis Diaries

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Beirut was a Movable Fair before the onset of the civil war in 1975

With a strong currency (1$ worth 2 Lebanese pound) and a low cost of living before the onset of civil war in 1975, Beirut was a movable fair for the common people, those living and commuting to Beirut.

Actually, during most of the civil war period, the  LP remained strong due to the massive reserves of hard currencies of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), from the massive infusion of Gulf Arab States, Saudi Kingdom and Libya…

I recall, while at the university, (1970-75) that I could live for an entire day on barely 2 LP for the cost of Taxis, buses, watching movies, going to theaters, eating and drinking fresh juices and joining daily student demonstrations, marches and sit-in demanding reforms in Lebanon political system.

You may read my memoirs on these wonderful period on https://adonis49.wordpress.com/2019/09/05/movable-fairs-in-beirut-1971-74/

What follows is an article posted by a French woman, a foreigner in 2016, who was overwhelmed by a faked sense of sustainable fair in Beirut. She was taken care of by those 1% “rich” people who kept looting the budget and lived on inherited wealth. Though she was aware of the precarious conditions of this political system and resurgence of violence at any moment.

Beyrouth est une fête

Katherine Pancol. Écrivain

Jean C. El Dahdah shared this link. February 19, 2016

Ça y est! Je reprends goût à la vie! Alors, que vous raconter?

Que le Liban est une bouteille de champagne posée sur un volcan et qu’à Beyrouth, la fête est perpétuelle, frénétique comme une avance que les habitants prennent sur la vie et le prochain conflit…

Les Libanais sont les gens les plus accueillants, les plus affectueux, les plus gais, les plus entreprenants, les plus insouciants, les plus généreux du monde.

La vie, ils l’inventent à chaque minute de peur qu’on ne la leur confisque.

Ils ont cette intuition terrible: la guerre peut surgir n’importe quand, alors vivons pleinement, aimons, dansons, buvons du café noir, du café blanc, fumons de longs narguilés, ouvrons des boutiques, des restaurants, construisons, traînons dans les rues, faisons des carnavals, inventions, célébrons, oublions les feux rouges, l’interdiction de fumer, vivons, vivons, vivons…

Beyrouth est une fête.

Ils ne savent pas d’où le danger va surgir pour leur tomber sur la tête.

Le Liban est une immense boîte à lettres où chaque pays voisin fait passer un message en posant des bombes, en assassinant, en écharpant…

Ce ne sont pas les Libanais qui font la guerre, ce sont les pays autour qui se font la guerre via le Liban. (Le plus souvent Executer par des Libanais)

J’étais allée au Liban une première fois, il y a douze ans. Le pays était alors en pleine reconstruction… après une guerre.

Des gratte-ciel surgissaient au milieu des décombres, des camions déblayaient des tonnes de gravats, les façades étaient criblées de balles, on apercevait, béants au soleil, des bouts de cuisine, de salle de bains, de chambre à coucher, la poussière s’élevait en gros nuages gris qui montaient vers un ciel toujours bleu… et les voitures klaxonnaient, klaxonnaient!

( I returned to Lebanon on Christmas of 2000, and the reconstruction was already over and many people lost their jobs, and the vital Beirut Center was monopolized and changed to accommodate the rich visitors and tourists of the rich “Arabs”. Old Beirut was totally erased, even its memorable specialized and Not expensive Souks)

J’avais déjà été frappée par l’énergie qui vibrait dans l’air. On pouvait la saisir à pleines mains et en faire des éclairs.

Douze ans après (et après bien d’autres guerres!), Beyrouth est toujours debout, les buildings en verre lèchent le ciel, des rues montent et descendent comme à San Francisco délimitant un vieux quartier et des quartiers de luxe, des quartiers d’affaires, des rues du soir, des rues de la nuit, des rues qui grouillent, grouillent.

Tout le monde se mélange à Beyrouth et, semble t-il, dans la bonne humeur…

C’est une impression, je ne suis pas restée assez longtemps, mais je n’ai ressenti aucune tension entre les différentes communautés.

Il y a des femmes en mini-jupes et des femmes voilées, des hommes en djellaba et d’autres en costume cravate et tout le monde vit ensemble.

J’ai couru au Musée de Beyrouth voir les statuettes des guerriers phéniciens…

De longues et minces silhouettes semblables à des Giacometti.

J’ai appris à traverser les rues en étendant le bras, en joignant les mains, en cambrant les reins tel le torero face au noir taureau dans l’arène, en suppliant qu’on ne m’écrase pas!

Il faut ployer, sautiller, frôler la tôle, feinter et passer… pour rejoindre des trottoirs qui font office de garde-meubles, garages, dernier salon où l’on cause.

J’ai compris que les feux rouges sont faits pour être brûlés (Not to abide by the color), sauf les “importants” où l’on consent à s’arrêter, les cigarettes à griller dans tous les restaurants et la vitesse à être constamment dépassée…

J’ai bu du café turc sur la Corniche au bord de la mer. On était en novembre, il faisait 28′  et la mer me chatouillait les pieds.

J’ai marché dans les rues avec Rachid El Daïf, un auteur libanais qui a écrit un très bon roman paru chez Actes Sud, “Qu’elle aille au diable, Meryl Streep!”, et nous sommes allés nous poser dans les jardins du café Al Rawda…

J’ai parlé avec Tania, éditrice, qui se bat pour sauver les vieilles maisons de Beyrouth de la convoitise des spéculateurs immobiliers, avec Katya qui peint, j’ai déjeuné au People avec Dédy, un ami tombé dans les livres quand il était petit, dîné avec Émile, librairie chez Virgin, j’ai été invitée partout, partout et chaque fois, reçue les bras grands ouverts et la gourmandise aux lèvres.

Les Libanais sont curieux, raffinés, cosmopolites.

Ils commencent une phrase en arabe, la truffent de mots anglais et français, parlent avec les cheveux, les mains, les yeux

Le soir de mon arrivée, j’ai dîné à la même table avec des Libanais de toutes familles: des chrétiens, des musulmans, des chiites, des sunnites, des maronites, des druzes, des catholiques, des orthodoxes, des riches, des pauvres, des bons vivants, des austères, des grands, des petits, et ils parlaient tous sans s’écharper.

De la Palestine et d’Israël, des USA et de l’Arabie Saoudite et pas une minute, ils n’en sont venus aux mains! J’imaginais le même dîner en France…

Je suis allée avec Dédy à Saïda visiter un vieux palais, le palais Debbané, niché en plein souk, une ancienne maison familiale où une pièce entière est dévolue à de gigantesques volières disposées de chaque coté et j’ai imaginé des concerts d’oiseaux en stéréo!

Nous avons visité le musée du savon Audi, toujours dans le souk, une résidence magnifique où l’on déroule pour vous toute l’histoire de la fabrication du savon… et un caravansérail, construit par des Français au moment des Croisades.

Sur la terrasse d’un restaurant face au Château des Croisés qui s’avance dans la mer, j’ai pensé à Joséphine et au XII ème siècle! Elle me racontait des histoires de Croisés qui ont fait souche, de Croisés qui ont péri, de Croisés qui ont pillé, de Croisés qui ont construit et je l’écoutais, ébahie.

Toutes les notes que j’avais prises pour les recherches de Joséphine revenaient et se mélangeaient aux images de Saïda et de la forteresse…

Au retour, nous nous sommes arrêtés dans une orangeraie et une femme a pressé des oranges, des pamplemousses, des mandarines et des citrons rien que pour nous. Il y avait des jouets d’enfants répandus sous une tonnelle, du linge qui séchait, des figues ventrues, un vieux jardinier, des arbres ployaient sous les fruits, des rigoles irriguaient le pied des arbres… Le temps s’est arrêté.

On se parlait avec les mains, avec les yeux et c’était délicieux…

Vous avez compris, j’ai aimé le Liban. Beaucoup, beaucoup.

C’est un pays de lumière où la vie pétille et chante… une belle leçon de courage et de bonne humeur!

Note: You were a visitor Katheirne and from a western country to boot it. Don’t be fooled by the sincerity and welcoming attitudes. In any case, you didn’t stay long enough to discover the precarity of most Lebanese. The Lebanese have changed for the worst in all aspects, but Not in their sectarian identity and zeal for their feudal/sectarian leaders.

Hazards of Revolutions?

You mean a revolution happens by hazard or the consequences are hazardous?

How the “Arab Spring” manifested in 2011 in Tunisia and Egypt, and how the colonial powers diverted the longing of the people?

Patrick Cockburn wrote on Hazards of Revolutions in 2014. 

Soon after the Libyan capital (Tripoli) fell to the rebels in August 2011 I got to know a 32-year-old man called Ahmed Abdullah al-Ghadamsi.

We met when he tried to evict me from my hotel room, which he said was needed for members of the National Transitional Council, in effect the provisional government of Libya.

I wasn’t happy about being moved because the hotel, the Radisson Blu on Tripoli’s seafront, (The capital is Not on the sea shore, but very far off) was full of journalists and there was nowhere else to stay. But Ahmed promised to find me another room, and he was as good as his word.

He was lending a hand to the provisional government because he was strongly opposed to Gaddafi – as was the rest of his family. He came from the Fornaj district of the city, and was contemptuous of the efforts of government spies to penetrate its network of extended families.

He derided Gaddafi’s absurd personality cult and his fear of subversive ideas: ‘Books used to be more difficult to bring into the country than weapons. You had to leave them at the airport for two or three months so they could be checked.’

He had spent 6 years studying in Norway and spoke Norwegian as well as English.

On returning to Libya he got a job on the staff of the Radisson Blu. One of Gaddafi’s sons, Al-Saadi, had a suite in the hotel, and he watched the ruling family and their friends doing business and enjoying themselves.

Ahmed was a self-confident man, not noticeably intimidated by the sporadic shooting which was keeping most people in Tripoli off the streets. I asked him if he would consider working for me as a guide and assistant and he agreed.

Tripoli had run out of petrol but he quickly found some, along with a car and driver willing to risk the rebel checkpoints. He was adept at talking to the militiamen manning the barricades, and helped me get out of the city when the roads were blocked.

After a few weeks I left Libya; I later heard that he was working for other journalists.

Then in October I got a message saying that he was dead, shot through the head by a pro-Gaddafi sniper in the final round of fighting in Sirte on the coast, far to the east of Tripoli. It turned out that there was a lot that Ahmed hadn’t told me.

When the protests started in Benghazi on 15 February he had been among the first to demonstrate in Fornaj, and he was arrested.

His younger brother Mohammed told me that ‘he was jailed for two hours or less before his friends and the protesters broke into the police station and freed him.’

When Gaddafi’s forces regained control of Tripoli, Ahmed drove to the Nafusa Mountains, a hundred miles south-west of the capital to try to join the rebels there, but they didn’t know or trust him so he had to return.

He smuggled weapons and gelignite into Tripoli and became involved in a plot, never put into action, to blow up Al-Saadi Gaddafi’s suite in the Radisson.

Mohammed said Ahmed felt bad that he’d spent much of the revolution making money and, despite his best efforts, had never actually fought.

He went to Sirte, where Gaddafi’s forces were making a last stand, and joined a militia group from Misrata.

He had no military experience, as far as I know, but he didn’t flinch during bombardments and was stoical when he was caught in an ambush and wounded by shrapnel from a mortar bomb, and the militiamen were impressed.

On 8 October his commander told Ahmed to take a squad of 6 men to hunt for snipers who had killed a number of rebel fighters. He was shot dead by one of them a few hours later.

What would Ahmed think of the Libyan revolution now?

An interim government is nominally in control but the streets of Tripoli and Benghazi have been full of militia checkpoints manned by some of the 225,000 registered militiamen whose loyalty is to their commanders rather than the state that pays them.

When demonstrators appeared outside the headquarters of the Misrata militia in Tripoli on 15 November demanding that they go home, the militiamen opened fire with everything from Kalashnikov to anti-aircraft guns, killing 43 protesters and wounding some 400 others.

This led to popular protests in which many militias were forced out of Tripoli, though it’s not clear whether this is permanent.

Earlier the prime minister, Ali Zeidan, was kidnapped by militia gunmen without a shot being fired by his own guards to protect him. (He was released after a few hours.)

Mutinying militias have closed the oil ports to exports and eastern Libya is threatening to secede.

The Libyan state has collapsed, for the simple reason that the rebels were too weak to fill the vacuum left by the fall of the old regime. After all, it was Nato airstrikes, not rebel strength, that overthrew Gaddafi.

It’s a similar story elsewhere in the Middle East.

The uprisings of the Arab Spring have so far produced anarchy in Libya, a civil war in Syria, greater autocracy in Bahrain and resumed dictatorial rule in Egypt.  (All these failures thanks to US/Saudi Kingdom/Israel/France ) who don’t want changes and democracy in the region)

In Syria, the uprising began in March 2011 with demonstrations against the brutality of Assad’s regime. ‘Peace! Peace!’ protesters chanted. But ‘if there was a fair election in Syria today,’ one commentator said, ‘Assad would probably win it.’

It isn’t only the protesters and insurgents of 2011 whose aspirations are being frustrated or crushed.

In March 2003 the majority of Iraqis from all sects and ethnic groups wanted to see the end of Saddam’s disastrous rule even if they didn’t necessarily support the US invasion.

But the government now in power in Baghdad is as sectarian, corrupt and dysfunctional as Saddam’s ever was. (Not true, even then. Obama dispatched ISIS to occupy Mosul because Maliki PM refused to have US military presence in Iraq)

There may be less state violence, but only because the state is weaker. (just witness what is happening by the end of 2017)

Its methods are equally brutal: Iraqi prisons are full of people who have made false confessions under torture or the threat of it. An Iraqi intellectual who had planned to open a museum in Abu Ghraib prison so that Iraqis would never forget the barbarities of Saddam’s regime (you mean USA occupation?) found that there was no space available because the cells were full of new inmates.

Iraq is still an extraordinarily dangerous place. ‘I never imagined that 10 years after the fall of Saddam you would still be able to get a man killed in Baghdad by paying $100, an Iraqi who’d been involved in the abortive museum project told me. (Isis is now defeated in Iraq and US still claim Iraq needs its military presence) 

Why have oppositions in the Arab world and beyond failed so absolutely, and why have they repeated in power, or in pursuit of it, so many of the faults and crimes of the old regimes? (Simple: still confronting the colonial powers who refuse any change)

The contrast between humanitarian principles expressed at the beginning of revolutions and the bloodbath at the end has many precedents, from the French Revolution on.

But over the last twenty years in the Middle East, the Balkans and the Caucasus the rapid degradation of what started as mass uprisings has been particularly striking.

I was in Moscow at the start of the second Russo-Chechen war in October 1999, and flew with a party of journalists to Chechnya to see the Chechen president, Aslan Maskhadov, in his headquarters in Grozny, where he was desperately trying – and failing – to avert the Russian assault by calling for a ceasefire.

We were housed in a former barracks which seemed worryingly vulnerable to Russian air attack. But it soon became evident that the presidential guard’s greatest anxiety was that we would be abducted by Chechen kidnappers and held for ransom.

The first Chechen revolt in 1994-96 was seen as a heroic popular struggle for independence. (An extremist Islamic regime, as the one ISIS was trying to install?)

Three years later it had been succeeded by a movement that was highly sectarian, criminalized and dominated by warlords.

The war became too dangerous to report and disappeared off the media map. ‘In the first Chechen war,’ one reporter told me, ‘I would have been fired by my agency if I had left Grozny. Now the risk of kidnapping is so great I would be fired for going there.’

The pattern set in Chechnya has been repeated elsewhere with depressing frequency.

The extent of the failure of the uprisings of 2011 to establish better forms of governance has surprised opposition movements, their Western backers (the common people, Not the ruling elites) and what was once a highly sympathetic foreign media.

The surprise is due, in part, to a misunderstanding of what the uprisings were about. Revolutions come into being because of an unpredictable coincidence of forces with different motives targeting a common enemy. (Never confuse long-term causes with instant catalysts)

The political, social and economic roots of the upsurges of 2011 go deep. That this wasn’t obvious to everyone at the time is partly a result of the way foreign commentators exaggerated the role of new information technology. Protesters, skilled in propaganda if nothing else, could see the advantage of presenting the uprisings to the West as non-threatening ‘velvet’ revolutions with English-speaking, well-educated bloggers and tweeters prominently in the vanguard.

The purpose was to convey to Western public that the new revolutionaries were comfortingly similar to themselves, that what was happening in the Middle East in 2011 was similar to the anti-communist and pro-Western uprisings in Eastern Europe after 1989.

Opposition demands were all about personal freedom: social and economic inequality were rarely declared to be issues, even when they were driving popular rage against the status quo. (Wrong. Personal freedom was the slogan, Not the real demands)

The centre of Damascus had recently been taken over by smart shops and restaurants, but the mass of Syrians saw their salaries stagnating while prices rose: farmers ruined by four years of drought were moving into shanty towns on the outskirts of the cities.

The UN said that between two and three million Syrians were living in ‘extreme poverty’; small manufacturing companies were put out of business by cheap imports from Turkey and China; economic liberalization, lauded in foreign capitals, concentrated wealth in the hands of a politically well-connected few.

Even members of the Mukhabarat, the secret police, were trying to survive on $200 a month. ‘When it first came to power, the Assad regime embodied the neglected countryside, its peasants and neglected underclass,’ an International Crisis Group report says. ‘Today’s ruling elite has forgotten its roots. It has inherited power rather than fought for it … and mimicked the ways of the urban upper class.’

The same was true of the quasi-monarchical families and their associates operating in parallel fashion in Egypt, Libya and Iraq.

Confident of their police-state powers, they ignored the hardships of the rest of the population, especially the underemployed, over-educated and very numerous youth, few of whom felt that they had any chance of improving their lives.

The inability of new governments across the Middle East to end the violence can be ascribed to a simple-minded delusion that most problems would vanish once democracies had replaced the old police states. (No delusion here. Cannot construct anything in the presence of extremist violent factions created by the US and its allies)

Opposition movements, persecuted at home and often living a hand to mouth existence in exile, half-believed this and it was easy to sell to foreign sponsors. A great disadvantage of this way of seeing things was that Saddam, Assad and Gaddafi were so demonized it became difficult to engineer anything approaching a compromise or a peaceful transition from the old to a new regime.

In 2003  Iraq former members of the Baath Party were sacked, thus impoverishing a large part of the population, which had no alternative but to fight. The Syrian opposition refuses to attend peace talks in Geneva if Assad is allowed to play a role, even though the areas of Syria under his control are home to most of the population.

In Libya the militias insisted on an official ban on employing anyone who had worked for Gaddafi’s regime, even those who had ended their involvement 30 years before. These exclusion policies were partly a way of guaranteeing jobs for the boys. But they deepen sectarian, ethnic and tribal divisions and provide the ingredients for civil war.

What is the glue that is meant to hold these new post-revolutionary states together?

Nationalism isn’t much in favour in the West, where it is seen as a mask for racism or militarism, supposedly outmoded in an era of globalisation and humanitarian intervention. (everything but capitulation is Not favored by the Western colonial powers, even now)

But intervention in Iraq in 2003 and Libya in 2011 turned out to be very similar to imperial takeover in the 19th century.

There was absurd talk of ‘nation-building’ to be carried out or assisted by foreign powers, who clearly have their own interests in mind just as Britain did when Lloyd George orchestrated the carve-up of the Ottoman Empire.

A justification for the “Arab” leaders who seized power in the late 1960s was that they would create powerful states capable, finally, of giving reality to national independence.

They didn’t wholly fail: Gaddafi played a crucial role in raising the price of oil in 1973 and Hafez al-Assad created a state that could hold its own in a protracted struggle with Israel for predominance in Lebanon.

But to opponents of these regimes nationalism was simply a propaganda ploy on the part of ruthless dictatorships concerned to justify their hold on power. But without nationalism – even where the unity of the nation is something of a historic fiction – states lack an ideology that would enable them to compete as a focus of loyalty with religious sects or ethnic groups.

It’s easy enough to criticise the rebels and reformers in the Arab world for failing to resolve the dilemmas they faced in overturning the status quo. Their actions seem confused and ineffective when compared to the Cuban revolution or the liberation struggle in Vietnam. (Simply because one people  in Syria, one people in the Nile river and one people in north Africa were artificially divided in pseud-States by colonial powers)

But the political terrain in which they have had to operate over the last twenty years has been particularly tricky. The dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 meant that the endorsement or tolerance of the US – and the US alone – was crucial for a successful takeover of power.

Nasser was able to turn to Moscow to assert Egyptian independence in the Suez crisis of 1956, but after the Soviet collapse smaller states could no longer find a place for themselves between Moscow and Washington. Saddam said in 1990 that one of the reasons he invaded Kuwait when he did was that in future such a venture would no longer be feasible as Iraq would be faced with unopposed American power.

In the event, he got his diplomatic calculations spectacularly wrong, but his forecast was otherwise realistic – at least until perceptions of American military might were downgraded by Washington’s failure to achieve its aims in Afghanistan as well as Iraq.

So the insurgencies in the Middle East face immense difficulties, and they have faltered, stalled, been thrown on the defensive or apparently defeated. But without the rest of the world noticing, one national revolution in the region is moving from success to success.

In 1990 the Kurds, left without a state after the fall of the Ottomans, were living in their tens of millions as persecuted and divided minorities in Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria.

Rebellion in Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-88 failed disastrously, with at least 180,000 killed by poison gas or executed in the final days of the conflict. (The Shah of Iran and Saddam resolved this conflict in a single day. And the Kurdish army in Iraq deposed its weapons)

In Turkey, guerrilla action by the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), who combined Marxism-Leninism with Kurdish nationalism, began in 1974 but by the end of the 1990s it had been crushed by the Turkish army.

Kurds were driven into the cities; and 3,000 of their villages were destroyed. (Western media never covered these atrocities)

In north-east Syria, Arab settlers were moved onto Kurdish land and many Kurds denied citizenship; in Iran, the government kept a tight grip on its Kurdish provinces.

How the Kurdish conditions now changed?

In Iraq the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), though it shares power with the central government in Baghdad, is close to becoming an oil-rich independent state, militarily and diplomatically more powerful than many members of the UN States.

Until recently the Turks would impound any freight sent to the KRG if the word ‘Kurdistan’ appeared in the address, but in November the KRG president, Massoud Barzani, gave a speech in the Turkish Kurd capital of Diyarbakir and talked of ‘the brotherhood of Turks and Kurds’.

Standing with him was the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who spoke of ‘Kurdistan’ as if he’d forgotten that a few years ago the name had been enough to land anyone who uttered it in a Turkish jail. (Currently, Erdogan consider the Kurds everywhere as the existential enemies of Turkey)

In Syria meanwhile, the PKK’s local branch has taken control of much of the north-east corner of the country, where two and a half million Kurds live.

The rebellion in the Kurdish heartlands has been ongoing for nearly half a century.

In Iraq the two main Kurdish parties, Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party and Jalal Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, were expert at manipulating foreign intelligence services – Iranian, Syrian, American and Turkish – without becoming their permanent puppets (Crappy pronouncement on these expertise)

They built up a cadre of well-educated and politically sophisticated leaders and established alliances with non-Kurdish opposition groups. They were lucky that their worst defeat was followed by Saddam’s self-destructive invasion of Kuwait, which enabled them to take control of an enclave protected by US airpower in 1991.

At this point, despite having gained more independence than any previous Kurdish movement, the KDP and PUK embarked on a vicious civil war with the Iraqi state. But then they had another stroke of luck when 9/11 provided the US with the excuse to invade and overthrow Saddam. The Kurdish leaders positioned themselves carefully between the US and Iran without becoming dependent on either.

It isn’t yet clear how the bid of 30 million Kurds for some form of national self-determination will play out, but they have become too powerful to be easily suppressed. Their success has lessons for the movements of the Arab Spring, whose failure isn’t as inevitable as it may seem.

The political, social and economic forces that led to the ruptures of 2011 are as powerful as ever. Had the Arab opposition movements played their cards as skilfully as the Kurds, the uprisings might not have foundered as they have done.

None of the religious parties that took power, whether in Iraq in 2005 or Egypt in 2012, has been able to consolidate its authority.

Rebels everywhere look for support to the foreign enemies of the state they are trying to overthrow, but the Kurds are better at this than anyone else, having learned the lesson of 1975, when Iran betrayed them to Saddam by signing the Algiers Agreement, cutting off their supply of arms. The Syrian opposition, by contrast, can only reflect the policies and divisions of its sponsors.

Resistance to the state was too rapidly militarised in order for opposition movements to develop an experienced national leadership and a political programme. (That is the strategy of the colonial powers of Not letting opposition forces to connect with the existing political system and have open discussions.)

The discrediting of nationalism and communism, combined with the need to say what the US wanted to hear, meant that they were at the mercy of events, lacking any vision of a non-authoritarian nation state capable of competing with the religious fanaticism of the Sunni militants of al-Qaeda, and similar movements financed by the oil states of the Gulf.

But the Middle East is entering a long period of ferment in which counter-revolution may prove as difficult to consolidate as revolution.

Note:  Patrick Cockburn London Review of Books Vol. 36 No. 1 · 9 January 2014. Pages 25-27 | 3282 words

Trembling in Stupor

Stupeur et tremblements by Amelie Nothomb,  (Book review, October 30, 2008)

French author Amelie Nothomb, in her fantastic book of 189 pages “Stupeur et tremblements“, describes her experiences for an entire year at the Japanese Import/Export large company of Yumimoto in 1990.

The title was extracted from the behavior and acting of any Japanese in the presence of the Emperor.

The entire story is mostly a long series of stupor and quavering by the Japanese employees in front of their superiors, and how they dealt with the culture of a western girl.

As I recall, Amelie was born in Japan when her dad was the Belgian Consul.  She loved her first 5 years there, and felt that Japan was her homeland, after so many transfers to other countries.

Amelie returned to Japan with fresh recollections of her sweet and unforgettable years there as a child.  Amelie will discover at her expense that she was not to exhibit in business meetings, with other friendly Japanese companies, as she masters the Japanese language!

Amelie had a life after her 10-hour work day, but she decided to focus her autobiography of that year on the enterprise.

Nothomb described in details the strict hierarchical structure of the company, its unwritten rules, the behavior of the employees, and the status of women in society.

With or without a contract, an employee at that period was not expected to be fired.

The initiative for leaving a company was left to the employee who would have to meet personally with each boss in the higher levels in the hierarchy and present his resignation.

A sample of the verbal resignation should be stated: Amelie memorized the formal sentence for resignation:

“We are at the end of term of my contract and I would like to announce to you my regret for not being able to renew it.  The company of Yumimoto offered me multiple occasions to prove my potentials.  I will be eternally grateful. Unfortunately, I could not satisfy the expectation of the honor accorded to me.”

It is unheard of that an employee could take the initiative without the permission of his immediate boss or even complains to a higher level.

In general, the higher levels would refrain from undercutting the responsibilities of the immediate boss, although they could and had the total right to curse, lambasted and humiliate any lower level employee in front of all the employees for no specific reasons.

The cadre was not permitted to defend himself or speak. All that he should be doing is to lower his head and show respect until the verbal storm is over.

For example, Mori Fubuki, a most beautiful and classy lady of 29, boss of Amelie, was subject of such a scene.  Mori hurried to the toilet to cry her eyes out and Amelie followed her to express her compassion as western custom is preponderant.

Mori was greatly furious that Amelie dared to see her crying and she vowed to humiliate her at the extreme.  Fubuki thus decided to relegate Amelie to cleaning the toilets for seven months at the 44th floor of the building or the accounting department.

Fubuki selected the boring task of classifying receipts by company names and ordering them by date of receipt to punish Amelie.  Amelie ordered the names of the German companies called GMBH in one file on account that any additional prefix can only mean to be an affiliate to GMBH. It turned out that GMBH stands for Ltd in German.  The accounting cadre laughed very hard and every employee shared in the merriment.  Fubuki was humiliated because Amelie was her responsibility.

Fubuki then endeavored to find a task for Amelie that does not require “intelligence”.

Amelie was assigned to verify the accounting of business charge trips.  The genius of Amelie was that for an entire month, not a single number matched!

Calculating and accounting was the worst job that could be asked of her.  Fubuki knew that Amelie will never finish the job, but she waited patiently for Amelie to concede defeat.

The way I see it, the President of the company (not necessarily the owner) should be considered as God. As such, he should be handsome, tall, soft-spoken, and no one except the Vice-President is permitted to visit him or a cadre he summons to see.

The job of the Vice-President is to play Bad Cop; as such, he should look ugly, an ogre, and should be trained to curse, and his powerful voice should transmit far away. Basically, the Vice-President is to keep all cadres to their proper place in the hierarchy and remind them that no one is above the unwritten rules.

Once, Amelie took the initiative of aiding a cadre from another section without asking permission of Fubuki.  Fubuki wrote a complaint to Omochi and the cadre, and Amelie had a thorough wash down.  Fubuki would not allow a new comer to be promoted quickly when she had to suffer for 10 years to get her present promotion.

Nothomb explains why the Japanese society comprehends and admit crazy people in their company: this authoritarian society, with strictly controlled morals at work and in families, has a high rate of males cracking down and losing it.

The women are more controlled than men in society, but they manage not to reach the act of committing suicide, an act viewed within society as the ultimate in honor for a woman.  May be the only honorable decision that a woman can make beside marrying before the age of 25.

Working and breeding are the only tasks for a woman:  she should not expect much in promotion or eccentricity or compliments.

Children are treated as God till the age of three; from 3 to 18 they are sent to schools with “military” discipline. From 18 to 25, offspring have the only break in their lives to be free in university settings; then, they are back to concentration camps in their enterprises and strict duties and responsibilities to their institutions.

The Japanese fathers have an inkling of giving infinitive verbs for names to their boys such as “Work”; whereas females receive poetic names such as “Snow”, Rain”, or “Flower”.

Here is a list of prescriptions that women have to follow to the letters:

  1. If you are not married by the age of 25, then you have good reasons to be ashamed.
  2. If you laugh, you will not be considered distinguished.
  3. If your face shows feelings then you are vulgar.
  4. If you mention that you have a single hair on your body then you are vile.
  5. If a boy kisses you in public on the cheek then you are a whore.
  6. If you eat with pleasure then you are a sow.
  7. If you experience pleasure sleeping then you are a cow.
  8. If you go to the toilet for body releases, then make sure nobody hear anything.
  9. You should never sweat  Thus, avoid voluptuous love-making.
  10. You should not marry for love.
  11. If you fall in love then you were not well-educated.
  12. Stay thin because males do not appreciate round shapes.

All the sufferings in sticking to these precepts have the sole objective of preserving your honor and nothing else.

In 1993, Amelie had published two books and Fubuki sent her a brief letter in Japanese saying simply “Congratulation”.

 

The pertinent question is: How many conflicts has the project brought in its wake?

Hiding Hand principle?

Obstacles led to frustration, and frustration to anxiety. No one wanted to be anxious. But wasn’t anxiety the most powerful motivator—the emotion capable of driving even the most reluctant party toward some kind of solution? In the field of developmental economics, this was heretical.

When people from organizations like the World Bank descended on Third World countries, they always tried to remove obstacles to development, to reduce economic anxiety and uncertainty. They wanted to build bridges and roads and airports and dams to insure that businesses and entrepreneurs encountered as few impediments as possible to growth.

But, as Albert O.Hirschman thought about case studies like the Karnaphuli Paper Mills and the Troy-Greenfield folly, he became convinced that his profession had it backward. His profession ought to embrace anxiety, and not seek to remove it.

As he wrote in a follow-up essay to “The Strategy of Economic Development”:

“Law and order and the absence of civil strife seem to be obvious preconditions for the gradual and patient accumulation of skills, capital and investors’ confidence that must be the foundation for economic progress. We are now told, however, that the presence of war-like Indians in North America and the permanent conflict between them and the Anglo-Saxon settlers was a great advantage, because it made necessary methodical, well-planned, and gradual advances toward an interior which always remained in close logistic and cultural contact with the established communities to the East.

In Brazil, on the contrary, the back-lands were open and virtually uncontested; the result was that once an excessively vast area had been occupied in an incredibly brief time span the pioneers became isolated and regressed economically and culturally.

The entrepreneur takes risks but does not see himself as a risk-taker, because he operates under the useful delusion that what he’s attempting is not risky.

Trapped in mid-mountain, people discover the truth—and, because it is too late to turn back, they’re forced to finish the job.

“We have ended up here with an economic argument strikingly paralleling Christianity’s oft expressed preference for the repentant sinner over the righteous man who never strays from the path,” Hirschman wrote in this essay from 1967.

Success grew from failure:

And essentially the same idea, even though formulated, as one might expect, in a vastly different spirit, is found in Nietzsche’s famous maxim, “That which does not destroy me, makes me stronger.” This sentence admirably epitomizes several of the histories of economic development projects in recent decades.

As was nearly always the case with Hirschman’s writing, he made his argument without mathematical formulas or complex models. His subject was economics, but his spirit was literary.

He drew on Brecht, Kafka, Freud, Flaubert, La Rochefoucauld, Montesquieu, Montaigne, and Machiavelli, not to mention Homer—he had committed huge sections of the Odyssey to memory.

The pleasure of reading Hirschman comes not only from the originality of his conclusions but also from the delightfully idiosyncratic path he took to them.

Consider this, from the same essay (and, remember, this is an economist who’s writing):

“While we are rather willing and even eager and relieved to agree with a historian’s finding that we stumbled into the more shameful events of history, such as war, we are correspondingly unwilling to concede—we find it intolerable to imagine—that our more lofty achievements, such as economic, social or political progress, could have come about by stumbling rather than through careful planning. . . . Language itself conspires toward this sort of asymmetry: we fall into error, but do not usually speak of falling into truth.

Worldly Philosopher: The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman” (Princeton), by the Princeton historian Jeremy Adelman, is a biography worthy of the man. Adelman brilliantly and beautifully brings Hirschman to life, giving us an unforgettable portrait of one of the twentieth century’s most extraordinary intellectuals.

The great influence on Hirschman’s life was his brother-in-law, the Italian intellectual Eugenio Colorni. Colorni and Hirschman were as close as siblings, and when Colorni was killed by Fascist thugs in Rome, during the Second World War, Hirschman was inconsolable. Adelman writes:

“Colorni believed that doubt was creative because it allowed for alternative ways to see the world, and seeing alternatives could steer people out of intractable circles and self-feeding despondency. Doubt, in fact, could motivate: freedom from ideological constraints opened up political strategies, and accepting the limits of what one could know liberated agents from their dependence on the belief that one had to know everything before acting, that conviction was a precondition for action.

The phrase that Hirschman and Colorni would repeat to each other was that they hoped to “prove Hamlet wrong.” Hamlet shouldn’t have been frozen by his doubts; he should have been freed by them.

Hamlet took himself too seriously. He thought he needed to be perfect. Colorni and Hirschman didn’t. “Courage required the willingness “to always be on guard against oneself. Colorni wrote,

Doubt didn’t mean disengagement.

In the summer of 1936, Hirschman volunteered to fight in Spain on the side of the Loyalists, against General Franco’s German-backed Fascists. He was twenty-one and living in Paris, having just got back from studying at the London School of Economics. He was among the first wave of German and Italian volunteers to take the train to Barcelona. “When I heard that there was even a possibility to do something,” Hirschman said, “I went.”

Hirschman rarely spoke about what happened in Spain.

Decades later, Adelman recounts, Albert and his wife, Sarah, went to see a film about the Spanish Civil War. Afterward, Sarah asked Albert, “Was it like that?” His response was a deft non-response: “Yeah, that was a pretty good film.” On this subject, as on a few others, Sarah felt a certain reticence in her husband. Still, as Adelman remarks, “the scars on his neck and leg made it impossible for her to forget.”

Adelman interprets Hirschman’s silence as disenchantment: “The endless debate rehearsed in Berlin and Paris over left-wing tactics was more than a farce, it was a tragedy of epic proportions.

Hirschman saw the Communists move in and, in his mind, the spirit of the cause became contaminated. It broke his heart.

But Hirschman would come to recognize that action fueled by doubt allows for failures to be left behind. Spain was a tragedy, but it was also, for him, an experiment, and experiments go awry.

Hirschman liked to say that he had “a propensity to self-subversion.” He even gave one of his books that title.

He qualified and questioned and hedged as a matter of habit. He never trusted himself enough to indulge in grand theorizing. He pursued the “petite idée” to come to an understanding of reality in portions, admitting that the angle may be subjective.”

Once, when a World Bank director sent him a paper that referred to the “Hirschman Doctrine,” Hirschman replied, “Fortunately, there is no Hirschman school of economic development and I cannot point to a large pool of disciples where one might fish out someone to work with you along those lines.”

Hirschman spent his career in constant motion.

After doing graduate training in London and Italy, fighting in Spain, and spending the first part of the war in France, he left for the United States, by which point he had begun to lose track of his own movements.

“This makes my fifth emigration,” he wrote to his mother. He accepted a fellowship at Berkeley (where he met the woman he would marry, Sarah Chapiro, another émigré), did a tour of duty for the O.S.S. in North Africa and Europe, and, with the war concluded, served a stint at the Federal Reserve Board, where he grew so unhappy that he would return home to his wife and two daughters in Chevy Chase, shut the door to his study, and bury himself in Kafka.

He worked for the Marshall Plan in Washington, providing “the thinking behind the thinking,” only to be turned down for a transfer to Paris because of a failed national-security review. He was in his mid-thirties. On a whim, he packed up the family and moved to Bogotá, Colombia, where he worked on a project for the World Bank.

He crisscrossed Colombia with “pen in hand and paper handy, examining irrigation projects, talking to local bankers about their farm loans, and scribbling calculations about the costs of road building.”

Writing to her parents about the family’s decision to move to Colombia, which was then in the midst of a civil war, Sarah explained, “We both realize that you should think of the future—make plans for the children etc. But I think we both somehow feel that it is impossible to know what is best and that the present is so much more important—because if the present is solid and good it will be a surer basis for a good future than any plans that you can make.”

Most people would not have left a home in Chevy Chase and the security of a job in Washington to go to a Third World country where armed gangsters roamed the streets, because they would feel certain that Colombia was a mistake. Hirschman believed, as a matter of principle, that it was impossible to know whether Colombia would be a mistake.

As it happened, the 4 years the family spent in Bogotá were among its happiest.

Hirschman returned to Latin America again and again during his career, and what he learned there provided the raw material for his most brilliant work. His doubt was a gift, not a curse.

Hirschman published his first important book, “The Strategy of Economic Development,” in 1958. He had returned from Colombia by then and was at Yale, and the book was an attempt to make sense of his experience of watching a country try to lift itself out of poverty.

At the time, he was reading deeply in the literature of psychology and psychoanalysis, and he became fascinated with the functional uses of negative emotions: frustration, aggression, and, in particular, anxiety.

The impulse of the developmental economist in those days would have been to remove the “impediments” to growth—to swoop in and have some powerful third party deal with the “war-like Indians.” But that would have turned North America into Brazil, and the pioneers would never have been forced to develop methodical, well-planned advances in logistical contact with the East.

Developing countries required more than capital. They needed practice in making difficult economic decisions.

Economic progress was the product of successful habits—and there is no better teacher, Hirschman felt, than a little adversity.

Hirschman would rather encourage settlers and entrepreneurs at the grass-roots level—and make them learn how to cope with those impediments themselves—than run the risk that aid might infantilize its recipient.

He loved to tell the story of how, at a dinner party in a Latin American country, he struggled to track down the telephone number of a fellow-academic: “I asked whether there might be a chance that X would be listed in the telephone directory; this suggestion was shrugged off with the remark that the directory makes a point of listing only people who have either emigrated or died. . . . The economist said that X must be both much in demand and hard to reach, as several people had inquired about how to get in touch with him within the past few days. The subject was dropped as hopeless, and everybody spent a pleasant evening.”

Back in his hotel room, Hirschman looked in the phone book, found his friend’s number, and got him on the line immediately.

A few years after publishing “The Strategy of Economic Development,” Hirschman was invited by the World Bank to conduct a survey of some of its projects. He drew up his own itinerary, which, typically, involved almost an entire circuit of the globe: a power plant in El Salvador, roads in Ecuador, an irrigation project in Peru, pasture improvement in Uruguay, telecommunication in Ethiopia, power transmission in Uganda, an irrigation project in Sudan, railway modernization in Nigeria, the Damodar Valley Corporation in India, the Karnaphuli Paper Mills, an irrigation project in Thailand and another in the south of Italy.

Adelman is struck by the tone of optimism in Hirschman’s notes on his journey. The economist was interested in all the ways in which projects managed to succeed, both in spite of and because of the difficulties:

Instead of asking: what benefits has this project yielded, it would almost be more pertinent to ask: how many conflicts has it brought in its wake?

How many crises has it occasioned and passed through? And these conflicts and crises should appear both on the benefit and the cost side, or sometimes on one—sometimes on the other, depending on the outcome (which cannot be known with precision for a long time, if ever).

Only Hirschman would circle the globe and be content to conclude that he couldn’t reach a conclusion—for a long time, if ever.

He was a planner who really didn’t believe in planning. He wanted to remind other economists that a lot of the problems they tried to fix were either better off not being fixed or weren’t problems to begin with.

Late in life, Hirschman underwent surgery in Germany. When he emerged from anesthesia, he asked his surgeon, “Why are bananas bent?” The doctor shrugged. Hirschman, even then, could not resist a poke at his fellow economic planners: “Because nobody went to the jungle to adjust it and make it straight.”

While fighting for France during the Second World War, Hirschman persuaded his commander to give him false French papers and he became Albert Hermant. After the country fell to the Germans, Hirschman ended up in Marseilles, along with thousands of other refugees. There he learned that an American named Varian Fry was coming to France as part of the Emergency Rescue Committee—an American group that sought to get as many Jewish refugees out of France as possible. Hirschman met Fry at the train station and took him back to the Hotel Splendide. They hit it off instantly.

Fry had access to U.S. visas. But he needed Hirschman’s help in figuring out escape routes into Spain, procuring false passports and identity papers, and smuggling in money to fund the operation. Hirschman was invaluable. He spoke Italian like an Italian and German like a German and French like a Frenchman, and had so many fake documents—including a card attesting to membership in the “Club for People Without Clubs”—that Fry joked he was “like a criminal who has too many alibis.”

Fry nicknamed Hirschman Beamish, on account of his irrepressible charm. Beginning in 1940, the Emergency Rescue Committee helped save thousands of people from the clutches of Fascism, among them Hannah Arendt, André Breton, Marc Chagall, Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, and Alma Mahler.

Hirschman was as reluctant to talk about his time in Marseilles as he was to talk about the battles he fought in the Spanish Civil War.

As a fellow at Berkeley, in the early forties, he was placed in the International House, and the other graduate students urged him to speak about what had happened to him in Europe. “The newcomer sat there,” Adelman writes, “with his handkerchief twisted in his fingers, nervously waiting for the calls to pass.”

Hirschman moved out of the International House as soon as he could. “I couldn’t stand being considered as sort of a wonder of the world or something like that,” he later recalled. “I just wanted to be myself.”

The closest Hirschman ever came to explaining his motives was in his most famous work, “Exit, Voice, and Loyalty,” and even then it was only by implication.

Hirschman was interested in contrasting the two strategies that people have for dealing with badly performing organizations and institutions. “Exit” is voting with your feet, expressing your displeasure by taking your business elsewhere. “Voice” is staying put and speaking up, choosing to fight for reform from within. There is no denying where his heart lay.

Early in the book, Hirschman quoted the conservative economist Milton Friedman, who argued that school vouchers should replace the current public-school system. “Parents could express their views about schools directly, by withdrawing their children from one school and sending them to another, to a much greater extent than is now possible,” Friedman wrote. “In general they can now take this step only by changing their place of residence. For the rest, they can express their views only through cumbrous political channels.”

This was, Hirschman wrote, a “near perfect example of the economist’s bias in favor of exit and against voice”:

In the first place, Friedman considers withdrawal or exit as the “direct” way of expressing one’s unfavorable views of an organization. A person less well trained in economics might naively suggest that the direct way of expressing views is to express them!

Secondly, the decision to voice one’s views and efforts to make them prevail are contemptuously referred to by Friedman as a resort to “cumbrous political channels.” But what else is the political, and indeed the democratic, process than the digging, the use, and hopefully the slow improvement of these very channels?

Hirschman pointed out the ways in which “exit” failed to send a useful message to underperformers. Weren’t there cases where monopolists were relieved when their critics left?

“Those who hold power in the lazy monopoly may actually have an interest in creating some limited opportunities for exit on the part of those whose voice might be uncomfortable,” he wrote. The worst thing that ever happened to incompetent public-school districts was the growth of private schools: they siphoned off the kind of parents who would otherwise have agitated more strongly for reform.

Exit is passive. It is silent protest. And silent protest, for him, is too easy. “Proving Hamlet wrong” was about the importance of acting in the face of doubt—but also of acting in the face of fear.

Voice was courage. He went to fight Fascism in Spain. It ended in failure. When the Nazis came hunting for the Jews, he tried again. “Expanding the operation meant, increasingly, that Beamish’s work was in the streets, bars, and brothels of Marseilles, expanding the tentacles of the operation,” Adelman writes. “If the operation had a fixer, it was Beamish. It was a role he relished.”

Beamish screened the refugees, weeding out potential informers. He cajoled first the Czech, then the Polish, and, finally, the Lithuanian consuls into providing fake passports. He made deals with Marseilles mobsters and a shadowy Russian émigré to get money into France. He held secret meetings in brothels. Several times, he was nearly caught, but he charmed his way out of trouble.

When the authorities finally caught onto Hirschman, he escaped across the Pyrenees to Spain on foot, equipped with false Lithuanian papers.

On the ship to America, he played Ping-Pong and chess, and romanced a young Czech woman. As Adelman’s magnificent biography makes plain, it was hard not to fall for Albert Hirschman.

A colleague from his Marseilles days remembered him, years later, as “a handsome fellow with rather soulful eyes . . . taking everything in, his head cocked slightly to one side. One of those German intellectuals, I thought, always trying to figure everything out.” ♦

 published in The New Yorker this June 24, 2013

Note 2: Hirschman was born in Berlin in 1915, into a prosperous family of Jewish origin. His father was a surgeon, and the family lived in the embassy district, near the Tiergarten. Hirschman was slender and handsome, in the mold of Albert Camus. He dressed elegantly, danced skillfully, spoke half a dozen languages, and had a special affection for palindromes.

He was absent-minded and distracted. While lecturing, Adelman writes, “He rambled. He mumbled. Mid-sentence, he would pause, his right hand supporting his chin, his eyes drifting upward to fasten on a spot on the ceiling.” He would call his wife upon taking his car somewhere because—as he once said—“I do not know how to put it among two other cars on the sidewalk.”

“When you spoke to him,” a friend said, “it was sometimes five or ten seconds before he would show any sign of having heard you.” He was also deeply charming when he put his mind to it.

Gift of Doubt? Power of failure?

People don’t seek out challenges “They are apt to take on and plunge into new tasks because of the erroneously presumed absence of a challenge—because the task looks easier and more manageable than it will turn out to be.

Albert O. Hirschman and the power of failure.

In the mid-nineteenth century, work began on a crucial section of the railway line connecting Boston to the Hudson River.

The addition would run from Greenfield, Massachusetts, to Troy, New York, and it required tunneling through Hoosac Mountain, a nearly 5-mile impediment, that blocked passage between the Deerfield Valley and a tributary of the Hudson.

James Hayward, one of New England’s leading railroad engineers, estimated that penetrating the Hoosac would cost, at most, a very manageable $2 million.

The president of Amherst College, an accomplished geologist, said that the mountain was composed of soft rock and that tunneling would be fairly easy once the engineers had breached the surface.

“The Hoosac . . . is believed to be the only barrier between Boston and the Pacific,” the project’s promoter, Alvah Crocker, declared.

Everyone was wrong. Digging through the Hoosac turned out to be a nightmare. The project cost more than ten times the budgeted estimate.

If the people involved had known the true nature of the challenges they faced, they would never have funded the Troy-Greenfield railroad.

Had they not, the factories of northwestern Massachusetts wouldn’t have been able to ship their goods so easily to the expanding West, the cost of freight would have remained stubbornly high, and the State of Massachusetts would have been immeasurably poorer.

So is ignorance an impediment to progress or a precondition for it?

The economist Albert O. Hirschman, who died last December, loved paradoxes like this.

He was a “planner,” the kind of economist who conceives of grand infrastructure projects and bold schemes. But his eye was drawn to the many ways in which plans did not turn out the way they were supposed to—to unintended consequences and perverse outcomes and the puzzling fact that the shortest line between two points is often a dead end.

Hirschman was a planner who saw virtue in the fact that nothing went as planned. Illustration by Ricardo Martinez.

“The Principle of the Hiding Hand,” one of Hirschman many memorable essays, drew on an account of the Troy-Greenfield “folly,” and then presented an even more elaborate series of paradoxes. Hirschman had studied the enormous Karnaphuli Paper Mills, in what was then East Pakistan.

The mill was built to exploit the vast bamboo forests of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. But not long after the mill came online, the bamboo unexpectedly flowered and then died, a phenomenon now known to recur every 50 years or so. Dead bamboo was useless for pulping; it fell apart as it was floated down the river.

Because of ignorance and bad planning, a new, multimillion-dollar industrial plant was suddenly without the raw material it needed to function.

But what impressed Hirschman was the response to the crisis.

The mill’s operators quickly found ways to bring in bamboo from villages throughout East Pakistan, building a new supply chain using the country’s many waterways.

They started a research program to find faster-growing species of bamboo to replace the dead forests, and planted an experimental tract. They found other kinds of lumber that worked just as well. The result was that the plant was blessed with a far more diversified base of raw materials than had ever been imagined.

If bad planning hadn’t led to the crisis at the Karnaphuli plant, the mill’s operators would never have been forced to be creative. And the plant would not have been nearly as valuable as it became.

“We may be dealing here with a general principle of action,” Hirschman wrote:

Creativity always comes as a surprise to us; therefore we can never count on it and we dare not believe in it until it has happened. We would not consciously engage upon tasks whose success clearly requires that creativity be forthcoming.

Hence, the only way in which we can bring our creative resources fully into play is by misjudging the nature of the task, by presenting it to ourselves as more routine, simple, undemanding of genuine creativity than it will turn out to be.

 published in The New Yorker this June 24, 2013

 

Memoirs of a Shia Woman

Tell Mr. Wehbeh: “Bahia has finally landed”

Hameed was seriously considering returning home to Lebanon: He just learned that his mother Zahia had passed away

Actually, the reason Hameed travelled to New York just after WWI was to convince his elder brother Wehbeh to return home because his mother was heart broken: Her favorite eldest son has left her over 10 years ago and never showed sign of coming back for a visit.

News in the early 1920’s reached the toiling people overseas many weeks later.

An employee in Wehbeh restaurant in New York informed Hameed that a lady outside wants to meet with him. The worker said: “She is a lady

On seeing the lady, Hameed felt a confusing impression of having met this woman when he was pretty young.

The lady greeted Hameed in English “Good morning” and resumed in a Lebanese Arabic slang: “Saida, Saida Mr. Hameed. Where is Mr. Wehbeh?

Hameed memory rewinded to over a decade ago, a scene of his father holding a whip, ready for action, and his brother Wehbeh raising a chair. The father spitting and shouting”Adabsis” (A turkish work meaning evil, naughty…)

Hameed recalls crossing the narrow streets in the city of Tyr (in south Lebanon) in the Manara block, and a young girl walking the opposite side of the street. The girl looked briefly at Hameed. And here he is hearing the lady saying: “Tell Mr. Wehbet that Bahia has finally landed”

The story of Wehbeh Ne3meh and Bahia, the daughter of Simon the Copt, took place a few years before WWI. Wehbeh never witnessed the horror of this war or the famine that harvested a quarter of Lebanon’s population, and the onslaught of the locusts…

Wehbeh was a Muslim Shi3a and Bahia was a Christian Orthodox.

They fell in love as Wehbeh was accompanying his Christian fisherman friend Hanna (John) to the church on a Sunday.  Bahia dressed and walked differently from the girls Wehbeh saw in the city.

Since there was no chance for their families to agree on their wedding, this potential couple decided to elope and try to manage later a reconciliation between the families.

Wehbeh was to rent a room in the next city of Saida and wait for Hanna to bring Bahia by sea.

Wehbeh waited for three days and nights by the seashore, at the port, barely sleeping for fear of missing the encounter. He finally gave up and surreptitiously returned to Tyr by night in order Not to meet any person and find out what was the problem.

Bahia was to be engaged to Iskandar, a old 55 year-old Christian man, and Wehbeh was apprehensive that the secret meeting was discovered and Bahia was hurriedly made to marry a man she didn’t care to live with.

Bahia stayed at her aunt. Bahia was to prepare a bag of her belonging, drop it at Hanna’s house, and join Hanna by nightfall to be whisked away on his small fisherman boat.

At the last day, Hanna had a terrible bout of bad conscience, sort of committing an unforgivable sin: He  will be blamed for a mix marriage, considered an enemy to his religious sect, and banned from the city…

Hanna met with the priest and confessed. They both knelt and prayed for hours. The evil Shaitan (demon) was defeated. Only the priest and the aunt knew about the scheme: It was not proper to spread the news…

Wehbeh decided to leave Lebanon and ended up in New York.

These thwarted  love stories based on religious differences were common before, and current even today, and will last for another century.

Note: This story is taken from “Memoirs of a Shia Woman” by Raja2 Ne3meh (Rajaa Nemeh). Hameed will become the father of Rajaa

Virgin wilderness, Pablo Neruda, blood, wind, libertad, Americana

Two huasos (Argentine cowboys gauchos), ride with fury; they rear up in front of the garden.

With one hand, one of the uncles carries little Pablo Neruda behind him on the rump of the horse (ride pillion); the other uncle is carrying a tied up sheep.

They gallop full wind to the sun set, to the shadow of a large tree with a crackling bonfire.

The muchachos fire their guns in the air; an uncle slid the sheep’s throat; the creamy blood is collected; Pablo drinks a cup full.

Songs on love, corazon, and guitar strumming fill the air.

 

I saw shadows, faces sprouting

Like plants around our roots, parents

Singing romance in the shadow of a tree

Running among the wet horses.

Women hidden in the shadow

Of masculine towers,

Galops whipping the light,

Rare nights of anger, dogs barking.

 

Chili is a continent in longitude, spanning a length as vast as from Norway to Senegal in Africa. Chili extends from the tropics all the way down to Antarctica and squeezed naturally between the Andes mountain chains to the Pacific.

All kinds of climates can be experienced when riding the rail from north to south.  Chili was never subjugated by any king or a colonial power.

Whitman, Thoreau, and Melville chanted the wilderness of North America: the background of these chants was a world already made, in a state of exploitation for profit.

Neruda is chanting a wilderness with peasants and workers toiling on a savage world to be made.

White, black, and Indian, in utter poverty, have no time to compare the color of their skins; they want to get out of the same life of misery.

The South Americans chant liberty and freedom in every moment and at every occasion. Neruda is the son of “a silent, mother of clay“:

 

What I saw first were the trees,

Ravines adorned in flowers, wild beauty,

Humid territory, forest ablaze,

And winter behind the world, overflowed.

My childhood, those wet shoes,

Tree trunks broken,

Fallen in the jungle, devoured by lichen.

Pablo was born in 1904 as Ricardo Neftali Reyes Morales.

He used his pen name (pseudonym) Pablo Neruda because of the Check poet Jan Neruda.

His mother died of tuberculosis shortly after he was given birth.  Pablo’s dad Jose Reyes remarried Rosa Opazo who took care of Pablo as his real mother.

Jose Reyes constructed railways:

 

My dad sneaks out in the obscure dawn.

Toward what lost archipelagos these trains are howling?

Later, I liked the smell of coal in the fume;

The burned oil, and the precise frozen axes.

Suddenly, the doors rattled. It is my dad.

The centurions of the railway surround him:

Their wet coats inundate the house with steam.

Reports invade the dining room; wine bottles are emptied.

I capture the suffering, the crying, the dark scars, men with no money,

The mineral claws of poverty.

This part is a short biography for anyone interested.

Pablo moved to Santiago in 1921 and studied French literature. Since 1927 he was successively appointed consul in Rangoon, in Sri Lanka, then Batavia (Java) where he married the first time with Marie-Antoinette Vogelzang (Maruca; a Dutch).  Pablo was then consul in Singapore, Barcelona in 1934. His daughter Malva Marina was born in Madrid.

Pablo is consul in Madrid in 1935. The Spanish civil started and Garcia Lorca is assassinated. Neruda writes his first political poem “Chant to mothers of assassinated militiamen” and was relieved of his official functions.

In 1937, Neruda founded in Paris the Hispanic American Group to aiding the Spanish republicans.

By 1938, Neruda’s father died and he started “Chant to Chili”. Neruda is dispatched to Paris in 1939 to facilitate the transfer of 2,000 Spanish refugees to Chili.  Neruda is again appointed consul in Mexico.

In 1945 Neruda is elected Senator to the mining northern region and he adhered to the Communist Party.

President Videla persecuted Neruda who had to flee into exile in 1949 through the Andes mountains.   Neruda travels to the Soviet Union, Poland, and Mexico. He  receive the medal of Peace.

Neruda is back to Santiago in 1952 and built his house “The Chascona“. Neruda marries a third time with Matilde Urrutia and they went in a long trip to Europe. In 1960 Neruda is in Cuba after the success of the revolution of Fidel Castro and writes “Songs of gesture”.

In 1966 Neruda is invited in the USA for a series of reading; the Cuban poets and writers sign a letter proclaiming that Neruda has sided with the imperialist enemies.

Neruda is candidate to be President in 1969 but withdrew in favor of Salvador Allende; he is appointed Ambassador in Paris and receive the Nobel Prize of literature in 1972.

A military putsch kills Allende in September 1973. Neruda dies three days later at the age of 69, most probably assassinated .

The Rise to Power of Mohammed bin Salman (MBS)?

This young “prince“ never earned a dime, never ran a company,  never acquired military experience, never studied at a foreign university, never mastered a foreign language. He never spent significant time oversea… and he is running this Wahhabi Saudi Kingdom

And how Saudi Kingdom has gone bankrupt?

By March 9, 2020

A review of “The Rise to Power of Mohammed bin Salman”. By Ben Hubbard

On the final page of his book “MBS,” the detailed and disturbing portrait of Saudi Kingdom crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, Ben Hubbard admits that, given what he learned in the course of his reporting on the kingdom’s de facto ruler and the ways his ruthless minions have pursued their boss’s perceived enemies, he “did wonder, while walking home late at night or drifting off to sleep, whether they might come after me as well.”

Anyone who reads Hubbard’s clear and convincing narrative will find the concern all too plausible.

And where could you turn if the prince did lash out?

Certainly not to an American administration that believed M.B.S. ordered the 2018 murder and dismemberment of the Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi but gave the prince a pass.

It could very well be that the crown prince had knowledge of this tragic event — maybe he did, maybe he didn’t!” said President Trump, who always equivocates about inconvenient facts.

Trump went on “The United States intends to remain a steadfast partner of Saudi Arabia to ensure the interests of our country.” Not the least of those interests: more than a hundred billion dollars’ worth of arms deals.

Hubbard, The New York Times Beirut bureau chief, puts the story of Mohammed bin Salman’s ascent in a context that extends well beyond the region.

“MBS rise rode the waves of global trends. As more of the world’s wealth was concentrated in fewer hands, populist authoritarians used nationalist rhetoric to rally their people while shutting down outlets for opposition.” In such a world, the prince fit right in.

“M.B.S. saw no need for checks on his power and crushed all threats to it. … He would stop at nothing to make Saudi Arabia great again, on his terms.”

While there are no big news revelations in “MBS,” the book’s strength is the thoroughness of its reporting.

Hubbard interviewed contacts inside the kingdom until the Saudis stopped giving him visas in 2018.

Many of those he talked to chose to remain anonymous, fearing retaliation. Those he cites by name are very brave, or else as arrogant and unrepentant as M.B.S. himself.

Hubbard acknowledges that much of what M.B.S. has done for his country and its people, especially its young people, has been as admirable as it is overdue, but in this age of incipient tyrants he also understands that authoritarian rulers can be tremendously popular even when they are terribly feare

“Will M.B.S. mature into a wiser monarch, or will unpleasant surprises continue to punctuate his reign?” Hubbard asks.

The record to date is hardly auspicious. Khashoggi’s murder is only the most famous of those surprises. There is also the alleged hacking by M.B.S. of a cellphone belonging to Jeff Bezos, the C.E.O. of Amazon (and the owner of The Washington Post), who had shared his private number with the prince.

More recently, to consolidate his hold on power, M.B.S. arrested an uncle, two cousins and a former crown prince. There is every reason to believe that M.B.S., who is just 34, will be around for decades to come — a frightening prospect.

Reading Hubbard’s book, one is constantly reminded how young M.B.S. really is. He was born in 1985 and was not quite 5 when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990.

He was barely 16 when his renegade compatriot Osama bin Laden attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.

ImagePresident Donald Trump shakes hands with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the 2019 G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan.
Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

M.B.S. did not grow up nurturing expectations that he would one day rule.

He was the eldest son of the third wife of the 25th son of Abdulaziz Ibn Saud, the founding king of the nation that bears the family name.

As such, M.B.S. was very low in a line of succession that had, since the death of Abdulaziz in 1953, passed the crown from one brother or half brother to another without any clear picture of when or how it would move to the next generation.

But by the second decade of this century, the gerontocracy was no longer sustainable.

The brothers in line for the throne were dying off before they could sit on it, finally opening the way for one of the last of them, Salman bin Abdulaziz, the father of M.B.S., to take power in January 2015.

Salman was 79 and, by many accounts, would soon show hints of dementia. (The Saudi royal court has denied that King Salman suffers from mental impairment.)

M.B.S. had several older half brothers, including one who had flown as an astronaut on the American space shuttle, but by the time his father ascended the throne, the brash 29-year-old M.B.S. was well established as the favorite.

While the others were educated abroad and lived much of their lives outside the kingdom, M.B.S. had stayed close to home and to Salman, the governor of Riyadh.

He “never ran a company that made a mark,” Hubbard writes. “He never acquired military experience. He never studied at a foreign university. He never mastered, or even became functional in, a foreign language. He never spent significant time in the United States, Europe or elsewhere in the West.”

Yet suddenly there he was, the rising star in the royal palace.

M.B.S. immediately acquired important portfolios as minister of defense and became the gatekeeper for the king as head of the royal court.

He would later brag that in the first 10 days of his father’s rule, “the entire government was restructured.”

The pace of disruption was extraordinary and very quickly became dangerous.

In March 2015, barely two months after he took over the Defense Ministry, M.B.S. ordered the until then mostly decorative Saudi Air Force to start bombing Yemen, which was in the midst of a civil war.

The operation was supposed to last weeks and intimidate Iran, which has supported one of the warring factions.

But the fighting continues to this day, accumulating a grim record of civilian casualties, many of them killed by bombs supplied by the United States to the Saudis. Disease has added to the misery of what has become, according to the United Nations, the world’s worst humanitarian disaster.

Although an older, much more experienced cousin of M.B.S. had been made crown prince and heir apparent, palace insiders could see early on that the cousin would not be around for long.

The bond between M.B.S. and his father the king was too close. “Between the onion and the skin there is only the stink,” was an often repeated saying around Riyadh. And by the summer of 2017, M.B.S. had forced his rival out.

The prince’s reflexive resentment of anyone who questioned him soon became as obvious as his ambition. According to Hubbard, he even locked his mother and two of her sisters away in a palace, apparently to keep them quiet.

In a still more sinister vein, in January 2016, Saudi Arabia announced it had executed 47 men deemed enemies of the state. Many were affiliated with Al Qaeda, but others were activists from the country’s Shiite minority and suspected of having ties to Iran.

The human rights criticism that ensued from the Obama administration did not sit well with the Saudis, especially after Washington’s nuclear deal with Tehran left them feeling unsure about their longstanding American security guarantees.

At a tense meeting between the king and Barack Obama in Saudi Arabia in 2016, M.B.S. intervened to tell the president that he didn’t understand the Saudi justice system and offered to have it explained to him.

“The image that stuck with the Americans,” Hubbard writes, “was that of a 30-year-old prince rising to his feet to lecture the president of the United States. They had never seen anything like it.”

Two months later, M.B.S. went on an extended tour of the United States, meeting many of the richest, most powerful people in the country.

He was touting his grand economic plan, called Vision 2030, and was unapologetic about the virtues of authoritarianism. “There is an advantage to quickness of decision-making, the kind of fast change that an absolute monarch can do in one step that would take a traditional democracy 10 steps,” he said at a meeting in Silicon Valley.

Ominous as that sounded to some, he was also using his power to break through barriers that many young Saudis found suffocating. The religious police had long enforced strict rules on the general population, especially on women, who were required to keep their bodies nearly entirely covered in public.

There was no public mixing of the sexes. There were no movies. Life in a country where the government’s legitimacy rested largely on its custodianship of the holiest mosques in Islam was, when not brutal, brutally boring, and successive rulers had been unwilling or unable to challenge these enforcers of Wahhabi morality. Saudi kings could provide their people with bread, but no circuses.

Then, in April 2016, the religious police suddenly were stripped of their powers. “With a single royal decree,” Hubbard writes, “M.B.S. had defanged the clerics, clearing the way for vast changes they most certainly would have opposed.”

M.B.S. eventually allowed women in the kingdom to drive cars, ending a prohibition that activists had campaigned against since he was a preschooler. But he also threw in jail and tortured some of the women who had fought so long and hard for that right. The message was that good things came from the palace, and only from the palace.

Meanwhile, “circuses” for the masses have begun big time, from operas to professional wrestling, monster trucks and movie theaters, even the Cirque du Soleil.

When Donald Trump, another kind of showman, was elected president of the United States in 2016, M.B.S. was ready to forge a whole new relationship with the White House.

“Early on,” Hubbard writes, “the Saudis identified the Trump administration’s approach to foreign policy as transactional, run by deal makers looking out for the bottom line, not by diplomats focused on long-term interests or even, at times, values. Trump’s game was one the Saudis knew how to play.”

Through intermediaries, M.B.S. courted Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, a contemporary of the young prince who had been given the difficult Middle East portfolio.

Kushner knew virtually nothing about the region apart from what he had learned over the years from the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a close family friend.

M.B.S. offered to explain things. His money and connections and his vision could solve every problem, it seemed, and he was quick to say that Israel was not his enemy — Iran was. Plus, there was money, money, money on the table.

Image

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in 2018.
Credit…Amr Nabil/Associated Press

In the spring of 2017, when M.B.S. became the official heir apparent to the Saudi throne, his operations to consolidate personal power went into high gear.

He broke relations with the neighboring emirate of Qatar, claiming it supported terrorists and was too cozy with Iran, and demanded that it shut down the contentious Al Jazeera television network.

Trump initially backed the play until he was told more than 10,000 U.S. troops use Qatar as a vital regional base. Al Jazeera is still on the air.

Then, in another stunning operation, M.B.S. imprisoned hundreds of the kingdom’s richest and most influential men in the Riyadh Ritz-Carlton, forcing them to sign over to the government — his government — tens of billions of dollars’ worth of assets he claimed were ill-gotten gains.

Some people noted that M.B.S. had bought an enormous yacht for $456 million and what was called the “world’s most expensive home,” a French chateau (actually more of a modern mega-McMansion), for $300 million, but criticism was muted.

Real fear had begun to settle on Saudi society. Despite the opulent surroundings of their “prison,” many of those held at the Ritz-Carlton suffered real abuse, according to Hubbard.

At about the same time, the crown prince invited Saad Hariri, the prime minister of Lebanon, to Riyadh, where he was put under arrest and forced to announce his resignation.

Under duress Hariri appeared on television denouncing the role Iran and its client militia Hezbollah played in his country, which was a good way to start a new civil war there. Hubbard writes that is exactly what M.B.S. wanted: “Gradually, the details of the Saudi plot came out. They were crazier than anyone expected.”

The Saudis apparently believed troops from Hezbollah were fighting against them and their clients in Yemen, and if there was civil war in Lebanon, they’d have to return home. In the end, virtually nobody accepted that Hariri had resigned in good faith, but it took an intervention by the French president Emmanuel Macron to extract him from Riyadh.

Woven through Hubbard’s recounting of these events is the story of Khashoggi, his exile from Saudi Arabia, and his gruesome murder. It’s a narrative whose tragic end many readers will know in advance. But Hubbard does a brilliant job helping us understand Khashoggi the man as well as the operation that killed him.

The death squad was allegedly organized by Saud al-Qahtani, a former hacker and a top aide to M.B.S. who had built much of his power by monitoring and manipulating social media.

According to a C.I.A. assessment quoted by Hubbard, early in M.B.S.’s reign he had ordered al-Qahtani and an organization that became known as the Rapid Intervention Group “to target his opponents domestically and abroad, sometimes violently.”

On Oct. 2, 2018, a 15-member team caught up with Khashoggi in Saudi Arabia’s Istanbul consulate when he went there to pick up a document necessary to register his marriage. He never came out.

Turkish intelligence eventually allowed the C.I.A. and investigators from the United Nations to listen to tapes of the murder and dismemberment. The movements of the Saudi hit team were caught on surveillance cameras as well. The group had included a forensic pathologist expert in dissection who had brought along a bone saw, and a portly body double who left the consulate wearing Khashoggi’s clothes to give the impression he’d made a safe exit. By then the corpse was in pieces.

Was there a smoking gun to implicate M.B.S.? After a detailed intelligence briefing, Senator Lindsey Graham said there was “a smoking saw.”

But as Trump announced, the United States would remain “a steadfast partner” of Saudi Arabia, and there is every reason to believe the incarnation of that partnership for decades to come will be Mohammed bin Salman.

Christopher Dickey, a former Middle East correspondent for The Washington Post and Newsweek, is the world news editor of The Daily Beast.

MBS
The Rise to Power of Mohammed Bin Salman
By Ben Hubbard
Illustrated. 359 pp. Tim Duggan Books. $28.

An Urban Detour in architecture?

Note: Re-edit of “An Urban Detour” by Rania Sassine (Book Review). March 28, 2009

Rania Sassine is a young Lebanese architect. The tiny book “Viree Citadines” is her first and written in French.

Rania is attempting to describe 24 imagined villages that might add variety to the landscape.

The fictional villages are divided into two categories:

The village-objects that resemble objects such as necklace, cone, spinning top, turning wheel, hoop, drawer, geological fault and

The village-adjectives such as magnetic, cloud, artist, show-biz, retirees, fairy tales, remembrance or souvenir,  and on.

I can imagine that the publisher is a close relative of Rania and encouraged her to give him the nod. We thus have got shapes, forms, and unlimited imaginations to dream of new dwelling quarters and communities.

What I will describe are my imagined villages on the main themes because it is a God sent opportunity to refresh my youthful dreams.

If you like to discover Rania’s imagined villages then you read her manuscript.

Imagine a Real Estates developer who acquired a hill.

At the top of the hill he builds a humongous tree-like edifice and from this tree flows a necklace of residences.

There are unlimited variations on the forms, pearls, color, and arrangement of the pearls or stones.

You could have a series of spherical houses or pine-like cones or other gems’ forms and shapes.

Imagine that the developer adds two mounds within the necklace, adjacent and in the shape of apples or pears for public gathering and a commercial center.  The houses could be detachable so that every spring a new look for the necklace is exhibited.

Imagine a flat terrain covered with glass-like materials for tanning and ice skating and the residences are underground.

When it rains or when it thunders or when the sun is blazing then you open a trap and descend a staircase to your house or to the common gathering theater or commercial center. A labyrinth of underground pathways should take you home.

Imagine that the houses in the town are bubbles that are transparent, colorful, and can be navigated to certain altitude.

The well to do can afford large bubbles with complex navigation consoles but the movement of these bubbles is restricted to an area and an altitude.

It would be advisable that clusters of bubbles be attached to one another through flexible tube-like bridges that never tangle up so that people can visit neighbors up in the air.

The elderly are reserved a ring-like bubble houses close to a cushioned ground.  The whole exercise is to never land, which required complex administrative and maintenance jobs.

Imagine a town in the shape of spinning top; it intersects with the ground in a single point and rotate around a seesaw axe.  Would you like this town to spin? Who might reside in it?

Imagine a town built in permanent clouds; an atmosphere of fiber between gas and liquid.

When you enter you have the sensation that thousands hands are touching you and palming you, where you cannot see anything but can hear sounds and music constantly.   Who might reside there and what could be its function and purpose?

Imagine a town reserved for characters in fairy tales, or simply tales, decked in the corresponding characters.  What could be its shape and what could it produce to stay financially stable?

Imagine a town where it rains constantly 24 hours and every day.  The clouds are made to converge to this town and deliver their bounty.  The town is built to store rain water and distribute it equitably to the rest of the world.  Who would like to work there and how workers could survive?

Imagine a town built as drawers with translational motions. What could be its purpose and who might reside there?

Imagine a town in the shape of hoops.  It gravitates around an antenna of photons linking earth to moon.  It can move upwards fast and follow the rotation of the sun 24 hours or decide not to see the sun for 24 hours. What could be its purpose and how could it generate profit?

Imagine a town in a hole, drilled for miles underground in the South Pole.  How could you design it and what could be its purpose?

Imagine a town in the form of a wheel, with a few concentric circles and the possibility to rotate at different angles. What could be its purpose and who would reside there?

This is starting to be a fun exercise.

Could you imagine other kinds of specialized towns in shape and purposes?

Is it a Modern idea? Happiness. A term spread around like cheese cake

Note: Re-edit of “Happiness is a modern idea? What the ancient philosophers were talking about…? Sept. 21, 2012”

In 1794, the young and radical French revolutionary Saint-Just proclaimed at the Convention: “Happiness is a new idea in Europe“.

Saint-Just was a learned man and must have read the documents and discussions of the leaders of the American Revolution and the concept that happiness is a natural right for every citizen. Was this idea of happiness similar to the one understood in Europe?

After the French Revolution, there were ideas thrown around that all citizens were entitled to eat properly, enjoy health, free time for leisure, appropriate retirement conditions…

What substituted for Happiness in Europe before the French Revolution?

Before the revolution, the little people were invisible and were of no concern to the nobility in these absolute monarchies, except when famine hits and the power feels the heat…

The ancient philosophers and the succeeding thinkers viewed happiness as “a way of living”, guided by virtue and reason, in relative indifference to material possession and worldly successes.

It was out of the question that idiots can be considered to be happy

It was not conceivable to claim happiness if you believed that it could have an end: Happiness was a concept directly linked to a faith in eternity and immortality.

Happiness was irreducibly an elitist acquisition, reserved for those who had the mental and material means to become wise and leisurely contemplate nature and the living people…

What could be the meaning and value of Happiness in modern time?

The “utilitarian” vision of happiness (Jeremy Bentham) proclaimed that happiness is in essence the absence of pains and aches, and the satisfaction of individual preferences can come in any order…The goal of the activities of individuals is the greater happiness possible within the greater number of mankind “the common good”.

This “democratization” of happiness, at the reach of the little people, was denuded of its sacred meanings, detached of its religious connotations, not opposite to ephemeral and artificial pleasures…

Like what kinds of modern pleasures?

Smoking marijuana, taking cocaine, morphine, hallucinogenic products, Prozac…watching action movies, scary movies, science fiction movies…all kinds of musics, concerts, all kinds of variety of food, visiting remote regions, seeing new cultures and civilization…wearing variety of clothes…engaging in a variety of physical activities and sports…

The German philosopher Kant tried to demonstrate that happiness bears No Moral meaning.

For example, there are so many objective desires that people aspire to, such as wealth, glory, power…Can we agree that these “values” are at best controversial and not evident to the little people? So many exploiters and tyrants have been swimming in happiness

How happiness was characterized before the French revolution?

1. Epicure (341-270 BC) taught in his Garden to oppose the rigor of stoicism, and to converge toward a moral of moderation “Let’s not jump into any kinds of pleasure…There is no agreeable living without a hefty dose of prudence, honesty and justice…”

2. Seneca (4 BC-65) The individual should be capable of combining reason and character in order to find pleasure from his physical faculties “I am after happiness of man and not of his stomach…”

3. Leibniz (1646-1716): “Evil exists. Considering Creation as a whole, God did his best…The grain suffer in the soil before bearing fruits…Our suffering lead the way to the good, to the greater perfection…”

4. Spinoza (1632-1677): “The essence of mankind is the desire to be happy, to live good, and to act good…The only access to happiness is to know what determine our passions in the natural order of the universe…”

And what are the visions of happiness after 1789?

5. John Stuart Mill (1806-1873). All the pleasures are Not of equal values. It is better to be an unhappy Socrates rather than a happy imbecile. Individual happiness is not complete if the common good is forgotten and neglected…

6. Nietzsche (1844-1900): “Who cannot learn to take a break to forget the past, to enjoy the moment, will never appreciate happiness, and will never learn how render others happy…There is a level of insomnia, of rumination, and of historical meaning that ruin the living person and annihilate his happiness…”

7. Georges Bataille (1897-1962): “If happiness is a reaction to the call of desire, and if desire is a caprice incarnate…then happiness is the sole moral value…”

8. Michel Foucault (1926-1962): “Abstinence that leads to individual sovereignty is happiness without desire and without trouble…”

Many modern critiques and thinkers made it a business (publishing books of how to be happy…) to fall back into the archaic version of “learning to be happy…”

Kind of  “if we know how to enjoy life in the cheapest way possible…” happiness can be in the reach of everyone…(except those dying of famine and of common diseases…?)

All that talks of ancient and modern ideas of happiness have no sense if not described and explained within the proper context of the period and culture.

For example:

1. How an individual with a life expectancy of no more than 30 years can conceive of happiness?

2. How an individual living in the harshest conditions to survive may experience happiness?

3. How the European under absolute monarchies and with a life expectancy not surpassing 40 years could comprehend the idea of happiness?

4. How all those cow-boys of the Far West experienced the meaning of happiness?

5. Was happiness the same before, during and after the Chinese revolution?

6. Was happiness experienced in the same quality before, during and after the British dominion of India?

7. Has happiness the same meaning and value before and after the “Industrial Age“?

8. Has happiness the same meaning and value during this instant communication and traveling facilities?

9. Don’t you think as life expectancy reaches 80 years that happiness requires extensive planning and preparation as we hit retirement age?

What can you do with your life without talent after 60?

How can you be happy if your eyesight goes and your hearing capacity dwindle?

The next article intends to describe the feasibility of experiencing “happiness” within the proper context…

Note: Post inspired from a study by Ruwen Ogien in the French weekly Le Nouvel Observateur #2490


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