Opening the Heart to Others

A student's comment from Friday and a film I viewed on DVD today bring me to reflect on the great joy that comes from opening the heart to appreciate others in the world quite different from ourselves, bringing us to discover hidden kinship with them, and the great tragedy that can result from clinging to preconceptions and prejudices that wall us off from others and leave us isolated, bitter and fearful towards the world and its many unknown others.

In a class discussion about the growing numbers of Americans being locked away year by year in our ever-expanding prison system, a student opined that it was easier for other countries to cope with crime and social problems of the sort that result in mass incarceration in the USA because they did not have the ethnic diversity that was, in his view, a great problem in the USA. I was taken aback because this student, a young white fellow transplanted from Brooklyn to the Lower Upstate area, was one who I had previously judged as one of the most intelligent,animated and inquisitive of the new semester's group. Now I feared that he might also be one of the most racist. He helpfully clarified, "I am not a racist," (Whew! great relief! glad that has been taken care of!) "but I just think it's natural that every group prefers to be with its own kind." I was really knocked off-balance by these sentiments, because I might have expected them from others in the class, Lower Upstate having its share of small-town conservative white folks who have been known to support groups like the KKK, but now this fellow, my would-be (in my imagination) Golden Child!I fumbled for a response and then the discussion moved on.

One reason I had some trouble coming up with a snappy and illuminating reply is that I am aware that some very peaceful, progressive, semi-socialist places like the countries of Scandinavia are indeed fairly (though not completely, and less so as time goes on) homogeneous places, ethnically speaking, and it may well be that the absence of ethnic division does make it easier for people to arrive at and maintain a sense of common welfare and human community. However, ethnic homogeneity is much more the exception than the rule in human history, and tends to be a temporary state that inevitably gives way to mixing, moving and intermarrying of people from different ethnic, cultural and religious origins. Think of ancient Rome's barbarian and African emperors; Byzantine rulers marrying daughters of Khazaria, the medieval Jewish state north of the Caucasus; think of Celtic + Roman + Moorish + Jewish Spain; think of the Ottoman Empire, the Russian and now the American. All mixed and mixing, and as a result, better or worse off?

Therein lies the rub. In many places in our present world and also in many times and places in the past, we can certainly find evidence of social conflict related to or even centered on ethnic divisions. Score one for the racist call for ethnic purity, it would seem. But it must also be noted that it is not self-evident that ethnic variety was the original cause of such conflicts; it might rather be argued that ethnic variety provided convenient scapegoats and political targets for those looking for a way to sow fear, division and hatred in their societies, as opposed to those many who did find it quite possible to interact peaceably and happily with their new, slightly or greatly different neighbors. People of different ethnic looks and origins may at times separate into warring groups, but this is no automatic thing; they may just as well come together and enjoy one another's company and see great advantages in joining forces. Or they may war at first and then mix together later.

Put a bunch of three year olds of different ethnic or cultural origins into the same room, and they are not likely to form into opposing military units and start making speeches about ethnic purity and the joys of dying for the fatherland ("Better than ice cream!" cried one hopeful young ethno-patriot, waving his diaper-banner proudly). However, put a group of fifteen or fifty year olds into a room, and they may well divide along racial and ethnic lines and regard each other with suspicion. Somewhere along the way, happy-go-lucky kids become suspicious and even hostile adults. How do you get that way? It seems to me that they are taught to be so by the previous generation: much more nurture than nature.

What I now wish I had had the presence of mind to answer my student with is something along the lines of, "Ethnic diversity is the reality of the human condition. The great tragedy of our world is that this diversity often becomes the convenient target of political opportunists and a mythological monster for those fearful of cultural and physical difference, often due to lack of experience with any such difference. The great hope of the human future is learning to enjoy and share our differences."

Too pollyanna-ish? Maybe so, but for my part, I truly believe there can be no doubt that the future belongs to diversity. I can see this among my students. For every one of my young scholars who might spout the occasional semi-racist sentiment, and then feel the need to apologize for it, I see many others socializing with members of other ethnic and racial groups and forming friendships and love relationships, with much more ease and much less self-consciousness than among those of my generation two or three decades ago when we were of comparable age and interracial dating was still somewhat taboo. I saw the same on the streets of Stockholm and Oslo when I visited those supposed hotbeds of total homogeneity in recent years: lots of mixed couples, with dusky-skinned, mixed-ethnic babies in baby carriages, and lots of Turkish kebab sandwiches the fast food of choice.

This brings me to my film review. What I watched that I found so moving and delightful was "Nobody Knows About Persian Cats" (2010) from the brilliant Iranian director Bahman Ghobadi. The film seemed boring at first, following two twenty-something rock-pop musicians, a man and a woman, driving around Tehran as they attempt to assemble a band and obtain illegal visas and passports to get out of Iran to perform their music in London and possibly elsewhere in Europe. As the story progressed I became hooked by the plight of these young Iranians, possessed of the same urges and instincts as young people in the USA or anywhere else, being stifled by a socially repressive regime for the horrible crime of wanting to sing and play modern pop music. There are increasingly troubling run-ins with the Iranian police, who do not seem to be big music fans, to say the least, and the story does not have a very happy ending. Lots of interesting music along the way,though, which tugs at the heart strings for the glimpses it gives into the longings and sorrows of Iranian youth today.

I was struck by the different picture of Iran and Iranians that one gets from a film like this compared to the one that we get from fear-mongers like Dick Cheney and his minions in the American news media who have been programming Americans to believe that Iran is Enemy #1 almost nonstop for the last four or five years, giving the impression that the only thing worth knowing about Iran is that it is a nation of Islamic fanatics who might be developing nuclear weapons that might be a threat someday, somehow to the USA, and that we might have to go to war against them to crush their maybe conditional someday threat. After seeing this film, I am sickened to think that this is the image Americans have in their minds about Iran. We may have disagreements with the government, but we should think more of the people. The others of Iran may be much more like us than we have been led to believe. It felt good to open my heart to feel a simple but profound human bond with people of Iran.

Though the politics of our times can be so very discouraging, I am willing to bet on human diversity and our capacity to develop empathy with the others of the world to guide us to a better place. The fear-mongers and war-mongers will always be with us, but we can change the station and listen to other tunes if we want to.

The film is very strongly recommended!

Reasons of Failure of Pakistan's Politics

Democracy in Pakistan has never been successful and even after more than 65 years of independence, political setup in Pakistan has yet to mature and deliver. Unlike other democratic countries of the world, Pakistan's politics is badly under the control of bureaucracy and establishment where parliament sometimes acts like a rubber stamp.

There are many factors leading to this pathetic state of democratic process in Pakistan. Top three reasons of failure of Pakistan's politics are:

1. Lack of Political awareness in public:

Majority of the common people of Pakistan is unaware of the worth of vote and they just throw or sell their vote for some petty benefits or under some pressure of elite powerful lords. In a country where literacy rate is very low and people are trapped in several sectarian, ethnic and religious biases, political mafia plays a clever game to play with the sentiments of the people through hollow slogans and sentimental speeches and manages to get their support easily.

2. Military take-overs:

Democratic process in Pakistan has never been consistent and military has taken over the charge at different occasions by imposing martial laws in the country. This type of take overs severely affected the democratic system in the country. It also brought anarchy and riots in the country which resulted in more messy conditions directly affecting the people of Pakistan.

3. Lack of democratic culture inside political parties:

Most of the political parties of Pakistan have proved themselves as just family parties or one man show with all power concentrated in one family or one individual. Most of the parties don't have party elections and same leadership is being imposed for decades. Lack of democratic culture in the parties has resulted in a widening gap between rulers and masses and consequently, political parties have failed to strengthen their roots at grass root level.

Politics of Pakistan is an interesting, yet complex game of action with a lot of twists. It seems that years are required for politics of Pakistan to mature and deliver. Political setup of Pakistan won't change until the thought process of people of Pakistan is changed and their level of understanding for the political culture is groomed. Private media is working constructively in this regard to bring awareness in the masses and to educate them politically and one may hope for a change of thought process of people of Pakistan with the passage of time.

Is There Political Bias in the Mainstream Media?

The mainstream media (sometimes referred to as "MSM") has been a target of Republicans for some time now as being somehow biased and unfair toward the GOP and conservative views in general. For their part, Democrats have targeted networks such as Fox as being unbalanced and unfair, even during times when pundits who openly share their political leans are not being featured. The intensity of these feelings about the media seems to be increasing as time passes and as social media outlets play a stronger role in politics.

The problem with these assertions of political media bias for both sides of the political aisle is that they are hard to prove. Republicans and conservative bloggers point out correctly that many mainstream media members do fit demographics more typical of Democratic voters - given the colleges they went to, the attitudes of the professors at those colleges, and the demographics of the states where they live. But then again, it would be unfair to assume that even if more mainstream media members vote for Democrats or hold personal liberal opinions that they would necessarily be biased in their reporting.

On the other hand, while many pundits employed by Fox news may have a conservative or right-wing lean, that does not mean that the regular news broadcasts on the network are equally biased. That also would be unfair, and may merely be the result of a hyper-sensitivity to that possibility by people who are charged up by the opinions of the political pundits on the station.

A News Flash From Texas Politics!

I watched the debates last night. For a good bit. I couldn't take it all in. My heart and mind are a bit "shaky" these days. ( I sooo wanted to spell "Texas" with two "S"s!) Last nights debate was not as much a debate as a "debasement" of Texas Values!

I don't care how you "slice" it, that is; the Governorship, and thus supposedly the leadership; of Texas. The bare facts are all too evident! I'm not kidding your here!

There was a "Demoncrate" on the far "Left" of my TV screen. (Yes folks, I am aware that it is "stage right") This guy never said one thing, in answer to the "vetted" questions. He, basically, wants to ignore the new highway corridor, only giving a "nod" to the fact that it is owned and built by a SPANISH COMPANY. He wants to TAX; and I would suppose; SPEND. Big surprise there, huh?

He would, if elected, TAX "Big Business". But that is a problem, as we still have a REPUBLIC, and not the DEMOCRACY he said we had. You see, in a REPUBLIC, taxing is done by the people. And we are, I hope, far enough along to clue our younger generation into the REALITY, of trying to put a TAX upon "Big Business". For the simple reason that no one can!

Do Not Let Politics and the News Get You Down

Every day we watch the news on television or read a newspaper. Sometimes we leave the radio on so that we have a bit of company and know what is going on in the world. But the tendency for these programmes is to tell us all the bad news and none of the good. Occasionally they might throw in a good news story for good measure, but the most important thing for the media is to attract viewers, readers, listeners, and sad to say, bad news attracts an audience more than good.

So it is easy to begin to feel down whenever we hear that the financial problems of the economy have not gone away, that unemployment is up, that there are spending cuts on the way, and that war is brewing in some far off land. Or perhaps there has been a natural disaster somewhere and people are in trouble, or a murder, or an air crash. Guaranteed at any given moment of the day something awful will be happening somewhere, and the efficiency of our news services today means that we will hear about it almost instantly. But if there is nothing we can do to help, the important thing is not to let it get to us.

Bad news can spoil your day. If you hadn't have turned the telly on at that moment you wouldn't have known about it. But the fact is that the world has always been the same and nothing has changed. There will always be evil, there will always be accidents, and there will always be politicians wondering what to do with the ailing economy. There´s no point worrying about any of it. By all means stay informed, but also try and stay detached. Concentrate on your immediate environment and if you feel safe there you have nothing to worry about.

It is important, especially when you get to a certain age, to keep your peace. By concentrating on all the good things going on around you and ignoring the bad, you will feel much better in yourself and be more optimistic about the future. There is no sense in worrying about things you cannot change. On these occasions, when you feel depressed by circumstances that you have read about or seen on the news, read the Bible or say a prayer. "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength." As long as we stay true to.

The Current State of Unemployment in the United States

Many Americans have been unemployed at some point during the course of the last few years. As a result of the recession, those that have not been unemployed, were on the cusp of becoming unemployed. Either way, the average American has been afraid of the mere possibility of becoming unemployed. Well, it is a new year in the day and age of politics in the United States of America. This new year in politics has afforded many opportunities in terms of job opportunities. A great deal of President Barack Obama's Recovery Act funding is now being released to help stimulate the economy. A large sum of the money has been allocated in order to take on a two-fold approach. The politics circuits have reported that in addition to the money being distributed in order to create jobs, the money will also serve the purpose of improving the quality of life that we, and generation to come, will have while living on earth. Additionally, these jobs that are created will also see to it that we gain more of the Independence that the country has fought so hard throughout its time in politics to get. So you will see a great deal of work going into the green movement, as well as the national development and refining of United State's solar, wind, and energy supplies.

1. Politics news reports state the nation's advances has caused the decline of employment to fall. There is so much promise that is shown in this regard that it is quite possible that there is going to be a boost in employment in the coming months. Many have said that they have seen there industries start to gain positive growth already.