Friday, August 11, 2017

Eastern Promise

I was sure dude was Texan at first. Turned out he wasn't.His mom was American. She was a parachute instructor. She insisted he learn to jump, and fly planes. They were flying single prop cessnas. This was the mid '60s. It was before Vietnam became a thing. They'd strap skis onto their chute packs and jump into the alps, ski down, and get into a kayak and float out, bike down, arriving at their final hold out. This was way before extreme sports.


To him, flying planes was just a chore. He got certified because his mom made him. He could fly anyone, as long as they weren't paying customers.


The Brits had introduced deer, they'd reproduced like rabbits, without any natural predators. Venison was going at $13 a pound, this is when the NZD was on par with the dollar. 


They started hunting deer with helicopters. He was responsible for unloading gutted deer from the choppers. They'd gut them in the field and tie them onto the legs of the helicopter. The felt from the antlers was going at $50 an ounce, the Koreans bought it up as an aphrodisiac. Then he got recruited as a paratrooper in Vietnam. 


As a Kiwi it was a bit much to go to war for the Queen. It just felt wrong.


The good times had ended. He went all through the war jumping with teams of 8 guys. 


He was on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, jumping down, a former farm boy new his trucks. The Viet Cong where driving Fords, much to his astonishment. They'd been manufactured in Russia.


When they came back they had to be debriefed. They were collecting intelligence. For every answer there was 30 questions. He indicated the enemy were driving Fords, made in Russia. The officers said this wasn't important information, they were interested in other details. 


Dude was confused about the war. He didn't understand what they were doing there. "We won that war 3 times and then handed it to them on a silver platter!".


Saigon fell in early 1975. His platoon of 8 had been tasked with demolishing an air base, that was also a submarine port. The submarines bunkered in underground chambers. Nobody knew the subs had been there. But, they didn't receive adequate tools to demo anything. It was weird.


It was by then May, they'd somehow been left behind well after the evacuation of allied troops. Their radio battery was extinguished. They had to hold up a gas station to charge the battery, so they could reach the US Enterprise positioned in the S. China Sea. The ship dispatched a chopper that finally picked them up. 


They wrote a book about it. There was a guy from NZ who had been one of the deer hunters he'd worked with. He could fly chopper with his knees and make head shots out the window mid flight. 


After the war he came back home. They wanted to give him a desk job in the government. He told them he wanted something more challenging, but his exact words were "Fuck you motherfuckers, I've just been jumping out of planes and killing people, I need something more exciting!".


Two days later they came back to him. They said he could pick a job in Kenya or the Philippines. By that time he'd figured out how the government worked, so he chose Kenya, hoping for Philippines. And he got his choice post. He worked in the oil fields. Had to wait until he was 25 to come to Indonesia. Jakarta was a whole lot better then, no traffic. That was 1979. He'd kept his residency ever since. 


It didn't make sense going to war for the queen. He was against all the elitism. The elitists had lost control. Trump would be out by the end of the year. 


Paul Ryan and Joseph Dunford were in control, had been since 2015. Most Americans didn't know the truth; that they'd been subject to a soft military coup, where Trump was merely a front man.  


He said "You know whenever you see a US flag with gold fringe, that's when you're at war. Your civil rights don't apply anymore, not even in court. That's where you are now." He went on to exclaim that American's don't know much about what's really going on, the media is just propaganda.


We are going to see tremendous changes in the next few years.


He took out his can of chew and took a pinch. 


I could have sworn he was a Texan, but his A's were too soft. I was confused and amused. 


He was a sworn Muslim, married to an Indonesian with mixed kids. There's quite a few old white haired fuckers like this still out here in Jakarta.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

"Group Genius" & "Genius Leadership", the former requires the latter!

"It’s Time to Bury the Idea of the Lone Genius Innovator"...really?

says Greg Satell 

https://hbr.org/2016/04/its-time-to-bury-the-idea-of-the-lone-genius-innovator )



I would differ with Mr. Satell’s less than novel opinion, because he fails to take into account the works by actual geniuses; those who inspired tens of thousands through their undeniable originality. Such works are inspired by collective action, no doubt. However, you simply cannot ignore the significance of individual effort and its lasting effect on others. 

             You know something which is produced is entirely original when it becomes something everybody else wants to claim for themselves, but it simply can't be extracted from the originator (if the originator wishes to claim it for himself/herself). That is the crux; keeping the invention once you've created it, but why devalue significant efforts by individual innovators, and their actual achievements because of the phenomenon of emulation? Commending individual effort doesn't take away from good teamwork, it should make it better! 

Authors of great works: Einstein, Fermat and the guy who cracked his Last Theorem (Andrew Wiles), oldies but goodies like Pythagoras, new-agers like Bucky Fuller, modern day Mandelbrot(s), particularly mathematicians like these! These are the real creators. Did they rely on the works of others in their creations, of course! However, it is impossible to remove the acts of genius from the geniuses themselves. 

To steal a term from Keith Sawyer, the notion of "group genius" need not omit leadership by geniuses, i.e. the Manhattan Project. Granted leadership by geniuses tends to obsessive and compassionate, even uncomfortable, for those that are subject to it. Chaos, "storming, norming and performing" are intrinsically human; we are talking about nonlinear iterative "processes", save argumentation, which tend to address paradoxically mundane minutia that result in sudden herculean scientific advancements. Such tasks are tedious, even painful. However, one can’t occur without the other, and it is a bit of a mystery that the egg and chicken occur together. You might be able to describe what happened to someone else according to a genius' account, but if you didn’t participate in the creation of it you can’t really deduce the essence of their brilliance working to create other geniuses. "Genius leadership" is an infectious prerequisite for "group genius", see Steve Jobs, see Bill Gates.

I’m reluctant to put Elon Musk in the same category, he’s a tech fop, akin to Edison. If it isn't plagiarized (say from Tesla) then where did the idea come from, or who did it first come through? We are inspired by real genius, taking things out of context and making them more relevant, even when we are uncomfortable with it; Mark Zuckerberg.

It is fundamentally the genius of individuals contributing to group genius, the two are related, but these are separate phenomenon, separated in time and space. Group genius necessitates genius leadership. Genius is the originating seed for all future progress to sprout from; Tony Hawk. Myopic and counter-culture as actual genius may seem at first, it grows into something much larger. Is it any less genius when a things’ significance is not realized at first? Of course not, because most of us are slow. However, when genius occurs, it is first observed by those individuals who are predisposed to encounter a rare juxtaposition of reality, who then become the life blood of innovation acting upon a passion driven by new knowledge.

Innovation comes from deep meditation, deep focus on the nuances of observation and contemplation. Extreme focus, and tedious efforts are made by specific individuals (who are themselves hard working and very disciplined, although socially quirky). These traits enable genius to emerge in the individual, then others capitalize off their undeniable momentum. Capitalization of an individual’s genius is the essence of group genius, and the former is a prerequisite for the latter. Subsequently, group genius is driven by genius.

I don’t want to get into the fact that there are different kinds of genius, some of which are more opportunistic, others of which are more hermetic. Yet others are plainly lucky. There are vast arrays possible here, but don't let your ideas about the righteousness of collegial relationships enter into the sacred realm of individual genius, because without Euclid, Alan Turing, Darwin, Kepler, The Bernoullis, Newton, Franklin, Attucks, Leibniz, Russel, we'd all be living in a very different world today. These people weren’t universally loved. These individuals were competitive, arrogant, fierce debaters that criticized others widely and boldly. Were they amidst group genius, certainly! Were they significant contributing individuals as geniuses themselves, certainly!




It is not one or the other, it is one AND the other; a significant paradigm shift. “Group genius” and  “genius leadership” are of the same thing; collaboration, improvisation, intuition, competition, ego, and insightful transcending reason which inspires. Where there is genius leadership there is group genius. You can't have one without the other. At least that’s what the past has shown.

Who really knows what the future holds? We pray for a true genius to emerge. However, if we study past genius we can perhaps learn a thing or two. Sometimes the urge to be innovative supersedes the urge to be honest. Sometimes the drive to be radical is greater than the drive to be practical. Nonetheless, we must take into account past facts, and perhaps chart a new course forward. However, if old formulas still work, why “innovate” simply to deviate? That’s marketing more than substance. Well played, sir.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Thank Baby-Boomer-Capitalism for Spreading the Zombies

The “undereducated” multitudes in “underdeveloped” countries embracing a new found faith in capitalism and materialism as they enter the "middle class” of modernity, I would argue, will have profoundly negative effects for our world. The continuation of business as usual, as embodied by both East and West, especially for generations younger than baby boomers, will dupe the unwitting into an empty life which lacks meaning but which is full of materialistic fluff, because mass production of commonly consumed middle-class products causes environmental degradation. The end of all of this newfound lust for materialism will not end in a global utopia, quite the opposite. It will expand the shortsighted throwaway habits invented by Western capitalists.


Baby boomers started in a time when the world's resources were still seen as totally inexhaustible, but that was back when the global population was a third (about 2.5 billion) of what it is today (about 7.5 billion). Conceivably, the rise in human population alone would have a tangible and negative impact on things, and it is clearly evident that it already has.


The crux comes when we consider what the implications would be if we were to improve conditions for the lot of humanity to basal levels which might seem acceptable. Meeting this requirement involves extending the capacity of civil systems which most societies can't afford on their own, say by levying taxes, or bonds, etc. So, they become indebted paying loans which in effect deepens their dependence on those with sufficient cash in hand. The fundamental problem expanding civil systems with respect to their reliability is something which most sitting atop societal pyramids will scoff, because they share one common strategy; minimization of labor costs. Doing that now necessitates a global search for the lowest paid workers. This is the familiar depreciation of so-called unskilled labor, and skilled labor, caused by this sort of capitalistic plundering.


The anti-union overhaul seems to have been quite effective globally to drive down the price of labor, to the point that wage slaves exist just as slaves did hundreds of years ago. Only the difference now is that there are more of us living at the fringe of poverty with the curious observation that debtors often appear more affluent than those who refuse to take loans.


Downward pressure on wages is not limited to the bottom, any particular region or market sector. Even highly qualified knowledge workers (younger than baby boomers) have begun to shoulder the burden of increased debt and lower wages, despite what is purported by higher education. An expat from the West once seen as supreme is no longer. Global pressures have devalued the need for individual productivity, intercultural leadership is less desirable because projects are less international, while non-Western countries retain ancient notions of their ethnic identities and this is coupled with a resurgence of nationalism which challenges post WW II hegemonic legacies. We've lived in an increasingly competitive multi-polar world since 1989, and it is more competitive overseas in every way possible, more than most people can fathom. Expats from the West are less welcome than twenty years ago, because they possess no tangible benefit beyond a reputation that is now fading.


American's tend to stay at home, when they go abroad they are seen as aloof, because they are least informed about the regions they travel to. Our presumed superiority over other nations is a myth perpetuated by the lucky circumstances which placed the U.S.A. as a leading nation after WWII. That power was subsequently squandered on military blunders which caused the world to lose faith in our judgement when we exercised our might too carelessly. So, students of underdeveloped countries would rather be schooled in the UK, a country which has been more discrete in implementing its foreign policies. Military blunders are coming back to haunt Americans, especially with the advent of the Trump regime, which is looking for a violent crisis to expand its ruinous foothold in what had been the world's foremost liberal democracy. The nationalist bent will only perpetuate the ongoing trend.

Highly correlated negative impacts of a rising ‘middle-class’ due to relatively ‘higher standards of living’ being realized by more and more people across the globe are characteristic of:
  • increased rates of consumption of natural resources,
  • higher rates of environmental degradation,
  • downward pressure on working wages in developed countries (namely, in the West),
  • outsourcing of living wage jobs to developing countries (namely, to the East),
  • rising income disparity between the elite classes and common workers,
  • suppression of labor unions,
  • elimination of civil liberties,
  • transfer of knowledge by intellectual property infringement,
  • devaluation of currencies along with labor,
  • institutionalized suppression of working class citizens who are dis-empowered employed as the subjects of oppressive multinational corporations, and
  • a moral gutting whitewashing of endemic cultures which once had a capacity to sustain indigenous populations which have now grown out of control due to a resurgence of religiously tinged dogmatism coupled with a hysteric sense of nationalism.

The West’s fixation on the spread of Globalization, for these and other reasons, has become an utter failure because people still fail to comprehend the impact on the environment that comes with people's increased standard of living, because of the products they choose to consume. Preciously balanced natural systems upon which life depends, upon which societies depend, are being ruined by careless and shortsighted acts of greed commandeered by opportunistic capitalists and unwitting consumers. The quality of nature around us is continually downgraded for the benefit of few and at the expense of all, when things like water had at one time been good to drink, free and available to all.


The natural world has become commodified by elites who exploit the demand of essentials, like food, while relying on unsustainable farming applying chemicals and fertilizers to maximize short term profit. The true cost of this degradation in terms of ecologic health, tainted farmland and water quality is unaccounted for in terms of economics, because the long term productivity of the environment has been totally exogenous to capitalistic considerations, until recently. Trendy use of terms like "sustainable" and "fake news" has confused matters, particularly when utilized by "climate idiots".


Sure, these are complex problems few understand well enough, including myself, but it doesn't negate the effects of unaccounted losses we suffer due to the decrease in vitality in the environs which have been beaten back by urbanization. These unaccounted losses are visually apparent to anyone with their eyes open.

Exploitation of resources and the denial of rights to non-human lifeforms are the of hallmarks "advanced" industrialized societies fixed on objectifying market economics and growth of GDP as their utmost sacrosanct tenets. These societies fail to understand their connection and reliance upon natural systems, other countries, and in a certain sense are like a disease growing upon the planet’s surface, we are the controlling stem cells; the agents of consumption acting collectively in a manner that's more than benign.


Incumbent businesses with a strong influence over government and popular opinion prevent any meaningful legislation that would pave the way for investments required to sustain new kinds of economic growth which might benefit the environment and its citizens.


There is an increasing gap between ‘what is being done’ and ‘what should be done’. A self-serving minority who is psychopathic keeps demonstrating an acute unwillingness to recognize the realities experienced by a majority of people, and that those realities are in effect tied to the health of the environment. Modernity in this sense is the state of being aloof from the fact that we are unequivocally bound to the natural capacities of the ecosystems we live within.


The perceived limitlessness of mother nature, was a primitive idea which developed at a time when the earth’s expanse had yet to be traversed and exploited to the extent it has today. This limitless bounty has now been sufficiently qualified and taken into account through the virtues of science, not politics, not religion. However, the latter two must embrace the former if humanity is to have any hope. Today we have harnessed her full capacity for short lived economic gains in a manner which fails to recognize the real cradle-to-grave cost of being narrow minded. Now this cost might condemn us to a dying planet. Human-caused natural disasters will only exacerbate the impact of natural disasters. If your belief is that acts of God will trump all of these, then very well, but it's no excuse to be utterly mindless in our habits.


We fervidly take up "biomimicry" and "carbon-sequestration" because our intuition tells us that we are witnessing the end of mother nature’s limitlessness, because her systems are breaking down. We do this rather than heed the warnings of melting ice caps by curtailing carbon dioxide. Rather we get sidetracked arguing about the ills caused by the low price of related commodities, which nobody can afford, except for the elites. Is it not this which is causing an economic downturn?

What about the related ecological downturn? Rather than stop the production of chemicals which have decimated bee populations we are audacious enough to look to technology to replace bees themselves. Rather than stop cutting down trees to protect the air we breath, we look to technology to create a replacement for photosynthesis, which might allow us to drive hydrogen-fuel-cell-powered vehicles that nobody will be able to afford, except for the elites.

Rather than looking to restore our planet we are looking to build spaceships that would enable us to populate galaxies with planets neither of which have yet to be discovered, if they exist at all, nor do we possess the means to reach the stars.

This tenuous state-of-nature which we are now enduring is finally the result of the spread of so-called "Western values" by zealous advocates of Globalization whose culturally tinged lenses have become opaque with profit. Should we refer to this as capitalism gone amok or is it closer to insensitive shortsighted and unbridled greed? Or, how about we suffice to call it what it is; a short lived baby boomer free-for-all since they are one's holding most of the cash without a clue of what they've done, or what to do with all their money next. Above are some candid suggestions of where they might stick their money next, if they wish to save their reputation for posterity's sake.


With the baby boomers holding the reins, the stampeding herd of humanity has become drunk in a sort of hysteria which shuns pragmatism and simplicity. Obsessed with inhuman complexities we turn to AI to make decisions, we look to Facebook for friends, while the data we give so freely makes us all the more predictable. We must be more robotic, or lose our jobs. They've never been more insulated or distracted from reality.

We feel morality is for philosophers and lawyers, not the common person. Normal people have to make a living...by destroying the earth, if necessary, on someone else's behalf. Are we not just like zombies fighting over scraps unable to stop our lust for this self-inflicted apocalypse?




Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Some philosophy bestowed and evoked by an Indonesian Uber driver

Yesterday, as usual, on my way downtown, I took an Uber. The driver, a proud Indonesian Muslim, was compelled to ask me quite a few questions: did I have kids, what did I do, what did I think about Indonesia. These were loaded questions.

It is hard to learn Bahasa when most want to speak English. There were those I encountered that expected me to speak Indonesian. So, the conversations tended to be a little of both. It seemed fair, but experience had made me wary. I always tried to pick up more of the local tongue.

We had time to kill, traffic was moderate, I had no cash, so I said "tidak toll" (take the long way). I got to expounding because Pak's (Mr.’s) English was pretty good. He had some international experience. That was sufficient, he was my captive audience and I was his opportunity to practice.

Pak’s lifelong friend had done him wrong in business, he was forced to lower himself driving for Uber just to support his four sons. I told him this was the same story I'd heard about friends and business. It didn’t matter where they came from, it seemed this was the way of this modern world.

In Indonesia (Java) it was customary to speak very respectfully to elders. By the time I realized he was my senior, I had already disclosed disdainful Western sentiments, perhaps a bit too passionately. Pak was being subtle, this was a typical conversation in the sense I'd missed what had been most important to him.

Pak told me it would have been more proper to refer to him as "Mas_" rather than "Pak _" (Mr.) because he was eleven years my senior, aged 51. I began to feel like an ignorant "Yank", conspicuously trying to defend my country with the advent of President Trump who had just been inaugurated. Having failed I’d been taken as one of Trump’s drone clones that'd been sent abroad to mingle.

To steer the conversation I asked Pak’s advice on being a new dad. He told me you cannot expect your sons to do what you want them to, that they are each their own unique person. It's best not to expect too much, they won't be like you, so let them do whatever they can do best. I felt this was great advice.

I then told the driver about my prior experience in India, he pressed me to compare the two places. I said the world is mixed up, you will find everyone everywhere; people from each nation within each other nation, this was good. People across the world had, in a way, just discovered themselves. We couldn't compare much else beyond our respective ideas about what we felt were stereotypical representations of each other's culture.

Aspects of culture were shared, but there were too many differences. It made it hard to compare people fairly. Our cultural perspectives blinded us, yet they were in a way external, like clothes we put on. It was bananas and mangos, apples and oranges...except with our shared love of shopping malls; Western fashion. We all seemed to love what was new and exciting; movies, fashion and glamor - these were benign enough. We shared a certain lust for the air of modernity, but we didn't understand each other's perspective. It was a world of colorfully cladded boxes and loud facades.

I found it strange that this was the present state rendered by globalization somehow bonded to its antithesis; in Indonesian culture, it was Western culture (secular capitalism) with a jilbub on its head coupled with this paradoxical xenophobia. The observation left me wondering where was the original Javanese culture today, beyond the batik, beyond hardline Islam (which I felt was imported too). I wondered why we all seemed to be having an identity crisis in an age that looked new but felt much the same. People had attached themselves to absurd loyalties. We craved change, but glorified the past.

Java was an old country, one of the oldest humans had inhabited. Where was the jati joglo carver, the stone mason, the topless pribumi ibus of eighty years past? To where in the last hundred years had Java's 'original' culture disappeared? Where did it go? How had the people really changed? Was it a sudden feeling of self consciousness? Was this sudden adoption of hard line Islam their way of covering up their self-consciousness to conceal the embarrassment they must have felt from past colonial extortions because of their apparent weakness? Were they hiding from themselves or the outside world? Were they hiding from one another? Jilbubs were protecting the young school girls. It was harder to raise girls than boys.

Java was a bit like India because of its Hinduism and because of its caste system, but Indonesia seemed more feudal. I didn’t believe it had a burgeoning middle class. The driver was not impressed with my Sanskrit. He seemed to not respect my practicing yoga. He kept saying "Uh huh, uh huh, what is this, I don't understand this...". He laughed at me. I laughed at myself being aloof.

After all, I said, It was the work of the West that had made Middle Eastern leaders rich. That part of the world seemed to hate us too, understandably for the invasion of Iraq.

Now with Trump things were becoming more unstable. What inflammatory remark would The Donald tweet next? Part of me wondered whether the world was suffering from eight years of softer U.S. foreign policy.

I didn't understand some Indonesians’ hatred towards the West, especially America, because we liberated their country from the Japanese and the Dutch; we were instrumental giving them back their country after WWII. Both of my grandfathers had served in the war in Indonesia. The cab driver said they had forgotten about it, it was a long time ago. That statement left me wondering why we’d even bothered. What had we accomplished, was this really a democracy? Was the USA even a democracy?

Pak said if you know anything about Indonesia you'll come to understand that when workers want more money they just know how to protest. I'd heard Indonesians were lazier than Indians. I couldn't imagine it was possible. However, my recent trip to the Jakarta Thai Airways office had left me wondering about the Indonesian sense of urgency.

Pak went on to describe two stories (conspiracy theories). He said his friend told him the CIA knew about the Bali bombings two months before over 200 foreigners were killed. Then he said the same was true for the 911 attacks, the CIA had known about that as well, well in advance. The driver disagreed that Russia had interfered with the 2016 presidential election. I said that the entire US intelligence community had a consensus that the Russians had interfered. US intelligence had also tried to convey the eminent threat of a serious hijacking, but the message wasn’t relayed. I said it wasn't their job to police Indonesia (or America). The cab driver disagreed. I said I was tired of hearing about these conspiracy theories, that I did not believe them. But later I recalled believing we'd let those hijackers provoke our fears just as we’d let the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor. I rationalized that I was growing more conservative with age, 'just like all "good" people do. Recently watched episodes of “Narcos” left me wondering.

Although, Muslims may tend to use religion as a justification for everything they are no more of God than anyone else. Generally, no sect or creed is sacrosanct; we are human no matter what we say or do. We are susceptible to not understanding the whole truth. We each shared a part of it.

Manufactured accusations by a wealthy land owner had locked up a Canadian man along with several Indonesians in prison, they had been accused of doing something awful, that they were innocent, yet remained in jail because Indonesia's corrupt justice system was subject to the whims of popular sentiment. That sentiment was generally anti-foreigner. Indeed, for quasi-indigenous peoples, I felt that attitude was justified. Justice was an abstract ideal hardly realized.

We agreed politicians used religion to gain power. He asked whether the US was a secular country, I said it had to be. We believed in The Constitution, The Bill of Rights, separation of church and state, and being innocent before proven guilty. In God we trust meant we trust no man. I said without those beliefs we shared little else as Americans beyond a paranoic disbelief in most forms of authority. We shared a recognition of our inherent human flaws. We were an earthly lot.

He asked whether we say "In God's name...", I said anyone saying such things in America is not trusted because when they say they are doing something in God's name they are making a big assumption. What they assume is that they are acting in accordance to His wishes, and that anyone's fate would naturally be at God's command, rather than his own. This negated our notions of our ability to implement free will, to act on impulses of the heart.

If there is one God, then we all share Him. He cares not what we call Him, it's just a name. He cares not for our religion or culture, because that's external to our soul; all that is external to who we truly are. There are many holy books, many religions. There are real holy people out there, but I'm an imperfect sinner, even if I try to respect other religions and cultures. I respect Indonesian laws as much as Indonesians, I respect their religion(s).

The driver exclaimed he had raised his four boys to pray five times a day to receive God's protection and favor. What did I think about that? I said it doesn't matter how much you pray, it matters what you do before and after you pray, life is one long prayer. We all want to be closer to God as spiritual beings, some of us don’t believe in God, but still possess whatever it is we have.

That was why science was so great, we'd found some proof of divine harmony, but only after we'd observed most carefully. Scientists were great because they risked concentrating their greatest personal efforts on time-consuming dead-ends that may bare no fruit, but this work held the capacity to bring improvements to other people's lives. It had been seen as a noble pursuit, until now. Climate-change deniers were in power.

He asked what do you think about reincarnation. I said Christians never fully rejected that idea, I personally liked it, but in India it seemed to devalue one’s life; this life. Hindus feared little of poverty and death. On the face of it Indians accepted what would be unacceptable to most Westerners because of such beliefs. There are implications for all our closely held ideals. We had few facts beyond intuition, yet intuitive knowledge was universally accessible.

The driver said the Koran said there were three decisions a man could make: he could try to get what he wants, wait for what he wanted, or change what he wants. He said the Bible and the Koran came from the same source. I had vowed to read it, but I hadn't had time.

Instinctually I criticized jihadists. Pak's answer to that was “Muslims who commit suicide are not Muslims, unless during war they die and kill the enemy”. I didn't know about war, I'd never pointed a gun at a man, only at a few birds and squirrels. He asked what kind of gun, I said shotgun. Something left me wondering whether he felt I was the enemy.

I said of those who wished for Shariah Law, let them live by their own ideas, but for them not to expect me and everyone else to follow. 

The ride was coming to an uncomfortable end after little more than an hour. I said I would rate him as "lima bintang" (five stars). He said six. We laughed heartily, but at that point I knew for sure he’d grown tired of listening to me.

There was no recourse for my insensitivity. I'd offended a cab driver who'd only been trying to be friendly. The conversation had drifted into politics and had left me feeling disconnected. That had not been my intention, or his. It was clear we too had failed to understand one another.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

What is the Indonesian identity - a foreigners perspective on the protests of December 2nd, 2016 in Jakarta

I've grown used to being a foreigner; five years spent mostly overseas in India and Indonesia. It's been the best experience of my life. The best reasons being a foreigner for a prolonged period are more than this:
  1. It has enabled me to get to know myself and others more intimately,
  2. It has forced me to ask some deeper questions about my relationship to the world,
  3. It has given me a unique perspective.
With regard to "1" (above) I have come to accept that I am Christian, and that this set of beliefs has its short comings, and benefits, just as any other faith. I cannot rightly represent Christianity, and would never attempt to try. Yet, I have found myself with my back up against the wall for those fervent "Christians" that have caused harm to themselves and others by loudly carrying this distinction, so they have felt, on behalf of God. My experience overseas has forced me to realize what a mistake it is to be so presumptuous. There are those of other faiths, even my own, who are far more righteous than I am. This is despite my having tried to be a better person, but my lack of winning over myself, let alone others, with a greater sense of righteousness has failed, and our differences in beliefs persist. Many believe themselves to be better than I am. Generally, I would agree. Also, I will never be a "good Christian", because I will never proselytize to those whose relationship with God(s) clearly outrank(s) my own. I will say that it is my firm opinion that determining what such a ranking may be is not a job any human being should attempt.

With regard to "2" (above) my relationship with this world consists of nouns; persons, places and things. What lies beyond this realm holds my intrigue, and it will until my last breath. There is probably some interaction between the two realms; some influence one realm holds over the other, and vice versa. There are perhaps more than two realms, science says that is likely. Here I risk floating off into complexity regarding things I know nothing about. What is certainly of this world is confusion, despair followed by delight, a tedious experience followed by one that is charming, and everything in between. I am a perpetual dreamer, an observer, and a philosopher, but have reluctantly come to these conclusions. As a long time foreigner I have done away with most other conclusions.

With regard to "3" (above) my unique perspective is that my perspective is not original or entirely uncommon; that people from other places, for the most part, think like I do too, but they see me as being separate, and I from them. My unsubtle presence intimidates them and threatens their sense of what is right and just. I have learned to walk with my eyes pointed down, and to speak quietly. There are obvious reasons for this. However, the subtle reasons are more the cause, and they are rarely discussed openly. So, allow me to articulate my point of view about the current status of things in Indonesia as I risk being exposed.
We who are not Muslim find it difficult to speak about what seems to be an Islamic identity crisis in the context of a broader society. Should we not speak of it? In Indonesia we are sitting at the brink of a war between Islam and everything that is not Islam, even while the whole of Islam seems to be engaged in infighting. 
What remains of Indonesia's former identity, what existed here before Islam? This would be of importance to the majority of Indonesians today, irrespective of religious preference. But, I think a debate about it has been erased from contemporary history, it doesn't seem to be on the agenda.
With the protests planned this coming Friday Indonesia's brand of Islam is at stake. Muslims will take to the streets of Jakarta this Friday as they carry concern for the reputation of their religion, perhaps a fair amount of anger, distrust, and bigotry too - as they are the self-purported representatives of God's will. That is a lofty set of propositions, if any of them are correct. But, I wonder what God thinks of this (of course he is beyond thinking), and here I would like to make a distinction between my thoughts and His. No doubt there is a difference. Is God's will the will of those who will protest this Friday against Ahok? Are these protesters bound by notions of politics, self-righteousness and entitlement, or purely that which is concerned with God; that which is far beyond this world? Does God require this proof of devotion? Who is right; someone expressing that religion ought not come into play when we speak of politics, or someone who says politics is inseparable from religion?

As a foreigner, in Indonesia, what is particularly foreign to me is how one person, of any faith, could not withstand criticism that might cause us to think more deeply about the effect of one's religious beliefs. Is there now a certain risk of being accused of blasphemy and being thrown in jail if non-Muslims possess a contrary opinion to that of the status quo Muslim? Do politicians operate with separate laws? What if someone becomes offended by your religious-oriented objections? Does the mere possibility of insult preclude conversation between Muslims and non-Muslims? How do we accommodate dissenting opinions on the matter? Who possesses God's rightfulness on this Earth, majority? Should my notions of religion determine for whom I may vote, with whom I may disagree, or whom I may favor? Should the color of one's skin, or the shape of their face keep me from getting to know the person behind the eyes? Are my loyalties which I inherited sacrosanct and above reproach? Are my intentions, actions and my self-interest consistent? Am I a bigot, or a racist because of my indoctrination, or lack thereof? Am I a representative of myself, or of my culture, or both? Do I possess an open mind so as to better see reality for what it truly is today, which allows the possibility of a brighter future tomorrow? Are my morals good for me, and others? Do I unequivocally adhere to my own sense of morality, or to what may be seen as right according to others? Does anyone's opinion matter if they don't think like me?

What about Indonesian, or more specifically, Javanese identity? What is the sense of morality within it that may be generalized, for the purposes of a foreigners understanding? Few Westerners (like myself), and perhaps even some Indonesians, may forget, that this identity and sense of morality comes from several complex and competing schools of thought (not only religious ones). However, it is said that one school of thought is Shari'a-oriented-Islam, clearly not originally of Java, let alone Indonesia. Another is Sufism, not of Java or Indonesia either. A third, Kebatinan, is perhaps closer to something which may be considered endemic, but perhaps only here in Java. However, it is said that Kebatinan is an amalgamation of Animistic, Hinduistic, Buddhist, Islamic, and Christian ideas including ancient practices of Java. Soeharto may have been a follower of Kebatinan, and had reportedly been a practitioner of kejawen according to his "autobiography"; "Speech, Thought and Action" written by K.H. Ramadhan and G. Dwipayana. If his magic was any testament, Soeharto did spend 31 years in office, and is said to have embezzled great fortunes.

The practice of Kebatinan and kejawen by Muslims within elite spheres speaks to the acceptance of pluralism and syncretism in Java, and in so far that Soeharto may have been representative of Indonesian people, and their multifarious ways. There are as many cultures here as there are islands, or at least, that was once true of this region.

Now there is a plethora of shopping malls harboring the same shops on the inside, looking pretty modern for all intents and purposes. Is this is the new character that is sought by Indonesia at-large; being a part of a fashionable modern world? Is it fair that any such generalizations about Indonesia may be the subject of propaganda, or might be made "objectively" through Google searches, rather than subjectively?

I'd like to think that in many ways 'pure Islam' is a completely new advent in Indonesia, if the last 30 years may be seen as a rather severe departure from its past. Syncretism is arguably as much endemic to Indonesia as India, or to the US, or any other nation for that matter, only because it is unnatural for human beings to repel variety.

Now here we have a Christian arguing against mono-culture and for diversity. So, what is "pure", what is foreign, and what is preventing us from being honest about the need to permit some diversity and ambiguity among people of faith to spur on a substantive debate, and a healthy bit of competition, as opposed to more group think, and a lack of independent thought? After all, what business is this of a foreigner's to stir up controversy regarding the sociopolitical environment in a country where I am but a guest? I suppose we humans are all guests on this planet-island, for a limited time, despite our impact on one another.

Admittedly, I have struggled with fair answers to these questions. At times I have affirmed my own hatred of others and found my emotions it to be a sanctuary well-suited to preserve my ego. My ego has a tendency to make fun of itself, because it finds itself to be a redundant nuisance to myself and others, and I know it has nothing to do with God, and more to do with my confused humility. So, let my sense of confidence come and go. Right now my confidence is lacking in so far that my family and I will be safe in Indonesia for the foreseeable future. That may change after the planned protests this Friday. Funny that a lack of confidence could be coupled with some degree of optimism.

I've walked the streets of Jakarta and have kept my eyes and ears to the ground with the feeling that others watching me are seeing my presence as a threat because I am a Westerner. Sometimes I feel like this is becoming a more frequent occurrence, but I really don't know for sure. When our eyes do meet on the streets I try to smile and remain open, and unbiased, occasionally one detects nothing of any significance in reciprocation, but what I have definitely encountered is a certain discomfort among some Indonesians.

My being in the neighborhood, or the restaurant is problematic to some, if a lack of eye contact, furrowed brows, whispers and grumbling are any indication. My formidable persona is not helpful in these situations, but I temper my behavior so as to be discrete as possible. I do not wish to disturb! I wish to quietly sip my kopi! One kopi shop I used to go to allowed me to sit quietly among the locals, I was starting to feel unnoticed. That was good, but the last time I went in there the same barista, at the same coffee shop, he asked me repeatedly, three times, if I wanted my coffee "to-go". Perhaps I took this the wrong way, but I don't think so. He'd seen me before, and I'd always taken a seat quietly inside. I would go there and pretend I didn't hear the masjid outside blaring this horrid noise. It wasn't always difficult to ignore the loudspeaker, there was a curious mystique in that ambiance that I really enjoyed. When the loud singing wasn't out of tune it was charming, but that was a rarity...even at the shopping malls. Karaoke was pervasive and overbearing. Some people feel loud is good. Most of the time, to me, it sounded like wailing zombies. Zombies couldn't think for themselves, or hear themselves. I relented even 'good' music wasn't fond of everyone, that trying to sing might provide relief to those in need, to those sitting sadly, to those whose needs are not met by this greedy secular world that tries to be so fashionable and apart from history. We are so obsessed with money and status, not soulfulness.

There is rarely soulfulness in success today. Maybe I should go to the masjid and pray, even as a christian, but for some reason I felt I wouldn't be welcomed, that it would become habit, and end badly. My mind was in fact closed to it. There are still those who cannot see we pray to the same God(s), even if there is only one we may call by a different name/by different names.

Then there was that flying drone that bounced off my back porch a few weeks back and landed in my backyard. Call me paranoid, but I did return the thing to the owner, a middle eastern man, who said he was my neighbor. I'd never seen him before. He said he lost control of the drone in the wind. I finally believed him, after I yelled at him for this provocation. The drone had a camera attached to it and it was flying closely to our gated compound around which were perimeter walls fifteen-foot-high, garnished with razor blade wire, the gate guarded by pribumi ex-pancasila

So, I am wondering what I need to be protected from, if it is not my own paranoia. Maybe it is the growing sense among some Indonesians that America stands against Islam. After all, I'm not Chinese, and I live in a compound. These people don't hate me just because I'm American. Both of my grandfathers chased the Japanese out of their country, despite the Dutch. Now Indonesians feel more a part of the Middle East than their own country? Have some of them forgotten their roots? Maybe I should be more critical of my own irrational fears, my own intolerance.

Let the Muslims protest, let them exercise that right to disagree, let them express their sense of democracy, and pray hope they do it peacefully, and allow others to do the same.

Monday, November 16, 2015

A Heart Full Rant on the Paris ISIS Attacks of Friday November 13th,2015


Based on my own travails racism is a ubiquitous problem because human beings aren't intelligent to enough to always realize the truth in what is unknown or unseen. You might recognize my tendency to side with an Auld Alliance, but don’t mistake that for blind loyalty. I know something of my own family history, it’s entirely American. Now living in a Muslim dominated country hearing their call to prayers (some quite beautiful) I will tell you not all of Islam is ISIS, that's unfair. 

While I realize it is tempting to generalize broadly it is socially incorrect. We should however expect countries harboring violent extremists to self-correct, and if they don't then you might take comfort in the notion that the good ol' US of A is likely to lend its own hand…eventually (despite itself and severely inept and corrupt governments to which all of humanity is made liable). Although, sometimes I feel like government acting is the tail wagging the dog, and the dog (the people) don’t get out enough… 

In the meantime, if you are feeling righteous please try to make a distinction between psychopathic criminals claiming to be religious representatives (like the representatives of ISIS) and those who would just as soon capitalize personally on the virtues of your fears and your religious sentiments (like some Presidential Candidates might). 

Remember you aren’t getting paid for that Facebook endorsement or that emotionally or politically laden Tweet, or if you are, then you are just doing your job as usual, and that’s OK. Ha!!! Even if you are advocating for your occupational endeavors you should be mindful that extortion of religious virtue (or virtues of any kind) is nothing new and you should know better than to allow events of late cause you to be openly racist or self-righteous (even after such atrocities are made against innocent people, given your local dispositions and sense of morality which is steeped in cultural imperatives that tell that this sort of uncivil reaction is “OK”, and that anything remotely correlated to the atrocities is not OK, when none of it was!), especially when we were all at one time or another migrants ourselves, unless you never ventured from your “rightful” place of birth, which is by default still known as the planet Earth.

Meanwhile you may be predisposed to speaking with perfect knowledge regarding your own personal (and fickle) feelings, but please just keep your mouth shut if you are going to point fingers at wide swaths of humanity which you’ve never encountered firsthand

The media doesn't really help us to stay rational in this regard, I know. But, you can’t rely on media to tell you the truth, you just have to experience reality for yourself, expand your vocabulary, permit some deviations into deeper thoughts to help augment your typically impulsive responses, and be willing to improve yourself and what is around you. Doing that takes self-discipline, while I myself am clearly lacking in that regard with my propensity to be pedantically and didactically long winded. 

So, to wrap up this rant I would suppose only that time will tell the ultimate fate of our shared humanity as we remain locked up behind false notions of selfness since we are so attached to nationhood and our relative proximity to one another, despite the technology to do otherwise, and the profound ability to expand our own consciousness. 

While any truth is sure to be in the endgame, there may be no winners, as in a draw, and ultimately God may not care which side of humanity you think you were on because we were all on the inside looking up at the same God (or Gods), as the case may be, depending on what it is you actually believe. 

By the way, anyone who advocates ISIS, or anything like it, is not included in my definition of “humanity”. And if any one of you claims to know God’s/the Gods’ thoughts on these subjects please kindly invite him/her/them down to join the tea party and/or let us know his/her/their thoughts, so they can be a guiding light to the rest of us. The overwhelmed majority of us would probably love to hear from him (or her, or them).