Dismantling Democracy

“Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?” King Henry II allegedly muttered in frustration. Although not a direct order, four of his knights rode to Canterbury and killed Thomas Becket. This happened in 1170 AD.

St. Thomas Becket. Image, courtesy bio.com

History repeats itself. Eight hundred and forty-seven years later, an impetuous, ignorant president mutters similar words about a troublesome special counsel. Whereupon, several of his knights, who are now called Republicans, unsheathe their swords, which are now verbal (although these republicans insist upon their inalienable right to own and carry arms), and begin a character assassination of the special counsel and his team.

Meanwhile, around the world, despots and dictators clap their hands with glee, knowing that a powerful global champion of human rights has suddenly lost its teeth. This A-Z of dictators and would-be despots ranges from Syria’s Assad to Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, their alphabet-soup stock strengthened by people like Duterte, Erdogan, Lukashenko, Kim Jong-Un, Putin, Saudi Arabia’s ruling elite, Xi Jinping, and Yogi Adityanath.

Are we to simply sit around, watch helplessly and do nothing? Reflect on this, try to look beyond the superficialities of news headlines, think about what you, as an individual, can do. Here are three points from a recent Forbes article by political commentator Jim Powell that are worth noting.

  • Aspiring dictators sometimes give away their intentions by their evident desire to destroy opponents.
  • There’s no reliable way to prevent bad or incompetent people from gaining power.
  • Ultimately, liberty can be protected only if people care enough to fight for it, because everywhere governments push for more power, and they never give it up willingly.

As two Emery University academics warn in their article “The Psychology of Dictators: Power, Fear, and Anxiety” With regard to dictators, one particular trait that consistently stands out as relevant is narcissism. Narcissistic individuals have a “greatly exaggerated sense of their own importance” and are “preoccupied with their own achievements and abilities.

And… More recent work shows that, after a negative evaluation, narcissistic people will demonstrate greater aggression even to individuals unrelated to the feedback.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/jimpowell/2013/02/05/how-dictators-come-to-power-in-a-democracy/2/#6124eb767a55

https://www.anxiety.org/psychology-of-dictators-power-fear-anxiety

Carbon Countdown Clock

Image:courtesy usgs

Ah, Trump. Has pulled the world’s second largest greenhouse gas emitter out of the Paris Accord. Was promised. Was to be expected. The one campaign promise that this prevaricating president did keep. The Guardian newspaper has usefully provided an online carbon countdown clock to show the world how time is running out. I believe Trump’s action might provoke the rest of the world to come together to save our common future.

https://interactive.guim.co.uk/embed/aus/2017/carbon-embed

Click on the link above to see how much time we have left.

 

Serious Comedians – Giving voice to Lions

An East African proverb. Until the lion learns to speak, every story will glorify the hunter. As with lions in the savannah, so too in human affairs. History is written by the victorious. As far as I know, contemporary Gauls did not write histories of Caesar’s conquests. My early school textbooks were published during colonial times and spoke of the Indian Sepoy Mutiny of 1857. A few years later, my history books reflected the views of a self-governing nation and called it The first war of Indian independence. Similarly, a history text used by children in a Francophone African country began: nos ancêtres, les Gaulois, étaient grands et blonds.

Moving forward to today, a modern nation confronts the semantic shenanigans of a prevaricating president, one who heads the world’s largest military and nuclear strike force. He threatens to destabilize the world, and frequently expresses the desire to overthrow constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is a relatively recent tradition in our human history; a tradition that gives voice to lions. Research insights into the value of biodiversity show that ecological variety is absolutely imperative to the long-term ecological survival of our planet.

A time of instant communication is also a time of instant miscommunication, so many people no longer know where to turn for the truth. Official news agencies tend to broadcast the voice of the hunter, but where do lions tell their side of the story? Leonine voices are emerging from unexpected corners of television and the internet. The new lions are stand-up comedians, and they are emerging in every politically repressed country, from American to Turkey to Zimbabwe. Perhaps North Korea is the only country in the world where the only comedian still standing up is its great leader himself. In several countries that recently show signs of tending towards dictatorship, the leaders are becoming unwitting comedians in the mold of Kim Jong-Un.

Image courtesy the warmonger report.

It’s time for us consumers to realize how serious these jokes are. Time to sit up, stop laughing and act.

Drinking Cocanutta Wataa–a refreshing trend

As temperatures rise around the world (think summer, think global warming!), lip-smacking ads of frosted glasses of beer, cola or other carbonated drinks appear on billboards and media screens. Plying Indian roads on a motorbike in the approaching summer of 2017 has shown one refreshing (pardon the pun) trend in the soft drinks world. Roadside stalls increasingly tend to offer locally sourced products (fresh tender coconut, palm fruit, sugar cane juice, watermelon, lassi, buttermilk and various local juices) rather than the ubiquitous glass or plastic bottled offerings of multinationals. All this without the benefit of national ad campaigns. Environmentalists at work, common sense, or simple economics?

As Harry Belafonte famously sang, it’s good for your daughter too.

 

Saving the World, One Turtle at a time.

Statement: Olive Ridley turtles are plentiful, so they are in no danger of extinction.
Answer: Wrong. Human beings are even more plentiful, and their habitations are encroaching on the Ridleys’ nesting sites at an alarming rate.

The SSTCN* is a voluntary group that has been patrolling the beaches of Chennai, every night for four months of the year, from January to April, since 1987. That’s a lot of dedicated patrolling by a group that’s entirely voluntary and has been largely self-funded since its inception. Thanks to nature-film series like National Geographic and Universum, the life cycle of sea turtles species and their general pattern of behaviour is widely known. The adult females mate in shallow waters or out in the ocean, then stagger ashore a few weeks later to lay their clutch of eggs in pits scooped out of the sand with their flippers. They cover the eggs with sand after laying (anything from 50 to 200 hundred eggs), using their flippers to wipe out traces of the nesting site. Conservationists use these telltale smooth patches of loose sand as an indicator that there is a nest underneath.

Ridley sea turtle: Image courtesy National Geographic

The eggs hatch under the sand in around 45 days. And then another miracle occurs. The newly hatched turtles emerge from their nest and fight their way to the sea, guided by the phosphorescence of the breaking waves in faint starlight or moonlit nights. They struggle out through undulations in the sand and disappear into the waves, where perhaps one in a hundred will survive to become adults. The sand temperature at the time of hatching determines the sex of the baby turtles, with relatively cool temperatures producing males, and females emerging as temperatures rise.

Several of the students who volunteered for turtle walks in the past have gone on to play significant roles in various national and international environmental organizations. The current group of volunteers has significantly improved contacts with local fisherman. Several fishermen, formerly enthusiastic poachers, are now supporters of the conservation network. These fishermen can play a significant role in the future of conservation efforts. As human dwellings increasingly encroach close to the shoreline, the turtle hatchlings face another hazard. Lured like teenagers by the bright lights of the city, they head for the houses, away from the sea. For this reason, the volunteers patrol the beaches every night, collecting freshly laid eggs and taking them to hatcheries. Six to seven weeks later, the hatchlings are brought to the same stretch of shore and released, guided safely to the sea by the light of volunteers’ torches.

Once in the water, the young turtles face the hazards that nature has designed for them. An estimated one or two in a thousand survive, grow to adulthood, and emerge from the sea a decade later, to lay their clutch of a hundred eggs or more on the very same beach from which they entered the sea. This is a process that has gone on for a million years, and it is in the interest of mankind that they can continue to do this for centuries to come. In myriad complex ways, the future of humanity might depend on it.

*SSTCN – Students Sea Turtle Conservation Network. See their website at https://sstcn.org/ if you’d like to know more about their great work.

Poramboke – Singing the Tragedy of the Commons

The “Tragedy of the Commons” is a term applied to the problem of shared resources in societies. All over the world, resources that are shared by all its members (the commons, e.g. public grazing lands, ponds, lakes) are in danger of over-exploitation and long-term degradation. This is what is happening to the world’s air, the oceans, the world’s fresh water, and all the other public resources that we used to take for granted as a basic human right. The world’s common resources are under siege from mighty forces; industrial, economic, demographic. It does not seem right, it is not right, for us to say that all citizens of the world (and those as yet unborn) should not enjoy the same freedoms that we do.  And yet we continue to consume more, in the name of increased prosperity and well-being. The Tamil word for commonly owned public land or wastelands is “poramboke.”

How much is enough? Short question. No easy answers. I have met many interesting people recently, who are searching and finding answers, each in their unique way. The video attached above is of south Indian Carnatic singer TM Krishna, along with other eminent musicians, singing the tragedy of the commons in a song with powerful, compelling lyrics.

Poromboke ennaku illai, poromboke unnaku illaiPoromboke ooruike, poromboke bhoomikku he sings
Poromboke is not for me, it is not for you. Poromboke is for the city, it is for the Earth.

These past 3 months, as I travelled in different parts of the Tamil country, I see a powerful re-awakening of traditional values, and I will try to document some of my observations in the coming weeks.

Touched by the Invisible Hand

I bought a motorcycle for extensive local travel in an Indian city. A few friends and most of my middle class extended family were aghast when they heard. This is a form of suicide, they said. Look at the state of traffic on the roads. You need to protect yourself in a car.

Image: courtesy livechennai.com

Here are my answers to the criticism. First, there’s enough pollution already, and I’d rather travel at 55 km/liter with a 100cc motorbike rather than around 20km/l with a small car. Of course, the best alternative would be an electric vehicle powered by renewable energy, or else public transport, but neither of these options is currently practicable for my purposes.

Second, as the image above shows, progress is much faster with two wheels on congested roads. And third? I was reminded of the third reason this week when I had the painful news of a dear friend killed in a freak traffic accident in a European city, one of the safest cities in the world. I grieve at the loss. My take from the deep sadness I feel is this: seize the day, live as carefully and as well as you can, but follow your heart and do as you think you should do.