Monthly Archives: June 2009

DIVINE RIGHT IS SO WRONG

DIVINE RIGHT IS SO WRONG

If anything, the Ayatollahs have proven it yet again. Whether feudal or religious, it is somehow amazing to see relics of medieval political structures now in the 21st century insisting on reimposing their will on their people (and others). Iran’s Ayatollahs have brought this to the forefront once again. Unlike a rogue mad-cap nation like North Korea, no model of psychological aberration of the Dr No type can be used here. This is a classic anachronism, a hang-over.

Whatever the guise, be it of so-called Islamic republics, the ‘hidden republics’ of other religions, or supposedly benign ‘democratic’ monarchies (is it possible that there are lese majeste laws in the 21st century? Give us all a break), what it really does boil down to is mass emotional manipulation and ethical transgression.

Exposure has become painfully obvious in today’s age of citizen reportage and hyper-fast breaking news. It is becoming almost impossible to contain news of dissent, regardless of any arguments as to accuracy and verification. One of the most fundamental human rights is the right to be heard, and in today’s world many people have learn to exercise and demand that right for themselves and their brethren who are muzzled and silenced by unrelenting regimes.

Though wild and unruly, the proactive and interactive dynamic of social media like twitter, facebook and the like, are proof of the universal nature of proactive care and empathy forming fast moving, rapidly uniting fronts for causes ranging from Guantanamo to Iran. No one is exempt from the fury and flurry of today’s electronic campaigns. Avaaz has replaced Amnesty International at the forefront of the global hue and cry world.

With so many cultures and histories interacting, it is so clear that we need to fall back on to shared values. And consequently it is so important that we learn to develop and integrate true secular ethics. Any religious values which are outside of these belong to yourself, and that is your own personal choice.

Does it still need to be stated that one’s religion is one’s own choice, whether it is in Iran, Malaysia, Italy, China, or wherever? And it should remain a free choice. The right to express one’s opinion should not be a luxury, it is a right regardless if it is not “God’s”/”the People’s” Will. And who exactly took that message when we weren’t there? The backwardness of demanding that your core beliefs should be dictated by your race or nationality is ignorance of the lowest order, or even cynical power mongering at its worst.

What we need is to recognize that universal, secular ethics and clean, transparent democratic government everywhere is our only chance for global survival.

CODES OF COMMUNICATION

TAKING IT ALL FOR GRANTED

Working on the voice-over for a documentary on autistic children and elephants that cameraman Michael Glowacki and I are doing for our prospective series on Asia, once again it struck me how much stimuli we ˜normal humansâ” process in one day, in one hour, in one conversation.

In an age when we have extended another part of our brain into virtual conversations and experiences, we are swept up into living in parallel worlds. Our attention spread out over electronic messages, advertising nuances, news of the day, supermarkets of choices, consumer desires, entertainment, social media – an endless list of distractions – there is precious little time or thought given to those who have fallen into the gaps and cracks.

There is no shortage of autistic people who finally do make it through the gamut of what is for them bewildering signals or more precisely stimuli to establish a kind of self sufficiency into their lives. Yet at the same time there is an ever greater number of autistic children being diagnosed in the last decades, particularly in Asia. The term autism is fairly broad, and covers a whole spectrum from ‘high functionality’ to ‘severe’.

like being an anthropolgist on Mars
like being an anthropolgist on Mars

I am not sure that we can even imagine what it must be like to live in a world where everything is so incredibly chaotic and unreadable. The better person to describe it would be Dr. Temple Grandin, herself autistic, who describes her experience of “normal society” as akin to “being an anthropologist on Mars”. Meanwhile, modern medicine is still stumped on finding a cure.

As I ran our footage back and forth, seeking to find words that would fit the images, it struck me how extraordinary it was to see how much love the two kids we followed, Ben and Setang, got from their family and milieu. Their experience with animal therapy had been a catalyst, but in the end the caring which they get, the trust that they build up in those few who are close to them is their bridge to our world.

Ben and one of the paintings he did with his sister
Ben and one of the paintings he did with his sister

Extraordinary also was the Wat Chang Khien school we visited earlier this year, where with kids with various special needs study alongside ‘normal’ kids. In an interview with one of the special assistant teachers assigned to one of our subjects, he pointed out that not only do the kids with special needs benefit from the contact, but the ‘normal’ kids too became much more compassionate with other children in general. There are no losers here.

Setang and his classmates
Setang and his classmates

Our ability to see the bigger picture is crucial to surviving with our humanity intact, but our ability to decipher the smaller situation is equally crucial to seeing the big picture. Looking at the simple, nearly hidden messages in the paintings Ben did with his sister, or at the enthusiasm Setang felt interacting with his class mates it is obvious that that love and compassion is precious to them.