The problem’s plain to see
Too much technology
Machines to save our lives
Machines, de-humanize – Mr. Roboto, Styx
Recorded in 1982, Mr. Roboto is one of those songs that never ceases to spur reflection in my mind. It leads me to think about, in a serious way, the growing presence of technology in our day-to-day lives. There is no doubt that advancements in technology since the Industrial Revolution have improved the general quality of life for a great many people, but it would be foolish for us to ignore the nefarious consequences technology has had just in the 20th century for example. I do not want to engage in a tirade against technological progress or innovation here. I would be a hypocrite if I did go the full distance in condemning technology since I am guilty of having purchased televisions, laptops, phones, and video game consoles just in the first twenty years of my life. Instead, I want to talk about what it means to be human.
Our humanity, a thing so fragile, but also a product of history. It is fragile in the sense that if we do not take responsibility for it and cultivate it, we are destined to lose it. You may criticize my tone for being almost apocalyptic, but bear with me and hear me out. I am expressing an opinion after all, and it is not uncommon for me to be stirred by passion and conviction, as often happens to all of us when we are engaged with those things we love. I am talking about our humanity, I remind you. It belongs to us all. Though it is a shared among us, each one of us contributes to it by being our own person. In being our own person I mean cherishing our individuality, and in so doing, being able to cherish the individuality of other human beings. What is involved here is self-respect and a respect for others, both of which are intimately tied together.
Together, collectively you may say, the picture of the human species is – as what multiculturalists term - a ‘mosaic’. It is a mosaic always changing and always in flux. We cannot say what it will look like in twenty years or in two thousand years. One reason for this is because in two thousand years none of us who currently belong to the human species will be alive. We will have all perished. We will be history. But let us speak of now, of our times.
I said that humanity is a product of history. What I mean is that we are a product of the past, not only the actions of our parents in creating us, but in a larger sense, in the actions of all human beings who have preceded us. What it means to be human, philosophically and psychologically speaking, has developed over time. As such, I assume it will continue to change with time.
I cannot over-emphasize the importance of reflecting on our humanity. We must contemplate and think about this critical topic. Of course some people do, but some is not enough. If everyone took a small part of their day, just fifteen to twenty minutes to meditate on their day, their choices and actions, and their aspirations, then life may likely be more fulfilling for many people.
The old adage that nothing good lasts forever rings in my mind as I write these words. We have a lot of potential. When we set our minds to something who knows what we can discover or create. But we, as inhabitants of the computer age, must not give up what it means to be human. Culture, the arts, the knowledge we have gained with time, and even the degree to which we are attuned to things spiritual all define the human condition. We must not lose these things.
Another year in Québec politics is coming to an end. What do we have to be thankful for? A fine question, indeed. I do not have a definite answer. Nevertheless, I do believe that the Parti Québécois government must have done some good things. I am no absolutist in my thinking. Yes, they may have done some good, but are they truly steering the province in the right direction?
If we are a utilitarian we would be of the opinion that if the actions taken by their government led to the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people then such actions could and moreover should be recognized as good. Has Pauline’s PQ achieved this? Has her government served the people well?
The people, that would be us, the students, the teachers, the mothers, the fathers, the workers, all of us. Have we been served well? Has the actions of our government contributed to the general welfare of all? Has the actions of our government united us as a people or have we become more divided?
(I do aspire and dream of a society undivided, but human nature stands so powerfully against me. O, human nature, I desire to know thee. Is not human nature that unconquerable land hidden from our sights but always spoken about as in a story which captivates the minds of all its listeners? We live with our assumptions about human nature and these assumptions whether they be true or not often have so much power over us that we are convinced that we have no power, that we are fated to live and act a certain way, that by rebelling against our nature we bring chaos into the world…
Where I stand on the matter, I do not know yet. I am still searching for the answers, as I hope you are too. Never stop searching.)
The new year is upon us. The population is divided with the Charter of Values. Will it be that which propels us into another Québec versus Canada debate, another referendum campaign, and will the inhabitants of this belle province be even more divided as a consequence of all this? I ask only questions.
I do hope for one thing in the new year though. I hope that our politicians would start thinking more about the people they serve and less about their own interests and those of the party they belong to. Their actions affect society. Discriminatory acts of verbal and even physical aggression against Muslim women wearing the hijab this year have hurt me. This is not the society we want to live in. These may be isolated cases, but these kinds of things are still happening to people. Our government must condemn discrimination, not encourage it. We must seek peace, and not discord.
So let us in this season of giving love our neighbours, regardless of the colour of their skin, the language they speak, where they come from or what they believe in. With love we cannot go wrong.
“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.” – Marcus Aurelius
Marcus Aurelius was a Roman Emperor. I know what you are thinking. You probably imagine the guy as tough and muscular, merciless and power-hungry. I mean come on the man commanded armies for god’s sake! He wielded enormous power. But we would be mistaken to ignorantly succumb to these suspicions without first verifying whether they are indeed true. I could do this here, present the research of what numerous scholars have said about his manners and actions, but that is not exactly what I had in mind to talk about with you today. If you really do want to know whether he conforms to the stereotypes you happen to have of Roman emperors, please go and read a biography of him written by some lad or gal with a PhD. That would do the trick.
I will say one thing though, he was certainly no numbskull. Just because he was an army-man who enjoyed a good fight, he also was quite the philosopher. That is, he was not only a doer but also a thinker. The world, I believe, needs more people like Marcus, people who are not afraid to act and change the world but people who are also wise enough to realize that the mind is often significantly more powerful than the sword. The mind liberates us from the material world, frees us from sense-experience. It is with the mind that we reflect, deliberate, draw connections between things, etc. I can only go so far in trying to understand Marcus’s mind. I would do a better job at looking at my own mind, wouldn’t I? I think so.
The quote above was inserted for a reason. I didn’t just put it there for decorative purposes or to make my text sound intelligent. I just wanted to make this clear in case some of you were beginning to think I forgot about it or if you may not see the relevance of it to what I am saying. Patience, reader, patience.
Do not be distressed by things external to you, he says. Do not let people or objects in the world determine how you feel. You are not their slave. They cannot make you feel pain. You alone wield the power to command your emotions. His ideas are truly liberating, are they not? Our minds belong to us, and us alone. There is an element of detachment here. I do not deny that we as human beings naturally must participate in society, but we must first and foremost appreciate our personhood. We must take control of ourselves and not unwillingly subject ourselves to outside forces.
I do not know whether I totally agree with Marcus. I would be curious to see what he has to say about love. When we are in love, do we not become selfless? Do we not lose ourselves in another person? In doing so, do not our defences and barriers break down? How can someone be in love if they remain detached? Perhaps if both lovers share the same form of detachment and follow Marcus’s philosophy faithfully it could work out. But the majority of relationships require a strong emotional bond between two partners.
I could think of other things to say but I will leave it at that for now. I encourage you to read Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations. It is a fascinating and unforgettable book.
Why Contrarians Have Saved Us From An All-Out Nuclear War Or Any Other Equally Terrible and Catastrophic Event That Could Possibly Be Conceived Of By The Human Mind
Posted December 22, 2013on:
Contrarian: 1. A person who opposes or rejects popular opinion; who goes against current practice. 2. A contrary or obstinate person
As much as contrarians annoy the living hell out of me at times, I have decided to argue here that they indeed do a great service to the world. Okay, I take part of that back, if you, patient reader, allow me to. The living hell out of me part I mean. I do not feel THAT strongly about them. You bet your bottom dollar that I could be complaining about way more significant things that happen to bother me. Yes, you heard me right.This is a complaint of sorts, but not really. In any case I will try to be passionate in conveying my thoughts. No, I shouldn’t put your expectations too high. That ought to be a big no-no in anything you do in life. In marketing it is said that you are more successful when you make your customers expect less and then you go on and deliver more than what they expected. I should think more like that. What was I talking about (as I feel no need to re-read these last few sentences which were written without much reflection but rather so naturally like the water that flows down a stream into a river)? Feel free to go back and read what I did say, though. You never know, you may notice something interesting to ponder over. Pondering can be good. Thoughts bubbling up in the mind, what an experience! Clearly, I am digressing, so let us return to the matter at hand.
Contrarians, yes I am talking to you here. I confess, I have been one in the past, maybe not for an extended period of time but long enough to say that my act was no more than an act, an act intended to outsmart others. The act got old as all acts eventually do. But that is fine. I had countless other contrarians around me to entertain me, to bring me back to those good old days. I would do just fine as an observer, just fine.
Let’s be honest with ourselves, they are a plague in our colleges and in our universities. They are everywhere and nowhere. Nowhere because you can’t notice them with the naked eye. No, but you may happen to hear them in the hallways or in your class. They are an interesting breed, no doubt. Observe them as they utter their well-crafted speech. It is a speech that is reactionary in nature. They take the opposing view of your argument and try to show that their argument is superior to yours. These desperate fools go as far as to sometimes nearly if not totally contradict themselves in their play of words. It is all part of the act. They revel in it.
This is when you imagine a contrarian, I won’t describe one to you because they come in all shapes and sizes, but imagine one yourself, as I am sure you can. Imagine them with an evil laugh. Perhaps they are not laughing out loud, but they certainly are laughing their butts off in their heads. All day they laugh at everyone. It is probably the only constant thing in their life. You can say that this is what really and truly gives their life order and purpose. Good for them! They can teach us all a lesson, us who are lost in this alienating modern world of ours. So helpless we are, but not these contrarians. Oh heavens no! They wake up each morning devising plans of how they will launch their verbal offensive. But they cannot really plan much, since they necessarily exist to challenge things they hear, and in the morning all they hear may be birds chirping outside and the television turned on to the news. And who really takes any joy arguing with a TV with no one audience to applaud?
They sure do love them an audience. In their hearts they are veritable entertainers. It is all show, right? Right. Every encounter during their day becomes an opportunity, an opportunity to outwit, an opportunity to shine like the sun for all to see, an opportunity to assert themselves and their power. They see themselves as almost God-like, you know. I warn you, they may sound nice, with their rhetoric and all, but don’t fall for their games. They are mortals to, and one day their last seconds will be up. I wonder whether they will be laughing then.
I practically forget what my argument was after all I just said. I just checked and apparently my argument was that contrarians do a great service to our society. I really should try to follow my thesis in making my points, shouldn’t I? Oh well, what’s done is done. The pieces have fallen where they have fallen. I must now pick them up. Can you help me with that? What am I thinking, that is impossible. You are reading this after I have written it and published it. You would have to defy the laws of nature by going back in time and somehow reaching out to me to help me complete this article. I realize I must go on alone here. All you can do is sit on the sidelines like spectators. Go on, eat your popcorn and do please hold your date’s hand, she is clearly losing interest in you boy. I am stopping my digressing. l do not intend to lose myself once again. The rest of what I say will be boring as hell, constructed in such a rational and logical manner as to elevate reason over passion, because we all know that only the scientists and mathematicians of this world make any sense at all. The rest of us swim in a pool of doubt and obscure uncertainty.
The case at hand concerning the subjects in our study identified as contrarians shall henceforth be analyzed by utilizing the scientific method. We must first ask a question. How do contrarians contribute positively to society? Now that the question has been posed, we must do research. What does the literature tell us about these creatures? (I have spent hours collecting this data but I see no need to throw that at you here dear reader). Next comes the hypothesis. The moment we have all been waiting for. I hypothesize that contrarians are the sole reason why humanity has not destroyed itself in an all-out nuclear war or in any other equally terrible and catastrophic event that could possibly be conceived of by the human mind. I must do my experiment now to demonstrate that this hypothesis is empirically valid and sound…
Ah, I give up. This is just too tortuous for me (and for you). But I won’t let you go without a conclusion. I am sure you are curious to know more about my hypothesis. Okay, I will clarify it. Contrarians have not only invaded schools, they also run wild in all governments around the world. You see them in business as well. One politician says something and another is there to counter him, only to be opposed by yet another politician. Only the most gifted contrarians are given the honour to work in government. Not all of them are elected though, but that is besides the point. It also does not matter what type of government you happen to be in, you will still have contrarians there to get the ball rolling. They really like to show off, remember I told you, I hope you are paying attention. And they show often show off belonging to a certain political party or in having a particular ideology. Don’t be fooled though, they don’t really believe everything that comes out of their mouth. They all too often become aware of what it is they are going to say on a given day via an email sent to them by the party. This is even easier than in their schooldays. Now they do not even have to think of arguments themselves! Someone else has generously offered to do it for them. God bless them!
I shouldn’t bring up God since God has very little if any role to play in preventing humans from destroying themselves. The contrarians who run our societies spend their days arguing with each other; they seek fame, power, and wealth. Would it not be to the detriment to their individual and collective survival to embark on the dangerous path of war? And I do not mean little battles here and there. I am talking about World War III people. That definitely is not going to happen any time soon because then they would lose everything. The game would be over. And they live for the game. We should be eternally grateful they dedicate their lives to this act of theirs. In doing so they maintain order keep the world together, in one piece. Let us raise a glass to them as we sit on the sidelines. While they are fighting the good fight we may have the opportunity to live our lives, find love, and then when our times comes, join those contrarians who we love to hate but who we cannot do without in the grave. When it is over we can all shake hands and talk about the good old days.
We come across the term ‘Québécois’ quite often in our daily lives, but have we ever truly reflected on its usage? My purpose in writing this is to get a better understanding of the word and its meaning. We hear it on television, on the radio, in movies, and in conversations in public. We see it in books, in newspapers, and in government documents. But what is its origin and what implications does using the word have?
I will begin by telling you about myself. My father is a bilingual francophone and my mother is a trilingual anglophone. In my house one is no stranger to the natural mélange of French, English, and Slovenian. Why am I bringing up language? Aren’t we speaking about the word Québécois? What does that have to do with language? Well, I argue it has much to do with it.
Prior to the Quiet Revolution in Québec, the term Québécois was not as popular as it is today. The majority of French-speakers in Québec referred to themselves as French Canadians. The French Canadian identity was for them rooted in history, going all the way back to the first settlers in New France. The French language and the Catholic faith embodied this identity. These two features, some have argued, cannot be separated from one another since they are both equally part of what it means to be a French Canadian. With time though and as Québec and Canadian society have became more secular in character, many people have either forgotten or ignored the Catholic aspect of this identity. That is not to say that it is gone. In what we Quebecers refer to as the ‘Rest of Canada’ (ROC), some French Canadians, mostly older men and women, still maintain a close relationship with the Church.
The Quiet Revolution changed everything. Suddenly Québec was transforming. It was thrown into the modern world. The economy was booming. Innovation was everywhere. The State was becoming more powerful as the power of the Church was waning. Many more people were also receiving a post-secondary education than ever before. In this context, francophones in Québec saw the need to reflect on their identity. Were they French Canadian? They felt less Catholic by the day, and many were ready to give up that part of their identity. But if there was one thing they were not ready to give up it was their language. This is where the French Canadian identity splits into two camps, between French speakers in Québec and French speakers living in the other Canadian provinces. French speakers in Québec felt a different attachment to their society. While before their attachment was linked to the Church, now it was to the State, to l’État. They felt that through the State they could affirm their identity and protect it for generations to come. A strong state equals a strong identity. A weak state equals an identity threatened by other languages and destined to disappearance. Of course, it is debatable whether a state with less powers would – at least today – endanger the French language. It all depends on how one believes culture and language is best protected. Is it best protected with language and culture laws? Does more laws automatically entail better protection? Can institutions outside of the state’s influence such as the Church and the family also contribute to protecting identity? These are important questions, but less us go back to fundamental question that we are trying to answer. What does Québécois mean?
As a bilingual anglophone, I hesitate to use the term Québécois. I hesitate because I realize that people use the word in different ways to mean different things. The government will say that to be a Québécois is to have been born in and live in the territory of the province of Québec. In that sense everyone residing in Québec at this moment is a Québécois. Simple to understand. But in society, in the day-to-day interactions we have with people we get a different sense of what this term actually means.
“Elle est Québécoise.” I am told by a friend when inquiring about a particular person. Her mother tongue is French and her family history is deeply rooted in Québec. Prior to the 1960s her family would have called themselves French Canadian. But now her identity is Québécoise. But my friend and I are anglophones of the Montréal area. Part of my ancestry is French Canadian, but am I, are we Québécois? When speaking in English it seems less difficult to refer to ourselves as Quebecers, but the word Québécois appears to have a different connotation. It is rather common for francophones, anglophones, and allophones to say someone is Québécois when specifically referring to an individual or group of people whose mother tongue is French. But then what about the people whose mother tongue is not French or who do not speak French? Evidently, this creates confusion. Are we operating on a civic definition of a Québécois as anyone being a citizen of Québec or are we saying there is an ethnic component to the word?
Much of my hesitation to use the word also springs from the national question. Many in this province will claim that Québec forms a nation. Others will say no, the Québécois as a group form a nation. How do we define nation? For some there is an ethnic aspect to it. Some Québec sovereignists say that if Québec becomes its own country everyone will be a Québécois on day one. It is argued by them that everyone would be put on an equal playing field and we would all share the same ethnicity. I for one have a difficult time wrapping my head around that idea. The reason for this is because many people in Québec identify with Canada. They are therefore Canadians. But if they are Canadian, can they also be Québécois? Is a Québécois identity separate from a Canadian identity or is it merely a particular if not a distinct expression of this identity? These are questions which have been asked time and time again, questions which people will continue to ask in the years to come.
My goal here is not to reach a conclusion but to spur reflection, reflection about where it is we came from and about who we are as individuals and as a society. You may be neither Canadian nor Québécois. You may be one or both. Who are you?
Inspiration. A great many people seek it out as if it were something external to them. It exists in the clouds, they tell themselves. The religious among us may say it is God who has the responsibility of inspiring us. We stand ready to receive his magical dust and the aid of His guardian angels, but to our dismay this does not happen. We wait and wait, but like a bad date who forgets to show up, God leaves us out in the cold, alone.
Too many people see inspiration as something beyond their reach. They yearn for it, oh how they do. But they always fail to seize it. Of course people will always fail to be inspired if they saw inspiration this way. It is hoping for the impossible. It is believing in miracles without ever taking any concrete and realistic actions to realize your dreams. Yes, we must dream. Never let that flame die out. But to dream without a plan or a roadmap is wishful thinking at best, an inevitable path to self-destruction at worst.
Inspiration, what is it then? Inspiration is not outside of you. It is the garden that exists within you. A garden you have the duty to cultivate. Your inspiration is your first love. Your inspiration is the passion that moves you. It is your reason for living. So if you want to be inspired, look within, and look very closely and attentively. Listen to your heart and follow it wherever it may lead you.
The worst mistakes in life are those we do not make. It is okay to fall sometimes. A temporary setback may seemingly set us off our path but lead us onto a more rewarding and fulfilling path.
We cannot predict the future. We can only live in the present. If we are to live in the present, we best make the most of it. And I do not mean engage in pleasure every waking moment, not at all. What I mean is that we should be the best person we can at all times of the day. Of course, this is an ideal we set for ourselves. While we are only human and will more than likely fail to live up to the standards we set for ourselves, what matters is that we have made the attempt to make rules for ourselves and attempt to give our life order. We did this, not God, not society, but our person.
Have your heart and your mind open to the world. This is key. If we do this, inspiration will come naturally to us. I did say that inspiration must first come from within, yes, but this is only the beginning. Once our inner life is in order, once we have an idea of what moves us, then we are ready to put ourselves in harmony with the world outside of us. When we do this, when our inner source of inspiration collides with the world to make our dreams a reality, it is then that the real magic happens.