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Through a glass, darkly

Sunday, August 20th, 2017

[ by Emlyn Cameron — On North Korea: a retrospective as preemptive strike ]
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Charles Cameron’s introduction: Regular readers may know my son Emlyn from previous contributions on Zenpundit [1, 2]. Here he wages a war of miniturization on the Korean fiefdom of Kim Jong-Un.

***


Snow falls on Kim Jong-Il‘s funeral cortege

Reflecting on the Nuclear staring contest now ongoing between the United States and North Korea, I confront mixed feelings: Obviously one must consider different strategies and engage in a pragmatic calculus; One must consider the pros and cons, the risks and rewards, and the numerous lives which might be ended or fail ever to be lived as a consequence of any policy. It is, I need not say, a very complex issue. Worse still, it is an issue of severe import to many whose lives hang in the balance.

But I find myself grappling with a less practical question and coming away irresolute: If North Korea’s brand of surreal statism could be overthrown without bloodshed or tragedy, how would I feel? Would I be proud? Pleased? Grateful? Somehow, I can’t convince myself that I would be entirely satisfied. I feel certain that any pride, pleasure, or gratitude would be alloyed with something else. And this in spite of my knowledge that such a coup would be, well, a coup, and of the welcome it would justifiably receive.

“The bloodless anticlimax to an Orwellian police state?” I hear the likely refrain, “Terrific!”

“A peaceful end to a regime which embraced not only Stalinist propagandism, but De Facto Monarchy? Still better!” The voices continue.

“And a conclusion to tantrums and ICBM rattle throwing? Who could hope for more?” Comes the triumphal call.

And yet, I am unconvinced in the recesses of my heart. That might be strange to many people, even a tad immoral, but it’s how things stand.

In order that such a stance might make more sense, I’ll admit that I have a strange affection for the turbulent little state and its Emperor’s New Jumpsuits. This probably extends from more general conflicted feelings about overt dictatorships: I am someone who deeply loves enlightenment philosophy, and cherishes my personal freedoms. I am, all the same, a morbid person, prone to fatalism, and I harbor dark anticipations about the future of humanity. Somewhere in the middle I developed a great relish for bleak wit. For these reasons, it should come as no shock that I am a great admirer of George Orwell and a fan of his writings. Perhaps like others who count themselves among his readers, I find myself emotionally torn while reading Nineteen Eighty-Four or Animal Farm; The dystopias he presents disturb me, and yet, (in spite of my philosophical leanings) a small part of me is always tugged at by a desire to relinquish the struggle of self determination, and to escape the paradox of choice by giving in to such an oppression. The terrible certainties, even of state assigned conclusions and death, speak to some tired part in me, which recognizes strain from the ongoing alertness required of anyone who wants to be the arbiter of their own affairs.

North Korea, likewise, is a natural antagonist to the individualism I hold dear, but, perhaps because of its total conviction and flagrance in opposing my worldview, I am captivated by its iconography and insular existence. I have always been fascinated by the ludicrous spectacle, the stark imagery, and the total devotion of totalitarian nations, though I revile their premises. Having one around, therefore, leaves me in rather a strange position: I desire the grip of the North Korean state on its people broken as a matter of principle, while simultaneously fearing the death of a kind of dangerous endangered species; I am struck by the feeling that the end of the North Korean state would be a victory for my values, and the loss of one of the world’s great curiosities.

A friend recently called North Korea “an Eighth Wonder of the World”, and I agree. It is a tragic wonder, dangerous rather than glorious, but a wonder none the less.

My grandfather, a conservative philosopher, referred to himself as a “sentimental monarchist”. If a peaceful end came to the militaristic regime in North Korea, my relief would be tinged with a similar kind of sentimental loss; Something interesting would be gone, and I would feel a nostalgic pang for the missing strangeness. I fancy that I would rather keep the aggressive little power, not on a map, but on a shelf. I should like to keep it in a snow globe, I think (the state already more or less frozen as it is).

I’d like a little magnified globe, not unlike the coral paperweight in Orwell’s book, in which would be held the repressive slice of 1950’s authoritarianism: Marches and missiles behind safety glass. Occasionally, on a quiet night, I might chance to hear a soft, televised threat to my safety, or a report on bountiful rations; If I felt a stab of longing for the atmosphere of suspended aggression from my parents and grand parents age, I could go to the mantle and wind the little state up by hand (rather than by tweet) and hear a tinkling anthem that takes me back; I’d like to visit the trinket now and again and watch snow fallout from a nuclear winter after I shake it, or watch tiny jackboots and smiling, slightly condescending diplomats go about their days work. Maybe the mandatorily grateful workers would even build a cardboard city for my benefit, to give an impression of plenty. And once I had seen the last settling flakes fall, I would place it back above the fire place with a feeling of having harmlessly revisited my childhood, glad of a souvenir to solidify the bittersweet memory. After all, a snow globe can cast nothing else from the mantle to the floor, nor launch beyond its translucent border.

Then again, just because I’d have the terror held safely under glass, doesn’t mean it wouldn’t continue in earnest within.

Polarized light — pls review before final exam, Thurs

Sunday, August 13th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — actually the exam is daily, ongoing — and we’re not scoring very high marks ]
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Unpolarized light vibrates in any planes:

A light wave that is vibrating in more than one plane is referred to as unpolarized light. Light emitted by the sun, by a lamp in the classroom, or by a candle flame is unpolarized light. Such light waves are created by electric charges that vibrate in a variety of directions, thus creating an electromagnetic wave that vibrates in a variety of directions. This concept of unpolarized light is rather difficult to visualize. In general, it is helpful to picture unpolarized light as a wave that has an average of half its vibrations in a horizontal plane and half of its vibrations in a vertical plane.

Polarized light vibrates in only one plane:

It is possible to transform unpolarized light into polarized light. Polarized light waves are light waves in which the vibrations occur in a single plane. The process of transforming unpolarized light into polarized light is known as polarization.

The most common method of polarization involves the use of a Polaroid filter. Polaroid filters are made of a special material that is capable of blocking one of the two planes of vibration of an electromagnetic wave. .. In this sense, a Polaroid serves as a device that filters out one-half of the vibrations upon transmission of the light through the filter. When unpolarized light is transmitted through a Polaroid filter, it emerges with one-half the intensity and with vibrations in a single plane; it emerges as polarized light.

This works either way — so to speak, either vertically, or horizontally — though not, by definition, both at once. Ohh, and there’s paradox involved:

Read the whole lesson at The Physics Classroom: Polarization — and memorize, remember?

**

Ali Soufan notices polarization in our political sphere wrt events we label or do not label terrorist:

NPR likewise:

Tim Furnish sees this polarization as avoiding mention of Islamic influence when it is clearly present:

And then there’s this:

Sebastian Gorka told MSNBC

Gorka in full:

Sometimes an attack is unequivocally clear for what it is. When somebody shouts ALlahu Akbar as they’re stabbing a police officer, it’s pretty clear it’s not a case of the mafia robbing a bank, wouldn’t you say so?

Eh?

Vox is oppositely polarized to Gorka et alii:

As, indeed, am I.

**

Incientally, all you special ops types with cool shades:

For lightweight, functional shades that protect your eyes in any lighting situation, Oakley has designed the SI Flak Jacket. Featuring an innovative 8.75 base lens curvature for optimal peripheral vision, these sunglasses provide side eye protection as well as a maximal field of view. The stress-resistant O-Matter frame found in many Oakley tactical models is lightweight, ergonomic and will not succumb to the pressures of constant wear and travel. The Plutonite polycarbonate lenses fully filter out harmful UVA, UVB, UVC and blue light up to 400 nm for maximum sun protection. Oakley also has included an Iridium coating on the lenses which reduces glare in extremely bright light. For adaptability in any environment, the lenses are easily interchangeable. « less

Take heed:

Polarization has a wealth of other applications besides their use in glare-reducing sunglasses.

Like — in USian politics?

**

Okay, time for the test. Sample question:

Answer:

A. Referring to the above question, the glare is the result of a large concentration of light aligned parallel to the water surface. To block such plane-polarized light, a filter with a vertically aligned polarization axis must be used.

Today’s conventional wisdom yesterday

Sunday, April 19th, 2015

[found by Lynn C. Rees]

Searching for items on Willard Sidney Kellett (1876-1962), my second cousin twice removed, I found this story in the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, dateline December 23, 1940:

My eyes drifted to this story on another bruising collision, found on the same page:

roy

 

UPI war expert Mason was a member of that generation of Americans who elevated this nation to global numero uno, displacing the decrepit Old Enemy:

J. W. T. (Joseph Warren Teets) Mason (1879-1941) was an American who devoted himself to the study of Eastern philosophy and religion. Born on January 3, 1879 in Newburgh, New York, Mason graduated from New York University and decided to become a journalist to follow in his father’s footstep[s]. He worked for the Scripps McRae Press Association as its London Editor, and when the company merged into the United Press Associations in 1907, he became the European Manager. A year after the appointment at the United Press, however, he resigned from the post and returned to the United States. In the following years, he worked for the Daily Express as the New York Editor (1908-1931), specifically as the war writer during the World War I. After the War, he also worked for the United Press as the foreign affairs writer (1918-30). While he was in Europe on his job, he became acquainted with famous philosophers, such as Henri Bergson, Benedetto Croce, and F. C. S. Schiller. He also met Japanese diplomats Suematsu Kenshu and Hayashi Gonsuke, who introduced him to Japanese Shinto, the native religion of Japan, and Confucianism. His interest in Eastern civilization grew, and he published two books, Creative East (1926) in New York and Creative Freedom (1928) in London.

Although he had been already acquainted with many Japanese officials, scholars, and priests both in and out of Japan, a visit to Japan was not realized until 1932. During his stay in Japan, he attended many Shinto ceremonies and lectured on Japanese religions and cultures all over in Japan. He published Kaminagara no michi (1933) (English language edition, The Meaning of Shinto, was published in New York in 1935) and The Spirit of Shinto Mythology (1939) in Tokyo. He was a member of many associations including the Meiji Japan Society, the Asiatic Society of Japan, and the Kyoto Buddhist Association. Although the year he departed Japan is unknown, he died in New York on May 13, 1941.

Mason, whose death preceded Pearl Harbor by seven months, accurately forecasts factors that led to later “axis” defeat:

  • “long endurance of America”? Check.
  • “shipbuilding and defense production” sped up in wartime by “psychological pressure to unprecedented levels”? Check.
  • “fearful risk of complete defeat by extending the war”? Check.

Mason’s forecast is overly generous to “Tokio”. It claims it’s “scarcely” possible that Japan could be drawn into war by “axis arguments based on desperate hopes”. Mason’s forecast is equally overly generous to Berlin in claiming it’s “scarcely” likely it had reached a “state of mental outlook” that would lead to war with the United States. Mason’s working definition of “scarcely” seems to equal one year, plus or minus a few weeks.

It wouldn’t surprise me if Mason’s Japanese acquaintances were among those Japanese who “can be realistic”. Americans often see foreign things through interlocutor eyes with enough shared tics to completely veil the alien. However, Mason’s qualified use of can reflects some awareness that the Japanese did not have to be realistic, at least according to Masonic definitions rooted in American notions of what is realistic under conditions of scarcely. Some Japanese knew that Japan’s chances of victory in a Materialschlacht with the reigning Master of More were materially non-existent. Cue ominous music, background to yet another seemingly prophetic incantation of Yamamoto Isoroku’s supposed quote.

Yamamoto’s supposed compliment is popular in this country, land of the “sleeping giant”. It’s a meditation on our own awesomeness, like listening to the sound of one back slapping. This sketchy acknowledgment impressed some later Americans so much that they sometimes elevate Yamamoto to honorary American, in consciousness if not de jure. Yamamoto was a reverse Mason: he spent time in America. He must have known he would lose as far back as 1919. Tojo and friends must be blockheads if they don’t listen to their Yamamotos and preemptively surrender to American awesomeness.

But some foreign observers were realists even by Masonic standards. They saw American “moral aggression”, felt its potency, and saw that their only realistic counter was to scale up to American economies of scale, even if the scaling up was a gamble on the sleeping giant staying asleep while they carved out American beating lebensraums out of some promising part of Eurasia. Adam Tooze has argued that, after 1916, American power was so overwhelming that other global polities that aspired to greatness were de facto international insurgents against American dominion and its Masons. A Japanese “who can be very realistic” was someone like Lt. Col. Kanji Ishiwara, Imperial Japanese Army. He gambled that Japan could carve its American beating lebensraum out of China, allowing teeny Japan to materially go toe to toe with the American colossus before the colossus scarcely knew what hit it. Ishiwara gambled, a gamble that fathered a cascade of gambles toppling towards Hiroshima.

For Ishiwara, there had to be a shortage of Masons that could see what he or his German mentors were up to as they tried lebensrauming Eurasia if his gamble was to succeed. Unfortunately for Ishiwara, there were enough Masons, some even deigning to write columns read in Oshkosh, Wisconsin and other outposts of America’s trend-setting lebensraum, to frustrate Ishiwaran insurgents of the mid-20th century. These Masons of a new order knew what was up with Ishiwara and ilk. This made Ishiwaran projects unrealistic. For Ishiwara and friends, nemesis was spelled Willard Sidney Kellett: they were cruising for his bruising.

The Islam we hope to read into Sisi’s al-Azhar speech

Tuesday, January 13th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — bearing in mind Ian McEwan’s comment, “General Sisi or Isis — the palindrome is apt” ]
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Sisi speaks at al-Azhar

President Sisi speaks at al-Azhar

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President Sisi of Egypt made a remarkable speech to the assmbled dignitaries of al-Azhar the other day. The Coptic Christian scholar Raymond Ibrahim has a translation of the relevant section:

I am referring here to the religious clerics. We have to think hard about what we are facing — and I have, in fact, addressed this topic a couple of times before. It’s inconceivable that the thinking that we hold most sacred should cause the entire umma [Islamic world] to be a source of anxiety, danger, killing and destruction for the rest of the world. Impossible!

That thinking — I am not saying “religion” but “thinking” — that corpus of texts and ideas that we have sacralized over the centuries, to the point that departing from them has become almost impossible, is antagonizing the entire world. It’s antagonizing the entire world!

Is it possible that 1.6 billion people [Muslims] should want to kill the rest of the world’s inhabitants — that is 7 billion—so that they themselves may live? Impossible!

I am saying these words here at Al Azhar, before this assembly of scholars and ulema — Allah Almighty be witness to your truth on Judgment Day concerning that which I’m talking about now.

All this that I am telling you, you cannot feel it if you remain trapped within this mindset. You need to step outside of yourselves to be able to observe it and reflect on it from a more enlightened perspective.

I say and repeat again that we are in need of a religious revolution. You, imams, are responsible before Allah. The entire world, I say it again, the entire world is waiting for your next move… because this umma is being torn, it is being destroyed, it is being lost — and it is being lost by our own hands.

**

Let me first draw a few relevant distinctions in regards to an Islamic Revolution (Sisi’s term), Reformation (cf Luther) or Enlightenment (cf Voltaire):

  • there is what Sisi would like to see
  • there is what Sisi would like to communicate
  • there is what various schools of Islam think Sisi intends
  • there is what we would like to think Sisi wants to communicate
  • there is what we would like to think Sisi would like to see
  • there is what we ourselves would like to see
  • **

    Mark Movsesian at First Things offers this caution:

    Some are praising Sisi for his bravery. That’s certainly one way to look at it. When Sisi calls for rethinking “the corpus of texts and ideas that we have sacralized over the years,” he may be advocating something quite dramatic, indeed. For centuries, most Islamic law scholars—though not all—have held that “the gate of ijtihad,” or independent legal reasoning, has closed, that fiqh has reached perfection and cannot be developed further. If Sisi is calling for the gate to open, and if fiqh scholars at a place like Al Azhar heed the call, that would be a truly radical step, one that would send shock waves throughout the Islamic world.

    We’ll have to wait and see. Early reports are sometimes misleading? there are subtexts, religious and political, that outsiders can miss. Which texts and ideas does Sisi mean, exactly?

    That last comment in particular encapsulates my own response to Sisi’s speech. When Sisi speaks of “that corpus of texts and ideas that we have sacralized over the centuries” is he referring to the Qur’an? I am certain he is not. The ahadith of Bukhari? I strongly doubt it. The accumulated corpus of fiqh? That would be my guess.

    Perhaps someone with access to the original of Sisi’s speech can clarify these matters.

    **

    In any case, it is worth noting that Sisi is not the first to make such a call.

    Prof. Ali Khan‘s paper, The Reopening of the Islamic Code: The Second Era of Ijtihad, opens with the observation:

    For more than a hundred years now, an accord has gradually emerged among Muslim scholars that Islamic classical jurisprudence (fiqh) must be reformulated to meet the needs of Muslim communities

    In more detail:

    Mainstream Muslim scholars and jurists from across the world seem to have reached a near-consensus that, although the Basic Code cannot be abandoned, it must be re-interpreted to establish legal systems that respect classical fiqh but also incorporate change. This evolutionary call — “that history, as a continuous movement in time, is a genuinely creative movement and not a movement whose path is already determined” — is made to extract Muslims from historical stalemate and expose them to ceaseless dynamism. Every day, in the words of the Quran, shines with new splendor, majesty and freshness.

    What, in Khan’s view, comnstitutes the Basic Code?

    This article is founded on a fundamental premise that the Quran and the Sunna constitute the immutable Basic Code, which should be kept separate from ever-evolving interpretive law (fiqh).

    Khan notes:

    Muslims have at least three options with respect to the Basic Code. First, they privatize faith, embrace secularism, and divorce lawmaking from the Basic Code. Second, they alter the text of the Basic Code to meet modern needs. Third, they accept the Basic Code as a permanent guide for individual and social life but see the Code as a flexible and evolutionary source.

    He then comments:

    The first option has been tried but the confrontation with religious forces opposing secularism has often maligned the secular state. The second option is unacceptable to all Islamic communities. The third option seems to be the most suitable alternative for the material and spiritual development of the Muslim world.

    I hope that provides some background to Sisi’s remarks…

    Another formulation of what we might look for from a renewal of Islamic scholarship comes from Bassam Tibi:

    To me religious belief in Islam is, as Sufi Muslims put it, “love of God,” not a political ideology of hatred. .. In my heart, therefore, I am a Sufi, but in my mind I subscribe to ‘aql/”reason”, and in this I follow the Islamic rationalism of Ibn Rushd/Averroes. Moreover, I read Islamic scripture, as any other, in the light of history, a practice I learned from the work of the great Islamic philosopher of history Ibn Khaldun. The Islamic source most pertinent to the intellectual framework of this book is the ideal of al-madina al-fadila/”the perfect state”, as outlined in the great thought of the Islamic political philosopher al-Farabi.

    And there’s plenty of reading to follow up on there…

    ** ** **

    Older even than my beloved Oxford —

    al-azhar-lecture
    A lecture in al-Azhar mosque, Cairo, 12 December 2011. Photo credit: Tom Heneghan

    A lecture at al-Azhar, undated postcard, image credit Postcard Memory Palace

    A lecture at al-Azhar, undated postcard, image credit Postcard Memory Palace

    — the tradition of Islamic scholarship at al-Azhar has been with us beyond than a thousand years.


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