We’re All Foreigners and We’re All Mad.

Author: Melina Zachara

 An Attempt to link together two quotes of two very different writers:

Jack Kerouac in a Letter to John Clellon Holmes saying,

“All of life is a foreign country”  

and

Lewis Carroll in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland saying,

“We are all mad here”

 

There are approximately 7,5 billion people in this place we call Earth and not even one of us can really claim that she or he belongs in one place or another. I mean really claim it, putting aside the proud shouts of patriotic clichés of how much of an American, French, English, Greek or German are we. We have a nationality, but what that entails no one can firmly say. A nation can be defined by many factors and “land” is the last of them. Some claim to be “citizens of the world”, well, that doesn’t explain it either. When it comes to claiming territory or declaring a nationality I side with J. Kerouac one that one, when in Letter to John Clellon Holmes he noted “All life is a foreign country”.

 

Trying to break down the meaning of this quote will only result in chasing our tails. The dead don’t answer and I have no intention to bruise my fists banging against the hard soil. The way I can personally interpret it is that one, we all come from everywhere and nowhere. There wasn’t a moment in human history that wasn’t marked by some kind of population mixing, so who is to say which are our true origins. All of life is a foreign country,  as every country is a foreign land as much as our birth land.

 

In 2016 Momondo, an online travel search engine, launched an interesting experiment that was later disseminated widely through social media. They tried to find out how diverse we, as humans are by testing our DNA, they called it “the DNA journey”. Even though the concept was commercial with purely for-profit purposes, a point was made. No one is just one thing, and in that context all life is a foreign country, for no country is our own.

 

Surely, we have things that reflect the “where” of where we come from, small indicators like our language or even our taste in music. Those however are cultural characteristics that were built with the passing of time in each territory. All those features were influenced by things like, the weather, the order between war and peace, population movements but not from a geographic position on the map. The link we feel with a specific territory is purely emotional, and that is what makes us feel as we’re home. The traditions, the way of speaking or even the way of living does differ from place to place, but this fact never stopped us from keep on mixing cultures and traditions.

 

culture-importance

 

Let us make an leap towards another direction as bizarre or even irrelevant as it may seem at first. From “no man’s land” let us to travel to Alice’s Wonderland, “We are all mad here, I am mad you’re mad” says the Cheshire cat. If there is one thing that unites us more than our common roots that might be our common inclination towards madness. Madness doesn’t discriminate in terms of colour or nationality and that is what makes it a constant as firm as gravity.

 

In the books, later transformed in many movies, Alice is afraid to walk in Wonderland as she’ll have to walk amongst mad men. The cat then gives her the naked truth by saying “We’re all mad here”. Right there, the cat sums up the truth about the one thing that no country can claim for its own, our common denominator, madness. Madness as a state of being, as a state of mind, not as a disease. One cannot but admire the timeliness of a phrase that even though taken from a children’s book, written in the 19th century, is more in tune with the reality today as ever.

 

Nowadays, all the big conversations seem to boil down to two things: What is our place of birth and second, are we mad enough to keep tearing each other apart. As if the first would be implicitly connected with the second. But are we truly content with that way of order? Alternatively, try imagine wiping the slate clean and continuing in life with that one truth: “we’re all foreigners and we’re all mad”. Now, this would be an interesting twist in the world narrative, wouldn’t it?

Melina is a writer and has a podcast on discussing ideas and challenging people to be better. You can follow her excellent blog here:

https://cosmonotes.org/ 

The Death of Owning

The Google generation is fascinating. Children growing up in an age with unlimited access to information at the end of their fingertips. Have a question about sex? Ask google. Forgot to do your homework? Copy and paste Wikipedia.

Its incredible to believe that only twenty years ago none of this was possible. You needed to own books, actually ask real people uncomfortable questions and unless your friend let you copy their work you were screwed if you didn’t do it.

 

In 2014 I wrote on the massive impact of streaming services such as Netflix and Spotify were having on the power of consumers and disrupting the economy through the digital world. Since then, Uber and Air BnB have further changed the game in the subscription economy, Instagram and Snapchat have become the social currency and more and more people have traded the onerous obligations of ownership for the ease of subscription and service.

The video attached above documents how this massive shift in power from industry to consumer marks the end of the ownership economy and the beginning of the subscription economy.

Young people these days don’t dream of buying a house and a car and working for a big investment bank. They dream of travelling the world, spending on experiences rather than materials and sharing the photos online for the world to see.

Where will this lead us? It has the potential to be as detrimental as it has to be phenomenal. There’s something intimate about owning a physical book or a physical Vinyl record – preserving memories of a time. A place. And a feeling. Subscription on the other hand is highly perishable, its gluttonous, and digital storage is not as familiar as a physical item.

What do you think?

Why Robots Could Be Human

Author: Jonny Scott

 

Robots are taking over the world! Run! But where? I’m scared!

We hear a lot of crazy talk nowadays about robot dominance, endangerment of the human race and life being one big computer simulation. But is it all crazy? Or is there anything we can learn from it? Let’s pretend we’re scientists and try figure it out.

 

We’ve probably all heard of the universal simulation theory. The theory goes that we’re all players in a video game. Call that game, “life”. As players, we have gained consciousness. Every player operates within the boundaries of the game but some players are more conscious than others. Just like in video games, there are random life forms that are just there to make the environment seem more realistic. The more dominant players have the most consciousness. Consciousness is control over our actions. It’s freedom, or at least, the illusion of freedom. We can choose what to do, and develop ourselves to reach higher consciousness.

Players with higher consciousness reach higher levels in the game. Players with low consciousness are unproductive, overlooked characters, who are just there to make the game seem more realistic.
We are aware that by developing our control, or consciousness, we become more dominant players in the game and know not be low consciousness players who just go through the pre-programmed motions of life.
Is this an accurate explanation of the game of life? Even though it makes sense, and seems an interesting way to frame the world, we’ll never really know for certain.

But with this framework in mind we can relate it to the newest form of life, the form we have created. Artificial intelligence. The new form with major potential for power and intelligence which may greater than ours. But here’s the thing, will we get to the point where artificial intelligence is indistinguishable from human intelligence? The truth is, we have already surpassed that point.

You’re browsing the internet, and pop! Up comes an instant chat. Who’s on the other end? A sexy single in your area who’s dying to meet you? A service worker who is offering home repair? A phone company who promises to beat your current rate? Or, an artificially intelligent chat-bot? It’s becoming harder to tell the difference.

We are creating intelligence that is becoming a mirror of human intelligence. You might have a conversation with a more articulate Amazon Echo-like robot and not even realize until you look up and notice you’re talking to a little electronic device, not a human. Let’s take this to the next step.

 

Take a more articulate Amazon Echo, put it in a human costume, and program it with algorithms that teach it to walk and move like we do, and what do you have? Let’s see, if it walks like a human, talks like a human, looks like a human, what’s our first instinct? Smash it open and see if it spills blood or wires? See if it has organs or computers? Maybe, but more likely, we’ll just call it a human.

You see, life has cycles. Evolution takes time. But look at what we have already created, and imagine it as continuing evolution. A more evolved Siri, Amazon Echo, or humanoid robot basically is a human. Or maybe, a superhuman. An evolved human race that has potential to turn us into pets or entertainment puppets. We won’t have control. But we can fix this.

We see the potential for robotic-life integration into the world. It’s awesome. Robotics make life easier. But we have to remain in control. If dominance comes down to a battle of human vs robot intelligence, we can’t lose. With humanity’s increased reliance on computerised power we have become lazy and externalised much of our own brain power. It’s not as much of a necessity anymore. With less brain power comes less self control. If control is similar to consciousness, we can’t let robots gain more consciousness than us. If that happens, it won’t be a simple “pull the plug” situation.

 

And that’s kind of scary. But it doesn’t have to be. If we continue working alongside technology, and not depending on it for survival, we will truly thrive like never before. We have to prioritise human intelligence, brain power and see technology as an aid to our human intelligence rather than a replacement. We have to stay in control.

Or, maybe everyone is wrong, nothing matters and reality is a simulation controlled by higher power. Who can know for sure? All we can do is work within the limitations of our knowledge and try to find happiness and success within it.

Jonny Scott is a young American who writes about everything from the banes of modern society to the pressing issues of current affairs. You can follow his excellent blog here:

When The Truth Becomes Boring

Author: Me! (For once 😄) 

“The People of this country.. have had enough of experts”

The stunning words of Conservative MP and poster boy of the Vote Leave campaign Michael Gove when pressed on why organizations and governments were bashing his promises of a prosperous Post-Brexit Britain. His comment, while dramatic was certainly not surprising. The entire mantra of the Leave Campaign was not about facts or data but about us, about you, the “decent” “hardworking” “ordinary” people taking back control from the big boy fat cats who have trodden and left you in the dirt.

The anger at the ruling class, once whipped into frenzy by Boris and Co was directed with pinpoint precision at the E.U “Turkey is joining the EU”, “£350M to Brussels every week”. These questionable soundbites gave vent for anger, flooded the discourse and resonated with people in a way explaining the benefits of Free Movement of Goods, EU subsidies and net benefit of migration never could. It was the first piece of concrete evidence that ‘just trust your gut’ politics has made it mainstream in the UK.

Historically, since the era of the enlightenment, we as humans have developed and relied upon safeguards to provide reference point by which we can somewhat objectively agree on what is true and accurate. These include schools, science, legal systems, the media etc.
And while not perfect or always correct, this truth-producing infrastructure provides solid ground from which public discourse and debate can flow from.

Yet, there is substantial evidence to suggest – exemplified by both the U.S general election & Brexit – that we are shifting to a kind of politics in which feelings and emotions trump facts and truth.

Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel-prizewinning psychologist and author of a bestselling book, “Thinking, Fast and Slow”, says we have a natural tendency to steer clear of facts that would force our brains to work harder. People will not want to investigate questionable sweeping statements or assertions if it requires lengthy contemplation and concentration to comprehend a complex issue.

Tyranny of the Anecdote

This poses a potentially deadly threat to societal cohesion. How can we solve society’s problems if we have no common truth-providing infrastructure from which to agree on?
For example, dealing with the problems of delays and overcrowding in the NHS. There has been debate over whether immigration or a severe lack of government funding is the primary reason for its misgivings. How do we know what the root cause of the problem is? Do we look at a report by the National Care Commission or listen to a story from our grandmother that she couldn’t get a GP appointment living in an area of high immigration?

There is growing number of pundits and politicians telling us to choose the latter. This is what American comedian, Stephen Colbert describes as believing things that “feel right” or things that “should be true”.

Donald Trump is the epitome of this, notoriously describing Climate Change as a hoax created by the Chinese. And it’s impossible to rebut this ridiculous argument when his followers either don’t care about the facts or believe in a conspiracy that the science is manufactured to serve the elites.

The Economist notes:

‘“A lot of people are saying…” is one of Donald Trump’s favourite phrases and questioning the provenance, rather than accuracy, of anything that goes against him (“They would say that, wouldn’t they?”). And when the distance between what feels true and what the facts say grows too great, it can always be bridged with a handy conspiracy theory.’

#SocialMedia
And social media has become the bread to the conspiracy butter. While having many upsides and benefits, it has enabled people of like-mindedness to filter out news and media which does not align with their personal and political beliefs. One can follow news that never challenges but only reinforces their ideas about the world and tailors a narrative of events to suit its audience. Thus, once established the online community can be far more potent and important to people than their geographical one.

The priority of democratic nations therefore, must be in developing our institutions to cope and be trusted by all in the Internet age. Having a well informed public is unequivocally a common good and the issue must be treated with the sincerity it deserves.

Until now, politics, media and truth producing infrastructure have had to adapt to the structures of Facebook, Twitter and other online platforms. Often being tangled in a malaise of memes and cat videos. Perhaps having a separation between the “social” and the “news” media would be an appropriate place to start?
.

Questioning War, Conflict & Violence

 

Author: Haile Lagi

Note: this posts covers some heavy topics, but I think you can handle it 🙂

It’s sometime around 6.00 pm, my dad just bought a new phone, my brother & I somehow simultaneously came to an epiphany of sorts, there’s an “unclaimed item” present in the home (it’s the free accessories that comes with every phone and our parents never use), see we ruined both of our earbuds and we both knew one of us was getting it, before you know it my brother shouts “dibs” but there is no way I’m giving up that easy, I haven’t listened to music in weeks…

I rush to the package and we start wrestling for it, he pins me, I counter, I pin, he counters and we both go on for a while, destroying the room before we decide without speaking this is getting us no where, we sit down and start to verbally argue – this is the bit that gets interesting – we were arguing for hours over the concept of what “dibs” means and the consequences that followed. For those unaware of what this popular and rather childish phrase means:

download

The importance of this episode presents itself in a disguised manner. As I reflected on what exactly we were arguing about, it dawned on me the array of fundamental concepts that were involved: Ideas of ownership, finite resources, supply and demand, economic systems, ethics and the sources of conflict.

Our argument further explored concepts of logic, validity of statements, the fallibility of memory, belief and justification. This seemingly trivial discussion of who gets what really struck a chord with me when I contemplated the cause of our wrestling match. One thing we talked about made a lot of sense, the purpose of the wrestling match was to decide whose will triumphed over the other. Seemingly obvious, but again extremely important.

Then I started to think that desire whatever it maybe and more importantly the ability to realize that desire is a major cause of inequality. Not necessarily as the direct cause but rather as a consequence of that inequality. Inequality creates strife, either by trying to right this wrong or trying to accept it, both create violence. Yet, I’m only suggesting a correlation not necessarily confining violence to inequality. To understand what causes all conflicts is tricky but I can’t help myself from asking why do war, violence and struggle exist?

It’s not the first time this question has been asked, for millennia this has haunted societies thinkers. Personally, I’ve experienced these things all around me growing up. From trivial disagreements and fights amongst my peers, to riots, bombings, people being burnt and killed, gunfire seemingly unending. I’ve seen the destruction and aftermath of violence in my home town, that was at one point declared in a “state of emergency” the feeling of not being in control of what was happening around me, being helpless, running away from my home for fear of being killed, seeing deadbodies and not fully realizing how fragile my existence was.

The reasons are many why these things happened, socioeconomic class divisions, religious intolerance, tribalism, bigotry, political social engineering, twisted ideologies, and many other reasons are causes. I believe these are symptoms of strife itself, the desire for equality, power, honor, fear, whatever reasons that are justified in a person’s mind, whatever cause that leads to action. I’m not interested in this cause or that cause and their reasons or justifications for “good” or “evil”. I’m looking for something abstract, the cause of the causes themselves.

Suppose an apparent paradox I heard from a fictional character:

y

 

To answer yes or no would be irrelevant, evil would remain. I bring up this paradox to illustrate what I understand to be the nature of conflict, it’s more contradiction than paradox. Perceived necessity causes most conflict, and this necessity is the irrationality that is the world (this is an existentialist phrase) and to eliminate conflict would be to eliminate it’s causation.

We do not desire conflict… Not really. It’s a means, a way to achieve whatever goal. And this goal (or desire or will) may be is to eliminate another conflict and in doing so conflict is needed. This is why conflict seems to constantly recreate itself through desire even if the desire is to destroy it.

Having a will is not necessarily a bad thing, not only can we not simply stop wanting things, we should want things, it’s the fundamental drive to creating the greatest works of art, achieve amazing feats in diverse disciplines, it’s us, that wish to cure cancer, that cute girl you like, all of humanity is contained in its will. Our desire is all we really have. But what I am saying is the things we desire as result of necessity can create violence, it’s not that we intentionally create it but that it’s created as a result of human nature. So you might think, it’s all the world’s fault eh?

Well not exactly, when I say the “world” or the “irrationality of the world” I’m not necessarily talking about a specific thing, it’s more of an interplay of a complfex system that brings about specific outcomes. I guess that’s the best definition I have and it’s in understanding this mad complex irrational system that I hope to uncover how to, at least theoretically end violence and conflict. But first comes understanding, to understand the problem might very well be the greatest challenge.

 

 

This is my take, I see the world around me, the conflict and chaos that is created and I wish to change it for better or worse. If you disagree or agree and  can help me understand this topic even better, or if you just have a comment, I’d love to hear from you, sharing Ideas after all is why I write, to hear all that can be said, to inspire conversation, and eventually change.

Haile is a Nigerian Student, Blogger & Contributing Writer at The Conversation Room.

You can visit his excellent blog here:

  https://atimetravellingghost.wordpress.com/

A Very Nuclear Future: Friend or Foe?

 by Sujitha Parshi

 

“So much potential in that boy. I’ll tell you now, in fifty years if he isn’t at the top of his class, there really is no hope for humanity.”

Atom had felt proud. With gleaming eyes and a gap-toothed smile, he’d looked at his teacher, grateful for the compliment. It was a kind of proud he’d least expected from someone as flustered as Mr. E, what with him looking too tired to care all the time (having to deal with rowdy toddlers and even more aggravating parents will do that to you). It was the kind of proud he hadn’t felt in…well, ever. He had made an effort that day, well-groomed with hair slicked back, polished black shoes and even so far as getting his mom to match his tie with his loafers. Looking back on all the energy he’d spent into looking his ‘best’, he felt he got back his effort’s worth. After all, Atom was nothing if not thorough.

Which is why, seventy-one years later, he found himself bruised and confused and smack in the middle of a paranoid quarter of humans who wanted nothing more than to bury all mentions of him deep, deep underground (sure, he had his moments of puberty-driven insanity, but who didn’t). It was disconcerting. Atom split up his soul for them.

“Then why? They have to know; I am their best hope.”

The answer, dear Atom, is quite complicated. Let me start off with a few motivational statements (as motivating as I can manage).

In this age, when safe, clean oxygen needs to be imported from the smallest corners of a rapidly depleting safe-space, protesting clean, efficient nuclear energy is an exercise in self-destruction. Where, like most, this paranoia arises from popular, or rather, populous opinion, we have arrived at a point beyond which return is uncertain. It’s time we shed the cover of blind belief and think of the best way forward.

Now, here’s your reply.

At the moment, the world is powered by little more than environmentally-cancerous coal and dwindling reserves of oil, natural gas and combined efforts of renewable sources (You come a lagging last!) While the case against nuclear energy gets worse as days pass, the reality lies in the small but forgotten art of deep thought.

What makes nuclear energy efficient and reliable? Why, nature, of course. During meiosis, the cells in our frame split to form more cells, and then split again, and keep splitting to fuel the reactor that is our body. Similarly, nuclear energy is generated by the fission of enriched uranium-235 atoms.

2.8 million kilograms of coal is used to do the work of 1 kilogram of enriched uranium-235. If that doesn’t talk about waste of resources, then I don’t know what does. Considering the rate at which we are heating the very core of our planet, it won’t be long now for us to reach another catastrophe even Noah can’t survive. It also happens to generate the least amount of waste.

“Then what seems to be the problem?”

The problem, dear Atom, is that you’ve had a troubled life (Yes, people care enough).

The problem here is containment. When talking about nuclear energy, the first ping in your brain probably was Chernobyl, or quite recently, Fukushima. It’s a valid concern. Why would you trust something so evidently damning? The answer lies within yourself. For the same reason you’d trust the puppy that bit you while she was teething; it was young and we didn’t know how to contain it safely. It’s a mistake we have learnt extensively from. All energy sources rose up the ranks through trial and error.

Fukushima was a one-time thing. While a high magnitude seismic event affects any energy (source) reactor, nuclear reactors in particular are somewhat safer, after the Fukushima leak, in comparison. For one, other energy plants experience instant reactions while nuclear is more gradual. After the leak, there have been so many regulations and precautions taken, sleeping easy next to a nuclear power plant is more possible than any other energy source. For one, most, if not all, nuclear power plants have an automatic shut-down process that has succeeded the manual shut-down. Secondly, several layers of cooling systems encompass a nuclear reactor to ensure the rapid cooling of the atomic pile. Last, and at the very least, it is all a controlled process. Rest assured, they know what they are doing. (Also, this is where the scary part of the ‘gradual’ is eliminated since there is little space for a leak.)

“Hmm, so does this mean the protests outside my house will stop? I really need to get saving (the world won’t pause any longer without permanent damage). I’ve had to wait seventy-one years too long.”

Not so fast. There’s a long way to go, Atom, a very long way.

You are an expensive, little brat. Thanks to the general dislike and less-than-optimal production and usage. But once you match, or even surpass, the level of your coal compatriot, we can get around to calling you ‘cheap’ like we ache to. Even then, popular mentality isn’t changed so easy. It needs to start at the grass-root, with explaining what-the-eff energy production and consumption entails without mainstream media bias. Remember, Atom, the more neutral you are in your approach, the better you can expect people to think for themselves.

Anyway, that’s just some of the things that make you special. Don’t let it get to your head, though.

Besides, you are seventy-one years old, barely out of your diapers. Live a little (without killing and maiming others, of course). You can expect more than your share of presidential duties in the very Nuclear future.

“Yeah, yeah, you say that like it’s so easy. We’re living in 2016! For now, I have more than my share of activists to dodge.”

 

Sujitha is an Indian Student, Blogger & Contributing Writer to The Conversation Room.

You can visit her excellent blog here:

https://pompeiiresurget.wordpress.com/

Bhagavan Must Have Made Something?!

Author: Rabia Khan

My mother teaches Kindergarten kids; almost every day she will tell us some interesting thing that happened in her class. One of my favorites is when she was taking an Islamiat (Islamic studies) class

Under the Constitution of Pakistan it is compulsory for schools to teach Islamiat to Muslim students, no special programs are made for non-Muslim students who most of the time have to take, or sit through these classes.

There are a few Hindu and Christian kids in my mother’s class, and as she was teaching Islamiat, she started listing down all the things Allah made- the moon, sun, stars, the world, animals etc; Most of the time she tries to include God and Bhagavan in the discussions too, but I guess this one time she forgot. As she was listing down all of Allah’s creations, a Hindu kid burst out with, “Bhagavan nay bhi to kuch banaya hoga!” (Bhaqavan must have made something too)

Coming from a 5 year old kid this seems amusing when you first hear it, but you have to wonder what he must have been feeling at that time for him to have burst out with such a frustrated and desperate plea. All the beliefs that he has grown up with; challenged in that one instance, when all the credit for Creation goes to a God he doesn’t believe in, and knows next to nothing about.

There is a huge difference between learning about a religion and religious preaching; schools in Pakistan do the latter. Asking students to memorize verses from the Quran, testing them on how well they can recite the Quran and how well they remember its translations, is nothing short of forcing Islam on students, whether they be Muslims or Non-Muslims.

A 5 year old child doesn’t even know what religion is, he doesn’t understand it, then what is the purpose of teaching him religious injunctions? Isn’t it basically just institutionalized brainwashing? Force religion down a child’s throat at such a young age that by the time he grows up he doesn’t even bother to discover religion, instead just follows what he has been taught without any understanding of what he ‘believes’ in. And the worst part is when that child is forced to learn about a religion, which his background doesn’t even correspond with. This is just another aspect of minority marginalization in Pakistan.

Teaching kids about religion in this way at such a young age only breeds hatred and discrimination. Especially since no one can teach religion impartially, the teacher’s bias always comes through, and at an older age that may be fine because students know better, but what about a 6 year old being told that she shouldn’t be friends with Christians by a teacher whom she is told to obey and respect?

When I was around 7, my Islamiat teacher was a bit of an extremist (understatement); she would openly condemn Hindus and Christians in class and say that friendships with them were Haram (forbidden) in Islam. And because I was a naïve 7 year old like the rest of the children in my class, I believed her, and just like the rest of the class I broke off being friends with all the Hindu kids in my class. To this day, I cannot explain how disgusted I feel with myself when I remember what I did, and if could, I would find those people and apologize to them.

Quite a few years later when I realized what I had done, I told my mother and I could see the shock in her eyes, because she never taught me this. She never taught me to hate other religions or discriminate between them, my Islamiat teacher did. Even when I was in 9th Grade and around 15 years old, my Islamiat teacher had a major problem with Shia Muslims, so most of the time she would mention their teachings in a mocking tone or other times she would just flat out refuse to acknowledge them, adding into the cycle of hatred that we have been taught since we were 4.

Religion is a personal matter, over which institutions should have no influence. A perfect example of why religion and institutions should not mix is: Pakistan, which is plagued by Islamic extremism, practiced by the State, which always gives into pressure by extremist Muslim groups as in the case of openly declaring Ahmadis as non-Muslims and limiting their religious freedoms in an amendment to the constitution in 1974. One would think that by now Pakistan would have realized that state and religion is a terrible combo, but alas here we are, in 2016, still forcing Islamiat down students’ throats and breeding bigotry in our future generations.

Rabia is a Pakistani Student, Blogger & Contributing Writer to The Conversation Room.

You can visit her excellent blog here: 

https://rabianajmkhan.wordpress.com/

The Fight for Fairness

Author: Revels

Once upon a very British time, when the crown ruled quite a lot of the world, there lay in Asia, a country famous for its heat and spices – India, a majestic land with a thrilling history of battle, love and trade. At one time or another, the different groups that resided within or without it had ruled India, although usually partially, some factions had managed to make almost all of it a part of their little empire.

Now was the turn of the British Raj.

With their posh accents and fine manners they invaded, using the clever front of trade. Slowly but surely they gained stability, till they were able to officially state their hold. The Indians had new rulers after the 800 year rule of the Mughals, more outsiders – the British.

The British gave to the subcontinent some impressive things when they left; infrastructure, education systems, government and more. But they took something greater; they took with them the superiority, the contentment that the people had felt in being just themselves.

These white people had such dashing dresses, such delicate ways, such pretty skin! They had been proud and civilized, they had ruled in ways as to show the general population that they – the British – were better, they knew better and lived better.

That is when the inferiority complex began, that is when our people starting comparing themselves to their former rulers in hopes of somehow attaining their perfection.

Since then, our people have ingrained in themselves this thinking that somehow imitating the west is what would give them respect and a higher status. People who wear western clothing, people with lighter skin or anyone with a better English accent are considered more civilized or of the better class.

Of these three, the colour complex has been most widespread. This does not exclude our intellectuals, even they, the ‘educated’ and ‘enlightened’ part of our society, seem to strive to attain that lighter colour and scoff at the sight of dark skin. Knowing that this senseless discrimination only disturbs the female population – which is always in the search for things to make them prettier – has no effect; your skin is something you will be judged by.

In school, girls are made fun of for their dark skin, at times families point it out in the most horrible fashions, marriage proposals are rejected – there are countless examples of how darker skinned girls have to endure gross discrimination.

Some of our models and actresses have had to bear indecent remarks because they weren’t fair enough! In a country where the sun reigns, one would expect dark skin to be the norm and not the exception, and hence accepted. But this is not the case! We are obsessed with the fairer tones. Although we have had famous individuals speaking out against this irrational infatuation, we still have countless companies promoting their ‘fairness creams’ and ‘recipes to get lighter’ through TV, billboards and campaigning in different institutions. Our grandmothers will whip up organic pastes to somehow make that tan go away; they will try out new methods just to make sure the girls of the family are fair and so ‘pretty’.

So that sums it up: being fair means you’re prettier than the darker girl sitting next to you on the bus. Being fair means you’ll have lots of admirers and friends. Being fair means you’re blessed with beauty.

Revels is a Pakistani student, blogger and contributing writer at The Conversation Room 

You can visit her excellent blog here:

https://identity17.wordpress.com/

Battle of the Ages: Stuck in Reverse

Author: Revels

In Pakistan, one’s life revolves around what is socially acceptable or unacceptable. Growing up, a person is expected to agree to whatever he is being told, to comply with whatever decisions are made for him, to silently nod at what the ‘elders’ of the family think is right.

Before I start, I’d like to make clear that though the situation is improving somewhat, we still live in a way more primitive world than we should. The main problem we need to tackle is for our older generation to listen and understand the younger one.

This system has been in place for as long as anyone can remember and only a very small group of people have had the courage to speak out, despite some of them meeting horrific ends. Putting your foot down in the face of such opposition as your family is a very difficult thing to do in Pakistan where the majority of one’s social life consists of family, including cousins, aunts, uncles and the whole bunch.

People are somewhat used to living like this, but in this day and age, where one has access to what happens over the entire globe, our younger generations need their own space and demand the right to their own opinions. Where lots of families have been understanding and have recognized what is called for, most have been unyielding, with egos overcoming common sense. Children have resorted to sneaky ways to accomplish what they couldn’t have had they discussed it with their families.

Being an Islamic Republic, at least by name, Islamic values and morals are given their due importance. Nothing is forced, things like the hijab are not made compulsory as they are in some other Islamic states, but there are a couple of issues which, traditions combined with religious obligations, have become a social norm, and sadly, an issue of ‘honour’.

For instance, segregation is preferred. The strange thing about the way it is observed is that it builds to the frustration of the youth, questions like why can’t I talk to him? or what is so bad about hanging around with a girl? pop up in their minds as the segregation followed in Pakistan is not absolute separation. Girls and boys will share the same classrooms, the same buses, the same cafeterias, but they just will not talk to each other. This introduces a rather awkward situation because if people do eventually break that social taboo and talk to the other gender, the older generations immediately flash them the red light.

This, naturally, leads to an irritation invisible to the ‘elders’ who make all the ‘right’ decisions for the youth.

With the rising LGBT support around the world, Pakistan has seen its own LGBT cases number higher than ever before. The funny thing is, our elder generation will swear to this not being the case, as religiously and culturally it is not accepted.

But where there’s a will there’s a way, right? Men and women will marry whoever the family approves of, because marriage is another decision that only the ‘elders’ can make, though they try to make sure the people they are being betrothed to are like them. As a result, we have couples who live heterosexual lives in public but homosexual ones in reality, and this double minded society of people can only lead itself to disturbing consequences.

The question that we face is, though, will the obvious oblivion really solve what issues we have? Are we not living in a rather hypocritical little bubble? We’ve advanced from primitive thinking but we haven’t let go of our egotistical supposition that all is well as long as the elders are obeyed. Our elders try to implement religion to enforce what they believe is the definition of honour; they do not speak of what is religiously right or wrong, and do not listen when the youth tries to tell them about it. So do they really know what is best?

Our society, unfortunately, is still quite patriarchal, with men usually exploiting religion to their advantage, forgetting the whole package. Strangely, the same men who rule the household will turn into the very perverted souls that they try to keep their women ‘safe’ from when they walk out into the street. Is that really fair? A woman, no matter what she looks like, will be subjected to stares and cat calls. This isn’t even anything startling anymore because everyone is so accustomed to it.

Why be accustomed to something so gross?

Now the plot twist thickens, though. These same women will go home and still defend their sons and give them a preferential treatment! They will pray for their brothers, spoil them in the littlest ways and shower them with praise and love.

Yes, our world makes very little sense.

How do we get our elders to listen and sympathise? To think beyond what they feel is good and a happy solution to what is otherwise unacceptable to their, at times, absurd social standards? To be honest, I’m not so sure how myself, but to speak out in hopes of catching their attention might be one way. Philosophies ingrained over lifetimes are hard to shake, but bringing acceptability and acknowledgement is what is required at this moment. How long will it take? We have to try and find out.

Revels is a Pakistani student, blogger & contributing writer at The Conversation Room. 

You can visit her excellent blog here:

https://identity17.wordpress.com/

What Should Indian Feminism Look Like?

Author: K. Phani Krishna

The following article is divided into 4 points. This article is my take on what feminism should be in India right now. Feminism much like the word politics has been misused and misinterpreted a lot nowadays and it’s not a good thing.

What is Feminism?

According to google, Feminism is the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes. Nothing more, nothing less. Feminism is the fight for equal rights, equal pay, equal opportunities and equal social norms and acceptance for both men and women. A lot of people consider feminism the fight against atrocities against women. It is not. You don’t have to be a feminist to condemn rape. You don’t have to be a feminist to realize if a woman is raped every 30 minutes in India, it’s the man’s fault. Feminism and fight against rape are two different movements. One is moral while the other is both moral and legal. One aims to bring about a change in the thought process, the other aims to bring about a change in actions. The whole of India condemns rape and is furious about the rapes but that doesn’t make us feminists. It just makes us human. It is essential for us to not associate feminism with fight against rape.

Why do we need Feminism?

We need feminism because its 2016. Gender should not be a factor in judging one’s abilities or talents. There is nothing a woman cannot do that a man can. This includes both good and bad. PV Sindhu, Priyanka Chopra, Dipa Karmakar and many other women over the last few years have shown us that given the same facilities and opportunities, women can do as good as men. We need feminism because its high time we left the medieval principles of a patriarchal society and moved towards being a more modern and accepting society.

The two sides of the coin 

Just like any other issue in India, even Feminism is highly polarized and the state of feminism is completely different in urban and rural India. In rural India where people still are skeptical about sending their daughters to schools. Where people prefer to educate their son over the daughter. Where young girls are denied access to education and are forced into other activities or even marriage. These are the places where reservations for women and aid for education of girls are required. In urban areas, not so much. In urban areas where girls have access to the same schools and same facilities as the boys, there is no need for reservations or aid. What was intended as aid ends up becoming privilege and in a way hinders further growth.

However in urban areas we need to ensure at a higher level, women are paid as well as men provided they do the job as well as the men, if they do it better, pay them better. Serena Williams raised an issue in tennis. She said the prize money for the ATP (men) and WTA (women) tours was different. To which she got a reply stating the moment WTA tours attracted the kind of crowd and viewership ATP tours did, the prize money would be equal. There was widespread debate on this topic. My personal view is that it’s fair enough. You cannot expect the organizers to pay you more even though their investment recovery is generally less, just because the men are paid more. So my point here is we obviously need to pay both men and women on the basis of the merit of their work and the number of hours they have put in for work and not gender. If a woman is better than a man at a job, you pay her better. If she works much harder, pay her better. The most important point here is that the converse also has to be accepted. If a man is better at his job than a woman and if he is putting in more hours, he deserved to be paid more. If we understand this logic, we are good to go as far as feminism is concerned.

Solution

The most important role in this fight for feminism is of the urban women. The uplifted women. Women who have rational parents. Women who are educated. Women who can stand up for themselves. You need to let go of these privileges. You will have to stand up for yourselves. If we scrap all the reservations or aid for women after a certain economic level of their parents. We can channel all that money into the upliftment of women in rural India. We can build more girls schools and colleges. We can bridge the gap between an urban girl and a rural girl. If we manage to accomplish this, we have won half our battle.

The men have to realize that women are no less. We must respect them, treat them equally and most importantly not discriminate them because of their gender. We must not let their gender be a factor in determining their abilities nor their worth (salaries).

Together we need to educate our future generations about equality and we must ensure we leave the world to be a better place than when we inherited it from our ancestors. There is change coming up slowly. Its high time we accelerated the pace.

The most important point I’d like to make is India has so many issues like Gender discrimination, communal violence, violation of freedom of speech. There is only one common solution to these problems and that is rational thinking. If each and every Indian develops rational thinking right from their childhood, feminism, gender equality, communal harmony and freedom of speech will be eventualities.

Phani is a Mechanical Engineering student writing on a variety of important political & social issues.

You can visit his blog here:

https://phaniwritesblog.wordpress.com/