Quote of the day

“If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian”

~ Paul McCartney 

The kite runner, Khaled Hosseini

I was going to start this review by saying that I think everyone in the west ought to read this book. But as I started writhing it, I realized that’s not true. I think everyone ought to read this book. Even the people of Afghanistan  – especially the people of Afghanistan. Not because I think they don’t know what their lives are like, but because Hosseini has something quite unusual: the ability to see the Afghan society both from the inside (having grown up there) and from the perspective of Western citizens (having lived for a long time in America).

Through the eyes of a troubled boy-then-man, us western folks get a (hopefully authentic) glimpse at Afghanistan’s history and culture. A depressing matter: Hosseini spares little effort in painting the a picture of a deeply dysfunctional society, of a country that could have become great, but was seized by the Taliban, of a culture in ruins and a people in despair.

Yet at the same time, the story has more than sorrow. There’s always something – his subtle humor, an expression of love, a waft of roses – that prevents me from just shutting the book and resort to crying. This makes the storytelling touching and emotional, but sometimes a bit too sentimental.

Quote of the day

Humankind reaches every bottom and below. 

A system in which institutions are controlled privately and for profit…

I have no clear definition of where I stand on the political left-right spectrum*. Left in theory and right in practice, I suppose. To most people that makes no sense. Think about it though: one camp wants things that are all wonderful, it’s just that the methods they want to use to get there could be devastating to large parts of society. The other camp has a harsher view on human beings, less appealing goals, yet a political agenda that’s far more functional in the reality we live in.
For what is capitalism, if not a raw and unyielding strategy for survival and profit, favorable for the masses only when tamed by various laws and regulations?
It’s perhaps most apparent in the animal industries, where slaughter, torture and rape are profitable and, as a result, have been normalized. Small scale farms have long since been replaced by gigantic compounds, where cows have no names and workers have no time; where feed formulas are carefully calculated; spaces confined; sprinkle scarce and beaks trimmed. Animal rights activists are necessary to maintain the status quo.  Would this be a reality if farm owners had not been striving towards profit? Of course not. Our entire society is based around the concept of profit and many would be impoverished if they let compassion get the upper hand.
The problem is that we have nothing better. The only alternatives I can think of are a socialist planned economy and small hunter-gatherer societies. The first has, through the course of history, proved to be inefficient and rarely (if ever) compatible with democracy. Communism (which isn’t synonymous with socialist planned economies, but have enough in common to be treated as the same thing in this short, unqualified post) has, historically and invariably, meant that a totalitarian regime has replaced the aristocracy then led millions into poverty and starvation. Few humans are willing to work hard without personal gains, and that’s basically a requirement for socialism to work.
The second alternative – a hunter-gatherer lifestyle –  was abandoned a very long time ago, in our ancestors’ strife for a better life. I think it would be pretty counter productive to return to that, and anyway, nobody would do it willingly.
Bottom line: It’s a horrible system. Deeply dysfunctional. But it’s the best we’ve got.

* Unfortunately, there isn’t really a standardized political spectrum. I think of it as illustrating both economical models – socialism to the left, capitalism to the right – as well as ideologies about the role of the state, where the left tends to stress equality and communion, whereas the right is more about personal freedom.

Isn’t that just how the world works?

So many pointless wars, so many illusionary conflicts blown up and become real, so many inconvenient truths, so many harmful lies, so many animals dying for your hot dogs, so many humans underpaid for your socks, so many resources running out, so much suffering, so much pain. Maybe one day someone will come up with a solution for it all, maybe one day I will, but can I just paint the cloudy sky, it is sucha beautiful colour today, and thank you for the sweets, it’s just I don’t eat gelatin, but nevermind, so much effort for so little effect, imagine if everyone had acted like that, the world would be so very different. Cause you know a lotta effort is put into bad things, and if they refrained from that less bad things would be done but on the other hand if no effort was put into anything no good things would be done either, and that would be awkward, wouldn’t it? I dunno, I’m just gonna paint those clouds. Tomorrow, when there’s daylight. 

Aside

I was just struck by a realization. People age. Obvious, I know – but think about it. I know myself better than anybody else, and it feels only natural that I change. With someone else it’s a little different. My first grade teacher for example. I got to know her years ago, and my picture of her is how she looked then. Of course I understand that she, like everybody, changes with time; I just haven’t changed my picture of how she looks. Seeing her now, with grey hair and double chin, feels so sad somehow. Yet, growing old isn’t such a bad thing, considering the alternative…

Quote of the day

Forgive the idiots in your life. They don’t know they’re idiots. 

~ This awesome Facebook page

Blasphemy aint so bad

It’s pretty obvious that recent attacks (although they aren’t in fact THAT recent anymore. I’m a slow writer) in Paris and Copenhagen have targeted freedom of speech. It is understandable that many people react to this by trying to limit freedom of speech; avoiding anything that might trigger a new attack; blaming the victims of the attacks for insulting Islam. It’s appalling that those people have so many sympathizers.

First and foremost, I think it’s wrong to blame the authors, cartoonists and artists that were attacked. It’s like telling a rape victim she (because it’s always a she) shouldn’t have worn this and that. Dress may perhaps, possibly, maybe, have triggered the rapist but NOTHING can excuse such crimes. The fault, by definition, can’t be with the person who was raped – and no problem will be solved if she starts to wear full-coverage clothes.

Likewise, we won’t destroy any potential threat by limiting freedom of speech. Temporarily, perhaps – terrorists tend to have a target and if the target is gone the risk of an attack is diminished. If nobody insults islam, nobody will be punished for insulting Islam. But prohibiting blasphemy won’t help. Not in the long run. Because freedom of speech is also freedom of thought; people (and I think especially young, vulnerable and disillusioned people) are  susceptible to propaganda. By prohibiting anything that questions Islam, militant islamists and their supporters are given playing room. If there’s nothing to question IS’s propaganda, said information will appear like definitive truth.

In the long run, we don’t want to give up our freedom of speech. Because there will always be problems, in one form or the other, and we must be able to discuss their causes and solutions. And right now, religion is a problem we have to discuss.

I’m well aware that Islam has inspired wonderful acts of generosity, kindness and peace. One of my greatest idols, Malala Yousafzai, is a dedicated muslim. However, awful crimes are committed in Islam’s name. And I think that as long as a book is believed to be the word of God, there is a risk that someone will interpret it for the worse, then use God as a way to excuse or motivate their crimes.

I would never try to force atheism into someone – showing the secular alternative is far better. The Christian story of creation was proved to be wrong when the theory of evolution was proved to be true, which also proved that the Bible isn’t necessarily entirely true. In the long run, fanatic fundamentalism is the problem and education the solution.

Leaving Harry Potter Land

A month in London is a short time, but in a way I feel like I’ve been here all my life. At the same time it’s as if I just arrived. It is a wonderful city, vibrant and colourful – one can find practically everything, from tea at the Ritz to halal street food; from designer boutiques to street vendors; West End musicals to cheap comedy clubs; everything I would ever want.

While Sweden does have a fairly similar culture, the differences stand out. There are private schools that cost money – perfectly normal for most of the world, but to a Swede it seems really strange. News are very local – one day  I discovered that first side stuff was that some grocery store had moved their sweets aisles. Crisps and chocolate are considered perfectly normal lunch items. There are lots of sales assistants – I practically stumble over the friendly lot whenever I step into a shop. Teachers are good but tough (good, as in really understanding the subject they’re teaching. Tough, as in telling the entire  class what grades people got, and that they spell like five-year-olds and have scarily bad geography knowledge).

I’ve went to a Catholic school (which I thought would be incredibly difficult as an atheist, but turned out not to be a problem), that really is Catholic, which is a very new experience. They don’t learn about other religions! They have masses! They teach sex ed from catholic ethics! For the first time in my life I’ve been feeling quite patriotic. We get low PISA scores, but at least school is not about being brain washed into a particular religion.

But all that is insignificant. What I will remember is not the bad water taps, it’s the good people. The first thing that hit me when I stepped inside school was the friendly atmosphere, and that expression only grew stronger. I’ve made friends that are just unbelievably cool, smart, beautiful and kind. Leaving them – even with facebook profiles and phone numbers exchanged – feels like… like leaving a group of really awesome friends. As much as I look forward to seeing my friends back home again, a part of my soul is going to remain in Camden with them.

Nous sommes Charlie

I’m not sure if a democracy with equal rights and responsibilities for all its citizens has ever existed. If it has, it’s threatened. Because it cannot exist without freedom of speech: the free questioning of ideas and opinions (duh). The very core of our western democracy has been attacked.

I doubt it will take long before PC thinkers start to ramble about how the Charlie Hebdo brought it upon themselves by criticizing Islam. They did criticize it, but is that a crime? Religion was and is a system of beliefs (thus it’s not racist to criticize a religion). Islam (which has a scripture with political ambitions) should be possible to criticize the same way that Communism is possible to criticize.

My thoughts are with the victims, the brave people who payed their lives for our right of expression.