Monthly Archives: May 2015

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 Small scale farms have long since been replaced by gigantic compounds, where cows have no names and workers have no time; where feed formulas are carefully calculated; spaces confined; sprinkle scarce and beaks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.