Wednesday, May 23, 2012

a wider mind

Relying on a vast store of ignorance and self-serving bias, I have to admit that my admiration goes out to men and women who are capable -- in word at least, in deed, where possible -- of entertaining positions that do not agree with their own. And this is true both for individuals and for political entities.

What brought this to mind was a TV show I was watching last night... something thoughtful about the rise and demise of nation states. During the show, there was a passing reference to the fact that Frederick the Great of Prussia (1712-1786), a brilliant warrior, probable homosexual and self-professed atheist, was instrumental in the construction of what looked like a very grand Roman Catholic church. It was just a passing reference, so the political inspiration for this action was not mentioned and I was left to marvel at the apparent paradox (atheist builds church). On the TV program, Frederick was credited with acting first and foremost on behalf of the nation and only secondarily for his own benefit. Whether this observation holds up to scrutiny, I don't know.

And then there was (Mustafa) Kemal Atatürk (1881-1938), founder of modern-day Turkey and a great soldier. It seems probable that he professed a Muslim faith and yet strove mightily to set aside the narrow confines that had and to some extent continue to be placed on the interpretation of Islam. For a long time, printed books were outlawed in favor of calligraphic renderings of information. As a result, the broad scope of scientific and literary inquiry and advancement was held at bay. Poverty was enshrined. Ignorance is not bliss as the poverty and rigidness of individuals and nation states demonstrates. Beware the ascendancy of virtue.

After the Chinese incorporation of Tibet in 1959, the news media here in the United States were almost as biased as they were about the righteous sanctity of Israel. The tenor of the outcries were so insistent and so one-sided that it was hard not to wonder what the other side of the story was. And then I read an article that appeared in the Los Angeles Times -- one of the rare accounts that actually went to visit Tibet and tried to assess the changes since the Chinese made their move. And the words of a single farmer pierced my mind and helped deflate the Shangri-La-like representations of an independent state ruled by a benevolent Dalai Lama. When asked how he felt things had changed since the Chinese 'invasion,' the farmer was quoted as saying, "At least we're not slaves any more."

Narrowness of vision is so debilitating and yet the courage and capacity to think and act wide seems so rare. It is probably silly to hope for such vision in politicians and perhaps equally silly to hope for it in individuals, but the nourishing qualities of spreading the mind's arms -- extending them over both atheism and credulity, both goodness and the wracking narrowness it can engender ... well, from my narrowed perspective, it is clearly nourishing and admirable into the bargain.


  1. I think he may have been being sarcastic when he said "at least were not slaves anymore" the chinese propaganda machine at the time was pushing the party line that the tibetans were living in slavery and needed to be resqued or saved as it were . So he was just repeating the party line . Its very likly he had been told to say that by the chinese , Anita

  2. Anita -- Perhaps you are right. But equally, in my mind, you may be wrong.