Stop Rampant Misogyny and take an honest look in the mirror


February 12, 2015

Message to Najib Razak and Hadi Awang and Malay Muslims-Stop Rampant Misogyny and take an honest look in the mirror

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by Nadia Jalil@www.themalaymailonline.com

“Misogyny, in combination with a repressive and perverse attitude towards sexuality, has contributed to Malays having the highest rates of incest, rape, and unwed pregnancies.”–Nadia Jalil

Malaysian Muslims should struggle against anything in Malaysian culture which does not protect dignity and equality of human being.” — Tariq Ramadan, Kuala Lumpur, January 2015

Looking at developments in the US, I think there are few Muslims who would be unmoved by the large-scale protests against the #MuslimBan there. I wonder, though, how many of us Malay Muslims who have felt touched and inspired by the sight of non-Muslims in a “non-Muslim country” defending Muslims against oppression, felt a twinge of guilt at the fact that we have been complicit in, if not active participants of, oppression in our own country.

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Barack Obama’s Moderate Muslim Najib Razak and Islamic Extremist Hadi Awang  with India’s disciple of Sayyid Qutb. They are exploiting  ISLAM for their political survival.

Quite apart from the “special position” of Islam in Malaysia, which has been used to exert a kind of dominion over members of other faiths—from the major, such as the illegal expropriation of Orang Asli lands in Kelantan and elsewhere, to regular microaggressions like calls to boycott businesses owned by non-Muslims—it has now become very obvious that we have a very sick society.

Malay culture has become one of judgment over mercy. We have abandoned the precepts of hikmah in da’wah and adab when we indulge in amar ma’ruf nahi munkar (enjoining good and forbidding evil). Indeed, more often than not, we relish in public undertakings of nahi munkar and barely enjoin good at all. Social media may not be a perfect yardstick, but given that Malaysians are one of the most active users of social media in the world, it’s a pretty reliable measure of social attitudes. Observe, for instance, the public shaming that occurs when a Malay Muslim is judged to have strayed from accepted mores, particularly in cases where women do not follow conventions in terms of dress.

This behaviour is tied to a development that goes unnoticed in our communities: rampant misogyny. Universities host “cover your aurat” week in which women who do not don the hijab are shamed and harassed, sometimes physically. While a lot of the conversations surrounding the return of a deported serial rapist have centred on safety concerns, another, more worrying, trend is Malay men indulging in victim-shaming—informing women that if they wish to be safe, they should police their dressing and their behaviour. At the extreme end some have wished that the serial rapist would rape women who do not police themselves. We have movies that turn rapists into heroes, and cases where rape survivors have been forced to marry their rapists, a ‘solution’ that is condoned by the community.

This misogyny seems to be founded on a culture of patriarchy that has been given an Islamist sheen. In official and unofficial sermons, women are constantly told that we must be subservient to men, that the one and only way to heaven is by serving the men in our lives, whether they are our husbands, our fathers or our brothers. Exposure to this male chauvinism starts from a young age: in mixed-gender schools, boys are encouraged to be leaders, girls their followers. By contrast, we don’t teach our boys that men, too, have duties and responsibilities to their wives, mothers, and sisters.

Al-Tirmidhi Hadith 3252 Narrated by Aisha ; Abdullah ibn Abbas Allah’s Messenger (saws) said, “The best of you is he who is best to his family, and I am the best among you to my family.” 

This attitude stands in stark contrast to the fact that Islam is a religion for which the last Messenger’s (pbuh) first wife was a successful businesswoman and his employer, while another is widely acknowledged as one of the major narrators of hadith, for whom it is said, “the implications of her actions for women’s participation in scholarship, political life, and the public sphere clashed with later conservative conceptions of the role of women”.[1] Indeed, Islam revolutionised the role of women in 7th century Arabia: where once women were thought of as nothing more than chattel and female infanticide common, Islam proclaimed that they were equal to men in God’s eyes.

Misogyny, in combination with a repressive and perverse attitude towards sexuality, has contributed to Malays having the highest rates of incest, rape, and unwed pregnancies. There has been no recognition that this is the direct result of a patriarchal and misogynistic culture that objectifies women, in addition to a refusal to educate children on sexual health and reproductive rights. Rather, proposed solutions again tend to focus on victim shaming and increasingly punitive measures.

We have now become a people who emphasise religiosity over spirituality, good deeds and good conduct; obsessed over the trivial and ritualistic. We are constantly preoccupied by perceived incursions into our ‘rights’ by non-Muslims, and this siege mentality permeates our interactions with them: a clearly non-Halal pork burger restaurant gives one of its dishes a traditionally Malay name, and we are up in arms, claiming it an insult to our religion.

Where, then, are similarly vociferous outcries in matters of grave injustice? We police outward shows of religiosity—what we eat and what we wear, and demand that our rights supersede those of others, always. As citizens of a multicultural country we ignore the rights of others and public interest (maslahah) in order to chase “religious points”. We stand quietly by as an Islamist State government destroys Temiar lands and punishes members of the tribe who are protecting their homes and trying to stop the environmental devastation that occurs through excessive logging.

We don’t question massive embezzlement of public funds, even when we know that those funds are used to finance people going for Haj and Umrah—which seems to me a very perverse way of “spiritual money laundering”. We allow for the fact that many of our mosques are not sanctuaries but places where the most vulnerable amongst us are turned away.

Our preoccupation with religiosity is aided and abetted by an institutionalised religious infrastructure that infantilises Muslims by claiming that only it can “defend the honour of our faith” and “protect Muslims from becoming confused”. We are constantly told that only the official way is religiously acceptable, even if some rulings rely on a narrow and highly literal interpretation of Scripture. Any form of questioning, however slight, or criticism, however valid, is automatically labelled deviant, and an attack on Islam. In addition, we have a moral police that has been known to harass suspects to the point of causing death—how is this following the precepts of ‘adab?

The fact that Islam in Malaysia is now represented by moral policing, religious bigotry and misogyny has contributed to resentment among non-Muslims, giving rise to Islamophobia. Many non-Muslims lauded Trump for his anti-Muslim views because they have been presented and oppressed by this narrow, intolerant and sometimes, absolutely distorted version of Islam their whole lives.

There are other challenges, but the final one I would like to put forth is the rise in violent extremism. According to IMAN Research, as at August 2016, 236 Malaysians have been arrested by the authorities for joining ISIS, including a 14-year-old girl.[2] This is not surprising, given the fetishising of violent jihad above all other types of jihad, not only in some Madrasahs, but in ‘mainstream’ environments as well. In addition to that, official efforts by the establishment to counter violent extremism contrasts jarringly with domestic bigotry that continuously otherises those in the minority.

I highly suspect that part of this behaviour is due to the heavily politicised nature of Islam in this country, where UMNO and PAS regularly try to “out-Islam” the other, and all other political parties have to play along with this narrative. Thus has our faith been hijacked by rank politics and conflated with the bigoted ideology of Malay supremacy.

Of course, it can be argued that these are generalisations, and “not all Muslims” subscribe to these behaviours and have these views. I emphasise again that these are norms, in the sense that we have become desensitised to them and, apart from the statements made by more temperate Muslim organisations and our own private protestations, they continue on, generally unremarked and tolerated, if not accepted.

I am not at all questioning the position of Islam as the official religion of this country. Instead, what I am calling for is the end of this distorted misrepresentation of our faith. As those who are privileged to be in the majority, we have a duty to end oppression committed in the name of Islam.

I fully realise that I am preaching to the choir in an amplified echo chamber. However, ours is a more dissonant than harmonised, whereas those promoting a narrow and intolerant Islam far removed from the vibrancy and openness of the Muslim civilisations which continue to be our inspirations—of the Abbasids, Umayyads and Cordoba—are concentrated and organised. We have let this go on for far too long. If you care for an Islam in Malaysia that is representative of our faith’s beauty, ideals of justice, and rahmah, I submit that we have to act now.

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Islam is also not conformity and compulsion, but reason and compassion

Firstly, we need to arm ourselves with knowledge. Of Islam, of other faiths, of socio-political and economic developments. Knowledge is, as always, power. If you choose to be devout, as Tariq Ramadhan, the Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies at Oxford University, has exhorted, “(i)f you want to be good Muslims, instead of preventing people from believing, you become better believers. Don’t be scared of people who are not Muslim. Be scared, be afraid, be worried about our own lack of consistency.”[3] 

Secondly, we need to strengthen our own communities, and get organised. We need to overcome petty disagreements surrounding minute differences in opinion and support those organisations that are already working to promote a tolerant Islam that fights oppression. We need to form alliances, and yes, we need to go beyond the echo chamber.

Finally, we need to act against oppressions conducted in our name. Loudly speak out and strongly act against bigotry, fight for the vulnerable and marginalised, insist that our mosques are opened as sanctuaries, promote Islam as it truly is.

We need to get to work.

*This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.


[1] ‘15 Most Important Muslim Women in History’, https://ballandalus.wordpress.com/2014/03/08/15- important-muslim-women-in-history/ extracted on 10 February 2017.

[2] ‘The Allure of ISIS’, IMAN Research August 2016, https://issuu.com/theaffair/docs/newsletter- isis_1_aug2016 extracted on 10 February 2017.

[3] “Look in the mirror, Muslim don tells Malaysians critical of Western discrimination”, The Malay Mail Online, 1 February 2015, http://www.themalaymailonline.com/malaysia/article/look-in-the-mirror-muslim-don-tells- malaysians-critical-of-western-discrimi#sthash.lwflqwTZ.dpuf

Remembering Herman Kahn–A Pioneer in Future Studies–Thinking the Unthinkable


February 6, 2017

Remembering Herman Kahn–A Pioneer in Future Studies

In Defense of Thinking

by Herman Kahn

Social inhibitions which reinforce natural tendencies to avoid thinking about unpleasant subjects are hardly uncommon.–Herman Kahn

https://hudson.org/research/2211-in-defense-of-thinking

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Futurist Herman Kahn with President Gerald Ford and Donald Rumsfeld

Seventy-five years ago white slavery was rampant in England. Each year thousands of young girls were forced into brothels and kept there against their will. While some of the victims had been sold by their families, a large proportion were seized and held by force or fraud. The victims were not from the lower classes only; no level of English society was immune to having its daughters seized. Because this practice continued in England for years after it had been largely wiped out on the Continent, thousands of English girls were shipped across the Channel to supply the brothels of Europe. One reason why this lasted as long as it did was that it could not be talked about openly in Victorian England; moral standards as to subjects of discussion made it difficult to arouse the community to necessary action. Moreover, the extreme innocence considered appropriate for English girls made them easy victims, helpless to cope with the situations in which they were trapped. Victorian standards, besides perpetuating the white slave trade, intensified the damage to those involved. Social inhibitions which reinforce natural tendencies to avoid thinking about unpleasant subjects are hardly uncommon.

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A Message  for Donald J. Tump

The psychological factors involved in ostrich-like behavior have parallels in communities and nations. Nevertheless, during the sixty years of the twentieth century many problems have come increasingly into the realm of acceptable public discussion. Among various unmentionable diseases, tuberculosis has lost almost all taint of impropriety; and venereal disease statistics can now be reported by the press. Mental illness is more and more regarded as unfortunate instead of shameful. The word “cancer” has lost its stigma, although the horror of the disease has been only partially abated by medical progress.

Despite the progress in removing barriers in the way of discussing diseases formerly considered shameful, there are doubtless thousands going without vital medical treatment today because of their inhibitions against learning, thinking, or talking about certain diseases. Some will not get treatment because they do not know enough to recognize the symptoms, some because they are consciously ashamed to reveal illness, and some because they refuse to think about their condition it seems too horrible to think about. It may now be possible to condemn unequivocally the extremes of Victorian prudery, but less doctrinaire forms of ostrichism must be considered with more care; they are, after all, often based on healthy instincts.

Everyone is going to die, but surely it is a good thing that few of us spend much time dwelling on that fact. Life would be nearly impossible if we did. If thinking about something bad will not improve it, it is often better not to think about it. Perhaps some evils can be avoided or reduced if people do not think or talk about them. But when our reluctance to consider danger brings danger nearer, repression has gone too far.

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In 1960 I published a book (pic above) that attempted to direct attention to the possibility of a thermonuclear war, to ways of reducing the likelihood of such a war, and to methods for coping with the consequences should war occur despite our efforts to avoid it. The book was greeted by a large range of responses, some of them sharply critical. Some of this criticism was substantive, touching on greater or smaller questions of strategy, policy, or research techniques. But much of the criticism was not concerned with the correctness or incorrectness of the views I expressed.

It was concerned with whether any book should have been written on this subject at all. It is characteristic of our times that many intelligent and sincere people are willing to argue that it is immoral to think and even more immoral to write in detail about having to fight a thermonuclear war.

By and large this criticism was not personal; it simply reflected the fact that we Americans and many people throughout the world are not prepared to face reality, that we transfer our horror of thermonuclear war to reports about the realities of thermonuclear war. In a sense we are acting like those ancient kings who punished messengers who brought them bad news. This did not change the news; it simply slowed up its delivery. On occasion it meant that the kings were ill informed and, lacking truth, made serious errors in judgment and strategy. In our times, thermonuclear war may seem unthinkable, immoral, insane, hideous, or highly unlikely, but it is not impossible.

To act intelligently we must learn as much as we can about the risks. We may thereby be able better to avoid nuclear war. We may even be able to avoid the crises that bring us to the brink of war. But despite our efforts we may some day come face to face with a blunt choice between surrender or war. We may even have war thrust upon us without being given any kind of choice. We must appreciate these possibilities. We cannot wish them away. Nor should we overestimate and assume the worst is inevitable. This leads only to defeatism, inadequate preparations (because they seem useless), and pressures toward either preventive war or undue accommodation.

Many terrible questions are raised when one considers objectively and realistically the problems created by the cold war and the armaments race. For some years I have spent my time on exactly these questions both in thinking about ways to prevent war, and in thinking about how to fight, survive, and terminate a war, should it occur. My colleagues and I have sought answers to such questions as these: How likely is accidental war? How can one make it less likely? How dangerous is the arms race today? What will it be like in the future? What would conditions be if a nuclear attack leveled fifty of America’s largest cities? Would the survivors envy the dead? How many million American lives would an American President risk by standing firm in differing types of crises? By starting a nuclear war? By continuing a nuclear war with the hope of avoiding surrender? How many lives would he risk? How is it most likely to break down? If it does break down, what will be the consequence? Are we really risking an end to all human life with our current system? If true, are we willing to risk it? Do we then prefer some degree of unilateral disarmament? If we do, will we be relying on the Russians to protect us from the Chinese? Will the world be more or less stable? Should we attempt to disarm unilaterally? If the answers to these last questions depend on the degree of damage that is envisaged, are we willing to argue that it is all right to risk a half billion or a billion people but not three billion?

There seem to be three basic objections to asking these types of questions:

1. No one should attempt to think about these problems in a detailed and rational way. 2. What thinking there is on these problems should be done in secret by the military exclusively, or at least by the government. 3. Even if some of this thinking must be done outside the government, the results of any such thought should not be made available to the public.

It is argued that thinking about the indescribable horror of nuclear war breeds callousness and indifference to the future of civilization in our planners and decision makers. It is true that detailed and dispassionate discussion of such questions is likely to look incredibly hard-hearted. It should also be clear, at least to thoughtful readers, that such questions must be considered. The reality may be so unpleasant that decision makers would prefer not to face it; but to a great extent this reality has been forced on them, or has come uninvited.

Thanks to our ever-increasing technology, we are living in a terrible and dangerous world; but, unlike the lady in the cartoon we cannot say, “Stop the world, I want to get off. We cannot get off. Even the most utopian of today’s visionaries will have to concede that the mere existence of modern technology involves a risk to civilization that would have been unthinkable twenty-five years ago. While we are going to make major attempts to change the nature of this reality, accepting great risks if necessary, most of us are unwilling to choose either a pronounced degree of unilateral disarmament or a preventive war designed to “settle” our problems one way or another. We therefore must face the facts that thermonuclear bombs now exist [and that] unless we are willing to abdicate our responsibilities, we are pledged to the maintenance of terrifying weapon systems with known and unknown, calculable and incalculable risks, unless and until better arrangements can be made.

If we are to have an expensive and lethal defense establishment, we must weigh all the risks and benefits. We must at least ask ourselves what are the likely and unlikely results of an inadvertent war, the possibilities of accident, irresponsibility, or unauthorized behavior on the other side as well as on our own.

A variation of the objection to careful consideration of these problems focuses on the personality of the thinker. This argument goes: Better no thought than evil thought; and since only evil and callous people can think about this, better no thought. Alternatively, the thinker’s motives are analyzed: This man studies war; he must like war much like the suspicion that a surgeon is a repressed sadist. Even if the charge were true, which in general it is not, it is not relevant. Like the repressed sadist who can perform a socially useful function by sublimating his urges into surgery, the man who loves war or violence may be able to successfully sublimate his desires into a careful and valuable study of war. It does indeed take an iron will or an unpleasant degree of detachment to go about this task. Ideally it should be possible for the analyst to have a disciplined empathy. In fact, the mind recoils from simultaneously probing deeply and creatively into these problems and being conscious at all times of the human tragedy involved.

This is not new. We do not continually remind the surgeon while he is operating of the humanity of his patient. We do not flash pictures of his patient’s wife or children in front of him. We want him to be careful, and we want him to be aware of the importance and frailty of the patient; we do not want him to be distracted or fearful. We do not expect illustrations in a book on surgery to be captioned: “A particularly deplorable tumor,” or “Good health is preferable to this kind of cancer.” Excessive comments such as, “And now there’s a lot of blood,” or “This particular cut really hurts,” are out-of-place although these are important things for a surgeon to know. To mention such things may be important. To dwell on them is morbid, and gets in the way of the information. The same tolerance needs be extended to thought on national security.

Some feel that we should consider these problems but view them with such awe and horror that we should not discuss them in normal, neutral, professional everyday language. I tend to disagree, at least so far as technical discussions and research are concerned. One does not do research in a cathedral. Awe is fine for those who come to worship or admire, but for those who come to analyze, to tamper, to change, to criticize, a factual and dispassionate, and sometimes even colorful, approach is to be preferred. And if the use of everyday language jars, that is all the more reason for using it. Why would one expect a realistic discussion of thermonuclear war not to be disturbing?

The very complexity of the questions raised is another reason why many object to their consideration. There is no doubt that if we reject hard thinking about alternatives in favor of uncritical acceptance of an extreme position we make the argument simpler and most of us prefer simple arguments.

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To summarize: Many people believe that the current system must inevitably end in total annihilation. They reject, sometimes very emotionally, any attempts to analyze this notion. Either they are afraid of where the thinking will lead them or they are afraid of thinking at all. They want to make the choice, between a risk and the certainty of disaster, between sanity and insanity, between good and evil; therefore, as moral and sane men they need no longer hesitate. I hold that an intelligent and responsible person cannot pose the problem so simply.

The last objection to detailed thought on thermonuclear war rests on the view that the subject is not only unpleasant but difficult. Many people feel that it is useless to apply rationality and calculation in any area dominated by irrational decision makers. This is almost comparable to feeling that it would be impossible to design a safety system for an insane asylum by rational methods, since, after all, the inmates are irrational. Of course, no governor or superintendent would consider firing the trained engineer, and turning the design over to one of the lunatics. The engineer is expected to take the irrationality of the inmates into account by a rational approach. Rational discussions of war and peace can explicitly include the possibility of irrational behavior.

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The Danger for America Today–The Unthinkable is Thinkable under Donald J. Trump  45th  POTUS

Of course, analysts may be misled by oversimplified models or misleading assumptions, and their competence readily attacked. However, except for irrelevant references to game theory and computers, such attacks are rare, and are usually so half-hearted that it is clear that their main motivation is not to expose incompetency. Given the difficulty of the problems, one would expect the critics to work more effectively on the obvious methodological problems and other weaknesses of present-day analysts.

Critics frequently refer to the icy rationality of the Hudson Institute, the Rand Corporation, and other such organizations. I’m always tempted to ask in reply, “Would you prefer a warm, human error? Do you feel better with a nice emotional mistake?” We cannot expect good discussion of security problems if we are going to label every attempt at detachment as callous, every attempt at objectivity as immoral. Such attitudes not only block discussion of the immediate issues, they lead to a disunity and fragmentation of the intellectual community that can be disastrous to the democratic dialogue between specialist and layman. The former tends to withdraw to secret and private discussions; the latter becomes more and more innocent, or naive, and more likely to be outraged if he is ever exposed to a professional discussion.

Finally, there is the objection that thermonuclear war should not, at least in detail, be discussed publicly. Even some who admit the usefulness of asking unpleasant questions have advocated raising them only in secret. One objector pointed out to me that if a parent in a burning building is faced with the problem of having to save one of two children, but not both, he will make a decision on the spur of the moment; it wouldn’t have made any difference if the parent had agonized over the problem ahead of time, and it would have been particularly bad to agonize in the presence of the children. This may be true, but other considerations dominate our nation’s choices; our capabilities for action and the risks we are assuming for ourselves and thrusting on others will be strongly influenced by our preparations both intellectual and physical.

Other reasons for this objection to public discussion range all the way from concern about telling the Soviets too much, and a fear of weakening the resolve of our own people, through a feeling that public discussion of death and destruction is distastefully comparable to a drugstore display of the tools, methods, and products of the mortician. Perhaps some or all of these objections to public discussion are well taken. I do not know for sure, but I think they are wrong.

They are wrong if we expect our people to participate rationally in the decision-making process in matters that are vital to their existence as individuals and as a nation. As one author has put it: “In a democracy, when experts disagree, laymen must resolve the disagreement.” One issue is whether it is better that the lay public, which will directly or indirectly decide policy, be more or less informed. A second issue is whether the discussion itself may not be significantly improved by eliciting ideas from people outside of official policy-making channels.

There are in any case at least two significant obstacles to full public debate of national security matters. The first, of course, is the constantly increasing problem of communication between the technologist and the layman, because of the specialization (one might almost say fragmentation) of knowledge. The other lies in the serious and paramount need to maintain security. Technical details of weapons’ capabilities and weaknesses must remain classified to some degree. Nonetheless, technical details may be of vital importance in resolving much broader problems. (For instance, who can presume to say whether the military advantages of atomic weapons testing outweigh the obvious political and physical disadvantages unless he knows what the military advantages are.) Moreover, those who feel that in some areas “security” has been unnecessarily extended must concede that in certain areas it has its place. To that extent the functioning of the democratic processes must be compromised with the requirements of the cold war and modem technology. Fortunately, non-classified sources often give reasonable approximations to the classified data. I would say that many of the agonizing problems facing us today can be debated and understood just about as easily without classified material as with provided one carefully considers the facts that are available.

It is quite clear that technical details are not the only important operative facts. Human and moral factors must always be considered. They must never be missing from policies and from public discussion. But emotionalism and sentimentality, as opposed to morality and concern, only confuse debates. Nor can experts be expected to repeat, “If, heaven forbid. ….,” before every sentence. Responsible decision makers and researchers cannot afford the luxury of denying the existence of agonizing questions. The public, whose lives and freedom are at stake, expects them to face such questions squarely and, where necessary, the expert should expect little less of the public.

*Herman Kahn, Founder, Hudson Institute

January 1st, 1962 Adapted from Thinking About the Unthinkable (Horizon Press), © Hudson Institute

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A.C. Grayling reviews Paul Johnson’s Socrates


February 1, 2016

A.C. Grayling reviews Paul Johnson’s Socrates

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/review/socrates-a-man-for-our-times

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Philosopher A C Grayling

by A C Grayling

Bertrand Russell was of opinion that Jesus was not as clever as Socrates or as compassionate as the Buddha. Although this view has its merits, by focusing on the differences among the three it misses an important similarity: that they all gained large followings because (and emphatically not in spite) of the fact that they wrote nothing. All their teachings are attributed by others, their lives are the stuff of followers’ legends, their place in history secure because, inadvertently or otherwise, they anticipated the significance of the proverbial remark “Oh that my enemy had written a book!”

What little we know about Socrates comes to us, with a few exceptions, from his friends and their followers. The resulting portrait is on the whole an affectionate one, and testifies to his charisma as an individual. The same is true of the other large civilizational figures whom we know only through report; to those already mentioned we can add Confucius, Islam’s Muhammad, and Sikhism’s Guru Nanak as examples.

The trouble with such figures is that they lend themselves to endless interpretation and reinterpretation, to reading-in and reinvention, to different and often competing depictions. As far as I know, however, in the case of Socrates there has never been such a jaw-dropping hagiography as the one here provided by Paul Johnson, whose admiring — perhaps the better word is besotted — account of the ancient thinker has joined Iman Wilkens’s Where Troy Once Stood (the book that places the Trojan War in England’s East Anglia and, with perfect seriousness, claims that Achilles was a Dutchman) among my all-time favorite Amazing Books.

Johnson claims to be able to extract the “real, actual historic Socrates” from Plato’s “irritating” habit of interpolating his, Plato’s, own take on things into accounts of Socrates’ character and teachings. Johnson’s “real actual” Socrates is not just “the noblest, the gentlest, the bravest man” but veritably a kind of religious prophet, a divinely inspired preacher of surprisingly Christian-like views, or perhaps (the portrait blurs in and out as the pages turn) a proto-quasi-John the Baptist making straight the way of St. Paul — this by preparing the Greek world to be more receptive to the Christian message that Paul brought it.

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The unexamined life is not worth living (Ancient Greek: ὁ … ἀνεξέταστος βίος οὐ βιωτὸς ἀνθρώπῳ)

Johnson gets progressively more carried away by this theme as the book proceeds, these encroachments on the avant la lettre Christianity likeness of the Socratic “ministry,” as Johnson calls it, becoming dithyrambic. “It was the combination of Jesus’s inspired Hebrew message of charity, selflessness, acceptance of suffering, and willing sacrifice with the clear Socratic vision of the soul’s triumph and the eternal life awaiting it,” Johnson claims, “that gave the Christianity which sprang from Paul’s teaching of the Gospels its astonishing power and ubiquity and enabled it to flourish in persecution and martyrdom.” (A few lines later, with a sudden but all-too-brief awareness that nonsense hovers, Johnson contradictorily recants: “Socrates was not a Christian precursor…”). The fact that Christianity adopted the neo-Platonists’ version of the immortal immaterial soul several centuries into the Christian era, having until then been good Jews on the question of death by expecting actual bodily resurrection at the Second Coming, does not trouble Johnson because, obviously, he does not know it.

Ignorance is remediable; logic-blindness takes longer to correct. Johnson pounces on the fact that Socrates talked about his “inner voice,” the apotreptic (“warning-off”) prompting that alerted him against making mistakes. He described it as the voice of a god, which was in keeping with the Greek way of speaking about everything from artistic inspiration to conscience. But Johnson inflates Socrates’ inner voice to a full-blown Judeo-Christian-like deity and its message to a full-blown ministry. From giving an occasional warning it becomes the determinant of the whole of Socrates’ career: philosophy was, Johnson avers, “the mission God had given him in life,” and “his inner voice from God…ordained him to conduct philosophy as he understood it.” Note the language: “mission,” “ordination,” “ministry.”

This magnification of the inner voice is merely over-excitement on Johnson’s part; the failure of logic enters when he says that Socrates’ philosophical “mission” was to encourage people to think for themselves. So according to Johnson, Socrates is commanded by God to tell people to think for themselves, and he obeys.

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This is not the only contradiction. On page 92 Johnson’s Socrates is a postmodernist and relativist: Socrates is “hostile not just to the ‘right answer’ but to the very of idea of there being a right answer.” By page 114 he is the direct opposite; he “opts firmly for moral absolutism.” By page 119 Socrates is even more emphatically anti-relativist; he there espouses “moral absolutism at its most stringent.”

Johnson asserts that Socrates’ interests were strictly practical, in that he was not interested in “justice in the abstract” but in actual practical workaday justice. This claim breathtakingly ignores Socrates’ relentless quest for the essence — the abstract defining quiddity — of justice, continence, truth, courage, virtue, knowledge, the good, and so on, which in the early dialogues typically terminates for the participants in aporia, the state of no longer knowing what one does or should think about the matter. Since Socrates’ claim was that he only knew that he knew nothing (which is why the Delphic oracle pronounced him the wisest of men), he was officially excluded from himself offering a definition; his role in the elenchus — the method of enquiry by question and answer, conjecture and refutation — was to get people to see that they were as ignorant as himself. We are a far cry here, in knowing no answers, from knowing any absolutely right answers.

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My Favorite Quote from LKY–Din Merican

In the middle and later dialogues of Plato, where Socrates is even more obviously a mouthpiece than he is in the early dialogues, answers most certainly appear — Plato’s answers, of course — in the doctrines of the Forms and anamnesis (this latter literally means “unforgetting,” that is, recalling the total knowledge one’s immortal soul enjoyed in its pre-embodied direct contact with the Forms, which are the eternal, immutable, and perfect exemplars of things).

Johnson’s misunderstanding of Socrates’ aims as they appear in Plato’s early dialogues, as well as in the tangential reports of others — admiringly in Xenophon, satirically in Aristophanes — and his insistent eagerness to make Socrates look like a Christ-like figure of perfect virtue and self-sacrifice, result in massive distortion. Oddly, his desire in the latter respect chimes with Plato’s own effort to portray Socrates as saint and martyr, though Johnson dismisses Plato’s portrait with lofty (and, as we see, hubristic) contempt.

Johnson’s beatification of Socrates leads him to claim, “In terms of his influence, he was the most important of all philosophers.” Were Johnson acquainted with philosophy beyond the Teach Yourself level he would know that Plato and Aristotle between them have an influence that is as Everest to Socrates’ molehill. A. N. Whitehead’s description of philosophy as “footnotes to Plato” does not exaggerate by much.

But what is the influence that Johnson thinks Socrates exerts? “What he did,” Johnson claims, “was to concentrate on making more substantial the presence of an overriding divine force, a God who permeated all things and ordained the universe. This dramatic simplification made it possible for him to construct a system of ethics that was direct, plausible, workable and satisfying.” Not one word of this even remotely applies to anything known of Socrates. Socrates was a religious prophet? Socrates was a pantheist? Socrates constructed an ethical system?

If you wish to know how Johnson gets to miss the point of Socrates so comprehensively, you only have to note two things. First, he ignores the possibility that Aristophanes’ depiction of Socrates in The Clouds probably contained enough truth to make a knowledgeable Athenian audience laugh.

And second, and at his greater peril, he disdains Plato, asserting that  “[the Republic] is not a text where, in general, the real Socrates speaks, though I think he does in this particular passage” — meaning that he, Johnson, knows better than Plato (or any Plato scholar of the last 2,500 years) when the “real Socrates” speaks. When Plato’s depiction fails to chime with Johnson’s made-up version, it is dismissed as “illustrating his [Plato’s] irritating habit of foisting his personal views on others.” Pot and kettle here! So he cherry-picks words and passages that suit his purposes, and discards the rest.

Yet only consider the views that Johnson foists on Socrates. He has the sage teach that “[t]he most important occupation of a human being was to subdue his bodily instincts and train himself to respond to the teachings of the soul.” On another page, remember, his ordained mission was “to teach people to think for themselves,” as God told him to say: which is a bit closer to the Socrates we see through the dark Platonic glass.

One of the biggest twists Johnson gives to the tale concerns the politics of Socrates’ trial and death. Socrates and Plato had been associated with the aristocratic party that led Athens into ruin and subjected it to tyranny, and he was put to death by the democracy that supplanted it, a few years after the democracy had granted amnesties to various members of the tyrant party in the hope of soothing the troubled character of state affairs. That Socrates was brought to trial about four years after the amnesty suggests that he, alone or with others, was regarded as still a problem.

Subsequent history has blamed the democrats for executing Socrates, but Johnson tries to distance the sage from the tyrant party and thus have him wrongly maligned and condemned. Here, at least and at last, he is with Plato and Xenophon in painting Socrates in victim’s colors. But there is enough reason to think (the aristocratic fascism of Plato might alone make you think) that the smoke curling about Socrates’ head had a bit of fire under it. In the end, Socrates offers a portrait not of a real philosopher but of a fictional character, a portrait that says more about the author’s own beliefs than any Greek who lived within 500 years of Socrates.

 

President Trump and Asia: Lest it’s misunderstood–America First


January 23, 2017

President Trump and getting on the front foot in Asia: Lest it’s misunderstood–America First

 by  Editors, East Asia Forum
http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2017/01/23/president-trump-and-getting-on-the-front-foot-in-asia/#more-54137

The inauguration of the 45th US President, Donald Trump, is a game-changer and the fallout threatens Asian interests perhaps more than those in any other part of the world.

Image result for President Donald John Trump

The 45th President of the United States of America–Donald John Trump

‘For many decades, we’ve enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry’, Trump declared in his inaugural speech, ‘[we’ve] subsidised the armies of other countries while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military; we’ve defended other nation’s borders while refusing to defend our own; and spent trillions of dollars overseas while America’s infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay’.

‘From this moment on, it’s going to be America First, America First’, Trump hailed. ‘Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families. We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies, and destroying our jobs. Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength’.

That the United States under Trump would ‘reinforce old alliances and form new ones — and unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism’ might provide a reassurance to allies in Asia and the Pacific, but one that is deeply qualified by the notion that paying for US deployments abroad is under scrutiny.

What is Donald Trump like and what will his presidency really be about? No one can know for certain: the only predictability about Trump is his unpredictability. But the experts on Trump, those who have studied his life and career and written his biographies, are clear on three things.

‘They see the same person they’ve always seen — the consummate classroom troublemaker; a vain, insecure bully; and an anti-institutional schemer, as adept at ‘gaming the system’ as he is unashamed of that. As they look ahead … to his administration … they feel confident predicting that he will run the country much as he has run his company: for himself’.

Apart from his father, Donald Trump’s chief mentor in life was Roy Cohn, a Joe McCarthy henchman, ‘a guy who stood for cold-eye calculus about how bullying people works’.

The world out there, without its norms or conventions, for which Trump on his record has no respect, is a bigger bully pit than even he has had to deal thus far in his career. On all the evidence we have, there is zero chance that in the fights he picks with world leaders Trump will be capable of separating personal pique from his country’s interests — let alone the interests of the broader public.

Nothing about inauguration day has allayed the two main anxieties for Asia that have been fuelled by the harbingers of radical change under a Trump presidency.

The old certainties that brought prosperity and a significant measure of stability to world affairs for over three-quarters of a century after the Second World War are no longer clear.

The US anchor of the Western security system, on which order in Asia and the Pacific has relied, may be being weighed.

The institutional edifice on which economic certainty and political confidence in the US-led global order has been built — the postwar institutional framework that guaranteed economic openness and the prospect of economic and political security — is under threat as Trump appears bent on trade wars and calls for protectionism. This is not a narrowly economic problem: it affects the global security outlook and especially economic and political security in Asia and the Pacific.

Image result for japan navy ships

The comfortable view in Tokyo, Canberra and even in Beijing that Trump in election mode was all political rhetoric, and that US global economic and security strategies would largely remain undisturbed, has given way to deeper disquiet.

Reliance on the enduring operational verities of continuing strategic engagement with Washington, around the uncertainties that Trump brings to the game, is an increasingly doubtful refuge for the business-as-usual camp.

So how do we deal with the new Trump reality show in Asia?

Certainly not by sitting back and taking what the bully pit dishes up, argues Hitoshi Tanaka in this week’s lead essay. Trump’s ‘America First’ foreign policy rhetoric is moving the United States away from its traditional role as a global leader at a time when the domestic and international political environments are undergoing significant change, Tanaka points out. Japan, as the United States’ most important ally in Asia, has to get on the front foot in defining the kind of engagement it wants with America. Prime Minister Abe, Tanaka says, has been right to engage Trump early and, he might have added, to swing through Southeast Asia and Australia last week to seek common positions across the region.

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The Giants of East Asia

‘Given that Trump appears keen on having Japan expand its share of the security burden’, says Tanaka, ‘the best option would be intensive US–Japan consultations that aim to forge a common approach to key challenges as an initial step toward a joint US–Japan strategy for the region’. The overarching objective would be to retain and enhance US engagement in Asia while bolstering Japan’s security roles and functions within the alliance framework, and its contributions to peace, without opening a regionally destabilising Pandora’s box’.

An important strategic priority among the four that Tanaka identifies is nurturing a stable and inclusive regional order. ‘On its current trajectory, the Asia-Pacific regional order risks fracturing into a two-tiered structure composed of the US-led liberal international order and an emerging Chinese sphere of influence’. The United States and Japan should prioritise engagement with China and find a new way to coordinate among regional institutions and advance cooperation among Asian powers. This requires rapid and immediate elevation of consultation among the Asian powers.Sitting back and relying on old default settings is unlikely to work in the new bully pit.

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In the new Trump era, Prime Minister Abe, on regional engagement, and Chinese President Xi Jinping, on the importance of economic globalisation at Davos, have both set good examples of getting on the front foot in Asia. One hopes that other Asian leaders, individually and collectively, will quickly follow suit.

The EAF Editorial Group is comprised of Peter Drysdale, Shiro Armstrong, Ben Ascione, Ryan Manuel, Amy King and Jillian Mowbray-Tsutsumi and is located in the Crawford School of Public Policy in the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific.
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Japan-US Alliance in the Trumpian Era

by Hitoshi Tanaka, JCIE

Donald Trump’s election to the US presidency came as a major surprise to Japan and the rest of Asia. And Trump’s controversial campaign rhetoric has brought into question the pillars of US foreign policy, including the value of US alliance relationships, its commitment to free trade and its willingness to protect regional stability in the Asia Pacific.

Image result for Japan and the US the Unholy alliance

Yet the region must find a way to work with the Trump presidency. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe signalled Japan’s intention to do so by becoming the first foreign leader to meet with President-elect Trump on 17 November. Looking ahead, the region faces a number of challenges that require intensive consultation and cooperation.

Trump’s ‘America First’ foreign policy rhetoric appears to be moving the United States away from its traditional role as a global leader at a time when the domestic and international political environments are undergoing significant change. Continued US leadership and intensive cooperation with allies and partners will remain critical to the maintenance of regional peace and prosperity.

While the Trump administration contemplates its foreign policy approach, America’s allies must review their regional approaches as well. Given that Japan remains the most important US ally in Asia, the two countries need to move forward and further build up the infrastructure of the alliance.

Japan has responded to the changing security environment with a remarkable suite of defence reforms aimed at expanding its ‘proactive contributions to peace’. Japan will need to continue to expand its contributions, but must do so in a way that is anchored by its identity as a peace-loving nation that does not use military means to pursue its economic or political agenda.

Given that Trump appears keen on having Japan expand its share of the security burden, the best option would be intensive US–Japan consultations that aim to forge a common approach to key challenges as an initial step toward a joint US–Japan strategy for the region. The overarching objective would be to retain and enhance US engagement in Asia while bolstering Japan’s security roles and functions within the alliance framework, and its contributions to peace, without opening a regionally destabilising Pandora’s box.

The Trump and Abe administrations should focus on four key areas. First, a new approach towards North Korea is necessary. ‘Strategic patience’ has failed to change North Korean behaviour. The Kim Jong-un regime is edging closer to producing a miniaturised nuclear warhead that can be mounted on a long-range missile. This poses a serious threat.

Resolving the situation on the Korean Peninsula requires comprehensive and coordinated efforts between the United States, Japan and South Korea to bring China into the fold. Beijing is still hesitant to apply crippling pressure to the extent that it would seriously undermine the Kim Jong-un regime’s political control and run the risk of causing North Korean collapse. The United States, South Korea and Japan must do more to reassure China that a full break with the regime in Pyongyang will not end up being antithetical to its national interests. This requires joint contingency planning among the allies as well as intensive discussions with China to prepare for worst-case scenarios on the peninsula.

Second, greater confidence-building among the United States, China, Russia, Japan and South Korea is sorely needed in order to de-escalate tensions, defuse nationalism and build relations rooted in win–win cooperation. While this may be hard to envision based on Trump’s election rhetoric, operational-level cooperation that is already underway between the United States, Japan and other likeminded countries in the region can gradually be expanded.

The third priority is nurturing a stable and inclusive regional order. On its current trajectory, the Asia-Pacific regional order risks fracturing into a two-tiered structure comprised of the US-led liberal international order and an emerging Chinese sphere of influence. The United States and Japan should prioritise engagement with China. They need to find some way to coordinate among regional institutions and advance functional cooperation among Asian powers.

Though the Trump administration is likely to place lower priority on international institutions, it is in the US interest to find some way to promote smoother coordination between the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the One Belt, One Road initiative on the one hand and the IMF, World Bank and Asian Development Bank on the other.

Finally, the United States will need to find a balance between cooperation with Russia in areas of mutual interest and maintaining a unified front within the international community against unlawful Russian behaviour, such as its unilateral annexation of Crimea in March 2014. There is a strong need for intense consultations between Japan and the United States on this front.

There is a deep sense of uncertainty about the future role of the United States in East Asia. As Trump takes office, it will be crucial that his team makes a concerted effort to understand the positions of US allies and friends. As US domestic politics and the regional balance of power undergo changes, intensive consultations and cooperation with allies and partners will be critical. Forging a joint approach on key regional challenges in a way that opens the door to a shared US–Japan strategy will benefit both countries.

Hitoshi Tanaka is a senior fellow at the Japan Center for International Exchange and chairman of the Institute for International Strategy at the Japan Research Institute, Ltd. He previously served as Japan’s deputy minister for foreign affairs.

 This article is an extract from East Asia Insights Vol. 11 No. 3 December 2016, which is available in full here, and is reprinted with the kind permission of JCIE.

 

World Economic Forum–Davos 2017–On Leadership


January 21,2017

World Economic Forum–Davos 2017

What does it take to be a great leader in times of change? We asked six experts @ WEF, Davos, 2017

Written by Stéphanie Thomson Editor, World Economic Forum

Watch a Compact for Responsible Business Leadership and Responsive and Responsible Leadership in 2017 from the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting 2017.

Image result for wef klaus schwabWEF Founder and Intellectual Innovator Professor Klaus Schwab

“Leaders must understand that we are living in a world marked by uncertainty, volatility and deep transformational changes,” World Economic Forum founder Klaus Schwab wrote at the start of the year.

As thousands of global leaders descend on the Swiss village of Davos to discuss these very issues, we asked six of them this question: what does it take to lead in these times of turbulence?

Adam Grant, Professor, Management and Psychology, Wharton School

In times of uncertainty, a critical skill for responsible leaders is to say “I might be wrong” – and mean it. I work with too many leaders who cling to their convictions with an iron will. As intoxicating as that confidence can be, it’s a huge barrier to making wise decisions and pivoting as circumstances change.

 Adam Grant quote:

The leaders who fare best at predicting the future are the ones who recognize that the future is unpredictable. By embracing doubt, they stay open to new ideas. As a result, they’re ready to act when headwinds turn into tailwinds. So I have a simple message for leaders: if you want to increase the odds that you’ll be right, accept that you’re probably wrong.

Phil Tetlock and Dan Gardner, Authors of Superforecasting

Heightened uncertainty puts a premium on good judgement. And nothing is more fundamental to good judgement than intellectual humility.

Note the adjective. This isn’t self-denigration. Intellectual humility simply means appreciating both the infinite complexity of reality and the fallibility of human beings. It’s invaluable because, taken seriously, three consequences follow.

One, intellectual humility causes the wise leaders to distrust quick-and-easy answers. The intellectually humble always want to learn more and explore different perspectives, in hopes of finding additional bits and pieces of truth.

Two, intellectual humility spurs introspection. Mistakes are inevitable. Only relentless critical examination of one’s own thoughts can catch and correct them.

Three, and perhaps most importantly, intellectual humility dispenses with certainty. Indeed, for the intellectually humble leader, “nothing is certain” is axiomatic. All judgements are matters of probability only, with the goal of this “probabilistic thinking” being to accurately distinguish ever-finer degrees of uncertainty.

Want to know if you could predict future trends? Take the survey at http://wef.ch/forecasting

Linda A. Hill, Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School

Leaders must be able to build organizations that are agile and can routinely innovate. People don’t want to follow a leader to the future – that is yesterday’s model. They want to co-create it.

 Linda A. Hill quote:

Innovation is a collective activity, one in which different people – depending on their particular talents – come forward at different times to move the group where it needs to go. Leading innovation is intellectually and emotionally taxing work, much of which takes place behind the scenes. It requires a belief in others’ slices of genius and a sense of generosity to share power, control and credit. Leading innovation is more about being the stage-setter than the performer, not always easy for leaders with star talent themselves.

Kishore Mahbubani, Dean, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy

One key skill that all responsible leaders need to have today is a deep understanding of the key global trends driving change. Three tidal forces are sweeping across our world simultaneously.

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The first is the return of Asia and the end of Western domination of history. The second is accelerated globalization creating a small, interdependent, borderless world. The third is explosive change in technology, which is driving the Fourth Industrial Revolution that Klaus Schwab has spoken so eloquently about. Each of these tidal waves must be understood in depth.

That’s the easy part. The hard part is working out how each tidal wave affects the other. This is why it is so difficult to work out the future of US-China relations. Globalization and technology are creating a deep interdependence between them. The shift of power is driving them apart. Hence, it is not enough to watch personalities like Xi Jinping or Donald Trump. We also need to understand the deeper forces driving their behaviour. Any leader who fails to understand this unique complexity of our time is ill-equipped to provide leadership to their society.

Lynda Gratton, Professor of Management Practice, London Business School

The path to leadership is both an inner and outer journey.

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The role of the inner journey is to create within the leader a deep sense of their values, a narrative that is unique to them, and the courage to act on their values.

The outer journey connects the leader to the world, to understanding the place of their leadership in this time of extreme change, and to use wisely the power and resources that are at their disposal.

Listen to  Philip Tetlock: