Arguing to death

It’s estimated that the average human has 60,000 thoughts a day. This is not surprising. What is disconcerting is that 90% of the thoughts you have today are the ones you had yesterday.D5109AM1

Arguing to death
Dec 17th 2009 | Los Angeles
From The Economist print edition

From Socrates, history’s quintessential nonconformist, lessons for America today
IF THE most famous philosopher of all were alive today, he might find America remarkably similar to his own Athens of the fifth century BC. Socrates would witness a vibrant and proud democracy, and disdain it as an indulgence of the benighted, unphilosophical “herd”. He would interrogate America’s politicians, talk-radio and cable-television pundits in search of honest discussions that lead to truth, and thereby expose their confusion, contradictions and ignorance. He would avail himself of America’s as of Athens’s freedom of speech, and simultaneously be horrified by the speciousness of the speech that Americans choose to make. And he would challenge America just as he had provoked Athens, and possibly be prosecuted and condemned for it a second time.

Socrates throws down a gauntlet from antiquity to America and all other democracies. How could Athens, which prided itself on its freedoms and had for decades not only tolerated but delighted in the stings of the man who described himself as its “gadfly”, turn on its greatest mind and condemn him to death when he was 70 years old? Had Socrates exposed a terrible flaw in democracy? Or had democracy responded to a mortal threat from the likes of Socrates?

His influence today is usually felt in academia, through the legacy of his ideas. He founded Western philosophy in the sense that all intellectual inquiry before him is deemed to be “pre-Socratic” and all Western philosophy since him, in the words of Alfred North Whitehead, an English philosopher of the early 20th century, mere “footnotes” to the 35 Platonic dialogues in which Socrates was the main character. It was Socrates who made the momentous “turn” of Western thought away from speculation about the composition of the physical world and towards the liberal questions of morality, justice, virtue and politics.

But Socrates casts his influence far beyond academia, beyond even his ideas. His main contributions, arguably, were his method and style as well as the example of his life. His method was to question one or a few individuals in small settings (the “Apology”, which records his address to the 500-man jury at his trial, was the exception). Through such intimate probing he elicited and tested his interlocutors’ deepest and most hidden opinions, a process now known as Socratic dialectic. His style during the discussions was “ironic” in the original sense of eironeia, meaning that he pretended to be ignorant to prompt his interlocutors to open up.

His life, above all, was dedicated to the love of wisdom (philosophy). His wife, Xanthippe, and three sons lived in near-penury while Socrates loitered around the marketplace of Athens looking for debaters. In the end he sacrificed his life for philosophy when he was offered the opportunity to escape from prison before his execution but chose to swallow hemlock instead.

What, then, had Socrates revealed in Athenian democracy that made this martyrdom necessary? And would American democracy be capable of repeating Athens’s sin?

The town-hall meeting

Visiting America today, Socrates might have dropped in on last summer’s “town hall” meetings, in which members of the public allegedly came to debate the reform of health care with their elected representatives. Socrates would have beheld hysterical firebrands shouting that America’s president and senators were Marxists, Nazis or both. Reaffirmed in his disdain for democratic rhetoric, Socrates would have left to seek better conversations, as he used to do in Athens, where he conspicuously shunned the public assembly and the jury courts in which male citizens were expected to serve.

Socrates considered the debate in such settings unedifying, pointless and unworthy in a word, “eristic”. Eris was the Greek goddess of strife (the Roman Discordia). It was Eris who cunningly dropped a golden apple with the inscription “to the fairest” into a feast, inciting three goddesses Hera, Athena and Aphrodite to bicker over who deserved it and thus launching the ten-year Trojan War. Eris is present in presidential debates, in court rooms and wherever people are talking not to discover truth but to win.

In 1968 Stringfellow Barr, an historian and president of St John’s College in Maryland, wrote a Socratic critique of American discourse: “There is a pathos in television dialogue: the rapid exchange of monologues that fail to find the issue, like ships passing in the night; the reiterated preface, ‘I think that,’ as if it mattered who held which opinion rather than which opinion is worth holding; the impressive personal vanity that prevents each ‘discussant’ from really listening to another speaker”.

Socrates’s alternative was “good” conversation or dialectic. To converse originally meant to turn towards one another, in order to find a common humanity and to move closer to the truth of something. Dialectic, in other words, is decidedly not about winning or losing, because all the conversants are ennobled by it. It is a joint search. Unfortunately, as Mr Barr put it, it is also “the most difficult” kind of conversation “especially for Americans to achieve”.

On a good day, Socrates’s conversations bore all the marks of dialectic. There was little long-winded monologue and much pithy back-and-forth. The conversation often meandered and sometimes Socrates contradicted himself. In the “Protagoras”, for example, he argues that virtue cannot be taught but in the “Meno” that it can. The conversations were at times humorous and invariably surprising. He hoped to bring all involved to a higher state of awareness.

Because Socrates wanted to win converts to this conversational culture he often chose young and malleable men who appeared tempted by the eristic rhetoric he believed democracy encouraged. For instance, Socrates tried hard to educate Alcibiades, the hedonistic and ambitious young man whose guardian Pericles was Athens’s greatest statesman. He also went for a long walk in the countryside of Athens (which he hated leaving) with a young man named Phaedrus in order, very gently, to make the youth see the hollowness of a rhetorician he admired.

Socrates as talk-show host

But Socrates also sought out those whom he saw peddling the skills of eristic conversation. These were the travelling teachers who charged wealthy fathers to teach their sons the tools of power, the “sophists” such as Protagoras or Thrasymachus. And there were the rhetoricians. Socrates manoeuvred the most famous of them, Gorgias, into admitting that the aim of rhetoric is “rule over others in one’s city”. Gorgias even boasted that a master rhetorician unqualified in medicine could get himself elected as surgeon general over a qualified doctor who is not rhetorically gifted. In America today, Socrates would recognise sophists and rhetoricians in partisan spin doctors such as Karl Rove and David Axelrod or equally in talk-show hosts such as Sean Hannity and Keith Olbermann.

Using his irony, Socrates would make them feel overconfident, draw them out and then, through his questioning, expose their confusion and ignorance. Often this was done for the benefit of an impressionable young student who was listening. Because such conversations had to be bespoke for the participating individuals, Socrates refused ever to write anything down. As he said in the “Phaedrus”, text remains dumb when questioned and will be understood or misunderstood depending on who is reading it.

The trouble was that, although his students, including Plato and Xenophon, who passed on Socrates’s conversations for posterity, saw him as noble, much of Athens did not. Instead, many Athenians detected an underlying arrogance in Socratic irony. Socrates thus resembled, say, the wiser-than-thou and often manipulative comedian-commentators Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert in today’s America. Those who agreed with him found him funny and enlightening. The rest found him merely condescending.

Socrates fed this image of arrogance. In his defence before the jury, he said that he acted on a divine mission from Apollo’s oracle at Delphi in exposing so many as ignorant. In Plato’s version, Socrates claimed that the oracle had said “there is no one wiser”. With this presumed superiority, Socrates set out to prove the oracle wrong. Xenophon’s version is more arrogant yet. “Apollo answered that no man was more free than I, or more just, or more prudent,” Socrates told the jury. “Apollo did not compare me to a god he did, however, judge that I far excelled the rest of mankind.”

It is a tribute to the Athenians that they mostly embraced such megalomania as a charming quirk. They did, however, mock it. Aristophanes, a comic playwright who wrapped serious messages in humour as, say, Sacha Baron Cohen (aka Borat) does today wrote an entire play, “The Clouds”, to lampoon Socrates.

In that comedy, an old farmer named Strepsiades wants to get out of the debts of his horse-racing son, Pheidippides, and sends him to an eccentric philosopher named Socrates who runs a “thinkery” where students learn to talk themselves out of any situation (sophistry, in other words). The son successfully evades his creditors but also returns with strange ideas. Because Socrates has taught him that wisdom is the only authority, Pheidippides proceeds to beat up his uneducated father, then threatens to do the same to his mother. Angry that his son has been corrupted, Strepsiades burns down Socrates’s school.

The Socrates lampooned in the play, and probably laughing heartily in the audience, was 46 at the time and got on well with Aristophanes. Plato presents both men as having a jolly time together in the “Symposium”. But already in “The Clouds”, there are the familiar charges of Socrates corrupting the young and threatening to subvert society and of being impious. Indeed, Aristophanes has Socrates arguing in his thinkery that “Zeus does not even exist.” Addressing the jury 24 years later, Socrates claimed that this is where the charges originated.

In the coming years, many Athenians, and especially those who had been embarrassed by him, would learn to loathe Socrates. His dialectic was indeed surprisingly negative. Typically, he became obsessed with defining something abstract What is justice? What is virtue? and then twisted words to dismantle any opinion offered.

In Xenophon’s “Memorabilia”, a man named Hippias refuses to debate Socrates: “You mock at others, questioning and examining everybody, and never willing to render an account yourself or to state an opinion about anything,” he says. In Plato’s “Meno”, his interlocutor compares Socrates to “the flat torpedo sea-fish; for it benumbs anyone who approaches and touches it.” Socrates had a talent for making people feel bad.

He also, in effect, boycotted Athens as a society. Socrates did his military duty but not his civic or jury duty, which he considered beneath him. By opting out of ordinary public life, he chose to be what Pericles in his funeral oration called an idiotes, a person who remains “private” when his country needs him in public life.

Socrates as American Taliban

Worse, he was suspected of sympathising with Sparta, Athens’s enemy in the Peloponnesian War. An oligarchy in which rulers, warriors and workers had prescribed stations in life, Sparta had aspects of the “ideal” city that Socrates sketched in Plato’s “Republic”, and it was fashionable among his students to admire Sparta. The equivalent would have been for a prominent American intellectual to be pro-Soviet in the cold war, or today to have kind words for Islamic Jihad.

If Socrates had subversive tendencies, he never acted on them overtly. But he did seem to have a bad record with his students. Most famously, there was Alcibiades, who rose to power, talked the Athenians into sending an army to Sicily in a pre-emptive strike that turned into disaster, then defected to advise the Spartan enemies on how best to fight Athens, then defected again (after sleeping with a Spartan king’s wife) to Athens’s other enemy, Persia. When Alcibiades speaks in Plato’s “Symposium”, it is to lament his failure to persuade Socrates to have sex with him.

Another young man, Meno, is Socrates’s chosen interlocutor on the subject of virtue. The same Meno then led an Athenian army to Persia where he betrayed his country and troops by seeking favour at the court of the Persian king. (Admittedly, another student of Socrates, Xenophon, then rescued the stranded Athenian army.) One of Socrates’s three future accusers, Anytus, was present at his debate with Meno.

Socrates’s oldest student was Antisthenes, who apparently became so frustrated with Socrates’s habit of demolishing every conceivable opinion but not offering anything positive that he became the first of the Cynics. He concluded that all of democracy and politics was silly, taunted the Athenians that they should have a majority vote declaring asses to be horses, and then suggested that everybody withdraw from public life altogether. The Cynics became “apolitical” without a polis (city), apart from society.

And there was of course Plato. But Plato never divulged his own views except, perhaps, through the words he attributed to Socrates. It is safe to say that he, too, disdained democracy and was attracted to the Spartan alternative, all the more so since he was the cousin of a certain Critias and the nephew of a man named Charmides, both of whom he appears to have admired and who became the rough Athenian equivalent of what Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri are to America.

Ancient Athens after September 11th

For Athens did have its version of September 11th 2001: an attack on its basic way of life, its freedom and security as a democracy. It had two such events, in fact. In 411BC, during the Peloponnesian war, a group of aristocratic Athenians including students of Socrates overthrew Athens’s democracy in conspiracy with Alcibiades, who promised (but failed) to bring Persian support. This oligarchic junta lasted only a few months.

Then, in 404BC, a second coup toppled Athens’s democracy. Among its leaders were Plato’s relatives, Critias and Charmides, who appear in Plato’s dialogues to be students of Socrates and who were in cahoots with the Spartans who had just won the Peloponnesian war. For much of a year, the oligarchs conducted a reign of terror, before Athens reclaimed its democracy. In 401BC the oligarchs were scheming a third coup, but failed.

Socrates was put on trial two years later. He had played no part in the coups, but he was deemed suspect by association. His speeches, in light of recent events, struck the wrong chord and were considered inflammatory like, say, the sermons of the American pastor, Jeremiah Wright, which forced Barack Obama, formerly in his congregation, to disavow him. Vaguely but plausibly, Socrates was accused of corrupting the young.

The other charge, also familiar to Americans who distrust atheism in their public figures (even though their constitution would not admit it in court), was impiety. Socrates almost certainly was an atheist. As was his wont, however, he cared more about debating, with a man named Euthrypho on the steps of the courthouse before his preliminary hearing, what piety even meant.

In his perplexing defence before the jury, Socrates never addressed either charge directly. True to form, he attempted dialectic with his accusers, making them look confused and thus insulting them even more. Nonetheless, and to the great credit of the Athenians, the verdict was close. I.F. Stone in “The Trial of Socrates” estimates that 280 jurors voted guilty, 220 innocent.

In his second speech, before his sentencing, Socrates stepped up his invective. To his acquitters he was kind. But to the rest he was mocking. Xenophon believed that Socrates intentionally antagonised the jury because at this point he wanted, or needed, to die and become a martyr. If so, Socrates succeeded. Stone estimates that the margin in the second vote grew, to 360-140 in favour of execution. When his friend, Crito, came to Socrates’s cell with an escape plan, Socrates chose to stay and drink the hemlock.

The nonconformist hero

Who and what, then, was Socrates to Athens? Part of his glory derives from his incorruptibility, his brave nonconformism, his determination to think as an individual not as part of “the herd”. Nonconformism became a heroic value in the Western tradition that Socrates helped to found, especially in societies such as America’s that value individualism.

But nonconformism is not an absolute virtue and easily veers off into sedition, subversion or other actions deemed unpatriotic. Psychologists suggest that people make constant trade-offs in social settings between, on one hand, insisting on their notion of truth and, on the other, the cohesion of a group. Sometimes truth and virtue require dissent and rebellion. Other times the survival or security of the group takes precedence and requires solidarity. If Socrates the free thinker belonged to a team, a club, a firm or a country today, he would never compromise his values, but he might well compromise his group.

Stone concluded that Socrates was on the biggest “ego-trip” in history. He probably was. And yet Athens would soon regret having convicted him. His trial was an overreaction, a betrayal of Athenian values just as torturing terrorist suspects or wiretapping Americans after September 11th were betrayals of American values. Democracies do betray themselves. Challengers such as Socrates exist to test society in its commitment to freedom and, if society fails the test, to remind it of the virtuous path.

Bah, humbug


The virtues of pessimism
Dec 17th 2009
From The Economist print edition

IN AN odd footnote to the health-care debate, Christian Scientists are lobbying to make health insurers pay for “faith healing”. Mary Baker Eddy, the sect’s 19th-century founder, taught that sickness is a delusion and prayer the best medicine. Her followers sometimes pay others to pray for them instead of popping pills, and they think insurers should pick up the tab. This idea is unlikely to become law, but a former presidential candidate, Senator John Kerry, thinks it respectable enough to merit his support.

Two recent books, one from the left, one from the right, lament the American tendency towards mindless optimism. Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America” has a smiley-face balloon on its cover. John Derbyshire’s “We Are Doomed: Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism” has the most miserable-looking mugshot of an author that Lexington has ever seen. Both writers confront the upbeat and beat them down.

A few years ago Ms Ehrenreich was diagnosed with breast cancer. She started to talk to other afflicted women. She discovered that a positive attitude was more or less compulsory. Most of her fellow sufferers thought it would help them recover. Some even said that cancer was a “gift” that helped one find life’s purpose. Ms Ehrenreich disagreed. On a breast-cancer bulletin board she posted a message entitled “Angry”. She complained about the debilitating effects of chemotherapy, recalcitrant insurance companies and, most daringly, “sappy pink ribbons”. In reply came a chorus of rebukes. One said: “You need to run, not walk, to some counselling.” This made Ms Ehrenreich even angrier. After sifting through heaps of conflicting evidence, she concluded that positive thinking is probably no help at all.

More generally, Ms Ehrenreich sees an “ideological force in American culture�that encourages us to deny reality.” She offers many examples. At a confab for motivational speakers, she is told that anyone can achieve “infinite power” by resonating in tune with the universe. From a popular preacher in Houston, she discovers that God will give big houses and nice tables in restaurants to those who sincerely wish for them. After slogging through countless books and lectures, she learns that food doesn’t make you fat unless you think it will, and that you can solve many of life’s problems by avoiding negative people. Ms Ehrenreich wonders what that might mean in practice. One can dump a carping husband, but what of whiny toddlers and sullen teens? And although it’s “probably advisable” to exclude from the workplace those who show signs of becoming mass-killers, other annoying people may have something useful to say. America would be in better shape if banks had listened to the killjoys who warned that house prices would not rise for ever.

The prattling pedlars of positivism deserve to be mocked. But Ms Ehrenreich goes further. She argues that the cult of positive thinking makes capitalism even more heartless. Big corporations use self-help mumbo-jumbo to convince employees that they bear responsibility for their own fate, absolving employers from having to care for them. Outplacement agencies teach the freshly “downsized” to smile and polish their interview skills. Ms Ehrenreich wishes workers would agitate for job security and more “democratically organised workplaces”. Good luck with that.

Mr Derbyshire, meanwhile, attacks the mindless optimism of the left. Hardly anyone in Barack Obama’s cabinet “has ever created a dime of wealth”, he grumbles, yet Americans expect them to fix the economy. He is disgusted that presidents are revered as “omnipotent pharaonic priest-kings”. He quotes a New York Times reporter who says that “given the opportunity, most people could do most anything.” Nonsense, says Mr Derbyshire. Half of American children must, mathematically, be below average. Good schools can help them reach their potential, to be sure, but they cannot work miracles. The idea that you can tinker with the education system and suddenly, as George Bush put it, leave no child behind is drivel. Mr Derbyshire also thwacks Mr Bush for imagining he could impose democracy on the Middle East. Ms Ehrenreich concurs, noting that the 43rd president was once a cheerleader.

Cassandra was right. But so were the Wright brothers

Pessimism has its virtues. It spurs people to buy flood insurance or to take action against the threat of climate change. It helps them to avoid big mistakes. With hindsight, it is obvious that those who expected that Iraq would be a cakewalk or that fancy computer models would take the risk out of finance were blinded by optimism. On a smaller scale, children may be set up for disappointment if they are told they can be anything they want to be. Lexington would love to be a rock star; alas, he is tone-deaf. Yet pessimism need not be enervating. It can be “bracing, like foul weather”, says Mr Derbyshire, who grew up in England.

One can take this argument too far. Progress depends on trial and error. Someone has to be bold enough to risk making those errors. Inventors and entrepreneurs must often ignore legions of naysayers. That requires self-belief that borders on self-delusion. Politicians should be more cautious, since they wield more power. But even they must sometimes act boldly despite bewildering uncertainty, as Mr Obama explained in his Nobel speech last week. Finally, pessimists are often wrong. Ms Ehrenreich sees no upside to the ease with which American firms can lay off workers. Here’s one: firms that cannot fire are reluctant to hire. America’s jobless rate may be high now, but it has recovered swiftly after previous recessions, whereas Europe’s has not. Mr Derbyshire thinks only those with “treacle for brains” believe mass immigration will benefit America. Yet America was built on the mass immigration of optimists.

The tiger under the table

Dec 3rd 2009 From The Economist print edition

The many ways in which Britain is living in the shadow of its empire.


IN A London conference centre, spooks and diplomats unpick Britain’s involvement in the Iraq war. In Parliament, politicians argue about the right approach to home-grown Islamists. In the City, financiers worry about their exposure to a foreign-debt crisis. In the Caribbean, the queen and Gordon Brown glad-hand the Commonwealth’s presidents and prime ministers. What these disparate events have in common is that they are all, to some degree, part of the legacy of empire.

When Britons remember their dead empire, they tend to concentrate, with pride or shame, on its impact on the former colonies. The consequences for their own country are mostly thought of as so much pompous bric-a-brac and nostalgic trivia: honours and baubles with imperial names, archaic ceremonies, statues of forgotten heroes, a smattering of exotic vocabulary, curry and distressingly proficient rival cricket teams. This way of thinking about empire is mistaken. In important ways Britain is still even, perhaps, increasingly trapped by its imperial past.

The question that hovers above the Iraq inquiry is since the evidence on Saddam Hussein’s weaponry was so flaky and the post-war planning so atrocious why on earth Tony Blair did it. One theory, albeit not the one likely to be offered by Mr Blair himself, is that his militarism and messianism, the mix of responsibility and entitlement that he evinced, are part of the inheritance of all post-imperial British leaders. Mr Blair was not the first to yearn for an influence bigger than Britain’s now-diminished status justifies, and he is unlikely to be the last: David Cameron says reflexively that he wants Britain to “punch above its weight”. For all their disillusionment over Mr Blair’s wars, lots of Britons want and expect serious international clout too.

The historian Linda Colley sees such imperial longing behind Britain’s devotion to the “special relationship”. “Playing Boy Wonder to America’s Batman”, as she puts it, is British politicians’ only chance of maintaining a global role as if the American Revolution could somehow be cancelled and the two nations confront the world as one. On the other hand, a yen for independent greatness may lie behind the fear of emasculation by America that afflicts some Britons as well.

Mr Brown’s announcement this week of extra troops for Afghanistan, timed to coincide with Barack Obama’s and yet seem autonomous, was a classic example of this dual syndrome. Meanwhile, Britain’s idea of itself as a country that others join, not the other way round, informs its deep Euroscepticism. And the prickliness shown to it by angry states such as Russia and Iran reflects an old but potent hostility to British imperialism.
The sun never really sets

If empire is the backdrop of Britain’s foreign entanglements, it is also implicated in the country’s exposure to another great debacle, the financial crash. The City and the empire grew up symbiotically. Imperial trade and investment made London a world financial centre; the City became vital to the British economy, while at the same time, preoccupied as it was with foreign deals, largely separate from the rest of it. The empire thus bequeathed commercial habits, and an overmighty financial sector, which British taxpayers now have cause to regret. (Some historians trace Britain’s trouble with real engineering, as well as the financial type, to the empire too, arguing that protected trade inside it coddled British industry and left it uncompetitive.)

The most obvious domestic legacy, of course, is in immigration. Because of worries about terrorism, much public policy and anxiety is currently focused on some Pakistani Britons. But empire helped to determine the attitudes and chances that awaited post-war immigrants to Britain as well as their origins.

Though notionally welcomed by a 1948 act, colonial immigrants caused alarm when they actually turned up, and from 1962 their entry rights were drastically curtailed. Danny Sriskandarajah of the Royal Commonwealth Society describes the experience as a story of evolving disappointments. Instead of fraternity and fairness there was racism sometimes overt, more often and insidiously the supercilious tolerance that the empire cultivated. Many immigrants were marooned at the bottom end of the labour market, some in doomed industries such as textiles, cut off from their families and latterly relegated in government priorities, as they saw it, to a place below new European migrants.

Much of this is the routine lot of immigrants everywhere, but with a cutting post-imperial edge. In some cases the grievances have reverberated through the generations.

The fallout of empire may include the fraying of the union (because the lost colonial opportunities bound Scotland in). Beneath all this is the peculiar British combination of bragging and bewilderment, an air of expectations great but unmet and of unrealised specialness. It is hard to think of another country so keen to magnify its accomplishments (everything must be “the best in the world”), yet also to wallow in its failings; so deluded and yet so morbidly disappointed. Every recent prime minister has struggled to overcome this sense of thwartedness and decline, and to come up with a notion of Britishness to replace the defunct imperial version. Mr Blair tried “Cool Britannia”. It flopped. The gloom may be almost as acute now as it was in the late 1950s or 1970s.

It is arrogant to suppose that where other powers Germany, say, or France were traumatised by their losses, Britain could have lost an empire on which the sun never set, give or take a few tax havens, without side effects. It didn’t: looked at in a certain light, much of its recent history military, political and economic can be seen as a kind of post-imperial malaise. The empire is the Indian elephant in the living room, the tiger under the dinner table. Britain is still living in its own shadow.

Impressionist Art

Nicht ein grosses Osterreich..

Nicht ein grosses Osterreich, blo ein grosseres. Nicht ein uber sich hinauswachsendes, sondern ein uber sich hinausweisendes, das seine Nachbarn in vielen Bereichen inkorporiert. Nun ja, daraus ist nichts geworden. Und manchmal denke ich mir, das muss so sein. Es mag am Alter liegen. Vielleicht aber auch an der zutiefst Osterreichischen Einsicht, dass nur der glucklich ist, der vergisst, was nicht mehr zu undern ist.

Locks Keep the Employees from the Office

Late in 2008, pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. sought to engage employees by launching the Global Access initiative, partnering with Grameen Health (an affiliate of Grameen Bank) in Bangladesh to improve access to health care through rural clinics. As soon as the initiative was announced, project leader Ponni Subbiah was swamped with expressions of interest. “Employees wrote to me from all functional divisions within Pfizer — research, marketing, manufacturing, operations, auditing — telling me how happy they were to see Pfizer involved in this area and how it made them proud to be part of this company,” he says. Employees were so eager to contribute that many offered to volunteer after working hours or on weekends

The Power of Your Subconscious Mind


Wim Wenders talked about the American ‘colonization of the subconscious’ , but there are numerous examples of how this metaphor plays out. BTW, the US has no monopoly on this concept but are the most prevalent and therefore get the most press

I think of….

Westmorland’s Hearts and minds
television commercials – or TV programs for that matter
Historical revisionism
all fassets of 1968
my formal education
mind games

Berlin Wall – 20 Years Later – A reflection

1989 was an important year no doubt. Now 20 years have passed. This fact has been utilized most prominently in spiritual vertex of that year – Berlin.

One can find numerous exhibitions taking place in the city to honor the events of the 09th November, and the number of such events raises the question if whether all of this was simply a ploy to lure tourists? Go fish.

There is one common thread to be found in virtually all the events in Berlin this year:

i. How poor the East Germans were under communism
ii How brave they were to stand up against their regime
iii.The euphoria of the reunification, and the scant attention paid to those who wanted to have a better, independent GDR. There were also those within the GDR who had started to recognize the ramifications of reunification

Apart from the fact that there is no mention of the misgivings some countries might have had about the reunification, only one of the four possible versions of history are being presented. Those perspectives are

i. Those who were leaders in the GDR and have been disgraced. They are now non-persons in society, and it is not clear why.
ii.Those who have profited through the reunification. Their voice is clearly being heard in the testimonials being managed by the prevailing spin doctors today
iii. Those whose lives have become much more difficult through the change
iv. Those who have no recollection, either because they were too young or not yet born in 1989

One could raise the question why one should concentrate on the present when discussing history. This question is actually very easy to answer: All four of the aforementioned groups have a different viewpoint, and the collective memory of all four groups creates the true depiction of history. To understand this concept, it is important to look at the three groups whose perspective does not appear to be represented in the official recollections. Their viewpoint should be observed without judgement.

GDR leaders: What was their rationale? To what degree did their ascendancy relate to the Zeitgeist of the time? What was their true legacy? Did they leave anything memorable behind? The biggest question to pose is why there was no truth and reconciliation proceedings to be found in reunified Germany after 1990?

Reunification Losers: For those who have spent a longer period of time in the former East Germany, it is quite clear that this group is not small. The ramifications are numerous

* Population loss: Many estimate of a 50% loss by 2050
* Ostalgie: including the results of recent polls that show that a high percentage of former East Germans believe life was better under communism
* Strength of the GDR Socialist Unity Party SED) remnants: The left party is looked upon as offering a viable alternative to the traditional political offering
* No Future: One can find the complete loss of perspective today in the former East Germany

Wall before their time: Although they are statistically smaller in numbers, one has the group that were toddlers in 1989, or perhaps not yet born. One finds within this group a strong affinity towards Ostalgie, a sympathy towards the plight their parents and grandparents have endured since 1990…without posing the question whether they were part of the Stazi (East German Secret Police) or not. This phenomenon is not unique: Doesn’t nostalgia really mean we yearn for a time that never really happened to begin with?

So can we define the results?

Well, we cannot bring back the wall or the GDR and should have no desire to. As memorials are for reflection, we should pose the questions

* What was goal in 1989?
* What was achieved, and what was not?
* What does reality really look like? Do we like it? What needs to be changed?

But the biggest question is

If reunification took place in 1990, then how come Germany is made up of two countries still: separate and unequal, with distinct cultures and disparate perspectives?

To be placed into Angela Merkel’s suggestion box…..


On September 17, 1994, Alabama’s Heather Whitestone was selected as Miss
America 1995. Question: If you could live forever, would you and why?

Answer:”I would not live forever, because we should not live forever,
because if we were supposed to live forever, then we would live forever, but
we cannot live forever, which is why I would not live forever,”
— Miss Alabama in the 1994 Miss USA contest

“Whenever I watch TV and see those poor starving kids all over the world, I
can’t help but cry. I mean I’d love to be skinny like that, but not with all
those flies and death and stuff.”
— Mariah Carey

“Smoking kills. If you’re killed, you’ve lost a very important part of your
— Brooke Shields, during an interview to become spokesperson for federal
anti-smoking campaign.

“I’ve never had major knee surgery on any other part of my body,”
— Winston Bennett, University of Kentucky basketball forward.

“Outside of the killings, Washington has one of the lowest crime rates in the country,”
— Mayor Marion Barry, Washington , DC .

“That lowdown scoundrel deserves to be kicked to death by a jackass, and I’m
just the one to do it,”
— A congressional candidate in Texas

“Half this game is ninety percent mental.”
— Philadelphia Phillies manager, Danny Ozark

“It isn’t pollution that’s harming the environment. It’s the impurities in
our air and water that are doing it.”
— Al Gore, Vice President

“I love California. I practically grew up in Phoenix .”
— Dan Quayle

“We’ve got to pause and ask ourselves: How much clean air do we need ?”
— Lee Iacocca

“The word “genius” isn’t applicable in football. A genius is a guy like
Norman Einstein.”
— Joe Theisman, NFL football quarterback & sports analyst.

“We don’t necessarily discriminate. We simply exclude certain types of
— Colonel Gerald Wellman, ROTC Instructor.

“Traditionally, most of Australia ‘s imports come from overseas.”
— Keppel Enderbery

“Your food stamps will be stopped effective March 1992 because we received
notice that you passed away. May God bless you. You may reapply if there is
a change in your circumstances.”
— Department of Social Services, Greenville , South Carolina

“If somebody has a bad heart, they can plug this jack in at night as they go
to bed and it will monitor their heart throughout the night. And the next
morning, when they wake up dead, there’ll be a record.”
— Mark S. Fowler, FCC Chairman