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Posts Tagged ‘culture’

Life is almost entirely about deliberation. The choices that we make in each moment affect the choices that we can make in the future; they affect the choices that others make. What I do now is almost inextricably linked to the choices I have made in the past. My choices were put before me not merely by my own accord, but also by the choices and actions of others in this world. I am as much a product of my own deliberation as I am a product of circumstances created outside of my own deliberation; I am a product and a producer. I will revisit these ideas shortly. First, I would like to tell a story about the world and my conscious and unconscious actions within it.

I have a deep appreciation for diversity. Diversity is color. Diversity is plenitude of experience as opposed to one experience. I could constantly see blackness and all that I would experience would be a kind of blind existence. I could constantly see white with similar result. It is only when the kaleidoscope of colors unfolds before me that I can distinguish all of the various shades in between; between the extreme opposites of  black and white.  Diversity is worth fighting for.  Being able to choose a favorite color from the existing colors is in every regard superior to being fated to an existence without free choice.

In this world, East and West are as extreme as the opposition of black to white. Knowing both directions, reveals various shades of existence; it reveals subtle cultural nuances; East and West together reveal the subtleties of human nature; the varying modes of human action; and the otherwise unviewable truths of human potentiality. China and Canada together reveal this East/West divide more than any other two countries I have spent considerable time in. But, we are all still human. The Orient and the Occident really are different; but not so different that we cannot know or understand one another.

There is a whole world of difference between our ways of being. Our ways of governing and our ways of acting and reacting to situations is different. We can line up in neat ques a mile long; or we can fight for our place at the front of the line. We can act as if there is only one mind among many; or we can act as there are many minds directed at individual pursuits. We can eat with chopsticks; or we can eat with a fork and knife.  We can eat off of our own plate; or we can share the same plate with many. Our ways of acting and deliberating are diverse. Our cultures are unique.

Since we share this planet, and since the East and West need to know each other as black knows white and up knows down, my deliberations find me both consciously and unconsciously enamoured with the possibility of having a life in both countries: One life in Canada; and another life in China.

Our countries together will decide the fate of this world that we find ourselves in. It is integral that some people know both worlds in order for us all to recognize the importance of diversity. I do not want to exist in a world of mono-culture. Westernizing or Easternizing the world, or choosing only one shade rather than all the colors between opposite shades, will not do diversity any justice.

Many have asked me recently, why I am so drawn to a country like China. My answer to this is that it is partly by my own choice to choose a color that I like in this world; and it is partly because of the difference in the Chinese way of life, their people, their society, their different way of being and existing that appeals to my innate desire for diversity. I want, more than anything, to be exposed to as many shades as the extremes present between East and West can offer; knowing our similarities and our differences is so valuable to understanding the nature of being human. I would like the freedom to deliberate about my existence from the vastest shades available to me in this world; shades brought to this world by deliberation not of my own but of a culture and a people so different (and yet so similar) from the shade I find beneath the great Canadian Maple.

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In my view, the answer to the question, “Why should one culture destroy another?” is short and simple: It should not. Why do humans repeatedly destroy the diversity that exists in this world? We kill off entire species of animals. We kill off entire human cultures. We commit genocide and ethnocide. We replace diverse crops with mono-crops. The picture that this creates is nightmarish. Are we really that apathetic that we continue to do these things day in and day out, year after year? What is at the heart of this evil?

In every instance named above, the answer points to power, money, and human greed, lawlessness, and injustice. Species of animals like the buffalo were nearly all killed for their hides–dolphins are killed at incredible rates today in Japan. Native cultures were consciously killed for their lands. Cultures are still vanishing today for land and resources; for instance, indigenous groups in Ecuador are being displaced by oil firms. The Nazi’s killed millions of Jews; the Jews now displace the Palestinians. Monsanto and other agricultural giants make mono-crops replace crop diversity. All these things relate back to a desire for power and money by a relatively small group. Meanwhile, the rest of us allow it to happen. We complain about over taxation; complain about the prices of goods and services; complain about unemployment and poverty; complain that minimum wage is not enough. The whole time, the majority allows the minority to rape the earth in the majority’s name.

We need change. We need to learn to respect. We need just laws and just people to live up to them. The time has come to re-evaluate our collective actions and reorient ourselves. Capitalist globalization threatens world diversity. We cannot have more of the same. The Earth’s diversity is vanishing because we allow it to happen. An alternative to Capitalism and its exploitative methods MUST be peacefully appropriated. The rich must not be allowed the fortune of excess; and the poor must not be allowed to die for our inaction any longer. The time has come for humanity to awaken and evolve. We need to realize who controls mass public opinion and how they do it. We need to learn to ignore what the most powerful responsible for the rape and pillage are saying to us; but we need to stop ignoring what they are doing to our planet and it’s inhabitants. The time for change is now. But how can we do it safely? How can we do it without violence? How can we do it and still remain safe from harms way? What type of system must replace the flawed one that now has hold of the world? These questions need to be answered first or the project is futile; greedy in and of itself; meaningless and dangerous. But to go back to the question that started this blog posting: I answered that we should not allow one culture to kill another. We must find a way to allow capitalism and capitalist culture to exist as well. However, we must not let it destroy everything in its path along the way.

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Birds sound the same as them. The way the notes travel up and down like teeter-totters and dip and twist like ballerinas dancing around each other; tongues–rolling like children down hills in the grass in the summer time. I understand some of what they say but only because I’ve been here with them for a while now. Languages are fascinating. The mind is fascinating because it can make sense of it all; at least enough sense that stories emerge and memories form, and ideas of what once were transform into ideas that are new and larger. The world is a puzzle with each piece a puzzle of its own. A language tells a story. The story becomes a piece of your thoughts. Your thoughts become who you are. I remember now what it was like before I spoke my first word. English no longer works the same as at home; it has become the baby babble that I once spoke before my native tongue. Instead, I am forced to re-learn how to speak. I am re-learning how to tell someone I’m hungry and what I want to nourish myself: I realize what I want is not always available to me. I am re-learning how to ask for a bathroom, to tell someone where home is. Home- I’m not quite sure I really understand that word anymore. What is home? Is it the place where I sleep at night? Is it where family is? Is it where I come from? Where I was born? Where I am now? I no longer know who I am because a piece of me is constantly changing. I am not the same and never will be. Only some distant memories allow me to realize that my past is the only constant and, therefore, I must have grown from what stays the same. Babble, I have become babble. I can no longer express my thoughts because I, too, do not understand myself. My thoughts have become babble for my ability to have thoughts has somehow surpassed my ability to comprehend them. What is home? Is it the language which I speak that defines home for me? Is home a place or is it a concept? Is home a feeling or a word? Did the concept of “home” become a word that became a feeling, or was it that the feeling became a concept that became a word? What is it that I am? Am I, too, like a home? Did the concept of “I” come, and then the word that became a feeling- or was “I” a feeling that became a concept that has now become a word? What therefore is a word? And what meaning does it have? I can understand the word for “home” in many different languages but what is so special about that word that makes me question my existence so? What is it about this different place that makes me wonder so tiresomely over words and meanings?

~Justin Allen Philcox

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It is relatively easy for any of us to state our opinions about what the world ought not to look like. Not many of us want to see war, death, destruction, high taxes, joblessness; none of us wants to be a slave, nor homeless, afraid. Many moral, social, and political theorists have spent time and energy attempting the more difficult task of trying to express what the world ought to be like. From Plato to Aristotle, Marx, Mills, Adam Smith to Che Guevara, to Milton Friedman–all of them have attempted (even without success) to create a system that will overcome the ills in the world. It is a difficult task to espouse an entire theory of state or social and economic theory.  It is so easy to look around the world and see it’s problems. Solutions are always so much more difficult to come by.

I would like to say that I live in a world without poverty. War is greed. Success is defined too often by Bill Gates’ and not often enough by Gandhi’s. While I think it is important to acknowledge ideals,  I would like to avoid being overly idealistic because idealism must exist in the face of realism. I do not think that a social utopia is possible to achieve in a world with so many competing interests; but I do think we can do better. It is our duty as people to create the best possible world. Rather than tell you how we can make the world a better place, I would like you to tell the world how we can make it a better place. Please leave a link to an inspiring story (video, book, blog…etc.) in the comments box. This story should include something that would make this world a better place. How does it sit in the face of realism, that is, is it something attainable for the many? Be creative.

Thank-you for sharing your inspiration with the world.

~Justin Allen Philcox

Here is a link I have chosen in response:

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People like the man in this video make the world a better place for everyone. If each one of us who is able can contribute in even a small way by emulating this man’s actions, just think how different this world would be. I am not saying that you need to go out and quit your jobs to dedicate your lives to charity like Narayanan Krishnan, but try to spend time in your busy lives to reach out and help someone in need. Your actions can make this world a brighter place. Whoever said that one person alone cannot make a difference needs but open their eyes and witness miracles like the one in this video.

Thank-you for sharing this video with the world.

~Justin Allen Philcox

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The neighbor kid, Dustin, showed up to school with a new Walkman one day. He was a few years older than me and all the girls thought he was the coolest kid in school. When I asked him if his parents had gotten it for him he said that he had paid for it with his own money. He told me he had a paper route and it only took him a month to save for it. It would have taken me a year or more to save for something like that with the allowance that my parents had given me.

It was my idea. I insisted that my parents let me take on a paper route so that I could be popular just like him; so I could have money to go to the movies and buy cool stuff. I was tired of the two dollar allowance that Mom and Dad had given me since I was only old enough to know that money could buy extravagant things like candy and Slurpees and chocolate bars and such. I figured that I was tough enough to bare the kilometer walk each winter’s day up to the top of Klahanie Road and back to our little place on, Freda Avenue, for that eighty dollar paycheck at the end of the month. If I recall correctly, I had to walk double, no, even triple, that distance to Robert.L. Clemitson elementary school and back each day; it was uphill both ways and I’ll insist on telling my grandchildren the same story. I thought it wouldn’t be too bad; I thought wrong.

My fingers still feel ice cold. Fifteen years have passed and I can still feel the way my breath shot across my face in the wind and went off somewhere. I shiver when I think of the way my toes went numb and my eye lashes froze together when I blinked. I could only inhale through my mouth because my nostrils would stick together when I would try to inhale through them. My teeth bore the cold instead as I opted for icicles to form from the mucus that dripped out my nose. I was only nine; far too young to be working outside in the dead of winter; too little to be carrying one-hundred-some-odd papers over my two little shoulders. I could barley lift them. I wonder if that drain pipe just around the corner from our little blue trailer still has any remnants of the Daily News from 1991.

When the flyers came I couldn’t lift them all so I, sort of, dragged them behind me until I could get out of site from our place; then, if no one was looking, I would hide them in that drain pipe.

The paper called our house and asked me where the papers were after I had ditched them for a couple days in a row. Geeze! I didn’t even have any hair on my legs yet. I’m sure the neighbor kid that inspired me did though. He was nearly six feet tall already. I had such a crush on his little sister, Crystal. I think I wanted to impress her.

I remember, before I started, a man came to our house wearing a black suit and tie. He carried a brief case with him. He asked me a few questions and made my parents sign a paper saying that I wouldn’t quit right away if I lost interest. I remember wishing they wouldn’t have signed it during that first day of delivery. In fact, I remember thinking that same thought quite regularly.

It was probably about minus twenty degrees Celsius outside on average that winter. I didn’t have a very good jacket and I’m sure my boots weren’t that great either.  I guess Mom and Dad just didn’t have any money for warm winter clothes at the time.

What was worse was that I couldn’t grab the papers with my mittens on, so, I had to take them off at each doorstep. It made the process last that much longer.

I think I had a frozen tear or two on my face when I returned home that first day but my parents still wouldn’t let me quit. They said that it was my responsibility and that I had begged and pleaded for them to allow me the chance to have the job in the first place. They were right; I had begged them for weeks to let me have my own route. What a dumb idea.

I won’t forget that long, long winter; as long as I live. The way I froze won’t soon be forgotten either. But the day I got my first paycheck, all those feelings of resentment went away. I had never received more than five dollars at any given time but to receive eighty was a serious thing for a nine year old.

I think Dustin was twelve or thirteen. He got paid around the same time as me. We always went shopping together. I bought his sister nice things like teddy bears and such. I think she kissed me once but I can’t remember.  I remember the excitement of receiving my first paycheck though. It wasn’t until years late that I would come to realize how fortunate I was.

10 Years Later:

After the flight, our luggage in hand, we walked out from the flight terminal into the heavy gloom of post-industrialized China. The air is a little thicker from the exhaust fumes and burnt coal that linger there and everything is coated in a fine black layer of soot.

A boy in a suit, dirtied from the sands of a dwindling hour glass, swept across the parking lot with the wind. He still follows me in my mind speaking those two words “Hello. Money? Hello. Money? Hello. Money?” He says it as if he has been emptied of all the reasons why not to say it. It seems there is a way of pronouncing words that make them mean existence; words that come not from the throat, but from somewhere deeper yet, from the still pit of an empty stomach.

He begged for pennies. I can still recall the sick pang of hurt that shot through my own stomach as I watched the sight unfold. I think it was Martin who was the first to offer up a Yuan from his wallet; a Yuan was enough to eat a little something in China but, here, in Canada it was the equivalent of four 5¢ candies from the corner store when I was that same age.  At least, that is what a nine year old boy from British Columbia would most likely decide to buy for an equal sum. I would have used the money for candy when I was a child, I most certainly recall the times when a quarter meant four candies, five if the clerk was nice enough to, magically, rescind the tax.

Someone else gave a Yuan, too. I can’t remember who it was. But, I do remember the other boys that soon began to run toward us barefooted; in their raggedy attire; from the unseen locations on the periphery of the parking lot. They all appeared to be wearing black suits that must have emerged at one time from the bottoms of garbage heaps. Or maybe they were slaves to some slumlord who wanted them to look as hopeless as they appeared.

The boys followed us through the parking lot, the group expanding to an additional three as we approached our chauffeur’s vehicle.

They begged and pleaded in their foreign tongue and it was a universal cry for help; it was a harmony made by the crashing of symbols in the wind. As our guide, Jenny, pushed us into the vehicle and began to slide the van door closed, I had just enough time to slip a Yuan into one of their little beckoning, outstretched hands before they were gone.

“Welcome to China” I thought as the vehicle began to pull away; and as Jenny, embarrassingly, turned to us to explain that this type of child should be ignored because they are everywhere and because they become bothersome with their numbers.

We drove to our feast. We couldn’t finish all of the food that Jenny ordered for us. We didn’t take what was left over because we still had a long drive and because our hosts insisted what was left could be thrown away.  Spare food? Spare change? Rice change?

It is in contrasting my memories of youth that I am fascinated by how reality can change in an instant and become something much different.

-Justin Allen Philcox

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The first topic I chose to write on deals with quality of life in a community. One of my commenters put forth the idea that quality of life is connected to having avenues in which people can pursue and refine their talents. I feel that the Arts, and in particular, funding for the arts is a necessary part of creating a community of quality in this regard.
I also asked how we might deal with class inequality in the discussion about quality of life. Funding for the arts again helps in regards to equalizing the quality of life for individuals; regardless of socio-economic standing. Since it is the job of politicians to work for the people of this country, good government ought to entail the promotion of quality of life within our communities.

If arts funding adds to quality of life of people in our community, regardless of socio-economic standing, then Arts funding should be recieving more funding (not less); especially in times of economic turmoil when more people are forced out of work. If anything, politicians who recognize this, and add funding for the arts in difficult economic times,  are doing themselves a favor come election time. Are politicians who cut arts funding in economically unstable times commiting political suicide?

-Justin Allen Philcox

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