Whistle Blowers and Willful Blindness

“May you live in interesting times”, says the Chinese curse. In interesting times, whistle blowers pay with their lives while the willfully blind multiply. Totalitarianism, plutocracy and even the ancient Chinese Legalism experience rampant comebacks, sometimes under obscure new names such as inverted totalitarianismwhile pluralism and idealism become tell-tale signs of moral weakness or dissent. Assange, Manning, Snowden – martyrs or traitors, heroic or evil? Putin – neo-autocrat or return to Virtue crusader?

Future generations will  have a clearer picture than ours of the moral value of their actions in our times. For now, here is a spellbinding tale fit for these interesting times we are living in:

P.S. – Segment on “whistle blowers” starts at 08:43.

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BURQA DEMOCRACY

Summer 2013 has been one of the hottest on record in many parts of the world. In Sweden, June temperatures reached record highs, leading over-heated tram conductors in Stockholm to an unusual but logical decision: to wear skirts. The policy of the company running the trains forbade men from wearing shorts to work, trousers were too hot, there was no policy on skirts for males, so there you go. Later in June, the policy changed to allow shorts, and a company spokesperson told a Swedish daily that the company expected the male staff to gradually move from skirts to wearing shorts that she believed to be “more comfortable and practical”.

On this note, I came to think upon a hot topic du jour, to ok or not burqas in offices, schools and public places (Western places, that is.) Logically, it could make a lot of sense for not only women, but for men to be encouraged to wear the garb on th e same principles that apply to women: modesty and decorum. Here goes an illustration of my case:

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Are there limits to Tolerance?

Today was a sunny morning, so instead of reading the BBC News of the day on my iPad while breakfasting in the kitchen, I got the paper version of the International Herald Tribune and Le Monde and went to a nearby café. The IHT quickly revealed itself much the same as any daily online BBC News, only on paper. So after folding it as a handy swat for the pesky wasps plaguing central Europe in general and my table in particular, I turned to Le Monde.

Germans have a good reason for rebelling against the NSA, one idées article read, and went on to make a couple of points particularly apt for these days of burqa bans and trending civic disobedience on the digital interstate highway. Drawing on the lessons from the former undemocratic German republic, the author notes that just as the Stasi had no manpower or systems to analyze the mounds of information it efficiently collected from all and sundry, neither has the NSA the ability or imagination to deal with all it stores about the common citizenry.

Not to worry then about having your average anonymous life being stored live on some archive somewhere? Not so.

Mass surveillance is the darling weapon par excellence of regimes and autocratic brutes bent on busting democracy and other such lofty idealistic fluff-ware to smithereens; and its sugar candy motto, “nothing to hide, nothing to fear”, is what keeps the wheels of totalitarianism oily. The problem with mass surveillance?…  Oh, things like, living in a state of fearing thy neighbor, thy fathers, thy sons (note that I am not saying thy mothers who lack the testosterone needed to understand the virtues of war and 10 eyes for an eye). Or, so long, democracy. Or, bye-bye, entire non-aligning swathes of populations.

From an eternal perspective, there is nothing in life to fear, only to understand, said Marie Curie. Thing is, I don’t have an eternal life, but a rather limited one. And I have kids with equally limited lives, give or take a couple of years’ shortage or extension of average life spans. And humans thrive in diversity, not uniformity. Standardize the human race and we die. Mishmash everyone’s biology and what wipes one can wipe us all. Mishmash everyone’s morals and ethics and what you got is, at best, a publicly funded Geriatric Ward. At worst, it’d be a matter of time until the agreeable stability of universal chaos would wipe us (humans) all.

Polish born Marie Curie (1867-1934) was the first woman to ever win a Nobel Prize and did seminal work on radioactivity (a term she also coined.) Her papers remain radioactive: radium-226, the most common isotope of radium, has a half life of 1601 years. She died on the day of my birth, July 4.

Polish born Marie Curie (1867-1934) was the first woman to ever win a Nobel Prize and did seminal work on radioactivity (a term she also coined.) Her papers remain radioactive: radium-226, the most common isotope of radium, has a half life of 1601 years. She died on the day of my birthday, July 4.

For now, we know that private Manning got a lifetime in jail, and so would Assange and Snowden if only one could get their feet on US soil. Thanks to a Brazilian guy connected to a reporter working on the Snowden story, we just learned that the UK has a sinister thing that could happen to anyone called Schedule 7 that hit the headlines a tad too clumsily close to the US admitting to the existence of Area 51. We should probably check if countries that we’ve so far regarded as benevolently democratic bonanzas have something like that before booking our next transcontinental holidays. For now, we know that countries one learned to love when growing up, the USA and the UK, are inching ominously closer to the dystopic America fantasized in Super Sad True Love Story.

For now we know about another charming country, France, banning scarves covering women’s hair in its entirety, plus a host of pundits clamoring about the irrationality of a law based on pure fear that in reality affects a nano-who-cares-per-cent of the French population. Maybe the French ought to be a bit careful about laws about scarves. It’s after all the country that gave us Hermés, and with their low to mid range cost exports on a free fall, one would think it a good idea to protect their still thriving luxury exports, such as the larger Hermés scarves big enough to cover the normal-sized hair of foreign women with access to enormously sized wallets.

Hermés considerations aside, I find the law over the top but by no means something that only affects an infinitesimal percent of the population. Au contraire: it affects every woman and girl in the country and beyond. It happened to Iran, it could happen to you.

Jackie Kennedy Onassis wearing a Hermes Astrologie scarf in the sixties.

Jackie Kennedy Onassis wearing a Hermes Astrologie scarf in the sixties.

That the Muslim community has no consensus about the interpretation of women’s dress code as told in the Quran, or that pro-burqa wifes, mothers, sons and daughters need their freedom of interpretation of religious dress codes respected – this is all beside the point. The point is, everything only exists within limits, the limits of what is best for the survival of the (human) species. Everything: including Tolerance. To tolerate everything is to dissolve the diversity that is best for human evolution. Westerners are not about to accept whatever tribe last came out of whatever jungle remains after decades of logging and deforestation, to come live among us in the near-buff. It’s all very well for the Annual Pride Parade, or for secluded nudist spots along mile-long stretches of Catholic country beachfront that every devout soul knows precisely where they are (but never been). Not so for genuine pure shamelessness about the naked body.

As a Western woman, I am ok with head scarves, which is where I draw the line. I find women in burqa as difficult to behold as ladies in burqa would find nip-tucked grandmas baring it all at Club 55. I try to respect the customs of places I visit, cover shoulders and knees, wear or discard shoes, but  have no interest in setting a foot in countries where non-observance of burqa or niqab code is punishable by law. It’s my way of showing respect for something I could never understand any more than the burqa police could understand the point of an annual Pride Parade on their streets. Respecting oneself and others needs boundaries.

And yet, and yet. Having said all this, I must also add something else that will entirely undo my point that for the benefit of the human species, tolerance must have limits. How the Monty Python People would have put it, “And Now for Something Completely Different”:

Tolerance is not to accept the range of all that we understand from a little bit to a lot. Tolerance like that is very comfortable, and not really tolerance, but a convincing simulation of tolerance. Like the model home in a brand new housing development.

Tolerance is to accept what we can’t understand at all. And that can’t possibly dissolve the diversity that is best for human evolution.

A bientot.

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