Eclectic Grounds

conflicts and conversation

Martin Luther King’s words

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Jay Smooth put together some memorable Martin Luther King quotations:

(from IllDoctrine)

Update: On the same subject, I just came across an impressive illustration putting in today’s context what Dr. King and many others have fought for (talking about post-racial USA…):

Lest We Forget

By RJ Matson (via NoCaptionNeeded)

Cornel West: channeling the rage

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A short talk by the great Cornel West, Princeton professor and author of “Race Matters”, on his childhood and how he learned to channel his feelings of rage into a productive direction.

(via Situationist)

Defining insanity…

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Written by henrik

January 11, 2010 at 10:07 am

The minaret vote and public symbols of Islam in Europe: a sign of progress?

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Following the Swiss anti-minaret referendum, I quoted Tariq Ramadam who argues that the referendum reflects a rejection of public symbolics of Islam in Europe. The contested symbols, he says, are different in each European country but the mindset behind it is essentially the same.

Nilüfer Göle believes that these symbolic battles mark a new stage in the process of immigration to Europe:

Just like the other silent symbol, the veil, minarets reveal the presence of Muslims both pious and female in public life. This visibility certifies the presence of Muslims in European society and their desire to remain there, demanding freedom of conscience, freedom to practice their religion and also the freedom to dress according to their personal interpretation of their religion. Paradoxically, Islam becomes a political and cultural source for identifying immigrants, their quest for acknowledgment. They in turn manifest their particular citizenship within the European public arena. This visibility marks the end of a stage in the migratory phenomenon, that of integration, as well as experiences and ways of appropriating the public sphere in Europe. It is the difficulty in acknowledging this passage from foreigner to citizen that lies beneath the controversies surrounding Islam.

Might the Swiss minaret rows be seen in a positive light in the end? Is it the last mobilisation of the ignorant and fearful against a changing public sphere; one that accommodates Islam as a component of European civil society? Is it a futile attempt to undo the development of a more inclusive concept of citizenship? Let us hope for it.

How language shapes our mode of thinking

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At Edge, Lea Boroditzky makes the compelling case that the language we use effectively determines how we perceive the world around us. It’s a fascinating article with many  illuminating examples:

Instead of words like “right,” “left,” “forward,” and “back,” which, as commonly used in English, define space relative to an observer, the Kuuk Thaayorre, like many other Aboriginal groups, use cardinal-direction terms — north, south, east, and west — to define space. This is done at all scales, which means you have to say things like “There’s an ant on your southeast leg” or “Move the cup to the north northwest a little bit.” One obvious consequence of speaking such a language is that you have to stay oriented at all times, or else you cannot speak properly. […] Simply put, speakers of languages like Kuuk Thaayorre are much better than English speakers at staying oriented and keeping track of where they are, even in unfamiliar landscapes or inside unfamiliar buildings. What enables them — in fact, forces them — to do this is their language. Having their attention trained in this way equips them to perform navigational feats once thought beyond human capabilities.

Even what might be deemed frivolous aspects of language can have far-reaching subconscious effects on how we see the world. Take grammatical gender. […] In one study, we asked German and Spanish speakers to describe objects having opposite gender assignment in those two languages. The descriptions they gave differed in a way predicted by grammatical gender. For example, when asked to describe a “key” — a word that is masculine in German and feminine in Spanish — the German speakers were more likely to use words like “hard,” “heavy,” “jagged,” “metal,” “serrated,” and “useful,” whereas Spanish speakers were more likely to say “golden,” “intricate,” “little,” “lovely,” “shiny,” and “tiny.” To describe a “bridge,” which is feminine in German and masculine in Spanish, the German speakers said “beautiful,” “elegant,” “fragile,” “peaceful,” “pretty,” and “slender,” and the Spanish speakers said “big,” “dangerous,” “long,” “strong,” “sturdy,” and “towering.” This was true even though all testing was done in English, a language without grammatical gender. The same pattern of results also emerged in entirely nonlinguistic tasks (e.g., rating similarity between pictures).

Written by henrik

December 27, 2009 at 9:17 am

The tale of the Peace-Bringer

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For the most peaceful season of the year, a beautiful Iroquois folktale…

Before the Peace-Bringer came, the Iroquois were afierce and violent people, constantly at war with neighboring tribes. Their braves were raised to be warriors; their tribes were organized for waging war; their culture was shaped by the mythology and values of the raid, the ambush, the valiant act, the violent victory.

Then came the Peace-Bringer. He walked through the village to the house of the greatest and bloodiest hero, the Man-Who-Eats-People, and he climbed to the top and looked down through the smoke hole.

The Man-Who-Eats-People was preparing a ritual feast from the cut-up body of one of his victims; he would absorb the victim’s power by eating him. A large pot sat on the fire, and the face of the Peace-Bringer, looking in at the smoke hole, was perfectly reflected on the oil on the surface.

The Man-Who-Eats-People froze as he saw the reflection, astonished by the nobility he saw in it.

“That is my face,” he said to himself, “and it is not the face of a man who kills others and eats their flesh to steal their power. That is the face of one who draws people together, the face ofone who makes peace, not war.

He seized the pot and emptied it outside. “Never again shall I take a life or seek to take another’s spirit and strength,”he told all those who came running.

Then the Peace-Bringer came forward to meet him, and the man said, “Here is the face of peace. I have seen it in my own face. I see it in another’s.”

And the two became as one. The Man-Who-Eats-People became Hiawatha the hero, the healer, the maker of peace.


Merry Christmas & happy holidays!

Organ trafficking, the global economy and militant anthropology

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Shocking revelations emerged yesterday from an interview with the head of the Israeli forensic institute. In the interview, he admits systematic organ harvest by Israel from dead palestinian bodies (more information here).

The statements were made during an interview with Nancy Sheper-Hughes – a fantastic anthropologist whose work has inspired many (me included) for the field and the ethics of anthropology. She deserves a mention in this debate for her investigations in the global network of organ trafficking.

In years of research, Sheper-Hughes shed light on the global relations of organ donors, smugglers, doctors and recipients. A focus of her work is on global power relations that enable this illegal industry. She writes about the marginalized in the global economy from places like South Asia, Latin America or Eastern Europe, who are willing to sell parts of their body to support their families or simply to be able to afford status symbols and satisfy consumption needs. Many others have their organs removed without consent – the revelations about organ theft in Palestine is a remarkable case there. Sheper-Hughes says:

“I was confused, because there were so many forms of real violence; […] but what they [people in the community in Brazil] wanted to talk about was their incredible fear that their bodies were at risk, or those of their children, of being kidnapped by an organ mafia.”

Sheper-Hughes traced the path of trafficked organs through places like India, China, South Africa or – prominently – Israel:

“I found out from the transplant surgeons that these weren’t just allegations but that they were true, and that organ trafficking amongst living people was spreading. […] I began by following the rumours, before I started following the bodies. My primary aim is to disabuse the world of the notion that this is just a rumour.”

At the end of the global “supply chain” or organs are mostly recipients from industrialized parts of the world, usually Europe or the US.

“I worry about the politics, the bio-politics in a global sense, of the people who are resisting the getting of an organ through a waiting list or through friends or family, and would rather get a poor and anonymous person. It’s easier. You don’t have to deal with them after the fact.”

Sheper-Hughes calls her method ‘militant anthropology’, which means that it is prepared to take on a political or moral engagement with its subjects rather than merely engage in academic analysis. In the course of her work, she founded a small NGO called Organs Watch who acts as a pressure group to spread the word, build alliances, and push for legislate response to the injustice.

“Much as I feel for the recipients, for their pain and their suffering, they are represented and visible. They have surplus empathy, they’re in the newspapers and everybody’s heart goes out to them. Nobody’s heart goes out to the sellers, because they’re the riff-raff of society, and not people you naturally want to embrace, but they’re human beings – they need to be represented. Their body is precious to them. We talk about the gift of life. I talk about the gift of the body – instead of ‘I think therefore I am’, you can say ‘I’m embodied therefore I am’. To have to plunge in to yourself and sell that through which you have a personhood, and to think of your only resource as being your organs is so tragic.”

Quotations taken from an interview with Three Monkeys Online.