Saturday, March 31, 2012

An Old Song in a New Voice

“Most people don't believe something can happen until it already has. That's not stupidity or weakness, that's just human nature.”
― Max Brooks, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War

As humanity moves along with the inevitable passage of time, many argue that humans have come a long way from being barbarians who eat to live and fight to die. Particularly with the creation of the first modern societies, ingrained believes about the deterministic nature of the human condition began to find more and more critics. It was no longer sufficient to explain events by citing the will of God or natural law. Modern beliefs and science inevitably control people’s lives and make them rational creatures that no longer rely on supernatural explanations of how the world operates. Certainly, as people in the modern world, we would like to believe that in many ways, we are superior to our ancestors. A closer and more in-depth look, however, at significant historical events can often alert us to the truth in the folkloric saying “the more things change, the more they stay the same”.

The first practice to shed light on the particular way in which people have behaved and still do is the most important aspect of a liberal democratic society – the ability to vote. Most voters are not able to or simply do not find it important to look at the potential candidates as a whole with many different aspects. Rather, they prefer to vote based on one specific issue that they find really important in their personal lives. People make the choice often with no idea of what the consequences could be. As shown in the case of Germans during the reign of the Third Reich, for example, the outcomes of rational voting with one’s personal interests in mind were actually quiet dire. The truth, however, is that there is no way a person can determine what the outcome of casting a vote could really be. As Brustein simply puts it, if Germans knew in 1932 what they knew in 1945, the Nazis would never have had a huge following. What Brustein and other authors really highlight then is the idea that voting for someone like Hitler had nothing to do with being German. Rather, all people, regardless of nation and culture, vote with no way to foresee whom or what they have put in power.

The true nature of voting can certainly be observed in the present political climate in many countries, specifically the United States. Personal issues, such as gay marriage and abortion, permeate political discussions because these are what concern people and what impact their decision to vote for a candidate or not. The majority of people who vote have limited knowledge on politics or any other important issues. They choose a candidate based often on that candidate’s stance on a particular issue they are fond of and choose to ignore the rest of that candidate’s platform. Voters should realize the responsibility of their choices and that it is not simply another chore they have to check off their list by selecting the candidate with the same views on one particular issue. Responsibility should also be relevant when people realize that a wrong choice has been made. Avoiding claiming responsibility for a gruesome act committed on a large scale and pointing fingers left and right at different people and organizations is a sure sign that this will happen again.

Another particularity of human behavior that seems to transcend the boundaries of time and culture is the overwhelming support of professionals for mass killers such as Hitler. Authors, such as Lifton, bust the myth that evil has to always be in the form of a psychologically unstable, deranged, and senseless individual and instead, they stress that evil is often represented by intellectuals who are leaders in their fields and expected to have moral authority over the domain of helping others. The modern world we live in wants us to believe that for some reason, criminals are low-life, poor, uncivilized, and uneducated men. It is certainly comforting to assume that those who torture, kill, or simply hurt their fellow human beings belong to a group that unfortunately did not have a good life and as a result, turned into criminals. That might be true for some crimes on a small scale, but those who succeed in mass endeavors usually hold high education degrees and not from some random college, but from a well-respected, top-notch university. There are the killing professionals that Lifton refers to. What society considers intelligent people, usually those possessing an unassuming piece of paper that solidifies their achieved smartness, can often fall prey to their own intelligence and not only rationalize behaviors that would be deemed unacceptable, but also convince themselves that what they do is in the name of some higher ultimate goal. In terms of responsibility, it is clear that the subject of killer doctors poses concerns about the impact people in authority could have in the legitimation of a murderous regime. Professionals have the ethical responsibility to stand up for what is right and cannot be exonerated from what they did under the cover of their professional standing.  

A third theme that examines a specific event of the past and could be seen to have representations in the modern world is witchcraft. Despite the recent fascination with witches and vampires, courtesy to the Harry Potter series and the ever multiplying vampire shows and series, the attitude toward creatures believed to have subhuman powers have not always been a positive one. Historian Lyndal Roper, for example, focuses on the representation of the old hag that taunts Europe and analyzes the idea that there is just something about old, ugly, childless women that terrifies Europeans and turns them into brainless robots who run around screaming and chasing demons. A perfect example of the irrational fear of the old hag could be observed in the Brothers Grimm classic Hansel and Gretel. An important lesson the witch craze teaches us is that no matter what the demon of the day is, someone is responsible for misfortunes and that someone must be punished so that humanity is saved. Even though the witch craze years are long gone, the aspects of the event can clearly be seen through the lenses of societal hysterias. The time period might differ and the expression of evil is definitely different, but the overall theme repeats itself. Mass fear envelopes a society and suddenly, the witnesses are many and they all have proof that some evil deed has been committed. An excellent example would be the wave of child abuse cases that took over the United States in the 80s. What such stories of social hysterias teach is the great importance that must be placed on assuming responsibility to determine facts and investigate the evidence before jumping to conclusions that snowball into mass accusations of innocent people. It is the duty of society to protect its members, but part of that protection includes avoiding impetuously accusing and charging to quench the thirst for retribution before the facts have been established.

A fourth practice that perfectly demonstrates how the more things change, the more they stay the same is a topic of specific interest to me: slavery. An examination of the history of human rights reveals that even while claiming equality for all, all great societies have in one way or another rationalized unequal treatment. Consequently, even those who strongly support the establishment and preservation of certain rights that all humans are entitled to will somehow find a sound reasoning that some populations are sub-human and as such, do not deserve to enjoy the luxury of those basic human rights. This rationalization has fostered the maintenance of slavery not only in the past but also in the contemporary modern world of supposed conveniences and freedom for all.

A popular theme in the physical sciences relates to the conservation law of energy and matter; according to that law, matter or energy never really disappear and instead, they simply shift from one form to another. The same idea could certainly be applied to the social sphere of human existence. Examining past events, it is hard not to point out the similarities with some of the serious issues we deal with in the present time. A look to the past, however, should not be done with the hope that we can learn from past mistakes and be better at predicting the future in order to finish with a different outcome. An examination of the past should actually be about learning the importance of responsibility and that every choice we make and every action we engage in has an impact on a personal, local, national, or global level. Hitler did not run on the platform of promising to kill millions of people; instead, he promised to clean up the nation, strengthen it, and return it to its proper moral condition. After all, the four themes discussed above clearly identify that people are not good at predicting future events and often, they refuse to believe that there is even a remote possibility that a certain event will happen. By the time they are proven wrong and learn their lesson, it is often too late. We can see the Holocaust as the Holocaust only after it had happened, not during the time it was happening. The burden is then to bear responsibility and acknowledge that sometimes what we choose or act on does not have a significant impact and sometimes, just sometimes, what we choose or act on can drastically change the lives of others in a very negative way.  
-       Krasi

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Happiness? I Deserve It!

To piggyback on Krasi's previous post: Everything is amazing and no  one is happy, I wanted to speak to what I think is one of the reasons why we're not happy: entitlement.

The hilarious video that Krasi posted of Louis C.K. has him saying at the end, " quickly the world owes him something he knew existed only 10 seconds ago..."

I see this sentiment everyday in marketing, with my friends, even in myself! How many of you have seen those silly AT&T commercials where everyone who doesn't have AT&T is made to look stupid because they don't have super fast service and so they're not updated to the nanosecond on happenings. I mean lets get real: if you really are like any of those people in the commercials, glued to your electronics to the point that knowing something seconds before others do is super important, I would say ya gots issues folks.

We have so many great things now but we take them for granted. I think America needs a reality check. If you agree with me, please go check this out: Global Rich List.

The minute we become entitled,  we stop working for it: whether it be cool duds, building relationships or happiness. We expect that those things will happen because, duh, why wouldn't they?

Life is work. Relationships are work. Happiness is work. This sense of entitlement we've come to have is, in my opinion, the reason we're unhappy.

So what's the solution? I'm certainly not endorsing going technology free. All I'm saying is lets be conscious: why do I need to buy this gadget? Why do I have to stand in line for this other one? Do I really need five different electronics to live my life?

I also think a hefty dose of humility is important and that comes from advocating to make people's lives better: whether overseas or in the United States.

What do you all think? Are we crazy entitled in the U.S. (or the West)? What do you do to stay grounded?

Monday, March 26, 2012


As if the classes on genocide and human trafficking were not enough of a depressing topic to me, I decided to enroll in a class on torture this upcoming quarter. And no, the purpose of the class is not to educate us on how best to convince a roommate to not leave dirty dishes in the sink for days or how efficiently to respond to a malevolent act from someone we have established as an enemy to our peaceful existence. Rather, the class presents a platform on which to discuss the use of torture as an interrogation technique and provide an answer to the question: Is torture ever a viable method to extract information

I could argue that torture, physical or psychological, is a subjective experience and what constitutes suffering for one person might not be the same for another person. This, however, is not the purpose of this post. Rather, I choose to focus on certain actions that for anyone, under any circumstances, will constitute torture and will incur painful experiences. Most of us go through our daily lives referring to everyday experiences as torturous and unbearable and often, we do not even stop to consider what the true meaning of torture is. Even though dealing with an employee at the Department of Motor Vehicles office might seem as an intolerable experience that if survived, increases our pain tolerance threshold, no one would hopefully truly argue that this constitutes torture. Yet, these are the kinds of experiences we refer to as torture on a regular basis. 

The repeated use of and application of the word torture to a variety of ordinary experiences and events seem to have made many inured to the concept and consequently, they have lost their ability to critically judge a certain practice and to file it under the characterization of torture. An example would be the infamous practice of waterboarding suspected criminals to pull out information pertaining to national security. Personally, the moment I hear a description of what this notorious torture method entails, I have no intention of trying it out to confirm that it is indeed torture. Some, however, are not that smart or are simply very stubborn because they continue to insist that waterboarding does not sound too bad and that people should stop protesting against it. Some of you might then ask why don’t they just try it and prove their point. Well, lucky for you, and me, there are such individuals and personally, I file them under the category of people who serve as a warning to us all. For further illumination on the above point, please watch the video below.

And while we are on the subject of torture, why not include a video that clearly identifies that common people like you and me are the ones who can hurt other human beings, no hardened and conscience-lacking criminals needed. 

 - Krasi

Saturday, March 24, 2012

"Everything is amazing and no one is happy"

As anyone who knows me would confirm, I am not a fan of new hi-tech gadgets and constantly refer to myself as technologically challenged. When I used to dog-sit for a professor, it took me numerous attempts and a final frantic call to a friend to learn how to use all three remotes to turn on the TV and watch movies. I mean, there were 800 channels available and I could not miss an opportunity to watch as many movies as I could while at the house, but to be successful at that, it took more effort than simply pushing the on button. In addition, I only recently bought a phone with free unlimited text-messaging (All those with iPads, iPhones, and other so-called smart items, do not judge!). Call me old-fashioned, but I believe that there is no way two people could have a normal and interesting conversation by exchanging text messages. Texting is certainly helpful for quick reminders and appointment set-up, but for anything more serious than that? Or do we no longer care about significant conversations and are satisfied with surface-level communication? 

An article in the New York Times discusses the effect of unlimited plans on the number of texts sent. The article reports that with the introduction of the unlimited plans, American teenagers sent and received an average of 2, 272 messages per month! The article then proceeds to list all the negative effects such behavior incurs. The issue is not just text messaging, however. In a technologically advanced world, it seems that people of all ages become so obsessed with modern gadgets that they forget they live in a world with real people who have real personalities and with whom one can have a real conversation. The focus of daily lives is now to keep track of new social networks so that one is constantly inundated with highly unimportant information, new phone applications, and new phones that now can do everything but bake bread for you.

Don’t get me wrong. Technology is great and having a super-smart, or even an average intelligence, cell phone certainly helps when stranded in an unfamiliar area for example. But I am afraid we have gone way too far to become so dependent on technology and demand it that it seems as if we cannot survive without it. This is one reason I refuse to buy a GPS to use while driving; I do not want to become so reliant on this gadget that I feel incapacitated without it. 

The dangers of becoming too involved with modern technology and allowing it to control our attitude and mood so that the quality of one’s life depends on the immediate gratification expected from modern conveniences is definitely not a laughing matter. However, one of the best analyses on the relationship between people and the modern technologically advanced and full of conveniences world that I have heard is presented by one of my favorite comedians - Louis C.K. The important warning here is that people not only take for granted the multitude of modern conveniences that allegedly make their lives more comfortable, but they also turn into completely useless organisms with no idea of how to react (other than to complain vigorously) when these modern conveniences are taken away. Just ask anyone from a developed nation who as a tourist visits a less developed country. What is even more frightening is the fact that the ‘conveniences’ people most often become enraged to lose are not even the ones that truly improve their lives. 

Watch the video and tell me Louis C.K. does not have a point…

-          Krasi

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

It’s Spring time!

One of the fondest memories I have of my childhood years in a small village in Bulgaria is the annual welcoming of spring on (or around) March 21. I enjoyed the event not only because it could potentially result in a day off from school (if the date happened on a week day), but also because it gave us kids the opportunity to spend time in nature playing games and laughing in the sun. The best aspect of the whole experience was the fact that the entire school, including the teachers, joined in on the celebration. What child would not enjoy such a fantastic opportunity to leave the classroom and spent time with friends playing in the open? It was a true expression of being happy and carefree and this is why I cherish the memory greatly. 

The problem, of course, is that I doubt such celebrations still take place in my native country. Playing out in the sun with nothing but sticks and dirt as resources fostered our creativity and imagination, but it seems to no longer be a valid way of entertainment as far as children are concerned. There are TVs, computer and video games, and a plethora of other activities to keep children inside so why would they want to be outside in the dirt? Further, I seriously suspect that if allowed to be outside in the open with nothing but themselves and their imagination, most modern kids would be completely bored not knowing what they could do to amuse themselves.  

A big target in the world of human rights violations is the abolition of child labour anywhere in the world. The ultimate goal is to let children be children and enjoy their childhood not having to work fourteen, sixteen, or more hours a day. That is a perfectly sound goal, but a definition of enjoying one’s childhood needs to be included. Does this involve having a TV, and a computer, and a myriad of other technological gadgets, the only purpose of which is to focus children’s attention and prevent them from being unruly and destructive?  Not in my opinion. If we want to let children be children, then we should allow them the opportunity to experience the world and not hide them from it inside, behind doors, and in front of some kind of screen. As an adult, I intend to do the same as much as I can!

And since it is officially spring time, what a better picture to acknowledge the event than that of a кокиче, or snowdrop, as I found the name of this flower to be in English? This flower signified the coming of spring when I was growing up and it only seems appropriate to include a picture in this post.

-          Krasi

Monday, March 19, 2012

Do we really help when we act on the impetus to help?

Following up on the previous post focused on the dangers of viewing human rights advocates as infallible and accepting their practices and approaches as applicable across contexts and always resulting in positive change, I decided to include a video here that the Introduction to Human Rights lab instructor presented to us in class this past quarter. I actually really enjoyed the video as well as the comments made by Slavoj Zizek and would recommend it to anyone interested in a different outlook toward the idea of helping others. 

 - Krasi

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Human Rights Advocate

With another quarter under my belt, I feel that I am a few steps closer to understanding the multitude of issues surrounding the human rights regime and its attempt to target violations around the world. A particular topic that caused controversy in one of my classes is the role of the human rights advocate and the potential for harm each advocate carry with him or her.
I believe that to think of the human rights movement as a panacea that in and of itself will resolve all the issues in the world causes more problems. Believing that it will work just as long as everyone accepts it promotes the misconception of homogeneity and aggravates the fight for human rights. As David Kennedy warns, responsibility should not be taken from the shoulders of activists and organizations that purport to promote and fight for human rights. The blame should not be on some evil people who refuse to accept the human rights regime. Refusing to acknowledge the potential issues with transferring the human rights regime and the extras it is accompanied by in new contexts harms not only the idea of human rights, but it also has negative effects on those the activists claim to assist. Advocates should be professionals but never at the level of complete arrogance and conviction that what the advocate knows will always, under any circumstances, work. Rather, the advocate needs to focus on a local issue and even though armed with universal ideas and tools, s/he must realize that those will work differently across different contexts.
Change comes and should come from within, not from the outside. Advocates should think globally with human rights as universal, but they should focus on acting locally. They should choose their battle and educate themselves on one particular area with human rights abuses, become immersed in the culture of that area, adapt to their way of life, understand truly where they come from and why they are in this condition. Most importantly, the advocate will be able to see the situation from these people’s point of view and determine, as one of them, what they need to improve their condition. An outsider will always be an outsider. The idea of outsiders as the ones who could help reinforces the establishment of certain groups labeled as victims, refugees, weak, abused, the powerless. These labels do not help with the distinction between those who need help and those who do not. Rather, they further exacerbate the problem by placing the so-called victims on a negative level and expecting them to elevate themselves to a positive one. After all, we cannot start with placing people as completely unable to defend themselves and then expect them to easily become fully independent, productive, and self-confident that they can provide for themselves and can fight for their own freedom.
Ultimately, human rights advocates are not superheroes with super powers and the ability to always bring about positive change. Rather, they are human beings with their own biases, beliefs, and downsides that if unaccounted for, could lead to more problems instead of solutions. Personally, I believe in everyday human beings as heroes who fight the injustices in the world. These are the true heroes, but they are heroes not because they have good intentions and always bring about positive outcomes, but because they acknowledge their humanity, and thus vulnerability and faultiness, and are prepared to face failures and learn from them.

On that note, I just recently saw a movie with a song in its soundtrack that truly made an impression on me. I, of course, could not help but post it here.

-      Krasi

Thursday, March 8, 2012

International Women's Day

Happy International Women's Day to all the ladies out there! Even though we know we need to be celebrated, and celebrate each other, every day, we can sure take a holiday:)

Let's remind ourselves that we don't just have to be pretty and nice (personally, I can't help but be both of those:):), but we can be strong, independent, creative, intelligent, and with a character. And just to prove that, here is one my favorite climbing videos. Enjoy!