Monday, June 04, 2012

Arrogant philosophy is foolish philosophy

Justin E. H. Smith yesterday advanced a thoroughly interesting argument about what he calls philosophy’s western bias. I agree with an alternative approach to the history of philosophy he briefly outlines, where Western and non-Western philosophies are "the regional inflections of a global phenomenon".

Smith draws upon G. W. Leibniz to argue philosophical dominance piggy-backs commercial dominance. Let me make a related point: it's not difficult to find practical examples of the link between commercial innovation and philosophical thought. For instance the idea of time the Buddha proposed when developed the idea of "dependent arising" is absolutely fascinating, partly because it is so different from the concept of past, present and future we all take for granted. The Buddha's 2,500 year old idea about time and reality is very much relevant today because the developers of contemporary video compression codecs utilize techniques like interframe compression that have far more in common with dependent arising than they do with discrete moments of time.

Statue of the Buddha in Tajikistan
Statue of the Buddha in Tajikistan

Because Western philosophers care so little for South Asian philosophical concepts, unsurprisingly I had to learn about the Buddha's concept of dependent arising from a Sri Lankan philosopher, David Kalupahana.

When Western philosopher ignore or marginalize other philosophical traditions through the mechanisms Smith outlines, it is to our intellectual, cultural and yes commercial impoverishment.

Arrogant philosophy is foolish philosophy.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Rabbi Froman's daughter's wedding

In the second half of 2005 I was doing an internship in Jerusalem as part of my MA in Peace Studies from the Kroc Institute at the University of Notre Dame. It was a fantastic experience and I highly recommend the Kroc program to prospective students. In November of that year I was most fortunate to be invited by Eliyahu McLean to a wedding being held in an Israeli settlement deep in the West Bank in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. One of Rabbi Froman's ten children was being married — one of his daughters.

The bride dances
The bride dances

The wedding turned out to be a magical evening, and not only because it was my first time to attend a Jewish wedding. It was an evening to never forget because the Palestinian religious peacemaker Hajj Ibrahim also came to the wedding — he was delayed and arrived late, but made a grand entrance. Luckily I was able to document some of the evening's events with my camera.

Hajj Ibrahim dances with Rabbi Froman
Hajj Ibrahim dances with Rabbi Froman

Earlier that year I'd started to learn the craft of photography. There was a lot to learn! Some aspects have taken me several years to master. I've also had access to better equipment and software than when I started. In the past several weeks I've reprocessed the photos I originally took, improving their look. The first thing to get right was the white balance, and then the color and noise control. The conditions were difficult photographically — like almost all wedding halls, it was dimly lit. I made the choice to make the photos bright and colorful, reflecting how the event felt emotionally.

You can see the photos and the original writeup I penned at the time at a gallery on PBase.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Brief review of the film "A Separation"

A Separation (Persian: Jodaeiye Nader az Simin), directed and written by Asghar Farhadi (2011).

The acting is remarkable and the development of the story is top-notch. But this is not what made me fall for this film. More than any film I can recall, it prompted me to reflect on the ups and downs of life-changing relationships — mine and others. We all make mistakes, and in this film we are brought empathetically but forcefully into a tumultuous period of the characters' lives in which they can't help but make their fair share. In this sense the film is more true-to-life than any other I've seen. We see the characters' decisions and actions, and sometimes it's far from clear whether they derive from a motivation to do what they truly aspire to, or if they are just trying to survive under difficult circumstances. We cannot help but watch compassionately, especially because the film wisely and resolutely refuses to allow us to be swept along by stereotypes, sentimentality or rigid distinctions between good and bad. Instead we come to understand the characters even though we don't understand all that they do. Some of my friends say the film is sad or even depressing, but I disagree. I find it uplifting — I am encouraged by the character's struggle for dignity, and humbled by the double-edged nature of their pride. This is film-making and story-telling of the highest standard.

Tehran street scene (this is not from the film)
Tehran street scene (this is not from the film)