Thursday, June 28, 2012

Dalai Lama: Half Marxist, Half Buddhist

It's no secret that the real threat to the Chinese Communist Party doesn't come from capitalism, but Marxism. U.S. corporations like Cisco have been helping the Chinese government build and maintain its ruthless surveillance state, while Apple pays off officials in order to rake in profits by violating basic labour standards. One of the main pillars of the Chinese system is American capital.

The Marxists are the dissidents, the real party poopers. They remind everyone of the class struggle, of social justice and equality, all things that have become incompatible with China's feverish embrace of globalization. A recent article in Tricycle, "Occupy Buddhism, or Why the Dalai Lama is a Marxist," explains why this dissident's claim to be "half-Marxist, half-Buddhist" makes perfect sense. For one thing, both share a fundamental belief in dialectical materialism.

(Tibet - Drepung Monastery, by Yewco)
The Dalai Lama has acknowledged his Marxist affinities for a long time, admitting that its central appeal lies in its emphasis on equality and fairness:
"Of all the modern economic theories, the economic system of Marxism is founded on moral principles, while capitalism is concerned with only with gain and profitability. Marxism is concerned with the distribution of wealth on an equal basis and the equitable utilization of the means of production.

It is also concerned with the fate of the working classes—that is the majority—as well as with the fate of those who are underprivileged and in need, and Marxism cares about the victims of minority-imposed exploitation. For those reasons the system appeals to me, and it seems fair...

The failure of the regime in the Soviet Union was, for me not the failure of Marxism but the failure of totalitarianism. For this reason I think of myself as half-Marxist, half-Buddhist."

So if a synthesis between Buddha and Marx is possible, maybe it's not easier to imagine the end of all life on earth than to imagine a radical change in capitalism. As Marx and Engels wrote in German Ideology:
"Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things."
Today, a Buddhist-Marxist alliance isn't needed to achieve this - Wall Street is enough.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Moonrise Kingdom: Le Temps De L'Amour

"C'est le temps de l'amour,
Le temps des copains et de l'aventure" ~ Françoise Hardy
Wes Anderson has always elevated awkward and geek over certainty and cool. In his best films like Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums, he's defended the bullied kids on the playground by celebrating the quirks that inspired the animus of the insecure creeps in the first place. As Anderson's films show, the real losers are the bullies, not the bullied.

His new film, Moonrise Kingdom, continues to champion the geek cause and is best when its focus stays on the relationship between awkward tweens, Suzy and Sam. Both Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward are perfect in their roles as sweet, misunderstood castaways in search of some love and kindness. One of the film's best scenes involves the two dancing to Françoise Hardy's "Le Temps de l'Amour" on the beach in their underwear. It's a giddy expression of the love they've recently discovered in one another.

It's when Anderson tries too hard to inject a backstory involving abuse and neglect that Moonrise Kingdom sinks. Twee doesn't accommodate angst very well. The attempt at heavy drama is trivialized and ends up weighing down the film's buoyant narrative arc. We don't need any "Troubled Child" pamphlets or cheap flashbacks to a hellish orphanage to care about these kids. It's as though Anderson loses faith in his own characters and tries to explain them rather than allow their glorious imperfections to shine through of their own accord.

It's never a good sign when aesthetics overtake substance. Anderson's notorious fixation on colour schemes and mise en scène particulars soon become all too apparent and Moonrise Kingdom's story gets washed away in mustard and olive references. And apart from the aforementioned "Le Temps de l'Amour," even his usually inspired soundtrack choices seem out of place: Hank Williams Sr. and the boy scouts just don't mix. So see Moonrise Kingdom not for any heavy drama, but for the sweetness of witnessing a budding pubescent romance and for the hilarity of watching Bruce Willis keep a straight face in a pair of floods.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Silk Anniversary: 12 Years!

As old cranky pants Friedrich Nietzsche once put it, it's not a lack of love that spoils a marriage, but lack of friendship. I've been married to my best friend for 12 years, been together for longer, and now we're closing in on our first uninterrupted year in Canada. She's the best luck I've ever had.

Apparently, silk is the symbol for a 12th anniversary. It's a natural fiber, woven from the elements by creatures both great and small. An intense and at times trying process, the end result is the creation of a tapestry that can reveal the story of its own making. That's what I'm celebrating this week; a story woven from the elements with the one I love.

Song: "Say Hey (I Love You)" by Michael Franti

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Aung San Suu Kyi: A Prisoner No More

"The Nobel Peace Prize opened up a door in my heart." ~ Aung San Suu Kyi
Sometimes the arc of the moral universe, as MLK once said, seems to bend toward justice. Today, Aung San Suu Kyi received her Nobel Peace Prize twenty-one years after she'd won it. It's good for the soul and the future to pause and relish a victory of this magnitude. But as Suu Kyi cautioned, now isn't the time for "reckless optimism."

Yuko and I visited Burma in 2008, a year after the anti-government "saffron revolution" brought thousands of people into the streets. We traveled to Inle, Mandalay, Bagan and Rangoon. Despite the danger, everyone who spoke to us expressed unconditional support for Suu Kyi. She carries with her the aspirations of her people.

(Kids smothered with thanaka cream playing hide and seek @ Inle, via Yewco)
Suu Kyi was living under house arrest for 15 of the past 21 years until she was finally released in November 2010. Her crime? Defeating the junta in the 1990 elections. Her Nobel speech, delivered in Oslo, Norway, is a moving testament to the essential goodness of humanity despite the brute injustice she and Burma have lived through:
"Before continuing to speak of my country, may I speak out for our prisoners of conscience. There still remain such prisoners in Burma. It is to be feared that because the best known detainees have been released, the remainder, the unknown ones, will be forgotten. I am standing here because I was once a prisoner of conscience. As you look at me and listen to me, please remember the often repeated truth that one prisoner of conscience is one too many. Those who have not yet been freed, those who have not yet been given access to the benefits of justice in my country number much more than one. Please remember them and do whatever is possible to effect their earliest, unconditional release."

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Sweden: A Lion's Roar

"Stockholm's cold but I've been told
I was born to endure this kind of weather" ~ "Emmylou"
Sweden is my new favourite country. This bucolic Scandinavian land of smörgåsbords and Muppet chefs probably first entered my consciousness in a big way back when Börje Salming was manning the blue line for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Or maybe it was when I first figured out "Fernando" wasn't about a Spanish tango but Emiliano Zapata...

Along with ABBA and the immortal Roxette, Sweden has bequeathed to the world some of best music of recent years: Refused, Tallest Man On Earth, Robyn, Jens Lekman...

Refused - "Rather Be Dead"

Jens Lekman - "Waiting For Kirsten"

The Tallest Man On Earth - "King Of Spain"

Robyn - "Call Your Girlfriend"

But it's First Aid Kit, a duo consisting of sisters Johanna and Klara Soderberg, that have captured the moment. Their latest album, The Lion's Roar, is a pure gem shimmering with lush harmonies and folk melodies....

First Aid Kit - "The Lion's Roar"

First Aid Kit - "Emmylou"

Yuko and I caught their set at Coachella this year and despite some technical glitches, they easily charmed the crowd. First Aid Kit gained prominence about four years ago with their cover of the Fleet Foxes' "Tiger Mountain Peasant Song." I thought they were great, but a fluke. Little did I know...

First Aid Kit - "Tiger Mountain Peasant Song"

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Challenging Aesthetics: Kant Vs. Rancière

I've been subjecting myself to Kant’s Critique of Judgment recently as a primer to engage Jacques Rancière and formulate some hard thoughts on aesthetics. It's not difficult to understand why Kant has animated so many thinkers over the past few centuries and why his legacy is so fraught with contradictions. Was he the rational humanist, Buddha's detached disciple hiding under a powdered wig? Or was he the sinister elitist who laid the groundwork for the universalizing project that ultimately led to the gas chambers? Much of the confusion is a result of what little he had to say about one of Rancière's main concerns: the limits of universality.

Kant's sensus communis is the idea that everyone has access to the same perception of common sense. This essentially rests on the assumption that all of us are hardwired in the same way to determine how an object will be perceived, rather than the object dictating the terms. We're in control. The subject not only transcends the demands of an object, he/she also transcends context or culture, or what Kant called space and time. If everyone has the same basic sensory apparatus then it's possible to define proper standards of perception. If an individual’s sense falls outside the common standard, then the person is at fault, not the system.


Rancière’s distribution of the sensible relies on particular social factors related to the subject’s position such as gender, class or race, which can limit or influence his/her participation in the sensible. The distribution assumes a partition or unequal access to the object of perception, which may limit or enhance a subject’s ability to engage with it.

Not surprisingly, these two approaches are at odds with each another. Kant implicitly emphasizes the subject’s power to overcome the limitations that Rancière explicitly describes. Where Kant assumes the subject can transcend context, Rancière suggests it's impossible. How I intend to synthesize these two diametrically opposed positions remains to be seen...

Sunday, June 03, 2012

From The Shadows: Ghosts Of Tiananmen

(Via CDT)
Any country with as long a history as China has to contend with an equally long memory. The Communist Party has tried to circumscribe it by outlawing any discussion on the Tiananmen Square massacre that took place 23 years ago today. But language, like thought, is an impossible captive. The ghosts of the massacre haunt the Chinese and every year some new revelation emerges from the shadows. Chen Xitong, the mayor of Beijing at the time, has just renounced the official version of events, telling a Hong Kong publisher that the bloodshed at Tiananmen Square was “actually a tragedy that could have been avoided and should have been avoided...Nobody should have died if it had been handled properly."

(Former Beijing mayor, Chen Xitong, with Hong Kong publisher, Yao Jianfu via WaPo)
The book, titled Conversation With Chen Xitong, went on sale this past Friday in Hong Kong despite threats from mainland authorities to halt its release. Hong Kong, a special administrative region, is ruled under a "one country, two systems policy," and remains the only enclave of free speech in China. Every year since the 1989 massacre, Hong Kong has hosted a candlelight vigil in Victoria Park. Last year, over 100,000 people attended.

(2009 Candlelight Vigil, Hong Kong, Via Yewco)