Which are our Western Values?

Rob wrote an interesting post, Support Shiv Malik’s book, regarding various things among which a speech Tony Blair delivered to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council in August 1, 2006. As Rob writes, Tony Blair “called for a complete renaissance on foreign policy to combat reactionary Islam:”

“Whatever the outward manifestation at any one time – argued Blair, then Prime Minister – it is a global fight about global values; it is about modernization, within Islam and outside of it; it is about whether our value system can be shown to be sufficiently robust, true, principled and appealing that it beats theirs. Islamist extremism’s whole strategy is based on a presumed sense of grievance that can motivate people to divide against each other. Our answer has to be a set of values strong enough to unite people with each other.
This is not just about security or military tactics.
It is about hearts and minds about inspiring people, persuading them, showing them what our values at their best stand for.” [italics by Rob]

This is my comment:

“A very good post, Rob. I will only comment on one aspect where we probably are of different opinion.”

“This complete “renaissance” on foreign policy to combat Islam fanatics, seen as a global fight about global values … mmmm, nice talk indeed. Tony Blair is a valuable man in many respects and he is not deprived of some greatness. I admired him for example in his last day as a prime Minister, where he showed dignity and courage.”

“But let us face it: how can Mr. Blair think he/we/the West can win this battle for values? Which were the values that provoked the Iraqi war? Finding (non existent) mass destruction weapons? Exporting democracy? Everybody now has a clearer idea why that war was started: for power in the region and for oil. Ok, that is realpolitik. Every power plays its game in the world chessboard. None the less, I am asking myself, are we especially entitled or do we have any special chances to win such a battle on global values? Isn’t there instead a lack of values in the West? Isn’t Blair’s talk you quote hypocritical to a large extent?”

“This war has provoked the death of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians (the number of US casualties being in comparison irrelevant). The Italian Berlusconi government joined the so to say happy bunch, my only consolation being that the VAST majority of Italians were totally against that war.

Best regards,

Man of Roma

“PS
Not that I think the Islamic fanatics have better values. But are we sure our set of values is really much more “robust, true, principled and appealing” that it is so clear that it can beat theirs?”

Pain in the Heart

Near Sorrento

Among my international students (systems engineering courses) the most interesting to me are the Indians, the Chinese and the Muslims. I find they are profound, less globalized (the term here being used in the negative sense) and extremely intelligent. Ok, they are also more exotic to me, but this is not the only reason.

One evening, in a small sweet town of Southern Italy where life is relaxing and food so exquisite, I was having dinner under the pergola of a nice restaurant overlooking the sea together with a group of 4 Muslim students in their thirties (image above: source), all of them affectionate and long-term pupils of mine. One is from Lebanon, quick-glancing eyes, restless, a real Phoenician; one from Afghanistan, elegant and supple, coming from a rich family of land-owners; one from Bosnia, acute light-blue eyes & acute mind; one finally from the Ivory Coast, a sweet good-natured black giant I called my body guard and who spoke very good French.

At the end of this pleasant dinner after a lot of laughing and pleasant chatting (and where unfortunately no wine was tasted) I touched upon the subject of the victim complex many Muslims (in my view) have and of the necessity of rolling up one’s sleeves to really solve problems (this playing-the-victim and always-blaming-the-others type of behaviour, I told them, was also typical of many Italians from Southern Italy, who keep blaming Northern Italy for many of their woes).

They didn’t overreact, but I clearly felt they took it badly. Sympathy among us was not broken, no, but I felt some further explanation was necessary. Unfortunately being already very late we had to separate, and since it was the evening before the last day of course, we didn’t have the opportunity to approach the subject again.

It is a pain I keep in my heart.

Obsessive Engines. How Manias Help Us Shape Our Own Worldviews

Constantine's Roman Basilica in Trier, Germany
The huge Constantine’s Roman Basilica in Trier, Germany, used today as a Protestant church (courtesy of Dulcevisa). Click for source

Spontaneous philosophy

We have said in a previous post that all men are philosophers since everyone in the course of his/her life keeps building a constantly evolving grid of interrelated concepts that shape his/her unique conception of the world.

Therefore ‘philosophy’ is not such a weird thing that pertains only to a specialized category of professionals. It is on the contrary a natural feature of our species, exactly like talking or walking on two legs.

Inner motives help

There is another element I want to point out (since we mentioned it just briefly in the past.)

These concepts and their linking seem (at least to me) related to inner motives each of us keeps inside, unconsciously or not.

Such motives, often of biographical origin, are like filters that highly influence the way we see the world.

Everyone has his/her unique way of going through this thing, the uneducated and the educated alike, the unintellectual and the great pros of thought (traditional philosophers and scientist philosophers.)

ψ

Ancient-Rome fiends, for example, may filter out things accordingly. They can look at a Renaissance façade and notice only the Roman elements that were reinvented by Renaissance architects, the semi-circular (or triangular) arches of the windows, for instance, which they can mentally link to Rome’s Pantheon niches which probably hosted the statues of Caesar, Augustus and Agrippa.

I being one of those maniacs, when within the walls of a Roman Basilica I am seldom hit by religious feelings and am rather inclined to imagine business people and magistrates doing their jobs in ancient Rome. What I tend to see is in fact the public building the Romans utilized for business, markets and legal matters, and not the place of Christian religious cult Basilicas were converted into (when they were not created from scratch for this purpose by the followers of the new religion.)

[See above the huge Constantine’s Roman Basilica in German Trier, used today as a Protestant church (courtesy of Dulcevisa)]

Obsessions, themes, leitmotivs

What I mean is that we all have our obsessions, themes, leitmotivs. They not only greatly influence our view of things, on my opinion, but also tend to provide our ideas with some kind of order, thus helping us to become little or great philosophers.

Well, let’s face it, these manias may energize our ideas though this doesn’t automatically translates into real philosophical consistency, something one can reach only through toil (which is the work of the pro.)

These themes are evident in people we know well – close friends, family members, colleagues. We are aware of their fixations, which sometimes bore us to tears. It can be a father (or mother) figure obsession, a pervading mental escapism that comes out in many comments or behaviours, it can be anything.

Such leitmotivs are also present in the works of writers, musicians, scientists etc., although they are more complex to detect and it is the big part of a critic’s job to probe their works in search of elements which make the stylistic imprint of an author.

Had Rachmaninoff
a crush on a Muslim girl?

Just as an example, one reason why a melody by Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff is recognized as his and only his is this bizarre Arabic-scale leaning he had and that may related to some profound experience in his life.

It’s because he had Tartar ancestors? Was he desperately in love with a Muslim girl? I have to check – it might be for both reasons. I read somewhere he was in love with a Muslim girl and that he lost her for some reason. I may be wrong (plus I may sound mushy) but I couldn’t check this information in the books I have or in the Internet.

ψ

Let us in any case listen to one of Rachmaninoff’s orientalizing melodies from Piano Concerto N. 2, III, Allegro scherzando.

Capitoline She-Wolf. Rome, Musei Capitolini. Public domain

Related posts:

Sex and the Search for a Method

Books, Multimedia, E-learning
(though outdated in some parts it is much to the point)

Locking Horns with a Young Roman

More recent:

Devouring Passions

Random Meme

Poonam tagged me for this meme. It is the first time I accept a meme so here we go.

1. Last movie you saw in a theater?
La Zona, by the Mexican director Rodrigo Plá. Saw it last night. Worthwhile.

2. What book are you reading?
Montaigne‘s essays, which I usually read when I need consolation, this not being a good signal though lol.

3. Favorite board game?
It used to be Chess. My father taught me (and always beat me). But it was a long time ago.

4. Favorite magazine?
Mmm… difficult question, being not crazy about magazines. I mainly read on-line stuff like The Economist, Nature, Der Spiegel or, when I want to have fun, Stern, the last two being part of my never ending (and never succeeding) effort to conquer German.

5. Favorite smells?
Hard to say, not very good at smells. Out of context, I can say I only wish I could remember this deodorant I used in the States since everybody there who was close to me enough exclaimed: “Oh wow, a real Italian perfume!” How silly of me to remember it.

6. Favorite sounds?
Sea waves, wind on trees, birds in early morning (even if recently some sea-gulls are shrieking too much). And of course guitar & piano sounds (being though very picky about them).

7. Worst feeling in the world?
When I am attacked by sloth, which fortunately doesn’t hit me often.

8. What is the first thing you think of when you wake up?
Coffee! Coffee!

9. Favorite fast food place?
A little take-away pizzeria close to the Colosseum called Il Gladiatorino. I generally hate fast food, and much prefer slow food. Only when I get lost somewhere, have little money and am close to a McDonald’s, I enter it, reluctantly.

10. Future child’s name?
No child foreseen in the future.

11. Finish this statement. “If I had lot of money I’d….?
… spend my time travelling all over the world.

12. Do you sleep with a stuffed animal?
No, never did lol.

13. Storms – cool or scary?
Cool. My computer wall paper has a wide corn field with green grass in the distance and an angry stormy sky on top. We don’t have so many storms in Rome, so I imagine they are exotic to me.

14. Favorite drink?
Hot chocolate with foam that can keep your spoon standing still.

15. Finish this statement, “If I had the time I would….”?
… totally dedicate myself to writing, reading, music, travelling.

16. Do you eat the stems on broccoli?
Not crazy about Broccoli.

17. If you could dye your hair any color, what would be your choice?
I cannot think of it. I would never dye my hair.

18. Name all the different cities/towns you’ve lived in?
Let me copy Poonam’s answer: “I would not prefer to write my living history here.”

19. Favorite sports to watch?
I guess soccer is kind of one.

20. One nice thing about the person who sent this to you?
Poonam, such a nice Indian girl, with a depth of her own and charm also from being a bit closed-up. I really wish her all the best.

21. What’s under your bed?
A huge box containing all sorts of pastas. I call it my little treasure but it is also a constant reminder of my cooking hopelessness.

22. Would you like to be born as yourself again?
Let me copy Poonam again: “Yes. Only next time I would not repeat mistakes made in this lifetime. :).”

23. Morning person, or night owl?
Morning person.

24. Over easy, or sunny side up?
Do not quite understand, but I usually prefer sunny things.

25. Favorite place to relax?
In the sun, wherever I am, though possibly close to the sea. Alternatively, in front of my library.

26. Favorite pie?
Käse Kuchen, a German cake with cheese and lemon. Awesome. Like most things German.

27. Favorite ice cream flavor?
Chocolate, pistachio, zabaglione, hazelnut cream.

28. Of all the people you tagged this to, who’s most likely to respond first?
No idea, really.

I tag Ish, AutumnSnow, Andy, Alex, Maryann, Arimondi, Rob and Falcon to do this meme.

On Health and Serenity of Soul

So-called Seneca. Ancient Roman bronze now at the National Archaeological Museum of Naples, Italy. Self-made by Massimo Finizio.
A so-called Seneca. Ancient Roman bronze kept at the National Archaeological Museum of Naples. Click to enlarge and for credits

In Living to our Fullest Potential we wrote about Dario Bernazza‘s list of the 30 major issues we must necessarily solve in the best possible way in order to diminish life sufferings and live a fruitful life. After no. 1 in his list (Defining a purpose in life) we will here consider no. 2 and no. 3, namely:

2. Keeping ourselves in good health
3. Serenity of soul

Good health

According to Bernazza (I am summarizing freely) health is more precious than wealth or power. It is a prerequisite for a fruitful and happy life. “It is the condition without which the edifice of happiness cannot be built or, if it is already in place, its falling apart cannot be avoided”. Better to be an unknown man who is in good health, than being a successful man who is sick. Good health is a way of delaying old age and fighting back death.

We should abstain ourselves from intemperance and dissolute living, because the pleasure of wellbeing is by far greater than that of revels of any kind that will later make us sick and will endanger our health. Bernazza condones a few exceptions – as, it is my thought, our civilization always did: from Roman Saturnalia to modern Carnivals.

So here we can quote, since Bernazza doesn’t, the Roman poet Horace who teaches to “mingle a little folly with your wisdom: a little nonsense now and then is pleasant.”

Misce stultitiam consiliis brevem:
Dulce est desipere in loco.

(Horace: 4 Odes, xii. 28.)

(Don’t know who translated Horace’s verses into English. Now and then makes good rhythm and is fine to me as a concept, but a better translation of in loco should be “at a proper time”.)

As a conclusion, a minimum advice from Bernazza on how to keep our good health: a walk at a good pace of 2-3 km every day in a park or green area.

Serenity of soul

Attaining serenity of soul is an effective weapon against life liabilities, namely all the sufferings that life inflicts upon us without mercy. But how can we attain it?

We first have to better understand life sufferings.

Physical sufferings can be diminished by taking care of our health, as we said before – argues Country Philosopher (this is how we like to call Dario Bernazza.)
As for psychical sufferings, some originate from the consequences of our bad choices, others from events we do not have control over, like the death of someone we love or people’s wicked actions.

As regards both types of suffering, to learn how to control nervous over excitability can be of great benefit, argues CP, and especially over excitability negative side, which is anger (the positive side of overexcitability being joy.) The less we get angry – and generally overemotional, in a negative sense -, the less we suffer. The more we get angry – and overemotional -, the more we suffer.

Well, is it possible to always avoid anger and nervous overexcitement?

Only the strictest stoics and the strictest oriental religious gurus deem it possible – argues CP. But that would mean to have the psyche of a corpse, which is not possible, unless we really are a corpse. What we can do is limiting our nervous overexcitement to such an extent that real negative overexcitement is not possible any more. “This means reaching a status of psychic calmness more or less unalterable, thence a substantial serenity of soul.”

It is an immense, invaluable benefit, it is clear – argues CP – because in this way we can highly diminish psychic sufferings which are the sufferings that mostly plague our life.

But how can we possibly attain this?

Exercise creates a habit

“Socrates – argues Bernazza – teaches us how: through exercise, since exercise creates a habit, any habit. And how long must this exercise last? Until the day we really get into the habit of not getting angry and overemotional any more. It is a long exercise and not an easy one and it cannot but last a few years.”

But, even if we fail and get now and then overemotional let us remember to never give up, this being highly important, since perseverance will certainly allow us to attain our positive result – there is no doubt about it, there is really no doubt (I told you CP keeps repeating this phrase.)

Note. As regards anger, Bernazza follows the tradition of the Greek and Roman philosophers who generally were in favour of self control and were hostile to anger. To Seneca and Galen uncontrolled anger was similar to madness. Anger to Seneca was useless, even in war. He praised the disciplined Roman armies who were capable of beating the Germans who were instead famous for their fury.

Ψ

PS
Following is a list of our writings on Dario Bernazza:

Country Philosopher
Ethical Confusion & Ancient Teachings
Assets and Liabilities in Life
Living to Our Fullest Potential
Health and Serenity of Soul
From Friendship to Asking Mamma when Looking for “Mr Right

And here a post on anger (a bit on the ‘wild soliloquy’ side, I’ll admit):
Force & Anger. Ghosts in the Mind