Monthly Archives: April 2006

102 People… Oh, and One Whale

The recent main news in Japan was that of a high-speed ferry accident in which 102 people were injured. It was likely that the ferry, named Toppy, had struck a whale in an Kagoshima inlet (southern most part of the four main islands of Japan).

While I feel truly sorry about the injuries I feel more sorry for one particular victim – the whale. It is typical of the human-centred thinking of our society not to think of the pain inflicted on this whale. Take this quote from the Daily Yomiuri:

Koichi Akase, the ferry’s captain, who was hospitalized, told JCG [Japan Coast Guard] officials that the vessel probably was hit by a whale or some other marine animal.

According to a spokesman at Kagoshima Shosen, which operates the ferry, Toppy was cruising near its maximum speed of 80 kph at the time of the accident.

So who struck who? I seriously doubt the whale was going faster than 80 kph (50 mph).

This could simply be bad reporting or it could be something akin to a Freudian slip on the captain’s part. In an anthropocentric world the lives of other animals are not even seen as valuable as our own. Where we draw the line for consideration is ultimately a choice. That it has now become instilled in all of us to be cold-hearted lifeforms is truly sad. While I doubt the whales care for us, that is not an excuse. For humankind and whales are different creatures with a different capacity for compassion. Humankind definitely can act out of compassion. But equally we can act out of cruelty. And so often we have chosen the latter. It is what it means to be human today – to be cruel and uncaring.

I feel all people have a capacity to be good, but whether they choose to be good within a lifetime is something only each individual can prove by their actions.

Glaciers heading for a quick melt

The facts about glaciers are these:1) since 1850 we have lost 50 percent of our glaciers to warmer climate, 2) from 1850–1970 we have lost an average of 2.9 percent per decade, 3) from 1970-2000 we have lost an average of 8.2 percent per decade.

The predictions is that before the end of this century global temperatures will rise by 3 degrees. This translates into a 75% glacial area loss, the glacial line will be 340m higher than what it is now and precipitation will rise by 10% in summers.

Those hit hardest will be those who rely on the glaciers for drinking water and agriculture. And the water from glaciers will be released quickly early in spring when it is needed most for irrigation.

The need for drinking water and irrigation I can understand. Hydro-power too. But tourism I cannot. In today’s world there is an unhealthy and heavy reliance on the economy. This is something I feel that businesses and politicians want you to have in order to maintain a artificial and human system all the while ignoring larger factors which contribute to its sustainability.

The progress-driven philosophy of humankind simply cannot be kept up indefinitely. But I am not against our way of life, rather, if logic dictates, that if we continue to heat the room we call Earth temperatures will rise to uncomfortable levels.

I remember someone once telling me about how each person generates 200 watts of heat. Simple math will tell us that 6 billion people together generate 1.2 trillion watts of heat. So by being alive we are heating the planet. And just how much electricity is needed to run all those air-conditioners to cool us down, that is, if we each person utilizes air-conditioners. Which means we are generating the heat not once but twice just to keep us cool (inside our houses and workplace) but not the rest of the planet.

Our lifestyles need to change in order to survive. We have adapted the planet to our needs but that is coming at a cost. Maybe it is time for us to adapt to the planet like we used to. Wouldn’t that be a novel idea.

What is theory?

This is the first in a series of main articles relating to theory. A new article on either sustainability, the buddha or theory will be posted fortnightly.

Theory (or postmodern theory) will only make sense when we look at the definitions of Modernity, Modernism and Postmodernism because theory can be said to be interchangeable with the term “postmodernism”.

Modernity (or the Modern) is the development of Western history of, say, the last five centuries. Characterized by the rise of capitalism, science and technology, and rational thought, it challenged traditional authority, that of the Christian Church and legitimacy of political power. It can be seen as the beginning of liberalism. But from it also came even more brutal forms of power, like the absolutism of Louis XIV, XV and XVI. And countries such as England and the Netherlands saw political instability but saw the gains through capitalism and Imperial expansionism. And during the Enlightenment the very notion of “Modernity” becomes self-aware, defining itself against previous traditional ways of lifes, Christian dogma and superstition. So by the 19 century transformation and upheaval was seen as the rule.

Modernity can be seen as beignning of the ideas of progress and evolution, and of ideas as different as capitalism and communism. And even today the technological progress is still a place of much of our misplaced hopes. Modernity is now no longer something we celebrate but rather it is something to which we feel we are comdemned.

Modernism – which moved on from the novelty, the “scandal and challenge”, of Modernity – is a constellation of intellectual and artistic Western ideals from the mid-nineteenth century. And it is a late development of Modernity. Modernism is an awareness of Modernity’s conflict and upheaval. But it also thoroughly believed, perhaps more than Modernity, in progress and evolution. And it had hoped to solve problems brought about by Modernity with more radical and absolute forms of Modernity, creating even more absolute answers. An example of Modernism in politics is Marxism. And Expression, Symbolism, Cubism, Futurism and Art Nouveau are further examples of Modernist art movements.

Postmodernism can be defined as the dismantling of the ideas and beliefs of Modernism, and does not replace the latter. Postmodernism maintains a relationship with and relativism to Modernism. It returns with rigour to older ideals but in renewed fashion. In art and literature figure painting and realism respectively becomes important once again. Irony and pastiche – rather than metaphysics and parody – become the main vehicles for expression. And with its borrowing of styles it becomes clear that Postmodernism is both anti-authoritarian and anti-foundational in outlook.

Examples of Postmodernism are Deconstruction, Psychoanalytic Criticism, New Historicism, Cultural Materialism, Feminist Criticism, Queer Theory, Poststructualism, Neo-Marxist Criticism, Post-colonial Theory, Reader Response Theory, Postmodernism (as a self-aware position), New Pragmatism, etc. Names associated with Postmodernism are Derrida, Foucault, Barthes, Kristeva, Said, Lyotard, Baudrillard, Fredric Jameson, Raymond Williams, Deleuze, Lacan, etc.