Monthly Archives: February 2007

Mind your language – Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness

You are what you speak.

We have come to understand in our postmodern age very well that words can betray your ideology. For example, Hegelian view on history on as a series of thesis, antithesis and synthesis reveals a preference to the idea of progress as something unidirectional and upward, when it is that goes both ways and possibly more. The very word ‘progress’ shows this. Or the Structuralists’s liking for concrete descriptions and fixity. Roland Barthes try as he may to go beyond the the restrictions of talking about things in terms of codes only gets stuck in the terminology which lack freedom.

This understanding is nothing new, of course. We have stuggled with this problem, seen through it, and returned to blindness by forgetfulness by being swept up in the heat of the moment. Our attention had been distracted for one moment and we have lost sight of the task at hand.

The rigor with which Derrida took to task was a guiding example of how language refuses to stop to deceive us. And his passing is also an example how we revert back to the norm all because of the nature of language – that things do not last forever. It hides its very nature like an entity which cannot perceive itself from where it stands. We must simply speak outside of language.

And in the same way the Buddha showed us that we must be mindful of what we do and what we say at all times simply because we are prone to inattentativeness.

So why am I not happy about Bhutan’s King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk’s philosophy of Gross National Happiness? If language was a guide to our internal beliefs then this term says a lot about where its ideas come from. Having studied in Oxford the King has an “understanding” of the Western culture and ideas. But the choice of the term necessarily betrays that he may not understand the power of language.

Right speech is one of the basic beliefs of the Buddha and Buddhism. And in choosing to continue to use the psuedo-economic terms, to dress it in the langauge of money, is to fall into the linguistic trap. The idea has the potential to become a wolf in sleep’s clothing.

And this months signing of a new and “updated” treaty between India and Bhutan has, in my opinion, taken the country “three steps back”. In it Bhutan now has more freedom to control its own foreign policies and, in particular, the freedom to purchase non-lethal military arms means the country is ever moving closer to the Western ideals of nationhood, and moving away from the Buddhist ideals of self-control and vigilance. That the Pandora’s box had been open by the introduction of television and the internet in the last decade has caused unprecedented changes within the nation, its people and its thinking.

Some have called this a bold experiment but really I think this is just the beginning of a mistake. When people start to talk differently, talk like they are businessmen, then you know there is a problem. Again, it is not easy to see where careless wording can lead. Democracy is not about freedom of choice, it is really about the ability to sell you something you do not need. Democracy has been tied to capitalism more than liberalism. Freedom is only an excuse for opening up potential markets. And if the King cannot see this how can the nation.

Perhaps some have seen this and are hoping to profit. But that is only because they – the West – are “poorer spiritually” or “morally bankrupt” to use economic metaphors. It should be clear by now that finance, money and economics dominates our (Western) culture and it is “on the march” (military metaphor) globally.

Enough said. I think I’ll end all this metaphoric mumbo jumbo here.

One year of sustainability theory dharma

This week marks the one year anniversary of sustainability theory dharma or just ‘std’. I must admit I had my doubts over the course of the year that this blog would last this long. But it has. And I have learned much about myself, blogging and the environment from maintaining std.

This year I will aim for one “column” per week. I experimented with various posting styles last year. At times I had strayed from the environment topic and found that this was not what I had wanted for the blog (but others thought it was great). At other times my posts were short and pithy, making them cryptic and zen-like. In trying to keep up with the Joneses I had forgotten that I had a family, university and part-time work, that I am not the average Joe Blow with time on my hands.

So instead of posting often my goal is for one better-than-average post of about 1,000 words focusing on one current environmental event. The aim is to raise the standard of my writing which had wandered off at one point. My goal is to keep the act of blogging simple and without distractions. std itself has gone through some evolution. I will describe some of the changes that have happened here.

a slow start
A year ago I was still working. As a full-time English teacher the environment had not been a priority, but a personal issue. My concerns for the environment were not mine alone as a number of great blogs on environmental issues had also sprang up (It’s the Environment, Stupid, Oikos and Stolen Moments to name just three) around this time. My want of knowing how I could live sustainably and to share this knowledge with others was the impetus for starting std.

And now, as my sidebar says, I am back at university studying about the relationship between language and the environment. One year ago I did not know I would be doing this. I have this blog to thank.

what’s in a name?
For those who have been around here long enough you will also recall the name change. It started life out as ‘sustainability dharma blog’. I had wanted to use the word ‘blog’ in it as a reminder that it is not a commercial enterprise. It was a dig at those environmental blogs that put advertisement on their page, a hideous practice to say the least.

Advertisement only hurts the environment. You (yes! you! Mr Sustainablog) are sending out the wrong message to your readers about consumerism, that selling more is okay. And I am still against that. So I may start a campaign to rid commercialism from environmental blogs. It’s simply wrong.

Coming back to the name, I had wanted to show how theory, Buddhism and sustainability can be about the same thing. And hence the name. But a year later I have shifted my focus to only sustainability because it is simply too much to consider, which brings me to the next section.

jack of all trades…
That was me – the master of none. As the years roll on in my life I have learned that I must focus. It is nice to learn and know a lot of things, but not being great at any of them is a real pity. To use another cliche, life is too short. My advice is this: have one blog and focus on a topic. There are too many people out there who own several blogs about different topics. That’s fine… if you have that much time on your hands. Or else there are blogs that write about everything and anything. I may want to read about how you fixed a bug on some software but I don’t want to know the colour of your latest pair of underwear. In short, one blog one topic. If you cannot blog for more than one year on one topic do not blog at all. You are only wasting your time (and mine) and energy (the environment’s).

This may seem harsh criticism but it is for the environment that I say this. The soaring energy use is partly due to maintaining a network like the internet. As wonderful as it is for useful information it is also a doorway to some of the most useless drivel too. Consider what you write and post and upload for the sake of the environment.

what is the calendar for?
If you are like me it is to highlight how infrequently one blogs. So get rid of it if you are an occasional poster.

ranking mayhem
And don’t feel you have to post something everyday either. You don’t. It is the blogging system that is telling you have to. Search engines like Technorati reward those who post more often with better ranks. It is a scam. But it also gives better ranks for more established blogs which is why it is important to stay with one blog rather than moving around. Regularly updated blogs – whether once a day or once a week – seems to fair well. If you stay around long enough the bulk of your readers will come from other sources anyway.

Keep It Simple Silly
Ahh… the KISS rule. No better rule in life and blog. I used to do a “keep the readers updated” post once a month. What a waste of time. It’s cute. It was cute. But seriously your readers are here to read about one thing and not about your blog goings-on. They don’t care, even if you do. So keep it to yourself or save it for a once a year post on anniversaries like today. You don’t need other pages to supplement the blog either. Your personality will come through from your writing. I learned that the hard way.

the coming year
One of the things that I started with a year ago was the notion of strong sustainability. I still maintain this and would like to elaborate more on this coming year. Another topic which I haven’t covered much but would like to is money, and how it works against the environment. This goes against many of the blogs and ideas out there. But I think it is an issue which needs to be addressed. And of course my interest in overpopulation or rather population control (thanks John Feeney) is still there and would be something I would like to explore also.

Affluence, the individual and society

About two months ago I was diagnosed with gout. Gout, for those who do not know what it is, is a disease caused by high levels of uric acid in the blood. This acid is caused mainly by the imbalance of food intake which causes the they build up of crystals in joints. And this build up in turn causes severe pain in these joints.

Over-consumption of liver, meat, fish and alcohol (especially beer) are the main causes of gout. But what over-consumption means to each person is of course different. For me it seems to be a low-tolerance case.

Last Friday night I went to yakiniku. Yakiniku is the Japanese version of a Korean BBQ. And like all BBQs meat is the main dish to be consumed. While I am on medication to reduce my uric acid levels (the cause of my gout) I was not instructed to change my diet too drastically. My doctor had probably wanted to find out just how much my diet is the cause of it. And as I write this at four o’clock in the morning, being woken up by the pain in my left knee, I would say the yakiniku plunder last Friday night was not a good idea.

In Japanese, gout is called tsuufuu which means pain-wind or pain-breeze. And I can assure you a slight breeze is enough to cause great pain. Perhaps the English word for it is a kind of exclamation of pain (gouuut!). It is also called in Japan the disease of the affluent in reference to an individuals dietary habits which is its main cause. Yes, I am most guilty of affluence.

While my body tells me that there is a problem in fairly short notice (in my case four days) the environment is not so quick. It could take decades before we see any symptoms of the problem. The case of CFCs – the chemical used to make our fridge and air conditioner work – is a good example. CFCs release into the atmosphere is the direct cause of the Ozone hole, a problem we recognized only after twenty or thirty years we introduced it as safe. Another example is deforestation. The accumulative effects of clearing land for farming and other purposes is becoming more noticeable now.

But even though I say the environmental signs are slow to show up it is only relative. In my short life of seventy, eighty years, fours days is quick. In the course of four billion years of Earth’s life 30 years is almost instantaneous. Thirty years only seems long in our time scale.

So maybe it is time to rethink our way of seeing time and the environment. Maybe it is a wake up call, a call we should be listening to. Planning for our (planet’s) future should not be about this year, five years or even our lifetime. People like David Suzuki say planning for the future should be about planning for seven generations. And not just forward in time but backwards to the past. You might say how do we plan for the past? Well, it all depends on how you look at time. The Western concept of time is not always the best. The same is true of affluence also.

Personal Note: I will be offline for about two weeks finishing up end of year term papers (seven to be exact). Hope to see you back here then. My apologies.