Monthly Archives: February 2008

Protest against blog advertising

“What is the difference between unethical and ethical advertising? Unethical advertising uses falsehoods to deceive the public; ethical advertising uses truth to deceive the public.” Vilhjahmur Stefansson (1879-1962)

Like so many other blogs I don’t have advertisement for a reason – I despise them. To sign up for AdSense (ad cents) is to perpetuate advertising pollution. But to refuse is not enough. No news, here, is good news for advertisers, because it makes it seem like there is no resistance out there. It is as if we are indifferent to ads when we are not.

Ads are a waste of resources. They use up unnecessary bandwidth. They add to the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. That is why as a sustainability supporter we need to make a choice and raise our voice.

So in that sense we need to “advertise” the fact that we are resisting. And that is why I made this badge, a badge to show resistance to greed.

no adsense
So if you are inclined to protest with me please:

  1. copy the above badge and place it in the sidebar of your blog,
  2. link and/or backtrack to this post so that this may become a kind of “blog petition” to show our resistance to advertising and advertisers,
  3. Spread the word so that others may also join in the blog protest.

My goal here is 103 signatures.

1 word = 20 grains

free riceWant to improve your vocabulary and be charitable at the same time?

Play this game called Free Rice. Every correct word you get translates to twenty grains of rice to be donated to Burmese refugees in Bangladesh.

Differance, No-self and ecological interconnectedness

In Buddhism, the understanding is that there is no-self (anatman), or rather, what we believe as the self is not what it seems to be. Put in another way, there is no concept of Soul as in the Western sense. And also because there is no belief in a soul there is no final resting place like Heaven. Life just extinguishes (nirvana). The Buddha came to this conclusion through thorough analysis of the conditions of life.

But if there is no Soul and Heaven then who or what is it that gives us our identity and purpose? It is a loaded assumption, of course, that there needs to be either or both in order to exist, much like the meaning of a word.

Jacques Derrida, that Deconstructionist, in his study of the structural linguistics of Saussure came up with the concept of differance. The spelling is not a mistake but an invented word to describe something which had no construction until then (Deconstructionists will tell you it is a non-concept). It is pronounced (in French at least) the same as ‘difference’, the word it relates, but also differs, to it at the same time. It is also related to ‘defer’ in meaning. Playful was this man.

Saussure had brought to light two important properties of language. First, is that a word (signifier) and the thing it represents (signified) are completely arbitrary (see sign). There is no reason why any word should represent any object. If that be the case then the name of an object would be same in all languages. But there is no such determination in language. Some may argue that certain words are imitations of the object or concept (eg. gong, bang) but even then this does not determine that it will be the same across languages.

The second property is that a word gains its identity from its difference to other words. A symbol, therefore, only means something because it is in a system of signs. So, for example, to add an extra letter to English alphabet would mean nothing unless it plays a role within the system of the English language. Similarly to introduce a new word into a language doesn’t guarantee its use. That can only be done through agreement by at least two people of the language in question.

What Derrida did with this structural linguistic concept was to take it to its logical conclusion. So if there is nothing but differences within the system, it must necessarily mean that they do not have an inherit meaning or definition. And this is what is meant by Derrida when he says meaning is ‘deferred’, that words cannot come to full and independent meaning. He says words are forever partially marked by absence.

But, as far as I can tell, the Derrida’s concept of differance was only limited to the study of signifiers, or words. It seems logical, to me, to extent this also to the entire system of signifieds, to see meaning as created from the difference between all objects.

And so, if we extend this to the concept of No-self and see it is like the concept of differance, we will see they are similar in that they both believe that no internal meaning is possible. Or to go by the deconstruction logic, what we call the self relies on everything else for its definition.

And in a similar vein interconnectedness in ecology works in the same way, that nothing independently exists, but that everything is part of the intricate web of life. All three areas of thought seem to have a commonality. They dif(f)er only by their choice of words or path to the conclusion.

Could this be the ‘golden bullet’ for CO2?

Scientists have reported that they are now able to selectively remove CO2 with a newly synthesised material. Click here to read more.

Two years of (un)sustainability

It’s Sunday morning. It’s four Celsius below freezing point. The kids are asleep. I have pulled the laptop out to sit in my un-preheated lounge room to write this without any preparation or thought.

Sustainability Dharma is two years old. But what should I write about? What is there to write about?

Over the past year I have occasionally (very occasionally) looked at some older posts. There were some good writing in there, especially early on. There was passion, content and substance in it. They were proofread. They had been researched, not thoroughly but at least I had spent time on them. But these days I have to sit and rush my writing in between life. I have neither time to view or comment on the blogs of fellow writers nor time to keep up with the sustainability news. So should I be blogging at all?

Should a father of two young attention-heavy children, who is driving (unsustainably) to a university 60km (40 miles) away from home almost everyday to do a Masters thesis, and does part-time teaching at night three times a week, be blogging? I don’t think so.

But I will continue. I will write because I think it is important. I will write because I share with others a desire to make the world a better place. I will write because I think I have something valuable to say.

While I am still very busy I do not see this situation to continue. I am in my final semester, writing up my thesis, and my youngest goes to daycare in a couple of months. And holding on to my newly acquired degree I will be looking for work again, hopefully at a higher institution. By then my kids will have grown out of their “terrible-twos” period.

But will things really improve as I imagine them to? I have come to understand that things never progress the way you think they will (like me being married, having two kids and doing my Masters). Life has more twists and turns than any labyrinth. What is installed for Sustainability Dharma for the next year, I cannot imagine. All I know is I still have a passion for writing about sustainability.

Do we need an Ecological Buddhism?

Coming back to blogging here I had to rethink what exactly am I trying to achieve here. Why do I want to write about ecology and Buddhism? Are they compatible or is this just one person’s argument?

Let me start by asking then ‘was Buddha an environmentalist’? An easy question with an easy answer. No, not in the conventional sense. In Buddha’s time and place conservation or environmentalism as a concept simply did not exist. It has been pointed out that he was one against the some of the dominant contemporary ideas of the time, especially within Hinduism. But there is much more to Buddha and his thought than that.

Would he have been an environmentalist if it had existed in his time? I think asking such questions really is irrelevant. He may have been but this is only idyll thought, a game that even Buddha would have rejected as a waste of time.

So then is ecology and Buddhism compatible, and should these two words be said in the same breath? Buddhism, as a lifestyle, has many similarities to ecological conservation or ecology, and is perhaps one of the gentlest lifestyles without going to extremes. It most certainly was influenced by the other popular then contemporary philosophy, Jainism, which tries to not affect the environment by wearing masks and carrying brooms so as not to harm other life.

Clearly Buddhism respects all life in a way similar to ecology, but that does not mean all Buddhists are ecologists. The question of whether there is such a thing as Ecological Buddhism (or Buddhist Ecology) is only a matter of names. It just so happens that I like both ecology and Buddhism, but I don’t think it is possible or even necessary to consciously combine the two, just as there is not a need to combine Buddhism and ethics to create a philosophy of Buddhist Ethics.

Buddha would probably not deal with these questions. More than likely he would have thought them unnecessary. So let’s stop here and get on with the important issues.