Archive for October, 2010

[Poem] A World Unseen

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

If I could choose to be a being of the past
I’d be a Native American.
I could talk with the trees,
Have quarrels with the squirrels,
And dance with the flames.

The Great Spirit is guardian to all,
On his land we are bound together.
So hello mother who peers out from the logs.
Hello father who sleeps all winter.

My horse and I are twin brothers.
We explore the land from water falls to rocky ledges.
I pet his mane and call out his name.
He carries me home from day to day.

Come and see my cousins, the deer.
They graze and prance and say hello
With small ears and beady eyes beckoning you
Into their welcoming homes.

But who are these white-skinned newcomers
Who wear sturdy looking armor?
Well behold my immaculate skin,
Reflecting the smile of my sister the sun.

Their axes hack at my elders the trees
Their guns kill my cousins the deer,
So let loose my fearsome uncles, the arrows
And protect this world which cannot be seen.


[Poem] Coming Home

Sunday, October 24th, 2010

The hero comes home. He wants to sleep.
But the trumpets are blaring.
The newsreels are rolling.
There’s no peace for the hero.

The hero comes home. He wants to sleep.
But his mother weeps with joy.
His children scream for attention.
There’s no peace for the hero.

The hero comes home. He wants to sleep.
But there’s a mountain of bills.
A forest-like lawn.
There’s no peace for the hero.

The hero comes home. He wants to sleep.
But his comrades come visit.
They reek of tobacco.
There’s no peace for the hero.

The hero comes home. He wants to sleep.
But his beard’s grizzled.
His hair’s disheveled.
There’s no peace for the hero.

The hero comes home. He goes to sleep.
But those he’s killed appear in his dreams and greet him.
They wave hearty hello’s. We’ll see you soon. Just wait.

There’s no peace for the hero.


The Faults of Reconciliation: Stuffing Words in a Dead Man’s Mouth

Saturday, October 23rd, 2010

In many newspapers, the word “conflict resolution” is often used interchangeably with the term “reconciliation.” However, while the former indicates an end of state-level discord, the latter is a branch of peace studies that is rapidly gaining followers.

From an academic perspective, “reconciliation” connotes a deeper level of attitude-change amongst the parties involved. It is not merely a change of diplomatic stance but a deeper level change where simmering animosities are relieved, which progresses to benign coexistence and finally, it is hoped, towards a relationship that is mutually intimate and symbiotic.

Yet for all the buzz in the academic sphere, for all the hype amongst International Relations majors, reconciliation as a conceptual framework for establishing peace is and remains flawed. Reconciliation counts amongst its tools the seeking of justice, truth, restitution, reform, and oblivion (“time heals all wounds.”) These tools are used to ameliorate hostilities with the aim of normalizing and establishing amicable relations between the parties involved in conflict.

All of this sounds good in theory. But there remains something evidently disturbing about reconciliation.

To realize just what’s so disturbing about this notion, one must first question who is the most disenfranchised when conflicts occur.

Needless to say, it’s those who have lost their lives.

The crucial fault of a posteriori claims for justice after conflicts occur is in the fact that we are essentially acting as agents for the dead, we are representing people who have lost ability to voice their opinions. What we ought to bear in mind then, hypothetically, is the rights of the dead.

Some may have sought vengeance had they been killed, yet others who are more docile of heart may not have sought retributive justice. As survivors of conflict, we can only surmise what the dead (the most disenfranchised of all) would have wanted us to do.

But reconciliation is a scary science, and it’s a scary science because it justifies the act of putting words in a dead man’s mouth.

Considering what to do afterwards, a form of retrospective analysis, is by its nature subjective. This leaves a great margin of interpretation that the victor can capitalize upon. Hence the term “victor’s justice.”

To make matters worse, reconciliation’s benefits are dubious. The fact that conflict continues to occur despite the work being done on reconciliation, shows that historical reconciliation, as a study, does not have preventative qualities; thus the essence of the study of historical reconciliation is not an answer to conflict or even a preventative measure but rather a form of a posteriori opinion surveys as a framework for how conflicts ought to be dealt with after they occur.

Besides, why do we need to reconcile? Are not the relatives of those who have been killed retaining the identity of their deceased by harboring deep resentment towards the aggresors?

As John, one of the main characters in Aldous Huxley’s masterpiece work Brave New World states, “I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.”

To which another character replies, “in fact, you’re claiming the right to be unhappy.”

John’s response?

“All right then, I’m claiming the right to be unhappy.” (p.240).

Reconciliation may have lofty ideals, but killing resentment may be the same as a ridding the world of the last remaining memories of the dead. Which, might I add, is a form of memory genocide.


High Time for Watershed in East-Asia Relations

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010

Last month’s collision of a Chinese trawler and two Japanese Maritime Coast Guard vessels comes at a time when both countries were looking forward to warmer relationships. Since 2009, China has been Japan’s largest economic trading partner, and the new Japanese leadership under Prime Minister Naota Kan was reputedly the most pro-Chinese government in decades.

Yet as bilateral relations were strained by the collision, much of this goodwill has been dashed. The collision occurred in disputed waters near the Senkaku Islands (called the Diaoyu by the Chinese), bringing disputed territory to the forefront of politics. In the end, China ratcheted up its grievances against Japan, and a bizarre slew of incidents—unusually thorough custom inspections of commodities headed for Japan, China’s sudden weeklong ban of rare earth exports, and the detention of 4 Japanese construction workers—seemed to be more than Japan wanted to bear.

Japan freed the trawler’s skipper on September 24th, perhaps in an effort to defuse escalating tensions. Another factor may be the host of multilateral talks scheduled to take place over the coming months, such as the G20, East Asian and Asia Pacific Economic Co-Operation Summits. In light of talks, Japan may have seen a need to bring about a quick conflict resolution.

However, Japan’s ultimate decision to free the skipper has several lasting implications. For one thing, China’s assertion of legitimacy over the islands seemed much more coordinated than Japan’s mixed-signal response during the weeks the trawler’s captain was detained. This underscored Japan’s ineptitude to appeal its stance to the international community. China, too, made a firm point that it intends to take a hard-line stance when the going gets rough, a clear contrast to the “peaceful rise” it has long preached to its neighbors. The collision has undoubtedly made nearby countries with territorial disputes with China fidgety, while simultaneously giving a wake-up call to the United States that it may not be able to get away by playing observer when tension in the region escalates.

As far as the islands and the development natural gas reserves in vicinity go, it is unfortunate that Japan and China cannot agree to jointly develop the large reserves of natural gas discovered in 1969 by ECAFE (UN Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East) near the islands in a harmonious manner. In essence, the struggle over disputed territories in East Asia is not just about development rights and EEZ’s (Exclusive Economic Zone). Making territorial claims is a way countries assert themselves as the nexus of power in the region. This means that geopolitically, the close proximity of the countries and the framework of an “East Asian” region makes reconciliation and integration that much more difficult, especially when so many countries are trying to become the leader of the region.

Where judicial interpretations of territorial claims differ, regional integration is the only way to avoid a zero-sum conflict. Though the region is stable on the surface, underlying mistrust still looms large. If true reconciliation does not take place, new conflicts will stir old grudges—in particular sentiments characterized by rumination on past victimizations. What the region desperately needs is historical reconciliation, now in the “forgiving and cleansing” way which is colored by religious overtones and therapeutic language, but macro-level psychological reconciliation where past wrongs become incorporated into a new narrative told by all parties. By combining narratives through reconciliation, mutual understanding will become more tenable, and region will not just be marked by increasing economic interdependence but increasing mutual trust as well.


Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand and Visible Misinterpretations

Monday, October 4th, 2010

Famously absentminded and an avid player of whist, he roamed the campuses of Glasgow and Oxford in the mid-18th century. This man was also frequently overheard talking to himself. Nonetheless, this eccentricity of a man was a preeminent thinker and held the chair of Moral Philosophy at Glasgow University. He counted amongst his friends great intellectuals such as David Hume, D’Alembert, Turgot, Voltaire, and even Francois Quesnay.

This man, of course, is Adam Smith.

Today, Adam Smith is one of the most well-known figures in economics. Most textbooks begin with an expert from his book The Wealth of Nations, enlightening young students about how an invisible hand tends supply and demand towards equilibrium in the long run. Hailed as the founder of economics, Adam Smith has certainly made lasting contributions towards modern economics.

But do we really understand Adam Smith and his insights? Can we be certain that we did not misunderstand him?

Ironically, Adam Smith himself did not see himself as a “founder of economics,” nor did he even consider The Wealth of Nations to be his greatest work.

The former claim is an easy one to verify: Smith had intended to dedicate The Wealth of Nations to Francois Quesnay, the French thinker who authored the Tableau Economique—an economic model of macroeconomics.

The latter claim can be deduced when one looks at Smith’s life-history: Considering his long-standing reputation as an authority on moral philosophy, it is quite probable that Adam Smith died thinking that his book Theory of Moral Sentiments published in 1759 was his greatest work.

So then, what about the bloated fanfare about his notion of the invisible hand? The term appears on page 572, where Smith writes,

“[The market participant] intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention.”

When one reads The Wealth of Nations, the reader cannot help but wonder if Adam Smith wrote of the invisible hand in passing. After all, Smith makes sure that he repeats important claims several times within his work to reinforce his claim. In contrast, the term “invisible hand” appears only once. Perhaps it’s just a metaphor.

It seems reasonable to conclude that Adam Smith considered himself more an authority on philosophy than a voice for economics, and we ought to titillate the feasibility of whether or not the invisible hand is just overbloated hype.

But with all of that said, Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations is certainly a bible of macroeconomics. The book hints of Smith’s stance as a Rawlsian long before John Rawls established his notion of the “difference principle” and also contains Smith’s insights on population growth, statistics, and speculation—just to name a few. Smith also draws liberally from French thinkers, which makes The Wealth of Nations a rich and enjoyable read.

Students of economics would do well to read The Wealth of Nations—being content with the notion of an invisible hand may in fact lead to very visible misinterpretations of not only Adam Smith, but of economic theory in general if the students’ attitudes towards studying are characterized by lazy inquiry.

Thus the fork in the road towards sound economics and vulgar economics seems to lie in whether or not an individual sees the continuity of the economics as a study.