Chasing the invisible

I am lost in the expanse of a city, unsure where I am exactly. There are people everywhere, whizzing randomly at various paces to various places. It is an urban setting, with towering buildings that pierce into the firmament and blot out the blue sky; with cars and busses trudging slowly through the contours of streets, and alleyways; and with the sweet smell of smog subtly in the air like an aroma at a bakery. There are pigeons, too, some flying in the same mayhem motions as the people below, and more numerous others that bounce along the ground where they entertain the children that chase them.

The noise of the city: vehicles, pigeons, people, and all, is like a steady, constant rumble with predictable fluctuations and continuous uproar. There are people sitting on the benches, some reading, some talking, some watching, silently. There are restaurants, cafes, and shops at the foundations of every tower, and each is defended by wide sidewalks bustling with strangers. In this confusion, I stand.

I spin about hoping for some coherency, only to find none. It appears that everyone else knows exactly what they are doing and where they are going, but I don’t truly know that – I assume it as I focus on myself. I am seeking, that I know, and I am moving, always. As creatures and machines jostle in every direction, I zero in on one. Through the aimlessness, I move.

I am hunting for something invisible, – I think It exists – but I have an idea of Its looks. I see It, sometimes, but only fuzzy parts of It that I can barely grasp or understand. This amorphous being that eludes me has a very distinct feeling to It, such that I can sense Its nearing presence and pick out the way. I sniff for the preternatural aura like a werewolf its prey. Amid the chaos, I search.

As I steadily approach the Phantom that has been the envy of my existence, I wonder continually what It is like. I know that as I get closer, I will see It more clearly, and that once I arrive, It will be visible in whole. But until then I am left muddled and lost, knowing only vaguely where to go. But I crave this Ghost, this Entity that I pray is not imaginary, and I hunger for It as a rabid dog its bone. Its physicality becomes clearer and clearer as Its outline nearly distinguishes. I was moving cautiously, but now, I run.

The Figure does not speed as I sprint, but travels as It had. It navigates through streets and alleyways, buildings and towers, vehicles, pigeons, people, and all, but I follow with fervor till I am directly behind It. I can now discriminate this Shade from the shadows of the surrounding buildings, and at once I know positively that It is real. Preparing for the ultimate revelation and the final fulfillment, I bend my knees and assume arms in position. Ready to pounce, I breathe.

Knees bent, arms in position, and deep breath taken, I second guess myself as a glimmer of doubt touches my mind. And in my hesitance, the Thing escapes. My plan is foiled. I detect Its trace and resume my trek, lamenting another opportunity lost. In the hope that dreams do come true, I continue.

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Civilizational Attitudes

  I recommend readers research postcolonial studies – and especially the book Orientalism – after reading this. I also apologize for the abhorrently academic tone of this article; I’ve lately been reading too much of the Arab ezine Jadaliyya.

The more I think about it the more I realize that the hardest thing I find to talk about with others in genuine, constructive conversation is Islam and South Asian culture. In a broader context, theistic religions in general, Islamic civilization, and my cultural background are intensely difficult to discuss and talk about with someone from the outside. I suspect most people that have some sort of biculturalness with two different worlds have similar sentiment. I try to put my tongue on the reason frequently, but I always fail. This article will hopefully be a more successful attempt.

I like to think that I’m quite articulate with my thoughts when it comes to writing. I can organize and strategically argue most ideas that I agree with, and although others may still disagree I can take solace in the belief that I’m right. But perhaps the ability to articulate comes with a presumption that the other side will see some truth in the argument if they’re thinking clearly, and that I wouldn’t have to explain and justify prefaces.

After all, I can’t remember the last time I engaged in a lengthy conversation with someone from an entirely different civilizational attitude. There is such a thing, but most people would deny it. I would like to give a lengthy rebut to those people, but such an argument is one of the terribly difficult things to argue. To engage in such a discussion about why there are civilizational attitudes with someone who only has one would require a conversation with virtually no preconceptions, little shared ground, and few relatable experiences. The idea of civilizational attitudes is a viewpoint that takes a book just to explain, much less argue to someone who doesn’t share the idea.

Having successfully failed to justify the idea of civilizational attitudes, allow me now to explain what that has to do with my own predicament. Being an American Muslim, I am Western – which comes with its cultures, values, and modes of thinking – but I also have a very authentic relationship and identity with Islam as a whole –its cultures, values, and modes of thinking. Most people and friends of mine that experience this two world phenomenon are often stuck in situations where their civilizations collide and they are left at ultimatums. I personally don’t get this often as both a South Asian Muslim and an American, but I think the element of this article is just as intense if not deeper.

When talking about Islam with non-Muslims and even some Muslims, I’m at a loss with words. How am I to justify an idea or a concept efficiently when it was evolved from 1400 years of thought that the other has no familiarity with? Too, how am I to explain something when the other has biases that didn’t emerge just in their lifetime, but have been going on perpetually for centuries if not millennia? The word “jihad” or “Sharia” or “Allah Akbar” strikes terror in the eyes and ears and minds of many Westerners in ways I could never understand, and to even come to some sort of explanation that not just clears away misconceptions and preconceptions but actually expresses the idea in an internal light demands putting away one’s entire body of cultures, values, and modes of thinking just to understand.

It is not easy, and arguably impossible. When I try to articulate, I get caught up in the idea that the other will not understand I cease to even try to make an explanation comprehensible. And then when I try to make an explanation comprehensible, I fail miserably since, well, the explanation requires a book if not more. It requires ripping apart not just all the misconceptions and preconceptions, but one’s entire Western body of cultures, values, and modes of thinking.

Likewise, people get weirded out when I talk about “the West” and ideas that are unique to it – basically half of what postcolonial studies is about. Most Westerners are foreign to even thinking about the West from the outside. People find it hard enough to understand the idea of intrusion, hegemony, imperialism, and the like. When I discuss those words, I’m not talking about the distancing idea of the American empire, but about our everyday expression of ideas. It really is true, for me and for many of those who have this bicivilizational experience, that a friend’s idea can be hegemonic in its outcome and intent. To say, for example, – good heartedly and well intentioned – that “I want to liberate women” or “I demand religious freedom” in countries and cultures distant from one’s own can very well be a telling sign of imperialistic attitudes that are only understood when looked at from the outside.

Words fail me even then to say what is so hegemonic about exterior liberation or foreign pressure to internally change. That such expressions are oppressive in their nature is about as difficult to explain as the topic at hand, religion.

When I try in any fashion of any sort to explain my own religious beliefs or practices and why I choose them, it becomes nearly impossible for the other to see them in any empathetic light unless the other is also deeply and devoutly theistic. Then, the body of cultures, values, and modes of thinking are already shared and no immense justification is necessary. But for all the other times, the ways of thinking are so alien to the other it becomes almost pointless to try and explain.

Try I must, however, and occasionally try I do. While it usually ends in what I would describe as a disaster, some sort of mutual understanding of the “otherness” arises, which isn’t all that bad since it is an understanding at some degree. Still yet, however, there is often an unacknowledgement of the idea that humans are at very fundamental levels different. That acknowledgement unfortunately requires having differences at fundamental levels, which is something only a few of us share. Which leads back to the very beginning of the problem – expressing the idea of fundamental civilizational differences requires having them. Like many things, the problem is tragically circular.

Only thoughts are free

The best poems in the world are written in my mind. The only problem with them is that they’re only in my mind. The difficulty is actually writing words that don’t exist and expressing emotions that can’t be real outside of a human imagination. In my mind anything can rhyme if you think about it the right way. The power of the poem is in the power of the thinker, who has all the rules of reality bent to his will in his consciousness.

Those best poems can’t be written because they aren’t real to anyone but the poet. Writing is limited by writing as songs are limited by singing. Thoughts, though, are free. Thinking is unbound. In my head, everything can make sense if I want it too. I am not limited by logic, or by reality, or by words and rationality. My emotions can remain undefined, my thoughts can remain confusing, and my poems can remain nonexistent.

Which is why I find writing so difficult sometimes. It forces me to put together thoughts onto paper. The infinite dimensions of the imagination are all of a sudden constricted to two. Rhythms and rhymes that once made sense collapse to confusion. Brilliance descends to mediocrity.

I still write, however, to look at my thoughts from the outside. Words on a computer screen are never can never be mine, even if I wrote them, and I can critique freely. There, I can see how sensical my mind’s nonsense is. That is the advantage of writing, it forces and plunges your thoughts and you right into the dreadfulness of reality.

But I never write for self-discovery. The words here are not mine, and I learn only a little from them. What is true about me is only in me, and I can only interpret it from within. I can see clearly without the filters of words into what really is true inside. Even as I write this, it is not how I would have it. It is not true to what I’m trying to say. The words are tarnished, and only my thoughts are pure.

For that reason I rarely write poetry or share stories. I have books of ideas in my head, entire stories and tales that the world ought to hear. But I keep them with me, not out of selfishness, but out of that inability to share. What I write is not me thinking. Only what I think is me. Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh. I am who I am.

Getting the Law Wrong: The Supreme Court in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby

On June 30th the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby in the case Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. The ruling will no doubt go into the textbooks as a new, reformed understanding in the relationship between corporations and religious freedom. With all due respect, I find their decision bewildering for its logical incoherency. It is my intention in this article to deliver a convincing and honest critique safely within the relevant legal framework. This is an argument based on the facts of American law, not on personal opinion or ambiguous, overarching moral principles.

To keep my analysis pure, I have not read any media about the decision besides the Supreme Court’s official and binding 95 page released opinion. Mainstream media has a habit of misconstruing Supreme Court decisions, and I for one do not wish to be tainted. Perhaps in the future I will analyze the media’s interpretations of the decision. But for now, all the information necessary about the case can be found in the Supreme Court’s document, if only one spends the time to read it. I hope to be lucid and transparent. I hope to reflect the Court’s decision precisely as it was and then to give an honest criticism using the dissent’s guidance whenever possible. I hope that this article does just that.

Before continuing, we need to know the gist of the case. Below is the exact wording of the Court’s syllabus that explains the issue, which “constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court” (1). This is from the actual document, and not from a journalist middle man. I have edits of my own added for clarity and brevity that are all in red. To find the whole syllabus, I invite you to read the document itself. It reads:

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) prohibits the “Government [from] substantially burden[ing] a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability” unless the Government “demonstrates that application of the burden to the person—(1) is in furtherance of a compelling govern-mental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling Governmental interest.”(my emphasis)… RFRA covers “any exercise of religion, whether or not compelled by, or central to, a system of religious belief.” At issue here are regulations promulgated by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under the Affordable Care Act of 2010 (ACA, “Obamacare”), which … requires specified employers’ group health plans to furnish “preventive care and screenings” for women without “any cost sharing requirements,” Nonexempt employers are generally required to provide coverage for the 20 contraceptive methods approved by the Food and Drug Administration, including the 4 that may have the effect of preventing an already fertilized egg from developing any further by inhibiting its attachment to the uterus. Religious employers, such as churches, are exempt from this contraceptive mandate. HHS has also effectively exempted religious nonprofit organizations with religious objections to providing coverage for contraceptive services. Under this accommodation, the insurance issuer must exclude contraceptive coverage from the employer’s plan and provide plan participants with separate payments for contraceptive services without imposing any cost-sharing requirements on the employer, its insurance plan, or its employee beneficiaries.

In these cases, the owners of three closely held for-profit corporations (Conestoga Wood Specialties, Mardel, and Hobby Lobby Stores) have sincere Christian beliefs that life begins at conception and that it would violate their religion to facilitate access to contraceptive drugs or devices … they sued HHS and other federal officials and agencies … under RFRA and the Free Exercise Clause [of the First Amendment] (“Congress shall make no law…prohibiting the free exercise [of religion]”), seeking to enjoin application of the contraceptive mandate [except where it] requires them to provide health coverage for the four objectionable contraceptives … [The Tenth Circuit] held that the Greens’ businesses are “persons” under RFRA, and that … the contraceptive mandate substantially burdened their exercise of religion and HHS had not demonstrated a compelling interest in enforcing the mandate against them; in the alternative, the court held that HHS had not proved that the mandate was the “least restrictive means” of furthering a compelling Governmental interest.

That context should be sufficient for the reader, but if you need more information I implore you to read the entire syllabus. Let us move on to the Court’s decision. When I refer to “the Court”, I am referencing the official opinion delivered by a majority vote (5 to 4) of the Supreme Court. “The dissent” is the four Supreme Court justices who disagreed with the majority vote. The majority of 5 published the official opinion of “the Court”, which under American law is considered Constitutionally binding. The minority of 4 published their official “dissent”, which serves to clears the conscious of the dissenters as to why their colleagues were wrong and make for interesting discussion among the public. The dissent has no legal authority of its own, and it important to note that legally, the majority is always right. Their beliefs are now law. However, since we know the Supreme Court is right, it can be helpful to think about whether or not they should be.

The Court ruled in favor of the three corporations that I will collectively refer to as “Hobby Lobby”. They did so for several reasons that by and large are based not on the First Amendment (which is more limiting) but off of The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA), mentioned in the beginning of the syllabus. The reasons are as follows:

  1. Corporations are by definition the same as people : “Under the Dictionary Act, “the word ‘person’…include[s] corporations…as well as individuals,”” (19). Since they are the same as people, corporations are entitled to follow practices in accordance with their religious beliefs and conversely to not follow practices that are not in accordance.
  2. Mandating corporations to provide contraceptives they find morally wrong is a substantial burden against them. Should the corporations refuse to cover the contraceptives, “the economic consequences would be severe” (32). “For Hobby Lobby, the bill could amount to…about $475 million per year…these sums are surely substantial” (32). Furthermore, requiring Hobby Lobby to be complicit in what they see as a morally reprehensible act is also a substantial burden.
  3. Assuming that contraceptive access is a compelling Government interest, the ACA’s mandate is still not the least restrictive means. Though corporations may have religious beliefs and the mandate would be a substantial burden, the Government may still require it of them if it was “the least restrictive means of furthering[a] compelling Governmental interest” (1) according to RFRA. However, the Government can provide exemptions as it does for non-profit religious groups such as churches. Under this exemption, the Government would assume the cost sharing for the contraceptive access, not the corporation, and it would be a more restrictive means.

At first glance, the Court does make convincing points. Corporations are legally considered as people, and should they then have the same religious rights as people? Even if corporations are not people themselves, can owners restrictively practice their religion through their business? After all, “it is not at all uncommon for … corporations to further humanitarian and other altruistic objectives” (23) via charitable causes. Non-profit entities can have religious rights; should for-profit entities be treated the same?

The answer is a resounding no. Justice Ginsburg, in his dissent, quotes two rulings from the past to make his point concerning the Court’s reason #1. The George Washington of the Supreme Court, Chief Justice John Marshall, observed two centuries ago that “a corporation is “an artificial being, invisible, intangible, and existing only in contemplation of law”” (73). Justice Stevens wrote in the recent Citizens United decision that corporations “have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires” (73). The court refers to The Dictionary Act to equate corporations to people, but the act itself provides exception where the “context” would “indicat[e] otherwise” (73)! The Court conveniently ignores the possibility of such a context, but the dissent makes note of it. Here, in the context of religious exercise, corporations simply cannot be people.

While corporations may engage in charity work, may follow the religious beliefs of their owners, and may participate in humanitarian objectives, at the end of the day their goal is wholly and entirely to make profit for shareholders. For that reason, corporations “have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires” (73). And for that reason, corporations cannot exercise religious beliefs. The Court insists that since corporations can do humanitarian things, they can also do religious things. That a corporation chooses to is commendable, but we must assume it is for profit! Corporations act to receive profit for their shareholders, and charity work can contribute to a better public image for the purpose of profit.

The Court rebuts that the 1993 Congress meant for the RFRA to include corporations. Without getting into technicalities, the dissent makes it clear that Congress made no such intention. Corporations have never been thought of as entities with religious or personal beliefs, as when owners decide to form corporations, they are willingly divorcing themselves from their business. The owner and the corporation are not one and the same.

Even so, the Court would have us believe that the owner’s religious beliefs are relevant to their corporation. But this would “put the personal opinion of employers and insurers over the practice of medicine” (65). Even worse, “it would deny legions of women who do not hold their employers’ beliefs access to contraceptive coverage” (67). Personal beliefs of an employer should not impose themselves on an employee when it has little to do with public good. It is important to understand that as far as the Court can be concerned, the employers have “sincere Christian beliefs that life begins at conception” (2). It is not their business to decide what beliefs are sincere or not, and what beliefs are correct or not. Even if correct and sincere however, what right does an employer have to impose those beliefs on their underlings in a profit making industry? Employees are selected for their contributions to profit, not their conformity to their employer’s norms. Corporations are for profit.

The dissent exercises a three tier criticism against the line of reasoning I provided for the Court. While I agree fully with their first criticism of reason #1 (which I summarized and interpreted above), the dissent falters on reason #2 and I find the Court within reason here. I do not buy the dissent’s (and mainstream liberal) argument that providing contraceptive access is no big deal. The dissent would have us believe that Hobby Lobby, should it be treated as an entity with religious beliefs (and, to be clear, it should not), would not be substantially burdened for following the Government mandate. The dissent contends that providing contraceptive access is incomparable to using contraceptives oneself. Justice Ginsburg, writing for the dissent, quotes Grote v. Sebelius: ““[n]o individual decision by an employee and her physician—be it to use contraception, treat an infection, or have a hip replaced—is in any meaningful sense [her employer’s] decision or action”(82) . But unfortunately, it is her employer’s business. That contraception, infection, or hip replacement is on her employer’s dollar.

Make note that the contraception would be cost shared by the employer. For some, contraceptive use after egg fertilization is akin to murder. Would, in that circumstance, providing access to murder be different from murdering itself? Is knowingly allowing a crime – and providing the means for it – different from committing a crime?  In American law, this is known as complicity, and it is illegal. There is an internal contradiction in the dissent’s opinion. Here, the majority is correct. Hobby Lobby is substantially burdened for being required to allow an action its owners see as morally reprehensible.

Even so, there is an important cost burden against Hobby Lobby. Should the corporation refuse to cover the contraceptives, “the economic consequences would be severe” (32). “For Hobby Lobby, the bill could amount to…about $475 million per year…these sums are surely substantial” (32). The dissent does not mention the fiscal burden once in Justice Ginsburg’s opinion. We must assume that they tacitly acquiesce to the majority here. Yet reason #2, despite its internal legitimacy, rests on the premise that Hobby Lobby could have religious beliefs and morality of its own.

Seeing as it cannot, reason #2 becomes irrelevant. Let us move to reason #3 of the majority. Here, the Court reasons that an alternative to requiring Hobby Lobby to cost share contraceptive purchases with its employees is to make the Government pick up the tab. After all, the Government does so for non-profits. “The most straightforward [alternative],” the Court asserts, “would be for the Government to assume the cost of providing . . . contraceptives . . . to any women who are unable to obtain them under their health-insurance policies due to their employers’ religious objections” (41). In other words, let the Government pay.

But to what end? What if a corporation had religious views that forbid it from providing any Western medical care, or insurance based on usury, or vaccinations access? The least restrictive means, according to the Court, would be for the Government to pick up the tab, always! The Court recognized the danger of their decision, and fortunately ruled out any analogies. The syllabus clarifies that “this decision concerns only the contraceptive mandate and should not be understood to hold that all insurance-coverage man-dates, e.g.,for vaccinations or blood transfusions, must necessarily fall if they conflict with an employer’s religious beliefs” (6).

But why? Neither the syllabus nor the Court’s opinion explains the difference between other issues and this one. Perhaps it is because there isn’t one. The reasoning of the Court would be invalid if we can prove the speciousness of their argument should analogy be used, despite the fact that the Court rejects analogy entirely. In almost any conceivable circumstance, crafty problem solvers could find a way for Government to accommodate for corporations with the people’s tax dollars. The limited scope the Court offers renders RFRA’s least restrictive means principle almost useless. If almost any infringement can be absolved through Government dollars, then there is hardly anything a corporation cannot get away with on religious grounds at all. In attempting to preserve RFRA’s intentions, the Court has interpreted it in a way that would decapitate it. Thankfully (yet erroneously), they rule out the possibility of analogy, no matter how rational it would be to use it.

Even within a strict legal framework, the Supreme Court fails to properly size up the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act. Its first reason for the ruling deals with the idea that corporations are legally akin to people, and therefore have religious rights the same as people. This idea fails when considering context, in which personal beliefs cannot equate to institutional principles in a profit making industry.

The Court’s second reason, however, is sound, in that the ACA mandate for contraceptive access is a substantial burden to the employer. Here the dissent is inconsiderate of religious beliefs in an intrusive way that is for another article to explain. There would also be a significant monetary cost that would amount to substantial burden. That aside, the second reason depends on the first reason, which falls flat on its face. So it makes of no use to discuss the second reason.

The third reason of the Court’s decision is that the Government can pick up a corporation’s tab as a least restrictive means. They would have the Government (also known as the public) pay the corporation’s bill. Effectively, almost all religious rights cases concerning corporations in the future could be dealt with in this way, rendering RFRA totally ineffective. Although the Court ruled out such possibility, they provide no reasoning for doing so. Since I assume RFRA was written with the intention of it being effective and the Court hasn’t taken sufficient time to defend their own argument, the third reason is wholly unpersuasive.

The Supreme Court’s ruling on Hobby Lobby is incredibly wrong. Its implications are serious and are the concern of another article. For now, know this: the Court makes a case that is logically queer (corporations can have religion) and inconsiderate to American law (The Religious Freedom Restoration Act). The Court has failed the American people in interpreting the law reasonably and correctly. It is astonishing that the most precious institution of our judicial system, the guardian of our Constitution, could blunder so simply.

Sardonically, let us pray for the Republic.

The All-around Brilliant

I would like to propose the idea that there is such a thing as a sort of people who are All-around Brilliant. Before elaborating, I would like to immediately make note that I grudgingly exclude myself from this variety; I simply do not fit. It’s also necessary to emphasize that these extraordinary people come from all sorts of backgrounds and personalities and are rarely found grouped together (in clubs, societies, interests, and the like). Arrogance and elitism ruled out, let us continue.

The first thing about The All-around Brilliant (TAB) is that they’re smart. That’s not to say the TAB get the highest SAT scores or rank “genius” in IQ; the amorphous word choice of “smart” is used for its very flexibility. The TAB are smart in many ways and to different degrees, depending on the person. They all have some degree of book-smarts, but they also tend to be thoughtful writers of poetry and prose. They have penetrating abilities in critical reading. They can problem-solve quickly and efficiently and have a plethora of knowledge in the arts and in literature.

When it comes to constructive conversations of depth and meaning, TAB’s smartness is pushed to the forefront. They have a refined rhetoric, with internal phrase banks developed and used at will as if to prove their own brilliance. They have a great factual understanding of the world around them, with statistics and studies on their side for the opinions they hold and the conversations they undertake. They have a balance between logic and emotional, reason and passion which they delicately use in tandem. But it’s not “smartness” that makes the TAB what they are. It doesn’t define them.

What make them brilliant are their skills with people. They can dance with any audience and play any group. They can work with diversity and collaborate in conflict like few can. Many can generate the most logical and ingenious ideas in the world, but they have that hint of brilliance to present ideas and sway others. It takes a TAB to carry and lead a group, instead of merely managing one. It takes a TAB to not just develop a vision but to see it actualize. They have senses like a hawk to watch other people, but also an intuition that perches right into people’s souls to understand them. It’s not a deliberate and conscious ability at interpersonal skills the TAB have, it’s something they do with paradoxically casual zeal.

It might require some shady activity to carry and lead a group: manipulation, seduction, and the like. But it doesn’t need to. A lot of it only requires simple human geniality. The rest require sensory awareness, a depth of past experience, and strong intuition, which TAB have no lack of. The All-around Brilliant are best noted for their ability with people, but they also have a brilliance with themselves.

One can’t be an individual without individuality. One can’t be oneself without self-preservation either. TAB often stand out of the crowd and are e pluribus unum. I do know a few that are exactly the opposite, who mesh into the crowd and seem like everyone else, but anyone who spends time with a TAB soon comes to realize that they stand out. They have resonance, radiance, exuberance, and vitality that glows among a sometimes dull set of peers. They get more attention. Whether it’s liked or not, made aware or not, TAB are noticed while others aren’t.

That excessive attention (or lack thereof if the attention isn’t apparent) can cause enormous pressure. For that reason and many others that all people deal with, The All-around Brilliant have the same emotional and mental troubles as everyone if not more. This is where self-preservation comes in. For them to succeed and maintain stability, TAB often pull away from others and retreat into their own minds (some, in fact, never leave it). They will do what it takes to keep their own acuteness – their own brilliance – by preserving themselves and their individuality.

So The All-around Brilliant are diverse. Some are introverts, some are extroverts. Some are logical purists, others are passionate radicals. Some are book-smart, others are creative. Some are structured, others are flexible. Some are quiet, others are loudmouths. Some are arrogant, others have low self-esteem. But all have a bit of both, and a lot of one or the other. All are smart, all can work with people, all can stand out, and all are brilliant.

Their capabilities are far and vast. In my experience, most have numerous talents, whether that’s singing, dancing, or writing. Many have vast friend networks and are popular. Most do some sort of community activism. All have a complex understanding of the world that is developing and ever changing. All are at some degrees polymath. Much of this depends on age and resources, of course.

They come from different backgrounds and histories, such that some TAB are wealthy while others are poor. There are advantages to both that TAB needn’t hesitate to use, whether that’s extensive resources or unsheltered experiences. Their potential however is vast, and it would be a shame for a TAB not to use them. The All-around Brilliant should find their calling and follow it, onward.

Before concluding, there’s one concern to address. Some readers may have trouble seeing what exactly is so remarkable about TAB, and how much of that is subjective. I suppose everyone would demarcate (and denote) the qualities I listed differently, so there is plenty up for debate. As a disclaimer, I have no authority of my own to say who is and isn’t a TAB, or if such a thing exists. I am simply writing what I think and thinking it is right. So it goes.

The All-around Brilliant are extremely few in numbers. For those I know, I can count them on the fingers. Most probably don’t even realize their own specialness and potential – assuming I even judged accurately. The qualities that make them different are not exceptional in themselves; it’s when one puts all of their qualities together that one gets something awesome. However, those qualities, those skills, and those abilities do have a flavor that is distinguishable.

It comes with a scent of exceptionality, vitality, remarkability, and brilliance. They have a duty to the world to make it a better place, to use that strange brilliance of theirs for the greater good. I would be a shame for TAB not to. The All-around Brilliant should find their calling and follow it, onward. The have a duty to the world, and the world needs them.

 

Tenacity

When I told you not to tell me
To tell me to tell you
What I don’t want to tell,
You’re being tenacious.

I really mean it that way,
When I don’t want you to say
That you need to know
What you don’t need to know.

To you is yours,
And to me is mine,
When you hear “never mind”.

Down by the Riverside

I’m gonna lay down my sword and shield,
Down by the riverside
Down by the riverside
Down by the riverside
I’m gonna lay down my sword and shield,
Down by the riverside
Study war no more

I ain’t gonna study war no more
Ain’t gonna study war no more
Ain’t gonna study war no more
I ain’t gonna study war no more
Ain’t gonna study war no more
Ain’t gonna study war no more

I’m gonna walk with that Prince of Peace,
Down by the riverside
Down by the riverside
Down by the riverside
I’m gonna walk with that Prince of Peace,
Down by the riverside
Study war no more

I ain’t gonna study war no more
Ain’t gonna study war no more
Ain’t gonna study war no more
I ain’t gonna study war no more,
Ain’t gonna study war no more
Ain’t gonna study war no more

I’m gonna lay down that atom bomb
Down by the riverside
Down by the riverside
Down by the riverside
I’m gonna lay down that atom bomb,
Down by the riverside
Study war no more

I ain’t gonna study war no more
Ain’t gonna study war no more
Ain’t gonna study war no more
I ain’t gonna study war no more
Ain’t gonna study war no more
Ain’t gonna study war no more

I ain’t gonna study war no more
Ain’t gonna study war no more
Ain’t gonna study war no more
I ain’t gonna study war no more
Ain’t gonna study war no more
Ain’t gonna study war no more

Dividing lines

I would like to very obnoxiously propose that there is a dividing line between rationality and irrationality. The very idea is troubling and truly arrogant, but I think it is existent anyway. To get it out in the open right now, I would also like to say that what I propose is not grounded in scientific evidence. In fact, this psychology is based off of my pure speculation and if you are troubled by my mistrust of trained psychologists feel free to diagnose me.

The spectrum of rationality and irrationality proves quite useful in looking at the individual players of philosophical discourse, political commentary, and strategy. Note I am not talking about emotions or dealing with daily trivialities (that, in fact, are not so trivial at all – stress management, organizational skills, etc.). Those matters are a different topic altogether although still having to do with rationality and irrationality.

To satisfy the academic prose of confusing verbiage, I will use the word “logic” interchangeably with “rationality” and “feeling” interchangeably with “irrationality”. This is not to say that feeling is inferior – logic is often too impersonal– as irrational feelings have a very important role in every subject, rational ones included. If the pretentious literary critic (who for some strange reason tends to appreciate what rhetorical dogma criticizes) is not yet satisfied, the passive tense will be used as pleased.

Now that the necessary asides have been made (Attention Deficit Disorder, anyone?), onto the topic. Most people that deal with intelligentsia of any field are extremely prone to irrational bias and sporadic feeling-based opinions. In fact, it’s so serious for some that I can state an opinion only for the other to misconstrue my opinion to make it a straw man and assault it in irrational harangue without even realizing it.

For example, I once mischievously called out someone for stating that “There’s no proof 100% for or against the bible”. Being who I am, I inquired the confident know-it-all on her knowledge of Early Christian History. She admitted to know very little, and in a regrettably biting tone I said her assertion was far too daring. Her response, verbatim:

Really? So you’re saying that there’s some magical paper or study that proves every claim in the bible? That the catholic church didn’t change anything? That he walked no water? Did someone take sampler from the water and see jesus toast in it?

I had never said a thing of what she said I had said. I don’t know where she got it from and how she immediately became so accusative. She probably also forgot momentarily that I was not Christian and an avid promoter of Biblical criticism (the study of the evolution of Biblical manuscripts, not criticizing the Bible, mind you). Her rhetorical questions were passionate and illogical, focused entirely on feelings and not on rationality. Frankly, they made no sense. And yet, for the better part of the conversation, she saw nothing wrong with it.

Another friend of mine is as fickle as the autumn sky. It is at one point he is a Communist (what that means to him a whole other matter), and at another a die-hard American patriot. On the occasion, he parades himself as a champion of the social left, and on other occasions he is sharply critical of illegal immigration. No matter what his philosophy of the hour is, however, my admirably intelligent friend (truly, he is quite knowledgeable) is quick to temper and ill manner out of bursts of sudden passion.

These irrational tendencies are troublesome disturbances to good debate. While it is true that emotion is necessary in discourse and political involvement (after all, what would be the point otherwise?), having it threaten one’s rationality is worrying. Far too often we are so gripped on what we have to say that we are not listening to the other. We are so caught up in our own passions that we can’t listen to what the other is actually saying, not what we make it out to be. If we’re to be mature about things, we have to be rational: we have to hear the person for what they have to say and think about it using that darn old thing called logic. How’s that for egoism?

 

Trickle down economics: beautiful and untrue

Reality is a uncomforting idea for folks, whether you’re a blue-collar plumber or a wolf on Wall Street. People have a lPve for ideas that are simple – easy to understand and pretty in diagram-format – that confirm what they desire with disregard for truth. I wanted to explain that idea in terms of economics, or better put, “economics”.

Simplicity for simplicity’s sake is one of those yearnings that unfortunately goes too far. Take the famous model, Kuznetz’s curve. Nobel Prize-winning economist Simon Kuznets began the first systematic study of inequality in the United States in the early 1950s. His monumental work traced income distribution from 1913 to 1948, and Kuznets noticed the hastening reduction in income inequality at the time. Compare this to the previous era before World War I (which started in 1914), when inequality was much greater. Since inequality was great during the early stages of American economic growth, and it decreased as the country industrialized, Kuznets announced the clear causation. Although skeptical at first, he declared that income per capita fit a neat little bell curve:

File:Kuznets curve.png

Though Simon Kuznets recognized his model was “too easy”, the overwhelming number of economists, wealthy businessman, and politicians embraced the idea that inequality would fix itself with no work on part of the elite. The model was simple and a perfect parabola, therefore it was considered true. Of course, factors such as two world wars and a Great Depression were by and large ignored in considering the Kuznets curve – because “complications” are steadily avoided by economists. It is confirmation with aesthetically pleasing graphs that drives American econo-politics to this day.

Simon Kuznets, however unintentionally, lit the spark for contemporary Reaganomics. Reviving Enlightenment era speculation, neoliberals stand in awe of Adam Smith’s “genius” for discovering what is so “simple but true”. Laissez-faire has become a way of life in its own, where economic freedom from government is tied to all other sorts of freedoms in the very American tradition of ethical militarism, theocratic pluralism, and multicultural patriotism. The philosophy where government nonintervention magically keeps the world running through the guiding fingers of the “invisible hand” was made commonsensical through bemusing associations with God and country. The comforting idea of having the “markets decide” isn’t an idea based on proof or analysis, but on its own enshrined romanticism. The economy runs itself because I believe it does, and I believe it does because it is beautiful like so. It works because it has to work, otherwise my own understanding is wrong – which, of course, it can’t be. It is so simple that it has to be true. America has always been this way, and God wants it to stay this way. Plus, a bell curve says so.

The bandwagonny libertarian mindset mimicked above is bloated with irrationality and self-confirmation. It may be true that with careful analysis and study supply side economics could be convincing. It may be true that smaller government and regressive taxes would result in equitable trickle down. It may be true that a more comprehensive conclusion to Kuznets’ data would hold similar principles. What is certain, however, is that by and large conservative proponents are bubbling in the centuries old mantra of government nonintervention not because of careful consideration, but because it’s a simple, beautiful, and “what-my-friends-in-college-said” idea. It helps to have God, country, and a bell curve on one’s side too.

Romance and Reality

Humans are beings of love. Whether it’s that girl who is nothing but perfect or that culture that can’t have negatives, our love exceeds our rationality, our search for beauty surpasses our nitpicking of errors. That is, of course, if the subject of our inquiry is what we idealize already. If it is a subject introduced from reality in the very beginning, then we are critical: with rationality and nitpicking. That irony, to be realistic with opposition and romantic with our own views drives the world.

When Karl Marx wrote Das Kommunistische Manifest, I find it difficult to believe how truthfully he thought of reality. It was as if he entirely disregarded human nature – the feelings of greed and the desire for dignity among people. Indeed, The Communist Manifesto was an honest work for the yearning of equality, but little did Marx and Engels indulge in self criticism. Their critique of capitalism was biting and grim, but their critique of themselves almost nonexistent.

On the other end, Adam Smith envisioned a world that could not exist; a world of true laissez-faire with the guiding hand of the market that drove Darwinian progress. He foresaw the problem monopolies would possess, but laissez-faire was a dogma for all else. He critiqued the opposition, but never himself. His reality was limited by his love for his idea.

Let us call this a romantic obsession. A romantic love for ideas and philosophies simply for the sake of love. Like the girl who has to be perfect, the ideology simply cannot be wrong. The ideology is whole, complete, and in its totality perfectly perfect and realistically realistic. The market will guide itself – because I believe it so. Equality will exist – because it must. Idealism and love, the two intertwined drove Marx and Smith alike into ideological frenzy and romantic adore.

When Martin Luther King marched on Washington singing “We Shall Overcome!”, was he disenchanted? Did he see the apathy of white liberals, or did he ignore it? Did he understand that marching could not do everything? That racism would continue, and that his own people would fuel it? And if not him, his followers? Were they so axiomatic to non violence that Black Power was lost to them? That Stokely Carmichael, perhaps, had something to offer?

And when Malcolm X followed the footsteps of Marcus Garvey – in racial separatism and African return – did Malcolm even look at reality? Could it really be that he ignored the realities of his very same people entirely? Moving back to Africa in droves, from a country they lived in for centuries, for a country that raised them and was their only home, could it really be done? And who would go? Idealism led to nothing.

Theodore Herzl did it. He called on Jews in Europe to Zionism in a back-to-Asia campaign. It worked, it succeeded, it created one of the freest and most powerful nation in the Middle East. His idealism in the 1890s, his romantic obsession with what few thought could happen led to a new reality. In ignoring reality, the Zionists changed it.

Marx did not succeed with egalitarianism – but his words sparked countless revolutions. His ideas brought aspirations and hope to workers, laborers, proles, whatever they are that came into being…sort of. The qualifier, perhaps, was what he ignored. Adam Smith was no different. His hands off government did not succeed, and capitalism always had institutions bearing a quite visible glove. But nevertheless governments formed with his book their Bible. Capitalism and Communism both came to being, but neither came to perfection.

Martin Luther King developed the society Americans have today, never achieving his dream but slowly nearing. Malcolm never saw the separatism once visioned (“separation, not segregation”), but he inspired generations of blacks – in the United States, in Ghana, in Kenya, in France. Their idealism fashioned change, their romance created realities.

Romance shapes our thinking and clots our judgement, all the while kindling desires and resolve for change. The anarchist fights for freedom because he believes it can happen. The soldier dies for freedom because he believes it has happened. Neither is right, neither is true, but neither would fight knowing that. And neither is true until it becomes so, until the anarchist achieves liberation or enough soldiers die abroad to change society at home. Idealism is by its nature unpractical and by its nature a disregard for reality, but only so long as it doesn’t succeed. Success, too, cannot fail till kingdom come. It can only succeed….when it does.

Romantic affairs with universalism or utilitarianism, with love or class warfare are illusions.  It is the Bismarckian realist that knows the game like it’s played, that can compromise and realpolitik his way to incremental change. But the Romantic idealist that knows how he wants the game, who cannot compromise and despises realpolitik, is the one who causes revolution. The realist knows his limits, while the idealist sees not his bounds. One is critical of himself, the other is critical of the Other. We incline to the latter, but we have a fair deal of the former.

Romanticism and realism, romance and reality, drive the world. Politics and revolution work hand in hand, incrementally and massively, making the changes that the changers want to see. The trick is balancing and seeing that game for what it is while seeing what it can be, playing the spectrum and dancing with the continuum: being self critical and employing both techniques liberally but with precision. To do that, one must do the exact same thing as doing it – the logic is circular. And that’s the wonderfully idealistic part about it.

Romance and Reality, you can never have one. Choose both and use wisely. Cast your cards and roll the die…onward!