Category Archives: Commérage

The Buzzword

“This world health day, let us talk about one such particular word. A word that deserves more gravity than is credited for.”

Picture2

 

Diction. Words. Terminologies. Technically speaking, all of these are usually just coined for convenience in identification and reference of ideas, obviously, right? Some may beg to differ. Maybe, there really is more to words than just having a mere meaning. Speaking in terms of mental health, words can sometimes act as lifelines. Having a word to describe one’s state of mind is often all that one needs to hold on to. A word makes a concept very real and solid, which may or may not be a good thing for the patient, but it gives him/her something to identify themselves with.

But some words have gradually become the subject of injustice, being irresponsibly tossed around, being assimilated into what one might call pop culture. This world health day, let us talk about one such particular word. A word that deserves more gravity than is credited for.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or OCD is a mental illness whose consequences are dispersed over a spectrum ranging from short-lived anxiety to suicide. People suffering from this disorder feel the need to check, perform certain routines, or have certain thoughts repeatedly to the point where it gets in the way of their life.

Ava, a 27-year old woman, complained of excessive checking. Her symptoms dated back to her childhood when she spent hours on homework because of a need to have each page perfect with no erasures or cross-outs and hours arranging her room so that it was in perfect order before sleeping. By high school, she couldn’t complete assignments until after the term had ended and did not participate in any extracurricular activities because her time was spent checking work assignments. When she entered college, she developed new checking rituals to assure herself that she had not caused harm to anyone around her (e.g., checking electrical appliances for fear that she had started a fire, faucets for fear that she had left them running, and door locks for fear that she had left them open). These rituals began to consume several hours a day leading her to be late for class or to miss it entirely. Although she sought therapy, she did not tell the therapist about her obsessions and rituals for fear she would be labelled “crazy.” If only she’d had another word to describe herself, had it not been used already for describing trivial perfectionism.

Madeline, a patient of the same, gives a firsthand account of how suffocating OCD really can be:

“Imagine being trapped. Not a lot of air. Your palms are sweaty. Your heart is racing. Maybe a movie is playing, or a song. One you don’t particularly like. Over and over and over again. Imagine being stuck on the Disneyland ride “It’s a Small World” for days and weeks on end. Or maybe you are inside a room. With no door handle. No window. No phone. No way to get out. Welcome to my OCD.”

OCD is said to have affected 2.3% of the world’s population, a figure much smaller than what seems to be claimed of late. This claim may not directly affect a real victim of the illness, but it surely does make the percolation of help way more cumbersome than it is supposed to be.

As a way of empathising with this ailment and many others, this World Health Day, let us oath to endeavour more discretion and sensitivity towards maladies we may not have exhaustive knowledge of. All the same, let us not hold ourselves back from talking about them, let us keep these buzzwords “trending”, because sometimes awareness can make all the difference.

Advertisements

Fool’s Paradise

Eudaimonia. Felicidad. Contentezza. Bonheur. Happiness. An emotion that is supposed to transcend the barriers of language and culture. Unite people and spread joy. But is happiness such a one-dimensional shallow feeling? Something for which we always wander never realizing what it truly means. Men far greater than me have tried to define happiness within the confines of a few words. Aristotle put it eloquently when he called it a state of activity. Eleanor Roosevelt elaborated on her definition elaborating upon criterions to achieve happiness.

“Someone once asked me what I regarded as the three most important requirements for happiness. My answer was: A feeling that you have been honest with yourself and those around you; a feeling that you have done the best you could both in your personal life and in your work; and the ability to love others.”

Without going into further such wordplays, the commonalities can be seen emerging from these definitions. Though this does beg the question that can this unequivocal feeling be put into words that might apply for the everyday John or is it defined by unique parameters for every individual. After all you cannot judge a fish by it’s ability to climb a tree and neither can you put a millionaire in a pauper’s place and ask him to find happiness there.

We often hear about parameters that state how happy the general population of a country might be. The United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network has been providing us with a World Happiness Report outlining the state of world happiness and causes of both happiness and misery. In addition to this, in the last thirty years, more than 3000 empirical studies have been conducted, some of them bearing questionable titles like ‘How much happiness is there in the world?’ and ‘Causes and correlates of happiness’. Most of these use factors like GDP and surveys among the demographic to quantify something that might just be unquantifiable. But to what extent are such measures valid and reliable as they seek for an answer to a seemingly abstract question. U.S.A which is seemingly the 14th happiest country in the world continues to be ravaged by unemployment and dissatisfaction with the government bringing into question the validity of such reports.

In spite of its vague nature, happiness is something we strive for in our day to day lives often making it an end goal for us. “I just want to be happy”, a line often heard from the millennial generation a they navigate through the creeks and crevices of life. Most of our decisions are guided by our pursuit for happiness, often failing to identify happiness right when it is staring us in the face. This never-ending pursuit goes on and many end up losing track of the path they set out on often settling into the monotonous idiosyncrasy of their life. Other try and look for happiness in material possessions or perhaps in the arms of a loved one. But if you cannot find happiness on just your own from within yourself, how can you expect things or people to fill the void that might be bubbling under your skin?

A wise man once said that you will always find the answer in your heart where it has been long waiting since before the question. Maybe that is where our Pursuit of Happiness is supposed to lead us too. And in that moment of contentment, flourishment and fulfilment, we might end up discovering the fruits of our strenuous pursuit for the all elusive Happiness.

Human 3.0

The dominance of humans on this planet has been greatly due to their abilities to use inanimate objects, engineering them to meet their desires. To a certain extent these objects or more precisely tools have been more useful than the animate ones itself. The process of evolution took time but the development of these tools was gradual with a very steep slope. Unarguably, the tool that has led us to discriminate other creatures against humans has been the technology. Life has never been this easy in the human history all credit goes to the level of technology around us. Even today it is impossible to predict the point of saturation of it. But the stretch of one of the fields in technology that has startled humans is Artificial Intelligence. Fundamentals laid on the ground to describe the human thinking based on very clever manipulation of sequences of 1s and 0s. This field of intelligence has seen lot of ups and downs during the course of its development. But this giant was never out of scope and its mammoth possibilities to transform human lives even further gave us the taste of every colour.

 

AI is not the technology of any other generation but now. It might be either “Siri” or “Alexa” assisting you right on your demand or spotting the driverless car in traffic beside you. For instance, the smarter web browsing experience whether the filtering of junk mails or personalising the web, our dependence on it narrates the story . With every sunrise we are not only gifted with a brand new day but also with better experience due to new and improved algorithms heavily influenced by this technology. The ability of these machines driven by AI – – to show advanced cognitive skills, to learn, to perceive,  to process data – has made them capable to perform any task with high accuracy.

 

On 1st january 2016, the dream for a better future took off driven by 193 nations. The dream is to see a better world by the end of 2030 revolving around the development of economy along with attention to the amelioration of the environment. The United Nations ‘17  “Sustainable Development Goals” is set to promote prosperity in the country and at the same time protect the planet, economic growth and the social needs for the same including education, health, social protection, and job opportunities along with checking the climate change and environmental protection.  The concept of “AI for good” is to explore the implementation of it for the greater good of society and ultimately using it to cut the problems faced by us.

 

If the coin gets flipped, we might end up with the very last invention of the human race. We consider ourselves supremely intelligent from our primitive animal cousins, but in reality we are only fractionally more intelligent than them. But that tiny fraction had led us to develop tools, language , civilisation and much more. When AI gets more intelligent than us, not fractionally but by million times called the “singularity”, our breath could be the price we pay. All that is needed now is to be very careful with this technology but the twist being the impossibility of the situation in predicting it before it actually happens.

Pandora’s Box

Traveling from an East Asian sea port, like Busan, South Korea to a European one like Rotterdam would take the average European cargo ship about 45 to 60 days- a journey that would circumvent all of Asia and Europe, passing through the Suez canal. Moreover, for such a journey, with an assumed speed of about twenty knots, traveling the 12000 nautical miles between these two ports would consume about 5000 tons of fuel. Not only does this cost a fortune, it also causes severe damage to our environment – increasing the rate of global warming and upping global smog levels. What if there was a shorter way, one that could effectively cut distance, time, cost and the carbon footprint of this journey? Introducing the fabled North-West passage.

In fact, this passage remained a myth until the year 1906, when Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen became the first to traverse this passage over the course of three years. Further successful attempts by Henry Larsen in 1940 and Willy de Roos in 1970 opened up a whole world of opportunities for further traders. However, this passageway remained seasonally open and difficult to navigate even in the best of circumstances therefore using it as a commercial trade route remained unfeasible.

Eventually with the coming of the 21st century the world saw a rise in global temperatures, triggering a phenomenon we all know as global warming. This global warming saw a gradual melting of ice in the polar regions – leading to the complete opening of routes that hadn’t been easily accessible prior to the 21st century- namely, the northeast passage, the transpolar route and the northwest passage. Geographers predict that the northwest passage will be open to commercial use by the early 2030s – an event that would result in the reduction of thousands of miles of travel on major shipping routes. This would allow shipping companies to transport much larger ships in lesser time than the Panama Canal- the sea route that is currently in use- saving them millions of dollars in transportation. However, the opening of the north-western passage poses just as many problems as it does solutions.

One of these, a problem which has been a source of controversy since the journey of the SS Manhattan through this passage in 1969, is Canada’s claim to it. Since this strait passes through the Canadian archipelago, the Canadian government has claimed these waters as their own. They state that Canada reserves the right to decide which ships are granted transit through this strait and it can debar any vessel from traversing along the north-western passage. This is in stark disagreement with the United States of America and the European Union, who view this as more of a “transit passage”- where, although Canada retains the right to the resources, it can’t control which ships are allowed through. Inevitably, this has since led to conflict between Canada and the rest of the world.

One of the first instances of this conflict dates to 1985 when the US coast guard ship Polar sea passed through the strait en route from Greenland to Alaska. This infuriated the Canadian public despite the fact that the ship submitted to checking by Canadian officials. Tempers flared and a rift was formed between the United States and Canada. Later, in 2005, a fresh round of controversy was sparked when US nuclear submarines were alleged to have traveled through Canadian waters without any form of governmental approval. One of the first moves by Canadian prime Minister Stephen Harper as he was elected into office was to adopt a firm stance on the arctic issue, claiming that the strait was to be classified as Canadian internal waters and be referred to as such by all Canadian forces as of April 9th, 2006. In July 2007,Prime Minister Harper finally announced the building of a deep-water port in the far north, strengthening Canada’s position over the strait.

And it isn’t just the United States and Canada being affected by the opening of this passage. Consider the Russian Federation. After having planted a flag in the arctic seabed- claiming it as their own in 2007- they recently traversed this passage in an oil tanker between Norway and South Korea, taking just over 19 days. A similar journey over the Suez canal would have taken a significantly larger amount of time, marking this as the first of 15 such Russian expeditions. Even the Republic of China has laid eyes on the passage as it sees this as an amazing opportunity to minimize costs and hence increase revenue. Although neither of these countries have chosen a side in the ongoing conflict and hence could be persuaded in either direction, both have shown signs of inclination towards the United states/EU block.

Environmentalists, on the other hand, have a completely different take on the situation. They believe that we should focus on how the strait will impact nature, instead of who owns it. While on one side of the coin, the opening of the passage results in a newer shorter sea route that vastly reduces shipping distances and hence fuel; on the other we have a myriad of problems- from increased number and size of ships (leading to damaged ecosystems), oil spills, chemical leaks and general damage to flora and fauna caused by human activity. In fact, the opening of the passage itself can be discussed from an environmental standpoint as it points to increasing global warming and carbon emissions. With this multitude of problems surrounding this region, we can only hope that the powers involved take the right steps and think about the entire world community in any of their decisions, and plan for the years coming ahead.

The Swinging Wings

centrist_logo_by_kingofcong

A couple centuries ago, at a meeting – one of dramatic importance, as it turned out– the attendees’ seating was divided according to what or whom they believed in. A trivial simplification of matters, as it might have seemed back then, turned out to define, for perhaps all of following history, the labels of the political spectrum. The legend of the Estates General of 1789, apart from the following French Revolution, recounts how it gave the world the idea of a the Right – the section that believed in conserving the order as it had always been; and of the Left – the part of the order that believed in change and equality.

Time passed, and the pendulum swung, from the right end. Time seemed to be of change and revelry, until the bob went further left. The ugliness that seemed characteristic of the existence of the orthodox seemed to manifest itself alongside the ideas of the liberals.  And with the spread of democracy people witnessed their leaders, who once promised them a free world open to ideas, now churn their votes to become the new elite, knee deep in corruption and hypocrisy.

The pendulum now began it’s journey back to where it started from.

And on went the clock.

The swings have ever since – and perhaps even before – been periodic, with each society having its own clock. Newer groups formed, taking ideas from both sides, eventually leaning toward one of them, to varying extents. One party promises cleansing of the bad the the previous did, comes into power, builds the nation the way it wishes, creates its own mess and eventually succumbs to the opportunity another party strikes in that mess. In this gamble, the people may both gain and lose, depending on factors ranging from the strength of the ruling group and its will to elevate the State, to the constructiveness of the opposition’s strength and its detachment from anarchy.

Today more than ever, these pendulums seem to be intertwined across the globe. The closer the societies, the greater is the number of threads connecting their polities. Geographical proximity might be one of the most influential way two societies are close, but it quite definitely isn’t the only one, as exchange of resources isn’t bound by physical adjacency anymore. Energy, raw material, services, trade and increasingly, immigrants, can be traveling between nations diametrically opposite on the globe, perhaps with much greater an ease than they would flow between bordering nations. These exchanges further expand into the exchange of ideas and ambitions, therefore constituting the many threads that pull the strings in either country. So, it shouldn’t be surprising to see a sudden surge in the Left winning elections across Europe; why then should the opposite seem unreal?

The human mind fetches hope. Change is both, the cause as well as the consequence of hope. Movements erupt when populations feel something needs to change, hoping for the wrongs to be rectified by a new leadership. And this alone, is enough to fuel the perpetual see-saw of power, between the Left and the Right.

Solace In Death ?

When life gives you lemons, as per society’s advice you’re expected to make lemonade out of them. But what if you do not want any lemonade? Maybe the lemons seem way too sour for any sugar you know of? Maybe you don’t find yourself left with any resources or energy to make any? Or, maybe you’re simply not interested in lemonade, and just want to let go. Does the society have a right to infringe upon your right to choose?

It’s an age-old debate that we are looking at here, i.e., whether or not a person has the right to end his or her own life, and further, whether or not another person may assist or even decide upon one’s life or death, for one’s sufferings to end. The dilemma here is popularly between two views, that constitute the basis of this moral paradox: first, that the right to die and the choice of which are extremely personal, thus demanding for the non-interference of the State; and the other, that constructing a system where the exercise of this right, without its abuse being minimized is impossible. Euthanasia, has been and is being legalised in numerous nations across the globe. What remains is the question over the morality of euthanasia. Should we let a person die if we see no scope of improvement? Or should we leave it to time?

Can we choose for people who cannot themselves?

We have of course chosen for other people in the past. Be it conquering lands to rule people we deemed unfit for self-governance, or granting people special statuses, thinking they would perish otherwise; be it burning women alive, worrying about their survival post their husbands’ death, or reserving political opportunities for them, sceptical of their acceptance as leaders otherwise; or  be it banning same-sex marriage thinking homosexuals couldn’t choose rightly;; people have taken decisions for other people thinking that those other people could not decide for themselves. And as much as one can see, the correctness of these choices was directly dependent upon the correctness of the judgement of the decision makers, about whether the people were capable to choose for themselves or not.

Perhaps, so is the case with morality in the domain of euthanasia. Determine first whether or not the person can elect his or her own fate. There are innumerable cases in which despite doctors having given up, the patients, due to mere will power have made it through the severest of conditions. This can be capitalised upon, by pushing for a psychological encouragement of the patient, to have his or her will kept strong.

But what if the patient wants release? Hope is the greatest God humans have ever known. What if the person sees none left in survival? What if he sees hope in release? No one, obviously has any right whatsoever to hold him back from pursuing this hope. The question here is, how may we determine with surety, if the person really wants to die? Until humanity finds out a way to accurately determine the strength of one’s intentions to die, the legality of euthanasia shall remain a dilemma, perhaps subjective to the cases themselves.

Ephemeral Empathy

Spur of the moment phenomena direct most of our lives today. The hundreds of assaults that took place on New Year’s Eve in Cologne were obviously condemnable. The event, described as TAHARRUSH GAMEA, made it to the international front forthwith. Thanks, perhaps, to facebook pages and the twitterati, the air got high on radical ideas and the human brains decisively co-ordinated and lead us all straight out of our comfy homes to rally against the ‘happening’.

Taharrush gamea is an Arab word meaning collective public harassment of a woman by a group of 20-30 men. Two sets of men encircle the woman; while the inner circle assaults, gropes and pulls at the woman – often tearing her clothes apart and sometimes even raping the woman – the outer circle tries to keep the public distracted. Then, the outer circle moves in and exchanges roles with the inner circle to commit the same unimaginable horrors on the woman. To think that an idea so horrifying originated in the 21st century itself (in some Muslim Nations), only to keep women journalists at bay, leaves one uncertain for the future of our world.

But, undoubtedly, assaults have happened since time immemorial, and everywhere in the world. Only when it happens in this manner, in those Muslim Nations, is it termed as Taharrush Gamea. Otherwise, it is simply called harassment. The Cologne attack was termed Taharrush SOLELY because the offenders were Muslim.

So one can wonder, has a similar thing never happened before? Has a woman never been assaulted in Cologne, or anywhere in the rest of the world? Why do only ‘big’ events lead us out to the streets? And why have we always been prejudiced against all of Islam?

According to WHO, one in every three women has been sexually assaulted at least once in her lifetime. I’m sure we haven’t witnessed a ‘million’ protests rising up against sexual assault, while each of those million victims did experience an equally horrible event. Once we are done with protesting, the event fades into oblivion within no time. The dos and don’ts we draw up once in a year during the ‘big’ events end up more like those set of rules we’d deliberately forget. We need to change this attitude of ours. We need to be affected by every small event, by every inhumane move people make.

Agreed, the offenders were migrants and Muslims. But, not all migrants or Muslims should be forced to bear the brunt of the blame of the people – who want all the migrants out of Germany just because of a few hooligans who exist in every country, cutting across all religions. Most of the migrants were genuinely escaping destruction and war in their original countries, and they desired no violence because they obviously had had their share in their lifetime. Holistically speaking, shouldn’t we be a little considerate towards them?

BUT – let the above discussion not leave an impression that we should pour our hearts out to the offenders too. Our guards need to be strengthened, because when offenders end up stating so shamelessly -“I am a Syrian, you have to treat me nicely—Mrs. Merkel invited me!” (Thanks to the liberal open door policy that ‘Mrs. Merkel’ implemented)- we know that people have started taking advantage of a sensitive situation.