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DIARY: 2005
5 entries (# 115-119)

Section Index

  1. Iraqi Elections
  2. Renaming the Site / Refocusing
  3. Writing in English as a German
  4. Black Background
  5. On the Practicality of the Rule of Law

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Entry # 115: January 29th - Iraqi Elections

The thugs terrorizing Iraq are showing their true face now by continuing their attacks against the Iraqi election. They're demonstrating, very clearly, that they are the enemies of the Iraqi population, the enemies of democracy, of justice, of freedom, and of Islam. No matter how flawed the war against Saddam has been, no matter how incompetent and even wrongly the liberating forces have acted, no matter that the elections are the consequence of a war that may be deemed illegal by international law; this is about the future of Iraq.

The future is not dependent upon the past. A new beginning is always possible. What those attacking the elections and the people want is to corrupt the peace-loving, democratic, progressive and humanist part of Islam and throw it back into an anachronistic perversion dominated by racism, lies, paranoia, hatred against women, and hatred against life itself.

There are no words describing those going to vote under the threat of attacks. Maybe those among us who didn't have to experience the denigration and humiliation and terror of tyrannic regimes are not able to value what's going on in an election. They should. Those claiming that Arabs possibly are different, that democracy wouldn't be fit for them, that their cultural peculiarities may demand for a different form of governance, should think about what they're saying. Democracy, however flawed, is always better than even the best and most benevolent tyranny, because it gives people a choice, because it tells them that they can change the world, bit by bit. Democracy is about participation. Why should some people be allowed to participate in their shaping their own future, and others not?

Democracy is not an ideological choice, it's a practical one, and it's an ethical one. Practical, because no other government can hold the same degree of legitimation, and all other governments are by definition suppressive, and you cannot suppress freedom for ever. All other governments than democracies are doomed to be overthrown by those they subject to their rule. The people are the only true sovereign through which government can function. Ethical, because every human being enjoys the same universal rights, as it was signed by all members of the United Nations. If all have equal rights, no one shall be deprived of them. They have these rights because, no mattter what differences in gender, race, class, religion, tribe, they are all human.

January 29th, 2005

Entry # 116: November 20th - Renaming the Site / Refocusing

I recently realized something. It's one of those things you carry along with you for quite a while until it finally sets in. For a very long time, this web site of mine has carried the subtitle "approaching the unexplained". This has been a variant of a previous title, "faces of the unexplained", testifying to my interest in The X-Files and related topics. Well, my interest in this series has not vanished, but it has turned into a different direction, maybe a more mature one. I wouldn't say I have ever believed in anything that could be called the "paranormal" (unless, of course, you'd understand it as something not yet within the realm of the scientifically explainable), but for sure I cultivated lots of affiliations towards that theme, and I let them take form on my web site.

Likewise, in something that almost feels like a previous life, I have been a Catholic, going to mass regularly. Yet I can never remember ever having felt truly adherent to any kind of belief system. I went along with it as far as my skepticism and sense of exploration would carry me, until a point of no return had been reached. Despite any still remaining affinities with some parts of psychological and philosophical elements inside Catholic faith (basically, ideas like trust, confidence, forgiveness, charity and tutoring, or what Erich Fromm in Escape from Freedom has called the maternal element), I can see no need for me to continue to pose as identifying with theological concepts I have never seriously embraced. At a certain point, you have to make a distinction between what is childish belief, i.e. fit for a child to believe, and what isn't.

Having come to realize that the central issue of science, of the scientific question, is not a banal one, is not even trivial, but crucial for, well, everything, I chose to drop all pretenses. I've always held that science, or more generally speaking, the quest for objectivity, is, indeed, the only option fit for adoption. Science is not a belief system. It is not a religion. It is not a teleological, soteriological system we hope to employ in our quest for "salvation". It's simply something that prevents us from falling into the trappings of solipsism, arrogance, superstition and irrationality. Science is humility. Its method teaches us to accept our mistakes along the way, and to learn from them. People who point out our mistakes are our friends. People who would never do that, aren't, however compassionate they may be.

Since childhood, I've had a recurrent fantasy of what I'd do once confronted with God, and what I'd say to him once he said something I didn't agree with. I always came up with the same answer: Who is he to tell me what's right? Should we respect a godhead, no matter what it did? Should we follow any authority blindly because it would have constructed itself as an authority? Never.

Well, this problem is solved. The burden of evidence for the god-hypothesis surely lies on the shoulders of those constantly bringing it up. So far, not a single piece of evidence points towards the existence of any god, or any super-natural being or entity or energy or occurrence. Any claims to the contrary have simply failed to deliver, since thousands of years. I believe it has been Richard Dawkins who pointed out that the argument from incredulity, i.e. formulations like "I can't imagine how the emergence of life came to pass without divine intervention", only point towards a lack of imagination and a refusal of critical thinking on the part of the speaker. What we can or cannot imagine is not the issue, inventing a Skyhook (to use Daniel Dennett's term) fit for explaining everything once our knowledge arrives at an impasse, and calling that Skyhook "god", solves nothing and only creates further problems.

But I don't want to go into that discussion right now.

The result, however, is clear: The theme of this web site remains the same, "approaching the unexplained" is the very essence of science. "Portentum ergo fit non contra naturam, sed contra quam est nota natura" - "Miracles are not contrary to nature, but only contrary to what we know about nature." This is a saying demonstrating that sometimes, even theology can be more intelligent than religion itself. (Augustine, of course, is a thinker of quite a different caliber than any (Un)Intelligent Design hacks of our times.) It is also the method of science illustrated: What we do not know, we only don't know YET. Something we don't understand is not a source of awe stopping all thought, but a source of awe calling for both humility and a concerted effort to work towards understanding it. Yet still, "approaching the unexplained" started to smack of an affiliation with the "para"normal and with alien abduction stories and related nonsense that is better explained in a scientific way. I have to thank the writings of Richard Dawkins and Carl Sagan, amongst countless others, for clearing some confusion in my thinking.

So, what instead? The realization that what I've been building is something of an extended diary. Everything on this site, the explicitly so designated diary, the essays, the poems, the photo series, the reviews: everything has the diary principle as a basic common ground. Any utterance, despite its original purpose and agenda, also serves as an illustration of what was going on in the mind of the writer at a specific time.

I've always maintained that I want to add to the site, not replace. There are some exceptions, mostly in the realm of correcting outright mistakes in spelling or rescanning old photographs, or occasionally rewriting a review, but basically, I have always treated the site as an archive. There's a date available for each item added, so the chronological principle can be observed, it serves as a caveat as well: mind the nonsense of the past. It also should help keep me humble, or humbler.

Finally, I should start to more seriously acknowledge myself as an artist. Even if I'm not necessarily content or happy with all my artistic output in the past, as no serious artist should probably be, the fact remains that it very much appears as if I keep producing stuff that would fall into the realm of art. The artistic intention is apparent, the products sure look like attempts at art, and I keep making them - maybe it even is art!

Alas, artistically, I'm moving into Phase 5: Logoi kai Erga (words and deeds) now, which will carry a similar thread of practicality, science, logos instead of mythos, etc., as also emphasized by the title of poem Group 21: Vidyaa (learning, science).

Thus, a new focus: No misleading subtitle, but a clarification that this is the continuing archive of a personal quest with a main focus on art.

November 20th, 2005

Entry # 117: November 20th - Writing in English as a German

Sometimes I am asked why I write in English, being a German native, living in Germany. Would it not be more natural for me to use my mother tongue than to use a foreign language?

I don't know. I started writing English poetry in school ("Running Gag", 1995), but only in 1997 I took it up more seriously, till I completely discontinued writing in German in 1998. Sometimes I use other languages as well, in the spirit of exploring a different medium (French, Spanish, Italian, Latin, Ancient Greek) or because it seems fit. Writing is always about language, it is a love affair. Some people naturally seem to either be in love with or have grown accustomed to their native tongue; for me it has been English. Were I more fluent in Ancient Greek, and were it not so terribly elitist to write in that language, I might even have chosen Ancient Greek as my language, it's even more elegant, and most concepts interesting for me are better explored in their original Greek surrounding. As that's not feasible, and as I'd fallen in love with American English before, Greek is something like an affair I sometimes succumb to, with Latin as a close follow-up. Additionally, I observed myself being too preoccupied with German examples of poetry (most obviously Goethe), and once I started writing in English, I knew almost no English poetry, and I had a fresh start and a chance to develop a voice even before having heard other examples. Now that I'm studying American literature, I of course can relate to other authors and voices, and it's what I find with Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson that I deem most appealing; but that's more of a convergence after the fact of having found a voice of my own than a conscious copying of styles.

For the web site in general, it started in English in 1998, while I already had switched to English. It also started as a Star Trek / Television / Movies site with a focus on American media, so it was rather natural for me to do it in English as well. I also hoped for a larger audience: Although not every German would understand English, and I might lose a German audience, there are far more people speaking English than German, and I'd rather be able to communicate on a possibly global level than adhere to some rather essentialist principle of nationality.

But these considerations have been secondary to my poetry. English indeed is the language I have come to cherish most, most of my reading and watching is done in English as well, so there's no conflict for me at all.

November 20th, 2005

Entry # 118: November 20th - Black Background

While I'm at it, in the spirit of clarification: Some people have noted they dislike the black background I'm using for my web site. Well, it started as a science fiction / horror site, thus the black background was entirely appropriate then. And it wasn't black, I of course had stars in the background. The stars disappeared because they didn't ease the reading process. I seriously thought about a change of background colors, but I always find reading white text on black on a screen more relaxing than vice versa. Also, I play a lot with colors, especially with the logos for some of my poems, and color looks better on black, I think. Finally, it creates a more cinematic atmosphere for my photographs, they just look better embedded in a black background. I may have some moments of melancholy, and from time to time write some rather depressing texts, but my choice of color scheme has different sources.

November 20th, 2005

Entry # 119: December 8th - On the Practicality of the Rule of Law

A Bill of Rights makes no sense once its legitimacy is seen as limited to a territory. States are more than a piece of land, they are an idea, a communion of tradition, history, and principles.

Some principles may appear strange in a time of crisis. If you apprehend a criminal, and you are quite sure he is a criminal, why not lock him up, why risk his being set free by a trial acquitting him, probably falsely? Also, if you know someone is a criminal, why wait for some judge to allow his apartment being searched and/or him being arrested? If you want to get information, and a person possibly holding is sitting right in front of you, shouldn't you be doing everything you can to interrogate him and find an answer? If a government is right, and some people criticize it openly, wouldn't that undermine its authority?

Yet these principles are not ideological. They are not just based upon ethics. They are based on practice as well.

If a nation, or rather a community of nations, holds the idea of being a shining beacon in the night, its adherence to its principles is a matter of survival. And principles regulating the treatment of enemies and critics of the state are the cornerstone of any true constitutional rule of law.

The principle to grant legal counsel, and to presuppose innocence unless guilt is proven, has been established to limit gruesome mistakes. No rule of law can survive systemic mistakes for long. It may very well be so that many if not most people held as, say, terrorists in a specific prison may be terrorists, and constitute a danger to global peace. Yet unless there's been a trial, and unless the accused have access to legal counsel representing their rights - how could you find out whether those held captive are guilty or innocent? Were a government thus to prevent their being brought before trial, and the assumption of innocence still being a cornerstone of the legal system, by definition it would be holding innocents captive.

Torture, i.e. pressure applied on a person involving psychological and/or physiological harm, does not just contradict everything any law-abiding country has established in its constitutions and bills of rights; it is simply ineffective. With enough pressure applied, a person can be made to confess anything, as demonstrated by countless "witch" "trials". To separate fact from fiction would be nearly impossible. Furthermore, the dehumanizing effects of torture go both ways, affecting the torturer him- or herself, inviting sadistic tendencies to surface. This problem would be further aggravated by outsourcing such jobs to private companies with a profit motive or, even more sinister, letting the "job" being done by countries not playing by the same legal principles. (For further discussion on that topic, see Carl Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World. Science as a Candle in the Dark.)

Public criticism of government may be inconvenient. But governments make mistakes. Criticism is a healthy method of preventing or counteracting mistakes, offering government the service of being able to grow even stronger after correcting their errors - not necessarily for a specific government, but for ensuing governments as well. The failure of specific governments may be bad for a specific administration; yet the failure of government as such, and the discrediting of future administrations, would endanger the survival of the state itself. Any government preventing and punishing justified criticism will counteract its own purpose, if such purpose is its continuing existence, and the continuing existence of the state. Unjustified criticism, false accusations, and denunciations can be exposed as such. But if any criticism is treated as illegitimate, the false will not be able to be distinguished from the true.

The fight for democracy is the fight for humanity, for the human right to self-governance. It is also a fight for the rule of law. This rule is not specific, it may have arisen out of specific historical circumstances, but all members of the United Nations have signed the Human Rights Charter - making originally culture-specific notions universal.

Yet you cannot fight for democracy if those that are supposed to be representing themselves have their decisions made for them. You may very well foster democracy from the outside; but a democracy that does not arise out of a serious interest by the people in a specific county themselves will always have to fight for its legitimacy.

You cannot fight for the rule of law if you don't appear to respect it yourself.

There can be no doubt that even with the apparent crisis manifesting itself in the question of how to uphold one's own principles, this is a problem mainly for the democratic states themselves. It is not a matter of comparison. Of course, compared to countries like Iran, China, Russia, Sudan, and far too many more, democratic rules of law still hold the moral upper hand. But if the fight is about ideas and principles, these prime directives should not appear to be wavering.

Europe and America have fought many a battle and many a war out of which they have discovered the inevitable moral and practical superiority of the rule of the people, the law, and free speech (including freedom of religion and the separation of state and religious order). These values, as demonstrated by countless theoreticians from both left and right, are not debatable, their absence or even their short-term tolerated relaxation, would not only discredit even our humanitarian efforts, they would furthermore endanger any positive developments in countries fighting for the establishment of these very principles.

December 8th, 2005

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