Wednesday, October 17, 2018

democracy

Yesterday Queensland legalized abortion on demand during the first 22 weeks of pregnancy. Obviously I think this is fantastic, but even if you disagree, the less controversial and even more fantastic side of the story is how civilized the democratic process leading up to the vote has been. There are people protesting outside abortion clinics and people distressed by the protestors outside abortion clinics, but no violence or doctors fearing for their lives or shutting down of all abortion clinics in great swaths of the state. How sad is it that, as an American, I expect worse?

This hit me last week when I noticed a billboard near my house saying simply "Should abortion be legalized in Queensland? Take our poll [link]". Implicit in this is the assumption that reasonable people can disagree on the issue, that it's up for debate, and subject to democratic decision-making. I think this has been lost in the American political rhetoric. Certainly on the issue of abortion, and increasingly so in other domains. Instead, both sides believe the other is inhumanly immoral, that the laws of whatever god or ethical code they adhere to don't allow any debate at all, and that any political means are justified in ensuring their side wins.

This is an attitude I associate with dysfunctional and brutal theocracy, not American democracy. A strong belief in democracy is a very effective way to sustain culturally heterogeneous states, as in the U.S., India, Australia and New Zealand, etc, both because it provides a point of common identity that those very different cultures can rally around, and because it directly insists on respect for alternative views. I don't know if moralistic political attitudes are increasing for the same reason that belief in democracy is declining, but I'm worried about both.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Which language has a word for this?

English is lacking an important word; Matt and I have had at least three whole conversations defining this and trying to figure out if there's a word for it and we haven't come up with anything. Help!

What we're trying to capture is the phenomenon where you're living your life, probably traveling but not necessarily, nothing unexpected is happening, but you're suddenly hit by a big picture perspective of what you're seeing/doing and it blows your mind. More specifically, you suddenly realize that long ago you had an abstract notion of the situation you're in, broadly speaking, and now you're actually in that situation, and your previous self never would have imagined it really happening.

This has happened to me countless times since moving to Australia but a few memorable times before then as well. When I was 12 I briefly lived in Germany and we visited the church where Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses, and although I'd been seeing amazing historical things for months, this one really hit me for some reason as I realized, wow, a year ago I was learning about this place in a history class, and I didn't really think about it beyond as an abstract story about a place that may as well not actually exist. And now here it is, physically in front of me, one stop on a meander during a gap in the train schedule. When I moved to LA for college, the first time I drove through Hollywood and passed the exits for Sunset or Venice or Santa Monica Boulevards, all those Beach Boys songs and thousands of other movies and TV shows etc, suddenly became real. And one day when I was driving along the New Jersey Turnpike back to Brooklyn, I suddenly felt the tangible connection through time to the zeitgeist of my favorite Simon and Garfunkel songs.

Most often this is triggered by particular landmarks. The first time I walked through Circular Quay in Sydney and saw that image of the opera house and bridge over the harbor that had been on my TV every New Year's Eve of my childhood. Hiroshima, as a whole. The African tropical rainforests. The Great Barrier Reef. Uluru. But it's certainly possible for this feeling to hit you in pretty unremarkable places or places you didn't even know about before as well; in fact sometimes it's even more surprising then. Camping in some random national park I've never heard of and waking up to a field full of wallabies and I'm suddenly struck by the realization that I live in Australia and here I'm am just camping in the bush with a bunch of kangaroos. Watching sunrise from Mount Ramelau with a bunch of monks-in-training who are just as entertained to be there with two white people as we are to be there at all, and I suddenly realize, East Timor?? How did I get here again?

What is it called? What language has a word for it?

Edit: Actually, the pleasure of such experiences is similar to the pleasure of connecting visible reality with abstract, much more complex, understanding of what it is, e.g. celestial mechanics.