Meditation on the sacred

May we think about the sacred without informing ourselves as thoroughly as possible about our species’ rich religious traditions? Isn’t our meditation predestined to be a desecration, a profanity, no matter what we might arrive at? Philosophical contemplation of the sacred seems to be implicitly critical of the religious authority that decrees what is sacred and what not (or: whatnot). We take a breath and smile.

We confront authority if we must. But first we remember the concept of homo sacer, taken from Roman Law and brought to our attention by Giorgio Agamben’s 1998 eponymous book. The political category of the sacred or the ‘bare life’ means those we can be killed without punishment, but cannot be sacrificed in a religious ritual. His idea was that this is becoming paradigmatic in our era. The definition of the sovereign is that which produces the bare life. Think about refugees. We breathe again, somewhat heavily.

The sacred is not simply the supernatural. It is that which not belongs in our narrative, that which would stain our rituals, so it is to be ignored at all cost. This idea of endangering the narrative we can generalize. Perhaps we should explore how the sacred emerged in human tribes, when they were in the verge of mastering language as ‘that which cannot be mentioned without negating it’. This is a vague description of an alleged human instinct that co-evolved with the language instinct. Can we think of some examples? Tacit agreements based on mutual respect and goodwill cannot be spelled out without negating their voluntary and friendly character. A gentleman’s agreement is a promise, not a formal contract. Keeping a promise can be experienced as a sacred obligation.

I wildly claim that the instinct that allows us to make arrangements for sex on a second date without ever mentioning the word, lies at the heart of the religious experience as well. When more literate peoples emerged in the greater Levant area, this had to be made explicit. God began his evolution as ‘He who cannot be named’. We imagine sex and God as experiences that go beyond language, and hence beyond the community (while still in the service of community). The dimension of the sacred is the imagination of the unspeakable. We want to think about this more, but for now we take a few breaths and consider them sacred.

Meditation on the sacred was originally published on Meandering home

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Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees

The Refugee Convention entered into force on 22 April 1954.

In the above text, we look at the word particularly. We note that it does not mean exclusively. Even if the head of the family (which we should consider an outdated term, but can still understand) has not fulfilled the necessary conditions for admission to a particular country, the Convention “recommends” governments to take the necessary measures.

But what are the “necessary measures” if such measures are perceived to conflict with “national safety interests”. And what precisely means “recommends”? The dictionary states “to push for something”.

Listen, this is no match for Trump, the Artist of the Deal. Why is the verb here not “obligate”?

The United Nations now urges the US to stop separating children from their families at the border. According to a spokesperson, “The use of immigration detention and family separation as a deterrent runs counter to human rights standards and principles.” She asks that Washington adopts non-custodial alternatives that allow children to remain with their families. Fair enough.

The human drama is terrifying and I don’t see no political solution soon. Trump supporters, and indeed Trump himself, are quick to blame Democrats for passing the original laws that led to this catastrophy. I am worried that Trump defenders are reluctant to change their opinion and speak up to their peers, fearing to be ostracized. It is easy to get on the Trump Train, but you can not jump off.

A slippery slope and ‘Gazafication’ of the US – Mexico border looms over the current events. What if people approaching the border would be shot at sight (admittedly an unlikely scenario, despite extremist toads who demand so)? I can already hear the propaganda claims: It is the right of the US to defend itself. Illegal immigrants are criminals. I already see them quoting dubious crime statistics produced by the Cato institute. And I see hordes of American citizens accepting these claims. The ‘fire and fury’ of such violent border protection measures would translate into laudable toughness and a sense of ‘something is finally being done for our safety’, at least in the feeble indoctrinated minds of Trump’s following. Any critique of Trump’s actions will become increasingly harder as it will be dismissed as unpatriotic. This small step tactics has been adopted by other dictators (dixit Fox news) before.

I don’t apologize for the Godwin, if you have perceived one, dear reader.

Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees was originally published on Meandering home

Fleeing from North to South

Boat refugees are a common phenomenon: Every few weeks the news of a vessel trying to make it to Italian or Canary shores reaches us northern Europeans. The direction of the refugees is always south to north (with the exception of Australia of course, that is dealing with desperate newcomers from the north).

Of course, the vast majority of refugees never make it to the Western world. Here is an article about the recent UNHCR report about refugees that shows the top five countries with most refugees per dollar GDP: Pakistan, DRC Congo, Kenya, Chad, Syria.

Refugees don’t leave their birthplace easily they have suffered unimaginable economic hardship, a terrorizing regime, or the consequences of a devastating natural disaster.

Is it imaginable that a European-born caucasian white non-criminal well-educated male chooses to flee his country?

I was born in the Netherlands and carry a Dutch passport. I have married my South-Korean girlfriend and she would be entitled to stay in Holland for that reason (or for that matter, in any Schengen country) if I can show I can support her, which means I would need to prove earning a substantial salary (a lot more than we happily subsist on). This is, given the current labor market situation and my lack of work experience, an impossibility. There are further restrictions, such as a lengthy registration of the marriage certificate and enforced health insurance. A friendly Turkish-born lawyer has explained me these and other restrictions in a small room in one of Berlin’s administrative buildings. That means I have to leave my birth ground (and the socio-economic bloc it is part of) if I want to stay with my wife. And believe me, I prefer my wife a thousand times over the protofascist polderland.

It is an unequal comparison: My suffering and feelings of injustice and abandonment by the Dutch state and by extension the European Union, are of laughable proportions compared to the human tragedies in less fortunate countries.

But this is a political statement: Can the northern rich countries’ policies toward “strangers” (in Albert Camus’ sense) become so appalling that its citizens decide to leave its territories? And in doing so, do these highly sensitive citizens have any persuasive power toward their peers or would they just be ignored as a curiosity in the margin? Do their actions show the absurdity then, of their godforsaken country’s laws that in aiming at protection of its citizens tragically ostracizes its more world-open denizens, the ones who chose to marry someone from a far away country?

July 1. Still in Malaysia.

Summer is well underway and we crash into a Malaysian July, about to leave the northern hemisphere and turn things around. My memory of this day is faded, but I think we have visited an huge cave complex, photographed the golden statue with restless pigeons swarming around it. And the stray monkeys clambering on the stairs and swinging their way between the lenses that try to capture them, especially the ones that carry a baby. Inside the cave it is dripping and humid. Yes, that must have been it: a visit to the Batu caves just outside Kuala Lumpur. Or did we visit the informal school for Myanmar refugees. That is an interesting story as well. The Malaysian government is not doing enough to support them, and even with UN refugee status, their lives are far from easy. We support a privite initiative by an amazing young woman with bright sapphire eyes. It’s either of these two things, or both, that I have done on august first.

July 1. Still in Malaysia.

Summer is well underway and we crash into a Malaysian July, about to leave the northern hemisphere and turn things around. My memory of this day is faded, but I think we have visited an huge cave complex, photographed the golden statue with restless pigeons swarming around it. And the stray monkeys clambering on the stairs and swinging their way between the lenses that try to capture them, especially the ones that carry a baby. Inside the cave it is dripping and humid. Yes, that must have been it: a visit to the Batu caves just outside Kuala Lumpur. Or did we visit the informal school for Myanmar refugees. That is an interesting story as well. The Malaysian government is not doing enough to support them, and even with UN refugee status, their lives are far from easy. We support a privite initiative by an amazing young woman with bright sapphire eyes. It’s either of these two things, or both, that I have done on august first.