“What is the fundamental question one must ask of the world? I would think and posit many things, but the answer was always the same: Why is the child crying?”
As Apple’s website displayed a poignant tribute to the man who made technology beautiful, very few of us spared a thought for those who made his dreams a reality: people like Wang Ling, Li Rongying and Lu Xin. They are just three of 23 workers at Foxconn, Apple’s Chinese manufacturer, who have committed suicide since 2010. Systemic abuse of workers’ employment and, dare I say it, human rights have been obfuscated by the lure of the dancing pixels – and you and I are part of the reason why.
Though all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play upon the earth, so Truth be in the field, we do injuriously, by licensing and prohibiting, to misdoubt her strength. Let her and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter?
“As Bertrand Russell said, ‘Most people would rather die than think; most people do’,” quips A.C. Grayling, leaning forward as though offering me a truffle of wisdom for my delectation. Philosophy is a rather strange business in the modern world of consumerism and commerce, I suppose. We’re so used to being force-fed ideas these days that we rarely, if ever, dare to stop and think for ourselves. And that’s where Grayling bucks the trend.
When Aung San Suu Kyi delivered her landmark acceptance speech after being awarded the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize, she made a plea on behalf of victims of persecution worldwide: “Wherever suffering is ignored,” she observed with characteristically understated defiance in her voice, “there will be the seeds of conflict, for suffering degrades and embitters and enrages”. How right she was. How different, though, from her non-committal response last week to whether Rohingya demands for justice in Myanmar should be satisfied: “I don’t know”. Was it pusillanimity, hypocrisy or just a slip of the tongue?
In the time it takes you to read this article, over 50 young girls will have their clitoris hacked out. What are you going to do about it?
It was the great 16th Century French essayist Michel de Montaigne who best expressed the idea that travel broadens the mind: “Je ne sache point meilleure école à former la vie”.* To travel, though, is not only to learn more about ourselves, but also to catch what we may be tempted to label brief glimpses of truth, glimpses that are rarely – if ever – afforded to those who live, day in and day out, in the pell-mell of our destinations. An outsider’s empiricism is often the best kind: nonpartisan, unflinching, honest.
“If you ask that, you’re dead”. Perhaps asking Philip Mudd, a senior CIA and FBI operative, what question he most feared was a naïve error of judgment. But I certainly didn’t expect a death threat. Fortunately for me, David Miliband’s congenial persona swept away the atmosphere of a Guantanamo interrogation room.
“You’re not anyone in America unless you’re on TV”. In one fell swoop, Nicole Kidman proffered a sad indictment of a culture on the brink. As the consequences of ‘celebrity’ metastasise day by day, we wallow in a mire of intellectual degradation. Leave your dignity at the door, and enter if you dare. In the age of celebrity for celebrity’s sake, it’s less a case of what’s in the public’s interest, than what’s interesting to the public. And we’re hooked.
“I can’t imagine so many people coming to see me in Tel Aviv,” Gideon Levy quips with a wry smile. Jewish Book Week is hosting a controversial interview session (some had threatened to boycott it) with one of the most hated men in Israel, one of the relatively few ‘nice Jewish boys’ gone bad, representative of an “anti-Zionism [that] has become stupid and evil” according to Irit Linur, an Israeli author. Described as a modern-day prophet by Noam Chomsky, Levy has reported from inside the Occupied Territories for nearly three decades, with the aim of “rehumanising the Palestinians”. Despite all the opprobrium his reporting has generated, including having been labelled “one of the propagandists for Hamas” by Ben Dror Yemini, editor of Maariv, he still considers himself an Israeli patriot.