Yet Another Persian Word For Self-Preservation

This is a continuation of our discussion on ketman.

I just read a well-timed feature article on Iran in the August 2008 issue of National Geographic Magazine, which emphasizes yet another social practice used by Persians for self-preservation through self-concealment: tárof:

Stone griffin

Tárof is an Arabic word, writes author Marguerite del Giudice, that represents a Persian “system of ritual politeness”, typically manifested as an artful but predictable practice of self-deprecation and modesty. Del Guidice cites anthropologist William O. Beeman, who characterizes the practice as “fighting for the lower hand.”

You Da Man!
It’s essentially the Persian equivalent for the American
“you da man!” “no, you da man!” protocol.

Curiously, del Guidice contends that the height of tárof is to conceal one’s true feelings, beliefs, and identity:

Being smooth and seeming sincere while hiding your true feelings—artful pretending—is considered the height of taarof and an enormous social asset. “You never show your intention or your real identity,” said a former Iranian political prisoner now living in France. “You’re making sure you’re not exposing yourself to danger, because throughout our history there has been a lot of danger there.”

It’s a peculiar practice for a nation that is thought to have once valued honesty and trustworthiness as much as anything. Were the Persians like this before the Arab Conquest? Did they practice ketman, taqiyya, and this form of tárof before Islám made these practices so necessary?

Exceptions to this rule do remain in Iran, though they remain under substantial pressure to relent. The Bahá’ís and the few remaining Zoroastrians come to mind.

Incidentally, for you cartophiles out there, the issue comes with a beautiful two-sided map of modern Iran and ancient Persia. The latter side is noticeably lacking in detail, but features a depiction of the route of the Royal Road.

Bipartisan Theocracy

As if the federal government weren’t already big enough. As if the moral domain of the federal government weren’t already broad enough.

Federal government?

More like Central government.

We now have both so-called-liberals and so-called-conservatives supporting the use of tax dollars to fund religious organizations.

I suppose this means I can save a check. Rather than donating to the church of my choice, I can simply direct all my donations to the IRS, and I can rest assured that Mr. Obama will direct my earnings to the most deserving causes.

Well now, isn’t that special.

WSJ: Obama’s Faith-Based Mission

CNN: Crime on McCain agenda, while Obama focuses on religion

California Smoking Ban Takes Effect

CHICO, CALIFORNIA. Millions of Californians finished off their last packs on Wednesday, on the eve of the day that the new statewide smoking ban is scheduled to take effect. As a consumer panic hit cigarette retailers throughout the state, the second-hand smoke rising from San Diego to Happy Camp could be seen from satellite.
click to view full size photo

I’ve Been Slimed!

I was ready. I was set. Obama was my man. He’s for pluralistic politics, and so am I. He’s an apostate, and so am I. He’s for change, and so am I.

Now that I’ve finally met the real Barack Obama, I’m thinking I’ll take the other guy; you know, the two-faced war monger down in AARPizona who’s decomposing before our eyes.

Now we see that when Obama finds himself in the lead, he won’t debate. Admittedly, we saw this in the primaries as well. Maybe it’s not so much about being in the lead. Maybe he just doesn’t like to debate.

As if that weren’t enough, we now find that once he finds like he has more money than the other guy he foregos public financing. As if THAT’S not enough, he proceeds, taking a page from Slick Willie’s play book, to redefine private donations to be “public”, suddenly determining that the public financing system is broken!

Forget Slick Willie. Calling Bill “slick” was premature. Obama is so slick he’s slimy.

Listen to what Dan Carlin has to say: The New Old Politics

Further reading:

David S. Broder, Washington Post: Getting to know Obama

David Brooks, New York Times: The Two Obamas (subscription required)

Heraclitus Down Under

Here’s Alan Saunders, host of the Australian program The Philosopher’s Zone, reflecting on the influence of Heraclitus on Australian philosophers John Anderson and John Passmore.

I find that what Passmore talks about most is not so much Anderson as Anderson’s lectures on the Greek philosopher Heraclitus and in fact not so much Anderson’s lectures on Heraclitus as Heraclitus himself. About Anderson, I’m still a bit in the dark, but Passmore has convinced me of why Heraclitus mattered to him and why Heraclitus ought to matter to me.

As presented in ‘Memoirs of a Semi-Detached Australian’, Heraclitus is a philosopher of flux: change, the conflict of contrary things, is the essence of life. We cannot impose order from above; order emerges, in the way that it should emerge in democratic societies, when, as Passmore puts it, ‘contrary interests achieve a degree of balance without losing their distinctiveness.’

“Balance” is an apt enough term, I suppose, but I might have used “harmony.” The key here is that socially and politically, there is no one universal foundational truth. Truth is emergent.

Saunders continues, explaining how Heraclitus saw us as distinct, yet entangled to the point that we compose a kind of social organism that transcends individualistic notions such as active and passive individuals.

But however distinct we may be, we are inevitably entangled in all that lies around us. We can be spectators, says Passmore, but even a spectator can have an effect on the game: the way I look at you may have consequences for you and your behaviour.

Such a social dialectic has been infamously misinterpreted by Marxists to undermine the individual in society. Where they have failed to follow a truly dialectical model is in imposing a universal foundation upon society, and not allowing change to emerge organically, in a free society. The individual must be defended against all powers, whether those powers be kings or mobs, for the collective to thrive.

And what I see when I see you, or what you see when you see me, will be the result of whatever information we have and our earlier histories, all of which makes for a complex tangle of relations, which is why, Passmore remarks, Heraclitus warns us to expect the unexpected. We can never possess certain knowledge or make entirely reliable predictions.

This is a useful philosophy to have. I for one find it entirely congenial, and it tends to encourage a certain pluralism, or at least anti-dogmatism, of outlook…

See Ockham’s Razor, Aug 22, 2004

I agree with Saunders, though I do regret that dialectical thinking has too often been made the servant of dogmatism. Self-professed dialecticians since Hegel have oft as not failed to go the distance with the Heraclitean dialectic, and settled for the comfortable security of foundationalism. By employing dialectical thinking as a philosophical PR representative for universals, they have missed the point at best, and have at worst been guilty of philosophical deceit.

This reminds me of how Heraclitus, having evident respect for the genius of Pythagoras, called him “the prince of impostors.” Pythagoras was a mathematical genius who has had great influence on western thought, science, and Heraclitus as well, but who enslaved his genius to a dogmatic agenda.

“Pythagoras son of Mnesarchus pursued inquiry further than all other men, but choosing only what he liked from these compositions, made a wisdom of his own: much learning, artful knavery.” —Heraclitus

I’m not asking Clinton to quit …

… but I sure wish she’d shut up.

So much for the “dream ticket”. It’s beginning to resemble a political nightmare. How many times is Billary going get caught with her foot in her mouth?

Well at least she’s got the American specter of assassination to give her campaign hope. Hmmm … Should we just chuckle at her evident self-mocking desperation? Unfortunately the stakes are too high, and assassination is no laughing matter.

I can see it now: Bill O’Reilly suggesting that the role of the next Vice President will be to wait for the president to get knocked off so that she can finally take over. Wonderful. Maybe she could take a phrase out of the book of Al Haig: “I’m in charge here.”

Maybe this is not the woman that we want establishing political precedents. Let’s be cautious lest we take two steps back.

California Takes the Moral High Ground

Bravo, California! This calls for a party. You can bet that I, my wife, and our kids will celebrate this one.

This moment gives comfort in the face of all the terrible news we’ve been buffeted with of late.

Though I don’t look to the state for moral guidance, I am relieved when the state withdraws its bumbling paws from the personal lives of citizens. For that reason, this is an unquestionable victory for humanity, which is always an uncommon event that we must strive to appreciate.

I’ve become so accustomed to feeling ashamed to be an American since 2003 that the taste of this news is made that much more sweet. It’s a great day to be a Californian.

Reactionaries will doubtless see this as “judicial activism”. I guess that makes it a fight between the judge and the mob. The mob may fight back, and the mob may win, but this is a great day nonetheless.

I Wanna Be Autonomy

Awe, come on! A little anarchy never hurt nobody! Be a devil! Give it a try, won’t you? Just this once.

Anarchy in the NZ.

This here is your real scarlet letter. It stands for some pretty nasty ideas: anarchy, for starters. Likewise, we have atheism, the theological equivalent of anarchism. Then there’s that rarely-employed synonym for anarchy: autonomy. Back in New England it was said to represent adultery, but today it might better represent adulthood.

Thar be fearsome ideas off to port, Captain!

That’ll be the Forbidden Zone, where men are forced to think for themselves.

I recently encountered a rather engaging discussion of anarchism on the Aussie radio show The Philosopher’s Zone, one of my favorite podcasts. The featured guest was Professor Robert Paul Wolff of the University of Massachusetts, a notable philosophical anarchist and author of In Defense of Anarchism.

Listening to Professor Wolff reminds me of reading Henry David Thoreau, who, disgusted with slavery, aggression against Mexico, and other crimes of his democratic government, wrote “Civil Disobedience” and passages such as the following:

Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience then?

There comes a time when a man asks himself whether it is moral to submit to an immoral king, an immoral majority, or an immoral God. Most of us seem all too willing to delegate all moral agency to the mob, the state, or to God. Why are we so afraid of grappling with morality? Perhaps we’re too lazy to want to make difficult decisions about right and wrong. Perhaps we are afraid of the responsibility that moral anarchism places upon us.

Isn’t it high time for us to grow up?

Just call me Bubba

Last weekend, we finally cracked and gave Bubba Gump a try. I can’t think of a more cynical Hollywood spinoff, but we were hungry, and the Aquarium restaurant was stuffed. Bubba’s food was not bad. The kids actually ate—there’s something to blog home about.

What struck me was one of the myriad bits of nostalgia: a map of the Beaufort, South Carolina area.

praise house

When I was a little boy, my family lived in five South Carolina towns in the space of less than three years. The first one was Frogmore, near Beaufort. You are unlikely to find it on a map, because they renamed it to Saint Helena, after the island that the village rests upon. Kind of a shame. At least you can still find Frogmore stew.

Source: the North by South Project

The town has a long, peculiar history. This was the place where Laura Matilda Towne and Ellen Murray moved to serve the former slave population and establish the Penn School in 1862.

By the time we arrived, 104 years later, not much had changed. We had modern conveniences like plumbing, though ours was backed up into the bath tub when we arrived. The place was still isolated. Blonde hair was still a novelty among the island children.

I was of course too young to remember our residence in Frogmore. According to Mom, my life there consisted mostly of being bitten by sand flies in my crib. There were also occasional walks outside with my oldest sister Duska, and I’m guessing I was brought along for some of the proselytizing.

It may be rightly said that Frogmore was the Geneva of the South in 1966, though I’m told that Joe Frazier, himself a Beaufort native, called it the slum of the South. It was in Frogmore, at Penn Center, that Martin Luther King Jr., Andrew Young, Jessie Jackson, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference met every year. Locals, including our family, were invited to attend the November 1966 conference, during which, I’m told, much debate took place regarding the pros and cons of nonviolent activism. I have read that it was at this conference that King expanded his vision from civil rights to human rights.

Laura Towne and Ellen Murray spent the remainder of their lives serving the islanders—a combined 85 years. We couldn’t hold on quite that long, and returned to California in early 1967, though we did visit Frogmore when we returned to South Carolina several years later. I remember spirituals being sung in a hall there. I remember one particular Baha’i song called “We Are Soldiers In God’s Army”. I haven’t heard it in a long time. I can tell you unequivocally that it most certainly rocked!

I also remember my brother Al catching a hammerhead shark and a ray off the pier. That could be a manufactured memory, but I remember it vividly.