‘The Book of Five Rings’, S.M. Wilson

‘The Book of Five Rings’ is a well-known work by the Japanese swordsman, Miyamoto Musashi. Sean Michael Wilson took this work of art and transformed it into a graphic novel, adapting the teachings of Miyamoto to a very different form of art than the original.

I have to say first and foremost that I thought the idea compelling, and I have enjoyed it thoroughly. My wish is that it could have included more of the original writings, but I may simply be mistaken in the extent in which they have been adapted. Insofar as there is talk of the drawings complementing the story, this book is a gem.

One of the finest moments, I think, is close to the end of the book, just before the Book of Emptiness, where the last few drawings suggest eventualities but no clear results. However, from what the person in the book — the storyteller, Miyamoto Musashi himself — from what this character has told us, the suggestion is not a very difficult one.

In many ways I think it very difficult to describe a graphic novel, especially one based on a philosophical treatise, in sentences contrary to emotions and thoughts. For the pictures are meant to evoke thoughts and images in the mind, and I think that in this they work better than the classic translation by Thomas Cleary (whose translations are also the basis for this work) since the drawings emphasise the words — the suggestions on how to bear oneself become reality in the provided drawings.

And I think that clarity might be the finest bit of this work. The book is definitely worth a try, even though the approach might seem unconventional to begin with.

‘Siddhartha’, H. Hesse

Mr Hesse (or rather, H Hesse) was a unique writer in many ways. I think he took writing to the very depths of the art it is, and thereby managed to produce books which are as good as they are because they are the portraits of what the innermost reaches of his soul believed.

I have read a few of his works, starting with ‘Siddharta’ and ‘Steppenwolf’ but also including ‘The Journey to the East’. Of these I prefer ‘Siddhartha’ best and ‘The Journey to the East’ comes second. And yet, I have been always unable to finish that book in one go — it has some sort of a block midway through when the characters go mad (metaphorically rather than actually mad) and my concentration on that book lapses and I go on to something else. I think it has happened thrice when I’ve tried to read the book, and I cannot explain it very well. But I think this effect is a good show of how much soul and depth can be found in H Hesse’s works.

And this soul is also present in ‘Siddhartha’. The book was introduced to me as the one with the answers to all the questions there are, and I doubted it very much then. After reading it, I wouldn’t be so sure. I think I might have read it a good five-six times by now, and there is something new in there that waits to be found every time I read it again. It might even be that I enjoy the same passages and thoughts but the way I react to them has changed. The thoughts I get have slightly changed. And the way I understand our Siddhartha’s actions has changed.

Of the characters present, I am amused by Govinda and Vasudeva — and I definitely do not mean that in a bad way. No, I am rather amused by the child-likeness of Govinda while I am impressed by the thoroughness of his search for answers. And I think that the thought of a friendship as deep as between Siddhartha and Govinda talks to me on a level entirely its own. And of Vasudeva, he is a saint, what more can be said… I have often thought how it would feel to be a ferryman while reading his passages, and I do not doubt that in another life it would have been a very good fate. Assuming I had had the skill to appreciate it…

‘Siddhartha’ truly is a book for which I have only praise. Unfortunately I have not tried to read it in German (for it is not as if I read German…) so I have only experienced it in Estonian. For some reason, the style that Hesse employs here does not seem one that can well be brought into line with the English syntax although I have only seen one translation thus far (and that I skimmed briefly and did not read). So, it could be that the language has played some part but maybe not. Hopefully not, and an English read (that I will get around to someday) will be just as good and thought-inspiring.

To finish, I would hope that more people go to take a look at ‘Siddhartha’ for H Hesse did not set his words into line in such a beautiful poetic way for no little reason. He wanted to touch the reader’s soul, and he certainly touched mine. I am sure that if you let him, he’ll do the same to yours.

Gravity in Economics

I was quite surprised to learn today that our trusted friend gravity is also called upon to help in economic theories. Namely, there is a “gravitic model of trade” that predicts trade between two entities based on their size and economic weight, and the distance between the two.

I came upon this concept today when I read a post in Marginal Revolution on how Portugal has a very low economic gravity which is due to its position close to the Eurozone and rather less wealthy Northern African countries while being far away from everything else.

Maybe the best part about this theory for me is that it just fits so nicely into the physical world I know of — it is both simple and yet it carries a lot of weight, and I can really appreciate something like that. Indeed, if one looks at the formula given to calculate this gravitic force, it looks nearly exactly the same as the general formula for gravitational attraction between two objects.

And that, as I said, is something that I really appreciate. Sure, the actual use of the formula is more complex than the standard form but that is only natural — what matters is how something that most people would consider to be a part of hard physics has been brought into economics as well.

I am very much looking forward to the next discovery that I’ll make in line with this one!

What do I keep an eye out for these days?

I’ve often lately thought that the newsitems we see daily go very much into the same categories. This category could be summed up as “trouble”, but I would rather call it “life”. The problem with this “life” is that it is nearly always the same.

I’ll expand on this in a bit, but if we assume that a modern person should keep oneself aware of what is going on in the world there is only so much that one can do — for we have established a set of boundary criteria within which we exist. This means there’s a certain amount of news-sites to be visited, and a certain type of blogs to be visited — depending on the exact interests of a person.

The problem with all the information coming out of these news-sites and blogs for me is that it is more or less the same. Take, for example, BBC News: there’s probably some new article around every day which says that we are doing worse, and the Government is doing worse, and people are generally doing worse. How much of this am I supposed to take? Why is there nothing which broadcasts the new heights we can achieve?

Certainly the world is not in a happy spot at present, but I tend to be somewhat more positive about the general state of affairs than “everything is bad”. This needs a certain set of mind though.

This set of mind has brought me to expect a few good essays on people and philosophy and the general state of life (not to be confused with livelihood) every week. The places where I find these are varied, but there are a number of sources that help. For some reason or another, I’ve found that the Australian media is of particular quality here — the Sydney Morning Herald is my favourite publication therein. They have a rather interesting lifestyle section that I try to read every now and then, and I find SMH to be slightly better than the rest of media with regards to politics.

Because when we come down to the basest of levels, a certain awareness of politics must be preserved. I find, however, that the British are going round and round, achieving more or less nothing at present — I could try guessing the news daily, and I would probably get the items half right. There’s more that I am unaware of in Australia which also makes it slightly more interesting, but I get the feeling that there’s more happening there — more happening with a real sense of direction for the place as well. [Not to mention there’s a set of comedians as brilliant as John Clarke and Bryan Dawe who manage to make the politics into a very good performance.]

This is not true at all for Europe as I see it right now, and that probably has made me slightly despondent in looking for reasonable news from the Continent. But that in turn has made me appreciate certain things more: there’s a fair amount of good essays that do relate to people and education and technology, and there’s a certain look into the future with the question “What is coming up for us?”. And this is what I have been looking for — not the downtrodden tune of the news but something that would act as a whetstone for my mind.

I’m afraid though that I haven’t found any good collective place for this type of journalism, so whenever I do find anything it is more due to chance. And, yet, I know that they are out there — and that gives me hope. And that hope gives me the strength to look, and to share, when I can.

Hope

What is hope? Where is hope? How can we create hope?

There is a song that I quite like which includes the lines:

Songs I have sung deep in the silence
Nobody finds hope in defiance

Now, I personally find these lines very intriguing because as far as I am concerned it is the exact opposite: hope is found in defiance. A Google search for “define hope” gave me a result as follows “A feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen”. This is as I would have generally thought of “hope”, and I guess the general context for “hope” is that “I have a problem that needs to be solved, but I don’t know how to start. — I hope I can solve it.”

The other option, naturally, which might be a bit closer to my mind is that in a situation where there is no hope — no hope of being saved, no hope of surviving, no hope of external help — the only way to retain sanity is to still appear outwardly defiant, ready to defend oneself from the world.

But maybe this other option is the less used common sense way of reading hope? Could that be where I have gone wrong?

Is the more common sense way of looking at ‘hope’ the one where there is no threat? If this were the case, it would make sense that defiance would not work since this defiance could not be targeted at anything — and defiance without a target would be a useless way to express strength. In effect, that would be wastage.

However, as soon as I bring myself back to the side of hope where there is a defined reason that we would need hope for — say a threat that looms in the foreground. How could we possibly find hope *not* in defiance in a situation like this? The question here could also be ostensibly be phrased as: if one is not defiant, then how can one hope for a positive outcome?

So, in the end I wonder if the take I have on this is not the more common one — and the more reasonable one. But then again, I might have missed some feature of hope. If so, do not hesitate to bring it up!

Thus far though, if you need hope — do not surrender or give in. Problems need to be faced down and solved. Even the most difficult of questions can probably be reasoned in some way or form, but no good can come of just surrendering your position. Be certain of where you stand, and stand proud!

Where is justice in this world?

And what exactly amounts to justice?..

‘The Analects’, Confucius [Kong Fuzi]

For one word a man is often deemed to be wise, and for one word he is often deemed to be foolish. We ought to be careful indeed in what we say.

Since Confucius is so generally admired as a thinker, at some point my mind decided that it is only natural to read his writings (or rather the writings of his disciples about the principles advanced by the Master). I took it upon myself then to go through ‘The Analects’, and see what wisdom was hidden there.

Firstly, I’ll warn anyone out there to not use a copy of the book that is written using Wade-Giles. That was my main issue since any name I might have recognized in pinyin was utterly destroyed and annihilated with my mind trying to process whatever combination of Wade-Giles was put before me.

Secondly, go ahead and read the book. Whilst much of what is said about a “superior man” and a “benevolent man” is probably more difficult to adhere to these days, and a fair bit of what is said should be left up to varying interpretations (I am quite strongly opposed to the Master’s idea that all parents should be equally upheld without regard to their merits) there is also much that could be applied leading to a generally better… life.

The man, who in the view of gain, thinks of righteousness; who in the view of danger is prepared to give up his life; and who does not forget an old agreement however far back it extends — such a man may be reckoned a complete man.

[NB! To re-emphasize: If I am to reread this, I would make sure it is pinyin, and well paragraphed without dodgy line breaks or anything like that. Formatting makes *such* a difference.]

Without knowing the force of words, it is impossible to know men.

‘Beyond Good and Evil’, F. Nietzche

We really ought to free ourselves from the misleading significance of words!

I was recently compelled into reading this work by Friedrich Nietzche. My previous contact with the said author had not extended much further than a few chapters in ‘Der Antichrist’ (and that in Estonian) but those few chapters I read I also enjoyed. This book was rather different — now, I am admittedly unsure whether this difference was due to the language, the quality of the translation, or the work itself.

What I do however know is that I didn’t enjoy it very much at all — most of it went rather slowly, and Nietzsche’s arrogance became too much for even me to bear. I am quite certain that if he truly was the only one to know everything and to be correct about everything, his need to belittle most everyone else could have been somewhat lesser.

Overall, there is not much else for me to add — some of the chapters (points, rather, maybe?) were enjoyable (these were few and far between) while most of it was just a dark dark land for me that I really didn’t look forward to but felt I had to just because it had been on my reading lists for ages. So, that’s that — and I am thinking of reading an English Antichrist just to see if I find the style and language as tiring as it was over here.

“I like man, and often think how I can still further advance him, and make him stronger, more evil, and more profound.” — “Stronger, more evil, and more profound?” I asked in horror. “Yes,” he said again, “stronger, more evil, and more profound; also more beautiful.” – and thereby the tempter-god smiled with his halcyon smile, as though he had just paid some charming compliment.

‘How to Run the World’, P. Khanna

“The post-Cold War era will be remembered for the rapid emergence of a postmodern Middle Ages — a world without any single power in control. The East will not replace the West, China will not replace America, the Pacific will not displace the Atlantic — all of these power centers and geographies will coexist in a hyper-complex ecosystem.”

I was just about to think whether to comment on Parag Khanna’s amazing book as well, and then decided for it until the memory of it is still fresh(er) in my memory… which admittedly would have actually meant yesterday, but oh well, stuff happens.

As it is, this just might be the best book on politics and governance I’ve read. (Notice I did not include economics in here but that is because most of the “economic” advice Mr Khanna offers is actually of the political nature, and can be considered to be more of that domain.) Ever? Yes, could be.

The reason why this book is so good is that the scope. It is magnificent. Mr Khanna has managed to consider aspects I had not even previously imagined, and seems to me (at least) to well carry the case that the governance of the modern (and future) world is far less in the hands of the governments than many people would like to believe.

Oh, wait, not the governments? Who else?? Well, as the arguments fly by, quite successfully, I might add, the case is built that NGO’s, generally rich people, and company’s are less encumbered by rules and bureaucratic nonsense than the actual governments. So, these institutions are able to do what the governments cannot — namely, they can make decisions, and they can approach problems from the only way that problems can actually be solved (that would be bottom up in case you were wondering, as opposed to the usual top down approach).

It sounded a bit off to me in the first few chapters but the evidence soon gathers that these same participants already put in far more than governments do (at least as far as results per spent time/unit-of-money/person are considered), and that they are potentially the ones that create policies which afterwards the governments can “implement”.

As it seems, global governance has something for all of us. So, take a look and see what you think of what Mr Khanna as written.

[Also, I managed to mark 50 quotes while going through this book on my Kindle. That’s far far more than I do with most books that deal with anything unless they run well into thousands, and this one packs well less than that.]

“The man tasked with bringing corporate ambitions and global ethics into harmony is John Ruggie… Ruggie takes a psychological approach to explaining the corporate citizenship life cycle: “First, they ignore the problem. Then they deny it. Eventually they pretend they’re doing something about it, and finally they comply. Ultimately, they do get there.””

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