Sunday, May 28, 2006

Remembering to remember

In a new introduction for his famous book "Night" Elie Wiesel, Auschwitz survivor and Nobel Peace Prize winner, reveals the motivation that prompted him to put into words the horror he experienced in the concentration camps: "I only know that without this testimony ['Night'], my life as a writer -or my life, period- would not have become what it is: that of a witness who believes he has a moral obligation to try to prevent the enemy from enjoying one last victory his crimes to be erased from human memory." (viii)

Having read the book I cannot but agree both with the gravity that Wiesel attributes to the experience in the concentration camps and the obligation he feels towards humanity to transmit the story of his family. The story that Wiesel describes in "Night" is a personal story at one level, as it describes the final days of Wiesel's father and family in the camp; at another level it can be said that it belongs to the collective memory of the jewish people and humanity more broadly. Going beyond the personal story of Wiesel, this citation highlights an important issue - remembering.

During ancient times, people did not have computers, videocameras and, in some cases, not even "paper". Yet historical events that occurred long ago have survived through myths, stories, poems, and most importantly, constitute part of our heritage. Today we can rely on our scientific methods and modern technologies to record the historical events for us- surely, when comparing our "history books" to those of our ancestors, we are better of.

However, recording history and ingraining it into one's culture are two distinct things: while the former implies diligence and acuracy in the process of "taking history down", the latter involves taking history into the heart and making it part of one's self.

With time "flying by" quickly and recent past sounding like distant times, with a multitude of events occurring concurrently at a global level, with such extremes as nationalistic interpretations or indifference leaving their own mark, how easy is to preserve "memory", not only in books but in the heart too, how easy is not to forget what really happened, not to grant "the last victory" to the enemy?

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Oh G(reed) I praise thy name...!

Long time now, I have been thinking to write about Greed. Why? you may ask. To me greed is one of the most defining characteristics of humans, and most importantly greatly responsible for unhappiness and misery. More often than not, an individual cannot possess all that he wants; yet unable to quest his thirst for what he desires, the greedy will continue on with his futile pursuits.

We see greed manifested in a wide range of human activities and behaviors: from politics to interpersonal relationships, greed is what often drives people to act in a way that others perceive as ‘absurd’. Quite often, though not always, greed is behind selfishness too- the latter is just the expression of greed. Greed and ‘the maximization of profit’? Oh, what a lovely relationship I see there…!

And before I proceed any further, I want to emphasize that I am not against economic productivity: It is just that this relationship can be potentially volatile, particularly if greedy men are in control. Of course, I am not implying that everyone is greedy; yet to mistakenly assume that money is not controlling the lives of many would create a great illusion. In what I consider a must-read book, “El mundo es ancho y ajeno” (The world is broad and alien), Ciro Alegría writes: “El más triste animal pasta soles” which literally translates: “The most unhappy animal of all grazes money”. Today, more than ever, money has acquired supreme importance in our lives, and the more industrialized is the country we live in, the greatest the role it plays.

Regardless of how you value this statement, one thing that strikes to most of us is that money, something that we invented to serve us - a commodity for transactions- has grown quite powerful, impacting the lives of many significantly, whether directly or indirectly. Money is one way of seeing greed: the willingness to accumulate more and more is based on the notion that it can be exchanged for good or services. Greed however can transcend beyond material goods; it can extend for example to power and beyod. For one thing, we need to recognize its might.

I let you with one of my favorite quotes from one of Wole Soyinka’s essays in “Climate of Fear”. Talking about power he comments: “power, as long as you are sufficiently ruthless, amoral and manipulative is within the grasp of even the mentally deficient”(57).

(In the photo a facet of modern Mexico. Aren't we really small?)

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