The Hexacoto

Listening to the sound of one hand clapping

Tag: literature

The Interment

He would like to have left us with the words of one of his favourite author and thinker Bertrand Russell, for us to remember him by.

Prologue: What I Have Lived For
Bertrand Russell

Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind. These passions, like great winds, have blown me hither and thither, in a wayward course, over a deep ocean of anguish, reaching to the very verge of despair.

I have sought love, first, because it brings ecstasy — ecstasy so great that I would often have sacrificed all the rest of life for a few hours of this joy. I have sought it, next, because it relieves loneliness — that terrible loneliness in which one shivering consciousness looks over the rim of the world into the cold unfathomable lifeless abyss. I have sought it, finally, because in the union of love I have seen, in a mystic miniature, the prefiguring vision of the heaven that saints and poets have imagined. This is what I sought, and though it might seem too good for human life, this is what — at last — I have found.

With equal passion I have sought knowledge. I have wished to understand the hearts of men. I have wished to know why the stars shine. And I have tried to apprehend the Pythagorean power by which number holds sway above the flux. A little of this, but not much, I have achieved.

Love and knowledge, so far as they were possible, led upward toward the heavens. But always pity brought me back to earth. Echoes of cries of pain reverberate in my heart. Children in famine, victims tortured by oppressors, helpless old people a hated burden to their sons, and the whole world of loneliness, poverty, and pain make a mockery of what human life should be. I long to alleviate the evil, but I cannot, and I too suffer.

This has been my life. I have found it worth living, and would gladly live it again if the chance were offered me.

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Lord of the polyglots

What does it take for a language to become a language? Quite simply: grammar. Any constructed language in fiction has the potential to become functional languages, all it takes is a sound structure that is productive and consistent. It’s not the size of the lexicon but the ability to distill fundamental rules about how things such as plurals, tenses, cases, progressives, etc. can be consistently realised in the language.

Thus being able to speak Quenya or Sindarin, some of the most comprehensive constructed languages out there, shouldn’t be something of a shame. J.R.R. Tolkien has in fact said before, “The ‘stories’ were made rather to provide a world for the languages than the reverse.”

There are criticisms that constructed languages cannot be compared at the same level of languages that exist in real life, and that the ‘evolution’ that languages such as Quenya experiences in the literature isn’t the same as when real-life languages develop regional dialects and accents from contact with other people and isolation from geographical boundaries. Why should that be the case? Just simply because the change is the result of an author’s machinations doesn’t discredit any change ascribed to the constructed language from being any less real, if said constructed languages mimic real-life examples of language evolution.

There are several constructed languages in the world that experience little to no regional change, such as Esperanto or Lojban, but why should they be seen as more legit than Klingon, simply because people have had the opportunity to use them in real life?

So go forth and proudly claim your multilingualism!

The importance of posterity

In George Orwell writes in his book, 1984:

He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.

In Orwell’s book, the world is divided into three superstates, Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia. Each superstate preserves itself by totalitarianism, changing the past as they see fit, ensuring their continued existence into tomorrow.

But if all life in the story were to ended the  next day, would the respective governments continue to censor and repress?

If life were to end tomorrow, would we bother to write anything beautiful and lasting, if we thought posterity to be pointless?

In a New York Times opinion piece, The Importance of the Afterlife. Seriously., the author, Samuel Scheffler, writes:

If you were a cancer researcher, you might be less motivated to continue your work. (It would be unlikely, after all, that a cure would be found in your lifetime, and even it were, how much good would it do in the time remaining?) Likewise if you were an engineer working to improve the seismic safety of bridges, or an activist trying to reform our political or social institutions or a carpenter who cared about building things to last. What difference would these endeavors make, if the destruction of the human race was imminent?

If you were a novelist or playwright or composer, you might see little point in continuing to write or compose, since these creative activities are often undertaken with an imagined future audience or legacy in mind. And faced with the knowledge that humanity would cease to exist soon after your death, would you still be motivated to have children? Maybe not.

Time becomes meaningless when we stop living for the future — every moment we live up till the present is the result of time past, and we can control the path which the present will travel towards the future. This system pervades all aspects of our life: literature, science, relationships, etc. We are able to create and write things because we expect people in the future will at some point see it, and we are inspired by things that have come before us. But what comes before us is easily changed by those who gets to write the history books.

Why bother to control the past if the future is not worth changing? The Ingsoc government in 1984 most certainly wouldn’t if they knew that they would not exist past the next day. Our history is only as valuable as we have a tomorrow to live in.

So by that reckoning, the past and the present really isn’t that important, and what matters most is really tomorrow. Which is why those who can see no future for themselves find no point in living even in the present, and turn to suicide.

Tomorrow is the most important day of your life.

Brave New Korea

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Image taken from T-Shirt shop, The Affair

It has been reported for a while that the North Korean government has been manufacturing methamphetamines, also known as ‘crystal meth.’ In fact, due to the fact that they are a government-led effort, extremely high quality meth is produced, and they are highly-sought after overseas, according to defectors. In fact, North Korean diplomats have even been made to peddle these drugs, tasked to sell 20 kg (about 44 pounds) and raise $300,000; money that the country desperately needs to fuel its nuclear programs as well as its ruling elites’ lavish lifestyles.

Newsweek reported in 2011, when China, North Korea’s main target of its meth exports, tightened its border security on drugs, North Korea suddenly found itself with a surplus of meth that it couldn’t sell, and thus they started selling it within its own borders.

Inside North Korea, observers say, many use meth in place of expensive and hard-to-obtain medicine. “People with chronic disease take it until they’re addicted,” says one worker for a South Korea-based NGO, who requested anonymity in order to avoid jeopardizing his work with defectors. “They take it for things like cancer. This drug is their sole form of medication,” says the NGO worker, who has interviewed hundreds of defectors in the past three years.

A recent study in the journal, North Korea Review, suggests that about 40-50% of the people in the area bordering North Korea and China are addicted to meth. People in the north of the country have apparently started cooking their own meth to feed their addiction.

The idea of state-produced drugs turned on its own people to keep them docile, or otherwise benumbed to the pain, hunger, and suffering brought about by dismal living conditions from a dysfunctional economy is strikingly similar to Aldous Huxley’s ‘soma’ in his novel Brave New World.

“..there is always soma, delicious soma, half a gramme for a half-holiday, a gramme for a week-end, two grammes for a trip to the gorgeous East, three for a dark eternity on the moon…”

“I don’t understand anything,” she said with decision, determined to preserve her incomprehension intact. “Nothing. Least of all,” she continued in another tone “why you don’t take soma when you have these dreadful ideas of yours. You’d forget all about them. And instead of feeling miserable, you’d be jolly. So jolly,”

”Hug me till you drug me, honey;
Kiss me till I’m in a coma;
Hug me, honey, snuggly bunny;
Love’s as good as soma.”

Like in Huxley’s London, meth abusers in North Korea see their drug as non-lethal — merely recreational, even medicinal. However, while people in Huxley’s London consume soma on a daily basis with no side effects, other than a strict addiction, Kim Jong Un’s North Korea cannot continue to see sustained use of meth in the long term, not without repercussions.

While it was reported that Kim Jong Un has ordered a crackdown on drug abuse in 2011, which remained largely unsuccessful, when the drug, which he has sanctioned the production of, is responsible for putting money into his coffers, and funding the state’s military program, what incentive does he have to stop? Furthermore, the surplus of meth being used as a substitute for more expensive medicines and painkillers help reduce the state’s healthcare costs. One’d imagine that the reclusive Brave New Korea is headed in a euphoric direction away from the rest of the world, its head wrapped up in its never-ending haze of drug-riddled poverty,