One's personality is both a composition and reflection, but if I have to choose one of them, I will choose reflection as the "self" is more important to me than "me". One's composition may change, walking across the cultural landscapes and climbing the social ladder but one's self is tied to one's reflections. The fun part is that reflections are not bound to "Time-Space" barriers ( it is not time-space) and respective mental constructs, which have grown so thick over ages, that they had reduced the image of humans to Sisyphus, rolling different sizes of boulders on hills of different heights.… As the name of this Blog indicates, knols are my perspectives on topics of interests, sweet/bitter experiences or just doodling :)

Friday, January 22, 2016

Conversations With An Afghan Teacher; Part 10

“There are concepts that you are in love with and find they aren’t perfect, you find a way to live with that fact. Open-mindedness is one of them. Unless you don’t feel strongly about something, you don’t think hard enough to find new ways…”

“Isn’t open-mindedness about throwing out the old concepts and accepting the new ones?” I interrupted. 

“Well,” the teacher fixed the glasses over his nose. His cheeks had grown red. We had stood for long in the sun and had talked for long. “We like to hear and talk about things in abstract, like adaptation, new concepts and change as they make us look good and don’t require explanation. But our minds are structured by our likes and dislikes, and we are condemned with strong desires to bend everything to fit our likes and dislikes than to change ourselves…” 

“But you can’t ignore the facts that humans are curious about new things and also the overall progress force the changes even on the very conservative ones, too?” I interrupted him again.” 

“Recently, I had an interesting observation.” The teacher smiled as he leaned on his left side. “I was invited to a Quran-Khawani (A dinner memorial. Participants recite a chapter of Quran and pray for the deceased person, and dinner is served.) in a neighbor's house. A mix of different age groups were present. I was about halfway into my chapter and some of the participants had already finished their chapters that a young man turned on TV, muted the voice. There was a cricket match. The boys changed their position and moved close to TV and whispered. A group of old men who finished their chapters started talking local politics. During dinner, a conversation, largely with an argumentative-tone broke. The old men complained that the boys disrespected the Quran-Khawani by turning on TV and watching cricket. One of the boys replied, if it was Sang-girag game (a traditional Hazaragi game), the old men hadn’t considered it disrespectful. And that reply ignited a fierce debate on cons and pros of cricket vs sang-girag…”

“Which group you supported?” 

“I was sympathetic with both sides?” the teacher smiled and leaned on his right side.

“How come?”

“Each sides were genuinely defending their likes and expressing their dislikes, and as I was aware of their heart feelings, I was sympathetic with both sides.” he paused to see my reaction.

I hadn’t anything to add.

“Our likes are indoctrinated at very early age. Although, our likes are malleable, the rate of change depends on our levels of exposures and the ability to become comfortable in expressing those likes. As the old men weren’t familiar with the rules of games, terminology of games and players of the games, the lack of those knowledge was a challenge to their status quo. The boys on other hand considered sang-girag a game that had fallen from grace long ago, and they didn’t see any advantage in recognizing themselves with the game…”

“Do you mean, we are open to the changes that strengthen our status in society or raise our status and we oppose to the changes that challenge our current status?”

“If you observe your neighborhood and notice the recent changes, you will find most of the changes are strongly correlated with expressions of social statuses.”

English language centers mushroomed with dawn of the new millennium. Learning english language became a cultural norm and the language centers grew into centers of cultural activities. Yamaha’s 70 CC motorcycles morphed from a vehicle of convenience in the crowded and narrow streets to a vehicle of show-boys for whom the streets were in large, worked as performing stages. Suzuki’s carry vans called band-dabba (closed boxes) became another social phenomenon. Housewives got obsessed with concrete houses. Most of those adaptations were sorts of forced changes due to globalization (telecommunication and digital revolution), the arrival of international coalition forces in neighboring Afghanistan and opening of new opportunities for the english speakers, migrations, narrow streets, politicization of public transport and denial of Hazaras for bus permits between their population enclaves of Hazara Town and Marri-Abad and lower costs of maintenance and protection, however, in a town that lacked public spaces for sublime expressions, houses, streets, and language centers worked as alternative platforms. 

Seeing me pondering, he added, “In the same Quran-Khawani, an elderly man compared the women of his generation and the girls of your generation. The old man complained that women of his time were happy with few pairs of clothes, and the girls of this age refuse to participate to any public event without a new dress for that particular occasion. I explained to the man that dresses and jewlries have become the expressions of social statuses. The old man disagreed. He interpreted it as moral downgrading of the society as general…”

“Let alone women, even children compare their dresses and throw a tantrum at home for the kinds of outfits like those of their friends and peers…”

“Right, right” the teacher laughed. “I face the protests of my children on regular basis. ‘It’s not fair.’ my eldest often son protests. ‘What’s not fair?’ When I ask him, he counts the new possession of his peers and ask, why he doesn’t own them. To him, justice is possessing the same stuffs or more than his peers.” the teacher laughed. 

“His concept of justice appeals to me, too.” I laughed. 

“When you enter a home, you see framed pictures on the display-shelf-walls. Those frames held either, the pictures of the loved ones, popular personalities (an expression of allegiance or ideological connection), great achievements (or celebrating the achievements), best moments of the lives, proud moments in history, something holy and something precious that express the identities, and social status.” added the teacher after a pause. 

“Balay Ustad.”

“Most of framed pictures belongs to the glorious pasts that people identify with.”

“Balay Ustad.”

“I heard that in Pohang University of Science and Technology of South Korea, the framed pictures of nobel prize winners are displayed on a wall. The last frame held the picture of a question mark as challenge to the students of the University.” the teacher looked at me with an obvious question mark on his face.

(The teacher mentioned about pictures of nobel laureates at POSTECH. I checked the POSTECH’s website to confirm it. I couldn’t find information about the wall with the pictures display. Instead, there are four busts of greatest physicists, Edison, Einstein, Maxwell, and Newton along two empty podiums for “Future Scientists of Korea (?)” and Nobel Garden, where Nobel laureates that visited POSTECH planted a tree in the garden.)

“That’s interesting idea, Ustad.” I could only utter those words.

“You are familiar with existentialism?”

“Balay Ustad.”

“I haven’t seen any framed question marks in any home or school or something like that. Have you?”

“No, Ustad.”

“We are photo-frame existentialist. Photo-frame-existentialist frame their passions, allegiances, possessions, potentials and dreams and all those things. Those displays are expressions of their status, or promotion of the statuses. And there are people who capitalize on their strong feelings and utilize them to frame their visions and challenges, and work passionately for them. Those are the futurists.”

“Balay Ustad.

“We usually call adaptations and welcoming of concepts, technologies and stuffs like that strengthen our social statuses as open-mindedness. That’s something common to all social groups, cultures and even animals. That’s not open-mindedness. To me, open-mindedness is your visions for your future and the levels of your open-mindedness depends on your visions. An open society constructs a culture that nourishes and shelters the niches of those futurists.”

“That’s really interesting.”

My young brother carried the thali of naans from tandoor (bakery). “Lalai (brother) Meal is ready.” said he.

“Ustad, please join us for a lunch.” I requested the teacher.

“Tashakor.” he put his right hand over his chest. “I have to go home. They must be worried about me, by now.”


Saturday, January 9, 2016

Conversations With An Afghan Teacher; Part 9

He was right. On Thursday evenings, trucks brought home some of the miners who spent the whole week working in the coal-mines. The men unloaded their coal sacs from trucks (as part of their pay) and sometimes sold some of them. When the area linked to natural gas supply lines, the trucks, the coal-miners and the coal sacs became very rare, if at all. Once a river (Proto-indus River) flowed and drained into an ocean (Neo-Tethys Ocean) in this region. Plate Tectonics closed the ocean and changed the course of the river. Now, instead of the ocean, there is Katawaz Basin and instead of river, there is Sulaiman Mountain Chain. Indus river irrigates an estimated 45 million acres and supports an estimated population of 300 million people along its course. Textile and sugar industries of the area are dependent on the harvests of the lands irrigated by Indus river. While Sulaiman mountains are memorial headstones of the late Neo-Tethys Ocean, her sisters, Mediterranean Sea, Caspian Sea, Aral Sea and Black Sea are still breathing life. Other the coal-mines and natural gas, there is very limited agricultural activities, no industry and very sparse population (very limited business). And that’s not all the story. What the active microplates of the region have for the people of the area? We can only guess. In 1935, the Quetta city was destroyed in an earthquake and from time to time, the plates remind people of their existence. For now, Katawaz and Helmand Basins’ chief productions are terrorism and opium, but there is hope that sometime in near future, the potential oil and gas reserves of those basins reward the people with peace and prosperity (or possibly with further wars for those resources). 

“Whenever, I think about rationality, I immediately think of 2600 years long history of Buddhist teaching, 2400 years of familiarity with Greek rationale minds (Philosophers), 2000 years of Christian , 1400 years of Islamic schoolings and about five centuries since Renaissance, and still there are no agreements on very basic things associated with humans. On contrary, we do all agree on mainstream scientific findings. And I ask myself, why is so?” the teacher fixed his glasses. “I mentioned all those names just to remind you that humans weren’t short of well-structured-thinking-tools and those tools were available for at least two millennia….”

“Sorry to interrupt, I want to ask a question before I forget?” I interrupted.

“Lotfan (Please)” the teacher paused, extended his right arm with opened palm and face up. 

“When you mentioned the two millennia long availability of structured-thinking-tools…”

“Balay” the teacher nodded.

“ struck me that the philosophies and sciences or what you call structured-thinking-tools improve by contributions of each generation, while each person has to learn them from start as no one inherits those tools by birth. And that means each coming generation has to spent more of their times to learn and specialize those improved tools….”

“I wanted to walk you there through familiar paths.” the teacher smiled. 

“You know, I have learnt the hard way that people do perform best in the areas they are more familiar with and if you change the circumstances, it significantly impact their performances. My aim, here is not to teach you something but answer your question of why I preach that it is time to rethink our culture and why I think the culture should focus on making people feel better about themselves…”

“Balay Ustad.” I nodded.

“As you pointed out early,” he laughed, “people in each coming generation has to spend more time in learning. And as more better thinking-tools become available by each passing generation, I wanted to point out two things; one, When one learns something new, one is susceptible in making a lot of mistakes and two, the more sophisticated something is, the brain looks for more excuses to not learn it. And as you can figure out yourself, the learner is under triple pressures, to deal with embarrassments of mistakes, to constantly fight off the brains new excuses to stay on the track, and to be patient for longer time to get better off at things. The culture, we are currently practicing developed in times, when the lives were simple and the people had not to face these problems. Your generation is spending more time than ours and I expect the next generation will be under even more pressure…”

“You are right.” I couldn’t resist, not to jump in. “I constantly face the questions like,’ When I am going to finish my schooling and get started with real life from elders and I have difficulty explaining them why I am working and studying, and how studying is part of my work?”

“And those people think, if you aren’t making money full-time, you are missing something in your calculations, right?” he grinned. 

“Something like that.” I laughed.

“See, you have a perspective about continued work and study and there are some who disagree with you.It’s not just that the elders have difficulty agreeing with your perspective. They are just worried about you and want to be help you at the best of their knowledge. You can find plenty of people of your generation who have different life perspectives..”

“Balay Ustad.”

“That’s just an example of how humans don’t agree with each other. You are under pressure for something that the you parent’s generation had not to worry about.”

“By elders, I didn’t mean my parents, as neither of them asked me at any time to not pursue my dreams. Nonetheless, none of my parents went to school.” I explained.

“As your parents didn’t go to school, I guess, you had no home schooling?”


“You children, like mine, might start learning at home even before their schooling age and you might teach them things that aren’t offered at school.”

“I think so.”

“You see, how the pressures and expectations sharply increase from one to another?”

“Balay Ustad.”

“Unlike facts, mistakes are considered stupid things. By the way, have you heard that once a former US President named Reagan's famous misquote John Adam.”

“No.” I answered.

“‘Facts are stupid things.’ he said, instead of ‘Facts are stubborn things.’?” 

“That happens.” I smiled.

“The fact is, mistakes are considered stupid and in our culture, it is encouraged to keep score-boards of mistakes. To avoid mistakes, our brains prefer to walk on simple structured, designed or well-paved paths and that’s why cultures encourages conformity and we as consumers seek validation and whenever the circumstances change, we get scared and undergo intense pressure...” The teacher explained. 

“I got you.” I interrupted him, “In order to encourage learning new things and trying new things, you want the culture should go soft on conformity and mistakes, so the new generation do not feel over-pressured?”

A boy jumped out of a store converted to a carpet-weaving workplace, and ran down barefoot on the road. He held a carpet-weaver-latch. Two boys followed him. The smaller boys came out and stood next to the store to watch the race, and laughed. The two boys caught the escapee, put him on the ground. One of the boys side-headlocked the escapee and dragged him back towards the store, while the second boy kept kicking him in the butt. Passersby laughed.

“That was just a small demonstration of non-compliance.” the teacher shook his head. “That’s partially what I wanted to say.” He resumed the conversation. “In addition to that, I want to point two more things. At times, when people follow a particular trend, things are clearer and the pressures of mistakes are fewer but when people are confused, the pressures are doubled and an encouraging environment greatly reduces the concerns. Even more important than that is, that we live in a time, when creativity is gaining more importance, and creativity thrive in an environment where error and trial and nonconformity are considered normal things. I want to remind you again that our culture like most of cultures around world is evolved to favor classism. The existence of class is reality but there should be people to check it regularly so they don’t deface the people. If you remember, I asked you the first time, we met, if Eids make you feel better?”

“Balay Ustad.”

“Unfortunately, our culture encourages us to keep a score-boards and race for higher scores that add to nothing. For example, if a young couple is marrying, both parties check other people’s scoreboards of spending, number of events and the exotic traditions and things they introduced and try their best to beat them, irrespective how much additional pressures those things might add to the new couple. The same thing is true about funerals, Eids, Ramadan, Muharram and other cultural things. That’s why, I call all those cultural activities as traditional-marketing-of-ego, not real culture….”

“Why culture is your prime focus instead of education system?” I thought that was a smart question to ask.

“I have come to conclusion that, very simple thing, such as, being open to positive criticism and to new possibilities play much larger role in making people more rational than just arranging classes of logic. There are vast variations in abilities of people to reason, still open-mindedness make people more inclined to go easy, when things they like conflict with reason. Again, let me repeat, people will not become open-minded just by preaching open-mindedness. People like to walk on familiar paths and as cultures provide a well-structured, very familiar paths or if you like very natural way that do not burden people with hard and dry thinking, the more open a culture becomes, the more people become open-minded...”

“Aren’t we already open-minded?” I interrupted again. 


Sunday, January 3, 2016

Conversations With An Afghan Teacher; Part 8

One of the ‘side-effects’ of talking to an older, more level-headed person is the loss of part of your enthusiasm. When the teacher reminded me that there was a super-creature called ‘reality’ who ruled ruthlessly over the world of actions, suddenly, like a ‘terrified cave-man’, I felt the presence of the invisible ‘super-creature’ everywhere. The super-creature tolerated thinking, imagining and believing whatever I wanted in the safety of my head but the moment, I expressed or put them into action, He took actions against the impractical ones. 

The teacher paused and narrowed his eyes.The wrinkles on the corners of his almond eyes and nose became more visible. Either he remembered something or struggled with some deep thoughts. I wanted to allow him some moments and looked around. Three teen boys sat on the front-step of the workshop adjacent to the flour store, whispered and giggled. It wasn’t appropriate to stand on the corner of street and talk like teen boys. But I didn’t want to invite him home, as I knew he would decline the offer and that would end our that day’s conversation. 

“What are you thinking about, Ustad?”

“Nothing important.” he fixed his glasses over his nose, something he did when he wanted to concentrate. “As you are a curious young man, I thought to share some of my observations…”

“Balay Ustad.”

“I don’t know if you have noticed an illusions that have become popular among our people….” I got alerted. I wanted to know, if I shared that illusion “...I met a number of people who recently adopted the surnames, like Changizi, Mongol, Ilkhani, Chughtai and like that. Choosing a name is a personal choice and I have no rights to object on that. What I want to point out is the mindset behind those names. They have developed this illusion that, unless a people don’t have a great history, they can’t become great people, or more precisely, unless, you don’t have a proud history, you can’t have a bright future. My problem with this mindset is that, it encourages to look at history the way we like it to be, instead it really was. You can’t force your liking on reality, instead, learn to like the reality. Titles, slogans, badges, etc only confuse our youths, nothing more. ”

“Balay Ustad.” I said in low voice. Actually, influenced by the trend, once I thought to adopt the surname Changizi but then after long conversations with my grand uncle, I abandoned the idea. My grand uncle had the similar views, that if you you weren’t cool with your situation and instead of earning pride, you wanted to borrow it, you were under strong influence of a delusion. 

“And I met people who believed unless, you get rid of your past and become from hair to toe, in and out, identical to a western person, you couldn’t be an enlightened person.They have this illusion that everything have already been worked out , and if we just follow the West, all our problems will be solved. Period. That’s exactly like the mindset of Salafists who believe, if Muslims implement the Islamic laws as they were practiced during Prophet and His caliphs, all their problems will be solved by themselves.The reality is that Science and Technology are common and work everywhere the same but when it comes to the human societies, each society has its own personality and has to go through its own developmental stages.If I expect all my students perform the same at my class because they get the same instructions, in the same environment, I will get disappointed by the results….”

In those days, I was an ultra-idealist person. I started thinking of a “possible” future utopian world that I called “elysium”. I thought, Science will continue to increase our understanding and technological advances will help us solve all the problems. There will no illness, no shortage of food, no psychological, social and economical problem and so on. Everyday I read news about new breakthroughs which solved this and that problem and they were all pointing to the possibility of the elysium. Besides, the pursuit of the Master degree gave me a sense of mastery of the world affairs and I had no doubt that my “prediction” will come true. Certainly, I will not be there to see the elysium but I could enjoy imagining it. Then, this teacher that I didn’t know anything about his educational background tore down my “elysium” by pointing the human element that was missing in my prediction. When the teacher said, each society has its own personality, I couldn’t help myself but to interrupt him, 

“Don’t you think, if people become increasingly rational, over time, they will come to similar conclusions and ultimately, they will become identical?” 

“What’s your field of study?” asked the teacher.

“Geology.” I replied.

“Good.” his face radiated with a warm smile “So you know the forces that drive the continental plates are the same all over the world, right?”

“Balay Ustad.” I nodded.

“But the history of Sulaiman mountain chains are different than the history of Ural mountains, right?”

“Balay Ustad.”

“Okay, Genetic inheritance works the same all over the world, half of the chromosomes are inherited from mother and other half from father, right?”

“Balay Ustad.”

“Then, why are we different from Indonesians, for example?”

“Our genes and Indonesians genes had different mutation histories.” Based on his previous arguments, I guessed the kind of answer he wanted to hear.

“Good.” he smiled and fixed his glasses again. “As genes carry information about our physical make-ups and determine the physical appearances and the diseases of next generations to a large extent, likewise, the cultures carry information about our ethics, values, fears, worldviews and things like that and they determine to a large extent the worldviews of the next generations. As different mutation histories result in different genetic makeups, similarly, different cultural mutations histories result in different cultural makeups….”

“But humans are rational animals and they can fix cultural practices that are stupid.” I interrupted.

“Of course, humans can change, and we both are exchanging views to recognize some of our stupidities.” he looked at his wrist watch.

“You must have some work or have to take your lunch or something?” he inquired.

“No, no, Ustad, I’m free afternoons.”

“OK, I very like to talk something about the relation of rationality to stupidity…”