Quiet

Surprise, I have not been up to much of anything this week. We had our first solid rain yesterday and I was pleased. It felt good, even if it didn’t really seem to influence the city-ness of the air. And my walk to work is only like five minutes, so I wasn’t even that wet. Back in Dublin, it was tough when it started raining part way through my forty minute walk and there were no buses on their way. Anyway.

On Wednesday, I had a small addition to my routine. Normally, I go into work to putz around, plan, and grade or whatever miscellaneous work needs to be done before phone sessions. This week, I was in charge of a review session for the first part of the day. Basically, we looked at answers the kids all had already, chatted about topics they only vaguely remembered, and played games. But it wasn’t so bad.

I don’t really have anything else to report. Sometimes I appall myself with how truly and utterly I fill my time with nothing. I don’t even watch that much Netflix. I have no idea what happens to the time, though I know even if I had more I lack the willpower to do anything much with it. I have a few theories about this particular iteration of nothingness here in Seoul, maybe I’ll share them at a later date.

For now, I’d like to give you a bit of insight at how my BA in international studies continues to actually mean something in my life, even if it’s not directly related to my job.

I recently subscribed to the blog Political Violence at a Glance, which issues both a weekly compilation of important news articles and longer topic pieces on relevant issues. This is the latest of three similar updates I follow to keep track of international events. I claim this neither as many nor few, but I encourage everyone to take some time regularly to look at what’s going on from sources that don’t only care about things in other countries when our country is involved or there’s a horrendous disaster.

This week’s discussion was on the fighting, both militarily and socially, the violent extremist groups in the Sahel and Maghreb (if you’re interested, you can read it here). Importantly, as the piece notes, counterinsurgency is not just about wresting control of territory from violent groups, it is also about the classic winning of hearts and minds. This has long been the dilemma of people involved in counterinsurgency efforts. The author drew a comparison between contemporary states’ attempts in the region and colonial French policies and I think it’s an important one.

The writer talks about the ways in which groups are defined by the state as constitutively violent change depending on who’s in power (because generally religion doesn’t advocate a whole lot of violence). The problem they describe, therefore, is not one of message but of identity. The solution, it follows, is then not about amending your ways but of amending yourself. It’s “be a member of this sect” instead of simply “don’t preach violence.” This isn’t entirely unhelpful but it will not bring a durable peace.

In my studies, I have encountered a wide variety of ways to talk about peace but this brief article provided a new one for me, and one which I immediately took to heart in times like these. Defining the problem in the terms outlined above does not actually distinguish between violent and peaceful groups. They certainly are violent but the response to them comes from a redefinition by the group in power. The line drawn is between revisionist and politically quietist.

I may have run across the term “politically quietist” before but it didn’t seem to make much of an impact. Here though, and now, I find it resonating deeply. And the term is easily transferable. Protesters: Black Lives Matter, Standing Rock, Women’s March ect. Viewpoints: political correctness, legal discrimination, minimum wage ect.

Is it peace or is it status quo? Do you want what’s right or what’s easy? What’s true or what’s convenient? Political quietism is just a fancy way of saying the people with the power want to protect and (pre)serve power. Keeping things the same is a heavy and powerful idea.

And do we see people as essentialized, petrified bastions of oversimplified beliefs or human beings who can make mistakes and learn from them? Who are deserving of mercy and grace? Who can be forgiven even if they do not seek forgiveness?

Using another term, I want to seek positive peace–not the absence of war but the presence of justice. I want unity in diversity. If that makes me a troublemaker, so be it.

I reject quiet. I pursue peace.

Can Robots be Orphans?

Okay, you may know that most of like junior year of high school I thought I was going to major in linguistics. Specifically, historical and comparative linguistics (like, I sort of really had things planned out). Obviously, that didn’t pan out. But I remain generally fascinated by language and I love learning little quirks and things (and I’m still trying to become at least proficient in a second language, but that’s another story).

Anyway, near the beginning of first semester Russian, we learned the verb работать (raBOtat’) which means to work. My professor told us that it comes from the same Slavic root as a similar Czech word meaning forced labor that was used by the Čapek brothers, particularly but possibly not originally by Karel, in the play R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots). They invented the word robot. So that’s pretty cool.

Additionally, the proto-Indo-European (the term to describe the theoretical language spoken by basically everyone from Ireland to India before languages diverged) basis for robota/работа is also the root, meaning to change from one state to another, for orphan. You can read more about it here. Thus the question posed at the beginning: can robots be orphans? Probably not, at least in the strictest sense, because of the whole they’re not alive and so don’t have parents thing. But I guess if their makers abandoned them, they’d be sad about it too. And who’s to say whether or not they dream of electric sheep.

All this has basically been to say: I have a job! It’s just a part-time seasonal position in retail, but money’s money so I’m not complaining. My job could 100% be performed by a robot, and I feel like it might be in some parts of the world, but I don’t mind the work and I’m finished about the time most other people’s jobs are beginning so I still feel like I  have a lot of free time. I may be job shadowing or something in the mid-future, we’ll see. Just trying to keep occupied to have things to say if ever I get an interview for a job in my actual field.

So that’s the news of the week, I started last Friday and, you know, it’s been a big thrill. Not much else has been going on in my life,  but I’m kind of okay with that. I’d love to be getting a move on, but while I’m here I’ll echo what I said when I arrived in Ireland: bloom where you’re planted. Other things are things (coughtheelectioncough) and they’re not terribly uplifting and they certainly don’t tend to inspire great confidence. I just watched V for Vendetta for the first time on Tuesday and wow. Firstly, I really liked it. Secondly, how terrifyingly topical. Wow, I tell you what, wow. Fascism is the worst.

The Wikipedia page on R.U.R., after describing the plot which involves a hostile robot takeover and the extinction of humanity, says that the play is “dark, but not without hope.” That is a direct quote. I haven’t read/seen the play, but if the extinction of humanity can be portrayed as dark, but not without hope, maybe there’s something to be said for humans after all. Maybe, just maybe, we’re a little better off than sad orphan robots (if it’s possible for them to exist).

Maybe hope is for the dark times anyway.