Monday, 22 May 2017

Yes, but... No, but... You're asking the wrong question.

Growing up, I always felt a little bit out of place, stuck in perpetual monachopsis mainly due to the fact that I had two home countries. I was too Arubian to be Guatemalan, and too Guatemalan to be Arubian. Because of this, I often surprise people, either because they perceive contradictions in my personality or my least favorite one, “I didn't think you'd know that!”.

In any case, recently, one of the most interesting responses I've been getting is in regards to my religious beliefs. With strangers, it's usually just asking if I'm going to be a pastor when they find out I have a theology degree. But with acquaintances and new friends, I always get met with surprise.

I call myself an agnostic, mainly because to me it is the only honest philosophical position to hold regarding religion. I can have a pretty good general idea of how I think it seems things are, but at any given moment, something can happen and I want to be willing to re-assess my beliefs when confronted with new information. That aside, when asked if I am a Christian I would 8/10 say yes. Why not 10/10?

Back in university, one of my favorite lecturers was Dr. Tuladhar. He taught us that in an exam, there would never be yes or no answers. That the best answers would be “yes, but”, “no, but”, and “this is the wrong question to ask”. And this is mainly why, sometimes, instead of “yes, but” I end up going with “no, but”.
My answer is yes, I am a Christian but I am not part of any denomination, I don't attend a church nor follow any organized worshiping. You could say I am an anarchist Christian, but I'm not sure on that yet, and honestly, I am a philosopher so I will probably be unsure of exactly what kind of Christian I am until the day I die or our Lord returns.

No, I'm not a Christian but I actually do believe in Jesus, what he stood for and what he was trying to do. The Bible has actually a really cool story and you can learn a lot, and Jesus was wise and had a poetic streak and a bit of sass. I'm here for all of that.

This is the wrong question to ask because these days, the word Christian has been charged with too much meaning and distortion, and there is too much attached to it beyond the original “follower of Jesus Christ”. It now carries a meaning of judging, meddling, corrupting and being corrupt, elitism, hypocrisy. Calling yourself a Christian nowadays will more often than not be heard as “I am on the right path, and I will be saved and live in the gorgeous rich new world with God while you burn in hell, because I am good and you are bad”, and honestly, I don't think this is what Jesus was trying to do at all.
It's so hard to even try to live in society while being a good person, and we're all sinners and don't deserve to go to the new earth with God and that sucks. But actually Jesus is trying to help us by giving tips on how to not be an asshole, and anyway we should show mercy and forgiveness to one another because we sure hope Jesus will show us mercy and forgiveness if there is an afterworld.
That's where I stand.
So my feelings where floored when a past romantic interest asked, incredulously, “how can someone as smart as you believe in that!?”

I don't want to preach. I don't want you to be a Christian, or read the Bible, or do anything. One thing I do believe is that each person is on their own path, learning what they need to learn, and I can't presume to know what is best for them.
Perhaps the best way to bring everyone to God is not by religiously converting them, but by showing them the way through example. Don't force people to say the words, just quietly show them how to live the life. Sort of like being a living gospel. You know, kinda like how Jesus did it.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Bird privacy

Oftentimes, I will be thinking about an issue concerning animals and think, "someone should write something about it", only later to realize, I should write something about it.
Why me? Well, first of all, I don't have anyone I could order to write things for me on command. Secondly, people have written extensively about most animal (rights) issues, so really, I just want someone to write out my opinion for me. Thirdly and surprisingly... I'm qualified! Legit, real-World qualified to speak and write (correctly or wrongly) on these issues.*

Anyway, let me get to it. I have one passion and two main hobbies, although honestly I like dabbling in almost everything. My one passion has consistently been writing, and my hobbies, at the moment, are Kpop** and photography.

Within photography, I particularly like fashion and birds. Most birds are not that into being approached or photographed. The city birds like pigeons are easy to photograph, but the cooler birds are usually hidden in trees, moving around, or will run away if you get within range. Bird-watching is an intrinsic part of bird photography, but I honestly have very little patience for it. Probably because I cannot see outside during daylight without sunglasses, and with sunglasses on trying to see through the viewfinder or even the screen is surprisingly difficult. I did buy a camera lens solely for the birds but, it was on the cheaper side of lenses because I am an amateur. So basically, my style of bird photography is just to spot desired bird, stalk carefully, and then shoot and shoot hoping I get a good shot.

Sometimes I manage. But, as I pick a target-bird (they gotta have that bounce in their step or something) and proceed to stalk and then photograph, I become increasingly aware of how... creepy? the whole thing is. Especially when the birds are hiding in the trees and kinda give me that look that lets me know they're uncomfortable.
And I convince myself by saying, I'm actually not doing anything to harm them. Just friendly human taking pictures.

But what if friendly bird was taking pictures of me? Sometimes, a bird or iguana stands by the window when I shower, and it is a bit weird but not too bad. But what if they were taking pictures? Not necessarily in the shower but like street photography, or you're out with your family and some birds start taking photos of you to show to their friends. Or if it got so bad, and so many people were harassed in this manner that people went off running if a bird arrived at a site.
I don't know if the bird cares about privacy, but this is making me realize that I do. But then, if I truly believe I shouldn't be photographed when out and about during my daily activities (AHEM!!!!!!!) then the birds and all fauna of the world probably shouldn't either.

And besides, birds do become nervous upon seeing people. When stalking them to photograph, I am, indeed, stalking the birds. Isn't that weird? And it sure makes them nervous, alert. It might even inconvenience them by making them changing their destination or current activity. Anyway, I get the sense that most birds in particular don't really like being photographed.

So why is the issue of privacy not even considered within animal ethics? Collective laughter aside, it is because even their right not to be enslaved and tortured by a human cannot be guaranteed at this point. Chickens are one of the most abused animals on our planet, both by the numbers in which they are killed and by the ways in which they are mistreated. Cockfighting is still an issue, and bird-mills (like puppy-mills used to breed exotic bird species in captivity) and the pet industry cause suffering and death to countless animals each year.
And don't get me started on how reptiles and fish literally do not have any rights.

I honestly believe (and it was an issue I explored in my master's thesis about fish) that part of the cruelty with which humans treat animals comes from misunderstanding or willfully ignoring the capacities or capabilities of animals, alienating ourselves from them, exaggerating the differences that separate us. So perhaps if we start thinking about whether the bird is feeling harassed by photography, whether it is wrong to stalk a bird to photograph it, who knows? We might start thinking it's wrong to keep a bird in a tiny cage and feed him hormones that disfigure him. We might begin to think it's wrong to destroy literally all the entire habitat of many beings, and then complain when they shit on our roofs. We might start thinking that hey, we're not the only ones living in this earth after all, and perhaps we're not really the center of it, either.

*See my credentials.
**If Sports fanatism is a hobby, Kpop fanatism is a hobby.

>All pictures taken by me.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017


"Awe! Awe!" a young woman chants, with her fist shaking in tandem, watching the protest through the screen of her cellphone. This despite the fact that the prime minister was a couple of meters away.

I'm watching this unfold through Facebook. Some people gathered there to demand that the PM stops the parking fees (it is unclear to me if everywhere or just around the main street), and that transit be allowed back on the main street.
The scene is a caricature, and the PM fails to hold in his laughter more than once. Everyone there knows, to some degree, that having either of those demands met will represent little change to the economic situation of the island. But impotence breeds anxiety and so I suspect people just felt like the situation is becoming unbearable and they just had to do something.

Store-owners are adamant that parking fees for visitors (through a system of parking meters) and the prohibition of traffic for the main street has resulted in no customers visiting their stores. This is resulting in the loss of jobs and the rise in criminality, a retail employee explains.
While these are valid points, the scene reminded me of current day United States, where a lot of people who used to work in the mining business and factories lost their jobs mainly to globalization and the technological revolution, yet blame immigrants and socialist movements for the unemployment rates.

In Aruba, people are protesting the parking fees, because it's better than just accepting that a lot of people want to buy clothes online these days rather than at stores, because a store will never ever have the width of selection than the entire internet does, and because it is simply cheaper to buy online. Instead of yelling at the PM, how about the merchants themselves come up with some solutions to target the challenges the ever-changing world is throwing at them? Probably because that would require listening to their workers and their customers, and in my experience, they would rather listen to corporate. Anyways, the only workers still working are the ones who keep their mouth shut and agree with management. While I'm at it, let's point out that oftentimes, the manager got that position by default rather than by merit.

But I'm not gonna stop there, because it's not just the causes of the decline in shoppers that seem to be misunderstood, but also the consequences. Since we started paying parking meters, criminality has risen, ladies and gentlemen. Like we all believe what we're dealing with is honest people turning to crime to feed their families.

Not because kids are joining gangs and partaking in criminal activities from a younger age. It's not because we are working longer hours than ever for less money than ever, or that childcare is mediocre and overpriced, or that breastfeeding is still an issue all over the world that parents can barely educate a child. We are all sitting here pointing our overindulgent fingers at the poor parents (and the parking fees!) for the poor children turning into criminals, all the while ignoring that the reason both parents have to work extended hours is to support the materialistic lifestyle we are all subscribing to. The lifestyle that gives people the same worth as items, where money is God, where you literally spend the majority of your time doing things you hate just so that you can flash that purse or piece of jewelry. And then we expect that same kid who grew up watching his parents leave him every day in the pursuit of money to "have a better life", who saw that "better life" translate to things, we expect that kid to value morals or family or whatever above money?

Absurd. I really think it's time we stop deluding ourselves and start addressing the real causes of our problems. Such as, why is there nothing for people to work at other than the refinery, the hotels, retail, banks or law? Or, why does the owner get 8x more than the worker on average, compared to 3x about a decade or so ago*?
Now that the parking meters are being removed, let's focus on these important things and get to action.


*I remember I read this a while back on a newspaper here, but don't take it as a solid fact. But go look it up anyway, and then talk about it with people.