Sunday, May 15, 2016



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(This was generated during a back and forth today [2016 May 15th, Sun]  on the current Democratic primary campaign between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.  However, it touches on much wider issues.)

I personally have lived my own life always trying to see people and their affairs, not in black and white terms, but also noting the grays. That's a harder way to go about things, and one often finds oneself blasted by those who would take the simpler route.

That said, there are things on which one should not just shrug and yield.

These are matters, just for instance, that humans have always held to be crucial in our interpersonal interactions. We see these being violated everywhere, and so tend to become cynical. But the very fact that we still notice these things as they occur shows that these violations are hardly universal.

There is, for instance, such a thing as trust. If a person violates our trust and we get to know of this, it is very difficult to trust him/her again. Indeed, to do so appears foolish in the extreme. But should we then either shrug and trust most people in most things as we might perhaps have done before, or should we now distrust most people in most things, becoming suspicious, even paranoid?

In societies that most of us regard as "primitive", consisting of relatively small clans or tribes--the way most of our ancestors lived through most of our human and probably prehuman evolution--you will often find there is a high degree of trust within the clan or tribe.

This is not to say there are never any violations--but those who violate trust usually cannot escape the consequences.

While there may be occasional conflicts or even violence between clans and tribes (along with many peaceful and essential interactions), agreements between tribes are usually honored--and violations of trust viewed with outrage.

All of this might seem Utopian and absurd to us--but is very real to those who have lived and worked with such people, as my father, for example, did in India, visiting and photographing tribes (similar in some ways to the Amerindian tribes that vanished here) who had then been living in their traditional fashions in remote, forested and hilly areas of the subcontinent, not as other large-group folk did.

Over the past many decades, especially recently, all of that has been rapidly changing. Sadly, this was not unexpected. All over the world, over the last several centuries, the great diversity of our human cultures, each with it languages, arts, crafts, healing, and particular outlook and store of knowledge, has been vanishing just as rapidly as has the great diversity of our biological species, each with its genetic and cultural information, evolved over the eons.

So there is a greater reality that might be lost when we focus only on what we have experienced and understandably grown accustomed to in our own spheres, where each of us must survive. So we see or focus on certain priorities, based upon those experiences, and are blind to or ignore other priorities that might in fact be more pressing by far, and neglect of which might have far greater consequences.

In this, I am surely as limited as are others. However, I should say that the views I have expressed earlier in discussions about politics, economics and other matters have not usually been come to lightly.  Often I have arrived at them reluctantly, after years of observation and so also of reflection. This hardly makes me sage or expert about all such matters.

There are certain things (such as the science and mathematics it was my lot to study and work in for many years before I began teaching in the high schools here in New York City almost thirty years ago) in which one can make rather strong, definitive statements, noting also the limitations on the generality of such statements.

In other things, especially human affairs (including teaching) one finds oneself on much shakier ground.

One of the reasons for this is that it is not possible, even within a family or a close relationship, to know all that is going on or what the other persons are really thinking and feeling--nor would it be desirable to attempt to do so. So there is that trust that one extends, hoping it will not be violated, and trying not to violate others' trust.

But when it comes to what happened two hundred years ago, or what is happening right now in a place on the other side of the planet, or even in another section of town or even across the street, we are often very much in the dark.

Meanwhile, even within what might remain of our past clans, that we might be born into or construct through our interactions, we see breakdowns of trust, often brought about by distance, preoccupation and the general economic and social milieu we live in.  This is also often so between co-workers and neighbors.

Yet, that same modern human world that so isolates us from one another also makes us dependent on one another, and affecting one another, within a city, and across the globe, in ways that could never have been imagined before.  

What others do affects us, and what we do affects them.  

There are imbalances of power in this, and those who make decisions that vitally affect the lives of others are often able to escape what would, in the past, have been the consequences of their actions on themselves.

This cannot be sustained.

Arjun Janah
2016 May 15th, Sun.

Brooklyn, New York