Not you or me, us. Society is a person. A complete third.

My idea of a relationship is one plus one equals three.

These are the words of Shan. A sex educator. I heard them on a clip on Youtube which you can find here. A conversation about monogamy versus polyamory, actually a conversation I would really suggest you watch. Anyway, I heard her words and this idea that society lives finally clicked in me.

At minute 18:40 in the video, they pose a question in the group for discussion. The question is, ‘I would feel incomplete without my partner?’ And Shan disagrees, enthusiastically, I assume that’s how she does everything.

She says she doesn’t connect with that. She imagines at the end of a relationship she would feel a number of ways, sad, disadvantaged and I might even add relieved. But what she can’t connect with is the complete loss of self.

You see, to Shan relationships are one plus one equals three. Where two complete people meet and through their interaction, a third springs up. A third complete person.

And it occurred to me. This is what happens whenever people interact, not just relationships. Whatever it is. The office, school, a date, church, every single interaction, there is always an imaginary third that lives.

I think this third is a paradox because in a sense they are at once the most powerful and fleeting person in the interaction. This is why people act so different in groups than they do when alone. It is the third, the presence of the third alone is so potent it changes the behaviour of the individuals.

But then again, when the interaction stops. It is the third that gets the axe. The first axe. So in a way the third is both the strongest and the weakest link. It is this third we are changing when we say society has indeed improved because in a sense the rest of us remain as we were.

I find this an interesting notion especially since we are always talking about changing the world and how that connotes with changing ourselves. And while I do not disagree with that. I think perhaps changing the third is just a tad bit more efficient. The whisper of the third does a lot more than the example of one of us. It’s the difference between using an elevator to lift something to a top floor of a sky scraper as opposed to having someone take the stairs with it in hand, in fact I think the difference is much more drastic than that.

The next question is, ‘So, who is the third?’ The law. Religion. The Internet. Our conscience or what. This I must admit I cannot answer but it would certainly be wonderful if this mystical third could be adequately isolated and truly utilized to ‘change the world,’ as we all so often proclaim.

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Till death do us part… really?

 

As I have been peeling back the onion skin of marriage, love, lust and sex I have fixated on this vow. As old as love itself.

This expectation, avowal and dedication of forever in the context of marriage has always been there, the silent elephant in the marital room. In every civilization. When I think of my African traditional society I see it too. Even creations such as polygamy, wife-inheritance were pillars to support it. To avoid that severance.  Although in our African heritage this concept is not as implicit as the Christian vows that legislate it blatantly into the union.

Watching various wedding shows this is one facet I have seen in almost all of them. Wedding shows from all over the world that is. There is always or mostly an overt gesture of the non-breakable bond of marriage and not just unbreakable but till death do us part.  Air-tight.

In fact this is the whole reason why divorce may just be as bad or maybe to say it more aptly more stigmatized than infidelity. The other part of this forever clause where the eternity is sexual exclusivity.

So my question now is why? Why must death be the only pair of scissors capable of cutting the tied knot?

I don’t think any of the ancient authorities sat together to conspire against all humanity and doom it to this fate. I actually think there is an incredible depth to the insight that inspired this rule to spring up in almost everyone that ever lived. There is something primal that is stroked when the mention of eternity is involved with mortal beings. This is a uniquely human dilemma. To doom itself to that which it is more inadequate to do. I suppose this is not a conundrum to God or immortal beings if indeed they do exist because that wouldn’t be the hardest thing to do after all. To dedicate your short life to something entirely.

And underlying this is the axiom of ‘the one’ which of late has suffered a major battering. In the age of fuckboys and girls, casual sex and sponsorships.

So I reiterate, why?

Perhaps it is because there are some defects that can only be changed with the imminence of death involved. And this is not really easy to simulate in healthy youthful individuals except in marriage. This dichotomy of improvement or death.

I have recently learnt that marriage is where we go to cleanse ourselves of our childhood trauma. And as for entering marriage, that is easy to do, the wiles and promise of sex and love are seductive enough to get us to enter the relationship door. But they are not strong enough to force humans to do the gritty business of cleansing ourselves of the childhood trauma.

So the container needs to be pressurized and sealed shut. Enter marriage. The plug.

Now we can’t escape right. I mean here we are with ‘the one ‘in an airtight container forced to fix ourselves but in an odd twist of events there seems to be an out. Free will. We can still opt out of the repairing and divorce has made it that much easier. Which according to the institution of marriage is obviously the less healthy and probably worst choice of the two but a choice nonetheless.

But the point remains we seem to have created this unique situation for ourselves to help us when we don’t know what help looks like. And many have been healed not completely but for the most part because of this institution that grants death to he who refuses to choose growth.

Now there is a lot of politics with this issue that i will not get into. The right , wrong and pragmatism of it all.I will say though that this is just a theory. And I do find it interesting how we have always accredited this institution to the divine while in fact I think it is precisely the opposite because free will which I think is truly divine is the very thing that either complies or breaks this cage we built to rehabilitate ourselves. How interesting.

 

 

 

THE ROMANCE BETWEEN INSTITUTIONS AND REVOLUTIONS.

Every revolution aspires to the institution it fights and the vice versa is true.

 

From the outset institutions and revolutions seem at odds. Enemies, set against each other to forever do battle. And yet amidst their enmity I have always found a distinct entanglement. Almost a reverence for the other, not just a simple hero/villain dichotomy but an outstanding connection such that even though one could exist without the other, they probably wouldn’t want to.

This I find very disturbing but in the ever evolving world of individualism, this conundrum is becoming more crucial.

Nowadays, life is centered on the individual as opposed to the past life that was centered on the communal. As a result, in the old world, culture and institutions were the bulwark of life, they were the templates with which life was organized. And now the opposite is true.

Now culture is a decoration, a figurehead to the real master. Me. Marriage used to be entirely about the process, how it was arranged, the role in the community taken after and the minute details of the ceremony were crucial for they were physical containers of the meanings behind it all. Now if you pay dowry it is less symbolic and more of a courtesy, a relic, in fact most do without it.

We are now living in revolutionary times where everything rests on the unique individual experience and thus everything is unique. Institutions have been thrown under the bus and all we pay credence to now is the revolution inside. The needs of the personal person within.

And many including myself have praised this shift. The age of institutions has come and gone. No more external definitions of how we must live, what we must do, who we must love even how we must love. No we are sober to our own lives. We want to write the vows to our lives not just replay those written for us by some obscure authority. It is the annihilation of institutions. The question is, is this good or even true?

Can we really ever do away with institutions? What was the problem with them to begin with and will they make a comeback?

And from that alone I understood the allure of revolutions especially in the context of the current world’s enlightenment. Revolutions are the best choice there is that is a no-brainer, because they are so simple. They are singular focused dealing with one issue at a time, generously while institutions deals with heaps of issues in a constrained manner. They are overworked but it wasn’t always like this. Institutions are revolutions, just grown up .

Think  of a recent institution say, feminism that is now properly muddled with numerous opinions and yet in the beginning when it  it was so focused and single-minded. It was either about women getting property rights or about the ability to vote or about legislation punishing violence against them. But the inevitable happens, the revolution caught fire and was embraced by many, many of whom saturated it with their individual selves and instead of it expanding in order to maintain its hold. It became obstinate to revision and extension in the face of new realities in an attempt to hold on to its uniqueness, viewing vagueness to accommodate everyone and changing needs a sell-out. Thus its members leave and go set up, revolutions. So now we have a bunch of duplicated institutions doing the same thing but for different persons.

It is this unwavering quality of institutions that make them obsolete and discarded, yet everlasting, in a constant labour because for every one of their disenfranchised member lies a revolution.

They live on but in dismay. As a retrogressive ideal with which to compare progress and lo and behold those revolutions that succeed in usurping it in a cruel twist of fate end up becoming it because like mother, like daugher. The kiswahili proverb sums this up perfectly, “mwana hutazama kichogo cha ninaye.”

So no, institutions are not going anywhere because revolutions need something to pull against. The romance between revolutions and institutions is an eternal one but not necessarily.

So the question is now that we are in a revolutionary space how do we guard against the faults of the institutions before?

Because it is clear that, the greatest dream of a revolution which is to spread and infect all,  is in an ironic twist of fate infact its downfall. How do we sieve the obsolescence from the success?

I think the answer lies in realizing that institutions and revolutions are the same thing at different times. They are not at all interdependent or independent. They are the same. This alone removes the difficulty of having to found new institutions when all we need do is reform the old one.

It is an ideal known as generous orthodoxy i recently learnt from the brilliant Malcolm Gladwell . It is learning how to manage the paradox of a wide open sieve. Letting in some new ideas contradictory to the old ones in order to perfect the old ones. It is just as difficult a paradox to live out as it sounds.

Using our earlier example the truth is, we never needed to found feminism all we needed was to reform patriarchy because as we’ve seen in certain instances feminism can be quite patriarchal. The greatest irony of them all.

The next step is the preservation of the old institutions that have very much good in them still.

And for this the structure of institutions needs to change. Elasticity must be included so that it can at once be institutional and revolutionary because we need institutions and culture. Let no one lie to you that we have evolved beyond them.

Many have reported anxiety and even depression in the worst cases at the loss of institutions, every decision becoming one we have to agonize over and research interminably sometimes at the cost of enjoying life itself. Terms such as the ‘paradox of choice’ never even existed before this shift. Sometimes we don’t need new institutions only to find our place in them. It is much more pragmatic to fix a crack that rebuild a house.

In fact I think this is a huge reason why cults, polyamory, groups and all sorts of makeshift communities are on the rise despite the individualistic milieu we find ourselves against. We still need direction and guidelines even if only to go against them. The child within never truly grows up, neither should they. This inherent inadequacy and aspiration is I think the true anchor of the concept of God. And the main reason why we must re-integrate institutions and revolutions for our own good. We are just like ships who need to remain suspended in our own revolutionary ideals but moored nonetheless to institutional anchors.

HUMANITY VS HUMANNESS?

 

Recently Oxfam top officials were nabbed for having assaulted Haitian women after the earthquake that devastated the country in 2010 and the world was more than outraged.

I mean how could the so called good Samaritan turn on his vows and become the proverbial fox in sheep’s clothing, right?

Well, I wasn’t surprised not in the least bit that those officials did that, at least not surprised at who you would expect. I was shocked at the Haitian government. Why? Well because they should have supervised these supposed good ‘Samaritans’ better, always. After all they are humans and humans are always that much closer to doing bad things.

Furthermore, these were probably rich white men assaulting poor, probably younger beautiful ( yes I added that) black women I mean it doesn’t take a genius to realize the crazy power dynamic and racial structure interacting in those kinds of situations. In fact with the history of black women and white men what would surprise me is if the women weren’t assaulted.

Here’s why.

I have felt of late that there is a profound confusion of understanding when humanity and humanness are concerned hence the adverse reaction. I mean if someone is assaulted by a known rapist for example, people will be upset but not outraged because I mean this is a known thug but when it’s a volunteer for Oxfam doing the assault then ‘upset’ quickly morphs into outrage. Why?

Because people oft expect those in the endeavors of what I will call ‘humanity’ which for the purposes of this conversation I define as the purest, best parts of humans, the sides of us that tend to justice, beauty and love, abandon their humanness at the door. Well, newsflash, they don’t.

Humanness is the repertoire of a human’s being and humanity is just another category in this. It also includes the viler, more repugnant sides of each and every one of us. This confusion that those enacting their humanity lack their humanness is a grievous mistake that happens again and again.

Another example I have seen is that of the infamous Pablo Escobar who catapulted the world into a  level of narco-terrorism that we have never seen before and might likely never see again. This is the man who killed scores of law abiding citizens just to puff out his chest and yet he also built entire neighbourhoods for the poor, a truly altruistic act, yes?

Wrong.

It was just a human act. In it the forces of humanness interact, for one he really did want to help the poor in Colombia and that is his humanity but he also wanted to recruit supporters in his schemes if he ever needed them and the poor and lowly are the easiest to catch.

So there it goes, it wasn’t a bad act or a good one, it was just a human act. That’s because humanness is every bit as much a miracle as it is a malediction and it’s like this with everything. And humans know it too, that’s why we have created structures to police and contain the more unsavoury parts of our humanness. Religions, Legal sytems hell even marriage, that’s what that is all about and that’s why uncontained power is always a dangerous thing because that means a level of humanness is left unchecked.

This is why I was shocked at the Haitian government for giving these so called ‘NGOs’ free rein to do what they want because the truth of the matter is a human always needs supervision, no matter what.

THE SIN OF ASSIMILATION.

 

The first time I ever encountered the term, assimilation I think was somewhere in a Social Studies textbook when I was in Standard 5 or so. It was something the French colonialists practiced in their African colonies. In fact at the time I thought, huh, what a wonderful opportunity. It made me even regard the French as the more sympathetic of all the Europeans who colonized African nations right?

At least they gave us a chance to be ‘better’ than our primitive barbarian selves right?

The next time I heard of this strange term, assimilation, it was with regards to immigrants in The States wherever they are from be it The Middle East, South America or African and you will notice Africa will be a very recurrent feature in this article. Notice I didn’t say Europe.

This is when I got a taste of just how insidious, this ‘assimilation’ is. Because it requires you to learn a different language under the guise that you’ll be more of an ‘international citizen’ or whatever, adopt another culture’s mannerisms, sometimes even warm you up to another culture’s predominant religion or face one of the worst things a human being can encounter, disrespect.

And for sure there is no real problem in embracing another culture, even I speak really good English and I don’t necessarily hate that. The issue arises only when the embrace of the other culture comes at the expense of your own culture.

And this is the really insidious part of this ‘assimilation’ business. It just follows the theory of ‘the failure of success’ which is that if you spend all your time mastering another’s language, culture, mannerisms and modes of worship what about your own? Assimilating is always in direct competition with embracing your own culture, so who wins? Since we are in fact bound by time and space.

And with the dawn of the global community, it seems sometimes that you don’t even need to immigrate to have to assimilate. From here in Kenya I have assimilated much more than was ever necessary. And for what? Because surely I can appreciate another’s culture without having to completely embrace it in my entire being. Right?

And what assimilation really does is just to emphasize and reinforce imaginary social status quo, things like blacks are less than whites, women are less able than men, stupid social stratification that doesn’t even make any sense because you will notice the indigenous peoples of nations that tend to be richer or more powerful never need to assimilate only the minorities need to. And I’ll ask again, for what?

The really interesting thing about assimilation is that it can happen entirely without your knowledge because the world is rigged for and against some and for us who walk into it blindly after these structures were already in place it can be hard to know when it is actually happening. Things like black women constantly straightening their hair despite the fact that it is by far the farthest thing from their natural kinky locks and that the practice damages their hair too, women battling with men in the work place to do the same kind of jobs in the exact same way as if the two were competitors while in reality the two are more compliments.

Assimilation forces us to chug down the corrupt social structure embedded into the world with a smile on our faces. I mean, does it really get any crueler than that? And alas the plot thickens.

The worst effect by far that I have seen of assimilation has got to be the number of cultures that have fallen prey to it. How many things have we forgotten from our own unique cultures while busily trying to embrace these other dominant cuture? How much diversity of culture has the world been robbed of? And this seems an issue for the descendants of these so called ‘forgotten’ cultures but you would be wrong, this is an attack on everyone because culture is for everyone. This is akin to say if all of Michelangelo Carravagio’s paintings were lost all of a sudden. That is of concern to me too even though I am not the least bit Italian or even European because culture is for everyone.

The good news is though that culture doesn’t make people, people make culture and we can make more culture to replace even that which was lost.

 

Why we don’t need an explanation for art?

 

I dare say I am a sort of artist myself after all I do write poetry, articles maybe even some philosophical thoughts here and there and I guess these works can be termed as ‘art.’

So then comes the challenge when you produce a ‘piece of art’ and the recipient who should technically be the whole world also known as ‘anyone else’ comes across it and is uniquely puzzled as to what you meant to do in the first place.

I have heard many wonder and say, ‘why not just explain it?’ Claiming that they are simply too tired to wade into the artist’s abstractions or the danger that we may get it all wrong. And to this I say NO! Art mustn’t be explained!

And I take this stance because I suspect the whole process and definition of art and artists is confused.

To begin with I think, most see art as a form of communication between the artist and the receiver and to that I totally disagree. Art is not ‘ordinary communication’ it is what I would call ‘co-operative communication.’

This is because I think at the crux of art is co-operation and I even disregard that there is an artist and a recipient. When confronting art both are the artist and the recipient. Why do I say this?

Well it is because I think art is a live process. I will use the example of a poem, an art form I am very well acquainted with. The poem is not completed when the poet finishes writing it. This is because when a reader reads it they give it life, they give it meaning, their own meaning, the shared meaning, sometimes even a new meaning. Every time you wear a designer bag paired with an ensemble from your closet you are adding onto the original designer’s vision.  You are interpreting it and it will be reinterpreted and interpreted again and again. By perceiving art you add on to the artist’s work and by so doing you become an artist yourself.

Art is not the sculpture, the portrait, the designer dress or the poem. It is what it incites, the values it upholds, what it stands for. Art is essentially a conversation between two artists be they eras apart, nations apart or whatever else it may be that separates them. Art is the meaning that is discovered, rediscovered even re-moulded over and over again.

Art doesn’t stop it goes on and on unless the artist stops the process by deciding the meaning and thus ending the conversation. The conversation of art can go on for centuries between various different people but only if they are given the chance.

What an interpretation of art does is it truncates the conversation’s lifespan. It asserts the authority of the feelings of the first artist and forces all other artists that come into contact with it later on to either agree with that definition or accept that is simply ‘not their style.’ This by the way is simply not the spirit of art even in the least, this rigid restrictive view.

And after all that you can still wonder, what if you’ve tried to understand a piece of art work and you simply cannot and are desperate for an explanation. I would still advise against it because that is precisely the opinion of one who has had art explained to them before, one who thinks they can’t relate, one who doesn’t want to do the introspective sometimes painful work to decide for themselves what that piece of work means to them, whatever that may be.

Art is the sacred connective tissue between two artists, and it should remain as such. The conversation should be stretched and added to for as long as it is possible among an infinite number of artists but what must never happen is truncation.

What in the hell is hell?

You know all through my life my religious CV has read so many different things. Atheist, Agnostic, Idiot, Catholic and irreligious among many others as you can probably imagine. Currently I’m on polytheist agnostic. Don’t ask.
Okay fine, ( I heard your sigh) as the name suggests it means one who believes in more than one religion but of course it’s me so there’s a twist. I only believe in all religions on the things they agree on_the core principles not the superficial glossy rituals and stories about God knows who did what where. For me those are all just fairy tales I just read them to obtain the moral of the story, I’m an African so obviously I’m big on the moral of the story. Moreover, I don’t believe in any of the religions in their entirety, hence the ‘agnostic’ part because and this is important, no one knows who is right about this ‘who is the creator’ business that’s why we call it belief because we can’t prove we are right. And more importantly who cares, just believe and follow the properties of good humanness and you should be well on your way. Right!
So by now I am sure you know I’m as confused as confused gets, in fact I’ve been accused of being an atheist who just likes the wisdom in holy books and to that I’ll say. You’re half right, philosophy is my life and a lot of it is in said holy books so what did you expect, but I do believe there is a God and in the Socratic spirit of knowing that I don’t know, I’m just boobsy (‘ballsy’ the term can’t be used here for obvious reasons so this is what I could come up with) enough to admit that I know there is a God but of course I don’t know what ‘God’ is like. That’s like a computer telling a human he knows what humanity is. Please computer, go back to your binary hell! Why are we so afraid of just saying, ‘shit man I don’t know. Ask the evangelical idiot on TV, just remember to carry an extra thousand, even though the encounter will probably cost you your belief in humanity.’
There’s a saying where I come from, my corrupted take on it, ‘kutojua si ujinga.’ That’s what I mean when I say if you don’t know you don’t know,it doesn’t mean you’re not dumb you just don’t happen to know.
Anyway from the pointless story above, it’s clear to see that I have a true love hate relationship with religion. I am always trying to warm up to it even though my nature is cold to its touch and at the top of my religious kill list is ‘hell’. Every time I think about religion and how warm that makes me I remember oh there’s hell too and I snap out of it.
And the shocker is that my major objection to ‘hell’ doesn’t even stem from the fact that I’ve been reading Dante’s harrowing DC or watching ‘The Good Place’, like everything worth anything it’s from my childhood.
It’s actually from my mom although I think if she knew she’d promptly invent the time machine and return to the past and never ever mention what she mentioned to me, she is always urging me to improve my relationship with God after all and I’ll admit this I do try, even though my spirit is rigid and not really capable of doing any more than I already am. The things we do to please our parents.
Anyway a long time ago she casually mentioned to me that she doesn’t believe in hell. And of course being the curious nut I am I was like ‘why mom why?’ She gave me the most poetic answer I have ever, or will ever get form her EVER, ‘dear daughter because all suffering ends here, earth is hell and purgatory combined.’(She totally didn’t say ‘dear daughter’ i was just upping the ante, it was epic regardless.) Now you have to understand that I wasn’t a very precocious child and I blew past the answer not realizing what it would mean to me.
But the more I grew and evolved and was hit by the bullshit of life I came to unearth the memory of that tiny speech and totally embrace its idea. In fact this is why I am unusually comfortable with the idea of death. Life is good don’t get me wrong, I’m just saying that so that you don’t accuse me of being Sartre’s spirit child (I love his logic but hate his conclusions, again don’t ask, I prefer Camus anyway) but you can kind of agree life is hell and purgatory combined.
So the next question is obviously then what in the hell is hell? For what purpose does it serve exactly?
You know when I think of bad experiences I think of purification. Bad experiences purify us for the good that is to come, just how losing your virginity hurts so you can get to the wonderful orgasms later (although not all vaginas are built the same so don’t quote me) or a less erotic example how childbirth hurts so that you can get to the wonderful tiny human flailing on your breast.
Pain is always just pissing at a rest stop so that you can rid yourself of the toxins before you reached the promised destination, clean and all. And this is my issue with hell, it defies the rule that bad experiences and pain are a means, because underlying the concept of hell is the proposition that pain is an end in and of itself. I can’t reconcile this. God would never do this to us.
And it’s not that I don’t comprehend the argument that hell is what you do to you, if you live badly you deserve it. I totally get that, the thing is, that’s human logic not God logic. We are the ones who torture people who killed our families, enact death penalties, literally telling each other to ‘go to hell’. Not God. At least i think not.
God logic would never do that. (I know, pretty big statement given that I am the very same supposed agnostic from a few sentences ago who doesn’t know God’s nature, well… He lets me know little things like that sometimes, remember this is the same guy(God) who left what 99 sheep to look for one, and it wasn’t even extra fluffy or anything just a regular old dumb arse sheep that did what sheep do best, get lost. So I’m not far off, you’ll see.) To God we are never irredeemable, no matter what we are or what we do. And Christians actually say this a lot, how there is nothing we can do to make God love us any less and hell I believe it! Naive as that sounds.
I am not saying push the limit by doing all the worst stuff imaginable to test this theory, you’ll probably just feel really bad but do you see how if that is true then hell is not possible. The after-life has to be all heaven.
Pain and suffering should always be temporal not ends, Right?
And I know this is not an original idea, in fact just the other day a friend sent me a wonderful video of an atheist defending why he didn’t stay home and instead chose to defend his belief that God does not exist or that he doesn’t believe in organized religion or whatever. He cited that because almost all religions are obsessed with the idea of ‘apocalypse,’ being consumed by death and destruction eventually which is an abomination and I agree, how can you live with that proverbial cloud hanging over your head? And I will say this I loved every bit of his well-articulated coherent thought and his idea isn’t far from the above the main difference being that i am defending theism and he was not… needless to say not original.
But seriously, if there is a God. What the in the hell is hell?