Educated: Tara Westover: An opinion.



So I wanted to write a review on this book. So cliché by the way, after so much has been written already, written much better than if I had done the writing. Therefore, I will settle not for a review, rather an opinion and a half-baked one. I’ll explain later, but don’t let that stop you, do read on.

What I meant by half-baked is that I haven’t read the entire book. And that is not a subtraction to this review/ opinion. Quite the contrary, in fact it is more of an exaltation. You really do not need to finish this book to realize the potency of it. The story this woman tells is not only peculiar and unjust to all of the characters, literally with no exception. It is a masterpiece of the human story. And the way she tells it, the neutrality of it, to be able to balance the good and bad so precariously since in every moment they exist, at times confusingly melded in others horribly in contradiction. But both sides exist, it is a story with joy and happiness as well as sorrow and pain. It is a remarkable feat how she laid down this delicate story so intricately.

You know in the beginning, she sets out with a disclaimer that this is not about Mormonism. Unfortunately, the few interviews I’ve except the one with Gayle have centered on the religious aspect ignoring the story underneath, the powerful literature of her life that nearly drowned her and she eventually survived and yet even after saving herself, she faced the ultimate loss. Loss of family, the one thing she had clung to as much as she possibly could even as the separation of her own ideas’ and her family’s unfolded.

I was moved by this story because it is one of triumph. What I would otherwise refer to as true human courage and I am a 23 year old woman in Kenya so yes.  Yes her aim to reach far and beyond her beloved Buck’s Peak with this story, to teach another, so different from herself some monumental ideas framed by the chapters of her life has been achieved.

She has done a fine job of bringing to the forefront ideas in a palatable and I hate to say this but edible way for public consumption. I hate to say edible as if the events of the book are so thrilling and interesting which they are and which she has represented ever so artfully. But alas this isn’t some wonderful imaginings or her life shrouded in a mirror image like say Kafka who wrote the same story over and over again. The bureaucracy, the tedium and the madness of paperwork but he covered it with the gauze of literature each time. This book is not that, this is her actual life.

If there is something that is displeasing, it isn’t a way to bring out an idea, it is an actual fact of life. Something that happened.

I can only commend her for the bravery for stripping her story and herself like this and presenting it to us in a manner that we would be both appalled and enticed by, in the hopes that we may learn something.

I feel the sacrifice because I write stories too but this was on another level. And you mustn’t forget that she is human too. Some of the things that happened, not only to her but to her family will follow her to her grave, of that I am sure. Even in her interviews, there is a controlled stiffness to her, not like the fluidity of her words in this book. The events changed her, she even spoke of how her brother the one who introduced her to the entire idea of schooling also had the same scars. And I’m not talking about the physical scars, I mean the mental ones, those bruising his psyche. Even after years of being away from that brainwashed environment he still did not trust medicine so much so that his children weren’t immunized for a long time.

The same goes for Tara. The violence both physical and mental that her brother inflicted on her. The terrible confinements of thought her father had on women and their relationship to their bodies, modesty and God I am sure haunt her to date.

This book was a rude and painful awakening. Now I can thank my parents enough for just one thing, exposure. I was floored by how the level of exposure and ideas you are allowed in your developmental years can define you for life. It taught me about the carnage of mental illness going unchecked and violence most of all. Violence and the hold it can have on a person. How it can twist and contort who you are until you are unrecognizable to yourself and the world.

I would advise everyone who can to read it and to do so. And to do it soon. Whoever you are, wherever you’re from, after reading this you too will be educated. Mark my words.

NB/ Even the cover how her mountains loom before her, like her childhood did but both are encapsulated by the pencil indicative of education. That explained everything that went on there. This book is just magical.

 

 

 

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WHO IS FORWARD THINKING?

In a world so wretched and filled with misfortune and injustice I have sown a wild devotion to forward-thinking. In fact I can think of no greater insult than the words, ‘you aren’t as forward thinking as you think’.

We all on some level have suffered some kind of injustice and we all want to be part of the solution. An active member tilting the pivot of change, shifting the world from the shadows to the light, but what exactly does it mean to be forward thinking? Who is forward thinking at any one point?

Google says, it is one who favours innovation and development but I sort of disagree. Most forward thinking people have indeed favoured innovation and development but that is not really what makes them forward thinking, in fact some who favoured innovation are not forward thinking at all. For example, the Chamberlen brothers and their invention of the forceps, a tool that could have smoothed so many strained births, yet they kept it a close guarded family secret for a little over 100 yeras. Or the ‘father of gynecology’ who advanced obstetrics in wondrous ways yet his method. The use of slave women, examining them and experimenting on them as if they were guinea pigs for his amusement, deplorable and barbaric.

These are men who favoured innovation and development yet they are savage, brutal and inhumane. Unworthy of the term, forward thinking.

So I ask again, what is this forward thinking business all about?

What is common between all the forward thinkers?

The Malalas, the Martin Luthers, the suffragettes, the abolitionists, the civil rights movement. What do they all hold in common?

All I can see is a unique devotion to the idea of ‘the dignity of the person.’ That the world and how we mold it using society should have this concept as the epicenter of everything.

Whether it be enabling young girls to get an education, acknowledging the dignity of all as humans and not mere property and thus ending slavery, extending equity to women and designing the world so that they are less of prey and more of persons whose voices are heard and respected especially with regards to their own lives. These are all just different manifestations of that principle, ‘the irrevocable dignity of the person.’

And don’t be lulled by the examples I have tabled cognizant of only some cultures. In every society that ever existed, there have been these rebellious, ‘forward thinkers.’ Those who rebelled against arranged marriages, human sacrifices, marital rape, all of that and more.

My next question is then, what about that principle is, ‘forward thinking?’

When I contemplate the word, forward thinking. What I think of is an inventor, a person’s whose mind is ahead of their time. One who sees things as they will be or as they could be not as they are.  And yet, that principle that each one must be accorded their due dignity, is timeless in its very essence. It is not an idea that we are to achieve, it is an idea encoded within us, is it not? I would go so far as to say it a timeless concept.

Why do we cast it into the future while in many ways it is an ideal that has existed for as long as we have.

I remember once talking to a lawyer friend and asking what a precedent made for clarification’s sake means and what were its implications. They advised me that, when that happened. It is not regarded an invention of thought rather a discovery of explanation. The explanation is deemed to be new yes, but the matter has always existed, we are just more lucent in our comprehension of it now.

This is I think applies to these forward thinkers, that they are the people who clarify what we already knew and felt innately. The people who return us to the immutable truths.

So it seems to be in our nature to keep venturing off the path of true humanity, ignoring that principle at every turn, evidenced by the very presence of these ‘forward-thinkers’ who constantly need to reel us back to the truth of the matter. If we held fast to the immutable truths we wouldn’t need reminding.

This is by far one of the most displeasing revelations I have ever come across. That the more frequent the forward thinkers the more it is an indication of the human decadence, the more corrupted our structure of society.

When I look back at history I can see that the revolutionary forward-thinkers are only seemingly increasing. So what does that say about us, are we progressing or regressing?

I used to think that the presence of forward-thinkers is a good thing. Showing us the reform that has taken place. The virtue we have nurtured while it is in fact the very opposite. The work is not done, some would say it has not even begun, which is as startling a thought as it is terrifying.

 

 

 

AGNOSTISICM 2.0

The first time I heard of the word agnosticism I was mostly confused and took no note, I was still on the fence as to whether I was an atheist or a selective catholic. The only two options that had framed most of my religious life until then since Catholicism was my root and atheism the only other alternative I knew at the time with a certain shock value I enjoyed.

I hopped from one to the other occasionally which seemed rather obnoxious to everyone who met me. My parents thinking I was just too curious for my own good and my peers wondering why I bothered to be so critical of such a boring, adult topic. It didn’t occur to me to ever stop in any case, the curiosity like a black hole I had to be sucked into, choiceless in the matter.

I was a catholic when I saw the good deeds done by the church, watched nuns and sisters offer themselves to their admirable life of poverty, enjoyed a perfectly toned, and logical sermon or when I realized the uncertainty of life and my precarious position in all of it, needing that extra blanket of divine providence. I was an atheist when I discovered the underlying hypocrisy of the church that itself had committed atrocities in droves, when unassailable reasoning from atheist advocates shattered the bible’s own, when I saw the myriads of injustices inherent within the Christian structure, discriminations against women and non-Christians. For me religion was a revolving door and it was exhausting. All prior to the idea that has somewhat calmed me, agnosticism.

I doubt that I have the perfect definition of it even now that I am a kind of staunch agnostic. All I can say is that the neutrality of it all is what got me. The use of the term ‘ a higher order of being’ instead of a definitive God or Noo God is what I was attracted to, the humility in that statement.

A humility that I had not encountered in my previous posts. In Catholicism in the murmur of goodness, love and humanity there is always an underlying echo of righteousness, being better than others in the only way that matters, morally. I have never been fond of that and it was a relief to finally escape. A different kind of pomposity exists in atheism, directed mostly at religions. The atheist will think himself of superior reasoning since they have arduously combed through religious logic and decided that it is all worthless and not worth following. A subtractive, tasteless kind of pride.

For one, this is not at all true since there are is as much good as there is bad in religion and the monolith principle of atheism, that there is no God. I have always found rather ignorant, only because I was exposed to the argument of order early on as a proof of the existence of God, and though I refuse to declare and describe ‘God’ with such detail as a theist would, I undoubtedly see the truth of it evident in my life every single day.

It is just inconceivable to me that you will see all the intricate landscapes of reality, hidden within them equations of nature whose surface we have only began to scratch at with our ever changing sciences and explanations and not think that there is a superior being at work there, much like ourselves in some ways that left it there for us, precisely so that we can find it and ask these kinds of questions. There is no God almost sounds like a hoax, I prefer the attenuated ‘we cannot truly know that there is a God and vice versa.’

And yet with the submissive view of pride from agnosticism, I have still felt it quite incomplete. I find it one of the more lazy religions if I may say. The agnostic seems to halt the conversation of God in an instant with their indifference and thus be freed from the conundrum only endeavoring now to be ‘good.’ This is the part of the 2.0 which I am talking about.

Agnosticism should not just sit and wait. It should now construct its own religion but not necessarily from scratch, ploughing back to the notable beliefs of theists and atheists, all with a lot of good to add and build a scripture free from the need to describe a God that we cannot but nevertheless not renouncing him just because we cannot. A labour that each one must undertake for themselves with regard to their own context because I do believe though the principles of an agnostic religion for many may converge in similitude, the rituals, the history, the context which are all key pillars to any religion will differ significantly for each and every agnostic. With agnosticism, the size never fits all even though the designs resemble each other.

Many at times I have referred to this as ‘polytheistic agnosticism’ which I now amend to simply mean agnosticism 2.0. An idea I got from a modern day philosopher Alain De Botton who founded Atheism 2.0 whereby the belief that there is no God is not the end of discussion, but the beginning, and instead of in true atheist fashion studying religion with the sole purpose to disprove it. He suggested atheists should study religion to salvage the good reasoning and effective rituals within it they can use in their own atheism. Religion for atheists, he called it, a real paradox some may say and yet it fits perfectly to me because in truth we are solving the same problems theism tried to solve with religion. Therefore it is not enough as an atheist to just disprove the dubitable parts of theism and leave the problems it wanted to solve in the first place unsolved. You might as well gather from it what you feel was not erroneous and use it as a scaffold for your new system.

Agnosticism 2.0 I feel, has the same purpose in a different direction, reconciling the goodness in theism and atheism with the neutrality of agnosticism. Or maybe I am simply just tired of new categories of religion springing up whenever someone disagrees with another. I believe already have all we need to solve the part of this problem of religion that is solvable, through a unique kind of collaboration and reorganization.

After all, there is nothing new under the sun.

 

 

quote unquote

What sort of men were these, then, who had been torn away from their families, their countries, their religions, with a savagery unparalleled in history?

Gentle men, polite, considerate, unquestionably superior to those who tortured them – that collection of adventurers who slashed and violated and spat on Africa to make the stripping of her the easier.

The men they took away knew how to build houses, govern empires, erect cities, cultivate fields, mine for metals, weave cotton, forge steel.

Their religion had its own beauty, based on mystical connections with the founder of the city. Their customs were pleasing, built on unity, kindness, respect for age.

No coercion, only mutual assistance, the joy of living, a free acceptance of discipline.

Order – Earnestness –Poetry and Freedom.

From the untroubled private citizen to the almost fabulous leader there was an unbroken chain of understanding and trust. No science? Indeed yes; but also, to protect them from fear, they possessed great myths in which the most subtle observation and the most daring imagination were balanced and blended. No art? They had their magnificent sculpture, in which human feeling erupted so unrestrained yet followed the obsessive laws of rhythm in its organization of the major elements of a material called upon to capture, in order to redistribute, the most secret forces of the universe…

Monuments in the very heart of Africa? Schools? Hospitals? Not a single good burgher of the twentieth century, no Durand, no Smith, no Brown even suspects that such things existed in Africa before the Europeans came…

But Schoelcher reminds us of their presence, discovered by Caillé , Mollien, The Cander brothers. And, though nowhere he reminds us that when the Portuguese landed on the banks of the Congo in 1498, they found a rich and flourishing state there and that the courtiers of Ambas were dressed in robes of silk and brocade, at least he knows that Africa had brought itself up to a juridical concept of the state, and he is aware, living in the very flood of Imperialism, that European civilization, after all, is only one more civilization among many – and far from being the most merciful.

Frantz Fanon, Black skins white masks.

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.

 

Oasis

He hadn’t known it yet,

That I was parched,

Dusty and starved.

The dunes had worn me down,

Clipping off more of my spirit with every storm.

Burying me deeper in sand,

Quicksand.

I was sinking fast and slow,

When I first saw him,

At first I thought I saw water.

He wore its blue tranquillity,

The sparkling clarity in his voice,

Soothing me again and again.

I was certain it was a mirage,

Definitely not a man.

But I was wrong,

It was both.

Just a conversation with him quenched me,

Healed my dustiness,

Retrieved my health.

Cleansing me of that wild dust,

Filling me with just the right lust,

Trust.

But that was then and this is now,

I have long since been in the desert,

Yet I retain the cracked complexion,

Deprived of all its water.

It may be different now,

I may not be in the desert of sand,

I now live in the desert of water.

As I said before,

I was wrong.

He was neither man nor mirage.

He was both.

He was the sea.

Sexy?

It was rather odd how I had never thought to ever examine this very commonplace term that has so dominated my life and will continue to in many ways.
The process of examination and analysis started only after I watched one of my very beloved modern day philosophers Alain De Botton and heard his view on the colloquialism found here  .
He termed it a truly deep category involving a lot of human psychology which was jarring to say the very least. And I suppose not only to me. Not to mean that the term is a shallow one or pejorative in any way I just never thought it had much depth to it, a view which he too discusses.
In my life I have encountered the term to mean something akin to lustful and even in recent times the lust aspect of it has been re-appropriated to mean attractiveness and wholesomeness not simply a curvature of the neck or slinky dress rather a holistic adjective to describe a person. Although even with much re-appropriation ‘sexy’ may still very well mean something rather dirty or obscene. As was in Jhumpa Lahiri’s short story titled ‘sexy’, in that context it was a term used to define a woman so attractive that she leads men into adultery, a sort of siren, and so you can see that the stain on the term may never fully be washed off.
Regardless, I rather liked De Botton’s approach or if I may say so, answer to what the term truly meant, he started by mentioning that indeed on our very surface there really is much insight into who we are, who we really are inside. And it is when this insight aligns with another’s needs do we find them ‘sexy’ and apparently this insight or traits are usually things we do not possess ourselves. Say if we see that another is very patient where we are not that can make them sexier, at least in our eyes.
I found this very well-reasoned but only a little bit specious, mainly because of two points it looks at ‘sexy’ in only one instance. When it is said to another whom we admire for whatever reason.
The solution ironically rather ignores a lot of human psychology at play and other instances of the word in use.
Firstly, we don’t only ever use this term with regards to another. Sometimes we ourselves feel ‘sexy’ and in that case what does the word mean? Does it mean that we have gone a little way in achieving some of the traits we admire in others, does it mean we are satisfied with ourselves? Or is it simply just a thank you to ourselves for maintaining ourselves? What does it mean exactly?
Secondly, the earlier view seems to assert the assumption that has rolled around for many years, probably even centuries. The view that ‘opposites attract’ that we admire those who are not like us. But this isn’t the only cause for admiration now is it? We’ve seen before how we can admire something in another simply because we possess it as well? And in that case what does ‘sexy’ mean? When it is an inclination to a quality we already possess. Do we want an addition to our own quota or is it just admiration for admiration’s sake?
And finally I find myself in horrible disagreement with the view that perception and reality are one and the same. An assumption underlying the view that we find someone ‘sexy’ or ‘they turn us on’ by the deeply coded physical traits we see on them. And my reason for disagreement is simple, just because you see something doesn’t mean it is there and at times it has been placed there just to distract or misconstrue your perception of the true reality, sleight of hand, like a magician. Haven’t we all had the perception of a certain trait on someone only to later learn that it may very well have been a figment of our imagination? We hardly ever perceive reality as it is, in fact we mold the reality as we perceive it that’s why two people can read the same book, watch the same movie even go through the exact same experience and carry out of each two very differing accounts.
What I did agree on though was that ‘sexiness’ is not a totally superficial or shallow category. It has its depth that I will say. But with humans as with any pool there is always the shallow and the deep end, I do believe there is a bit of that term ‘sexy’ that may have a lot to do with just hormones and genitals and no more. But as usual that isn’t the whole story, in the same breath there is a lot about being ‘sexy’ that has to do with deep identification of positives in another and self-actualization. The issue remains I suppose in the determination of what the term means in certain contexts which may well be a question we may never truly answer or one I may not be well suited for.
The unfortunate part of this article is that it seems it has left us with more questions than answers but maybe at times the solution comes to you in the way of a question so I ask. What does the word ‘sexy’ mean to you?