Terror Out of Nothing

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September 11th of 2001 was a day of utmost tragedy. On a seemingly normal morning, two commercial airliners crashed into the United States of America’s World Trade Center, killing nearly three thousand Americans (CNN, 2015). A third plane made its way to the US’ Pentagon, yet failed to reach its target due to the bravery of its passengers. On that day, the world mourned for America. 9/11 was, understandably, an atrocity which must be rectified. Fortunately, the group responsible for these terroristic attacks quickly made themselves known: The extremist, Islamist organization al-Qaeda declared their victory through all channels available to them, inciting outrage throughout all corners of the United States.

Al-Qaeda’s action was a direct attack at of one of the globe’s most powerful states. An act which would bring about monstrous consequences to the Middle East. Under the presidency of George W. Bush, the US launched an immediate campaign of retaliation; seeking to purge any and all sorts of terrorist groups—be they independent, state-sponsored, or otherwise—in the name of justice. The methods employed to do so, of course, were militaristic.

Drone strikes, assaults on terrorist compounds, abductions of suspected terrorists, and many more exploits were undertaken. At times, these maneuvers resulted in civilian casualties, yet the US continued their—now dubbed—“War on Terror” with supreme fervor, rarely pausing on their vengeful path.

Throughout the War on Terror, an estimated 1.3 million Middle-Eastern civilians have been vanquished by the hands of the US military (Lazare, 2015). To compare this plethora of deaths, to the total lost on 9/11, points to a rather disturbing detail concerning the US’ crusade. The number of Americans who have died at the hands of terrorists are minuscule, when compared to the defenseless who have died from US conduct. Terrorists pose less of a threat to the lives of innocents than the US actually does, especially when considering that the likelihood of dying from acts of terror are less than the fatality rates of mundane things such as falling (Pinker, 2010).

Terrorism presents minimal threat to both US citizens, to US survivability. And it would be naive to think that US politicians, strategists, kindred executives are unaware of this particular factoid. Hence a question needs to be raised, “Why would the US pour billions upon billions of Dollars, not to mention the lives of its soldiers, on fighting something which could not possibly endanger it?” There are numerous answers to this question, ranging from a desire to seek justice at all costs, to simply wanting to showcase US military might. However, the writer disagrees with these propositions, and chooses a supposition rarely mentioned: That the US’ War on Terror is a military campaign, designed to strengthen its grip throughout the globe with the full consent of its own people.

To accuse that the US is itself manipulating the minds of its own people, for the sake of bolstering US power is perhaps a reckless deed. Therefore further elucidation is required to justify such a claim, as supported by publicly-accessible data, alongside the judgments of analysts who spent countless hours scrutinizing the War on Terror. Hopefully, the evidence gathered by the writer can be perceived as worthy, and supportive of his hypothesis in the eyes of the reader.

Let us begin by reviewing certain US actions in recent memory, specifically those that antagonize singular items. During and after the Cold War, all sympathies for Communism was tarnished. The US invaded states which it claimed harbored Communist sentiment, funded rebellions against suspect governments, did all it could to shatter the governments of its targets. Despite the unsettling reality that a number of these targets were in actuality democratic, supportive of human-rights, accommodating to labor unions, essentially reflective of American “values.”

However, US citizens were largely unaware of the details regarding the containment of Communist influence. US media did not accurately portray how many civilian casualties were caused by anti-Communist policies, and how gruesome some of these deaths were. Communists were painted as the enemy, the villains who craved for a world without accepted morals. Although nothing could be as black-and-white as such a depiction.

Thereafter was the “War on Drugs,” a campaign which sought the eradication of illegal narcotics; an endeavor which unfortunately increased the flow of suchlike drugs between Mexico and the US; enriching Mexican cartels, debilitating the Mexican government, allowing power to be gripped by the country’s underworld. Though the likely irreparable damages spawned by US are numerous and are almost exclusively suffered by Mexico, mainstream US media proceeded to generate tales of why the crusade was an absolute necessity (Chomsky, 2011).

We can see a unifying theme in the aforementioned US policies and the exploits they spawn: demonizations of specific targets via mainstream mass media. Yet what is the purpose of these campaigns? The efforts do seek and succeed at catching the eyes of the many, but this is not their primary purpose. Rather, the goal of the US media crusades is to attain justification in the eyes of the public, for questionable US actions. But why does the US look for this approval from their citizens in the first place? Because it needs to maintain the image of being a full-fledged democratic state in its own lands, and on the international stage.

The enemy of the US has to also be the enemy of its people. Should the US assault targets that its citizens do not approve of, then its credibility of being a democracy would be  directly harmed. Such an event would not bode well for the US, as its government’s authority would be doubted by its masses, with its claims and deeds called into question by its allies and rivals. Moreover, it would lose the ability to act as a supposed representative of democracy, spiraling its reputation—a necessity to conduct itself in the way it does—downward. Thus the requirement for the consent of US taxpayers.

How the US acquires its people’s consent isn’t difficult. The political thinker Noam Chomsky wrote in intricate detail how much control the US government wields over US mass media channels. Reports, testimonials, expert analyses, no matter how provable or unprovable they might be, will be featured on television programs, front pages, news reports and are repeated endlessly as long as they fall in line with the then-operative US policy. Essentially, the US masses are bombarded with messages of what is “right” and “wrong” from sources perceived to be trustworthy. Due to the plethora of channels available to the US government and their credible status, the US’ citizens are more often than not complacent to stick with the biased rhetoric of US executives. After all, the most popular and sensible of the conduits—CNN, TIME, NBC, et cetera—see no problems with sticking to the stories designated by US officials. Relaying official statements gather more viewers, readers, and listeners than questioning them. As a consequence, the few and little that deviate from the path are buried beneath the prestige of mass media giants (Chomsky, 2002).

We have understood why the US requires and obtains the consent of its citizens. However, such reasons and endeavors would be utterly pointless should the US fail to benefit itself from public approval. Thus here we ask one more question, “What does the US gain from manipulating its own?” To answer this line of inquiry, we must examine with further thoroughness the actions it has taken in the Middle East.

Let us take a closer look at the US-led invasion of Iraq. The US’ primary justification for such an aggression is once more to purge state-sponsored terror (Muzaffar, 2008). The ouster of Saddam Hussein was at first justified by unfounded claims that he was planning or is already constructing weapons of mass destruction and would allow terrorist groups to utilize these armaments; when this was left unproven, US media concentrated primarily on the human-rights abuses conducted under Hussein. However, it is no secret that the country that the the US had battered is enjoying a hefty surplus of oil. A resource unquestionably desired by any industrialist nation, including the US. However, to point our fingers at oil alone would be somewhat hasty. There are other rationales at play.

Iraq was a threat to US interests. That is, the state of Iraq itself, and not the idea of WMDs or the possibility of it aiding terrorist groups. Iraq was once capable of challenging the authority of one of the US’ closest allies, Israel. Israel is perhaps the few capable of wielding regional hegemony over the Middle East. Furthermore, it has proven itself to be cooperative to US interests, whilst pre-invasion Iraq was beginning to reject US demands. Iraq and Israel meanwhile, were involved in a hostile relationship; wherein both have declared their mutual dislike yet have not escalated to armed conflict. With these facts glaringly visible, what should the US do to protect its stake in the Middle East? Obviously, invade Iraq.

Invading Iraq was a deliberate act of aggression. It was done not with the intent of protecting American lives, but that of US-Israeli interests in the Middle East. Saddam Hussein was once crowned as one of the most progressive—that is, in line with American values—Middle Eastern leaders in modern history. An honor granted despite his horrific human-rights record. Yet when he showed an uncooperative attitude towards US commands he instantaneously found himself a villain in the eyes of US citizens. For that sudden shift in attitude he has the US media to thank, as they broadcasted various “expert opinions” claiming that Hussein was building WMDs, exhibited his once—already known to the US government yet—well-hidden massacres, abductions, and crimes (ABC, 2006). A leader and a state that are of service to the US will be heaped with praises no matter the truth, but should they disobey they will suffer the wrath of the US government and the outcries of its people.

Palestinian freedom fighters—patent enemies of Israel—the government of Syria, even Africa’s Sudan are not unimpeded by similar US treatment. Palestinians who dared to oppose the Israeli regime, the latter of which has casually murdered the former’s unarmed peoples, were labeled as terrorists. Syria’s government—a key ally of the US’ rival, Russia—continues to be challenged by the US-supported Free Syrian Army—a critically destabilizing action that insults the notion of sovereignty—in the name of war against state-terror. Sudan’s internal conflict was oversimplified to be another black-and-white issue on US media, so that the US could easily alienate whichever sides did not support its wants and needs. Here we could see a disconcerting pattern of US policy: Give us what we want, or we will make you the enemy of  not only our citizens, but of anyone who tunes in to our newsreels.

What can we learn from the paragraphs above? The US’ portrayal of the complex situations across the globe is tainted with extreme bias. It creates demons out of nothing, from people who fight for their right to live without estrangement, from governments that seeks sovereignty without the involvement of the US, from groups that pose little to no danger to American lives, so long as they do not fulfill the demands of America. The enemy is rarely an actual monster. Usually it is whatever state, organization, object, or ideology, that could jeopardize whichever US interest is presently significant.

In the case of the War on Terror, we have understood that it is not at all about fighting terrorism, but of building a regional hegemony controlled by a US ally. Terrorists are still less likely to kill an American than car crashes or unhealthy foods. Campaigning against it seems to be a massive waste of resources. But should the campaign be approved of by ordinary Americans alongside its allies, and if it makes happen certain goals of US policy that are obscured to the public’s eyes, then it will be launched.

Mainstream US mass media actively collaborates with the US government. It does not hunt for objectivity, it tells the stories the state wants it to. It gathers more viewers, listeners, and readers as violence sells. It heralded to be the voices of the ostracized, and active opposers of tyranny. Capital and credibility are handed to it voluntarily by the public. The media directly benefits from cooperating with the state, as its businesses thrive by following the latter’s instructions.

The state of the world is never entirely black-and-white. But it is convenient to say that the events of Earth aren’t gray, to paint one side as good and the other as evil, for justification could easily be gained from doing so. This is what the US and its media channels do on a daily basis. They conjure up harrowing tales that inspire fear and anger amongst the ordinary, for the cold purpose of getting permission to do whatever they want.

Should one seek to understand what is truly happening on our planet, then he or she must give heed to the few outcasts that dare to question the claims of the giants. Otherwise, they would fall prey to the tall tales of the US, see the world as it wants them to see it, and consequentially act in accordance with the prejudiced pictures subtly forced into their minds.

Reference

ABC News. (2006). List of Saddam’s Crimes Is Long. ABC News. Retrieved from http://abcnews.go.com/WNT/
IraqCoverage/story?id=2761722&page=1

Chomsky, N. (2011). How the World Works. California: Soft Skull Press.

Chomsky, N. & Herman, E. (2002). Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media.
New York City: Pantheon Books.

CNN Library. (2015). September 11th Fast Facts. CNN. Retrieved from http://edition.cnn.com/2013/07/27/us/
september-11-anniversary-fast-facts/

Lazare, S. (2015). Body Count Report Reveals At Least 1.3 Million Lives Lost to US-Led War on Terror. Common
Dreams. Retrieved from http://www.commondreams.org/news/2015/03/26/body-count-report-reveals-
least-13-million-lives-lost-us-led-war-terror

Pinker, S. (2011).  The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. New York City: Viking Press.

Muzaffar, C. (2008). The Global War on Terror – and the Prawn Behind the Stone. Vienna: International Progress
Organization.

Salam, R. (2011). Costs and Benefits of the War on Terrorism. National Review. Retrieved from http://
http://www.nationalreview.com/agenda/266649/costs-and-benefits-war-terrorism-reihan-salam

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These are Schools, not Factories

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When I was a toddler, I loved science. Each and everyday I would come up to my mother and ask her to read books to me, not fairytales nor fables, but entries from encyclopedias and magazines the likes of National Geographic. My mother recalled those days with both joy and horror. As she was glad that her son was deeply interested in academics, yet dreaded having to stay up until midnight just to dictate endless articles until I would fall asleep. With the addition of the endless questions that would undoubtably come up the next morning.

Of course, as I grew older I learned to read by myself. And in these days as well, my love for science never wavered. Especially in the field of biology. My days were filled with paragraphs upon paragraphs that involved mammals, reptiles, plants, and the ever-popular subject with children, dinosaurs. I didn’t loathe reading, much to the surprise of my childhood classmates and teachers. Instead I welcomed all opportunities to do so. When I was punished for being disruptive or tardy and sent to the library for detention, I would scour the shelves to look for anything interesting, and actually hated the prospect of getting sent back to the classrooms and playgrounds.

Yet my passion for the natural sciences waned over the years. Partly because of  personal laziness, but also due to the approach my educators applied when it came to teaching. I won’t deny the fact that I wasn’t a model student. When I was still enamored by science, any other subject I considered to be unimportant. Language, art, history classes those I lumped in the same category I regularly dismissed, resulting in quite unsatisfactory grades. But then I threw biology, chemistry, physics, all the fields that once enraptured me into the same grouping of what I deemed to be “boring.” The first part of my academic underperformance can easily be blamed on my personal failings, but the latter, not so much.

To expand the scope of this article beyond my life story, we will begin discussing the failings of the Indonesian educational system. Why this expansion is necessary is because Indonesia’s approach to education led students akin to myself to be disinterested in topics they were previously captivated by. And we need to find out how these instances of sudden disinterest came to be, should we wish for the youth of Indonesia to perform better academically not just on the national, but also international level.

The reasoning behind the abrupt apathy to academics, as implied in the above paragraph, is related primarily to how the system itself regards Indonesian pupils. After years of spending time within the system, and speaking to those who hold little praise for Indonesia’s education—including school teachers and university lecturers—it’s rather simple to determine the system’s failings: It doesn’t allow for subjects to be intriguing, it actively hinders either creative or critical thinking, and rote memorization grants better grades than comprehension, giving the system the image of being akin to a factory. Explanations are indeed in order, as these claims are fairly harsh.

Now why would I say that Indonesia’s educational system prevents the many fields of study from becoming intriguing? In other words, causing students to not want to dig deeper into the subjects they’re currently learning and simply sticking to the explanations they’re given without doubt. From the experiences I’ve underwent, as well as those that have been describe to me by friends and family, and unpleasant image begins to draw itself.

When Indonesian pupils enter their classrooms, they are not expected to inquire. Lessons are written on whiteboards or at times projected, the letters on textbooks are recited and sometimes sprinkled with minor elucidations should the students be lucky enough to be granted an active teacher. Yet all the while, these schoolboys and schoolgirls sit, listen, and take notes without—as the educators instruct—making a sound.

At times, the students are permitted to ask about the current topic of discussion. But not to further the lesson by inciting more in-depth explanations nor debates within the classroom, or god-forbid point out the errors found in the teacher’s or textbook’s  accounts. Rather the questions serve more as requests from the students for the teacher to reiterate his or her words, should the students in question fail to grasp the concepts laid out before them. There are no other functions observable in querying educators. In fact, in certain schools—whose names I will avoid mentioning for fear of defamation charges—these pleas of help are sufficient grounds for reprimands. Since the students who voiced them are often perceived as either “slow” or “disturbances to the classroom.”

At this point, we can discern a clear problem: Students cannot truly learn, in the sense of completely understanding their lessons, without asking questions. How is a pupil supposed to comprehend topics as complicated as a human being’s right to live, when the explanation amounts to nothing more than “because they’re allowed to.” Replies which eliminate any possibility for detailed discussion, and a sudden halting of a student’s desire to further explore complex subjects. Altering the concept of learning into no more than memorization, which I will speak of later on in the text.

We, the students, educators, and national curriculum should always encourage questions, discussions and debates in the classroom. For each of these acts promote curiosity in the minds of students. Compelling them to read, watch, and listen to whatever content that could expand their comprehension on the countless subjects in academics. Furthermore, this spurring of curiosity could induce a thirst for creativity and critical thinking.

The concept of introducing creativity and critical thinking into academics is more commonly found in the Western world. And perhaps their dominance in Western academic culture is why they are rather under-appreciated in Eastern countries the likes of Indonesia. Yet under-appreciation does not make these approaches to learning any less significant. In actuality, perhaps these methods are more necessary than at any other point in Indonesia’s academic history.

One of the most common complaints I encounter from my university lecturers, is that a great number of freshmen are unable to write essays. Sure they might be able to explain theories, cases, and so on, but for some reason providing basic explanations is the most that many of them can do. I do not believe that their failure to conjure up worthwhile essays—ones that introduce concepts, criticize theories, and so on—is because they lack the capacity to write. Rather, their shortcomings originate mainly from how assignments are given and how these works should be completed during their school years. From the elementary to the high-school levels.

Both the school-works and home-works of Indonesian schools are quite dull. In the sense that they ask simply for answers that could be found from text-books, without urging the students to formulate their own opinions. While such a method could work for certain cases, when even the writing of essays require pupils to not stray from the material provided by the school, nor research the contributions of other scholars on the topic at hand, an issue arises. The students are trained to follow whatever texts and lectures they are given, and are urged to subdue their own ability and willingness to think creatively and critically. Reducing them into overtly similar products, rolled off the production lines of factories disguised as academic institutions. An obvious deviation from the fundamental purpose of schools.

Indonesian students are forced to be memorizers, not learners, but sponges of information; unquestioning, unthinking humans, who are constantly in pursuit of better grades instead of greater understanding. How could Indonesians then, as a people, ever hope to achieve a greater stature in the international level of academia, when schools actively discourage students from actually thinking? Is it any wonder then, that the wealthiest of Indonesians choose to send their children to schools in foreign lands, and that their offsprings are viewed as cleverer than the Indonesians who chose to learn in their homeland? There is no mystery here. The wealthy have simply realized that for their children to fulfill their academic potential, Indonesian schools need to be avoided.

For all the reasons I’ve listed above, and the explanations that accompany them, I hope that I have managed to adequately illustrate why Indonesia’s approach to education needs to be revised. How to do so, can be done merely by avoiding the pitfalls that have been listen in the previous paragraphs. Failure to heed this call for reform would result in more and more generations of apathetic students. Who attend their classes for the sake of grades. Who, when challenged to think, will struggle as they have been stripped of that right by the educational system. For Indonesian schools do not seek to produce the brightest pupils. They are rather akin to factories, breeding humans who are forged to see and understand the world in an overtly similar, unquestioning manner.

Indonesia is a nation blessed with countless bright minds, yet we have failed them by not providing the proper tools with which they could hone their cognitive abilities.

 

The Trump Enigma

Along with many other amateur political analysts, I had to hold back streams of laughter when Donald Trump announced that he would be running for the US presidency. A multi-billionaire tycoon, whose expertise is in the fields of business and mass media, becoming a hopeful candidate? Especially considering how anti-corporate the US political climate seemed at the time of his candidacy? Surely this would be one of the greatest political failures of our generation. I was certain that he was heading towards a catastrophe, that could forever ruin his reputation and career. Yet, as the results of the polls came in, my jaw dropped—perhaps accompanied by the gaping mouths of those who thought the same way about Trump.

Donald Trump is now one of the two most popular candidates in the US elections. Moreover, he has a chance to win the race. Despite his background of having always been wealthy throughout his life, his numerous scandals, the unintelligible blurbs that come out from his mouth, he still resonated with the American people. I was flabbergasted that a man who is well-known to bask in his own glory could rally the voices of millions of people. I had to find out why, immediately, about how this man who is a widespread internet-joke, or nothing else but a celebrity of reality TV garner so much followers. The answers, as always, are many.

We could turn our eyes towards how famous, or infamous, Trump is as a television personality. We could point our fingers at the massive piles of cash he hoards. Perhaps we could even say that he has a kind of charisma that oddly adheres people to him. I would not say that any of these guesses are wrong—I am but a layman after all—but what piques my curiosity is the latter of these choices. I.e. his public speaking ability. Or lack thereof, depending on how one views him. Nevertheless, he does have a way with people, especially with convincing his listeners that he knows the solution to all  of their problems.

In one of his most well known speeches, which was about something I failed to understand, he muttered the rambling answer,

“Look. We can bring the American Dream back. That I will tell you. We will bring it back. Okay? And I understand what you’re saying. And I get that from so many people. ‘Is the American Dream dead?’ They are asking me the question, ‘Is the American Dream dead?’ And the American Dream is in trouble. That I can tell you. Okay? It’s in trouble. But we’re going to get it back and do some real jobs. How about the man with that beautiful red hat? Stand up! Stand up! What a hat!”

What do those words mean, really? He talked about the “American Dream,” an already vague concept, said that it was in peril, pledged that he will rectify the situation, and something about a man with a red hat for some reason. Essentially, it’s a load of gibberish. But I am not showcasing his speech as another way to derive humor from Trump, rather to illustrate how clever he actually is when it comes to preaching to the public.

Trump’s appeal clearly doesn’t lie in the realm of wisdom. Who, in their right mind, could conceive of the idea of building a literal wall to prevent Mexican immigrants? Probably no one sane. However, he does have a peculiar kind of specialty: giving his listeners answers to their problems, in a manner that is both simplistic and decisive. In other words, it does not matter how wrong he could be concerning the issues he speaks of, what is truly of import is that he is willing to instantaneously generate solutions.

Any person would be able to understand that the world is not black and white. No terrorist group consists wholly of evil-doers, not all American are gun-toting Bible-thumpers, and no issue can be resolved with an answer that does not bring about unwanted consequences. Yet Trump attempts, and at times, succeeds at painting a black-and-white world; where there is absolute good—America—and evil—almost everyone else. Here is where I believe Trump’s core power lies: in simplifying complex quandaries into something solvable by the common man. Of course, his resolutions are  likely in error, yet what does that matter when his voters are in agreement? His errs are invisible to his supporters, so they matter almost none really.

I ask you, dear reader, to return to the part of Trump’s speech I pasted on this text. Look back at how vague the subject of the “American Dream” is, how he does not even try to tell the audience the difficulties apparently surrounding it. However, these two elements are already useful enough for Trump to demonstrate how great his capacity to rule would be. Should he become head of state, then he would simply, “…get it back and do some real jobs.” And before anyone could provide a rebuttal, he diverts the public’s attention to “…the man with the beautiful red hat.”

How Trump managed to draw an immense crowd of dedicated supporters, is partially due to his ability to toy with the minds of the public. Present a topic, claim that there are complications surrounding it, then confer a vague but understandable answer before redirecting the listeners’ focus to something completely different. With that method, he could portray himself as an able leader, who should be followed and listened.

Trump is actively undertaking a crusade against critical thinking. His words, when rebutted, would be denied in a manner that incredibly few could understand. This is also done in purpose, as then his followers would be able to imagine the realization of Trump’s resolution by themselves. And as the human mind is prone to do, we prefer to think in a way that complements our beliefs. For Trump’s adherers, this would mean that his resolutions would be flawlessly implemented, to the benefit of them all.

It ix no mystery at all then, why there exists people who support a man born out of wealth, who made his fame through vapid television programs, all the while acting against the interests of the middle or lower economic classes. These facts do not concern Trump supporters. As he has successfully, perhaps for the misfortune of those not loaded with money, goaded American peoples into supporting someone who knows perhaps next to nothing about good governance. Regrettably, we—as either citizens or non-citizens of the US—can only watch him prod more and more cattle into his slaughterhouse. He truly is the manifestation of how humans entrapped by fear, from the realms of security to personal finance, could make the unwisest decisions.

It is Never so Simple, Mister Dawkins

Richard Dawkins is someone I once greatly admired. An accomplished evolutionary biologist and general scholar of all things related to the natural sciences, he disproved the claims of sacred scriptures by means of ethics, commons sense, and his forte, science. To myself, he was a kind of prophet who preached to any who would listen—including myself—of how and why one should lead a life without yielding to any god. And for quite some time, years actually, I took his works to be unquestionable truths.

His written works, lectures, and speeches are quite diverse. At times he simply talks of the miracles brought to us by the evolution of science. On other occasions, he would showcase how religious dictations have no actual basis to lean on. Yet as of late, his words exhibit the idea that religion is the root of all the wrongs in this world. For the first and second categories of topics I saw no problem with Dawkins, but on the last I began to disagree with his assessment.

I am an International Relations student, and an amateur analyst of political and military events across the globe. My studies concentrate primarily on how conflicts began, were handled, and how they were brought to an end—in some cases, hypothesizing solutions regarding how they could potentially be concluded. Of the many fascinating matters in my field, perhaps the one I am most intrigued with is the idea that religious beliefs breed conflict rather than abate it, as most believers would say. A number of my betters, though I cannot say whether they are the majority or minority, reached the consensus that differences in belief systems is a prime reason for groups of people to hunt down one another. Dawkins resides in this school of thought.

In Dawkins’ eyes, the violence carried out under the name of religion—be it hate crimes, terrorism, or all-out warfare—are all caused by contrasts in belief systems. This, I would argue, is not the case. For in my humble opinion, religion is as a political asset, simply a banner.

Religion serves the same function as other ideologies believed or worshipped by the diverse factions of humanity. While there have been countless battles launched with the supposed claim of either promoting Islam, Christianity, Catholicism, Hinduism, so on and so forth, the finer texts of history would showcase that these belief systems and their kin are nothing more than masks for covering up darker truths. The works of social scientists who scrutinize over the causes of warfare, beyond their surface appearances alone, would make us understand that the foundations of conflict are quite numerous and complex.

For instance, let us take the example of the Thirty Years War. A purported religious crusade between Protestants and Catholics. The heads of states from both sides declared in a public manner that there was a struggle between two beliefs, and the opposing force are heretics for declaring that their faith is the one truly welcomed by the Abrahamic god. However, these declarations are merely one of countless methods for rallying the support of the masses. If I may over-simplify things somewhat, the struggle between the Catholics and Protestants are shortly put, an endeavor by both sides to expand their spheres of power. As the past superpower, the Holy Roman Empire started to collapse, keen leaders realized that they could gain supremacy over most European nations. An instability in the balance of power formed a competition between the enthusiastic kingdoms to expand their lands, gain access to more resources, control the actions of parties weaker than they are. The participants of the war did not place the spreading of their religions as a primary concern, but a way to justify their expansionist tendencies to their subjects.

Another way of showcasing how irrelevant religion really is as a root for conflict, is to turn back towards recent history, specifically during the years of the Cold War era. The leaders of both the Soviet Union, the United States of America, and the client states of the two superpowers utilized banners in a way similar to how the leaders of the Thirty Years War did. Yet these particular banners were not adorned with symbols pertaining to religious beliefs, rather the symbolisms used were birthed by the ideologies of Communism and Democracy. With each party painting its opposition as the opposition of evil. The Soviets were drawn to be inhuman beings who fought against every man, woman, and child’s right to live freely. Whilst the US were elucidated to be the epitome of greed, with its followers as uncaring individuals who would do anything for personal wealth.

But again, the Cold War is not simply Democracy going up against Communism. It was, in a simplified understanding, a contest between two emerging superpowers. An era wherein two of the world’s most powerful states fought over which of them should reign supreme. The ideological part did not truly matter, the priority of both states were to seize power alone.

Thus we can now see, that both samples of warfare seemingly caused by ideological differences in fact had other underlying factors. Ones that were obscured by the banners of religion, nationalism, and so on. From this point on, we can return back to Dawkins.

Where Dawkins’ mistake lies, is in analyzing conflicts solely from their surface appearance. He was distracted, as were the unfortunate peons ushered into combat, into believing that banners amount to something more than just another way of justifying a statesman’s selfish decisions and actions.

I do not blame Dawkins for his inaccurate analysis concerning human conflict. Any person, no matter how bright he or she is, could always be in error. However, what I do blame him for, is misguiding the people—for the most part Atheists—who think that all of his sayings could never be incorrect. As it is a scientist’s greatest sin, to hypothesize about a phenomena, without gathering sufficient data and preaching as if it is the absolute truth.

What I hope Dawkins would one day do, is delve deeper into human history. Understand in full what caused the ripples and waves that have occurred throughout our existence. Otherwise, he would only be diverting his followers from the daunting task  of objectively analyzing the past.

If Dawkins had taught us anything, it is that we should never look for easy answers. The sort that dictates numerous, diverse happening are all caused by a singular factor. It limits our ability and willingness to take in all the necessary information needed to dig up truths. Such a method of thinking is counterproductive to figuring out how to bring about a more peaceful Earth, which Dawkins wishes he could do but fails because of his blunder.

Captain of the Sinking USSR

Mikhail Gorbachev was the last leader of the Soviet Union. A former General Secretary of the Communist Party, he presided over the USSR as it attempted to restructure itself, yet ultimately crumbled. However, though Gorbachev’s failure to keep the politburo intact might seem to be an illustration of his ineptitude, it would be unwise to leap into such a conclusion. As the writers shall
Unlike his predecessors—Khrushchev, Brezhnev, et cetera—Gorbachev did not seek global military domination. Instead, he initiated policies aimed at reforming the Soviet Union from being a security threat to its near and far neighbors, into a state which devoted its resources for the betterment of its citizens .
Perhaps Gorbachev’s two most well-known policies are glasnost and perestroika. The former having the goal of pulling the politburo’s operations and decisions out of the shadows and into the eyes of the public. Whilst the latter was utilized as a system for reviving the collapsing Soviet economy, redirecting them from the path of constant production of missiles and other weaponries, towards more peaceful enterprises that seek nothing more than profit via peaceful means. Both these stances stood in stark contrast to the former policies enacted by the USSR, with many regarding them to be efforts at reaching pseudo-democracy .

We can now see that Gorbachev was somewhat of an anomaly in the Soviet Union. During his reign, the Soviets essentially ventured at leaving behind the Cold War, and by extension the nuclear arms race, to form a nation obsessed not with warfare but growth through tranquility and cooperation—both within and outside of its borders. At the end of the international saga, Gorbachev’s leadership arguably caused the dissolution of the Soviet empire. Again, seemingly a defeat on his part yet a loss which ushered in an era of living unafraid of the possibility of death at the hands of nuclear armaments .

At present, Gorbachev continues to tread on routes unfamiliar to Russian leaders. Today he struggles not to regain power, rather pave the way for the further democratization of Russia. On June 1st 2016, The New York Times published an article titled, “Reviled by Many Russians, Mikhail Gorbachev Still Has Lots to Say” which grants its readers a glance at the challenges he—as well as democracy—faces in his homeland.

In the aforementioned feature, Gorbachev speaks of how differently his fellow countrymen view him. Those who recognized the value of his endeavors near the Soviet Union’s collapse see him as a hero, particularly for enacting perestroika, the policy which allowed Russians to become more than mere pawns of the politburo. Sadly not all view him in such a complimentary manner, as many declare that he should be put on trial primarily for allowing the Soviet Union to fall. Others think of him as a traitor to the country, convinced that he degraded Russia, letting it be nothing more than a serf of the US right after the Cold War ended. Gorbachev was and perhaps still is deeply affected by how vicious Russia’s rhetoric about him could be, fearing that he might be publicized as a “foreign agent,” which basically means spy in Cold War lexicon. With basic logic alone, one could easily imagine how a state would treat spies in its midst, likely with a minimal punishment of imprisonment and at worst, death.

Despite these harassments aimed at him, that clearly induced a sense of terror within his psyche, Gorbachev did not halt his campaign for democracy in Russia. In a state known to host sham elections and authoritarianism , Gorbachev tried to establish democratic parties within Russia, not just once but thrice—in 2001, 2007, and 2009 . Although their effects on Russian politics are marginal at best, his perseverance to bring forth democracy in a land congested with tales of dictators reflect greatly upon his character.

Mikhail Gorbachev is both famous and infamous. Understood to be the bringer of peace, yet regarded as the sower of misfortune. Thus he is treated with love and contempt in near equal levels. However, he does not let the threats of others affect him. He permits fear within him yet marches onward, towards the goal of realizing democracy in Russia.

How should we then understand a leader like Mikhail Gorbachev? That is, how should we judge his worth in the context of leadership qualities? Many would quickly point at the downfall of the Soviet Union as a clear mark of that he does not have any redeeming qualities. After all, it is rare for the head of a state to enable the dissolution of his charge, rarer so when its ruination is done purposefully. Yet when one observes the state of the world during Gorbachev’s reign, one would be perhaps be able to understand why he made his controversial decision.

The Soviet Union was facing an economic collapse caused by years of producing items useful only in wartime. Its people were impoverished, with even those who are capable of designing and manufacturing nuclear bombs having wages comparable to farmers . When Gorbachev took the seat of General Secretary, the Union was practically bankrupt, with no private enterprises supporting its economy. Hence his conception of perestroika, with the addition of glasnost to abate the bubbling fury of Soviet citizens who were penniless due to the actions and decisions of statesmen. Moreover, the politburo was filled to the brim with corruption, securing most of the Union’s funds for the private use of select government officials. Gorbachev became captain of a sinking ship, one which despite his best efforts he could not save.

Without sufficient assets from inside the Union, Gorbachev needed some way to salvage his country; to at least not let it become one of the countless forgotten empires in history. His solution could only come from outside intervention, from the charity of the Union’s contemporaries. Yet with the Union being perceived to be a threat to global peace, it was unlikely that any would come to its aid. Thus Gorbachev made the unthinkably difficult call of completely demolishing the Soviet regime, and planted the seeds for a new government to take over—one which could sustain itself and not be seen as a menace. All the while aware of how the politburo and his countrymen would treat him as villain, a failure afterwards.

Mikhail Gorbachev is a leader who will do what he believes to be the right thing, no matter the consequences. He has proven his dedication to maintaining peace and improving the lives of his people during the Cold War, relinquishing all the power he had by doing so. And today, as he faces the challenge of bringing democracy into Russia, a task that very few think he could accomplish, he never wavered from his stance.

Gorbachev is an illustration of how leadership is not simply about maintaining power. But that it involves personal sacrifice, that the lives of those under you are your responsibility, and that when there is no easy way out even the most perilous roads must be taken. Put short, Mikhail Gorbachev is the kind of leader who will do all in his power, to protect the well-being of his people.

Just Keep Moving

A couple of years back I was told by a psychiatrist that I had a psychological disorder, specifically Bipolar Type II. It is a quirk of the mind which—and these are oversimplified explanations—drives an individual into either states of highly elevated energy levels even so far into lessening his need to sleep, yet on the flip side plunges the person into episodes of depression. How severe these occurrences might be of course depends on he himself. Yet of course, none of those who are inflicted by bipolarity wishes to endure the feeling of emptiness, the absence of a sense of purpose and all the symptoms that accompany the affliction. Myself included.

While I personally appreciate the occasional bouts of energy surges, I loathe falling into pits of depression. Thus I had to find some way to minimize stumbling into these holes. Psychiatrists are obviously the first and foremost solution. But medication only goes so far. Sure the pills I take have been, and still are invaluable aids, yet at times the much-loathed depression manages to find a way to strike. These instances indicate that I do have to find another method of guarding myself from depression’s proverbial schemes. And I believe I have found one method that might be somewhat useful to fellow bipolars.

I won’t start speaking of ancient rituals or homeopathic remedies to alleviate the more unpleasant side-effect of Bipolar Type II. Rather, the means I accidentally came upon is quite practical, and could perhaps be somewhat useful to one’s daily life. Basically, it’s work.

Depression often struck me whenever I’m stuck in long periods of boredom. Times that come about whenever summer breaks begin, exceedingly long national holidays (Eid al-Fitr, in Indonesia, when the celebrations could last for weeks), and so on. I would sit in my room, roll around in bed, stare at the ceiling, generally watch the paint dry; all the while feeling absolutely nothing and struggling to find any urge to do whatever could or should be done. With the occasional yearning for a swift end. I need not say more to illustrate how unappealing these mini-chapters of my life are. Therefore I sought after a solution.

After months and months of endless searching without finding anything, I realized that the solution was under my nose all along. Whenever my schedule fills up with work, either academic papers or otherwise, I would find myself leaping from task to task, uncaring for anything else that might be going on outside the bubble that is my workstation.

In those moments of nearly endless work, I would feel something different. Something similar to joy, but not completely alike. Such a feeling would perhaps be best referred to as contentment. A condition wherein I could not fall into the arms of depression. For my mind would not be able to focus on anything but the plethora of duties at hand. From the moment of waking until the bells strike midnight, I would not cease my endeavors. Thus I crowd my mind with objectives unrelated to myself, keeping at bay any negative moods I could possibly experience, and when all the tasks are completed my brain would be far too exhausted to focus on anything other than my bed.

However, simply garnering as much chores as possible is not enough. They have to be both important—in some sense—to ourselves, as well as having some sort of deadline. The first to grant us a sense of satisfaction while attempting to finish the deed, whilst the latter to push us when our frankly unstable minds refuse to conjure up sufficient motivation. These qualities are essential, for when they are absent in the works I have, I find myself uncompelled to exert any effort on them; making college papers ideal candidates for my bipolarity relievers.

Yet no solution is perfect. The imperfection with mine is many. Prime among them are the fact that we cannot constantly find work, and that sometimes the currents of depression are far too strong for us to wade through. And when depression washes over us, few things can be of any aid. To these two issues, there are certain things one could do to solve and prevent them.

For the unavailability of work, it is of utmost importance for us to find organizations—both the ones that pay and don’t—that can always hand out tasks. Preferably ones that are intriguing and varied enough so that we do not see them as fruitless endeavors. Those in academic institutions should not find a shortage of such clubs. Though I sadly cannot say the same of those who are working full-time, and can only help they could find the answer themselves.

As for the times when depression becomes overpowering, seek the protection of others. Specifically those who can tolerate the sudden change in demeanor that we undergo on a random schedule. Another aid that comes to mind are the aforementioned tasks. I have in the past found myself struggling to lift my body out of bed just to keep on failing, yet when a certain duty arose—one that was highly personal and better left unmentioned—I managed to cling onto the fleeting burst of energy, and use it to propel myself for the next few weeks.

I fervently hope that the words I’ve written on this document proves useful to some, as they have been to me. Work to those without type II bipolarity may seem like chores, but for us stuck with this mixture of a blessing and a curse, we might be able to help ourselves by burying ourselves with duties. Alas as there are obvious imperfections in my limited fix, I can only wish that someone brighter than I could conjure up additions or even completely different answers for the bipolarity quandary.

An Evening With Flat Earth Believers

A while back, I spent an evening with a few acquaintances. It was at first to be nothing more than gathering of enthusiastic drinkers, smokers, and other minor deviants of the sort. Yet the night proved to be far more interesting than a mere occasion of laughing drunkenly at tall tales. Instead, it hosted perhaps one of the tallest tales of them all, “The Flat Earth Story.” A myth that I cannot bear to stand hearing. Yet as I was not in my own home, I was compelled to be polite and listened to the words of either the misguided or plainly insane. However, another motive came to mind as my brain was assaulted by the endless ramblings of idiocy: Perhaps I could hypothesize on why there are those who could be swayed into a belief system, one that a six year-old could easily disprove.

It is necessary to say that these acquaintances of mine are both graduates and students of various universities. They are not boors who barely know how to read and write. Thus a question surfaces, “Why do these educated individuals choose to reject all the provable—or at least possible—wisdoms they’ve learnt for years?” Surprisingly enough, the reasons are many: the first being the rejection of science as a sufficient lens for understanding natural phenomena, another having to do with politics, humanity’s odd fondness for conspiracies, and even the Devil. Yes, that being of pure, unadulterated evil.

To further elaborate on the backgrounds of my acquaintances, while it is true that while they are educated, they may have not been the brightest pupils. Although a few were from the natural sciences branch of academics, they too imagined that the earth was flat. Hence I asked each one of them why they think that our planet is not spherical, and their answers were particularly fascinating. For them, the laws of physics that dictate the whys and hows of a planet’s formation does not matter. To paraphrase their words, “Science is a propaganda tool utilized by governments and secret organizations to manipulate the masses,” a claim confidently made even though not a one of them has ever read an astronomy book. Why these organizations and governments lie has rather simple answer. It is to gather as much wealth as one can, or in other words for financing society’s one-percenters.

All the funds that go to the creation and development of satellites, telescopes, scientific organizations are all daylight robbery and nothing more. Despite the fact that groups such as NASA are one of the most underfunded government entities amongst the various other governmental branches. Thus, we have the flat Earth societies’ idea that NASA and its kindred are practically government-supported swindlers. And this meme has infested the minds of flat-Earthers, driving them to despise or at least be very suspicious of anything related to science.

Yet the suspicion of theft by astronomy is not the only cause for rage within the flat Earth societies. Another, is religion. For you see, another purpose of lying to the public about why the Earth is round is to support the Devil—Lucifer, Satan, Al-Massih ad-Dajjal, or whatever name he goes by these days. A pillar provided by the aforementioned one-percenters. Science  being an apparatus of the one-percenters is then by extension, also a tool of the Devil and his allies, used to taint the minds of man into disbelieving the holy scriptures of the gods. For few gods had ever stated that the Earth is a sphere. They speak of it, via their proxies or directly, as if the world they had created is flat and that it is also the center of the universe. Hence, with science declaring that the words of the gods are false, they must certainly be in league with the enemies of the gods.

So far, I have spoken of two roots of the flat Earth belief—ones that I could see, though undoubtably there are endless more. But there lies one other that I have yet mentioned, merely alluded to. I have written in one of the first few paragraphs that my acquaintances are not the most intelligent individuals on the planet. They frequently fail to achieve excellence in academics. Failures that likely led them to speak of any matter involving  academia with a tone of disgust and contempt. At this point, I am forced to hypothesize, as I know of no theories related to the topic of humanity’s fondness for conspiracies (my field is International Relations, specifically matters of national security). Thus I ask for forgiveness from you, dear Reader, that I cannot provide concrete evidence and merely offer my speculations on the subject at hand.

It appears to me, that my acquaintances harbor a certain kind of hatred towards academics. It is something that have caused them many hardships and led them to failures that perhaps irreversibly damaged their self-worths. Which birthed suspicion and loathing towards science—the proverbial body which has botched their attempts at their respective understandings of success.

And so my acquaintances, and maybe many other flat-Earthers are shepherded into distrusting science by the scars left on their egos. Either from their time at educational institutions or personal experiences. Why should they believe the words of the things and peoples that have hurt them, made them feel that they are idiots? They have no reason to do so, and because of this lack of motive, they turn to other things. Absurd conspiracies akin to the one we are currently discussing. All for the sake of disproving the laws, theories, hypotheses, they could not grasp. Similar to revenge for personal satisfaction, but one that is sought in the realm of abstractions.

Here we can finally conclude our discussion. There is no doubt at all that the earth is round, that the laws of physics dictated it to be so, and the human species is not at the center of the universe. Why people continue to choose to believe otherwise remains a great mystery to myself.

So far, the only clues I’ve found are a fondness for conspiracies that speak of individuals secretly running the world behind the scenes, reaping resources for the sake of the Devil, alongside a distrust born out of painful experiences regarding academics. To cleanse the world of such erroneous beliefs such as that of the flat Earth tale, there is no solution but greater socialization of the values of science, clarification of even its most basic subjects, and a convincing enough argument that classrooms are not the Devil’s homes. A daunting task, but one that is necessary should we wish that humanity’s progress in understanding the universe not be halted by the misinformed.