Worth reading editorial article in NYT about the plight of Muslim minority in Burma. Even the West’s human right darling and champion Aung San Suu, Noble Peace prize winner, has refused to condemn the violence by Buddhist extremists; Some excerpts;
A cynical decision by Myanmar to ban Doctors Without Borders from the state of Rakhine has left some 750,000 people without medical care since Feb. 28. About 150 people, including women with difficult pregnancies, are estimated to have died since the ban was imposed.
Myanmar acted after the group, which has provided medical care in Rakhine State since 1994, reported treating 22 members of the Muslim Rohingya minority for gunshot wounds and other injuries after an attack by a Buddhist mob in January. A United Nations investigation concluded that up to 40 men, women and children were killed in the rampage, which Myanmar denies took place.
If the goal in kicking Doctors Without Borders out of Rakhine State, and depriving hundreds of thousands of people of their only source of medical care, is to prevent foreign witnesses to the human rights violations in the region, it is a badly calculated strategy.
Posted by F. Sheikh
Wisdom in Fool’s Jest
Better a witty fool than a foolish wit
“Before God we are equally wise and equally foolish.”
This fellow is wise enough to play the fool;
And do that well craves a kind of wit.
Rumi, the mystic says: “Everything in the universe is a pitcher brimming with wisdom and beauty.” Philosophers believe, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” But it is difficult to define what is beautiful and what is ugly. There is far more to the beauty/ugly dichotomy than we often suspect; that means, defining it is a futile venture. In the same way wisdom is unintelligible to an intellect, indefinable by any definition, unknowable and unutterable in any word, un-affirmable by any affirmation, and unexplainable by any explanation. In spite of this everyone naturally desires to know of wisdom as an insight viewed higher than all knowledge that even Socrates had to ask, “What makes the wise, ‘wise’?” If wisdom is merely not to be foolish then what is a fool’s wisdom posed in a fool’s jest or a clown’s joke? Whereas the wise cannot know that he is wise enough to be known as wise, the fool who persists in his folly often appears not to be accounted foolish or stupid, since there are many fools who are wiser than those whom we view as wise persons. No final opinion, therefore, can be formed as a hypothesis about wisdom. Thus, to ask what is wisdom, might be in itself a foolish question?
We, however, still want to know what is wisdom? First of all we should know that wisdom is not always same as intelligence and a clown or fool is not always stupid or foolish. Here my main interest is to argue on the “Wisdom in Fool’s Jest.” Throughout world’s social and literary history, the witty fools have one thing in common: they are all simpletons, commoners, ordinary working class folk, who are deemed as being of the ‘lower order’ in their contemporary societies. In the first century BC, Publilius Syrus an uneducated simpleton was brought to Rome as a slave. He won freedom by dint of his wit. He is credited with various moral maxims, such as “A rolling stone gathers no mass,” and “The error repeated is a fault.” But before Publilius, around 620 BC in the European tradition another slave figure Aesop is known as a clever and wisely observant man. He was born a slave or possibly captured into slavery at an early age, in one of the ancient city-states of Asia Minor, or on the Greek island of Samos, or maybe in Ethiopia. Aesop, as the legend has it, was not an educated scholar, yet many of his wise sayings are with us such as: “He is wolf in sheep’s clothing;” “She has a sour grapes attitude;””Don’t count your chickens before they are hatched;” “They are killing the goose that laid the golden eggs,” etc., etc. Though Aesop was not a fool, but he was a simple and ordinary God-gifted man of wisdom who created many timeless literary gems. It is also related that Aesop was physically deformed: a hunchback, pot belly, misshapen head, snub nose, and bandy legs. A Greek philosopher bought him to serve his wife only when he heard from Aesop, “A philosopher should value a man for his mind, not for his body.”
Fools have often been seen making witty, sarcastic, ironic, and profound observations full of humor—usually in riddles—prompting laughter about life, humanity, and the society around them. They are a genre of rational as well as spiritual freemasonry in the garb of mystics, yogis, sadhus, dervishes, sufis, and wanderers in the wild, whose origin has seldom been traced. Being complacent with the occurrence and performance of their own way of thought, they have always been content with whatever they are. They have been present in almost every region of the world, and have been depicted in art and literature as downtrodden-everyman and humble simpletons. They have appeared funny, amusing, but insightful characters full of wisdom. Often, the fool or a court clown, is interestingly wise and insightful figure in the courts of the monarchs as well as in the public quarters. Richard Tarleton was an actor and jester at the court of Elizabeth I, and was a possible inspiration of Shakespeare’s Yorick in his play Hamlet. Mulla-do-Piazza was a jester and one of the nine gems at the court of Emperor Akbar the Great.
Socrates, interpreting his “humility-theory of wisdom,” argues that wisdom emerges out of “epistemic humility.” He is puzzled by the oracle’s proclamation that “Socrates is the wisest person,” when he views so many other people in the community were well known for their extensive knowledge and wisdom. He claims that he lacks both knowledge and wisdom. Socrates, so we are told, neither suffers the vice of claiming to know things he does not know, nor the vice of claiming to have wisdom when he thinks he does not have wisdom. But he is wise because he, unlike the others, believes he is not wise, whereas the poets, politicians, and craftsmen arrogantly and falsely believe they are wise. The “humility theory of wisdom,” thus, interprets that the witty fool or a clown is wise because he believes he is not wise. For some philosophers “humility theory of wisdom” is not always promising, but it does provide us with some important characteristics associated with wise people. One might argue that some wise people might possess epistemic self-confidence, but without epistemic arrogance are yet a model of “humility theory of wisdom.” Wise people might also tend to acknowledge their fallibility, otherwise they are not wise; they are reflective, introspective, and tolerant of uncertainty. Though an acceptable theory of wisdom ought to be compatible with such characteristics, yet these traits are not to be presumed definitive of wisdom.
We all recognize wisdom, but to define it theoretically is very difficult. All we understand that wisdom begins with awareness of the self and the world outside the self. It amplifies with our awareness of the inherent tension between the inner “I” and the outer world. Intertwined with our rational, emotional, and spiritual impulses it spontaneously emerges according to the need of the hour, transcending any societal or authoritative pressure. The witty fools and the clowns are free from any such pressure and they speak out whatever comes to their mind befitting a situation. One of many such witty fools universally renowned is Mulla Nasrudin, a satirical Sufi dervish, believed to have lived and died during the 13th century in Akşehir near Konya in today’s Turkey. He is considered a populist philosopher and wise man, remembered for his subtleties, funny stories and anecdotes. He appears in thousands of stories, sometimes witty, sometimes wise, but often, too, a fool or a joke. Nasrudin story usually has a subtle humour and a pedagogic nature shades off into the Arab figure of Joha, appears in the folk lore of Sicily and the Greeks. His quips and stories are found in Russia, in Spain as Don Quixote, and even in the oldest French book, the Fables of Marie de France.
Mulla Nasrudin is widely referred to a very stupid, unenlightened, improbably clever, the professor of mystical secrets, and a witty fool who has said about himself, “I am upside down in life.” Mulla held that people do not know where to look when they are seeking enlightenment. A story relates that a neighbor found Mulla on his knees looking for something near the lamp post in the street. The neighbor asked, “What have you lost Mulla?” Mulla replied, “My key.” The neighbor joined Mulla in his search to find the key and then asked, “But where did you drop it?” Mulla said, “At home.” Surprisingly the neighbor said, “Then why, for heaven’s sake, are you looking here?” Mulla replied, “There is more light here.” This is one of the most famous of all Mulla Nasrudin tales, commenting upon people who seek exotic source for enlightenment which is in the light not in the darkness. Acting it on the stage was a part of the repertoire of Karl Vallentin, the late “metaphysical clown” of Munich. Hassan Basra the famous mystic said, “I asked a simpleton holding a candle, “From where comes the light?” Instantly he blew it out and said, “Tell me where it is gone, then I will tell you where it came from.”
During the European Renaissance the tradition of the fool or a clown appeared in Shakespearean comedies and tragedies. In Shakespeare’s comedies, fools are often portrayed to encourage a more serious examination of the situations, themes and characters of a play. Paradoxically, fools not only amuse and entertain, but also prompt an audience to ponder serious social, religious and political views. An example of this can be found in the conversation between Olivia and Feste in Twelfth Night, during which Feste questions the nature of mourning, “The more fool, Madonna, to mourn for your brother’s soul being in heaven.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, there are more fools to be found in Shakespeare’s comedies and problem plays, such as The Merchant of Venice, that were originally categorized as comedies. In his tragedies, the Porter gives his “knocking at the gate” soliloquy directly after the murder of Duncan. Some scholars believe that these scenes are fashioned for comic relief and, therefore, offer a brief respite from the heavy themes of the play. However, this theory is disputed by those who believe that these scenes are designed to create a greater depth of understanding, by reminding the audience that they are watching a play and transferring its focus from the fictional world to reality. The Gravediggers’ conversation in Shakespeare’s play Hamlet about the moral and religious consequences of suicide, directly after the death of Ophelia, could be used to support this argument. Fools in Shakespeare’s day were presented on stage in the plays, not only for providing amusement, but to make critical comment on contemporary behavior. Feste does this mostly through music, his specialty. Viola, in the Twelfth Night herself proclaims Feste to be a wise fool, “This fellow is wise enough to play the fool, and to do that well, craves a kind of wit. He must observe their mood, on whom he jests, the quality of persons, and the time…” Shakespearean fools took the theory to a new level. The great irony, of course, is that there is absolutely nothing foolish about any of Shakespeare’s fools, but still they are all known as fools and clowns.
Wisdom, in open sense of the word, has less to do with achievement and more with an endeavor to serve. The fool just serves whether one likes it or not and doesn’t know all that of course, but then, neither do the wise. Service is the mystery of how both the fool and the wise give, each unknowingly in one’s own way. The wise one is custodian of his secret, which he does not know how to share. Behind his words are secret words. All this is to say that wisdom whether coming out of the head of a wise or a fool always cloaks itself in a guise; it never is what it seems. Its disclosure is a moment of great revelation or an understanding that moves beyond common wisdom. Beyond is a situation where a fool’s wisdom and the objective reason no longer stand in opposition. It is like entering a Shangri-la where life in a most unpredictable position overtaxes its resources to prevail over an imminent calamity; it looks to neither the witty fool nor the wise sage to save it from danger.
James Thurber, an American cartoonist says, “The wit makes fun of other persons; the satirist makes fun of the world; the humorist makes fun of himself, but in so doing, he identifies himself with people—that is, people everywhere, not for the purpose of taking them apart, but simply revealing their true nature.” According to Woody Allen, the famous comedian actor, “Comedy just pokes at problems, rarely confronts them squarely. Drama is like a plate of meat and potatoes—comedy is rather the desert, a bit like meringue.” Jerome Frank, an American philosopher viewed, “The comic man is happy under any fate, and he says funny things at funerals or when the bailiffs are in the house or the hero is waiting to be hanged.” A joke testifies Jerome’s argument that a fool was brought before a judge for being drunk. The Judge said to the fool, “You have been brought here for drinking.” The fool replied spontaneously, “Then what are we waiting for, lets us begin . . .” Thus, humor is not a mood but a way of looking at the world—a way full of laughter and wisdom.