Doing things for humanity; now doing things for the planet – Sebastian Salgado

I love photography. I love photography for its power to contain what we feel in the stillness of a single moment. I particularly like black and white photography. I like it because by removing colour the photographer forces the viewer to focus on the details, on what is happening in the scene, on the content of the photograph. And no one does this better than one of my favourite photographers, Sebastian Salgado.

Salgado began as a social documentary photographer focusing on the people and societies, particularly that of the poor across the globe. But according to the following video he had seen too much violence, too much bloodshed, that so affected him that he literally became sick, mentally and physically.

At the advice of his doctor he had to stop putting himself through such torture. As a viewer we can close the books and stop viewing the photographs that he captures. We only have the moments of silence that he shows us, ones which we control as viewers. But for Salgado the tragedy is a streaming memory that does not stop with the shutter. It was for this reason that he gave up photography and returned to his hometown, to his family in Brazil.

The back story is that he grew up on a farm with his seven sisters that once was covered by 50 percent of rainforest. There they had abundant food needing only to go once a year on a 60-day round-trip journey to sell their cattle. But when he returned after his long absence as a globe trotting photographer what he had found was that almost all the rainforest had been destroyed, that the land had been left bare. This caused the rainwater to run off the land much quicker than is needed leading to desertification of the land (his analogy was that of his bald head which dries in seconds). And it was with this discovery back home that he began to work to reforest his land he had now inherited.

Salgado after this period in his life he had taken up his camera again and shifted his lens towards nature and animals. His message hasn’t change because he is still concerned about how we can arrive as a species. Only now he is doing this from the point of view of how we need to live in harmony with land and nature.

Salt of the Earth (page in Japanese) is showing in Hiroshima right now.

What you see is only in the frame 

Life is like a camera lens – you only see the things in the frame. The rest beyond the edge of the frame is part of the world carefully shown to us, and sometimes we choose to ignore

The pair of jeans says it all. 

Ergo cogito sum

The more I think about it the more I come to the conclusion that Descartes has it wrong. It is not cogito ergo sum (I think therefore I am) but ergo cogito sum (I am therefore I think). 

It is the sensing then perceiving that makes the world. Without this contact between the object world and the mind objects nothing would derive any meaning from an inanimate world. 

All that I am is this perception of my relationship to the world. 

A note on “Emptiness” and “Non-self”

It should be noted, firstly, that the concept of Emptiness (shunyata) does not exist in the Theravada tradition of Buddhism. It is a Mahayana Buddhist term. The term closest to Emptiness in Theravada Buddhism is Non-self (anatman). So why these separate terms?

In Theravada Buddhism the Buddha’s teaching of Non-self is interpreted to mean only no essence of the self, the sentient being. Mahayana Buddhism interprets Non-self to mean all things, animate as well as inanimate. This is why Mahayana Buddhists to distance themselves from the term No-self by taking a word to cover the wider definition they believed the teaching of Non-self to mean.

This is why Form and Emptiness are spoken within the same breath in the Heart Sutra. Whether one accepts the Theravada or Mahayana is up to the individual. What is important is to know at least this difference exists in Buddhism. It is a matter of interpretation.

Dragging the past into sports is an insult to us

It is unfortunate that someone had made this comment about the US’s win in the Women’s World Cup. How does a win in soccer equate to retaliation for war? Where does speech like this lead? Would it have been okay for the Japanese to gloat in their last win with tweets like “that one is for Hiroshima”?

The good thing about the Internet is that it is a place, in Francois Lyotard’s term, for the “little narratives” to be heard. But at the same it is a problem because of its noise where careless speech spirals uncontrollably. 

For people to agree with such a tweet is to show how naive and reckless people are, not to mention how irresponsible it is to speak so lightly of two completely different things in the same breath. 

It is an insult to the Japanese, to those who lost their lives or who have lost loved ones in war, to the survivors of war, and finally it is an insult to our general intelligence. 

Question: Why have I only been in this perspective since I was born?

This answer is from a Buddhist and Kantian perspective. 

The “me” isn’t really a me but personality generating machine that believes in a me. I do mean machine because our body is what makes the perspective and not something else. 

If we were independent of the machinery that houses us then we would be ghosts in shells. The fact that few have claimed to see shell-less ghosts means likely we need the body to be who we are.

We are human animals

What is our place in the world? Are we higher up in the “ranks” of the life forms which occupy the same world we called Earth?

David Suzuki often talks about the problem of the world is not only do but how we think of it. 

Loggers, he argued, saw the forests as economic resources and not as ecosystems of flora and fauna. The life contained within it did not seem to matter much as compared to the need to trade and sell the wood products. In other words, loggers have desensitised themselves to world. The old ways of objectifying things organic and inorganic are still at work. 

Human beings tend to believe they are different and better than the other beings in the world (apart from God). But human beings really are just another animal among other animals. Sure we can probably think of things that other animals cannot and that makes us clever, smart, intelligent or whatever adjective we would like to use. And perhaps the adjective missing from our choice of vocabulary is wise

No, we need to change our vocabulary if we are to be wise, to have wisdom. This is why I propose we start with redefining who we are by choosing a term for ourselves which reflect this. Rather than being humans or human beings, why not accept that we are animals? Or else call other animals “beings” as well. 

We are human animals in the humble sense. Or if you want to make the term derogatory then we we are (more) wild and unruly as the animals we choose to define ourselves against. We  are worse than the animals that have lived “peacefully” on the planet only to be exterminated by this one species that is more disease than medicine. 

Do countries that speak English have a higher probability of success in business because of the English language’s framework, structure, and words?

The probability of you having a higher income, education and lifestyle is greater if you live in an English speaking country.

That can be shown by economic statistics. The chances of you being in the lower income, education and lifestyle brackets are much lower if you live in these countries. 

But whether it is the English that you speak that allows this is a problematic question. One can argue that the dominance of English as a world language has contributed to this and I will agree with that argument. 

Francois Lyotard called these grand-narratives where a dominant discourse shuts out other arguments. The best example is Communism. But also English as a world language and the promotion of that ideal is also a subtle and hidden shutout of all other arguments as well. 

I will say this though: English is only guilty because of its position as a world language. If it were another language, say, French (which had also vied for the same status as late as the late 20th century) the same grand-narrative posturing would occur. 

There can be no neutral world language. If there were someone somewhere would eventually find a way to use it to their advantage.

Money as medium of exchange

One of the roles of money is to be a medium of exchange. This is usually explained in contrast to the barter system. Bartering is to exchange one type of good for another without the use of money. The problem usually pointed out is that a unit of one good is not equivalent to another unit of good. Clearly, trading a cow for a dog is not the same thing. And you may not want ten dogs for the one cow. Continue reading