February 05-11, 2010

How the West Was Lost and Why Stoicism Would Best Be Regained

THE Australian journal Quadrant is required reading at The Diary. Last year it was in the news as the victim of a cosy little leftist hoax from Academe, where the good thinkers are said to reside: those who believe themselves and their indulgent self-views to be undeniable, and who continually wicker at us from the lofty summits which they would have us believe are theirs by right.

The January-February double issue – just read in print, courtesy of some new drop-in guests at The Cage; it’s so much better than online because you can sit back in comfort and balance a whisky and a quarto-size publication at the same time – carries a thoughtful article on the benefits of the Stoic tradition.

It is by Michael Evans, a Fellow at the Australian Defence College in Canberra, and is based on a Veterans’ Day Address he gave to staff and students of the US Marine Corps University at Quantico, Virginia, last November. Evans reminds us that the Roman Stoics – among them the slave-philosopher Epictetus; Seneca; Cicero; and, later, everyone’s favourite emperor, Marcus Aurelius – created true virtue out of steadfastness in the face of terrible challenge. Seneca wrote, in his essay On Providence, that “the only safe harbour from the seething storms of this life is scorn of the future, a firm stand in the present, and readiness to receive Fortune’s arrows, full in the breast, without skulking or turning one’s back.”

Evans’s theory (and the pity is, he may not have been preaching to the converted) is that the West has lost its way; that it has become a weakened shadow of its former self by shifting from honouring valour to rewarding self-pity. It is a view – as Evans notes – that the Islamic scholar Akbar S. Ahmed supports in characterising the West today as a “post-honour” society.

As Albert Camus wrote in his 1957 novel, The Fall:

I sometimes think of what future historians will say of us. A single sentence will suffice for modern man: He fornicated and read the papers. After that vigorous definition, the subject will be, if I may say so, exhausted.

Evans notes: “If one replaces Camus’ papers with today’s screens, then we have an accurate picture of the cultural detritus that has largely succeeded in replacing refined taste and honourable purpose in the West.”

We Get a Rev-Up

READER Putu Hadi of Tuban – she says ex-reader, but her correspondence indicates she reads The Bali Times, as of course she should – takes The Diary to task for what she says is unfair treatment of Schapelle Corby and her sister Mercedes. Her letter is on Page 8 today.

It may be true that many readers of the non-Bahasa press in Bali are not yet accustomed to seeing points made strongly, or with a touch of acid. Perhaps these people still prefer the anodyne comforts of the glitzy zone, in those glossy things that people produce here and which they promote as vehicles for objective information. Some others, who value dissent as much as we, get their kicks from some of the great blogs people here write – one thinks of Susi Johnston’s, for example (loved her piece on Dreamland and Mr T. Suharto recently) or our own Vyt Karazija, who weekly gives readers of The Bali Times a giggle as well as those who read him online. The Diary has issues with Made Wijaya (Michael White) but – his distressingly challenged syntax overlooked in this instance – he too is fairly far from shy about making a point.

It is a newspaper diarist’s job to be a pain in the butt. There is no expectation that every reader will agree with what is written. Were they to do so, any editor worth his salt would sack his diarist and find someone else to stir the pot.

The Corbys, whatever the merits or demerits of Schapelle’s distressing circumstances, have made themselves a cause célèbre, in the manner of many Westerners who, faced with something they can portray as someone else’s fault, run to a vacuous media and rush into print or scream at a camera. That’s their right, of course. It is the right of others to prick balloons, however.

Ms Hadi says Mercedes Corby is a good friend. That’s great. Everyone needs good friends. She also says it is unfair to describe her as garrulous – though at the time of writing it seemed a kinder term than motor-mouth – and to suggest that she’ll be in any media as long as they pay her.

We can assume on the basis of this information, then, that Mercedes appeared half-naked in Ralph, a disgusting magazine for sad little men who favour solitary pursuits in darkened privacy, out of the goodness of her heart and for no monetary return.

If that is the case, she is indeed unique.

Catcher in the Wry

THE death last weekend of the American author J.D. Salinger removes from this mortal coil a man who was the hero of many who write to entertain, annoy or inform others, and do so with a measure of detachment that – in your diarist’s view – is essential armour against the faux pomp and ridiculous circumstance that many luminosities of the art world affect.

Jerome David Salinger was an indifferent student and yet brought to his work an insight that was truly paradigm-shifting. The Catcher in the Rye (1951), his most famous work (though arguably others were better), was one of those celebrated modifiers of language and culture for which lesser mortals can be thankful and should be appreciative. When such felicities are delivered with a wry wit and illuminating prose, it is even better.


Don’t Wait Up

BALI’S busway system will not be calling at a halte (bus stop) near you any time soon. Like many things in Indonesia, it was announced with a fanfare and forced into the starting stalls – and then reality intervened. It was to be in operation later this year, according to Governor I Made Mangku Pastika. Now, also according to the governor, on subsequent advice, or perhaps after a reality check, it will come along a little later, perhaps in about a year.

It seems a little matter of planning got in the way of the scheduled start. This is no surprise. It’s great to have a plan, as in a concept. But you also need a plan, as in an implementation plan. That requires resources, infrastructure and a whole lot of other things.

While we’re on the topic of great ideas, that flashy LED big-screen gizmo at Dewa Ruci – where traffic between Anywhere and Everywhere goes to die, it would seem – has been behaving very strangely lately. It was wishing us a Happy Christmas well into January. On Monday afternoon it was displaying cartoon pictures of condoms and syringes and a warning, in Bahasa, about the dangers of AIDS.

That evening the message had changed. It was advising what to do in the event of a tsunami – don’t find yourself stuck in the traffic at Dewa Ruci would be good advice – with this additional information, scrolling across the screen in large letters: “Hardware Error!”

Well, They Love It

WE should not, perhaps, be surprised that the urbanisation of Canggu is viewed not only with a sense of acquiescence by the local Balinese population of the area, but also with a keen sense of incoming profit. Our page one report last week on the latest blot on the landscape was devoid of criticism. This is not because we didn’t try to find any (we’re not that sort of publication). It is because development spells money – in sales of precious family ricefields and forthcoming small business opportunities – and that is the singular focus of most Balinese.

Tomorrow will take care of itself. Well, that’s the theory. Today, the target is rupiah.

Blackberry Tarts

THOSE among you who wonder about such things – as The Diary and certain others do, in quiet moments – might like to be reminded about how the now nearly ubiquitous BlackBerry got its name. Not the fruit (though that’s an interesting question too, since they are more deep purple than black) but the communications tool. It is in such wide use that The Diary – still in the Stone Age with a perfectly serviceable email-capable little mobile phone that fits snuggly in the smallest pocket – has taken to calling those who insist on chirruping into them incessantly blackberry tarts.

It seems that when the prototype was produced, one of the executives concerned remarked that the keys looked like seeds from a strawberry. Others present (who might perhaps have more usefully been somewhere else, getting on with their day) agreed but thought strawberry was too fruity (weak) for the business market they were aiming at. So they chose the stronger blackberry.

So now you know.

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