If power were a prescription drug, it would come with a long list of known side effects. It can intoxicate. It can corrupt. It can even make Henry Kissinger believe that he’s sexually magnetic. But can it cause brain damage?
Maps are an abstraction, which means information is lost in order to save space. So perhaps the most important thing we can do before reading a map is to stop and consider what choices have been made in the representation before us.
This May should also be remembered for its cornucopia of outlandish riches — $900 billion in China’s save-the-world-from-poverty investment, a $350 billion envelope to President Trump to help Muslims defeat each other, and a $250 billion Indian plan to turn its traders into manufacturers of sophisticated weapons.
In his essay ‘On Being Modern-Minded’ (1950), Bertrand Russell describes a particularly seductive illusion about history and intellectual progress. Because every age tends to exaggerate its uniqueness and imagine itself as a culmination of progress, continuities with previous historical periods are easily overlooked: ‘new catchwords hide from us the thoughts and feelings of our ancestors, even when they differed little from our own.’
Beyond membership in the Pantheon of Famous Brits, Winston Churchill and George Orwell would seem to have little in the way of common ground. Churchill was a politician. Orwell was a journalist and novelist. Churchill had money and pedigree; the young Orwell lived on the street and raised his own vegetables during World War II.
The vast majority of introductory books on Buddhism and Buddhist philosophy do not mention Buddhist violence. Instead, they associate Buddhism with pacifism and non-violence. Think of the many books on Buddhist meditation, the 14th Dalai Lama and his advocacy of non-violence, and the peace work of Buddhist activists such as the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh.
Both Public Intellectuals and Thought Leaders engage in acts of intellectual creation, but their style and purpose are different. To adopt the language of Isaiah Berlin, Public Intellectuals are foxes who know many things, while Thought Leaders are hedgehogs who know one big thing. The former are skeptics, the latter are true believers. A Public Intellectual will tell you everything that is wrong with everyone else’s ideas. A Thought Leader will tell you everything that is right about his or her own idea.
‘Of course he shot the fucking elephant.’ The sharpness of Sonia Orwell’s defence of the authenticity of the event on which her late husband based one of his most famous essays tells its own story. Without the experiences enjoyed or endured by Eric Blair, Etonian, colonial enforcer, schoolteacher, down-and-out, grocer, infantryman, there would have been no George Orwell, writer.
People all around seem rather agitated with the start of a new regime in the United States. And yes, I am using the word regime, which the Western media usually uses for rogue and unpredictable governments for only one reason: the new administration in Washington is unpredictable and can indeed go rogue, or so some Americans would want you to believe.
Donald Trump, the new president, has ignited passions in a manner unseen in recent memory – upsetting not only hordes of Americans, but also intelligent folks around the world who seem to widely believe that he might be the ultimate disaster to hit all of us.
However, it is not the end of the world, Not yet.
Let’s be fair to Trump and the process of democracy that brought him to power. Those who are complaining are Americans who either did not vote for him or many like us who are citizens of other countries and, therefore, ineligible to vote in U.S. elections. Both these constituencies have no reason to crib, so let’s hear what Trump is saying. There is a fair chance that if he is making sense to some, he might start making sense to all.
Lets also understand that Trump, who has never held a government office or been in military, will click very differently than many of his predecessors who were active in politics or military before they assumed the high office.
Since Trump is essentially a businessman, an unabashed profiteer and a salesman (who has done well to create his own brand across many countries), for him world affairs, global diplomacy and international trade will always be about negotiations and deals – both of which he is good at.
Should we complain about a man – whatever his past may be (and Trump’s not exactly without in-your-face blemishes) – just because he is different from his predecessors and doesn’t conform to our “global” definition of a politician or a president?
Eventually what matters to Trump and those who voted for him is whether he delivers what he promised to. There is no problem with his “America First” for Americans. If the rest of the world has a problem with it, it is not Trump’s problem and the 45th U.S. president seems to know it well – at least for the time being.
China, Europe and even Indian IT companies can fret because Trump’s policies can hit their businesses in the United States; for Trump what matters is looking after his country’s interests – whether they be jobs, infrastructure or Islamic radicals. As president of his country he is first answerable to and responsible for the people of his country. In short, national interest will drive him just as it did his predecessors.
We may not appreciate his front-foot statements and awful tweets, his name-calling and his orange hair or even lack of political and diplomatic etiquettes. What, however, we do need to remember is the world will have to deal with President Trump at least for the next four years.
Governments and businesses will have to, therefore, quickly learn to deal with his idiosyncrasies, his unpredictability, his awful spokespeople, his son-in-law who Trump says will resolve the issues in the Middle East and his purported closeness to Russia and its president Vladimir Putin. Americans will also have to deal with a man who doesn’t’ fit the role; the very reason he got elected and one who will do everything to undo whatever his predecessor Barack Obama did.
In the weeks and months ahead all of us have to get used to a new narrative from Washington. We have to get used to dealing with a penny-pinching, hard-bargaining businessman who will keep his interests (or should we say America’s interests) high on his list of things to do.
And that brings me to what former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s once-considered-gobbledygook theory of the known knowns, the known unknowns and the unknown unknowns. I’d put Trump in the first category. We do know him, and we also know what he will do — not very different than what he has been saying he would. What we still don’t probably have the foggiest idea about is that whether he is going to be around for four years or eight.
Good luck, everybody!