Sunday, June 12, 2022
Saturday, April 9, 2022
I am in the process of reorienting my life. Over the years I have been caught up, as everybody is, in various projects, commitments, entanglements and responsibilities (or perceived responsibilities). Some of these commitments limited my opportunities for extensive travel, or at least the sort of travel I desired.
In recent years I wanted to ensure that I would be able to visit my ailing mother on a regular basis. She was in a nursing home in Melbourne. So I leased a place fairly close by, a small ninth-floor apartment in Melbourne’s old Chinatown district.
Unfortunately, due to draconian COVID-driven bans on visiting, I was not allowed to see my mother for months on end or liaise in the normal way with nursing staff during 2021. In previous years she had fared pretty well, fighting off occasional acute illnesses and defying predictions by physicians and nurses of her imminent demise. But last year a pressure sore got out of hand and became infected and she went into serious decline. She died in January.
My apartment lease expires in early August and my intention at the moment is not to renew it. I have not decided on where I will be based. The plan, for the moment, is just to travel. Initially to Singapore, and then further afield. This itinerant lifestyle could continue for quite some time if my health and finances allow.
My intention is not to be moving constantly but rather to stay for extended periods (months) at most destinations. I will probably continue to post material online. But how my lifestyle changes will affect the extent, nature or focus of this activity is uncertain.
Naturally there would now be some scope for doing anecdotal travel-related pieces, impressions of various places and so on. But to what end? Before the restrictions of the last couple of years, most people I know traveled widely and on a regular basis. I didn’t. I am the least-frequent flyer I know.
I am aware that the old fogey, Rip Van Winkle angle could easily become tedious, so I'll need to put strict limits on my conversational and other references to four-engined turboprops, Boeing 707s and descriptions of how places have changed. (When I last visited Athens, for example, the Third Hellenic Republic was in its initial stages and the time of the generals was still fresh in everybody’s memory. But, as I say, this is not really a line I want to pursue.)
On places, one has impressions, one makes judgments. But is there any need to talk publicly about them? Opinions and impressions are a dime a dozen; and reportage makes sense if you are being paid for it or if you are pushing some narrative or other which you deem to be important, but not otherwise as far as I can see.
There is always the option of getting involved in scholarly work again or in serious writing – possibly on political themes or international relations, possibly on more theoretical topics. It all depends on various factors (whom I meet, where I am based, how my interests develop, geopolitical developments, etc.).
Whatever happens, my preoccupation with culture and value will continue, and exposing myself to different cultures (to the extent that urban cultures have not converged into a boring sameness) will at the very least constitute a kind of experiment in compatibility.
There are still things to do here (sorting papers, legal matters, getting a new passport, etc.). I hope that it will all go smoothly and that my transition to a new way of life occurs without my having to face any further personal stresses or challenges.
Looking to the broader context, it goes without saying that social, political and economic stresses will continue and probably become more intense. To what extent I will be trying to chronicle or wanting to comment on these things in the future I do not know.
Nor have I decided what communication platforms to rely on during my travels. I may even decide, given the state of the world and the direction in which things are moving, that I want to follow the example of many of my literary and intellectual heroes and hunker down somewhere far from the madding crowd.
While I am in traveling mode, however, I would be very open to meeting – for a coffee, say – anyone who may have come across my blog posts or essays over the years, as well as those internet friends with whom I have maintained more direct contact.
[This is an abridged and modified version of an essay which appeared recently at The Electric Agora.]
Wednesday, February 16, 2022
Thursday, January 13, 2022
For the last ten years of her life she lived in a nursing home where her two sons visited her on a regular basis. My sister, who lives in Western Australia, had to make do with the telephone most of the time but always kept in very close touch. Circumstances were such that my sister's two boys never really got to know their old and (by then) ailing grandmother as well as they would have wished.
This is not the time to write about my mother as a person other than to say that she was deeply loved by her children and other family members, and throughout her life was liked and respected by just about everyone who knew her. I have written in the past about her illness and her fighting spirit, and about the music she liked and responded to. (See "A Parkinson's playlist".)
The family is grateful to Marjorie's physician for her dedication, wisdom and kindness and especially to the hard-working personal care assistants, nurses and others who interacted with her over the last decade. Above all, it was this friendly interaction which kept her going.
Sunday, January 9, 2022
You know how it is. You are tempted to submit another comment in a comment thread discussion but then think better of it. Because you don't want to monopolize the discussion, appear too negative or just because "less is more."
Disagreements are intrinsically more interesting than agreements and I am often drawn to challenge statements either for what is being said, or for how it is being said.
Take this brief extract from a piece by E. John Winner which appeared recently at the Electric Agora:
"And it has been my experience, although widely denied, that Americans, despite wealth and power, remain the most unhappy people in history. Others suffer greater physical suffering, of course, but none experience angst, dissatisfaction, frustration, hopelessness, depression, disappointment, more deeply than we..."
There is, at least from an outsider's perspective, something darkly comical about these claims. It's not just that they are hyperbolic. It's more that they come across as yet another manifestation (albeit rather strange and perverse) of American exceptionalism. We are not only the most unhappy people in the world, we are the most unhappy people in the entire history of the planet. We suffer angst, dissatisfaction, frustration etc. more deeply than foreigners can even imagine!
There is something to this however, and it relates to imperial decline. The wealth and power is slipping away, just as it did for the British who faced a series of debacles (including Suez) and eventually the humiliation of an IMF bailout. This process is very painful for those who grew up believing that the status quo would continue indefinitely. I understand that.
I was going to make a moral point here, referring to foreign victims of American violence and suggesting that some kind of karma or communal guilt might have been in play also. But this would have been disingenuous. I don't believe in karma; nor, really, in communal guilt. Besides, it would have been a cheap shot. Bad things happened; and pointing the finger at one group or nation necessarily lets other groups or nations off the hook.
Friday, December 17, 2021
Personal and political values can be intertwined in complicated ways. Even within close families, there are often serious, politically-driven divides. I talk here about the way my own foreign policy views and attitudes developed, referring to the influence of my father and also to bitter, politically-driven personal rifts which existed at one time within my father’s family.
The latter part of this episode of Culture and Value is devoted to a review of a recent discussion about China’s regional ambitions and to the dangerous game (as I see it) that the United States is currently playing in the Western Pacific, especially in relation to Taiwan.
Sunday, October 31, 2021
Great powers in decline are often more dangerous than rising powers. The leaders of such countries (today's United States?) may be tempted to take drastic action in an attempt to stem perceived decline and restore the status quo ante or simply to distract from domestic problems.
In the latest episode of my podcast, I argue that, although changes in the geopolitical landscape have taken us well beyond the relatively clear ideological dichotomies of the Cold War era, new and dangerous forms of neoconservatism have arisen which are influencing foreign policy and media reporting and perpetuating the myth of American exceptionalism.
This episode runs for about 13 minutes.