“Anna Karenina” – The Looks – and the Great Divide

19th century drawing of Winter palace St. Petersburg
19th century drawing of the ballroom in the Winter Palace, St. Petersburg – License: public domain

Beauty, wealth, a comfortable life and an adorable son: Yet, Anna Karenina still is one of the most tragic figures in literature. In popular movies the unhappy love story is always very much stressed. The actual underlying wonderfully rendered idea of what society and its expectations can do to individuals that stand out, is one of Leo Tolstoy’s masterpieces.

If you never had the opportunity – or never felt much like reading, try one of these two ways:
Just try and read the actual book.
Look around for a fine reading of it as audiobook recording.

Leo Tolstoy makes it a ‘movie theatre in the mind’: Vivid images of the people involved, the locations they visit, the talks and exchanges make it come to life much more vibrant than any movie ever could.

Most important to me is Tolstoy’s realization of an almost cruel truth: The expectations of a patriarchal society that quickly condemns anyone who does not conform to the ideas of what a lady is supposed to be like.

And the bitter truth that holds true to this day: The wife to be nice and quiet and even a little limited, preferably. The other woman, fascinating by charms and esprit who is being desired, craved even but put at a distance that is remote adoration, at best.

Tolstoy with his usual cutting-edge powers of observation also diagnoses the underlying ‘disease’:
Men who expect a plaything, a toy and presume the position of power, even cruelly to do as they please – because the ‘guys’ never mind or even applaud.

In modern times where at least on the surface the equality of the sexes has been achieved in some parts of this world, one would expect this to be a behaviour of the past.

But some more conservative surroundings bring it up again: The ghost of women passed – and past – who suffered from male expectations – and delusions. Or the bitter payback of ‘frustration’.

Adam Smith in World Politics? – Diplomacy Beyond Popular Images

image of a world map and a compass
Diplomacy needs among other things these very basic skills: The ability to look beyond images, propaganda and popular opinion.

Politics of peace need them too.

The Western world in my eyes is blinded in their view of the world, politics and negotiations by something almost amounting to idealism:

It‘s about money, in any shape or form, we are about it – and everyone else is too.

This is perhaps the most tragic misconception that will endanger peace in all parts of the world again and again:

Indeed certain factions of the Christian religions in the backwater of the rise of civil society around the 13th / 14th centuries claimed, in principle:

Wealth is the sign of God‘s pleasure.

Ever since an ever larger part of the world – especially rooted in the beginnings of the US society with the first actual settlers on the Mayflower representing that idea – are exactly of that frame of mind:
Be wealthy and God is with you.

Most Eastern societies from Africa, over Russia all through Asia in one way or another – in principle that is – value the community and the dignity of the individual even more.

Dignity!

I have spent most of my adult life around all manner of extremely peaceful, knowledgeable and kind people from the Near, Middle and Far East.
I have studied Persian poems and literature and have met other people from around the globe.
I have had the privilege to call books my friends in childhood and adolescence and still do. I studied languages and culture at a prestigious university and earned my M.A. degree there.

The most tragic misunderstanding between the Western world – leaning towards Adam Smith‘s ideas of economy – and the Eastern world – leaning towards trade among dignified, respected and proud tradespeople is that:

Dignity

The European literature of certain times and people as well as later stereotypes about life in the Eastern world – or the ways and means of trade and politics – is practically steeped in this painful repetitive almost ridiculous contempt:
If you know about their ‚purse‘, you know about their interests. Anyone with a contempt for money is stupid.

This is not the real driving force of mankind: Indeed, wealth was always craved, if people had gone hungry or even starved; but dignity and respect in combination with extreme poverty can be thought of in the East – not so in the West.

In the Western world, respect and the consequential dignity of a person – or a nation – are closely related, if not tightly interwoven with their monetary means.

In most parts of the Eastern world this is not the case. Dignity is a fundamental possibility that can be envisioned easily with little or no money.

Among nations dignity is crucial. Treat them with respect, dignity and regard, let them safe face.

And remember this fine part of the Christian bible that actually was originally written in that Eastern culture:

And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

(Matthew, 25:40)


Author’s Note (April 2022):

In view of the latest developments I’d like to enlarge on this, make it clearer yet. The question after motives and real reasons is not always easy to answer. But if we are really interested in successful negotiations we need to do that. Not always is the answer to ‘cui bono’? : ‘money only’ as stated above.
Usually the attributes associated with money, or more money are actually much more important:
Respect, attention and power in certain circles.
Bluntly put: If it was about taking the Ukraine, they would have taken it long ago.

The question “cui bono” needs to be researched and answered in all directions of cause or effect or impact. Basic human motivators.

‘Chastity’ Revisited: Passion’s Pain or Joy…?

image of monastery hall in watercolour
Monastery – Free license courtesy Ecosia search engine

The religious aspect of the church trying to control passionate contemporaries putting their urges into action, cannot be overestimated in Christian regions, over the past couple of thousands of years.

A Question of Politics

But it also is basically a question of politics: Apart from food and drink and the need to ‘relieve yourself’ (discreetly put), human bodily passion is the strongest urge and many call it by rights the second most pleasurable among them. So, controlling it by making people afraid, as the Christian church has done for such a long time, means power over their minds. Which means, power over them.

I couldn’t agree more. What I also think is: It happens still far too often that people are irresponsible or downright careless. They ‘play games’ with their own or other people’s hearts just because they can.

Why hearts? Isn’t this about ‘bodily love, passion, lust’?

I’ve posted about this before.

Somehow the subject seems to come up repeatedly and a certain careful approach can easily be misunderstood by the uninitiated.

Review The Evidence

It has been made clear in the past couple of centuries by social sciences as well as medicine that passion in humans (or other organisms) is not singularly a matter of the body – uncontrollable – or, as it was posed for quite some time after the 1960s sexual revolution, just a human need, like having food and drink.

Since, simply put: If you do not drink or eat for a certain amount of time at all, you will die. You do not die from not having sexual intercourse.

Which brings me to my argument here and anywhere else in this blog if you care to check:

Although it has been represented to be two separate things, namely lust and love – they are just two aspects of one and the same thing: Emotions, feelings are closely intertwined with our body and its reactions.

We start breathing hard when the object of our desire is close. Our heart starts beating. We may feel ‘butterflies in our chest’ or just a wonderful warmth all over.

There is ample proof that all this is not to be treated lightly.

That’s all I ever mean or advocate – in so many words, sometimes even less words used:

Take Good Care of the Fire

Take good care of your or other people’s hearts, be responsible. Because for all the time mankind anywhere on this world can remember, arts, music, poetry and literature as well as fairy tales have called human passion and love what it actually is:
A fire, it can be wonderful to have around, warming, fiery, full of light – but it can burn, like a firebrand, and destroy all before it.

So, treat it – and yourself – with kindness and respect – as you would a good friend. And do unto others as you would want them to do unto you…

Women Are Looked at – Men Look…Three-fold…?

Picture of two main character in a Hithcock movie, man and woman
Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons – Free license (Scene from ‘To Catch a Thief’, 1955)

Alfred Hitchcock in movies is called the master of suspense. He is unique that way – in this comparatively young art, existing for a little over a hundred years and having started basically with slapstick and vaudeville comedy – he has made unforgettable classics, such as The Man Who Knew too Much, North by Northwest, Birds, To Catch a Thief or Rear Window.

In all of the above a recurring theme is the immaculate, enticing and tall, beautiful blonde, characterized by a definitive ‘come-hither’ look and graceful and stylish appearance, made up to swooning point, into that quality Hollywood always sells best:

The larger-than-life heroes and heroines.

A memorable exchange between the two main characters takes place in a few scattered scenes in North by Northwest:

After a brief, passionate encounter that these days would be called a ‘one-night-stand’, the two main characters are hurdled and chased through a story of mystery, spies, agents, government secrets and espionage at its most polished and at the same time elegant suspense including mysterious strangers and hidden ‘looks’.

Yet, the looks of men towards women are not that hidden, especially on camera…

I am driving at the underlying principle of patriarchal society where men are supposed to judge a woman and her attractiveness by looks, three-fold:

    • Look-at-her: Gaze, look, pay attention, by using the visual capabilities nature has provided – and, more importantly, culture has instilled…
    • Looks: Is she dressed nicely, to signal she is ready to attract attention – at least – and has an even and nicely shaped face, in turn considered to be bautiful?
    • Looking-back: Are the eyes expressive of preparedness, the ‘come-hither’ look?

This way, the term ‘looks’ gets an almost completely changed meaning, which encompasses all the aspects and often unconscious implications:

Women are looking a certain way, ‘at’ a guy – and ‘to’ a guy – and are judged – thus:

Either interesting in the role of fleeting and perhaps even exciting adventure – not to be taken seriously and easily passed over.
Or, on the other hand, rather plain, less ‘enticing’ looks and thus ready to be made into a (house)-wife…

I add an edit of the scenes in North by Northwest here.

I find them almost revolutionary on Alfred Hitchcock’s part, to whom one cannot help take off one’s hat, any time!

They make abundantly clear if you care to listen closely, how easily the above stereotypes cause misunderstanding, at least.
Hitchcock shows female lead characters who are almost completely out of tune in the mid-nineteen-fifties:
Self-dependent, courageous and ready to take a stand – underneath all that polish… But perhaps these qualities are still far too much overlooked in women, even these days…

Let’s ‘look’ past the image(s) that make up our idea of the world – or our idea of women.

But then of course, there are always those who do not know about or realize the above – and may stay in a comparatively adolescent approach, what I like to call ‘the giggle state’ regardless of their true age, on these subjects. Usually a smaller percentage of any population, I am happy to note.


Author’s note:
It might appear as if I was solely drawing on my own ideas or observations for this. But quite simply, the whole of social sciences (recently also: behavioral sciences) have been describing these patterns for centuries.
social science, any branch of academic study or science that deals with human behaviour in its social and cultural aspects.” (Britannica)
I love to find out about people, humans and the real causes and effects, looking past images and traditions or customs that hamper knowledge rather than help it along.

Open Letter to the US Democratic Party

drawing of USA map as a shape

(I sent the following to the Democratic Party of the United States and its Senate Majority Leader, Chuck Schumer:)

“Ladies and gentlemen, hello esteemed party of long standing and its representatives [Hello Mr Schumer,], for lack of a more personal[/formal] address,

I am a German who lives in Austria. I am extremely concerned about how things seem to be in your nation/country.
I am also very surprised to learn that the democratic party seems to be bent on supporting D. Trumps 2nd run for office?
Are none of you smart enough to see the signs?
He was on the brink of overthrowing (albeit rather clumsily the 1st time) a democratic parliament only a couple of months ago! Hitler and his 3rd Reich were almost the same! He failed the first time and even went to prison for a while. Then, he tried again. I hope you know what dreadful and cruel results that had!
Do you not know history well enough?
Do you really believe that a nation such as the U.S. would never be in danger of becoming a real dictatorship? History – if only outside the US – should be able to teach: Ever since mankind ‘invented’ the concept of democracy around 2000 years ago in Greece, Europe, history has shown us again and again and again that *no country is safe* if its parties and population do not watch out.
Greed and the decision to do as one pleases and disregard others, the community at large, are eternally there, alongside other human traits.
I would earnestly and seriously ask you as well as your and your party’s supporters to reconsider and unite behind a president such as Joe Biden: Free of most of the more mundane shortcomings (be that drink, adultery or worse, please excuse this rather realistic yet blunt mention) as far as I can tell, he has great plans and he and his supporters should see your party indeed united!
I am sorry that I feel like saying: “Shame on you to be so careless about this government – or D. Trump’s so obvious plans!” Have you forgotten that the majority of supreme court justices have been named by him?
I would a little pathetically declare: “Wake up.” (Sorry, here comes the blunt version: “Wake up, d…n it.”)
PLEASE!
D. Trump has caused so much unnecessary pain and suffering as a president the first time around!
Your country needs fresh impulses to bridge gaps – not create ever deeper rifts.
Have a heart and say no to more greed and short-sightedness!
Countries all around the globe are painfully dependent on US (foreign) policies.
Watch out, be smart and careful! This may be your last chance, really.
Kind Regards”


Author’s note: The tone of this letter is rather less businesslike or formal or polite than I have used on similar occasions.
I feel the matter to be urgent. I hope to catch the attention of the politicians concerned – as well as others who might be able to do something directly – this way, better, in this case.
The idea being of course that instead of first caring about their own interests, the democratic party politicians who recently refused support will think again: D. Trump whose name I do not really like to bring up at all, has already started his own alternative to Twitter. From day 1 he had and still has enough wealthy supporters who are interested much more in their bank accounts than anything else. Underestimating ‘enemies’ is foolishness, as the old saying has it:
“Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”
See also the documentary on D. Trumps life and background broadcast on PBS, created by award-winning documentary producer Michael Kirk, for details.

‘Reading the signs’: In archaeology as well as in history, journalism, psychology or in criminology one thing you learn early, if the teaching is of any use at all:
Gather your material carefully, check back with existing facts and start putting a line of reasoning together that fits all the facts.
Anything else will not hold water.

The Oval Office’s Heavy Burden – The Fight for Internal and External Peace

image of planet earth ion space with dove of peace about to land on it

The last but one president of the US was a nightmare, a cruel and selfish excuse for a man, who does everything he can to regain power and a sort of reputation, even if the worst: A possible dictator who’s just good enough to influence people that are not well-educated enough to see the whole story – and understand the truth behind his ‘tantrums’.
One of the worst being the attack on the Capitol he initiated – directly or indirectly.

He also instated a couple of supreme court justices, let’s not forget that. Last, but not at all least, the impeachment process was not even properly started against him.
This means he could run a second time for another ‘go’ at the office – and if he succeeded he might fulfill what he seems to have tried once already: Become a modern ‘king’, in terms of a then void democracy and its rights and laws and freedoms – a ‘dictator’.
And in his case the freedom of the press would go first. No doubt about it.

It is a relieve every day to have someone like the present president Joe Biden there. In the place of a so-called ‘superpower’s’ most powerful seat.

Politics are no child’s game. Anyone making out they were, is a fool. To say the least.

In particular in the 20th and 21st century with a heavy historical burden, often left over for generations by all kinds of governments with very different, no to say multiple, secret agendas – left wing, right wing, right wing again.
So many actions and reactions just forced by industries in the background who provide money and thus the necessary media forces to ‘advertise’ one’s cause. Not least of all that sorry excuse for a man, Mr Trump, who wouldn’t be where he is in terms of actual infamy without those industries and conglomerates and banks.

‘Marketing’, ‘advertisements’: There is no way around them. In order to make an impact you have to use social media and the internet these days, just as TV appearances and talk-show discussions or have newspapers write about you.

A sad fact is too that traditional media such as TV or newspapers have to sell. So, to some extent, if someone does not offer much sensational ‘fodder’ for talk, it may become quiet around him – or her.

When all is said and done, anyone in their right minds should know how precious peace is, and equal chances for all – the best possible attempts we can make for a planet that will not ‘overheat’ after all – and that supporting all those who really are fighting for it is no less than an obligation.
Or, simply: A fine cause.

The Conquest in Passion – Hearsay and Reality

photo of unpeeled pomegrantes

Almost as long as patriarchal society exists hearsay about the male conquest of women exists as well.
‘Get her’, ‘make her’, ‘have her’, and similar, some far ruder expressions are used by a certain type of male: The ones who believe in fairy stories, the adult kind – that are actually based in so much swaggering.
The numbers of conquests some men pretend to have made. And the ways and means they purportedly use to reach the ‘goal’…

I’ve posted about similar aspects before – yet this seems so present all around me, in marketing, online messages, some movies, ‘social networks’ – especially hearsay and hidden misunderstandings, I feel like putting it here again.

There are those who ‘prove’ their ‘masculinity’ by taking photos and showing them around. In former times they might have collected them in albums like stamps… These days it’s probably mostly the smartphone.

Some even install devices to watch their next-door neighbours with telescopes or even more sophisticated tools these digital days.

Another breach of privacy, crude and cruel in some cases, too.

The Breach of Privacy

The strange thing about this is that the watchers and ‘collectors’ ignore ‘magnanimously’ that is not only a breach of privacy but is a crime by the Human Rights Declaration. There exist countries who have laws that punish this kind of behaviour if it becomes known.

The Damage to Mind and Body

Even sadder are the long-term effects of such behaviour: It damages mind and soul. Of the ‘actors’. Simply put.

The mistake is in the premise:
Ever since Charles Darwin published his theories about the evolution it seemed to be clear that human beings are not far from animals themselves. The consequence seemed to present itself smoothly: They therefore would or even should behave the same way.

People who believe it in these simple terms tend to overlook that human beings are in possession of complex feelings, basic emotions and a mind.
Such people also tend to believe the stories and images and movies that have existed ever so long as well, from Zeus to Don Juan, over Casanova to the average ‘erotic’ story.
These stories are make-believe of a society that creates them to ultimately ‘market an image’.

It’s been proven by this time that the ‘mindless banging’ will end in depression and often even drug-addiction, alcohol or worse.

Why?

Because anyone practising this, men or increasingly women too, will have to consciously detach their mind from their ‘heart’, the outer sign of (passionate) emotions.

This amounts to schizophrenic behaviour in the true sense of the word and just as the actual condition is a sickness of the mind, so is the effect of such ‘banging’ over the course of time.

King Henry VIII.

A very famous example of many is king Henry VIII. of England: Shortly after the love of his life was abandoned for reasons of family lineage (male prince and successor), partly by the advice of his counsellors at court, he started doing just that: He not only seduced as many women as he could get hold of; he also drank and smoked without restraint or real joy…

During the past 10 years or so in historical research the diaries his doctors and his servants kept were revealed: All the ailments – and there were quite a number! – are easily attributed by modern doctors to his lifestyle.
A BBC documentary summarizes these findings nicely.

What Women Do (Not) Admire…

There are cases, alas, among men, who are or will be lost to this kind of realization.

Because they have been raised that way. Because they are too much afraid to not belong – ‘belong’ to the apparently large number of ‘real men’.

One thing is true, too: Smart women will not take this kind of behaviour seriously into account. Ask them, if you will…

Mark Twain – Adam’s Diary – ‘The Garden without Eve?’ – An Extract….

roses sunny landscape dusk

Mark Twain, US-American literature’s founder he is called by many: Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn are the most famous of his books, Huckleberry Finn indeed being considered the beginning of the ‘American voice’. He was a man of all trades for a long time, Mark Twain, his stage name and pseudonym, being taken from his, Samuel L. Clemens’, favourite trade he learned before turning to ‘newspapering’:

‘Ol Man River’ Mississippi’s ships’ pilots and their calls: The Mississippi is known for many shoals and sandbanks with very low water above them. A pilot on that river would traditionally know these places by heart, interpret every gleam and slight ripple of waves on its surface, and call water depths to the captain when lowering the sounding lead into the treacherous waters:
“Mark Twain” being the call for 2 fathoms (12 feet) of water below the ship’s keel and thus:
Safe going.

This is one of his wonderful quotes I’d like to put here, from Extracts from Adam’s Diary, for all men who doubt it, even at work… The Garden without Eve?

‘Tongue in cheek’ I post it here…

“TEN YEARS LATER.—They are boys; we found it out long ago. It was their coming in that small immature shape that puzzled us; we were not used to it. There are some girls now. Abel is a good boy, but if Cain had stayed a bear it would have improved him. After all these years, I see that I was mistaken about Eve in the beginning; it is better to live outside the Garden with her than inside it without her. At first I thought she talked too much; but now I should be sorry to have that voice fall silent and pass out of my life. Blessed be the chestnut that brought us near together and taught me to know the goodness of her heart and the sweetness of her spirit!”

Dignity – The ‘Top’…? – Unique Humans

people in sea water harvesting salt
“Strive not to be a success, but to be of value.”
(Albert Einstein)

He was right.

It’s an age-old desire, a human aspiration, you might say, to be appreciated. Acknowledged. In that respect we are all more or less the same. In some cultures more than in others.

The difference starts with the values and means that are used to measure the level of acknowledgement reached.

In many Western countries you learn that the highest appreciation of society around comes with wealth. With the best possible results in learning and work. Being ‘at the top’. Wherever that is….

In other countries, being the ‘best’, being appreciated is based on the idea that you actually are a good part of the family and friends, society, around you. Learning, an ‘education’, might be part of that, too. Trying to do your best. But not in order to outshine everybody else, but to be the best possible, and responsible, caring person inside the group.

Why would we want to strive to be a ‘success’ in the eyes of the world around us at all?
Appreciation is a type of love, too. And love is the life-generating force in humans. Without it, we die. Some sooner, some later.

Life can be hard, sometimes almost unbearable. Many of us get the worst of it, in these pandemic times. So, to understand that feeling connected to people – feeling close perhaps, if you are lucky – can make life bearable again; but that may need suffering or sorrow.

The internal ‘glow’ starts here, the realization of yourself as a unique human being and at the same time a part of a group, a society, with values.

Those values that make life bearable and better, each day a little. The Human Rights Declaration has them.

That’s why once you understand what is really important, in hard times as well as in the good, easy, light-hearted ones, you will come to realize that Einstein was right:

“Strive not to be a success, but to be of value.”

The Kingfisher, the Nest and the Perspective – Keeping Busy?

two colourful birds on their perch

Commonly, at least in patriarchal society, rumour has it that men are apt, in long relationships, at least, to become more easily unfaithful than women.

For centuries, women were supposed to do everything they could to prevent that. Even were blamed if a divorce seemed inevitable, as a matter of course. To this day, even latently, women are afraid (some more than others, to be sure) they might lose him; feel compelled to ‘behave’ the way he needs it.

This also to some extent, alas, depends on the manner of independent means they possess: if they are dependent on the man for life support, the power balance is surely tilting to his side.

That is partly the reason why women started getting into ‘business’, taking up a profession: be of independent means so you do not have to ‘sell’ your soul and body to a husband.

Yet, over the centuries and to some extent to this day, it seemed more ‘natural’ for a man, looking at some species of animals too, to have more than one female companion/wife.

The kingfisher seems another of those examples that seem to ‘explain away’ why men are just unfaithful by nature, poor sods, and cannot help it, poor guys…

What if – we changed the perspective on this for a minute?
What if – women (female of the species) are far too busy once the young ones have arrived, with tending the nest and feeding them?
What if – being busy makes (independent) females often be more content with less than one male around?
What if – the male of the species just needs ‘to keep busy’, one way or another?
What if – you sat them plump down in the middle of the nest and let them take care of it?

What if – you take this to the human level – and see where it gets us? Try famous Austrian writer Arthur Schnitzler’s story, called “Traumnovelle”.

Perspective is key, most of the time!
This means: there are facts, pure and sometimes simple – and their interpretation.
Very often facts bear interpretation in more direction than one – or two.