2018 was a full year of new things anticipated in Malaysia, treading well walked places in the Balkans and building bridges between Europe and Asia through the use of Greek philosophy. In Malaysia I celebrated World Philosophy Day with a small team from Athens, lead by the President of the World Philosophical Forum, Igor Kondrashin. UNESCO has highlighted the importance of World Philosophy Day (2005) for young people as a means to encourage critical and independent thought and to promote tolerance and peace. The World Philosophical Forum, which celebrates a decade of achievements in 2019 is directicg its activity to revive classical Greek philosophy.
My days in Malaysia were spent in the collegiate company of Dato Dr. Halo’N and Mohammaed Nizar. One interest is the development of the Melaka Gateway where colonial past meets the future of an off-shore complex of 4 smart islands relating to and supporting tourism and lifestyle, commerce, maritime matters and deep sea port facilities. In 2018, Malaysia came in third in the Economist’s listing of Countries of the Year. Had it worked more on reducing racial division and worked with certain liberal elements it might have come in first. As a result of the efforts of Dr. Halo’N Malaysia is making efforts to strengthen for life. One unforgettable image were the few moments with a group of Malay children outside the Royal Palace on a School outing, eating ice-cream.
In philosophy one important message came from Syed Hussein Al-Attus relating to the still difficult perennial philosophical questions of today in our age of knowledge as difficult as they were in ancient Greece… they will not be solved, cannot be solved he says by Artificial Intelligence nor by limiting enquiry within a box of strict empiricism or constrained to scholasticism. What life is and what is its purpose must still be seen through the prism of what in ancient Greece was the concept of a well fulfilled life. At first I mistook Syed Hussein for a musician even with a slight resemblance to Confucius. He is the director of the University of Life and an expert on Socrates of which he told several insightful stories two being; Socrates said to young people, fall in love, marry and if it works great! If not become a philosopher; listening to a soldier sing outside his death cell he asked him to sing the song again… the soldier baulked telling him, forget it old man for soon you will be dead… that’s the point said the philosopher, I have a chance to learn one more thing before I die. In this sense Socrates was not only a Citizen of the World; he was the father of life-long-learning.
Writing about such things is a lonely pastime, dynamic and runs hot and cold. Some writers have a plan from the beginning, some are spontaneous, and whatever comes. I tend to the latter. In starting a sentence I never know where it will lead. It starts and struggles along sometimes with momentum; other times it fizzles out. Although the writer wants to spread out reality and make sense of it for his reader he can fail to provide insight or shed light in unseen places. A piece can be written in any number of ways. Such are the demands of creativity; such is the plasticity of the written word. A story can start at the beginning, at the end or at any place in between. It can pick up at any moment in time. The brain can transport us from the here and now to the there and then, from future to past and back again. What incredible flexibility. Writing other types of documents for example a student dissertation calls for a specific organization, a specific organizational structure. A hypothesis is usual; say warmer water contains less dissolved oxygen than colder water. Outcomes follow from the hypothesis after experimentation. Less oxygen in warmer waters can mean fewer fish. Oxygen in the waterways has no power over plastic.
My obsessive, second and awesome hypothesis is that the symbolic clock of the atomic physicists will be moved forward closer to midnight in January 2019. Readers can of course reject this prediction. I hope they do, and I hope that they are right. I certainly hope that my prediction will be faulted by the expert atomic scientists this month and the clock moved backwards away from midnight. We should be thankful that the worst did not happen in 2018 and that midnight a metaphor for the vulnerability of the earth did not arrive. Nonetheless, exploitation for profit from Mother Earth continues with rising global warming and the causal link between burning fossil fuel and the rise of greenhouse gasses is beyond rational dispute.
Two dark and overwhelming processes now drive our world; ongoing biological annihilation that carries a potential for absolute destruction and the awful emergence of social dementia in earth societies. These processes should be viewed as gathering storms for which the international community has not yet demonstrated sufficient competence to hold them in check. The said two processes are a background to distortion and cover-up; for example the horrendous nuclear contamination leaking from Fukushima.
George Bernard Shaw once said disappointment is good for youth. Not a bad hypothesis in terms of shaping character. But I for one do not want to disappoint or to be disappointed. You may say that that is impossible and you will be right. However, to build up expectation and withdraw it is not such a good thing. The anticipation of a child at Christmas is a wonderful thing. Many of us recently lived this experience. Anticipation in a reader is a strong sentiment. Anticipation stress is another and we all go through it. It is called worrying and some of us are labeled worry beads.
If you waited for my article on the 16th January then I have disappointed but ask that you gain some satisfaction with this delayed Hodgepodge but first a story! I did have an article on ego-systems ready for the 16th December, 2018 and though it came together willy-nilly it was on time even. Since it related to Christmas and the New Year I felt its publication should be moved back to better merge with the spirit of the season and there the plot thickens.
Somewhere along the way to ego systems I impulsively stripped a bit from it and gave it a running title peace on earth in the spirit of the Beetles; peace should be given a chance. Somehow, it was published on schedule, 16th December. As Peace came early in print, confusion evaporated and all seemed clear. My ego piece will see the light of day next month. In January dear reader you will have to make do with anticipation a piece first readied for the 16th December then pushed back a month for you to read today. I hope this is now clear? I hope that you have no disappointments. Clear?
My three professional disappointments of 2018 were first, not to have been in London for the annual retreat of the Association of Schools of Public Health in the European Region (ASPHER), second not to even have had read at the Gates Foundation a proposal submitted from Belgrade and thirdly some questionable changes imposed by the Greek authorities on the Athens School of Public Health that continues to strip away at its element of uniqueness aided and abetted by the academic world. Three related wishes that push into 2019: that ASPHER intensifies its promotion of public health in the European region and uses the Athens ASPHER Accord to impress upon European politicians the great need of public health as a vital instrument to deal with the accumulating ills of humanity; that Foundations cut through their protective red tape and touch base with what might be innovative proposals that run counter to the bureaucracy’s internal agenda ; that the Greek authorities find new ways to uniqueness and help reverse the running down of the curtain on its glories. Where are you Warren Buffet?
My two best hotels of the year were in Ljubljana and Kuala Lumpor, two friendly hotels, worlds and stars apart, one luxurious and palatial the other a place where a fairytale might begin, the Asteria, comfortably off-center in a small pleasing city with its mosaic floor and quaint arched kitchen below ground made for a good start to a day. Ljubljana was lighting up for Christmas.
Several good conversations of 2018 with remarkable atmosphere were first with Barbara, a London based publisher but in Athens. The second with an Islamic philosopher in Kuala Lumpor, which came to an abrupt halt, stopped in its track by a Monsoon downpour and thirdly with a Serbian professor of music in Belgrade who I first took to be a participant in the 6th ECPD Youth Forum, but was not. She was simply there by mistake. Conversation one got underway early in the day when my house bell sounded and the Director of Haas Publishers said can I have a coffee? Looking out onto Lycavitos our coffee stretched into lunch sitting around the dining table. It only stopped when Barbara left for an appointment with the Academic Director at the prestigious Benaki Museum.
The second conversation followed on from a visit to Perdana University with a stimulating session with its staff and a purely chance meeting with a wonderful group of students occupied with thoughts of innovation. My interaction with the students and two members of staff led to a spontaneous challenge for them to develop a global peace strategy using a systems approach. On the way back to the Palace Hotel (Instana) we took lunch in an open enclosed eating place where I sat opposite Dato and we started a very difficult conversation of Alexander the Great and the Koran and talked about a project with a running title of the Mind of Philosophy. As the food came in plentiful delicious waves conversation continued with much aside encouragement to try this try that. Suddenly, it seemed I was totally disengaged. The mouth of Dato was moving and as I glanced around other mouths moved too as my mind tried to sort things out above the ferocious drum beat of what was rain on the roof that continued over the next two hours. So I tucked into the food. Later I would recall Rain, a short story set east of Malaysia; in it Sadie Thompson a loose woman caused the demise and suicide of a missionary to the background of monotony, of monsoon rain.
The third conversation was a galvanizing exchange with Sofia. We talked about Germany not making amends for what it did in Yugoslavia and the shameful and shameless way Greece is held in the position of a debt slave. We spoke of living in times where history and truth are being erased and deformed and memories have gotten lost, of living in times of social dementia, forgetful of the past and degrading of the present. She quoted from "Voices from the Earth" That every shred of good that comes with life, was freely given by those now dead, and recalled songs and inspiring lyrics, universal and eternal truth and wisdom of life.
It looks she said that the Ancient Greeks really figured out the secret of life but somehow we have forgotten it and we are now lost seeking it all over again. In a follow-up she sent me a recording of the opera of "The White Rose" that she had staged telling the true story of students of Munich University who resisted the Nazis standing against the atrocities done in their name by their government. Sofija combined music, literature and theatre and she is a harpsichordist.
An end of the year a sort of tack on conversation resulted from not having signed up for an expensive gala dinner. Happily, I joined a small group of prestigious and hungry leaders of European public health in search of a restaurant. After finding no table in crowded establishments we stumbled upon one with a meal to be remembered on Petti 181 the Street a little above river level in downtown Ljublianja. We were hosted by Robert Otok the CEO, ASPHER. It was just as easy to chat about health systems in Europe and the consequences for health in 2019 as it was to toast Anders, Henrique and Robert, with an extremely good wine.