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A Contemplation on my Death [Poems from Goya]

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When I consider my own death

terror strikes, a feeling

of a done thing alone.

Simply the coming and going of

an empty body

Ready for the cold hard grave.

When I consider my own death

I think of that time

before my birth

and conception

and project it forward

and find emptiness

Where emptiness is the end

and the beginning

of this mortal life

a fragile, sensitive life

We are given birth

and then we are given death.

Some Thoughts on Sleep (Before Going to Sleep)

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Perhaps the desire to remain awake – to not sleep – is related to the fear of death. Is it not the case – as Milton perhaps reminds us – that death is cousin to sleep? What other analogy does not possess to compare death to?

In the pages of science fiction and transhumanism we find the idea of “mind uploading” – but is this not the very idea of sleep writ large: that we ‘sleep’ and then wake with a diffeent mind. There are problems here though, and this is not simply the case. The death of the brain is final: but is the onset of sleep really the same?

One is tempted here to really just state outright that there is no analogy. To be dramatic, sleep becomes Theseus’ ship: death is not foundering on the sand-bank. Death is not the breaking or dismemberment of the ship: the ship sinks and the crew dies. Death is not slepp, and sleep is not (and could never have been) death.

So – then? – what analogy is appropriate? And, then, are we not fooled by our fear our sleep believing it a small death.

But there is – regardless – a danger to sleep. Who am I when I awake? And, I, writing now, ‘where do I go?’ when I finally sleep? They are not the one and the same. What seems to be clear is that when I sleep, I die. And tomorrow, someone different, though very similar, awakens.

The “Plight of Persons” with Disabilities

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This is largely just a transcription of a discussion with Eugene Marais, over an article published by the SABC:

http://www.sabc.co.za/news/a/6089768041c90963babebf1c2eddf908/Plight-of-persons-with-disabilities-under-spotlight

Eugene’s comment on this was:

“Pity about the headline “Plight…” The state of affairs regarding persons with disabilities also reflect lack of impact that NPO’s, NGO’s have on policy. I think we need to re-think our approach, we have clearly a defined base to work from, the UN convention on the rights of persons with disabilities, our own constitution – but what I think is lacking is the will to change things – the means exist, the building regulations are in place (accessibility). The problem is how do we make these things “real”, more than well intended, nice sounding phrases on pieces of paper? All parties must share some responsibility for the state of affairs. It will be a good start if we can start a constructive discussion by everybody in disability about defining a common approach and setting clear goals. Will be nice if we can do this here on Facebook. Just take a moment and pen your thoughts, your ideas about what the problems are, and how one can improve things.”

 My (as usual sharky response):

Eugene:

 I have a number of problems with your comment.

 Firstly, people must get out of this NGO-mind-set: it comes from exactly the same mind set as these DA/conservative/right-wing forces that have generated this idea of ‘Civil Society’. Why is there this constant focus on bad governance; why is there is notion that NGO’s are ‘separate’ from government? Obviously there is a difference between ‘fingering’ corruption, but dragging the state into court is not only inappropriate – as OUTA have recently found out, much to their chagrin – but the NGO-based complaints about government cannot be addressed without understanding that the interface between ‘NGO’ and ‘State-Apparatus’ is concrete or ‘walled’ in any sense. What would go a long way is for NGOs to stop thinking of themselves from Government, but rather to see themselves as partners with the State, and align themselves with State policy and activity. For example, no NGO at present is attempting to generate Co-operatives, despite the huge amount of funding and assistance from DTI; what NGOs are working with the Expanded Public Works Programme? What about the initiatives launched in terms of SMMEs? There is no obligation on the part of the State to go out and look for NGOs etc. Government is democratically elected, by the people. If an NGO feels they need to be involved, the onus is on them to do something. There is also a mind shift that needs to get one away from the idea of an ‘NGO’ to ‘NPOs’: if the actual praxis of this could be embedded, it would go a long way towards “getting things right”.

 Secondly, one is tempted to raise the issue that this orientation of ‘Non-Governmental’ interaction has not come about because of the funding structures of these organizations? Why attack Exxarro, or Pick ‘n Pay when they fund you? When will e.g. “NGOs” focused on Disability, complain about business/corporate practices: what makes them immune from the same criticism? A positive way forward would be for so-called “NGOs” to be transparent – in the same way they demand State transparency – about their sources of funding, and their possible conflicts of interest. There are a large number of NGOs in the Disability Sector that I could point to you are very, very guilty of this kind of conflict of interest. Thankfully NCPPDSA is not one of them.

 Thirdly, you and everyone else, needs to clearly understand something else about the convention: the UNCRPD is not a legal instrument in South Africa. In terms of the Constitution, it has not gone through the National Council of Provinces to date (although it has gone through the National Assembly) nor has it been signed into law by the President as is required. Therefore, ergo, it is just a wish-list. In any case, we already have legislation – in the Form of the Promotion and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act [more on this later]. Going on the UNCRPD is just a waste of time unless you want to score brownie-points with people who are ignorant of the law-making process in this country. If you want the UNCRPD to mean something, it has to go through the NCPs; it may even need to go back to the relevant Portfolio Committee due to the timing (it was in the Nat. Assembly in late 2007, and that was, what, six years ago).

 Fourthly, the Building Regulations are not in place adequately. Although the Regulation itself could be – in a charitable interpretation – seen as sufficient for the time-being, it is given effect by the SANS 10400, and this is where the problem comes in. Having worked in and been a part of the TC59 Committee (SANS 10400// SABS 0400) and the TC59Q (SANS 10400 – S: Facilities for Persons with Disabilities) we have been fighting a long, long battle; I also have the misfortune to be part of the same committees at the ISO level and the CEN level. To put in perspective, we – myself and Phillip Thompson – put out a document in 2006 to the SABS to inform what was then the SABS 0400-S. We did a comprehensive survey of international legislation and standards, and come up with a model SABS 0400-S; I can tell you unequivocally that no part of that model code had elements in any standard, guideline etc. produced after 1990. Nothing happened. The process was repeated in 2008. Nothing happened. I am currently in the process of generating the new ISO CD 21062 and the reworking the SANS 10400 in its entirety – this idea that buildings are ‘accessible’ in the NBR or its SANS10400 is demonstrably false. This is where a large part of the problem actually lies. One should also note, that strictly speaking, any government property falling under Public Works, the Defense Force, the Police and similar structures are exempt, in terms of Section A of the NBR, from the NBR itself.

 Fifthly, the most important piece of legislation in this Country, which very few people use, or I think understand is the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act (PEPUDA), which has been around since 2001!!!!!!! There are some important things to note about this piece of legislation:

(i) In terms of Section 6, the respondent, not the claimant, is required to prove that discrimination has not occurred. The claimant need only demonstrate prima fasciae that discrimination may have occurred. This moves the onus away from the ‘victim’ of discrimination.

(ii) Sections 6 through 9 deal with categories under which discrimination may occur: Section 9 specifically deals with disability. A reading of Sections 26 to 29, and the Annexures, indicates that if the respondent does not believe that the claimant has a disability, he/she must prove so. There is no burden in the Act requiring the claimant to indicate that they have a disability; it is assumed unless otherwise proven.

(iii) Section 9 indicates that there are three ways in which discrimination can occur. The second, dealing with the SABS, is now moot as the National Standards Act has superseded this section; in any case, it didn’t have any teeth. The first method is fairly obvious and deals with people actually being actively discriminated against, e.g. if there is no ramp to a building, or lack of subtitles on a TV-show: this is the stuff we all. The third method, however, is the very interesting one, as it invokes ‘negative discrimination’ i.e. the Act requires that steps be taken to avoid discrimination to start with – e.g. simply because there are no PWDs living somewhere, and no perceived need to put a ramp into a bank, in terms of Section 9(c), the owner/operator, is still required to put the ramp in, regardless of any substantiating reason against it; does a PWD want to become an airplane pilot – Section 9(c) indicates that this must be provided for (to use an extreme example).

(iv) PEPUDA is applicable to both State and Private entities: only National Intelligence and the Defense Force are exempted, as is any building, service or product deemed to be in the National Interest.

(v) PEPUDA makes strict requirements in terms of how legal processes should be run: it establishes the Equality Courts, and indicates the maximum period that a case should take – see http://www.justice.gov.za/EQCact/eqc_briefingdoc.html .

 Number Six, there is a tendency for people to start shouting that Government must do X and Y. We must accept the reality that government has limited funding, resources and capacity. Making unreasonable demands on the State is counter-productive and sets up an adversarial position. This is not to say that we must now shut-up: rather, there is a need to engage Government strategically and tactically. NGOs seem to operate in a short-run fashion, with no tie-in to State Policy and Practice: they fight tactical battles without understanding the terrain, nor have an overall strategy. If the State is weak in an area, that is an area to begin to engage constructively, not sit and complain. To be frank, people who just complain, without doing something, should just ‘bugger off’ and go somewhere else. We don’t need or want that kind of pessimism in this country. People who feel the need to litigate against the government, are trying to subvert our democracy and this must now stop.

 Seven, and this I know you have raised elsewhere, is the need for a Parliamentary Office. The ability to lobby and change laws is the obvious benefit; the dedicated ability to push out policy and constructively engage with MPs is all-important. Educating MPs and making them hold the State and its agents accountable is far more productive than attacking individual departments: national departments are accountable to the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces. This is why activities such as the recent OUTA nonsense was fundamentally flawed and ‘stupid’ as it was immediately adversarial. The objectives could have been achieved, without legal fees, by simply engaging and lobbying with a number of MPs. The further advantage of this is the issue of funding: MPs are in the perfect position to make changes or to amend departmental and state budgets to ensure additional funding for the disability sector. Given the developmental trajectory of this country, IPAP2 and the New Growth Path, the State is going to be increasingly the main source of funding for addressing the triple challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment.

 Eight, and this needs to be strongly emphasized, SADA – the South African Disability Alliance – is not a democratically elected body: nobody elects NGOs. They may claim to have constituencies, but this is really hocus-pocus. Nobody votes for them to do what they do. SADA is not the voice of a democratic majority of PWDs in South Africa – it is the voice of an elitist group of PWDs you claim to be ‘the voice’ of Disability in South Africa. Until we have a democratically structured organization, disability-concerns will get nowhere. DPSA in in its early day was the best option for this, and in some ways, perhaps still represents the best option, although – honestly – I don’t have an understanding of the organization as it is at present. All that SADA does it delegitimize the concerns of PWDs in South Africa.

 Look, a lot of criticism, but also some suggestions??? I think we just need to get out of this nampy-bampy, wishy-washy way of engagement with the State and other stakeholders. There are programmes that are being run – as I’ve indicated above – that can achieve things for NPOs: it requires them to stop thinking of themselves as some sort of ‘opposition’ to government, its entities and actions; and to be re-orientated towards being – at best – implementing agents of the State, where necessary. Currently there is very little democratic process within the Sector, and this is – as well as the aggressive oppositionist (even opportunistic at times) nature of some NGOs – the reason why the State does not respond to the Disability Sector. Our Constitution guarantees rights and freedoms to everyone and the State for the vehicle for that, not some self-selected group of people: only when these NGOs and anti-democratic forces are challenged and eliminated, and a compact with the State established, can things happen in a constructive manner.”

 

On Involvement in Politics

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The following is a list of some considerations for becoming involved in political activities:

(i) A citizen has the responsibility and duty to society as part of the Roussseain Social Contract (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Social_Contract). This idea has a long tradition. Solon, the founder of democracy in Athens actually made it a law that all citizens – on pain of death – were required to become involved in the ruling of the polis (the city of athens).
(ii) In Aristotle (try and get hold of a copy of the Nichomachean Ethics from the Varsity library or online) he makes a clear linkage between leading an ethical life and political engagement.
(iii) There is an obligation placed on all of us to become involved to make sure that others, who may do worst, are not permitted to take positions of responsibility.
(iv) Instead of allowing yourself to become cynical or disappointed about politics and the ‘state of the country’, one’s obligation/responsibility is not to become trapped in this mode of thinking, but rather to become involved.
(v) There is an argument that Jean-Paul Sartre uses, in which he argues that the only way to appreciate one’s own humanity – to really actualize one’s Being (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Existentialism and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Being and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Being_in_itself) – is only possible through the Gaze of the Other; i.e. maximizing the meaning of other’s lives and through actualizing the humanity of other’s, is it possible – and only through this way possible – to appreciate and gain an an understanding of one’s own Being/Humanity.

Arvo Part: Fratres – Some Thoughts

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Having just finished listening to Arvo Part’s Fratres, one is left with the distinct feeling of melancholy pervading the air; this is perhaps what one should expect from a piece characterized as representing the existential struggle between the self within ‘the present’ and the self within the ‘eternal’. Technically, the piece consists of a set of variations on a six-bar theme, expressed as a percussion motif, in which a set of progressive chords [nine chord sequences, I think] seems to mimic a minimialist approach, although the harmonic chord structure is clearly rooted in tonal chord theory. A version is available on youtube:

There seems to be some linkage with the catholic Orate Fratres [‘Orate, fratres, ut meum ac vestrum sacrificium acceptabile fiat apud Deum Patrem omnipotentem’], part of the Mass of the Roman Rite. I still need to think a bit more about the piece to understand the linkage, but its definiately there.