Category Archives: Thoughts and News

Donald Trump, 45th president of the United States of America

Make Philosophy Great Again // The (De)Sacralization of Democracy

No, the apocalypse hasn’t started because Donald Trump has been elected president of the United States of America. The apocalypse has been mushrooming right outside your doorstep for years now; you’ve just been too busy smiling at cat videos, sharing inspirational quotes and hashtagging #OMG #QueenBeyonce to notice it.

The criticism of Democracy has existed and has been active in philosophers and thinkers’ and scholars’ circles for over two thousand years – since Plato, to my knowledge, and possibly since even earlier. Yet, it is only today, in the end of 2016, that it is finally being tolerated, even welcomed, into the mainstream press and people’s debates and tweets and Facebook statuses and blog posts.

And this may very well be the only positive outcome of this whole circus.

We look down on our history that consists of genocides perpetrated in the name of the Church and of wars raged in the name of the King. Dark times when speaking against the Church lead you to being burnt at the stake, when questioning the Monarch’s competence earned you a nice, clean decapitation. But have things really changed since?

For years, the advocates of Democracy have acted almost as bad as the very regimes and institutions they built their intellectual careers on denouncing. Today, millions of people are still being killed in the name of Democracy. Lands and countries are still being invaded and pillaged in the name of Freedom. And when we dared raising a finger to dispute a system under which the only things that really thrive are demagogy, populism, misinformation, ideology and manipulation – under the umbrella of freedom, we were accused of being disgusting fascists, of being ruthless pro-dictatorship, and so on. For years and years and years, it was democracy’s way or the highway. A system where freedom of speech was only valid as long as it didn’t touch upon the system itself. The irony.

Of course, Trump’s election is a disaster, especially to the millions of people living in the United States who will be immediately affected by it. But the reaction of the international community is nothing short of hypocritical, because these elections have been a disaster way before the final results, for the election of Hilary Clinton would have been just as disastrous, at least when it comes to international politics. Of course, Donald Trump has made islamophobic remarks, but Hilary Clinton has been a very active agent in an islamophobic establishment that’s been bombing random muslim countries and innocents for over two decades. Of course, Donald Trump claims he will build a wall to keep illegal immigrants from coming to the USA, but Hilary Clinton’s criminal record in South America is one of the worst in history. And of course, Donald Trump wants to “grab ‘em by the pussy,” but Hilary Clinton’s closest allies and military clients and campaign funders are countries where Women Rights are not only disrespected, they are close to inexistent.

So really, what is the big deal? When after the whole world has cheered for Obama – first black president and of Muslim descent – and portrayed him as Hope itself, only to realize, by the end of his two terms, that he actually dropped more bombs on Muslim countries than George W. Bush, who are we kidding? Why do we still believe any of the pseudo-information we read? Why do we still hang on to any of these slogans and symbols? And really, why does everyone act so fucking shocked all the time?

Shocked, devastated, outraged, in disbelief. Get out of here. Because as long as we have the naivety of a toddler, and the intellectual curiosity of a four year old, and that our source of information and political inclination is a sketch of Conan O’Brian, an interview with Jennifer Lawrence, or a video of Amy Schumer and Lil’ Wayne bullying us into voting for someone, then we better get used to this feeling – because it is far from being over: we’re just going to keep on being shocked, devastated, outraged, in disbelief. Until we decide to wake up.

Because ultimately, George Orwell was wrong. Big Brother is not silently watching us. He is constantly telling us what to think, what to say, how to feel, who to judge, who to love, who to hate, who to support, what’s good for us, what’s bad for us, what we need, what to stay away from. And all we ever do is repeat after him. All in the name of freedom, baby. Freedom and Democracy.

But maybe it’s not too late. Maybe the time has finally come for the public to come forward with legitimate questions about the system we’ve been living in and brainwashed to defend and idealize since the day we were born. How is democracy different from tyranny when it’s nothing but a tyranny of the majority? How do we produce a majority of informed and politically aware and responsible citizens? How do we raise children so that their long-term vision of the greater good is just as important as their immediate selfish and communitarian needs? How do we prevent people from being seduced by demagogic, charismatic figures? How do we get out of a system in which the candidate’s concern is to convince the voter by all means possible – mainly, through lies and manipulation and misinformation and ideological brainwash? How do we prevent voters from being tricked into making a choice based on a financial need, a short-term emergency, an unfair promise of advantage over another fraction of the population?

Through my eight years of studying Philosophy to my now six years of practice and teaching, the most recurrent question I get asked is: what’s the use of Philosophy? The problem with philosophers is not that they’re useless, it’s just that no one really cares to hear what they have to say.

Let’s start with the basics. Let’s go back to the Ancient Greeks. Because our whole past, present, and future has already been written.

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Black

Mourn the Living

Short piece written following the bomb and gun attacks in Beirut and Paris on the 12th and 13th of November 2015

If a minute or a day of silence feels enough to mourn the dead, we need at least a lifetime of silence to mourn the living. The calamity of the living. The tragedy of knowing that these past 48 hours can and will happen again sometime somewhere very soon and that there is absolutely no way to prevent it. The knowledge that more innocents are going to die from acts of terror (whatever that means) and that even more civilians are going to die from retaliation against terror (whatever that means.) The certainty that we are losing ourselves into darker and darker ages. The acceptance of the fact that fear has won.

So, beyond any political analysis, beyond any criticism of international media partisanship, beyond any competition of numbers, beyond any historical and geopolitical contexts, beyond any blame of western politics, religious models, economic greed, political hypocrisy. Beyond any shitty little thing anyone can say or write including what I’m writing here, we need to remember that it doesn’t matter that there’s water on Mars and Pluto. It doesn’t matter that there’s wifi on the Beirut-Kuala Lumpur flight. It doesn’t matter that there’s Force Touch on the new iPhone 6S. It doesn’t matter that we can cure Aids. It doesn’t matter that space trips are about to become a thing. It doesn’t matter that all your book collection can hold in a single tablet. It doesn’t matter that Apple Music gives you access to all the music in the world. It doesn’t matter that there are public iMacs all around the Doha airport. It doesnt matter that hover boards don’t actually hover because real hover boards are about to become available. It doesn’t matter that Google Maps can help you retrieve a long lost childhood friend in Chinese Taipei. It doesn’t matter that we’ll soon be able to 3D print every imaginable thing in a matter of minutes including full houses and cities. It doesn’t matter that we are all connected via a single mouse click. It doesn’t matter that stem cell research is slowly making us immortal. Really, none of this shit really matters until we realize that the obsolete 19th century idea of Progress is a myth. That despite all our technological and medical development, we as a species are, if anything, regressing. That philosophers throughout the centuries have warned us about the dangers of technology when it’s deprived of morality. And that we never listened.

Because in the end, the only thing that matters today is the dark realization that we humans are responsible for the highest number of human deaths in history. That we humans are responsible for the extinction of more and more animal and vegetal species everyday. That we humans are responsible for the irreversible destruction of our planet – the very body we live on – everyday. That we are literally killing ourselves and everything and everyone around us. That if we are to take a little step back into space and take a look at planet Earth, a sad reality gives itself to us. A mirror of what we really are.

The cancer of the planet.

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Perversity of the LIKE Culture // Freedom // Self-Love // Everything Is Pink

The overuse of words void of definite meaning by the general population is often cringeworthy, and as the whole edifice of pop culture is predominantly based on such overuses, it is not surprising that today’s pop culture often makes us cringe.

In pop culture today – just as on battlefields all around the world (well, mostly in the Middle East), the flag of FREEDOM is waved high as the ultimate canon of the millennial generation. Freedom. And self-love. Adages such as “Love yourself,” “Love your own body,” and “You are free to do what you want to do with your body” are immanent to every music video, every song lyric, every Facebook status, tweet, and Instagram post by our biggest pop stars. Criticism is frowned upon, and if anyone dares to post a negative review about anything or anyone, they are systematically accused of snobbism, jealousy, racism, sexism, ageism, homophobia/transphobia, and find themselves ultimately relegated to the category of #haters.

Bret Easton Ellis recently tweeted: “There was a time when people were fans and had opinions and could like things and dislike things and it was all OK. But those days are over.” In other words, in today’s LIKE culture, you have to choose your side. You’re either a happy and open and inclusive and positive and supportive Miley-Cyrus-Molly-Popping unicorn-riding individual, springing around rainbow fields in a Katy-Perry-cotton-candy filled land, or you’re a #hater. A disgrace and a setback to everything that this generation of awesome people has fought so hard for: the complete liberation of our minds and bodies, the acceptance and love of who we are, and of our freedom. In other words, you’re not #awesome.

What we need to understand is that such a rejection of criticism is directly linked to the firm belief in personal freedom: Don’t be a hater and stop criticizing: people are free to do what they want. Let them be.

What the general opinion doesn’t realize is that our concept of freedom is a fictional construct that doesn’t really exist – in the way it is believed to exist. Meaning, no one ever does what they really feel like doing. People – and especially young people – do what they think they should be doing because of social pressure, peer pressure, advertising, lifestyle magazines, reality TV, and most importantly, celebrity behavioral models. And this is exactly why there is a real perversion with the mindless belief in freedom.

Are 13 year old girls really acting out of freedom when their overly sexualized teen idols make them feel that you’re only cool if you blow every boy in your class? Are teenage boys really acting out of freedom when they mistreat their girlfriends because their idea of a relationship is based on a Hip Hop video? Are older women really acting out of freedom when they alter their appearances to no ends just to feel slightly more comfortable in an era that rejects aging and death while constantly glorifying youth as an inspirational perfection? Are morbidly obese people really acting out of freedom when they’re told they can eat all the fuck they want because they should learn to accept and love their own body just the way it is? Are young men really acting out of freedom when their whole perception of sex stems from endless hours of watching male-dominant porn?

Before going back home and weeping in the bathtub. Before looking in the mirror and remembering that death is unescapable. Before realizing your heart is weaker and diabetes is killing you. Before crying yourself to sleep, images of gross unwanted hands defiling every inch of your free body.

Before all of this, we must be aware that freedom is a mere social construct that’s not even real. It’s an illusion. And that A-list celebrities are not the free individuals roaming in a free loving world that people think they are: they are constructed personas and branded images and strong signifiers that ultimately mean things to people. We don’t have to be sexist or ageist to criticize Madonna’s caricatural refusal to age by acting like the 20 year old woman she once was, four decades later. We don’t have to be sexist to criticize Lana Del Rey flaunting how she fucked her way up to the top, romanticizing the idea of being gang raped by bikers in the “Ride” music video, or culturally appropriating a Native American headpiece. We don’t have to be sexist to criticize teen idols for spreading a premature and inaccurate portrayal of sex. Just like it is okay to criticize the porn industry. Just like it is okay to criticize Robin Thick’s “Blurred Lines”. Just like it is okay to make fun of Ozzy Osbourne, who in his mid 60s and in 2015 still thinks that anti-religious symbols and stage shows are provocative. Just like it is okay to smirk at an older and chubbier Robert Smith, looking pathetic in his gothic makeup and attire that once made him look interesting, three decades ago.

Am I advocating for censorship? No. Am I calling for a general toning down? No. I am simply saying that we need to go back to accepting criticism without constantly feeling offended by any comment that is remotely negative. I am simply saying that this fake happy-lovey-accepting-free-inclusive moral of the Like culture is perverse, and that criticism today is as needed as it ever was. I am simply saying that we don’t have to settle for being thumbs-up-robots because everyone’s answer to criticism is: “people are free to do what they want.” I am simply saying that opinions matter and should be voiced. And that if you’re not a Liker because you have all the reasons in the world not to be, it doesn’t make you a #hater. I am simply saying that this everything is pink and everyone is happy and love is everywhere culture is art-numbing. I am simply saying that not everyone has to feel beautiful, and that insecurity can produce great art. I am simply saying that some self-hate isn’t always a bad thing; – self-hate made me write and release two albums. It also, on a slightly higher and more important scale (read: sarcasm), gave us bands like Nirvana. Ultimately, I am simply saying that authenticity is more beautiful than beauty itself.

Because at the end of the day, maybe the world is beautiful because not everything is beautiful.

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Occidentalist Stories I

Occidentalist Stories I // Tea is a million miles away when the British begin to party

This article is a spoof on a terribly poor piece of journalism published by the Daily Telegraph here

London notebook: Vomit, bare feet and cosmetic dentistry – there’s a side to England you don’t often hear about.

It wasn’t even 9pm and already the crowd had given itself to wild abandon. Slaloming through the patches of vomit all over the pavement, pasty chubby girls in mini skirts clutched their high heels as they walked barefoot, struggling not to get groped by an endless stream of drunken men offering to take them home.

Having spent up to three hours working on their makeup – in addition to hours of tanning salon for the elite and a dozen showers of spray tan for the working class – the ladies strived to maintain a noble figure, as the humidity in the overcrowded pubs inevitably lead to excessive sweating.

But when they’re not able to beat the heat, the girls of London make up for it by showing off their legs and cleavage. In the upper echelons of British society, the most important thing is to see and be seen. Which reminded me of home because that’s also the way it is in the upper echelons of Lebanese society. And then it hit me that it’s actually the case in the upper echelons of pretty much every country in the world, which made me realize how dumb the point I was trying to make was.

Beauty is paramount: newly designed and whitened teeth gleam on British Instagram accounts. Having grown tired of the Brits’ bad dental reputation around the world, the elite of London have taken it upon itself to never save a penny until their smiles were California-perfect. And together, they throw parties worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, which is also what pretty much all super rich people around the world do.

It is a lifestyle that few can realistically afford. So they rely on credit. It is said that most of the country’s big spenders sustain their lifestyles using bank loans they cannot obviously repay. But don’t ask me who told me that because I don’t really know, although I know it sounds stupid. But hey, that’s what I heard somewhere and well, I guess it could make sense if we explained that phenomenon by linking it to a major need to overcompensate the harsh times the Brits had to go through during World War I and World War II. By taking bank loans and buying cars and houses, they show the world that they have finally moved on.

(My room mate Betsy just told me that pretty much half of the world’s population lives on bank loans they cannot repay, but I don’t care. It’s MY article and fuck Betsy.)

Scratch below the surface, and it is clear that the gaping social wounds caused by centuries of colonisation and imperialism are far from resolved. In English classrooms, I don’t really know what happens because I’ve never been to one. However, I’m pretty sure that teachers manage to find ways to justify the Empire’s ruthless dominance, subordination and slavery over African and Eastern countries, and English kids grow up thinking everything happened for a good cause.

Society remains divided. Most Brits put origin before country. London is a patchwork of separate cantons (in white Chelsea, the men wear polos, while 15 minutes tube ride west, in the mostly Pakistani district of Newham, the prevailing fashion is the long beard and the turban.)

The communities rarely interact. Rushing through the city’s Irish quarter one night, on my way to the chic Kensington, I was stopped by an elderly redhead who warned me not to go on. “There are too many foockin Brits there,” he cautioned.

With the government thriving to impose a one dimensional version of past events, most children who are too smart to buy it (and who have internet access) turn to their relatives for information about the momentous and ruthless history of this country. But in so doing, they mostly hear a one-sided version.

The “us” and “them” of colonisation and immigration transfers to the next generation, and empathy, so critical for the fostering of true and lasting peace, falls by the wayside. (I’m very proud of that previous poetic sentence. Take that Betsy!)

A British businessman told me recently how he struggled to persuade a Lebanese colleague to come to London. For years she refused to visit, until it became a necessity for her work.

Convinced she was flying into a land of raves, techno and date rape drugs, her hands shook with fear as she checked in at the Rafic Hariri International Airport. On the plane she broke into floods of tears. And I’m hoping my Lebanese readers will start crying here too.

England’s vital signs – fish and chips, royal weddings and football – often yield news headlines that predict a country where everything is seemingly great. But the country has proven supremely more fucked up, and it remains, for the most part, a pretty racist place to be.

Sure, there’s 24/7 electricity and the summers are practically inexistant because of the shitty weather. But rather than hiding from daily unexpected showers and bumping into streetlights because of the fog, the biggest risk to non-white foreigners in England is to be a victim of prejudice, exoticism and xenophobia.

For now, sadly, even the royal family is moving out of Buckingham Palace for tax reasons. A royal guard, dressed in a red military suit and a funny black hat, gazes into the distance and cries a little at the idea of potential unemployment.

The businessman’s friend may well have been the last customer at Burger King Soho this afternoon.

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About The Fight of the Century // About Boxing in General

Floyd Mayweather VS Manny Pacquiao

What a week end.I can’t remember the last time everyone around me was this excited about a boxing event. And I mean: everyone. Men and women, close friends and acquaintances, complete strangers too. I was getting messages asking me about the airing of the fight, about my prediction. People were sending me images, memes, articles, YouTube videos. Strangers were cursing at me and my TMT (The Money Team) hat at random parties. And it was all amazing. It was all amazing because I was so happy to be able, for once, to witness so many people sharing my excitement for a boxing fight. The buildup almost felt like a football World Cup final. Almost. Because now that the fight is over, there’s a whole other aspect to all of this that is really getting on my nerves: the avalanche of pseudo-connoisseur commentaries about what happened in that ring.

The thing is: talking about boxing is extremely, extremely delicate if you’ve never tried boxing. In a way, anyone has kicked a football at school, and anyone has shot a ball through a basket. I mean, you can even go spend a few hours in Faraya and learn how to slide on a snowboard. But seriously, how many of you “boxing specialists” have actually been in a boxing ring? And more seriously, how can you be so confident talking about something you know absolutely nothing about? Because trust me, watching a fight and a documentary on YouTube and repeating stuff you’ve read in an article or a tweet really, really doesn’t count.

First of all, let’s start by stop calling it a game. Boxing is not a game. You can play tennis, you can play water polo, but you can’t play boxing. It’s a fight. And every single fighter deserve respect for even stepping inside a boxing ring. The overwhelming experience of being in a ring facing a guy whose sole mission is to destroy you is an emotional ride that is unmatched in any other sport, and truth be told: very few people can handle it. Most importantly, when you’re in the ring, boxing is nothing like what you see on television. It’s an intense experience that’s absolutely nothing like the whole circus we see on screen. So when you’re sitting there drinking beer and munching on a cheeseburger and giving expert opinions about what a fighter should be doing, you’re not fooling anyone but the clueless people like you, because there’s no other way to put it: you have absolutely no clue about what’s happening.

Not that there is anything wrong with that. After all, you don’t have to be a boxer to watch boxing. But what I’m saying is, at least have the decency and the humility to just watch, support your favorite fighter, and hopefully enjoy the fight. Out of the tens of people (who have never worn a boxing glove in their life) who have been posting their expert opinions about the fight, only two of them were real enough to be honest – with themselves and with others. The first one told me he knows absolutely nothing about boxing but that he’s very curious to know more. The other one came to me admitting that he’s watched a fight or two in anticipation of the event, but that he didn’t really “get it” or understand what was happening. We spent the evening together and went through fight footages, we went through slow motion footages, I demonstrated to him what each fighter was trying to do, techniques, we discussed strategy, and a myriad of other things that most people who don’t practice the sport simply can’t see. Have you ever tried watching Judo? Don’t. It’s the most boring shit ever. Unless you’re a Judoka yourself. And well, I’m sorry, but it’s kind of the same thing with boxing.

There’s a reason why boxing is called “the sweet science:” Boxing is not your average mashkal outside SkyBar. Ironically though, a SkyBar mashkal seems to be what most people look for when they watch a boxing fight. People look for big punches, blood and knockouts. People can’t see defense. They can’t see footwork, timing, accuracy, pace and rhythm, distance control, and so on. So it’s no surprise that the Mayweather vs Pacquiao fight was deemed boring by the average person. I don’t even disagree. If I was unable to see all of the things mentioned above in order to truly appreciate the genius and skills of both fighters in that ring, I would have thought it was terribly boring too. No blood, no standing counts, no knockdowns, no knockout.

Instead, Mayweather gave us a beautiful performance, a lesson in boxing excellence. Unfortunately for him, you had to be a fighter yourself to be able to see it and appreciate it. No, Floyd Mayweather was not running away from Manny Pacquiao, he was dancing and controlling the distance. Ali, the greatest, danced. Sugar Ray Leonard danced. Larry Holmes Danced. All the great fighters danced and circled the ring. And so did Mayweather. No, Floyd Mayweather was not hugging Manny Pacquiao. Clinching is one of the most common techniques in professional boxing. Ali clinched. Lennox Lewis clinched. Frank Bruno clinched. Trevor Berbick clinched. In every single fight, the taller fighter always clinches when the opponent gets inside. In fact, Mayweather clinched much less than usual last night, and there was fewer clinching than any average fight you may watch. The difference is that that was probably the only fight you’ve ever watched, and the few YouTube highlights and documentaries you clicked on obviously don’t show any clinching. You know what? Let me throw you in a closed ring with a less than average boxer and show me how you can run away and clinch and win the fight.

The problem with Floyd Mayweather’s style – especially in the last 8 years – is that it has become a very clinical one. It’s simply not entertaining enough to the average fan. There’s always disappointment by the average fan after each Mayweather fight, and I completely understand that: it’s a style that’s meant to be dominant and efficient, but not very entertaining.

So was the huge hype around the event actually bad for the fight then? I now realize that maybe it was. Because people didn’t get it. And unless people are going to be more familiar with boxing, they will never be able to get it. Is there any other way to completely “get it” other getting in the ring yourself and experiencing it for real? Unfortunately, I’m not sure there is. Is boxing then meant to be enjoyed by boxers only? Not necessarily, because every era also has entertaining fighters, knockout kings that the average fan loves to watch. I’m talking Mike Tyson, I’m talking Prince Nasseem, I’m talking Manny Pacquiao.

I grew up in a family of boxers. I was thrown in a ring when I was 9 and had my share of junior bouts, and my share of sparring sessions later as an adult. There is nothing like being in the ring. Nothing. And it’s been so frustrating to read commentaries, mockeries, memes about last night’s megafight when 99% of you guys really, really have no clue what you’re talking about. I’m sorry again, but there is no other way to put it. When I first saw my brother – the current Lebanese boxing champion – today, the grim look on his face said it all. He is Manny Pacquiao’s biggest fan and was disappointed by the loss. But because he too knows the sport so well, he gave me a bitter smile and said: “Mayweather is truly unbelievable. I never expected to see Manny so helpless against anyone. He couldn’t do anything, Mayweather made him look like an amateur at times.” We talked about confidence, about outboxing, about control. About an out-of-this world defense. About landing more punches than his opponent while the whole world saw the exact opposite. About standing in the pocket and leaning on the ropes and taking it all against one of the most devastating fighters of our generation, Manny Pacquiao.

And I couldn’t agree more. Mayweather just needs to accept that the average fan will never be able to witness his magic. And will never give him the credit he truly deserves. But we do, champ.

#TMT #TeamMayweather

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What Is Freedom of Speech? / A brief history of a perverse form of question

Version française ici

It seems to me that despite the death of God and the dismemberment of the Truth, we human beings still have a long way before we totally get rid of our religious dogmatism and our spirit of sacrifice. There is absolutely no difference of nature between those who believe in God and the atheists who place their blind dogmatic faith in science, for instance. As there is no difference of nature between the oppressors of individual freedom and a nation that launches wars in the name of individual freedom. In fact, it all comes down to a problem of definition – as it has been since the very beginning of the history of thought; which is why philosophy is far from being a dead discipline that merely explores a chronological history of ideas: philosophy remains deeply current because its most essential questions are still as important, perhaps today more than ever.

What is freedom of speech? What is terrorism? What is the truth? What’s a civilised person?

I would like to examine an old habit that we almost never question: the relevance of the question “what is..?”  In fact, it’s Western metaphysics that have taught us to ask the question of essence in the form of “what is..?” And if we’ve been unconsciously taking this question for a given, we mostly owe it to Plato and Socrates. Because the question “what is..?” implies a very particular way of thinking that is omnipresent in Plato’s dialogues – in which the main protagonist Socrates vehemently rejects any other forms of question. For instance, in Plato’s dialogue Hippias Major, when Socrates asks the question “what is beauty?” and that the sophist Hippias answers by citing examples of things “which are beautiful,” and examples of people “who are beautiful,” we witness a major moment in the history of thought because the political repercussions of such a misunderstanding are substantial. First of all, because the assumed superiority of Socrates in these dialogues is more than suspicious. His method never seems successful: the question is never resolved and most of these platonic dialogues are destined to nowhere. It would be of course stupid to give examples of things which are beautiful and of people who are beautiful when asked what is beauty? because the question aims at finding a necessary essence, an unchangeable substance, the thing itself, and not an example of things or people that contain a sample of that substance as a participative quality. But let us make no amalgams here: the sophist Hippas is not an idiot or a child who’s incapable of getting the nuance between the two questions and who simply answers by which/who when asked what. No. It’s more likely that Hippias thought that the question which/who? was a far better question, one that was more capable of finding the essence. To ask which/who is beautiful instead of what is beauty is not a coincidence: it’s the result of an elaborate method that excludes the existence of a common essence and that leads us to the art of empiricism and pluralism. Meaning, to ask the question which/who is a dangerous thing because it directly leads to the political questions of the point of view: who decides? who sets the limit?

To become aware of this inevitability of empiricism and pluralism is to let go of our dogmatic belief in intangible and eternal essences. It’s to become aware that a single and unique definition of freedom is a lie. That a single and unique definition of terrorism is a lie. That a single and unique definition of truth is a lie. That there is no meaning, but a plurality of meanings that all fight for the right to be the (temporarily) most convincing one. That instead of asking the question: what is freedom of speech? – a question that no one has managed to answer once and for all, – we must ask a question that’s far more interesting, the question of the point of view, the question which/whowho is free to speak their mind? From France’s point of view, it seems, whoever wishes to mock Islam is free to speak their mind, however, those who wish to make fun of Zionism aren’t. From Saudi Arabi’s point of view, men are free to speak their mind, however, women aren’t. Who is a terrorist? From the United States’ point of view, it’s the muslim extremist of Al Qaeda. From Israel’s point of view, it’s the Hamas militant. From Palestine’s point of view, it’s the state of Israel. From the left-wing militants’ point of view, it’s the US politics. Who is civilised? From the Western civilisation’s point of view, it is of course the western model of civilisation that serves as a reference: anything else is barbaric. And so on.

Becoming aware that the Truth does not exist. That there is no unique and radical meaning given to us straight from heaven. That there is no chosen people. That there is no absolute truth that’s revealed to some and not to others. That absolutely nothing is a given. That there is no historical direction. That there is no progress. That there are no good guys and bad guys. That there is no right or wrong. That there is nothing else but interpretation. And that every interpretation is always conceived from a specific point of view. That our laws and definitions are always set from a specific point of view aimed at satisfying the interests of a specific category of people. It is only this type of awareness that allows for a real discussion to happen, and for solutions to be found: away from dogmatism, away from intellectual blindness, away from demagogy, away from populism, away from stupidity, away from exclusion, away from discrimination, away from hypocrisy. And most importantly, beyond any emotional blackmail and self-righteous slogans and campaigns that never do anything but perpetuate the problem.

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Qu’est-ce que la liberté de pensée et d’expression? / Une brève histoire d’une forme de question perverse

English version here

Il me semble que malgré la mort de Dieu et le démembrement de la Vérité, l’être humain demeure loin de s’être débarrassé du dogmatisme religieux, ainsi que de l’esprit de sacrifice. Il n’y a pas de différence de nature entre les croyants en Dieu et les athées qui ont une croyance dogmatique en la science, par exemple; pas de différence de nature non plus entre les oppresseurs de la liberté individuelle et une nation qui lance des guerres au nom de la liberté individuelle. Il n’est, et ce depuis toujours dans l’histoire de la pensée, qu’un problème de définition. Et il est fascinant de constater à quel point nos problèmes et nos questionnements n’ont pratiquement pas évolué depuis le tout début de l’histoire de la pensée. C’est pour cela que la philosophie est loin d’être une discipline morte qui se contente de faire une liste chronologie des idées: la philosophie reste actuelle car ses questions les plus essentielles sont, aujourd’hui plus que jamais, toujours aussi importantes.

Qu’est-ce que la liberté de pensée ou la liberté d’expression? Qu’est-ce que le terrorisme? Qu’est-ce que la vérité? Qu’est-ce qu’être civilisé?

Je propose d’examiner une vieille habitude qu’on ne remet presque jamais en cause: la pertinence de la question “qu’est-ce que..?” En réalité, c’est la métaphysique occidentale qui nous a appris à poser la question de l’essence sous forme de “qu’est-ce que..?” Et si nous avons pris l’habitude de considérer cette question comme allant de soi, nous le devons avant tout à Socrate et à Platon. Parce que la question “qu’est-ce que..?” suppose une manière particulière de penser omniprésente dans les dialogues de Platon, dans lesquels Socrate s’obstine à rejeter toute autre forme de question. Par exemple, dans l’oeuvre Hippas Majeur, lorsque Socrate pose la question “qu’est-ce que le Beau?” et que le sophiste Hippias lui répond en citant des exemples de “ce qui est beau“, on assiste à un grand moment de l’histoire de la pensée car les répercussions politiques d’une telle confusion sont considérables. Et d’abord, parce que la supériorité de Socrate lors de ces dialogues est plus que douteuse; il ne semble jamais que sa méthode soit fructueuse: la question ne se trouve jamais résolue et le nihilisme domine la majeure partie de ces dialogues platoniciens. Sans doute est-ce une bêtise de citer ce qui est beau lorsqu’on vous demande “qu’est-ce que le beau?”, parce que la question cherche à trouver l’essence nécessaire, la substance inaltérable, la chose en soi, et non un exemple d’une chose dont la substance en question n’en serait une qualité participative. Mais ne faisons pas d’amalgames: le sophiste Hippias n’est pas un imbécile ou un enfant incapable comprendre la nuance entre les deux questions et se qui contente de répondre “qui” lorsqu’on lui demande “ce que.” Non. Le sophiste Hippias pensait plutôt que la question Qui? était la meilleure en tant que question, et qu’elle était de loin plus apte à déterminer l’essence. Demander ce qui est beau au lieu de ce qu’est le beau n’est pas une coincidence: c’est le fruit d’une méthode élaborée excluant l’existence d’une essence commune et qui nous ouvre vers un art empiriste et pluraliste. Autrement dit, poser la question qui est une entreprise dangereuse car elle mène directement à la question politique: qui est-ce qui décide? qui est-ce qui place les limites?

Prendre conscience du caractère inévitable de l’empirisme et du pluralisme, c’est se débarrasser de la croyance dogmatique en des essences éternelles intangibles. Autrement dit, c’est la prise de conscience qu’une définition de la liberté unique et valable pour tous est un mensonge. Qu’une définition du terrorisme unique et valable pour tous est un mensonge. Qu’une définition de la vérité unique et valable pour tous est un mensonge. Qu’il n’y a pas de sens, mais une pluralité de sens qui se disputent un droit au throne éphémère. Qu’au lieu de poser la question: qu’est-ce que la liberté de penser et d’expression? – une question à laquelle il nous est toujours impossible de parvenir à une définition commune et définitive, il s’agit de poser la question de loin plus intéressante, la question du point de vue, la question quiqui est libre de penser et de s’exprimer? Du point de vue de la France, il semblerait, les individus qui désirent se moquer de l’Islam sont libres de penser et de s’exprimer, mais ceux qui désirent se moquer du Sionisme ne le sont pas. Du point de vue de l’Arabie Saoudite, l’homme est libre de penser et de s’exprimer, la femme ne l’est pas. Qui est terroriste? Du point de vue des Etats-Unis, c’est le musulman fanatique d’al Qaeda. Du point de vue d’Israel, c’est le militant du Hamas. Du point de vue de la Palestine, c’est l’état d’Israel. Du point de vue des militants de gauche, c’est la politique des Etats-Unis. Qui est civilisé? Du point de vue de l’Occident, c’est évidemment le modèle de civilisation occidental qui sert de référent: le reste n’est que barbarie. Et ainsi de suite.

La prise de conscience que la Vérité n’existe pas. Qu’il n’y a pas de sens unique et radical tombé du ciel. Qu’il n’y a pas de peuple élu. Qu’il n’y a pas de vérité absolue qui serait révélée à certains et non à d’autres. Qu’il n’y a absolument rien de donné. Qu’il n’y a pas de sens de l’histoire. Qu’il n’y a pas de progrès. Qu’il n’y a pas de gentils et de méchants. Qu’il n’y a pas de bon et de mauvais. Qu’il n’y a en fin de compte que de l’interprétation. Et que toute interprétation est toujours formulée à partir d’un point de vue particulier. Que nos lois et définitions sont toujours érigées à partir d’un point de vue particulier dans l’intérêt d’un d’une catégorie d’individus particulière. C’est uniquement cette prise de conscience là seule qui permettrait d’ouvrir le dialogue afin de chercher des solutions véritables à nos problèmes: loin du dogmatisme, loin de l’aveuglement intellectuel, loin de la démagogie, loin du populisme, loin de la bêtise de la pensée, loin de l’exclusion, loin de la discrimination, loin de l’hypocrisie. Et surtout, loin du chantage émotionnel et des slogans et campagnes moralisateurs qui ne font que perpétuer le problème.

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2015

I moved back to Beirut in 2011 and on new year’s eve I said “fuck you 2011.” One year later I wrote “fuck you 2012.” And last year I confessed that 2013 had been one of the most horrible years of my life. There will be no such negative words this time. And no, I don’t owe it to the universe or to the year, I am not thankful to the universe or to the year. I owe it to the beautiful dogs and people around me who every single day have taught me to leave resentment behind – toward the universe, toward other people; to stop making excuses and blaming things on the outside world and on other people, and maybe on the past; to stop paralysing myself out of fear of the future; and to simply focus on the task ahead, one day, one hour, one moment at a time. To live and love the present moment, to really be able to do it, beyond any cliché or inspirational speeches, beyond any shitty Coelho quote on a sunset background lost on a dumb Facebook friend’s timeline. To stop looking at our life as being stuck between an unfortunate past and an uncertain future, to stop expecting people to be there to serve our own agenda. But to treat life and people as what they really are, a fleeting moment. And a precious one.

The calamity of our species is that we forgot how to be present, which is ultimately our only hope. A hope that isn’t totally lost. We learn it from animals around us, and the few wise carefully selected wonderful people we chose to surround ourselves with.

It’s futile to wish you luck and good things – I only wish you strength. To be able to take all the punches, love all the punches, and keep moving forward whatever happens.

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On Celebrities

Celebrities are a major target of human feelings’ ambivalence. Idolised one day, loathed the other. And all it takes for the shift to happen is one rumour spread by any website or shitty magasine. And everyone hops on the hate wagon because everyone loves to hate. To kill their idols. To belittle them in order to feel better about themselves. Millions of people everyday shouting their opinions about Bill Cosby being a rapist, desacralising Michael Jackson for being a pedophile, calling Kristen Stewart a cheating whore, sharing and jerking off to photos of Jennifer Lawrence. Millions of people lashing complete strangers, hating people they’ve never met, carrying one common trait: the eerie easiness with which they forget that they’re lashing and judging and hating real persons with real lives, real emotions, brittle careers, affected families, and an endless stream of problems they didn’t choose. They bask in judging complete strangers based on words written by another complete stranger, somewhere on a giant merciless, absurd web. And it’s no surprise because it’s a pattern: We idolised and killed polytheistic gods. We idolised and killed a monotheistic God. And now celebrities. Idolising them. Killing them.

But perhaps it is important sometimes to look the other way and dig a little inside our own selves and wonder what it is that’s so cruel about humanity that makes us crave that kind of fascination, an irrational love for strangers, followed by a callous pleasure in the lashing and the irrational hate of these same strangers. Real people who don’t even know we exist.

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A Toast

A toast to my friends who said no. No to being the tourists of their own lives. No to serving a mind numbing corporate world. No to passiveness. No to the herd. No to fear. No to comfort and security. No to living like a zombie. A toast to my friends who did not compromise. My friends who create. My friends who design. My friends who write stories that make common people feel things. My friends who sing melodies that common people fall in love to. My friends who design clothes that common people show off. My brother who’s an athlete, shaping his body and his mind and refusing to settle for what his environment wants him to settle for. My friends who are changing our cities and the way we live in our cities. Here’s a toast to waking up and feeling that we matter. That we are not disposable. That we are not exchangeable. That we are not replaceable by a fresh graduate willing to work for less. That we are not forgettable. That we are not insignificant. A toast to leaving a mark on the world and in history. A toast to choosing to drive a dangerously fast car knowing it could get us killed, because we refuse to sit mindlessly in the back of a bus driven by another asshole. A toast to remembering that death doesn’t only happen to others, that death is a palpable possibility with every choice we make and every action we take. And because most people live as nobodies and die as nobodies, here’s a toast to my friends who spat in the face of death, who will be alive forever, in the memories of generations to come.
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On Kindness

Kindness comes down to one thing: give people a fucking break. Smile to the waiter even if he got your order wrong; he’s stuck doing a job he hates in order to finish a degree that will get him another job he hates anyway. Wait for the delivery guy to leave your doorstep before you close the door; he’s your father’s age, for fuck’s sake, and I’m sure he didn’t grow up dreaming to deliver pizzas for a living. And that cashier at Spinney’s didn’t grow up wanting to be a cashier either. Smile at them. Look them in the eye and be patient if the card machine stops working. The universe isn’t conspiring against you. Call them by their name – it’s written on their uniforms. Acknowledge them as people. Acknowledge the fuck out of them. Don’t huff and puff at the parking lot man because he asked you to change spots and you’re late for a i-don’t-give-a-shit-what. He could be your grandfather, and standing for 10 hours in the sun breathing in pollution spurted out by assholes like you certainly isn’t how he’d imagined his last days to be. Shake his hand even if it’s dirty. Wish him a good day and mean it. Remember that people aren’t mere functions designed to help you fulfil your own egocentric needs . Remember that they too are people. With tragedies and deaths and bills and diseases and anxiety about the future. Always remember that. And give them a fucking break.
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Aspiring Writer On Writing / Curiosity And Honesty

Originally published in Sorbet Colonel

It is my deep conviction that language precedes perception. If a toddler is unable to tell the difference between a table and a chair, it is only because he has not learned the words table and chair yet. Until he does, his senses will only allow him to sense them as abstract objects to avoid, maybe. But that’s sensation, not perception. As we grow older, the more words we learn, the richer our perception becomes. The more words we know, the more things magically appear in the world around – and inside – us.

If you show a banker four different shades of yellow and ask him to describe them, he will mention the word yellow four times. Sometimes using adjectives like light or dark. An experienced painter would probably not use such a general term – rather, he would describe them as maize, sunglow, jonquil, and aureolin. Because the requirements of his craft have earned him a broader range of vocabulary, his perception of colors has become richer than the average person’s. Take a walk on a rocky beach with a geologist, and while you will be stepping on pebbles, he will be marching on dolostones, milestones, gray slag, and white chert.

Make no mistake: writing is a craft, a very difficult one to master. A writer’s number one task is to read. Continuously. To be curious about anything and everything. Short stories by young writers and timeless classics. Simple words, complex words, easy words, challenging words, accessible words, hermetic words, everyday words, technical words, cool words, annoying ones too. Write them down. And learn them. Mastering new words every single day truly transforms our reality. A new world. A more opulent and more colorful one.

A writer’s second task is to be truthful in his writing. Truthful to his perception. To write what he perceives as accurately as possible, as honestly as imaginable. Great writers have sharper eyes, enhanced ears, stronger noses, delicate tongues, a sensitive touch. Their senses have been trained by the mastery of language. They perceive hidden specks of life that no one else expects. Tiny particles of emotions. Undetected by other people. Unsuspected by other people. And if perception can be taught, truthfulness must be felt by the reader. Honest writing is always felt by the reader.

Curiosity and honesty is where writing begins.

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