Erenlai - New Ethical Challenges 全球化之下的倫理重建
New Ethical Challenges 全球化之下的倫理重建

New Ethical Challenges 全球化之下的倫理重建

Here are testimonies and analyses that explore business ethics, life technology ethics, and environmental ethics - all fields that determine the way we conceive our nature, monitor our social conducts and foresee our future.

全球化的浪潮也捲起一波波對倫理重建的討論。從跨國企業到生命科學,從教育體系到宗教與社會倫理,我們窺見不同區域中的反省力量可能帶來的轉變與啟示!

 

週四, 07 六月 2012

我們真的愛動物嗎?─一位素食者的告白

Photo Courtesy of Chris Beswick

作家朱天心提出過一個觀點「同情心可以養成,殘酷也可以養成」同為動物的我們有選擇不吃動物或是拒絕接受血腥真相的權力,動物卻沒有拒絕被屠宰的這個基本生存權。我只是想幫動物說:「我們不想被人類殘忍的屠殺,我們也是會痛的。」

 

週二, 19 一月 2010

北國新課題:芬蘭外來移民的困境與希望

芬蘭,是全歐洲族群最單一、外來移民最少的國度。然而,芬蘭也是全歐洲人口老化最快的國度。於是,這個還不真正習慣「多元文化」並存的國度,已經在她能夠兼容多元文化之前,先面臨了如何適度引進外來勞工,與如何調適外來移民進入芬蘭社會的問題。

芬蘭政府有一套幫助外來移民融入芬蘭社會的措施:擁有永久居留權的移民,政府會在其取得居留權最初三年裡,提供他們進入芬蘭就業市場所需要的技能學習課程。在這套措施的協助下,由其他國家來到芬蘭的移民不僅可免費上課,政府亦會定期提供他們財務上的補助。

至於政府提供外來移民的課程內容,則因人因地而異。大致上包括密集的芬蘭語課程與實習、芬蘭社會與歷史文化介紹等。想學一技之長的移民,也可在芬蘭語課程結束後,繼續申請就讀職業學校。


理想現實有所落差

這樣的一套規畫,在外來移民移居至芬蘭初期,的確提供了實質幫助。然而再深入探討,就會發現芬蘭政府為外來移民設想的規畫,仍然與外來移民實際融入芬蘭社會的理想,有相當大的落差。最明顯的落差就是:制度本身無法顧及外來移民間的差異,而且擁有高學歷及工作能力的外來移民,在這個制度之下常常被「忽略」。

例如所有由芬蘭政府提供的芬蘭語課程,大多只指導外來移民到「擁有基本日常會話能力」的程度。若是移民在課程結束後,想從事具有專業性質的白領工作,他們透過這些課程所習得的初階程度芬蘭語,完全不夠用。

此外,所有由芬蘭政府提供補助的職業學程,多是芬蘭最「初階」的職校學歷證照。大部分已由外國大學畢業,也已經學有所長的移民,其實無法真正受益於這樣的課程與系統。因此,受過高等教育的外來移民在芬蘭,由於無法從事自己擅長的工作,而不得不做洗碗工、清潔工的案例,時有所聞。


刻板印象先入為主

也許因為芬蘭的移民歷史與歐洲其他國家相較,顯得相對短暫,而芬蘭媒體與民眾長年以來,也常不自覺將移民與難民畫上等號,因此許多芬蘭人心目中對移民的印象,不外乎是「低學歷、能力不足」。

於是當有外來移民在芬蘭政府提供的電腦課上,展現出自己對文書處理軟體充分的掌握能力時,部分芬蘭老師甚至會因此略為訝異。這是因為在很多芬蘭人先入為主的認知中,大部分的移民似乎「教育程度都不高、電腦使用能力也不佳」。

而芬蘭媒體與民眾看待外來移民的觀念,也完全忽略除了他們印象中「低學歷、能力不足」的移民,還有一大部分的移民在來到這個國家之前,都受過高等教育:芬蘭媒體與民眾完全忽略這些人也許是由於婚姻,才會來到芬蘭,在此定居。這些由於婚姻來到芬蘭的移民,過去也許在自己的國家,曾有相當好的工作,只是在芬蘭因為語言限制與缺乏適當協助,難以用一己之長謀生。


弔詭心態自相矛盾

TuCuiShan_FinlandImmigrants_02芬蘭的外來移民相較於其他歐洲國家來說,數量還算少。因此到目前為止,很少聽說大規模的種族衝突事件。然而這並不表示在芬蘭境內,潛在的種族歧視不存在。

最近的研究報導就發現,芬蘭首都赫爾辛基,也逐漸像其他歐洲國家大城市一樣,當地土生土長的芬蘭中產家庭,不但開始搬離城裡移民群居的區域,這些家庭的家長,也不願意讓自己的孩子就讀移民學生眾多的學校,原因是「擔心在外來移民多的地方,孩子無法學好芬蘭母語」。不過學者們認為,這些家長的說詞,其實是某種「藉口」。因為如果搬來當自家鄰居的是美國家庭,這些芬蘭家長的態度就變得完全不同。

許多人對國際事務有興趣,卻排斥接觸外來移民相關事務。許多家長對「國際學校」有興趣,卻對「外來移民學生數量多的學校」避之唯恐不及。出國旅遊,國外的一切都新鮮美好,進了國門,卻覺得外來者都比本國人低一等,這是人們對於「異文化」常有的弔詭態度。

所以儘管「國際化」在芬蘭是熱門議題,芬蘭人心中對「移民」的印象,卻常過於片面。這也使許多芬蘭人不懂得將外來移民,視作「國際化」的資源之一。


移民身分認同難題

另一種對於外來移民不夠公平的對待,則是將移民僅視為特定文化的「代表」。一位住在芬蘭十餘年的研究員,就曾形容自己的母國文化在芬蘭,既為她帶來工作機會,也限制了她的發展:這位女士來自土耳其,這雖使她在芬蘭得到很多教授土耳其文、土耳其音樂、土耳其舞蹈的工作機會,可是,哪怕是她的博士論文,教授也建議她寫與土耳其相關的主題。

另一位年輕時就移民芬蘭的著名文化工作者,也曾在媒體訪問中表示:「移民還不會說芬蘭語時,有時候反而適應得比較好。」其實很多來到芬蘭的外國移民,也都有這共同的經驗:還不會說芬蘭語時,會被當作「國際訪客」,會說芬蘭語後,就「降級」成為移民。

正如這位著名文化工作者的芬蘭語說得完美無缺,但她大學畢業後的第一份記者工作,仍是被分配去做一個與多元文化相關的電視節目,好像移民在芬蘭社會的主要角色,就是「多元文化」與「母國文化」的代言人。如此久而久之,也會造成一些外來移民在認同上的難題。


攝影/凃翠珊

本文為節錄,完整內容請見2010年2月號《人籟》論辨月刊

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週六, 09 一月 2010

Laughing through life’s final tour

We all have to leave this world eventually. Here, His Eminence Cardinal Paul Shan Kuo-Hsi talks of his final journey.

The Cardinal has two distinct memories that troubled him in his youth in Huabei, China. Firstly after the death of a neighbour’s uncle he wanted to become a doctor so he could save lives. Secondly, having seen numerous casualties and people left homeless in the Yellow river floods he wanted to become hydraulic engineer. He didn’t end up fulfilling either of these two dreams instead his eventual calling was to be a man of the clergy. However, as a Cardinal the principal remained the same, from the start he wanted to be of service to the people, for the happiness of the people.

The principal of life and death is easy to understand in theory but as we come closer and closer how should we prepare to bid farewell to the journey of life?

[dropcap cap="D"]epression, disappointment, cynicism, perplexion are all emotions we may experience as we approach our passing, According to Cardinal Dan being diagnosed with a type of lung cancer allowed him to advance to a new part of his life journey and experience new surroundings. It is tough getting a serious illness, of course; however Cardinal Dan takes it all in his cheerful sense of humour: "God allowed me to personally experience cancer, so that I could share my thoughts. Is that not a good thing?” [/dropcap]So the Cardinal put the doctor in charge of his lung cancer and listened to the doctor’s orders like a good patient, he in turn took control of his own body; donating his corpse to the soil, his possessions to his relatives and his soul to God. Then he set off on his farewell tour, sharing his experiences all over Taiwan. Cardinal Dan thinks that if you don’t know death then you can not know how to live. Taking a closer look at death gave him an extra level of understanding about life.

Chenhao Yang, who took the photo of the Cardinal, says: "The power of love can turn a seed into a tree, just as it can reverse a decline. Cardinal Dan’s love has given bravery and encouragement to people, helping lives blossom and creating spiritual wealth in this world." The Cardinal lived like this because he felt the most important thing for people was to love and to be loved.

Cardinal Dan often says "Don’t take life to seriously. When you’re praying to God, you can also joke with him; you can become a baby kangaroo in the holy pouch of God....because humour also gives you a lighter more positive outlook on the world." He has also mentioned that his medicaments for his lung cancer have given him spots and curly hair but only young people get spots so, in fact, he feels he has been rejuvenated and is returning to youth. "Don’t pray for a miracle for me, because miracles interrupt the natural order of things and destroy God’s intention. One day, we’ll meet again..."

If life is theatre, we put our makeup on and go out on stage to perform the trials and tribulations of our life and our death. How do you want the play to end? And from this play, what lives on forever? From Cardinal Dan’s life performance we can see that what lives on is spirit...and style!

This article is provided by the WeShare Education and Charity Foundation. The content is taken from the Life Education documentary series and the film collection Hugging - Standing up strong in ferocious winds.

WeShare Foundation http://www.weshare.org.tw/
Hugging blog http://vigoroso.pixnet.net

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Photos by Aurelie Kernaleguen and Oliver Yang

週日, 27 十二月 2009

失落的十年?

德国《明镜周报》(Der Spiegel)形容过去的十年为「失落的十年」(The Lost Decade),美国《时代杂志》(Times)则称之为「十年炼狱」(The Decade from Hell)。这第二个标题或许比较切合美国观点(2000-2009对美国来说确实十分艰困),但前者所采用的标题却更能适切表达过去十年间的世界局势:以宣告千禧年目标、充满希望期待起始的十年,最终却以茫然混乱收场。

的确,检视世界社群在2000年宣告的目标,鲜有成效可言:包括提供全体人类水资源、普及初等教育,或对抗遍及全球的贫穷境况等。相反地,恐怖主义、战争、传染病和天灾占据了大部分的日常新闻。新世纪遇到的是更多冲突与创伤,而非迈向稳定与和解。


实践善意并非易事

然而,有些方面毕竟还是获得一些吊诡的进展。想想2009年发生的事,这一年确实不如2008年「可观」。2009年一月,欧巴马已当选美国总统,入主白宫;北京奥运成为过去;金融危机开始被大幅报导;四川和缅甸人民依然在悼念巨大天灾的死者。就许多方面而言,2009年是反省与回应的一年;这一年,全球社群终于更深刻了解到他们面临的挑战规模,并企图寻求共同的解决之道。面对金融和环境危机,各国透过某种程度的协商,在稳定局面和永续经营上有所进展。然而,于此同时,过往积习依然存在(是的,红利再度涌入贪婪银行家的帐户),而且我们尚未进入结构性改革的年代:我们仍在试图修正,而非重新规画经济与国际关系体系。欧巴马政府的成就与挫败,是目前这段时期的绝佳写照:它拥有许多善意,努力筹谋计画──但要实践却极为艰钜。

然而,在进入下一个十年之际,让我们展现些许乐观。在创新举措、累积资讯交流和协调改革压力上,公民社会较从前更加意识到自身可扮演的角色。接下来的十年,或许会是管理模式新典范成形的关键时刻:这种模式并非由上至下,而是透过社会、教育或国际组织、企业和政府间有系统的互动而成形。诸如新能源、微型贷款、另类融资、妇女教育或建构和平等领域的挑战,已经显示出改变可由民间做起;而且假若能有效规画、广泛沟通,初步计画当可产生雪球效应。让我们期盼,下一个十年不是「可观」的十年,而是深层改革──尽管不会立即见效──进一步见证国际社会成熟转型的时期。同时,也让我们以凝聚的力量,取代不切实际的梦想,尽其所能达成目标。


绘图/笨笃       翻译/林天宝

本文亦见于2010年1月号《人籁》论辨月刊


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週日, 27 十二月 2009

失落的十年?

德國《明鏡周報》(Der Spiegel)形容過去的十年為「失落的十年」(The Lost Decade),美國《時代雜誌》(Times)則稱之為「十年煉獄」(The Decade from Hell)。

週三, 02 十二月 2009

媒體,災難中的另一種人禍

圖片提供/Email住址會使用灌水程式保護機制。你需要啟動Javascript才能觀看它
本文亦見於2009年12月號《人籟》論辨月刊


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台灣媒體對於颱風災難新聞的報導,是以5C價值「災難(catastrophe)、危機(crisis)、衝突(conflict)、犯罪(crime)與腐敗(corruption)」為原則,情緒化與災民化新聞內容,然而面對災難,我們是否能有其他更為廣闊深入的觀看角度?
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現代社會是一個隨時可能遭受天然與人為災難危害的風險社會,當災難發生時,社會大眾對資訊與影像的需求格外強烈,原本即是人類生活重心的媒體,更成為社會認知災難、發展災難風險決策、形塑災難管理的重要機制。


戲劇化與情緒化的災難報導
但是,並非所有媒體皆能公平公正客觀的報導災難事件。研究發現,媒體在災難發生時,除了經常出現記者搶拍傷亡鏡頭阻礙救災行動、大量獵取受災畫面卻未顧及災民感受等「消費災難」與「剝削災民」的情形之外,最嚴重的是所謂媒體「專業習慣」所造成的偏頗。例如電視新聞對畫面的飢渴勝於對事實的呈現,環境新聞成了影像事件,自然災難事件則以高度戲劇化的方式來報導,並且刻意選擇特定的訊息與畫面來傳遞。

以2008年7月至9月侵襲台灣的四個颱風「卡玫基、鳳凰、辛樂克與薔蜜」為例,國內的電視媒體在報導颱風新聞時,主要消息來源並非是官方組織機構,而是現場採訪的記者;媒體偏好採用「恐懼」、「政治」與「悲情」等論述方式來呈現災難,並且以災民和官員的「人物」為報導重點。即電視媒體所呈現出來的颱風是令人恐懼、產生悲傷結果、與政治人物有高度相關的天災人禍。

這個結果暴露電視在報導災難事件時的幾點缺失。第一,以記者為消息來源的新聞雖然即時、「眼見為憑」,卻也在緊迫的截稿壓力下,只看到事情表象,缺乏嚴謹的求證。第二,恐懼、政治與悲情的新聞論述模式,挑起社會大眾的情緒反應,卻無助於瞭解災難事件的本質與處理。第三,新聞「災民化」、「人物化」的結果,模糊災難事件的多重面向,也壓縮理性與科學探討災難的空間。


「建構」事實勝於「反映」 真相
為了追求高收視率及廣告效益,媒體對於颱風災難新聞的報導,是情緒化與災民化新聞內容,展現媒體「建構」 事實的能力勝於「反映」 事實。特別是電視新聞,「反覆呈現」「非單一形式」的「片段」,透過大量變化的分鏡與攝影手法,讓單純事件變得碎裂且複雜,也讓電視再現的事件不再是事件的原貌。

然而媒體如何再現災難與民眾如何感知災難是息息相關的。學者研究美國911災難事件的媒體報導,發現事件發生後的三天內,電視新聞將911事件報導成一則犯罪故事,集中在攻擊(犯罪)的動機、造成的傷亡等刺激視覺、煽動情緒的內容。三天後,電視新聞的論述逐漸轉向恐怖主義、維護國家安全等議題,911事件搖身一變為政治故事,讓美國社會由個人的、死亡的傷痛情緒,轉化為全民的、團結愛國的氛圍。

國內的媒體為求勝出贏得高收視率,往往將災難事件變成消費的對象,產製報導角度偏頗的新聞內容。如何降低媒體再現災難事件的負面影響,是值得深思與探討的重要議題。

附加的多媒體:
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週三, 02 十二月 2009

金融風暴已近尾聲?

圖片提供/Jonny White
本文亦見於2009年12月號《人籟》論辨月刊


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多項經濟數據顯示,世界經濟正逐漸擺脫金融風暴的陰影,邁向復甦。只是各國政府及金融機構,是否真的從風暴中學得教訓?當初導致風暴的因素,是否已經消失?還是潛伏於暗處,等待捲土重來?
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自2007年爆發次級房貸風暴以來,各國政府積極透過大規模政策,冀使其經濟盡早脫離衰退,擺脫金融風暴的陰影。2008年3月16日,大型投資銀行貝爾斯登出現流動性不足的危機,美國聯準會對貝爾斯登融通近三百億美元的資金。其後,二房(房地美與房利美)、美林證券與雷曼兄弟等大型金融機構相繼出現危機。


政府紓困反增投資風險
當經濟體系面臨金融風暴時,政府通常扮演重要角色,對金融機構進行紓困,以避免危機蔓延至經濟體系的其他部門導致整體經濟出現更嚴重的後果。也因此,自大蕭條以來,各國央行面對金融危機無不戒慎恐懼,致力穩定投資人的信心,也避免銀行或是企業因短期資金不足而倒閉。

然而,聯準會對於貝爾斯登的紓困動作卻引起市場譁然,除因其使用納稅人的金錢援助應該自負成敗的私人金融機構而致爭議,亦因著金融機構長期以來一直存在的道德風險問題:當金融機構預期政府絕不可能任其倒閉時,更可能進行高風險的投資。因此,政府穩定金融的決心固然可使市場上的投資人與存款戶安心,長期而言,卻可能導致金融機構競相進行投機性投資,而過度的投機性投資正是此次金融風暴的肇因。


未經改革,仍有可能重蹈覆轍
因此,2008年9月中,聯準會放手讓雷曼兄弟倒閉的決定,在已經瀰漫強烈不安氣息的市場上投下了一顆大震撼彈。沒有人預期到聯準會竟會放手讓如此大的金融機構倒閉,亦親眼見證了其倒閉的後果:在層層衍生性金融商品的包裝下,此一風暴迅速蔓延到整個金融市場,乃至全世界,並進一步造成全球景氣衰退。有趣的是,這樣的結果使得市場更相信,從今爾後,政府更不會輕易讓金融機構倒閉。可以想見,由此衍生的道德風險問題將益趨嚴重。

如今,雷曼兄弟倒閉的風暴已過一年,各國政府陸續提出相關的金融改革方案,以避免此類風暴再次發生。但,目前的問題仍停留在金融改革方案的可行性。當經濟指數自2009下半年以來似乎停止惡化後,市場的投機風又起,各國股市大漲,市場似乎再度充滿樂觀氣息。但是,經濟真的復甦了嗎?未必。現在看來較樂觀的經濟數字與逐漸趨穩的金融環境是因為各國政府快速、直接且強烈的紓困手段所致,而非經濟體系自身健康的恢復,長期的經濟穩定仍有賴金融體制的改革以適度地管制投機行為。但是,絕大多數人都是健忘且追求近利的。在當前金融市場有利可圖的情況下,誰又希望自己的投資行為受到限制?如此的氛圍無疑地已為金融改革的前景蒙上陰影。而在未經任何改革的金融環境之下,加上更為堅固的道德風險問題,我們可以預見,同樣的錯誤會再犯,同樣的風暴當然有可能會再發生。

附加的多媒體:
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週三, 25 十一月 2009

Taipei County Wetlands Projects

Interview with Shi-hui Chen from the Water Resources Bureau of Taipei County.
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Watch an interview of Prof. Chen (Academia Sinica) who explains how wetlands work

週二, 10 十一月 2009

Colonization without Colonialism?

When did European colonialism start? What were its original objectives? How did it develop and shape the destiny of the nations that would later be established on its ruins? The question resonates in various ways in different parts of the world. In East Asia, the Dutch were one of the early colonizers – or were they? The question of the original nature and purposes of Dutch Asian settlements remains a hotly debated question. Presently residing at Leiden University, I am surprised to see how sensitive the issue remains, both for Dutch historians and for scholars of the nations where the Dutch staged their expansion. Much of it has to do with the intricate relationship between commerce, military force and nation-building….

It has been argued that the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie, VOC), the forefront of Dutch expansion, went through a transition from commercial power to territorial empire in the second half of the 17th century. Arguably, the transition was mainly caused by the local political situation in Java, where Jan Pietersz Coen had established the company headquarters in 1619. Such a change would be the watershed through which the VOC was supposed to have evolved from a “mere commercial powerhouse” to a power “colonial” in nature.

However, the rapid expansion of the VOC in eastern Indonesia and the Far East already undertaken during the first decades of its existence indicates otherwise: the change of character, if any, occurred well before it was embroiled into Javanese politics. Patronized by the States-General of the Netherlands, the VOC was – to borrow Leonard Blussé’s words – a “strange company” ever since the time of its foundation. It was meant to compete with other European powers for the Oriental riches – and not only through pure commercial means. Besides a 21-year monopoly on all Dutch trade in Asia, the VOC was also given quasi-governmental powers, including the ability to wage war, negotiate treaties, coin money and even establish colonies. That is to say, even in terms of the character determined by its founders at the very beginning, the VOC was more than a company of commerce.

In fact, attempting to characterize or qualify an enterprise set up in pre-modern times through our modern categories might be utterly anachronistic – and this applies to the question of determining whether the VOC was or was not “colonial” in nature, as the word chiefly refers to an array of phenomena linked to European expansionism during the course of the 19th century. Nevertheless, the rich literature on this issue reveals how much the “nature” of the VOC has aroused the historian’s curiosity. Such curiosity might be linked to the perplexities we feel when confronted with the mindset of a time when international trade was not supposed to be inscribed into a world order regulated by civil laws and concord. In other words, the question of the nature of the VOC is to be understood as an interrogation on the way colonization was interwoven with trade in the pre-modern era. When dealing with such an issue we are thus led to revise our understanding of how a certain kind of activity (in this case, trade) is defined and takes place in a given temporal context.

We may begin our investigation with a statement made in 1685 by Coenraad van Beuningen, one of the Heeren XVII. In expressing his serious concern about the company’s ever increasing expenses, he explicitly admitted that “it is commonplace and to a certain extent the truth to say that the Dutch East India Company is not just a company of commerce but also of state.” With this acknowledgement of the twofold character of the VOC he further stressed: “it would be very wrong... if from this it were decided that for reasons of State, and not just for commercial profit, cost must be made for occupation, conquest, fortification.” To Van Beuningen, the employment of violence itself was not a problem – as long as it was justified by commercial incentives.

That coercion and trade could go hand in hand had been demonstrated a few decades earlier, when the dazzling profit of monopolized spice trade necessitated violent intervention in the Moluccas: the bloody conquest of Banda in 1621 left the islands practically depopulated. The introduction of Moluccan slavery and the creation of a “plantation colony” on Banda (very much similar to the Spanish colonies in the New World but unique in the Company’s history) were the inevitable consequences of the conquest - though the conquest itself was not motivated by the idea of building up a colony. As Els Jacobs has indicated, the “entire Dutch adventure in Asia, the founding of the VOC, and the building of an Asia trade network had originally been initiated for no other reason than the extremely lucrative trade in spices.” What happened in the Moluccas, from the Dutch takeover of Amboina from Portuguese hands in 1605 to “the solemn submission of Ternate” in 1648, was not done for gaining political prestige but for securing a profit. Still, there was no way of achieving such a goal without using violence and legitimizing its use through state-granted powers and privileges.

The same can be said about the curious Dutch colony on Formosa. A “sudden, relatively uncontested expansion,” says Leonard Blussé, and a seemingly unnecessary one for a commercial enterprise. The Formosan conquest makes sense only when understood as a part of Coen’s construction work – building up an intra-Asian network for the company. Initially, the Dutch settled in Taoyuan for no other reason than creating an entrepôt for trade with China and Japan. It proved to be a worthy investment, as a regular trade relationship gradually took shape in the following decade. But before the island was lost to Koxinga, the company (just as happened in the Moluccas and Java) became more and more affected by local politics, which eventually led the directors to cast their doubts on the necessity of expansion.

The VOC expansion in Asia was undoubtedly colonization, in the sense that it included the seizure and control of lands on which the natives were subjected to Dutch law and mere coercion, and also because the whole endeavour was depleting the resources of these lands for the sole benefit of Dutch merchants. However, as exemplified by the Moluccas and Formosa examples, it was mercantile in nature rather than colonialist. The term “colonialism” is understood and used today with rather vague Marxist undertones: it has become roughly interchangeable with the one of “imperialism” and relates to the development of capitalism rather than to the mercantilist era. When referring to this complex web of meaning, it is indeed problematic to say that the VOC was a colonial power if we cannot prove that its endeavour was guided by a colonialist/imperialist ideology.

Indeed, historical documents do not offer evidence that the enterprise was guided by such underlying ideology. Still, a last point needs to be made: the Company was founded also to finance the war against the Spanish Crown, namely, in the context and for the purpose of building the Dutch Republic. In that respect, though it cannot be described as a full-fledged colonial power, the VOC played a major role in the development of European colonialism: the contest of its creation provides us with the missing link between the formation of the European nation-state and the colonial expansion of the latter. Ultimately, the extent to which we use the term “colonial power” to define the nature and role of the VOC is closely related to our understanding of the Dutch Republic as an early case of nation-state building, long before the rise of nationalism in the 19th century.

Photo by N. Priniotakis

週四, 05 十一月 2009

The Earth's Kidneys

Professor Chen from the Biodiversity Center of the Academia Sinica (Taipei) talks about wetlands in Taiwan.

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週三, 28 十月 2009

Noble Nobel

Please enough already! I don’t know how many times I have heard this lately. The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that none other than the President of the USA, Barack Hussein Obama II, shall be awarded with the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. And it’s all wonderful and everyone is so happy about this. Finally some truth and justice is done in today’s corrupted world. On several occasions now I have heard, not only from Taiwanese, how great it is. And just like that, the future seems brighter already.

Naturally I’m all for following the herd and my applause is usually one of the loudest, but in this case I have to take one step back. Of course we all like the guy. He is the first African American to have ever been elected into the Oval Office in the White house and just the name of the building says how hard it must have been for him. He’s also young, charismatic and looks like he actually loves his wife. On the other hand he’s also conducting two wars and the U.S. still practices rendition, thus I really have to salute the Committee for their devotion and courage. I’m sure they will all be major candidates for ‘the greatest fan’ award. Unfortunately, I fear that I already undermined my own nomination, when I asked: “Is this really the right guy to be winning a peace prize?”

It’s not that bad though, I think the committee members heard just one of Barack’s brilliant speeches and their hearts were so moved that their whole bodies twitched and as they did, their brains jumped out and ran towards Obama to ask for an autograph. Maybe it’s my own character imperfection, that I can’t fully appreciate this memorable moment or the great significance of this prize. Never mind of course that they forgot to award a few people like Mahatma Gandhi or in the fields of science Nicola Tesla and Thomas Edison, they still managed to honour great names like Yasser Arafat, Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, Henry Kissinger and many others. It’s a great award.

So I completely agree that Barack’s speeches are apparently award-winning and it reminds me a little about all the beauty contests like Miss Universe, Miss World, Miss Galaxy, Miss McDonald’s, Miss Small Small Town etc. that I have seen. During the interview part there is always some kind of sly question for the finalists like: “What is the one thing our society needs?” The answer naturally being: “World peace.” That’s the moment where I cry like a baby pulling my hair out and shouting exuberantly that it’s the right answer almost as much as every judge on that show. It’s a wonderful moment full of pride and hope. But then those judges usually settle down and want to see the girl’s ass. And if the ass is good, she’ll win.

I dare say that it may be possible for the Nobel Committee to do the same thing. I’m not particularly interested in Obama’s ass, nor do I think this is what we should be evaluating on the current US president. On the other hand if you must, suit yourself. But if you look at the bottom of Obama’s administration are you really sure that this contestant should be the one to win the Nobel Peace Prize?

Photo by C. Phiv


週五, 25 九月 2009

After the Winds of War

In 1971 the American Herman Wouk published his epic novel about the Second World War, The Winds of War. The novel (later a mini-series starring the late Robert Mitchum) deals with the early years of the war, before America’s entry into the conflict. Through the eyes of an American Navy officer named Henry and his family we are provided the landscape, physical and political, of Europe as the war breaks and boils. The story is a treat: it gracefully weaves a private meeting with Mussolini in Rome, an encounter with a nationalistic German waiter in Berlin, a Jewish wedding in Poland and a private talk with Churchill. There is, however, a rather striking disruption in the narrative. Towards the very end a new element is introduced, that of Asia. A minor character offhandedly mentions the Japanese to another. Most of the major characters suddenly find themselves in the Pacific after years of storyline that have them in Europe. Without acknowledging this, the book ends with the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor.

What may be most surprising is that Herman Wouk served in the US Navy during World War II and spent his war in the Pacific theatre. Yet, when it came time to “throw a rope around the Second World War” (his words) his focus was almost exclusively on Europe in explaining how the war came about. In this I believe that Wouk was a man of his times. America in the 20th century most often poised itself towards Europe. This is understandable as the world economy was for so long centred around Europe and as most Americans can still describe themselves as of European extraction. But all of this may be changing as we speak. The day may come – it may be here already – when Europe is no longer where Americans instinctively face.

I have spent a large part of my adult life overseas, all of it in Asia. I first came to Europe a month ago, less Ernest Hemingway than Henry Miller. Let me first state the utterly obvious: Europe is amazing. All the tales are true and, if anything, understated. I am at Leiden University, in the Netherlands, in a town that dates back to the Roman era. I would challenge any sentient or sensible being to sit by one of the canals with a strong coffee, Paris only hours away by rail, enjoying Dutch hospitality in the autumn sun and not be enchanted. It really is not possible, absent a strong will otherwise.

But as wonderful as Holland is it has roughly the same population as Cambodia and it is simply dwarfed by its former colony, Indonesia. And Europe can no longer rely on economic superiority to command attention; the rising powers of Asia have seen to that. Europe is changing from the inside as well. The streets of the major cities are filled with immigrants from Africa and Asia and their European born children. It is reasonable to wonder if Europe should still receive the attention Wouk gave it, or if after years of immigration Europe will even be recognizable as we understand it from the 20th century. These are large questions, and any certain answers are far beyond an outsider who has been here very scant time. But I can hazard a guess and it actually is a very hopeful one.

I do not think that the splendour of Europe is found in any set of fixed traditions. I think it is to be found in a place that not only gave birth to the Enlightenment but lives by it still, by a European tradition that produced the culture of today. I see the children of immigrants and the children of native Europeans accepting one another in a way that is very familiar to my understanding of American idealism and I see it transpiring in a way that does not seem to sacrifice the European sense of self. Europe is responding to the changing economic world by binding itself ever closer in the European Union which as a unit rivals India, China, and the United States. In short, I think that the corrective to Wouk’s focus on Europe is not to discount this vibrant place but to recognize the vitality of other places, to embrace a multi-polar world and not simply to shift to a different uni-polar one. What will become of Europe? I think it will be here for dazzled newcomers to ask that question of it for a very, very long time.

Illustration from movie poster ’Lady Kungfu’ on the website wrongsideoftheart.com


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