The engineering of our consent

“Those who manipulate the unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.

We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society.

In almost every act of our lives whether in the sphere of politics or business in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses.

It is they who pull the wires that control the public mind.”

Edward Bernays, in his book Propaganda (1928)

Arab World’s Sinatra Doctrine

In the very first line in chapter 1 of the book Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx wrote “the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.”

Sparked by the dreadful natural disasters from freak weather around the world, at the end of 2010 and start of 2011 UN Food Price Index reach its record high, surpassing even the peaks of 2008 global food crisis. Analysts warned that food riots, geopolitical tensions, global inflation and increasing hunger for the planet’s poorest are the likely effects. And it didn’t take long for a chaos to take place.

What began as a protest over food price rise and unemployment in Algeria and Tunisia, the protest soon started to escalate in Tunisia into a bigger protest: people’s long-kept dissatisfaction towards their corrupt and totalitarian leader, along with his cronies. As more people broke their fear barrier towards the government (something unheard of in the Arab World) the protest began to boil up.

Similar incident occurred in my country Indonesia in 1998, when a currency peg to the US dollar began to backfire in South East Asian countries, triggering a currency sellout that began in 1997, with the value of our currency plummeting from Rp.2000/USD to as low as Rp.16,800/USD. The currency crisis soon escalated into students’ protest over dissatisfaction towards President Soeharto’s 32 years dictatorship, with a firing incident by the police that killed few students became the trigger that sparked a riot. In a matter of days, Soeharto, a CIA-installed president, ended his regime.

The riot in Indonesia 1998 could not be anymore similar than the riot we have in Tunisia, which derived from frustration over class struggle, between the corrupt regime and the ordinary people. In Tunisia, the boiling anger of the protesters was finally burst when Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire, after years of frustration on the corrupt and unfair system finally gets the best in him. Bouazizi’s death became the trigger for larger nationwide protest, which became more violent with clashes with the police, with the 23 years dictatorship of Ben Ali finally collapse in 22 January 2011.

As Ben Ali fled from Tunisia, the people of the rest of the Middle East awakened, and the other Arab World dictators are getting anxious. It seems that a Pandora’s Box has been opened.

The case with the Soviet Union

Class struggle created by long-serving dictatorship is a typical case for the Arab World, just like it was typical for the former Soviet Union member countries. And with Tunisia as the trigger, the Arab World might undergo a revolution that would completely change the blue print of global politics once more, like the one we experienced through the collapse of the Soviet Union.

When Karl Marx’s book “Communist Manifesto” was published in 1848 Europe was filled with monarchic countries, with class struggles exist between the people and the rulling monarchs, making Marxism a romantic dream for the citizens especially the working class. But it is not until the early 20th century that the dream started to become reality, when Lenin (with the help of Young Stalin, among others) engineered the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 Russia. The revolution was brutal but effective, and as the last monarchy in Russia fell to the ground, Marx’s ideology of communism started to come to life.

In the next few decades, communism spread like a domino effect, which, among others, spread through the establishment of Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) that covered Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Transcaucasia (Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan); and through the Nonagression Pact with Germany that made possible of the Soviet occupation of Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Bessarabia, Northern Bukovina and Eastern Poland.

In its core, the very ideals of communism consist of a fair Utopian dream: classless and stateless society built on common ownership of the means of production and resources, for the good of all. But as in the case of the other extreme, Milton Friedman’s version of extreme free-market ideology, any Utopian ideology will never work in its fullest in real world, because it failed to take account of human irrationalities.

In reality, during the leadership of USSR corruption was rampant, environmental damage was common and it is estimated that the total of 94 million people were killed to justify its totalitarian rule. Needless to say, just like the story in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, the communist party had produce the same kind of struggle and inequality to their people as much as the monarchies they overthrew. Hence, another wave of revolution was inevitable.

By the 1980s almost all the economies of the Eastern Bloc had stagnated, in which during the period of 1982-1987 inflation was 1500% in the Soviet State of Poland and more than 60% of its population lived in poverty. In the middle of this economic chaos, labour turmoil started to occur in Poland, which over time the formation of the independent labour union called “Solidarity” became a political force.

At the same time, similar uprising was boiling across the Eastern Bloc, and USSR’s decision to invade Afghanistan made the regime deeply unpopular, and sparked more anti-communist sentiments. The backfiring effects of the Afghan war made it increasingly impractical for the Soviet Union to dictate its will to its state countries.

Bow to the pressure, in the late 1989 USSR government abolished the Brezhnev Doctrine and produced a new doctrine, or a new policy, to allow Warsaw Pact countries (Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East German, Hungary, Poland, Romania and USSR) to finally determine their own internal affairs. The new policy added fuel to the already burning fire, and became the trigger, or the tipping point, of the fall of USSR.

The new policy was dubbed The Sinatra Doctrine.

The Sinatra Doctrine

Inspired by Frank Sinatra’s song “my way”, the informal term Sinatra Doctrine was coined by USSR Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennadi Gerasimov on a US talk show. In effect, the Warsaw Pact countries became a satellite countries for USSR, thus was allowed to run their country “their way.” That opened the pathway for the fall of communism in those countries.

After being outlawed for several years and became an underground movement, a nationwide protest finally forced the government of Poland to legalized “Solidarity” movement and allow them to participate in parliamentary election, in which they won 99 out of the available 100 seats. This practically ended the Polish communist regime.

One by one, the fall of Communist regime that began in Poland soon spread like a domino effect to Hungary, East Germany, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia and Romania; and it inspired the courageous Tiananmen Square protest in China that sadly ended in massacre. By the end of 1991, however, the Berlin Wall fell and destroyed and became the symbol of the fall of communism, and in the same year USSR was dissolved to 15 countries: Russia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.

The domino effect took its toll in Albania and Yugoslavia, with Yugoslavia splitting into 5 countries by 1992: Slovenia, Croatia, Republic of Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro). Communism was pronounced dead. And along with the death of the ideology, the global political blue print that dominated the Cold War era began to change, as the majority of the world embrace the free-market ideology.

The Awakening of the Arab World

The history of USSR in one way or another has a degree of resemblance with the history of modern Middle East. Just like the Soviet Union member countries, most of the Arab countries have similar characteristics and similar political landscape among several groups of countries, which was derived from their shared history.

In the Middle East, the grouping of the countries occurred when Ottoman Empire was defeated in 1918, as the British and French governments created the Sykes-picot Agreement to divide the Middle East between them. Syria and Lebanon became French protectorate, joining Tunisia and Algeria; and British mandate territories consist of Iraq and Palestine, joining Egypt, South Yemen and Qatar.

After relatively short colonial ruling period, in the 1920s-1950s anti-colonial movements rose and secured independence in these countries. And over the next decades one dictatorial coup after another, the establishment of Israel and the discovery of oil in Western-Ally Saudi Arabia in 1937 that brought the destructive US Foreign Policy to the region (which are massive stand alone topics) dominates the colour of the Middle East politics.

Like their communist counterparts, over time, these dictatorship regimes amassed huge sums of wealth while a bunch of its citizens live in poverty. Like the communist countries, corruption and nepotism are widespread, unemployment rates are high, media are controlled and unjustified executions are not uncommon. The divisions between the ruling class and its citizens are apparent, and the presence of US Foreign Policy to secure its “US Interests” in the region ensures that their dictator allies remain in control. Needless to say, people are oppressed, tired and angry.

As with the case of the fall of communism in USSR that started in Poland then spread to other Warsaw Pact countries, soon after the fall of dictatorship in Tunisia, a wave of awakening rise up in the Arab World, with protests starting to occur in Yemen, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Bahrain, Algeria, Libya and most notably Egypt.

As few weeks have passed since the first Tunisian domino fell, as things currently stand, Jordan King Abdullah has abolished his government and elected new government, and Yemen long-serving dictator has vowed not to participate in the next election. And of course there’s Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, who has taken some desperate moves from vowing not to participate in election next September, to appointing a new Prime Minister and Vice President for the first time in 30 years; all of which defy what the protesters want, for him and his entire regime to step down.

As I continue writing this, the scene on Al Jazeera English in front of me is showing the Tahrir Square of Cairo in an euphoric atmosphere, anxiously and eagerly waiting for Hosni Mubarak’s statement on national TV for his resignation, as rumour spread that earlier in the day the military has stepped up and intervened on Mubarak’s secret power-succession plan to his US-Israel-Saudi?-Approved Vice President Omar Suleiman. The truth, however, remains to be seen.

If history is any indicator, Hosni Mubarak’s dictatorship will eventually end based on the inevitable change of situation that has tipped, just like the inevitable separation of the Warsaw Pact countries from USSR. If history is repeating itself, if Mubarak steps down the second domino of Egypt (the most populated Arab country and a vital key US ally for Arab-Israel “peace” agreement) might become Arab World’s version of Sinatra Doctrine, further spreading the end of dictatorship regimes in the Middle East, just like Sinatra Doctrine spread the end of the communist regimes in USSR. And maybe, just maybe, if history is any benchmark, if Mubarak fall the political balance in the Middle East could and would change, most significantly in the position of Israel and US interests in the region, and in time could lead to many other political chain reactions across the globe. This is not chaos in the Middle East, my friend, this is history in the making!

What’s the price of your dream?

“If you ask a thousand people if they want to be rich, every one except the poet and the mystic will say yes. When you explain what is needed to become rich, maybe six hundred of that initial 998 will say, ‘no problem, I can do that.’

But when push comes to shove, when they have to sacrifice everything else in their lives – having a spouse and children, a social life, possibly a spiritual life, maybe even pleasure – to meet their goal, almost all of them, too, will fall away. Only about six of the original thousand will continue on the hard path.

Most of us don’t have the discipline to stay focused on a single goal for five, ten, or twenty years, giving up everything to bring it off, but that’s what’s necessary to become an Olympic champion, a world-class surgeon, or a Kirov Ballerina.

Even then, of course, it may be all in vain. You may make a single mistake that wipes out all the work. It may ruin the sweet, lovable self you were at seventeen. That old adage is true: You can do anything in life, you just can’t do everything.

That’s what Bacon meant when he said a wife and children were hostages to fortune. If you put them first, you probably won’t run the three-and-a-half minute mile, make your first $10 million, write the great American novel, or go around the world on a motorcycle. Such goals take complete dedication.

Of course, not all of us believe that the goals the obsessive among us take on are good things. Was it sane of Captain Ahab to chase Moby Dick? Was it necessary for Roger Bannister to break the four-minute mile? Was it essential for Edmund Hillary to be the first man to climb Everest?

These were goals to which each man was willing to dedicate himself. Ahab drove his men with him to his goal, where all but one died. Even though he may be remembered with affection after he’s won the war, during battle the colonel is hated for pushing his men into the enemy’s jaws.”

– Jim Rogers, in his best-selling book Investment Biker

100 things I learned and did in 2010

  1. Time is the most precious commodity.
  2. Twitter made me become a lazy blogger.
  3. This year I fulfilled 2 of my 10 things to do in life.
  4. It’s estimated that illegal trade accounts for one-fifth of the global GDP.
  5. Indonesia stock exchange and Thai stock exchange are 2 of the best performing exchanges in the world, with more than 40% increase ytd.
  6. But the winner is Mongolian stock exchange with 133.79% increase ytd, followed by Sri Lanka stock exchange with 95% increase ytd.
  7. The separatist rebel group in Southern Philippines is called Moro Islamic Liberal Front, or in short MILF. HA!
  8. The term MILF hunting has a completely different meaning for the Philippines government.
  9. I proposed a marriage at a Slash live in concert, using a t-shirt that says: Mimi will you marry me?
  10. The best thing in life doesn’t always have to be expensive.
  11. In Varanasi, India, people live side by side with corpses.
  12. The government of India doesn’t count Sadhu (holy men) as exist.
  13. Aghory Sadhu is a cannibal.
  14. Cannibals don’t eat random people, they usually have a purpose on eating that particular person.
  15. Myanmar changed their national flag from uptight to Rastaman. This is what happened when a bunch of military junta is having a midlife crisis.
  16. Miyabi has a tattoo in her body, but always edited in her movies.
  17. Raila Odinga, the Kenyan Prime Minister, is actually the victim of a much larger political mafia.
  18. I take back everything bad I said about him. I took news at the face value, without understanding the big picture.
  19. Joined the global hype and got married at 10-10-2010. At 10am.
  20. Much of current Europe’s culture were developed during the Renaissance period. And all thanks to the Medici family of Florence.
  21. Jakarta’s governor, Fauzi Bowo, cut all benefits for its DKI employees and force its department heads to provide him monthly money for his travels to Europe.
  22. There’s a town in Canada called Dildo.
  23. And there’s a city called Batman in southeast Turkey.
  24. Despite billions of dollars in oil revenue, 70% of people in Nigeria live below the poverty line.
  25. 31 “security” contractors control Iraq. Blackwater controls these contractors. CIA controls Blackwater. CIA is, well, the US government. Therefore, despite saying they have withdrawn troops from Iraq, the US still pretty much control Iraq.
  26. The more I travel the more I’m convinced that my character have most in common with backpackers, regardless of nationality.
  27. The German beer Erdinger is ubber expensive.
  28. After being suspicious for quite some time, I’m now sure that The Economist is biased towards the Western Governments’ interests and hidden agendas.
  29. Google isn’t a country, but if it were it would be the world’s 87th biggest economy, just behind Ethiopia and just ahead of Trinidad and Tobago.
  30. Kosovo has a cool-looking flag.
  31. Finally accept that Goldman Sachs is evil. Read: http://bit.ly/bFMlHH
  32. Flash Forward is the smartest TV series I’ve ever watched.
  33. And the award for this year’s hardest word to pronounce goes to: Eyjafjallajökull.
  34. Found myself another role model: Cyrus the Great.
  35. This year I broke my own rule of not exchanging contact details with fellow travellers.
  36. I swap name cards with a German environmentalist lawyer in Halong Bay, Vietnam.
  37. Justin Bieber brings out the inner Japanese-schoolgirl in me.
  38. Sometimes aid supplies unintentionally feed the warring militants, making the aid a big part of the problem. Like in Rwanda 1994 and DR Congo.
  39. I think everyone can agree with me, this year’s best movie got to be 3 idiots.
  40. Whoever invented Egg McMuffin should win a Nobel Prize, pure genius!
  41. The word Sudan means ‘the land of black people’, but it’s always been ruled by an Arabic-speaking (from the North) representing less than 6% of the population.
  42. Hence, South Sudan partition is inevitable, but oil, as always, get in the way.
  43. The Temples of Angkor are much much MUCH better in person. Pictures don’t do any justice to their absolute beauty and charm.
  44. The creation of Israel in 1948 was illegal, violating 1947 UN Partition Plan.
  45. The British was irresponsible, setting a leaving date without first mediate the clash between the Jews and Arabs, which Israel took advantage by claiming “Independence” on 14 May 1948, 1 day before Britain leaves.
  46. UN and the international community shockingly recognized Israel’s claim of independence, and a brutal ethnic cleansing for Palestinians followed shortly. (Read: The ethnic cleansing of Palestine by Ilan Pappe)
  47. Why did the squirrel swim upside down? To keep his nuts dry.
  48. Kim Kardashian is a big-time self-centered diva. But a smoking hot diva at that.
  49. I haven’t had a decent sleep since the first day of World Cup, 19 June.
  50. Bank Indonesia was right to bail out Bank Century during a very sensitive time.
  51. But the real question is why did Bank Indonesia allow Bank Century to keep operating that long, while having big troubles, till it’s dead crucial to be bailed out?
  52. Georgia’s Finance Minister, Vera Kobalia, is a hottie.
  53. According to the book “MI6: The History of the SIS 1909-1949 by Keith Jeffery” James Bond character was inspired by a Dutch spy Pieter Tazelaar.
  54. Got lost in Hanoi’s Old French Quarter, and discovered for a glimpse what Lonely Planet describe as Nowhere.
  55. My person of the year is definitely Julian Assange.
  56. WikiLeaks does not violate any US law. This is based on US First Amendment, and is enforced by 1971 US Supreme Court case “New York Times Co v the government of the United States” in which New York Times won the case to publish then-classified Pentagon files.
  57. And WikiLeaks does not violate any International Law. Read this joint statement by ‘UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection the Rights to Freedom of Opinion and Expression’ and ‘Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression.’
  58. So the US can only charge Assange with a hideous sex allegation in Sweden, in an attempt to extradite him to the US. The most senior prosecutor in Sweden was strangely removed and replaced, after he said there was no evidence or even suspicion of rape for Assange.
  59. In Guatemala, their Air Force is called Fuerza Aerea Guatemalteca, or in short FAG.
  60. The first banking system wasn’t established by a group of merchants, but by a strict religious sect called The Templars. Amazing story.
  61. During the colonial times in Africa, the British Army only allow 2 Africans to rise up in the military ranking. 1 of them happens to be Idi Amin. Whoops.
  62. In Saudi Arabia, the locals really appreciate us if we dress up like them.
  63. I did that, and got warm receptions everywhere I went, and quickly made some friends.
  64. Lee Evans is my new stand-up comic favourite.
  65. The nicest person I’ve met this year is indisputably OL, my tuk tuk driver during my stay in Cambodia. If ever you’re in Siem Reap, just give him a call: +85592186578
  66. There’s a city in Mozambique called Tete (Indonesian-English dictionary: Tete is tits). It’s the capital for Tete Province, in Northwestern Mozambique.
  67. Tete has a huge coal mine, and once production begins Mozambique’s GDP could grow by a staggering 30%. Wow, well done Tete.
  68. In forming Nazi, Hitler studied the propaganda techniques of Marxism, Britain in WW1, US Advertising, Freudian psychology and the organisational of Catholic Church.
  69. Sometimes in the financial market it helps to be nuts to stay sane.
  70. Ukraine’s former Prime Minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, is a slamming hottie.
  71. FARC (the Colombian rebel group) direct cocaine sales to Mexico Cartels, cutting the middlemen, has generated them $1 billion a year. That’s business acumen right there.
  72. In the aftermath of Asian Crisis 1997, $200 billion of Indonesian capital was in Singapore, compared with Indonesian GDP of $350 billion.
  73. The thing is with momentum… Sometimes when the right one comes, it comes in a rush, when you’re least expect it.
  74. The word ‘Konak’ is Turkish for ‘mansion.’ (Indonesian-English dictionary: Konak is having a boner).
  75. Book of the year: McMafia by Misha Glenny.
  76. Africa by Richard Dowden and Holy Cow by Sarah Macdonald are also fantastic books.
  77. Went for Umroh pilgrimage, touched the Ka’abah, left the earthly pleasure for a week and devotedly praying and reading Al Qur’an translation at all times.
  78. And I learned that I can’t live without music.
  79. Since 25 November me and my missus wears a red string in our right hand. It was blessed by a Buddhist in Angkor Wat.
  80. In Cambodia, wearing a red string in our wrist also mean married.
  81. Astronomers have discovered a potentially habitable planet of “Gliese 581g” in Goldilocks Zone, 20 light years away from earth.
  82. The movie Lord of War is inspired by the life of real-life criminal Viktor Bout.
  83. Shiva is one cool Hindu god.
  84. Sahara is Arabic word for desert. So Sahara desert literally means desert desert. That’s not really creative is it?
  85. The asshole of the year award goes to: it’s a tie between George Gillett and Tom Hicks.
  86. The word ‘boker’ is Polish for book. (Indonesian-English dictionary: boker is having a crap).
  87. The Venezuelan band Los Amigos Invisibles is still the coolest band in the world for me.
  88. Their collaboration with Mexican singer Natalia Lafourcade in ‘Vivire Para Ti’ gives a new vibe to their music.
  89. US is supplying Israel with $2 billion each year, thanks to AIPAC. Who’s your daddy?
  90. Iraq war: civilian deaths 66,081. That’s equal to one 9/11 every 4 months for the last 7 years. No monuments. No minute silence.
  91. People who live in heaven shouldn’t judge those who live in hell.
  92. According to a Pew Forum survey, only 54% of Americans know that the Qur’an is the holy book of Islam.
  93. And the notoriously right-wing and highly bias Fox News that stirs false propaganda is “America’s most trusted TV news outlet.”
  94. Ignorance is stupidity in action.
  95. Bangkok has a seriously long official name: Krungthep mahanakhon amonratanakosin mahintara ayuthaya mahadilok popnopparat ratchathani burirom udomratchaniwer mahasathan amonpiman avatansathit sakkathattiya witsanukamprasit.
  96. How to mess with an auditor’s head: give him a huge pile of random data, and tell him that they’re all connected.
  97. Peru gave Bolivia a beach this year. How nice. Now the Bolivian Navy no longer look like an idiot in a river, and have an actual sea to operate in.
  98. I believe the sentence that I use the most this year is holy crap!
  99. My motto in life is enforced with all the things I did this year. Life is indeed an adventure.
  100. The adventure of 2010 has been phenomenal!

Something I found during my backpacking trip to Indochina

“There are people everywhere who form a Fourth World, or a diaspora of their own. They are the lordly ones! They come in all colours. They can be Christians or Hindus or Muslims or Jews or pagans or atheists. They can be young or old, men or women, soldiers or pacifists, rich or poor. They may be patriots, but they are never chauvinists. They share with each other, across all the nations, common values of humour and understanding.

When you are among them you know you will not be mocked or resented, because they will not care about your race, your faith, your sex or your nationality, and they suffer fools if not gladly, at least sympathetically. They laugh easily. They are easily grateful. They are never mean. They are not inhibited by fashion, public opinion, or political correctness.

They are exiles in their own communities, because they are always in a minority, if they only know it. It is the nation of nowhere.”

– Jan Morris

The Infinite Abyss

It’s Friday, 2nd April 2010, 4 A.M. in Mecca. Less than 100 meters away from Ka’abah, there I sit waiting for sholat fajar time. As I read through the verses of Al Qur’an translation, large mass of Muslims from different parts of the world gathered forming a unity in front of me, circling the sacred place built by Abraham in the Paganism days. It is a beautiful sight, it is truly a blissful moment.

In exactly 2 1/2 hours’ time, in Luang Prabang, Laos, the Buddhist monks will be preparing their morning ritual in the village, while in Amritsar, India, the Sikhs will conduct their clean up ritual of their beautiful Golden Temple. But today, the day belongs to the Christians, who are commemorating good Friday and the joyful Easter celebration in the upcoming Sunday.

Indeed, in its core, religion is a peaceful ideology that puts order out of chaos in a society. It is a unifying way of life, with beautiful rituals and celebrations that have heavily influenced our many societies in the world for the past 2000 years or so. Today, from around 6 billion people in the world, there are around 2 billion Christians, almost 1.5 billion Muslims, more than 900 million Hindus, 400 million Buddhists, 24 million Sikhs and 13 million Jews, among the largest religious population. The statistics show it all, a proof of how big religious influence is in the world today, as the generally accepted answer of our existence in this life.

One deep look into history, however, and all of this mindset will be seriously challenged, as the world doesn’t always operate this way before. Most scientists agree that the world is now around 4.5 billion years old, with the origins of man can be tracked back to 6 million years ago in Africa. Having said that, the oldest civilization ever found up until now is in Mesopotamia at around 7000 years old.

Hence, when all put together, these facts leave us with a really big mystery on our very existence as human beings. If the cave men of the stone-age lived only 6 million years ago while the earth has existed 4,494 million years before that, then what really happened before the period of origins of man? And what happened along the way, between the stone age and Mesopotamia? Now this right here, I believe, is the defining line between human ability and the infinite abyss.

At the mercy of a mysterious fate

We all are at the mercy of a mysterious fate. In 24 February 1582, A Roman Catholic Pope Gregory XIII changed the commonly used “Julius calendar” with “Gregorian calendar”, a calendar system referring to the date of the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the calendar system that we all now eventually use, except in few cases like in Ethiopia. The adoption of the Gregorian Calendar sets the date straight between BC (roughly interpreted as the lost period before Jesus was born) and AD (the time when Jesus was born as the guide for humankind).

The same approach can also be found in Al Qu’ran, where the Islamic calendar began from the moment the prophet Muhammad Hijra or moved from Mecca to Ancient Yatrib (modern-day Medina) with the early Muslim community; leaving behind a period called the Jahiliyah, a period described as the lost and chaotic period where the Paganism was the majority faith.

However, a reading into the history of Paganism will give us a completely different view on this polytheistic religion, a different approach of order out of chaos, similar with other polytheistic religions in our first 5000 years of civilization. Ancient cultures such as Greek, Egypt, Mayan, Roman and the still existing cultures in Indian subcontinent all have beautiful sets of believe and live their whole life truly believing in multiple gods as the generally accepted answer to their existence in the world. They stored order in their society with sets of rules and rituals, with core values similar with today’s monotheism religions.

Had we live in the BC era, or the Jahiliyah era, where the polytheism was the generally accepted answer to our existence, would we become lost? Would we not have the chance to enter heaven? Who would get to heaven for that matter, as nobody believed in monotheism yet?

The Axial Age idea of heaven

Then come a period what theologian Karen Armstrong called the Axial Age, the period where the social-political circumstance in the world at that period of time has created a cultural shift in their respective regions, which eventually gave birth to the Abraham Religion in the Middle East, Confucius in China, and Logic in Ancient Greece, among others. The spread of these ideologies across the world, especially the Abraham Religion (Judaism, Christianity and later on Islam) as the majority monotheistic religious idealism, started to change the way human kind see their existence in this world, in the form of the Sole Creator and the idea of heaven and hell.

Heaven, it is commonly believed, is reserved for those who do good in life, while hell for those who do bad in life. But after 2000 years-or-so of existence, the religious bibles of the Abraham Religion, though written in a vast analogical context, could only cover up to such limited modern contexts. Can the killings conducted by US Soldiers in Iraq be justified religiously? If so what’s the difference with the “Jihad” conducted by Iraqis on killing the occupying US Soldiers? Would the derivatives traders who shorted the sub-prime mortgage CDOs in 2007, thus contributing to the crash of the sub-prime mortgage market, can be held accountable of ruining many lives in today’s crisis-ridden world? Will their profit-making trade reserve them a place in hell?

Slowly but sure modern-day people are starting to question the very essence of religion, and choose to believe more in Atheism and scientific proofs, as more and more scientific findings have emerged to seriously challenge the pivotal moments in religious history. Since 1957 we know that above us is not heaven but the outer space with planets, galaxies and mysteries. The findings from archaeology, science and historical investigation reveals that Moses didn’t necessarily perform a miracle when the Red Sea was divided. And Charles Darwin’s Origins of Species theory may provide the biggest challenge to the believe that God create us all.

With all of these external struggles, religious ideologies may face even more daunting task to defend itself with the emerging of internal struggles, with a bunch of people who exploit their respective religion, to poorly justify their unholy conduct. Cases such as the rise of so-called Militant Islamists and the scandals involving the Catholic Priests, among many others, are damaging the image of the real religion as a peaceful and pure teachings of life.

Indeed, like many other sensitive matters, all of these issues have many different angles and a lot of gray areas. Hence, it is understandable that religion becomes a hot topical debate that divide our modern-day society; with religious fanatics at one side, scientific findings on the other side and the pure religious devotees as the moderates that make the silent majority.

The silence says it all

So what’s the future for today’s monotheistic beliefs? Karen Armstrong believes that we are now on the verge of a second Axial Age. And all of these 2012 doomsday prophecy by the ancient societies does not necessarily translated as the end of the world, but instead the possible big cultural or social-political shift from the one we have for thousands of years to a move towards the unknown territory, or towards yet another abyss.

Some speculations about the “doomsday prophecy” have been around for several hundred years in the religious-based textbooks. A doomsday scenario analogically explained in the Christianity bible suggest that the world will come to an end when Palestine and Israel reach a peaceful state and when Europe are united to become one. Or from the Islamic scriptures, the prophet Muhammad once said that in the reckoning day there will be 73 different forms of Islam, but only 1 remains in the right path. This perhaps could explain the numerous “branches” of Islam or Islam-based ideologies such as Sunni, Shi’ite, Sufi, Khomeinism, Ishmaelism, the Kharijites, the Muslim Brothers, Wahhabism, and several smaller ideologies like FPI in my country, to mention a few. Or in the Christianity “branch” this would come down to Catholicism, Protestantism, Greek Orthodox, Lutheranism, Anglicanism, Presbyterianism, Unitarianism, Baptism, Quakerism, Amish, Episcopalianism, Methodism, Jehovah’s Witness, Mormonism and Pentecostalism, among others.

Of course the problem is, every single one of them claims to be the “true and pure form” of their respective religion, and no single human being can determine which one is indeed the pure one. But the big question now is, does it really matter?

At their own respective time Socrates, Confucius, Shiva, Siddhartha Gautama, Jesus Christ, Prophet Muhammad, L Ron Hubbart, Joseph Smith and many more ideological leaders all have 2 things in common. Firstly they are all great leaders, and secondly they all preach the same Golden Rule that tries to put order out of the chaotic human irrationality: treat others the way you want to be treated. And no matter who we are and in which society we live in, we should always practice the good values in whatever faith(s) we truly believe in, and practice it according to the Golden Rule.

Only then we would realize that none of these religious issues matter. Because, the silent majority of religious devotees just live their lives peacefully practicing their own religion, without having to force what they believe to other people. That approach is what makes a small community of Zoroastrian religion still exist in Iran, and thus “survived” the first Axial Age. And that approach is what makes Voodoo religion (the religion, not the demonized Hollywood version) still hugely popular in West Africa and now in Haiti. Because it’s not about the teachings, but about the devotees who practice the teachings. It’s not religion that is violent or peaceful, but people that is violent or peaceful. And so ANY ideology can either be good or bad, depending on the practitioners.

Throughout our 7000 years of civilization, human beings have always try to define the meaning of our existence, of who we are and why are we here, without ever getting any confirmation back. Some rituals and beliefs live on, some evolved and some vanished through time. But no matter how we live our lives, and what belief(s) we subscribe to, in the end we all have the same destination: to reach the mountaintop. Some might feel that the way from the west is the best path, others feel that the south path is better. But it doesn’t really matter where we take the path to climb the mountain from, as long as we get there. And the mountaintop could be anything. It could be God, it could be heaven, or it could be peace and harmony. It could be scientific breakthrough, redemption from suffering, the state of Nirvana. Or it could be the ideology to put order out of our chaos.