When I first arrived in Bhutan, I was invited to help the government's Department of Information demonstrate the power of technology in an effort to get more government funding. Today, I see that Ericsson have begun work with Bhutan's education department to install videoconferencing into five remote schools so their students can take lessons from a central group of specialists.
For many years, I've looked at open source as the start of a new economy, a way of life, not just a model for software development. My Masters thesis looked at online communities who were volunteering their time to collaborate with like-minded people to create a better version of something that would otherwise be a commercial product. Doubters among my colleagues and friends ask why it would happen now when it hasn't worked in the past. To me, the answer is clearly that the foundations hadn't been set. This is not simple philanthropy where one's donation (usually money) benefits unknown people on the other side of the world - the donors benefit directly from others who add their complementary skills to their own. This is not communism, driven from the top down. It must be driven by the masses, and until now, the masses haven't had the time or the tools. Nor were experts from around the world as able to easily connect and share ideas. Despite the efforts of groups like OSCar, my vision still had limited application to physical products. It worked for software, and it could work for governance, but you still need specialised components to build a car. Alastair Parvin, in his TED talk, Architecture for the people by the people, has shown me that we're a step closer. The 3D printer now makes it possible for people to create the components they need even to build a house. Where do you see this trend going next? Is an open source economy possible? What problems must be overcome? Some believe that the power-hungry few will sabotage such an economy. I worry that the raw materials used by the printer may still
John L. Murphy has completed a mammoth review of just about every book written on Bhutan. He understands the value of a book written by locals and residents. There are many more books about this amazing country than I knew of, and I'm delighted to see he rated some of my favourites highly - see Beyond the Sky and the Earth and Treasures of the Thunder Dragon. I wondered how he missed Bold Bhutan Beckons, but then I realised that, like my publisher, CopyRight Publishing is an independent publisher. I'm even more honoured, then, that Murphy found and took the time to read Dragon Bones. While it's not mentioned until about halfway through the article, it's clear that he valued the depth of experience that went into writing it. 'Like his compatriot Launsell Taudevinâ€™s With a Dzong in My Heart memoir set in 1988, Murray Gunn finds that advising the locals about Western methods clashes with rank-pulling bureaucrats, a more lackadaisical work ethic than he expected, and a series of culture clashes mixed with awe at the kingdomâ€™s beauty, Buddhist traditions, and courtly atmosphere. While Gunn repeats many of the trekking adventures others do in his account, unique to what Iâ€™ve read in other versions, he listens to his guide: â€œThis is our life. We have to come up here no matter what the weatherâ€™s like and we do the same trails over and over until our feet are sore. And we can never go anywhere else. Thereâ€™s no holiday for us.â€' I love the line he chose to quote and his reason for doing so. For me, the trek was fascinating because of the attitude and companionship of the locals who helped us on
The Moral Landscape, by Sam Harris, puts forward the idea that scientists can, and should, contribute to moral debate. Harris believes that the goal of ethics is the well-being of conscious creatures, which is a measurable quantity. Science may not yet have the tools or the understanding to take these measurements, but since they are measurable with science, only science can offer real insight into moral debate. Itâ€™s an interesting idea, and I certainly donâ€™t deny scientists the right to engage in moral debate, but thatâ€™s as far as I can go in agreeing with Harris. He believes that our society has a monopoly on understanding right and wrong and gets very defensive when presenting views of cultural relativists, people who believe that you canâ€™t judge a culture until you have lived in it extensively. â€˜Why is it even slightly controversial to imagine that some tribe or society could harbor beliefs about reality that are not only false but demonstrably harmful?â€™ (p25) For Harris, â€˜Moral relativism is clearly an attempt to pay intellectual reparations for the crimes of Western colonialism, ethnocentrism, and racism.â€™ (p47) While true for many people, and a good reason to be wary of imperialism, some of us have become relativists simply because weâ€™ve lived in other cultures with other beliefs and realise that one way is not better than another. Such experience makes statements like, â€˜they simply do not understand how much better life would be for them if they had different prioritiesâ€™ (p39) false for many of the cases he protests. A Westerner might make the case that a society of sexual equality is better than the male-dominance of Japanese culture, but he would be demonstrating his lack of understanding
I received a letter from the Australian Himalayan Foundation thanking me for my donation of the royalties from Dragon Bones. It confirms that the money will go entirely to the RENEW project to enable disadvantaged young girls from Bhutan to attend school. As I know some of the people involved in the project, I hope to be able to post some photos of their work in the future.
The first royalty cheque for Dragon Bones was for 502 copies sold over 6 months. That's about 10% of my big goal of 5000 sales. My main driver for selling so many copies (it is a lot for an unknown writer) was to ensure substantial support for Bhutanese organisations. To put this in perspective, my full target of 150,000 Nu was equivalent to 18 months base salary for a government employee. The recent strength of the Australian dollar makes the royalties worth far more in Ngultrum so I've decided to donate the entire first royalty cheque instead of just half. This first cheque is going to RENEW. I mentioned RENEW a number of times in Dragon Bones for its work in addressing issues relating to the treatment of women. The organisation is currently partnering with two Australians to provide assistance to girls in rural Bhutan. The money will be used to fund school books, uniforms, meals and boarding facilities as required. I would encourage others to donate to this cause. The Australian Himalayan Foundation will take donations online and, as a registered charity, can provide a tax receipt to Australian residents. Your money will help educate children who live up to two days walk from the nearest road. A$100 will support one girl for a full year. Please help out.
The recent 'Occupy' movement has been criticised for not having clear goals. Critics wonder how they are meant to take it seriously if the protesters can't say what they want? I think that's harsh. I wonder whether many historical revolutions have had a clear idea of the future beyond toppling the existing regime. It would, I believe, have been sufficient to express disapproval, then when the situation became intolerable, to take more aggressive action. Creating a new regime was surely the last step, though perhaps in the most successful cases the new was imagined beforehand. I've been too focused on my anthropology masters thesis to consider joining the protesters in camping out in Martin Place, but I can understand their disillusionment. Capitalism doesn't inspire me as an economic model either. Bhutan gave me a new model to aspire to. Some Bhutanese are fixated on financial gain, but as a whole, the people are more interested in enjoying their lives, enjoying each other and creating a country that their children will be happy to live in. Gross National Happiness might only be a part of the model, but importantly, GNH removes the focus from finances and puts it on the environment, culture, sustainable development and the governance to make it all work. I would be happier spending my working life in a role where I can really make a difference to the quality of someone's life rather than simply striving for financial gain. I don't know that the 'Occupy' movement has quite the same ideas, but I'm sure they see the problem with a system that's built on competition rather than collaboration. The open source movement has shown how much is possible when people work together
I've just been watching an old episode of SBS' Insight where Rajat Ganguly said that terrorism is sometimes analysed as a type of warfare conducted in an asymetrical power relationship. Al-Qaeda didn't have the same power base as the Western / Christian world they were rebelling against. They couldn't wage a war on equal footing, so they resorted to clandestine, suicidal, indiscriminate attacks. My first thoughts were to compare the recent Libyan rebellion, but as soon as I started writing this, I realised that I would fail. From the little I know, the rebels haven't attacked innocent people. They've targeted the military power. The rebels haven't used suicide attacks. In fact, the war seemed to be on equal footing. Still, I can't shake the feeling that we in the West are too quick to take sides, labelling one group terrorists and the other liberationists; to condemn the success of the first and to celebrate the success of the latter. We support the Libyan rebels because we believe they're fighting for freedom, for an end to tyranny, for democracy and other values we imagine we share. We hate Al-Qaeda because they don't share our Christian values and push a particular form of Islam. Yet we push our own form of Christianity and capitalism on them. From the other side of the world, I sympathise with the rebels who are fighting for freedom from oppression, for a way of life more conducive to their own well-being. I can also sympathise with the minority - who see a corrupt world, ruled by Western infidels, and have no real power to do anything about it so lash out in the only way they can - even if I don't
An article on countries that hinder international NGOs starts off with 'The news didn't come as a surprise.' While he may not be surprised, the writer clearly doesn't agree with the changes. Personally, I can understand why countries would wish to limit NGO actions. International NGOs can't help but bring biases from their own culture - after all, they have to report back on spending to their donor governments. It really should be no surprise that recipient governments want to keep a close eye on what they're up to. Can we really complain that local governments want international NGOs to "refrain from doing any act which is likely to cause misunderstanding?" Donors are going to want to know that their money isn't being spent on weapons that may be used against them in the future. I understand that there are limitations on what they'll accept their money being used for, but I don't think that donors have the right to, for example, influence the political system, pushing for democracy. As outsiders, we do have a different perspective and different skills that can be useful. We should be using them to assist in culturally appropriate programs run by locals to address issues identified by locals. That's why half of the royalties from Dragon Bones will go to Bhutanese organisations. I intend the same for any books I write in the future because I believe that only local NGOs can identify the biggest issues and address them in a culturally sensitive way. It's therefore exciting to me to see an organisation that seems to be taking that approach. In an interview, the CEO of the UN Foundation said, "That means aid wonâ€™t be a large-scale gift but
Language has always fascinated me. I love the way we can get the same message across with entirely different combinations of sounds and/or gestures. I love that I can have a conversation with a Japanese person that no one around me can understand (though that's less likely these days). I guess it was this 'secret code' idea that excited me when I was young because my parents used it against us. If my parents wanted to discuss the idea of buying ice creams without getting us kids all worked up, they had their own code. They'd add a nonsense syllable before every vowel so that a conversation might go: 'DELLo yELLou thELLink thELLat wELLe shELLould bELLuy ELLice crELLeam nELLow?' 'WELLe'll bELLe hELLome sELLoon. ThELLey cELLan hELLave ELLone thELLen.' This is where I'd jump in, simultaneously pointing out the ice cream shop to my siblings and complaining about the heat. 'ELLit wELLon't bELLe ELLas nELLice.' 'ELLokELLay. ELLif yELLou ELLinsELList.' I learnt to understand the code long before I could reproduce it, which is the way I learn languages. First I understand bits, then I try to use them and make lots of mistakes, then finally, I pick up the pattern. Real languages are made more interesting by the culture and different thinking behind them. A literal translation of 'good luck' to Japanese might work as a description ('It was good luck that found your wallet again') but not as a directive ('Good luck in the exam'). Instead, Japanese people say 'Do your best.' My French lessons and conversations covered many aspects of courting including, 'What's your name?', 'What's your phone number?' and 'Are you married?', but wedding protocol was never covered. I guess it was assumed