The Third Tower Travels – One: Szombathely

Traveling is an experience of freedom. My favorite one, for that matter. It’s a cliché, really: when I get away from the scenes of everyday life, that opens me up, rejuvenates me. I don’t even have to be alone: in fact, sharing this with family or friends even adds to the excitement.

Cliché or not, I can’t help bearing witness to its truth. And I can’t help sharing this deepest of my experiences: I’m starting a series of travel pieces on this blog called the Third Tower Travels. The travel pieces will be short and made up of photos, highlights and anecdotes rather than facts and figures or accurate and complete travel information. At the same time, I hope they will make some of the readers want to visit the places I’m writing about.

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Language is flawed

If you’re not perplexed that I, a Catholic, would support marriage equality (translated by many as ’gay marriage’), you can stop reading this post. OK, just kidding, read on please, I’d hate to lose readers.

It’s not exactly marriage equality that I support: I am against banning or regulating lifestyles as long as they don’t harm the life, safety, and liberty of other human beings. As long as the respect for individual human life is held up, the government has no business in interfering. And marriage equality is one of the things where this is true. As the resolution of the US Supreme Court says (Syllabus, (b) 2): Continue reading

Values

The value I’ll always hold on to and won’t negotiate is this: the respect for individual human life. Do you agree? Do you also think the life, safety, and freedom of another person is just as valuable as your own?

If you do, we’re on the same page. Nothing else matters. Our skin tones, languages, cultures – our collective identities –, our social statuses might be different, yet we’ll be able to respect one another. Continue reading

Meet Spotty: She’s an Easter Rabbit, and She’s Not A Toy

I have long planned to write a post on how there can be no moral integrity without freedom. I was procrastinating: I was forever waiting for the “proper” occasion and the “proper” words. And in the aftermath of Easter, I end up sharing a silly and naïve story – which happens to provide just the perfect example for what I have to say.

I thought I’d stand up for the liberty to keep pet rabbits in our homes – and, on a more serious note, I plan to criticize prohibitions in general. There were plenty of advertisements – very rightfully – discouraging the traffic of rabbits, first sold as Easter presents for kids, and then thrown out, set loose, or killed when the kids no longer find enjoyment in them. Yet I have a point or two to add to that argument.

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Boundaries

Infinity is really hard to experience. Math works with it – in fact, math works with all sorts of different infinities – but everything we actually see has boundaries. We don’t even know if space is infinite – most probably it isn’t because we haven’t seen anything beyond twenty-nine billion light-years or so. From this, science actually estimates the size of the observable universe around 93 billion light-years.

On the other hand, physics tells us that these very distant objects are moving away very fast, and there’s no telling if and where they will stop. Math has a term for that, too: finite but unbounded.

A person has boundaries. They don’t necessarily start at our skin. If a stranger moves too close (to our taste), we feel violated. When we feel possessive about our belongings, we like putting them within our boundaries. Right now I’m sitting in a café, with my bag and coat on another chair across the table. If someone came and took – touched – them, I would feel violated. Does this make them part of me – do my boundaries extend to them across the table?

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Authority is Nearly Always Bad

There’s a general tendency to forget bad things. We need reminders. I need reminders. One of those reminders is Stanley Milgram’s famous book – Obedience to Authority.

Milgram conducted an experiment in 1961, where he tested the nature of obedience. One of the motives of this study was the efficiency of the Nazi state in handing out millions of deaths. Officers were made to obey sinister commands not by force but by authority, and many of them didn’t even think they shared the responsibility for what they had done.

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Dafke

‘Dafke’ is a word in Hungarian to say ‘stubbornly in spite of better judgment’. The meaning of the Hebrew original is much more colorful.

Over the last couple of days, I’ve read several articles that explained why it was a mistake to display the ‘#JeSuisCharlie’ tag to identify with the victims of the Charlie Hebdo attack. In this post, I will dafke stand by my original stance and insist that I am still Charlie. And Ahmed. And a victim of Anders Breivik. And the Hungarian Roma who were ruthlessly killed by racist extremists in 2009. And the untold hundreds and thousands who are humiliated, persecuted and killed every day for not submitting to a violent ideology – or just for who they are. Continue reading

Walk

Freedom is one of those important things that we don’t usually notice until we lose it. There are numerous examples in both history and fiction to support that. So, if I think freedom is one of the few very fundamental values, it can’t hurt to be mindful of it first.

Thinking of times when I feel the freest, it’s when I walk the streets or the woods, alone, nothing to come between my thoughts and my consciousness. Times when I can do this are very precious.

But when you start thinking hard about things, all manner of doubts come up inevitably. Is this really it? I mean, freedom? In a way, yes. Spending time on my own, thinking, is when I rejoice in my consciousness, which is, they say, a prerequisite to free will, having worlds to do with freedom. As it is, I’m frightened of losing all or part of my consciousness.

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The Third Tower

This blog is my refuge – an intellectual refuge, so to speak. The title comes from Hungarian writer Antal Szerb, who wrote about his Italian travels in 1936 under this title. Szerb’s literal third tower is in San Marino, where you can see three towers (ubiquitous in Italy) on the mountain just above the city. (The towers shown at the header of this blog are in San Gimignano, Tuscany.)

Montale, the Third Tower of San Marino – from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Alaexis, under Creative Commons CC BY-SA 2.5

Montale, the Third Tower of San Marino – from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Alaexis, under Creative Commons CC BY-SA 2.5

Why a refuge, and why the Third Tower? Let me quote Szerb here:

“The third tower stands at a distance, in a remote corner of one of those mountains, on top of steep, insurmountable rocks on both sides. The city doesn’t reach up here, and as you walk along the ridge, you get dizzy by the height. […] There, right below the Third Tower, I came to understand my notorious anxiety: […] everywhere, through the entire journey, I had to deal with the happy Italian collectivism. I felt I had to protect my solitude from that, and the common European future it represented. I felt that my solitary happiness was threatened by their herd-like happiness, because they were stronger than me. […] I cannot share this happiness that I feel here at the foot of the Third Tower. Likewise, I’m unable to give myself up to anyone and anything, not to any government or any idea.”

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