Since Frank is at the center of most non-government affiliated, non-profit and English speaking events in Shanghai, I run risk to be ousted from all these by writing these lines; but isn’t this what revolution is all about?
I felt since the very first book club session at the beginning of this year that Frank harbors some hostility against me, but only since today I know why. I never felt hostility against Frank, and I always understood the book club as a platform to exchange our thoughts on the ideas of the authors who we read. Since most books where on or related to democracy, I naturally thought that this concept applies to the book club itself.
Today I had to learn that this is not true - quite on the contrary. Although I remember that Frank said himself that he did not entirely read books but still joined the discussion, he basically told me today to shut up: "you should have read the book" and "let first people discuss the book who have actually read it" was neither polite nor necessary nor fair. In particular because today’s presenter Jennifer asked around and almost nobody did read this lengthy volume fully.
I did read extensive goodread reviews and checked out Arendt’s biography and bibliography beforehand. Something I always do prior to buying a book, because I want to make sure that the author has something to say that supports my growth. Cutting through concepts and ideas is important if we want to grow. In particular if we want to grow faster than others might want us to. Otherwise we keep pushing the same old thoughts in our minds without genuine progress.
There was nothing new I could find in the reviews. I bought the book nevertheless, because “revolution and revolt” is a thought that I have at least 20 years on my mind, and Arendt might be the ultimate voice on revolution. In my own concept of thought revolution is opposed to revolt, i.e. the change of man from outside or within: exogenous vs. endogenous revolution.
I felt it was therefore an experience of synchronicity when a dear friend of mine invited me last week to a workshop on mindfulness. A German Buddhist explained there his 30 year experience with meditation and recommended after the workshop a book to read up: The Mindfulness Revolution”. Quite contrary to Arendt’s the pages keep turning in this book and I have the feeling that I am nurtured not blocked by intellectual rumination.
Early this October I came across Karl Popper when researching on a travel essay which had the failing European democracy at its heart. Sir Karl Popper once defined democracy in contrast to dictatorship or tyranny, thus focusing on opportunities for the people to control their leaders and to oust them without the need for a revolution. According to his definition, we don’t live anymore in a democracy, neither in the EU nor the US. But as individuals we can take responsibility of our own life; stop being part of systems we do not approve of as far as possible; and look inwards for salvation instead of blaming others for the misery we have to endure.
I am grateful to Frank for running the book club. It was the book club, which made me read Kissinger’s World Order and Moore’s Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy, two masterpieces, which confirmed and enriched my take on revolution and revolt.
Today’s turn of events clearly showed though that Frank runs the book club as his own totalitarian baby. It does not serve the ultimate objective of enabling its participants to grow according to their own capability, but only in line with Frank’s ideas. It is sad that he does not move beyond and keeps people like myself, who sometimes offer another perspective, at bay.
To Frank I send a quote from Carl Gustav Jung: Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves. You have a great project going with the book club, but you clearly have some space for personal growth and decent moderation. Ask yourself: what is the ultimate objective of running the book club, if not exchanging ideas on a subject and being inspired by other perspectives? If it takes a number of sessions to being actually entitled to open one’s mouth, then please make these rules clear upfront. Otherwise all the talk about democracy is just a farce, because you don’t even live it in your own pet project.