A talk with Steve Mickevics, my tutor in 2021

 

 

 

 

 

Every month, a talk with Steve on various topics will be posted. Steve comes from Adelaide, Australia. He’s been in Japan for more than 10 years.

  

 

 

 

 

 

A topic of discussion on March 10, 2021: This is a blunt “if” question in recent history. If the Treaty of Versailles had not stipulated as harsh treaty terms and conditions as it did on post WW1 Germany, the Second World War would not have occurred?  

 

 

The Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919 between Allied Powers and Germany to formally end World War I. The treaty laid down stipulations to essentially deprive the strength of defeated Germany by ceding its contested territories to surrounding countries, limiting military power, paying a large sum of reparations among others. These terms and conditions reflected the victors’ argument that Germany was solely responsible for causing World War I.

 

Based on the general resentment of the German people against the treaty, which Adolf Hitler vehemently criticized, Hitler surprisingly adhered to his own book “Mein Kampf” and began to take back territories which were ceded by the treaty, one by one. Coupled with his declaration of rearmament and effectually repudiating the reparations, Hitler subsequently took Germany into WWII.

 

As Steve mentioned, The Treaty of Versailles gave Hitler a “Casus Belli”, which according to Wikipedia means “an act or event that provokes or is used to justify war”. So, yes, it was a contributing factor to WWII. But we know that there were other factors. Let’s look at some of them briefly.

 

One perspective is confrontation between the rising authoritarian powers of Germany, Italy (invading Ethiopia) and Japan (expanding its influence in China) on one side and the “incumbent” western powers of the UK, France and the US on the other. Another perspective was the Great Depression that began in 1920. As a result, the UK and France took the policy of “Block economy” by utilizing for themselves their vast expanse of colonies and natural resources, whereas Germany, Italy and Japan were in desperate need for them but were out of their reach. The so-called appeasement policy of the UK and France to intentionally overlook Germany’s territorial claims in Europe in return for Germany standing against the expansion of communism was another contributing factor.    

     

So, our talk had focused on the negative aspects of the treaty but there was

a hopeful concept of sustaining peace as set forth by Woodrow Wilson to create the League of Nations. It was well intended in that a collective security and disarmament process would be employed to prevent war; and any international disputes would be settled by means of negotiation and arbitration. It was created in 1920. But it was an irony of history that the US did not participate in this institution because of internal political affairs. The Soviet Union was expelled from the League when it invaded Finland. Germany, Italy and Japan withdrew from it for various reasons respectively. To prevent WWII from happening, the League of Nations was totally powerless.   

 

 

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A topic of discussion for February 10, 2021: This time we would like to talk about philosophy. If you are interested in contemporary philosophers, please introduce us to some of them.  

Steve’s first comment was that because he didn’t study contemporary philosophers, he is not so much interested in them. Having said that he has delved into the subject and managed to pick some prominent figures as detailed below that we could talk about. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

His first pick was Sam Harris (1967~), an American author, philosopher, and neuroscientist.

 

(Photo by Christopher Michel)

Harris covers topics from a wide field, such as rationality, religion, ethics, free will, neuroscience, meditation, politics, terrorism, AI among others. Steve gave a good example of what is meant by “free will”: imagine you were asked to choose 3 cities. Is what you choose really a result of your free will, or to a certain extent influenced by your preferences? “Do we really have free will or not?” The basic stance of Harris seems to be centered around his “love” of science. So, he is very critical of anything that cannot be explained scientifically. This is especially true when it comes to religion. “Pretending to know things one doesn’t know is a betrayal of science and yet it is the lifeblood of religion.” 

 

 

 

 

 

Christopher Hichens (1949-2011), an English intellectual, polemist, social-political critic

  (Photo by ensceptico)

He challenged anything, anyone as a true polemist. He asserted that “all religion was false, harmful and authoritarian: he favored free expression, scientific discovery, and advocated for separation of church and state”. Let me quote this: “What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Richard Dawkins (1941~), a British ethologist, evolutionary biologist and author

(Photo by David Shankbone)

 

 

Based on his scholastic achievements in his scientific field, he has appeared on TV, radio and the Internet talking about many topics. He is very critical of religion and the existence of deity. 

 

                                             

 

 

                                             

                                              Neil deGrasse Tyson (1958~), an American astrophysist, planetary scientist, author and science communicator

(Photo by the Norwegian University of Science)

Tyson has talked about the “spirituality of science” a lot. Here is one, “We think about the universe as an intellectual playground, which it surely is, but the moment you learn something that touches an emotion rather than just something intellectual, I would call that a spiritual encounter with the universe.”   

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                            Brian Cox (1968~), an English particle physicist and former musician

 

       (Photo by Duncan Hull)

Besides his core academic activities, Cox is very active to publicize science through various means. “He said that he has no personal faith”, but went on

“he cannot be sure there is no god and that science cannot answer every question.”  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stephen Fry (1957~), an English actor, comedian and  writer

 

 

Fry’s view on religion. “He is opposed to organized religion being an atheist and humanist, while declaring some sympathy for the ancient Greek belief in Capricious gods.”

 

As seen here, Steve picked these scholars and an intellectual, who are all non-professional philosophers. From their core competence, they are talking about a lot of other subjects, but it’s interesting to know that they all have negative stances on religion as not scientific. For your information, this is the definition of contemporary philosophy according to Wikipedia: “…. a number of new philosophical schools—including logical positivism, analytic philosophy, phenomenology, existentialism and poststructurism.”    

 

 

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A topic of discussion for January 13, 2021: Because of Covid-19 how has life in Australia changed as far as what you hear from your family members and friends there? 

 

Australia has been praised for taking strong measures like neighboring New Zealand, including lock-downs, to combat Covid-19 where and when necessary. On the other hand, Japan declared a national emergency across the whole country from April to May last year, but it was not as strict as other lock-downs at all: yes, schools were closed but restaurants and shops remained open for shorter business hours, working places were not closed but office worker were asked to work from home, public transportation remained open and so on. 

 

Steve mentioned recent measures taken in Brisbane. Lock downs were lifted but “restrictions” remain. According to the website of the Queensland government, these restrictions mandate limiting max. capacity for visitors at any place and a must for wearing masks in public places, shops and so on. Also, Steve mentioned that “quarantining” hotels in Melbourne were not properly administered, so soldiers were placed instead to maintain strict procedures there.

 

 

Faced with a grave surge of Covid-19 cases Japan has recently but belatedly declared a state of emergency to major cities for the second time. But it has been criticized for its lax nature of targeting mainly restaurants and bars, which are “requested” to close by 8 pm. Then we discussed vaccines. Steve thought that Japan is acting too slowly to implement vaccines. We both agreed to receive shots when they become available. 

 

 

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Facts about Yokohama

A talk with Steve Mickevics, my tutor

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