Rue Amelot

Faraway Brussels: How We Do And Don’t Grieve For Others

Candles lit in memory of the Brussels terrorist attacks victims
Candles lit in memory of the Brussels terrorist attacks victims
Alidad Vassigh*

MEXICO CITY â€" Should we grieve? How should we react to calamities, death and pain? I mean other people's pain, because your own pain is your business, and you can handle it as you please. But to others struck by life's arbitrary monstrousness, it seems we owe what we might call a "decent" amount of concern or grief. Short of some sort of visible or audible sign toward those suffering, we risk sliding deeper into the isolation and cynicism that poses the question in the first place.

I thought this while eating a cheese sandwich (with wine to calm my nerves) in a rented flat in Mexico City. When I woke up Tuesday morning, I read online about both the terrorist attacks in Brussels and the severe illness of a friend's mother back in Madrid, where I live most of the year. Needless to say, the latter requires more of me. When I arrive back home after Easter, I will have to offer real support, and it's already causing a little maelstrom inside. And so, to be honest, I've flushed Brussels out of my mind for now.

Right now I'm in a "spring revolt" against melancholic states of mind as surely as the Arabs rose against their dictators. The results remain unclear, of course, and I too, like the Middle East, could slide back into chaos.

When you think of all the stress and melancholy that fills the lives of so many people, you might plausibly ask how much sympathy or capacity for grief can we expect of others? On the same computer where I read about Brussels and my friend's mother, I have been searching for answers for my recurring despondency on YouTube, which has become my Alexandrian library â€" and for once, I don't mind my searches being tracked to make suggestions.

Yes, for life's problems your first stop may be the psychology supermarket available online. But in time, you may move on toward spiritual guidance, and if I may use the word, religion (as Francois Mitterrand once said, "let us not fear words").

Ultimately, I find that the solutions to life's turmoil lie in the wide and surprisingly flexible sphere of religion, or religiosity, not in therapy or coaching.

Who is it for?

The Buddha left his life of ease not to seek therapy but to understand suffering. The 20th-century writer and lecturer Jiddu Krishnamurti began to think hard about his life, and later when his brother Nitya died, about our dissatisfaction and its roots in inherited thinking processes. He cherished his brother, who died young of illness despite assurances Krishnamurti was given by the sect that venerated the brothers. I suspect he would reject standard expressions of grief as "imposed" by our societies. But he wouldn't tell you what to think, as he rejected set solutions and thinking systems, including anything he might mention.

The ecumenical teacher and former Jesuit Anthony de Mello also challenged standardized sentiments. Where there is grief, he said once, there is no love (and yet we view grief as a sign of love). Who are we really grieving for, he asked? There is a big trade in emotions in our relations ("You be good to me, I'll be good to you, and they call that love," to quote de Mello).

Another with little time for "organized" feelings was the 17th-century thinker François de la Rochefoucauld. But as a sensible, sensitive and proud man, he preferred to write open-ended maxims rather than counsel us like a two-bit peddler of cheap words. De la Rochefoucauld invites his readers not to panic but to reflect on a maxim like, "we shall never lack the strength to bear other people's misfortunes." Is he also telling us not to beat ourselves up because none of us is as kind as we imagine?

Grieving is not a moral duty. (In the Koran, God seemingly absolves those with faith of worldly grief and fear). As the Prophet Muhammad suggested, die (to the worldly life) before you (physically) die. I am preparing my own departure and would rather not grieve in the process. My mother might add, "that's because you're so selfish."

And yet, even for someone as selfish as I am, it just seems cruel to simply ignore the expectations of others. I have read about how the ancient Greeks punished objects, such as a stick, that had been instrumental in hurting someone. It was a symbolic gesture to right a wrong.

So whether in Madrid or in Brussels, it may just simply be a question of doing something, anything â€" a physical gesture, a kind word or even a moment's private gratitude â€" to acknowledge someone else's pain that ultimately leaves you helpless. It is symbolic, but also involves a little rectification of the world, and of the heart.

*Alidad Vassigh is a Madrid-based writer and translator. He was born in Tehran, educated in France and England, and moves about frequently between Madrid, Mexico City and Bogotá until he decides where to settle.

This is Worldcrunch"s uniquely international collection of essays, both original pieces written in English and others translated from the world's best writers in any language. The name for this collection, Rue Amelot, is a nod to the humble street in eastern Paris that we call home. Send ideas and suggestions to

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How China Flipped From Tech Copycat To Tech Leader

Long perceived as a country chasing Western tech, China's business and technological innovations are now influencing the rest of the world. Still lagging on some fronts, the future is now up for grabs.

At the World Semiconductor Conference in Nanjing, China, on June 9

Emmanuel Grasland

BEIJING — China's tech tycoons have fallen out of favor: Jack Ma (Alibaba), Colin Huang (Pinduoduo), Richard Liu (Tencent) and Zhang Yiming (ByteDance) have all been pressured by Beijing to leave their jobs or step back from a public role. Their time may be coming to an end, but the legacy remains exceptional. Under their reign, China has become a veritable window to the global future of technology.

TikTok is the perfect example. Launched in 2016, the video messaging app has been downloaded over two billion times worldwide. It has passed the 100-million active user mark in the United States. Thanks to TikTok's success, ByteDance, its parent company, has reached an exceptional level of influence on the internet.

For a long time, the West viewed China's digital ecosystem as a cheap imitation of Silicon Valley. The European and American media described the giants of the Asian superpower as the "Chinese Google" or "Chinese Amazon." But the tables have turned.

No Western equivalent to WeChat

The Asian superpower has forged cutting-edge business models that do not exist elsewhere. It is impossible to find a Western equivalent to the WeChat super-app (1.2 billion users), which is used for shopping as much as for making a medical appointment or obtaining credit.

The flow of innovation is now changing direction.

The roles have actually reversed: In a recent article, Les Echos describes the California-based social network IRL, as a "WeChat of the Western world."

Grégory Boutté, digital and customer relations director at the multinational luxury group Kering, explains, "The Chinese digital ecosystem is incredibly different, and its speed of evolution is impressive. Above all, the flow of innovation is now changing direction."

This is illustrated by the recent creation of "live shopping" events in France, which are hosted by celebrities and taken from a concept already popular in China.

10,000 new startups per day

There is an explosion of this phenomenon in the digital sphere. Rachel Daydou, Partner & China General Manager of the consulting firm Fabernovel in Shanghai, says, "With Libra, Facebook is trying to create a financial entity based on social media, just as WeChat did with WeChat Pay. Facebook Shop looks suspiciously like WeChat's mini-programs. Amazon Live is inspired by Taobao Live and YouTube Shopping by Douyin, the Chinese equivalent of TikTok."

In China, it is possible to go to fully robotized restaurants or to give a panhandler some change via mobile payment. Your wallet is destined to be obsolete because your phone can read restaurant menus and pay for your meal via a QR Code.

The country uses shared mobile chargers the way Europeans use bicycles, and is already testing electric car battery swap stations to avoid 30 minutes of recharging time.

Michael David, chief omnichannel director at LVMH, says, "The Chinese ecosystem is permanently bubbling with innovation. About 10,000 start-ups are created every day in the country."

China is also the most advanced country in the electric car market. With 370 models at the end of 2020, it had an offering that was almost twice as large as Europe's, according to the International Energy Agency.

Photo of a phone's screen displaying the logo of \u200bChina's super-app WeChat

China's super-app WeChat

Omar Marques/SOPA Images/ZUMA

The whole market runs on tech

Luca de Meo, CEO of French automaker Renault, said in June that China is "ahead of Europe in many areas, whether it's electric cars, connectivity or autonomous driving. You have to be there to know what's going on."

As a market, China is also a source of technological inspiration for Western companies, a world leader in e-commerce, solar, mobile payments, digital currency and facial recognition. It has the largest 5G network, with more than one million antennas up and running, compared to 400,000 in Europe.

Self-driving cars offer an interesting point of divergence between China and the West.

Just take the number of connected devices (1.1 billion), the time spent on mobile (six hours per day) and, above all, the magnitude of data collected to deploy and improve artificial intelligence algorithms faster than in Europe or the United States.

The groundbreaking field of self-driving cars offers an interesting point of divergence between China and the West. Artificial intelligence guru Kai-Fu Lee explains that China believes that we should teach the highway to speak to the car, imagining new services and rethinking cities to avoid cars crossing pedestrians, while the West does not intend to go that far.

Still lagging in some key sectors

There are areas where China is still struggling, such as semiconductors. Despite a production increase of nearly 50% per year, the country produces less than 40% of the chips it consumes, according to official data. This dependence threatens its ambitions in artificial intelligence, telecoms and autonomous vehicles. Chinese manufacturers work with an engraving fineness of 28 nm or more, far from those of Intel, Samsung or TSMC. They are unable to produce processors for high-performance PCs.

China's aerospace industry is also lagging behind the West. There are also no Chinese players among the top 20 life science companies on the stock market and there are doubts surrounding the efficacy of Sinovac and Sinopharm's COVID-19 vaccines. As of 2019, the country files more patents per year than the U.S., but far fewer are converted into marketable products.

Beijing knows its weaknesses and is working to eliminate them. Adopted in March, the nation's 14th five-year plan calls for a 7% annual increase in R&D spending between now and 2025, compared with 12% under the previous plan. Big data aside, that is basic math anyone can understand.
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