Archive for August, 2009

Really Charitable People

August 30, 2009

Methinks that the niggling meaninglessness of most relationships is an issue that many a teenager (and adult) has brooded upon in moments of solitary contemplation.

But then, look at it the realist (of, if you must, the cynical) way. People are, by and large, community creatures by definition. To live, in any recognisable sense of the word, is to interface with humans in the common way. If the common way superficial to the extent that we coin the term “sheeple” to describe the unseen hordes, well tough luck, but that’s the way it is.

Given that most people are capable of independent thought, yet unwittingly choose to subscribe to arbitrary social rules, what conclusions can we draw?

Only that, should one choose to see more than the “sheeple”, should one regard self and others as worthy human beings, real, complete with emotions and opinions, it is going to have to happen on the side, outside of these social rules.

What does it mean to do it outside these rules? It means to do it outside of the “superficial herd mentality”, to do it within the framework of a real relationship. A true friendship where each party can accept the other, and seek the best and the truth for the others.

So, yes, I concur fully that life is much less worth the living with only superficial “social life” and without true friendships that are open enough to have no “out-of-bounds areas”. And regarding what one must do, I reject the idea of drawing power from self.

To rely completely on self reeks of arrogance; it implies godly self-assuredness. Certainly a man needs to be able to trust in himself. In order to live, however, a man must intentionally unblind and humble himself before others, to let others support his weakness and to give of himself to others.

To live, therefore, is to live socially. Beyond the common understanding of friendships, to friendships that do indeed neccessitate the loyalty of rose-tinted lenses. But, not blind loyalty, but a loyalty born of seeking the best for others, of giving of self in the hope of receiving the same.

Sheepherding Sheep

August 27, 2009

School: don’t we all love it?

It us interesting, the same way an insane asylum might be considered a curiousity.

Where else do intelligent, composed, confident people lose their heads and behave like the proverbial sheep (or, in rare cases, Headless Chicken)?

After all, it is a place of independent learning, where minds mature and learn to carve out their unique places in the world.

It’s also a place where people know exactly where they stand. When everyone knows everybody, the unknown stay unknown and the known stay known; it is rather difficult to Climb The Social Ladder without anyone new to Upset The Status Quo.


There is this theroy that there are only 500 real people in this world, and the rest are background; that’s why they keep bumping into each other. And of course, there is an infinity of 500 person groups which overlap rather a bit.

Well, shrink it down and watch it work in school. There are these conglomerations of real people, and they know their place relative to the background, like well trained actors. And within each group we all know exactly what to do if we want to remain real and not fade into unreality: what everyone else does.


And it is an interesting phenomenon. And it probably doesn’t change, the older you get. Curious, isn’t it, how an individual’s uniqueness doesn’t stand alone, nor does it stand in spite of groupthink, but exists as the sum of his groupthink(s)?

Far Too Long

August 23, 2009

…since I’ve done anything.

My dashboard is littered with abandoned half-drafts; the weeks to promos being done too fast, the tutorials not fast enough. It’s disgusting to watch myself surrender to the obliterating waves of school and temptation to zone out in front of the computer.

So, from two weeks of letting muggers consider me and secretly smirk with smug superiority, let’s list the lessons learned:

– There exists this low-level disgust at one’s own laziness, coupled with tinges of regret
– Time really does fly when you shower, eat dinner, realise it’s nine and decide not to do anything else
– The excuse of tiredness often succeeds in self-delusion, until the next morning
– Physical exertion is a welcome but temporary respite from that self-directed contempt
– One starts to ask “what on earth am I doing with myself” rather a bit more.

Bad People

August 13, 2009


We will be in the Hodge Lodge on Monday.

If you don’t hand or email your essay by then, you are a bad person.


Mr. Etkin

I Find This Very Amusing.

Darren, RIP

August 10, 2009

Let this be a lesson to all you children. Dying by stroke is waaaaaay cooler than you think.

Will you parade in red?

August 9, 2009

I was wondering about how much I really care for Singapore (How much do you? If you want to, take a peek at what I think at the bottom.) Haven’t we been accused of lacking in freedoms?

We, the citizens of Singapore
pledge ourselves as one united people,
regardless of race, language or religion,
to build a democratic society,
based on justice and equality,
so as to achieve happiness, prosperity and
progress for our nation.

And these are the things we like to discuss, to plan for and to hope for. Justice. Egalitarianism. National happiness, wealth, and continued development. Would be very socialist, if not for that little bit about democracy. Perhaps you’ve heard the label of ‘social democracy’ bandied about before, to describe this nation of ours.

We, of course, reject the notion of our Singapore possibly being socialist. Should we not consider the largely government-owned housing we enjoy at affordable prices, as well as the government dominance of the local economy that brings stability and vision, as luxuries and advantages? Surely, the claim is absurd enough to not even warrant consideration. Didn’t we put all the Communists in prison a few decades back?

And so, we conclude that Singapore must be democratic. Haven’t we lauded ourselves for meritocracy, transparency, and minimal corruption? After all, democracy is, as Lincoln put it, ‘government of the people, by the people, and for the people’. Clearly, what we have is what we have demanded: the same government for forty four years.

Unfortunately, all those liberal Westerners love to pick fights and compromise our conservative Asian values, don’t they? They barge in telling us we’re ‘authoritarian, not democratic”. And so, we’re left in a quandary;  are we still democratic, even as we appear to relinquish some rights of thought and expression for the happiness, prosperity, and progress we’ve enjoyed?

Forget, for a moment, about trade-offs between freedoms and wealth, and consider democracy.

Democracy finds its roots in social contract theory. Supposedly, it supplants systems where the government, being in opposition to the governed (e.g. a king all too glad to own for himself the lands of his subjects), needs to be controlled and restricted from abusing the governed. Hence, documents such as the Magna Carta. By placing the ruling authority in the hands of the governed, it was thought that no government could act against its subjects; that people no longer needed protection from the rulers.

John Stuart Mill would beg to differ.

In On Liberty, he sets out with how people have rights. And then he goes on from this simple premise. As the subjects’ rights needed protection from the king, so does the populace’s from the government. The problem with democracy being that the majority decisions can impinge upon the rights of some people.

What rights then?

Mill holds that the right to freedom of thought and expression, and the liberty to do as one pleases, without harm to another, should remain unmolested. Firstly, because such freedoms lead to discussion, which in turn lead to understanding, which gives rise to knowledge; if one holds a belief but has no understanding why, it is no better than prejudice. To understand a belief is to understand why one believes, and it is only through discussion with, not silencing of, the opposition that one can reach understanding.

Secondly, and more importantly, Mill believes that freedom has the value of improving Man. Without an atmosphere of freedom, men would be left at the mercies of custom and habit of the times. According to Mill, the worst kind of man is the kind that does no thinking himself, but bows slavishly to the custom of the times; and that, precisely, is why freedom is so important.

Similarly, a man should be equally free to not use his freedoms optimally, and to not pursue original thought and consideration of issues. For a thinking man to coerce him against such behaviour would be in itself an inhibition of freedom. ‘The power of compelling others into it is not only inconsistent with the freedom and development of all the rest,but corrupting to the strong man himself’.

So, why do we find such rights restricted, if it could only be for benefit? Well, one must always consider the potential for an ill-placed opinion to arouse anger and violence. And those, Mill most certainly concurs, are wholly unacceptable.

Given that free expression promotes improvement of Man and society, but that wrongly-placed it can cause harm, where then are the boundaries? All democracies have their limits on free expression; some stop at racially offensive language, others at Holocaust denial. So, what makes them qualitatively different from authoritarian states that imprison those who voice objectionable views? After all, it’s only a matter of scale and severity, from fines versus imprisonment and torture, from a few dissenters to a mob.

Discounting the merest literal interpretation of democracy, how can the rights-defending interpretation survive? It appears that the popular will, which may oppress a section of the populace, is incompatible with any notion of rights. How does one draw the line at what is permissible and what is not, without it being a mere subjective standard?

And, perhaps, we should ask, why should men have rights anyway? Does the argument that it allows others (should we care about others anyway?) to improve themselves hold any water?


Let’s take a short detour for a moment shall we? Why should we bother about rights anyway? Take the specific case of political protesting, which is limited here in Singapore. Would anyone who has no intention whatsoever to head a political protest care about the right to do so? Does anyone fight for a right they don’t intend to excercise; does anyone feel offended by a restriction against plowing a car into a tree?

The matter at hand then becomes as follows: if you don’t intend to express opinion that may be offensive and risks censorship, why would one irrationally feel offended that other people can’t do it? To be involved in such disputes about rights would be absurd.

In the case of the censoring body, it becomes a little more complicated. However, the censor’s own improvement as a thinking individual, as one who considers his actions and rejects the bondage of custom and habit of society, is not jeopardised by reducing that of another.

Furthermore, Mill’s stand for permitting even the morally or religiously objectionable is reasonable only if the moral standards are non-objective. For the believers in higher authority, there is reason enough for censorship. For others, the imposition of moral standards then becomes on of personal taste, having disregarded the need for allowing others to supposedly improve themselves (escape the slavery of custom) through their views, no matter how objectionable.

Thus, we return to the issue of moral subjectivity.

For the religious, those with a codified set of morals, objectionable views surely cannot be permitted.

For those less inclined, we encounter to problem of extent. To what extent is expression tolerable, and to what extent is it not? As a society is composed of distinct individuals, so to do distinct views exist.  The multitude of standards, the differing of opinions as to what is tolerable and what is not, leaves us in the same quandary we began. The concept of rights seems incompatible with democracy. Literal democracy seems more like despotism by the majority, while rights-based democracy seems to really be restricted (expressive) rights, albeit to a smaller degree.

And to whether I care for Singapore? Well, I began wondering why my nation doesn’t treasure freedom, as much as others do. Had she really sacrificed Liberty for Prosperity? Well, it seems to me that Liberty isn’t a light that is on or off. It’s more like a tap that can range anywhere from dripping to gushing. It becomes a matter of how much and to what degree is comfortable. The prosperity is always welcome though.

And so far? I like the prosperity, I like it very much. But beyond whether Singapore is a good place to live, whether she provides wealth and freedom, there will come the time she will mean more, where, as the song goes, she’ll be home. And then, who cares? Family doesn’t look at the merits and failings, family doesn’t judge by attributes on a scale; family judges by emotions.

Tomorrow can worry

August 4, 2009

The most striking thing isn’t that I’m still looking for my  GC-containing pencilcase; it’s how unworried I am.

What could it really mean? That I’ve become disillusioned with the supposed objective of school via doing tutorials to prepare for examinations? Or how I’ve transcended the shackles of material possessions and have begun to seek more meaningful pursuits? Maybe, I’ve brushed aside the veil of ignorance, revealing the futility behind the mad scrambling in school, and this is a form of quiet protest.

How often do you get the feeling that you should care about something, but couldn’t even bring yourself to bother abour trying to be concerned? It’s the niggling feeling that tickles somewhere in the head, that, in some way, you’re being disobedient, rebellious, and downright bad for not caring when you should.

I guess, everytime we come to that crossroads, we have to decide. If we’ll choose to evaluate importance by the world’s standards, or if we’ll dare to take the road less travelled, and let it make all the difference.

(I’m such a romantic. More likely, it’ll give you the feeling that you’re making steps towards being your own person, living your own life, slowly drifting towards the less well-worn path. But, it’s still enough)

So, will you let people worry about what they will, while your live and worry for exactly what you’re going to do?

Of Moneyplants and Progress

August 1, 2009

In reply to the linked post, we now discuss what to do with life.

First, apologies for being unable to maintain the tapestry of your essay in my mind’s eye in its entirety.

You do, however, write much more clearly when momentarily unshackled from the stresses and pressures of deadlines and unfortunate practical realities. Or so it seems.

Now, I’ll begin.

I agree that the ingrained aphorism, “time is money”, chains us to an unending cycle of work and productivity; work and productivity that we have become accustomed to, to the complete exclusion of any possible external reality. Much like the unpredictable-by-definition “Black Swan” events you mentioned in our conversations. We find ourselves blinkered and confined if we cling to the philosophy of saving time, so much so that we don’t expect nor welcome the unexpected, let alone stop to smell the roses.

So, I’d summarise the first half of your essay as an exhortation to stop rushing, to stop living by the clock, and to start truly living; to live as if each day were brand new and bound with surprises, as if every day were an opportunity to love someone else, to do something new, to seek out fresh experiences. To realise that there is always more to life, no matter how full the plate in front of you may seem, and to keep searching, outside the boundaries of experience for more bountiful life to be had. Correct me if I’m wrong.

But then, you mentioned purpose. Unfortunately, your analogy suggests that a life lived purposeless (like your moneyplant) can equal or best a life lived with singular, possibly misguided purpose (the stick). The quote you mentioned, on the other hand, begs to differ. I suggest that the key would be neither to live without purpose and grow haphazardly, enjoying the myriad possibilities life offers, nor is it to cling to a singular purpose unquestioningly, which you appear to imply great revulsion for. In my, humble, opinion, the key is to find a purpose, but never forgetting that there are always other things outside, things to enjoy and to savour, and to always “stop to smell the roses”.

Regarding your meandering discussion of progress, I’m afraid there exist far too many views regarding the subject. In any limited field, with sufficient history for comparison, definite progress can be observed. For example, an increase in computing power over the last four decades surely constitutes progress.

The problem arises when one considers epochal changes. Can one say for certain that the rise of electricity over steam is progress? In terms of energy efficiency, undoubtedly. Yet, from other frames of reference, perhaps not. It appears, then, that the problem is that the multitude of reference frames leaves us pondering if any particular development constitutes progress. The lines become more blurred when one considers issues such as moral progress, and the possibility that progress in one area could be regress in another.

The solution to the conundrum may be similar to your proposal. Perhaps, the term progress itself is meaningless; there is only the here and now, and history. There are differences between the two, but one can never say for sure if progress has occurred. All that can be done would be to simply accept the current state of existence.

What then does this mean for individuals? If progress is a meaningless illusion, why do we strive? Why do we race against the clock and hurry to meet deadlines? Could it be only for the oh-so-crass reasons of comfort and pleasure that we toil?

If we reject hedonism as the sole reason for work, what else is left to us? People slog at jobs to earn a comfortable lifestyle, and as a society we seek “progress” that makes life easier. Deadlines on the calender are merely schedules for pleasure attainment; so, if we reject that and refuse to be “shackled by time”, what purpose can we possibly we have?

Either we have no purpose, and do as we please, like the free moneyplant, or we live outside of time-orchestrated pleasure/comfort-deadlines, and govern ourselves with principles. These principles differ little from the purpose in life I’ve mentioned I suppose. One might say, that these principles, or the purpose we find, would be alternative “stick for the moneyplant”. They are what one clings to, when one relinquishes the grasp on the “bad stick” (i.e. the misguided purpose).

In conclusion, we appear to find ourselves living in a pleasure-loving commune toiling in constant drudgery. We would love to look around us and identify the “sheeple”, the ones who see nothing else but the misguided purpose of the rat race and comfort-seeking, the only “stick” they see, which they cling to desperately.

And we would love to be the enlightened few, the ones who see beyond the chains of such single-minded purpose, to see the other possibilities, to see the other life-guiding purposes and “sticks”. We would like to break free from the shackles the commune’s hedonism, to seek true purpose, true principled meaning, to fully taste the opportunities of life until we find the right one. All because we intuitively deny the communal lifestyle, and believe there has to be much, much, more.

And I say, yes. Look around instead of upwards, and see the countless multitude of possibility, and be free. Grow right and true, and no longer twine and extend, like a depende