Archive for the ‘On Life’ Category

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Photo credit: Jacques Ferrandez

Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday; I can’t be sure.

I was thinking of a gripping sentence to start the book review but ultimately went with the first line itself. This is simply one of the best opening lines I have ever read (besides that of 1984, of course). Excellent way to start a novel. (Side note: This is a very interesting read on The Stranger‘s opening line alone. I’d urge you to spend a few minutes to read it).

And thus I embarked on a riveting read by Albert Camus. The novel is rather short in length, but it is exactly brevity that gives the work such a profound impact.

[SPOILER ALERT, READ ON AT YOUR OWN PERIL]

The first time I read The Stranger (L’Étranger in original French) was without a lens. I did not know who Camus was, what he stood for, or what genre the novel fell into. As such, to me, it was a story of a man whose mother died, and he has to make a journey to attend the funeral. Then he meets someone, goes on a vacation with a group of friends, shoots a person 5 times, goes to trial and is sent for execution.

That’s essentially it.

I am serious. If you read the novel without a lens, you would arrive at the same conclusion. A bland, short and inexplicably weird read.

Thinking that there is no way The Stranger deserves the praise it has amassed over the years, I decided to read it again, this time with a lens. To be able to do so, I did some background research and learnt some interesting things.

I learnt that Camus was a proponent of absurdism. Very briefly, it is the school of philosophy which postulates that as much as humans try to find meaning in their lives, they can’t. Why? Because the sheer amount of information, both known and unknown, makes certainty impossible to obtain. The conflict between the human tendency to seek inherent value and meaning in life and the human inability to find any is called “the Absurd.” We want to make sense of the universe, but the universe itself has none.

Wearing the lens of absurdism took reading The Stranger to a completely different level.

For starters, the protagonist Meursault is strangely and overly indifferent. His aloofness is simply remarkable. The coldness is shown on various occasions in the first few pages when Meursault’s mother passed away. Although the story is told through the first-person perspective, we are never once shown how he felt about her death for Camus only provides us with a description of his detached behaviour. He expresses no grief whatsoever. Let us revisit the first few lines of the novel:

Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday; I can’t be sure. I got a telegram from the home: ‘Mother deceased. Funeral tomorrow. Faithfully yours.’ That doesn’t mean anything. Maybe it was yesterday.

I mean, who is not at least sad when their mother dies? That should have sounded the alarm in the first reading, but somehow it didn’t. The response is completely devoid of emotion. The telegram, as a means of communication, doesn’t exactly help either. Not a phone call or a visit in person, but a telegram. The human touch was absent; technology has taken its place. What’s more, throughout these lines, the main character seems hung up on the exact date his mother died. He debates himself whether she died the day the telegram arrives or the day before. That takes top priority.

Meursault’s nonchalance carries through various events following his mother’s death, many of which should have provoked at least a trace of emotion.

There is the off-handed comment of a home nurse during the funeral procession that reveals his inner thinking.

She said, “If you go slowly, you risk getting sunstroke. But if you go too fast, you work up a sweat and then catch a chill inside the church.” She was right. There was no way out.

Of course, the nurse was talking only about the heat. But Meursault’s following remark was entirely something else. “There was no way out” could easily imply the burden that is the human existence which will ultimately lead to death. The sun is the manifestation of human life and the heat is that of death. Only death is inevitable and inescapable. One way or another, it’ll get you.

Since we’re all going to die, it’s obvious that when and how don’t matter.

So yes, human existence is pointless, because we all die in the end.

Another instance that shows Meursault’s apathy is his short conversation with his lover Marie:

A minute later she asked me if I loved her. I told her it didn’t mean anything but that I didn’t think so.

Like seriously, who is this guy? Does he even understand how emotionally packed Marie’s question is? (Protip: he doesn’t). And according to him, love doesn’t “mean anything.” This signals his (forming and still primitive) belief that life is meaningless.

Towards the very end of the novel, when Meursault knows he will be executed for the murder of the Arab (told you there will be spoilers!), he has some kind of epiphany:

As if that blind rage had washed me clean, rid me of hope; for the first time, in that night alive with signs and stars, I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world. Finding it so much like myself—so like a brother, really—I felt that I had been happy and that I was happy again. For everything to be consummated, for me to feel less alone, I had only to wish that there be a large crowd of spectators the day of my execution and that they greet me with cries of hate.

Meursault has finally come to terms with the fact that the world simply does not care. Our existence is pointless, and so are all of our endeavours. There is neither rationality and order. It is only through accepting this fact that we can find a modicum of solace.

There is so much more to The Stranger that I have not touched here. The heat, the court case, the crucifix. But all in all, everything goes to support Camus’ idea that the universe makes no attempt to assign meaning to our lives and we will spend our lives futilely searching for such meaning.

I really liked how Camus seamlessly weaves his philosophy into such a short novel, how he takes care of the little things and how he packs in so much symbolism. The entire novel is absurd. Meursault is truly a stranger to his own existence and to the universe, failing to find meaning in neither.

To paraphrase what the child said to Neo in The Matrix, there is no point.

To sum up, the novel is a close, critical study in man’s futile quest to find rational meaning in an irrational, meaningless universe.

If you want to find out more, read The Stranger in its entirety. Pay attention to the little details. I promise you will be pleasantly surprised.

Peace out.

SE SG

(Finally I found some time and (more importantly) will to write)

Today’s topic is going to be slightly tougher to dissect and digest, but I will try to do it justice.

First, some background stuff needs to happen. It is critical to familiarise ourselves with two concepts: self-esteem and self-growth.

Self-esteem is, to be very concise, the opinion you have of yourself. If you want the longer, more proper definition, here it is:

Self-esteem is a person’s overall subjective emotional evaluation of their own worth. It is a judgment of as well as an attitude toward oneself. Self-esteem includes beliefs about oneself as well as emotional states. Synonyms are self-worth, self-regard, self-respect, so on and so forth. – Adapted from John P Hewitt, Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology, Oxford University Press (2009).

That’s a lot to unpack and I am quite sure you prefer the shorter definition. But anyways, self-esteem reflects confidence in one’s own worth or abilities. The concept occupies a central place in the discipline of psychology because it possesses arguably the most potent influence over a plethora of activities and outcome, be it academic success, professional behaviour or satisfaction in relationships.

A person who has high self-esteem is comfortable in their own skin. Simply put, the world can’t shake them because they know who they are and they are secure about it. They believe they are good and they need no one to affirm their belief. On the other hand, a person with low self-esteem constantly engages in self-doubt, insecurity and sometimes even shame. As such, they think lack the personal, unshakable belief that they are good in themselves.

The second key concept for today’s analysis is self-growth, which is relatively easier to grasp. Self-growth is the development of oneself in various aspects, ranging from positive life skills to ideas to creativity to knowledge. Basically, anything that enhances the quality of an individual and makes them a better person.

Alright, now that we have waded through the gritty itty part, let’s dive into the juicy bits.

Are self-esteem and self-growth contradictory?

I mean, one can argue that the two concepts oppose each other. If I am comfortable with who I am, why do I need to become better? And if I indeed strive to become better, it is my own insecurities that drive me?

To deal with this issue effectively, I shall introduce you to the following 2×2 matrix:

 

High self-esteem

Low self-esteem

Want self-growth

Confident in one’s own worth, but understands that it can be improved. Seeks to improve to earn external validation. Usually bitter.

Doesn’t want self-growth

Arrogant, refuses to grow. Usually toxic. Low opinion of oneself. Self-condemnation.

 
The table above outlines cases when these two concepts interact in one person, and the results.

Let’s begin by taking a look at the top-left quadrant, which is a really great outcome. A person who has a high sense of self-regard and works towards their personal development is doing very well for themselves. It is critical to note where their motivation to better themselves comes from, because this is the distinguishing feature. A person in this group understands that they are good (high self-worth). But more importantly, they understand that they have the potential to become better, and they will be doing a disservice to themselves not to do so. Nobody can tell him or her that they are not good enough, but they are also aware that they can develop into a better version of themselves. They owe it to themselves to maximise their potential. Their self-regard and desire for self-growth are not in conflict with each other, but rather complement each other. Really, these people are on the path of self-actualisation, because they have a strong self-belief and also the will to be better. A typical line that you will hear from this type of people: “I am already great at [insert aspect of life], but I still need to find ways to improve. What? It’d be a crime against myself not to want to grow!”

1

Moving to the top-right quadrant, this is a bit trickier to analyse. An individual with low self-esteem has, by definition, a low opinion of themselves. They often think and believe that they are not good enough. Since they themselves cannot provide assurance, they often seek validation from external sources. Essentially, they need someone else to them that they are good. And they do try to improve themselves, but they do so only to continue receiving that dose of affirmation of another person. Keep the goods comin’ in, you know. Their betterment is a means to the end that is the elevation of their self-esteem. These people are in a precarious position because they heavily depend on others, living in a constant state of insecurity and susceptible to manipulation. Their desire for self-development fuels their desire for praise from others, and that sure is neither healthy nor sustainable. Tend to be bitter and overly critical towards self. Typical line: “Hey, I have improved in [insert aspect of life], do you think that I am good enough now and if not, what must I do to make you say so?”

2

Going down to the lower row, let us dissect the folks on the left first. These people think highly of themselves and fall victim to their grand self-opinion. Because they believe they are good enough, they do not seek growth. This arrogance may or may not be unfounded, but it is damaging in the long run all the same, simply because refusing to grow means not being able to become what one can become. It is denying oneself the opportunity to become the best version of oneself. That is already an undesirable outcome, but what is more dangerous is that with an I-am-already-good-there-is-no-need-to-get-better mindset is that as the world progresses forward, the person will be left behind. When people are running and they ain’t, they lag behind. And when they realise that they need to change, their high self-regard acts as a barrier, preventing them from seeking to improve and turning them into toxic individuals. Conceit is perhaps among the deepest pitfalls of man. Typical line: “I am already good at [insert aspect of life]. I am not going to bother to improve.”

'For some reason, people tend to view me as arrogant, despite my superior virtues and academic aptitude...'

Last but not least, those who find themselves in the bottom-right quadrant are in serious trouble. They do not believe in themselves and they don’t try to become better. Essentially, that’s a very deep pit to crawl up from, especially when the ladder is shaking. The trapped individual has little confidence in their own worth and abilities, yet lacks the will to enhance who he or she is as a person. The two concepts tag team to drive that person to the ground. They wallow in self-pity. Typical line: “I suck at [insert aspect of life]. I see no point in trying to improve because I will always suck at it.”

Instead of feeling sorry for yourself. . .feel sorry for those who have to work with you!

I have condensed the analysis above into the second 2×2 matrix below:

 

High self-esteem

Low self-esteem

Want self-growth

You are doing fine. Keep it up. Aim for growth, but not to hear praise from others.

Doesn’t want self-growth

You are not as good as you think you are. You are fucked. Try to unfuck the situation.

 

Note: the table and this piece deal rather in extremes, only to highlight the general possibilities. It’s probably more like a spectrum in real life. But this topic requires simplification and as a consequence, generalisation.

All in all, self-esteem and the desire for self-growth are very important to being a functioning adult. The ways they interact produce different outcomes that can determine a person’s approach to life. I have not discussed ways to improve self-esteem and personal development because that would make this piece too long. But I hope that I have provided you with a brief overview of how these qualities play with and against each other.

What to do with that knowledge, I shall leave to you.

Ciao.

Sooooooooooo I have been in Hanoi for one week.

Last Sunday, as the sun crept on the horizon, I said goodbye to my literal fam, scooted off onto a plane and hopped to Hanoi. Things were a bit surreal but anyways, by mid day, I found myself embracing the cool and slightly foggy air of the capital. Settling in was about as tough as I expected. I do have 2 very good friends who have been extremely hospitable and welcoming and I can thank you enough.

The past 7 days have been incredible, and I don’t use this word lightly.

I needed to manage living on my own, taking care of the most trivial of things such as getting cleaning equipment and ordering stuff. Then there is the eternal question of what I should have for breakfast. Boy, that is a tough one to decide. But I have to make the decision anyway. Freedom doesn’t come cheap.

The new job has been frighteningly exciting. There is just so much to learn. Soooooo much. Everyone around me seems like they already know what to do, which puts me even under greater pressure. Nonetheless, I consider it the (near) perfect opportunity to challenge my own capability. And I’ve been taking it in stride so far (I THINK!). Much of the work is in my alley (or in the one next to me). Also, my colleagues have been greatly generous and supportive, which is a huge plus. Everyone made an effort to make me feel welcomed.

And suddenly, I’ve got some free time after work. Again, I have to decide what to do with it. The burden of choice couldn’t be any clearer. So I chose to read more work-related stuff, some fiction and also tried on some chess. To be honest, I haven’t seen much of Hanoi, but I will soon.

All in all, this is a huge upgrade compared to my university days. There are like a tonnes of different things to manage. Rent, work, side work, social life, personal life, etc etc. Sometimes I am already at a loss of thoughts, because there are simply too many choices waiting to be made, and too many things to worry about. But I am not complaining because that’s what I wanted.

A clean slate.

A new environment.

A trial.

I was getting too comfortable. I wasn’t pushing myself enough. I wasn’t growing as fast and as much as I’d like.

So I said “Fuck it, let’s do this!” and moved away from the burning sun of Saigon and into the frosty embrace of Hanoi.

Was it the right call? I don’t know. I hope it is. I am trying to ensure it will be.

Will I manage to get through? I am not 100% certain, but I am confident that I will.

No matter what, I will trudge on. Or crawl. I will move forward.

TL;DR: Am still alive. Life is tough. Enjoying the challenge.

Anyway, it’s time to get back to work. Next week is gonna be craaaaaaaazy.

Peace out.

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Egg coffee. Might have been better if served hot.

Hanoi, a chilly afternoon contemplating life and choice in a tiny crowded coffee shop.

 

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Courtesy of The Telegraph UK

With possibly the greatest stakes imaginable, Americans had a choice coming to the voting stations yesterday. I woke up when counting was well under way, and found to my absolute horror that Donald Trump was leading HRC by roughly 20 electoral college votes. 

I spent the whole morning following the live coverage, refreshing the page every 5 minutes to get the latest result. It was an excruciatingly painful morning, to see HRC always lagging behind, chasing Donald Trump’s ever-increasing lead. 

When DT got 264 votes and it was virtually impossible for him not to win the presidency. I turned the laptop off and went to the gym. I needed to work my rising anger and disappointment out.

Let me tell you what Trump’s ascendancy to POTUS means to me, personally. 

I study political science. As in, I employ a scientific method to study politics. From the ancient age all the way to modern politics and political philosophy. So I have a lot of faith in how political processes work. The mass population chooses the most able, qualified people and put them in charge of governing society as a whole. They don’t always get it right, like many devastating examples of history have shown us, but most of time, it is how things work. 

I used to like politics (my view on democracy is for another post). I love Political Science. I consider politics the pinnacle of human activity, because it is where we display the best of our human traits. I mean, Plato used to propose the idea that only Philosopher Kings are fit to govern. These Philosopher Kings are trained with the arts of humanities and sciences since young, isolated from other worldly pleasures and dedicate their entire adult lives to rule and maintain the community. 

I used to believe politics transcended the ugly side of us. I used to believe governance is a noble idea. After all, we use the word “serve” to talk about working in the public service, and we call those working in the government “public servants.” So yeah, for me, politics was about sacrificing oneself for the greater good. And democratic elections were a means to ensure that the most capable candidates are put in charge. The best and the brightest.

So yeah, the final result of #Election2016 frankly disgusted me. It means that politics isn’t about human decency any more. Because America passed over a highly qualified candidate, with admittedly a lot of baggage, and instead chose to elect a person who is openly racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, rude and bad-tempered. Yes, a man who professed to have grabbed women by their pussy was democratically elected to the highest office of the land. What does it say about the system? What does it say about the people? Did millions of Americans just dismissed a candidate with a lot of political experience and opted for someone with a lot of reality TV experience? Never mind his policy platform, which is frankly non-existent, his character alone can disqualify him for the presidency. And yet it didn’t. Had he run for almost any other job, he’d have been sent packing. But not POTUS. Not the office with the greatest responsibilities and demands. That’s just perverse. Where the fuck is integrity? 

It’s been said that looking at the leadership of any organisation will tell you a lot about the organisation itself. And honestly, I don’t recognise America any more. Millions of its people (59,240,076 to be exact) deliberately elected a person unfit in everyone way possible to lead the nation and the free world. And in all honesty, I don’t think a lot of voters stopped for 1 minute and appreciate the full effects of their choice. Because quite simply, it’s all far away from them and their self-interests. NATO? Who cares? Nuclear codes? I ain’t having those anyways. New jobs in manufacturing? Yes please! The quality of their chosen leader speaks volumes about themselves.

(Side note: right now, Paul Ryan is already holding a press conference where he mentioned repealing Obamacare. Yup, it is already happening. Because we have one single party controlling the White House, the Congress and the Senate. The possibilities are really endless.) 

Politics was supposed to be about championing human decency and selflessness, about contributing to the greater good. This election and its result have shown me that it is anything but. So yeah, I am just disappointed in politics. Trump won tonight, but human decency didn’t. Because I tried my hardest to put myself at the voting booth with the ballot on my hand, deciding who to vote for. And for my life I could not convince myself to vote for DT. I am a pretty amoral person, but somehow I just couldn’t turn the feeling away and choose DT. My stomach’d churn. 

So yeah America. You played us. But you also played yourself. You pick where to eat more carefully than you pick who to lead. 

Congra-fucking-tulations.

P.S: My last comment isn’t aimed at people who have legitimate grievances with the current political system. They exist and their voice should be heard. But the folks who didn’t give a shit about who is gonna have control of the US nuclear arsenal and voted for DT simply because “he speaks his mind” also exist. The comment is directed at them. Fucking idiots. And by the way, in politics and especially international politics, speaking one’s mind is a fucking bad thing to do. 

P.S 2: This is a pretty insightful article about DT’s presidential agenda: ‘Strange New Land’: America in a Time of Trump

(Ok so this series will be where I record and articulate my thoughts when I’m out on the streets – hence the name, duh. Most of them will probably be mumbo jumbo, few will be good so read selectively)

So some time ago (the original script read “a couple of days ago” but I was too busy to finish this piece so it got really delayed lul), I was heading home. It was a very long day, as I had been out for 12 hours with no rest. I already had the flu the night before and was feeling quite shitty, so the longer-than-usual day was significantly worse. And when I was about to ride my bike back, all mental strength focused on the chilled beer in the fridge, it started to rain. Lashing. Pouring. Torrential. (For more adjectives used to describe rain please visit ozdic.com.)

To make things worse, the streets were surprisingly crowded so it was extra hard to maneuver. I think I got water splashed onto me more than once by taxis and fellow motorbike riders. So being a vile and vulgar person, I started cursing heavily under my breathe (and my raincoat). What the fuck is this? Why must it rain now? Why can’t it rain tomorrow? What the fuck? The cursing (or some of it) must have been audible, judging by the look the old lady on my right gave me. (I also learned that day that the human face can express contempt and sympathy at the same time. Marvelous.)

Anyway, the cursing went on for some time. Then it hit me. (No, not the truck you morbid sicko. The truth. Or what I believe to be the truth). 

The streets were crowded, because many people had to be out during the rain/minor thunderstorm. They were out for many reasons, but I suspect many of them were trying to make a living and they would rather be inside, nicely sheltered at the moment. I knew that because given the choice, would rather be inside than soaked and stank. Most of the people around me were in the process of hustling. Some were returning from work, others were going to work. The heavy rain didn’t matter, they just kept going.

This observation caused me to reflect long and hard upon my situation (which is in hindsight not a sensible thing to do when you are trying to navigate around the insaneeeeee streets of Saigon at half past 9 in the evening under the rain). I realised that things could be worse, way worse. I could have been the exhausted father on a worn bike carrying his two children back from tuition classes. I could have been the young lad cycling his coffee bike (and I doubt he’d had a very profitable day). I could have been the middle-aged lady sitting in the back of the garbage truck, stilling diligently collecting household waste despite the fact that she was thoroughly soaked. I suspect that if I had to randomly pick a person in the crowd I was in, chances are my circumstances  would be better than theirs. I am earning some money. I am learning from very good people. I am not riddled with diseases (except for the slightly inconvenient obesity, which I will cover in another post). My life was probably indeed a bit messed up, but life is messed up for everyone, and perhaps I was complaining a little bit too much (and too loud).

So I shut the fuck up, pulled the throttle and rode home.

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I took this picture when I was still taking the bus for transport. Representative enough I’d say.

We are all in the same game just different levels
Dealing with the same hell just different devils – Big D

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One week back in the ‘Nam

Posted: September 7, 2016 in On Life, Uncategorized

Alright, so I have been back to Saigon for exactly one week, here are a few things that have happened: 

1. The heat

Yup, the heat happened, the motherfucking heat. I mean, Saigon is so fucking hot it’s unbelievable. And it’s not even the pleasant kind of hot. It’s the scathing, scorching and scalding kind of hot. Like just take me back to Melbourne already. Tbh I don’t think I’ll last for 5 months here. I mean I love my Saigon and all but this is just too hot for me. Will see how things pan out but my guess is that I’ll start covering myself in ice pretty sure.

2. The surgery
I also had a very minor operation to remove a tiny tiny benign (for the lack of a better word) tumour on the sole of my right foot, which had been bothering my for the past couple of months. Five stitches and now I can’t walk properly. It hurts like a motherfucking bitch. And it shows no sign of getting better. Moving is a major inconvenience now because it hurts whenever I try to use my right foot. And the fact that I am severely overweight doesn’t help at all (will talk about this further below). On the bright side, getting it removed early on means I am not wasting much time. I do hope I can walk in the next couple of days, even though it doesn’t seem likely at the moment, because I still have a lot to do.

3. My fatness
Alright, at the moment I am a fatfuck, I admit that. I weigh wayyyyy much more than I should. And it’s getting dangerous. I am fully aware of the health risks involved and intend to try to improve the situation. But boy oh boy it ain’t easy at all. The urge to consume unhealthy food is sometimes too great to resist. And sometimes I can’t restrain myself, not with all the food lying around, waiting to be eaten. I have tried to eat less sugar and more vegetables & fruits, I hope it somehow helps. It’s one of the things I actually dread about going back home: I can’t not eat. And I also can’t exercise, courtesy of the operation on my foot. For the time being, I will try my fucking best to limit myself, but Jesus, if you are watching, please give me a hand, because I fear that my best might not be adequate. Fuck.

4. My parents
Ah, now we have come to the core of it. Oh man. I don’t even know where to begin. I know my parents love me to the moon and back, but at the same time they stress me out. A lot. In their minds, I have it all figured out, I am well set to achieve my aspirations. But the truth is, I am not. I am so, so lost right now. My life is at a very rocky phase and frankly, my parents are unknowingly putting a lot of additional pressure on me. And they are too quick to dismiss what I am doing as non-sensical and having no practical. Then they say I never tell them anything. Well, the truth is I don’t have the heart to tell my parents what I do and have them belittling it. So I just keep my silence, which in turn annoys them even more. It’s just frustrating to have your parents love you in their own way, but it’s not the way you like. Like they are pressing me about my foot’s recovery, even suggesting that I am faking it to avoid having to exercise. It’s been one week and I am almost to the point of exhaustion. It’s just…I don’t know.

I know I am complaining a lot. I am. But considering the past few months, I believe I deserve a short break, however short that might be. And I am just having none of it. Zero, zilch, nada. Even the food doesn’t taste as good as I expected. My foot is hurting less and I am (very slowly and painfully) adapting to the heat and my parents. So I sincerely hope that things will get better. For fuck’s sake, please get better. I have another 5 more months here.

And out of all the people who check this website, I know that you are probably the only person who bothers to read to this point. So let me take this opportunity to say something. If by some miracle you happen to read this, please know that I would like to talk to you, but have no clue how to. We have not spoken for a very long time and I feel that we have almost drifted apart. Now, if that is what you intend, pay no mind to these words and I apologise for bothering you. But if it’s not, know that I would like for us to talk. I just don’t know if I should intrude myself unallowed into your life again, seeing that it will be unfair to you. I have little choice but to look from afar. So here I am, letting you know that it’s alright if we talk, and a simple “Hey, how are things :)” would more than suffice. Anyhow, I hope life is treating you well and things are going the way you want them to 🙂

Peace out y’all. Gotta sleep. There is still much to do. 

Saigon, 06/09/2016

A very hot and humid night

 

 

(This post is heavily influenced by Jonathan Floyd’s article Why we need to teach political philosophy in schools. Read it here.)

We often complain about how school doesn’t teach us the stuff that is practical to our lives, such as taxes or time management. Instead, we learnt about how cells breathe or how osmosis works, things that most of us will not use later on (I’m shamelessly taking a swipe at the natural sciences because I can). Admittedly, taxes and time management are greatly useful for a functioning adult. Nonetheless, there is something else I think we should’ve been taught but weren’t, and that’s political philosophy.

In recent times, especially with the ascendance of Donald Trump in the US, people are trying to stay away from politics and anything branded with the word “political.” Too often, politics is perceived to be “dirty,” consisting of backstabbing and mud-slinging and whatnot (I blame House of Cards for this, although I do very much enjoy the show). But I believe that an education in political philosophy contains substantial benefits, to the individual being educated as well as to the society they are living in.

For starters, let’s define the term and free it from the negative connotations commonly attached. At its very core, political philosophy studies and examines how we ought to live collectively as a society and how best to organise said society. The most fundamental question political philosophers has tried to answer so far (to little avail, unfortunately) is “How should we live together?” From that question stems many many more others: What is the role of the state and correspondingly what are the duties and rights of its citizens? What kinds of political practices and institutions should be implemented and maintained? How should resources be allocated?

And from the definition stems the reasons why political philosophy matters. Because it underpins the very way individuals see themselves within a social order and the very ideals individuals have regarding that social order. Every debate on social, economic or defense policy can be traced back to its philosophical foundation. Is democracy desirable, should the economy be free from government intervention, should countries engage in an arms race. Everything.

And so the lack of an understanding in political philosophy significantly reduces the quality of these debates. Notions such as fairness, justice or human rights bear enormous social importance, as shown by recent developments. Yet those who engage in these arguments do not possess a firm grasp of these concepts. Which is extremely dangerous, because they are laced with nuance and complexity, which must be understood on a philosophical level. The public conversations so far are argued on the surface.

The problem is worse when you consider the fact that many people are not themselves aware of this lack. Again, I am stealing from Floyd’s article the concept of unknown unknown: something we don’t know that we don’t know. For instance, I know how to use a laptop, that’s a known known. On the other than, I don’t know how to draw (and most probably won’t for the rest of my life). But I know that I don’t know how to draw, so it’s a known unknown. Now, if a person does not know that they don’t possess some basic knowledge of political philosophy, that is an unknown unknown. And it can do real damage to society because its members are missing out on something so crucial to its organisation. Not knowing how we ought to live as a collective body and, more importantly, why we ought to live in such a way, holds the society back. People argue with each other about how things should be organised but are ignorant of why they should be. The debates suddenly become unproductive and the public is deprived of some meaningful conversation with substance, due to its own ignorance. Teaching political philosophy is teaching the ability to reason logically, to argue, to make strong, valid, sound arguments, to have healthy debates about different political positions. Floyd nailed the point with his example:

A political philosophy student considers at least three different possibilities: desert, need, and entitlement. Is a fair settlement one by which the doctors get the pay and conditions they deserve, because of the valuable work they do, and the years they devoted to learning how to do it? Is it one by which patients get the care they need, with doctors doing more weekend work, or perhaps working fewer, but safer, hours? Or is it one by which the government gets the policy it is entitled to, having won a democratic election on the basis of particular manifesto commitments?

Some may object to this proposition, claiming that philosophy is too complicated for the ordinary individual, particularly young students. I say it’s bull. Look at the current curricula being taught in high schools at the moment, I’d say they are fairly complicated. The International Baccalaureate makes Theory of Knowledge (the epistemological branch of philosophy) a compulsory subject for Year 11 & 12 IB students. Saying students can’t grasp political philosophy is both patronising and underestimating their capacity. And also, it is funny to claim that 18-year-olds cannot understand and engage in debates about concepts such as democracy, justice or equality and, at the same time, allow them to “handle” alcohol or military service or marriage. Age restrictions vary with countries, but 18 is generally around the time where a person is considered an adult, even if in the most minimal sense of the words, as the individual is accorded with certain rights and privileges previously denied to them. So it baffles me when high school students graduate and start immersing themselves in the broader life without being properly educated of ways to think and ways to live. Man often pride himself on his ability to use reason to produce logical conclusions about the external world, and political philosophy teaches exactly that ability, logical reasoning.

The bottom line is no, political philosophy is not that complicated, and we should teach it because it has several benefits. An educated society debates better and engages in the democratic process more effectively. Not knowing that we don’t know political philosophy can cost us. A lot.

PP

The School of Athens by Raphael