Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Girls Think Too Much And Guys Are Apathetic/Clueless

A hypothesis I'd like to test is whether girls have a full evaluative cycle and whether the evaluative nature of guys is in at least two parts.

Here's the explanation. We've always heard the conventional wisdom that girls can't help but to think about things, and they sometimes think too much. Guys are just apathetic and don't seem to give a shit, or are seemingly clueless.

What I think happens might be this. First of all, I think girls are more attuned to social nuances. They are more likely to spot a disequilibrium in the social order, for example if someone is suddenly upset, or if the atmosphere between two people in the group suddenly becomes different. Guys may or may not spot these social changes, but I think they are less adept at doing so (because I am of the opinion that guys have lesser social IQ, but that's a story for another day).

When girls spot these nuances, they go through an (almost) automatic process whereby they will identify the problem, make inferences and come to conclusions almost instantaneously. They may choose to not engage in consciously judging what other people do or say, but their minds are whirring nonetheless and these thoughts, as inevitable as stereotypes, are conjured effortlessly.

On the other hand, when guys even manage to spot these nuances, whether they go through the process of judgment and appraisal of the situation is also not automatic. They might notice that something is amiss among their friends, but easily decide that they do not wish to bother pondering about it.

This, to me, would explain why guys seem so apathetic or clueless next to girls who seem to 'think too much', because when guys eventually do judge a situation, they are a mere handful next to the many others who either didn't even notice the social situation or chose not to bother thinking about it.

Between The Throes Of Light And Dark

I was reading about Wu Jinglian, arguably China's most famous (and possibly notorious) economist, in the International Herald Tribune today. He was an aggressive liberal (some would assert that he's a social liberal, but his views were definitely very liberal back in the 70s and 80s for China) and a straight-talking idealist, who helped steer China into economic openness which led to the explosion of her economic growth. He's so famous, in fact, that the locals have named current Chinese economics as "Market Wu".

(Sometimes, aggression knows no end, and it's no longer about the ideas but pride. Wu, at 79 years of age, is now targeted for political incarceration for not being able to keep his mouth shut.)

And then I thought, there really isn't anything wrong with being an idealist as long as one is grounded in the reality of how the world really works. There's always room for a liberal thought to linger in the hopes of achieving what it always wishes it could - cooperation, absolute gains for all, open trade, overall maximisation of utility, the growth of wealth of nations, and the subordination of the power of tyranny to the right of man and the individual.

But that dream usually turns into the nightmare of some big organisation trying or claiming to do the job demanded of these imaginary rational men, and then a movie like Battle in Seattle comes along to slap the fucking beejezus out of the daydreamer. It is a seriously good movie and wake up call for anyone who needs to know the collateral damage of global and trade openness.

This movie also provides a good perspective of what it is to stand up for something to believe in, something we will never get on our little Sunny Island.

Super Free On Week 7

This, boys and girls, is why consistent work and being realistic is gooood. Or maybe because my mods this term are just love. :]

I'm now presented with the liberty to get started on week 9's due readings.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Liberal Theorists - The Life Of The Party

I haven't heard of a more elegantly concise and apt way to describe the way liberals view economic interaction and free markets than the term 'sanguine'.

From wikipedia, sanguine from the four temperaments is described as:

A person who is sanguine is generally light-hearted, funloving, a people person, loves to entertain, spontaneous, has leader abilities, and is confident. However they can be arrogant, cocky, and indulgent. He/She can be day-dreamy and off-task to the point of not accomplishing anything and can be impulsive, possibly acting on whims in an unpredictable fashion.

Thursday, 24 September 2009


My dad went for one of those training workshop thingies and they gave him a poster, the kind that gives you general advice about how to get about your life positively and that you put up on your wall so you'll be reminded to follow its doctrines. I usually think they dish out really nonsense common sense advice but this one actually looks useful. So here goes.

Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to the dull and ignorant; they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexations to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interest in your career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time. Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of treachery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals and everywhere life is full of heroism. Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection.

Never be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment, it is as perennial as the grass. Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline be gentle to yourself.

You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars and you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore, be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be. And whatever your labours and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

The Market Is My Matrix Brain Vat

The inner geek can sometimes screw reality up by looking at things in a not so normal way. But I like.

Take Ekman's work for example. He's spent years mapping out the facial muscles on the human face to create a specific coding system for emotion so that we know exactly what is going on when someone smiles - it's not just a smile; it can be a sly smile, a meek smile, a genuine smile, and so on. This means that, if we are trained enough, we can actually look past a person's overt facial display and pick out the nuances that really tell us what he or she really feels. And once we're adept at it, we can be better judges whether we want to or not. But I guess sometimes we're better off not knowing exactly how people feel, especially when people want to conceal their feelings so that life would move along more easily. It's just not cool when you're trying, and always able, to decipher the underlying emotion behind every smile, frown or laugh. Everyone's just going to become a lying bugger to you after that.

That aside, I spent Sunday morning grocery shopping with my family and I noticed quite a number of things beyond the ordinary. For one, studying the sociology of food this term has kept me on cynical toes about the credibility and health claims of the food products sold at supermarkets. Information on the packaging, at the end of the day, still has to serve a commercial interest, and that is to get people to buy the product even if it means tweaking the truth to consumer fancy.

On sale are all these supposedly top-notch eggs, sugar-free fruit juices, low fat milk and meat that looks so innocuous now but could've come to you via a slaughterhouse that treats the animals there like dirt, driving them batshit crazy and rendering them lame before they are put to death in the most pathetic manner possible. Sigh, it's a good enlightenment nonetheless, but my lenses have altered and in the end, this is the modern day reality - if not these foods, then no foods at all. Wet markets are dying out as convenience becomes valued more and more.

Then, I passed by a shop lady who was serving samples of a drink, which I later learnt to be an orange juice-like health drink that can aid in sore throats and ulcers. I accepted her offer, sampled it and listened to her explanation of the benefits of drinking it, before kindly declining to purchase it. I know from research that the mere act of sampling a product raises one's likelihood of purchasing it, so I decided to linger around and observe her attempts at selling the drink. A mother and her two children passed by. The mother rejected the shop lady's sample offer and continued walking on, but one of her kids trailing behind tried the drink. The mother, who had no interest initially whatsoever in the product and upon seeing her child try a sample, stopped to entertain the shop lady's explanation of the product. A while later, she bought one box.

That was a more complex case, but in general, almost everyone who tried a sample and had a chance to listen to the shop lady's description of the product bought it in the end. Did these people even need a sore throat/fever/ulcer treatment drink in the first place? No. But the wonders of marketing once again makes us aware of our 'unarticulated' needs and buy things.

On top of that, I have no idea if the product really is all that brilliant. It is really just a bunch of chemicals put together which supposedly have medicinal properties coupled with other stuff to make it taste like orange juice, in the pretext of creating a formula that will aid ailments of heatiness.

Later on, my folks went ahead to complete the grocery purchases. The bill came up to $72.50 - voila, it was $2.50 short of rebates! That 'purchase $75 and get points' deal resulted in a moment of excited frenzy as my parents instinctively turned around from the counter to scurry for something convenient to fill up the price deficit. And scurry they did, because it's always not nice to keep other people in the queue behind you waiting, hoho. I turned around too, and realised that I was immediately confronted with the supermarket's brand products, most of which wouldn't have been considered by shoppers in their right minds to purchase. Stuff on the convenient shelves can get as ridiculous as party toys. There were also less popular cup noodles, which is very sly because there really is a permanent section for cup noodles somewhere else in the shop - the supermarket just wanted to try and take advantage of this moment of frenzied, 'just grab anything' buying behaviour to sell off certain products. Shoppers wouldn't have, endowed with the luxury of reason, considered buying these products, but because of the need to get a rebate one ends up buying unnecessarily and, I guess sometimes even worse, rationalises the purchases. I'd love to see someone rationalise the party toys.

Aside from the supermarket, it's amazing what can get on sale in malls all over the world, ranging from products to services to entertainment. I don't really have a term to combine the ideas of consumerism, capitalism and evil marketing together, but this whole thing to me often seems to be the root of people's general unhappiness and discontent. We see all kinds of funny goods, all of which are designed to make us want them, and when we don't buy all these things it makes us unhappier, when in the first place in the absence of these unnecessary things we were really doing just fine. Oh well, the lines drawn on the ethics of selling aren't clear, and for the benefit of capitalism we really do have a much wider variety of ways to spend our cash now. Whee for that.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

This was solid from The Devil Wears Prada. Loved it.

Andrea: She hates me, Nigel.

Nigel: And that's my problem because... Oh wait, no, it's not my problem.

Andrea: I don't know what else I can do! Because if I do something right, it's unacknowledged, she doesn't even say, "thank you", but if I do something wrong, she is vicious!

Nigel: So quit.

Andrea: What?

Nigel: Quit. I can get another girl who'd take your job in five minutes. One who really wants it.

Andrea: I don't wanna quit, that's not fair! But you know, I'm just saying that I would just like a little credit for the fact that I am killing myself trying.

Nigel: Andy, be serious. You are not trying. You are whining. What is it that you want me to say, huh? You're trying to get me to say, poor you, Miranda's picking on you, poor you, poor Andy, hmm? Wake up! Six. She's just doing her job. Don't you know that you are working at the place that published some of the greatest artists of the century? Halston, Lagerfeldt, de la Renta... And what they did, what they created, was greater than art because you live your life in it. Well not you, obviously, but some people. You think this is just a magazine, hmm? This is not just a magazine! This is a shining beacon of hope for... Well, I don't know. Let's say young boy growing up in Rhode Island with six brothers pretending to go to soccer practice when he was really going to sewing class and reading Runway under the covers at night with a flashlight. You have no idea how many legends have walked these halls. And what's worse? You don't care. Because this place, where so many people would die to work you only deign to work. And you want to know why she doesn't kiss you on the forehead and give you a gold star on your homework at the end of the day. Wake up, sweetheart.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

I Love Animals (Heheh)

Yesterday, I made a conviction ahead of myself by saying that I don't think I'd go off meat-eating in spite of the knowledge of how possibly badly animals are treated (we recently watched a video about poor animal treatment prior to the slaughterhouse in sociology of food class) because I would readily accept inhumane treatment on me if that was my fate too. That is, if I was in the hands of some greater being who decided to skin me, remove my limbs or skewer me, while I wouldn't appreciate it and would probably be in an awesome deal of pain, I would think of it as a fact of life and would probably look at it with acceptance of my place in a certain order of things.

Although I said it ahead of myself, I can understand why I instinctly took that position and I think I'll be holding myself to it.

If I were born in the 14th or 15th century, the likelihood of me being a slave can be as high as 90%, because the only privileged position that ensures that I'll be safe is to be in the aristocracy, which is a minority elite and my odds of being born into it will be pathetically low. I might be born into a middle class family that just minds its own business from day to day but there's always the risk of war and invasion and being captured. Who am I then to believe that laws in place to safeguard my personal rights of living in humane conditions are a given?

When Pizarro and his Spanish conquistadors conquered the Inca Empire from the hands of King Atahuallpa, many Inca soldiers were killed or dismembered in battle and the rest were enslaved. And that must've been just that for existence to them, as sucky as it seems. The modern world is so enlightened now that human rights have become a worthwhile cause to pursue (and rightly so), but if I were hacked and left to bleed to death gruesomely in war tomorrow just as many of the Inca soldiers did yesterday, it wouldn't have been any different in the big scheme of Nature whether now or then.

In other words, I wouldn't ask for sympathy if I were in the hypothetical scenario of being captured by superior aliens, just to stretch the example. It thus makes it still acceptable for me to eat meat in the face of the seemingly inhumane treatment animals have gone through as one DVD has shown me. This effectively rules out the "what if it was done to you" argument that some animal lovers like to use.

The food production process is a profit-driven one. This can only mean that, by virtue of economics and the pursuit of more profits and efficiency, the process will be increasingly mechanised so that costs are lowered and returns are increased.

The drive for profit is reasonable if the end goal is to capture market share by creating value. In this sense then, profit is earned when a producer comes up with a better product such that demand for his product rises. Profit is the honest incentive in this case to innovate and provide better for society. The producer has raised the level of society by introducing superior products, such as healthier and better quality food into the market.

However, my gripe with this drive for profits occurs when the end goal isn't to create value, but for the sole purpose of maximising returns no matter what the means are. In order to expand the pie and capture more markets, producers have done all kinds of things to squeeze as much out of consumers as possible, such as by increasing the addictiveness of their food products (through using indiscriminate amounts of salt and sugar). In the process of only looking at the money, animals are treated like parts of a robotic processing chain in order to make production faster and produce greater portions (there you get the artificially created fat chickens and pigs who can't even support their own weight).

It takes a really emotionally detached person to look at his production process dispassionately and not consider the lives and the environment he is affecting in the pursuit of profit. And that is how the whole corporate structure is geared if one wishes to be exploitative - create different departments, specialise and deskill workers, and scientifically mechanise the process like Frederick Taylor proposed. Since no one is fully responsible for the entire process of inhumane animal culling, each department's worker will just go ahead with his own job of either herding, skinning or gutting the animals, with only his own paycheck in mind.

The rational argument to why companies shouldn't engage in socially irresponsible business is because of some fantastical long-term karma that will come back to haunt them, termed as long-term losses. The utilitarian argument goes: While one gets short-run profits by being socially irresponsible (such as saving on sewage disposal costs while polluting the river), the long term loss of being caught and sued is much worse and should be a disincentive (making it a moral imperative to focus on long term gains). While some companies like Enron did fall into the consequentialist trap and were then deemed as unethical companies, we can only really know if they are behaving ethically or not post-hoc.

Rather than consider the long-term harm, my stand on this is deontological - expand the pie and capture markets through the creation of value, not via the exploitation of the human mind through sly marketing, or the exploitation of resources through irresponsible management and production.

On a side note, my support for animal rights is somewhat ambivalent - I support it not in the sense that I believe animals have rights, but that I believe it is just evil to want to harm any living being unnecessarily.

I do realise that this seems to indicate a degree of moral flexibility. As long as I am not harming animals unnecessarily, I can overlook the evil procedures of other people culling animals in order to get me my meat, as all I do is buy my meat either off the shelf or at the hawker centre. If the food producer wasn't unethical in the way he produced the meat, I wouldn't have to grapple with the responsibility of considering the treatment of animals. Once again, my ideas rest on the somewhat utopian ideal that everyone has a part to play in ensuring the world is a better place.

Monday, 14 September 2009


Thousands of protesters swamped Washington during the weekend to voice their discontent over Obama's fiscal spending and his plan to revamp the health system. It is fascinating how such a sizeable number of Americans are so strongly anti-welfare and anti-socialist.

I must admit I've naturally belonged to that camp since young. My anti-socialist sentiments weren't borne originally out of a desire to attack people who looked like freeloaders to me. Rather, all the way since I was a little kid, I've always preferred it when people didn't intervene in my life, even with good and honest motives to care for me. Just leave me to my own devices and let me create my own livelihood. I don't want to owe anyone anything in the process.

It draws me to a piece of research on needs, motives, incentives and goals in controlled psychological processing.

"Goals will affect a person's behaviour differently, depending on what kind of need is the source of that goal (Deci & Ryan, 1991). If, for instance, two people in a music class are asked to create a composition, they each have the same goal. The motive they are seeking to satisfy will alter the nature of the goal that is selected and pursued. The first person (Britney) may set the goal of pleasing others, whereas the second person (Missy) may focus on creating an interesting piece of work. Missy's goal is in the service of a motive to derive intrinsic joy in an artistic process, whereas Britney's is in the service of a motive to be liked. Goals in the service of autonomy, competence, and social integration needs leads to greater creativity, higher cognitive flexibilty, greater depth of information processing, and more effective coping with failure (Deci, 1992). When one's goals are not marked by autonomy of choice, such as when one is given a discrete task to perform by an authority or when a goal is selected based on an obligation, performance suffers."

The welfare state seems earmarked by heavy taxation, obligations to society (enforced by authority) and intervention by bureaucracy to me. Amongst all the other philosophical and economical reasons for the inefficiency of socialist and welfare policy, this looks like a psychological basis that accounts for each individual's drop in performance leading to the sluggishness of the whole in sum.

This is not to say that we should not care for people. It's just that the idea of the ideology of a state based on almost completely focusing its resources toward providing insurance of protection for the weak seems a bit misguided to me. I suppose that's why I often hold the highest regard for - and likewise come down harshest on - the individual to be socially intelligent and responsible. Even small and seemingly insignificant things like the responsibility to not give sympathy-seekers any sympathy, or to be self-sufficient in defining one's purpose in life. Because in the end, if only each person could just do the right thing he/she had to do (which does include philantropy and giving to the poor if you have wealth to give insofar as that is seen as a cause worthwhile pursuing as an individual), we wouldn't have to rely so submissively on some higher authority for our needs.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

A Skimpy Caveat To Liberalism

A contemporary thought on the changing landscape of global power is that of the prominent rise of China and the apparent decline of the US as a hegemonic power.

Authors such as Ikenberry have elegantly conceived of the possibly of such an occurrence of China overtaking the US and becoming the new global power as not happening because the structure of global politics defies history - the globalised world today doesn't play by conventional rules of interstate relations.

For one, the decisiveness of nuclear weapons in settling a war has rendered the possibility of a world war - the classical instrument for overthrowing the world order - unlikely. Secondly, the global institution based on the principles of capitalism created by the US after World War II is one that is 'hard to overturn and easy to join'. Thirdly, the many agents within the system ensure that any drastic action by any one is kept in check by a collective governance of states.

The trade regime in place creates a huge incentive for states to cooperate rather than resort to conflict. With more states within the Western order, the more wealth there is to create and gain, and the more likely one will lose out if one doesn't join in the trading playing field.

This economically-dominant system is seen as vastly different from global systems led by hegemons in the past, when the world order was created and run by the state with the greatest physical force. This contemporary and globalised world order appears benign and inclusive, more liberal than imperial, brings democracies and market societies closer together and facilitates the participation and integration of both global powers and newly developed states. This US-led world order also caters to the interests of market societies, creating incentives for states to participate and avoid being left out.

If the US focuses its efforts not in beefing the power of its country up but in ensuring that the Western order is enforced to encourage engagement, integration and restraint, countries that are rising global powers will have no choice but to play by the rules that have been established. China's economic rise is imminent, but remains checked by the system that is highly interdependent among many states. China's policy changes suggest that Chinese leaders do recognize the inevitable advantages of playing by these rules as they have increasingly embraced global trade rules.

However, history always has a sly and enduring way of ensuring that trends never change. It may be argued that the global system now may buck the trend simply because it is different. However, there is the chance that the global trade regime may fail to hold as the declining hegemonic power - The US - does what any declining power will typically do - it will desperately try to secure its own interests. One can observe this happening in its increasingly protectionist measures and socialist policies which signal its lack of commitment to the global world trading order it created and would constrain the growth of other global powers with.

By loosening its position as the foremost supporter of the global system of governance that underpins the world order, there can be (and is) increasing disincentive for countries to open up their doors to trade and resort to protectionist measures, causing liberal trade to collapse (this is especially highlighted by the neverending difficulty in ratifying trade agreements during WTO meetings). The weakening interdependence among countries can allow runaway global powers to attempt to rise up and overthrow the world order which would otherwise have been kept intact by the many countries it serves.

This seems to me to be another possible case of power shifting history occurring again, and it would signal a sense of inevitability when it comes to the tyranny of history's dictates - there can be no system so privileged that it that escapes the trend of the past.

Realists will also love to contend that the cooperation that liberalists like to proclaim as good between countries isn't so much a harmonious feature of interstate relations, but rather one that is chock-full of political conflict. As Keohane points out, harmony occurs when everyone's interests naturally align, but cooperation occurs because conflict or potential conflict arises, and cooperation then entails that patterns of behaviour must be altered.

Game theorists have shown that strategies that involve threats, punishments, promises and rewards are more effective in attaining cooperative outcomes than those that rely on persuasion, often the cornerstone of the capitalist's argument for the free market.

Cooperation hence does not imply an absence of conflict. Without the looming potential of conflict, there is no need for cooperation. The role of realism in focusing on the insecurities between states is still prevalent.

So, it is still early yet to say for sure if the new world order can hold out and that realism is dead in the idealised promise of liberal theory.

Friday, 11 September 2009


I secretly like that look and the 'err. ok' response I get when I throw a scientific theory out instead of some standard human response when replying to typical mundane things. This enjoyment for depriving someone else of a typical human response becomes secretive only because other people don't understand it. Love it that way.

Sorrow can be alleviated by good sleep, a bath and a glass of wine.
- Saint Thomas Aquinas

Wednesday, 9 September 2009


"I might often be accused - correctly - of over-generalising in some of my comments, making the odd sweeping statement here and there, and so on. But who cares? I know I'm generalising, you know I'm generalising, so what's the problem? There are too many pedants on the Net who insist that people attach a mass of qualifiers to everything they say, preface every statement with an IMHO and follow it with a list of exceptions. But such qualifiers don't make anything more true - just more boring. Truth, if it is to be found at all, lies somewhere in a dialectical space between a statement and its antithesis. Better to push at the boundaries of such a space than potter about in the middle."

- Stephen Bonds

This perhaps for every excessively cynical person who can't see the value behind a psychology theory, political concept, economic theory or philosophical idea, rejecting it just because there are inevitable exceptions.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

The Community Spirit Myth

Capoeira is a lovely activity, not just as a CCA, for me. It involves a great deal of individualism and doesn't demand commitment. Structure is merely basic; the exco behaves like a minimalist government - it exists to serve administrative functions, not to lord over the group members and demand tributes. The hierarchy is largely egalitarian as nobody, formally or informally, discriminates against anyone else, be it due to seniority or gender (there is a huge amount of respect for girls in Capoeira). The only overriding factor for demanding respect is one's skill, one's contribution to the game, and one's commitment to the sport itself, not the capoeira group.

Of course, this doesn't mean we can do without commitment; a steadily returning group of people are necessary for Capoeira SMU to even exist. But the individualistic nature of Capoeira SMU makes it such that we will come back even if it is not demanded of us. In an 'invisible hand' way, non-committedness transforms into committedness because of our common understanding and love for the game beyond our obligations to club members. And IMHO this is far better than being obligated to commit to something.

Our structure can also be contrasted to that of the symphonic band or the aikido group. In those groups, hierarchy is clearly present with distinct levels of seniority. Those delineating divisions are almost non-existent in Capoeira SMU. One does not fall under the authority of the structure the moment he/she steps in.

Structure always breeds a latent sense of obligation and commitment to it. It is wonderful that this isn't the case for Capoeira SMU, which is why I keep coming back more than I used to for Samba Masala (and eventually left). Why make, or even allow, some degree of your participation be due to fearing that someone else will get upset that you're not there? If you don't feel like turning up, I'd rather you not come. Granted, initial structure is good to ensure some stability before a club, group or society can run freely this way, but once that stage in a group's life is cleared, the best way the show should be run is one that isn't in the shadow of a rigid, iron-fisted structure.

Then, there will always be some people who can't let go of being part of the structure. Think of the people who frequently run for elections and return to the same excos year after year, to fight the same battles they have become so accustomed to fighting. These old guard, system-suckers love to try and keep their generation's way of doing things alive for the longest time. When it's time to let the new guns fight it out, it really is just about time to grow up and let it go.

For better or worse, the role of structure, systems and community is becoming overrated as we become more affluent, better educated, more rational and more individualistic. It is difficult to say if this is good or bad, but to dismiss it as wrong by those who believe strongly that we should be committed and community-loving are just disillusioned (these people, not coincidentally, often also have a naively strong regard for the responsibility of the government to care for us). Such thinking belongs to a past era when it still wasn't easy for us to gain the enlightenment through education to understand what is the best way for us to lead our lives, and rely on the structure, system or community to tell us what to do. Fat governments and sluggish bureaucracies often weigh heavy on the burdened backs of people.

The reality is that these structures don't exist without us holding them up. There is a strong case to assert that we should be looking at things from the actor, agent or individual's point of view, if we do not want our existential liberties to be compromised. In that vein of thought, everything else should be considered from oneself as the starting point.

A simple anecdote from the army goes as follows. Trainees are often punished for not being able to keep one's sleeping quarters in clean and healthy condition, not being able to maintain the functionality of one's rifle, or not being able to keep one's uniform polished. If you can't take care of your own welfare, you can forget about taking care of your fellow soldier's.

Community people have a strong dependence on structure - it dictates to them their roles, from which they know what they are supposed to do, who they can lead and who they must follow, and what they are or are not entitled to, without having to think much at all. Community people are rooted in things like family, friends, their jobs and their community groups, and attain life's meaning and validation from them.

Because of this fundamental congruence between structure and their personalities, community people are diametrically opposed to change. Change is not a readily embraceable thing to the community person, so when change happens, there is instability and often unhappiness in the community person's life.

Live life as an individual, knowing that who you are value-adds to the community you have chosen to be a part of, to the friends you have chosen to associate yourself with. Give more credit to individualism so that you'll always have yourself to fall back on. It is tragic when you lose meaning in life because these structures have altered or disappeared.

In the past, it took bloodshed for the instincts of men to tell them that something was wrong and made them revolt against their oppressors. Now, all it takes is the perception of many that their voice and thoughts are stifled for them to demand change and more freedom.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

But It's Easier Said Than Done Leh!

"Another good option is to ignore the other party's attempts to intimidate you, because intimidation can only influence you if you let it. While this may sound too simplistic, think for a moment about why some people you know are intimidated by authority figures and others are not - the reason often lies in the perceiver, not the authority figure."

- Lewicki, Saunders & Barry, Negotiation, pp. 67

This is some solid, in-your-face advice for but-it's-easier-said-than-done spouters. Everything is more difficult than you think until you make the effort.

When There's Nothing Left To Burn

You have to set yourself on fire.

When the excuses are gone, it's time to face the light.

Yeah Yeah Sour Grapes

Something that should've happened to me a long time ago but hasn't is a person coming up to me and telling me, "hey, did you know X is on the Dean's List? Impressive!"

Truth be told, this is something I don't really know how to respond to. In all honesty, I'm a lot more impressed if someone has intellectual curiosity, not if someone has a high GPA. A high GPA in SMU could mean so many things - the person is book smart, the person knows how to pick group mates, the person knows which profs are good to bid for, etc; ultimately, the person knows how to churn out the grade no matter what.

The closest I've ever come to a taste of the DL feeling is in secondary school when I was in the top 20 of my cohort. While most people feel an immense sense of pride being there, it never meant anything to me. I don't remember deriving the joy most Singaporeans would being declared a top student because getting 1 and 1 or 2 and 2 correct wasn't the important thing to me. As a good prof recently said in class, standard deviations and NPVs can deal with themselves. They're correct once you get them. But it's in the art of uncertainty where excitement and exploration really is. I think most locals are good with the math, and it's just not interesting to me at all.

Granted, I don't think I'm a fantastic student, so this could sound like sour grapes. But the thing is I've never tried and I've never really been bothered to. I've spent the most part of my education fucking up my grades because I'm more keen on pitting myself against uncertainty. I know a whole lot of people who wouldn't dare to try a mod because it's not known to produce fixed answers, which equates to not having the certainty of a grade if one works hard enough. In my SMU life so far, I've dabbled with OBHR, marketing, psychology, political science, sociology and economics, in the process failing to score many times but happy to have learnt something new from everything I had a hand in. University life couldn't have been any more fulfilling for me if not for this.

Thursday, 3 September 2009


Microsoft names new software Microsoft CIBAI:

Google testing new payment system called GBuy:

More tickles:

Fun scrabble game between Shaq and Jimmy Kimmel. Check out my vagonads.

And finally, a video of my fellow SMU Capoeirista who has made it to fail blog fame (no, I'm serious), effectively living up to his name of Falha Épico. Enjoy!

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Up In Smoke

There's been furore over the video of the little China kid who was smoking while his elders stood around him and watched and at times encouraged him. I've noticed words like 'disgusting' and 'disappointing' being used, with someone going so far as wanting to 'bitchslap the kid's parents'.

I think an alignment of cultural perspectives is in order. When I was in China in the summer, one of the things that struck me was that people smoked there because it is what they do. There are probably many reasons for this, some of which I would speculate to be smoking being one of the ways people deal with the cold climate there, smoking as a social lubricant, or simply that smoking is so culturally ingrained in their lives it is actually a necessity there. A China person I spoke to speculated that the average age one picks up smoking in China is around 14. Mind-boggling stuff for people (mostly local Singaporeans) who can't conceive of such an alternate reality.

And China isn't the only country that has such a strong smoking culture. Japan, Mongolia and Korea are also countries with high smoking populations, and I even think it's silly that I'm trying to list countries because I think that almost every country except ours is a smoking country.

The reality is that we, as Singaporeans, are the ones who are different. I'm not even a smoker myself, but I can see where most of this anti-smoking sentiment is going. We are trying to look at the behaviours of people in other countries with our own holier-than-thou, I've-got-scientific-proof-so-I'm-right-you're-wrong mentalities and then getting upset because they are different. We need to wise up more than this.

We may have our scientific evidences to tell us that smoking is harmful because we have our own ideals of trying to develop a country that doesn't smoke. We have the right to such a goal because we are collectively striving for it (at least from what I can see, the majority do not like smoking, and even smokers are aware of the harmful effects of smoking). But it's just silly to try and impose a moral high ground on the behaviour of people from another country who do not share these ideals. None of these other countries are going to buy the idea that one could actually live longer if one stopped smoking. It's just not an issue to them.

If anything, most of these countries with high smoker densities do not smoke for pride's sake. They do it because it is normal that they smoke. I am less inclined to give Singaporeans the benefit of the doubt that smoking isn't a matter of pride.

A friend recently did a psychology report on social smoking in Singapore. In our society, there is a growing stigma against smoking. The interesting thing he found about social smoking is that most social smokers often make the claim they can smoke as and when they like to without succumbing to its addiction (isn't that an interesting point to make? A smoker wouldn't have to do this if he did not buy the stigma against smoking himself). Many social smokers often say that they're not smoking because they're addicted but, rather, it is because of the occasion that they do. So my friend concluded, rather well, that while most social smokers often take pride in the ability to resist addiction, the fact that they need to smoke while socialising reflects an inability to resist peer pressure.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Brief Jadedness

I've been recently dissatisfied with psychology. I think I'm at a phase where I've an idea where I'm headed academically and intellectually and psychology isn't keeping up fast enough while political science is offering itself as a serious contender and outlet for me to channel my thoughts. Wading through the deeply cognitive aspects of psychology just makes me wonder where this is going. Nothing ever fascinates me more than the Durkheimian social perspective that makes all the detail come to life. I can't wait for an evolutionary psychology module to pop up, and I'm curious to see where this political science detour is going to take me.

On another level, psychology term papers are terribly unexciting. The agenda of a psychology article always seems to be to try to be as complicated and jargon-laden as possible, whilst exercising minimal writing flair.

There's definitely something more than this.