Saturday, 28 November 2009

The Dubai Scare Makes The Market Look Stupid

The latest market plunge caused by investors dumping shares after Dubai's shock request to suspend loan repayments makes me believe more so now than ever before that the capitalist market system is really incompatible with realistic human nature. In theory, it's supposed to work because humans are expected to behave in a rational, self-interested manner which, to some extent, is true. But in a system where the sum total actions of all individuals acting in a rational manner in the system is supposed to result in an overall good, it is extremely susceptible to nonsense outcomes where tremendous losses are experienced and unnecessary unhappiness is created when everyone acts irrationally also due to human nature, such as when everyone panics, acts defensively (so that the prisoner's dilemma situation becomes an all-lose scenario) or behaves unintelligently due to a lack of complete information with which to make rational decisions.

I'm a little more lenient on the last point, as the reason for incomplete information is often due to the lack of liberal freedom, and illiberal conditions can only be created because politics undermines the 'efficiency' of the market (created by either the presence of monopolies or redistributive governments). Political influence thus results in withheld information and/or individual liberty constrained by unnatural economic flows. But otherwise, capitalism and free markets simply create room for the avalanches caused by snowflakes who don't see themselves as responsible.

I guess where one really stands on this depends on what one deems as the real direction of human nature. But while I believe it is true that humans are self-interested, each individual's psychological reactions to situations, particularly ambiguous ones that are notoriously created by the uncertainty of the market, makes each supposedly 'rational' self-interested action irrational instead. In other words, we do not meet the human condition that capitalism expects for its free market mechanism to work. I suppose this begs the question of what social system really works then, since communism has proven to be the opposite end of the spectrum and has been a great fiasco as well. Socialism? Haha. We're digressing already.
Jozef was a Polish Jew who was captured by the Soviets in 1939 and sent to a Siberian camp before becoming an officer in a Polish division of the Red Army. In the summer of 1945, he led an armed platoon to Klaj, Poland, to discover what had happened to his mother, his sister, and his niece. There he learned that an armed gang had shot them, but when he was face-to-face with the man who led the gang, he hesitated to shoot. Instead, he delivered him to the police, who investigated the crime and then, after about a year, released the murderer. Until his death, Jozef remained tormented by regret at his failure to take vengeance. We regularly ignore the fact that the thirst for vengeance is among the strongest of human emotions. The writer’s conversations in Papua New Guinea made him understand what humans have given up by leaving justice to the state.

- Abstract by The New Yorker on Jared Diamond's Vengeance is Ours

Friday, 27 November 2009

Symbolic Interactionism In The SMU Hell Hole

How we attach symbolic meanings to things and interpret things symbolically still fascinates me to no end. Symbolic interactionism is, very briefly, a sociological theory that states that things are what they are because we attach symbolic meanings to these things, and these symbolic meanings go through a dynamic and reinterpretive process such that what the thing stands for now can be very different from what it really is. For example, a flag is objectively just a cloth, but through symbolic interpretation we see a flag as a symbol of nationhood. Around these parts one could be tried for defacing such a sacred piece of cloth.

School and the negative stigma associated with SMU for one always keeps me mentally entertained. I usually bring my laptop and a book or two out on my travels, carried along in a sling bag. The laptop is considerably heavy (since it's an old school Acer from 5 or 6 years ago), so I often opt to hand-carry the book to lighten the load on my shoulders. I also do so because it facilitates reading since it's already in my hands - I can simply flip to the last read page and resume reading. If it was in my bag, there would be significant inertia to make me deliberate over whether I want to read when the chance arrives. In geek-speak, given an unlimited number of opportunities to read, I would have read a lot less if I had chosen to keep my books tucked in my bag.

So it's always the laptop in the bag and the book in my hand. I've been reading Guns, Germs and Steel (hereafter referred to as GGS) since June but because of internship and then school I've had to put reading it aside at times and have yet to complete it until now. I just acquired The Moral Animal (TMA) today, so I've got two books on hand now. My preference for 'one book in hand + laptop & book in bag' is greater than 'two books in hand + laptop in bag' or 'no books in hand + laptop & two books in bag', so for a moment earlier today I was confronted with a very mild dilemma of deciding which book to hold in hand. I instinctively chose TMA. The rationalization of why I chose TMA then leads me on to the symbolic interactionism I was amused with.

The main reason why I even had the instinctive notion of keeping GGS in my bag while holding TMA is because GGS is a book used for SMU's Technology and World Change (TWC) module. Everyone who has seen me holding the book, enquired about it and recognized it, is aware that it is Professor Terence Fan's TWC textbook when he teaches TWC (it is perhaps the only reason why people here have come to know of the book's existence I suppose). To avoid irky questions of like, "you're reading GGS? Isn't it a TWC textbook?", "you're taking TWC next term is it, that's why you're reading it" or "you took TWC is it, that's why you're reading it", I'd rather keep it covered and expose people to TMA instead.

I have my reasons for reading GGS - while I might've heard of it only because Richard told me that it's an interesting TWC textbook and somewhat recommended it to me, I have found it an extremely informative book and it has helped me compound further questions and ideas pertaining to my areas of interest. I read it because I am intrinsically motivated to read it. I hold no qualms for explaining these reasons to people who ask me irky questions. The funny thing is, no one can accept those reasons as legitimate in the face of their symbolic interpretation of GGS as an SMU textbook, something to be read only if you're doing a TWC class, and therefore disgusting because it is associated with school (which is then further associated with many other ills that are stigmatic of SMU, such as stress, unhappiness, anxiety, etc).

If I bring this even further, I am in the school library now on a public holiday (Hari Raya Haji) as I speak. I came here today because I found out that TMA is available here and I'd been frustratingly unsuccessful trying to get it elsewhere. I pass familiar faces and many people have difficulty understanding or accepting the fact that I am in the school library because 1) it is a public holiday, 2) I have already finished my papers, and 3) I am here to borrow a book. By virtue of symbolic interactionism once more the school library has a very specific, unpleasant purpose, and that is to allow people to visit it and stew in mugging, which incites very unhappy emotions, for the exams.

Very objectively speaking, GGS is simply a book. In fact, beyond that, GGS is a fantastic book that traces the evolution of human development, state building and why people end up having very different fates across the globe. Also, objectively speaking, school is simply a facility where I can conveniently access books, the internet, power points and a place to settle in to do other stuff without having to spend money on food or drinks just to get a seat. It is therefore very intriguing to me how symbolic the social construct of 'school' is and how strongly its stigmas attach to objects like books and facilities that have been associated with it. Sometimes, it even strikes me that the reactions people give are instinctive and second natured, such as like an instantaneous cry of disapproval and disgust when GGS is held up when I'm asked, "what's that?" Some people even instinctively attempt to sympathize with me: "OMG GGS! I feel your pain bro!"

School must leave dire and deeply-resounding impressions on its students here for its ability to create such a subconscious level of effect such that negative reactions are second nature. As I type, nothing much has changed such that one can't tell that it's really a public holiday today - the rows of tables are filled with quiet and hunched students whose facial expressions are stoic. I even saw some Malays in their ethnic costumes; did these Malay SMU students excuse themselves from celebrations early in order to continue mugging for the papers that aren't over next week?

School must be a hell hole, and people actively communicate their extreme dislike for it where, as Irving has described, "it is so hot because you can practically feel the brainwaves".

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

I find it really funny why business exam papers love to focus so much on memory work. I can totally appreciate why this is necessary in science, history or psychology, but to ask for the specific definition behind something like 'inquisitorial intervention' just amazes me. In the psychology world, having an exact knowledge of theory and definitions is necessary because when I say, "discomfort from doing something you don't like is due to 'cognitive dissonance'", I expect other psychologists to understand and when they throw out terms like 'knowledge activation' and 'social facilitation', I am likewise expected to know them, know them well, and know them so that we can move on, build on existing concepts and generate new ideas.

But I have this strong suspicion that if I went to a firm and began running my mouth with terms like 'inquisitorial intervention' I am merely going to get smacked.

My last paper is finally done for this term.

Donation Realism

Uniform groups were out in full force thronging the streets of town early today to solicit donations. I spotted the big three of the lot - NCC, NPCC and SJAB - scampering about trying to get a largely apathetic and behaviourally-scripted town crowd to give up some loose change.

It just struck me, although the underlying implication isn't new, that a hot girl would probably get donations from guys more and a hunk dude would get donations from girls more. People don't rationalize these kinds of one-off donations, so it would therefore only make sense to forgo the whole appeal to organization and authority and instead capitalize on first impressions, attraction and sex appeal. Between a decision to donate and a decision not to in the case of such donation-tin solicitation, first impressions and snap judgments, and unfortunately often very subconscious ones, can mean the difference between getting some moolah or none at all.

I've been in these poor sods' shoes back then in secondary school and the inefficiency induced from trying to skirt the ugly truth of human nature has always frustrated me to no end. I mean, seriously, I wouldn't donate to me if I were a sweaty kid in an ugly green uniform. Forget the uniform groups, employ attractive people instead, and specifically ask the ladies to target the men and the men to target the ladies. Let the uniform groups be involved for politically correct reasons, but keep them at logistics or administration or something else. Even if people are going to criticize the whore-like nature of the whole business, it's not going to stop donations from coming in because first impressions count - I'll bet that people are still going to fall for that charming smile even if they try to consciously remind themselves that it's exploitation out there on Orchard Road and they're going think of plugging into their wallets before they can react. It's all mentally scripted stuff and second nature is difficult to prevent because it's automatic. See an attractive person and your reasoning goes to pot. This is why they plant bikini babes at car shows and IT fairs - to exploit the psychological loopholes on the vast pool of men who will come down. The same will work for women. At any rate, donations will come in at a fraction of the effort, but perhaps at twice the cost of people being unhappy about being psychologically manipulated.

But hey, it's for a good cause! And what's more wrong, charity groups manipulating you into donating, or you not helping just because you were stingey, lazy or turned off by the smelly pudgy kid shoving a tin can in your face (which could be considered additionally wrong because it is an appeal to attraction in the first place)?

On a side note, what I predicted quite a while ago seems to have happened. I never believed that those ticket-style donations, where people would approach you to buy $2, $5 or $10 coupons that would partly give you perks with some food place or shopping centre and partly contribute to beneficiaries, would last. I hardly see them these days. Singaporeans hate having to go out of their way in the first place, and being approached to stop and entertain these solicitors totally breaks the mundane momentum of things. Add taking money out of pockets and it gets worse. I think we only entertained these people for a while because it forced us out of our comfort zones and the novelty of the situation made us unable to react quickly enough to deal with. But once this gets far too played out, people are prepared and can consciously decide not to entertain them (see how this is in contrast with my tin-can donation idea - sex appeal sells because the reaction is an automatic one and cannot be undone if you're normal). Additionally, it's a little dubious where the money really ends up, because the companies that promote the sale of these tickets merely act as agents moving the donations around. Maybe one day, when we're on a clean slate again because there are new generations to fool come about, we'll see these coupon sales again.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

L4D Is Horrible Next To Benassi, But This'll Have To Do

Saturday was Benny Benassi @Zouk and I was psyched up to go down with some SMU pals, but (perhaps as should really have been expected) the plan didn't go through because Saturday is like two days before the exam week and most people can't put mugging off for some fun. It really sucks but that's just that, and while I love great music, I'm not hardcore enough to club on my own.

But I was too restless to stay home by then anyway, so I headed out nonetheless and was prepared to just hang around doing nothing much and maybe even gravitate towards Zouk subconsciously when Nathaniel gave me a buzz and asked if I was up for doing something that night. It seemed like a miracle so I asked him if he was keen on Zouk but he was totally off the idea, so we ended up playing Left 4 Dead until 4.30am instead. In the words (and tone) of Bear Grylls in my very own Man Vs Reality, "L4D is horrible next to Benassi, but this'll have to do."

We caught up quite a bit and updated each other on our lives, and I learnt that he had found himself recently when he had his 'purpose' figured out. I don't mean this in a religious sense and I often use the term purpose loosely. But when one is genuinely aligned with a sense of purpose, it is a truly profound feeling. It makes one wake up to each new day knowing that there's always something new to be done and somewhere to be headed. It makes the trials and tribulations of GPA-chasing miniscule. Everything is done with a renewed sense of vigour and meaning. Nathaniel found it when he rethought his plan in life and realized that sometimes, what people and society expect of you can make you lost and where you're headed unclear.

When I look at the friends I'm closer to (I suppose a good definition of this is if I would invite them to my wedding since I don't exactly have that many haha), most of them have attained some degree of actualization, and quite a few have already embarked on chasing their ideals. One is a yoyo performer and has broken into the emcee and stage scene. Another is pursuing a mass communications degree to venture into media and journalism. Yet another intends to set up a business. Those are all friends I made when I was much younger and in a very fascinating way, it could be that there was something about these people I was drawn to in the first place, whether I knew it or not. There were ideals and philosophies we shared that were bigger than the superficial details of whether we enjoyed doing the same activities or had the same social circles. All of them have a signficant degree of idealism they were prepared to give up a mediocre, average life for. This made them individualists, because to trade the norm for the purpose you passionately desire to achieve entails not drifting with the mainstream.

I'm really glad this is it for me and for all my buddies. This feeling sometimes seems to run parallel with the sensations of liberty in the way that those who appreciate it talk about it. "Like bones to the human body, the axle to the wheel, the wing to the bird, and the air to the wing, so is liberty the essence of life. Whatever is done without it is imperfect." How can living by the day being constantly pressured by social comparisons in school, via grades and the mere fact that everyone else seems to be studying, be a goal worth chasing? Study because you want to. This subjectivity isn't even a real one sometimes - it is a somewhat mindless fear of not keeping up with others one has perceived to be benchmarks of self-worth. It can sometimes be, to quote someone respectable, quite a diminished way to live.

Politics > Economics? Tough Call In Our Revenue-Driven World

SMU has recently raised its parking fees to tackle over-demand. I've always joked about the economic principle of supply and demand never really happening in reality when I point at crowded stalls with crazy queues around school and quip that they should raise prices to counter the problem. But such an action ever only benefits, at the end of the day, the 'market' which is largely an abstraction that certain people attempt to divorce from reality.

So I somewhat mock-applauded the decision because it was bold, it was sudden, it was - I believe - ignorant and it was, yet in a completely objective sense, practical. Let the price mechanism rebalance the situation. Economics textbook stuff. Want a parking lot? Pay a higher price. The price doesn't match your utility? Don't park! Problem should be solved and it's win-win - the school makes more revenue if the numbers don't dwindle, the ones who can pay can now have the luxury of less congestion.

But as expected, the market HARDLY ever works out. What ensued after that is typical of the everyday struggle between politics and economics. After the person in charge sent out the email notifying the school of the parking fee raise, student activism (of sorts) kicked in. People aren't normally happy that they can't have their pie and eat it too, so a few voices are raised and soon people are going to start petitioning or pulling the Student Association into this. Cookie points for our dear representative body soon, yay. To the credit of the student body, the carpark service hasn't exactly been up to par to begin with.

Of course, the most positive outcome to this would probably be that the demands cause innovation to occur and the school somehow builds a bigger and more efficient parking lot such that prices still remain low and demand can remain high. But such structural changes seldom take place because of a whole host of 'inefficient' reasons - the school is lazy, the school can get away with it, people can't deal with the construction, nobody wants to bother because students have a lifespan of about 4 years (duh) which is too little to care, etc. If politics triumphs, then the school will be forced to keep the prices low again and congestion will remain. But I suppose it's alright if people don't mind struggling for a parking lot if it means getting one that is cheaper, but at the expense of parking lot security. The utility comparison becomes: ($2.60/hr + parking lot insecurity) > ($3.00/hr + parking lot security), which equates to 40 cents per hour being waaaay too expensive for a higher assurance of parking lot spaces. There's no improvement, but it's okay as long as I don't ostensibly pay more. People can be funny that way.

We see this played out in Government, Union and Corporation battles across the globe regularly. Inflation forces prices to rise, workers protest against wage cuts, the market mechanism gets jammed, and we get workers who are perceived by economists as people who spend half their time believing in the power of revolt and the other half pretending to work. Wages remain high, costs stay high, and we continue pondering why the prices just don't stop rising. Hmm.

Only time will tell what will happen with regards to the SMU carpark saga. One has a hunch though that sometimes it is really money that garners political power in Singapore and the cream in$titution of the lot at $MU.

Note: My dispassionate perspective on the issue doesn't mean I do not feel the ball-squeeze for carpark users who have obviously been bearing the brunt of what is clearly rotten carpark service for quite some time, and then now this. This write-up is merely a lamentation about the vicissitudes of daily strife we wish we could come to embrace as normal, whichever side you're on.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

This Sounds Like Tragic Romance On Halloween Night

It's a cold dark night,
Hallows Eve upon the crest,
In a parking lot of vampires in suits to look their best,
And the music, with these coffins made of gold,
With friends and lovers freshly buried.

Her beauty watches over me, so let us hide and we'll dance the night away.
Kiss the rise of the sun, then we'll melt away, that's who we are.
We are always searching, always searching.
For you

In a white dress, with no eyes,
Black suit red devil bow tie,
The king and queen are crowned Victorian.
"Is this the last of our haunting?"
She says as she floats like an angel.
"You will never know until you let me go,
I'm hoping this will never end!"

Her beauty watches over me, so let us hide and we'll dance the night away.
Kiss the rise of the sun, then we'll melt away, that's who we are.
We are always searching, always searching.
For you

The haunting, where we fell in love.
The haunting, where we fell in love.
The haunting, where we fell in love.
The haunting, where we fell in love.

Her beauty watches over me, so let us hide and we'll dance the night away.
Kiss the rise of the sun, and then we'll melt away, that's who we are.
We are always searching, always searching.

Her beauty watches over me, so let us hide and we'll dance the night away.
Kiss the rise of the sun, and then we'll melt away, that's who we are.
We are always searching, always searching.
For you

I Am Ghost - We Are Always Searching

Thursday, 19 November 2009

I am going to generalize. Say, between delusional self-confidence (immaterial) and a bunch of jobs you'd want to put together as a safety net so that you know you're employable (material), which would you rather have?

Personally, I'd rather have all of delusional self-confidence, because that kind of intrinsic and immaterial motivation is far more enduring and provides the character tools needed for the rest to happen.

Besides, from what I've observed, to peg your worth and happiness to something material like money or your GPA is a surefire way to end up being unhappy in all sorts of ways.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

On Cynicism

I attended Dr Samantha Vice's Philosophy On Tap session last night, which will mark her last night here in Singapore. A wrap-up on about two weeks' worth of sharing, discussing and exploring her ideas on cynicism and morality went on for about an hour. I'd regretfully missed most of her talks while she was on tour in Singapore, especially the Capstone Seminar session, but even last night's short session was quite thoroughly enjoyable.

For a start, people generally admire cynics because they seem to be seeing things most of us don't. When a cynic speaks up against something, it's like wow, finally someone brave enough is willing to stand up and say something about it and even sound clever doing it. Dr Vice aptly used business men (often in advertising) and politicians as her target examples for why cynicism, when applied, can be a virtue. A caveat, however, is that we only appreciate them if they share the target of our disapproval. People get extremely defensive when they belong to a group that cynics target. Just consider the love cynic who espouses negative thoughts to an audience of yuppies.

The strongest albeit most controversial aspect of her argument is that cynicism is incompatible with morality, i.e. it is immoral to be cynical. This is mostly due to the way she has defined cynicism which, while it makes sense, has elements that are inherently immoral in some aspects already. So her definition of cynicism differs somewhat from the more layman way of thinking about cynics.

In a nutshell which runs the terrible risk of oversimplifying, cynicism involves 1) belief in human nature as 'bad' (self-interested, flawed, etc), 2) skepticism, suspicion, pessimism, maybe even resignation (which stems from the belief that the human condition is pathetic and unsalvageable), and 3) 'disengagement', which is the most crucial point in my opinion. Disengagement is a deliberate separation of self from the situation, such that one is then allowed to indulge in the witticism, coolness and suaveness of being a cynic. Because the cynic has such a low outlook on humanity, there is little that can get him or her down because everything is already expected within his or her realm of negative judgment. The cynic thus cannot seem to be 'shaken'. This disengagement stems from a lack of optimism about the human condition and a dispassionate take on the reality such that one will not be inclined to do anything about it.

Most of us who would think of ourselves as cynical would fulfill points 1 and 2, but point 3 is tricky because as long as we still have faith yet that there is hope for humanity to change things for the better, we aren't the extreme cynic Dr Vice is critical of. In other words, if we care enough about something, we aren't completely cynical. The fashionable coolness of cynicism stems from their devil-may-care attitude about the torrid state of things, and then joke about it and adopt a stance that says that they don't really give a damn.

Dr Vice has raised some objections to such an attitude towards life. For a start, whether we should endorse something can be judged by whether we would allow our children to be brought up that way. As such, there is something rather perverse about having a cynical child who is suspicious about everything. It is important that this should be contrasted with having a smart chlid who is discerning - the cynic looks at things a priori with a stance of suspicion already, which brings us to the next point. It is immoral to be cynical because we will judge people negatively even against the light of evidence, because everything has some underlying ulterior motive. This immorality may lead on to a whole host of other things later down the road, such as elitism and stereotyping.

Another compelling question Dr Vice raised also is: "can you imagine committing yourself to a lifetime with a cynic?"

I think the idea can be generalised most in a utilitarian manner when one simply thinks of life as consisting of a series of prisoner's dilemmas on a day-to-day basis. If there were more cynics amongst us, or if everyone in the world is a cynic, each prisoner's dilemma outcome would either be 'I lose' or 'both loses', leading to an overall decrease in wellbeing of both society and the individual.


Sunday, 15 November 2009

'Rather' Can Be Found In 'Character'

I would rather have all the problems associated with having too much freedom than not have any freedom at all any day.

I would rather have too much to think about than not have anything to think about.

I would rather grapple with the confusions of knowing too much than not knowing enough.

I would rather be confronted with problems of an 'unnecessary' nature than not have any thought experiments to deal with.

I would rather be opinionated and stubborn than apathetic and meek.

I would rather defend a stand and offend than sell my soul to please and be accepted.

I'm sure as hell elitist in my own weird way, and I'm really glad I am. :]

When you really want something to happen, the whole universe conspires so that your wish comes true.
- Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist.

I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it.
- Thomas Jefferson

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Overheard this in a conversation next to me.

Guys have it easier [in SMU], because they have the twin capacity to 'chum' male professors and 'charm' female professors.


"But I'm happy," a most unlikely person said to me.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, is the sum total of what it means to have made it in life. You could be doing whatever weird-ass shizzle there is to do, but to be able to answer with conviction, at the end of the day against all of life's vicissitudes, "yes!" when you're asked, "are you happy?" is to be at at peace with yourself and everything in the world. When that truly happens when faced off with your conscience, nothing else really matters.

Signs Of The Times

I've noticed that missing the 2007/2006 university intake (i.e. you are from the 2005 and earlier batches) makes your tagged Facebook photos decrease by up to 1000% (I know this logic is directionally wrong but it's still correlationally correct). Talk about missing the bandwagon, which is good or bad only accordingly to what ultimately floats your boat with this whole Facebook thing.

This is the age of acronym-ing.


Friday, 13 November 2009


For a while I've been going to the National Library's 7th storey social sciences section with ease getting through security. The security people there used to consist of very crabby old women who always gave me the impression their husbands refused sex the night before and so were taking their work of denying people an easy time as a power trip, but recently while visiting my favourite part of the National Library to work on my international political economy paper I've had some very nice security ladies letting me through with a smile, I've even begun to forget about those unpleasant times dealing with them.

So today's old school crabby security lady was both a surprise and a return to old days. Maybe the powers that be thought it to be good again to instill some pain back in library patrons. But anyway, I just let her have her way with me, which saw me almost emptying out my bag to check if I had drugs or something. The security woman saw my notes and asked me to take them out too. I laid them out on the table, and the first one had a cover page with the title, "PIONEERS OF PARADIGMATIC CHANGE: WELFARE STATE TRANSFORMATION IN SMALL OPEN ECONOMIES".

And then she stared at me and said, matter-of-factly, "economics section is at the eighth storey."



This has been a great term for me as a couple of things have happened, and sometimes quite revelatorily.

In no particular order, the first (and possibly most significant because it might somewhat prelude the rest) is my decision to drop organizational behaviour and human resources (OBHR) as my second major and instead adopt political science as my second major.

This decision wasn't made overnight. In fact, the decision to pick up political science was possibly influenced from a long time ago when I started embarking more seriously on political and philosophical thought. Professor Rahul Sagar had probably quite a great deal to do with it, as the magical world of political sciences and history came alive under his introductory classes. I had always been fascinated by the discipline prior to university, but never thought I was competent or driven enough to dabble in it. I've even mentioned before that I worried that if I studied political science seriously, I would end up hating it. I started reading more related stuff after that and found that my thoughts on psychology, philosophy, politics and even economics had links and connections which I simply couldn't ignore. Those insights fascinate me so much that it would be a dream come true if I could just spend all my time deliberating on them.

Furthermore, the decision to drop OBHR was egged on by my growing impatience and intolerance towards business-related modules. I don't even really know where to begin on this. For one, bidding for OBHR mods was like a vomit-inducing process, because absolutely nothing fascinates me. Seriously, Training and Development? Human Capital Management? Management of People At Work? It takes some very specific passion to like and want to learn something like that and then apply it to work later on, and I know clear as day that I don't have that passion needed to do this. And nothing revolts me more than biting my lip and then putting a bid price down on choosing classes I've no drive to go for. It's too much lying to myself to get through, and I'm just not willed enough for that. Plus, I could really do without the next three months of feeling like I could've spent my time doing something else. On top of that, I've had far too many negative experiences with business-related modules and I'm too critical about it to pass off as tolerant of corporate behaviour (or even pre-corporate behaviour), so all I'm gonna end up doing, if my bids are successful, is to flunk all my OBHR mods. And I've really nothing against business, it's fine if there are people on the other side of the fence who think that social sciences is fluff, nonsense and intolerable themselves too, my disliking for business is just me and I've made my choice. I've sat through introduction to marketing and other business modules too and I can't see it without the critical glare of the social sciences getting to me, such as the psychological exploitation of the corporation that's going on, so I think I'm not just being narrow minded here and I've definitely made an informed choice.

The moment this drop-OBHR-do-political-science decision was made in my head, everything became a thousand times clearer. Everything I did and every decision I made suddenly had a boost of purpose. I went through the term doing social cognition, sociology of food and international political economy and I've never felt happier and more carefree studying. I did negotiation and conflict resolution too, the last OBHR mod I chose to do because I bidded for it before my decision to drop OBHR, and I was really lucky because I had the honour of studying it under an academically-driven professor, Dr Michael Benoliel, who was truly passionate about the subject and was honestly interested in imparting the knowledge of negotiations as a skill we can use in future to be successful in whatever we do.

Secondly, I did my internship at Pearson Education South Asia, which was the local publishing branch of Pearson. My time at Pearson wasn't the most pleasant, and I usually joke that if there's anything I really took away from my internship, it would be never to work at Boon Lay again. But Pearson became a valuable addition to my resume as it strengthened the perception of my competence in writing and in things related to media and publishing. If I don't make it in life, at least I know I'll always have editorial as a back-up job to do, which really isn't all too bad. It's great being able to earn money doing something you enjoy doing or don't have to put in effort for. In this case for me, it's writing and copy-editing (i.e. correcting people's English and grammar), something I would do anyway without remuneration. Just ask those I've frequently irritated by being grammar anal.

Next, I joined the social sciences publication team and, on what was really my whimsical suggestion, came up with the concept of Socscistan: the first ever faculty magazine for our very own social sciences faculty. During my stint there as a writer and illustrator, I wrote psychology articles and created designs, illustrations and comics for two issues, further cementing my credentials in the field of writing and publishing which will prove to be handy later on. Now as I begin move on into the twilight years of my undergraduate life, I've accepted the offer to take on the role of content editor for the magazine, and will be finding contributors rather than writing next time and deciding on the content for future issues.

With these events of my life in motion so far, I began to strongly give post-graduate studies a serious consideration. With my writing portfolio and aspirations to pursue academia, I decided to look at teaching and research assistant opportunities to bolster my experience and credentials, and strengthen my chances of applying for further studies through my academic resume and professor referrals. I ended up working with Professor Tobias Rettig on developing a website for disseminating information on the Declaration of Independence of Vietnam, and am looking at potential working opportunities with social psychologist Jennifer Tong and evolutionary psychologist Dr Norman Li. The potential of working with Dr Li is especially exciting since he's a figurehead in the academic industry now and I'm very interested in evolutionary psychology. Further, my articles on Socscistan also piqued his interest in the idea that I might co-author some work with him, so it won't all just be research assistantship. It is so exciting that I get goosebumps just thinking it. This whole process and situation where I'm immersing myself so deeply in interacting with like-minded people who are passionate about knowledge feels like home.

Just as things couldn't seem to fall more in place, SMU recently announced that it will be opening a PhD programme for psychology. Suddenly, everything seems to be falling so much in place and for the first time in my life I feel like I really have a place to be. It hasn't been easy holding on to these ideals while going through life where you're always told you should be doing something else 'more important' - study sciences, it's better for you; study business, it's better for you; don't waste your time thinking about 'unnecessary, unimportant academic stuff' that won't earn you money, it's better for you - and for once I've got a real career choice in research, writing and academia I can spearhead myself towards. We've been warned that it's going to be four years of non-stop research and academic work, but I could seriously do that happily every day; in fact I already am doing that right now being the geek that I am, just that undergraduate stuff such as exams and project work from elsewhere keeps disrupting my focus. Finally, this!

I had a great time bidding for next term's mods - evolutionary psychology and political philosophy - and I'm in such an anticipatory mood. I will also be going to Guizhou for SMU's first ever political science study mission where we will be studying development, underdevelopment and poverty in one of the poorest provinces in China.

School couldn't be any better, life couldn't be any sweeter.

What is, indeed, the icing on the cake though is that I have a wonderful sweetheart who believes in me and my dreams and wants to see me through all of this.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

No Deal > Bad Deal

The other night I was watching TV when I saw Peter Schmeichel trashing around in the sewers below Paris with other French sewage workers. I was baffled until I realized the segment was titled Dirty Jobs with Peter Schmeichel, where each episode sees the legendary ex-Manchester United goalkeeper trying his hand at some ridiculously uneviable and downright shitty jobs around the world.

This is what happens when you earn too much money, retire too early, love the limelight and are just not good-looking enough to be marketable in a normal way.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Misconstrument On A Corporate Scale

Remember that psychological fact stating that 55% of communication is made up of non-verbal behaviour?


Last week, for a school assembly a guy with a British accent came in to do a reptile show for the school. He showed us his python named "Monty". I started laughing violently. No one else got it. MLIA

Today, I decided to have some fun at the mall by walking up to random women, and saying in a stern voice, "I know about the affair." Four said they didn't know what I was talking about, five begged me not to tell their husbands, and three women paid me off. New hobby? I think so. MLIA

Today, my teacher saw me texting under the desk and grabbed my phone. She didnt grab my penis. MLIA.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Transport Thrones From Past And Present

I've recently had SCV set up at home so I'm finally on the History Channel, Discovery Channel and Animal Planet bandwagon. I just sat through a segment that covered the coveted Air Force One. By definition, any aeroplane that the Commander-in-Chief of the US becomes Air Force One, and the documentation of George Bush's visit to Tanzania definitely captured the glorious significance of this name and duty.

To me though it seems like nothing has changed since in the course of history over how leaders of people are treated. The moment a monopoly on power, force and the lives of people is gained, one has people at his beck and call, and it often turns into a lavish and grand affair. Preparations for the flight to Tanzania began months before the actual flight, and thousands of people were involved which definitely costed a lot of money and resources. Both the interior and exterior of the aeroplane that will eventually bear the responsibility of Air Force One is ridiculously and meticulously prepared and furnished. Infrastructure was shipped from the US to Tanzania to ensure that the Air Force One aeroplane has the adequate utilities and facilities to travel and land, and professionals from all over the world were employed to ensure that great food is served on board, security is taken care of at the airport and communications are secure and efficient. The whole idea is to recreate the experience of home away from home, as if the President was still in the White House. Everyone pours their hearts out into a flight like this, because of the sheer significance and symbolism of the act of transporting the President safely - One is protecting not just a man, but the representative of the United States of America.

This seems hardly any different from King Atahuallpa of the Inca empire, who sat on thrones weighing tens of tonnes held up by hundreds of Indian soldiers. One only has to watch 300 and observe Xerxes to grasp a visual of the enormous splendour, power as well as the decadent grandeur of royalty.

To worship one's country as a god is indeed to bring a curse upon it.
- Rabindranath Tagore

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

In Celebration Of The Idealist

Sometimes, I think idealists can be likened to heroes. Delusional as they are, they hold on to faith in the face of uncertainty, knowing that their cause can only succeed along with the shared belief of everyone else their cause may concern as well. It is easy to find a comfort zone by having the anticipation of worst-case scenarios as the acceptable outlook in things, and these are the realists, cynics and skeptics in life, love and whatever else. All it takes is the cold hard reality espoused by a cynic, and the idealist's cause crumbles.

It is just like two people acting on good faith in a transaction - All it takes is for one party to steal and horde the goods, and the party who acted on the basis of good faith loses out. From then on, selfishness and distrust is the key in future transactions.

So in championing the idealist, I can liken them to heroes as they have much more to lose while, courageously or delusionally, walking on the thin throes of faith, the burden of bad consequences not fearful enough to weigh the spirit down.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Sometimes I rush for MRT seats just so that I can give them up to people who need them later. Leaving civic mindedness to the general public is like leaving the occurrence of a pregnant lady or a frail old folk getting a seat to chance.