Sunday, 28 February 2010

Keeping Things Catch-22

I've got a system of keeping things that ensures that I never lose them. However, sometimes, I lose the container or bag that's keeping those things, or I forget which compartments I've kept them in.

When I reach into my pocket and find that my keys or my handphone isn't there, I'm usually screwed because my supposedly fool-proof keeping system causes me to not attend to the item's steps, so there isn't any memory whatsoever left to trace.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

The next time you get stuck in a rut and feel so stressed out that life couldn't suck any more than it does right at that very moment, just take a moment to visualize that ideal future you're going to have.

And then next think, that when that point in time where you're living your future and dreams comes, this horrid moment right now would merely be nothing but a speck in a time past, rendering all dwelling on it silly and absurd.

Nothing can get you down once you're acutely aware that the world and time goes on regardless of your petty problems.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010


Your peeves may appear to be trivial to you or anybody else, but I think they are important. This is because they are manifestations of principles you hold that have been violated.

I guess that's why learning about someone's peeves is something we naturally do when we get to know new friends or consider romantic potentials. A lot can be discovered about what a person is like based on his or her peeves, and often they are more accurate because peeves are trivial enough to be unconscious, indicating that he/she isn't putting up a conscious front to grandly exhibit it.
One shouldn't say "the hoi polloi", but just simply "hoi polloi". Because 'hoi' really already means 'the'.

Monday, 22 February 2010

First-Borns And Later-Borns

It's time for another generalization, and here it goes. First-borns tend to hang out with first-borns, and later-borns tend to hang out with later-borns. (First-borns meaning the eldest sibling in a family or the only child, and later-borns meaning siblings born later.)

If you're skeptical, just have a look at the social groups you're closer to not merely by virtue of organization, but by virtue of how genuinely well-connected and on good terms you are with them.

Research has found that first-borns tend to be less open (more conforming, traditional and closely identified with parents), more conscientious (more responsible, achievement-oriented, serious, and organized), more antagonistic (less agreeable, approachable, popular and easygoing), and more neurotic (less well-adjusted, more anxious). They are also more assertive and leaderly.

What accounts for the difference? Evolutionary psychology theory proposes that each child develops in a different family ecology, forms a different strategy for surviving childhood and attempts to establish his or her own character given the pressures of living in resource-limited conditions, which are partly developmental and partly political where siblings compete for the affection and attention of parents.

First-borns attain the attention of parents by virtue of simply being alive first, and therefore see newcomers as usurpers to their thrones of existence. First-borns thus identify more with parents and should resist changes to the status quo, which has served them well so far, making them conservatives and bullies. Second-born children have to cope in a world that has this obvious obstruction to the attention of parents, and thus would cultivate opposite strategies, becoming appeasers and cooperators. With less at stake at the status quo game, they should thus be receptive to change too.

In this sense, it might appear that first-borns tend to be more independent, while later-borns tend to be more community-oriented.

Interestingly, it was found that in all sorts of shake-ups (such as the Copernican revolution, Darwinism, the French National Convention, the Protestant Reformation and the American reform movement), later-borns were more likely to lend support, while first-borns were more likely to be reactionary and opposed. Later-born scientists are also less specialized, indicating that they are more willing to try their hand in a greater number of scientific fields.

With such fundamental differences (not in terms of hobbies and interests but in terms of principles, outlooks in life and moral values), it is no surprise if it is the case that first-borns tend to associate more naturally with first-borns.


If you find yourself an exception to the case presented above, it is likely that the effect is mitigated by gender and age-gap. Say, for example, that you are a first-born who has more later-born friends. It is likely that your later-born friends have elder siblings of opposite gender, and/or their elder siblings are considerably much older, so they actually behave in a manner that is less affected by the presence of other siblings (and thus appear to be more first-born-like).

The effect of one's birth order in the family on one's character is particularly due to the nature of competition. By that logic, then, one needs to compete with a sibling more if the sibling is of the same gender (where there are more similarly relevant things to compete about) or if the sibling is close in age.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Society Of Artists

A society of artists deeply intrigues me. It must be pretty close to the kind of public sphere I'd want to be. Knowing the generally stereotypical but pretty much accurate personality of genuine artists (not those who are merely superficially engaging in their art) - introverted, quirky, weird, reclusive, anti-social, profound, quiet, reserved, removed, detached - the kind of community made up of such people will be so far removed from social formalities that it will be a sort of utopia for me.

I might be naive in hoping that such a fantasy place will be the furthest removed away from the clutches of gross human nature, because most artists are quacks and weirdos anyway who have chosen not to subscribe to a 'normal' world for whatever reason - an inability to fit in, or the refusal to do so. In such a fantasy place, the things most worth living for are the artworks each individual entrusts his or her soul and truth to, while the individual himself or herself fades into the insignificant backdrop.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Aiya One Year To Go Only!

My family had our Chinese New Year reunion dinner a whole week earlier because of crowd aversion. Also, we are well aware of the skyrocketed prices and potentially poor service during the maddening frenzy of CNY's eve, so everyone was in agreement to celebrate in advance.

One of the lingering conversation topics circled around university graduation. Whenever I reply to some aunt or uncle that I have a year left to go when asked of my graduation, I'm 'consoled' with something along the lines of "oh, aiya one year to go only, just hang in there lah, soon you'll finally be done with studying and then you'll be able to find a job and start work. Besides, the economy is picking up so it's good."

I am grateful for their good intentions because I believe that they truly mean well for me. But it is interesting how reflective this is of my family's socioeconomic background and class, and even further, how our particular socioeconomic background and class is especially embedded in very Singaporean attitudes.

For one, to my largely middle class family, education is a good to have, but work and money still walks the talk at the end of the day. The fees of tertiary education is something to be grappled with, sometimes even toeing the limits of tolerance. Now that I've even had a university education, it's time to cash in on the 'luck' of being endowed with some-whatever degree. Even more implicit is the idea that tertiary education is a bonus, because I'm not expected to enjoy my time studying. The common consensus is - who on earth likes to study this stuff anyway? The four years in university is most importantly a means to another end, not an end in itself.

This is corroborated by my other same-age cousins who talk about university in modest (or even deprecative) fashion, and can't wait to get it done with to embark on the real world out there, with the very honest intention of finally being able to prove one's worth (which has nothing to do with being academically inclined), support the family and repay what one has owed to the folks for so long.

In particular, I can sense the pride one of my uncles has, because his son and daughter have both finally graduated and are earning their own keep, even if their jobs aren't particularly very high-flying or promising in terms of wages or advancement.

I think this is a strongly Singaporean attitude because most of it can be found in our booming middle class. This seems like a circular argument where the issue often ends up being chicken-egg - did the booming middle class lead to Singaporean attitudes or vice versa - but whatever it is, education in our meritocratic society is regarded largely in very pragmatic terms by most of us. The middle class/the most Singaporean of the lot doesn't study to further causes, knowledge or ideas, he does so to ensure a 'decent' job, to keep himself safely away from the bottom of the competitve heap, and to avoid unnecessary troubles in life. This is, of course, a generalization. People do care sometimes if their jobs are prestigious, especially as one rises in social class. But once more, what the education was isn't quite the real deal ultimately.

With this in mind, I never let them in on my desire to further my education, because I can imagine the gasps of horror when this fella here states his psychotic intention of adding four more years of studying after finally graduating. What on earth could I possibly be thinking? Who in his right mind would want to repeat that school nonsense all over again? Explanation would be futile because no one would understand, and they'd gleefully team up to beat me into pulp and wake me up to my senses.

Hopefully the reality of the path I've chosen can speak for itself in a year's time. It does make me feel sheepish or guilty somewhat at times when I look at my aspirations in relation to others. But in the end, I do know what I really want at the end of the tunnel.

The Conflicted Nature Of Rural Development

Six weeks of Political Science Study Mission (PSSM) research, articles, readings and analyses has taken me through the dynasties of China to the founding struggles of modern China to today's contemporary China, which is grappling with being both the country with the fastest economic growth of the world and the country with its rural areas housing some of the world's most impoverished populations.

With regards to poverty and underdevelopment, what has consistently appeared is the trade off between economic development and dedicated social welfare, which I think corroborates at least somewhat with my opinions about charity and poverty.

If one dedicates government budget to public spending, such as health and education, there is a social safety net where minimum levels of welfare are met. However, it rarely stops here, because this is seen as stagnation in the eyes of a country that wants to press forward economically. Welfare eventually has to switch hands from public to private, and before long decentralization, where government transfers the reins of hospitals and schools to the market, leads to social welfare institutions competing on the market for their own resources and capital in order to stay afloat.

In a nutshell, when welfare becomes a privatised issue, the costs are always transfered to the consumers (in accordance with economic math). This is because non-private ventures are at odds with profit-driven aims, which are fundamental to efficient economics of firms in the private sector. Before long, even the smallest social inequalities of the poor in these rural villages are magnified, as the poorest of the lot benefit the least from market reform and economic development because they are too poor to participate.

What has always happened is that those hospitals that once guaranteed health care services become too expensive or inaccessible to the poorest (ironically the ones who need the services the most) whenever those hospitals are forced to fend for themselves on the market.

And I think China is worth giving the benefit of the doubt when it comes to whether or not the government is honest about its efforts to take care of the poor. If we look at, perhaps, Sub-saharan Africa, one can rightfully accuse corrupt governments of conceited efforts towards poverty reduction. But because China's policies are quite possibly an honest attempt at dealing with the issues of its rural poor, the intentions of the government does not confound with this issue of the trade off between economic development and social welfare dedication.

Once again, it appears that any meaningful attempt at targeting poverty should leave the market - the corporations, the economy, the private bank loans - out of the picture. Based on the historical evidence, public/social/welfare doesn't mix well with private endeavours (which I would believe is why even private firms that announce their wish to be socially responsible have to engage in an activity as perverse and convoluted as Corporate Social Responsibility, which still has profits as the bottom-line).

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Capitalism Vs Family

As we 'modernize' more and more, I think we're coming closer to defining the family more so in terms of its technical, biological function rather than an integrated social unit where children are raised, values are inculcated, and parents, siblings and relatives love one another.

I put 'modernize' in inverted commas because I'm only using 'modernize' in terms of what is commonly accepted nowadays as positive development and progression. It says nothing about whether we are better off now than in the past, when we were not so 'modern'.

It is important to note that modernization is implicitly linked with economic development, which is the result of the adoption of capitalism at either high or moderate levels. Contemporary theories regard being economically developed and GDP-rich as modernized.

As a result of modernization in this sense, the traditional functions of the family are outsourced to various institutions external to the family. Education is served by schools, employment is served by corporations, community is served by social groups, welfare is served by the government and justice is served by the law.

The human connection that came about as relatives interacted within the traditional family system to help each other satisfy these needs get compromised, as institutions take over important roles that people once held in the traditional family system. It is really not surprising why people feel alienated and dissatisfied in modern times, because we are social creatures. Institutions may be more specialized and efficient, but at the end of the day nothing can substitute for the joy and deep human connection from interacting with another person. We evolved to be that way for thousands of years.

Additionally, externalizing the duties of the family to institutions simply makes the family more dysfunctional as a purposeful social unit.

Next, the great emphasis on money, especially money maximization in our modern liberal/capitalist context, strongly undermined the importance of the woman's role in the family. I actually don't think that feminists would be so worked up about how discontented they are about being 'relegated' to domestic roles if these domestic roles were regarded as respectable. Money-making has become such a preoccupation that domestic jobs are considered for the 'lesser' of the sexes to carry out. In fact, in Singapore where females have relatively favourable access to employment and salary, women have increasingly abandoned the role of being domestic wives, juggling wage-earning and child-bearing at the same time. When it comes to the crunch of choosing between these two responsibilities, women are even increasingly prioritizing wage-earning. So, we get the extremely low birth rate of Singapore.

As families increasingly lose their traditions to a liberal system that sees human connection as unimportant and inefficient, to the point where traditions are completely obsolete, can we really still call that a family?

Monday, 1 February 2010

My Issue With Statistics

My friend tells me that there is a 99% chance he will turn up for our meeting.

He doesn't come.

Was he lying?
Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.

- John F. Kennedy

That's quite a bit of insight on the reality that when the time for change is upon us, we'd be better off figuring out how best to adapt than to oppose. Although this doesn't say anything about the moral content of the resultant change.

Arrogance and self-awareness seldom go hand in hand.

- M., Casino Royale.