On Solitude

The thing about long walks is that it allows you to have a conversation with yourself. Or you just listen to whatever’s playing on the music player and lose yourself in the melodies and the lyrics and the voices. Or sometimes you listen to your own breathing and your own heartbeat and the sound of your feet pounding the pavement. Watching people at bus stops, watching people make their way home, watching people sit and eat and drink and wait, as you tread past them, causes you to wonder what goes on behind those faces, what lives are being lived and what battles being fought.

It is a good reminder of the joys and pleasures of solitude, of being alone with yourself.

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Knowing Me, Knowing You

They used to be known as ‘knowledge problems’ but because of the negative connotations borne by the word ‘problem’, they were recast as ‘knowledge issues’. In my opinion, the word ‘issue’ conflates many problems together but anyhow, I digress. 

Whether defined as a problem or an issue, coming to terms with what constitutes a knowledge issue (KI) is a major hurdle for most individuals. The purpose of this post is to posit a working definition of the concept that will enable more confidence in identifying and analysing KIs. 

In essence, a knowledge issue deals with how we know (or interrogate) the world around us.

It is an attempt to ascertain the credibility of what we claim to know or what we claim to be ‘knowledge’. In doing so, we are trying to eliminate uncertainty and unknowns and arrive at a degree of certainty in our ‘knowledge’. It recognises that all knowledge is inherently limited and perhaps, circumscribed by lack of information, built-in biases and the weight of our collective beliefs, values and cultures. 

It has to do with being aware of how our ways of knowing (reason/emotion/sense perception/language and in this day and age, google/wikipedia) all suffer from certain flaws and limitations. At the same time, we should move away from conventional generalisations, for example, believing that all reason is good and all emotion is irrational. 

To pick an issue apart and identify the KIs embedded within, we need to detach ourselves from the ‘facts’ and carefully dig out the premises (or assumptions) that form the basis of every viewpoint. At times, it helps to adopt a contrarian position or to turn things on their head and play devil’s advocate. 

So you have to ask yourself – “how do I know?” And then follow this up with – “what causes me to know?” Continue with – “Are there gaps in what I know?”  End off with “Is there anything else I should know?”

You should be well on your way then. All best.

U2, You Too?

Of late, I decided to listen to my entire U2 collection in addition to “后。青春期的诗“ by my favourite Taiwanese band, 五月天. It makes for an eclectic mix but the sheer jangly guitar noises simply makes one’s day. The U2 tunes that stick however are the old favourites such as “With or Without You” and “All I Want Is You”. Yet, it is the soaring vocals and sparse accompaniment of “Van Diemen’s Land” on the “Rattle & Hum” album, literally resonates for days in your head. It’s not the lyrics but the lyricism and of course, the musical texture that sticks around leaving you humming away at moments during the day.

Socialism Revisited

This article is a stub. Comments are most welcome.

In 1992, Francis Fukuyama proclaimed the end of history – liberal democracy and capitalism, that potent twin mix of ideology and economic theory had demolished authoritarian communism and with that, history, the perpetual struggle of ideologies, had come to an end.In the light of the events of the late 1980s and early 1980s, that is, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the wave of regime collapses in Eastern Europe and the liquidation of the erstwhile evil empire, the Soviet Union, this thesis looked solid and unassailable.

Along the way, socialism and socialist theories got utterly discredited and consigned to the dustbin of history. Liberal democracy and market capitalism was being universalized and its discourse increasingly strident and dominant.

One should however look beyond the usual caricature of inefficient state-owned enterprises and central planning when one examines socialism. Socialism can also be taken to refer to the moderation of capitalist excesses, intervention to redistribute resources and services when the markets (or the invisible hand) been excessive or manifestly unfair in the distribution of resources and services.

Purists would deride this as a compromise. That objection is noted but one must also realise that without private ownership, economic forces cannot operate in an unskewed manner. This is the lesson from the Soviet Union and the failed economies of the former Eastern bloc. Yet, the Thatcherite and Reaganite beliefs of unbridled capitalism which have been discredited by the financial crisis, have also left many (usually the marginalised and disenfranchisd) impoverished and increasingly disadvantaged by lack of access to quality education, health care and other essential services that enable social mobility between classes.

Of course, plutocrats and oligarchs would frown at these views but surely we deserve a fate better than pulped oranges and lemons discarded in the aftermath of Jay Gatsby’s lavish and ostentatious parties.

Click here, here and here for more field reports.

Moneyed Fables

The population of Woodlands New Town in the northern part of Singapore is approximately 250000. Add the populations of its neighbouring new towns – Sembawang and Yishun – you will get about 450000 people living in a land area of about 27 square kilometres. Now, imagine that these people within the geographical boundaries of its town limits get together, declare independence and establish themselves as a sovereign nation. Since this new country, let us call it Northland, is devoid of natural resources, it decides to establish itself as a financial services center that serves Southeast Asia.  Due to its liberal tax laws and other incentives, this sector prospers, particularly its banking industry. Over time, this sector expands to account for eight times of the Northland’s gross domestic product.

If you think this little economic model is far-fetched and absurd, this was what exactly happened to Iceland and its fabled banking industry. Indeed, it is little more than a fable now.