The Yearbook Entry on Being Special

“Nothing is so common-place as the wish to be remarkable.”
Oliver Wendell-Holmes Sr.

When I first stepped into this school we wore “best and brightest” proudly brandished on our sleeves. I remember sitting in the MPH, looking around and genuinely believing that I’ve found safety and security. I’ve worked so hard in junior college and I’ve slept over in the art studio for so many nights and now I’ve finally found my Eden. Years of the Singaporean education system have led me to believe that once I set foot into the pearly white gates of NUS, my life will be an air-conditioned cruise. I looked around at the bobbing blue and orange balloons and the bobbing heads of equally starry-eyed students and beamed. We are the 0.something accepted students. We are smart. We are special.

Now fast forward four years and I’m hurriedly typing my yearbook write-up from a beige cubicle at my internship. Don’t get me wrong – this isn’t an article about the grand failure of the liberal arts college education system. It’s about its success and, more importantly, about my expectations. I do have a little bit of a save-the-world thing going on, and if anything it’s been amplified through my studies here at Yale-NUS College, but I also learnt something crucial for every fledgling adult – I am not special. I may be passionate, I may be smart, but for the most part, so are other people, and it is mostly my socioeconomic position that determines where my cards fall in the game of life.

Above everything, my college experience has taught me that life isn’t about me. The fabric of the world is made up of 7 billion subjectivities, all woven together in a network where I am but a data point. The world doesn’t owe me anything. It doesn’t have to realise how supposedly wonderful I am. Instead, I have to be useful to the world. Much like Liam Neeson in his endless pursuit of stereotypical Eastern European mob bosses, I have a very particular set of skills, but I have to work hard to make them relevant to the people around me. Not a lot of people have been given the opportunity to learn things at an intersection (most people learn things narrowly, or they didn’t get to learn at all). I need to use this knowledge to lift communities and perform my little bit of the world’s act, and if I’m not doing my job well, then I better roll my sleeves up and put some elbow grease in it. There are things far bigger than myself that are worth fighting for, and I’m going to devote my time and my skills to them.

I know it doesn’t look it, but I’m optimistic about the future. Call it the foolishness of youth if you will, but I think we’re at a pivotal point in human history. More information is freely available on the internet today than in the last hundreds of years combined. Young people continue to innovate to close both physical and institutional gaps in our social environment. There are more literate people today than in any point in history, and rapid globalisation has made it possible for us to identify the common humanity in vastly different peoples. Who knows, maybe after the Big Robot Replacement, we’ll overcome the ravages of capitalism and then all of us will be freer to work jobs that require human interaction. In any case, I’m excited to be a part of all this, and I have been fortunate enough to be educated and to understand how the world is evolving. Former colonies are negotiating their relationship to the West, the rise of secularism has been met with a resurgence of religious fervour, the supply chain is expanding (further separating workers from their products of labour), populations are slowly congregating and homogenising, and the internet has formed new visual vocabularies (literal memes). Interesting times to live in.

In situating myself in functional society and in writing my final thoughts down for the school yearbook, it would be odd, and even suspicious, to leave school culture unmentioned. I still stand by the opinion that the school doesn’t produce special geniuses. What the school has a knack for producing though, are people who would walk with me to Cheers at midnight, and people who make a really good cup of genmaicha for a sobbing friend. This school is more than a school to me. It has been my home for the last four years. And it doesn’t matter what building we’re in, because we’re not held together by institutional rules – we’re friends. I know every single face from the Class of 2017, and I know at least one factoid about each person, because we’ve all crossed paths at some point in our college career. I don’t talk to everyone on a regular basis (regrettably), but everyone plays a crucial part of our community, and every absence is felt. The school didn’t quite feel complete when so many of us were abroad in our third year. The dining halls were noticeably quieter when David wasn’t around to tell me about some independent play in Malaysia. Drawing sessions were duller when Chen Xi left for a bit. I remember returning from my first summer internship and everyone was excited to see other Yale-NUS students again.

It’s easy to lose sight of all this when we’re in such a competitive environment. We live from deadline to deadline. Work is never done. In the first two years, we had problems with event attendance because we were all too busy planning our own events to be audiences for someone else’s. We are preoccupied with ideas which are either spatially or temporally distant, such that we don’t live in the proverbial here and now – upcoming interviews, case studies, model conferences, exhibitions, fellowships. These things are important, but so is the reality in front of us. We are, immediately, human.

I’m struggling to find the words to close this write-up. I’m typing this at the end-of-year break, a good semester away from our actual graduation, so I only have a vague understanding of how anyone would be feeling. It’s a quiet kind of sadness that wells up in my chest when I walk to the dining hall with my friends. I know drifting apart is inevitable for most of the people I’ve met here. But I hope that after our graduation, every Class of 2017 student reading this knows that they have a friend in me, even if we didn’t quite speak to each other. I hope Facebook does what it’s supposed to do and gives me updates about your new experiences, and you can always count on me to provide a scathing feminist comment on your political statuses.

 

Love,

Natalie

 

 

 

 

Awareness of Other People’s Humanity

Hello everyone. Since the last time we’ve spoken (yes, I think of this as a conversation and no it’s not weird at all, stop saying that), Donald Trump has become the USA president-elect, the South Korean president was revealed to be a witch doctor fanatic and Lady Gaga released an album where she’s not transfiguring into an Artistic Symbol on the cover. It’s been a strange few months but otherwise business as usual. The South Korean thing is particularly weird because I imagine that would be how an auntie with a hairy mole would run a government. Just ask the downstairs fortune teller how the housing market is going, and then type everything with one finger onto a food-stained Samsung Galaxy tablet with a denim flip case. Didn’t think chronic auntieness was a phenomenon up North, or that the presidency would be accessible to one with such an affliction.

Those things are just the recent happenings in the public sphere. I know my light-hearted tone doesn’t quite set the mood for this, but in terms of my personal life, it’s taken quite a toll this semester, and even that is an understatement. I’m not going into the details of everything primarily because I don’t want to concern you, my dear reader, with my issues. What’s important though is that things have really gotten me thinking about how our immediate environment has the power to blind us to everything else.

I live in a high-rise college dormitory now and I  have a pretty great view over a main road and the West of Singapore, all the way up to the coast. I look out sometimes and can’t believe that there’s so many people in Singapore, and that there’s so much more outside of this country. I can’t really see into apartments but I can see the lights go on and off and I know that there’s someone there flicking the switch who has a life which completely has nothing to do with me. She probably has friends and a Facebook profile, maybe a son, maybe she likes the Angry Birds movie. Who knows. Some apartments have a red light. I wonder if they have a Buddhist shrine. On the road I see motorbikes and taxis and I hope the taxi uncle gets home safe. When I’m in my room writing for hours all I experience in those hours are my thoughts about Laura Mulvey or whatever, but then I look up and I realise how small and insignificant I am. In light of all this, any social obligation seems arbitrary.

We’re getting into philosophical territory now and I hope you bear with me. I think we live in our heads too much, and all these learned social conventions and abstract principles are preventing us to see the basic functions that are happening right in front of us. What my life is. Too often I find myself thinking about an upcoming exam or about Game of Thrones 3-headed dragon theories and I lose what should be common sense awareness about my surroundings. What do I mean exactly?

Fellow young people walking around campus become social NOs to avoid so I don’t give them eye contact. People who are holding brooms and pushing trolleys become Cleaners who are somehow so fundamentally different from me that I cannot speak to them. The woman who wakes up and puts on her orange Foodclique uniform is just the woman who makes me ice milo. Humans stop seeming human to me, and start appearing like robots who have been programmed into my mundane day-to-day. I guess what I really want to say is that I don’t want to forget that the prata man is going through some shit too, and the world won’t explode if I can’t conjure a perfect thesis statement.

 

“Don’t put Yip in the same league as Schooling”

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Hello everyone, it’s me again, sorry-not-sorry that I haven’t written in a while, I was too busy playing doge 2048 and listening to other fledgling 20-somethings talk about consulting/start-ups/how amazing the chinos at Uniqlo are. I had so many precocious ideas to write about, including the rise of anti-intellectualism in Singapore, but I figured I wasn’t intellectual enough to actually have valuable insight. It’s not easy for me to write because I require the beautiful blend of sun-dried anger and the kiss of an organic external event, and then I have to leave this concoction to brew for until I can form a coherent post. These elements finally came together earlier today when I saw this Godfrey person essentially write his resignation letter “Honor Yip, but don’t put her in the same league as Schooling”.

Here’s a summary of the article:

  1. Don’t give Yip Pin Xiu and Joseph Schooling the same recognition or same monetary award because
  2. The Paralympics is for disabled people and hence there were fewer competitors so the playing fields (pools?) are not the same, the implication being that Schooling’s game was tougher
  3. Yip should get $200,000-ish, but not $1m like Schooling

For the uninitiated, Yip Pin Xiu was the Singaporean representative for the 2016 Rio Paralympics where she won two gold medals (for the 100m and 50m backstroke). And this Godfrey Robert, the writer of this article, is the Protector of the Realm and Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, and he has galloped valiantly forth to shield Joseph Schooling from having his thunder stolen by Yip Pin Xiu. Because very obviously the world is full of injustices, and one cannot simply stand idly by while people even insinuate that a Paralympian is as victorious as an Olympian.

Not.

I must admit that I was floored when Joseph Schooling beat Olympic darling Michael Phelps, and that adorable picture of Phelps and pre-pubescent Schooling was the cherry on top of the AWWWWWW cake. I didn’t get sick of the Joseph Schooling shenanigans at all after his big win. When I saw that some buses had congratulatory messages scrolling in the display I was like “YEAH MAN THAT’S OUR SCHOOLING!” I might even have made a few “looks like Phelps got schooled” puns. It was amazing, and we were all proud. This post is in no way an attempt to belittle his achievement, because 1) that’s not in my interest 2) it’s impossible to belittle. But most importantly, this post isn’t about Joseph Schooling. He’s only a peripheral character in this story.

This is about Yip Pin Xiu, and about how we better recognise how huge an achievement hers is. We should be damn proud of her. Godfrey got one thing right—she shouldn’t be in the same league as Schooling. Their achievements are incomparable. Her gold medals aren’t just metal tokens won from 2 swimming competitions. They are symbols of the obstacles she has surmounted from the day of her diagnosis. It’s not as simple as a clean subtraction of her ability to walk. This is a world that’s literally constructed for the able-bodied. She’s inconvenienced at every turn and curb, every dressing room, every bus, every toilet. And on top of all these physical inconveniences, she has the weight of medical bills and has to endure condescension from the likes of people like Godfrey. I can’t believe this has to be said. This is some primary school 好公民 level of moral discernment. How could you negate all this because she had fewer competitors at the Paralympic games? Maybe there were fewer competitors because it’s so unimaginably difficult to break free from society’s patronising expectations of the disabled? How dare you reduce all of this into one hurried line (“her handicap, tough training regimen and rigours of the battle of mind over matter”).

I don’t really care about the whole prize money thing because I understand that some people are unsatisfied about the government taking some of it, and when the government is involved it’s a guaranteed can of worms. But I care that Godfrey is implying that her achievement wasn’t as big as Schooling’s, and he’s demonstrating his bias along monetary lines. We live in a world where disabled people are systematically disadvantaged in almost every way, and someone decided that it was his imperative to fight for the acknowledgement of an able-bodied swimmer WHO IS ALREADY VERY CELEBRATED. This is not only mean and stupid but also NEEDLESS. Good lord have you ever seen something more redundant?

In conclusion, Godfrey is irrelevant as hell and he’s probably a writer because his own playing field for smug, condescending fibrous-husk-brained jackasses is really narrow. I hope Yip Pin Xiu never learns of his article, and if she did then let our cheers be louder than his bs.

Self-Respecting Woman

I am a self-respecting woman.
I look people in the eye when I talk
I give my honest opinions
I say no when I don’t want offers
I say yes to opportunities
I paint until my fingers chap
And I receive my awards with both hands

I am a self-respecting woman.
And my friends are self-respecting women
But you see, we were self-respecting women in uniforms,
when she was felt up in Daiso
when she was getting tuition
when he followed her off the bus
when he took pictures
when we sat during recess
and he flashed us from the other side of the fence

We were self-respecting women,
when we approached the nearest adults
when they lowered our hemlines
and pulled our skirts over our eyes

I am a self-respecting woman,
Because I, first and foremost, respect myself
And I will not heed your Well-Meaning Advice,
when you have your hand up my shorts,
and your eyes on my neck.

 

Me Before You: The Value of a Disabled Person

Me Before You was released in theatres about a month ago (June 2, 2016) and the film featuring a mellowed-out Mother of Dragons and Finnick Odair has been showing for enough time to draw rightly-deserved flak from the disabled community for its storyline.

SPOILER: Emilia Clarke’s character falls in love with Sam Claflin’s quadriplegic character à la a Nicholas Sparks novel sans notebook plus wheelchair, and in the end of the movie Sam goes ahead with his plan to end his life through an assisted suicide programme. Sam also happens to be deliciously wealthy, so he leaves Emilia a handsome amount of money. This was how the central conflict in the movie was resolved—it’s okay if he’s disabled because he’s super hot and rich, and you’re going to be happy in your life anyway, because he will conveniently dispose of himself before he becomes a burden.

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I actually kinda like romantic movies (I teared up recently when Saoirse Ronan came back from Ireland to be with the Joey Tribbiani lookalike in Brooklyn, which I 100% recommend by the way), but there is a problem when the movie paints the suicide of a disabled person as a happy ending. In this “ideal” world, disabled people are supposed to bear the responsibility of sacrificing themselves for the greater good of less burdensome humans. It’s a movie that clearly serves the interests of the able-bodied majority. Studio executives could, theoretically, come up with something that depicts the realities of head-to-toe paralysis but carrying Sam Claflin into the toilet wouldn’t do much for the chiseled aloof character they’re gunning for. His muscles also, miraculously, did not atrophy from lack of use. Oh well movies have to make millions and essentially that’s what the condensed goal of humanity is, right? Who cares about responsible media representation.

I’m pretty much optimistic about the millennial generation and the changes we are making for our collective future, but at the moment Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand still hovers above our lives and economic rules work backwards to determine the intangible values in life. Women are less valuable than men because we menstruate and get pregnant and this shaves off productivity in the workforce, elderly men are a burden to society because they can’t work as much as young men, young men who don’t want to be drafted into wars are a burden too because they’re not protecting our national interests and assets, and finally, people with disabilities are walking sob stories because they can’t do the same things able-bodied people can, and by things I mean work. Me Before You presents the only escape for disabled people—they redeem themselves if they are born rich and then leave money behind, which makes up for the otherwise lost economic value.

That’s the trap we are so caught up in. Everything is about money, moving faster, building taller, eating more, and this mentality has creeped into even the most intimate and personal nooks of our lives. There are a lot of CSR campaigns pushing for the inclusion of disabled people in the workforce, and these campaigns make tear-jerking claims that everyone is equally abled and we all have a right to a job in this day and age. I think, though well-intentioned, this is a misguided way to create a more inclusive society, because we are measuring everyone with the same cold-blooded yardstick. You can’t judge a fish by making it climb a tree. Similarly, you can’t judge disabled people based on how well they can work at jobs which were originally conceived with abled people in mind. What happens if they fall short of expectations? Do we cast them aside yet again?

What I’m trying to say is, very often, a disabled person will not be able to do the things that an able-bodied person can. A person in a wheelchair requires the bus uncle to get off the bus, set up the ramp, and wheel them in.  A blind person needs someone or somedog by their side in a world made for the visual. Yes, they require more care, they incur “lost dollars”. But that should not be how we measure the worth of a person. If a person with autism says she is as smart as the average person and she can confidently work the cash register, then I say great, but even if you can’t, you’re not a burden to society, you’re a valuable person, and I’m sorry we live in world where you have to contort yourself to constantly prove your worth. Also, you don’t have to be super hot or rich, or kill yourself, and I’m sorry this Me Before You movie is doing well at the box office.

Why Terrorists Can Only Be Muslim

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The shooting at the Orlando nightclub Pulse occurred on June 2, and between that time and now, a series of terror attacks have erupted across Central Asia—there was a suicide bombing in Medina near the burial place of the Prophet Muhammad, three other bombings in Qatif and Jeddah, yet another suicide bombing on June 28 at the Ataturk Airport in Istanbul, a bombing with a skyrocketing death toll in Baghdad on July 3, and finally, there was a siege on the Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka last Friday. These nightmares have now been placidly reduced to “events”, and we’ve come to a point where they read more like the droning of the world’s engine—brown people just bomb things, that’s just how the world works. News of bombings trickle into our Facebook feeds and Twitter streams, we go through the internet’s profile picture phase of mourning, and then we move on with our lives.

It’s no coincidence that these attacks struck right when families were preparing for Eid al-Fitr (the day which marks the end of Ramadan fasting, and for my Chinese friends yes, it’s the same as Aidilfitri). One source (which escapes my mind right now, fill me in if you know) wrote that the day before the attack in Baghdad was “full of life” but that now the “smell of death” rips through the air. Terrorists, so aptly named, know exactly when to strike to hurt the Muslim community where it hurts the most. They are also experts at creating rifts in cosmopolitan societies with middle-eastern diasporas, and sending ripples of those threats worldwide.

Terrorism is, intrinsically, a Muslim problem. Only Muslims can be terrorists, much in the same way that only women can be sluts, only non-whites can be immigrants, and only black people can be thugs. Before you chug a beer and applaud me for shedding my “political correctness” and crossing over to the Conservative side, understand that I am not talking about how some people are genetically predisposed to being evil. Not at all, because that’s a load of Mein Kampf horse baloney. I am talking about how we invent words to simplify complex problems and play into the hands of tyrants who want to disenfranchise entire groups of people.

I got this idea from my art history over-education—Linda Nochlin’s “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” (1971). Nochlin says that we don’t call women Great Artists because women are entering a system that’s already rigged against them. We don’t use the term “great artist” to impartially refer to great art-makers. The term has a certain look and feel to it. A “great artist” is necessarily someone who is a brooding white man and is simultaneously haunted by his own aesthetic genius and the ghosts of his past. A woman will never be a “great artist”.

Similarly, the term “terrorist” has a particular look and feel to it. The term was only popularised in 2001 when the then U.S. president George Bush declared the War on Terror. We don’t rationalise a term as sensational as “terrorist”; we have impressions of the term. When we think terrorists we think bombs, planes, white people dying, brown people wearing cloths on their heads, Arabic, Allah, and American Sniper. A trigger-happy white person can waltz into an elementary school with a semiautomatic rifle and execute children, but he’s never a terrorist, just a lone wolf. When we combine a term as vivid and divisive as “terrorist” with the rise of the internet, we get mass hysteria and a whole lot of islamophobia.

Okay so we get it, there’s irrational racism and xenophobia behind all this, as always. But why is terrorism a Muslim problem then?

It is a Muslim problem not because it’s a problem they caused, but because it’s a problem they suffer the most from. The whole situation is deliberately set up against Muslim and Middle-Eastern civilians. Muslims are the primary victims of terrorism. For the rest of this blog post I will refer to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant as The Delusional, 1) because that’s what they are and 2) because to acknowledge them as representatives of Islam is to support their cause.

The Delusional are banking in on existing xenophobia in cosmopolitan cities in North America and Europe to turn everyone else against Muslim civilians, so that they are unprotected and unwelcome even in their own homes. When there’s enough islamophobia going around, there are two possibilities: 1) Muslim civilians become distraught and defenceless in a country that wants them to leave and thus become easier to oppress, 2) violent Muslim individuals feel compelled to act against that hatred and are ironically drawn to the very terrorist organisations which have caused the problem in the first place. As for the terror attacks in Muslim countries, non-Muslim countries are unwilling to get their hands tied up in the violence, because as of right now, the Middle-East looks like an Acme minefield and nobody wants to meddle with a Muslim problem. Brown countries just bomb each other all the time, that’s what they do. Meanwhile, The Delusional are getting Twitter mentions and Facebook posts which bolster their claim to the Islamic iron throne. We legitimise their Delusional organisation when we say they represent the fundamentals of Islam, and every time we do, they’re closer to becoming the Caliphate they set out to be. They hate the “West”, yes, but their main goal is to gain control over all Muslim people. The mechanism of the term “terrorist” works so flawlessly from so many directions, and in the most macabre way, this is a good example of what an effective brand name can do for a terrible cause. 

So yes, in this sickening roundabout way only Muslims can be terrorists and terrorists can only be Muslim, but it’s about time we break away from our islamophobia and stop making it so goddamn easy for The Delusional to become the face of Islam.

Connecting…

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When I talk to you on Facebook video over a shitty connection
Your laughs are followed by the feedback from my own scratchy wheezing
And there’s a period of silence in between
Silence because you’re hearing my voice a second after I speak
Silence because it takes time
For satellites to chew and sputter our sweet nothings
To convert my voice into bits and bites
The folds of your lids into pixels
I am reminded of the pregnant silence between lightning and thunder
The further the storm, the longer the silence

Educated, so what?

Brexit just happened a few days ago on 23 June, and Donald Trump is still going strong in the race to become the USA President. Some people, depending on their background and the kind of friends they keep on social media, have posts all over their Facebook accounts that put down Brexit and Donald Trump supporters. They say that Britain’s decision to leave the European Union and Trump’s popularity signal the end of the world. People say that it is a bad year for politics. Although there are a lot of people who agree with these views, these people are not everyone.

There are still a lot of Trump supporters and Brexit leavers who are not heard online. I think this is because people only add other people who think like them on social media, because that’s how people make friends right? But in the end, that means that when it comes to politics, we are only surrounded by like-minded friends. For highly educated people, we are mostly very angry at the Brexit result and at Trump’s ideas and speeches. We share these posts and we make fun of people who disagree. We don’t hear the other side of the story, and I think this is very dangerous for everyone. This is why I am writing today, even though Britain and USA are so far away. I am writing because I think society is becoming more and more divided. We are dividing into two groups – the educated and the uneducated. I can see that this is happening in developed countries, like USA and Singapore, because developed countries are where some people have the chance to be educated. It is important for us to understand that there is this problem, and it can be harmful to Singapore if we continue to be divided.

I understand the point of view of the educated because I am one of them. I am fortunate enough to be a university student. On one hand I really did work very hard to get into university, but on the other hand, so many things in life are not in our control. For example, I was born into a family that gave me a nice table and the time to study. Some people are not so lucky, and sometimes they don’t make it so far in school because of that. When we are educated in university (unless you do only science classes), we learn about politics, the economy, and society. I know that personal experience is a good teacher, but a lot of the books we read are based on many people’s personal experiences, so we tend to know more. We know more, so we think we must be right. We graduate, get our certificates and become experts. We are very sure that in order to succeed as a country, we must be harmonious with other races and nationalities (including PRCs and maids and construction workers). We are very sure that we must welcome foreigners into Singapore because they spend money here and it helps the economy. This way, Singapore is an international city, and we think that is a good thing. This is the same for Britain and USA. Most educated people think it is a good thing for them to welcome foreigners.

But we don’t see what uneducated people see. First of all, people who don’t get very far in school already feel left behind by society. I don’t believe that we live in a perfect world where everyone gets the life they deserve. I’ve seen it with my own eyes, that some people who work very hard in school just can’t make it. (Of course there are some people who don’t work hard and they end up not doing well, but I am just saying that things are not so simple all the time. Life is not black and white.) We see in movies that only the educated and the rich have fun and are respected. We end up living lives that don’t seem as important as the ones the higher-class people have. But nobody likes to feel unimportant and left behind. Nowadays there’s a lot of movements to help women, or minority races, or the very poor. But it seems like the government, or whoever that’s in charge, is not doing anything for the lower-middle class and the uneducated. You don’t seem to hear any news about that. When you look at the government, it is full of educated people. They know more things, but it doesn’t feel like they really understand how it feels to be you. How can they, if their own background is so different from yours?

So what happens is that uneducated people are more drawn to things that give them hope and meaning. I think this is why Donald Trump is so popular. He doesn’t use big words in his speeches, he sounds just like an ordinary guy who is confident and has dreams of making America great again. If a guy like him, who doesn’t know all the facts and the numbers, can make it so far in his life, then his life story is a hopeful story, and people want to support that. He is a rich man, but he sounds just like other uneducated people, so he must be on your side. It feels like he won’t let the rich elite people bully the lower-classes anymore. He says he wants to build a wall to keep out illegal immigrants, and he also wants to stop Muslims from coming into America. I can see why this sounds like a good idea, because illegal immigrants are bad and terrorists are evil and are killing everyone. When foreigners come into a country, and you are already having a difficult time as a member of lower-middle class society, it feels like they are a threat. The country doesn’t have enough space. So it makes sense to chase away the people who come later, and protect the people who were here first. It is the same thing for Britain. A lot of British people feel that there are too many foreigners. Foreigners don’t act the same way as locals, and it feels like they are invading.

It is not fair for educated people to simply laugh at uneducated people, and say they are not right without explaining or reaching out to them. If both sides don’t talk, then we will never know how other people in the same society feel. 

In Singapore, I often hear people complain: “Educated, so what? Being educated doesn’t mean being smarter than everyone else.” A lot of uneducated people think that educated people only know how to read but are still very stupid, so we cannot believe educated people’s opinions. I remember that in a recent debate competition between prisoners and Harvard students, the prisoners won, and uneducated people on Facebook were saying that it proves that education is useless, and real smarts is the most important.

I have things to say to educated people and uneducated people, and I think it will help society and help us work towards a better future.

To uneducated people,

I agree that being highly educated does not mean being smart. I have seen a lot of people in university who don’t seem to have common sense. However, the kind of smarts that people learn through books and school cannot be learnt anywhere else, because the information we get in school is through years of collecting from thousands of people. Society is unfair because not everyone gets to go to school, but that doesn’t mean school is not important. School is very important. The prisoners won against Harvard students because they were part of a prison school programme, and they wouldn’t have won without the programme. I hope that you give educated people a bit more trust, and that you start to read and learn more about the decisions you are making so you are more informed. When you are more informed, people like Donald Trump cannot trick you and make use of you. (Donald Trump was born into an extremely rich family, and he was always part of the elite social class. He pretends to understand what you are going through, but he has never lived a day like yours. When he becomes elected, the American lower classes are going to suffer more because he will only support rich people like himself.)

 

To educated people,

I hope this sheds some light on an oft-neglected perspective. It’s blatantly obvious to us that we shouldn’t cave in to anti-foreigner sentiment, and many of us are afraid to see right-wing nationalism transform into belligerent fascism. But what isn’t blatantly obvious to us is why the other camp garners so much support. Society is polarising because anti-intellectualism is on the rise, and it’s an indication that we are not doing enough to educate the masses. The UK’s membership in the European Union was largely beneficial for every level of British society because its grants the UK greater trade access etc., but uneducated people don’t know that. And people cannot make decisions based on what they don’t know. Information that’s been gilded in jargon won’t reach all audiences. We shouldn’t dismiss Trump supporters and sit merrily ensconced in our Ivy League/Oxbridge/Liberal Arts bubble. No individual wants to destroy their own country – the dreaded Trump supporters are doing what they genuinely think is best. We should, instead, make a concerted effort to communicate across different demographics. I don’t propose that this is a panacea for the political chaos we are in but I do think it’s a necessary step towards nipping the problem.

 

Capitalism is the Killjoy of the Internet Age

Hey, hope everyone is recovering from yesterday’s Pink Dot festivities. It’s not easy to avoid stepping on so many expat picnic mats/immaculately bedazzled Pomeranians for 8 hours, albeit for a good cause. Ok I kid, but only in tone, because objectively there really were too many people on the ground in Hong Lim Park, which is a happy problem I guess.

So I’m writing today because, being an undergrad, I often feel like I’m locked in a slowly flooding room, and recently the waterline has gone up to my neck. What am I going to do after I graduate? Will I even be employable? What if I become one of those Instagram people who are perpetual “aspiring artists”? I’ve always cached these problems at the back of my mind for Future Me to handle, but right now I am Future Me. I can’t avoid thinking about these things, and I literally cannot afford to think about these things on abstract grounds. The real numbers have to be churned and crunched, I have to start doing tangible research on actual opportunities and costs. Eventually everything boils down to whether or not I can put food on the table. At this point in our rapid economic development, it doesn’t matter if someone has talent or compassion if they don’t meet the principle criterion. The universal bottomline in this capitalist hellhole is – does it make money?

I think we live in such an exciting age. Our generation has created more products and accumulated more information in the past decade than the history of humankind combined. I don’t think Aristotle and his musty ass would have even dared to dream about the number of books we have (then again he was wrong about a LOT of things, and the first thing that would shock him is probably that women are not by default slaves to men). You know the queasy movies from the 80s about time travel and everyone has their own messaging device and we’re all in silver jumpsuits? We’ve arrived at that stage, we are past what people imagined to be the Great Technological Revolution, but without the jumpsuits. The most amazing thing to come around is the internet, the omnipresent omnipotent entity in the sky (cloud). It moves and it operates through each of us, and truly, it works in mysterious ways.

I read this somewhere and I forgot the source, but you know George Orwell’s 1984? He predicted correctly that we will live in a future under 24/7 surveillance by a hovering entity, but he didn’t predict that we will WANT to be watched. We want our posts to be liked and shared, we want our internet browsers to remember our passwords, we want Google maps to detect our location, we want people to know where we work. We willingly put our personal information up on the internet, and we’ve entered a self-recording future. Is this threatening? Yes, but at the same time so immensely powerful, when the uploaded data is used for the right reasons by the right people. That’s how everything gets done so quickly – everything we need to know is online and readily accessible. But then with this accessibility comes a whole host of problems.

Suddenly every competing company is catapulted into an international arena. There are so many overseas companies that have a lower cost of production, and they can ship those products out to you for a lower price. Things get cheaper and cheaper until companies can no longer break even, and the only survivors are the large corporations with economies of scale and atrocious sweatshops (hello H&M). This isn’t so bad for products which must exist in a physical form, like clothes or furniture, but this is catastrophic for ideas and digital media i.e. intellectual property. Any industry that deals with intellectual property is in a crisis now because there are talented, entertaining, generous and interesting people online who are more than willing to upload free content. Right now, you can get free coding lessons, makeup tutorials, listen to free lectures, and illegally stream Game of Thrones without paying a single cent. The content online is also very often superior to what you can get on a DVD. Why on earth would anyone pay for the substitute products then? Why buy cartoons for your kid when you can show them free animated shorts on Youtube?

This is actually a fantastic place to be. Knowledge is power, and content is key. I think it’s brilliant that we can listen to music from indie musicians from South Africa, and I think it’s revolutionary that people from lower-income groups can access tutorials online to get an education. Education and the internet could be the great equalizers. So many doors are opening for people with smartphones. (Fun fact: more people have access to smartphones than to working toilets, which implies that even people in abject poverty have access to the wealth of information on the World Wide Web.) I also think it’s miraculous that people are volunteering to put up free, quality content. This would be an Information Utopia, if not for the primary assumption of a Capitalist society.

Every reasonable economic player is profit-seeking.

One line to destroy everything.

Right now the game has evolved so that companies which would otherwise be 100% awesome have to re-organise their activities to milk money from customers. Some examples of companies/industries which have found their way back into the game include Spotify and Netflix, and some companies have created entirely new markets, like Google and Facebook (the market for a database of our personal preferences and whereabouts). But what about the other creative companies which are left behind? What if they don’t want to be a company and they were just trying to make something really cool and useful for everyone to use for free?

So many useful apps are free for use and the fact that they are free is indispensable to the app’s function, because a free product attracts a high number of people, including people from lower-income groups. High number of people = more data collected on people and a bigger pool of users = incentive for using the app in the first place, like Tinder.

160605diagram.png

(Copyright me because I’m so clever and this is a diagram based on meticulous research.)

Developers scramble to find ways to get a slice of that revenue pie (through ads or other means), and they don’t just do it because they’re money-grubbers, but because money is needed to keep the app running, and they can’t possibly devote their lives to making no money at all. People have to eat. It’s such a shame that we live in a world where we have all the resources available but we still have trouble making ends meet. It’s kinda like how the Chinese government is pumping money into condominium projects to stimulate employment and economic growth, but the houses remain empty. We have so many vacant houses but the homeless remain homeless because they didn’t “earn” the right to live in a house (as if the rich have earned the right to be born rich). Figures.

If you feel like I’m just raking up problems and I have absolutely no solutions to offer, you’re right. But how could I? Capitalism is a self-validating system, meaning that it makes itself thrive. If we take away capitalism, then the first question on everyone’s mind would be then how are we going to earn money, what about economic expansion? Well, we’re asking capitalist questions about capitalism. I don’t think our current diet of condominium investments and sweatshop labour is sustainable. A capitalist indicator of a healthy economy is economic growth (GDP), but limitless growth? Eternal expansion until we run the rivers on our earth dry? When do we stop? How do we expand while being socially responsible? As it is we’re doing a dismal job right now.

So while we’re stewing in our own mess, here are some great links to free online resources to better yourself, and non-profit projects which have taken off because kind and creative internet users have come together.

Project For Awesome

Every December, thousands of internet users post videos on Youtube to advocate for their favourite charities. The Project For Awesome is parked under the Foundation to Decrease World Suck, Inc, and last year they’ve raised $1,546,384. I think it’s great that they celebrate the agency of each individual internet user by using personal opinion to sieve out the best charities to support. They raise money through digital downloads and artwork from users etc.

Coursera

Free, quality online courses in a wide range of fields, including arts and humanities, business etc. The courses are offered by established institutions from all over the world like the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton University, Yonsei University, and even that Emma Watson school.

Codecademy

I think my coding friends might not find this very impressive but I’ve been using it so far and it helped me to get through my Python classes. They walk you through free lessons on different programming languages, and you complete them at your own pace.

Crash Course

This series helped me to more than scrape by for my A levels. Over the years the show has grown to cover subjects like economics, physics, politics and governance, history, literature etc. They are incredibly entertaining, feature updated information on global affairs, and the show acknowledges and embraces an international audience i.e. they’re not America-centric, and that’s rare in a Youtube channel.

The School of Life

They also offer free, quality educational videos on Youtube but they zoom in more to individual theories, as opposed to looking at the world’s trajectory of history and proceeding chronologically.