Go with a smile!

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Basic Military Training and Meritocracy

I would say that going to national service was one of the formative experiences in my life. In retrospect. Not in a completely positive way. When I look back upon those days, there were some respects in which they were some of my darkest years, or some of my laziest years. But I thought that in a way they helped to shape me, and they were as influential as my school years.

There will be other parts of this story, such as my lazy days as a clerk, or how these were the times when I discovered the pleasures of the teh / kopi served in coffee shops, or how I spent too much time and money at the arcades, or how I tried to be a big reader of books and failed (I took forever to get through a “Portrait of a Lady”). Or how I spent too much time and money at HMV and Tower (and still failed to keep them alive). Or how I sustained an injury that kept me out of combat, and then tried to play up that injury for as long as I could. Those things are significant but not very worthy of comment. Being a Beetle Bailey is not very interesting.

But the most memorable experiences of most soldiers’ lives, the part of army which is usually enshrined in popular culture, is boot camp. It is the story that is always told for three reasons: 1. what happens in boot camp has very low security / intelligence value, and people don’t have to get much clearance for it. 2. every soldier, regardless of where he later on ends up, will go through boot camp. And 3: it is a great coming of age tale, and there are great comic scenarios, because it is one of the biggest cultural shocks you will ever get.

You could say that in a large sense I am a wanderer. I have done a lot of things that many people think do not directly “add value” to my life. I dabbled in political science when I was a student (and I’m always regarded with suspicion by a lot of other political science people because my “real” major is mathematics). I have been a musician, and I’ve spent so many hours on my music, that people would probably think that it would be a shame if I didn’t have the talent to make something great out of it. And I’ve also been a soldier for the 2 years, and people would say that it is a waste of time. Personally, I would say that national service is a waste of time because it is way too long. But at least 18 months of those 2.5 years is not a waste of time.

It’s probably not a secret that to a large extent, boot camp in Singapore is segregated. Most of the people who did their “A” levels, and had the potential to win scholarships would be placed in certain companies, and most of the people with less stellar academic achievements would be placed in others. The most interesting part of my NS was that I spent my boot camp in the “wrong” company. I was in a mixed platoon, and most of them were from less advantaged backgrounds.

It was pretty horrible for me for many reasons. First, I was a little bit too bookish for their liking. Second, I was not a very practical person, and I did not develop a lot of practical skills. Those would come later. Third, I was also pretty “blur”, and it took me a very long time to learn things. It still takes me a long time to learn new things. What I am good at is that, having learnt those things, I know how to integrate and synthesise those things, and eventually take my level of skill and intelligence to a higher level. But learning new things? I don’t really think so. Fourth, my social skills were not terribly good. It didn’t help that I started trying to speak to them in Mandarin but eventually had to give up because my faculty at that language was just so horrible. Fifth, that platoon was mostly made up of a bunch of people who had to enlist earlier to spend two months getting fit. A lot of my “A” level days were geared towards passing my physical fitness test so that I could avoid that fate, and actually have a holiday after the exams ended, rather than just going straight into the army – that was pretty horrible.

There were always colourful characters in that platoon. There was that old classmate of mine that I had known since I was in primary 4. He was mentally weak and he couldn’t cope with the rigours of army. Eventually he dropped out, and was downgraded. He was also gay, and he could declare that he was homosexual, and that would make him unfit for service. (I think this is the best argument against discrimination against gay people in military service – otherwise you could just “come out” and get out of combat duties.) There was this guy who was probably borderline mentally retarded, but when you played James Brown, he could just jump up and do a pretty decent imitation. My platoon commander was a short man with a Napoleonic complex. There was this time when he wanted to scold me, and he was standing on top of the steps just so as to get above me. It was pretty sad. There was this sikh who always liked to clown around. He could be as irritating as often as he was amusing. He was sent to detention barracks because after lights out, he sneaked out of the bunks and was caught drinking beer, the way that people at the void decks downstairs did that. There was the fellow nerd, who was so gawkish and hilarious that people did not pay him much respect – but eventually he attended Snowy Hill with me and I got invited to help out for the wedding. I was reunited with a friend from secondary two who helped make our class the one that prided itself on terrorizing the teachers so much that they decided to break up that class in secondary three. There was an obnoxious vegetarian who used to be such an asshole that it sometimes made me wonder how many people embrace religion to find spiritual meaning in life, and how many do that to flaunt their moral superiority to others. And last but not least was an eccentric Malay sergeant who was firm but fair with me – especially after we discovered that we shared a taste in Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone.

Of course there was a lot of messing around, especially from Eccentric Malay Sergeant. When people missed the target during range, they would throw empty cartridges at the poor guy's helmet and berate them in their limited knowledge of Hokkien. Or making people stand up and sing funny songs as punishment. Or how you could overturn the metal boxes that they used to transport combat rations and have an impromptu Dikir Barat session in the middle of the jungle. Or how we had to yell and pump our fists and scream "alpha!" when we were starting doing push-ups: this got corrupted, naturally, and in the bunks, every time somebody farted, he would also scream "alpha!" I had some ideas forming in my head during Basic Military Training. I used to think that all this social control was necessary in order to make people serve for a higher cost. Later on it occurred to me that you could build an effective fighting force using more enlightened tactics. I used to think that you had to be very cautious when talking to people who were not from your background. But that was wrong. Later on I would just figure out that you had to open up and concentrate on the things you had in common.

There was this thought that also haunted me – I was calculating the years, and I suddenly remembered thinking, halfway through the screening of one of the instructional videos, that more than half of the time I had with my grandmother was already over. Now when I think about it, it’s really uncanny – by that estimate, my grandmother would be dead in 2015. As it turned out, she died in 2011 – not a completely inaccurate estimation!

But what stayed with me the most, and the biggest takeaway I had from my time in Basic Military Training was what I learnt from my contact with people of a different socio-economic class. I had led a sheltered life, and my life revolved around grades. Sorry, that is very sad but that’s the case. The guys sweated over their careers. Many of them considered signing on, because a military life is one of the most lucrative job opportunities you will have if you’re not really educated. People were looking at sales jobs, or a life of wheeling and dealing. They swore and cursed – most of you who read my blog should understand that I don’t really have a problem with uncouth behavior. I didn’t fit in – but that was not to say that I would never fit in. Eventually I would have been able to get along – except I was probably really in a big hurry to get out of that place.

The most shocking thing to me, however, was that I was a pretty crap soldier. And this was in spite of the fact that I spent a few years as a boy’s scout. In fact I would also say that I was a pretty crap scout, even though I was game enough to give it a go. I wasn’t that much of a practical person. And that is something that rang home to me. Many of these guys were from the street, and a few of them were obviously smarter than me in some respects. It started forcing me to confront something very fundamental about meritocracy.

For many years, we have been in elite schools, and we’ve been brought up to believe that we are there because we are smarter and because we work harder than a lot of the other people out there. But that is only a partial meritocracy. The school system only rewards a very certain and specific form of intelligence. It rewards the ability of people to articulate knowledge gained by rote learning onto pieces of paper within a very short time span. And frankly, not much else. Since those days, we have gone on to broaden the scope of assessing peoples’ abilities, like resourcefulness (not tested in exams), social ability (also not tested in exams) and practical skills (definitely not tested in exams). Those things are tested to a lesser degree.

At that point in time, Daniel Goleman’s seminal book about emotional quotient was only a few years old. Eventually, it would have a great impact on the lives of children around 10 years younger than myself.

I used to believe that the system was fair and just and to a large extent it still is, but it still has a bias, and there are many ways for people to fall through the cracks. To a large extent, people do end up where they deserve in life, but there are many instances where the system is unfairly biased against people who are still good people but don’t have the right kinds of skills. Anyway, I'm sure that Donald Low can explain this idea much better than I can.

At the same time I can imagine that any unfair system will have its defenders – namely those people who benefit from it, and can only lose out if the system has a little more balance. And the big pity is that the system is also such that these people are also those in power, and they can also block any attempt to dismantle that system.

Think about it: national service is a way of getting people to transcend their social class. And by taking the cream of the crop and putting them into the same companies, you wouldn’t get them to understand the broader context in which they live. You wouldn’t understand that – well for those like me, once I step out of the gate, my troubles are over. Even if my family isn’t the most loving one around it’s a really comfortable existence. Then there are those people who book in early to escape problems outside – being chased by debtors, or harassed by gangsters. Or the guy who, upon coming back to camp right after Chinese New Year, was so traumatised that he committed suicide. Or the malay guy who kept on getting ribbed because he was playing for Geylang United – or at least he would be playing for them once he got out of national service. Or the guy who claimed that he quit drugs and that it was a life-changing experience for him. Not to mention the incredibly creative ways that people adopt to keep themselves out of training. I used to think that it was a curse for me to have been dumped in a company with such crazy people but now I’d look back and see that it was a truly unique experience that I wouldn’t otherwise have had. And I would say that when I think about the real Singapore, part of it will be these motley crew that I once had been associated with.


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Zero Growth

On one of the first lessons I’ve had in science as a secondary school student, we were introduced to the sigmoid function. At that time I didn’t really think very much of it. It didn’t seem like one of the “really important functions” that we learnt in mathematics, like the sine curve or the parabola. But now when I think about it, it’s really important.

What it predicts is growth. The growth of a human being follows the sigmoid function. Relatively slow, and then a growth spurt in the teenage years, and finally adulthood, and you don’t see any growth at all. Any organisation, any biological organism would grow this way. For various reasons. Companies grow that way. Or maybe not.

But when we think about economics, we don’t usually think about it that way. We are too fixated on the idea of exponential growth. When a country is not growing economically, we think that it is dying. Now somebody has finally come out and said it. Economic growth is bunk.

What the author is proposing, and what I am beginning to come to terms with, is that economic growth is something that we have come to see as the norm, because of the particular circumstances we live in in human history. There was the industrial age. Then there were the fundamental changes to the economic system which were fuelled by automation and the advancement in technology. For a period of time, the economic system was changing because people were moving around faster. They were improving their processes and becoming more productive at work. More efficient machines were taking the place of human labour.

But this phase of our human history is coming to an end, as can be evidenced in many developed countries. You cannot think of technological changes producing gains in efficiency. Maybe you can envision technology being able to do things that were not being done before. Maybe some advancements will still lie in the future – maybe mechanical roadsweepers will replace the current ones. But until then I try to think of how technology is going to make us efficient in a big big way, and I cannot think of anything.

What we have to understand is that the economy does not grow by magic by x% every year. All economic growth is underpinned by something more substantial and material. And if we cannot explain what this is, then there would be something extremely fishy and bogus about this so-called “economic growth”.

What has changed? The so-called "economic growth" is an end result of a certain form of technological change. This technological change is coming to an end. Progress is not supposed to take place indefinitely. It is meant to be epochal and it is meant to come to an end.

200 years ago, we eat 1 bowl of rice for dinner. Today, we eat 1 bowl of rice for dinner. Where is the economic growth? Ultimately there are hard limits on what a human being can consume. What’s the point in more and more wealth per capita? I have this theory (I don’t know if it’s shared by other economists because I’m not familiar with the literature) that the only driver of economic growth is a very specific kind of technological progress. We can’t just assume that this technological progress is going to last forever. We’re just running on the momentum that was built for us by those who have been there before. We’re just using the old paradigms, and we haven’t updated our thinking to change with the times.

It is as though we are 18 years old, we see ourselves as being much taller than our 12 year old selves, and believe that we are going to continue growing forever. The truth is 1, we are not growing anymore. 2, we don't have to worry anymore that we are not growing anymore. 3, we will live a long long time without ever growing anymore, and it doesn't matter anyway.

There are two ways for the economy to “grow”: the right way is things becoming bigger / better / faster / more. The wrong way to grow is everything becoming more expensive. Unfortunately that’s how Singapore has decided to grow over the last few years. It's pretty clear to most of us what kind of "economic growth" we've been having of late. To continue on like we have been doing, looking at the nice fat economic growth numbers and telling ourselves that life is getting betterer and betterer, is pretty retarded. Let’s put it this way. You can easily cook up higher GDP growth this way. First step, you force everybody into a small piece of land. Because of competition and scarcity, housing prices will rise. Everybody will take out a loan to buy a smaller and smaller piece of real estate for more and more money. All of this will be booked as “economic growth” because it makes the GDP go up. But are peoples’ lives really improving? Obviously not. No value add, no improvement in the quality of life. Only paper results.

This is only for first world economies.
Now I’m not saying that the whole world is like that. There are still places on this planet where people live like it’s the 19th century. Obviously some nations’ economies have a long way to go. China is still pretty undeveloped in many parts, but in the coastal cities, it is pretty much almost there. India still has some way to go. But for places like Singapore or other places in the developed world, our race is pretty much run.

How are people going to adjust?
A lot of shit is going to happen before people finally come to terms with this. Economic growth is usually seen as exponential. Anybody who knows maths knows that exponential is obscenely fast. Anything obscenely fast that goes on forever is unsustainable. Thus far, economic development has been structured around growth. Now we have to figure out how to make the system work in an era of zero growth.

Eventually the economy has to be like a tropical jungle. Some trees grow, other trees die, but there is equilibrium and the sum total of the biomass stays the same. Mature democracies are having economic crises now because they haven't figured out how to manage zero growth economies, but once that happens, we'll just realise: forget about the growth. Just manage the wealth distribution and the jobless rate.

It used to be very simple. Everything is growing. If you are a firm, and you capture a certain percentage of the pie, then you will grow together with the economy, even if you don’t expand your market share. In a non-growing economy, in order to be a growing firm, you have to eat into somebody’s share, and that somebody will not be happy with you. Economic competition would be stronger. Firms going out of business will be more common, and there will be more thought put into how to wind down a business that has to be wound down.

In a non-growing economy, you will not have real growth every year. There will be nominal growth, which will be perfectly offset the inflation. Or there will be alternate years of growth and recession. The problem is that this mechanism of discounted rate has proven in the past to be a driver of the growth of individual wealth. We only manage to convince people to put money into long term investments, because of interest rates: otherwise if your money gets shrunk every year, you might as well spend everything right now instead of saving for the future. There is a certain kind of stability associated with a perpetually growing economy, because the balance is always tilted towards people saving for the future.

Except, now I don’t think that people are saving for the future at all. It has come to the point where maybe Singaporeans’ average savings is something close to zero, when you consider how many people have taken out mortgages. That means that all the wealth is going in one direction – into the banker’s pockets, and never out of it. There is a global imbalance of money, and it’s like there’s this black hole that’s sucking the life force out of the economy. I don’t know how we’re going to fix that – that’s for the macroeconomists out there to figure out.

A related problem is that somehow, because of the systematic tendency of money to flow in one direction and almost never another, we have some kind of a tendency where money gravitates towards more money – in other words the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. I haven’t even figured out how to get around that.

One argument is that if mature economies are supposed to stop growing, then eventually they will be overtaken by the growing developing economies. That may well be true. But I think that forcing a form of “economic growth” where there is no material substance behind that growth might have a lot of negative consequences.

The other thing is, it is still true that even while the economy of a country may stay stable (let’s call it a stable economy, rather than a stagnant one, to reflect this paradigm shift) the economies of the regions and the towns within that country may wax and wane. There is still such a thing as economic competition: I may still not understand the full implications of a stabilized economy, but I’m sure that economic competition and capitalism will not go away. Then it is tempting to say that for the sake of competition, a city must always pursue economic growth. Because – if a dip happens, who knows whether it’s going to be a one off blip or it’s a prelude to a Detroit style implosion? But I don’t buy that. I think that a central government can always manage things well, and prevent disasters from happening, without having to force square pegs into round holes and make “growth” happen.

I don’t think that all of this was deliberately engineered to serve the nefarious purposes of people working in financial institutions who want to bilk this system for all that it’s worth. But at the same time I’m sure that there are a lot of people benefitting from the current arrangement and don’t really want to see it ending soon.

There is a lot of economic work to be done on this. I’m sure that there are still a lot of Nobel prizes out there to be claimed for the macroeconomics of steady state mature economies.


Sunday, February 17, 2013

Kill the Buddha

There is an old Zen parable which says, “if you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him”.

Since this comes from a religion which does not advocate violence, let alone killing, I suppose this does grab your attention a bit. But it’s a caution against idolatry: you don’t fixate on the Buddha. You concentrate on his teachings. The Buddha is just a symbol. Once you get caught up in who he is, rather than what he represents, you will be lost.

For many years, this man has been our PM. And for many years he has been at the center of the government, which has been at the center of our nation. And after he gave up his seat, he continued to operate behind the scenes, all this time allowing people to speculate how much influence he has on the cabinet. This is due to the fact – that nobody will really dispute – that he is a more forceful personality than any of his successors.

Recently he’s been in hospital, in spite of appearing in public next to Goh Chok Tong and Lee Hsien Loong at a recent dinner. There was this piece of bravado, where he once said that he will rise up from the coffin if he sees that something is wrong, that he wants to fix it. I think that to a large extent, the shadow he has cast over his successors has been stage managed. The idea is neither to confirm or deny the notion that he has a great influence on the cabinet, and let people think that things are being run the way the used to run.

A lot of speculations have risen up with respect to the guy being in hospital, and that reminded me of the “kill the Buddha” parable. So when I say “kill the buddha” am I wishing him a quick demise? I suppose if you have to ask that you aren’t reading the above, or you’ve not understood it. The cult of LKY has to die. We know, from the remarks that he made immediately following the last general election, that he does not really live in our era, nor do we live in his. We have been speculating on the post-LKY era for years – and over the last 20 years since he officially stopped being the PM, his influence has ebbed away. We can now think of these 20 years as a continuum which started off as him being a back seat driver in 1990, to a figure in the history books in 2011. A slow but inexorable transition. For most other people, you’d stop being the PM right away. But for LKY it takes a long time to fade out. And he’s finally faded out. And his eventual successor – not the immediate one – that’s Goh Chok Tong. His eventual successor is in place. Which means that we will live and die with Lee II, not Lee I.

And when I say that I am against idolatry, this is a message for both the hardline PAP supporters and the hardline opposition. To the first group, the PAP is a symbol of all that is good in Singapore, a shepard without which we will all be lost. To the second group, the PAP are a bunch of morally corrupt sycophants who will stop at nothing, and are not above doing any form of evil to further their selfish interests at the expense of everybody else in Singapore. These two approaches are probably going to be rejected. Now is the time to look at the real substance of the policies, rather than just a crude black and white caricature where the PAP is the ultimate evil. But yes, I know, the population paper is pretty fucked up - well I guess that's another story for another time.

The fact is that he is a non-entity. He doesn’t matter. Maybe he’s hospitalized, maybe he’s not. He’s done enough for Singapore, he should get a nice quiet rest of his life, regardless of whether he wants it or not. He’s just an ordinary member of parliament now, a backbencher. That’s all. A backbencher is in hospital now. That’s all. Like the rest of us, he wants Singapore to carry on after he's gone. So be it.


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Queen and the Soldier

I can't believe it's already been around 20 years since I heard Suzanne Vega's first album. It is a small masterpiece, and she has continued making good music over the intervening 25+ years she never made another collection which topped this one.

When I was writing the blog entry for PM Lee, I suddenly remembered this song, and I'm posting this up for your enjoyment.

The soldier came knocking upon the queen's door
He said, "I am not fighting for you any more"
The queen knew she'd seen his face someplace before
And slowly she let him inside.

He said, "I've watched your palace up here on the hill
And I've wondered who's the woman for whom we all kill
But I am leaving tomorrow and you can do what you will
Only first I am asking you why."

Down in the long narrow hall he was led
Into her rooms with her tapestries red
And she never once took the crown from her head
She asked him there to sit down.

He said, "I see you now, and you are so very young
But I've seen more battles lost than I have battles won
And I've got this intuition, says it's all for your fun
And now will you tell me why?"

The young queen, she fixed him with an arrogant eye
She said, "You won't understand, and you may as well not try"
But her face was a child's, and he thought she would cry
But she closed herself up like a fan.

And she said, "I've swallowed a secret burning thread
It cuts me inside, and often I've bled"
He laid his hand then on top of her head
And he bowed her down to the ground.

"Tell me how hungry are you? How weak you must feel
As you are living here alone, and you are never revealed
But I won't march again on your battlefield"
And he took her to the window to see.

And the sun, it was gold, though the sky, it was gray
And she wanted more than she ever could say
But she knew how it frightened her, and she turned away
And would not look at his face again.

And he said, "I want to live as an honest man
To get all I deserve and to give all I can
And to love a young woman who I don't understand
Your highness, your ways are very strange."

But the crown, it had fallen, and she thought she would break
And she stood there, ashamed of the way her heart ached
She took him to the doorstep and she asked him to wait
She would only be a moment inside.

Out in the distance her order was heard
And the soldier was killed, still waiting for her word
And while the queen went on strangeling in the solitude she preferred
The battle continued on


Sunday, February 10, 2013

Privacy Policy

I think this will be a short note about the privacy policy of this blog.

I had set up this blog before GE2006 and back then it was even more important than now to be anonymous. A few friends and former workers know my real identity but I trust them not to reveal it. There was a case when I was nearly outed by a troll but he died in a car accident.

The last post I did was an unauthorised biography of Lee Hsien Loong which would probably get me in trouble if I were more famous. This is one of the few "dangerous" blog posts that I am writing but I think that it raises questions that people have to ask themselves. People want to know things about their leaders. It is part of accountability, and a part of understanding - well leaders do so much to shape their governments, so we are a democracy, we have to know, right? The only real biography on LKY out at the moment is his autobiography. I don't even know if there will be anybody who can write a biography about him when he's dead. I'm sure it will sell like hot cakes. How much information can people get about him? What kinds of access will people have to the archives? Let's put it this way - I was reading "Men in White", the history of the PAP. And it was astonishing how much LKY came across as a very secretive, elusive figure. Yes, it was not his biography but still he was one of the central figures.

The current situation is that Lee Hsien Loong, who has been in the public eye since he was a kid, is ironically less well understood than his two predecessors. Even when you allow for the fact that some people are just difficult to get to know (I think that LHL is definitely one such person).

Other reasons why I stay anonymous is because I want my privacy (not that enough people read this blog for me to be really concerned). And even though I don't talk about work a lot, I don't want to think too hard about stepping across the OB markers.

In this day and age, many more people blog under their real identities than when blogs started. The sheer number of people who have commented on the population white paper is staggering. If you think that blogging is a gamechanger, wait until you have facebook and social media. Blogging is the gateway drug to social media. When the blogging phenomenon started gaining traction around 2004-2005, most people wrote as one of their first ever blog entries, speculating on the idea of a blog. Many kept their identities secret. It’s a little startling that so much time has passed by since those days, but a lot of them said these things:

1. It’s a little strange that I should keep a secret diary, and yet have that secret diary accessible to the entire world through the internet.
2. It’s a little strange that I should now be saying the same thing every single person in the world, instead of selecting what I say to whom, through verbal speech, email, in writing. Broadcasting your thoughts to the whole world is extremely strange and a total gamechanger.
3. It’s a little strange that I should now have a double identity, the person I am in real life, versus the person on the blogs.
4. Now I can speak truth to power. Yippee!

There were a few controversies. Many of them centered around young ladies with blogs. A young woman who exhibited her fetish for Caucasian males and who probably enjoyed all the flame baiting that came with it, was sarongpartygirl. And she took naked pictures of herself and ended up on the front page of Shin Min. It was basically a form of mutual masturbation between people like her who loved all the negative attention, and the morally righteous tongue-wagging aunties who loved to excoriate the moral decadence of the younger generations.

I remember one thing I said during the discussions, because miyagi.sg quoted me and it ended up in the papers. I said, “big brother is still watching you, but the equation has been inverted: now all of us has become big brother, and we are all watching the government”.

Now BMT was not a happy experience for me, but I remember one thing clearly: when you are in the infantry, and you are fighting a battle, you must always be firing at the enemy, because that’s to stop them from firing back. The same dynamic must apply to your relationship with power. You must keep on attacking the PAP government in numbers, because there is safety in numbers. They can put 20 Barisan Socialis members in prison, but they cannot put 1000 bloggers in jail. You must make sure that their position is under threat so that they concentrate on fixing themselves instead of the opposition.

It is very curious now when I heard that Lynn Lee had her phone searched for allegedly making a film about the treatment of the Chinese bus drivers in Singapore. It is a little curious. These days, it is remarkable that many comments have been made about the impartiality of the AG’s Chambers, and nobody wants to “fix” anybody. At the same time, though, whenever you have incidents of police brutality being investigated, electronic devices get confiscated and examined, and you get lengthy interviews. When it comes to human rights issues, we can see that we are more advanced along the lines of whether or not the executive is truly independent of the judiciary. But when it comes to issues like the right of public assembly, gay rights, and rights of foreign workers, I feel that Singaporeans are not sufficiently advanced to care very much about them.

But the thing about blogging is that there was still a performer-audience dynamic. You could read the blog of somebody who takes the trouble to blog a lot. Yet you could put a psychological distance between yourself and the author. That person is faceless. Maybe he doesn’t speak for us. Maybe he’s a loner, a loony radical extremist. In these days of twitter and Facebook, it is even easier for radical ideas to spread because people can share their thoughts, and endorse other blog articles on facebook. You actually learn a lot about the people you knew in real life, but you didn’t know their political inclinations. Suddenly these ideas are no longer so foreign because there are people who you know in real life well enough to consider to be sane, and some of them are endorsing those supposedly crazy opposition parties. Maybe something has changed!

Yes, people can complain all they want about the intellectual vacuity of short 140 character tweets, or attention-challenged spying on all the stuff that your Facebook “friends” post up. Sometimes I think that twitter should be renamed "live brainfarts". But what you have on the credit side of the ledger is a very powerful filter that brings your attention to the most salient issues of the day, the ones that attract and probably deserve the most attention.

Anyway, for myself, I’m happy to keep on blogging. It’s a hobby, an exercise for my brain. I keep this blog separate from my real life identity, I keep my real life identity partially separate from my Facebook. I partition my life and I hope that these things do not bleed into each other too much.


Thursday, February 07, 2013

Boy in the Bubble

Not for the first time, will our prime minister Lee be known as a prince. In a way, he has always been a prince. Yes, there have been satirical essays written about him, “the Diary of the Dragon Prince”. But I say that he is a prince because it is a term which describes his situation very well.

Since he was young, he would have been earmarked for great things. He was after all the son of the Emperor of the city. There was that famous photo of him playing chess with his father. He would have been surrounded by bodyguards wherever he went. Most other people would have opportunities to develop friendships with people, but these would be denied to him.

After this, I’m going to repeat a few rumours that I heard about him. These are only rumours so I definitely can’t prove that they’re true, and therefore if you want to sue me over them, you shouldn’t because I’m not here to mislead the general public. I heard a few stories about him: LKY sent him to Catholic High school so that he could have an education surrounded by the Chinese speaking people. I don’t know how well he fared. I know that my mother sent me to a SAP school for approximately the same reason, but I wasn’t happy there.

I heard some other story about him, a bizarre episode where a schoolmate in Cambridge came across him reading “Mein Kampf”. Of course anybody has the right to read that book, and I can’t remember much else about that story, except what I took away from it is that he didn’t have a lot of friends.

I personally once saw him running around in a park for exercise. He was surrounded by bodyguards running with him. He wasn’t really speaking to people. OK, we expect him to have some private time to himself, but there were literally 5 or 6 guards around him. That was totally bizarre.

When reading Michael Jackson’s biography, “the Magic and the Madness”, one of the deepest impressions I had was that of a guy who was always kept in a bubble since he was little, and not able to grow up. Michael Jackson had been one of the Jackson Five ever since he was maybe 6, and literally his whole life had been centered around him performing for people. He had a domineering father (in this respect he’s similar to LHL) who controlled much of his environment.

I can also think of another such person who’s like that – Brian Wilson, who never really had a real childhood, and never grew up. Or Sufiah Yusof, who, after becoming one of the youngest graduates of Oxford, turned to prostitution for a short period of time. In fact I think that Stevie Wonder is an extremely remarkable person because in spite of his being a child star, he grew up to be a person who not only does not lack for maturity, but is probably more mature than 99% of the people out there. In fact there is something really uncanny about how visual his lyrics are, considering that he’s been blind since birth.

We know more about Brian Wilson and Michael Jackson because they are artists, and inevitably they reveal a lot about themselves through their art. Brian Wilson is always dreaming away: he’s dreaming of surfing, of beautiful Californian scenery, or falling in love. No matter how great they are as artists and visionaries, there is something awkward about their art. Michael Jackson has never been able to write a song about the common man. His lyrics for “We are the World” or “Heal the World” are notorious for their bland platitudes about “making the world a better place”. It is very difficult for them to understand the experiences of people who have lived outside their little bubble, and it really shows.

Michael Jackson would end up dressing in military garb of third world dictators and wave his gloved hand from inside gilded limos.

Brian Wilson’s descent into madness and drug addiction is a sad story that doesn’t need to be repeated here. One of his greatest albums, “Smile”, is a look at America as though it were a series of museum dioramas, or as though it were a quirkier version of Disneyland. People often comment that there is something sad, weird and childlike about his work, even though, at his best, he has given us some of the most touching and heartfelt music to be found in the pop music canon. That’s the thing about these guys – when they write about the emotions of their own heart, they can be pretty convincing. But when they try to step out and write about the world at large, you can immediately see the disconnect with reality.

In the years since PM Lee has become prime minister of Singapore, we haven’t heard very much from him. All of our prime ministers have been introverts, even the domineering Lee Kuan Yew. Even though Goh Chok Tong is a more submissive and awkward figure, he does have a public persona. We get a sense of who he is as a human being. Lee Hsien Loong, not so. The first, and most infamous example of how he was out of touch with reality was his reference in a speech to “mee siam mai hum”. Anybody familiar with hawker centre food (90% of Singaporeans, I estimate) would know that mee siam is never served with cockles (hum). It’s like saying that you don’t want your French fries with yogurt – well nobody eats their French fries with yogurt anyway.

There were other rumours that maybe he wasn’t blessed with the best temperament. The most infamous one was that during a cabinet meeting, he slapped somebody. (some said it was Dhanabalan). The rumours were not confirmed, and there was this ham-fisted attempt by Goh Chok Tong to deny that rumour. In fact, some people judged the ineptitude of the denial as a confirmation that that incident did actually take place. Now there are very few people who have never had an argument with a colleague during a tough day at work. And we know that life is extremely stressful at the ministerial level of government. What is pretty unusual is that these shenanigans take place at the cabinet.

Then there was this incredibly revelation in the interview given by Ong Teng Cheong shortly before his death. “Well, among the four of us, he was the youngest. Tony Tan said no. I said no. And he sort of accepted being pushed into the position, on condition that we stay on to assist him.” The person who became the second prime minister of Singapore was the person who drew the shortest straw! This is an absolutely shocking revelation. Why would being the prime minister of Singapore be something to be avoided? You can’t avoid the conclusion that the undesirability of the job had something to do with Lee Hsien Loong. Either it was about knowing that you would be asked to move aside once he had decided it would be time for him to take over, or it was simply that it was difficult to work with him.

It didn’t help that Lee Hsien Loong’s army buddies were – so to speak – drafted in so that you had a cabinet who – even if they weren’t totally obedient to LHL, would at least take a friendship into account before acting at cross purposes with the PM. Compare this with his father, Lee Kuan Yew. LKY was a member of the upper class, no doubt, and he went to Cambridge when the typical person didn’t even go to the university. But he experienced the hardships of war first hand, and he was at least driven and idealistic enough to want to take charge of Singapore from the British. He always talked about forging Singapore into something. He started his political career as a lawyer for trade unionists. He had plenty of interaction with people, he was never ever anything other than his own man. Lee Hsien Loong on the other hand was somebody who had his whole life planned out for him – and that is the fate of a prince. His life has been one big wayang, he's always been surrounded by people who are putting on a show for his benefit. In a way, he's like the guy from the "Truman Show".

Somehow I think that it is better when you don’t have that burden placed on your head from such a young age. Think about Edward VIII, who abdicated the throne, and his brother, George VI had to take over instead. George VI’s daughter only realised that she would be queen when she was maybe 10 years old. Maybe that was old enough. Prince Charles was another person who has to spend 60 years of his life as a king in waiting. I don’t envy him. If uneasy is the head who wears the crown, think about how damaging it is to the psyche to be the second in line all the time!

What I do see are some similarities with Kim Jong Il. You have somebody who has never experienced life outside his bubble. Kim Jong Il is a movie fanatic. He’s also somebody who’s totally not ashamed to live the high life. He has an entire army of prostitutes cultivated for his benefit. He has the best cooks in the world preparing the finest cuisine for him while all around him his people are starving. In comparison, LHL lives a much more Spartan existence. But if the integrated resorts and the plethora of new-fangled fancy projects are turning Singapore into a futuristic “hub” are any indication, he’s a guy who likes expensive fancy toys. There is this vanity about him if he wants Singapore to be an education hub, biotech hub, F1 racing location.

But at the same time, it’s not so directly straightforward to portray his ascension to the throne as a case of nepotism. This is because Lee Hsien Loong does have credentials. He is a president’s scholar (and you do need to have the best grades to come anywhere near contention). He earned first class at Cambridge. He is a bright person. But in many ways he is a product of this heinous “meritocratic” system that has overtaken many anglo-american countries, and a manifestation of what people would call the "corporatist mentality". One that is apt to treat people like digits and figures on a piece of paper to be manipulated in order to achieve a certain key performance indicator.

Lee Hsien Loong might in time come to embody the worst excesses among the elite of his nation. Kim Jong Il became the patron saint for the elites of North Korea who cling on to their power and the normality of their middle class lives which form a ridiculous contrast with the near starvation conditions of their countrymen in the countryside. Lee Hsien Loong is likewise a patron saint for our bureaucrats who just look at the numbers and conclude that all is well with Singapore. It’s been said that the cosmopolitan class is paradoxically the most parochial of all people. LHL’s place is among that of that well heeled elite who forms an echo chamber unto itself, fairly confident that – even without looking at the situation on the ground, outside of its bubble, they have access to numbers and statistics that tell the story better than the superficial analysis of the man on the street. Ultimately the tragedy of putting somebody like that in a driver's seat is this: you can't have a selection process for the prime minister whereby it is a list of qualities where Lee Hsien Loong is obviously found wanting. So what do you do? You look at what kind of a guy he is, and then you tailor the selection process around a guy like him. But in the end, what happens? Not only are you going to get a guy like him at the helm, but because you have centered the talent system around him, you're also going to get a lot of his lieutenants to be people almost exactly like him. That is the real tragedy of wanting too much for him to be put in charge.

Obviously, Singapore needs to get a lot more fucked up before it reaches the level of a North Korea, but it’s pretty clear that it’s going downhill.

I once believed that we hadn’t seen that much of the real Lee Hsien Loong. I believed that we would learn a lot about Lee Hsien Loong after the general elections of 2011, when the old timers who had been around during the Goh Chok Tong days left the cabinet, when his father and Goh Chok Tong left the cabinet, and it was all up to him. And to be sure, he has a tough job on his hands. PAP’s approval ratings are probably lower than at any point since they won their first election in 1959. He is no longer capable of taking the knuckleduster approach, which LKY used. And to be fair, there have been quite a few changes made to the government since the 2011 elections. But the population paper does underline that a lot of things are not going to change.

Lee Hsien Loong has stated his skepticism about wage controls. He doesn’t believe in reconsidering that GDP is king. And as long as GDP is king, everything else can go to hell. You can make this place as unliveable as you want, as crowded as you want, as unequal as you want. You’re a softie if you want the best for your people. A real king shouldn’t want the best for his people. He should make the people serve unto the glory of the nation, and if they aren’t trying hard enough, he should squeeze more blood out of them.

Other articles will be written about the population white paper in the coming weeks. It is an extremely bleak document. We still want our 3-4% economic growth, damn the consequences. It’s almost as though this obsession with size has become the overriding concern, and all other concerns – such as the well-being of the people have been shunted aside.

This guy has been our prime minister for almost 10 years, and during these 10 years, our standard of living has generally gone down. Yes, Singapore may be a more exciting place, but it is only exciting in the sense that racing in public roads is exciting. The Ma Chi car crash has come to embody what a lot of people think about Singapore – a more dangerous, recklessly governed place. A place marked by people who believe they’re above the law. A Ferrari symbolizing the gilded existence of a few elites, the prostitute on his passenger seat suggesting something seamy and sordid. The eulogies in the press for “a person of distinction and excellence” after Ma Chi’s death symbolizing the inability of the well heeled to comprehend the sentiment of the masses.

No matter how much LKY ruled over Singapore with an iron fist, he still did his best for the people of Singapore, and many people appreciated that. That would explain the ambivalence that people have over his legacy. They will cut any amount of slack to a dictator who still somehow manages to engineer a general rise in living standards for most of the people of Singapore. Now the tragedy is that – before this I always assumed that LKY’s biggest mistake was to foster a repressive political environment in Singapore. In a way this is also very dubious – Singaporeans in general are well-educated, and this would explain how, in spite of our political environment, Singaporeans can be as outspoken as anybody else when it comes to talking about politics. Singapore has the potential to become a mature democracy just like anybody else, although the concern is that by the time that happens, it would have turned into a Malthusian nightmare, an overcrowded island in the sea just like another Haiti or another Java.

No, LKY’s biggest mistake was not the political repression. It was the decision, made a long time ago, to hand the premiership over to his son. It poisoned and corrupted the way that Singapore was run in the late phase of his own premiership, and more tragically, it handed power to somebody who is capable, but not capable enough to be our prime minister.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Obviously you may have not heard of rumors of him being gay while he was still a student. Maybe this can explain there is some kind of insecurity that he may have to give up everything if this is indeed true.

There is a kind of similarity that we gays have the "gaydar " to detect in similar kind of persons. For a fact we know that many happily married husbands live a life of deceit cheating their wives by having sexual trysts with other men.

In realit this is the mad, mad world we all live in. Everything is just possible.

2:10 PM

Blogger 7-8 said...

Before I begin, one general comment about this post. A lot of this stuff is potentially libelous if presented as non-fiction, so assume that it is fiction, although it is fiction that's designed to raise questions and make people think - it could be a form of invasion of privacy if we want to know everything about him, although in general, we should understand our heads of state and know the person who's leading us, what kind of person he is. That's just something that comes with the job of prime minister.

There are a few things that I haven't mentioned. First of them is the suicide of the first wife. A lot of unkind comments have been floating around, to the extent that it was the Lee family that drove her to suicide. There isn't very much that we will know for sure. I saw on wikipedia that she committed suicide 3 weeks after giving birth to their first son. What's the most plausible explanation? Post natal depression. It's probably that simple. Although if LHL was really gay, it is really something to get upset about.

No, I have not heard the rumours that LHL is gay. However I have had my suspicions.

1. His nickname is Pinky. Maybe he's pinky and his father is the brain? Haha.
2. LKY, a person whose political instincts are so conservative, has come out and said that there is absolutely nothing wrong with people being gay.
3. People have remarked that no straight man would want to marry Ho Ching.
4. He went to Cambridge which is a place that's famous for being tolerant of gays.
5. He doesn't want to stick his neck out for 377A in case people point at him and say, "he's one too!".
6. Pastor Khong inviting Goh Chok Tong to a sermon where he denounced homosexuality - a lot of things that GCT say these days are very very suspicious. You have to assume that he does have an axe to grind against the Lees. Do you think that Pastor Khong would have invited LHL instead? Something is not right here.

Anyway I'm also wondering why he's stupid enough to go around wearing a pink shirt.

But since you're gay, you'd probably understand that we are talking about his abilities as a leader of our nation: this is an irrelevant issue.

Still, the fact that he was made PM in spite of his sexual orientation - or maybe LKY didn't know, didn't understand until it was too late to turn back. This is a guy who I don't think is a bad person, who I think would have led a good and fulfilling life in any case, but who nevertheless should not have been our third prime minister.

2:53 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

LHL also attended National Junior College and was the first President's Scholar (surprise surprise).

While in NJC, he was also very isolated - surrounded by bodyguards, he attended private lessons and not in a class of students like everyone else. He was literally zipped into NJC to attend those lessons and zipped back home - there was little social interaction involved.

LHL's public demeanor can be seen to be socially awkward - he is uncomfortable socially and being in the limelight though I guess being selected by his father to be successor leaves him little choice in being a leader in Singapore politics.

As for being gay or not, well, that is anyone's guess.

5:24 PM

Blogger 7-8 said...

Yes, there is no proof that he is gay, but it is not a possibility that is easy to dismiss.

There is a big difference between the Westminister electoral system and the American Presidential election system. In the Westminister system, a person only needs to be the leader of a party and win an election seat. If his party wins the election, he can be the head of government.

In the American system, the Presidential election has just concluded. You can see for yourself how difficult it is for somebody to be made president.

A person like Lee Hsien Loong can be a head of government under the westminister system, but under the US system? I have my doubts. Note that it can produce people like John Major or David Cameron who probably have problems relating to the common man, or projecting their personality strongly enough to win a popular election.

Like I said in the main article, it's a shame if the president's scholarship was created to help his ascent to power. Just because you want LHL to be in a leadership position, you will change the whole system, the whole leadership selection process to be in favour of a guy like him. Is that good for the system?

5:50 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Putting aside all the gay rumors (in my opinion, thoroughly unwarranted in this article in that it detracts from, rather than add any benefit to it) -- your analysis is EXCELLENT. At the end of the day, why did PAP screw up in GE2011? Or Punggol BE? Or in this White Paper fiasco? Ultimately, its about leadership. And you piece something together about the person behind the throne.

PS : You may want to remain anonymous for the rest of your life!

10:46 AM

Blogger 7-8 said...

On one hand: yes, thank you. But then again, I'm only asking a very basic question that every citizen in a democratic country asks himself: who is this leader of mine? And just trying my best to answer that question. This is nothing special, just something everybody should also do.

6:48 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Alex (Au), have you got your gaydar up and tuned? What's the reading you're getting on your gaydar screen, man?

11:20 PM

Blogger 7-8 said...

Yeh yeh I said that I was going to not reveal my identity, but I will give you one small hint: I am not Alex Au. Although if my postings have enough substance for me to be mistaken for him, that is not unflattering.

I have blogged about homosexuality elsewhere. Read the first sentence from that post.

I think you are not the same anonymous as the one who earlier on said that whether or not PM Lee is gay it does not have very much impact on most things. However, a lot of gay haters turn out to be borderline gay people and historians are still speculating over whether Adolf Hitler who sentenced all the gay people to die in the death camps - had gay tendencies.

You can see for yourself in that earlier article that my gaydar is not very good - a lot of childhood friends that I knew and who turned out to be gay when grown up, I could not tell that they were gay. Some of them were pretty angsty teenagers, and others were pretty laid back and relaxed and confident. My gaydar can only classify people into "maybe gay" and "definitely not gay". My opinion is that PM Lee falls into the "maybe gay" category. Thing is - he's a weirdo, and there are many things that make people into weirdos, not just being gay.

7:52 AM


Sunday, February 03, 2013

A Riposte to Dawkins part 2

The conversation continued:

Atheism is relatively harmless.

Militant Islam: Shoots little girls in the head, flies planes into buildings
Militant Christianity: Blows up abortion clinics
Militant Atheism: Flame wars on Facebook

The communists were militant and atheist, and they were responsible for the deaths of a hundred million. I’m going to say time and again – the issue is not religion. The issue is that people out there have the desire to do evil, and plausible reasons to do it. Militant atheists are only responsible for trolling on the internet??!! And don’t give me that crap about “communists are not really atheists”. If you want to call Osama Bin Laden a real Muslim that is what you have to be prepared to put up with.

Marx said that "religion is the opiate of the masses". Communism definitely has an atheist component to it, that is indisputable, a very clear part of their doctrine: the church is a competing ideology that has to be eliminated. If you want to be sec gen of a major communist party you probably have to be atheist. And think about the double standards: "communism is a political movement that happens to have an atheist component -> atheism doesn't have to do with communism" vs "Al Qaeda is a terrorist organisation that happens to have a Muslim component -> Islam has everything to do with terror". Double standards.

In a more general sense, the communists were like the atheists today. They are idealistic people trying to change the world without really understanding it. They had very little insight into how human societies really worked. Not surprisingly, it turned out badly. Humanism will be something special - not even Islam or Mormonism were stupid enough to ignore the bible, since the borrowed so much from it.

They've no common objective, no axe to grind, no message to spread
If you're an non-believer who recognises the good that religious communities do, you'd just shut up and not portray yourself as an opposer - NGOs want to get along with other NGOs. If you think that a moral sense is more important than scientific knowledge (news for atheists - it is) you wouldn't call yourself an atheist, you'd call yourself a freethinker. I'm not going to call atheists amoral, but I'd definitely say that Penn and Teller are amoral. The time and effort wasted for being an atheist is the time and effort spent into denouncing religion, as opposed to the live and let live mentality of a freethinker. Praying is not a waste of time and effort because it does help you to think about your own life. But needless to say an excess of anything is a waste of time and effort.

The biggest philosophical problem with atheism is defining an exemplar, a positive exemplar of an atheist. It's not easy because atheism is normally defined negatively. In the unlikely event that the atheist movement gets its act together to found a large enough humanist movement, they will have something that walks like a duck and quacks like a duck - in other words an ipso facto new religion.

Atheism is perceived as amoral because of what it has yet to achieve. When talking about human behaviour the three words I distrust the most are "that could change". It is as bad as going into the stock markets and saying "this time it's different". Human behaviour does not change. That is why anything in the Bible not related to outdated scientific knowledge is still relevant today.

"no common objective, no axe to grind, no message to spread", that to me is tragic and nothing to be proud of. I would prefer people try to make the world a better place and get it wrong. (ergo, it's better to be a communist than an atheist) because the only people who make the world better are those actively trying to do so. People who aren't trying to make the world a better place shouldn't be criticising people who are. Humanism doesn't look all that bad, but if you don't have clear objectives, you won't amount to anything as a movement. It doesn't matter how virtuous the individuals. Atheism to me is just religious discrimination without the religion.

Religion is not the only source of virtue, but if you want to be a virtuous person you have to know what your values are, they have to be quite clear, and articulated in advance. It is extremely difficult to be a good person if you don't know what you stand for. You cannot throw that all away.

The problem for the godless communists is not that religion is the sole source of wisdom. It is that they rejected a lot of plausible moral compasses.

What's the time and effort wasted when you don't believe? compared to having 'faith'?
The time and effort wasted for being an atheist is the time and effort spent into denouncing religion, as opposed to the live and let live mentality of a freethinker. Praying is not a waste of time and effort because it does help you to think about your own life. But needless to say an excess of anything is a waste of time and effort.

Atheism will not achieve anything because the only organisations which achieve great things are large organisations, and atheists are inherently suspicious of large organisations (or if in the case of communists they wrest control of large organisations, they run them badly). In another sense the time and effort wasted for Atheism is the opportunity cost of doing nothing.

Religion doesn’t really promote morality.
"Fifty-two percent of people belong to no church, yet live clean lives and supply less than 1% of the total criminal population. So much for religious indoctrination."


"Atheists, non-believers, secular humanists, skeptics—the whole gamut of the godless have emerged in recent years as inarguably the most generous benefactors on the globe."


Sooner or later somebody was going to bring up the "atheism is rare among prison population". Such a study would be a classic example of bad science. Consider: 1. People without walking sticks tend to be more mobile. 2. People with walking sticks tend to be less mobile. Therefore: 3. Walking sticks detract from, rather than enhancing mobility. That is extremely stupid, but the same kind of argument as the "atheism is rare among prison population" argument which confuses cause and effect. Religion attracts people of a certain type, the type who may be less intelligent, less scientific. Never heard of the Nietzschean superman? You cannot compare 2 different populations. You can compare the same person, with or without religion. I would say that if you did a study between religious persons and non-religious people and you found no differences in level of morality, then religion has done its job. I don't know if Dawkins cited that study, but if he did, I have much less respect for him as a scientist. I am still a fan of Daniel Dennett's writings on consciousness but he said something similar and that made me facepalm.

A lot of religious saints were anything but.

I watched the film about Mother Theresa. It's a very shoddy piece of moral philosophy. Here is a person who has done charity work under the most dangerous and abject of conditions, worked on the front line, set up many missionaries. But then gets criticised for attracting and accepting too much recognition, getting associated with crooks (who the hell goes to a Calcutta slum and not have to cut a deal with a crook).

You could raise the bar for sainthood so high that no human would ever reach it, and then say Mother Theresa falls short of this ideal. It's the easiest thing in the world and is therefore a completely meaningless comment. Mother Theresa is full of bullshit, yes. But everybody is full of bullshit too. Or maybe in the Christian retelling, "everybody is a sinner". I discern a very warped set of morals at play here.

Scientific ideas cannot be perverted into evil political ends
Some people took issue with me saying that evolution was used to justify mass murder, when I tried to make the point that in science, just as in religion, you could also use ideas to justify horrific deeds.

As for evolution as a weapon for mass murder? What we call evolution is no more than the documented understanding of an established biological process. A process which has been happening here on Earth for ~3.5 billion years. It is the written account of how life adapts and mutates according to selection pressures. It is not an invention and it certainly is not a weapon. It is simply knowledge - and like all knowledge, it can be applied in constructive or destructive ways. When we talk about gun crime, you'll often hear the phrase: "guns don't kill people, people do." The same can be said about knowledge.

It's not "guns don't kill people, people do". It's "people don't kill people. People with guns kill people". I don't like it at all that they're not cognizant about the message they're sending out. When a scientific theory is out there, it can be twisted to some evil purpose. It is a very short distance between "survival of the fittest" and "let's kill all the unfit people out there". And when it seems that the message is sanctioned by science, it becomes even more of a weapon, a pretty explosive combination.

Broadly, we all agree that evolution (and probably evolution alone) gave rise to life on earth, although people think that maybe a few viruses could have arrived via meteors. But what is that nature of evolution? Is it more competitive or is it more co-operative? The term "fittest" is incredibly vague. Dawkins (and the Nazis) argues for the selfish interpretation. Lynn Margulis argues for the co-operative interpretation. Which one is correct? How can evolution be about killing competitors when I've reached the age of 36 without murdering a fellow human? You have to think very hard about what values it tries to promote. I know that scientists don't like to think about value systems, they don't think too hard about the impact that their work has on human society but that's pretty irresponsible to me, since science and technology has a far greater impact on our lives than religion. Economic theories have a great impact on peoples' behaviour. If the dog eat dog idea is popular, then it will encourage bad behaviour. Just because the science is indisputable, just because it is objective, it means that it's not a weapon?

Evolution does not attempt to promote values. But it can't help but promote values. I'm not even one of those people who think that it should be taught alongside creationism or intelligent design. But I think that there should be some discussion on what it means morally. The theory is sound. The implications are not. It is not even clear what the implications are, but anybody can say what they want."I only invented dynamite to help miners blast rocks. I didn't know it could kill people!" tsk tsk.

It's not "guns don't kill people, people do". It's "people don't kill people. People with guns kill people". I don't like it at all that they're not cognizant about the message they're sending out. When a scientific theory is out there, it can be twisted to some evil purpose. It is a very short distance between "survival of the fittest" and "let's kill all the unfit people out there". And when it seems that the message is sanctioned by science, it becomes even more of a weapon, a pretty explosive combination.

If you don’t believe that there is a physical entity called God, it means that you are an atheist
When you properly understand God, it is a mental phenomenon. This is the way that God was meant to be understood. When "God" in the bible is understood to be an idea or a mental state, then everything falls into place. You can see why he's untouchable, unseeable, completely mysterious, everywhere at the same time, etc etc. People who don't grasp that do not know the first thing about religion. And people who don't know the first thing about religion should not be spokesmen for religion.

People who posit that God is not an idea get confused. They say that the idea of God is not God. Put it this way: cash is an idea. It is the idea of cash that gives it value. The idea of cash is the only thing that separates cash from worthless pieces of paper and plastic. That is a subtle idea, and probably one of the most important things I learnt from Snowy Hill.