1. The Destabilising Nature of Distance
To conveniently use a familiar cliche, change has been the only constant in the past two years of my life, and the underlying cause of it is distance: the distance that I covered from Singapore to London; more distance travelled again from London to The Hague, from which it was a short distance to Amsterdam; and now, back in Singapore again.
Going back to one place has its plus points. It's comforting to know that there is a place that you will return to at the end of your adventures abroad. It has a special grounding force, one that many people need in their lives: without this almost magnetic force telling them where they belong, they would be lost in the bewildering kilometres between A and B; fall through the cracks of the sidewalks of a new city; become anonymous again in a new environment where nobody knows your name, and nobody cares to ask.
I think I am not exempt from that general rule; I have had moments when I felt disoriented and lost because I didn't know where I was going and where I would be. Yet, it would be dishonest of me not to admit that I rather like it this way. A part of me is unduly thrilled by the uncertainty of my future because it gives me the option of leaving my options open. Where will I live? What will I do? Will I do a PhD? Will I not? If not, what then? I'd like to think that the world is still my oyster, and that, if I demand excitement of life, then it necessarily follows that I would seek a new adventure in a new part of the world when the existing one is past its use-by date.
The past two years of my life have been destabilising, and it will continue to be so until things start to happen, whenever that is. I decry this most of the time but sometimes, like now, I think it can be exciting. I think maybe I like life to be a bit of a unruly horse sometimes. Perhaps that's why I haven't got completely bored of life just yet.
2. The Effect of Ageing
Looking at posts on my Facebook newsfeed makes me feel world-weary and old sometimes. Some of these rah-rah hashtag-feminism hashtag-freespeech hashtag-antipap hashtag-thisiswhatibelievein blah blah posts make me roll my eyes so hard that they are in danger of falling out of their sockets. It is sad in a way; I would have jumped on these same 'causes' a few years ago. Now, though, I'm either tired of the passion, or I think that I am above it. Maybe it's both. Either way, I think it really is true that we become more reactionary and passive as we grow older.
I don't see the point of posting ad nauseum on Facebook about things that you believe in. I believe in marriage equality, I believe in a more progressive, democratic and free Singapore, I believe in human rights and freedom of speech. Do you see me posting about this? Do you see me using retarded hashtags? I'm happy that people have opinions, but I wish that people would process information and arguments first before they purport to endorse something. The worst thing would be to endorse something because it's cool, e.g. it's cool to be anti-PAP because only old people support the PAP. Whatever.
3. Rambling Thoughts on Charlie Hebdo
It's all well and good to say hashtagJeSuiCharlie, but do you really know what you are saying? How many people outside of France actually knew what Charlie Hebdo was before this week, let alone what kind of cartoons they published? While it is arguable that the content of the speech does not matter in this case and that the support is for free speech as a matter of principle because of the heinous nature of the attacks (and the sheer illogic of being murdered over some cartoons - seriously), it is equally arguable that people posting hashtagJeSuiCharlie don't have the faintest idea about the nuances and complexities of the issues, and therefore, no genuine debate is being advanced. What, then, is the point of this hashtag movement? It is a fantastic show of solidarity, no doubt, but there has to be something more. People have to genuinely engage each other about the acceptable limits to speech and Muslims that oppose such things have to give good reasons to non-Muslims or the non-religious why they are entitled to the right not to be offended. This is fundamentally important because the "right" not to be offended is not the flip side of the coin of the right to offend, not in a pluralistic liberal democracy. I wrote about this at length in my subpar essay for my LLM (which would have been a near-perfect one if it hadn't been about Habermas) and I still find it mind-boggling how the religious folks cannot advance good arguments to have their religions protected from ridicule or satire or whatever, beyond the fact that they find it offensive. People do not understand the virtue of tolerance, not when it comes to something that they care deeply about. This may seem like an obvious statement to make, but it is precisely when something that you care about is being mocked within the legal boundaries of free speech that the virtue of tolerance is truly tested. I hate racists as much as the next person but I don't scream and shout and stamp my feet about 'those fucking racists' when I hear jokes about us yellow people or see a picture of some European basketball team slanting their eyes. Someone wrote a good piece in the New York Times about the difference between what is legally permissible and socially permissible. I would exercise my right to read The Satanic Verses, but would I read it around a Muslim friend? Why the fuck would I do something offensive like that? In the same way, people online clamouring for papers like The Guardian and The New York Times to publish those cartoons need to understand that just because you can say something, doesn't mean that you have to say it. Sometimes, there is absolutely no value in the thing that you can say; and yelling 'free speech!' will not make your point any more erudite or palatable. If freedom of speech is meant to foster a 'marketplace of ideas', then I'm afraid it's been distorted to mean that anyone can say whatever they want with no regard to the effect of their speech on others, just because they can. Of course, the cartoons may have genuine satirical value; but I question the necessity of publishing obviously crude and crass drawings of religious figures, and I cynically think that depicting the Pope and Jesus and Mohammed in sexual acts or whatever serves little purpose except to cause shock and awe. One might then argue, 'Who's to decide what is of value?' The answer is simple: the speaker himself. Some things are a question of taste; not doing something (such as publishing the cartoons in question) is not always self-censorship. Maybe it's simply because those cartoons, let's be objective, were in bad taste. Did the cartoonists deserve to get murdered? Obviously not. Obviously they did not have it coming either because no one in a civilised, modern society would murder someone else for drawing a bunch of cartoons (that's what they essentially are: CARTOONS). But the fact that they were murdered obscures an important point: having the freedom to say or write something does not mean that you should do it with disrespect.
There was a fourth point - about my Type A personality - but I am too tired and I want to talk to Wouter, so that's it.