Sunday, December 05, 2010

On Debunking Equality

What angered me most about the euthanasia debate is the tendency that the arguments against it relied on the possibility of miraculous healing or restoration of health. It is as if we take for granted that our lives exist merely for the enjoyment and consolation of those around us, and not, in and of itself, valuable. Which brings us to the question, are lives truly, inherently, valuable? Or is it what we do with it that makes it so?

Everything else in the world seems to hold value because of the effect and impact it has on others. A work of art is only as valuable as the effect it has on people. An act of kindness is only as valuable as the credit people allow it to have. A product is only valuable if people see it as beneficial, helpful, or in any way heighten their sense of security and/or self-worth. Is anything, at all, valuable simply for being? Because if nothing is, then there is something very wrong with what the world considers as an ideal world view.

In this day and age, the epitome of civilization is encapsulated in the ideals of western liberal democracy and what they stand for: freedom of individuals, representative leadership, private ownership, meritocracy, and above all, the assumption of equality. I used the word assumption because most of us, by this time, seem to have already taken for granted the notion of equality.

Are we really equal? The knee-jerk reaction to that question is usually yes, or well, perhaps we aren’t, but we should be, and thus individuals should be treated equally. Of course, equality should not be confused with uniformity, i.e. a system that endorses equality does not necessarily give everyone the same salary, but it gives the same access to everyone to work and develop themselves before they are then allocated rewards or incentives based on a system of meritocracy which becomes the basis of fairness.

Even so, taking into account this inherent limitation in the idea of equality, should we really see ourselves as equal? Or should we tell the truth and get on with it: some people are clearly more valuable than others. As I’ve discussed earlier, values are not innate attributes owned by individuals by merit of birth, they are socially-prescribed attributes tied to actions, beliefs, emotions, and other values. Some people, through their actions or thoughts can cause or induce certain benefits to others, and thus hold more value than others lacking such a capacity. Hence, it follows that some lives are clearly more valuable than others.

It’s nothing new. In fact, there’s a word for it. Power is the currency of value. It’s a problematic concept, granted, no one can ever agree of what constitutes power - it could be anything from economic resources to personal charisma, or what kids these days like to call, dreadfully, the X-factor. But lacking a clear epistemology notwithstanding, I think it still serves as a better lens through which one can, and should, view the world.

I’m not saying we should start considering eugenics, scrap health care for senior citizens or education for people with disabilities, or even streaming students into classes early in school. But I am saying that it should come as no surprise - if anything, it should be expected - that countries with greater military and economic resources get the most say in international forums than their counterparts with lesser resources, that better-off households get better access to better facilities, or that the brightest and most socially adept individuals get paid the most.

Because at the end of the day, a system that promotes freedom means people are at liberty to construct their own value system, and while it gives them full access to rise to their potential and pursue happiness, be the best they can be, touch the sky, catch the fire and I’m running out of campaign slogans, it also means people will get left out.

While believing in an optimistic world view of equality and a we’re-all-winners mentality might give you a warm, fuzzy feeling and helps you sleep better at night, it doesn’t help much when there’s only a limited amount of resources and a disproportionately large number of people vying for them.

In a game of musical chairs, and in life, you don’t throw the game because you believe the person next to you is just as valuable as you and therefore just as deserving, you run like hell, grab the opportunity, sit on it and not let go because deep down, you know instinctively that each and every person in the game equally thinks that he or she is the most valuable person. The only uniform variable is the selfish objective to win. And before you frown at that last bit, selfishness is not so much an evil capitalist-bred nature as it is a self-preservation mechanism, much like the chameleon's ability to blend in, thorns on roses, or botox on aging actors.

What determines one’s value is not as important a query as who determines one’s value. The two possible answers to the question will be yourself and others, and clearly the two don’t match but the two inevitably interact. Moreover, “others” is hardly a single, unified lump - people form contradictory opinions about you all the time; your grandmother may feel very differently about you than your ex-spouse, for instance.

In conclusion, people - and their lives - are not equal, some, or we may argue, all, are superior and inferior to others. This hierarchy is determined by a value system. While there is a generalized system prescribing values in every society, everyone holds their own personal, constructed set of ideals and beliefs that make up their own value systems. Every individual holds a position or has a place in each of these individual and societal value systems. So, feel free to indulge yourself in feeling superior/inferior to others. Because, as much as everyone tries to deny it, you obviously are.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

The world's so small it's scary.

Baru tahu kalau speaker pertama Oxford yang menang EUDC tahun ini ternyata senior debat di JC waktu dilatih sama Mrs. C. Dia baru lulus bulan lalu dengan nilai tertinggi di collegenya. Nanti dia juga ikut di KoC. Waktu dengar beritanya pikiran jadi melalui beberapa tahap: kaget-perplexed-kagum-ngiri-kesel sendiri karena merasa underperform-terinspirasi-termotivasi-eerily calm-strangely purposeful. Dulu pernah debat bareng dan sekarang saya lihat video dia untuk training?!? Lumayan merasa tertampar... humph. Lihat ke depan saja lah, tapi sekarang mulai diingatkan perlunya memegang sejarah sebagai bahan pembelajaran. Refleksi untuk mendorong, bukan untuk bikin down. Hmmm. *shakes head out of stupor* There you go.

Friday, August 21, 2009

PPact 2012 Revisited

Trust me when I say I (sort of) get it why Kyoto Protocol founders might be a bit ambitious when they first formulated the scheme and how now, 3 years before it expires, they're rushing up to do their part because time is running out.

Today it's 3 years before PPact2012 expires and I'm still nowhere near what I vowed to be. I got distracted. A change is timely, if that summer I still plan to meet the other 8 and be able to hold my own. An engineer, a concert pianist, an artist, three businesswomen, a fashion designer, and... Me. In our twenties in Paris. Toasting our successes with a triumphant reunion. Ka-chink.

6 years ago, sitting around in our Crescent Girls' uniforms with Hershey pies in Orchard Burger King, it sounded carpe diem-ish and inspirational and glamorously romantic. Now it makes me feel like screaming, "Yes, I'm seizing the day! Seizing the bloody day I tell you! Seizing!" Tempus fugit indeed. Well I've got about a thousand days to prepare myself for D-Day and the clock is ticking.

Sunday, August 16, 2009


Came across a quote yesterday, "on peut rire de tout mais pas avec tout le monde", i.e. we can laugh at everything but not with everyone. Some days I find that very true.

Things that I initially find amusing, ridiculous, or out-of-this-world are, well, the only reality for others. The butt of these jokes are, more often than not, real life subjects, which makes me feel rather guilty and unfeeling sometimes. I wouldn't be laughing if I was in their shoes, or even just standing next to them. I know, I know, I sound like a goody two-shoes, but I'll say what I want here and the world be damned. Particularly when it comes to unflattering rumours concerning people I know, I hate being in a position where I get pulled in and curiosity gets the better of me. I'd look back at the memory and find myself repulsive.

But then I normally swallow the lump in my throat and shrug it off. Then go back to being (or trying to be) a good sport. You can't seem too sensitive about things, I suppose. A sense of humor is an essential must-have in most dinners/lunches/brunches, much like a pair of socks when a guy's wearing loafers. You don't really pay much attention to them but if someone has none you'd realize that something's a bit off. Like an alarm would go off somewhere indicating the unwelcomed presence of a spoilsport. Breakfasts are much more forgiving, you can always feign drowsiness or attribute your disinterest to lack of sleep.

I don't know why I care about such things, really. Sometimes I can be disgustingly self-conscious. Oh well. *yawn* I've successfully bored myself to drowsiness. Over and out.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

5-7, 7-6 (6), 7-6 (5), 3-6, 16-14.

No word for it. Roddick's going to win this thing someday! I wish I could say hang in there. He was nothing but aces at today's finals, and I truly hope we haven't seen the last of him at centre court. Go Andy!

Thursday, July 02, 2009

17 Again on Fall/Winter 2009

J texted to check out his "show" on youtube. He was wearing an apron that looked more like a kilt and a floral jacket. It was the most ridiculous thing I've ever seen on a guy. I didn't even know the designer does male clothings. I thought she only specialized on bridal which, judging from the glorified apron, is probably what she should do. I watched 17 Again with T and F last friday. Zac Efron was terrific. I bet he wouldn't look ridiculous in kilt and floral.

Everyone's going to Europe. My ex-roommate is doing a semester abroad near Paris, and D and M have started Paris IV. I can't wait to graduate and move there. Take a BGF, move into the Latin Quarter, I'd even stay in a dorm if it comes to that. Focus, Ry. A year more, a year and a half at most, and (fingers crossed) I'm off to old rive gauche.

So, last week I came back from WLC in Singapore. Every night of the conference we had to work on the position paper until late, so I didn't get to do a lot of things I planned to do, like visit my old schools and hostels and have dinner with the girls. I only got a chance to meet Y, and that was only because she had a long lunch break one day and I skipped a banner-making session to run off to citylink. I helped her shop for office shoes. Fine, I bought a pair, too, but only because she picked it for me and she had vouchers. One should not waste vouchers. It's rude. The conference was awe-some. I loved every minute. And the cool thing is that I got to stay in the vice-ambassador's place. The post is empty so a friend and I had the entire house to ourselves, with two maids and a chauffeur-driven black lexus. The entire manse and car had tinted windows - very secret service-ish.

Grandma M died last week. She's not really my grandmother, more like my grandmother's cousin, but she's always been a dear. Mother went to her wake and ran into my editor, who excitedly offered more work to finish this summer, interviewing another ambassador. It's probably a necessary part of the long and winding road towards becoming the next anderson cooper/christiane amanpour. Anderson cooper's gay, by the way. Just like J. Every single person I'm into these days turns out to be gay. (Sorry J. Don't worry, you know I'm over it.) Maybe I am turning into a fag hag. Oh bugger.

I took down the samurai from my room's wall. I'm afraid it gives people the wrong impression. Okay, it's actually because I'm reading Anne Rice and the specter makes things on the wall tremble at night and horrifies the poor suckers into paranoia. And last night was kinda windy. And the samurai was quivering a bit. Who needs samurais on walls anyway? I should probably go to sleep. I only blog when I can't sleep. I'm probably going to have a very disturbing nightmare about a kilt-wearing earthquake-inducing ghost who is also, chances are, gay. Oh well.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Musical Makeover

I've been listening a lot to Eels, Weezer, Ben Folds, Smashmouth, Cake and similar music lately.

It's a bit of a jump from the usual suspects on my iPod. Sweet friends who'd had enough, albeit baseless, faith in my musical taste were almost always disappointed when they borrowed it. The initial content was archaic, and that's putting it mildly. The youngest musician was Frank Sinatra, and he's been dead for a while. The rest were mostly nether-century composers, when music involved very little singing or none at all and most of the cover art were paintings of the composer because photography then was probably advance technology.

So I decided to botox it since a. it's getting a bit depressing because I'm leaving my house to places this summer (starting from a fortnight from now) which means I'll be leaving the piano behind which means I would miss playing and listening to classical would be like salting the wound, b. my socially adept sister (more than I can say about myself) says you are what you listen to these days and from that principle I would be a boring sixty-year-old snob. I wouldn't say that's inaccurate, but I'm not sixty, and c. I've started listening to contemporary music and hey, they're not half bad, and they'd probably help me in future karaokes.

So, my mp3 player now holds an eclectic repertoire of everything new from Black Eyed Peas' Boom Boom Pow (I still giggle when I see the title) to Lenka, Katy Perry, Kings of Convenience, One Republic, All American Rejects, The Ting Tings (what's in a name anyway), Jason Mraz, Lady Gaga (she can actually sing), Kris Allen (gasp) and the abovementioned maestros on the first line. I still keep some selected classical pieces on a separate folder, though, as collateral. Save it for a rainy (summer) day. My sister's pretty proud of my updated taste, even when I pointed out that if I'm what I listen to now I'd probably be a very confused fifteen-year-old chart-hopper. Give it two weeks and I'd probably start reading romance novels. Err... or not. I'd take Flo Rida over Nicholas Sparks any day.