In celebration of dystopias

Last week, I was reading the Matched Trilogy by Ally Condie. It’s a little bit like hunger games, but I would say that the plot is not as well written. The ideas behind it is pretty good, I like it because it made me think, but storyline wise, not fantastic.

It made me think about how everyone seems to slam dystopias – no one wants to live in Panem, nor Jonas’ (The Giver) world. Thinking about ‘Gate to women’s country’, ‘Fahrenheit 451’, (hmm what other dystopians have I read?), ‘Brave new world’.

It’s strange though; these worlds are places which we dream about – equality in The Giver, we do not know what war is and there is no sadness in it. In worlds which are perfectly efficient, we want to make poverty history. In the case of Panem, we think it a bad place, where the Capitol gets everything and its brilliant there, people eat and puke to eat even more, while the outer areas starve. But isn’t that what it’s like in our society? It’s very real. Think about the 1% of the world against everyone else?

What are we doing to make our world better?

Do we think that the badness in our world is inherent? We do not fight for something better since, 1) the dystopias are meant to represent something better but are terrible, why fight for that? 2) We don’t have a model for what this better world is.

Someone should write from the other perspective – the good things about living in a dystopia. The closest I can think of is ‘The Circle’, where ultimately the main character decided to turn in the rouge who wanted to fight against the deep infiltration of the Circle which didn’t permit any privacy. She ultimately believed that having a totally transparent society was for the best. It was a little too nuanced for my taste (because most people tend to remember negativity more easily; i.e. in this case the lack of privacy in the Circle).


Give up things that don’t mean too much to you (for the betterment of our world)

I will readily admit that I’m hypocritical.

As I transition to consuming less meat/going vegan (which I guess I have for the past 2 years), I’ve had quite a few ‘conceptual’/mental/idea challenges. ‘Is veganism really going to help the environment?’ Issues of mono-cropping, flaws in it (plastic over biodegradable things, food miles vs consuming local food). Should I spread the message about this; should I make more people eat less/no meat? That answer is an important one: if I believe that it is important for the environment, I should advocate it to more people. But then again other questions like ‘how much should I enforce this/persuade people to do it?’

I’ve been asked before, why do I do this. There are plenty of good reasons out there; I’ve attached videos before (honestly, we all know that this is the right thing –this video again, ‘Why Vegetarians are Annoying’) popular words like ‘ethical, environmental’, and very importantly which we don’t usually think about, but for ‘other humans’ too (yes, while consuming vegetables puts those who rely on meat for income at risk, we too need to remember those exploited by the meat industry. Think about the very exploitative fishing industry – this article on slavery being one out of many).

But I have this very important tenet: I live this way because it is easy for me to do so. Not easy as in ‘I’m never tempted by the smell of meat’ and ‘I hate the taste of meat’, but rather I don’t see it as a HUGE sacrifice compared to people who may be way more attached to their meat.

I was considering about my own personal ‘sins’/hypocrisies regarding my purported care and concern for the environment. A huge one would be electricity usage. I’m on my computer and phone quite a bit, something I think I’m unwilling to give up. Energy usage in general: I take public transport freely without concerning myself too much about the emissions – while some argue that the buses will still run with or without me taking them, it does send a signal and feeds into data collection. If everyone thought like me and took public transport freely, there is the cumulative effect, transport authorities would put even more buses on streets and trains to run more frequently.

So perhaps my conclusion is 1) obviously, not to judge. 2) I think it’s important for each and every individual to question ‘what can (I) do to make my world a better place’? In particular, my ‘environment’, the world. As stated above, it’s not just about nature, but if you cared for people, you’ll be concerned for the environment too. You have to do something; give something up that ‘doesn’t mean a lot to you’.

(Of course, there are lots of other questions. Even if we are completely self-focused and take people out of the equation, consider how many things can you give up? New habits can be made; when you deny yourself something you’ll learn to let go of it more easily in time? How much responsibility do you have in giving things up?)

Your environment affects what you see

I’ve been urban sketching a little and as I was doing so, I was wondering about the different kinds of art associated with different nations and cultures. I was thinking about Chinese paintings and how the ones I thought of were usually about nature: Chinese brush painting of animals, BAMBOO, waterfalls and such. And I was struggling with drawing the city skyline.

I wondered if people who lived closer to nature would draw urban skylines very badly, since they weren’t accustomed to seeing these sharp angles and the shape of buildings; if you were to ask me to draw a natural landscape like forested areas, I think I would do a pretty bad job as compared to those people living in nature and those who see trees all the time (yes, Singapore has a lot of trees and greenery, but that’s only in comparison to other urban areas).

This video totally proved my hypothesis: This Illusion Might Not Work Depending On Where You’re From. I can’t believe it has already been researched, but it’s quite cool.


Values of human, human values

“In Twana society, individuals gained prestige and social status not by hoarding up their surpluses, but rather by generously giving goods away, in a manner that signified the incorporation of other people.” (The value of a river – Lansing et al., 1998)

How different is it from our society, where we ascribe worth to the rich? Sure, there are philanthropists, but how much are they talked about, how much are they celebrated? While we say that the people who give their lives away are admirable, we don’t really want to be them. Selfishness, the traits, is deemed better. We may be disgusted with other’s selfishness, but maybe we are secretly jealous of their unashamed self seeking ways.

How free are you?

They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity–for “people are slaves to whatever has mastered them.” 2 Peter 2:19

Perhaps I’ve been reading/studying too much Foucault and hence I’m asking all these questions, and feeling this way. But honestly I would say that these are long standing issues which I’ve struggled with for quite a long time now, just deciding to textualise it now after today’s triggers and depressive phase.

Once again, how free are you? Are you slave to your emotions, diet, mental state, to God, to laws, to obligations? To real things, people, systems, or yourself? Your body, your budget, or what? Insidious things which trap you and you don’t notice, you simply obey.

I am trapped by my future anxieties. I wrote about this before: even if I decided to drop out of school today and be jobless, I will not starve, I will not die. I could bum off, I could be homeless, and honestly I’ll be ok – I can sleep on the streets, I can eat leftovers if need be, I can beg. The only thing I lose is my privacy (but being a ‘child’ honestly I can bum in my parents place. I could leech off them).

I am trapped by the system. I learnt stuff about ageing landscapes today: there is discrimination, yes, in economic landscapes (not hiring old people, ageism). But more than that how our landscapes are rigged to cater to young people – think hipster cafes with narrow corridors and steps, hindering mobility. Disabled people? Or even people of minority races – think eldercare in Singapore, there is easy socialisation for Chinese people (speaking in Mandarin, dialects), how about old Malays and Indians? Convenience of halal options in eldercares and elderly socialisation opportunities/entertainments?

More personally, stuff about the system. We learnt this last week in public housing landscapes and I felt REALLY uncomfortable. This links to Engel’s housing problem: capitalists/governments build homes for us. We want these homes. They are good for us. But they trap us as well. We are trapped by our desires? We end up having to work for these capitalists who precisely make us these houses. Or in Singapore, as the government (mandates) public housing, they collude with capitalists to chain us to work for these capitalists, being responsible citizens who work for companies in order to pay for our houses. What have I done? Are there alternatives? Sure there are, but being homeless doesn’t sound like a nice one. Neither does selling away much of my life paying for a house. A good 30 years of my life?

I’m trapped by people. Filial piety, Asian values. I would like to give back, yes, I believe my parents have done a lot for me and I love them, but it still doesn’t take away the fact that I feel stifled. Relationships, friendships, yes I am meant to love all of you, and indeed I do, but it doesn’t take away the fact that I have a responsibility to you. And I am greatly uncomfortable. What if I were free from all of you? How would my life be like?

I remember getting REALLY ANGRY at this paradox: I was telling my friends about how I am stressed out by expectations, of others, of my own expectations which stems from what I think others will expect of me. Friends who love me tell me not to care about what people say. I wanted to shout back at them, I wanted them to see their selfishness: while they tell me not to care about what others say about me, they want me to consider what they said about me. I am not meant to prioritise what other people expect from me, but I am meant to listen to what they have to say and meet their needs/demands of me. Give them my time. Energy. Myself. Where do I fit in this picture? Am I made up to meet people’s needs? How much of myself belongs to me?

I feel like running away sometimes. To leave everyone behind. To leave all these things behind. I’m frustrated at how I’m ‘comfortable’, how I am living the typical Singaporean life. I did all the right things, I’m following the right path. I’m successful. I can see the rest of my existence and it seems bleakly banal. Sure, I could do other things, but I am trapped by stifling fear as well. What lies beyond where I am? Uncertainty. And what if I wanted to come back here? Having left, would those who loved me before still love me? They may say so, but truly I doubt it.

I’ve been thinking about unconditional love as well. About how God loves us, and how we are like me, in feeling trapped and escaping by cheating (idols, serving other things). The concept of unconditional love: allows the other person to choose to leave, but still loving them even when they are with someone else. But even though the cheater comes back/or is away, the faithful one still loves. No matter what. It’s just that the faithful one demands that the other remembers that the faithful one is perfect, and they are ‘superior’ to the cheater. There must be submission of the cheater to the faithful one.

So, honestly, how do I get free?

What is freedom? Suicide is the ‘best’ answer: you’ll stop thinking about this shit. There will be no boundaries because you just cease to exist. But it’s obviously (I hope) not a resolution/answer you’ll consider.

Are younger people getting smarter?

‘You’re so clever!’ – That’s something common that I hear the older generation telling the younger people. And perhaps that’s why I think that we’re always getting smarter. We talk about the education system getting harder – adults are unable to do math questions meant for 12 year olds. I thought I was more intelligent than the previous generations. But when I went to university, I realised that all the ideas that I had were all thought of before, by people many, many, many lifetimes ago. Centuries. We have not really progressed in thinking, not TOO much, have we? We’ve only progressed in math and sciences. Philosophy remains more or less the same? Expect that ideas spread more easily now, more variations of the same thing.

My mom reminded me that we’re not really ‘cleverer’ than previous generations. (Of course, the debate of intelligence is something to be considered here as well. How are we defining intelligence) But I want to highlight that we’re not really smarter, not at all. It’s just that we’re raised in different circumstances. I have a better command of language. I can do math better. That’s all because that’s what I learnt in school. That’s what I was taught and she was not.

Death and Dictatorship

Do you wish to die?

How natural is this idea of wanting to die? If we see depression as natural (sure, it can be influenced by circumstance and all, but it has existed for all time, yes?), surely it is not instinctive to want to live. Suicidal thoughts are scary, and I hope that you never have them, but sometimes I do think about the uselessness/fruitlessness of life and perhaps life just feels too overwhelming. After all, ‘meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless’.

I guess I’ve just been pretty upset and depressed these past few days. Emotional repression. I really hope this doesn’t get out of hand again. But I don’t think it will. I hope.

Entire community involvement. The need for dictatorship?

I remember a conversation I had with a friend who promoted this idea of all girls having to do national service in Singapore, to go through the same physical training that the boys do. I could not understand what she meant at first when she said it ‘must be mandated’ for the full benefits to be felt. My perspective was that if you think that physical training is good, go sign up for it yourself. I neglected to see the community aspect of it. But recently I was thinking about how I really, really despise this surveillance world. I hate to be looked at. And I realised that it’s more than just my insecurity about my physical self (if I do have it); it is the fact that we tend to oversimplify when we look. We judge, which is natural. I don’t like being a zoo for people to gaze at. And so I was thinking of the liberation of wearing a burka: 1) no surveillance. All the thoughts about privacy and stuff; this is a great solution. 2) People will judge you less on how you look, because, there is less to judge? Or so I hope. I mean, you still can judge. Eyes. How you walk/carry yourself. Height, etc. 3) you will spend less time caring about how you look: you have a uniform, you don’t need to wear make-up and stuff.

But if someone told me that I can decide to do it by myself and not make it a mandate, I won’t do it. Because ironically, by shielding yourself, you actually get more attention. So that’s why I dress like everyone else in my environment. I hope to fit in and be unnoticed.