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.

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The tether of Thought

I’ve been studying quite a lot about politics lately. Usually I hate politics – I’m not the most sociable person, I don’t like dealing with ‘political situations’: this person said this and that, all the ‘drama’ (I don’t keep up with it, I do hear but I pretend not to know. Or I don’t tell people that I know). I usually am quite careless with what people tell me (not in a bad way, IMO), I’m not afraid to say what I think/what other people think, as long as I deem it within reason (i.e. I know that relationships aren’t going to be severely harmed if I decide to speak my mind). I would say I’m quite a logic driven person, I like to get things done, I don’t like dealing with paper work, I don’t mind if you hurt my feelings (usually, haha. I mean, feelings are temporary, and I would like to think that people are generally nice and know how to be tactful. I can see things from people’s point of view).

Anyway. Politics, to me, is something that like most things, everyone should know and think about, but not specialise in. Politics, IMO, doesn’t really get things done. You can learn about it forever. Methodological practices – who is speaking, are they being heard/represented, are actual things being done etc. (tons of readings and information out there about this), justice and all that stuff.

I suppose I’ve come to appreciate politics a little more, after studying about it. Ok, well, I kinda already found it fascinating to a certain extent but perhaps more so during the last year. I watched videos about the flaws/manipulation in statistics and stuff.

I want to talk about logic, reasons and other associated terms:

  • REASON: broader, includes logic, but includes arguments/rhetoric. Anything can be reasonable but not everything logical. Reason gives meaning to things; modernism?

I don’t particularly like reason.

I usually say that ‘while I understand your POV, I don’t think that excuses it’. Think about all the crappy reasons that has been given to excuse things – I didn’t do my homework because I didn’t feel like it. That’s a reason, but it isn’t a good one. ‘I stole because I’m in need’. Sure, it may be humanly forgivable/understandable, but not divinely forgivable/ethically and morally correct? And of course there are implications not taken into account/impossible to measure: even though you were in need, who is to say that the person you stole from is not in greater need?

  • LOGIC: branch of math/science that is concerned with deductive theorems which can be dis/proven with absolutely/certainty. A positivist approach?

I usually veer towards this. A little Weber-ian – I believe in the dictatorship of the official, the one who knows more, the expert who knows best. I think I’m fairly submissive to (excellent) authority (you must prove your worth, but I think I can follow pretty easily. I am willing to sacrifice myself for the greater good? Generally. Even if I am disadvantaged. I can withstand ‘bad things’.) But unfortunately, now, knowledge is impossible to know and creation of knowledge is so political. Logical deduction can be correct, but also contradictory and has huge flaws (read this: http://www.whirledbank.org/ourwords/summers.html – it argues that the World Bank should encourage more migration of dirty industries to less developed nations? It’s ‘true’, utilitarian, logical.)

  • EMOTION: yet another way in which we can make decisions. And I guess there are many more; COMMON SENSE, LISTENING/PARTICIPATORY COLLABORATION.

Is making decisions based on emotions what makes us human? While we may accept that sometimes the poor are as such due to their own fault, we need to acknowledge that sometimes its chance, misfortune, circumstance, inequalities which has been passed down from generation. We need to have the human quality of being kind (if that is possible/such a thing). But emotion is so un-grounded, we can argue about whose feelings are more important forever.

I suppose I’ve just been thinking. How do we make and dream of a better world?

Unequal valorisation

We got back our results for our summer school modules last week and the quiet people who could write but did not party got good grades while those people who were loud and mingled a lot did not. This is a generalised statement (I’m assuming the louder ones were not as good writers), but this is true from the few people I heard from. I had wondered how the professors would grade the course. There were some sentiments but nothing definite: we want you to get out of your comfort zones, human geography is about interactions and forming relationships rather than grades, etc. I wish everyone would just get an A. It really doesn’t make a difference. To me, at least?

I was working with someone very different from myself and I think it wasn’t necessarily a bad team. We were very dominant in our different talents. One to socialise and collect/ask for information, the other to record, think and make coherent thoughts. That does not mean that one is more important than another. But the value we ascribe to different talents is very different.

This differentiation of value is natural? What is the point of doing research and finding out a great many things if you are unable to record it, to communicate your findings to other people, to make what you have found useful/apply it to situations? But at the same time, if you merely thought and did not find out information/your data is flawed due to limited understanding and interaction, what good is your research as well? (This idea can be applied to many things like in our capitalist society – we value services more than real goods, but this definitely doesn’t mean that real goods aren’t any less important. We value leaders, but a leader is not powerful without followers).

I think this unequal valorisation is precisely why the idea of communism cannot really work (or at least my idea/the convention idea of all people being equal, greater equality; I don’t mean the dictatorial kind of communism that we see in certain places) – ah, I had a stronger argument, but I lost it. Maybe I will write it as a comment if I remember, another time.

It’s about us VS them, it’s about hierarchies and seeking differences. It’s the differences that draw us closer together as communities (being able to bitch about the same person draws people closer together. It builds trust, a common identity, stuff like that). It’s natural for us to seek out these divisions and to say that one is better than the other? (That’s how divisions – of labour – came about? Is there anything wrong to say one is better than another? It’s necessary, isn’t it?)

I’m not really bothered by this difference in value; I guess I just see it as life, I don’t see the need to create a more equal world. Things about the gender wage gap, how I am doubly discriminated as an Asian Female (but not really, here in this part of the world, where I am the dominant race, although the gender thing MAY be an issue). I’m just tired of being calculative – there is no end to counting my privileges nor my dis-empowerments.

But ‘uncertainty doesn’t mean ignorance’: I should still dream of a better world. It’s just the question of ‘How do I make the world a better (more equal?) place’?

Perspectives on giving

The study of morals is not always about the big questions; it’s not always about what I need to do, but rather who I want to become, and how my every day actions are shaped by this direction.


Struggles that I/we have with giving, reasons not to give to the poor:

  1. They deserve to be poor

    With the culture of meritocracy, we see the poor no longer as unfortunates, but rather deserving of their own fate. They didn’t work hard enough, they didn’t study enough. They deserve their position. I have no obligation to give them anything.

  2. Giving is fruitless, not the most effective way of helping people

    I don’t know who else thinks this way. Sometimes I feel like I’m asked to constantly give and I’m quite lazy to give. Not that I’m heartless, but giving takes effort. Sometimes, giving feels like I’m being cheated: I’ve written about embezzlement, misuse of funds by corporations, wastage etc. But also that I constantly give and nothing big seems to be changing. The poor are always going to be around; not giving once wouldn’t hurt anyone, I can give another time.

We’re also told that we should not give money mindlessly. The better way of helping people is to ‘empower them’; give them money so that they can invest/start companies/be entrepreneurs, getting themselves out of poverty forever. It’s almost like we’ve become calculative with our giving, a little cold, without sincerity. We give and expect to see results, multiplications, spectacular changes. We don’t give because it’s good, we give because we want them to get out of poverty and pester us no longer.


These are thoughts that we all have, we are all aware of them, we know that there are flaws in these mind sets, but it’s so hard to break out of them. Meritocracy is flawed: it’s a nice label, we’re more equal than we are before, but in reality it’s impossible for a society to be completely meritocratic – there is imperfect information, too many factors to control. Simple things like the variations in pay not being completely proportional to how much work you do, the gender pay gap, stuff like that. We know that people don’t always deserve to be poor, there are many reasons why people end up in the situations that they find themselves in.

We know, but more often than not we are more critical than kind.

We feel unhappy that people are pestering us to always give. Haven’t I just given? Haven’t I given enough? I give ___% of my income already. But we don’t see how much we are left with, and that we still can give more. We look to the richest people in the world – they have so much more than us, why can’t they give more? In truth, the percentages of their wealth that they have already given away is more than the percentage we have given. Isn’t it ‘equality’ that we should be giving more?

We think that we need to strategically give, to get people out of their problems forever (also so that they would stop bothering us). In truth, some people are bound to be dependent, for life. We need to realise that that’s a reality. For whatever reason that they may be (I don’t want to name a group, because it can feel disempowering for them lol or perhaps that my assumptions may not hold true, but I’m thinking about people like the destitute elderly who no one will hire, or people with mental disabilities who although they may get paid, they perhaps will always need help in certain areas?)

We can always afford to give more. Let us think less about where to give, how much we (should) give, who to give to, etc. Don’t try to control where the money goes – even in the most ideal situation, things may not work out. We may give to places where the money ‘is guaranteed to grow’, there is no such thing as definite guarantees, we cannot control perfectly. Let us not be burdened with all these decisions such that we fail to give. Trust in a divine force that would direct funds where it is best utilised.

‘It is not our intention that others may be relieved while you are burdened, but that there may be equality. At the present time, your surplus will meet their need, so that in turn their surplus will meet your need. Then there will be equality. As it is written “he who gathered much had no excess, and he who gathered little had no shortfall.”’

What does social justice look like?

I posted this question sometime back, saying that I ‘didn’t act’ since I didn’t know the answer to this question. I felt trapped because I didn’t know what I could do to make social justice a reality. I realised actually that I knew how social justice is meant to look like, the answer comes from a study I did in (church):

Social justice is having right relationships

It comes from this Hebrew term: tsedeq. It means both justice and righteousness.

So, a just society is where everyone lives righteously. Having right relationships with each other: people to people – in families, work, school, government, international politics etc. Right relationships with God – to fear, love, respect etc. Right relationships with our environment – to use but not abuse, utilise sustainability. In the ideal world of right relationships, everything would work out just fine. There would be no need for social justice activists, no wrongs committed. People would know how to behave and treat things well.

We’re not in a perfect world though. Things will go wrong. How do we move on from here? Restoration needs to occur, to repair the relationship. Repentance. It is beyond apology, admittance of wrong and being sorry, but it is feeling and understanding the depth of how you have wronged another. For the entity being wronged to accept your penance. And of course, ensure that the same wrong not be repeated.

While this is nice, I’m not sure how exactly I can (want to) act. People, entities, are out of my control. I suppose now I’m just beginning with myself.

What are we willing to give up for social justice?

 

I was talking to my tutee about social justice hahah. She could not understand why there was malnutrition in the world. She asks why the rich people don’t just give a quarter of their wealth to the poor nations so that they can buy food and everything will be solved.

Now, let’s not complicate matters and talk about access and availability of food, but let’s just talk about the act of giving in itself.

I told her, the rich people are already giving so much. Perhaps they have already given more than a quarter of their wealth, but the fact is that they are that rich that even after giving away their wealth, they are still significantly richer than everyone else. So I asked her about how about her, giving?

She told me she wasn’t rich like them. I kinda laughed. Her house is worth at least 2 million dollars? Something that I keep repeating; even if you are homeless over here, you will never starve. Compared to other places (I was listening to the BBC; working class people are chasing after garbage trucks because there isn’t enough food. But ok, food is just one measure of poverty. Other things can include shelter, water etc).

There are tough questions to ask, I remember one I particularly was drawn to in university: when we talk about equality, how much of our privilege are we willing to give up for it? (If) we’re the top 1% in the world, are we willing to give up things like 24/7 electricity, water, food so that there is equality? How much of our superiority are we willing to accede?

I also asked: if the richest do not give, do we give? Is it our responsibility, as the middle class/upper middle class/the masses/as long as you are not the poorest and can afford to give?

Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love. Why Bilbo Baggins? I don’t know. Perhaps because I am afraid, and he gives me courage. — Gandalf, the Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Another issue which I thought about before, but I can’t remember if I wrote about it here. Anyway just going to write about it again: (yes I did write about it before, or something similar)

Regarding ‘giving’ for a cause, it’s a topic that is full of ironies: we don’t give to charities and organisations since we are full of mistrust for them. We think about leakages, embezzlements, misuse of funds etc. we would prefer to go out into the field and work, but in truth we’re not going to be as effective as the organisations. They have the ability to consolidate resources and create an actual, functional, long term, impactful project (they have things like full time staff and experts) unlike our one-off help through a voluntourism trip or a lump sum of cash that we dump into their economic systems.

Alternative lifestyles// ‘coming out’ (hahaha)

A friend of mine really liked ‘Harriett’ and it surprised me, since no one has given me positive feedback about that post before. (‘Harriett’, to me, stands for the ideals in society which we uphold but do not actually live out). I talked to another couple of friends yesterday about alternative lifestyles (minimalism, zero waste, vegetarian/veganism, more recycling etc) and realised that they didn’t have many friends who practiced those things.

I write a lot about the ironies of life, how we say we treasure certain things, but yet we don’t actually behave in that way: prioritising work life balance, but we spend lots of time at work, how we enjoy travelling, but it remains little more than a dream, my country brands us as ‘clean and green’, but our trash and recycling levels are a joke. I think much of it has to do with fear? We would love to be different and make a change, but the people we look up to who are doing all these things seem so ‘extreme’, ridiculously ‘capable’ – we think no matter how hard we try, we would never attain their level of success. Think about those kids who make their first million at age 12 or something. Or even closer to our personal spheres: I can think of some people my age whom I see balancing work/spiritual/school/social life spectacularly and I wonder why can’t I do the same.

I wrote this post because I want to cross this boundary of inaction. I’ve been watching these videos and I like the philosophy behind it. I like the concept of consuming less, because I have more than I need (in fact, too much, and I’m still looking for ways to cut out more things from my life) and I feel that my consumption has many implications and issues – environmental, social justice, waste money, doesn’t bring more joy etc. I like the concepts of veganism/recycling/less waste simply because of the (purported) benefits (environment, justice etc – yes I know it’s not a perfect solution, some argue that vegans promote idk more monoculture or wtv, but hey, at least it’s trying to do something) and honestly, I don’t think it’s very hard for me to give up these things: I don’t love meat that much, my family already recycles (I want/need to learn to cut down on plastic bag usage). I’ve become a closet ‘minimalist/vegan/alternative lifestyles mentioned above’ etc, but I don’t behave that way in front of my friends, feeling unease about how my choices would impact them (I guess it’s rather Asian to not want to ‘create inconvenience’ for the people around me/stick with inertia). Sure, I agree it’s about compromise and balance, but I feel it’s important for me to assert some individualism and let people know more about what I care/stand for.

I suppose I’ve not done so because of so many reasons.

  • Judgement – strange because I wrote about how I think most people want/care for these things (our environment, animal/human rights etc.) but they see these lifestyles as inconveniences/ people just trying to be ‘hipster’ rather than actually caring for these things. I won’t want these labels to make up my identity. [I think there can be so much more to be said for this point, but I’ll leave it unelaborated]
  • Fear of failure – I’m definitely going to mess up, and I still do. I’m not perfect in cutting out all waste/all animal products from my life. Saying this stuff would make me accountable for it, people will ask ‘I thought you won’t consume ______’. Of course I’m not going to be perfect at this, but it doesn’t mean I’m not going to attempt to do so.

I suppose writing this is meant to help me embrace my difference and assert myself more. And learn to fear less.

[I’ll also like to say that I’m not sure where this will take me, how sustainable this would be, if it’s just a phase in life or something I will live with, but this is me, at this point in time. People are transient and will change, life is not a ‘race to define yourself’. While I’ll like to say I’m ‘experimenting’, I don’t want to be half-hearted, I want to commit as much as I can and see how this would change my life, before evaluating whether or not I would want to continue leading such a lifestyle]