Unrestricted access to insight is destroying my capacity for original thinking. Too much insightful, intelligent and appealing content is within my grasp. The more such content I consume, the less I can digest. This can’t continue.
My blogging has divided itself into two over the last few months with law on one hand, and personal writings on the other. As a result I’m finding it odd to have them both appearing on the one site.
Since WordPress will let me create as many blogs as I want with no difficulty, I have decided to take advantage of that opportunity to divide my writings.
Henceforth, you’ll find all my writing on international investment law, and my occasional digression in to the Jessup on the ICSID Blog. I hope you’ll take a look there too once in a while if those are topics that might interest you.
He’s writing for the consumption of the reading public once more
My joy is unbounded – a true delight.
This site is hilarious.
The writing is beautiful and the manifesto is spot on and its sarcastic magnificence has led me to zip through every post in one morning. It’s only 10 posts long, so it was a short morning.
It’s great to see Muslims poking fun at themselves and our all too serious approach to, well, everything.
Thanks to Meryam for posting the link on her blog.
[This was written in response to a note by my friend Jeff Koh on Facebook. I’ve appended that note to the end of this post. if you wish to understand this piece, start there.]
Welcome to one end of the Journey.
It’s one end because it reveals that the journey itself is flawed.
Flawed by being a purely monist intellectual voyage through a space where a plurality of factors such as culture, society, history and sociology all have a place. Indeed you can argue that these elements have primacy, the foundational blocks from which all philosophy begins to which in the end it must return.
On a more practical level, which is one of the questions you’re asking I feel, seeking education through the academia of the West doesn’t imply its uncritical acceptance or its internal validation.
For example, acknowledging the primacy of Oxford in law, shows your appreciation of its position, but doesn’t accept or imply its superiority in all fields. If you want the best Textiles course in the world, then the world does come to Hong Kong Polytechnic University.
You can approach any person who puts forward a claim of cultural hegemony as a sceptic, or it can be approached through the lens of your own cultural tradition.
You can investigate the choices that it makes, analyse the options that it represents and decide where in the moral balance that falls for you. Whether it is acceptable or unacceptable. Whether it can be modified to become acceptable.
In one sense the journey you’ve gone through, honing and understanding the meandering of western philosophy, is what has given you the skills to make those evaluations.
You understand the questions that are being asked by philosophy. Any philosophy. You appreciate the responses that are being given. Then you appreciate how intuitive and culture specific those answers are. And then you appreciate that there are many valid answers.
Then, at this stage the mould is broken. No one now can uncritically assert the primacy of any ideology, culture or values. You appreciate their inherent subjectivity, and where and when necessary (not every moment like your teacher seemed to suggest) you can deploy that to your benefit and advantage.
If on the downside of this, you find yourself staring like all who followed Nietzsche at a desolate plane upon which neither philosophy, history, society or culture can lay any real roots, then you come to the real dilemma of reaching an end of the Journey. It’s one where I find myself stuck as well, so if you manage to spot the exit sign, be sure to share.
Are you being elitist when you’re angered by those who Journey to the Ivy League and the Russell Group without understanding this?
I don’t think you’re being elitist.
A bit hypocritical maybe. After all it was being in those environments that accelerated your own rejection of them. It was the challenge to your identity and values that you understood them to (partially) represent that evokes such a strong reaction.
Why do you think those who go won’t come to the same realisation? And what harm does it cause if they don’t? Not every person wants or needs to make the same journeys.
[Attached below is the original note by my friend Jeff, to which this piece is a response. I have reformatted this piece in the course of importing it into this post. Any errors of readability as a result, are mine rather than Jeff’s.]
LPC, Oxford and Cultural Discrimination
Today at 2:06am
my American drama prof:
an excerpt from his final lecture(giving advice on how to use the lessons learnt in his class in real life):
when you think about arguing with folks who are using terms that have double values, so that they have a significance at the level of a conceptual field that is producing the particulars, even as it is claiming to be one particular among many, call them on it. because it’s a double game, that is working in the service of an unacknowledged power.
it’s a point well-taken. but do I ever, ever want to operate on that level of complexity?
the most insidious way I’ve been subjected to racial discrimination, or more appropriately, cultural discrimination, was on student council back in high school with x and y. we got the same grades, had the same positions on campus, and I had even more (debate and MUN) externally that they didn’t have. . . but somehow they’d think they were better, and they’d take pains to make sure you knew it.
they’d run all these philosophy groups (LPCUWC didn’t run a class on philosophy), and I’d try and go and sit amongst the smoke-filled rooms having not read any of the (rich) dead, old, white men with fancy last names that they’d select to discuss. there was no frame of reference, no well of background reading from which to draw even the most preliminary, basic understanding of these texts.
x would throw around terms like postmodernism, and chuckle at my lack of understanding. . . even though I was fully aware it was hocus-pocus. there was no common frame of reference.
yet today, in class, I can discuss the term fully in terms of its contexts, applications, nuances, ambiguities . . . and limitations. suffice to say, it has taken me two and a half years, since getting to Dartmouth and a stint at Oxford, to fully subsume myself within the boundaries of this discussion. I’m not even sure if it’s a good thing.
it’s a prime example of what Professor Pease was saying, in the above.
it’s the white man, using language in a way that makes himself superior. terms that have truth values, beyond their particulars. and whenever anyone uses language in such a charged, loaded way, it’s important for you to call them out on it. because their linguistic choices can set the terms of the debate and load it up in their favor. through discussing these words (words that are defined by the white man) on a playing field which is owned by the white man, where all the rules are set by the white man, all the substantive material is chosen by the white man, you are fully under their control and power.
there are three approaches to take when you find yourself in this situation, each tangentially related to the other. 1) you can feel helpless and inferior, 2) you can be aloof and refuse to subscribe to this game, conceding all your benefits (and embrace your role as the ‘Other’) and 3) you can learn the terms of the discussion, play constant catchup, and eventually best them in their own game. take back the benefits they’ve appropriated in falsely defining the rules of the game in their favour. an immanent, Alan Leong-style political strategy in order to beat them from within their own system with their way of playing.
I’ve chosen, to have to learn. and now I’ve gotten there.
I remember a conversation Annie and Chrys Hill had with me in the wee hours of the morning, how they told me at sixteen, you learn so eagerly to sit on that table, to score an invite. I think it was vastly inappropriate to parade their knowledge of Edward Said, or of Salman Rushdie, to condition a bare (intellectual) child, a baby, in the ideas of postcolonialism so, so soon. the more I think about it, the more offended I am. it’s wrong, to legitimate oneself through an appropriation of a power you ought not to have, an overstepping of the boundaries of your role as a teacher. it’s wrong, to soapbox your hate against the system upon impressionable young minds. I’m sure they thought they were helping me, which makes it all the more despicable. I’m glad they’re not teaching at LPCUWC any more.
because the problem with that, the problem with exposing those that are so so young, too intellectually young, to the ideas of Derrida’s deconstructionism, or a very virulent, specific and particular understanding of Marx that leads to an opting-out of a system seen as unyieldingly capitalist . . . what results is a nihilism, an anarchism. a debilitating nihilism that isn’t productive towards accomplishing anything. and nothing is left to take its place. nobody loves a cynic, and one can hardly be a cynic with anything good to say, before one has gone out and lived.
it’s why Nietzsche’s rejection of all truth and meaning is funny and all, especially given the absolutely dastardly way he does it, but so many philosophers after him have tried to rescue the idea of truth. because all debate, all constructive moves end when you say “there’s nothing that’s worth anything and nothing that means anything” . . . and you go crazy and stop speaking and live in a cave on your own. civil society ends there, and you become Nietzsche.
in a sense, Professor Swaine’s latest book is on this very subject, how full autonomy isn’t always the best thing. because reason taken to its extreme lengths isn’t conducive to a political construction of civil society. we can’t all live in caves like Nietzsche.
it’s why, on a similar note, earlier, so many philosophers after Hume (Kant, for instance) had tried to rescue the province of philosophy (and correspondingly of existence, and life) valiantly from skepticism.
both endeavors feature philosophers trying to save philosophy and the way in which we understand life and existence, philosophers trying to save life from what they see as emptiness and void, a void devoid of hope.
I’m not sure as to the success of their enterprises . . . because like my constant attacks on Rawls, you can attack anything that has a presupposed system of values for having a presupposed system of values (my attack on Rawls, obviously, being that the ‘cat won’t admit to the fact he’s doing this, under the table, and to building his ostensibly non-normative claims on normative bases)
but I think it’s a stand worth making.
I received my invite to the table when I was accepted to Dartmouth. and I’ve made the most use of it.
but how many people from Hong Kong get invited without knowing what it means (econ majors . . . academic “professionals” who go to Oxford and study something like E&M for the sake of the name of the diploma, and not having a bare figment of an idea of what it means [to subscribe to the white man’s doctrines and paradigms, to tacitly perpetuate his domination upon you through ideas of superiority and stereotypes by attending such an institution. . . Oxford is better, etc.])?
am I being elitist when I’m so angry, so angry at this ignorance?
My friend Ali Ebrahim has set up a site called PlanetBohra.org.
Planet Bohra uses the Planet technology, which downloads RSS news feeds and aggregates them together into a single combined page, with the latest first.
In simple language, what Planet Bohra does, is aggregate all the blogs of Dawoodi Bohras worldwide that Ali knows about, and displays them combined on its main page.
I’ve already gotten a few hits from the site, which is how I know it exists.
My reactions are mixed.
As the observer, its interesting to see the variety of blogs worldwide. This concept of syndication and combination is amazing, to bring them together in one place. The variety of blogs from geopolitical to personal is intriguing.
As a writer, who appears on that front page I’m more reluctant. My blog is personal. In fact its unavoidably personal. I’m not entirely comfortable with that being syndicated so that many people can view it. As I’ve said before my writing is not blogging.
By that distinction I mean I don’t blog about issues like Aziz Poonawala exploring Islam in the west on City of Brass. I don’t blog all things technical with the sure wizardry of Yusuf Goolamabbas and his Random Thoughts.
For the moment, I think I’ll sit tight and see how it goes. My current uneasiness is just that, uneasiness. Perhaps when there are hundreds of blogs there, I won’t mind it when I’m lost in the chatter.
First and foremost, I’m compelled to apologize. If I had known what you had meant by meaningless, and which meaningless you were rejecting, I don’t believe for an instance I would have written that comment.
It is also why, even when what I wanted to leave as a comment amounted to just a few lines, I felt the need to preface it with many hundreds of words of explanation, so as to be careful in what I was ‘cursing’ you to endure.
In that post of such a few lines, I hope you can accept that it was my own perception, my own situation that reflected through that comment.
Secondly, I feel that you can see from reading the two pieces in comparison, how different a concept of meaning we are talking about. Yours, wiser than mine, is an exhortation to a via media, a middle way, that navigates both small ‘m’ meaningless – day to day mediocrity, and capitalized ‘m’ Meaningless – that great metaphysical nihilism in the face of cosmic reality.
Mine was concerned only with the big M version.
I read your post, now with the context that you’ve given, as supporting this middle path. A path that looks to carve out a life lived well, and a life fulfilled in both its potential and its dreams.
It is a vision of meaningfulness that is both strong and positive, one that very few people would turn away from when articulated. Who amongst us would disagree with this:
I want to have something to show, for the way I’ve lived my life. if not contributing meaning to the universe, or mankind in general, then at least I don’t want to regret having done nothing but get into a series of broken relationships when I’m fifty. the way I’ve lived the past two decades of my life.
Finally, when I started I said I had mixed feeling. The other feeling, incongruously, or not, perhaps not, is a feeling of happiness and anticipation.
I look forward to seeing what comes of a Jeff who dedicates himself as fiercely to the many big things in his life, whatever he chooses those to be, as he does to the many small things, whatever those will be.
Given the propensity to excel, I doubt I will be disappointed. I’m rather sure, given how colorful a character you are, that I will be intrigued by how the tale unfolds. As has already been quite jovially admitted, you are both a tart and a rogue. And they’re always forced to live a life of adventure.
I’ve always liked darker themes compared to the light and bright ones.
I saw that Ali Eteraz had switched to this a while back and when I realised it was available on WordPress.com I’ve been debating with myself whether to switch. I’ve decided that I’ll commit to the change.
I’m particularly taken with the bright orange. I like bright orange as a colour because I associate it with irreverent exuberance and its the only “in your face” colour that you’re ever likely to find me wearing. My inclination to dandyism is weak, but it is there.
That said, you may disagree and feel that the previous theme was better. If so, speak now or hold your peace….
It’s a great thing when you realize you still have the ability to surprise yourself. Makes you wonder what else you can do that you’ve forgotten about.
~Alan Ball in American Beauty
You may have noticed that I’ve taken things in a slightly new direction. Clips and quotations from the rest of the web. Bits of text dragged in from elsewhere.
Words kidnapped to my main page. Images, innocuous and well-mannered, but nonetheless victims.
Exhibited for your pleasure.
Acts perpetrated to sate my desire to collect.
It’s a slow starting trend, starting with that irregular institution The Saturday Photo. That was my first attempt at ‘borrowing’ things that caught my interest on my sojourn through the world wide web. It’s not been a regular feature, but frequently there’s been something worth seeing on a Saturday morning.
The main motive for this change, that beating heart in a willingly black soul, has been MSN. As I’ve had more conversations that are irreverent and random, I’ve started to share with my friends the bits and bobs that I find out in the ether. With the blessed powers of Stumbleupon to call forth this deluge, I find something every day that expands my horizons.
Some of the trash would shame the upright amongst you. Some are genuinely interesting and artistic, showcasing the ingenuity and creativity that Talking Meat can exhibit. Some of it is sheer out of the box thinking, of such quality and clarity, that its genuinely hit me hard when I’ve taken the chance to reflect on it.
Most of it’s puerile 20 something male stuff.
Don’t worry, that I won’t be sharing.
20 years of cultivating a false persona as a pseudo alive intellectual that doesn’t live his own life as much as observe it won’t fade away that fast. Nor will my inherent defensiveness and caution. But I’ll take a few more risks.
When I find something that catches my attention, something unique, quirky or interesting, I’m going to put the power of Windows Live Writer and Firebox to work, and am going to smack down a link to it on my blog.
You see, as much as this is my art, it is also my collection. It is my little set piece play, to choreograph and control. Akin to a museum curator, even one who is delusional about the value of his own work, I shall include the best that I find outside here as well.
I’m in the middle of writing a Defense and Counterclaim, for a fictional client with a fictional problem. I hope it’ll make Wendy (My civil litigation tutor, who is not the frumpy grumpy woman she was at the first class) happy and earn me a nice fat 100%, but I’ll stop my pursuit of the fictional for just a few minutes.
This deserves a response.
I’m loath to write comments on Jeff’s Xanga. That tetchy tart keeps deleting posts, and when he deleted this post, he’d delete my comment, and in his roguish way, delete a little bit of me.
He’ll get a link.
He’d get a trackback if Xanga enabled those.
To save my equally tetchy reader, the epic journey across the Internet Tubes, I’ll quote his whole post so you know what I’m responding too.
I don’t have his permission, so this is a tragic breach of copyright. I feel confident that I won’t be served with a interim injunction from Jeff to protect his IP Rights. He’s too busy living la vida loca to bother with law outside of the summer:
“wandering the depths of kylemore abbey.
determined no longer to squander my youth on meaningless pursuits.
I will not. cannot. turn out that way.”
You know me. You know where I’m going with this. I’m going to take objection to this post. I’m treating line one as preamble Jeff’s way of giving us context, and showing off the amazing sights he’s experiencing. There’s going to be an explicit joinder of issue in regard to lines two. That’s where the focus is.
Foremost, I’m stuck by the contrast. Just as Jeff embraces the serious, engages with the infinite possibilities, and vows to endure the academic heavy lifting that he will face in both Dublin and Oxford, I find myself drifting towards the opposite condition.
More than anything in the last few months, what I have found most richly rewarding is the Meaningless. What I want to do more than anything else, are those things that in the big picture are Meaningless.
Yes I’m capitalizing Meaningless for the hell of it. It is Meaningless too. Or it’s not. I’ve a reason why I’m capitalizing Meaningless. Just because I came up with Reason after I started doing it doesn’t make it a bad reason. No its not a justification.
It’s because that’s the kind of Meaningless Jeff is referring too. I feel that he means big picture |Meaningless|. Meaningless in the grand scheme of things. Meaningless in the context of the tens of billions of years of old Sol and its billions of years old Terran servant.
The kind of Meaningless, I feel, that is meaningless.
Without the capital ‘M’.
We live in a world that is hyper-structured. Everyone is caught in the quest for Meaning, the Search for Reasons and the Quest of Why (these are technical terms) that they live in a world devoid of the Present. of Now. We’re so fixed looking down the line, that we have scant appreciation for the possibilities of the moment. Doing something big, something small that is without substance is mentally satisfying. It reverberates at a deep level and you feel revitalized.
This is because, most importantly, it is the Meaningless that defines us.
My writing will never be published. My poetry will never catch the attention of the Nobel Committee awarding the prize for literature. They are Meaningless. Those moments of audacity and bravery, which scared me so much and amounted to so little, are Meaningless. The friend I made today, will not endure for Eternity. I may not be talking to him next week.
But to me they are the significant markers of being. They are the little things I do that are surreal, small and strange. They are the things that make me happy, they are the things that create the memorable moments. They are the moments I’m proud of. That I tell other people about.
And so, to Jeff I offer this as my comment :
You can turn out that way. You must turn out that way. To be otherwise, denies the true nature of You, and what it means to be You in this time and place.