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I published an essay in LoyarBurok!

http://www.loyarburok.com/2013/11/28/normal/

This is a great achievement for me, given that this blog barely gets any traffic. If there is one thing all hobbyist writers can agree on, it is that there is nothing like the high of having one’s story shared multiple times.

 

 


On criticising religion, freedom of speech and why the Govt should drop the charges against Alvivi

Criticising religion

There have been a variety of mixed reactions to Alvin Tan and Vivian Lee’s recent actions, where they made a Ramadan greeting poster of them eating pork (Bak Kut Teh to be exact), which is forbidden in Islam. And I respect that everyone has their own personal opinion on it. Some may find it amusing, some may find it horrible. The general sentiment of late has been anger, resentment and hatred. Disgust, even. I personally find their actions to be quite crass, although not to the extent of anger, and especially not to the extent that I have to bundle an innocent man up and scrawl ‘Hina Islam’ on his body. As a believer in discourse and debate to enrich our society, I feel that the constructive criticism of religion should be encouraged. Let’s not bastardize the word ‘criticism’ and accept that it is a necessary part of intellectual discussion and the growth of knowledge.

According to the Collins English Dictionary,

criticism [ˈkrɪtɪˌsɪzəm]

n

1. the act or an instance of making an unfavourable or severe judgment, comment, etc.
2. (Fine Arts & Visual Arts / Art Terms) (Literary & Literary Critical Terms) the analysis or evaluation of a work of art, literature, etc.
3. (Fine Arts & Visual Arts / Art Terms) (Literary & Literary Critical Terms) the occupation of a critic
4. (Literary & Literary Critical Terms) a work that sets out to evaluate or analyse
5. (Literary & Literary Critical Terms) Also called textual criticism the investigation of a particular text, with related material, in order to establish an authentic textCriticising religion does not seem so much like a bad thing after all. I think the main focus is on the first definition: ‘making an unfavourable or severe judgment, comment, etc’. What is unfavourable? What can be unfavourable for a Jehovah’s Witness may not be favourable to a Roman Catholic. What can be unfavourable to me might be just alright with my friend.

If we recall Irshad Manji’s bold, intriguing book, ‘Allah, Liberty and Love’, which was somehow construed as an attack on Islam in Malaysian society (how can that pretty little lady hurt a fly?), there is a certain sense of insecurity and prejudice when one says ‘let’s not criticise other religions’, for we often forget that the world is made up of millions of belief systems that often conflict with each other in day-to-day affairs, which should not be simply ignored, but talked about, discussed, the concepts embraced, the differences acknowledged and the similarities cherished with one another. Debates on whether ‘Christianity or Islam is better’ should happen, but in a self-respecting (e.g. NOT hurling personal attacks at each other) and scholarly manner. Debates on whether Christianisation is rampant in the US, or Islamisation encroaches on the beliefs of non-Muslims in Malaysia, must always be allowed, and not silenced by a simple ‘let’s jail everyone who criticises religion’.

Offence and hurt

We have been taught, since a very tender age, that we should not disparage other religions and we have to respect each other. I am completely fine with that. But what do we do when someone does disparage someone’s religion? Do we hit the person? Do we tell the police? Do we jail the offender? Do we tell the State to execute all of those who offends the sentiments of the faithful? The answers to these questions were, unfortunately, not provided to us in our Moral and Civic textbooks, so we naturally look to the majority consensus to figure out how we must deal with the offenders. The question is, how right are they? In some countries, blasphemy is a crime punishable by death. So technically if I say ‘god does not exist’ in those places, I would be either shot dead by an angry mob or hanged by the State. That does not seem very fair, because my non-belief should be just as respected as any other belief, so long that I do not impose my expectations on others.

The problem is, it is difficult to decide what types of criticisms of religion should be punished by the State, and what criticisms of religion should be encouraged to contribute to intellectual discourse, by setting aside our prejudices and emotions and looking at our religions in a very critical manner. If we lose the ability to critically view religion, we lose everything else, for there are religious teachings (whether or not they are true) that have harmed innocent people (Malala Yousafzai) and stifled progress.

Besides that, who will be the ones responsible to choose which religious criticisms are important to intellectual thought and which ones are not? With all the offence and hurt that can arise from hearing that one’s religious convictions are wrong, one must keep calm and stay rational about it, because that is the only righteous way.

Freedom of speech

Once upon a time, I used to think that all forms of hate speech should be banned. That sexist, racist, homophobic, xenophobic slurs should be banished from the community and they should be punished for what they have said (note: nothing to do with their physical actions).

Then one day, I realised that it would be a severe impediment to progress if we do so. For who will draw the line between the constructive and the destructive? A picture can be offensive to 10 but not offensive to 100. Do we then hide the picture, to be banished for all eternity? What if those who are responsible for drawing the line, are corruptible and biased? What do we do then? If we lock up those who “bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against” the government or engender “feelings of ill-will and hostility between different races, what if the powerful use it as a tool to lock up innocent people, or political dissenters? How about those who oppose government policies that deal with sensitive racial matters – do we lock them up too? With such wide discretionary powers given by vaguely worded phrases that have severe implications, I daresay laws such as the Sedition Act 1948 put our democracy (well, what’s left of it) at stake.

SO, what do we do with the Alvivis and Ibrahim Alis if there are no laws to silence them?

DROWN THEM.

DROWN THEM WITH LOVE. Compassion. Show the world that their views are in the minority. Chastise them if you want to, chastise them hard, but do not involve the State and do not harm them. Do not stoop to their level. That’s how you fight, not with archaic laws that stifle people and oppress honest opinions. We should realise that religious opinions, like political views, can be construed in different ways by different people. Being offended does not make you a victim of a crime. What crime? Maybe in moral terms it is a crime, but legally speaking, it is not so easy to punish those who, for lack of a better phrase, piss you off. Too much is at stake when you make too much leeway for the authorities to persecute people. Furthermore, let us not forget what the Sedition Act 1948 has done to many good men and women. In recent events, PKR vice-president Tian Chua, PAS leader Tamrin Ghafar, activists Haris Ibrahim, Hishamuddin Rais and Safwan Anang were charged with uttering seditious words during a May 13 forum. I have seen many Opposition supporters who condemned the Sedition Act suddenly leaping to support the move because the exact same tool is used against people they don’t particularly like. It is very tempting to say that it could be a ploy to make the people forget about the controversial aspect of silencing political dissent.

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” -Evelyn Beatrice Hall (yes, not Voltaire)

And as lawyer Syahredzan Johan once said,

 “I’m sorry, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with being offended. It is human nature to take offence. But to forgive when offence has been taken, even when that offence goes to your very core, that is divine.

You may be offended, and no one should tell you you should not be offended. But do not drag the State into it. It should not be the State’s business to punish those who offended you.


How Not To Be A Monkey*

*With the exception of His Supreme Eminenceness Lord Bobo Barnabus, The Wonder Typewriting Monkey

Evolutionary psychology is retrodictive like evolutionary biology, but does not enjoy the same foundation as its well-established counterpart that has strong roots in many different fields of science, including paleontology, molecular biology, genetics and anthropology. Even the widely-held notion of evolutionary psychology that women were naturally monogamous was challenged by Dan Bergner, and has recently sparked public debate. The one thing that is certain, however, is that every decision that our ancestors have made, every adaptation, every stroke of genius or pure chance and every behavioural change has resulted in the social, sexual creatures that we are today. Our cousins, ranging from amoebas to giraffes, can also claim the glory of not being extinct (yet). But what sets our existence apart from all our other cousins?

Man has often put himself on a pedestal, towering above all other living matter. Especially in religion, the concept of man being just below god and above everything else has been entrenched in the minds of many. Setting the ‘god’ bit aside, the position that man has given himself is quite telling – we are a superior species, period. When asked why, the typical range of answers would be ‘we are intelligent’, ‘we know what is wrong and right’ (some research suggest otherwise – that animals have morality), etc.

Willie Poh Kaw Lik, a lecturer at Multimedia University tries to answer this, and boldly refuses to acknowledge that the answer to life is 42.

During his talk at Pusat Rakyat LB, ‘How Not To Be A Monkey’, Willie addressed two central questions: What makes us different, and what is our purpose in life? He began with a casual discussion (everything is casual when you see your lecturer in jeans and a fedora) on the personal, individual purpose of the men and women in the room, and related it to the generic, darwinian purpose of living beings – to survive and reproduce. A comparison was drawn between a monkey’s purpose in life to a human’s purpose in life, and it undoubtedly tallied one way or another, with both organisms evidently trying to maximise its pleasure with the minimum amount of resource, and both cycles involving reproduction at some point.

Not preaching, but illustrating a sample life-purpose

A cute example of what was illustrated on the board was the parallels between ‘scratching one’s ass’ (monkey) and ‘having an iPad’ (human) , which both contributes to the overall satisfaction of a person, benefiting the mental well-being of an individual, hence making him or her more likely to live longer and reproduce. Well, depression dramatically increases one’s chances of dying from a heart attack, plus it kills the sex drive. That wasn’t such a big leap, actually. Although merely a tiny fraction, it makes up a part of the innumerable joys that occasionally punctuate the rigmarole we call life.

Once the audience saw that the goals of a human and a monkey were not too different, Willie got them to think hard about what set humans from other animals. An animated discussion ensued, with interesting suggestions ranging from ‘self-realisation’ to ‘opposable thumbs’. Willie was the alpha chimp of the session and eventually got everyone to agree with his hypothesis, which was ‘language’, as the unifying factor of all that is unique about our kind.

Channelling his inner monkey.

Being a friend of Willie, it was difficult not to agree with that bespectacled face of geekiness. He raised compelling points, which conveniently directed all other outlying points towards the crux of the matter that was ‘language’. His contention was that without language, mankind would have not advanced as much as he has done. It is true that some species of animals have some form of language, however their language is extremely limited in function. Animals cannot string their vocalizations into grammatically organised sentences. Although whether chimps can actually use language like we do is still a hot topic and being debated by scientists, it is pretty much established that no one animal has displayed the complexity in its language that is comparable to ours. Which is why, Willie argues, we have managed to build things, plan things, and so on.

It's the hairy dude on the left

Spot the monkey in the room!

By 5pm, Willie moved on to the next big question: Why should we survive?

Willie’s next compelling idea was that the ultimate worthwhile purpose in life, that even goes beyond the banal goal to survive and reproduce, is to process information and gain knowledge. This is reminiscent of people who leave behind legacies, wanting their creations, their businesses, to outlast their lifetimes. He takes care to note that this is typical of a scientific worldview, and acknowledges that it may not resonate with some who subscribe to a more god-centric viewpoint. He tied this back to the previous question of what sets us apart from other animals – language – and said that since humans are the only species we know who can record information comprehensively and to gain more knowledge, this makes humans the best species to survive.

Interestingly, the discussion led to a string of hypothetical situations. One of them was: How would you feel if Earth was in the middle of a hyperspace bypass that would allow two superintelligent species to co-author The Encyclopedia Galactica? (Not verbatim. I just wanted to have another Hitchhiker reference.) Everyone in the audience enjoyed a lively discussion, despite the occasional confusion (which is what happens when one discusses philosophy).

To sum things up, one may say that the answer to the question of the day, ‘how not to be a monkey’, was more than ‘not picking at one’s arm pits’. It was to go beyond the cycle of ‘survive –> reproduce’, and create good in the world. To learn a second (or third, or fourth) language, because learning different languages gives one invaluable perspective on human behaviour and social interaction. Favour construction over destruction, conserve wisdom, learn from our mistakes. Most importantly, to not be a monkey, one must contribute to the betterment of mankind by adding to the knowledge we currently have by becoming a creator and not just a mere consumer.


Woody Allen the love guru

The heart raged, grew melancholy and confused and toward what end? To articulate what nitwit strategy? Procreation? It told him something. How millions of sperm competed for a single egg, not the other way around. Men would make love with any number of women even total strangers, while females were selective. They were catering to the demands of one small egg. While males had millions of frantic sperms screaming: “Let us out, let us out!” It was like personal ads. Dozens of requirements followed by, “Non-smokers only. ”

Feldman longed to meet an attractive woman with this personality: A sense of humour equal to his, a love of music equal to his and a love of Bach and balmy climates. In short, himself as a pretty woman. Pepkin married and led a warm, domestic life. Placid, but dull. Knapp was a swinger. He eschewed nuptial ties and bedded different women. Nurses, housewives, students, a doctor, a salesgirl They all held Knapp between their legs. Pepkin, from the calm of his fidelity, envied Knapp. Knapp, lonely beyond belief, envied Pepkin. What happened after the honeymoon? Did desire grow or did familiarity make partners want other lovers? Was the notion of ever-deepening romance a myth along with simultaneous orgasm? The only time Rifkin and his wife experienced one was when they were granted their divorce. Maybe in the end, the idea was not to expect too much out of life.

-Husbands and Wives (1992)


I am in love

Natural selection has kindly bestowed upon us the gift of loving (as well as the obsession with sex) to ensure our continuity. That is as simple as it gets. Millions of songs, sonnets, poetry and other kinds expression exist solely to praise or curse love. Countless essays have made attempts to wade out and explore the perimeters of love, so much so that there may not be a square inch of space left on the topic for the human imagination to discover. Therefore I will not write such an essay. What I will do however, is to stop and marvel at this brief moment in my history when I have discovered the happiest point in my life (however this does not deny the possible existence of happier moments to come) and would simply like to express my joy. 

I have been seeing someone. We knew each other through Facebook – a miracle worker – but only met for the first time at Masjid Jamek to attend an Occupy Dataran event, under the blanket of a black sky. That led to a string of meet-ups at Dataran Merdeka, a historical monument that represented both our unwavering love for the nation as our beloved home. Our conversations delighted me as we talked about anything under the Malaysian sun. His accent was thick and unfamiliar to me but his warm voice spoke of issues that hit home with me, straight to the heart. I was often captivated by his wit and intelligence; I did most of the listening because he is much more well-versed than I in certain subjects. Not to mention that charming smile. It begs me for one in return.

He is entirely unlike the men (or rather boys) I have previously met. Many of the more intelligent ones that I have come across are either too conceited or too insensitive; some have issues with their personality. This is not to say that the majority of smart men are out of my league, because that would be very pretentious on my part. They were simply never compatible with me. With him, I have never even stopped to think about our compatibility, nor have I checked our horoscopes. For the last few months, it has been the simplest routine to meet up and be utterly content with each other’s company. Never have I felt so certain of my feelings for someone. Never have I felt so irrevocably happy about knowing – merely knowing – that such a person could exist! It sometimes feels as if I just discovered a new element or have been washed ashore after being stranded on an island for 2 years – the length of time that I suffered a draggy and empty relationship prior to this. I never thought that it would be so easy to love a person, where there would be no compromises. A person who shares the deep appreciation I have for the universe, who loves reading the same books as I do, who is passionate about upholding justice and protecting the weak, who vehemently criticizes the greedy. Who makes the silliest jokes and knows when to make it up to someone with free ice-cream. In short, he is everything that I never knew I wanted and could have.

Addendum: Oh and he’s “largely sensible too” as he would like to describe himself. A teetotaller and a cheapskate too. What more could I ask for, really?

 


One

Young, bold and brash is she
With not a speck of dirt to be seen
Strutting her iridescent hues by the riverbank
Her beauty reflected on the river’s surface
The water quivers as fish swim
Churning up mud and moving every stone and pebble
But all of this she does not see
She is blind but she is beautiful
She is beautiful but she is blind
How could one blame her
A pathetic fowl heedless of danger
The fowl places her head underwater hoping for a miracle
Then the fowl and fish meet
The fishes cry,
“Tell your teachers to quit their jobs
Their methods seek not depth but death
The suicide of the philosophical.
Tell your father to wear a headscarf
And wear the chains you bear
For his complacency has destroyed your beauty.
Tell your children about the river
It beckons to whoever yearns to see its contents”
Water and earth merge harmoniously
Forming streaks of mud by the river
The fish continue their journey and the bird is gone.