My EZ link card failed today, when I tapped in to the Tanjong Pagar platforms. I trekked over to the ticket machines to get my card checked, and the status read “ok to exit.” But I haven’t entered, that’s weird. What should I do? Paused for a beat, before I headed over to a red lit gantry, leaned over, and tapped my card on an exiting sensor pad, then nonchalantly mosied back on to a green lit gantry and entered as planned.
The thing is, not so long ago, I don’t think this would’ve been my first instinct. The orderly Singaporean in me says “Card fail! Stop! Look for station people! Get help! Ah! Panic!”
The five-years-away, trains-stopped-for-an-English-snowy-day veteran says, “oh, that’ll work,” and goes on her merry way.
Who’s with me on this?
What is being an agent for positive influence in the world (promoting compassion/human rights/economic development/alleviating hunger and poverty), and what is coercing other countries to behave in a way that you like and feel comfortable with?
When is it ok be expedient in your dealings with other countries (for example, securing access to oil to allow your country to continue to function), and when is it not (for example, securing exclusive access to foreign oil by any means necessary to allow your country’s eco-unfriendly unsustainable way of functioning to continue)?
Is it better to give up any sort of claims to “noble” aims (eg, human rights, democracy, alleviating poverty) and simply transact based on mutual interest?
What is ignoring gross crimes against humanity, and what is minding your own business?
Can you attract foreign income and expertise without opening your country to exploitation and belittling your local culture and way of life?
Perhaps the real answer to any of these questions is that every national community needs to make their own collective decision about this: how far they’re willing to go for what interests, what and how much they are willing to ignore. Or perhaps everyone just needs to wake up/own up to the fact that every move in international politics is motivated by a mix of both expedient and value-based objectives.
Perhaps we need to learn to say and hear statements such as “Yes, even though I don’t favor military force and invasion, I support it in this instance because it’s saving lives from genocide,” or “No, I don’t support this offer of conditional aid, no matter how much economic development or human rights it’s designed to promote, because I don’t support any form of coercive action.”
I just think it’s disingenuous not to realize that both promoting human rights/economic development through military invention/conditional aid and invading/trading with foreign countries for access to resources are coercive actions in pursuit of material objectives. The means are always questionable, to be weighed against the objectives. And given that, the objectives aren’t always worth it, or always not worth it.
Human rights? Great. Poverty alleviation? Awesome. Continued functioning and/or survival? Imperative. How far do you think you should go?
The most important thing for me about Oxford was not what I learnt there in terms of set texts and set books we had to read, but in terms of a respect for the best in human civilisation.
And the best in human civilisation comes from all parts of the world. It is not limited to Oxford; it is not limited to Burma; it is not limited to any other country. But the fact that in Oxford I had learned to respect all that is the best in human civilisation helped me to cope with what was not quite the best.
Because what is not yet quite the best may still, one day, become the best; it may be improved. It gave me a confidence in humankind. It gave me a confidence in the innate wisdom of human beings – not given to all of us, but given to enough of us for the rest of the world to share, and to make use of it for others.
And I think every Oxonian, or most every, knows that in Lost Horizon Shangri-La was described as “something a little like Oxford”.
Every Oxonian knows.
Perhaps this was why, after my year at Oxford, I had recovered enough distance from the “brutally practical” career options to re-discover my desire to pursue something in the arts, in the entertainment industries. Oxford re-convicted me that at its very best, culture and creativity can move, question, develop, change, decry the worst and celebrate the worthy in life and society. That it can and does remain through the centuries. I definitely needed this precious reminder.
(Thanks Bims, for sharing!)
I think it just changed my life.
Heard the hype for years and it still blew my mind.
Now that’s a good film.
Recalled this moment, after reading the tragic news about Private Danny Chen.
Look at the faces; listen to the voices. What I saw and heard in that room: proud Americans of the United States. Enough said.
In an Esquire profile last year, Marianne said her former husband “was impressed easily by position, status, money” and believed “that what he says in public and how he lives don’t have to be connected”.
I wish I could say that the rest of us don’t suffer from this problem. I know I struggle with it.
I saw a girl on a swing in her yard
today, from the bus
It was by the roadside
of a highway
lots of cars whizzing by
Now I have to stop and think
about how you imagined the girl to look like
Could be any number of girls
swinging through your minds
based on who you are
where you come from
or what you know of me
and who I am and where I come from
or where I’ve lived
Let me tell you now
that the girl was black
Now, I know the context matters
but I wish it didn’t
because my first reaction
when I saw her
was to ask myself
should I pity her
because her family can only afford a home by the highway
and she has to swing into all this dust and grease and exhaust
or should I think
“Hey, her family’s doing pretty well for themselves,
they own/live in a house with a yard.”
when the truth is
I don’t want to have to choose
All I really saw
and all I really want to see
is a girl on a swing,
*Update (Apr 6, 2012): this poem links so well to this article.