Saturday, March 29, 2008

The conversation I had with a couple of colleagues this afternoon illustrated the stark difference in worldviews between us - we were postulating worst-case scenarios for a specific situation facing one of our trio group. My vision of both best- and worst-case scenarios was far more extreme than either of theirs; they were utterly appalled by the negative extreme I had suggested.

I didn't know if I was wrong, but the one thing I have learnt through sheer pain and terror is not to trust anyone by default. Especially if one is in a position of greater power than the other, and their behaviour is observed over the long term to be ambiguous in possible interpretations. Relying on someone's charity, generosity and goodwill to save one's life is a surefire recipe for disastrous failure IF said person's actions are at the opposite pole of those expectations. There is this phenomenon called freezing in shock, at the very moment when one most needs the wits about. Losing that moment of strike-readiness to that useless shock could be a life-changing and eternal loss. I hope that would never happen to anybody I know. If the price I pay for successfully mentally preparing others for dread loss is to be perceived as cruel and insensitive, not joining in the great carousel of humanity, then I will gladly pay that price.

I hope that by my writing these words, you now understand. It is not that I perceive the world to be a cold dreary place. Rather, the background operation of an assumption of ubiquitous self-interest in others, without openly revealing that assumption lest one invite silly attacks by arrogant principled people, saves a great many stunning disappointments. It makes one resilient.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Today I realised something I should have taken note of long ago.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

As per the other day's post on creationism, this was pretty funny if taken at face value. (Comments there are not very interesting.)

Friday, March 14, 2008

My eldest sister is pregnant with her first child, and the two of them being naturally anxious people (my brother-in-law and her, I mean. Not the kid.) have considered putting Mozart on headphones over her tummy.

I have only this to say about anxious parents and good parenting, since I have no children myself:

"Not everyone is so accepting of fate, or of the other forces beyond a parent's control, like genes and peers.

'I hope to God this isn't true,' one mother said to the Chicago Tribune. 'The thought that all this love I'm pouring into him counts for nothing is too terrible to contemplate.'


Yes, it is disappointing that there is no algorithm for growing a happy and successful child. But would we really want to specify the traits of our children in advance, and never be delighted by the unpredictable gifts and quirks that every child brings into the world? People are appalled by human cloning and its dubious promise that parents can design their children by genetic engineering. But how different is that from the fantasy that parents can design their children by how they bring them up? Realistic parents would be less anxious parents. They could enjoy their time with their children rather than constantly trying to stimulate them, socialize them and improve their characters. They could read stories to their children for the pleasure of it, not because it's good for their neurons.

Many critics accuse Harris [another psychology researcher] of trying to absolve parents of responsibility for their children's lives: if the kids turn out badly, parents can say it's not their fault. But by the same token she is assigning adults responsibility for their own lives: if your life is not going well, stop moaning that it's all your parents' fault. She is rescuing mothers from fatuous theories that blame them for every misfortune that befalls their children, and from the censorious know-it-alls who make them feel like ogres if they slip out of the house to work or skip a reading of Goodnight Moon. And the theory assigns us all a collective responsibility for the health of the neighbourhoods and culture in which peer groups are embedded.


A parent and a child have a human relationship. No one ever asks, 'So you're saying it doesn't matter how I treat my husband or wife?' even though no one but a newlywed believes that one can change the personality of one's spouse. Husbands and wives are nice to each other (or should be) not to pound the other's personality into a desired shape but to build a deep and satisfying relationship. Imagine being told that one cannot revamp the personality of a husband or wife and replying, 'The thought that all this love I'm pouring into him (or her) counts for nothing is too terrible to contemplate.' So it is with parents and children .... "

- Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature, pp. 398-399.

This also reminds me of what Mr Wang used to post sometimes in his blogs, both old and new, these words by the poet Khalil Gibran:

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you,
yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as he loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

There is little else I wish to say, at this moment, sitting at my keyboard.

When I read today's NYT brief, it looked like this: "Today's Headlines: White House Offers Plan to Ward Off Cre....."

And for a moment my spirits rose, and I thought George Bush was finally going to put his foot down firmly on the teaching of creationism.

Alas, it was not to be.

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