The Fine Art of Standing Proudly Naked Before The World – A Study In The Mufflement of the Humanities

August 12, 2008


Indeed we pride ourselves as very pragmatic people. For one we rarely spend our time chasing fluffy butterfly abstractions like the West. Care to save the whales? Nope can I have another serving of whale sushi please? What about cutting down on our carbon footprint? Nope, past me another plastic bag will ya? What about the genocide in Darfur? Nope. Have to run late for a date, I am afraid. What about human rights? Nope. Err does that affect my right to shop till I fall dead?


Yes, we are very pragmatic people.


Some would say there’s nothing wrong with this ongoing preoccupation with reducing everything to “utility; functional and practical” Black cat, white cat, what does it matter? Providing it can catch mice terms.


But I disagree, the real problem sets in when we may unknowingly apply too narrow a definition of what’s useful, worthy and of value – at some point, we all have to consider what’s the actual cost of pursuing this one way street logic?


Was the International Monetary Fund and World Bank rebuke to Singapore over a ban on accredited activists invited to attend the annual meetings unreasonable?


Did we violate the terms of hosting the event by blocking the entry of 19 civil society representatives, who allegedly posed a security threat?


Why is the West always gunning us down? Is it just the politics of envy at work? Coming to think of it; is there a global conspiracy against us?


To be honest with you I don’t really know; but what remains astounding is how time and again, those assaulted by these assertions fall back on the first defensive line of structuring “rights” in terms of bureaucratic “practical necessities.”


Where a plethora of terms ranging from the “collective good”; “no one should interfere with our internal affairs” to the much vaunted “Asian values” constitute the main phalanx of why we should all consider junking these fundamental “rights.”


What I especially don’t like about this overtly defensive stance adopted by those who may not choose to see the value in promoting human rights is how they frequently elide whole sale the value of the counter narrative at the expense of coherency and reason.


For one, their position tacitly assumes what makes up our social and political attribution is all together so different that we would have little to gain by transplanting Western philosophy to sculpt our the outlook of our policies, institutions to further improve them to better serve people and planet.


While differences in culture, history and social make up do certainly exist in plentitudes; it still doesn’t answer the nagging question: why there’s no merit in aligning our values with the West; does it have something to do with the uniqueness of our Asian values?


Not really when one considers during the dark ages when Europeans were still burning heretics and dunking witches into the river; Emperor Akbar Khan had passed the most comprehensive laws to guarantee the freedom of worship in Asia. It seems real Asian values advocates embracing differences rather than promoting parochialism and insularism?


Neither is there any evidence to suggest Western values are altogether so alien to Asian values they remain wholly incompatible; when one considers how many nations have successfully grafted the American template of democratization as a reliable means of guaranteeing freedom against tyranny; it beggars the imaginations why this line of logic of junking Western thoughtware should even recruit any currency with thinking people.


What perplexes me is while, most of us don’t have any problems transplanting Atkins diet to help us lose weight; or even see fit to optimize our business process using the best practices of fortune 500 firms or accrediting ourselves with international manufacturing benchmarks; why is it whenever the issue of human rights crops up, it’s treated as an exception to the general rule?


What I really find incomprehensible is whenever this mufflement is perpetrated; these people not only elide whole sale the merits of counter narrative; but they have also inadvertently marginalize a reliable repository of knowledge, history, precedence and text which has traditionally united people and planet together for centuries; and all this is accomplished in a way which subverts reason that adds very little value to our understanding why human rights should be dispensed with.


Now I am not a very well read person, but I happen to know for a fact, no one rushes off to war in the name of Mickey Mouse or Barney the Magical Dinosaur, but I happen to know nearly 30 million allied troops fought and died against the Axis in the name of freedom and democracy.


I’ve also watched David Attenborough’s Gandhi, where it depicted hundreds of Indians protesting against British colonial rule by lying down on railway tracks to bring them to a halt.


Sure you can say, in those days when steam powered locomotives ran 5 mph around bends, lying on railway tracks was probably the equivalent a very relaxing mid afternoon siesta. Since there was still plenty of time for the train driver to turn over a few chapati’s, do the laundry and holler, “train coming!” I mean, I certainly wouldn’t recommend it these days with Maglev trains that run 600 mph, but it still doesn’t quite explain why through the ages there has never been a shortage of noble people who are prepared to step forward and even fight and die to defend these first principle values?


So don’t tell me it’s useless, dispensable and has no real value; one can no more adopt a presentist attitude and claim to talk about world history convincingly without at least mentioning these lost chapters of how human rights remains an indelible part of even the Singapore story. I mean where would we be if the “Eleanor gay” didn’t drop its mother load?    


That’s the cue for the humanities to step in. I know it’s difficult, if not impossible to place humanities in the same practical rubber hits the road footing as engineering, medicine or even the law. But when we talk regularly about human rights that’s really what we are talking about – humanities.


Apart from the obvious observation the girls who usually make up the humanities faculty are immeasurably hotter than those anti-beauty cum internal beauty adherents in Engineering.


At least they go through the trouble of decorating their rooms with lava lights, bean bags, bead curtains and even perfume it with fruity incense sticks while they sashay around in Victoria Secrets to put one in the perfect mood for love; much better those honorary men in the engineering faculty who would have you listen to their comatose inducing lectures in their soviet box room 101 about prototype engines projects which can run on tap water. But despite the obvious inconsequential giving pleasure to people tag that humanities usually suffers from; my point is it does fulfill a very important social function.


For starters when we talk about “rights” be it juggernaut in your face human rights or even the rights of a few invisble cells on a pin head; we are really just skimming over the brief history of humanities i.e that body of knowledge that deals with the different branches of human beings and their culture, and so they remain the most comprehensive means for all of us to understand the language of human values and respect for the dignity of rights.


The distinctive task of the humanities, unlike the cold cut sciences, is it attempts to grasp human things in human terms, without converting or reducing them to something else: here, you can even say there is no conscious effort to subvert the final analysis by reducing it into practical theorems, formulations and hypothesis – science can certainly recount with admirable ease; how our voice box is made up of 21 muscles to produce speech – but it cannot tell you whether you have a right to stand up on a soap box in the public square to shout out to the world; if you don’t slouch, you stand 2 inches taller without running the risk of been packed off to the glue factory in the name of disrupting the peace – only the humanities can do that, it’s deliberately primroses and parks.


You could even say it’s the direct opposite of even pragmatic, practical and worthy. But this doesn’t diminish it as a reliable means for us to fashion an accurate lens to audit our actions against the tide of history as to how we may see ourselves or even chart a course to where we want to go.



My main point is not only is the humanities important, it’s even vital to suggest it would be foolish for us to chuck it aside. Certainly we can do without it, just as we might be able to use a Swiss knife from time to time to tighten that pesky screw that keeps coming loose.


But we all know, if the goal is to fix a book shelve; then nothing beats a dedicated rubber gripped screwdriver. By the same logic, if the imperative is to beacon out the murk reliably against the mind numbing complexities of our times; then there is no other discipline that even comes close to the humanities. Or even compares equally to what it can offer in the way of historical underpinnings; in short it remains the only way for us to understand what it means to be human.


This sense of urgency is only beginning to sharpen as we move closer to a post modernist future, where increasingly many of our assumptions are beginning to unravel like the onion story – the more we peel, the more we cry only to end with nothing – the hubris of sanctioning the organ trade; the moral conundrum posed by rouge regimes in Burma on our doorstep; our unceasing preoccupation to climb ladders to show the world how good we are while we grapple with an emerging underclass – all these challenges not only vex us, but they also demand moral and historical coherency.


It would be fool hardy for us to assume we could successfully wing it on our own without regard to the lessons humanities bears out for the benefit of greater mankind. Not only does such a view violate the spirit that there may be as many truths as there remain many perspectives – and no one truth can successfully shout down the rest.


But it also presumes there is only one definition of how one might “rightly” define personal and organizational success. Yes I have no doubt, we could busy ourselves by shouting down the humanities with an endless stream of “we have arrived” and “we have come to our own” icons, be it showcasing to the world; experimental bird nest stadiums, gravity defying water cubes and a forest of flaming skyscrapers to shout out loud; “this is how far we have come; do you all hear me?” And even if they choose to baulk at us, we might even consider remaining stoically silent as we caress our precious symbols of success no end; but here tragic realism rears its ugly head and takes a lasting bite.


Alas silence is only valuable when someone, somewhere expects you to say something worthy approaching an admirable sentiment – that sadly is what endless glass, stainless steel, co-axial wires, Louis Vuitton handbags, Jimmy Choo heels, Clive Christian signature scents, purring Lamborghinis and gold plated Hello Kitty key chains cannot do –  if the truth be known, a new dawn can only be delivered by thinking men and women who are willing to pursue their dreams in the lofty, impractical and surreal land of “the admirable sentiment ” where wisely or naively, they believe, they can fashion a better world despite the overwhelming odds.


That incidentally, is the first lesson humanities teaches us, the rest I am afraid is just plain unimaginative pragmatism.


“Only a fool turns his back on what history can teach him.”




Darkness 2007


[This article has been lovingly reconstituted by the FILB (Free Internet Library Board) – first published in APICS during the IMF meet in Singapore in 2007, it questioned the merit of the Western preoccupation with human rights and how this might impact on our Singaporean sense and sensibilities – what astounds about this article is how the theme repeats itself with regularity. Even as we deliberate the merits of this article some Singaporeans question no end the same issues which we were once discussed. History it seems true to Santayana’s claim repeats itself.


Recorded conversation between Darkness and Harphoon on board the French starcruiser, les Enfants Du Paradis, ( never released before, digitally reconstituted by the FILB)


“I am sure you heard of the annotated version of the battle of Pillium where it’s often claimed by our nitwit historians it was our finest hour…. when we defeated the Aryanians…but what if said to you there is no honor there and even less cause for pride…if anything it has to be a badge of shame.

You see at turn of the age of the machine when I first commanded the Sardo-Khan. I was a young, petulant and rash, you could even say I lacked wisdom. And there was no one to guide me. During those early days, it was like the Wild Wild West. We made the rules as went along. Not like now in the age of the rocket. 

So that evening. There I was on top of the hill; I finally had them in a tight vice like fish in a barrel; they were checkmated with cunning and skill – what did I do?

I wasted every last man; even after they had surrendered, the killing went on for days; then sacked the city leveled it down to rumble;in it’s place I constructed a large man made reservoir as a warning to all who dared to attack us; my mind smoked with revenge; we had been fighting in the trenches for nearly a year. You may say, it’s only a make belief battle, but nonetheless, it’s bound to alter some of us. By that period most of us were no better than raving animals; – how was I to know? I said to myself this isn’t a real battle, it only exist only as digital flecks, a forgettable wisp of memory. Besides who is going to bother if I tore out one page of the Geneva Conventions? There are thousands of battles raging in the virtual, this was simply one drop in the ocean of time. How wrong was I? So very wrong?


It is important that you hear this from me and not from someone else. You see even today, no one remembers all the good I have done, all they seem to remember is how I once turned a thriving city into a reservoir. Since then I have educated myself by reading and writing broadly, but even then I cannot seem to shake off this one mistake. 

This is why they called me Darkness, the great devil, the vanquisher of the planets. In spite of the good I done, they still see me as a monster.


One day when I am no longer around, someone will spit on my statute in Liberation Square, then another will do the same, then another and soon a crowd will tear it down.

When that day comes, I want you find the largest rock and lob it as hard as you can at my memory – do this and I would could be said as a Sadherine (master) I have taught you Shadallin (student) well – this is the first lesson you will learn today, never ever make the same mistake I once made. My young apprentice very few masters will tell you this…I want to be true to you….and this simply means, I must be brutally honest with you on the account of the past, let this be is your first lesson Shadallin, you must have no illusions history has as many eyes as a pineapple….and the internet is like an elephant, it never ever forgets….never….I just made one mistake, not two or three….just one….You have to remember leadership here is not like the PAP, where you are like a cat with nine lifes…here you fuck up once…and it’s game over.

Someday the game will be over for me and even I cannot change how this story will end….This will be your first lesson my young apprentice.”


Darkness 2005

[This article has been brought to you by the FILB – The Free Internet Library Board based in Primus Aldentes Prime – The Brotherhood Press 2008]


5 Responses to “The Fine Art of Standing Proudly Naked Before The World – A Study In The Mufflement of the Humanities”

  1. dotseng said

    Dear Valued Readers,

    Thank you for many of your comments posted. Please do not be disheartened.

    As some of you already know, I have been instructed not to post any comments. No reason was given by the brotherhood.

    This may be due to the writer’s boycott in protest of any attempts to interfere with the independence of the net. It has been ongoing for at least a month and a bit now and from the looks of it there is no letting up. See here for the full details:

    I can’t be certain and all I can do is speculate really.

    The protest action has been going on for nearly a month now. Meanwhile ALL comments are suspended till further notice.

    I am very sorry. And once again do keep your chin up.

    Happy Reading


  2. dotseng said

    To New Readers do consider Book Marking this site. Once they take off, it will be virtually impossible to find them, trust me.

    Do it now dont delay. I am worried for you.

    As for the old readers pls note the bulletin board is no longer in operation along with most other things which used to work – we would have to really on SMS to relay their next locale.

    Good Luck


  3. a scientist said

    I was just enjoying your essay until I reached the part where you compared people who study humanites with people who study engineering. What’s with the stereotyping? You just spoiled your own essay.

  4. […] they hate Singapore – Just Stuff: The Fine Art of Standing Proudly Naked Before The World – A Study In The Mufflement of the Humanit… – empty_vessels: Moronism Part 132456565477976876… – Musings of an Aspiring Polymath: Why […]

  5. guojun said

    Stereotyping is as natural as being human. There are so many people out there that you have to stereotype. True, there are exceptions, but the very reason why stereotypes exist is that the overwhelming majority fits. There are as many truths as there are people, so if you are different, you can disprove your stereotype.

    People are normally impressed, but although they see you in a different light, it doesn’t mean that their stereotypes have changed. The brightest Humanities minds have stereotypes too and you can’t simplify things into free/not-free. People who champion liberalism and equality for all stereotype their opponents.

    Hypocritical but true.

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