You Are Not Your Weaknesses

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It’s never been easier to define yourself as a disabled minority. Autism, PTSD, agoraphobia, rape survivor, any and all of a long litany of modern-day maladies. You don’t even need an actual medical diagnosis; just slap the label on yourself, proclaim it to all and sundry as loudly and as often as you can, and only the brave will dare dispute you. If you can pass for an oppressed minority de jour–female, transexual, homosexual, racial or religious minority–more underprivileged points for you. Go on some special places on Tumblr and you’ll see people competing to slap as many labels on themselves: vegan poly autistic queer pangender otherkin diagnosed with ADHD, BPD, PTSD.

But what kind of person defines himself by dividing himself down to the smallest he can be?

Every gratuitous label represents a degradation of the human spirit. It is a narcissistic celebration of weakness. Define yourself by what you can’t do and you tell the world that you are a loser. Identify yourself with special snowflake labels and you tell the world you only crave attention.

I qualify for a number of tumblrina psuedo-labels myself. I will never use them where they are not appropriate. I do not even define myself as autistic. I choose different indicators: author, journalist, thinker, blogger.

I define myself by what I do.

Every declaration of what you won’t or can’t do tells the world that you are not interested in delivering value to others. Thus, the world will not take interest in you. Yes, you can get pity and attention with those labels, but they hold no water with people outside of those narrow circles, and feelgood brings no value to the world or to yourself. Every declaration of what you do and have done tells the world what you can, have and will achieve. It attracts like-minded people to you and bends the universe to your will.

I have achieved far more by drawing people’s attention to what I do and what I have done than to my weaknesses. So can you.

You Are Not Your Wounds

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Never before has the modern world rewarded people for being weak. All they have to do is stick those labels on themselves. Now that they are part of an oppressed underclass, they can organise and demand special rights and privileges. If someone disagrees with them, all they have to do is shout, “You are a privileged cis het homophobic/misogynistic/transphobic/Islamophobic/racist/nazi bigot!”.

This is the logic of social justice and the strategy of cultural Marxism. These people exploit social scripts of compassion, kindness, empathy and charity. By declaring themselves as part of some oppressed minority, they can claim that their demands are legitimate and draw attention to themselves. Anyone who says otherwise with them is a class enemy who must be destroyed.

In-groupers think these labels are power. They think lets them take and take and take from society without ever having to give back. But this is only possible in a society willing to give in. The winds of culture are changing. People are recognising these tactics and the parasites who use them for what they are. When society stops caring about them, what are they left with?

Nothing but shrieks and howls.

With that said, there are plenty of people out there who have experienced trauma, crippling diseases and disabilities, and genuinely need help. I am not unsympathetic. Social justice warriors have appropriated their wounds to wear as armour, and the siren song of power and pity is everywhere in the First World.

But you are more than your wounds. You are more than what you can’t do. If you want to live life fully, you cannot define yourself by the lesser part of who you are.

If you seek to excel, you must overcome them. Mind blindness, social deficits and phobias, sensory issues, what-have-you, these are not things that define you. I’ve seen too many people using them as excuses to justify why they aren’t getting jobs, why they aren’t achieving their goals, why they are wallowing in self-pity and like being losers.

Wounds are not to be picked at and paraded to the world. They are to be healed and learned from. If you want to be great you must step beyond your limits. Identify your weaknesses and reframe them. They are not things holding you back; they are obstacles to be overcome. Know your deficiencies, seek out professional advice to resolve them, and put in the work. Day by day, week by week, month by month, chip away at your weaknesses until they no longer bother you.

This can be terrifying. If you have identified yourself as ‘X’ your entire life, the prospect of changing it could make you feel adrift in the world. And the sheer amount of work needed can be daunting. One method is to identify something better to work towards, something that aspires you to act instead of dragging you into sluggishness. If you are fat, marvel at the beauty and strength of a well-conditioned human body, and work to get there. If you are poor, imagine what you can accomplish if you can increase your wealth tenfold or a hundredfold, and work to get there. Every day, find something that inspires you to reach your goals and take steps towards that, and remove yourself from people and things that prevent you from getting there.

Aspire to be your best self and work towards it.

Be Great

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You’re probably not going to overcome all your weaknesses. That’s okay.

As I grow older my sensory issues have grown more acute. Just today I went shopping for pens that glided smoothly across paper without transferring resistance up into my fingers. When I train with sticks at full power indoors I have to have hearing protection on standby. Once, when shopping for cold weather clothing, I ran my fingers across synthetic down jacket. It elicited a screeching white sensation of disgust overlaid with yellow spikes, a feeling so powerful that it blanked out my brain. These are things that have never happened to me before.

It may not be possible to completely overcome your disabilities. What you can do is strive to achieve a minimum standard of functionality. As a teen I could not stand human contact; today I can power through empty-hand martial arts training and remain functional. When I was younger I had significant social deficits; today I can maintain a healthy relationship with my fiancee. I learned to adapt and overcome, and I’m not done yet.

The wise understand their limits. You may not fully overcome your deficiencies and your weaknesses. What you can do is raise yourself to a level where they will not hamper you, allowing you to exercise your strengths and become the best person you can be.

You are not your weaknesses. You are the sum of your achievements and will become your future glories. Heal from your wounds and mitigate your flaws so they will not get in the way of your strengths. Present the greater part of yourself and leave your mark on the world.

Marital Rape Laws Expose Men to Abuse

 

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Two days ago, the Straits Times reported an impending review of Singapore’s law on marital rape to “ensure that married women have the same protection against violence as unmarried women”. Singapore’s legal code is built on English Common Law, which includes immunity from prosecution for men who have sex with their wives.

Removal of this immunity would expose the other half of humanity to legal jeopardy and manipulation.

Marriage is the recognition and legitimisation of a relationship between two parties. Marriage is a public, binding and lasting declaration of consent to sexual intercourse. Rape within marriage cannot exist.

The Other Half of the Sky

This review of marital rape is framed as ‘women’s rights’. In other words, it codifies the myth that men are the sole perpetrators of rape and women the sole victims—a myth that Singapore continues to perpetuate by defining rape as a crime committed only by men on women. It sweeps aside men who were coerced to penetrate someone else with their body parts. It exposes married men to false rape accusations and place undue legal burden on them.

The report says:

The Government may be wary that abolishing immunity may lead to false allegations of rape, or open up criminal proceedings that are overly intrusive to families.
But these are issues that can be worked out through consulting various stakeholders.

I am not convinced. Abolishing immunity will lead to false allegations. If a woman feels her husband offended her and wants to spite him, all she has to do is to have sex with him one night and accuse him of marital rape in the morning.

Since the ‘evidence’ states there was sexual contact, the onus is now on the husband to prove that he didn’t rape her or threaten to use violence unless she has sex with him. This is compounded by the fact that Singapore does not have Miranda rights. Suspects only have access to lawyers after the initial interview—and if the police and the public prosecutor decide to press charges, an innocent man is out of luck. It will be tempting for irresponsible police officers to pressure the husband into confessing for a crime he didn’t commit to speedily clear cases and to ‘protect women’. Regardless of what happens, the man will be dragged through the mud.

And if the woman were the manipulative sort, the criminal investigation is all the evidence she needs to file for divorce and a rich alimony.

If a system makes it easy for unscrupulous women to cry rape, it will happen. In America, between 6 to 8% of rape accusations are false. In India, it is 53%. Even if an allegation is proven false, the investigation would have caused great deal of emotional, financial and psychological harm to the accused.

‘Consulting various stakeholders’ is meaningless. The government did not consult stakeholders when formulating the White Paper on Population, its policies on new media, or, indeed, anything it have already made up their mind to achieve. The government may claim it will solicit feedback, but whether it will listen is something else. With the People’s Action Party retaining absolute dominance in Parliament, if the PAP believes something should be law, it will be law, regardless of stakeholders think—and nothing will stop them.

The Question No One Asks

Why do you want to be married to someone you don’t want to have sex with?

This is the question no one is asking about marital rape. Marriage is a partnership involving sexual rights and responsibilities, and holds both parties to uphold their duties of fulfilling the other’s sexual needs and desires. If either party consistently demonstrates an unwillingness to accommodate the other, the partnership is broken. In such a state, there are three legitimate responses: acceptance and adaptation, therapy and reconciliation, or divorce.

If you want the benefits of marriage, you must also fulfil the duties of marriage. If you do not want to fulfil the duties of marriage, then the marriage is over.

Marriage is a lasting declaration of consent. Defining marital rape as a crime opens the possibility of the wife unilaterally deciding to withdraw consent at any time without necessarily informing the husband and exposing him to criminal investigation. This isn’t just irresponsible and unfair; it opens the possibility for abuse.

If a woman no longer consents to have sex with her husband, she should revoke consent through divorce. If a woman believes that her husband is so violent that he will use force to coerce her into sex, then she should either divorce him and seek help, or better yet, not marry him at all. If a woman’s husband insists on having sex with her when she doesn’t feel up to it and she feels it is not right, she should either discuss it with him to resolve the issue, or file for divorce. Instead of abdicating all responsibility to the state, she should exercise it for herself.

Law is Not the Answer

The law is not a first resort. It is the last. Before entering a marriage, the parties involved must be certain that they are both willing to fulfil the other’s sexual needs. If either partner is not, rushing into marriage is a set-up for disaster. If either or both parties no longer wish to meet these obligations within a marriage, and do not wish to compromise or work around it, the responsible thing to do is to file for divorce.

A law that places undue burden on men is a law that will be abused. The law is not a hammer with which to beat the other party into psychological submission, nor to extract benefits from a former husband, nor to spite him. It is reserved for punishing and deterring actual criminals, not to take sides in a domestic dispute.

The answer to the problem of a person coercing his spouse into sex is not more law. It is teaching men and women the responsibilities of marriage and imparting life and relationship skills. It is educating people to recognise abusers and dissuading them from marrying such people. It is reaching out to abuse victims and getting them to leave abusers as quickly as possible.

In other words, it is teaching men and women to be responsible adults.

5 Life Lessons for Autists

I won’t call myself an autist. Not yet. I don’t have a formal diagnosis. Nonetheless, I display many of the classic signs of autism: deficits in speech and communication, repetitive behaviours and rigid rituals, hyper-focus on areas of interest. And the Big Three: poor verbal and non-verbal communication skills, impaired social skills, hyper-reactive senses.

I have experienced the same challenges many autistic people have faced. Many of these challenges persist. Even so, I have met many people along the way who have illuminated the path and provided sage advice, people who have helped me make life a little brighter, a little more bearable, a little more worth living.

For National Autism Awareness Month, here are five lessons I have learned along the way.

1. Endurance

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You ready to go the distance?

The measure of a human is how he endures the unendurable and continues to function.

The world is a noisy, swirling, chaotic kinetic maelstrom of sound and motion and odour and tastes and textures. My synaesthesia marries them in unions of audible colour, tactile light and visible smells. Couple them with hyper-reactive senses and the weight of the world is too much to bear.

The slightest human caress was fire against my skin, a pat on the head needles in my mind. Singlish, the true lingua franca of my country, is an ugly irritating spiky blob on the best of days and physically painful at the worst. The screech of train brakes emits painful yellow sparks and a lingering metallic aftertaste. Every clack of a mechanical keyboard is a sharpened sledgehammer to the brain. When I took up kali training, every clash of stick on stick was an explosion of brilliant white spikes.
And the people. People yammer on and on and on, creating floods of inconsequential noise, suddenly touching others and assuming it is benign, holding people to unspoken and unarticulated standards of conduct.

There is only so much the brain can process. So much energy a person has. There will come a breaking point, when the bulwarks fail and the world comes crashing in. When every sound is a stiletto to the ear, every sight sandpaper scraping against the eye, every texture the scratching of a thousand ragged fingernails in the imperceptible space between flesh and bone. It is a sensation that is there and not there, firing nerves in places without them, an infiltration and corruption of the interstitial places between skull and cerebrospinal fluid and brain. It is the corrosion of sense and reason and the descent of chaos and pain.

Humans call it a meltdown.

Running is easy. Secluding yourself in your room and hiding under the covers is pleasant. All too often it is the only sane option left in an insane world.

But there will be times when that option is not available. If you’re in a boardroom meeting, suddenly leaving will jeopardise your career. If you’re standing in a military formation, breaking discipline will lead to collective punishment. If you’re in a crowded elevator frozen between floors, you have nowhere to go.

There’s only one option.

Endure.

Even if you feel that the world is closing in on your mind, you must endure. If that is the least of bad options, endure. Success goes not to the man who quits at the first sign of discomfort, but the one who endures and pushes through pain to the other side.

Autists can—and should—armour themselves against overwhelming sensory experiences however they can. I wrap my sticks in heavy tape to blunt the noise of impact. I carry Flare Audio Isolate titanium earplugs all the time. I choose clothes and accessories and equipment with an eye towards minimal sensory impact. I work in quiet rooms and stay away from noise.

But there is only so much you can do. If you wish to interact with the world, much less leave your mark on it, you must engage it fully. You must open yourself to the unceasing pandemonium that is life in the modern age. If you will not blind or deafen yourself, life will seep through in all its wonder and chaos.

You must endure.

And in enduring, you learn that it is not a fixed capacity.

As you expose yourself to greater and more frequent sounds, you desensitise yourself to them. You learn how to mitigate them, how to cope with them, how to keep functioning. You learn to recognise the signs of an autistic meltdown and either head off the symptoms or leave the area. The truest test is to function at the ragged edge of your abilities, to keep thinking and talking and responding on the threshold of a meltdown—or in the middle of one.

It is not easy, but it is necessary if you live in a bustling city like I do.

To achieve great rewards one must endure great hardships. If you would do more than merely exist, you must push through pain and suffering to achieve your goals. You must develop the ability to endure.

2. You Are Not Special

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Snowflakes melt. Don’t be one.

If you’re autistic, chances are you have an all-consuming interest. It could be anything: prime numbers, train schedules, memorising pi, baking pies, the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, the complete genealogy and medical history of a flock of sheep, the search for a Grand Unified Theory.

It doesn’t matter.

Your special interests do not make you special. If you can’t find a way to contribute to people’s lives through your special interest, you are not special.

Writing remains my singular focus in life, but I also pursued knowledge in other fields, moving from one to another in days or weeks or months. In primary school I could discuss atomic power, King Arthur and the human immune system. As a teenager I could hold court on terminal ballistics, the discography of the Bee Gees and epistemology.

None of it mattered.

Nobody was interested in such arcana. Nobody benefited from my discourses and lectures and writings. Ergo, no value was delivered through these obsessions.

It’s fine to pursue these interests as a hobby. But if you can’t find and manifest the intersection between your interests and what people desire, nobody will care about them.

Autistics will feel distressed when they cannot pursue their interests. It is tempting to drop everything to focus solely on them. But that is attachment, and attachment is the root of suffering. If you deliver no value to others, people are not going to support you or pay you or otherwise help you continue existing so you can continue to pursue your interests.

The ideal, of course, is to make a living through your passions. To get there, you must act. You cannot limit yourself to stuffing your head with information or delivering lectures to unreceptive audiences. You must act. You must be the best in your field, identify missing needs and fill them. You must be give people a reason to give you money. In my case, there is a resurging demand for excellent fiction, specially science fiction and fantasy, and I intend to fill that gap. Likewise, there is high demand for articles about self-improvement, travel, life hacks, martial arts, the craft of writing and more—and my record on Steemit speaks for itself.

It is nice to imagine that one can make a living from one’s interests, but it isn’t always so. I would love to be a professional fiction writer, but that’s not on the horizon anytime soon. There was a time when I could simply write all day and not worry about anything else, but those days are over. I have bills to pay and responsibilities to uphold. I had to scale back my writing, again and again, to accommodate reality. There will come a day when I will be a professional writer, when I can support myself through my interests…but for now, life demands its due.

Your special interests do not make you special. What you do with them does.

3. Scripts Rule Society

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How much of this scene is on autopilot?

If you will not take holy orders and seclude yourself in a hermitage, or live by yourself alone in the wilderness, you must interact with people. It is an inescapable facet of life. If you want friends and lovers and children, if you want to buy goods and services, if you want to live in the modern world with all its trappings, you have to talk to people.

Social interaction is the chief weakness of most autistics. You don’t have to be a social butterfly, but you can at least be functional in society.

Fortunately, society runs on social scripts.

Social scripts are predictable and expectable responses to specific circumstances. People who know each other exchange greetings when they meet. If someone does another wrong, the wronged party expects an apology and the offending party issues one. Societies enforce taboos and teach their members how to behave in public and private. Organisations have specific procedures and jargon so everyone is on the same page.

Imagine an intricate machine filled with uncountable numbers of enmeshed gears rotating in unison. That is society. Social scripts, especially codes of etiquette, are the lubricants that keep everything turning smoothly. They allow complete strangers to interact each other, and intimates to predict what the other party will say or do.

Social scripts enable mutual understanding and minimise conflict. Most people are unaware of these scripts. Autistics cannot afford to be—and, at the same time, can craft scripts of their own to pre-empt difficulties. For example, when buying groceries, the standard script takes six steps:

  1. Set groceries on counter
  2. Wait for cashier to register every sale and declare the price
  3. Check the price and make payment
  4. Receive change or card as necessary
  5. Double-check all items and gather them up
  6. Leave

To regular people, buying groceries is a simple, mindless transaction. It took me years to figure out how to do it smoothly. A neurotypical person may see groceries as an undifferentiated mass of stuff. For me, every bag, every good, every coin, every card, every person, every gesture, every sound, every perceivable action and object and event is a discrete item that must be logged and tracked and moved into appropriate positions or otherwise accounted for.

For autistic people, the mere act of buying groceries is a recipe for mental congestion. And that’s before accounting for off-script events.

It’s the little things: the cashier talking to you, children chatting behind you, dropping coins, incorrect change, a cash register noisier than usual, a bellicose customer. Neurotypical people may not have a problem with it, but autists with their minds busy processing the transaction will not be able to respond effectively.

If you can break down a script, you can pre-empt it and create your own scripts to your advantage. On the way to the counter you can start calculating the bill. As the cashier keys in the sales, you can prepare payment. When you pay the cashier you can take the time to check items. This frees up cognitive capacity to check items and prepare to go.

A script allows you to work with minimal cognitive load. It is a reliable heuristic governing human behaviour. Life is difficult enough; no need to make it worse

4. Empathy is A Skill

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If you can talk and think you can do this.

Neurotypical people instinctively learn social skills through everyday interaction. Autists are challenged to consciously learn them.

Empathy is a skill. Charm is a skill. All kinds of interpersonal communication are skills. Skills can be learned. If you are not brain-damaged, you can pick up the ability to communicate effectively in society.

Social scripts are useful, but they only apply to specific contexts. When events go off-script, you need to respond smoothly and appropriately. Social skills allow you to respond with a minimal of disruption. They allow you to broaden your horizons and spontaneously interact with people in multiple environments. To be an integral part of society, you must know how to talk to people. It’s not easy, but it doesn’t have to be impossible.

There are hundreds of books and websites out there that teach people, specifically autistic people, social skills, empathy and charm. After learning them, put them into practice. Start with social scripts, then graduate to unplanned encounters. Work your way up to ever-increasing levels of difficulty.

To highly introverted autists, this is extremely difficult. It requires obsessive study, the willingness to put theory into practice, the recognition that failure is inevitable and the will to get back up and try again anyway. It requires endurance and courage and sheer bloody-mindedness to keep trying. It is exhausting, but this is why you manage your energy and develop endurance.

And the rewards?

Friends, family, a career. The ability to be a functional member of society, to share your thoughts and aspirations and emotions, to find companionship, to divide sorrow and multiply joy. To live, fully and completely, in the world.

It is difficult, but it is worth it.

5. Change Yourself, Change the World

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Start with the man in the mirror

The world is not made for autists.

It’s simple demographics. Most people are neurotypical, ergo they shape society per their thought patterns, their quirks, their foibles. Many of them don’t know how to interact with autistics, many don’t want to, many don’t even care.

It’s nice to call for autism awareness. It’s nice to call for neurodiversity. It’s nice to call for autism rights. People who want to be nice will try their best to accommodate the needs of autists.

Not everyone will.

Nobody can change the world. Not by themselves.

Nobody can force people to change. Not without guns and concentration camps and the tools of dictatorship. People who demand that everybody change to accommodate them without themselves being willing to compromise are little more than bullies and petty tyrants.

You can’t change people without coercion but you can always change yourself.

You can choose many things: how you feel about events, how you act in response to stimuli, whether to change or stand fast.
Choose growth. Choose change. Choose to be the best person you can be. Choose to surround yourself with people who bring out your best.

Do this, and the world will change with you.

Summing Up

I lied.

These five lessons aren’t just for autistics. They are for everybody. Autists need them the most, but they apply to neurotypicals too.

No matter where you stand on the autistic spectrum, if you are on the spectrum at all, you are as human as me and everyone else. Growth is universal to all humans. All I have done is lay bare a few aspects of growth and placed them in a frame. Frame them a different way and the lessons still apply.

Life awaiting.

Embrace it.

How to Recognise A Soulmate

The modern world has no room for soulmates. The First World has repudiated the strictures of the Church and traditional morality, ushering in an era of free love, rising divorce rates and increasing unhappiness. Corporations have turned Valentine’s Day into an excuse for ostentatious consumption, and with it, an opportunity for immense profit. Skeptics claim love is little more than brain chemistry. Pickup artists laugh at the idea of ‘the One’. Writers in the manosphere advise readers to keep their game tight and prowl for women, marking success by notches on the bedpost. The idea of a soulmate is anathema to them.

They are wrong.

Finding My Soulmate

12 years ago, when I was in secondary school, I was part of the National Cadet Corps. One afternoon we were scheduled for a meeting in a classroom after school. I was the first to arrive; only the cadets from that class were present. I sat at an empty desk, opened my notebook and continued crafting notes on my novel.

A girl sat opposite me. Dark-skinned, short curly hair, an androgynous face. The kind of girl most people wouldn’t look twice at. I kept writing.

“You have nice handwriting,” she said.

Her voice was an electric violet entwined with crystalline greens shot through with yellow, so bright I had to look up at her. She smiled at me.

A strange sensation crept over me. It was the feeling of familiarity, as though I had known her for a hundred lives or more. She was a plain girl, but her eyes were wide and soft and deep, and her smile bursting with joy and warmth. I thought of a photograph dating to the fifties, yellowed with age, of a woman in a pencil skirt and plain blouse, wearing the same smile she did now.

Her classmate wandered over. He was the leader of our company, the one who had called for the meeting.

“Hey Jas,” he said.

A voice in mind, quiet and calm and confident, said, No. Her name is Jasmine.

“This is Benjamin,” he continued.

“Hi,” she said. “I’m Jasmine.”

I nodded.

It wasn’t the most romantic of encounters. We never thought that that meeting set the stage for the rest of our lives. But here we are today.

Recognising Your Soulmate

By now a spiritual reader would have recognised the signs and broke out into huge grins. If you’re that person, chances are, you’re going to know what I’m going to talk about. For the rest of you, read on.

To find your soulmate, you must first discard all illusions. Pop culture depicts soulmate relationships as smooth-sailing and effortless. Romance writers like to make everything work out somehow. Fairy tales end their stories with ‘and they lived happily ever after’.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The game gurus of the manosphere have learned to be wise about women. They understand that women are as human as everyone else, prone to frailties, eccentricities and personal failings. They know that the majority of women out there are not suited for long-term relationships with them. They know that women positively respond to specific behaviours and negatively to others, and pass on advice to other men to make them become more attractive. They know the perils of being in long-term relationships with dangerous women, and correctly advise their readers to drop unsuitable mates the second they see the warning signs. They have experienced the suffering that comes from being attached to the idea of any particular woman being ‘the One’ — especially if that woman does not reciprocate their affections — so they teach men to develop the mindset of detachment and abundance.

But those that sneer at the concept of soulmates are mistaken.

The idea of a soulmate is misunderstood by society. Meeting your soulmate does not guarantee a relationship, much less a successful one. A relationship with your soulmate is not guaranteed to be smooth and pleasant. A soulmate may not be with you forever. Meeting your soulmate may be a capstone in your life, but it is not the end. It is, if anything, the beginning of a long and rocky road.

To understand the notion of a soulmate you must understand the soul. It is your essence, the sum of all you are. It is your personality, your worldviews, your beliefs, your habits, your hang-ups, everything that makes up who you are. Your soul is a diamond. And the only thing that can wear down a diamond is another diamond.

When diamonds are unearthed from the ground, they are dull and irregular and plain. Once inside a gem workshop, lapidaries carefully slice away their flaws, wear away rough corners, and meticulously grind facets at precisely-calculated angles. Diamond is so hard that the workmen must use diamond tools to shape diamond. After long hours of labour, the product is a sparkling, opulent gem with a rainbow at its heart.

So it is with your soulmate. A soulmate is a person who reflects your soul in its entirety, both its beauty and its ugliness. When you are with her, it is like diamonds grinding each other down. Your interactions with her bring out both the noblest and basest aspects of your self. She motivates you to exercise your strengths, and she exposes your flaws. And you, too, do the same to her.

Your soulmate inspires you to transform yourself into a glittering diamond of a human being.

Polishing the Diamond

Life with your soulmate becomes a journey of personal transformation and transcendence. But it is neither easy nor automatic. Like the lapidary carefully polishing a diamond, you bothhave to put in the work.

As you might have guessed from the anecdote, as a teen I was surly and antisocial. I was razor-focused on the Great Work of creation. Most people who did not contribute to that simply ceased to be relevant to my life. I had minimal social skills, and I saw no need to be friendly to people.

Jasmine showed me how I had gone wrong. And even today I am still learning from her.

For all this, humans are free. Free to cling to their old ways and free to change. Free to defend a fragile ego and free to exercise compassion. Free to stay and free to walk away.

When you are with your soulmate, you will grind away at each other. Your friction and conflicts will expose your deep-seated insecurities, fears and delusions to the light of day. You can choose to stay the course and work things out. Or you can choose to leave.

Neither choice is always right all the time. As she works on you, you too are working on her. You will see her at her worst. Her ideas, suggestions and actions may not be in your best interests all the time. Blindly going along with everything turns you from a diamond into a doormat, and insisting that she listen to you always is to demand the same from her.

Do not count on angelic proclamations, crackles of metaphysical electricity or flashes of mental imagery to signal a meeting with your soulmate. It is nice if it happens but do not assume it always will. Instead, like the lapidary who examines a diamond with a clear microscope and penetrating light, you must examine your relationship and hold it against measurable benchmarks.

Does your mate celebrate your successes or does she belittle them? Does she encourage you to grow your strengths or bury them? Does she motivate you to be healthier and fitter and wiser, or does she sneer at your attempts at self-improvement? Does she cultivate virtue alongside you or does she ignore you? Does she help you overcome your weaknesses or does she humiliate you for them? Does she encourage you to nurture and grow your wealth or does she leech off you? When caught in a dispute, does she seek to resolve matters with you or does she seek to impose blame? When facing a challenge together, does she partner with you or attempt to impose her will? Most of all: are you happy with her?

You must be brutally honest about yourself. The more she builds you up, the greater you can be sure that she is a keeper. if she tears you down, you must point out such behaviour to her and encourage her to change: if she ceases and changes for the better, she may yet have potential. If she refuses, you must leave. A relationship built on denigration and destruction will not last.

Predators and parasites seek only to grind you into dust. Soulmates offer you the challenge of becoming a diamond.

The Great Dance of Life

Jasmine and I have our issues. Plenty of them. We’re not saints, not by a long shot. But for over a decade, we have helped each other overcome great challenges, resolved some of our deep-rooted problems, faced down our fears and built each other up. We’ve had our ups and downs, our arguments and differences, but we stuck it out and invested the blood and sweat and tears needed to make things work. We still do. We aren’t where we want to be, but we are getting there every day, step by step.

A soulmate is someone you want to share the great dance of life with. Someone who sees you for the diamond that you are and helps you manifest your true potential, and someone whose inherent greatness you feel compelled to bring out. Like polishing a diamond, this dance is long and hard and rocky, but if you’ve found the right person, the challenge is worth it.

To all lovers out there, may you help each other become glittering diamonds in the world. And to all the singles out there, may you find your soulmate someday.

When Caught Between Polarities, Find the Deeper Truth

The world is a complex place. The movers and shakers of the world — people, organisations, superpowers — act and speak in strange, apparently contradictory ways, yet the universe bends to their will, and with it the destinies of ordinary people. Oftentimes the world seems caught between polarities: between centralisation and decentralisation, love and hate, spiritual and secular.

To leave your mark on the world, to avoid being caught in the wakes of clashing leviathans, you must discern the truth.

Truth is a strange thing. The opposite of a fact is a falsehood, but the opposite of a truth is another truth. To understand why this is so, we must peel back the veil of everyday reality and gaze upon the underlying principles of the universe.

The Dao De Jing describes existence as such: “From the Dao comes the one. From the one comes the two. From the two comes the three. From the three comes the ten thousand things.”

Observe the yinyang above. It symbolises the duality of nature, portraying how two seemingly opposite forces are in reality complementary and interconnected. The bright fades into the dark, the dark gives to the light, and nestled within each half is the seed that sprouts into the other.

Yin and yang are not binary opposites. One flows into the other, ever turning round and round in the great dance of life. Yin and yang is idealised as being in a perpetual state of balance. The reality is that yin may overpower yang, or yang overpower yin. The cosmic balance appears to be out of order – but the Dao remains, and all that is timeless and eternal remains the same. What changes is the manifestation of different facets of the Dao.

Ivan Throne of Dark Triad Man elucidates the following exercise. Visualise a long strip of paper. One end is white, the other black. In the space between is infinite shades of grey, with one colour transitioning into the next. Spin the paper round and round, fast as you can, and all you see is grey.

The black end represents the supreme manifestation of a given aspect of reality. The white end is the supreme manifestation of another aspect. The grey zone represents the manifestation of both aspects. Each shade of grey represents how either polarity is manifest in varying degrees and combined into a singularity.

Here are some examples to illustrate this principle.

What is the Truth?

The opposite of love is hate. One is the supreme manifestation of affection, the other the supreme manifestation of hostility. They appear irreconcilable until the moment a wild tsundere appears. When faced with her love interest, the classic tsundere switches wildly between both ends of the scale, acting lovestruck one moment and harsh the next. How can two emotions exist in the same person?

Answer: they do not. A properly-done tsundere experiences intense feelings towards her love interest but lacks the ability to properly comprehend or express said feelings. This is the underlying truth. Whenever she feels this surge of emotions, she expresses them in markedly contradictory ways. Confusion (for the love interest) and hilarity (for the audience) ensues.

From the one (unable to process emotions) comes the two (running hot and cold towards love interest), from the two comes the three (how relationship with the love interest plays out), from the three comes the ten thousand things (how other characters perceive her and her relationship to others, how the audience perceives her and her relationships with other characters, how this affects the audience’s perception of the story, and so on).

Now let’s look at the real world. To be specific: President Donald Trump.

In the real world, we see this in perceptions of controversial figures like Donald Trump. Here is a man who is loved and hated, lauded and feared, embodying the growing polarisation of America. The Alt-Right, New Right and other figures love Trump, hailing him the God-Emperor of America. Everybody bluer than left of centre hates him.

This is deliberate.

Trump has deliberately built an image designed to incite extreme emotional reactions. His supporters love him, his enemies hate him, and his supporters love the fact that his enemies hate him – so they will continue to support him. The underlying truth is that a man who can stir up the passions of the crowd is a man who cannot be ignored and will not be forgotten. This is the principle Trump employed to win the 2016 Presidential elections and take power.

Here is another example: be honest in all your dealings, but conceal yourself with a smokescreen.

How can you be honest if people do not know your intentions? How can you hide yourself effectively if you choose to deal fairly with people?

Answer: carefully choose what you reveal and what you hide.

Again, go back to Trump. On the campaign trail, Trump has made a number of grandiose promises: ban illegal immigration and refugees, roll back federal power, strengthen the economy and make America great again. At the same time, Trump is (in)famous for tweeting non-stop, making pronouncements and attacking his critics on the Internet.

The tweets are his smokescreen. Every time he says something controversial, the media swarm all over it like vultures. He uses simple, emotive language, leading many critics to deride him as a simpleton. The hostile media spends so much time and resources stirring up a two minute hate against his latest soundbite, they have nothing left when he acts.

At the same time, by acting on his campaign promises and signing so many Executive Orders in his first month in office, he has created the appearance of an honest, decisive executive to his supporters. His supporters trust that he will act on his word.

The question, then, is how to determine which of his words are the smokescreen and which of his words reflect his true self. This is a variation of the Japanese concept of honne and tatemae: honne are your true desires, while tatemae is the facade for public consumption (usually, but not always, politically correct). This keeps world leaders and policymakers guessing, letting Trump build up a reputation for unpredictability — a reputation he can use to his advantage.

Here is a third and final example: always court the spotlight, but the nail that sticks out gets hammered down.

People only notice other people who stand out from the crowd, but people who stand out from the crowd are destroyed.

If you want to effect great change, you must be visible and command the attention of everyone around you. However, this increased visibility attracts the wrath of your enemies, who will plot to destroy you. Thus, you must hide your true intent and appear to be aligned with the will of the people, preventing your opponents from predicting and overthrowing you.

Look at Trump. Trump’s signature is to go big and press hard, making bold declarations and policy statements that he knows his enemies and opposite numbers won’t stand for. Between his speeches, announcements and air of controversy and unpredictability, he is constantly in the limelight. Not a day passes when he is not the talk of the entire world. His enemies are legion, constantly seeking avenues of attack. But Trump’s ideas echo the sentiments of the public: they resonate with the Americans who feel bullied by the Left, with Americans who fear the effects of mass immigration, with Americans who want the Federal government to stop encroaching on their rights. Trump speaks in simple language that anyone can comprehend, using the most popular technological platform of the day. Whenever Trump is criticised, his supporters — seeing Trump as one of their own — will rise to the defence of the God-Emperor.

Trump’s true thoughts are hidden in the fireworks. He has always scaled back from his opening positions. This makes his opposite numbers feel like they have won concessions, fence-sitters feel that he is reasonable, and his supporters feel that he has merely enacted the first step of his master plan — or that it is as far as Trump can go for now. And the reason he can do that efficiently is because his enemies can’t predict what he really wants and alter their tactics accordingly.

Find the Dao

The ten thousand things appear bewildering and incomprehensible. But all roads lead to the three, to the two, to the one, and to the Dao.

In the face of seemingly contradictory truths, recognise that they are opposite polarities of the same overarching principle manifested in reality. Discern the underlying facet of reality being expressed. That facet is the principle that guides the situation, such as a drive to gain, hold or express power coupled with the desire to defend against hostile attention.

The world may seem complex, yet it is governed by recognisable fundamental principles. The man who can discern and manifest these principles to suit his needs peers through the veil of reality and holds in his hands the levers of the universe.

Photo Credit:

Yinyang: free image from Pixabay
Donald Trump: Dark Triad Man

Trump’s Travel Ban Will Prevent a Clash of Civilisations

President Donald Trump’s travel ban has predictably incited a firestorm of controversy. Predictably, the mainstream media lied about Trump’s ban, claiming it bans Muslims from entering the United States. Also, quite predictably, they aren’t going to tell you that the ban will prevent a clash of civilisations in America.

This is the full text of Trump’s executive order. Nowhere it in mentions Muslims or nations by name. What he has done is to suspend the entry of foreign nationals from states defined in a law proposed by former President Barack Obama and passed by a Democrat-controlled legislature for 90 days, to suspend the US Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days, and to direct the relevant agencies to strengthen vetting and screening processes.

87% of the world’s Muslims are not affected by the ban. It is not a Muslim ban; it is a temporary suspension of entry of nationals from states of concern.

These states of concern are Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen. Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen are failed states, either on the brink of collapse or well past it, and are engulfed in war and terrorism. They cannot guarantee that people leaving the country are not criminals or terrorists. Iran is a known state sponsor of anti-US terrorism, most recently in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, and has recently conducted a ballistic missile test in defiance of a UN resolution. Tehran is not going to tell Washington whether a traveler is an innocent person or a Quds Force operative on an espionage mission. Until the US develops a robust means of screening out undesirables, it only makes sense to temporarily halt entry of persons from these states. The ban applies to all people, not just Muslims.

The media has run plenty of stories about the plight of people who were deported, refused entry or are in a state of limbo due to the ban. I sympathise with their situation, but the sad truth is that government policy must by necessity paint with a broad brush. I suspect Trump is once again using high-pressure tactics, wielding popular reactions to the ban as an instrument to exact concessions from the hard left and the hard right. Scott Adams has more information here. In the coming days and months, I will not be surprised if the Trump Administration or the federal agencies roll out a raft of exemptions and screening recommendations, making Trump appear more reasonable.

But only up to a point. If Trump is going to deliver on his promise to Make America Great Again, there will be much more stringent screening measures in the near future, if not an outright ban on almost all refugees. And this will prevent a clash of civilisations.

Inconvenient Facts about ‘Refugees’

In November 2015, Michael Cernovich of Danger and Play decided to find the ground truth about the Middle Eastern refugee crisis. Traveling to Budapest, he documented his findings here. He discovered that most of the refugees were able-bodied young men, and were taught how to lie and where to go to receive the most benefits.

Why are these male refugees in Europe instead of fighting the Islamic State?

That should tell you something about the refugees. Here are three things the media won’t tell you about them.

  1. Most of the refugees are not refugees.

When you think of ‘refugees’, you tend to think of women, children and elderly fleeing from a war zone. That is not the case here. At least 60% of these refugees are economic migrants. This dovetails well with Cernovich’s findings about refugees being taught to game the system. They are not running from Daesh; they are attempting to take advantage of Europe’s generous welfare states. And ‘activists’ are aiding and abetting them in doing so.

  1. Most of these refugees are functionally illiterate

65% of incoming refugees from Syria are unable to read or write their own language. 70% of trainees in skills training courses for refugees have dropped out. And yet they are settling in a distant land that speaks a different language and embraces different cultural values. Most of these refugees do not have the skills to contribute meaningfully to their host nation; all they can do is simple menial labour.

If these were ‘regular’ refugees, this would not be a problem. They would simply stay in refugee camps until the war is over, then go home. But many of them are economic migrants. Their goal is to stay in their host nation. If they want to stay, they must contribute to society like regular citizens do. But if most of them cannot contribute, why should they be allowed to stay?

  1. Arab refugees are radically different from their host nations

People are not blank slates. Refugees are no different. They come from Arabic-speaking Muslim-majority lands with barely functional and highly corrupt authoritarian formergovernments. They expect despotism and nepotism everywhere, and their societies tend to be organised along tribal lines with strong religious influences. Democracy, civil rights and separation of church and state are unknown to them, and indeed fundamentally incompatible with the cultural values of their homelands.

They will experience massive culture shock in the West, and most of them will be unable to integrate meaningfully into society. They will be unable to communicate with ordinary Westerners. They will not be able to find work. They will have to acclimatise to a different climate. They will be surrounded by people with vastly different political and cultural norms. This is the recipe for a clash of civilisations.

Samuel Huntington argues in The Clash of Civilisations and the Remaking of World Orderthat the primary source of conflict in the post-Cold War era will centre on religious and cultural identities. Peoples at the borders of distinct civilisations will clash with each other to secure dominance of their own culture and religion. And so far, Europe has proven Huntington right.

Sweden is now the rape capital of the West. Migrant gangs prowl the streets of Europe, enforcing shariah law and committing crimes. Germany has experienced a rash of sex attacks by migrants, and authorities are excusing rape culture. And now, the hard right is mobilising in numbers.

It seems to me that the Trump Administration has learned from Europe. It is a small miracle there haven’t been any major terrorist attacks in the United States yet, but large numbers of poorly-screened refugees and migrants are fertile grounds for terrorism. The implementation of more robust screening measures would ideally keep out the terrorist- and criminally inclined. An outright ban on most or all future refugees would eliminate the chance of a clash of civilisations, either now or in the future.

Muslim Refugees are not (European) Jewish Refugees

Inevitably someone will compare the Muslim refugees to Jewish refugees during World War II. This is a false comparison.

The Jewish refugees were European Jews. They were raised in modern states with modern education systems. They share the same cultural norms as the rest of the West, such as democracy, secularism and civil liberties. While they might have linguistic difficulties, they had valuable skills and had an innate understanding of public norms and codes of conduct in their new lands. Most importantly, the Jews did not remain refugees. After the war, they tended to do one of three things. They legally immigrated into their new countries, returned to their homelands, or emigrated to Israel.

Refugee status is not a permanent status. Once the crisis is over, they either assimilate or return home. On the other hand, many of the refugees flooding Europe have no intention of assimilating or returning.

However, there is one similarity between the Jews and the Arab refugees. The Jewish refugee crisis was solved by the destruction of the Third Reich. Similarly, the Arab refugee crisis can be solved through a similar way.

Strike the Root

The solution to the Arab refugee crisis is not to invite even more refugees and trigger a clash of civilisations. It is to strike the root of evil.

To be sure, genuine refugees do need help. Nobody should have to live at the mercy of Daesh, warlords or terrorists. But transporting them across the sea to a faraway land with vastly incompatible languages and norms is not the answer. Not when nearby countries with similar norms and languages can help. Saudi Arabia, for instance, has enough tents to house 3 million refugees. Similarly, these countries have functional governments with militaries capable of fending off terrorist incursions. Moving refugees to safe zones in neighbouring nations is cheaper, safer and faster than moving them to the West, and will not provoke an inter-civilisational conflict. Indeed, Donald Trump has secured an agreement from Saudi Arabia and Dubai to establish safe zones. I wouldn’t be surprised if Trump implements a permanent travel ban alongside deportations to these safe zones.

With refugees secure, the nations of the world can focus their attention on destroying Daesh and other armed groups causing havoc in the region, and restoring law and order to these lands. And this is not something the West can take a lead in.

While America can supply the firepower needed to destroy the Islamic State in the field, this is not enough to win the peace. Eventually the power brokers must sit down and hash out long-term arrangements for a stable and peaceful society. The West must not take the leading role in such negotiations and state-building measures. This will be seen as imperialism and an attempt to impose their will. Instead, states from within the Islamic civilisation, such as Saudi Arabia and Dubai, will have to take charge. Their shared culture and religion will improve the chances of successful negotiations and long-term outcomes. What the West can do is play the role of honest broker, ensure all sides play fair, and pressure the key players to keep returning to the negotiating table until they find a win-win solution.

Donald Trump’s travel ban is not necessarily the best solution, but it might well be the least bad policy — for now. Trump must avoid inciting a clash of civilisations in America, and that means keeping out the people most likely to foment such a clash. Going forward, I expect Trump to roll back the ban and incorporate new screening measures and exemptions. But to properly solve the refugee crisis once and for all, Daesh and other warlords must be destroyed and replaced with stable states — and that is something the West should not play a leading role in.

Media credits:

  1. https://www.reddit.com/r/The_Donald/comments/4ao8b7/who_of_you_did_this_trump_is_now_officially_god/
  2. Mike Cernovich, Danger and Play, 2015
  3. Uri Dan, To the Promised Land, 1987 (Public Domain)
  4. http://www.keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk/p/keep-calm-and-destroy-islamic-state/

The Rhetoric of Provocation and Offense

There are many people in the world who will not be persuaded by reason, and even the most rational humans can be swayed with the right emotional leverage. For years the Left has utilised outrage to dominate the political arena. Now the Right is taking up the same tactics, especially the New Right of America. Case in point: Ann Coulter.

Feel the rage? The pleasure? The amusement? Whatever you are feeling now, let it pass through you. When your heart is calm again, read on.

Coulter’s tweet was deliberate. With that one statement, she addressed three separate audiences, with vastly different reactions.

Her first audience are the people who oppose her. A tweet like that impinges on their beliefs and values, triggering outrage and denouncements. Indeed, the hate-fest on that tweet was epic, even by Twitter standards. That tweet would forever alienate this audience.

But what kind of people will get offended over the use of rape as a rhetorical device? People who sympathise with the plight of illegal immigrants, oppose Donald Trump and his policies, and Social Justice Warriors and progressives of every stripe. In other words: people who would never agree with Coulter’s views no matter what. If she is not concerned about their opinion of her, Coulter incurs no cost in offending them.

The second audience are the people who support her. These people support Donald Trump, agree with his proposal to build the wall, and believe illegal immigration is a scourge. They will support every argument against illegal immigration, no matter how emotional or contrived. This is Coulter’s core audience.

Most of them are regular people who despise rape. In their perception, Coulter’s tweet engineered a subconscious connection between illegal immigration and rape. And Trump’s supporters would be well-primed with facts and statistics pointing to the number of illegal immigrants who are gangsters, drug dealers, murderers and rapists. This tweet activated their sense of moral righteousness, triggering feelings of camaraderie and the pleasure of finding a fellow traveler. Coulter’s tweet spoke to the hearts and minds of this audience, and continues to resonate with them.

The third audience are the people who can view the subject dispassionately. They either do not have a stake in the situation, or are able to step back and view the exchange for what it is: an allegory reflecting the absurdity of the original statement. These are the people Coulter would like to win over — but it is a bonus, not her primary objective.

These people can’t be classified into a homogenous mass. Their politics span the entire political spectrum. Their values and morals are equally diverse. Some may appreciate her use of rhetoric; others will be turned off by her talk of rape. But more than a few will use the discussion as a springboard to further examine the issue and investigate Coulter. And they will learn that Coulter correctly predicted the rise of trump, while the sitting Mexican President has one of the lowest approval ratings in history (12%), has been embroiled in scandal after scandal, cracked down on dissenters, allowed the growth of crime and violence, and engaged in a multitude of reforms that weakened the rights of labourers while consolidating power in the hands of the oligarchs. If Coulter manages to convert any of these thinkers to her point of view, she has profited from the tweet.

This strategy of provocation works on three levels. By speaking to her core audience, she maintains and grows her support base. By offending those would be offended anyway, she gets them to blast her tweet far and wide and reach a greater audience, effectively manipulating them to do her work for her. By prodding the non-partisans, she sways who she can to her perspective, generating buzz that keeps the momentum going.

Let’s examine her tweets at the macro level. These are her tweets before her provocative tweet.

These are the ones after (excluding her retweet of Donald Trump).

Notice the sharp uptick in replies, retweets, and likes. Before the tweet, she had an average of 237 replies, 838 retweets and 3300 likes for her past three tweets. After the tweet, the average shot up to 533 replies, 2566 retweets and 7066 likes for her next three tweets.

But that’s not all. In the following three tweets, there is an average of 376 replies, 1086 retweets and 3666 likes. While the momentum generated by the rhetoric tweet is dropping off, the average numbers of replies, retweets and likes are still higher than before the tweet. When Coulter sees her numbers drop below a given threshold, I predict she will say something offensive again, and keep her base growing.

People are drawn to drama. Rhetoric provokes conflict and conflict leads to drama. On social media, retweets and likes are the lifeblood of public figures. They provide a gauge of how that person’s ideas are viewed. Replies are secondary — almost nobody has the time and energy to go through hundreds of responses. The retweets and likes are a rough-and-ready measure for everyone else to see how well-liked and socially-acceptable a tweet is, creating a bandwagon effect that recruits more people to their point of view.

There are many people who insist on decorum and reason — in other words, dialectic. These are nice sentiments, but social media is not the place for dialectic. Every social media platform is designed for entertainment and consumption. Twitter has a hard limit of 140 characters. Gab offers 300. Facebook emphasises one-liners with larger fonts and hides longer statements. Social media is not inherently designed for the rigorous arguments and logical thought processes required to properly deliver dialectic. That is the province of books, blogs, websites, speeches, podcasts, videos and debates — but not text-based social media.

Man is not a rational animal, but a rationalising one. After deciding his values and ideas he will invent reasons to justify his faith in them. To make this work for you. you must trigger a powerful emotional response linked to a specific idea. This will sway someone to your side, making him more receptive to follow-on arguments — if he will not create his own arguments.

The key players of the Alt-Right and the New Right understand this. They know the Left, especially the Control-Left, has used this strategy for years without fail. They scorn the Old Right who refuse to use such tactics in the age of Twitter and Tumblr; by refusing to adapt the Old Right has conceded the culture war to the Control-Left. The New Right, with the Alt-Right as their vanguard, is turning the Left’s tactics against them. The rise of the New Right, with Trump as their God Emperor, reaffirms their use of provocative and offensive rhetoric. They will continue to rely on such rhetoric while taking measures against the real-world consequences of uttering fighting words.

The culture war is upon us, and offensive rhetoric is the weapon of choice. Understand this, or be swept away by the inexorable forces of history, politics and human nature.

Same-same but different. That’s the impression I get when I think of Singapore in 1965 and Singapore in 2015. Singapore has gone a long way in the past 50 years. From colony to nation, harbour town to global trade hub, the city-state has reached a level of prosperity and progress many are envious of and few will ever attain. But as Singapore celebrates her 50th birthday today, I’m stepping back and wondering, where is Singapore going from here?

I’m not an optimist. I’m not going to wax lyrical about life in Singapore. I’m confident many other bloggers can write far more eloquently about this than me — and, more importantly, I’m not an optimist. Instead, I see challenges on the horizon, challenges that Singapore needs to face if we are to survive for the next fifty years.

Civic Participation

Singaporeans of the 1950s and 1960s were not Singaporeans. They were colonial subjects or immigrants who happened to share the same geographical location. They were Chinese, Indians, Malays and other people brought together in a small space, all of whom did not identify as Singaporean. The Singapore nationalist movement only really kicked off after WWII; outside of the intellectual elite, there was no coherent sense of a Singaporean nation among the people noticed by history.

The riots and turmoil of this era can be understood in context. People did not see themselves as Singaporeans. They saw themselves as Hokkien, Malay, Cantonese, Javanese, Bangladeshi, Taiwanese — as people of specific ethnic or national groups. Diversity of cultures plus competition for limited resources in close proximity equals conflict.

While the People’s Action Party took over from the British in 1965, they did not fundamentally change the way the British did things. They simply placed themselves in charge. They adopted British laws and Parliamentary customs, then altered laws and politics to solidify their grasp on power. The state grew and grew, becoming the all-present ‘Gahment’ that looms over Singaporeans and benevolently guides the country to greater heights. Like the British, the PAP placed itself itself in charge by becoming a powerful government that can ram through social engineering policies to enforce assimilation and diversity, stifle political opposition through laws and lawsuits, and crush all threats (terrorist and otherwise) with an iron fist.

For good or ill, this method of maximum government created an entity people from different identity groups could fear and respect, allowing them to put aside their differences and work towards a greater good. Given Singapore’s ethnic diversity and the conflict that stemmed from it, it could even be argued that such measures were necessary to ensure civil peace.

But 2015 is not 1965. My generation are born-and-bred Singaporeans. They have known no homeland but Singapore, no identity but Singaporean. They live alongside people of different races and religions, and for the most part do so peaceably. They have grown up in a time of prosperity, and generally do not need to worry about making ends meet. Further, many Singaporeans with higher education levels would be able to write their own check elsewhere, instead of staying in Singapore.

So why will Singaporeans want to continue to be part of Singapore? What will make them stay? The PAP’s traditional answer is that they have friends, family and homes here. But with public housing remaining expensive (the supply crunch is only beginning to ease), and technology allowing people to remain connected halfway around the world, why else should people stay here?

The only answer I can think of is that they feel they are part of Singapore, and for them to feel they are part of Singapore they want to get involved in running their country. That means participating in the civic process, to exercise the rights of citizenship. The government would not object to young Singaporeans joining the PAP, civil service or volunteer groups. But what about those who refuse to join in? What about those with different views, people who prefer to join an opposition group or run as independent candidates, people who want to take more action to be heard in Singapore?

This means freeing up the civic space for discourse. This means the government has to put away the velvet glove and unclench the iron fist. It means the government will have to talk to people and treat them as citizens. Not just people who don’t know any better, but citizens with legitimate perspectives. It also means the government needs to share information: instead of having private chat sessions to share confidential information with influential bloggers, they need to be as transparent as possible, making all the data available so Singaporeans can understand what is going on in their country, and help make Singapore a better place.

Diversity and Demographics

On the flip side of participation is diversity. The world is becoming an increasingly diverse place, and that is not necessarily a good thing. Singapore saw what happened when a country has diversity but no overarching identity. This has echoed throughout history: the fall of Western Rome to the Visigoths, when too few Romans would defend the empire; the breakup of the USSR after the collapse of communist rule, with the nations of Eastern Europe going their own way; the genocides of Africa, where tribe-on-tribe violence and massacres are a way of life.

I’m concerned the events of the 50s and 60s might one day happen again. Maybe not in as large a scale, but any such eruption would be devastating to our way of life. Singapore’s birth rate is falling, and the government’s answer is to encourage immigration from elsewhere.

The problem with immigration is that a country can only absorb so many immigrants at once before points of friction set in. If immigrants do not fully assimilate into a country, they remain outsiders. When people with different values, norms and customs interact in close proximity, friction tends to occur. A lot of angst aimed at immigrants tends to be rooted in the perception that these new immigrants do not think, behave, speak or act like Singaporeans.

And perhaps a measure of this is objectively true. Singapore’s bridging language is English, but there is no requirement for English fluency to become a Singapore citizen. There is also no requirement for immigrants to attend extensive courses to learn to become Singaporeans, and male immigrants not not need to serve National Service. Contrast this to places like the United States, which administers citizenship tests, and the road to citizenship usually takes years — or else requires service in the US military. When a Singaporean man looks upon a male new citizen, he does not see a fellow Singaporean; he sees a man who enjoys the rights of citizenship without having earned it. And service in the Singapore Volunteer Corps is nowhere near the same as National Service.

Exacerbating matters is the coming of the ASEAN Economic Community. Slated to come online in 2015, it remains a very low-profile matter in local media. Public discussion is almost nil, and the only people interested in it seem to be high-powered businessmen and governments. I think we will not see the AEC come to fruition this year, but I can’t say it won’t happen at all. One of the key components of the AEC is the ASEAN single market. Like the European Union, the single market aims to induce the free flow of goods, investment, capital and skilled labour.

The last is a problem. As the case of the EU has shown, the implementation of the ASEAN single market would allow workers from low-income countries to break into the Singapore market. They will undercut locals through demanding lower wages, knowing that it is still a small fortune when converted to their home currency. Or else they may choose to stay on as immigrants and bring their families over, faster than Singapore can assimilate them.

On the reverse side, there is also nothing stopping Singapore’s professionals from moving overseas. Singapore has one of the best education systems in the world, and that means an educated Singaporean professional can move to a country with a lower standard of living and write his own check. He won’t see a need to come home either, and may choose to bring his family overseas and settle down there.

Compounding matters, the rest of the world is fracturing along civilisational lines. Globalisation has erased national borders and reduced government control over their own countries; this means people will revert to smaller and older identity circles. This increases diversity and decreases proximity, but on the micro scale, at the level of neighbourhoods and cities as opposed to provinces and countries. This means that an increasingly diverse Singapore without an overarching identity, which equals greater potential for internal conflict.

What can be done about this? We can’t increase proximity. What we can do is decrease diversity, by enforcing greater controls on immigration and migrant labour, to ensure that Singapore can absorb the immigrants we do take in — and that these immigrants do indeed want to contribute to Singapore. Instead of classifying Singaporeans along the CIMO model, Singapore needs to start talking about a greater Singaporean identity. Instead of handing out new citizenships, the government has to ensure that would-be new Singaporeans have earned their place — and, in the long run, move away from encouraging immigration and towards boosting birth rates.

The Vicious Cycle

What Singapore faces is a vicious cycle. Without the ability to meaningfully participate in civil affairs, Singaporeans will see that they cannot avert the demographic bomb. They will switch off and revert to smaller identity circles, and maybe even move out of Singapore. People from elsewhere will move into Singapore and enjoy citizenship without being seen to have earned it, and would not necessarily be assimilated into Singapore. These people will likely vote for politicians who will benefit the people they identify with — not necessarily Singaporeans — further alienating local Singaporeans. The cycle continues until conflict breaks out, and something changes.

Going forward, I think Singapore needs to do three things. It needs to develop an overarching sense of identity, one that unites people regardless of race, language or religion. It needs to allow citizens to actually be citizens and participate in the creation of the country. It needs to lay out the responsibilities and rights of citizens, and ensure that only people who live up to the former get to enjoy the latter — regardless of where they come from.

I hope Singapore will get to celebrate her 100th birthday in continued peace and prosperity. And for that to happen, Singapore needs to start thinking about what it really means to be Singaporean: not just an inhabitant of this island, but a citizen of this nation, distinct from others.

Singapore's Opposition Needs to Step Up Now

Election talk is once again in the air. The government is keeping quiet about the exact date, but the Electoral Boundaries Review Commission was formed two months ago. The General Elections would likely follow soon; internet speculation suggests that it would be in the third or fourth quarter of the year. Regardless of what happens, the next General Elections will see the most number of opposition candidates and parties taking to the hustings in my (very short) lifetime.

I’m not going to hold my breath, though. I think the opposition has a long way to go before they can be a viable contender.

Who are we voting for?

In the elections I have seen and covered, I have always wondered why political parties keep their candidates hush-hush until the last moment. I understand it would not be prudent to reveal who is going to contest where until after the electoral boundaries are drawn up and approved, and when every party has confirmed which constituencies they will be contesting in. But after that?

In the last General Elections, new election candidates seemed to materialize out of thin air weeks or days before the elections proper, well after the boundaries are drawn up. The problem is that people will have very little time to know who these candidates are — especially if they have not had a chance to meet these candidates in a walkabout, either as formal candidates or as ‘volunteers’ and ‘activists’. This problem is exacerbated by Singapore’s strange brand of opposition politics: where in most countries opposition parties run on platforms and are represented by their candidates, in Singapore opposition parties run on candidates and then reveal their political positions during the hustings. In a country where opposition politics is defined principally by personality it makes no sense to reveal candidates at the last possible minute. Constituents need to know who they are voting for.

What are we voting for?

Singaporeans know what the ruling People’s Action Party broadly stands for. Positions and policies may shift from election to election, but they understand the core policy perspectives that compose the PAP: economic growth, political stability, multiracial society, monetary policy based on exchange rate, migrant labour, and so on. They can’t say the same for the opposition beyond being opposed to the government.

Once more, in the weeks and days leading up to the General Elections, opposition party manifestos seemed to appear out of nowhere, containing ideas never seen before the GE except as reference to existing issues and controversies in the body politic. Singapore’s opposition parties seem content with talking about issues in Parliament and then counting on social media and the regular media to push their views across, with the occasional blog post and press release for variety. But by waiting on current events to publicise their policies, the opposition will be behind the curve. Firstly, everybody else — government and opposition — will be talking about the same thing at that time, so the individual impact of any single party’s announcement would be muted in the general consciousness. Secondly, if a party does not already have a prepared policy position, it will be well behind the curve as it scrambles to catch up with everybody else — and if it does not even try, the party will risk being swept to the sidelines.

Previously, voters might have been satisfied with people who would serve as a check against the existing government. However, as society becomes increasingly educated, tech-savvy and concerned about rights and responsibilities, it is no longer enough for opposition parties to brand themselves primarily as a check against the government. With at least nine active opposition parties (not counting those that are registered but have kept a low profile), multicornered contests are inevitable. Voters need to know what, exactly, they will be voting for — even those inclined towards voting for the opposition will want to know whether they should vote for Opposition Candidate A or Opposition Candidate B and why.

What the opposition needs to do

By now it is too late in the game for the opposition to try something radical. Elections are not won during the elections proper: they are won in the intervening years, as the party lays down the foundation and the groundwork for success. At this point, the opposition should do the following to improve their chances of victory:

1. Strategising. The party needs to decide its election goals, be it to win a constituency, to gain experience and exposure, or to pass up this chance and continue to build resources. From this goal they can decide strategy: where they will contest in, who they should support, how they will communicate their positions. This stage of course depends on the actual electoral boundaries, but the party should at least have an idea of the neighbourhoods it wants to look at and prepare a communication and advertising plan. Most importantly, the party must draw up its manifesto and start communicating the essence of its ideas and positions — ideally as early as possible, before the media is saturated with other news or news of other party positions.

2. Candidate selection. Once again, this depends on the boundaries the EBRC draws up. However, voters still have to know who they are voting for and what to expect from a candidate. Parties cannot expect to unveil a candidate a week before the GE begins and count on their brand to win the day — especially if they do not even have a brand. I’m certain that the opposition parties by now have at least an inkling of who they want to send to the hustings. For unconfirmed candidates, party leaders need to get confirmation as soon as practical. Likewise, these potential candidates need to make their decision soon — especially if they are being head-hunted by multiple parties — so that they can work the ground as early as possible and get to know the people they represent.

3. Coalition-building. With one city divided between a minimum of ten political parties, there are bound to be many multi-cornered fights. Traditionally, soon after the election boundaries are determined, the opposition parties would sit down to hash out where they will contest to minimise the possibility of vote-splitting. .Also, in the last GE, members of different opposition parties sometimes help out at each other’s activities. This is of course a positive action from the opposition’s perspective. Beyond that, though, the opposition needs to think about matters like joint policy positions, media and communication strategies, and branding. If there are no back-channel or informal discussions between the parties by now I would be severely disappointed. I don’t think a united coalition of opposition parties would emerge this year — or at least a viable one — and it’s too late for the opposition to start formalising a multi-party alliance. But if they can coordinate and cooperate to minimise vote-sharing they might at least stand a fighting chance to get more members into Parliament.

Everything obviously hinges on the ERBC’s electoral boundary announcement. At this time, opposition parties that want to contest in the elections must step up their communication strategy. They need to brand themselves by reminding Singapore who they are and what they stand for, and perhaps drop hints about who will be contesting where through walkabouts and social media. They should also have a shortlist of election candidates ready to go.

When the boundaries are announced, the parties would then sit down and discuss their chosen constituencies. With so many parties around, I fully expect multi-cornered elections regardless of how the discussions turn out. That said, I suspect the smallest and newest political parties would try to contest in places no one else wants to take, so that they won’t have to compete with more big dogs than they have to, and there is little to no opportunity cost for them to target those places since they are relative unknowns.

As soon as everybody has confirmed where they will be contesting, the parties have to roll out their platforms and candidates. This is the time to reveal manifestos and personalities, to achieve buy-in before the hustings. By now the manifestos must be finalised and the candidates lined up — especially newcomers to the political scene. The parties can’t wait until the elections to discuss the merits of their policy positions; they would have their hands full with campaigning. They need to have the people discussing their ideas and candidates well before the elections to cement their party brands.

With the people are of their policies and candidates in the months and weeks leading up to the election, Singapore’s opposition might have a chance at sending more candidates to Parliament and to truly make a difference. This is not the best-case scenario, but with signs pointing to an election in the near future, this is the realistic approach any opposition party can take.

The Bedrock of a Nation

Two days ago Alex Au wrote a post about cultural conflict stemming from immigration. In it, he recounts the story of a neighbour from India whose wife steadfastly refuses to return his greetings. Au believes that this may be due to cultural considerations, and asks:

But then it raises the question: If we want to integrate new arrivals in our midst, should it be the new arrivals who should re-organise their cultural habits to “fit in”, or should Singaporeans too change our cultural habits to accommodate them?

Should I persist in greeting and smiling at the wife? Or should I go easy on her and ignore her, the way her culture expects me to behave? It seems to me that the latter would probably be her preferred solution, but would you then accuse me of surrendering Singapore to the foreign hordes?

I think the answer to this lies in asking what makes a nation a nation. I don’t mean the geographical area over which a political entity exercises authority and retains a monopoly on the legitimate use of force — that is a country. By nation I mean a given community with a shared history, aware of its coherence, unity and interests. From this shared history the community derives its approach to politics and culture; from this flows the concept of a nation.

Politics and culture is like a fast-flowing current of deceptively dark water. On the surface, culture can be seen in many things: preferred food and beverages, local slang and humour, fashion. Yet these factors have little to no meaningful impact on society, or otherwise have limited impact on everyday life. At this level, nations can give and take from each other with little negative outcome. Consider that the British adopted curry following their colonisation of India and later Southeast Asia. Curry remains a favourite British dish, yet it does not necessarily represent Britishness. If one takes away curry from Britain, Britain still remains Britain. At this level, culture is simply a question of aesthetics.

Conversely, consider Singlish. Singlish is a churning stew of English, Mandarin, Malay, Hindi and related dialects, the result of immigrants from different lands living side by side for decades. People who speak Singlish properly are assumed to be Singaporean or at least well-versed in Singaporean culture. Removing Singlish from Singapore would detract from the overall experience of Singaporeanness.

This example points to what lies beneath the surface of culture and politics. Culture and politics can be thought of as implicit and explicit rules governing human behaviour and outlining their priorities in a given area. Taking the example of Singlish, Singlish is a bridging language that nearly everyone in Singapore can speak or at least comprehend; speaking it sends a signal that you are, indeed, Singaporean. The preferential use of Singlish signals a desire to be part of the community of Singaporeans, as opposed to the community of Chinese living in Singapore, Malays living in Singapore and so on. Going beyond language and talking about culture specifically, the culture of a place indicates what the nation believes people in that given area should act towards each other: how they talk to each other, appropriate greetings, displays of affection and worship, treatment of superiors and subordinates, treatment of in-group versus out-group, and so on. Framed against the context of a nation, culture can be thought of as the oil that lubricates social interactions between people.

When people from different cultures meet, the result is a difference of cultures that could lead to cultural conflict.

Here’s a minor anecdotal example: speaking voice. The Singaporeans I have observed tend towards speaking just loud enough for their intended recipient to hear. This minimises irritation to everybody around them, especially if they are in a crowded place, and I daresay this may be the inevitable result of growing up in one of the most crowded cities in the world. Conversely, the Chinese nationals I have observed tend to speak with much louder indoor voices. This can be particularly jarring inside buses and trains, when most people assume that everybody else would keep to themselves as quietly as possible. Furthermore, mainland Chinese have markedly different accents than Singaporean Chinese, especially when both are speaking in Mandarin.

Cultural differences can be seen in different ideas of acceptable speaking volume, and these differences are aggravated through accents. The accent is a signal of difference, and by speaking in a way that irritates the locals, the foreigner is showcasing his obvious difference to everyone — and equally obvious indifference to local preferences.

This is a minor thing. Unfortunately, history is replete with more serious examples. When the Americans invaded Afghanistan they hoped to build a modern democratic state aligned with Western norms and values. The problem was that Afghanistan was never like that. The Americans, and most of the Coalition of the Willing, believe that a modern nation-state should be governed by democratic values, that people swear political allegiance to their countries first, and citizens should help each other regardless of ethnic origin. The Afghans, on the other hand, are a tribal-based society for whom the tribe is the primary social group, and their collective political history has been one of a weak central government surrounded by powerful local warlords. Little wonder that the experiment in Afghan democracy has yet to bear fruit.

Obviously, and fortunately, things aren’t that serious in Singapore. Nevertheless, as Singapore’s immigrant population increases, points of friction can only grow. In 2011, when a family of Chinese immigrants took issue with their Indian neighbours cooking curry, the result was a mediation that attracted international attention, with the Indians agreeing not to cook curry when the neighbours were home, and some 40,000 people protesting the decision by cooking curry. Last year, when a Filipino group tried to organise Filipino Independence Day celebrations, they drew fire almost immediately all across the Internet, and eventually the group was forced to cancel the event after they could not secure permits and alternative locations.

Going back to Au’s point, the question is: how much give and take should there be? How much should immigrants accommodate locals and vice versa?

The bedrock of a nation is its cultural and political norms. These values, ideas and beliefs are the glue that hold people together and the oil that keeps them from rubbing each other the wrong way. At the surface level, the level of aesthetics, I don’t see much of an issue with people accommodating each other’s cultural heritage. Trivial matters like that should not have escalated to the level the backlash against the Filipino Independence Day did.

But at the level of personal interactions, the immigrants need to integrate into their new society. Through the act of immigration, immigrants signal that they wish to live in a new country. To become a part of their new homeland, they need to become the people of that land, and that means taking on the cultural norms and traditions of the nation. Immigrants who come to a new country but refuse to integrate cannot properly be called immigrants, because they don’t want to behave like citizens. They are carrying their cultural practices into a foreign nation instead of assuming its practices.

History has long recorded times when people from a foreign nation came to different lands, settled down, and wished for everyone else to accommodate their practices. They were Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Vikings, Spanish, British, Europeans. History remembers them as imperialists and colonisers. While that stretch of history was written in blood, it should be remembered that the colonialists used violence because the locals resisted. If the locals refused to resist, as in the case of the Moriori, the conquerors did not need to wage war. And the Moriori were almost completely exterminated.

There is the old saying that when in Rome, do as Romans do. Similarly, to become a Roman, do as Romans do and be accepted by other Romans. One cannot call oneself a Roman but act like a Visigoth. The former is merely words; actions tell the world who and what you really believe in, and through one’s action one sees the culture, and the nation, one really belongs to.