Monday, July 21, 2014

Unfortunate Victims Of Unforeseen Circumstances

Misfortune is when something bad happens to us when we least expected it. Death in itself is not wholly unexpected. All humans are mortal. When when death arrives at a moment when we thought there is the next moment, that is tragic. When death is unexpected and sudden, those who died might have felt it for a moment and it is gone. Their last thoughts may not be death, but something pleasant - like looking forward to a holiday in the tropics or meeting up with loved ones. Or, it could also equally be the thought of trying to cheat death, but scurrying along alleyways ducking bullets and bombs which are being indiscriminately rained on an area which the other side is trying to remove a perceived threat or danger.

But to the loved ones who know of the death, their pain and sorrow will stay with them for the rest of their lives. The living mourns for the dead - never the dead for the living. Suddenly, life is not about the material luxury of life, but life itself - the absence of which deprives the living the company of those who are no more with them in this world. The pains or sorrows of mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, daughters and sons, wives and husbands, grandmothers and grandfathers - images we now unfortunately have to witness on prime time TV nowadays - is a constant daily assault on our inner peace and quiet, on our perception and understanding of what reality is all about, on our faith in the humanness of human beings, on the need for the good to fight evil, on the vulnerability of the good to turn into evil, on the great risk that we all suffer when we do not watch ourselves lest we unwittingly becomes the very monsters that we would have condemned at leisure.

The reality of the world is that it is both good and evil, it be both light and dark in this world of duality where the two poles can switch from one to the other before our very eyes without us ever knowing it when that switch is taking place. Everybody deludes himself or herself to be good, no matter how evil he or she may have become. Good and evil is a value that arise when we are dealing with fellow human beings or fellow living things. Life goes on by the very force of survival, the constant craving for existence, that the very thought of death is appalling - even when one personally wills death because of the unbearable bodily pain one may unfortunately have to suffer. Death is often a respite to life. Some wise man has said the only way to fight pain and suffering is to deny life raising its head in the first place. To banish the thought of life. To focus on the present. Life until there is no more. But for those who are alive, fight pain and suffering through wisdom, wisdom of the truth of realty, and accept reality for what it is - both the fortunate and unfortunate things.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Urban Poor: Homeless, Jobless & Loveless

The homeless is a problem for the Federal Government as they try to bring Malaysia up to the First World level while being irked by the presence of dirty hungry men and women in the streets of the Golden Triangle in Kuala Lumpur.

Economists are fully aware that the economic model of growth they build are rest squarely on the energies and ingenuity of the clever and able-bodied people. The rest falls by the wayside of mainstream economic development - the disadvantaged, the very young, the very old, the very sick, the uneducated, single parents, the physically handicapped, the mentally handicapped. While the best solution is to help as many of these people to find stable jobs, it is most likely that they may have already failed the conventional social system and hence are being left out in the cold and therefore are difficult to rehabilitate back into the mainstream. There is therefore a need for society to act to help these people, at least, as a means for society to save its own soul so that it can think of itself as a caring society.

This moral obligation of society to itself could have been easier in the good old days of monoculturalism - whatever that may mean, but surely it exists when the whole society sees itself as one. This sense of monoculturism seems to break down when a section of society is seen as alien, and it is mostly likely to be recent immigrants whom the so-called locals feel uncomfortable with because they are unfamiliar with them. It means that the moral obligation of society is unlikely to be stretched to include foreigners in the country.

The response of the government of the day to the homeless is to provide a home for these people to stay, and to keep them off the streets. This follows logically from the idea that all that the homeless needs is a home, so the government provides a shelter and nothing else. We have the welfare minister saying that they provide shelter but no food. This is being typically government servant mentally - they do the barest minimum and justify that they have done their job.

The response of the NGOs is to provide first food and then shelter, in that order of priority. The biggest curse for human beings and all living creatures is that the ingestion of nutrient is a daily requirement, failing which we die. I am always amazed by the persistence of life to cling on to life - this must be a tautology, for without the clinging on to life, there is no life, by definition. (It is only politics and religions that make heroes of death, for it is so counter-intuitive.)

The most stupid argument I have read so far is for the minister to suggest the NGOs go and feed their people in the welfare homes, and not in the streets.

The now more acceptable approach to solve social problems is for the government to consult the affected people and communities to find out what their problems are and to listen to what these people have to say about how they would like to have their problems solved. It is most likely that well-fed politicians will have a different perspective from those who unwillingly have to go hungry when their circumstances are outside their control. These people may want to have a sense of dignity and self-respect and that can only be got from a sense of control of their situation rather than be caught in bureaucracy.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Perception Of Prosperity, Prosperity Of Perception

I am not too sure that I agree completely with the Bank Of England Governor who recently said that there is a structural problem in the UK housing industry in that not enough houses are being built every year.

There is certainly a need to build more houses every year in every country in order to accommodate more new people being born and new families being formed. The number of new houses that has to be built must be equal or proportional to the birth rate or the rate of household formation. This would be in the vein of classical economic analysis. Or in the mode of Marxian argument. But, in modern Keynesian-type analysis, that would called notional demand - the ideal situation when everybody who needs a house would be built a house, regardless of ability to support that notion with the ability to pay. The Keynesians are adamant that your demand is effective only when you have past or future savings to support your wish for a house - effective demand. (Students of economics wasted a substantial amount of time in college debating this point in the seventies.)

I am of course a bit apprehensive over the BOE Governor's recent statement because that statement could in principle be applied anywhere in the world today - if we that into consideration the globalising effect of the three decades of QE, starting with Japan which was then happily exported to the US by Greenspan. We know that the QE is now being tapered off, in the sense that the quantity of pumping cash into the US financial system - and then the global financial system - is now being gradually reduced. We are still talking about net injections, but net withdrawals of funds from the system. In old economics language, monetary policy is still said to be expansionary albeit at a reduced pace.

Under a sustained expansionary global monetary position, it is unlikely that global interest rates will rise. Downward pressure is still being put on interest rates as the system continues to be flooded with liquidity, albeit at a slower pace. The tropical storm is still on although you may feel that the rain is falling not as hard as before.

It is this global QE effect that, in the initial phase, drove the liquidity from the US to China which caused the latter economy to boom and now threatens to be the second largest economy in the world. When China has worn out its competitive advantage of super low wages, that liquidity which has since filtered from US hands to China hands then converted fertile farmlands into construction sites. Blocks and blocks of residential housing are built and left vacant so that speculators can sell as pristine properties for the next buyers who are afraid that they will be left out in the asset-inflation game. When the China authorities begin to curb that asset inflation, the speculators, having learned their tricks, now play their game of speculation outside China. London, among others, becomes the current favourite.

That speculative demand is now driving London properties prices is a truth that cannot be denied. But what to make of it. Of course, such waves of speculation on London properties are inevitable, starting with the Arabs in the 1970s and 1980s, the Japanese during their bubbles years in the 1990s, and now the Chinese. No doubt, London seems to be most precious jewel for the world, with its rich history and culture, or rather its history and cultural richly told to the whole world.

If the intention of the BOE statement is to suggest that foreign (Chinese) buyers are now competing with resident buyers for London properties and that there is a need to build more houses in London, then while more houses may be built it is unlikely that local buyers will be able to afford those houses as surely London property prices will rise according to the demand of the foreign speculative buyers. If the BOE statement is to say those who originally grew up in London will now have to move out of London because they cannot afford to stay in London any more, then there is very much a need to have a major structural plans to build new urban centres outside of London in a way that locals can afford to buy them. This will need a further integration of the public inter-city transport system.

The above analysis can apply to a place like Kuala Lumpur or the Klang Valley, but I am not too sure about Singapore or Hong Kong. Unless you bridges to connect the islands to the nearest mainland.

Now, the danger of all property speculative bubbles is that bubbles will burst. It's a question of whether you allow the bubbles to burst with a bang - which inevitably means banking bankruptcies- or you try to reduce the bubble with a deflation that can take decades to reach equilibrium and during which time incomes will fall faster than prices - and which means a slow and painful death.

The real danger for the BOE or any central bank with a hitherto vibrant real-estate sector is now engineer an adjustment of asset prices which are consistent with current incomes. Most residential properties in urban centres are beyond the reach of ordinary working professionals. Maybe the best thing is for the new potential buyers to hold out and what for sellers to be sensible and even cut losses.

You are king when you have cash in your pocket or a good credit rating. I think the speculators must bite their nails.

Having said that, though, prime is prime and future values are always held in prime locations - until the centre shifts.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Perception Of Poverty, Poverty Of Perception

We were just being told that some people, "to our naked eyes, look like poor people" or people who earn "small salaries but they can still send their children abroad" at their own expenses. "This means they could have under-declared their income." But the GST system "is more progressive as it depends on how much our expenses are."

I think it is dangerous when the Government make statements like this - based not on proper analysis but on impressions. One may be clever at making statements on isolated issues. But isolated issues may be the outcome of an error in the whole system

To my naked mind, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the person who dressed down and live a simple life so that he can save his salaries for the education of his children abroad. There is even something to be admired about such a person because he does not rely on the government for scholarships for his children's education as he knows they will never get the scholarships based on their ethnicity. He knows that, for the future of his children, an overseas education may be worth the money as the local education may not be good enough for his children. Of all persons, a salaried man is likely to be the only salaried man who is honestly paying his taxes. There is just so much ignorance in such a short statement.

The GST should be held up as a major contender against income tax. The debate is whether you tax effort or you tax expenditure. In the old world where money (capital) was scarce, there was the view that profit made out of capital should be taxed, and that incomes from salaries should be taxed to pay for pensions and healthcare and education, and other public services.

Then along came Keynes who said that spending is good for the economy, the more you spend the better the economy. Keynes was right to suggest that government spending should be used to smooth out a temporary cyclical glitch. But expansionary fiscal policy are now wrongly used to cover up the problems of slow growth of an economy with structural errors. Instead of correcting structures, the government continues to spend and it is looking for all kinds of ways to tax in order to keep feeding a badly managed economy.

If the currently thinking is that spending is good for the economy, then this is the wrong time to implement the GST which taxes spending.

If you think that GST is the better revenue generator, then you must let off the consumers by removing totally the taxes on personal incomes. You can keep the taxes on profits.

Just to think that the government will berate the poor citizen who has to live the life of a simple person so that he can rise above the wrongs that his government and his country is doing to him and his family...

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Visit, by Clarissa Tan

 This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated

Clarissa Tan, who wrote articles and TV reviews for The Spectator, has died of cancer aged 42. She came to London from Singapore after winning this magazine’s Shiva Naipaul prize for travel writing and over the next seven years wrote about a great many things: Asia, race and the East; also smartphones, Sienna and socks. Clarissa paid attention to prose and all her pieces were beautiful and funny but, perhaps most unusually, they rang true. She was much loved by all at The Spectator and we miss her. Here is her prize-winning piece. 

I wish to write about a place of which I know everything yet nothing, where everything is familiar yet strange, a place where I feel I go too often, but never quite enough. This place is the same for everyone, only different.
It is called, of course, Home — not the Home where you now live, but the Home where you were born and in which all things must start.
I used to live in Kuala Lumpur. That is, until I was 15 and my mother rode the Ekspres Rakyat with me to Singapore, where I was to continue my studies. ‘Be careful,’ were her last words to me as she got ready to hop on the next train back to Malaysia. My mother asks you to be careful about everything. You could be sitting quietly reading a book, and she would say: Be careful.
Nowadays, I fly. The KL-Singapore shuttle, as it is called, takes no longer than an hour. You leave an airport that touts itself as the Best in the World, to land in an airport that touts itself as the Best in the World. I can tell you this — the KLIA is bigger, but Changi International has the better coffee.
It is far more expensive to fly than to take the train or the bus, of course. Even I feel the pinch sometimes. I, with my swanky job that takes the pulse of the heart of the financial world, a job that no one really understands when I try to explain it to them. A job that in no way approaches what some of my friends earn, but still pays me more in a month than my mother ever earned in a year. I reel from that knowledge sometimes. It makes me feel both guilty and triumphant.
My mother has cancer. They detected it four months ago. She bent down to pick up something, and couldn’t get up again for the pain. My sister drove her to the hospital in the middle of the night — in fact, she drove her to many hospitals, as not all were equally hospitable — and the final diagnosis came after several weeks and a major operation: cancer in the colon, Stage 3. Cancer comes in phases, like a modern housing development.
So these days I fly home. It is faster, more convenient, more comfortable. I can make trips to Kuala Lumpur over the weekend, and be back at work in Singapore on Monday morning.
I know I must sound heartless. I am prepared to sound heartless, for if not I would sound heart-full, and what would be the point of that?
My niece picks me up at the airport. It is Christmas, so there is tinsel hanging here and there at Arrivals, and a Body Shop has wrapped all its soaps and scrubs in different-coloured packaging so that hurried and guilt-ridden travellers can pick up a gift right after Customs and just before Limousine Taxi.
‘Auntie Weng is at your home,’ my niece tells me, as we get into her SUV. ‘She has come with Fiona and Litta and little John-John and Grace.’ I raise my eyebrows, then shrug in reply.
The SUV guzzles the miles between the airport and the sprawling suburb of Puchong, where my parents live. Puchong is one of those satellite towns, as the property agents like to call them, that are supposed to contain all amenities and attractions, so their inhabitants don’t have to commute to central KL for everything, further clogging the capital’s arteries. In Malaysia, all amenities and attractions must necessarily include at least one cineplex, at least two hypermarkets, at least four shopping malls, a Fitness First, three Coffee Beans and three Kenny Rogers Roasters.
Sure enough, my parents’ house is full of guests. It is Christmas, after all, and my Aunt Weng has come to pay her eldest sister a visit.
‘Well, hello!’ they all say, beaming at me. ‘Isn’t that nice, she’s back.’
And then: ‘So when are you leaving?’
And then: ‘What, so soon?’
I heave my little overnight bag upstairs and feel everyone scrutinising me when I come back down. ‘Those are nice shoes that you have out there,’ my cousin Litta says, giving me a sidelong glance. ‘Are they Bonia?’
‘No,’ I reply curtly. Then, inexplicably and untruthfully: ‘They are Yves Saint Laurent.’
I don’t even know if YSL makes shoes.
There are raised eyebrows across the room. How can I, with an ailing mother, afford to spend so much on shoes?
‘Don’t worry,’ I hear myself say. ‘I’ve been saving money from all those tips I used to get as a karaoke hostess.’
Nervous giggles. Some foot-shuffling. My mother, sitting at the corner of the room, looks embarrassed.
‘Have you bought property?’ was Litta’s way of filling the subsequent silence.
The fact that, at 34, I have yet to buy a house must prove a source of consternation to my mother. Through the years, she has seen cousin after cousin of mine upgrade from terrace house to semi-detached double-storey to triple-decker bungalow with super-sensory lighting and imported crazy paving in the garden. ‘Betty has an antique railway track running by an artificial lake, you know,’ she told me on one of my trips home.
Perhaps I wasn’t the type to marry and settle down. Perhaps I would never have children. But a house? Surely even I could get a house. ‘I’m not interested in buying property,’ I say, this time truthfully. ‘Even if I was, I wouldn’t buy in Singapore or Malaysia. I just had a friend who bought one in New Zealand, and another one who’s just sold his house in Portugal.’
Why, oh why, do I say such things? Vulgar and vengeful, the words come out before I can stop them.
‘Oh,’ says Litta, lowering her eyes. ‘I have joined this club on the internet and I will be going to Italy and America to meet the other members.’

When my relatives finally get up to go, they leave behind a trail of paper plates and best wishes for the season. Also, Christmas presents for my mum, my dad, my two sisters and me. I hadn’t bought them any.
My mother was brought up a Buddhist but in her mid-fifties she became a Christian. In Malaysia, the ethnic Malays are predominantly Muslim, while those of Chinese origin, like my family, are either Buddhist, Taoist or, in growing numbers, Catholic and Protestant.
I used to go to church but I don’t anymore. At least, not to the ‘charismatic’, fundamentalist strain my mother and many of my aunts go to. I can no longer do that hand-raising, happy-clappy stuff.
More than wanting me to possess a husband and a house, my mother would love to see me go back to the church.
‘How are you, Ma?’
‘I am feeling fine. I am finishing the second cycle now of my chemotherapy tablets. The other day, I was combing my hair and a lot of it fell out. But the doctor said, you are not supposed to lose hair with this medication. I am very upset. I was supposed to do six cycles but now the doctor tells me there’s been a change and now everyone must do eight cycles. Sad, lah. I thought it would be over very soon. Eh. You cannot touch the chemo tablets, you know. The doctor said for people who do not have cancer, even touching the tablets will affect them in a very bad way. Funny, eh?’
My mother’s hands are shaking even more than usual. The plastic cup that she’s carrying clatters noisily as she holds it to her lips, the spoon inside jangling nervously. She offers me biscuits with her other tremulous hand.
If we travel even further back in time, to when Malaysia was not even a country yet, you will be able to see my mother, not as she is now, but as a girl. The oldest child of a family of 12, and a daughter, she had all the responsibilities and none of the rewards.
From the age of seven, whenever there was no food or money in the house, she was sent to beg for rice in the streets. When the Japanese came, she and the family had to run into the jungle and hide there for many years. They grew sweet potatoes and some people fell sick with beri-beri for lack of vitamins. When they came out again after the war, my mother quit school and became a secretary. The British were leaving. At that time, a flavoured ice-ball cost only one cent.
We have heard this, and other stories like it, many times. They have taken an air of familiarity and yet strangeness, as though the more you listen to them, the more of a foreigner you feel. And the stories become so faraway, so unlike your own, privileged, every-day experiences that listening to them starts to feel like an invasion. Only it hurts you, the invader, as much as the invaded.
The story of my sister is even stranger and more remote. My sister lives in a world of her own. Prone to epileptic fits as a child, she was struck by an intense seizure coupled with high fever when she was eight. After that, she was never the same again. At school, she was much slower than the others and finally dropped out when she failed every subject.
‘Red eggs,’ my mother used to say, describing this episode to me. ‘All she brought home was red eggs.’
In Chinese families, when a baby is 100 days old, we celebrate by handing out goodies including hard-boiled eggs that are dyed red. But children who bring back report cards full of zeroes marked in scarlet ink, like my sister, are also said to be presenting red eggs.
I speak of my Second Sister; my First, who lives three streets away from my parents, was the one who sent her daughter to pick me up at the airport.
I was born 14 years after Second Sister was born, six years after she started living in her new world. When I myself turned six and learnt to read, I tried to teach Second Sister all that I knew. I made her do maths and spelling; and everything my teacher taught me, I tried to transmit to her in turn. But the process was slow. It seemed as though Second Sister just didn’t want to catch up. One day, I threw a book at her.
Today, she is sitting on the sofa, singing a hymn to herself. She, at least, follows my mother to church.
‘How is your job?’ my father, sitting in the corner, suddenly asks.
‘It’s good, Pa, good.’
‘How many people work for your company?’
‘I dunno. A few hundred, I guess.’
‘Wah. Very big. Did you bring your business card?’
‘No, Pa. I forgot. But you won’t find my title or anything like that on it anyway, Pa. My company doesn’t believe in putting designations on business cards.’
‘Why? WHY?’ shrieked my dad.
Second Sister starts cackling with laughter, whether at or with my father, I cannot say.
‘So do they have a canteen for you in the office?’
‘Uh. Kind of, Pa.’
‘And what kind of food?’
‘All kinds of food, Pa.’
‘Wah, very good. And the building how many floors?’
‘Twenty floors. But my office only takes up one floor, Pa.’
‘Wah. Still very big.’
‘It’s time for dinner,’ my mother announces, getting up shakily from her chair. ‘I have made curry and sambal fish, I know you like. Tomorrow we will have big prawns, three ringgit each. Nowadays everything so expensive. Very hard to find.’
‘Yes, Ma,’ I say.

In my bedroom, on the dresser, there is a Christmas card waiting for me, written by Second Sister.
mErrY ChRIStmAs, it says. Hapy NeW yEARR to U. xXxx.

Yesterday, when you were young, you thought that everyone came from your country, understood your language and sang your music. But then, as you grew up and met more and more people from more and more places, you realised that everyone comes from a different land, where they do things in a different way.
You have to explain to them, sometimes very slowly, ‘My mother is this-and-this, my sister is that-and-that.’ And they, in their turn, will say in their tongue, ‘My father is such-and-such, and my brother does so-and-so.’ And you will say, ‘That’s funny, in my family, we do things like THIS, and when we are trying to achieve THIS, we will do THAT.’ And they in their turn will go, ‘No, no, no. In my family, when we say THIS, we mean THIS, and when we do THAT, we are trying to say THAT. And when we are angry, we do THIS. And when we are sad, we do THIS.’
And sometimes, when you are very lucky, you find people who understand what you are trying to say, without much effort. But at other times, both you and they are at a loss.

The day of my leaving is bright and clear. After several days of rain, a benign sun has come out to light the sky. Outside in the little square plot of garden, my parents’ clothes hang to dry, twisting in the wind.
In my bag, besides my clothes, I have my presents from all the family. My mother, as usual, has given me another carry-all, which she has filled with various-sized Tupperwares of cooked food — more big prawns, fried kangkong, achar, another curry. She has also stuffed the bag with oranges and large apples from China, ‘in case Singapore don’t have’.
The four of us stand awkwardly in the living-room, where there are still some unopened gifts from Auntie Weng and Litta. We wait for the sound of a car-horn, which would signal that First Sister, or one of her children, has arrived to take me to the airport.
Before I leave there is the cheque-signing ceremony. This is when I open my chequebook and ask my parents how much they need. I also write cheques for the coming few months, all dated for the beginning of the month so that they can withdraw the money at regular intervals and because I, too, receive my pay on a monthly basis.
My father, who used to be a cashier at the Chartered Bank, now Standard Chartered, scrutinises every cheque. He checks the date, the amount and the signature. He checks if I have crossed it correctly and if I have addressed it to the right person.
‘If you make any mistake, all you have to do is sign again next to your correction,’ he tells me, not for the first time.
How many families perform this ritual? Only all families who hail from the same land, I suppose. Or is each cheque-signing ceremony unique and therefore particular to each family? Do they all have their own weird little mannerisms and customs surrounding each signing?
Is this an increasingly foreign language that is dying?
The greedy roar of an SUV signals that First Sister has arrived. We say our goodbyes. I tell my mother that I will call her as soon as I land in Singapore, and that she must call me often and tell me how she is doing.
She says: ‘Remember, you must heat the food immediately when you get home or put it in the fridge.’
I count slowly in my head. My mother has six more chemotherapy cycles to go.
My farewells to my father and Second Sister are brief. It is not that we are distant or uncaring, you understand. In my family, this is how we do things.
I get in the car, and as it speeds off, I turn around to gaze at my father, mother and Second Sister, huddled against the gate, a little triangle waving at the disappearing vehicle. They look small and weak, and they get smaller and smaller and weaker.
I clutch at the handle of the window. I smile, I wave. My hand is shaking and I find I can no longer be still. My heart whispers the same thing again and again, familiarly and frantically. It is a mantra or a prayer, depending on where you come from.
‘Be careful, be careful. Oh god, please be careful.’

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Living With Risks & Uncertianty

We all live in constant fear of risks and uncertainty. The sole purpose of all our entire lives seems to be to remove those risks and uncertainty.

Well, risks cannot be entirely banished, as the recent unfortunate aviation incident demonstrates so clearly. However low the risk, so long as the risk exists, it will happen one day. To the general population, there may be, for example, one unfortunate person in a million. But to that one person, the probability is either zero or one - whether it will happen or not. The laws of probability is good for insurance companies or companies that profit from selling protection from risks. But probability has no meaning for a particular individual.

As individuals, we deal with uncertainty. Most of the time, either we know or we do not know - we do not have foreknowledge. If we know the future, there are many things which we will no do now - like eating and drinking excessively and working too hard. And there are quite a few things too that we will do - like making lots of money.

All our lives, the things we do are our responses to uncertainty. The native farmer prays to the god of heaven for rain, and the god of soil for fertility. The poor urban dwelling prays for good business, even if he or she is selling cakes for breakfast. Poor families produce many children as insurance against infant mortality and having sufficient food to eat everyday with more people scrounging to feed the parents. Resourceful poor parents work and save to send their children to good schools in the hope of better incomes in future. At work, employees play politics in order to secure their careers and to be at the top of the pack. Boys and girls, regardless of their looks, work hard to beautify themselves in order to be attractive so as to secure companionship or economies of scale.

Midlife crisis, which seems to hit those who are successful, arises when there is no more financial uncertainty. When people are financially independent, what do they do, apart from playing the stock market pretending to maximise their return on investment in a game of roulette and many theories are formed. Midlife crisis happens when all the things we have been taught and learned when we were young become useless information because they are not useful to us anymore. Now that I have enough money, what do I do next?

Those who find a second career survives. Those who do not die a lonely death.

Of all the things we are taught in life, there is one thing we are not taught - how to die. Maybe because death is not an uncertainty, death ceases to be a problem. Death ends all problems for the person who dies.

But if we are going to make the best of our lives - before we die, we must have death constantly in our mind, so that we do not forget that we may be dead in the next moment. This frame of mind, although seemingly sick, is a very healthy response to the problem of death. While death may be certain for every mortal, the time of death is still uncertain. Every moment is potentially the last moment, and hence we must live the moment as if it is the last moment. There is a growing movement on how to live the now. Our own simple reflection should be able to tell us how we should live.

Taking the world as a whole, uncertainty has been banished by knowledge and the result of knowledge is clarity - not cleverness. But human beings do not know everything, so there is still be scope for learning - until, I suppose, when our own minds become clear. We have also globally solved the  problem of wealth by printing money, now made easier by electronically generated numbers. We now live in a virtually secure environment, doing very little and playing with on-off lights or electrical pulses. The current flotation of the world with excessive cash is rearranging the wealth of societies and nations - those with money are happy, those with no money simply die. As the world becomes more conducive for procreation, as a result of success in healthcare which keep infants and the very old alive for a long long time. The greatest uncertainty in all these advancement is the natural environment without which humans cannot survive. The natural environment is the ultimate means of savings for human kind - if the survival of human beings is a concern. If not, we know that the cosmos will continue to evolve, and the age of humans will soon be gone - in universal time. Human beings are here on earth for the moment.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Living With Others

Having defined exactly what and who we are as individuals, how do we live with other individuals?

Most, if not all, individuals interact with others because they each have something in common with the others.

In the family, it is this idea of blood being the common and members of a family are compelled to take care of each other. In traditional societies, the extended family is the welfare state and the challenge of each family against another family is to see whose family will last the greatest number of generations. (There are also those who are quite happy to annihilate theirs right within the current generation because to them life is suffering and not worth keeping.) That is why some families leave behind commercial and political empires on earth.

In society in general, there is a tendency to pursue a uniform way of life. Traditionally, these have been dictated by folk festivities which surrounded the agrarian economy, as there is a season and time for work and a time for play. Eventually, these get supplanted by religious commands which tries to replace communal or tribal authorities. The struggle for power between the political and religious continues until today. So long as religious power overwhelms political power, there is a tendency for one religion to try to dominate the rest. If political power is in control, the tendency is for one race to dominate the others.

There is also a battle between political power and economic power. Political is often derived through the exploitation of economic power, as businessmen back politicians. Economic power can be pursued with economic power, as businessmen gain political power and re-configure the economy according to his or her advantage.

Against this confusing array of conflicts in human societies, Plato suggested the Philosopher-King or the Benevolent Dictator - one authority who knows what to do in the interests of all individuals and for society as a whole. For this to be plausible, there must be a common elements in all that is otherwise very messy among human colours.

Of course, the common element in all societies of human beings are human beings - and their right to exist on this earth. It is this protection of human lives and the assistance given to the poor and incapacitated that has influenced our thinking on how to live together with each other and with others. We may be look different, eat different, talk different, but we should be able to recognise ourselves as fellow human beings.

It is only when human societies are not properly organised and when some unfortunate ones who are left out of the mainstream that some troubles might start - such as stealing to feed oneself and one's family. The challenge is simply to find things for people to do to feed themselves and to keep themselves occupied, apart from being occupied by non-action as would be through meditation.

But the greatest wisdom could be that there is a place on earth for each and everyone and somehow one should be able to live, the degree of comfort or pleasure may be determined purely by our own expectations of ourselves. Living in confidence is probably an important first step for living well with others, so that one is always prepared to share with one's neighbours which can only be easy when one has no worries about tomorrow.

To be able to live happily in the here and now is critical for living well with others, no matter who they may be.