Claudio Arrau playing Chopin’s Nocturnes; Free Will and God’s Sovereignty; Meals of Leftovers

Claudio Arrau rubato-ing Chopin’s Nocturnes seemed just the right music for the job. That confident hint of…uncertainty, the slight hesitation adding to the drama, perfect for re-reading Scott Christensen’s What About Free Will? Reconciling Our Choices with God’s Sovereignty.

Most objections to what God’s complete sovereignty entails are based on  presuppositions that Christensen tucks under the banner of libertarianism:

free will is incompatible with God’s meticulously determining all things, because this undermines human freedom and responsibility…

first…only if we are free to accept or reject God can we have a meaningful relationship with him…

second..only if one could have acted otherwise in a given situation is he morally responsible for his action…

third…self-determined choices rescue God from being culpable for evil…

leftovers for lunch - pan-fried duck liver, lentils, fried egg
Pathetic as my lunch of leftovers, outraged libertarianism seems a mishmash of human chest-puffery without any effort to engage what is plainly written about the absolute and complete sovereignty of God in the Bible.

 More biblical, says Christensen, is compatibilism, which reflects that:

  1. “God is absolutely sovereign, but his sovereignty never functions in such a way that human responsibility [and freedom] is curtailed, minimised, or maligned.
  2. Human beings are morally responsible creatures – they significantly choose, rebel, obey, believe, defy, make decisions and so forth, and they are rightly held accountable for their actions; but this characteristic never functions so as to make God absolutely contingent.”

Scripture clearly shows:

  • “a dual explanation for human acts of choosing. God determines the choices of every person, yet every person freely makes his or her own choices.”
  • sometimes “God’s sovereign decretive will matches his preceptive will (the moral instructions that are binding on his creatures). God does not determine the ends without also establishing the means. This avoids fatalism…”
    • so God elects sinners to salvation, but they must repent and believe to be saved (John 6:37, John 6:44, John 3:16, etc)
    • God determines every word of Scripture, yet men freely wrote the same words in accordance with their own intentions (2 Timothy 3:16, Galatians 1:11-12, etc)
  • sometimes “Scripture highlights disharmony between God’s decretive and preceptive wills...God providentially superintends that which he does not command…God ordains the actions of evildoers and then holds them responsible for their sin (see Egyptian Pharaoh in Exodus and the hardening of his arteries heart, etc)…All the instigators bear responsibility for their diabolical decisions. Nonetheless, they have fulfilled the prophetic role that God has assigned them.”

leftovers for dinner - baby romaine, Japanese beef, roast parsnips

Further, this freedom of which libertarians speak is a fiction. The act of choosing, conceived of as a series of concentric layers, like those of an onion, is comprised of:

  • “the outside layer [which] represents the bare act of choosing in which people always choose what they want to choose. Furthermore, our choices always correspond to what we perceive to be in our best interest…” (Therefore, there isn’t such a thing as “free will”. Perhaps a better concept would be “free agent”.)
  • “the second layer down…[is] our internal dispositions. What people want to choose arises from specific desires, motives, inclinations, passions, preferences and so on…People often have conflicting desires or, conversely, competing desires, but in the end the most persuasive or prevailing desire inevitably determines the choices that one makes…” (Therefore, if “whatever reasons (causes) stand behind each choice that one makes, those reasons always lead necessarily to that specific choice”, then it is difficult to see how “free” each agent can be. Perhaps there is some truth to the theory that big data helped the Trump-ian victory.)
  • “the core of human choosing corresponds to one’s very nature. The Bible teaches that a person’s nature either is dead and corrupted due to sin or has been made alive and renewed by the power of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, moral and spiritual desires, and thus one’s choices, are dictated by one’s nature.” (Therefore, no unregenerated human can do any good thing (ie. anything that pleases God).)

Finally, the libertarian position presumes to define, in a very man-centred, man-glorifying way, what gives God glory. “The glory of salvation does not lie in man’s freedom to choose but in God’s freedom to bestow such a prized gift on so few ill-deserving objects of his redemptive affection.”

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John Rawls, Constructing an Ideal Society, and Thai Food

On the eve of the U.S. Presidential Elections 2016, under the regal gaze of the recently-deceased Thai King Bhumibol, over steaming tom yam seafood soup and larb moo at Plus Sixty 6 (1A Short Street), we were having a spirited discussion about the political philosophy of John Rawls.

Thai food at Plus Sixty 6, Short Street, Singapore

It is the nature of any human society that there will be differing views about:

  • what an ideal society would look like, what values it would embody;
  • what system of government would be best to achieve such an ideal society, etc

Rawls thought that political philosophy could discover common ground on which the various factions in a society come build a reasoned agreement on these two points.

Rawls starts from several presuppositions*:

1. Presuppositions about the government of society

Rawls assumes a society governed by a democratic system, not, eg. a monarchy, oligarchy, dictatorship.

2. Presuppositions about the citizens (cooperative, reasonable, rational)

Reasonable citizens, who want to cooperate with one another on mutually acceptable terms, will see that a freestanding political conception generated from ideas in the public political culture is the only basis for cooperation that all citizens can reasonably be expected to endorse.

Rawlsian citizens are … reasonable and rational. The idea that citizens are reasonable is familiar from political liberalism. Reasonable citizens have the capacity to abide by fair terms of cooperation, even at the expense of their own interests, provided that others are also willing to do so…Rawls calls this reasonableness the capacity for a sense of justice. Citizens are also conceived as rational: they have the capacity to pursue and revise their own view of what is valuable in human life. Rawls calls this the capacity for a conception of the good. Together these underlying capacities are the two moral powers.

3. Presuppositions about the conception of an ideal society by Rawlsian citizens

The three most fundamental ideas that Rawls finds in the public political culture of a democratic society are that citizens are free and equal, and that society should be a fair system of cooperation.

Rawls sees justice as fairness as answering to the demands of both freedom and equality, a challenge posed by the socialist critique of liberal democracy and by the conservative critique of the modern welfare state. Justice as fairness sets out a version of social contract theory that Rawls believes provides a superior understanding of justice to that of the dominant tradition in political philosophy: utilitarianism.

First Principle: Each person has the same indefeasible claim to a fully adequate scheme of equal basic liberties, which scheme is compatible with the same scheme of liberties for all;

Second Principle: Social and economic inequalities are to satisfy two conditions:

  • They are to be attached to offices and positions open to all under conditions of fair equality of opportunity;
  • They are to be to the greatest benefit of the least-advantaged members of society (the difference principle).

Rawls’s conception of society is defined by fairness: social institutions are to be fair to all cooperating members of society, regardless of their race, gender, religion, class of origin, reasonable conception of the good life, and so on.

Rawls also emphasizes publicity as an aspect of fairness. In what he calls a well-ordered society the principles that order the basic structure are publicly known to do so, and the justifications for these principles are knowable by and acceptable to all reasonable citizens. The idea behind publicity is that since the principles for the basic structure will be coercively enforced, they should stand up to public scrutiny.

Thai food at Plus Sixty 6, Short Street, SingaporeAnd so he thought that common ground could be found:

on the basis of public reason:

it is unreasonable for citizens to attempt to impose what they see as the whole truth on others—political power must be used in ways that all citizens may reasonably be expected to endorse.

…Rawls extends this requirement of reciprocity to apply directly to how citizens explain their political decisions to one another. In essence, public reason requires citizens to be able to justify their political decisions to one another using publicly available values and standards.
Citizens engaged in certain political activities have a duty of civility to be able to justify their decisions on fundamental political issues by reference only to public values and public standards.

The public values that citizens must be able to appeal to are the values of a political conception of justice: those related to the freedom and equality of citizens and the fairness of ongoing social cooperation. Among public values are the freedom of religious practice, the political equality of women and racial minorities, the efficiency of the economy, the preservation of a healthy environment, and the integrity of the family as securing the orderly reproduction of society from one generation to the next. Nonpublic values are the values internal to associations like churches (e.g., that women may not hold the highest offices) or private clubs (e.g., that racial minorities are rightly excluded) which cannot be squared with public values such as these.

Similarly, citizens should be able to justify their political decisions by public standards of inquiry. Public standards are principles of reasoning and rules of evidence that all citizens could reasonably endorse. So citizens are not to justify their political decisions by appeal to divination, or to complex and disputed economic or psychological theories. Rather, publicly acceptable standards are those that rely on common sense, on facts generally known, and on the conclusions of science that are well established and not controversial.

The duty to abide by public reason applies when the most fundamental political issues are at stake: issues such as who has the right to vote, which religions are to be tolerated, who will be eligible to own property, and what are suspect categories for making employment decisions. These are what Rawls calls constitutional essentials and matters of basic justice. Public reason applies more weakly, if at all, to less momentous political questions, for example to most laws that change the rate of tax, or that put aside public money to maintain national parks.

Citizens have a duty to constrain their decisions by public reason only when they engage in certain political activities, usually when exercising powers of public office. So judges are bound by public reason when they issue their rulings, legislators should abide by public reason when speaking and voting in the legislature, and the executive and candidates for high office should respect public reason in their public pronouncements. Significantly, Rawls says that voters should also heed public reason when they vote. All of these activities are or support exercises of political power, so all must be justifiable in terms that all citizens might reasonably endorse. However, citizens are not bound by duties of public reason when engaged in other activities, for example when they worship in church, perform on stage, pursue scientific research, send letters to the editor, or talk politics around the dinner table.

The duty to be able to justify one’s political decisions with public reasons is a moral, not a legal, duty: it is a duty of civility. All citizens have full legal rights to free expression, and overstepping the bounds of public reason is never itself a crime. Rather citizens have a moral duty of mutual respect and civic friendship not to justify political decisions on fundamental issues with partisan values or controversial standards of reasoning that could not be publicly redeemed.

bento lunchbox: quinoa, larb moo, baby spinach, cherry tomatoes

and a practical way of public reasoning is by donning the veil of ignorance:

The most striking feature of the original position is the veil of ignorance, which prevents other arbitrary facts about citizens from influencing the agreement among their representatives. As we have seen, Rawls holds that the fact that a citizen is for example of a certain race, class, and gender is no reason for social institutions to favor or disfavor him. Each party in the original position is therefore deprived of knowledge of the race, class, and gender of the real citizen they represent. In fact the veil of ignorance deprives the parties of all facts about citizens that are irrelevant to the choice of principles of justice: not only their race, class, and gender but also their age, natural endowments, and more. Moreover the veil of ignorance also screens out specific information about the citizens’ society so as to get a clearer view of the permanent features of a just social system.

and so ultimately by working the constructivist muscle:

Political constructivism is Rawls’s account of the objectivity and validity of political judgments. The original position embodies, Rawls says, all of the relevant conceptions of person and society and principles of practical reasoning for making judgments about justice. When there is an overlapping consensus focused on justice as fairness, the original position specifies a shared public perspective from which all citizens can reason about the principles of justice and their application to the society’s institutions. Judgments made from this perspective are then objectively correct, in the sense of giving reasons to citizens to act regardless of their actual motivations or the reasons they think they have within their particular points of view. Political constructivism does not maintain that the principles of justice are true: questions of truth are ones about which reasonable citizens may disagree, and are to be addressed by each citizen from within their own comprehensive doctrine. Judgments made from the original position are, however, valid, or as Rawls says, reasonable.

*because the Stanford Encyclopaedia entry is more useful than any explanation I could have coughed up, I’ve let them explain Rawls here.

Protestant Colonialist Legacies

It would be quite evident, even to anyone ignorant of Vietnam’s history, that the country had once been under French colonial rule.

In District 1, the boulevards lined with tall trees at regular intervals, all radiating from a roundabout, indicated an infrastructural mind of the Parisian mould.

park near Benh Than Market, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)Co-opted by communism, the parks with their wide promenades became communal spaces for group activities.

Just before my trip, WT and I were discussing the differing consequences of British and French colonial rule. Common wisdom had it that countries under British colonial rule fared better than ones under French rule, she’d said.

This paper, Comparing British and French Colonial Legacies: A Discontinuity Analysis of Cameroon found that households [in Cameroon] on the British side have higher levels of wealth and are more likely to have access to improved sources of water (a locally provided public good)[than households in post-French Cameroon].

The authors, Alexander Lee and Kenneth A. Schultz, hypothesized that the British advantage was a combination of “hard legacies” (lack of forced labor, more autonomous local institutions) and “soft legacies” (common law, English culture, Protestantism).

Whereas Césaire described French colonialism, in his Discourse on Colonialism (Discours sur le Colonialisme),  as a relationship based on “forced labor, intimidation, pressure, the police, taxation, theft, rape, compulsory crops, contempt, mistrust, arrogance, self-complacency, swinishness, brainless elites, degraded masses.”

playing the flute in a park near Benh Than Market. Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

Christianity Today’s The Surprising Discovery About Those Colonialist, Proselytizing Missionaries was careful to avoid any triumphalist crowing, but noted:

Few [missionaries] were in any systemic way social reformers,” says Joel Carpenter, director of the Nagel Institute for the Study of World Christianity at Calvin College. “I think they were first and foremost people who loved other people. They [cared] about other people, saw that they’d been wronged, and [wanted] to make it right.

While missionaries came to colonial reform through the backdoor, mass literacy and mass education were more deliberate projects—the consequence of a Protestant vision that knocked down old hierarchies in the name of “the priesthood of all believers.” If all souls were equal before God, everyone would need to access the Bible in their own language. They would also need to know how to read.

“They focused on teaching people to read,” says Dana Robert, director of the Center for Global Christianity and Mission at Boston University. “That sounds really basic, but if you look worldwide at poverty, literacy is the main thing that helps you rise out of poverty. Unless you have broad-based literacy, you can’t have democratic movements.”

And so the old issue that troubles many a thoughtful missionary:

  1. what saves people, ultimately, is the gospel;
  2. pure social action must not be the goal of the church. A social gospel is concerned with attempting to alleviate suffering only in this world – a myopic mission. This world will soon pass away, and all who have not trusted in Christ, rich or poor, educated or illiterate, will face God’s wrath;
  3. yet how can any Christian claim to love another person but share only the gospel with them, not tending to their poverty or sickness or the injustice of their imprisonment?
  4. but surely resources (time, energy, money) are limited, so it would be better to focus on the gospel and their eternal salvation than the here-and-now;
  5. still, who will listen to the gospel being thrust in their face, when a missionary has not shown himself/herself to be a friend in need (…is a friend indeed)?

 

Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)Western imperialist graffiti

Art Day Out (March 2016), Gillman Barracks Singapore (Part 1)

Art Day Out 2016, Gillman Barracks, Alexandra, Singapore

ShanghART Gallery (9 Lock Road, facebook): Xue Song 薛松 – The Mountain Echoes:

The ShanghART Gallery was, by default, almost everyone’s first stop at Gillman Barrack’s Art Day Out (March 2016 edition). We didn’t know anything about Xue Song being “one of the most influential and representative artists of Chinese Contemporary Art, and China’s pioneer “Pop Art” artists” at that point, but had great fun scrutinising the cutouts and figuring how they fit into the whole artpiece.

This made me think, first of the complexity of history and how short-sighted we are in thinking that we can exhaustively ascribe causes to any event in human history, and second, of the complexity of the Bible so that while it is simple enough for any literate person to read, there are depths to it unknown elsewhere in the corpus of human writing.

Xue Song 薛松 - The Mountain Echoes, SHANGArt Gallery. Art Day Out 2016, Gillman Barracks, Alexandra, Singapore

Xue Song 薛松 - The Mountain Echoes, SHANGArt Gallery. Art Day Out 2016, Gillman Barracks, Alexandra, Singapore

Xue Song 薛松 - The Mountain Echoes, SHANGArt Gallery.  Art Day Out 2016, Gillman Barracks, Alexandra, Singapore

Xue Song 薛松 - The Mountain Echoes, SHANGArt Gallery.  Art Day Out 2016, Gillman Barracks, Alexandra, Singapore

Xue Song 薛松 - The Mountain Echoes, SHANGArt Gallery.  Art Day Out 2016, Gillman Barracks, Alexandra, Singapore

Up the stairs…
Art Day Out 2016, Gillman Barracks, Alexandra, Singapore

in the Pearl Lam Galleries (facebook)Art Day Out 2016, Gillman Barracks, Alexandra, Singapore

there were beanbags on the floor to sink into and watch Yinka Shonibare‘s Odile and Odette.
Yinka Shonibare's "Odile and Odette".  Art Day Out 2016, Gillman Barracks, Alexandra, Singapore
In Swan Lake, the same dancer portrays both Odile and Odette, the characters being distinguished by her black or white costumes. In Shonibare’s version, Odile and Odette are portrayed by one black and one white ballerina, set against each other across a gilt frame. Mirror images, their identities are ambiguous.

I liked that this wasn’t another post-colonial rant about racial victimisation (only to be undone by Chris Brown at the 2016 Academy Awards) but that even racial boundaries aren’t quite clear-cut: classical ballet and contemporary art; “authentically African” Dutch wax cloth tutus, etc.

Thence to ARDNT Fine Art (facebook), where Heinz Mack was being exhibited, and art books were on sale:

ARDNT Fine Art. Art Day Out 2016, Gillman Barracks, Alexandra, Singapore

ARDNT Fine Art - Heinz Mack. Art Day Out 2016, Gillman Barracks, Alexandra, Singapore

ARDNT Fine Art - Heinz Mack. Art Day Out 2016, Gillman Barracks, Alexandra, Singapore

ARDNT Fine Art - Heinz Mack. Art Day Out 2016, Gillman Barracks, Alexandra, Singapore

to be continued… "I'm Following You" grafitti. Art Day Out 2016, Gillman Barracks, Alexandra, Singapore

"Art is not always high" grafitti. Art Day Out 2016, Gillman Barracks, Alexandra, Singapore

Chun Kai Feng at FOST Gallery, Gillman Barracks, and the Theory of Things.

We’d originally entered the FOST Gallery (1 Lock Road, Gillman Barracks) to ask for directions to an Art Day Out! tour, but I was promptly mesmerised by Chun Kai Feng’s work.

What stopped me in my tracks was that Chun’s works weren’t Singapore-icon kitsch. We’ve had loads of that for SG50 and I’ve purchased my fair share of jiu cheng gao doorstops and racial harmony doormats and chope magnetic keychains (thanks, Stuck Shop).

Yet, neither were they pretentiously arty.

Everyday objects recognisable by any person on the SBS bus were taken out of their usual contexts and rephrased slightly so that an air-conditioner diffuser hung on a wall, spray-painted carefully so that its converging lines were emphasised, giving a linear perspective.
FOST Gallery: The Key to this Mystery is to Rephrase the Question Slightly, solo exhibition by CHUN Kai Feng. Art Day Out 2016, Gillman Barracks, Alexandra, Singapore “The Key to this Mystery is to Rephrase the Question Slightly”

And it was hard not to burst out laughing at the yellow “Caution – Wet Floor” sign, that itself appeared to be slipping on a blue wet patch on the ground.

Art Day Out 2016, Gillman Barracks, Alexandra, Singapore
“Falling Falling”

I’ve been thinking quite abit about a/the theory of tangible things recently, specifically, Graham Harman‘s object-oriented philosophy of the relationship between objects, Bruno Latour‘s actor-network theory (ANT, see Reassembling the Social), Peter-Paul Verbeek‘s theory of technological mediation – that things mediate relations between people, between people and technology, and between people and the world.

design books and Singaporean Hainanese local breakfast - teh si, kaya toast, soft-boiled eggs, a cupcakeWhat anthropological, cultural studies, material culture studies questions can we ask about Things? More thinking to be done…

Singapore Design Week 2016 – National Design Centre: Design and Make Fair

Singapore Design Week 2016 at the National Design Centre. This was the site of one of NAFA’s former campuses – I have fond memories of the place in its previous incarnation and the promising smell of watercolour paint that used permeate the place.

Singapore Design Week (March 2016), National Design Centre

Singapore Design Week (March 2016), National Design Centre

Design and Make Fair
The Design and Make Fair, said the official non-committal blurb,

is an introduction to the lively, growing community of designers and makers in Singapore, many of whom are small business entrepreneurs that produce delightful creations. It’s a fantastic opportunity for anyone and everyone to get started on the creative process of making, and appreciate design embedded in everyday living.

It was certainly more middle-class design-focused than Maker Faire (facebook), Supermama’s Trunk Show featured:

what was advertised as maki-e painting, but turned out to be another way of getting designed lacquerware – by painting layers of naturally-dyed lacquer onto a pair of chopsticks and then sanding off sections to produce a pattern. The originally-advertised maki-e, it was explained, would have taken too many days to do:

Design and Make Fair. Singapore Design Week (March 2016), National Design Centre

Design and Make Fair. Singapore Design Week (March 2016), National Design Centre
Design and Make Fair. Singapore Design Week (March 2016), National Design Centre
For S$30, you could sand down a pair of lacquerware chopsticks for yourself.

In the foyer, you could make an abacus under the watchful eye of another Japanese craftsman (Mr Hidetaka Miyanaga?) for, I think, S$30 as well.

Singapore Design Week (March 2016), National Design Centre

Singapore Design Week (March 2016), National Design CentrePrepared as we were to be educated and wowed by these Japanese master craftsmen, the lack of knowledge of the salesgirls, the regretable inability of the craftsmen themselves to converse in fluent English, resulted in little communication at all about the intricacies of each trade. Instead, the constant refrain to pay up for a go a chopsticks-sanding etc. just left us feeling a little vulgar.

  1. Why the push to vapid consumerism?
  2. And surely even vapid consumerism requires some hardsell? Ask any of the pasar malam salesmen with their sweaty portable microphones.

What a lost opportunity to really showcase the artisans Supermama (facebook) had taken the pains to find and partner with.

How far this was from the appreciation shown by Richard Sennett to craftsmen (in The Craftsman), whom, he says, glory in the basic human impulse to do a job well for its own sake; good craftsmanship involving hardship and struggle, developing skills. Not for them are those tedious superficial signs of self-promotion (“artisanal”, “atelier”).

On the ground floor though, the lack of aspirational figures in the One Maker Group‘s Make! Prototyping Lab space did not diminish the enthusiasm of the crowd. How could they get access to the 3D printer? When were the woodworking classes?, eager mothers-with-precocious children wanted to know.

Make! Prototyping Lab. Singapore Design Week (March 2016), National Design Centre

Make! Prototyping Lab. Singapore Design Week (March 2016), National Design Centre
Make! Prototyping Lab. Singapore Design Week (March 2016), National Design CentreLeather making (Atelier Lodge, The General Company, Stone for Gold, Lucky Apron Studio), woodworking, laser-cutting (Steammetry (facebook)), electronics, 3D printing classes abound in Singapore. If the maker movement really takes off locally so that amateur attempts mature into something more masterful (currently watching: Jeremiah Ang of J. Myers), and if making is thinking (qua Richard Sennett), then it will be very interesting to observe the relationship between Singapore society and artisanal products (qualitatively so, not just branding) in 10, 20 years.

Singapore Design Week (March 2016), National Design Centre

Singapore Design Week (March 2016), National Design Centre
Would there be a general shift from passive consumption? Will we reach beyond quirky merchandisation? What mindset shifts would occur? How will values change?

Rubbishy Reductionism; Sovereign’s Superiority; Tolstoy’s Tension

Having an hour or two between meetings today, I popped by the National Library to read Isaiah Berlin’s The Hedgehog and The Fox (amazon). The copy was well-kept and had once belonged to Lee Kuan Yew. I wondered, if he’d read it, and if he’d agreed with Berlin’s take on Tolstoy’s philosophy of history. After all, even while he lived, many sought his advice on replicating the (economic) success of Singapore in their own countries. But advice can only be properly given if the causes that effected such prosperity can be adequately identified (and, indeed, repeated to similar efficacy).

National Library of SingaporeAccording to Berlin, Tolstoy was uniquely tormented by ultimate problems – of good and evil, origin and purpose of the universe and its inhabitants, causes of all that happens: what is to be done? How should one live? Why are we here? What must we be and do?

The answers provided by the theologians and metaphysicans struck him as absurd, says Berlin.

History was only the sum of the concrete events in time and space – the sum of actual experience of actual men and women in their relation to one another and to an actual three-dimensional, empirically experienced, physical environment. This alone contained the truth.

Metaphysical philosophy and history:

  • pretends to be something it is not – a science capable of arriving at conclusions which are certain. As if it must be possible to discover and formulate a set of true laws of history which, in conjunction with data of empirical observation, would make prediction of the future (and “retrodiction” of the past) as feasible as it had become say, in geology or astronomy;
  • is arbitrarily selective in deciding which factors determine the life of mankind. These are various, but historians select from them only some single aspect;
  • represent only “political” public events, while the spiritual inner events are largely forgotten. Yet prima facie, they are most real, the most immediate experience of human beings.

First Thai, 23 Purvis Street, Bugis, SingaporeTherefore Tolstoy set himself to:

  • do what historians were failing to do – to describe the ultimate data of subjective experience – personal lives lived by men, the thoughts, knowledge, poetry, music, love, friendship, hates, passions of real life. For only the individual’s experience is genuine – of colours, smells, tastes, sounds and movements, jealousies, loves, hatreds, passions, rare flashes of insight, transforming moments, the ordinary day-to-day succession of private data that constitutes all there is to reality;
  • expose the great illusion that (great) individuals can, by the use of their own resources, understand and control the course of events. This self-deception affects almost all mankind. Men are unable to bear the fact that their lives are no less than what natural law has determined. They seek to represent it as a succession of free choices, and seek to fix responsibility for what occurs upon persons endowed by them with heroic virtues or vices – the “great men”. But this is hollow, self-deluded, and fraudulent – an elaborate machinery for concealing the spectacle of human impotence and irrelevance and blindness;
  • reject the notion that any historical movement is directly connected to the “power” exercised by some men over others. Or that these events were under the dominant influence or “force” of great men or ideas. What occurs is the result of a thick, opaque, inextricably complex web of events, objects, characteristics, connected, and divided by literally innumerable unidentifiable links, and gaps, and sudden discontinuities, visible and invisible;
  • demonstrate that while man’s freedom is real and there is free will and responsibility and the real experience of a private life, we are all victims of inexorable historical determinism. Omniscience belongs only to God. Our historical reasoning is an effort to substitute our own arbitrary rules for divine wisdom.

In other words, not much different from what God had already caused Nebuchadnezzar to realise in Daniel 4.
pad thai, thai iced milk tea. First Thai, 23 Purvis Street, Bugis, Singapore*so it was with some bemusement that I spotted Project South East Asia‘s Thum Ping Tjin at the back of SG Magazine with some mention of his The History of Singapore podcast.

**of course, there was also time for a quick pad thai at First Thai (23 Purvis Street). Wok hei, infused fish sauce, a little on the sweet side.