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.”

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.

Ramen Keisuke Tonkotsu King and Linguistics

Ramen Keisuke Tonkotsu King, Paya Lebar Square, SingaporeWhile I inhaled the Black Spicy Tonkotsu Ramen Special at Keisuke’s Tonkotsu King branch (Paya Lebar Square), piling on heaps of complimentary beansprouts and peeling many free boiled eggs, ST explained what linguists got up to when not annoying people with Buffalo buffaloes buffaloing Buffalo buffaloes. Alot, it seems, from deconstructing sentences as one would expect, to nipping into a lab, to hanging out with psychologists and sociologists:

syntax – how words combine to form sentences

syntax trees – how to parse sentences (I do love a good garden-path: “time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like bananas”, “the horse raced past the barn fell”, “the old man the boat”)

morphology – how words can be modified

semantics –  the meaning of words and how these combine to form meaningful sentences

pragmatics – how culture / context affects the meaning of words / sentences

neurolinguistics – how the brain acquires, stores, uses language

psycholinguistics – psychological factors in how people acquire, store, use language

conversation analysis – how people interact (socially) using language (and visual mass media)

discourse analysis – how meaning of the words/sentence is affected by context

Ramen Keisuke Tonkotsu King, Paya Lebar Square, SingaporeThis was all very useful just as I was bemoaning Paul (the apostle)’s use of vague pronoun references in Ephesians 1.

Useful not so much to flummox people with all sorts of otaku linguist jargon, but so that instead of flying by the seat of my pants (“pants” having the meaning outside a British context) when comprehending Bible passages, I might be better able to analyse what exactly is going on in my work parsing the passage, and correct that. And in so doing, be better able to teach more clearly, discerning how other people are attempting to understand the passage themselves.

gyoza. Ramen Keisuke Tonkotsu King, Paya Lebar Square, SingaporeNow, how does one parse a bowl of ramen? Surely most food reviews inevitably require a Platonic form, against whose shining standard one attempts to measure the current selection?

At Keisuke Tonkotsu King, I would suggest that as almost irrelevant.

The order form puts the onus on the customer to decide what how salty they want the tare タレ, how much chicken oil they want floating on their broth, how al dente the noodles, and what sort of toppings they prefer. This shifting of responsibility would ensure consumer higher satisfaction, failing which, creates a situation where the customer is estopped from grumbling. They deserve the bowl they elect. “I don’t want to hear any more complaints.” Brilliant.

Of course, one might still consider the form of the flavoured egg (ajitsuke tamago 味付け玉子) and the pork (char shu). I’m pleased to say that they were very much out of the shadows and into the light.

Ramen Keisuke Tonkotsu King, Paya Lebar Square, Singapore

The Sharing Economy, Collaborative Economy, “Gig” Employment

Paddy Hills, 38 South Buona Vista Road
Cafe-hopping, I was told, by various people and oft, when I arrived in Singapore, was totally the thing right now. It leveraged on synergies:

  • people wanting some content for Instagram
  • cafes ensuring their food was instagrammable, but at a cost
  • people banding together and pooling resources to ensure a much lower overhead cost for each enviable instagram-shot

The sharing economy or collaborative economy goes further than the mere cobbling together of resources. And the companies that have made the greatest gains don’t even start with much:

Uber – the world’s largest taxi company, yet owns no vehicles

Airbnb – the world’s largest accommodation-provider, yet owns no property

Alibaba – the world’s most valuable retailer, yet owns no inventory

Facebook – the world’s most popular media owner, yet creates no content

These sharing platforms have been hailed by many as representative of the new dawn of socialism. The idea isn’t new of course – Napster was nabbed for that a few years ago. And before that, the people in Acts “held everything in common”.

So this is libraries and hitchhikers, on steroids, built on the necessary foundation of “the internets”.

flat white coffee, Paddy Hills, 38 South Buona Vista RoadWhat are the benefits of such peer-to-peer transactions?

  • transparent utility
  • transparent allocation of benefits
  • lowers inefficiencies in the market – through capital-sharing (Airbnb, Relayrides, Zilok), labour-matchmaking (Uber, Lyft, DogVacay, Taskrabbit,) person-to-person marketplace platforms (Alibaba)
  • better for community? more emphasis on social capital – the return to pre-industrial relationship (albeit in a very artificial superficial way) and the creation of trust relationships
  • more personal interest in behaving well, providing good service?
  • participation x choice x social justice? because the cost of use falls
  • if “sharing is the new buying“, there will be less demand for new products, and less strain on the world’s resources (as the environmentalist spiel goes)

Paddy Hills, 38 South Buona Vista Road
What are some concerns?

  • easy for these large corporates to flout laws much like the traditional big companies of old, except this time, they bypass the usual democratic process by appealing to their consumer-following to pressurise regulators into capitulating on laws, effectively nullifying the electoral/legislative process.
  • making business out of not being responsible – the companies running these platforms don’t bother with legislation meant to protect employees (from overwork, from discrimination, from exploitation, to ensure they are properly insured, etc); they don’t bother with consumer rights;
  • while marketing solidarity and saving liberal consumers a few pennies, what allegedly happens is that the rich get richer by shirking taxes (that are a mechanism, amongst other things, for the re-distribution of wealth).

Paddy Hills, 38 South Buona Vista RoadIt is with some amusement that one realises how similar the dangers of a (neo)liberals’ dream economy is to criticisms of liberalism in the political arena. This fetishised dream of freedom from “burdensome” laws! and “oppressive” authorities! and “overbearing” commitments! forgets that laws and authorities are meant to protect the weak, and commitments ensure job security (hence the protests against zero-hours contracts).

And if so for human laws and authorities which are inevitably flawed on many levels, what about God’s laws and the lordship of Christ?

Paddy Hills, 38 South Buona Vista RoadBut…I myself work for a gig employment type company that enables me to earn some bread to feed myself, while also part-time unpaid full-time ministry. It distinguishes itself by actually employing people and then seconding them, and it accords them with the usual benefits of healthcare and insurance.

This is a mere thought-in-gestation…I wonder about the efficacy of a collaborative economy or gig employment for Bible teachers. In a city where there are many churches and few good teachers of the Word, would it be possible to have some sort of platform for desperate churches or parachurch organisations to get the services of (be served by) someone well-trained but, as is usual in any monopoly, hasn’t been given the opportunity to make use of that training (because, eg. the pastors-in-power are wary of their better skills in bible-handling, because they don’t show enough loyalty to the pastor to be given a higher profile)? Most preaching/teaching gigs happen now along the lines of old boys’ networks, strengthening existing monopolies, widening inefficiencies that could be used better for the kingdom.

Of course, sovereignty of God…to which one says, ah but human responsibility.

Still, this might be useful in a limited sense: one-off talks or a short training season; it can’t quite replace a long-term pastor/teacher who is committed to loving and caring for his flock, and who is responsible under God for them.

Paddy Hills, 38 South Buona Vista Road

*the cafe in this post is Paddy Hills (38 South Buona Vista Road). They use Tiong Hoe coffee. This flat white was very dark – it tasted like ash on the roof of my mouth. Perhaps an off-day? The berry hotcakes idea was decent (crispy on the edges, fluffy inside), though the original Kettle Black one in Melbourne had the advantage of cream, which, everyone knows, makes everything better.

**update: see also Robert J. Shiller’s article, Faith in an Unregulated Free Market? Don’t Fall For It.

Bristol Pride Day and Same-Sex Attraction

Bristol Pride Day

The roads leading up to Castle Park in Bristol was heaving with all colours of the rainbow. Outside, there were cheerful vendors offering to colour-you-badd with flags (to be used as capes), stickers, hats, and all manner of accessories.

Knitwit Shaun the Sheep on Bristol Pride Day  Bristol Pride Day

Even Shaun the Sheep (Knitwit edition) seemed to get in on the act with his colourful knits. Past the joking bag-checkers, more rainbow flags flew next to the ruins of an old church with great exuberance in the sunshine, as if to say that the old tired narrow-minded religion was dead.

Bristol Pride Day

Bristol Pride DayI enjoyed dancing badly to 80s music (typical!) accompanied by alot of cheeky banter, and chatting to many friendly people.

Bristol Pride DayLater, I obtained a copy of Iris Murdoch’s The Bell from Books for Amnesty, and after, I filched Ed Shaw’s The Plausibility Problem: the church and same-sex attraction from the Is’ bookshelf. Ed Shaw is one of the editors of Living Out, and his book, I thought, was the most insightful of all the pulp on homosexuality I’ve read so far.

Iris Murdoch's "The Bell" and Ed Shaw's "The Plausibility Problem: the church and same sex attraction"

Rather than spitting from his high moral horse, Shaw sensitively but astutely points out what the issues are. Here are some that I hope I haven’t misread:

(1) mistaking sexuality for identity

The Christian’s identity isn’t in his/her sexuality any more than it is in his/her skin colour.

  • We are God’s chosen children (“…even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will…” (Ephesians 1:4-5))
  • We are Jesus’ brothers (“…for he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers…” (Hebrews 2:11))
  • We are God’s heirs with Christ (“So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” (Galatians 4:7))

(I recall Vaughan Roberts saying that he didn’t want to be going around giving talks on same-sex attraction because that wasn’t the thing that defined him. Much better to be teaching the full counsel of God!)

(2) mistaking what is genetic to be right

Even if there is indeed a “gay gene”, the discussion about right and wrong is not closed. Because the Bible tells us time and again that we are born sinful.

  • For I know my transgressions,
        and my sin is ever before me.
    Against you, you only, have I sinned
        and done what is evil in your sight,
    so that you may be justified in your words
        and blameless in your judgement.
    Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
        and in sin did my mother conceive me.
    Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
        and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.
    Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
        wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
    Let me hear joy and gladness;
        let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
    Hide your face from my sins,
        and blot out all my iniquities. (Psalm 51:3-9)

(3) mistakenly assuming what we think will make us happy must be right

But there is an ultimate authority – God the creator and judge of the world. So our ultimate happiness depends on pleasing him, not ourselves.

  • The law of the Lord is perfect,
        reviving the soul;
    the testimony of the Lord is sure,
        making wise the simple;
    the precepts of the Lord are right,
        rejoicing the heart;
    the commandment of the Lord is pure,
        enlightening the eyes;
    the fear of the Lord is clean,
        enduring for ever;
    the rules of the Lord are true,
        and righteous altogether.
  • 10 More to be desired are they than gold,
        even much fine gold;
    sweeter also than honey
        and drippings of the honeycomb.
    11 Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
        in keeping them there is great reward. (Psalm 19:7-11)

Bristol Pride Day

(4) mistaking the sex act for true intimacy

That’s what Hollywood would have us think. But the maker of the universe speaks of friendship that is closer than a man and wife.

  •    I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan;
    very pleasant have you been to me;
        your love to me was extraordinary,
        surpassing the love of women. (2 Samuel 1:26)

(And in any case, the marriage relationship between a woman and a man are meant to be a visual hint of Christ’s love for the church. (Ephesians 5:32))

(5) erroneously assuming celibacy as an evil

Really, sex isn’t the barometer of a successful life; living for God is. So Paul says to the Corinthians:

  • I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another.To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion. (1 Corinthians 7:7-8)
  • 32 I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. 33 But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, 34 and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. 35 I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord. (1 Corinthians 7:32-35)

(6) erroneously assuming suffering to be bad

But actually, suffering is expected in this life, as it was expected in Jesus’ life. In fact, it was necessary for him and so it is necessary for us:

  • 31 And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

    34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37 For what can a man give in return for his soul? 38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:31-38)

  • 18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

    26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (Romans 8:18-30)

(7) erroneously assuming that heterosexuality is godliness

It is clear from Leviticus and Romans and 1 Corinthians that same-sex attraction acted-upon is against the maker’s design.

  • 22 You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. (Leviticus 18:22)
  • 13 If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them. (Leviticus 20:13)
  • 26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonourable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. (Romans 1:26-27)

There isn’t any point for therapies that claim to change one’s sexual orientation. What God wants isn’t heterosexuality but godliness, being imitators of Christ.

EMA 2013 Engaging with an alien world (2) – same sex attraction – Dan Strange, Ed Shaw and Charlie Skrine. from The Proclamation Trust on Vimeo.

What Charlie Skrine said during the Engaging with an Alien World seminar at the Evangelical Ministry Assembly 2013 is excellent: the biggest issue isn’t what to do with your sex life, it’s to do with your standing with God. And both people attracted to the same sex and the opposite sex have this problem. So what do we pray for for our children? We don’t pray that they won’t grow up to be gay, we pray that they will grow up to be godly – whoever they find themselves attracted to.