October 2013

Silence: A Poem

I am eternal

I have existed and will exist

I am the first and the last

Ever present and powerless

I am empty in voice

I am the voice of the empty

I am mute and cannot speak

Yet great is my multitude of words

I am knowledge, I am ignorance

I am shameless, I am ashamed

I am strength, I am weakness

I cause war, and I am what they fight for

I am unlearned, yet you learn from me

I am the one you have hidden from

Yet I am before your very eyes

For whenever you open your mouth, I hide from you

I am a sound not often heard

Drowned out by your sea of words

Endlessly spewing forth like a deluge of water from a hurricane

Wiping out sanity

I am an empty gap of time, often stuffed with empty words

When it could be better used

To pause

And figure out what to say

I am an art

So quickly lost

An art of staying still and being calm

Lost amidst a world of go go go


Were born into this world

Kicking and screaming

Giving answers before you truly hear

Until the day you return into my realm.

Bulgakov’s Warning

Must we look at Bulgakov’s book The Master and Margarita as a critique of Soviet society? There’s no doubt that it can be viewed this way, but what characterizes truly great works of literature (as opposed to, say, Harry Potter or the Hunger Games) is that the reader can approach the same text yet draw different conclusions. So what interest could Bulgakov possibly be writing for?

With the book mentioning devils, Yeshua Ha-Nozri (Jesus of Nazareth), Pontius Pilate, Behemoth, Judas Iscariot, Woland (Satan) and so on and so on, it seems this book is ripe with Christian themes. Could this book possibly also be a critique of how Russian society (in Bulgakov’s time) rejected theism for atheism?

In the first chapter, we are met with two characters who deny the possibility of there ever having existed a Jesus Christ. Satan, under the guise of the professor Woland, criticizes this view and goes on to foreshadow the fate of these two characters: Berlioz, who will supposedly later slip on Annushka’s spilt sunflower seed oil and get decapitated by an oncoming train, and Ivan, who will end up in a mental hospital. A rather sad fate for these two, who, since they do not believe in God and hence reject the idea of “sin”, therefore ironically reject Satan himself.

Another instance of this warning of “godlessness” that perhaps Bulgakov is hinting to is that of the psychiatric clinic in Chapter 6. When Ivan is explaining to the doctor of how he knew Woland was the murderer all along, of how he already knew how Berlioz’s beheading would happen and how he also met Pontius Pilate earlier that day, how are we to analyze this? Is this simply a crazy man talking about Pontius Pilate, the man supposedly responsible for condemning Jesus to death? Looking through it using this lens, perhaps Bulgakov is satirizing contemporary Soviet society: perhaps he is describing the common notion of how religion was seen as a “mind-virus”, a sickness, disease, hallucination, vision, something “supernatural”, something that would wind you up in an insane asylum, much like how Ivan was. There are many other instances of these scenes elsewhere.

Again, this post is not meant to expose my religious beliefs (if any) or biases but perhaps those of Bulgakov. I will try to remain as neutral as possible. I am neither saying that I agree or disagree with Christianity (or any religion for that matter), however I’ve noticed in our seminar group quite a bit of contempt towards this sensitive issue. Some people have put a lot of thought into believing what they believe in, and for you to dismiss it as hogwash not only makes them feel like trash, but also shows your ignorance of what their belief actually entails. I hope that you all can express more respect for something that a lot of people take very seriously and not approach it in such a blatantly dismissive and immature tone.


Animal Rights

There’s a commonly held belief amongst the general public that philosophy is useless. What has it ever really done for us? Everything useful, everything that has helped gradually progress humanity from a state of primitiveness to civilization has been done through science, right? Isn’t philosophy much too abstract to be put to practical use? This kind of thinking is not only dangerous, but is, in fact, quite untrue. It’s why we’re here today.

One of the things philosophy has “done for us” is the concept of rights–it’s the very reason why you (if you happen to be from Canada or the US, at least) live in such a (theoretically) free state. The idea of unalienable rights for all really gained a foothold through such thinkers as Thomas Hobbes and John Locke during the 17th century. Locke’s work, in particular, influenced the United States Declaration of Independence, the basis for which many other declarations of independence were written. These days, it is widely excepted that humans do indeed possess rights. But ought we to extend these rights to animals? This is where I think it has gone too far.

First of all, what is a right? I shall appeal to Wikipedia by saying that, generally, it is agreed that rights are “…the fundamental… rules about what is allowed of people or owed to people…”. In other words, it describes something that people may do of their own free choosing (such as the right to cross borders, the right to strike, etc.) or something that is owed to another individual (such as the right to life, which can easily be re-worded as the right to not be killed arbitrarily).

But can we give these rights to animals? Well, we certainly can–after all, the concept of “rights” is unique to humanity in that they are totally man-made, and thus can be given freely. But in my view, we shouldn’t just hash out rights because we feel that we should: there needs to be reasons for us to give animals rights. Personally, I would like to give animals rights. I love animals. But for the reasons outlined below, I cannot genuinely bring myself to allow it.

If there exists some chasm between us and the animal, what is it? Why do we call the killing of another human murder, when we are free to squash as many annoying insects as we please? You could make the argument that the killing of a higher animal, such as a cat or a dog, is illegal and cannot be done freely. But if you were to do that, you’d get in trouble in a different way: namely by killing someone else’s property, and thus infringing on another person’s right–the right to not have their animal property arbitrarily killed. We would never call this murder.

It seems to me that humans possess something that animals, whether they are the tiniest amoebas to even, I daresay, our closest relatives, the great apes, lack. It is the concept of forethought. Many other people might call this “abstract thinking” or “conceptualization”, but practically speaking, thinking about abstract thoughts or concepts allow us to pre-plan, pre-meditate and pre-think about anything we are thinking of doing. It allows us to think into the future and make reasonable guesses about what is to come. It follows that, if we are able to think about the future (which hasn’t been realized yet), we are also able to think of other concepts that are unreal, unnatural or unapparent to the senses (such as rights). Thus, we have established humanity’s one advantage over animals–the ability to think beyond oneself into the realm of abstraction.

If animals lack this sense of “abstract thinking”, then it is obvious that they would not and could not think of concepts such as “good” or “bad”, “right” or “wrong” when making a decision. If a tiger were to attack a human being, we cannot reasonably hold that tiger accountable, for it is merely acting on the desire to feed itself. It cannot conceive that somehow attacking the human is itself a bad act, for if it could, it could also choose to spare the human. The tiger has no free will–it is acting only out of the desire to satisfy its hunger. Therefore, one reason that the animal should not be given rights is that they cannot be held responsible for any infringement of those rights, since they do not have any concept of “duty” or “what should be owed to another”. For if it did, we are obligated by our own rights to throw the tiger, and any other being we give rights to who break them, into prison.

Therefore, we have established that the right to live requires that the bearer of those rights must defend other people’s right to live. This can work with any other “right” as well: the right to be free of harm requires that the bearer of those rights must defend other people’s right to be free of harm; the right to privacy requires that the bearer of those rights must defend other people’s right to privacy; and so on it goes. And as we have just shown, an animal, by definition, is incapable of doing so. It is senseless to give rights to a being that cannot act upon them or responsibly sustain them. Humans, on the other hand, who do possess forethought and thus are able to conceptualize these rights and act responsibly to defend other people’s rights, can and do possess these rights and must be held accountable for any infringement thereof.

But this conclusion that we have come to is not, in my view, a warrant to abuse animals. I’ll discuss why in a later post.

Much love,




Antigone’s Box

A good friend of mine once told me about how he thinks other people view the world. He sees people constructing boxes around themselves that are given any number of labels–“Christian”, “Buddhist”, “Atheist”, “Male”, “Female”, “Homosexual”, etc., in which we place ourselves and other people. We like to think that by being in our little box we are in an exclusive club of sorts, and others who are in different boxes should either stay put in those boxes and get away from us (especially if that box happens to fall within the realm of social undesirability), or should be forced to leave their box and conform to ours.

We do tend to categorize other people, don’t we? We even do it to non-human entities and ideas as well. But why are we like this? I can easily see how this urge to categorize arose through our evolutionary descent–those who were quicker to put predators in the “danger” category were more likely to survive. It also allows us to make swift judgments about particular circumstances without giving it too much thought. But could this categorization be the downfall of society?

I think I’m beginning to sound a bit too hipster for my liking, so let’s get back to Antigone’s Claim. How do we categorize Antigone? One of the core topics of the book is that we can’t simply dump her into easily recognizable categories. Is she a woman? Is she a man? Both? Neither? The more we try to define her, the more undefinable she becomes.

That, I believe, is one of the great terrors of humankind: the inability to easily put people into familiar categories. The inability to judge leaves us helpless.

One final point to mention: I find it slightly humourous that we’re even discussing the fact that people don’t always fall into categories! Isn’t it obvious that this is the case? I know for a fact that most of us say that we are all “special” and that we need to emphasize “individuality”, and yet go on to continue to stereotype, generalize and categorize. Hypocrisy of the highest calibre.

Much love,