Stuck in a ditch + “Ideas that Matter”

My mind’s been stuck in a ditch for the past month. That doesn’t sound too good, now does it? It feels like I’m being consumed by quicksand, or a swamp, or sewage waste. Ugh, I can feel the repulsive goo collecting at the bottom of my brain. No, make that in the middle of my brain.

As my first year of tertiary education unfolds, I realized how little I knew, how little I remember, and how little I desire to learn. It demotivated me, yet surprisingly, not all too discouraged by the marks I’ve been getting. Oh, how they haunt me in my sleep, but I suppose this may as well be a sign that I still care about my education. Perhaps this is time for me to rethink my ways of dealing with university life as well.


Ideas That Matter

I was introduced to Michael Austin’s textbook, Reading the World: Ideas That Matter in my English mechanics course. Each week, we discuss a text on a particular issue/concept proposed by inspirational individuals of different professions. The following are several ideas we touched on so far:

1. Seneca – “On Liberal Studies”

Seneca proposes the idea that liberal studies is, in fact, superfluous knowledge and that it does not assist any man to lead a moral and virtuous life. He raises some interesting points regarding the fields of philosophy (existentialism), music, mathematics, etc. He raises the question of “why do we pursue education when it does not contribute to having a moral and virtuous character?”

2. Moses Maimonides – “The Guide for the Perplexed”

Maimonides argues that the Universe is not a consequence of necessity but a result of conscious design. Religion and belief in the Divine are closely related to this argument. In summary, Maimonides believes that whatever that can not be explained is a consequence of God’s design. Although he does support this thesis with exceptional deductive reasoning, I personally believe that the Universe is a consequence of necessity.

3. Matthiew Ricard and Trinh Xuan Thuan –
“The Universe in a Grain of Sand”

Ricard and Thuan discusses the concept of interdependence and the extensive search for evidence of extraterrestrial life. Yet a few questions come to mind: “If interdependence is true in the sense that everything is the cause and the effect of another, then what would be some ethical implications with respect to the way we relate to other forms of life?” “Is searching for evidence of extraterrestrial life worth the expense governmental agencies and private institutions go through?”

4. Garrett Hardin – “Lifeboat Ethics: The Case Against Helping the Poor”

Hardin uses a lifeboat analogy to support his argument against helping the poor, that being how privileged nations should restrict their surplus/resources for future crisis as opposed to humanitarian conduct. However, if all nations merely support themselves and not others, not only would it present ethical problems for future generations, the nations would fall under egotistical leaders; thereby leaving the world to perish.

5. Aung San Suu Kyi – “In Quest of Democracy”

Through her essay, Aung San Suu Kyi answers one of the ” charges made by non-democratic governments throughout the world: that democracy is a Western form of government and a remnant of imperialism that represents values alien to the non-Western world.” (Austin) She applies Buddhism to the definition of liberal democracy and argues that a democratic government is suitable for the Burmese culture.

This raises a question of whether or not the values of western liberal democracy are always compatible with other cultures and traditions, as Aung San Suu Kyi suggests.

To be honest, I am pretty stuck on this topic. I suppose the values and the concept of having a representative government can be considered to be originated from the Western hemisphere, thus being “Western liberal democracy” but is it possible that the notion of democracy is not tied to a particular culture at all? The values of democracy is liberty, equality, and respect for human rights, so wouldn’t this apply to human beings in general? Having a democratic government does not change culture, let alone tradition; rather, it contributes to the evolution of human morality, perception, and…

Oh goodness, the goo’s coming back. I’m stuck once again.




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