Thursday, September 20, 2012

My Mobile University

Living in KL means a lot of time spent in my car. Fortunately I have a consolation: audiobooks. For the past few years, I think I've listened to more books than I have read.

Not only have I "read" many of the latest non-fiction--Malcom Gladwell's Blink and Outliers, and Tim Wu's The Master Switch among others--through the audio medium, I've also sat through many lectures in subjects as diverse a the philosophy of religion, Russian literature, history of classical music, the human body and movie appreciation. My car has become my mobile university; driving is no longer a chore, it is something I even look forward too these days.

I also listen to a lot of poetry--Yeats, Shelley, Dylan Thomas, Edgar Alan Poe. I even sleep with my iPod: my favourit bedtime listening are philosophical talks on religion by Alan Watts. I've been using my first generation iPod for maybe 7 years now and it is the best investment in gadgets I've ever made.

What joy it is to be able to carry a whole library of wisdom right in your breast pocket. Listening is so easy--you just plug in your earphones and lo and behold, the author talks in your head.

Whenever I need a bit of break, in between heavy sessions of academic lectures, I'll dive into my portable collection of classical music--Chopin, Mozart and a bit of Baroque music will usually put me into a very relaxed and blissful state. Ah, instant knowledge, instant relaxation!

I used to buy audio cassettes and have a huge collection of audiobooks in cassettes. But nowadays, I get my audio content from Audible, commiting myself to more than RM500 of audiobooks every year as a Gold subscriber. I have more than a hundred books in my audio wishlist, and the list is still growing.

Unlike many of my IT friends, I'm not exactly an Apple aficionado; It concerns me not if the latest iPhone is thinner, lighter, comes with bigger screen and supports LTE. The iPod is all I care about. With the iPod and Audible, the world's knowledge--the pleasures of life--is always an 'earshot' away.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Art of the Possible

One thing is consistent throughout my years of blogging: I've avoided the subject of politics--the raison d'ĂȘtre of many other blogs in cyberspace. I steer clear of political topics not because I abhor the subject; far from it: I do have firmly held political views and follow the local political scene closely, but I'd prefer to keep my opinion to myself. The closest I'll go is to reflect on politics, as a subject, philosophically.

Political debates tend to stir a lot of passion among readers. The Malaysian blogosphere is already filled with way too much partisan vitriol; I do not care to add more to it. Technology, the Internet in particular, is a double-edged sword: both the good and the evil are equally amplified. It is also a sad fact of human nature that the vilest, meanest and the most fantastic half-truths often get the most attention.

When political idealism is charged with extreme religious fervour, it becomes a potent mix. Inflammatory rhetoric can often lead to physical violence. This stems from the fact that political and religious world-views have deep psychological roots. Our personal experiences (usually painful ones) and our cultural programming play a big part in shaping them. We all want to preserve our own comfort zones and tend to be wary of change.

From a superficial perspective, there appears to be universal values that we all share--justice, liberty, freedom and economic prosperity. But when we look a little bit closer, we find that there are deep cultural and philosophical differences on what these abstract concepts mean, and how we, as a society, go about achieving them.

Bismarck once said that politics is the art of the possible. We can either take this statement negatively (there are no principles in politics, everything is negotiable) or otherwise (always seek the most pragmatic solution, given the circumstances).

Ideally, all political debate should be driven by the need to explore what's possible. Without it, political rhetoric, is all hate-fanning and fear-mongering.