Some weeks ago, I entered a new decade of my life. Here are some things I’ve been pondering.
1. My cat is a troublesome companion.
Not sure why I put up with him. Oh right he’ll die if I leave him outside.
2. There is a lot of sex, drugs and hip hop in fashion
The first two is nothing new, the third changes according to the era.
Fashion is a world filled with attractive looking people. Combine that with unequal power dynamics, it’s a recipe for consensual casual sex as well as a bubbling cauldron of murky situations ripe for sexual assaults.
Many things in fashion are influenced by music, and music loves to immerse itself in fashion, especially now that a musician’s image is becoming increasingly important in the social media era. Models are now moonlighting as DJs, music producers are best friends with stylists and photographers. Everyone’s snorting white powder in the bathroom.
3. Authenticity is a myth
Everything you see is curated, filtered, veiled. We can do our best to be sincere in our thoughts and actions, but there will never be absolute authenticity. Firstly, we don’t truly know ourselves, partly because we lie about who we are – to ourselves and others – so we could feel better about our shortcomings and ignorance. Secondly, the world is a stage, and we are all players putting our best foot forward so we could be accepted and understood by the people whose validation we seek – parents, friends, lovers, any peer group we want to belong to. We manipulate ourselves in order to manipulate other people’s perceptions of us. Whether it’s done deliberately or unconsciously is not relevant. We are all doing it, one way or another. It is simply human nature to want to present a good façade despite our shortcomings, because a sense of belonging and acceptance is the panacea to loneliness.
In the words of Michel du Montaigne, “kings and philosophers shit, and so do ladies.”
No matter how rich, beautiful, or famous someone gets, or how high up the pedestal social media crowds place them, we are all subject to the madness of our brains and the limitations of our physical condition. We mustn’t be fooled by these superficial signifiers, because underneath all of those lurk the inner demons that go by the names of insecurity, anxiety, depression, amongst many others. Our bodies break down and we fall ill despite our best efforts. We are also verging towards death everyday.
It would be thus rather wise to remember that nothing we see on the internet is ever all that great.
4. We are all children on the inside
No matter how old we get, there is an inner child lurking underneath. No matter how mature we grow, the moment we find someone we can be vulnerable with, there will be instances in which we sulk, cry, throw a temper tantrum, and be a difficult person to get along with. To the recipient of such child-like behaviour, this may seem like a nuisance, but we should find comfort in knowing that there is someone who sees us as a secure source of comfort; someone whom they can truly be themselves with – exposing their vulnerabilities and insecurities that stemmed from childhood trauma. And I take solace in knowing that the times I falter as an adult and revert to my inner child, I will not be abandoned by the person whom I’ve revealed my vulnerabilities to. What separates maturity from pure childishness is how both parties deal with the situation when it arises.
5. Most people are too tired or too stupid to develop the capacity for critical thinking
And we are ill-equipped to navigate through life because we don’t possess the scientific literacy nor philosophical intelligence, or at least enough to have the wisdom and knowledge to make important decisions in life. We struggle everyday to make ends meet, to juggle responsibilities, to pursue our dreams, not to mention dealing with debilitating modern illnesses such as depression and anxiety. All of these leave us with little to no energy to read, write and think. Hell I know people who don’t even like to read. Like mice in a maze, it is instinctual to take the easy way out, thus we find ourselves opting for activities that numb our mental struggles and dumb us down. Instagram, Wechat, Facebook have thus become the go-to options for escapism. Maybe Plato was right. This is why democracy is not living up to our expectations. Plato feared that our freedom will be the downfall of society because we will strive to appease our desires (for wealth and fame especially) rather than uphold morality. He thought that a just and functional society is only possible when governed by a select few who only strive for wisdom plus a set of other virtues that he had defined. The society he envisaged also doesn’t have a monetary system. Clearly those ideals would never be achievable for the time being, since we are deeply entrenched in the capitalist system. It is perhaps the main goal of capitalism to create ignorant masses so they can continue to consume and not think for themselves. When one does not possess the capacity to develop critical thinking, one is not able to make wise decisions for oneself and the greater good. We would be more prone to listen to our biases, rumours and preconceptions.
6. Which brings us to the fact that we’re not as open-minded as we think.
Given an evidence that contradicts what we believe, we buckle down further on our opinions. I chalk it up partly to the backfire effect, and partly to our superiority bias. The former is a type of confirmation bias in which, when presented with evidence that contradicts our beliefs, we do mental acrobats to circumvent that and buckle down on our existing position, letting our emotions take over instead of evaluating the new information critically. The latter is the belief that we are smarter than average, on the whole or on a particular subject. Combining both, we think the the person who challenges us is stupider, hence incapable of making intelligent opinions for us to even reconsider. That, or we think we are someone with above-average intelligence who has valid and valuable opinions, so a person who doesn’t share the same opinion as ours is probably not as smart as us, hence not to be given serious consideration.
This applies to both the liberal left and conservative right.
7. Consumers seek self-esteem through the material things they consume
Be it clothes, music, food. You name it, someone’s going to defend the hell out of it as soon as a criticism is thrown at a subject matter they have emotionally invested themselves in. It’s one thing to defend with reason, it’s another to feel butthurt and take criticisms as a personal attack. This is why we have football hooligans and cliquey fashion communities. Underneath the seemingly innocent consumerist façade lies catty fashion sub-groups. I remember once writing a scathing opinion about streetwear which was reposted onto Reddit. I do believe the word ‘bitch’ was thrown about a few times in the thread, but none dared to tell me directly.
8. The path to a fulfilling life begins from reading, and reading well.
“There is only one good, knowledge, and one evil, ignorance.” – Socrates.
Regardless whether Socrates really exist, I am biased against people who don’t read. I’m not saying that the habit of reading, or lack thereof, makes someone good or evil. As I’ve said previously, the act of reading should be done in the pursuit of knowledge. Knowledge is important to hone our critical-thinking skills and make the most rational choices for ourselves and our society. Humans are often governed by our irrational emotions. To have the capacity for love, kindness, anger and melancholy is a beautiful aspect of our sentience. But there are many times when emotions have to take a backseat, and let logic and rationality lead us in our decision-making process. We cannot vote for the future of our nations and children when we cannot overcome our tribal tendencies, fears and insecurities.
Even if we are not reading for a noble cause, we read to learn from our predecessors; hear their thoughts; absorb their wisdom; avoid the mistakes they’ve made. Personally I have used reading as a coping mechanism during hard times. In the midst of melancholic solitude I take refuge in knowing that my experiences have been shared by brilliant minds. The ghosts of history speak through time to console me when confronted with the sad realities of our existence.
9. Everyone has their own battlefield.
Life is hard. Some of us struggle to eke out a living. Some of us struggle to love and be loved. We will always be plagued by insecurities. We struggle to reconcile our disdain for capitalism and joy in consumerism – I love clothes and relish the rush of completing a checkout process, despite knowing full well that the fashion industry is exploitative; I still eat meat despite my inability to trace how the chicken was raised before it arrived on my plate.
We will never know the full extent of every individual’s hardships, and how these hardships have shaped them. A person who snapped at us when we accidentally knocked into them was probably dealing with his broken dreams. Some guy who bumped into us and didn’t apologise probably just found out his wife was cheating on him. All we can do is be kind, forgive and forget, because we hope that other people would do the same with our transgressions.
10. “Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made.” – Immanuel Kant
Humanity is inherently flawed; we know very little about our reality. What we know we don’t know, amounts to much less than what we don’t know we don’t know. We are ignorant, foolish animals with eyes that aren’t designed to perceive our universe on a microscopic and cosmological scale, prone to make unwise decisions because we are ruled by our emotions. It’s a miracle that every generation manages to progress further than the last.
And so with this knowledge in mind, I step forward into another year of my life. Thank you for reading, as always. All photographs were taken by @xeoniq.