Echo chambers

“The difference is that the United States’ aims are to spread democracy and openness,” said the female interviewee, when asked by the BBC reporter on what the difference was between the US using “information warfare” vs. the Russians doing the same thing.

(For context, this was a radio programme on the suspected Russian interference in US politics.)

And then there was a pause.

The interviewee, I think, thought that that was enough; that by saying the US was pushing for “democracy and openness” while the Russians were not, it was self-evident the US were the “good guys”, exonerated from their own version of “information warfare” against other nations.

But the BBC journalist would have none of it.

Very subtly, with a slight change of tone, made a comment that implied not everyone’s looking for “democracy and openness”. Some of us would rather eat plain food in peace than have caviar shoved down our throats.

As much as I love late night TV, this very refreshing non-US take on things made me realise I better start getting out of my americentric echo chambers.

Are you what you write? (or, Machiavelli the playwright)

I just watched a documentary on Niccolò Machiavelli. You may know him as that scheming, deceitful, and generally rotten guy who wrote the political bible The Prince.

So infamous is he that his name has become an adjective synonymous with evil. Just see what Merriam-Webster has to stay about being “Machiavellian”:

suggesting the principles of conduct laid down by Machiavelli; specifically marked by cunning, duplicity, or bad faith

To be honest I never knew much about him – I’d heard of him and his book, but not much else. He lived in my mind vaguely in the same space as Sun Tzu and Zhuge Liang, and to a lesser extent political leaders like Mussolini, Mao Zedong, and Margaret Thatcher.

But watching this documentary gave me better appreciation for the man and his thoughts on politics and power.


It was the parts about his life, though, that really made me go: really?

You see, I always thought that Machiavelli was the right-hand man for the political leader(s) of his time and that he probably died as a martyr or as a grey-haired political advisor.  I never separated Machiavelli the man vs. Machiavelli the myth.

I always imagined him executed as part of a coup or something; which, come to think of it, would have been more romantic, no?

I had not realised that he was relatively young (~43) when he was deprived of his rather lofty official position due to transitions of power in Florence at that time.

It was only after that, as part of failed attempts to get back into officialdom that he wrote The Prince, which was his way of trying to get noticed by the new leaders. Unfortunately for him, it didn’t work.

Eventually, he lived out the rest of his life writing plays. Plays. (Yes, plays.) 


Part of my amazement also lay in the fact that he still had friends after writing The Prince.

Though the book was published only 5 years after his death, he’d shared it among friends soon after first writing it.

Just imagine a modern day Machiavelli writing a blog on how to seize and hold on to positions of power, saying

one who deceives will always find those who allow themselves to be deceived.

Who’d be friends with such a guy?


It also reminded me sometimes of my own literary voyages.

You know how sometimes you’d be in a really good mood and ready to take on the world. Just about anything you write about then will tend to be upbeat too (“Believe in yourself and you the world will be your oyster! They can hurt your body but they cannot hurt you!”)

But sometimes those days precede days where nothing goes right, and you’re in a life-is-awful-kittens-are-Satan mood.

Imagine the dissonance when someone who then reads my happy post gets all upbeat him- or herself, and then talks to me about it during one of these god-awful days, saying something akin to:

“I love how you can turn:
the good from bad;
the happy from sad;
the new from old;
and lead into gold!”

F*** off my eyes tell them.

And they have to wonder if the writer and me were one and the same.


Well, there is what I write; and then there’s me.

Fast Cars

With a light press of the accelerator, the car effortlessly sped up. Without my realising it we were now a little over the speed limit. It was odd how slow it felt. The cabin deathly quiet as the car stoically glided along.

xiaojinche
This was taken back in 2008 while on a road trip to Albany, Western Australia. The GPS we had loaned went a little mad, and brought us to this rural track through a farm. Fun times.

Flashback 10 years: driving in Perth in the 小金车 (xiao jin che or “little golden car” – the name we housemates affectionately called our car). Onto the freeway I went at 90 km/h. The car rattled as the bumps on the ground made their presence felt; the engine groaning under the strain.

In the “slow” car going at 90 km/h felt like 120.

In the “fast” car going at 120 km/h felt like 90.

The experience of speed was far more obvious in the “slow” car despite the lack of the real thing: the elevated heart-rate; the adrenaline; the fun!

**********

Likewise, is life not often what you make of it?

Do not give me a gift of which I desire

A little note about happiness, from the book Homo Deus, by Yuval Noah Harari:

If I identify happiness with fleeting pleasant sensations, and crave to experience more and more of them, I have no choice but to pursue them constantly. When I finally get them, they quickly disappear, and because the mere memory of past pleasures will not satisfy me, I have to start all over again. Even if I continue this pursuit for decades, it will never bring me any lasting achievement; on the contrary, the more I crave these pleasant sensations, the more stressed and dissatisfied I will become. To attain real happiness, humans need to slow down the pursuit of pleasant sensations, not accelerate it.

When I read the passage above, it reminded me of something I told my wife not too long ago, that “the more I have, the more I want.”

If I feel happy just thinking of purchasing something I long for, especially one that I can easily afford, why would I spoil it with an actual purchase?

You see, the moment I make that purchase, the want is taken care of; the moment that want is taken care of, something else would take its place; and if that something is not something I can easily afford, the “more stressed and dissatisfied I will become.”

So, my dear, no, I do not want you to give me a gift of which I desire (and which money can buy).

I’m happy to stick to the simple joys of your company; our son; and our daughter.