Lord of the Flies - Review

William Golding was born an Englishman on September 19, 1911, and grew up to become an Oxford graduate, a respectable university, but went on to serve his country by fighting World War II. This experience fighting the brutal war against the Axis powers gave Golding, a writer since young, a strong impression about the true nature of human beings. This led him to write his respected book “Lord of the Flies”.

Lord of the Flies discusses the theme of civility versus savagery. Golding believes that as time passes without proper laws and the enforcement of these laws, people revert to their usual savage selves, and felt this reared its head at the Second World War. Therefore, he wrote a story depicting the “adventure” of fifteen or so boys, twelve and below, who were wrecked on an island without an adult to look after them, and showed the horrors of men.

 I feel that there are three main parts of the story line – first, the arrival of the boys on the island; second, the loss of innocence of the boys; and third, the final outcome of the situation and the rescue of the boys. When the boys are first wrecked on the island, two boys, Ralph, the main protagonist, and Piggy first meet and they become friends soon after. Ralph and Piggy go on to find a conch shell. At this point, we already see that Piggy is the representation of intellect, because he knows about the anatomy of the shell, and teaches Ralph to blow it. From this point onwards, the conch shell is used to gather all the boys at a meeting spot. Furthermore, during their daily assemblies, only the person holding the conch gets to speak. The conch shell thus represents the law and order in this microcosm of society.

The boys have different personalities to start off with. Jack Merridew, the main antagonist, is more pessimistic. He believes that there is a little and insignificant chance of them being rescued, so they should think about how to survive on the island. On the other hand, Ralph believes in his father, who is an officer in the British Navy, so he pushes for them to build a signal fire, which can be used to call out to boats at sea to save them. Already, a conflict breeds here, like in our normal lives.

So how do we solve our conflicts? In our modern world, we turn to more diplomatic ways to solve issues, like talks and meetings, and eventually voting for the best option. That is exactly what the boys do. After some discussion, an election is held, and Ralph ends up winning, placing him as “Chief” of the boys. He then calls for the boys to build a signal fire, which they light up with the intellectual representation, Piggy’s glasses. Jack, of course, is unhappy.

From this point on, the story becomes more tensed, and we enter the second part of the book, where the boys lose their innocence. The “beast” is first discussed by the young children amongst the group, scaring them, and at once, everyone seems to have a common enemy. The “beast” is merely imaginary, but young children being unable to tell myths from truths, believe that it either comes from the forest or the sea. As the story develops, the beast begins to scare the group even more, to the extent that they sacrifice a sow’s head for it. The most good natured, seemingly the most innocent boys, Simon realises that the beast’s existence in all of the boys is the source of the fear of it, and it is actually the representation of the savagery innately built into the boys. The more the boys act like savages, the more the beast seems to materialise. This beast is what Golding tries to warn us of.

Jack leaves the tribe after his continued conflict with Ralph, and begins his own hunting tribe, bent on killing pigs for food and hunting the beast instead of keeping up the warning signal. He even caused them to lose a chance to return home when he let the signal fire go off when a ship passed nearby. During the feast he organises in the evening of this event, his members carry out their ritual dance. In the heat and chaos, they mistake Simon for the beast and kill him. This symbolises the first instance where the innocence of the boys is lost, and they cross the line of civility, when no one seems to care too much about killing Simon. This is vastly different from modern society, where we even punish murderers with the death sentence. The boys seem to have lost their moral compass.

Jack performs continuous raids on Ralph, stealing fire as well as Piggy’s glasses. At this point, it becomes evidently already that the group here has already lost all forms of civil intelligence. Jack’s group now wear paint on their faces, and are now no longer recognisable both physically and psychologically – they become true savages, preying on others. Once the boys are no longer within the jurisdiction of the law, they are no longer afraid or wary of the consequences of their actions, causing them to change in their thought process and mental calculus.

Ralph and Piggy try to remind the boys of their final goal – to go home, and tries to exert his authority as chief, but to no avail. When Ralph’s group go to confront Jack, Piggy is killed, and the other two of Ralph’s members are forced to change their allegiances. In process of the heated argument between the two sides, the conch shell Piggy was holding is shattered. Similarly, chaos overrides order, and everyone begins to accept themselves and others around them as savages.

Finally, Jack orders a hunt against Ralph, bringing his men and setting fire to the entire forest covering majority of the island. Here, we see that the result disagreement has slowly shifted from a state of democratic ruling to savage, brutal means. Not only this, but they seem to have no logical thought – the forest is the source of food and shelter, their source of survival, but Jack and his tribe are willing to sacrifice all this for the sake of the killing of Ralph. Fortunately, a Navy boat spots this crisis and rescues Ralph just as he is about to be killed.

“Lord of the Flies” tells us that mankind is not as civilised as we perceive ourselves to be. As we develop as a species, we simply have a diminished reason to bring out that savagery in ourselves, but it still remains. Once we lack the enforcement of law and order, we will ultimately transition into Man’s natural state of brutality.

We sometimes question the presence of the law – there seems to be little reason to steal, rob or kill another. But what it truly represents is a set of moral guidelines that help us to act in a more civilised manner. It reminds us to look out for our own moral actions, and to continually rein ourselves in if we get out of line. In this sense, the law not only protects us from others, but also from ourselves.

The beauty of the book is in its underlying meaning. On a superficial level, it seems to be a dramatic representation of society – how can we be expected to think of such a scenario? Yet, it really tells us the importance of law and order, and of preserving rational thought over brutal means of solving our problems.

Disasters Bring out the Best in People. Do you Agree?

Disasters are commonly accepted to be terrible things, destroying tangible objects like infrastructure and killing people, and also causing intangible harm, like causing people to feel traumatised. Such harm is perpetuated by various forms of disasters, be they natural like tornados or man-made like oil spills, or social disasters such as terrorist attacks. Yet, it is worth noting that it is exactly these disasters that motivate people to live through the terrible times, and bring out the best in them. In response to disasters, people seem to become more courageous and civic minded, with many of them becoming leaders as well. These are all admirable traits in man.

In the fore, it may seem as though natural disasters create opportunities for people to commit crimes. In the wake of a natural disaster, there is bound to be some form of chaos that presents itself as an opportunity for people to steal and rob the community. Many people think about their needs before that of others and this selfish attitude is more likely to show itself after a disaster strikes than in normal circumstances. However, more often than not, people tend to exhibit more positive behavior in the face of calamity. One pertinent example would be the case of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami of 2011. Miki Endo proved herself to be a hero of her community when she sacrificed her own life to make continued announcements from a building for people to evacuate to higher ground, eventually saving over a thousand others. This form of heroism is particularly admirable because it is extremely difficult for a twenty-four year old to sacrifice her life for the sake of the community, in which she may not particularly have known everyone. Such heroism is indisputedly one of the best traits of mankind, something which would hardly surface in everyday living. Another widely observed phenomenon was the civic-mindedness of the survivors. After the calamity, despite the grief and terribly cold weather, the Japanese remained thoughtful, giving up their places in the ration queue to the elderly folks among them without hesitation. This form of help goes to show that disaster does make people more civic minded, as they not only consider their own suffering, but also that of others.

Of course, cynics may assert that in times of social conflict, there would be many casualties, which have multiple implications on different groups of people. People may become discouraged and feel let down if they end up losing their family members in disasters, and lack the motivation to carry on with their lives. Survivors are also harmed when they suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, or survivor’s guilt. Despite this, there are many instances in which people have continued to live on, and have even developed greater resilience after a while. For instance, Victor Guzman was a survivor of the 9/11 attacks, suffering from both of the abovementioned illnesses. However, after the incident, he was able to pick himself up from the ordeal; he learned to treasure his family more, and started to prioritise his family over his work. Such disasters make people ponder what they consider to be most valuable to them, spurring them to treasure these things. In this sense, disasters make people value what they love most, as the experience of nearly having lost these things drives home the ephemerality of life. This is in contrast to modern society, in which many people blindly follow others in the pursuit of material gain, but do not question the underlying reason for it. Disasters make their lives seem more unique in a way, allowing them to develop their own understanding of their particular priorities and circumstances. Therefore, disasters do bring out the best attitudes in survivors.

Pessimists would also claim that it is easy for people or even corporations to shirk their responsibilities in an effort to cover up man-made disasters. People who are more concerned with their image are unwilling to admit their contributions to the problem, and may be more likely to hide from the problem. However, most people are more likely to develop more possibilities to solve the problem. The BP spill of 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico proved this. It took eighty-seven days for the engineers that came at the behest of both BP and the USA to find a solution to the problem, but they still did it in the end, achieving the supposed “impossible”. The effort encouraged more governments and corporations to understand the importance of our environment, such that we can protect and preserve it. This is in contrast to the normal attitude of taking the exploitation of the environment as a right of mankind. The motivation to stay responsible for one’s actions in spite of the consequences is extremely admirable, yet only it often surfaces only in the wake of a disaster. In fact, we owe the existence of the Pacific Tsunami Warning System to a tsunami that swept Hawaii in 1946. When disasters take away something that is usually taken for granted, then people will realise its importance and begin to preserve it. It is thus safe to conclude that disasters bring out the best efforts and intents that differ from the norm, for the benefit of both the present and the future.

In conclusion, the disasters that we face today may indeed be problematic, doing great harm, but they do encourage mankind to move forward, to continually improve, and adopt selfless attitudes. Differing actions arise while chaos erupts, but the cumulative response tends to be more positive than negative. Therefore, man has the ability to become better, whether temporary or for good, as a result of disasters. 

Any reasonably hardworking person can earn a degree, but only a truly educated man can be of value to society.

In the traditional context, people are considered to be successful the moment they get a good job, which is directly linked to the degree they obtain. However, the question here is how they can actually help society. Do they need any form of characteristics before they are considered to be “valuable” people? We then have to understand what “value” means in this case. The value refers to the building of society, and this can be relatively broad, as it can refer to the physical help it renders, for instance the tangible building that is built by the person, yet it can also refer to the intangible help he renders, for instance in the form of cultural development. A person that is truly educated, in this case, would be a person who really learns from his education, not just the content, but also other skills that come along with the process of education. After much analysis, it seems that after all, it really takes a truly educated man to be of significant value to society.

Proponents of the plan that every person should have his significant value towards society, even if he was just a plain member of society that follows the laws set in the country. Why should he be seen as a person of lower “value” if he tries his best? Although this may seem like a good concept to be following, there are various things to consider at the same time. In most societies in the world today, what really matters are the real merits of the person. Without any of their extra achievements, then companies would not hire them. In today’s largely educated world, many more people are obtaining degrees, and it is simply not enough to define “value” as a piece of paper, but has evolved into the matter of whether any true results have shown to be made. In addition, the overall value of the person is also outweighed by the fact that the government still has to care for him. The citizen still has the different benefits that have been accorded to him by the government such as healthcare, and if the person does not have any significant contribution, then there is a net loss on the side of the government. Therefore, such a person who does not contribute significantly due to the fact that he is merely an inactive member of society is not valuable to society.

Critics of this thesis also claim that as long as the person has an education, then he has the potential to help the country. The degree is proof of the fact that he is capable of doing the job well enough. However, the contrast here is that a truly educated person has also picked up other skills such as leadership and teamwork. In today’s globalized world where communication is key, it is important for people to have these skills. Nowadays, not only the knowledge contributes to the person’s value, but also the person’s character and “heart”. When a person knows how to sympathise, work together, and help each other, that is when they can fully show their contribution to society, and increase their own value to society. For example, a teacher may have a vast resource of knowledge, but he or she has a lack of social etiquette. This weakness will then end up dragging the person down. As time passes, there is a need for the teacher to review her skills and teaching methods, and that is how she makes her students improve faster. However, if she does not know how to communicate with her students or colleagues to get their opinions and suggestions, then she is bound to become irrelevant in the future. Therefore, the potential of the person has shown to lie in the way the person behaves, not only in the content of understanding today.

Some also assert that the fact that the person is hardworking means that the person is able to pick up new knowledge to remain relevant, and that is what is truly needed. On the other hand, however, to be truly educated also means that the person totally absorbs the knowledge that he knows, and not just regurgitate the information that he is given to learn. Getting a degree or pursuing higher education requires one to really understand the context of the information, and to truly understand a certain job or subject means that the new knowledge gained must be able to be put to good use. Therefore, this is an important part of learning. Many students nowadays are spending majority of their time memorizing the facts, treating each sentence and fact as an object to be gained, rather than a building block towards understanding something new. They fail to put it into context and understand its relevance to them. Without the proper questioning of one’s knowledge, then a person is no more than a robot that quickly is being cast aside because of his lack of ability to adapt to new problems and situations to solve them efficiently. For example, the Xing Wei college in China is a liberal arts college which has been newly set up in the country. This new learning institution has provided the chance for Chinese students to learn a new type of skill – to think more broadly, and gaining the opportunity to express their opinion about sensitive issues in their country. Here, they can make good use of their newly gained knowledge in order to improve themselves, and to bring new light to other citizens in their country. Hence, people like these, who help themselves, other citizens and the country are considered to be significantly valuable to society.

Although we have to recognize that each person has a value to society, the question is the degree of this value. To be significantly valuable, it takes a truly educated person who is able to understand what he is learning, and use the skills and information gained to solve new problems. That is the key to the new generation. 

Any comments on the topic?

Does homeschooling prepare one for life better?

As the world becomes more academically competitive, with one’s knowledge level becoming key for one’s future job, and ultimately, one’s future. However, is school the only way through which people can learn? Relatively recently, there has come about the option of homeschooling, where people learn by themselves at home. Is this a viable alternative to the traditional schooling methods? This essay will prove how the benefits of attending school are exclusive to the school grounds, and homeschooling cannot provide these advantages.

Proponents of homeschooling argue that the education system is a one-size fit all policy. In most cases, the students with some learning difficulties are mixed together with the more “gifted” children into one class. This largely disrupts their learning process. In comparison, when they are at home, they have the opportunity to draft out their own curriculum to cater to their education needs. This presumes that schools cannot provide such specialised education. The truth is that the school curriculum nowadays are across a wide spectrum – some of them provide planned and guided education for children with learning difficulties, while others provided a more advanced scheme of education. For example, in Singapore, there is the Singapore Sports School which caters towards students who want to hone their athletic skills, while placing their academics at a lower priority. Premier learning institutions like Hwa Chong Institution have the Centre of Scholastic Excellence, which allows better students to take up subjects at a greater depth so as to facilitate their learning in their areas of interest and expertise. Schools also provide a continuous monitoring so that none are left behind. The constant tests and examinations is key for parents, schools and students themselves to understand how well they are assimilating the new knowledge that they have gained in schools. It is important to keep track of our own progress such that we can change the parts that we need to for our own benefit. By contrast, this cannot happen at home if parents are irresponsible, and students do not have a focused task at hand. With a lack of a proper goal, he may falter in his studies, not knowing what and when to improve. From here, we can already deduce that learning can happen on a scale beyond what learning at home can bring.

Without a rigid system, they have more flexibility to plan their time, critics argue. Why should students be forced to wake up so early in the morning? Education should either be about learning the content, or it should be to be fun, and expecting a child to follow a certain format would kill their interest to learn. Furthermore, it would be harmful for the student if they do not go through the proper courses of education. Sooner or later, these children have to integrate back into the system for their tertiary education, so it is vital for them to have the necessary academic requirements that are exclusive to the education system. The rigour of education needs to be put into place during their schooling so that a stronger foundation is built since young. This is essentially what tertiary institutions and employers are seeking for in today’s knowledge based world. Therefore, students of the current education system do benefit in increasing degrees as compared to their peers studying at home.

Opponents of the traditional schooling system argue that they should are able to focus better on the important subjects, instead of continually being affected negatively by other classmates. This distracts their intellectual learning. On the other hand, they do not recognise that nowadays, many platforms have been set up to ensure that children have the chance to report cases of negative influence from their peers. Furthermore, there is even an increasing chance of positive influence. When we look towards those who do better than ourselves and make them our role model, we also begin to learn from their studying methods to improve ourselves. This can help a child to develop intellectually by combining his strengths with others’. By contrast, a student who studies by himself lacks this positive external influence which is necessary for continual development. Schools nowadays can provide the teaching expertise as many education institutions set higher education standards for teachers. These teachers can then guide the students to rub others off positively. On top of that, there are great amounts of resources to help the child, and this can exist in tangible forms such as science lab apparatus and also intangible forms such as learning plans and studying programmes. This proves that holistic development has become a must in the education system, and traditional schooling methods better provides for this.

In the end, it is still clear that for a large majority of students, the way to go is still to undergo the traditional schooling process. What is to be expected are not the old-fashioned methods that parents would recall, but are improvised ways of teaching to suit the student as the system evolves. 

Any comments on the topic?

Citizen Journalism and its Impacts

Documenting the present, studying the past and foreseeing the new has always been the one area that Man has developed. From olden methods of carving incidents on cave walls to the current day Internet technology, things have progressed extremely quickly in the world of journalism. Today, as people gain more opportunities to take advantage of the vast technologies present, they start to use it to describe certain interesting incidents that occurred throughout their day, or even use it to express their opinions about the events in their country or the world. The revelation that nowadays, anywhere, anytime, people can post anything is catching fire, and this has created much craze about citizen journalists.

Before plunging directly into the impacts of this new trend, let us first examine the work of a citizen journalist. He is not trained officially in the art, but is instead part of the general population of people that have interest in a certain topic and have decided to air their views. He also writes on informal platforms, for instance through their blogs, where many people usually look towards. Although journalism is definitely not new, the process of citizen journalism is different. It usually depicts the certain event much more simply, and its research may not be as greatly done.

Then what are the different impacts of this novel idea? Pessimists argue that such websites allow for the propagation of certain opinions that are not well substantiated. This may erupt into assertion wars, with both sides merely asserting to the other that they are correct in every sense. What is so inherently harmful about this kind of discussion is that it breeds unhappiness, and given the fact that the Internet is less restrained than face-to-face interaction, fiercer arguments are formed. One good example would be STOMP in Singapore. It is dedicated to certain submissions of uncivil or discourteous behavior, which means that it gives way for multiple criticisms. On the other hand, this argument is hinged on the assumption that many people will accept such criticisms badly, or will follow through with such discussions. Many people in society are becoming much more civilized, with a majority able to tell what is reasonable and what is not. This means two things. First, more people will restrain themselves, and will not post such assertive comments because they know that they will be criticized for it. Second, people that see such insensitive and hurtful comments are willing to rise up against it. For instance, in the incident where the Permanent Resident student from NUS commented that “Singapore has more dogs than humans”, people immediately showed their disapproval towards him. This shows that society has the ability to discard and reject such harmful comments. Citizen journalism, in fact gives way for people to open others eyes to certain trends that are worth taking note of. If they are true, then people will definitely accept such comments, and this breeds more constructive comments.

Opponents of citizen journalism also comment that citizen journalism destroys the value of traditional journalism because its speed becomes the only reason why the latter is viewed more. They claim that therefore, people only see one side of things that people have chosen to talk about, and they do not see the well-vetted, researched topic that traditional media brings about. On the contrary, the entire reason for citizen journalism to become more speedy and far-reaching is that it can give a summary of events to more people, and a faster rate. In order to attract people to see their article, citizen journalists are obviously going to choose to comment on the more prevalent areas of the news and its main points, and this is sufficient. Once it piques the interest of readers, then the readers will have a greater incentive to look at the traditional journalist’s article, to understand the topic better. Its great speed and reach also allows for the expression of better values in society. For example, news of a catastrophe reaches people faster, and this means that help can be delivered faster. In the 2008 Mumbai bombings, it was a means through which people gathered information to create a more organized scene. In addition, since the general younger population is turning to such simpler ways of reading the news, it is much easier and effective if corporations and governments reach out to this new section of people through citizen journalism platforms. For example, back at home in Singapore, during the General Elections, the government used Facebook and Twitter to update voters of their newest developments, which means that more people are essentially going to be involved in politics at a young age, something that Singapore’s government seeks to do. Obviously, citizen journalism puts a different spin to things, making life more interesting and allowing people more opportunities to be active in modern society.

  Critics mention that people start to abuse the media more. One characteristic of citizen journalism is that it goes viral like a wild bushfire, which indicates that people tend to exploit certain aspects of the news, without considering the wider scheme of things. As a result, many people are wrongly drawn into such false concepts which breed a lack of trust in citizen journalism in the long run. However, it is exactly this characteristic that allows people to form more meaningful groups with a common interest. Citizen journalism makes use of the vast internet space to develop its own form of discussion, for example in Facebook groups or blogs. In such Web 2.0 technologies, people can respond to the posts made, and give their own opinions, and here is where more ideas are thrown into the mix for consideration. This marketplace of ideas gives space for many more ideas to be refined, so that a better understanding is held in this community of people with similar interests. For example, WikiNews is a web-based framework that runs parallel to the worldwide know Wikipedia. This gives opportunities for people who are excited by similar concepts to share their knowledge amongst each other. Therefore, this improves the understanding of many people.

In conclusion, the impact of citizen journalism is vast, and it will become a powerful tool if applied correctly. The questions to ask ourselves – how do we best mitigate the different forms of harms that may come about? And how do we allow ourselves to further boost and accentuate the benefits that are presented.

The war between Technology and Ethics

“It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.” Albert Einstein’s words are exceedingly true. Technology has unconsciously seeped into our lives, and this can have two effects. Technology can either boost the world’s development, but it can also give way for different people can make use of technology unfavourably. This topic essentially assumes that there is something inherent in technology that can cause people to become less ethical. Ultimately, technology can be characterised in three different ways. First, its advances are sudden and rapid. Second, it is pervasive, and can be very tempting to abuse. Third, it confers great power upon mankind. Technology, in fact, has not made us less ethical, but in fact can make us more ethical in some cases.

Technology is largely popular among technology, because it is constantly changing, and provides new forms of hope, and lifestyles for today’s people. As a result of this, people are not sure how they should treat certain new technological developments which exists in the grey areas. For example, the creation of the first cloned being, Dolly the Sheep in 1996 sparked off much controversy. People were worried that the technology created would be applied to humans, which would end up being very dangerous. However, history has shown that our current system of ethics is very reliable. The basic ethics in man has not altered much, as people are generally told not to harm people, and to respect the sanctity of human life. Just because technology changes, it does not mean that our basic ethics changes. Furthermore, technology affirms the general sentiment that ethics is kept. Shortly after Dolly was created, there was discussion between the developed countries at great length. In the end, there was an agreement in the United Nation’s Declaration on Human Cloning, calling for member nations not to infringe upon human dignity in any way. In addition, the use of medical technology has proved to be useful. As a result of vaccinations, the number of people dying from malaria has dropped from 20 million to a mere 8 million, and there has been an increase in the average life expectancy. This reflects the strength of Man’s ethics, as people reverted back to their fundamentals before delving into the usage of technologies in the grey areas.

Proponents of the topic would also argue that the fact that technology is all around us allows for great exploitation. Criminals would have more means to do unethical things, for example identity theft and data mining using computer programmes. This means that more people will be harmed by the lack of ethics. In addition, the fact that technology was the catalyst for such unethical actions would mean that technology is the cause of all this. However, the thing is that the benefits greatly outweigh the harms caused. Technological advances have created the opportunity for us to do much more. For example, the “pervasiveness” of information technology has allowed for the rapid dissemination of information. The Internet has provided Web 2.0 platforms to spring out, for example blogs, Facebook and Twitter. This allows for events from one end of the world to be seen at the other end. The fact that technology is the one being used shows that technology is merely a tool, and does not inherently change us. Conversely, criminals will not stop being criminals even though the Internet is not available for them. Furthermore, ethics is boosted through the available technology. For example, in the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake, social activism was given a leg up when the Internet allowed them to convince others to follow in their footsteps. Not only did it allow for more immediate aid for the people there, it also gave rise for willing donors who do not want to go all the way to Haiti. Evidently, the pervasiveness of technology can be turned into a concrete benefit, instead of making more people unethical.

 Some would assert that technology confers great power upon mankind. Technology is the means through which many people are harmed, and the degree of harm even increases as technology improves. For instance, the creation of the atomic bomb during the Second World War proved that technology is capable of making humans commit unethical acts. Thousands of people were affected by the radiation for countless generations as a result of Man’s actions, and this is clearly against one’s ethics. On the other hand, there are many possible explanations for the use of the atomic bomb, some of which are legitimate. When we look at the bigger picture, we note that the bomb was used mainly to stop Japan, a country who was also committing unethical acts. In addition, there can be different plans to ensure that such technology does not fall into the wrong hands. For example, smallpox, a deadly disease, can be used as a dangerous biochemical weapon, and is thus kept into two laboratories only around the world. These forms of check and balances can be used to ensure that unethical people are stopped, which in itself is an ethical act.

Technology has indeed pushed humans beyond the boundary, providing both opportunities benefit mankind and to the power misuse it, killing people. However, as of now, Man’s ethics has held out, ensuring that people are, in fact able to keep themselves in check. The question is – how long will this continue?

What is beauty to me?

I may find the Scotts Monument in Edinburgh beautiful because of the awe it inspires in me, but my friend might find the atmosphere created by this architecture eerie and creepy, making him dislike the entire building. Different people have a different set of criterion that defines beauty, and this is unique in every single one of us, so the “ideal” beauty will be different for every single person as well. Although there is a wide spectrum of ideas, there are three distinct groups – there is the man-made beauty, the beauty in nature, and the beauty of new discoveries. However, in my own personal opinion, I feel that beauty still lies in the third category, where originality and the breaking of new boundaries is the most meaningful.

After Man found the concept behind beauty, which is the discovery that beauty is something that appeals to people, it gave way to new forms of art, in the form of sculptures, paintings, and even buildings. For example, the Fighting Temeraire by J.M.W. Turner was a greater painting, which depicted the ruthless change of technology. The Temeraire was a renowned battleship from Britain, but was forced to retire due to the new forms of technology, like steam power. The painting of the ship is somewhat ghostly, as it is meant to show the “death” of the ship, and Turner mourns the loss of this ship. Similar to this, Guernica, one of Picasso’s greatest works, also depicts the German bombing of Spain, and shows the image of chaos and terror in the eyes of the characters in the mural. The Scotts Monument, with the dark surroundings, strikes fear in visitors. The key characteristic is that these works all evoke some sort of emotion in visitors, because men have come to realize that emotions differentiate Man from other objects and beings, even. Certain art works are well received because they incorporate some form of human emotion, like the experience of hardship and pain. In my personal opinion, I feel that not just the purpose, but the impact of the work is the key to beauty.  Although the art pieces above may be showing some sort of incident that evokes certain emotions, like pity and fear, it does not put a spin to how people view the world at large. If there is no change, then there is no concrete benefit to that particular work, other than it being aesthetically pleasing.

Some people are also astonished that nature can be beautiful, because of the fact that no person interfered with nature’s form. For example, people find the rocks along Australia’s coast beautiful not necessarily because of its physical form, but because it seems natural. There is the impression that everything that is natural is in its purest form, and is thus regarded as “purposefully beautiful”. Singapore has already tried to implement this form of beauty in the country by building the “Gardens by the Bay”, a cluster of man-made structures meant to show the vast canopy of trees. Indeed nature can be beautiful because it is formed through natural processes, and can even spur people to do more for the environment. However, I think that what nature lacks is the purpose. It cannot be confirmed if a cluster of rocks that form a beautiful image was created to be so, or was merely a coincidence.

In contrast to the above two categories, pushing of boundaries of imagination matches my idea of beauty the most. When I think of beauty, what I imagine are influential people like Gandhi, and works like installation art. People like Gandhi may not be representative of physical, external beauty, but beauty lies more importantly in the persons’ morals and his actions. Gandhi is the epitome of peace and courage. He lay down his life to form an independent India, and he managed to call upon many citizens to follow him in his cause for the better. Despite the stereotype at that time that people with dark-skin were less worthy and capable as compared to the white British, he called for a meaningful action, by showing, not through brute force, that they were deserving of independence. This really touched my heart, and his character and entire being is what I consider to be beautiful. There are truly no limits in this world, and it is up to us to test certain boundaries, to correct certain human mistakes. In addition, installation art represents the discovery that there can be many different possibilities, even when creating art. For example, Amy Warhol’s Soup Cans is her way of expressing her art sense – through the creation of certain shapes using soup cans. Not only is this largely meaningful, it encourages people to think out of the box, something that is largely needed. I am largely influenced by this form of art as well, because I have learnt to think of different alternatives when doing things, and asking questions to try to push boundaries. That is when I get to improve the most, because I not only give myself the opportunity to improve, I can also better understand the meaning in whatever I do.

It is truly hard to lay a finger on what my exact idea of beauty is, because this can change over time, but I feel that people, objects or places that seek to draw out questions the most beautiful. Most of the time, this form of beauty is generous, as it provides chances for a huge group of people, not just myself, to improve. 

Singapore's National Day Rally Reflections

PM Lee's speech was one which covered many issues, from discussion of current social trends in the country, to education and housing, and along the way, some solutions we can implement to alleviate our situation. This reflection will cover the issues that I find the most interesting.  

As Singapore develops from the third world to the first world, a point Mr Lee emphasized upon largely in his speech, the demands of the people also increase. People were once fine with just getting along, having just enough to survive. However, nowadays, like developing countries clustered around Asia, Singaporeans want a better life. They want something that they can connect to in their country and many Singaporeans want this through a better education. The government has responded to such concerns by expanding more universities, like UniSIM and SiT, which means that in the future, up to 40% of Singaporeans have the honour of attending university –except tertiary education will no longer remain prestigious. Certain jobs may not require a university degree, so pushing hordes of people towards university may lead to a mismatch in expectations and reality. When Singaporeans fail to get their dream jobs despite having spent years pursuing a univeristy degree, they begin to complain, and this could generate more problems.  

In the case of housing, I totally agree with PM Lee. Singaporeans need to be more understanding of the way Singapore's economy works. In a small nation like ours, the problem is that there is limited space. However, due to the country's good location, the land is still highly sought after. This means that the price of the land will continue to go up, and the citizens cannot expect the government to absorb all the shock. One idea he has tied in to the housing policies is to give priority of flats to families with children – I totally agree that this is a great policy to implement. In the process, families have a real reason to rethink their priorities. One problem I have identified is that there is a strong belief that in today’s fast-paced world, money and your job is everything, thus giving people a reason to prioritise their work over everything else. However, the new policy will give them a real incentive to start a family. Past policies have been too weak – a mere, risky 16 weeks of maternity leave and other small temporary benefits are simply insufficient to change things for the better.  

The end goal is what matters. Singapore, being a small country that focuses on quality over quantity, needs to identify the real issues that we need to tackle today. I believe that Singapore can actually achieve high standards despite its relatively small economy. Thus, the government and the people need to come to a consensus on what is important at the moment, and complete tasks one at a time. Singaporeans here also need to become more open minded towards the international community. Xenophobic sentiments are posing a large threat to Singapore, and Singapore, disadvantaged by its size already, cannot ignore the rest of the world. Thus, not only must we accept that our economy needs to include talented foreigners, we must also consider their comments on other areas in which they comment on, such as issues of human rights. 

This rally has brought about much discussion on the pertinent issues Singaporeans are faced with, and this experience has been much of an eye-opener!

Is Support and Funding from the Government Essential for an Innovation Centre?

To differentiate themselves from other countries, many governments all around the world have wanted to build innovation centres, which contain state-of-the-art buildings, with many famous MNCs setting up shop at their countries, benefitting both themselves and the company.

What are the necessities for a successful innovation hub? First, it requires the innovators, because that is the building block for an innovation hub. When we attract more innovators into the country, a greater quantity and quality of ideas will sprout out. This means that there will be a greater possibility of a feasible, profitable businesses being created. However, the problem here is to attract not just a handful, but a critical mass of both innovators and entrepreneurs. Second, a platform needs to be provided to aid in the innovation process. Once the idea is created, a platform is needed to put that idea into action. Third, the hub needs to be sustainable. To reap the full benefits of having such an innovation centre, the plan must be a long term one. Subsequently, some form of funding is required in order to ensure that the space is well used, and overcomes the opportunity cost. The question is – do we need governments to step in to help?

The characteristic of innovation is in its flexibility, when the innovator does not face as few restrictions and limits as possible. This may not be possible if the governments step in all the time. When the government is the source of sustainability, and is the one in charge, then unspoken boundaries are put in place. Other foreign investors see that there is lesser place for them to invest, and thus the government is virtually the sole controller of the project. As a result, innovators are compelled to follow the interests of the government or their source of funding will be cut. For example, in the area of technology or new media, there is propensity for the government to say that the product that is set up must support the government as a cost for its help. This may end up restricting innovation, which disrupts the entire process, as innovators feel largely restricted. Furthermore, there can be complications in the government at certain points in time, and this unnecessarily complicates matters. On the other hand, it is possible for the innovation centre to be funded all the same – just through private funding from the richer section of society. Many rich people are interested in putting their money into innovation, and more innovators are willing to gather if this happens. A culture of innovation is instilled into the area, and it becomes increasingly well known, causing more innovators to gather there. This culture is what made America’s Silicon Valley so valuable and famous. This creates a comparatively larger pool of ideas that can be put into action, ultimately giving an increased effectiveness. When there exists such private funding that can also help to fund innovators, if not boost them, then there is clearly an alternative to things.

On the other hand, there can be cases in which private funding is not sufficient. The government is needed in certain countries where few successes have been made, so that there can be a better starting point for the country. For example, in Russia, foreign investors are unwilling to invest in Russia, because investments are risky due to few previous successes. Governments, in contrast to private funders, are much more reliable because they are more trustworthy and accountable for their actions. Private investors are seen to be more profit-oriented, out to get more money for themselves, while the government is usually portrayed to be acting for its people. This makes the innovation hub much more sustainable. Also, the government needs to springboard new innovators. Many new innovators that lack a start-off fund are disincentivised to join the centre because they can be start reaping their profits earlier due to the fact that they have the government’s aid in financial areas such as rental and tax breaks. In the case of Russia’s 400 hectare Skolkovo, the government hands out a minimum of 150,000 dollars of start-up funds for new companies and investors, and gives out generous tax breaks to the companies. The government can give such financial help on a larger scale as compared to the private funders because they have lesser processes and more freedom to carry out their policies. This better provides a platform for the innovators to showcase their ideas, and make things really happen. In certain junctures, especially the action stage, where money is obviously required the most to set the ideas in place, the government can provide more help and a better face to the rest of the world.

While we acknowledge the fact that at the beginning stage, a free flowing centre of ideas can provide a better front, and will be good to start off with, we also need to know that the innovation centre cannot do without governmental intervention. The government can provide for many new benefits, such as a real platform to dish out the ideas to make them work, and also to attract more companies and innovators as time goes by. Support and funding from the leaders of the country truly is essential to build a successful and famous innovation centre. 

Ministerial Pay Cut

The PAP government in Singapore seems to have listened to the call of voters last year by making substantial changes to the salary of the government. Some changes to be noted include the salary of the president being cut by 51% to 1.54 million a year, and the Prime Minister’s salary being cut by 36% to 2.2 million annually. In addition, the pension scheme, which pays civil servants after they retire, has now been removed. The MR4 pay will also now be pegged to the median income of the top 1,000 earners in Singapore, compared to the 48 in the past. In addition, the pay of the top civil servants will also be tied not only to the GDP growth, but to other factors such as unemployment and the salary of the bottom 20% of earners. This is already considered a great change in the income as a proportion.

Many people welcome this change when they were called up by the Straits Times, commenting that it was an important step towards change in the country. However, a considerable amount of people feel that the pay is still too much. Currently, the Prime Minister of Singapore, Mr Lee Hsien Loong, is the top earner of the world’s civil servants. According to the New York Times, even after receiving this pay cut, he earns 3.1 times of the second in the list, 4 times of Obama’s pay, and an astonishing 46.6 times of India’s Prime Minister. Besides this, Mr Lee’s salary is more than the Prime Ministers of France, Germany and the UK put together! The people feel that the pay that the government still earns is more than they need and deserve. Grace Fu, a senior civil servant in Singapore put up a post on her blog, saying that she “had some grounds to believe that [her] family would not suffer a drastic change in the standard of living even though [she] experienced a drop in [her] income. So it is with this recent pay cut. If the balance is tilted further in the future, it will make it harder for any one considering political office.” This worked up the sentiments of the people. Mr Brown, a known online comedian in Singapore, put up a video recently to express these feelings. The video showed that the people felt Grace Fu was implying that she had sacrificed a lot in order to serve the country, when the people believed otherwise. In addition, people believed that public scrutiny, something which she claimed to have experience to serve Singaporeans, is part of being a politician. On top of these comments, the chairman of the committee which reviewed the salaries of the government, Mr Gerard Ee commented that he hoped that 1.1 million is enough to continue attracting the top talent to be civil servants. However, I feel that a starting salary of this amount is already a great amount, and even if the pay is 2 times the current amount, these top talents, the CEOs in the private sector, would still not transfer to the public sector. The opinion of the people is mostly positive, and they are welcoming the pay cut.

In my opinion, this ministerial pay cut is the right way to go. In the view of the PAP government, such a cut will bring about a better political image to Singaporeans as one that is willing to hear out and listen to the opinions of the people. Last year’s voting result showed the decrease in popularity of the PAP due to reasons such as the high pay of the ministers. This cut is thus likely to significantly increase the popularity of the party. From the point of view of the people, especially that of the younger generation, on the other hand, changes their view of the government. With the recent cuts to the salaries, there is now a better reason for the voters to believe that the PAP will listen to their suggestions in the future. I shall also express my opinion about the question raised regarding whether the MR4 salaries should be tied to the salaries of other countries or the bottom 20% of earners in Singapore. I believe that the latter choice is the better one. First of all, it is highly unfeasible to peg it to the salaries of other countries. There are many considerations that should come into place when deciding how the pay is pegged. Although Indonesia and Malaysia are bigger than Singapore, it does not necessarily mean that the job of the government in Singapore is easier than Indonesia and Malaysia. Even if it was, then how are we going to decide the proportion of pay that each government should get? On the other hand, having a fixed way to calculate the pay, like 100 times of the salary of the bottom 20% of earners in Singapore, as Low Thia Khiang proposes, is much easier to implement.

In conclusion, this pay cut may spell a change in the Singaporean government. This might change the general impression of the PAP to one which listens to the people and is more accepting towards the opinions and suggestions of the people. 

Extreme Sports

Interest in extreme sports in recent years has been on the rise. This includes activities like paragliding, wave boarding and hang gliding. Although there is no exact definition for the term “extreme sports”, they are mostly leisure activities in where the most likely outcome of a mismanagement accident is death. Despite this, the number of people of people who are picking up such sports is gradually increasing.

Why is this trend occurring? I believe that it is because of the nature of such extreme sports. More and more youths are seeking adrenaline with the increase in horror movies and roller coaster ride. Therefore, more people are coming up with new kinds of activities which give them the adrenaline. With the increase of popularity, such activities will become sports. For example, the number of people who start paragliding has skyrocketed in recent years. Another reason would be that for some reason, they may want to do it before passing away. For instance, the movie “The Bucket List” greatly shows this fact.  The two terminally ill patients came up with a list of things they wanted to do before they died, for example parachuting, or climbing a mountain. However, such activities that provide them with the excitement will involve the risk of them losing their lives, which is ultimately bad. Take the example of the Dakar Racing competition, a motor racing competition. The competition started up in the 1970s, but 21 deaths have occurred already since then. Some deaths even involve innocent bystanders! In 2010, a spectator died when a motor racer crashed into her. Thus, from such incidents, it is obvious that such sports are very dangerous not only to those participating but also those who are spectating. In 2011, one competitor who died when he crashed into the side of the track was noted to have said in his last Twitter comment: “What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger”. I feel that this saying is used inappropriately. Such a saying which has been taken in literal sense is definitely not good. The saying is used figuratively to encourage us to try out new things without the fear of failure, as this will help us to become for resilient and have more perseverance in the future. However, when a person loses his life taking part in extreme sports, then when how can he persevere in the future? The danger of indulging in such extreme sports is evident and I would thus encourage people not to risk their lives through these dangerous sports.

There are a few advantages of taking part in extreme sports, however. Firstly, those who do well in it can boost their confidence – they will have a sense of achievement as only a small group of people are even willing to try it out. This creates self-confidence in them, something that is necessary for people to do well. It makes them feel confident enough to try out other new activities as well as persevere in them. In addition, when these extreme sports become more popular, a more people would then go out to take part in these sports instead of playing video games at home. This unconsciously makes them healthier. However, those who are seeking to be braver also do not necessarily have to risk their lives by participating in extreme sports. Bravery honed from participating in extreme sports is mostly dependent on brute force, and also requires a great deal of physical strength. There are certainly many other outlets through which people can increase their confidence levels. One such example would be taking part in speaking courses. This gives them the confidence to voice their opinions, and will then develop into the confidence they have in themselves. This then makes them more likely to take part in new activities. In my opinion, although attending such courses may not be as effective as taking part in such extreme sports, one’s health is most important.

Since those who take part in such activities are normally youths, most of them are rash and do not consider the consequences in the future. Therefore, I think that the parents should discuss it with their children at length if the latter decides to try out an extreme sport. With parental influence and discussion, then they can come to an agreement and make sure that the choices are considered. If both the parents and the child feel that it is okay for the child to take the risk, then it is fine. However, for this to happen, the parent needs to have a good relationship. Both sides will also benefit in other areas as a result of this. Taking part in an extreme sport is an important decision, and the parents must make sure that the matter is well-thought over before the decision is made.

Not only their parents, but the youths themselves need to consider and weigh the risks against the joy they get from participating in such activities. Is it worth it to risk one’s life in order to participate? If they eventually decide to join, they must always adhere to the rules. Although it may be tempting to follow friends and not use the safety equipment as a challenge, the youths should always know the danger of doing that and must know where to draw the line. Extreme sports are already dangerous in nature and not wearing the safety equipment will further exacerbate the situation.

In conclusion, I strongly discourage people from taking part in extreme sports due to the dangers of doing so. However, if they really want to, they have to watch out for their safety at all times and minimize the chances of accidents. 

North Korea's Predicament

When Kim Jong Il died, scrutiny increased on North Korea, a country which world powers like Japan and US are already watching.

The death of the leader was reminiscent of what happened in China when Mao Zedong died – everyone mourned for their late leader, even though he was a blur and mostly unknown character to the children. Another strange situation has also occurred in both Communist countries – even though their leader was a dictator, apparently their citizens still loved and worshiped him like a god. For example, the aggressive actions of North Korea had resulted in sanctions on the country, creating a food shortage in the country. Despite this, Kim Jong Il was not repentant, starving his people in order to push for his ideals. However, the people were fearful of being punished, and were also ignorant of the situation outside North Korea. At first, the people were even tricked to believe that Kim Jong Il had died of a heart attack instead of cancer. Thus, it can be observed how dangerous it is when there is a lack of press freedom. The international community is fully aware of Kim Jong Il’s misdemeanor. He wears branded clothes, and lives a lavish lifestyle while his citizens are starving and suffering. More importantly, the North Korean government has repeatedly refused to participate in talks and negotiations asking them to abandon their nuclear weapons program. This might change under the new ruler, Kim Jong Un, as he seems much more likely to cooperate. However, at this point, North Korea does not seem to be trying to take any steps to reform its economy and improve the welfare of its citizens. Kim Jong Un, seems to be faithfully following the ideals of his father, and is using the same propaganda machine on the North Koreans to cement his grip on power. One advantage of this is that changes will be gradual and predictable, and the country’s neighbours should not be duly alarmed for now.

This may be the calm before the storm. There are still some new threats that may arise in the future. Even though the younger Kim would be in control of the country’s nuclear program, and he has stated that he will not share his power with anyone else, his uncle Jang Sung-Taek and his aunt Kim Kyong-Hui, who are known hardliners, will be his mentors. Therefore, it cannot be easily assumed that Kim Jong Un will not be able to rule his country well. Furthermore, the US army has found out that North Korea has already built both medium range and long range ballistic missiles, and analyst predict that the nuclear warheads produced will be used on its missiles. This has brought about a lot of worry in the Western countries. China, who shared the same Communist idealogy as North Korea in the past, and is also the economic supporter for the country, is expected to have the best influence over the country and its actions. Therefore, other countries like Japan and the US has arranged talks with China to try to convince it to North Korea.

In my opinion, I feel that the culture of Koreans in general that they were not to question their leaders and just follow their orders have led them into this sticky situation. The leaders could take advantage of the citizen’s trust in them and implement whatever rules he wanted, abusing citizens. However, this will not last for long as news of the country not treating its citizens well will eventually leak out. From there, there would be international pressure for them to stop their mistreatment or their development on military instead of help for the people. Sooner or later, North Korea will discover that they cannot continue to oppress the people for much longer – the isolation of the country from the rest of the world have resulted in the country being backward in many areas, and the people may even rise up to revolt against them.

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Hi guys, I'm a student in Singapore, and this are some thoughts and essays I have written over the years.