Saturday, 1 December 2012

Reading Marxist Lefebrve and writing triads

Or Why you so cheem, hah?

The following version of my letter was published in the online section of the Straits Times Forum:


Nature, nurture and the PSLE

WE SPENT eight hours driving, often in blinding rain, to attend my mother-in-law's 80th birthday bash. My son was spooked by having to wade through floodwaters to get back to our hotel. I explained to him: "Family-benefits-obligations" - Where there's family, there are benefits as well as obligations, and this was an obligation.

Inspired by the French Marxist philosopher Henri Lefebvre, I have been thinking up my own "triadic dialectics", ideas based on three-way relationships.

Lefebvre infused space and time (Kant's "necessary conditions") with energy to give us "space-time-energy", thus transcending the limitation of "space-time" analysis. By his positing a "melody-harmony-rhythm" dialectic and the analysis of rhythms, anthropologists can now circumvent the problem of time being either only "social" or "clock" time.

I thought of British (national and local) politicians caught ripping off taxpayers, top earners hiding their wages in offshore schemes to avoid paying tax, and benefits scroungers exploiting the system. In one voice, they claim that they are "doing nothing wrong".

Yes, on a "rights versus responsibilities" basis, they are within the rules.

But on a "rights-responsibilities-morality" dialectic, their rationalisation fails.

Marriage, contrary to received wisdom, is strongest when it is a relationship between three partners. Christians believe these to be "husband-wife-God". Marriage (as an institution) is sustained by "husband-wife-something else". The "something else" could be religion, family obligations, collective conscience, social convention, economic necessity, or whatever.

Take away any one of these three prongs and the marriage (and family) risks failing, as we see it happening all over the world, not just in Western cultures.

In a similar vein, I pondered the old chestnut: "nature or nurture". The triad "nature-nurture-opportunity" would put to rest the "either/or" arguments that do not help in the resolution.

No matter how many chances my son is given to play football, he will not excel because it is just not within his nature. You cannot nurture what is not there.

On the other hand, if we had not given him the opportunity of a private education, his natural talent would also have been stymied in a state school. Nature without nurture will be wasted.

Ergo, it is crucial that every Singaporean child is given every opportunity to nurture their nature-given talents, most of which cannot be showcased by Primary School Leaving Examination results.


The nature of some of the responses was not unexpected. 'What's the meaning of "cheem"?,' my husband asked.

I was surprised that the editor actually ran a piece that contained the words 'Marxist' and 'triad'. It was interesting to see how some readers think he should not have bothered.

Others said it was convoluted, gobbledygook, etc. Try developing an argument where you have to:
  • grab attention by relating to a current event
  • explain the ideas of a philosopher that is probably not very well-known in Singapore
  • indicate how his ideas have helped to move thinking along in philosophy and anthropology
  • illustrate how his ideas could be developed to evaluate current social issues
  • demonstrate how the work of thinkers and academics can (must?) have a practical application in the real world, as in helping to understand what is lacking in our discussion about the PSLE in Singapore
All in under 400 words.

Granted, the Fog Index (indicator of readability) of this piece is higher than usual. But I needed to use multi-syllable words instead of several more short ones to keep within the word limit. In another time and place (space-time) I could develop this into a 5,000 word essay, pre-empting all those comments that have been raised.

Also, this follows a previous letter which the editor chose not to publish. Really I cannot see the point of parents putting their children through tuition to get them into the Gifted Education Programme (GEP). The point is if your child needs tuition, then he/she is probably not that gifted, really.

Worse, when they get into the programme and find that they cannot cope, you are setting your children up for a miserable life.

Was the letter suitable for the target audience? Probably not. So "thank you" to Mr Yap for being so brave in pushing the envelope, as one might say. Thanks also to 'unewolke' and 'jousterr' for their kind support in the Forum discussion.

When you have considered all those hours that I spent as an undergraduate trying to come to grips with Kant and this space-time conundrum, you would understand why I think Lefebrve is fab.

No comments: