Wisdom versus wishdom.

One of the pitifully few consolations of old age is supposed to be that, as the Old Testament Book of Job puts it, ‘with the ancient is wisdom; and in the length of days understanding.’

But with every passing day I find myself less convinced of this, and increasingly if regretfully inclined to the contrary view that, as the late, great American skeptic and critic H. L. Mencken so aptly expressed it, ‘the older I grow, the more I distrust the familiar doctrine that age brings wisdom.’

In fact if there’s one lesson that life has taught me, it’s to distrust all doctrines, dogmas, ideologies and other such alleged ‘truths’.

Especially those ‘truths’ whose proponents, or rather propagandists, are most at pains to threaten dire penalties for those daring to doubt or outright disbelieve them.

Thus the older I get the more inclined I am to dismiss such typical examples of intellectual bullying as ‘fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom’ (Bible, Psalms 11:10) and ‘He that doubteth is damned’ (Bible, Romans 14:23) in favour of the proverbial Ancient Greek proposition that ‘wonder is the beginning of wisdom’ and the observation by Miguel De Unamuno (1864-1936) that ‘life is doubt, and faith without doubt is nothing but death.’

In all conscience, however, as long as I’m arguing here for doubt, wonder, questioning, skepticism or whatever as the path to wisdom, I have to admit to awareness of De Unamuno’s wry remark that ‘a lot of good arguments are spoiled by some fool who knows what he is talking about.’

And since surely some fool Malaysiakini reader who knows what he (or she) is talking about is already on the point of reminding me that as desirable as doubt might be in principle, it can also be dangerous or even deadly in practice, I might as well get in first.

Starting with conceding that, yes, just as disrespect of or doubt in the supposed gods of ancient Athens proved fatal to the philosopher Socrates, and doubt in the biblically-proclaimed relationship between the earth and the sun decidedly dangerous to Galileo, doubt in allegedly ‘sacred’ and indeed ‘divinely-inspired’ books can prove a death sentence in many theocracies and other ‘religious’-majority countries today.

It is also clearly far from safe for the inhabitants of a great many nations to demonstrate a lack of faith in their rulers. For citizens of China, for example, to cast doubt on their fake ‘people’s’ Communist Party; for Russians to question the probity of Putin’s corrupt oligarchy; or for Malaysians to express too strident doubts about the billions missing from 1Malaysia Development Berhad or the massive ‘donation’ Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak and his cronies dubiously claim he received from some mysterious rich Arab.

In fact to show a lack of faith in the virtues of Najib and his accomplices in the Umno/BN regime is considered virtually tantamount to doubting Allah, by whom, it is regularly claimed, they have been chosen to rule.

Just as millions of US citizens paradoxically claiming complete faith in both of what to many of us are the conflicting creeds of Christianity and Capitalism have chosen to have their nation presided over by the preposterous, pathologically lying Donald Trump, who deems any doubts about him and his stupid tweets as ‘fake news’.

In short, as much as I hate to have to admit it, doubt isn’t always politic or even possible, and even when entirely possible, as in the relatively free and just society I’m fortunate enough to live in, it can be a decidedly mixed blessing.

When combined with sufficient effort, thought and sustained tolerance for the discomfort of uncertainty, doubt or skepticism can lead to wisdom, but unfortunately it all too often gets subverted by the all-too-human tendency to wishful thinking, and thus results in nothing but wishdom.

For example, doubts by the disaffected, disadvantaged or outright desperate about the fairness and effectiveness of political institutions can lead, as we currently see to our collective dismay, not the greater wisdom of all concerned, but the kind of woeful wishdom that gives rise to a dangerous nitwit like Donald Trump as in the US, a Rodrigo Duterte as in the Philippines, and similar idiots elsewhere.

Doubts on the part of a spectrum of the populace ranging from the confused through the irrational to the utterly cuckoo about such creatively self-questioning institutions as medicine, science and technology result not necessarily in greater public wisdom, but in many cases entirely evidence-free faith in any of a virtually infinite clutter of weird and wonderful wishdoms including, to cite just a small sample of such superstitions and paranormalities, angels, anti-fluoridation, astral travel, astrology, aura-reading, black magic, breatharianism, clairvoyance, climate-change denial, colonic irrigation, druidism, ghosts, fairies, faith-healing, fortune-telling, iridology, naturopathy, palmistry, pixies, psychic surgery, satanism, Scientology, spiritualism, sprites, telekinesis, trolls and UFOlogy.

And given that all of us are liable to have grave doubts about the idea of what appears to be the inevitability of our deaths, it’s hardly surprising that we’ve achieved very few wisdoms, at least that I’m personally aware of, on the subject.

Plenty of witticisms, admittedly, two of my favourites among these being Woody Allen’s ‘I’m not afraid of dying; I just don’t want to be there when it happens’ and Bob Monkhouse’s ‘I want to die peacefully in my sleep like my father did; not screaming and crying like his passengers.’

But mostly we deal with death not through the wisdom of laughing in the face of its ultimate reality, or but with the laughable wishdom of an ‘immortal’ soul that somehow either eternally survives in some ‘other’ world, or keeps being ‘reincarnated’ in this world in a series of different bodies. And in case our faith in such far-fetched nonsense fails, we can always pin our hopes on cryogenics.

In conclusion, in all honesty I feel obliged to confess that, despite my carefully-cultivated skepticism and considerable thought I’ve yet to achieve even the degree of wisdom of which Socrates famously boasted in claiming that he was wiser than all his fellow ignoramuses in Athens, as unlike them at least he knew he knew nothing.

And in any event, I can’t help suspecting that even the very desire to achieve wisdom is probably nothing more than yet another symptom of the insatiable human appetite for self-deception, wishful thinking, or in other words wishdom.

 

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Australians seeing the light on religion?

The recently-released results of the 2016 Australian census appears to show that many if still a minority of us are coming to our senses, at least in our attitudes to religious alleged ‘faiths’.  In the 50 years since the 1966 census, the proportion of the nation’s population proclaiming adherence to ‘no religion’ has soared from a pitiful 0.8% to an apparently quite promising 30%.

But, as you’ve already perceived from my use of the word ‘apparently’ in the previous sentence, I’m as skeptical about statistics as I am about the so-called ‘sacred’.

For example, while it’s undoubtedly encouraging that 30% of our fellow Australians now describe themselves as having disabused themselves of religion, there remains the dismal reality that 70% still claim to be true believers.

True believers in steadily shrinking numbers, admittedly, in the countless savagely-competitive sects claiming to represent Christianity, but rapidly increasing numbers in Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism.

The fact that 2.6% of Australians are self-confessed Muslims, 2.4% Buddhists and 1.9% Hindus is, of course, almost completely due to the comparatively recent influx of a majority of non-English migrants.

And thus whether these people and their descendants will in time become as disenchanted with religion as so many, if not yet by any means enough, longer-term Australians have is a moot question.

I certainly hope and expect so. Not that I for a moment fancy that these newcomers will have crises of conscience about perpetuating sectarian stupidities, or road-to-Damascus-style conversions from ‘religious’ inanity and insanity to sweet reason and good sense, any more than most Australian former Christians have had.

In other words, much as I would love to think that the ongoing departure by so many Australians from Christianity to agnosticism, atheism or whatever else they might mean by ‘no religion’ is the result of enlightened consideration, in most cases I suspect it’s either alienation from ‘religious’ evils ranging from systemic sexual abuse of children by clerics to organized killing of ‘infidels’ by fanatics, or else a product of just plain indifference, or a combination of both.

Which, as dumb as it may seem to the more philosophical among us, may in fact be more effective against religion than enlightened opposition.

In other words, as long as bitter experience has taught us that rational or even passionate opposition to so-called ‘faiths’ serves only to further excite the faithful to even more frenzied defence of their utterly unfounded ‘beliefs’, it seems that such good old-fashioned no-brainers as disgust and lack of interest could prove the ultimate antidote to the factional religious fantasies that still so fatally afflict the minds of most of humankind.

 

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Oops, I forgot me-mentia.

As my old mate Sam T told me in his comment on my discussion last week of all the forms of dementia I could think of, the most troubling of them all had somehow slipped my mind.

And this lapse really started me wondering, indeed worrying. How could I have been so blinkered in my thinking as to focus on such syndromes as he-mentia, shementia, cementia, sedimentia, academentia and doughmentia to the exclusion of the the most fundamental human mentia of them all, me-mentia?

The answer, I’m afraid, is that it was probably a case of so-called ‘Freudian forgetfulness’, or what Freud himself called repression, of the shame I feel at how self-centred and self-interested I see myself as still being despite my best efforts to minimize such symptoms of my own me-mentia.

Not that I haven’t made some progress toward sanity in this regard. For example, I fancy myself an exception to Logan Pearsall Smith’s devastating contention that ‘every author, however modest, keeps a most outrageous vanity chained like a madman in the padded cell of his breast.’

And even if self-awareness of my literary limitations is ever insufficient to keep my ego in check in this regard, I can always remind myself that I’m a mere columnist, not an author, and in any case I can always rely on readers like the aforementioned Sam T to bring me back to my senses.

That being said, however, it’s an inescapable fact of life that every one of us needs certain basic feelings of self-worth and self-care to enable us to successfully compete with our fellows for the food, drink, shelter and whatever else we need to survive and if possible thrive.

But unfortunately, as the great German philosopher Immanuel Kant argued in distinguishing us from other animals, physical ‘needs’ can be satisfied, but the human mind endlessly invents ‘wants’ that it proceeds to imagine are further needs and thus is capable of an infinity of insatiable greeds.

And not just material greeds, but also and perhaps more problematically, psychological ones, as postulated by the great psychoanalyst Alfred Adler in his rebuttal of Sigmund Freud’s theory of the primacy of so-called ‘infant sexuality’ in the human psyche, with his perception that infantile powerlessness, or what he called ‘inferiority’, motivates a lifelong struggle for ‘superiority’.

Happily for most of us, our greeds for economic, social and other forms of superiority are kept within at least somewhat sensible bounds by a combination of competitive pressure from our peers, the limitations of our talents, energies or opportunities, and even, in some cases, ethical regard for the rights of others as well as for ourselves.

Rights that are enshrined in the ‘social contracts’ to which those of us sufficiently fortunate as enjoy civilized forms of government are party, and that underpin the civil and criminal laws designed to protect us against the worst excesses of our own and others’ me-mentias.

A situation that is very far from the case indeed in Malaysia, or perhaps that should be Me-laysia, considering how me-mented to the extent of megalomanic the members and supporters of its perennially-ruling Umno/BN regime so clearly are.

Dr M for Madhathir the destroyed both the social contract and the rule of law in Malaysia during his 22 years as prime minister of the country, and his current successor, Najib Abdul Razak has now further transformed it further into his own, personal 1Me-laysia in which he and his accomplices and accessories in the massive 1MDB and sundry other frauds have abolished not only the rule of law but such concepts as justice and truth in favour of their own self-interest.

And, to add insult to injury, also self-indulgence, as witnessed by the lavish celebrations, jet-set lifestyle and international shopping sprees to which Najib and his spouse have treated themselves and their entourages.

Plus, even more insultingly to the Malaysian people, the privilege of indulging in every conceivable falsehood concerning their alleged crimes, from outright denial that anything is amiss, to supporting squads of paid apologists, propagandists and outright perjurers in politics, the civil services and the press for the purpose of misleading the people.

Meanwhile, another supreme example of me-mentia is busy is on some apparently psychotic project to turn the You-nited States of America into the Me-nited States of Donald Trump.

Fortunately for sane US citizens and the rest of the world, however, Trump has the same Department of Justice to contend with as Najib Abdul Razak and his 1MDB gang do; his manic tweeting is making him more of a laughing-stock by the day; his bizarre peace-pilgrimage-cum-arms-sales-mission to Saudi Arabia was a grim global joke; and now, today as I write this, I see he has even outraged the golfing fraternity by driving his buggy over some putting greens.

What the late, great Alfred Adler would diagnose as the source of the de-mented senses of self-importance and entitlement demonstrated by Najib, Trump and their ilk in the Russian, North Korean and other ruling regimes is anybody’s guess.

Do they have superiority complexes arising from inherited privilege? Or are they massively and pathologically over-compensating for inferiority complexes caused by overly-repressive parenting or deep-seated suspicions or outright convictions that they’re somehow truly inferior?

Who knows? And, come to that, who cares? Just as long as the rest of us can overcome our own petty personal me-mentias for long enough, and in sufficiently large numbers, to put these egomanic, megalomanic me-maniacs in their place, which in every case appears to be some institution, be it penal, psychiatric or a combination of both.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Minding our mentias.

Having tried in recent columns to comprehend why I’ve had so much trouble keeping on writing in my increasingly old age, and thus far postulated that my problem might be either depression or else pressure amounting to panic at approaching my ultimate and literally last deadline, death, I feel a bit dumb too have missed an even more dire and pressing possibility, fear, or even first signs of, dementia.

As I was sadly reminded the other night at dinner with a friend and her beloved 85-year-old husband whose dementia has now progressed so far as to regress him into what’s commonly and all-too-accurately called ‘second childhood’, this is a terrible situation for families and friends as well as for sufferers.

But thankfully, despite the fact that every memory lapse, ‘senior moment’ or episode of writer’s block I experience makes me momentarily fear the worst, I’m still capable of convincing myself that I don’t yet have any of the senile varieties of the dreaded dementia.

And also still capable of reminding myself of how fortunate I am – and as you apparently are too, considering that you’re sufficiently compus mentis as to subscribe to and read Malaysiakini – to have survived or avoided a good many of the countless juvenile and other dementias that threaten to render every one of us metaphorically if not literally brain-dead at every age and stage of our lives.

Starting from infancy for myself and fellow males with he-mentia, the clearly man-made and culturally if not sexually transmitted delusion that ‘nature’ and even an allegedly omnipotent and of course male ‘divinity’ have privileged our portion of what we presumptuously call ‘mankind’ with some kind superiority over the rest of personkind, especialy womankind.

The root-cause of he-mentia, of course, is the fact that, as a fridge magnet that’s popular in Australia proclaims, ‘every male is born with both a brain and a penis, but only enough blood to operate one of these organs at a time.’

In other words, as smart as at least some of us hetero male members of the species we flatter with the name ‘Homo sapiens’ can be, we’re equally capable of acting like total dickheads.

In fact far too many of us males are total dickheads all the way through and all of the time, seeing he-mentia not as a pathological condition to be suffered or better still, for the benefit of all concerned, overcome, but as a competitive edge to be celebrated.

Thus the poisonous pre-eminence, at least so far in human history, of the patriarchies, phallocracies or whatever else you choose to call dick-headed dictatorships founded on the he-mented fallacy (phallusy?) that male might is right.

Big dick-headed dictatorships today ranging from ruling regimes in countries like the Communist Party’s China and Putin’s Russia, to their countless small dick-headed counterparts all the way from al-Assad’s Syria through Umno/BN’s Malaysia to the Zanu-PF’s Zimbabwe.

Then, of course, there are the dick-headed ‘religious’ dictatorships running so-called ‘theocracies like Iran’ as well as most of the world’s so-called ‘faiths’.

And, perhaps most pernicious of all, dick-headed domestic or family dictatorships sustained by verbal, psychological, economic and sundry other forms of abuse or outright violence against women and children.

Thank goodness that in my own case, the state of he-mentia into which I was born was curbed if not cured, first by the example of my father, who was far from he-mented in the way he treat my mother and other females, and later in my teens and twenties by the advent of militant feminism.

Traces of he-mentia remained, however, until I finally received a massive dose of the kind of kill-or-cure shock-treatment meted-out by the Gender Studies department at Sydney University, an institution that now, thanks to its growing majority of female students and staff, is gradually turning from patriarchal to matriarchal.

Or, as I might have put it before I got my he-mentia under control or at least learned to politically-correctly keep such sexist and/or genderist remarks to myself, is morphing from an ivory to an ovary tower.

Which to my mind is a significant improvement, because while females are undeniably prone to prementia and other symptoms of what can justly be termed shementia, this syndrome, as evidenced by spectacular lower rates among its sufferers of everything from crimes of all kinds to suicide, is far less destructive than he-mentia.

Not that I’m denying that there are serious mentias that seem to afflict people of both or rather all sexes and genders equally.

As appears to be the case with cementia, for example, a condition in which the contents, attitudes and aptitudes of sufferers’ minds set like concrete, never, ever to be changed;  and the closely-related sedimentia in which ‘beliefs’, opinions and prejudices all settle to the bottom of minds like so much sludge until something occurs to stir them back up.

Certainly I can feel myself sliding dangerously close to cementia, sedimentia or both from time to time, but fortunately know I can almost always achieve relief, or, if you like, rementia, by resorting to a regimen of such tried-and-true remedies as reading, writing and stimulating conversation.

But when even these fail to cure what’s ailing my mind, as they sometimes have recently, I know I can always resume the university course from which I suspended myself two semesters ago when I overdosed on it to the point of what felt like a case of acute if not terminal academentia, and restore my flagging faculties with some shock-treatment in the form of lectures, tutorials and assignments.

Speaking of ‘terminal’ as I did a couple of lines ago, I see that I’m dangerously close to my word limit. So in closing I’ll confine myself to discussing just one final example of the many dimentias and d’ohmentias with which life confronts every one of us sooner or later if not constantly: doughmentia.

Love of money may or may not be the root of all evil, and I can’t tell either way from personal experience, because most of the money I’ve had and loved I’ve more or less carelessly lost.

But to judge from my long observations of Malaysia’s Umno/BN regime and the antics of its money-mad members, supporters and current misleader, Najib Abdul Razak, in attempted denial that they’ve sold themselves, the reputations of the race, religion and royalty they so fraudulently claim to support, and the good name and self-respect of the nation at large in return for greater or lesser shares of the countless billions allegedly misappropriated from the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) so-called ‘wealth fund’, doughmentia seems about as dire as pre-senile dementias get.

And I heartily hope it will prove as politically, financially and personally deadly to them all as the dementia that I and far too many of my fast-ageing fellows around the world fear might be our fate.

 

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More Christinsanity.

Australian alleged adherents of Christianity came up with yet more inanity if not outright insanity last week.

In the first instance, a Sydney conference of thousands of ‘evangelical’ Anglican, Presbyterian and Baptist women were in the process of discussing the highly debatable declaration in 1 Corinthians ll about ‘headship’ that, according to an story by Julia Baird on the ABC News website, goes:

‘The head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonours his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonours her head – it is the same as having her head shaved. For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head.’

And then, as if that wasn’t a sufficiently harebrained a set of propositions for the attendees to be getting their heads around, a speaker came up with yet more hot air on the topic of hair.

A speaker named Carmelina Read, Dean of Women at the Presbyterian Christ College in Sydney, reportedly screened an image of some actress called Kristen Stewart sporting a platinum-blonde crewcut for the purpose of questioning whether Stewart’s look is ‘feminine and submissive’ or symbolic of ‘independence and rebellion’, and then proposing that ‘it might be more in line with God’s good design to have long hair because it was a visible sign of the difference between men and women in which God Delighted.’.

This, along with Ms Read’s later assertion that it is not possible to be bother a Christian and a feminist, apparently proved too hair-raising for words, even for women accustomed to the countless inanities and insanities of Christianity, as it inspired a good many of them to walk out of the conference and others to protest on social media.

Just as it inspires me to wonder why not just Christianity but many if not most religions are such head-cases on the question of hair.

Why the insistence of some so-called ‘faiths’ at one extreme that the sight of the hair on women’s heads is so seductive that it must be veiled, as most notoriously in Islam, and at the other that the very idea of men’s cutting their cranial, facial or bodily hair, as in Sikhism, for example, is for some reason reviled?

And while we’re on the topic of air-headed rules, how can religions possibly reconcile their strictly gender-specific attitudes toward tresses with the fact that their mostly if not exclusively male clerics habitually wear dresses?

But let’s change the subject, or we’ll be here or rather hair all day, and thus be left with no time to discuss this week’s other religious outrage in Australia, the call by the ‘Christian’ lobby-group FamilyVoice to stop the mentally-ill from attending church services on the grounds that these people might upset the sacredness of the proceedings.

Of course this strikes me as exquisitely paradoxical, in light of my long-held opinion that most if not all self-proclaimed Christians are, as I never tire of repeating, Christinane if not utterly Christinsane.

And thus the members of an outfit like FamilyVoice are by definition as deranged, if not more seriously so, than the other unfortunate sufferers from mental illness that they so eager to exclude from their congregations that they are lobbying the government to amend the Disability Discrimination Act to enable them to legally do so.

Any organization with a grasp of ethics rather than theology would be welcoming the mentally ill as well as the otherwise personally and socially disadvantaged into their churches in the spirit of compassion and charity on which Christianity falsely pretends to have a monopoly.

In fact there’s a compelling case to be made for the proposition that no people whose mental, financial or other problems render them homeless should have to sleep on the streets as long as churches lie largely empty.

But unfortunately such commonsense concepts will never come to pass as long as we’re dealing with the kinds of hypocrites who claim to be ‘Christian’ but are actually, like their counterparts in other alleged ‘faiths’, nothing but a rabble of ‘religious’ maniacs.

 

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Theresa may..or may not.

Who, I wonder, did Theresa May think she was kidding with her claim that she had delivered ‘certainty’ to the people of the UK in her speech following this exercise in what the Daily Mail rightly headlined as ‘Mayhem’?

Admittedly she most certainly almost lost an election she certainly had no cause to call three years earlier than required.

And, in campaigning as badly as she reportedly did, was almost certainly responsible for turning what early polls predicted would be a dead-set certain landslide win into such a close-run contest.

Surely most Tory politicians, especially those who most certainly lost their parliamentary seats, and of course their supporters, must feel very uncertain indeed about whether she deserves to survive as Prime Minister.

Similarly, many Tories a likely to be far from certain about the idea of being roped if not duped into depending on support of the antediluvian dopes of the DUP to keep them in power.

In short, it seems to me that, entirely contrary to what May claims, the only certainty she has delivered to her party and the people of the UK is an entirely uncalled-for series of uncertainties.

Now including in their number, of course, the crucial uncertainty for her personally as to whether she may or may not survive in office for long enough to create more of the same.

And I for one am most certainly prepared to predict that the moment a credible potential replacement for her as PM puts his or her hand up, the overwhelming party vote on the question of whether it may or may not keep May will be ‘nay’.

 

 

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Last words.

After confessing in my Malaysiakini column last week that depression was threatening to rob me of what I’ve long relied on as my last-ditch defence against the total disempowerment of despair, the power of writing, this week I have to admit that it didn’t help very much.

It certainly didn’t do anything to dispel my lack of faith in the biblical alleged wisdom that ‘confession is good for the soul’, if only for the sole reason that I’m incurably skeptical about the existence of any such metaphysical entity.

But my confession was apparently cathartic or otherwise psychologically beneficial enough to my spirits as to restore my powers of written speech.

And kind comments on the ensuing column from two perennially-supportive pseudonymous Malaysiakini readers, JesuisAnwar and HaveAGreatDay, whoever they actually are, have greatly sustained my spirits since.

So much so as to inspire me to the thought that it may not be depression per se that has been threatening to leave me lost for words all this while, but disappointment.

Disappointment at how little I feel I’ve achieved, both quantitatively and qualitatively, in my by now quite lengthy lifetime, and also at my apparent inability to redress these deficiencies, or at least make the most of the rapidly-dwindling time I have left to do so before death.

Or, to put this another way, I’m both metaphorically and literally dying to write as many and as meaningful words as possible before I reach my final full stop.

Unhappily, however, to return to the subject of disappointment for a moment, I’ve left so many of life’s fundamental questions so unnoticed, unexamined and unwritten-about that I’m virtually dumbstruck with confusion as to which of them is most worth spending my or indeed anybody’s last words on.

So rather than striving to have my final say on them all at once, as I’ve been so unproductively doing in my panic to meet my final, indeed terminal deadline, I’d better get myself focused, and fast.

By being smart enough, for a start, to think of my remaining writing time not simply in terms of how to best to ‘spend’ it, as I see I thoughtlessly did two paragraphs ago, but how to invest it most intelligently on worthwhile topics or at least avoid squandering much if any more of it on trivia and trash.

Like, to cite the most vivid example of the latter types of topic than I can think of, in light of the almost 500,000 words I’ve wasted on them in this Malaysiakini column over the past 11 years, the corrupt, incompetent and ruthlessly truthless members and countless crimes and other misdeeds of Malaysia’s miserable, ever-misruling Umno/BN regime.

Not that I’m promising to never mention them again, you understand, as long as Malaysiakini keeps generously granting me space on its site.

But in future I intend to mention this gruesome gang and all the world’s many other similarly blundering, plundering and people-repressing regimes only, if possible, in the context of or in relation to issues that are far more fundamentally interesting and important.

Like power, for instance, whose multitudinous and endlessly paradoxical manifestations are as all-pervasive in human lives and affairs as they are everywhere else in what we call the universe, and yet seems to me generally poorly comprehended or even perceived.

And like truth, which mankind seems to have spent its long history striving on the one hand to define, seek and discover, and on the other hand, and often simultaneously, seeking with equal if not greater determination, to ignore, avoid, contradict or deny.

In the process so apparently totally losing sight of the many and various meanings, purposes and perversions of truth as to seriously entertain the ludicrously ahistorical proposition that, because we can all post opinions on the net and the US has elected a lying pest like Donald Trump, we’ve reached the age of ‘post-truth’.

Another perennially pressing topic for as many last words as possible, of course, is the one inspired the ancient ethical philosophers, Western and Eastern alike, to ask ‘how should life be lived?’

But here the kind of confusion that’s been leaving me lost for last words starts to kick back in again. Because it’s impossible to consider and discuss ethics without consideration of truth and power, as well as what it means to be successfully and fully ‘human’.

A thought that brings me to what seems to me to be the ultimate topic for my or any other human who’s on a mission to make the most of his or her wits and words, last or otherwise: the exhortation carved in stone outside the Temple of Apollo at Delphi to ‘know thyself’.

This, of course, in light of the unfathomable complexities of and confusions and conflicts between our animal instincts and human intellects and conscious and unconscious minds, is paradoxically impossible.

In fact, as Socrates, my favourite philosopher, demonstrated to his own satisfaction and the outrage of his fellow Athenians, who for his pains condemned him to death for blasphemy and misleading the youth of the city, that nobody really knows anything.

And over a thousand years later, Frenchman Renée Descartes similarly set out to challenge every belief he had for which he could find insufficient support, and found that the only one he was left with was, as he famously expressed it in Latin, ‘Cogito, Ergo Sum’, or ‘I think, therefore I am’.

However skeptical about my own and others’ beliefs that I am, I certainly don’t kid myself that I’m in Socrates’ or Descartes’ class.

But I’d most certainly consider my life far from wasted if I could come up with enough sensible and sincere last words to finally feel satisfied at the end that I was deserving of an epitaph along the lines of ‘I wrote, therefore I was’.

 

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