Old Man

I visited my uncle at SGH yesterday. He had a keyhole surgery in his heart to create a bypass, and his lungs were deflated by the surgeons for the procedure. He was usually a lively, spirited man, so it was disconcerting to see him tired, haggard and in obvious pain.

He’s not the titular character of this post, however.

Opposite his bed sat an old Chinese man, with no visitors. He’d just been served his meal, but he was making a fuss about it. He hated the “diet food” the hospital had provided.

In his loneliness, he had projected his anger on to the hospital staff and nurses, demanding they provided him better dinner since he was paying his bills. He lamented that his generation built the country, but now they were forgotten.

It was the eve of Chinese New Year. Everyone else I knew was at a reunion dinner, tossing vinegary vegetables and complaining about the incessant questions relatives ask at family meetings.

This old man sat by the window, by himself. The nurses avoided him. The other patients ignored him.

And I saw myself in him.

I wonder if the same fate awaits me.

[The cards keep showing change-]

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Pentacles

I ordered The Wild Unknown Tarot Deck off Book Depository on a whim. I don’t expect to be clairvoyant anytime soon, but I was curious.

I shuffle the deck pretty often while waiting for my music to render or while watching a YouTube video.

What’s quite prominent straight away, is that I keep getting two cards more than half the time I draw: Three Of Pentacles & Four Of Pentacles. Mostly the latter.

The Three is associated with teamwork and determination, the Four is associated with possession, control and stubbornness.

Now, that’s a sign.

Diamond Eyes

The people I work with talk about “work-smart”
As opposed to “book-smart”
(They suggest a standard operating procedure)

I have always loved literature.
I love looking for patterns.
Ironies, character growth, reversals.

I am really good at spotting them.
Even within me.
“A gift for seeing the small things”

They are common in the real world.

“Real world”.
Another one that gets tossed around.
They don’t know why I am always smirking.
They think I am laughing at them.

In truth, it’s hard not to laugh at anything anymore.

¿sʎɐp ǝsǝɥʇ sɐzuɐʇs uᴉ ƃuᴉʇᴉɹʍ I ɯɐ ʎɥM

Sister!

I held you.
You fell asleep,
smiling.

Your sister does not look me in the face.
She rests her head against my arm.
She’s holding up her father’s phone.
She’s watching a cartoon.

There was a prayer for you.
Only women.
Then they called me.
You heard your name for the first time, from my lips.

It’s a strange position.

The new generation is already here,
before I can even make sense of my own life.

Your Old Man’s Back Again

Sister!
I did not know you for long.
You departed shortly after you’d arrived.

Our mother wishes you were with us.

Fate has bestowed upon our family another chance at communion.
You have returned to us, bearing the same hair and name, the same aloof nature.

I feel like I have to protect you. I can see why our mother dotes after you so much.

You have taken her back to her early maternal days- when her children still showed her gratitude.

Tomorrow, I will sit in as your sister’s uncle, for her namakaran.
We haven’t met. I just got the call today.

And for the same goddess. Coincidence?

None of this has been coincidental.
Too many variables lined up to lead to this strange, specific outcome.

I know what I need to do.

Comparing Durkheim’s understanding of the human individual with Marx’s

Comparing Durkheim’s understanding of the human individual with Marx’s

2. Compare Durkheim’s understanding of the human individual with Marx’s. In what ways do they conflict, and in what ways might they complement each other? Whose approach do you find more compelling, and why?

Durkheim and Marx are both similar in that they view the individual as part of a larger, single collective; society. Both of them adopted a structuralist approach to analyse society and its individuals. However, the similarities end there; while Durkheim saw the individual as a mere cell in an organism (mechanical or organic), Marx placed a lot of emphasis on the individual. Where Durkheim saw individuals acquiescing to social norms and society moving progressively as a collective whole, Marx saw a regression in humanity as society moves towards its inevitable class war. Thus, both sociologists came to very different conclusions despite starting off on relatively similar footing.

To understand the similarities in both thinkers, it would be easier to see what they stood against; the Cartesian self. Before the Industrial Revolution, French philosopher René Descartes saw the individual as a completely rational, transcendental figure that is not circumspect to external factors, a rhetoric he summarized in his line, “I think, therefore I am”. This was a sentiment that gained popularity in the age of Enlightenment and continued to influence people during the Industrial Revolution. On this front, both Marx and Durkheim are in complete agreement that the individual is not an autonomous figure, but rather a product of his society. Where Descartes saw introspection as a way of understanding the individual (though he would consequently conclude that self-understanding is impossible), Marx and Durkheim saw a way to understand the individual, by understanding the external environment around him. This approach is a structuralist one, and both see individuals a component of society, instead of a group of individuals bound together with little to no connection of each other’s consciousness. Durkheim saw the individual’s consciousness as part of the collective, and that social norms shape the individual’s thoughts. In fact, he saw the individual as a reflection of society’s progress. Similarly, Marx saw the individual as a “social being” in his natural state. Both studied the cumulative impact of society rather than individualistic theories to explore the individual’s role. This however, leads to their main differences.

Durkheim viewed the individual with a hint of negativity, and was pessimistic about individualistic notions. This can be seen in his book, ‘Suicide’, where he insinuates that deviance from the norm is harmful for the individual. Durkheim thinks an individual is incapable of controlling his own desires, arguing that “our capacity for feeling is in itself an insatiable and bottomless abyss” and that “the more one has, the more one wants, since satisfactions received only stimulate instead of filling needs”. Durkheim insists that such desires are unhealthy and that an external force is required to step in to regulate this individual’s desires. In this case, the external force is society, as it is “the only moral power superior to the individual”. A lack of regulation from society may lead to ‘anomie’ or deviance from the norm, and Durkheim attributed this to one of the four types of suicide in his book. Durkheim places the society before the interests of the individual, and suggests that an individual will be selfish and greedy in the absence of a regulatory figure.

On the other hand, Marx saw the positivity in an individual shaped by his desire. Marx opined that human individuals are different from animals in that they “produce their [own] means of subsistence” and “indirectly producing their actual material life”. In other words, Marx, while acknowledging that the individual is not confined to his abstract self, insists that mankind is in the process of evolving, that he is ‘human becoming’. It is important to note that Marx saw individuals in two different parts; one as the architect of his existence, and one as part of a collective. Again, this is in contrast with Durkheim, because he suggested that the individual is built by the social collective alone. Marx asserts that “the nature of individuals thus depends on the material conditions determining their production”. He focuses on the tangible, material objects around the individual, instead of the ideals that Durkheim saw in the form of religion, laws and beliefs. In the language of Durkheim’s ‘Suicide’, Marx would have seen no issue in a society with little regulation or integration, as long as these are not needed for the individual to provide for his own subsistence. On the other side of the fence, Durkheim would think that an individual simply making his own material mark on the world without agreeing to collective thought was unhealthy for both the individual and the society. Marx saw the social collective as the root of the crisis in modern society, while Durkheim would argue that it’s the lack of integration or regulation, or a society with less than healthy relations that leads to general unhappiness in the modern world. To put it shortly, Marx believed that society would move towards conflict, whilst Durkheim believed that society would move towards consensus. This is why their views of the individual are polar opposites of each other despite agreeing that the individual is shaped by external factors.

Ironically, individualism has its place in Durkheim’s division of labour; as society moves towards a more complex division of labour, Durkheim is convinced that there will be increased interdependence and hence better integration within society. This would mean that more individuals are inspired to make their own mark on the world with their own products that are unique to them. The individual is hence integral to society even if he does not play a similar role to other members of society, because he is not easily replaceable. However, there exists a form of labour that is based on an individual’s economic or power status. This is an anomic division of labour, which he describes as “although very highly developed, result[s] in a very imperfect integration”, where workers are forced to do repetitive work without knowing or understanding their significance to the rest of society, thus separating them from society and reducing solidarity. This would also tie in to Marx’s concept of alienation, and Marx would also want for individuals to be able to make their own specialized products as opposed to homogenous products for multi-national corporations. When an individual is forced to do repetitive work, the “worker does not affirm himself in his work but denies himself, feels miserable and unhappy”. It can be said that Durkheim is directly referring to Marx himself on this front, and we see the marriage of both men’s ideologies briefly in anomic division of labour in relation to alienation. However, this isn’t necessarily a reconciliation, as Durkheim feels that in his ideal society, useless jobs would be abolished and if jobs still feel repetitive to the individual, the employer would simply have to tell the employee about his place in society, and why he is important. Marx would have seen this as suppression of class consciousness on the individual.

In any case, I find Marx’s view of the individual far more compelling than Durkheim’s. Marx’s interpretation of the individual transcends time and space and continues to stay relevant even in the post-modern world. This is because Marx saw the individual in relation to the material world as opposed to abstract ideals. Marx acknowledged the continued evolution of humanity through different periods, while Durkheim could only base his theories on a limited scope of historical data. Marx did not negate the consciousness of the individual, and correctly predicted the growing unhappiness and resentment in individuals as capitalism grew and supressed his desires and needs.

In contrast, Durkheim’s view of the individual was unrealistic, as seen in his assumption that “the division of labour produces solidarity only if it is spontaneous and in proportion as it is spontaneous”. His argument about individuals willing to work towards the collective good is flawed because he ignores the lack of means to subsistence on the workers’ end. In the real world, individuals have to do a job because they are forced into it and they would starve without the money. Durkheim incorrectly sees integration as a factor of social solidarity instead of economic predisposition. Durkheim’s dismissal of deviant behaviour as anomic is also tragically myopic, since ideals can change over time. Slavery and racism were seen as social norms in the past, but they are outlawed in the modern world, without necessarily tearing apart the solidarity of the country. It makes even less sense today, with the rise of the internet and social media drawing separate individuals from different countries and different time zones who may experience solidarity in their online presence. A group of homosexuals can experience this on an online chat group even if it’s deviant behaviour in their country or social setting. In comparing societies with one another, as opposed to intra-social classes as Marx did, Durkheim severely underestimates the importance of the individuals’ desires and needs and incorrectly assumes that society as a whole can bring about progress and positive change to the individual.


This is an essay I wrote for SC3101. I did this module as part of my minor in European Studies. Not too bad. Got an A- for this without much effort.

The Fountainhead

The Fountainhead

Thousands of years ago the first man discovered how to make fire. He was probably burned at the stake he had taught his brothers to light, but he left them a gift they had not conceived of, and he lifted darkness off the earth. Through out the centuries there were men who took first steps down new roads, armed with nothing but their own vision. The great creators, the thinkers, the artists, the scientists, the inventors, stood alone against the men of their time. Every new thought was opposed. Every new invention was denounced. But the men of unborrowed vision went ahead. They fought, they suffered, and they paid – but they won. No creator was prompted by a desire to please his brothers. His brothers hated the gift he offered. His truth was his only motive. His work was his only goal. His work, not those who used it, his creation, not the benefits others derived from it. The creation which gave form to his truth. He held his truth above all things, and against all men. He went ahead whether others agreed with him or not. With his integrity as his only banner. He served nothing, and no one. He lived for himself. And only by living for himself was he able to achieve the things which are the glory of mankind. Such is the nature of achievement. Man cannot survive except through his mind. He comes on earth unarmed. His brain is his only weapon. But the mind is an attribute of the individual, there is no such thing as a collective brain. The man who thinks must think and act on his own. The reasoning mind cannot work under any form of compulsion. It cannot not be subordinated to the needs, opinions, or wishes of others. It is not an object of sacrifice. The creator stands on his own judgment. The parasite follows the opinions of others. The creator thinks, the parasite copies. The creator produces, the parasite loots. The creator’s concern is the conquest of nature – the parasite’s concern is the conquest of men. The creator requires independence, he neither serves nor rules. He deals with men by free exchange and voluntary choice. The parasite seeks power, he wants to bind all men together in common action and common slavery. He claims that man is only a tool for the use of others. That he must think as they think, act as they act, and live is selfless, joyless servitude to any need but his own. Look at history. Everything thing we have, every great achievement has come from the independent work of some independent mind. Every horror and destruction came from attempts to force men into a herd of brainless, soulless robots. Without personal rights, without personal ambition, without will, hope, or dignity. It is an ancient conflict. It has another name: the individual against the collective. Our country, the noblest country in the history of men, was based on the principle of individualism. The principle of man’s inalienable rights. It was a country where a man was free to seek his own happiness, to gain and produce, not to give up and renounce. To prosper, not to starve. To achieve, not to plunder. To hold as his highest possession a sense of his personal value. And as his highest virtue, his self respect. Look at the results. That is what the collectivists are now asking you to destroy, as much of the earth has been destroyed. I am an architect. I know what is to come by the principle on which it is built. We are approaching a world in which I cannot permit myself to live. My ideas are my property. They were taken from me by force, by breach of contract. No appeal was left to me. It was believed that my work belonged to others, to do with as they pleased. They had a claim upon me without my consent. That is was my duty to serve them without choice or reward. Now you know why I dynamited Cortlandt. I designed Cortlandt, I made it possible, I destroyed it. I agreed to design it for the purpose of seeing it built as I wished. That was the price I set for my work. I was not paid. My building was disfigured at the whim of others who took all the benefits of my work and gave me nothing in return. I came here to say that I do not recognize anyone’s right to one minute of my life. Nor to any part of my energy, nor to any achievement of mine. No matter who makes the claim. It had to be said. The world is perishing from an orgy of self-sacrificing. I came here to be heard. In the name of every man of independence still left in the world. I wanted to state my terms. I do not care to work or live on any others. My terms are a man’s right to exist for his own sake.

– Howard Roark

Now everything Zack Snyder says makes sense. Now a lot of things make sense.