I was about to find a video critique on YouTube about Giorgio Agamben's "State of Exception" when I saw Like Stories of Old's latest video essays on "The Philosophy of Cloud Atlas | How Beauty Will Save the World" and "Stoicism in The Shawshank Redemption". This channel has been my all time favorite since I stumbled upon it a year ago. In the endless galaxy of videos that is Youtube, Like Stories of Old is a rare gem - as it is one of the best channel for video essays I have seen, with very articulated and carefully narrated critique (e.g. theories and parallels) that flows seamlessly with the video editing (e.g. curation of scenes, background music). It is a treat to watch in itself, aside from the engaging narrative that he presents to you in about 20 minutes. Needless to say, each of his videos provoked me to ponder, internalize and question the things that are too often taken for granted. There is so much that I want to discuss in these two videos but I will leave it for another post (if it was ever in the pipeline).
And this particular morning, I was very moved by the analysis, particularly because I watched both videos back to back. The combination of the two made for a truly compelling case that has somehow addressed the burning question that I have been searching for an answer(s) for some time: that is the deeper and indisputable connection between natural + empirical science and the built-environment + social configuration that revolves around it.
To go back a couple of days before, I finally came around to listen to a podcast featuring the late Doreen Massey where she spoke about time and space. It was a topic I am rather familiar with but she articulated it in such a way that allowed me to see the other dimensions of these two. Time and space may seem to exist in vertical and horizontal planarity; but if we peek beneath it, above it, the sides of it, within it - there lies stories in its full glory of all its multiplicity and multifacetness to which the algorithms of time and space does not explain. These stories are a blend of imagination and reality which is not geometrical nor formulated; but yet exist and commands such a presence that halts some of us like walking into a brick wall, or elude us like a screen of billowing smoke. And in the co-existence of this duality and its multiplicity is where I found my missing piece: humanity.
On and off, I've grappled with the question that quite a number of people have asked me: Why did I switch discipline from pure science to social science?
Am I indecisive or are my interests move from one thing to another. Or in other words, have I not figured out what to do in life?
Or am I one of those who can't get enough of studying hence my periodic need to return to academia from time to time? Why are you getting a second Masters degree?
Or am I so delusional about my role in life that I failed to see that I have not heeded my responsibility as an adult to function like everyone else in the society? Why aren't you settling down? Why are you going back to study? When are you going to start your own family? You are not getting any younger. (... this comment came from my extended family members).
In these bombardment of questions, I find my existential issues surfacing. At many times, I don't even know where to begin explaining myself (even with the question of whether I do owe anyone an explanation to begin with!). Should I start by saying that all things are interconnected if one would only look harder, or should I say that I am actually still on the same career trajectory as I first begun except that it is expanding, not narrowing. Or should I make a case that I don't want to live a life less fulfilled just because I have to toe the line of the norms which the social constructions have exerted on us?
Having said all these, I am of the opinion that the hegemony of pragmatism is threatening to wipe out our basic sense of humanity. Why? Because it feels like we are only a worthy member of the society only when we function like clockwork, with the same narratives and outcomes (school, work, marriage, children, etc), where everyone of us must live in a network of isolated but mechanical lives governed by one accepted truth for reality.
Has argumentum ad populum become the veil of truth that we will ever know and accept, especially in a generation that is addicted to living more than half of their waking hours on social media? Does Guy Debord's argument on the diminishing authentic social life, ..."the decline of being into having, and having into merely appearing" has become our only reality? Are we only validated when we are defined by the spectacle that we all so easily endorse in this materialistic world, governed by by narcissistic aesthetics?
(or does the self-gratifying intellectual pursuit constitute as a form of narcissism as well? Never mind, I digressed).
Going back to my question on finding the thread of relevance between pure science and social science, I’ begin to realize that humanity is the matrix which the natural and built environment exists in - and how these two changes - whether it improves, deteriorate or remains the same; depended on the core of humanity and how it decides to perceive, conceive and respond to the world around it.
To put it into context (and this is my personal stance), I cannot save the environment if I don't understand the things that threatens it - which is anthropogenic pollution. I cannot understand the underlying cause of anthropogenic pollution if I don't understand how the built environment works, and I cannot understand how that works if I don't understand the social variables and political influences that decides how the rapidly urbanizing world is manifested. And I definitely cannot wrap my head around this chain of cause and effect if I don't understand the core of decision-making, from the grand scale of foreign policies to the minute of everyday decisions people make in their daily lives, if I do not look into humanity to search for reasons, albeit not an absolute, to make sense of it all.
In a highly digitized world that is ruled by efficiency, accuracy and effectiveness, and increasingly driven by artificial intelligence - humanities is the only thing that makes us (humans) worthwhile in a world that strives for perfection.
‘Rerum cognoscere causas’ -- To know the causes of things.
That is the motto of LSE, where at first I was rather charmed and inspired by this statement at its most superficial and straightforward sense; now I am taken aback by how much depth this simple motto have taken me into. The relationship of 'cause and effect' is no longer dominated by the logic of my scientific articulation - nor by the rationale of ethics which we have constructed to ensure order is in check - but of this binary, duality and multiplicity that the study of humanities tries to possess, unpack, and reconstruct. Through humanity, we can only hope to finally understand and be reminded that at the end of the day, no matter how much we have progressed in the pragmatism of modernity, technology; or how we are bound by the pendulum nature and rules of the market and economy - our humanity is the anchor to our existential questions and our relations to the world - together with its natural environment, the places we live in and the people we cross paths with in our ever transient lives.
“Short then is the time which every man lives, and small the nook of the earth where he lives; and short too the longest posthumous fame, and even this only continued by a succession of poor human beings, who will very soon die, and who know not even themselves, much less hum who died long ago" - Marcus Aurelius
Perhaps I could end with this statement by Seneca which I plucked from the "Stoicism in The Shawshank Redemption" video, which I thought had explained why I had to write this post which in so doing, in so hoping, that someone out there who is asking the same question as I did, to receive this, embrace this and pass this along as well.
"If wisdom were offered me on the one condition that I should keep it shut away and not divulge it to anyone, I should reject it. There is no enjoying the possession of anything valuable unless one has someone to share it with."