How embarrassing it is to be cruel

As a fan of commonplace books, this particular edition of Book Post on Sei Shonagon’s Pillow Book caught my attention. According to the post, Shonagon was a Japanese writer living between tenth to eleventh centuries who served the empress entourage in Kyoto. She got encouraged to write after given a sheaf of a very precious paper to use, and from there she had kept the paper by her bed of which she would write her thoughts before she went to sleep or was awakened during the night — hence the pillow book. It was also said that life at the court, while very luxurious and abundant, was very much constrained to routines, much like how we have kept ourselves during the quarantine. Out of this isolation, people turned to writing and kept records of everything they encounter, also much like how some of us (i.e. me) amuse ourselves during the quarantine. Here are some of the things that I kept track of within this week:

What do we do if we found out that a close friend is unapologetically problematic?

Someone I know very close had been, in particular, unapologetically xenophobic, in light of the current migrants and Covid-19 issues in Malaysia. There were also many instances where they had been unrepentant homophobe before, and while I sat there in front of them, clearly uncomfortable, I felt it was partially my fault for not calling them in about this. I’ve been up many nights trying to figure out how to not let them off the hook because I no longer want to be complicit in their enclosed views, especially ones that could have hurt someone else. At the same time, I want to do so in a way that would not push them away from the work that could have made them a better person. Much like when some of my other friends did for me when I was less of an informed person before, I reckon.

From Dear Jezebel’s Ask A Fuck Up: “Instead, point out how boring it is to think people should be punished if they don’t conform. How tedious it is to think that the contours of your own thought enclose all that is worth knowing. How embarrassing it is to be cruel.”

This is an excellent paragraph in theory, but it needs some mulling. For example, how would they know what they were calling out for — the witch-hunt of a literal human being just for being a migrant who spoke up about the harsh conditions of living in the country — as cruel? For them, it was the patriotic thing to do, driving out people who do not ‘belong’ in the country so that the virus, of which know no borders, could be contained. For them, it was the right thing to do, after his face was shown publicly on the international media, speaking up about his woes about the country who ‘accepted’ him, how could he. How could us, for instance, sit in the comfort of our own homes and debate other people’s basic humanity, not recognising that ideas do not operate in a vacuum and there are consequences — that might have involved someone else’s lives?

Courage to do what’s right

Hasan Minhaj’s father in his stand-up show, Homecoming King, said to him after his prom date did not turn up because of his skin colour, ”Your courage to do what’s right has to be greater than your fear of getting hurt.”

Not through me

Solzhenitsyn’s rule for the common citizen seeking to live with integrity in a repressive regime: “Let the lie come into the world, let it even triumph. But not through me.”

A performance for those who grieve

In Suleika Jaouad’s The Isolation Journals, contributor Katherine Halsey wrote about Yo-Yo Ma playing Bach’s complete cello suites as a memorial for those we’ve lost during the pandemic. She mentioned that Ma says he returns to Suite No. 5 in C minor again and again in difficult times and that this performance is dedicated to any and all of us who grieve.

Reading in my tab:

  • Global capitalism, immigrant labour, and the struggle for justice.
  • ““Checking” your privilege then becomes a public exercise in self-flagellation, focusing on the repentantly privileged while neatly obscuring how intrinsic anti-black racism is to the world. Why seriously challenge unequal resource distribution when all you need to do is renounce the privilege that gives you access to the very resources hoarded at the expense of others?” Anti-racism requires so much more than ‘checking your privilege‘.
  • “The last thing a person under stress needs is to be shamed and told they are nuts. If you are want to quit or ‘disengage’ from your PhD and you’re finding people around you are not particularly supportive – read on. If you are hearing others talking about quitting and feeling uncomfortable, definitely read on. If you are supporting a PhD student, as a supervisor or partner, and feeling powerless to help you might want to read on too. We need to be able to talk about quitting without shame and judgement.”
  • It’s only been one week since China passed a controversial national security law that gives it vast new powers over Hong Kong, but the internet has already changed dramatically for people in the semi-autonomous city.
  • A group of 239 scientists say there’s growing evidence Covid-19 is airborne. Well, this is fine.
  • Get us these social distancing skirts then!
  • “…and when we speak we are afraid, our words will not be heard nor welcomed, but when we are silent, we are still afraid.”


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