Maybe character is a more splendour thing?
And that the PAP administration isn’t the one to prize intelligence, so do the heroes of the anti-PAP cybernuts. The difference is how they define “intelligence”. The PAP believes that “intelligence” is largely the ability to pass exams with flying colours and to praise the PAP; the other lot believe that “intelligence” is the insight that “The PAP is always wrong”.
The above crossed my mind during, and after reading a well written piece (as usual) by Alfian Sa’at on his Facebook page about Amos Yee.
For my money, Amos’s dad got it about right: “Yes, he’s intelligent. But he’s not wise.”
I don’t expect any 16-year kid; I’d have said “Yes, he’s intelligent. But he lacks character*.” Like his dad, I think, that there are more important attributes than “intelligence”. Attributes like scepticism, EQ, not playing to the rabble and pragmatism.
Anyway onto the piece with my commentary. My comments are interspersed in normal type within brackets.
I wasn’t planning on writing about Amos Yee, but I’m quite upset by the way the media is painting him—with insinuations that he might fall within the autism spectrum, that he is so psychologically disturbed that he needs psychiatric evaluation, that there is something about his behaviour that might be ‘abnormal’. [Err, your fellow traveller, Teo Soh Lung has written that some Amos sympathisers told her he is autistic.]
I had the pleasure of having supper with Amos and his family. The mother, Mary Yee, is a twinkly-eyed lady who would lean in to listen to you speak. She looked perpetually curious and attentive, her head craning around even as she hugged her floral tote bag close to her. One could speculate that she’s passed on some of that inquisitiveness to her only child.
“You know Amos wanted to change his name?” she told us.
“Because his full name is Amos Yee Pang Sang. And in school the kids used to tease him and called him ‘Anus Yee Pang Sai’. You know ‘pang sai’ in Hokkien means to ‘pass motion’.”
I wanted to ask if he had wanted to change the name ‘Amos’, or ‘Pang Sang’, or both. But I took a quick glance at Amos, who was scowling, and spotted the thought bubble over his head that said, ‘Mum, please, don’t embarrass me in front of these people’. So I left it at that.
The father, Alphonsus Yee, was a bit more reserved, a burly man who rides a motorcycle and who would stand around with his arms crossed, palms cupping his elbows. It seemed to me that the mother still thought of her son’s antics as an enduring source of mystery, whereas the father had reached his limit with such unsolvable enigmas. I tried to break the ice with the father by saying, “I think your son is very intelligent.”
And the father said wearily, “Yes, he’s intelligent. But he’s not wise.”
And what about Amos himself? He’s a waif of a teenager, very pale, with painfully narrow shoulders, and it seemed as if his shock of unruly hair was an attempt to add some mass to a wispy frame. He had a habit of stroking his chin before he spoke, which I found quite endearing, because chin-stroking is the aspirational gesture of kids who want to be taken seriously—as intellectuals. I asked Amos who his favourite film director was.
[Above shows what a fine descriptive writer Affin is. And a most lyrical one too.]
“I love Stanley Kubrick,” he said.
“Yeah? He’s good, but I wasn’t too sold on Barry Lyndon,” I said. “It’s too mannered for me.”
“Oh, but have you watched it twice?”
“So it rewards repeat viewing?”
[I agree with Amos on Kubrick and Barry Lyndon.]
Amos has very strong opinions; and honestly he reminded me of a precocious teenager—self-possessed, intensely loyal to things he loved, but not to the point where he would shut himself from discovering other works.
“If you love 2001: A Space Odyssey,” I said, “You should check out Solaris by Tarkovsky.”
“You mean there’s a sci-fi film that’s as good as Space Odyssey?”
[OMG, Space Odyssey for all its spectacular shots, it is a really pretentious film. Best sci-ft films are ET and Forbidden Planet. Never saw Solaris but listened to a BBC Radio play based on it: good plot.
“Maybe even better. I guarantee.”
He nodded, and stroked that chin again. And then we got to the subject of the video. I told him, “I agreed with what you said about LKY**, but did you really have to mention Christians? [Geat minds think alike? Or Birds of a feather flock together?] You could have made your point just by saying that those fawning and swooning over him acted like they were part of a cult.”
“But all religions are cults.”
“Okay, then why pick on Christians? You could have said something about religious fervour without being so specific about it.”
[Christians don’t riot. And most probably Amos tot, that they, unlike Muslims, don’t file police reports on any perceived insult. He was wrong dead wrong. Lionel de Sousa (Everyone’s guilty until proven innocent) is a Catholic].
“But Christianity is the religion I know best.”
[Good point that the cybernuts who infest TRE’s comments pages should think about: Don’t talk cock on things you don’t know nuts about. Yup, looking at you Ng Kok Lim: the Sandinistas of Nicaragua were never “Communists” as you said they were***.]
And there it was. ‘But’, the favourite word of any mouthy teenager who thinks that adults, with their unexamined conventions, are vaguely ridiculous. “And how about all that swearing,” I said, putting on my fuddy-duddy hat. [Not fuddy-daddy to warn against the use of vulgarity. But then he is the guy who wanted to dance on the grave of a NMP critical of gays.] “What if it turned people off from the substance of what you were saying?”
“But that’s just how I express myself. I’m being true to myself.”
[That’s intelligent? That’s typical BS of any anyone pretentious.]
“You have to ask yourself if it’s essential to your message. I think you make your videos to communicate something to your audience. I understand your need to be authentic, but sometimes your audience trips up on the expletives and they’ll stop listening.”
“But sometimes swearing is the message itself.”
“Yes Amos, I’ve watched enough Scorcese and Tarantino to know that.”
“And those are great examples!”
[Yes cock but are you as good as Scorcese and Tarantin?]
I smiled and didn’t tell him that he was as far away from a gangster or hitman as anyone could imagine. And then the subject turned to remand and jail.
Amos said, “Why should we worry about jail? Look at Mandela, he fought for a righteous cause and he went to jail too.”
[He must be nuts, comparing himself to a very dignified, courteous who risked his life rebelling against an apartheid state.]
At which point Ivan Heng, who was at the table, rolled his eyes and said, “Darling, you’re not Mandela. So in the meantime you just stay out of trouble.”
Amos looked a little chastened, and I could see that he was aware that the analogy he offered risked making him out as someone with delusions of grandeur. Glen Goei, who was at the table as well (supper was on him), said, “Maybe you’re not afraid for yourself. But think about your parents. Don’t you think they’ll worry if you go to jail?”
“But we can’t always live our lives based on what our parents might think of us.”
“We’re just asking you to put yourself in their shoes,” Glen said.
Amos stroked his chin again. I could see a retort simmering—“if I were a parent I’d want my child to act according to his conscience…to live as a free and principled human being…to have the moral courage to stand by his actions.” But Amos held his peace.
[Low EQ kid who thinks intelligence is that impt]
So here’s my take on this whole absurd affair: Amos Yee, as a teenager, is as normal as they come. They chafe at authority, will always look for wriggle room and bargaining leverage, have a sharp instinct for pointing out adult contradictions and hypocrisies, and speak in a language of ‘but’s’ and ‘why not’s’ that are designed to try your patience. Any attempt to ‘discipline’ him becomes a contest of wills; you can slap bail conditions on him but if he thinks they are unfairly punitive (even before any conviction) then you can expect brinksmanship and defiance. With teenagers like these, you can try reasoning with them but you must also be prepared to confront the idea that your reason is actually unreasonable. What is abnormal is that because of the charges against him, all this is being played out on a much larger stage. And this I think is the tragedy of the whole thing: when a brat acts up—and of course Amos can be taunting and bratty—the best thing that you can do is to ignore him and let him exhaust himself.
[No, a normal kid has a better sense of proportion. Btw, with an attitude like this, he’ll be a dead man in NS.]
But no, some people decided to get all sanctimonious, and we end up with the sorry spectacle of an adult smacking a child mercilessly in a shopping aisle. We don’t think of the child as being uncontrollable at that moment; no, it is the adult who has lost all self-control. And this is how it looks like to me—the people who filed those police reports, the 8 policemen who arrested Amos at his house, the AGC, the man who smacked Amos outside the State Courts, Bertha Henson, Lionel de Souza, the journalists who keep misreporting the case—all of you look so violent, hysterical, foolish and feeble. In trying to solve a ‘problem’ like Amos Yee you’ve only ended up displaying your own problems and neuroses–your pettiness, your cruelty, your beastliness, your insecurity–in all their garish detail.
[Err Amos, his fellow travellers and their cybernut followers made these guys look good, really good. I’m planning to send a carton of Tiger Beer to the office of the guy that slapped Amos. Ever heard of giving someone a second chance?]
But don’t get too upset with Amos even after his comments about a good Samaritan. One of these days, I’ll tell you why he’d wish he were dead. He will be going thru hell soon (OK in June).
*If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son.
IF by Kipling
Thinking about it, Amos senior has loads of character what with a dysfunctional wife and son.
**Wonder if they would say that LKY could have uttered the words of O’Brien in 1984:
The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power. Not wealth or luxury or long life or happiness: only power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from all the oligarchies of the past, in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were- cowards and hypocrites. The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just round the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means, it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship.
***And while denouncing me for not saying that Chin Peng said that the MCP never controlled the Barisan Socialists (something I never said), he left out that Chin Peng said “Operation Cold Store shattered our underground network throughout the island. Those who escaped the police net went into hiding. Many fled to Indonesia“.