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Those Hopeless Romantics

June 10th, 2021

The Romantics who wrote poetry in England elevated romantic love above all else. Today’s pop culture and music seems to be obsessed with romantic love and all the artists and American society have yet to abandon the influence of Lord Byron and the Romantics who believed that Romantic love was all that really mattered.

People throughout the centuries have been marrying for many different reasons. Sometimes, if you were a noble person in medieval or renaissance Europe you would be married in an arranged marriage for either peace treaties or alliances. No one throughout history ever waited for marriage and even in medieval Europe, which was the most religious time period the world has ever seen a form of common law marriage was widely practiced and accepted. A man and a woman would simply promise themselves to each other and the village would agree that they were married. A problem developed however, when guys being guys would simply tell a woman whatever she wanted to hear to sleep with her. The women complained about it and the Church being the authority on such matters decided to make marriage a religious sacrament and from there you have marriage in churches as it is today. Even today some women or men marry for money and not love, some people marry their best friend of the opposite sex simply for companionship and stability in an ever changing world and life. The Romantics however always felt that romantic love and marriage for that reason was of the utmost importance. Today’s pop music and culture still descends from those English Romantic poets and Lord Byron who were obsessed with romantic love.

In today’s society, teenagers and people less educated still fall victim to pop culture’s obsession with falling in love. Is this good or bad? Who knows? It is the way it is, but marriage ideally needs to be two economic units coming together to function as a team in society, romantic love aside. With pop culture the way it is, it could be argued that many young people put the cart before the horse and seek romantic love marriages before they even stand on their feet as individuals. Now it is natural to seek sexual partners once puberty is reached because the human body changes and develops interest in the opposite sex. That is simply natural. The elevation of romantic love and its imperative in marriage and life however is debatable. Love can probably best be described as positive life energy and a desire to see someone happy and healthy. Arguably there are many forms of love, such as parent for child, best friend for best friend and even romantic love. To elevate one form of love over another is most likely somehow damaging to society and young people who might not know any better than what Norah Jones or Britney Spears might have to say. If one can say there is a catastrophe in following leaders, there is also a catastrophe in following artists and pop culture.

In conclusion, the Romantics who were a literary movement in England and led by Lord Byron elevated romantic love above all else. Marriage, throughout the centuries has occurred for many different reasons and to simply say it must be for romantic love is simply not what is necessarily feasible. One should feel free to marry who they want if they are financially self sufficient in society. Two economic units coming together is imperative in society as it is today. Many people, especially young people put the cart before the horse and most likely burden their parents with expenses for children etc. So, beware those hopeless romantics and crooning songbirds who simply cannot live without your love.

The Machine And Modern Education

June 10th, 2021

As a teacher in Hong Kong, I recently attended my school’s annual picnic, held in a bushland area. Later in the day, I saw a line of boys sitting on a short concrete wall, heads down and brows furrowed, as they worked their Game Boys in furious style. They seemed oblivious to their presence in nature. Humankind’s relationship with nature has always been intricately entwined with inner realms of the mind – the romantic, the spiritual and the mystical.

The eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Romantics mused about the relationship between humanity and nature, the human and divine. They also reflected on the mystical east and its deep meditative and spiritual traditions, which they believed transcended the shallowness of western society.

The quest of the Romantic seems to be all but dead in the modern world. Yet the greatest irony is that this is most notable in East Asia. I have taught in Taiwan, mainland China and Hong Kong. My conclusion is that modern Chinese education has destroyed all links with the deeper human psyche.

Students no longer have an inner world. Their days are spent focusing upon textbooks, listening glazed-eyed to microphone-wielding teachers, or peering at PowerPoint presentations and computers. In their leisure they amuse themselves with shopping and playing computer games. Whatever happened to the inner mind, quiet reflection and deep self-awareness?

Materialistic images saturate the modern knowledge economy and Asian culture. Life in mainland China has become a scramble for money, and its education system a devouring of foot-high piles of text books in order to pass “the exam”.

During the Qing dynasty, candidates for the civil service exam were herded into tiny examination cubicle. Not much has changed, and it seems that the only students ever let out of “the box” are those who fail the system.

The “reward” for success was and still is the systematic extermination of an inner life, and erasure of any deep connection with the human spirit.

Every year East Asia becomes more prosperous financially. But has something vital been lost in the process? The old biblical query is apt: “what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” Ironically, a prime motivation to reinstate inner worlds into modern education may be economic.

Daniel Pink in A Whole New Mind argues that the future of developed nations will belong to “R-directed” thinkers – right-brainers. Work will require high-concept, high-touch senses – namely design, synthesis of information into narrative, finding integration and the big picture, empathy, play and deeper meaning. Hi-tech will not be enough.

If Pink is correct, the capacity for creativity, empathy and a deeper spiritual connection with self and others will be vital. This is because much of the mundane mechanical work of yesteryear is increasingly being done by machines and cheap labour in emerging economies.

The strength of developed economies lies in their capacity for innovation, creativity, seeing outside the box, empathy and intuition. Those in most demand and most able to prosper in this age will be creators, empathisers, pattern-recognisers and meaning-makers.

People in developed economies have mostly moved beyond survival needs. Many are seeking deeper meaning and self-realisation. People want more than the ability to clock into the office and wander shopping malls on the weekends to fill the coffers of the consumer society.

We owe it to future generations to ensure that all the essential needs of human beings are met through our education system, not merely the needs of those in power to retain affluence and control the system.

For Hong Kong, the danger is that if our graduates graduate with a “Confucian” mentality of subservience, compliance and shallow regurgitation of perceived wisdom, it will quickly be superseded by the Asian giants.

The days of teachers standing in front of classes with microphones as students passively copy notes must stop. The PowerPoint presentation is not progress either, merely an extension of this. Somebody has to take the initiative here and see that this system will eventually create mediocrity.

At the recent 17th Communist Party Congress, President Hu Jintao’s concept of the “harmonious society” took a back seat to “scientific development” . But eventually “scientific development” will not be enough. The future cannot merely be about more money and more machines for everyone, with cyborgs to turn the cogs.

When I embarked on my doctoral studies I sought a supervisor who could help me master the subject matters which inspired me most deeply. I chose somebody I considered a man of wisdom. I did not seek the most “prestigious” university. I chose what inspired passion within me.

The word “inspiration” emerges from ancient Greek and Latin roots, and is related to the concepts of “breath” and “spirit”. Sadly, I do not see too many students in Hong Kong breathing too deeply. Instead I see restriction and fear.

To be inspired, to be passionate, we need to reawaken inner worlds.

When Charles Darwin was an old man he lamented that he could no longer enjoy poetry. He complained that he had become something akin to a machine for recording and classifying data. Let us hope that the future of education and humanity takes a more balanced path.

Could Hong Kong be a leader in this respect? First, we will need to let some young (and mature) people out of their boxes.