Thursday, January 21, 2016

Lessons learned from 2015

“May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you're wonderful, and don't forget to make some art -- write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.”
Very late in 2015 I learned that I will never be as good as Neil Gaiman in expressing my hopes for the then-coming year. But I felt content as I looked back over the passing year. If the 2014-Masyhur had wished the 2015-Masyhur the exact wishes above, he would have been very happy to know that they came true.

Because 2015 was a year of good madness, as in it’s good that I managed not to get mad. At its peak, I occupied three desks for work, one at Cempaka Putih, one at Kebon Sirih, and another at Salemba[1][2]. In between the three locations, I squeezed in working on Duolingo’s English course for Indonesian speakers, and supporting G83 foundation’s STEAM training for teachers[3].

I read books, and some made lasting impressions. I found that many contemporary Indonesian writers surpassed my expectation, and it spurred me to catch up the gaps in my reading history. I haven’t read everything by Eka Kurniawan, or Leila Chudori, or Okky Madasari, or Ahmad Tohari, but I think I will enjoy making the effort to catch up with their works this year.

One book in particular left a very deep mark: Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals. I am saying this not only because I get to learn new words from reading the Indonesian translation[4], but also because Foer made me racked my brain to see if I can come up with an ethical reason to justify eating meat. Convenience, habit, indulgence, nutrition all come to mind, but none were strong or compelling enough.

But ethics and practicality often run in different directions at the same time. One of the professors that I’m working for is a vegetarian, so even before I fully considered the ethical dimension of eating meat, I have been aware that being vegetarian can limit one’s option when eating out. But contemplating this issue had primed me to pay attention to other people’s take on vegetarianism (notably Satya, Freida, and one of Tuti’s PIs)[5].

So as I dabbled with casual vegetarianism, a host of new questions follows naturally. How should vegans live, i.e. should I espouse a stringent environmentarianism view[6]? Should I prefer beef over chicken because it's more ethical to cause suffering to one cow rather than many chickens[7]? Should I prefer chicken over beef because beef has worse environmental impacts? Should I just work to replace meats with oysters and mussels?

That is not to say that Foer made me changed my mind--I think I was just undecided to begin with[8]. It's not like I used to see vegetarianism with contempt and it brought me around. I suspect that for these kind of book, they left a mark on me because they better articulate the thoughts and strands of ideas that had been swirling in my mind. I guess this is why keeping one's mind open is hard and providing information alone won't cut it.

And when I know that I can control the extent of how my reading influenced me, how much do I want to change for every new information that I encounter? This has been in my mind ever since I shared the article from Vice claiming Starbucks in Indonesia and other MAP brands are owned by a corrupt tycoon who embezzled money during the 1997 crisis. Aside from the necessity to strive to make ethical purchases, for me taking actions (or boycotts) based on a journalistic product validates the existence of journalism to inform the general public. It is also consistent with my general world view that journalism is a necessary force of good.

On the other hand, one year since I shared that article, I found that I had very limited options outside MAP stores to buy swimsuits and goggles. Now we'll see if the changes Foer made in me will last more than a year.

In the meantime, 2016 promises me more books to read, knowledge to learn, relationships to savor, and goals to pursue. This looks like a good year to blow my mind:
"At year’s end you should look back at your thoughts and opinions twelve months before and find them quaint. If not, you probably didn’t read or explore or work hard enough."
[1] I live in South Jakarta. Salemba and Kebon Sirih are in Central Jakarta. Cempaka Putih is in East Jakarta. This was more than enough to make my daily commute antarkota dalam provinsi (AKDP).
[2] Oddly enough, in these three buildings my office(s) were always located in the topmost floor. the 16th floor in Kebon Sirih, 6th floor in both Salemba and Cempaka Putih. In a way, this continued the tradition that I had since I was in ITB (4th floor in Labtek III), and Kyoto (6th floor).
[3] Between all that and my stubbornness to maintain my learning streak in Duolingo, running, and a lot of miscellaneous IM-related activities, I noticed some of my friends have begun to berguna-shame me. Because fat-shaming, slut-shaming, and gay-shaming are so passé.
[4] joran, todak, rawai.
[5] I think this also goes to show how your friends and your environment shapes your perspectives.
[6] This is a really good essay, and I think it deservedly won the Oxford Uehiro Prize.
[7] It's a shame I can't locate where I read about the annual average of beef consumption is equivalent to 0.6 cow per year, whereas eating chickens necessitates killing more chickens than cow overall.
[8] I think I read something along this line at Marginal Revolution, where one of the bloggers mentioned that there are very few books that changed his mind. Most of the books that influence his thinking were on issues that he was undecided on when he read them during his undergrad.