Sentenced to stupidity

I graduated from senior high school almost eight years ago. At that time (assuming nothing’s changed much), senior high schools in Indonesia were given two pathways by their second year: social sciences (IPS) path and natural sciences (IPA) one. Social sciences students could only study social students at university level. The same applied to natural sciences students, right? Nope.

After high school, IPA students could choose any disciplines they wanted. They were always higher on the formal strata than their social sciences counterparts. The former were always seen as rugged intellectuals who love and were capable of learning everything. The latter were always seen as imbeciles with non-existent ability and love of learning. People had their academic standing degradingly died down and choices unjustly limited, all because what they preferred to study in senior high.

Never mind the pro-caste mentality. This tendency also reinforces falsehood among ourselves. There is no evidence that formally studying natural sciences instantly make us smarter. If truth be told, I have encountered many IPA graduates who are nothing but imbeciles who suffer from severe cases of scientific illiteracy.

There is no shortage of cases where those geniuses make horrendous fallacies. They are proud of their intellectual defect; the zealous protection of beliefs and traditions is worth the annihilation of reason and rejection of knowledge. Biology, physics and chemistry could not save them from such idiocy.

Oh, and they are not even scholarly in the disciplines they always brag about! Instead of being scientifically profound, they wholeheartedly embrace long-disproven pseudosciences. They also think natural sciences are absolutely precise with its wisdom, stagnant and ever-conclusive. The more I properly study them, the more I realise that they can be very intricate and even grey at times. They are not something to be taught solely through soundbites.

I should also tell you that I am an IPS graduate. I chose this path solely because I used to hate natural sciences… or so I thought. Years after graduating, I realised I hated the educational system, not the disciplines. I am an internet addict and a large chunk of my time online is spent on reading online articles and watching documentaries about natural sciences. I study them because I want to learn. Some people study because they want to be ‘smarter’.

Of course, when they think about being ‘smart’, they think of obtainment of high grades, memorisation of formulas and extremely categorical information and absolute obedience of authority figures, including teachers. Never mind lateral thinking. Even the more ‘traditional’ critical thinking is not seen as essential for intelligence. This is what you get when your education is all about rote learning and worshipping the establishment. But, not everyone has the desire to be smarter. Some only fancy the appearance of it.

For them, image is everything and substance is nothing. Any efforts to gain pristine image are halal, no matter how dishonest they are. In this case, that effort is choosing the IPA pathway. Add that with high grades, the most gullible creatures would never know about your true anti-intellectual selves. A splendid persona is worth the deceit. This is what you get when your education is all about embracing undeserved prestige.

Admittedly, I am a horrible student. Even saying that I am average is an overstatement. Laziness, low grades, constant clashes with teachers (even when they were right) and the fact that it took me eight years to get a bachelor’s degree. Only idiots think I am worthy of a scholarship.

But, at the same time, I also love ‘learning’. Not to be confused with ‘studying’, though. The latter is what one does in formal education while the former can be done everywhere at any time. For me, both are mutually exclusive and are not related to each other in any way.

In spite of my hatred of studying, I still find myself morbidly curious. Not only I constantly ponder about how life works, I also read a lot about it; I even read papers published by actual peer-reviewed journals (assuming I can get hold of them without draining my pocket). Then, not satisfied with rote learning alone, I also make my own half-baked conclusions using the knowledge I have.

They are half-baked because, with the arrival of more knowledge, they will be replaced with better ones. I encourage myself to be open to the prospect of being proven wrong, no matter how ‘hurtful’ it can be. I have experienced that many times in the past and I will certainly experience it again in the future.

When it comes my interests, they are quite extensive. Primarily, I am into languages, foods, culture, arts, politics, history and media. In spite of their mostly intangible nature, we owe ourselves to them. Alongside their practical benefits, they are also affirmers of our identities as human beings. Our relationships with them show our human essence, both on individual and societal levels. But, as luring as they get, I am not drawn only to the intangible.

Even though they are not as strong, my interests also extend to natural sciences, particularly evolutionary biology, geography and astronomy, and applied sciences like medicine (can’t explain this). I am intrigued by the workings of our tangible world, how it can be utilised for our survival as a species and how our understanding of it affects the way we see ourselves as earthlings. With the right outlooks, one can gain wisdom from the tangible and the intangible.

As you can read from my writing, I am still heavily flawed. I am pretentious, self-righteous and I also cannot help myself from rushing to conclusions. But, every time I encounter any of those Indonesians who ‘love’ natural sciences for shamelessly superficial reasons, I always feel better about myself. At least I am actually learning. At least my sense of wonder is sincere.

No, I am not saying there are no intelligent IPA graduates with heartfelt inquisitiveness. They do exist. But, they find learning more appealing than boasting. Boasting is a sign of insecurity, not self-assurance. Besides, how can you learn anything if you spend too much embracing vanity?

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How to vote

*puts on the mask*

It is easy. All we have to do is to follow these two simple steps:

  1. Choose politicians who repeat words.

Not just any words. The right words. Ones that represent your main grievances. For example, if you care about issues like Islamic extremism or economic growth, you should vote for politicians who say the relevant words like ‘Islam’, ‘Jihadism’, ‘economy’ or ‘jobs’ the most. There is a physics-proven phenomenon called semantic satiation in which words become more meaningful after constant repetition. This is the same reason why our parents’ self-righteous naggings and worthless advices increase in their profundity after constant repetition, especially after the millionth time.

If you think that approach encourages voters to vote for the most inept candidates, you are absolutely right! Expertise and knowledge should never be a priority for any of us. In fact, upholding either one means we fall for tactless elitism. We should embrace tactful one instead, which coercencourage us to love individuals simply for their wealth, lineage and popularity.

  1. Prioritise your grievances.

Let’s face it. Some grievances are not real grievances. Protesting the oppression committed by your ingroups is not one. In fact, it is an incitement of hatred against your own kins! It is sacrilegious to not blindly love the kinship! That’s literally more sinful than murder! Literally!

The only oppression we are obligated to fight against is the one committed by outsiders. It is our duty to make our collectives look better in comparison, to make them look better than they really are, to make oppression our prerogative. Prohibiting us from oppressing others is literally oppressive! Literally!

There is also another grievance we must prioritise: wealth. I don’t care how much you are demonised as a minority. Widespread wealth is literally more important than your humanisation (as if that’s even possible)! A wealthy yet bigoted society is and will always more dignified than an enlightened yet poor one! Don’t believe me? Just ask God! Be fucking happy with your status as subhumans!

Vote for politicians who incite hatred! Vote for politicians who worship greed! They are the ones who get their priorities straight!

*takes off the mask*

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How to be an ethical satirist

 

*puts on a mask*

First, we have to define satire. According to Wikipedia, it is ‘a genre of literature, and sometimes graphic and performing arts, in which vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, ideally with the intent of shaming individuals, corporations, government, or society itself into improvement’.

The definition gets the general gist of what a satire. Well, mostly. I have a beef with it which I will explain soon.

Overall, there are two types of satire: Horation and Juvenalian. Horation is playful, good-natured and humorous. Juvenalian is unsympathetic, crude and even downright hostile. The former is often used to target people and things we don’t have ill feeling for while the latter is often used to target powerful individuals and entities.

….And I think how people make use of Juvenalian style is barbaric.

I mean, seriously? Making fun of the powerful? How dare they? We must treat them as they are: powerful beings!

I don’t care if they possess power through honesty, inheritance or dishonesty. The possession of power deserves veneration from anyone beneath. It is everyone’s sacred duty to protect powerful ones’ fragile emotions. Refusal to caress their ego is literally more sinful than murder. LITERALLY! So, who are the appropriate targets of Juvenalian satire? The powerless ones, of course!

Minorities, the disabled and even women (assuming misogyny is still severe). Just like it is to not uphold the integrity of the powerful ones, it is a sacrilege to not kick the powerless ones on their tragic faces.

The powerless ones consciously choose to be powerless. They choose which parents they are born to. If they fail to get what they want, they would do shits like embracing marginalised cultures and religions, changing their skin colours to more undesirable ones, making themselves disabled and even changing their sex to female!

Their low status makes them deserve all of the dehumanisation they have received since the dawn of time! They can protest all they want, demanding equal rights.. But, deep down, I am sure that they don’t care about equality. They just love to be subhumans who intentionally harass the powerful ones with their distinctiveness.

They hurt the establishment. They hurt one thing that is more beloved and honourable than everything else.

Now, you know why I find Wikipedia’s definition of satire problematic.

*takes off the mask*

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I don’t get the Potheads

No, not stoners. Harry Potter fans.

Well, I have yet to read the first three novels and all but one supplemental book. I have yet to read The Cursed Child, the official HP fan fiction. But, I know that I am a fan.

Harry Potter is one of the things I love the most in life. Love the characters. Love the thematics. Love the vast world-building. I’ve also made my own (borderline pretentious) interpretations about the series. Harry Potter is a huge inspiration in my life.

But, if you have read my past articles (as if!), you would know how I despise fandoms, especially the ones where I supposedly belong to. I did a whole article dedicated to bashing my fellow bros aka Pewdiepie fans. I am going to do the same thing to my fellow potheads.

Just like how bros misunderstand Pewdiepie as a persona, I believe Potheads also do the same thing with their beloved series. In this case, they distort the messages to be the complete opposite.

Hogwarts school of hypocrisy and misguided elitism

Potheads love to lump themselves to the four Hogwarts houses. Gryffindor for the courageous, brave and determined ones, Slytherin for the ambitious and cunning ones, Ravenclaw for the witty, learned and wise ones…. and Hufflepuff for the sad, soon-to-be-nobodies weaklings.

Hufflepuff is a sad story. It has an unflattering image not because its values are debilitating, but because they are empowering: Hard work, patience, loyalty and fair play.

It is arguable whether loyalty has an important role in it. But, you cannot deny how important the other three are in our learning experiences, in and outside the classrooms. Learning requires efforts (hard work), time (patience) and ethics (fair play). Hufflepuff’s values are essentials in education.

Don’t get me wrong. I do think every single Hogwarts house cherishes commendable values. We must thrive to embrace them in how we live our life. But, Potheads often forget that Hogwarts is a school and knowing our priorities is key.

You may be a courageous Gryffindor who thinks you can brave the exam. But, if you think you can do so without sparing time for after-class study, you are a prime example of the blurred line between bravery and idiocy. You may as well start a magical duel while wandless.

You may be a knowledgeable and intelligent Ravenclaw. But, if you are too lazy to put them into use and too lazy to learn more, your knowledge and intelligence would have less worth than trolls’ diarrhoeic shit. Do you seriously think mere brain equals instant success?

You may be an ambitious Slytherin who competitively pursues academic achievements. But, if you are willing to cheat to get what you desire, you don’t deserve the rewards. You are not entitled to something just because you feel so. In fact, outside the school setting, you would be considered a felon. It is surprising that Death Eaters are not dominated by Slyther… oh, wait.

I believe that elitism can be a force of good. Demanding the most skilled and learned to perform the most important jobs is reasonable and perfectly human. Not only such elitism is perfectly fine, I think it should be encouraged in our lives. But, that is not the case with Hogwarts.

From all of four Hogwarts founders, only Helga Hufflepuff understood the essences of education. The rest thought education should only be reserved for anyone who possess those irrelevant traits. It is the same as making Gods out of people for simply being rich (whose money may also be inherited). It is a misguided form of elitism.

And just like any forms of misguided elitism, those three Hogwarts houses are racked with barefaced hypocrisy. Despite constantly patting themselves on the back, not every Gryffindor, Ravenclaw and Slytherin embodies the values of their respective house.

Peter Pettigrew was a Gryffindor. He did not have the gut to face his ‘best friends’ whom he betrayed, did not have the gut to face Voldemort whom he swore loyalty to. He was too much of a coward to confront the consequences of his own actions.

Slytherins like Draco Malfoy, Severus Snape and Horace Slughorn are strongly driven by sky-high ambitions. But then, there are also Slytherins like Crabbe and Goyle whose only ambitions is to be the ‘little’ bitches of Draco Malfoy, world’s number one Daddy’s boy.

But, by far, Ravenclaw is the worst house regarding this. From all the Ravenclaws that have interacted with Harry, none of them seem to embody wits, wisdom and love of knowledge. Despite her magical prowess, Luna Lovegood is also a conspiracy theorist and literally the Anti-Hermione. Cho Chang is an expert in being a guilt-tripping bitch. Gilderoy Lockhart is a narcissist whose only skills are obliviating others’ memories and stealing their works (I have to give Flitwick a pass. Apart from his magical prowess, we know little about him).

But, the worst thing is, all of the intelligent characters in the series are non-Ravenclaws. Hermione Granger, Albus Dumbledore, Minerva McGonagall, Ginny Weasley, Cedric Diggory, Severus Snape, Lily Evans, Tom Riddle aka Voldy, Remus Lupin, the Weasley twins, just to name a few. Heck, even Harry and Draco seem more intelligent than those Ravenclaws.

If you value something so much, why don’t you practice it instead ? Why keep preaching to resisting ears? Is it about trying to impose an air of superiority while simultaneously sneering at others because you suffer from insecurity and trying to compensate for it? I guess we will never know.

Yes, I know this is unconvincing. It is never addressed either by the characters or Rowling herself. This is purely my interpretation. But, I have another opinion about the series, which I am more confident about.

Marauders’ so-called integrity

Say ‘Wormtail was a cowardly traitor’ and every pothead would nod in agreement. Say ‘the Marauders were a bunch of remorseless bullies’ and you would encounter polarising reactions.

Regarding that, the HP fandom community is divided into two factions: one who sees the Marauders (apart from Wormtail) as heroic angels and the other sees them as a gang of bullies.

I belong to the latter.

It is explicitly shown in Order of Phoenix and Deathly Hallows how they made Snape’s life a living hell. They even started bullying him before their first arrival at Hogwarts. They didn’t see him as a human being worthy of respect.

“But, Remus Lupin didn’t participate in the bullying. Also, James and Sirius stopped bullying Snape after the former dated Lily.”

Remus was not a bully. But, his friends were ones and that didn’t seem to mind him. It does not matter if you never participate in it. If you tolerate any acts that harm your fellow human beings, you are also a complicit.

And yes, they did stop bullying Snape after James dated Lily. They did mature as individuals. But, there is still no indication of remorse. End of torment does not mean repentance. It just means the tormenters stop giving a shit about their victims.

In fact, when reminiscing about their past in Order of Phoenix, Remus and Sirius saw themselves as nothing but misbehaved children. I don’t care if you are a six-year-old or a sixty-year-old. If you are a bully, you are a fucking bully! Do not sugarcoat it! Your age cannot and will never absolve you from your sins!

After learning the truth, Harry didn’t end up hating James and Sirius. I mean, one is his biological father and the other is a surrogate. Some of us cannot stop loving our loved ones even after their horrible deeds; it is a human thing. But, Harry also stopped seeing them as perfectly angelic figures. Harry has learned to accept that humans are creatures of many shades of grey.

Closing statements

My identity and a bit of Newt

If I have to choose one house, I would definitely choose Hufflepuff based on the reasons I stated above. But, deep down, I am not a Hufflepuff. I am a Ravenclaw.

My idea of fun involves having intellectual conversations, watching documentaries and arthouse films, visiting museums (another reason why I go out, besides foods), reading and googling (mostly googling) for knowledge that has no practical purposes, (over-) analysing works of arts and entertainment and pondering about everything that intrigues me. People have called me a pretentious little prick, which is not that inaccurate to be honest. I often look down on others for simplistic thinking which I sometimes feel guilty about. Sometimes.

That proves how not only I am staunch Ravenclaw, I can also be anti-Hufflepuff at times. And still, if I am enrolled at Hogwarts (as if!), I would choose Hufflepuff over any other houses. As much I love them, my values cannot be of any service or even appropriate in every setting. I have to admit that mine are far from perfect.

Oh, and don’t preach me about the so-called perfection of Gryffindor. It is a house where self-righteous pricks congregate their self-righteous arses from which they preach their self-righteousness. Instead of genuinely courageous beings, I often see Gryffindors as the fictional equivalents of Social Justice Warriors, constantly derailing their own progressive causes.

I am going on a tangent here.

On Pottermore, there is an article called 7 ways Hufflepuff are way better than you realise. From the title alone, you can tell it is one of those amateurishly-written blogs (yes, I am projecting). Some of the points make sense, albeit weakly argued. Others are unfounded altogether. I would be disappointed if Rowling wrote it herself. But, there is one point that attracts my eyes: the house’s lack of conventionality.

The article uses Tonks’ appearance as a representative of said unorthodoxy. But, it is too shallow of an example. We need something that goes beyond the physicality, something more profound and.. I can think of one example: Newt Scamander.

Google ‘Newt Scamander masculinity’ and you will see articles about how the magizoologist defies the traditional masculinity. Instead of being conceited, insensitive and showy, he is nurturing, emotionally sensitive and unassuming. He is a deviant male lead. Even in this regard, Harry Potter is still a cliche character. Unsurprisingly, deviance like this one is not universally loved.

In his Pop Culture Detective video, Jonathan McIntosh shows how film reviewers from mainstream media outlets criticise the character for his supposed lack of charm. Their minds are still indoctrinated by the cultural establishment to love – and only love – what we have been accustomed to. Feel pity for them.

What is surprising about Newt Scamander’s ‘deviant’ personality is not the deviance itself. Many works of arts and entertainments have violated the norms since the beginning of time and will always do. As zealous as they are enforced, disobedience should be expected once in a while.

What is surprising about Newt Scamander is him not being a major character in an indie or arthouse film. He is a major character in Harry Potter, a profitable franchise with strong mainstream popularity. Pop culture is infamous for its obedience to the establishment. The fact that a form deviance can exist in such sphere is a marvel in itself.

I am disappointed with myself. As someone who loves to analyse entertainment and hates traditional gender roles, I should have spotted it myself.

The lesser bullies

Snape is indeed a well-crafted character. He has sacrificed his body and soul for the sake of defeating Voldemort. It is dishonest for us to dismiss both. But, at the same time, they cannot erase one absolute fact: he is a fucking horrible person!

He abuses his power as a teacher, he preys on vulnerable students and he finds pleasure in torment! Praise his heroism. Praise how well-crafted he is as a character. But, there is no sound justification for us to romanticise someone who can be described as a heartless bully…

… And the same mindset should be applied to the Marauders.

Yes, I know. In comparison (Wormtail excluded), they are a lot kinder, warmer and more virtuous than Snape will ever be. But, again, you cannot ignore the facts that James and Sirius are also remorseless bullies and Lupin consciously tolerates them. They are the reason why his heart is ravaged with a sickness called bullying.

Despite everything, some of you still lay your eyes on the Marauders through rose-coloured lenses. This blog is not the first time I spout such rant. It seems nothing will convince you to take them off. But, I will keep trying.

I have this one trick, though. A trick so painfully obvious, anyone would have thought about it long ago: stop comparing them with Snape! Of course, they would look angelic with him in the picture. From now on, remove him out of it! Judge every single one for who they really are, not for someone else is.

The greater bully will always look worse than the lesser bully. But, like it or not, the lesser bully is still a bully.

It seems to contradict what I said in the beginning about how I love the characters. Well, I do love them because they are very grey.

Okay, a few characters are indeed black and white. The series also has the cliche ‘good vs evil’ theme. But, pay attention and you’ll see how complex many of the characters are.

When we think we know them, they suddenly reveal ‘new’ aspects about themselves; they are like infinite onions where every layer embodies a surprise. They also possess wonderful imperfection; their strengths and weaknesses make them feel more relatable, more human. Real humans are always more complex than we like to think. It’s sad how I have to point out this obvious fact.

We cannot completely hate many of the characters. We also cannot romanticise them as well. Once again, they are of many shades of grey. That’s the reason why I love them.

BvS: a never-ending, action-infested clusterf**k… with moments of surprising depth (a shamelessly late review)

From the title alone, one can tell I will be bashing the film which many people have relieved themselves on for the past two years. So, if you are a fanboy or fangirl who only see imaginary flawlessness in your beloved motion picture work, click away.

Or don’t. Besides bashing the hell out of it, I am also planning to discuss about the film’s positive aspects AND attempting to persuade you to reflect on the dissenting voices. I don’t care if I will be persuasive or sound like a self-righteous prick. Okay, now let’s start with the beating.

First of all, the story is horrendously tedious! Not slow-pacing, but tedious. A slow-paced story encourages us to patiently wait or even to not expect anything at all; we are encouraged to relish the present. This is more common in arthouse films where immersion is crucial and non-negotiable in every scene.

A tedious story, on the other hand, keeps lingering on the same points despite its promise of incoming fresh scenes. It is nothing but a spawn of broken promises and aesthetic disappointment. Unless you are easily awed by mindless jam-packed actions, there’s nothing that can save us from a film’s tiresome pacing.

In fact, BvS is unbearable because of its mixing of tedious pacing and high octane actions. The three-hour-long duration makes it even more gruelling. I left the cinema feeling mentally exhausted. Personally, I don’t mind the exhaustion as long as it is legitimate. A film may provoke strong emotions that last for hours (or days). It may also provoke us to think hard as it is either loaded with information or confusing at the first watch.

Confusing. Also what BvS is to me. On this part, I am not sure if the problem is with me. Maybe I failed to pick up vague hints that can enlighten me about the story. Maybe I was (and still am) unfamiliar with the original source material. If it’s the latter, we have a problem.

An adaptation must be able to stand by itself. The original source materials are its inspirations, not its extensions. If we need to explore them for more info, why bother adapting them in the first place? Is the entertainment really less about quality and more about profit-making? Did I just ask a rhetorical question where I seemed to fake some level of profundity? But, as I said, I am still not sure if the problem is with me.

Oh, and I am going to end the bashing with something predictable: Martha. Arguably one of the most mockable moments in the history of mockable entertainment. Two individuals immediately bond with each other just because their mothers share the same name. The heartwarming charade is so brazenly displayed, its so-called warmth becomes hollow and insincere.

And yet, meaningless and deceitful facades still dupe us. We still hate subtlety because it requires understanding of life beyond what the basic senses tell us. That’s unfortunate since subtlety is one thing that brings depth to works of arts and entertainment. Subtlety helps us to dodge traps like self-conceited pretentiousness, sickly sweet sentimentality or, in the case of Martha: the movie, shameless idiocy.

Enough with the bashing. As I said in the beginning, I will also talk about the film’s positive features. Just because I hate something, that doesn’t mean it absolutely lacks any redeeming values. In this case, it is the not-so-subtle menace shown in two scenes.

The first one is Batman’s nightmare scene. Apart from the drastic change of setting and Batman’s voice, it doesn’t feel dreamlike at first. The ensuing chaos also seems normal. But suddenly, in the middle of the mayhem, winged-demons are arriving from the sky, snatching every single human that is seen as a threat. It literally looks the beginning of God’s wrath.

Except they are not demons; they are not even supernatural. Once you take a close look, you will see they are mere human soldiers, completely clad in black armour and adorned with mechanical wings. But, how the scene was crafted really does wonders.

Camera angle, showing the ‘demonic’ soldiers’ daunting arrivals from the sky. Background music, laced with droning male vocals. The limited colour palette of light brown and black, evoking hell on earth and man’s inner darkness respectively. As a result, those flying soldiers look like they were born among hellfire. Even the wingless and more human-looking soldiers look demonic as well. It is a very nightmarish. But, not the scariest scene ever made.

Heck, it’s not even the peak of the film’s disquieting atmosphere. For me, Lex Luthor’s painting scene is the winner for possessing greater subtlety and requiring more in-depth dissection. The said painting depicts the biblical angels and devils, with the former emerging from the sky and the latter soaring from the underworld.

Its appearance on the scene is very brief. Brief, yet assertive. Once again, the background music was well-composed, this time with haunting string sounds. But, what makes the painting domineering is the remarks of Lex Luthor, who exudes a menacing aura (if I may use the word). He said:

[The painting] should be upside down. We know better now, don’t we? Devils don’t come from hell beneath us. No, they come from the sky.”

That’s not randomness. If you try to interpret it (using logic, of course), the results would be so fitting to the narrative… and internet users have done so. Some think it represents Superman who is probably seen as the devil by Lex. Others think it represents Lex, who sees himself as the ‘angel’ who fell from grace, aka the devil. Symbolism is one boundless space, always open for any sound interpretations.

Subtlety. Yeah, I know. Said that a zillion times before. Bla bla bla bla. But, I want to keep underlining its importance in conveying depth, as proven by the two scenes. Subtlety is the only reason why I don’t hate BvS completely. In fact, I am now open about the possibility of me hating the film less in the future. I might have missed other hidden messages!

Let me change the topic for a while and tell you a story:

I am a Harry Potter fan. I love most of its characters, their quirks and surprising complexities. I love the expansiveness of the fictional universe. I love the thought-provoking thematics, unpretentiously expressed throughout. I love its progressive social stances. I even have made my own analyses about the series, encouraging the growth of my critical thinking skill.

And because of that skill, I cannot unsee its flaws.

Apart from the inconsistencies (which is common in any long-running series), there are also defects like lack of novelty, unexceptional writing style and hasty series finale. I hate how Goblet of Fire and Order of Phoenix, especially the latter, are given poor film adaptations by having their depth thrown away. I also believe Half-Blood Prince understands the HP spirit more than the original source material itself. That’ll stir up the fandom.

I hope you, BvS fans, are still here. I know some of you are rational enough to not make a God out of your favourite film. But, for those of you who do and still adamant about its absolute perfection, let me ask you something:

If I have the ability to shit on Harry Potter, one of the things I love the most in my life, why can’t you accept that BvS, your beloved film, has its faults?

You don’t need to be a pretentious snob to criticise the film. No need to be a Batman and/or Superman hater. No need to be a hardcore Marvel fan. Heck, you don’t even need a highly intellectual mind.

All you need is to accept that imperfection is inherently inescapable, even for the things you love dearly.

Lowbrow elitism

I still refuse to call myself a big fan of Progressive Rock. I have yet to listen to the works of every legendary Prog Rock band. My knowledge of the genre is still minuscule. But, I know that I am overwhelmed by it. I know about how robust intellectualism and virtuoso mastery of instruments are the non-negotiable prerequisites for its musicians. That’s why I was thrilled to find a BBC documentary titled ‘Prog Rock Britannia’.

For me, it was deeply compact. It concisely retold the chronicle of the wonderfully bizarre genre from start to finish. From the startling emergence to its disgraceful downfall. Oh and about the downfall…

According to the documentary, the cause of its demise was related to the public perception. Prog Rock had been regarded as another form of elitism that dismiss the everyday life of common people. When financial crisis struck Britain in the 1970’s, the distaste finally climaxed. It was no longer socially acceptable to love Prog Rock. It was finally proven how the genre did not represent the people while the more pop ones did.

Yeah, about that…

Prog Rock disgusted them because it encouraged intellectualism and higher artistic appreciation, not because of its supposed elitism. If elitism was indeed the reason, they would not have chosen pop music, an inherently escapist genre that discourages any forms of contemplation, as the music of the people.

In his article Popular culture: a useful notion?, Willem Frijhoff laid out six dimensions of pop culture, one of them is it being everyday culture. Even before I read the article, I already had that thought in mind. Pop culture is what the common people instinctively embrace… and that is it.

We often do not realise how culture is something that we preach and does not always practice. In many cases, a culture represents a society’s loudly-expressed ideals approved by the Establishment, not the actual day-to-day practice of the ordinary people.

If a culture is always the photographic representation of a society, sexually conservative societies would not have high rates of teenage pregnancies, sexual assaults and STDs. Self-proclaimed free societies would not have politicians that advocate violation of freedom. I’d love to call out specific countries. But, I am already going too far on a tangent.

Anyway, I don’t mind pop culture. I genuinely understand why it is loved by many. In fact, I find it to be mentally relieving at times. But, pretending that it represents who we are is extremely dishonest. We should always remember pop culture’s main purpose: pushing escapism.

Pop culture’s idea of entertainment involves abducting us from our loathsome earthly existence to a world of bewitching illusions. That’s nice, isn’t it? If we want a culture to represent us, pick one that can’t even be bothered to allude to reality. Never pick ones that encourage contemplation. Ever.

A disclaimer: when I said pop culture, I was referring to the low-quality kind. There are times when pop culture works successfully combine both escapism and contemplative depth. The Golden Girls is one good example, with frequent social commentaries and occasional emotional moments. Anyway…

If you hate the highbrow because you hate intellectualism and artistry, just say it! Don’t say that your hatred is motivated by genuine anti-elitism when it isn’t. Using such pretext makes you a fraud. Nobody with sane state of mind would want to be one…

Wait, maybe you want to be one. Maybe you are one of those pathetic nobodies who believe life is all about others’ superficial recognition. You will do anything to be the so-called voice of the common people. Fondling your fragile ego is more important than being truthful.

Either that or you just from cognitive dissonance. Maybe you genuinely believe pop culture is not escapist, never was and never will be. You believe intellectualism and artistry are escapism in its purest, unadulterated form. You’re unable to acknowledge your defective mental clarity.

This anti-highbrow sentiment is hypocritical and self-defeating. You exclude anything that you consider highbrow and anyone who embrace it. But then, you exclude. You are committing exclusion. Your efforts to combat elitism ends up creating another form of elitism, where the lowbrow is the only acceptable norms. As I said, hypocritical and self-defeating.

What’s the point of this article? Well, first of all, writing insults is fun for me. Second, I believe our expressions of distaste for certain things should be properly constructed. Our attempts to appeal to the masses should be based on sincerity, not pandering and deceit. Our reasoning should also be sound and coherent; always reconsider every single one of our thoughts. Critical thinking is undeniably arduous. But, it is possible to do and worth the efforts.

Note about the referenced article:

I initially wanted to make a complete citation of Willem Frijhoff’s article. The problem is I forget where I got the article from. I did find a Dutch academic also named Willem Frijhoff. But, his area of specialisation is history and there was no indication that he ever dealt with pop culture studies. Academic studies can be interdisciplinary in nature which still makes me wonder if he is the Willem Frijhoff I am looking for.

My identity

(Based on my New Media class assignment. It was made in 2014. Three years ago. In this new version, I will also compare my 2014 view with the current one.)

The pictures above are screenshots of the pages I like on Facebook. The shrinks among you will try to ‘psychoanalyse’ me based on that alone. I am sure you will get your ‘analyses’ wrong. Yes, what I like reveals my true self. But, I have only shown you eighteen pages. You should also consider the groups I join, my taste, my backgrounds, what I share online and how I interact with fellow human beings online and offline. Here, I will discuss how I form my online identity and its legitimacy as a form of legitimacy. First, we need to define what identity is.

2017 update:

Some of the Youtubers featured in the screenshot… well… I have stopped watching them almost completely since 2015, a year after I made this assignment. I also liked a page called ‘Positive Outlooks’. Yeah, I don’t remember how I ended up liking a page with such revoltingly-syrupy name.

R. Atchley (cited in Kelly 2010) defines identity as a group of traits that distinguish a self from the others; it is the only thing that can represent a self. I personally see myself having more than one; my online behaviour is different from the offline one. Stard and Prusak (cited in Kelly 2010) believed that to be true; they stated a self can have more than one depending on how it represents itself. An online identity is different from its offline counterpart because the former tends to be more mindfully presented, considering how social media gives users more time (Champagne cited in Bouvier 2012, p. 40). Every identity is legitimate despite contradicting each other. Online, I have two: humanist and spiritual.

2017 updates:

It is anecdotal, but I believe online identities are not always sensible; they can be a lot nastier than the offline ones. New media seem to be good at breaking down our metaphysical guard.

I still believe one can embrace two seemingly clashing identities; humans are complex creatures. But, I also admit the syncretic identification can appear as cognitive dissonances to most people, especially when said individuals refuse to acknowledge the contradictions’ existence.

My humanist identity is an identity I embrace when dealing with fellow human beings. It covers my social, political and cultural identity. When online, it is mostly liberal and internationalist in nature. I constantly clash with conservatives, I prefer English over Indonesian and most online articles I read are about international issues instead of local ones. When I first joined Facebook, I was far less international but was already liberal. Then, I started to meet people from all over the world and had good relationships with them. Offline, it is a different case.

I still have shreds of conservatism and nationalism inside my offline self. My lifestyle is neither too liberal nor too conservative. I live in Australia at the moment, studying in an international university and have no problem respecting local customs. But, I spend most of social life interacting with fellow Indonesians and acting like a stereotypical Indonesian inside my house. Even though both are different, my online and offline identities greatly influence each other. I would be completely completely liberal and international online if my offline self is not more moderate and more nationalistic. Unlike my humanist identity, my spiritual identity took longer to form itself.

2017 updates:

I am not sure about my usage of the word ‘humanist’. Humanism is often defined as a divine-less and human-centred form of spirituality. It is obvious how my so-called humanist identity has nothing to do with spirituality. Back then, I did not bother to open my thesaurus. Now, I think ‘temporal’ or ‘profane’ are the more appropriate choices.

I was fooling myself when I said I had good relationships with everyone on Facebook. I did end up being close to some users. But, at the same time, I also had many clashes caused by various reasons. Sooo easy to interact with me.

Now, I am back to Indonesia, even though I am still studying off-campus mode on the same university. The reason I mostly interacted with Indonesians while living abroad is I lived with my sister, who had many Indonesian friends and acquaintances in Australia. If my sister was not with me, I would have more interactions with Aussies. If you barely socialise and you live in Australia, your interactions would mostly consist of Aussies. Duh!

Spirituality does not have a universally-accepted definition. I personally define it as a way to embrace one’s true self; it is not necessarily about connecting with the divine as agnostics and atheists may also describe themselves as ‘spiritual’. My online spiritual identity is a reformed/progressive one. I believe there must be a reform in the way believers interpret religious teachings. On Facebook, I join groups and like pages dedicated to progressive/reformed/ Muslims; I also like pages dedicated to progressive Christians. If online users ask what my religion is, I would immediately answer progressive/reformed Islam. Offline, once again, it is a different case.

I am closeted with my belief in order to avoid any conflicts. There are not many openly progressive Muslims. The internet is our safe haven, the only place where we are able to congregate peacefully (most of the time); the online congregation is more spiritually satisfying than the ones I encounter in mosques. But, there is a problem with my spiritual identity: it is insecure and fragile.

I am doubtful that I perfectly represent my identity. I tend to have low tolerance of conservative and moderate Muslims, even the non-violent ones, seemingly contradicting my so-called progressive nature. Technically, I am a progressive/reformist-wannabe militant liberal. It will actually help if I interact with more people, not just the ones who claim to be progressive.

Piotr Bobkowski (2008) believed young people are not enlightened enough to properly express their faith (p. 3) and yet they can be too showy (p. 21). Literally me. I am very quick to announce my religiosity while still not being learned enough. Compared that to my fellow self-identified progressive/reformist Muslims who are both well-read and reserved.

2017 updates:

I still embrace that definition of spirituality. But, nowadays, it has become more layered and slightly more complex (only slightly). I realised how I defined it in 2014 was too simplistic and superficial.

I keep typing ‘reformed/progressive’ regarding my Islamic identity. Many people use the two words interchangeably, sometimes along with the word ‘liberal’. From what I know, there are no established distinctions between reformist, progressive and liberal Muslims. But, I tend to identify with the first two as I do think liberalism is different from progressivism and reformism.

My militant liberal attitude was short-lived. I was very impressionable and let myself influenced by the nasty self-proclaimed reformed/progressive Muslims whose idea of progressive Islam includes selling their fellow believers to anti-Muslim bigots. That’s why I am often reluctant to join online communities dedicated to such well-intentioned movement. It is too bad because many self-proclaimed progressives out there still maintain their dignity.

I agree with Bobkowski to an extend. It is true youngsters are prone to irrationality and immaturity; unsurprising considering how young brains are not fully-developed. But, at the same time, adults can also be guilty of the same, especially when it comes to spirituality. Case in point, those sell-out so-called progressive Muslims.

Online identity is as legitimate as its offline counterpart. In the digital era, both are inevitable crucial parts in overall human identities. One can’t live without the other, despite seemingly different from the surface. It is not important if they are different from each other or not, it is more important if they are true to a person’s true self and they don’t make him or her an intolerant individual.

2017 update:

It should be like this: it is more important if they encourage our true selves to embrace reason and high moral standards.

 

Bobkowski, P 2008, ‘An Analysis of Religious Identity Presentation on Facebook’, International Communication Association 2008 Annual Meeting – Conference Paper, pp. 1-24.

 

Bourvier, G 2012, ‘How Facebook users select identity categories for self-presentation,’ Journal of Multicultural Discourses, vol. 7, no. 1, pp. 37-53.

 

Kelly, L 2010, What is Identity?, Australian Museum, retrieved 19 May 2010, <http://australianmuseum.net.au/blogpost/Museullaneous/What-is-identity>.

The vanity of material rites

As a child, I used to find Ramadhan extremely gruelling. It was very easy for me to feel hungry and thirsty. Just add blazing tropical sun for extra torment. But, that was all physical. Emotionally, it was a different story.

Even though my body was drained of any will to live, I had this inexplicable emotional satisfaction. It was the same feeling that I experience after watching a motion picture work with conflict-afflicted, yet heart-warming story (I did say ‘inexplicable’, didn’t I?). Every fast break was sublime. And then, the end of the month arrived.

Idul Fitri, which is the Indonesian name of Eid al-Fitr, marks the end of Ramadhan. It is meant to celebrate the end of the arduous fasting period. But, the most important of all, it is meant for us to forgive and be forgiven by our fellow human beings. A wonderful climax for such sublime spiritual feeling. Then, growing up happens.

The older I get, the less I experience such feeling. Criticalness and cynicism are slowly killing it. I’ve become doubtful of the faithfulness of any positive emotions that pop culture wants us to feel. They are like sugary shells: they can be left out hollow or filled with snake venom. Then, I dragged that attitude up even further to other aspects of life, including religions.

Let me start with fasting. For believers, fasting is meant to show what hunger and thirst feel like, it is an act of self-restraint, a test of our will power. Supposedly, an ability in getting through the process is a sign of spiritual achievement. For many years, I was imbecile enough to believe that. What happens at fast breaks is anything but spiritual.

A fast break is what it really sounds like: the time to break from fasting. A few glasses of drinks and a tiny assortment of snacks, accompanied by our gratefulness for the simplest sustenance we can get. Main meal to be eaten later on. At least, that’s my ideal fast break. Most other people are of no integrity.

For them, it’s all about self-indulgence. Greasy snacks and diabetically-sweet drinks. In total, the ‘snacks’ equal to two highly-calorific and innutritious meals; oh and there’s still a main meal afterwards. There’s no gratitude, only perverse sense of duty to partake in gluttony. Fasting is just a mere chore. Oh and the gluttony doesn’t stop there.

Most religious holidays I know always involve feasts. They are meant to encourage gatherings with everyone, especially with our loved ones. From my experiences, foods can bring people together, even the ones that don’t always meet eye to eye. But, it is naive to expect that during Eid.

Once again, we feel obligated to engage in lecherous food orgies. Most of us only visit houses that provide buffets. Whether we are close or not to the hosts, that doesn’t matter. What matters is the food they provide. Food and money in green envelopes to buy new clothes. Oh, remember when I said how Idul Fitri is about forgiveness? Yeah, just another lie.

We ask our loved ones for forgiveness, they ask us for the same thing…and then, we proceed to wrong each other literally seconds later. Our lyrical words are nothing but showmanship, hiding a nature so malicious that Satan would be thrown off his balance. Living in a gratifying make-believe is more important living in sincerity. Oh, and speaking about dishonesty…

I am very much guilty of the ‘sins’ I mentioned. I see Ramadhan as a mere chore and gluttony is the only reason why I love Eid. In fact, I’ve been (almost proudly) inconsiderate towards many rituals for quite some time. So, I am not entitled to be (self-) righteous about them here. But, I am entitled to be outraged by how we still put confidence in the claimed spiritual benefits.

Ramadhan fails to encourage self-restraint and appreciation of the most basic sustenance. Idul Fitri fails to nurture genuine familial bonds among us. Enforcing compulsion to rituals is impotent in cultivating their supposed benefits. In fact, as I’ve said before, they’ll become mere chores and additional justifications for hedonism. We cannot achieve spirituality by solely immersing ourselves in the corporeal realms. Sounds reasonable enough? Well, not for the self-proclaimed enlightened ones.

They, the individuals who tyrannically equate rituals with spirituality, see themselves as the enlightened saints who have masterfully unraveled the divine they avow to dearly love when, in truth, they are utterly skin-deep organisms who commit sacrilege by stripping down the highly enigmatic and ethereal transcendence into meagre physicality.

But, for all of that, they’ve got the audacity to denounce us, the rituals loathers, of disgraceful sacrilege that they themselves are unabashedly guilty of. Naturally, what can one expect from ungodly self-admiring mortals of imaginary importance? Clearly, anything but humility and self-consciousness.

Okay, I need to wrap it up before I blow up my rant even more.

No, I am not saying that rituals are inherently worthless; regardless of my frustration with religious holidays, I still love some rituals like the daily Islamic prayers. What I am saying is……different strokes for different folks. No matter how cliched this idiom is, its merit still stands.

Your experiences are personally yours. Never ever force others, not even your fellow believers, to observe your favourite rituals, let alone shaming them for not feeling the same profundity. You are literally one human being among a sea of billions. Unless you suffer from a severe case of self-admiration, you cannot seriously think you are the sole bearer of sacred truth.

Also, is it appropriate to observe rituals for hedonism’s sake? It is a question I am not ready to answer yet. But, I am certain that it is inappropriate to dismiss the existence of hedonistic tendencies among the participants.

The tangibility of rituals is also a vulnerability against hedonism. There is no doubt some observances are deeply contemplative. But, you cannot pretend the ones purely motivated by worldly pleasures do not exist. Acknowledge that simply physical observances won’t enhance our celestial existence. Be honest, for God’s sake.

Oh, and I do not understand the hate for hedonism. Like, why? We live in a material world all the frickin’ time. Even the most pious among us have engaged in it more than once. Eating our favourite foods, having fun with family and friends. They are earthly pleasures. They are hedonistic. Hedonism is inevitable.

Pewdiepie and Trump: literally not the same!

pewdiepie internet 2017 main

Not long ago, Felix Kjellberg AKA Pewdiepie was accused of anti-Semitism. Well, to this day, he is still accused of it. Admittedly, he is known for his humour which can be extremely obscene, even for fans like me. But, a racist he is not.

I understand that jokes like his can be unpalatable and can be abused by bigots. But, I am one of those who differentiate vulgarity from bigotry. Of course, mainstream media outlets rebuff that. Their disagreement with this view compel them to perform shameless dishonesty.

Instead of analysing his videos in their entirety, the media extracted some parts and reported them…without giving any contexts! Many in the Youtube community, including fellow content creators and even his detractors, came to defend him and called out the so-called journalists who thought slander was journalistic! Traditional media keep trying to besmirch their digital counterparts; this case wasn’t the first time and it won’t be the last. The annoyance doesn’t stop there.

Some people who were on Pewds’ side compared him to Donald Trump. They believed both shared the same hardship in their public life. Admittedly, they also have to endure daily dose of dehumanising hatred. But, I still can’t see them equals.

First of all, Trump is not being slandered. The media simply report his words and actions that -in any given contexts- blatantly show rejection of the facts, childishness and inhumanity towards his fellow human beings. Admittedly, lies about him do spread around. But, they are minuscule in number compared to unsavoury yet truthful reports of him. That’s different case with Pewdiepie.

Even before the anti-Semitism accusation, people accused him of other horrendous things, like beating his girlfriend and stealing money from his numerous charity fundraising. The evidence? Well, their deep hatred of his videos. They couldn’t lay out circumstantial evidences, let alone the conclusive ones. But, despite all of the falsehood, his fans keep defending him, knowing how poisonous his haters can be.

About Trump’s fans, I notice a juxtaposition. While some do condemn the accusations as slanders, others hold unsettling stances. A portion of them are apathetic and that’s bad enough; apathy towards immorality, even when alleged, means one greenlights its existence. The others are far worse: his lack of morale exhilarates them.

They don’t see his childishness, sexual abuse of women, fear-mongering, rejection of facts, bullying and prejudice as sins. In fact, they believe a strong and powerful leader must possess those attributes. Level-headness, rationality and human decency are seen as sugary, vomit-inducing abnormalities that inherently weak humans crave for. Trump relishes on pandering.

He knows how much his fans fetishise over such sins. The more he boasts them, the more he empowers his fans. For him, popularity is far more important than the dignity of the masses he is sacrificing. As crass as Pewdiepie can be, he still believes in social responsibility.

In recent years, Pewdiepie lost a group of fans because he has stopped pandering to their immaturity, irrationality and lack of sophistication. As he matures, he realises how unprincipled his old self was for empowering his obnoxious fans. Nowadays, he is known for openly lambasting their behaviours. Having many admirers isn’t worth sacrificing the dignity of one’s self and the masses; thankfully, his self-improvement is accompanied by a counter-intuitively fattening fan base.

Many people still don’t realise that Pewdiepie is a satirical character created by Felix Kjellberg. Long time or observant viewers know how to distinguish them from each other. Entertainers aren’t obliged to confirm whether they are in characters or not. Yet Kjellberg has explicitly stated that Pewdiepie is fictional and doesn’t represent his true self. Predictably, not the case with Trump.

I have heard speculations about how Trump the politician is also a character. If that is true (if!), it’s problematic. He keeps convincing everyone, especially his fans, that the persona is a real person. He deliberately and dangerously block out the line between the real and the unreal. But then, what can one expect from a politician? A shred of decency?

Also, ‘normal people’ got consequences for their mistakes. When I said ‘normal people’, I meant people who don’t have extra privileges like fame, fortune or both. Pewdiepie has both and the consequences he got are quite severe.

Apart from the backlashes, he had his Disney contract eliminated, his costly and highly-anticipated web series cancelled and his videos temporarily demonetised. Not to mention mainstream media outlets are constantly thirsty of his blood, keep intentionally distorting his subsequent videos. Despite his fame and fortune, he’s still quite close to be one of the ‘normal ones’, unlike Trump.

From all the horrible things he has said and done, we punish Trump by creating meaningless backlashes…and making him one of the most powerful individuals on earth. If he is an ordinary person, he would have suffer greater consequences than Felix Kjellberg had. Heck, he would’ve suffered more than his detractors like Reza Aslan and Kathy Griffin had. What we’re doing to him are just a weak microscopic slap to the wrist.

He escapes all of the deserving punishments and still manages to act like the most prosecuted person in the world. Kjellberg suffers punishments harsher than he deserves. But, he acknowledges how undesirable he can be; he is a bigger man than Trump will ever be. Even professionally, he is of lower class than Pewdiepie is.

Trump is a so-called master for the dimwits. They believe him when he said a million dollar loan from daddy is small. They think him hiring multiple bankruptcies and conning people show money-savvy he is. Don’t start with his lack of political experience. Bring that up and they will call you petty for having a decent standard; don’t you know that making political tweets counts? But, there is one expertise he masters: showmanship.

Love or hate him, he is a fantastic reality show star. I even religiously watched The Apprentice at one point. If they want to brag a talent of his, why wouldn’t they bring up this fact? Oh, right. That would make him a politically-illiterate obnoxious celebrity. You know, what they have been accusing anti-Trump celebrities of. They would hate to see their orange calf as someone who doesn’t know his place. You know who does? Felix Kjellberg

You may abhor his aesthetics which, as I’ve said before, can be too jarring even for his fans. But, the man behind the character is skilled. The excessively unpalatable editing is actually time consuming. Some of his shorter videos (less than ten minutes long) are produced out of seamlessly-edited hours-long footage. Don’t forget his photo-shopping skills. Yes, every Youtuber needs it to create thumbnails. But, few expand theirs even further.

In some videos, he has fun with photoshopping; occasionally, his fans request him to photoshop their own photos. The results are usually either hilarious or freaky enough for you to scream ‘KILL IT WITH FIRE!’. When you look at them, you will think they are just results of high technical mastery of computer softwares. No aesthetic profoundness whatsoever. But, before his Youtube career took off, he already made lots of photoshopping works and boy, they are beautiful.

Just look at them. You would think they were created by an actual artist. Of course, you wouldn’t have guessed that artist is the same man who play video games, screams like a little bitch and make Nazi jokes for a living. With that fact, it’s surprising how his videos’ visuals lack any pleasing aesthetics. But, his artistry brings depth to another aspect of his Youtube works: his commentaries.

Every time he seriously remarks on a pop culture phenomenon or reviews a video game, his words always contain valuable insight that provoke level-headed and intelligent individuals to ponder about. He does those while still making self-deprecating jokes. The result? An unpretentious and down-to-earth intelligent Youtuber…who also knows his place.

As a content creator who craves variety, he has made commentaries with a wide range of subject matters. But, if you look closely, almost all of them are concerning pop culture and the media, digital one included. Unlike Trump, Kjellberg is aware what he is knowledgeable and ignorant about and he builds an indestructible (and actually beneficial) giant wall between them.

Even at many paragraphs ago, it was already obvious how different both men are. But, I will end this article by briefly talk about a slightly tangential and borderline ad hominem distinction: their true selves.

As celebrities, both have met many people in-person and each of them receives two contrasting receptions. One has people judging his appalling treatment of his fellow human beings since ever. Another has been complimented by others for his surprising good-natured bearing, juxtaposing his infamous public persona. Guess which one is which?

Yup.

Sorry, I forgot to include this.

I have seen Youtube comments that assert non-existing parallels between Pewdiepie and Trump. Each comment received dozens of likes. As irritating as it is, I sound like I am exaggerating its presence, making it sounds more widespread than it really is.

Yes, there are possibly hundreds or thousands of individuals who believe in such comparison. But, such belief is still a fringe. From my (admittedly limited) observation, the believers have yet to reigned over any comment sections of Facebook posts and Youtube videos that are tackling the Pewdiepie scandal. The reason why I accidentally inflated is how much I am personally annoyed by those people’s lack of wits. It’s simple as that.

I promise this article really ends here.

Or does it?

Spirituality and religion (and morality): everlastingly sectarian

Religions

Here I go. So contentious, even the mere mention of those words trigger the delicate snowflakes out of most people. Obviously, I should boost the triggering by defining what spiritual and religion are.

Spirituality has a myriad of definitions. Some see it as the synonym for religiosity. Others see it as a process of fathoming either the universe, the self or both. Others also see it as a guide to find meanings in one’s lives, intrinsic and acquired. Some even believe it is the state of being irreligious. Predictably, they are all personal and abstract. Different case with religion.

Yes, some people do have equally personal and abstract definitions for it. In multiple occasions, Reza Aslan described religion as a language to describe the ‘indescribable’ and the divine. I used to define religion as the literal bridge between the earthly and the spiritual; some people I know still believe that. But, it’s also possible to shape more clear-cut characterisation.

Religion can be understood as a set of ideas and rituals to achieve what the worshippers deem as ‘spirituality’. It can also be seen as a tool for social control, consciously and subconsciously coaxing every reachable feature of a society. Such characterisation is observable in real life. It’s very apparent how universally-accepted definitions are unrealistic. But, instead of reducing our sectarianism, we are increasing it.

Fanaticism. One of mankind’s greatest and most harmful sins. We are extremely in love with our own convictions. Anything that negate them even in the slightest will be dealt with staggeringly-fierce hostility. Seeing the title, you know what kind of fanaticism I’m referring to here. I’ll begin with the one that I used to be guilty of as well: thinking religiosity and spirituality are literally the same thing.

I had that mindset because I was so in love with restrictions. I believed not religiously restraining ourselves in every single aspect of life was a sign of serious moral decay. Of course, I was a hypocrite as my lifestyle was very self-indulging. I also willingly ignored what the other sides had to say.

We often reject the existence of the unendurably suffocating nature of strict religiosity. Even religiosity as a whole can appear so for many people. Like it or not, religiosity has harmed countless individuals, physically and emotionally; the injuries are difficult or even impossible to heal. It’s easy to hate on the so-called ‘infidels’ when you’re not the one being harmed.

We cannot simply dismiss those traumatised people as ‘haters who don’t want believers enjoy profound spirituality’. Our positive experiences are unique to us and not to be used to ‘evaluate’ fellow human beings. Before you accuse me of atheism (as if that was a bad thing in the first place), I’m not completely siding myself with non-believers.

In fact, I still consider myself religious. I also loathe the idea that true spirituality is inherently irreligious. Some unbelieving individuals miserably fail to realise how their positive experiences with irreligiosity are unique to them. I believe them when they say religions repress them. But, I can’t listen to them when they say believers love being repressed.

Some of us genuinely feel religiosity is liberating, not suppressing. Often times, we feel empty and go astray in the world. Religion can be an emotionally-benevolent counsellor, bestowing us the liberty from the worldly abyss and sense of lost. It has nothing to do with loving oppression which, believe it or not, we also loathe as ungodly immoral.

It also has nothing to do with our loathe of reason and science. Some of us still love both. We still use them to understand our earthly surroundings and to intellectually challenge ourselves. Their duties are different from the ones of our beliefs. For us, they cannot be fused together. But, they can make great allies that enrich our innermost lives.

The segments above show my attempt to articulate the contention of spirituality and religion, as objective as I possibly can. Just kidding! I’m neither a journalist nor an academic. I barely made efforts to filter my own biases. So, that being said, I should continue by recounting my personal experiences and pretend they are universally relatable. Let’s start with the ignorance and hypocrisy of my fellow believers.

‘You are not spiritually enlightened!’

‘You are an atheist!’

‘You are immoral!’

There you go. Three of the most common sentences my fellow believers have said to me. If you are open-minded enough, you would immediately notice the problematic nature.

Once again, they’re unable to acknowledge their experiences’ lack of universality. The annoyance become harmful when they start ‘evangelising’. When I said ‘evangelising’, I meant harassing and guilt tripping their victims who have no time for narrow-mindedness.

Also, they use the word ‘atheist’ as an insult. The notion that disbelieve is related to lacking enlightenment and morality is ill-founded. In fact, many atheists have proven themselves to be more enlightened and more moral than those self-righteous believers. Many great thinkers, scientists and artists of the contemporary world are atheists. I’ve never heard of atheists who kill in the name of atheism. Never.

I should be more detailed with this farcicality. I always disclose my Islamic identity and agnostic theism (yes, that’s a thing). Even then, I only do so when it’s relevant to the topic of conversations. I’m muted about my spiritual life. I did try to explain in full details. But, I ended up babbling incoherent assortment of words and feeling extremely naked for exhibiting an intimate aspect of my life. This shows how my spirituality is both inexpressible and private.

Sermons, inspirational stories, joint rituals. Inspiring to me, they are not. Why would they be so? As an individual, I’m free-spirited enough to not fall for superficiality, gooey sentimentality, cliches and guilt-tripping. Free-spirited enough to know what’s spiritually good by myself, without getting dictated by humans who have skin-deep judgment of the true me. Of course, that makes an outcast out of me.

Some people I know believe spirituality is all about bragging and getting easily awed. Don’t do either one and they will accuse you heresy or, in my case, atheism. They think they are shaming me for being a bad person. But, in reality, they are shaming me simply for being different. As always in the case of religious people, there’s hypocrisy.

Those believers are the same ones who condemn extremists for their intolerance of human differences, for their supposedly ‘heretical’ and ‘ungodly’ treatment of fellow human beings. Yet, they shame people like me for having the gut to call ourselves believers. What can I expect living in a country where religiosity is almost inborn?

I have never met openly anti-religious individuals offline. Only met them online. Because of that, my negative experiences with them are lesser in quantity. But, the annoyance and nastiness still disturb my psyche. Yes, like religious people, they can also be hypocrites and zealots.

The hypocrisy arises every time they label religiosity as irrational. Admittedly, there’s a truth in the accusation. But, it’s very hard to take them seriously when they themselves suffer from scientism. They believe science is an authority figure who has all of the absolute truths on its hands. That’s not what science is.

Science is a set of instruments and theories used to methodically study the observable and measurable universe through experimentation; if repeatable, its results may end up as new scientific theories. My definition is unabashedly schematic. But, that’s the best I can do. Besides, if you compare mine with the ones you find on google, you can tell I make out the nitty-gritty.

In principal, science does not manifest and believe in absolute truths. Science is indeed the best medium out there to grasp our material world. But, it is not perfect. The instruments and theories which shape its foundation are – and need to be – upgradeable. If the new ones are more orderly and more sound, why stick with the old ones? Perpetual self-enhancement. That what makes science beautiful.

In case you forgot, what is now pseudo-science wasn’t so long time ago. Geocentrism, astrology, numerology, phrenology, alchemy. At one point in human history, they were all regarded as scientifically valid. Science started as philosophy. But, thanks to all the refinement brought by dedicated and inquisitive scientists, they were all replaced by more solid disciplines. It’s a history rejected by those so-called ‘rational’ disbelievers.

For them, science is an entity whose essence is fixed from the very beginning and will remain so. Those individuals accuse believers of zealotry towards their own beliefs, not realising they are guilty of the same thing. They refuse to acknowledge the existence of critical-minded believers. Yes, we do exist. Believe it or not, some of us are not fanatics. Irrational and hypocritical. Add self-righteousness to the disbelievers and the set is complete!

I will dedicate the next segment on anti-religious atheists. Judging from my personal experiences (emphasise on the word ‘personal‘), they are the non-religious individuals who are guilty of this sin the most.

Again, like believers, some of them love to claim higher moral standing. As stated before, I’ve never heard of atheists killing in the name of atheism. But, if you want to claim something that loaded, make sure that it is an actual reality.

Just give me one evidence that supports such assertion. No, the atrocities committed by believers is not it. The sins of your enemies do not warrant your supposed morality. How you treat your fellow human beings does. Oh and I can prove that immoral atheists exist. Just take a look at communist countries. You know, those officially atheistic countries.

They were good in discriminating, imprisoning and killing anyone not in line with government-approved ideals. As religiosity was not one of them, religious people were among the victims. At certain periods, they were treated like atheists in Muslim countries. Surely, you cannot deny this part of human history.

Yes, I know it’s history. I know we should move on instead. But, history isn’t meant to be forgotten; it’s meant to be a testimony of the true human nature, a testimony in which we can learn a lot from. If you’ve learned from it, you would not quantify a person’s morality from the identity he/she associates with. If you equate atheism with morality, you are on the same league with those religious zealots. No, I won’t stop making that comparison.

Even though I’ve interacted with many anti-religious pricks online, I’ve received only encountered one attack targeted personally to me. One person premised how people have used religions to justify their acts of inhumanity. Therefore, he concluded that every person who still observe a religion willingly tolerate or even partake in inhumanity itself. Yes, he actually said that.

That’s what we call Guilty By Association, which is an actual fallacy and that invalidates his argument. No, I’m not committing fallacy fallacy which refers to invalidating true conclusions based on false premises. In this person’s case, his true premise was followed by a false conclusion. But, this is not what agitates me the most.

He also carried out a nasty ad hominem against me. What he said seemed impersonal. But, he blurted that out while we were having a one-on-one conversation and he specifically said the word ‘you’, insinuated that I also tolerated and partook in religiously-motivated inhumanity. Well……..

People who actually know me will immediately scream ‘bullshit’. I’ve condemned so many forms of religious bigotry and violence. Often times, I’m very vulgar with my condemnation to the point of aggravating religious apologists, who declare non-existing perfection of their religions and religious communities.

Also, I’ve done many bad things in my life, motivated by nouns that end with ‘-phobia’. But, not once I harmed my fellow human beings in the name of Islam. Not even when I was a backward-minded believer! Once again, my religiosity is personal and it never dictated how I treated others. So, what he said about me was false. Yet, his words affect me to this day.

I don’t know why I’m still hurt. I am indeed insecure about myself. But, when it comes to my morality, I am the complete opposite. I also welcome the possibility of me being the immoral one; if you hate self-righteousness, it’s hypocritical to announce yourself as entirely and absolutely moral. Once I detect a hint of immorality in me, I should thrive to eliminate it. Maybe the exasperation I’m having right now is the result of the insult itself.

Well, not really. I’ve been called with many things in my life. Being a loser means abundance of verbal abuse is expected in one’s life. But, admittedly, a handful of them are extremely hurtful. I haven’t found the ‘hurt’ factor yet. But, I often assume the insulters aren’t just trolls. They are genuinely mean-spirited individuals who have deep-rooted desire to make me see myself as a subhuman they think I am.

But, in the end, my own religiosity and spirituality are and will always be my personal matters. No one, not even powerful religious organisations, have the right to intervene. My morality does affect others. But, as long as I’m willing to clean mine every time it gets dirty, I don’t think I have anything to worry about at the moment.