Anything That Interests Me! :)

Monday, October 27, 2008

The education of Cyrus - Xenophon, Philosophy, and Education

The education of Cyrus - Xenophon, Philosophy, and Education

Anything that interests me!

Technically speaking, I was never interested in Xenophon's philosophy and his particularly pseudohistorical writing, but having studied his book the Cyropedia, I am now very interested in Cyrus, education and basically the rise to power of a wise and great king. The problem is that at first glance one would think that this Persian leader that Xenophon portrays is excellent, a real example that virtue and leadership can go together and that a virtuous leader, a philosopher king and stuff like that can and do exist.

Sad to say, but it's not true.


When I read Cyrus for the first time I was really impressed by his benevolence and kindness and how he always managed to make his enemies into his friends. He was a true hero in every sense of the word, and when he made his speeches about honour and glory, it really motivated me and I was really impressed, and mind you, I am one cynical person. I tried to find many reasons as to why he would be so virtuous but was unable to, and had to contrive to find anti-theses like Cyrus is doing things for his own profit, he was bluffing, he was lying and other stuff like that, but trust me it was hard, given Xenophon's portrayal of Cyrus the Great as really, truly and totally GREAT.

To take two examples, as a young man he managed to convince his grandfather's troops that he was an emperor and they followed him off to fight enemies. That was real leadership.

As for virtuous leadership, this man could invade another country, make the other king surrender with minimal loss of life, and then after that help to make peace with another country, such that his enemies became his friends! That is, he beat the heck out of the Armenians, and then when they complained that now they were weak and going to be bullied by the Chaldeans, he helped them against the Chaldeans and made peace between them. And to cap, he did not take loot, but only took what was owed him. Can you beat that?

A truly virtuous leader, and I really admired him.

And then I learnt in class that there was something fundamentally wrong with his virtue that led to the collapse of his empire at the end. 

Look, if he was truly such a powerful leader, why is it his empire collapsed when he died? If he was truly so good, why were there so many little doubts along the way to his rule? It's simple, really.

Ma'am's (that's my USP philosophy teacher) analysis was that he had linked virtue with rewards, and that was the problem - because now people did not do things for the sake of the things themselves ie. they did not do good because it was right to do so, but because of profits and the benefits that they could get.

The great Cyrus had set the example and the precedent because every good thing that he did led to his benefit, and he had tied virtuous living to earning money - that was precisely how he rallied his men and how he made friends! That is, the reality was that his enemies became his friends not because they were moved by his goodness (partly, I am sure, because he was such an inspirational person) but because he could benefit them. 

And precisely because he was good and virtuous, letting them be in charge of the loot and everything, and they could see that it was to their own advantage to hang about with a truly good man, that's why his empire collapsed once he died. 

Because... ultimately, it seems, there is no link between virtue and benefits. Cyrus, by his forceful personality, had forced the link between them such that virtue led to good ends.

What is worse, when I did my own research I realised that he was not even a pure virtuous leader either - and that Cyrus had winning the empire always in his mind. 

It turns out that Adam Smith was right. 

Cyrus was a really good man because he wanted to become king and emperor, and virtue made him rich and powerful and successful, and all his enemies did not want to fight him but to join him instead. Adam Smith 1, philosophies that deal with ethics and virtue o. I was told that Emmanuel Kant would never countenance lying. Well, Kant, you lose to Smith! 1-0. Cyrus the liar wins, because he had an empire, was rich, was famous and even better still, all his peers thought him virtuous and good! Whereas honest people like me and you, Herr Kant, are considered fools and naive. Kudos! I myself thought that Cyrus was virtuous, and it is very difficult to truly know whether he was or not, but one thing can be said - he was very cunning!

Now I go back to my work. I am writing an essay on virtue and leadership and I have hit, not the famous and dreaded writer's block, but the famous laziness disease. You're been reading my philosophical and personal thoughts on Xenophon the Greek philosopher and soldier, Cyrus the great king and philosophical thoughts on Cyrus' education.

Anything that interests me!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Anything that interests me - how magic and mentalism work!

Anything that interests me - how magic and mentalism work!

Alright - to raise revenue by giving advertisers and readers a more focused content, I shall really talk about my interests ONLY - it just so happens that I have many interests and these are the ones that can pay me, so I shall be writing more about mentalism, magic, psychology, economics and philosophy, instead of anything to do with my personal life :) That should keep me safe and sound from the censors too (because I heard that some people got arrested just for wearing some t-shirts). Thus, two things: writing focused content is a very good practice, and also, the police won't come to my door and accuse me of something bad.

On that topic of censorship since I am a liberal conservative (or a conservative liberal), and as my ex-girlfriend said "you're too westernised", I must say that I don't agree with censorship, but I think that in Singapore's case we happen to need it, so as long as censorship is not overboard it's perfectly alright. We need to preserve racial harmony and so we cannot have irresponsible talk because that would hurt the fabric of our society, and as I am a historian I have no wish for my country to become another Yugoslavia.

OK - how magic and mentalism work. The real focus of this rambling, I mean, beautiful post.

Mentalism is a kind of magic, so I shall actually be just speaking about how mentalism works. My friends are sometimes amazed that I can do card tricks (just two actually) and they come up with all sorts of innovative explanations to explain how I do it. But it's very simple, really - mentalism and magic are nothing more than just bar tricks/ parlour tricks that play tricks on your mind and fool it.

For experts on magic and mentalism, don't hang me on this because this is my interest and in no way means that I am a pro or an expert in magic or mentalism:

Magic and mentalism are basically about showmanship. Sleight of hand magic is basically magic that fools the eyes into seeing things that aren't there, and the speed and the legerdemain involved are the ones that convey the magical experience. On the other hand, mental magic or mentalism isn't like that - there really is no sleight of hand, and everything is done right in front of you, and right in front of the spectators and their faces. Therefore, the real magic of mentalism lies in the fact that it is all about showmanship and presentation.

There really is nothing difficult in predicting what someone will say if you already know what they are going to say. The really hard part about mentalism that makes it work is the showmanship.

Let me give you an example - I did some magic tricks last week when organising the German society Stammtisch. Actually I just helped out, because the major organisers were my friends, so I just did the entertainment. Hence: the magic. I actually predicted a card wrongly because I saw it wrongly. The crowd went ballistic and started laughing as my magic did not work. I paused, had another look at the deck of cards, then said, "OK, then is it this card then?" And that silenced them. The thing about it is that showmanship is key - they do not expect you to make mistakes and when you do, they relax, but you can easily make it all part of the skill, you clever clogs.

Misdirection means to misdirect someone away from the real thing and go for the bluff. By deliberately making a mistake you can misdirect someone.

Thus, in the same way, when I do my magic trick of memorising lists, I usually try to make it seem that there's another way that I memorise things. But there really isn't must to this magic trick, because this is just some memory trick. To flesh out this example: when you misdirect someone using a memory trick, you try to suggest to them that you do it using some kind of thing, by touching the words, by using the atmosphere, whatever. That will misdirect them. Next, you pretend that to do this particular trick is harder than it actually is, and voila - you are an amateur magician and mentalist as I am. It works, trust me. Go try it our on your unsuspecting, I mean, your erstwhile friends.

So to answer my own question posed at the start: how does mentalism work? Or how does the magic of mentalism work?

It's all about showmanship and misdirection. Mainly showmanship because there really isn't anything hard about it.

I suddenly feel a bit like Warren Buffett's relative who wrote a book on fishing. Heck, how do I know whether people have the same interests as me - magic, mentalism, psychology, history, philosophy, academics and stuff like that? Simple, I don't know. But in a whole bunch of people and with a suitably large number of readers, there certainly has to be something that I write that will interest you because I have tonnes of academic interests. Alright, cheers!

Anything that interests me!

Post script: There is also something I must say - there simply aren't any good old movie reviews around. Nowadays people always seem to go for new movies, which is good, but some of the older movies or the old movies are really good, and people don't go for them, which I think it's a crying shame. At the same time if I start writing a review blog of old shows and old stuff people are going to hang me, and I will run out of time to write about psychology and philosophy, which really interest me. Economics comes to play here - trade offs, trade offs! Sigh.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

A famous prophesy about the Prime Ministers of Malaysia

A famous prophesy about the Prime Ministers of Malaysia

Anything that interests me!
and in this case, a silly post about some trivia.

Isolated fact:

I was told by Ernest Chew when studying for USE2305 in early 2007 that there was a famous prophesy about the Prime Ministers of Malaysia.

Here goes:

Tun Abdul Rahman: Who will be the prime ministers of Malaysia?

Prophet: You just spell out your name: RAHMAN. Those will be the leaders, the first six.

And according to history (bear in mind I heard this story before the recent news...)

Abdul Razak
Hussein Onn
Abdullah Badawi

And the new prime minister of Malaysia is... *gasp*!

"KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia - Najib Razak, who is poised to become Malaysia's sixth prime minister, comes from a family of political aristocrats that produced two of the country's last five leaders."
News, correct as at 9 Oct 08, Singapore time.

Najib Razak.


What a good prophet!

I am amazed.

Anything that interests me!