rovik. and friends discuss: imposter syndrome

It seems like the phrase has been used a lot recently, especially amongst friends moving onto new chapters of their lives and recognizing that they are amongst unfamiliar communities. It is one thing to know it, but it is another to recognize it and to actively work against it and in a world where everyone feels entitled to tell you how you should live your life, it has become important to reflexively identify the force of the imposter syndrome and to cut its annoying tendrils early on.

As usual, here are some useful readings we collected that could be instrumental in your understanding of Imposter Syndrome:

  1. Five Types of Imposter Syndrome – Fast Company
  2. Minority Groups and Imposter Syndrome – NY Times
  3. The Imposter Syndrome Test

Also, this is new for this kind of posts, but this is one of the first themes where I found a good number of graphics on what Imposter Syndrome is. So rather than strictly describe it, here’s an answer to the question of

What is Imposter Syndrome?



It seems like in our highly information-centric world, the ability to know or do everything is seen as a simple skill to possess. The desire to meet these standards of excellence that only extreme outliers have been known to possess drives this obsession with reminding one’s self that they are not good enough. But frequently, these views are unfounded and based on claims that themselves have weak roots in reality.

I found it interesting how the Imposter Syndrome happens in two scenarios frequently: 1) in new environments such as schools or workplaces 2) as a minority in a setting with not much representation. Both of these have dynamics of unfamiliarity and we find comfort in telling ourselves that we do not belong rather than staking our claim. The irony is that most of the times the hard work is already done – you already earned your way to that spot. By the very merit of who you are, an external party has accredited you for being worthy of being in the environment in question. And if you don’t deserve to be there, it should be the signals of the system that make you leave i.e. poor performance reviews and bad grades. If your self-esteem doesn’t give you confidence, the clear signals should. The only exception to this is in scenarios when systems are biased against minority groups e.g. women. In such scenarios, having validation from peers in the industry/ environment is a good supporting signal.

What can we do against Imposter Syndrome?

I was personally also curious about how some people can use Imposter Syndrome as a tool of attack. It is important to recognize how one can help themselves work against Imposter Syndrome and perhaps just as importantly, help others work against it.

The topic of Imposter Syndrome also intersects well with a bunch of other personal development topics. Being honest and open gives you the vulnerability to talk through these issues rather than deal with them yourself. Recognizing your ego can limit you, aids you in understanding that ultimately there are bigger issues worth caring about. Self-care equips you with the skills and understanding to feel strong in dealing with Imposter Syndrome attacks.

I was surprised by how much I had taken for granted my network of peers and mentors in helping me send clear signals along my personal development. In times where I felt uncertain, such as in the army or when I ran my own youth organization, I definitely experienced Imposter Syndrome in conversations with more experienced or established people. But I had to hold my own and be confident by recognizing my self-worth and testing progress against the good-faith opinions of my peers and mentors.

I also use journaling and blogging as a tracker of mistakes and achievements alike. Logging and tracing my personal development has provided me markers that remind me that even when I feel extremely undeserving (or opposedly too cocky but that’s a different theme), I have a personal history to back me up and provide me lessons of instruction. Small victories are huge in pushing people forward on journeys that seem overwhelming or impossible.

Organizations need to be better at sending signals to people within them on why and how they deserve to be where they are. Provide feedback when possible and affirm the qualities that are valued. We need to skip the phase where Imposter Syndrome is vilified and recognize humans struggle in new environments and can use proper onboarding and orientation programs.


It’s one thing to know what Imposter Syndrome is but when one experiences it, it normally takes a good friend or a good head to recognize the phenomenon. The world is incredibly complex and ever so more dependant on people who know how to navigate the knowledge and relationships. Anything that stops you from being your personal best has to be held with scrutiny and given its place in the dump. Don’t rob yourself of your place.


rovik. reads: the alchemist

I don’t think I’ve ever read a book more than once so it was interesting to revisit The Alchemist for my book club. In our attempt to choose a short book that would accommodate everyone’s busy summer schedule, Paulo Coelho’s most famous work was shortlisted as a good compromise between being interesting and feasible. The last time I had read the book was when I was 13, so there was a layer of retrospection in seeing to what extent the book had shaped my path thus far and how a more mature (hopefully) perspective would glean new insights.

The Alchemist follows the shepherd Santiago on his journey to find a treasure hidden near the Pyramids of Egypt. He meets a number of characters along the way including an alchemist, a king, a tribal chieftain and even a romantic interest. Each character is meant to challenge or support Santiago in his journey to discover his Personal Legend, an explicit call for Santiago to find his reason for being and the thing to achieve. Ultimately, Santiago’s journey brings us on a thematic exploration through the various forces that interact with the pursuer of the Personal Legend, such as the Soul of the World, a universal binding force, or the greatest lie, a deception away from pursuing the Personal Legend.

Paulo Coelho’s work reminds me of some of my own earlier attempts at writing, where themes were so explicit they became slightly cringe-inducing. It could be because the original was written in Portuguese and the translation is not as poetic, or it could also be because Coelho wasn’t necessarily trying to tell a great story as much as he was trying to convey a message. As an older reader, I had a bit of a cynical lens to some of the simplistic claims made in the book, such as that everything can ultimately be within our control. Reality is not as gracious, and I already consider myself privileged. There are parts of the world where hope faces fierce opposition by oppression, suppression and violence. The Alchemist definitely speaks to a more idealistic class of people.

Having said that, I appreciated Coelho’s mapping of the journey of the pursuer. As a traveller and adventurer, I loved the illustration of Santiago’s journey through Moorish Spain and then North Africa, regions I have seen myself.  There are reasons why travel is a useful metaphor for our own journeys to find our Personal Legends and The Alchemist demonstrates this well through vivid descriptions of terrains and ecosystems.  The key lessons are also accurate. As someone who is personally coming to the tail end of my existentialist crisis, I recognize the need for features such as a Personal Legend and the Soul of the Universe. These are compass points in the now open-ended landscape I am traversing and useful indicators of how on-track I am.

Coelho is also a master at coming up with powerful quotes. I’ve collected a number for my personal preference but here are my favourites.

“And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

“When we love, we always strive to become better than we are. When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.”

“The simple things are also the most extraordinary things, and only the wise can see them.”

“We are travelers on a cosmic journey, stardust, swirling and dancing in the eddies and whirlpools of infinity. Life is eternal. We have stopped for a moment to encounter each other, to meet, to love, to share. This is a precious moment. It is a little parenthesis in eternity.”

Here are my ratings for the book:

Readability: 5/5

Intellectual Stimulation: 2/5

Perspective Shifting Capability: 2/5

Would I Recommend? – Not urgent, but definitely a good short read

june updates: i know i’ll be just fine

Background music recommended:

Five years ago, at a networking event as the founder of The Hidden Good, I met a man 8 years older than me. He looked me straight in the eye and said “I’m glad you’re doing this (referring to The Hidden Good). I look back at my youth and just have regrets for not doing it right.” I don’t think I had seen as clear a look of regret in my life and promised myself that very second to live my best life always, regardless of the circumstances. Tomorrow morning at 11am GMT+1, I take my final flight back home to Singapore. This chapter closes, four years of my youth in the western hemisphere, and a new one begins, where I try to find my roots again.  The reflection is important because a lot has happened – I am most definitely not the same man who left on that first flight out to Chicago. Have I become better? Am I just more confused? These are questions I try to answer as I write this post.

I think the most profound realization I’ve experienced in the past four years is how difficult it is to live a good life. Existentialism is a question that pursues anyone, religious or not. Why are we here and if we choose to do good, how can we best do it? The past four years have brought me on a roller coaster, having to put myself in contexts where similar solutions don’t always produce similar outputs. I recognized that there are parts of me that needed to be corrected: biases I need to work against and lifestyle choices that don’t fully convey principles I believe in. Chicago and London provided me with great grounds to make those mistakes and learn from them, being surprisingly forgiving of individual flaws as long as the individual was willing to commit to improvement. The truth was that I learnt it was more important to try to be good than to think one was good at all. There is value in learning about the different ways people try to be good. I’ve relooked Christianity, detached from the prosperity dogma that plagues hyper-capitalist economies, to understand why people do good in those contexts. I’ve explored modern and ancient philosophers, to understand how we ought to live our lives. I’ve come to two eternal patterns that I believe to be closest to satisfactory: the pursuit of truth and beauty. To be true to yourself and to others liberates you from the nagging annoyance of falsely constructed interactions. When you pursue truth, you find beauty, the most real manifestation of patterns in this world. Whether that be from standing in the Atlas Mountains in North Africa or watching the tango in Buenos Aires, beauty reminds you that there are things in this universe that do make life worth living and celebrating. Truth and beauty are magnificent reasons to live, and powerful drivers to do good in this world.

I’ve always thought of myself as a sociable person. I had a hard time in school as a kid because I never felt like I fit in anywhere. I was an individual being forced to fit into structures and systems. Those who did fit themselves in succeeded by the standards of the system. I could play the game, sure I won a trophy or two playing to the system’s needs. But after a while, my frustration manifested in the various projects I involved myself in.  In Chicago and London, I was loved by my friends for being an individual, not a product of the Singapore system. I found other individuals, unique beautiful people who cared about what they did and the people around them, and who inspired me to find more people like them. As I visited the 45 countries that I did, I had the pursuit of the spark of humanity that connected us all. How can we be both individuals and part of a collective called humanity? What connects us and what draws us together. I don’t have an answer, many thinkers such as Yuval Harari and Jordan Peterson seem to think they’re close, but I am on that journey and will continue to see the world for what it is. I am so blessed to have friends, real and honest, who are thriving in all parts of the world, and who I am glad to care for and have reciprocated such care to me.

The world can be difficult. I have stumbled many times. I have made many mistakes, not all of them forward falls. I try to be as honest as I can about them here, but there are many that even I don’t have the courage to tell others about. Yet, I know that one day I must tell these stories because pain is part of growth. Struggle is part of growth. Overcoming fear is part of growth. These are lessons I thought would have been relevant in the army, but because these weren’t lessons I taught myself, they never fully sunk in.  I have learnt to deal with loneliness in a world that is so full of people. I have learnt to appreciate that good things take time. I have learnt to accept that people take their own paths to the same destination. But all of them came from difficult moments in my life, in the most dramatic parts of the world.

The universe can be an epic drama and frequently we try to distance ourselves from it to protect ourselves from over-sensationalization. Intellectual apathy is preferred over empathetic investment. There is merit in the latter. As I go back to Singapore, I am fired up because I know there are issues in Singapore I can help address. Singapore is a hyper-legal, hypermasculine society that needs to better support creative deviants, economic fallouts and intellectual challenges. It is also vibrant, diverse, full of opportunities, rich with purpose and with a young story worth watching unfold. The complexity of it all provides the backdrop for the important work to be done to improve the lives of real people.  This is an environment I’ve been preparing myself to come back to. For the past four years, I’ve been trying to connect every lesson back home. Now I finally get that opportunity. Now, I can finally get into it.

I’m so excited.

rovik. and friends discuss: tyranny

Some of our biggest foes tend to be the same darkness cloaked in different robes. In a society that espouses stronger values of democracy through the internet and promotes a freer world through market access, it is easy to simply accept that tyranny is long left behind in a former age of fascism. Rather than analyze any single tyrant, in particular, our group decided to have a discussion on what exactly tyranny is constituted by and how it manifests itself, expanding the conversation to seeing new forms of tyranny from the personal to the corporate level.

Unlike other open-ended discussions, we actually relied on one book for a series of 20 short essays that pinpointed specific traits of tyranny. This allowed a broad discussion across interests. The book is called On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder.

The first idea of tyranny that I found enlightening is that it often operates under the guise of revolutionary subversion and escape. Tyranny begins with the idea that what is currently in front of us is all a massive ploy that restricts us from achieving more, often creating villains in the process. These villains could as recognizable as ‘immigrants’ or as ambiguous as ‘the ultra-rich’. Without denying the possibility that these groups could be shaping (more likely, without even knowing that they are) the national landscape, the creation of a grand drama provides the best platform for tyrants to consolidate power and achieve results. These often take the form of knocking down independent institutions, deriding the free press, replacing language and correcting contexts to be in their favour. Tyranny begins with the powerful lie that you can only achieve what you want with the help of the tyrant. I found this fascinating because while I have a slight cynicism towards vast governmental oversight, I was able to map some of the methodologies described here to personal encounters. From abusive relationships to intolerable student associations, tyranny has not been absent from my communities. The idea also could extend to the massive expansion of multinational firms and organizations that take advantage of the governance gap to exploit situations to their benefit. Facebook, under the guise of ‘Connecting the World’, has created a pseudo-kingdom where people are often subjected to its decisions with very little actual room to escape. The internet too, a tool to enable wider participation, has now become a platform for people to create walls and to enable the proliferation of untruths. Rather than sound like a conspiracy theorist that’s listing out anyone who has extensive power, I’ll caveat with the consideration that identifying elements of tyranny assist us in foreseeing trends and protecting ourselves against abuses, regardless of how docile a tyrant’s goal may seem. It is worth being alert and having a healthy level of cynicism.

What can one do to protect themselves from tyranny? The libertarian in me values the protection of individual life and the ability to practice life without forceful influence from others Such protections disable the state (and other tyrannical parties) from abusing relationships to their own end with disregard of my own interests. Protecting institutions, participating in community-level projects, advancing dialogue in the neighbourhood – these are all initiatives that remove overdependence on the potential tyrant and provide humans with the ability to be in charge of their own destinies in regard to others. The liberal critique is often that such a view comes from a position of privilege, one that I am willing to concede to. Often, minority or historically disadvantaged communities require some sort of state intervention and reshaping to correct injustices and level playing fields. The danger, of course, is that minorities also tend to be oppressed by similar affordances. One only needs to look at Trump’s use of Obama-era policy mechanisms to reverse the targetting on minority communities.  Once again, it seems that the long-term solution of community-driven intervention led by individuals without the ability to consolidate excessive power should be a priority. State and corporate activities should be supportive and encouraging of such initiatives with policy tools that augment. There are obvious limitations but I personally value the prevention of some sort of neo-fascist wave over any short-term stop-gap.

I’ll admit my views on tyranny and its current form in society is still in the process of being shaped. I am unsure of what exactly the individual’s ultimate goal should be and how that also affects decisions at every level of politics. What I do know is that I hate how humanity fell under the allure of tyranny in the past century, and I would hate it if we did it again.

rovik. reads: player piano

As a Computer Science major with a career dedicated to innovation and technology development, I realized the need to struggle with the ethics of unbridled automation and technology utilization. Thankfully, even before the presence of Deep Mind and driverless cars, Kurt Vonnegut attempted to portray a dystopic world in his 1952 novel, Player Piano. I was encouraged to read it as an early precursor to the current debates around technology and have to admit that I was really surprised by how much Vonnegut got right. Themes around sovereignty, efficiency and revolution come to the forefront in this novel.

The story centres mostly around Paul Proteus, son of one of the nation’s most important industrialists who led the charge in automating most of the nation’s economy, essentially restructuring the country to be industrially focussed. He became more crucial to national decisions than even the President. Paul, however, is conflicted on the role he plays in this giant machine. The increasing automation has displaced many engineers, operators and technicians, causing them to be reemployed under a national program called the Reconstruction and Reclamation Corps, also called the Reeks and Wrecks. A divide happens naturally with engineers staying on one side of the river and the rest living on the other. Paul becomes embroiled in the drama of tension between these two forces, ultimately deciding to join the revolution to overthrow the industry-driven authority.

There are a number of important moments in the book, but perhaps the most important is Paul’s realization that there is something worthy in human aspiration and purpose to preserve. The simple allocation of work according to some automated efficiency metric takes away the choice and autonomy of people to make decisions, bad or good, and learn from them in how they see themselves as people.

“What do you expect?” he said. “For generations they’ve been built up to worship competition and the market, productivity and economic usefulness, and the envy of their fellow men-and boom! it’s all yanked out from under them. They can’t participate, can’t be useful any more. Their whole culture’s been shot to hell.”

There is a stark juxtaposition between the cold, calculative nature of machines and the warm, unpredictable nature of humans. At one point, Paul’s wife, a minor foil in the story, is seen to be as comparable to a machine, with a character saying he could easily program something similar easily. There is an Orwellian string here of the humans who become closely affiliated with the machines to become more and more like machines themselves, yet ultimately failing from their human nature. Humans who become data points and simply factors of production resist the system because it is not aligned with their truths.

“The main business of humanity is to do a good job of being human beings,”

What’s the warning here? Vonnegut only imagined machines as they were back in the day, giant systems of control that were meant to drive efficiency. However, today’s machines are designed to be collaborative, with the human in mind. Machines are meant to assist rather than replace, to enhance rather than deny.  Yet, this focus on efficiency and staying within the system is still a present phenomenon. Society has weak metrics for the evaluation of purpose and satisfaction and for good reason: such things are difficult to measure. However, a strong sense of technology determinism to improving the world is both misguided and dangerous for a humanity that was never meant to be cold and calculative.

“I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center.”

There are a number of other plot moments and characters in the story but they ultimately circle back to these themes. The machines in Player Piano are not sinister like in Terminator nor manipulative as in Space Odyssey. In fact, they are simply machines, with no voice and influence on society beyond the imprinting of purpose and tyranny by their designers. It is this irony that gets me the most. We would be happy to blame the machines, but we must ultimately watch ourselves, the designers and implementers of technology. If anyone was to cause the dystopia in Vonnegut’s Player Piano, it would be us not the machines.

Here are my ratings for the book:

Readability: 5/5

Intellectual Stimulation: 3/5

Perspective Shifting Capability: 2/5

Would I Recommend? – For those looking a good fictional read, add this to your list.

may updates: the adventure has just begun

I really should be studying right now but taking a break is always a welcome respite, especially when it means I can take some time to write here. I’ve been seeing a lot of chatter online about quarter-life crises and since I’m turning 25 in a couple of weeks, I had been wondering if I too should be in some sort of existential crisis. The truth is that there are some heartfelt issues but I’ve also been revisiting the five life goals I established 5 years ago and I’ve decided to use them as a base to leap over this crisis of identity.

I’ll be finishing school once again, but this time I’m finally going back to work for the Economic Development Board of Singapore. It has been a long time coming. I got the scholarship six years ago and have developed a relationship with them. Yet, in these six years, both of us have changed slightly beyond recognition.

I have become a lot more progressive in my values and more rooted in truths about our lives. I have built friendships that span the globe and have seen what it means to truly care for someone else. I have also seen what it means to lose someone, whether it be to death, drugs or any sort of dread. I have understood that experiences matter more than arbitrary metrics and that society can be both incredibly problematic as well as surprisingly hopeful.  Chicago and London have become new homes for me, still secondary to Singapore but important enough to have heartfelt memories that are deeply embedded. These four years in the western hemisphere have taught me many things. I have learned to value the positives, critically question the ambiguous and condemn the downsides.

EDB too has changed, structurally. I am ready, and in all honesty, have no choice but, to apply myself and fulfil the driving reason of my initial application: to give Singaporeans jobs they are passionate about and to make Singapore competitive on the global field.  I have friends in the organization, and colleagues with similar energies as me. To live as a working man, saving for a future and being financially free, seems like the endpoint I’ve been building for this past six years, but we know it’s only the beginning.

I see my life as a story waiting to be written. Each chapter is rich, full of adventure and mystery, entangled in risk, reward and utter luck, but each chapter is also the prelude to the next. The past six years of my life are what I will remember as “The Exploration”, a manifestation of my inner will to be independent and to discover who I am as well as the rejection of every sad trope that adults grapple with on how they did not fully exploit their early youth. I wanted to live life fully every day of my life, especially while I had the energy and opportunity to do so, and I am incredibly satisfied with how I did it. I travelled, felt love, gave back love, got lost, was found, tore down structures and witnessed monumental parts of our history. I have stood in the heat of some of the world’s most iconic moments and have lived to tell the tale.

The next chapter, unnamed for now but assuredly spanning the next five to six years, will capture me as a young adult. Seeing my life as a storybook has allowed me to plan out my life, loosely of course, with one focus for each decade. Early readers of my blogs will remember the five goals I set for myself years ago. I have taken the time now to revisit them and make them not only more explicit but also updated to fit my current profile. For accountability and curiosity, you can see them here

My 20s will see me wrap up my travel career and laying the groundwork for the project of my 30s: talent management. I will not let myself be trapped in a cycle of work and rest without time to continue being a source of energy and curiosity. I will live and love. Ultimately, my time on this world will be dedicated to exploring the beautiful parts of our human experience and empowering the creation and generation of more beauty. If you want to join me on any of these journeys I am embarking, I would be ecstatic at the companionship.

Quarter life crises are a result of the liberation from the state-led propaganda to live one’s life according to some set of norms. Once you realize you can live your life freely, then as Sartre famously declares, you are condemned to be free. You must make meaning of your life and you must choose to live with those consequences. I have chosen to live passionately and will continue to do so,.


rovik. and friends discuss: talking to liberals

I am often confused with my own politics, not because I do not know my own values and principles, but because I do not wholeheartedly identify with any political party or movement. I always find myself supporting the overall goal of a movement or the majority of the tenants of a party’s manifesto but also not in favour of the methodology or other key tenants that come with the package. Most of the time, I’ve found myself on the progressive side of the camp and holding strong libertarian beliefs, which regularly brings me to conversations with liberals and other politically left individuals. Still, it is here where I struggle to have conversations about politics because as I seek to form an informed opinion or have a productive debate I, and many others who have commented before, cannot get into the heart of the issue without feeling like we’re on a minefield. That is what our group tried to problematize and discuss today.

As always, here are the key resources we drew from:

  1. What is epistemic violence – StackExchange Forum
  2. WaPo’s Attempt to Help Liberals Argue With Conservatives Mistakenly Reveals Why We Struggle to Get Agreement – Reconsider Media
  3. Why Liberals Aren’t as Tolerant as They Think – Politico
  4. Is There Such a Thing as Too Much Freedom? – Slate
  5. “You Are The Problem Now!” Has Liberal Backlash Against Trump Supporters Gone Too Far? – HuffPost
  6. Why I’ve left my liberal comfort zone – and found conservative friends – Christian Science Monitor
  7. The case against no-platforming – Financial Times

It’s important to note that this post doesn’t reflect my political opinions as much as it shares my personal growth in developing those opinions. Dialectics does require accepting that there are inherent contradictions in some arguments and that we have to sometimes problematize the situation to develop a better argument. As a left-leaning individual, I feel compelled to recognize that a lot of our views are getting misrepresented and misheard, and seek a better way to resolve the issue.

Problematization of the Issue

As mentioned before, I believe that a lot of social issues the left normally campaigns for are important. Topics like gender equality, legalization of homosexuality, fair trade, race equality and avoidance of war are issues (amongst others) that I can both argue fervently for and also be resolute in. These arguments tend to happen for me in places of small-P politics like the bar or the living room, not in places of big-P politics like a parliamentary discussion or a rally. Yet, in both these areas, there are a number of problematic patterns that emerge:

  1. The shutdown of debate on the following terms:
    • The other party is pushing a dangerous agenda
    • The other party does not deserve a platform
    • The other party should not be centred as they are not the main agents
    • The other party will make others feel threatened
  2. The misrepresentation of the other’s views as
    • Ignorant
    • Evil
    • Oppressive
  3. Participants speak past each other instead of engaging with issues of conflict
  4. Participants attack personalities instead of arguments

The list is not exhaustive and neither does it represent all political discussions – I’ve definitely been witness to some productive discussions in the right settings – but a good majority of discussions I’ve seen or been in have had these patterns. A good example is a conversation between Sam Harris and Ezra Klein on their podcast. We tend to assume bad faith on the other’s part, a position that vilifies and other-izes the person we may be trying to understand.

There are a number of reasons for this, as the articles above go through. One of the key ones that I found interesting is the completely different frames of arguments that camps operate in. As Slate points out, often camps believe in similar values, just manifested in different ways. Personally, I’ve never been convinced or convinced anyone on my own terms. I’ve always had to cross the river and argue on their terms to make them realize their views have contradictions only my view has resolved.  Yet it is this very hesitation to cross the river lest we legitimize the other’s view that prevents productive conversation.

There is also a tension between two liberal principles: one which states that a person who is not the oppressed should not necessarily speak in arenas for change and the other which states that the oppressed should not need to always speak on behalf of their identity. There is a lot more nuance to these principles. For example, it is important to provide oppressed voices with a space to develop both their views and agency over their own empowerment. It is also important to recognize that a person’s life should not be completely restricted to representing one identity, a person of colour is also a father, a doctor and a recreational basketball player for example. But, it is also impossible for change to happen without allies and the development of a personal relationship with issues. How can someone who has no clue of what an issue stands for learn without participating in their own dialectic process? Once again, the denial of access to participation other-izes and increases the tribalistic nature of the stance.

The last issue that I personally find the most problematic is the elitization of liberal values. Some issues are easy to understand: everyone with agency should have the freedom to love. Some aren’t: our physical body and our gender expression can be two different things. What I don’t get is the simplification of a lot of these debates into “If you don’t know this, you’re stupid or evil”. I’ll be the first progressive to agree that a lot of these views require major perspective shifts and sometimes some intellectual work. Yes, most of these issues are heartfelt and therefore even without virtue of intellectual argument already important. Immigration, for example, is a matter of acceptance and human solidarity and so discrimination seems wrong. But a lot of times it is in the details that opponents have confusions. Again, affirmative action and trade agreements like the TTP are issues that really require intellect and stamina to understand in practice, and failure to comprehend these issues should not simply be seen as a value judgement. Many times, it can be intellectual laziness or even less surprisingly, a lack of formal education in that category. Not everyone is a political science or gender studies major – how can we demand the world all rise to the same level of argumentation in a short period of time? It is this very liberal elitism that has produced the likes of Ben Shapiro and Jordan Peterson, conservatives that thrive on ‘scientific’ and rhetorical foundations, and have provided an equally difficult-to-engage form of conservative elitism.

What’s the solution?

Alright Rovik, you may say, fair game – there are areas we have problems with. How should we reframe the debate? I think we need to go back to the heart of politics as issues about real people. Frequently we talk about these issues as if we are the only ones affected by them. Ezra Klein once said something I find interesting: Politics is a zero-sum game today, but policy can be a positive-sum game. If you truly care about the small-P politics, then we need to reframe the debate on middle ground terms, seeking empathy and understanding, especially if the other party comes in good faith. Of course, there can be bad-faith conversations where the person is simply seeking to misrepresent views or spread a harmful view, and those cases need to be handled appropriately. However, most political arguments are won through personal conviction. I don’t necessarily believe in compromise for everything, middle-grounds can be won by one side completely, but they are best won in the middle ground.

Furthermore,  we should hesitate from vilifying anyone who possesses an identity that is not the main agent of conversation. I am not convinced that legitimacy can be developed only simply because one identifies with the target of conversation. Legitimacy can be developed through studious analysis, argumentation and good-faith interest in the overall health of the parties involved. Yes, the oppressed and agents of conversation must be given space and platform to be represented but it is not necessarily the only view that is important. We must seek to make the whole system convicted, not create a schism within society.

Finally, we must accept that a lot of our views and policies can be elitist in nature, especially when engaging with others. I remember the video where debate on voter identification laws was put to the test with black voters, challenging rhetoric on discrimination. We must be introspective on our own views and ensure that if we argue with others that we are slow to criticize if the issue is inherently complex. Let us not be quick to simplify issues that are not and should not be simple.

Revolution can start with protest and uprising but is sustained through negotiation, argumentation and conviction. We seem to be good at the start, but we need to get better at the continuation. There’s a lot at stake and we need to be better at ensuring the issues we care for getting widely accepted.

What do you think? Disagree? Have a good faith argument with me in the comments section below!