Fragile States of Mind and Self

Compare the ways in which two texts you have studied show fragile states of mind and self

2019 JC2 March Common Test

Woman in Mind and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf are arguably disparate plays: thematically, one charts a woman’s descent into madness, while the other captures the domestic madness inherent in disappointed couples. I would however argue that the two plays are similar in their presentations of fragile states of mind and equally fragile identities. Both Woman and Woolf show fragile states of mind through familial conflicts, as seen through Susan and Gerald’s depressing interactions and George and Martha’s disparaging verbal conflicts. Both plays also evince the fragility of identity through the use of hostile external forces by having Susan succumb to a psychologically destructive nightmare, while Martha is seen to be expunged of her false identity as a mother through George’s exorcism. The ultimate intentions of both plays, however, differs greatly.

Firstly, both Woman and Woolf employ familial interactions as a method of evincing fragile states of mind. In Woman, this is especially seen from Susan’s depressive interactions with Gerald, where she exhibits an uneasy anxiety about their marriage. In the first Act of play, Susan confronts Gerald about their marriage and the lack of intimacy between them. Susan points out that they ‘don’t kiss’, ‘hardly touch each other’, ‘don’t make love’ and ‘don’t even share the same bed’, reflecting her desperate attempt to evoke a response from Gerald regarding their emotional distance. By admitting that they have lost the ‘really joyous part of us’ and thus lost their ‘purpose’, Susan exposes a deeply woeful feeling and expresses the desperation and unease she feels from her failing marriage to Gerald, thus displaying the vulnerable and fragile state of her mind. This is compounded by her later threats is Act 2 when she threatens Gerald that ‘if (he) leave(s) (her) now for that damn — book’, ‘(he) will have nailed up the final — door — in our relationship’. Here, the audience will distinctively realise that Susan is desperate to get Gerald to focus attention on her by emotionally threatening the finality of his abandonment should he leave her for his book. Additionally, the use of em dashes indicates her inability to form coherent sentences, a condition that may perhaps be symptomatic of her volatile emotions and her delicate state of mind.

Likewise, in Woolf, George and Martha’s hostile interactions evince the fragile state of George’s mind. This is firstly shown in Act 1 while Martha is recounting how George has disappointed her father. As she begins to fling caustic insults at George by calling him a ‘FLOP!’ in capitalised and hence in a vituperative manner, George responds by breaking a bottle, ‘almost crying’. Martha has successfully exposed George’s mental fragility and provoked it, such that George’s only response is to react explosively, breaking the bottle in a manner that mirrors the brittle and then broken state of his mind. This is later compounded by Martha’s flirting with Nick in Act Two, which is shown to provoke and destabilise George’s already unstable state of mind. George is described as ‘break(ing) down in ridiculing laughter’ as a result of Nick’s insult; the audience realises his emotional instability from the excessive and violent manner in which he responds, breaking down in a manner that highlights his fragile state of mind. Further on, the stage directions indicate that George ‘looks at the back in his hand and, with a cry that is part growl, part howl, he hurls it at the chimes!’ The combination of his anguish and anger as seen from the part ‘growl’ and ‘howl‘ serve to highlight his destabilised and hysteric state of mind, further compounding the impression of fragility through his emotional duress. While certainly the conflicts used in the two texts differ, both texts employ familial interactions to evince mental and emotional fragility.

Both plays also employ the use of harsh external forces to evoke fragile identities in their respective denouements. In Woman, the audience observes Susan’s mental meltdown at the hands of her fantastical constructs; these constructs in turn highlight her fragile sense of self. As the nightmarish wedding progresses, Susan is described by the stage directions as being ‘ignored’ with people being ‘less and less aware of’ her. She responds ‘in horror’ and with ‘increasing fury’, but is nevertheless ‘totally ignored’ indicating that her identity is primarily built basis of receiving attention. Susan’s identity as a mother and wife begins to crack as she declares that it is ‘grossly unfair ‘, her desperate and urgent need for everyone to ‘LOOK AT (her) AT ONCE’ an indication that she constantly requires external recognition for her identity to remain intact and assuaged. However, Ayckbourn seems to view this as shallow and dissolves completely as indicated by the regression of her language (December bee?). Finally, this culminates in a ‘last despairing wail’ where the crumbling vestiges of her selfhood collapse altogether (with ‘last’ here indicating finality and complete collapse) as a result of her isolation. The audience will certainly rote that this is due t the social isolation, seeing her fragile identity as one easily subverted by neglect and abandonment.

Similarly, the denouement of Woolf results in the loss of Martha’s fragile selfhood when George decides to expel the son-myth from their relationship. Martha’s fragile identity is shown in her hysterical and anguished response to the exorcism: so heavily dependent is she upon it that her identity crumbles in the face of its destruction. As George declares ‘our son is dead’, Martha devolves into visceral displays of denial, ‘quivering with rage’ and more specifically, ‘loss’. Her capitalised exclamations (‘YOU CAN’T DECIDE THAT FOR YOURSELF!’) betray how she has been completely robbed of the tenuous foundation of her identity, and as she releases a ‘howl which weakens into a moan’ charged with the grief of losing her identity, the audience recognises the excessive dependence he placed on the now extinguished son-myth to actualise bee identity. Hence, her Artaudian reactions and hysterical response, if anything, draws attention to her excessive reliance on fantasy for identity fulfilment and thus her fragile identity.

Indeed, while both Woman and Woolf present similar narratives of fragility, the ultimate intent of their narratives may be significantly different. While Woolf concludes with the possibility of regeneration of selfhood, Woman ends by having Susan’s identity completely collapse. Perhaps while both texts seem to agree that familial tensions and hostile external forces expose fragile states of mind and identities, Woolf takes an optimistic stance toward this fragility by offering the possibility of healing. Unfortunately, Woman suggests otherwise.

Lek Siang Ern (18-U1)

Military and Democracy in Southeast Asia

The term “stifled” can be defined as the military not allowing democracy to gain influence in independent Southeast Asian states. The military can be said to have stifled democracy as it was used as a tool for maximum governments to retain control while also crushing democratic movements in the 1980s and 90s. However, it can be argued that the military did not stifle democracy given the inherent failures of democracy and how democratic ideals were still upheld in certain Southeast Asian states. Even though the military did stifle democracy in the period shortly after decolonization and continued to attempt to do so, it was ultimately unable to stop and contain the will of the people for democracy.

It is said that the military stifled democracy in independent Southeast Asian states as it is often used as a tool by maximum governments and rulers to sustain or even expand their control, resulting in the ideals of democracy being unable to take shape. Given how such maximum governments almost always see the idea of democracy as a threat to their rule, the military will often be utilized by such rulers to actively purge the system of any semblance of democracy. As the rule of these rulers may often last decades, such actively suppression may have lasting impacts on whether democracy can flourish in the country. This can be seen in the Philippines, where Marcos declared martial law in 1972 and ordered the military to arrest thousands of anti-Marcos forces in Manila. This continued as Marcos became a authoritarian ruler, with the military being utilized by Marcos to stifle differing voices, mostly notably in the assassination of Benigno Aquino Jr., a prominent opposition leader, in 1983. In addition, in Indonesia, the military under Suharto caused chaos by ordering and encouraging civilians to kill any suspects communists and communist sympathizers, something which was deeply undemocratic and resulted in thousands of innocent lives being lost. These two case studies show how the military often crushed dissenting voices as well as political opposition, and given how freedom of speech is one primary facet of democracy, this in and of itself is a stifling of the ideals of democracy. However, the military can also be used as a force of good by civilian democratic governments, as seen from how the National Operations Council (NOC), whose membership included the military and was able to restore order after the May 13 Incident, which saw an unprecedented amount of ethnic violence in Malaysia, thus enabling democratic governments to act decisively.

The military can also be argued to have stifled democracy, given how it crushed democratic movements and public calls for democracy in the 1980s and 90s, preferring instead to try to cling onto their power against public opinion. The military of such maximum governments tended to use excessive force against mostly peaceful protesters and often denied the moves towards democracy even though it was the prevailing public sentiment to return to democracy. This can be seen in the case of Burma during the 8888 Uprising where thousands of protesters gathered against the military regime on 8 August 1988 but was fired upon, causing many innocent civilian deaths. The military not only displayed a cruel disregard for the lives of their own citizens, but also placed Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the National League of Democracy (NLD) under house arrest in 1989. Similarly in Thailand, General Suchinda also attempted to cling onto power despite promising to hold elections in 1993, firing upon and killing thousands of protesters for challenging his rule, with the violence only being halted thanks to King Bhumibol’s intervention. Both case studies highlight how the military often stubbornly held onto power while suppressing democratic movements, despite it being the overwhelming will of the people. However, the military did not always act against such democratic movements, as seen in the case of the Philippines during the People Power Revolution in 1983, where the military refused to fire upon protesters despite Marcos ordering them to do so.

However, the military in fact did not stifle democracy given the inherent weaknesses of a democratic political system and how democratic governments were typically met with failure during the period shortly after independence. The democratic system was often too slow, inefficient and was simply not suitable at the time as the political climate in many Southeast Asian states called for a strong and decisive leader. This can be seen in Burma, where the democratic government under U Nu was met with incessant civil strife due to U Nu’s inability to unite the various ethnic groups like his predecessor Aung San. U Nu proved to be insufficiently politically savvy, backtracking on promises such as forcing the Sawbwas to give up their autonomy in 1950. In contrast, Ne Win improved bureaucratic efficiency, dealt with pocket armies and reduced corruption all in the space of two years upon coming into power leading his caretaker government in 1988. Meanwhile in Indonesia, the democratic system was crippled as a result of political factionalism, as none of the four major parties commanded more than 25% of the popular vote in the 1955 elections. Their differing beliefs and political ideology meant that the government became deadlocked over the very principles of the new Indonesian state, thus showing how a democratic political system often led to slow and inefficient decision making when a newly independent nation often needed the exact opposite of such decisions. As such, democracy in the earlier stages of the independence of the various Southeast Asian states was not stifled by the military, as it was doomed by its very own shortcomings and failures which led to people choosing alternatives that were seen as more favourable.

Indeed, the military did not stifle democracy due to the fact that democracy was still able to thrive in certain Southeast Asian states, where the system of democracy has been somewhat sustained since independence. As such, it would be an over-generalization to state that the military completely stifled democracy throughout Southeast Asia, as these systems proved that democracy can find success in Southeast Asia. One such example is Malaysia, where the democratic system has held strong since its independence from the British in the 1960s, despite it undergoing certain periods of uncertainty such as the period of Konfrontasi with Indonesia and the 1969 racial riots. The military has remained largely subordinate to the democratic government, as seen from how all Defence Ministers have been civilians. Similarly, in Singapore, the military is also subordinate to ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), as it was developed from the ground-up only after Singapore’s independence from the British in 1965. The military has remained subservient to the civilian government throughout Singapore’s history, as the system of democracy was able to achieve notable economic success and enabled Singapore’s rise to being one of the four tiger economies in Asia by the 1980s. This shows how the military did not stifle democracy in Southeast Asia, particularly since the military is subordinate to the civilian governments in Singapore and Malaysia and has been throughout their existence. However, some may argue that Singapore and Malaysia merely used a different force in the police force and also similarly stifled ideals of democracy. This can be seen in both countries’ implementation of the Internal Security Act (ISA), with Malaysia notably arresting 119 dissidents in 1987 in response to protests from Chinese educationists. This can be said to be infringing upon the freedom of speech of the people, which is one key facet of any democracy. However, while the political structures of Malaysia and Singapore may not closely resemble that of a Western democracy, it does not change the fact that the military has remained mostly subordinate to civilian governments and played no role in stifling democracy in these two countries. On the contrary, the ideals of democracy and democratic structures have become deeply rooted into the Malaysian and Singaporean societies.

Benjamin Zhang (18-E1)

கற்கையில் கல்வி கசப்பு, கற்றபின் அதுவே இனிப்பு

‘’கேடில் விழுச்செல்வம் கல்வி ஒருவருக்கு மாடல்ல மற்ற யவை’’

என்று அன்றே வள்ளுவர் உரைத்தார். பழங்காலத்தில் ஆதிமனிதன் பாமரராய் விலங்கோடு விலங்காகக் குகைகளிலும் பாறை அடிகளிலும் வாழ்ந்து வந்தான். இன்றோ மின்சாரம், தொழில்நுட்பம் என்று நாகரீகம் பெற்று நவீன வாழ்வை வாழ்கிறான். இதற்கு அடிப்படைக் காரணம் கல்விதான் என்று திண்ணமாகக் கூறலாம். செல்வத்துள் செல்வம் மனிதன் கல்வியறிவு பெற்று விளங்குவதே ஆகும். எனினும், கல்வி கற்பதைத் தங்குதடையற்ற ஒரு பாதை என்று கூறினால் அது முழுப் பூசணிக்காயைச் சோற்றில் மறைப்பதாகும். இன்று இளையர்கள் பலர் கல்வியை ஒரு சுமையாகக் கருதி அதைக் கசப்புடன் நோக்குகிறார்கள். ஆனால், கல்வி நம் அன்றாட வாழ்விற்கு இன்றியமையாத ஒன்று என்று அறிந்து அதைப்போல் இனிதாவது எங்கும் இல்லை என்ற பேருண்மையை உணர வேண்டும்.

இன்றைய கல்விமுறை பெரும்பாலும் மதிப்பெண்களைப் பொறுத்தே விளங்குகிறது என்பது வெள்ளிடைமலை. அறிவைப் பெருவதற்காக உருவெடுத்த கல்வி, இன்று ஒருவரின் அறிவாற்றலை வெறும் இரண்டு மணி நேர தேர்வை வைத்து முடிவு செய்ய துணைப்புரிகிறது. இளையர்கள் சிலருக்கு இது ஏமாற்றத்தைத் தருவதோடு, இறுதியில் கல்வியை வெறுத்து அதைப் பாகற்காயைவிட கசப்பாக நோக்கவும் செய்கிறது. இவர்களின் சிந்தனையில் எத்தவறும் இல்லை என்பதும் உண்மைதான். ஆனால், இதைத்தவிர கடந்துபோகும் பாதை வேறொன்றும் இல்லை என்பதும் மெய்யாகும். கல்வியின் கரடுமுரடான பாதையைப் பற்றி மட்டும் சிந்திக்காமல் அக்கல்வியினால் பிற்காலத்தில் ஏற்படவிருக்கும் நன்மைகளைப் பற்றியும் சிந்தித்துச் செயலாற்றவேண்டும் என்பது பெற்றோர் தங்கள் பிள்ளைகளுக்குக் கூறவேண்டிய அறிவுரையாகும். கல்வியினால் பிற்காலத்தில் அவர்களுக்குக் கிடைக்கக்கூடிய நல்ல வேலை வாய்ப்புகளையும், இரசிக்கக்கூடிய வாழ்வையும் எண்ணி இன்று மாணவர்கள் தங்கள் கல்வியில் கண்ணும் கருத்துமாய் கடமையாற்றவேண்டும். இனிப்பான இளநீர் வேண்டுமென்றால் தென்னையில் ஏறத்தான் வேண்டும் அல்லவா?

‘‘ஈதல் இசைப்பட வாழ்தல் அதுவல்ல ஊதியம் இல்லை உயிர்க்கு’’

என்று வள்ளுவர் அன்று உரைத்தது இன்றைய மாணவர்களுக்குப் பொருந்தும். வாழ்ந்தால் புகழ் கிடைக்கும் அளவிற்கு வாழவேண்டும். அப்போதுதான் வாழ்வதற்கே ஓர் அடையாளம் கிட்டும். பிறந்தோம், வளர்ந்தோம், இறந்தோம் என்று இல்லாமல் படிப்பறிவு பெற்று சாதித்தோம் என்ற குறிக்கோளை வைத்துக்கொண்டு முயற்சியினால் சிறந்தோங்க முடியும் எனச் சரித்திரத்தில் பதிக்கவேண்டும். சுருங்கச் சொன்னால், கசப்பென்று எண்ணாமல் வரும் சவால்களை முயற்சியினால் எதிர்கொண்டு கல்வியை இரு விழியாக எண்ணி முழு ஈடுபாட்டுடன் இருந்தால், அது நமக்குப் பிற்காலத்தில் இனிப்பாக அமைந்து, பல நன்மைகளை வகுத்து நம் வாழ்வுக்கென ஓர் அடையாளத்தையும் தேடித் தருகிறது.

கல்வி என்பது ஏட்டுக்கல்வியை மட்டும் குறிக்காது. வாழ்க்கைக் கல்வியையும் குறிக்கிறது. அதனால், நாம் அனுதினமும் கற்கும் அனுபவங்களும் நமக்கு ஒரு பாடமாக விளங்குகிறது. சிலர் பொன்னான அனுபவங்கள்மூலம் கற்பார்கள். பலரோ கசப்பான அனுபவங்களின் வழித்தான் கற்பார்கள். உதாரணத்திற்கு, ஒழுக்க நெறிகளைக் கற்பிக்கும் பள்ளிகள் நல்ல நட்பு மற்றும் தீய நட்பின் முரண்பாட்டை விளக்கி மாணவர்களின் வாழ்வை நல்வழியில் உருவாக்க முயற்சி செய்கின்றன. ஆனால், இன்றைய இளையர்களில் பலர் அவற்றிற்குச் செவிசாய்க்காமல் தீய நண்பர்களின் செல்வாக்கிற்கு அகப்பட்டு, பிறகு பல இன்னல்களால் அவதியுறுகின்றனர். அதற்குப் பின்தான், இது தவறு என்ற உண்மையை உணர்ந்து, நல்ல நண்பர்களை நாடி வாழ்க்கைப் பாதையை மாற்றிக்கொள்கிறார்கள்.

வாய்ப்புகள் நமக்குத் தானாக அமையாது. நாம்தான் அவற்றை அமைத்துக்கொள்ள வேண்டும். அவற்றை அமைப்பதற்குக் கல்வி ஓர் இன்றியமையாத கருவியாகும். ‘எண்ணும் எழுத்தும் கண்ணெனத் தகும்’ என்பதைப் போல ஏட்டுக்கல்வியைக் கற்று அதோடு வாழ்க்கை கல்வியையும் ஒழுக்க நெறிகளையும் பயின்று இந்த உலகிற்குப் புகழ் சேர்க்கவேண்டும். இந்தப் பாதை நிச்சயமாகக் கடுமையானதுதான். குறைவான மதிப்பெண்கள், மற்றவர்களின் கேலி, கிண்டல் எனப் பலவிதமான கசப்பான விஷயங்களைக் கொண்டமைந்ததுதான் நம் கல்வியும் வாழ்க்கையும். ஆனால், அப்பாதையைக் கடந்த பின் நாம் கற்ற கல்வி நமக்கு அமிர்தத்தைத் தேடித் தரும். இன்று நாம் விதைக்கும் விதைகள் தானே நாளை நமக்குக் காய்க்கனி கொடுக்கும் மரங்களாகும்!

Balamurugan Hariharan (17-A5)











周琪人 (18-U5)

Prisoner’s Dilemma and Economics


“The hazards of the generalised prisoner’s dilemma are removed by the match between the right and the good.” – John Rawls

The prisoner’s dilemma is a standard example of a game analyzed in game theory that shows why two completely rational individuals might not cooperate, although it will result in an optimal outcome. The prisoner’s dilemma was framed by Merrill Flood and Melvin Dresher while working at RAND in 1950, reflecting a paradox in decision analysis. The background to this is illustrated by the scenario where two members of a criminal gang are arrested. These two members are interrogated separately and offered a deal. If both of the members confessed to the charges, both will serve two years in jail. If one confesses whereas the other remain silent, the confessor will be freed while the other will serve three years in jail. Lastly, if both remains silent, then both will serve a year in jail. Essentially, one can choose to cooperate with the partner (staying silent) or to defect and betray the the other (confessing). This can be better visualised in a payoff matrix.

  B stays silent B confesses
A stays silent A: +1 , B: +1 A: +3 , B: 0
A confesses A: 0 , B: +3 A: +2 , B: +2

Prisoner’s dilemma payoff matrix

The eventual outcome depends on each individual’s decision. In the case whereby both participants seek their self-interests by defecting, it will result in a less optimal outcome than when they have cooperated, meaning that their self-interest do not coincide with their best interest. The prisoner’s dilemma is normally used to help us in understanding the cooperation between two individuals.

In prisoner’s dilemma, each player’s decisions affects the other. The decision a player makes depends on what the player believe is best for him. In rational choice theory, each player will choose to defect as that has the best outcome. This is therefore the dominant strategy to employ. However, this will instead land them in the worst position. This concept is known as the Nash equilibrium, where no participant in a stable system can gain with a unilateral decision. The concept states an incentive for a player deviate from his original strategy after considering the other player’s decisions. Importantly, cooperation in prisoner’s dilemma stems from trust between the two parties. Both parties do not know the intention of the other and they usually do not have the chance retaliate after that decision. This tends to result in a stronger motivation to defect.

We may be unaware, but prisoner’s dilemma is in fact seen frequently in our daily lives.  One of the more commonly stated examples is in international relations. The recent trade war between China and America encapsulates this theory. Due to the trade imbalance with China, America feels incentivized to impose additional trade tariffs on Chinese goods, with the belief that it can change the balance of trade and put America in a better position than before. However, when it led to a retaliation from China, both sides suffer.

Another example will be on advertising strategy by different companies. When Company A advertises and Company B does not, Company A is likely to see an increase in its sales and Company B will probably see a decrease. Vice versa. However, should both companies advertise at the same period, both will likely retain the same sales figures but seeing an increase in expenditure on advertising. This means they are defecting. Yet if both adopt a cooperative behaviour by advertising less, they will have a win-win situation.

A more detailed example is prisoner’s dilemma as a model for oligopoly. Firms in an oligopoly can increase their profits by colluding and fixing prices to be (far) higher than market-clearing prices. The pursuit of self-interest and increasing individual outputs however, will result in smaller profits than monopolising. Hence, these firms are incentivized to monopolize the market through reducing output collectively. Despite so, collusive arrangements are inherently unstable. Individual firms are often enticed to lower their prices to increase their market share, therefore breaking the monopoly. In other cases instead of monopoly, firms in an oligopoly agree to have a “price leader” with other firms following so as to allow for generation of more revenues for all. Prisoner’s dilemma explains the breakdown in these price-fixing agreements, illustrating the difficulties in maintaining cooperation despite mutual benefits. This can be better understood in studying the case study of Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) as an Oligopoly.

As this essay concludes, perhaps today we can reconsider whether cooperation depends on the “complicated dynamics of environments where people challenge, betray and then trust each other over and over again or an internal sense of morality” (The New York Times, 1986). And some of you may be happy to know that in 2013, a real-life study done by 2 University of Hamburg economists on prisoner’s dilemma showed that inmates cooperated 56% of the time, far more than expected.


Lai Yi Qian (18-O5)


Write a critical comparison of the following poems, considering in detail ways in which language, style and form contribute to each poet’s portrayal of disappearance

2019 JC2 March Common Test

Both poems ‘The Art of Disappearing’ by Sarah Holland-Batt (Poem A) and ‘Disappearance’ by Boey Kim Cheng (Poem B) portray personae who deal with the disappearance of different collections of things in different ways: Poem A presents the disappearance as a result of change in one’s life and the subsequent accepting and firm manner of dealing with these losses of things in the past; Poem B, on the other hand, suggests disappearance is a form and result of loss, where the persona seems to struggle with attempting to cope with these losses. The tone of the poems, though speaking of the same subject matter of disappearance, thus differs as well. A is firmer and realistic, while B is nostalgic and pessimistic.

Both poems focus on the ‘disappearance’ of things in one’s life, be it people, objects or emotions of one’s life. However, A suggests that this is a natural, continuous process of things being removed to make way for new things, where B suggests instead that these disappearances are permanent removals of the people in one’s life. In Poem A, most strikingly, the persona asserts firmly that ‘something is always about to happen’. The absolute term ‘always’ and the qualifier ‘something’, that suggests ambiguity that allows it to represent anything and everything, give the sense of universality and applicability of this observation to any and all things in one’s life. This is further emphasised when taken in the context of the enumeration of things that ‘will not hold’. There are two patterns of transitions: first, from the three full sentences demarcated by the full stops and to the three semi-colons, and second from the long third line that shortness in each subsequent line. These patterns suggest the decreasing impact on the persona as if these ‘disappearances’ occur so often that the persona has now accepted it as a natural part of life. Overall, the persona views disappearance not as a bad thing, but an irrefutable and unstoppable phenomena (as seen in the certainty of ‘will not’). While the structure of Poem A gives the sense of a natural phenomenon, Poem B’s choice of words to describe these disappearances gives a more definitive and painful experience to the reader. The words used to describe the losses are quite harsh on the ears and carry rather physical and vivid imagery. The persona laments that ‘friends drop out of your life’ and later repeats ‘the one who drop out of your life’. The image that is created by the verb ‘drop out’ seems powerful and irreversible, much like something that has dropped out of a window and is unable to be retrieved. The repetition of the phrase further emphasises the regret and pain of having, perhaps permanently, lost these precious people. The description of the ‘face (and) voice’ as ‘lost’ and the ideas of the ‘defunct number, the wrong address, the silence’ all conjure an image of an unidentifiable person, not only forgotten due to the ‘distance’ of ‘a far country’, but also impossible to reach despite the varied attempts of contact through calling, texting, mailing and essentially communication. Disappearance for the persona in B is indeed not just a periodic event but a permanent, irreversible one, as emphasised by the past tense of the title ‘Disappeared.’ Poem A and B both examine disappearance, but poem B in comparison is less inclined towards accepting the losses due to the persona’s qualifications of these losses as losses rather than as changes to be accepted as A considers.

Both poems also include the persona’s description of responses to change and loss. While the response different, they are congruent in that both poems are deliberate in their reaction to change and loss. Poem A takes on a firm, decisive and authoritative tone. the instructive words ‘tell’ is repeated thrice for three different actions. This gives an air of firmness, which is further highlighted by the harsh-sounding monosyllabic words, ‘tell the… to go on.’ The semicolons that separate lines 12 to 14 make the sentence a very long one with very short pauses that gives the poem’s addressee no opportunity to interrupt which adds to the authority and power of the persona. This allows the persona to take on a position of power in relation to her audience. However, poem B’s response to loss and disappearance of people is less firm and more melancholic as the persona describes how ‘you’ carry out all these actions and presents on the whole a nostalgic response. The persona describes how ‘You wonder… you dig up the letters and cards… You replay the scenes… remember the shared books…’ – all these actions are similar and show how the persona seeks to maintain or recreate the connection between himself and the ones who have left and have been ‘lost’. Three stanzas are dedicated solely to these efforts. Despite the realisation that these people are uncontactable in stanza 4 and the fleetingness and transience of ‘these’ methods and objects that link to these people in the last line, the persona still remains deliberate and consistent, albeit persistent, in not letting go. Both personae certainly are determined in their own efforts to cope with change, loss of disappearance. Yet the overall effect is starkly different. Poem A creates a persona that is strong, resilient and tough despite changes, and who is optimistic in calling it ‘an art’. Poem B, however, evokes sympathy in the reader because of the loneliness and absolute reluctance to let go, and the naive insistence that all these ‘will survive’. The internal conflict surfaced in the last sentence of ‘whether… these will survive’ further increases the reader’s pity.

Loss is a painful concept but coming to terms with that loss allows us to be more fulfilled in our lives, or so Poem A portrays.

Jaena Sim (18-O2)

Measuring Global Development

Assess the usefulness of the Human Development Index and other indicators you have learnt that are used to measure development globally. 

Development refers to change, progress and growth over time and can occur at different scales, from global to regional and to national. Development is a widely contested subject and there lacks a consensus on what development means. However, various indicators have been created in order to measure and gauge development on a global scale and these indicators provide us with a clearer idea on what development entails, the level of development globally, as well as inform policy makers on improvements to be made. The assessment of the ‘usefulness’ of an indicator suggest an evaluation of its accuracy in measuring development, reliability of data and their ability to allow comparison, specifically in the global context.

The Human Development Index (HDI) is seen to be a useful indicator of development as it is a relatively more holistic indicator that measures development across three main areas – a long and healthy life, the attainment of knowledge and standard of living. It is a human-oriented, composite development indicator that places great emphasis on the well-being of individuals. Hence, it attempts to measure social and economic development, which can be measured at a global scale due to the ability to compare the HDI levels of countries. The higher the HDI value, the more socially and economically developed a country is likely to be. As an indicator of development, it also allows policy makers to analyse the policies in their country and aim to reach the standards of countries with higher HDI rankings, such as Norway which ranks first on the HDI. A wide disparity between the HDI levels of countries would indicate uneven development globally. However, the HDI has its limitations as well. First, while it attempts to incorporate the welfare of people as an aspect of development to be measured, it still relies heavily upon the economic aspect of development and the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This is because the sub indicators that contribute to the HDI are based largely on wealth. For instance, a long and healthy life is shows to have a correlation with affluence, with Singapore having both a high GDP (amongst the top 5 countries) and a long life expectancy of 80-85 years. This shows the limitations of the HDI – its inability to fully measure global development as the data used may be overly focused on economic development. Additionally, while the HDI allows comparison between countries, the precision of the comparison is in question as the HDI allows a relative rather than an absolute comparison. In other words, it takes into account the rankings of other countries rather than being assessed by a set criteria. 

Furthermore, the need for the Inequality adjusted HDI (IHDI) is evident of the HDI not being completely useful as it does not account for national inequality, in spite of equality being a hallmark of a developed country. For example, both the United States of America (USA) and Canada are seen to have HDI levels of 0.92, yet due to USA’s large national development gap, it falls to 0.7 on the IHDI. Therefore, the IHDI is necessary to complement the HDI in taking into account the inequalities within the country in order for the HDI to be more useful as an indicator.

Additionally, other indicators such as the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) are seen to be required in order to supplement the HDI. The MPI aims to provide greater information about the poor and level of poverty in a country, by expanding upon the 3 key indicators of the HDI, including sub-indicators such as nutrition and child mortality (health), years of schooling and school attendance (education) and levels of sanitation (standard of living). Hence, it is seen to complement the HDI to provide more in depth information about development in the lower strata of society. This is due to the MPI being measured on a household level, which is more detailed and hence serves as a more comprehensive data for policy makers to utilise in order to improve the current state of development. Countries such as Indonesia have MPI levels of 0.2 and have seen to use MPI as a measurement of development. Furthermore, the MPI can also be used to track a country’s level of development over time. Due to many countries utilising MPI, it can be perceived as a more useful indicator of global development in addition to the HDI. However, it would be important to also acknowledge the possible flaws of the MPI in its inability to identify intra-household disparities in development such as gender inequalities and the contentious nature of the unequal weightage accorded to each sub-indicator. Lastly, countries that only consider the number of people deemed multidimensionally poor may leave out a fraction of the population who are deprived in certain areas but are not deprived enough to be concluded as ‘multidimensionally poor’, failing to address their developmental needs.

Furthermore, due to the diverse and contested understandings of development, alternative indicators have been created to look at global development on a more social and sustainable scale. One example is the Happy Planet Index (HPI) which takes into account the ecological footprints of countries as well, placing a huge emphasis on environmental sustainability. 

The HPI takes into account a greater variety of development indicators, giving one a more useful and more comprehensive perspective on global development and its nuances. For example, while Costa Rica was the highest ranked country on the HPI, it was not ranked within the top 5 on the HDI rankings. Norway, despite being ranked first on the HDI, was ranked twelfth on the HPI. This foregrounds that the HDI fails to take into account certain aspects of development and therefore requires other indicators to increase its usefulness.  

However, the above indicators are lacking as they fail to set reachable targets and comprehensive goals in the aspect of global development. In order for an indicator to be more useful, it should not only inform one of the various developmental levels globally, but should also strive to enable policy makers to form concreate, realistic targets to improve development. Hence, there is the need for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which serve as a set of eight concrete international targets for countries. These targets that comprise aspects such as increasing women’s rights, are more holistic and are able to account for the social and economic aspects of development as well. The usefulness of the MDGs is evident from them acting as the springboard for the White Ribbon Alliance for expectant mothers, showcasing their value in creating tangible efforts to increase development. The MDGs also look towards sustainable development as they go beyond merely measuring development globally. This desire for sustainability is exhibited in the creation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which form the Post-2015 Development Agenda. These are forward-looking indicators to measure global development and prove more useful as they are tangible and future-oriented. The SDGs provide a framework of measuring development based on many categories such as literacy rates, human rights and life expectancy, marking a paradigm shift of indicators from mere measurements that quantify development to actual goals for countries to work towards. Since they are easy to comprehend and have high applicability in a global context, they allow for targeted policies to alleviate uneven development.

It is admittedly true that all indicators face data collection errors due to methodological issues. However, this should not discount their usefulness and importance in measuring global development. These indicators shape our understanding of global development as they are international indicators put forth by international organisations such as the World and the United Nations. Yet, in order to be more useful they should be used in tandem with one another as they serve to supplement each other’s possible loopholes, evident from the IHDI and the MPI complementing and improving upon the HDI. Lastly, for the indicators to be deemed useful, they should move towards sustainable development and aim to aid in policy development, thus foregrounding the need for the MDGs and SDGs. Thus, the HDI and other indicators are only useful if they are used to complement each other, allowing parallels to be drawn to ensure a more comprehensive understanding of development globally.

Isabel Chan (17-U1)
Constance Thum (17-A1)


மெல்லிய காற்றில் அசையும் மரகத இதழ்கள்

துளி துளியாய் விழும் முத்து பரல்கள்

கருமேகங்களைத் துரத்தும் வண்ண நிறங்கள்

இயற்கை தரும் அபூர்வ பரிசுகள்!

Pandiarajan Sumathy Sujitha (18-I3)