Friday, October 31, 2008

Philosophical Musings - Part XV

The Roots of Wisdom

Be wary of how you spend your days, for life is transient. Here’s a verse by Hong Yingming on this ephemeral and fleeting world we live in.

Transient Life

Heaven and Earth exist for eons
Yet this body you will not receive again

Our lives span no longer than a century
Yet the days pass with the greatest of ease

He who is fortunate to be born:

Should not be ignorant of the joy of living
Nor oblivious to the sorrow of life’s vanity

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Buddhist Economics – Part IV

This is a continuation of our discussion on Buddhist Economics based on
E. F. Schumacher’s book, ‘Small is Beautiful’. Part I discussed about Labor, Part II on Mechanization and Part III on Unemployment. In this post, we shall investigate the aims of Traditional Economics and contrast this to Buddhist Economics.

Aims of Orthodox Economics
Under traditional economics, the scope of economics is defined as the study of the allocation of scarce resources. The three main allocation issues that it seeks to solve are:

1. Which goods and services should be produced and in what quantities?
2. How should these goods and services be produced?
3. Who should consume the goods and services that have been produced?

With the fall of socialism, our economies are largely governed by the free market with minimal government intervention. The interaction of demand and supply, driven by individuals acting in their own self interests solves all the allocation questions.

Aims of Buddhist Economics
While the materialist is mainly interested in goods, the Buddhist is mainly interested in liberation. But Buddhism is "The Middle Way" and therefore in no way antagonistic to physical well-being. It is not wealth that stands in the way of liberation but the attachment to wealth; not the enjoyment of pleasurable things but the craving for them. The keynote of Buddhist economics, therefore, is simplicity and non-violence. From an economist’s point of view, the marvel of the Buddhist way of life is the utter rationality of its pattern—amazingly small means leading to extraordinarily satisfactory results.

For the modern economist this is very difficult to understand. He is used to measuring the "standard of living" by the amount of annual consumption, assuming all the time that a man who consumes more is "better off" than a man who consumes less.

A Buddhist economist would consider this approach excessively irrational: since consumption is merely a means to human well-being, the aim should be to obtain the maximum of well-being with the minimum of consumption.

An Enlightening Example
Thus, if the purpose of clothing is a certain amount of temperature comfort and an attractive appearance, the task is to attain this purpose with the smallest possible effort, that is, with the smallest annual destruction of cloth and with the help of designs that involve the smallest possible input of toil. The less toil there is, the more time and strength is left for artistic creativity.

It would be highly uneconomic, for instance, to go in for complicated tailoring, like the modern West, when a much more beautiful effect can be achieved by the skillful draping of uncut material. It would be the height of folly to make material so that it should wear out quickly and the height of barbarity to make anything ugly, shabby, or mean.

What has just been said about clothing applies equally to all other human requirements.

Contrasting Aims
The ownership and the consumption of goods is a means to an end, and Buddhist economics is the systematic study of how to attain given ends with the minimum means.

Modern economics, on the other hand, considers consumption to be the sole end and purpose of all economic activity, taking the factors of production—and, labor, and capital—as the means.

The former, in short, tries to maximize human satisfactions by the optimal pattern of consumption, while the latter tries to maximize consumption by the optimal pattern of productive effort. It is easy to see that the effort needed to sustain a way of life which seeks to attain the optimal pattern of consumption is likely to be much smaller than the effort needed to sustain a drive for maximum consumption.

Are you happy with the current economic system? When consumption is the sole end and all factors of productions are merely costs to be minimized, Corporations are only a step away from abandoning all morals and ethics in the pursuit of profits. The
2008 Baby Milk Scandal are mere symptoms of a systemic disease in our current free market system. Treating the symptoms alone will not cure the disease. Does anybody have any questions or comments?

Monday, October 27, 2008

Romance of the Three Kingdoms - Part X

The Battle of Yijing: 關門捉賊 Encircle and Capture

After the Battle of Jieqiao, Warlords Yuan Shao and Gongsun Zan continued to fight to gain dominion over Northern China. Eventually Yuan Shao gained the upper hand. However, Gongsun Zan still had a large army which would pose a constant threat to Yuan Shao. The time had come for a climatic battle and decisive encounter between the two rivals.

Battle of Yijing (Source: Wikipedia)

The Time: AD199
The Place: Yijing, Hebei
The Rivals: Yuan Shao vs. Gongsun Zan

After a series of military setbacks, Gongsun Zan was in dire straits. Further, a famine had occurred in his lands. He decided that it was too risky to engage Yuan Shao’s force head on due to the latter’s numerical superiority.

He decided instead to build a large capital city, Yijing. This city comprised of many large towers on top of mounds, where he and his generals lived. Altogether, there were ten mounds around the city barred with iron doors and supplied with huge grain supplies. With this, Gongsun Zan felt that he would be able to withstand any possible siege by his nemesis, Yuan Shao.

Gongsun Zan left his frontier armies and soldiers on their own believing that they would fight harder as they had no other option other than to oppose Yuan Shao. Instead, most of his soldiers either surrendered or fled.

Stratagem: 關門捉賊 Encircle and Capture
In AD198, Yuan Shao’s forces invaded Gongsun Zan’s territory and defeated his garrisons. His armies reached the gates of Yijing, but the city withstood several attacks from the Yuan Shao’s army.

Spring AD199: Gongsun Xu and Zhang Yan brought relief to Yijing with 100,000 men. Before they arrived, Gongsun Zan had sent a message to his son telling him to lay an ambush of 5,000 elite cavalry on low ground north of the city. They were then to signal Gongsun Zan to charge out of the city with his troops, planning to surround Yuan Shao's troops.

However, Yuan Shao's troops caught the messenger and laid their own troops in ambush. Yuan Shao’s forces then fooled Gongsun Zan into attacking and routed his unit and forced him back into the city.

Yuan Shao's troops followed up their success by digging tunnels under the city and then supporting them with beams which they later torched. The tunnel went into the center of the city and its collapse caused Zan's towers to crumble as well.

Realizing his doom, Gongsun Zan killed his sisters and wives and committed suicide by self-immolation. Yuan Shao's men climbed into the citadel and cut off Gongsun Zan's head, which was sent to Xu Chang to report Yuan Shao's victory to the imperial court.

With Gongsun Zan’s defeat, Yuan Shao now held absolute power over the four provinces north of the Yellow River. This would set the scene for the battle between the two Northern Dragons, Warlords, Yuan Shao and Cao Cao. The fate of all of Northern China and Han Dynasty now laid with them.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Philosophical Musings - Part XIV

The Roots of Wisdom

Deeds committed in the Past cannot be changed, so why dwell on it? One should not rest on one’s own laurels nor regret one’s mistakes. It is best to be mindful and stay in the present moment, for it is in the Present where you can make a difference. Here is what Hong Yingming has to say on reflecting one's past actions.

Right Action

Even if one has performed
Herculean meritorious deeds

If their value is not to be negated
The word ‘Pride’ does not apply

Even if one has committed a crime
Frowned upon by even the Heavens

If one has truly repented
The word ‘Regret’ does not apply

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Speed Reading – Part X

Analytical Reading: Classification Stage (Part 3 of 4)

We are currently at the Analytical Reading stage of Speed Reading. For a bird's eye view of Analytical Reading, please click
here. We have discussed Part 1 and Part 2 of the Classification Stage earlier.

Why the need to differentiate between Practical & Theoretical Books?
Before we seek out to differentiate between these two types of books, a pertinent question would be: ‘Why is this significant?’ Now, this is a good question indeed.

By categorizing books into these two categories, you will be a more effective reader. Your mindset when approaching practical books will be to understand and gauge the effectiveness of the authors’ recommendations. For theoretical books, a different and more contemplative mindset is required to mull over the author’s ideas.

What are Practical Books?
Put simply, practical books teach you ‘HOW’ to do something that you want to or believe you should do. Any guidebook or one that tells you what you should do or how to do it is a practical book. This includes all expositions of arts to be learned, engineering, cooking, medical and other practice manuals.

What are Theoretical Books?
Conversely, Theoretical Books teach you ‘THAT’ something is the case. Theoretical books usually touch on subjects such as science, history and philosophy.

Vary Your Approach
For Practical Books, you have a clear objective. You wish to do something and the author has proposed to you that by following his instructions, you will achieve your goals. Practical books often uses words such as ‘should’, ‘ought’, ‘good’, ‘bad’, ‘ends’ and ‘means’. The author will attempt to convince the reader that something should be done or that this is the right way of doing something or that such a means should be chosen. In reading such books, you must remain skeptical at all times and consider whether the author’s observations are valid. Otherwise, it is easy for one to follow blindly what the author has written.

In contrast, Theoretical Books keeps saying something ‘IS’, not ‘should’ or ‘ought’. They are more dogmatic in the sense that they present their ideas as facts rooted in reality. We will discuss more on how to approach Theoretical Books later.

We have completed the Part 3 of 4 of the Classification Stage in Analytical Reading. Questions or comments are most welcome.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Romance of the Three Kingdoms - Part IX

The Battle of Jieqiao: 瞞天過海 Deceive the Heavens to Cross the Ocean

It was the year AD200. With a massive 100,000 infantry and over 10,000 cavalry,
Yuan Shao commanded the largest military force in all of China at this time. Flanked with valiant warriors including Wen Chou and Yan Liang and able strategists such as Tian Feng and Ju Shou, his forces appeared unstoppable. Further, he was in possession of vast provinces in Northern China including Jizhou, Qingzhou, Youzhou, and Bingzhou.

The Grand Administrator of Bohai
Who was Yuan Shao? In this post we shall trace his roots and his rise to power in Northern China.

Prior to the fall of the Han Empire, the Yuan family had held the highest offices of state for generations and their network of allies and clients extended across the empire. Thus, Yuan Shao held immense authority and prestige.

As the leader of the
Guandong Coalition, Yuan Shao commanded the most famous warlords of his time. Unfortunately, due to bickering and squabbling between the various factions, the Coalition failed in their attempt to defeat Dong Zhuo and restore the Han Empire.

Battle of Jieqiao (Source:

The Time: AD191
The Place: Jieqiao
The Rivals: Yuan Shao vs. Gongsun Zan

With the Coalition in tatters, Yuan Shao retreated back to his city at Ye and began building a warlord state. In AD191, Han Fu, the Governor of Ji province surrendered his governorship to Yuan Shao in light of an imminent attack by Gongsun Zan from the North. In the winter of that year, the two forces met at the Jieqiao. It was at this battle that Yuan Shao laid the foundations of his kingdom.

Yuan Shao himself came in force and the two sides met 40km south of Jie Bridge, a crossing on the Qing River. Gongsun Zan's army had a reported strength of 40,000, consisting of 30,000 infantry and 10,000 calvalry. He arrayed his infantry in a square and divided his cavalry between the left and right wings. In the centre were placed his elite Baima Calvalry which formed the core of his fighting force.

Though Yuan Shao's army was of comparable size, it consisted almost entirely of infantry. His commander Qu Yi was placed at the van with 800 elite troops and 1,000 crossbowmen. Behind them stood masses of footsoldiers, numbering in the tens of thousands, commanded by Yuan Shao himself.

Stratagem: 瞞天過海 Deceive the Heavens to Cross the Ocean
Yuan Shao realized that the Gongsun Zan’s forces were overly dependent on its’ elite Baima Calvalry ‘whose flags and armour lit up Heaven and Earth’. If this elite unit could be defeated, Gongsun Zan’s forces would be demoralized and unable to withstand a counterattack by Yuan Shao’s infantry.

Yuan Shao then purposely misled Gongsun Zan into believing that his vanguard was thinly spread. As an experienced horseman, Gongsun Zan ordered a charge by his cavalry expecting to break the enemy line and destroy the core of Yuan Shao’s army forcing them to retreat.

However, Yuan Shao’s men were well prepared. His infantry formed a shield wall and awaited the onslaught. When Gongsun Zan's cavalry was a mere ten paces away, the crossbowmen loosed waves of bolts, followed by the footsoldiers, who rose with their spears. After a general melée the front of Yuan Shao's line was littered with cut down horses and Gongsun Zan's dead.

The Gongsun commander, Yan Gang was killed in the fighting. Yuan Shao's army is said to have taken 1,000 heads. Having failed to breach the Yuan line, the Gongsun cavalry wheeled around and fled from the battle, followed by the infantry.

Gongsun Zan attempted to regroup and hold the line of the Qing River. His rearguard clashed with Yuan Shao’s forces at Jie Bridge but was defeated. The abandoned Gongsun camp was quickly overrun.

The Battle of Jieqiao halted the southern advance of Gongsun Zan but it was by no means decisive in the protracted struggle between Gongsun Zan and Yuan Shao. These two rivals would meet once again in AD199 at Yijing for a final decisive encounter.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Philosophical Musings - Part XIII

The Roots of Wisdom

Character defects are all too common these days. It would be meaningful to contemplate on the following verses by Hong Yingming and reflect on these common character flaws.

On Character Defects

When hungry
They stick to you

When full
They fly away like the wind

If there is wealth
They trot right over

Where there is poverty
They abandon

These are the common defects
Of human character

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Buddhist Economics – Part III

Let us continue with our discussion on Buddhist Economics based on E. F. Schumacher’s book, ‘Small is Beautiful’. Part I discussed about Labor whilst Part II discussed on Mechanization. In this post, we shall discuss about how Buddhist Economics opinion on Unemployment differs from Orthodox Economics.

On Unemployment
A modern economist may engage in highly sophisticated calculations on whether full employment ‘pays’ or whether it might be more ‘economic’ to run an economy at less than full employment so as to insure a greater mobility of labor, a better stability of wages, and so forth. His fundamental criterion of success is simply the total quantity of goods produced during a given period of time.

‘If the marginal urgency of goods is low,; says Professor Galbraith in The Affluent Society, ‘then so is the urgency of employing the last man or the last million men in the labour force.’

And again: ‘If . . . we can afford some unemployment in the interest of stability—a proposition, incidentally, of impeccably conservative antecedents—then we can afford to give those who are unemployed the goods that enable them to sustain their accustomed standard of living.’

Buddhist Viewpoint
From a Buddhist point of view, this is standing the truth on its head by considering goods as more important than people and consumption as more important than creative activity.

It means shifting the emphasis from the worker to the product of work, that is, from the human to the subhuman, a surrender to the forces of evil. The very start of Buddhist economic planning would be a planning for full employment, and the primary purpose of this would in fact be employment for everyone who needs an "outside" job: it would not be the maximization of employment nor the maximization of production.

Women, on the whole, do not need an ‘outside’ job, and the large-scale employment of women in offices or factories would be considered a sign of serious economic failure. In particular, to let mothers of young children work in factories while the children run wild would be as uneconomic in the eyes of a Buddhist economist as the employment of a skilled worker as a soldier in the eyes of a modern economist.

Surely an economic system should put People First, not Profits! Yet, in our current capitalist system, it is Profits First and People Last. In good times, workers are overworked whilst being told not to claim overtime. And during difficult times, they are also the first to be retrenched, through no fault of their own; whilst Top Management go laughing all the way to the bank.

Is an economic system that accepts unemployment acceptable? Before you say yes, put yourselves in the shoes of the unemployed and think about how you would feel; if the whole world told you that you are USELESS and therefore, UNEMPLOYABLE!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Financial Intelligence - Part XIV

Fortes fortuna adiuvat!
(Fortune favors the bold!)

Last weekend, chances are you would have come across the following headlines:

KLCI at 28-month low, Asian markets battered ‘The Star Malaysia’
Indonesia may halt stock trading all week ‘Associated Press’
US Stocks Slump, Capping Worst Week Ever ‘Bloomberg’

Chaos, Fear and Panic are sweeping across global financial markets. One by one, indices of major stock markets are plunging in a free fall. More than USD6 TRILLION was wiped out of global equities last week. There are fears that even money kept in banks are at risk. So, what should we do?

Carpe Diem (Seize the Day)
For those of us wish to be wealthy, remember: Fortuna, the Goddess of Fortune helps those that are audacious and willing to take risks. In the following months to come, the stock market will be in doldrums. Consider seizing this golden opportunity to invest whilst Mr. Market is in a depressed mood.

The Pandora’s Box
As Intelligent Investors, we need to understand the cause of the current financial crisis. It all began with the US Subprime Mortgage Crisis. Click the arrow buttons on the SlideShare presentation to understand how this crisis started. To view the slides in full screen, go to the bottom of the presentation and click on the second button from the right.

US Subprime Mortgage Crisis
View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own.

“If only …”

In the aftermath of the 1998 Asia Financial Crisis, there were many people that uttered the following:

“If only I had invested in the shares of [company name] then, I would have made a fortune!”

Now, a decade later, opportunity knocks on the door once again. Will you seize the moment or let it pass by? The decision lies in your hands.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Our Blogger Templates

From Humble Beginnings
The one thing I love about the Internet is the abundance of valuable knowledge and advice that is given for FREE! Unfortunately, there’s also loads of junk out there. It’s a painstaking process to discover diamonds from the endless desert of junk. When I first started this blog back in April 2008, I began by using the default Harbour Template. At that time, I thought it was a great template and my blog was looking pretty good. It looked something like this.

The Faults of Default Blogger Templates
As time went by, I started reading more and more blogs. It wasn’t long before I realized that my blog began to look a bit inadequate. The main thing that annoyed me was the lack of a menu bar. Further, the customization allowed was limited. It was difficult to change the color of the various elements in the template as well as the font size. It was an either take it or leave it situation.

A Failed Experiment
After all the hard work that went into making my blog presentable, I simply refused to give up my cherished Harbour template. However, the lack of a menu bar really upset me. After doing some research, I inserted some HTML code into the blogger template to make it work. Voila, my blog now had a menu bar. It wasn’t pretty, but it worked. Guess what? The next day, my blogger template crashed [edit: due to my inexperience and lack of understanding of HTML].

Great Value for No Money
With very little choice, I started searching for a free Blogger template that would meet my needs. There were plenty of free blogger templates at various sites vying for my attention. However, I finally decided on the Minimalist G design by
Our Blog Templates.

Why did I settle for the Minimalist G design by Our Blog Templates?

(a) It’s Free
What more can you ask for? Free as in FOC.

(b) Vast amount of customization
Every element of their blog templates have been soft coded, so you can customize the color and font size on every element in the blog template. From the title bar, menu bar, side widgets right down to the comments section. The amount of customization available will make your head spin!

(c) No funky codes
Unlike some other blogger templates, I have had minimal problems adding other widgets, stat counters and meta tags into this template. For me, this means that the blog template is quite well constructed allowing for further customization.

In terms of fully functioning and customizable templates, this is the site you’re looking for. [Edit: If you are fussy like me], forget about the default Blogger templates and drop by to choose one of the 150+ snazzy looking templates available. You’ll thank me for it!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Philosophical Musings - Part XII

The Roots of Wisdom

In life, one has to face various kinds of people. When facing unsavory characters, how can one avoid harm to oneself? One should tread carefully and be discerning in his dealings with such people. Hong Yingming cautions us, thus:

Avoiding Harm

Though you are aware of the deceit of others
Remain unperturbed and feign ignorance

Though you receive the contempt of others
Remain calm and let it pass

Between the two of these
There is infinity of meaning

Between the two of these
There is infinity of use

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Speed Reading – Part IX

Analytical Reading: Classification Stage (Part 2 of 4)

We are currently at the Analytical Reading stage of Speed Reading. For a bird's eye view of Analytical Reading, please click
here. Part I of Classfication Stage is available here.

Learning from the Book Title

One of the most astonishing facts is that most readers pay very little attention to the title of the book they are reading. For illuminating books, the title itself can give us a very good indication of what the book is all about. Not convinced?

An Illuminating Example
One of the most famous books about the Roman Empire was written by Gibbon titled ‘The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’. Most readers glanced at the title briefly without giving it adequate thought. They were then asked why the first chapter started with the Golden Age of the Roman Empire: ‘The Extent and Military Force of the Empire in the Age of Antonines’

Unsurprisingly, they became puzzled as to why the origins and Rome’s rise to power was not discussed. Why did the book start with the Age of Antonines? The answer is staring at you right in the face. The title of the book is the ‘The Decline and Fall …’, yet if you had only read the title cursorily, you might have misread it as ‘The Rise and Fall …’

If you had read the title carefully, you would have guessed correctly that the Roman Empire was at the height of its’ power during the Age of Antonines and would decline soon thereafter.

Study the Preface and Subtitles
In well written books, the author attempts to assist the reader in classifying his book, by making his title or subtitle descriptive. A skillful reader should then vary his approach in reading the book based on how it is classified.

In the book ‘The Evolution of Physics’, the authors Einstein and Infeld tell the readers that it is a scientific book and that ‘a scientific book, even though popular, must not be read in the same way as a novel’.

Read the Analytical Table of Contents
The Analytical TOC is created by the author to provide a road map to the readers as to their train of thought and the ‘flow’ of the book. If you fail to take advantage of this, you may become perplexed and lost when reading the book. If you ignore the Analytical TOC, you might not obtain a coherent view of the author’s ideas. You should avoid this if you wish to obtain the full benefits of reading a well written book.

We have completed the Part 2 of 4 of the Classification Stage in Analytical Reading. Next, we will look at what we can learn from the differences between Practical and Theoretical Books. Any questions or comments?

Monday, October 6, 2008

Seven Deadly Sins of Investing – Part II


Have you ever felt an overpowering desire to possess something or someone at any cost, without any regard for morals or ethics? An obsession bordering on irrationality? An unsatiated hunger that burns to the very core of your being? If you have, then you have experienced Lust.

What has Lust to do with Investing? Indeed, it appears that Lust is more synonymous with a desire for beautiful women, rather than towards shares. Yet, we can easily develop Lust towards any desirable object. Lust can lead towards our downfall in many ways, even in the world of investing. Let us explore how this may occur:

1. Sexy, Sultry and Sensual Shares
What company could be sexier than Enron in the last decade? As one of the world's leading electricity, natural gas, pulp and paper, and communications companies, with claimed revenues of USD111 billion in 2000.
Fortune named Enron "America's Most Innovative Company" for six consecutive years. In August 2001, Enron's stock price hit its highest value of USD90. If you had bought into the hype without understanding how their business operated, let’s just say that it might be an investment decision you would have never recovered from.

2. Putting all your eggs in one basket
Lust can blind you to the extent you are willing to sacrifice everything to obtain the object of your desire. There are many reasons why you would lust after a company:

(a) Celebrities CEOs such as Larry Ellison, Richard Branson or Steve Jobs;
(b) Booming sector like the Internet during the late 1990s;
(c) Love for product such as the Sony Walkman or Apple iPod;
(d) Shares in your own company; or
(e) Believing in the hype by stock analysts and the market.

It is at times like these that you may blindly pour all your love and life savings into companies like Lehman Brothers. And this is what might happen:

The Quiz:
Earlier, I posted a simple quiz to test a person's vulnerability to the Seven Deadly Sins of Investing. Let's start by reviewing the first question.

1. To Buy A Car
Oil prices have just gone up and your wallet has taken a huge dent. Your rickety old car is good enough for your needs even though you need to spend money servicing it frequently.

One fine day, you hop over to a car dealer just to admire the car. Immediately a car sales person pounces on you and brings you to look at a shiny brand new Toyota Altis. It appears to be reasonably price and looks gorgeous. Besides, you would be saving on repair costs on your old car. No harm rewarding yourself after working so hard, right? Further, your year end bonus is coming up soon.

The Answer:
This question tests your abilities to withstand the temptations of Lust. In the above scenario, you would be better off avoiding purchasing a new car. Even if you have the money to buy the car on a cash term basis, why bother?

An Intelligent Investor would consider investing in assets such as houses or shares. With prices being currently depressed, it might be wise to conserve cash and start looking at good investment opportunities.



When investing, it might be wise to consider diversification to avoid the dangers of Lust in investing. Even though you believe beyond reasonable doubt, that the stock you lust after, is a sure thing: DON’T put all your eggs in one basket. Who would have thought that companies like AIG, Merill Lynch, Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns would face bankruptcy? Remember, there are NO SURE THINGS in the life.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Philosophical Musings - Part XI

The Roots of Wisdom

A clear and uncluttered mind is one the greatest treasures that one can possess. For with clarity of mind, one can perceive reality and not be deceived by falsehoods and delusions. Both the mundane and divine can be grasped without difficulty. How then can one achieve clarity of mind? The Roots of Wisdom may yet point the way:

Clarity of Mind

Of those who make their meals
From simple herbs and vegetables

Many are as pure as ice
As stainless as gems

Of those who dress in fancy clothes
And feast sumptuously

Lower themselves to acting
Like servants and slaves

Ultimately, the Mind is made clear
By Simplicity

And Integrity lost
By Opulence

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Financial Intelligence – Part XIII

The Comforting Cocoon of Captivity

Of all the majestic progress achieved by humanity, it is the
Industrial Revolution that I stand in awe of. For the Industrial Revolution spawned a prodigy known to us as the 9 to 5 system. Most of us have experienced the pleasure of working under this system. Even the financially independent would not willingly abandon it; what more of us who need it to put food on our tables? I believe there are three main reasons why the vast majority of us preferred to be cocooned:

(a) Direction
I suspect if I were to carry out a survey in the streets of Kuala Lumpur asking people ‘What is the purpose of your life?’, I would get blank stares or just a plain ‘duh?’. There is a tendency for people to live their lives like lemmings. Many act foolishly believing themselves to be immortals unaware that Death lurks nearby.

The irony of the 9 to 5 system is that it supplies this unspoken need. An all encompassing economic system that allocates jobs based on the invisible hand of Adam Smith. To the laborer, it supplies not only food on the table but to usurp the mantle to the throne of life itself. For the lemmings, by and large:


What could be simpler? There is no need for rambling discourses or philosophical musings. There is work to be done, so one devotes a substantial portion of our life force into work. Perhaps we should think for a moment: Do you Live to Work or Do you Work to Live?

(b) Order
The universe is chaotic, random and arbitrary. Even though things appear orderly on the surface, there has been and always will be
Black Swan events. For the average worker, what could be more comforting than the mundane and dull 9 to 5 system? Day in, day out, one comes to work at the same time, in the same place and does the same things. As time goes by, the mind shuts off and the robot takes over. Why walk out of the comfort zone to experience something new? For many, ‘Ignorance is Bliss!

Yet, when factories are being closed down or when oil prices shoot through the roof, these are the same people who expect *someone* else to assist them. Suddenly, there is a jolt through their system as they realize their skills are obsolete and they have been left behind. Being on auto-pilot for so long, they are unable to adapt. What then?

(c) Pride
For the majority, the work which we perform 9 to 5 is not something that we have consciously chosen. It was arbitrarily chosen and shoved down our throats. ‘Here, take this! You were meant to do this the rest of your life!’

Strangely enough, most people accept this as their Fate and do not attempt to move beyond this. Sure, people b*tch all the time about their bosses, companies, systems, economy, government etc… Yet, they do not b*tch about the number one culprit that placed them there in the first place?


Why? Work is a source of pride for us. It might be drudgery, it might be hellish, it might be harmful, and it might be meaningless or even downright unethical. Still, for the unthinking person, despite all of that, there is pride attached to work. To deride the 9 to 5 system is akin to attacking one’s own sense of worthiness.

It might be wise for us to open our eyes. Workers are being retrenched or laid off through no fault of their own. State-of-the-art systems are failing. Prestigious companies like AIG and Merill Lynch have succumbed to the financial crisis. At times like these, remember that work by itself, cannot give meaning to life. It is we who must give meaning to our lives and our work. For when you know your purpose in life, you will no longer be subject to the vagaries of life. As a
sage once uttered, ‘The unexamined life is not worth living.’

Do you agree? Or vehemently disagree? Comments are most welcome.

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