Paul Reggentin: An Introduction

Hi, this is Paul. I’m one of the Roger M. Jones Fellows this year. Along with Sonia, I’m studying in London. I’m taking an MA course in Comparative Literature from King’s College London, which starts tomorrow. Here’s a quick update on my first week in London.

The first thing I did in London was fall asleep. I set a 30-minute alarm; when that woke me up, I set another, and, after that, another. In total, a 90 minute nap.

In my defense, I had just been on a red-eye flight from Orlando, a flight on which I was the only person not a member of a family fresh off of a week at Disney World. Out of the many dozens of children on that flight, some were happy to be returning home, some were sad to be leaving Disney, some were excited to be on an airplane, some were bored to be on an airplane with nothing to do, and some had to use the bathroom, but all were expressing their feelings clearly. I was also seated one row in front of two infants.

It’s a weak excuse, sure. It’s hard for me to justify doing the one thing I can do anywhere in the world in a city that offers any number of things I can’t do anywhere else. But eventually I did get out of bed and into the city.

The first thing I noticed, which looks foolish now that I type it out, is that London is a really big place. Not only is it big, it’s sprawling. There’s no organization to the streets whatsoever. They make abrupt turns, split, merge, become suddenly one-way, and, in addition to all that, none of them are pointed in the same direction. As a mere pedestrian in the middle of such chaos, I am nearly always disoriented. One benefit of the constant confusion, though, is that I’ve wandered down many interesting streets with many interesting names. Names like Garlick Hill, Threadneedle Street, Limeburner Lane, Puddle Dock. Just outside the financial district, I found a series of streets named Milk Street, Wood Street, Cloth Street, and Oat Lane, which I learned had retained their names since they served as medieval markets selling those goods.

I found myself tripping over history many times throughout the week. Entering an art museum on a quiet square one afternoon, I spotted a sign reading “Roman Amphitheater: Basement”. Down two flights of stairs were, in fact, the foundations of the amphitheater from the era when London was a Roman colony. I also ran across one of the few remaining buildings that survived the Great Fire of 1666, the gravesite of Daniel Defoe, the house where Samuel Johnson composed the first English dictionary, and, just behind a massive glass-and-steel bank headquarters, a section of the city wall built by the Romans.

Every place in this city is hiding generations of history. I can’t wait to spend a year both uncovering the past and working towards my future.

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One last post

Dear friends,

Maybe this is too sentimental, but I can feel slight tears welling up as I write the words “one last post”. I somewhat feel the need to create this grandiose piece of writing, that which is hyper-organised and devoted to each and every moment I spent during my time studying in London, but I’ll save you from a novel. As cliché as I may sound, this precursor to tears is only a sign of how good London has been to me.

I’m not sure if I have actually written about my thoughts towards London, the culture of the city, or European culture in general, but I’ll try and get some of my thoughts out here. You might be happy to hear that when people ask, “Do you like London? How are you finding it?” my response is undoubtedly and without hesitation, “I love it. I want to make a life over here.”

I think it was about two years ago when I started getting this idea in my head that I would be somewhere in the UK come the time after I graduated from my degree in engineering. At the time I was applying to many scholarships, some that would put me at Oxford, some that would put me at Cambridge… I hadn’t even heard of UCL (as many in the US haven’t) until I was directed to my now-supervisor, James Wilson, by a professor at King’s College London. (Mind you, there’s a pretty big rivalry between King’s and UCL, so little did I know that this suggestion *by* a King’s professor to go check out a program at UCL was HUGE!)

Back when I was deciding between universities, I had a Skype call with James, as I was thinking of studying politics and ethics in a global setting without a health focus, but James thought that, just as an engineer doesn’t devote their time to studying pure mathematics, I might want to study within the intersection of health and philosophy instead of trying to study solely philosophy and apply those skills to health later on. Granted, I did end up satisfying a desire to study pure philosophy (whatever “pure” actually means) by taking classes within the political science department, which were taught by political theorists who taught us how to pick apart ideas with a certain intellectual rigour that I’m still trying to muster.

Aside from my classes and philosophy (to which I’ve devoted ample writing space), I cannot be more thankful for the warm reception that I had into the UCL jazz society. The people who comprise this society are what make the organisation (so much that we were deemed arts society of the year!!). My friend was asking about my thoughts on finding social circles or friends in London, and I remember telling her that this act is pretty hard to fulfil in London. My experience taught me that London is wonderfully social and open to newcomers, but one can only feel truly welcomed and received once they’ve worked their way into a social circle within the city. As expansive as the city is, and as cosmopolitan as the city is, one can still become very lonely in what’s known as the “city of lonely hearts”. Despite this label, however, my heart was anything but lonely in London, and the jazz society was integral in allowing me to feel like I had a deep and true companionship within the city. Or, perhaps I might say that music in general has done this, as I cannot forget my friends at Street Orchestra Live 🙂

Not only has the jazz society helped me integrate socially into London, but I might add that the openness and willingness to let me explore the nature of my musicianship has really helped me become confidently expressive in my life as a musician. I know that I have a lot of work to do with theory and technique, but the theory and technique can be practiced and work on, where it may not be that a natural musicianship is entirely something that can be learned. Being in the jazz society, and listening to others’ honest feedback about my playing, has really been integral to discovering a deeper connection to music that I’ve realised that I must feed throughout my life.

I’m thinking about how to continue writing this post and the phrase “little did I know…” keeps coming to mind in order to describe so much that has happened in this year. I might not bore you with a clichéd phrase, but the recurrence of that phrase tells you of how integral London has been to teaching me how to understand not only myself in new ways, but additionally the world around me. The thing about London is that nobody (or at least nobody in my social circles) will question you about what you’re up to in life. They’ll maybe inquire a bit further to understand what it is you truly do, but they won’t interrogate or ask why you’re doing what you do. Instead, what people care about in London is whether you’re happy, or whether you can be the best, most genuine self you could ask for. If that is being fulfilled, no other preconceptions or mentalities will get in the way of existing in the way one feels is most true to their self.

This lets me decide that a life as a philosopher-writer-ethicist-musician-political advisor-health advisor-consultant-human rights activist (that’s meant to be confusing) is possible. Or at least I’m led to believe that a life full of my own passions and interests is doable, so long as I can put in the necessary work to make it happen. I not only saw this mutual interest in my social circles outside of classes, but additionally in all of my coursemates. Many of my coursemates were taking a year out of medical studies to expand the breadth of their knowledge, to become more well-rounded doctors, but whilst doing so have managed to kick themselves out of the traditional route commonly taken in medicine and have set themselves on a trajectory that incorporates not only medicine (or even taking out medicine) but newer topics in the humanities, including (but not limited to) the topics listed in my course (philosophy, politics, economics, health).

I applaud those teaching this course of study for introducing us students to new ways of thinking, such that we become uncomfortably passionate about things we never would have guessed to be a part of our lives. I only say uncomfortably passionate because I’ve learned that being uncomfortable in a field of study is different than being bored or disinterested – discomfort leads to a more nuanced and intentional approach to reading, critiquing, and writing important works of writing that contribute to necessary thought.

* * *

As you all know, I’ve been traveling in the most recent weeks, to Romania, Bulgaria, and Spain. I think I’ll be devoting a bit more time to thoughts from these travels in my other blog (link here!), for the sake of not keeping the blog from the next two fellows (that’s right, two!).

I have the pleasure to turn the blog over to Sonia Thosar, who is doing an MA in Film Studies at UCL, and Paul Reggentin, who is doing an MA in Comparative Literature at King’s! Needless to say, these two will have to reconcile their differences in choosing to study at rival universities, but I’m sure they’ll be able to manage in finding a good middle-ground between the dissonance… All jokes aside, I very much look forward to reading what these two have to say about their time in London, and I avidly await what their time in London will bring to them both!

* * *

So, with the end of this post comes the end of my time writing on this blog. I hope you all have enjoyed my rantings and explorations into my confused and crazily interested mind (in all-too-many things, at times). As I fly back to London, I realise that the goodbye I say to this city is only temporary. Being able to experience this sort of culture has only caused me to be bitten by a highly infectious bug, such that I will undoubtedly be back in this region within a year’s time. (I feel that I’ve left out so many who have been integral to making London feel like home to me, but I’m sure you all know who you are!) As one last night, please, check out the next blog if you find my ideas interesting or would like to follow my future travels. With that, enjoy the writings of Paul and Sonia, and I bid you all farewell!

 

Much peace,

Jeffrey

 

Curious updates, nuanced feelings from Barcelona

Dear friends,

I hope you’re all reading this post in good company, or good spirits. I’m writing you from Barcelona, Spain, where I’m spending the last bit of vacation before I return to London to pack my things up and head home for a couple of weeks. I am, however, leaving a significant amount of items and clothes in London, as I plan on returning to the city, or at least this part of the world, in one year’s time. The goal for my future is to start a PhD in the fall of 2019, preferably at a UK or German institution, combining philosophy, health, international development, and migration (a bit wide-ranging, but I’ll find a way to make it work). I also hope to continue a career in music outside of my work and studies, and I see the European region being really conducive to fitting my combined interests well.

As for the next year, I’ve been able to secure funding for a research project in San Salvador, El Salvador. I will be working at a human rights organisation, Cristosal, conducting (or moreover learning how to conduct) a research project to study health access for internally displaced peoples, those who are displaced by ongoing violence (domestic, police, gang, etc.) in the city. This opportunity has worked out perfectly, for I can combine what I’ve learned from theory in political philosophy and ethics into a practical setting. I see El Salvador as a place where human rights do not exists only for the elite liberal thinker to ponder upon, but instead for the people to utilise out of pure necessity. This project will last about ten months.

I’m not sure when I’ll be turning this blog over, but it will be soon. As such, I’ve created a new blog on my own site, so you can follow writings that may be similar to what I’ve written here at: https://curiouschroniclesest2018.wordpress.com. It took me a while to come up with the title, The Curious Chronicles, but I think this is a good way to show that my writings will tell not only a story but try to offer insights (perhaps even philosophical insights) into my experiences as I reflect on what I’ve been through and what I will have been currently going through. I’m sure that ample thoughts will be bubbling up from inside even months after I leave London, especially if those thoughts are instigated and poked by the raw and experiential times that I may be having in San Salvador.

Although sharing my location on social media is a bit dangerous, I see the potential benefits of meeting up with friends as weighing out any unforeseen risk. Hence, I’ll be in SE Michigan (Detroit, Ann Arbor) from the 25th through the 28th of September, so if anyone would like to meet up for a coffee, tea, food, walk, chat, etc., I will be around.

* * *

Just to start on some final reflections (it’s a bit difficult to form valid, fully-formed thoughts whilst traveling), I can’t help but feel a growing sense of necessity to poke around any ideas I find within my mind, to not let them sit too comfortably in any fold of my brain, such that they gather dust from sitting solid in my mind for too long. If anything, my studies have taught me how to dig, and have given me quite a large and agile spade with which I can do so.

In reading a bit of Nancy Scheper-Hughes (the epilogue from the end of her book, Death Without Weeping), she spent some time talking about her husband and the type of person he was. He worked as a social worker, and Nancy an anthropologist. A line that struck me from NSH was how she noted (please forgive my less-than-accurate paraphrasing) that her husband simply did not have the skeptical attitude or imperative for justice that was necessary for an anthropologist to have. Although I can’t really manage the nuance that NSH had, I must say that she did a wonderful job of showing that the lack of this imperative for justice that her husband lacked was not a bad thing. Rather, she was simply saying that he was better at being with people who were going through rough times, and helping them through, where NSH was taking these experiences and turning them into larger issues that required someone fight to change them.

This line struck me because I think I feel the same sense or requirement for justice that NSH felt as an anthropologist. I’m not sure how this sense will manifest itself in my later life, but I have no doubt that the path I’m on will lead me towards taking this sense of justice forward into practice.

With that being said, I think I’m going to leave the post here for the moment. The sun is out in Barcelona and I’ve got little time to enjoy it, so I’m off to be outside for a little while 🙂

Hopefully I’ll get one more post in before I can turn the blog over, and make sure to check out my new blog (still under construction, but the link will remain the same) if you want to continue to follow my travels / studies!

Much peace,
Jeffrey

Gender dysphoria and the fight against tradition

(Disclaimer: I am a cis-gender male talking about topics surrounding trans-gender people. This undoubtedly puts me at a large risk for making assumptions and explaining topics which I have not experienced myself. Hence, I welcome any comments or feedback on these thoughts to help inform me better on what I say in this post. Additionally, I talk about sexual terms in this post, so I might have to add that discretion is advised (although discretion, especially related to social customs, is another topic in and of itself, one to be argued and challenged).)

* * *

Dear friends,

I was in the coffee shop yesterday having a final meet up with a dear friend of mine, Andrew, whom I met through two of my political philosophy modules. (Our modules were split up by an hour, which was just enough time to have a coffee but not enough time (arguably) to do any actual work/reading.)

Our conversation, as usual, centred around many an interesting topic, drifting eventually into a mutual friend’s dissertation (shout out to Oli!). Oli’s dissertation focused on the rights of children with gender dysphoria, especially focusing on the child’s ability, or capacity, to make the decision to go through with cross hormone therapy (to transition from one gender to the other). (As is the nature of socially-constructed topics, one must pick and choose what they will discuss in a paper addressing gender, and Oli’s dissertation stayed within a gender binary framework, but making note that he simply did not have enough space to cover gender dysphoria under the gender-fluid or non-binary framework.)

Okay, so I know that I’m throwing a lot of terms at you, and some may not understand or have a concept of what ‘gender-fluid’ entails. Instead of giving a glossary of terms, I hope that this short(ish) piece can help the reader come to know what each term I use actually means. In other words, it’s best to use a common tactic that language learners use, which is to use contextual clues to help ascertain the meaning of these terms (or, you know, Google helps too).

Andrew and I got to talking about the main push of Oli’s argument, which was that children with gender dysphoria should be given the opportunity to make their case against a team of gender dysphoria professionals, where each case of gender dysphoria within a child would be considered individually by the team and not automatically denied based on the gender dysphoric child’s status of ‘child-incapable-of-decision’. This argument is made in the light of certain medical professionals publicly stating that children, regardless of reasons outside of their age, should not be given cross-hormone therapy, citing that these children are too young to make decisions on their gender and would possibly regret the decision later on. What Oli was arguing, then, was that each gender dysphoric child’s health was too valuable, and too much at risk, to automatically deny them cross hormone therapy simply because they are perceived as being ‘too young’ to make a decision.

The fact of the matter is that, yes, many children with gender dysphoria early on, pre-puberty, will usually lose their gender dysphoria by the time (and after) they’ve reached puberty. However, there’s still a significant portion of children who remain uncomfortable within their own bodies, *knowing* that they have been born inside the wrong body, that their genitalia do not correspond to the gender that they know themselves to be.

It’s true that we face a risk in assuming that a child may regrettably make a decision to go ahead with cross hormone therapy at a young age, but the absolute worst thing we can do is ignore a child with significant gender dysphoria, assuming that they’ll just be able to ‘grow’ into their gender, or ‘grow out of’ their ‘gender-confused’ state. (Might I add that ‘gender-confused’ is a highly problematic term, oftentimes used by those who deny the existence of any human who falls outside of the heteronormative framework, e.g. a transgender person or gender-fluid person.) However, I might add Oli’s point, that waiting for a child to ‘come of age’ to make a proper decision would be essentially inflicting harm on the child with deep-set gender dysphoria, and hence this sort of ‘wait and see’ method would be unethical.

I won’t go further into Oli’s argument, but the endpoint that he lands on is that each case of a child with gender dysphoria ought to be considered individually because, as a matter of fact, it is possible to tell how deeply rooted a child’s feelings of gender dysphoria are within themselves.

I’d like to add a few thoughts of my own that may take a step outside of what Oli argued in his thesis. Being similar to a remark I made earlier in the post, one must choose a framework for their argument, such that they don’t bite off more than they can chew. As such, Oli’s argument focused on the fact that a transgender person falls into the construction of gender that implies that one must have a gender, where their gender falls into the near-binary, male or female. For the sake of argumentation, I think this sort of framework is okay to take on for one essay or a dissertation. However, as is what came up in my conversation with Andrew, gender is not so clean-cut in the real world. Furthermore, I would think that, in most idealistic terms, Oli’s entire dissertation would be useless had we (as a society) not developed the concept of gender.

Have you ever heard the phrase, gender is a social construct? If you have, this is what I’m getting at. Gender, I think, is the tendency of society to establish a set idea of what is expected of humans who have a penis, wide shoulders, small hips, no breasts, etc. versus humans who have a vagina, breasts, small shoulders, wider hips, etc. The idea of what ‘boys’ ought to do versus what ‘girls’ ought to do is worked into the minds of young children from an early age, where they start to draw a connection between their gendered self and their genitalia. This then starts to become problematic when a woman is growing up with this large piece of meat hanging between her legs, such that society tells her that because she has this bit of meat on her body, she must act and exist in a way that she simply does not feel she really is.

However, if we had never developed this sort of connection between gender and genitalia, the trans person would not have to battle with what is expected of them due to how they outwardly appear. In mentioning this idea (a society that is rid of the idea of what ‘gender’ ought to be) Andrew made a point that one’s being male or female could potentially develop from within oneself. In other words, regardless of developing within the body we are meant to have, we still develop a gender (noting that ‘gender’ does not have to fall into ‘male’ or ‘female’). Regardless of what our physical body shows, we still end up developing a gender. The question I have, though, is whether we develop a gender because we’re told that we have to have a gender, or if we develop the concept of gender naturally as humans living together who manage to look different and have different sexual organs.

I guess it’s hard to know where the origins of gender lay, since human society has been around for quite a while. It takes some mental gymnastics to understand whether gender, and one’s corresponding hormone contents that contribute to their outward characteristics, comes from a natural place or a nurtured place. I’m intrigued to know what will come of the idea of gender, especially in a world where reproduction is not absolutely necessary and even might bring the human race closer to destroying the earth on which we live. Our sexuality and gender, then, may grow increasingly independent of our ‘natural’ desire to reproduce our species, especially if gender, as I believe, is significantly dependent on nurture versus a commonly-conceived belief of gender being dependent on nature.

Without getting too far into this debate, which can perhaps be explored further by researchers studying gender, as well as by research on my own part, I would choose to hammer home the fact that one would have a lot easier of a time dealing with their gender dysphoria if they didn’t have to come to terms with a connection, or a mis-connection, between their gender and their genitals.

I guess this is a thought that really needs to sit with me for a bit longer, and perhaps needs to be informed by those who are trans or non-binary (please reach out if you wish to help me in this endeavour). Without providing any reconciliation on whether the genderless world is one which we should seek, at this very moment, I must call to light the problem that comes with having a dysphoria attached to one’s physical body. As Andrew pointed out in our conversation, there’s another type of dysphoria, that of being told that one is straight when in fact they are gay. I’m not diminishing any bit of ill feelings or stigmatisation that one goes through when experiencing dysphoria regarding their sexuality, but this sort of dysphoria is better alleviated by a different type of change, not with one’s body, but with their romantic partners. One can easily (in a society that finally learns that heteronormativity is not the end-all of human existence and interaction, and maintains a non-hostile environment for LGBTQ people) make a change in their dating habits if they know themselves to be gay, as opposed to the ‘straight’ that they were told they were while growing up. In contrast, if someone is transgender, it is much, much harder to make a switch to the other gender, as this requires medical intervention and changes to one’s body, their body being that which they cannot live without.

To sum up the last bit, dealing with dysphoria regarding one’s own body and self, as opposed to dysphoria regarding one’s sexual attraction to others, is a lot harder to mitigate and understand. Gender dysphoria has, then, extremely dire consequences if left unattended in this non-ideal world in which gender is given so much weight.

So in closing, I might argue that at the very least, we must fight to place less emphasis on what gender ought to be. Instead of treating one’s own existence as a testament against another’s existence, treat their existence as something that matters to them and their own wellbeing, while allowing them the resources, care, and support that allows them to find the body, gender, and state that leads towards their best state of wellbeing.

I realise that this post might be a bit confusing, and this is most likely because I have yet a lot of thought and conversation to do on the matter myself. I think it’s important to bring these ideas up here in my blog, though, because we’re in a very interesting spot in history, at a crossroads where unfair traditional notions of human existence are being constantly (and righteously) challenged. I encourage these challenges and, surely, welcome the fight against unfair norms that are justified simply by historical happenstance.

 

~Jeffrey

What’s it like to be a vegan?

Dear friends,

I go back and forth on writing about this topic, especially in the public setting. Many of you who normally read this blog will already know about my decision to become a vegan in the past year, so many apologies if you’ve already heard me speak about the ideas I’ll be bringing up in this post. As an additional disclaimer, I should note that this post is only speaking about my decision to become a vegan, and these reasons carry importance to me and my life, which does not mean that they carry importance or weight in your life or another’s.

Many think that becoming vegan has to do with becoming a more ‘hip’ person, and it’s not wrong that many have become vegan because of the image that the movement holds. (Queue the doctored Instagram post of someone posting their new açai bowl they just bought from the local vegan café.)

I do not belong to that movement.

Thinking back to the summer before I left for the UK, I was what I considered to be a non-dogmatic vegetarian. Namely, I wouldn’t buy or cook meat myself, but if I was offered meat I would eat it. After moving to London, I started taking the vegetarianism a little more seriously, but still ate meat here and there, especially after coming home for the holidays in December. However, a month after coming back to London from home, I decided that the cheese in the sandwich I was eating at the time would be the last bit of cheese I would eat, at least for the foreseeable future.

I remember that same month being dotted with a few articles by Peter Singer, and in my global ethics class we were asked to watch a short video of Peter Singer explaining his article, Famine, Affluence and Morality. I’ve talked about that article in previous posts, and I’m not intending to focus on the article here. However, Peter Singer made a passing remark in this video about being a vegetarian, going along the lines of, “I simply choose to not eat the flesh of another animal.”

It must have been the word flesh, or perhaps the mere simplicity in the way he said the phrase, that struck me – yes, this makes sense, why would I consume the flesh of another animal? So that’s the first ethical decision made – I didn’t want to be killing animals for their flesh, especially if 1) I could get my nutrients elsewhere and 2) it was not a necessity for me to eat an animal to survive.

If it wasn’t the last two listed reasons that also contributed to my being vegan over vegetarianism, I usually cite more reasons for making the choice to convert… firstly, a couple instrumental reasons (what we might consider ‘real world’ reasons that exist outside ideal theory): 1) dairy agriculture contributes, to the best of my understanding, to a worsening-by-the-day industry that is environmentally bad (taking up obscene amounts of water and contributing significantly to greenhouse gases) and 2) dairy farm animals, especially in countries like the US and the UK, are treated more like living pieces of meat and containers for milk as opposed to truly living, sentient beings. I might also think about a more intrinsic reason, that mainly being the fact that I can look an animal in the eye and live happily knowing that I don’t use, nor exploit (to any extent), their bodies for their products.

I could go on about these reasons, but the main point of this post is not to describe why I went vegan (because everyone has their own reasons for choosing to eat what they do). However, I’d like to highlight a difference in the reaction to veganism that I get here in the UK and in other societies like the US. (Disclaimer: this information is purely anecdotal and speaks only to my experiences, which can surely be argued further with other perspectives.)

Put simply, when it’s found out that I’m vegan in London, my actions are seen as morally commendable; others usually react with, “Yeah, I guess I could mainly go vegan, but my gosh I just couldn’t cut out the cheese. I love cheese.” Or, “Wow, props to you, man, I just love how good meat tastes.” A respectful conversation ensues about the benefits and shortcomings of veganism, and I usually come out of the conversation with a little more information from both sides, either helping me believe further in my ideals or spending more thought in why I actually eat this way.

However, at times when others (many belonging to the US, others living in Germany or France, others coming from predominantly Hispanic backgrounds) question me about my veganism, I feel more like I’m being put on trial for attacking one’s living relative: “Ahh, why do you have to be vegan? Don’t you miss cheese? Are you getting enough protein?” Or, “Yeah, I just feel like meals without meat just aren’t enough. Don’t you snack a lot throughout the day?” Or, “Isn’t it just more expensive to be a vegan?” Or, my favourite, “Nuts cannot be milked because they don’t have udders!!”

Regardless of how I may have made these comments seem (and my bias towards the comments), each respondent carries a valid concern, that which manifests when we start to realise how tied up food is in one’s culture.

I made it a point to use the word “ethical” when talking about my decision to become a vegan. There is, importantly, a key difference between the word “ethical” and the word “moral”, where one (‘ethical’) shows that the difference between right and wrong is contextually-dependent, where the other (‘moral’) implies that there are universal rights or wrongs. However, this does not mean that we can simply apply a context to an ethical problem and instantly get the correct ethical answer (we’re not doing algebra here).

What I mean to say is that I think being vegan is a bit easier in London because it’s a part of the culture, and the population of vegans is only increasing. However, we see that meat in countries in Central or South America revolve so greatly around meat that it would be absurd to think that giving up such a thing could happen in such a culture (think of Peruvian or Brazilian culture, perhaps).

This brings me to why I think my veganism is an ethical decision and not a moral decision (the answer *might* be different with vegetarianism, but even then I’m not so sure). Many (even the English) keep asking me what will come of my veganism once I’m in El Salvador (if this is the first time that I’m mentioning this, I’m sorry! Just stick with me here and you’ll get a life update soon). Essentially, my frame of ethics may happen to clash periodically with other culturally-developed ethical frameworks that I encounter, perhaps in deciding what to do if a family gives me a plate of food (out of Salvadoran hospitality) that contains any bit of animals.

The peculiar thing about ethics is that we must not ever realise that we have done the moral groundwork once, never having to reevaluate in the future. Because ethics is so contextually-dependent, we must not ever stop evaluating our ethical decisions in new contexts and frameworks. Even more, if we wish to believe that our personal ethical guidelines are in fact moral truth, the only way we could prove so was to find every single possible case in which the ethical decision in question could arise and see what happens. (Time’s a ticking!)

All joking aside, the key takeaway is that no matter what we believe is right or wrong in one context, we must always remain open to what another has to say or show us, for they might manage to give us a compelling-enough counter example to change our minds. As such, we must always remain constantly respectful of new situations and cultures around us.

It may be that I hope everyone I meet around the globe has a mutual love for a plant-based diet like me, but I have to realise that my veganism is an ethical choice, one that will continue to prod and poke at my body of ethics, keeping that body in a constantly dynamic state. If anything, some form of mutual respect will predominate any negative assumptions.

~Jeffrey

P.S. the penultimate paragraph is alluding to a difference I notice in English versus US politics – that of disagreement and open-minded listening versus disagreement and stubbornness to even hearing what the other side has to say. I might say, mind the difference!

 

A few words on Shakespeare

Dear friends,

Every time I sign onto this platform, I always end up thinking “it’s been a while!” And it has been, for which I duly apologise. Today’s the day, the date that I’ve been reciting to almost everyone who has asked me about my course (it’s due on the 3rd of September!), ‘it’ being my dissertation.

So, as I write this, two copies of my dissertation are sitting in my backpack by my desk, printed and bound, ready and raring to be handed in and fervently read by two markers: my supervisor and a secondary marker.

All I can say is that these past two months have been, at the very least, a difficult trek. Paradoxically, though, each day spent writing a dissertation seems to be the most mundane in existence; I basically slept, ate, and read for most of these days. However, I also learned the importance of breaks, and much of my break time was filled with music, culture and art. I managed to make my summer in London (post Street Orchestra) one full of music (my own playing as well as going to the BBC Proms, a must-do for a Londoner), the arts (I managed to see King Lear with Ian McKellen as well as Hamlet at Shakespeare’s Globe), and some more London touristy things (like touring the state rooms at Buckingham Palace, or going to the National Gallery for a Thomas Cole exhibition).

I’d like to remark on one of those past experiences. Being able to go see Hamlet was, in a sense, somewhat of a full-circle event. The reason being is that in my final year of high school, I was in this class called IB World Lit. 2. Each year, this class had a certain focus and we were lucky enough to be focusing on drama throughout the entire year. This led to us studying two works by or related to Shakespeare, the first being Hamlet, and the second being Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (by Tom Stoppard). Now, as much as I may have loathed reading Hamlet (in high school I thought that I was this science-heavy, brainy student (surely a bit arrogantly)), faint memories of our analyses and discussions managed to stay tucked away in my brain until the day I stepped into the Globe to watch the play again.

Whenever I step into a venue to see Shakespeare, I always enter with a bit of fear. What if I’m not going to understand what’s going on? Maybe I should have studied Shakespeare a bit more up until now… and I find myself quickly googling “[insert Shakespeare play] plot notes” moments before the play starts. It always seems that I develop an acute sense of frailty, specifically regarding my familiarity with the play I’m about to see.

So far I’ve seen three Shakespeare plays in London – Pericles, King Lear, and Hamlet. Each time, I’ve had this same feeling of dread that I’d walk out of the play and be embarrassed about how much I caught on to as compared to the friend with whom I was seeing the show. However, as I started to settle in to each play, the ‘barrier’ that is Shakespearean English managed to get smaller and smaller, such that I eventually reached a deeper level of comprehension early on in the play.

This feeling was no different with Hamlet, but even greater because the play started to open the vault of memories that were locked away somewhere deep in the folds of my mind from my high school english course (included was Mr. Frye’s overly zealous look in his eyes when reading through lines of Hamlet). Although I can’t remember exactly what we managed to analyse in the class, having at least a bit of familiarity with the plot helped me dig deeper into the ideas presented in the play.

All this is to say, I think, that we mustn’t shy away from the depth of thought and beauty that Shakespeare managed to give us with his writing. In fact, if one is a native English speaker, it would be an utter shame for us to not realise the beauty in Shakespearean english, only for the sake of being worried about not being able to understand the language. Each time I walk away from a Shakespeare play, I feel a settled sense of comfort, that which very few authors have managed to do with the English language.

I am highly doubtful that I would ever be able to reproduce anything that Shakespeare did, but I do see it as a mission of sorts to create works of writing that might approach a similar, settled sense that I felt from Shakespearean english. The English language is, according to my belief, not very prone to beauty in its prose, and it takes a lot of thought, work, and sometime genius (like Shakespeare or, perhaps, Arthur Miller or T.S. Eliot) to create assuredly good works of writing. However, that’s not to say that ‘genius’ is not accessible – in fact, I think we can all surprise ourselves at how far a little effort goes in comprehending, or even producing, a work of art with this language of ours.

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This post will be a series of many this week, as I do believe that I owe you all more posts than I’ve written. Stay tuned, then, for a recounting of events, thoughts from my summer, and updates on what I’ll be up to after this fellowship.

~Jeffrey