The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

On the need for civil discourse.

Once upon a time, discourse between people in public was conducted with civility. At least, this was the ideal. However, this no longer seems to apply, in the modern world, particularly on the internet.

Recently, I wrote a post about the experience of native English speakers, encountering Singlish. It was a distillation of the experiences of many native English speakers that I have known in my life, from all walks of life, and from all the major English speaking countries. All confessed to have been baffled by Singlish at times - and all thought, basically, that it would be better if a more standard version of English were current, from the point of view of effective communication. Only one liked Singlish, a Canadian, who thought it was "funny". Basically, Singlish made him laugh, so he liked it.

Now, one would have thought that getting an external perspective on the local linguistic situation might be of interest to Singaporeans. However, this has not been the case. The post has been greeted with great hostility in some quarters - such hostility that I wonder if it is even worth engaging such people in conversation, in any form.

One poster, in particular, whose comment I posted, went on to write on his or her own blog in a defamatory fashion. Their post is filled with ad hominem attacks (personal attacks) upon me. It seems to be motivated by a lot of anger and quite a bit of spite. It is a most unpleasant post and one that is, actually, libellous in several instances. This is not what I call civilized discourse.

When I grew up and received an education, I imbibed the idea that when engaged in intellectual discourse that one should never attack the bearer of an idea, and only to argue with the idea itself. That notion doesn't seem to be understood in the Singaporean blogosphere. It seems that Singlish is a minor communication problem, here - the greater one is the lack of respect for civil discourse.

A nation that speaks a corrupted version of English, I can accept, though I would advise that they be conversant in standard English, as well, for purposes of international communication - but a nation that has lost - or never had - an understanding of civil discourse really is unnacceptable. When Singaporeans indulge in uncivilized attacks on others, instead of engaging in well-behaved discourse to come to an understanding of ideas, they show, ultimately, what is lacking, in some people here: an appreciation of what it means to be a civilized being, in a sophisticated world.

I didn't fully appreciate how lacking some Singaporeans are, in basic civility, until I saw the reactions to my post. It has been has also lowered, somewhat, my opinion of the element of society responsible. One got the impression that the posters were the kind of people who would engage in lynchings, in other times, and places.

I have to give some thought to this: perhaps it is not worth trying to engage local people in any kind of discourse at all. A civilized conversation is only possible with those who have learnt what it means to be civilized. One poster, in particular, most certainly has no idea what that means. Some others are not far behind.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and seven months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, five years exactly, and Tiarnan, twenty-eight months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, the Irish, the Malays, Singapore, College, University, Chemistry, Science, genetics, left-handedness, precocity, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, wunderkind, wonderkind, genio, гений ребенок prodigy, genie, μεγαλοφυία θαύμα παιδιών, bambino, kind.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 9:53 PM 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's what i dont understand- Hope you can clarify:

Whenever someone argues against the gov, you support-- You have mentioned in one of your previous post, some time back, that through reading countless local blogs, the people of Singapore are generally against the gov-- and you support their argument.

Yet, now you seem to be dismissing us completely- Ironic isn't it- That against you we are baseless and uncivilized and yet against the gov, we suddenly are right in our senseless way.

Care to share?

Anyway, i think what is happening is that you are interacting with a particular segment of the local online population. This segment is, as you have said, uncivilized. You can check out to see the totally ridiculous stuff that people post there.

But you should not be discouraged. Continue to engage the local population- there are people who are actually listening and thinking.

So keep up the good work.
While i do not agree with you on quite a number of matters, i do respect your position and read your blog regularly (and other political sites too) to gain a wider understanding of people's opinions and such.

However, if i may add in this comment: While i do admire your writing, I usually feel a sense of superiority radiating from it- perhaps it is only me- But i do sense this 'feeling', which is different from the more neutral tones that i get from other alternative political sites.

But that is just my humble opinion. So if you feel otherwise, do not take offense.

Just to reiterate, continue your writings.
There will always be different types of people- even in developed US- some are more clear headed, while others seek to insult and argue in a baseless manner. The trick is to state your argument and ignore those comments. That's are politicians all across the world work.

Best Regards

10:56 PM  
Anonymous Wang said...

My commisserations to you.

Unfortunately, civil discourse is difficult as people are unable to agree to disagree, further, this compounded by a winner take all attitude. This I would deem applies more to internet related discourses and not just to local scene here.Eg in Daily Kos for liberal side or LGF for conservative side iof on the other views. This applies to almost all countries except Japan/Korea.

Thanks for your insights although I would disagree with a number of your views.


11:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Valentine,

I am sorry to hear of your experience. To be sure, I don't think this is a Singaporean problem, but a modern one. You should visit the web forums of say, Fox News, to get a sense of what I mean.

2:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

4:12 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you, Maria, for the link!

Best wishes.

7:02 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Dear Anon at 10.56 pm.

I have been misinterpreted re. the government. I am not wholesale for or against any organization, usually, either a government or anything else. What I do, is look at each issue separately. On some issues, I am for the government's position - for instance, they launched a speak good English campaign some years ago and I agree with the need for that - although given the posts my Singlish post attracted I would say that many Singaporeans disagree. Also, I am happy to see that there is no culture here, of photographers chasing pictures of famous people. That is supportive of the media culture here (government created), in this respect, though in other respects I am not happy about the media culture. So really it is issue by issue. You are right, though, that I do take issue with a number of the government's ways of doing things - but this is out of a stance based on morality and a respect for individual freedom.

As for a sense of "superiority"...I don't know why you feel that. All I do is try to look at matters as clearly as possible and express my thoughts as best as I can, in the circumstances (fast blogging while attending to everything else in life). That is all. There is no particular stance re. myself, at work here.

The internet commenters/posters who go in for insult and personal attack, in Singapore, make blogging sometimes an unpleasant experience. Why should sharing one's thoughts be penalized in this way? There are better ways to communicate than that. Simply discussing matters calmly is far superior than resorting to directed personal attacks. In my eyes, those who attack in this way have already lost any argument they are engaged in...because it shows their desperation.

Thanks for your comment and encouragement.

Kind regards

8:46 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you Wang, for your comment.

You are, of course, free to disagree with any of my views...however, I find unacceptable those whose disagreements involve personal attacks, insults, verbal barrage and sometimes even what seems like madness (those whose expressions are so extreme as to lead one to question their sanity). All of this has no part on the internet or in any dialogue, of any form. I think you would probably agree.

Your commiserations are appreciated. Thanks.

8:51 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Re. Fox news...I shall have to have a look. I speak, of course, of my direct experience of the Singaporean blogosphere since that is the one I am interacting with.


8:54 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Re. Fox news...I shall have to have a look. I speak, of course, of my direct experience of the Singaporean blogosphere since that is the one I am interacting with.


8:54 AM  
Anonymous emeraldiel said...

I think people in general dislike being criticised by foreigners. If your post was written by a Singaporean, I believe the response could be less harsh.

9:45 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...


That is very interesting. That means, then, that there is an element of "shoot the messenger" going on here. It also means that locals will not engage with anyone likely to have a new perspective on their situation. In other words, true debate is not allowed, encouraged or desired. This means no thinking permitted, of course, since there can be none if all share the same backgrounds, thoughts, opinions and views - and all others are excluded as "foreign".


10:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, the last i checked, not all Singaporeans share the same way of thinking.

I think this is not peculiar only to Singaporeans, but also to most countries worldwide.
Take China for instance and how their netizens response to any damning report/comment from the western world.
But within their own population, the reaction is not as harsh.
Every citizen from any country is (usually) defensive when it comes to criticism from a foreigner-such is the nature of man.

11:35 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Singaporeans share much of their thinking owing to the emphasis on conformity in their upbringing so there will be less diversity of views among them, than between nationalities.

I agree that China shares this characteristic with Singapore, but I am not sure that all countries do. Most other nationalities that I have encountered seem, on the surface, rather less prickly, defensive and nationalistic on such issues. There is, I feel, often more open-ness to discussion.

However, it is true that Singaporeans are not the only people to behave in this way.

Thanks for your comment.

8:24 PM  

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