It was pretty standard military fare, with ideas centred on whatever was the rage of that post-9/11 and Iraq II age. The first-placed essay, for example, was a paper on terrorism, while the bronze-medallist wrote about peacekeeping operations.
What caught my eye was the runner-up’s paper – “The Laments of Cassandra: Reflections on Warning Intelligence in the Information Eden”.
As an English Literature undergraduate with a keen interest in military affairs, I was impressed. Officers of that era were not particularly known for their knowledge of culture, especially when compared to their predecessors from colonial times.
The irony of the metatextual context amused me further; a paper on the pitfalls of ignoring prophecies coming in second, almost as though its prescience were itself being disregarded.
Mostly, I was intrigued by the Greek myth of Cassandra. How tragic, the Romantic in me thought. To be blessed with the gift of soothsaying, but to be cursed by never having anyone believe your predictions.
Nine years on, the story of Cassandra still fascinates me. I’ve started to wonder, though, if we should uncritically accept Cassandra’s fate for what it seems to be.
It began a couple of months back, when a contact expressed a view about the nature of communication and recipient receptivity.
In his words, if the recipient has already rejected what it is you have to offer, then:
If you keep selling it for what it is, of course people are going to say “No”.
So in the modern day, where we understand so much more about human psychology, design thinking and the nature of communication, can Cassandra complain if no one believes her, especially when she persists in peddling her prophecies in the same way?
It seems to me that Cassandra has two options:
Carry on with tradition, and hope her recipients see the light one day; or
Reframe what she is saying – instead of selling it for what it is, sell it for what people want it to be.
Perhaps more people will finally start listening to her then.
At the National Library now. Decided to take a break from writing by reading something and ventured over to the shelves behind me.
Picked up SQ21: Singapore Queers in the 21st Century by Ng Yi-Sheng and could not stop reading the book because the stories are so compelling.
Here’s a nugget that made me chuckle:
The word [that the interviewee was gay] spread higher and higher up the command chain until it reached my course commander, who was this Senior Warrant Office. He was this big Indian man, a really old-fashioned conservative fella, very regimental. Everything had to be in tiptop shape, our boots had to be shiny, our bunks had to be clean all the time, and he was always telling us, “Fucking hell. You all better run faster! You all so slow!”
I realised this could turn into something big, and I was really afraid for a while. But then once, during a lecture, he was saying, “The weekend’s coming. You all are booking out. Why don’t you all go get yourself a fuck? So how many of you got girlfriends?” Various hands went up. “Boyfriends?” Then everyone turned and looked at me, and I was thinking, “Shit you!”
Then the course commander said, “Why? What’s wrong? Why? Who’s anti-gay here?” A few people put up their hands. He pointed his finger and said, “Okay you. Get out of your seat. You also, get out. You go sit over there one corner. You all can form the anti-gay corner over there. (p. 133; emphasis mine)