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SINGAPORE - Just what were Alvin Tan and Vivian Lee thinking when they posted sexually explicit videos of themselves for all to see?
These had appeared on Sumptuous Erotica, a blog where the two young Malaysians uploaded photos and videos of their sex acts - and invited swinging couples to join them for sex as well.
The blog became a cause celebre here and in Malaysia last week because Mr Tan is a National University of Singapore (NUS) law student. Miss Lee, who has just graduated from a Malaysian university, is looking for work.
The duo have now pulled down the blog after Miss Lee's mother went ballistic. But the site still carries a link to a YouTube video where Mr Tan says: "I don't see how our lives have been negatively affected by this whole saga." Miss Lee also said she saw nothing wrong in what they had done. Whatever their own views, many more sober-minded folk may be muttering that it was a "crazy" thing to do.
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Pretty? Work of art?
"Crazy" is a word the dictionary says is derived from the 14th century Middle English word "crasen", meaning to crush or shatter - perhaps as in shattering the mould or breaking away from the old? The duo may well embrace this definition of crazy.
But the word also sounds closer to "akrasia", the Greek for intemperance, acting against one's better judgment, or lacking control over oneself.
So akrasia is the antonym to "autonomy" from the Greek "auto" and "nomia", meaning self- law or self-governance.
If akrasia is the opposite of self-governance, then it is misdirected autonomy in the sense of wilfully doing something one knows is likely to have bad consequences. In short, one knows better. This law student knows or should know better than to parade his sex life out there.
How can akrasia come about? Socrates debated this in the dialogue written by Plato called Protagoras. He surmised that there can, in fact, be no such thing as akrasia. It is logically impossible, he reasoned, since bad things harm one, which makes one unhappy, so no one chooses bad things since no one wants to be unhappy. Thus, no one goes willingly towards the bad, which is why akrasia is imaginary, Socrates said.
But few people behave as rationally as Socrates might think. Every day, millions of people behave in ways they know are bad for themselves - like eat unhealthy food and not exercise.
Aristotle put a different spin to akrasia, arguing that it stems from opinion, not reason as Socrates imagined. For example, reasoning from known facts, I know smoking is bad for me. But reason also tells me that some smokers have the genetic fortitude such that they will never develop lung cancer. Next, I form the opinion that I might be among such people, so I smoke.
So the akrasia in smoking flows not from reason - which would align only with the good, Socrates said - but from opinion, which may or may not be aligned with what is good for me.
Let's go back to the daring duo. Was their akrasia due to opinion? Miss Lee said: "To us, the pictures... were a work of art.. We wanted... the world... to see how pretty it was."
Unwise or calculated?
In other words, reason might have told them their action was unwise for the offence it would cause. Even if they cared naught for the world, they clearly cared about offending their families, given that they have taken down the blog after Miss Lee's mother objected to it. So perhaps they had gone ahead because of the view that their work was art, not pornography.
But wait, you may say. Perhaps their act was a cold, rational one to gain fame - or infamy - in the Internet's attention economy. With abundant content freely available on the Internet, attention is the limiting factor. Personal branding through the unusual, egregious or grotesque may grab some attention. Seen in this light, putting up sex videos and pictures was a reasonable move to garner eyeballs and attention.
They themselves say they value fame. Their blog has had more than 100,000 visitors. Mr Tan said: "This is a critical period... we intend to use... to build a following... for more lasting fame."
In the Internet age where youngsters have gone on to earn millions - think Justin Bieber - after posting YouTube clips of themselves, megastar fame with megabucks to match is achievable even through notoriety.
So while more sober or just older people might think these youngsters crazy, this could all be just a well reasoned move from which the good, in their opinion, trumps the bad. They might change that opinion at 40 - or not - depending if they make it big in some way from their fame.
No regrets now but later?
Still, what kind of individuals might be willing to resort to such an "akratic" move? Modern psychology sheds some light on this with the concept of "hyperbolic discounting".
Psychologists have done experiments to show that people prefer a smaller reward given sooner, rather than a bigger one given later. The later the reward, the more greatly its value is discounted.
It is reflected in the attitude that we ought to "eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die". Enjoy first, and suffer the consequences later.
Such views might explain the mental process and behaviour of drug addicts and habitual gamblers, groups who lack the self-control to say "no" to their bad habits. Numerous experiments have shown that these people show a tendency towards "hyperbolic discounting" with respect to issues of self-control.
They value the pleasure of the drug high now or the rush at the poker table today, much more than the mundane rewards in the future of a day's honest work. They choose smaller payoffs now over larger payoffs in the future.
Many ordinary folk similarly underestimate the future consequences of gluttony, inebriation, fornication, infidelity or any other vice or guilty fun.
So akrasia is likely to be seen in people who tend to choose smaller and sooner rewards over possibly larger but later ones.
Akrasia is not temporary insanity, impatience, impetuosity or irrationality - but just something that some people are more likely to do after reasoning through and forming an opinion about what is best for them now, without sufficient regard for the ill effects later, if any.
Craziness, it turns out, may have little to do with irrationality and everything to do with one's opinion of the virtues of an act.
Exhibitionism is, of course, not addiction to substance abuse or gambling. The duo may or may not go on to win fame and fortune. Call me old-fashioned, but I would think few of us would call what they did wise anyway.