What’s Next for Southeast Asia’s Longest-Running Literature Festival? | Endgame #149
The more you create a platform for that and bring people together to discuss books and writing and issues, surely you cultivate a growing sort of literary arena and interest. To understand philosophy is digging deep within ourselves by not just reading but also writing. It's a form of us to communicate, not just to other people, but to ourselves. Because we also struggle to understand ourselves. Hi friends, lately we have been quite concerned about what can be called the lack of people around the world in terms of the need to be more literate. Literacy can't just be defined as being able to read but also to understand important issues.
Today we have two guests who, in my opinion, are very instrumental in promoting the literacy culture of reading books, which I think is an antidote to other cultures that have recently become very strong. How we are cornered and trapped with very short soundbites. Today we have Laksmi and Janet De-Neefe. Janet is, of course, very well known for the activities of the Ubud Writers Festival, which has been running for about 20 years. It's on a mission to improve reading culture, reading and writing culture. And of course, it is very desirable for us to understand more about how we can enrich the reading and the writing culture, especially for Indonesian children and Indonesians in the future.
In this conversation, we will talk a lot about issues that may need to be exposed in the context of literacy, in the context of discussion, and in the context of discourse. This includes issues of how to address climate change and also how young people should have more emotive capacity, not just cognitive, and this may require sensitivity to how we can philosophize and how we better understand reading literature. And also this other issue includes how humans can be sensible, not just sensitive. Sensibility is quite different from sensitivity.
And how we have to understand history better. But also more importantly, especially in the context of my conversations with them, art history; how the history of art in the past is important for us to be more knowledgeable, more sensitive, and more able to use IQ in our daily activities. I think this is an overview of what we talked about, discussed with Janet and Laksmi. Welcome to Endgame. I hope you enjoy it.
Thank you. GITA WIRJAWAN: Thank you so much for coming on to our show. Janet De-Neefe: Thank you. Laksmi De-Neefe: Thank you. The pleasure is ours. It's been a dream for us to come here. Dream for us too.
I know it took a while to make this work, but Janet, what's up in the upcoming Ubud Writers Festival? Well actually first we have the Ubud Food Festival. - Yeah, it's all-knowing, right? - Just soon, yeah. And then we have the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in October. And then this year we celebrate 20 years, so it's our anniversary.
- So it's a bit of a milestone. - The writer or the food? - The writers, actually. - Okay. So the food's just a baby compared to the Writers Festival.
How long has the food been around? Well, I guess it's our sixth event this year, but with the break with COVID for 2 years. So it's kind of like 7 years, or 8, I don't know. And what do you think might, or will make this year different from the past for both the food and the writers? I guess the food festival is just a really exciting program, and we have a lot of little food tours around the island, so people can actually see what's happening behind the scenes and connect with artisan producers and see different foods, sea salt, palm sugar, chocolate, things like that. I mean, it creates this whole Garden of Eden, doesn't it, with Bali, the fact that we just have everything. So we love to show our guests, our visitors, how amazing Bali is.
And then we have a lot of great chefs appearing, both from Indonesia and this region, and lots of amazing food. So yeah, it's pretty fantastic. We all love it because food is such an enjoyable thing. I mean, it's the greatest pleasure in life, really, one of them. And then the writers, that's gonna be in October.
Yeah, the Writers is the 20th anniversary, so that's October again. We're currently selecting writers and mapping out a program and trying to think about what we can do to make it really exciting, more festive. So that's kind of our homework right now.
Is succession in play on the Ubud Writers Festival? - As in? - You see Laksmi as somebody who's... - Of course. Yeah. I forgot to tell her that, by the way. Nobody asked me about it.
Nobody asked me what I wanted to do, but it's fine. - Yeah, that would be nice, wouldn't it? - What do you think? One thing that I would do different than my mom for the festival is going more online, incorporating more technology, and just being more present in these platforms on social media and just online in general. I think that, yes, there's of course a threat to reading being extinct. No, I don't think it will ever be extinct, to be honest. We will always have to read. It's one form of communication that can never go away.
But it's definitely shifting. - We have ChatGPT now, - Yeah, it’s amazing. - so we need to talk about reading and writing in general.
Amazing good and amazing bad. What do you think of ChatGPT? As you say, amazing good, amazing bad. It's really scary actually, because we've experimented writing things, like somebody experimented with a story and it's like, “Damn, it's not bad.” I don't know how it's going to pan out actually. Because there's one guy, I think, on the internet who wrote like 10 books in 1 year with ChatGPT, and you could (do that).
You could write a book in a few minutes. Yeah. So that's the thing. We all talk about modern technology, but are we sort of killing ourselves with these great innovations? Where does it go or where does it end? - I've personally never tried ChaptGPT. - You should. But I feel like I'm very interested in AI. Well, I talk like I use it all the time. I don’t. Full disclosure.
No, I'm very interested in AI and technology. And I feel like because we are always on our phones, we're always on social media, our phones have become our right hand, basically, an extension of our bodies. We are also at the same time going back into spirituality to balance it out. We're also learning about connecting with our emotions and going deep within ourselves. So I feel like just staying optimistic about it is important. We're all here to trial it out together, but it's inevitable.
It's part of our progress. And we're going in that direction, so might as well just learn from it, take it in, and see how we can just do our best to not for it to take over what we have as humans that makes us so special. I've been talking about it quite a lot about how AI is not being discussed in a multidisciplinary manner.
You brought up the topic of spirituality, right? And I think that needs to be infused in the discussions, preferably discourses with regards to how AI could be utilized for better purposes of humanity. But I've been critical in the sense that the technologists, they tend to just be very exclusive without roping in people of culture, people of spirituality, people of economics, people of sociology, people of other dimensions. And there is a risk that this thing gets forward in a very injudicious manner because you need those dimensions, right? What do you think? So you feel like with AI, it might divide us even more? Yeah. That's one possible consequence. And divide is okay if it's just left or right. But divide of its top and bottom, that's a much more scary proposition. And I've been saying quite a lot about how the internet has elitized society to the point just the top 0.1% would control disproportionately
much larger percentage of the economy as compared to the remaining 99%. This, I think, could further exacerbate the inequality that we've all tasted in the last few decades. It could be corrected. I guess it just goes to show that these days, power means knowledge.
Intellectuality. - Is that even a word? - Yeah. Intellect. Intellect. That's where you can go in that 0.00 whatever percent. - Absolutely. - That's the power these days. It's not who's president, it's who has the brain. And in an ideal world, intellect needs to be democratized so that everybody owns it, everybody gets it, everybody feels it, everybody shows it.
But intellect has not been democratized. It's been just in a few zip codes and a few heads as opposed to all 8 billion heads of humanity. Now, how do we make sure that intellect actually occupies the heads and minds of all these 8 billion people.
- How? - Very interesting. - I mean, one means is reading. - Exactly. Education. - Yeah, education. I mean, it's pretty systemic. - In one way, the internet has opened its doors to everyone.
- To information. - To information. - But not ideas. - Not ideas. And it also makes us all standard. We all share or have the same ideas because we consume from the same platform, the same sources. And that's where books come in.
We read about things from years back. We read from things that are written from people from across the world with different experiences, with different cultures and different ideas. And we all get to share and read about that. So I guess, that's why we need to go back into reading actual books and not just read from the internet. Yeah. What do you think, Janet?
Yeah, I agree, of course. And I guess in order to get back to reading like that, there has to be some sort of movement, which probably has to be through social media or using the platforms that people are familiar with to create. Do you sense that what you've done for the last 20 years, at times, not all the time, that this would have been an exercise of futility or utility? Well, I knew when we started the Writers Festival that we were in a place where people didn't necessarily read a lot, but I figured that the more you create a platform for that and bring people together to discuss books and writing and issues, surely you cultivate a growing sort of literary arena and interest in that, just create that kind of platform. And I think when you bring people together, it just sort of creates an excitement anyway that encourages people to read, if it's all about reading. I mean, it's really cool what you're doing, right? But we're talking about putting that in the context of this massive technological force that makes people just shackle themselves into sound bites of 30 seconds, 3 minutes, or 140 characters, or 280 characters. What you're doing is a great act of nobility, right? It's good, but what do you think can be done to amplify or to be amplified in such a way that we can actually be the antidote to this massive technological force that forces or shackles people into this narrow corridor of sound bites.
I guess, well, trying to focus on the young people. We have the emerging writers as part of the program, trying to engage with them and get them more involved. We also have the satellite program after the festival where we go to remote areas around Indonesia, trying to connect with marginalized communities, in fact. So just trying to connect with people and create opportunities through writing.
And I think too, we need to think more about awards for young writers and things like that. So, monetize those kinds of things. I mean, this is all new to us, right? We're only going through this now. So we really need to think of ways. And for the younger generations, actually a lot of them are quitting social media.
It's becoming a trend as well. Just like getting out of it. - Really? - Yeah. - That's new. - Escapian. Getting completely out of social media? A lot of people are.
I mean, a couple of years ago there were the trends of these phones that are made somewhere in Scandinavia that are not smartphones. They're just phones for calling. - Okay. I thought you are talking about here, the young here. - Not here. - The young in Europe? - Yes. - Okay.
Do you see that as a trend that's going to be trendy here? It could be. I'm not saying no. Okay. I feel that in order for this to be scalable, I think it's got to involve the big guys.
The big guys being either the government or somebody out there that has stupid money to throw, right? I'll be very open about this. Would there be anybody or any people out there with stupid money who perhaps would share your sentiments, our sentiments about the need to get as many people as possible to read. And without being able to read properly, they're not going to be able to write properly. What do you think, Laksmi? I mean, we are homo sapiens, so we need a lot of stimulation from the outside world. And these people with a lot of money need to be able to stimulate the young children to be interested in reading from a very early age.
And when they are stimulated from reading, they also open up doors for themselves to go into other things and not just like consume from one source and then we all become standardized. And then also to make them want to write. I don't exactly know the answer or the solution or how you can spend this money to make people want to read and write. But maybe popular culture can help; celebrities, influencers. - Like you, you're a celebrity. - Yes. - Right? You're a celebrity. - That's what I'm trying to do.
I mean, the whole thing with me joining Putri Indonesia was to just at least bring the awareness that literacy is important, that we as a country, we're so illiterate and we need to uplift this problem because it's so underrated. And I look at literacy as one where you don't just read or write. I think literacy ought to be defined as a place where you can actually read, write, undertake risk and manage risk.
That's the definition of literacy in totality, right? Yes. For me, your ability to understand the world, understand each other, to communicate, to be able to process information around you. And if people are not literate, they can't even process what's on social media. We're just given information and we believe it. There are so many hoaxes and so many false information going around and we're all consuming the same thing. So it's just… It's called the post-truth era, where people fail to separate facts from fiction.
And with algorithms and AI, we're only being fed the things that they think that we like. So we're so limited in our imagination these days, right? - That is so true. We lack the imagination. - Yeah. And we can break away from that - The ability to imagine - by diversifying the books that we're reading. And I'm not accepting of the fact that people keep equating algorithmic amplification with democracy, right? These algorithms that we've been talking about, they actually amplify certain narratives that are divisive, that are polarizing. And as if we're supposed to call them or equate them with democracy.
It's not healthy. And I think democracy is in a recession in many places in the US, Western European countries, and others. It needs to be, I think, taken a view of by the young generation. I want to talk about what issues other than reading you think are very important for young people to address in the future. I mean, you’re what? 27? So what would you want your fellow 27-year-olds and younger to think about? What's cool in the future? What's cool for the future? I think what's cool in the future is to be able to stay true to who you are, your roots, to not lose track of yourself, of our history, of our culture, and to take that in, to take that with us to the future with technology along with us. Okay. Do you sense that your generation understands Indonesia's history enough?
- I don't think so. - Yeah. - Not enough. - Why and what to do? Because maybe we understand about the history taught at school. But not the history that our ancestors knows about, not about our connection with nature, not the local wisdom ones. Those kinds of histories like mythology and the things that we don't fully understand, but it's been with us and it's shaped us as who we are now that we've forgotten about.
Isn't there a sense that the richness of our history is not adequately documented? Yes. Absolutely. Which correlates with the fact that the culture of writing is shallow. The culture of reading is shallow.
This is, I think, an explanation for the broader narrative. I think the West was able to supersede the Eastern culture for a couple of hundred years or what, because the West was able to document their wisdom, their knowledge, whatever. But it's not too late for Indonesia to start documenting. Yeah, we need to start now. I mean, one form of preserving our culture or… You know, we don't write it, but we have it in the forms of performance. Like in Bali, we have the traditional dances that tells a story, but that just stayed there until now.
- We didn't take that in. - And stories from parents to children, from children to grandchildren, etc. But there are no documents. - Yeah, word of mouth, performance, songs. But now we need to understand the importance of writing and we need to start now. Yeah, I agree. I think art history is an essential part of what we are and how we've become what we are and how we can become what we want to be.
And we've realized that the history that we know of were written by the ones that were in power at the time, but now we can all write. - We can all do it. - Meaning there's bias. There's noise. - Yeah. I mean, can you imagine, just not like now, the things that we know of the past were because of certain people. So if we don't write it ourselves now, we don't write what's happening right now at the current time, in the future our kids won't know about it. They would know our stories from a perspective of just a few selected people.
What else? That was the first issue. Or maybe people don't see the importance of writing because they're documenting things now through photos. But I think we need more than that.
We need more photos. We need more than just photos and videos. Yeah, they're documenting the food that they're eating. Instead of medical explanation for what happens.
Hey, at least write the recipe, right? So at least like your future kids can try to make it and taste it just the way it tastes exactly. You've done this for 20 years, right? What has sunken into your mind about what could be done better? For the importance of literature in Indonesia, our ability to document things, our ability to read and write better. I suppose for me, to be honest, I don't read much in Indonesian. And I always wish that we could be more part of translation of Indonesian work.
That for me is something we've been talking about, how to start that. At least by translating it, then you reach a wider audience. I know maybe some people think, “Well, why should we translate it?” So I can read it, you know? And also I think if you have young writers, if they have that option to get their work translated, that's quite a nice incentive. But even just to publish it, of course, is another great thing.
But I guess for me, I just would love to see more Indonesian work on the shelves around the world. Because when you go to bookstores, there's very little. Yeah. Say no more.
Yeah. And if you ask people on the street, “Name a few Indonesian writers.” I was talking to John McGlynn about this.
Well, he said within Indonesia itself, if you ask people on the street to name 10 Indonesian writers, they would struggle. - And then if you… - Wow. I mean, you had the problem in the 80s about... Actually, that's a great observation. Name me the top or just any 10 Indonesian authors. And you have 30 seconds.
I could probably name 6, but I can't do 10. And I also was telling you that I have a problem. I feel guilty. I feel ashamed that I don't know enough Indonesian writers and I don't read enough Indonesian books.
But is that my fault? Is that the fault of my generation or is it also because we simply don't have enough writers and books that interest us? - All of the above. So it's a bit of a dilemma, but I think we can start now and do better. And I've been quite vocal about the need for Indonesians to speak international languages, right? One of which is English.
And I say English, at the risk of being criticized, it's because most of the wisdom and knowledge throughout the world would have been written in English, unfortunately or fortunately. And most economic activities throughout the world are undertaken in English. If you live in Afghanistan, you want to trade with somebody in Ethiopia. The trade is not done in Afghan, nor Ethiopian, nor Mandarin, nor Japanese, nor Italian.
More than likely it's going to be done in English. So there is a vested interest to explore knowledge. There is a vested interest to basically expand the economic pie by engaging in economic activities with as many people as possible around the world.
So I would guess that there's probably no more than 5% of the population of Indonesia that could speak English or international language fluently. You being one of them, right? For me language is a complex thing. Not really. I've seen it with my own eyes where we could actually teach somebody in Flores to be proficient in 3 months to the point he could get a job and put food on the table for a family of 6. 3 months. But I think for me language is very complex, especially in Indonesia because I heard from the writer Felix Nesi, he said that it's very hard even for him coming from NTT, if I'm not mistaken, for him to write in Indonesian, simply because a lot of the words he cannot even translate to Indonesian, let alone English.
So I think it's also complex because if you talk to translators, how do you translate Rumi's poetry into English? It takes a while, right? You also have to understand the context, you have to understand the emotion that goes into it, the current period of time it was written, all these little factors to translate it into one single language, it's pretty hard, in my opinion. Okay, that makes sense. But I want to go back to the earlier point, though.
How about if 100 million Indonesians speak international languages? Don't you think that would be awesome? It would definitely open up Indonesia to the world. I believe that we're the most invisible, one of the largest and most invisible countries in the world. The fourth largest country but so many people don't know about us. - Absolutely. I think we have to be open-minded about this.
- Is that because of language or… Yes, I do believe that language is a factor. - It's predominantly because of language. - Yes. - We're not telling the story about ourselves to the rest of the world. But even the ones that do speak English, are they writing about us? Are they doing anything to... - I am, but you know, very few are. Exactly. So language is a big factor,
but it doesn't have to be just an excuse for now. What are we going to do about it? No, I take your point. I think you're solidifying my point in the sense that if more and more, if not a lot more Indonesians were to master any international language, there's hope for telling the story about Indonesia better and more. - Only if they read and write. - Absolutely. That's my point.
- It has to go hand in hand. - This is what Ubud Writers Festival is all about, right? This is about the aspiration of assuring this new culture of reading more than 280 characters, assuring the new culture of writing more than 280 characters. We're talking about 2 to 300 pages worth of thoughts. I don't care if you use ChatGPT for starters, but you can perfect them by humanizing it.
And humanizing it, you can basically undertake whatever form of hypnosis upon the hallucinations that are gonna be done by the AI, right? But that's a good start. And the other good start, I think, is really being able to communicate in international languages on the basis that a lot of most of the knowledge, most of the wisdom around the world is documented in English. There's a lot in Chinese, but there's a lot more in English. And most of the economic activities around the world are done in English. And a good thing is... I feel like I'm talking more here.
No, but I'm thinking. The good thing is AI can help accelerate that process. I think we also have to look back in time. We have to see how the Roman civilization became so big. We have to look at the role of the Latin language. I think like we're going through something similar, but instead of Latin, it's English. - Yeah.
It's the global language currency of the time at the moment. If Javanese is the most used language around the world, I'll teach anybody around me to learn Javanese. I'm not saying you shouldn't. If it would have been Latin, Roman, Mandarin, Japanese, Portuguese, or Italian, or Spanish, I would tell anybody just... because we want to be more knowledgeable.
Yeah. I think this is a very important and interesting conversation for people of my generation because we're speaking more and more English now. But then at the same time, we're also being in a way criticized or judged for being able to speak better English sometimes than Indonesian.
Me for instance, as Putri Indonesia. How do you take on that criticism? If you're criticized by Indonesians, "This person always speaks English, never speaks Indonesian." I get called [Jaksel] But if I'm joking I just say, "I'm Putri Indonesia, not Putri Bahasa Indonesia." Putri Indonesia who has perhaps more of a global perspective. I can see that becoming a YouTube short. Is it my fault? Can you blame me that I had the opportunity to go abroad for 8 years since I was 16 to study abroad where I predominantly use English, so I started thinking in English.
That's why speaking in Indonesian was a struggle for me coming back from abroad. It's just because simply it's just easier for me, much more efficient and faster to get my ideas out in English. The fact that you eventually came back and stayed rooted here and went abroad to represent Indonesia's interests proves that you are very Indonesianist. My values as Indonesian is still very strong. It's just I have this language barrier.
But I am learning, Sir. And I also speak Balinese so my Indonesian is stiff. - Don't speak Balinese here, I can't do that. - I grew up in Bali. Speaking Indonesian with a Balinese accent is fine. - But don't speak Balinese. - But I grew up in Ubud, Sir. So I speak Balinese with my father and speak English with my mother from childhood.
I only use Bahasa Indonesia at school, so it's different. Okay, history is the first issue. Secondly, what other issues do you think the younger generation should master or understand? I just feel that young people today must have more sensibility towards things beyond other than themselves or other than what's happening on social media. I think they just need to have more sensibility towards nature. I don't know if it's because my influence of living in Italy have a bigger sensibility towards nutrition, health, my food, appreciating equality. - You talk about sensitivity or sensibility? - Sensibility.
- Okay. Alright. - Just being more sensible about things. So there's excess sensitivity, there is excess action, excessive action towards certain things by your generation that needs to be made more sensible? No, I don't think there's exccess. I just think that we need to be more educated on what's really important in life. Being sensible about things, about where our food is coming from. This is just a small example.
Appreciating quality, understanding what life is about, what's truly important for us. It's our health, it's how we feel, it's our environment, it's our relationship with people, it's the time that we have, it's the time we have to spend with our family and all these things that I feel like was so strongly present in Italy where I was living for 4 years, but not here and maybe even less also in Italy for the younger generation. So I think we need to keep this, we need to remember that what's important in life is at the end connection, our experiences, our time.
This is more of a lifestyle thing that needs to be altered for the better? I think it's also spirituality, understanding the world, philosophy. It's injecting more philosophy into our lives. I'm with you. What would it take for your generation and the younger ones to better philosophize or to philosophize more? I feel very lucky because I got it from my parents, especially my dad.
My dad. Let's give credit to my dad for once. - My father. - My husband. He would always tell me stories about spirituality, tell me stories about Balinese Hinduism.
And like just talking about what's most important things in life, what's important, which is dharma, adharma, what you do for other people and all these things. Just connecting with the material world. That's one thing, my father.
The other was my experience living in Italy. That gave you a bit more philosophical whatever. - Appreciation. - Philosophical touch. Appreciation towards life, beyond the materialistic world, beyond social media, our phones. Just appreciating things where it came from, the food that we consume. Mainly it was the food, because I was in Italy.
What benefits have accrued to you by way of becoming or being more philosophical or sensitizing yourself with philosophy? That I can just feel better about myself. I feel like I'm becoming a good person. There are a lot. A lot of things is mainly for me first, how I can feel settled with the life that I'm living in, with the body that I'm in, because me as a Balinese, we believe that we are a soul. And I have a lot of questions about life. And I think many young people do.
We struggle to understand why we're here. And that's the role of philosophy, to make us feel okay and to make us feel like we're not lost, we know where we're going, we know what we're doing, we know what's the purpose of life. How do you define enough for yourself? Because that I think is pretty Zen, right? I mean, the young generation have difficulty in defining enough of many things.
- Well, I'm young, so I still also... - I'm talking to you. I'm asking you. I mean, I think I can ask Janet the same question. Have you had enough? How do you develop the ability to say that it's enough, that you're content? Since we're on a subject of philosophy. - It's very interesting. - And only I'm ever content, so...
Because sometimes I'm like... Sometimes enough is like understanding that there's limitation to things. You're told not to be on your phone too much, so once you realize that you're on your phone too much, you tell yourself, "Okay, that's enough." But that's coming from external sources. You're told that you shouldn't be on your phone more than an hour.
And then you say to yourself, "That's enough." But I think enough is being able to define yourself, how things are to your advantage, how things can add value to your life, how things make you feel content truly from inside. But has there been a moment or an episode where you didn't get what you wanted, but you were able to tell yourself, “I'm cool with it.” ♫You can't always get what you want.♫
Mick Jagger. What do you think? I, to be honest, struggled to communicate as a kid. And I often felt like because I couldn't communicate what I really wanted, I often didn't get what I want. So I just buried it inside and tried to just act cool. But what ability did you develop that allowed you to be calm with it? Well... It's a very difficult question. You brought up philosophy, right? So I'm trying to get you to philosophize a little bit more.
I mean, I can tell you what and how I define enough. If I know I've done my best, I've done my most, and I prayed for it and I still don't get it, be sincere. I'm content. Don't push it and I can still sleep. That's also how I've been dealing with things.
Just understanding that there's not one way to Rome. There are many ways. So if you are rejected or you don't get what you want at one point, there are other things that you can do and you move on and you just trust that it's not meant for you and you trust that there are greater things ahead waiting for you. - What about you, Janet? - Yeah, I'm just trying to think. I don't know about everything.
- You're married to a philosopher, so you're going to have some philosophical touch. - Yeah, my dad has a PhD in Hindu philosophy. - Yeah, I'm really not philosophical. - She's Australian. She’s about to crack some jokes. - No, you're screwing me. - Good day, mate.
I don't know. I don't know if I ever think enough is enough anyway. I'm trying to think. When have I thought “Okay, that's enough”? Yeah, I don't know.
I just pushed myself continually. So... Well I wasn't suggesting that we all give up, right? But I think there's got to be a point when you know you keep hitting a brick wall and you just got to either go around the wall or just chill. I just had an interesting thought. We always think that philosophy is such a heavy topic. It's this heavy thing, but actually it shouldn't be.
I remember my dad would always say like, “Don't take life too seriously. That's how we move on. Just take it easy. Relax.” And philosophy is really about investigating preexisting truth.
And if you dare not investigate preexisting truth, then you cannot philosophize. What I mean by that is I think there are some elements of critical thinking that's required for you to philosophize. You got to be able to think critically. You know, there was a statement from one of our guests earlier that having the cognitive capacity is key, but if you combine that with emotive capacity, by way of reading a lot on literature, philosophy, history, and stuff like that.
That will increase your emotive capacity. Talk a little bit about how understanding or studying philosophy can make a person richer. I think we have to make peace with the fact that we cannot know everything. We cannot be the smartest person in the world.
One of the greatest advice I was given to was that, before I went to Miss Universe, someone told me that, “Okay, there are gonna be 80 girls there. They're all gonna be smart, beautiful, but what you want to do is to show yourself as the wisest person.” And I think that's such a special quality to have because we cannot be the most intelligent person. What for if we are not good human beings? Even Albert Einstein talks about imagination, creativity, having a heart, doing the right thing. Because knowledge is not everything. Knowledge is power, but it's not...
It doesn't guarantee you to have a good life. It doesn't guarantee that when you're done with your life, it will add value to you. You'll be happy. And I think a lot of the struggles that we're facing now is mental health issues, because we forget that emotive qualities are so important. What are some of the little steps that the young generation could take to better philosophize? Yeah, and again, I was going to expand on that saying that reading is one way for us to really connect with humanity as well as writing. One of the best Indonesian writer, Mr. Putu Oka Sukanta talks about
how writing makes you more human. And he told me the story that I was so fascinated by. When he grew up, he was dirt poor. He grew up in Bali. He had nothing. He didn't even own a pen and a paper, but he became and grown to be this amazing writer.
He told me that he wrote everything in his mind. And when he went to prison also, one way for him to feel like a human being was to write. And I think for us to be more wise, more emotional, and to understand philosophy is digging deep within ourselves by not just reading but also writing. It's a form of us to communicate, not just to other people, but to ourselves. Because we also struggle to understand ourselves.
What for if we're smart, but we don't know what we want in life. We don't understand who we are. So I think we need to really start reflecting more and using books and pen and paper as tools for becoming better and doing better for our world. We've touched upon our history. We've touched upon philosophy. You talked a little bit about sustainability.
Peel the onion. For young people, I think it's important. Of course, now we don't want to be talking about sustainability. We don't want to be volunteering or be an activist at such an early age, but we have no other option because it's our future that's at stake.
We need to be really demanding more sustainable actions, sustainable policies from governments, businesses and all these things. Do you think there is enough activism at the grassroots level? - I think there's... - Or would you think that the activism is more at the elite level? No, I think there's not enough activism in person, in real life, that doesn't have to be shown on social media. There's a lot going on on social media, and social media amplifies it. But when you go into your day-to-day life, there's nothing going on.
So there's not enough activism that is truly just activism that is not on social media, that is in our day-to-day life, in real life. There's not enough. So you sense that there is excessive virtue signaling. - Right? - Yes. Not corroborated by actual action or commensurate action.
Yeah. And I would say there's enough if I myself can personally see it on a daily basis, understand it on a daily basis. What do you think explains that? Well, just the fact that we are really living so much on our devices. It goes back to my old point.
Yeah, we live so much on our devices that we see for an hour all these posts about activism and sustainability. And then we think that our whole day has been evolving around that, but when we turn it off, there's nothing going on in our real lives. Well, there are a lot of what I call armchair activists, who claim to be activists, I guess, through social media as well. But again, they're not really doing anything.
That's kind of the social media dilemma. Yeah, and there is a bit of hypocrisy within the sustainability space. I'm not saying there's… I think there are a lot of genuine public intellectuals within that space who are thinking and trying to make things happen. But there are also a lot that are just riding on this bandwagon for purposes of virtue signaling.
When the classic example is those that have been talking about climate change are actually flying around on private jets. I mean, that's a mockery and that's hypocrisy at its best. But my question is really about how do we get activism uplifted at the grassroots level in the kind of scale that we want to. But do we want activism to be lifted on a grassroots level or do we want the leaders of the world to do more? Well, I think the leaders of the world are trying. At least they're trying with their rhetoric.
You think? Because I was at the Net-Zero Summit the other day and everyone was saying that we just need more political will. So it seems like there's not enough political will. Seems like they're not doing enough. Well, the problem is that most of the politicians, they're shackled by the cycle of 5 years or the cycle of 4 years. We call that political cycles or political processes. When you're shackled by cycles of 4 years or 5 years, you can't afford to think about a time frame that's 30, 40, 50 years, right? So there is a contradiction and there is this irreconcilable nature between what matters for the politician and what matters for the planet.
That makes it very difficult. So I would depoliticize this. Well, it's difficult for us too, Mr. Gita. Because for example, I want to be more sustainable and I want to buy only organic fruits, but it's expensive. - I agree. I’m with you.
I want to do recycling properly. But if I decided to subscribe to someone who picks up my organic compost, it's costing me money from my own pocket. The government is not subsidizing that for me. And it's not just the leaders that are having it hard.
We're also having it hard. We want to do more, do better, but sometimes it's costly for us and we have our limitations. I'm not going to be taking a 24-hour train from Jakarta to Bali. Because I'm trying to save the planet myself. - I agree. Much less walking, right? I mean, it saves the planet from carbonization by walking from Jakarta to Bali.
- By walking. - But would you do that? I mean, it might take you 2 and a half weeks to get there. - Yeah, exactly. No, no, I think that's a really extreme way of showing activism, right? But what I mean by activism is not in the sense of getting as many people as possible to buy organic stuff or to walk to work or whatever. But at least understanding how much of a concern carbonization is for the planet, and I don't think people understand enough about the issue at hand, because I think they're preoccupied with trying to put food on a table. They can't afford to think about this fancy dandy narrative of sustainability.
Well, that's why I think that sustainability itself should be an industry. We need to shift a lot of our industries to be more green and understand how we can monetize from being more sustainable. And we can't do this alone. Everyone has to join forces moving together.
I agree, but getting as many people as possible to embrace this new green narrative or green technology narrative, it needs scalability, right? Meaning the adoption of this new green technology needs to be scalable. And for this to be scalable, it needs to be affordable. The problem it's not affordable for most people, as you aptly pointed out earlier. Where do we find that point where we can enter to for everyone to be able to become more sustainable in a way at the same time so that it can be scalable.
I don't think it's going to be instantaneous. It will require time. Absolutely. And it's a new challenge for all of us. For everybody around the planet, right? Something new that we're facing, so it's not easy.
So once you get people to understand, you depoliticize this. You get people to understand, then you get them to take ownership of what's important for the future. Then you start politicizing it.
And I'm of the view that I think many in the regulatory framework, many in the political framework, they don't have the kind of comprehension of this issue as much as they should, as much as perhaps the experts of sustainability. I think we have too many focus. We are unable to focus on sustainability because as you said, there's other... So many factors around that that is more important for many people. - Right? - Yeah.
But I think there are some practical steps that can be taken, right? What would it take for people to actually walk to work? What would it take for people to when they go home they turn off the lights? Money. [Oh, subsidize you to go home and walk home.] People will do it. Credit. Yeah, but there's no money. There's limited money supply.
There's limited ability of most governments around the world to subsidize unless you're China, unless you're Germany, unless you're Canada, unless you're United States or Australia, right? - Okay, what else? - I think people need to be scared. People need to understand that there's a threat and then there's a danger of the climate crisis. So, how can we create enough urgency for people to want to do more or better for the future for their children? How do you think you can create that kind of insecurity amongst many people without causing panic? I mean, we're talking about causing insecurity, not panic. How? I mean, if we're talking about a huge amount of people, we have to somehow look into pop culture, maybe. Popularity. We need to do something, perhaps a movie, which starts probably in writing.
So perhaps books that talk about the dangers of the climate crisis. A speculative dystopian novel that can warn us against the things that we're currently doing, the business as usual that warns us that that's not good enough, that's endangering our existence in this world. What describe the dystopia that you have in mind with regards to sustainability? How bad could it get? Well, we're gonna be extinct. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, before it got really out of hand, I was reading the book Severance by Ling Ma. And that's a dystopian novel talking about a virus that infected many people and obliterated her city and then eventually the world.
So someone who was a writer who's interested or have knowledge in climate change should write something about that. I can't think of a scenario, but I can just put ideas of people should write about this and that. Janet, you got to say something. Who would you offer that you've seen, you've met, you've listened to, heard, or whatever, who could make an impact in Indonesia on any issue that matters in the long run? Let me think about that. You mean an Indonesian writer or international? Let's start with Indonesia because the universe is not that big, right? Then we'll expand that into the international universe. Well, again, it has to be someone young.
Who? Who impresses you most? In terms of the way they connect with people, etc., as a writer, I'm very fond of Dewi Lestari. - Okay. Very dear friend. - Yeah, she's wonderful.
What do you think makes her special? I think because she didn't start off from a literary background. She was a singer and then started to write. - A really great singer. - A really great singer, yeah. And then started to write these novels that were more about, well, more spiritual and all of that. And I think she just connected with people, a bit more like the Paulo Coelho, kind of on that sort of spiritual journey, et cetera.
So I think she has a huge following, obviously, and connects really well with young people. So I think that's what we're looking for, for someone who connects and communicates in a really egalitarian kind of warm way that everybody feels included in inclusiveness. In my opinion, those who can make changes are not poets, not writers. Perhaps the president himself, if he came up with the book after his reign is over, his time at the office is over, he might be able to create a huge impact, a shift in mindset. - Given his popularity. - Given his popularity.
- I agree. - Yeah, right? President Jokowi, please try to write a book, Sir. Or you could be the co-author.
Along with Darmawan Prasodjo, because he wrote his first English autobiography. - Really? - Yes. It's a really good book. And I learned a lot. I gotta ask you this: When you look at a writer, does it make a difference between his writing a biography of himself or writing on other things? Does that define the quality of that author? I'm trying to think of like a novelist who has also done that. Although I suppose it's people like Amitav Ghosh who has written stories about his life when he was in Egypt, things like that, which really added to him as a writer in fact.
Because now he's also writing about climate change. So his whole kind of body of work is fascinating and I think he's growing in his ability to write or just the fact that he's done the autobiography, but also novels. And then again about climate change, etc. I mean, if they have an interesting life, makes it more interesting, I don't know. Okay. Let's go back to the Indonesian universe.
You were kind of like murmuring in the back about doing some sort of a book club. I thought it's a pretty cool idea if somebody were to do a book club the way Oprah does it. I think what's so cool about our current generation is that there are so many new business ideas.
And people need to be more creative and find different ways that are not traditional to monetize things. Well, I started a book club on Instagram and during the pandemic that was quite trendy. And I wanted to help my mom's Writers Festival to be more present online, especially on social media so I volunteered to host an annual, sorry, not an annual, a weekly book club actually. So for about a couple of months, I was hosting a weekly book club where I would read on Instagram, I would read one book a week and I would invite popular guest stars like Asmara Abigail, for example.
And I wanted to understand more about book clubs in general. And I did a lot of research. And of course, I started the book club on IG Live because I was inspired by Kaia Gerber, daughter of Cindy Crawford. She also started hosting an IG book club. And then I was also inspired by Oprah Winfrey.
And then I found out Reese Witherspoon has a book club. And I was just so fascinated by the fact that she is such a smart lady who didn't start a book club just for fun. She started the book club to actually also help writers, but also she monetizes the whole thing. So she would buy exclusive rights from the publishers of these books. And then she would go to Netflix, propose the idea, she would create the content, she would create the TV show or movie that won Emmy awards. And then she would monetize the whole thing, and then she would go back and then buy more rights for books and keep going.
And it still is going now. She has 2.5 million followers on Instagram for her book club. And she is, I believe, one of the wealthiest actresses in Hollywood. - Reese Witherspoon? She’s a billionaire. And people need to understand that you can make money from books. You can monetize things.
You can do whatever it is you're passionate about and be creative, find ways to make it work. This is really punchy. I like this. - Dua Lipa is also, right? - Dua Lipa is also very involved in... - In the book club? No, she, I think, starting her book club on Service95, which is a platform or digital magazine that she created. She's starting her book club there, but she's very involved with the Booker Prize and she's very active in the literary scene. - And she's probably an avid reader. - She is.
- So, what makes these people special and magnetic is that they're genuine readers. - They're passionate about it. - Oprah is a genuine reader. Reese too. - Yes. And they really believe in the power of books. You know, a book is a square object, pieces of paper with writings on it. I'm sure you've read a book before.
Once you open it, you read the words and all these things, you get completely transformed and transported into a different world. - It's just so simple and powerful. - People find me weird because I read books. - Yeah, I know, right? Me too.
Especially in Jakarta, like, “Oh, you read books.” But it's interesting too how at the moment more translated books are being read. I think that's fair. Indonesian to English or English to Indonesian? Just around the world, maybe not Indonesian as much, but the rest of the world is reading more. - Chinese to English, Korean. Chinese or Hungarian or whatever translated to English.
And more readers of translated work. - And more than likely into English, right? - Yeah, absolutely. It goes back to the earlier stuff, right? Most stuff is documented in English. Well, one of my favorite books that was just like a collection of essays written by Nina Mingya Powles, the young writer from New Zealand, but then her mom or father's from Malaysia and then China. So she's a little bit like me. She's from all over the place.
She wrote it mainly in English, but then she would incorporate some Kiwi words in there, some Chinese, some Malaysian. So, sometimes a book doesn't have to be one language. Yeah, that's a bit of a trend to incorporate. - Really? - Yes.
What's the most number of languages you're going to have in a book? - Oh gosh, not sure. - I don't know about that, but normally... I think she had 3 and the book's called Bodies of Water. - What languages? - Chinese. So, one part of the essay, she was in China. She had Chinese characters in the book, but she explained everything. It totally makes sense.
There was the Kiwi language because she also grew up in New Zealand. Now for those that don't understand Mandarin, how would they... I understood. I read it. I read the book. There was like the characters, but then explanation. - In English? - In English. - Cool. - You interviewed her as well.
- I interviewed her for the Writers Festival online. She's a really interesting young writer based in the UK. She's a great writer. Usually this book club idea is fantastic.
Somebody like you ought to do it. So yeah, the idea is just to create a book club with the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival to bring up Indonesian writers. And young writers. I just can't see this happening with somebody fly by night who never read books and tries to monetize and oops, okay, doing a book club.
But it's gotta be somebody who genuinely practices reading and is passionate about this. I sense that you're very passionate about reading. Comes from the mom and the father. I mean, I try to read as much as I can, but of course sometimes it's hard for me right now with all the work I have to do. And also I feel like my focus is narrowing down with social media. We have a shorter attention span.
It's been really challenging. But the book club actually helps a lot because then you have to be accountable. You have a deadline. I have to read the book. So I actually really, really like book clubs. And if you struggle with finishing a book or reading, join a book club.
It's gonna be much more exciting. It's actually really entertaining. It's like you watching a TV series and then you meet your friend the next day and you talk about it again. - It's the same with the book club. - Yeah, that's nice. But I think once you start reading, you just get into that passion as well. If you are with the book club and having to read, well then you just get into that passion of reading more.
- Because I think... - Yes, and you read more. I swear to God, you both should do it. You've been doing this for 20 years. I mean, you should expand on this. It's really cool.
I mean, in terms of getting more and more people to read. And businesses should also get along with it; publishers, bookstores, because Oprah alone managed to sell 50 million copies or more since she started the book club. - She can sell anything. - She can sell anything. And the good thing about her is she's very selective on what she decides to sell, right? - Because people believe in her conscience. - Yes. And that's what makes her special.
Similarly with Reese, not sure about Dua Lipa, but I think we'll find out. Yeah, we'll find out. Okay. We've talked about our history, philosophy,
sensibility, sustainability, book club. What else? What do you think is important for humanity or Indonesia in the long run? I just want to talk about what's good for the long run. Well, I mean, we were talking about spiritual leaders before and just the whole spiritual kind of movement. I think that is an interesting… Well, because we were just watching that Jay Shetty before and looking at these people that talk about lifestyle and spirituality and how to make the most in life, things like that. I mean, I'm not sure in Indonesia who we have who's like that, but I guess that's what people need right now, that kind of guidance.
And I think COVID too brought those sort of messages in looking after your health and also the importance of family and your loved ones. So maybe we are all getting towards that kind of more spiritual, philosophical kind of way. Maybe we do seek or we need some sort of leader that's going to take us along. I think I was going to say, you mentioned leader, that, you know, as Indonesians, especially the young ones, we need to know what we want.
We need to know what we want from the leaders. We need to demand and voice out what we want from the leaders. How do we want Indonesia to be in 2045? Everyone's talking about Indonesia Emas 2045. But we need to define it ourselves, because we're going to be living in that time if the world didn't collapse. Define it for us. I mean, this show is all about 2045. All right. Well, first we need to decarbonize.
Okay. Not realistic. I think 2050 is the fastest. 2050 is the fastest. Decarbonized to the extent that we achieve carbon neutrality, right? Yeah, we want to not keep experiencing these extreme weathers. I personally don't want to live in a place where I feel sick. I don't want the pollution to get worse.
I want my environment to be well. I really believe in well-being in the sense that everything is performing well, everything is good, is running well, not just like health-related stuff and skincare and beauty; well-being in a more holistic sense. That's the future that I want to be in. I want more security for myself. I want to feel that we can be free to live life and express our creativity and to do what it is that we want to do without having the burden and the worry about all these problems that my generation didn't create.
Yeah, on point. I mean it's kind of sad that we're mortgaging the future for the convenience of today. For the benefit of today, right? Yeah, I want to move along to do the things that are positive and create solutions together with everyone in sync. And I don't want to be the one talking about sustainability while other people are like, “Who cares? Why are you talking about that?” - Burning carbon. - Yeah. Like, “Why do you care?” Yeah. But I think you both have the ability to basically create some sort of a movement in a realistic manner.