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Karlina Supelli: Understanding life through philosophy

A. Kurniawan Ulung

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Mon, August 14, 2017  /  10:33 am
Karlina Supelli: Understanding life through philosophy

For Karlina Supelli, being philosophical is a life guide. (JP/A. Kurniawan Ulung)

While some people have had enough of the negativity, scams and hoaxes spread on social media and have abandoned such sites, philosopher Karlina Supelli has decided not to do so.

 The lecturer at the Driyakarya School of Philosophy in Jakarta said that despite rarely updating her Facebook account, she cannot quit social media because she teaches the philosophy of technology, which requires her to monitor what is happening on social media.

 “Social media sites have become a place for people to spread hatred,” Karlina said during a talk at the recent ASEAN Literary Festival in Kota Tua, West Jakarta.

 She said what concerned her most was online bullying on social media, which puts children at risk of being victimized. 

 Karlina is not only a noted thinker on philosophy, but also the first Indonesian female astronomer and a human-rights activist. She has taken to the streets to defend the rights of victims of the May 1998 riots and was once arrested and interrogated for 23 hours for holding a peaceful rally to promote justice at the Hotel Indonesia traffic circle.

 Born 59 years ago in Jakarta, she said she has experienced life under the authoritarian New Order regime and in the Reform era, which gave people the freedom to speak.

 Karlina said prior to the era of smartphones and before people knew what they could do with the internet and social media, people were mostly engaged in face-to-face interaction, so they would think first before throwing out comments to their counterparts. 

 However, social media has set people free from such direct interaction, making them insensitive about what they express, including hate speech. According to her observations, the situation has got worse in the last 10 years.    

The Indonesian Child Protection Commission (KPAI) has detected a rise in the number of crimes perpetrated against children that take advantage of social media activities, from 100 cases in 2011 to 322 in 2014.

One of the recent cases was the cyber bullying of Afi Firda Nihaya, 19, who has been accused of plagiarism in her Facebook posts about inter-religious tolerance.

Read also: Plagiarism: What can we learn from Afi's case

 Karlina is worried about netizens’ growing insensitivity on social media sites, as seen in the content of their posts, which show that they throw out comments without preceding them with critical thinking. A lack of interest in reading is one of its causes.  

Indonesia ranks 60th out of 61 countries in terms of reading interest according to a report from Central Connecticut State University. It puts the country below Thailand, which sits in 59th place and above Botswana in 61st position.

Modern thoughts: Karlina Supelli (right) talks with moderator Rike Amru in a discussion during the recent ASEAN Literary Festival in Kota Tua, West Jakarta.Modern thoughts: Karlina Supelli (right) talks with moderator Rike Amru in a discussion during the recent ASEAN Literary Festival in Kota Tua, West Jakarta. (JP/A. Kurniawan Ulung)

“We should educate our emotions. We have to train ourselves to use our sensitivity,” Karlina said.    

 She believes that bad things occur because of the confluence between intention and lack of critical thinking.

 The importance of critical thinking is also the driving force that motivated Karlina to study philosophy in 1992 after completing her studies in astronomy at the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) in West Java and University College London in the United Kingdom in 1989.  

 “I studied cosmology, about how the universe was formed and evolved. But, after the emergence of the Big Bang theory, it was stuck. Then, I studied philosophy to find the answers [to questions about cosmology],” she said.

 She accidentally fell in love with philosophy while attending Professor Toety Heraty’s class in the University of Indonesia. At that time, her friend could not attend and asked her to attend the professor’s class to take notes.

 “[After the class ended], I phoned Bu Toety, telling her that I wanted to study,” she said. 

Karlina, who liked to sit on the porch of her house at night to look at the sky while musing on the creation of the universe when she was little, then delved deeply into philosophy until she earned a PhD in the subject from the University of Indonesia in 1997. Her dissertation was entitled Wajah-Wajah Alam Semesta: Suatu Kosmologi Empiris Konstruktif (Masks of the Universe: an empirical-constructivist approach to cosmology).

Read also: Confessions of a millennial: Job-hopping and burning bridges

 For Karlina, gender equality still has a long way to go both in Indonesia and abroad.

 “When I was accepted at the Astronomy Department in ITB, my senior’s first question was ‘why have you entered a man’s field?’” she recalled.  

 It was no different when she was studying in the UK. When she was able to answer a very difficult question, her supervisor’s comment was, “You have a man’s brain.” 

 For her, loving and caring for each other regardless of gender, ethnicity, religion and social class is a way to celebrate life. 

 Having been diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011 and witnessed the passing of two fellow sufferers, Karlina has become more motivated to encourage people not to easily give up in the fight for life. Since January this year, she has stopped taking medicine after her doctor assessed her progress as positive.

 Being a cancer survivor, she says, is not easy. She once lost her appetite because of the side effects of chemotherapy. However, she has never given up and adheres to medical advice and has adopted a healthy lifestyle by routinely working out and consuming nutritious foods.

“I love my life very much because it deserves to be fought for,” she said.