Saturday, October 08, 2005


I would just like to reiterate that my stance on criminal justice is that everything should be legal unless the state can show a compelling interest. FOR ME PERSONALLY, compelling interest should only be when the state can demonstrate harm to 3rd parties, so if you want to risk your own lives by not wearing seatbelts, go ahead, I will persuade, admonish and perhaps even beg you to reconsider, but I will not lever a judicial sanction against you. Similarly this 3rd party harm should only be when violence is IMMINENT as opposed to being a mere possibility or potential, the furtherest I would go is to crack down on those WHO ADOVCATE outright violence unless it is very unlikely that violence will materialise (like advocating violence against those who worship pink psychic invisible hamsters).

Similarly, on the issue of sentencing, I take a stance that's partially retributivist and partially utilitarianist. Now a retributivist believes that the commission of a crime in and of itself is sufficient to warrant punishment. So even if the person or society, to whom harm has been committed, has no desire to punish the criminal, a retributivist would say go ahead and still punish anyway. I don't agree with this aspect, because I view punishment as a form of harm which is only justified if the benefit that is accrued outweighs the harm involved. So should the state punish, it must be with sadness and regret. Where punishment is used, it must serve a larger purpose of either detering the criminal or society at large. Now where I do agree with the retribuvist and disagree with the utilitarianist is the following qualifier: THE PUNISHMENT MUST FIT THE CRIME. I don't like deterent sentences because what is to stop (other than sentencing guidelines) us from extending this principle from sending a shoplifter to life imprisonment if it can be demonstrated that shoplifting will be reduced by 50% should we do so? This is simply a logical extrapolation from the premise that punishment should create more good than harm. (Caution: I'm greatly simplifing the issue of Utilitarianism here because I don't want to get drawn into a larger discussion of Utilitarianism, in particular act-utilitarianism and rule-utilitarianism).

So at the end of the day, what does sentencing these two bloggers to jail do? Yes, it sends a message that the government is committed to racial harmony (whatever the heck that means, I believe that tolerance is a more likely and sustainable outcome). And this will probably deter others from doing similarly in the future (if they aren't simply going to be more careful with their anonymity).

But the reason why I could not care less in the first place is because
1. I don't think you're going to change their minds on this issue (and to be honest I'm not sure dog lovers were happy with the comment made by the lady in the forum in the first place). There will always be racism (or discrimination on whatever form) because that's what such sui generis classes do, they differentiate an US from a THEM. And once that's accepted (particularly in religion), all you can hope to happen is for people to be tolerant because open-minded is automatically precluded from the discussion. Once you accept a particular diety construct, the rest must necessarily be false. Which is the reason why a liberal democracy that emphasises secular ideas is the most stable form (other than some Orwellian Big Brother state). All this law does is to reinforce in their irrational little minds that the government supports minority groups and is out to oppress them (see in particular White Supremist Groups in the US).

2. I was not worried about some potential for racial rioting or what not BECAUSE of the wave of people who attacked their views showing to me at least that Singaporeans have moved beyond the 1960s. That more than anything else assured me.

Thus if you want a multi-racial, religous, creed etc. society founded on harmony AND AT THE SAME TIME want people to be able to express their views, even unpopular ones, then any restrictions on hate speech must be carefully crafted. Read the decision and decide for yourself if it violates what I call the Nelson Mandela test (South African politician famous for his successful fight against Apartheid,a legal form of racial discrimination). If the decision would thrown him and the ANC into jail then the wording is too broad, a fight against apartheid inevitably stirs up racial tensions. Lest we forget, back in the US during the 1970s, such laws were perpetuated and used against 'dangerous' organisations such as the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colour People, established in the 1920s) and othe peaceful civil rights groups.




At 10:10 PM, Blogger visceral said...

from your post, I dare say the jailing has accomplished what it set out to do

At 11:33 PM, Blogger Shaun Lee said...

Sure, but as I pointed out, with a very very limited effect. A society doesn't become harmonious just because the government wills it so through its laws. I applaud the whole racial harmony thing and even NE for trying to educate the citizenary about the need to be tolerant. This law doesn't add to that, it's not going to change people minds and at best people are just going to be a lot more sneaky about it.


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