Saturday, May 13, 2006

Westernised Chinese S'poreans lack comfort in their own ethnicity and heritage - May 12, 2006
by Wong Hoong Hooi

This may well be my last substantive post for quite a while and while the quality of the letter arguably leaves much to be desired, nevertheless, it provides a useful launching pad for general commentary on issues of race, ethnicity, ancestry and culture within Singapore and the frequent erroneous conflation of these issues

And I figure, hey, maybe my blog should start specialising in pointing out logical fallacies and inconsistencies.

I refer to the letter 'Warm up to strangers. That's sign of a mature and cosmopolitan society' by Anthony Lee Mui Yu ( ST Online Forum, May 9 ).

Having witnessed multiple examples of persons of Anglo-Saxon origin exhibiting behaviour suggestive of a racial superiority complex both here and abroad, I am particularly put off by Westernised Singaporeans painting English-speaking Western societies in pristine light or being so quick to explain away poor behaviour by individuals from these societies.

Nothing much to say here except that this may well be a problem of generalisation (trust me, the irony hits you later right in the next paragraph) and unsubstantiated assertion masquerading as some form of self-evident fact etc. etc.

I suppose I could argue that given this letter writer's very clear biases and worldview with regards to this issue (do a quick google search to read his other letters), I would be wise to ignore everything he says on this issue. But then, I would personally be committing the motive fallacy i.e. just because he has a motive of saying so, does not automatically make what he says wrong. BUT where I would be more than free to discount what he says is with regards to his testimony, because I have to trust the veracity of his statement/fact on his sole word and his motive impugns on it. Sort of like a broker with a conflict of interest in a particular firm may well be right to say that the firm is a good buy BUT you would definitely be on guard if you were to know of that conflict than if he had no such conflict to begin with.

This danger is naturally diminished if he could provide for example proof positive of this upward moving firm but even so, one would be wise to scrutinise the data. But that's a rationality issue not a logical one.

I would not make generalisations of Anglo-Saxons from my encounters but I cannot say the same of Westernised Singaporeans and their equally insidious positive stereotyping.

My irony meter blew on this statement.

Mr Lee himself was quick to warn against negative stereotyping of Caucasians and called an East versus West contrast sweeping. Yet his own sweeping generalisation of East Asians and East Europeans as 'cold' pointed to his statement that 'cumulative observations build an image of civility or lack of it' as being nothing but back-door sanctioning of negative stereotyping of the two groups.

No comment. Don't have access to letter. No desire to troll through LexisNexis to pick it up because it's irrelevant for the point I want to make.

Also, when reader Ms Janica Chan called for practising good Chinese values, she was clearly reminding members of the Chinese Singaporean community to uphold the better aspects of their traditions.

Was she clearly doing so? Again, I wouldn't know but clarity is a big big big virtue and you generally shouldn't give others a chance to unintentionally (note the operative word here) misrepresent you.

This allows me to nicely dovetail into something on defamatory imputation that would be useful for this discussion at hand. Assume that for whatever reason you dislike me and you and I happen to go to Geylang (a notorious redlight district in Singapore that has an incredible concentration of Buddhist temples and a Buddhist Library I occasionally visit). Assume again that I was minding my business when I get dragged into a side alley and get knocked unconscious and robbed. When I come to my senses, it's 3 a.m. in the morning and I'm still suffering from the ill effects of the blow to my head. Not knowing where I am, I stagger into one of the brothels for directions and I come out after receiving it. Now, assume again that you (my hateful enemy) see me and gleefully report and publish that you saw me staggering out of a brothel at 3 in the morning. This report may well and truly be technically true, but Justification (Truth) does not provide a full and complete defence in this case BECAUSE THE DEFEMATORY IMPUTATION ("sting" of the defamation) is not my coming out of the brothel per se but that I visit one for the purpose of the purchase of sex.

So similarly, you can variously interpret the statements all you like but the important one is what a reasonable member of the public would think upon reading the letter.

Mr Lee's riposte that Singapore isn't China only underscores the lack of comfort Westernised Chinese Singaporeans have with their ethnicity and heritage.

Massive massive unwarranted assertion here. And it's going to take a bit of work to show why it's logically faulty.

Firstly, it's unsubstantiated.
Secondly, it's a massive non-sequitur. Just because this Lee guy says that Singapore isn't China (which is a point well worth making), it does not necessarily follow that a) he is a westernised Chinese Singaporean who b) has a lack of comfort with their ethnicity and heritage (VERY poor choice of words here as we shall come to see) and c) that such an individual case, even if true, could apply to the rest of "Westernised Chinese Singaporeans".
Three, it's called "begging the question" when you simply assert something as good without explaining why it is necessarily so. So why should association with our culture and a historical China NECESSARILY AND BY CONTIGENCY be a good thing. This is not to say that it is NOT a good thing, but then one simply assert it to be true.
Four, it's an unwarranted extrapolation of ancestry (which is the correct term to use here). One could well and easily argue that since Genetic Adam and Eve came from Africa, we are actually all Africans and he's denying his African heritage. Now obviously we think that that argument is pretty much pure bunk, the question here is why. One possible retort is that there is a clear evolution into different races which have a clear genetic component to it. The problem is that we share very similar (if not identical) genes to other Indo-Chinese type of races and we would not consider ourselves part of their "race".

So we see here a need to very clearly distinguish a number of things. 1. Ancestry simply refers to your line of descent and from there there isn't any argument that I'm Chinese since both my parents are themselves Chinese. But 2. ethnicity plays a huge huge role in this matter. I can think of no better examples than the Chinese (by ancestry) twins who were separated at birth and one raised in a Chinese household and the other a Malay Muslin household. So the question is this, can she still be considered Chinese or is she for most intent and purposes Malay Muslim (ignoring the legal requirements of what constitutes a minority in Singapore for Election purposes)?

But to push the we are all African or we are all Chinese points a little further, the question is this: are we all simply bound by a genetic component in blatant disregard of the realities of a) culture and b) heritage and c) ethnicity (note, this is called framing the issue =P)? I'm Peranakan for most intent and purposes given that I primarily grew up in such a household, imbibed their food (absolutely delicious), spoke and was primarily spoken to in English, and suffered through aspects of their culture (particularly the predominance of females and the Matriarchal familiar structure and me being the ONLY male and a young one then. The cruelties of teenage girls know no bounds....). Oh and historically, the Chinese (I guess here to be the Chinese immigrants from China and the locals ones who had a pretty distinct culture from those immigrants) hated us because we didn't act Chinese and definitely spoke a weird dialect of Hokkein which no one understands (try to understand what the Filipino Chinese speak and you think you understand them but some realise that they are not speaking even the same dialect). Which brings to a similar question, would Mr Woon consider these people Chinese and in denial of their culture and heritage as well?

One who finds it painful to be reminded of his ethnicity would do better to sort out the problem within himself before addressing the issue of 'a mature and cosmopolitan society'.

Okay, same logical fallacies as above and here's introducing a new one called an ad hominen attack. People frequently think that insulting a person is an ad hominen attack or that any insult thereby invalidates the argument the person who insulted making the argument. NB: Link this to the motive fallacy.

Nope. If a person is a liar and I say that because he's a liar his testimony is not to be trusted, that's not an ad hominen attack. Similarly, if I call him an idiot without any learning much less expertise in this matter, that's also not an ad hominen attack.

BUT, if I say that this scientist was a former convicted felon and therefore his testimony is to be ignored on a scientific issue on which he is an acknowledged expert, that's pretty much a ad hominen attack (also somewhat of "poisoning the well") because his prior conviction has absolutely no direct bearing on the issue at hand.

So similar, even if he were somehow "ashamed" of his ethnicity yada yada bullshit, it does not take down his earlier point that there is a difference in culture between Singapore and China that makes comparisons and analogies especially ones linked directly to culture, heritage and ethnicity to be tenuous at best and misleading or downright fallacious at worst.

And with that....




At 9:20 AM, Blogger gambitch said...

Wong Hoong Hooi, lest it be forgotten, is arguably one of the most prolific targets of ridicule in the ST Forum Page.

Welcome to the "shoot Wong" club.

At 1:28 AM, Blogger Shaun Lee said...

To be fair, I don't disagree with everything he says, particularly (and perhaps only on this issue) on that of Male and Father Rights (unfortunately this area is developing akin to how the Feminist Movement developed i.e. it's the extremist pushing the main views right now).

But the sino-centrism just makes my head hurt.


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