Wednesday, July 12, 2006

*Shooting fish in the barrel*

As promised...albeit very late.

It's frankly not very difficult to take down Mr. de Souza's arguments even when a person is half asleep and still exhausted from his recent return from the Austral-Asians debating tournament (chaired an octo-finals room and adjed the ESL semis if anyone is interested). But nevertheless, it makes it a convenient transition to blogging again and it's on a topic that I have consistently riffed about these past few years.

The only problem is this i.e. in my personal experience training and debating weak debaters/teams, one finds them much harder to take down then good teams because they so often make insane assertions, arguments, logical fallacies and conflation of issues that it's all too easy to get to get bewildered and confused as to how to take all of it down in 7-8 minutes. Fortunately, this is where the internet and lots of patience comes to the rescue.

I refer to the report, 'Divided views over police checks on blogger'
(The Sunday Times, June 18).

Personally, I have developed a great distaste and distrust of bloggers who post anonymously or use pseudonyms to disguise their identities.

I can understand that sometimes anonymous postings are unavoidable. However, when postings on the Internet are seditious or have a tendency to deliberately wound the religious feelings of any person, the perpetrator of the posting should have the full weight of the law brought to bear on him or her.

Can I first just say that personally, I have developed a great distaste and distrust of forum letter writters who do not use their logical faculties?

But here are some of the issues plaguing this first paragraph.
1. Begging the question

Why should the religious feelings of a person NECESSARILY be protected over and above any other forms of feelings, including that of non-religious or anti-religious feelings?

2. Assertion that the law or status quo or both is necessarily good

This is linked to the above. It is a historical contingency and happenstance that anti-religious or extreme pro-religious (see the Maintanance of Religious Harmony Act for an attempt to separate religion and politics and prevent excessive proselytisation) and racist sentiments are considered illegal (and only if it is expressed), this need not necessarily be the case.

One can consider a view to be abhorent without necessarily seeking to limit its expression in a public forum unless it creates harm (tangible harm or deliberately provoking as opposed to merely inciting i.e. shouting fire in a crowded theatre "fighting words"), this is what Freedom of Expression or Speech means.

But yes, I am very aware of how our constitutional liberty in this regard is phrased.

3. Conflating legal with normal meanings.

Sedition has a vernacular meaning. But the legal meaning under the Sedition Act is very broadly defined as to include 'tendencies to incite feelings of ill-will and hatred" and it should be immediately apparant how low the threshold is at this point, as no doubt a very respected Canadian debater would know after the police approached him for something he said at the NTU Worlds.

It appears to be the norm for bloggers to hide under the cloak of anonymity or use pseudonyms to blame, insult and rant out against the Government or individuals believing that their postings can better the political process or current events concerning Singapore. Netizens have no legal or constitutional right to condemn the whistle blower who brought blogger Char's blasphemous posting of pictures of Jesus Christ on the Internet to the attention of the police. The conduct of netizens is similar to that of cyber terrorists since netizens have unashamedly condoned the seditious posting of Char, which could have sparked off strong reaction as did the caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad published in a Danish newspaper in February this year. Fortunately, Char's blasphemous and seditious posting happened in
Singapore, a country of tolerance. I am certain that if this letter is published in The Straits Times, netizens and other cyber-terrorists will have a field day posting all kinds of nasty or defamatory remarks against me. They will do so anonymously or using pseudonyms. To these cyber-terrorists I say, 'Be brave and don't hide under the cloak of anonymity or use pseudonyms'. about a stream of consciousness rant. But let's deal with the five issues that he brings up in his own fashion.

1. Annonymity. I'm not sure where he gets off on the idea that "[i]t appears to be the norm for bloggers to hide under the cloak of anonymity or use pseudonyms to blame, insult and rant out against the Government or individuals believing that their postings can better the political process or current events concerning Singapore." And I'm seriously not sure how that sentence scans much less retains coherency without irony meters blowing up last Tuesday.

Firstly, is it even true that bloggers are annonymous in this respect? Very often the political bloggers I read tend to use pseudonyms or "handles", and it's pretty easy to find out how they are with a quick google search given that they have given various interviews to the press and have allow their "true identities" to be published. Mr Wang and Mr Brown come very readily to mind.

But okay, maybe that's just restricted to the more famous bloggers and the more bit time bloggers do hide under this clock of annoymity. But given enough time and a bit of investigative skill, it's way too easy to find out who these people are, especially given how careless certain annoymous bloggers have been with regards to their personal details.

But hey, while we're at it, I suppose we should just disregard bloggers like me and Gabriel who make no truck as to how we are and our personal background are pretty much freely available on our respective blogs. Hell, how do you think Char got hit with a police investigation in the first place? It sure wasn't due to extensive tracking of IP addresses.

Arguably though, it's people like me who are the most insidious form of bloggers. While the Evil Annoymous Bloggers must persuade people on the strength of their writing and argumentation. But me, little old me, who makes it known that I'm a law student and the captain of the NUS debate team, might be engaging in argument by authority (similar to appeal to wrongful authority) and people accept what I say without a peep.

Secondly, why shouldn't bloggers who publish annonymously or under psuedonyms not be able to affect political change? The example that leaps to mind would be the Federalist Papers written by Thomas Jefferson (and some other "Dead White Male") under those self-same conditions.

But the most fundamental problem is that he is begging the question by presuming that annonymity is somehow intrinsically bad in this regard without explaining much less demonstrating how and why in this regard.

2. Legal and constitutional right

*Rubs temples* this doesn't even make sense at all and I wonder if it was simply thrown in to make it sound "cheem" (hokkein term for complicated and high faluting). Obviously we have the right to express our opinion on this issue and/or to condemn the "whistle blower" (by the way, note the term used to couch and frame the person making the report with the semblence of rightness associated with the term) and/or the law that was used in this regard.

Article 14 of our Constitution may be restrictive but goodness gracious, it merely dictates what you can't say as opposed to what you can say.

3. Tolerance

For Tolerance to be coherent and internally consistent and to make general common sense, one simply cannot tolerate views you find agreeable for even the Intolerant can and will do that. As Noam Chomsky once expressed (and gods do I feel unclean for invoking him), for the freedom of speech to mean anything, it has to be extended to things we disagree with or even find repugnant. And again, recall the restrictions placed upon this general premise above, I accept that the this particular freedom is not absolute as no rights are.

But there is a distinction to be drawn between inciting violence and provoking it. The later presupposed deliberate intent to cause harm e.g. calling for a "final solution" to some random "others", the first recognises that there are extremists out there who would sieze upon any slightest infraction to create harm and that we should not pander to them. Allowing foreign extremists to dictate the boundaries of your freedoms is no better than domestic autocratism or authoritarianism which these freedoms and rights are suppose to prevent.

And on that distinction (and a better understanding of rights) I can support the right of people like him to sprout whatever nonsense he wishes to inflict on the general populace without CONDONING (chalk this canard up to the Fundie Word Redefinition Project) his ravings.

4. Blasphemy

Alright, enough is enough, IT IS NOT BLASPHEMY IF YOU'RE NOT IN THAT PARTICULAR RELIGION. Just because Hindus are of the belief that cows are sacred creatures which should not be killed much less eaten does NOT mean that I am blaspheming when I eat a cheeseburger (which goes for Judaism's notion of Kosher as well). In case another couldn't see the link, a little hint, I'm not of those religions.

But here's the major question once again, why should religious views be placed on a pedestral?

5. Legal rights a.k.a Slander and Libel

Mr de Souza is very fortunately in the regard that slander and libel can only be done by a person who is affected by the words/publication and can show harm. And it's a huge pity that as such, a member of a group cannot sue on such a basis because it would be massively defamatory to call specific bloggers "cyber-terrorist" because last I heard, no blogger has engaged in anything remotely similar to what real terrorist have done and it's incredibly churlish of his to do so and he really ought to be ashamed of himself.

Or so one can hope.

They should have the conviction to stand behind any statements they make. If they do not have the confidence and passion to put their names beside their statements, I am sure that all right-thinking people cannot take them seriously. It appears to be the current trend for bloggers to hide under the cloak of anonymity to act irresponsibly by ranting and musing about current events. If their ratings and
musings do not cross the line of fair comment, they are free to do as they please. However, for bloggers who choose to post seditious and inflammatory comments that could cause anarchy by damaging the fabric of religious and racial harmony; they should be dealt with vigorously under the law. Cases of this nature should not be dealt with by the Community Court where the punishment meted out could be probation and performing a number of hours doing community service. They deserve a more deterrent punishment. I hope that I do not sound 'sub-judice', but I hope that blogger Char receives his just deserts for his blasphemous and seditious posting.

An argument stands alone on its own merit and should not be affected by the person saying it (unless it is on a technical matter by an acknowledged expert and we simply want to rely on that person's testimony), as an aside I wish, in fact, that more adjudicators would remember that. So annoymous or not, it is irrelevant unless that person is expecting us to take his testimony at face value. But this is not what argumentation and logic is about. And in fact, assume that this person has consistently posted credible writings, I'll well and truly take their word over that of some ostensible journalist or private investigator (unless it is on some pertinent technical subject matter).

And seriously, enough with the assertions already, it doesn't make it more true or much less even true. You may firmly believe in its truth but that's pretty much logically irrelevant. Who are these bloggers that he's ranting about? If they are so prevelant, surely it would be a simple matter to give an example or two (which by the way does not demonstrate a trend, go for quantitative analysis for that)

Let me post a hypothetical here. Assume that we bloggers now go on a rampage in anger over his unfounded accusations and assume that for some reason the laws against disturbance of public peace, assualt and battery and destruction of property were not used against us (as there should well be against ANY MOB like the cartoongate ones) and further assume that we were appeased and Mr de Souza is thrown to the metaphorical wolves. Does that make our views and actions right and does that make Mr de Souza a criminal in this regard? Because that is essentially what he is arguing for by begging the question and asserting that the status quo is necessarily good and right.

For it is all well and good to throw out the phrase fair comment without considering that it is predicated on judicial interpretation in the absence of legislative command and with a conservative judiciary or better still where the legisation encroaches into what ought to be fair comment. Sedition and blasphemy do not exist in a vaccuum and I'm fairly surprised he did not rail at the Da Vinci Code or The Templar's Legacy or The Blood and the Holy Grail while he was at it. Consistency no?

Similarly, I would submit that the more a government operates on the basis that civil liberties can be subjugated on the basis of national security even where the threat is a potential one, the closer one gets to the slippery slope of Guantanamo Bay, Abu Grahib, Battlefield Interogation Site, NSA Wiretapping, SWIFT co-option, extraordinary rendition and torture. The reason why Constitutionalism exists was to prevent the sort of arbitrary capricious (ab)use of power that we saw in the paranoid power hungry world of absolute monarchs.

Those who fail to heed history are doomed to repeat it.


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