Tuesday, August 08, 2006

TODAYonline: Feel the Heat if you Break your Promise

The above letter can be summed up as uber or hyper nationalistic and patriotic. And while there is nothing wrong with those in and of itself per se, like all things, when done to excess, it can only lead to harm and untold misery. The slight hyperbolic untold misery bit is due to the lessons of history where dissent was forbidden and the unchecked power of the authorities (both secular and religious) trampled upon the liberties if not the personal safety and lifes of those who would dissent from what they correctly viewed as ill.

I'm a little hesistant to fisk this as I normally would given that the letter writer is a 16 year old student and I doubt that baracking someone is the best way of persuading him to see the errors of his views.

So I'm going to use this as an explainatory lesson instead. But here's my thesis, dissent is not disloyalty in fact dissent is loyalty and the ultimate form of patriotism. It is only when I believe that my nation can be better and better served that I dissent. If not, I would simply ignore it.

by Jeremy Lim

FIVE years ago, on Aug 9, I was at the National Stadium with 35 others — who represented a cross-section of the people of Singapore — reciting the Pledge on stage. It was a proud, ecstatic moment for me.

I'm glad that he's proud to be Singaporean or at least proud to demonstrate that he is Singaporean. And I believe that there is much to be proud of Singapore (if not necessarily being Singaporean).

But as I will later expound upon, that should not be sufficient reason to put on blinkers and say that all is well with the system or even with policies.

However, I did not realise at first that it was more than a ceremony. It was a commitment I was making to the nation to be part of 'one united people, regardless of race, language or religion ... so as to achieve happiness, prosperity and progress for our nation'. There were millions of witnesses, including those who watched the event on television and the Internet.

The words in the Pledge are powerful. And we would do well as a society to remember and live up to them.

I absolutely agree. But from here on, we take very divergent paths with regards to what it means to live up to the pledge.

As Singaporeans, we have all taken the Pledge. It is a solemn undertaking to the nation. If we do not honour it through word and deed, we have broken a serious promise — and shouldn't we always keep the promises we make?

Hopefully with age comes experience and with experience expertise. I don't necessarily disagree with what he says but the phrasing leaves me very cold. Instead what I will say is that the pledge is a powerful statement of alliegence and in particular what forms the basis of an ideal society. I think that the pledge can be amended to included things like non-discrimination of gender, sexual orientation and belief systems but it doesn't detract too much from the idea of an equitable society (I'm conflating equity and equality because there really isn't much conceptual difference between the two that does not become mired in sophistry).
I believe one of the better ways of keeping our promise to the nation is to always treat Singapore as our home. Before we act, we should ask: 'Would we do this to our own home?'

I think analogies are very helpful as long as one is aware of all times of their limitations i.e. in that they are similar but never identical. Unfortunately, very often analogies are used to overly simplify matters and used in lieu of proper analytical reasoning and very often have loads of emotional baggage loaded with it.

But what is the fundamental problem with the analogy? Basically I think it's overly simplistic and the nuance is what's of upmost importance here. Because the moment one sees the problem with the analogy i.e. how a nation and a "home" are intrinsically different, his entire argument collapses.

The use of the home is misleading insofar as one cannot extrapolate infinitely backwards. The most immediate problem is that it leads to impossibilities e.g. one cannot say that given that the 100m run times have consistently fallen that in the future runners would be able to complete it in negative time or even for that matter 1s. Along the same lines, just because we reduce the age limit for any particular act does not necessarily equate to eliminating it for the simple reason that we acknowledge that children do not have the same mental capacity and capabilities that adults do BUT that we acknowledge that they are readily getting this at a much younger and younger age.

Conceptually, we run into the same critique that Tatcher faced with her explaination of why a budget deficit was bad i.e. by comparing it to a home living in debt. The humourous critique was that it was "home economics" with the slightly degoratory associations with the subject. But basically the short answer is that what is right at an individual level may not necessarily be true when we are talking about the aggregation of many many individuals.

Therefore, the important point here to note is that we are living in a democratic society premised on Constitutionalism etc. The home is not predicated on rule by the ruled and that is an intrinsic difference that lies at the heart of the fundamental flaw of the entire argument.

For example, would we disrupt the peace and harmony in our home by inciting another member of our family? Likewise, we should not provoke others with inflammatory comments about their race or religion, knowing that it may lead to bitterness, unrest and disorder. For not keeping to their pledge to the nation, three racist bloggers were punished.

This of course begs the question that peace and harmony are to be prized. That is of course a fair enough assertion in that it is probably self-evident. But the issue is as follows, at what price?

Taking first the inflammatory comments inciting violence, a clear distinction should be drawn between that an the advocacy of violence. Without that distinction, a critique or expression no matter how justified, will always be at the mercy of extremists prone to violence. Thus to silence speech, one simply needs to threaten violence.

And this has severe repecussions on a number of issues. Firstly, it jepodises the political system of resolving issues i.e. instead of debate and the vote, it legitimises violence as a political tool. Secondly, it undermines the rule of law in that there are criminal codes and penal sanctions against mobs and riots for a freaking reason. They want to protest, go ahead, but the moment violence is used, that's when the coercive force of the government should come in.

And lest this be thought to be a "liberal" critique, conservative right wing fundamentalist (okay, massive redundency there, I probably could have simply said fundamentalist) Christians are upset that they are not allow to make what they consider justified comments/attacks on an "abomination unto God" i.e. homosexuals because the government has controlled speech and currently they consider that unwarrented inflamnatory speech.

In short, what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

By the same token, I think all pledge-breakers should be punished by law. I can't help feeling livid when I read about Singaporeans joining forces with foreigners in the condemnation and attack of our home. Have they forgotten their pledge?

Heh, I don't recall our pledge saying that we cannot enlist foreign support for criticisms of domestic polities.

Yes, as citizens, we have the right and duty to give constructive criticism in the best interests of our country. But it is a different thing when you say it in a foreign newspaper or support a foreign organisation in criticising your country publicly. If anyone wants to do that, they should relinquish their citizenship. Why should they be allowed to break a solemn pledge with impunity?

Eh? I don't see the difference. Either those foreign organisations have legitimacy or they do not, either those accusations have grounds or they are baseless. In the second bit, whether or not foreign elements are effected becomes irrelevant to the issue and the tossing about of the word "foreign" becomes like a magician's handwaving to keep the audiences eye away from what's happening.

Of the first bit, the implication of his policy is that no international body has the legitimacy to "interfer" in the politics of the domestic government. If so, we can kiss the UN and all other IGOs and NGOs goodbye. One has to wonder whether the writer has thought through this issue or is simply regurgitating the canards pushed by certain elements of our society.

The slogan for this year's National Day Parade is: 'Our global city. Our home.'

I like it because it highlights and reminds all of us of what Singapore is — a home.

By fulfilling the spirit and letter of our Pledge, we can together continue to build a great home. To do that, we need to lead, support or, at least, get out of the way of efforts to make Singapore a better place.

Ra ra Singapore! If this had been in a letter which was more subtle, nuanced and demonstrated the understanding of complex issues better, I would have such great hopes for the future (to be fair, I'm been impressed by the young crop of debaters).
Let me cite the casino issue as an example. The Government came up with the proposal. After studying views from all sides, it has decided to go ahead. Now, it is our duty to support the idea and make it work or, if we are still not happy with it, to accept it as fact and find ways to ensure it turns out well for the country by mitigating any possible social impact.

Absolutely no. The whole point of a democratic society is the ability to effect change through the vote. Something does not simply become right because the government or the current majority of voters says it is so. Issues like women's sufferage and the Civil Rights Movement come to mind here. While I supported the casino, I realise that to opponents of the casino, my arguments does not necessarily rebut theirs nor theirs mine. This is what we mean by a fundamental clash of (differing) values.

But what I find terribly disturbing is the idea that once the government makes a decision it is our duty to support the idea and make it work. Put another way, surely it cannot be our duty to support the implementation of a policy that would render suddenly half our nation as second class citizens.

Sitting on the fence, however, may not the best thing to do. I am for leading or for being part of the team to make Singapore a better home. After all, a home is not about the place. It is about the people.

We still have problems with littering, ungraciousness, dengue-carrying mosquitoes, bullies, animal abusers and more. There are frequent letters and reports of these challenges in the media for us to be concerned. And the root of the problem? Some people just do not care.

They contribute to the problems and make life frustrating for other people sharing the home. They simply fail to see a good home is created by all the people who live in it. I hope that they do not wait until they lose it to appreciate it.

My wish on the 41st birthday of my nation is for all my countrymen and women to unite in building ourselves — and our future generations — a magnificent home. Happy birthday, my homeland!

At least he didn't end with Majulah Singapura! =P


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At 11:16 PM, Anonymous ted said...

You have a small bit that wouldbe relevant to the discussion at singaporeangle.com, its something on the protests.

Perhaps you would like to pop by over and take a quick look?

At 9:42 AM, Blogger Shaun Lee said...

Thanks yet again ted.

Is it on the constitutional aspect?


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