Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Good Fences make Good Neighbours

Apparently, Robert Frost was being ironic when he said this and it is clear why this would be so if one considers or attaches certain associations with neighbour i.e. not simply one who lives beside you but a notion of communal association and arguably aid in times of trouble and need.

For the law students, perhaps an easier manner in which to conceptualize it is the idea of duty of care as originally conceived in Donoghue v. Stevenson i.e. someone whom you ought to consider when doing something or performing certain actions for fear of causing harm to you neighbour.

The distinction between the former and the later is perhaps a distinction between a duty of care and a duty to care such that in the former, one has a positive duty to actually make things better for your neighbour whereas in the later, one simply has to take care not to hurt your neighbour.

I personally see race and religious relations in Singapore to be in the later category. Insofar as criminal sanctions or general legal restrictions are to be imposed, they are premised on the idea that as long as you don't thread on my toes, we can live in relative peace and tolerance. So two very good examples of these are the Maintanence of Religious Harmony Act as well as the Sedition Act.

One of the things that the MRHA does is to allow for the issuing of restraining orders (against religious office holders or other persons) for "causing feelings of enmity, hatred, ill-will or hostility between different religious groups" which as the parliamentary debate tells us includes aggressive evangelism (nice that the government understands how annoying that is). The criminalisation of the above comes from the Sedition Act (and the new provision of the Penal Code), or alternatively, the violation of the restraining order.

By the by, there is a raging debate right now as to how aggressive atheists should be in propagating their worldview. I think the rise of Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris is partially in reaction to the very aggressive stance on the part of the religious right and the intrusion of religion as the basis of morality and thence law as well as the education of science.

I think the conflict as it boils down to is the following. One side sees fanaticism of any sort as necessarily bad and they fear that the public face of science would be atheistic, which is precisely what the religious right want to do by forcing people to make a choice between god or science in the belief that people will tend to pick god, which will hurt science. The other side thinks it's cognitive dissonance no matter how you parse it, that taking down all the goddidit arguments thrown up by ID and their ilk but then suddenly drawing an arbitrary line in the sand and saying that science does not deal with That and therefore permits both god and science to coexist see e.g. Ken Miller (stauch Roman Catholic Evolutionary Biologist).

I think I sympathise with the first camp on a consequentialist argument but will tend towards the second for the sake of intellectually honestly. Yes, science will never disprove the god hypothesis but it sure can go a long way in mounting evidence against it. Maybe Science ought not for the sake of "good neighbourliness" have a stance but it sure has an implication.


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