11.3.06

Home is

As I walked down by the river tonight after Rojak, it dawned on me to wonder: Is it worth it, to be able to walk alone after midnight in downtown Singapore and not have to worry about being harassed or attacked --- in exchange for not being able to blog about elections or the countless OB (out-of-bounds) markers about talking about race or religion or sex or the real politics of this country?

Is it?

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18 Comments:

At 3/11/2006 2:58 am , Blogger NARDAC said...

No... and the two are unrelated. I think there's other places in the world where people walk alone after midnight, quite safe, and have a lot less human rights issues with their government. For shame!

 
At 3/11/2006 3:05 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

False dichotomy.

"Those who would sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither."

 
At 3/11/2006 10:50 pm , Anonymous The Fell Bat said...

The same reply I will give anyone who gives me the starving-child-in-rwanda sequence: name 2. 2 places where safety is as assured (because whatever else is wrong with SG, we do have this; not 100%, but close) and where the gahmen isn't so anal.

Yeah that quote is oft-used, and yeah de facto isn't de jure, but she's asking about de facto -- and sadly, that's all we have to work with here.

I also thought at one time that I'd get the beep out of this place as soon as I could. But the prospect of raising a family does things to one's psyche. Makes one a lot more willing to compromise, for one thing.

*shrug* I dunno. What is home? Home isn't a country, home isn't a place that necessarily can be named. I think I'll choose to live here because it's a lot safer than other places, and because I know this place. Do I call Singapore my home, then, if I don't have that special warm fuzzy feeling in my heart that tells me "This is home, truly/Where I know I must be"? *rolls eyes slightly to show I am not serious*

 
At 3/12/2006 2:01 am , Anonymous ejl said...

according to Rawls and his theories of justice, a just society/government is (1) where every individual is able to enjoy maximum rights and liberties without impinging upon another, and (2) even where there are inequalities, the least well off are in the best position they could be.

however, (1) is lexically prior to (2), and (1) must always be assured, no matter what. assuming that harassment and attacks on persons arise out of inequal economic distribution, this means that no amount of economic increases (and therefore stability and safety) can justify the limitation of rights and liberties.

and, more importantly, a society/government that attempts to limit rights and liberties using the excuse of greater economic good is unjust.

 
At 3/12/2006 11:49 am , Blogger NARDAC said...

fell bat - Helsinki and Toronto. Ok.. don't walk in the big parks at night, but that goes for all cities, including Singapore. I come from Paris and I often walk home alone at night, of course avoiding Stalingrad and Strasbourg-Saint Denis, but I have no shortage of quibbles with the government here as well. Singaporeans often think their safety is what makes their repression worthwhile.

Of course, you might not feel repressed if you fit well into the mold, the same way you have no idea how your views are being formed if you don't research outside of the given media. Sometimes I wonder if it would be better to just be oblivious and ignorant after all... the Brave New World. ooops... another tangent... sorry Tym.

 
At 3/12/2006 11:55 pm , Anonymous The Fell Bat said...

Ah yes, Toronto!

Canada's definitely a thing I'm keeping in mind. But I'll have to wait and see.

"assuming that harassment and attacks on persons arise out of inequal economic distribution, this means that no amount of economic increases (and therefore stability and safety) can justify the limitation of rights and liberties."

I'm sorry, could you explain this? We have the premise that the maximization of individual rights and liberties without impinging on others is the prime ideal. But even with this premise, how do you arrive at most of the impinging deriving from economic inequality? And from there, how do you jump to saying that this proves your last statement?

Anyways, the "greater economic good" isn't even the primary excuse for us folks. The "greater moral good" and the "greater social good" rear their butt-ugly heads too.

 
At 3/13/2006 1:18 am , Blogger TaLieSin said...

The government in the UK, be it national or at the level of a local "civil society" institution like a university college, has *tremendous* anality that actually makes me miss home at times! Arbitrary and paternalistic regulations for your "health and safety" are very normal here - for example, suddenly deciding without discussion or anything that the kitchen will be "closed for cleaning" from 9 to 10 every morning (while also banning the use of kettles anywhere else, which makes breakfast impossible and thus forces you to get up earlier), so don't be thinking the grass is greener on the other side. There are a million other examples I could cite, including the banning of electric heaters in rooms, the threat to close down business premises that don't provide for disabled access (very technically stringently defined) and so on so forth.

Worse still, there's a definite feeling that the rules on things like cleanliness, internet use and noise are disproportionately and unfairly applied against foreign Asian students, and that the whole system is complicit in this, so there's no point raising the point with any authorities. Things were worse at my old college (which, ironically, has a reputation for being both financially/administratively efficient and "friendly" to Asian students), and our lone "International Student Representative" (a Singaporean friend of mine) had a real tough time standing up for our interests - I take my hat off to him for his efforts.

And this in spite of the "democracy" that is such an integral part of the system at every level - elections govern the selection of almost every representative or authority, from the student reps to the college governing body. Yet because of ingrained prejudice and the impossibility of arguing against measures that so obviously and rationally have your "well-being" in view, Rawlsian "fairness" or "freedom" is nowhere in sight. Give me Singapore any day - the govt. may be bothersome at times, but at least they don't interfere with my freedom to such a drastic, annoying degree.

And no, it is not safe to walk home alone at night in Cambridge. That is, unless one doesn't mind being roughed up by drunks - and that's the least of your worries, we have a cyclist stabber still on the loose, and my rather hefty British friend got mugged by a druggie in broad daylight at 11am in a park that I don't regard as particularly unsafe, so... you can draw your own conclusions. ;)

 
At 3/13/2006 4:25 am , Anonymous ejl said...

i think what i'm getting at is the freedom to think. and to express oneself.

is safety and comfort enough justification for the curtailment of independent thought and the expression of those thoughts? and is the economic well-being of society enough justification for the limitation of an individual's right to the freedom of thought and expression?

if your safety and comfort is compromised, you can prepare yourself for it and take precautionary measures. can you ever prepare yourself for repression and suppression of thought?

 
At 3/13/2006 10:22 am , Blogger . said...

I walk along the streets of new york past midnight all the time and never get harrassed or attacked.
doesn't mean that a democratic place=less safe

 
At 3/13/2006 2:28 pm , Blogger TaLieSin said...

.: That's presumably because you're not walking past midnight in the Bronx, I assume... ;)

I certainly do not think that democracy = less safety; what my example *does* show is that democracy can easily go hand in hand with *as much or more* paternalistic interference for your presumed "safety". Democracy is not coterminous with liberalism, their present-day connection is only a historical coincidence to do with the particularities of western history that have lumped together nation, state, rights, "democracy" (which is a misnomer - it should actually be elitist representative government) and liberalism. A political theory of the modern state and natural rights can easily be a justification for absolutism, as Thomas Hobbes's Leviathan demonstrates.

Some readings from my recent course seminars to back up my argument, for the unconvinced:
1. Bernard Manin, 'The Principles of Representative Government' on "democracy" vs representation
2. Lawrence Hamilton, 'The Political Philosophy of Needs' for a liberal critique of the language of political and human "rights".
3. Raymond Geuss, 'History and Illusion in Politics' for the best general account of the argument I presented above
4. John Dunn, 'Western Political Theory in the Face of the Future', for another account of the same argument.

I quote Dunn's closing sentence from the chapter on 'Democratic Theory': 'Today, in politics, democracy is the name for what we cannot have - yet cannot cease to want.'

 
At 3/13/2006 2:52 pm , Blogger TaLieSin said...

Ejl: I think the Rawlsian analysis breaks down at a number of points in this discussion.

- The Rawlsian system enshrines the formalized legalism of "rights and liberties", but it doesn't empower the victims of systematic discrimination to be able to stand up against paternalistic legislation that theoretically applies to everyone, but is in actuality selectively applied against a minority group. Hence my example.

- Rawls is more concerned with justifying the unequal distribution of material goods than anything else; his account presupposes what is actually a fairly advanced degree of social stability and material well-being to be able to talk of the luxury of "rethinking distribution". The idea of the least well off being in the "best possible position" is too vague for practical use, and the overwhelming focus on private rights (particularly property) correspondingly limits the usefulness of the political liberties of the poor. They are being bought off with political liberties that give an illusion of "freedom", without being able to actually improve their position because of the freezing effect of "rights". The Rawlsian "Original Position" is a fiction that does not obtain in the real world, but is nonetheless used to justify it in the time-honoured tradition of the "State of Nature".

- As such it seems to me that Rawls takes the "freedom of independent thought and discussion" as a secondary good that is distributed to people *after* stability has been obtained. The establishment and maintenance of that stability by the State is necessary for the existence and protection of *any* rights and liberties in the first place, rather than a hindrance to their existence.

(You may note how the Rawlsian argument hangs together: the "bribing" of the losers with political liberties is simply the most efficient way of maintaining the stability that underpins the system of rights, whilst that same system ironically serves to keep the losers firmly in their place.)

- I think it is an open question as to whether Singapore has reached a position of sufficiently secure stability that mandates a greater distribution of "freedom of thought and expression"; I only wish to point out that the Rawlsian theory, particularly as revised in a less "liberal" vein in his later work 'Political Liberalism' (irony!), can quite easily be used to justify what some are calling "repressive govt" in Singapore.

 
At 3/13/2006 8:06 pm , Blogger NARDAC said...

Taliesin - I think you took a lot of space to say things nobody here can understand. Keep in mind a lot of us here are not in your field, taking your seminar, being beaten up by drunks of bikes wielding rubber knives, throwing pans of hot water around at 9 in the morning... or god knows what else.

What I do hear is your frustration over what seems to be a form of racism. If that's how you feel democracy is being compromised, well, there's room in there for that argument. England is hardly the place I would choose as representative of a democracy. And you're in a micro-community with University, and probably a place that's preserved a lot of its old and eccentric rules because "that's the way it's always been and that's the way it is." The truly wicked will find ways to subvert every rule they feel constrictive and I believe the English place great weight in ingenuity.

Anyways, I don't think that democracy equals more or less safety because the two things are quite unrelated. Let's end this train of thinking right now. Tym, this really is your fault, though you pointed out yet another disturbing aspect of the Singaporean identity.

 
At 3/14/2006 1:03 am , Anonymous The Fell Bat said...

And THAT is true enough! Our gahmen has managed to conflate these two separate issues through social engineering.

By *right*, they should never be related. By *left*, or rather, as things are presented, it's the sort of choice we are unhappily facing. Again, de facto is not de jure.

Lish, why're you even comparing the UK and SG in the first place? What's all this starving child in Rwanda business? Sure, UK is bad. Why should we then like SG? Getting hit by a bus is worse than getting hit by a car, but that doesn't mean getting hit by a car is fun.

 
At 3/14/2006 1:25 am , Anonymous ted said...

If anyone is familar with Sydney, I've frequently walked from Glebe Point Road all the way to Hyde Park past midnight too. Never been mugged or anything. Me a Chink Chink Singaporean who lived there for 3.7 years.

 
At 3/14/2006 6:45 am , Blogger TaLieSin said...

I suppose, Fell Bat, comparisons are relevant if we're discussing questions of possibility, i.e. is it "possible" at all for govts to maintain stability (or, if you want to be cynical, their own political position) without some degree of illiberal / paternalistic interference in people's lives? The examples of other "more democratic" countries might help us in some way to answer that question.

Most people I've come across in my political thought readings challenge the false-dichotomy quote in the 2nd reply head-on. They note that in practice, governments everywhere even in the most "liberal" countries regularly infringe on their subjects' liberties for reasons of "security" or "health and safety", and get away with it (or even get re-elected *because* they were seen to be taking "positive action" in response to "threats/needs/problems").

As for freedom of thought and expression, the public outcry over blogger racism recently served to underline the real issue: that not all thoughts and opinions are equally worthy of being held or expressed. I think that allowing a group like Al-Qaeda or a Revolutionary Marxist party their "freedom of thought" is quite unfeasible, unless you want to engage in the sophistry of distinguishing between "freedom of thought" and "freedom of action". But given that these ideologies are completely built around action of a quite drastic nature, it seems that to deny these groups freedom of action is de facto denial of their freedom of thought. The hypocrisy of liberal idealism is the suggestion that an Al-Qaeda operative is free to pretend to believe in, plan for and dream about blowing up the cabinet and all the MPs in his head, so long as he doesn't actually go and do it - this is a farcical insult to the real thoughts of Al-Qaeda's members. No wonder they are not impressed.

 
At 3/14/2006 9:01 am , Anonymous ballsy said...

Liberty is not idealistic, really. There are certain rights and freedoms that are central to being human: ie, being respected as a person and having your views respected as much as the next person wearing the white uniform.

In fact, the view that once free speech is accorded, people will ultimately resort to extremism is a scary bedtime story our talented politicians have been feeding us for ages.Sure, there may be some extremist views (blowing up people for the sake of some greater ideal) being heard but at the end of the day, AT LEAST, there is frank discussion. and the idea that no single authority can adjudicate what thought or expression is worthy to be expressed can be a good thing. right now, the excuse of "protecting the people from dangerous deviant thoughts" reeks of thought monopoly.

i say let all the thoughts, dangerous or otherwise, be surfaced. at least then we can deal with these thoughts instead of kidding ourselves that we live in happy candyland. we have adequate legal recourse to deal with dangerous behaviour like plotting to plant bombs[attempted murder,etc], yet we have few safety nets for people to speak their minds.

 
At 3/14/2006 6:32 pm , Blogger TaLieSin said...

I'm afraid, ballsy, I fail to share your idealism. I recall the recent race riots in "liberal" Paris, the London bombings (as well as those in Istanbul, Madrid, Bali and Cairo), our homegrown JI and its plans to blow up MRT stations, and Al-Qaeda's cultivating of university students in liberal Europe as its premier agents. It seems that an idea that should *not* be held or expressed, full stop (akin to racism), has flourished equally well in both liberal and illiberal environs! It's time that we stop imagining that ideas are simply the products of their environment and have no lives of their own. Human beings are more capable and surprising than that.

It's also time that we stop imagining that all ideas are equally worthy of respect, that all ideas are equally right and wrong (or the equivalent notion that there is no right and wrong) and so on. If people don't accept this, there is no point in discussion or persuasion or rational argument - we are just speaking into the air, for no other purpose than the egotism of seeing our own views gaining currency against the equally irrelevant and illusory opinions of the Others.

As for letting the "dangerous thoughts" surface so we can clamp down on them and wipe them out - that sounds suspiciously like Mao Zedong's clever idea to "let a hundred flowers bloom" before dragging the intellectuals off to horrible fates in the cultural revolution. Do you really think Al-Qaeda will fall for that? Or that they will think that public promotion of their views and scheming to blow up trains are somehow mutually exclusive? The present actions of Islamic Fundamentalist clerics in the UK, who are glorifying the July bombers and encouraging their emulation in public addresses, seems to suggest otherwise.

 
At 3/15/2006 1:37 am , Blogger NARDAC said...

I live in Paris. Those riots weren't race riots, as the media were so quick to jump on. The riots were about a serious class and generational schism, which is why the government here immediately put forth a new law, resulting from the riots, creating new work policies for youth. The suburbs is full of minorities, but it was also young white kids in the mix. The common denominators were age (under 17), male, and poor.

However, the situation is so complex and I am doing it no justice in this small comment box, which is a major problem but it's not my blog.

Just because we don't live in a utopia doesn't mean we shouldn't have ideals, nor hope. I bet all those medieval people not wearing underpants never imagined that one day they'd be a world where Japanese schoolgirl's underpants were being sold in a vending machine.

Anyways, take a chill pill taliesin. You don't know the truth about the universe anymore than we do.

 

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