Sunday, November 30, 2014

On Family, Community, Respect, Tolerance, and Compromise

[So someone writes in to TODAY with a nostalgic wish to return to "Family and Community Values"... Ah, the good ole days, when men were men and families were strong (or else daddy will whack the shit out of you), and people were moral, dammit! Moral, not this hedonistic, self-centred moral relativism. I'm paraphrasing here cos I get the sense simply of his... well, read it for yourself:]

A Singapore Family requires community interest, shared morality



I approve of the Social and Family Development Minister’s call for us to be a Singapore Family, as opposed to mere “economic sojourners”. (“Seize opportunities, but remember to give back to society: Chan Chun Sing”; Nov 22, Channel NewsAsia)

[Thank you for your approval, Mr President.]

The powerful imagery of family is to do with solidarity, community and love. But this symbolism lies deeper than providing an emotional appeal. It envisages community to be more than a collection of individuals, and community interest to be more than the multilateralist self-interest of people.

In a family, one does not merely assert rights, but also acknowledges mutual responsibilities. Family members do not stand apart, each given to their own ends, but rather work together with a collective wisdom under which all participate.

A Singapore Family would have its distinct character based on the shared understanding, aspirations and attachments of the people, as well as a shared morality which influences societal structure and government policy.

The ideas of community interest and shared morality are important, allowing us to ban websites such as Ashley Madison or to have the Maintenance of Parents Act. These decisions exemplify the community interest and show how we place no value, for instance, in the freedom to commit adultery.

This philosophy of a Singapore Family can be contrasted with Western liberalism, which relies largely on a subjective notion of morality and individualised notions of good.

While the promise of greater liberty is intuitively appealing, scholars have often criticised these concepts as being incoherent or hedonistic. If everything is subjective, then Plato is indistinguishable from pornography.

[It takes incredible mental ability to see Plato as pornography. I just see him as an old man. But I guess to each his own.]

As Singapore approaches its jubilee, I encourage Singaporeans to view themselves not only as individuals, but also as family members in a community. A Singapore Family requires a buy-in, a desire to play a part in this larger community, from ourselves, the stakeholders in this society. It cannot simply be a top-down initiative.

We must also remember that while strength and comfort is found in family, there is often sacrifice too.

[And people say propaganda doesn't work! Here is prime evidence that it does! Or maybe you need to be a certain age...

Anyway, the letter below was a reply to his "nostalgia"... or moral irredentism (?)]


Community interest should not become tyranny of the majority

The values our Singapore Family will need, through good times and bad, are tolerance, respect and compromise.


NOVEMBER 28, 2014

Like the writer of “A Singapore Family requires community interest, shared morality” (Nov 27), I agree with the call for Singaporeans to unite as one Singapore Family.

The writer emphasises how community interest and shared morality are key elements of a Singapore Family, and distinguishes these from the Western concepts of individuality and subjectivity. I would caution, though, against imposing such artificial distinctions.

One cannot be said to be better than the other. Indeed, it would be detrimental to Singapore and Singaporeans if we swing to the extreme and pay heed only to one end of the spectrum.

We must be careful, for example, to avoid letting community interest — itself a nebulous, subjective concept — be used as a pretext to run down anything which the majority disagrees with, as this would transform Singapore into a tyranny of the majority.

Community interest is often based on the views of the many. Many opposed the civil rights movement and the fight against slavery — two stark examples of how they can be wrong.

We must also be careful to avoid letting our pursuit of shared morality — another ambiguous concept — be used to suppress diversity and inclusiveness in our Singapore Family.

We should take a clear moral stand on some issues, say, murder. But it would be foolish to imagine we could establish a common morality for most issues, unless one group decides to impose their version of morality on others.

The values our Singapore Family will need, through good times and bad, are tolerance, respect and compromise, the same values that brought us to where we are today.


[I do not disagree with the second writer. If her point was to caution against moral irredentism, of the futility of returning to the past, or wishing for the good old days, she is right. 

However, her conclusion is clich├Ęd. Cookie-cutter, uncritical prescription: Tolerance, Respect, and Compromise. 

It is similar to the prescription from Kishore Mahbubani - "to develop a political culture based on compromise and consensus".

I fear he seems to be missing the point. 

The fact is consensus today is elusive, if not outright unobtainable. 

Singaporeans aren't able to compromise even within the same religion (see the second example on the tudong issue), or even if they have the same values (animal welfare), they do not agree on their agenda. If they could why, is there a proliferation of animal welfare societies? SOSD, ACRES, CWS, etc? And when SPCA declared that a "severed cat" was probably the victim of stray dogs, there was disbelief. It was "easier" to believe that there is a psychopathic cat killer doing the unnatural, than some dogs doing what is natural? And that the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is out to cover up animal cruelty?

Compromise is easy to prescribed.

But really, when it comes down to values, how does one compromise on one's value?

When values are on the line, compromise is next to impossible.]

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