Sunday, June 21, 2009

I heart Singapore...

... And so apparently does Jet Li, well, enough to actually get Singaporean citizenship. Apparently many of my fellow singaporeans do not like the fact that another rich and famous guy can so easily get citizenship, and just as easily give it up when it becomes inconvenient.

This doesnt actually bother me. Actually, I want such priveleges expanded to every non-criminal in the world! Really!! What really bugs me about immigration is that it is not open enough. Immigration in all countries should be as free as possible, without having to sacrifice national security. So Lets start at home.

Of course, at the heart of this, it is about the legitimacy of the social contract and the state. One of the pitfalls of social contract theory is that, well, people did not really sign social contracts. The fact that citizens receive benefits and that the better option is to sign the social contract does not in itself make the social contract legitimate.

However, ideally, if people don't like a society, they can leave and find another one that suits them better. But people cannot just leave, and people who wish to live in a society cannot just enter. There are often high entry and exit barriers. Therefore, people are often stuck in contracts which they are not signitories to. This is a lot like the situation where you are stuck in a traffic jam, and a homeless man just comes and cleans your wind shield, then demands that you pay him. Yes, you have received the services, but since you did not ask for them in the first place, it is not clear whether you are obligated to pay for them. However, if you go to a car wash, you choose to freely go there. Hence, even if you do not sign any explicit contract, or even physicall ask for the service, your mere presence is indicative that you desire to be there and will pay for the service. In that case, of course you have a moral responsibility to pay for the wash. The analogy can be extended to societies and the benefits of citizenship too.

Lowering entry and exit barriers to 0, therefore means that you are there in a country because you have agreed as if by contract to be there. Of course in practice, this is impossible. However, it would be really good if entry and exit barriers were lowered as far as possible. To the extent that we could leave if we wanted to, we agree to be subject to the laws of the land by staying here. Therefore, the power that government holds over us becomes more legitimate. Here is a graph that explains how the relationship works:

The main article is hereHere is another article on the issue. Of course entry and exit barriers are not the whole thing. Secularism is an issue also, but not central to this post.

Dont mistake me. I love my country deeply and would stay here  in Singapore among all other places on earth. That is why I want to change Singapore. Just because I love my country doesnt mean that I think that it is perfect. I love my country and I want to share it with everyone who loves it too. However, I dont think I should have to share it with people who don't want to stay here. That is why we lower entry and exit barriers: So that the people who are here really want to be here

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Open thread: SIWOTI, fascism

Just some ramblings.

1. This is so me. I've definitely got SIWOTI syndrome. Someone Is Wrong On The Internet

2. Now, on fascism. If you are reading this and have not read this, you should. In order to cover my arse, I will explicitly state what I mean when I say fascist.
Mussolini's definition of fascism is about the aligning of corporate interests and state power. While, in principle, this also ought to be avoided, this is not a particularly stinging or accurate charge with regards to Dr Thio. If we are to take mussolini's definition seriously, most governments are Fascist. But corporatism, while producing a somewhat incentive structure, is not what Dr Thio was doing.
Another definition of fascism has to do with the state taking control of the military-industrial complex in order to put the country onto a permanent war footing. That is what mussolini did, and is a reasonable definition. It is also a serious charge to level, but against Dr. Thio, is not accurate (at least I hope not).
Her views against homosexuality and gay marriage is basically like preventing non muslims from eating non-Halaal food or even banning inter-religious or inter racial marriage, or banning divorce. If those are unconscionable impositions, so are bans on gay marriage. She is not precisely theocratic either. As she says, the views that she advances are shared by more than christians. Therefore, we cannot say clearly whether she has a specifically christian  theocratic agenda which happens to dovetail with the views of other religious ultra conservatives. However, her agenda is illegitimately authoritarian, and  in our common parlance, we like to call such authoritarianism fascist.

3. On idiocy. Since I'm on the topic, we do not lightly call people who make mistakes stupid. For example, if you are a non biologist who is a creationist, while not utterly blameless, you are not stupid. You're either ignorant, or just have a blind-spot in your thinking. It is even somewhat excusable if you only work with cells and molecules. However, if you are an ecologist in the 21st century, or a geneticist, and see the evidence every day, your intellectual prowess and acuity comes into question. It is like when someone is drinving, there is a blindspot in the mirror just behind the driver's seat. Withouit checking our blindspot, we can sort of muddle our way through even though to our destination as long as traffic is kind of low. However, if a whole section of your windscreen is blacked out, one has serious problems and cannot be remotely trusted to even get to the petrol station safely.
Similarly, how can we trust the legal arguments of Dr. Thio, when she makes such an obvious mistake about discrimination? Repealing bans on gay marriage does not impose on the religious conservatives. They are still free to do their own thing. Lawyers are supposed to know the prima facie effect a law has. She, apparently doesn't.

4. This thread is open to random comments and suggestions and anything even off topic stuff. Just dont be abusive.

On Autonomy and Rationality

Here is an old post by philosopher Richard Chappell from philosophy etc.

Here is an important extract:

(8) Reasons responsiveness: the ability to recognize and respond to reasons.

Arpaly suggests that only the last of these is strictly necessary for moral responsibility. (It's also true that someone incapable of agent-autonomy won't be a moral agent, but she suggests that this is because both have the same precondition: being a reflective creature.) In any case, Arpaly seems right in observing that mere lapses in agent-autonomy don't excuse: there are plenty of blameworthy akratic actions (and some praiseworthy ones too, cf. Huck Finn).

A couple more notes:
* Authenticity is also relevant to (the degree of) moral responsibility, insofar as we are more praiseworthy or blameworthy, on her account, when the morally significant concerns behind our actions are deeper concerns of ours.

* Historicism about responsibility (the view that whether S is morally responsible in phi-ing depends on extrinsic historical facts about how S came to be the way she is) may partly be motivated by confusing 'independence of mind' [which is an uncontroversially historical notion] with other -- more important -- ahistorical senses of 'autonomy'.

* In light of all this ambiguity, we might do better to retire the word 'autonomy' in favour of whichever precise sense we have in mind: self-control, mental independence, authenticity, reasons-responsiveness, or whatever.

Here's why this is important. The broadest meaning of what it means to be rational is to do what one has good reason to do. i.e. the ability to repond to reasons is rationality. A rational action is one that is properly motivated by reasons, while an irrational one is insufficiently motivated by reason. i.e. it is out of proportion to the reasons for doing it. Whether or not we actually have free will, the rationality (an therefore the morality) of our actions depends only on what motivated it and to what extent, whther or not what actually motivates us was pre-determined by prior events. i.e. we take it for granted that to be moral is to be rational. (That we have reason to be moral)

What follows is a tentative theory of action.

1. We necessarily do what we are motivated to do. i.e. Unless we are externally constrained (i.e. shackled, too far away, imprisoned etc), it is necessarily the case that if we did something deliberately (not accidentally), we were motivated to do so. However, if we are not motivated to do so, it is not possible for us to freely preform an action (for whatever minimal definition of free)

2. We have reasons to act and these may or may not motivate us. This is because we are imperfect beings. Ideal rational agents are perfectly motivated by reasons. This is why, there is such a thing as akrasia. Imperfect beings are akratic, perfect beings are not.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Where Dr. Thio Su Mien is a religio-fascist idiot

This monday, first of june, Dr. Thio Su Mien, 'feminist mentor' of Aware Scandal infamy posted the following absurdity

Militant religionism? It's family values 

I REFER to last Saturday's letter by Mr John Hui, 'Militant religionism the real threat to social harmony', which made serious, inflammatory and inaccurate allegations against me. Mr Hui adopted the propagandistic, pejorative technique of labelling me a 'militant Christian', alluding to 'militant exclusionist religionism' which 'already generated disharmony'. He alleged that I persuaded Christians to join the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) to 'push forward Christian moral values'. 

What view is he demonising as an imposed Christian value? Apparently, this relates to sexual morality norms and defining 'family'. I share the Government's view that 'the conventional family, a heterosexual stable family', is society's building block. If espousing this view of the family constitutes 'militant exclusionist religionism', then most Singaporeans are guilty militants. 

Mr Hui's mischievous mischaracterisation of a mainstream value as an imposed religious value incites anti-religious hostility, threatening social disharmony. 

Aware did much to promote women's concerns. However, I found its apparent recent shift to advocating the homosexual agenda alarming. I encouraged people not to be passive bystanders but to participate in shaping our common good. 

My concerns were validated when the Ministry of Education (MOE) suspended Aware's Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) programme, removing Aware from the external vendors list. 

The CSE instructors guide contained 'explicit and inappropriate' content which conveyed 'messages which could promote homosexuality'. This violated MOE guidelines that sex education must promote 'family values'. This proved the presence of the homosexual agenda in our schools for at least two years, which understandably upset many parents. 

Upholding family values most Singaporeans share is not a religious imposition. Undermining family values through school programmes disrespects valid parental concerns and the morality of the majority. Which really threatens social cohesion? 

Dr Thio Su Mien

I sent a reply to the straits times forum which they did not publish. I will reproduce it below:

I refer to Monday's letter by Dr. Thio Su Mien, "Militant religionism? It's family values". She claims that just because the Singapore government and most Singaporeans share her views about homosexuality, that they have a right to impose these views on everybody else. The point of religious freedom is that people have a right to their religious views and practice, which in principle cannot be overridden by any number of people. Secularism is therefore about the government being neutral between different values (religious or not). The only laws that a government can legitimately make are those based on formal logical principles derived from pure practical reason which are value neutral (like laws against murder, coercion, theft, deception etc). Hence even if 99.99% of the nation consisted of conservative religious people, it is wrong for the government to institute laws that ban sodomy, gay marriage or gay adoption because that will unjustly impose on the religious practice of the 0.01% who are non religious and have no reason to abstain from such practices. However, legalising these practices does not impose on the religious because they are still free to marry, free to do what they have done all the time. Only now, the LGBT community is also free to do whatever they want as long as the individual adults consent to it. It is also wrong for the government to take the official position that family values are better than other values. Tax funded schools should not be in the business of imparting values at all. That is the provenance of the family and the clan or the church or madrassah etc. These are the institutions where it is appropriate to teach these values.

Yes, yes, its a bit rushed, but I make very important points. Why am I so harsh with Dr Thio?

1. She is a religio fascist because she wants to impose conservative religious views on the rest of us. Even though religious liberals, the non religious and the atheists form a minority in Singapore, we have a right to our religious practice and views. This is a right that, prima facie, ought not to be violated.

Looking at the forum page (both print and online), I see that a lot of my fellow Singaporeans do not seem to be getting this. Many understand that it would really screw up the social fabric if narrow religious views were imposed on a majority or even a significant minority. But this already cedes half the argument to Dr Thio and her ilk. If a purely religious law merely imposes on an already socially marginalised minority (which already exerts very little political pressure) then whoopee, the social fabric can absorb the discontent and the fascists win.

That is why I want to talk about rights. Rights represent lines that should not be crossed. There are very few cases where rights to treligious freedom may be violated. The only relevant case I can think of now are Jehova's Witnesses. They are a branch of christians who do not swear oaths (no pledge) and therefore would not serve NS. They would mooch off the govt (going to tax funded schools etc using tax funded roads) without giving back. The state can legitimately ban Jehova's witnesses from migrating here and obtaining citizenship, or banish Jehovah's witnesses who refuse to do NS and even send defaulters to DB because conscription (in Singapore's case) is necessary to the continued existence of the state. But, other than narrow cases like this, there are no exceptions to this rule.

Banning sodomy, gay marriage and gay adoption have no justification but religious ones. To keep these laws, or to write them into the statutes, prevents the nonreligious, or the religious liberals from doing things for no other reason than someone else's religion says so. In fact it even imposes on conservative christians. People should be free to sin and be bad christians if they want to. It is up to a person's personal conscience what type of Christian, Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist or Satanist he wants to be.

2. One has to be either stupid or evil not to realise the assymetry between imposing a religious law and lifting it. I would rather not think of people whom I personally do not know as evil. But, owing that she used to be the Dean of the Law Faculty in NUS, she should know the difference, or else her credibility as a lawyer becomes questionable since she has such a large  blindspot on the issue. The alternative is that she has an agenda to impose her conservativism on the rest of society and only pretends ignorance of this fact. 

As I stated earlier in my reply, laws that ban sodomy, gay marriage and gay adoption are an unjust imposition on the non religious. It violates their religious freedom. On the other hand, legalising gay marriages, and allowing them to do their own thing does not impose on the religious rights of the conservatives. They are still free to believe what they like, marry how they like, and preach whatever they want within the boundaries of discourse in Singapore. (Another issue I've got problems with, but another battle for another day)

Dr Thio, would like to suggest that legalising these would be an imposition on the religious majority. Since the government has to impose either way, better to impose on a minority right? But how does allowing gays to do their own thing impose on the rights of the religious? Doesn't make sense right? Not unless they think that they have a right to force everyone else to follow their religious/cultural taboos.

In so far as the government is complicit in this type of mindset, the government is wrong. However, the government has indicated that it believes that gays must have the space to pursue their own lifestyle. Taken to its logical conclusion, this would mean liftting bans on gay sex, marriage and adoption. The PAP is very gradualist in its mindset. They may very well have a timetable to start liberalising in this area. Gradualism is a smart political strategy given a bigoted populace. The government can affirm a commitment to the people's pregudices while gradually giving Gays more and more freedom. I am however, more impatient. For this particular issue, the government should move faster.

This brings us to another point I wanted to make

3. The general populace is bigoted if it believes that gays shouldnt have the right to marry eachother etc. They being in the majority, and this being a socially acceptible form of bigotry does not make it any less bigoted or any less wrong. Espousing the view that only heterosexual families are legitimate is militant exclusionary religionism, no matter how widespread or how many people high up share this view.

4.The statement the conventional family, a heterosexual stable family', is society's building block is either meaningless, trivially true or false outright. What do they mean when people say this?

a) Everybody in society can be said to be a part of a heterosexual family unit in one way or another. A person is often a father, a mother, son, daughter, sibling, in-law, aunt, uncle, cousin, husband, wife, etc. But this is a trivial descriptive fact. It does not make any argument as to why gay marriages should remain illegal.

b) One could further argue that these relationships impose duties. I have duties towards my parents and my siblings, and I will take on duties to my wife when I get married, and duties towards my children when I eventually have children. These familial duties are part of what makes society society and are part of the very fabric of scoiety. Buth this would be true of any family, heterosexual or not. Even from a more normative concpetion of society, we can see how family and marriage are good institutions that must be maintained. But the important aspects of these institutions in no way suggests why these institutions should only be restricted to heterosexuals. In fact, the argument suggests expanding these institutions to include gays. Our society would be more cohesive if they were included too and were not marginalised.

5. Talking about the homosexual agenda is basically importing the culture wars from the US into Singapore. There is no homosexual agenda. Gays are not out there to rape your kids or convert straight children into gays. In fact, gays are not sexually attracted to children. Most pedophiles are straight. Apparently, any depiction of gays which does not demonise them and condemn them must be the work of the homosexual agenda. Apparently, having sex education and talking about gays in a neutral manner in order to conduct value neutral lessons is succumbing to the gay agenda. For these people, anything short of lynching them and burning them at the stake must be part of the gay agenda. They are religious extremists. Once people start talking about the gay agenda, you know that they are talking nonsense. That is because, other than to obtain equal rights for themselves, there is no such thing as a gay agenda.

Value neutrality is important as a philosophy of government. Future posts will explain why value neutrality is necessary. For now, here is a point that I would like people to consider. Value neutrality is not a necessary compromise between various factions. It is, as part of the aim of being a just overnment an ideal which all governments should strive to achieve. Moreover, it is a precondition to legitimacy of government. The further away from value neutrality a government goes, the less legitimate it is, i.e. the less right it has to exist.