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views on freedom

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  • james tan
    chris, it does seem that singapore work differently from usa. that is a fact. for good reasons, the govt here doesn t believe in a totally free press. while i
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 2, 2002
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      it does seem that singapore work differently from usa. that is a fact. for
      good reasons, the govt here doesn't believe in a totally free press. while i
      agree with u that singapore does not have a free press (after reading the
      articles u sent), i doubt ur assertion that it is a corrupt one. unless u
      have evidences, ur assertion will remain merely a allegation, a charge
      without basis. yes, u may say the press has covered or censored it. but i
      can assure u that if there are really evidences, even if the press is a mere
      tool of the govt and covered up the govt's corruption dutifully and
      accordingly like how a faithful lapdog should, they will still be taken up
      by the opposition parties here to the court so that the govt can be taken to
      task. the judiciary system here is independent of the govt; unless u wish to
      doubt that also (and if tt is the case, do u have reasons to do so?)

      u said words are just words, harmless. i beg to differ. in a simplistic
      behavioral model, we have the stimulus-response contingency. words can be
      very powerful stimulus, esp in the context of a receiver not very very
      mature, and impressionable, and the worse for it if it is being exploited
      for ulterior motive or agenda. in the cognitive model, we learn that man
      behaves exactly through his beliefs, and words taken in and accepted
      (gullibly or not) are beliefs; with beliefs come interpretation of events,
      and then, actions. i do not understand what make america as a population
      resilient to chaos as a result of so many diverse opinions available in the
      public and even public questioning of the president and his policies, i have
      not taken any study of the comparison between american and singaporean
      population in terms of culture, history, values and philosophy, or other
      variables i am not even aware of that could have a strong impact. words are
      not only words. words prepare the way for deeds to come, it may detonate
      future explosions if one is not careful. perhaps i am already sitting on
      powder barrel. i am not a socialogist, but it is common sense that we cannot
      take for granted that every society has the same 'configuraton' or social
      makeup as the american one, and do we want to hard fit it into the local
      context as if it is the absolute model for all? ur judgement that the
      singapore govt is totalitarian is only from ur own pt of view based on ur
      own ideal of how things universally and absolutely ought to be; but at the
      end of the day, we are responsible to ourselves, not to others including
      america, for our own well being. our countries may be allies, but we are
      independent and separate; while we all have freedom of choice and value
      freedom, the situation may be different; it is different. american ideals
      sounds good to me too, and frankly if i am a artist or a writer, i'd prefer
      to stay in america or paris. but as far as the local context is concerned,
      where peace and stability cannot be taken for granted (we know, as we
      suffered first hand experience things like racial riots, ultimately a result
      of words), words are not just mere words. words can create dissatisfaction,
      distortions (but still accepted/perceived as truths), unrealistic wants;
      then words of abuse today may turn into a universally valid principle of
      denigration tomorrow, for words are magical formulae. they leave their
      fingerprints behind on the brain, which may quickly turn into the footprint
      of history. u can't be too careful with them.

      there is a saying that goes something like: to know whether the tree is
      good, look at the fruits. we are not concerned with how the tree manages to
      produce the fruit. singaporean do enjoy the fruits of peace, prosperity,
      growth, stability. we have access to the times and newsweek magazines (not
      controlled by the local press), cnn, bbc, fox network, cables, etc. i dont
      think i am brainwashed, although i concede that every act of censorship has
      a political (or/and moral) motive. we are free to express our views (of
      course, freedom and responsibility go hand in hand). we know our limit, we
      don't try to shoot at the moon and get nothing, resulting in more factors
      that threaten what we already have. if any progress is to be done, any
      implementation, it will have to depend on a number of factors, and not just
      a overnight burst of enthusiatic passions and ideals. after all, america
      herself has taken many centuries to come to where she is today, and
      singapore is only a few decades old (three plus to be exact). this process
      of change (which takes time), and not just the content as a result of the
      change, is also something that can't be taken for granted. step by step.
      besides, the people do has the power, through their votes (but of course u
      may say votes are a result of perception which has been conditioned to begin
      with...well, spore has access to the world's views actually). and, what
      constitute harmful (as u contend, that lack of freedom of press) is really
      for us to decide. i know that north korean, for example, may still stick to
      their leaders even in the midst of starvation, but as it is, the citizen can
      tell...many have tried to flee their country to south korea or elsewhere; we
      don't see this happening in spore. (i heard that many chinese from hongkong
      and china hope to get their permanent resident here in spore, some of them
      are millionaires and professionals who know what they want).

      i don't consider u rude or offensive; i think u are pretty sincere in ur own
      views about freedom. it is quite an eye opener for me as a asian. and i
      appreciate u taking the time and effort to share. it is a cultural exposure
      to me indeed, and horizon is widened. we share as much as we can, but it
      would be quite blind if we do not recognise that there are real differences
      in situation. 'truth' and 'good' may be contextual, not absolute. our
      choices are limited by the situation, no matter how free are those choices.
      situation set the stage and parameters for them. where values crashes, some
      has to be given priority over others; this prioritising in itself is a
      choice, and we make the choice for our own society; we are not living in a
      perfect world.


      To: "Tan James" <tyjfk@...>
      Date: Wed, 12 Dec 2001 23:50:24 -0800


      Thank you for this discussion. I think that I have learned quite a bit
      about Singapore that I would not know but for your kind efforts to educate
      me. I only make my comments to you about Singapore because you have been
      kind enough to include me in your various exchanges with others. Rest
      assured that I read them eagerly. I can tell that you are an intelligent
      and interested person, and I think I genuinely care about you and what you
      say. You should also know that I have a great deal of respect for you and
      for Singapore. There is no doubt that Singapore has much to recommend it,
      including its prosperity, literacy, industriousness, diversity, respect for
      law, and democratic institutions.

      In America a free press is valued very highly because it is the only way to
      ensure that people be accurate and full information. The more free that
      press is, the more likely people are to receive full information, accurate
      facts and diverse opinions. Americans believe that there is a market place
      of ideas, where good and bad ideas compete fiercely for dominance. We also
      believe that if there are restraints on the free market of ideas, the the
      competition deteriorates and the worse ideas can triumph over better ones.
      American believe this so, especially with respect to our political leaders,
      that ordinary laws of defamation do not apply to public figures. The reason
      for that is that if you occupy a position of public importance,
      people--especially the public figures critics--should be able to say just
      about anything about you. The thought being that in a free market place of
      ideas, the truth will win out in the end. A political figure cannot win a
      defamation suit unless they clear a very high standard of proof. Public
      figures have to show that the person had what has been called
      "constitutional malice"--they have to show that the person making the
      allegedly false statement either personally knew for a fact that what he
      said was false, or that he had a reckless disregard for the truth. It is
      very hard to prove this. This is in part why you can see even American
      Presidents brought down by the press. Just consider Nixon and Clinton. The
      law does know protect them very much, it makes them especially vulnerable to
      criticism. We think that is a good think--because they both were caught in
      lies and cover-ups and corruption through the efforts of a vigorous free

      From what I have seen--and please read those articles that I sent you.
      Singapore does not have a free press. People don't really know the truth
      about corruption in government. Those who have tried to print stories about
      it have lost their permits, been sued into bankruptcy and driven out of the
      country. Is it no wonder that all the people support the government and the
      one party that seems to closely control the press? James, it's no
      coincidence that there is a uniformity of support for the government--that's
      the result of a censored press.

      I think you miss my point about Henry David Thoreau and Dr. Martin Luther
      King, Jr. The laws they opposed and violated were highly regarded at the
      time they challenged them. People really believed in the value of such
      laws. The only way to change their minds was to protest against the laws
      through civil disobedience and risk the full punishment of the government.
      Gandi did the same thing in India, protesting the laws of the British Raj.
      Everyone thought those laws were just and should be obeyed at the time.
      Often young people, like Michael Fay, rebel against strict discipline and
      rules they regard as senseless by violating the laws. Youthful rebellion is
      a common rite of passage. To some extent it is a valuable experience and
      teaches one better judgment. My point is that it is not necessary to
      inflict physical pain and permanent injury on people who are protesting laws
      out of conscience or youthful indiscretion.
      And I hope you will not consider me rude or impolite, but your defense of
      such harsh laws seems almost like an obsession with you. Quite honestly, I
      have wondered where there is some "operant conditioning" in your reaction to
      such criticism. How can you be sure (in the abscence of a free press, a
      true multi-party system, free access to all information, a genuinely
      different and competing views widely dissiminated and available) that you
      have not been brainwashed?

      I studied the Chinese political system in college, and my recollection is
      that they do have a People's Assembly with elected representatives. Of
      course, much like is Singapore, all the candidates for office come from one
      party, in the case of China, from the Communist Party. All of these
      candidates of already passed a test for ideological purity. If the PAP can
      lose power, then why have they never done so? Is it because no one else has
      any good ideas of programs? I doubt it. It's far more likely that they
      retain power because they control the press, the flow of information and
      those who criticize them get crushed by the government that the PAP
      controls. You should consider this. I might be wrong and you might be
      right, of course, I only ask that you consider the possibility.

      Now, as for the praise Singaporean leaders have received from Western
      politicians, I can only note that with the exception of Jacques Chirac, the
      quotes cited by you are all from the most conservative right-wing
      politicians in the West in recent years. Second, their politicians talking
      to a foreign government with whom their countries have treaties, trade and
      alliances. What would you expect them to say? They are diplomatic because
      they are diplomats on diplomatic missions. Some of these people also
      praised the Shah of Iran and Augusto Pinochet. Next ask yourself--how many
      negative comments do I see in the Singaporean press about the PAP and
      Singaporean political leaders or the Singaporean system? Could the dearth
      of negative comments and the plentitude of positive comments stem from the
      fact that Singapore does not have a free press? This seems to me highly

      I think in America we do not believe that a free press can cause any real
      harm. Words are only words. An informed people can decide what do believe
      for themselves. The world will not collapse if the government is subject to
      criticism, Americans subject their government to withering criticism almost
      all the time. The harm caused by censorship far outweighs any harm that
      might be caused by the press printing something that is not true. The first
      thing totalitarian governments do is restrict the freedom of the press. I
      personally think that anyone who lives in a country where the government
      censors the press, says who can print what and what cannot be said, is on
      the brink of the abyss of totalitarianism, if it hasn't already fallen in.

      The principle of a free press is so important to Americans that the gurantee
      of it was the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the first right
      declared that the people would enjoy and that the government could not take
      away. Of course, this happened because no sooner did our government get
      started than our leaders tried to censor the press. The First Amendment
      provides "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of
      religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom
      of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people to peaceably
      assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." This
      is the first right of a truly free people.

      That's my humble opinion.

      Your friend,

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