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Re: views on freedom

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  • james tan
    chris, such issues of governance in spore has always been a side dish interest for me so i am not particularly in the position to reply to ur further views
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 4, 2002
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      chris, such issues of governance in spore has always been a 'side dish'
      interest for me so i am not particularly in the position to reply to ur
      further views on this, what i wrote to u is hardly a result of deep
      political understanding of singapore governance practices, just my own
      personal perception how things are, but u got me thinking about it. one
      comment strike me, ur comment that the spore govt is paternalistic (even
      totalitarian)..will get that book by karl popper..and until i understand
      more of this..

      will get back to u.


      From: "Christopher Bobo" <cbobo@...>
      To: "Tan James" <tyjfk@...>
      Subject: Re: views on freedom
      Date: Sun, 3 Mar 2002 10:55:24 -0800


      I was surprised to get this. I thought you had moved on to other
      concerns--like burkhas and the such. Wearing the burkha, you know, is a
      form of free expression. In America it used to radical to war any part of
      the American flag on one's clothing--it was considered disrepectful. I think
      laws were even passed against it, or at the very least people were
      prosecuted, but these laws were thrown out and the prosecutions dismissed
      because the wearing of the flag as an article of clothing was deemed to be a
      matter of free expression. Now, everyone is wearing the flag all over.
      Some people practially wrap themselves with it. More often to show respect
      and support for what the flag represents. Isn't that ironic. Now, there is
      a movement afoot to ban the burning of the flag as a symbol of protest, but
      our Supreme Court has rightly thrown out cases where people were prosecuted
      for burning the flag on the ground that the burning of the flag is a
      symbolic form of expressions protected by the First Amendment to the U.S.
      Constitution's guarantee of freedom of expression and belief. Who knows, in
      the years to come, burning the flag might be converted into a symbolic form
      of reverence and veneration for the flag.

      Well, you said
      >>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 it is the case, do u have reasons to do so?)<<

      Now, from what I have heard, members of the opposition party to question
      corruption with respect to the majority party or its members are buried with
      expensive and time consuming lawsuits until they are financially broken or
      driven out of the country. And the ruling party appoints the judges, so
      it's no surprise whose side they are on. We have a saying here in the West,
      maybe you have it too, it goes like this "Power corrupts and absolute power
      corrupts absolutely." Singapore has a ruling power with virtually absolute
      power--unless they are superhuman saints (which I doubt) then the wisdom of
      the ages will say that they are corrupt.

      Finally, on this point, ask yourself what is the purpose of censoring the
      press? It's purpose is singular--to keep people ignorant of certain
      information and opinions. What is the good of keeping people ignorant?

      You said:
      >>unless u have evidences, ur assertion will remain merely a allegation<<

      But how can any one get evidence. The ruling party controls the police,
      controls the courts and is wealthy and powerful.. Anyone who challenges
      them is crushed like a bug. You've created a Catch-22. In order to get the
      evidence, we'd need to be as strong as the ruling party, we'd need unbiased
      courts with the power to take on the ruling party and make them hand over
      documents, we'd need and independent police force or investigator not
      influenced by the ruling party to conduct a tough investigation into what
      the ruling party is doing. These things are hard to come by if the ruling
      party is and has always been in power, makes all the laws, appoints all the
      judges, and hires, pays and controls all the police.

      In the U.S., we have one President, Nixon, resign in disgrace as articles of
      impeachment were being drafted against him, and another, Clinton, face a
      full blown impeachment trial. We witnessed how they both used their power,
      the wealth and their influence to cover-up their misdeeds, to deceive and
      mislead, and in Nixon's case to obstruct justice and block the
      investigations into their conduct. Only two things that ensured we got to
      the truth--first, there was a free press, that tirelessly and doggedly
      pursued the stories against government opposition; and second was the
      appointment of independent special prosecutors, usually by elements of
      strong opposition parties. Unless Singapore's leaders are saints, I suspect
      their misdeeds would also go uncovered in the absence of a free press and an
      independent police investigative force.

      As for the rest of what you say, I am in agreement, for the most part.
      Although underlying your comments I sense a certain paternalism toward the
      citizens of your country, with the government occupying the role of parent
      and protector, that many in the U.S. would question, you are right that the
      Singaporeans must follow what is right for them. You speak of riots and
      powder kegs, and indeed in the U.S. we have had our riots and explosions
      over words. Our answer to them is not censorship but police action.
      Criminals are captured and punished. Perhaps the difference between our
      worldviews is that in the West the individual is the center of power, his or
      her judgment is what is to be respected, for in our government the people
      are the sovereign power and the the government merely represents them. It
      is not for the government to tell us what to think or feel, it is for us to
      tell the government what to think or feel. In the U.S. the individual
      citizens is responsible for himself and his nation and is expected to meet
      the challenge of governing himself or herself accordingly. The individual
      must take responsibility and in order to that he or she must be fully
      informed and have unrestricted access to the broadest possible sources of
      information. If on occasion people loose their minds, riot, or blow things
      up, we pick up the pieces and carry on. We discuss it, debate it, analyze
      it, perhpas come to some conclusions and perhaps even reach a consensus
      about what do to do to avoid such things in the future. So far, as far as I
      am aware, the solution has never been to implement a program of government
      censorship of the press, or the government regulation of belief, for there
      is nothing Americans fear more than the tyranny of their own government.

      Have you read any of Karl Popper's The Open Society and Its Enemies? If not,
      I'd encourage you do so. Is the book available in Singaporean bookstores?


      ----- Original Message -----
      From: james tan
      Sent: Saturday, March 02, 2002 7:31 AM
      Subject: views on freedom


      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.


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