Tuesday, January 30, 2007

virtue and the singaporean

There are several sources of inspiration behind this article, not all of them might seem related at first:

Heavenly Sword laments that everybody around him appears to be self-centered.

Zyberzitizen writes that compassion and selflessness is in our human nature, but this trait is lost when we become too engrossed in being pragmatic.

Epilogos writes that charity is an important (necessary?) part of society, although the reputation of charitable organizations in Singapore has taken a hit due to NKF.

Cognitive Dissonance writes in the capacity of a social worker, and states that compassion and generosity is necessary but insufficient to be successful in doing social work.

In two previous posts on this blog, I urged bloggers to display charity and graciousness when dealing with other bloggers during disagreement, as well as attempting to explain a dichotomy between an individual (personal) point of view, and an aggregate ("objective") point of view.

Lastly, is the long standing issue about the lack of grace and courtesy among Singaporeans in general, such as not allowing passengers to alight first on the MRT.

Also, due to the recent hanging of Iwuchukwu Amara Tochi, the blogosphere is buzzing with activity with regards to capital punishment in the past few days. I will not talk about the death penalty in this article, but I will address it in my next post, which is a follow-up to this article.


Selflessness, generosity, compassion, grace. These are all virtues. These virtues are not just desirable, but perhaps, as Epiologos stated, essential to the sustenance of society. But are we morally obligated to display such virtues? In other words, if we fail to display these virtues, are we somehow morally wrong? One reply to that question is "of course not". If we are obligated to display selflessness, say, then how is that display truly "selfless"? Acting out of obligation, even moral obligation, seems somewhat contrary to the spirit and the meaning of such virtues. Now this is the question, if virtues are not obligatory, then we probably cannot demand anybody to display such virtues. Is it even possible to argue that one ought to display such virtues (albeit in an non-obligatory way)?

Well perhaps, if you allow me to "appeal to your good nature", to quote Mambo Happyfeet. This is the next question: do Singaporeans have any "good nature" left to appeal to? To be honest, on some days, (like Heavenly Sword) I am pessimistic. On other days, like Zyberzitizen, I feel that surely, there must be at least some shred of desire in everybody to be virtuous. Not that I believe the desire to be virtuous is innate or universal (as Zyberzitizen seems to be suggesting), but surely we've been taught since were young to strive to be virtuous, and surely there has to be at least some residual effects of that indoctrination?

Or perhaps, it is possible to argue that it is in everybody's best interest that we each try to be virtuous. When everybody becomes virtuous, everybody benefits, including yourself. There are two issues with this. Firstly, are we not appealing to self-interest when we do this? And if so, is it possible to argue for say, selflessness, on basis of self-interest? Secondly, this is a prisoner's dilemma situation. Let me illustrate this using the example of being a passenger on the MRT.

I am a passenger on the MRT, and I can either (A) not let passengers alight first or (B) allow passengers to alight first. There are other people waiting to boarding the MRT as well. In my mind, I'm thinking, they can either (A1) not let passengers alight first, or (B1) let passengers alight first. If (A1) occurs, I can either do (A) or (B). If I do (A), it is unpleasant, but I have a good chance of grabbing a seat. If I do (B), it is equally as unpleasant, and I have less chance of grabbing a seat. If (B1) occurs, I can either do (A) or (B). If I do (A), I have the best chance of grabbing a seat. If (B) occurs, it is pleasant, but I no longer stand such a good chance of grabbing a seat. In either (A1) or (B1), it is in my best self interest to choose (A) instead of (B), so if I'm being motivated by self-interest alone, I will always choose (A) instead of (B). Now, everybody waiting for the MRT will similarly be aware of this rationalization, and hence everybody will choose (A), resulting in (A)+(A1). Note that despite knowing that (B)+(B1) is better than (A)+(A1), because of the self-interested nature of the individuals involved, we will still end up choosing (A)+(A1). So appealing to self-interest is another no-go here.

Perhaps there is one other way to look at it. To do that I need to introduce another concept to contrast with virtue, and for the lack of a better term, I will use the noun 'moral'. An example of a moral is "murder is wrong". A moral is a principle which all humans ("moral agents") are morally obligated to adhere to. Failure to adhere to such principles imply that the moral agent has done something immoral, or has been immoral. How does morals contrast from virtues? Virtues are not morally binding, eg it is good to be generous, but you are not immoral (morally obligated) if you fail to be generous.

[For the more philosophically sophisticated: the term "moral" need not necessarily refer to a deontological principle. It may be a rule in rule utilitarianism, or the utilitarian principle itself.]

Why did I introduce morals? I want to bring up the dichotomy between an individual personal perspective and an aggregate, non-personal perspective. Morals make more sense in an aggregate perspective and virtues make more sense in an individual perspective. A moral is universal, and has less subjectivity (but there's still some) compared to a virtue. When we say "murder is wrong", we mean murder is wrong, universally, for all moral agents, period (with perhaps some exception for very special mitigating cases). Yet, when we say "we ought to be generous", there is a greater amount of subjectivity. Is the generosity the same when we talk about a millionaire and when we talk about a beggar? There's another way where they differ. Morals, are more preoccupied with a certain kind of action (or behaviour), but virtues are usually more concerned with the kind of person someone is. When we talk about what kind of person someone is, that is necessarily a subjective matter, and one which makes much more sense to talk about from a personal perspective, and not an aggregate perspective.

What does this mean? When we talk about virtues, when we want to encourage others to be more selfless, generous, compassionate and gracious, it is not very productive to talk and argue about it from a very objective (aggregate) point of view (I think it might still be possible, but probably not very productive), such as we do when talking about morality and ethics in general, or when we talk about singapore and singaporeans in general. Virtues are, by nature, subjective attributes, and it is most productive to talk about them subjectively. Instead of saying, "We singaporeans should be more gracious/compassionate because etc.", we should ask instead, "What kind of person do you want to be?", "If you can help it, would you rather be a more selfless, generous or compassionate person?", "If you can't help it, why not? Is there anything you can do to change that?"

I suspect many of us find talking about virtues subjectively (as compared to morals objectively) to be less convincing, because it appears to be less philosophical, less objective, and hence less "intelligent" or less scholarly (or worse, mere rhetoric). Actually there is a school of philosophical ethics based on virtues (and not morals). Also, it is because we are by default, naturally embodied beings with a human psychology, with our own personal individual lives, with our own varied experiences of interaction with friends, family and other people on an individual level, that we find talking from a subjective point of view more intuitive (and easier to understand) than an objective point of view. Ethics is about how we ought to live our lives. But yet, it appears to me at least, we cannot talk about ethics without talking about how we individually want to live our own life.

One final point about virtues. Although selflessness, generosity, compassion and grace are good things (very good things in fact) and they ought to be encouraged, they are not the be all end all. Cognitive Dissonance wrote about social work, and said that although such virtues are indeed necessary for the profession, that alone is not sufficient to make a difference. Much more is needed. Hard work, the correct kind of skills, knowledge and training, for example. KTM likes to label some individuals as "bleeding hearts". What does he mean by that? He means that when it comes to most social issues or public policy, good intentions alone may be necessary to, but are not sufficient enough, to make the difference. It is good intentions, plus something else, be it wisdom, effort, unwillingness to give up, courage, or even pragmatism. After all, prudence is one of the four cardinal virtues.

Monday, January 29, 2007

update: break over

i've decided to end my break early, possibly spurred on by these words from gayle in her final post:

The good, the bad and the ugly have all crowded their way into the blogosphere, and I can see this in my readers -- more and more of the latter, perhaps.

more and more ugly blogs huh. i do believe this blog isn't one of them (hopefully). and if that's so, then i want to do my part to take up and continue Gayle's original cause in the blogosphere: "to make others aware, to encourage public discourse, to help people think".

the break from blogging (including not reading blogs) has been very good. very restful to not check Intelligent Singaporean everyday, read every link, think about the posts, think about whether or not to comment or whether or not to blog something in response, and actually spend time thinking about what to say if i do blog/comment. very restful indeed =P. i highly recommend taking a break to those overworked bloggers who seem to be spending too much time online *cough* *KTM* *cough*. =P

during the duration of this break, i had the privilege to have dinner and coffee with fellow bloggers, Cognitive Dissonance, and on another occasion, Aaron Ng and Heavenly Sword. i would like to thank all three bloggers for such wonderful company and much delightful conversation. =)

i'm thinking of taking this blog on a slightly new direction. firstly, i will write a series of essays elaborating upon my submitted article to Singapore Angle (on "religious discourse"), some of which are responses to some of the comments i've received. after which, i may actually do some "religious discourse" itself on this blog, perhaps starting with issues related to religion and homosexuality. i will also continue to write stuff here and there on current issues which i feel i might be able to offer insight, and i will probably kao beh a few more times about the lack of communication and respect among bloggers =P. i will however, probably write at a much slower pace, since my offline life now is indeed much more busy than it used to be.

i'm not so self-absorbed to think i got "fans". but i do know that some of you folks do check my blog regularly. hope you guys like the stuff which i'm going to write from now onwards, and they give you new food for thought.

cheers =)

Sunday, January 28, 2007

short tribute

I'm still on break, but I thought I needed to write something about this.

Gayle Goh has retired from the blogosphere. Go read her final post.

I believed she has made the correct and the wisest decision for herself, and I wish her all the best in her personal life and future endeavours.

Probably, because I am too new to the blogosphere, I have yet to have engaged and interacted with Gayle, and I much regret that there is no more opportunity to do so. I do not agree with many of her views, but I believe, together with countless others, that she was a excellent blogger, and today the blogosphere has lost one of its best.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

in search of the nameless one

after searching through many remote towns near the mountains, i finally found an old man who knew something about him.

[FO]: Old man, do you know anything about a wandering swordsman who has no name?

[Old Man]: wandering swordsman? yeah! Jet Li, in the movie "Hero"! wah, that show damn cool man...

[FO]: no, not that one. even though he's a swordsman, he's more like a scholar. He sometimes call himself...

[Old Man]: Heavenly Sword?

[FO]: yes

[Old Man]: i was collecting herbs up on the mountains, where i met this young chap hidden in the mountain caves. he said he was practising gongfu in the mountains, but looks more like he's reading books and writing papers. he call himself "heavenly sword" and he told me that he used to be someone who wrote publicly about issues which affect the common good of the people. some people liked his ideas, but not everyone appreciated him for it. soon, he felt that it was too tiring so he took to the caves.

[FO]: yeah, last i heard, he was kinda upset about how everyone seemed to be self-centered.

[Old Man]: why do you want to look for him anyway? are you hoping to talk him out of the caves and back to writing for the sake of the public good?

[FO]: no lah. he sounds like a cool dude, so i thought it would be nice to lim kopi with him.

(yes, i'm still on break)

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

jiat kit kat lah

i'm taking a break.

i'm getting swamped with different projects in my offline life, and i didn't expect replying to comments (or rather, thinking about how to reply) on my article in SA to be this shack. wah cow, i'll never write to SA again man. =P

BL, it's all your fault for inviting me to submit an article!! =P

Saturday, January 13, 2007

selective personification

Let me begin by first talking about 3 logical fallacies. Note that the three are not mutually exclusive.

Ad hominem
An ad hominem argument is basically what is also known as a "personal attack", although the form it takes might often be subtle. The following are examples of ad hominems:
i) Blogger G is only 18 years old. What does she know about the real world? Her views are naive.
ii) Blogger T is a PAP butt-kisser. Don't bother with what he says.
iii) From the arguments he has made, it shows that Blogger K has no heart for the people. We do not need to hear from those like him.

Appeal to emotion
There are many different possible manifestations of this fallacy, but generally this is a fallacy because it instead of relying on what philosophers like to call "valid argumentation", they rely on the manipulation of emotions. Here are some examples of appeal to emotion:
i) Trans fat is not banned by the government because the government values economics more than the health of the citizens. Aren't you disgusted by such money-mindedness of the government?
ii) The government does not allow us to voice alternative opinions because it wants to hold on to power. This only goes to show that the government is inherently selfish and cares not about the people. How can you not be angry at such a government?

Appeal to authority
This fallacy is not unlike the ad hominem. It is something like an inverse version of it. This is a possible example of an appeal to authority:
i) Blogger W is so much more popular and credible than Blogger F. So we should obviously side with Blogger W when he disagrees with Blogger F.

Also, let me say that I am also aware of the fallacy fallacy, which is the idea that just because someone said something which is fallacious, doesn't mean he is wrong about what he says, it just means his reasoning is poor (according to the standards of philosophical reasoning). I am not attempting to assert that any of the views in the examples that I've given is incorrect. Nor am I saying that the standards of the philosophers is what is appropriate for the current blogosphere. And I am also not interested to debate any of the views in the above examples in this post.

It appears to me that such fallacies currently rule in the plogosphere. The purpose of this post is not to criticize, but an attempt to understand why this is so. I first started to think about this when I realized that alot of people have the impression that I am a very young person. How did they get such an impression, and what effects does this impression have?

Although I describe myself as a "young punk" and a "noob blogger" in the sub-header and the "about me" section of this blog, it appears to me that this is not the real reason why people think I'm young, but rather it is the how I blog. Several blog entries of mine have been rather introspective, often questioning and challenging my own perceptions, beliefs and values. It appears that this is something young bloggers do. Old bloggers don't question and challenge themselves. They are confident of their own views, and confident that they can't possibly be mistaken. I also believe in being vocal in my admiration and respect of other bloggers, and generous in my praise. This, it appears, is not something old bloggers do. Only young bloggers show admiration and give praise. Old bloggers are too aloof to do that.

Why do we have such an impression? I actually do not think this phenomenon is unique to the blogosphere. It probably exists in the workplace and other social settings. In our minds, we have already classified people into the lao jiaos or the ginnahs. A "lao jiao" is someone who is "steady", knows what he is doing, knows what he is talking about. He commands respect. A "ginnah" is a newbie, someone who doesn't know what he's talking about, and someone who needs to respect and listen to others in light of his inexperience. A ginnah is considered "out of line" or "not knowing his position" if he disagrees with a lao jiao. Conversely, a lao jiao does not need to be polite or kind to a ginnah, although if he does so he is being generous. This kind of mentality, of course, traces its roots to an Asian mentality of hierarchy and respecting one's elders.

How about the blogosphere? It appears to me that we also subscribe to such a mentality, albeit in a confused manner. (Ironic that bloggers also tend to criticize "the Asian mentality"). Let's take Gayle Goh to be an example. When she takes an anti-establishment stand on some issues, she is heaped with praise and recognition as an excellent prodigy blogger. Yet, when she takes an stand which is less popular, such as criticizing Mr Wang for not accepting the invitation to appear on BlogTV, she is criticized for being naive and that she is too young to understand the real ways of the world. So it appears that you are free from the "ginnah" label so long as you take a popular stand, such as an anti-establishment one.

There is another aspect of the blogosphere which is unique from other social settings. To explain this better, I will invent a new term "personification". This word refers to how much of a person we see when engaging with somebody else in a non-face-to-face medium, such as on the phone, instant messaging, "slow mail", emails, and of course, the blogosphere. (Note that I am not intending the word "personification" to mean anthropomorphism, which is the meaning of the word in literary contexts)

Adopting the use of this new term, we can see that a phone conversation, although more "de-personified" than an actual face-to-face conversation, it is more "personified" than an email or instant messaging correspondence, where we do not even hear the person's voice. I think this helps to explain why some of us behave so differently in real life than on an online medium. I know of people, for example, who feel way too shy (conscious of others) to talk about deep personal issues in real life, but suddenly feel much more open about them over instant messenger (not as conscious of others).

So how about the blogosphere? I suspect we practise what I would call "selective personification". Which is, we personify netiziens to different degrees, depending on how much we agree with their views. If you agree with a certain blogger, you are more likely to personify that blogger more, and more likely to acknowledge the person behind the view by giving praise and voicing our admiration. Yet, if we disagree with the view, we are more likely to depersonify the blogger more, often attacking the blogger in such a way which fails to respect the dignity of the person behind that view (yet still personifying enough to attach the label of "ginnah").

Take a typical plogosphere flame war which starts over two disagreeing views. Now imagine that instead of an online medium, all the involved parties are sitting in a room and the two people voiced their views. Is the same flame war likely to occur in this room where all parties can see each other face-to-face? I think not. Why so? When our opponents are more personified, we feel more obligated to conform within certain informal rules of social behaviour, i.e. being civilized. It is precisely because we fail to see the other netizen as a fellow human being, where we feel it is justified to behave in an manner which is not quite as civilized.

Many of my blog posts are about honest and introspective reflections, where I question and challenge my pre-existing views. I confess such thoughts to blogosphere not because I want to whine, nor because of some cathartic or therapeutic desire to express such internal conflicts I have. Rather, I was thinking perhaps some people might have similar uncertainties I have, and hoping that reading my own confessions would be helpful for them. Also, I want such blog posts to be a reminder to others that behind every articulated view on the blogosphere, is a person with human emotions, weaknesses and frailties. I care very little that as an end result, I appear to me more "ginnah", and people take my views less seriously. My "reputation" and my "credibility" is not so important to me, but it is rather the people who read what I have to say and are able to take something away from it, for whom I blog.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

mortal thoughts

when i was still a student in university, i took courses in Japanese over a period of two years. one of my Japanese teachers was a graduate student called Mihoko. she was a very lovely girl, and looked like one of those prototypical cute anime girls, with puffy round cheeks and a beautiful smile. she was also one of the sweetest and most polite persons i ever met. one day, on the last week of the school semester, we heard that she passed away. rumour was that she took her own life because of serious problems with her dissertation.

one year ago, my father passed away after fighting cancer for almost 2 years. today is his first death anniversary.

i don't think anybody finds talking about death a pleasant thing. yet i think, perhaps, some of the most important thoughts in your life are those pertaining to your own mortality. you will not live forever. you will die one day. what do you want to do before you die? why do you want to do them? how important are those things you want to do in the light of the fact that you will die one day? what is truly important to you? the answers to such questions are incredibly personal. yet perhaps, the answers to these questions will determine whether or not you lead a meaningful or regrettable life.

why is talking about mortality such a personal thing? is it because it is precisely the nature of death which is personal? that dying is a lonely experience? or is it because death is associated with sadness, grief, mourning, a sense of loss, and these are all emotions and reactions of a personal nature?

yet death is something which is common. how many people die each day? the obituaries alone carry the picture of around 10 people a day. if you consider the entire earth, perhaps 1 person dies every 10 seconds or so. death is a ridiculously common thing. and what makes it even more common? death is universal. everybody dies eventually what. so if we take a larger perspective, death is no big deal what. just another statistic.

supposing i told somebody that today was my father's death anniversary, and that i was contemplating issues of mortality. and then this person said "contemplate for what? death is no big deal what. after all, around 10 people in singapore die everyday. 1 person dies every 10 seconds in the world. such a common occurrence." what would you think? would you think that this person was being insensitive? if so, why? certainly his view isn't wrong what. in fact, his comment might even be appropriate if it was an academic discussion about population statistics, for example. further more, isn't "a larger perspective" a more objective one? and aren't we conditioned to exalt a more objective perspective compared to a more personal and subjective one?

now assume that i am actually not a human being who has lost his father but a year ago, but say, a sentient but non-living entity, such as a highly sophisticated computer program. and i say "i am contemplating about death" to somebody and then that person makes the same comment about death being common and is no big deal. is he now being insensitive? perhaps not. because now that i am a non-living entity, i cannot be "offended" by such insensitivity. i cannot feel as if i've been insulted because you have trivialized the contemplation of such a deep and personal issue.

this is a weird thought experiment because it's probably hard to imagine a sentient and yet non-living entity. but hopefully you get the gist of the comparison i want to make. what makes the comment in the first scenario insensitive, but probably okay in the second scenario?

there are certain informal rules about the interaction between humans in a civilized society. the breaking of such rules generally result in what we call "insensitive", "rude", "disrespectful" or "discourteous" behaviour. telling me "death is no big deal" when i am contemplating mortality is one such instance of "insensitive" behaviour. this is even so when "death is no big deal" is a considerably more objective claim. there are certain things we just do not say to people under certain circumstances, because its just not what people do in a civilized society.

what factors determine such informal rules? there are probably many different reasons, as it can be observed that standards of good manners or sensitivity differ across cultures. yet there seems to be one overriding theme: a respect for the other individual. because we respect the other individual, we do not say things which might greatly offend them, even if we might even be justified in believing the views we say. such is a mark of a civilized society, it appears.

are bloggers and netizens civilized? when you leave comments or engage with other people in the blogosphere, do we care about the individual we are engaging? or do we fail to see that the blogger that we are engaging is also a fellow human being, with human emotions and human sensitivities? or we couldn't care less? our own opinions matter more?

if so, what makes you any different from someone who says "death is no big deal" to someone on his father's death anniversary?

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

wise restraints

Right before my Christmas break, I saw this post by Zyberzitizen on "free expression", and got me started thinking about the concept of Freedom. Just yesterday (yes I have not been very up-to-date), my attention was drawn to a post on Singapore Election Watch, and in my mind similar issues surfaced. This post will not attempt to provide any definite answers on the nature of Freedom. It is but a call for contemplation, perhaps.

For both Zyberzitizen and SEW, it is assumed that Freedom is a good thing, and that we ought to strive for more freedom. It is also implied that any attempts to encroach on our freedom will always be bad. Yet, do we have a clear idea of what Freedom is? Are our conceptions of freedom the same as everybody else's?

Here are three articles from Wikipedia, but personally, I found them to be perhaps too technical. Let's take a preliminary definition of Freedom to be "have no constraints of restraints". So someone who is free is someone who is not constrained or restrained. That sounds intuitive. But does it work? If I free does that mean that I can do anything I want? Am I free to rob a bank? If I am free to rob a bank, is the bank free to not get robbed by me? Am I free to shoot somebody dead? If I am free to kill somebody, is that person free to not be killed by me? Is he free to live? How about defy the law of gravitation? Am I free to fly? Or am I free to defy the laws of mathematics? Am I free to make one plus one equals to three?

These are extreme examples no doubt. But let us consider the issues at hand (for Zyberzitizen and SEW). If I am free to express anything I want to express, am I free to express something offensive? And if so, are readers free to not get offended by your own expressions? If you claim your freedom to express out-trumps the freedom of your audience not to get offended, why is that so? Who decides which freedoms (or which rights) out-trumps which freedoms (or which rights)?

So there cannot be complete freedom from restraints. Try as we might, we can never be free from some things such as the laws of physics, or the laws of logic (and some are inclined to believe, the laws of morality). If some restraints are necessary, then what should these restraints look like?

Once, my professor told me about the phrase, "the wise restraints that set us free", which was often spoken of in the past, but almost never in current times. [I googled this phrase and found the hit count to be extremely low.] What does this phrase mean? My professor shared with me two anecdotes:

The first anecdote was about when he was PhD student in Harvard. He was working on his thesis and had a writer's block, and he was very concerned. He worried more and more about his thesis each day until one day he realized that this thesis has taken over all other aspects of his life. In his own words: "Harvard has become my god". He was shackled by Harvard and the PhD, and he decided, enough was enough. He wasn't going to allow Harvard rule his life. So he just took off and went vacationing. After about two weeks, he realized, Harvard was still his God. It was just that instead of being under servitude and submission to Harvard and getting the PhD, he was now preoccupied with running away from Harvard. Either way, servitude or running away, he was shackled by Harvard. Upon realizing that "freedom from Harvard" meant neither of the two, he returned to Harvard and completed his PhD.

The second anecdote is about two couples who are dating. For the first couple, the girl asks the boy "Why do you love me?". The boy replied "Because you are beautiful, gentle and kind." Instead of feeling happy, the girl felt burdened. She felt that she had to make herself up until she was very pretty, always show her kindest and gentlest side, or else she would forsake the love of her boyfriend and he would leave her for someone prettier, gentler and kinder. She felt insecure. For the second couple, the girl asks the boy the same question. He replied "I love you because of you. I love all of you, including your faults." The girl was very happy, because she knew that she can be bratty, angry, indulgent and other aspects of her natural self to the boyfriend, and yet he will not stop loving her. She felt secure.

What are the wise restraints? In the first anecdote, the unwise restraint was making Harvard the most venerated or most hated ideal in his life. The wise restraint was choosing to be still under the restraint of Harvard (and hence having to complete the PhD), but not letting it become the most important thing in his life. By choosing to be under this restraint, he is as a result, "free" from Harvard (from being the God of his life).

In the second anecdote, the wise restraint was the boy choosing to love the girl in her entirety, including the more undesirable aspects of her. The resultant freedom is the girl's. She is free to behave naturally, and free from insecurity, because she knows that she does not need to earn his love. Perhaps, love is, by nature, selfless. Loving someone involves constraining yourself, but allowing the one you love to be free instead.

Due to limitations of the universe we live in, there is no such thing as freedom without restraints. The question is therefore not, whether or not we have restraints, but instead, which restraints we choose to have (assuming we have a choice). Different restraints will result in different consequences. Some consequences are more desirable than others. Which is then the wisest restraint to choose?

"The question is not whether we will be extremist, but what kind of extremist we will be" - Martin Luther King, Jr. From Letter from Birmingham Jail, 1963

[Addendum (04/01/2007): During a conversation with Cognitive Dissonance, she correctly pointed out that I have been conflating the meaning of the words "constraints" and "restraints", which have slightly different meanings. The idea that I want to present is that freedom is necessarily restricted, and these restrictions may either be internal or external.]