Wednesday, February 28, 2007

why be gracious?

i recently had a conversation with somebody, and made the comment that the plogosphere is not really centered around issues, but around individual bloggers. when a single blogger roughs up feathers so much so that there is a multi-blogger co-ordinated counterstrike against that single blogger, we see this in full glory.

normally, as FO, i would probably preach: look guys, lets be civil and rational, and let's not resort to such tatics. sure that dude has some pretty radical ideas, but it's his right to hold such views and voice them right? surely we can afford charity?

but is that the real story behind this counterstrike? is this about the disagreement between conflicting views, or just a sheer loss of patience towards a single blogger's persistent insensitivities and lack of grace?

bloggers are human. you irritate them enough, they will hate you. i preach, and will continue to preach, charity and civility to all bloggers. but i am also human too.

sorry dude, you're on your own on this one.

some articles on scholarships

This Friday, hordes of 18-19 year olds will flock to their JCs to receive their A level results (including Ms Gayle Goh). It will be a time of celebration and partying for some, and for some it might be a time of great sorrow and disappointment. Regardless, for everybody, it will be a time of contemplation and decision making for the future. For a handful of such 18-19 year olds, they will be thinking about scholarships.

I am of the opinion that there are good reasons to take a scholarship, but there are also good reasons for not taking a scholarship. Usually, 18-19 year olds are only exposed to the former and not the latter. I believe, more JC students are reading the blogosphere than ever, (thanks in no small part to Gayle) and as "alternative media" we are somewhat obligated to present views about scholarships which these JC students might not be aware of.

I was going to write my own article on the considerations necessary before taking up a scholarship, then I realized many others have blogged before I did, and I can in no way write a better piece than what has been collectively done so far. So instead, I will compile a short list of articles on scholarships, and urge you, if you are a potential scholar (or if you are a parent of one) to take the time to read these and think about the issues raised. What's at stake may not just be half a million dollars worth of a scholarship bond, but also your career choice and what you will do for the rest of your life.


On Singapore Angle, a 19-year old who qualified for but chose not to go for scholarships gave his reasons for doing so.

On A Pedagogue's Progress, kungfuzi talks about spoken and unspoken reasons for taking up a scholarship, and contemplates on such reasons. I think this dude is actually a PSC/MOE scholar himself, so he knows what he's talking about.

The KTM, on his last contribution to STOMP, quotes Mr Ngiam Tong Dow in saying that not everyone has the temperament to be a civil servant, even if they qualify academically.

Mr Wang talks briefly about the dangers of accepting a scholarship here.

The Legal Janitor, in a recent article, shares how to make a thoughtful and matured decision when talking about career choice and one's own future.

Lastly, if you are interested to talk to a famous ex-scholar who has vocal views about scholarships, you can contact Mr Elia Diodati (his email is available on his blog). He's probably a busy guy (incidentally Mr Philip Yeo is currently still commenting on his blog), but I suspect he'll be more than happy to talk to you about his views and experiences as an ex-scholar.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

what does a young punk like me know about parenting anyway?

Recent posts by Kitana, Humanoid Interface, and Trisha (how come all female bloggers ah?) got me thinking about parenting and education. A long time ago, a teacher of mine shared this with me: in order to drive a car, we need to pass an exam to get a license, because driving a car without adequate knowledge of how to handle a car can cause much harm and destruction. Being a parent without adequate knowledge of how to be a good parent can cause even greater harm and destruction compared to an automobile (think if your child grew up to be a mass murderer, or Hitler), yet there is no such thing as a parenting license or a parenting exam.

I recently asked myself and two individuals this question: "If WSM was your daughter, how would you feel about what she said?". Would you feel upset that such a "horrible" person was your daughter? Or would you feel sad that you have in some ways, failed as a parent, because you are also responsible for the kind of person your daughter turns out to be? [Note: I am making no claim about WSM's actual parents. This is a thought experiment, nothing more.]

I don't think anyone denies that parenting plays a very very big role in determining what kind of person the child grows up to become. This role is so big, that some of us have a tendency to attribute moral blame to parents for "poor upbringing" whenever a child has done something undesirable, even after the child has attained legal adult status.

I have two questions. The first question: what is good upbringing? Is there any gauge or metric for good or not-so-good parenting? Is academic success an indication of good upbringing? Some parents like to brag about the schools their children go to, or if their children go on to become successful doctors, lawyers or whatever high places in society. If your child is relatively bright, and mugs like crazy so that he can enter RI and RJ, but acts like a complete snob to your neighbour's children, would you feel like you've been a successful parent? Or perhaps you feel better that than the ah beng across the street who can only be a sweeper at best? Other metrics of good upbringing? Perhaps the popularity of your child? Or perhaps the very generic sense of is he/she a "good boy" or "good girl"? Or perhaps, as I suspect, you'll never really know how successful you were as a parent, until you see your children when they are 30, and you see how they treat their own spouses and children, as well as how they treat their colleagues, friends and fellow human beings in general.

To be fair, there is some sense which, surely we know, certain things are definitely bad parenting. And avoiding such bad parenting is some progress towards good parenting. Things such as spoiling the kids so that they have no sense of discipline or respect towards others. Things such as too much restrictions, or worse, physical abuse, that the kids have a battered self-esteem. Things such as exposing them to risks and dangers.

But for each of these trademarks of "bad parenting", there are grey areas. One should not spoil the kids but one must love them, and loving them sometimes means buying that barbie doll for them. Where to draw the line? One must not restrict/scold/punish the child too much, but a total lack of restriction is no discipline at all, and an ill-disciplined person is doomed to failure in life. Where to draw the line? Some risks and dangers are easy to identify. Drugs, for example. How about more grey areas? Smoking? Alcohol? Pre-marital sex? Or how about dating at the age of 15? 17? 19? 21? Where to draw the line?

The second question is this: if there is someone whom we feel is not practising very good parenting, do we, either as individuals or in the collective power of the state, have any right to force them to change? In the US, and I'm sure many other nations, there is a child protection agency which picks up children from parents who fail to meet certain criteria of good parenting, and puts them in foster care. As far as I know, there is no such agency in Singapore, and the state does not intervene in parenting, except in cases where there is clear abuse. A few years ago, there have been some failed attempts to draft a law in the US (as well as the UN) making it criminal for any form of physical punishment by parents at all.

Perhaps another way to think of this question is this: if I think my way of parenting is right, and your way of parenting is not so right, how sure can I be of that? If I have children one day, I might teach them to love fellow humans selflessly (although be wary of strangers). Some others might want to teach their children to be more self-interested, because in that way you protect yourself, and also you stand a higher chance of success in a world which is highly competitive. I might believe in caning my child, because I believe the pain is necessary for them at a young age because it protects them from greater dangers. But some others might believe that are other ways of teaching instead of using physical punishment. Which philosophy of upbringing is more "right"? Can we really know whether or not it is the "right" philosophy until after we see our children grow up and see how they function or fail to function as adults in society?

I believe that by and large, parents ultimately love their children very much. I believe most parents, if shown irrefutable proof (maybe a magic looking glass into the future) that their current way of parenting is indeed not the "right" way, then the parent would change the style of parenting without battling an eyelid. Ultimately, a parent will try his/her best to do what's in the best interest of the child. This I believe to be true for almost all parents. The problem is, there is no magic looking glass into the mirror. There is only, I say this is the correct way, and you can disagree. But at the end of the day, my child is my responsibility to raise, not yours.

Parents love their children. Tremendously so, even. But parents are also human. They may also love success, wealth, a comfortable lifestyle, career, status, themselves. And parents being also human, may make mistakes. They might balance the different loves in less than ideal ways. They are not superhuman after all. Or it may not even be their fault, it may be circumstances beyond their control.

Do I have a point to make in this article? Yeah, and that is that it is a ridiculously difficult job to be a good parent. Too much uncertainties, too little information, and quite literally, lives are at stake. Perhaps someone might feel that this is sufficient reason to decide never to have kids. I would see where he/she is coming from, but I would personally disagree. I would love to have kids. I think having kids to love and to love you in return, is by itself so valuable that it is worth taking the risk of parenting. Although nothing might hurt more than realizing you failed to be a good parent, but then again nothing might make you feel happier to know that you've brought up and help to mould a person of solid character, who is making a difference to the lives of others and of society.

At the end of the day, let's not forget that its a tremendously difficult job to be a good parent. It is so difficult I think, some parents, many parents perhaps, are bound to fail. But if you think you are blessed with great parents who brought you up well, then do take the time, perhaps today, to show your appreciation for them
(give them a hug and tell them you love them, for example) and the wonderful job that they've done, for it is not an easy job to do at all.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

happy CNY gossip

me has been too busy stuffing myself silly with CNY goodies to blog my previously promised posts on Dungeons and Dragons and on ice cream. will get around to doing that once i get over feeling depressed about how i'm going to lose all the weight i've gained during CNY.

in true spirit to CNY, where families gather once a year to share gossip, take the time to go read the comments thread at this post. juicy stuff. [thanks to Cognitive Dissonance for drawing my attention to this]

Happy CNY to all!!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

i no char bor =(

what? you think FO cannot have V-day blues ah?


here's wishing all married and unmarried couples a very happy valentine's day. may this day be a time of great joy and happiness as you spend time with and shower appreciation on the ones you love. above all else, may you celebrate what many believe to be the most beautiful thing in the world: love.

racism, offense and discrimination (blue)

I read with much interest the comments thread of the article written Speranza Nouva in Singapore Angle on the "No Pork" Podcast. Multiple issues were raised, and I believe Dansong did a good job in presenting a structure to the different issues (in addition to voicing his own opinions).

The scope of this article is to explore the question "Was the podcast ethical?" I am deliberately not going to talk about issues related to freedom of speech, nor issues related to criminal law.

The first test of the question "Is X morally permissible" is usually a test of intuition. Upon viewing the podcast, did you feel that this was something which was unethical? Unfortunately, the intuition test fails us because there is very little consensus. Reactions to the podcast range from "highly offensive" to "no big deal". [Prima facie, I will take "offensive" to imply not morally permissible.]The fact that we do not have a consensual intuition is something worth investigating in itself, and I will say more about that later.

What could be a second test of "Is X morally permissible"? Ben (commenting on SN's article) suggested that we could start first with the question "Who should decide if this is offensive?", and offers two possible answers. Either the minority community, or the state (represented as the "reasonable man"). Let's try both. What does the minority community feel about the podcast? Anybody knows? I can supply my intuition, but short of real statistics, I can't say for sure. Has someone done a survey of the Muslim/Indian community? As for the blogosphere, I only found one response from a Muslim (found at Kitana's blog):

"i’m muslim and i’m not at all offended. People really need to have a sense of humour and stop acting like some self-righteous guardians of this and that."

I'm not suggesting this view is representative of the minority community. But if it is really not representative, then it begs the question, what if there is no consensus among the minority community? What if they cannot agree among themselves if the podcast is offensive or not? Do we take a majority vote then? Or perhaps we take the decision of an appointed leader of the minority community?

Ben himself thinks that the "reasonable man" is a better candidate for this test (probably because he thinks minority communities should not be given special status when it comes to deciding what is or is not ethical). But Ben also admits that "we are not sure in this case what the minority reasonable person truly thinks of feel". If that is so, how about the non-minority reasonable person? But how accurate is the non-minority person in deciding the amount of offense the minority community feels? Are we not back at the problem of the first test of intuition?

So now we resort to the third test. We "reason" about it. In philosophical ethics, there are two general approaches to such an ethical question. The first approach has to do with evaluating consequences. What are the negative consequences (potential harm done) of the podcast? SN has suggested 2 possible detrimental consequences: the provocation of "communal emotions", and copycat behavior. It appears to me that the main consequence we ought to be concerned with is still the amount of offense the minority community feels. If there is minimal offense, for example, communal emotions and copycat behavior would not be issues. But how to measure or calculate the amount of offense inflicted by the podcast? We're back to the same problem again.

The second approach has got to do with irreducible moral principles, such as rights. This is usually the approach taken when we label something as "racist" and claim that it is wrong. When we say that racism is wrong, we mean the act of racism is wrong, regardless if anybody got offended. So perhaps we might, as a principle, accept that whatever is racist must definitely be wrong and not morally permissible. Hold on a sec. What do we mean by "racist"?

Consider a thought experiment. Imagine there is a minority community of an ethic race/religion called "Ralgon". Ralgonians don't eat chicken because they worship a chicken god, and hence chicken meat is sacred and not to be eaten. However, they live in peace and harmony with the rest of the people in the nation who do eat chicken. One day, someone made a podcast of a bunch of teenagers ordering chicken from a Ralgonian popiah stall, and soon this podcast spread to the whole Ralgonian population. Consider the below scenarios:

1) 0% of the Ralgonians found it offensive. Many found it funny in fact. Would you call the podcast racist?

2) 10% of the Ralgonians found it offensive, but 90% thought it was okay, and think that the other 10% are getting too worked up over something which isn't a big deal. Would you call the podcast racist?

3) Same as above, except 20-80%. Racist or no?

4) 30-70%.

etc etc.

My guess is that, for different individuals, we have a different intuition of which threshold when breached, becomes "racism". Some of us may think only at the 50% mark, others might think around the 30% mark, maybe some others the 5% mark. But I believe few would have the intuition that if there is 0% offense, it is still considered an act of racism. But if the podcast is exactly the same for each scenario, and if the determinant factor of racism (and hence moral permissibility) is the act and not the consequence, then why does our intuition change with each different scenario?

Allow me to explain what I do NOT mean. I do NOT mean that it is okay (morally permissible) to not select someone at a job interview solely because of his skin colour, nor is it okay to insult and beat up someone on the street because of his skin color, even if for both these persons, they take no offense. The idea I'm talking about is harm done (perhaps, to echo Ben). If someone gets denied employment, or if they get physically injured, there is significant harm done even if there was no offense. But if someone makes a joke (and no real Ralgonians were hurt, injured or being made angry by the production of this podcast), and nobody takes offense, there where is the harm done? And if there is no harm done, then how is this not morally permissible? You may want to claim that it is not very virtuous to make fun of other people, even if they are not offended. Point taken. But virtues and morals are different.

I have nothing but respect for SN and Dansong, and think they wrote excellent articles. However, my personal opinion is that we sometimes cry "racist" too often, without thinking clearly what it really means. Some of us have very entrenched views that "racism" is evil and bad, and this is probably due to the influence of historical examples of how the "whites" treated the "blacks" in America, Europe and Africa, and how the oppressed fought for their civil rights. Again, I am NOT saying the "whites" were justified in treating the "blacks" that way. They were not. I am also NOT saying civil rights is a bad thing. It is a good thing. What I am saying is, out of that tradition, we have perhaps been too conditioned to label any identification of racial differences as "racist". and attach a stigma to that, when in reality, perhaps such a stigma or label is not quite as justified.

Racism is commonly defined as believing one's own race is superior to another race. I believe that should definitely not be encouraged. But is identifying differences and making fun of these differences (in the absence of offense) also by principle, racist? It appears to me not so. Afro-American comedians (such as Chris Rock) make fun about Afro-Americans (and white Americans as well) in the name of humour, yet nobody accuses them of being racist (however, if a white comedian makes fun of Afro-Americans, he might very well be labeled a racist. That however, is a separate, but interesting, issue to consider). When Chris Rock makes fun of a white guy, do you think anybody is going to claim that Chris Rock believes blacks are superior to whites?

Lets get back to the podcast. So is it ethical or not? To be truthful, I have no idea. I have not seen the podcast myself (for reasons why, check out my purple post). But it appears to me the key issue is about harm done, and the main harm we are concerned with is offense. My own suspicion is that some members of the minority community will be offended and some will not. But how much of each? None of us really knows. I believe this is something worth researching (and coming up with statistics). [PAPanons: yes I'm talking to you guys!] If we are serious about fostering racial/religious harmony, it may be a good idea to have a more in depth study on exactly how sensitive certain racial/religious groups are to certain stimuli, and hence have a better idea on how to manage racial/religious tensions.

Why don' we just play it safe? Since we don't know how many people find it offensive, why don't we just label this as "racist" and put a stop to such incidents? Even if it is an over-reaction, what's there to lose? Some individuals have raised the concern that if we restrict too much, we stifle creativity or we kill our sense of humour. That is probably true, but these arguments might seem frivolous compared to the potential harm racial tensions can cause. However, I still believe playing it safe is really not a solution in the long run.

One of the consequences of the civil liberties movements is the rise of political correctness. If you are a white guy, you don't ever call an Afro-American, a "nigger". Similarly, my impression is that we have a certain amount of political correctness being cultivated among ourselves in Singapore, when it comes to issues of race and religion (with perhaps the blogosphere an exception). But the problem with political correctness is, we are too concerned about not saying the wrong things, or only saying the right things. The real issue, as SN has pointed out, is in the hearts and minds of the individuals, not about what they say or do on the outside. I think the "play it safe" approach in restricting everything which could be potentially harmful, will in the long run, instead of better mutual understanding and harmony, it will result in greater political correctness. There will still be the same kind of tensions seething underneath the surface and outward appearances (since we never make any real effort to engage our differences), or worse, it actually breeds more resentment or tension.

I believe the "racist" label is causing more harm than good in Singapore society. We must admit that there are still racial tensions, and perhaps they cannot be completely eliminated. But I feel that how we ought to approach the issue is not to have heavy-handed restrictions on what can or cannot be done (or at least not to focus on them), but to have more dialogue, more studies and research, and the seeking of mutual understanding of those who are different from you.


racism, offense and discrimination (purple)

i have two embarrassing confessions to make in this post.

the first is that, despite all the recent buzz regarding "no pork", i haven't seen the podcast yet. it is not because, like ben, i'm so convinced of its filth, but rather, i'm actually only on a dial-up internet connection, and i don't have enough bandwidth to download even a meager podcast. =(

the second confession will be at the end of this post.

i once heard someone say this: "many years ago, when i was in school, i was in the school hockey team. we were all good friends. like any other kids our age, when you screw up on the hockey pitch, we would give each other hell. if the guy who screwed up was a malay guy, some of the teammates might say 'eh melayu, you cannot play properly isit?', or if an indian, 'eh thambi, the ball so big you cannot see ah', or if a chinese, 'eh chinaman, what happen to you?' we were all friends, so nobody took offense. but nowadays if you say such things, you might get arrested."

when i was in secondary school, we had this national education talk by this speaker, who was an indian lady. she said her son came home from kindergarten one day, and draw a picture of himself and two friends. he coloured himself dark brown, another friend light brown, and the last friend beige. then he told her "this is me, i am indian. this is a malay, and this is a chinese." she got so angry that she went to look for the kindergarten teacher and asked her "why are you teaching my son how to tell apart the races? we are all singaporeans, you should not teach children at such a young age to segregate each other into different races!" i thought she was nuts.

these are two different approaches to racial harmony. which do you prefer?

during the feminist movement, many feminists preached that there were no differences between the sexes. anything men could do, women could do as well. nowadays, we think this is ridiculous. in many ways, men are different from women. men are in general, physically stronger, women are better in forming inter-personal relationships and close bonds, for example. similarly, shortly after the civil liberties movement in america, many denied any difference between black and whites. blacks and whites are equal in every way. in fact, they can't even use the word "black" or "white". everyone is an american. nowadays, blacks are proud to be blacks (and different from the whites). they have a culture, and the derivatives of that culture, such as hip-hop, is taking the rest of the world by storm.

a common reaction when it comes to discrimination, be it racial, religious, gender, or sexual orientation, is to deny that there is any difference between different groups. sometimes, we fool ourselves to think that is true, but usually, deep inside our hearts, we know that we are different, but for the sake of being politically correct, we claim otherwise. in the comments thread of Sperenza Nouva's article on the "no pork" podcast, Agagooga made the claim that deep down inside, we are all racist. i've taken issue with the term "racist" in my blue post, but i find it plausible that for most of us, we have certain elements of ethnocenrism or xenophobia, be it inherent or nurtured.

the question should then be, how ought we view groups of people who are different from us? for me personally, i find that denying differences is just silly. telling a kindergarten kid that there is no difference between a malay, an indian or a chinese is just inviting cognitive dissonance. of course there is a difference. it is in the colour of their skin, but not just that, it is in the clothes they wear, the language they speak, the religions they believe in, the festivals they celebrate, the culture and traditions they live in.

it is not denying differences, but respecting them.

just because other groups are different, doesn't make them superior or inferior. they are just different. this is one thing which i believe we ought to repeatedly teach our children. but lets say i believe that to be true, i really do. but still, i feel uncomfortable around someone from another race. i prefer to be with someone of my own race. does that make me a bad person? of course not. it is a good idea to interact and have friendships with individuals who are from different races, but if you're not comfortable doing so, that is not something which you are at fault for, although it may be something you might want to change, or rather, you should try to change.

i do not know about you, but i would rather my children be able to play soccer with children from other races, be able to be good friends with them and be so comfortable with each other that they each can poke fun at each other's race without feelings of offense, than for them to be told that there is no difference between chinese, malay and indian in class, and for them to always be fearful of not saying sensitive things or they will be caned by the teacher.

but how does one achieve the former scenario, given that we probably have dispositions to favor our own race. not to mention the existence of racial stereotypes? i've been thinking about this, and i realized the issue (and the solution) is the same for all kinds of discrimination, not just for race, but also for gender, religion and sexual orientation. this brings me to my second embarrassing confession.

when i first started blogging last october, i explored the blogosphere and i stumbled upon yawningbread for the first time. before i read any of the articles, i read the profile of Alex Au first, and upon finding out that he was a homosexual and a gay activist, i dismissed the blog and didn't bother to read his articles anymore. a few days later, i found that many other bloggers linked to yawningbread, and upon reading his articles then i realized that i almost chose to totally dismiss what is one of the best blogs in the singaporean plogosphere.

a few days ago a friend asked me "are you homophobic?" i found that i cannot give a very straightforward "no" as an answer, and this set me thinking. do i intellectually believe that homosexuals ought to be treated differently from heterosexuals? absolutely not. but do i feel somewhat uncomfortable around people who have identified themselves to be homosexual? i must admit, i do. i have, however, been much more comfortable with them after i discovered one of my good friends was actually a lesbian (and i didn't know before hand), and i realized she was still equally human, not unlike my other friends at all.

i believe many people think the solution to discrimination is the clamping down of the expressions of such prejudice. that is why we argue for laws against hate speech, and we label and stigmatize actions which are discriminatory. but the cause of such discrimination in the first place, is a lack of sufficient understanding between different groups, and that lack of understanding will still be present (since that is not addressed) when laws and structures are in place to curb expressions of discrimination. only now it is hidden over the cover of political correctness. worse still, because there is no outlet for the resentment and tensions caused by such lack of understanding, having to force such feelings under such a facade may in turn breed more tension and resentment. that is why i think singaporeans of today are actually more racist than singaporeans of 20 years ago.

the only way to be free (or as close as possible to that) of such discrimination is not to focus on the restrictions of what we can or cannot do (i'm not suggesting we do away with laws and restrictions totally, they have their purposes), but to focus on how we can greater achieve mutual understanding and respect between different groups. firstly, can you convince yourself intellectually that you are not superior to anybody else just because they are different from you? (this may be more difficult than it sounds) if you can achieve that, then secondly, take steps to try and get to know those different from you better, and probably you will realize, these people are not much different from you, and the irrational fear and distrust of those who appear different from you will slowly fade away.

i believe that the war against discrimination should not be fought by laws and legislation, but by convincing one heart, one mind at a time. i hope one day, i will be able to meet Alex Au, shake his hand without feeling that irrational fear, sit down and have a good chat with him over coffee. and then i will tell him "i'm sorry that the first time i read your blog, i decided to skip it because you were a homosexual. but i would like to better understand our differences, and i hope that we can be friends"


Wednesday, February 07, 2007

emotions, rationality and morality

I've just spend several hours catching up on the blogospherical activity of the past few days. Despite all the interesting stuff going on about the "no pork" podcast (which I plan to blog about later) and the PAP counter-insurgency, it was actually this article Yawning Bread which I found most thought provoking.

With reference to the hanging of Tochi (still remember him?), Alex Au describes a boundary-drawing factor on how individuals in the blogosphere talk about issues such as capital punishment or homosexuality. He calls these factors "moral horror" or "moral disapproval", and states that these factors are essentially "irrational", meaning that "they cannot be reduced to rational arguments". He also makes very interesting revelations about the global opinions of teenagers with respect to capital punishment, and in particular, about the teenagers of London, and how they seem to be against the death penalty by virtue of the fact that they grew up in a state of affairs where the death penalty was abolished and have come to accept that state of affairs as normal, and not purely by rational considerations.

After thinking about it, I realized this was actually what I have already been talking about, except using different terminology. This is about differing worldviews. I think Yawning Bread was right that our individual worldviews set the boundaries of what kind of arguments we are able to accept and what kind of arguments we do not. I think this also helps to explain why the teenagers of London are more anti-death penalty. Our worldviews are shaped by our experiences and our environment, and the worldviews of young Britons growing up in an environment where the dealth penalty has already been abolished, is perhaps more likely to be anti-dealth penalty than the older Britons, who did not grow up in such an environment.

With regards to the article, there are still two questions which I want to address.
1) How "irrational" are worldviews (or "moral horror")? What does this mean for reasoned discourse?
2) How can we encourage a worldview shift ("perspectival shift") in detractors? Should we do this even if we can?

There are (at least) two factors which determine our worldviews: experiences and deliberations. Experiences such as if you have physically observed a murder trial sentencing, or a seen a video of an execution, could very possibly cause you to react (emotionally?) in a way that prods you towards an anti-death penalty stand. Certainly, it does not make much sense to label such experiences as "rational", as experiences are not really arguments or propositions. And if we want to claim such reactions to be emotional reactions, some individuals might be willing to label such reactions to be "irrational" and deem them as invalid data points in a rational argument. Perhaps such individuals might even cry "appeal to emotion!", and discredit such views as fallacious.

My personal opinion is that, the role of emotions and intuitions in rational discourse (allow me to call this"affective reasoning") should not be totally disregarded. In fact I think, if we refuse to allow any affective reasoning at all in our rational discussions, then the only subject matter we can talk about is mathematics. One cannot reason in a vacuum. There has to be starting points in any rational view we take, and these starting points have to be assumptions. How do we arrive at these assumptions? From our experiences yes, but also from affective means. This is also why there is a great diversity of worldviews (collection of such assumptions). Not only do individuals differ greatly in individual experiences but the same experiences affect individuals differently.

[Some individuals might want to argue that fundamental assumptions derived from experiences are permissible but those through affective means are not, in a rational discussion. (Quick rebuttal: why do they feel so? Is it not by their intuition? Is that not affective?) Indeed, whether "intuitions" can be considered as data in philosophical reasoning, is something which is something which philosophers argue about and disagree over. Nevertheless, most of us are not philosophers, and I have yet to come across anybody in the blogosphere who argues that intuitions aren't permissible in a rational discussion.]

Does this diversity in worldviews mean we cannot have rational discourse? I don't think so, but I think it means that we cannot have agreement on some issues. This, of course, is not new to us. The question is rather, how should we engage with each other when we come from differing worldviews? I had previously urged bloggers to agree to disagree and to try and understand the worldviews of their detractors, and this I think is the first step that most of us do not do enough. Nevertheless, is this all that we can do? Could we perhaps, try to prod others and try to shift their worldviews to be more aligned with ours? If we do so, does this not sound like brainwashing?

Consider this thought experiment. There was a time in the past, in some cultures, where the majority of the people thought it was okay to keep slaves. "That it is morally permissible to own another human being as a slave" was an assumption in most worldviews of the people of that time. Imagine you are a time traveler and returned back to that era, and engaged in rational discourse with the people there. After trying hard to understand where they are coming from, but still disagreeing, are you going to say, "let's agree to disagree", and be happy with their keeping of slaves? Or will you perhaps, try to change their worldview, by bringing some of them back into the future, and showing them the history books and the great speeches? I believe most of us will choose the latter. But isn't that brainwashing? No we probably don't feel so. If we truly attempted to understand the other point of view but still feel that it is "less enlightened" than our own, we feel that it is quite morally permissible to attempt to prod them to change their worldview, by introducing new experiences.

How about if we apply these principles to an issue like homophobia, or abolishment of death penalty? Is it morally permissible to handcuff a homophobe to a homosexual for 24 hours, forcing him/her to engage in a conversation with a homosexual and helping him to experience that homosexuals are just humans and not monsters? How about we force proponents of the death penalty to view videos of executions, or a movie like Dead Man Walking? It appears that these two examples, although well intentioned, probably cross the line of what is morally permissible, or at the very least, what is civil.

So how can someone attempt to change his detractor's worldview? Rational arguments is always a possibility. Some worldviews are probably more coherent than others, and rational deliberation is also (in addition to external experiences) a determining factor no how one reaches one's own worldview. But as we are quite well aware of, rational arguments usually isn't enough to sway another. Then what? Rhetoric and polemics (manipulation of emotion)? Perhaps. But another way we can "enlighten" each other is by sharing your own experiences. Giving personal anecdotes and narratives (although some will be more skillful than others in doing this), instead of bashing each other with "reason", may perhaps may be your best chance of persuading your opponent.

A final word: before you try to convince your detractors, have you really tried to understand where your detractors are coming from? Or do you just care to win the debate, and you want to try whatever tactics necessary to win? If so, are you so sure it is not you who needs to be enlightened?

Sunday, February 04, 2007

thoughts on a good post

once in a while you come across something which you think is so good you want to share it with everybody. (never mind the fact that everybody who reads this blog probably have already read it).

this is a good post.

i'm kinda busy right now (that's why never blog mah) and i don't even have time to read the new good stuff which is appearing on IS and SA (i'm very excited that kitana submitted to SA), but this one link on IS made me pause to read it. and i'm glad i did.

but why do i like this post so much?

if it is not obvious to most folks by now, i am have some training and background in philosophy. philosophy to me is not just an academic discipline, but has generally entrenched itself in my outlook on life and my thinking process. it's something which has taken over such a large part of my intellectual self that its hard for me to actually think outside the perspective of analytic philosophy. (i'm not saying i'm very good at it lah) in fact, i think this can be seen through most of my posts.

but there is one thing which i find very disappointing of being a "philosopher". and that is, a philosopher (in the analytic tradition, which i am trained in) focuses on being objective, and filtering out distracting factors so that he can focus on the "core issues". at the end of the day, analytic philosophers deal with deductive logic, axioms, definitions, cold cut logic. that's excellent when we want to talk about social, political, ethical issues which applies to everybody.

but sometimes, i hope to be a human before a philosopher. i hope that ultimately to me, the people around me and the issues which affect me as a person are more important, and more worth my time thinking about, than issues which affect society, the human race, or the universe. i think that's what it takes to be human. being human is subjective, is messy, but there is an inherent beauty in being an individual and spending time thinking about and working on personal dreams and ambitions, friends and family, human relationships which are important. sometimes i think, when i become too much of a "philosopher", or when i read or write stuff on the blogosphere, i lose more and more of that each day.

that is until i come across something like what Trisha has written. the stuff written at SA, most of the time, is high quality intellectual stuff. the stuff written by xenoboy (most of the time) is amazing beauty through pure sophistry. even the stuff written by mollymeek, i consider to be a works of art. but none of them provides the sheer beauty of having a living breathing human and individual perspective, like what Trisha has provided here.

and the amazing thing is, for all the clearly formulated philosophical arguments we "philosophers" do, (i think lah), it pales in comparison to the power of a simple narrative of a real life, like what Trisha has shown, in terms of persuasiveness and impact. at the end of the day, we are individuals, we are human, no matter what mask we put on when we blog.