Recently, Thio Li-Ann wrote an article in the Straits Times entitled, “Secularism, the Singapore Way,” on the 30th Oct 2007,

There, she puts foward the proposition, 

“In Singapore, secularism is useful as a framework to promote co-existence of different religions and belief systems…..however, reading “secularism” in an anti- theistic manner to exclude religious perspectives would no longer be a neutral position.” 

To paraphrase, what she’s essentially saying: to exclude religious groups from ANY discussion of policy may NOT even serve the democratic process. As it may marginalize a segment of society.

She adds, Singapore may even have such a thing as a “unique” model of secular governance that doesn’t require the government to maintain as neutral an attitude as possible towards religion when deciding issues concerning the public policy.  

While, I don’t disagree consultation with religious bodies or for that matter the RSPCA does add considerably to the depth of any public debate and may even produce beneficial outcomes.  

The question is; whether it’s even desirable for political process to be influenced in part by religious groups?

No one disputes, churches, temples and mosques serve as bastions of moral rectitude and they even reach out deep into the community to reflect the sentiments of the ‘collective will’: however, what must be recognized is there are also systematic limits which will always work against the role religious organizations as being all inclusive to any dialogue - for example: religious organization are also counter cosmopolitan centers which regularly churn out the ideal, there is only ONE right way for ALL human beings to live: that all differences must be in the details.

How does any legal scholar propose to reconcile the diversity between religion and politics under those conditions? 

Well, it cannot be done. What Thio fails to recognize is the complexity associated with fusing religious alongside political discourse, not only do they differ conceptually. But they diverge in principle so acutely, as to even suggest these two incompatible dichotomies: cannot possibly ‘see eye to eye’ under practically every condition – to suggest one is able to compliment the other by adding value to the discourse remains facile and unconvincing. 

Not only does a wealth of evidence militate against such a proposition: religion and politics can consistently produce ‘good’ that necessarily out weights the bad 

That’s only possible, if “good,” isn’t wholly dependant on how the beholder perceives ‘good’ quotient. Another problem with linking religion and politics even under ‘limited’ terms is:

how does one propose to delineate the ‘religious’ discourse from overcoming the substantive text, precedent and logic of the law?

What ‘methodology’ does one deploy to ensure the respective threads in the debate remain coherent without spilling over? When does religious inspired legislative discourse degenerate into institutionalized bullying, harassment and persecution? Surely, even Thio recognizes the slipperly slope of pursuing such a strategy without first addressing the discipline of methodology.  

Neither does she seem to appreciate, whenever the line between religion and politics is blurred, it throws out the hubris: which one takes priority under a given set of conditions?  Do religious considerations take precedence over constitutional law or vice-versa?

After all doesn’t the former belong to divine pedigree that cannot possibly be challenged in any court of law presided by man? Can God really be wrong? Besides how does one harmonize the competing religious interest to possibly flesh out the law, policy or directive so that it best reflect the sentiments and interest of all religious quarters? Is that lofty goal even possible? Given, all too often the ‘issues,’ often tug in different directions – which viewpoint under any given conditions should be given primacy? What will happen, when there is a conflict between lets say, Quranic and Biblical text? Or Should the Bhavagad Gita or Sutra be brought to light?

Realism requires recognition that any attempt to link religion and politics can at best only produce aberrations and in worst cases even injustices: while nothing should prevent individuals from reaching political decision that are influenced in part by their religious beliefs in the private sphere. To even advocate a ‘limited’ dialogue that permits politics to be colored with religious considerations places the tenets of constitutional law in an untenable position.

This raises the nagging question: can religious organizations resist the temptation to cross the line between merely coexisting with governments to full blown active political participation?

Is there a danger when religion and politics become too closely link, one will leach into the domain of the other ghosting the lines even further? Will religious justification be used in the legislative and executive process, as in the case of Bush administrations ‘war against terror?’ Would this breed a type of complicity where religion assumes the ratio of law making at the expense of higher constitutional ideals? 

The whole idea of even suggesting for one moment, it’s even possible to successfully balance the dichotomy of religion with politics, elides completely the a priori rationale; why secularism continues to be the only means by which so many successful governments around the world continue to maintain a fire wall between religion and politics – they see it as a deadly combination – a powder keg even! 

To the extent that all religions honor fundamental tenets of love, peace and justice is NOT in dispute. But to believe they are able to contribute to the ‘collective good’ without running the risk of breaching the doctrine of separation of powers, that requires religious organizations to remain outside the ambit of the legislative and executive process remains disturbing. As it denies the whole proposition; why there was even the doctrine of separation of powers in the first instance?

For if the truth be known our constitution and much of what forms the backbone of our constitutional law today, has little if anything to do with ‘Singapore’ or anything even remotely “unique” as Thio would have us all believe.

Rather much of what forms the substantive back bone of our constitutional law is simply an accretion that harks, all the way back to political philosophies which recognizes the importance of separating religion from statecraft viz- a-viz, Aristotle, John Locke, Jean Jacques Rousseau, and Montesquieu.  

To even suggest for one moment, the whole idea of ‘limited’ secularism can be sensibly mooted without first recognizing the need to address these higher constitutional principles, and. The limits they impose on the role of the legislature and executive is to miss the wisdom of what in the 8th century, the prophet Isaiah said, by way of teaching to the Jewish people,

“to strive to be in the world, but not of it.” i.e (keep God’s stuff separate from Man’s stuff.)

Thio would do well to remember Isaiah’s prophetic warning to all scholars in her future disquisitions concerning constitutional law in Singapore.

Only because by attempting to argue on the reverse of the dictum,

“to strive to be in the world, by being it.” (God and Man stuff are one of the same reality.)

All she’s doing is paving the way for religious denominations to directly influence public policy, allowing them to force their tenets on others, thereby repudiating the whole idea of the secular state – what I wonder would Ceasar think of that?

(By Dotseng, Anongal, Scimitar & Aurora – Law – EP 99018452 – The Brotherhood Press 2007)

There is a French word which I really like to share with only you this evening. It’s a word that doesn’t lend itself easily to the English translation, “d’epaysement.” A few years ago, I shared a carriage with the Paris Bureau chief for the New York Times, his translation of the word felt just right.

“The feeling of not being assaulted by the familiarity of things, a change in surroundings where there is no immediate point of reference.”

He went on to add, “Most people don’t make it a point to d’epayses, only to end up re-creating a home they once knew in a place away from home….ensuring, they never ever left.”

This is unfortunate, as it’s too true. Although one may even spend years working, living and playing in a country, their unwillingness to d’epayses ensures they never really left home.The British and Americans are the worst, go to any country in the world and you would most likely find either a sliver of Dorset complete with immaculate cricket lawns or an American club that regularly serves up super sized whoppers next to a giant screen spewing live images of baseball games. As for us Singaporeans, we don’t endeavor so hard to create fiefdoms in foreign lands, but we more than make up for our lack of verve by insisting on speaking in Singlish. Nonetheless  after exhausting the run of the mill dialogue as to which school, university, unit we more than make up for our lack of fetishness – when the conversation invariably turns to the very serious issue of bartering or begging for Maggi instant noodles. Trust me you know you’ve being away for too long, when you’re willing to trade your hippest CD’s for a packet of Maggi instant noodles. It never fails to amaze me even today how our entire historical sense of being revolves around the humble instant noodles. What I usually find unfortunate is whenever I ask whether they joined the locals at the café for a morning croissant or an evening aperitif, shopped at the outdoor marche, went to the local fete, or people-watched in the place, the answer is invariably, “dowan lah.” They may have had an amazing boat ride on the Seine, but they don’t know the real Paris – one has to make it a point like I mentioned to be depayses – step off the boat and walk around for that sort of knowledge – even perhaps try to get lost.

Until you have really wasted time in a city, you cannot pretend to know it well. The soul of a city like a heart of a woman is not be grasped easily; her heart has many chambers, but as every Parisian will tell you, just as one begins to acquaint oneself with a building by first stepping into the lobby – the first chamber is to understand why she is often called, Ville Lumiere or City of Lights.

Though it’s a appelation that is associated with Paris, it has become a sobriquet a term of endearment. Say Ville Lumiere and some will conjure images of well lighted sparkling pools doting the length of the Seine – the Champs-Elysees and Eiffel ablaze. Or perhaps the Pantheon, Sacre Coeur, Trocedero – all bathed in a yellow hallo.

Personally I’ve often imagined the expression has more to do with the soul of the city. Apart from the illicit thrill of Paris – they also have real shops, colorful, family owned café’s, full of evocative smells and all of them seem to disregard the local bye law by spilling out quite openly into the streets, where minds meet and tongues wag into the night. To me café’s are just not places, they’re like transit points very much like airports, train stations and space stations where all sorts of people gather around, only in Parisian café’s they do something most of these places don’t do outside Paris – they talk and talk and talk…..I am reminded so much starts with just conversations. The kind of conversation in which you start with a willingness to become a slightly different person, these are conversations that open the possibility of changing your mind. Perhaps that why so many new experimental hubs in the world insist on using the word “café” as a metaphor to describe their quest for vibrancy, verve and variety – certainly, for centuries, many in the world have been drawn to Paris like the proverbial moth to the flame precisely because it offers the opportunity for life changing conversations.

In a sense the appellation ville Lumiere isn’t about physical light at all. Half a dozen other cities probably have more and brighter lights than Paris these days. Rather it’s a reference to the light of intellectualism that attracts the verve to ignite, political, spiritual, cultural and intellectual change. The glow emitted by these café’s which dot Paris is not simply climatic to what many refer to as “la atmosphere”, it’s a spiritual force that also shapes one’s character, opinions and judgments.

It’s a powerful astringent – in these café’s a man learns at least three things, how to roll cigarettes from the outside in, listen to three conversations simultaneously and write his history, where the latter usually involves deconstructing established structures and reassembling them again like Lego bricks, nothing ever remains the same, man observes….he seeks out…. works it through…..takes a position, where he knows if he doesn’t someone else will just come along and write his history, only to end up being told where to go, stop there, turn left, sit down etc. I guess the reason why I see these café’s as embodying the light of the city is because they’re offer a way of escaping the cacophony of modern life by truing oneself through a rigorous process of discourse – by this, I mean you can teach a man to draw a straight line; or how to string a sentence or even pronounce a word, with admirable speed and precision; but if you ask him to consider the deeper meaning of why he writes, he stops, his execution becomes scraggy; he thinks, and ten to one he thinks wrong; ten to one he slips up and doesn’t quite manage to convey what’s really in his head on paper – that’s what happens when sometime mechanical is rendered a ‘thinking being,’ till then he was simply a monkey trained to pick coconuts, a machine, an animated tool, that to me is what these café’s actually are; miniature production houses that keeps churning out critical thinkers. So even if it sounds like a cliché to the uninitiated, this is where the light burns brightest in the City of Lights.That realization occurred to me one muggy evening, many years ago when I found myself mulling over Thoreau’s dictum the “mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” I found myself suddenly a stranger in a sea of many and soon that familiar depressing sense of estrangement from the mainstream fogged it – deepening the abyss – but how ridiculous it is the self-pity of the loner as he leans over the bridge pulling on a cigarette seeking answers from the Seine – that night in the language of rivers, she said, Yes..

As I looked out along the quay at the many yellow lights of the café’s still opened, I remembered the moments and the waters I had crossed in my life – it was enough for me to sigh and simply express knowingly somewhere….somewhere……somewhere……yes….Ville Lumiere….one just needs to learn how to find it, even in Singapore….happy d’epaysement. 

(By Darkness / The Travelogue Series / Paris – EP 99878 – 2007 – The Brotherhood Press 2007)

Now that the dust has finally settled on the 377A debate – What are the lessons that can be learnt from it?  The first is people will always remain genuinely divided in the way they are members belonging to distinctly different groups. Values and beliefs remain deeply rooted in community, even if they should not be so rooted that they cannot migrate out of their traditional thinking. Regrettably, they remain deeply entrenched and in certain cases even woven into the community psyche. 

The second is that we all possess ‘Multiple Identities’– that a man will not just be gay, but gay and protestant and Singaporean. Or that a man may not hold any prejudices against gays per se, but he may still harbors reservations about gays teaching his children.

 

What emerges from the recent 377A debate is ALL these sentiments are genuine and they are very real. And if any progress is going to sensibly emerge, this must first be recognized as ‘A Priori’ condition precedent.

 

This naturally throws out the question: what’s the best way of accommodating this polyglot of cultural, ethical and belief identities? How do we find such a thing as common ground without running the risk of slighting one against another?

 

As much as I like to subscribe to the belief logic, rationality and common sense necessarily holds the key. I am reminded of the saying,

 

“Take the world for what it is, rather what you must believe it should be.”

 

Nowhere does this dictum ring truer than 377A. Resorting to metallic logic to find a way as noble as it sounds, remains only true, if we can all buy into the notion: when good and bad, right and wrong or any competing dichotomy is placed on the scale of life, the greater good can somehow triumph over the bad to win the day – it cannot, not in this case, at least.

 

As the 377A debate showed so clearly what constitutes ‘good’ – ‘appropriate’ – ‘acceptable’ – is at best ‘elusive.’ For one these terms are hardly even conceptually settled and what emerges is an understanding that the ‘value system’ that exist is one closer to some form of cultural cosmopolitanism than one that is monolithic, whole and homogeneous – it’s at best an ‘unknown quantity.’

 

Neither can we truly claim that such a ‘mental construct’ emerges solely from the thinking process alone. All too often what constitutes, ‘my, your or their values’ is essentially nothing more than the stuff associated with ‘rolling stones’ – the interpretative narrative of making sense of our world is picked up from our parents, schools, colleagues and the broader community. Under those conditions which one takes priority? Which one swallows up the rest? Is it the part where a man puts on his Sunday best or when he sits next to a gay man in the sauna, shuffling uncomfortably? Or should it be the one, when he feels a sense of impingement when he sees two gays displaying their affection in the public square?

 

Again shifting sands forms very much the backdrop in this dialogue.

 

Even if we all live in the same universe, one story about that universe just doesn’t do a very good job of fleshing our the narrative of the world as to how it should be and it would be foolhardy to assume one story about that universe must be right and the rest wrong – that I am reminded is why it’s so difficult to find common ground on a topic as derisive as homosexuality – it cuts deeper into just the superficiality of weighing right and wrong, good and evil, rights given and rights denied.

 

Rather it goes into the very fiber, right into the marrow that exposes the myth that society is necessarily one of the same thing to anyone of us!

Instead what 377A highlights in it’s most salient features is the various peaks and valleys that exist in our society. They are diverse, distinct even, each emerging from their respective intents and purposes, but all existing in very different universes.

 

Is it such a wonder that the ‘truth’ will for that matter always remain forever elusive?

 

Until we have a deeper understanding of how to bridge the divide that exist. The whole proposition of being able to hammer canons into ploughshares and forging lasting peace and harmony will always remain a task where each group deals with the world with their respective interpretative techniques. One thing remains certain there will always much to talk about even – the day after 377A.

(By Scimitar, Dotty, Sphgirl & Harphoon / Social Political – EP 99278291 – The Brotherhood Press 2007)

A catch phrase is a word that encapsulates a meaning by its repeated utterance. Such memetic phrases often originate to describe ‘situations’ and ‘events.’ And generally do a good job of conveying accurately, the full measure of it’s meaning and implications.

For example, “Catch-22” is a catch phrase that best describes bureaucratic circular logic – denoting “a no-win situation” or “perpetual quagmire.” In the book, “Catch-22″ by Joseph Heller, Section 22 of the US Army Ordinance is a military by-law, designed to prevent anyone from avoiding combat missions. By removing the condition of ‘battle fatigue’ – as the main protagonist said, “kill the word and the disease ceases to exist completely. How does one treat a disease that doesn’t exist? Problem solved!”

Recently, during my morning drive to work. I was surprised to hear a Texan, Anglo Saxon colonel from the US Marines, using the term “Inshallah” on the BBC during the course of an interview. I am reminded when words collide they often spark off producing linguistic embers. Has the war in Iraq left us with a new word to match our new sense of powerlessness? Inshallah?

As the Arabic phrase ‘Inshallah’ means, while man can certainly plan (only to be ruled by accidents presumably). Everything can only happen with the grace of God. It’s an apt catch phrase that describes accurately how most Americans combatants are increasingly beginning to define “success” in the Iraqi theater of operations. Gone are the days of thunder and lightning, where whole divisions past from the realm of theory to reality in a flash. These days, the sobering reality of snail paced progress, marked by compromise, tactical retreats and endless negotiations forms the new backdrop of ‘waging war.’ It’s a sobering reality that has permeated all ranks, one best expressed in terms of, “Inshallah.”

It’s a truism that words migrate because the concepts they connote have also migrated. When the Romans paid their soldiers with salt, not only did they birth the word ‘salary’ but also spawned a whole genre of accretions, such as “the salt of the earth” and “worth his salt.” In both of these instances the words filled a vacuum and managed to sound off successfully against the rhetoric of the age. And just as “Inshallah” found itself transplanted from the battlefields of Iraq to even diplomatic speech these days in Capitol Hill. One wonders will 377A do the same for us? Will it also find a niche only to take root in our ‘collective consciousness?’ As a word that describes the hubris between gays and straights, modernity and traditional, inalienable rights and rights denied, minority and majority, moral rectitude against turpitude and a host of other competing dichotomies?

As Baby Darkness Boy / Harphoon Boy, mentioned in their recent article “the unbearable lightness of being” – “377A, represents the starkest reality of what it takes for a society to come into terms with what it means to change (diametrically).” It may or may not be perilous to generalize broadly on how most people regard homosexuality, but as far as constitutionalists are concerned such a consideration doesn’t fall within their purview. The central question remains: what’s the best way of reconciling 377A with our constitution? Is a law that isn’t going to be used even constitutional?

In the entire debate concerning 377A, this question was universally missed by virtually every quarter: There remains a critical distinction between constitutionalism and mere policy preferences. In fact, any Constitution (including ours, if it is to continue to have any legal veracity) provisions policy makers with the authority to repeal or maintain any act. On the specific understanding that they do not engage in the same cost benefit analyses that economist usually take. Instead the onus, demands as a matter of constitutional priori – any ‘changes’ should be resolved according to the very sources of constitutional authority i.e text, precedent, tradition and reason – ideally this should always remain the basis of ALL constitutional decision making and should never be substituted, elided or even marginalized in preference for seat of the pants decision making.

 

To even suggest for one moment, these constitutional elements can even be marginalized in preference for the ‘collective good’ in favor of the “majority” is to set the course towards a very slippery road.

While it remains a palpable truth, there may even be limits to what, text, precedent, tradition and reason has to offer in facilitating ‘real’ and ‘meaningful’ social change in the context of 377A. Ideally this shouldn’t perclude a thorough debate that attempts to harmonize and reconcile the constitutional tenets with the whole idea of proposing to maintain 377A while balancing the ‘rights’ of the gay community.

Central to the issue is how does one propose to defend a ‘right’ that is deemed ‘fundamental’ in the eyes of the law? Is the capacity to be gay even a ‘right?’–  even the best assurance that 377A will not be invoked fails to satisfy the minimum standard of the constitutional criteria. All it does is to place the constitutional law in an untenable position: how does one even attempt to reconcile a law that isn’t proposed to be used with the constitution? What ‘right’ does it confer to the individual? Can such a creature even exist constitutionally and legally? 

That there may even be limits in how principles alone can produce an acceptable ‘good’ quotient in this case remains undeniable. However, this in no way excludes the need to iron our the hubris of maintaining 377A in its current form along side the constitution.

To put it all into perspective, one reason why the framers of the American constitution did not simply say “the government of the day, may do anything it likes providing it has the collective majority behind it!” As many who support maintaining 377A continue to contend as their rightful locus, but instead struggled to articulate a limited number of fundamental principles and even saw fit to enshrine them above the everyday pragmatic judgments of politicians. They (the framers), foresaw what modern history has shown to be all too true – that while democracy is an effective serum to tyranny, it can also facilitate a particular kind of tyranny – the tyranny associated with the “majority” in the name of the “collective good” against the statistical insignificant.

Against this backdrop constitutional principles, serves the important role of offering the only protection and sanctuary to those who are likely to be targets of such tyranny, such a minorities and even gays. Relegating such individuals to the mercy of the “majority” in the name of the “collective good” does little to serve this end and even places their future in an untenable position.

Instead it promotes the corrosive mentality, if it’s expedient for a government to do something in the name of the ‘collective good’ then it may choose to do so by circumventing the constitutional limits. Such an approach as convenient and efficient as it is, represents a dangerous precedent. As it fails woefully to recognize how only the constitutional approach can serve as a basis for the collective commitment to the equal worth and dignity of all human beings, even gays – to term that rhetoric is to miss the very point of constitutional law and to even create a new catch phrases where all is possible even if legally it fails to make out one ounce of common sense.

As with “catch-22” or “Inshallah,” we may now have a new word to capture the hubris of our times – “377A.”

Which just means: you have every right to be whoever you are and yet you have no rights at all in the eyes of the law.

(Written By Dotty, Anongal, Scimitar, Auroraand “Darkness Bambi Bad Boy” – EP 99978373 Socio / Political / Constitutional Law – The Brotherhood Press 2007)

One reason why history is important is because, understanding the past is perhaps the only way to make sense of the present and future. History is the narrative of mankind. It provides the only way for ANY society to make sense of today by dipping into the reservoir of the past. It serves as a vignette that fleshes out the chronology of how ideas concerning laws, customs, and political ideas evolved and came to assume the shape and form it does today. But what happens when newspapers for example suffer from ‘selective hearing lost’ or worst still ‘amnesia?’ What really happens to our historical awareness when there are serious gaps in our narrative?

To paraphrase, what really happens when a discussion concerning a controversial subject gets bracketed or just disappears off the radar? Apart from generating disenchantment within a segment of society, it’s bound to create blanks in the narrative, what’s the cost?

I am reminded, there’s a cruel adage that kicks in, whenever there is a ‘void’ in any narrative, doesn’t even matter whether it is Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs or something as far reaching as a policy issue – someone will just come along and fill-in-the-blanks. It goes something like this: “if we don’t write our history, then someone will just come along and write it for us!” The quote by Santayana ends with an oblique rebuke, “You can hardly blame them can you? You never bothered!” Is that what’s happening these days?

It could well be by imagination, but lately have you notice, Malaysian reporters have been increasingly stepping in to fill in the ‘void’ and ‘gap.’ It’s of course, ‘early days,’ but nonetheless, it provides a peek into what happens when our newspapers continue to remain bovine and fail to slake the thirst for information.

You could even say, it’s inexorable, an economic fact of life even. The demand for ‘real’ news is unstoppable, unmet demands simply produces new market opportunities and segments – it’s as simple as that and anyone who tells you different is probably a dodgy pastor who believes going into the real estate business is doing’s God’s work – just to give you a peek of what I am referring too, take a look at this article:

 http://thestar.com.my/columnists/story.asp?file=/2007/10/20/columnists/insightdownsouth/19211345&sec=Insight%20Down%20South

Question: What’s really happening here?

Yes, I hear you (I do) somewhere in this narrative where news producers and consumers sit along the long bench of the marketing manifesto, 8 out of 10 readers still consider the ST “important” blah, blah, blah. Yes, I know and so probably you (coming to think of it, when will they stop reminding us?) But that hardly provides any answers to my question: why have ‘others’ stepped in? Most importantly of all, is this the actual cost when when we fail to write our history? Someone just comes along and writes it for us?

Now you can say anything you want, ‘interference’ or even whip out the ‘national security card’ but what cannot be denied is this, people don’t just decide to wake up one morning and write about stuff that isn’t really any of their business, unless of course they perceive the wisdom of doing so i.e they believe there’s even a segment of the population who values these articles. Unless of course it even makes perfect money sense to do so i.e it sells newspapers. Think about it. What are we actually seeing here?

Well if you think about it, it’s hardly a new theme – just as the VOA (Voice of America) played ‘cat and mouse’ with Pravda during the cold war years and thousands behind the iron curtain regularly tuned in to hear the ‘news’ with their illegal wireless sets, one really needs to ask: is this what happens when the press becomes overregulated and corsetted by restrictions? Does it lose much of it’s élan, panache and aplomb even waste away, offers nothing really ‘new’ in terms of reading experience?

What cannot be denied is while governments may try their very best to limit the information assembly line to only ‘the power of one’ – this doesn’t stop readers from gravitating towards “the gold standard.” Globalization in effect guarantees this Faustian compact – the blessing comes with the curse – the ‘need’ to know can never be denied or negotiated away – foreign press writing on our local developments are merely symptomatic of a systematic failure to deliver on the goods.

I’m not saying what we are seeing here is the emergence of a ‘coherent reality movement,’ or that everyone defines news in the way, I have just described. Only, one needs to appreciate the ‘impetus’ behind these developments, if the imperative is to remain ‘relevant’ in this day and age – can it be said, there’s a growing sense that when people want things they feel they are simply not getting, they will just go elsewhere? Is this what we are seeing here? – can it be said, ‘failing to deliver’ only exacerbates this ‘gap’ or ‘void’ in understanding by deepening the divide between producers and consumers? – does it sharpen the sense of estrangement further? And can you really blame them? What really did you expect, when you didn’t even bother to ask the most needful question that goes right into the heart of any relationship that defines the reader and writer? – did you even believe that ideology and the greater good could possibly be a substitute for a culture that imbibes our sense of the possibilities and depths of life? What really did you expect?

Did you even believe for one moment, it’s possible to even have anything resembling a choice in this day and age?

How naïve you are then…..how tragically naïve you are.

 “Tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers. …” Darth Vader / Star Wars.

By Harphoon, Scholarboy & Darkness – Socio/ Political / EP 9923773732 – The Brotherhood Press 2007)

By now all of you have probably had your fill concerning 377, if you haven’t do drop by two excellent sites who have done a decent job of aggregating the reads, Singapore Daily and The Online Citizen and in no time even you be a shade of pink  – should 377A be repealed? Should it stand? Whatever the reasons, both sides have equally compelling arguments to flesh out their respective positions. Who is right and who is wrong? Does it really mean anything even to be ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ in the grander scheme of things? What really lies at the heart of the debate? What’s at stake?

Well as much as I like to believe the answer to whether 377 should stand or be repealed hinges on placing ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ on the scales of life, nothing can be further from the truth.

In reality 377 represents the starkest reflection of what it means for a society to come to terms with one reality, “change.” Any concept that proposes ‘change’ requires us all to perform one activity – it challenges our pre-existing notions of what really constitutes our known world. To be more specific – it questions the whole idea of ‘privacy’ against the backdrop of the ‘public’ sphere. You can even say, it proposes to define this domain – by juxtaposing the question:

what should the ‘public’ sphere include or exclude?

Indeed in the melee of the whole 377 discussion, religion, constitutional rights and even whole idea of individual rights certainly features. Ideally, they should even form the salient issues and perhaps even contribute to significantly to the ratio, but just because something has the capacity for ‘agency’ doesn’t mean that it can – not in this case at least. As the issue here has little if nothing to do with ‘rights’ or even what is ‘rightful,’ instead what’s being really mooted here is the eventual shape and form of what is deemed acceptable and unacceptable in the ‘public’ sphere or what should form the set pieces of our “collective consciousness.”

To paraphrase: what does it really take to preserve ‘our way of life?’

In this case, ‘our’ doesn’t refer to a specific group as it does the “collective good.” What’s really at stake here simply boils down to one sliding equation: Repeal it and the status quo ante of what constitutes ‘privacy’ is redefined. There’s no going back. Keep 377 and everything remains the same, brakes, control levers and the whole works.

To understand how this sliding scale looks it only requires the lateral train to derive at the assumption, if ‘privacy’ as a concept is to command any currency then it must be able to keep the ‘public’ out of the ‘private’ and to keep the ‘private’ out of the ‘public.’

That’s why 377 remains so controversial – as it proposes to do very little in the way of altering ‘reality’ i.e (gays will still be gays with or without 377) as much as it attempts to program our minds into believing what is and isn’t acceptable. 

Well most people will say, big deal darkness, so somewhere up in your head a mental line gets breached! Hardly ground breaking stuff, is it? On the contrary, it’s realer than real, when you consider what typically constitutes ‘privacy’ is essentially self-selecting. Consider this: would you feel a sense of impingement, if you saw two men French kissing in public? Do you consider it an affront, if you see someone relieving himself in a public square? How would you react?

What we have here is essentially a mental play, very subtle as to even escape the detection, but let’s slow down the scene and go through it blow by blow – now in ‘real’ terms, the ‘offensive’ scenario, I just described shouldn’t even constitute an affront, because it’s him ‘exposing’ himself, not you! However because it occurs in a ‘public’ domain, it violates your sense of ‘privacy’ – hence in the language of mathematics the relationship between ‘public’ and ‘private’ can be expressed in the following terms: for a ‘public’ place to remain ‘public’ it needs to be able to define and exclude the ‘private.’

This I suspect is what’s really being mooted at a subconscious level in 377, isn’t as much the battle for the ‘private’ as much as it is the fight to keep ‘public’ free from the ‘private’ i.e it’s an attempt to preserve our world view of what the world should and even must be. Instead of what it already is – because, if it has anything to do with ‘already is,’ then why even bother retaining a defunct law that no one proposes to use? – in that sense 377 doesn’t have ‘real’ fire power as much as a symbolic value.

The question therefore turns to a consideration; what precisely constitutes a ‘symbolic’ value in the ‘public’ and ‘private’ sense? As the word ‘public’ implies, it’s a domain that belongs to everyone and could just as well mean your ‘right’ to insist that a chatterer switches off his phone in a cinema or the right to whip out your mobile phone and snap away at flashers, sexual harassers and fellators who regularly do a thriving trade of being ‘offensive’ in public – you see part of what we define as ‘privacy’ requires us to keep up pretense, even to the extent of insisting that certain ‘private’ stuff remain kept out from the ‘public’ domain – but for that sort of ‘agreement’ to perpetuate itself, it requires leitmotivs i.e a dominant and recurring theme that continues to define what’s acceptable from what’s frowned at.

No where is the salient aspects of ‘symbolism’ clearer than in TV, film and story books – here you can even say, there is even role reversal of what constitutes ‘public’ and ‘private’ – that’s why illicit affairs, incontinence, alcoholism, racism or even homosexuality is allowed form much of the narrative. Here the ‘symbolism’ even allows us to experience love, betrayal or even what it means to be gay, but only vicariously, as observers who are sufficiently distanced to remain safe. That’s the beauty about TV and film, the first compact which the ‘symbolism’ demands is the viewer doesn’t exist – now you know why actors never ever bother with making direct eye contact with their audience – if they did, the spell would be broken – the homily line in our head, that happily separates ‘private’ and ‘public’ would be breached – so long as they to the silent terms of the agreement, the status quo ante is preserved between actor and audience, writer and reader and even governments and citizenry.

It’s a stark reminder that since really serious exposure in the public is assumed to be an invasion of privacy, it would follow that a genuine public space is a place where every citizen is most welcome to tell the world, if he doesn’t slouch, he stands 2 inches taller. Or than Cole Han really knows every hidden bone on a woman’s feet and it even shows in her gait. Yes, but while you’re at it exposing yourself in this ‘public’ square, do be mindful that the purely private even if it happens to be jugular must be excluded, restricted – otherwise where would our truly ‘public’ sphere be? I wonder……no this article has no head or tail, it starts in the middle and ends roughly there as well….but what did you really expect from a discussion concerning 377A – did you even believe for one moment it could be seriously broached? Then you know you very little about what it means to be part of the “unbearable lightness of being,” you don’t know what it means to even be part of.

According to Kundera, “being” is full of “unbearable lightness” because each of us has only one life to live: “Einmal ist keinmal” ( “what happened once might as well have never happened at all”). Therefore, each life is ultimately insignificant; every decision ultimately does not matter. Since decisions do not matter, they are “light”: they do not tie us down. But at the same time, the insignificance of our decisions – our lives, or being – is unbearable. Hence, “the unbearable lightness of being”

From “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” / Kundera.

(By darkness & Harphoon / Socio – Political / State Craft / New Codex: 9902188270 – The Brotherhood Press)

  

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