377A – The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

October 23, 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the reads, Singapore Daily and The Online Citizen and in no time even you be a shade of pink  – should 377A be repealed?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Well as much as I like to believe the answer to whether 377 should stand or be repealed hinges on placing ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ on the scales of life, nothing can be further from the truth.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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