Sunday, December 30, 2007

My Small Skinny Singaporean Wedding, co-starring the ethics review board

I thought I had to update.

My examination results exceeded my expectations, and I am en route to graduating with a 2nd Upper Honours degree. They no longer call it "upper", because you will have a "lower" and no one wants a "lower" on their resume. They call it "2A" and "2B", but I think that doesn't help much. It is as good as saying you are a "A student" or a "B student". But that is how society judges your worth and decides what kind of rice you will be eating.

I seldom relate much about my life on this blog, but I guess putting down thoughts alone is nothing new or unique. Thoughts shouldn't be divorced from one's identity.

Any how, in 2008, I am going to tie the knot, not on the necks of gay-haters and the ethics review board, but as in doing an "Aaron Ng". Aaron, a senior in the communications and new media department, and probably the best/top student in his batch, got married after graduation. So, in the eyes of some, I am walking that treaded path. Hopefully, I can even be a part of the department either as a graduate student or a staff like him. Maybe the department, having the benefit of the presence of his mental sharpness, can also benefit from my insanity (they have enough normal people; what they need are wackos).

The lure and challenge of independence are one strong motivator, other than being married to someone you can consider a good buddy, best friend. Why can't Singaporeans marry early? Is early Singaporean marriage so disincentivised, institutionally and socially?

Times are good/bad now. Resale flats are being sold way above valuation. As a couple, we do not have riches in our pockets. It has been suggested that we go on "Deal or No Deal" to get the money for the downpayment and the cash upfront.

As for the wedding, we just want it small and simple, an accurate reflection of our personalities. In our minds, we are married. But no human being exists outside his/her body, which happens to inhabit a cultural space with cultural forces and expectations. Meanings and symbols have been ascribed to the companionship they call a matrimonial union, and it is an obgliation to follow them - a rites of passage expected of and for a wedded couple that exists in a social space. To me, being together is just a small piece of meat. In the eyes of society, it is a hamburger, because there's a sesame seed bun, lettuce, onions, cheese, ketchup, pickles and other what-nots. Our piece of meat is turned into a hamburger. So whose wedding is it supposed to be any way, ours or society's?

Any way, I have been really busy with my thesis. Writing. And also getting exasperated with the ethics review board.

It is because of "research ethics" concerns that my interviews cannot begin. In fact, they are pushed back by 5 weeks. I think it is going to be 6 weeks.

I just wished the board just told me what to do and what to write and how to conduct the interviews. They have kept it open-ended and asked me to fill the form myself, since it was my research. But the form was bounced back to me for updating. Why not cut the email exchanges and just tell me what you want to be filled in and how you want it to be done?

I asked how should I fill in the part about data storage (i.e. interview tapes and transcripts) and was told to keep it in a safe place. When I quizzed further, I was told to make sure it is secure. Hell, I don't never know what is the expected security protocol for interview material! So I wrote that it would be kept in the cupboard in my residence, if that is safe enough. The application bounced back and I was advised to keep it under lock and key in the NUS.

Some like their coffee black. Some like to have brown sugar. For me, I like my form-filling to have no frills.

The ethics review board probably consists of poor communicators, whose primary focus is some form of backside-covering exercise. Form-filling should be fuss-free and foolproof.

If the board requires a certain type of answer, a certain type of procedure and a certain type of protocol, they should clearly and firstly articulate it. I have spent about 2-3 weeks filling the form and spent the entire Decemeber waiting for the approval, and I am still waiting for it.

The organisation that employs the logic of the "reasonable man on the street" to determine sensitive issues in research foci, obvious lacks the qualities of the mythical and vague model they so subscribe to.

My honours thesis topic is "Sexual minorities in the Straits Times". Wow! Did you say gay or lesbian? That is sensitive! Unfortunately, my research is on news media representation.

My proposed Masters thesis is "Information Communication Technologies in Socio-religious spaces". I guess that is sensitive too, cause it has religion in it. Maybe the "reasonable man on the street" may deem it risky and dangerous, as the research might undermine social harmony and public peace.

If studying people and society is going to be moderated by the unclear demands and expectations of the ethics review board, I am serious wondering what will happen to such research in Singapore.

Imagine you're a barber. Your client sits down and says, "Just cut it short". You say, "How short?". He says, "Anything, as long as it is short". You the barber will wonder how to best cut your client's hair. You snip a bit, he will get impatient and tell you, "Shorter!". You cut too much, he may snap, "That's not what I wanted!"

Researchers have to contend with the ethics review board, for without the latter's approval, you cannot do any research. But do researchers deserve this?

If I am doing participant observation in the field (field as in fieldwork), must I throw ethics board approved consent forms in the air like it is the hungry ghost month? What about covert research and observation, such as observing certain peoples in their "natural habitat" doing their rituals? Will the researcher have to take out a 4-8 page protocol and read out the rights of his subjects (of observation) and other protocols?

Research ethics is as important consideration. But its mechanical implementation and application by the institution make it a lot less sensible. Moreover, it's implementation in the Arts and Social Sciences faculty seems to be rather oriented towards the hard sciences.

My interview research, which consists of mainly 6 questions, is in my opinion now being treated as if I am drawing blood and tissue samples from my subjects. We seem to be on equal (un)ethical footing. The waiting time has gone beyond my own personal datelines. I actually made a decision that by Christmas, I shall forgo the interview part of my research if I didn't get any approval.

Research should not revolve around an institution, its working style and its agenda. I personally cannot tolerate my time and efforts being extorted, and my research focus being bullied by the unclear demands of the organisation.

Yes, I feel bullied and I feel victimised. I was supposed to get all my interviews done by mid-December and write 75% of my thesis by New Year. I am only at the 50% mark now, without interview data. This is the reality of research. Research is shaped by funding, the powers and agenda behind the funding, and other organisations with other concerns, such as the ethics review board.

Maybe I should do a study on the presence of ethics review boards in educational institutions. I wonder if my research will be approved by the ethics review board.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Faithfully faithless

What do you call someone who doesn’t believe in any religion or any god(s)? What do you call someone who does not write “god” with a capital G?

Atheist? Faithless? Non-religious?

Irreligious? Ignorant? Misguided?

I believe that the faithless, just to label this group this once, are lesser privileged than the ones with faiths, belonging to state-recognised religious organisations.

The constitution protects some aspects of your identity, such as your skin colour, your culture and your religion. Is being faithless or having no religion considered a legitimate belief that will be protected by the constitution and law?

What happens when a faithless person is being labelled ignorant and misguided, and also have insinuations made about him/her not knowing the “truth”? To what extent is his/her esteem, psychological and emotional well-being taken care of? What if he/she feels lowly or guilty about his/her present condition?

If you said Christians/Muslims/Buddhists/Hindus are ignorant, you are promoting ill will against the particular group. If you do the same for faithless people, things are different. Firstly, the faithless are not seen as people, but as persons who are incapable of being organised or forming communities that the state will recognise.

Secondly, there are probably a lot less visible and a lot less processes and rituals that define the faithless person’s way of life.

Thirdly, faith itself appears not be play an integral part of a faithless person’s psyche and way of life. A person with subscriptions to a religion/faith is willing to die for his/her religion/faith. How likely is a person with no faith willing to die for his/her faithlessness? And how can this difference, if it exists, ever be articulated on the same playing field, in a system which protects faiths and not the faithless?

Does the willingness to die for a belief, or to organise a riot a community which subscribes to the belief, dictate the definition and degree of sensitivity for a particular faith community? Are we trying to say that the faithless are less sensitive and have lesser sensitive issues at hand, such that when hate speech is directed towards them, it is less likely to be considered a sensitive issue?

Do the faithless have lesser protection, hence lesser rights?

There are religious groups that are out to “save” people from their “ignorance”. That is not illegal.

What about active atheism, which seeks to “unconvert” the religious? That might be illegal, because it can cause social upheaval. When you talk about upheaval, I think of the analogy of the tree. On a piece of land they call Singapore, religious people are like trees that form rather deep roots into the ground, because the gardener gave these trees an abundance of fertiliser. The non-religious, or the faithless, are trees too, but are provided with lesser amounts of fertiliser, and will not develop roots as deep as the former trees. When the strong wind blows, the “faithless” trees will uproot and topple, but the soil isn’t messed up to a great extent. If the “religious” trees were to be uprooted, the soil will be all over the place and gaping holes will be left. The very privileges accorded to religious organisations in Singapore are the very source of oppression they exert on the social fabric, which is represented by the piece of land in the analogy. The “topple” of the faithless, on the other hand, does not qualify anywhere near “social upheaval”.

What about representation of faithless people? Are they properly and fairly represented?

Are the beliefs of faithless people being culturally and structurally impinged upon by the religious? Moreover, there are spaces for the rituals and practices for the religious. What about spaces for the faithless? Are there spaces for the faithless to articulate their beliefs and perhaps even do the equivalent of proselytisation?

I see religion and religious institutions as a function of the authoritarian government. Central authority with obedience centred about it. The development of these institutions is analogous to the development of central governance at state level, hence serving the central needs. In governance, there is power and hierarchy, and systems of reward, discipline and punishment to ensure the “status quo” is being maintained. The status quo itself consists the very central system that defines it. Therefore, some degree of protection is required for the domains and sub-domains that seek to upkeep the central system. There is thus the creation of an illusion of “shared” and “common values”.

This is also why I believe the Singapore government fears those with religion, more so than those without religion. There are great efforts to integrating the religious into the social fabric and efforts to integrate the faithless, if any, are a lot non-comparable.

Will a belief that rejects religion ever be recognised and respected as a belief, on equal footing as a religious belief in Singapore?

If we are a country that wants to talk about tolerance of beliefs and ideologies that may form integral aspects of our identity, can faithlessness be as equally incentivised as religiosity? After all, the faithless pose a great a threat to the social fabric as the religious, if not lesser. You do not see atheists gathering around some public domain or the internet calling for the heads of religious people who claim the existence of a supreme being, or crying foul that there are active campaigns to marketing religion, in the process impinging on the rights and spaces of the faithless.

I think it is very damaging to social cohesion when you have groups implying and accusing each other of worshipping false gods, being ignorant and unreceptive of the “truth”. And caught in the crossfire are the faithless, who probably have less of a voice to articulate their concerns, nevermind if society is ever interested in hearing them in the first place.

Since Singapore is a place where criticism is not tolerated, but solutions are welcomed, I believe religious organisations here should keep an open-door policy. You leave your doors open without sending out your salesmen. You make your materials available. Those who choose to have a faith or a religion, will do so voluntarily and with consent.

It is never a battle for space and supremacy. If it is so, just declare it.

Moreover, don’t give the faithless more respect; just give them equal respect.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

There is "I" in Patriarchy

One factor of homophobia is patriarchy.

Patriarchy is also the reason why women are seen to be less important as men.

The man is always the man. The woman is never the woman. She is a wife, mother, daughter (feel free to add “in-law”), but never woman. The woman is defined by her role, her function. Does she really have an identity?

The man is always defined as more active, while the woman is passive. The active sperm and the passive egg. The penetrator is the perpetrator and instigator, while the penetrated is the passive receiver. Orgasm seems to be mostly understood with respect to the male anatomy, shrouding the female orgasm in mystery and some degree of invisibility. That’s sex education for you. This causes some to believe that women are less sexual than men, or perhaps even asexual.

Even in discourses on homosexuality, there is male dominance. Gay sex takes precedence. Lesbian sex becomes shrouded in mystery, and perhaps invisibilised. Perhaps lesbian sex is just a myth, not a reality that society is willing to accept.

Is the real woman a myth?

Patriarchy may be the heaps of mud piled upon the people and things we observe and experience, adding layers of meaning framed accordingly to how it sees it.

Then again, patriarchy may be the reason why the mud is there is the first place to be piled upon the people and things we were about to observe and experience.

Then again, what if people and things didn’t exist at all, but we believe them to exist, no thanks to the mud.

Patriarchy is so ingrained into our consciousness that attempts to subvert it often lead to a reliance on its binary opposite. What if its binary opposite is a mere creation of patriarchy itself?

Patriarchy has its own logic and based on its logic, decisions are made; and based on decisions made, lives are affected.

Patriarchy paves the way for hetero/sexism (both sexism and heterosexism). There is no negotiating with the hetero/sexist mind and logic, even if one exploited its inherent limitations, ironies and paradoxes. Even language is patriarchal.

You try to subvert it. People will think you are crazy and attempt to reinstitutionalise you.

If we are prisoners, who tells us we are prisoners and who keeps us in prison? I believe it’s our minds, which are programmed with the patriarchal inscriptions and ascriptions provided by the social and institutional mechanisms and domains we have long interacted with. How do you beat that?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Singapore Dreamers Anonymous

Do you believe in the Singapore Dream?

Getting 5 or 6 C’s. Hardworking in early life. Letting your money work for you towards the end of your career. Retire at 60 or preferably earlier. Having children (2, 3, 4 or more if you could afford it) who will probably achieve more than you. Putting them in “good” primary schools.

The Singapore Dream is also about being carefree, apolitical and safe (because it’s apolitical).

In discourse, we are often wary of the dominance of and orientation towards the mostly Caucasian, mostly male, mostly middle-to-upper income, mostly middle-aged, entirely heterosexual model.

In the Singapore Dream, is it the same, minus the White Man?

Is the Singapore Dream meant for the person who’s mostly Chinese, mostly male, mostly middle-to-upper income, mostly middle-aged, entirely heterosexual, mostly English-educated (and bilingual), mostly apolitical and mostly a supporter of the ruling party? Well, these factors all contribute to a very healthy level of financial and emotional stability.

Is the Singapore Dream an opium, an addictive aspiration, a clever distraction for all of us?

Is it entirely material? Does material make us happy? What about rights and the wellbeing of others? Are rights and wellbeing part of the Singapore Dream? Maybe wellbeing, but what about rights? Some say if you have wellbeing, who cares about having rights?

Does the longevity of a particular brand of ruling which calls itself a democracy lead to a fulfillment of the Singapore Dream of the citizen? Is there a relationship in the first place?

What are the economic, cultural and political factors, mechanisms and conditions that motivate us to conceive of the Singapore Dream?

The presence of mechanisms that empower, with their positive results, may serve to invisibilise and disempower certain aspects of us, our identities and other aspirations; in order words, to oppress.

We have good and subsidised education to empower us with, among other things, social responsibility and civic consciousness (see obedience to the state). We chase the papers and certificates because the mechanisms have been in place for us to do so. Other talents, in the area of music and sport, are not emphasized.

If we failed in this system, we are compelled to be personally responsible because the infrastructure has long been established to help us. I see the same thing for health in Singapore. There are mechanisms (campaigns, subsidees) in place for healthy living and if you fall ill, it’s your fault. If you cannot find a job, it’s your fault too, because everything has been provided for you.

The Singapore Dream exists in a setting mostly often described as meritocratic. Provide the same mechanisms for everyone and let them thrive on their own. It is perhaps the very same system that results in and exacerbates the inequalities we are facing in our society.

Is compassion and graciousness part of the Singapore Dream? Do they precede the material aspirations that so dominantly define the dream? Or are they, along with other intangibles, only considered after the Singapore Dream is fulfilled? How can the “values” of meritocracy be reconciled with the notions of compassion and graciousness?

I think the Singapore Dream is the middle-income curse. The middle-income person may not harbour the Singapore Dream, but may be judged by others who subscribed to it. You are deemed “successful” and “happy” not because you believe it and live it, but because others have labelled you so.

The lower income group wishes to be more stable. The middle-income is too busy chasing the Singapore Dream. The upper-income is either contented or desire higher positions of power and comfort. So is there space for rights, charity, and wellbeing for all in our society?

You do not merely “unsubscribe” the thing called the Singapore Dream. It is more than just a dream or an aspiration. It’s a structure that affects you in every possible way. It tells you who you are and allows others to judge you.

The Singapore Dream reveals more. It makes us believe, among many other myths, that financial stability comes at the expense of rights and it is incompatible to desire for both. The Singapore Dream obscures certain realities, some we take for granted and others we were not even aware existed. For one, the Singapore Dream doesn’t deal with the free and fearless articulation or expression of opinion.

Ultimately, Singaporeans want to be happy, but their happiness is framed by the Singapore Dream. What can we do about it?

Monday, December 10, 2007

What the cluck?!

Is a Singaporean capable of transcending his/her reality?

I read in the New Paper today about the law undergraduate who decided to wear red and walk to the Shangri-La hotel to support some democratic cause for Myanmar. Yes, I read the New Paper, mainly for sports and the occasional celebrity gossip.

It seems that we have developed a culture where it is deemed hazardous, risky and dangerous to hold a political belief and stand up for it, or even articulate it. We risk losing our comforts and privileges, or so we fear.

If this undergraduate was jailed for disobeying the officer-on-duty, what would become of his education and employability? On the other hand, what harm could he have caused any way?

I think most of us lucky bunch are well-fed like chickens in a farm. We are fed so fat that we feel comfortable with the food, but the obesity-inducing comfort itself prevents us from understanding what the farm is all about or looking beyond the farm itself.

You have a job. You have children or parents to take care of. Will you be crazy enough to hold a political belief that is not expected of you to hold? Will you be crazy enough to fight for a cause like human rights?

You have your flat. You have your steady income. You have a healthy number of friends and relatives who care about you. So why fight for rights?

You have a computer you bought with your money. Why do things that may result in it being confiscated by the secret police? Any way, who does the secret police protect? The citizen or the state?

There’s another set of questions in another domain. Why should these comforts be compromised when you fight for rights? Who is compromising them for you?

In our land, skinny chickens are the least visible. For the fat ones that hop up and down to see beyond the farm’s fences, they are either taken away to be fed more, so they wouldn’t be able to hop as high, or their food privileges are taken away, so they are too weak to hop at all. For those chickens that cluck too loudly, they are either taken good care of with more food so they would be contented enough to shut up, or they’ll probably be slaughtered and never to be seen again.

What makes me wonder is the real purpose of having the farm of chickens and the need to feed the chickens so fat that they see no incentive to do something “funny”.

If there really is a farm with its seemingly flawless feeding mechanism, is there any way to transcend the farm?

The skinniest chickens, plus the not so healthy ones, will be more concerned with having more feed. They will never bite the hand that feeds, nor question the feeder.

There also seems to be some efforts to feeding the decent ones to the point of obesity such that there is no incentive for this particular bunch of chickens to do anything else. Higher levels of comforts are achieved through such feeding that the removal or a dip in standard will be considered a huge sacrifice and loss on the part of the chicken.

As for the fatter ones, they’re just continually being fed. This way, they, like the skinny ones, do not only not question the feeder, but also continue to praise it, contributing to the sustenance of the farm.

Can the chicken ever look beyond its feeder, and its farm? Will it ever be able to question the source of its feed? Can the chicken be less fearful of the farm? Can the chicken hold some beliefs that are different from that of the farm? Is the chicken farm being run for the chickens (by the chickens)?

Is it wrong for a group of chickens to gather together and hop around? Why should the chicken ask the farm for permission to hop and look beyond the fence?

Okay. Let's not stretch the logic. It's time for dinner.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Law reform to balance rights and obligations

(Unpublished - Dec 6, 2007)

Law reform to balance rights and obligations

Dear Editor,

I refer to Kumaralingam Amirthalingam’s article ‘Balancing evidence and rhetoric in law reform’ (ST, Nov 5).

Kumaralingam has pointed out the rhetoric, distractions and digressions that hinder law-making. Perhaps some solutions could be proposed in light of his critique.

There should not only be greater public education on myths surrounding homosexuality and combating the taken-for-grantedness and intolerance confronting sexual minorities, but also meaningful efforts to confront the inertia towards a better understanding of sexual identity and sexually transmitted diseases.

This inertia is galvanised by religious and moral rhetoric, which may neither be representative of the beliefs of the entire population, nor a proper reflection of, and in truthful correspondence with existing information and discourses.

We should also arrest the problem in which some people would utilise any available means of justification to disincentivise and discriminate against fellow Singaporeans, such as the moral rhetoric of universal morality and that laws are a reflection of societal values, apparatuses which threaten the diversity that defines our society.

The law should continue to uphold the balance of rights accord to citizens and the obligations expected of them fairly across the entire population, regardless of differences in identity.

Ho Chi Sam

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Let's celebrate diversity

(unpublished - Nov 29, 2007)

Let's celebrate diversity

Dear Editor,

I read with interest Yeo Chow Khoon's letter 'No one aspect of a person's identity should be allowed to overshadow all the others" (ST, Nov 29).

I agree with Yeo that there are many aspects and types of identities that have to be appreciated.

It is however still common and habitual that us human beings tend to simplify our experiences, to achieve a comfortable level of sense-making and congruency with whatever political, religious, cultural and class ideologies and predispositions we subscribe to. In the process, we take for granted diversity and existing differences, whether of the subtle or the obvious.

When we label, classify and pigeonhole certain peoples, we are engaging in a struggle for power. By labelling people, some will fall in minority groups, some will be less visible and some will even be treated with animosity. This in turn influences how society views and treats certain groups.

One example is the continual criminalisation of consensual private homosexual sexual activity, which sustains the privilege of heterosexual peoples over homosexual peoples. This is complicit in the rarely addressed stigmitisation of homosexuality, the often misunderstandable and over-estimated notion of the "gay lifestyle", as well as the perpetuation of homophobia in Singapore. What is worse is that many do not regard homosexuality as an aspect of a homosexual person's identity, but think of it as wrong, sinful, immoral or harmful.

Hate and intolerance are thus legitimised by such social and institutional systems and mechanisms.

We may meaningfully celebrate and dutifully maintain our differences with the establishment and sustenance of socio-religious and cultural boundaries, but these need not constitute burning bridges and alienating other communities.

In fact, we should be encouraged and empowered by our social, cultural and religious circles and communities to embrace diversity. Is the embracement of diversity in a society like Singapore constructive or destructive?

Let us start thinking about integration, not ostracism and discrimination.

Ho Chi Sam

Friday, November 30, 2007

It's I who build (Singaporean) community; It's me who build (Singaporean) episteme.

Here is a very lame riddle: What is more reactive than a nuclear process?

Answer: The Singaporean.

Ok that is lame, bordering on irrelevance. But I believe we are truly a reactive society.

By "reactive", I say it with respect to "active" and "pro-active". And "active"-ness (such activity) is defined with respect to the civic domain, which includes civic responsibility, consciousness and ideology.

We act when people complain, when people get injured, when people lose something dear to them, when people die. You are free to insert "important" before the word "people".

Things must happen in order for change to effect.

I always believe in two ways of learning, which is divided into two tiers of explanation.
1. There are two ways of learning: instruction or experience.
2. There are two ways of learning: you live to learn, or you die learning.

Instruction often comes in peaceful times, wherein we take the comfort, safety and security for granted. Hence, instruction too is taken for granted and not treated seriously, until a horrid/life-changing experience is encountered will the person/people learn.

You are encourage not to smoke near while you are pregnant because of some possible ill effects on your child. You continue to smoke and your child may not be born healthy or "normal". Here, instruction is ignored, while experience takes over. In the end, you learn, the hard way.

The same thing goes for the placement of shelves and items along the five-foot walkway at the groundfloor of a shop/flat, not too far from where I am living. These pose a threat to fire safety (fire safety sounds like an oxymoron). There have been warnings given to the shopowner. Two persons died in a fire. The town council and the shopowner are both responsible.

Another attitude most of us possess, which I find utterly disgusting, is the almost "holier-than-thou" reliance on hindsight. 20-20 hindsight is the vision. "We/they should have ...". "If only we/they could have ...".

People begin talking like experts. Then change is effected upon the experience of losses and costs.

Why can't change be effect upon the experience of gain, in peaceful times?

Why must lives be lost and blood be shed for things to change? Are we truly too numb and dumb to anticipate trouble/loss/cost in peaceful times?

Maybe the government has a good mechanism for the anticipiation of trouble/loss/cost in these times of peace. After all, their political power and legitimacy have to be sustained at all times. Hence, there are laws that regulate the constitution, wherein the Singapore citizen has to obtain a license to exercise his/her constitutional right (of peaceful assembly and free speech). There are also controls on the media, which is viewed as inherently evil and thus require the guidance of the wise and righteous state (compare this with the American press system where the government is viewed as inherently evil and thus require the watchdog that is the media, which acts on behalf of the people).

How does the establishment of mechanisms which favour the sustenance and (maybe) growth of the government's political legitimacy, affect the balance of rights and obligations of the citizens? Do citizens have fare more obligations to state and society, outweighing the rights they are accorded in the first place?

Five dragon-boaters died. With or without life-vests, fingers will still be pointed and "should/could have"s will be iterated. Everyone becomes an expert or an analyst. Now, change will be in effect, socially and institutionally. But we need not go overboard with change to the point it affects logic and defies rationality.

For example, I have heard that one medical/science student injected a subject without accurately/sufficiently informing the subject the content of the injection. The ethics review board in the National University of Singapore came in full swing. Now they want everyone to be accountable for their research, namely involving human contact.

It is where Arts and Social Sciences students like myself are affected. The definitions of "sensitive" and "risky" are determined centrally by a 12-man board, who will act like the "reasonable man" on the street. I guess no woman is reasonable then. More unfortunate is the lack of transparency with how they would define the measure of a "reasonable man", netiher defined are the out-of-bound markers and topics which are deemed "sensitive" and "risky" to the professional, physiological and psychological well-being of an ordinary human being.

I am given the impression the thick layers of bureaucracy only exist because of something that previously happened. The implementation is not purposefully nor meaningfully done, but done so mechanically, to clock the hours, meet the quota and expectations set by another higher-up and the higher-up's higher-up. This thus borders on, if not trangresses, logic, reasonability and rationality. The purpose of leaving no stone unturned seems to have a mechanical motivation, wherein the idea of thoughtfulness is questionable. All because we suffered the embarrassment of a malpractice/unethical practice of a medical/science student.

Pro-active or active proposals for changes may fall on deaf ears. When something happens, change will be effected. Can we do something about this?

Well, it is not entirely wrong if change is effected after an incident. But let us not mechanically apply change just to "cover the backside". Do it meaningfully and purposefully, while holding a healthy degree of respect for rationality and reason.

Moreover, an incident may not also necessitate a change, nor signal an inadequacy in the existing structure. But most unfortunately, people are hard to please, and they complain, demanding changes. Are these meaningful?

I am not encouraging Singaporeans to be less reactive, more (pro-)active, but we should just think a little bit more about what we are demanding before we actually demand it.

I leave you with the malapropistic statement (and quoted out of context):

"Lead the way, and we'll precede."

Thursday, November 29, 2007

What's up with the forum?

Is there something wrong with the Straits Times forum?

How newsworthy are the letters? People supporting/praising the establishment, not that that is a bad thing. A man recounting his bad experience with acupuncture. Another talk about choosey young HDB flat owners.

Does the dip in quality of letters have any correlation with the time of the year? Is there nothing much to talk about in the last couple of months of the year?

I may be wrong, but I think that as the year reaches an end, most of the regular writers to the Straits Times forum are no longer published, given if the myth of maximum 3 publications per person per year holds true.

The Straits Times has no obligation to any letter-writer and I guess even if there is a quota, a quota is still necessary, because people will think the frequent publishment of letters by particular writers informs of some bias. To eliminate any suspicion, a quota is thus justified.

Unfortunately, it will always be a mysterious organisation, just like some/many/most/all (pick one) government organisations. The media agency acts on public interest and for nation-building, yet it is not transparent with its journalistic protocol, guidelines and editorial policy.

You represent the public, yet you do not provide the public with these information. You want to be socially responsible, yet you do not serve society with the information of your dealings and policies. You do not mention what are the OB markers. Public interest primarily revolves about transparency. Is there transparency?

Has the definition of "public interest" been perverted by this newspaper?

Has the definition of "truth" been perverted by this newspaper? Who's truth are we following?

I would love to know the entire written, unwritten, spoken and unspoken editorial policy of the Straits Times and Singapore Press Holdings. I am a member of the public. This is my interest. What is going to happen?

It is a paper we all see/read everyday, yet we know so little about what goes on behind it.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

New Media Regulation

There's this open call for bloggers who are interested in submitting a bottom/ground-up report to influence policy on new/internet media content regulation. That is a good move. It is good that people from the ground are actively in dialogue with the higher-ups.

One mentality that most of us can play down, or perhaps do away with, is treating the government like the enemy. Discourse becomes skewed and in the interest of fairness, why not treat the government as a friend? Maybe I'll discuss that in future entries.

I believe the main question is: How should internet media be regulated?

Beneath this question is a host of other questions:

1) To what extent should internet media content be regulated?

2) To what extent should the difference between regulation of mainstream media and internet media be?

3) Should regulation strive to strike a balance between rights and obligations? And who is best to decide what constitutes a balance?

4) What kind of regulation is best for an environment/space that consists of various interests from various domains?

I for one, argue against the centralisation of media regulation to encompass both "old" and new media. Although centralised regulation may unequivocally establish a common set of regulatory codes for all media domains, and the implementation of which is straightforward and easily understood with minimal confusion, how does this affect the larger range of interests that exist in new media?

In mainstream media in Singapore, there are certain interests that exist. Nation-building is one. Social responsibilities and civic consciousness, leading to peace and harmony, are another (which necessitates the occasional reporting of "good news" for various demographics in the population). Political legitimacy may be another, although some people will not think so. Economic and commercial sustenance is of course an important reason too, and of course, to sustain, you have to be a "good boy" (pardon the gender bias).

In new media, where the ordinary person is the content creator, there are a lot more interests out there other than the ones I have mentioned. Civil causes for example. Citizen journalism, as some netizens would like to call it. People like myself who like to share our opinions are also part of this space - the self-interested. So what kind of regulation is best to accomodate these diverse interests?

Notice I use the word "accomodate". I do not say "discipline", "punish" or "control". The existing mainstream media content regulation tends towards this end. What will happen to civil rights and diverse interests of society if media regulation is centralised? Should we then have a different set of regulatory codes for new media?

I believe we should have a different set of regulatory codes for new media, namely internet media. The law should always keep its finger on the pulse of society and technology. Instead of trying to broadly cover as many aspects of society and life under one common code or statute, regulation of media content for example should be multi-tiered and separately developed to accomodate the changes in technology and the different domains of media and emerging new media.

Horses for courses. The approach should be a horses for courses one. You need to have specific regulatory codes to cater to different domains of media, each consisting differing interests from different segments of society. You may ask, how can we then accomodate differing interests and social responsibility? What if these interests are not considered socially responsible interests? Any way, who is going to decide this?

When you are "given" more rights in the form of being a content creator on a blog, what are the obligations expected of you? Since the ordinary folk does not have the privilege/right to voice his/her opinions on a daily basis through the Straits Times, there are not many obligations expected of him/her. But eliminate the gatekeeper and you have now direct access to audiences and consumers of media. The content creator now directly faces the market of differing interests.

I may not push for a centralised regulatory system, but neither do I push for self-regulation. If the market handled itself, the internet media will be ruled and decided by the educated elite, the technologically savvy and the eloquent. It will become what it was principally against should there be self-regulation. Self-regulation may not be entirely for social responsibility, depending on which side you are looking from.

In the short run, self-regulation may work, because people from the ground should have a say in establishing some preliminary framework for how cyberspace content can (not) be regulated. In the long run, a fluid regulatory system is required, something that can change to accomodate changes in technology. If we are going to have tele-hologram conferencing and advertising as part of new media in the future, we should create a new set of regulatory codes for this particular medium and refrain from trying to broaden the definitions and jurisdiction of existing media regulatory codes.

It is kind of ironic that we are not "taking the pragmatic approach" to this issue. I thought that is the mantra of Singaporean leaders. If you want to take the pragmatic approach, use the horses for courses approach.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Ethics Review Board

I have to write this.

One thing that irks me the most is paperwork. We spend most of our lives trying to meet the criteria, expectations, limitations and measures set by people and institutions that do not ultimately treat us the way we want to be treated.

I am doing my research on sexual minority representation in the Straits Times. Research involves the usual literature review, content analysis of the Straits Times and some interviews to get some insight and expert opinion. The application for ethics review (exemption) I have submitted was deemed to have insufficient information. I claim to be "insufficiently" informed.

The National University of Singapore (NUS) has this research ethics review board that ensures all research are ethically conducted, without harm to human subjects. There has to be minimal risk, which is defined as “the probability and magnitude of harm or discomfort anticipated in the research are not greater in and of themselves than those ordinarily encountered in daily life or during the performance of routine physical or psychological examinations or tests”.

I am only doing a handful of interviews, with the help of audio-tape recording. Is getting opinion of other people and having the consent to publish them risky or harmful? Everyone is entitled to their opinion, aren’t they?

There are apparently a series of procedures to store, secure and dispose the data (wherever appropriate). If anonymity is requested, the contact details of the interviewee will be recorded separately on a different paper/source and later disposed. That is how it is supposed to go.

You see, I have been informed my application for exemption from review (I am extracting any blood or fluid, nor injecting anything into my interviewees, hence the application for exemption) is incomplete and lacks the details required by the board. I am at a lost here because the words in the forms are either too broad or too scientific. I believe the board should include a more customisable application form to incorporate social science research methods, such as interviews and ethnography, and their relevant protocols. For example, if interviews are going to be done, a checklist should be prepared for researchers to follow. At least details that are required by the board can be iterated in this checklist. If they want “everything”, what is “everything”?

“I keep the interview tapes in a 10 by 5 inch wooden box, locked up and kept under my bed in my room in a flat in Hougang.” Does that constitute “everything”?

On top of my dislike for form-filling, I would like to declare my dislike of ethics review boards. It is a good thing to ensure that human beings are firstly not physically or psychologically harmed. Next, their jobs and reputation should not be affected too. After that, they deserve the degree of confidentiality they demand. Academia, and especially so in the arts and social sciences, is about finding out the “truth”, whether the “truth” comes from the ordinary folk or the expert.

I have been told my topic is potentially sensitive, because it deals with sexual minorities and I am seeking opinions from interviewees on this. I see no harm in having an opinion. If you wish to express it and want to be anonymous, it is up to the researcher to ensure that anonymity. If the interviewee is thoroughly briefed and later consents to being quoted, the research is ethical. Why should the researcher abide by a “research ethics” guideline inspired by the hard sciences?

It is in my honest opinion, that the ethics review board in NUS does not treat arts and social science research as seriously as the hard sciences, and we hence have either vague demands or too science-oriented checklists and protocols. Vague questions with vague words. There are no checklists/protocols for surveys, interviews, ethnographic work and so on, yet these are demanded on the researcher by the board. Details of the demands are also not clearly articulated.

Here are my questions:

1) What do you think of GLBTQ representation/reports/news in the Straits Times?

2) Do you believe there is a conscious/deliberate effort by the Straits Times to present such news/reports in a certain manner?

3) Do you believe alternative media has any effect on the Straits Times reporting on GLBTQ issues?

4) [If applicable] What are your personal beliefs towards GLBTQ people and issues?

5) [If applicable] In your best judgement, what is the percentage of homosexual people, and women in the newsroom?

6) [GLBTQ person/rights activist] How is your relationship with the Straits Times?

The data I intend to gather will consist of opinions, perceptions and experiences. If having an opinion, a perception or an experience is so dangerous, risky and harmful, it might not be articulated or expressed in the first place by the interviewee (after the interviewee is briefed, of course).

Ethics review boards kill academia and research in arts and social science. It is not about the researchers who apply and go through the reviews; it is about those who got fed up with the bureaucracy and rigidity and walked away from the research. To remedy this, since Singapore is a place where solutions are preferred over criticism, we should have a specialised ethics review board for arts and social sciences, instead of a centralised committee which is rather science-oriented, although they probably may not want to admit that.

I am completely and utterly disgusted and incensed.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The rap, the smoke, the island and the PSLE

These are the following issues that I have strong intentions to write to the Straits Times forum. But since they have been rejecting every letter I have sent them after October 17, I guess Straits Times has put a stop to Ho Chi Sam's letters. Perhaps it is true the quota of 3 print publications is not really a myth, but then again, is there a quota for the online forum?

1. The MDA rap is creative. You cannot take that away from them. But if you think doing rap and using a certain sub-culture to reach out to youths are a good idea, think again. If you want to reach out to youths, just talk to them not talk down to them. Not every youth likes hip-hop and rap any way.

2. Congratulations that smoking is down. But the health promotion board shouldn't be patting the backs of campaigners. Ads and campaigns, being the "pull" factors, should not be considered the top reasons why smoking is down among youths. Cigarettes are costlier and harder to obtain these days thanks to law enforcement on sellers. Access, or the lack of, is a strong "push" factor. Let us not just pick one correlate and assume it's the mother of all determiners/causality.

3. Pedra Branca reveals something about Singapore that its neighbours find not exactly appealing. The little "brother" in the ASEAN family may be one of the most advanced, but following by the book, cold and clinical, doesn't endear you to your neighbourhoods. It is not wrong. What Singapore does is NEVER wrong. We stand for the "truth", we keep to our word most of the time. Maybe being "not wrong" all the time can be a wrong in other people's eyes. International relations are choppy waters. As for Singapore wanting to be loved, yet wanting to do things like we don't owe any one a living, there should be some negotiation between the two. Let's hope the issue is resolved and both countries are still the friends they'd like to think they are.

4. The Singapore Dream starts with the PSLE, but it doesn't end there. Examination certificates are just passports to take to the next destination, but that destination is not the final destination. Some take limousines, while others take the non-airconditioned bus. What matters is that the vehicle continues moving and takes you to the desired destination. Even if you do not get to your destination, that very destination may just be another journey to another destination and so on.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Straight Thoughts on 377A (Part 7)

Straight Thoughts on 377A: Straight-Gay Alliance

I learnt about this term, the Straight-Gay Alliance, SGA or GSA, from one sociology module earlier in the year. The term was further reiterated by the story of Dr Khoo Hoon Eng, a person invited to speak during the course.

Khoo is a mother of two gay sons. She said her two sons coming out of the closet had initially put her into her own closet. She had to come to terms with them being gay.

Her story aside, Khoo is also being a little GSA in the Faculty of Medicine in the National University of Singapore. Well, this alliance is probably just a support group to integrate sexual minorities into the environment.

Thing is, why is it so difficult to have GSAs elsewhere in Singapore? They may be both formal and informal. Even for someone like myself, taking a stand and making public my thoughts, constitutes a GSA.

In more formal GSAs, members share stories and provide support for one another, in the hope of increasing awareness and empathy (not sympathy) for sexual minority folk.

The greatest strength in GSAs is straight participation and representation. Straight people will have access to certain communities and peoples that gay persons do not, because of heterosexist socio-cultural/religious gatekeeping. The message of accepting sexual minorities is not merely spread and upheld by gay persons alone but by straight people too.

The greatest strength in the GSA is also its greatest weakness. Straight people do not and will probably never understand gay people and tend to sympathise more than empathise. Straight men in GSAs too may have the tendency to overemphasize their heterosexuality, in order to combat the stigmatism of aligning oneself with the advocacy for gay rights. Well, we see that most straight supporters of gay rights are often women; just look at SAFE Singapore, a community set up by Khoo, to “support, affirm, and empower” gay persons.

What makes men less willing to support gay rights? Men are egoistic, and more so in a patriarchal spaces, like that of Singapore’s, or are they not? Straightness is incorporated in the masculine identity, and so is heterosexism. And perhaps “deviant” sexual identities pose a threat to heterosexist male dominance.

Does that make women more willing to support gay rights? I believe women are more able to empathise with sexual minorities than men. Women know what it like is to be oppressed and be subjugated to male dominance, and they have history to back that. Anything that challenges the dominance of the traditional male patriarchal ideology and image has to be dealt with. Patriarchal institutional mechanisms will have to be set in place to ensure this dominance continues.

Then what makes women unwilling to support gay rights? I believe there are many reasons, and most of them could be explored in further detail in other discourses. A woman who subscribes to traditional gender roles and behaviours, will be less gay-accepting. Such an ideological subscription informs of the woman’s subscription to patriarchy, for patriarchy is one prime determiner and gatekeeper of these tradition gender roles and behaviours.

Here’s another link to consider, are religion and religious institutions the perpetrators of patriarchal norms? Just look at how sexuality is being taught and disciplined according to religious doctrine. Are the sexuality of women and children less pronounced/present than that of men?

Actually, why are monotheistic religions so concerned about sexuality when there are famines, wars, poverty and other socio-political issues out there in the world that could be addressed with greater gusto? My guess is that sexuality, being a very personal trait, is also vulnerable to ideological manipulation and the inculcation of guilt into the individual. When the individual feels guilt, he/she is more willing to submit to the institution, for the sake of acceptance and integration.

When the gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender individual feels guilt, after hearing “you are immoral, wrong, sinful…” from someone else, he/she will seek ways to integrate himself/herself into the group. This is of course assuming he/she desires social acceptance.

In some communities, little or no social acceptance can have impact on the financial, psychological and physiological well-being of the individual. Social mechanisms such as excommunication and ostracism can cause great distress.

Religion, again, is not wrong, but neither is it universally right. So don’t go around hating religion. Religion is upheld by faith and you cannot dispute another person’s faith, because it goes beyond rationalisation. But having a faith does not mean it puts you on higher ground than others; having a faith does not give you the right to conquer the minds of people around you.

Faith is to believe. If you believe in unity, you will subscribe to a religious institution, with its ideologies, that preaches unity. In the same social space that is Singapore, we have gay-rejecting churches as well as gay-accepting churches. The gay-accepting churches are symbolic of the GSA.

A GSA may not need to actively seek to promote or push the “gay agenda”, but may continue to attempt to integrate persons and peoples of diverse identities. This is not for the sake of tokenism in the politics of representation, and neither is it a passive-aggressive reaction to the rigid structures of its less gay-affirming counterparts.

A straight man aligning himself with the advocacy of equal rights for sexual minorities, does not represent a clash of interests, for interests themselves in a society are inherently clashing. What you see as a clash of interests, I see as a co-existence of diverse interests. Now give that man a religion, and you may still think it will be a clash of interests. But is rigid and uncompromising coherence with ideology the only way to live?

“Think about the children!” most will say. A couple of centuries ago, we weren’t thinking about the children. Children were just little adults. With industrialisation and modernisation, division and specialisation of labour, the notion of “children” has become what we come to know today.

Are children easily swayed? Are they impressionable? If you treat an adult like a child, restrict him of the “adult” privileges, consent, decision-making rights, will he/she behave like how we will perceive children to behave? I believe we have a lot of mechanisms to discipline and restrict children, just to abide by the current notion of “children” we innately subscribe to.

In that sense, are we trying to say children have no identity? Do children have less of an identity than us adults? Are they truly incapable of being responsible until they are finally 16, 18 or 21, or are we just ascribing that to them?

It seems that our understanding of children is dominated by certain ideologies, which in turn increases homophobia. True enough, children deserve protection from assault and non-consensual acts/exchanges, but that is no different from any one else. What makes it look “worse” informs of how we see children in modernity. We see them as innocent. Does that mean society goes by the mantra “you are innocent until you are socialised”?

Is a child’s right to know less valid than an adult’s right to know? By preaching homophobia and making hate speech against sexual minorities to children, are adults/parents spinning the wheel of misinformation?

Let’s talk about youngsters who are trying to understand or come to terms with their sexual identity. Well, you could simply tell them, “This is wrong, immoral and sinful!” because it’s either very convenient to do so, or you cite the ideology you subscribe to. Either way, are you actually being responsible for what you are saying? Or are you letting ideology take the responsibility instead?

Being well-adjusted does not mean you tolerate anything and everything. There is a logical base for your tolerance and acceptance of aspects of your social environment. I believe gay men and lesbian women should not only have equal rights, but also be allowed to marry and adopt children. This is based on the reason that since they abide by the law like I do, I do not see why they cannot enjoy the same rights as I possess.

Sure, their existence and identities pose a threat to some rigid ideological systems and structures, but not all, whose claims to universality are contestable and thus questionable. But what other harm do these human beings do to us?

Let’s now embrace the psyche of a homophobe. One harm a homophobe will see is the identity corruption of youngsters by gay people, luring them into homosexual or deviant sexual experimentation. Before we confront this, we need to first note how human beings are. For phenomena deemed harmful and threatening to status quo, people will subscribe to ideas in line with the powerful effects theory, where all phenomena are highly influential, and thus corrupting. For harmful phenomena that are believed to be controllable, faith is placed in the right-thinking agent/person.

Don’t show Elvis below the waist because he is corrupting the morals of our youths.

Don’t show the (woman’s) ankles because women should not be loose.

Don’t show the woman’s ears because men are easily tempted by this erogenous body part.

Revealing the (woman’s) shoulders is unnatural, just like putting a straw in your nose.

The most well-adjusted people are people existing in a homogenous society, simply because there is nothing to adjust to, no difference or tension to reconcile or negotiate with. But bad news for you, society is diverse and people who cannot accept that will continue with their tribalistic tendencies and lean on the pillars of their own moral communities. The more you lean on it, the more unwilling you are to accept the fact there exist other peoples and other moral pillars.

If I’m a dad, I wouldn’t want my child to be gay not because I do not accept homosexuality (I do, actually), but because society does not accept homosexuality. I do not want to see my child suffer emotionally thanks to society and there’s nothing one parent or two can do about it. Society/people makes you responsible, but you cannot make society/people responsible. Every human being, according to some supposedly universal code called fundamental human rights, does not deserve to suffer, and more so suffer for something not within his/her control.

“Well, let’s repair and straighten the gay!” the homophobe will say. My response to that, if there is no bit of guilt impregnated into the individual, go ahead. But I believe that the situation is a rather of the Shakespearean Merchant of Venice kind, wherein if Shylock could get one pound of flesh from some Italian guy, but without a drop of blood being spilled.

Imagine telling a gay person “gay is wrong”. For those who don’t tell you to “fuck off”, there are some who feel hurt and guilty by what you say. When I was told “You are Chinese, speak Chinese (actually it’s Mandarin, one of many Chinese dialects, my dear Chinese supremist)”, I feel hurt and guilty too. I wanted to try hard to assimilate and fundamentally, to pass my exams. Now I learnt something important, it’s not what people think of you that matters. It is how you grow up and develop an identity you can be proud of, no matter what disincentives and snide remarks your environment throws at you. They don’t bother you any more because you have accepted them for who they are, and it is their own business to figure out themselves if they have accepted you for you cannot change how they think. Such a reflection does not merely require a mirror, but also a pair of eyes to see. You can be the Chinese authority and show the endangered panda bears television clips of other panda bears procreating, but all the panda bear sees is white noise and lines. “That’s so straw-up-the-nose, bro!”

To be the S in the GSA, all you have to do is to stand up against the hate speech and misinformation. You resist spreading it because it stops at you. You need not actively spread other ideologies. Your parents told you something, it may stop at you and you may not tell the same thing to your children. Not saying anything does not make you less responsible.

Singaporeans have too many reasons to hate, to find fault, to grumble. If the reasons already existed, why not use them? What’s worse is that we do not actively seek reasons to stop these. We see ourselves as incapable. The government sees us as incapable, thus irresponsible, hence the need for a nanny or a guiding hand.

Does 377A make you comfortable? Does the absence of 377A make you comfortable? If you are intent on ideological/moral dominance over others, perhaps you would like to maintain some apparatuses and mechanisms to make yourself look good. Any change to this will upset you because you lose a little bit of control. But the thing is, why control others?

Do making sexual minorities more acceptable make you less acceptable? It’s not a zero sum game. Does being part of a GSA “otherise” you, making you less of who you are? Think about it and start doing something about homophobia in our society. We do not need this disease. “Homophobia is wrong, immoral and is a perversion”. What you think about that?

Woman, Caucasian man and two students

I think the storm came and went, pertaining to the incident involving the woman, her caucasion companion and two young women.

Singaporeans are very highly strung. One bump and a host of issues will crop up. We have so much stress and aggression in us that any little engagement may constitutes instigation. There are also other predispositions that will surface - racism and xenophobia.

It does not help our xenophobia much in light of increased immigration and the presence of foreign talents. Moreover, the common (though not entirely true) belief that foreigners will steal our jobs and lovers are sure to raise more negative sentiments against them.

Singaporean Chinese, now being the majority, are more vocally racist and xenophobic. Thing is, what are they/we trying to defend themselves/ourselves from? There is still a lot of intolerance in most of us, but again, in a space like Singapore, people do not tolerate intolerance, and if you do, you get left behind.

Intolerance leads to isolation, but it's the intolerant who actually gets isolated.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

CMIO system CMI (cannot make it)

I have a few posts lining up, but have yet to publish them.

Here's a quick one.

The PSLE results were out today. The press has reported it. But what has continually caught my attention is the use of "best Chinese", "best Malay", "best Indian" and "best Eurasian" students. Same goes for Ordinary Levels too.

Why do we want to reinforce racial differences? Are we trying to appease major segments of the population with good news? There are Malay-Indian, Chinese-Malay, Chinese-Eurasian children out there. Do they get represented?

I do hope this pigeonhole-ing of children and performance can be reduced in the future. This to me is communal politics, identity politics, singling out and using role models from each ethnic community to bring good news. I am sure, among the "Malays", there are people of Arab and Javanese descent. Why not break down the dialect groups of the Chinese and say "best Hokkien" or "best Haka" student? And the Indians too have a large diversity of dialect groups. Do we have "best Sikh" student?

How do we draw the line for racial good news? The more we are reminded about our ethnic identity, the more we are aware of it and this is a double-edged sword. Will it help racism, ethnocentrism and xenophobia? I doubt so. This system still upholds the CMIO system of classifying our fellow Singaporeans. We can do without it. We can be happy together without it.

As for ethnic "quotas" in public housing, it will then seem that wherever an ethnic minorities resides, they will still be a numerical minority, which translate to a voting minority. Are they ultimately truly represented? Enough said about that.

The majority Chinese-dominated population should not treat ethnic minorities like minorities, but like their own. But the reinforcement of ethnic identity via the press and such CMIO-classification apparatuses, does little service to this. The publishment of good news and achievements in the Malay or Indian (with emphasis on the race) community seems to me like a ploy by the media to appease the minorities. Yes, the media has a social responsibility to maintain peace and harmony, but are they doing it with purposefulness and meaningfully so, or are they doing it for the sake of doing it? When a Chinese Singaporean achieves something, he/she becomes just a Singaporean, no race. Individuals of whichever ethnic group they choose to affiliate themselves with, administratively or culturally, should not only identify with their ethnic group, they should do so themselves, without being reminded by the government; they should also be able to identify themselves as a Singaporean.

It is good to maintain one's own culture and practice it, whether for nostalgia, heritage, or superstition. Mixing with people from other cultures and ethnicities will not necessarily dilute one's one culture. Responsibility to maintain one's culture has nothing to do with the influence external forces and globalisation, but the individual and his/her family.

If the CMIO-classification was removed, it will not signal an end to C, M, I, and O identities. It just signals an end to the government's institutional mechanisms of segmenting/pigeonhole-ing society and more automony of cultural heritage and maintenance is placed in the hands of the respective communities. An ethnic Chinese man will not be more/less of a Chinese if CMIO was scrapped.

Our sense of belonging should be to this little island (if you grew up in it) and in my honest opinion, race is just fragmenting it. Furthermore, although skin colour is permanent, cultures practised are not. If this system remains, people's minds will only be a rigid as the system, and may be vulnerable to being intolerant of diversity, for example criticising a young Chinese man speaking fluent Malay, but unable to speak Mandarin well.

We already have spaces to practice our cultures and other ethnicities with other cultures have also joined in the mix. That is what matters, not some system of segmentation. Singapore is growing up. Is race and ethnicity as newsworthy today as it was in the 1960s? I've seen the Straits Times continuing to report "good news" and achievements of ethnic minorities, but when they report "good news" and achievements of an ethnic Chinese, his/her race is not played up significantly.

Leave the celebration of differences to the people, but please stop reminding the people of their differences.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

No religion in my politics please, I'm Singaporean

(Unpublished - Nov 16, 2007)

No religion in my politics please, I'm Singaporean

Dear Editor,

I refer to Chua Mui Hoong's article "Rules of engagement for God and politics" (ST, Nov 16).

I believe that religion will have a role to play in society, provided everyone is of the same religion. In that sense, religion's contribution to society will be a constructive one.

Given a diverse society like that of Singapore's, where there are many religions co-existing, along with the non-religious, there are conflicting interests and opinions. We should also be critical of some religious institutions that strive to discover a common set of beliefs among other institutions to justify a political cause, for example, the call to collectively condemn homosexuality. While it may be true most religions share certain values, such rallies have ethical implications.

Though the non-religious, including free-thinkers and atheists, may not actively form communities, be as organised as most religious institutions, or even receive funding and allocated space to 'practise' their beliefs, we cannot come to the conclusion their contributions to law and politics are invalid. In fact, the non-religious are the ones who have to put up with all the religiously-charged debates and opinions based on faith. The non-religious people are under-represented and should receive equal amount of protection as the religious people.

Chua and Tan Seow Hon have cited John Rawls in discussing the desirable situation for Singapore society. Let me cite John Rawls too.

Rawls believes that social allocation rules should not "injure" the most disadvantaged in society, that inequalities in distributive justice are permissible so long as they benefit the least well-off. Unfortunately, we have an inequality that underprivileges sexual minorities and neither does it benefit them. Benefitted instead is the heterosexist and homophobic dominance of a majority people, or at least those who claim to be the majority. That in my opinion constitutes greater harm to the under-represented and the minorities, but not many, given their privileged positions, will consider it to be "harm" at all.

Is it fair to nationally decide what is right and wrong based on a religious value? What about the non-religious? If so, are the non-religious less moral? Is the non-religious person's conceptualisation of "harm" less valid in contrast with that of a religious person's?

I believe there are a lot more issues we have to examine and we cannot take diversity in Singapore for granted.

Ho Chi Sam

Homophobia and Heterosexism

(Unpublished - Nov 16, 2007)

Homophobia and Heterosexism: The difference between homosexuality and abortion/capital punishment

Dear Editor,

I refer to Alex Tan Tuan Loy's letter "The difference between homosexuality and abortion/capital punishment" (ST, Nov 16)

While I agree that homosexuality should not be lumped with abortion or capital punishment, I feel that more attention should be turned towards why our society is generally homophobic and heterosexist.

Why are Singaporeans unable to accept homosexual people? Are homosexual people dangerous animals?

I believe the acceptance of the homosexual identity is a challenge to the pride of the moral crusaders, and an impediment to the shifting and growing moral boundaries homophobic communities are drawing. Instead, the rhetoric of "moral decay" and "harm to children" are being used to suppress the rally for equal rights for sexual minorities.

People within their respective moral boundaries need to recognise the fact that they live in a heterogeneous space that is Singapore which is occupied by many other moral communities, with peoples who hold different beliefs and values. What gives the right of one moral community to impinge on the space of another? Does it mean that if one moral community is large translate legitimises its dominance over other communities?

If society could ever bring itself to disassociate homosexuality from paedophelia, sexual perversion, sexually transmitted diseases, crime and other stereotypes, we will find it a lot more difficult to hold homophobic views.

Some people see sexual minorities as less human and I think this perception is very revolting. Furthermore, what you do not see as human would be incapable of being a community, and therefore incapable of being seen as a minority. This results in lack of visibility and not only marginalisation ensues, but also lack of understanding and knowledge of the marginalised.
We all have a social responsibility to integrating people in our society, not alienate them.

Ho Chi Sam

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Media friends

When I am not busy writing/fighting for sexual minority rights, I worry about other things that directly affect me.

Before starting this blog, I realised I could be just one of them, one of those "voices" of "democratic Singapore". I am different and I want to be different.

Egos fill these voices in these "sites of resistance" that exist in cyberspace. They argue and they confront. They may have a point, but more often than not, instead of proving their point, they are out disproving other points. That is what I deem, destructive.

And when they are challenged, they become defensive and passive-aggressive, and this is magnified by communications technology, i.e. the internet.

First and foremost, we are too predisposed to treating the government and all other related institutions and mechanisms as the enemy. Discourse is oriented towards the perception and attitude that authority is bad. Why can't discourse be oriented towards the view that the government and the media are our friends?

The different, the alternative, are all being (cyber-)mainstreamed themselves, becoming self-indulgent and detached from other realities and experiences. Most vocal netizens have become the monsters they have initially intended to confront. Perhaps the approach will be a lot more different if we viewed the government and the media as our friends, rather than enemy. As I've mentioned in previous post, you don't have to be opposing to be different; at the same time, you don't have to be different to be opposing.

If you want the democratic voices of cyberspace to be treated with respect and on equal footing with mainstream media, you have to adopt some of the approaches by the mainstream media. You put a name, you put a face, you try to use fair and civil language.

Even as a watchdog, you need not bark too loudly nor foam at the mouth. All you have to do is continue to point out the ironies and paradoxes, point out alternative realities and experiences, give alternative views, all in the manner in which news and reports are presented in the mainstream media.

Media and alternative media are all about representation - of views, identities and interests. Alternative media though providing alternative representations, but their messages and approach need not be alternative to the point of being subversive or confrontational.

Singapore burning: Need for media literacy

(Unpublished - Nov 14, 2007)

Singapore burning: Need for media literacy

Dear Editor,

I refer to the letter by Chan Kheng Ann 'London Burning raises burning issues' and the subsequent responses by Pierre Perrett and Siraj Timothy Aholiab Joseph.

This issue informs of the need for greater media and information literacy, to match the advances in information and communication technology (ICT).

With an adequate level of media and information literacy, one is more empowered to distinguish between reality and simulation, truth and propaganda or scams, and appreciate or critique the context in which the message is created and transmitted. Media literacy is more than just media savviness and should be encouraged and developed in our society.

ICTs may empower us to achieving convenience and efficiency in our daily tasks. However, they should not be implemented solely based on their functional capabilities and economic potential, giving little consideration for its social implications. It is important that infrastructure for media and information literacy be established along with ICT implementation. If not, our society may experience the effects of an information divide we were not fully prepared for.

Media literacy is not the be-all and end-all, but neither is it a static entity. The ordinary citizen or receiver of information has as much a responsibility to be sufficiently media literate, as much as the government has the responsibility to purposefully lay the foundations not only for life-long learning, but also media literacy.

Ho Chi Sam

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

There are gays, and there are gays...

(Unpublished - Nov 10, 2007)

There are gays, and there are gays... and there are non-gays who are sick of other non-gays hating the gays...

Dear Editor,

I refer to Andy Ho’s article ‘There are gays, and there are gays...’ (ST, Nov 10).

Identity politics, a tactic Ho associates with the gay lobby here, is required to break the heteronormative hegemony in Singapore. We have a rigid and deep-rooted structure which not only under-privileges sexual minorities, but also legitimises homophobia and stigmatism. The domains involved are that of the social, political and the media, all of which are hesitant to exercising any form of social responsibility in accomodating sexual minorities.

Invisibility is a problem for the marginalised here, and this is exacerbated by poor coordination and mobilisation within the sexual minority community. This is also not helped by the rejected attempts to register the group People Like Us.

It is too early to link the uncivil threats to Thio Li-Ann to the militant turn of identity politics. In every community, there are black sheep who may inadvertently undo the hard work done. Furthermore, we cannot be fully sure if the threat came from within the gay community or not.

Singaporeans still have not learnt much from the 377A debate. The media portrayal of and perceptions toward sexual minorities have still not changed. Most still believe that the interest in gay rights only exists within the gay community; that the agenda is confined to a specific group. Ho’s article confirms this. There are a lot more straight people out there who support gay rights than we can imagine, but they lack visibility and are shackled by socio-heteronormative stigmatism. Structure impinges on their freedom of expression and what is worse is that they internalise the hegemonic ideology, because for one, they have too much to lose as a Singaporean.

What we should equally be wary of are the militant moral crusaders, who attempt to champion public and sexual minority as one singular and universal virtue. This is based on the assumption that society is and should be homogenous, a truly malicious threat to the diversity we have fought so hard to uphold. Moral crusaders are more of a minefield for the government than gay people.

The stumbling block for gay rights in Singapore is the vicious cycle of homophobic (mis)information, hardline religiosity and uncompromising hetero-essentialist supremacy, causing sexual minorities to have lesser amount of rights compared with the rest of the population, despite having to have the same amount of obligations. There is no social justice in a land where there are rights-obligations imbalances across communities. The first step of society is to start viewing sexual minority persons as human beings and cease the politically and religiously-charged dehumanising labelling of gays, lesbians, bisexual, transgender and queer persons.

Ho Chi Sam

Response from ST:
Thank you for writing to us. We do appreciate your making the effort.
We receive up to 70 letters each day. Limited space means we can publish only about a dozen every weekday. This means having to make often-difficult editorial judgments on which letters to publish.
We regret we are unable to publish your letter.
If your letter relates to a matter under the purview of a government department, you may want to visit www.sgdi.gov.sg for a list of officials to contact.

Yours sincerely
Ms Noor Aiza
for Forum Editor
The Straits Times

My thoughts:
Though it may be a standardised response, at least they made the effort to give me some direction. To be honest, I really need the direction. Which "official" should my letter address? MYCS? MDA? MICA? Law Ministry? Home Affairs? Can someone provide me with some guidance?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Straight Thoughts on 377A (part 6)

Straight Thoughts on 377A: Rights

Ideally, the law of the land should achieve the philosophically permissible balance of rights (accorded to citizens) and obligations (expected of citizens). Sexual minorities have the same amount of societal obligations as we do, but they are not accorded the same amount of rights.

How to 'make' a minority? Simple, you be borned as one. Or if you tried harder, you could turn into one. If you'd like to leave it in the hands of the political and educated elite, you could be turned into one and continue to remain as one. Most are minorities not by choice, while some choose to minorities.

Minorities can be created and maintained by social, political, religious and legal institutions. That is, you remain a minority because that is the way society is, that is the way the structure labels you. In modern times, the state will make attempts to integrate minorities into society, either through imprisonment or re-institutionalisation. But this fails upon the civil/civic rejection of minorities, given their predispositions and biases.

The societal inertia to integrate sexual minorities informs of the political presence of what I will call, moral communities, in Singapore. The constant defensive use of the "moral decay" rhetoric is a guise for these communities' fear of ideological decay/dilution.

What sustains the bonds within moral communities is the subscription to homogeneity, in the form of homogeneous values and an effective internal moral policing system, wherein what is deemed as deviant conduct or thoughts will be immediately be treated with the apparatuses and mechanisms provided by the moral community.

The stronger moral communities have often encountered threats to their legitimacy, experiences of which have provided an innoculation, with each threat strengthening the community. Inevitably, the creation of barriers around the moral community serves to demarcate its territory, literally maintaining a boundary/line for its members to keep within, and for them to be subjected to the internal moral policing.

What has happened now is that some moral communities are attempting to expand their boundaries. They need more lebensraum. This comes at the expense of minorities who are attempting to even have their own space. In fact, the rhetoric of sexual minorities polluting the space of the 'moral majority' is an effective diversion from the actual invasion of the said moral communities into the spaces of sexual minorities. Worse still, laws like 377A allows this to happen. The invasion/attack is 2-prong - one external as explained and the other, internal, involving the internalisation of guilt and stigmatism.

The walls erected by moral communities protect them from the valid points made by outsiders, making them seemingly impervious to these "attacks". Sexual minorities on the other hand have no wall, because they do not even have space. The fundamental difference here is the unequal accordance of rights, of which sexual minorities have far less.

So why do you fight for rights? You do so not because others in the same space have more rights than you, you do so because you want your rights to match the obligations expected of you. When rights are accorded to you by the state, you have some obligations to the state. To give is to empower, but simultaneously, to oppress. I choose not to think of oppression here, and use the word "obligation". It depends on what you think of it. For most of us privileged bunch, rights equal obligations, but for sexual minorities, rights do not equal obligations; in fact, sexual minorities have the same amount of obligations as us, as I have mentioned, but fewer rights, because what gay men do in private are considered criminal. Their love is criminal, while our love isn't. That is unequal rights to me.

So how do you fight for rights? You fight because you want to uphold a system that is intended to balance rights given to people and obligations expected of people. The law should be unequivocal, or at least purposefully strive to be. You provide sexual minorities with space to live and breathe, just like any other folk, yet you take away some fundamental liberties. You mock consent between them. Is consent between 2 gay men any less meaningful a man and a woman?

To be recognised by the law, you have to be visible. If you are invisible, you are less of a citizen than your visible counterparts. It is time we put a stop to the invisibilisation and poor representations of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer persons and communities. They are people too, but there are powerful opinion leaders out there who dehumanise them and consider them not as people, not as communities, not as minorities. Is that fair?

Times have changed. I do not condone what was done to Thio Li-Ann. A truly calculated yet cowardly act was committed in the form of a letter addressed to her and threatening her. There is no place in our society for such uncivil and barbaric behaviour. Thio is not wrong to express her beliefs and speak her mind. This is something most straight people who support gay rights do not do in the first place. If you believe in equality for sexual minorities, in form of equal treatment and equal opportunity, you should speak up and put a face and name to it, because Thio has already done so for her side.

It is not wrong to say "I think gay people deserve fairer treatment", or "I think there is injustice to gay people and I don't like that". Singapore is not built on people who sit down and shut up, but people who stand up and do something about it. Do you want Singapore to be built by people like Thio alone, on the virtue that she is standing up and speaking? If you stand up and speak, even though you are not the respected lawyer/academic that she is, your perspectives and views are still valid. You do not and should not seek to displace people like Thio, but work alongside them and provide that balance, or that counter, to make sure that there is meaningful debate, nevermind if they made crude remarks to discredit or disparage you.

It is because of the silence of straight people who support gay rights, that society thinks gay rights is confined to the gay community. Gay rights is the gay agenda held by gay people alone. You don't need to be gay to support gay rights. Gay rights is underlined by the same common principles shared by other rights advocates. If a system or an institution promises to be fair, it has to hold itself accountable for implementing fairness. At the moment, there is unfairness. How I see it is that the current system is not being responsible for what it is intended, using the majority, democratic vote to justify the maintenance of unfairness. The notion of fairness hinges on subjective understandings and bias predispositions toward sexual minorities. The homophobic or the non-gay-affirmative folk will think this "unfairness" is fair, that this "injustice" is just.

The fighter for gay rights should now not attempt to remove that thought, but to add more information to balance things. The langauge of the rights advocate should change to one that is concerned with contribution rather than condescendence.

We should reduce the usage of phrases such as:
1) You are misinformed, unenlightened, uneducated.
2) You don't know the truth.
3) You are bigoted.

Saying such statements will only make one no better than the other side one is challenging, hence necessitating a different approach. No need for "holier-than-thou" approaches, as that tactic can be left for others. Be humble, yet assertive. Be gracious, yet firm.

A different approach will more greatly expose the differences between both sides, assuming there are 2 sides to the discussion. It is okay to bring in emotion, anecdotes and so on, but efforts should be put into the refrain from making aggressive or passive-aggressive comments and mockery.

Like I have said and will continue to reiterate:
You fight, without fighting.
You persuade, without persuading.
You argue, without arguing.

You convince with constructive efforts, words and delivery, not destructive language. The people in the middle will then decide for themselves what is civil and rational, and what is crude and disparaging. Singaporeans, even those who shut up, or sit down and whisper, are not blind.

Everyone has a right to have his/her dignity and some respect. I not only speak up for sexual minorities, but also people with physical and special needs. If you cannot treat your own fellow human beings with dignity and respect, you cannot do the same for the environment and animals. Do not blame technological modernisation, urbanisation, globalisation and capitalism, for graciousness and some basic levels of conscientiousness can still co-exist with the said phenomena.

Singapore may be a representative democracy, but we are not a participatory democracy, because people are often either not standing up, or just shutting up. Some of us are lucky enough to "participate" every 5-6 years, while others never get to participate at all. If there is a family consisting father, mother and children saying gay people are undesirable, we should show society that there is also a family consisting father, mother and children that say gay people are not undesirable. If there is a christian who is not accepting of gay people, we should show society that there is also a christian who accepts gays. Showing that diversity exists is not a wrong thing and is way less misleading than stating homogeneity as a given reality.

I write to the Straits Times because I want to participate. I want to show that there are things and realities we should not take for granted. The Straits Times exercises its own brand of democracy, allowing different segments of society to speak up, but has a quota for such persons. I have reached my quota. I will not be published by the Straits Times again until the year 2008. Does that mean that I do not belong to society for the next 7-8 weeks? People, straight or gay, have to stand up and be seen, be heard. If you do not speak, it is assumed you consent to the manner by which affairs are being handled.

Speaking up is not to oppose. You do not oppose for the sake of opposing. You do not oppose for the sake of proving others wrong or exposing their inadequacies. You oppose because you want to represent a view that was previously un-/under-represented or thought not to exist. Your opposition is protected by the state. It is not against public interest or national security, so you cannot be detained by the secret police under the Ministry of Home Affairs. You are not protesting or demonstrating, so you cannot be subdued by the riot police. You do not lose your job because you serving society, not harming it.

Diversity in opinion or in people is not immoral or harmful. It may be difficult for some to accept diversity because of the comfort zones they have established for themselves, but it is their responsibility to adapt. If they choose to reject diversity, let them do so. They will soon realise they exist in an ever-changing space, consisting a plethora of views and opinions that will continue to be compared with their beliefs. Singapore is diverse and co-existence depends on the social and intellectual capital and gracious values derived from our integration and interconnectivity.

As for the harrassment of Thio, I believe Thio has the right not to be harrassed. At the same time, we should be open to the fact that the threatening letter may not come from a sexual minority person, or any one supporting the 377A repeal. In essence, rights advocates in Singapore should adopt a different approach from those in Europe and the United States. But I am not trying to polarise nor contrast the Western and Eastern values like what we are often prone to doing. Being different does not mean being the opposite.

Fighting for equal rights is the duty of most educated persons. The empowerment of education is not merely to obtain material possessions and comforts but also to give back to society. After all, taxes fund your education, among many other things. We "majorities" are just extremely fortunate at this point in time not to possess a salient minority identity which results in some form of hurtful discrimination. I believe we are all minorities in some way or another, but most aspects of which do not sufficiently hurt us emotionally and physically to warrant our diagnosis of marginalisation. But to conform to our individual moral communities, the values to which we subscribe, these minority identity traits are suppressed or ignored, and we forget what diversity is and what it truly means.

Diversity in Singapore is not only about differing skin colours. Protecting diversity is hence not only about protecting skin colour, but fundamentally protecting differing peoples with differing identities. At the same time, efforts should be made to show that the sexual minority identity is not harmful to society, as what many people will choose to think. Straight people, opinion leaders and the media have a responsibility to ensure fair representation of sexual minorities. Then, all these will provide another step towards equal rights for sexual minorities in Singapore. Think about it.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Appreciate Diversity

(Unpublished - Nov 7, 2007)

Appreciate Diversity

Dear Editor,

I refer to ‘Families and gays must keep an open mind’ and ‘Homosexuals should know that change is possible’, letters respectively written by Kelvin Lu Zixian and Shawn Tay Liam Yaw.

Both suggest the option of reparative theory to ‘straighten’ the sexual orientation of individuals. However, the generalisability of reparative therapy for all ‘confused’ persons is problematised by the fact that sexual orientation cannot be validly explained by science and that reparative therapy has a history of strong religious support.

To ‘re-orientate’ the sexuality of a person poses ethical implications, as well as possible averse consequences on the person’s psychological well-being. Societal attitudes and most religious teachings have already instilled a fair amount of guilt into the psyche of sexual minorities, causing most to have identity dissonance and psychological distress. Sexual minority youth are a lot more vulnerable to these problems.

We must understand that science and religion can be political, in the way they determine how society creates labels for different peoples. Sexuality, at the same time, should be understood as diverse and heterogeneous. Most successful reparative therapies may claim they have ‘straightened’ homosexual people, but how can we be sure that these therapies did not merely emphasized one component of bisexual identity, suppressing the other?

What exacerbates the problems brought about by the unseen agenda of and political relationship between science and religion, is that lack of visibility of various sexual identities. The invisibilisation process of minorities is only hastened by the socio-religious and political legitimisation of heteronormality, perpetuating an endless cycle of guilt and disonnance in sexual minorities. Furthermore, most of us conflate sexual minorities into criminals, drug addicts, paedophelia, bestiality and other social ills, diminishing their citizenship and humanity.

To be civil and socially responsible, we have to appreciate diversity and complexities, and not resort to discarding what the majority of people define as “different”, for the social definition of “different” changes in time. Diversity may threaten internal moral communities given conflicting values, but the very essence of survival in the modern world is coexistence and not ostracism, excommunication, disincentivisation, criminalisation, discrimination and prejudice.

Onus is on moral communities to remove the barricades and stop drawing lines, processes of which will only create more minorities. This will probably lead to ideological dilution of the community, but the rhetoric of “moral decay” is often used instead. Furthermore, we must question the rationale of policing sexual morality and the need to control people belonging to other moral communities.

It is ultimately not a question of who is, what is, or why is it. The reality is that there are minorities and there are people and institutions that maintain this. What are we going to do about it?

Ho Chi Sam