Sunday, October 28, 2007

The doctor, the lawyer and the mathematician

(Unpublished - Oct 28, 2007)

The doctor, the lawyer and the mathematician

Dear Editor,

I read with interest the articles by Janadas Devan and Andy Ho (ST, Oct 27).

There has been a lot of moral rhetoric from the anti-repeal camp in the past few weeks, which to an extent, mirrors the Christian Right and “ex-gay” movement in the United States, consisting Exodus International, Homosexuals Anonymous and Focus on the Family.

On “ex-gay” discourse, people like Thio hold the belief that homosexuality can be cured, often citing the Spitzer study.

Robert Spitzer helped remove homosexuality as pathology from the American Psychiatric Association in 1973. However, in 2001, he presented a new study that stated that gays can become straight if they wanted to. Rather than critiquing the study or recognising its research and methodological limitations, antigay Christian groups in the US use the study as a spearhead to repathologise homosexuality.

It is here I believe that society, though being more intelligent, has not become smarter. Intelligence helps us because we are able to better understand our experiences, relationships and environments. However, the very same intelligence has empowered us to medicalise and technicise these experiences. It is thus not a matter of ultimate truth, or which social group’s “truth” is most true, but a question of ethics.

Ethical implications will arise if we medicalise and technicise social relationships and behaviours. The medicalisation of aspects of social deviance, namely behaviours that depart from social norms, predispositions and dominant ideologies, poses serious ethical issues. In the Victorian era, women and children were thought to be asexual. There had been studies that correlated, or at least attempted to link, ethnicity with crime.

It is through medicalisation and technisation that humankind, and its obsession with mastery, can control its experiences and environments. We can now observe the effects of the medicalisation of homosexuality, despite it having long been depathologised. People today still want to control homosexuality.

The development of academia is, to a very large extent, influenced by the political and religious ideologies of various researchers and academic circles. The political and religious ideological situatedness of researchers are often not discussed in their studies and are further obscured by the veil of “objectivity”, which is what science, strives to be. In fact, social science too strives to be objective, but has yet to find a place in many societies, given popular subscription to the perceived superior wisdom of lawyers and doctors. When seemingly “objective” research confirms one’s pre-disposed beliefs, it is tempting to treat the beliefs as the truth and stop seeking information thereafter. Selective reading will only beget selective listening. That is one way society can be polarised.

With that in mind, I believe Singapore society and politics can do better with the presence of persons trained in humanities and social sciences, to add balance to the contributions of others whose disciplines have inclinations to medicalise or technicise. No disrespect intended, for I do not claim that mathematicians, for instance, are incapable of thinking and feeling about social issues. Look at Lee Hsien Loong.

Ho Chi Sam

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