Monday, October 29, 2007

The plants in the garden

I see a garden with many plants growing. Some plants are smaller while others are larger. The gardener is perplexed because he has allocated an even spread of fertiliser across the finite space that is the garden. Little does he know that the roots of the larger plants grow beyond the space that is the garden and these plants receive additional nourishment from other places, wherever their roots extend.

Derived from the United States, the Religious Right in Singapore has firm supporters in most of the middle-to-upper class folk here. You scratch beneath the surface of prominent officials, opinion leaders and community leaders, you will realise the unrepresentative religious affiliation, some more conservative, some more fundamental, others less fundamental. Well, they don’t call it the Religious Right here any way, for it sounds too “fierce”.

These are the elite who represent their various communities, championing moral campaigns and codes for all to follow. Never mind diverse interests and differing moral philosophies, they want moral commonality and homogeneity. Not that that is a bad thing for it makes the country a lot easier to police, but diversity is what makes Singapore Singapore.

If Singapore society is based on one set of moral codes that determine the homosexual identity to be only a behaviour, or a lifestyle, all the more will people not want it to be “endorsed” or “mainstreamed”.

“Are you trying to say it’s ok?” is a very common rhetorical question, with deep-rooted homophobia. Something straight people first need to confront is their homophobia.

What causes your homophobia?
- Religious fundamentalism?
- Subscription to right-wing authoritarianism?
- Stereotypification and stigmatism of sexual minorities?
- Subscription to specific gender roles and behaviour?

Let’s look at racism. What causes you to be racist? What causes you to have distrust of other races? What causes you to be uncomfortable in the presence of other races? Is everything others do less moral than you think?

Conservative folk will never comprehend homophobia on the same level as racism. This is because of an information gap, in which a wedge is being driven by religious fundamentalism and homosexual stereotypes.

News reporting and media depictions of homosexual people occasionally portray them as mentally unstable, sexually perverse and criminal, and these serve to reinforce perceptions people hold of sexual minorities. Studies have shown that there is a correlation between a person’s personal beliefs and his perception of media messages. A religious fundamentalist will always agree with anti-gay reports, because these reports confirm their beliefs. Even seemingly objective reports of crimes involving sexual minorities as offenders will create an untruthful simulation of reality and normality for the homophobic reader. He or she will continue to believe that this is normal, that gay people are “just wrong”.

So what does it mean to “endorse” or “mainstream” the gay “lifestyle”? What is the gay “lifestyle”?

Gay people wear clothes, have hobbies, some go clubbing, eat food, work to earn some income, pay taxes, have friends, have relationships, have private sex (because public sex for any one is illegal any way). So what kind of lifestyle is that? What are we trying to include and what are we trying to exclude?

Let us now include some aspects of the “straight lifestyle”. Well, some straight men have flashed their penises to young schoolgirls, if not, have molested them too. Some straight men beat up their wives, or maids. Some straight men write racist things on their blogs. Some straight men, who are married, go to Geylang or Batam to have sex with prostitutes. Some straight men gamble and are unable to control it. Some straight men download porn and masturbate to it. Some straight men see an attractive passer-by and think to themselves, “how I wish I could have her as my girlfriend” or “how I wish I could bone her”.

What kind of lifestyle is the straight lifestyle? What kind of lifestyle is the gay lifestyle? We only choose to see the wrongs in the gay lifestyle because we measure it with our deep-rooted religious fundamentalism, we associate it with crime, depravity and immorality, we view homosexuality based on perceived-to-be “values” other homophobic persons and gay-hating messages have inculcated in us.

We thus associate homosexuality with crime, paedophelia and other social ills. And when engaging in dialogue, there is already a stark imbalance. Sexual minorities and civil rights activists will view the conservative and gay-hating folk as equals in the debate, but conservative folk will just view sexual minorities as diseased human beings. Dialogue has never been fair from the beginning. You view sexual minorities as weeds in your garden.

If only we can get homophobic people to answer the following question, “why do you have negative feelings and attitude towards gay people?”. It will either be boiled down to conservative religious beliefs or gross misinformation and lack of knowledge of homosexuality.

In my opinion, it is not a matter of being “conservative”, but a question of the degree of obstinacy. The values of a straight person should deal with the question “how to be a good straight person”, and not “how to discipline the gay person”. If you are moral and upright, homosexuality will not bother you. If you are self-righteous and hungry for power and dominance, diversity will bother you, because you suffer anxiety at the prospect of wanting to control everything.

Sexual minorities fight for sexual minority representation, respect, recognition and rights. The “moral majority” fight for its ideological comfort. More rights versus more comfort.

I must reiterate that I belong to the “moral majority” because of demography and that I claim to be moral – I do treat others with respect because I want to be treated with respect too. Religious fundamentalism causes us to condescend others. Fundamentalism is actually perfectly fine with me if confined to the individual, because ideas and ideologies are only most meaningful within the person. In “enlightening” and “empowering” others with the same ideas and ideologies, we may be in a way oppressing others and it becomes less meaningful for them. Unfortunately, religious fundamentalism cannot be disassociated with notions of political power and power relations. The big tree with far-reaching roots will definitely not have its far-reaching roots diminished, and the other plants that “side” with it (sorry for anthropomorphising plants) will still remain smaller plants.

The big tree will still get to decide how the garden is run, how much nutrients will be left for other plants. If one plant grows out of the garden or entwines the fence, the big tree will liken that activity as unnatural as “shoving a straw up one’s nose to drink”. There is still space in the garden, does the big tree want to get bigger? Does it need to get bigger?


Roy said...

IMHO, power, is and always has been an eternal "holy grail" for the masses but for the purpose it serves, when it comes under different hands, vastly differs.

It has always been a "more rights versus more comfort" kind of struggle.

Power for the "minorities" would mean empowerment while for the latter, it would mean oppression.

And I wonder, would the "straight community" feel the same way if the roles were switched? I doubt they could even imagine.

Sam Ho said...

""And I wonder, would the "straight community" feel the same way if the roles were switched? I doubt they could even imagine.""

i feel the same way too.

unfortunately, it is not philosophically permissible, in my opinion.

this is so, because we are hypothesizing from the perspective of the minority; i.e. the minority wonders and thinks about what the situation will be like if the straight majority became the minority and the minority become the other.

the envisagement of being the other is different as construed by the self, than as construed by the other. there is an epistemic gap between the two.

like if a woman thought, "what if men were women, and women men?", her thoughts will be different from that of a man, even if he asked the same question.

the only thing fundamental is that nothing is fundamental. the only thing universal is that nothing is universal. i believe life, experiences and sense are only defined and understood through the interaction, conflict, tension and dialogue between dominant and subjugated perspectives and ideologies.

Roy said...

i cannot disagree and it's far deeper than i had thought. but outside of the scope, there is existence of minorities within majorities and thus, shaping the perspectives and ideologies similar but only constrained to within one group's own experiences.

expanding that supposed awareness of the self, is it really that difficult for envisagement as you stated?

while it's not philosophically permissible, it's possible right? the mere lack of justification on the basis of belief in the acquisition of knowledge doesn't necessarily have to mean it's not correct, no? you're the expert on epistemology so you've to correct me if i'm wrong.

*major headache*

Sam Ho said...

oh dear, please don't overestimate me. i love learning about epistemology and will forever be a student, so 'expert' is far too flattering.

minorities exist with majorities. minorities are often defined in relation to majorities.

i'd like to think it's possible. but i'm kind of skeptical about possible things, because when we empower ourselves with knowledge and understanding of certain realities, we may be oppressed by the limitations of the knowledge itself. so i'm just exploring the possible limitations that may exist.

headache indeed.

Roy said...

ok so i used the wrong word, my sincere apologies.

i must admit though, this is my first encounter with epistemology.

so within the majority of a certain belief stands a minority whose beliefs are challenged within the confines and when we break down to the atomic level, we're faced with a 1-1 possibility (and it might not even be a 1-1 at all).

how else can we explore the "possible" limitations within the otherwise oppressive limitation of knowledge? ok, so we're not omnipresent to experience everything sequentaneously.

what we do not know exist doesn't mean it doesn't, right? oh darn, now i'm feeling giddy.

ok, i think i strayed from the topic. sorry.

Sam Ho said...

haha. it's not harmful to me. it's just flattering. so no need for apologies.

what do you mean by 1-1 possibility? i don't quite understand. can elaborate on that?

speaking of atomic, there are sub-atomic particles that contribute to the atomic structure. what is interesting to note that the discoveries are all gradated, very progressive, improving in time. this has 2 outcomes to knowledge in general: 1, people may believe in finite knowledge and an "end"; 2, people may believe that knowledge is infinite and has no "end".

even the notion of objectivity and omnipresence is based on an absolutist perspective that such perspectives ae viable and valid.

we explore the "possible" limitations from a "different" perspective. think of it in 3-D for example. if i make point A, you will want to see A from another position, namely A'. A' may primarily be in the opposite direction of A, but then again, from which plane is "opposite" defined? and is A' valid according to another perspective, say B?

epistemology is basically the knowledge of knowledge. "how do you know what you know" kind of thing. it's very nice stuff to talk about at the coffeeshop, although reading about it can be quite a headache.

Roy said...

i agree, it's quite a literal attack on the mind reading/discussing on written epistemology.

the possibilities of a 1-1 would depends, like you'd mentioned, on the pivoting of a point 360° and then breaking that 360° further into its atomic and sub-atomic levels.

ok, i sound like i'm talking gibberish but i find it a challenge to express.

Sam Ho said...

i think at times when we talk gibberish, it shows that our thoughts trascend the limitations of language, either that, or we are lazy to expand our vocabulary.

and atomic science is just a language too. we may not be able to express it, but we do think about it. i believe that proves that our thoughts transcend language and knowledge of language; for knowledge of language is just basically the socialisation into a set of symbols. for example, most dogs don't understand the meaning of pointing, as in the human finger pointing. the dog will look at the tip of your finger instead of the direction it points, because it does not understand the "language" you are expressing.

oh ok. i thought you were refering to 1-1 as "one minus one". btw, how do you put in the superscript for the "0" after 360 degrees?

Roy said...

if you're using pc windows, just have to type the alt key and type in the number of the character in whic case it's 0176.

if you want square, type alt and 0178. ;)