Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Adventures of Kai Kai and Dar Dar: Battle with Internet Trolls

Okay. It is supposed to be bedtime for me and I should be resting, but I learned something that is not very new about human behaviour today.

I refer to the blog "Dar Dar Love Kai Kai Infinitely Much Forever and ever..." and reactions towards it on HardwareZone forums, as well as numerous tweets. (The blog has since been made private, but two posts are available on cache, here and here)

The blog documents the relationship and selected experiences of two Singaporeans, Dar Dar or Darren, and Kai Kai or Kailing. They are a couple and are apparent unabashed by blogging about their dates and sexual encounters.

With the wider internet audience in the know of the blog, their shoutbox and post comments began to be peppered with remarks that denigrate the couple, either one of them, or both, as well as their intimacy.

Kailing is obviously not your size zero elite supermodel, and Darren is obviously not Fabio, or Rain, for that matter. The blog features vignettes of Kailing suggestively providing oral service to the toes of, allegedly, Darren, her boyfriend of more than 2 years.

Perhaps the fodder for public ridicule comes from the proclamations of scientifically impossible sexual intercourse by the couple. Allegedly, they have sex "for 202 times" and on another occasion "192 times", apparently referring to the number of penetrations he had made, I hope. Either that, or it refers to the number of sexual intercourse they have had since they got together, which would be a reasonable explanation. But with my 6 years of media studies training, I read it as number of penetrations.

You can find anything on the internet. And these are two ordinary folks who seem very happy in each other's company.

But the interesting thing is random strangers' reactions to them. Some even make the effort to post comments to make the couple feel bad about themselves and each other, so much so that Darren wrote on his shoutbox "U ALL REALLY TOO MUCH....WE DIDNT OFFEND YOU.....WHY U WANT TO WRITE SUCH COMMENTS TO HURT BOTH OF US???"

Why are some people saying such things to them?

1) Can we use the jealousy argument here? They are a loving couple who have the occasional sexual intercourse and toe-sucking fetish. We could use the jealousy argument on critics who are themselves single and unattached and probably haven't had a sexual experience.

2) What about those who are attached and/or have had a sexual experience? Maybe they find it "disgusting" to see two ordinary persons, who do not possess movie star aesthetics, recounting their sexual encounters. What is gained when you call someone else "fat" or "ugly" or "disgusting"? I think maybe being an anonymous troll is cathartic for some.

3) Perhaps some language/grammar Nazis do not appreciate the way the couple articulate their relationship in their blog. I know, I personally find it bordering on irritating, but they have every right to express their love.

I think trolling is getting out of hand. You do not have to be immature to be a troll.

Yes, the internet is a "free" space and everyone is entitled to freely speak his/her mind. But I feel this is balanced by the obligation not to be a troll and be malicious towards others.

I'm puzzled as to why people won't leave others alone, especially in a country and society where we are apathetic and indifferent towards one another (which makes us a good terrorist target, given Singaporeans are generally less proactive and bothered enough to care for one another).

I think our behaviour is reflective of a society that is increasingly intolerant of certain body types and facial features, i.e. the fat and the ugly. And there are a lot more youths and adults who are psychologically pained by their realities, not helped by this soft discrimination and constantly ridiculing, more than those who have weathered the social stormed and become more comfortable in their own skins.

Maybe this might be a project for psychology. People do feel disinhibited/unhibited when using the internet, and become a lot more malicious than they would be in face-to-face communications. And they derive satisfaction from putting others down with denigrating remarks. Purely cathartic. And since it is computer-mediated communication, the insulter will never know the magnitude nor implications of his/her insults and ill will, hence no sense of responsibility.

The sociologist in me wonders what are the conditions in society that creates and legitimises such behaviour and social relationships that result in such behaviour. Quite intriguing. Why do strangers want to hurt other strangers?

Well, the bottom-line is, don't be a troll. You don't have to be respectful, just be polite.

Thoughts on Pastor Rony Tan debacle

(Unpublished - Feb 10, 2010)

In light of Lighthouse Evangelism Pastor Rony Tan’s apology for remarks made about Buddhist and Taoist practices, there are still many issues we should consider when forwarding religious harmony in Singapore.

The episode merely teaches us that we should be mindful of making incendiary remarks about other faiths in the public domain, but does not govern what is said within the private confines of our respective religious circles.

We would not be able to account for the internalisation of incendiary remarks by members of the community, or is this a non-issue in religious harmony in Singapore?

Does this not imply that certain religions will end up isolating themselves?

Next, I believe the stakeholders of religious harmony in Singapore are not only religious communities, leaders and the government, but also non-religious people.

Non-religious people are the ones who live with the multitude of practices, rituals and proselytisation that go on around them.

Some also put up with suggestions from others that they might be “misguided”, “broken”, “ignorant” and “in need of salvation”, the kind of persuasions that could have emotional and psychological repercussions.

Even though they may be people of no specific faith, they play a large role in religious harmony by supporting the cause and dialogue. While religious harmony cannot be taken for granted, I believe the efforts of all the stakeholders, religious and non-religious, involved should be recognised.

We need to understand that some religions involve proselytisation, a means to convince and recruit new members into the religious community.

Our constitution allows the practice and expression of religion, but who decides when it does become an invasion of privacy, harassment, or threat to other religions? Is there protection at all from the constitutional right to practice religion?

Can we not be absolutely certain that during the process of proselytisation, there might be an implicit putting down of other religions?

Essentially, while we may not be able to accept religious differences, we should reciprocate the right bestowed upon us by the constitution by being tolerant.

Ho Chi Sam

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Please vote for my song, much appreciated

I recently submitted an entry to a songwriting contest that attempts to promote social harmony.

I would appreciate if you could take the time to cast your vote for the song.

The link is here: http://tinyurl.com/yebwdvj (best viewed in IE)

I hope you enjoy the song too. Thank you.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Pastor Rony Tan, religious harmony and capitalism

Pastor Rony Tan, who was called up by the Internal Security Department with regards to his insensitive remarks towards Buddhist and Taoist beliefs and practices, has apologised for his "wrongdoing", in public and in person to leaders of both faiths.







The above videos are available on Hardwarezone forums at http://forums.hardwarezone.com.sg/showthread.php?t=2661905.

To say what the Pastor had said would be, as what the ISD would claim to be, "inappropriate" in the context of Singapore. But in all fairness to most strains of Christianity and most religions in the world, each will stake a claim to the "truth" and the "right" and "authentic" form of knowledge. Religion thrives on this, and is legitimised by those who believe in the "truth" it claims to hold.

If your religion claims to be "true" and "correct", other religions would be less "true", less "correct" and political correctness aside, "false religions", no? Why would you want to give "false religions" any credit or legitimation in the first place, and more so if it ever comes at the expense of your religion? Does that make sense for the survivability of your religion?

Religion happens to be situated in a modern yet continually violent world, and political correctness in the form of rhetoric and politics championing harmony and integration becomes the watchdog. National security and economic progress hinge on harmony derived from inter-religious peace, among many other things. The political correctness that governs the manner in which religion is articulated in the public domain, serves to protect this economic "peace".

If people get angry owing to inter-religious disharmony, and take action (violent and non-violent) to protect the perceived and non-perceived threats to their faiths and communities, it can cause large scale disruptions to the economic process. No bourgeoisie government will like that. By the way, the PAP government is one example of a bourgeoisie government that craftily exploits socialist policies to appease the working classes and lower-middle classes.

Religious harmony is thus very important to such nations in modernity and in the (new) globalising economy.

In my honest opinion, I believe that religious affiliation requires faith and conviction, although most religious communities do respectively define the practice of faith and the performance of conviction in their own terms. An apology from someone who stands for monotheistic faith is a bit odd for me. If you are of monotheistic faith, other faiths are less "correct", less "true", less "authentic". Why apologise for that? In fact, it could be society that deems what you say more "wrong" than it could have been. Society and the economy could determine the magnitude of your "wrongness" and punish you accordingly.

If you apologise, do you apologise for the form/content of your speech, or do you apologise for the function and implications of your speech? Any way, if you feel strongly about your beliefs and speech, why apologise? And if so, does that mean you're only apologise for what your speech might do or cause? So who and what are the stakeholders who will be affected by the implications of your speech?

Let me take one (of many, mind you) perspectives to understand this bewilderment. The gatekeepers of capitalism are in all of us. We choose to preserve an idea of "peace" and an idea of "harmony" that suits our agenda - the bourgeoisie agenda. We do not want disruptions to the economic process/progress.

The capitalist regime has its own disciplinary mechanisms. They may appear unrelated to capitalism in their form, but they still function to preserve it. For instance, internet flaming by non-Christian netizens directed at Paster Rony may appear as just natural angry reactions at his alleged insensitivity. It appears to be a reaction of Buddhists and Taoists who feel insulted. That's the form we see and know. However, the reactions function and serve to protect a peace that has always served us well, socially AND economically.

Same goes for the Internal Security Department, which serves to preserve social harmony and protect the "peace". Social disruptions like riots, heated arguments and intense mistrust between communities may be damaging to the political legitimacy of the government. However, they are not the only factor; economic disruptions too affect political legitimacy, especially for a government famed for its economic strategies and policies that made a poor nation less poor.

Political correctness today is policed informally and formally. Pastor Rony Tan has all the right to say what he said to his congregation. It is most unfortunate that his sermons and stand-up comedy routines are posted on the church's website and made public to everyone who has internet access. It is because of its (unintended, perhaps) public nature and presence, that the disciplinary mechanisms of political correctness kick in.

Our protection of peace and the insulted faiths are in form, protection of what we understand as peace and who we understand to be the aggrieved; but this protection functions to serve a higher, but not necessarily holier, power - capitalism.

We live in a society where we are concerned about having amenities in our HDB neighbourhood, not because we primarily and genuinely care about the elderly benefiting from these upgrades, but because we want the value of our flats to be higher.

We live in a society where we want to choose the best schools for our children so that they can go to even better schools and get the best and relevant qualifications and earn sackloads of money, not because we want them to be happy, but because we want them to be remain competitive and that wealth accumulation within the family is always a welcomed situation.

We live in a society in which our decision-making is mostly economically rational(ised).

Religion, religious (dis)harmony, and inter-faith politics are just a distraction from capitalism and its mechanisms.

Well, you see, inter-faith dialogue, gatherings, meetings, conventions and tea parties are just a function of post-industrial capitalism. Inter-religious harmony exists because it is forwarded in an era and in an economy we happen to live in and depend on. What is and how different is the relevance of inter-religious harmony and dialogue in pre-industrial society? I say, the terms of inter-religious harmony in modern day society is articulated, some how or another, in the terms of capitalism (ok, I'm flogging a dead horse, but that's the point from this one perspective).

Imagine this, what do religious leaders really think when they meet one another in the same building? How much of what they think are influenced by the disciplinary mechanisms of political correctness as characterised by/in the modern economy?

You go from "I think all of you are wrong" to withholding that remark and putting on a smile and say "We all can coexist". That is religion and faith meeting modern society, modern economy and the political correctness that protects them.

We see religious struggle in other countries, and somehow it dovetails with the struggle against economic and cultural imperialism. Wonder why? They are all linked some how or another.

Okay, enough of this perspective on capitalism.

We are Singapore. We don't like criticism. We want solutions.

Here is my solution. You can say all the insensitive things you like to your socio-religious community, but please keep it within the community. There will be sensitive people out there who will find it sufficiently offensive to make it an issue, and there will be trolls who will stoke the fire and not help the situation, and the government will have its thong/mankini in a knot as a result.

Unfortunately, this solution only erects higher and thicker barriers between socio-religious communities and spaces. And everyone will be bunkering in and not mingling like how Ministry of National Development would like us to categorically mingle. It is not without its own implications, and socio-religious communities will find it difficult to renew their flock, a critical variable to their survival. They will probably do more covert recruitment and conversion as a result, and it may let to wilder gossips, rumours and greater unrest.

For now, the apology is made and accepted. We should let it go like Mas Selamat out of the toilet window, and move on like a Wong Kan Seng.

-add-
Forget Wee Shu Min. Forget Mrs Goh Chok Tong. Forget Ris Low. Rony Tan is the next person who is going to be cyber-lynched. That's what disempowered Singaporeans with internet connection do any way. Nothing new.

Monday, February 8, 2010

"Natural" bias

What happens when you "naturally" and instinctively harbour a bias or a prejudice? I think for most of us, we have some sort of unexplainable bias and prejudice in us, which instinctively kicks in when we encounter certain people and behaviours.

Perhaps, most biases in us are informed by some degree of social conditioning and how we culturally oriented by the norms and standards of behaviour and aesthetics. But what about those kind of biases that cannot easily or directly be linked to socialisation?

For instance, for some inexplicable reasons, you feel an increasingly strong sense of discomfort when you are in the presence of someone who may be of a darker skin colour, speaks with an accent you are unfamiliar with, has a face and dress sense you personally do not identify with, has more wrinkles on his face than you can irrationally accept, or you see an inter-racial couple and somehow cannot feel anything but disgust and you can’t help it, etc.

Hey, it may even be bias against common people like those who are overweight, bigger foreheads, people with body odour, people with a certain look on their faces, the kind of impressions that will make us like them a little less and give them a little less credit for.

It is the kind of bias that involves repulsion and irrational dislike (not hate). No tinge of jealousy or fear, no urge to belittle, and no sense of a threat at all; you just dislike the person/trait and would want to distance yourself from him or her.

Is this bias? And should you be ashamed of harbouring this bias?

To what extent should we self-regulate our feelings and use the power of reason and rationlisation to overcome these seemingly natural biases?

Is it still “wrong” to have these biases even if it does not manifest in discriminatory treatment or a sour face?

Who decides it is “wrong” to feel this way?

Sometimes, I feel that biased people are often criticised as individuals, and their affiliations, associations and circles aren’t spared either. In the process, attention is taken away from how society censors itself and orders itself in a way to upkeep what is “right” and what is “accept” or you might say, “politically correct”.

What does society do here when seemingly natural instinctive feelings of discomfort surface? In my opinion, we are socialised with the skills to suppress or negate these potentially prejudicial feelings. We learn to keep ourselves in check, watch our words and do something which is culturally recognised by most human beings – apologise.

When one corrects one’s (uninformed) prejudices and apologises, there is an attempt to reintegrate oneself into the circles one desires to be in. Apology is social, and it’s a ritual to a large extent. We self-regulate our prejudices and discipline ourselves so we can fit in, but the thing that is the natural irrational prejudice does not ever get addressed, but is suppressed.

Not everyone has the time, resources and aptitude to be totally reflexive, evaluate their own beliefs, use reason to overcome some natural impulses and feelings. So what do we do now?

So how do we live in a world of irrational and non-rationalisable biases? If tolerance is the way, isn't it mere rational suppression? Tolerance/suppression is further rationalised with incentives, given by the state, society and the economy. So in light of this, are we suppressing our natural biases, just to be tolerant, so that we can achieve something or gain something as an ends through the means of peace, harmony and non-conflict? Is peace not valorised by personal gain? Are we not just suppressing ourselves just to get along, just to gain something?

So, is a society of harmony founded on the rationalisation and introduction of guilt to accompany specific biases, but cleaned up with the tag "political correctness"? You feel bad for being biased, and that becomes a means to a society of tolerance.

If diversity is the (harmonious, hopefully) coexistence of differences, why is there a need for or a push towards homogeneous self-regulation and rationalisation of individual and internal biases?

Maybe I'm barking up the wrong tree, but how do we deal with biases that appear to be "natural"? And what are the implications of a rationalised approach for a solution? (of course, some people will re-rationalise the rationalised approaches as "normal" or "natural" themselves)