"Malaysia Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and the Sultan of Johor are seen in a blue Proton Saga... "When asked whether there is any tension with the sultan, Dr Mahathir said: “No, I don’t see anything because I went to see him and he drove me to the airport. I don’t want to comment on the sultans because if I say anything that is not good then it’s not nice because he is the sultan”"

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Monday, November 08, 2004

In recent posts on the Young Republic mailing list, Caleb puts The Associate aka He Who Must Not be Named aka mindgame aka nw.t. in his place:


nw.t:

I honestly feel that the government is perceived by the population at large (yes, of course there are some dissenters), to be delivering what they want, as per the social covenant.

Personally, I find all of this a moot point, because I don't particularly believe in any inherent rights other than self-interest, and as an individual, my self-interest is being adequately taken care of my the government, in the main. I think most people make the same calculation, except for the pseudo-liberal intellectual minority who feel that Singaporeans are base, morally bankrupt anachronisms who have to be saved
from themselves via the panacea of Western-style liberal democracy.

I actually think the whole argument about what government is ideal is intellectually amusing but morally and personally irrelevant. I don't believe in any moral accountability to anyone or anything save one's own self-interest - so even if a government is ruled by an unseemly mob of fragmenting parliamentary coalitions, or by a wizened Philosopher King, or feudal lords, the key question every individual should be asking is, what can i get out of it, and what can i do to either change the situation if it doesn't fit *me*, and how can i work with others to serve *myself*. (and no, i don't see this as necessarily devolving into unbridled anarchy - i have a
little more faith in enlightened self-interest than that:)

The worst things happen when one arrogates to oneself the illusion that one should change the world for the good of *everyone*. Because utopia means "nowhere".

So if a government in Singapore is oppressive by the standards of Amnesty International, or Chee Soon Juan, why should I care if my intermediate needs
are well met? (other than Singapore's irritating penchant for enforcing intellectual property law)

And the fact that a majority of the Singaporean population makes a similar felicific calculus is, more than anything else, why the PAP remains in power.

(of course, one can take the telesic view that those expectations and interests have been consciously shaped by a technocratic ruling elite, but to me, all this brainwashing and propaganda is like nuclear power - it's useful, but don't splash any on yourself:) and anyway, following this line of thought would mire one in endless social construction of reality theories - again, amusing, but a bit fruitless)


Caleb:

I find the pervasiveness of the 'Asian Values' discourse very irritating. The idea that liberal democracy is a Western construct beloved only by an effete, misguided and alienated intelligentsia has probably been around for a long time, but Mickey Mouse has done much to harden it into gospel truth in these parts. Perhaps you would like to consider the examples of Taiwan, Botswana, India and indeed Indonesia. You should also note that you follow Mickey Mouse in making a false dichotomy between economic progress and political liberalism.

You are also wrong to assume that abstract 'rights' are all I am thinking about when I advocate moves towards liberal democracy. Perhaps some "dissidents" in S'pore (whoever they are) do see them in an abstract way. but for me I see political liberalism as very much in my practical interest -- why would it not be in my interest to be able to participate more freely and fully in the way my life is governed? You must bear in mind that in the 80s the popularity of Mickey Mouse's party was at a low ebb (well, relatively) and it only recovered when a more consultative style of govt was introduced. This is surely evidence that ppl want some say in how they are governed. I fail to see how this would be some airy-fairy dream as opposed to a very practical concern.

I do not think the prevailing regime in Spore is unremmitingly dismal, it is certainly better than North Korea or Zimbabwe or even, say, the new EU entrant countries. But I do think it is a shame that a rich, modern country is governed in such an autocratic manner. I think we deserve better. But since I do not expect much real change in the next 5-10 years, I have resigned to regarding all this shit with the profoundest indifference.

Your out and proud egotism (egotism as a political philo, not a personal characteristic) is all very well and fine, but I think it becomes unfair when you deride those who do not share this egotism as a "pseudo-liberal intellectual minority". Your implication that those who would like to see a more liberal regime are motivated solely by a sense of moral superiority is also manifestly unfair. Just as you are entitled to your egotism, others are entitled to their liberal or Fabian or whatever convinctions. If I choose to valorise civil liberties and participatory govt, and have good reasons for doing so, then I expect my choice to be respected and engaged with, not cynically dismissed. It is neither my job nor yours to open windows into men's souls.


Me:

To the cynical naysayers who deride democracy, I respond thus: "Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those others that have been tried." - Winston Churchill

Of course in theory, enlightened despotism is the best form of government. But the question remains: how do you ensure that the despot is and remains enlightened?

People like nw.t who crow triumphantly that people are motivated by their self-interest must needs recognise that, if this is true, a true Platonic Philosopher-King would never emerge, and thus a form of government that serves everyone's interests best should be one in which many people participate and which they try to steer for their self-interests. One which has a greater degree of legitimacy than the others would also be one that serves the self-interest of as many as possible.

Which, oddly enough, turns out to be democracy, which they so despise. Fancy that. (A parallel may be drawn with the free market, motivated by base and contemptible desires, but which turns out to serve the common good)


It is most refreshing having someone join me in my attempts to knock The Associate aka He Who Must Not be Named aka mindgame aka nw.t. off his post-modernist pedestal.

If nw.t, a member of the pseudo-transcendent ultra-minority whose worldview rests on self-interest, does not believe in any inherent rights other than self-interest, it would be interesting to see how he then justifies self-interest as an inherent right.

Furthermore, the reason "rights" exist is that very often, people's rights coincide with their interests. It is thus misleading to say that people don't fight for their rights.


It must be pointed out to one and all too that nw.t's definition of "self-interest" is misleading. A general critique of his worldview follows:

[insert rant I posted on the blog earlier]

As for why one should fight for other's good:

[insert poem I posted on the blog earlier]


Someone else:

Hold on now, if you believe in enlightened self interest, is it not an automatic step towards a so called Western Style Liberal Democracy (and please, do take your pick from a whole range between the USA's capitalist democracy to the scandinavian style social liberlaism).

After all, no party or person has a total monopoly of good ideas and mistakes occur. When that happens, how does one change the system without a democratic vote short of outright violence?


I have noticed that many of those who speak up for our form of government often refer to proponents of democracy as preferring a so-called "western" form of democracy. Just because many western states practice democracy and a relatively large number of non-western states do not does not mean that true democracy is a western concept!

Rather, these are the kind of people that have held back our region, who are the ones behind the CCP, behind Myanmar, behind the slow progress made in the middle east.

Recall a similar struggle many years ago. Capitalism was derided as western decadence. At that time, western economies were far ahead of others, yet many proud, chauvinistic people declared that they would seek their own way, and turn away from a principle that had brought the west so much wealth. Rather than challenging the west, they only hurt themselves, and set back their countries even further.

Are we now to commit the same error? Will we then refuse to use a tool simply because someone else used it first?

***

"For if the essence of men is that they are autonomous beings – authors of values, of ends in themselves, the ultimate authority of which consists precisely in the fact that they are willed freely – then nothing is worse than to treat them as if they were not autonomous, but natural objects, played on by causal influences, creatures at the mercy of external stimuli, whose choices can be manipulated by their rulers, whether by threats of force or offers of rewards. To treat men in this way is to treat them as if they were not self-determined. ‘Nobody may compel me to be happy in his own way,’ said Kant. Paternalism is ‘the greatest despotism imaginable,’ This is so because it is to treat men as if they were not free, but human material for me, the benevolent reformer, to mould in accordance with my own, not their, freely adopted purpose."

- Isaiah Berlin on paternalism

***

We happened to be talking about halal and haram in class, and I was telling my friend about how the halal method of slaughter is more cruel to animals than the normal method. The tutor saw us talking and tried the usual trick of asking if we had anything to share, so I called her bluff. On hearing my point, she asked one muslim if she had anything to say, and her response was: 'I think it's a very sensitive issue, so I won't comment'.

I am not particularly passionate about animal rights, but there's no point causing needless suffering to animals if a less cruel way can be found to reach the same ends.

In a similar way, I never understood why the same people who were content to torture insects and creepy crawlies, often to the point of disability, expressed such outrage when I killed the same insects and creepy crawlies (eg milipedes).


Quotes:

[On positive and negative liberty] I often talk about beer, and you may think I'm alcohol-obsessed, but it's important, it's structurally important for our purposes... We might not know what truth is, we might not know what virtue is, but we know approximately what beer is.

Suppose, ah, I buy a new digital camera, and the only reason I buy it is because I have bad body image, I am worried about the fact that my abdominals are not very firm. And I notice that... in the ad, the digital camera is taking pictures of happy people at the beach who all have firm abdominals... I think: if I buy that camera, my abdominals would probably look better. And so I buy it because the admen have tricked me.

Now we move to another part which is good... The Merovingian has planted a program, he's a, he's a, a, a machine intelligence that plants programs. He's planted a program in the cake of a woman who's sitting in the restaurant with him, and he's influencing her in certain ways. This is a family class, so I can't tell you in what way he influences her. You'll have to see the movie... She's having a sensuous experience with the cake.

[On the Matrix] I can only think how bad that rave smelled, because when you only eat beans and you get 5000 people together...

[On a picture of a Tesla coil in action in a darkened room] What's that, Zouk?

Don't after this lesson, go to your Hindu friends and ask: 'What caste are you?'

[On essays in exams] About 4 [pages]. Doesn't mean if you only have 3 you sit there crying.

Ignorance of the law is no defence. You cannot go to court and say: 'I didn't know that there was such a law'. Because they presume that everybody needs to know the law. The rationale for that really baffles me. If everybody knew what all the laws in the country were, then there'd be more lawyers.

He believes that only when you punish someone, it is a good lesson for many others. So the harder the punishment, the more likely that others will not attempt even to commit the same offence. I for one don't believe or subscribe to the CJ's criminal justice system philosophy. I'm sure there are many others like me. Why? In spite of all the harsh punitive or punishment that we have been meting out on our convicted criminals for the last ten over years, seriously, have these offences come down? Do you know what we have done? We have actualy built more prisons. Our prisons' capacity has been increased. Since 1990 to now. Why? Because in the olden days people was given a reprieve, people were given a warning, people were given less sentences and so they stayed less time. Now, you send them in for a longer time, and then when others come on board, where do you put them?

[On harsh sentences] So what lesson can we learn? If we look at another society, because we're supposed to be a first world country now, right? And we are a developed nation, in all respects. Compare ourselves to australia. Australian history is that they started as a convict colony... How do you think australia now deals with criminals? First, their prisons are not even called prisons. They are called correctional centres. Their prison officers are not called prison officers, they are called officers of correction. Their prisoners, unless it is for a very very serious offence, don't remain in jail forever. They remain sometime, or most of the time, out in the community under correction work order... What is their aim? It's to, in the long term, give that person an opportunity to correct himself or herself and get back into society. The answer: Australia has one of the least rates in criminal offences, compared to many developed countries. Australia also has one of the most advanced penal system... So why is it we cannot learn things from them? We learn a lot of things from other people.

Fourth year engineering student. Sharing an umbrella in heavy rain with a lady. Happened, well the evidence is he molested her by, well, his hand falling onto her hips or wherever it is. But it happened in that way. If we had to send him away for so long, and give him so much or so many strokes of the cane. Could we not have been a bit more understanding and caring? Of course we have to look at it from the victim's point of view as well. The victim suffered a molest. But is that the answer that everytime it rains, you don't share the umbrella with any other lady? Because you're afraid. Because now according to the Chief Justice standard, you've got molest of the shoulder as well. So if you share an umbrella, what are you supposed to do? Keep your hands in your pocket or somewhere else? Make sure it doesn't touch the other person. Whether male or female *laughs from audience* Because you have molest of the male as well.

He assaulted the lawyer... He, unfortunately, appealed. *laughs from audience* He, he has not learned from historical developments in Singapore. You don't, you don't appeal any conviction if you can help it, as long as this Chief-CJ is the Chief Justice hearing Magistrates' Court appeals. So anyway he appealed for his bad luck, came before the Chief Justice, and what did the Chief Justice do? As usual, he enhanced the sentence. He enhanced a sentence beyond what was even allowed in the Section. If you look at every section in the penal code, it says that upon conviction, you shall be liable to a maximum of, let's say, 7 years' imprisonment, that's the maximum. But normally they don't give you the maximum, normally, although nowadays they tend to give you close enough. *muted laughs from audience* But what did the Chief Justice do? He went beyond it. And how did he do it? He said 'I'm taking into account this person's previous, some very small misdemeanor'. You know, I don't know whether - I can't remember the facts, maybe some parking offences or something like that. *laughs from audience* Something so ridiculous, you know, that this person is supposed to have committed. He said 'I take all this into account, and I'm going to send you away for a long long time'... He appealed, the Attorney-General appealed. Very unlikely for the Attorney-General to appeal. He appealed to the Court of Appeal against the CJ's decision, and so 3 judges sat to hear the appeal and they reversed the CJ. Of course, they are still judges *muted laughs from audience after a delay*

You have a problem. The police don't want to prosecute you. You don't have money. And you can't, therefore, hire a lawyer. And you do not know how to prosecute. You do not know how to pursue the case. You have to live a very unhappy man. (on your behalf)

Of course it is the aim of the criminal justice system in Singapore to reform and rehabilitate young offenders. But I would like you, when you have some time, to go to the Juvenile Court... You'll be shocked to find young magistrates giving a lecture to parents in public about their failure in bringing up the particular child. Now, what is wrong with that? Number one: I don't think that's gonna help in any rehabilitation or reform. Number two: The parents have not made any, have not committed any crime. So they don't need to get a lecture from the magistrate. And number three: If you really want to reprimand or give a lecture like that, you must always do it in private. In chambers. But what do they do? Because these are young magistrates who... these poor parents appear before you. Pleading for their child to be given a second chance. Now, you know that there are also reporters and all that. And so you take the opportunity to make a public display. Compare that with how people handle young offenders in many other developed nations. So there's something wrong in the way we are approaching the punitive element of the criminal justice system.

There was this person who used to take - personal consumption - he used to take ecstasy pills. Quite a big shot. And he was, the police were laying a trap for him, so a narcotics officer pretended to wanting to buy this one single pill from him. Offered him 140 Singapore Dollars for one pill. Which according to the market, is very very high for one ecstasy pill. So it was an entrapment. He was caught, obviously because this person kept on pleading: I'll pay you anything, so on and so forth... He was then charged, convicted, he appealed. *muted laughs from audience* He appealed on the basis that the entrapment laws in Singapore are very very severe and it is very very bad to hold entrapment procedure and so on and so forth and this particular case, why should there be a presumption... he was still convicted. The conviction was still upheld by the CJ, so the presumption offences are now becoming more and more because it is making the prosecution easier, otherwise the standard of proof is very difficult to overcome (want)

[On a blindfolded woman personifying justice] Less aggressive, less punishing and more humane. What a sad indictment on all the men. I think I will personally take you to the family court in Singapore... I think you should come with me to see how much the men are suffering. Less aggressive, very passionate. If ever there is any discrimination, it is taking place in the family court. And I personally witnessed it. *concurrent laughs from audience*... It's got something to do with the biological state of a woman and a man. Give life? But without us they can't do anything. They can try. (of)

[On grounds for divorce] Nowadays it has come down. In the olden days it used to be: wife bashing, wife beating, you know. Very serious unreasonable conduct. But now again this is watered down. Nowadays the kind of complaints we get is excessive, unbearable snoring. It is unbelievable. This couple may have gone out for 8 years before getting married, and we all assume they did not sleep together. Otherwise, how come as soon as she gets married, the complaint that she lodges is that 'I cannot take his excessive snoring'. And then of course she considers it unreasonable conduct. But on the other hand, in the olden days, men have complained of nagging wives. They never got a divorce on the basis of nagging wives for unreasonable conduct. Today the court is prepared to give it.

If a judge is unhappy with any act of Parliament, what he will do is that he will interpret in such a way that it makes the Act or the applicable Statutary Provision almost redundant or irrelevant.

Lawyers, actualy one part of lawyering, is all about acting. If you're a good actor, good drama, you can actually get away quite persuasively in court. Now one such person, even in Singapore context, who was able to put his histrionics to great diplay in court was the late David Marshall... he had great success in the criminal courts in Singapore... Quite intimidating to witnesses. Shouting and screaming. Basically a drama. (Singapore's, use)

Of course nothing compared to the Palace of Justice in Putra Jaya... It's a huge court... It's unbelievable. I think even our stadium falls in pale. It's a huge building. So beautifully done that I think the judge who sits there must feel like the king of any big empire. (pales in comparison)

Malaysia has got something like 500 or 600 thousand cases backlog. It will take at least about 5000 judges to be appointed to clear the cases.

[On the CJ] In three years he cleared the entire backlog. We don't have a backlog at all. In fact now the judges don't have enough work

[On the Family Court] It was set up on April first, 1996. I don't know why April Fool's Day.

I don't think hanging anyone is something that, as a civilised community, we should even be carrying out today. I hope this will be reviewed under the new government. I think we need to put an end to this hanging. Death by hanging is no longer relevant if you want to reform society.

[On receiving lecture notes] Some of you tend to get it from your predecessors but remember: the law changes, ok?

Even if you're too lazy to speak up, at least nod your head or shake your head. Surely you're not too tired to do that.

Singapore is one of the few countries in the world to produce land. Amazing, isn't it?

Nowadays monetarism is just a intellectual curiosity, more or less. Some people might disagree with me, but that is my assessment as a macroeconomist.

The government sacks the monetarist, so he has to go back to the university to teach monetarism.

[Lecturer's phone rings] I thought [since] this is the last lecture, I wouldn't get a phone call, so I didn't switch it off. [Girl in back row: What sort of logic is that?!] (was)

Adobe is one of the best companies in the world. Microsoft is one million times worse. This is the last lecture, I always complain about Microsoft to my students in the last lecture. They're selling rubbish to the world.

[On John Taylor's business card with: 'r = 0.02 + 0.5 (π - 0.02) + 0.5 (Y - Y*)'] On the back of his [business] card you will find this rule... I took it from the back of his card.
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