Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Debate and Decisions

Here are some things you may want to consider.  

The Birther Conspiracy.
 The Birther conspiracy refers to those in the US (usually Republicans and Tea Partiers), who believe that Barack Hussein Obama II was not born in the USA, and so is not eligible to be President. Now this is an easily disproved accusation, which is done by producing Obama's birth certificate. Which is now available online. Despite this, Birthers still disbelieve, do not bother to check or otherwise come up with conspiracies to defend their indefensible position. Reasonable people have taken pains to debunk this factually ridiculous position. And yet it persists.

Obama is a Muslim
Obama is named after his father who was raised Muslim and has the middle name "Hussein". However, his father quite early on lost his faith and was atheist/agnostic by the time he met Obama's mother. Despite many respectable sources debunking these accusations, despite Obama's Christian faith and practice, there are those who still believe that Obama is Muslim, and there's even a compiled, edited video clip to show Obama admitting that he is Muslim (Video).  

Pro-Life, Pro-Choice
Then there are age-old, unresolvable arguments that are entrenched within values and morality. Abortion is one such issue, with fundamental religious right believing in the sanctity of life from the point of conception, and the liberal left believing in the right of a woman to control and decide her life. With value-laden slogans like pro-Life and pro-Choice, the issue once raised and debated in public can never be resolved as both parties polarise and entrench their position.  

These three examples are chosen for their general irrelevance to Singapore so that the reader has some emotional distance and can consider the facts dispassionately. Obama's birth certificate should be a minor issue at best, raised at some point if some people have doubts and resolve once the birth certificate is produced.

BUT despite putting the image of the certificate on-line and independent third parties examining the certificate, and news paper announcement of the birth, there are those who will still ignore the facts, proclaim a conspiracy, or declare a cover-up.

And it is not just illiterate hicks who believe this, but people you would assume to have some common sense, like Donald Trump. (Google "Donald Trump Birther")

Obama's religion should also have been quite factual and observable. If he is Muslim, he would need to pray 5 times a day. He would need to know which way was Mecca. And the US would have the First, the Second, the Third and the Fourth Ladies.

There was a rumour that for his swearing in he used a Koran. That was another politician (and technically, no religious books are necessary for the taking that oath).

And from debates that can be easily resolve by reference to documents or observation, the third example is a debate about values.

If factual issues can persists despite facts, despite proof, what more hope is there of resolving issues of values?

The casinos in Singapore issue is fundamentally an issue of values for many Singaporeans. The resistance (and therefore the continued existence of the law) against homosexual acts is fundamentally a value issue.

The ministers salary is seen by many Singaporeans as mainly a value question.

Salaries for CEOs of Charities is also a values question.

These issues discussed in public serves only to polarise the population, entrench positions, and make resolution painful if at all possible.

Worse of all, even if there is resolution, it would not convince those who would not be convinced, and given a chance, they would reverse those decisions, if at all possible.

People who want more debate in parliament are actually asking for decisions they like. For as long as the decision is not in line with their values, beliefs, or to their benefit, they want debate. Once the decision is in their favour, they will happily close debate.

Witness the AWARE Saga. That was a a value-laden issue between religious Christians defending their beliefs and their values and women's rights activists defending their beliefs and values. And at the end of it was a Pyrrhic victory for AWARE, and a moral victory for the Christians.

In a sense, that very public debate was a taste of what public debate over value-laden issues would be like. AWARE was not ever in danger of being convinced by Christians, and the Christian were staunch in their faith.

It would be clear then, that in a value-laden debate, that no matter what the decision, there will always be some segment that would be unhappy, and debate can always continue. If it is a decision that all can be happy with, then obviously there is no need for debate.

The purpose of parliament is to decide. Debate is a process of arriving at that decision. Debate is not the purpose of parliament, just the tool. The Opposition in Parliament has a role to ensure the germane issues are raised and responded to by the ruling party.

The ruling party has a responsibility to explain the rationale of their decision to the satisfaction of the people, either in parliament, or in the results of the policies they implement. But at some point the debate must end and the decision must be taken, or parliament will parley without end.

The results if that decision will then have to be judged for itself. If the results are close to what the ruling party decided, then it speaks for itself. And should the results be bad, the ruling party will need to answer to the electorate in the next election.

Some people will try to make the budget overrun of the Youth Olympic Games an election issue. They are of course free to try. But I do not get the sense that the people on the ground much cares for this issue.

Why? Because it is not a value, belief, morality issue in the first place, and second, because the accusation that the games were badly run, does not ring true.


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