Monday, 1 December 2014

Respect, Tolerance and Compromise - Why we cannot return to the Past

Previously, I had wondered if Mahbubani's article on "Nurturing the Art of Compromise" might have been out of touch with the zeitgeist of the times, the humour of society today. The current zeitgeist brooks no compromise.

There are forces pulling our society apart. Our communal spirit is being pulled apart by sectarian interests and pursuits and values.

There are those who see all this and think the answer is clear: return to the past; return to our communal spirit, our sense of common purpose, our sense of common destiny, seeing our fates inextricably linked, and our only hope is to be committed to our shared purpose, our shared destiny.

These people are unfortunately, deluded.

Fortunately (somewhat), there are those who see the present for what it is and what the future holds and has to be.

They see and understand that communalism was the past. Common purpose is not so common anymore. The genie has been let out of the bottle, and it is not going back in. What is known, cannot be un-known. What is seen, cannot be un-seen. What is learned, cannot be un-learned.

Communal spirit and values brought us forward, but it is not clear that such an approach is relevant, effective, or even viable today.

What is clear though is that the differences that divides us are not exactly the same as those that tried to pull us apart in the past.

The answer is not "Respect, Tolerance, and Compromise".

Or rather, it is Respect, Tolerance, and Compromise, but those are second order virtues at best.

"Respect, Tolerance, and Compromise" is easier said than done.

To take an issue out of Singapore (to allow for some distance and perhaps objectivity), consider the Abortion issue - a hot issue in the west, specifically the US.

If you are "Pro-Life" you believe that life begins at conception (or very soon after), and abortion is murder.

If you are "Pro-Choice", you believe that a woman has full autonomy over her person and should have the right to control what happens to her person. Forcing a woman to have a child against her will is a form of subjugation/slavery.

How does one arrive at a compromise? For a pro-lifer to compromise, it is to allow murder. For a pro-choice to compromise, it is to surrender their autonomy and personhood, and allow others to dictate what can be done to them.

The point is, as long as values (and morality is a set of values) inform your position on issues, how do you COMPROMISE on your values? If you value your values, but they are so easily compromised, you don't really value them, do you?

Or by "compromise", what you mean is that the OTHER party should compromise their misinformed, heathen values, because obviously YOUR values are true and divinely informed?

How do you TOLERATE other values when they are so obviously misinformed, and clearly wrong? Because if they are not wrong, it would mean that YOU may be wrong. If their values are correct, shouldn't you adopt those values? If those values are correct, then yours MUST be wrong. And if THEIR values are wrong, tolerating them is... intolerable. Or you are just humouring them. For the sake of "harmony".

How do you RESPECT other values, when they are so clearly pagan/heathen/simply superstitions masquerading as religious values? Because if their values are based on TRUTH, then how can yours be based on Truth as well, and be opposed to their values?

"Tolerance, Respect, and Compromise" are easier said than done. All of the above rests on two other virtues. The first of which is Humility.

To respect others, requires humility. To tolerate other values, require humility, AND the niggling suspicion that you might be wrong. To compromise requires the humility to accept that your solution may be wrong.

Which bring us to the second virtue: The virtue of fallibility or uncertainty.

There is much to recommend the virtue of uncertainty. Fallibility is not exactly a "virtue", but rather a characteristic truth of us all. But it is a virtue to accept that truth, and it takes humility to act on that truth. And it is only with the humility of knowing and acting on that Truth, that Respect, Tolerance, and Compromise is possible.

Unfortunately, when it comes to Values, we are unshakeable in our conviction that our values are right, honourable, and perhaps even divinely directed. Why else would we hold to these values, if we had doubts about the veracity or validity of these values? The values we hold are those we hold with conviction.
"Convictions are more dangerous enemies of Truth than Lies" - Friedrich Nietzsche. 
Yes. Convicts are dangerous. Unless you are a Yellow Ribbon Project supporter.

Self-confidence is not the unshakable faith in one's infallibility, but a commitment to learn what is right, and to do what is right when one learns what is right.

But note that the above does not guarantee that the self-confident man will eventually do the right thing. It only guarantees that he will arrive at some decision as to what the Right Thing is, and will do it with great conviction. 

And become a prisoner of his values.

Therein lies the problem for Singapore.

If you were to list the top 10 characteristics of Singaporeans, would "humility" be on that list?

How about the top 20?

Top 30?

This is not to say that there are no humble Singaporeans. There are. But that the quality of humility is not characteristic of Singaporeans. It is not a "shared value".

The Singaporeans who believe that the severed cat was done in by psychopaths were not humble enough to accept that they were not in the best position to assess the truth of the matter.

Lawrence Khong was divinely guided in his view that Christian Morality trumps State Law. How could he concede that secular values trump Christian Morality? That would require more than humility. It would require a betrayal of his beliefs.

Muslims who believe with irrepressible faith that the tudong is required attire for women cannot have the humility to believe that they may be wrong.

It is just not possible.

So I question the flippant answer that "compromise" is the answer.

Sure it is.

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