Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Nothing is Impossible (On Freedom of Expression Part 3)

I think it is incredibly sad that when it comes to Freedom of Expression, nothing is impossible.

But I an getting ahead of myself.

In Part One of this series of posts on Freedom of Expression, my point was that Freedom of Expression is over-rated.

Especially if the Freedom is also free from Responsibility.

You may have heard this wry observation about raising children: we spend 18 month encouraging them to stand up, walk, run, and speak. And then the next 18 years telling them to shut up, sit down and stop running around.

And the reason simply is this: Having the ability is one thing. Using the ability responsibly is the next thing. As Spiderman's uncle told him: "With Great Power comes Great utility bills".

Or maybe it was "Responsibility".

I believe it is the same with any Freedom. With Freedom comes Power. And with Power comes Responsibility. Because without Responsibility, Power corrupts.

So parents spend the rest of the child's pre-adult lives telling them to restrain themselves, and to learn to use their abilities responsibly. Otherwise, they may find themselves trying to cram 16 years of parenting into a weekend in remand for their son by refusing to bail him out. Tough love isn't one Big "No" when the whole world is watching. Tough love is years and years of little "no's" when no one is watching.

[Note: The above is a reference to Amos Yee and his YouTube Video of 2015, where he mocked and derided (and possible insulted) LKY and Christianity. Subsequently, because of police reports made by people incensed by his video, he was arrested, charged and remanded with bail offered. However, his parents decided not to bail him out. Perhaps they decided he needed to learn a lesson.]

In Part Two, I point out that most people confuse opinions, values, convictions, and prescription with facts:
"what's so interesting about these interpretations is that no one on this comment page is saying, "Hey, I think it means ..." or "I interpret this as ..." They're all just laying truth bombs, man, because something about interpreting lyrics brings out the pretentious... "

Anecdotes while interesting  and illustrative, are not proof of anything. Nor is appealing to authority. An opinion from a prominent personality may bear some weight, but only insofar as to warrant a second consideration of their opinion. Famous people can be wrong too.

A better internet is not about being polite to people who are obviously wrong. Or stupid. Or too dense to argue with. The progress of knowledge builds on previously proven and accepted knowledge. Nothing is gained by returning to fundamentals and re-explaining accepted or shared knowledge. That's what school is for. And when school fails, that's what google search is for.

Or if we do not even have shared knowledge as the basis of discussion, then we have no basis of discussion.

If the internet is to drive human knowledge forward, debates and discussion have to move forward, not be bogged down trying to debunk conspiracy theories, or falsehoods or even explaining simple knowledge that one can find out with a bit of googling. I have this on the "About" page of this blog:
"You do not have to give people who are objectively incorrect equal time."
"The real menace in dealing with a 5 year old is that... you begin to sound like a 5 year old."
Samuel Johnson... also said, "the problem with wrestling with pigs is that first, you'll get dirty. And second, the pig likes it." 
A better internet requires people to work at it, take responsibility for educating themselves. Learn to discern between facts and horse droppings. Learn to recognise a good, logical, valid, and sound arguments, and what is obviously pig poop.

Be willing to think. As Thomas Edison observed:
“Five percent of the people think;
ten percent of the people think they think;
and the other eighty-five percent would rather die than think.”
But that doesn't stop the 85% from thinking their opinion is of equal worth, of equal weight, and worth equal consideration from everyone. Democracy makes sages of us all.

And it will never be completely better. There will always be porn, and hucksters selling alternative therapies, get-rich-quick scammers, conspiracy theorists, religious fundamentalists, creationists, and political websites.

These are irrepressible. But some can, at least, be entertaining.

But there would also be the Professional Pilots Rumour Network (PPRuNe), Straightdope, Snopes, Comedy and humour sites, Philosophy Pages, Wikipedia, etc.

Which are people trying to carve out little pockets of civilisation, where the priority is knowledge and facts, rather than the verbal diarrhea of the unschooled, the uninhibited, the irresponsible, and the irrepressible.

Because when it come to Freedom of Expression, nothing is impossible.

You can read that in two ways. One is the way you probably read it.

And there is the other way, illustrated by various incidents.

For example, Charlie Hebdo, which I have commented on previously.

So some followers of a religion are sensitive about insults to their religion. One might even call it a pathological hypersensitivity. Some cartoonists find these hypersensitivities to be an irresistible target for the "practice" of their freedom of expression. And decides to draw insulting cartoons of religious figures.

Did they have to draw insulting cartoons? Did they have to target the pathologically hypersensitive? Could they simply have ignored them and just do nothing?


Doing Nothing would be impossible. For them anyway.

Then there was the 'Tuber who was seeking attention by ranting about LKY just after his passing which I mentioned in Part 1 of this series.

As mentioned in that post, the first problem was that the press reported the story.
"The news HAD to report it because it IS news. People were BOUND to watch the video because of its subject matter. And those people who were sufficiently infuriated, could NOT DENY THEIR NEED to report it to the authorities. And then the Police HAD TO ACT on the matter because they are public servants and "an offence has been disclosed to them".
There was no choice. And so it was inevitable.
Or is it?
There are precisely two points in that chain of events where we (the people) entered the picture, where we had a choice.
We could have chosen NOT to watch the video. Those of you who did, were your lives improved by it? Did you expect it to improve your lives before you watched it? Did you think your perspective of the world would be enlightened? Or your perspective of Singapore? Of Lee Kuan Yew? Of Singapore Youth's insightful view of national events?And those who did watch and were incensed by the video could have chosen NOT to be incensed by the video, or chosen NOT to make police reports about it, or to do anything about it.
Was it possible for us to NOT watch the video, to NOT over-react to the rants of opinionated 16-yr-old, to NOT report the video to the authorities?


Like I said, (doing) nothing is impossible.

But sometimes doing nothing, saying nothing, is the most matured and most appropriate thing you can do.

And I have this blog.


Maybe I should have a blog called "The other side of Freedom of Speech" and it would be blank. No posts. I would go there every time I feel like I need to comment on something.

Or the blog could be called, "Nothing is possible".

Or "My thoughts on Everything, which I MUST share with you".

Or "The Golden Blog" (cos Silence is Golden).


On the morning of 5 June, an earthquake struck Sabah, shaking Mt Kinabalu. Some Primary 6 pupils from Tanjong Katong Primary School were on their way up the mountain. Six students and 2 adults are confirmed dead (as of 8 June AM), with one teacher and one student still missing.

That a tragedy has occurred is not in question.

It is our response to it that is interesting.

Most responded appropriately - condolences, sympathy, empathy.

But it was... inevitable that there would be comments that question the wisdom of parents who allow their 12-yr-olds to go trekking up a mountain, the prudence of schools that organise such trips, the money-minded tour guides who recommended the more "interesting" route, and the vainglorious "authorities" who wanted credit for organising such trips.

Those who need to find someone to blame - parents, schools, guides, faceless monolithic "authorities" are basically insecure and immature. They need to blame someone because if there is someone to blame, it means it was someone's fault, which means it was preventable, and they can believe that they would never be so foolish as to make the decisions that had led to parents suffering this tragedy.

It is a defence mechanism (internal locus of control) that allows them to believe that they have control over events in their lives.

It is a quintessential Singaporean trait, this internal locus of control. This trait allows us to seize control of our lives and make destiny our bitch. It is this internal locus of control that makes us take every disaster or crisis personally, find someone or something to blame, and explain to ourselves how such a tragedy, disaster or crisis is ultimately preventable if only we had USE OUR COMMON SENSE. Or something like that.

Such tragedies are of course unpredictable. They are avoidable only if one takes an over abundance of caution and refuse to entertain any risks at all.

Singaporeans are after all famed (or infamous for?) Kiasu-ness. And Kiasi-ness.

But I digress.

The point is, freedom of expression. And Singaporeans exercise what little Freedom of Expression they had in blaming the parents, the school, and the faceless "authorities".

Could they have held their tongue (or keyboard fingers) and not commented at all?


They had to show, to themselves, if not to others, that they were too smart, too prudent, too cautious, had too much common sense to recklessly endanger their own children, unlike the silly, reckless, imprudent parents who lost their children on the mountain.

Were these people with internal locus of control correct?

That is unimportant. You can consider them correct or not, it matters not to me. That is not the point.

Were those parents insensitive? Were they, in trying to assuage their own concerns, in trying to convince themselves that this terrible tragedy would have been avoidable if it were presented to them, being incredibly insensitive in trying to blame the parents who were already traumatised and feeling guilty and questioning their own decision?

Or was that part of the point?

Freedom of Expression is an empowering Right. It imbues us with Power. With Power comes Responsibility. Power exercised without Responsibility, Corrupts. Ergo, Freedom without Responsibility is a Corrupted Power.

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