Our President, Tan Tatt Si, has written a commentary on Lianhe Zaobao titled “Rational discussion and Blind Intolerance”. Tatt Si was responding to articles on how to go beyond inclusivity and tolerance, and how there must be rational debate on potentially social divisive issues. Read the article in Chinese and the English translation below:
陈达时, July 1, 2016
也 许以下的论点会让人意外：同性恋、双性恋、跨性向社群（同双跨性向）被歧视，和宗教激进化的恐怖威胁有着一个共同点，那便是这两个问题都同宗教和传统思想 有关。宗教虽提倡和睦共处，但许多宗教经书里却同时存在着排他思想，并还鼓吹暴力的抑制行动；东方传统思想强调敬老尊贤、济弱扶幼，却撇不下子孙满堂、世 代延续的封建观念。宗教和传统文化，都在于延续其社群、族群的繁衍及利益。抛开理智，纯粹依赖它们，只会把问题根源传播下去。现今零容忍度方式只能用西谚 的“把灰尘扫到地毯下”来形容。
法律的由来，是社会需求所带动的：社会为了维持理性、有规律的运作，制定出一套方法，以奖罚方式维护社会所需。中古的西方社会受犹太基督的影响较深，但也较 早走出政教一体的错误；中东政局至今大致上还跳不出宗教的枷锁；近代东方社会的法律成熟度不如西方，但牵涉到宗教的层面不深，同时还在发展中。我国是个法 治社会，而法律讲的是道理和事理，不是天理。按理，政治和宗教不只要分家，还要分得干净利落。
法律和政策能与时并进；传统重男轻女也被理性 感化了。社会的演变不逊达尔文的生态进化论。演变，是必然的，但其速度仍可斟酌。生活在清洁干净的环境，使更多国人患有哮喘；国民习惯了受过度保护，久而 久之，“受保护主义”削弱了我们的容忍度，动不动就报警，时不时就结群找内政部抗议麦当娜“伤风败俗”的表演。最不能容忍少年余澎杉言论的，却又偏是上传 他的视频，自觉被他冒犯而要用暴力解决的一类人。这算采取零容忍吗？
言论只要是理智的，有凭有据，换来的不应该是零容忍度。理智地谈论种 族、宗教是有必要的，也应能推向具建设性的结果。无凭据的言论，又怂恿别人滋事，这些才是该针对的对象。多元种族、语言、宗教和文化，带来的是多种可能分 化社会的课题。强力压抑，反弹会更强烈；处理得妥当的话，可做到百花齐放，生活多姿多彩。通过终身教育，国民肯定能领悟到任何族群都有不代表其族群的害群 之马，也会理智地思考并应对将来所会面对的问题。
Rational discussion and Blind Intolerance
Tan Tatt Si, July 1, 2016
After reading the articles by Goh Choon Kang on 《Beyond Inclusivity & Tolerance》, Lin Chaofa’s 《Zero Tolerance for Social Divisive Expressions》, and the editors’ general questioning of “are our gracious society efforts derailed”, this writer agrees that using reason should be the attitude and the way to discern problems. Radicalisation of thinking, over the top social media posts and the corresponding public anger are but symptoms of some very basic problems.
Perhaps this might be surprising : LBGT discrimination, the radicalization of religion and the terrorist threat, have one thing in common: They are both related to religion and traditional ideologies. While religion promotes social harmony, many religious texts are exclusivist and even advocate violence as a means to curb (opposing ideas); Eastern traditions emphasize respect for the old, veneration of the virtuous, help for the weak, and nurturing for the young, while sheepishly defending the feudal concept of passing on the family bloodline. Religions and traditions are all about protecting the continuing interests of tribes and social groups. Reason aside, if we rely solely on these religions and traditions, we will be passing on the source of our problems. Unfortunately, our current way of managing debates in race and religious issues can only be described as “sweeping dirt under the carpet”.
On the Orlando mass shooting, Home Affairs Minister Shamugam said “the government (law) will protect people regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation”. The fact that every life is equally protected under the law, is not the only concern – although the amendment of section 377 reflects changing times, it is unable to eradicate discrimination against the LGBT community.
The origin of law is based on societal needs: For the society to maintain order, a set of rules were enacted, through rewards and penalties, to safeguard societal needs. Western societies were deeply influenced by Judeo-Christianity since the Middle Ages, but they managed to walk out of “mixing church with the affairs of the state” mistake relatively early. On the other hand, till today, Middle East politics has largely failed to break out of their religious shackles. While modern Eastern societies are behind the West in legal maturity, their legal systems are not deeply intertwined with religion and are still evolving. Singapore is a society based on the rule of law, and the law has as its core, logic and reason, and not rules of the heavens. Therefore, not only should politics and religon be seperated, they should be cleanly separated without overlaps.
Laws and policies can move with the times. The Eastern traditional preference for boys has been conquered by reason. Social changes do not play second fiddle to Darwin’s theory of evolution. Social evolution is a reality, but the speed at which change is happening can still be debated over. E.g., living in a clean environment has caused more Singaporeans to be afflicted with asthma – our bodies got used to our over-sanitized surroundings. Over time, such protectiveness will weaken our tolerance, making us call “999” for the most minute matters, or time and again confronting the Ministry of Home Affairs to protest against something like Madonna’s concert for its “moral decadence”. The ones who are the least tolerant of Amos Yee’s words, happen to be the ones who tend to share his videos and resort to violence against him. Is this considered zero tolerance (for socially divisive expressions)?
As long the discourse is rational and evidence-based, there is no need for zero tolerance (for socially divisive expressions). Sensible discussion about race and religion is necessary and will nudge us towards constructive outcomes. Baseless statements, that are also trouble-stirring and violence-inciting should be the focus of our concerns. Multiple races, languages, religions and cultures can be sources of many problematic fautlines in society. Strong repression will result in stronger backlashes. Conversely, if (racial and religious discussion is) handled properly, society will flourish and we experience more variety to life. Through lifelong education, citizens will realize that black sheep do not represent their community in its entirety. Citizens will think and respond rationally to any future problems.
The conclusions thus far might cause violent reactions, but this is part and parcel of what a maturing society ought to be facing in its evolution. Rationality is the key to deeper understanding, and the passport to entering a gracious society. Without it, we can only deal with the symptoms and not treat the root cause, and no campaign or social activities will be successful or sustainable. Our society must work towards the possibility of the event of the dirt under the rug ‘runneth over’, on whether society is immunised from breathing difficulties, or if we will all choke.
The author is the President of the Humanist Society (Singapore)