06 May 2008

The pigeons are among us already

What is the point of having rules and penalties governing internet speech relating to race, religion and sex, when the technology is borderless? In any case, why SHOULD there be all these rules? The case for more free speech. Full essay.


Rani said...

i agree with most of your points. however i would like to ask for more elaboration on how total freedom of sexual speech can overcome the problem of pedophilia? i would defend freedom of speech in many aspect of adult sex (hetero-, homo- whatever), but NOT freedom of speech for pedophilia and child sexual abuse. I would think that pedophilia is one aspect where freedom of speech argument cannot stand. What's your respond to this? thank you.

Yawning Bread Sampler said...

Rani -

About midway through the essay, there is the sentence: "The majority felt that except in extreme scenarios, the state should stay away from regulation of socially-sensitive speech..."

One extreme scenario is precisely the depiction of children in sexually-compromising ways. The proposal put up by bloggers clearly supports law and prosecution (not even mere administrative penalties) for such, in line with international norms.

Therefore the proposal is not for TOTAL freedom.

Yawning Bread Sampler said...

Likewise there is an "in extremis" exception to freedom of speech pertaining to race, religion or other identity attributes. The proposals allow for state intervention in cases of really extreme hate speech, that present clear and likely danger of inciting injury on people.

Anonymous said...

If we need our government to protect us from images of women kissing, people having sex, people spewing irrational hate in the real world, we will remain a rather stupid lot.

Anonymous said...

YB, in your blog, you noted that

The group of us involved in drafting these proposals decided quite early on that we'd be navigating without a compass if we only addressed the nitty-gritty of the specific rules without critiquing the mindset behind them.

Before this, you noted:

If you look behind the textual surface of the current rules, you can discern a mindset with these threads....

I am afraid you and your group, or for that matter any advocate of free speech, in the Singapore is going to face a rock and a hard place:

You can't avoid navigating the specific of current rules without a compass so-to-speak in the forest of "nitty gritty"-ness because you will be thrown into one, albeit vicariously by queries such as that posed by Rani.

You also can't avoid the baggage the word "free" and "speech" have in the Singapore context.

Like it or lump it, many will take the word on its, to borrow your phrase, "textual surface" and take it to mean absence of restrains as opposed to the meaning of erring on the side of being free unless otherwise needed to be.

Again, the ability to distinguish between "speech" and "action" seemed to be missing. In the Singapore context, the two seemed to mean the same thing. I SAY something so therefore I must be ACTING on it attitude.

Take for example, Ranis' musing:

i would like to ask for more elaboration on how total freedom of sexual speech can overcome the problem of pedophilia?

I supposed if you peel off the "textual surface" of the muse, she, and possibly others, seemed to be of the mindset that freedom of speech is indeed the CAUSE of paedophilia. Not to pick on the Rani but I am sure other ills of society (racism, sexism, etc) can also be blame on the ills on "Freedom of Speech", and the list will be endless.

My feeling is that whilst it is laudable that you and your group have made to effort to persuade the Government to deregulate, I think the message is probably being targeted at the wrong audience.

More fundamental work to be done so that you can then steer between the rock and hard place, see above, that you will undoubtedly encountered.

Start at the grass root level to make the Singapore electorate appreciate Freedom of Speech is:

(a) a mindset about aspiration not some kind of yardstick on which free-ness or constrain-ness is to be measured;

(b) valuable mechanism for society to gain collective knowledge about good/evil things that bless/plague the world we live in;

(c) not the same as free to act without restraint;

(d) as a corollary to (b) and (c) free SPEECH is the basis where society learns about the good/bad so that society can value the good and restrain the bad ACTS.

Rani said...

thank you for your explanation!

Anonymous said...

Yet another great article, Alex. I gotta take writing lessons from you. :)


Anonymous said...

Dr George explained, 'if there are societal interests like values and protection of racial and religious harmony, who better to decide than society itself?'

The question here is who makes up the so called 'society?' he is referring too.

Tell me Mr Alex Au, I know this committee has representation for open bloggers, readers and even experts, but where is the rep for the anonymous bloggers?

Tell me are they in Dr Geroge's calculations? When he says, 'who better to decide than society itself?'

Yawning Bread Sampler said...

To anonymous, 7 may 2008, 12:04

The problem lies in the word "anonymous". Cherian's argument is that decisions in society should be made by consulting as widely as possible, but I would add (and I am sure he agrees with me) that there will be limits, and one of those limits could be that participants must participate openly in the process.

Just as citizens need to identify themselves at polling booths, so it is not invalid to require that people wanting to be involved should identify themselves and stand up for their beliefs. In the absence of that, how would anyone even know that the "anonymous blogger" is Singaporean in the first place? And if we can't be sure he is Singaporean, how does one justify his inclusion in a Singapore-societal discussion?

Anonymous said...

Dear Yawning Bread,

"how does one justify his inclusion in a Singapore-societal discussion?"

To me it's very simple. If a man can migrate physically, so can his heart and brain.

Beyond that, I dont feel, I have a right to pry further.

But that's all I need from him, a commitment that he's genuinely working to make SG a better place to work, live and play.

You ppl feel you can throw ppl like that in the dustbin?

That's fine. No worries, keep it up - we will pick it up.

We know value, when we see it.

If you want to be the best - the gold standard is not singapore. How can that be? It has to be the world.

Think abt it. I know that makes many insecure, but thats not my problem as much as it remains theirs to sort out.

Good luck in your enterprise.

Darkness 2008

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your reply @ 7 may 2008, 12:04.

I just wish to add by way of reply. I don't agree the reasons or the methodology adopted by the 15 bloggers.

The comparison between polling and participating in the net anonymously remains a facile one. The net has always been a place where anon status features unlike the real world, so when in Rome why behave like a Singaporean? Should we behaving like Romans as well?

When one compares the benefits to the deficits. I feel it would have been better to provision for anon voters.

As it is. You do not have my support. You see I too have a right to poll.

Good Day

Anonymous said...

While anon bloggers and forummers are of many kinds, some get so irresponsible in their comments that they are used by the govt and the msm to make their case that the internet is all full of rubbish. As a result we have a chicken and egg question. Many singaporeans fear to voice their views openly, so hide behind anonymity and some of these then use their anonymity to go overboard in their comments. The govt then points to these comments (and only these comments) to justify the harsh rules e.g. Sedition Act. I don't know what the solution is, but I salute those who are prepared to identify themselves. I hope they are paving the way for a maturing of cyberspace.

Thomas (still a civil servant, so dare not put surname, sigh)