Tuesday, November 15, 2005

On the Death Penalty

So lately quite a number of folks have talked about the death penalty, so I figured I'd put in my two cents...

I believe that to have or not have the death penalty stems from the belief that the prison system is either for revenge or reform. Therein lies the answer to the death penalty. If it's for revenge (retribution) in the vein of Hammurabi's lax talionis, then the death penalty is the answer. If, however, we believe that humanity is essentially good, then criminals are merely creatures of their circumstance. This would call for long prison sentences and reformation programs.

Also there is a need to take into account the philosophy behind man's nature. The Chinese Legalists believed that men are inherently evil, along with Mencius, so a strict adherence to the law and rather draconic laws will prevent the general populace from slipping into anarchy. Confucius, along with most mainstream Christians, believe that man is inherently good, and must look towards (or back to) a Golden Age where we realise our full potential as humans.

The death penalty is the state's right in the monopolisation of violence. When nation-state's were formed, they assumed that monoply of violence in a social contract with the citizenry. The prison system was for punishment and not reformation, hence the death penalty was an accepted form of punishment. In the Progressive age and Victorian Britain, prisons began to be looked at as tools of reformation and not merely for reformation. It is from this philosophy that stems the opposition to the death penalty.

So where do we go from here? I essentially believe that the criminal justice system is one of revenge as well as reform. Petty thieves and purse snatchers are most likely victims of circumstance and given the proper guidance, can become functioning members of society, as long as we work towards helping them escape their former situation. On the other hand we have murderers and drug traffickers. I honestly believe that murderers should be hung. For no other reason than revenge. Some have pointed out that this affects the murderer's family, but it also affects the murdered's family. I truly belief that taking a life means forfeiting one's own right to life.

Drug traffickers should not be hung. In fact I have argued for the decriminalisation of non-opiad drugs. I believe a long sentence is punishment enough. Similarly for drug users, I believe rehabilitation and a short prison term would help. Perhaps we can adopt a "three strikes" system for drug trafficking to balance the need for punishment and the need for reform. So if you're caught the third time, then it's the gallows for you.

The death penalty is one outcome of the state's monopoly on violence. I believe that state's have a right to it. I also believe that certain crimes are punishable by death. I tend to agree that if you take a life, it is expected that yours is forfeit.

It is a considerable dilemma, that even the Catholic Church deals with. Although the last pope opposed the death penalty, the Church has always upheld a state's right to use the death penalty if it believes in it.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

White Elephants...

So everyone's talking about it... I want one too... White Elephant T-shirt
This is a brilliant idea... Wonderful job girls...

You know if I ever started an NGO or CSO I would love to adopt that white elephant as a logo...
The Society of White Elephants...Yeah... That would be a good one... Also very smart with the whole marketing campaign...

Kudos to you all!

You know this is very interesting... Perhaps even telling of how our society is evolving... When formal routes of dissent (or disagreement, depends on who you talk to) are blocked off (like in Turkey) other forms of dissent appear. Humour tends to be a key area of focus.

The original person who put up the White Elephant actually took a light-hearted approach to a serious problem. That's usually what happens in Turkey too. Since there are little alternate avenues for dissent, the only option is to crack jokes at the situation. You can't really fight the system since it's all-pervasive, but you can learn to cope with it. After all laughter is the best medicine.

It also sure beats just complaining about it. Since you're actually doing something about it. I suppose this is a step up from Rockson who can be humourous at times, but I doubt it's really intellectual humour. It's more the Phua Chu Kang sort of humour that relies on stereotypes (in this case the Ah Beng) and being crude. Generally I prefer Molly Meek, with her rapier wit. Sarcasm still lives!

Humour exists in most societies, and unlike the high minded and sophisticated that some of my fellow bloggers use in their arguments. Simply wit and humour works far better when the political discourse is taken to a wider audience. Sometimes I get really tired of reading highly intellectual pieces by the early Chinese intellectuals, since there's a lot of theory that gets thrown around. I even zone out when my friends start using Foucault and what not... I prefer simple ideas to theory (they usually catch on faster, like this White Elephant).

I wonder if the White Elephant will become the symbol of quiet opposition. Not of opposition for opposition's sake, but a mature disagreement. Perhaps our own "White Elephant" Reformation? I seriously doubt the PAP could ban all images of a White Elephant without some chuckles from the world audience and looking too draconian.

I'm also sure the Republicans here in the US might find it amusing that another Elephant has emerged as a political symbol.

Of course this is all speculation. It could just be a passing fad and will wilt away with time. I for one would love to keep this alive. So I suppose I shall borrow a leaf from our other bloggers and start a "White Elephant" Meme. If you're with me on the idea that there can be a responsible polity in Singapore, which is not merely oppositional, but rational and pragmatic, then join me by putting the white elephant symbol on your blog (with permission from the girls, if you read this).

I leave you with this... From their email to me (sorry for the slowness... writing a 2 page brief for Afghanistan... more work for 2 pages of briefing than a 15 page essay):

A project brought to you by class 415 of Raffles Girls School (Secondary)


There was a recent incident in which eight white elephants made out of cardboard were placed at the Buangkok MRT station on the North-East Line by some residents to convey their views on how the station is still as yet closed. This issue sparked off a huge debate amongst Singaporeans, not to mention provoked much interest in the closure of the station, the subsequent acts taken by the government, and expressing the views of Singaporeans in general.

Our class has always taken a strong interest in current affairs and this in particular caught our attention. We are not embarking on this project to judge the act in any way; rather we feel that it brought a very important issue – effective, reasonable ways of airing one’s views – to prominence. Thus we were inspired to spontaneously start this initiative in an effort to promote active participation in citizenship, which we believe would eventually lead to a more open, participative society.


  • The capacity to which our society can grow is immeasurable
  • Increased communication between the government and the people is essential for society to improve and progress as a whole, and lead to a more participative and united society
  • Citizens should bear in mind the responsibility of keeping to legal boundaries while expressing their views
  • Political maturity is essential to the concept of active citizenship


  • To push for the concept of a more open, participative society in which people can discuss and air their views in an intellectual and insightful manner, bearing in mind the need to adhere to the law while doing so.
  • Galvanize the youths of today to rise up from the apathy they are stereotyped with and take an active role in airing their views, as well as participate actively in the molding of our society
  • To raise funds for Youth Guidance, a charity organization which works with the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Police in mentoring and reaching out to youths at risk. For more information on the organization, please see the section titled “About Youth Guidance” below.
  • To ultimately help create a more participative, united society where everyone has a part to play in active citizenship


We would like to remind the public that even though the White Elephant has become our mascot and symbol for the project, we are in no way attempting to judge or condone the Buangkok MRT incident. Rather, we are using the accidental fame of the elephants to spark interest in our project; they also serve as a reminder that legal boundaries are important and should be adhered to even while expressing one’s views and opinions about political issues.