Saturday, June 06, 2015

On Conservative Singapore and Homosexuality

So this article has been going round on my Facebook news feed lately, and though I am usually loathe to sound my voice about a social justice issue, I have been constantly frustrated by every well-meaning yet narrow-minded burst of outrage that this article has induced.

The article covers an interview our PM Lee had with journalists from around the region, but whose reporter specifically chose to spin with the "righteous indignation" angle and "clickbait" headline of "Conservative S’pore 'not ready for same-sex marriage'". Other aspects of the press conference, such as PM Lee's views on ASEAN, are conveniently compartmentalized into separate articles. But I digress - journalistic integrity is not what I am frustrated with this article about (although I am frustrated with it in general). And besides, there are many possible reasons for the narrow scope of the articles: journalist specialisation, brevity and conciseness, the amount of material for a substantial article...

What frustrates me, as I mentioned earlier, is the lack of thought that has gone into the emotional lambasting of our governing body and constitutional laws; scores of self-righteous citizens eagerly pointing the condemning finger at our Prime Minister without stopping to consider the sheer complexity, the multidimensional nature of something like the "homosexual agenda" has in Singapore.

People like to see social issues, especially those social issues which are governed by policy and laws, as a self-contained, inert, closed system. The answer is (of course!) to abolish Section 377a! And then legalize marriage for same-sex couples! Then homosexuals in Singapore will finally get the human rights they so-rightfully deserve! Yes, I believe these are all desirable outcomes for our society. But make no mistake, these are merely outcomes. The misunderstanding occurs when people conflate them with solutions. Legalizing same-sex marriage is not going to make homosexuals accepted overnight. Repealing Section 377a is not going to prevent a gay or lesbian from being reviled by conservative-minded people, or protect them from small social acts of personal prejudice.

A proper solution would be education, of having people from both camps sit down over a kopi or teh and just talking and realizing that both malicious oppressors and self-righteous victims, both righteous defenders of heteronormality and the craven perverts of natural order, they're both just people, trying to live their lives. That's the idealistic solution, the tough solution, the hard-work-and-spending-time solution, which would then evolve such natural outcomes as the repealing of outdated laws and legalization of homosexual marriages. But these people are clamouring for the quick-and-easy, hammer-on-the-gavel solution, as if - rather ironically, I might add - a top-down, nigh-draconian ruling is going to sway the hearts and minds of the nonbelievers.

I might like to speculate here on the complex nature of this issue. It is not hard to infer that decisions made by the government on the homosexuality issue can impact many other areas of the political sphere. For example, motioning policy which seems to favour the homosexual agenda might cause the government to fall out of favour with the conservative majority, which might result in the other guy being elected into power; the other guy, whose stance on same-sex marriages curries favour with the people, but whose rise to power would play Russian roulette with the economy. Perhaps the move towards liberal policies might antagonize our conservative neighbours. Maybe the sudden lax laws, coupled with a lack of proper sex education, might result in an outbreak of sexually transmitted diseases. Who knows? These might not be the actual reasons, but the fact that they are not only possible but plausible explanations for our government's behaviour reveals the fundamental attribution error in our thinking.

It is sad that people like fighting. It is disheartening to realize that the vast majority are people who have a predilection to polarization, who immediately create camps and reinforce tribes, who quickly define who are my "allies" and who are my "enemies", because the world is just so much simpler that way. We have all the knowledge of the how to fight and the why to fight and the who to fight, with none of the wisdom to know when. Social justice warriors, the lot of them.

I believe in same-sex marriage. I believe in the decriminalization of homosexual acts. I believe that a person should be able to love whomever they choose to love, regardless of whatever someone else's family, book, superstition, tradition, or prejudice has to say. But I also believe in properly thinking about an issue, in looking at multiple angles, in knowing when your emotion is clouding your reason, in controlling a knee-jerk reaction.

I would like to point out that at no point in the article is PM Lee quoted as saying homosexuality is "wrong" or "unnatural". (I don't know if he never says this during the entire interview; I couldn't manage to find a transcript of the full reply online.) Not once does he say anything about the preservation of the institution of marriage; not once does he decry homosexuality as an abomination; not once does he mention any of the misguided and extremist views you can read in the article's comments section. All he says is that Singaporeans are not ready.

And you know what? He's right. We're not ready.