10 November 2005

White Elephants

So I received this interesting email from a bunch of schoolgirls and they asked me to help publicise their school project. But I see that Hui Chieh from Singapore Angle has already written about this matter, so I'll just provide you with the link.

The white elephants of Buangkok have evolved. They are now a symbol of active citizenship, of free speech and of the aspiration for a better society. Oh, they have also become T-shirts.

The girls put together an info sheet explaining the background and purpose of their school project. There is this little paragraph which I want to discuss - particularly the part that I have highlighted in bold:
"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."
If you look at the overall paragraph, well, you know what it is - just as they say in the army, it is a "cover backside" paragraph. The girls are saying, "Please ah please ah, we scared ok, don't sue us, prosecute us, fine us under the Seditious Defamatory Unlawful Assembly Public Entertainment or Whatever-Whatever Penal Code." Okay, who can blame them - this is Singapore, after all. But Mr Wang invites you to pause for a moment to think a bit more carefully about this part:
"... 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."
As a lawyer, Mr Wang would like you to remember that legal boundaries are indeed important, if only because if you cross those boundaries, you run the risk of being sued or prosecuted. However, Mr Wang also wants you to remember that the legal boundaries we are talking about are not like the immutable laws of physics or the laws of God.

The legal boundaries we are talking about are man-made. They were written by a Tan Ah Seng or a Lim Ah Kow sitting in an government office somewhere drafting statutes. The Bill then goes to Parliament and a bunch of MPs talk about it in a hurry (after all, they have 256 other things in an agenda) and vote 79 to 2 in favour of it (after all, there is the party whip and all the PAP MPs have to vote the same way) and then the Bill is passed and, voila! we have a law. A law that is as imperfect as the Tan Ah Seng and the Lim Ah Kow and the MPs who talked about it in a hurry.

So that's how you get your legal boundaries.

That's if you're lucky. If on the other hand, the law in question comes from the Penal Code, chances are that after it was created by an Englishman named Stephen MacCaulay more than 100 years ago and then imposed on the colonised people of India, Malaysia and Singapore. And since then the law has probably never been changed. Yup, we're talking about laws like theft, rape, robbery, unlawful assembly, murder etc etc. We're still living with the laws from the 19th century, essentially unchanged.

So respect your legal boundaries, because if you don't, you may get into trouble. But don't be so quick to respect the law because you assume that the law is some Great Wise Thing which was bestowed upon us by the Heavens. Nah, nothing like that. In relation to that kind of respect, just give about as much respect as you would give to a Tan Ah Seng or a Lim Ah Kow or a dead Englishman who passed away one century ago. Or three or four MPs in Parliament debating on a Bill in a hurry. You know.

7 comments:

mrdarren said...

Let me start the ball rolling by trying to give a different perspective to laws.

Think of laws as information. Our laws represent authority, but they are not necessarily authoritative. Without instruments of authority (police, judiciary), the authority of the information (in law) is only persuasive. Our laws do not bind us, in the sense of automatically ensuring our adherence to the law. Laws that lack great and powerful, and ultimately, true reasons for adherence will always face external challenges to its authority.

Those who adhere to the law through inertia will be unable to defend their choice in the face of external challenge. Think death penalty.

mrdarren said...

and can anyone tell me how I can get my hands on the t-shirt? Can't wait to start wearing it to my Meet-the-MP sessions.

clyde said...

Haha... I was once asking myself why no one creates such tshirts with "subtle" yet funky political messages. If the PAP can exploit mass media to their advantage, why shouldn't we exploit the youth?

mrdarren said...

next thing you know, PAP will "co-opt" the t-shirt idea and spin the White Elephants t-shirt as a government push for an "open and inclusive" society. That would be so PAP.

Clyde, thanks for quoting me, is there a way for me to contact you regarding some suggestions to improve Singabloodypore?

clyde said...

Like I said before, they are very logical, reasonable factors that NO death penalty supporter has bothered to even tackle or acknowledge even. They were complimentary to Yawning Bread's findings and surprisingly, no one else has made similar mention of 'other factors'.

You can contact me at jcmw83@hotmail.com

zx said...

mrdarren: Email proj.whiteelephant@gmail.com, they'll give you more information regarding the t-shirt and how to purchase.

mrdarren said...

thanks Zx, i've sent an email.

Breaking news! Buangkok MRT to open in Jan 2006 - Transport Minister says "It was not a Government decision and the timing was coincidental."