Friday, February 26, 2010


Is it not crystal clear, then, comrades, that all the evils of this life of ours spring from the tyranny of human beings? Only get rid of Man, and the produce of our labour would be our own. Almost overnight we could become rich and free. What then must we do? Why, work night and day, body and soul, for the overthrow of the human race! That is my message to you, comrades: Rebellion! I do not know when that Rebellion will come, it might be in a week or in a hundred years, but I know, as surely as I see this straw beneath my feet, that sooner or later justice will be done. Fix your eyes on that, comrades, throughout the short remainder of your lives! And above all, pass on this message of mine to those who come after you, so that future generations shall carry on the struggle until it is victorious.

And remember, comrades, your resolution must never falter. No argument must lead you astray. Never listen when they tell you that Man and the animals have a common interest, that the prosperity of the one is the prosperity of the others. It is all lies. Man serves the interests of no creature except himself. And among us animals let there be perfect unity, perfect comradeship in the struggle. All men are enemies. All animals are comrades.
So said Old Major, in George Orwell's Animal Farm.

My feathers, you will have surmised, are often ruffled. Observation through the Magical eye too frequently yields grounds for dissatisfaction.

More than once I have been told that my criticisms are "too negative", or that unless a 15000-point plan alternative addressing every minute contingency is proferred, a criticism is invalid for being insufficiently "constructive".

My instinct in many cases is to dismiss this, and I think this instinct is fair (if also fowl). There is little to be gained by spraying perfume over a photograph of bullshit; nor is there any need, to justify shovelling the bullshit aside, to recommend something else to put in its place. If you are being a Jerkface, I feel no obligation to suggest alternative means of shoring up your own soulsucking ego: everything will be improved if you just stop being a Jerkface. (Who would have thought?)

But. I will allow that bullshit is not always freestanding. Often it is mixed into the bricks and foundations of our achievements; we set off in the happy if delusional belief that we are doing some good. And maybe we are even doing some good, with our bullshit, for some people: just at the hideously unfair expense of others.

And there's always the fear of change, the creeping worry that perhaps things will end up as they did with Old Major, a rousing vision of a better day, only to find it all acting out in new forms of tyranny. What, we ask, frightened - used only to being frightened - if dismantling one power structure just creates room for others? Better play safe lah.

To this I ask: safe for whom? It's not at all safe for those who are currently marginalised. And the positive vision you require is implicit in the demands for change. Simple requests for roofs over heads, for the pedestrian banality of ordinary love (and even more ordinary broken hearts), for the chance to put in a regular day's work with regular risks and imperfections, for the occasional night out, for space to get on with one's choices and one's life without being vilified.

The positive vision pursued is made up of no more and no less than quotidian dreams of personal happiness. A solid majority of people want this. If we stop getting in their way for stupid reasons, they will strive to achieve it, just as water seeks its level. Which is more than enough reason to say viva la revolution.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


As our observant readers would note, things have been moving quite slowly on the Farm. The animals and I have been hard at work either prepping the fields or selling our produce at the farmers' market--we need money to keep our computers and interwebz running, so we haven't been able to complete the many half-chewed posts queued for publishing.

To make up for the lack of updates from us, but also continue some form of discourse or awareness-raising, we've finally decided to start our own Twitter account, or as we like to call it here, our MeowPwakMooMehOinkBayWoof account since none of us actually tweets. (At least not anymore.)

Links to interesting articles that we encounter during our breaks or off-work hours, and which we have no time or need to speak substantively on will be shared through twits. Small protestations, some crass, snide and ridiculously childish, on issues and news will also occur there.

Thanks for hanging around, you lovely reader!

P/S - People we owe email replies, please know that you have a place in our thoughts whenever we're at work!

I've replaced Twitter's snazzy widget with a Blogger's plainer widget so that readers will no longer be bugged to log in to their Twitter account. Stupid bug hasn't been fixed since last year.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Rony Tan and The State - 5 - "An openly pluralist, secularist, human-rights based challenge"

Really agree with this Oh My Goat - that someone really needed to push him hard to retract the statement, and it's unfortunate that it was the ISD rather than others in civic society, as would happen in a "free world". Ideally there would have been - in addition to blog posts, which there are - protests, pickets, strongly worded letters from a variety of faith and interfaith and secularist organisations published in the papers, disputing editorials in rival newspapers discussing the very nuances like those in your email etc., collectively leading to a social consensus so strong that people would hesitate to be obnoxious in the way he has, while continuing to make strong criticisms of hateful attitudes and practices whether they take a religious or non-religious form.

The reason why we have none of that is the ISA/PAP state control generally, and that ironically also creates the need for the ISD/PAP to step in, but their involvement inhibits the development of the environment that wouldn't need them... It's woeful really.

I agree with Poultrygeist that mandating prosecution wouldn't be great... I just think the healthy endpoint isn't one that's reached via the ISD.

What I think is going on here is a colonial strategy in a domestic context - divide and rule. The government is interested in a clear sectarian division between communities defined along racial/religious lines partly for ideological reasons (i.e. LKY's weird racialism)...

...but partly also because this means they can achieve this "surface harmony" you refer to, without the destabilising effect of difficult questions that arise from minorities-within-minorities (like someone criticising their own religious "community"), or groups like women, LGBTQ people, the poor etc. who have shared interests between "communities". Successful challenges to "communities" by these individuals and groups would also legitimate other challenges to interests that the government has in avoiding welfarist obligations. It is in their interests to palm welfare off onto religious "charity", and have participation in ritual ("spirituality" without social content) replace political engagement. Possibly this is also why welfare, where it exists, is often supported by the state along "community" lines (and in Singapore also by continually trying to enforce a vision of morality whereby the "family" has all the obligations to support those in need), to avoid the issues of state obligations to individuals qua individuals, which would pose a much more direct challenge to their economic and political control. Give each religious/racial "community" leader their fiefdom and they'll keep their own house in order, allowing the government elite to continue with their profits.

Of course their problem is that they're feeding (with financial support and legitimacy) the very same factions that will inevitably give rise to challenges to their own power, so they have to rap them on the knuckles with the ISD every now and then. But they won't be able to do this forever - and there is the danger the PAP itself will be assimilated into fundamentalism or increasingly pressured to give way to it on substantive matters, which amounts to the same thing - and if we want to avoid theocracy (creeping or sudden) an openly pluralist, secularist, human-rights based challenge needs to be cultivated pronto.

Rony Tan and the State - 4 - "A national narrative of harmony and stability"

I've been thinking about this in terms of the government preference for a national narrative of harmony and stability, rather than diversity and non-violence. I think it was Cat in the Cream who pointed out during our conversation that to the ISD, what they were doing was indeed clamping down and enforcing harmony/stability to arrest any possible slide down the slope to non-violence. And either Badly Drawn Pig or The Terrierist who noted that many old-guard politicians remember the days when dissent was followed by violence, and the new generation that'll take over has been schooled in and become comfortable in this framework of justifications for policing public discourse.

When the system is set up to enforce surface harmony rather than allow people and groups who disagree to express themselves up to the point of violence or incitement thereof, then people like Rony Tan's followers muttering about their preacher being a persecuted martyr, and people like Oh My Goat wondering whether she'll suffer any backlash from criticizing a religious practice, even one that might originate from a faith should she belong to. Or do people just buy into the prevention-is-better-than-cure approach?

Rony Tan and The State - 3 - "Valid criticism of religious or religion-adjacent practices"

This isn't the first time I've heard this anti-Buddhism, anti-Taoism spiel. I've heard it at least once before during a talk in school specifically aimed at how homosexuality is an abhorrence. It's probably a lot more common than we may realise for some churches to disparage other religions in their efforts to convince their flock that they have chosen the right path.

I think it was a good thing that he was asked to retract his statements. That was a massive amount of misinformation he was spreading to his flock. In a free world, there would be other ideas to counter this Rony Tan's hateful crap. But I'm not sure all members of his flock seek them out. In that context, it was probably right to make him say "I'm being irresponsible and I should have never said that. That was blatant misinformation on my part."

However, I feel uncomfortable about the "upsetting religious sensitivity" angle. Spreading falsehoods about a religion is one thing. I think valid criticism of religious or religion-adjacent practices must certainly be permitted, yes? I don't think religious beliefs should be considered sufficient in and of themselves to confer legitimacy on suspect practices.

Rony Tan and the State - 2 - "Things will get much, much messier"

We don't have any anti-discrimination laws expressly spelled out (even the wording of our constitution is aspirational on this issue, and does not set out examples of what discrimination etc is). Which is why they've used the Sedition Act.

I guess I don't have an issue against invoking the Sedition Act, because I find the notion that religions be allowed to preach against each other to be fundamentally flawed. But then, I also don't believe in an absolutist concept of truth - which is the basis for such hateful speech anyway: [insert religious text here] says [insert subject of hate speech here] is wrong and therefore it is wrong.

I think it's frightening that people in positions of power are allowed to preach whatever they want regarding the incontrovertible truth of religious ideology with a view to influencing a group of people. Personally, I believe this lays foundations for extremism.

To be honest, I was completely offended by the WAY in which he belittled Taoism (and the concept of karma and the chanting), as if fancying himself some kind of stand up comedian. It was irresponsible and pretty hateful. And given that he has no grasp/understanding of Taoism, on what basis is he making these comments?

I think the reason we don't have anti-discrimination laws is because they don't want to get rid of the discretion not to prosecute. The ISD basically forced him to capitulate and retract all his hateful crap and apologise thereby appeasing the groups he maligned, as well as keeping the Christians' persecution complex at bay. I'm pretty sure the ISD called up Derek Hong during the AWARE issue, because I don't think he apologised out of the goodness of his heart or anything. I don't think the ISD is attacking the freedom of association or religion in this regard - I think they're saying "Look here, you can preach but stay out of purporting to be an expert on other religions kthxbye". While it does seem paternalistic, I think it might actually be a better alternative to prosecuting this guy, as would be the case if we had anti-discrimination laws (even then, who's to say the ISD won't be involved? Usually they don't trumpet their involvement - this was an anomaly!)

Just my view on things lah, I think if you start prosecuting people for irresponsible proselytising things will get much, much messier.

Rony Tan and the State - 1 - "The enemy of my enemy"

This is slightly tricky one for me.

On the one hand, I have no issue with anti-discrimination laws that spell out protection against hate-speech, or mete out greater penalty for hate-related crimes. As we here at the Barn ARGUE. ALL. THE. TIME, spouting and hearing shit unchallenged is the very reason people feel justified to hate, which ultimately underpins all the violence and harassment we face at hand. As Sparky notes on the puzzlement that the mothership of Focus on the Family expressed when they found out that their teachings were being propped up as the intellectual apparatus that motivated Uganda's deathly anti-homosexuality bill:
And, as we've seen before with Rick Warren, the Family and others who are up to their evil eyes in this particular vileness, they are now all shocked, SHOCKED, that their hate filled words could have encouraged such an awful awful thing.

Even accepting their protests as sincere (and I really really don't, because it's beyond belief that someone can espouse such hatred and then be shocked at the result), even accepting that they never ever imagined this could happen - well, what did they expect? How can they be shocked that constantly attacking gays, accusing us of preying on children, of trying to destroy society, leads to persecution?


Hatred does not come from a vacuum. The violent do not appear out of thin air. There is no mystery behind those that attack and hurt and kill us.

It comes from us, our society, our leaders, our culture, our language and our very selves. We have value - but that will never be acknowledged - that will never be truly BELIEVED - while there are so many voices that devalue us.

Hate will never stop until we stop saying, in a hundred ways, every day that hate is ok.

And so long as we keep saying hate is ok, we are responsible when that hatred leads to ruined lives.
On that count, I'm angered by what Pastor Tan has said and continues to say.

On the other hand, I do think invoking the Sedition Act and invoking police action as most foul, and I don't like how this has played out for Pastor Tan too.

As a free-thinker who has had personal investments in various faith in the past, I don't actually think it's wrong of religions to preach against each other, since fundamentally each more or less already believes itself humanity's answer to attaining peace. But I also do not think that arguing the superiority or rightness of one's religions needs precludes also arguing against violence or intolerance of any sort at the same time. People should be entitled to believe shit, preaching and saying shit should be challenged. But is the Act really the right sort of "challenge" to be up against?

I'm of the belief that the Act is crafted and employed more to force EVERYONE into acquiesce under a rather troubling paternalistic rule. If anything, the Act poses more problems for liberals attaining freedom, often in service of preventing a punishing spectre of civil war, race/religion inspired riot, etc. Using this legislative pressure tactic to demand an already fearful culture to cede more freedoms, often beginning with the attainment of a voice to speak, I think, is plain awful for all. I am not entirely naïve to believe that I live in a problem-free country where people are so mild that emotional and physical abuse is not enacted on some LGBTQ person everyday, but I simply don't think moving the masses into a darker age by keeping shit under wrap is the way to go.

Not discounting that Rony Tan was indeed an asshat for holding and saying those things (I'm not even entirely convinced by his apologies), and in another time and space perhaps warrants penalty, but I think in this scenario, and strictly for this Singaporean context, his strongest detractors are just using tools of a greater enemy to inflict wounds on another enemy. The enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend, and I'd much rather not have to succumb to employing a strategy meant to hurt me as well on another person.

The equal-opportunist, fight-fire-with-fire, schadenfreude-lite approach to this worries me. In the same way it frightens me that some people's solution to the denigrative objectification of women is in the objectification of men, or the parallel of attempts to outlaw militant Islamic extremism by banning the Muslim veil. Ultimately piling on shit on more people doesn't make the already hurt hurt less, what it does instead is present a net increase in the amount of shit on a net increase in the number of victims.

So count me in on calling out Pastor Tan on his disinformation, but please count me out of rallying for State embargo. The last thing I need is for him to be or feel remotely martyred.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Preamble: The misadventures of Rony Tan.

The animals at the Barn took time away from farm duties to attend an on-going roundtable discussion on the subject of Rony Tan, the governmental actions that have either already been taken, or are currently lobbied against him, and whether we think he should be allowed the right to think and speak how ever controversially he wishes on how ever sensitive, highly politicised a topic. Proceedings are being put together as posts and will be published over the weekend. This is a preamble.

How does one begin?


That's the founding senior pastor of Lighthouse Evangelism Church who's been making headlines over the last two weeks. He quickly established himself as a bonafide asshole who aggrieved the Taoist and Buddhist communities in Singapore when videos of his rather unpalatable sermons surfaced on the internet. The sucker punch, however, came in the form of an extremely public invitation from our lovely Internal Security Department (ISD) for Pastor Tan to join them for tea and scones. All this ended in removal of said videos, apologies, woeful sermon of regret, and other double-taking that all ran rather openly. Now his words on gay people are haunting him, as two film-makers have lodged a police report against him, ostensibly in hope of invoking aspects of the Sedition Act even if the Act is written to only protect racial and religious harmony. He has since come out to stand by and defend his position on homosexuality, "I’ve said nothing wrong, you know. Like I said, my stand is with the average person and the Government."

Here are some choice quotes that I've managed to dig up so that you can have a rough idea of what was uttered:

On religion; responding to a parishioner, Rita's experience with Buddhism:
[4:51 onwards]

Ok, now, here I pause again to, you know, let you all know that, when we talk about religions; false religions, we are not just talking about a set of teachings. We are talking about the spiritual world. we are talking about satan and his demons,coming into people's mind and dropping ideas like that, to get us away from ...

When rita was seriously, you know, in this religion, the demonic power would supernaturally put some ideas in her mind, and the same demonic power, you cannot see, put the same kind of thoughts into the Tibetan monk. So when they check up the facts, it's the same. It dazzles us. but if you were to look behind the scene, it is a cheap david copperfield trick, nothing more, nothing more, you understand? So conclusion, there's no truth in reincarnation.


When Buddha was dying, do you know what he said to his disciples? "I'm still searching for the way..."

[Grunts to suggest last breath, then steps forward.]

And Jesus comes, "I am the way." (Source)
On homosexuality:

What Pastor Rony Tan of Lighthouse Evangelism thinks about gays and lesbians from Kenneth Tan on Vimeo.

Don’t believe all those loud-mouthed gay people who tell you they are born this way... If we don’t warn people against this, then there will be more and more homosexuals... Many of these people will be harrassing and seducing young boys, and they in turn will become homosexuals... Half the world will be homosexual! Proper sex means life — it propagates life. Lesbianism and homosexuality simply mean death and barrenness... If you allow [homosexuality], next time people will want to get married to monkeys. And they will want rights. They’ll want to apply for HDB. With a donkey or a monkey or a dog and so on. It’s very pathetic. (Source)
You can see why animals and people alike have gotten prettttty upset with him. Yet, should we play Volitaire and defend his right to speak even if we gravely disagree with him?

Lest you too are the curious sort, you can view copies of the videos pertaining to religious insult here. Pastor Tan has beseeched that copies of the video be taken down as well, but I personally find this forced erasure/ amnesia of mistakes frankly stupid. I'm glad copies are floating around so that we can be constantly reminded of how horrible he was, even if those who took offense have since forgiven him.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

People We Love: Jolene Tan at The F Word.

As a good part of the world is celebrating the emergence of spring, we at the farm have also been busy preparing for a good harvest ahead. So do excuse us for the sudden dearth of posts.

For the time being, it's come to my attention that a very 'stray', familiar Singaporean feminist by the name of Jolene Tan has risen to write about feminism in Singapore's context at the prominent UK blog The F Word. In her first exquisite post, self-explanatory titled "A False Necessity: Singapore's Maid Trade", Tan incises:
I suspect that for many Singaporean women, abusiveness towards [Foreign Domestic Workers] is also connected to fear and anxiety about our own place in society. Patriarchal attitudes simultaneously devaluing and gendering care work and domestic work are well-ensconced in Singapore, but the prevalence of FDWs staves off, to some degree, arguments about the role of Singaporean women in private and public spheres, by replacing the grossly undervalued labour Singaporean women would have been expected to do with grossly undervalued labour that foreign women are made to do. The hierarchy and unfairness remain in place; we’ve just changed the demographic on whom the worst burdens fall. Which is, of course, from a humanitarian perspective, little change at all.

We need a rethinking of existing ways, and an understanding that care work and domestic work are work, and the people who perform this work, whomever they may be, should be accorded proper respect and status. Instead, we have imagined into being a hellish necessity: that there must be maids, who must be subjugated; and only by meting out the ill-treatment that defines this degraded role can we reassure ourselves of our own precarious superiority over it.
For those who are unacquainted with Tan, she was part of the Terrible Three™ who rattled the delicate sensitivities of our marital-rape-approving society with the No To Rape campaign a little less than a year ago--a cause we at the Barn not only fully support but have also written quite extensively on.

We happily welcome back the original "pro-gay, feminist family-busting" blogger (after the untimely death of Glass Castle); nothing excites us more than someone who goads Them Big Blogger Boyz and Unaccompanied Ursidaes!

But enough bootlicking sentiments and echo-chamber-chamber-ber-ber-ber-ing on my part.

Please just hop over to The F Word to follow Tan's on-going writing; already archived:
  1. "Same garbage, different continents" - On the fetishisation of Asian women as "delicate lotus flowers of mind-reading, uncomplaining wish fulfillment fantasy",
  2. "Important questions from Gita Sahgal" - On the very fishy and unfair suspension of duties for Amnesty Gender Unit's Gita Sahgal, after she called Amnesty out on their ties with an unsavoury organisation,
  3. "Race to the Bottom" - On the various ideals of beauty (e.g. big eyes, fair skin) that Asian women are subject, and the complications of "patriarchy [shaming] women and girls into aspiring to femininity, and then [shaming] women and girls for achieving it."

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Degrees of information

The Straits Times reports on an increase in statutory rape cases (full text in comments), sparking the usual furore over teen sexuality. I would like to put in a Magical word here about sex education.

Unless you padlock your child in a barrel and throw away the key, the kid is receiving some variant of sex education, whether you like it or not. Every television show or street advertisement, countless conversations with parents, teachers and friends, to say nothing of the Internet, are presenting information of some kind - often simply in the form of assumptions - about sexuality.

Womanist Musings makes this point well.
And I really want to know where the idea came from that you DIDN'T teach sexuality (and gender identity) to your 5, 8, 10, 14 (or however old you think is too frail to hear about the GBLT folk) year old?

Do they have a mother and father? A grandmother and grandfather? Aunts and uncles? How many couples do they know, how many husbands and wives in nicely matched pairs? How many boyfriends and girlfriends?

How many times have you spoken about "when they grow up?" How many times does that involve a partner of the opposite gender? Ever spoken about future wives/husbands? [...]

We teach sexuality from the cradle, from the very second they open their eyes we force these lessons on our children. But for some of our kids, those lessons are just plain wrong, and for the rest they just teach them that we don't exist.

You already teach kids sexuality - but you don't tell them the whole story and that ignorance can hurt all of them - and it certainly hurts us.
We can indulge in the fantasy that children will remain blank canvases of purity and innocence if we do our best to maintain their ignorance, but this is behaviour reminiscent of my ostrich cousins. In truth, children are already receiving information about sexuality - whether it is heterosexuality or homosexuality or any other kind - and forming impressions about appropriate ways in which theirs should be expressed, or suppressed, or reviled. They need information, and confidence, and support: not judgment.

Related links from the farm here, here and here.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Rape of a homeless man

Over at The Secret Political Blog, Messrs Liau Chuan Yi and Norvin Chan share the story of Mike, a homeless man who suffers from addiction to alcohol, and his victimisation by strangers:
when he sleeps, men unzip his trousers and perform oral sex on him. [...]

If he wakes up to the act, the men offer to buy him a beer or two. If they do not make such an offer, Mike will initiate and ask them for some money, for want of support for his alcohol addiction. When he does so, he sometimes has to be the perfomer, and he told me that his knees hurt since some of the men want it fast... [...]

It might seem as though he has a choice since he could change rape into a commercial transaction. Perhaps what happens might be more accurately described as prostitution. But as I watched his eyes water, I doubt that he had a choice… merely the illusion of it. He was going to be raped anyway. Being drunk has enfeebled him, and he could have thought that he might as well gain something from it.
There is kerfuffle in the comments over whether Mike's experience amounts to rape. Whatever it may be in a legal sense, the heart of the matter is undeniable: the other men are engaging in coercive sexual exploitation which shows no regard for Mike's humanity or personal boundaries. If Mike calls it rape, I'm not inclined to disagree.

The post muses:
I doubted his story at first, still being in disbelief that such a thing could happen to Singapore, and that the homeless could be regarded as sexually desirable.
Unfortunately, whatever our national fantasies on this score, Singapore isn't in fact equipped by a Magical forcefield which automatically intervenes to repel all sexual assaults. It would be nice though.

Additionally, the notion of Mike's sexual desirability or lack thereof is quite irrelevant. Rape doesn't happen only to Sexxxay people: it happens to people that rapists manage to rape, and some rapists deliberately target visibly vulnerable and marginalised people because they are more likely to be able to get away with raping. Precisely because of this, studies from a range of industrialised countries show that homeless people are far more likely than those with housing to suffer physical and sexual abuse.

I am glad the authors overcame their disbelief and brought this story to light.

No, really?

This Straits Times story carries the headline "Teens pressured to be thin".

In other news, water is wet.

Forgive my snark. It's good that the media is reporting the truth. It's just astonishing that this can remain a revelation, considering that more than half the adult population have themselves been teenage girls at some point. It's almost as if our experiences don't count until they're packaged in some Researchy Research to remove the taint of female subjectivity.

The article itself:
ALMOST nine in 10 American teenage girls say they feel pressured by the fashion and media industries to be skinny and that an unrealistic, unattainable image of beauty has been created, a poll showed on Monday.

The online survey of 1,000 girls aged between 13 and 17 for the Girl Scouts of the USA found that three quarters said they would be more likely to buy clothes that they see on real-size models than on women who are skinny.

But three out of four girls said that fashion is 'really important' to them.

'The fashion industry remains a powerful influence on girls and the way they view themselves and their bodies,' said Kimberlee Salmond, senior researchers at the Girl Scout Research Institute.

'Teenage girls take cues about how they should look from models they see in fashion magazines and on TV and it is something that they struggle to reconcile with when they lookat themselves in the mirror,' she said.

More than 80 per cent of teen girls said they would rather see natural photos of models rather than pictures that had been digitally altered or enhanced. Other top influences on body perceptions, aside from celebrities and models, are peers, friends and parents, the poll showed.