Justice, Singaporean style

Sun, 17 Apr 1994 10:54:37 -0400

It finally happened. Cultural relativism made prime time. So why am I so

On the "Poll Cats," a local syndicated talking head show, the commentators
seemed to all agree that "Americans tend to stick their noses in other
peoples' cultures and standards - it's the ugly American all over again."

Were the Poll Cats decrying American imperialism in Korea or Bosnia?
Decrying the exportation of Taco Bell to Mexico? No, they were complaining
about the American government attempting to use mild diplomacy to prevent
an American teenager from being caned - we were imposing our value of not
using corporal punishment on another society.

It turns out "caning" is not like paddling in school. It is performed by a
professional martial artist, and blood and unconsciousness are two typical
results, as is an extended stay in the hospital afterwards. (The victim is
usually revived with smelling salts so they can feel the full pain of all
the blows.)

But, the Poll Cats said, Americans were fed up with crime! Here was a
society, Singapore, which had virtually eliminated crime and public
disorder! Maybe they were doing something right, and we should be copying
them! If we only made ourselves more like Singapore, our problems would go

I could not help but think back about the dilemma of universal human rights
and cultural relativism expressed in the recent AAA newsletter. Here was
such an ironic formulation of the problem. At the same time as we were
threatening to go to war with North Korea because we have the right to make
nuclear weapons but they as a 'rogue nation' do not, all we were doing to
Singapore was politely suggesting that caning might not be a good idea.

>From what I have heard of Singapore, I don't think I would want to live
there. Maybe this is an ethnocentric judgement. But something about a
city-state that disperses groups of people larger than five in number, and
severely punishes such things as public urination, spitting, and littering,
makes me think of Asiatic Despotism. Just a teeny bit. Hypercapitalism
combined with hyperrestricted social and political freedom. The future of

Anyone else have any thoughts about these matters?

Seeker1 [@Nervm.Nerdc.Ufl.Edu] (real info available on request)
CyberAnthropologist, TechnoCulturalist, Guerilla Ontologist, Chaotician
Matrix Master Control Node #3, Gainesville, Fl.
"I slept with Faith & found a corpse in my arms upon awakening/ I drank and
danced all night with Doubt and found her a virgin in the morning." --