‘Rehabilitation, not punishment, should be the purpose of the justice system.’ Discuss.

Roman goddess of justice, Justitia, is better known in contemporary times as the statue of Lady Justice that commonly graces the architecture of courthouses. She embodies the judicial system: the set of scales she holds symbolises balance; the blindfold she dons represents impartiality, the sword she wields a marker of deft punishment and the toga she wears is a symbol of the philosophy of justice. It is these last two elements that have become polarising forces in recent years – the notion of uncompromising punishment versus a mere thoughtful process of rehabilitation. The purpose of the justice system is conventionally characterized by three tenants of Justice: incarnation, deterrence and rehabilitation, with the latter being often overshadowed by the former two and reserved an afterthought. The result is a justice system that convicts and punishes the guilty but struggles to help them stop offending. With reference to these three elements, this essay will make the case that rehabilitation should be the purpose of the justice system.

Punishment advocates would firstly attest to this system by its virtues of its moral simplicity and how it is executed in incarceration. They believe that fairness of the justice system lies in its irrevocable ultimatum that unlawfulness always begets harsh consequences. In other words, punishment is a criminal’s just deserts, a deserved tit for tat. In comparison to the seemingly straightforward rationale of punishment, rehabilitation is seen as an unjust leniency. For example, a maximum security prison in Norway easily resembles an affluent college campus, with classrooms, restaurant and specialised amenities like a music recording studio. This instinctively violates most persons’ conventions of poetic justice, especially when perpetrators of heinous crimes are perceived to be entitled to such concessions. Hence, many hardliners would argue that punishment is the fundamental righteous response towards crime and establishes an unequivocal baseline in the justice system, thus upholding the integrity of incarceration.

However, more judicious observers would realise that this clear-out moral code paints over the nuanced considerations of criminality in careless broad strokes. Criminal justice should not be administered through a one-size-fits-all method that punishment perpetuates, especially when there are crannies of the human psyche punishment alone cannot access. This need is further compounded by the increasingly complex motives of crimes. When local collaborators of the terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah were detained in 2002. Counselling with religious clerics was pivotal in inoculating them against extremism. On the contrary, sole punishment from an authority they already despise would only reinforce their ideology. Hence, punishment served cold as means to elicit remorse can be akin to getting blood from a stone and shows tone-deafness to the specialised needs of convicts. Rehabilitation and its personalisation however nips a convict’s motive in the bud, healing the root of their soul sickness rather than just diagnosing its symptoms. Thus, rehabilitation holistically complements punishment in an inmate’s incarceration, even acting as the deal breaker in a successful reformation.

On the other hand, punishment is seen as a more powerful deterrent to the wider society. In light of the escalating number of hate crimes in the 2000’s, harsh punishment has become paramount in denouncing offences fueled by bigotry, thus stifling its perpetuation. Dylann Roof, the white supremacist behind the 2015 Charleston massacre, smugly proclaimed that he regretted nothing and he pleaded guilty on the podium. As the robber on nine lives, his eventual death sentence was met with public approval. It can be imagined that had he unrepentantly entered a rehabilitation facility while Charleston was left to pick up the pieces, society would have rioted, for fear of the precedence a light sentence would be set. While successful rehabilitation is contingent on one’s willingness to comply, punishment panders to man’s primal fears of pain, isolation and deprivation, thus effectively cultivating a culture of fear that manages society. Thus it can be argued that punishment is a more competent deterrent than rehabilitation.

However, this may be a gross generalisation that zeroes in on the minority of felons and felonies, resulting in the blind siding of the vast majority of criminals who are victims of circumstances or non-severe offenders eager to turn over a new leaf. We ignore the exploited youth at risk, the addicts helplessly embroidered in the war on drugs and the thieves born in poverty. To them, deterrents are inconsequential when crimes are a way to make ends meet, instead they require a recalibration. With vocational skills training, hobby exploration and therapy, this is precisely what rehabilitation offers. Conversely, when inadequately equipped (ex-convicts are reintegrated only to face unemployment and purposelessness, old habits die even harder.) So, rehabilitation does not just cure one’s soul sickness at the time of incarceration, it acts as a vaccination against the falling chronically ill again. Norway’s aforementioned campus-esque maximum security prison has contributed towards her internationally known low recidivism rates. In preventing recidivism, rehabilitation kills other resultant social ails such as single parenting. It can be posited that the growth mindset core to rehabilitation is vastly more sustainable than the culture of fear, deterrence perpetuates through punishment.

In conclusion, rehabilitation should not be seen as a separate entity from incarceration and deterrence but rather as an underlying principle that underpins their execution. As Martin Luther King Jr famously said “You cannot drive out darkness with darkness, only light can do that. You cannot drive out hate with hate, only love can do that.” By extrapolating this idea, Lady Justice should not counter crime’s ugly face by putting on an even scarier mark, or intimidate with a sharper sword. More than a figure of authority, she should also be a beacon of hope for change, dispenser of hard won second chances. Therefore, rehabilitation should be the purpose of the Justice system, assisted closely by incarceration and deterrence.

Grace Wee (19-O1)

‘Rehabilitation, not punishment, should be the purpose of the justice system.’ Discuss.

Since the days of guillotines that sent heads rolling, the justice system has been integral in defending fundamental human values by meting out appropriate punishments to those who violate the law. However,  the nature of the system, its objectives and its symbolism in society remains largely subject to debate, given the fluidity of such human constructs. There seems to have been a gradual shift in attitudes about how the incriminated should be dealt with. Numerous forward-looking societies such as that of Norway have begun to take a rehabilitative approach to the incarcerated, such that wrongdoers are therapized and trained in order to restore the normality of their lives. Some countries like Singapore, however, where capital punishments remain a legal option, still hold fast to uncompromising means of punishment as a form of retribution for offences. Nevertheless, punishment is merely a counter to violations of the law whereas rehabilitation is a solution that serves to disentangle the problem faced by prisoners. Hence, I believe that rehabilitation should be the purpose of the justice system, not punishment.

While some argue against the imposition of harsh penalties, one must acknowledge that there are logical and sound reasons for doing so. The justice system ensures fairness. If one were to commit a crime against humanity, he or she would unarguably bear a fault that needs to be properly atoned for. This is where the justice system becomes instrumental in compensating for the injustice faced by the victims through properly dealing with the severity of their offenses, as well as to provide a sense of closure to the innocent. For instance, sentencing the infamous serial killer Ted Buridy may not have been able to revive the 30 deceased victims whom he was charged for murdering, but it offered relatives and loved ones of the murdered an outlet for emotional catharsis to see the one responsible for their anguish experience an equal amount of grief.  Mild, rehabilitative treatments may threaten the authority of the law should the collective receive the wrong message that they will be leniently pardoned for their sins, no matter how grave. For these reasons, many societies are inclined to adopt the ‘eye for an eye’ mentality of punishing offenders to a degree similar to their own crimes, both as a deterrent to future infringements of the law as well as to establish discipline and order.

One the other hand, many countries have opted to revise the frameworks of their justice system to ones that are more rehabilitative, rather than punitive. One of the reasons behind this is that rehabilitation is actually a more economical alternative to hefty jail sentences. A form of rehabilitation is providing educational opportunities within the prison. Criminologists have confirmed that prison education classes have been highly effective in reducing re-division rates, which refer to the likelihood of released prisoner to reoffend the law. It has been proven that prisoners in New York who earned a college degree while incarcerated were almost half as likely to get rearrested after being released as compared to inmates who did not. Consequently, by diminishing the number of reoffenders, prison population sizes will be kept to a minimum, which saves the government from needing to fork out exorbitant sums of money in the accommodation of prisoners. Whereas, when punishments is applied and recidivism rates worsen, more tax dollars will have to be allocated to police salary and welfare for those unable to support themselves after their release. Therefore, rehabilitation adds value not only to the lives of individual convicts but also has better effects on fiscal policy.

Moreover, rehabilitation is a more farsighted option than punishment as they have more benefits in the long-term. Consider how the lives of prisoners will unfold after their release. Had their time spent in imprisonment consist of empty, ritualistic days, it would have been as if they had simply not existed for a significant portion of their lives Reintegration back into society as an adaptable, functioning human being would then be deemed a Herculean task, which not many would be willing or able to undertake without the necessary assistance. This issue is especially crucial in the volatile 21st century world where changes to society are being made at a rate faster than ex-convicts are able to habituate to. However, prisoners who undergo vocational training during their incarceration will be equipped with the relevant skills needed for a smooth transition back into the workforce. The importance of these programmes was highlighted in a 2013 RAND corporation report, which testified that inmates with vocational training were more likely to find employment after serving their sentences and hence start a better life providing offenders a productive means of spending their jail time offers them an impetus to start afresh as well as a sense of agency in steering their lives back in the right direction, whereas punishment are a glaring reminder of their previous faults and may blind them from ever envisioning prospects of a better future. Hence, rehabilitation should be the primary objective of the justice system as it produces more long-term results than a stroke of a cane.

Lastly, rehabilitation is more effective than punishment as it directly tackles the root cause of criminality, which are often symptoms of societal issues. Punishments are, conversely, limited to being a form of discipline in response to delinquency. If the point of the justice system is to correct the mindset of lawbreakers, then it needs to investigate why these mindsets are flawed in the first place. By merely punishing criminals on a case-by-case basis, an assumption is being made that the crime committed is due to an isolated cause. In reality, crimes are the results of profound societal issues. One would see no need to steal if they had not been cornered by financial difficulties, nor would notorious street gangs be an issue of adequate counselling had been directed at misguided individuals. This is why corrupt countries that are riddled with societal and financial challenges often face higher crime rates, such as Mexico and Brazil. Rehabilitation trumps punishment in examining the individual circumstances of each prisoner and resolving matters such as poverty that are embedded in society. Punishment is solely reactionary in nature, while rehabilitation seeks to prevent more people from succumbing to the same unlawful temptations. Hence a punitive justice system may not be as effective as one that strives to avert and reform.

The misdeeds of offenders often send us into a blind rage, and understandably so,  is only natural to be repulsed at any actions that simply opposed cherished morals and values. Even so, however, we should take an occasional step back to assess these crime with a more objective lens and realize that criminals are victims themselves. Rehabilitation should take precedence over punishment as the purpose of the justice system, not as an admission of the incompetence of the justice system but a conscious process of growth in societal fellowship and a refinement of modern mindsets.

Kelly Hooy (19-O1)

Is the commercialisation of culture necessarily a bad thing?

In the age of capitalization and increased power of money, countries all over the world are striving for the swiftest economic growth. To prioritize this practical way of thinking, many domains in life have become a product sold on the global market. The trade of ideas, products and even culture has put a monetary value which is sometimes reductive of the true value of it. As such, the commercialisation of tangible aspects of culture, which is tied to the heritage and roots of a community, has caused an outcry claiming this is the misuse of culture. However, at the same time, I can only agree that commercialization of culture is detrimental to a small extent. This is because of the soft power, economic benefits and increased significance it can achieve from commercialisation.

Firstly, critics of the commercialisation of culture argue that culture is something close to people’s hearts, thus it cannot be quantified by a mere monetary value. Making a cultural event such as festivals or performances a cold transaction dilutes the meaning of it. This is seen in Bali Indonesia, where cultural dances are mainly held to entertain tourists and repeated without observing the traditional dates or times that used to be practiced. This routinization in order to earn more profits has resulted in a lack of real cultural significance for the locals who are performing the dance. On the other hand, commercialization of culture through dance performances in Bali also aids in conservation efforts. With revenue generated from tourism, there is economic significance of culture in Bali. Hence, there is more focus placed on its conservation as well as more revenue generated for the country as a whole. Despite the fact that putting a price on culture at times reduces its meaning to the local community, this practical mindset is crucial to its survival. As governments, especially in developing countries like Indonesia, prioritise gross domestic product growth in order to satisfy the people’s basic needs, cultural conservation may take a backseat if it does not have any economic value.

Conversely, I feel that the commercialization of culture facilitates greater understanding of it. Often, commercial products are more likely to reach international consumers than private cultural events. A greater representation of culture in products that an average global citizen consumes would increase its reach on a global stage. When more people are exposed to a certain culture, which can be achieved through consumption of certain products or services, consumers would have greater understanding, if not appreciation, of that culture. Commercialisation is able to catapult lesser known cultures onto the global stages because of the attention firms want to generate to increase their own profits. For example, the Disney movie, Moana depicts a story of a girl living in a small cluster of Pacific islands. After the release of this film, Maori culture has attained greater recognition and greater understanding from many who reside in urban areas today. People are able to empathise with the Maori people who live near the ocean and have vastly different lifestyles from those in built-up cities through this film’s adaptation of Maori culture and mythology. Unfortunately, there is a fine line between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation. At times, commercialization of another community’s culture can lack respect for it. This is seen in the severe backlash Khloe Kardashian faced when she posted a photograph of herself in Bantu knots on her Instagram account. Celebrities who capitalize on their image and influence on social media may come under fire for misusing another culture for monetary benefits, even if they claim that it was for more than just aesthetics. Hence, while commercialisation of culture can, ideally, springboard a culture into greater prominence or to increase representation of it in media, it could also be controversial and disrespectful towards certain communities.

Furthermore, commercialization of culture can increase a country’s soft power. The enormous amounts of commercial products available on the market is due to the mass production of many products leading to a loss of creativity and uniqueness. Cultural products, however, are authentic to a certain community or region which economic agents leverage on to differentiate their products. This act of pointing out the special features and differentiating qualities from others highlights the nuances of each culture. Commercialisation of culture can entice consumers to consume products from various cultures in a consumer-driven economy. This is also a diplomatic strategy which is used by countries. For instance, Thailand’s gastro-diplomacy, focuses on commercializing Thai culture through Thai food. Thai food has become a large umbrella commonly representing Tom Yum, Basil chicken and more importantly, the Thai culture. The high popularity of Thai cuisine can be seen in a growing number of food outlets dedicated to it and the acquired taste for this unique blend of spices in the world. Even though this might lead to reducing the various types of Thai food to only those that are more famous or popular, it has still managed to achieve the aim of expanding Thailand’s soft power to a large degree. Therefore, I believe that there is merit in commercialising culture as it largely influences the tastes and preferences of others.

In essence, culture is something that binds and represents a community. Although some parts of its identity have been simplified or diluted due to commercialisation as it becomes more like a transaction or a staged performance, yet it still maintains the main features symbolic to a certain community. Commercialisation of culture also generates income for the country, increases its global influences and allows the international community to acknowledge a culture and its community’s significance. Thus, commercialisation while ethically unappealing, is pivotal in a pragmatic world. If cultures could be commercialised without offending or disregarding the communities it represents, there would be more value generated. Hence, commercialisation of culture is not necessarily a bad thing but could be, if one is not careful.

Jessica Kosasih (19-A5)

‘The continued destruction of the environment is inevitable.’ Do you agree?

With humanity’s desire for economic progress and technological advancements, rampant urbanisation and developments have gradually replaced Earth’s natural landscape with towering skyscrapers and concrete pavements. The loss of habitats and biodiversity, deforestation, pollution and the overall degradation of the environment has not been a rare occurrence for the past centuries. Humans have long sacrificed the conservation of nature for growth and success. Many thus believe that this prevalent trend of the destruction of the environment will remain constant in the future. However, I remain hopeful that mankind will will put in efforts to save the Earth while progressing economically through alternatives resources, government protocols and various technological innovations. Therefore, I do not agree with the statement that “the continued destruction of the environment is inevitable.”

Firstly, some may argue that environmental degradation will remain as time progresses due to humanity’s pursuit of economic success and development. In the midst of constructing factories, buildings and infrastructure, acres oil wildlife’s natural habitats and reduced biodiversity. As factories consume energy and emit greenhouse gases. Finite natural resources are depleted and climate change is exacerbated. This was especially true during the era of the Industrial Revolution, where machinery and mechanisation majorly contributed to carbon dioxide emissions. Additionally, fossil fuels and trees decrease in amount, and the environment is further destroyed. Some are certain that this trend will continue in the future and cannot be avoided. Currently, a large portion of Brazil’s Amazon Rainforest has been deforested releasing huge amounts of carbon into the atmosphere and contributing to global warming, a pressing issue of the modern world today. The wood harvested from such rainforests are sued for the manufacturing and sale of furniture ships and paper; while the land cleared makes space available for urbanisation. Hence, many feel that the environment is currently and will continually be destroyed for the sake of economic progress and development. The fact that entire forests are being cut down for the sale of resources to boost and economy, and the clearing of land to allow for urbanisation, is a clear indication of this argument. 

Secondly, critics may argue that the continued harm will be inflicted upon the environment due to rapid globalisation. As the world becomes increasingly interconnected, more energy and resources are used in the transport of resources and travelling. For instance, 90% of Singapore’s food is imported and sources international. With the high levels of greenhouse gases emitted from transportation, manufacturing, and packing of food, it is no wonder that environmental degradation is so prevalent today. Furthermore, the energy consumed for travelling across continents exacerbate global warming as tourists arrive at their destinations. The tourism industry also contributes to environmental change as tourists from around the globe visit natural attractions and generate pollution, litter or trample and destroy the natural environment. All this is only made possible with the advent of globalisation that allows objects and humans to be easily transported around the world. Thus, some believe that as the globe becomes increasingly globalised, the destruction of nature will continue to occur through the high carbon footprint of transportation.

On the other hand, rapid technological advancements can give rise to creative solutions and alternatives to prevent continued environmental destruction in the future while still ensuring the continued development of humanity. Many alternative renewable sources of energy have been invented to replace traditional means of burning fossil fuels and coal. These include wind, solar, hydrological, nuclear and geothermal sources of energy, that are usually most eco-friendly. This is evident of the fact that countries can continue to develop successfully without causing severe environmental harm, and natural habitats need not be sacrificed. Innovation in science and technology also open up pathways for saving the Earth and conserving nature. Recently, students in China have created a photosynthetic material that is functionally similar to plants – reducing carbon emissions in the atmosphere and purifying the air by releasing oxygen. Such examples serve to highlight the power of technology in conserving nature and that economic progress and the conservation of nature are not mutually exclusive, where one variable need not be sacrificed to the other to occur. With the potential of humankind, future advancements in technology have the capacity to aid in solving environmental issues and developing economically. Therefore, I strongly believe that the continued destruction of nature can be avoided in the future.

Next, continued environmental degradation can be avoided through international agreements and a worldwide effort to curb the destruction of nature. Every country, regardless of its level of development, plays a role in saving the Earth. If each nation actively attempts to prevent environmental destruction, this issue can be resolved in the future. For example, the Paris Climate Agreement and Kyoto protocol are international efforts to cut down on individual countries greenhouse gas emissions. Even the little red dot of Singapore has pledged to reduce its carbon emissions by 20% from its 2005 levels by the year 2030. With the current measures and efforts put into place to save the earth from environmental degradation, the continued destruction of the environment is thus avoidable in the future. However, there are limitations to this solution. Donald Trump pulling the United States of America (USA) out of the Paris Climate agreement is one prominent example. The USA’s a major contributor of carbon emissions, and withdrawing from international agreement will exacerbate the issue of global warming. In this case, countries should carry out individual governmental protocols to save the environment independently. For instance, 20% of the USA’s energy is said to be generated by wind power by 2030. Therefore, I believe that environmental destruction is not inevitable if multiple nations pledge to resolve environmental issues as one. The efforts of many nations will have a dramatic effect on the conservation of the environment. 

Lastly, government campaigns and protocols can prevent the continued destruction of the environment in the future. Efforts by governmental agencies can have a large influence on the preservation and protection of a country’s natural habitats and biodiversity. For example, Bhutan is a country that practices sustainable tourism, where a limited quantity of tourists also have to contribute to Bhutan’s conservation efforts by providing monetary support. This sustainable efforts in Bhutan thus demonstrates that the environment can be conserved despite the rampant globalisation of today. Financial gains from the tourism industry can also aid in economic progress, without disturbing or damaging the country’s actual environment. Another instance is Singapore’s sustainable blueprint that promotes the ideology of a Garden City. Urbanisation and the natural environment can co-exist and one should not be destroyed from the other. This is thus evidence of the prevention of environmental degradation through governmental means and protocols. Therefore, with the country’s effort, the continued destruction of the environment can be avoided in the future, as economic development and nature conservation can go hand in hand.  In conclusion, although the pursuit of economic growth and globalisation significantly contributes to the destruction of the environment today, advancements and innovation in science and technology can counter its effects by conserving nature and providing alternative solutions. The constant efforts of both international communities and individual counties can also prevent environmental degradation by emphasising on sustainability to protect the environment for future generations. Therefore, the continued destruction of the environment is not inevitable. With planet Earth as our only home, humankind must ensure that this is true, otherwise the impacts would be devastating.

Lee Ying Hui Amber (19-I2)

‘Religion divides more than it unites.’ Discuss.

Religion is a set of beliefs that people hold regarding God and the wider world. In today’s society, religion occurs most frequently in the form of organised religion, in which a large group of people subscribe to the same belief or believe in the same God. Religions, such as Christianity, Buddhism and Islam, have often been proclaimed by their believers as a unifying force, one that transcends gender, race and physical borders. However, these religions have also been seen to be the case of conflict and divisions around the world. With religion being able to simultaneously create consensus and conflict, I still argue that religion divides more than it unites.

Some may argue that religion has the ability to unite people in a common belief. Religion, and most significantly organised religion, often involve the formation of a religious community. In the Catholic Church, this might refer to the interactions during Sunday Masses, for Islam, the fellowship during prayers in Mosques. Regardless, these religious customs allow the interaction of people who hold the same religious beliefs to form a united religious community. For believers of the respective religions, these religious customs allow for them to be united in a common denominator greater than themselves, which in this case would be God. The shared beliefs result in individuals who are part of the community uniting in the face of threats. For example, the Catholic Church was galvanised by the rise in pro-choice legislation being passed around the world. Members of the Catholic community were united by the common perceived threat against the sanctity of life and acted in consensus to respond to it. In the United States, members of the church went in unison to pray outside abortion clinics while others staged protests. This can also be seen in other countries such as Ecuador, where debates on abortion bills spurred members of religious communities to protest together. The common thread amongst the above examples is the fact that the shared beliefs, brought about by religion, united people of different genders, backgrounds and even countries towards a common goal. This therefore demonstrates the power of religion in unifying people who subscribe to the same beliefs.

However, the above argument is flawed in failing to recognise the fact that intra-religious tensions and divisions also exist. Even though people who hold the same belief can be united through their shared religion, a religion is not necessarily perceived to be the same by different people. In fact, a single religion is often interpreted in different ways by different people, resulting in the different religious denominations that we observe in today’s world. From Shia versus Sunni Muslims to Protestants versus Anglicans and other forms of Christianity, intra-religious fault lines do exist. Going back to the earlier pro-life example, among the Church, there is a spectrum of views regarding the issue. Extreme conservatives support an all-out abortion ban, similar to the one passed in Alabama, others would offer exceptions in the case of rape or medical emergencies, while more liberal conservatives may even toe the line between pro-life and pro-choice policies. These differing ideas can exist even within the same religion and create divisions. Fundamentally, to many, religion is often seen as an absolute truth given by God to those who subscribe to the religion. Hence, when different interpretations do arise forming different sects, people find it much more difficult to reconcile what they view to be ‘absolutely correct’ with a perceived ‘inaccurate interpretation’. This difficulty in reconciling differences often pushes believers to prove their version of the religion superior vis-a-vis the other sects. Such intra-religious divisions can cause or even worsen conflicts as seen in the worsening of the instability within the Middle-Eastern regions, due to clashes between different sects of the Islam faith who view the instability as an opportunity to ‘overcome’ other sects. Hence, although on the surface religion may seem to unite its believers, more often than not, this image hides the cracks that occur within the religion itself.

Furthermore, religion can create inter-religious divisions due to its exclusionary nature. Even if we agree that religion can unite its believers to a certain degree, one has to recognise that to create a community of people who share the same beliefs, the community has to exclude those who do not. In fact, the example of the church being united under the pro-life movement demonstrates this. By being Pro-life, they necessarily exclude those who are pro-choice which is the root of the conflict in the first place. When it is established that religious communities create an ‘us’ and a ‘them’, one has to wonder why inter-religious conflicts are all the more divisive when such exclusions occur all the time among other sorts of groups. The answer is simple. Religion often forms an integral part of one’s identity, shaping one’s beliefs and morals. Hence, when others come into conflict with this belief, one they deem absolutely true and part of their identity, the conflict becomes more personal and the reaction more visceral. It is because of this that the ‘us vs them’ mentality is strengthened in the context of religious conflicts. The fact that religion can create such visceral reactions is one often weaponised by politicians. In history and in the modern day, wars or conflicts have often been framed as religious. This is because politicians know that doing so will allow the people to feel as though their very identity is under threat and become more personally involved in the issue. The Kashmir dispute is one such example. President Modi of India gathered strong support from the Buddhist nationals during the elections for his promise to revoke the status of Kashmir, a Muslim-majority region which is also claimed by Pakistan. To many Buddhist Indian nationals, the conflict between India and Pakistan is not merely a political conflict but a religious one, which undermines the stability of their religion. Such an example is not the only instance in which religious differences have been exploited to further political conflicts. The Palestine and Israeli conflict over the West Bank is another example in which religious tensions, this time between Muslims and Christians, have been worsened to further political gain. Furthermore, this is often done in an inflammatory manner to prey on often pre-existing religious tensions and an individual’s religious beliefs. Doing so can worsen the ‘us vs them’ mentality and further cements religious divisions. Hence, the nature of religion, alongside external influences, often results in inter-religious conflicts being all the more divisive. 

The exclusionary nature of religion results in religion simultaneously uniting people while dividing others. Although we cannot reject the fact that religion has been effective in uniting people who share the same religious beliefs, the fact that religious teachings are open to interpretation makes it equally likely to divide those who have differing opinions on the same belief. Beyond that, conflict also occurs frequently between the in- and out-groups formed through different religions. The fact that religion is such a sensitive topic only makes it ripe for the picking by external forces who further these divisions for their own agenda. Therefore, as much as religion unites, its nature often results in much more deep-rooted divisions, hence dividing more than it unites.

Emmanuella Li (19-O2)

‘Folktales and fairy tales have no place in the modern world.’ How far do you agree?

A defining characteristic of homo sapiens that places us at the apex of Earth’s creatures is arguably our capacity for creative thinking and imagination. For a testament to that, one need not look further than our pantheon of folktales and fairy tales, fictional stories that have endured the test of time and have permeated throughout cultures, some even gaining global acknowledgement. Despite their name alluding to childhood naivety or ungrounded, unrealistic fantasies, their sheer tenacity in withstanding the tides of time suggest there is an undeniably inherent value in keeping them alive. However, skeptics may argue that modernity, typified by the glorification of scientific achievement and rationality, is proving to be an unwelcoming climate for continued perpetuation of these stories. Nevertheless, I am of the opinion that folktales and fairy tales still retain their foothold in the modern world due to the timelessness of the values they impart, the feelings they inspire and their close ties to larger cultures. 

We are currently experiencing the Fourth Technological Revolution, on the threshold of achieving monumental breakthroughs in artificial intelligence and cosmopolitan cities across the globe are transitioning into digitally empowered smart cities. In an age where science has reached its zenith, the tomes of folklore that predated it seem archaic in comparison. At best, these unempirical works of fiction [seemingly] only retain nostalgic value and should have no place in modern society, or at best be relegated to the sidelines to entertain the imaginative minds of children. [In fact], even children and youth today have outgrown the tales of Hans Christian Anderson in favour of new media’s cast of characters, for example [those of] the fanatically popular Marvel Cinematic Universe. Although its band of heroes requires a viewer’s suspension of disbelief, its situation in a modern context means that science, in the form of cutting edge weapons or genetically modified super powers, is tightly woven into its narrative. As such, folktales and fairy tales are [less relevant’ for their purely fictional premises and hence have seemed to have lost [their] place in modern society. 

However, more judicious observers will point out that one need not believe in the fiction of folklore and fairy tales in order to reap [their] benefits in the modern world. Folklore and fairy tales simply use the medium of fiction to convey values, truths and lessons, hence they should receive the same respect mankind owes to other forms of storytelling like parables. When one views folktales and fairy tales as vessels for deeper meaning, it becomes apparent that they always should have a place in modern society. In fact, it can be argued that with the demands of modern society, fairy tales and folktales are gaining a newfound appreciation. 

With modern society encouraging a lifelong rat race, many youth and adults alike find comfort in the stories of fairy tales and folktales that hearken back to simpler times. It is common to see netizens share quotes from these stories on social media, [with] popular picks including French novel ‘The Little Prince’ and the endearing ‘Winnie the Pooh’. These characters share the commonality of having a pure, innocent and compassionate worldview, values that often take the backseat in a world that places a premium on academic and economic success. Hence, while folktales and fairy tales retain a nostalgic value that seems to skeptics as inconsequential in defending the enduring value of these stories, people’s continued gravitation towards them are a poignant reflection of what we hold dear to our hearts. 

Beyond just imbuing timeless values, these tales are also useful vessels to denote a shift in values by subverting the familiar premises of these stories to reflect progressive change. For example, Disney’s movie ‘Wreck-it Ralph 2’ in 2018 portrayed the well-lived princesses of age-old fairy tales in a new light. Instead of their traditional representation of damsels in distress, awaiting salvation from a prince, they inversely saved the protagonist Ralph, a burly male character. Using familiar source material to subvert gender stereotypes, Disney reflected the ongoing international fight for women’s rights, its ability to attract children making fairytales all the more an effective medium in this case. 

Lastly, folktales and fairy tales still have an irreplaceable role in society due to their irrevocable ties with larger portions of culture. These stories cannot be divorced from or perceived as separate entities from the cultures that conceptualized them. In many countries, these stories are still exalted and deeply intertwined with the practices and traditions of its people, [and their] becoming obsolete [would be] equivalent to the demise of [the] larger culture. Despite developed countries like China being at the forefront of scientific achievement, their success in that field does not correspond to an alienation from cultural folktales. The Chinese still dearly hold onto folklore surrounding the Chinese Zodiac, using it to read their fortunes for the year ahead and bringing the story to life during Lunar New Year celebrations. By acting as a proxy for culture at large, folktales arguably are a source of national unity, promoting a sense of belonging through stories unique to one’s culture. 

As such, [when we view] folktales and fairy tales as vessels for deeper meaning and culture, [they] arguably still have a cherished place in modern society.

Grace Wee (19-O1)

‘Ethnic-based policies have done more harm than good.’ Do you agree?

In an increasingly globalised world, governments of nations are seeing greater diversity in population demographics, especially with the migration of people enabled by advanced transport technologies. This has resulted in the need for ethnically-sensitive or even ethnically-motivated public policies to cater to this rising populace. At its core, these public policies are intended to benefit the greater good of the nation, yet it may not always fulfill this intended purpose. Overall, ethnic-based public policies often do more good than harm, as they focus on recognising and reconciling ethnic differences for the greater welfare of the people and reducing inequality by promoting social mobility among the ethnically disadvantaged. 

Closest to home, Singapore is often cited as a racial success story as a small city-state that is home to an ethnically diverse population. Singapore’s ethnic-based policies often focus on preserving social harmony by encouraging tolerance of compromise on various fronts, on of which is public housing. In public housing in Singapore, the government enforces policies that require specific racial mixes within a housing block, in a bid to prevent homogeneity and racial enclaves from forming. This has forced people of different ethnicities to live together. By doing so, the government promotes social cohesion by forcing people of different ethnicities to learn to be tolerant and accepting of people of other races and understanding of the traditions of others. This policy, despite causing some inconveniences, such as race-based quotas in the sale of housing, has been well-received by the public as it benefits wider society by forcing people to confront and resolve their differences. This is evidence that ethnic-based policies can be effective in increasing the overall welfare of the people as Singapore enjoys social and racial harmony, with some neighbours even celebrating and joining in the traditions of the other races, fostering a progressive and healthy community that can not only tolerate, but also enhance other ethnicities and their practices. In addition, it has been increasingly fashionable for young people to don the traditional outfits of other races, such as the Chinese donning the baju kurung of the Malays during Hari Raya and the Malays showing off their Qi Paos during Chinese New Year. While some may point out that this policy-mandated sharing of spaces has indeed caused conflicts to arise, these are minor setbacks and are to be expected in the process of reconciliation. One commonly cited example is the curry pot incident where a Chinese family residing near an Indian family wanted the Indian family to stop cooking curry as they were not appreciative of the fragrance of the spices used in the curry. This conflict was mediated by the town council, ultimately finding a compromise where the Malay family agreed to cook curry on only specific days of the week. Hence, even in these conflicts, confrontation and resolution have taken place, showing that ethnic-based policies can indeed do more good than harm, where inadvertent social tension and conflict are resolved so as to promote peace and harmony in the wider society. 

Another way in which ethnic policies are necessary is in the rising inequality between the ethnic majority and minorities, seen in many nations, including the United States of America (USA). The USA has long had staggering inequalities between its ethnic groups, since the days of slavery. As a result of old discriminatory policies such as suburban redlining, there exists a large income gap between Caucasians and African-Americans. Hence, in recent times, new policies have been enacted to tackle this inequality head on, such as through affirmative action and ethnographic adjustment to the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) scores. These policies are beneficial to a nation as they directly address ethnically-driven inequality using ethnically-informed policies. African-Americans on average do much worse than their Caucasian counterparts in the SATs due to an insidious zoning policy known as redlining. 70 years ago, the US government sanctioned the zoning of specific areas for Caucasians only, creating suburbs such as Lansingville. This resulted in the homogenisation of communities and as the Caucasians had greater access to disposable income as compared to the African-Americans, their public schools were better funded and they had more access to opportunities which were out of reach of the African-Americans due to the economic shadow of slavery. As a result, this compounded into Caucasians having better access to educational resources as compared to African-Americans, giving them an advantage in the SATs due to their income demographic. As a result, the modern SAT scoring system adjusts for this by awarding a 400-point advantage to African-Americans, where Caucasians start from 0 points. This has allowed African-American students to close the gap and earn a fighting chance for entry into top universities, which will eventually translate into better job opportunities for much needed social mobility so as to allow inequality to be narrowed. Evidently, these systemically-created ethnic differences have been mitigated by systemic closure of the inequality gap. While some may argue that in the case of African-Americans, they were initially persecuted by discriminatory ethnic-based policies such as redlining, it may be worth noting that such policies were not intended as ethnic-based policies. Hence, ethnic-based policies are effective in resolving ethnic-based issues, with a direct and laser-like approach. 

However, the case for ethnic-based policies cannot be overstated as we need to acknowledge the state sanctioned ethnocratic policies that have been employed in the past and present to persecute a minority for a larger government agenda. Other policies may give advantages to the majority, increasing inequality and the economic dominance of an ethnic group. One example is the Special Assistance Programme (SAP) in Singapore, which at its core is more akin to a Chinese Assistance programme as it allocates preferential funding to SAP schools that place emphasis on the study of Chinese and China. This policy allows Chinese students who study Higher Chinese in primary schools to gain bonus points in the nation’s streaming exercise, the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE), for preferential admission into secondary schools. However, these bonus points and extra funding are only available to Chinese students and Chinese-oriented schools, while there is no equivalent for Malays or other minority groups in Singapore, suggesting a possible bias. The government argues that this is due to the lack of demand for the establishment of Malay-oriented secondary schools, but this does not explain why this SAP is oriented exclusively to the Chinese, or why the programme has not been established at the Muslim missionary schools run by mosques. In this case, because the Chinese have access to better schools by taking Higher Chinese, and because SAP schools have greater funding, this policy provides unfair advantages to the ethnic majority, widening inequality. At the same time, it is worth noting that as partial as this may appear to be, this has technically benefited the majority of people in Singapore as they are Chinese, and that in spite of the ethnic-based nature of the policy, it was born out of more altruistic intentions to promote bilingual education. 

All of the aforementioned policies are explicitly ethnic-based for the purposes of fairly balancing them against each other, but we also need to acknowledge the underworld of insidious implicit ethnic-based policies where governments attempt to deny the ethnic nature of these policies as they do harm to a minority in support of the government’s agenda. One such policy is the persecution of the Uighurs in China, a Muslim minority that has been the target of a militaristic persecution of Muslims, rounding them up in re-education camps and running a police state in their hometowns. These policies are evidently ethnic-based. However, even the governments are unwilling to address their ethnic-driven nature; hence, there is no room for discussion whether these policies are harmful due to their immoral nature. These policies are the subject of human rights inquiries by the United Nations and even if they do more good than harm in utilitarian ethics, they do not benefit the welfare and sound development of a nation. Thus, they ultimately do much more harm than good in other non-materialistic perspectives such as ethics and cultural development.

Overall, it is evident that ethnic-based policies are beneficial as they allow governments to foster social harmony and reduce inequality in a country especially when the issues are ethnic-based. These are insidious and implicit ethnic policies in the world even today, but since the ethnic nature of these policies are not acknowledged by the government itself, it can be inferred that these implied policies do more harm than good and have greater ethical ramifications. Hence, in general, ethnic-based policies in the public sphere today are largely beneficial.

Loh Zheng, Lucas (19-A4) 

Examine the view that there should be no limits placed on artistic expression in your society.

The question of artistic expression and its limits have come a long way. Over the years, various societies have chosen to impose different degrees of restrictions to artistic expression but despite this, boundaries continue to be pushed, and opinions continue to change. My society, Singapore, holds a notoriously conservative stance against freedom of artistic expression, and has strict limits and regulations regarding the nature of visual art, theatre, music, and performance allowed to be exposed to the public. I agree that there should be certain limits placed on artistic expression, but feel that the limits imposed in my society are far too restrictive, and should be extended as freedom of artistic expression can bring about many benefits to society as a whole.

To start off, art has the unique ability to spark important conversations about controversial issues within society, and more freedom of artistic expression is necessary for this to happen effectively. In a world of rapidly evolving beliefs, art is a powerful tool for enacting social change. In the 1990s, (Tang Da Wu’s controversial performance art involving the cutting of his pubic hair) and eating pieces of paper with red penises painted on them in the middle of Chinatown left the public’s mouth agape, and authorities raging. Tang went on to produce a whole series of performance pieces of the same nature. In these works, he condemned the use of tiger penis for supposed medicinal reasons in Traditional Chinese Medicine, which was extremely popular at the time, and wanted to raise awareness about the abuse of the environment. His art received a huge amount of backlash initially and authorities attempted to shut it down, but nevertheless, it sparked debate about the use of animal parts in traditional medicine that eventually saw the use of tiger penis being phased out in Singapore. It is clear that Tang’s work led to important discussion on environmental issues and eventually, tangible societal change, and this would not have been possible if his artistic expression had been restricted by limits derived from conventional societal expectations of what is “acceptable” in public art. A more modern example of this can be seen in Pangdemonium, a local theatre company’s, production of the commissioned play “This is What Happens to Pretty Girls”. The play, a highly emotional piece in response to the #MeToo movement, was unfortunately napped with an NC16, Advisory 18 rating, despite it being most relevant to teenage girls. Nevertheless, the play deeply moved audience members with its harrowing content and realistic acting, and more importantly, help to bring the #MeToo conversation about sexual assault, rape culture, and consent into the Singaporean stratosphere. In a conservative society where sex is an extremely taboo topic, Pangdemonium’s production introduced the discussion to Singaporeans, but due to limits placed on artistic expression and its audience, the production was not accessible to many teenagers. Therefore, it is evident that freedom of artistic expression is extremely useful in sparking debate on controversial issues, and even enacting positive societal change. However, the positive effects of these works of artistic expression can be restricted when authorities place limits on artistic expression, and the audience it deems suitable for this expression.

Another effect of overly harsh limits placed on artistic expression is the snuffing out of creative initiatives meant to brighten up Singapore’s otherwise busy, work-focused society. In the earlier part of the 2000s, a Singaporean artist famously created stickers which she pasted along the pedestrian crossings, and on the traffic lights. The stickers included quips such as “You think your grandfather’s road ah?” and “Press once can already.”, humorous inside jokes unique to Singaporean culture. The stickers brought about a good amount of laughter and amusement from the Singaporean public, and went viral on social media. However, the fun was not to last as within weeks, the artist was made to take down the stickers and pay a fine. The authorities’ reaction to the art disappointed, but did not surprise Singaporeans. After all, Singapore is infamous for its aversion to even harmless, small-scale forms of creative expression. In a similar incident, a different artist decorated a flight of stairs in a HDB block to give the illusion that its steps were made of gold, and she was again, made to take down the work and pay a fine within mere weeks. Both these incidents point to Singaporean authorities’ sheer intolerance for artistic expression outside of strict regulations, which is detrimental to Singaporean society as these harmless artistic initiatives can help to lighten the mood of the usually stressed Singaporean population. So, it is clear that the limits placed on artistic expression in Singapore should be relaxed, so that Singaporeans have the chance to indulge in amusement amidst their busy lives.

With all the benefits brought about by increasing the freedom of artistic expression, some might question: is it not, then, counter-intuitive to believe that some limits are necessary? I would argue that it is, in fact, not. More liberties should be afforded to artistic expression in Singapore, but the line should be drawn where there is harm inflicted upon people or groups within society. It is dangerous to state that “no limits” – an absolute term, should be placed on artistic expression, as in that situation, anything can be done in the name of art, or under the guise of art. This includes violence, discrimination, and other forms of harm. As it is the government’s duty of care to protect its citizens from these direct forms of hurt or harm, it is their responsibility to impose limits on artistic expression to prevent such incidents from occurring.

In conclusion, freedom of artistic expression can bring about many benefits in my society. This includes enacting positive societal change and catalysing societal progression, or even lifting society’s spirits. However, it is important to have some restrictions in place that prevent different forms of “artistic expression” from inflicting harm on citizens. Therefore, I believe that the current limits placed on artistic expression in Singapore should be extended as they are too harsh, but disagree that there should be “no limits” placed on artistic expression in my society.

Stephanie Chia (19-U1)

Will we starve?

The recent COVID-19 crisis has disrupted global supply chains. While farmers are dumping milk and plowing their crops under instead of harvesting them, it is a cruel irony that many more are going hungry. Singapore has not been exempted from supply chain disruptions – take a closer look at our food security measures in this apposite A-Z presentation by Andre, Alicia, Alden and Tiffany (20-I5).

Download their presentation here.

To what extent is dissent vital for the growth of societies?

Under the relentless heat of the Middle Eastern sun, a man set himself on fire in front of the government building. His intention – to draw attention to the dire financial situation of Tunisian food vendors. His silent dissent catalysed a series of large-scale uprisings – many of them violent – against the leaders of various governments in the Middle East, with the initial purpose of fighting for political reform and societal transformations. Indeed, a phoenix can only rise out of ashes. Unfortunately, this was not the case for many of these countries, with Egypt’s economic decline, then stagnation, and Yemen grappling with the horrors of the civil war. This essay, therefore, argues that dissent, for the most part, is not vital for the growth of societies, and may even lead societies into decline.

In the first place, dissent is extremely unlikely to allow the growth of societies when those in charge turn a blind eye to it. In today’s world, the majority of political and social transformations stem from the introduction or amendment of government policies and principles. For dissent to be essential for growth, it first has to be taken into consideration by policymakers. In Singapore, the annual Pink Dot rally – a manifestation of the criticism of Article 377A, which criminalises gay sex between two men – draws thousands each year, and is a diluted form of political dissent here, where demonstrations are heavily restricted. However, the government has refused to amend or remove the article, citing reasons such as ‘Singapore is not ready’. Thus, apathy of some governments towards dissent marginalises its capacity for social progress. Should the government notice, perhaps there would be a smaller degree of stigmatisation of gay men, especially among those who are more conservative, which translates into social progress of becoming a more accepting society. Thus, dissent cannot be vital for the growth of societies if it means nothing to the key change-makers – the government.

In addition, when dissidents lose sight of their initial purpose, dissent, instead of fuelling societal growth, can catalyse the downfall of societies. Much of political dissent manifests in the form of protests. However, when these protests turn disruptive – when protesters will stop at nothing to achieve their goals –  is when instability will be at its zenith. Currently, the Hong Kong protests have led to significant economic and social instability. A key event was the airport demonstrations, when hundreds of flights had to be cancelled, resulting in astronomical economic losses for Hong Kong, which they have not recovered from. As street protests continue, non-protesters are plagued with fear and paranoia of ending up injured, or worse, dead. When dissent is unrestricted in its severity, it has the potential of tipping societies over, down the slippery slope of decline. Indeed, the miniscule possibility of growth after decline still exists, but the chances are almost next to nothing. After all, this year’s protests shook Hong Kong, still reeling from the undercurrents of political dissent from the 2014 Umbrella Protests, and only time will tell if this dissent has led to any growth in the political, social or economic spheres. Thus, when dissent is uncontrolled, it is extremely difficult for it to fuel the growth of societies.

Furthermore, in the event that dissent is successful in promoting social progress, it is not the most important factor in determining the growth of societies in different realms. Progress can be measured by different indicators, and a common one used to determine a society’s economic growth is the change in its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) over time.  An essential factor for economic progress, especially for less economically developed countries, is international aid. For example, Ethiopia’s economy has grown 10% per year for the past decade, as it invests most of the international monetary aid it receives into its healthcare and education sectors, generating income and creating jobs. It is unlikely for dissent to be as successful as money itself in promoting economic growth, since it is known, instead, to disrupt economic progress. Therefore, for the economic realm, dissent is largely unnecessary and unimportant for progress.

Nevertheless, this essay acknowledges the power of dissent in notable societal events, when policies are changed and disruption to other aspects of society, like the economy, are kept to a minimum. First-wave feminism, better known as the Women’s Suffrage movement, was a form of dissent against the government’s policies on voting rights in the 20th century. Fortunately, the American government was malleable enough for the policy to be amended without any significant violence to be necessary, which would have disrupted the economy and society. However, it is still largely incorrect to say that dissent is vital for the growth of societies, since these successes are extremely limited. 

In a nutshell, it is predominantly idealistic to say that dissent is vital for the growth of societies, as its success in catalysing societal growth depends on many unpredictable factors. After all, dissent, if uncontrolled, is a beast loosed upon the world, and hopefully we are not foolish enough to allow it to manifest and ravage our lives. 

Chua Wei Ting (19-E3)