On moral absolutism

I wrote a post yesterday questioning the consistency of Amos Yee being hauled up by the police to assist in an investigation for allegedly making remarks that were offensive to religion. I had thought that he was hauled up because of remarks he made in his blog post on what Calvin Cheng said about killing children of ISIS members. As it turns out, that may not be why he was hauled up.

Amos Yee posted something on his Facebook that certainly counts as being offensive to Islam. It is so bad that I am sure I would get into trouble if I even just linked the post. In the post, he calls himself an advocate of logic and openly proclaimed that he despised Islam. Actually, he proclaimed that he hated all organised religions. Then he went on to say some pretty nasty things about Islam and religion.

Some people have asked me privately how I feel for speaking up for Amos knowing that he did say those horrible things about Islam (and religion in general). Well… I still think that there is nothing wrong with speaking up for Amos. Because in my post yesterday, I referred to a post by Amos that wasn’t particularly offensive. Even the most offensive part, when read in context, is actually a message of being humane and compassionate:

“Oh yes and f**k islam, and allah doesn’t exist, but say you see a prick from ISIS who wants to kill or has even killed before, don’t think that’s a scenario where it’s alright to kill him. No crime (even mass genocide) is worth a punishment of torture or the death penalty, just maybe lock him up and assign him a proficient psychologist, and let him out whenever the psychologist deems fit. Then he’ll be able to go out and contribute to society without killing anymore (I hope), unfortunately that method requires skill, something the PAP government obviously doesn’t have (except during the elections)”

Yes. Amos Yee has shown himself to be quite a prick (pardon the language, really couldn’t find another word that has the same emotional oomph) time and time again. But that doesn’t mean that NOTHING he says is worth defending. That doesn’t mean that EVERYTHING he says is worthless drivel. That is a form of absolutism that I personally don’t subscribe to.

And another form of absolutism that I don’t subscribe to is moral absolutism. A post on Humans of New York puts it very nicely:

“I can’t stand moral absolutism. You know, there’s always that guy who wants to point out that Martin Luther King cheated on his wife– as if he obviously couldn’t have been a great person if he did something like that. Or someone will bring out an inspirational quote, and get you to agree, and then inform you that Hitler said it. As if a good thought couldn’t come from Hitler. Moral absolutism keeps us from learning from the past. It’s easy to say: ‘Hitler was a demon. Nazis were all bad seeds.’ That’s simple. It’s much harder to say: ‘Is that humanity? Is that me?’”

And that is why even though I personally do not agree with Kong Hee and company using CHC’s money to try to advance (and failing miserably) Sun Ho’s musical career, I cannot bring myself to condemn them entirely. This is even after Kong Hee and company appeared to be unrepentant. Because I personally know a number of people who have been inspired by Kong Hee and company to contribute immensely to society. I personally know a number of people who, when they were down, found strength and courage to soldier on and overcome the obstacles in their lives because of the encouragement and support given by Kong Hee and company. So again, I reject moral absolutism and stand by what I said in a blog post some time ago – I do not agree with what Kong Hee and company have done, but I will not damn them forever.

Similarly, I felt that even though I find Calvin Cheng’s remarks about pre-emptively killing children of ISIS members in cold blood to be abhorrent and disgusting, there must be things that he has said that I will agree with. So I went to his blog. And indeed, I found a few posts that I really agreed with. For example, I agreed with his post from 2013 saying that if Singaporeans are losing jobs to foreigners, then it’s MOE policies that ought to be reviewed, not MOM. I also agree with Calvin Cheng’s post about how we ought to welcome foreigners who are willing to embrace the values that make us Singaporeans and add to the strength and vibrancy of Singaporean society. And I definitely share his sentiments about the passing of Mr Lee Kuan Yew. And while I don’t agree with many things that Calvin Cheng says, I do believe that he is an ardent advocate for the best interests and welfare of Singapore and Singaporeans. And those are causes that I also ardently support.

Humans are complex beings. We are at once capable of great good and awful atrocities. We can be incredibly gentle and terribly harsh. We can definitely disagree with some of the things a person does yet agree with others. That, I think, sums up why I don’t subscribe to moral absolutism.

[Featured image: from Humans of New York]


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