The highlight of the past few days is definitely going clubbing with Marc on Friday night at Ballare's hip-hop/R&B night. I drank a bit too much and had to forcibly remove some of the toxicity from my system when I got home, but much fun was had anyway.
Well, there was an unpleasant incident involving some disgusting piece of shit asshole casually pinching my butt as he walked by me, and then very cowardly disappeared when I stared at him and shouted, 'What the fuck?' Marc kept asking me what he should've done, as he didn't realise what happened straight away. It was nice that he wanted to defend my honour but it would have been pointless getting into a literal fight with someone like that; what he and his ilk need to know is that such behaviour is not okay. I should have done more to drive the point home but well, I was a bit stunned, and when I'd recovered, he was nowhere to be found. What a crap-ass piece of crap.
Another incident also took place, albeit somewhat milder. I was standing at this bar top thing waiting for Marc to return from the loo, and some guy walked past me and squeezed my waist. Why do people do this? People like that really diminish the fun of clubbing. People need to stop thinking that the primary purpose of going to a club is to pull, or get laid, or whatever; some people (i.e. me) go there just to have fun, and the mere fact of my presence in a club is not an invitation to be sexually harassed. I mean, sure, feel free to admire the black dress that I am wearing and how I look in it, but keep your hands to yourself.
Apart from that, though, it was a fun night. Marc is a good buddy. He kept all the sleazy men (well, most) at bay, so that was a plus, too. We're going to hang out in Singapore and Taipei as we'll be in those places at the same time, so that will be fun too. Can't wait!
I attended Dr Rowan Williams' talk on the church and human rights in Magdalene today. It was such a good use of my one hour; his talk was exactly on the topic of the paper that I am trying to write. I found it especially interesting and useful that he endorsed his predecessor's argument for decriminalising homosexuality: that what is sinful should not be conflated with what is criminal, and human rights safeguard the distinction between a sin and a crime. This distinction is important and necessary in a pluralistic, non-theological society, and we should view each other primarily as citizens in the civic sphere. He obviously phrased his argument way more eloquently than my lousy attempt to reproduce it, but I think that's the basic idea.
I actually had a burning question but I was too shy to ask it during the Q&A. Basically, this argument makes perfect sense to me, but I wonder what is doing the normative work in the background. To be more specific, does one need to subscribe to some form of liberalism to be convinced by this argument? It seems to require two things: the separation of the public and the private; and a commitment to equality. Now, this begs the question of whether equality is a liberal idea; I don't think it is, but the academic whose paper I am basing my paper on argues that equality should not be extended to basically saying that homosexuality and heterosexuality are morally equivalent.
This brings me to the first point, the public/private divide. The separation of the public and the private seems to be a predominantly liberal commitment. John Rawls, for instance, argues that one should leave one's comprehensive world views behind when one steps into the public sphere. Political liberalism, in other words, extracts citizens from their private morality (including religious commitments, if any) and asks them to put those considerations aside when thinking about principles of justice. The conservative push back would be that it is unrealistic to expect people to do this, and that a political order should take people as they are because these comprehensive world views, as Rawls puts it, are constitutive of their identities.
But while that may be true, I don't see (and can't understand as an intellectual matter) why or how it follows that the state should pick and choose between potentially conflicting comprehensive world views and enforce that of one group of people to the detriment of another group of people. It doesn't matter if this world view is widely shared; democracy is not a matter of counting hands, and the mere fact of substantial agreement on a particular issue amongst citizens does not foreclose questions about its justice. So while I may grant that we cannot always put aside our own moral convictions when thinking about what is just or right, I simply don't see how it follows from this that the state can legitimately enforce the moral preference of one group of people, when such enforcement would impose an undue burden on the group that is deemed immoral.
Further, I think the attempted distinction between the sexual behaviour of gay men and gay men qua citizens is both a red herring and contradicts the conservative argument that we cannot separate the private from the public. This argument basically says that when a legislator passes a law that criminalises homosexual behaviour, he is not passing a negative moral judgement on the gay man as a citizen of Singapore; rather, he is saying that the gay man's homosexual behaviour is worthy of criminalisation because (inter alia) it undermines the common good. Does this argument not contradict the private/public conflation by essentially exhorting the gay man to leave his private morality behind and rationalise about what's best for the common good based on public principles, whatever Singapore's public political principles may be? If a religious citizen expects his comprehensive world view to count, why should the gay man not expect the same?
As such, this argument is a red herring. The issue isn't whether we can or should properly put aside our private moral beliefs when we enter the public sphere and decide what is the right thing to do viz. our fellow citizens; the issue is whether these private moral beliefs even matter to begin with when we are thinking about how we should treat our fellow citizens. And so I think Dr Williams was absolutely spot-on in arguing that we are primarily citizens in the civic sphere; and in a plural society, that should count first before anything else. Of course, this then leads to the question of what kind of criteria should be set on equal membership, for it cannot be the case that a community can never condemn its members. Of course it can. But are the morally relevant considerations and criteria? The obvious answer would be that a member can be condemned when it violates the community's deeply-held convictions, and so when a member commits murder, he can be properly condemned and he can lose some of his privileges, such as his liberty.
But there's a problem with this argument: how to decide what these deeply-held convictions are, and are they the end of the story? I think this is essentially a part of the core of my PhD. My answers right now are: I don't know, and no.
But let's get back to the original question. Does Dr Williams' argument presuppose a commitment to some notion of liberalism? I think it's not necessary at all. We can get rid of the private/public conundrum by going straight to the argument from equality, and I have already explained why I don't think that equality is necessarily a liberal ideal; and anti-liberalism conservatives who try to argue that equality has been distorted by liberalism are still hanging on to the public/private division. What I think the proper way to think about the issue is this: we can bring our private identities into the public sphere; we can argue as a Catholic, as a gay man, as an atheist, but we should not expect the state to favour our comprehensive world view. It may be that in a secular, plural society the religious citizen finds himself on the losing end more often than not, but that should be accepted as the consequence of living in a plural, secular society. And that is because our private moralities, at least prima facie, should not have a bearing on how we should be treated as citizens and members of a national community.
Anyway. These are just some rough thoughts that I came up with. It may not make sense, there may be logical gaps, whatever. It's my blog and not a paper, so I'm not too fussed. It is also the most academic thing I've written since I submitted my first year paper again on 30 September, so yay?