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Tuesday, 28 June 2005


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A small-time cannabis dealer, David. The Singapore government were valiently protecting their own people from a largely harmless plant, and doing so with the utmost brutality.

"[A] largely harmless plant", writes Larry. I leave others with more expertise to debate that one.

Meanwhile, I would remind Larry that Singapore is a democracy, and if the Singaporeans disliked government judicial policy on drug dealers in particular, and criminals in general, they would have made it clear at the polls. Similarly, I wonder what the great British electorate would like to see as a suitable punishment for drug dealers? Don't ask!

Just because laws and policies are instituted by a leadership elected by a majority of voters in a democracy, does not make them morally acceptable.

The entire notion of "civil disobedience" derives from this fact.

Witness Martin Luther King Jr., et al.

Thanks, Jack, but I wasn't saying that the voters provided a cloak of morality to this policy, only that they obviously approved of it. The difficulty with concepts like morality is that no-one can agree on definitions to cover all cases, and in that event, a democratic vote, whilst capable of being wrong, is the only way we can test it. After all, we did away with religious leaders, did we not!

But you can see how I would be confused, since your comment was a direct response to Larry's comment about the "utmost brutality" of the current system.

Singapore has the veneer of being a democracy. In truth it is a plutocratic one-party city state.

I can imagine that for some, living in the 1950s life was pretty idyllic. I have watched 'Born and Bred' too. But it's simplistic in the extreme to say that it was idyllic for everyone, or that this golden age was attributable to just the patriarchal nuclear family and the absence of recreational drugs.

First of all, as you so rightly point out, there was the war, and everyone surely wanted to put all that horridness, death, fear and austerity behind them. Secondly, and a factor you seem not to attribute much importance to, there's the economy. A post-war boom era in which the variety and quantity of consumer goods was only ever going to go on increasing. If you had something then you were happy because it was so much better than having nothing. Contrast this with the 1980s when Thatcher used the widespread availability of consumer goods as a proxy measure for the good society. Of course, at the same time it meant that everyone had something worth stealing so the incentives for robbery were so much greater.

The 1950s saw full employment. The 1980s saw 3 million on the dole, and heroin getting a tight grip where unemployment took hold most deeply. If drugs are the enemy, it was the pursuit of low inflation through creating unemployment that allowed it to walk right in.

By all means identify drugs as the problem, but don't take the easy route of saying "everything would be fine if it weren't for the drugs". Because it wouldn't be.

Jack - it was Larry that used the term "utmost brutality", and I do not think it is accurate. I can think of a long list of punishments that might fit that description, but not a judicial hanging of a drug dealer. Whether the crime deserves the punishment is a debate for another day, although I think it does.

Andrew - it's been a long time since I was there, but Lee Kuan Yew gave plenty of indications at the time as to the authoritarian direction he intended to go, and the elections were fair and above board. Singapore has its own peculiarities in that it (like Hong Kong) is a city-state which makes it very different from a large country. It has a mixed population with the inherent problems that can cause, plus a less than totally friendly giant neighbour in Malaysia. However, the fact is that the PAP have delivered the goodies for *all* of their population who show no signs (that I can detect) of great, or even moderate, distress.

'Usher' - if I may call you that to avoid confusion with our names - of course, I realise that life is much more complicated than a brief post on a blog can indicate. Nor would I attempt, even if I was capable, to elucidate each and every factor that made life so different in the 1950s from the way things are now. I merely seized on two outstandingly obvious differences. And it is an indisputable fact that things were very, very different then. I stress that, because when you are young there is a tendency to think this is how the world is, now and forever. I think I may return to this subject later (as is my wont!) in an attempt to dig a little deeper.

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