Sunday, 28 January 2018

The ideal family unit? A pot of curry may just help?

I wonder, what is the ideal family unit? Is there an ideal family unit in the first place?

Is this part of the naturalistic fallacy?

That is, whatever is good is reducible to what ought to be, and what ought to be therefore ought to be the norm of every society; yet that is deemed unfounded, and fallacious.

So, is DJ Shobha Nair defining what ought to be when she dismissed the application of a gay Singaporean, who paid US$200k to father a boy through surrogacy arrangements in US, and then applied for adoption in Singapore to transfer US citizenship to Singapore citizenship for his son?

According to The Economist, one of its articles entitled "Rules are thicker than blood" (Jan 13) described DJ Nair's ruling as having "firmly laid out that the ideal family unit, in the eyes of the Singaporean state, entails the marriage of a man to a woman."

In the papers, our Singapore High Commission Foo Chi Hsia came out to defend DJ Nair's ruling on the "ideal family unit".

Foo said: "Our values and social norms on what makes for a stable family unit are conservative and shape the Government's policies and rules of adoption."

Further, in response to The Economist article deriding "Singapore's norms on what constitutes a family as 'Victorian", Foo added that "pushing for rapid social change, especially on contentious moral issues, risks polarising society and producing unintended results"".

She wrote: "In Singapore, nearly all children are born and raised in wedlock (not out of wedlock), starkly different from what now happens in the West. The Economist may think Singapore is quaint and old-fashioned, but time will tell if a cautious approach to social change is wiser."

Lesson? Just one.

Funny, this back-and-forth between the Western media and our ambassadorial front-liners has been going on for decades. It never ends.
And this reminded me of curry.

Some years back, Singapore had a curry dispute. It's a tale about two next-door neighbours: one, an Indian family, and the other, a migrant family from China.

The news about it first came out in Today on 8 August 2011, and Sharon Teng has written a good summary of it.

It started innocent enough: it's the smell of curry from the Indian household that stirred the rift.

The Chinese family could not tolerate the curry smell, and out of consideration, "the Indian family would shut their doors and windows whenever they cooked curry."

However, the smell still sneaked into the Chinese household, and they asked the Indian family "to refrain from cooking the dish altogether."

The Indian family refused, and both families ended up in CMC in a bid to settle the curry dispute.

This was how the dispute was resolved as reported:-

"The settlement that was reached following the mediation was that the Indian family would cook curry only when their Chinese neighbours were out. In turn, the Chinese family acceded to their Indian neighbours’ request to try out the curry dish."

Strangely, the settlement divided Singaporeans and even foreigners.

Some found it "unfair"; others thought that the intolerance of the Chinese family was bordering on bigotry. Still others blamed the settlement as not being culturally sensitive, and against our multiracial and inclusive society. What's wrong with the fragrance of curry?

Even our law minister Shanmugam weighed in.

In brief, he asked Singaporeans and all to respect the settlement which was reached by mutual accord.

He "cautioned Singaporeans against letting the unhappy feelings generated by the curry dispute ferment into a blanket dislike of all foreigners in general."

Imagine that, one curry pot boiling along the corridor of two families of different races could actually cause such mischief and provoked such national commotion.

Alas, if one woman (Rosa Parks) could trigger the civil rights movement and one man (Hitler) could start the second world war, it should then come as no surprise to us that two neighbours disputing over a pot of curry could very well test the racial and cultural unity of our little garden city.

This brings me to the back-and-forth between the Western media and our foreign delegates about DJ Nair's judgment.

What is the "ideal family unit" anyway?

(And one is completely misconceived if he thinks DJ Nair is even trying - in the faintest of hint - to define or epitomise the "ideal family unit" in the judgment. She in fact categorically excluded that to set the record straight. Her grounds were mainly to balance and keep the object of the legislature and the various enactments consistent with each other).

So, notwithstanding the backhand sarcasm in that reference in The Economist article, the issue is really not about what is ideal or what is not. Neither is it about what is natural or what is not.

From a secular point of view, I would not even bring in religion to state categorically with religious zeal on what is morally non-negotiable, and end the whole debate there and then (or open the Pandora's box to endless arguments).

In this postmodern environment distorted by the polarisation of values based on questionable opinions online, most of the thinking has already been done for us.

They come in prefabricated chunks, backed by suspecting sources and dubious stats, repeated ad nauseam, and authenticated by arbitrarily ruling out other contending views not by examining their merits, but by conveniently stamping a "fake news" on them, thereby throwing the baby out together with the bathwaters.

As such, all the netizens have to do nowadays is to just pluck from the lowest hanging fruit of mouth-watering rationality and be off with a sense of self-smugness about what should be just right and what should be just wrong.

In the end, taking my cue from the curry dispute, it is really about cultural sensitivity, being good neigbours, and learning to get along. Let’s leave the big ideological arguments for another day.

We are essentially still conservative at heart, and communalist in spirit. We still enjoy a good spicy pot of curry at home, and if the smell gets to you, the solution is not to insist we stop enjoying curry altogether.

Let’s settle our differences with deeper mutual understanding, always keeping an open mind, and on some unavoidable occasions, politely walk on by when the smell happens to exceed one’s level of tolerance. 

Being good neighbours is ultimately more than just about fussing over a pot of curry. It's essentially about sharing a common corridor, but living by different values in the home. Cheerz.

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