Wednesday, May 21, 2008

If you stand up like a nail then you will be knocked down

In Asian culture, it is never safe to express one's displeasure or disagreement, except to your subordinates.

It's so ingrained in the culture, that disagreeing with your teacher is called disobedience (the word 'obey' finds itself in Asian vocabulary quite alot) and disagreeing with your boss is insubordination. Asians like hierarchies clearly defined, and with it comes their flavour of meritocracy - if you're not in authority, it means you're too inept to climb up the hierarchy and therefore have no right to opinion.

That, we all know. And in this increasingly globalised world, steps are being taken in corporations to prevent this bit of anachronism from compromising safety in airlines and in hospitals.


And in Asian culture, it still is dangerous to express your disagreement, even towards your peers of same echelon on the hierarchy.

Disagreement is perceived to be:
1. A personal attack
2. A threat
3. An act of defiance
4. Trying to be a smart alec

Trust me, in Asia, we really do have to dumb down what we say and do just to be polite.


That is why this furore led to so much vitriol.


Franco empirically notices trend (though statistically questionable) that people of a certain race tend to do certain things that irk him. And trust me, these views are often shared by many others in Singapore.

In an outburst the guy posts something that ends up being racist. Members of Hardwarezone forums called him names - 'stupid', 'gay', 'ahqua' (Singlish for transsexual) and one member decided to report him to the police for a kick.

He got arrested. Under the controversial Sedition Act, which I feel is poorly-defined and in the long-term, will only serve as a weapon for races to express their hate, using so-called seditious remarks as an excuse.

Feel offensive against another race? Simply Google up something against your own race, report it to the police and bask in the pride of legally attacking that race.

Remember: Racism is as much about tolerance of other races as it is about being tolerable to other races.

Back to the topic. Franco might have been racist for that moment, but I can't tell who is the real baddie here. Is it Franco, who in a fit of anger expressed a racist sentiment that many Singaporeans feel but never express? Or is it the self-righteous pricks who not only made assumptions on his sexuality and ridiculed him - but reported him to the police just for kicks?

Be a good boy. Always pretend you're happy with everything. Never express opinions. Never voice disagreements.

And you'll be safe and sound here in Singapore.


And in a situation that involves me.


Classmate posts something in the class email list titled 'Why we are made to be vegetarians', quoting a blatantly unscientific article.

I replied:

As a meat-lover (and proudly so), I have to encourage all my classmates to take the article with a huge pinch of salt. Remember your physiology, biochemistry and anatomy, and it becomes pretty obvious that that article is one of the many crazed heretical articles that will nuke the decades of health education that society had been spending so much time and money on.

(Some rebuttals, excluded for length)

Rubbish on the Internet, uneducated folklore - these are the real demons of public health that we have to tackle in this modern age where people are inundated with so much information but not the power to discern what is true or not.

(Explanations that vegetarianism is not an easy choice to make, considering the possible pitfalls, again, excluded for length and jargon.)

But back to the topic. We are medically-trained and therefore have a responsibility to critically vet whatever we read and distribute for accuracy and safety. We gotta understand, that as future medical professionals (Yes, 'professionals'! Such a big word.) it'd be a travesty if we endorse untruths and perpetuate unhealthy health beliefs and behaviour. The quoted article is hogwash.


OK, maybe I wasn't being the politest of guys. But the truth-seeker in me needs to make sure such hogwash doesn't get propagated along. Especially in a community of future doctors.

But as I say, in Asian culture, disagreement is invariably considered bad. No matter how I put it.

It can't be my tone or language that's at fault - I've double-checked. No ad hominems, no fallacies. Just some enthusiastic slamming of the quoted article, and I was careful not to place any blame on anyone. Phrases used: "We gotta understand", "We are medically-trained and therefore have a responsibility".

But the classmate decides to take it as a personal attack on him and vegetarianism.

Why do I even bother. I should have just penned a brash "The article you quoted sucks. Reasons being: ...."

2 other classmates were totally civil about it and gave informative replies, rather than descending into mudslinging hell.


And he says:

My purpose in forwarding the article was simply to either have a read, chuckle and then forget abt it, or to at the least think abt it for a while. My entire family and I are vegetarian; it hasn't always been easy, but I can't imagine life any other way. I AM NOT ASKING ANY OF YOU TO DO THIS, you have no reason to.

What I cannot accept,however, is the insinuation that forwarding such an article to you, my classmates, is unprofessional. These are things your future patients will come ask you about (i would certainly ask my doc, if i didn't know) and if you're gonna dismiss it out of hand, then I'm just going to go find another doc. If i misunderstood your implications, then I'm sorry but I found the tone of the first reply extremely offensive.

Anyways, sorry for kicking up a fuss. I shall not say any more on this.



1. I take offence at you for disagreeing with me
2. Your future patients will, too
3. And people like me, will shun you for that
4. I have poor comprehension skills and can't understand what 'tone' means
5. I'm not going to put in any real effort to justify why I did what I did, NO MATTER WHAT IT'S YOU WHO IS WRONG
6. Shut up, I don't want to hear or talk about this any more. The discussion is over.

Oh, I might have translated wrongly, so I shall humbly add a disclaimer like he did too! If I misunderstood his implications, then I'm sorry but I found the reply extremely unreasonable!

And I'd rather my doctor disagree with me and tell me straight in the face if I believe in some delusional nonsense. And as a medical student, there are times when I had to shoot down some of these false health beliefs.

These patients, they were nice to me about it. After a chat, one of them noticeably gained confidence in his choice of seeking modern medical help for his cancer, after he expressed his ambivalence between that and alternative therapies.

Do no harm. Do good.


I love academic debate. But when it almost invariably degenerates into a 'NO I TAKE OFFENSE AND I REFUSE TO HEAR WHAT YOU HAVE TO SAY' here in Singapore (and probably in much of Asia), it's utterly depressing.

Welcome to Asia.


Anonymous said...

If I didn't read the context wrongly (based on what you posted), this guy sounds like he did find the article funny in its absurdist tone, but at the same time it represents some truisms to him.

I personally feel that to be a real scientist one must be able to question everything, even what he stands for (after all, if you cannot question it, how can you even defend it?). CS Lewis questioned Christianity and that only served to reinforce his belief (read "Mere Christanity" for his argument). If one cannot question the status quo that has been foisted on him or her since birth, it would certainly call into question his or her ability to lead research or other projects that require one to be able to go against conventional wisdom.

Long-winded example follows:
Charles Darwin didn't intend to revolutionize the way we thought about how humans came about, but he saw evidence, analyzed them and came out with knowledge that went against conventional wisdom. Yes, he wasn't the first to propose the notion of evolution (Lemarck's idea is startlingly similar) but it did need a lot of courage and commitment to call into question the extremely dominant religious beliefs.

That is why in some universities, people are forced to study philosophy as part of their core topics. Not everyone is willing to or can learn something from it, but those who take something away usually come out a little more perceptive, and perhaps a little wiser.

HOWEVER, I do sympathize with him somewhat. He stuck to his (vegetarian) guns despite pressure to be otherwise (considering the meat-lovin' environment). That requires lots of faith and commitment. All that is needed is a little more curiosity.

Pkchukiss said...

We're actually a really quaint society which believes that doing things that hurt people's feelings is a crime. For example, under Section 298 of the Penal Code, eating pork in front of a Muslim leaves you open to prosecution if he takes offence at that.

Of course, they always come up with stupid excuses like "we won't actively prosecute under this provision" etc. but as People Like Us has reported, the government is bullshitting.

kc said...

nice wall of text!

actually it sounded like a 'im spreading this message in the name of my faith' kinda thing, but i didn't wanna quote verbatim

we do get some watered-down form of philo in community medicine, but i guess that's just not enough

kc said...

oh no, does it mean its technically illegal to eat a slobbery meaty carl jr's burger in front of someone whos religiously vegetarian?