Friday, April 29, 2016

"The myth of the universality of human rights"

In today's IPS lecture, Ambassador Bilahari Kausikan discussed the myth of the universality of human rights. That is to say, the concept of 'human rights' exists as an ideal we aspire to, but because it is also a mental construct, its application and implementation are very much dependent on context and wide open to interpretation.

I think we know what 'rights' means. The problem is that we can't define 'human' satisfactorily enough because we are too close to the subject matter. Human rights are easier to conceive of when we think of it in terms of the very broadest ways in which we humans differ from one another: the physical, the psychological, and the identity of self. For example, in our national pledge we are all equal 'regardless of race, language or religion'. Whomever we are, we can be identified as human despite of our race, language or religion, and no one is likely to dispute that -- unless our society totally breaks down and we become paranoid and insular.

But when human beings begin to define themselves by increasingly narrow criteria, they run the risk of defining themselves outside of what the majority can roughly agree is identifiably human. If you define your needs as so particular that I don't identify your needs as my needs, then we are going to have a problem agreeing that you have a right to meet those needs of yours.

Minority groups have this problem of getting their particular needs met and recognized by mainstream society. Paradoxically, perhaps the best way to help minorities is to not recognize minority differences at all. Recognizing minority groups legitimizes and therefore draws attention to characteristics of those groups that make them different from everyone else. The more marginal the difference, the less mainstream society is likely to sympathize as whatever need arises from that difference, it really isn't mainstream society's problem to deal with.

It's a two-way street, of course. Mainstream society is just as likely to identify minor differences in certain groups of people and exclude them from the mainstream and the privileges therein, like legal protection, education, opportunities and otherwise a decent way to make a living for oneself. In which case, if mainstream society sees itself as being overrun by minorities, it usually is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Where we see difference, there is difference.

What is a democratically-elected government to do when the people are fractious and tense because differences are everywhere? I guess you start with doing right by the majority of the voters, since your mandate comes from the majority, but make policy such that people are treated fairly across the board within the broad definitions of what we can agree are what makes us all 'human' -- such that we no longer see the differences between 'us' and 'them', and 'they' no longer see how different they are from 'us'.

Too idealistic? Too naive? If we leave dealing with difference at policy level, it means the ground isn't ready to make any meaningful progress where it matters the most. Complying with policy is not the same as making a personal choice at the individual level to extend understanding and support to the people among us.

In the end, perhaps rights can be defined as the privileges we are willing to give up in favour of doing right by the other person. What could make us more human than that?

Thursday, April 28, 2016


Finally, after 8 attempts since I've been with NYeDC, we have achieved a coveted Certificate of Distinction from the big bi-annual youth drama festival.

I shouldn't feel this elated because theatre shouldn't be a competition between productions, but I've learned that it's ok to celebrate an achievement, especially one this long in coming. Every other year I've been cool just to meet expectations, but there's no stopping the rush to have for once exceeded them.

This year's entry was a true collaboration from start to finish. Beginning with a self-written script by one of our members, it was workshopped, tweaked, rewritten and polished in bits and pieces. Everyone helped out, whether onstage, backstage, admin. With Sirius directing and delivering the final script (her first ever!) we were in good hands the whole time.

Feeling very grateful to everyone who pitched in. It's nice to be on top for once. XD

Wednesday, April 27, 2016


Nice to know that I didn't get shredded this morning. It was a presentation to an audience of very experienced cross-department colleagues on a perspective that could have come across as heretical if taken the wrong way. Instead, the audience asked the right kind of questions during the Q&A and was very kind with its feedback. Perhaps the ground is ready for some new ways of thinking?

Personal insight gained: I can diagnose problems and prescribe workable treatments, and maybe I can make a convincing case to my fellow physicians. But what I haven't yet learned is how to make the patients take their medicine.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Remembering 'If I could tell my past self something'

Things that have to go on record about our entry in this year's big Drama Festival 'cos they won't be mentioned anywhere else: Touching up our movable flat screens with white primer, we got streaks of paint on the Concourse floor. That's for not lining the area with newspaper first. Not pictured is me, the wife and Sirius, sitting on said floor, using nothing but water and lots of elbow grease scrubbing the floor with brushes for over an hour until the sun went down. But we did a great job. Little trace of our unintentional vandalism left that could be connected back to our activities of the previous day.

With this slick move, our lead tosses his hat offstage as a time transition cue. Today at the show, his tossed hat landed smack in the face of an official sitting in the audience. Her lanyard indicated she was probably from head office and likely to be an organizer of the event. While we hope that this little blooper isn't going to cost us too dearly in points, it also confirms to us why this boy is in Drama Club and not in a sports CCA.

And finally, a shot of our team this year. Proud of you guys! You make us laugh and give us heart attacks at the same time! But it's not over yet. Drama Night is just around the corner...

More photos of our rehearsal process can be found here.

Edit 01: Forgot to mention the bus. The return bus stranded us at the venue having mistaken our order to depart at 1445 hrs to mean 4:45 pm. Sirius kicked up enough of a fuss with the bus company to get one delivered pronto, though the delay was still about an hour.