Writing unit 2

2 a.m. in the morning again. sometimes I doubt the meaning of doing such a module. time consuming and stressful as it is, i cannot see the real solid substance i get out from this. though most of the time i m enjoying the lesson, seeing it as a kind of game ya or maybe riddle. also enjoyable because it is an interesting time spent with a nice instructor and a bunch of brilliant people, a break from the everyday bombardment of numbers,formulae and codes. but...papers written often seems far stretched to me, are we spending time doing useless things? so called visual, lens analysis, or "close reading".does it really make that much sense as it sounds? no doubt it trains thinking skills, or maybe crapping, as i m questioning the modules now, using the 'skills' learnt from this module. what an irony.looking at my paper, the so called insights are just so flimsy. today is deadline of submission...

should not think too much, since i m told to do this, do it as good as i can. freak!! trained to be an independent thinker, but we cannot question the validity of the thing itself.

hanging, uni life is turning boring, nerdy as i am, life is going on with a 10/7 mugging routine. will change this, soon...

UWC2010Q: Civility in the World City
Paper 2
Dr. Barbara Ryan
Date submitted: 10/10/2005 

Civility: A Qualification for Civil Liberty

 Civility is usually understood as formal or perfunctory politeness, or showing regards to others. However, a photo taken from The Straits Times, depicting a stand off between residents and riot police in a village, shows me that civility has to mean something more that mere politeness. People need to be able to raise tough questions and present their cases when they feel their vital interests are being threatened. A civil society cannot avoid tough but important issues, just because they are unpleasant to address. The villagers shown in the photo, according to the newspaper article, are demanding the removal of corrupted officers and investigation into accused embezzlement and fraud in the local authority. They are confronted by a line of riot police equipped with helmets and tactic shields. Though it may look like a spontaneous shot taken by the photographer, the tactics employed in shooting are intended to arouse readers’ sympathy to the villagers. However, Edmund Burke’s statement that “men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their own disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites”, provokes deeper thoughts on civility in a confrontational situation and our sympathy might come with reservation from this perspective.

The photographer’s shooting angle is carefully chosen to convey his stand implicitly. The photo was taken from the villagers’ side, in a bird’s eye view facing the policemen. It means that the photographer is behind the civilians. This shooting angle makes one feel that the photographer is siding with the villagers, as it suggests the photographer is facing the police together with the villagers. This might be a sign of the press’ sympathy towards the villagers. More over, one could see the police reinforcement at the background from this angle. They far outnumber the villagers in the photo. By including the well-equipped riot police into the photo, it reinforces the civilians’ image as victims. The angle the photo is taking would dramatize the idea that the villagers are helpless, as the police seem to be in a much more advantaged position in this conflict.

The photo portrays a case where civil behavior is suppressed by the state. The villagers are scattered and do not seem to be aggressive. There is no shouting, no brandishing of hands or banners. The way they voice out their demand seems even a bit passive as they behave like onlookers. These villagers demonstrate one important aspects of civility, that even under confrontational situations, they still stick to non- violent conduct. From Burke’s claim, which I shall talk about later, one could infer that defending one’s cause through civil manner is a crucial component of civility. Since continuing confrontation among different groups in society is inevitable, the peaceful way of arguing for one’s case could avoid the enormous destructiveness which commonly accompanies these confrontations. One could judge more accurately the level of maturity of a civil society under confrontational circumstances. The color scheme of the photo is also worth mentioning at this point. The Police are in dark colored uniforms while the villagers are mostly in light colored shirts. The contrasting color suggests a conflict of interest here, between civilians and an authoritative government. The fire engine is striking as the only red color in a photo of dominant dull colors like blue, dark green and gray. It serves as a vivid remainder that the police are prepared to use water cannon for crowd dispersal. By portraying a group of civil mannered residents being confronted by police, the photo is presented in such a way to stir compassion among the readers to the villagers.

A more skeptical person would probably argue that the so-called civility of the villagers arises due to the fear of a violent clamp down from the police rather than spontaneity. One possible reason for displaying civility, extracted from this photo, is the fear of repercussion of being uncivil.

However, Burke proposes that civil liberty should be bestowed according to the means people employ in satisfying their desires, not their inner motive for displaying civility, as “men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their own disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites”. He is suggesting that civil liberty should be accorded to one so long as one’s conduct is appropriate, regardless of one’s motive in doing so. This idea might be based on the assumption that the means one use are manifested, thus serves better as a criteria for bestowing civil liberty, compared to one’s motive, which is mostly unknown to others. In that sense, defending one’s cause through civil manner mentioned earlier, is a crucial component of civility. It should qualify one for greater civil liberty, as civility under confrontational circumstances demands more efforts, or stronger “disposition” to put “moral chain” upon one’s “appetites”. Though burke's claim looks sound , this photo shows that Burk’s claim has its own flaws in real life situations, which I shall discuss soon.

From his perspective, the villagers are qualified for the liberty of a peaceful demonstration. The means they employ seems moral: peaceful demonstration, shown in this photo, is different from riot, it is just asking for a cause to be heard. Their “appetites”, or demands of removal of corrupted officers are also not unreasonable but justified. However, this photo definitely shows that such liberty is not completely bestowed on them. If so, the presence of police is unjustified as they usually resort to coercive means in achieving their objective, which is to quell this peaceful demonstration. Taking Burk’s line, one would question to what extent should one regulate one’s behaviors (“to put moral chains”) to be qualified for the complete civil liberty, which would mean freedom of speech and freedom of assmbly without police monitoring in this case.

On the other hand, from this perspective that one should be only given the amount of civil liberty one deserves, and the fact that civil liberty is not completely given to these villagers, we would start to wonder if the demonstration itself might be uncivil in someway. By a closer look, we will find that majority of the civilians are women. It is not quite reasonable to let women facing such a confrontational situation in fending the whole village’s interest. Perhaps their very own villagers manipulate these women as a “weapon” here to voice out their demands. It reduces the risk of a potential violent clash, as it will catch more sympathy among the public if they know that police have used violence against women. This move itself however is an incivility against women, thus the demonstration should be contained, or full civil liberty should not be given to the villagers according to Burke.

However it is quite naive to think that the police come in because the villagers are incivil or the means they employ are not totally moral. The police are deployed because the villagers are raising a political demand; this act is most likely being interpreted as a protest against government, thus must be quelled. Edmund Burke’s idea that “men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their own disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites” provides a good guideline how civil liberty should be working. In the context of this photo, civil liberty should specifically refer to the villagers’ freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. Disputes sometimes involve issues, which people feel very strongly about, such as this case depicted in this photo. Thus, the respect of the disputing parties’ right to use all of the legitimate powers available to them is an important manifestation of civility. The villagers are given a chance for the protest though closely monitored by the police. This is a coincidence with Burke’s idea as I think the police presence is not due to civility issue but rather of other considerations.

So we might find Burke’s claim is flawed in a real life situation. People are not qualified for civil liberty according to the moral chain but sometimes rather due to other factors. Further more, “moral chain” as a judging criteria for the amount of civil liberty that should be allocated to people, is not easy to define as means people employ could manifest a dual nature of both civil and the uncivil, for example the villagers in this photo. Sometimes it is hard to detect the inner nature of a manner, like this case where uncivil behavior might be under the cover of civility. This would lead to biased or uninformed judgment.

Another dilemma posed by this statement is a justified party who is able to play the judging role, to assess one’s qualification for civil liberty. Civil liberty is protected by law in many countries, however in reality subaltern groups are usually not given the civil liberty they deserve. This photo portrays such a group. It is interesting to note the uniformity in the villagers’ dressing pattern. Most people are wearing a straw hat, a light colored shirt and long pants. To the local Singaporean readers, this is perhaps a typical or stereotype image of a Mainland Chinese farmer. This could be an attempt by the photographer to imply that these villagers and their encounters are typical occurrence among the large rural population in china. Thus, one could infer that civility is not exclusively related to the upper class as seen by some people, the proletariat could also display civility, even under a tense situation. At a stage where legitimate civil liberty is often not granted to this group of people, Burke’s idea that civil liberty will be given to different people differently seems like a castle in the air. It is almost impossible for an authority to assess people’s behavior in such a detail so as to accord them civil liberty “in exact proportion” to their conduct. Thus Burke has depicted an ideal principal, which is hardly applicable in practice.

 A photo initially intended to arouse compassion for the villagers depicted, has provoked deeper thoughts on civility under confrontational situations when looking from Burke’s idea. His claim also casts doubts on the villagers’ formation, which may be a manipulative and uncivil move to their own people. While still sympathetic to the villagers, my feeling comes with reservation. During the course of examine the photo through Burke’s perspective, the photo in return, reveals that while the lens is sound in principal, it is flawed when applied to real life situations.


Photo: The Straits Times, Pg7, 14 Sep, 2005
颖 @ 2005-10-10 02:40:48

nalan 在 2005-10-11 22:59:48 说:

颖 在 2005-10-10 19:22:39 说:

haha thanks a lot for your thoughtful reply!! actually I quite agree with your ideas that 'civil liberty' is an illusion,however I have doubt your claim that there is no real 'civil liberty' because it is about 'civil rules'. I dont think these two concepts contradict each other. civil liberty is protected by law while civility is a social protocol.hope to hear from you again.
 really appreciated your reply, perhaps next time should post it here before submitting the paper,haha
疯狐狸 在 2005-10-10 05:28:23 说:

so what do you think are the 'other considerations' for the police to be present at a confrontational situation, even though it appears peaceful?

i'd say it's because there is a deeper, subconcious assumption, that if commoners gather for a reason of demand, be it civil or otherwise, there is danger of a peaceful demonstration turning into a riot, as a group is always easier to incite and more reckless once instigated, than an individual.

in other words, the police is there, not because civility POSSIBLY cover up dangerous intentions, but because civility, as the 'higher levels' believe, never is there, and there is not any possiblity that this gathering can be, indeed, peaceful. the mere presence of the police defies the notion of 'monitoring', because if there is indeed no danger there is no need to monitor anything. whether the gathering does in reality turn into a riot does not matter to the authorities: they subconcious believe it will, and thus this is not a problem about HOW MUCH civil liberty is there, for there is none from the start.

it follows that 'freedom of assembly' and this so-called 'civil liberty' is but an illusion created for the commoners so that they believe liberty is something they can possess, while in reality it is otherwisely held by the authorities and granted to them. such privilege for getting and allocating 'civil liberty' makes this right anything but real 'liberty'. the photo here is not displaying civility under confrontational situations, i'd rather say it is displaying that civility is about 'civil rules', and there is, in fact, no real 'civil liberty', for such liberty is the result of abiding by the rules.