By Kevin Singarayar •  Updated: 12/24/21 •  11 min read

John Stuart Mill once said that the best response to confronting speech is more speech and not less. I tried substituting the word, speech with prejudice. It just didn’t have the same effect. 

I’ve always wondered about prejudice. Is it ingrained in us since birth, a result of blissful ignorance, or something born out of manipulation?

We humans, we have our opinions, practically on all matters. Although, as much as we hate to admit it, our opinions could have been erroneously obtained. Yet, although we couldn’t care to admit an erroneously acquired position on a subject matter, we still insist on drawing all things to support and agree upon that hedonistic opinion. And that pernicious predetermination is often mistaken for mature judgment.

Mindless drivel dressed up as opinions parading as facts.

You know what I’m talking about. Or, even who I’m talking about. We all have met them. If you haven’t, then you’re one of the lucky ones. But you surely must have heard of them.

Is Prejudice Really A Deflated Testicle?

Participants of this freakshow named prejudice, adore any reason for a point of conversation just so that they can hang their opinion on it. And God forbid they leave their opinion hanging without failing to character assassinate the undefendable.

As human beings, we have a natural predisposition to voicing our opinions, practically on all matters.

Although, as much as we hate to admit it, our opinions can be erroneously obtained. Yet, consciously or not, we won’t care to admit an erroneously self-acquired position on a subject matter. We still insist on drawing all things to support and agree upon that possibly miscued opinion. Such pernicious predetermination should not be mistaken for mature judgment. 

Prejudices are preliminary opinions. Let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that they are final conclusions. Meaning, our prejudices can be overcome. It’s not as deflated as it seems.

As change is commonly associated with progress, being free of prejudice can also be relativized in overcoming our personal egotism, logical or otherwise, and checking that against our own self-interest.

Gadamer Nails It

So why then can we not avoid prejudice altogether? I personally think that we can if we’re willing to adjust our historical reality. What do I mean by that?

Much of what we believe in, is a culmination of experiences we’ve had right up to this point in time. That’s because we’re living and gathering information on a daily basis, which might coalesce into what one might call, pre-understanding.

Pre-understanding is what we think we already know about something, before truly understanding something. This was posited by Hans-Georg Gadamer, a German philosopher best known for his work on hermeneutics.

I had to sit on that for a bit and let that sink in. That man should be on a T-shirt because he’s absolutely right. And it’s this pre-understanding mistaken for understanding that may be the underlying reason behind the litany of reruns of a series called ‘The Shit Show’. Here’s why.

Because I can’t seem to take a morning dump without hearing on the social vine about racism, injustices, ethnic cleansing, homophobia, xenophobia human rights, hate speech, ethnonationalism, white supremacy, and the Kardashians. If there ever should be an opinion that could unite the world, I personally believe it would be to send the Kardashians on a one-way ticket to space. I’m sure Elon Musk could build a rocket large enough to fit Kim and dumb enough to be easily operated by Pete Davidson (this is not pre-understanding on my part at all).

Yes, these are global issues and issues that affect us all in some form.

White Privilege…No Cancel That…Chinese Privilege

Singapore is a multi-racial-based society with a predominantly Chinese majority and in recent times, the issues of “Chinese privilege” kept resurfacing time and again.

The minority races constitute Indians, Malays, and Eurasians. Dare I say, could Singapore even pass off as a cosmopolitan society? I’ll hold off on that thought for now.

These minority races had made their feelings known via the interwebs and the backlash ensued with the accused and the accuser hurling missives at each other via what might mistakenly call, a computer keyboard. Oh wait…I’m definitely not mistaken. Computer keyboards were their weapons of choice and voices of reason were heard with a simple ‘swipe up‘ on TikTok.

Though, I must applaud these voices of reason who attempted to publicly quell the rise of any socially destructive behaviour.

The government had to step in and remind the population that such “privileges” do not exist in a democratic multicultural and meritocratic society like Singapore.

And by God, it shouldn’t! Over the course of Singapore’s history, the government has done well to enforce equality and respect.

However, there is no running away from the human condition. Issues of ‘privilege’ for a majority race on a prosperous island of 6 million are bound to creep up.

All it takes is a hint of civic inequality or a slight of a minority’s dignity and the knee-jerk reaction would be to play the race card. It’s an issue in a multi-racial society and I stress again, the Singapore government has done well to enforce equality and respect on this tiny island, albeit at the cost of liberty. And by that I mean, the culling of hate speech.

Singaporeans have been raised to watch what they say. That might not come as a surprise to the rest of the world, and I’ll agree that this system is far from perfect, but it has been a system that has worked well to manage racial harmony thus far.

Ensuring an egalitarian playground requires a strict headmistress and Singapore has seen to it that we hired the strictest. All for good reason. Our government knows that left to our own devices, a diverse society such as ours, would succumb to mutual disrespect of each other’s civic liberties.

Very much like what happened in 2016 to the Zainichi (resident ethnic Koreans) of Japan who faced the wrath of Japan’s ultra-right-wing organizations. Hate-speech laws had to be put in place to prevent an escalation of acts of violence.

New Zealand’s proposal to move hate speech from the Human Rights Act into the Crime Act is evidence of a simmering issue at play.

Quite simply, the staggering bully has to keep his or her prejudiced thoughts to himself or herself. Laws and legislation as draconian as they may seem, seem to be a necessary “evil” for any country, as prejudices exist outside the realm of laws.

Prejudices can form to become malignant intent and contribute to the fear amongst minorities. And isn’t that how terrorism itself operates? It has to stem from somewhere, and more often than not, it’s from a malnourished notion of prejudice.

A Far More Dangerous Threat than Hate Speech

It is inevitable that malignant intent remains, as long as we continue to use the recipe of personal egotism etched with illogical preliminary opinion. This can however be eradicated with a bully’s intent to change. And this cannot be achieved by criminalizing hate speech. If it’s not coming out of their mouths, it’s simmering in their hearts and this I find far more threatening than hate speech itself.

As much as I concur with the government’s approach to suppress hate speech, I embrace the fact that the world needs diversity. Without diversity, we would all be staring into a pessimistic, bland, colourless world, chugging along into a global pandemic and climate crisis with nothing but our prejudices to save our hides. I know, I said prejudices because even if we viewed this world through a monochromatic lens, our human condition still necessitates us to form personal prejudices.

This world doesn’t require a homogenisation of views. Where’s the fun in that?

Personally, I would enjoy a diverse range of views, and freedom of speech will encourage that. Even when expounded by bigots, extremists, right-wing fundamentalists, and opportunists. I say, let arrogant idiots and pathetic bullies speak their minds and be exposed for who they are. They are entitled to their extreme prejudices, as much as we are entitled to our own.

Sure, this may not be your idea of what utopia looks like – a world in which we’re all yelling at each other to sod off!  These are human failings at their finest. I’m not saying we normalise hatred, but, we should allow everyone the right to their prejudices.

It’s the inner workings of all social media platforms anyways. You create a channel to express yourself and your opinions, while someone responds positively or negatively to it. Negating someone’s right to criticize you, yet allowing someone else to compliment you is in and of itself a prejudiced act.

Is it smugness or insecurity on your part that lets you decide who gets to comment? Think about it.

The act of protecting oneself from criticism is psychological. Nobody likes feeling inferior to somebody else. Getting angry from a written criticism and more so from a complete stranger, stems from personal inadequacy. Harsh but true.

You only need to believe that you are inadequate to feel inadequate. Try flipping that belief around and tell me what happens.

Wouldn’t it be better to embrace all feedback and grow positively from them? As I said, it’s psychological. You have the power to decide the prejudices and opinions you form. Wouldn’t you rather form them to guide you towards a lifestyle that you’d actually jump out of bed for?

So what if only 30 people enjoyed your pole dancing video and 130 hated it? It could just be that those 130 people were actually searching for line dancing videos instead. You just cannot tell why someone clicks on the dislike button and it’s no fault of yours if they do. Just do you.

Contradiction Isn’t Persecution

Let me ask you something then. Would you be horrified if someone accused you of being prejudiced? If you answered yes, then would you be able to ignore or forgive prejudice when you observe that in others?

The fact remains, we are all prejudiced in some form, way, or another. We aren’t better off than someone else just because we’re less prejudiced. The people we admire, study, or watch on television could be closet bigots, or outright sexist. Yet, even if we had an inclination of what our favourite people on the planet may be like, we interpret this knowledge with a wince and make a judgment call to overlook their imperfections. 

This is not to say that we are wrong, or worse, hypocritical. We are merely being inconsistent in our beliefs. We must ask ourselves if we should remain in a state of detached perplexity, without seeking resolution while suspending our beliefs, or; commit ourselves to coherence with our personal beliefs backed by actual evidence. 

We are all left with choices in the end.

To be ignorant while being prejudiced.

To have a deep skepticism for the truth.

Or, to seek reinvention of our beliefs in how we view the world and ourselves with fresh insights.

By destroying old prejudices and mendacity, or even new baseless ones, I think we can build a better future together as a global society. And we need to act fast. The advent of A.I. can bring upon us further complications where prejudices and biases are concerned. We got to sort ourselves out first as a human race before being taken over by the machines. We’ll miss each other’s foibles once that happens.

Contradiction is not persecution. And if we as a human race cannot marshall arguments, prejudiced or otherwise, then we truly do not deserve to enjoy the privileges of freedom of speech. So, embrace the freaks.

When you’re OK with the way things are in reality, you can adapt to whatever the world throws at you – threat or opportunity. You won’t come at things weighed down by the baggage of expectation or prejudice. You’ll be able to step back and get some distance. Then no matter what happens, you can judge whether to embrace it, fight it, or ignore it.

Book 4, Meditation 1, Marcus Aurelius

Kevin Singarayar

I wake up every day with the intention of making yours a little better. Thank you for reading!